When we started watching The Walking Dead back in 2010, it didn't seem like the writers were going to be able to keep stretching out the plot. We'd heard of zombie movies, but this was a full-on series with no end in sight! How many times were we going to have to watch a group of ragtag survivors making a stand? Wouldn't the zombies start rotting after a while? How would they keep enough characters alive to have an actual show after even one season? But with great writing, unforgettable characters and hyperrealistic special effects, The Walking Dead became a major success. We're on Season 8 right now, and thankfully, the show still doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon.
Except for going on hiatus until February 25th after delivering the most gut-wrenching mid-season finale in the show's history. Seriously, Walking Dead writers? We're going to have to wait over a month to find out what happens next? In the meantime, check out how your favorite characters have grown since they first appeared on the show, and in the case of the ones who got eaten by walkers, what their actors are doing now. What else are you going to do until February other than watch Alexandria burn?
19 Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon)
Daryl Dixon was far from our favorite character when he first appeared on the Walking Dead, being little more than a crossbow to back up his violent, racist brother Merle. Over the course of the show, however, his marksmanship and hunting abilities lead to his becoming an important member of his band of survivors. Norman Reedus's acting abilities have had no small part in endearing Daryl to fans, playing him as a childhood victim of abuse who is constantly looking for signs of love and kindness in a world gone mad. The subtlety in Norman's acting makes Daryl's heartbreaking recent scenes of captivity so much more wrenching. There are rumors that Daryl might even replace Rick as group leader once season 8 really picks up - is top billing in the works for Norman soon?
18 Danai Gurira (Michonne)
Michonne made her first appearance on The Walking Dead beheading zombies with a samurai sword and leading two jawless walkers on leashes. If there's any character we knew was going to be a total badass, it's her, and she did not fail to live up to the hype. Her actress, Danai Gurira, does an amazing job of showing that Michonne's hardened by the apocalypse but hasn't given up completely. She continues to kick ass in every episode while developing her relationships with other characters, particularly her romance with Rick (which even though we totally saw it coming, still makes us squeal). We're on the edge of our seats waiting for this week's episode, since last week Michonne and her adopted family were dealt a pretty hard blow. After what she's done with this character, we can't wait to see where Danai goes after this!
17 Lauren Cohan (Maggie Greene)
Maggie Greene: a farmer's daughter whose family fell on some apocalyptically bad times. We watched her heartwarming relationship with Glenn grow over the course of the show - best couple on Walking Dead, anyone? - and we still haven't gotten over the blow she got dealt in Season 7. We're starting to think the Walking Dead writers actually hate us. At least they make good casting decisions - Lauren Cohan is gorgeous and down-to-earth, and absolutely the perfect choice to play a character who loves as deeply as Maggie does. For those of us who saw her first in Supernatural it was a surprise at first to hear her speak in an American accent and be playing the dirt-covered heroine rather than the sexy, high-class British villain. Girl's got some serious acting range!
16 Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes)
Rick Grimes is the lead character, group leader and central focus of the show, whether we like him or not. Okay, it's hard to hold our interest when you're literally the lead character for eight straight seasons, but after we got majorly sick of his whining in season 3 we've been basically ignoring him up until Michonne deemed him worthy of her attentions. The poor guy's gone back and forth from broken husk of a man to renewed leader and warrior so many times we have whiplash. Points to Andrew Lincoln for doing an amazing job with such a rough storyline, and managing to pull his character out of the gutter so many times over the past few years. We're looking forward to seeing how he deals with the fresh horror visited on him in last week's episode when the show comes back from hiatus in February.
15 Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier)
Carol started out the series as a battered wife, and shortly after her husband was killed and her daughter zombified, became a grieving mother who'd lost all hope. Melissa McBride does an incredible job of portraying a woman who experiences the absolute worst that life has to dish out and rises from the ashes anyway. Her beautiful friendship with Daryl makes us go "awww" any time they're on screen together, and we love the way she's become the designated medical member of the group after Hershel's shocking and brutal death. We hope we're going to see a lot more Carol in season 8. As for Melissa McBride, it seems like she's focusing her considerable energies on this role for now, but we hope to see her bring strong female characters to life on the big screen.
14 Steven Yeun (Glenn Rhee)
Glenn was a fan favorite from the moment he led Rick away from a horde of zombies in Atlanta. He went from running and hiding at every turn to being one of the most valuable members of the group of survivors, both for his strategic smarts and his fighting skills. And of course, he's one half of the cutest couple since he and Maggie got together back in Season 2. His brutal and shocking death last season caught us completely by surprise - can't they warn us to break out the tissues before they go and kill Glenn? - and we find ourselves asking, what's Steven Yeun going to do next? His next project seems to be the new show Final Space on TBS. Do we miss Glenn enough that we'll actually watch a show about an alien named Mooncake? We'll see in February.
13 Christian Serratos (Rosita Espinosa)
Christian Serratos got her start in Twilight, which despite having vampires as its subject has to be the least bloody fantasy/scifi franchise in recent history. She's making up for it as Walking Dead's Rosita, a medical assistant at Alexandria gone on the run with the militia. Impulsive and obsessed with vengeance after watching Negan club Abraham and Glenn to death (honey, we're right there with you), she recklessly tried to take on the Saviors single-handed. In Season 8, Sasha's sacrifice has taught her to be more cautious and look out for the welfare of others in her group, but she's still willing to help Daryl with his plan to take on the Saviors. We last saw her going down into the sewers with Alexandria burning all around her. Let's hope she makes it out alive in February!
12 Lennie James (Morgan Jones)
Morgan was introduced as a level-headed survivor bent on keeping his son alive in Season 1, but after his son died, he went completely off the rails. Fortunately, with the help of his wooden zombie-killing club and a newfound skill for martial arts, he became as sane as any character ever gets on The Walking Dead. Up until the middle of Season 7, he refused to kill any human beings ever again, reserving his ass-kicking exclusively for the undead. With the death of his surrogate son Benjamin, however, he's gone into Season 8 with full-on violence, determined to kill every last one of the Saviors no matter how many innocents get caught in the crossfire. Lennie James, with his nuanced take on the character, makes us still feel for Morgan no matter where he is on the Zen warrior to violent vigilante spectrum.
11 Laurie Holden (Andrea Harrison)
Andrea was one of the few characters whose death on The Walking Dead did not cause us to shed a single tear. She was never that likeable to begin with, especially since she clearly did not appreciate everything Michonne sacrificed for her, and sleeping with the Governor was the last straw. Listen, Andrea, there are bad boys and then there are guys who keep decapitated heads in their man cave. How did you not run straight back to the prison when you saw that? A zombie bite in the neck is not a good way to go, but our sympathy was pretty strained at that point. Since Laurie Holden left the show she's had roles in a number of not-too-successful TV series. Let's hope she knows not to take any more roles where her character's bae is an evil dictator.
10 Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori Grimes)
A Walking Dead fan unfavorite, Lori Grimes spent too much time losing Carl, dabbling in love triangles and nagging Rick to win viewers' hearts. Still, Sarah did a great job of showing a mother's love for her children in her final scene, where Lori gave her life for little Judith. Admittedly, we're not sure if Carl's ever going to get over shooting his mother in the head after slicing his baby sister from her womb, but Lori couldn't help getting her family into that particular situation. Sarah Wayne Callies has since been playing the much more sympathetic Dr. Sara Tancredi on Prison Break, where she goes from kind prison doctor to conspiracy victim. It's good to see her in a role where she can finally have a chance to exercise her acting skills!
9 David Morrissey ("The Governor")
For a character with a short tenure on the show, The Governor sure packed one hell of a punch. As the first real human villain of the series, David Morrissey was convincing as a megalomaniacal nutcase who was polite and kind in public, but secretly keeps a collection of zombie heads in fish tanks (come on, Andrea, how was that not a relationship killer?) He completely lost it when his zombie daughter met Michonne's katana, swearing vengeance against her and the entire group of survivors at the prison. Of course, most people who try to kill Michonne end up dead, and The Governor was no exception. Now David Morrissey seems to be finished with television, taking to the stage at various theaters in London (in one recent play, he was the hangman!)
8 Alanna Masterson (Tara Chambler)
Tara forever has our gratitude for helping Glenn escape the prison and find Maggie again (even though she was one of the people attacking the prison in the first place). We teared up a little when Rick forgave her for being one of the initial attackers. After losing her girlfriend and her friends to the Saviors, she's just as vengeful as the rest of the characters in Season 8, and we know we're going to see her kick some serious ass. Alanna Masterson got her start as a child actress on legendary soap The Young and the Restless, but as she ramps up Tara's character it seems like The Walking Dead is going to be her big break, and science fiction series her signature. We hope we're going to see more of her in February!
7 Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha Williams)
Major props to Sonequa Martin-Green for shooting Season 5 while pregnant. In typical Walking Dead style, she hid the baby bump by using larger and larger guns in her scenes. She took Sasha through a tricky character arc, from lone wolf survivor to PTSD-addled, angry Alexandrian markswoman who used family pictures for target practice to Maggie Greene's protector and BFF. When, captured by Negan, she took suicide pills rather than shoot at her friends, the show lost a key sniper and seasons of character development. Still, who can argue with Sonequa's decision to take the lead role in Star Trek: Discovery? We're excited to see this actress at the centre of her own show, and honestly, she'll probably do a better job of it than Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes.
6 Jon Bernthal (Shane Walsh)
Best friend sleeps with your wife, becomes a total jerk when she goes back to you, and turns into a flesh-eating monster? What a week, right? Shane's done a lot during his short tenure on The Walking Dead, so we salute Jon Bernthal's acting chops. Since he left the show he's played a Jersey money launderer on Wolf of Wall Street and a tattooed bank robber in Baby Driver. Right now he's earning his salary as one-man army Frank Castle on Netflix's The Punisher. After so many years of being the villain, the sleazebag, or both, it must be a relief for Jon to play one of the good guys. And honestly, he looks a damned sight better in Punisher body armor than in sweaty, torn up zombie apocalypse wear.
5 Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes)
Look at Carl, all grown up! We have to admit, it was beyond annoying in the first season when he was basically a plot device that wandered off where he shouldn't go in the first place and nearly got eaten by zombies so Lori could scream at Rick again. But as the show progressed and both character and actor grew up, we got to see him turn into a long-haired, one-eye zombie killer and friend to many in the group of survivors. After he got bitten by a walker last episode, we're not sure Chandler Riggs is going to stay on the show any longer. What's next for an actor who spent his formative years taking down zombies? Maybe he'll head over to Star Trek with Sonequa, or join a Western series so he can keep wearing a cowboy hat. Either way, it looks like he's happy to finally cut his hair.
4 Josh McDermitt (Eugene Porter)
Eugene was first seen claiming to be a scientist so he didn't have to pull his weight with Abraham and Rosita, and of course he joined the Saviors so he could continue to survive while putting forth the least effort humanly possible. We do have to give him credit for having some pretty smart ideas, even if he mostly uses his intelligence to keep himself safe. He seems to be showing some selflessness in his last appearance, when he got Father Gabriel out of the Sanctuary and on the road to the Hilltop, but he doesn't seem like he's leaving the evil Saviors anytime soon. Hopefully Eugene's character escapes being a one-dimensional villain, or Josh McDermitt is going to get typecast as an alcoholic bad guy who's always wishing he can change but is too much of a coward to take a leap to the good side.
3 Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel Stokes)
It took Father Gabriel a long time to come around to the idea of killing anybody, even walkers. We had a lot of trouble sympathizing with him as he was basically a dead weight for the group to carry around, and told the guard at Alexandria that Rick's group were evil for just trying to survive - not cool, dude! As of Season 8, he's back to being a member of Rick's militia, and now that he's willing to kill not just walkers but hostile humans as well, a pretty useful one. It looks like he's headed for Hilltop after the hiatus, despite his being laid up in an infirmary the last time we saw him. What's next for Father Gabriel? Hopefully he'll continue being a warrior as well as a priest for the time being.
2 Austin Amelio (Dwight)
Dwight made his first appearance as a despicable villain in Season 6, a member of the Saviors who captured Daryl and stole his motorcycle, even after Daryl saved him from walkers. When the Saviors melted half his face as punishment, it didn't dampen his fervor to serve them - he ended up one of the highest-ranked members. What made him turn against the Saviors was his ex-wife, Sherry, leaving first him and the Sanctuary itself. Now he's a badass double agent, collecting information on the Saviors and shooting coded crossbows into the air to communicate with Daryl. Austin Amelio plays a great dirtbag villain turned spy for the good guys, and if his Instagram page is anything to go by, he's something of a redneck himself. Talk about method acting!
1 Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon)
Merle first came onto the show as a loudmouthed bully who was so disruptive he ended up chained to a pipe on the roof, and so tough he cut off his own hand to get free. He joined the evil Governor and became his lackey, but in the end, rejoined Rick's group - only to die in his attempt to kill the governor. Poor Daryl had to go through the trauma of finishing off zombie Merle. There's one thing for sure: Michael Rooker plays a good villain with a heart of gold. Most recently he brought the same abilities that made him play Merle so well in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, where he played sometimes villain, sometime ally, always blue Yondu. Like Merle, Yondu recently gave up his life for the greater good. We're sorry that we won't be seeing Michael Rooker in either franchise anymore.