This article contains spoilers for Tales of the Walking Dead episode 1, Fear The Walking Dead, and The Walking Dead.
In general, the shows that make up The Walking Dead‘s expanded universe don’t tend to leave a lot of room for sentimentality. This is a world determined to drive humans to extinction, with threats all around. Be it the crumbling, zombie-infested cities or the harsh, unforgiving wilderness, there’s not a lot of succor to be had. With humans driven to banditry or worse, and the general difficulty of finding food and potable water in this universe, there aren’t a lot of time or resources for seeking out animal friendships.
Man’s best friend could be another casualty of the insatiable appetite of the dead. Fortunately, humans aren’t the only creatures on Earth with a knack for making do. Things are hard all over, but animals are hardier than anyone gives them credit for. Some are more useful than others, but all are cute, and all are a sign of hope for weary survivors looking for a ray of sunshine in the dark world of the dead.
Skipper the Lamb (and Gilligan the Dog)
The newest entry in The Walking Dead‘s animal pantheon might also be the cutest. In the first episode of Tales of the Walking Dead, Joe (Terry Crews) and Evie (Olivia Munn) are on their way to Michigan when the two get side-tracked at an old warehouse. In the confusion, their motorcycle and sidecar get stolen. However, the thief must not have been completely heartless, because he left behind a present: a cuddly baby lamb with a collar. This cuddly little companion goes everywhere Evie goes, either being carried in her arms (which, aww) or walking placidly along on a leash (somehow, even cuter than being carried).
Joe eventually settles on a name for the lamb: Skipper. It’s cute enough without an explanation; but when you find out Joe has named Skipper in honor of his deceased Doberman Pinscher, Gilligan? It’s even cuter. Skipper might be the polar opposite of Gilly the dog, but she’s no less important in Evie’s life. While Gilly died defending her owner from walkers, Skipper will eventually provide milk and cheese to her new family, making her just as, if not more, useful in the long run. You can’t fight if you have nothing to eat, and cheese snob survivors will go crazy for a buttery Manchego, a pungent Roquefort, or some salty, crumbly feta.
Tabitha the Goat
When Morgan stumbles across Eastman’s cabin in The Walking Dead season 6’s “Here’s Not Here,” he doesn’t follow a trail of smoke or catch sight of a working whirligig or scarecrow. What keys Morgan (Lennie James) into the presence of civilization is a domesticated goat hanging out near a cabin. That cute brown goat is Tabitha, and like every other goat, she looks extremely huggable.
Not only is Tabitha a companion animal (and zombie alarm) for Eastman (John Carroll Lynch, playing successfully against type), she’s an important tool of Morgan’s recovery. By taking care of Tabitha, Morgan is able to push aside his trauma and focus on the needs of another living, breathing thing. Plus, she’s Eastman’s key for a lifetime of chèvre. Unfortunately, Tabitha’s time on the show is short-lived, as she is attacked and eaten by zombies despite Eastman and Morgan’s best attempt at security. She’s buried in a place of honor next to her owner Eastman, reuniting owner and would-be cheese-monger with his beloved pet goat.
One of the crucial pieces of The Walking Dead‘s second season takes place in the very first episode, “What Lies Ahead.” In that episode, Carl (Chandler Riggs) goes with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Shane (Jon Bernthal) to look for Sophia (Madison Lintz) after she got separated from the group during the chaos of a walker herd attack. They don’t successfully find Sophia, but they do spy a buck wandering through the forest. Shane wants to shoot it, but Rick stops him, allowing Carl to approach the deer almost to the point of touching him.
The deer is a beautiful, majestic creature, healthy and hearty, and a sign of nature’s ability to repair itself in only a few short months without human intervention. Then, unfortunately, humans intervene, and a rifle shot not only gravely injures Carl, it also kills the buck in the process. Technically, it’s the other way around, since poor Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) was trying to shoot the deer and didn’t even see Carl, but Carl recovers and the deer, sadly, does not. Carl’s deer goes the way of the deer in season 1’s “Tell It to the Frogs” and the terrible CGI deer from “Say Yes” and the better CGI/stuffed deer from season 10’s first episode, “Lines We Cross.”
Violet the Pig
Poor Carl has the worst luck with animals. First, he gets shot while admiring a deer. And then, while living in the prison in season 3’s opener, “30 Days Without an Accident,” his pet pig dies. Violet had been raised from a piglet by Carl, and despite her being a food animal, Carl still was close enough to the pig to name her and notice changes in her personality. Violet isn’t acting right, and Rick, unhelpfully, admits he doesn’t know why the pig is ill. He tells Carl to give her a wide berth until she’s feeling better. She never ends up feeling better.
Violet is the first victim of the flu virus that sweeps through the prison, killing multiple people and causing them to reanimate and attack other survivors while everyone is asleep. Violet’s piglets fare no better than their mother. In “Infected,” after zombies threaten to break through the fence, Rick decides to kill the piglets and use them to distract the walkers while Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) reinforce the fences. At least the piglets didn’t die in vain like poor mother Violet. Sure, those pigs were going to eventually be food, but they would have been better people food than walker food.
Skidmark the Cat
The only real problem with Skidmark is his unfortunate name. In a lot of ways, the cat, who first appears on Fear the Walking Dead as the pet of Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades) in season 5’s “The Hurt That Will Happen,” is the most useful animal companion on the list. Skidmark might not be a milk-giving animal, and he might lack the obvious ferocity of some other animals we’ll talk about later on, but he’s incredibly valuable to Daniel. Skidmark helps him disable the traps left by the previous owner of the warehouse base. Skidmark, and his jingling collar, makes him perfect zombie bait, and he’s fast enough and graceful enough to lure the zombies into traps without getting caught himself in said traps. Of course, he also occasionally sets off traps too early via curiosity.
If that’s not a cat’s whole MO, I don’t know what is.
Skidmark is the longest-lived companion on the list, making it all the way through season 5 and disappearing somewhere between seasons 6 and 7 after following Daniel on his travels through the southwest and his eventual entanglement with Ginnie (Colby Minifie) and the Pioneers. Skidmark even gets a job with the Pioneers as a rat hunter, though he’s bad at it. His disappearance is confirmed in season 7’s episode, “Ofelia.” Gone, but not forgotten, Skidmark is presumably licking his unmentionables with the angels.
Nervous Nelly, Flame, and Buttons the Horses
The first animal shown in the universe of The Walking Dead meets an ignoble ending. While looking for gas for his police cruiser, recovering coma patient Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) finds something even better on the Siggurd family farm. That nameless horse doesn’t make it past the end of The Walking Dead‘s pilot episode, “Days Gone Bye,” but horse actor Blade makes a lasting impact on the world of The Walking Dead. In addition to playing the nameless Siggurd family horse, Blade also starred in the second season of The Walking Dead by playing the horse Daryl (Norman Reedus) rides while searching the woods for the missing Sophia Peletier. Nelly’s end is left undone by the end of “Pretty Much Dead Already,” with the horse either succumbing to fire, walkers, or fleeing safely into the woods. Blade would return to the small screen in season 4, playing Rick and Michonne’s pet horse Flame (last seen getting eaten by walkers in “After”) and again in season 9, playing Tara’s horse of choice.
The third of three horses on this list, poor Buttons suffers a similar fate to the Siggurd family’s nameless horse. A wild horse spotted running by the gates of Alexandria, Daryl and Aaron head out with the goal of capturing Buttons and bringing him into the city to join their more domesticated livestock. Unfortunately, Daryl and Aaron (Ross Marquand) are attacked by walkers, and in the attack, Buttons the horse turns into Buttons the buffet. Aaron puts the poor, sad horse out of its misery, though Buttons lives on in the hearts of our heroes; Aaron mentions Buttons to Carol (Melissa McBride) in season 11’s “Hunted.”
Shiva the Tiger
What an introduction to a character! Carol comes into the auditorium at the Kingdom, and sitting on a throne with a tiger at his side is Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Shiva the tiger remains a major figure throughout season 7, intimidating both Rick and Jesus and allowing animal whisperer Daryl to actually pet her. She’s an intimidating figure next to an intimidating figure, because the only kind of person who keeps a tiger as a pet is the kind of guy too crazy and dangerous to mess with. If we learned nothing else from Tiger King, we learned that.
Throughout her time on The Walking Dead, Shiva proved herself to be Ezekiel’s ace in the hole. In “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” Shiva shows up during battle to kill several saviors and save Carl’s life from one of the Junkyardigans. She catches up with a fleeing Savior in “The Damned” and makes short work of him. In “Some Guy,” Shiva fights off a group of walkers and allows Ezekiel, Carol, and Jerry (Cooper Andrews) the opportunity to escape while she lays down her life and is, you guessed it, torn apart by walkers.
She was a useful tool for Ezekiel and the Kingdom, but more than that, she was a symbol for the people of the Kingdom. Shiva went everywhere Ezekiel went, and the two of them were side-by-side in the Kingdom’s toughest moments, with the tiger fighting alongside them and carrying her own weight. Her tragic backstory, with Ezekiel saving her life after an accident nearly causes her to bleed out, only increases the audience’s love for Shiva (and the fact that she was pretty good CGI, especially for TV, helps). When Shiva died, a little part of Ezekiel died with her.
Dog the Dog
For most of the animals on the list, they come into the Walking Dead universe fully formed. However, with Dog, we get an origin story, and a resulting meet-cute or two along the way. Originally the pet of Leah (Lynn Collins), Dog is the only survivor of a litter of puppies, and Dog is the reason Leah and Daryl eventually got together in “Find Me.” Dog, then a puppy, runs up to Daryl while he’s camping on the river bank in the wake of Rick Grimes’ “death.” After Daryl gives up the search for Rick, Dog is who lures him into the cabin where he has a meet cute (or perhaps a meet Suicide Kings) with Leah.
After Leah leaves to rejoin the Reapers, Daryl and Dog remain the best of friends, with Dog accompanying Daryl on his wanderings throughout seasons 9, 10, and 11 of The Walking Dead. Dog is, thus far, also the only animal with a name to still be alive in the entire Walking Dead television universe, and he has passed Shiva for the most appearances on the TV series. Skidmark might have been the first Walking Dead animal to get an episode named in his honor, but there’s something to be said for survival. Clearly, Dog is here to stay until it’s time for Dog to die tragically while saving everyone’s favorite monosyllabic grunting heart-throb from a horde of walkers.
New episodes of Tales of the Walking Dead premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC and the week before on AMC+.