Teaching the Dead: Character Archetypes

What I’m going to say is going to sound a bit crazy to some people, and that’s OK, but just withhold your judgment on my sanity until you read through my latest lesson……..


The Walking Dead is a fantasy.

Yep, fantasy. As in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Nardia, etc.


Why do I say that? Because of the classical fantasy archetypes and structure the show uses.

Just stick with me on this one. I promise it will make sense.

A fantasy, in essence, is a story of a hero on a journey. The journey is both physical and one of maturity. Usually, the hero is presented with a task, one he is reluctant to take on. The task sets him on this journey and pits him against the powers of evil. He meets several characters along the way that help him along his journey.

Sound familiar?

The fantasy genre also is known for having very specific archetype characters, characters that fill a certain role in the story and the journey of the hero. Besides the hero, these are the following roles:

The companion – a loyal companion, helpful to the hero, rarely questioning him but providing him support and encouragement to stay on the right track, usually acts as the voice of the audienceThe warrior princess – a kick ass female who fights along side the hero

The wise mentor= usually an older sage that provides wisdom and cousel for the hero. It is imperative the mentor is removed from the heroes life during the journey so the hero can take the mentor’s lessons with him and carry on alone

Sidekicks – comic relief. Seemingly bumbling characters that provide some sort of commentary on the action. Usually become very helpful to the hero at a key point in the journey.

the personification of Evil – the antagonist. the “bad guy.” he represents everything the hero is fighting against.

minions – helpers of Evil

magical tool – a weapon or tool that helps the main character on his journey, usually it’s a symbol of good or hope

The rogue – wise cracking warrior who is used to going it alone until meeting the hero and joining the journey. Towards the end of the journey, he “softens up” and shows his heart.

Destination – where there is safety, or where the ultimate battle will take place​

It’s important to note that several characters can be the same archetype, and that one character can fill several roles. Think of any fantasy movie and you can certainly make the characters fit. I like to use Star Wars the 1978 original as an example (its more fantasy than SciFi).

  • Luke – the hero, on a physical journey to deliver a message, and a journey of maturity
  • Hans Solo – the rogue and companion
  • Leia – warrior princess
  • Mentor – Obi Wan, killed during the journey
  • Chewie, R2D2 and C3PO – sidekicks
  • Darth Vadar- personification of Evil
  • Minions – Stormtroopers
  • Magical tool – lightsabar
  • Destination – Death Star

Go ahead and use Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and any other fantasy movie or game and you’ll see the same pattern.

Along the way, the hero must go through the following:

1. realizing his journey, although not fully understanding it at first. a reluctant hero
2. gaining procession of his “magical tool”
3. meeting his mentor, and his companions
4. facing his evil counterpart, who underestimates him at first.
5. losing his mentor
6. losing his faith in himself
7. temptation to the dark side
8. the rogue, companion, or messages of the mentor bring him back around
9. a final face off with evil. Sometimes this face off is not face to face, and although the hero wins the battle, the Evil survives for another battle.
10. a final all out battle pitting all the forces of evil against all the forces of good
11. the hero comes into his “power” or maturity​

Once again, think of your fave fantasy game or movie and it will fit. It’s a standard format using in nearly all fantasy genres, and although it might be slightly altered based on whether the medium being used is a game, a movie, a series of movies, or a TV show, these patterns keep replaying.

Now let’s apply it to TWD. You can look at each season as an individual journey, or look at the series as a whole.

  • Hero- Rick (you could also argue Carl, particularly in later episodes)
  • Mentor – Dale, Hershall
  • Personification of Evil – The Governor, Gareth, the walkers (if you look at the Governor as Evil Incarnate, then the walkers are minions)
  • Minions – Walkers (if Governor is your Evil), Martinez, Shumpert, Mary
  • Warrior Princess – any of the female characters, but particularly Michonne
  • Companions – Glenn, Daryl, Tyresse
  • Sidekick – Bob
  • Rogue – Daryl (also a companion)
  • magical tool – Rick’s gun, Judith, Carl
  • destination – farm, prison, Terminus

His journey – safety, sanctuary for his people

A few interesting variations:

Many of the characters have their own “magical tool” – for Daryl it’s his crossbow, for Michonne it’s her katana, for Tyreese it’s a hammer, but Rick’s “magical tool” has more meaning because when he denies the use of it it’s symbolic of him loosing sight of his journey and faith in himself

Shane fits into many categories – he is companion, he is rogue, he is mentor, and he is personification of Evil at different points in the story arc

Also, because it’s a TV series, you will see some of these roles altered and the hero’s journey replayed at different points. Rick will lose faith in himself several times during the series run, there will be several mentors that will be lost, and several destinations.

I’ve heard theories that TWD is scifi, horror, and a western. All can fit, but I teach it as a zombie fantasy about a man on journey facing the ultimate evil. You can decide for yourself!


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