#ActualWorst, Round Three: Ramsay Bolton vs. Joffrey Baratheon

A bracket to find the most terrible person on television

HBO / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

Throughout the month of November, we’re soliciting readers’ help to definitively answer an age-old question: Who is the actual worst character on television? We reviewed your submissions, did our own research, and came up with a list of 32 characters across four different categories, who’ll go head to head over the next four weeks until one of them is crowned as the most despicable, unlikable, flat-out awful (fictional) person on the small screen.

This bracket, while intended to determine the relative awfulness of characters on television, is subject to the fact that “worst” is a complex superlative that can incorporate a number of different qualities. In no way are we suggesting that being a narcissistic 20-something is equivalent to, say, killing people and eating them. Rather, our goal is simply to map out which of these fictional characters we love to hate and which we hate to love.

See the bracket in its entirety here.

The Case for Ramsay (Game of Thrones)


Why this character is the actual worst: In a show about why people in desperate times do terrible things, Ramsay Bolton does the most terrible things for no reason at all. Or, almost no reason: Ostensibly, he tortures and murders to gain leverage that might win the favor of his father. But he consistently goes beyond what’s necessary—castrating Theon, raping Sansa, feeding various maidens to various dogs, flaying people in front of their own friends and family members, close-talking and making bad jokes to anyone in earshot. His character offers the uncomfortable suggestion that cruelty—mankind’s and Game of Thrones’s—ultimately has no motive.

Worst moment/s: Offering Theon a false taste of freedom—and then turning him into a dismembered slave named Reek.

Worst trait/s: Sarcasm while performing dismemberment procedures. It’s not the time for jokes, Ramsay.

Redeeming moments/qualities: You can cut him one millimeter of slack based on the fact that his dad is Roose Bolton, who brags about raping and killing Ramsay’s mother under the swinging corpse of her husband. —Spencer Kornhaber

The Case for Joffrey (Game of Thrones)


Why this character is the actual worst: It’s usually wrong to speak ill of the dead, but Joffrey did much worse in his brief lifetime. As many people do, he started out as a petulant child. But as few do, he grew into a sneering boy-king with a fondness for torture. Even those who’ve never seen the show have likely heard of his gleeful corpse-mutilation, and his penchant for sexual violence is nauseating even by Game of Thrones standards. Somehow, the fact that his mother and father are both siblings and longtime lovers was the least awful thing about him.

Worst moment/s: The numerous times he tormented Sansa—like when he ordered her to look at her father’s severed head on a spike or when he got her direwolf Lady killed. Or when he forced one prostitute to beat another one. Or when, at his own wedding, he humiliated his uncle Tyrion (and most of the guests) by forcing a group of short-statured actors to reenact the gruesome War of the Five Kings. Fortunately, it was one of the last things he ever did before a glass of poisoned wine dispatched him to the Seven Hells.

Worst trait/s: He’s power-crazy, stupid, pampered, sadistic, and craven—a horrifying cocktail of qualities for the leader of an entire continent, again, even by Game of Thrones standards. As his grandfather Tywin Lannister once said, “Any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king.”

Redeeming moments/qualities: In his defense, he grew up around terrible adults—murderers, adulterers, manipulators, drunkards. (Though that excuse collapses when you consider how pleasant his siblings Myrcella and Tommen turned out.) He deserves a couple points for his instantly meme-able “You’re perfect the way you are” line—delivered as an insult to his uncle, but beautifully motivational out-of-context. —Lenika Cruz