2016 was a banner year for ladies on television and that’s no joke! But today we’d like to throw down a little celebration for the moms out there who give it their all, and don’t take any mess — moms, this one’s for you. Never stop commenting on your children’s Facebook posts, forwarding random fake news emails, perfecting your side-eye game, or occasionally taking down our enemies. You are the wind beneath our wings.
Cersei Lannister, ‘Game of Thrones’
Time can be a flat circle, you know, such as that thing where you go around doing all kinds of psycho stuff to keep a prophecy from coming true that all of your kids are going to die, and then the things you did cause your kids to all die, and it’s like: How could this have been avoided? But the answer, and you know this is the answer, is that it couldn’t have been avoided. That’s just life’s way. It’s not karma and it’s not retribution, it’s just that flat circle we call time.
Listen: Some queens molest their little brother in his crib and don’t ever feel bad about it, others might continue dating their twin brother well into their forties, they may even get to watch all of their kids marry the same lady over and over until she can be exploded… And that is just some of what being royalty is about. All you can do is walk around naked like you own the place, sit your elegant self down on the biggest throne you can find, take out as many people in massacres as you feel like taking out, and then think about how even if all your kids are dead, it is still very cool to win at something. This is the story of Cersei Lannister Baratheon, played by Lena Headey to perfection. It is also basically the story of “Westworld.”
Moms, ‘The Fosters’
The plural noun here of course refers to Lena and Stef (Sherri Saum and Teri Polo), who manage not only to provide safety and unconditional love to the most wonderful family on television — but never at the expense of their own marriage, mutual respect, or sanity. Lena and Stef aren’t just the parents we want most to be — they’re the adults we want to be. When we say things like “the parents have good storylines too” or “a kids’ movie adults can enjoy,” a lot of times it sounds like sour grapes — but the Adams-Fosters really are that rare family-show couple whose marriage is not only the basis of everything, from the show’s intensely strong values to its most ridiculous dustups, but at the end of the day right where we want to be.
Hayley Marshall, ‘The Originals’
With a supernatural pedigree too complicated and digressive to explain, Phoebe Tonkin‘s backwoods werewolf bad-girl with the nice-guy tastes has been a lot of things over the course of her time in the “Vampire Diaries”/”Originals” shared universe. The introduction of her daughter (with Joseph Morgan’s Klaus) Hope could have been the end of everything — magical babies aren’t exactly a defense against storytelling desperation — but as with so many of the bizarre and seemingly unworkable ideas “Originals” likes to toss into the mix, Hope succeeds based on two things: Narrative curveballs, and the performances of those around her. We’ll miss Jackson (Nathan Parsons), of course, but in the end we’re most grateful to the Crescent Moon pack’s alpha for helping us realize what Hayley’s role has been all along: She’s not just a lupine Huckleberry Finn toting a magical bastard at all — she’s a Queen, always getting stronger, coming into her own.
Dr. Rainbow Johnson, ‘Black-ish’
Tracee Ellis Ross‘s “Bow” is not only the greatest character in a great ensemble, she’s also the most aspirational mother we’ve seen on TV in a while: Patient and wise, witty and impulsive, she knows when to react and when to play the long game. Her frankness, outspoken politics, philosophical bent and intersectional struggles add up to a fresh, current, portrait of a mother who is as much about her own life and goals as she is about guidance for those around her. Strip away the extra connotations and focus on cultural impact, and it’s not crossing a line to say Bow is the 2010s answer to Claire Huxtable: Sexy, confident and always just a few steps ahead.
Caroline Forbes, ‘The Vampire Diaries’
Candice King has been the reigning all-star of Mystic Falls since her last name was Accola. While her whole Gemini’s Twin storyline — in which the delightful Kai (Chris Wood) murders Alaric’s (Matt Davis) pregnant bride on their wedding day, and the babies end up in innocent bystander Caroline — gave us the heebie-jeebies, it was a relief to know the story came out of King’s real-life pregnancy.
While Caroline’s touchy arrangement ever since — co-parenting the now-tweens with Alaric while carrying on a relationship with her best friend Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) — has provided a lot of juicy drama, it was the eighth midseason cliffhanger that may have broken us permanently: Caroline spends one final Christmas with her family before sending her daughters away for their own protection, and her fiancé to a year of hellish servitude.
The Villanuevas, ‘Jane the Virgin’
From left to right that’s Alba (Ivonne Coll), Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and Xochitl (Andrea Navedo): Three generations of Villanueva women, as stubborn as they are loving and a testament to the ever-refining, upward nature of tradition. While for a long time the show could be read as a sort of neverending consequence to Alba’s repression — which turned Xo into a teen mom and Jane into a late-twenties virgin — the more we learn about Alba’s own history the more we find ourselves loving all three of them equally. Compare with their Connecticut counterparts, the Gilmore Girls — notably missing from this list — whose separate hells follow a parallel but often less rewarding track: The Villanuevas remain deeply connected, compassionate, hopeful and wise no matter what life throws their way — and they’re stuck in a self-aware telenovela!
Claire Randall Fraser, ‘Outlander’
Claire (Caitriona Balfe) isn’t known for leaning out — it generally takes her very little time at all to pull it together, no matter the century — but Season 2 was tough all around. Having lost one child and now pregnant with Jamie’s daughter, Claire’s fiercely protective and overpowering empathy have leveled up: She sacrifices one great love to protect another, planning to live out her days without ever seeing Jamie (Sam Heughan) again.
Beth Pearson, ‘This Is Us’
Susan Kelechi Watson first wowed us as Louie CK’s ex-wife on “Louie” — but as Randall’s wife Beth on “This Is Us,” her strength of character and sharp mind are the only thing keeping her lunatic family in check… And we don’t mean her two perfect daughters. While her exasperation in early scenes was understandable, it’s her slowly revealed inability to handle BS — culminating in a late-night, pot-fueled deduction and call-out of William’s (Ron Cephas Jones) secret arrangement with her mother-in-law Rebecca (Mandy Moore) — that really has us on the edge of our couch. Beth does not miss a beat.
Daenerys Targaryen, ‘Game of Thrones’
Mhysa/Mother of Dragons Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) taking out some aspect of the patriarchy and setting sail is as much a part of the show’s story patterns as the yearly episode 9 battle — and after taking her place among the widows of past Khals for about five seconds, Dany knew it was time to burn some more folks to the ground (and walk around naked like she owns the place, of course). While she came to love Khal Drogo for his sweetness and warrior’s heart, we are reminded that he was (just barely) the exception to the rule — and now, backed by the armies (and women) of every eastern nation she’s blithely overtaken, it’s time for an assault across the Narrow Sea, in Westeros… And hopefully a little more Stormborn regime change, with the usual fire and blood.
Joyce Byers, ‘Stranger Things’
Winona Ryder‘s “Stranger Things” mom is a thankless role for much of the story — watching a woman slowly grind herself into nothing out of guilt and paralytic hope is sympathetic, but hard to watch — but when her faith is ultimately rewarded, the story shifts into overdrive. Pushed by grief all the way past her limits into true strength, Joyce becomes the Netflix show’s unlikeliest heroine.
Sarah, Allison & Helena, ‘Orphan Black’
Tatiana Maslany killed it from the start as clone Sarah Manning, who proved she’d go to the most extreme possible lengths to get her weird and amazing daughter (Skyler Wexler) back — but it was just a few minutes until we met the original Mama Bear, fellow clone Allison Hendrix. Now, with sestra Helena also running around screaming about her in vitro babies — and in a story that puts “motherhood” at its very center — we’ve got kick-ass moms aplenty running around.
Clone Club is a family to love in many ways — and as a meditation on the physical body, its ownership and agency, motherhood in “Orphan Black” remains as crucial as it should be, while never tipping over (“Lost”- or Moffatt “Doctor Who”-style) into being anyone’s sole defining characteristic.
Dr. Abigail Griffin, ‘The 100’
Paige Turco has been given the gift, as an actress, of playing one of the most complex moms on this list: Dr. Griffin is the sometime-leader and (often but not always) moral center a very small rebel force tasked with repopulating… An Earth that is already populated. While her daughter Clarke (Eliza Taylor) shoulders a lot of the burden when it comes to the fieldwork and moral quandaries, Abbie’s stayed in the mix from Day One by demonstrating her indefatigable will, conviction, and sense of a greater ethics — even when it means putting herself in harm’s way. The show with the highest stakes on TV continually tops itself, and that means putting Abbie in greater and greater danger (for example, most recently a mind-controlled technological cult she willingly joins with no clear exit strategy) — but she meets every challenge head-on. Her daughter may run the world, along with several other likeminded teenage girls, but Abbie remains the mother of humanity.
In “Westworld,” Maeve (Thandie Newton) is not only the mother of a fictional daughter — in several different narrative loops, at least one of which temporarily afflicted her with free will — and plays loving mother to her bordello’s employees, she’s also the mother of revolution itself.
We’re driven to ask not whether her course of self-improvement — which leads first to walking around naked like she owns the place, then godlike power, and finally headlong toward the apocalypse — was planned and written by another, but whether any of us really can say our own struggles and triumphs are the result of more than programming: At the end of the day, spirit is spirit and stark determinism is impossible to critique or prove. Born this way or made this way, Maeve won’t rest until she’s free.
Dana Scully, ‘The X-Files’
There is obviously nothing Gillian Anderson can’t do — especially when portraying Dr. Scully’s brilliant mind and keen sense of justice. Season 10 of the show saw several dangling plot-threads resolved over the course of its six-episode story (nine years after the last episode aired), but the biggest moment for diehard Scully fanatics was the finale, in which Dr. Scully helps Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) synthesize the vaccine for a worldwide epidemic from her own blood — just before being apparently abducted once again. Scully’s always had a strong feeling for children, even when her own weren’t in the picture — and it’s been a pleasure watching her take that ferocity to the next, more intimate level, without losing any edge in the process.
Maggie, ‘The Walking Dead’
Lauren Cohan‘s Maggie has quietly become one of the most intriguing survivors in “The Walking Dead” — and with things coming to a three- or four-front head soon, this bereaved mom-to-be is on a mission of revenge that could see her take ultimate control in the battle to keep humanity humane.
Between dealing with her ex-husband’s disappearance, taking a cool new lover and winning back her home — with the help of the undisputed best of the Sons of Ragnar, her boy Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) — shieldmaiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is a best-case Cersei Lannister at the very least.
She’s always been the heart of the show, but ever since her long-con murder of her second, very crummy husband Sigvard (Morten Sasse Suurballe) we’ve been consistently awed — if not at all shocked — by this lady’s rise in power. Our favorite part of every one of the historical series’ frequent time-jumps is checking in and seeing exactly where Lagertha’s landed… And what she’s going to do next.
So that is it. Your year in moms. Maybe take the time to give yours a call and thank her for all she does — and probably for staying chill. From the list above, it looks like a lot of moms are keeping the lid on some serious destructive capability… Which just gets us even more excited about the year to come.