The 10 Greatest HBO Characters of All Time

With True Detective ending and Game of Thrones just starting back up, we got into an interesting discussion around the Cool Material office: Who is the greatest HBO character of all time? This turned into a passionate debate. Hell, the network has been putting tremendously complex characters on the screen for decades. We decided to try and come together and attempt to create a top 10 list based on all our opinions. This is what we’ve got:

10. Nelson Van Alden

Boardwalk Empire
Michael Shannon is one of those guys you know but you don’t know (at least until Man of Steel came out). He also happens to be the most intriguing character from Boardwalk Empire. Think Walter White with a creepier stare.






9. Carmela Soprano

The Sopranos
Behind every great man there’s a great woman. Edie Falco snagged numerous awards for her performance as Carmela, tapping into an array of fears and aggravations that would come with being married to a mafia kingpin. In fact, the show often revolved around her quest for happiness and her struggles with inner demons.




8. Al Swearengen

Deadwood
One of the best examples of an HBO character who was far from two-dimensional, Al Swearengen was a complex monster. Ian McShane’s performance nabbed him a Golden Globe back in 2005.







7. Jimmy McNulty

The Wire
The Wire is arguably the greatest television show of all time, and if you had to pick a central character (difficult), you’d probably have to go with Jimmy McNulty. He’s the quintessential antihero who plays by his own rules between hangovers. He also happens to possess a certain cool factor that makes him the perfect cop to mix it up with the characters on the streets of Baltimore.



6. Kenny Powers

Eastbound & Down
There were a few comedic characters considered for this list – Ali G, Larry David (is he a character?) – but when it came to one that was truly rounded, we had to go with Kenny Powers. The mullet-rocking pitcher is so wonderfully full of himself and so oblivious to his harshness that he’s like a walking punchline.





5. Rust Cohle

True Detective
If there were to be more episodes of True Detective with Rust in them, he would no-doubt inch up higher on this list. The philosophical quote machine with a penchant for Lone Star Beer and cartons of cigarettes became a sensation in just eight episodes of the show.





4. Ari Gold

Entourage
When plotlines are as loose and slow-moving as they were in Entourage, you need some strong characters to carry the load (also lots of partying and hot girls). Jeremy Piven was tremendous as the brash agent for Vincent Chase, constantly pulling strings and dealing with the inexperience of Vince’s crew. 





3. Tony Soprano

The Sopranos
The hardest part of making this list was deciding the second and third spots. James Gandolfini’s performance as Tony Soprano was so amazing, so all-encompassing, that it was hard to see the late actor in any other role after the show ended. Tony was no 2D mobster that was often depicted in cinema, he struggled with his feelings, raising a family, and his own desires in life. He had his family at home and his family at “work,” and often the two presented dilemmas that would define him as a deeply complex character.




2. Tyrion Lannister

Game of Thrones
Peter Dinklage is so mind-blowingly brilliant as the whore and wine-obsessed member of the Lannisters that, in a show with about a zillion characters, he’s the one everyone cheers for. His wit makes him a formidable foe no matter his size or strength.






1. Omar Little

The Wire

Never has a character made whistling sound so ominous. Omar is such a unique character, one that could never be replicated, that he had to snag the number one spot on this list. He’s a criminal with his own set of morals, not unlike a street version of Robin Hood (kind of). The fact that he was homosexual, didn’t curse, and floated somewhere between good and evil made him 100% original. We’re not sure how many more shows HBO will have, but it will be very hard for any of them to feature a character that will knock Omar from this spot.