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.
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 Piper (Orange Is the New Black)
Why this character is the actual worst: There’s a book’s worth of web rants making the case that Piper Chapman is the worst, which is a pretty extraordinary fact given that Taylor Schilling’s character is the protagonist of Netflix’s popular jailhouse dramedy. The backlash could be chalked up to politics rather than art—Piper’s a conventionally attractive white woman who, according to the showrunner Jenji Kohan, offers viewers a “Trojan horse” into a world of marginalized people—were it not for the fact that the character herself has so exquisitely and so repeatedly found ways to embody selfishness. When most other inmates in Litchfield exploit each other, it’s for survival or sanity; with Piper, though, her antics often seem motivated by cruelty or boredom.
Worst moment/s: Scheming to land her ex-girlfriend Alex back in jail, just because she’s lonely.
Worst trait/s: Despite what she tells herself and those around her, she’s fundamentally cold-hearted. Check out her disproportional revenge scheme against Stella at the end of the most recent season for an example.
Redeeming moment/qualities: Piper does try to acknowledge her out-of-touchness and sanctimony from time to time, and was smart enough to let her loser fiancé Larry leave her life. —Spencer Kornhaber