*A portion of this article was originally published at PopWrapped.com.*
*Oh, and, also: SPOILERS.*
Women: more than half of the world’s population, responsible for literally every human life on the planet and an ever-elusive conundrum to their male counterparts — especially writers and authors (exceptions granted for Joss Whedon and George RR Martin).
As a woman who is somewhat (okay, utterly) obsessed with pop culture and is also a feminist, it is incredibly disheartening to only witness superficial female characters. Characters who are defined solely based on what man loves them or finds them amusing. Or maybe they’re just workaholics who can’t see past their desktops. Don’t even fucking get me started on the “manic pixie dream girl” character.
What do all of these female iterations have in common? They’re superfluous. Superficial, one-dimensional, damsels-in-distress just waiting for a big strong man to swoop in and save the day and carry them off into the sunset so that they can live happily ever after. They are written into a script for the singular purpose of helping the male protagonist’s story to unfold. They are never fleshed out, realistic characters; just lazily crafted paper dolls with no identity of their own and no one around to freshen up their outfits.
Now, as with any situation, there are exceptions to the rule. Obviously, women write women better than men do, generally. Write what you know and all that jazz. But there are some men out there that just get us. The aforementioned Joss Whedon and George RR Martin are prime examples of how women in film and television are done RIGHT. They create complex women who usually kick ass and are not afraid or ashamed of their power or badassery. Nothing is more annoying than a woman with the potential to be amazing who tries to make herself smaller to fit into what a man deems acceptable. Which brings me to the focus of this article: The Walking Dead‘s Carol Peletier, played by the sublime and astonishingly talented Melissa McBride.
I believe that Carol Peletier is one of the greatest female characters on television right now, with Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen close behind. Carol’s character has made the greatest leaps as far as development goes, which is really saying something for this show.
When we meet Carol in the first season, she is a meek, scared, broken woman whose sole focus is keeping her young daughter, Sophia, alive and appeasing her physically, verbally and emotionally abusive husband, Ed. She walked the same tightrope that most battered women do: keeping up a strong facade while trying her hardest to avoid anything that may trigger her brutal spouse. She stays this way for a few episodes and really shows no spine until the moment when Ed is partially devoured by the dead.
After seeing the father of her child twitching on the ground, she grabs a weapon from Daryl and tells him that she will be the one putting her husband out of his misery. And, all of a sudden, Carol is more than just a battered woman. She’s bent and tormented, sure, but the death of Ed was really the rebirth of Carol. His death freed her and allowed her to start her journey into the woman she is in the series now.
Carol’s path has been anything but easy. Almost immediately after her husband dies, Sophia goes missing while in Rick’s care. An entire season was devoted to the group camping out at Hershel’s farm, looking for Sophia, before ultimately discovering that she had been with the barn walkers the entire time. Seeing her daughter bramble out of the barn as a walker was the final straw in Carol 1.0’s life. She shed her former skin and had to learn to survive in an upside down world where she was no longer a wife or a mother.
In fact, Carol has always been — even from the very start — a survivor. She survived her pig husband. She survived the death of her child. She survived being locked in a cell in the prison with no food or water during a zombie raid. As the series progresses, however, she does more than survive. She thrives.
She becomes an important member of the group and sits on the prison’s counsel. She nabs a walker and practices surgical techniques on it so that she can successfully deliver Lori and Rick’s baby. She becomes an expert markswoman so that she can protect herself and others. She takes command of teaching the children at the prison to protect themselves. She kills two infected members of the group with zero scruples so that the rest of them could have a chance to live. She survives being banished from the group by Rick after killing those two people. She is able to pull the trigger and murder a child because, honestly, that child needed to be murdered, and Carol could do the things others could not, because she knew they HAD to be done.
Even after being banished by Rick, Carol saved their asses in Terminus. She blows up a gas tank and quite literally saves the day, while also having kept Judith and Tyreese alive the whole time. When everything else seems lost, Carol endures.
After the group landed in cozy Alexandria, Carol hustled her way through the community, successfully convincing everyone that she was only there to bake cookies, only letting her freak flag fly when the situation really called for it. Like when she threatened to murder a young child to his face if he told anyone about the chocolate they pilfered for Carol’s famous cookies.
When Carol discovered that Jessie’s dirtbag husband was hitting her by recognizing a look in her eyes that mirrored the one that used to be in her own, she fought for Jessie because she knew Jessie wouldn’t fight for herself. She outwardly threatened Jessie’s douchebag husband, Pete. She told him, in no uncertain terms, that she would kill him if he didn’t GTFO and keep his hands off Jessie. In one of her best scenes in the entire series, she stands toe-to-toe with a man double her size with well-known anger issues, looks him square in the eyes and taunts him by saying, “Come at me.”
That was also the episode in which she calls Rick “Sunshine” and tells him he simply can’t have it all. She. Is. The. Best.
And, although Carol is certainly the most BAMF on a show lousy with BAMFs, she’s not defined by that. She’s still compassionate. She’s still logical. She’s smart and savvy and quick on her feet and has become the best ally anyone could ever hope to have in the zombie apocalypse — and just life, in general.
While I’m not entirely thrilled with the passive Carol of late, I cannot begrudge her reasoning behind those decisions. Her choice to separate herself from the ones she loved because she could not handle killing people to protect them was not an easy one to make. But she made it. Because Carol does the things that need to be done that no one else can do. Now that Morgan has enlightened her to the murder of Glenn and Abraham and all of the other horrific atrocities committed by Negan, Scarol is back and she’s ready to get King Ezekiel and his kingdom prepared for battle. Our Warrior Queen is once again stepping up to save the goddamn day.
I would like to offer a very sincere “thank you” to the creators of this show — not only because it’s one of the best on television but because, in a world filled with Loris and Andreas, Carol Peletier gives this feminist pop culture devotee hope.