#ActualWorst, Round Three: Walter White vs. Hannibal Lecter

A bracket to find the most terrible person on television

AMC / NBC / 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 Walt (Breaking Bad)


Why this character is the actual worst: Walter starts out noble enough—he’s a chemistry teacher stricken by cancer, and looking to set up his family after he’s gone, he starts cooking meth to provide some extra bucks. But as his special formula spreads like wildfire through New Mexico, Walter becomes more and more drunk with power, and starts to behave as ruthlessly as the crime bosses who employ him, resorting to coercion and murder to stay alive.

Worst moment/s: When Walter needs to win back his protégé Jesse’s trust at the end of Breaking Bad’s fourth season, he hatches an evil scheme to snatch him from the jaws of drug lord Gustavo Fring. Using a rare flower that grows in his backyard, Walter poisons a young boy who Jesse has befriended, and pins the crime on Gus. Yes, Walter is not above poisoning children to achieve his goals.

Worst trait/s: Arrogance. Walter’s undoing is always his firm belief that he’s better than everyone else: It’s what made him a high-school teacher when he should have been a multi-millionaire industrialist, because he couldn’t play with others. And it’s what makes him try to take down his drug-lord bosses even though they’re paying him millions to cook meth for them.

Redeeming moments/qualities: When the show begins, Walter is a family man, and he gets into the drug biz to provide for them. Though that selflessness shrivels and dies as the series goes on, there’s enough left by the end of the series for him to arrange for his wife and kids to live in some semblance of safety after his misdeeds go public. —David Sims

The Case for Hannibal (Hannibal)


Why this character is the actual worst: Hannibal is a serial killer, which is a bad foot to start on. But he’s a special kind of serial killer who likes to cook and eat his victims after they’re dead, prepare them as gourmet meals, and serve them to guests. He’s also a psychiatrist with a predilection for chaos, who allows the clearly mentally ill FBI agent Will Graham to continue fighting crime even as he slips into madness under Lecter’s watch.

Worst moment/s: The list of Hannibal’s misdeeds is absurdly long. Maybe his grossest trait is serving cooked people up to other people; topping even that, though, is what he does to poor Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard), a fellow murderer who gets on Hannibal’s bad side by taking credit for his crimes. Hannibal chops his legs off but keeps Gideon alive, and then they share a meal of, well, human leg together.

Worst trait/s: Probably the whole “he kill you and eats you” thing. Still, there are people in Hannibal’s life that he clearly values, and through the course of the series he has to turn on all of them to save his own skin—for all his politeness, he’s as inherently selfish as the rest of us.

Redeeming moments/qualities: There’s a lot to like about Dr. Lecter. He’s a well-read man, a witty conversationalist, a fantastic cook, and he’s sartorially blessed. It’s how he gets away with all that murdering—people just don’t want to think Hannibal could be up to no good. —David Sims