One of the biggest trends to crop up on television is anti-hero characters. From Walter White to Tony Soprano, there is no shortage of complicated men on TV. But what about the ladies? Television has plenty of female anti-heroes that are just as complex as their male counterparts. By definition, an anti-hero is basically anyone who doesn't have the traditional attributes of a hero but are still easy to support. They aren't a full-on villain, but they aren't exactly looking to be the good guy either. Often this means they do good things but aren't looking to be anyone's role model!
While the trend of anti-heroes on television has gotten kind of exhausting (there are so many!) it has led to some of the greatest TV characters of all time. Female anti-heroes are some of the most layered, multi-dimensional women on television who prove not every actress has to play a wife or a girlfriend. They don't have to be sweet, caring, and nurturing. They can be b*tches, full of spitfire and selfish tendencies. The rise of the anti-hero is one of the best things to ever happen to ladies on TV! Here are all of our fave female anti-heroes that have graced our TV screens. Beware: Spoilers abound!
The show is called Shameless for a reason — the protagonist is totally shameless! Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum) always does what's best for her family, but she doesn't necessarily do it in the best ways. She lies, cheats, steals, and claws her way out of any scrap. While she may be her family's hero, she's no one's definition of an upstanding citizen. She spends half a season in jail after endangering her little brother by leaving cocaine out, but otherwise does everything she can to support the boy. She can't help but self-sabotage time and time again despite her best efforts to make a better life for herself and her siblings. Despite her status as one of TV's greatest female anti-heroes, we can't help but love her.
Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is your typical politician. She has no qualms about shady dealings, and her methods to get things done are often questionable. But at the end of the day, she is trying to do what she thinks is best for the world as the Vice President (and, later, President) of the United States. She isn't totally heartless! She's a woman in politics that is always underestimated, so she's crafted a tough, sarcastic exterior to hide behind. You can't get by in politics by being nice!
On the one hand, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) is a brilliant lawyer who is an expert at taking down dangerous criminals. On the other hand, she's a conniving manipulator who tried to have one of her associates killed. She's no saint! Patty will do anything to win a case, even if that means going to some extreme measures. When it comes to women on TV who will do anything to save their own neck, there is no better example than Patty. It's amazing she still has anyone working for her! At the end of the series, Patty is alone, a repercussion for her own actions. It's a stark portrayal of one of TV's most difficult women to cheer on. It's the greatest depiction of one of TV's most fascinating female anti-heroes. Not every woman on television gets a happy ending, much like real life.
The big red flag that Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) isn't exactly a good person is that she's a Russian spy. She and her husband Philip (Matthew Rhys) spend decades undercover in America posing as husband and wife, even having American children. But she's isn't *really* a villain. She's fiercely loyal to her family, and though she has difficulty expressing her emotions, she does actually have emotions, something that could not be said about her when she left Russia. During her time in America, she's continued her work but also evolved into one of the most complex people on television. Sure, she's definitely someone who would have a fake Twitter account in the modern age and meddle in elections, but deep down, we love her!
Any character who says "want, take, have" like a boss is for sure one of TV's female anti-heroes. Faith (Eliza Dushku) is the ultimate example of what happens when a slayer doesn't grow up with privilege, wealth, and friends. She's the "working class Slayer" according to Eliza in the series' DVD commentary, and Faith hasn't had the easiest life. This has resulted in a complicated slayer lifestyle that leads to the accidental killing of a human. Her resulting guilt drives her further to the dark side but proves that she still had a conscience, meaning she was able to be pulled back into the light. She's never been Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) levels of virtuous, but she's done her best to protect the world from vamps and demons.
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) may not seem like an anti-hero because, frankly, she isn't ever very heroic. But, rest assured, beneath her stern nature and quest for power is an actual beating heart. Everything Cersei has done in her quest for the Iron Throne has been for her children. She's lost them, one by one, and each time we see that nothing else has such an emotional effect on the woman. She has no qualms about murdering innocent people or starting wars, but she will go to bat every single time for her family. In the end, she's really just trying to create a better life for them, even if she's gone a bit mad with power in the process. She isn't everyone's hero, but she's a hero in the Lannister family, despite her decidedly unheroic tendencies.
Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a CIA officer and a field operative in Iraq, so she *has* to be a hero, right? Not so much. Although Carrie does important work, she often oversteps boundaries and does questionable things to get what she wants. She also has severe mental illness in the form of bipolar disorder, which she only occasionally has under control, making her a loose cannon more often than not. She has good intentions, but she's also completely unreliable and makes dangerous decisions. Female anti-heroes are often messy, unlikable, and deeply flawed. Carrie hits all of these attributes and more as one of TV's most nuanced female characters.
She's the Evil Queen, of course she's an anti-hero! The surprising part, though, is how heroic she actually becomes without really intending to be a good person. It's just kind of thrust upon her. Her evil tendencies are mostly due to the unfair hand she was dealt in life (still, that's no excuse for trying to kill a baby). As she grows older, curses everyone, and starts a family of her own, she begins to soften a bit. It's the most layered portrayal of a famed villain there's ever been. Instead of just being evil for the sake of evil her actions are explored in depth, and her motivations actually make you feel for her. By the end of the series, Regina (Lana Parilla) is one of the most sympathetic characters — even if she's still sassy AF.
How to Get Away With Murder is a fitting title for the show, since Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) knows quite a bit about it. As a law professor and practicing lawyer, Annalise is always fighting for the underdog in her work. Her personal life, though, is a bit of a mess. Her husband gets murdered, she's arrested for murder at one point, and she has helped cover up countless other murders. Basically, her entire life centers around murder. But, still, she's a fiercely loyal teacher and friend who would do anything for the people she cares about. Despite the evil things she's done, there's no denying that she's one of the smartest women on TV. Everything she's done has been to protect those around her (and her own butt sometimes), no matter the cost.
Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) is the definition of someone who finds themselves fighting evil without really meaning to. When she sees Beth Childs (also played by Tatiana) jump to her death, she assumes Beth's identity in the hopes of stealing all her money. Not exactly the best motivation! But, in doing so, she uncovers that she is a clone, that Beth was a clone, and that there are several more clones out there being pursued by the DYAD Institute. She finds herself embroiled in saving her "sisters," her daughter, and her foster brother, despite not really considering herself the heroic type. Sarah may still have reckless, selfish tendencies, but she's used them for good more times than we can count.
Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) may be perpetually stuck in the shadow of her sadistic husband, but she is no "TV wife." She is incessant about her quest to get to the top in Washington, moving herself up all the way to President of the United States. Her methods may be extreme and her conscience nonexistent, but you can't deny her strength. She's one of the most motivated women on TV, and despite her cruel ways, she's pretty inspiring. She takes down the patriarchy, shows the strength women have, and does have a good heart deep down. Sometimes it's hard to decide if she's a villain or one of TV's female anti-heroes, but we firmly put her in the latter category. She's bad, but she's also bad*ss and proves women can do *anything*.
She helped steal a Presidential election. But she did it for the good of the people and candidate she believed in! So, basically, she's complicated AF. From her days in the White House to her time as a political "fixer," Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) has done her best to fight for the underdog and help people. Still, that doesn't always make her a likable, or even "good" person. Her schemes are legendary, and her ability to cut someone down with a well-delivered monologue is impressive as h*ll. Despite all the questionable things she's done, we still root time and time again for her to get her happy ending. Between Olivia and Annalise Keating, we know Shonda Rhimes can write some of TV's greatest female anti-heroes.
Running a The Bachelor-style show is not easy. For Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby), producing the faux show Everlasting is an exercise in seeing how far you can push people for good entertainment. Often, they're just "doing their job" and giving the people what they want. But, on occasion, they push the boundaries of what's right and acceptable, and they have not only ruined lives but also facilitated in ending them as well. Despite all this, we still root for these bad*ss ladies. They both have "money, d*ck, power" emblazoned on them and despite the terrible stuff all three of those attributes have made them do, we can't help but love their feminist energy.
Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) began the series as a suburban mom selling pot to help her family get by in the wake of her husband's death. We felt for Nancy and her family as we watched her get into this dark world of dealing drugs. But soon enough, Nancy becomes entranced with the criminal underworld and falls deeper and deeper into it. This leads Nancy and her family across the country, to Mexico, and even to jail. We learn that Nancy is selfish beyond measure and a poor decision maker. Still, at the end of the day, we root for her. We want to see her succeed because of the love she has for her family. She may not be the best mother in the world, but there is no denying that she loves her kids and the haberdashed family that surround them. Nancy was one of the first female anti-heroes to crop up on-screen during a time when only men were allowed to be complicated.
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is one of the *many* people fighting for the Iron Throne. She seems to be the obvious choice to lead. She has spent time freeing slaves in Essos, she cares for the people around her, and she actually listens to her council. Despite all of her amazing traits, there is still the conquerer side of her personality and a power-hungriness that she's tried to deny but can't totally shake. She is a big fan of the reasoning that whatever she does to get on the Iron Throne and serve the people is worth it. Sometimes that means killing innocent people and using her dragons as weapons of war. Whether or not she'll ever go crazy like her father, "The Mad King," remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure — she's much more complex than a docile, princess-like future Queen.
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is one of the most complicated female anti-heroes on television. After her stint as a literal superhero ends poorly, Jessica becomes a private investigator. Her life is marred by tragedy and PTSD. Plus, she drinks a lot and has no qualms about telling someone to "f off." But, despite all this, she actively tries to use her considerable skills for good and help people. While being a traditional superhero didn't suit her, being her own version of a hero actually works. She's often incredibly hard to like (but who says women need to be well-liked anyway?), still, it isn't in her nature to be a bad person or to hurt others out of spite. Deep down, she wants to help people. Sometimes it's a difficult process for her to be heroic, but she usually figures out that she can do it in her own way — In between making sarcastic jabs and breaking windows with her fists, of course!