Every TV series has its ups and downs. The best episodes offer up moments that remind fans, again and again, why they started watching in the first place. On the flip side, the worst episodes sometimes leave us yawning, rolling our eyes, scratching our heads, or, if they’re bad enough, throwing things and yelling at the screen.
The Walking Dead is no exception. In its more than six seasons on AMC, it’s offered up some truly unforgettable hours of television. It’s also delivered some real clunkers. The episodes listed aren’t necessarily the ones that caused controversy, like the Season 6 finale and the Season 7 premiere. After all, while infuriating, those episodes did offer up some spectacular performances from the cast and set the course of the series, for better or worse.
The worst episodes usually represent the weakest moments, as far as storytelling is concerned. Sometimes, these episodes are just hopelessly slow. Other times, they’ve focused on one character when the series has left another character or story hanging in the balance. These episodes tend to drag the entire momentum of a season down, at least for a moment. No matter what, they usually represent an hour of our lives we wish we could get back. Here are the 10 worst episodes of The Walking Dead.
1. “Cherokee Rose” (Season 2, Episode 4)
The Walking Dead‘s second season had a lot to live up to. Coming off of a shortened Season 1 that was virtually free of plot-filled fat, the writers had to create a major story arc that could sustain viewers’ interest for episodes at a time. They tried valiantly to fill the time between when Sophia went missing and when we finally learned her horrible fate. What they ended up with was a slew of slogging episodes that felt like they were going nowhere.
“Cherokee Rose” wasn’t devoid of good moments; Daryl made progress toward acting like a member of the group, and we saw the first hints of a relationship between Maggie and Glenn. Despite all these disparate moments, the episode was largely stagnant, and felt like it was trying to propel a momentum that just didn’t exist.
The most memorable part of “Cherokee Rose” was when Glenn became the sorry sucker that had to try to pull a water-logged walker from the Green’s well. While it provided a moment of levity in an otherwise somber season, that sequence became a metaphor for the whole season — bloated, dramatic, gory, but ultimately stuck in one place.
2. “Secrets” (Season 2, Episode 6)
Right alongside “Cherokee Rose,” this Season 2 episode was little more than a filler in the lead-up to The Walking Dead‘s first dramatic midseason finale. “Secrets” centers around some deep-seated interpersonal conflicts on Hershel’s farm.
Lori grapples with whether or not she should terminate her pregnancy. Hershel and Dale butt heads over the walkers in the barn. Shane and Andrea shoot things, and then hook up. As the episode’s title insinuates, many of the characters are keeping something from everyone else — and while that sounds dramatic in principle, it ended up being a real snoozer of an hour. Sure, the seeds that were planted in “Secrets” paid off big in the next episodes, but that doesn’t make sitting through the episode any more enjoyable.
3. “I Ain’t a Judas” (Season 3, Episode 11)
The Walking Dead‘s third season was a big improvement, overall, from Season 2. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t without its foibles. As the Governor started to become a legitimate threat to the survivors at the prison, one theme started to emerge: Andrea’s reluctance to choose a side. While she didn’t have all the knowledge that we did about her new boyfriend’s insidious intentions, it seemed like a no brainer that something was seriously off with him.
In “I Ain’t a Judas,” she tried to mend fences between the two groups by paying a visit to the prison. Yes, it was nice to see the former friends reunited — and the episode did mark the first hints of Carol’s superb survival instincts — but by and large, it felt like too little, too late on the quest to make Andrea a sympathetic character once again.
4. “Infected” (Season 4, Episode 2)
For a brief moment in time, the prison seemed like it would truly be a sanctuary for Rick Grimes and his friends. But in true Walking Dead fashion, it ended up being a place of death and turmoil, until it was destroyed for good.
In early Season 4, the inhabitants faced a new threat — the flu. On paper, the idea that natural, once-innocuous threats could once again rear their ugly heads was an interesting concept to explore. But the series dragged the story out for several episodes. “Infected” ended up becoming a bit of a narrative quagmire for the series; the virus begins taking out characters left and right, and Rick has to face the fact that their seemingly idyllic lifestyle is over. Even though the episode’s death count is pretty high, and there are plenty of zombie-filled moments, the episode is exceedingly dull. After all, death is no surprise where The Walking Dead is concerned, and we didn’t need an entire hour devoted to watching it happen in slow motion.
5. “Live Bait” (Season 4, Episode 6)
For almost an entire year, the Governor was a compelling and frightening villain on The Walking Dead. When he returned for a brief stint in Season 4, his menacing, unhinged presence wasn’t quite as effective the second time around. In “Live Bait,” we got a chance to see what happened to him after Woodbury fell, and how he managed to survive after he annihilated his entire army.
While David Morrissey was an undeniable presence in TWD, an episode devoted to his character ended up falling pretty flat. Part of the problem with “Live Bait” was that it tried to execute an entirely different narrative style, one that felt dreamy and a little bit surreal. Watching the once threatening Governor wander around a desolate landscape wasn’t all that captivating, in the end. And as a result the episode just felt, well, weird.
6. “Still” (Season 4, Episode 12)
When the Governor tried to take the prison, and ended up destroying it as a result, we watched our favorite survivors scatter, and wondered if they’d ever be reunited. The ensuing episodes were a mixed bag — some, like “The Grove,” are among the best in Walking Dead history. Others, like “Still,” were a bit harder to swallow.
Sure, Daryl is always a crowd-pleaser, and learning a bit more about his backstory was fun for his fans. But Norman Reedus had already infused his character with deep enough layers that learning the gritty details of his pre-apocalypse life was, in a strange sense, anticlimactic. The series took a chance on exploring the dynamic between Daryl and Beth, and while it was definitely a change of pace, in the end it was more stilted than stimulating.
7. “Now” (Season 6, Episode 5)
Throughout Season 6, it started to become pretty obvious that something was a bit off on The Walking Dead. The series had brought in a slew of new characters, and was struggling to find the cadence between giving us a chance to get to know them, and keeping up with our old favorites.
“Now” felt like an attempt to find a sweet spot between those two themes, but it unfortunately fell completely flat. The worst part is that it might have worked better under different circumstances — like if we hadn’t already been waiting a few weeks to find out if Glenn had really died. Instead, the series strung us along and made us watch Maggie suffer through her own uncertainty over his fate. She and Aaron slogged through the sewers, seemingly in search of him, only to give up almost immediately when they ran into a walker-filled dead end. Oh, and that was the point at which we learned she was pregnant, which was awkward, to say the least.
The whole episode felt like a cheap way to bolster Aaron’s connection to the series’ core characters and push some much-needed plot development forward. In the end, it was clunky, boring, and represented another unnecessarily torturous delay in resolving one of the season’s most shocking storylines.
8. “Start to Finish” (Season 6, Episode 8)
The Walking Dead has always built up a lot of momentum around its mid-season finales. That’s only part of the reason why Season 6’s contribution, “Start to Finish,” was such a disappointment. The entire episode felt a lot like chaos — with walkers bearing down on Alexandria, there was little time for any of the characters to think clearly, and the stakes were especially high.
As a result, a lot of big emotional moments felt a little bit buried; Father Gabriel finally stepping up was cool, but felt like it came out of nowhere. Deanna’s heroic final moments were spine-tinglingly powerful, but wedged awkwardly in with the rest of the action. It all felt like it was leading up to an epic moment, on the level of finding out Sophia was a walker, or watching Hershel die and the prison go up in flames. Instead, Rick finally pulled an old trick out of his hat, which led to a sequence that felt a little redundant and took up precious time. And ultimately, the episode ended with a massive cliffhanger — and one that centered around characters many of us hadn’t really grown to care for much.
If the goal of “Start to Finish” was to compel fans to tune in for the second half of Season 6, it did a less than stellar job.
9. “Last Day on Earth” (Season 6, Episode 16)
By now, the controversy surrounding the final episode of The Walking Dead‘s sixth season is the stuff of legends. Much of the post-season criticism surrounding the episode focused on the much-hyped introduction of Negan and the woefully unneeded “Who did he kill?” cliffhanger. As a result, we kind-of forgot how awful the rest of the episode was.
At more than 90 minutes long, “Last Day on Earth” seemed designed to ramp up the suspense leading into the final act. It was filled with bizarre story arcs — Rick leaving Alexandria in the hands of Father Gabriel?! — and uncharacteristically poor dialogue. Yes, the series’ most vicious villain’s first moments were undeniably memorable. But one exciting scene couldn’t save an otherwise dull and dreary episode, and its closing moments weren’t just manipulative, they represent the worst storytelling in the series’ history.
10. “Swear” (Season 7, Episode 6)
Tara Chambler is one of those Walking Dead characters that has tremendous potential. She’s relatable, likable, and hasn’t yet really had a chance to shine. Unfortunately, the series’ decision to focus an episode entirely on her and her fellow scavenger, Heath, could not have come at a worse time. In order to really get us invested in an episode devoted entirely to secondary characters, the series would have had to do more to give us a reason to remember them. They didn’t, though, so “Swear” felt like the narrative equivalent of dropping in on a long-lost relative you forgot you even had.
The introduction of Oceanside was moderately intriguing, but also a little overwhelming given the already crowded ensemble. And since it had been so long since the untimely death of Denise, Tara’s reaction to her death (and Glenn and Abraham’s) just didn’t pack the emotional punch you’d expect.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox
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