Hazel is the protagonist of Watership Down, and he is the leader of the band of rabbits who leave their home to found a new warren. Although Hazel is young and not very big, he possesses many traits that make him a good leader. Never too hasty with his judgments, he always risks his own life rather than those of the other rabbits. Although brave, he is not foolhardy, and his every action is geared toward the benefit of the entire group. Hazel also sticks up for the smaller rabbits, such as Pipkin and Fiver. He will not leave anyone behind or accept any losses, but when things do go wrong he does not dwell on them. Hazel has an extremely quick mind, and although he see neither as clearly as Blackberry nor as deeply as Fiver, he makes decisions rapidly and confidently and he inspires faith in the rest of the rabbits. Furthermore, Hazel knows how to use the rabbits so that each will benefit the rest of the group the most. He listens to Fiver because he knows his brother can sense things that the rest of them cannot. He seeks the advice of Blackberry, the smartest rabbit, when he cannot figure something out. But Hazel also never counts anyone out, and he takes ideas from whomever suggests them, as long as he believes they will work. Hazel comes up with tricks that are reminiscent of El-ahrairah, and he looks at things from his own perspective. He suggests that the rabbits befriend other animals, and both Kehaar and the mice perform several favors in return. Finally, Hazel trusts his fellow rabbits and believes in them, which sometimes makes all the difference.
Hazel's brother, Fiver is small and nervous, but only because he sees far beyond what most rabbits see. Fiver knows that something bad will happen to the home warren, and Hazel trusts his brother enough to leave. Fiver guides the group through their travels, although he acts indirectly, through his brother. Hazel looks to Fiver for guidance, and when Fiver has a bad feeling about something the other rabbits rarely ignore him. In the warren of the snares, the only reason they do not heed Fiver until Bigwig is snared because they do not want to; they are too happy eating well and living easy to pay any attention to Fiver, and even Hazel does not want to listen. Nonetheless, Fiver saves the group. He is not enthralled by the easy life in the new warren because he does not care for it. Fiver wants to be free; he wants a home where the rabbits can live in peace and quiet and defend themselves from natural evils. Fiver seeks a normal rabbit life—nothing more, nothing less. Although he is a very unusual rabbit who uses very unusual means, he helps the group find their way.
There are times—such as when the rabbits have to cross the bridge—when the group is afraid, but Fiver trusts his instincts and his feeling that there is nothing to be afraid of. While the other rabbits are afraid of the unknown, especially man-made things, Fiver trusts his instincts. Although he is not at home among bridges and boats and cars, he knows that just because these things are unfamiliar does not mean that they are any worse than what the rabbits already know. In fact, he points out that the rabbits often face more danger from rabbits and familiar circumstances than from the unknown. Fiver is able to guide the others because he knows what he is looking for and he cannot be seduced by danger hidden amongst familiar surroundings.
Bigwig is the strongest and toughest of Hazel's rabbits, and he does most of their fighting. Although Hazel does his best to avoid confrontations, there are still many instances when the group would be lost if not for Bigwig. He has the courage to stand up to any enemy, but also the good sense to run when necessary. Large, strong, and experienced, Bigwig manages to infiltrate the Efrafa warren and break out with a large group of does. Although it was extremely difficult for Bigwig to do so, he holds up under pressure and even manages to convince Woundwort that he is loyal. Despite all of the dangers surrounding the escape, Bigwig decides that he will not leave without Blackavar because he feels bad about the way the rabbit is treated. Bigwig is brave and fierce, but he is also just, and he does everything he can to help those who are weaker than him. Although Bigwig cannot come up with plans as elaborate as the ones Hazel or Blackberry devise, he uses cunning rather than force at critical moments. During his fight with Woundwort, with perhaps the fate of the entire warren at stake, Bigwig figures out a way to gain the edge that he needs to defeat a stronger, bigger opponent, using his brain, not his brawn.
Though General Woundwort is the antagonist in Watership Down, he nonetheless has some likable qualities. Like Bigwig, he is strong and fearless, and he takes greater risks than any of the rabbits who fight with him. Yet Woundwort has no pity, and he never thinks of nonviolent solutions to problems. Violence is the General's undoing in the end, and Bigwig is only able to defeat him in battle because he knows that Woundwort will be the first to come through, and therefore will fall victim to his trap. Woundwort thinks incredibly quickly and can organize his troops brilliantly in the heat of battle. He stands up to creatures that no rabbit would ever face; in fact, he never does act very much like a rabbit. Woundwort's violent and confrontational nature causes him to lose the fight at Hazel's warren, and it permits him from accepting Hazel's intelligent offer of a compromise.