I love THE WALKING DEAD. The show is by no means perfect, and often dips high and low over the course of a season – sometimes over the course of a single episode. As THE WALKING DEAD season six has recently premiered, I was tasked with coming up with my five favorite episodes. I decided that the only fair way to choose was to pick a single episode from each season. Some were easy (seasons one and four); some were a little more difficult (seasons two and three, for different reasons). These were my five; what are your favorites?
Episode 101: “Days Gone Bye”
Few shows can nail a pilot. Usually they are crammed full of exposition: introducing the world, the characters, the backstories, the reason why we should tune in week after week. THE WALKING DEAD didn’t need any of that. Maybe it was because they were picked up straight-to-series, so they knew they had some time to lay everything out; maybe it was because there was a comic template to follow. “Days Gone Bye” allows the viewer to discover this new world with Rick Grimes; not be told about it.
Episode 213: “Beside the Dying Fire”
Season two had a lot of dry spots, but the season two finale was wall-to-wall zombies. There were a lot of great moments in season two (the zombie herd to open the season; the discovery of the zombies in the barn; finding and killing Sophia; Lori’s decision about the baby) but each of those were great moments in episodes where you also dealt with a lot of of obnoxious stuff (Lori constantly worrying over Carl; “women’s work,” etc). But the season finale was just overrun with hundreds of zombies. It was exciting, action-packed, and brought together those who opposed one another. The burning barn was a beautiful set piece that looked very cinematic.
Episode 314: “Prey”
When it first aired, my first thought was that this, more than any other episode, was a horror movie through and through. The bulk of the episode is the Governor chasing Andrea. Through Woodbury, through the woods, through the school. The scene where Andrea finally sees the prison, where Rick and the rest of her group are camped, is like any classic horror film: safety is mere yards away, so close you can taste it – or at least let your guard down a little bit. Then the Governor springs up out of the overgrowth and grabs Andrea, dragging her back to his own private torture room. That scene always reminded me of the finale of the original Friday the 13th, where Jason pops out of the lake and grabs Alice while she is resting in the boat.
This episode also stands out to me because it was very focused. In THE WALKING DEAD there are often multiple storylines to follow, and multiple locations. In season three, much of our time was divided between the prison and Woodbury. In “Prey,” our focus remained solely on Andrea and the Woodbury community. It was a nice change of pace and helped keep the tension where it belonged.
Episode 414: “The Grove”
This is one of those episodes that you love or hate – there is no in-between. Young Lizzie, who couldn’t be older than twelve, had demonstrated strange and vaguely troubling actions throughout the season, but it all comes to a head in “The Grove.” When the core group was separated after the “prison break,” Carol and Tyreese took Lizzie, her younger sister Mika (maybe seven or eight years old) and infant Judith. The “family” found a slice of paradise, a little house that seemed untouched by the horrors outside – there was even a pecan tree. But once there, Lizzie’s problems became more obvious. She was having a hard time distinguishing that zombies were not people, and that when people came back as zombies, they were monsters. When Carol and Tyreese weren’t looking, Lizzie killed Mika with a knife, to prove that Mika would come back and they could be together forever. She was about to do the same to Judith when Carol and Tyreese find her. She threatens Carol, and Carol backs off. After some deep thought and soul searching, Carol decides the only thing she can do is kill Lizzie. “Just look at the flowers,” she advises the girl before shooting her in the head.
When this episode first aired, one of my co-workers said that he would no longer watch THE WALKING DEAD because of it. He couldn’t verbalize why, he just knew it was wrong. I, on the other hand, see this episode as a fascinating and realistic look at dealing with the mentally ill. In a normal, non-zombie world, Lizzie would have been institutionalized and medicated, possibly forever. But that is not an option in THE WALKING DEAD. Carol chose a more humane route: killing Lizzie to keep Judith and others safe, and giving Lizzie a “true” death. It was bold, shocking television that still echoes in my head.
Episode 514: “Spend”
I don’t know what it is about the fourteenth episode of the season, but the writers and producers really seem to nail it. “Spend” was all about cowardice. Eugene was a coward, avoiding all contact with zombies and all armed conflict. He overcame it in the warehouse, with zombies all around, when he realized if he didn’t act, his injured friend Tara would likely die. Aiden admitted his own cowardice caused him to abandon a scouting group that led to their demise. His buddy, Nicholas, was part of that group, and he tells Aiden that he can’t save him from his lethal impalement because he is a coward. Later on, Nicholas’ cowardice rears its head again when he is caught in a revolving door with Glenn and Noah, and he rushes to save his own ass, leaving Noah to be eaten alive by zombies, with Glenn – and the audience – forced to watch a Noah be eaten.
There were other juicy bits in this episode (Carol threatening a child; Gabriel trying to turn the leader of Alexandria against Rick and his crew; and the spousal abuse plotline nearing its apex) but none so juicy as the tragic, heart wrenching – and heart eating – scene with Noah getting torn to pieces. Never have I seen such gore on a television show.