Boardwalk Empire took place at the crossroads of mobster conflicts and political turmoil, an intersection of American capitalism and American crime that was home to its share of heartbreak and violence. With The Sopranos‘ Terrence Winter as creator and Martin Scorsese serving as one of its executive producers, the series — which is streaming on HBO NOW — promised and delivered a lot of bloodshed, the natural result of a series that saw the interests of New York and Chicago filtering through Atlantic City.
But, which character’s hands were the bloodiest? And which delivered the kills with the most flourish? We’re specifically looking at the characters who got their hands dirty, not the ones who called the shots and stood back. So, with that said, let’s dive into this boardwalk of blood and find out who was the most brutal character on Boardwalk Empire.
(Warning: Major spoilers ahead.)
7) “Nucky” Thompson
Nucky (Steve Buscemi) was warned by Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) that you can’t be a half-gangster, and with the killing of Darmody himself, the Atlantic City boss declared that half-measures would no longer serve him. Thompson isn’t directly responsible for many killings, but he more than proves himself when three of Gyp Rosetti’s men storm his headquarters and are met by a hail of bullets. However, like many characters in the series, you live by the gun and you die by said instrument. In the end, Darmody’s son killed Nucky in much the same fashion that Nucky killed his father.
6) Nelson Van Alden
Initially, Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) seemed like a stand-up government man but, under the surface, it always felt like he might be a little bit unhinged. When that hinge finally broke, a monster broke through and Van Alden dove feet first into the business of killing folks for the mafia, specifically Al Capone.
There were times when Van Alden almost seemed to hate that he was killing people, but then there were times when his rage took over and he enjoyed some sort of cathartic experience from it. But, make no mistake, Van Alden was not a “good” man — whether he was killing police officers or killing other mafia members, you got a sense that he was murdering to soothe the voices inside him.
5) Manny Horvitz
The Butcher (William Forsythe) was not a character Boardwalk Empire revisited that often, but when he did show, you knew that someone was going to see the business end of a meat cleaver. Two immediate instances stick out in the mind of Boardwalk fans: the above moment when he dug a blade into a hitman’s head, and the grotesque scene where he killed Angela Darmody and her mistress. The latter is more of the cause for Manny Horvitz’s appearance on this list, as it was one of the more shocking and brutal scenes in the entire series.
4) Jimmy Darmody
As Nucky’s one-time right-hand (who had an even more lethal right-hand), Jimmy got to put down a variety of characters. War made Darmody cold and calculating, and he utilized that asset to get to a high place in the mob food chain. With Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) by his side, the pair punished Nucky’s enemies. But when Nucky and Jimmy had a falling out, the punishment came back around and Jimmy never got to avenge Angela’s death, instead meeting the reaper in front of her killer.
3) Gyp Rosetti
Perhaps the most deranged character in the history of the series, Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) took pleasure in inflicting torture, pain, and death upon those who crossed him. Some of his grim standout moments include setting a police officer on fire via a gas pump and pummeling a man to death with a shovel. His murders ranked high on the brutality scale, and to some, his death, by way of a knife, seemed too gentle. Cannavale played the mobster with a vicious intensity, and his portrayal stands as a master class in antagonism.
2) Al Capone
Like Van Alden and Rosetti, Al Capone (Stephen Graham) had a few screws loose, but he was quite the hand to have by your side when the bullets started flying. This is why Nucky employed his services when the proverbial sh*t hit the fan during his conflict with Rosetti. Perhaps the ultimate instance of Capone’s insanity happened when he beat one of his own guys to death with a desk ornament. Still, Capone was a good family man — you just didn’t want to cross the gentleman of small stature.
1) Richard Harrow
It’s not that Richard Harrow was overtly aggressive, maniacal, or even sadistic — he was ruthless, yes, but even more than that was the methodical manner in which he would dispatch his enemies. Harrow didn’t seem to take any pleasure in killing, but it also didn’t bother him one bit. He treated the death of his targets as just another day at the office.
Harrow’s barrage of brutality (as in the above scene), out of context, is a grisly affair, but in the context of Boardwalk Empire, it’s par for the course.