Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Let's Talk About Villains



I've been thinking about villains lately. I just finished a show called Black Sails where arguably everyone is a villain- so who do you root for? Everyone has shades of grey, even the so- called good guys- and yet I often found myself rooting for the bad guys. I also got to thinking about Game of Thrones and the books that inspire it- some of those characters could be called villains as well, and yet we find ourselves rooting for them. So what gives?

This post will contain some spoilers for both Game of Thrones and Black Sails.

Let's start with Black Sails. It's a show about pirates, so you know not everyone's a good guy. Flint and Vane are the two most notorious pirates on the show and Eleanor runs Nassau where the pirates are based. It's a raucous place where most of the action takes place in a tavern and a whorehouse- the pirates are based on real figures but taken in fictional directions.   You also have Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny, two other real life pirates, and Edward Teach (Blackbeard) shows up in S3.

Image result for black sails images

Flint in particular does some bad things, but Charles Vane is no Boy Scout either. They regularly kill for the sole reason that they don't like the restrictions of society or feel like they want to live free. In real life of course pirates are romanticized (see Pirates of the Caribbean) but we generally don't kill people and take stuff because we want to be free. The pirates here are portrayed sympathetically and Eleanor became hated among fans for being on the wrong side at one point. Or... could it just be that the characters are attractive and that's why we like 'em? If the villain is eye candy do they get a pass? If all the pirates were ugly maybe we'd care less.



Jaime Lannister is another example from Game of Thrones. Initially a villain (he throws a boy out a window) he becomes a POV character and it's fair to say he is a favorite for many people. Why? The guy has children through incest with his sister and stabbed the king he was sworn to protect in the back, too. And by the end of the third book I loved the guy. How is this possible? Well, he's also sardonic, confident and has hidden depths of honor that become apparent- but still, what about the bad stuff? I would argue that George RR Martin skillfully makes us reconsider his character through good writing, but he never actually apologizes (or shows much remorse) for throwing a kid out a window. He regrets it a bit but that's not the same thing.



Is there something about villains that appeals to us? Are we easily manipulated by good writing or good acting? I'm curious what you think. Do you ever wonder WHY do I like this character?

26 comments:

  1. I love villians and anti heroes!! I really enjoy character depth and a lot of times villians and especially anti heroes can have a ton of depth. Whereas a lot of times the "good guy" can be dull and one dimensional. This isn't ALWAYS the case with the good guys & villians, but quite often I think. :)

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    1. That's a really good point- villains often have a lot of depth and layer to them and that can be fascinating to see. Especially when a villain struggles with redemption or trying to be better...

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    2. Yes!! Definitely!!! I agree. :)

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  2. I think we like villains because they play by their own rules and that's something we all wish we could do from time to time! They're not scared to go after what they want, they're usually strong and determined. Personally, I like morally gray characters because it makes them seem more real. None of us are all good or all evil so seeing someone struggle with demons makes them that much more compelling! LOVE this topic Greg^^ xx

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    1. I think you're right- who doesn't want to do our own thing from time to time? lol maybe we live vicariously through the villains a bit. And I agree- I like nuanced characters, morally conflicted ones. They're so much more interesting.

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  3. I do love a good villain - especially one I can somehow connect too and understand even if I don't agree with them. I do frequently wonder why I connect with certain characters over others and I also wonder what the difference is between writing because one book will pull me in and I'll be living in the world of the book and other times I an constantly conscious that I'm reading.

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    1. I do too- those nuanced characters are the best! And I guess you can't have a story without a good villain. Some characters we just connect to, so true.

      Isn't it funny how some books can pull us in like that? They're just so immersive and I guess it's that quality that separates a good book from a great book. :)

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  4. I can definitely love and even root for villains - up to a point. For me the real distinction between a villain and an antihero or morally grey character is their motivations: villains do "bad things" for selfish reasons whereas the latter do "bad things" to help/save people. Of course, like you said...there's something to be said for their appeal. An attractive character with a lot of charisma is typically more sympathetic, especially on TV.

    Good writing is really what it comes down to, I'd say. If you hadn't mentioned it, I wouldn't even have remembered that Jaime doesn't show remorse for throwing Bran out the window! That's how easy it is to forgive - or at least forget - a lovable villain's actions when they're a well written character.

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    1. I think you're right- if a character does bad things for good reasons can we forgive them, or at least understand them better? That's what makes a character interesting, I think. And I do think charisma plays a role, it's like we want the attractive people maybe to succeed even if they're "bad?"

      And yes it's easy to forget some of the stuff Jaime does- sometimes I think I should still hate him but I want to overlook stuff like the Bran thing because I like the good stuff he does. Layers I guess... :)

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  5. I definitely like a good villain and by good I mean evil. Sometimes I think they can be more well-rounded and complex compared to goody-two-shoes protagonists. I don't watch either of these shows, but they do sound very interesting.

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    1. I think you're right- a good villain can make a story or break it. I love characters who are bad but then we find that they're more well rounded than we thought, and it changes the whole calculus of who they are.

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  6. I generally like the villains as well - and I am not sure why. The eye candy aspect doesn't hurt. Lol. But maybe it is because they seem more complex, in some way. We want to know more about them, why do they do these things they do.

    Game of Thrones is a perfect example - I love Jamie Lannister - I also loved The Hound (I know, so weird) and I love Cersei too. All big time jerks and worse, but aren't they so much better characters than Ned Stark?

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    1. That's a good point- if we have a villain with complex motivations it can be fascinating to see why they are the way they are. Can they be redeemed? Can we root them even though they do bad stuff? It is a lot of fun. :)

      And yes I love Jaime too. His stuff in Storm of swords is amazing. The whole character turns around, even though he's same guy. Love his smart ass attitude, and yes cersei's chapters were a hoot- her perspective was hilarious. And Ned was so dumb!

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  7. ASoIaF has so many fantastic, morally gray characters. I hated Jaime so much in the beginning, but the turning point for me was when he went back to Harrenhal for Brienne. I still don't consider him a hero, but my opinion of him definitely changed as the books went on. I wish TV Jaime were written with same depth as book Jaime; this season has him all Team Cersei, whereas I think the Jaime of the books is a lot more complicated.

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    1. It really does. I felt the same way about Jaime, despised him, but after Storm of Swords I loved the guy. The thing w/ Brienne was the same for me. One of my favorite moments in that book. His recollections of what he went through and then him going back- defining moment.

      I so agree about show vs book Jaime. The guy on the show is nothing like him if you ask me. the whole team cErsei thing where in the books he's like screw that, he's off in the riverlands trying to do the right thing- they've screwed his character up on the show or just don't get it. It's sad really.

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  8. I think a story is more exciting with a villain but I don't necessarily love them. There are some that are pure evil and there is nothing more to them. Those villains I don't care for. I love Jamie Lannister because he is still a villain but we see that he does everything to protect his family. Have you read The Young Elites by Marie Lu? The main character is a female Darth Vader, so we see her turn to the dark side. It's interesting but I can't help but wish she ends up good. I'll always want a happily ever after ending lol.

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    1. I have not read The Young Elites but a blogger told me a while back to read Marie Lu (I think it was Legends) and she was sure I'd like it... so I need to get to her stuff. I like an HEA in the end too... I agree about Jaime Lannister, he does awful things but he has reasons which we find out. Does it excuse him?Maybe not, but we can relate more or less. i think that's fascinating. :)

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  9. I think you hit the nail on the head about villains being eye candy. It seems like villains are always being made sexy nowadays, and maybe we're all vain, or maybe it's just that instinctual "that person has good genes" part of us, but I think it does make a huge difference, whether people want to admit it or not. I guarantee lots of villains wouldn't be as well-liked if they were unattractive.

    Then again, villains do also make for interesting characters sometimes. And there are some unattractive villains who are popular, like Disney villains. And we all know that sometimes "good" characters can be boring when they're kind of Mary Sue-ish.

    Also it's A LOT easier for us to forgive *characters* for doing bad things as opposed to people in real life. So there's that too, which explains why a character can kill a kid and then we love him anyway lol.

    Personally, I've never been much of a villain lover. I guess I hold more of a grudge for their bad actions than some people lol. I do sometimes love them sometimes, but I usually prefer the really gray characters. (I actually have a whole about that coming up, so I'll just leave my comment at that!)

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    1. Yeah Jaime Lannister or some of these other examples wouldn't be nearly as popular if they were unattractive, so it definitely plays a role. I think good looks or a snarky attitude can make a villain more palatable... and yes we wouldn't be nearly so forgiving if this were real life rather than fantasy!

      I don't mind a roguish character or someone who's a little morally ambiguous but straight out villains I don't usually go for either. I mean there has to be a reason why they're doing something questionable. That's what I found so fascinating about Black Sails- on their face these are bad people, but the show tries (more or less convincingly) to make us care about them anyway, and that's what got me thinking about all this in the first place (discounting the attractiveness factor which is definitely there).

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  10. I think maybe it's easy to like villains sometimes because they seem more human or relateable due to their faults. I know I can identify more with Anakin Skywalker's fear of death of loved ones than I can Luke Skywalker's bravery. I have no problem admitting that if someone told me it was my job to save everybody, then I'd be like, you've got the wrong person. I actually liked Darth Vader though, especially after seeing the first three movies. He was a great villian, and he is really what made the series, in my opinion. I somehow made this post all about Star Wars, sorry about that. Vader is by far my favorite villian though.

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  11. This is really sexist but villains of late seem to extremely hot so I do love a good villain!

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  12. Oh great topic! Overall it really depends on how a villain is written whether I like them or not. I personally love characters with shades of grey. So I like villains that reflect that.
    For example Moriarty in The Librarians is such a villain, he mostly does things for his own gain, but he's still an interesting character as he isn't pure evil. Oh and even the main characters there all have a less than perfect hero side, which makes them interesting. No one is perfect and having characters who reflect that through having flaws makes them interesting to read about and relatable sometimes as well.

    I am personally not a big fan of the villains who are pure evil and want to wipe out humanity just because they can.

    Oh and ofcourse my favourite villain is Anakin Skywalker, I noticed someone else already mentioned him as well. I love the fact that he cares so much and that's what leads him to the dark side eventually. It's so realistically and relatable. Although I feel like he doesn't have as much depth in the original series, hence the reason why i love the prequels so much and ofcourse the clone wars animated series, which explores that conflict inside Anakin even more.

    I also have read a few books with anti-heroes, who don't really fit the traditionally mold. They can be very interesting too.

    I like characters with depth, learning their personality and character. And I feel that sometimes those issues get explored more often with villains or anti-heroes. And I think giving them a pretty face definitely is one of the techniques movie writers use to make a villain more likeable.

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  13. I do love a complex villain. If there's backstory and it works... yeah, I'll probably root for them. And I mean, in real life too - it's usually not someone's own fault if they're evil, it's how they were raised. So, villains are humans too, I guess? ...It does help if they're good-looking though.

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  14. Okay, I didn't read most of this because I didn't want GoT spoilers (someday I'm going to manage to finish reading those books!), but I really love it when there are no definitive "good guys" and "bad guys" but just myriad shades of gray!!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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  15. Not sure if comment posted or moderation on? so I won't repeat it just in case... but def a great topic.

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