‘The Walking Dead’: The Best Flashbacks and Backstories

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

To celebrate the Oct. 22 Season 8 premiere of  The Walking Dead — the series’ 100th episode — Yahoo TV will be posting a new TWD-related story every day through the season opener.

They’re not as common as they are on, say, Orange Is the New Black, but The Walking Dead writers, cast, and crew have used their fair share of backstories and flashbacks to inform what’s happening with our favorite (and some not-so-favorite… Terminus residents) post-apocalyptic residents in the present day. Below is our roundup of the best blasts from the pasts, the ones that made us laugh, cry, understand some of the characters better, and, in the best cases, just made us say, damn, that’s some good storytelling.

When Abraham Met Eugene
Season 5, “Self Help”

Michael Cudlitz as Abraham and Josh McDermitt as Eugene in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ (Credit: AMC)

After Abraham brutally killed several men in a grocery store who were intimidating his wife early in the apocalypse, his wife and children were so horrified by his violence that they fled from him, and promptly got themselves eaten by walkers. Feeling he had nothing left to live for, Abraham was about to kill himself when he heard the frantic screams of a man being chased by walkers: Eugene, who, sizing up Abraham and his abilities to help him survive, shared his (fake) knowledge of a cure for the outbreak, if only he could get to Washington, D.C. And thus the mission to get Eugene safely to D.C. and save the world became Abraham’s sole purpose in life.

When Morgan Met Eastman
Season 6, “Here’s Not Here”

(Credit: AMC)

Rick’s first new friend in the apocalypse, Morgan had lost his way, and his sanity, when he failed to kill his reanimated wife, who then bit his son, Duane. The broken Morgan who Rick re-encountered in Season 3’s “Clear” had turned into a deranged, rambling killing machine, until he met Eastman, a forensic psychiatrist who had experienced his own tragedy: His family was murdered by a criminal he’d try to rehabilitate, who then was killed by Eastman. He found peace in the study of Aikido and the newfound appreciation that “all life is precious”… killing his family’s murderer hadn’t ended his torment, just as Morgan’s obsession with “clearing” walkers and the living wouldn’t ease the pain of his losses, Eastman pointed out. Their friendship, formed in the woodsy cabin Eastman called home, brought Morgan back to reality, and left him with some serious fighting skills via Eastman’s bo staff training. When Eastman was bitten by a walker — while saving Morgan — he encouraged his pal to leave the relative safety of the cabin and go back into the world and find other humans to share his life with, leading Morgan to yet another reunion with his old friend Rick Grimes.

Becoming The King
Season 7, “The Well”

Khary Payton as Ezekiel with Shiva in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

How did Ezekiel, the regal, charming, smooth-talking leader of The Kingdom — and owner of a pet tiger named Shiva — become a “king”? He’s not crazy, or delusional, he explained to a weary, suspicious Carol. Pre-apocalypse, he was a zookeeper (hence Shiva) and actor, and believing there still was good in the world, and a reason to re-establish a community, he combined his theatrical talents and a sweet throne to create the persona of King Ezekiel, the strong, capable, and kind leader who could develop a thriving community like The Kingdom. Oh, and the tiger… the tiger definitely helped establish him as the “larger than life” King, as he admitted to Carol.

Meet Bicycle Girl
The Walking Dead: Torn Apart web series

(Credit: AMC)

This Greg Nicotero-directed six-part series tells the story of Bicycle Girl, the walker Rick Grimes encountered in the series premiere. Bicycle Girl was Hannah, a divorced mom of two who ran to her ex-husband’s house after a car crash. She found her children there with her ex, Andrew, but Andrew’s new wife — now a walker — almost eats them all. Hannah kills the walker wife, and they all plan to flee in the truck of Andrew’s neighbor, Mike, who had been bitten and begged Andrew to shoot him before he turned. Andrew did, but failed to shoot Mike’s children, who had also been bitten; Mike’s walker kiddos eat Andrew. Hannah, still determined to get her kids to safety, follows a public announcement call for survivors to meet up at a nearby park to be evacuated, but she’s bitten en route. She hands a gun to her children and tells them to get to the park, just before a pack of walkers swarms her, tearing her in half. The last time we see her — until she meets Rick — she is pulling her torso along the ground.

Burning Down the House
Season 4, “Still”

(Credit: AMC)

While taking refuge in an old shack in the woods after running away from the prison at the end of The Governor’s final attack, Daryl and Beth played a moonshine-fueled game of “Never Have I Ever” and got real. Daryl angrily opened up to “dumb college” girl Beth about his sad, abusive childhood, which included nearly getting killed by brother Merle’s drug dealer when Merle made fun of a cartoon they were watching on TV, but didn’t include nice things like gifts from Santa, or frozen yogurt, or vacations. Pre-apocalypse, Daryl was just “some redneck a**hole [with] an even bigger a**hole for a brother,” he told Beth. But she tells him he’s a survivor, and he’s changed; “you were made for how things are now,” she said, pointing out that in this world, he’s appreciated and cared about, and his skills are valued. The old shack continued to remind Daryl of the hardscrabble existence he weathered as a kid, which gave Beth an idea: They should burn it down. Using the moonshine left in some old jars, they doused the house and lit it up, lifting their middle fingers at it as they watched it burn. Beth and a smiling Daryl then walked off into the woods.

Michonne’s Pets
Season 4, “After”

On her own after being separated from everyone at the prison following The Governor’s attack, Michonne dreamed about her pre-apocalypse life. It was revealed that she had a young son with boyfriend Mike, but the dream turned into a nightmare as Mike and his friend, Terry, began talking about the apocalypse and questioning what the point was of trying to survive it. We learned Michonne’s little boy was killed, and Mike and Terry became the armless “pets” she traveled with prior to joining Rick’s group. And as Michonne continued to wander the area, killing walkers and simply existing, she realized she wanted her life to be about more than that, so she followed a set of footprints that led her to her post-apocalypse family: Rick and Carl, holed up in an abandoned house.

Becoming the Butchers
Season 5, “No Sanctuary”

Terminus (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

One of the things the show’s writers do best is giving us layered portraits of even the most vile characters, as they did with Gareth and his cannibalistic brethren at Terminus. In flashbacks throughout this episode — in which Carol saved her friends from becoming Terminus snacks — Gareth, his brother Alex, and their mom, Mary, were seen as hostages in the very place they were holding Rick and company. The “sanctuary” signs that had led Rick and the rest to Terminus were originally posted with the sincere intention of offering a safe haven at the camp. But pre-Rick, the signs drew a group of bad people, who raped and murdered the Terminites. Traumatized by the violence, survivor Gareth told his family, “You’re either the butcher or the cattle,” which rallied them to fight back against their captors, but then became their all too literal philosophy for continuing to survive and operate Terminus.

Who’s the Boss?
Season 6, “The Same Boat”

Alicia Witt as Paula in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Carol and Maggie were held hostage inside an old slaughterhouse by Savior Paula (guest star Alicia Witt) and another pair of Savior women, all strong individuals who use both their intelligence and physical strengths to get through a rollercoaster of an episode that highlights another of the series’ biggest strengths: pointing out that who’s the hero and who’s the villain is sometimes a matter of perspective. We love us some Maggie and Carol (and the rest of Rick’s crew, of course), so we were totally on their side here, but Paula was a Carol-level toughie who approached surviving with a practical mindset, too. She told Carol about how she survived the outbreak, when her job as a secretary nearly got her killed: “I was at work when the Army took over D.C. We weren’t allowed to leave. They had to evacuate all the important people first, members of Congress, government employees, so I was stuck with my boss,” Paula said. “Not my family, my husband, my four girls… my boss was weak and stupid and he was going to die, and he was going to take me down, too. He was the first person I killed so that I could live. I stopped counting when I hit double digits. That’s right around the time I stopped feeling bad about it.”

Oh, Sherry (and Dwight)
Season 6, “Always Accountable”

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Christine Evangelista as Sherry, and Austin Amelio as Dwight in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead ‘ (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were getting backstory on Dwight and Sherry in this installment, in which they were just two people who stole Daryl’s motorcycle and crossbow. What we’d later find out is that they were members of the Saviors community, and when they got tired of “kneeling” to Negan, they took off. But the marrieds also took Sherry’s sister Tina — who Negan wanted as one of his brides — and the insulin Tina needed to survive. The men who came looking for them in the woods, the ones Daryl helped protect them from: Negan’s henchmen, of course, additional details that would make a lot more sense once Negan and Lucille really introduced themselves and their rules to Rick’s group in the Season 6 finale.

Hershel’s Past
Season 2, “Nebraska”

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes and Scott Wilson as Hershel Greene in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Hershel had been pushed to his limit after the reanimated family members he’d been stashing in his barn were killed, forcing him to admit they’d never be “cured.” That’s when it was revealed he was a recovering alcoholic, one who had given up drinking the day Maggie was born, and didn’t even allow liquor in the house. But the death of his wife had him going way back in time to find a way to cope, which is why Rick and Glenn found him hanging out at a local bar in town when Beth collapsed and they needed his medical expertise to treat her.

Don’t Open, Dead Inside
The Walking Dead: The Oath web series

(Credit: AMC)

Greg Nicotero directed and wrote this three-part web series, which explains the iconic message-covered doors Rick Grimes sees in the hospital after he wakes up from his coma in the series premiere. The hospital cafeteria’s doors were the handiwork of Paul (Wyatt Russell, the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), an apocalypse survivor who was taken to the hospital by his friend Karina after he was injured when the two escaped from a walker herd that invaded their camp. At the hospital, they met a doctor who was barricaded inside. She tried to help Paul, but prematurely called his death, and put his body inside the cafeteria, with many other bodies that had already turned. Paul woke up, though, and after fighting his way out of restraints, fled the zombie-filled room and went to reunite with Karina. The rest of the story involved a great twist we won’t spoil — because you should experience it for yourself if you haven’t yet — but suffice it to say Paul doesn’t leave the hospital without Karina, or without barricading those cafeteria doors with a chain, and spray painting the words “Don’t Open Dead Inside” on them.

The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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