‘The Walking Dead’: Ranking the 7 Season Premieres

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

To celebrate the upcoming 100th episode of The Walking Dead, Yahoo TV will be posting a new TWD-related story every day through the series’ Season 8 premiere in October.

Not that you need an excuse for a rewatch (or re-binge, as the case may be) of The Walking Dead, but let us offer this framework: Start with the season premieres. It’ll be a gateway to recalling some of your favorite moments, and how certain characters (like, say, Carol) have evolved into the show’s best and most heroic (like, say, Carol). Here’s our ranking of all seven season openers, and yes, we’re guessing our pick for the best season premiere yet is going to be divisive, so feel free to sound off in the comments.

7. “What Lies Ahead,” Season 2

Original Airdate: Oct. 16, 2011
Directed by: Ernest Dickerson and Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Written by: Ardeth Bey (pseudonym for TWD series developer Frank Darabont) and Robert Kirkman

(Credit: AMC)

The Story: After the destruction of the CDC in the Season 1 finale, Rick is leading his group towards Fort Benning, when they’re halted along a highway filled with abandoned cars that are blocking their convoy. Their stop includes a meetup with a pack of walkers, and in the confusion and panic that ensues when they hide underneath the cars, Carol’s daughter Sophia is separated from the group, and T-Dog is badly cut. Later, while hunting for food, Carl takes a bullet from an unseen shooter.

In the next episode, we find out the shooter is Otis, a farmhand who takes Carl, Rick, and Shane to his employee’s farm. The owner: Hershel Greene, the veterinarian who not only saves Carl’s life, but who gives the whole group temporary shelter, and who will go on to become one of the most beloved characters in the show’s history. His daughters, Beth and Maggie, also become important and beloved characters, and Maggie continues to be one of the group’s leaders. All of that was set up by the action in “What Lies Ahead,” which also illustrated one of the enduring lessons of the show: In the precarious post-apocalyptic world, fortunes can change in a split second. One minute Sophia is safe with her mother, the next, she’s gone forever, with an agonizing search for her ending in Carol’s most tragic loss.

One of the most controversial episodes behind the scenes, “What Lies Ahead” is the final ep written by Darabont, who was fired by AMC in July 2011. The network deemed initial footage shot for the episode unusable, and a continuing contentious relationship with Darabont ended in a lawsuit that is still making its way through the courts, with Darabont seeking millions of dollars in lost profits and AMC sharing some nasty, profanity-laden emails the former showrunner sent to associates on the series.

6. “Seed,” Season 3

Original Airdate: Oct. 14, 2012
Directed by: Ernest Dickerson
Written by: Glen Mazzara

(Credit: AMC)

The Story: The action and urgency of the storyline was ramped up to 100 in this premiere, which found the group taking up residency at the prison Rick and Daryl stumbled upon. Not only did they have high hopes for turning the prison into their new home, but Rick desperately wanted to find a safe place for Lori to give birth, as she was set to due any day. All went reasonably well as the group members attempted to clear the compound of walkers, until a run-in with some undead in the dark led to Hershel getting his leg chomped on. Only a quick-thinking Rick using his hatchet to chop Hershel’s leg off saved Papa Greene’s life.

Meanwhile, an ailing Andrea had been separated from the group in the Season 2 finale, and was being cared for by the hooded figure we’d soon come to know as one of the series’ enduring heroines, Michonne.

5. “30 Days Without an Accident,” Season 4

Original Airdate: Oct. 13, 2013
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Written by: Scott Gimple

(Credit: AMC)

The Story: Relatively speaking — it is still the apocalypse — Rick’s group is enjoying a peaceful life at the prison. The Governor and his psycho ways were dispatched at the end of Season 3, Rick has stepped down from the Ricktatorship and is now providing fresh produce while living the life of a farmer at the prison, hunter Daryl is the prison rock star because of the meat he provides for its citizenry, and the Woodbury residents who came to the prison post-Governor are happily integrating with the OG survivors. But then — again, it’s still the apocalypse, which means there’s always going to be a “but then …” — Beth’s boyfriend Zach is killed by walkers while saving Bob during a supply run to the Big Spot superstore; Daryl, Glenn, and others on the supply run are nearly killed when a helicopter crashes through the decaying store roof; and one of Rick’s pigs and Carl’s young friend Patrick both die from a mysterious illness that will soon threaten the entire prison population. All serve to lead a hardened Beth to change the “30 days without a workplace accident” sign to zero.

The premiere also subtlety sets up the confused mindset of young Lizzie Samuels, a storyline that will pay off later in the season in one of the series’ most classic episodes, “The Grove.”

4. “First Time Again,” Season 6

Original Airdate: Oct. 11, 2015
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Written by: Scott Gimple and Matthew Negrete

(Credit: AMC)

The Story: The Ricktatorship lives, as Rick and the Alexandrians discover a huge quarry full of thousands of walkers, all about to break free from the pit and provide yet another threat to the Safe Zone. Rick has a plan to use a pace car and Daryl’s motorcycle to Pied Piper the walkers far away from Alexandria, but a town citizen named Carter questions Rick and his plan, and even tries to get some of his fellow citizens to assassinate Rick and end his influence in town. That plot fails — and you probably remember Carter’s inevitable fate — but so does Rick’s plan, when, during the initially successful luring of the walkers, a loud horn blares from Alexandria, leading half the walker horde off the path Rick and the others were trying to get them to follow and into the nearby woods. That pack — an incredibly cool new visual bar Nicotero and his team set by using more than a thousand actors in makeup — would roam free to torment the Alexandrians for many more episodes that season. P.S. Thumbs up for the clever casting of Rick’s enemy-turned-ally Carter; he was portrayed by Ethan Embry, who was also among the actors who auditioned to play Rick Grimes before Andy Lincoln was cast.

3. “No Sanctuary,” Season 5

Original Airdate: Oct. 12, 2014
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Written by: Scott Gimple

(Credit: AMC)

The Story: The true horror of Terminus comes to light in this premiere, as Gareth and his people are revealed to be cannibals. Initially sincere in their efforts to provide a safe place for other survivors, Gareth and the Terminites were taken advantage of by a group who raped and killed Terminus residents. In response, Gareth and company became savages themselves, and it is only the sheer badassery of Carol that saves Rick, Glenn, and the others captured by Gareth from getting butchered and eaten. Covering herself with guts so she can get past the walkers outside Terminus, Carol blows up a propane tank inside the compound, setting fire to Terminus and providing Rick and the others with a distraction that allows them to break free. Carol continues her Rambo ways until she reunites with her friends, including an emotional Daryl and a very grateful and humbled Rick, who had last encountered Carol when he banished her from the prison. She continues her heroic ways by leading Rick and Carl to a reunion with Judith, who she and Tyreese have been protecting since the final showdown with The Governor in Season 4.

2. “Days Gone Bye,” Season 1

Original Airdate: Oct. 31, 2010
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont

(Credit: AMC)

The Story: This Halloween treat is when it all began, luring even the most anti-genre fans into the fantastic storyline about a disparate group of people who become a family while navigating the monsters and monstrous humans who emerge post-apocalypse. Georgia sheriff Rick Grimes awakens from a coma in a hospital bed and is cruelly and immediately confronted with the fact that the world as he knows it has ended. The friendship of the also shaken Morgan helps him acclimate to his new reality as much as anyone possibly could, but his iconic horseback ride into downtown Atlanta quickly dampens his hopes of finding his wife and son, as he’s swarmed by thousands of the undead and forced to crawl under an Army tank to survive. He’s ready to give up — he puts his cocked gun to his head and apologizes to Lori and Carl — but finds a retreat inside the tank’s bottom opening. His refuge is brief — a dead soldier inside the tank has reanimated, and Rick has to shoot him — and it’s only a voice that comes in on the radio, one calling him a “dumbass,” one who will quickly become a fan favorite as pizza delivery boy-turned hero Glenn — that lets Rick know he’s not alone, and convinces him not to turn that gun on himself again.

The pilot also brilliantly sets up that The Walking Dead will not be just an action-heavy genre show; if you want a healthy helping of sudsy drama with your main course of zomebiedom, it will be served via the affair Rick’s wife, who thinks he’s dead, is having with his best friend and sheriff’s deputy partner, Shane.

1. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” Season 7

Original Airdate: Oct. 23, 2016
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Written by: Scott Gimple

(Credit: AMC)

The Story: Yeah, yeah, we know, this is far from No.1  of the list of favorite season premieres for many, maybe even most, TWD fans. And we continue to love and miss us some Abraham and Glenn, too. But we’d argue that most people’s dissatisfaction with the premiere stems from the fact that Negan’s victims weren’t revealed in the Season 6 finale. And you have to admit this: The Season 7 premiere not only honored the comic-book storyline, but expanded on and twisted the impact of Negan’s introduction to the series in a pretty spectacular way. Violent? Uh, yeah, as the deaths of two people via barbed wire-covered baseball bats to the noggins will necessarily be. But the Season 7 premiere also proved that the series isn’t afraid to go there, to up the stakes, and to acknowledge that even the best people — the most popular of characters — can cruelly, unfairly, randomly die in the apocalypse, and not just at the hands, or gnashing teeth, of walkers.

The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres in October on AMC.

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