If there’s one thing that The Walking Dead is known for – well, beyond its constant, surprising, and oftentimes brutal deaths, of course – it's its huge cast of characters. Reflecting the reality of living in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infused wasteland, the show’s roster changes every single season, and typically in drastic fashion; it’s not unusual for a huge swath of a season’s recurring characters to be offed by the end of the year, to see the pattern repeated again the following season.
And despite the breadth and depth of the main cast, it is, indeed, these recurring characters that oftentimes add the most color to Walking Dead’s occasionally limited palette, who represent a perspective on or response to the post-societal tableau around them. It seems only fitting, then, that we salute these minor faces by counting down the 15 Most Interesting Recurring Characters on The Walking Dead.
First appearance: “30 Days without an Accident” (episode 401)Last appearance: “Infected” (402)Portrayed by: Vincent Martella
It’s obvious that Patrick, a transplant from the Governor’s (David Morrissey) Woodbury to Rick Grimes’s (Andrew Lincoln) prison settlement, isn’t long for this world almost immediately when he first steps on-screen – he is young, polite, shy, well-mannered, sweet; he’s a character who likes to join the community’s children for story time, and who may play with their Legos even more than they do. In short, he is one of the last vestiges The Walking Dead offers audiences of the old world, when civilization ruled and savagery was a crime instead of a right to live. He’s everything that the even-younger Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) isn’t – and it’s a comparison that ensures he dies in the very same episode that he’s introduced in.
Patrick’s extremely short character arc is certainly meant to be more a reflection of our main cast, to remind us – and, perhaps, them – of how far they’ve come, and it’s meant to pull at our heartstrings, to add something of an emotional dimension to the flu that ravages most of the prison group without having to sacrifice one of the more established characters, recurring or not. Still, Vincent Martella did a wonderful job in bringing this largely plot-based role to life, and Patrick stands to this day as one of the more bittersweet parts of Walking Dead: the (final?) death of innocence.
14 Rosita Espinosa
First appearance: “Inmates” (episode 410)Last appearance: N/APortrayed by: Christian Serratos
Rosita Espinosa is an interesting character: despite being on the series for two-and-a-half years, and despite having had a romantic relationship with two of her survivor compatriots, she is a rather underdeveloped character, one that has few traits that distinguish her from the literally dozens of other faces that have appeared on the show at one point or another.
With that said, however, Christian Serratos plays her superbly, and her resilience, determination, and grit make appropriately clear why she’s one of the few recurring characters who has remained on the series for more than the usual season or season-and-a-half. (Then again, it’s also clear why, unlike her former lover, Abraham Ford [Michael Cudlitz], she hasn’t been promoted to the main cast proper.) Perhaps most importantly, however, her continued empathy for those in her group, generally, and for the rather weak and pathetic Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt), specifically, proves that she’s more than just a standard cardboard cutout, no matter how flat she may be in comparison to the heavyhitters.
First appearance: “Guts” (episode 102)Last appearance: “TS-19” (106)Portrayed by: Jeryl Prescott Sales
Jacqui is such a minor character among the rank-and-file of Walking Dead’s minor characters, she doesn’t even get a last name, let alone a long life span – she’s only present in five episodes, though this does constitute nearly all of the first season.
Still, the character does represent something that the show hasn’t depicted too often in its six-year run: defeat. Rather than face the intolerable, interminable period of time before the government can reassert control over what used to be the country (if, indeed, it ever does), she opts for suicide, being incinerated in the Center for Disease Control’s self-destruction. It’s an interesting variation on the theme, and it makes for one memorable scene – and how many of the recurring characters can lay claim to that feat?
There is one final accomplishment that both Jacqui and Jeryl Prescott Sales can lay claim to, and it’s one that in no small part helped to establish The Walking Dead as a viable, long-lasting, pop-culture-influencing property: though never given a major moment beyond her suicide, the character is one that feels real, grounded, and interesting, a living person thrust in this unreal situation that could leap off the screen if given the right material. It is no small compliment.
First appearance: “Conquer” (episode 516)Last appearance: “No Way Out” (609)Portrayed by: Benedict Samuel
The Wolves quickly prove themselves to be a rather shallow addition to the series, even if their introduction promises something a little more substantial. By the time they’re wiped out in the sixth mid-season finale, they’re revealed to be one of the more minor threats that Rick and his crew have come across – a small group of survivors who decide that it’s easier to survive by trapping and robbing other individuals, killing them and thereby adding fuel to their zombie-filled booby traps.
Much, if not all, of the initial intrigue or menace can be directly attributed to Owen, the Wolves’ leader, who manages to turn in a suitably creepy performance – he’s not bombastic like Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), nor is he slimily creepy like the Governor – and to spout off some mythological mumbo-jumbo about Native Americans and their views of wolves. And even when this spiel is revealed to be nothing more than a self-rationalization, Owen still proves to be full of surprises – unafraid of dying, though still willing to put his own life ahead of his propaganda that no human beings should be left alive in a land now belonging to the walkers.
First appearance: “Claimed” (episode 411)Last appearance: “A” (416)Portrayed by: Jeff Kober
Joe, along with his pack of “Claimers,” is a genuinely horrific individual, one who joins the show’s long (and growing!) list of villains who are finally allowed to be the nasty, self-indulgent people they were always meant to be once society’s inconvenient notions of equality are done away with, along with the rest of civilization. It is a bit of a stretch for Rick and company to constantly run into these rather two-dimensional characters, yes, but at least Joe doesn’t head up his own walled-off city block or a several-hundred-strong cult of pillagers.
There’s another way that Joe offers up an interesting twist on the standard Walking Dead baddie formula: he’s somewhat likeable in his upfront, no-nonsense style; he’s not going to talk your ear off, like Negan is prone to do, and he won’t bite it (or your fingers) off, like the Governor is more than capable of. And his adherence to his and his group’s own code does offer up a type of morality, as meager as it may be, which again is a differentiating factor.
Because of Jeff Kober’s ability to sell both sides of his utterly despicable hillbilly-turned-despot, we have to honor him as one of the best of the best recurring characters featured thus far on the show.
10 Paul “Jesus” Rovia
First appearance: “The Next World” (episode 610)Last appearance: N/APortrayed by: Tom Payne
Jesus, at this point, is more of a mystery than a real character, more potentiality than a realized presence. Even with that said, however, the intrigue surrounding Paul Rovia is, well, just too cool to be overlooked: he is equally adept at lying and at being straightforward; his physicality is unsurpassed on the series, from his ability to shirk out of being tied with rope to hopping rides on the tops of cars; and though it seems he prefers peace to violence, he’s not averse to picking up a gun and doing his part to murder the enemy.
Let’s not forget his impish sense of humor, his general concern for the plight of his fellow survivors (even if they’re not a member of his Hilltop community), and his apparent ability to parkour. All in all, he’s easily one of the most well-rounded characters depicted on the series thus far – on paper. Part of the test that season seven will face is in putting in some more actual emotional dimension into the so-called Jesus on the screen.
9 Milton Mamet
First appearance: “Walk with Me” (episode 303)Final appearance: “Welcome to the Tombs” (316)Portrayed by: Dallas Roberts
Milton Mamet is, admittedly, something of a mixed bag. He is decent, civil, educated, curious – all the qualities that make for a good scientist. However, he’s also the lap dog of the Governor, and the words “sniveling,” “cowardly,” and, even, “annoying” are equally applicable to him, both fairly and unfairly.
What really sets this character apart is the simple fact that he’s trying to do something about the zombie apocalypse – seeing if any part of the human being still remains after the transformation, learning whatever there is to learn about the reanimation process. In a show dominated by individuals who simply – perhaps blindly – fight for survival instead of attempting to investigate their new reality, this is a breath of fresh air.
Of course, this investigative spirit is almost instantly revealed to be the by-product of his secure footing in Woodbury, allowing him such niceties as contemplation and research, and it is precisely this inexperience with the new world – with emotional fortitude and physical prowess being the dominant qualities for survival – that makes him the perfect victim at the Governor’s hands. By the time he exits the series, audiences are more than ready for him to do so.
8 Deanna Monroe
First appearance: “Remember” (episode 512)Final appearance: “Start to Finish” (608)Portrayed by: Tovah Feldshuh
Like a number of other characters on this list, Deanna Monroe is meant to represent a particular background (she’s a former Congresswoman from Ohio), personality (progressive-but-pragmatic administrator), and perspective (basically, she’s an optimist) that was not part of the Walking Dead’s panoply when she first stepped onto the screen in the latter half of season five. Given the security of her settlement, the Alexandria Safe Zone, she is afforded a luxury that few others have had in the entire show: the ability to think about – and actively plan for – the future, for a time when the walker infestation has been snuffed out and civilization will begin again in earnest.
But what’s most interesting about her is what, exactly, the series does with – and to – her. Rather than paint her vision of the future (and, by extension, their present) as being purely naïve, a freak by-product of her not truly knowing how bad the situation is out there in the wild (much as we see with Milton), she is treated respectfully, with her being a huge influence on Rick Grimes, on having him come back from his more savage side to find something of a middle civilized ground.
Of course, while her vision of the future is left intact, her extremely lax precautions for the present are what do her in. But while it’s still too early to make any conclusions, it seems as if her legacy will be borne out to the series finale itself.
First appearance: “Them” (episode 510)Final appearance: N/APortrayed by: Ross Marquand
Aaron is instantly marked as a rarity in the show, thanks to his obvious education and his work resume before the fall of society (a former political operative and non-governmental organization employee). The fact that he’s one of the few gay characters in Walking Dead – and that this fact still results in his being prejudiced against, even in a post-apocalyptic setting – is just icing on the differentiation cake.
There really are few other individuals in the series’s tableau quite like Aaron, which is a huge compliment, given the sheer number of recurring characters it has featured since its first episode six long years ago. And although he’s quite capable of defending himself, he’s never stooped to the kind of base savagery that has dominated so many others over the seasons, including, most importantly, Rick himself. This little tidbit would suggest that only two different outcomes are awaiting Aaron, presumably in the very near future: he will be more mere zombie fodder, or he will be forced to renounce everything that he has stood for. (Hey – even Glenn Rhee [Steven Yuen] was just recently forced to kill his first human in cold blood.) Hopefully, however, the end of his character arc will be just as refreshing as its beginning and middle.
6 Father Gabriel Stokes
First appearance: “Strangers” (episode 502)Last appearance: N/APortrayed by: Seth Gilliam
Despite his comparative lack of screen time, Father Gabriel has a character journey that is surprisingly similar to that of Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) – going from a coward to a self-assuredness, from being useless with a weapon (any weapon) to being able to pull his own weight. The range is, actually, striking: when our cast first comes across the priest, he is clinging helplessly to a rock while a group of walkers surrounds him; by the time of the sixth season finale, he confidently tells Rick Grimes that both his baby daughter, Judith, and Alexandria are safe under his watch.
And this doesn’t even take into account his backstory, which sees him sacrifice his entire flock to the walkers outside while he safely barricaded himself inside. This leads him to believe that he’s been left alive – and stuck with Rick’s group – as a form of punishment or atonement, but as soon as he realizes that he’s even too cowardly for suicide, he starts to take a turn, picking up a weapon (even if it’s a rock) and fighting back against the undead. For a series that is well and truly populated with individuals who are full of self-loathing, there has been nothing either before or since to compete with Father Gabriel.
5 Bob Stookey
First appearance: “30 Days without an Accident” (episode 401)Last appearance: “Four Walls and a Roof” (503)Portrayed by: Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.
Bob Stookey’s role in The Walking Dead is as, essentially, Job – a man cursed to walk the Earth by himself, suffering as the lone survivor from every previous group he was part of. The fatalism this produces in him is entirely appropriate, given his status as an alcoholic – one who not only endangers his entire scouting party (including himself!) just to grab a bottle, but who threatens to pull a gun on Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) when the latter tries to take the booze away from him.
It is this emotional baggage that serves to only strengthen his personality, however: he is self-deprecating, engaging, warm. This more positive side gets reinforced all the more when the community at the prison is lost halfway through season four, as, this time, Rick’s core group manages to make it out alive alongside him. And when factored with his slowly-blossoming romance with Sasha Williams (Sonequa Martin-Green), this era of good feelings rides him out until the very sudden end of his life.
From backstory to disposition, from his lowest lows and highest highs, it’s safe to say that there isn’t another character in the series quite like Bob.
4 Tara Chambler
First appearance: “Live Bait” (episode 406)Last appearance: N/APortrayed by: Alanna Masterson
Tara is easily one of the most interesting characters yet to be seen on The Walking Dead, a combination of endearing, pathetic, just, wrong-doer, cute. She is, in this way, one of the most human characters on the show, even though such dimensionality has never translated in her either being given a major role in a particular story arc or being promoted to the principal cast, though she’s certainly seen more twists and turns than some of her main-character brethren (she’s far more well-rounded than Abraham and is arguably more so than either Maggie Greene [Lauren Cohen] or Glenn). Oh, yeah – along with Aaron, she’s also one of the few gay characters represented on the show, and a person who isn’t afraid of falling in love with an individual that perhaps doesn’t fit (former) society’s classically-defined role of beautiful.
From her first scene, where she tries to convince a shellshocked Governor (and, by extension, the audience) that she’s a tough military chick not to be trifled with, to her dogged attempts at redemption by helping out Rick’s group, to her rising to an important role of supply-gatherer in Alexandria, she’s taken viewers through nearly every last emotion in the entire spectrum of humanity. Her next role, learning of her lover’s, Denise Clod (Merritt Wever), death, just might be the most intense one yet.
3 Lizzie Samuels
First appearance: “30 Days without an Accident” (episode 401)Final appearance: “The Grove” (414)Portrayed by: Brighton Sharbino
There are, in all likelihood, a number of characters on The Walking Dead that are mentally ill to some severity or another, chief among them the series’s various antagonists. Few, however, are as explicit about it as is little Lizzie Samuels, a girl who tortures – and then dissects – animals, who treats the walkers as if they’re still living individuals, and who doesn’t think twice about killing those around her, if only to still play with them when they reanimated as zombies.
Of course, a lot of this disturbed (and disturbing) behavior could be chalked up to difficulties in a young girl coping with the death of her family and the destruction of the world around her; how quickly she latches on to Carol as a mother is evidence enough of this. But in a time when safety is already a rarity, and patience is a commodity that few can afford, Lizzie isn’t meant to last.
At least, that’s what Carol tells herself when putting a gun to the back of Lizzie’s head and pulling the trigger. The scene is genuinely horrifying, without any of the artificial bombast of, say, the Terminus sequences, and marks one of the most memorable ways that a character – any character – has exited the series to date.
2 Eugene Porter
First appearance: “Inmates” (episode 410)Last appearance: N/APortrayed by: Josh McDermitt
The greatest surprise – and, in retrospect, delight – of Eugene’s character is his absolute reliance on lying in order to attain his survival. And even in a show full of characters, settlements, and, even, organizations all attempting to find the best and most efficient way to achieve the same end, it makes him stand out head and shoulders (and mullet) above everyone else.
Of course, using his intellect to achieve such superb ends hasn’t come at the cost of developing the other aspects of his personality; since joining up with Rick Grimes and the rest, he’s been forced to step up to the plate, taking out walkers and, miracle to end all miracles, even going so far as to risk his life in order to save another’s (in this case, the pregnant Maggie). This personal growth, his phenomenal speech patterns – one of the best currently on television, in fact – and his way-apparent vulnerabilities all combine to make him one of the most interesting and dynamic characters on the entire series, whether a regular or a recurring cast member.
First appearance: “Last Day on Earth” (episode 616)Last appearance: N/APortrayed by: Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Yes, he’s only appeared in one episode thus far – and, at that, just one scene. And, yes, it may entirely be too early to declare him the most interesting of all of The Walkign Dead’s horde of recurring characters.
Still, no other individual has gotten such an assiduously-built-up introduction as the self-proclaimed leader of the new world order – his mystique and his menace both were systematically added to throughout an entire half-season, culminating in a scene that may be a tad too long for its own good, but which nonetheless serves as the most triumphant and celebratory on-screen debut that any character has ever received across all 83 installments. Given such involved preparatory work – and given his role in the comic book source material – it’s almost assured that Negan will not only play a major part in the upcoming seventh season, but that he’ll be around for quite some time to come.
Bring on Lucille.
(Note: at the time of writing this, it was believed that Negan would, indeed, simply be a recurring character on The Walking Dead. However, with the advent of the seventh season premiere, we now know that Jeffrey Dean Morgan had joined the main cast.)
The Walking Dead’s seventh season premieres on Sunday, October 23 at 9:00pm on AMC.
Did we miss your favorite recurring character? Do you think another deserves the top spot? Be sure to make your case in the comments.