With the final season of one of AMC and TV’s all time most popular shows having aired this year, we’re finally able to look at the series with a complete outlook; 11 seasons of TV across a full dozen years, as the franchise’s main story finally comes to an end.
It wouldn’t be understating it to say The Walking Dead was the most popular series on TV at one point—it’s sweet spot from Seasons 4-7A had people talking every week it was airing with mostly praise and admiration. Now the journey is over, at least for the main show, it also wouldn’t be understating it to say that the show had its fair share of rough patches: from actors and showrunners leaving, to horrific pacing issues in a clear grab for money, it’s a show that lost a lot of the hype surrounding it for fair reason. However, with the final season being largely well received by fans especially, and myself, The Walking Dead remains one of my favourite series of all time.
The first five seasons, despite the occasional piece of repetition and too slow pacing, are a fantastic post apocalyptic survival story that does nothing but develop its excellent characters, grip you with its gory horror, and immerse you in its realistic yet zombie-ridden world with great villains and shocking moments. With effective directing and endlessly watchable performances that always deliver, that block of TV will forever stand as one of my favourites. The episode counts are rarely a problem, the slow burns usually work, and it’s simply so entertaining, immersive, and full of great moments and dialogue that have you fall in love with the characters, and care for how they end up.
It’s film grainy visuals, grimy aesthetic, and sense of stakes aren’t just fun to watch, but feel so genuine, real, and exciting. I’ll never get over Season 4 Episode 8, or seeing the gang escape Terminus. I’ll always be hyped and emotional when I rewatch Better Angels and Beside the Dying Fire, and I’ll always feel it when Rick hears children inside Alexandria. It’s filled with iconic moments that are iconic for damn good reason—the stellar character writing and build ups of tension with such satisfying pay off.
And yet, I am unfortunately still just talking about the first 5 seasons, because Season 6 is where the show’s cracks unfortunately began to form. While it is a fine season altogether, it really is just fine. With far more inconsistent pacing and an increase in filler episodes, the two things that would ruin Seasons 7, 8, and 10, mysteries like the reveal of Negan and brilliant episodes like JSS and No Way Out just can’t save it. I see why it works for so many: the characters are still good, I personally admire the guts of the cliffhanger, and the tension of series-best episodes like the aforementioned No Way Out and Not Tomorrow Yet is fantastic. But for all of those episodes that stand out, there are utter slogs like East, and Always Accountable.
Even upon rewatch, episodes like the finale simply don’t have quite the same effect, and once you’ve seen the payoff before, it hardly lands again. Until the Season 7 premiere.
Season 7’s premiere is the best episode in the entire series, an emotional, upsetting, gory and genuinely intense episode that doesn’t stop to let you breathe until you cry at the end—yet all of that exceptional tension is drained immediately afterwards with a disappointing drag of a following two seasons. Taking a comic storyline that needed one season maximum to be told and dragging it out across 32 episodes is absolutely ridiculous and a clear cash crab that intended to make the most of the popular storyline. The action is sparse in Season 7, but overwhelming and mostly ineffective in the following Season 8—the majority of the story just slows to a sluggish halt that is only saved by a few good episodes here and there, a shame more so in Season 7, the worst season of the entire show. Season 8 is an improvement—but not by much.
Thankfully, I kept watching weekly because of the major improvement we saw with Season 9. A season that does struggle with its episode count and pacing occasionally (as with every season past the fifth no matter what), but it’s incredible villains, scary scenes, great visuals and emotional, effective moments elevate it beyond that. Rick’s departure is handled beautifully, and the transition to the series without him is handled with care that makes it feel smooth and exciting.
Only for all that to be rectified with another boring season immediately after—Season 10. The Whisperers overstay their welcome, the 6 bonus episodes are all horrifically filler outside of the phenomenal Here’s Negan, and the pacing once again drags down to a standstill that makes it a chore to keep your attention. What were once great villains just feel static, character moments are good but not as interesting as they should be, and aside from some truly great episodes, the 22 could easily be cut down to 13, as could a lot of these seasons. It’s widely unnecessary padding and filler for the sake of meeting an episode count that the higher ups would have wanted.
This is an issue heavily present in the final season, Season 11, but one that is mostly forgivable by the time you get past the first third released last year. With societal themes that really worked for me, Bear McCreary at his best, some emotional beats that feel almost as effective as they used to, a satisfying conclusion, and one of my favourite villains in the franchise, the series ended on a genuine high note that I thoroughly enjoyed. However, seeing Rick come back for a final scene only reminded me of one thing—Andrew Lincoln, despite leaving beautifully and having a couple of great seasons without him, would have only improved the lows of the show since his absence. Rick’s focal point and moral compass always made him the best part of the show, and having him around for these last two and a half seasons would have only done them a great amount of good.
All 11 Seasons Ranked:
11: Season 7 (2/10)
10: Season 10 (4/10)
9: Season 8 (4/10)
8: Season 6 (5/10)
7: Season 11 (8/10)
6: Season 3 (8/10)
5: Season 9 (8/10)
4: Season 1 (8/10)
3: Season 2 (8/10)
2: Season 4 (8/10)
1: Season 5 (9/10)
So with that said, despite low lows and high highs, The Walking Dead still averages out as one of my all time favourite TV shows. It might not have the best seasons of TV ever within it, and it certainly went downhill in ways completely unexpected, but the way it wraps itself up and the lasting impression it leaves allows it to stand tall as one of the best series of all time, even if you stop after the first five seasons.