13 TV Antagonists Who Are Surprisingly Relatable

Voting Rules
Vote up the ostensible villains you can empathize with.

Not all antagonists are created equal. The great ones, the ones that present ostensible obstacles for the main character, are painted in shades of gray; they’re not motivated by cliches or an elementary desire to see the hero fail. A good multi-dimensional adversary is much more than that. They’re antagonists who make great anti-heroes when the story is told from their point of view. Parallel with the age-old proverb, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and great antagonists are just doing what they believe is right; and maybe, just maybe, we believe them to be right as well.

Antagonists often provoked mixed feelings from not only the hero, but also the audience. Perhaps the antagonist possesses motives, qualities, or characteristics that are easily relatable, or maybe they evoke feelings of sympathy. In cinema, we’ve seen characters like Fight Club's Tyler Durden deconstruct society in such a way that we didn’t want Project Mayhem to fail, Blade Runner's Roy Batty search desperately for meaning in his life, and Watchmen's Ozymandias deceive towards a greater good. In turn, television has also given us some truly engaging adversaries over the years. But who are the most relatable antagonists?

Weak or strong, smart or stupid, the following antagonists are people who are genuinely relatable, sometimes more so than the lead.

  • 1
    139 VOTES

    Negan - 'The Walking Dead'

    Negan - 'The Walking Dead'
    Photo: The Walking Dead / AMC

    Negan seems to enjoy his fair share of violence, but let's be honest, so does Rick. Negan’s methods as leader of the Saviors may have been extreme at times, but he did what he felt he had to in order to lead his people into the future. To be fair, Rick did attack the Savior outposts before Negan took a baseball bat to Glenn’s head.

    As Rick's adversary, Negan is formidable, funny, and smart; he is the twisted jester of the zombie apocalypse. As a potential ally, Negan is engaging, funny, and smart. Negan is a perfect example of TWD portraying moral ambiguity at its best.

    • Actor: Jeffrey Dean Morgan
    139 votes
  • Lucifer - 'Supernatural'
    Photo: The CW

    Everyone knows the biblical story of Lucifer, the archangel who was cast out for disliking his father’s creation/worldview. In early seasons, Supernatural saw the Winchester brothers battling antagonists from both Heaven and Hell, making biblical labels irrelevant in regard to good and evil.

    During this time, Lucifer preached his position as a misunderstood outcast and victim of an indifferent father on more than one occasion. Mark Pellegrino’s emotional yet irreverent take on the character made him particularly entertaining up until his demise. However, recent Supernatural storylines could easily make the argument that Lucifer was not only right all along, but that he is the most relatable antagonist in the Supernatural universe.

    • Actor: Mark Pellegrino
    85 votes
  • Toby Flenderson - 'The Office' 
    Photo: NBC

    As much as we love Michael Scott’s constant belittlement of Dunder Mifflin's human resources representative, the reality is that poor Toby’s life sucks. He may stifle Michael’s inappropriate fun, but he still always treats Michael like an adult and seems like a genuinely nice person, for the most part. Toby is the kid who is picked last for teams, never gets invited to parties, and has no luck on dating apps. His life is every Office fan's worst nightmare: working at Dunder Mifflin and never contributing anything meaningful to the story. But it is his pathetic nature that makes him relatable.

    For anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of bullying, or had a bad day, or a bad year, Toby is there to make you feel better about your life as you marvel at the unhappiness in his. 

    • Actor: Paul Lieberstein
    81 votes
  • Boyd Crowder - 'Justified'
    Photo: FX

    When introduced to Boyd Crowder in Justified's pilot, "Fire in the Hole," he is portrayed as a white supremacist - or at least someone willing to play the part in order to get money, power, and influence. Thus, at first glance, he is not the most relatable character. But thanks to his chemistry with series protagonist/anti-hero US Marshal Raylan Givens and the complex history of Harlan County, KY, Crowder is depicted as a product of his environment.

    After being shot, Crowder turns to religion to redeem himself; however, given the unforgiving nature of his world, he is driven back to his life of crime. Walton Goggins's masterful performance paints Crowder as a character who uses his charisma and intellect to survive the only way he knows how: as an outlaw who isn't so different from his best friend, just on different sides of the law.

    • Actor: Walton Goggins
    54 votes
  • Al Swearengen - 'Deadwood'
    Photo: HBO

    When the proprietor of the Gem Saloon is first introduced, he is quite possibly the most amoral person in the Deadwood camp. The antithesis of Montana marshal Seth Bullock (who is best described as the show's protagonist), Al Swearengen is set up to be the villain of the series. He’s abusive, greedy, manipulative, and willing to take lives to get what he wants. However, as the show evolved, Swearengen was written as more of a protagonist than his introduction suggested, motivated by an irreproducible code of honor and morality. He protects the vulnerable and genuinely cares about the people in his camp... in his own way.

    The character of Al Swearengen, played to perfection by Ian McShane, is not only one of the best to ever grace the small screen, but also a reminder that people contain multitudes.

    • Actor: Ian McShane
    46 votes
  • Tywin Lannister - 'Game of Thrones'
    Photo: HBO

    Tywin Lannister might have been the most self-aware character in Westeros; cold, calculated, pragmatic, and effective, Tywin is exactly the type of person one has to become in order to survive the Seven Kingdoms. You could even go as far as saying that Tywin is the fictional embodiment of a disillusioned viewer who has been tasked with winning the Game of Thrones.

    One can’t help but respect the man. He does what he has to and, while ruthless, his cruelty is almost always with a purpose.  

    • Actor: Charles Dance
    96 votes