Real-life women have been kicking all kinds of ass throughout history, from Princess Zhao of Pingyang (who commanded an army) to Joan of Arc (a heroine of France during the Hundred Years’ War) to Zenobia of Palmyra (who ran her country). We may not have heard much about them in school, but we certainly have been affected by what they’ve done.
On TV, audiences have had many female characters that were the spiritual successors to these powerful women, from She-Ra, the Princess of Power (in both her incarnations) to Sarah Connor from "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." There are a ton of good ones, and below is a list of the very best warrior women from TV, from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to "Xena: Warrior Princess" to "Marvel’s Jessica Jones." It’s time to pick your team of warrior women who are out there to take down the bad guys and battle evil.
Katheryn Winnick plays Lagertha in the series "Vikings," and we get to enjoy her rise from a shieldmaiden to the Earl of Hedeby and finally Queen of Kattegat. The character is based on the legend of the Viking shieldmaiden of the same name from Norway. Though she’s listed as the wife (for a time) of the Viking Ragnar, she’s a powerful warrior in her own right. She was probably not a real person (that historians know of), but she’s nonetheless typical of the stories of Viking warrior women.
Watching Lagertha fight is like beholding a brutal dance. She’s powerful, she will fight dirty if she has to, and she’s absolutely ruthless. Clearly, being married to Lagertha is a dangerous business. She also does all this while trying to rule, ruling outright and being a mom to other warriors. Also, those braids are pretty epic.
Watching her in "Vikings" battle scenes, it’s hard to not think it would have been amazing to see Winnick play Captain Marvel. With any luck, she’ll eventually land her desired place in the MCU.
Buffy Summers ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Buffy Summers started out as an unlikely hero. An ordinary teenager, she wasn’t really into this whole slaying thing … that is, until her instincts took over and she became the savior of the world many times over (just check her tombstone in Season 5’s finale, "The Gift").
Buffy deals out death, yet never loses her heart. She destroys evil with the best quippy lines TV has to offer, and even sings about being dragged back from heaven.
Buffy showed us that you don’t have to be a dead-hearted jerk to save the world from whatever comes out of a hell mouth. You can still fall in love, have friends (who were pretty darn helpful – most of the time), look up to people and dance at the Bronze. Just maybe consider better romantic partners than a vampire with a soul, the bad boy (fans still aren’t over that infamous Spike scene despite the redemption arc they gave him) and a very boring "military" guy. Once you’ve binged the series, don’t forget to check out her continuing story in the comics.
Michonne ("The Walking Dead")
Played by Danai Gurira, Michonne was a fan favorite character in "The Walking Dead" comic book, and gained even more fans in "The Walking Dead" TV series.
She carries as katana and drags around two chained, undead corpses to keep the other walkers under the impression that she’s one of them. In a very smart move, she removes their bottom jaws so they can’t turn anyone. In the series, she starts off with a mental wall around her, but becomes a powerful part of the group.
Watching Michonne fight is like viewing a predator documentary on the Discovery Channel. This is not a woman to mess with, and Gurira couldn’t have been more perfect casting (she also plays Okoye, a powerful warrior and member of the Dora Milaje, in the MCU). She managed to live longer than most of the characters on "The Walking Dead," and surviving as long as she did was pretty bad ass in its own right.
Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth ("Game of Thrones")
Arya Stark (played by Maisie Williams) was very clear on wanting to be a warrior from the beginning of the series. She’s better at it than her brothers, and when things go south for her family, Arya decides that nothing will stop her from getting her revenge.
Brienne of Tarth, meanwhile, rose above the teasing and cruelty received while growing up, showing she had the true heart of a warrior — and more honor than any other character in the series.
Gwendoline Christie’s portrayal of Brienne not only shows us her belief in knighthood and the honor she lives by, but that you can be both a powerful warrior and a romantic at heart. Though it wasn’t in the books, the moment where Brienne and Arya finally meet brought tears to the eyes of so many women who thought they were alone as they played with swords as children.
Jessica Jones ("Marvel’s Jessica Jones")
The MCU has a ton of warrior women, and so does the TV side of things. Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, is one of the most ruthless.
Though she’s haunted by her past with the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant), she’s battling (not always so successfully) to get through the pain and continue helping people. Her methods are, shall we say, sometimes brutal and sometimes self-destructive, but she saves the day — well, most of the time.
The thing that really stands out about this latest version of Jessica Jones is how she deals with her PTSD while still living a very unusual life. She’s had a hard time, and we actually get to see her dealing with the consequences and trying to fix them. She’s not perfect, and in the end, even superheroes need help. Here’s hoping Marvel fans get to see her again in the MCU, perhaps on a Disney+ show.
Ahsoka Tano, Bo-Katan Kryze and Fennec Shand ("Star Wars: The Clone Wars," "Star Wars: Rebels," "The Bad Batch," and "The Mandalorian")
The "Star Wars" universe is filled with powerful women, and Princess Leia was one of the first kick ass woman a lot of young girls got to see on the big screen. On the TV side, the universe is also packed with them.
There is Ahsoka Tano, voiced by Ashley Eckstein in "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "Star Wars: Rebels," and played in live-action by Rosario Dawson on "The Mandalorian." She starts off as the Jedi Padawan of Anakin Skywalker, then returns as a Rebel agent with the codename Fulcrum in "Rebels." Fans watched her grow from a complaining young girl to one of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy.
In addition, "Star Wars" fans have Bo-Katan Kryze (both voiced by and played by Katie Sackhoff), a member of the Death Watch, the group trying to return Mandalore to its ancient ways. Bo-Katan fights with the Darksaber, and is trying to recover it from Moff Gideon on "Mandalorian." That show has yet another warrior woman in the form of Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), an elite mercenary and skilled assassin. Though fans have only seen her for a bit, she’s appeared in animated form as well in "The Bad Batch," and will be a key component of "The Book of Boba Fett." She’s part cybernetic, and although she and Boba Fett live on the wrong side of the law, she follows an unbreakable code of honor.
Diana Prince ("Wonder Woman")
Before DC fans saw Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman on the big screen, they had the iconic Lynda Carter version of the Amazon warrior. There were a lot of attempts to bring her to other live-action adaptations — including the dicey ABC pilot with Cathy Lee Crosby — but Carter’s performance stands the test of time. It’s full of camp, it’s earnest, and it also has one of the greatest TV theme songs of all time. Don’t miss the episode "The Feminine Mystique," which also gave viewers a look at Wonder Girl played by a young Debra Winger.
A generation of young women watched as she always saved the day, confused poor Steve Trevor and took down assorted bad guys, all the while retaining her humor and good sense. Not only that, but we got to see her in WWII, as well as the 1970s. There weren’t a lot of women with agency on TV in that era, and the effect Diana Prince had on girls (many of whom grew up wearing her Underoos) is beyond measure.
Zoë Washburne ("Firefly")
Zoë (Gina Torres) was a warrior woman, called that even by her husband Wash (Alan Tudyk). She was already a war hero by the time we met her in the first episode, having fought in the Unification War under Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Not only did she also have the very best quip-filled lines, but she was the best fighter in the Serenity crew.
The "shiny" thing about Zoë’s character is that it depicts a physically powerful woman in a relationship with a less powerful man, but their love story is as balanced and lovely as any other. It broke a lot of stereotypes, allowing fans to see an example of a woman who doesn’t have to dim her light to be part of a partnership. Honorable mention to River Tam (Summer Glau), who had some pretty fantastic fighting skills, though we would see them in grander effect on the big screen revival "Serenity."
Wynonna ("Wynonna Earp")
Wynonna Earp (Melanie Scrofano) was the great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp, using the power of Wyatt’s "Peacemaker." When she turns 27, she inherits the ability to take down revenants of the bad guys her great-grandfather killed, sending them back to Hell. She’s all about protecting her family, breaking the curse, and taking down demons.
This is one of those shows that has fans still clamoring for further episodes. Not only was Wynonna complex and powerful, but she wasn’t alone. The show was overflowing with women (her sister Waverly, played by Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Officer Nicole Haught, played by Katherine Barrell to name just a few) who didn’t take crap from anyone, and found just the right way to battle evil. It was the perfect way to revisit the Old West, and fingers are crossed that the show finds a way back to life.
Melinda May ("Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") and Ayo ("The Falcon and the Winter Soldier")
The women of Marvel are pretty kick ass, whether they’re fighting from behind a computer, with their minds or with a blade. Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s a pilot, an agent and a warrior with some enviable martial arts skills. She takes her job seriously, and follows Coulson loyally. Though she’s serious most of the time, when her sense of humor comes out, it’s pretty fantastic. May is such a fan favorite that she ended up in the comics as well.
Though we only got a small appearance from Ayo in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," it was memorable. The Dora Milaje are mind-blowingly powerful, and Ayo takes no guff from anyone. It was thrilling to watch her do her thing, and Marvel fans seem unlikely to complain if she ever resurfaces in some future form.
Xena and Gabrielle ("Xena: Warrior Princess")
Xena started off as a character in the "Hercules" series, but was so popular that Lucy Lawless was given her very own spin-off. That show eclipsed the popularity of "Hercules" so fully that even if you never watched the series, you likely know who Xena is.
From her Chakram (which she wielded effectively, despite the fact that it makes no sense as a main weapon) to her compassion, to her friendship and later romantic love with her bard-turned-warrior/yoga master Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor), she stands as one of the all-time great warrior women in entertainment. An entire generation of little girls tried to copy her ululation on the playground.
Gabrielle started off as a farm girl from Potidaea who followed Xena around and sang songs about her. Fans enjoyed watching her growth as, after learning from her idol, she became a warrior in her own right.
Gabrielle fights first with her words, then a staff, and finally with sai. Alongside Xena, Gabrielle travels the world to take down villains and even gods. Their souls, we learn, will be together forever, and we even get a glimpse of this in an episode set in modern times. Not only are these two women some of the best badasses on TV, they’re an inspirational story of both friendship and love and the power of women.
Angela Abar ("Watchmen")
Regina King portrayed Angela Abar, otherwise known as the masked vigilante Sister Night in the HBO series "Watchmen. Working for the Tulsa police at a time in this fictional universe where the cops go masked to protect their families after a massacre by extremists, she solves crimes with many of the trappings of a superhero.
Angela Abar’s detective skills are incredible, but that’s not all she’s got going for her. Angela is an acrobat, allowing her to pull off some spectacular moves. She was a police officer in Saigon, so she’s got training in firearms both large and small.
She’s self-possessed enough to stay cool while tricking people into doing things they don’t really mean to. She’s also a pretty great mom to her adopted kids. She may not have any powers you’d traditionally call "super," but they get the job done. Also, that costume is pretty amazing, and nobody would complain if she donned it again in a second season of the beloved HBO series.