The best heroes are sometimes the worst. Take a look at our favorite TV antiheroes.
Protagonist tropes are largely reflective of a society’s ideals at a given time. Captain America is a great example of this, having been first introduced during the Second World War as an inspiration for fighting the Axis powers. In recent years, the protagonists frequently presented in television are much different from the Steve Rogers type. Although the antihero trope has been around for decades, we’ve been seeing increasingly more depictions of morally gray ‘heroes’ in television lately. Some of these traits have even seeped into the conventional ‘good guy’ type, giving typical heroes more substance and less blandness.
But before we get into our favorite television antiheroes, let’s first define what an antihero is. Simply put, an antihero is the protagonist of a story who embodies opposing traits of a conventional hero. These traits include greediness, selfishness, violent tendencies, immoral behavior, inability to empathize, and dubious motives to justify their objectives. Despite the fact that many of these characters are wholly unlikeable, we often find ourselves rooting for them even though we know we shouldn’t.
Annalise Keating – ‘How to Get Away With Murder’
You don’t get much more immoral than with a lawyer.
There’s no doubt Annalise is good at what she does but it takes a certain skill set to get there. She’s a great liar, she doesn’t get weighed down by a conscience, she had an affair with a married man, cheated on her husband, helped cover up a murder, and had her lover arrested to help keep herself safe, just to name a few. Her entire M.O. is self-preservation and she’s really good at it.
It’s great to see a leading lady who isn’t so clear cut. She isn’t a goody-two-shoes, nor is she pure evil. Maybe that’s why audiences love her so much, because it’s not common to see a woman in a leading role who is so complex, albeit not very likeable.
Dexter Morgan – ‘Dexter’
Dexter is a strange kind of antihero. It could not be easier to classify him as a villain. He’s a serial killer, no question about it. But it’s his story that we follow, so how can an audience watch a whole series of a main character being so monstrous? The simple solution: Make him only kill ‘bad guys.’
It’s clear Dexter is violent (he has a murder suit after all), and he definitely has difficulty empathizing, but somehow he has a childlike demeanor that endears us to him, and we as an audience accept him as our protagonist. Albeit a sociopathic and murderous one.
Frank Underwood – ‘House of Cards’
We should’ve known he was bad news right from the start. Anyone who can kill a dog without flinching has to be trouble.
Frank will quite literally do anything to get what he wants. He cares about no one but himself and is extremely power hungry. He’s broken laws to get to where he is, and ruined people’s lives in the process. He’s also killed two people.
He lacks conscience and morality, yet audiences often find themselves crossing their fingers for his victory. Perhaps this is because we feel a much stronger affiliation with Frank than we do others on this list. Frank breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to us allows the audience to feel involved. We’re as much a part of Frank’s journey as he is. Without this gimmick, the show might have been a very different experience. It’s possible we would have seen him as an ‘other,’ and felt frustrated as he continued to climb the political ladder.
Hannibal Lecter – ‘Hannibal’
It’s easy to label Hannibal as a villain. After all, he kills people, harvests their organs, and eats them for dinner. But for some reason, it’s hard to stamp Hannibal so harshly.
Hannibal has placed Hannibal so centrally in the show that oftentimes he appears as more of an antihero than an antagonist. We want him to fail, but at the same time, we don’t. He’s just too smart. Whenever it seems like he’s about to get caught, he figures out a way to get out of it. It’s admirable and intriguing. Even though he’s a terrible person, without him there’s no story. He’s what keeps the show going and keeps audiences watching every week. But that should come as no surprise. The show is named after him.
Helena – ‘Orphan Black’
Helena does not embody many of the antihero traits, especially because she’s likeable. But those she does have she has in spades. She has very strong violent tendencies, having been raised as an excellent marksman and fighter, and her means to achieve her goals are often questionable. She has a difficult time carrying out plans without doing something immoral and violent.
It’s easy to forget what she’s capable of sometimes. She’ll make you laugh, she love kids, and occasionally demonstrates those endearing qualities a child has. She’s so cute, right? Just wait until you make her angry and you’ll see exactly what she can do with that fork.
Jaime Lannister – ‘Game of Thrones’
He pushed a kid out of a window in the first episode, what more needs to be said?
But really, as antiheroes go, Jaime is one of the most complex. He’ll make you feel all kinds of things. You love to hate him and you hate to love him. He’s selfish, greedy, and a scumbag jerk, but he’ll also make you laugh, and occasionally he’ll pull on your heartstrings. He’ll hurt someone you care about, then he’ll help someone you care about. He’s no hero and he certainly isn’t a good guy, but he also isn’t inherently bad. At least, not anymore.
Jax Teller – ‘Sons of Anarchy’
Jax went down a long and dark path throughout the series. He was involved in illegal gun trade, drug trade, he’s killed countless people, and killed brutally. It’s true that Jax wanted to make the club more legitimate and less criminal, but his path to get there was beyond dirty and left a long trail of blood along the way.
As the series progressed, it became difficult to side with him. Many of his choices were far from noble and he turned merciless. You wanted him to succeed, his intentions were great, but he had so much difficulty getting there. At his core, Jax was a good person, but it was often difficult to remember that when he was beating someone to a pulp.
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