How ‘The Walking Dead’ Made a Hero Out of Eugene Porter

The Walking Dead Eugene Porter
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

When you think of romantic leads on The Walking Dead… well, you might not think of anyone. The post-apocalyptic drama has never quite excelled in that area, and it seems for every ‘Richonne’ or ‘Gleggie’ there’s also a Rosita (Christan Serratos) and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) (that still baffles me, and it’s been more than a year).

But if you had to pick someone, you’d probably pick Rick (Andrew Lincoln). Or Daryl (Norman Reedus), given how many people want to see him with someone. Somewhere way, way, way down on the list would be Eugene (Josh McDermitt) — if he makes the list at all.

Season 10 is changing that, and him, for the better. Here’s why we were happy to see a different side of “Eugenius,” and why we’re really pulling for him to meet Stephanie.

Making Eugene (Somewhat) Understandable

Okay, we’re always probably going to need a second or third listen to his dialogue in order to figure out what he’s saying. But aside from his high-IQ speech, Season 10 has focused on Eugene’s relatable qualities. Yes, they exist.

Whether or not you ever wanted him with Rosita (Christian Serratos), most of us at some point have pined for someone who, deep down, we knew we had no chance with. It was a little frustrating to see him go back to her in early Season 10 given that it seemed they’d settled as friends in Season 9, but at least he handled her rejection gracefully. The point being: to that small extent, Eugene was suddenly relatable. No, most of us can’t talk like him or even imagine thinking like him, but we do know the sting of romantic rejection or a bad breakup.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Which leads us to the next point on which Eugene became suddenly — or even a little uncomfortably — relatable: He was looking for love and finding nothing. The poor guy wanted someone, but it seemed like there was no one around for him. Simply put: Eugene was terribly, horribly lonely. And that’s something we’ve all felt. That’s why it was so sweet to see him connect with Stephanie.

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In many ways, her companionship is a potential fresh start, a way for him to jettison the baggage that anyone in the communities might have a hard time separating from him as a person. She doesn’t know about his past misdeeds, his former cowardice or, perhaps most prominently, the fact that he rocked a mullet for several seasons. She does know he can sing, though… and if anything, that’ll help their relationship. Who knew Eugene had such a great voice?

Coming to Terms With His Past

On a different note, it was nice to see Eugene stepping up, overcoming his fears and even making peace with his past. In comforting Carol (Melissa McBride) after the Hilltop battle, it was clear that he did know how she felt — he’d been the “bad guy” before with Abraham, and then when he joined the Saviors. That was a neat callback that added depth to his character, and that moment made it clear just because the show isn’t showing Eugene’s reflections doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about what he’s done.

Too, it was nice to see him stepping up and starting to become a fighter. It’s not that Eugene hadn’t fought before, but we’re seeing more of it this season: he battled by Rosita’s side at Alexandria, and then defended Hilltop with everyone else. He’s still using his brain, of course, but now he’s picking up a weapon instead of cowering in a corner when the going gets tough. Good for you, Eugene!

Looking Forward

I won’t spoil where Eugene’s story goes regarding his journey to meet Stephanie in the comics, since it’s very possible the show might not go in the same direction. But Season 10 has done a great job of grounding his yearning for companionship in emotion that feels earned and in-character, and it’s been awesome to see him grow throughout these episodes.

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Here’s hoping the former science teacher succeeds in his quest. At the very least, Stephanie appears to like him for who he is, which is an essential foundation for any relationship. And if there’s really someone for everyone, even in the zombie apocalypse, there had better be someone for this jargon-blabbering, locomotive-loving genius whose brain is as mighty as his heart.

The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC