Whether you’re good, bad or somewhere in-between you know the plight of the hero. In stories, that may involve saving the city, or rescuing a group of school children from a burning building, maybe, if he’s lucky (in the case of a male lead) he might even steal a kiss from the heroine. It’s all quite cut and dry. The good guy saves the day, the bad guy is left to lament his decisions. But over the past decade or so, that reliable model has started to wain. The villain now must have layers––like a good chocolate cake––that covers, not only the darkest recesses of his maddened mind, but also the delicate caress of a soul that has been brought to the brink of evil by his past. No longer is the villain simply the bad guy, he is, on the odd occasion, also the good guy.
Shows such as the Vampire diaries, with characters like Damon Salvator, did this in a way that you couldn’t help but fall in love with their truly endearing qualities. Of course there are moments when the darkness gets the better of them, but really, by that point, you like the character so much, you really don’t care. The best example of this is Breaking Bad’s Walter White, who, in my opinion, is the ultimate Anti-hero. Through his actions he all but looses everything. He becomes the devil in a white dress––devious and unrelenting on the inside, with the face of a saint on the outside. In the end you had no idea whether or not you are cheering him on. Confusion is the name of the game. If you are uncertain about a character, the writers have done their job.
Of course there are still the worst of the worst, the pre-eminent antagonist, and no one does it better than George R.R. Martin. His take on it is simple: hate him with all you have. I’m not sure I’ve ever disliked someone more in my life than Joffrey Baratheon, that was, of course, until Ramsey Bolton reared his ugly head. Bad to the very core, cut and dry. No layers, just frosted dislike.
There is a fine line between distaste to acceptance and distaste to loathing, but if penned right, that scale could tip either way. One minute you could be lost in the good deeds of a character, and the next witnessing his spiral into an abyss you’re sure they can’t escape from. For me, it makes for the all encompassing character. Someone who can spit in your eye one minute and risk his life to save the drowning heroine the next. You’re never exactly sure what you’re going to get. But in that, you also never get bored. The character’s story is limitless, for they are neither good, nor bad. They are simply a tangled web of mystery. A mystery that can be unwrapped, wrapped and unwrapped again a thousand times over. Personally, I think we can all relate to the antihero––good and bad is in all of us, even if we won’t always admit it. It’s for that reason that the new revolution in character development gives us such enjoyment––it leads us to challenge our own moral limits. Knowing your tipping point when things are going well is one thing, but take your life, spin it around into a blurred pit of despair and see where the darkness takes you.
That is the core to a good anti-hero, someone who is not inherently bad, but finds themselves burdened by the rigours of a life they did not expect to have. Or simply a situation they never thought they would find themselves in. The villain, the hero, they are not so different, they simply have had different experiences. Some shape their destructive side, while others push the barriers of benevolence. So next time you sit down and watch your favourite show or read you favourite book, take a moment and think, what would I do in the same situation? Your response will answer one simple question, the question we’re all secretly wondering: Am I, myself, the antihero?