'Days Gone Bye' (Season 1, Episode 1)
It might sound like a backhanded compliment to say that The Walking Dead's first episode is still its best, as if saying "Well, it's all downhill from here. But it's more a tribute to the staggering 67 minutes of television that is the show's bleak, almost self-contained pilot. Before the original showrunner Frank Darabont was shown the door, he set the tone for what the series could be, writing and directing a pilot episode as rich and gut-wrenching as a feature film, albeit with a cliffhanger instead of a climax. "Days Gone Bye" introduces Rick Grimes, a small-town deputy sheriff who wakes up from a coma into a world of zombified "walkers." Outside of a brief interlude involving a neighbor, the episode is mostly dialogue-free, following Rick as he makes his way alone to a rumored quarantine zone in Atlanta. The image of Rick riding into a devastated city on a horse — the last cowboy on Earth — hints at the way Dead would go on to fuse horror with other genres, from domestic melodrama to two-fisted action-adventure. And the overwhelming zombie hordes that greet Rick in Atlanta make it clear that from here on out, even the hero's best plans are going to end in mayhem.