In nine seasons of The Walking Dead dozens of characters have been introduced. In search of a safe home from the dead, Rick Grimes and his family, both blood and adopted, meet a diverse company of people. People who start out as enemies become friends and some friends become enemies.
The group journeys around Georgia and to Virginia facing a number of foes and obstacles. Through it all some characters have changed enormously while others haven’t changed much at all. But just because a character changes, it doesn’t mean it makes sense. Here are some of the best and most disappointing character arcs in the series.
11 Disappointing: Beth Greene
Beth’s was an arc interrupted. Mostly known in the beginning as “Hershel’s other daughter”, she spends a lot of time in the background. When the prison falls, Beth comes into her own. On the run with Daryl, she proves herself tough but compassionate and eager to learn anything she can from him. But she's kidnapped and wakes up as a prisoner in Grady hospital. After a failed escape attempt she decides to kill her captors, but stops when they bring in a severely-injured Carol.
Her abuse at the hands of the police officers at Grady Hospital would have made the younger Beth crumble, but it makes the new Beth stronger and wiser. So, it's confusing when a stupid decision on her part ends up killing her in front of her family just as they came to the rescue. All of her growth had no purpose in the end.
10 Best: Father Gabriel
Father Gabriel is not someone expected to last long in the zombie apocalypse. He's weak and a coward. After joining the group he continues to be a hindrance, putting the team in danger more than once. And after arriving safely in Alexandria, he sells out Rick and his group as people that can't be trusted.
He turns on Sasha and Maggie but their pain makes him re-examine who he is. He learns to fight from Carl. When a horde attacks Alexandria, he keeps Judith safe, and then charges into the fray, inspiring others to join him. He becomes one of Rick’s most trusted allies and someone who leads with compassion but isn't afraid to fight. Who knows where his story will go next, but it’s been an interesting journey.
9 Disappointing: Aaron
When Aaron appears in Season 5, he's immediately intriguing. As Alexandria’s scout, he's trusted to bring back groups or individuals that will integrate into their community. He hits it off with Daryl and gives him a job as his scouting partner. He's fair, practical, intelligent, and brave.
Aaron suffers in the war with Negan. He sees Glenn and Abraham and later his boyfriend Eric murdered in front of him. But he still stays the same. He adopts Gracie, keeps an eye on Enid and becomes friends with Jesus. In Season 9, a rare misstep is with Aaron’s character. When the Whisperers murder Jesus, Aaron suddenly agrees with Michonne that they need to cut off contact from everyone. After everything else he’s lost, it's an abrupt switch. Maybe the biggest issue is that Aaron hasn’t gotten enough development overall. A character can’t have an arc if they don’t have a storyline.
8 Best: Carol (Seasons 1-4)
Carol Peletier is introduced as an abused, shrinking woman whose primary concern is her daughter Sophia. There are glimpses of a woman with humor and spirit, but her husband squelches it. Her husband is killed, her daughter disappears but she doesn’t change a lot. Once her daughter dies, she seems to lose her identity, but slowly, she gains strength and cunning. She becomes a force to be reckoned with, and pragmatic to a fault.
She doesn’t hesitate to make tough decisions and follow through with them, even when it means killing two sick people at the prison or killing a psychotic young girl who she’s taken under her wing.
7 Disappointing: Rick Grimes
It’s not that Rick doesn’t have his reasons for acting the way he does, it’s that he never seems to remember that he’s done it all before. Taken individually, the cycles all make sense. Rick starts out reasonable, hoping to find a community or a safe place or allies in this new world.
He finds some good people or some good place. Some people attack him. He tries to find a peaceable solution. They attack him again. He goes berserker rage mode and kills everything in sight. Lather, rinse repeat. It may have been good at one time, but we've tired of this cycle by now.
6 Best: Hershel Greene
When Rick and his family meet Hershel at the beginning of Season 2, he’s a stern, unwelcoming patriarch. He saves Carl’s life, but wants the group gone once Carl’s healed. He doesn't accept that walkers are dead, and keeps a group of them in his barn waiting for a cure. After Shane demonstrates that the walkers are truly dead, Hershel gives up. But for his daughters, Hershel turns things around.
At the prison, he loses his leg, but it doesn’t slow him down. He doctors anyone who needs it. After they seemingly defeat the Governor, he takes Rick under his wing, showing him a less violent way of life. His acceptance of the realities of the new world don’t break him, they bring out the best in him. His execution by the Governor is still somehow peaceful. The last thing he sees is Rick taking everything he’s taught him and trying to make peace.
4 Disappointing: Negan
Negan begins as a terrifying villain. Initially, he’s not seen, just spoken about with reverence by his followers. When he finally appears, the first thing he does is brutally murder Abraham and then Glenn. He takes Daryl but lets the rest of the group go to work for him. He guts Spencer and has one of his flunkies murder Olivia, and kidnaps Eugene. His tyrannical behavior incites an all-out war which he nearly wins until Eugene sabotages him.
After his loss, Rick imprisons him. Negan tries to sow seeds of discontent and hopes to make people so angry that they kill him, but he fails. By the end of the most recent season, the show seems determined to portray him as reformed. Though he commits some of the worst crimes on the show, because he liked Carl and likes Judith, he’s redeemed. He escapes from Alexandria but returns. He saves Judith from a snowstorm. So is he a good guy now? And if so, why?
3 Best: Carl Grimes
Carl starts as a cute kid who loves his parents and is overjoyed when his father returns to them. Then he discovers his mother slept with his father’s best friend (when she thought Rick was dead), he gets shot, and he loses his closest friend all in a short amount of time. After his mother dies in childbirth he continues to descend into darkness. He murders a kid who was surrendering to him, and his father decides things need to change.
Despite his father trying to engage him in other ways, Carl still wants to fight. On the road, he finally starts to come around thanks to his friendship with Michonne. In Alexandria, he grows up a lot. After all the death he’s seen, he realizes that you still need something to live for. And when he’s bitten helping Siddiq, he urges his father to find peaceful solutions. He dies with a desire for the world to be better and ensures that those still left are working towards that better world.
2 Disappointing: Maggie Greene Rhee
The biggest problem with Maggie is that almost her entire story involves Glenn. When we first meet her, she’s a tough, brave young woman, but her main role is as Glenn’s romantic interest. As the series progresses all of her main stories revolve around Glenn. The first time we see her for any length of time without Glenn is when they’re separated in Season 4 and the entire time her only goal is to find Glenn.
When they reach Alexandria, there were hints to her taking a leadership role, but they don’t lead anywhere until after Glenn is murdered. Even as she takes over Hilltop, much of her drive is getting revenge for Glenn’s death. And then she just went to live with the other community with no warning. Maggie has appeared in the fourth-highest number of episodes of the series. Why didn’t she have more character development in that time?
1 Best: Michonne
Michonne arrives as the most closed-off character. She’s a valuable ally, but doesn’t ingratiate herself into the family. There are glimpses of what has happened to her, but she keeps it all close to the chest. It’s not until she escapes the prison and meets up with Rick and Carl that she opens up a bit. Her first bond isn’t with Rick, but with Carl. He’s the one she tells about her son who died in an attack.
She becomes hopeful. She falls in love with Rick and becomes mother to his kids. After Carl dies, she reminds Rick of the world Carl wanted. And when Rick dies, she carries on because she’s still a mother to Judith and their own child, RJ. A deep trauma causes her to shut Alexandria off to the world, to protect her family. But Judith convinces her to open up again. And even with the attack on the fair, it seems that Michonne will continue to be optimistic.