Note: For reasons that will become evident next month, I had to make DC and Marvel characters ineligible for this one. Sorry.
Kicking things off, we've got Brienne of Tarth, from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones.
If anyone out there doesn't know the Ice and Fire books or Game of Thrones TV series, Brienne is an anomaly in her dark and patriarchal medieval fantasy universe. She pursues the life of a knight instead of a lady in all but name, and she's damn good at what she does.
For starters, look at her.
This isn't to say that all action heroes should be human tanks, of course. As a woman of unassuming stature myself, I've always had a particular fondness for the small, quick, clever hero types, male and female alike. But next to the many heroines imbued with improbable brute strength for their petite forms, there's something very refreshing about a female hero who looks exactly like someone with her plate armor wearing prowess would look.
Come to that, there's something terribly refreshing about an unpetite female hero in any case.
As with any good hero, though, the best of Brienne is not what she looks like or what she wears, or what she can do. It’s who she is.
Where practically any other female character with this kind of origin story would become a one-note force of anger and female machismo out to show up every man she meets and look down her oft-broken nose at every traditional woman trying to make do with the life she's been assigned, that's not at all what Brienne is.
She rightly resents her treatment by most of the world, and she's privately hurt by their judgment, but she continues to be what she is and believe in her knightly code of justice and honor, no matter how little it means to anyone else in her world. She refuses to let her life revolve around pursuing marriage at all costs or sacrifice who she is to attain it, but that doesn't mean she rejects meaningful relationships where they arise, like so many characters out to prove they 'don't need a man'.
She’s not afraid to offer her trust and friendship to people who seem deserving, as few and far between as they are in Westeros. She falls in love with Renly due to the simple, reasonable fact that he treats her with decency and respect. She also has no problem swearing loyalty to Catelyn Stark,
And of course, her unlikely friendship-of-convenience-turned-real with Jaime Lannister is a series highlight in its strange, slow progression, in spite of Jaime’s less forward ideas on women and his lack of much of the nobility Brienne seeks out in people.
Okay, now that you know why we should all love Brienne, let's get back to the action and watch her take on The Hound in one of my favorite TVverse-added scenes ever. If you don’t know enough backstory to enjoy the banter, the fun starts at the 4:10 mark.