Television’s 10 Greatest Anti-Villains of All Time

By ·May 27, 2016 6:00 am

Villains are often more interesting than heroes. It is their lack of a need to hold back that can make them so captivating and unabashedly cool.

What about, then, when a villain also exhibits some “good guy” qualities? What results is the ‘anti-villain’; a character who can often hold the coolness of a villain, yet also that crucial good-hearted kindness side to them, which draws us in to care about these misguided antagonists.

After much careful consideration, love and attention, we have compiled our top 10 TV anti-villains of all time.

It should be noted that this is the top 10 TV anti-villains so far, because, of course, there may be villains in the future who could steal places in this list.

This list is a companion piece to two other articles – Television’s 10 Greatest Villains and Television’s 10 Greatest Anti-Heroes, which we urge you to check out.

First, it is important to define the term ‘anti-villain’:

An anti-villain is defined as a villain with heroic goals, personality traits, and/or virtues.

Below you will find our list of the anti-villains who enthralled us the most – those who elevated the quality of the shows that they were in and truly gripped our hearts and minds with their daring combination of wickedness and virtue.

 

10] Jaime Lannister

Jaime in one of his darkest periods; as a captive in Season 2.

Jaime in one of his darkest periods; as a captive in Season 2.

  • Show: Game of Thrones
  • Arc: Seasons 1-6
  • Portrayed by: Nikolaj Coster-Waldou

Jaime Lannister started off as a straight-up villain in Game of Thrones. Known as ‘The Kingslayer’ for murdering the mad Targaryen King and showing a complete lack of empathy for Bran by pushing him out of a window, Jaime was a truly wicked character. From his his Season 2 arc onwards, however, Jaime has grown a lot as a person and has developed a virtuous side. He now strives to do good where can and is all round more humbled, after the loss of his hand and the bond he shared with Brienne.

Best line:

“So many vows – they make you swear and swear. Defend the King. Obey the King. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your Father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the Gods. Obey the laws… It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or another.”

Most anti-villainous moment:

When Jaime gives the sword named Oathkeeper to Brienne of Tarth, so that she can rescue Sansa Stark. It’s one of Jaime truly good acts.

Coolest moment:

When Jaime was captured by Robb Stark in Season 2. He sported a full beard and was entirely resilient in the face of his captives. This is also what gave us some of his best lines.

 

9] Joe MacMillan

Joe in his trademark smart suit.

Joe in his trademark smart get-up.

  • Show: Halt and Catch Fire
  • Arc: Seasons 1-2
  • Portrayed by: Lee Pace

Joe is a businessman at the dawn of the computer age who has the flair and confidence to talk a big game, as well as the smarts to outwit his opponents. We’ve placed Joe into the anti-villain category because the majority of what he does is for self-gain and he’s not afraid to trample over almost anyone to get what he desires. This makes him the villain of the show, even though he is often painted to us as being the good guy protagonist. However, Joe does have a kind side too him too, especially when it comes to Cameron Howe.



Best line:

“I’m not an accident. I deserve better.”

Most anti-villainous moment:

In Season 2, Episode 9, Kali, when Joe gives a speech at a large conference, in which he talks about how the true genius is Cameron Howe. This is his most selfless moment.

Coolest moment:

When Joe stands on top of a car in front of a crowd and makes a show of it smashing it in with a baseball bat.

 

8] 01 Boxer

01 Boxer’s crazed, maniacal glare.

  • Show: Charlie Jade
  • Arc: Season 1
  • Portrayed by: Michael Filipowich

01 Boxer is the extrovert son of the owner of the gigantic dystopian corporation VexCorp. After being timid and obedient in his youth, 01 becomes a crazed, witty, elaborately dressed party-animal, whilst still retaining the intellect and cunning required of any great anti-villain. 01 murders for his own means, but also works against VexCorp to positively affect the fate of the three universes that the show focuses on.

Best line:

“Tell you the truth; it’s my slippers. Pretty, ruby slippers. I just click my heels together three time and I say ‘there’s no place like home’.”

Most anti-villainous moment:

Working with Charlie to stop the link. Despite being adversaries, 01 sees the common good in accomplishing this task.

Coolest moment:

In Season 1, Episode 13, Through a Mirror Darkly, when 01 Boxer and Charlie Jade finally come face to face and have a long-overdue discussion. 01 is strung upside down and tortured by Charlie while they converse.

 

7] Alice Morgan

Alice, being attentive yet ever threatening.

  • Show: Luther
  • Arc: Seasons 1-4
  • Portrayed by: Ruth Wilson

Alice was a child prodigy who grew up to murder her parents. She is a genius, a sociopath and a malignant narcissist. As the show progresses, Alice becomes a close friend of protagonist John Luther and proves to be one of the few people that he trusts. The two even work together as accomplices on occasion and John ultimately sways Alice to believe that there is indeed love in the world.

Best line:

“He swore he wasn’t going to kill you. He thought the humiliation of prison would be worse. The beatings, the rapes, the incessant fear for your life… but I told him: ‘No, John, you’re wrong. Dying would be worse.” Because well, honestly, it is isn’t it? Dying’s just worse. So… do I pull the trigger or not?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wJmisOl7tk

Most anti-villainous moment:

When Alice asks John to run away with her to Mexico because working in the police force is killing him. This shows the extent to which she cares for him.

Coolest moment:

When Alice does the sex-motion with her hands, wile pulling an innocent little face.

 

6] Boyd Crowder

Boyd draws a gun on a foe.

Boyd draws a gun on a foe.

  • Show: Justified
  • Arc: Seasons 1-6
  • Portrayed by: Walton Goggins

Boyd is the smartest red neck you’ll ever come across and one with a beautifully eloquent way with words. He’s a man who always thinks ahead of the game and gains the upper hand on his enemies. Boyd sometimes works on protagonist Raylan Givens’ side and other times against him. It’s this back and forth rivalry bordering mutual friendship that works so well. Strictly speaking, Boyd actually flits between anti-villain and anti-hero. We have placed him as an anti-villain because that is what he spends most of his time as.

Best line:

“I’ve been accused of being a lot of things. Inarticulate ‘aint one of ’em.”

Most anti-villainous moment:

Boyd’s entire relationship with Raylan and the way it often crosses into friendship and mutual respect. At one point Boyd says of Raylan: “We dug coal together.”

Coolest moment:

The moment that Boyd pulls a gun on Daryl Crow Junior and Daryl is so impressed that he exclaims: “Goddamn man, that was cool as ice.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns0CmFnQxmM

 

5] Thomas ‘Tommy’ Shelby

Thomas Shelby stands thoughtful and contemplative.

Thomas Shelby stands thoughtful and contemplative.

  • Show: Peaky Blinders
  • Arc: Seasons 1-2
  • Portrayed by: Cillian Murphy

Peaky Blinders is one of the finest shows on television and it’s all helmed by Cillian Murphy’s excellent portrayal as the very complex character Thomas Shelby. Tommy is smarter than most, holds his family in very high regard indeed, and is capable of a great love (for Grace). Tommy is also a ruthless and vicious killer who commits many gruesome crimes with his brothers.

Best line:

[in response to Grace’s “I warn you, I’ll break your heart”] “Already broken.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_frdCuPm-C8

Most anti-villainous moment:

Tommy’s un-abiding love for Grace. Even after he learns of her duplicity and even after she leaves and returns, he still holds a fondness for her.

Coolest moment:

Tommy’s ability to recite poetry, even while committing bloody deeds. In Season 1 he speaks “in the bleak midwinter,” while falsifying Danny’s death. This is from Christina Rossetti’s poem of the same name. Rossetti’s poem is about contrasts, which is itself a great commentary of Tommy’s duality.

 

4] The Punisher

Frank, giving his judgemental glare.

Frank, giving his skeptical glare.

  • Show: Daredevil
  • Arc: Season 2
  • Portrayed by: Jon Bernthal

In Daredevil Season 2, Jon Bernthal proved to be the best Punisher by far. Frank Castle was a cop until his family was gunned down by criminals during a crossfire. Frank takes it upon himself to murder all criminals in cold blood; but only deserving criminals, no one else. Netflix portrays Frank as a man with a rational, emotional side to him too. His friendship with Karen is evidence of this.

Best line:

“I would chop my arm off right here in this restaurant just to feel that one more time from my wife. My old lady, she didn’t just break my heart, she’d rip it out, she’d tear it apart, she’d step on that sh*t, feed it to a dog. She was ruthless, she brought the pain. But she’ll never hurt me again. You see, I’ll never feel that … You have everything, so hold onto it. Use two hands, and never let go, you got it?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pzY72Vtsp0

Most anti-villainous moment:

Frank opening up to Karen Page. Through this friendship he shows his emotional side and forms a bond with Karen.

Coolest moment:

The sequence where Frank fights his way through a prison corridor, taking down a whole group of escaped inmates, while smoke billows around him.

 

3] Kai Proctor

Kai reveals his Christian tattoo.

  • Show: Banshee
  • Arc: Seasons 1-4
  • Portrayed by: Ulrich Thomsen

Banshee is one of the very best shows on television and this is partly because they hold a card that few other shows do, which is their exceptionally brilliant anti-villain, Kai Proctor. Kai is ex-Amish, turned criminal, who holds a lot of power in Banshee. He works endlessly for his own profit (and has some very private, very masochistic moments), but every now and then he will work alongside the show’s heroes. Despite his actions, he always showcases a strong moral core. If he feels that someone is taking advantage of someone weaker, he is certain to intervene. In the show’s most recent episode, he tried to help a homeless girl, by allowing her to stay in Rebecca’s room in his mansion.

Best line:

“What do you feel when you see me? Does it even hurt you at all? … Be careful, Father. I have swallowed your insults for years, but don’t mistake my tolerance for weakness.”

Most anti-villainous moment:

When Kai helps to defend the Cadi (Banshee’s small police station) from Chayton and his men. This is one of the few times that he works directly alongside the show’s “good guys” and in these scenes he truly feels like one of our heroes.

Coolest moment:

When a gang with baseball bats threaten Kai’s Amish family, Kai walks right up to them, steals one of their bats out of their hands and beats two of the men horribly, while the others all look on in fear of facing him.

 

2] Tate Langdon

Tate in Afterbirth (the Season 1 finale), showcasing his ability to convincingly feign sorrow.

  • Show: American Horror Story
  • Arc: Season 1
  • Portrayed by: Evan Peters

We have always found Tate to be an utterly brilliant, bold, emotional, almost poetically-crafted character. He is a murderer and a rapist who is also capable of a full and true love (for Violet), yet he also holds the ability to feign emotion to the highest degree (when Ben calls him out on this, he switches it off in an instant). We adore him to this day and he remains this best thing about American Horror Story.

Best line:

“I prepare for the noble war. I’m calm; I know the secret. I know what’s coming and I know no one can stop me, including myself. I kill people I like. Some of them beg for their life. I don’t feel sad. I don’t feel anything. It’s a filthy world we live in. It’s a filthy, goddamn helpless world, and honestly, I feel like I’m helping to take them away from the sh*t and p*ss and vomit that run in the streets. The world is a filthy place, it’s a filthy goddamn horror show. There’s so much pain, you know? There’s so much.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXsolq5-nyo

Most anti-villainous moment:

Tate’s entire relationship with Violet is his most anti-villainous trait. He is a psychopath who is clearly very capable of an intense love. From saving Violet’s life, to lines such as: “You should never hurt the one you love. Never.” Tate has a goodness to him when it comes to Violet.

Coolest moment:

After shooting students mercilessly to death at his school, Tate returns home. When the police burst into Tate’s bedroom, Tate places a finger to his temple and pretends to blow his brains out before then reaching for his guns and being shot to death. The expression on his face when he does this is one of sheer defiance and lack of caring for his own fate.

 

1] Sebastian ‘Bass’ Monroe

Bass Monroe (right) held captive in Season 2.

  • Show: Revolution
  • Arc: Seasons 1-2
  • Portrayed by: David Lyons

Having been best friends with Miles Matheson since they were boys, Bass turned into a dictatorial villain after the electronic blackout hit and rose to the height of power. All with Miles at his side, until Miles one day chose to leave Monroe’s ranks, due feeling that his friend was too far gone.

The shows makes it very clear that Bass still deeply cares for Miles and wishes for him to return to his side. The power of this friendship is undeniable and it truly is the backbone of Revolution. It is certainly, however, a friendship that is more heavily weighted on Bass’ side. In fact, at one point Tom Neville tells Bass: “You have a borderline erotic fixation on Miles Matheson.”

In Season 2 we are given Bass flashback scenes that show what tipped Bass over into villainy; three years after the blackout Monroe lost his wife and child in childbirth. He reacted to this by raiding the opposing village, murdering everyone and stealing “everything that wasn’t tied down.”

Season 2 also sees Monroe move from straight-up villain into the anti-villain territory, when he joins the side of our heroes, all the while still carefully walking that crucial line between good and bad. This is when the character of Sebastian Monroe is at his absolute peak and it could easily be said that Season 2 is a character study on Monroe.

Season 2 Bass is extremely cool, absolutely brimming with charm, and a crucial emotional reasoning for what he does – a deep love for his best friend – and this is something that we as an audience empathise and resonate with.

For those who haven’t seen Revolution, we feel that this fan-made video effectively conveys the beauty of Bass’ struggle and his friendship with Miles Matheson:

Bass’ unique composition provides an anti-villain that is so emotionally complex, unabashedly cool and stunningly tragic that it simply makes for stunning television.

In an interview, David Lyons stated:

“I think Monroe is so enamoured with his own grief, own guilt, his own self-loathing, own need for love, that there is nothing but selfishness. And that manifests in usually an outward expression of rage.”

When asked if Monroe is redeemable, Lyons stated:

“Redemption is a tricky concept, because: is he redeemable through action? Maybe. But is he redeemable within himself? Probably not. He’s so horribly broken. He can be led to that water but he’s not necessarily going to drink it.”

Revolution was cancelled after Season 2, and with it our hopes for more Bass and for Bass’ full redemption, but Sebastian Monroe, for us, remains the greatest anti-villain to ever have graced television.

Best line:

[to Miles] “I want you to come back. We look out for each other – that’s what we do. Even when the other one screws up. I forgive you OK, I forgive you … I’ll give you whatever you want. It was better, it was simpler, with you here. Please.”

Most anti-villainous moment:

The way in which Bass cares deeply and truly for his best friend, even after Miles tells him to his face that they were never family and that he means nothing to him.

Coolest moment:

In Season 2, Episode 6, Dead Man Walking, Monroe fights back against seven shot guns pointed in his face, even though he’s dazed by a grenade blast and armed only with a knife.

 

We hope that our top 10 anti-villains list both aligned with some of your own choices and also gave you insight into other superb anti-villains that you might not have seen or heard of before. We urge you to check those unfamiliar anti-villains out. We can assure you that they are very much worth your time.

Image credits: FX, Cinemax, Space, Netflix, HBO, AMC, BBC, NBC.

Written by Christopher Hart

Lead Writer and Copywriter

Chris is a Copywriter for a major bank. He an MA in Publishing and a BA in Comparative Literature. He's also a self-published author (Altered Stone).

His areas of interest include LOST, The Leftovers, The Prisoner, Y: The Last Man, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, BioShock, Supergiant Games and Josh Malerman.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *