Breaking Good: TV Characters Who Went From Antagonist To Hero

One goal of writing television characters is to make them feel as three-dimensional as possible. Just as real people can change and evolve over time, so can TV characters, as we see with these villains turned heroes. Some were never straight-up bad guys in that evil twisty-mustache way. Most were more in the vein of Stranger Things' Steve Harrington: an unlikable jerk who found his way over to bravely fight the good fight alongside our heroes. 

Of course, some were really despicable at first. No one could ever argue that Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones was not a true villain. Heck, he pushes a little boy out a window in the very first episode. But even the Kingslayer eventually came around and worked hard for redemption.

  • Negan - 'The Walking Dead'

    Negan - 'The Walking Dead'
    Photo: AMC

    Who He Is At First:

    By the time Season 6 of The Walking Dead rolled around, spectators thought they had seen it all. Then along came Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who made the Governor (David Morrissey) look like Mary Poppins. Negan is the leader of group called the Saviors. He rules with a Machiavellian fist: Anyone who betrays him is sentenced to a public and painful death. 

    Negan has an endless appetite for violence. In the name of survival, he is willing to take out whoever gets in the way of his authority. In the Season 6 finale and into the Season 7 premiere, Negan captures Maggie (Lauran Cohen), Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Rosita (Christian Serratos), and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). He tells them that he owns them now, but they must pay for harming his people. One person from Rick's group must feel the full punishment of his spiked bat Lucille. 

    The vindictive Negan enjoys the game of deciding his victim, choosing with "eeny, meeny, miny, moe." He lands on Abraham and pummels him with Lucille. Daryl tries to stop him and that leads Negan to bludgeon Glenn while his wife Maggie watches helplessly. 

    Who He Becomes:

    (SPOILER ALERT!) If you're not caught up with Season 10, do not continue!

    Rick eventually captures Negan. Instead of doing away with him, Rick decides to hold him prisoner. Negan spends the next several years locked up in a jail cell in Alexandria. Over that time, he seems to enjoy not having to be a sadistic animal. He offers advice to people and even befriends Rick's young daughter.

    Negan doesn't want to leave Alexandria, but he has to escape because the townspeople think he murdered someone. He joins the Whisperers and uses his master manipulation to woo Alpha (Samantha Morton). Negan secretly works with Carol (Melissa McBride) to  Alpha. In the end, he saves the group from being destroyed by the Whisperers.

  • Jaime Lannister - 'Game of Thrones'
    Photo: HBO

    Who He Is At First:

    Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is from one of the mightiest families in Westeros. With a few exceptions, the entire Lannister clan is a bloodthirsty, privileged group, drunk with power and wealth. Jaime and his twin sister Cersei (Lena Headey) have been in love their whole adult lives. When they're caught in flagrante delicto by young Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) in the premiere episode, Jaime pushes the boy out the high window. Bran survives but is paralyzed for life.  

    Jaime is a stone-cold slayer. In Season 1, Jaime slaughters Ned Stark's (Sean Bean) men because Ned's sister-in-law is holding Jaime's brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) prisoner. The Kingslayer leaves Ned alive but stabs Jory (Jamie Sives) in the left eye. He later dispatches his cousin Alton Lannister (Karl Davies) in order to escape a prison cage (his plan doesn't even work, so he whacked his cousin for no reason). If that wasn't enough, Jaime also forces himself on his sister right next to the tomb of their son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), who has just been poisoned. 

    Who He Becomes:

    Perhaps no character on Game of Thrones evolved more than Jaime. All of his growth comes after his capture by the Starks and his subsequent journey with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). The Kingslayer loses his hand, much of his dignity, and all of his power. But he discovers that he's not entirely evil. 

    He eventually becomes friends and grows to love Brienne. Their relationship is initially one of mutual contempt. When Jaime and Brienne are held captive by Roose Bolton's (Michael McElhatton) men, he saves her from being raped. He later saves his brother Tyrion from execution, even though Tyrion took out their father. And in the end, Jaime takes sides with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Winterfell against his sister in the battle of the Night King. Jaime still loves Cersei, but he knows that she will only rule the Seven Kingdoms as a tyrant.

  • Steve Harrington - 'Stranger Things'
    Photo: Netflix

    Who He Is At First:

    Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry) was never a dangerous villain bent on world conquest; he was just a jerk - the archetypal high school jock who mocks everyone and thinks he's better than everyone else. That was Steve during Season 1 of Stranger Things. Plus, he didn't treat his girlfriend Nancy (Natalia Dyer) very well. He was so wrapped up in himself that he came across as unlikable and totally privileged.

    Toward the end of Season 1, Steve helps Nancy and Jonathan (Charlie R. Heaton) fight off the Demogorgon with his trusty spiked bat. This event helps to bring him over to the good side. 

    Who He Becomes:

    During Season 2, Steve finishes off his 180. Suddenly, he's aware of how much of a jerk he was, especially with his up-and-down romance with Nancy. He becomes a lovable and sympathetic character. We see the best in Steve when he joins Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) on a dangerous trek to find the escaped creature Dart. During their adventure, Steve is clearly willing to put himself in danger. Bravery in the face of great adversity is a true sign of any hero. Steve's redemption continues in Season 3, when he teams up with Dustin and his ice cream shop coworker Robin (Maya Hawke) to battle evil forces in the newly opened town mall.

  • James 'Sawyer' Ford - 'Lost'
    Photo: ABC

    Who He Is At First:

    When flight Oceanic 815 crashes on the island, the heroes are easy to spot - they're the ones running around trying to save people and figure out a way to survive. Sawyer (Josh Holloway) immediately separates himself from the group, posing as the "bad boy" who doesn't care about anyone and just wants to be left alone. He ransacks the plane, taking precious supplies for himself. It even appears that he has found Shannon's (Maggie Grace) lifesaving asthma inhaler but refuses to return it.

    Who He Becomes:

    Sawyer falls in love with Kate (Evangeline Lilly), and they begin a romance that eventually ends when Kate realizes she really wants to be with Jack (Matthew Fox). Flashbacks establish Sawyer's backstory as a conman with a lack of empathy. However, around Season 3, Sawyer steps up and becomes a team player - even a leader. His most selfless act comes when he has a chance to be rescued. Sawyer and a group of island survivors have boarded a helicopter bound for safety. However, when the helicopter is running out of fuel, Sawyer jumps into the ocean to lighten its load. 

    A lot of Sawyer's initial villainy, it turns out, was an act. Though he was self-centered, he possessed the seeds of the hero he would become.

  • Eric Northman - 'True Blood'
    Photo: HBO

    Who He Is At First:

    It's established early on that Bill (Stephen Moyer) is a good vampire unwilling to slay humans. He makes major sacrifices, and even goes against his nature to live with a strict moral code. He falls in love with Sookie (Anna Paquin) and would do anything to help her. On the flip side, Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) is presented as Bill's nemesis. Violent and cruel, he does not care about humans. 

    Eric never turns into the villain who wants to extinguish all of humanity - that villain is Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare). But Eric is manipulative, even tricking Sookie into drinking his blood. 

    Who He Becomes: 

    We gradually see a good side in Eric. Intensely loyal, he loves his progeny Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and would do anything for his maker Godric (Allan Hyde). During Season 3, the former Viking starts to develop feelings for Sookie.

    In Season 5, former good guy Bill turns evil as he falls under the control of Lilith (Jessica Clark). Eric and Sookie, meanwhile, embark on a passionate love affair. Eric grows into someone who can love, and be loved by, something other than a vampire.

    In the end, in the centuries-old rivalry between Bill and Eric, it's Eric who tries to be the bigger man, even attempting to save Bill from the true death.

  • Sandor 'The Hound' Clegane - 'Game of Thrones'
    Photo: HBO

    Who He Was:

    At the start of Game of Thrones, Sandor Clegane, AKA the Hound, serves as bodyguard to Prince Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson). A brute of a man with deep scars covering his face, it's the Hound who holds up the severed head of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) after his execution. He does show a soft spot for Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), stopping her from pushing Joffrey to his demise, and later saving her from being raped. But these are small exceptions to the overall grim pattern. 

    The Hound lands on Arya Stark's (Maisie Williams) hit list after he offs her friend Mycah (‎Rhodri Hosking). He later takes Arya prisoner, and the two embark on a journey. The Hound plans to bring Arya for ransom to her mother and brother, who are attending her uncle's wedding. Of course, that turns out to be the infamous Red Wedding.

    Who He Becomes:

    In the aftermath of the Red Wedding, the Hound could have easily left Arya behind amid the slaughter at Walder Frey's castle. But he saves her, for the first of many times. The pair continue on their way, the Hound now hoping to ransom Arya to her aunt. 

    Over the course of the next several episodes, the contentious pair develop a bond. It's not quite friendship, as Arya consistently reminds the Hound that she still plans to take him out when she gets the chance. Yet the Hound keeps saving her as he develops into a person capable of sympathy. He feels for what Arya is going through, even though she hates him. It's through this relationship that he becomes redeemable. 

    At the end of Game of Thrones, Arya goes to King's Landing for her ultimate revenge - to take out Cersei (Lena Headey). Despite finally being reunited with her family, she remains obsessed with slaying the queen. It's the Hound who dissuades her from a plan that would likely end her own life, too. He urges her not to become like him - a person consumed with revenge and rage. The stubborn Arya listens, and even thanks him.