'Walking Dead': Every Major Cast Departure, Ranked

The Walking Dead-Publicity Still 9-H 2018
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

It's almost time for the biggest Walking Dead exit yet: Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, ready to ride off into the sunset in short order.

Without question, Lincoln's departure marks not only the biggest change between the AMC drama and the comic books from Robert Kirkman thus far, but the most significant shift in status quo through nine seasons of television. The Walking Dead has weathered major losses in the past, however, as the fleeting nature of human existence is at the very core of the series' themes and storylines. Over the years, many episodes have either been entirely devoted to a major character's final farewell, or at least have made a significant meal out of the player in question … sometimes literally, in the more visceral cases. 

Ahead of Rick's departure, The Hollywood Reporter ranked the final farewells of the other major players in Walking Dead history. The included characters were all either series regulars, or were recurring figures with great impact. Under that rubric, it's with some sadness that the following names are not featured on this list: Amy (Emma Bell), Jim (Andrew Rothenberg), Morales (Juan Pareja), Axel (Lew Temple) and Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince), all of whom left the series quickly and brilliantly. 

With that out of the way, let's dig in …

Edited to add: This list has been updated to include Lincoln's exit episode.

23. Heath (Corey Hawkins)

What happened to Heath, the beloved Alexandria scavenger from the comic books? The answer remains unclear, as Heath's fate is still up in the air. It's the least satisfying major character exit of the series, especially as it comes in the midst of an equally unsatisfying episode: "Swear."

22. Andrea (Laurie Holden)

Team Family's resident sharpshooter was destined for greatness. In the comics, Andrea becomes Rick's love interest, Carl's adoptive mother and one of the bedrock members of the group. Sadly, the show's version of the character never lived up to that potential, as she was prematurely bitten by Milton (Dallas Roberts), the Governor's soft-hearted lieutenant. The season three finale features many high points, but Andrea's unceremonious death ranks as a series low through that point in the show.

21. Denise (Merritt Wever)

One of the show's many instances of remixing events from the comics, Denise dies via an arrow through the eye. It's the way Kirkman killed Abraham off many comic book issues ago — a much more fitting way for the brutish sergeant to die than "the Neganning," which felt like it was designed for shock value and little else. What's more, Denise's final episode is all about the young doctor building up the nerve to go out into the world for the first time in forever … and she gets an arrow through the eye for all of her troubles. Extremely creatively disappointing, and one that drew sharp criticism at the time.

20. Beth Greene (Emily Kinney)

Season five features some of the show's strongest stories, with one glaring exception: Grady Hospital, in which Beth is needlessly shot in the head for all her friends to see. Not GREAT.

19. Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green)

Why did Negan feel the need to transport a still-alive Sasha to Alexandria via coffin? The world may never know. It was a bizarre way to write out one of the show's best performers, to say the least. On the bright side, it paved the way for Michael Burnham.

18. Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun)

Because their deaths are iconic, Abraham and Glenn rise above the aforementioned characters. There's no denying the emotional impact of these losses, not to mention the physical impact. But perhaps the most surprising feeling was a sense of numbness. Chalk it up to the show's decision to stretch their deaths out from season six's finale to season seven's premiere, or the decision to kill both men off in the same span of time. However one slices it (or smashes it with a baseball bat, as it were), Abraham and Glenn's death scene marked a turning point for the series — and not for the better.

17. Sophia (Madison Lintz)

Was Sophia's emergence from the barn at the midpoint of season two an incredible emotional moment? Absolutely. Was it also intensely frustrating, seeing as it rendered the entire "search for Sophia" storyline essentially useless? Absolutely. Both things can be and are indeed true.

16. Deanna Monroe (Tovah Feldshuh)

Alexandria's founding leader sustained a zombie bite toward the midpoint of season six, resulting in her sacrificing herself in order to save Rick and the others from certain doom. Deanna's penultimate scene, in which she screams at an oncoming pack of walkers, will forever be seared into the minds of everyone who witnessed her demise.

15. Simon (Steven Ogg)

Much like Deanna, the final image of Simon involves the man screaming and biting at seemingly nothing — this time, because he's a zombified mess, tied to a pole on the outskirts of the Sanctuary. He was one of the most dynamic characters during his run on the series, but if Simon had to die, it was a heck of a way to go.

14. Gregory (Xander Berkeley)

The first major death of season nine, Gregory's hanging at the hands of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) delivered exactly what was needed: a tone-establishing moment of dread, true to the character's cowardly ways.

13. Dale Horvath (Jeffrey DeMunn)

Through much of season two, The Walking Dead played things close to the comic book script. Cue: Dale's death, a huge left turn away from the path laid out by Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard. In the comics, Dale survives for several issues, dying right before the gang makes it to Alexandria. His disembowelment at the maw of a hangry walker was not just grotesque, but a visceral signal that nobody on the show was safe, no matter their comic book roots.

12. Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.)

With Dale dead, Bob earned the late Mr. Horvath's comic book fate: captured and dismembered by cannibals, only to reveal he had been bitten by a walker some time earlier. Never forget Blue Sky Bob's glorious words: "Tainted meat!" The fact that he was able to die somewhat peacefully after that only made his ending that much sweeter.

11. Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman)

Speaking of sweet exits, we next turn to Tyreese's demise, occurring a few episodes after Bob's death. Few characters have been allowed a more graceful passage into the great beyond than Tyreese, who was forced to confront old ghosts like the Governor on his way out the door.

10. Dwight (Austin Amelio)

Perhaps higher than others would rank him, especially because there's always a chance he could return: Dwight, last seen biking off into the sunset, searching for the love of his life. It's the opposite of what the show did with Heath, who vanished without a trace. Here, Dwight is afforded the rare opportunity to have an ending without dying, his fate left up to the imaginations of the fandom. Given his important role in the comics, it's entirely possible Dwight's final notes will eventually be reversed.

9. Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal)

Rick Grimes' best friend entered The Walking Dead with an expiration date. Shane's death is the first major turning point of the comic books, after all; it's not something the show could skip or put off for too long. Much like Dale's death, however, Shane's exit proved the show's willingness to shake things up from the source material. In the comics, Carl's the one who kills Shane, while the show opted to give the honor to Rick. It was a wise move, and one that set the stage for so many of Rick's ensuing acts of brutality.

8. Gareth (Andrew J. West)

Speaking of Rick's acts of brutality, the future leader of Alexandria's final encounter with Terminus' king of cannibalism ranks pretty high on the list. The Terminus story arc is one of the most satisfying runs on the show, largely because it's here and gone in a flash. Rick promised to murder Gareth via machete, and boy, did he deliver. 

7. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln)

Entering his heavily promoted final episode, everybody expected Rick Grimes to die. Instead, he's still alive, rescued by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her oh-so-convenient helicopter friends. Is it a little bit of a cop-out? Absolutely. Does that negate the emotionally impactful events leading up to his fly-away exit, including but not limited to the return of old ghosts Shane, Sasha and the late Scott Wilson as Hershel? Absolutely not. What's more, Rick's story is far from over, as Lincoln is set to return in a series of AMC Studios original movies. While his time on the Walking Dead flagship series is at an end, this cowboy isn't riding off (all the way) into the sunset quite yet.

6. Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs)

Until Lincoln's exit was announced, Riggs' departure was by far and away the biggest change-up between the comics and TV series. It's still a shock, living in a Walking Dead world without Carl. While the manner in which he received his fatal wound was definitely questionable, Carl's final episode in the series was a standout for Riggs as an actor, and easily one of the most emotionally impactful Walking Dead moments in the show's recent history.

5. Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies)

Another character who was destined to die due to the source material, except for this: Lori's death came much earlier than anticipated. By exiting the series only four episodes into the show's third season, Lori became an avatar for just how brutal things could get in the world of the AMC drama. Her final moments (before becoming a hallucinatory ghost, that is), in which she whispers the words "Goodnight love," are some of the most upsetting of the entire series. While we're here, quick shoutout to T-Dog (IronE Singleton), brutally butchered by walkers just a few scenes ahead of Lori's death.

4. Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) and the Governor (David Morrissey)

The two die in the same sequence, evoking drastically different reactions on their way out the door. The late Scott Wilson's exit is one of the most upsetting deaths of the series; watching a kind soul like Hershel lose his head in such violent fashion was traumatic for many viewers, to say the least. Meanwhile, the Governor's death just a few minutes later was one of the most satisfying moments in Walking Dead history, a strong ending to his final three-episode arc.

3. Noah (Tyler James Williams)

While not the series' most significant character by any stretch of the imagination, Noah ranks this high on the list because no named character suffered a more grotesque fate. Greg Nicotero's KNB EFX team pulled out all the stops in showing Noah's evisceration at the hands of so many hungry walkers, an easy contender for the grossest death in Walking Dead history. (And making every Walking Dead viewer reluctant to walk through a revolving door.)

2. Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker)

For two full seasons, fans debated the fate of Daryl Dixon's older brother. Did he die shortly after fleeing the Atlanta rooftop? Was he still out there somewhere in the world? Turns out, he survived, but only for a short period of time, working on the Governor's behalf — and only for so long. Merle's final episode of the series, appropriately called "This Sorrowful Life," offers an empathetic portrait of one of the show's edgier characters. A complicated figure, Merle dies without redemption, but at least he dies with one of the more realized arcs of anyone on the show. His final zombified encounter opposite Daryl is certainly one of the highlights of season three, if not the series.

1. Lizzie and Mika Samuels (Brighton Sharbino and Kyla Kenedy)

The top spot goes to the stars of "The Grove," season four's Carol-centric installment that still ranks right up there among the very best episodes of The Walking Dead. Through the deaths of the disturbed Lizzie and her frightened sister Mika, The Walking Dead perfectly articulated the thoroughly tragic world Carol, Tyreese and the other survivors are forced to call their home. Carol's final moment with Lizzie, in which she tells the little girl to look out at the flowers, is perhaps the saddest moment of the entire series — and, frankly, perhaps the series' single best moment, too.

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