For a thriller to be a success, having a good hero is essential. But having a worthy adversary is a must. It raises the stakes, making you fear for the hero and his posse.
So who were some of the best villains to ever grace the world of television, a harrowing  foil for the protagonist, making them doubt their abilities?

Trinity killer & The Ice Truck Killer (Dexter)

The irony that Dexter - a serial killer - is the hero here is not lost on me. But in the realm of the show, he has come up against some terrifying villains.

Finding the Trinity Killer proved to be quite easy for our anti-hero. But Trinity turned out to be everything Dexter yearned to be - a killer who is also a respected member of community and has a normal family life with a wife and kids. Even as Dexter ended up befriending him to learn how he juggled both aspects of his life, he still knew that he would have to kill the old man once he was done.
But the problem with playing mind games with a killer like Trinity is that he had not been caught for so many decades because he too was very aware of the tricks people played. And with just four words at the end (It's already too late), the Trinity Killer would end up changing the complexion of the show forever. John Lithgow was magnificent and a revelation to me in this role.

The lead villain "The Ice Truck Killer" in Season 1 is a close second place here on the show - toying with the inexperienced Dexter as he went on his own serial killing spree, cutting up bodies and displaying them for the world to see as he goaded Dexter to identify him and realize  what they had in common.
Never have five differently coloured nails on a hand invoked such dread before or after this show.

Hannibal (Hannibal)

Unlike Dexter who was a serial killer trying to curb his instincts by seeking out and killing criminals, Hannibal had no such moral qualms. The show followed his early years as a forensic psychiatrist 'helping' lead investigator Will Graham. Yes, he is still destined to be the killer we know he will be but it is creepy to watch the maestro in action, pulling strings and playing with people's minds. Manipulative to the core, when he chooses to turn violent, the victims seldom die a peaceful death.
Extra marks for creepy cinematography and imagery for this show which heightens the effect upon the viewer.
Word of advice: Do not let him cook for you!

Red John (Mentalist)

Thomas Jane 'The Mentalist' made one mistake - he taunted the serial killer Red John on television while trying to boost his own image. He came home to find his wife and child dead.  Every decision Jane made from that moment on - from deciding to help the police force to using a weapon -  was based around one eventuality - to identify, find and kill Red John. And yet that proved to be far from easy, as the extent of Red John's reach was impressive, able to influence people across various states to mess with Jane. Red John was someone who toyed with the Mentalist for six seasons, killing people he cared for and even random people just to give the Mentalist clues and red herrings to chase.
The mystery behind his actual identity was a huge part of the show's driving force.

Kingpin (Daredevil)

Even including their entire movie franchise, Wilson Fisk is the most complex villain Marvel studios has ever had. Impressive because over an arc of 12 episodes, you see him transform from an insecure man in love trying to get a foothold in the rebuilding of his city following the Chitauri invasion (the first Avengers movie) to becoming someone who is truly brutal against anyone who crosses him. The first time you see his rage get the better of his otherwise composed demeanour is not something you are likely to forget - he ends up decapitating a man via repeated blows of a car door.

Purple Man (Jessica Jones)

David Tennant's version of Kilgrave was creepy because of the powers he possessed and how he chose to use it. Gifted with the ability to make people around him do his bidding, Kilgrave did not covet world domination or tons of cash. No, he was too self absorbed for that, seeking just what he wanted when he wanted it. 
That meant walking into a house he liked and making the owners give it to him. It meant getting a police officer to kill people he cared for. And it meant getting the heroine of the show - a superhero in her own right - to become his sex slave, just by commanding her to. The scars of her first subjugation to him had not yet healed from Jessica's psyche when she is forced to confront him again, recognizing his modus operandi in a missing girl's case that comes before her.

You get to see the psychological effects of Kilgrave on people even before you finally meet him and David Tennant nails the role as a petulant privileged villain who gets whatever he wants.

Ben Linus (Lost)

Initially seen as one of the survivors of the flight which crashed on the mysterious island, Ben Linus had that twitchy nature about him that made you uneasy in his presence. You were sure he was hiding something and that is not a good thing when you are trapped in this particular island. Self-serving to the core, he would resort to kidnapping and murder and anything in between to ensure the 'secrets of the island' did not reach the wrong hands.

Joffrey Baratheon (Game of Thrones)

Probably the only kid you'd all want to kill. Annoying, brash and armed with the power of royalty, he wasn't afraid to use it to have good people killed merely to satisfy his whims. In a show laden with villains, you still found yourself gnashing your teeth when you thought of him.

Cigarette Smoking Man (X-files)

When all is said and done, the dynamic duo of Mulder and Scully did lose in the end, unable to convince the world of the existence of aliens and the elaborate tests that the government had done using alien technology. 
Their main hindrance was an aged lanky man in a business suit who was never seen without a cigarette between his fingers. Part of a covert group that had a far sinister agenda than even Mulder first imagined, the Cigarette Smoking Man often sat right in the office of the Director of the FBI, grinning smugly as he got first hand information and used it to thwart the efforts of the X Files.

Nina Myers (24)

She's second-in-command of the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit. Our own hero Jack Bauer had a fling with her while he was on a break from his wife but that is all in the past now that the married couple are back together. And yes, there is an assassination plot to foil for the team. What could go wrong?
In a storyline that twists and turns back and forth over 24 hours, Nina Myer's character would come out as one hated by the audience, and rightly so. 

The Yellow Eyed Demon (Supernatural)

Over the years, the Winchester brothers have faced their share of demons - I mean, literally demons. From the manipulative Abaddon & Ruby to some seriously flawed angels in Metatron and even the King of Hell & Lucifer himself. But the one who makes this list is none other the one who started the suffering of these two brothers from the first episode, the yellow eyed demon Azazel.
He was responsible for the death of their parents, their grandfather and tormented them for years.

Miniature killer (CSI)

It's tough to pick a single villain in a show where every week you had a new killer. So many creepy 'villains of the week' from the CSI franchise and especially Criminal Minds deserve to be on this list. But the one memorable one in these crime procedural shows who truly elevated it was the Miniature Killer from Season 7 of the original CSI.

This was not for brutality so much as brilliance. Over the course of the entire season, the killer would taunt the forensic team by leaving perfect replicas of the crime season (similar to doll houses) at the scene of the crime. It was the immaculate attention to detail though - within each segment of the replica would be hidden clues that corresponded to clues the killer left behind at the original scene of the crime, including blood instead of paint for the dolls. It takes a lot to stump Team Grissom and yet, they really struggled to finally identify and stop the Miniature Killer.

So which television show villain did you think made a great adversary for the protagonist and elevate the show further? Deathstroke? Reverse Flash? Khan Noonien Singh?
Do tell.

Villains You Chose:

  • Moriarty (Sherlock)
  • Gus Frings (Breaking Bad)
  • Reverse Flash (Flash)
  • Stringer Bell (The Wire)
  • Peter Baelish (Game of Thrones) 
  • Megatron/ Galvatron (Transformers)
  • Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons)

To see all the shows  I have talked about till date, please CLICK HERE.


Parul said…
I think the villain of a show, if as you have listed, has great potential to make the show popular. Sometimes, more than the lead protagonist people set out to these negative characters. Great post!!
bellybytes said…
Villains do add spice and my favourite villain has always been Tom in Tom& Jerry
Ls said…
The show would be boring without a good villain.. anyways, who wants to watch a good guy?
I agree. Having a hero who wins easily with no major problems can get boring real fast. Case in point: 90% of our Bollywood films.
Haha... I don't know if I'd agree with Tom being the villain. As we grow up, we see him as a cat harried by a smartypants mouse :D
True.. you need a big bad who gets under the nerve of the hero and is able to properly test him. The Joker in The Dark Knight movie was that villain.
Archana said…
Dexter, Hannibal, Red John - I know these.. Bad guys can be good guys for the TV serial producer!! ;-)
@yenforblue from
Spice of Life!
Kala Ravi said…
Gosh such creeps huh! But the more powerful the villain cast, the better you like an show/movie! The guys we love to hate are often the best actors aren't they?! The game of thrones kid I'd happily trash him! Sometimes the cast for the villain role is so apt that I almost think these guys wouldn't look good in lesser evil roles...I mean they actual look and act the part so well! The Joker, Heath Ledger and Anthony Hopkins as Dr Hannibal....brrr....totally creepy!
Moriarty! How could you leave him out! Devious, evil mastermind!
Rewind to childhood - Mandark from Dexter's Lab was my favourite childhood villain :P
Villains are everything! I always remember them the most. /#atozchallenger
Esha said…
Great post, Roshan. I see it this way - the villains we love to hate are usually the ones that add punch to the boring would the stories be without them!!!
Great post but I think you left out a few:
Daredevil: Wilson Fisk
The Flash: Reverse flash (The Tom Cavanagh version only)
The wire: Stringer Bell
Transformers (Cartoon) Megatron/Galvatron!!!!
I know you probably didn't have room for them all but at least an honourable mention.
Definitely a good thing!
You've given the perfect example... Joker in the Dark Knight made the difference as did Anthony Hopkins portayal of Hannibal.
And yes, not many can warm up to that kid in GoT :) You have to admire his acting skills though to get under an entire world's skin!
My Era said…
That's one cool list Doc, after all villains are so important in every story.
Though my favourite is the Cigarette Man from X-files because I loved the show in total and it still stands out for me in this list :)
The Era I Lived In

Haha.. yes, another anti-Joffreyite. And this, in a show filled with bad guys
Hehe... second cartoon character in the list :)
True... they really bring out the best and worst in the show.
exactly... many shows have a new villain every week... but few remain in our minds that way
I did add Daredevil's Fisk in the list. As for Reverse Flash, honestly it was laziness :D
I had written Fisk & Kilgrave back to back and didnt want a third and fourth comic book villain (I'd planned or Deathstroke from Arrow too)
And yes, now that you mention it, will add in the 'public decides' section :)
We grew up watching him... natural that he is etched in our minds so strongly
Jo said…
Unfortunately I don't watch TV very much so not really familiar with any villains. This is a very long post for A to Z.

Jo said…
Unfortunately I don't watch TV very much so not really familiar with any villains. This is a very long post for A to Z.

yes... did take a lot of effort to make some of these posts but decided it was a labour of love :)
Shilpa Garg said…
Evil geniuses, violent criminals, cunning killers, mostly mean, sometimes unstable, these baddies do scare and creep us out.
Its when they make the heroes seem vulnerable that they truly become the 'big bads' of the show
Geets said…
You know I was wondering how come Game of Thrones is not mentioned so far when its all about sit-coms! And now it is there...
Like many, I too simply hated Jeoffery! I couldn't be any happier when I saw him dead !

So many from GoT deserve to be on this list honestly... I just chose to limit it to the one everyone universally hated :)
WOW! how do you manage such huge & brilliant posts
Soumya said…
I always like a villain more than the hero/heroine. In my opinion, they are integral to a show than anyone else.

Red John was my favorite villain too. No wonder the show sucked, after he was gone.
Thanks Jindal. Some of this is a real effort but I don't see myself writing about these shows regularly so might as well do it right the first time.
Totally agree.. I honestly gave it a chance after Red John was gone but the direction they took did not impress me at all and after a few episodes, I stopped altogether
mike spain said…
Super list of Villains
Debbie D. said…
There's nothing better than a brilliant villain! ☺ I'm familiar with Red John and KIlgrave, but not the others. John Lithgow has portrayed some excellent villains, so I'm not surprised he did such a good job on Dexter. Someone mentioned Gus Frings who was also a great villain in Breaking Bad, but what about Walter, himself?
I was used to the image of Lithgow as seen on 3rd Rock from the Sun and the old show/movie Harry and the Hendersons. So this surprised me right from the first episode.

And yes, there is a definitely valid argument for Walter White to be in this list.
beingFab said…
I think my fav villains from this list are Dexter's Trinity Killer and Patrick Jane's Red John - they really took their respective shows to a new level!