Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier on The Walking Dead

In a show about people adapting to a harsh reality, perhaps no character in The Walking Dead has had a bigger journey than Melissa McBride’s Carol Peletier. Carol has the proud distinction of being one of the few original cast members left thriving in the zombie apocalypse. She might just outstrip them all, in fact, given Carol and Daryl’s spinoff show.

While almost everyone in The Walking Dead starts out as something less than what they become, Carol’s rise is especially impressive. She doesn’t try to come off as a blisteringly cool warrior — she just survives, against all odds. Whether she’s faking nice to trick fellow humans or getting down and dirty with blades and walkers, there’s nothing that will stand between Carol and seeing the next day’s sunrise. This drive ultimately makes her one of the most consequential figures on the show.

To understand how Carol’s journey will impact where she’s going in whatever future she has beyond the flagship show, we’re taking a look at her entire story.

Ed’s wife

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

Carol has been a survivor for many years. Prior to the story’s start, she meets and marries a man named Ed Peletier, who quickly becomes abusive after they exchange vows. They have a daughter together, named Sophia. Carol is a terrific mother, but she can’t always stop Ed from hurting Sophia — let alone herself.

When the apocalypse hits, the family tries to go to Atlanta, only to realize that the government is in more of a Napalming mood than a helping one. While stuck in traffic, the Peletiers befriend Lori, Shane and Carl, who manage to get them and a handful of other survivors to a campsite just outside the city while they figure out their next move. While there, Ed’s abusive behavior continues. However, now he’s doing it under the watchful eye of a former police officer and a group of like-minded women. Shane eventually beats an appropriate amount of snot out of Ed for slapping Carol in front of everyone.

As a result of his injuries, Ed is not in fighting shape when walkers descend on the camp. He is killed and eventually put down before becoming a walker by none other than Carol herself. It’s her first step towards independence.

Losing Sophia

Madison Lintz as Sophia, from The Walking Dead

Carol loses everything from her former life in season two. Yet she also begins one of the most important relationships of her life with Daryl Dixon.

After the survivors, now led by Rick Grimes, go to the CDC and discover how dire their situation truly is, they set out on the road once again. Unfortunately, they are waylaid when their RV gives up the ghost. When a herd of walkers approaches, Carol is separated from Sophia. Rick tries his best to save her, but he too is separated from the child in the thick Georgia woods. Searching for Sophia brings Daryl and Carol closer together, but unfortunately, they soon find that Sophia is a walker, locked up with her undead brethren in a barn. Shane is forced to put her down.

When the farm is overrun by walkers, Carol isn’t much help in the ensuing battle. With no one to guide her and no real fighting skills to speak of, she is forced to rely on others to stay alive. She makes a brief attempt at replacing her violent husband with Daryl. However, when it becomes clear that Daryl isn’t the husband type, she starts to understand that her survival is in her hands and no one else’s.

A new woman

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

Season three begins with a minor time jump that reveals a very new Carol. She’s gained a lot more confidence in the intervening months and a whole lot of new skills, ranging from combat to medicine. The loss of her family has hardened her in a unique way: She is no longer afraid of Ed’s wrath, nor of losing Sophia. When the survivors hole up in a prison, she busies herself with first aid and preparations to deliver Lori’s baby. Unfortunately, a walker attack sets those plans aside and Carol is trapped alone in an overrun part of the prison for several days.

Fortunately, Daryl finds her and nurses her back to health as she once did for him when he was injured looking for Sophia. Their relationship is stronger than it’s ever been when Daryl’s older brother, Merle, returns to the picture. Carol sees a lot of Ed in Merle and tries to encourage Daryl not to lose the man he’s become, in favor of reverting back to who he was around his older brother. In their final interaction together before he dies, Merle comments on how different Carol has become since the last time he saw her at the camp outside Georgia. When the war with the Governor and Woodbury begins, Carol proves just how right he is by encouraging Andrea to assassinate the Governor.

Devastating choices

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

When it comes to all-out war with Woodbury, Carol openly engages in conflict against other humans. After the citizens of Woodbury are welcomed into the prison, Carol begins teaching the children how to kill walkers. Soon, a flu starts spreading throughout the prison, and Carol takes it upon herself to execute two carriers in an effort to stop the spread. When Rick figures out what she’s done, he banishes her from the group. As a result, she’s away when the Governor returns to destroy the prison.

Carol finds Tyreese, who has rescued young sisters Lizzie and Mika, as well as the late Lori’s baby, Judith. Together, they find their way to a small cottage where they decide to figure out their next move. While there, Lizzie starts to develop a soft spot for walkers. Carol and Tyreese try to get her to change her mind after a few encounters with dangerous walkers, but it’s all for naught: Lizzie eventually kills Mika, convinced that she’ll be back as a walker and that everything will be fine. What’s more, Lizzie confesses that she’s planning to do the same to the baby.

Realizing how far gone she is and how much of a threat she poses to the rest of them, Carol and Tyreese silently agree to execute her, which Carol, now a grizzled survivor, is willing to do. They agree to never speak of it again.

A regression

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

Eventually, the group arrives at Terminus. Carol and Tyreese realize that it’s crawling with cannibals who have taken their friends hostage. Carol launches a one-woman, full-frontal assault on the compound, almost single-handedly taking it down with some clever explosions and a herd of walkers. Thanks to her bravery, she’s welcomed back to the group. However, that’s not exactly the boon to survival it once was. With the prison gone and Terminus a proven sham, the remaining survivors wander the woods aimlessly.

When Beth Greene is kidnapped by a group of vicious survivors living at a hospital, Carol ends up getting hit by a car and taken into the belly of the beast. She spends a good deal of time unconscious while receiving medical treatment before Daryl and company rescue her. Their fates change when Aaron arrives and invites them to be a part of the Alexandria safe haven. However, Carol is skeptical of this apparently apocalypse-proof community. To ensure that they maintain the element of surprise, Carol reverts back to her cheery old housewife persona, lying in wait for the moment her true new nature will be needed.

It doesn’t take long before she and Rick discover a man in the community, Pete, is abusing his wife and kid. Carol stops baking cookies for a moment to threaten Pete’s life, ultimately turning that particular conflict over to Rick, who executes him.

Not the killing type

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

Carol’s toughness is put to the test in season six. Now that Rick is pretty much in charge of Alexandria, Carol is forced to abandon her housewife act when a group of nomadic survivors known as the Wolves infiltrate the camp and start murdering its citizens. She dons a disguise and manages to almost single-handedly stop the invasion, blowing her cover within the community forever.

Fortunately, her bloodthirsty nature is curtailed a bit by the arrival of Morgan Jones, who is on a warrior monk kick and doesn’t want to kill living people. That attitude, coupled with a new love interest by the name of Tobin, helps Carol pull back from the abyss of violence. Unfortunately, this comes just as the group fires their first shots in what becomes an all-out-war with their toughest enemy yet, the Saviors.

When Rick agrees to take on an outpost held by their new enemy, Carol finds herself kidnapped alongside a pregnant Maggie. She is forced to use every bit of her cleverness to escape. However, the experience sours her to warfare, prompting her to leave Alexandria and Tobin. Unfortunately, she’s too late, as the Saviors are already monitoring who goes in and out of the colony. She’s gravely wounded in a one-versus-five skirmish. Just when it looks like she’s about to be executed, Morgan arrives to save her.

Just when she thought she was out

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

Carol wakes up in the Kingdom, an enigmatic colony where everyone defers to the judgement of King Ezekiel. After some lighthearted bonding with Ezekiel, she decides she still wants to be alone, but settles on an abandoned cottage that’s not too far from the Kingdom. She crosses paths with the Alexandrians again when Rick and the gang seek the Kingdom’s help in overthrowing the Saviors. When she has an emotional reunion with Daryl, he lies and tells her that the Saviors haven’t hurt any of their people. However, when Morgan finally reveals this as a lie, Carol opts to leave her cottage and get back to what she does best: Protecting the people she cares about.

By the time she convinces Ezekiel to bring the Kingdom’s forces to Alexandria’s aid, Rick has already made a pretty botched play against Negan. Negan has managed to breach the walls of the safe haven and subdue Rick and his fighters. The brash villain is about to execute Carl as punishment for what he sees as Rick’s rebellion when he’s stopped by the united forces of the Kingdom and the Hilltop, another colony that Rick enlisted for the fray. Just like that, Carol finds herself as a general in the Kingdom’s army against the Saviors.

Carol the soldier

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

It doesn’t take long for Carol to become one of the most important fighters in the rebel army. She leads right beside King Ezekiel as members of his faction ambush a Savior outpost in the hope of obtaining heavy weapons. Just when the mission seems to have succeeded with no Kingdom casualties, the group is cut down by a hail of gunfire. Only Ezekiel, Carol and Jerry are left standing. Heroically, Carol makes one more bid to obtain the weapons, but ultimately decides to save her allies instead. These events leave Ezekiel in a spiral of self-pity. Carol employs tough love (and a shotgun) to help him out of it. The two bond after becoming makeshift parents to a youngster named Henry.

Negan launches a counter-attack on the Kingdom, leaving it in ruins. Luckily, Carol is able to get everyone out in time. They retreat to the Hilltop, where they quickly learn that Negan has also taken out Alexandria. With just one safe haven left, the entire army prepares for a last stand. A battle ensues, in which Carol is forced to put Tobin down. In the fray, Henry runs off, forcing Carol and Morgan to go looking for him, killing walkers and Saviors along the way. They rejoin Rick’s army just in time to witness all the Saviors’ guns backfire, allowing them to finally defeat Negan.

A new enemy

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

A year and a half later, Carol reigns as queen of the Kingdom, having started a romantic relationship with Ezekiel. Meanwhile, their colony, the Hilltop, and Alexandria are doing their best to rebuild and assimilate the Saviors and their Sanctuary into their ranks. Unfortunately, things aren’t going well, as constant in-fighting and small acts of defiance threaten the very terse alliance. Carol personally takes over control of the Sanctuary briefly, but it doesn’t last, as several of the more defiant members leave just before Rick sacrifices himself to unite the groups.

Six years go by and she and Ezekiel continue to keep the Kingdom running while raising young Henry. In an effort to make him more useful, she escorts him and Daryl on a trip to the Hilltop so he can learn blacksmithing. Along the way, she single-handedly finishes off a group of former Saviors who desert and rob them. Back at the Kingdom, Ezekiel is busying himself with a fair that he hopes will convince the three allied colonies to sign a charter that will bind them to each other for life. This finally comes to fruition when the Alexandrians ask the Kingdom to harbor Lydia, the daughter of the Whisperers’ leader, Alpha. Furious at the kidnapping, Alpha builds a border that she makes clear the group is never to cross. Marking the border is a line of heads on spikes … including Henry’s.

Carol’s war

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, from The Walking Dead

Carol is devastated by Henry’s death. She leaves Ezekiel shortly after getting the remaining survivors to the Hilltop, after the Kingdom succumbs to deterioration. She sets off to live life by herself as a fisherwoman, but eventually returns, still holding a grudge against Alpha. She reunites with Daryl just in time for a skirmish with the enemy. When a satellite crash-lands near the Oceanside colony, they all have to cross the border to put out the fire. This causes Alpha to unleash a relentless herd upon them. When they meet for peace talks, Carol pulls a gun on Alpha. Fortunately, Alpha is in a forgiving mood.

It is revealed that Carol has been taking pills to keep awake, both as a survival strategy and to avoid dreams of what her life could have been. After the group discovers this, she’s taken back to Alexandria for treatment. She promptly leaves to take revenge on Alpha’s herd. However, in a shocking twist, it’s revealed that killing the herd is just one part of Carol’s revenge plan: She also frees Negan from captivity in Alexandria, with the sole purpose of having him assassinate Alpha. He succeeds, but Carol isn’t able to finish off the herd.

She returns to the survivors and attempts to sacrifice herself in order to walk the zombies off a cliff. However, she’s saved by Lydia at the last moment, effectively ending the Whisperers’ reign of terror.

What’s next

Carol and Daryl on his motorcycle

In the final battle with the Whisperers, Carol tries to make good on her apparent death wish by sacrificing herself to eliminate Alpha’s herd. Although she’s saved by Lydia, she’s still able to dispatch the herd and live to fight another day.

She returns to the camp where she has an important conversation to fully reconcile with Daryl, who she’s spent the better part of a year at odds with despite otherwise being each other’s greatest ally.

Daryl asks if she got what she wanted during the battle. She admits, without actually saying it, that she now realizes she never actually wanted to die, even in a heroic sacrifice. With the Whisperers a thing of the past, Carol is ready to take on all comers with her best friend at her side and a new zest for life. Daryl then asks if she may want to hit the road for New Mexico, to which she notes that there are still things they need to do at home first. This is the clearest setup for her spinoff in The Walking Dead franchise beyond the flagship series ending after season 11.

Norman Reedus told Entertainment Weekly that he and Melissa McBride’s series will be more of a road show than anything else, meaning the duo will fight one more battle before going off into the sunset together.