While fans of The Walking Dead are forced to hold their collective breath until the start of season seven in October, this is the perfect time to reflect on some of the characters lost during the first six seasons. TWD has never been short of violent and shocking deaths. But we decided to take a look at some of the most meaningful deaths thus far.
In other words, how did a character’s death impact the development of another and/or advance the overall story arc? Rick Grimes and his group of survivors have often been pushed forward or held back due to a death. Sometimes they find new strength in the aftermath. Other times, they turn to a darker, more inward place. The following list examines the 15 Most Meaningful Deaths on AMC’s The Walking Dead.
15. Jenner – CDC explosion (Season 1)
For a brief moment, he represented a glimmer of hope for our ragged group of survivors. Rick and company spent their first night at the Center for Disease Control enjoying cooked food and red wine. It looked like they could ride out the Zombie apocalypse in the relative comforts of the CDC bunker. Meanwhile, Dr.Edwin Jenner (the last surviving CDC scientist) would work frantically to develop a cure.
But the group’s moment of celebration and hope soon faded when Jenner revealed a horrible truth. There was no cure, and there would be no escape. He planned to blow up the CDC and kill himself (and the group) in the process. Although most of Rick’s group would make it out alive, Jenner’s death was not without purpose. Right before he parted ways with Rick, he whispered a secret that would tease TWD fans in a manner they would later grow accustomed to — everyone was infected, and even if you were neither bitten nor scratched, when you die, you become a walker.
His death (and the CDC storyline as a whole) also served to relay one more very strong message to Rick’s group and the audience: there is no miracle cure, no grand solution. This is simply the way the world is now. Judging from the reactions (both on the show and from fans) to Eugene’s initial world-saving storyline back in season four, this was not a lesson easily learned/accepted. We all still had hope for a cure.
14. Lori – complications from childbirth (Season 2)
Sarah Wayne Callies had been a veteran of television acting for nearly a decade when she was cast as Lori, the wife of TWD central figure, Rick Grimes. While Callies has generally played well-liked characters on prior shows, Lori Grimes would quickly become a lightning rod for the venom of die-hard TWD fans. As alluded to in the pilot episode, her and Rick were having marital troubles before the world ended. With her husband in a coma (and presumed dead) and the world filled with zombies, she ran to the comfort of Shane (who just happened to be Rick’s partner and best friend).
The reemergence and reunion with Rick would be problematic for Lori, and judging by message boards on fan sites and social media, few viewers had any sympathy for Lori. Her pregnancy and the baby daddy questions that followed only created further drama that made Lori look even worse in the eyes of most fans.
But it’s in her death that Lori adds the most to TWD story. Giving birth in a remote part of the prison with only Maggie and her son Carl at her side, Lori realizes her baby is in trouble. An emergency procedure by Maggie saves the baby, but Lori is a goner. Knowing now that his mother will soon be reanimated as a walker, Carl makes the unthinkable decision. Killing his undead mother pushes Carl beyond a point where he can never go back. In a moment, any remnants of his childhood are lost. The unforgiving world in which he now lives has changed him, hardened him, and began to take him down the eventual road to be more than just a survivor, but a warrior.
13. Jessie – Walker (Season 6)
TWD creator Robert Kirkman doesn’t just enjoy the bleakness of a doomed world. He seems to outright delight in blooming a flower of hope just to trample on it for all to see.
The former hairstylist and abused wife quickly became the object of Rick’s interest as his group settled in Alexandria. Her relationship with Rick never really goes anywhere. They both have feelings for each other, but at first she’s trapped by her abusive husband Pete. Later, it’s a combination of guilt over Pete’s death (by Rick’s hand) and her disapproving older son Ron that keep Jessie from fully admitting her feelings for Rick. By the time the two seem to finally be ready to get the fire started (around this past mid-season finale), they are separated forever by her horrific death at the hands of a horde of walkers.
It’s an important turning point for Rick as he loses the second woman he cared for during the series. Jessie’s death seems to contribute in two ways to the story: 1) It pushes Rick not only into a momentary rage of walker slaughter — also motivated by Carl’s bullet hole to the head — that leads to the Alexandrians banding together to put down the walker invasion. 2) Of course, on a more positive note, Jessie’s death opens the door for a Rick and Michonne romantic relationship that fans had been eagerly waiting for. #Richonne is finally a thing, and it’s awesome.
12. Denise – Dwight (Season 6)
The death of Dr. Denise Cloyd had significant ripple effects both inside and outside of the show. To the characters of TWD, Denise’s untimely demise set into a motion of a series of events that would start with Daryl leaving the camp hellbent on revenge and ending with many of the key characters facing a fatal beating at the hands of Negan. Denise was a character who was just coming into her own, establishing a relationship with Tara and finding courage she didn’t know she had. The impact on Tara (who has now lost three lovers to apocalyptic violence) is still to be seen.
Scott Gimple and company have heard plenty of criticism from members of the LGBT community and TV critics on this one. Denise’s death by Dwight’s arrow called many to cry foul and accuse TWD of falling back to the notorious practice of “burying your gays.” To make matters worse, season six had been particularly faithful to the comics throughout the majority of its storyline. However, in the comics, the arrow shot by Dwight kills Abraham, not Denise. Even though Gimple’s decision to kill Denise instead of Abraham might have been driven by plot necessity or another planned twist, it left him and AMC open to a great deal of criticism.
11. Tyreese – Noah’s Zombified Brother (Season 3)
TWD fans familiar with the comics must have been ecstatic when Chad Coleman’s Tyreese survived the group’s final encounter with the Governor (it’s that notorious villain who is responsible for Tyreese’s death in the comics). However, he survived the final fight at the prison that saw the Governor meet his end, along with another major character (more on that in a bit).
Their glee was quickly turned to sadness in an episode titled “What Happened and What’s Going on.” In season 5’s midseason premiere, Tyreese is in a small group that heads on a reconnaissance run to the community Noah came from. However, when they arrive, the community is a ghost town having been overrun by walkers. Not a single survivor was found. Tyreese again shows his compassionate side by comforting Noah in his old home, only to be attacked by a zombified version of Noah’s brother. Tyreese is bitten, and much of the episode has the audience viewing various trippy hallucinations as he nears death.
Tyreese’s death quickly follows the sudden loss of Beth. The group is already reeling emotionally and psychologically, and this is no more evident than with Sasha, Tyreese’s sister. Her character goes through an important change where we see much of the kindness and humanity she once held disappear. Having lost now her brother and a man she had growing feelings for (Bob), Sasha travels to a very dark place where she welcomes not only the next fight, but her own death. Remarkably, she’s still plugging away at the end of season six, despite some of her own best efforts, and she’s now a more effective soldier than ever. Her budding relationship with Abraham is flawed in many ways, but also presents promise for Sasha. Her continued survival and the transformation she’s experienced since her brother’s death, will undoubtedly play a major role in the story to come.
10. Dale – Mercy kill by Daryl (Season 2)
It was established pretty early on that Dale was so much more than just the crazy old man with the RV. His kinship with Glenn and friendship with Andrea were important early plot points. But it was his effect on Rick where Dale made his most significant contribution.
With Rick’s partner Shane in one ear, Dale was a valuable counterbalance and dissenting voice. Where Shane was inclined to shoot first and take no prisoners, Dale was prone to reason and having a measured response. He could pull the trigger and kill walkers as needed, but Dale refused to give up on humanity. Even as the world went to hell around him, the old man in the fishing shirt was determined to be the defender of social order and human values.
His shining moment may have been when the group considered executing Randall, a young man who ambushed Rick and others on a supply run, at the Greene farm. The group is split on what to do, but clearly concerned that Randall is a threat. Dale pleads for the young man’s life warning what his execution would do to the group. “The world we knew is gone, but keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.”
When Dale is bitten and then mercifully shot by Daryl, one of the last voices of hope in the series is extinguished. Going forward, the group seems to understand that the world they knew is gone and never coming back. New rules of society and survival had to be adapted, modified, and applied for the rest of their journey.
9. Beth – Dawn Lerner (Season 5)
The younger of Hershel Greene’s daughters, Beth, was mostly an overlooked character until season five. She was a 16-year-old girl when first introduced in season two, and for the most part was overshadowed by her older (and more interesting) sister Maggie. She’s on baby duty during most of the group’s time in the prison and there would multiple episodes that would pass without any real sign of her.
But in what should have been a major red flag to fans, TWD writers started investing in Beth’s character development in season four. Beth seemed to start to come into her own identity with a separate story arc. Following the fall of the prison, Beth and Daryl are separated from the rest of the group. This allows for the two to interact in ways the viewers hadn’t seen before. They share some intimate and personal moments where it’s clear a budding relationship is being formed. Of course, in typical TWD fashion, that flower of hope is quickly stomped on.
When most of the group gets trapped in Terminus, Beth is kidnapped by Dawn Lerner’s group. Made a ward to Lerner, she sees first hand the twisted rule of law being administered by the former cops running their new headquarters (an Atlanta hospital). In the end, Beth is at least partially responsible for her own death, when she makes the unfortunate decision to lash out at Lerner with a pair of scissors.
Her death changes the group, especially Daryl. His guilt for not being able to protect Beth seems to nearly consume him. And it’s likely that when Denise is killed later with Dwight’s crossbow, all those feelings guilt come back and bubble over in Daryl’s murderous rage. Beth’s death also crushed her sister Maggie of course, helping her become the hardened, world-weary warrior we know today.
8. Merle – The Governor (Season 3)
Created for the show Daryl Dixon may have quickly earned a spot in the hearts of TWD fans everywhere, but his big brother Merle was one of the show’s first villains. A racist, sexist, vulgar piece of human garbage, Merle is quickly becoming the biggest bully of the Atlanta survivor group before Rick Grimes shows up. Then, with a new sheriff town (literally), things quickly turn against ‘ol Merle. Getting handcuffed to the roof of department store and having to saw off his own arm to escape a horde of walkers does nothing to improve Merle’s people skills.
As bad as he was, Merle went for a bit of redemption in the end. He refused the orders of his new boss, The Governor, to turn Michonne over. Instead, Merle tries to turn the tide of the struggle between his old group and Woodbury by assassinating The Governor. He fails, and falls to a horrible death at the hands of the man himself.
Befitting his signature cruelty, The Governor leaves Merle to die slowly, knowing he’ll reanimate so after as a walker. When he does, the burden to put him down for good falls on none other than his little brother Daryl, in one of the series’ most heart-wrenching scenes.
7. Gareth – Rick (Season 5)
TWD is incredibly well-scripted, with many memorable lines for fans to recite. But it’s hard to remember a line of dialogue more dark or powerful than Rick’s last words to Terminus leader Gareth. “I made you a promise,” he says to the cannibalistic survivor before hacking him to death with a machete.
“Four Walls and a Roof” is one of those iconic episodes that reminds the audience why TWD is about great storytelling. After surviving the cannibals of Terminus (thanks to Carol), Rick and company are on the run, looking for a new safe haven. When they arrive as unwelcome guests at Gabriel’s church, viewers know it’s only a matter of time before the group has a reckoning with the still-alive Gareth.
His death comes at a moment of truth for Rick, and serves as a foreshadowing of things to come (see Pete at Alexandria). There is little doubt that Gareth has it coming to him, but Rick has a chance to show mercy. And let’s face it, the Rick Grimes we knew in the first few seasons would have handled the situation differently. But the brutality of what’s left of the human race has taken its toll on him. Rick’s very nearly gone for good after this encounter.
6. Andrea – Suicide (Season 3)
She could have died so many times before. Granted, that could be said about a lot of the survivors on TWD. But Andrea seemed to be charmed (or cursed) as she escaped death several notable times prior to her demise in season 3. The former civil rights attorney wanted to kill herself after the death of her sister Amy, and only Dale’s persistent intervention kept that from happening. When Herschel’s farm was overrun by walkers, Andrea was separated from the group and left for dead. Only the heroics of Michonne saved her and kept her alive.
While Andrea ultimately proves herself to be stronger than we first thought and quite an asset to the group, her poor taste in men is her undoing. First it’s Shane, then the Governor. When Michonne is convinced he’s bad news, Andrea’s loyalty is tested. Remarkably, she initially chooses the Governor and turns her back on her friend and one-time savior.
By the time she realizes she’d made a mistake and tried to make amends by betraying Woodbury’s warlord, it’s too late. The Governor finds her out and sentences her to death in a most notorious manner — by locking her in a room with a fellow Benedict Arnold, who is now dying. Once Milton comes back in zombie form, he attacks and bites Andrea. Rather than have herself come back as a walker, Andrea puts a bullet in her own head.
5. Noah – Walkers (Season 5)
Technically Noah was killed by a horde of walkers in a botched mission. But TWD fans know it was Nicholas who panicked, chose to look out for himself, and left Noah and Glenn to die. The skinny guy who was first introduced as a member of Dawn Lerner’s group in Atlanta had quickly become an asset and trusted friend of the group, only to be eaten alive right in front of Glenn, who could only watch in horror as he watched his new pal get devoured.
His death would have a profound impact on Glenn and would cement the inevitable division between the original Alexandria residents and Rick’s group. Nicholas represented all that was wrong with the Alexandria. Timid, amateur, and naive are all fair characterizations of the community, at least before the community was overrun during the Wolves’ invasion. Once Glenn relayed the story of what happened to Noah, there was no longer any doubt for Rick, Carol, and Daryl that they were going to have to assume control at some point.
Noah’s death also of course caused some serious friction between Nicholas and Glenn, which resulted in the death of both characters (well, almost).
4. Sophia – Probably a walker? (Season 2)
While some fans may have complained about the pacing of season two, it’s hard to argue with the brilliant twist of storytelling that illuminated viewers to the fate of poor Sophia. Carol’s precious daughter, who becomes separated from the group at the beginning of the season, serves as a wake up call to the dangers facing the group. Held up on Hershel’s farm while Carl is recovering, Daryl takes it upon himself to go out nearly everyday and search for Sophia.
Just when it looks as if the group (and the audience) will never learn of Sophia’s fate, Shane’s impulsive actions lead to a shocking discovery. As he opens the barn doors where Hershel and his family have been keeping (and feeding) walkers, out stumbles one zombie that everyone immediately recognizes. It was an act that Shane believed would not only be more logistically reasonable (how safe was it sleeping at night with a barn full of walkers?) but also to make the moral point to Hershel’s family and the rest of the group that the undead were lost, gone for good. However, in the end, it forced Rick to take an unspeakable action as he shot a zombified Sophia in the head while her mother broke down. Carol would never be the same, gradually morphing in the following seasons to one of the group’s most vicious warriors.
3. Hershel – The Governor (Season 4)
He was one of the more gentle characters on the TWD. A kind soul who acted as a father to not only his own daughters, Beth and Maggie, but also to Glenn and Rick. He was the voice of calm reason through much of the third and fourth seasons. After the death of Dale, Hershel quickly became the member of the group who found a way to value human life no matter what.
So for him to meet his end in such a brutal and ruthless fashion left an unmistakable imprint on the group. Rick and Maggie were especially changed by witnessing the Governor cut Hershel’s head (half) off in front of them. If that wasn’t enough, during the fight that follows, the one-eyed villain catches up to a dying Hershel just to hack his head the rest of the way off.
After the death of her father, Maggie’s resolve and grit would grow to the point where she became a clear leader in the group. By the time they arrive at Alexandria, it’s really no surprise that Deanna asks her to join the community’s leadership. For Rick, the death of his friend, and in some ways mentor, pushed him further down a dark path to becoming the type of leader he would need to be in this new world.
2. Shane – Rick (Season 2)
For comic fans, it was a surprise in many ways that Shane lasted as long as he did. In the comics, he meets his fate pretty early on. But on the television show, Shane plays a vital role as both Rick’s trusted friend/worst foil. It wasn’t just Lori and her unborn baby that got between them. Rick and Shane butt heads with increased frequency as season two wears on over pretty much everything. Their final confrontation was, in all likelihood, inevitable.
In a moonlight setting with a cross and double-cross exchange that would have impressed even Shakespeare, Rick kills his best friend. If the pain of that action wasn’t enough, Carl witnesses the event and then is the one to put down a zombified Shane. In so many ways, the entire incident would eventually bond father and son. But for the immediate future, Shane’s death left the group short a skilled gun hand and tough fighter. The ramifications of which are felt almost immediately, as the farm is overrun by walkers.
But even more importantly, Shane’s death seems to solidify the end of Rick’s old life and his old self. The lawman that he was before the outbreak is gone, despite his continued physical appearance. Rick Grimes was no longer a cop where rules of right and wrong are clear. He’d become a survivor, constantly surrounded by a world of gray. It would define him as much as any other confrontation, and set him on a path towards who he’d become.
1. Mika and Lizzie by Carol (Season 4)
The deaths of Mika and Lizzie provided not only one of the most memorable moments for the TWD, but arguably one of the best dramatic scenes in television history. Make no mistake — it’s not a scene without plenty of controversy. You can’t have one of our main characters (a heroine, no less) execute two children without ruffling many a feather. On paper, it sounds completely unreasonable and over the top, but it made complete sense following the characters’ story arc in season four.
It started much earlier, with Carol trying to give the children of the group something her own daughter never had…a chance. They needed to know how to defend themselves. She trained them in secret, and it could be argued that what she taught them saved their lives at least a couple of times following the collapse of the prison. But what Carol could never have predicted was that she wasn’t just raising survivors, she was breeding killers.
With a line of dialogue that TWD fans will never forget, Carol took the only action she and Tyreese agreed she could. We’ll never look at flowers the same way again.
What do you think Screen Ranters? Any deaths from The Walking Dead you’d want added to our list? Let us hear all about it in the comments section.