No character is safe on The Walking Dead. The show is so packed with death, in fact, that the spinoff talk show series, Talking Dead, includes a regular "In Memoriam" segment that recaps who died on that week’s episode, be they human or zombie. Few TV shows are as willing to bring beloved characters’ stories to an abrupt and brutal end as The Walking Dead, and that’s a big part of why fans love it.
While every death is impactful in its own way, there have been a number of characters whose ends stand out against the show’s many other deaths. We’re here to take a look back at those most memorable demises, and spare a moment to mourn them. These characters didn’t make it all the way to the finish line, but their sacrifices pushed the story ahead, nonetheless. These are the saddest deaths that have happened on The Walking Dead.
Season one of The Walking Dead proves from the get-go that it takes place in an unforgiving world. However, with only six episodes, no single death in this inaugural season is all that impactful. By the time season two rolls around, though, viewers have had the time to get to know the characters. As a result, when Carol experiences the worst loss a mother can imagine, it packs quite a punch.
When the group leaves the CDC at the end of season one, their RV gets stuck on a jammed highway just as a herd of walkers go by. Carol’s daughter, Sophia, hides under the cars with the rest of the group, but emerges too quickly, and is chased into the woods by walkers. Rick finds her and tells her to hide while he lures them away — but when he returns, she’s gone.
The group launches an impressive search effort, given their resources, using Hershel Greene’s farm as a base of operations. However, it is soon revealed that Hershel is locking walkers up in his barn, rather than killing them. When Shane snaps and decides to execute all of Hershel’s captive walkers, it’s revealed that Sophia didn’t escape the woods with her life: She is one of the pent-up undead. This forces Rick to mercy kill her, an act that forever hardens Carol into the character we know and love today.
Shane proves to be a reluctant ally to Rick. Although they were once friends, he spends most of season two poking the proverbial bear, until what’s left of the world still isn’t big enough for the both of them. Shane hatches a clever plot that sees him execute the group’s first-ever prisoner: He beats his own face on a tree to make it look like the prisoner escaped, then embarks on a "search" with Rick. It soon becomes clear that Shane means to kill Rick and frame the (already dead) prisoner for the crime.
Unfortunately, he feels that he owes his old partner a monologue about fatherhood and survival, allowing Rick to appear like he’s given up before he surprises Shane with a blade to the gut. This is one of the saddest deaths in the show thus far, because it forces the audience to say goodbye to a character who’s been around from the very beginning. As Shane dies in Rick’s arms, Rick can’t stop repeating that this is all Shane’s fault — as though he’s trying to convince himself of this, more than his old partner.
Shane’s story ends after he is reanimated as a walker and makes his way toward Rick, forcing Carl to put a bullet in the head of the man who was his ersatz uncle.
Lori Grimes is a controversial character in The Walking Dead fandom. When we’re introduced to her, she’s already moved on from the thought-to-be-dead Rick to his best friend Shane. When Rick gets back, she is distant with him, because she knows that the baby she’s pregnant with could be either his or Shane’s.
Season three sees her story come to a tragic end. When a rogue prisoner unleashes a horde of walkers on the only true safe haven our heroes have found, Lori, Carl and Maggie find themselves trapped in a boiler room. The pursuit that leads them there causes Lori to go into labor. She begins to hemorrhage, and has to make the tough call to have a C-section that will undoubtedly kill her, but spare the baby. She goes through with it without hesitation, and sadly, the worst happens. She bids one last farewell to her son, telling him that he’s going to "beat this world."
When it’s over, Carl insists on being the one to kill his mother so she doesn’t turn. He brings the good news of the baby and the bad news of his mom’s death to Rick all at the same time. Rick rushes back into the prison to find a walker has ghoulishly devoured what was left of his wife.
Merle is a miserable, virulent, racist jerk — who still manages to have one of the show’s saddest deaths. After he gets handcuffed to a rooftop in Atlanta by Rick Grimes, Merle manages to escape by cutting off part of his arm. He makes his way to Woodbury, where he becomes the Governor’s right-hand man (pun absolutely intended).
If Merle has a soft spot, it’s for his little brother, Daryl — who, by the time they’re reunited, is a loyal member of Rick’s group. Although Merle makes a brief attempt to run off with his brother, he quickly realizes that Daryl is not the man he once was. Resenting his brother’s newfound goodness, Merle tries to prove that his way of thinking is what’s going to get the job done in the fight against the Governor, and launches an assassination attempt. However, a rogue walker interrupts his attack, and the Governor then takes his shot, tearing off two of Merle’s remaining fingers and breaking his other arm.
Merle’s last words inform the villain that he won’t beg for his life before he’s executed with a bullet to the heart. Daryl catches up to the scene too late. After seeing his older brother as a walker, Daryl crumbles — then puts him down in an explosion of righteous frustration.
After becoming a wandering vagrant, the Governor finds himself a new faction of loyal soldiers, and launches another attack on Rick’s prison, which now houses the former residents of Woodbury. While scouting the area, the Governor spots Hershel and Michonne disposing of walker corpses outside the walls. He takes them both captive and uses them as leverage to get Rick to surrender the prison. After giving an impassioned speech about the former members of Woodbury now living in peace, Rick invites the Governor to put war aside and join them.
But the Governor has been driven mad by the events of the apocalypse and his hatred for Rick. He refuses, and cuts off Hershel’s head with Michonne’s katana, right in front of Rick, the rest of the prison survivors, and Hershel’s daughters, Maggie and Beth. The moment is raw, the helplessness and dread of the girls practically palpable. Unfortunately, this being a world ravaged by a zombie apocalypse, things don’t end there — just because his head is cut off doesn’t mean Hershel is immune to turning. The next episode opens with Hershel’s severed head desperately gnashing its teeth, hoping for human flesh. He’s finally put down for good by Michonne’s katana, this time wielded by her in an act of mercy.
Lizzie and Mika Samuels
Lizzie and Mika are first introduced after the prison survivors take in Woodbury residents. Their mother has died and turned into a walker, and their father dies shortly after they arrive at the prison. With both her parents dead and a little sister now looking to her for guidance, Lizzie soothes herself by reasoning that walkers are just another form of humanity.
After the prison falls to the Governor’s attack, Lizzie demonstrates a reluctance to let the adults around her (Carol and Tyreese, principally) kill walkers. Soon, Lizzie starts actually feeding walkers and attempting to play games like tag with them. She and Carol begin to argue over whether or not walkers are dangerous, as she’s convinced herself that they’re just hungry, and that one can make friends with them. To prove her point, she kills her little sister, Mika, the second they’re alone together. Convinced Mika will come back and won’t try to hurt them, she explains that she plans to do the same thing to baby Judith. This is the final straw for Carol. She quietly takes Lizzie into an open field and tricks her into turning her back. Knowing that it’s the only way to keep Judith, Tyreese, and herself alive on the harsh road, Carol executes Lizzie while Tyreese deals with her reanimated sister.
First introduced as a tough-as-nails survivor in season four, Abraham endears himself to the rest of the group pretty quickly once it becomes apparent that he’s a tremendous fighter. By the time the group makes its way to Alexandria, Abraham is just starting to find himself as a person in civilized society, for perhaps the first time in his life. Naturally, this is when he dies — a death that introduces the unforgettable Negan.
After taking on an outpost run by his group, the Saviors, Negan prevents our heroes from making their way to the Hilltop colony, to provide Maggie with some much-needed medical attention. The group is forced out of their RV, where the Saviors surround them. Negan finally reveals himself, and explains that they all now work for him. He also tells them that someone has to die for their crimes against the Saviors thus far. In what became one of the biggest cliffhangers in the show’s history, fans were forced to wait until season seven’s premiere to find out who would lose Negan’s sinister game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe. The answer? Abraham, who Negan beats to death with his signature baseball bat.
As Negan notes, Abraham takes it "like a champ," getting back up to his knees after the first blow and looking the villain in the eye to deliver one final, crass one-liner.
Glenn’s life looks bright, even in the midst of Armageddon. He survives the onset of the apocalypse, the farm, the prison, Woodbury, Terminus, the attacks on Alexandria, and the first clash with The Saviors. He goes on to marry Maggie Greene, and they end up with a baby on the way. This is why the utterly unceremonious nature of his death hits so close to home.
After brutally beating Abraham, Negan monologues a bit too much. When he gets in Rosita’s face, Daryl has had enough. He gets up from his knees and gives Negan a rock-solid punch in the face. This obviously doesn’t sit well with Negan, given the fact that this entire demonstration is designed to prove his dominance. Rather than bludgeon Daryl, Negan proves his instability further by bashing Glenn’s head in.
Dazed and on the brink of death, his last words are to Maggie, who can’t even look at his grotesque skull. "Maggie, I’ll find you," he promises, implying that he’ll be looking for her in the afterlife when she gets there. With that, Negan finishes his gruesome work. If this list were a ranking, Glenn’s death would undoubtedly be our pick for the saddest one of all.
Carl Grimes starts as a helpless kid. However, the apocalypse hardens him to the world forever. Sure, he has his adolescent moments, in which he eats too much pudding or reads too many comic books, but overall, he’s a bona fide warrior. He even loses an eye!
Eventually, the war with Negan causes Carl to realize that, although he’s killed people himself, a better way to live one’s life exists. That’s why, when he sees a man named Saddiq wandering the woods, about to be consumed by a herd of walkers, he steps in and helps save his life. Unfortunately, the bout results in Carl getting bit in the abdomen. Realizing his fate, Carl writes letters to his loved ones and prepares for the end. He even manages to lead the Alexandrian survivors, adults and all, to safety, during a surprise attack by Negan and the Saviors.
Once everyone is somewhat safe, Carl reveals his wound to his dad and Michonne and uses his final words to advocate for a better world, free of war. As his mom told him with her final breaths, Carl is the one with a hope of "[beating] this world." By sacrificing himself for his fellow man, he does.
Enid, Henry, and Tara
After nearly a decade of peace, the survivors find themselves at odds with yet another faction: the Whisperers. Daryl and company kidnap their leader Alpha’s daughter, Lydia. At first, she’s reluctant to join their group of survivors, but relents once Daryl realizes that she’s being abused, and is able to relate to her. Alpha hatches a plot to kidnap several of the survivors responsible. Just when it seems like she’s going to execute them Negan-style, she explains that her desire is for them to respect a border between their peoples. She shows Daryl a massive herd of zombies, and tells him that she’ll unleash them on the Kingdom, the Hilltop, and Alexandria if they violate this border.
To mark the border, it’s revealed that Alpha captured a handful of Hilltop survivors, including Tara, and the youngsters Henry and Enid. In a brazen power play, she decapitated all of them and has put their heads on spikes to mark the area where Daryl and the survivors are never, ever to cross. To make matters worse, the heads have reanimated. In a world that lives on hope alone, Alpha’s decision to execute some of the colonies’ youngest and most promising survivors is a devastating blow.
Youth doesn’t last long in the zombie apocalypse. Beth Greene begins her journey as a younger sister and daughter dating a boy she liked from around town. When the apocalypse hits, their farm is quickly overrun, setting Beth and her remaining family members on a journey throughout the harsh world that remained.
She survives horrors that no one her age should ever have to, such as the loss of her family, two boyfriends and countless friends. Just as she’s learning to deal with loss and becomes a useful figure for her community, the final thing she has to lose is taken from her — freedom.
Beth is kidnapped and brought to a hospital where a police officer named Dawn holds a loose command over the patients and cops living there. Beth calls that power into question when she helps a man named Noah escape. Eventually, Rick and the gang find Beth and manage to capture two of Dawn’s people in order to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Unfortunately, Dawn seizes that moment to flex her muscle and demand Noah be returned.
The ask is simply a bridge too far for Beth — she cleverly approaches Dawn for a final goodbye and defiantly stabs her shoulder. Reflexively, Dawn fires a shot into Beth’s head at close range, killing her. However, Beth isn’t the only one to die: Dawn is executed shortly after and her grip over the hospital survivors dies with her, thanks to Beth.
Thanks to Beth’s sacrifice, Noah is allowed to finally be free of his captivity from the hospital survivors. He joins up with Rick’s group and immediately becomes a useful member of the team. He even manages to make it with them all the way to the improbable Alexandria safe haven. Being the type to be as useful as possible, he requests to learn architecture so he can further keep the place safe for future generations.
As part of his propensity to be one of the most helpful people around, he accompanies Glenn, Eugene, Tara and two of Alexandria’s most inept runners, Aiden and Nicholas, as they look for supplies to make Alexandria’s power grid better.
On the run, Noah encounters a soldier that has turned and attempts to shoot him. In a stroke of bad luck, he ends up hitting a grenade and causes an explosion that leaves Aiden impaled on some metal. Rather than help, Nicholas flees the scene as walkers descend, while Noah, Nicholas and Glenn get trapped in a revolving door on their way out of the building. Though Glenn cautions them not to panic, Nicholas does anyway, selfishly turning the door so he can escape and the walkers surrounding them can get at Noah.
In what is by far the most gruesome death of the entire series, Glenn watches helplessly as dozens of walkers literally tear Noah to pieces and devour him right in front of his friend, taking a life of potential and Beth’s ultimate sacrifice with them.
One of the more consequential figures in Rick Grimes’ early war with the notorious Governor is Andrea. She begins the series as one of the people Shane helps get out of Atlanta. Following the death of her sister, Andrea’s main journey is one of a woman who refuses to ever be helpless again.
After the Greene farm is overrun, she goes on the road with Michonne and they make their way to Woodbury, where the Governor rules with an iron fist. Unafraid, Andrea begins a relationship with him and even finds herself among his most trusted generals.
However, she quickly realizes that she bet on the wrong horse as his madness and utter contempt for human life starts to show. She realizes that he’s the villain of the story and begins taking steps to allow Rick to win, including leaving Woodbury and warning of an impending attack.
Unfortunately, the Governor personally tracks her down. Although she puts up quite a fight, his relentless mania is too much for her. He knocks her out and drags her back to his torture room in Woodbury where he orders her ally in the escape, Milton, to execute her. He refuses, prompting the Governor to kill him and allow him to reanimate alone in a room with Andrea.
She is bitten. Never wanting to be helpless again, she requests a pistol from Rick to end things on her own terms.
Tyreese is the group’s resident gentle giant before his tragic and untimely death.
He survives both battles between the Prison and the Governor. He endures the loss of family, friends, and a girlfriend named Karen in some of the most brutal ways imaginable. However, that never once dampens his ability to save the people around him.
Viewers got an explanation for Tyreese’s extremely empathetic and emotional state during his final episode, when he reveals that his father would make him listen to the news at a young age so he would never be unaware of the atrocities in the world. He lives with the bad in the world, but he never forgets about it.
Tyreese dies while accompanying Glenn, Rick, Michonne, and Noah on a run. (Noah lived in a safe haven before his time with the Hospital people and wanted to go back.) Unfortunately, they find the place has fallen and Noah’s family is dead. While they’re comforting the boy, one of his siblings emerges out of nowhere and bites Tyreese on the arm. Noah goes for help and Tyreese lays on the floor bleeding, hallucinating both the people he saved and the people he hurt.
Although the survivors are able to amputate, he’s lost too much blood and succumbs to his wounds. However, he accepts his fate before the end, reasoning out with his hallucinations that death is no true sadness for an empathetic person like him compared to the harsh world humanity now lives in.