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The Walking Dead's Most Heartbreaking Moments

When AMC's The Walking Dead premiered on Halloween night in 2010, nobody could've anticipated how it would set the television landscape on fire, or how it would become a staple of Monday morning water-cooler conversations for several years to come. Many attribute the resurgence of zombies within the horror genre to The Walking Dead's success, and for many years, it sat right alongside Breaking Bad and Mad Men as one of AMC's flagship series.

People fell in love with the series for a lot of reasons: Its endearing characters, for one, or its post-apocalyptic setting, its unique treatment of the zombie mythos, and the often shocking level of gratuitous violence it showcased on primetime TV. Like any long-running hit television series, it has racked up its fair share of memorable moments. From Rick Grimes' (Andrew Lincoln) first steps into a walker-infested world to the Governor's (David Morrissey) siege of the prison and the brutal introduction of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), The Walking Dead has run the gambit of intense moments ranging from brutally cathartic action set pieces to more somber and tragic scenes that left viewers emotionally devastated.

That latter point is what we're focusing on here, with a look back at some of The Walking Dead's saddest moments. Obviously if it involves The Walking Dead and feeling sad, there's bound to be a lot of plot discussion — or to put it another way, spoilers ahead!

Morgan can't bring himself to shoot his zombified wife (S1E1)

The first episode of a new series should strive to be indicative of the show's overall tone and give the viewers a taste of what they can expect going forward. In the case of The Walking Dead's pilot episode, "Days Gone Bye," the show's creators very clearly set out to establish that the world its characters were now living in was a harsh, unforgiving one that turned the dead into inhuman monsters and the living into weary survivors simply looking to survive day to day.

This is encapsulated in the episode's final scene featuring future recurring character Morgan (Lennie James). Earlier in the episode, after helping Rick get caught up to speed on just how much the world has changed for the worse since he fell into a coma, Morgan also explains that one of the walkers that continually approaches his fortified house is his own now-zombified wife. 

"Days Gone Bye" leaves Morgan during the moment when his wife is in his gun's crosshairs, but he still cannot bring himself to put her down and end her suffering. It's a truly resonant moment in what is considered to be one of the finest pilot episodes in modern television, and it's not hard to see why.

A zombified Sophia emerges from the barn (S2E7)

Season two of The Walking Dead is one of the more divisive stretches of the show's run. Some praise its quaint rural setting and slow burn character development while others criticize its deliberate pacing and reliance on filler episodes. However, it's pretty difficult to deny that its midseason finale, "Pretty Much Dead Already," delivered one of the show's most emotional gut-wrenching moments up to that point.

One of the subplots that persists throughout the first half of the season is the whereabouts of Carol's (Melissa McBride) daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz), who goes missing during the group's escape from a swarm of walkers in the season opener. This is the catalyst for the group staying at Herschel's (Scott Wilson) farm — the woods where Sophia went missing were right next to his property. Additionally, en route to the midseason finale, it's revealed that Hershel's family has been keeping walkers in their barn under the delusion that they could potentially be cured at some point.

This eventually leads to the tragic reveal that a now zombified Sophia has been held in the barn for what seems to be quite a while — to the absolutely understandable horror of Carol and the entire group. The whole sorry situation ends with Rick having to — as he often does — do the deed of putting a bullet between the eyes of a walker. It's a brutal scene made all the more impactful because Rick's target is an undead child. This was a brutal image to leave the viewers with as the show paused for its mid-season break, and still sticks with people even all these seasons later.

T-Dogg sacrifices himself for Carol (S3E4)

You can never tell which characters are going to resonate with the viewers of a show. In some cases it can be a side character who the series itself does very little with, and in the early seasons of The Walking Dead that definition definitely applied to T-Dogg (IronE Singleton). Despite saying and doing very little during his time with the group, T-Dogg struck a chord with fans thanks to his laid back nature, his willingness to help regardless of the situation, and for often being a welcome source of levity amongst the show's bleaker moments. Fans hoped that in the highly anticipated third season the showrunners would have more for him to do — but whoever wished for that must've done it on a monkey's paw, considering what his ultimate fate was.

In the episode "Killer Within," as the group, along with several inmates, attempts to storm and fortify the prison that would go on to become the show's next main location, T-Dogg is unfortunately distracted and ends up being bitten by a Walker — much to the horror of Carol, who by this point in the series desperately needs a hug. This would not be his immediate end, however — in a last-ditch attempt to save Carol, he heaves himself into an oncoming swarm of the undead, saving Carol's life but resulting in his own demise at the hands and mouths of several hungry walkers.

Sad to see T-Dogg go, but surely the show wouldn't be cruel enough to hit us with two deaths in one episode... right?

Carl kills his own mother (S3E4)

No, this show would definitely hit us with two deaths in one episode.

Laurie Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) was far from the series' most popular character, often criticized for being one of the whinier members of the group, falling to keep her son Carl (Chandler Riggs) in the house, and somehow managing to crash a car on a road with no cars. But no one can deny that her exit from the series was anything short of painful.

One of the group's main reasons for seeking shelter after the fall of Hershel's farm was the looming birth of Laurie's child. During the group's storming of the prison, Laurie, guided by Carl, holes up in a boiler room where she eventually goes into labor. However, it becomes clear that this won't end well for her or her baby, as she begins bleeding out due to her contractions. This leads to Carl having to give his new sister a birth via c-section resulting in the death of his mother, and knowing the fate that awaits any new dead body in this world, he then proceeds to shoot her before she can turn.

This moment serves as further proof that anyone can die on The Walking Dead — and can die at any time. It's a mindset that has continued to persist throughout the rest of the show's run.

Daryl kills Zombie Merle (S3E15)

Any Walking Dead fan knows that the fandom operates under one unbreakable rule, and that is this: When Daryl cries, we cry.

Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) has become the show's breakout character despite not being a part of the comic books that the TV series is based on. This is attributed in no small part to Daryl's bad boy attitude and unflinching dedication to those around him. It's one of the best character arcs of the show, as the viewers get to see him go from a mildly racist redneck with a crossbow to an emotionally mature second-in-command who has developed the uncanny ability to make Walking Dead viewers cry like babies.

A great example of this comes in the episode "This Sorrowful Life," when Daryl sees what has become of his brother Merle (Michael Rooker). Merle was a character who carried with him a lot of baggage, from his extremely unsubtle racism towards T-Dogg in his one-off appearance in season one to his detestable actions as the Governor's right hand man in season three. However, despite his less than stellar track record, he goes out in a blaze of glory, giving himself some mild redemption by taking out several of the Governor's troops and even going one-on-one with him in a fistfight which sadly results in his death and subsequent zombification.

Daryl's cries of pain upon discovering his now walkerfied brother still remain truly painful for fans, cementing the cardinal rule of the show. Once again: When Daryl cries, we cry.

The Governor kills Hershel (S4E8)

The Governor was the first major non-walker threat that plagued the group, and his reign of terror certainly ended with a bang. His evil plans culminated in the mid-season finale of the fourth season, "Too Far Gone," leaving him responsible for the group losing their safe haven in the prison — and their grandfatherly mentor figure Hershel as well.

Despite being the oldest member of the group — and being one-legged to boot — Hershel never failed to pull his weight or to offer sage wisdom to those around him, especially Rick, Glenn and his daughters, Beth (Emily Kinney), and Maggie (Lauren Cohen). His kind nature sadly made him the perfect target for the Governor, who kidnapped Hershel and Michonne (Danai Gurira) as a tactic to get Rick to open the prison to him and his troops. Despite Rick's pleas that no one needed to die, the Governor very much thought the opposite, choosing to decapitate poor Hershel with Michonne's own katana right in front of the group, including an emotionally destroyed Beth and Maggie.

The Walking Dead had developed a habit of leaving us hanging while the group was in dire straits by this point, and this moment remains a fine example.

Look at the flowers, Lizzie (S4E14)

Kids really do draw the short end of the stick in this show, don't they?

Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) was a special kind of crazy, choosing to see the walkers as misunderstood creatures and even going as far to feed them live rats in her leisure time. Clearly this was a kid dealing with some major issues. This all comes to a head in the second half of the fourth season — after the fall of the prison, while with Carol, Tyresse (Chad Coleman) and her sister Mika (Kyla Kenedy), Lizzie's walker-centered psychosis reaches a tragic fever pitch.

Not only does she attempt to play tag with one and try to get bitten herself, but as the cherry on the sundae, she stabbed Mika, her own sister, to death just to prove walkers and people were one and the same. This tragic act of violence leads to Carol taking Lizzie, who still doesn't understand that what she did is monstrous, out back. After tearfully telling her to "look at the flowers," Carol puts a bullet in Lizzie's head.

"The Grove" is often praised as one of the better and heavier episodes of the show, and this moment makes it easy to see why.

The death of Beth Greene (S5E8)

Beth was a character who many fans still feel deserved better. She underwent some genuinely good development in the fourth season, due in part to the death of her father Hershel and being stuck with Daryl for a while after the prison fell, resulting in a bizarre but charming Odd Couple style friendship between the two of them. This really gave Emily Kinney the chance to do some of her best acting in the entire show, helped by the fact that she and Norman Reedus had tremendously charming and offbeat chemistry. However, as is the norm for The Walking Dead, nothing good lasts forever.

After she's kidnapped in the penultimate episode of season 4, it's revealed that Beth has been taken to a hospital in Atlanta run by a group of former cops forcing others like Beth to repay them being "saved" with hard labor and sexual favors. This leads to the episode "Coda," when during a tense hostage negotiation, Rick's group attempts to trade the hospital group's leader, Dawn, for Beth. But Beth, ever stubborn, takes this opportunity to stab Dawn with a pair of scissors, resulting in her being shot point blank.

The episode ends with Maggie in tears upon seeing the final biological member of her family is now dead as well. Sorry, Beth — even all these years later, you still deserve better.

The death of Glenn Rhee (S7E1)

If there was ever a Walking Dead character who deserved a happy ending, it was pizza delivery boy turned walker-killing badass Glenn Rhee. From escaping walkers in a red Dodge Challenger to cheating death through, in many fans' eyes, the most implausible means in the entire series, Glenn left quite the impression. 

Glenn's romance with Maggie serves as one of the emotional backbones during the show's early seasons. But if you read the 100th issue of the Walking Dead comic book, you knew Glenn would at some point meet an untimely demise.

The tense finale to the sixth season teased the demise of a major series regular at the hands of the new big bad Negan and his Extreme Championship Wrestling-style barbed wire baseball bat, nicknamed Lucille. In the season seven opener, "The Day Will Come Where You Won't Be," Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) met his end — and then Glenn did as well.

This moment sticks with people not just for its brutal level of violence, but the fact that a character that had been around since the first season of the show, whose voice closed out the very first episode, was cruelly killed off. Not only that, but he met his end at the hands of a big bad who seemed even more sadistic than the Governor could ever hope to be.

The death of Carl Grimes (S8E9)

So it really sucks to be Rick Grimes, huh? First your best friend, then your wife, pretty much all your allies, and then finally your own son.

Carl was a tenacious and hopeful soul up until the very end. After he receives a bite on the abdomen while trying to save Saddiq, the group's eventual doctor, it becomes clear that Carl's on borrowed time. This is shocking and infuriating to many fans, as it seemed Carl was destined to be one of the few characters who would make it to the end of the series. Sadly that wasn't in the cards, as during his final moments in the episode "Honor," alongside his father Rick and his best friend Michonne, he outlines what he envisioned as the perfect future for his family, and Rick promises to make it a reality.

Carl opting to take his own life to prevent his turning is true to who he had grown to be throughout the show's run, and despite the fact many fans were upset at this decision, no one can deny it was a depressing and emotionally resonant moment.

The next time you're enjoying a nice cup of chocolate pudding, definitely pour one out for Carl.

Rick's sacrifice (S9E5)

"I'm looking for my family."

That is what drives Rick Grimes throughout the first half of The Walking Dead's inaugural season, and what he keeps saying throughout his blood loss-induced visions in the season 9 episode "What Comes After."

Rick, of course, ends up impaled on a piece of rebar, resulting in a trippy This Is Your Life-style recap of everything he's been through up to that point, forcing him to confront who he is, what he's done, and who he's lost.

The one constant in the show amongst all the bloodshed, the loss, the tough choices, and emotional conflict is the theme of family. Forming bonds with those around you regardless of name, creed, or race. Rick started the show looking for one family, and over the course of nine seasons, he built another one. His final act would be to blow up a bridge leading to Hilltop, preventing an army of walkers from destroying it, closing out his run on The Walking Dead by muttering one final line — "I found them." 

His departure from the Walking Dead universe was as bittersweet as it was temporary. Rick survives the explosion, only to be washed downstream and rescued by Anne (Neve Macintosh). He is flown away in a helicopter, leaving viewers to wonder if and when he'll ever return.