40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time

From serial killers to cylons, mobsters to murderous moms — counting down the TV characters you love to hate

Al Swearengen, 'Deadwood'
40
HBO6/40

6. Al Swearengen, 'Deadwood'

Open the fuckin' canned peaches —it's time to celebrate the cocksucker who made David Milch's wondrous Western what it was. Black of both hair and heart, Swearengen wore many hats, though none were ten-gallon: bar owner, pimp, gangster, multiple murderer, and eventually, ersatz community organizer. Ruling from the Gem Saloon like a spider at the center of a web, he wound up just as ferocious in defending the town as he had been in exploiting it, with his hatred of the rich — and pathological fear of the Pinkertons — exposing a human side to his oily insectoid malevolence. Throughout the series, Ian McShane delivered every word of Milch's gutter-Shakespeare patois like a man savoring the best drink he's ever been poured, making Swearengen not just a great villain, but the prime exponent of a great show.

Back to Top