The Walking Dead has never been shy about killing off dozens of characters throughout its more than decade-long run, so unsurprisingly many of the show’s saddest moments have been the untimely demises of its cast members. But TWD is also incredibly deft at pulling its audience’s heartstrings without shedding too much blood too.
There have been plenty of scenes in the series that brought the audience to tears without having to end anyone’s life. But what are the most heartbreaking moments in the entire show that aren’t character deaths?
10 Carl Getting Shot
Although it was ironically the start of the larger found family that Rick’s group would form with the Greenes, the incident where Carl was accidentally shot in the stomach was hard to watch.
Obviously, the prognosis for anyone who is injured that gravely in the post-apocalyptic world is not good, and it’s terrifying that a random fluke event could have led to Carl’s death. Thankfully Hershel was able to keep Carl alive, but the fear within Rick and Lori was palpable.
9 Hershel Losing A Leg
It’s wonderful that Hershel ultimately survived a walker bite as a result of Rick’s quick thinking and lack of squeamishness, but it was definitely touch-and-go for a while there. Hershel could have very easily bled to death, and seeing Maggie and Beth lose their dad as well as the entire group lose their father figure would have been a crushing blow.
Losing a limb didn’t seem to affect Hershel’s survival prospects that badly, but realistically, if the group had ever needed to go on the road again then Hershel would have likely been a goner.
8 Carol’s Exile
Although Carol is a more talented survivor than most, staying alive among the zombie hordes is nearly impossible for anyone to do on their own. Rick’s decision to exile Carol was understandable, but honestly so was Carol’s decision to try to stop the disease before it affected the entire prison.
That is a huge reason why Carol getting kicked out was so heartbreaking, because both sides of the conflict were understandable and correct in some ways. It was even worse because Carol didn’t get to say goodbye to the group, and because after being so worn down for so long, Carol finally had people she loved and she had to lose them.
7 The Destruction Of The Prison
Most fans focus on the brutal death of Hershel when it comes to the Governor and his attack on the prison, but the destruction of the prison itself was a truly heartbreaking moment too.
It was a safe place where the group and the former Woodbury residents built a real home, and the effects of its loss were devastating. Seeing the main characters scattered and adrift after the attack were some of the most emotionally moving episodes in the entire series.
6 Carl Losing His Eye
Building and then losing a safe space to call home is obviously a recurring aspect of The Walking Dead, but Alexandria was arguably the nicest and happiest place that the main characters had found since the farm.
So seeing it overrun and on the verge of collapse was tough, and seeing how the Alexandrian residents couldn’t handle it was disheartening. But, when he had survived for so long, the shocking moment where Carl is shot in the face was horrific, and Rick’s terror at what might happen was hard to watch.
5 The Dream Of A Better Future
Anyone familiar with The Walking Dead comics knew that when Negan showed up, things would get ugly. The loss of Abraham and Glenn was a one-two punch of pain that hadn’t been seen on the show since the loss of Beth and Tyreese, but the show really twisted the knife with this fantasy moment.
The deaths of two beloved characters would have been devastating in any circumstance, but seeing the dream of what could have been for everyone in the Walking Dead family was one of the most poignant scenes of the series.
4 Losing Sophia In The Woods
Surviving in the world of zombies is difficult for anyone, but it’s exponentially harder for children to survive. Although Sophia was never a central figure in TWD in the way that Carl or Judith was, her disappearance was a horrific moment for the entire group.
It was a pointed reminder that things can go wrong in the blink of an eye, and the helplessness that every character experienced when finding Sophia became the focal point of the story was obvious.
3 Carl’s Last Day
Considering how much practice The Walking Dead has when it comes to killing off main characters, it’s no surprise that they manage to make these major deaths emotionally crippling. But the montage of Carl’s final day on earth is arguably their best send-off in the series.
Killing off Carl may have been a mistake (especially considering the role that he plays in the comic storyline), but the opening scene of his death episode was fantastic.
2 Rick Destroying The Bridge
When series star Andrew Lincoln decided to leave The Walking Dead, it was a given that his departure would be one of the biggest moments in the show. Rick’s injury offered the narrative opportunity to explore Rick’s characterization through a series of hallucinations and dream sequences, and TWD used that as well as it could.
But the cherry on top of Rick’s finale was that, after searching for his family within his own psyche, he realizes “I found them” before blowing up the bridge and sacrificing himself to save them all.
1 Rick Finding Morgan
Although Morgan didn’t initially get nearly as much development as most characters in the show, right from the start he and Rick were sort of kindred spirits. And while Rick had no idea what he was getting into, Morgan and his son served as a kind of beacon of hope and goodness in the apocalypse, a beacon that Rick kept chasing after even when he had almost no hope of finding the man who saved him.
So, when Rick actually did find him, only to realize that Morgan had snapped after losing his son to his walker wife, was absolutely devastating.