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Every Walking Dead Season Ranked Worst To Best

There's no doubt that "The Walking Dead" will be forever enshrined in television history. Based on a comic series by Robert Kirkman, the show ran for 11 seasons and 177 episodes. It's one of the longest-running cable series of all time, and its ratings have been record-setting. What makes the success of "The Walking Dead" all the more surprising is that its primary cast rotated with regular frequency. For nine seasons, Andrew Lincoln's character Rick Grimes could have been seen as a protagonist — but the show thrived for multiple seasons without him.

Over its lengthy run the series had plenty of ups and downs but never lost sight of what fans loved most about it. At the end of the day, "The Walking Dead" was always an action-packed zombie story that nevertheless made its best moments all about the characters. Every episode was filled with so many small details and pause-worthy moments that the series became endlessly rewatchable. Every character, good or evil, was carefully crafted to the point that there were just as many memorable villains as heroes.

"The Walking Dead" may be over, but its legacy will live on, first through six planned spin-off shows and then in the memories of its millions of fans. For now, however, with the main series concluded, it's finally time to rank every season of "The Walking Dead" from worst to best.

11. Season 8

Season 8 of "The Walking Dead" delivered on the promises of early promos – "All Out War" – but, unfortunately, fans weren't all that invested in the battle. The season ramps up the tension between Rick and Negan as the Saviors continue to push the colonies to their breaking points. Though that conflict does reach a satisfying conclusion, the season as a whole tested the patience of many of the show's viewers.

Common complaints from fans on Reddit include a general lack of stakes from episode to episode and Negan's increasingly unbelievable escapes from death at the hands of Rick and his friends. One of the season's most significant moments -– Carl's death during the midseason finale -– is also a major sticking point for many fans. Despite showrunner Scott M. Gimple's insistence in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that Carl's death would have a major impact on the course of the show, plenty of Redditors and other fans saw it as an unearned moment with a negligible effect on everything that comes after.

The drudgery of the war with the Saviors, combined with some inexplicable writing decisions, left Season 8 as the worst-reviewed installment of "The Walking Dead." Fans and critics agreed that this was the show's low point, and though the series recovered to a degree in the seasons that followed, many felt that the series's best years were behind it.

10. Season 7

Season 7 of "The Walking Dead," perhaps unsurprisingly, earns the second worst-reviewed slot from fans and critics alike. However, like everything in "The Walking Dead," there are a lot of good, memorable moments mixed amongst the bad. The first episode resolved Season 6's cliffhanger and finished introducing Negan, the show's most iconic villain. There was so much excitement surrounding the premiere that Entertainment Weekly reported that it was the most watched thing on television that evening, although it didn't quite manage to top the Season 5 premiere in terms of total viewers.

Unfortunately, the premiere spoiled almost all the excitement anyone had for the season. "The Walking Dead" was known for putting major characters on the chopping block, but Negan's brutal murder of Glenn and Abraham was a bridge too far for most fans. Beyond that, the premiere episode's sickening violence had one reviewer from IndieWire calling it "the show at its worst." 

The premiere's grim tone carried into the rest of the season, much of which was so brutal and hopeless that it became difficult to watch. To make matters worse, the season's plot stumbled forward slower than a plodding zombie. Dedicating basically an entire season to an exploration of the main cast's misery left hardly anyone with the energy to care about the war against the Saviors that followed.

9. Season 6

Wherever the Saviors show up, "The Walking Dead" seems to suffer, and this is seen again in Season 6, which has a tough time focusing on any particular story. The early episodes see Rick and his friends continuing to adjust to life at Alexandria while also taking on new threats, such as a quarry full of walkers and a violent gang who call themselves the Wolves. The back half of the season begins by introducing the Saviors and builds up to the eventual reveal of their leader Negan.

While the season was still reviewed favorably by both critics and fans, there was a noticeable drop in the quality from the seasons that came before it. One of the biggest sticking points with fans was an incident that became known on Reddit as Dumpstergate, where Glen appeared to die in Episode 3 only to be saved in Episode 7. The fake-out, combined with Glen's actual death after the long break between Season 6 and Season 7, felt like a betrayal of the audience.

Some fans have found that on a rewatch, Season 6 improves. The season's slow pacing doesn't grate as much when bingeing is an option, and the finale that came across as a slap in the face to fans at the time doesn't sting quite as badly when the Season 7 premiere starts seconds after the credits roll. That said, this season will always be remembered as a turning point for the series — and not a positive one.

8. Season 10

"The Walking Dead" never fully recovered from its missteps in depicting the war with the Saviors, but it did begin to make a turnaround after Negan was finished. Season 10 made a similar mistake, however, by stretching the war with the Whisperers out for longer than anyone really wanted. Alpha and her family are a terrifying force, but they end up overstaying their welcome. One of the most frequent fan complaints found on Reddit is that much of the story throughout the season feels unreasonably stretched out and slow-paced.

Luckily, even if the pacing is off, the story being told is entertaining. After the Whisperers are destroyed, the season goes on to include bonus episodes that tell one-shot stories about our favorite characters. This bonus content is a mixed bag, with episodes like "One More" being among the best in the entire series and others like "Diverged" being utterly forgettable time fillers.

Overall the season was met with positive reviews, though the same thing can be said of just about any season of "The Walking Dead." By relying on a meandering plot with noticeable low points but still coming out on top by the end, Season 10 ends up being emblematic of the back half of the series. Sometimes, "The Walking Dead" is tough to love — but when the show works, it's spectacular.

7. Season 11

After 12 years on the air, "The Walking Dead" concluded with Season 11. Or did it? There is a slew of new spin-off series coming that will catch up with characters like Negan, Maggie, Daryl, Michonne, and Rick somewhere down the line. AMC announced the spin-offs well before the season finale, which some actors took issue with, as this knowledge may have undercut the impact of the main show's ending (via Deadline).

However, while an extended "The Walking Dead" universe is continuing, the show that started it all wrapped up with an extra-long season that was split into three separate sections released over the course of a year. The early episodes dove into the story of the Reapers, a gang that terrorized Maggie and her friends around the time that the main group was dealing with the Whispers. The season introduced the Commonwealth, a community of 50,000 people led by some unsavory characters. By the end of it all, our heroes have dealt with the Commonwealth's corrupt leadership and appear poised to begin a new and prosperous era for the people in their area.

The critical reception of Season 11 has been more positive than many of the other recent seasons. However, many fans on Reddit have had heated debates online about whether or not the season succeeded as a whole. Even those that enjoyed it tend to agree that it doesn't have the feeling of finality one might expect after twelve years, and with all the spin-offs still to come, it's hard to argue they're wrong.

6. Season 2

Season 2 of "The Walking Dead" made quite a few dramatic changes from the season that preceded it. It had more than twice the amount of episodes as Season 1, and it aired those episodes with a long break in the middle. Behind the scenes, AMC fired showrunner Frank Darabont in the middle of production, launching the first of many lawsuits against "The Walking Dead."

The season begins with Rick and the other survivors losing track of Carol's daughter Sophia, which all precedes Carl getting shot. This leads the group to Hershel's farm, where they stay for the remainder of the season. As things progress, Shane's sanity slowly unravels, building to a dramatic confrontation between him and Rick by the end of the season.

Season 2 sees the character's struggle with all sorts of internal and interpersonal drama, and that's brought to light by stunning performances from the entire cast. It's one of the best-reviewed seasons for that reason, but the show also earned some criticism among Redditors for its slow pacing. In some ways, "The Walking Dead" never fully succeeded at making the jump to longer seasons — and there is a valid argument that the show's ongoing pacing problems began with Hershel's farm.

5. Season 9

Season 9 had a lot going for it. With the war with the Saviors over, the show had the much-needed opportunity to push things in a new direction and explore fresh territory. The season begins with a small time jump, and the first five episodes focus on Rick's efforts to integrate the surviving Saviors into other communities. After another time jump, the rest of the season focuses on the introduction with the Whisperers, and the season as a whole has an easier time dealing with the show's typical pacing issues because of that split focus.

The elephant in the room here is Episode 5, "What Comes After," where Rick Grimes makes a dramatic, but not fatal, exit from the show. Rick's departure was entirely Andrew Lincoln's decision, and he's said he made the move to spend more time with his children (via CinemaBlend). Though the show has a huge cast of beloved characters, some, such as critics at Collider, have argued that it never managed to recapture the magic it had with Rick on board.

Still, Season 9 revitalized the show in a big way and made up much of the ground that Season 7 and Season 8 had lost. According to Rotten Tomatoes, critics favored the season much more than fans, and debates that played out on Reddit and elsewhere across the internet reveal that people found themselves torn between loving and hating the season. Either way, with a new showrunner — and a renewed focus on the ensemble cast — Season 9 helps breathe new life into the series.

4. Season 4

"The Walking Dead" Season 4 packs an almost unbelievable amount of story into 16 episodes. The first five seasons focus on life at the prison, which is suddenly disrupted by a flu-like illness. It's a fascinating look at how simple problems become much more fraught in the post-apocalypse — although the arc, which admittedly lacks intense action scenes, split the opinions of fans on Reddit. After that, the show opens up the Governor's story and builds it up to the point where he destroys the carefully built community at the prison. From there, an array of new characters and stories are introduced as the main group finds themselves scattered in the wilderness.

The season received overwhelmingly strong reviews. Fans and critics were fascinated by the show's ability to balance strong character development with furious action. Though our survivors had lost homes in the past, the Governor's devastation in "Too Far Gone" was more impactful than anything that had happened to them before. The second half of the season might have split characters up too long for the tastes of week-to-week viewers, but the chance to really dig in with individual characters is a gift that keeps on giving with every rewatch. Season 4 isn't the show's best, but it comes incredibly close.

3. Season 3

For some Redditors, Season 3 is the best that "The Walking Dead" has to offer. The group relocates from Hershel's farm to a walker-infested prison, and their new location gives them a tantalizing promise of stability. Unfortunately for our heroes, the nearby community of Woodbury poses a threat because of the Governor, its unstable leader. While tensions rise, the season introduces Michonne, brings back Daryl's brother Merle, and pushes Rick to his limits as a leader.

However, the show once again suffered from uneven pacing in its week-to-week schedule. Fans were particularly upset by the somewhat anticlimactic finale after months of buildup and excessive promotion from AMC. Ultimately, though, the season earned a ton of praise from critics and viewers. Woodbury offered a new angle on life during the apocalypse, and the moral questions the survivors faced at the prison gave the show some of its most dramatic moments to date. The performances from Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey were particularly strong and brought a real urgency to the rivalry between Rick and the Governor. 

While Season 3 may have a handful of missteps, overall it improved on its predecessor in almost every way imaginable.

2. Season 5

There's a real argument to be made that Season 5 is "The Walking Dead" at its absolute best. The season opens with the epic resolution of the Terminus storyline, which includes some of the most brutal and well-choreographed action sequences of the entire series. From there, the season starts to focus on Beth, who's been kidnapped and taken to a hospital run by corrupt cops. While the Beth storyline was a low point for some fans on Reddit, it built to a heartbreaking mid-season finale.

Still, Season 5 is a highlight for many fans, and the  second half of the season may be the best run of episodes in "The Walking Dead." The group is pushed to their breaking point and they meet Aaron at their lowest moment, who offers them the chance of a new life in Alexandria. It's one of the most dramatic shifts in the entire series and forces the characters to entirely reevaluate the way they go about trying to survive. Season 5 forever changes the status quo and scale of "The Walking Dead," and it makes that transition while also including plenty of action and character development.

According to critics on Rotten Tomatoes, Season 5 is the peak of the show. According to audiences, however, there's another season that deserves to take the top spot.

1. Season 1

It's hard to beat the original. Season 1 of "The Walking Dead" kicked off the series with a major bang. Whether or not it's the high point of the series, if the season hadn't been so strong, "The Walking Dead" would never have become the mega-franchise it is today.

In some ways, it's hard to compare Season 1 to anything that came after. Redditors have noted that it almost feels like a different show, and they aren't wrong. Season 1 is the only one completely overseen by Frank Darabont, who created the series for TV, and it only has six episodes, which creates a drastically different structure and feel for the pacing of the overall storyline. It introduces Rick and the core group of survivors, lays out the state of the world during the zombie apocalypse, and finishes with a trip to the CDC headquarters for a peek at the science behind the walkers. Along the way, the season opens up plenty of social and moral issues that just about every character gets a chance to grapple with.

It's hard to overstate how much of an impact "The Walking Dead" made with its opening season. The Hollywood Reporter notes that its premiere was the biggest in AMC's history and one of the most-watched cable premieres at the time -– records that the series would go on to break repeatedly over the course of its next few seasons. Critics might have preferred other seasons, but the audience score of Season 1 simply can't be beaten.