Michael Learned explained how Olivia Walton changed throughout The Waltons
The Walton matriarch was based on creator Earl Hamner Jr.'s mother.
If a television series is successful enough to run for a number of years, it's only natural for the characters to grow and change, in the same way that real human beings do.
Olivia Walton, matriarch of the Walton family, was not immune to such change. Michael Learned spoke to the Gannett News Service regarding her character's growth. She stated, "The character has changed; she participates more." Learned explained, "The first two years I did a lot of coffee pouring and telling children to go to bed. She's a little less rigid now, has a few more weaknesses and strengths, and more of a point of view."
It makes sense for a character like Olivia Walton to grow the way an actual person should, considering the character is based on the very real mother of Walton's creator, Earl Hamner Jr. Hamner's mother was a bit less serious than Olivia Walton was at the beginning of the series. According to The Kokomo Tribune, Learned pressed Hamner about his mother's personality. Hamner told her, "She laughed all the time," a softening that was reflected in her counterpart, Olivia Walton, as the series continued.
But it's important to understand that while Walton is based on a real person, she's still a fictional character and not someone that you should aspire to be like in every way. Even Learned understands that while a fan-favorite of audiences, people should not aspire to be Olivia Walton, especially fellow mothers.
In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, she recalled cringing when a woman approached her and said, "I wish I could be a good mother like Olivia." The Waltons represented an ideal reality, one that is nice to watch but isn't entirely attainable. Learned commented, "We are all idealists. The show is an affirmation of this. This is the appealing thing to me."