Being a woman is not easy. Not even in TV-Land. In fact, we could even say “especially” not in TV Land. Everything is, after all, magnified. The characters we see on the screen are us (with stylists and better outfits), they just get hit hard and then harder and harder and harder, because …well, that’s why we watch, isn’t it?
And yet, they also rise. They shatter stereotypes. They make us cry and scream and relate to them in ways we never thought were possible. And that’s why, in this list, we honor the woman who made an impact this year – be it on their shows or in the fandom. Because these women were a force of nature.
They made waves. They brought the storm. They made TV better.
So, without further ado, here’s our list of female TV characters who were a force of nature in 2016:
Annalise Keating, HTGAWM
Annalise Keating takes no shit from anyone. No, really. She is who she is, unapologetically, and she doesn’t care if you think she should act another way, dress differently or any of the other stereotypes women in her position have to deal with. And yet, she’s not perfect. She’s anything but perfect. She’s a complete and utter mess, and that’s what makes us love her, that we get to see the good and the bad, that she’s real.
Eleven, Stranger Things
From the moment Eleven stepped out of the forest we knew we were in for a treat. In the span of a couple days she lived an entire lifetime. She experienced love, friendship, family, what it meant to sacrifice, and how delicious Eggo’s were. And despite all the challenges she faced (freaky Demogorgon, the Upside Down, that government agency led by her “father”) and the pockets of life experience she was missing out on, she did it with a bravery unmatched by anyone on Stranger Things. We could only hope to be as brave as Eleven.
Maggie Greene, The Walking Dead
Watching a bat wielding maniac brutalize and kill her husband right in front of her, didn’t destroy Maggie Greene. In fact, it made her stronger. Maggie is one of those rare people who takes the memory of those lost and turns it into a fire to survive. This time around, the fire is not only for herself, but for her child. Maggie has no qualms about assuming power in her new home of Hilltop and will do what she must to secure her new home without destroying the kindness and humility she holds inside.
Mary Winchester, Supernatural
Twelve seasons in, no one expected Supernatural to take a leap like bringing back Mary Winchester. And they didn’t just bring back the motherly, white gown, advice giving cliche, they brought back a hunter with issues they had no plans of ignoring. Mary chose herself and her recovery, a huge move for her character development, to mourn the people she’d lost because she was smart enough to recognize that it would be a problem in the long run. And when death gave her an out, she stuck to her guns and stayed for the opportunity to get to know her children again.
Demelza Poldark, Poldark
“Started from the bottom, now we here,” should be Demelza’s catch phrase. Scrawny, fierce, and loyal, Demelza rose from street urchin to lady of her own house without losing what we loved about her. In a time where your social/family status was the determining factor of everything, she never let anyone push her around or tell her what kind of person she was supposed to be. Demelza made her own path in life and everyone, including her foolish husband Ross’, were no match for her.
Amy Santiago, Brooklyn 99
Amy Santiago is, quite possibly, the least stereotypical latina character on TV. Amy is who she is, a tad awkward and shy, not so well-versed in social interactions, extremely good at her job, and very, very different from the over-the-top latinas that usually grace our screens, which is sorta the thing that makes her so great. She’s the flag bearer for the idea that all stereotypes are wrong, and not all latinos are the same, which shouldn’t even need to be said, but here we are.
Melissa McCall, Teen Wolf
Parents sometimes don’t get enough credit in supernatural TV shows. They’re usually suspicious, absent or unaware of what’s happening. Not Melissa McCall. She knows about the supernatural shenanigans her son and his friends are up to and is always there to lend a helping hand. She stands as a protective, funny, no-nonsense, trustworthy, and loyal woman who will step out her comfort zone for those she loves. Her story is also defined by more than her son. She has adventures, particularly this season, that her werewolf son hasn’t even gotten around to. Melissa McCall is what supporting characters should be like.
Peggy Carter, Agent Carter
There’s bad-ass before Peggy Carter, and there’s bad-ass after Peggy Carter. Because Peggy was strong, take-charge woman in an era where most women aspired only to be wives and mothers. And she never apologized for being smart, never attempted to make herself like the others to fit in and she certainly never tried to change to conform to anyone’s expectations. Peggy Carter broke the mold, and after her, a new one had to be made. A better one.
Claire Temple, Luke Cage
Claire Temple has no superpowers. She doesn’t wear a mask, and run around saving strangers at night, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a hero. She saves the heroes, and that makes her doubly important, doesn’t it? She’s also the smart, level-headed voice of reason our heroes need from time to time, and through it all, Claire still has time to be …well, Claire. Never let it be said that Claire Temple was just a nurse, nope.
Caroline Forbes, The Vampire Diaries
Caroline Forbes took to being a vampire as easily as it to breathe. Sure, she had a couple hiccups here and there, as expected, but she thrived as a vampire. While others lost themselves to their bloodlust, Caroline became a pillar of control who wanted and could have all that life had to offer her. She found love multiple times, kicked ass when required to protect her friends, kept up with her education, worked on her relationship with her mom, and had kids! Caroline is a multi-tasking BAMF who’s got no time for her own supernatural biology to tell her how to do things.
Maze is a literal badass. She can kick your ass with her eyes closed without breaking a sweat. But Maze is not just a warrior, she’s a woman, she’s a friend, she’s a lover, she’s the perfect example of how to write females who kick ass without getting stuck in a stereotype. Sure, she has her ups and downs and sometimes she makes mistakes, but she never shuts down a part of her personality completely because of it. Maze is Maze. You better get used to it.
Emily Rhodes, Designated Survivor
Don’t tell Emily Rhodes that she doesn’t belong, that she can’t do it, that another person will out-work her, or that someone is more qualified. Because Emily Rhodes can out-think you, out prepare-you, and certainly outsmart you. And she can do it while wearing a suit and heels. Most importantly, she does all this without being a robot, without becoming a stereotype. She’s just who she is, and she’s damn good at what she does, at the same time.
Iris West, The Flash
Iris West is not just Barry Allen’s girlfriend, not Wally West’s sister, not Joe West’s daughter. She’s Iris, a smart, caring, dedicated, bad-ass reporter in her own right and though she might not be the hero of this story, that doesn’t mean she’s just the love interest either. And though we wish The Flash writers would recognize how awesome she is and give her much more to do, we still thank them for creating her. Because she’s still a role model, just as she is.
Lydia Martin, Teen Wolf
Lydia has come far from the girl we met in season 1 of Teen Wolf. She’s shed that vapid, popular girl persona that she wore as a shield to keep people away. Now she’s a confident young woman who always follows her gut instinct and never gives up on her friends or loved ones. She stays when others run and believes in the unthinkable when others let doubt stop them. Lydia is a force to be reckoned and one of the main reasons why Stiles, one of the only men that saw how brilliant she was from the start, will be saved from the Ghost Riders. In Lydia Martin we trust!
Lucy Preston, Timeless
Lucy’s a student of history, a woman who deals in facts. She’s a literal BAMF who’s at the top of her field. And yet Lucy is also a daughter, a sister, and someone who desperately cares, not just for her team, but for people she’s’ never even met. (Also someone who fangirls about historical figures – how cute is that?!) When her brain and her heart come into conflict, Lucy wants to choose brains, but she’s learning to trust her heart, and that’s what makes her not just an interesting character, but a relatable one.
Felicity Smoak, Arrow
Though the writing has failed her of late, Felicity Smoak still makes the list because she’s Felicity Smoak. She’s smarter than all of us combined, she’s funny and she’s the light of Arrow, plain and simple. She’s not a woman who will be put down, not a woman who’ll settle for less than she deserves, and she’s certainly not anyone’s sidekick, comedic relief or shoulder to cry on. And though life might literally put more than a few bullets on her, she’ll still get up. She’ll keep fighting. That’s what heroes do.
Jules Thomas, Sweet/Vicious
Jules did not let the pain of her rape pull her down and define her as a victim. Instead she transformed that trauma into becoming a vigilante and fighting back for those who couldn’t. She became more than a survivor. She became a hero. Every episode of Sweet/Vicious we get an opportunity to see Jules regain and redefine the relationships in her life and discover what kind of woman she wants to be from here on out. Her experiences, minus the vigilante lifestyle, are an example of what true recovery looks like.
Sansa Stark, Game of Thrones
For years, Sansa Stark had been the timid one, the passive one, even the victim. But Season 6 Sansa Stark is not the Sansa Stark of seasons 1-5, no. This is a woman who took everything that was thrown at her and made herself stronger. This is a warrior in pretty dresses, because who says you can only be a warrior if you carry a sword? Who says you have to stay behind and wait for the men to fix your problems? Who says you can’t save the day? Not Sansa Stark, that’s for sure.
Regina Mills, Once Upon A Time
The greatest fight you can possibly have is the fight against the worst parts of yourself, and Regina has taken that fight to extremes this year. Literal extremes. And yet, in a way, she’s also learned to reconcile with all the pain she inflicted on others, she’s learned to trust again, to rely on her family, to hope. And though she’s had her missteps and her journey is far from done, the Regina Mills of 2016 is a better person than the one from 2015. And isn’t that the goal?
Emily Gilmore, Gilmore Girls
For a woman like Emily Gilmore losing her husband is tantamount to losing everything. And yet, despite that fact that she always said she couldn’t make it through alone, she did. She got up and she moved forward. She figured out who she was without Richard, what she wanted to do, where she wanted to be. She found herself in a way she probably never had before. And through the pain, Emily, amazingly enough, found a way to be happy.
Lexa, The 100
Gone too soon, Lexa wasn’t just an intriguing character with a lot of promise cut short, she became an inspiration, she started a movement, and that’s why, even though she’s gone, she’s never quite out of our minds. Great characters are not just what the creators make of them, they’re what the fans take away, and in a way, continue to carry forward. We’ll never know what Lexa could have been on-screen, but we know what she became out of it – a symbol.
Claire Fraser, Outlander
Claire both defies expectations and fulfills them. She’s as strong as we expect her to be, and yet as devastated about what the world throws at her as we are. She adapts to change really quickly, and she moves forward, though. Maybe not in the way her daughter would have liked, but hey, it’s hard to go on when half of our heart is missing. Just surviving is sometimes a feat. Raising a daughter and managing a successful career as well? We’ll call that a win.
Emma Swan, Once Upon A Time
Emma Swan is the literal savior, not just of Storybrooke, but of her family, and even her true love, the once fearsome pirate. And yet, what makes her a savior is not destiny, is choice. She could have thrown in the towel many times, she could have said: this is too hard, someone else do it. But that’s not who Emma Swan is. She loves too deeply to ever consider not trying her best, not just for the people she loves, but for everyone. That’s who Emma is. A fairy-tale hero in her own right.
Kensi Blye, NCISLA
Kensi’s had a rough time as of late, but if anything, that’s just shown us how strong she truly is, how determined. Because hey, Kensi Blye is not going to get taken down by anything, not even an actual helicopter falling on top of her. She’s going to ace her physical therapy, just as she’s aced every test she’s ever faced in her life, and she’s going to walk down the aisle to marry the love of her life, after she’s back full-time as an NCISLA agent. That’s just the Kensi Blye way.
Alex Danvers, Supergirl
Alex Danvers was already a badass DEO agent and a great sister, but in her personal life, she was kinda lost. This year, she found herself, and at the same time, she gave us one of the most real and heartfelt coming out stories TV has seen in years. It was confusing, and it was hard, and there was fear and pain, but Alex came through on the other side better, happier, and so did we. Thank you so much for existing, Alex Danvers.
Dana Scully, The X-Files
Dana Katherine Scully was a role-model before TV was as populated by role models as it is today, and the good news is she hasn’t changed a bit. In fact, if anything, she’s gotten better. You can’t improve perfection, they say, unless you’re Dana Scully. Because her 2016 version is just as smart, just as caring, just as capable of taking care of herself, and, if possible, less inclined to fall for BS. And in the world Scully lives in, that’s a very important quality.
Ginny Baker, Pitch
The thing with Ginny Baker is not just that she’s the first female to ever play professional baseball, is that she’s every woman who’s ever had to go to work in an office filled with guys, every woman who’s ever had to be told she wasn’t as good as a man, every woman who’s ever been judged for being a woman. She’s all of us, even if she isn’t. And if she stumbles, that’s fine. We’ve got Ginny’s back. Just like she’s got ours.
Agree? Disagree? Have more amazing women you think should have made the list? Share with us in the comments below!