Best of 2022: Characters feature spoilers for various shows. Please be advised if there’s something you don’t want to know.
2022 has been one of the strongest years for character journeys and TV shows. We thought we were in peak TV season last year, but by the time December hit, we were swamped with too many to choose from and needed more time to write about them all. (Four more hours in the day would do wonders, wouldn’t it?) Therefore, this year, we chose the characters we thought about the most—the ones we cried most about and adored through everything.
For more end-of-the-year coverage, be sure to check out our Best of 2022: Romance Novels, the Best of 2022: Performances, the Best of 2022: Found Families, the Best of 2022: Scene Stealers, the Best of 2022: Romantic Relationships, and the Best of 2022: TV Episodes.
1. Kate Sharma
Kate Sharma is a special character. She’s all heart and soul and so innately fierce that it’s truly wondrous to know a fictional world where she exists and shines—the example she can be, the figure she stands us. As one of the Best of 2022 characters, Kate’s realistic struggles are where she gleams the most. There are pieces inside all of us who believe that we have to earn love, even when that’s far from the truth. There are pieces inside us that’ll give everything we have to ensure that the people around us are happy and satisfied.
Kate’s selfless nature is boundless. She isn’t just an older sister, but she is quite literally armor personified, taking every bullet herself and carrying the weight of everyone’s grief to ensure that they don’t feel the colossal losses she does. Season 2 of Bridgerton didn’t give us a chance to get to know her fully, but it proved that her heart is bigger than any other character’s. In our Character Deep Dive, I’d said: “pleated beneath her armor is the spirit of an empath, torrents of insecurities, heartaches, fears, a child-like vigor, and, chief of all, cascades of adoration. Kate Sharma is strength forged in the embers of grief and love. She is equal parts competitive and honorable, sharp and gentle—a woman with needs and desires. She is all heart and unceasing devotion, opening herself up to anyone who needs her while expecting nothing in return.”
2. Janine Teagues
Janine Teagues and Abbott Elementary have been a saving grace in 2022 that none of us knew we needed. Quinta Brunson’s series is a treasure in and of itself, and the character she plays offers the kind of comfort that’s a true rarity in the fictional world. The thing about Janine is that she’s like many of us—trying to make the best of every single day while she attempts to navigate through work fitting in, searching for pieces of herself in the process. It’ll never not be refreshing to see imperfect characters on TV who continue enduring for the right causes and the right people.
In Season 2, as Janine navigates through her breakup with Tariq and tries to branch out of what she knows solely at work, she sets a standard for the detail that sometimes, our choices are what hinder our successes even while they’re hard. Janine shows viewers that you don’t have to change who you are to belong somewhere because authenticity requires doing what you’d like at your own speed. She doesn’t have to go out every night but could go out some nights. She doesn’t have to bend and break for others when they don’t do the same for her; she could set boundaries. There’s so much we’re still meant to see with Janine, and everything thus far has been brilliantly comforting. And in all seriousness, if she were the kind of the third teacher I had, maybe school wouldn’t have been actual hell. Janine wants to challenge her kids by believing in them even when they make mistakes, and there’s genuinely nothing more heartwarming than that.
3. Max Mayfield
Max Mayfield is strength and heart personified. She might not have any magical ability, but she’s a kid who’s endured in the face of ever-growing heartaches with a mighty belief in her friends that’s a rarity to see. In a character like Max, bravery comes in the aftermath of sorrow—in the face of giants. It’s the selfless decision to forgive, grieve, and allow herself to love openly and fiercely. There’s a reason Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is the perfect song for her—she makes the deal, she pushes forward, and she chooses her friends.
The mark on Max—the choice to run toward the light is a decision that not only helped her grow but forced her to break through her walls and open her heart to the people begging to help her. This journey not only grounded the character more, but it heightened her independence in a beautiful way that catered to the loyalty inside of her, expanding her love further and thrusting her on a journey that cemented just how well-written and authentic she is. And, of course, there’s everything that Sadie Sink brought to our screens as one of the strongest performers of the year.
The Rings of Power
The Rings of Power is remarkable for its riveting characters, and Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel is the kind of leader who emphasizes the importance of compassion exquisitely. Our Dana Anne said it best, “she debunks the conception that elves are unfeeling.” Galadriel is goal-oriented, yes, but there’s something so innately human about her that glistens beyond her ethereal beauty and the unyielding strength she carries. Galadriel is flawed—she’s sometimes brash, too trusting, and vulnerable. She lets her guard down when it’s not necessarily the right thing to do, but it’s because she allows herself to feel beyond what she’s taught to believe.
In the first episode, her brother tells her that to find the light, she must touch darkness first, and the majority of her arc in Season 1 explores what this idea truly means as she navigates through her quests to find Sauron and return home. Where avenging her brother matters more than anything else to Galadriel, we see so much of her heart entirely on display as she continues to learn to make her surroundings better than where she left them. This is only the beginning of her character’s journey, and how she’ll deal with what’s to come after the finale will undoubtedly only make her a more riveting character.
5. Little Leia Organa
For many of us, Leia Organa was our introduction to a world that we were shunned from. A world where as kids, we were told is “only for boys.” And as beautifully as Carrie Fisher stood her ground to embody someone with warmth and fire, Vivien Lyra Blair brought layers of the character that we loved and adored much more fiercely to our screens. In Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Leia we knew became a character whose heart was even bigger and bolder than what we’d already known. We had the chance to watch a child question, fight back, and learn what it means to lead with love, growing into the character we all know and love with as much zeal in her as you’d expect.
In little Leia, the audience gets to know a beloved character more by understanding what drew her to the resistance. Leia is a character who sees people not as they are but as they could be. She’s curious and so profoundly in awe of the idea of protecting others. She’s kind to droids and open to a world without bullies. She stands her ground, protecting those who can’t fight for themselves, and she wants nothing but the best for those who are broken and bruised.
1. Obi-Wan Kenobi
Some characters stay with you long after the credits role and for years without you understanding why or how you’re so fixated on them. Obi-Wan Kenobi was that character for me, and sure, maybe when I was young, it was because Ewan McGregor was the hottest Jedi ever. Still, as an adult, when you understand the lore more profoundly, those uncertainties become apparent and more palpable. Obi-Wan’s innate goodness and reliable nature were hauntingly rare traits that always represented something more significant in the universe. So few like him truly exist, and yet…he had the worst life. Year after year, he endured one loss after another and then reacted to those losses in the most human way possible. He shut himself off, built walls around his heart, and broke into a million pieces while attempting to showcase that he was fine.
Except in Obi-Wan Kenobi, he’s far from fine—he’s battle-worn, bruised, tired, and numb. The sparks in him have dimmed, but his big heart still glistens somewhere deep down. In his promise to get Leia home safely, Ben Kenobi allowed himself to heal from the second chances life had thrown in his path. He pushed forward even when the pain was too deep and beyond healing. He gave every part of himself to ensure someone else’s safety, and in the end, he was better for it—years later, he’ll give his life fully, becoming the symbol of hope we know and adore. He deserved the world, but all it did was take from him, and through it all, his gentleness never wavered.
2. Anthony Bridgerton
Anthony Bridgerton is one of the most brilliantly complex characters who’s ever been in a period drama because so much of his journey looks inward and deconstructs the toxic masculinity of the time. While Bridgerton’s first season showed glimpses of the heartaches that broke the viscount, its sophomore season dove deep into thrusting his trauma forward to showcase how haunted he is by grief, his duties, and the mere thought of failure. And so much of his journey is as compelling as it is because of Jonathan Bailey.
Anthony, like Kate, firmly believes that he needs to earn love when it’s the exact opposite, but this thought, like a panopticon, consistently hovers over him, making every day more difficult than the one before. And in dealing with his heartaches, he escapes rather than facing them head-on because he isn’t aware of the strength inside of him to do so. That is, until Kate Sharma and the decision he makes to be a better, stronger version of himself for her. And that stronger version of himself that doesn’t require changing who he is; instead, it requires looking inward to know that he doesn’t have to run from it all, but he could heal if he faces his demons while allowing himself to love someone and be loved in return.
3. Cassian Andor
Cassian Andor isn’t merely one of the Best of 2022 characters, but he’s indisputably one of the most important characters in the Star Wars universe. Cassian Andor is The Rebellion’s spark stirring from every wave that pushes toward drowning The Empire to the ground. The road he carved in his journey from silence to screams is unlike anything else we’ve seen in this universe, governing the path that showcases what it means to shout beliefs from the highest standings or deep in the confines of a suffocating prison.
In the words of Collider’s Maggie Lovitt, “He is representative of the people who try to do the “right” thing—those that keep their heads down, jump when they’re told to jump, and try to focus on living their lives for themselves.” Cassian’s initial reluctance, the normalcy in his character’s day-to-day operations, and the bit of selfishness make him a reflection of those we could recognize—the people we know in our real worlds. But much of this spark ignites and continues to burn because of the life that’s lived and the people encountered. As we watched Cassian go from one place to another, the spark followed him, striking higher and faster, thrusting him toward the character we know who changes the course for the heroes we later recognize as those responsible for The Empire’s downfall. Still, we understand here that all people are a reflection of the paths they take and the people they meet, making Cassian one of the figures whose legacy is drawn from his innate goodness and defiance to push forward.
4. Steve Harrington
Since Stranger Things Season 2, Steve Harrington has been the fan-favorite character every year. And rightfully so, because how he continues to evolve remains unmatched. To examine what makes a character compelling, we must first look into why they operate the way that they do. No perfect character exists, and we don’t want that, but with Steve, it’s always been about his immense capacity to love intensely despite the detail that he receives very little in return. Steve Harrington is all heart in a vicious, cruel, and unkind world. He prioritizes stepping in front of the kids, Nancy, Robin, and everyone else because he sincerely believes it’s his duty to protect them all.
And this year, Stranger Things gave us further insight into his deepest desires, allowing him to be vulnerable to reveal what he wants out of his life. His desire for a family encompasses his longing for the family he never had, showcasing that everything he does is to ensure that no one feels as left out as he does. Through the subtlest forms of revealing these things, Steve showed the audience all the ways in which this fight matters to him, securing him a spot in our Best of 2022 characters list for another year.
5. Evan Hawkins
Evan Hawkins is the most surprising character on this list because how he crept into our hearts and how Chicago Fire shattered us in the last year is something we’ve yet to get over. When we were first introduced to the character, it was easy to assume he’d be a pompous know-it-all on top, but instead, we were given a chance to get to know someone whose heart is so full of love that he doesn’t know what to do with it. Hawkins turned out to be the perfect boyfriend for Violet and the kind of chief who’s proven he belongs where he is.
The decision to kill off someone as kind and gentle might never make sense to us, but in the little time we got to know Hawkins, he’s been one of our favorite characters to have on our screens. From the moment the two started dating to the final shot we have with him, his presence has been a comfort throughout the show’s run.
Honorable Mentions: Naomi Nagata (The Expanse), Jim Holden (The Expanse), Kim Wexler (Better Call Saul), Gregory Eddie (Abbott Elementary), and Wednesday Addams (Wednesday).