HBO / Starz / 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, unlikeable, 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)

HBO

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 Ramsay’s mother under the swinging corpse of her husband. —Spencer Kornhaber


The Case for Black Jack (Outlander)

Starz

Why this character is the actual worst: A sadist in smart trousers, Captain “Black Jack” Randall is an 18th-century Redcoat who savors beatings, rapes, and blustery speeches. At times, he seems self-aware, but instead of making moves toward redemption, he embarks on monologue after tedious monologue—surely getting violently whipped must be worse if your captor is blathering on in a pretentious British accent?

Worst moment/s: The rapes and attempts thereof, always relished and accompanied by some serious psychological meddling. First, he goes after Jamie's sister; then Claire; and then, finally, Jamie himself.

Worst trait/s: He looks exactly like Claire’s 20th-century husband, Frank, who is his opposite in every way—kind, gentle, nerdy, actually worth hanging out with. (The two characters are played by the same actor and described in the series as distant relatives.) The cognitive dissonance of seeing Black Jack’s cruelty and Frank’s love-driven search for his wife makes the former seem all the more detestable: There were genetically viable alternative paths for you, dude!

Redeeming moments/qualities: There’s a moment, when Claire encounters Randall by chance during her venture to prove to the Redcoats that she hasn't been kidnapped, when Randall seems vulnerable: curious about Claire, trying to figure her out with an almost childlike obsession. But, then he immediately punches her in the stomach. So. —Emma Green

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