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Grateful ‘Dead’: 10 Best ‘Walking Dead’ Episodes

As the AMC show returns for its fifth season, we look back at the series’ finest moments of high drama, horror and oh-my-god head shots

Walkers from 'Walking Dead'

Walkers from 'Walking Dead'

Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Last season, AMC's The Walking Dead drew over 12 million viewers an episode — a huge audience for any show these days, but especially for one that each week sends its characters on a grim march toward certain death. Give credit to the show's writers, for making the gory saga of a zombie plague not just endurable, but meaningful. Following the lead of the Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comic (and one of the TV series' executive producers), the show traffics in both long, graphic-novel-sized arcs and the occasional short, stand-alone episode. That mixed approach has allowed the series to spend time exploring how its band of human survivors are struggling to rebuild a society — as well as take an hour here or there just to scare the crap out people.

These 10 standout Walking Dead episodes include some of the show's most chilling moments — warning: dead children ahead — but also represent what it does best, i.e. using ghastly carnage as the backdrop for intense character studies. These are the cream of the zombie-apocalyptic TV crop.

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‘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.

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