It is my genuine pleasure to see the first countdown of 2022 be centered around a subject that I was immensely enthusiastic to see explored and discussed. I absolutely adore villains in fantasy and science fiction. I love discussing them, their strange foibles, complex plots, and thematic backgrounds. Through villains, we can see a vast variety of eclectic personalities and wonderfully eccentric scenery-chewing. Villains often get to have the best scenes in their respective movies and, as a result, my generation seems to have always had a strong connection to the villains we grew up with.
This week will focus on the fantasy side of villainy, but rest assured that the science fiction villains countdown will be coming towards the end of next month, to help keep everything spread out. Also, I would like to note that next week will be my routine health week, where I take a week off from article releases to focus on my own personal health and well-being. I will be using that week to travel to Texas with a friend and attend HarmonyCon 2022.
I'm super excited and you will be able to hopefully get a few updates and interesting conversations on my Patreon account. You can also follow me @TheBronyCritic on Twitter, where I may post pictures of cool things I see while I spend my first time in Texas and on a plane (so excited!).
But that's next week. We are in this week now and we will jump right into my countdown on some of my favorite villains from various fantasy IPs.
1. Sauron (The Lord of the Rings)
|Sauron, the Lord of the Rings|
Let's start this list off with the villain that might very well have the claim as the first modern fantasy villain. From The Lord of the Rings trilogy of novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, with a "guest" appearance in The Silmarillion, Sauron is the Maiar Dark Lord of Middle-Earth, the titular "Lord of the Rings" and one of the coolest and most iconic villain designs ever created.
The lore and mythology surrounding Sauron is, like most characters in Tolkien's legendarium, deeply rooted in connections to Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythology, alongside a few subtle Catholic influences. Sauron is classified as a Maiar, the same type of being as Gandalf and Saruman, and essentially an angel that sought to subjugate all the races of Middle-Earth because he abhorred all the disorder and chaos that the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth brought with them and his desire to create a new world that matched with his image for how a world should be.
I could've and was seriously considering putting Morgoth, the more powerful original Dark Lord from The Silmarillion on this list instead, but I honestly think that Sauron wins on the fact that he has had a far more noticeable impact not only on his own stories, whereas Morgoth was a much more removed and isolated evil, but also on pop culture as a whole with regards to what exactly it means to be a modern fantasy villain.
In terms of physical attributes, I'm fairly certain the imagery of a flaming eye atop a massive black tower has become iconic, especially following the release of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy propelled Tolkien's legendarium into the mainstream. And while I do think that Sauron is perhaps a bit too passive as a villain, being locked away behind his tower of Barad-Dur, the armies of Orcs and evil men that he commands, as well as the ever present corruption of the One Ring, help to keep Sauron's presence always on the mind of both the protagonists and the readers, which is in my mind the true sign of a fantastic villain.
The upcoming Amazon adaption is set to cover events preceding The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, possibly covering the Akallabêth (Fall of Numenor) and the First War of the Ring that appears in the prologue of Fellowship of the Ring. If this is the case, I am super excited to see that as Sauron plays a major role in both stories; so we have absolutely not seen the last of the Second Dark Lord of Middle-Earth.
2. Voldemort (Harry Potter)
|Lord Voldemort, He Who Must Not Be Named|
From one Dark Lord to another, although it must be said that Tom Riddle, or as he is more commonly known, Voldemort, is a very different kind of villain to Sauron. Where Sauron is an otherworldly, almost divine; an entity nearly beyond mortal comprehension, Voldemort maintains an aura that is frighteningly human at all times. Even with his monstrous appearance due to the influence of his horcruxes on his body, Voldemort never really stops being human, which only makes the horrifying actions he takes that much more evil.
It's something of a philosophical consideration over what is perhaps the more uncomfortable evil. The more traditional fairy tale evil, where goodness is guaranteed to triumph over an alien all encompassing evil, and the grounded evil, the banal evil of corruption; often inspired by very real ideologies and actions of our real world history.
Voldemort and his followers are terrifying not because of their power, but because of how similar they are in their actions and philosophies to historical and modern fascists and supremacists.
I understand that you can and must say an awful lot about J.K. Rowling and how her personal beliefs are reflected in the world she created (for good an bad), but I do think that Rowling managed to
I have thus far compared Voldemort heavily with Sauron, but I think in some ways they are meant to be compared and contrasted.
Two evil Dark Lords that are the successors of an earlier Dark Lord who lead great armies with the intention of conquering the world and reigning for all eternity who are defeated a long time before the start of the story but manage to survive due to a corrupting object or objects that has the villains soul tied to it. It's a very compelling comparison, especially when you then focus on how they differ.
Voldemort is a villain born of very real ideas. There are people in the world today who think like him, who act like him. And while many of them may look like Dolores Umbridge or Lucius Malfoy, Voldemort's inhuman outward appearance is representative of what such supremacist and fascistic philosophies and ideas do to a person on the inside. He is perhaps more monstrous in his humanity than Sauron is in his inhumanity, especially because Voldemort goes out of his way to be personally cruel and vicious to the protagonists, where Sauron is too big to care about "petty" hobbits (which ultimately leads to his defeat).
Looking at Voldemort through such a lens really does help to highlight why he is such a compelling villain and how his cruelty and malice has managed to remain within the cultural zeitgeist, even as the Wizarding World franchise is in such a perilous state.
3. Cersei Lannister (A Song of Ice & Fire)
|Cersei Lannister, Light of the West|
I really had to laugh when I was composing this list. When discussing fantasy villains, I knew that I had to include something from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire
series, more popularly known through its HBO adaptation Game of Thrones
. The series is just chock full of terrifying evils and villains.
The easy answer for this list would be The Others, a race of weirdly elven ice people who lead an undead army with the goal of destroying the realms of men, could certainly have been on this list in terms of magical threat. But if I am totally honest, they are nothing compared to the regular ass human characters in terms of the degree of evil actions taken in this series.
- Joffrey Baratheon, the incest-born teenage psychopath who relishes in the death and mutilation of everything around him.
- Ramsey Snow, the torturer who literally is aroused by the pain he inflicts on people including flaying people alive.
- Euron Greyjoy, the pirate who spends equal times killing as he does raping and pillaging and plotting to take over the world with dragonfire and dark magic.
- Petyr Baelish, the unscrupulous moneylender and whoremonger whose machinations lead directly to the War of the Five Kings and the near destruction of House Stark.
And yet against all such characters, it is Cersei Lannister that holds, in my opinion, the lauded title as principal antagonist of A Song of Ice & Fire. It is she is most representative of everything wrong and sick with the Seven Kingdoms, the architect of the most pain and anguish of all "villains" presented to us, and all due to her own mental and moral deficiencies.
Cersei Lannister is simply a narcissistic sociopath who is more cruel than clever, born with inconceivable wealth and privilege that has made her completely incapable of understanding other human beings. Even the few people she confesses to genuinely "love" are only loved in terms of how they are similar to or a reflection of herself. Her romantic and sexual attraction to her brother is born of the fact that they are twins and he is, in essence, a near exact duplicate of herself. And even her love for her children is in the fact that they are the product of her and Jaime (in other words, almost exactly like her).
And it is through this rampant narcissism that Cersei precipitates all of the events which distracts Westeros from the dangers of the Others, unintentionally putting all of humanity at risk by preventing anyone from preparing for the oncoming War of the Dawn. Not even her own family is safe from her actions, as her behaviors alienates both her younger brother (leading to the events that result in the death of Tywin Lannister), pushes away her twin when he begins to see the errors of his ways, and threaten to set the nation in the middle of a religious war, even as winter comes to kill all. And being granted the "honor" of witnessing her perspective on issues doesn't help, as she is clearly out of her mind and simply consumed with self-delusion and insane cruelty.
Cersei Lannister is simply the worst, and that's why we love her and hope that Jaime Lannister finally does us all a favor and strangle the shit of her. How's that for a fucking prophecy, you crazy brother-humping blonde bimbo?
4. Kefka Palazzo (Final Fantasy VI)
|Kefka, the Psycho Clown|
So I knew that I needed to add in a Final Fantasy villain somewhere on this list. And I can actually hear the Final Fantasy VII fanboys whining now.
"BUT WHAT ABOUT SEPHIROTH!?!?!?"
Sephiroth is just a little edgy mama's boy that wants to destroy the world because his mother told him to do it and because ooh, the world is pain and suffering and it deserves destruction *edge* *edge* *edge*. The fact that his mother is an all-powerful alien creature imprisoned by an evil global energy company doesn't even add all that much sympathy to me. It is a problem which I think is present in almost all Final Fantasy villains, especially from the games which followed Final Fantasy VII.
Boring ass villains that want to destroy the world and remake in their own image because of pain, and sorrow, and blah, blah, blaaaahh....
But then there's Kefka "Motherfucking" Palazzo, the Joker if you gave him the powers of a god. Now at first glance, the character of Kefka wouldn't even strike you as the main antagonist of a Final Fantasy game, especially when you have the more traditional Emperor Gestahl to compare him to. But Kefka quickly and brutally establishes his villainy throughout the first half of Final Fantasy VI as he just decimates everyone who crosses him, even betraying his own superiors in order to achieve ultimate power and destroy the world.
And while Kefka does possess many of the same elements that you would expect from a Final Fantasy villain, in particular the nihilism and quest to remake the world in his own image; the sociopathic clown also establishes himself as a pinnacle of his kind by winning.
That's right. Kefka Palazzo ends up winning and destroying the world about halfway through the game, ascending to godhood and utterly reshaping world (an action which does not get resolved with Deus ex Machina upon Kefka's defeat). Coupled with this stunningly iconic design and the place within the history of Final Fantasy, the victorious God of Magic spends the rest of the game randomly slaughtering millions from atop his tower of debris for refusing to worship him, or simply because he is bored.
And upon his defeat, magic disappears from the world. Even in death, Kefka ultimately destroys a fundamental part of the universe in which he lives and places himself as more than worthy of the title of the greatest Final Fantasy villain.
5. Vecna (Dungeons & Dragons)
|Vecna, the Whispered One|
In the annals of Dungeons & Dragons, which has a plethora of fantastic villains both in the base game lore and the myriad of other universes (I'm looking at you Matt Mercer and those Briarwoods of yours), one villain stands above all others in terms of their legacy and reputation, even being known outside of D&D circles.
From the World of Greyhawk, one of the earliest D&D worlds ever created, the Arch-lich, the Chained God, Master of the Spider Throne, Vecna.
Vecna has become a legendary figure within D&D circles, and also something of a meme. It has almost become a joke that anytime a warlock player has some sort of mysterious Patron that its secretly Vecna, or that all bad things are the fault of Brian Blume's divine arch-lich. And while I think this is funny, it does also mean Vecna is unfortunately something of an overused element in modern D&D, especially after the popularity of Campaign 1 of Critical Role helped to elevate Vecna beyond simple D&D circles.
Vecna is only one of a massive compendium of fantastic villains within the multiverse of D&D. You have figures like Strahd, the vampire lord of Barovia, or Acererak, the master of the Tomb of Horrors, or even the Goddess of Evil Dragons, Tiamat. The sheer variety of D&D allows for a flexible storyline that can explore the many varying facets of evil.
But what does it say about Vecna as a character, as a villain, when he is able to so effectively slip into the roles that could also be fit by other infamous villainous elements of Dungeons & Dragons? His design is iconic and the fact that he is, in essence a god in the most modern interpretations, you almost never actually run into him in person, merely feel the impact of his cults or ancient undead followers seeking to spread his influence.
Vecna is so effective because he is such an effective arbiter of villainy within a D&D campaign, even when he himself does not physically appear. Because like many eldritch monsters, when he appears madness and evil follow.
6. Arthas (Warcraft III & World of Warcraft)
|Arthas, the Lich King|
From a lich god to the Lich King, our sixth entry on this list is the prodigal prince of Lordaeron and the villain so legendary within the world of Warcraft (Did you all see what I did there?) that even people like me who know nothing about the universe are familiar with him.
Arthas was the crown prince of Lordaeron and was beloved by nearly everyone who knew, including his pseudo-romantic interest Jaina Proudmoore the sorceress. However when he is forced to confront the evils of the Scourge as well as conflicts with the local elves, orcs, and even other human kingdoms, Arthas is driven to darker and darker extremes in order to protect his kingdom and his people.
Eventually Arthas' desperation allows Frostmourne, the cursed sword, and Ner'zhul, the previous Lich King, to infect the prince's mind and drive him to become a powerful Death Knight. As a death knight, Arthas murdered his own father, murdered and corrupted Sylvanas Windrunner (and forcing her perpetual existence on the Warcraft fandom which just might be his most villainous act), and all of this before he ever actually claimed the Helm of Domination which allowed him to assume the mantle of the Lich King.
As a character, in terms of both design and story, Arthas is amazing. Arthas' story is tragic to follow in Warcraft III as you can see the genuine desire to do good that is at the heart of everything he does. Arthas is so effective as a villain because he was originally such a good-hearted person. Add that to a kickass design and it is no wonder that Arthas Menethil is such a essential element to the world of Azeroth.
Arthas is so integral to the universe of Warcraft that it could even be argued that he is actually something of a curse on the franchise. World of Warcraft achieved legendary status as an MMORPG when they introduced the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. It is widely held by most fans as the best expansion that the game ever made. And Blizzard Entertainment has seemingly been trying to reach that same level of performance ever since, to varying degrees of success.
And given the most recent expansion, Shadowlands, is still making references to the actions taken by Arthas, almost 14 real world years ago, the legacy and strength of Arthas as a villain is plain for all to see.
7. Discord (My Little Pony)
|Discord, Spirit of Chaos|
You are reading that correctly.
On a list which contains some of the worst villains in all of fantasy: fallen gods, liches, despotic queens, and dark lords; we have this guy. A villain from the happy technicolor pony show that looks like if a Salvador Dali painting took LSD and watched a shit-ton of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
My reasons for this placement are incredibly simple and I promise you all that I am not trying to bullshit you all. I knew that I needed to include one villain from My Little Pony due to its impact upon my personal perception of good narrative story-telling and world-building. And at the heart of much of that lies in the villains of the show.
And the show has an impressive roster of villains to choose from: Queen Chrysalis, Starlight Glimmer, Cozy Glow, and King Sombra, just to name a few. But none of these villains have had quite the impact on the Brony fandom and the universe of My Little Pony as the Draconequus Spirit of Chaos himself, Discord.
Discord ceases to be a villain after his reformation in Season 3, but his impact on the story and even occasional nature as an antagonist remains throughout all nine seasons, with him even returning as the villain briefly in Season 4 and unintentionally in Season 9. And his nature as a villain is fundamentally different from all the other villains in the MLP lineup, being a cerebral and calculating villain first and foremost.
Discord works to break apart Twilight Sparkle and her friends' friendship as he knows it is the only things that could theoretically stop him, and he even briefly succeeds. He uses his overwhelming magical capabilities, which are never fully grounded and seem to operate on cartoon logic more than anything else, and an incredible capacity to psychologically tear someone down to bring the Mane 6 to their metaphorical knees.
In a much darker show, Discord would probably be an utterly terrifying villain, especially given his chaotic and eldritch design. All in all, Discord represents the peak of MLP villainy and he was so damn influential on the fandom that all other villains are compared to him in some capacity.
And that is a sign of an excellent villain. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
8. Ganondorf/Ganon (The Legend of Zelda)
|Ganondorf, the King of Evil|
And wrapping up our list, we go to the villain who has probably appeared in more forms of media than just about anyone else. Alongside King Bowser of the Mario
franchise, perhaps no one has had a greater influence on video game villainy than one of the OG fantasy villains.
The King of the Gerudo, Bearer of the Triforce of Power, Malice Incarnate of Demise, the King of Evil himself: Ganondorf and his monstrous form, Ganon, from The Legend of Zelda video game series.
In a franchise with 18 main series titles, Ganon and his various incarnations appear in 10 of them and his referenced or alluded to almost every other one at some point. Ganondorf is simply an icon of the video game world, alongside his heroic counterparts Link and Zelda.
Ganon almost always appears as the final boss in every game, oftentimes not even showing up until the very end or as a surprise villain (for good or ill) but his presence is always felt in every story for which he makes an appearance. Boasting immense magical capabilities, only supplemented by the Triforce of Power, and skills with either a trident or a massive great sword, Ganon is an incredibly challenging but rewarding fight and his impact upon the world of Hyrule is without equal.
In the world of Hyrule, Ganon is actually responsible for the collapse of entire kingdoms and the formation of entire alternate timelines. And the fact that Ganon is technically only a manifestation of the ancient demon Demise's malice and hatred makes his overwhelming power all the more amazing and ensures that no matter what Link and Zelda do, their futures will always be home to some incarnation of the King of Evil.
I absolutely adore villains and had a blast talking them up in this review. Now next week will be my health week as I take that time to head down to Texas for HarmonyCon with my friend DrewFlashy. You will hopefully be able to see some updates on my Patreon regarding that panel as its going on. You should also be able to see my pictures of the convention on my Twitter feed @TheBronyCritic.
After my designated health week, I will be back with an editorial on A Song of Ice and Fire and in a little over a month, I will post another countdown on villains, this time of the science fiction variety. I'm really excited for that one and hope to see you all there as well.
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