In 2010, Robert Kirkman’s series of graphic novels, The Walking Dead, was adapted for TV by AMC and followed sheriff Rick Grimes as he awoke from a coma to discover the world had drastically changed. The series ended in 2022 after 11 seasons, but its massive success led to a number of spinoffs, with more coming in the near future.
With a large ensemble cast which expanded every season, from those just trying to survive to cruel villains, The Walking Dead featured plenty of characters audiences loved, hated and sometimes loved to hate. The best of them were complex, with backstories which informed their decisions and skills in the apocalypse and growth that served as an example of how far they’d come. And sometimes, they were just downright fun to watch and easy to love.
10 Eugene Porter
Played by Josh McDermitt
Eugene was introduced while traveling with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) to Washington, D.C. in Season 4. He had lied to the two of them about who he was, giving the impression he was an important scientist in contact with leadership in D.C. and that he needed to get there to help find a cure for the zombie outbreak. For a brief period of time, he served as a high-ranking member of the Saviors.
Eugene was a bit eccentric, with a very distinct manner of speaking. His dishonesty and selfish, cowardly willingness to do whatever he needed to ensure his own safety made him a frustrating character early on—and any other time he was only looking out for himself. Still, he was intelligent and caring, as well as aware of his flaws, and he worked to redeem himself whenever he could and became an important part of the group.
9 Negan Smith
Played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Negan was the leader of the Saviors, for a time being referred to by name before he finally appeared in person in the Season 6 finale with Lucille, his bat wrapped in barbed wire. After multiple clashes between the groups and their leaders, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) finally defeated Negan and, in an act of mercy, chose to let him live rather than kill him, leading Negan to spend the majority of his remaining years imprisoned in Alexandria. Negan returned in the spinoff The Walking Dead: Dead City, alongside Maggie (Lauren Cohan).
Out of all the characters on The Walking Dead, Negan was among those who experienced the most growth, having redeemed himself in the end after starting out as one of the series’ most hated villains. When he was first introduced, he was violent and ruthless, responsible for the brutal murders of Abraham and Glenn, but he was also charismatic with a sharp sense of humor. As the years went by, he softened, and he even had a soft spot for Judith and expressed guilt for killing Maggie’s son’s father in particular.
8 Ezekiel Sutton
Played by Khary Payton
Ezekiel was introduced early in Season 7 as leader of the Kingdom, one of the communities terrorized by the Saviors and forced to surrender food and supplies to them. He was a former zookeeper and still maintained a close relationship with one of the tigers he cared for, Shiva, and his background in community theater informed his demeanor as a king. After the Kingdom fell, Ezekiel was left without a purpose in life, and wondered about the zombie-riddled world aimlessly. When he was finally accepted into the Commonwealth and beat thyroid cancer, he found a new lease on life, eventually becoming the settlement’s animal control officer.
Although Ezekiel seemed ridiculous at first, he proved himself to be a warm, charismatic, and capable leader, proven by the Kingdom’s success for much of the series, as well as smarter than the other leaders gave him credit for. But Ezekiel was at his best when he dropped the royal act and let his true self show to others, most notably Carol (Melissa McBride), whom he would form a relationship with. Although he was an integral part of some of the show’s most violent showdowns, he was always a delight to watch.
7 Gleen Rhee
Played by Steven Yeun
Glenn first came in contact with Rick via radio and helped guide him to safety early in the first season of The Walking Dead. Glenn, a former pizza delivery driver, served as a supply runner between the survivors’ camp and Atlanta. After the group settled on Hershel’s farm in Season 2, Glenn fell in love with Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) daughter, Maggie, and the two eventually married. Glenn was violently killed by Saviors leader Negan.
Glenn was a fan favorite, known for being tough but also providing some comic relief thanks to his quick one-liners and overall lighthearted demeanor. He also proved himself to be smart and resourceful, which helped get him out of some tense, dire situations, including many close brushes with death, and also made him an asset to his fellow survivors. But above all, he was proof good people still existed in the world and exemplified hope.
6 Maggie Greene
Played by Lauren Cohan
Maggie Rhee was first introduced early in Season 2 as the daughter of Hershel. She fell in love with and marries Glenn Rhee, and the two had a son, Hershel, named after Maggie’s father, although Glenn was killed by Negan before Hershel was born. She eventually became the leader of Hilltop. She appeared alongside Negan in the spinoff The Walking Dead: Dead City, where she enlists his help after Hershel is kidnapped.
Maggie was a tough, independent character and a formidable leader, unafraid to speak her mind or do what needed to be done. But she also has a soft side. From her first introduction, she proved to be eager to help others, even at risk to her own safety. She was also loyal, especially to her family, whether that meant defending her father’s questionable decisions or being fiercely protective of her son.
5 Hershel Greene
Played by Scott Wilson
The survivors met Hershel after Carl (Chandler Riggs) was accidentally shot and rushed to Hershel’s farm in rural Georgia for help, where he was living out the zombie apocalypse with his family, including his two daughters, Maggie and Beth (Emily Kinney). Previously, he had worked as a veterinarian. He was a devout Christian and hopeful that a cure for the outbreak would be found, so much so that he was keeping walkers locked in a barn on his property. He was decapitated by the Governor (David Morrissey) in the mid-season finale of Season 4 and reappeared as a vision to Rick.
Hershel’s warm personality and compassionate nature made him easy to love, and he became something of a father figure to the entire group—in addition to being a loving father to his own children and, later, approving father-in-law to Glenn. Hershel also served as the group’s moral compass, although he struggled to come to terms with the reality of the new world. While he wasn’t a doctor, his knowledge and experience as a veterinarian was similar enough that it made him a helpful asset.
4 Michonne Hawthorne
Played by Danai Gurira
Michonne was first introduced in the Season 2 finale wielding her iconic katana and guiding two chained-up walkers without arms or jaws alongside her. Her boyfriend and son were killed earlier in the outbreak. She began a relationship with Rick, and the two had a son together, RJ, in addition to caring for Rick’s young daughter, Judith. After Michonne discovered Rick was still alive when he was presumed dead, she set out to find him and will reappear with him in the spinoff The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.
Michonne was a great character from the moment of her very memorable introduction and remained a fan favorite. She quickly became a crucial part of the group, and she remained a tough, intense character throughout the series. She played a crucial role in taking down the Governor in particular. But for all Michonne’s toughness, she also has a softer side, shown in her relationship with Rick and as a mother to RJ and Judith.
3 Carol Peletier
Played by Melissa McBride
Carol was first introduced with a group of survivors after having evacuated with her abusive husband, Ed (Adam Minarovich), and their daughter, Sophia (Madison Lintz). Ed was killed early in the series, followed by Sophia’s disappearance and the shocking revelation of her death in Season 2. Carol became close to fellow survivor Daryl (Norman Reedus), especially as the group searched for Sophia, and the two became best friends. Carol will reunite with Daryl for Season 2 of the spinoff The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon.
Carol had one of the most notable transformations of the series. When audiences first met her, she was soft-spoken and reserved, with moments showing her sense of humor and the feistiness that would appear later saved for when she wasn’t with Ed. But after his death, she was truly allowed to be herself, and she thrived, ultimately turning into one of the series’ toughest characters and a formidable leader, serving as Queen of the Kingdom.
2 Rick Grimes
Played by Andrew Lincoln
Rick Grimes was the main protagonist of The Waking Dead until his departure in Season 9, when he was presumed dead. Prior to the outbreak, he worked as a sheriff’s deputy, and he awoke from a coma to discover the zombie apocalypse well underway, with the hospital abandoned and, as he soon learned, his wife and son missing. He eventually found them with a group of other survivors, and for the bulk of the series, he served as the group’s leader. Rick is set to return to the universe in The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.
The original series largely focused on Rick for the duration of his time on the show. He was a caring husband and father throughout, immensely relieved when he discovered them alive and devoted to keeping them safe from then on. Still, he also had a dark, violent side; and while it was sometimes necessary for survival and to defend his group, it also got him into trouble, which was something he tried to move on from throughout the series.
1 Daryl Dixon
Played by Norman Reedus
Daryl Dixon was not a character from the original comics, but instead, was a new character created specifically for the show. He first appeared early in Season 1 when Rick joined a group of survivors—and after Rick handcuffed Daryl’s brother, Merle (Michael Rooker), to a roof. Daryl also appeared in his own spinoff, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, which sees the character wash up on the shores of France with no memory of how he got there.
Crossbow-carrying Daryl was a fan-favorite character from early on, and he was also among those who showed the most growth over the course of the series. He was a skilled hunter and tracker, making him a valuable part of the group as they tried to survive, and despite his aggressive, disagreeable personality early on, he proved to be kind and caring. He had a close friendship with Carol, as the two bonded over their similarities.