I'm eight episodes away from finishing all six seasons of Xena Warrior Princess, a project that I started way back in 2011 after receiving the DVDs from a friend. I've been digging in my heels a little as I approach the finish line, as a part of me doesn't want it to end (that and I know what to expect in the two-part finale).
It may surprise you that I've gone for Gabrielle and not Xena – feminist/gay icon and game-changer – as the Woman of the Month, but as influential and important as Xena is (and remains) it was really Gabrielle who went through the most profound character development over the course of the show.
Starting as a simple country girl with big dreams, she chooses to follow Xena on her adventures based on nothing more than her conviction that it's the way to a richer and more meaningful life. In terms of personality she's the complete opposite of the stoic, statuesque Warrior Princess, but her sunshiny nature and strong moral compass soon gets under her companion's skin.
In many ways Gabrielle embodies Xena's ongoing search for redemption, acting as her guide and conscience, but as she grows in confidence and abilities it becomes clear that she's a reflection of what might have been had Xena never gone down her dark path. For all the controversy surrounding the finale (I haven't seen it yet, but I know what it involves) the single scene of Gabrielle catching Xena's chakram and claiming it as her own is a perfect "full circle" moment for both their characters.
In the early years of the show, her character often talked her way out of dangerous situations, or performed acts of kindness that had far-reaching consequences for the future, again as a stark contrast to Xena's more physical methods of problem solving. Even as she became proficient with a staff, and then a pair of sai, the show never forgot her roots as a bard, recording and spreading stories of Xena's heroism.
But she wasn't without her own foibles, and the writers constantly explored the loss of Gabrielle's innocence in relation to her attitude toward killing. The struggle to reconcile her gentle nature with the need for violence in life-or-death situations made for several fantastic story arcs (and at least one misguided pacifism phase) which led to much soul-searching and unanswerable questions in a show that was ostensibly just about leather-clad beauties beating up bad CGI monsters.
With talk of a reboot on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see how Gabrielle evolves further – not just as a character, but as a concept. Will it keep her dorky sense of humour? Her love of storytelling? Her role as a light to Xena's darkness? Her excruciating moral dilemmas as she weighs up the sanctity of life against the greater good? Time will tell...