The cast is one of the most important aspects of any television series. You can’t create iconic characters like Heisenberg without Bryan Cranston’s nuanced performance. You can’t sell the desperate, messy love affairs of Ross and Rachel or Pam and Jim without good actors to bring them to life, either.
This rule is especially true of an ensemble cast. With so many actors in any given episode, if one performance falters, especially when surrounded by so much talent, it will be painfully obvious.
Likewise, when an actor turns in a stellar performance that towers over their castmates in an ensemble piece, it stands out that much more.
The Walking Dead has one of the largest ensemble casts in the history of television. Despite the obvious dangers the walkers provide, the cast seems to grow even larger with each passing season.
With that, there have been many talented actors thrust into the limelight. There have been just as many who have earned criticism over their allegedly lackluster performances and silly character development.
From the mass hatred of Laurie Holden’s Andrea to the universal love for John Carrol Lynch as Eastman, here are the 10 Casting Decisions That Hurt The Walking Dead (And 10 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Pollyanna McIntosh
Jadis and her Heapsters are garbage people. That’s not an insult, just a fact. This group of survivors literally lives in a trash dump.
Honestly, it’s not a bad metaphor for the character’s storyline, hairstyle, or line delivery.
“I will lie with him after.” It’s only been a handful of years since the Walker outbreak. Nobody talks like this. At least, King Ezekiel knows enough to know it’s all for show.
Jadis is definitely not on most viewers’ list of favorite characters, as many would have liked to have skipped this storyline altogether.
However, to be fair, Jadis actress Pollyanna McIntosh is much-loved by the fandom, as she seems to be a genuinely kind-hearted person when interacting with fans.
19 Saved: Chandler Riggs
Chandler Riggs could have honestly gone either way. Carl Grimes wasn’t exactly popular for the majority of his eight-season run.
Fans mocked young Carl for his inability to stay in the house and later criticized his immature teenage lashing out at his dad and Ron. Some claimed that Riggs’ acting has always left much to be desired, while others insist that the young performer has improved with age.
Leaving opinions completely aside, it’s a solid fact that Carl’s early demise caused a huge drop in TWD‘s ratings.
Many saw the character as the future of the show and opted to tune out when that future ended all too soon. That’s pretty clear evidence that Riggs helped carry the show when Carl was still alive.
18 Saved: Danai Gurira
From the moment she appeared onscreen, hardcore and mysterious, saving Andrea and creating so many questions with her literal zombie pets, Michonne has been a fan favorite. It’s only improved from there.
Her fun, playful banter with Carl easily turned her into a supportive mother when Carl needed one. Her calm, powerful fighting style was also adored by fans.
Everything about this character has been well-written, expertly performed, and just all-around fun to watch.
Danai Gurira is likely to keep adding to the show. Her comedic and friendly turn in Black Panther has proven that the actress has untouched reserves of talent that can bring even more depth to her character.
Not to mention, bringing in those Marvel fans will be a big help to ratings after the last couple of seasons declined.
17 Hurt: Emily Kinney
This isn’t to say that Emily Kinney, or her character, Beth Greene, didn’t have fans. Or that the fans they did have weren’t incredibly vocal.
When Beth lost her life in Dawn’s seriously messed up hospital, some even created a petition to try to keep the character around for a while longer.
However, overall, her character was not very well-loved and tended to bring the story to a grinding halt.
The popular opinion seems to be that Beth was a bit of a whiny character. Many were not into her singing or her teenage temper tantrums.
Some even found it relatively funny that Maggie so easily forgot about her missing sister in favor of joining Glenn and Abraham’s group on their trip to Washington.
16 Saved: Melissa McBride
In less capable hands, Carol Peletier could be a total melodramatic disaster. She freaks out when she’s forced to fight enemies, she makes irrational decisions that put her friends in the occasional danger, and then she turns around becomes one of the most formidable fighters in the entire series.
Carol is another character that went through a lot of growth and a huge arc.
Actress Melissa McBride is simply pleasant and captivating in everything that she does, whether she’s posing as a Wolf to single-handedly take out an entire group of baddies, cowering in fear from her abusive husband, or cheerfully feigning housewife ignorance when she first arrives in Alexandria.
It’s McBride’s talent that really makes the many facets of Carol’s personality shine.
15 Saved: Norman Reedus
No list of essential TWD characters would be complete without Daryl Dixon, and that goes double for Daryl actor Norman Reedus.
Viewers have been along for the ride ever since Daryl discovered that his brother was missing from that Atlanta department store roof in season 1.
Daryl has had a large amount of character growth on the show, becoming an integral and emotional member of the team that he had once considered robbing and abandoning.
Reedus, likewise, has captured fans’ attention with his close relationships with many of his castmates, including Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
When fans are literally threatening to riot should your character pass away, you know you’re pretty important to the show.
14 Hurt: Laurie Holden
Laurie Holden, as an actress, is incredibly divisive in TWD fandom. Nobody seems to agree whether or not Holden, outside of TWD, is a good actress or not, and it’s kind of easy to see why.
Holden’s body of work consists of specifically genre-driven content that fans will either love or hate. It’s a little difficult to find the middle ground between movies like Silent Hill, The Mist, and Dumb and Dumber To.
Holden’s character, Andrea, on the other hand, has always been widely hated by viewers.
Either fans couldn’t stand her wishy-washy behavior or they couldn’t reconcile how very, very different she was from her comic book counterpart.
Andrea, by and large, has never been well-liked by TWD fandom, at least on the show.
13 Saved: Jon Bernthal
You may not have actually liked Shane Walsh, but that was kind of the point. As the very first Big Bad ever to be featured on TWD, Shane has also been divisive in the fandom.
However, for him, that’s a very good thing. Jon Bernthal’s performance as the friend-turned-enemy of Rick Grimes caused some viewers to see things his way.
They thought that he had a point and was actually more forward-thinking and cut out for the apocalypse than Rick, while others thought he was just a jerk. However, both opinions are a testament to Bernthal’s acting abilities.
Bernthal himself has continued to be a popular force in the acting world, with high profile projects such as The Punisher and Wolf of Wall Street.
12 Saved: Lennie James
Lennie James lent so much talent and compassion toward Morgan Jones that the character became a fan favorite after just a handful of scenes in the first episode of the series.
For several seasons, he would only show up for an episode at a time, but many were still captivated by the character.
Over time, Morgan was given a full arc and the first official in-universe diagnosis of PTSD.
Some found it sort of cheesy and out of left field to send the character onto the series’ sister show, Fear the Walking Dead. However, clearly the showrunners find the character’s popularity enticing enough to carry the fledgling spinoff into the mainstream spotlight.
11 Hurt: Major Dodson
It feels a little unfair to be so harsh toward a child actor, but Major Dodson’s character of Sam was a definitely dark spot on the series.
He whined too much, he refused to learn how to survive, and he was basically responsible for the demise of his entire family, save for his abusive, alcoholic dad.
Most viewers did not like Sam’s story and were not sad to see him leave the show, while others who cut the kid some slack were still unhappy with the violent way that his story ended, claiming that they were finished watching such a dark series.
Either way, Sam didn’t do the story or its ratings any favors.
10 Hurt: Liz E. Morgan
For all of the hate the character of Tina gets online, you would think that she spent multiple seasons on the zombie drama. However, Liz E. Morgan’s infamous performance lasted exactly one episode.
Despite her very, very short screentime, Tina constantly tops many viewers’ lists of the absolute worst TWD performances.
From her allegedly wooden face to her melodramatic final moments, every aspect of this character has been heavily criticized.
Morgan doesn’t have very many acting credits to her name, so it’s difficult to say how much of the character’s negative reception was due to the performance or the way she was written.
However, it’s a definite fact that fans weren’t having any of part of this character, either way.
9 Saved: John Carroll Lynch
The Walking Dead is very, very good at taking one-off characters and exploring their entire backstory in one-off episodes that go on to become incredibly compelling and meaningful to viewers throughout the seasons.
Fans still wonder what became of the nursing home in “Vatos” and they still maintain that Eastman was one of the greatest, most developed characters ever to be featured on the show.
John Carroll Lynch boasts a prolific résumé containing roles and guest parts in huge series such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Turn: Washington’s Spies, The Americans, and, of course, as American Horror Story’s infamous Twisty the Clown.
It seems pretty clear this actor has actually helped many, many shows throughout his long career.
8 Saved: Noah Emmerich
Noah Emmerich’s quietly depressed Dr. Jenner brought a whole new perspective to the zombie apocalypse.
He felt genuine and lost. Jenner was ready to give up on himself and the world, leading viewers to wonder why, exactly, a top CDC researcher would be so ready to throw in the towel just a few short months into the outbreak.
The secrets that Jenner held would go on to affect the entire mythology of the show– everyone is infected?
The short episode that he appeared in would go on to seriously boost Emmerich’s career, in turn.
Emmerich has gone on to appear in high profile projects like Super 8 and The Americans and will next be seen in The Spy.
7 Hurt: Austin Amelio
Many viewers are just not that impressed with Austin Amelio’s turn as the Savior turned renegade, Dwight in The Walking Dead.
Many of these critics found the character to be lifeless, boring, or wooden, and honestly, maybe that’s kind of the point.
Dwight is lifeless before he meets Daryl Dixon and finds in him a survivor worth emulating. He has no real personality of his own and chooses to borrow from those around him or stronger.
Looking at the character through this lens adds a different perspective to Amelio’s acting abilities.
However, regardless of talent, the audience just hasn’t been able to get behind this character– at least as far as online critics are concerned.
6 Saved: Michael Rooker
For all of the love that Daryl Dixon has earned through the years, Merle was right there behind him.
Was he a good guy or a bad guy? Was he neither? Merle did what he wanted when he wanted, right up until he realized that he didn’t actually want to be that guy anymore.
He sacrificed his own life so that his brother could continue to grow into the hero he is today, and he did it all with his characteristic swagger and fun-loving charm.
Michael Rooker himself has continued to be a steady presence in conventions the world over. Thanks both to his continued popularity as the black sheep Dixon brother and due to his induction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy.
5 Saved: Scott Wilson
Hershel Greene may have had the absolute most impact on The Walking Dead than any character who has ever been featured on the show.
He acted as a father figure to… well, basically everyone. Glenn, Sasha, and most specifically Rick Grimes all benefited from Hershel’s quiet wisdom, which was played to perfection through Scott Wilson’s gentle approach.
Though he lost his life several seasons ago, many characters (and viewers) are still feeling the loss of this beloved character.
Rick has dedicated himself to emulating his fallen friend, and Maggie and Carl brought up Hershel’s demise practically once a season.
Plus anyone with a weapon filled with infinite ammo in the zombie apocalypse is an instant icon. That’s a fact.
4 Hurt: Christine Evangelista
She was supposed to be a relatively big deal throughout the All Out War arc. Sherry was Negan’s wife and was Dwight’s previous wife, after all.
There was so much potential for drama and backstabbing, as well as a complicated look at how these characters navigated the minefield of human relations after society crumbled.
Instead, viewers got Christine Evangelista, who just sort of ran off into the woods for a while.
Unfortunately, running away may have been the best choice for this character, as she wasn’t very well-liked when she actually was onscreen.
Whether she was threatening Negan or trying to get in good with him, too many viewers felt that the performance was wooden and not very compelling.
3 Saved: Andrew Lincoln
Saying Andrew Lincoln helped The Walking Dead is basically a given. Regardless of whether fans believe Rick Grimes is an all-around good guy and hero, or secretly the bad guy, Lincoln’s powerhouse acting talents have consistently been applauded by viewers and critics alike.
Add to that the legends claiming Lincoln to be the sweetheart father figure for the entire cast and his adorable friendship with Norman Reedus, and you’ve got a leading actor who can’t help but gain the love of all who tune in.
Unfortunately, Lincoln may be ending his tenure on the show after the next season. Time will tell, possibly sooner rather than later, just how much Rick Grimes brings to the show.
We’ll have to see how viewers react to his absence.
2 Saved: Lauren Cohan
Maggie Greene does actually have a few detractors. Some viewers found her angry outbursts on her father’s farm to be a little too much to bear.
However, by and large, Lauren Cohan’s performance as the farmer’s daughter turned Hilltop leader/single mom has won over both fans and castmates.
Cohan has been eyeing an exit, possibly before the end of the show’s next season. King Ezekiel actor Khary Payton pushed for AMC to give Cohan the pay boost she was looking for, but with a reduced contract, Maggie’s days could be numbered.
With many viewers believing that the character is the natural progression to Rick’s leadership, it’s hard to imagine that losing her will do much to help ratings.
1 Hurt: Michael Traynor
Honestly, the hatred toward Nicholas is probably a compliment to Michael Traynor and his acting ability.
We weren’t ever actually meant to like this character. He was meant to mess up any and everything he touched, and he certainly accomplished that.
However, regardless of whether or not the character was meant to be well-liked, viewers were still very happy when his arc finally ended.
Is it possible Nicholas received so much backlash because his arc basically kicked off that whole Glenn/dumpster fake out? Maybe, but Traynor has since moved on to popular series like The Fosters and the experimental YouTube Red movie The Thinning, so everything seems to have worked out in the end.
Can you think of any other The Walking Dead casting decisions that saved or hurt the show? Let us know in the comments!