Every Riverdale Season Premiere Episode, Ranked

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Every Riverdale Season Premiere Episode, Ranked

Good morning, Riverdaliens! In the wake of the seventh and final premiere episode of Riverdale, there is no better time to look back on all the seasonal premieres that have come before. For a series that has spent much of its time upping the ante every year, reaching bigger, more bonkers heights with each new installment, it should come as no surprise that Riverdale has seemingly mastered the art of the premiere episode. It takes a special kind of skill to introduce an audience to the next impossible storyline each season, but Riverdale has done so with ease year after year, and the fun Season 7 opener is no exception. Starting way back with its first ever episode, “Chapter One: The River’s Edge,” and spanning over 100 episodes and countless hours of television, Riverdale has cemented its legacy in stone before it leaves our screens forever later this year. 

Below, we’ve ranked each premiere episode of Riverdale in order from “worst” (a term used lightly, considering how adept the Riverdale staff are in crafting an opening episode) to best, starting from the bottom: 

7. “Chapter Seventy-Seven: Climax,” Season 5, Episode 1

Written by: Ace Hasan, Greg Murray

Admittedly, this episode is a lot of fun, but as far as premieres go, unfortunately it’s not much more than a victim of the COVID production shutdowns. On paper, it’s the first episode of Season 5, but in actuality, it should have been the 20th episode of its predecessor—and it shows. We pick up right in the middle of the hunt for Season 4’s big bad The Auteur (a killer making and distributing snuff films in which people in masks that look like classic Archie Comics characters stab a tied-up individual to death), and also just ahead of the already-planned time jump seven years into the future. The gang attend the prom in this episode, and it’s as spooky and fun as any Riverdale dance should be, and Toni finally gets a bit of backstory in this episode as well, but otherwise it leans more towards penultimate than premiere. 

6. “Chapter Thirty-Six: Labor Day,” Season 3, Episode 1

Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

This is exactly the kind of episode that people imagine when you mention the name Riverdale. Archie is on the verge of going to jail for a murder he didn’t commit after being targeted by a mob boss (who also happens to be his girlfriend’s dad), so, naturally, he gets a gang tattoo to protect himself in prison, and he’s only able to be pinned for this murder because last season he started a gang of his own on his quest for vengeance after his father was shot. This episode brings Riverdale head-first into the bonkers by featuring a gang stand-off (in which Cheryl and her archery skills are the Serpents’ line of defense), teasing the start of the Griffins and Gargoyles-inspired ritual killings, and introducing season-long villain The Farm by having Betty witness what she believes is her infant niece and nephew being dropped into a burning pyre as the cliffhanger. Welcome to Riverdale Season 3, we’re all mad here. 

5. “Chapter Fourteen: A Kiss Before Dying,” Season 2, Episode 1

Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Season 2 picks up just moments after the ending of Riverdale’s first season, which saw Archie save Cheryl from the frozen Sweetwater River only to then witness his father be gunned down in the middle of Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe by a gunman in a black hood. The first of Riverdale’s tributes to Luke Perry’s Fred Andrews, this episode features a number of dream sequences as Fred clings to life, imagining himself not being present for Archie’s biggest moments—sequences that became an unfortunate reality after the sudden and tragic passing of Perry in 2019 just a few years later. “A Kiss Before Dying” perfectly sets up season-long villain The Black Hood and his central motivation through the slaying of known predator Miss Grundy at the end of the episode, and the near-loss of one of the pillars of Riverdale’s older cast gives Archie and his friends all a perfect reason to be on edge. Riverdale hadn’t yet completely jumped the shark, and this episode filled with both grief and gratitude is just heartfelt enough to withstand the test of time and act as a great season opener. 

4. “Chapter Ninety-Six: Welcome to Rivervale,” Season 6, Episode 1

Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa 

Speaking of jumping the shark, Riverdale’s sixth season premiere introduces us to a town much different than the one we left at the end of Season 5, a town called Rivervale. After a bomb was ignited under Archie’s bed by Hiram Lodge, the Riverdale universe found itself split down the middle, and this episode is the series’ first dip into the alternate universe of Rivervale. A clear Twilight Zone spoof, this episode begins and ends with Jughead taking us gentle viewers through our favorite Riverdaliens’ lives in this haunting dimension. Featuring a clear Midsommar homage and a sharpness in execution that allows this episode to remain both familiar and hauntingly unsettling, Rivervale is Riverdale at its most wild, but also its most intriguing and creatively untethered. After all, how many shows can start a season with the ritual sacrifice of its hero (Archie’s heart is ripped out by Cheryl’s hand) and still have the audience craving more as soon as the credits roll? There truly could not have been a better way to kick off what would become Riverdale’s best season. 

3. “Chapter One Hundred and Eighteen: Don’t Worry, Darling,” Season 7, Episode 1

Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Danielle Iman

Besides the impeccable title, the Season 7 premiere of Riverdale is just delightful. In the wake of Season 6’s bonkers finale (which featured Cheryl utilizing the combined powers of her friends to destroy a comet headed straight for Riverdale), Season 7 sends the series 67 years into the past to 1955. A clear campy homage to the series’ Archie Comics roots, the ‘50s setting allows Riverdale to reinvent itself once again, while still remaining the series we know and love. Each character is familiar, but the difference in both politics and attitudes from then to now allows the show to lean even more into issue-based storytelling that does justice to numerous characters that felt sidelined in the past. The change in scenery allows Riverdale to take an honest look at an idealized era, and it handles that with a biting self-awareness and a deftness that is both refreshing and unsurprising considering its track record. The Emmett Till connections could have been majorly fumbled, but the series presents its critiques and stance head-on, presenting a season opener that only makes me more excited for all that’s to come. 

2. “Chapter Fifty-Eight: In Memoriam,” Season 4, Episode 1

Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Though this episode has some classic Riverdale-isms (a glimpse at Jason’s stuffed corpse and Archie deciding to seek violent vengeance once again), this is Riverdale’s most serious hour, all born out of a real life tragedy. The second of Riverdale’s Fred Andrews-centric premieres, this one works as a beautiful memorial to the character and the actor after Luke Perry’s tragic passing, and Perry’s absence haunts the empty space he leaves on screen. A real tear-jerker in every sense, everything from the Core Four’s roadside prayer and the modified Fourth of July parade in honor of Fred to Archie’s speech at the funeral and the ending fireworks, this episode sets aside the need to introduce seasonal villains and plots to simply pay tribute to one of their own. This episode is at its most earnest when the central characters are sitting in Archie’s backyard and simply reminiscing about Fred, with not a care in the world for Gargoyle Kings or Black Hoods. 

1. “Chapter One: The River’s Edge,” Season 1, Episode 1

Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa 

Riverdale’s pilot episode is, without a doubt, the best teen drama pilot in recent memory. No matter what the show became after this single episode, “The River’s Edge” still feels unique and special in a way most teen dramas of our current era just cannot replicate. This episode introduces both its central characters and its central mystery perfectly, all underscored by a surprisingly well-utilized voice over from Riverdale’s resident tortured writer Jughead Jones. These people and this place still feels fantastical yet tangible, even now. The idea of Archie Comics-but-dark is still simply grown-up themes and a hint of murder rather than gangs and magic and mayhem at this point, and the mysterious and haunting vibe creates an unshakable identity from the start. Backed by a killer soundtrack, juicy teen drama, and quick, campy wit (Cheryl’s snap at Kevin “Is being the gay best friend still a thing?” feels ripped straight from Glee’s comedy playbook), it’s not hard to see why this episode had audiences champing at the bit for more, ultimately allowing it to blossom into the teen drama titan it is today.

Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

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