Earlier this year, when we started pondering the question of who in contemporary television is more dastardly, more unlikable, and more flat-out terrible than anyone else, we had a handful of contenders in mind. Matt Thompson was convinced it was Scandal’s Fitz, whom he memorably described as “an overprivileged, murderous, man-shaped infant whose libido dictates his foreign policy.” Adrienne LaFrance made the case for Mad Men’s Pete Campbell, citing “the fact that his character is so realistic, that humans who think like Pete Campbell really do exist, and that they often end up getting what they want—no matter how they act and whom they humiliate along the way.”
Readers also offered their own submissions. More than a handful were convinced it was Donald Trump. John Goshorn nominated Breaking Bad’s Todd Alquist, “an amoral sociopath, whose capacity for cruelty knows no bounds.” Nassim Hosseinzadeh made the case for Veep’s Jonah Ryan. “He’s loud, crass, tactless, incompetent, absurd, deluded, and obnoxious in every way,” she wrote. “But gosh is he fun.” Howard Shpetner offered Scandal’s Rowan Pope, because he “killed Little Jerry. Also I don’t get cable.” Kristen Hoyles wrote that OITNB’s Piper Chapman is the worst, because “for as long as she’s been in prison, she’s failed to gain any empathy for those less fortunate.”
And Laura Argiri offered a terrific diagnosis of one Ramsay Bolton. “Ramsay just wants to have fun,” she wrote. “By peeling the skin off people and gelding them.”
After a month and more than 145,000 votes (see the completed bracket here), it’s now official: Ramsay is the worst person on television. As David Sims has written: “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.” But beyond sheer sadism, Spencer Kornhaber adds, Ramsay “uses brutality as it’s commonly been used in history: for power … He’s not evil for evil’s sake; he’s someone who sews atrocity and reaps the benefits for himself and his family.”
In considering what makes characters objectionable, there seem to be two recurring qualities on display: cruelty and/or a profound disregard for others. Often it’s a desire for power that governs the behavior of archetypal villains like Jim Moriarty, Vee Parker, Gus Fring, and Jeremy Jamm. For some viewers, seeing the selfishness displayed regularly by Carrie Mathison, Pete Campbell, Hannah Horvath, and Fitzgerald Grant makes them equally difficult to watch. But to some extent, every person on the bracket had at least one or two redeeming qualities, even if it was just their willingness to protect the people they loved. Ramsay, however, has none. He is the #actualworst.