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What would a TV show about the zombie apocalypse be without a few scares here and there? Inspired by the classic films of George A. Romero (the grandfather of the modern undead genre), AMC's The Walking Dead has always struck a nice balance between terrors both living and dead.
Reanimated corpses with a voracious appetite for human flesh are bloodcurdling, sure — no doubt about it — what about humans no longer bound by the implicit rules of civilization? What happens when you take away all the modern conveniences and throw people back into the Dark Ages almost overnight? How much of your quiet humanity erodes away when all the laws and repercussions are suddenly swept away as though they never existed in the first place? Compound that with a literal army of hungry ghouls and you've got a perfect recipe for frightening your audience.
As The Walking Dead nears the end of its eleventh and final season this weekend, we decided to take a look back at the 11 scariest moments throughout the series...
1. Dr. Jenner explains the zombie virus (Season 1, Episode 6)
Robert Kirkman has said that he ended up regretting the CDC episode at the end of Season 1 because it took away a lot of the mystery surrounding the zombie virus. We actually disagree with this sentiment for one simple reason: Doctor Edwin Jenner (who recently cropped back up in World Beyond) is still very much in the dark when he provides a rundown of the undead affliction scientifically dubbed “TS-19.”
He doesn’t even know what causes the virus — only that it restarts a very primitive part of the human brain. Other than that, the folks who were supposed to be in charge are no closer to reversing the apocalypse than Shane is to getting back together with Laurie. It’s a terrifying and grim development that solidifies the death of the old world.
2. Rick and Hershel's standoff at the bar (Season 2, Episode 8)
The meandering isolation of Hershel’s farm shatters into a million tiny pieces when Rick and Hershel find themselves in the middle of a tense saloon standoff with a pair of abrasive survivors from Philadelphia. It drives home the fact that no place is truly safe following the demise of civilized society. Perhaps our heroes could have continued to live out their peaceful agrarian existence, had Hershel not decided to get drunk after the walkers in his barn were killed. Instead, they end up with a hostage whose foreign presence on the farm ruins ultimately everything.
3. The Governor holds Glen and Maggie hostage (Season 3, Episode 7)
We already knew the Governor was not the righteous man he claimed to be, but his treatment of Glenn and Maggie really drives home his status as a grade-A a**hole. The scene in which he forces Maggie to undress during their interrogation is sleazy, deplorable, and incredibly hard to watch. Once again, we’re reminded that walkers aren’t necessarily the scariest things in this new world.
4. Rick tears out a man’s throat (Season 4, Episode 16)
Claimed! Showing just how savage the walker apocalypse has made him, Rick doesn’t hesitate in tearing out another man’s throat with his bear teeth when a roaming group of survivors corner him and Carl on a lonely highway. The primal urge to protect those he loves drives our main protagonist to do the unthinkable. In this moment, Rick Grimes is more walker than man. If any moment in the show deserved the descriptor of “Savage AF,” it would be this one.
5. Noah’s death (Season 5, Episode 14)
Noah’s death is one of the most gruesome ends for any character across this series while, at the same time, shining a spotlight on the incredible practical effects work of director/producer Greg Nicotero and his team at KNB. It’s made all the more tragic by the conversation Noah has with Reg Monroe earlier in the episode about wanting to learn the architecture trade.
This small moment lulls us into a false sense of security, making us believe that Noah will end up being an integral part of the Alexandria community. Nope! He’s horrifically torn apart not long after because Deanna’s people are woefully unprepared for the slowly rotting dangers lurking just outside their solar-paneled walls.
6. Negan corners the group (Season 6, Episode 16)
Here we have another example of humans being way more terrifying than the zombies. Negan’s entrance into the show could not have been more perfect. Our heroes are desperately trying their darnedest to get Maggie to the doctor at Hilltop, only to be cornered in the middle of the woods by the Saviors and their sadistic commander-in-chief. The mounting tension becomes unbearable as Negan takes his sweet time explaining why he needs to kill off a member of the group in order to teach Rick an important lesson about obedience. They’re helpless to do anything, forced to kneel like peasants before an insane medieval king. The release of that tension in the Season 7 premiere offers no relief, only bitter heartache.
7. The Scavengers turn on Rick (Season 7, Episode 16)
The season-long attempt to build a solid resistance against the Saviors comes crashing down as soon as the Scavengers turn their guns on the residents of Alexandria. All seems lost because we know for a fact that Negan won’t be so merciful this time around. Even the small victory of Sasha’s plan to turn herself into a walker is short-lived before Negan gains the upper-hand again and threatens to kill Carl and take Rick’s hands. It seems we’re in for a repeat of Glenn and Abraham. How in the world are they going to get out of this precarious pickle? Luckily, Shiva (King Ezekiel's pet tiger) is a master of dramatic timing and shows up to relieve some of the pressure on our bladders.
8. The Saviors attack Alexandria (Season 8, Episode 9)
The revolution against the Saviors was going so well. Victory seemed assured…until Eugene figured out a way to end the walker siege at the Sanctuary. No longer interested in playing games with Rick, Negan goes for the proverbial jugular, launching an all-out assault on Alexandria and forcing its people to evacuate into the sewers like a bunch of terrified rats.
To make matters worse, Carl only has a few hours left alive as the zombie infection takes hold of his body. In the span of one night, Rick loses his son and Alexandria, which just hasn’t been the same since Negan’s attack.
9. Eugene and Rosita hear the Whisperers (Season 9, Episode 6)
Those with knowledge of the comics knew what this meant right away. Those who had not read the source material, however, were made to wonder if the Walkers were really starting to evolve into beings capable of higher intelligence. Whether you knew this was a sign of the Whisperers or not, the idea of a "smart" zombie is still terrifying no matter which way you slice it. The ultimate reveal of human survivors who wear zombie skin in order to hide among them offers little to no comfort.
10. Beta sneaks into Alexandria (Season 10, Episode 10)
The walls of Alexandria, which have been a relative source of comfort and protection since Season 5, lose all meaning when Beta pops up through the community’s graveyard like the zombies of old. What makes him, Alpha, and the rest of their followers so dangerous is their reverence for the undead.
They’re cunning guerrilla fighters who use the walkers to their advantage. They raise an army of resurrected corpses and then hide in plain sight.
11. Pope throws Bossie into the fire (Season 11, Episode 4)
Just in case we needed an extra reminder of how brutal the Reapers can be, their own leader throws one of them into a bonfire just to make a point. If the Pope is that callous to his own acolytes, just imagine what he’d do to someone who isn’t a member of his flock? The dude always had to go.
You made the right choice, Leah.
Seasons 1-10 of The Walking Dead are currently streaming on Netflix.
Season 11 is available to stream on AMC+. The series finale airs this Sunday on AMC.