(WARNING: Contains spoilers for all series mentioned.)
With the increased complexity and diversity of stories being told on television comes a wide range of different character types. Of these character types, one of the most diverse and interesting is the antihero. Simply put, an antihero is a character who, while not good or virtuous enough to be a #hero, is not evil enough to be considered a #villain. They are neither and both, sometimes in the same episode. They either help the true heroes, or hinder, seemingly depending upon their own best interests, although the full reality of the situation is often much more complicated.
Antiheroes are complex characters with deep and meaningful backstories revealed in a slow-burn fashion that may begin to explain why they behave as they do. Sometimes the antihero will eventually fully align themselves with one side or the other, sometimes not. Either way, their path is always interesting.
Here are some of the best antiheroes in TV and film:
11. Dr. Gregory House ('House, M.D')
Dr. Gregory House is eternally grumpy and sarcastic, addicted to pain medication, has horrible bedside manner and is always ready with an insult for colleagues, patients, and his long-suffering best friend, Wilson. Upon landing the role of House, #HughLaurie was surprised to find out that he was, in fact, the protagonist of the series, having reasonably assumed that House was a sidekick for the handsome, friendly character of Wilson.
Despite his many character flaws, House is not entirely irredeemable. No matter how ill a patient may become, if it is possible that the right diagnosis may still save them, then House will do his very best to make sure that happens. He is unfailingly loyal to those that have earned that trust from him. And, House's final act in the series is remarkably selfless. Facing jail, House fakes his own death — not to avoid his sentence — but to ensure that Wilson (dying from cancer) does not have to face his final months alone.
Is House a good person? No. But nor is he entirely bad. He is human and flawed, probably one of the most real depictions of an antihero there is.
10. River Song ('Doctor Who')
River Song is an interesting case, for it is mostly what we don't see on screen that places her in antihero territory. In her early history, River had all the makings of a future villain — raised into a psychopath for the sole purpose of killing The Doctor. Upon learning The Doctor's true nature however, she changes her mind, saving his life instead. Thanks to the Doctor's influence and that of her parents (Amy and Rory), River is transformed from a full-on villain to a more morally ambiguous character.
When The Doctor is present, River is on her very best behavior, following his moral code, and only shooting at people (or aliens) who really deserve it. When The Doctor is not present, it is a very different story. Our first real hint at River Song's dark side came in the episode "The Pandorica Opens," in which she poisons the relatively innocent Dorium Maldovar, and refuses to give him the antidote unless he hands over an object she wants.
In "The Husbands Of River Song" her less moral nature is in full display as she lies, cheats and manipulates her way to stealing and attempting to sell a valuable diamond. The Doctor, whom River does not recognize after his regeneration, is shocked by this firsthand look at who River is when he is not around.
Despite the character flaws brought out by her less than ideal upbringing, River has an enormous capacity for love. This love was what allowed her to act so quickly to save her parents, and then The Doctor in "Let's Kill Hitler." The love she has for all of them helps keep her remaining psychopathic tendencies in check, and is therefore her ultimate redemption.
9. Captain Jack Sparrow ('Pirates Of The Caribbean')
Contrary to the opinion of some other characters in the film, Captain Jack Sparrow is not really a good man, yet nor is he a bad man. He is a selfish man looking out for his own best interests and completely willing to believe his own hype, especially since most of said hype was completely self invented. Like all antiheroes though, things are not really that simple.
In deleted scenes for one of the #PiratesOfTheCarribean films, we learn that Jack did not pursue the life of a pirate by choice. He was once a simple tradesman who was branded a pirate after refusing to transport a ship load of slaves. Considering the simple, relatively comfortable life that his moral stand cost him, it is not difficult to understand why Jack's priorities shifted to protecting his own interests.
Still, the good man Jack once was had not completely disappeared. In Pirates Of The Carribean: At World's End, Jack gives up his own chance at immortality in order to save the life of Will Turner. Wherever possible, Jack will still try to prevent any innocent parties from being hurt.
8. Jaime Lannister ('Game Of Thrones')
After pushing poor Bran Stark from a tower in the first episode of #GameOfThrones, non book-reading fans probably had Jaime Lannister pegged as one of the series' main villains. He was frowned upon by most of the series' more heroic characters for breaking his oath as a member of the King's guard, with his killing of the Mad King forever earning him the dubious title of Kingslayer.
As we learn later in the series, that particular event was much more complicated than the heroes would have liked to believe. While traveling with Brienne of Tarth, Jaime reveals the full story: The Mad King had not earned that title for nothing. He planned to unleash a storm of Wildfire upon the city of King's Landing, meaning a horrible, fiery death for thousands of innocent people. Jaime killed the King to prevent him from giving the order, therefore saving countless lives. In any other show Jaime would have been considered a hero, yet in Game Of Thrones, he earns only scorn.
Many of Jaime's darkest acts in the show have been committed while under the influence of his twin sister/lover, Cersei. When he is away from her — in the company of Brienne, or his brother, Tyrion — we see the best of him. With Jaime seemingly beginning to wake up to Cersei's evil ways in the closing moments of Season 6, the very best of Jaime Lannister may be yet to come.
7. Faith Lehane ('Buffy The Vampire Slayer')
From the moment Faith, dubbed the Dark Slayer, first arrived in Season 3 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it was clear that she was going to be trouble. Initially Buffy's ally, things soon went downhill when Faith failed to accept responsibility for her accidental murder of the human Deputy Mayor, Alan Finch. She eventually allies herself with the season's Big Bad (Mayor Wilkins) and begins a series of battles with #Buffy that culminate with Faith ending up in a coma. When Faith wakes, she goes on to take Buffy's mother hostage, temporarily switches bodies with her fellow slayer, taunts and teases her friends and sleeps with Buffy's boyfriend. No redeeming yourself after that, right?
Not so fast. After the above body-swap incident, Faith shows up on the spin-off series, Angel, having been hired to assassinate the vampire with a soul. Instead, she ends up crumpling in Angel's arms, begging him to kill her. Faith's dark deeds affected her more than she had let on, and she believed there was no way back for her. After a few pep talks from Angel — who had some experience in seeking redemption from a seemingly hopeless place — Faith turns herself in to answer for her crimes.
Throughout her subsequent appearances on both series, Faith continues to fight towards her redemption knowing that she may never get it. And that is exactly the reason why she deserves it.
6. Miss Quill ('Class')
Miss Quill, the one major adult character in the #DoctorWho spin-off Class, is a former alien warlord turned reluctant guardian/slave of Charlie, the Prince of her former enemies. She is tasked by the Twelfth Doctor with helping Charlie and a select group of other students deal with whatever creatures emerge from time rifts popping up around Coal Hill School. She openly resents this task, and is seemingly indifferent to the children entrusted to her care.
Still, Miss Quill does always show up when the kids really need her help, even after the free-will suppressing Arn was removed from her brain. In the series final episode, Quill shows up in the nick of time to rescue the newly orphaned Tanya and her brothers, seemingly forming a bond with the girl as she teaches her how to fight. Towards the end of the same episode, she saves Charlie from death, despite having claimed to hate him. Quill herself does not even seem entirely sure why she saved his life.
With Class's apparent cancellation, it is a great shame that Quill's character may never get a chance to be developed further.
5. Merle Dixon ('The Walking Dead')
From the moment Merle Dixon first appeared in Episode 2 of The Walking Dead, he was a character that viewers loved to hate. Merle was racist, sexist and selfish — the polar opposite of his brother, #DarylDixon. In Season 1, Merle steals a truck and supplies that his fellow survivors had intended to take back to camp with the hope of using the truck's parts to repair Dale's RV. When he appears again in Season 3, Merle captures Andrea and Michonne and later tortures Glenn.
But even Merle has his redeeming qualities. No matter what the situation, Merle would never hurt his brother Daryl, and is loyal enough to him that he follows him to rescue Rick and the other Prison survivors despite having been fighting against them just a few days prior. He also has a change of heart part way through a trip to hand Michonne over to the Governor, releasing her and heading on to face The Governor himself.
In the end, Merle finds his inner hero, sacrificing his own life in the hope of protecting Daryl and his friends.
4. Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke ('Revenge')
Amanda Clarke, using the alias Emily Thorne, arrives in The Hamptons with one goal in mind: To seek revenge on those involved in the wrongful imprisonment of her father, David. To do this, she sets up various scenarios that reveal each person's darkest secrets, or otherwise ruins their lives. In the early episodes of the series, Emily has tunnel vision regarding her quest, seemingly caring little about any innocent parties who may be hurt along the way.
It soon becomes apparent that Emily is not completely heartless, forming quite a strong bond with tech genius Nolan Ross, and later halting a plan which, while greatly advancing her agenda, would have done great harm to her newly discovered half sister, Charlotte. On multiple occasions throughout the series, Emily is ready to give up her vendetta, only to be drawn back in by another tragic loss caused by the people she is committed to bringing down.
After her quest is complete, Emily/Amanda returns to a relatively normal life, marrying her childhood sweetheart, Jack.
3. The Hound ('Game Of Thrones')
In his early appearances in #GameOfThrones, Sandor Clegane (a.k.a. The Hound) is the bodyguard of Prince Joffrey, who simply refers to him as his dog. The Hound puts himself on the wrong side of series protagonists the Stark Family when he executes Arya Stark's friend, Micah, for fleeing the scene of an accident in which Joffrey was mildly injured. It soon becomes apparent that The Hound is not purely evil. He develops a fondness for Sansa Stark, protecting her from the worst of Joffrey's cruelty when he can. He even offers to take her with him when he flees King's Landing during the Battle of Blackwater.
When he takes Arya Stark hostage in Season 3, he has no other plan but to ransom her to her family, despite knowing that other Houses would offer more for her, and even helps Arya improve her fighting skills though she continually declares that she will kill him. When his plans to ransom Arya to family members repeatedly fall through, he still does not turn to other Houses who may want her.
It is true that The Hound is a killer but in Game Of Thrones just about everybody is. If minor spoilers for the upcoming Season 7 are to be believed, The Hound may be about to move into full on hero territory.
2. Deadpool ('Deadpool')
#Deadpool is definitely not your typical hero, fighting crooks in the street and destroying property without a care in the world. While Deadpool pursues the main villain for mostly selfish reasons in his first big screen outing, the person he is in pursuit of is definitely a villain. Deadpool would never knowingly harm an innocent person.
Really, the film only begins to scratch the surface of who Deadpool is. Yes, he sometimes works with bad guys if they pay him enough, but he works with the good guys equally as often, and will always fall on the side of the heroes if the world is genuinely in danger. Also, he sometimes donates his organs to strangers, as they will immediately regenerate anyway.
The writers of future Deadpool films have some awesome material to work with.
1. Harley Quinn ('Suicide Squad')
#HarleyQuinn is completely insane, completely willing to steal, maim or kill to get her way. Like #TheJoker, Harley is a lover of chaotic crime. On the other hand, if you make a friend in Harley, she is a friend for life, and you would be hard pressed to find one more loyal. She will easily put herself in the line of fire for those she cares about, as seen when she double crosses The Enchantress in order to help protect the rest of the team in #SuicideSquad.
Harley is a more complicated and tragic figure than anyone else on this list, having been a completely normal girl before The Joker drove her to madness. She was a doctor, someone who wanted to help people. Parts of that girl are still there, seen in the easy way in which she connects and banters with the rest of the squad. Like Deadpool, the writers have only scratched the surface with Harley. There is so much potential for great stories to come.
Which of these characters do you think best fits the role of the antihero?