As the fifth season premiere of The Walking Dead approaches on October 12, it’s a good time to take stock of the impact this show has had since it premiered on Halloween of 2010. I was watching that night, as I’ve watched each episode since, and as a longtime reader of the comics, I had been following the show’s development for a year before it ever premiered. But never in my wildest dreams would I have ever predicted that an hourlong zombie drama would become the number one show on cable, in terms of ratings. It still seems almost too geeky to be possible.
Moreover, in 2014 we’re already taking for granted how much this show has changed cable in terms of its ceiling for violence, gore and disturbing imagery. Put simply, it’s the most graphically violent show that’s ever aired on basic cable, and that violence has paved the way for other horror-centric, graphic shows such as American Horror Story to further push the boundaries of good taste and what one can reasonably get away with airing in primetime.
In honor of its upcoming fifth season then, here’s a collection of the 10 grossest and goriest moments in the first four seasons of The Walking Dead. It should go without saying, but there are plenty of spoilers below.
10. “Bicycle Girl”
The so-called “Bicycle Girl” is perhaps the show’s most iconic single zombie, which was the whole idea. One of the most visually arresting images from the show’s landmark pilot episode in Season One, this zombie was essentially The Walking Dead’s statement of intentions: “We are going to be gross. We are going to push the boundaries of what you can show on TV. Get on board, or get out.” There aren’t a lot of zombies in the history of the show who have had their full backstories explained, but Bicycle Girl got her story told via a series of AMC-produced webisodes, revealing just how she ended up a crawling, desiccated torso.
9. Dale gets ripped open
Dale was the dedicated conscience of the Grimes Gang, the one member of the original Atlanta group who was fully committed to never losing his humanity, which means that—without him—things quickly began to spiral into the barbaric. But it’s the manner in which he died that rubbed in what a cruel world these characters were now living in. He fought as hard as he could against that zombie, but in the end his struggle was a metaphor for trying to fight death itself in this world. The zombie ultimately dispatches him in such an effortless way—it just digs its fingers into his gut and peels him open like a freaking bag of potato chips. We’ve seen a lot of people killed by zombies on this show, but Dale’s death shows just how pathetically easy it is.
8. Falling walker goes splat
In the fourth season premiere, “30 Days Without an Accident,” members of our survivor group scavenge their way through a local grocery store called Big Spot in part of the never-ending quest to find supplies. Unfortunately, plenty of zombies are on the roof, and they begin to crash through, raining down on the survivors. There are a few particularly gross bits in this sequence, especially the walker with the split-open head and the one hanging from the ceiling by its own guts. But the worst imagery occurs in a top-down shot from the roof. We see a crawling walker drag itself over the edge and plunge straight down to the floor, where it hits the ground and pretty much liquefies, being so decomposed that the force of its impact just smooshes its head completely. It’s one of the goriest moments in the entire show, like something from an early Peter Jackson movie.
7. Walker bone shiv
Bitten by a walker? That’s bad news for you. Stabbed in the neck by a shiv made from a walker arm bone? Well, you’re pretty much screwed. This is just adding insult to injury—when Maggie and Glenn make their escape from Woodbury in Season Three, they don’t tiptoe around confrontation. Of all the terrible ways to go in this show, being stabbed by a zombie bone is pretty high up there. Even if you somehow survived the initial wound, you’re just going to catch the zombie virus and end up dead anyway. A sharpened walker bone is, like, the most deadly weapon that exists in this universe.
6. Wearing a suit of guts
These characters spend most of their time trying to AVOID being draped in human remains, if at all possible. But in Season One they quickly learned that it was something they were going to have to get used to in the zombie apocalypse. After realizing that smelling like a walker can offer fairly effective camouflage (as long as it doesn’t start raining), Rick and Glenn do what needs to be done in order to get through a big herd of walkers, covering themselves from head to toe in squelchy zombie guts. I especially love the lengths of intestine thrown over their shoulders like a festive scarf of gore.
5. Walker in the well
Ah, that zombie in the well. This was another one of those moments that really drove home the spirit of The Walking Dead—the idea that “things are not going to work out very well for these people.” After expending a great deal of energy trying to remove a bloated, obese zombie from a well, the edge of the big guy’s abdomen catches on the lip of the opening, ripping him clean in half. The zombie’s guts go spilling everywhere, certainly contaminating their drinking water (which was already plenty contaminated, lets face it). It’s a now-iconic moment that spotlighted the show’s fantastic practical effects and makeup team.
4. The Governor loses an eye
In all honesty, Michonne gets him much worse in the comics, but David Morrissey’s Governor still gets mauled pretty badly on TV as well. Anything involving eye injuries is already immediate cringe material, but imagine getting stabbed in the eye AFTER the apocalypse. There’s no emergency room to go visit—the Governor’s best option is taking whatever kind of treatment the citizens of Woodbury are able to provide. Suffice to say, there’s not much that can be done for him, and the eyepatch he wears for the rest of the series is more of a shield to spare others the horror of looking at his gaping eye wound, than it is a therapeutic tool for The Governor.
3. Chain link fence zombie
Alright, now we’re into the REALLY gross material. Whoever dreamed up this walker sequence is, quite simply, a demented individual. It occurs when a horde of zombies are clamoring at the fence of the prison, pushing themselves against it as hard as they can. With all of that force behind them, the poor walker in front doesn’t stand a chance. He’s shoved into the chain-link fence with such force that it slices through his face like it’s Play-Doh going through one of those spaghetti-making machines. The eyeball popping out at the end is like the rotting cherry on a diseased sundae of gore.
2. Hershel loses a leg
The thing that makes this scene so awful is the hurriedness of it, the fact that it’s a split-second decision that nobody in the group was prepared to make. Nobody plans to get bitten by a zombie, and nobody discusses ahead of time what to do in those situations. So when Hershel is bit on the leg while the group searches through the prison, it’s time for instantaneous reaction, and a battle-hardened Rick comes up with the following: “Whelp, guess we’re taking that sumbitch off.” What follows is one of the worst scenes of amputation ever seen in a movie or a TV show. The leg does not come away cleanly or easily. They take it off with dull instruments, a lot of blunt force and sheer will. It’s a harrowing sequence.
1. Face-peeling zombie
Here it is: The grossest moment in four Walking Dead seasons so far. When the Grimes Gang first invades the prison looking for a safe haven, they find stiff resistance in the form of walkers. Several are former guards wearing riot gear. When Rick knocks one of these armor-wearing zombies to the ground, he goes to yank off a gas mask on its face to deliver a killing blow, but the attached mask peels the walker’s entire face off with it. The whole face just sloughs off like a wet beer label with a disgusting SLURP. It’s such a wonderfully gruesome moment that even Rick pauses a moment before plunging his machete into the thing’s eye socket. And it’s proof that practical effects will always be grosser than CGI. Some wonderful person has actually put this one on YouTube in its entirety.