Big plans for the Fourth of July weekend? Barbecue? Fireworks? Spending time with family and friends you feel bad for not seeing more often?
Nuts to all that! Why not spend the most American weekend of the year watching the most American show on television? No, not Turn. I’m talking about The Walking Dead, AMC’s beloved death-festival melodrama.
The network will air all 51 episodes of the post-apocalyptic saga starting on the morning of July 4, which means you can spend the next few days experiencing four seasons of zombie killing, lead-character fatalities, Rick Grimes’ poor leadership decisions, gruff-but-lovable Daryl Motherf—ing Dixonisms, people yelling “Sophia!” to no avail, people trusting the Governor when they really shouldn’t trust the Governor, admirably adventurous attempts at Southern accents, ridiculously romantic Glenn/Maggie moments—and did we mention the zombie killing?
Consider this your guide to surviving the madness of The Walking Dead. All times are ET/PT and are rough estimates that do not factor in presumably frequent check-ins by Chris Hardwick.
9 a.m.: Re-experience Frank Darabont’s leisurely paced pilot. Re-experience Rick Grimes with short hair, no beard, and clean clothes.
9:04 a.m.: First zombie death ever on The Walking Dead. The culprit: Rick Grimes, at the gas station, with the Colt Python. RIP, angelic symbolic blonde zombie girl.
Coincidentally, this marks the first time an angelic symbolic blonde zombie girl dies on The Walking Dead.
9:30 a.m.: Say, this Morgan fellow is pretty cool, and he seems very important! Can’t wait to see more of him…tomorrow afternoon.
10:19 a.m.: Walking Dead‘s first zombie mega-mob chases Rick into a tank. Thrill to the cameo appearance by Being Human‘s Sam Witwer as the “Tank Zombie” (and remember the Black Hawk Down episode that could have been.) Thrill also to the good old days, when Rick Grimes was still constantly shocked by zombies:
10:32 a.m.: Lori and Shane have a torrid love scene in the forest, I HATE YOU SHANE I HATE YOU I HATE YOU.
11:00 a.m.: Say, this Merle fellow is pretty cool, and he seems very important! Can’t wait to see more of him…tomorrow morning.
11:39 a.m.: Rick returns to the Survivor’s Campsite, a relatively idyllic outpost kept safe under the watchful eye of Dale (remember Dale?) He’s reunited with son Carl and wife Lori, and you can actually pinpoint the second when Shane’s heart rips in half:
12:00 p.m.: Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon appears. He makes an On Golden Pond joke. It is awesome.
12:59 p.m.: Jim (remember Jim?) gives Lori some good advice: “You keep your boy close. You don’t ever let him out of your sight.” Lori proceeds to let Carl out of her sight at every possible opportunity.
1:10 p.m.: Something something gangsters something something old people.
1:47 p.m.: Angelic symbolic blonde zombie girl alert!
2:20 p.m.: First appearance by Noah Emmerich as That Dude From the CDC.
2:21 p.m.: First inkling that the trip to the CDC will be pretty boring.
3:30 p.m.: Season 2 of The Walking Dead starts off strong with a wild zombie attack scene in the middle of a freeway.
3:54 p.m.: Rick leaves Sophia in a hiding place in the forest. “This is how we both survive,” he promises her.
4:00 p.m.: “That’s weird,” says Rick. “I left her right here. But we’ll find her, right guys?” Everyone nods in agreement.
5:05 p.m.: Rick arrives at Hershel’s Farm. First appearance of pre-bearded Hershel, pre-badass Maggie, and various Greene Family relatives.
6:40 p.m.: “He talked about the deer, Lori! He talked about the deer!”
6:56 p.m.: Shane shaves his head, is become death, destroyer of worlds.
7:30 p.m.: THERE’S A ZOMBIE IN THE WELL GROSSGROSSGROSSGROSSGROSS but look at it though:
7:39 p.m.: Glenn and Maggie hook up AWWWWWWWWWWW.
7:40-10:55 p.m.: Slowly fall asleep for a little nap. In your dreams, there is someone yelling “Sophia!” over and over again.
10:56 p.m.: Angelic symbolic blonde zombie girl alert!
11:40 p.m.: Lori Grimes decides that the time has come to take action. No longer will she be the domestic female, waiting patiently back at base camp while her husband sets off on action missions! No longer will she be the victim of forces beyond her control! She is Lori, and she is in the driver’s seat! Now, she just needs to check the map…
11:41 p.m.: Lori Grimes crashes her car.
11:47 p.m.: Alert! Alert! Best Walking Dead Guest Star Ever Alert! Michael Raymond-James strolls into a bar, has a drink with Rick and Hershel. Shots are fired.
12:00 a.m.-2:45 a.m.: Consider another power nap. You’ll miss the Hall of Fame episode “18 Miles Out” (don’t worry, you can watch it on Netflix during the middle-of-season-3 doldrums.) You need to prepare yourself: We’re getting to the really good stuff here.
2:45 a.m.: Dale gives the kind of impassioned, overlong, triumph-of-the-human-spirit speech that defined Walking Dead‘s sophomore slump.
2:54 a.m.: Dale is ceremonially sacrificed to the gods of Getting Things Moving Again, literally torn apart by a Walker in one of the show’s grisliest main character deaths ever. Now we’re cooking!
3:49 a.m.: Yo, this is how you film a goddamned final showdown between two old friends turned enemies!
3:53 a.m.: And that’s how you kill Shane!
3:56 a.m.: And that’s how you kill Shane again!
4:20 a.m.: Burn, farm of boredom, burn!
4:50 a.m.: Glory days officially arrive:
5:00 a.m.: Meet the new Walking Dead. Everyone’s stubblier, grizzlier, dirtier, and cooler. Everyone is a super effective zombie killing machine. The Walker Death Rate jumps from an average of one per episode to an average of one per minute.
5:33 a.m.: Also, Maggie is a total badass now:
5:55 a.m.: Also, Hershel only has one leg now.
7:12 a.m.: And while we’re updating you on the limb situation:
7:30 a.m.: The Governor sure seems like a swell guy!
7:55 a.m.: Everyone besides Andrea realizes that the Governor is not a swell guy.
8:30-9:00 a.m.: The Walking Dead hits its gore-operatic peak, with a zombie attack sequence that brutally housecleans two lead characters. Poor Carl!
8:45 a.m.: However, I am required by law to point out that this bravura multiple-fatality prison sequence intercuts with a Governor-Andrea seduction scene:
9:01 a.m.: Rick begins a downward spiral into insanity. I recommend enjoying a hearty breakfast and beginning a downward spiral into nap time.
9:01 a.m.-12:42 p.m.: Rick takes some phone calls, Milton (remember him?) performs some experiments, water is generally treaded by all.
12:43 p.m.: Angelic symbolic brown-haired zombie girl alert!
1:55 p.m.: Do you love Crazy Rick? Then now begins your golden age. Poor Mr. Grimes sees a vision of his dead wife and generally starts acting like the lead character in an Edgar Allan Poe short story.
3:00 p.m.: Andrea kinda sorta vaguely starts to suspect that the Governor might not be such a swell guy.
3:55 p.m.: Andrea almost kills the Governor, doesn’t.
4:15 p.m.: Morgan’s back, you guys!
4:54 p.m.: Bye, Morgan! See you in season 5, maybe!
6:00 p.m.-6:50 p.m.: Andrea spends an entire episode trying to escape from the Governor.
6:51 p.m.: Andrea fails to escape from the Governor.
7:40 p.m.: Merle goes out in a blaze of glory.
7:50 p.m.: GLENN AND MAGGIE GET MARRIED AWWWWWWWW:
7:58 p.m.: When Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon cries, the whole world cries with him:
8:14 p.m.: The Woodbury militia begins its assault on the prison. There’s a grenade launcher. This is gonna be awesome!
8:14 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.: We have here some exclusive exciting footage of the first showdown between the Governor and the Prison:
8:34 p.m.: Carl moves to the lead in the World’s Craziest Grimes sweepstakes:
8:50 p.m.: Andrea dies, secure in the knowledge that the Governor really wasn’t such a swell guy after all.
9:00 p.m.: Meet the new new Walking Dead. The prison is filled with people whose names you shouldn’t bother learning. Rick just wants to be a farmer.
9:30 p.m.: One of the grossest zombie mobs in Walking Dead history attack, falling from the crumbling rooftop of a market.
10:01 p.m.: An infection strikes the prison and wheel-spinning strikes the show’s narrative. I would say you should take a long snooze until tomorrow morning…
11:58 p.m.: …except wait Carol did what now? The show stages one of its greatest character salvage jobs ever, transforming That Lady Who Was Sophia’s Mom into the most interesting character on the show.
12:50 a.m.: Rick makes Carol leave. Go back to sleep.
2:00 a.m.-4:00 a.m.: And while you sleep, you might dream of a two-episode miniseries where the Governor walks across the dusty roads of Old America, searching for himself, becoming a bearded Kris Kristofferson lookalike, eventually discovering a new family where all the women look like Maggie. But surely, my friend, that’s only the musings of drowsy brain. Think but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme? No more yielding but a dream.
5:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: AMC replays the first half of season 4. Keep sleeping keep sleeping keep sleeping keep sleeping. Walking Dead will make amends ere long.
12:30 p.m.: Wake up just in time for the Second, Much Better Showdown between the Governor and the Prison.
12:35 p.m.: Hershel’s just a little captured! He’s still good! He’s still good!
12:40 p.m.: Hershel’s just a little headless! He’s still good! He’s still good!
12:42 p.m.: I think Hershel’s a goner, guys.
12:45 p.m.: Angelic symbolic blonde soon-to-be-zombie girl alert!
12:48 p.m.: Someone told Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon to get a bulletproof vest.
AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED:
12:55 p.m.: Finally, finally, finally, finally, finally finally someone kills the Governor.
1:00 p.m.: Meet the new new new Walking Dead. The survivors are scattered into a series of short-story adventures about life in the post-apocalypse. The pace is leisurely, and for once, it’s leisurely in a good way.
1:45 p.m.: And in the climax of this exciting installment, Carl eats some pudding!
2:25 p.m.: Carol’s back, and nothing can ever possibly go wrong for her ever again.
2:58 p.m.: Fan favorite characters Eddie Mullet, Jethro Mustache, and Molly Midriff make their first appearance:
3:58 p.m.: This Terminus place sounds swell!
4:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.: “Still,” aka, “The One Where Beth Wants A Drink.” An All-Star showcase for Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon at his badass-with-a-heart-of-goldiest and solid evidence that Beth is actually a pretty cool character.
5:35 p.m.: So, like, Daryl and Beth are totally gonna make out, right?
5:40 p.m.: Nope! Beth gets kidnapped.
6:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.: “The Grove,” aka, “The One Where One Angelic Symbolic Blonde Girl Kills Another Angelic Symbolic Blonde Girl And Then Carol Kills Everybody.” Best episode ever?
7:40 p.m.: GLENN AND MAGGIE AWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!
7:58 p.m.: Kindly old lady welcomes the survivors to Terminus. Yessir, things are looking up!
8:15 p.m.: Rick goes Full Walker, biting into an attacker’s carotid artery. Four seasons later, the formerly clean-shaven policeman now resembles a Nick Nolte mugshot covered in pig’s blood.
8:23 p.m.: You call up your actual brother and/or friend who is like a brother. “You’re my brother,” you say. Somehow, you don’t cry.
8:40 p.m.: The gang gets to Terminus. Doesn’t seem so bad!
8:43 p.m.: Well, I guess it’s a bit suspicious. But what isn’t, nowadays?
8:45 p.m.: Ohhhhh, boy.
8:46 p.m.: Ohhhhh, no.
8:47 p.m.: Ohhhhh, crap.
8:55 p.m.: Cannibals, right? Gotta be cannibals.
8:59 p.m.: Rick looks around at what remains of the Grimes Gang. The man with the crossbow. The woman with the sword. The boy with the gun. The total badass warrior and the man who loves her. Bob, I guess. And he announces the end of one Walking Dead era and the beginning of another with the final words of Walking Dead season 4: “AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!!!” [note: not actual final words of Walking Dead season 4]
9:00 p.m.: A special episode of Talking Dead reminds you that there’s no more Walking Dead for like a million years.