As our bracket to find the actual worst person on television nears its conclusion, it’s hardly surprising that the last two competitors left standing are sadists. In one corner is Ramsay Bolton, the bête noire of Game of Thrones, a psychopath who seems to derive pleasure only from cruelty. In the other, Hannibal Lecter, a far more refined monster, whose victims become his gourmet meals. Both men are almost unthinkably evil creations, but the biggest difference is that Ramsay is entirely unsympathetic (emerging from the “Plain Evil” bracket) while Hannibal is one of the most popular antiheroes of modern TV.
Ramsay stands out on Game of Thrones partly because he’s entirely lacking in ambiguity. Even that show’s protagonists commit grievous misdeeds, but its villains are usually given real depth too—the exception being Ramsay and Joffrey, who Ramsay defeated in the third round of this competition. The bastard child of the ice-blooded Roose Bolton, a northern lord who usurps the heroic Starks at the notorious Red Wedding, Ramsay has spent the majority of his screen time torturing people, feeding women to dogs, and sexually assaulting the teenaged Sansa Stark on the night of their (forced) marriage. He does almost all of this with an impish grin on his face, meaning that whenever he does get his comeuppance on the show, it’ll surely prompt celebration across the land.
Hannibal is a more complex creature, but his motivations also seem simple. He murders people, but usually because he finds them rude or uncouth; only by then preparing them as food and consuming them can he establish dominance over them. He’s tortured and maimed people, but typically as part of some grander scheme to protect his identity, and many of the people he’s killed were villains worse than him. It’s easier to rationalize much of his conduct, which makes him the perfect antihero, but he’s nonetheless a dangerous creature who often loses his calm, repeatedly carving and slicing his way out of dodgy situations to protect his own skin, and stabbing his closest “friends” in the back if necessary.
There’s precious little explanation for Hannibal’s violent compulsions. There are hints at a sad childhood and the loss of his sister when he was a teenager, but within the Hannibal TV universe, little more than that. Ramsay is easier to diagnose—his father is a sociopath, less delighted by cruelty, but equally happy to mete it out when he deems it necessary, and Ramsay’s only real insecurity is the long shadow that Roose casts over him. Even that doesn’t make him sympathetic, though. Hannibal is a raconteur, a charmer, an agent of chaos who slithers into people’s lives and helps tear them apart. It’s fun to watch him work, as awful as the consequences might be. There’s nothing fun about Ramsay.