There are plenty of episodes over five seasons (with Season 6 less than a week away! woo hoo!) to watch…and I don’t recommend skipping any of them. But these nine episodes of The Walking Dead are absolute must-see episodes. Maybe see them a few times, even.
“Vatos” (Season 1, Episode 4)
This is a crucial episode for a number of reasons. Rick encounters Guillermo and his crew, who we assume are bad guys. Instead, they’ve taken over the care of the patients at a nursing home since the world went to hell in a hand basket. It’s rather poignant. Speaking of poignant, Dale has a nice scene where he quotes Faulkner and talks about “time.” Perhaps more significant is the walker attack of the camp. Who wasn’t thrilled to see Ed get mauled by walkers?
“Judge, Jury, Executioner” (Season 2, Episode 11)
I consider this the “humanity” episode. Dale is on a crusade to save their prisoner, who everyone agrees (to varying degrees) should be executed. Dale was of the opinion that killing him would change them. “The world we know is gone, but keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.” Someone is attacked by a walker (I won’t say who) at the end of the episode and is shot to end their suffering (and fate).
“Clear” (Season 3, Episode 12)
The One With Morgan (that would be the title if it were a Friends episode). It’s critical to the relationship between Rick and Morgan, but it’s also a meaningful episode about Morgan’s downward spiral. It’s also worth watching to see the start of Carl and Michonne’s relationship.
“Still” (Season 4, Episode 12)
This episode follows Daryl and Beth after they fled the prison. Why does it matter? It shows another side of Beth and Daryl, really delving into their characters. Daryl cries in this episode, which might be one of the most important moments to those who love Daryl. He finally answers the question about what he did before everything went to crap: “I was nobody…nothing.”
“The Grove” (Season 4, Episode 14)
This is often considered a favorite or important episode, when Carol, Tyreese, and Lizzie and Mika (and Judith) holed up in a cabin in a pecan grove. Up til this point, I couldn’t have cared less about this group (other than Carol) and was surprised to find that I was riveted by this episode that was all about them. This episode also dealt with morality and humanity, and it did so extremely well. Carol did some of her finest acting, and it successfully turned Tyreese into a significant and sympathetic character.
“A” (Season 4, Episode 16)
This episode shows the development of the relationship between Carl and Michonne, which is heartwarming. But it also features a freak-out of astronomical proportions by Rick, which is worth watching for both its graphic violence (if you’re into that) and the evolution (or devolution) of Rick’s character. The crew also makes it to Terminus, where Rick spots numerous strangers sporting belongings that belonged to his friends…causing Rick to freak out again.
“Consumed” (Season 5, Episode 6)
This episode features Carol and Daryl, which is pretty much everyone’s favorite relationship on The Walking Dead. The themes of abuse and death weigh heavily in this episode and we see (and hear) how they’ve grown and changed and developed since the world has come to an end.
“What Happened and What’s Going On” (Season 5, Episode 9)
The Tyreese episode. There’s not a whole lot to say about this episode that won’t ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. But it’s about struggle and guilt and unresolved feelings. It’s the most intense episode of The Walking Dead and is a complete departure from the norm. It’s “artsy” and full of symbolism and meaning. My favorite episode ever.
“Conquer” (Season 5, Episode 16)
“Conquer” deals with multiple conflicts between multiple characters (Glenn and Nicholas, Rick and everyone, Father Gabriel and the world) and culminates in a tremendous climax (that I won’t divulge…but it’s one of those “YEAH!!!” moments) that again delves into the morality/humanity theme. It also features Sasha and Father Gabriel confronting their feelings of guilt and loss. It’s probably the most important “Alexandria” episode.