A great story is easily driven by its complex, compelling, remarkably exquisite characters. Whether they’re heroes or villains or somewhere in between the spectrum, it’s their stories that make the series riveting — their journey, their life, their interactions. They are the reason a series is special. They are the heart. And while there are a number of wonderfully written characters on TV, these are my personal favorites.
Also, be sure to check out our Series of the Year | Stranger Things article, as the number one performances, characters, relationships, and moments are all featured there first. They deserved their own special tribute.
I’m a little in denial that this is the last time Emma Swan will be featured in this yearly category. A little in denial that the character I’ve appreciated for so long has had her curtain call. A curtain call that’s not only left me satisfied, but it’s wrapped up her story in the most elegant bow showcasing that where there’s vulnerability there will always be bravery. As it turns out, the answers we search for when we’re at our darkest, loneliest is always inside of us — it simply takes time to find them. And it’s okay because no growth should be rushed. In the final chapters of Once Upon A Time, Emma finally found the strength within her to see that it’s not only okay to chase her own happiness, but that whatever comes before her, she’s equipped to take it on because of the strength that’s embedded in her through love. It wasn’t the absence of darkness in Emma’s life that strengthened her, but it was the choices she made to love in spite of the heartaches or the battles that were en route — and that was the ultimate spectacle of her growth. Emma’s choice to get married, to live knowing what’s ahead of them allowed us to understand that the walls have finally crumbled, and she’s truly found the courage to live in the moments. Finally, the lost little girl inside of her can be free with the true understanding that home is a place she no longer has to search for, the wounds that ached tirelessly have healed, and the walls of steel no longer block the sun’s arrays out — a happy ending is in the cards for her, too.
2. Lucy Preston
If you aren’t already watching Timeless, change this as soon as you can. It wasn’t hard to love Lucy from the very beginning, in fact, she was the quickest character to keep me engaged. And though the series didn’t have too many episodes this year, in the few we’d gotten, Lucy proved to once again be the beacon of hope — the kind of female character we could all admire with great pride because she’s anything but perfect — simply real, very, very real. There are a number of great traits to admire about Lucy, but perhaps for me, it’s the fact that she isn’t conventionally strong or badass. And don’t get me wrong, I love my badass ladies, but the truth is, we don’t always have it together. We can’t always keep it in. Sometimes we have incredibly visceral fears that haunt us, uncertainties that cloud our judgments, adorations that stun us, and pain that perpetually lingers. And Lucy is a character who’s often bringing those emotions to life all while remaining steadfast to the belief that history must be protected — mankind must be protected and where she can, she’ll do anything to help those who can’t easily help themselves.
3. Jon Snow
Game of Thrones
Jon Snow — everyone’s favorite character and mine, too. Jon’s innate, transparent goodness continues to be the light that Game of Thrones always needs. And even when difficult choices must be made, Jon’s goodness never wavers, it never fades, it’s the very foundation behind each of his decisions forcing him to do things that he may not want to, but must for the greater good. Jon’s kindness and inexpressible gentleness continues to bring hope, it reflects courage, and it’s the very reason other characters are able to find their heart with him. The world of ice and fire, and who’ll rule the throne have changed the doe eyed boy into a man who’s so steadfast to his world, even the undead should worry. In spite of all that he’s seen and how intricately he’s grown this year alone, Jon’s choice to remain true to his promises continues to be the force that brightens even the darkest corners of Westeros.
4. Elizabeth McCord
I’ve said this every year, but Elizabeth McCord for president. There’s no one more perfectly fitted to run office. There’s no one more honorable, no one more kind, no one more graceful, and no one more compassionate. As Secretary of State, Elizabeth’s choices have always been for the people, and away from office, they’ve been for her family, her friends, and even her team. While this year’s been just as eventful as last, Elizabeth’s had to do a lot of letting go, a lot of growing, and a lot of careful decision making to which she’s done so with grace and kindness. She’s proven to be the type of person whose heart is always in the right place, and more than anything she’s given so much more love to those around her.
If I loved Randall Pearson less, I might be able to talk about him more. But when This is Us first started, he quickly became the easiest to love. So much that I even worry about Sterling K. Brown and whether or not his head hurts after all the crying he needs to do. Randall’s goodness is inexpressible, incomparably palpable, and so much more than what can be described through words. The innate choices he makes for his family and for those he cares for showcases a type of purity that’s only present in rare souls. Randall Pearson would give the world for his family. I know that I’m always the person to fall for the characters with hearts of gold, but how can I not? How can a person look at Randall and how deeply he cares and not find that to be one of the most inspiring parts of their day? This is Us is fiction and Randall Pearson isn’t real, but he is the kind of person whose heart and actions have the power to spark light into even the darkest souls watching. He’s a light, a true light.
Characters on NBC’s Timeless are so good, so well written, that it’s nearly impossible to choose just one. But from the moment we met Rufus, we were exposed to a kind of heart that makes any and every partnership successful. Rufus’ selfless, compassionate heart is everything, but his blatant refusal to be toyed with or have any of his team members harmed reveals a kind of bravery that’s unlike anything else. Rufus stands for the voiceless, he stands for the broken, and he stands for the mistreated not only through the stoic bravery when it comes to speaking up for black men and women, but for the choices to make the present a safer place. He’s a symbol of strength and hope in a world where we’re constantly reminded of how terrible not only history has been, but how unjust the present can be, too. And Rufus is too important of a character not to tirelessly praise.
7. Sansa Stark
Game of Thrones
Contrary to what the media often says about her, Sansa Stark has always been my favorite of the Stark siblings, and if I didn’t love her enough in the past, this season gave me plenty of more reasons to. After everything Sansa’s been through, her goodness is still so transparent, so bold, and the promise to be kind in the face of adversaries, and rule with honor still remains as a core part of her character’s growth. Where lines need to be crossed because people are manipulating the game, she knows how to play it fairly. She knows how to give in order to help those around her. In spite of all the pain and suffering and the mistakes she’s made, Sansa’s capacity for love is unlike anything else that can be seen on Game of Thrones. It takes great courage not to let the world harden us. It takes great courage to smile in the face of darkness, and it takes great strength to stand when the world around you is burning.
8. Sara Tancredi
Sara was always my favorite character on Prison Break, and I’m glad that we were not only given the chance to see her again, but we were given the opportunity to see her in a new light. We were given the opportunity to see her as a mother, a wife, and a fighter with more courage, grace, and stamina than ever before showcasing that time, and life’s circumstances, have only made her stronger. Prison Break’s revival was far from perfect to be honest, but Sara’s characterization was everything I needed to be interested in the story’s progression. Where it was slow in certain areas, where Sara’s interactions were concerned, it was always riveting. We’ve always that known Sara’s independence and strength were directly correlated with the darkness she’s lived through, but today, that same strength is a result of the infinite adoration between mother and child, the unyielding and steadfast need to continuously protect our children — the great measures we’ll take for them. Sara’s strength perfectly reminds viewers of that love, while simultaneously reminding us of the fact that a woman who’s seen darkness is a woman who should never be trifled with.
9. Jughead Jones
Well first and foremost, it took a lot of convincing for me to even watch Riverdale, but when I did, I continued solely for Jughead Jones — Riverdale’s very own Holden Caulfield. And as someone who has that book on a pedestal, that comparison could’ve made me rage if I didn’t agree with it. You know who else Jughead reminds me of? John Conlan from Paul Zindel’s The Pigman. (If you haven’t already, read this book – it’s one of the good ones.) That said, Jughead’s heart, tenacity, and compassion floor me. His heartaches break me and his loyalty astounds me. There’s nothing Jughead Jones has done for the sake of selfish motives, but rather the happiness of others, and even if he were to be selfish every once in a while, it’d be perfectly okay. Jughead is the kid that can’t turn away when he knows another person’s in pain. He’s the kid who can forgive time and time again because a huge part of him believes profoundly in the importance of human connections in spite of his belief that he’s a lone wolf. He’s good, simply good because he’s experienced too much heartache not to be, and he’s honest in spite of how unpleasant it makes him seem at times, but beyond all that, Jughead’s self-awareness is a trait that’s undoubtedly the most admirable — a trait that shows the best kind of growth and wisdom.
10. Kevin O’Brien
If you’d told me back in season one that Kevin O’Brien would be my favorite character on Chesapeake Shores, I wouldn’t have believed you. And not that there was anything holding me back from caring about the character, but because characters like him aren’t often written as well as they could be on television; therefore, because I’ve been burned too many times, I figured the same thing would happen here. Plus, I merely just assumed he wouldn’t be a character whose storyline was even explored as much. But I’m thankful for the fact that Chesapeake Shores not only gave Kevin intriguing storylines, but they explored PTSD through him, which a lot of TV shows tend to bury under the rug. And it was then where he quickly became the most riveting character because his innate desire to protect his family and everyone else around him speaks so highly of the love that’s within him. Kevin’s character allows us to understand life through the eyes of those who believe it’s their duty to protect the world, and it allowed us to understand that it’s these very people who deserve protection most.
(Because we couldn’t match our yearly number due to time constraints, here our seven more of our favorite performers this year in honor of 2017.)
Honorable Mentions: Killian Jones (Once Upon A Time), Elizabeth Thatcher (When Calls the Heart), Wyatt Logan (Timeless), Amy Dubanowski (Superstore), Jess Day (New Girl), Jonah Simms (Superstore), Betty Cooper (Riverdale).
Who were your favorite characters this year? Let us know and let’s get to discussing them!