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Best Character Evolutions in The Walking Dead

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Monsters Either Join the Dead or Become Something More...

The Walking Dead has ended after twelve incredible years on television. There were a lot of great stories along the way, but in this universe, with great stories come lives lost. Some were deserving, some…. not so much. Some characters were easily forgotten, while others stuck with viewers to the very end. Worth more than the tragic passing of lovable and not-so-lovable characters are the journeys that each went on to become who they needed to be. We could argue that only monsters get to survive in the land of the dead, but no one needs to be a monster forever.

Fortunately, not everyone on this list had to perish. Some managed to make it to the end of the series and others will see their stories continue in eventual spin-off shows. But to get to this point, each of these characters changed in ways to become stronger and more interesting than they were when the show started. Some were weak and became true warriors in the zombie apocalypse. On the opposite side of the spectrum, others were already formidable before society collapsed but were just forced to sacrifice their humanity for the sake of others. When the world changes for the worst, it takes those who survive with it, but whether they become monsters is entirely up to them. Here are the seven best character evolutions from The Walking Dead.

7. Shane Walsh

When the world collapsed, Shane became a natural leader and led many people to safety. Becoming a leader in a zombie apocalypse is no easy task, especially when being depended on to ensure survival, but Shane was more than up for the task. The dutiful best friend of Rick Grimes made sure to get his friend’s wife and son to safety if nothing else. However, things quickly unraveled for Shane when Rick made an unexpected return. Soon, the camp he had established was attacked and many survivors were lost, for which Shane received the bulk of the blame. But that wasn’t the worst part for him. For Shane, the worst part was losing Lori and Carl back to Rick, and for the woman he had grown to love to resent him. This in turn catapulted Shane to act on the worst impulses of humanity in order to outdo Rick. Shane was basically years ahead of the rest of the group in terms of being cold-blooded for the sake of survival, all while Rick was trying to play both sides. Sure, Shane’s motivations were mainly selfish and part of a mental unraveling for the character, but by the time he was gone, Rick had seen the hard way that he couldn’t afford to play nice anymore, and it was all thanks to his former best friend.  

6. Glenn Rhea 

Walker Bait came a long way before his untimely death at the start of season seven. In the series start, Glenn was the dutiful and obedient helper to the group, willing to risk his life for others when asked, with no care for whether or not it was what he wanted to do. By all sense, he was just a boy when the show started. However, time and circumstance saw Glenn really step into his own as a soldier of the new world. No longer was he willing to risk his life at the request of others. He did it because it was the right thing to do. If he hadn’t become a Walker-killing expert for the sake of his friends, then he certainly did so for the sake of love. Maggie and Glenn’s whirlwind romance helped catapult the former pizza boy into becoming a man who would gladly give his life to save Maggie. When the prison fell, he knew everyone was likely dead, but he was never willing for a second to believe that his wife hadn’t survived.

5. Merle Dixon

Merle’s run on The Walking Dead may have been short, but he left quite the impression, as his character is wont to do. When fans first met the belligerent racist loudmouth, he wasn’t someone fans wanted to make it to the next episode. It was his just deserts to be left chained to a rooftop with Walkers closing in, but the redneck refused to die. It was only a matter of time before he reappeared again. Despite being on the wrong side of a growing conflict, fans quickly got behind Merle because he remained loyal to his brother Daryl even though he was technically an enemy. Fans wanted to believe he could be better than he was, and on some level, so did Merle. Unfortunately, he understood that Daryl’s new family would never fully accept him as part of the group. It was his final effort to protect his brother by ambushing The Governor’s party alone, one that cost Merle his life. He would never know it, but the group knew he sacrificed his life for them. More importantly, for Daryl.

Character

4. Negan

No one was able to push Rick, and his group to the edge like this guy could. Negan was despised from his very first appearance on screen. With his signature barbed wire bat and colorful language, Negan made Rick’s group feel real fear. He then solidified himself as the most despised and dangerous villain in the show to date when he killed not only Abraham but Glenn Rhea, a huge fan favorite. The man who had committed such atrocities as coercing women to be his wives through fear, sanctioning the murder of men, women, and children alike as well as wiping out entire communities, Negan deserved death more than any other villain on the show at the point. However, Rick instead had him imprisoned for nearly eight years. By the time he was freed, he was a brand-new Negan in search of atonement and redemption for his past actions. It’s amazing when someone can go from the most despised to the most beloved, showcasing storytelling at its finest. Some may argue that Negan will never fully be forgiven for his crimes, which is understandable given the many lives lost because of him, but fans are with him every step of the way. His story will continue in the new Walking Dead spin-off series Dead City, which will see Maggie and Negan continue their story in the remnants of New York City.

3. Daryl Dixon

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree in terms of Daryl and his brother Merle. Fans might not have liked Daryl when they first met him because he was every bit like his brother, except for one key difference. It was clear from the start that Daryl was a soldier of the new world. One look and we could tell that Daryl was just built differently, which is probably why he quickly took over the show as the most popular character. The show’s producers were quick to hop on this momentum, and soon enough, Daryl went from a belligerent racist like his brother to a warrior ready to throw down for his group. He became a protector to his friends and brother to Rick, who was pointing a gun at Daryl regularly at the start, and a surrogate father figure to Rick’s kids later on. And we’re not even going to talk about the fact that Daryl spent more time looking for Rick than he did his actual brother. It was a pretty quick shift for Daryl, but it would seem that all he needed to change for the better was to find a real family.

2. Carol Pelletier 

There’s no talking about character evolutions in The Walking Dead without talking about Carol Pelletier. How does this woman go from being a meek and defenseless abuse survivor to one of the most dangerous people in the entire show? Apparently, it takes a lot of trauma and loss. Just like her comic book counterpart, no one would have expected Carol to live to the end of the series from looking at her, seeing as she couldn’t survive without the help of others. Four seasons later, Carol is killing her own group mates in the name of survival. One more season after that, she’s single-handedly destroying Terminus to rescue her friends from becoming dinner. Carol’s transformation into a cold and calculated killer is one of the highlights of the series. Despite her cold exterior, there’s still part of her clinging on to the humanity she once had, which included her being a mother. Carol tried her hand at raising kids a few times throughout the series, but it never seems to end well, especially not for her kids. It’s a real shame that Melissa McBride will not be continuing her character’s journey in the Daryl Dixon-centered spin-off.

1. Rick Grimes

The one who’s gone through arguably the most change over the series is the star himself. At the start of the series, Rick was still very much the straight-laced cop that always tried to save everyone, but as time progressed and the world got worse, he was forced to be a bit more practical. He eventually started pushing others away and avoided letting anyone join the group out of fear they may betray him as his best friend had. Rick kept those in his circle close and did anything to defend them, becoming a cold-hearted killer in the process. He eventually tried to shed these ways when the prison society began to thrive, but only became even more cold-blooded when it collapsed, becoming a monster that could even overshadow Carol. However, as cold as Rick could be, he always found his humanity again in the darkest times. By the time he left the show, he was attempting to push his fellow survivors past their instinct to fight and kill one another to get them to survive together. Rick understood that killing one’s enemies was easy, but learning to coexist, to actually live at the end of the world, was the next step in rebuilding society without fear, at least if he wanted to one day stop fighting.

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