By James Nelson
The last ten years have seen an unprecedented level of original and critically acclaimed stories being pushed out on television. Between Mad Men all the way through Outlander there has been no shortage of great characters. That being said, most shows swim through a grey fog of morality that leaves most characters with deep seeded moral issues, but nevertheless there have been a few shows with characters that have been unabashed villains. Here I’ve tried to list the top ten villains of the last ten years. I tried to restrict this to original villains and not ones we’ve seen adapted in the past (The Kingpin in Daredevil for instance is excellent, but we’ve already seen him in the movie and the Amazing Spider-Man cartoon).
It’s a rare thing when you find a show that you watch just as much for the hero as you do for the villain, but Justified was one of those shows, and Boyd Crowder’s story arch from neo-nazi white trash to guy trying to be a good guy and back to villain was a fantastic way to wrap the series around itself. In addition the way in which Walton Goggins elucidated and spoke his lines in such a melodic and poetic manner made everything he said sound like honey. I mean, just watch how he interacts with Raylan.
It’s just fantastic TV, and Justified would have been less of a show if Boyd Crowder had died at the end of the pilot.
9. Tywin Lannister (Game of Thrones)
Now here’s a guy who is just out to keep his family on top right? He’s a “family man.” Once again the performance of Charles Dance provides this character with such gravitas that in every scene he feels dangerous. He’s made even more dangerous by the fact that he’s one of maybe two or three people who actually knows what they’re doing in Westeros. He’s not the author of anyone’s pain, he’s just a guy trying to ensure his (and his family’s) legacy. The irony of his life is that in his pursuit of power he’s practically ensured his family’s destruction by driving Jamie into the gold cloaks, marrying his daughter to a drunk, and casting off his best heir as a misshapen mistake.
8. John Cavil (Battlestar Galactica)
Cavil first came to us as President Roslin’s spiritual adviser, and what a twist it was to find out that he was a sadistic, nihilistic, and atheistic Cylon who had single handedly stopped at nothing to ensure the destruction of humanity. Watching Dean Stockwell as Cavil is one of the best parts of the entire series, especially this scene (apologies for the quality):
7. Benjamin Linus (Lost)
This is the example of a villain who stole the show, and also one that when you get to know him, he’s not really that bad of a guy. Linus was really just some kid who went native, thought he was the one meant to lead his people, and was willing to do whatever he needed to in order to save them and his island. In the end, it involved him coming to terms with the lives he’d crushed and trying to make up for it. In addition, he sort of served as the stand in for all out hatred at the writers holding back information as they made us think Linus knew what he was talking about, when really, he was just as lost as all of us.
6. The White Walkers (Game of Thrones)
This list could really be entirely about Game of Thrones villains, but I decided to stop with the only ones that really matter, White Walkers. Lets be real, when it comes down to who is trying to kill/sleep with who for control of the Iron Throne, the only thing that matters is who is going to unite Westeros (and the world) against the threat that comes from above the Wall. They’re enigmatic, nearly indestructible, and have an army of undead at their command. This is the ultimate threat for one of the best shows on TV.
Did I mention…
Eat that Walking Dead.
5. Vee (Orange is the New Black)
I never thought I would have been so happy to see a grandmother get run over by a van. Seriously. In a series dominated by a cast who’s in jail for good reasons, she is easily the most vile and terrible (arguably even worse than Pornstache). She’s manipulative, cunning, and in the end turned the prison into a much darker place.
4. Gus Fring (Breaking Bad)
He looked so kind and innocent the first time you met him, but the more you get to know Gus Fring, the deeper in the rabbit hole you go. Gus is a businessman, pure and simple, it’s just his business was the meth trade. In Breaking Bad he served as the apex of the predatory power of meth, the architect of a high money empire, that is, until we found out that Heisenberg was actually much scarier than even Gus.
3. Harrison Wells (The Flash)
Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne was the heart of The Flash’s first season. The conflict he brought to Central City was the source of all the meaningful tension in the first season, and it helps that his whole goal was always to kill the Flash, but he had to make him a better hero in order to get back home, where he could fix his speed problems permanently, and then kill Barry Allen. I can’t see how The Flash can top him as a villain (and I’m so glad they brought back Tom Cavanagh to play the “real” Harrison Wells).
2. The Swede (Hell on Wheels)
I’ve said it before, the Swede is one of the greatest villains of all time, and it’s largely in how unpredictable he is. He was a normal, regular bookkeeper until he was broken in Andersonville Prison, where he had to learn a “cruel mathematics” in order to survive. Even now in Hell on Wheels I have no idea what his game is. The Swede is insane, and the hero is his trigger, and that leads him to do largely unpredictable and violent things.
1. Black Jack Randall (Outlander)
I never thought that I would have watched a villain this evil on TV. I’ve seen shows push villains and their cruelty to the envelop, but I can easily say that none have gone as far as Black Jack Randall, the villain of Outlander. What makes the him great is that he’s a villain that they can’t kill, because if they do Claire’s husband in the future, Frank, might not exist because Randall is his ancestor. In addition, he is a brutal sadistic monster unparalleled by anything I’ve ever seen. What makes his demeanor so different is that the same actor portrays Black Jack Randall and Frank. We see both him being a kind and wonderful husband, and we want to see that in Black Jack.
We want to know that he can and is a good person deep down, but by the end of the first season (and really even before that) we know that he is anything but. There is no kindness in him, and all he wants in this “bloody masterpiece” he made in Jamie Fraser’s back. I can’t say anything more, but lets just say nothing on Game of Thrones has been as brutal as what Black Jack has done.
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