In television, why does an audience have sympathy for evil characters?

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Answered by: Ryan, An Expert in the Shows A-Z Category
The influx of groundbreaking television series has introduced us to a variety of themes and characters. Shying away from the nuclear family ideal of the 50's and exploring new territory in the realm of fantasy, the sympathy for evil characters seems to be sprouting in each new show.

There are two shows in particular that paint the image of an evil character, yet a part of us sympathizes and even cheers for these types of characters. Showtime's 'Dexter' and HBO's 'Game of Thrones' are two revolutionary shows which have changed the way we watch television. The two evil characters from each are Dexter Morgan and Tyrion Lannister. While we perceive them as evil, more often than not, we attempt to relate to them and see life through their eyes.



Looking at Dexter Morgan on the outside, he is a serial killer. In society, we rule that murdering is an evil act. However, Dexter is more than a serial killer. He, like many other individuals, fictional and real, is the product of his upbringing. Born in blood, we see the adult Dexter working as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department and on the side, he's well… a serial killer vigilante.

Dexter lives by a code by only removing those from society who don't deserve to live. His victims' actions have caused serious harm on society and he takes on the role of a vigilante. While it fills his need and is gruesome, do we as viewers see ourselves condoning his actions or praising him?



The next evil character is the dwarf son of Tywin Lannister, a renowned knight of a wealthy family. Tyrion the imp as he is referred to in both the television series and novel by George R. R. Martin, seems to by the slyest people of all. While his stature limits his physical abilities, he has a strong mind and wits, usually coercing others into doing his deeds. In short, he is a vile man with a hunger for alcohol and women.

Yet, I do not pity Tyrion for his size but rather applaud him for his honesty. When posed with a question he delivers a crude and honest answer. He harms others through what physical strength he does have but usually belittles them with his mind and uncensored tongue. Tyrion is always working an angle in which he can reap the benefits of others' demise while looking innocent. However, when the moments arise, Tyrion shows his true colors as a caring man buried under his crude remarks.

He tells the audience he has a heart for 'cripples, bastards, and broken things,' then extends his help to a family his can hardly stand. Despite the hostility between the Lannisters and the Starks, Tyrion sees past politics and focuses on people like him, the marginalized folk in a Game of Thrones. These seemingly trivial moments paint a much larger picture of Tyrion.

While he sets plans in motion to get what he desires, he does not lose focus of who he is and what he is capable of. He is not only a man able to kill with a whisper to another, Tyrion has the capacity to express love, kindness, and sincerity to those who need it even if they hate him for it.

The two characters, Dexter and Tyrion, come across as both deplorable members of society. One for his ritual of killing, the other for his cunning behavior and vile nature. However, when the shells are stripped away, each character shows us something we perhaps wish we were. Dexter does not tolerate crime and therefore takes it upon himself to rid the world of it. While his actions are questionable, whether or not he should be judge and jury, we accept him and believe what he's doing is necessary.

On the other hand, Tyrion utilizes his wits to create evil. Yes, maybe his hands are clean because it was not him who swung the sword, but he would have if he had the chance. But underlining his downright nasty tongue and vile actions, Tyrion is trying to make his way in the world the only way he knows. We should not hate him for what he does, but sympathize with him for what he must do to survive. Yes, he was born to a rich family but that family wants little to do with him. He's an outcast and will never forget. That's why his character is, in truth, relatable. When he comes across those less fortunate than him, not necessarily in economical terms, he extends a very helping hand to say 'I know what it's like and I'd like to help.'

At one point, we may have asked these shows be banned but as society has progressed, the ability to reach a wider audience has become available. The characters seen may not be ideal but ones like Dexter and Tyrion give us the opportunity to question a person beyond the surface of mere first impressions. It's hard to merely judge a character on the outside and these two particular shows paint vividly detailed images of atrocious individuals. However, after getting to know them and them for who they truly are, we learn to have sympathy for evil characters we may otherwise would have brushed off.

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