Unveiling the Gems: Discovering the 10 Most Underrated Episodes of "The Walking Dead"

Despite the overwhelming triumphs of The Walking Dead as a series and as a global entertainment media brand in general, anyone who has watched the show knows that the primary experience of watching The Walking Dead – at least in the first seven seasons – is one defined by overwhelming suspense, bottomlessly tragic events, and moments of anguished human sentiment that frequently reveal themselves to be even more harrowing than the tribulations of having a rotting corpse in your backyard. While certain episodes have earned widespread critical acclaim, including having certain scenes or subplots singled out as iconic moments or turning points of the series, there also exist episodes that are often deemed ‘filler’ but contain twisting, gut-wrenching narratives of internal character conflict and thematic nuance that elevate them to the status of essential viewing for the completist. For the fan looking to understand the series in its entirety, these hidden gems have a lot to offer.


Over the course of its five seasons, each Walking Dead run has a distinctive cadence, with instalments that get lost under the weight of their more famous cousins. But it is often in those overlooked episodes where the show most likely to be found is its own – a psychological drama about the grip of a mad world, and the fight to preserve a glimmer of sanity.


  • When the Dead Come Knocking (Season 3, Episode 7) finds Maggie and Glenn, who are becoming romantically involved, put in the crucible; their budding relationship reaching the point where it can be tested by trauma. This one episode centres not only on their relationship but on the entire group’s moral dilemmas.
  • In the stirring ‘Killer Within’ (Season 3, Episode 4), both heartbreak and heroism fuel the desperate bid by the survivors to secure their safety and sacrifice, which is redefined as a turning point in the series.
  • Four Walls and a Roof (Season 5, Episode 3) and What Happened And What’s Going On (Season 5, Episode 9) take the series’ portrayal of faith, guilt and the spectral presence of death in the lives of the living into even more powerful considerations of bereavement and salvation.
  • Still (Season 4, Episode 12), giving us one of the finest chapters in the evolving relationship between Daryl and Beth (Melissa McBride and Emily Kinney), a plot’s white space, a resting point, a moment to breathe in the world of the group, beyond the urgent need to ward off the assault of the walkers.
  • What We Become (Season 10, Episode 13), a fabulous Michonne episode in which one of the show’s best characters spends the entire hour slogging through zombie-infested flood waters to retrieve a file she walked away from months ago. With this show, almost nothing happens… and then… everything changes. What We Become brilliantly evokes identity, and the roads not taken, by compelling us to ask, a bit queasily: who among them needs such a small nudge to turn coat? Or to go truly bad.
  • the calm after a storm – The Storm (Season 9, Episode 16) – sudden violence – JSS (Season 6, Episode 2) Today, the post-storm peace is endangered as a way of lifeThe endangered state of peace in the world of The Walking Dead mirrors our own perilous world.
  • Thank You (Season 6, Episode 3) – though in many ways a controversial episode, brings us the classic story about fate and survival, and remains a memory of Lost for its brave choice of storylines.
  • Mercy (Season 8, Episode 1), despite its terrible timing, captures the thematic essence of the show, rooting its place in the larger arc of the series through a sense of hopeful resignation.


Status – of characters and their relationships with each other – is instrumental to all of these stories. Status issues structure the plot of each episode, from the changing dynamics within the group to the character development of individuals facing unimaginable horror. Indeed, status – the basic property of being higher or lower than somebody else – is what The Walking Dead is about. It’s what drives the story, and it’s the device by which the series examines the conditions of social collapse, and of what it means to be human.


These much-maligned episodes also show us the stakes for human connection in the midst of chaos: the show’s treatment of the statuses of loyalty, leadership and survivor’s guilt fleshes out a much richer picture of life and death, inviting us into a much fuller sense of the world it inhabits.


Status is not just a reflection of how people see each other, it’s a dynamic force in social behaviour: it shapes human behaviour, motivation and decision-making. It determines who lives and who dies on The Walking Dead. Status looks specifically into who gets to do what, when and with whom. The ebb and flow of status is an important way of viewing the apocalypse. Status is what shapes the alliances in The Walking Dead, and the reasons they break down.

Putting ourselves in the shoes of the various protagonists, by examining these under-appreciated episodes and the issue of status within them, offers a fuller perspective on the show’s, and zombies’, consideration of the human condition. Even more than the walkers or the war, it’s the stories of the struggle, the sacrifice, and the spirit that have stayed with me, evidence that despite the zombie apocalypse, the human heart remains the most narratively satisfying to follow.

Jun 02, 2024
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