The Top Ten Best Television Villains

James Canellos ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Anti-heroes aren’t going to cut it on this list. This definition of “villain” is someone who both psychologically and emotionally challenges the lead protagonist of their respective show. While Tony Soprano, Nucky Thompson, and Walter White may be the lead antagonists in others’ eyes, they’re too front-and-center to be villains in a more traditional sense. And although some shows have numerous bad guys throughout the series, this list looks at the worst one from each.

1. Gus Fring (Breaking Bad)

Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring in the Breaking Bad episode "Crawl Space." Photo Credit: Credit Ursula Coyote/AMC.
Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring in the Breaking Bad episode “Crawl Space.” Photo Credit: Credit Ursula Coyote/AMC.
Fring is one of the rare villains who is so good that it takes you a while to understand how bad he really is. Even his first appearance on the show made him seem like an extra. That’s what makes him such an excellent adversary to Breaking Bad’s Walter White – once you finally realize what his motives are, it’s already too late to make your move. Fring is probably the smartest villain on this list. Giancarlo Esposito embraces the harmless businessman attire and humble demeanor to keep his DEA enemies in the palm of his hand. Even after his memorable stint on Bad, there’s still so much mystery surrounding him. The little information that is known about his past is what leads to his end. Even in his final scene, he maintains the coolest exit any great TV villain could ever want.
Most Evil Deed: Fring uses Hank as bait for the Cousins in order to have a probable cause to relinquish any ties with his rival associates.

2. Arthur Mitchell (Dexter)

John Lithgow in Dexter. Photo Credit: Showtime.
John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell in Dexter. Photo Credit: Showtime.
Like many villains on this list, Mitchell is practically an altered version of the show’s protagonist. However, the difference is that Dexter Morgan killed those who were doing harm to others, while Mitchell kills as an addictive ritual. What’s so interesting about this villain is how much Dexter idolizes him at first – he is the prime example of who Dexter wants to be. Trinity still kills people after thirty years, and despite the fact that he has a family, no one suspects a thing. Dexter, of course, comes to his senses after the most awkward Thanksgiving dinner ever and realizes that Mitchell is not one to be admired. John Lithgow brought the show to an all-time high after his Emmy-winning performance – the only problem was that he set the bar too high for future seasons.
Most Evil Deed: Before being caught by Dexter, he completes his murderous ritual by killing Dexter’s wife in their own home.

3. Vern Schillinger (Oz)

J.K. Simmons as Vern Schillinger in Oz. Photo Credit: Home Box Office.
J.K. Simmons as Vern Schillinger in Oz. Photo Credit: Home Box Office.
J.K. Simmons recently reminded audiences how terrifying he can be with his Oscar-worthy performance in Whiplash, but Oz is where his most despicable character was born back in 1997. In Oswald Penitentiary (Oz), there are more villains than heroes, and some have their moments of redemption. But despite some tenderness for his grandchild, the leader of Oz’s Aryan Brotherhood is as ruthless as they come. Vern Schillinger constantly tries to get even with everyone around him and constantly feuds with fellow inmate Tobias to new extremes. Vern abuses his limited amount of power to rape, maim and kill anyone who gets in his way, all while bursting the most racist and messed up lines uttered on this list (well, next to villain #4 ).
Most Evil Deed: Vern orders the kidnapping and death of Tobias’ young children and has their body parts sent to Tobias in the prison.

4. Eric Cartman (South Park)

Eric Cartman in South Park. Photo Credit: Comedy Central.
Eric Cartman in South Park. Photo Credit: Comedy Central.
Eric Cartman is the most demented cartoon character probably ever conceived. While all other villains on this list usually have a grand agenda, Cartman has a new scheme week after week. Like creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Cartman uses the most topical events and bases his latest get-rich-quick scheme on them. Not only does he utter more offensive comments then the previous villain, Vern Schillinger, but he commits sick and atrocious acts against the people of South Park week after week. Sometimes genius and sometimes petty, Cartman’s schemes are always hilarious.
Most Evil Deed: Cartman lures Scott Tenorman’s parents to their death, grinds them into chili, and has Scott unknowingly eat his own mom and dad. All of this occurrs because Scott had once conned Cartman out of $10.

5. J.R. Ewing (Dallas)

Larry Hagman in Dallas. Photo Credit: TNT.
Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing in Dallas. Photo Credit: TNT.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the ego, pride, and greed of the Dallas patriarch. The oil flows and increases each season as J.R.’s morals decline, screwing over anyone he can if it means more money in his pocket. What makes J.R. such a bad and iconic villain is how easily he brings out the savage, backstabbing nature in everyone with whom he comes into contact. He is despised by everyone, and the episode in which he is shot is one of the best cliffhangers in television history, in part because the identity of the assailant was a true mystery. All other villains on this list should tip their hats to Ewing for being one of the first truly great television antagonists.
Most Evil Deed: Ewing hires a mercenary to blow up the oil fields in Iraq, killing anyone who gets in his way.

6. Benjamin Linus (Lost)

Michael Emerson as Ben Linus in Lost. Photo Credit: Mario Perez/ABC.
Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus in Lost. Photo Credit: Mario Perez/ABC.
Devoting his faith in the mysterious island, Linus proves time and time again what he can do in order to protect it. With his bulgy eyes, clipped manner of speaking and shifting alliances, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint where Linus is going, but his delivery is always fascinating to watch. The great irony is that this character was only supposed to be on the show for a few episodes in season two, but now it’s impossible to imagine the dynamics of Lost without him. He manipulates his way through every dangerous obstacle, and even if Jacob can’t see how special he is, the viewers at home can’t keep their eyes off of him.
Most Evil Deed: Linus plans and helps execute the extermination of his whole community – including his father – in order to have more control of the island.

7. The Governor (The Walking Dead)

David Morrissey as The Governor in The Walking Dead episode "Welcome to the Tombs." Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC.
David Morrissey as The Governor in The Walking Dead episode “Welcome to the Tombs.” Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC.
What’s so tragic about this villain is how normal and tame he is before the zombie apocalypse. But of course, something that drastic can turn anyone into their polar opposite. One minute, he’s the perfect southern gentleman, leading the people of Woodbury back to normalcy. Of course, his private room of zombie heads in fishtanks is a good indicator that this guy has a few screws loose. After the ultimate death of his zombie daughter Penny and his eye, he becomes the Mussolini of the zombie world. The Governor is so charismatic that he is able to replicate his success and find a new group of followers to help him fight Rick.
Most Evil Deed: After a failed attempt to take over the prison, the Governor turns on his own people and massacres all of them.

8. Joffrey Baratheon (Game of Thrones)

Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in the Game of Thrones episode "Garden of Bones." Photo Credit: HBO.
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in the Game of Thrones episode “Garden of Bones.” Photo Credit: HBO.
Although he is only a puppet to his grandfather, Tywin, Joffrey is still the character you want to punch any time he opens his mouth. Unlike most villains on this list, Joffrey is neither respected nor incredibly intelligent, but he is feared because of how arrogant he is. “We’ve had vicious kings and we’ve had idiot kings, but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot boy king!” Nothing else describes Joffrey better. Well, unless The Hound is calling him a c**t. There are seven kingdoms of people and creatures that all have him as a mutual enemy. Poor Sansa Stark is his main victim; he even has a special glare just for her whenever he has a new way to torture the poor girl.
Most Evil Deed: Joffrey goes against his promise, forcing Ned Stark to brand himself a traitor in exchange for his life. Right after this, he orders Ned’s beheading in front of the man’s daughters.

9. Mr. Burns (The Simpsons)

Mr. Burns in The Simpsons.
Mr. Burns in The Simpsons.
Burns is a parody of every iconic villain in television, film and literature. Yes. Is he any less diabolical? Absolutely not. Although Charles Montgomery Burns isn’t always up to no good, when he is, it usually leads to more trouble than anyone can afford to have. His lawyers literally cost a fortune and are that good. Burns has the power of Charles Foster Kane, the greed of It’s a Wonderful Life’s Mr. Potter, and the heart of a rock. Even when he’s down on his luck and assisted by the Simpsons, he can’t help but resort back to his selfish ways. It’s also worth noting that he is the most reliable villain on this list, doing terrible things to the people of Springfield since 1989. Without the moral compass of his sidekick, Mr. Smithers, he would have done so much worse over the past 25 years on television.
Most Evil Deed: Burns steals oil, puts an elementary school through bankruptcy, cripples Santa’s Little Helper, and blocks out the sun in Springfield all in the same week.

10. Aku (Samurai Jack)

Aku in Samurai Jack.
Aku in Samurai Jack.
Aku is force of pure malevolence that springs into the noble samurai’s life whenever he pleases. What makes him so terrifying is just how godlike he is – he has the power to shape shift and create portals through time. Aku can literally pop up on Jack at any time, most commonly when Jack is most vulnerable, which adds another layer of paranoia and fear to both the samurai and his viewers. His sheer power forces the already impressive samurai to push himself to new limits in order to stand a chance.
Most Evil Deed: Aku separates Jack from his entire way of life by opening a portal to a completely different period in time.

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