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The Walking Dead's Women Are the Real Stars of Season 8

The show's female characters are driving the show like never before

Liam Mathews

Before the Season 8 premiere, there was much ballyhoo about how The Walking Dead would be Rick Grimes' (Andrew Lincoln) show again. Executive producer Greg Nicotero said that Rick, not Negan, would drive the action this season. But now that we've seen the episode, we can say that while maybe it's true that Rick is the literal the star of the show, he's being overshadowed in all the ways that count. For the first time in The Walking Dead's hundred-episode history, the show's women are stepping up as humanity's most prominent leaders.

The Walking Dead has always had strong and interesting female characters (miss you, Beth [Emily Kinney]), but there are more now then ever before. There's Michonne (Danai Gurira), the first lady of Alexandria, who has always preferred to let her swords do the talking but is taking on a more vocal, political role. There's Carol (Melissa McBride), who's got her groove back after losing her mojo for a season and a half. Her ongoing conversation with Morgan (Lennie James), the yang to her yin, about when killing is justified is the show's thematic crux. There's Tara (Alanna Masterson), whose orange plastic sunglasses and chewed-up Twizzler are giving her iconic totems she's always lacked. There's Enid (Katelyn Nacon), who's now a full-fledged member of the tribe after spending so much time keeping everyone at arm's length (a change reflected in Nacon's promotion to the main cast this season). She even put on Kingdom body armor and joined the convoy to the Sanctuary. There's Rosita (Christian Serratos), who truly does not take any nonsense from anyone. She's a sneakily complex character who's been undergoing a transformation from someone always defined by her relationships to men into someone who can raise hell all by herself. There are the women of Oceanside, who will probably emerge later this season as real allies in the fight under the leadership of brave young warrior Cyndie (Sydney Park). And there's Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), the leader of the Heapsters, who's a formidable, imposing foe even though she speaks in some sort of babytalk.

But no one embodies the ascent of The Walking Dead's women better than Maggie Rhee, née Greene (Lauren Cohan).

Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Lauren Cohan and Alanna Masterson, The Walking Dead

Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Lauren Cohan and Alanna Masterson, The Walking Dead

Alan Clarke/AMC

Maggie started back in Season 2 as a naive, somewhat sheltered young woman, but has grown into an expectant mother who loves as hard as she fights. She's the only member of her family left and saw her father get beheaded and her husband get his head smashed in with a baseball bat, but she remains optimistic. She has more faith in the future than anyone. "We have to keep our faith in each other," she says while rallying the troops in the premiere. "If we can hold onto that with everything we have, the future is ours. The world is ours." While Rick's inspirational speech in the premiere was rousing, it was fueled by revenge and a desire to dominate, while Maggie is driven by emotions -- hope and faith -- of someone who actually wants to rebuild society instead of simply survive it.

But she's not a blind idealist, either. Maggie's been fighting since the farm, and she knows how to exact violence to establish and protect that society. She's the perfect combination of idealism and realism. "She may be the greatest leader of all," says Walking Dead executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, who knows a thing or two about leadership.

And Rick obviously feel the same way; he deputized her to be his representative at the Hilltop back in Season 6, and now the Hilltop stands with her as their leader, as Jesus (Tom Payne) said. She's grown into a better leader than Rick, and Rick knows it. "After this [war], I'm following you," he told her.

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Maggie is also, as Hurd points out, the first woman to grow into a leadership role in the core group.

"Nothing can keep a strong woman down," says Hurd. "And it's amazing what some women can do even when they're pregnant."

They say some women can wage war through the second trimester.

As the season progresses, we'll surely see Maggie take on even more, and she'll handle it with grace and dignity. Nothing but respect for MY president.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.