Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Top 5: The Walking Dead Episodes

This post contains spoilers for The Walking Dead - you have been warned

In just a few short years, The Walking Dead has become one TV's highest rating (and most highly-acclaimed) television shows. Commanding an audience of over 16 million Americans for the season 4 première last October, AMC's headline show has earned itself a loyal following around the world. 

After leaving audiences shell-shocked with the climactic mid-season finale a few months back, The Walking Dead returns to television screens this week for the final eight episodes of Season 4. In order to mark the date, we've put together a list of our Top 5 Walking Dead episodes so far, with some honorary mentions thrown in for good measure.

Give them a read and let me know what you think!

Honorary mentions: Seed (S3, E1), Pretty Much Dead Already (S2, E7), Days Gone By (S1, E1), Triggerfinger (S2, E9), 18 Miles Out (S2, E10), Indifference (S4, E4), Cherokee Rose (S2, E4).

5) Too Far Gone (S4, E8)

The mid-season finale that we're still waiting to be resolved, 'Too Far Gone' brought an end to the prison story arc which has been ongoing since the start of season 3.

With the slightly underwhelming finale to Season 3, what with the unsatisfying conclusion to the Woodbury/Governor arc, things finally came to a head in this tense, nail-biting stand-off with Rick, and the group of survivors in the prison, against the Governor and his newly-formed group of soldiers (oh, and a tank).

With the Governor having taken fan-favourites Herschel and Michonne captive at the end of the previous episode, audiences just knew that one of them wouldn't survive. How could they? The show regularly hammers home the point that no-one is safe (Lori, T-Dog, Merle); letting both of them live was never an option. Thus, we were on tenterhooks from the off.

The final action set-piece in which all hell breaks loose and the prison is utterly destroyed in the crossfire, saw the group split up. Rick and Carl stumble away battered and beaten, their home smouldering in the background. The only remaining member of their family, baby Judith, is gone. All they have left is each other; a cliffhanger of epic proportions. And that, is how you keep audiences coming back for more.

4) Killer Within (S3, E4) 

Quite possibly the most shocking episode of The Walking Dead, 'Killer Within' came out of nowhere. Just as things were looking up for the group, Lori and T-Dog are killed off. No build-up or foreshadowing; out of the blue, the show killed off two characters who'd had been in it since the beginning.

The former, dies gruesomely in childbirth, with Maggie and Carl alongside her. It's an emotional and gut-wrenching farewell to a very divisive character; but it's not her death that's a big deal. It's what it means for everyone else on the show.

Lori's death triggers Rick's spiral into madness, something that forms his story arc for the rest of the season. Suddenly cast into the role of a single parent to not one, but two children, Rick goes off the deep-end big time. It's a massive rug-pull for an episode thrown into the middle of a season. It's also a big turning point for Carl, a once innocent child forced to shoot his own mother in the head before she turns into a walker. 

It's with 'Killer Within' that we learnt no-one is safe in The Walking Dead; as the writers continued to deviate further from the original comic-book series, the outcome of our favourite characters became increasingly uncertain. And that, for both fans of the comic book and not, is one of the most interesting elements of the show.

3) Beside the Dying Fire (S2, E13)

Let's be honest people; Season 2 got kind of slow. Week after week, we tuned back in for endless huffing and puffing between Rick, Shane, Dale and Lori. It all got kind of tiresome in the end - there is only so much group debate we can take.

Then, along came the final episode, 'Beside the Dying Fire'. By brutally killing off Shane at the end of the previous episode (and Dale the episode before that), this helter-skelter 45-minutes plunges the farm into chaos as a massive horde of walkers attacks the farm. The episode simply fires on all cylinders from start to finish. The survivors band together and attempt to fend them off the horde, before being completely overwhelmed. Hershel, having gone from blissful ignorance to badass, stands defiantly in front of the farmhouse picking of walker after walker.

However, by the end of the episode, the group has been been forced to flee the relative safety of the farm. Both Jimmy and Patricia are dead and, in their panic, the group leave Andrea behind and believe her to be dead. Rick then drops the bombshell that everyone is infected with the virus, and will all turn into walkers if they die. And with that, the season wraps up. As cliffhangers go, this one was one of the biggest.

2) Clear (S3, E12) 

One of my favourite episodes of The Walking Dead is 'Clear', from the tail end of Season 3. Not because it has wall-to-wall action or dozens of undead decapitations, but because it turned back the clock and returned to the central story of the pilot; Rick, Carl and Michonne head back into town to hunt for weapons and come across Morgan, the man who saved Rick's life way back in 'Days Gone By'.

The scenes between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Morgan (Lennie James) are some of the best dramatic pieces the show has written, with the trauma Morgan has gone through making for some really tense and heart-wrenching moments. I liked that it closed Morgan's arc, as it had been a big deal in Season 1 before kind of getting forgotten about. It also shook Rick out of this post-Lori madness, by showing the truly delusional state Morgan had descended into.

It also showed that Michonne (Danai Gurira) can act more than one emotion (and then some) by pairing her up on a little side-quest with Carl. The two of them head off to recover a photograph of Carl and his parents, only to come across a bar full of walkers.

It's a personal, character-driven episode that focuses on a select group of characters. As a result, the characterisation of Rick, Carl and especially Michonne is more pronounced and effective. All in all, a fantastically written and acted episode that didn't lean too heavily on spilling prosthetic guts and fake blood.

1) Made to Suffer (S3, E8)

A much more satisfying head-to-head between the prisoner and Woodbury than we ended up getting at the end of the season, 'Made to Suffer' saw the simmering tension between the two survivor groups escalate into all-out war. With Glenn and Maggie held captive by the Governor in Woodbury, Rick leads a group to infiltrate the town and get their friends back safe.

Michonne is also heading to Woodbury to exact revenge on the Governor, who had set Merle to hunt her down in the previous episodes. What she finds instead however is Penny, the Governor daughter in walker form chained-up in the office.

Michonne kills Penny right in front of the Governor, sparking the brutal fight that claims the latter's eye. It's an intense and skin-crawling fight that is gets the pulse racing. The episode was also the first appearance of comic-book favourite Tyreese, as well as one the first skirmish in a long-arc between the prison and Woodbury.

Also, there was a pretty great cliffhanger, with Daryl and Merle made to fight to the death in Woodbury's makeshift gladiatorial arena. Surrounded by walkers (and a crowd baying for blood) the two brothers' fate appears grim.

All in all, 'Made to Suffer' was an all-round fantastic episode that didn't see the show tread water. In fact, with so much going on, it's a wonder the episode didn't get lost in itself. Thankfully, the end result is a brilliant episode jam-packed with action, nail-biting tension and thrills. Personally, I think, it's the best episode we've had so far.

What are your favourite episodes of The Walking Dead? Are you excited to see the final eight episodes of Season 4? Let me know in the comments section below!

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