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Ranking ‘The Walking Dead’ Seasons From Worst to Best

We are the walking dead.

Negan holds his barbed wire bat

Discussing The Walking Dead is an endeavor, but I’m doing what I must for survivors and walkers alike. Imagine a world in which The Walking Dead as a whole never existed? I’m aware how dramatic that sounds, but this comics and series spawned a lot of horror content, so I think it’s justified. Zombie/post-apocalyptic horror media can get really stale very quickly but, thankfully, there are more than a few good seasons of The Walking Dead.

Which seasons are at the bottom of the bin? And are the ones you can’t stand at the top of the list? It’s time to grab your weapon of choice and join me in taking out the horde of walkers that is the entire 11 seasons of The Walking Dead.

11. Season 8

Rick and Michonne talking to a dying Carl in The Walking Dead season 8

Fans of the comics (myself included) were highly anticipating the “All Out War” arc to be adapted. And, unfortunately, it didn’t go as swimmingly as everyone hoped. The Walking Dead Season 8 was all about Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)’s groups battling it out for a very short period of time under Negan’s control. Despite some memorable scenes and performances from various folks, it’s a season that doesn’t quite hold up. The writing isn’t up to snuff as it feels like everything drags on and it’s the season that Carl (Chandler Riggs) was killed off for reasons that are still baffling to fans.

10. Season 7

Negan and Rick and their incredible amount of UST in The Walking Dead season 7

I’m setting aside my personal thoughts about Season 7 and looking at it from a critical lens. The Walking Dead Season 7 isn’t horrendous, it just struggles to make episodes that don’t involve Negan interesting. Ultimately, without the exploration of Negan and the Saviors, the season would fall apart. The premiere is without a doubt one of the best premieres of the entire show (it’s a bold claim, but I’m sticking to it!). Aside from the premiere, some good episodes, Rick and Negan’s sexual tension/chemistry, and comic moments being adapted, it’s a season that ultimately lands at the bottom due to pacing and writing.

9. Season 9

An injured Rick Grimes struggling to get away from walkers in The Walking Dead season 9

The Walking Dead Season 9 marked the end of Rick being our primary protagonist. The tone and overall feeling of the show shifted the moment Andrew Lincoln left the series. And that can be perceived as either a good or a bad thing (depending on who you ask) for the show as a whole. The introduction of the Whisperers upped the creepy factor and took the series in a direction that was needed given the lack of Rick. It’s not my favorite season personally, but I can’t deny that a sense of dread and the divide among the communities was written pretty well.

8. Season 11

Maggie being a very stern leader of the group in The Walking Dead season 11

The final season of The Walking Dead wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But, did it deliver on the horror front of things? Absolutely! If nothing else, the horror (which includes the Walker designs), action sequences, and themes surrounding classism helped make even the more boring episodes entertaining. I’m not personally someone who enjoyed this season as much as I wanted to. However, I can’t deny the season was ambitious and paid off in various ways (not necessarily for every character or storyline, but what can you do!). Plus, it brought Rick back for a few scenes near the end of the series finale, which is always a win in my book.

7. Season 10

Lucille comforting Negan in The Walking Dead season 10 flashback episode

There’s quite a lot that occurs in The Walking Dead Season 10, some of which include wrapping up the Whisperer War arc and FINALLY exploring Negan’s backstory in what is one of the best episodes of the show. Many of the events that occur in Season 10 range from disturbing to stress-inducing. And, while I much prefer Alpha (Samantha Morton) and Beta (Ryan Hurst)’s arcs in the comics, at least they both went out in ways that are hardly forgettable. All in all, Season 10 had a fair amount of highs and wrapped up a beloved arc as best as they could.

6. Season 1

Rick Grimes stands in his police officer uniform

The Walking Dead comics helped changed the landscape of zombie/post-apocalyptic horror. Therefore, Season 1 of The Walking Dead couldn’t do any less than that. It’s the shortest season of the entire show and ultimately hasn’t aged well in some ways, but it introduces us to characters we’ll never forget. The tension that’s built up among the survivors feels very in tune with the feeling in the comics. And ,even in an apocalyptic setting, the most horrendous people manage to survive. Not to mention Rick Grimes is one of the best written characters in television history. The evolution that he goes through from the first season onwards is incredible. And it all began in the almost flawless Season 1.

5. Season 2

Shane and Rick being very intense in The Walking Dead season 2

Are you shocked that Season 2 is higher than Season 1 on this list? You shouldn’t be! The Walking Dead Season 2 perfectly balances scares, tension, the unraveling of relationships, and what people become as a result of the end of the world. Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Rick’s relationship is put to the test during the entire season. And, of course, it all falls apart when Rick is forced to murder Shane, thus killing his ties to his former life. It’s a tremendous season with an incredible season finale that helps usher us into the prison era of The Walking Dead.

4. Season 3

Rick outside of the prison gates in The Walking Dead season 3

The prion era of The Walking Dead is near perfection because of how much the characters are tested. Rick loses his mind after Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) dies and the group is faced with the perils of dealing with the Governor (David Morrissey)’s community. There’s so much to enjoy about Season 3, like the introduction of beloved comic characters like Michonne (Danai Gurira). The importance of her character in particular is not something to be ignored. Overall, it’s a season full of loss, betrayal, intense showdowns, and the beginning of the end. The Walking Dead Season 3 is when the show was really at an all time high.

3. Season 6

Negan holds his barbed wire bat

Say what you will, but the fact remains that Season 6 of The Walking Dead builds up to a nail-biting finale. The exploration into everyone’s mindset of being in Alexandria and not outside of the walls is actually interesting. Rick’s group became very used to violence and ultimately their tactics lead them to meet Negan and the Saviors. It’s a season that deserves a bit more appreciation for how it sets up the events of the finale. Plus, it’s the season where many relationships end and begin. Also, Season 6 had some of the wildest moments on the show, like Carl losing his eye and the group taking out all those Saviors in their sleep. Overall, it’s a pretty good season that’s more watchable than people may realize.

2. Season 5

Team family (minus Carl and Judith) walking down the road together in The Walking Dead season 5

To be honest, The Walking Dead barely missed in Seasons 3-5. The amount of scenes in Season 5 alone that are burned into the brains of fans is ridiculous. Of course, the infamous scenes with the Terminus cannibals come to mind. But, Season 5 also sees Rick’s group finally finding refuge in Alexandria, but epically failing at adapting within the community. There’s something about the grit and darkness of Season 5 that still gets to me in particular. Everyone is at their lowest or trying very hard not to be. It’s also the season that Beth (Emily Kinney), Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and other lovable characters die. So, there’s no way anyone can deny the importance of The Walking Dead Season 5.

1. Season 4

Beth and Daryl holding up their middle fingers like icons in The Walking Dead season 4

The emotional journey that The Walking Dead Season 4 takes its audience on is exhausting. There’s a lot of death, a lot of surprises (if you’re watching for the first time), and, as soon as Rick and co. are split up, that’s when everything feels more perilous. And that’s what the early seasons of The Walking Dead was so good at. Unexpected characters are paired up together and grow closer than ever. Some of the best episodes of the show came out of Season and that’s not an exaggeration. The Governor’s arc also comes to a close in a very violent way. It’s as satisfying as his comic counterpart’s demise and that’s saying something. Plus, who can forget the uncensored version of Rick vocalizing that the Terminus group made a mistake in capturing them? Truly a perfect season of television and I will not argue about that fact.

(featured image: AMC)

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Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.