From time to time, at happy hour or by the proverbial water cooler, the thoughts of The Atlantic’s culture team return to one timeless question: Which character in the rich, complex, antiheroic world of modern television is the actual worst character ever?
“Worst,” by its nature as a superlative adjective, should be easy to define, but TV’s Golden Age being what it is, there’s a lot to consider. Should the title of actual worst go to someone like Game of Thrones’s Ramsay Bolton, a psychopath and sadist with an almost unparalleled propensity for cruelty; or to House of Cards’s Claire Underwood, who threatens an employee with what amounts to infanticide? Or should it go to Homeland’s Carrie, for being a terrible spy and sleeping with all her sources, or Scandal’s Fitz, for being the worst president (and married lover) in recent memory? Is the #actualworst character someone viewers love to hate or hate to love? Is it Lucious Lyon or Piper Chapman? Hannah Horvath or Walter White?
In September, we asked you to send us your suggestions, with the proviso that characters must have appeared on television within the past three years, and have to be nominated for the (awful) tenor of their character rather than the dastardliness of their deeds. We tallied the entries and came up with a list of 32 names who’ll go head to head over the next four weeks.