With the fall TV season just around the corner, our televisions will soon be awash with characters new and old that will be taking on villainous tasks, making our favorite characters’ lives a living hell. But for now, we’re celebrating those ruthless bastards that made the past year so wonderfully dastardly.
Here are the 10 best villains currently kicking it on TV. One stipulation for making this list is that the characters couldn’t be completely defeated the last time we saw them, so no dead people. That said, going to prison doesn’t count as defeated, as TV shows have been busting baddies out of jail for ages, so we’ll undoubtedly be seeing some of them again. As well, no one-off antagonists. Otherwise, just about everyone else was game, and these are all some of the most memorable characters that TV has going for it. (Spoilers for just about everyone on this list, so be warned.)
Wilson Fisk (Daredevil)
Beyond Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the Marvel Cinematic Universe villains are known for being fairly trite and one-dimensional. But that changed once again with Vincent D’Onofrio’s complex and nuanced performance as Wilson “Don’t Say His Name” Fisk on Netflix’s Daredevil. Though he was oddly introverted and tried to distance himself from the day-to-day criminal activities of his underlings, Fisk inevitably got pulled into the fray, and was downright frightening when he went there. As well, his frustration-based motivations for saving Hell’s Kitchen mirrored those of Matt Murdock’s, though their ideologies on how to get it done were vastly different. Though he was last seen inside of a jail cell, he hadn’t yet taken on the Kingpin moniker from the comics, so we’d better be seeing him again.
Ramsay Bolton (Game of Thrones)
Want an easy indication that Ramsay Bolton is one of the most effective villains? Just look at how universally appalled people were after he raped his new wife Sansa in Season 5. (And in front of Reek/Theon, no less.) Of course, most people blamed the Game of Thrones writers and showrunners, rather than the fictional Ramsay, but barely anyone took a stance that Ramsay wasn’t actually evil enough to do the devious deed. It turns out once you’ve castrated someone and psychologically overpowered them into becoming a brainwashed servant, no one expects good things from you. Ramsay is going to meet his maker one day, and it almost has to be in the most horrifying and painful way possible, considering all the damage he’s done to others.
The Penguin (Gotham)
When you’re on a show that hemorrhages villains as much as Gotham does, it’s almost a necessity to stand out as much as possible, and that’s exactly what Robin Lord Taylor does as Oswald Cobblepot, from his purposely unkempt hairdo to his signature waddle. Though he initially hates the name Penguin, he certainly enjoys living up to the comic character’s evil reputation, and Cobblepot spent most of Season 1 believably climbing his way through Gotham City’s underworld, murderously double-crossing anyone and everyone with little regard for respect or loyalty. Well, except for his mother, of course. Season 2 will certainly cement Penguin’s place atop the ranks, especially since most of the big baddies from Season 1 have been killed off or run out of town, but he’ll have a slew of new competitors vying for his position.
Pablo Escobar (Narcos)
If you’re going to get an actor to play one of the most notorious criminals in history, you’d better get someone who isn’t just a pale shadow of a comparison, and Netflix’s Narcos has the perfect Pablo Escobar in Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, who positively owns every scene he’s in. Though this series spends some of its narrative with the DEA agents trying to take Escobar down, viewers get an ample amount of time with the King of Cocaine, and he’s just as engaging and effusive as he is malevolent and conniving. A character who tries liberating a country while also becoming the wealthiest drug trafficker of all time has to have a well-rounded personality, and Escobar’s sense of self knows no bounds.
The Walkers (The Walking Dead)
While human villains like the Governor and the Terminus cannibals come and go on The Walking Dead, the series will almost undoubtedly always have the threat of the undead adding surprise massacres to the characters’ daily lives. There aren’t that many people left on Earth, but there are still untold numbers of walkers roaming the woods and the streets, making it nearly impossible for the survivors to attain true comfort, even in a place as seemingly secure as Alexandria. The fact that walkers have been responsible for the majority of character deaths on The Walking Dead makes them a combined formidable opponent every step of the way, and the fact that they look so goddamned grizzly and gross just adds to their effectiveness.
Gavin Belson (Silicon Valley)
It takes some effort to pull off a winning villain within the context of a comedy series, particularly in a multi-faceted way that doesn’t just show them being a dickhead to everyone, and that’s what makes Matt Ross’ Gavin Belson stand out. As the not-exactly-genius head of Hooli, Belson has “success” as his motivation, and if someone else can’t or won’t help him get there, that’s when he becomes a force to be reckoned with. But he’s also never shown as being completely infallible, even as the leader of one of the biggest companies in the world, and watching him take on Richard and Pied Piper was never boring, as you could never tell when Mike Judge and his creative team would actually let Pied Piper win.
Eli Pope (Scandal)
Most daughters and fathers have loving relationships, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for Olivia Pope, the central protagonist on Scandal, and her poppa Rowan “Eli” Pope, played with an often maniacal grace by Joe Morton. As the leader of the covert ops group B613, Eli has been responsible for the ruination and death of many people during his time on the show, including his own B613 agents. He evaded arrest for most of Season 4, and at one point ordered Huck to kill an entire jury so that his case could get thrown out – and he got the jury members’ names by blackmailing First Lady Mellie Grant. The season ended with him finally behind bars, but he’s the kind of guy who knows enough people that could get him out for more havoc in Season 5.
Chuck McGill (Better Call Saul)
As Chuck McGill, veteran comedy actor Michael McKean had one of the most interesting arcs of any character on TV in years. He was a successful lawyer whose career got sidelined after he suddenly became agoraphobic and extremely hypersensitive to electronics, and viewers didn’t really have a clue that he was the central villain of Better Call Saul Season 1 until the end, when you realized that he, and not Howard Hamlin, was the driving force behind Jimmy’s law firm dreams going up in flames, which led to his scam artist lifestyle. Without Chuck there to disbelieve in his brother’s abilities, Jimmy might have found success outside of a nail salon office, where viewers (and eventually Walter White) would have never gotten to know him. Here’s hoping Mike gets to take him down one day.
Melisandre (Game of Thrones)
With all the characters roaming Westeros in Game of Thrones, it would be impossible for only one of the villains to be on this list. Although she’s a priestess of the Lord of Light, Melisandre brings little beyond dismal darkness to those around her, and that’s not just a reference to the shadow baby that killed off Renly Baratheon. Her big finishing move in Season 5 involved lighting pyres and burning up characters, with a secondary move of “attempted seduction of Jon Snow.” Her most damning action was convincing Stannis that sacrificing his own daughter Shireen would help his quest for the Iron Throne, but it only managed to cause half of his army to leave him, and his wife Selyse to kill herself. And then, Melisandre stole a horse and ran away. Stealing a horse!
Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons)
While he hasn’t been a driving force behind entire seasons of The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob has been giving Bart Simpson and other characters trouble for 25 years now, which automatically makes him one of the best villains of any given year. Voiced with perfection by Kelsey Grammer, Sideshow Bob (real name Robert Underdunk Terwilliger) has had a decades-long plot to destroy the life of Bart Simpson, and occasionally former employer Krusty the Clown, and pretty much anyone else who tries to corrupt his schemes. Also, rakes. Episodes revolving around the poofy-haired criminal are often among the best of the seasons they’re in, and it’s always a treat to get a song out of him. In Season 27, he’ll get to kill Bart a bunch of times for the “Treehouse of Horror” episode, so he’ll be further justifying his place on this list later this year.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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