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As 2013 fades into the rear-view mirror, all eyes are on the road ahead. But before we move into 2014, let’s take one last look back at the year that just passed, and all of the great new TV characters that came with it.
From new shows like The Blacklist and Orange is the New Black to old reliables like Game of Thrones and the outgoing Breaking Bad, some of the best characters to appear on screen this year were all-new, all-2013 creations. Here’s my round-up of ten of the best heroes and villains the year had to offer.
10. Olenna Tyrell, Game of Thrones
Heading into Season 3, I’d have guessed Ciaran Hinds’ Mance Rayder would emerge as the fantasy drama’s new breakout character. I was very wrong, not only because the show has kept Mance a little too close to the vest, but also because Diana Rigg simply owns it as the Queen of Thorns. King’s Landing is already a contentious, fierce place for political operators and the politically oppressed, but Rigg as Olenna is a very welcome addition to the Westeros ranks.
9. Detective Robin Griffin, Top of the Lake
If you haven’t checked out The Sundance Channel’s new crime procedural miniseries, you have some binging to do. The quick (and totally unfair) pitch: it’s The Killing in New Zealand, starring Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men as a detective who returns to her hometown and embarks on a harrowing investigation. It’s one of the most beautifully shot shows of the year, thanks to the breathtaking New Zealand landscapes. It’s made all the more stunning by Moss’ commanding performance as Robin, highly competent at her job, but less so in her day-to-day life.
8. Ed the Disappearer, Breaking Bad
Robert Forester’s vacuum-store owner makes the list on sheer presence alone. He brings gravitas, cool professionalism and a certain warmth to every role he inhabits, and the one-off turn as the fabled “Disappearer” was no exception. Breaking Bad was never a stranger to excellent guest stars, but Forester’s Ed might stand out as one of the show’s very best.
7. Will Graham, Hannibal
The nastiest, most violent show on television isn’t on HBO, AMC, or any of those fancy cable channels. It’s on NBC with Bryan Fuller’s take on author Thomas Harris’ suspense novels. The blood-soaked series sports all kinds of colorful characters, including the titular cannibal — but at the end of the day, Hugh Dancy is the show’s heart and soul. As the haunted, tortured and extremely gifted Will Graham, Dancy turned in one of 2013’s most underrated performances, without question.
6. Sergeant Terry Jeffords, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Really, just about everybody on Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the best, from Andre Braugher as steel-jawed police captain Ray Holt to Joe Lo Truglio as awkward food blogger Charles Boyle. But if I can only pick one, I’ll hang my hat on Terry Crews. Crews comedy on a weekly basis is not a thing that sucks.
5. Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, Orange is the New Black
The only Netflix series that’s led me to binge every single episode in a single day, Orange is the New Black really is the new awesome. The cast is enormous in size and talent, but as with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I’ll only pick one: Taystee, the breakout inmate played by relative newcomer Danielle Brooks.
4. Ichabod Crane, Sleepy Hollow
On premise alone, there’s no reason Sleepy Hollow should work. The tale of the Headless Horseman, time-traveled to the modern-day Hudson Valley, with a contemporary cop working alongside a Colonial soldier to stop the apocalypse? Yeah, it’s a weird show, but it does work, thanks in large to Tom Mison’s charming and charismatic turn as the time-displaced fish out of water.
3. Elizabeth Jennings, The Americans
It’s a wild ride, watching the artist formerly known as Felicity Porter kicking ass and taking names for Mother Russia on FX’s new Cold War drama. Keri Russell showed promise as an action-star in the making in Mission: Impossible 3, and with The Americans, she’s fully bloomed. Elizabeth Jennings is cold and calculating, deadly and damaged, all at once. Not just one of the best new characters of 2013, Russell’s Elizabeth is one of the best characters on TV right now, full-stop.
2. FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen, The Blacklist
If you were a fan of 24 and Alias in their golden years, and you’re not watching The Blacklist, you’re doing it wrong. By my measure, it’s the best new network drama of the year, and perhaps the best new show of 2013, period. As rookie agent “Lizzie” Keen, Megan Boone does much of the show’s heavy lifting. (There’s a wig joke in there somewhere, and this is me resisting.) Boone as Keen is today’s answer to Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow: an immediately powerful and compelling heroine that makes every week of television that much better. She’s smart, she’s sweet, she’s capable. I believe in Elizabeth Keen.
1. Raymond “Red” Reddington, The Blacklist
James Spader’s turn as criminal mastermind turned FBI informant Red Reddington wins the year, as far as new characters are concerned. Red is one for the ages, a cackling trickster with a soft side — but it’s not a side you’re likely to see, unless you’re one of his oldest friends, or you’re on your death-bed. Soulful, mournful, filled with joy and rage in equal measure, Red ranks as one of television’s most complex and layered new characters, brought to brilliant life by Spader’s equally brilliant performance.
And Marvel fans, if you’re not watching Blacklist on the regular, you’re missing a weekly opportunity to see why Joss Whedon picked Spader as Ultron. Get on that.