Traditionally, weapons have been considered part of some elite men’s only club. Carrying a pocket knife is a rite-of-passage for many young boys, while young girls are instead encouraged to pursue more delicate pursuits. Nowhere is this truer than in popular media. Producers seem to make an art out of reproducing stereotypes of women. But sometimes, we’re surprised by strong female characters. Here are the top 10 female characters who know their way around a knife.
10.) Rita Vrataski from Edge of Tomorrow (Live, Die, Repeat)
You don’t live through hundreds of repetitions of the same day in a war without learning a thing or two about combat. In Edge of Tomorrow, Rita plays the veteran in living a day on loop and helps train Tom Cruise’s character. In the process she proves that she knows her way around just about every weapon you can give her. She makes being a warrior as a woman look not only awesome, but expected.
9.) Zoe from Firefly
Any sci-fi lover will tell you that Firefly was a show that ended before its time. While it was still airing, Zoe was a regular, and one of the toughest women we’ve ever seen. She was a trained soldier, having fought for the Browncoats in the Unification War, and though the war is long over by the time Firefly takes place, her soldier’s training is still in effect throughout the show and subsequent movie and comics. Though she typically fights with a Winchester Model 1892 rifle, the crew gets into enough scrapes for viewers to know that she can handle any weapon—including a knife—just fine.
8.) River Song from Dr. Who
Dr. Who has a host of interesting female characters, but none are more interesting than River Song, first introduced to the series in 2008. A time traveler like The Doctor, she was originally trained as an assassin before studying to become an archaeologist. For that reason, she learned to use any and every weapon available to her—as well as plenty of items that shouldn’t have been able to be weapons at all.
7.) Ziva David from NCIS
Ziva joins the NCIS team as a Mossad liaison and a trained killer. Even if she hadn’t been trained to kill before she joined the team, Gibbs would have ensured she knew how to use a knife. After all, Gibbs’ Rule #9 is “Never Go Anywhere Without a Knife.” Between two merciless trainers—her father and Gibbs—Ziva had no choice but to master the art of using a knife.
6.) Ellie from the Last of Us
At just fourteen years old, Ellie travels across a post-apocalyptic wasteland, through hordes of zombies, along with one washed-up soul named Joel. Furthermore, she does most of the journey without being allowed to touch a gun. As a result, she mastered the art of using knives, broken bottles, and her bare hands to take down bad guys. Talk about a tough female!
5.) Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road
Furiosa is the true hero in the newest Mad Max movie, and it’s no wonder. Not only does she have the gumption to run away from a cruel dictatorship, but she actually rescues women who were being used only to breed warriors. Max Max: Fury Road is 2+ hours of frenzied fighting, including everything from heavy guns to one-on-one scraps. Furiosa avails herself of every situation she finds herself in, proving that women can fight even harder than men given the right motivation.
4.) Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games
Sure, Katniss is best known in the Hunger Games series for her skills with her bow and arrow, but if you’ve read the books, you know that she had to learn and use a whole lot more to stay alive until the end. In the brief combat training all tributes receive before the hunger games, Katniss did a significant amount of target practice with knives. Later, a knife saves her life, allowing her to cut a tracker jacker nest out of a tree to escape the career tribute alliance.
3.) Lara Croft from Tomb Raider
The new Tomb Raider games series features a Lara Croft who is not initially trained in combat. In fact, she throws up after making her first kill. Throughout the series, however, she learns. Hand-to-hand combat with a knife becomes necessary at times when she doesn’t have a gun, and she masters it, proving that women will do what it takes to survive.
2.) Mai from Avatar: the Last Airbender
Mai quickly proves herself to be one of the most skilled warriors in Avatar: the Last Airbender—and her skill is exclusively with knives. In her case, she has mastered small throwing knives. She is lightning fast with them and crazy accurate—both skills which are necessary since she also tends to be lazy and apathetic.
1.) Arya Stark from Game of Thrones
A list of female knife-wielders would not be complete without mention of the youngest Stark girl. Willful and brave, Arya initially wants to be a warrior like her brothers, and later aspires to be a faceless man. Her first weapon is needle, a sword that is so little it might as well be a knife. Later, as she sneaks about to assassinate the people on her list, even needle is at times too cumbersome and she has to use other means, including, at times, with more traditional knives.
Knives are powerful, both as tools and as weapons, and some of the greatest female characters in our time have used them as both. Knowing your way around a knife, it seems, is becoming just as important a rite of passage for young women as it has always been for young men.