Types Of Characters In Post-apocalyptic Fiction

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Everything could have started for a million different reasons. An epidemic disease could have spread across nations. Or, perhaps, the government caused a nuclear holocaust. Maybe it was due to a runaway climate change happening over time. Or maybe a powerful radiation caused the undead to rise. Whatever the cause, the effect is the same: Earth’s civilization has collapsed.

Instead of the cause of the catastrophe, post-apocalyptic fiction tends to look at the events that come after it. The story usually takes place in a world where humanity is struggling to survive. With Earth turned into a war zone where you either have to kill or be killed, it is up to a certain group of survivors to maintain the human race alive.

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One of the first characters we are introduced to is usually “the leader”. They are charismatic, headstrong, and brave. Such a character needs to make good and quick decisions and keep calm in front of the others to prevent panic. Unfortunately, all the responsibilities they have been carrying begin to weigh down on them and lead them to act recklessly and put the whole group in danger. In the end, they are expected to do the right thing, solve their inner problems and bring the group together again for the final battle.

A good example of the leader type in post-apocalyptic fiction is Thomas from the book The Maze Runner by James Dashner. He is proactive and a natural leader, quickly taking over the group of teens locked in the Maze and getting them out. Although it gets more difficult outside, he keeps going with a strong sense of loyalty to his friends, trying to save them even after some are turned into zombies.

Another character that fits the role is Eren Yeager from the animated series Attack on Titan. He is a former member of the Survey Corps, who fight against Titans—human-like creatures that feed on humans and terrorize the world. Although he starts out seeking revenge for his mother, he eventually matures and learns about the world, becoming the main weapon against the enemy.

As long as there is a leader, there will always be “the lancer”, the character that tends to clash heads with the leader due to different values or mentalities. If the leader has pacifistic believes that not everything is solved through violence or inserting fear, this character will not hesitate to kill someone who turns out to be a traitor or a threat, and vice versa. Throughout the story, they will either slowly turn against the heroes due to selfish reasons, or put their differences aside and work together to defeat their bigger threat.

Shane Walsh, one of the main characters and later an antagonist, from the American horror TV drama series The Walking Dead has the right criteria for this archetype. He starts out as the best friend of the main character, Rick, who is left for dead as the apocalypse begins. Shane takes his family away and even starts an affair with his wife. When Rick reappears, tensions are high from the start, beginning a rivalry between the two former friends that doesn’t end well for anyone.

An example of the same archetype from a different fiction could be Vegeta from the animated series Dragon Ball Z. Regal, egotistical, and full of pride, he was once a ruthless, cold-blooded warrior, who later abandons his role in the Frieza Force to remain and live on Earth. Vegeta is an enemy turned friendly rival to the main character, Goku, whom he wants to defeat and surpass.

Although the previous two know how to get themselves out of a sticky situation, it is usually “the smart guy” character that knows all the answers. They may not have the physical power that the others possess, but they are practical, prepared and tend to know more than anyone else. During a battle or a dangerous situation, they are the ones that plant traps and remain on the sidelines, while letting the rest fight physically. Often nerdy and awkwardly played for comic relief, they tend to try and break down the usually heavy tension. By the end of the story, they will put their fears aside and use their intellectual skills to save their dear ones, usually the other members of the group.

One character that portrays themselves as the “smart guy” is Alyx Vance, the heroine of the famous post-apocalyptic video game Half Life 2. She is a determined, energetic and dorky young woman, who shines through her support of the main character, Gordon Freeman. As a tech genius, she built many of the robots, including DOG.

As for animated fiction, Armin Arlelt, one of the main characters of Attack on Titan and one of Eren’s closest friends, also fits the description for this type. He is the one coming up with crazy and manipulative plans that always end up successful. By just observing and remembering little details, he is able to figure out secret identities and lead the rest of the group to safety.

The smart character is often good buddies with the “big guy” character, who is known for being the strongman of the team. They are usually well-built, slow, and quiet, only speaking when necessary or in some cases even mute. Their rough appearance may lead people to assume that their heart is as cold as their stare, which cannot be further from the truth. Not only do they try to help the team in any way they can, but they also are the first ones to take a bullet or a strike in order to protect someone they care about.

An example of this archetype would be Darryl Dixon from The Walking Dead series. Throughout the story, he has tremendous character growth, learning about compassion and living with others through his years with the protagonists. However, his main role has always been that of the most capable and strongest zombie hunter in the gang. A true powerhouse of the zombie apocalypse and a fan favorite, his physical might has remained while his humanity has increased.

Following up is Rebecca Lee, also known as Revy, from the animated series Black Lagoon, who shows great traits linked with this role. She is a different kind of “big guy”, as she isn’t particularly large in physique, but she is incredibly skilled with weapons, which complements the less action-oriented skills of the protagonist, Rokuro Okajima, and her other associates; Benny and Dutch. Her dark past makes her slow to trust, but she is loyal to her few friends and always fights to protect them.

The reason why these character types are so important to the story itself and to one another is shown by how their personalities and morals are tested, by how they adapt to every situation and by how they act when faced against each other and the final danger. Putting their differences aside and facing their inner fears and demons helps them all grow into better people and helps their relationships with one another deepen further. In real life, people don’t conform to such archetypes so squarely, but we can still see them everywhere; friend groups, project teams, even families. Studying this in fiction, and in such an extreme setting as a post-apocalyptic one, can be a good way to observe and think about how people act, adapt, live and form relationships with others in difficult situations. 


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