Walking Dead Week: The Walking Dead’s 10 Most Shocking Moments
Oct 10, 2014
This week is Walking Dead Week on Under the Radar's website. Season five of the wildly popular and critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic zombie drama starts this Sunday, October 12, at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on AMC. In anticipation of the show's return, for this special theme week of coverage we have interviewed around 10 members of the show's current cast and will be posting one to two Walking Dead interviews every day this week. Also, here's a Walking Dead list.
As The Walking Dead's success is at least partly built upon its ability to provide a constant supply of shocking moments, narrowing down a list to only 10 entries is no simple task. You find yourself leaving off scenes such as The Governor biting off Merle Dixon's fingers or Michonne digging out The Governor's eye because they aren't quite shocking enough. That said, a truly shocking moment isn't just a scene that caused you a moment of temporary discomfort and repulsion but one that remained memorable because it represented an unexpected shift in the storyline, one that changed the trajectory of the show. Here are the 10 moments that remain burned into the memories of Walking Dead fans. By Matt Fink
Hershel becomes an amputee.
(From "Seed," Season 3, Episode 1, 2012)
Everything was going so well. Team Grimes had just rolled into the prison and was fighting to clear walkers out of the prison blocks. Finally, they found a place they could turn into a home. And then, just when they seemed to be catching a break, a sleeping walker-the most dangerous zombie of all-woke up just in time to bite a chunk out of Hershel's leg. So what do you do when the grandfather figure of the group is marked for the zombie flu? You hack his leg off with a hatchet before the infection spreads. I'm not certain if that was the first backyard amputation portrayed on primetime TV, but it has to have been the most gruesome. Rick nearly faints after he needs multiple hacks to cut the limb free, and more than a few viewers probably felt like doing the same.
Shane shoots Otis to save himself.
(From "Save the Last One," Season 2, Episode 3, 2011)
It's hard to know exactly where the line between hero and villain lies in The Walking Dead universe, but Shane was arguably the first to cross it when he saved himself by shooting Otis in the leg, leaving him behind as a meal for an approaching swarm of zombies. We could debate the ethics of the situation endlessly: wasn't it wiser for Shane to sacrifice Otis so at least one of them could survive? Wasn't Shane correct to assume he was more valuable to the group than Otis? But as darkly pragmatic as Rick became in season three, he never would have intentionally wounded an innocent man to save his own skin. As much crap as season two gets for its slow pace and endless search for Sophia, it perfectly captured the central struggle that has defined the show ever since. How can you survive the monsters without becoming one yourself? In this moment, Shane crossed over from the hero to the villain side.
Rick kills Shane, who doesn't stay dead.
(From "Better Angels," Season 2, Episode 12, 2012)
We all knew the confrontation was coming. We all knew Shane was going to either go off on his own or depose Rick to assume leadership of the group. What was unexpected was that Rick would be the one to outmaneuver Shane, figuring out Shane was leading him to his own execution, then sticking a knife into his abdomen before he could complete the job. Rick's cries of "You made me do this!" attest to the fact that he felt the need to absolve himself of the guilt of killing his best friend, but it was no use. Rick became a different man in that moment, one who realized he had to be ruthless to keep people alive. Maybe he took all of those lectures from Shane about not being willing to make the hard decisions to heart.
As shocking as Shane's death was, his reanimation as a zombie packed nearly as much surprise. Up until that point, we didn't know that the zombification process could occur in people who hadn't been bitten. Shane's almost instant return as a walker proved that what Dr. Jenner at the CDC whispered in Rick's ear was true: they were all infected. And for one final surprise, the person who put down zombie Shane was Carl, the child who at that moment became an asset for the first time.
Rick does a preemptive strike on Tomas.
(From "Sick," Season 3, Episode 2, 2012)
Rick had killed the living before. In "Nebraska," he took down two men in a bar, the first who was in the process of drawing a gun on him. As shocking as it was to see the good sheriff shoot a human antagonist, it was easy to dismiss the killing as an act of self-defense. There was no such excuse when Rick stuck a machete in prison survivor Tomas' head. Correctly assessing Tomas as a more malevolent version of Shane-one who had already made efforts to challenge his authority-Rick took a page out of Shane's book of preemptive strategies and disposed of the threat before it could fully materialize. The Rick of season two probably would have compromised in that situation, putting together a council to vote on getting together a posse to drop Tomas off at a safe distance from the prison. This scene marked the arrival of a new Rick, one who was a lot more like Shane than he probably realized.
Rick rips out Joe's throat with his teeth.
(From "A," Season 4, Episode 16, 2014)
Though The Walking Dead has been audacious in its recreations of the most brutal moments from the comics, fans of the graphic novel expressed serious doubts that we'd ever see the infamous confrontation between Rick and The Bandits. Instead, not only did the writers dare to include the scene, they presented it as a frame-by-frame recreation. We'd seen Rick temporarily lose his mind from the grief of losing his wife, but we had yet to see him explode in a rage against other humans. Held in a bear hug by Bandits (or "Claimers," if you prefer) leader Joe, Rick uses the only weapon available to him, tearing out the man's throat with his teeth. Then, seeing Carl being groped by another man from the group of outlaws, he chases him down and stabs him to death, plunging the knife into the man's stomach over and over, well past the point of killing him. Of all the versions of Rick that we've seen, this was the first that seemed primarily motivated by anger and revenge.
Carol loses another daughter in "The Grove."
(From "The Grove," Season 4, Episode 14, 2014)
Given her step-by-step slide into madness, we knew it was only a matter of time until someone would have to minimize the threat represented by zombie-loving pre-teen Lizzie. After the adolescent psychopath stabbed to death her little sister, believing she was granting her a kind of immortality, she could no longer be allowed to share space with the living. What could they do? Exile her and let her die alone? Put her in a straightjacket and lead her on a leash? Instead the responsibility fell to her adopted mother, Carol, to take her on a walk and shoot her in the back of the head while she was gazing at some flowers. Has a TV show ever had a deranged child as an antagonist? Has a child ever been shot in the back of her head as a mercy killing on primetime TV? Putting down Lizzie provided season four's biggest "Did they really do that?" moment.
Dale dies and takes the group's idealism with him.
(From "Judge, Jury, Executioner," Season 2, Episode 11, 2012)
As the central struggle of season two pitted the increasingly pragmatic Shane against the (perhaps naively) idealistic Dale, the latter's death served as a signal that the show was about to head into a stretch of much darker episodes. And of all the deaths in the shows history, Dale's might have been the most unexpected. There were none of the telltale signs that his character arc was close to ending, and he seemed essential to the group dynamic (later, we learned that actor Jeffrey DeMunn had decided to leave the show, forcing the writers to kill off his character). Nonetheless, there Dale was, checking on a dying cow in a moonlit field when a lurking zombie suddenly grabbed him and disemboweled him. Gasping and struggling to breathe as he died, it was arguably the least dignified death for a major character in the show's history.
In truth, the tone of the show shifted noticeably with Dale's death. Debates over what was right and wrong were replaced by discussions of what would let them survive. Though Andrea and Hershel continued to pursue the dream of creating a sustainable community built around a strong ethnical code, the hope of restoring society's pre-apocalypse moral code was buried with him.
Carl has to shoot his own mother.
(From "Killer Within," Season 3, Episode 4, 2012)
Probably one of the largest plot deviations from the comic book, Lori left The Walking Dead not during The Governor's prison attack but during a prison C-section. To whom fell the responsibility for making sure Lori's corpse didn't reanimate? Her 12-year-old son, of course. Unlike Dale, Lori had come full circle as a character, realizing her role in allowing her relationship with Rick to sour and grow distant. She was finally at a point where she could begin to contribute to the group as a productive member. Instead, her death provided the show's most emotionally-devastating moment to date, as Lori tearfully said goodbye to her son and asked him to promise to prevent her second life. That moment, more than any other up to that point, proved that no one was safe-even those with the last name "Grimes." And Carl became a different, stronger character, with those around him spending the last two seasons trying to help him remember who he was before pulling that trigger.
Hershel loses his head.
(From "Too Far Gone," Season 4, Episode 8, 2013)
Even though it was long-rumored, nothing could really prepare viewers for the moment The Governor swiped Michonne's sword across Hershel's neck. Having spent the entire season solidifying his selfless saint status within the prison group, the writers had built the storyline with the intention of making Hershel's death sting as much as possible. Having him beheaded in such a gruesome and drawn out manner-with his daughters watching from a short distance-made his demise that much more stomach-churning. Give the writers credit: they couldn't have killed a more sympathetic character in a more ghastly way.
The group finally finds Sophia, and she was dead the whole time.
("Pretty Much Dead Already," Season 2, Episode 7, 2011)
Call me naïve, but I never really considered the possibility that season two's long search for Sophia could possibly end in anything other than the little girl being united with her mother. Why would a show invest so much time in having their characters spend episode after episode looking for someone that was already dead? For nearly any other TV show, the only way that plotline could be resolved in a satisfying way would be for the viewers to receive the emotional payoff of seeing Sophia rescued. Choosing not to do that was the first moment when it became clear The Walking Dead was not going to provide viewers with easy answers or happy endings.
And the way the show's writers paced the scene was simply masterful. At the end of an episode where the group spent 40 minutes arguing over what should be done with the barn full of walkers that Hershel believed could be cured, Shane finally took a stand. Risking their banishment from the farm, Shane opened the barn door and began mowing down the zombies one-by-one, as Hershel stood by and watched in horror as his former friends and family died for the second time. And just when the scene seemed to be over, one final zombie stumbles out of the barn-Sophia had been in there all along. In that instant, it finally became clear why the writers decided to draw out the search for Sophia over an entire season: they wanted the tragedy of that moment to hurt as much as possible. Three seasons later, they still haven't created anything quite so shocking.