Does The Walking Dead’s clever title refer to the show’s literally deceased zombies roaming the countryside, or to its central characters, who have been on borrowed time on a joyless hellscape? Maybe both? In any case, over the course of its nine season run, the defining feature of the horror hit has been its willingness to kill off important characters, often in a sudden, shocking manner.
In fact, Insider says there have been “more than 30 significant deaths” on the show since it premiered on AMC in 2010 (Screen Rant puts the total number of deaths at 119 just between seasons 1-6). With such a steep body count, it’s difficult to remember everyone who’s been killed, much less assess which characters’ deaths were the most shocking.
But thanks to our literal morbid curiosity, along with a little hard science, we believe we’ve nailed it down. We looked at five articles that ranked every death and using a sliding scale — 10 points for the number one answer, one point for the tenth — we crunched the numbers like an arithmetic zombie. To be clear, these lists were about the most shocking deaths, not the most tragic or most brutal.
So while your own thoughts may be different (and it says a lot that there was a wide variety of names spread across these lists), this is the closest you’ll get to a consensus list. Read on to find out whose deaths were the most shocking and be sure to Sling over to AMC at 9/8c on Sunday, Oct. 6 for the Season 10 premiere of The Walking Dead.
Warning: Clips may include violence, because duh…
When did they die? Season 2, Episode 11: “Judge, Jury, Executioner”
How did they bite it? After stepping outside to clear his head, Dale is attacked and bitten by a walker. Realizing he will not survive, Daryl euthanizes him with a shot to the head.
Why was it so shocking? Dale served as a moral compass in a world overrun by violence, which made his death especially tragic. As a character who survived deep into the comics, his death was also one of the first indications that the show would take a different path from its source material.
When did they die? Season 5, Episode 14: “Spend”
How did they bite it? Scavenging for supplies, Noah, Glenn and Nicolas get caught in a revolving door surrounded by zombies. Noah sacrifices himself so the others can escape.
Why was it so shocking? Pressed up against the glass, Noah is eaten alive, triggering a very specific phobia for those afraid of zombies AND revolving doors.
When did they die? Season 2, Episode 7: “Pretty Much Dead Already”
How did they bite it? Carol’s daughter Sophia disappears in the season 2 premiere after being chased by zombies. When Shane frees the walkers locked in Hershel’s barn, zombie Sophia shuffles out, revealing that she’s been right under their noses the whole time.
Why was it so shocking? The big reveal dashes the group’s hopes and devastates Carol, making it one of the most gut-wrenching deaths in a series full of them.
When did they die? Season 6, Episode 14: “Twice As Far”
How did they bite it? Arrow through the eye.
Why was it so shocking? In terms of abrupt, surprising exits, this is one of The Walking Dead’s boldest moments. Denise is right in the middle of a rousing speech about how she’s trying to be more courageous when she’s felled by an arrow. It’s as shocking as it is ironic.
When did they die? Season 7, Episode 1: “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”
How did they bite it? Barbed baseball bat — Lucile, if you’re nasty — to the dome.
Why was it so shocking? The show’s sixth season ends on a cliffhanger, with the vicious Negan murdering an unknown member of Rick’s group offscreen. The subsequent season opens with the revelation that it was Abraham. However, after Daryl retaliates, Negan also kills Glenn. While comic readers may have suspected this was coming, the graphic death of a favorite character was difficult for fans to stomach.
When did they die? Season 5, Episode 8: “Coda”
How did they bite it? Police shooting.
Why was it so shocking? Held hostage by a group stationed in an Atlanta hospital, Beth is about to be released when she angrily stabs Officer Dawn Lerner, who reacts by shooting her. The show’s most gut-wrenching moments often pivot around false hope and, with the standoff about to reach a peaceful conclusion, Beth’s murder is particularly brutal.
When did they die? Season 4, Episode 14: “The Grove”
How did they bite it? Mercy killing.
Why was it so shocking? The Walking Dead has never shied away from killing kids (see: above), but Lizzie’s death was especially tragic. A disturbed girl with obsessed with walkers, Lizzie kills her sister and is about to murder baby Judith before Carol and Tyreese intercede. Realizing the girl is dangerously diluted, they agree she needs to be put down and Carol — who lost her own daughter in Season 2 — is the one to do it, Of Mice and Men-style.
When did they die? Season 2, Episode 12: “Better Angels”
How did they bite it? Knife to the chest.
Why was it so shocking? Shane’s death helped establish what we now take for granted on the show: Humans are as great of a threat as the walkers. Growing increasingly jealous and possessive of Lori, Shane attempts to sabotage Rick. But Rick is able to stab him in the heart, and his son Carl puts him down after he comes back as a zombie. Shane was one of the first internal threats to the group’s security, but he wouldn’t be the last.
When did they die? Season 3, Episode 4: “Killer Within”
How did they bite it? Childbirth
Why was it so shocking? Dale and Shane’s deaths proved that none of the characters were safe, but Lori’s death was definitive evidence even core cast members could get the axe. Going into labor in the prison, Lori knows she needs a C-Section for her baby to survive. She’s also aware the procedure will be fatal. Her emotional goodbye to Carl is as poignant as anything the show has done.
When did they die? Season 4, Episode 8: “Too Far Gone”
How did they bite it? Decapitation
Why was it so shocking? As we said at the top, this list is based on a mathematical formula. And by our metrics, Hershel’s unfortunate end was overwhelmingly the top pick, as he tallied nearly twice as many points as the next runner up.
It’s not hard to understand why. After his introduction in season 2 as a wary crank, Hershel’s character evolved to become a fan favorite in seasons 3 and 4, so his death was especially sad. It’s also especially gory, as his head is chopped off by The Governor, and not in one clean stroke. And in the context of the scene, it’s particularly stunning, as Rick had just finished an earnest speech about our capacity for redemption. All of these factors combine to make Hershel’s death by far the most shocking.