The Walking Dead had several iconic big bads over the course of twelve seasons as humanity fought for survival during a zombie apocalypse. Though villains come and go as Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his crew dispatch them, some stand apart as truly ruthless.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the first main villain of the series was formerly Rick Grimes’s best friend. Before Jon Bernthal joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as The Punisher or starred in blockbuster films like Fury alongside Brad Pitt, he came to prominence in The Walking Dead.
Despite the twelve-year run of The Walking Dead, his character stands out as one of the most unforgettable in its extensive history. Shane started his life on the show as a good guy. As Rick’s best friend on the police force, he became his savior during the zombie apocalypse. He barricaded Rick in his room to ensure his safety and took on the responsibility of protecting Rick’s wife and son.
However, things took a turn once Shane presumed Rick dead as the zombie apocalypse raged on. He shacked up with Rick’s wife, Lori, and took the leadership role with a group of survivors outside of Atlanta. When Rick returned, jealousy raged within Shane as Rick usurped him as the leader and resumed relations with Lori. Before long, these emotions compelled him to attempt to murder Rick and fully embrace the path of wickedness. Bernthal played the role with both intense menace and pathos, making him a breakout star in the process.
4. Merle Dixon
Though Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) has a blood tie to his brother, fan-favorite Daryl, he started life in The Walking Dead as a heavy. When he encountered the survivors, Merle assaulted them and asserted his dominance, inflicting severe injuries on T-Dog and even torturing Glen. However, Rick managed to bring him down with a surprise attack and handcuffed him to an exposed pipe. This led to an iconic moment of the series when Merle made the choice to chop off his hand in order to escape.
Merle eventually returned complete with a gnarly bayonet attachment on his arm stump. He served as the right hand of the Governor, ruthlessly following his orders. However, he manages a small redemption when he eventually turns on his master to save Daryl.
3. Beta, ‘The Walking Dead’s Behemoth Bad Ass
Beta, played by Sons of Anarchy favorite Ryan Hurst, stands apart from other The Walking Dead baddies on sheer intimidation factor alone. Tall and imposing with a mask made from the flesh of a walker, Beta was a scary sight.
Although initially serving as Alpha’s second-in-command within the deranged group known as the Whisperers, Beta quickly emerged as a far more formidable adversary than his leader. He is distinguished by his complete lack of compassion, readily eliminating even his own comrades in accordance with his bizarre code. Beta’s lack of humanity was on full display when he led a gigantic horde of walkers to the heroes’ communities. Perhaps his most epic moment was a brutal hand-to-hand showdown with Daryl.
Yes, Negan (played with swagger by Harry Dean Morgan) is responsible for some of the most upsetting moments in the The Walking Dead‘s history. As the leader of the Saviors, Negan made choices that our heroes saw as barbaric, even by the standards of the post-apocalypse. Of course, he personally killed fan favorites Abraham and Glen back to back, just to prove to Rick’s people that he’s not to be messed with.
That said, Negan is a complex villain. From a certain point of view, he’s simply a leader struggling to keep his people alive against the looming threat of Rick’s group. His status as a bad guy is also dulled by his redemption arc and eventual spin-off.
1. The Governor, the most irredeemable ‘The Walking Dead’ Villain
The Governor, however, will not be getting a spin-off featuring him as a hero. This is a despicable, demented villain, through and through. Played with an undercurrent of psychotic menace by David Morrissey, the Governor would force those seeking his assistance into gladiatorial fights against walkers. This is what passed for entertainment for the Governor and his people. He also killed the heart of the group, Hershel (the stoic Scott Wilson), in one of the most brutal moments of the series. His aquarium of zombie heads in his throne room remains one of the most iconic images from The Walking Dead, too.
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