Played by: Melissa McBride
Seasons: 1 – 11
Carol is definitely a contender for the number one spot on this list because her character’s arc is the most substantial and meaningful. She starts off as a victim of her husband’s abuse, often cowering in his presence. She is able to open up once Ed is killed by walkers and even volunteered to bash his head in to prevent zombification. The loss of her daughter is another turning point; she is burdened by tragedy and is on track to become one of the more skilled survivors.
Carol befriends Daryl and learns to kill without mercy and hesitation. On several occasions she uses her unsuspecting appearance to her benefit and catches strangers off guard. A standout act of heroism is when Rick’s group is trapped in Terminus and she single-handedly breaks them out, taking out some cannibals in the process. Carol’s most difficult test comes when she has to execute a dangerous little girl who had killed her own sister. That gravely serious scene prompted “look at the flowers” to become an often quoted Walking Dead line.
Proving to be extremely durable, Carol is now respected among the people from the various neighborhoods. She grew her hair out and has become queen of the kingdom, adopting Henry with King Ezekiel. Instead of dwelling on the past, she works toward the future and looks to strengthen the relations between all the leaders and their communities.
Played by: Andrew Lincoln
Seasons: 1 – 9
Before the current season, The Walking Dead was Rick Grimes’ show. For the most part, we have been going along on his ride, with his family and acquaintances, overcoming his obstacles, and fighting his battles. Andrew Lincoln established Rick’s natural appeal in the masterful first episode and has been building from there for the better part of a decade.
Rick is an undeniably believable leader due to his firm, steady voice and his exceptional decision-making skills. The group can’t help to gravitate toward him as he takes them to the Center for Disease Control, then to the farm, the prison, eventually helping many survive until they found a home in Alexandria. Aside from avoiding the herds of walkers, Rick is adept as discerning whether outsiders are friend or foe. Rick first shocked us when he shoots and kills two threatening men in a bar, and later on ups the ante by biting out someone’s throat to defend his son. He exudes level-headiness and lack of hesitation when he swiftly severs Hershel’s bitten leg to save his life.
Rick’s guidance saved more survivors than one can count and his capacity to command during larger conflicts got his people through several wars, despite seemingly impossible odds. All of his accomplishments were fueled by the love he had for his family. Rick could be incredibly kind and nurturing, yet he unfortunately could not save his wife and son. Rick’s daughter Judith follows in his footsteps as we anticipate his return sometime in the future.