How ‘The Walking Dead’ Became A Show Run By Female Characters

Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Executive Stage Editor

After seven seasons of The Walking Dead, the “Ricktatorship” has started to crumble. Following a devastating season seven premiere, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has become a submissive servant to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). With Rick’s demotion the show is seeing a major shift in storytelling and characters. After seven seasons, the women of The Walking Dead are running the show and it’s been a long road to get here.

Going back to the shows first season, the main female characters on The Walking Dead were nothing extraordinary. Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) were simply trying to survive. They weren’t the strongest assets to the group and exemplified feminine troupes. Andrea is an hysterical female character and Lori is solely defined as a mother/significant other. Andrea loses her sister very early on and struggles with moving forward. Meanwhile, Lori is simply classified as a mother, a wife, and even a girlfriend.

Both characters, sadly, don’t break through these molds until they meet their demises. Lori becomes a strong individual only to die bringing Judith into the world. Andrea finally reaches her redemption arc when she tries to save the group from The Governor (David Morrissey) only to be killed moments later. While these female characters introduce us to The Walking Dead world, it’s the female characters they pave the way for that truly shine.

Melissa McBride in The Walking Dead episode "The Well." Photo Credit: AMC
Melissa McBride in The Walking Dead episode “The Well.” Photo Credit: AMC

A background character turned bonafide badass, Carol (Melissa McBride) has undergone one of the biggest character arcs. When first introduced, Carol’s persona is defined by her abusive husband Ed (Adam Minarovich). She is timid, scared, and honestly we pegged her for dying very early on. The Walking Dead proves us wrong. After the death of her daughter in season two, Carol begins her road to becoming one of the strongest characters on the show. From single handedly blowing up Terminus to killing several members of the Wolves, Carol is a force to be reckoned with.

Carol’s character has also changed significantly from comics to screen. In Robert Kirkman’s comic books, she never gets passed her scared nature and ultimate commits suicide. Although some of her storylines are still linked to male characters, she’s grown exponentially. In season seven, she’s now living in The Kingdom with Morgan (Lennie James) and although her badass nature has been subdued, she’s still driving her own storyline.

Danai Gurira in The Walking Dead episode "Service." Photo Credit: AMC
Danai Gurira in The Walking Dead episode “Service.” Photo Credit: AMC

Michonne (Danai Gurira) has almost undergone the exact opposite character arc as Carol. We meet Michonne as a strong, brilliant warrior who has trouble letting anyone in. As the seasons progress, she keeps her strong qualities, but adds a maternal side. One of her greatest storylines has been opposite Carl (Chandler Riggs). From snagging the Grimes family photo for him to splitting a candy bar, Michonne and Carl have one of the strongest bonds on The Walking Dead.

Alongside Carol, Michonne is the only other character to kill one of the “big bads” on the series. The biggest (human) threats on The Walking Dead have been killed by the female charactes. Michonne skewering The Governor right through the chest in season four is a massive highlight. Her character has become so much more than the hooded figure with “walker pets.” This season, she’s already starting to buck against Rick’s wishes. While Rick kneels to Negan, Michonne ventures outside the walls of Alexandria looking to fight back.

Sonequa Martin-Green in The Walking Dead episode "Go Getters." Photo Credit: AMC
Sonequa Martin-Green in The Walking Dead episode “Go Getters.” Photo Credit: AMC

Two of the female characters that have been pushed to the background in previous seasons are now coming into their own. Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) are undergoing some of the biggest character changes in season seven. Both of them are helping usher in this new age of The Walking Dead. After losing Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Sasha and Rosita are not taking Negan’s regime lying down. Sasha, now living at Hilltop, has Jesus (Tom Payne) figure out where Negan lives. Meanwhile, Rick is preaching to let Negan have his way in Alexandria, so Rosita is secretly trying make bullets.

Even Tara (Alanna Masterson), who hasn’t been seen since season six, is leading her storyline and fighting to get back to Alexandria. Although Rosita and Sasha’s actions are still fueled by a male storyline, Abraham’s death, they are doing something Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) can’t seem to do right now. They are fighting back.

While these female characters are stepping into their own, it’s Maggie Greene Rhee (Lauren Cohan) that’s leading the charge. She is first introduced in season two when Rick and the gang stumble upon The Greene Farm. At first she seems naive to the world around her, but as we learn more about her, she’s more aware of everything happening. From the beginning, she’s fought for what she believes is right. After connecting with Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie learns how to fight and becomes a key member of the group. She’s also shown leadership right from the start. From convincing Hershel (Scott Wilson) to let the group stay to helping lead Alexandria under Dianna (Tovah Feldshuh), Maggie’s grown exponentially from the farm girl we met in season two.

Lauren Cohan in The Walking Dead episode "Go Getters." Photo Credit: AMC
Lauren Cohan in The Walking Dead episode “Go Getters.” Photo Credit: AMC

Not only is Cohan the highest billed actress, but Maggie has transformed into the leading female character we’ve been waiting for. In the season seven premiere, after Glenn tragically dies at the hands of Negan, Maggie is literally the first person to stand up. She’s crippled with pain, both physically and emotionally, but she stands up and begins moving forward. She even tells Rick, he needs to go back to Alexandria and prepare for a fight. If this moment came early in The Walking Dead’s history, Maggie would most likely be fulfilling the “hysterical” female trope. Instead, she wipes her tears and motivates the group to push forward. 

This past Sunday, we finally catch back up with Maggie and Sasha at Hilltop after the devastating season seven premiere. Maggie takes a well deserved moment to grieve Glenn before she begins taking small steps forward. This leads to her biggest character moment ever on The Walking Dead.

With Hilltop’s leader, Gregory (Xander Berkeley), being selfish and seemingly unfit to lead his people effectively, Maggie begins to step up. She commands the people of the Hilltop and it’s hard not to feel a sense of pride seeing her do so. By episodes end, after Gregory is continuously condescending towards her, Maggie has had enough. After a swift punch to his jaw, Maggie says, “This is our home now and you’ll start calling me by my name. Not Marsha, not dear, not honey. Maggie. Maggie Rhee.” With this singular line, the female characters on The Walking Dead take charge and lead us into this new era for the TV show.

Lauren Cohan and Sonequa Martin-Green in The Walking Dead episode "Go Getters." Photo Credit: AMC
Lauren Cohan and Sonequa Martin-Green in The Walking Dead episode “Go Getters.” Photo Credit: AMC

Another added plus in The Walking Dead’s corner this season is they are utilizing something we don’t see too often on TV: female friendships. Often on television, female characters tear each other down. Used to create drama, it’s a storyline that is very disadvantageous to female characters. On The Walking Dead, they are allowing the female friendships to take center stage. In this latest episode, Maggie, Sasha and now Enid (Katelyn Nacon) have become one of the main families. They are leaning on each other and learning how to move forward in the wake of Glenn and Abraham’s deaths. They can handle themselves and don’t need a male character to care for them.

For the first time ever on The Walking Dead, the men are not running the show, the women are. After seven seasons of Rick and other male characters leading the charge, they have stepped aside for the fierce women. Rick has literally knelt to Negan, Daryl is a shell of his former self, and Glenn and Abrahma, two strong assets, are gone. Michonne, Sasha, Rosita and Maggie won’t stop until Negan is defeated, Carol surveys the growing world around her, and Tara leads her storyline altogether.

The Walking Dead began with questionable female characters only to build seven strong, independent female characters who are standing up and fighting. It seems very fitting to have these characters take center stage at this point. The Walking Dead’s greatest adversary is here and the females step in line behind Maggie to lead the charge against him. 

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC


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