Home Culture Culture Lists

50 Best ‘Mad Men’ Characters

From one-off cameos to Sterling-Cooper’s core players, we’re ranking the show’s most memorable characters

Sex. Booze. Money. Corruption. Mad Men has given us a host of brilliantly depraved rogues over the past eight seasons. (Or seven, if you’re into AMC’s droll accounting.) So many great characters, with so few moral standards. As Matthew Weiner’s saga of the Sixties ad game heads for the final curtain, it’s time to count down the 50 best characters. Some keep evolving over the years, going through drastic changes. Others just blaze for an episode or two. Really, it’s about quality not quantity — sorry, but no matter how much screen time Lou Avery gobbles up, he can’t hang with a glorious one-shot like Ho-Ho. Some of these characters are fast with a quip, some out for a buck, others just here for a drink. But they’re all unforgettable.

Mad Men

Jon Hamm as Don Draper and Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Michael Yarish/AMC


Sally Draper

Showcase Episode: "At The Codfish Ball"
Let's face it, 99 percent of child actors suck. So it makes zero sense that the show lucked out with a Sally (Kiernan Shipka) who grew up to be a real actor, one who could actually help carry the emotional heft of the story. (This literally never happens.) And Sally has turned out to be crucial — she's the only living soul Don wants to impress, yet she's the one he has the toughest time fooling. (As a great man once sang, "The ones who love us least are the ones we'll die to please.") Is it weird she never brings up the fact that he took her to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium? Wouldn't most people have trouble shutting up about that?

Mad Men

Doug Hyun/AMC


Joan Holloway Harris

Showcase Episode: "Christmas Waltz"
How in denial are we about the end of Mad Men? We keep watching the Everclear video Christina Hendricks starred in, back in her grunge-goth days. ("One Hit Wonder," it was called. Not a bad tune!) Right from the start, Joan had plenty of smoldering rage. In the episode where she played the accordion and sang "C'est Magnifique," it raised all these questions: Namely, what kind of pageant-princess hellhole did this woman emerge from? There's so much nobody knows about the suffering Joan has endured, including a bonus marriage she never mentioned until a few weeks ago. But Joan's got the sneer everybody else is scared of — especially Roger, who'll never get over her.

Peggy Olson

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC



Peggy Olson

Showcase Episode: "The Suitcase"
"I am one of those girls," Peggy told her big sister when she first decided to move to Manhattan. And look at her now: strutting down the hallway, with shades, cigarette and Thermos in place. Always easily overlooked by people around her, Peggy had a tough time getting taken seriously at first — especially by her usual underminer Joan, who never met a Peggy triumph she couldn't smother in side-eye. ("I'm glad your other work was suffering for a reason." Nice one.) But Peggy will always be the new girl, because she keeps moving forward (sometimes on roller skates), the way her once and future mentor Don taught her. And her weird bond with Don has sustained them both through all their Burger Chef ups and Pizza House downs.

Mad Men

John Slattery as Roger Sterling - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 3 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Michael Yarish/AMC


Roger Sterling

Showcase Episode: "Shut The Door, Have A Seat"
Has anyone in TV history made a deadlier wisecrack delivery machine? Compared to Roger Sterling, Johnny Carson was some tongue-tied amateur. His toast at his daughter's wedding — the day after the JFK assassination — remains a model for how to bullshit your way through a disaster, as does his whole life. John Slattery brings the "Have a drink, it'll make me look younger" pain; under all his bravado, he's a salesman with nothing to sell. But Roger's the Proposition Joe of Mad Men: When he steps into a scene, you can see the others light up. Everybody's best scenes are their Roger scenes. So let's all raise a parting glass to this man. It'll make him look younger.

Mad Men

Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

Justina Mintz/AMC


Don Draper

Showcase Episode: "The Suitcase"
Who is Don Draper? You're face to face with the man who sold the world. The master seducer of the ad game. The sensitive piece of horseflesh. The mystery man who scams everyone around him into believing he knows their secrets. A liar and a thief. A trickster so persuasive, he regularly slips and starts believing his own promises, like a dealer who gets high on his own supply. The leading man who holds this sprawling story together. For some reason, people really want Don Draper to like them. Unfortunately for him, Don Draper is one of those people, which means he always keeps cracking up. But we can't take our eyes off him.

Show Comments