The Sopranos

10 TV Villains With The Saddest Backstories

Some of TV's best villains aren't just born evil but instead go through heart-breaking experiences that turn them bad.

This year has seen a lot of prequels and spin off series, diving deeper into the stories of specific characters in the respective stories. For the prequel series to Game of Thrones, for example, fans are excited to see the history of the notorious House Targaryen in HBO’s House of the Dragon

Some of the greatest villains in television history come from hardened pasts, which prove that a monster isn’t always born that way, but instead forged by circumstance. Even in the most diabolical acts, there is usually a sense of grandiose purpose behind the actions of some of TV’s best villains that make them so engaging. Although there are many iconic villains, some of their backstories stand out from the rest.

Nate Jacobs – Euphoria


High school jock Nate Jacobs is Euphoria’s main antagonist. Stepping over anyone who challenges him, he aims to achieve his goals in unethical ways. His calculating nature sets him apart from average football player peers by being far beyond aggressive. Development into this persona starts with layers of unresolved trauma.

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After discovering his father’s collection dad of explicit videos at a young age, Nate begins to develop a twisted sense of masculinity and sexuality. Being raised to be conventionally masculine by a controlling father develops serious anger issues and a warped perception of relationships. Largely because of this, Nate has desperately tried to repress growing up, and he is sometimes unable to straighten out what his true feelings are.

Walter White – Breaking Bad

Walter White holding a stick in Breaking Bad

Brian Cranston showed the world he could go from sitcom dad in Malcolm in the Middle to meth empire status in Breaking Bad. Walter White is proof that power can corrupt even the most innocent people. Seen is his descent into a brutish man who will go to lengths to save his business.

Before ruthless Heisenberg, Walter was an ordinary science teacher. When he is diagnosed with cancer, it spurs him to use his mastery in chemistry to cook and sell crystal meth to financially provide for his family. What makes his story so tragic is not necessarily his diagnosis, but the small moments in which he switches from fatherly do-gooder to selfishly cruel drug lord.

Jinx – Arcane

Riot League of Legends Jinx Arcane Netflix

The League of Legends series Arcane gave game fans a deep dive into several of its beloved Champions. Among those are sisters Vi and Powder, the latter of which becomes one of the show’s main antagonists, Jinx. Alongside excellent animation, the show does a great job showcasing Jinx’s rise to calculating criminal.

Before she was Jinx, Powder was a curious and clumsy kid who idolized her big sister. She lost her parents early in childhood, which was deeply traumatizing and kick-started abandonment and codependent issues in Jinx. Things got worse for her when she accidentally killed her adopted family in an attempt to save them, then she was brutally blamed by Vi. Confused years later, she is unable to move on from her past, which sends her spiraling into a tortured mental state as Jinx.

Twisty – American Horror Story: Freak Show


The clown in American Horror Story’s fourth season is a retired clown turned violent slayer. Twisty was a kind person before the events of his tragic past took place. Part of his horrendous nature is that he continues to believe he is acting on genuine kindness by committing his horrible acts.

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Originally a beloved clown, Twisty was framed by his fellow circus members for sexual assault against a minor. Driven by their jealousy of his popularity, they sabotaged his career in the circus. Twisty returns home and learns that his mother has died and later attempts to end his life unsuccessfully. He is left with a severely disfeatured face because of this, and it creates a tragic downward spiral for the once-beloved entertainer.

The Governor – The Walking Dead

The Governor holding a machete in The Walking Dead

Beyond the frenzied zombies, The Walking Dead had a multitude of villains who looked to take power where they could in a crumbling society. One of the series’ most vile villains was The Governor. He was ready to abuse and/or kill anyone he saw as a threat to his authority. Through charisma, he established his leadership role, but it was through his despicable behavior he remained in power.

Growing up in a hostile environment, his brother’s futile attempts to stand up to their abusive dad had a strong impact on The Governor’s development. What added to his trauma later in life was losing his wife and his daughter. Due to his inability to come to terms with Penny turning into a zombie, Philip kept her infected corpse locked away inside his closet.

Al Swearengen – Deadwood

Al Swearengen

Al Swearengen is the hard-to-define villain in Deadwood. He is known throughout the town of Deadwood as a back-stabbing criminal but also a wise advisor figure that members of the town turned to. Al’s difficult past created a selfish man quick to kill others, especially to his own benefit.

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Early abandonment and violence at a young age are massive parts of what makes Al a deadly proprietor. He was raised in an orphanage and later adopted. Forced to endure a lot of physical and mental trauma and suffering many beatings at the hands of his adoptive father during his childhood undoubtedly helped shape Al’s merciless personality.

Homelander – The Boys

Homelander the boys

Homelander is the antagonist from The Boys, based on the comic of the same name. Despite Homelander seeming to be a hero, he is actually a sadistic supervillain who enjoys manipulating and killing people. Going as far as letting a plane of civilians crash, Homelander is seriously messed up.

Raised by Vought lab doctors, Homelander never had access to parental affection or a chance to develop loving family bonds. He was put through a myriad of painful physical experiments, surgeries to test his abilities, and strict mental brainwashing to mold his personality. The heavy trauma from his upbringing is a big cause for manifesting his erratic and dangerous persona as an adult.

Ice King – Adventure Time

Ice King in the Shower with Gunter and the Penguins on Adventure Time

Ice King is known in Adventure Time as the villain whose quest is to kidnap Princess Bubblegum and take the Candy Kingdom under his rule. His villainous persona is genius because his character represents the difficulties of living with self-isolation. The man with the comically oversized crown, once known for his goodwill, is a villain with quite a tragic backstory.

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Ice King was once an olive-skinned young man named Simon Petrikov who had a fiancé named Betty. An aspiring antiquarian, Simon came across a strange jeweled crown that, once put on his head, caused him to have odd visions and blackouts. Fighting with and screaming at the hallucinations, he frightened Betty away and never saw her again.

Cersei Lannister – Game of Thrones

Cersei Lannister smirking in Game of Thrones.

The last monarch to sit on the Iron Throne, Cersei Lannister is a tyrant which fans of Game of Thrones both cheer for and want to see fall. She is deliciously deceptive and calculating, motivated by duty and power. Cersei remained the cunning antagonist throughout the GOT series.

Cersei lost her mother in childhood and rarely saw her father at home, as he was the Hand of the King. Growing up without her parents hardened her childhood. Coupled with an ominous prophecy given to her at age fifteen, being politically married to King Baratheon, she developed paranoia and distrust. Cersei is a product of a male-dominated world in which she must do anything she can to stay afloat.

Livia – The Sopranos

Livia Soprano wearing pink in The Sopranos

The Sopranos, a show about a mob family, almost everyone is a villain. Livia, the Soprano matriarch, was among the worst. She reveled in the chance to undermine her son every chance she could, even going so far as trying to kill him. Livia is proof that some of the worst villains can be within the family.

Further explored in the prequel film, Many Saints of Newark, Livia’s childhood was one that was poverty-stricken. She grew up desperate for change; her marriage to Johnny Soprano was her only way to get out of her parent’s house. Livia felt unappreciated by her unfaithful husband and overwhelmed with the responsibility to run a household. She traded one miserable home for another, and this soured her.

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