Yesterday, HBO posed a question that shook the internet.
Top 3 HBO characters of all time. Aaaaand go. #humanreco
— HBO (@HBO) September 17, 2019
HBO (Home Box Office) is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay television service in the United States, having operated since 1972. Every year, HBO releases new shows or seasons of a show that are among the best on television.
Recently we have seen rival television services like Netflix and Amazon Prime take some shine away from HBO, but in reality, there is no platform with the history and prominence of HBO. Though mostly operating with original television programs, HBO also releases movies.
HBO has treated us to inarguably some of the best television to ever exist. With older shows that have since ended like The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, those of us lucky (or smart) enough to have a subscription saw characters grow through the years and felt immersed in their beautiful and complicated lives.
Currently, HBO is still running with hot television primed to make a big showing at this year’s Emmy’s, with shows like Barry, True Detective, Westworld, and Succession. Churning out entertaining television with captivating characters has never been an issue for HBO, but it is more important now than ever with so many rival networks fighting them for ratings.
With so many delightful shows over the years, it is nearly impossible to narrow the list of best characters down to just three, but alas, that is what HBO wants. Now it is time to put the argument to rest, once and for all. Here is the list of our top three HBO characters of all time.
Honorable mention: Tyrion Lannister
One of the deepest, most complex characters ever written in a book, George R. R. Martin captured readers’ love and attention in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” books, largely through Tyrion Lannister, the son of a lord in Tywin Lannister, but a dwarf, and the black spot on an otherwise illustrious family.
Played by Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones, he did not disappoint, and through the first four seasons of the show was one of the best characters HB or any program, had ever put out. He was smart, cunning, and hilarious as a lust-filled witty man with power because of his father’s name.
Unfortunately, the show stopped getting material from the books, and Tyrion’s character suffered. He was relegated to whining, begging, and coming up with awful plans the final four seasons. Even worse, his decision making was not in line with the character we all grew to know and love. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, shame on you.
At least we got this brilliant scene before it all went downhill.
3. Rustin Cohle: True Detective Season 1
True Detective is an anthology crime drama television series. In Season 1, Rustin Cohle is a Louisiana State Police homicide detective that pursues a serial killer over a 17-year span. Played by Matthew McConaughey, Cohle is a deeply-introspective and disturbed man that in the season explores religion, nihilism, and pessimism among other things.
What makes this character so layered and magnificent, besides McConaughey’s wonderful acting, is that we get to see how his viewpoints change over the 17-year-long storyline.
Eventually, he submits to an interview with two detectives, realizing they think he is the long-sought-after killer, and using the interview to his own benefit to see what they think about him.
Cohle does not fit into the rural Louisiana setting where the murders and show takes place, and after years of heavy drug abuse, goes through massive withdrawals where he experiences visions that he cannot explain. How can we forget about the climax scene where he looks up and sees the cosmos?
Though True Detective is an anthology series which means Cohle was only in one season, it would be too much of a travesty to not include him on this list. If you haven’t already watched this season of True Detective, do yourself a favor.
2. Omar Little: The Wire
The Wire is widely recognized as one of the greatest television shows of all time. Set in Baltimore, with each season focusing on a different institution in the city, the show deals with corruption, gang violence, police, and much more. There are many characters to choose from, but Omar takes the prize.
A stick-up man that rips off drug dealers and other evil people, Omar is complex because he has a code: never rob or hurt the innocent. Played by Michael K. Williams, his role on the show is largely categorized by fighting against the Barksdale family, and the violence that ensues between the two parties shows how violence truly is not the answer and only serves to hurt.
Also a homosexual, Omar displays many characteristics that are antithetical to the “tough guy” criminal. Little takes his grandmother to church service many Sundays, and his overall character development over the course of the show is enough to earn him the number two spot on this list. Always “Omar’s coming.”
1. Tony Soprano: The Sopranos
The Sopranos was the first show to feature a true antihero. All the wonderful characters we have seen since that day like Walter White, Dexter Morgan, Barry Berkman, and more can be traced back to this show, so how could there be any other pick?
The pilot of the show was filmed in 1997 and the first season aired in 1999. New to television was a show where the protagonist was a man on the wrong side of the law, so much so that he kills people or orders them killed.
To make the show even more innovative, Tony, a New Jersey mafia member, starts to go to a therapist and those of us who know some things about the late 90’s know that therapy was not even close to as commonplace as it is today. In many circles, it was even frowned upon.
Through his relationships with his real family and mafia family, Tony tries to balance everything, but his panic attacks keep bringing him back to his therapist. As the seasons go on, the show gets darker and darker, and the implied assurances that our favorite characters will survive become less and less sure. The show is of course bolstered by Tony, played by James Gandolfini, in a role that showed his prowess as an actor (Rest In Peace James).
There will never be another show like this, with another character like Tony Soprano. Because of the impact of this show, the impact of his character, and the consistency of how great it is each season to the next, Tony Soprano is the best HBO character of all time.