Credit: Gene Page/AMC Photo: The Governor Aims His Gun on The Walking Dead Season 4, Episode 8: “Too Far Gone”

Another year of The Walking Dead bites the dust (then reanimates and gets put down again). TWD 2013 gave us the second half of Season 3 and first half of Season 4. Good times. Those 16 episodes had many highs and also a few lows. As we look forward to the rest of Season 4 — and first half of Season 5 — in 2014, here are five of the best moments from the undead year that was.

1. RIP, Merle

Oh, Merle. His Season 3 death is a “best” moment, not for making us feel good but for making us feel a lot. Sadness. Regret. Compassion. Pity. Frustration. Merle was Merle’s worst enemy, but he was never a villain. Yeah, he went full d-bag racist on T-Dog, sicced a walker on Glenn, and tried to kill Michonne. We should hate the guy. But credit Michael Rooker’s insane charisma and Merle’s compelling storyline with baby brother Daryl (Norman Reedus) and voila — we kinda loved him. Merle had no future at the prison after his many sins. He tried to save the group by sacrificing Michonne, then changed his mind and sacrificed himself, going down in a  blaze of booze, guns and rock ‘n’ roll in Episode 15, “This Sorrowful Life.” When the Dixon boys came face to face, and Daryl saw his brother had turned … his tears were our tears. Dammit, Merle, you were a sonofabitch, but we miss you.

2. So That’s What Happened to Morgan

In the boldest and arguably the best episode of 2013, TWD ditched both the prison and Woodbury and focused entirely on three characters on a road trip. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) went back to Rick’s hometown cop shop to get weapons, and Rick took Michonne (Danai Gurira) along, since he apparently likes to give people he’s not sure about road trip test runs. A lot had changed at the old homestead, and Rick found Morgan Jones (Lennie James) in a delicate mental state. We first met and last saw Morgan back at the start of Season 1 when he played zombie apocalypse tour guide for Rick, who had just emerged from the hospital. Morgan’s walker wife kept coming to the door but Morgan couldn’t bring himself to put her down. He would come to regret that. Morgan shared the sad story during Season 3 Episode 12, “Clear,” telling Rick she got into the house and bit their son Duane. The tragedy sent Morgan into a downward spiral, which Rick could relate to, having recently lost his own wife. Morgan offered a cautionary tale of what could happen to Rick if he further indulged his own grief and guilt. So he snapped out of it, and the door was left open for us to see Morgan again, which should happen later in Season 4.


Credit: Gene Page/AMC Photo: Merle Guards His Car on The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 7

3. Hershel’s Own Little Action Movie

BEAST MODE! Papa Smurf was a total superhero in Season 4. The prison council’s unofficial leader started his ownage in Episode 3 with this great speech: “Listen, dammit: You step outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. And nowadays, you breathe and you risk your life. Every moment now, you don’t have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for.” Emmys reel! Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) went even further in Episode 5, running the prison sick ward like the star of his own blockbuster. He was completely in control, from giving Lizzie Samuels (Brighton Sharbino) her own job to do, to trying to keep healthy Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan) away from sick Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), to making jokes about spaghetti Tuesday on Wednesdays. The man is clutch in a crisis. It did kinda feel like a build-up to his inevitable death, but it was a great build-up.

4. Rick vs. Carol

Anyone who says they saw this coming is a liar. It was shocking enough when Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) calmly told Rick “yes,” she did kill Karen and David. But to abandon Carol? To banish her from Team Prison in Episode 4? Wow. What a powerful scene. Infuriating, devastating, confusing — but powerful. This moment is still not over. It’s going to inform a big part of the second half of Season 4. It has to. It affects not only Carol — who hasn’t been seen since — but also Rick, Tyreese (Chad Coleman) (who still doesn’t know what happened), Daryl (who was very close to Carol), and the Samuels girls (who were trained by Carol to be tough and fearless, for better or worse). When Rick drove away after ditching Carol, and Sharon Van Etten's haunting "Serpents" played over our still-processing emotions … that was great TV.

5. War!

Daaaaaaaamn. This was the kind of Governor (David Morrissey) battle we expected in the Season 3 finale. A tank, two hostages, lots of gunfire, a missing baby, and a very busy katana. Rick tried. He told The Governor his group could co-exist with the prison group. People can change. We can come back from the things we’ve done. He was speaking from experience. The Governor, speaking from his own experience, whispered “liar” and sliced off Hershel’s head. We weren’t even given time to react to the beloved character’s death before shots were fired and a huge battle was launched, with devastation on both sides. Team Prison lost the prison and they are now split up into several different mini groups. It’s going to be a while before they reunite, if they reunite at all. It’s crazy. What an amazing final episode for 2013, though. You can’t ask for more action or emotion than “Too Far Gone.”

What are your picks for the best moments of 2013? What would you add to this list? Maybe Michonne’s emotional scene with baby Judith? The Big Spot run or giant walker herd battle on the medicine run? Something from one of The Governor standalone episodes? Andrea’s Season 3 finale death? (Maybe that one should be saved for the worst moments list.)

The Walking Dead Season 4 returns on Sunday, February 9 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.