Season finales are often the most anticipated episodes of a series, and AMC’s The Walking Dead was no exception to this rule. Based on the series of comic books by Robert Kirkman, the series premiered in 2010 and captivated audiences with its central storyline following bands of survivors in the aftermath of a devastating zombie outbreak, battling both “Walkers” (the zombies) and other survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Shortly after its premier, The Walking Dead would become a pop-culture phenomenon, with its season finales becoming events not to be missed.
Season finales often make for compelling television, often serving as a vehicle for wrapping up multiple storylines within a season, introducing new ones, and — most famously and frustratingly — ending on cliffhangers that leave audiences waiting months, sometimes longer, for resolutions. In The Walking Dead, this often means fast, action-packed episodes, including brutal villains, both new and familiar, and devastating deaths of minor and main characters. In short, no one was safe.
The Walking Dead
- Norman Reedus, Melissa Suzanne McBride, Lauren Cohan, Christian Serratos, Seth Gilliam, Khary Payton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
- Main Genre
Season 8, Episode 16
The Saviors, the ruthless gang led by Negan (Jeffery Dean Morgan), continued to be a threat in the Season 8 finale as the communities all band together to fight them. Eugene (Josh McDermitt), now a member of the Saviors, is tasked with creating bullets for them, and he uses it as an opportunity to betray them when they attack, their guns explode rather than fire, injuring and killing many of them and giving Rick (Andrew Lincoln) an advantage. Without guns, Rick and Negan are left to battle it out without weapons. The episode also marked the final appearances of Morgan (Lennie James) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) in the series, who both moved over to Fear the Walking Dead.
“Wrath” isn’t as action-packed and intense as other season finales. It takes its time building to the biggest moments before finally bringing the Saviors’ reign to an end after they had spent the past couple of seasons terrorizing Rick and the others. It was nice to see The Saviors plans backfire, but it didn’t make things too easy, as a violent showdown still played out. It was fitting that the final fight between Negan and Rick ended up being a physical fistfight and that Rick chose to end the violence by not killing Negan, marking a new beginning for the group.
10 “Last Day on Earth”
Season 6, Episode 16
Saviors leader Negan and his beloved barbed-wire-wrapped bat, Lucille, finally made their appearance in the Season 6 finale. Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) travel with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) to Hilltop so she can see their doctor. Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) is left in charge of Alexandria, with the expectation that an attack by the Saviors is imminent; but it’s the others who cross paths with the menacing group.
Similar to “Wrath,” “Last Day on Earth” is a slow burn, at least until the last several minutes, where it takes a harrowing turn, made even more so by the brutal cliffhanger of just who Negan’s victim was going to be. Morgan is great to watch as Negan, a commanding presence from his first moments onscreen and one of the most memorable characters of the series, equal parts charismatic and ruthless. He’d be funny, almost charming, even if he weren’t cruelly taunting and violently killing people.
9 “The Storm”
Season 8, Episode 16
Season 9 centered on the war with the Whisperers and their leader, Alpha (Samantha Morton), culminating in a slow-moving finale set months after her massacre. The Kingdom is struggling after a series of problems, and with a blizzard looming, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) makes the difficult decision to relocate and seek shelter at Hilltop. Back in Alexandria, Negan is released from his cell so he doesn’t freeze to death, and when Judith (Cailey Fleming) gets lost in the storm, he’s the one who finds her and brings her back.
The threats in The Walking Dead are often walkers and other survivors; but in “The Storm,” the communities are forced to reckon with nature instead. The challenges the blizzard presents, while very real, aren’t as compelling as the show’s villains, especially with so much death at Alpha’s hands in the episode before. However, the episode does set up an escalation of the conflict with the Whisperers, and it was also a great example of just how far Negan had come. Ever since his hardcore introduction in Season 6, Negan had been gradually softening, and “The Storm” gave him an opportunity to do some real good by saving Judith’s life. While he can never truly redeem himself after all the death, devastation and outright cruelty he’s responsible for, he went a long way in proving that’s not who he is anymore, and was deserving of a redemption arc.
8 “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”
Season 7, Episode 16
In Season 7’s finale, Dwight tells Rick he wants to help them kill Negan, but ultimately winds up sabotaging them. In the meantime, Sasha, (Sonequa Martin-Green), was being held in a metal casket, and while inprissoned, she was cooking up her own “Kill Negan” plan; deciding to kill herself so that she’d reanimate as a walker and kill him. Although she doesn’t kill him, he’s taken by surprise, and an intense shootout between Rick’s group and the Saviors ensues.
While the loss of Sasha was tragic, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” was a fitting emotional sendoff for her. The episode served as a long buildup to her suicide and reanimation, pairing her emotional scenes with the anticipation of her inevitable attack on Negan. His surprise upon seeing her reanimated corpse is a fantastic, incredibly satisfying moment. But it’s not the episode’s only surprise, as just as Negan is about to kill Carl, Ezekiel’s tiger, Shiva, saves the day with an attack. They’re the sort of big moments that make for a compelling finale, although they don’t quite stack up with some of the series’ more shocking moments.
7 “Welcome to the Tombs”
Season 3, Episode 16
After being betrayed by Milton (Dallas Roberts), the Governor (David Morrissey) locks him in with Andrea (Laurie Holden), instructing him to kill her. However, instead of killing Andrea, he attacks the Governor instead, leading to him being stabbed in the gut and left with Andrea, with the understanding he’ll eventually die, reanimate, and kill her, too. Meanwhile, the Governor moves forward with his attack on the prison, while Rick and his group lay a trap to defend it, and Andrea fights to escape from where the Governor has her held captive and ultimately dies.
Between Andrea’s escape and the attack on the prison, “Welcome to the Tombs” has some major heart-pounding moments, making for a thrilling finale. Notably, the episode shows just how menacing and ruthless the Governor can be. He wasted no time in launching his brutal attack on the prison, and the episode’s most heartbreaking moment came with Andrea’s death. Despite having stayed in Woodbury, she explains she hoped to simply save lives, but in the end, it cost her own.
6 “Rest in Peace”
Season 11, Episode 24
Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) rush an injured Judith to the Commonwealth’s hospital, while a horde breaks into the community. As they fight off the walkers, Jules (Alex Sgambati) and Luke (Dan Fogler) are both bitten; and while she is swarmed and killed, he is dragged to safety and taken to the hospital, where he soon dies, despite attempts to save him, including amputating his bitten leg. With the help of Eugene and Gabriel, Rosita (Christian Serratos) finds her baby daughter, Coco, but is bitten during their escape. She accepts her fate and spends her remaining time with Coco.
“Rest in Peace” was bound to be an intense, harrowing episode, and it delivers from the start with relentless action, high stakes and major losses, making for one of the most memorable and eventful finales of the series. It was also a very emotional finale, from Luke’s chaotic death scene to Rosita’s tearful goodbyes and parting words to Eugene. Appropriately and unsurprisingly, it also served as a setup for the spinoff starring Rick and Michonne.
Season 1, Episode 6
The first season of The Walking Dead was short, with the finale serving as just the sixth episode of the season. Flashbacks reveal the early days of the outbreak from Shane’s perspective, while in the present, Rick and the group of survivors finally make it into the CDC, hoping to find answers and a cure. They met one lone scientist, determined to discover the very answers the group is asking for, but his time is running short as the CDC facility was programmed to self-destruct once the generator runs out of fuel. But for just a brief moment, the survivors enjoy a relatively safe place with electricity and hot water.
“TS-19” is an explosive end to the first season of The Walking Dead, literally. The episode was a fitting, compelling end to the season, with ups and downs as it answers one of the series’ major questions about a possible cure for the virus while, at the same time, leaving multiple possibilities for where the survivors can go next. Despite accomplishing their goal of finding the CDC, it doesn’t provide the survivors with what they want; instead, it confirms how hopeless things really are, that there’s no known cure for the outbreak and therefore, no end in sight and no return to normal, forcing them to face the reality of the new world they’re living in.
Season 4, Episode 16
Rick, Carl and Michonne (Danai Gurira) continue on their trip to Terminus and finally arrive, reuniting with the rest of the group and battling other survivors and, of course, walkers, along the way. When they arrive at Terminus, however, the group comes to the realization that the so-called “safe haven” is not as safe as it claimed to be. The episode is also interspersed with flashbacks to the survivors’ time at the prison, when life was relatively calm, peaceful and simpler.
“A” had plenty of tense, heart-pounding moments, rarely letting up for the duration of the episode, making it one of the series’ best finales. It’s not too surprising something sinister was happening at Terminus, to the extent of which was revealed in the following season premiere. But one of the most memorable moments came from Rick as he fought off attackers, killing one of them by biting them in the neck. It’s a gruesome, shocking moment, and it’s understandable he would react in such a way to protect Michonne and Carl, especially after the losses he’s already suffered and the ways he’s struggled.
Season 5, Episode 16
When Season 5 was drawing to a close, trouble begins to threaten the survivors’ relatively normal life in Alexandria. Leader Deanna (Tova Feldshuh) decides to hold a forum to decide what to do with Rick after he threatens people with a gun, with exiling him on the table as an option; however, Maggie tries desperately to convince the residents to let him stay. Meanwhile, on a supply run, Daryl and Aaron (Ross Marquand) are attacked by a hoard of walkers, and Morgan returns.
The battle over what to do with Rick perfectly highlighted the tension and overall strength of Season 5. Even while the residents of Alexandria were pondering over Rick’s fate, the episode also presented a more immediate threat to the settlement, with a horde of walkers looking to feast on the settlement’s residents. It was refreshing to see the walkers return in style and add to the heightened tensions that Season 5 was permeated with. The season finale also deals with the psychological impacts of the post-apocalyptic world on its survivors, as well as differing approaches to survival, with Rick rightly insisting walkers will always be a threat and the town needs to be more prepared.
2 “Here’s Negan”
Season 10, Episode 22
“Here’s Negan” is regarded as one of the best episodes of the entire series, and it’s an excellent character-driven story. Here, we learn what Negan’s life was like before the outbreak, all while he’s searching for his cherished bat, Lucille. Told in a series of flashbacks, viewers witnessed how his previous life truly had an effect on the ruthless man he would soon morph into. Before this finale aired, a lot of Negan’s backstory was a mystery, told in bits-and-pieces. However, “Here’s Negan” went all-in on his backstory, finally giving answers to a lot of the questions surrounding his character, such as his career before the outbreak (a gym teacher), and how his wife, Lucille, died.
“Here’s Negan” re-affirmed the complex nature of Negan’s character arc. While he was first introduced to viewers as a violent gang leader, the Season 10 finale added a sense of humanity to the seemingly cold-hearted character, and also showcased how one’s past can shape what one becomes in the future. Morgan was always great to watch as Negan, but he delivers his best performance here, from his past and present selves talking to each other to earlier in the outbreak, when he was a loving husband desperate to continue his wife’s cancer treatments and save her life. “Here’s Negan” is the perfect example of why no one should read a book by its cover.
1 “Beside the Dying Fire”
Season 2, Episode 13
As Hershel’s farm is overrun with a massive herd of walkers, the survivors fight to keep control of the property, a determined Hershel in particular, until they’re forced to give up and move on. Andrea is separated from the others, forcing her to fight for survival on her own, and Rick finally reveals to the group what Jenner told him in the Season 1 finale —every single one of them is already infected with the virus, effectively cementing the hopelessness that would begin to set into the minds of the survivors.
“Beside the Dying Fire” is, in a sense, the quintessential Walking Dead finale, with intense moments that change everything and, naturally, death. The episode is heart-pounding from start-to-finish, with an action-packed shootout as the survivors fight the walkers and a fire takes over the barn and emotional moments where the group is separated and trying to find each other. It’s heartbreaking for Hershel in particular, as he’s forced to abandon his home and loses some loved ones in the process.
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