4. “The Walking Dead” (AMC): Any horror show with a decent special-effects budget can give off a creepy vibe by filling the screen with ghastly ghouls and splattering their brains to bits. That’s the easy part. But what makes this survivor saga so impressive is the way it works on a deeply human level. Anyone with a ticking heart, for example, had to be touched by the anguish-filled episode in which we bid goodbye to Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). Indeed, there are times when all the zombie brain-bashing provides a welcome break from the show’s emotional brutality. Like “Sons of Anarchy,” “Dead” was bolstered by new characters, in this case a sword-wielding mystery woman named Michonne (Danai Gurira), and the tyrannical Governor (David Morrissey).
5. “Girls” (HBO): Lena Dunham may or may not be the voice of her generation, but one thing is clear: She knows how to deliver a sly, brazen, polarizing and hilariously original show. Taking inspiration from the anxieties of her own post-college years, Dunham created and stars in this more-gritty-than-glitzy comedy about four young gal pals adrift in a recession-era New York. It’s “Sex and the City” stripped of its fairy-tale fantasies. Instead of basking in designer fashions and fizzy cocktails, these flawed characters face brutal job prospects, humiliating letdowns and lousy sex. When we weren’t cringing, we were doubled over in mirth.
6. “Mad Men” (AMC): It was a season like none other for this acclaimed 1960s drama. Betty got fat. Roger dropped acid. Lane checked out. Peggy flew the coop. ... And then there was Megan (Jessica Pare), who dazzled everyone with her erotically charged party scene (“Zou Bisou Bisou,” indeed!). The emotionally fragile newlywed became Season 5’s red-hot standout, and her sometimes-turbulent marriage to Don Draper (Jon Hamm) epitomized the era’s growing cultural divide. For the first time in five tries, “Mad Men” failed to win the Emmy for best drama, but it continued to wow us with its style and smarts.