Top 10 Fictional Villains (Part 3)
Updated: Apr 26
Happy Halloween week, book witches! Welcome to the third and final installment of my top 10 Fictional Villains list. We've finally worked our way up to the baddest of the bad, the most complex and engrossing villains I have to offer you. Let us begin!
If you missed Part 1 or 2, you can find them here:
3. Viggo Grimborn of Dragons: Race to the Edge (TV Series)
A lesser-known series, Dragons: Race to the Edge is one of three television series spanning the years between the first and second How to Train Your Dragon movies. Race is the third installment, closest to the second movie, and it answers questions the movie time jump left us with:
How did Hiccup get his flaming sword and glider? How did his gang go from bumbling misfits to an almost crack team operation? How did Astrid and Hiccup become official? And, finally, how did Hiccup go from awkward tween to badass young adult?
A huge contributor to Hiccup's leadership arc is one of the series' main villains, Viggo Grimborn.
Viggo is third on my list for his complexity and intelligence. He's ruthless, manipulative, and a veritable strategic genius who gives the heroes more than a run for their money.
Besides his intellect, what makes Viggo such a complex villain is his utter respect for Hiccup. He sees Hiccup as a worthy opponent in a real-life game of Maces and Talons (similar to chess) and repeatedly requests Hiccup team up with him, because he genuinely regrets being on opposite sides.
Viggo is a cunning liar, but he's also a gentleman playing a gentleman's game. His honor shows through even when he's winning by merciless tactics. He admires when Hiccup bests him and backs down until their next confrontation.
Oddly enough, Viggo views Hiccup as a sort of prodigy. When Hiccup fails, Viggo feels the need to point out what went wrong so Hiccup can learn from it. This bizarre mentor-student dance is fascinating to watch as they both fight for their lives. Without Viggo, Hiccup wouldn't be the strategic leader he is by the second film.
Takeaway: Sometimes, the best villains are the ones the heroes learn and grow the most for having met.
2. Uther Pendragon of Merlin (TV Series)
First off, can we talk about how imposing and distinguished this man is? (Thank you Anthony Head for this phenomenal performance. And here I thought I wouldn't be able to see Uther past Giles!).
Uther's key characteristics are callousness, cowardice disguised by excess power, and a redeeming love for his family that drives him to make terrible decisions for their safety.
Uther is the quintessential authoritarian—it's his way or the highway. Perhaps this is what makes him such a believable villain; we all know someone like him, whether it's a boss or a parent figure. Except Uther has an entire kingdom under that control.
You'd think his reign of terror, where he had innocent magic-wielders slaughtered right down to the children because of his fear of the unknown, would make him a typical "evil just because" character.
However, that's not all there is to Uther. His fear of magic stems from the magic-induced death of his wife, whom he loved more than his own life. This love carries to his son Arthur and his ward Morgana, whom he would gladly sacrifice himself for in a heartbeat—which is at odds with his selfishness in every other area.
Uther cares about his kingdom and justifies his persecution of magic with the goal of protecting them. Yet this very persecution makes him a hypocrite, because he used magic and employed magic users prior to his wife's death.
Uther's transgressions are too unforgivable to be redeemed by familial love, so he's a character I love to hate AND hate to love. But the protagonist Merlin has numerous chances to let Uther die, and I was always a little relieved when he didn't—because despite everything, Arthur would lose a loving father and the kingdom would lose a strong ruler Arthur isn't yet ready to replace.
Takeaway: Giving the villain recognizable traits, only scaled up, makes them that much easier to connect with.
1. Rumpelstiltskin AKA Mr. Gold of Once Upon a Time (TV Series)
Once Upon A Time is (forgive my pun) a goldmine of character complexities. This show makes you care and root for villains, because very few play the single role of antagonist; every character, heroes included, are so many things to different people, and each makes mistakes and good decisions because they're all human.
I could write an entire post on this show, but I'm skipping several villains because they become antiheroes. Now, Rumpelstiltskin is technically redeemed by the end of the series, but you never get the sense he'll stop doing bad things—hence, still a villain.
What makes Rumpel my top villain? The layers, contradictions, sheer humanity, and struggle to do what he thinks is right in the worst ways possible.
At Rumpelstiltskin's core lies a coward, which you'd never guess when first introduced to him. He's ruthless, exacting, and he'll strike shady deals for the use of his dark magic. As he's fond of saying, "All magic comes with a price."
From his cowardice (flaw) stems an intense need for power (motivation), so much that he was willing to take on the curse of The Dark One. Becoming The Dark One means power over dark magic, but at the cost of your sanity and humanity.
Despite all the horrendous deeds Rumpelstiltskin commits in his lust for power, he is still a man who desperately wants to do right by those he loves. Using the cursed dagger that turned him into The Dark One helped win a war so he could return to his wife and son a hero.
From that point, the dagger gradually corrupts him, but it never erases his love for his son. Rumpel's cowardice prompts him to make a decision that separates him from his son, whom he never stops searching for.
Post-corruption, Rumpelstiltskin's rash and vengeful nature causes him to take action against anyone who harms his new love interest, Belle, but also anyone who stands in his way of being with her (even if his victim is innocent of wrongdoing). It's a vicious cycle of manipulation that consistently erases any good he does.
The most tragic thing about this character is his desire and propensity for good—he wants to be better (at least up until a point in the plot). But his flaw is simply too great and overshadows any decent traits in his mindless quest to overcome it.
Takeaway: Some of the best villains are the ones you see the good in and want so badly to make the right decisions—only to be let down when they choose against it.
That's it, folks! This concludes the Top 10 Villains series for 2020. Drop a comment to let me know your favorite or share this post with some fellow villain-lovers! :)