We won't mince words. Life in the Citadel pretty much sucks for the breeders. Immortan Joe's wives are wives in name only—he uses them for one purpose—to give him a proper heir. Well, that and for his sexual pleasure, we assume. Why else would he dress them in barely-there white rags? They're seen as property, and while they live in relative comfort compared to the rest of the low-down citizens of the Citadel, it's not like they have a choice in the matter.
That is, until they do.
These women's decision to fight for their freedom with Furiosa's help sets Mad Max: Fury Road in motion. When Immortan Joe discovers that his wives have fled, he finds their empty chambers covered in graffiti:
- We are not things.
- Who destroyed the world?
- Our babies will not be warlords.
See, as their graffiti would indicate, their escape is about a wee bit more than self-preservation—it's central to the movie's feminist bent. These women leave not just to save their own lives, but to save the lives of their future children, and to fight for the principle that they are not property.
To give a dose of reality to these characters, director George Miller asked Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues and an important feminist activist, to visit the set in Namibia. She spent a week with the actresses, telling them stories of her experience working with women in conflict areas. According to Eve,
They asked me questions about their characters. What would it mean to have been a sex slave held for a long time in captivity? What would it feel like to carry a baby of someone who had raped you? What would it mean to feel attached to your perpetrator despite the abuse because it had gone on for so long? How after you are raped, your body becomes a place that you dissociate from, a landscape of terror. I wanted to give them context. We spoke about the Comfort Women, who were kept as slaves by the Japanese, and about rape and violence in places I have spent a lot of time like Bosnia to Congo to Afghanistan to Haiti. We spoke about sex trafficking in America, which is rampant.
As Rose Huntington-Whiteley (Angharad) puts it,
She told us the most tragic stories I've ever heard in my life, which gave us so much background to our characters. We really wanted to kind of showcase that. It was a privilege to have her around to make these characters something more than just five beautiful girls.
With that in mind, it's important to look at each of these women individually, both to figure out their roles in the movie and how they contribute to the group.
Angharad, a.k.a. The Splendid (Rose Huntington-Whiteley)
Angharad earns the rather dubious distinction of being Immortan Joe's favorite. Yeah, that's not exactly an accolade she was looking for. But still, being his favorite also earns her a bit of status among his wives, and she becomes their de facto leader, encouraging them to push on when they need it, and reminding them of what it is they're fighting for.
She gets a few moments in particular to shine:
(1) When Nux shows up in the War Rig, and Furiosa holds a knife to his throat, Angharad reminds her of their agreement:
"No unnecessary killing!"
She's clearly a nonviolent person who stands by what she believes.
(2) When Immortan Joe is about to shoot Furiosa, she puts her pregnant body on the line, placing herself between his gun and her leader's life.
Of course it's this last move that eventually leads to Angharad's death. Now that she's outside the rig, she's vulnerable, and gets swept under the wheels of Immortan Joe's vehicle. We'd chalk this up to another sacrifice on the road to freedom, but the truth is, Angharad's death weighs heavy on the movie's plot and characters—it's more than just a bummer.
First and foremost, her death infuriates Immortan Joe. She was his favorite, after all, and she was very very pregnant with his child. When the Organic Mechanic removes the child from Angharad's dying body, he discovers that the child is dead, too, and he's therefore lost his heir. Uh oh.
Surprisingly, Angharad's death has a huge impact on Nux, too. We know what you're thinking: what did he care? But hey, it's written all over his face. Nux happens to be in the back of the War Rig and sees it all happen. With Angharad's death, Nux knows he's got no hope of returning to the good graces of Immortan Joe. He's totally failed his hero.
Why does that matter? Well, because that's the moment that Nux opts to throw in his lot with Furiosa, Max, and the other wives. And he proves to be a pretty handy guy to have around, eventually earning high praise from Furiosa.
Capable (Riley Keough)
The resident redhead is a bit of a free spirit, which means she makes her own decisions. The most notable one? Her relationship with Nux, the war boy.
It all goes down when she finds him huddled in the back of the War Rig, having just witnessed Angharad's death. He's crying, devastated that his "own blood bag drove the rig that killed [Angharad]."
Capable comforts him, and the two have a right nice chat.
It's clear Capable's not just capable—she's compassionate. Here she is, faced with an enemy. Only instead of throwing him out of the rig, she decides to befriend him, telling him that it's his "manifest destiny" not to go to Valhalla—just yet.
Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz)
Toast has some serious snark to her, and we like to think that's because she's clearly the brains of this operation and is unwilling to take any crap from anyone.
Make's sense, right? Her name is "Toast the Knowing" after all.
She's tasked with important duties like inventorying the guns and ammo. But more importantly, she seems to know a great deal about the world. When the breeders spend the night out in the desert with the Vuvalini, she knows what a satellite was, and shares that info with the rest of the group. And when Max reveals his plan to take back the Citadel, she's the one who gets it immediately, pointing out that the Citadel will be undefended, and that it has everything they need to survive: water and crops.
So in the movies climactic race scene, it's more than a little upsetting when she gets captured by a polecat and held hostage in Immortan's rig. But don't worry—she survives thanks to Furiosa's fury, and spits on Joe's corpse as a final goodbye. Snark never dies.
Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton)
This one's not a stretch: of all the breeders, Cheedo is clearly the most fragile.
How do we know? Well, when Angharad meets her rather grisly death, Cheedo just can't take it. She clearly thinks they've taken too great a risk, and tries to run back. The Dag and Capable chase after her and the three have a desperate exchange:
THE DAG: Cheedo!
CAPABLE: Cheedo, don't be stupid.
THE DAG: Stop!
CHEEDO: He'll forgive us. I know he will.
CAPABLE: There is no going back!
CHEEDO: We were his treasures! […] We were protected! He gave us the high life! What's wrong with that?
CAPABLE: We are not things.
THE DAG: Cheedo, we are not things!
CAPABLE: We are not things.
CHEEDO: I don't want to hear that again!
CAPABLE: They were her words!
CHEEDO: And now she's dead!
THE DAG: Wring your hands and tear your hair, but you're not going back. You're not going back to him.
Poor Cheedo. She's grieving for Angharad, who was clearly very important to all the wives. And we totally get why she wouldn't want to go on: things out in the wasteland aren't exactly great. But hey, at least she's free.
But don't you worry—Cheedo gets her moment to shine. In the movie's final chase scene, she tricks Rictus into believing that she wants to rejoin Immortan Joe's ranks. When he places her on Immortan Joe's rig, the Gigahorse, she's then in a position to help Furiosa on board, which assures Immortan Joe's ultimate defeat. Nice work, Cheedo. Not so fragile after all.
The Dag (Abbey Lee)
Oh, if the Dag ain't a feisty one. She's quick to toss an insult—especially at the men in her life. She's not afraid to call Max some rather scandalous names, and she clearly harbors no friendly feelings towards her former captors, either. Pregnant with Immortan Joe's offspring, she calls her unborn child "Warlord Junior."
She's snarking, sure, but the line also points out the trauma at the heart of these women's experiences. Raped, and then forced to bear children that are not their own, these women must face, every day, the terrible consequences of their captivity.
The Dag also seems the most intuitive out of the bunch. She often senses when they're being pursued and gives Furiosa the scoop. Perhaps that connection to the world makes her the worthy one to take up the mantle of the Keeper of the Seeds. During her chat with one of the Vuvalini, she learns that one of them has managed to keep a bag of seeds from the Green Place. And when the Keeper of the Seeds dies in the final battle, the Dag frantically grabs the bag, clearly intending to carry on the woman's duties.
P.S. In Australia, "dag" is slang for a person who is awkward and socially unpopular—someone who doesn't care much about their appearance or fitting in in social situations. What do you think: does the Dag fit the bill?