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As the year draws to a close, we’re rounding off the last of our “Best of 2011” lists. In looking over our list of the best female TV characters from this year, it’s evident that TV delivered some excellent women to the screen. Some were as fierce as warriors, while others made us laugh. One birthed a baby while another birthed dragons. One attempted to protect the country from terrorism, while another sipped champagne and glared a lot. These are our picks for the best female characters on TV in 2011.
Spoiler alert - This list contains references to TV shows that have aired over the course of 2011. Tread lightly if you're not caught up on your favorite shows!
Rest assured, we have a list of our favorite male characters of 2011 coming up. And you can view our picks for the Top 10 TV shows of 2011 here.
Daenerys Targaryen - Game of Thrones
Daenerys Targaryen, or Daenerys Stormborn (Emilia Clarke), is one of the last surviving members of House Targaryen, previous rulers of the Seven Kingdoms. Now political refugees on the run, Danerys and her brother Viserys are forced to make a wedding arrangement with a warrior horsetribe (Dothrakis) in an attempt to return and recapture their rightful throne by force. However, during the first season of Game of Thrones Daenerys narrative arch is perhaps more compelling than any other character as she rises from little more than a slave into the strong and powerful Khalessi, mother of dragons. The frightened child (and newlywed) soon becomes the confident Queen willing to walk into a burning pyre because "fire cannot kill the dragon." Of course she emerges not only unscathed but reborn. As powerful as she is kind, I'd watch out for her come Season 2.
Victoria Grayson - Revenge
There are a number of reasons to watch ABC’s Revenge, among which is Victoria Grayson, excellently portrayed by Madeleine Stowe. The Queen of the Hamptons, Victoria is graceful, beautiful and cunning. She isn’t easily intimidated, nor is she one to let anyone get the best of her. While she’s being set up to be Emily’s biggest opposition in this story of revenge, we’ve glimpsed the softer side of Victoria, particularly in flashbacks that indicate that she wasn’t entirely on board with what was done to Daniel. It’s largely due to Stowe’s deliciously soapy performance that Victoria has become a character you can’t take your eyes from when she’s on screen. She’s scary and mesmerizing all at once.
Penny Hartz - Happy Endings
It’s the year of Penny! 2011 introduced us to Happy Endings, and with it, Casey Wilson as Penny Hartz, a single woman who, despite her good looks and fashion sense, is kind of a mess sometimes. Among the group of friends, Penny represents the single, determined, not entirely unsuccessful woman who isn’t unwilling to take chances, try new things and pursue hew own happiness. She does a mean Samantha impersonation and when she gets drunk, she speaks Italian. While those are all great qualities, she makes the list because, thanks in large part to Wilson, Penny is one of the funniest things about Happy Endings.
Carrie Mathison - Homeland
Showtime's new series Homeland succeeds because of the compelling and fresh characters they have created. Obviously, the devastating performance Claire Danes delivers as CIA Analyst Carrie Mathison makes her so incredibly watchable but credit must also go to the writers for crafting such an engaging and unorthodox female lead. Carrie is an excellent analyst. She also suffers from Bipolar disorder and OCD, meaning that once something gets on her radar, like a tip that an American POW has been turned, there is nothing else on her radar until the case is closed. That is, unless her illness ends up getting the better of her and all those perceptions are tossed aside as merely symptoms. Her choice at season's end is heartbreaking and provides one of the best closing shots (first season or any) in 2011.
Lucretia - Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
Lucretia is cunning and feline, but those qualities are ultimately overshadowed by the ambition that rules her waking life. When first introduced to her, she was cold-hearted and willing to do anything to maintain her social status and importance in society. In Spartacus: Gods of the Arena she is only on her way to becoming this woman. We see this in the kindness she extends to her handmaids and her willingness to allow her slaves to love. Yet, in a scene where she forces her most prized handmaid to be raped by a noble, we see her first resolve to put ambition first. Lucretia is a woman who is forever and rapidly changing, and she wouldn’t be so engrossing to watch without Gods of the Arena involvement in explaining her roots.
Cathy Jamison - The Big C
Cathy is a woman living with and fighting cancer. The best demonstration of her greatness in Season 2 came at the end, when she insisted on running the marathon Lee planned to run before he died. Much in the way she wasn’t prepared for her disease, Cathy wasn't exactly prepared to run the marathon, but she did it anyway, forcing her body to get her to the finish line no matter what. And she did it. The run was a mark of her strength as a woman and as a human being who has only just begun to fight. It’s impossible not to feel hopeful for and inspired by her.
Margaret Schroeder - Boardwalk Empire
On a show that often likes its women to be half-naked sex demons or complete monsters, Margaret Schroeder is constantly full of surprises, helping Nucky run his criminal empire while remaining pious and religious, having an affair with her employee while still making sure Nucky walks her down the aisle. Played by Kelly MacDonald, who's incredibly gifted at saying one thing when you know she means something else, Margaret is the most constantly evolving but also steadfast character on the show, someone whose moves you can't predict but who you'd still want on your side in any fight.
Sabrina - Raising Hope
Sabrina may be the love of Jimmy Chance’s life, but she’s more than the average love interest, able to stimulate a plot or swiftly throw in a raucous joke. She’s also the only chick I’ve ever seen to loudly explain why using multiple question marks at the end of sentences comes across as yelling. She might be a smart girl with a little nerd at her core, but she’s also grown up in Season 2, reconciling with the difficulties of dealing with her family and growing a little softer as an individual, rather than fighting at every opportunity to turn lines into jokes. This balance has made her a better person, but also a more fun character to watch on already likable show.
Olivia Dunham - Fringe
Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is one of the strongest and perhaps most overlooked female characters on television. An incredible investigator, she's always the pillar of moral and emotional strength, whether facing her past filled with experiments or soldiering on in Season 4 without her main man (and squeeze) Peter Bishop. The 2011 year found our heroine in more than her fare share of unfavorable positions - across different universes, and yet, stoically, sternly and not without sentiment, handling every situation you could possible imagine (including being possessed by and having to deliver a Leonard Nemoy impression). Olivia continues the fight to save the universe(s) from impending Fringe events as well as keeping hope alive that her migraines might signal something more, some kind of communication with Peter trying to make his way home.
Kristina Braverman - Parenthood
In three seasons of Parenthood, Kristina Braverman has been a good mother, a good companion to her children, and a good wife to her husband. It wasn’t until her husband lost his job coupled with bringing an unexpected baby into the world that we saw the depths of Kristina’s capabilities and emotions as an individual. With her husband working out of town, she’s having a tough time managing her own ambitions, her challenged son, and two daughters in very different places in life. Within this world, her claws have come out and we have seen her fight to make the best of her life. I always thought of Kristina as fragile and beautiful, but as it turns out, she’s more like steel than glass.