Replaying Xena: Reflections on my favourite fictional character

Xena from opening credits

Xena of Amphipolis, aka the Warrior Princess, is indeed my favourite fictional character.

(For the record, her character wasn’t actually a princess, which I like better now that I’m well past the age of 5 and its pervasive draw to all things “princess”.)

The show Xena Warrior Princess aired while I was in high school and university, from 1995-2001.

I’m not sure how it was I came to discover it or its two companion shows, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and The Adventures of Sinbad, but all three quickly became part of my Saturday afternoon routine.  Xena was always my favourite.

“A land in turmoil cried out for a hero”

For those unfamiliar, Xena Warrior Princess is the story of the eponymous warrior woman as she journeyed through Ancient Greece with her happy-go-lucky young sidekick, Gabrielle, helping people in need.

Xena was a near-unstoppable force of nature, fighting with her sword, chakram, whip, fists, acrobatics, and any other object – proper weapon or not – close at hand.

It was already awesome enough that she could do all that.  But she also possessed, in her own steely words, “many skills”, including (but not limited to) medicine, pressure points, singing, exotic dancing, sewing, and catching fish barehanded.

She also rubbed shoulders with gods, kings, and figures straight out of Greek history and myth, and possessed had the most bracing battle cry of any warrior – male or female – ever:

“Forged in the heat of battle”

Xena was made even more interesting by her backstory, for though she spent the show’s six seasons using her awe-inspiring powers for good, she had a dark past as a bloodthirsty warmonger whose army ravaged the land and murdered countless innocents for fun and profit.

Her descent into darkness apparently came about gradually, a slippery-slope response to her initiative to stop the repeated attacks on her village, Amphipolis, as a youth.

This side of Xena’s personality was very much in the past in the series itself, however she continued to grapple with guilt over who and what she once was over the entire six seasons – to the point of at first believing herself unworthy of Gabrielle’s friendship.

Xena also occasionally had to deal with the ongoing negative effects of someone she’d wronged in her past life.

“Her courage will change the world”

I couldn’t get enough of this show when it was on TV.

For one thing, as a sheltered high school student with a slightly overprotective father, I admired Xena’s freedom – that she could travel the world wherever she desired, and while doing so maintain the personal safety of herself, Gabrielle (until Gabrielle learned to fight too, which was awesome), and anyone else she cared about, such as the numerous recurring characters on the show who became friends to Xena, Gabrielle, and me – the viewer – as well.

To me, Xena epitomized and romanticized the sense of adventure, exploration, and fun with friends I craved at that age (and still do).

I also appreciated the fact that Xena was on a journey of redemption. In high school in particular this really spoke to me, for I felt I too, by a sheltered high school student’s standards, had something of murky past.

I was basically a decent kid, but had not always been the nicest person during junior high and my first couple years of high school.

The social hierarchy in my schools was always precarious.  Not being inherently popular, I did what I could to maintain what little headway I ever managed to gain in that regard, whether it meant spreading rumours, spilling secrets I’d promised to keep, or following the crowd of exclusion and collusion against whomever found herself suddenly unpopular.

Xena and Gabrielle 3

Xena and Gabrielle

Yes, I had those mean girl tendencies, which I thankfully overcame by my senior year.  However, I was left with considerably regret over my past behaviour and the people I’d hurt in the process.

Watching Xena taught me that it is possible to shed one’s past and become a new and better person, even though the process may be a long one and also require the difficult task of forgiving oneself.

The last two things that really struck me – and even more so now as an adult – were,

  1. The fact that Xena was a show with two female leads and no regular male characters, and
  2. Xena’s personality.

As a title character, the warrior princess was fairly dour, wry, imposing, methodical, and non-nurturing (at least not in a the traditionally feminine way).  That is to say, she wasn’t the perky, quirky, cheerfully funny and compassionate type that often fronts female-led comedic drama shows.

(Gabrielle got stuck with that persona instead, but I’ll admit, she was a good balance to Xena’s seriousness.  Plus, Gabrielle grew more complex as the seasons progressed.)

In other words, the title character wasn’t a walking female stereotype, but instead both more nuanced and more representative of my own personality.

“The power; the passion; the danger”

I recently decided that my next writing project will be the rewriting of my first (incomplete, shelved) novel.

Since Xena Warrior Princess was one of my inspirations for that novel, I’ve decided to re-watch all six seasons of the show.

I’ve been acquiring the DVDs from the used sellers on Amazon; for less than the price of a feature film, I’ll be able to experience each season like I haven’t since it originally aired, including the 1.5 seasons I missed the first time around while away at university.

As I complete each season, I’ll be blogging about my impressions – about how the show stands the test of time and whether it’s as good (or worse, or better) as I remember.

Who is your favourite TV character? What do you like about him/her? How has s/he inspired you, in your writing or in life? Let me know in the comments.

A/N: Subheadings quoted from Xena Warrior Princess opening titles

(Image source #1 and #2)

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9 thoughts on “Replaying Xena: Reflections on my favourite fictional character

  1. Woo, I’m sure this gal didn’t get screened in the UK. In fact I’m struggling to think of a comparable female fighting figure of my youth, other than the transatlantic imports like Wonder Woman, Batwoman etc.
    I suppose in my impressionable years Robin Hood was the main man, for me anyway. At that time I had no idea he was a real historical figure from history. What a guy – anti-establishment, always mocking and outwitting the blackhearted Sheriff of Nottingham; chuckling as he relieved another fat friar of his money bag for distribution to the poor; partying under the greenwood tree with his Merry Men and claiming the beautiful Maid Marian for himself. Idealised of course but what boy wouldn’t want to emulate him?

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    • Robin Hood is such an iconic character. I’m not sure who it was who portrayed the Robin of your youth, but I too have enjoyed watching a number of versions of his story (even the movie starring Kevin Costner – I’m not ashamed to admit it!)

      Over the course or researching my WIP, I also learned he was a real historical figure (or at least one of several such – there’s not a clear consensus on whether all his purported feats can be attributed to a single man), and that he appeared on the scene in response to the Forest Charter (an addendum to the Magna Carta) and its many corrupt enforcing officials.

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  2. Note (because a thorough understanding of my life experience is essential to grasping the complexity of my words. Zoinks!): I have never seen Xena but I certainly remember it from pop-culture exposure at the time.

    The way you describe her character reminds me of Doctor Who, which is probably the closest parallel character in my TV life. I watched DW as a kid quite obsessively, and then lost track as a teen. I was aware it had been rebooted in modern times but didn’t really start watching it again until the past couple of years. Having since gone back and re-watched the rebooted series in its sequential entirety (7 seasons plus multiple special episodes), I feel, even as a 40-something adult, a sense of wonder and adventure that I get from no other show. The Doctor has a similar framework: Trying to do the right thing to make up for a dark past. That and using his wits, rather than weapons, to overcome adversity. The latter concept took a while to gel, but was pretty well developed by midway through season 2. Did we talk about this before? The brilliance of the show comes from the writers’ ability to find the emotional core rather powerfully in the middle of all the robots and time travel.

    As far as favorite TV characters… As an “adult” I have liked quite a few over the years, but clearly you aren’t talking about liking a performance or the writing or whatever. You’re talking on a deeper, emotional level I think. My first favorite was Captain Kirk, because he was everything I wasn’t as a child: Bold, brave, confident, willing to take risks (and it didn’t hurt that he got all the women). Doctor Who, as I mentioned, the Tom Baker era in the late 70s early 80s. Everything else i watched was dumb comedy shyte like “What’s Happening” and “Welcome Back Kotter.” I don’t recall watching TV in the 1980s (aside from the Young Ones) or the 90s, until the last 3 or 4 seasons of Seinfeld at least. When TV started going high-concept with shows like “Lost,” my interest was renewed.

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    • Would you believe that even though Doctor Who has been around for 50 years and I’ve not seen a single episode? If you are even remotely familiar with my viewing habits you won’t be surprised: I’m pretty notorious for being so late to TV show craze parties, the balloons are long deflated and the cake a jiggly regret on people’s hips by time I come around (case in point: I was just thinking today, “I should start watching Battlestar Galatica.”)

      We’ve never discussed DW before, but his arc over the seasons you watched in your youth do sound like they contain all the essential human elements amidst the flashy backdrop as did Xena.

      I watched all of the original Star Trek in reruns with my father (plus every other Trek save the one with Scott Bakula); it was our special bonding activity. Kirk was cool, but I always liked Spock better. I watched the two seasons of Lost as well, but that was mainly to ogle Matthew Fox (sorry, I’m not sorry). 😉

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      • Oh my god. You would soooo have Spock as your favorite character. I laughed out loud 100% for real just now. My favorite character on Lost was John Locke, brilliantly played by Terry O’Quinn. I can’t say that Matthew Fox makes my heart beat faster, but I can see why he would if one is inclined that way. 😉

        If there was ever a show that demanded binge-watching, it’s Doctor Who. Watching the episodes randomly is like looking at puzzle pieces scattered over a table. When you see it in order, the puzzle forms a doorway to something quite imaginative and emotional. I, Mr. Ice in his Veins, actually got teary eyed during the season 2 finale. The last time I cried for a TV show or a movie was in 1982.

        It’s not that you can’t follow the story of an individual episode, but you’ll miss how it ties into the larger story arc. The concept is that the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, a race of aliens who mastered the forces of physics to the point that they became a deadly danger to the entire universe and to time itself. The Doc is a renegade who can travel anywhere in time and space, and he has to because the timeline of the universe had become screwed up. Things that shouldn’t happen keep happening, and everytime he fixes one problem, another arises somewhere else in history. He’s incredibly lonely, being the last of his kind, so he frequently (and irresponsibly and selfishly) takes a human companion for company, invariably messing up that person’s life, family, history, etc. The bond between the doctor and his companion forms the emotional core of the story, and the writers milk that for all its worth.

        The first rebooted season is not particularly good. They were still feeling out the themes, for one, and the actor cast to play the Doctor wasn’t really right for the part or happy in it, and it showed. It wasn’t really until maybe the second or third episode of season 2 (with a different actor) that it clicked and took off.

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  3. I loved watching Xena and a lot of women I know place her as number one on their ‘favourite TV personality’ lists (me included).

    Recently my favourite TV character has been Luther (Idris Elba) who is a great flawed and very ‘human’ detective.

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    • I’ve been a fan of Idris Elba since seeing him in the movie Pacific Rim (I can’t believe they originally wanted Tom Cruise for that part; he wouldn’t have been half as good!) and started watching Luther on Netflix. You’re right: he’s a great character – very flawed yet with an undeniable gravitas.

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  4. I liked this show a lot. Other than Wonder Woman I hadn’t seen another television series with a strong female lead at the time. Xena and Wonder Woman both protected the innocent and were there to right wrongs, but Xena was a more complex character. It was interesting to see her battle the duality of light and dark within her. Like you mentioned she wasn’t your stereotypical female and I hadn’t seen that before. Wonder Woman was tough, but she was still nurturing and had a more gentle personality than Xena. Xena is my favorite fictional character too.

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    • Hi starryskies, thanks for the comment. Sometimes I’m amazed a show like Xena even made it on TV, for she was basically a superhero, and female superheroes don’t seem to get the best treatment in the entertainment industry. I know there’s a lot of talk about whether or not Wonder Woman will get her own movie her since all the male superheroes have gotten one or more. There seems to be a lot of resistance to it from male film execs. I hope they do make the movie (and make it good!), for I don’t know very much about her and would like to learn more. She seems like another strong female character, and we can certainly use more of those!

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