You know how fiction goes—good guys, bad guys, maybe a couple of explosions here and then. Good guys save the day, the conflict ends, and the credits roll.
But what about the bad guys? Well, they are defeated and punished for their actions. In certain stories, they may even go through a redemption arc, after realizing they were in the wrong.
Even if, sometimes, they’re not in the wrong at all.
Sometimes, villains have the right idea. What they may portray as villainous intentions may actually be a desperate attempt to address a tangible problem that our heroes sometimes fail to address.
In the sacred words of Zangief—just because you’re bad guy, doesn’t mean you’re bad guy.
These villains have done bad things—despicable, even. We’re not saying they are right, because sometimes they’re simply not. However, their deplorable actions mask an intent that is, sometimes, misunderstood by the heroes. Despite the sense behind it.
Take a look at them.
1. Jaime Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones).
The impossible happened: George R.R. Martin made us love a character whose introductory scene had him push a kid out of a window.
In both books and adaptation, Jaime Lannister starts as a straightforward villain. Then, the narrative sheds light on his most despicable actions and transforms them into unseen acts of heroism. Reviled as the Kingslayer, many despise him for what might be his most honorable act—killing the king he swore to protect before he could obliterate hundreds of thousands.
Even his most unambiguously evil act, pushing Bran out of a window, came from a place of misguided concern. Bran had seen him having sex with his twin sister Cersei, and could speak of what he saw. If he had done so, King Robert could have had them executed, including their three children.
Of course, he shouldn’t have been sleeping with his sister in the first place. Details.
2. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)
How long ago did you see The Wizard of Oz for the last time? Odds are that, if you rewatch it now, you’ll have a fairly different understanding of the plot events.
When Dorothy arrives in Munchkinland, the citizens rejoice when her house lands atop the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her instantly. With a name like that, it’s not hard to imagine why her demise would be considered a good thing.
However, the sister of the victim, the Wicked Witch of the West, arrives to claim the slippers of her relative. It’s a reasonable request—she has the right to inherit them, after all. However, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, places them upon Dorothy’s shoes, which naturally enrages the Wicked Witch.
Sure, the Wicked Witch of the West performs a couple murder attempts on Dorothy and her friends, but her core goal was to get her sister’s shoes back. And she got killed for it. She wasn’t particularly good, but she wasn’t wrong.
3. Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)
Thor: Ragnarok’s Hela is undoubtedly a villain, and a dangerous one. Her megalomaniac desires set Asgard on the path to destruction, to sate her desire to conquer everything standing her way. However, she is merely doing what her father taught her was okay to do.
Asgard became as successful as it was thanks to Odin and Hela’s bloody and vicious conquests. Odin was a warlord, and with his daughter Hela by his side, they wrecked chaos everywhere for the glory of Asgard. Then, he decided that peace was the way. Good for him. But instead of acknowledging his past genocide, he sought to hide any evidence of it—including Hela herself.
So, in short terms: Odin grew tired of his old ways, and instead of acknowledging his mistakes, he locked away his firstborn daughter and hid her existence. Instead of trying to help her see his way, he went on and had a brand-new family while keeping her locked away.
4. The Hyenas (The Lion King)
Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed are Scar’s sidekicks and the most prominent hyenas in Disney’s The Lion King.
They, alongside other hyenas, are quick to assist Scar in his regicide and fratricide plans. In fact, they’re displayed in Nazi-esque imagery to make us understand how evil these creatures are. Even Scar held them in contempt, considering them “crude and unspeakably plain”.
But the film explains the motivation behind their actions—hunger.
The hyenas were banished to the Elephant Graveyard, a desolated wasteland without food. Starving is a pretty reasonable motivation for anyone to seek a regime change, and Scar promised t that if they remain loyal to him, they’d never go hungry again.
Granted, the Pride Lands under Scar’s rule is a disaster, and it’s all but implied the hyenas ate through it all. But let’s also remember Scar was shown to be an incompetent leader, so I’m inclined to believe the disaster is a result of his ineffective methods. Let’s be real, it shouldn’t reflect poorly on the poor hyenas.
5. Erik Killmonger (Black Panther).
The world is an unequal place, with many suffering atrocities daily. Amongst us, a selected minority has the resources to make a tangible difference, yet they choose not to do so.
Does this enrage you? Would you like to make a difference? If so, congratulations! You have a lot more in common with Erik Killmonger than you thought.
As a half Afro-American child, Erik grew up conscious of the hardships of Africans everywhere. But as a half Wakandian, he couldn’t understand why his father’s nation didn’t make a difference in the world, despite having the means to do so. Choosing inaction, to him, is silent support.
So he took matters in his own hands.
Although Killmonger’s hope for a violent uprising and the slaughter of thousands is reprehensible, it’s hard not to see where he’s coming from. T’Challa understood this and, although Killmonger’s actions were inexcusable, he eventually agreed that Wakanda’s duty was to make a difference.
6. Sharpay Evans (High School Musical.)
We’ve talked about murderers, genocides, witches, and even incestuous regicides. You know what this ranking lacks? All things fabulous, bigger and better and best.
Sharpay Evans was, to put it simply, bitchy. She was sassy, spoiled, and not too pleasant to talk with. But you know what she was not? Wrong.
Rewatching High School Musical after your childhood is over makes you see Sharpay in a different light. Out of the entire cast, she and her brother were the most passionate about theatre musicals and the scenic arts. True, she was spoiled and not too pleasant, but that’s hardly a crime.
She was hardworking and committed to the school plays, while the protagonists saw the music as something extra. Since she took it more seriously than most, it’s not hard to see why she wouldn’t be pleased by Troy and Gabriela eventually taking the lead roles.
This is totally unfair. Sorry Kelsi, but Sharpay and Ryan’s version of What I’ve Been Looking For is way better. Don’t yell at me.
7. Chef Skinner (Ratatouille).
Okay, let’s set things straight. Chef Skinner is an angry little man. He’s selfish, greedy, shady, and not a very pleasant person. He’s sold out Gusteau’s name to the best buyer, subsequently lowering the restaurant’s reputation until it remains a shadow of what it was.
Or, according to who you ask, he was doing what needed to be done to keep the restaurant afloat and pay his staff accordingly. Even if his desire to get rid of Linguini was mean-spirit and malicious, his attempts to discover the rat in the kitchen were not. Could you blame him? I certainly can’t.
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