The ultimate point to The Walking Dead is survival – in a world where nearly every single hour has to be devoted to fending off the undead or, even worse, other human beings, nothing is more important than staying alive, no matter the cost.
But just because one has the physical ability or emotional fortitude to survive doesn’t mean that he is, to bower a turn of phrase from CBS’s famed reality television series, the ultimate survivor; there are a number of characters across the entire run of the series that have proven themselves more than able to be made of survivalist mettle, although circumstances ultimately proved to work against them. One of the best examples of this is none other than Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), a man whose sensitivities to the changed nature of the post-zombie reality and the lengths to which he was immediately willing to go have proven to be spot-on time and again over the course of The Walking Dead’s 83 episodes – although the rest of his abrasive, sometimes-abusive personality managed to ruffle enough feathers to make his tenure as leader (and his lease on life) a short-lived one.
*Note that there WILL be spoilers here, and we are not necessarily taking the premiere of Season 7 into account.*
So, without further post-apocalyptic ado, here are the 15 The Walking Dead Characters Who Just Kept Surviving.
15 The Grady Memorial police force
The art of survival isn’t just predicated on combat; organizational prowess can also be a leading cause for a group’s continued existence, particularly in a situation as dire as the walker infestation. The police officers who eventually accrued at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta learned this to their advantage, taking in patients for treatment and then turning around and forcing them to essentially become indentured servants, working off the amount of resources it has taken the cops and hospital staff to treat them. When combined with Lieutenant Dawn Lerner’s (Christine Woods) tendency to stack the odds against the patients’ favor, it results in a coolly self-perpetuating system, arguably one of the most efficient that Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his crew have come across.
It transpires that Grady is almost one of the more tolerable setups, despite the fact that the police abuse their positions of influence and power, being treated like kings (including their ability to sexually assault whoever they want), and they’ve learned to be selective in which patients they end up nabbing and bringing back to the hospital. As such, this may mean that, in the world of Walking Dead, Grady Memorial may not be destined to last.
14 The Wolves
Whereas some groups of survivors tend to go big by creating a following that is several hundred large (like Negan [Jeffrey Dean Morgan] has done) or by orchestrating walker pit fights for entertainment purposes (the specialty of the Governor [David Morrissey]), the Wolves do “large” in a different way: in the complexity of their booby-traps, which are meant to ensnare – and kill – any passersby. In this way, the Wolves are then able to scavenge whatever possessions their victims have, and then, in turn, use their reanimated corpses to help constitute the next lure. And the group’s solution for whatever settlement they happen to come across is a lot more straightforward: infiltrate and annihilate it.
Preying on the few remaining human beings is nothing special in The Walking Dead’s post-apocalyptic wasteland, but the methodology that the Wolves have developed – and the “philosophical” justifications that go along with it, saying that humanity’s time is over and nature should revert back to the wolves – really makes them stand apart. If only they hadn’t decided to mess with Rick and his crew…
13 Merle Dixon
In many ways, Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) represents the worst of humanity (a racist, violent, redneck drug dealer), which is made all the worse that he’s able to survive the zombie apocalypse when so many others did not. And, of course, these negative attributes are only reinforced when he signs up with the Governor’s outfit, though many an individual has agreed to do unspeakable acts for others in the name of food and security.
But what Merle has going for him – and what makes him such an unbelievable survivor – is his ability to, well, saw off his own hand. Although it represented the only way out of his dire situation, being handcuffed to a roof with the undead about to bear down on him, there still aren’t too many people who would even think of committing such an escape plan, let alone then being able to carry through with it. He truly is an unstoppable force of nature – until he decides to go soft and help lead the fight against the Governor.
12 Carl Grimes
Carl (Chandler Riggs) can be argued to be the first generation of the new world, young enough that all knowledge of his previous life is obliterated by the demands of his new one. Unsurprisingly, Carl has been able to adapt to survival quickly and brutally, learning how to carry a firearm almost immediately after society’s downfall and then dispatching a formidable number of walkers – and people – with ease. Also adding to his survivalist credentials is the little fact that he keeps being shot – first in the second season, then in the sixth season mid-season premiere, resulting in his eye being blown out.
Of course, there is much working against Carl, as well. The fact that he is a kid has resulted in a number of near-misses that otherwise shouldn’t have happened, such as the time he inadvertently led a walker back to camp, where it killed Dale Horvath (Jeffrey DeMunn) (in “Judge, Jury, Executioner,” episode 211) or was nearly chomped himself when over-confidently attempting to lure zombies away from his temporary shelter (“After,” 409). Still, an adolescent who can drop his own mother right after she gave birth to his baby sister deserves a spot on this list.
11 The Governor
For the first half of the series, there is no badder ass than Phillip Blake (better known as the Governor), a man who is able to combine charm and ruthlessness with psychological insight and sociopathy – who else can fashion together the walled community of Woodbury but also keep a series of aquariums filled with walker heads? Who else guns down rival groups of survivors without thinking twice but cares for his zombified daughter?
The most stunning example of survivalist abilities, however, comes not from when he’s on the top of his game, in the third season, but when he’s at his nadir, in the fourth; apparently dispossessed of his fighter’s nature, he aimlessly wanders the abandoned streets, sidestepping walkers without looking and otherwise making his way through a ravaged landscape on autopilot. It’s only his insatiable, megalomaniacal ego that causes his downfall – if only Philip could have let Rick and his former Woodbury citizens have their prison community, he would not only still be alive today, he and whatever new group of survivors he had assembled would be thriving.
10 The Terminus leadership
There was no slicker – or more complex, for that matter – survival arrangement in the series than what the Terminus settlement had managed to cobble together (until the arrival of Negan and his Saviors, that is). Scouting out for miles in every direction from the colony, Terminus’s citizens installed a series of signs proclaiming “those who arrive survive” and reinforced it with a radio broadcast, making them the only group of people seen in The Walking Dead who have such a capability.
Even more impressive is their security apparatus: spotters track every newcomer well before he or she arrives at Terminus; the welcome committee – serving newbies the previous day’s victims as good, old-fashioned barbecue – is meant to be thoroughly disarming, both figuratively and literally; and the process by which the victims are first executed and then prepped for cooking is probably the single most efficient operation depicted in the entire show.
Finally, even after Rick Grimes, Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), and the rest are able to shred Terminus’s defenses (and most of its staff), the settlement’s survivors are still able to function as lethal hunters, tracking our group of characters and proceeding to consume them. That’s terribly impressive, if also chilling.
9 Abraham Ford
Yes, Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) is a formidable fighter, arguably the most effective of the show’s main cast – quite the compliment, given all of their anti-undead acumen. And, yes, he has a deep sense of humor, a thriving libido, and a peculiar sense of humor, all of which help him on the road to survival.
But there’s a dark side to the former GI, one that both makes his strengths more splendid and constantly threatens to undermine them. His deep-seated anger and bouts of violence are only reinforced by the zombie apocalypse – obviously – and they have afflicted his loved ones more than once, chasing away his family and nearly killing Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt), the man who gave him a mission and, therefore, a purpose in a post-societal, post-familial world. A lot of Abraham’s antics, such as incessantly throwing himself into hordes of walkers, can be read as a death wish, but it seems that the character may have turned a corner once he realized that Rosita Espinosa (Christian Serratos) is actually not the girl he should be with and makes the long play to ultimately start a family with Sasha Williams (Sonequa Martin-Green).
8 Sasha Williams
While every character on The Walking Dead has lost someone close to her during her tenure on the series, and while some of these deaths have caused our cast to become emotionally discombobulated (think Rick talking to his dead wife on an inoperable telephone), none has had as long of a recovery period as Sasha Williams; across two short seasons, she watched both her fledgling lover, Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.), and her brother, Tyrese (Chad Coleman), die. This places her in a dark place that is extreme even for the show – lying in a mass grave amongst a bunch of dispatched walkers, attempting confession to the compromised priest, Father Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam), and sniping the happy family pictures of other Alexandria citizens.
That Sasha is able to pull herself out of it, and that it only seems to strengthen her abilities on the battlefield, is impressive. She is second to none with a rifle, and she’s no slouch in close-combat melees, either, making her one of the most valuable members of Rick Grimes’s group.
7 Glenn Rhee
Glenn (Steven Yuen) has been proving his worth to his group of survivors ever since day one, as his being quick on his feet, both physically and mentally, allows him to be the best scouter and supply-gatherer on the show; without his intervention, Rick would have died all the way back in the first episode.
And as if constantly risking his life for the benefit of his fellow “family” members doesn’t prove his courage enough, he’s actually become arguably the most steadfast member, taking whatever post-apocalyptic life might throw him with aplomb – including killing a human being in cold blood in his sleep and, perhaps most strikingly of all, becoming a (prospective) husband and father both.
But what puts Glenn over the top and earns him a spot on this list is his ability to forgive, as he does with Nicholas (Michael Traynor), the man not only responsible for the death of one of his friends, but who also attempted to murder him at one point. This, in turn, helps to make the others around better survivors, as well.
6 Morgan Jones
There are few characters across The Walking Dead’s six seasons that come anywhere close to being like Morgan Jones (Lennie James). Starting off the series as decent, law-abiding, and dutiful as Rick Grimes himself, Morgan then completely loses it when his son, Duane (Adrian Kali Turner), is killed – again like Rick when his wife passes, but unlike the former sheriff’s deputy, Morgan is unable to find his way back.
It takes the deliberate – and long-lasting – commitment of a random stranger devoted to non-violence to help rehabilitate him, but once he is put back together again, Morgan becomes the single most moral character on the show, serving as a shining example of what makes humanity what it truly is (redemptive, forgiving, constructive), even as Walking Dead’s larger world continues to lurch toward anarchy. When coupled with his martial-arts-expert-esque status with his bo staff, Morgan truly is one of the strongest survivors yet encountered.
5 Rick Grimes
The man himself. Rick is the protagonist of the series, and, as such, his fall from civilized officer of the law to primal murderer takes up the bulk of the show’s focus. His many deviations and detours along the way – temporarily going crazy and talking into dead phones, hanging up his gun and becoming a man of the land, turning fully feral and ripping out a man’s jugular with his bare teeth – certainly add some meat to his narrative skeleton, but the end result is the same: he is a man who has become fully desensitized to violence and adverse to risks, earning his status as one of the show’s top survivors.
What prevents him from being even higher up on this list is his tendency to get carried away in one direction or the other, whether that be bringing an enemy combatant back to his secret base camp to help him heal or his instinct to execute the leadership of the Alexandria Safe Zone just to make a point that there’s some real jerks out there in the wild. If it weren’t for those around him, he’d be the next Governor, which would ultimately compromise himself along with all his followers.
4 Daryl Dixon
Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) is something of a rare breed: an individual who has actually benefitted, personally and psychologically speaking, from the death of society. By being broken away from his brother Merle’s debilitating influence and being forced to maintain contact with a group of strangers, Daryl has found acceptance and, even, love for the first time in his life; rather than destroying his world, the walker infestation has allowed it to open up and flourish.
The self-described hillbilly, however, is still painfully asocial and suffers from anxiety when in large groups, which means that his chances of fully integrating into society once it manages to fully rebuild itself (if, indeed, it ever does) will be close to nil. Still, with his keen talents for tracking and hunting, plus his refined survivalist instincts, he remains one of the few characters who can make it on his own indefinitely, should he be forced to.
Unlike Daryl, who was forced to become completely self-reliant from a very early age thanks to the neglect of his parents and the abuse of his brother, Michonne (Danai Gurira) was caught completely flat-footed when civilization fell, much like the rest of the world. That she was then able to grab a random katana and train herself how to wield it so effectively is impressive; that she was also able to figure out how to disarm – literally – a pair of walkers and use them to mask her presence from the rest of the zombie horde is unbelievable (as is the fact that she’s the only one who’s managed to figure it out!).
But there’s another, even more stunning element that truly puts Michonne over the top, landing her in the top three spots of our list. After her son is devoured by walkers soon after the zombie outbreak, she blames her boyfriend and their friend – who were incapacitated on drugs at the time – allowing them to reanimate as walkers and then making them her first undead escorts. Though physically alive, she remained emotionally dead – but was able to rally herself after meeting Rick and the others.
2 Carol Peletier
Like Daryl, Carol Peletier is the other Walking Dead character who manages to actually come into her own following the advent of the walkers; unlike Daryl, however, her path has been one fraught with disaster, and it has been one that has led her to some rather unexpected places.
Carol’s transformation from an abused housewife to a fiercely independent survivor didn’t begin until both her husband and daughter are consumed by the undead. It solidified when their group ballooned at the prison, taking on several children – who she secretly trained in self-defense – and it reached a fever pitch at Terminus, where she almost singlehandedly took out the entire colony of cannibals.
Ultimately, such violence took its toll on her, and the seventh season finds Carol questioning her murderous ways (a turn which Morgan is only too happy to seize upon). But this does little to change the fact that she has become the single deadliest member of Rick’s group, making her The Walking Dead’s version of Rambo (Sylvester Stallone).
Negan may be the newest addition to the show’s cast (whether recurring or main), but the series has already more than established him as the biggest and deadliest force to reckon with in the new world order. No other individual has been able to create a following some several hundred in size or as fanatical in its devotion; no one else has been able to amass so much weaponry or to have as big a geographical footprint. In a world with no government and no military, Negan seems to have filled much of the role by himself.
All of which allows him the ability to create the most robust survival scheme out there: scouring the landscape for as many settlements as possible, he demands half of their rations, supplies, and resources in return for not wiping them all out. It works so incredibly well, he’s able to even topple Rick Grimes and Co., making him the first able to do so.
Are our survival calculations off? Did we skip your favorite survivalist? Be sure to let us know in the comments.