If there is one constant in a Walking Dead fans’ life, it’s knowing that at some point, your favorite character will probably die. Over the previous seasons, we’ve bid bloody goodbyes to dozens of characters; some that came and went like the wind, and a few that stuck around for years before finally biting the dust.
The series has made a name for itself for the grisly way it tends to dispose of its ensemble members — but there’s no doubt that some deaths have been harder to take than others. Here are our picks for the most devastating Walking Dead deaths of all time.
Warning: spoilers for all seasons of the show ahead!
In a series full of complicated characters and antiheroes, Hershel Greene was a breath of fresh air. While he first resisted letting Rick and his friends find refuge on his farm, he ended up becoming a true father figure to all, and a shining example of kindness, love, and grace under fire.
That’s why his death at the hands of the Governor in the Season 4 episode, “Too Far Gone” was so difficult to swallow. Until his last moments, Hershel hoped that the world would come back from the brink of total destruction — and he was clearly proud that Rick tried to save his life through negotiating rather than pointing his gun. Instead, he lost his life (and his head) to someone who had no interest in making peace, while those who loved him most — including Maggie and Beth — watched helplessly from behind prison gates. Hershel’s death marked a turning point for many of the characters, most especially Rick, and served as a painful reminder that in The Walking Dead universe, no good deed goes unpunished.
2. Lizzie and Mika
In the opening sequence of The Walking Dead, Rick gunned down a zombie child in bunny slippers — and the series’ creators made it clear that they would not hold back when it came to showcasing the brutality of living through a zombie apocalypse. In six seasons, we’ve witnessed numerous children — from Sophia to Sam — suffer terrible fates at the hands and mouths of the undead.
But there was something particularly brutal about the deaths of young Lizzie and Mika in the Season 4 episode, “The Grove” — and it had just as much to do with the killers’ roles as it did with the victims. Lizzie, who struggled with reality and was never quite able to grasp that the walkers weren’t playthings, ended up murdering her sister — and was on her way to do the same to Judith when Carol intervened. She tried to do it gently, by having Lizzie look away, but the moment was still overwhelming because it represented two tragic losses — both of which likely couldn’t have been avoided, given Lizzie’s nature and Carol’s instinct for survival.
In The Walking Dead’s first six seasons, plenty of time has been spent on the living and how they experience loss — but we haven’t had much of a chance to learn what it’s like for the ones doing the dying. That is, except for during the Season 5 episode, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” in which we got a glimpse into Tyreese’s mind as he slowly succumbed to infection after being bitten by a walker. It was hard enough watching Tyreese pass away — after all, he spent almost two seasons proving himself as both a worthy fighter and a fierce ally to his friends. Tyreese was so committed to his tribe that he spent his last moments remembering them. His death was more than just an event — it became a meditation on purpose, life, and regret, which made his loss all the more emotional and painful.
Of all the truly devastating deaths on The Walking Dead, Noah’s was in some ways the least earned. That’s because we got so little time with him, compared to many of the other characters. Still, as Season 5 wore on, we got a chance to see that he was a bright kid with an eye toward the future. In “Spend,” after Reg gave him a journal and told him to start documenting Alexandria’s story, it seemed like he had finally found a place in the group.
In the midst of a supply run gone wrong, he found himself trapped by walkers in a revolving door with Glenn and Nicholas. If the latter hadn’t totally panicked, all three would have made it out alive. Instead, Nicholas escaped and Glenn was forced to watch, helpless, as his friend was pushed against the glass and devoured. The way Noah went out was so completely avoidable, and so truly gruesome, that it was especially heart wrenching.
For six seasons, Glenn Rhee managed to evade death time, and time, and time again. But his life came to a swift and brutal end at the hands of Negan in the seventh season premiere, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.” Comic book fans had long expected that the moment would come, since it happened almost exactly the same way in Issue 100 of the comics; and indeed, Glenn’s final seconds on Earth were eerily similar to what played out on Robert Kirkman’s pages.
Knowing it would happen didn’t make it any easier, though. Neither did the fact that Negan had just finished killing Abraham, another lovable stalwart. Glenn’s death was arguably the most graphic of the entire series; and watching his friends sob in horror was the icing on a truly traumatic cake. But it was Glenn’s final moments — in which he bid farewell to Maggie before being literally beaten to a pulp — were truly horrific, and something no Walking Dead fan will get over any time soon.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox