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- Played by: Aldis Hodge
- Anti-Hero: He'll do whatever it take to get himself and his loved ones to freedom, everyone else be damned. That includes selling out other runaways, murdering Bill the overseer with his bare hands, and (non-fatally) shooting a pre-teen boy.
- Big Brother Instinct: Noah is a surrogate older brother to Henry, who was born on a breeding farm and doesn't know who his biological family is. This is why Henry's death is particularly hard on him.
- Guile Hero: Noah is very intelligent and relies mostly on his wits to survive and try to escape.
- Playing Sick: After his first escape attempt, Noah pretends to be more badly injured than he actually is. When Rosalee asks why, he reminds that they're all pretending, in one way or another.
- Would Hurt a Child: Not that he deliberately goes after kids, but Noah's too pragmatic to avoid hurting them if they stand between him and freedom. When T.R. Macon aimed a gun at him during his escape attempt in "White Christmas", Noah fired a shot into his leg.
- Played by: Jurnee Smollett
- Abusive Parents: Her owner is also her biological father and has no problem seeing her whipped, degraded, sexually harassed, and worked like a dog.
- Action Girl: Rosalee gradually develops into this. She even faces down August Pullman. By the beginning of season 2, she's an infamous outlaw who regularly fights slave catchers to free other runaways.
- Big Sister Instinct: Toward her little brother James, even taking a whipping in his place.
- Break the Cutie: After getting whipped in her brother's place and getting sexually harassed by Mr. Macon's guests.
- Heroic Bastard: She is Tom Macon's illegitimate daughter.
- Mushroom Samba: In "Black and Blue" Rosalee burns a dress that has devil's snare in it, and the fuses cause her to hallucinate. Horribly deconstructed when she accidentally stabs Ben while not in her right mind.
- My God, What Have I Done?: After accidentally stabbing Ben Pullman under the influence of devil's snare fumes.
- Near-Rape Experience: In "The Lord's Day" a drunk, angry overseer forcibly drags her into his house with the intent to have his way with her. A fight ensues, and she subsequently stabs him with a broken bottle in self-defense.
- Pregnant Badass: "Things Unsaid" reveals that Rosalee has been leading slaves to along the Railroad, getting into gunfights, blowing up city streets, and being chased by slave catchers in the forest all while heavily pregnant.
- Red Baron: By season 2, Rosalee is an infamous slave liberator known as "The Black Rose".
- Sex for Solace: Rosalee sleeps with Noah after learning of her brother's death.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Rosalee and Cato steal some clothes and pretend to be free blacks to get some medicine for Noah. Cato is rather impressed by how nice Rosalee looks in a fine gown with her hair done nicely.
- Shrinking Violet: She's initially demure and delicate, but is forced to toughen up.
- Slave Brand: After being recaptured at Macon, she's branded on the cheek to mark her as a runaway.
- Take Me Instead: Rosalee takes a lashing in place of her brother after he is blamed for spooking a white man's horse, saying it was her fault for giving him sugar.
- Took a Level in Badass: Life on the run toughens Rosalee up quite a bit: from fragile house slave to determined fugitive.
- Played by: Alano Miller
- Every Scar Has a Story: The burn scars are Cato's face are actually self-inflicted to hide the brandings he got for trying to escape multiple times.
- Jerkass: Cato taunts Noah for believing he can escape to freedom and threatens to expose his escape attempt to their master. He points out that when there's an escape, it's the slaves who get left behind who suffer most — which is why he doesn't want to be one of them.
- Love Hurts: During the time skip between season 1 and 2, Cato starts a relationship with a woman named Devi while vacationing in Paris, even proposing to her, but must break things off when he returns to America.
- Not Quite Dead: After being left for dead by Noah, Cato is eventually revealed to be alive in the next episode.
- Rags to Riches: Cato becomes a wealthy man by season 2.
- Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Cato is by far the most cynical character on the show, and snarks at anyone who holds idealistic beliefs. We eventually learn that he had tried to run away twice, but failed in each, which may explain his bitterness.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: He's constantly at odds with the rest of the Macon Seven, particularly Noah.
- Played by: Darielle Stewart
- Flashback: In "Cradle", Boo has a number of them about her father and his death.
- Mama Bear: Inverted. She almost shoots John thinking he's bad man trying to hurt her caretaker Elizabeth.
- Protectorate: To Elizabeth, while being sheltered by her and John.
- Tagalong Kid: She's the youngest of the group.
- Played by: Renwick D. Scott II
- Cheerful Child: He's a high-spirited, optimistic kid despite his horrific circumstances.
- Heartwarming Orphan: He has no family due to being born on a breeding plantation and being sold at birth, however Noah is like an older brother to him.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Henry blows up a hut to give the others a chance to escape, getting caught in the inferno as result.
- Tagalong Kid: Downplayed. He's the second youngest after Boo, but being a teenager he's more capable of keeping up with the adults.
- Played by: Mykelti Williamson
- Annoying Arrows: Averted. He meets his end after being shot at by Native Americans.
- Badass Preacher: He led church services for the slaves while the white family attended a formal church.
- Feigning Intelligence: He only pretends to be literate. It's actually his wife Pearly Mae who does the reading and writing.
- Played by: Theodus Crane
- The Big Guy: Zeke is huge and the best fighter among the Macon Seven.
- Outliving One's Offspring: His wife drowned their newborn son just days after his birth and the Macons sold her for it.
- Rasputinian Death: Zeke gets into a fight with several slave-catchers, getting shot many times before succumbing to his wounds. He manages to kill all of them before his death, however.
- Played by: Marc Blucas
- Boom, Headshot!: John is assassinated at the end of "Contraband"; shot in the head with his wife Elizabeth right next to him.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: John Hawkes says to his wife after Episode 4, "the worst day of that man's life was just another Tuesday in the office for me." Subverted in a sense because this isn't a villain being indifferent to his victims' suffering but a cause of shame, guilt and motivation to do good for him.
- Cool Uncle: Eventually becomes this to Rosalee, after realizing that his brother was her biological father.
- Crusading Lawyer: A lawyer and a staunch abolitionist, he tries to use his connections and legal expertise to help runaways avoid capture.
- Domestic Abuse: John comes very close to hitting Elizabeth after she confesses to sleeping with Kyle Risdin to protect Boo. Boo, afraid for Elizabeth's safety, tries to shoot him, but thankfully she misses.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: He's among the most idealistic characters in the series.
- Played by: Jessica De Gouw
- Action Girl: She takes up marksmanship after joining the Underground Railroad to better protect runaways.
- Friend to All Children: She adores children and desperately wants one of her own. James's treatment at the Macon plantation is what pushes her to join the Underground and she goes to great lengths to protect Boo.
- When the son of John's killer almost dies because she set their barn on fire, Elizabeth admits that while she doesn't enjoy the boy's suffering, she doesn't regret it because the people need to be frightened out of complacency. This indicates that she's becoming more extreme in her quest to help end slavery.
- Heroic Seductress: Elizabeth performs a burlesque dance at the governor's ball to distract the crowd while John steals some valuable intel for the Underground Railroad. Later in the season, she reluctantly sleeps with the town Marshall (who just so happens to be her ex-fiance and still very much infatuated with her) to keep him from taking away Boo, the runaway slave child she's been harboring.
- Hyper-Awareness: Elizabeth is able to deduce that slave catchers are stalking Mr. Still's office by studying the movement of their reflections from his window.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Elizabeth badly wants to have a baby, but has trouble conceiving.
- Mama Bear: To protect Boo, Elizabeth sleeps with Kyle Risdin so he won't report her as a runaway and send her south.
- Revenge: After John's murder, Elizabeth takes a gun to the courthouse where he was killed hoping to find the murderer so she can kill him. Georgia comes down the courthouse to talk her out of it. Later, after the man who killed her husband taunts her about it, she sets his barn on fire and burns him alive.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: She gradually slides into this over the course of season 2, much to Georgia's concern.
- Widow Woman: After John is assassinated by an unknown assailant.
- Played by: Chris Chalk
- Batman Gambit: William Still switches clothes with the fugitive he's harboring and tricks the slave catchers into attacking him and John Hawkes. Since Still is a free man and has his papers, Hawkes can have the slave catchers charged with assault and taken away.
- Big Good: He leads and connects many of the loosely associated "stations" and "conductors" on the Underground Railroad.
- Herald: He recruits John after hearing him deliver a passionate speech denouncing slavery.
- Historical-Domain Character: William Still was a real abolitionist and much of the series is based on his writings about the Underground Railroad and the lives of fugitive slaves.
- Played by: Aisha Hinds
- Action Girl: She's fearless and always armed.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: She claims to get visions during her fainting spells.
- Historical-Domain Character: Harriet Tubman was one of the most famous abolitionists in American history.
- In-Series Nickname: Harriet Tubman is called "Moses" for leading her people to freedom, like the Biblical Moses. Also Truth in Television.
- The Mentor: For Rosalee in season 2.
- Played by: Jasika Nicole
- Action Girl: Great with a pistol and the leader of an Amazon Brigade.
- But Not Too Black: She's biracial and passes for white.
- Cain and Abel: She mentions that her half-brother is a violent white supremacist, while she herself is an abolitionist.
- Widow Woman: Her husband died of an illness years ago.
- Played by: Reed Diamond
- Abusive Parents: Tom Macon is Rosalee's father yet he casually allows an overseer to whip her and his guests to sexually harass her. Also a horrible father to James for sending him to work in the field.
- Going Native: Tom Macon isn't actually a southerner. He's from the north, but embraces southern ideals.
- Heir-In-Law: Tom Macon is a Northerner who married a Southern Belle and inherited her father's plantation.
- Karmic Death: Ernestine hangs Tom in the wine cellar for lynching her son Sam.
- The Maiden Name Debate: Tom Macon was born Tom Hawkes. He took his wife's name instead of the other way around, probably due to the Heir-In-Law situation.
- My God, What Have I Done?: "The White Whale" reveals that Tom is haunted by his lynching of Sam.
- Your Cheating Heart: Tom Macon sleeps with his slave Ernestine while his wife Suzanna is pregnant.
- Played by: Andrea Frankle
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Averted. Suzanna eventually reveals that she knew about Tom and Ernestine's affair the whole time and didn't care one bit. She considers it getting free labor via Ernestine's pregnancies.
- Green-Eyed Monster: In "The White Whale" it's revealed exactly why Suzanna hated Ernestine so much: her children preferred Enestine to her. After Tom's death, Suzanna puts Ernestine on the block and says she'll return the favor by raising James as her own and making him love her more.
- Wicked Stepmother: To Rosalee and James, her husband's illegitimate children. Played with in season 2, in regards to James. She raises him as her son and spoils him rotten, but more out of spite for Ernestine than genuine love.
- Widow Woman: Becomes one after Ernestine kills Tom..
- Played by: Mary Katherine Duhon
- Spoiled Brat: She's a self-centered teenager living in the lap of luxury. She complains that her life as bad as a slave's because she had to learn to play piano instead of getting to check out boys.
- Played by: Toby Nichols
- Innocence Lost: A darker example, T.R. gets so angry over James' rejection that he gets James's brother killed for trying to escape, hinting that he may become as callous as his father.
- Spoiled Brat: He feels no need to take responsibility for his actions or care about James's suffering.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: After losing James' friendship, T.R. becomes even more hateful toward his family's slaves and starts tormenting them in various ways.
Macon Plantation Slaves
- Played by: Amirah Vann
- Domestic Abuse: Ernestine's lover at the Roe plantation is quick to smack her to the floor when she talks back to him.
- Drugs Are Bad: Ernestine inhales some red substance through a piece of cloth to get through a day of working on the fields of the Roe plantation.
- Fish out of Water: Ernestine has a difficult time adjusting to South Carolina after being sold.
- Heroic Seductress: Ernestine seduces and sleeps with her master in order to protect her children. She clearly hates it, but she does make him promise that her son won't be put to work in the fields.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Ernestine tries to convince herself of this after murdering Pearly Mae to protect Rosalee.
- Interrupted Suicide: Ernestine tries to drown herself in "Ache" but is rescued by the other slaves.
- The Lost Lenore: Ernestine's late husband, the father of her son Sam.
- Mama Bear: Ernestine will do anything to protect her children, even murder Pearly Mae, one of her friends.
- The Mistress: Deconstructed. Ernestine is Tom's slave mistress. He fathered her two younger children, Rosalee and James. However, having to be "the massa's whore" takes a great toll on her psychologically and she completely despises him. She only sleeps with him to protect her children but ends up failing: Sam is lynched, Rosalee runs away, and James is taken from her.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Enerstine keeps seeing visions of Pearly Mae, whom she murdered to protect her daughter. The vision of her is a soundboard for Ernestine's own suicidal and self-hating thoughts.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Her eldest son Sam is lynched for trying to run away. Her horrified scream when she discovers his body is gut-wrenching and she has to be physically dragged away from the scene.
- Sanity Slippage: In season 2. She's haunted by visions of deceased loved ones and has developed a drug addiction. She starts having a breakdown while singing for her new master's son and his guests.
- Played by: Johnny Ray Gill
- Big Brother Instinct: He does what he can to shield his baby brother James from the cruelties of slavery.
- Dead Guy on Display: Poor Sam, after getting lynched. To make it even worse, his master made a speech while standing on a balcony over his body and had fireworks set off in celebration. Wow.
- Disappeared Dad: His father died when he was child.
- Make an Example of Them: After catching flack for allowing the Macon Seven to escape, Tom Macon has Sam lynched for his own escape attempt, leaving his body out as a warning to all the remaining slaves.
- Mommy Issues: He doesn't get along well with his mother Ernestine, but they do love each regardless.
- Played by: Adina Porter
- Abusive Parents: Her father, the previous Mr. Macon, of whom she has no fond memories.
- Behind Every Great Man: Her husband Moses only pretends to be literate while she reads and writes for him.
- Mama Bear: She faces down a slave-catcher with a gun to allow her daughter and husband to escape. Later, she contemplates selling the other runaways out if she and her family can be guaranteed freedom.
- Played by: Devyn A. Tyler
- Offing the Offspring: She drowns her and Zeke's newborn son believing he'd be better off in heaven than growing up a slave. The Macons sell her for this, saying they don't want a child-killer among them.
- Played by: Maceo Smedley
- Happily Adopted: Invoked. Suzanna sells his mother to a plantation in South Carolina so she can have him all to herself and make him love her. When Rosalee returns to the Macon plantation to free him, he refuses to go with her.
- Innocence Lost: His mother and older siblings do their best to shield him from the cruelties of the world, but ultimately they can't protect him from everything.
- We Used to Be Friends: He got along well with the master's son T.R. until racial tension severed their friendship.
- Played by: Christopher Meloni
- Action Dad: He's undoubtedly one of the most badass characters on the show and has a thirteen year old son named Ben.
- Anti-Villain: To an extent. He's the slave catcher sent to find the Macon runaways, though he gets a lot of humanizing moments, especially with his son Ben.
- Good Parents: He wants to preserve his son Ben's innocence as much as possible.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: August is able to disarm people by throwing knives into their hands.
- Mushroom Samba: In "Black and Blue" Rosalee burns a dress that has devil's snare in it, and the fuses cause him to hallucinate about Ernestine.
- Papa Wolf: August wants revenge on Rosalee for stabbing his son.
- Punch-Clock Villain: He takes no pleasure in his job, as his only incentive is providing for his son and wife.
- Would Hit a Girl: August has no qualms about using violence against the female runaways he encounters. And he wants to kill Rosalee for stabbing his son. In "The White Whale" he throws a knife at Elizabeth, cutting her hand.
- Your Cheating Heart: His wife in alive, but in a mental institute, and he sleeps with other women while separated from her.
- Played by: James Lafferty
- Frame-Up: The Hawkes and the runaways they're helping pin the whole operation on Marshall Kyle Risdin and John kills him before he has a chance to defend himself.
- Old Flame: He's Elizabeth's ex-fiance and is still quite infatuated with her.
- Would Hurt a Child: He has no compassion for Boo and was ready to arrest her until Elizabeth bribed him with sex.
- Played by: Brigid Brannagh (season 1), Sadie Stratton (season 2)
- Arc Villain: Introduced at the end of season 1 and serves of the main antagonist in season 2.
- Character Death: Cato kills her at the end of season 2, with the intent of using a replacement to be his figurehead when he takes over her gang.
- Dark Action Girl: She can shoot, track, and fight as well as any of her male counterparts. She puts those talents to use destroying black people's lives.
- Evil Redhead: She's got long red hair and no qualms about attacking runaway slaves and dragging them back in chains. She also captures free black people and sells them into slavery.
- The Lad-ette: Not the least bit a Proper Lady. She drinks, smokes, swears, engages in casual sex, and has a very dangerous, physically demanding job.
- Slave to PR: A biographer is writing a book about her and she wants to be seen in the best light possible.
- Unknown Rival: To be the most infamous slave catcher, she feels she has to capture Harriet Tubman, the most infamous runaway. She isn't anywhere on Harriet's radar, however.note