Top 10 Terrifying TV Villains!

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

What are some of your all-time favorite TV villains? Many to choose from, right? Well, with ever-increasing quality of TV shows over the past decade, not to mention the sheer volume of channels, networks and programs to mull over, now may be as fecund a time as there has ever been for television. Ever since The Sopranos and The Wire began painting well-drawn, multifaceted characters that often boast just as many immoralities as virtues, we’ve seen an absolute boom of rich, complex, character-driven stories finding a home on the small-screen. Real shite friends, we’re in a new golden age of TV. Even the major networks are dishing out risky business, be it The Following on Fox or NBC’s Hannibal. And that got us to firing the old synapses. What are some of the best villains on the tube right now? We’ve settled on a Top 10…click above to check out who made the cut!


HBO’s new series True Detective is the best thing I’ve seen on television since The Wire. No shit. Not a better example of TV rivaling, equating, and ultimately transcending cinema – the best of what cinema has to offer – can be found. Not now, not ever. And just one of the many compelling facets about the series is its enigmatic villain known passingly as The Yellow King – a local Louisiana heavy wanted for a rash of Satanic murders. We’ve yet to actually lay eyes on the Yellow King (unless Reggie Ledoux and his blond locks end up qualifying), but his grisly homicidal handy-work has been more than eye opening. Man, I haven’t loved a show like I do this one in a long time.


With a diminished presence or not moving forward, no one can’t front on the villainous vigor The Governor brought to The Walking Dead. Granted, it starts on the page (props to Robert Kirkman), but the decision to cast the somewhat anonymous David Morrissey was a brilliant one. Dude brought instant cred to an amoral, power-hungry, one-eyed dictator to run Woodbury. He’s got the size, the presence, the gravitas, and not least of which, the believability factor that without, would really hamper the show. Whomever the next long-term human villain is for Rick and the gang, they’ve got a hell of an eye-patch to fill!


Props to NBC brass for entrusting excellent Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen with such an enormously hallowed and complex character as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Dude’s crushing it! Doubly impressive is how Madds, as the title character, plays both protagonist and antagonist. He’s a villain, for sure, but he’s also our hero and main conduit, so we tend to identify with him and thereby become complicit in his activities (almost like DEXTER). But again, none of this works if the actor playing the part doesn’t sell it. And anyone who’s seen the Oscar nominated Danish thriller THE HUNT knows what a phenomenal actor Mikkelsen is.


Yeah yeah yeah, so what if he’s been off the air for almost six months, that conniving little bastard Todd in the last season or two of Breaking Bad was a tough bugger to squash. What an interesting dynamic that dude brought. That quiet, cherubic, polite demeanor upfront…that utterly sociopathic and unrepentant killer deep down. Credit must be cast toward Vince Gilligan and crew for doing a one-eighty and finding someone diametrically opposed to Gus Fring to play Walt and Jesse’s next nemesis. Gus and Todd couldn’t be less alike, yet both were equally frightening in their measured calculations of evil.


As one of my all time favorites, Jessica Lange remains the primary reason to tune in to American Horror Story. The showrunners must feel similar, because they continue to give her one plum villainous role after another. In this past season, Coven, the tone and tenor of the show was much lighter, much sillier, but don’t be fooled, Fiona was one hell of a formidable foe. I mean, when you have zero problem orchestrating the death of your own daughter, yup, you’re easily the wickedest witch among witches! No bonds of loyalty exist in Fiona’s world, her number one concern is self-preservation, and she’ll do any and everything evil to ensure it.


Never a stranger to creating memorable, iconic bad-guys, Kevin Williamson has done so again with Joe Carroll, the prime serial killer in Fox’s The Following. Sort of riffing on THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, even more so than Hannibal at times, Carroll doesn’t help track down serial killers as much as he inspires, mobilizes and directs likeminded psychopaths to serving out his homicidal orders. A sick setup! Then there’s Kevin Bacon’s character who’s hot on the trail, often one step behind. Casting is usually crucial, but here even more so, as it’s imperative for the show to work to find a seasoned film and TV actor like James Purefoy (Carroll) to play opposite Bacon.


Just take a look at that little fucker…that spoiled, sniveling, snot-nosed little pampered punk! I know Game of Thrones isn’t technically a horror show, but let’s face it, as one of the absolute top programs on TV right now, when it does get barbaric, it does so in more stark and horrifying fashion than most out-and-out “horror” series. And really, we could have named a couple of deserving baddies from the show (Walder Frey anyone), but is there a single character more loathsome than that smug, prepubescent ruler Joffrey Baratheon? Little vindictive Prince Valiant sumbitch!


My my, have you seen what Mama Bates has been cooking up over at A&E’s Bates Motel? Sheesh! I mean, the mini-network has really tried to eschew all the Milf-tastic qualities we love about Vera Farmiga, yet is giving her a juicy role to sink her teeth into at the same time. As the matriarch of such a highly psychotic and dysfunctional family, she assumes responsibility for the villainy. At the same time though, Norma Bates is a complex individual, multidimensional, with almost as many shades of light as dark. Can’t wait to see what’s up her sleeve when the Motel reopens its doors March 18h.


As a regular dissident of lame-ass CGI and tacky green-screen trickery, I must admit, one character that greatly benefits from such technological advancement is The Headless Horseman, currently iterated on Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Forget about the legend and lore of such a timeless character, the rich history, it’s all about the execution of such that works so well as a modern update. In the past, the visual aesthetics weren’t as nearly as seamless and buyable as they are in this day and age, and as a result, The Headless Horseman of today is far more effective. We just wish the storytelling was as well!


Any of you been watching the new Starz Pirate/Viking series Black Sails? Well, time will tell how nefarious the character of Vane, played by Zach McGowan, becomes over the long haul. Until then, we can really only identify him not so much as a villain as mere opposition to protagonists Captain Flint and Long John Silver. In other words, at this early stage of the series, Vane is more of an antagonist than a bona fide series bad-guy. That said, he’s already done some awfully heinous shite in the first few episodes, so we’ll just have to see where he stacks up. Consider this a newcomer nod recognizing his potential for evildoing.

Tags: Hollywood

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