The Walking Dead is a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it’s a deep show that dives into the human condition and has a thing or two to say about what it means to be alive. For others, the series is a showcase of loose plotting, big cliff-hangers, and prestige drama-level intensity. Many believe the show kills off too many main characters, while many more say that not enough main characters have met their demise. But regardless of what you think of The Walking Dead and how emotionally attached to it you may or may not be after six full seasons, the one thing everyone can agree on is that the show has some seriously killer zombies.
We mean killer zombies in the sense that they are horrifying, incredible, gruesome, downright scary creatures that we wouldn’t want to be anywhere near. And also, they can kill you with just a little bite or scratch. Throughout the run of the series, the writers, directors, actors, and makeup effects team have brought us some incredibly memorable zombies that stray far from that stereotype of a bland shuffling creature with torn clothing. They make us fear for the zombie apocalypse in the coolest way possible.
In honor of the show’s seventh season, we’re taking a look back through walker history at the iconic Walking Dead zombies that haunt your nightmares and fuel your Halloween daydreams. Don’t look behind you, because a complete ranking of the 15 Best Walking Dead Zombies is about to hit you right in the partially-decomposed face.
15 Governor’s Tank Zombies
Starting off the list with one of the most messed up moments in The Walking Dead history, The Governor’s tank of zombie heads is technically not one zombie, but we’re giving it a pass to include it anyway. Originally included in the series to showcase what a cold and evil SOB The Governor really is, the heads made it into Walking Dead history when they eventually became reanimated (pun intended) for the Season 3 limited edition Blu-ray box set.
The zombie heads serve as an iconic touchstone of the series and as a device to remind The Governor, and viewers, exactly what the dangerous world of zombies looked like. Since the heads were all victims of The Governor's and potentially kept as trophies or for his own amusement, we’re left with a sinking feeling of pity for these zombies, despite the deaths they themselves may have caused. And like the best zombies on this list, it’s the pity that we felt for these disgustingly gruesome creatures that have kept them in our minds since their debut back in the early days of the series.
14 Lori's Windshield Zombie
Think back for a second on what your face looked like when that road-wandering zombie smashed his decaying head into the windshield of Lori Grimes’ car. Was it the look of shock, fear, and disgust? Was it the look that you wish the show would plant on your face more often?
Whatever the look was, there’s no denying that a zombie sticking its head through shattered glass and having his skin peel back in the process is anything less than spectacular television. A moment to truly sit back and be in awe of the makeup effects of the series, the Windshield Zombie also marked a particularly tense time in the series’ history because we were almost certain that this was where Lori would die. Of course, putting on her thinking cap, Lori shoved a screwdriver through the zombie’s head just in time to survive. But before the windshield walker met his gruesome end, we were able to enjoy his brief existence and appreciate when a unique zombie in a unique setting has the ability to make our jaws drop.
13 Hanging Zombie
If you remember Andrea’s time on The Walking Dead then you’ll remember that she spent a lot of her scenes being quite the downer. Whether she was getting mad at various survivors for surviving or contemplating her own suicide, an Andrea scene was always a tense affair, and things kind of bubbled over when she and Daryl were out searching for Sophia.
Spotting a hanging man in a tree, upon closer inspection Andrea and Daryl saw that it was actually a walker in the tree, writhing slowly and moaning ominously. With a leg chewed up by walkers that seemingly had turned the man just as he had decided to end it all, the image of a former-human forever swinging from a noose only to be revived as a walker certainly fits in with the show's pantheon of iconic images.
And at the very least, the hanging zombie scared Andrea away from the thought of suicide and spared us her monologues – for a few episodes anyway.
12 Gas Mask Zombie
It’s always interesting to see The Walking Dead’s crew come up with subtle references to what the walkers were doing before they turned, and to then incorporate that into the walker itself. Take, for example, the gas mask zombie found in the third season premiere, and you have a man who – before the world went to hell – might have thought that a gas mask would keep him safe from turning into a zombie. Boy, did he ever get that wrong.
When Rick and his group took over the prison, Rick found the Gas Mask Zombie charging right at him. So Rick did what he'd been conditioned to do; he pushed the walker down, ripped off his mask, and stabbed the crap out of it. But in the process of ripping off the gas mask, Rick made the Gas Mask Zombie an icon for the ages; the zombie’s face got ripped off right along with the gas mask, giving us one of the show’s purely fun gross-out moments.
11 Michonne's Zombie Pets
As frustrating as Michonne was as a character when she first arrived in the world of The Walking Dead, there’s no denying that her zombie pets made audiences salivate to find out more. Speaking volumes for a character that annoyingly didn’t speak at all, the armless, toothless “pets” that Michonne pulled behind her like neglected dogs really set the tone for who Michonne was. Simply put, she was a badass who wasn’t going to take flack from anyone, especially the undead.
Although the purpose of Michonne’s Zombie Pets was unclear at first, as the show went on it became clear that her personal posse of walkers worked as a sort of zombie repellent. Not only was that a cool new use of deadly zombies, but it also gave us one of the show’s most clever character designs. The armless hobbling zombies caused us to wonder week after week, “how did they do that?”
10 Sam Witwer Tank Zombie
When The Walking Dead started it was meant to be a very different show, shepherded to our television screens each week by the mega-talented Frank Darabont. The director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist, Darabont had a master plan for The Walking Dead that he started executing as early as the pilot episode. Of course, all of that went down the drain when AMC had other ideas for the surprise hit and decided to fire Darabont only to bring on another showrunner who they would soon show the door.
All that’s now left of Darabont’s plan for The Walking Dead is a delightful teaser planted inside the tank from the pilot episode, where one of the first up-close encounters we have with a walker features none other than actor Sam Witwer. Although he only got a few seconds of air-time and no lines to speak, hiring such a capable actor in Witwer to play such a small part was no accident, as Darabont was going to flashback to the fall of Atlanta during the second season premiere, and not-yet-zombie-Witwer was going to have a central role in that episode.
Though Witwer’s zombie wasn’t the most innovative in the history of the show, it all amounts to one of the more tantalizing pieces of “what if” that the show has thus far presented us. And that’s reason enough for this walker – portrayed by perhaps the most well-known actor to ever inhabit the role of a silent zombie – to make the list.
9 Moss Zombie
It’s always fascinating when The Walking Dead provides audiences with a new angle of the zombie apocalypse and shows us something that never even occurred to us. Such was the case with the not-so-infamous Moss Zombie, a walker that had been starving and immobile for so long that it literally started to decompose right alongside nature. With this zombie creation we were able to see firsthand just how deserted the planet had become since the zombie apocalypse and how, after the widespread death and destruction, nature was starting to take over once again.
Disgusting in terms of makeup design and tragic in terms of imagining just how long this particular walker had been rotting in the woods, The Walking Dead really hit it out of the park with this particular zombie. To see a creature – even one as deadly and horrific as a zombie – “alive” while they turn into moss and decompose is a horrifying thought, and while the Moss Zombie may not be the most recognizable zombie in The Walking Dead universe it’s certainly an image that stays with you for a long time.
The Governor's kid, Penny, represents one of the most horrifying and tragic characters in the entire series thus far. While at first glance Penny may just seem like your standard-issue undead child, if you need some nightmare fuel look no further than The Governor – The Walking Dead’s version of evil incarnate – grooming and caring for her while she rotted away in front of him. Heartbreaking in a way that no other zombie has been before or since, Penny was a walker that you somehow wanted to stay alive while simultaneously hoping that she’d take a blade through the head-- which she ultimately did.
When put to an end by Michonne’s sword, Penny personified the severing of The Governor’s last shred of humanity. Although she may have once been his beautiful daughter, it really sells you on how demented and hypocritical The Governor was, considering how he kept her around long after she had turned. With zombie-makeup straight out of a campy '80s horror movie but enough emotion to fill an entire season of The Walking Dead, Penny was the little zombie that we loved to hate, and hated to see loved by a man like The Governor.
Speaking of little girls that became zombies, Sophia just narrowly edges out Penny on our list because we got to see her as a proper human child… And then out of the barn she came, shuffling and groaning her way into the pit of our stomachs and the worst nightmares of the characters who witnessed her transformation.
One of the original characters on the series, Sophia was always known as Carl Lite, which isn’t saying much considering Carl’s early usage as a character. Continuing in the proud tradition of Walking Dead characters that we don’t really care about who then die, Sophia at least ha a better death than most on the series because of the slow build-up that surrounded it. Lost for a number of episodes while hope unfairly built up, by the time Sophia was finally discovered The Walking Dead had reached a turning point and it wasn’t afraid to never look back. Hope was shattered and little zombie Sophia was slaughtered in her tracks. Nothing on the series has been the same ever since, for better or worse.
6 Flooded Food Bank Zombie
For all of The Walking Dead’s moody brooding and slow reflectiveness, there are still a number of purely exhilarating scenes. These are the scenes that make the show a joy to watch week in and week out, and with every edge-of-our-seat close encounter with a walker it’s easy to forget that we don’t really live in a world with flesh-eating zombies. For an hour a week, at least, it’s fun to think we do.
Enter the Food Bank Zombie, quietly wading through the flooded basement while our heroes tried to collect some much needed sustenance. Looking like a librarian who might’ve been doing some shopping before she turned, this particular zombie reminded us that while scavenging for food during the zombie apocalypse may be hard, doing it in three feet of water is even harder.
After biting Bob on the ankle and ending his short time on the series, the Food Bank Zombie waded back into the recesses of our subconscious, ready to strike anytime we find ourselves half submerged in murky water with no idea of what may lurk below the surface.
5 Bunny Slipper Girl Zombie
If there’s a recurring idea of this list – and thus of The Walking Dead as a whole – it’s that there’s nothing more emotionally compelling than a sweet little girl who gets turned into a mindless flesh-eating zombie. Of course, when this iconic zombie arrived during the first season of the series, our main hero Rick didn’t exactly know just how prevalent little girl zombies were. So naturally he called out to the girl with the cute bunny slippers, thinking that she was simply lost and needed some help. When she turned around we quickly understood exactly what kind of show we were settling in for.
As iconic as she was simple, this particular little girl zombie marked a change in Rick – one where he shot first and asked questions later, becoming the man he would ultimately need to be in order to survive. Dispatching with this walker in such a cruel and swift way was one of the things that set the tone for the series, and as a result the Bunny Slipper Zombie easily walks with plush padded feet into our top five as one of the most iconic zombies in The Walking Dead.
4 Riot Gear Zombie
At a point in the series where endless hordes of walkers simply didn’t bring about the fear that they once did, The Walking Dead responded to the group’s increased knowledge of zombie killing with a new type of zombie that was harder to kill. Stalking around the prison clad from head to toe in riot gear, these walkers – presumably former prison guards – were scary beyond all belief; and for a second there it looked like some of Rick’s group wasn’t going to be able to escape this threat alive.
Another example of the show getting creative with what a walker was doing before it turned, the Riot Gear Zombies gave us a unique character design and paired it with a thrillingly cinematic scene. To see Rick and his group adapt to a new zombie killing challenge and find ways to dispatch walkers that were meant to be indestructible was as exciting as any scene in the show's history. It all resulted in a scene – and a zombie – that immediately entered into the show’s large pantheon of unforgettable moments.
3 Underwater Zombie
This one’s a real head-scratcher, and perhaps no zombie in the history of The Walking Dead has caused more online chatter and debates than the Underwater Zombie. While many have said that you could just ride out the zombie apocalypse on an island somewhere, or on a boat, this zombie (Pete Dolgen, killed by The Governor and thrown in the lake), has proven otherwise. Undead and well, the Underwater Zombie seems to have no problem with a lack of oxygen, and that makes his clawing and writhing to get to the surface all the more terrifying.
Again hitting on the idea of tragedy by making us imagine a “life” spent constantly drowning but being unable to die, The Walking Dead gave us an iconic zombie with this one, and more importantly, they threw out the zombie rules that we all thought we knew. In the end, along with all of the debates generated by the Underwater Zombie came simple beauty, as there is perhaps no more truly breathtaking and fascinating three-second zombie shot in the history of the show than this one; the one that made us rethink everything.
2 Well Zombie
There’s something to be said for pure gross-out zombies, and sometimes with all the prestige and tragic zombie drama you want something simply sick to tickle your fancy. Well here it is: the most disgusting zombie ever made. The one that makes you realize the zombie apocalypse isn’t all fun and games, and sometimes there are walkers that would still be awful no matter how many bullets you put in their head. Look away and breathe through your mouth, because the Well Zombie has finally made it to this list.
Bloated, water-logged, diseased, slimy, sickly, and clogging a very important well filled with drinking water, the Well Zombie remains most people’s go to zombie when thinking back to the series’ many iconic walkers. With each foot that Glenn descended down that well and closed in on that giant zombie our heart skipped another beat, not to mention the number of times we nearly threw up. Great makeup work made this zombie one for the ages, but so too did the underlying idea that the zombie virus just can’t be stopped. Whether you’re walking along the street or stuck inside a well on a farm, sooner or later you’re going to turn, and when you do you can only hope that you aren’t as sickeningly unattractive as the Well Zombie.
1 Bicycle Girl Zombie
It all comes down to this. After six seasons of zombie iconography, the one that stands out above all the others is one of the first: The Bicycle Girl. Severed in half and dragging herself along a pristine lawn in the suburbs of Atlanta, The Bicycle Girl still perfectly represents the series all these years later; slow, beautiful, and tragic. It’s everything we’ve come to love and hate about every chapter of The Walking Dead all wrapped up in one iconic scene, bookmarked with the zombie that will come to be the show’s cover art, and read by Rick as his first introduction to the post zombie-apocalypse world.
There’s no denying the power of the Bicycle Girl. She represents tragedy on a grand scale, and even as she crawls helplessly on the grass she is still a threat to humanity. It’s fitting then that Rick gets up close and personal with her, empathizing with her and apologizing, just before blowing her brains out in what is perhaps one of the final moments of his normal life.
With that bang – the brains shooting out onto the grass, the undead finally dying – The Walking Dead made its mark as a show that would depict the horror and tragedy of the zombie apocalypse. It may be slow, it may be too serious for its own good, but it’s the zombie show that we have, and The Bicycle Girl – along with all the other iconic zombies on this list – represents what The Walking Dead can be at its absolute best.
Which of the above zombies haunt your nightmares? Are there any that we missed? Let us know in the comments!
The Walking Dead season 7 premieres on Sunday, October 23 @9pm on AMC.