It’s International Women’s Day, and we’re celebrating with a closer look at all the female TV characters who are breaking with convention, defying stereotypes, or simply kicking butt. They’re equal parts flawed, complex, and powerful – and utterly unapologetic about it. Read on to see which powerful female character you identify most with, from Mindy Lahiri succeeding in a male-dominated field and Selina Meyer ambitiously running for president to Khaleesi eating the heart of a horse out of respect for an ancient ritual.
Knights in shining armor need not apply.
Olivia Pope, 'Scandal'
"My world, my rules."
The go-to girl in any political crisis taking place in Washington DC, Olivia Pope was easily one of television’s most intelligent and intriguing characters. Played impeccably by Kerry Washington, the former White House Communications Director ran her own company and managed to remain a consummate professional, despite no shortage of trials and tribulations in her romantic and family life. And don’t even get us started on that power walk.
Annalise Keating, 'How to Get Away with Murder'
"You call it crazy. I call it winning."
When Viola Davis made history in 2015 with her Emmy win in the ‘Lead Actress in a Drama Series’ category, we were cheering for many reasons – and recognition of her character Annalise Keating was just one of them. The ruthless and savvy defense attorney is immensely complex and brimming with flaws, and therein lies her appeal. Between her troubled childhood, cheating husband, and plethora of guilty clients, Keating has already hit rock bottom, but seems to be able to handle just about anything.
Selina Meyer, 'Veep'
"I'm used to dealing with angry, aggressive, dysfunctional men – i.e. men."
Blunt, vulgar, and downright hilarious, Selina Meyer is reason enough to take an interest in American politics. Played brilliantly by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the narcissistic politician will exploit anything and anyone to further her career, but she reminds viewers that her underhanded ways and errors in judgement reflect a corrupt political system, as opposed to the norms of female leadership.
Claire Underwood, 'House of Cards'
"Am I really the sort of enemy you want to make?"
Mastering the art of both power dressing and keeping calm under pressure was Claire Underwood, the first female president of the United States. We watched her evolve from simply being a dutiful sidekick to her husband, using her her icy and ambitious ways to turn even the most undesirable situation to her advantage.
Daenerys "Khaleesi" Targaryen, 'Game of Thrones'
"I am no ordinary woman. My dreams come true."
No list of powerful TV characters – male or female – is complete without a mention of Daenerys “Khaleesi” Targaryen, and for obvious reasons. She has faced abuse, been forced into marriage, and survived the loss of her family, yet she managed to take charge of life by being reborn as the Mother of Dragons. As confident as she is idealistic, the fearless warrior queen will leave no stone unturned when it comes to making the world a better place and holding onto her throne.
Mindy Lahiri, 'The Mindy Project'
"It's so weird being my own role model."
Dr. Mindy Lahiri was long been considered an icon of lipstick feminism – and what’s more powerful than feminism? We’ve seen this intelligent and accomplished character launch her own fertility clinic in addition to working full-time as an OB/GYN and yet remain incredibly relatable to the everywoman. We can’t decide what we love most: her delusional sense of confidence, love for clashing prints, or witty one-liners.
Galina "Red" Reznikova, 'Orange Is the New Black'
"Nice is for cowards and Democrats.”
Orange Is the New Black depicts women from all walks of life, but none commands respect and loyalty quite like Red. Idolized by her fellow inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary, the Russian immigrant will stop at nothing to bring down her enemies. This character is as strong-willed and calculating as she is protective of those she cares about, even giving Nicky permission to testify against her when she is threatened with 70 years of drug-related charges. Red is currently locked up in SHU for attacking a fellow inmate over her betrayal, and that’s where we’ll find her in the show’s seventh and final season.
Jessica Jones, 'Jessica Jones'
"I don't flirt. I just say what I want."
Referring to the dry and sarcastic title character of Netflix original series Jessica Jones as “a force to be reckoned with” would be an understatement – she may be a retired superhero, but she still deserves a spot on this list. In the process of trying to rebuild her life as a private investigator, Jessica Jones uses her superpowers and physical strength for good. She gets our vote for how refreshingly real (translation: deeply flawed and inherently damaged) she can be.
Jessica Pearson, 'Suits'
"I do not respond to threats. I make them."
Independent, graceful, and quick on her feet – that’s Jessica Pearson in a nutshell. Navigating her role as a managing parter at a high-powered New York law firm with swagger, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind or value her career about all else. Viewers are as taken with her sexy office attire and sky-high heels as they are with her creative threats and side-eye tendencies. They’re so taken, in fact, that a spin-off show entitled Pearson – centered on Jessica Pearson’s advent into Chicago politics – will premiere this summer.
Carrie Mathison, 'Homeland'
"You wait, you lay low, and then you come to life."
Power and Carrie Mathison are practically synonymous. Sure, she makes questionable decisions in her personal life and struggles with bipolar disorder, but that never took away from her brilliance as a CIA agent. And regardless of how taxing her job got, the character always managed to maintain her steely focus, follow her instincts, and stick to her convictions. As she agrees to work with the president-elect’s administration, but has been banned by the White House, it’ll be interesting to see what the eighth and final season of Homeland reveals.