A zombified Sophia (Madison Lintz) walked out of the barn when The Walking Dead's "Pretty Much Dead Already" aired on AMC on November 27, 2011. In the mid-season finale episode of Season 2, the search for Sophia ends in tragedy when Carol's (Melissa McBride) young daughter shambles out of a walker-filled barn on the Greene family farm. The lost little girl who went missing episodes earlier in "What Lies Ahead" is put down with a bullet to the head fired by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a turning point for Rick and what episode writer Scott Gimple calls "one of the defining moments" of The Walking Dead.
Rick shooting Sophia to end "Pretty Much Dead Already" was "about him changing," Gimple told Entertainment Weekly for the episode's fifth anniversary in 2016. "Because it was about him accepting some realities. So many seasons are about Rick's transformation, but this was a big one. He was the one strong enough to do this. Nobody else stepped up to do it. He did. If he was strong enough to look for the little girl, he was strong enough to put her out of her misery when she was found to be a walker."
The episode from Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones director Michelle MacLaren was also a turning point for The Walking Dead Season 2 and the survivors, ultimately widening the rift between Rick and Shane (Jon Bernthal) but bringing Carol and Daryl (Norman Reedus) closer together.
"The acting in that scene was heartbreaking. It was one of those days where one after the other after the other, everybody was topping one another in the performances," Gimple recalled. "Madison absolutely did that. For seven episodes to crash into this 10 seconds, it's an incredibly important moment. It was one of the defining moments of the show."
Nearly a decade after "Pretty Much Dead Already," Lintz said TV Sophia "got a pretty damn good" death despite her character surviving through the final issue of The Walking Dead comic book.
"I honestly thought that I was in [more of the second season]. I thought I was not gonna die because I was still alive in the comics," the former Walking Dead actor said on Skybound's Talk Dead to Me podcast in 2020. "So I'm like, 'I'm fine, it's totally fine.' And then [executive producer] Gale Anne Hurd ended up calling my mom about a month before I shot the scene and told us the news, and of course, it was so sad because that show was so awesome to be on."
In what would be a major detour from creator Robert Kirkman's comic book — where it's Carol who dies by walker early into the zombie apocalypse — Sophia's death was a critical juncture in her mother's story spanning all 11 seasons of The Walking Dead.
"When a good idea comes up, you have to go with it," Walking Dead creator and executive producer Kirkman told The Hollywood Reporter after the episode's airing in 2011. "Sophia is a character who is still alive in the comic book series and who has contributed quite a bit to the overall narrative and informed a lot of storylines for a lot of different characters. Having Carol survive her daughter as opposed to the other way around as it is in the comics is going to lead to interesting but different stories."