What makes a TV character intimidating? There’s the ability to wield weapons, but it goes deeper than that. Intimidation happens on a psychological level, creating a palpable sense that the one standing before you can harm you in some manner whether it be by belittling you, or causing physical impairment. These characters from HBO’s row of original series (which you can catch on HBO NOW), run the gamut from sexually explosive to physically imposing, but they all maintain the same scary qualities.
Here are 15 of the most intimidating HBO television characters of all-time. Just remember that fear begets fear, so try not to allow your bottom lip to quiver in the presence of these frightening figures. (Warning: Some slight spoilers abound)
15) Chris & Snoop (The Wire)
As the muscle behind Marlo Stanfield’s Baltimore drug operation, Chris Partlow and Snoop (Gbenga Akinnagbe and Felicia Pearson) are ferocious killers who made an art out of hiding corpses in the vacated row homes in the city’s slums. Like Omar Little, Chris and Snoop gained a reputation for dispensing of their enemies in ruthless fashion (although, Little was more likely to scare his enemies into hiding).
14) Titus Pullo (Rome)
What’s more intimidating than a hulking, Roman beast who maintains the ability to cut your head off with one swipe of his sword? Not much. In HBO and BBC’s co-produced 2005 – 2007 series, Rome, Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) likes his mead and his women just as much as he likes fighting, and he proves a formidable enemy to anyone willing to exchange blows with him. Stevenson would eventually play the ultimate badass, The Punisher, in 2008’s Punisher: War Zone, proving that the British-Irish actor can dole out punishment in any era.
13) Jessa Johansson (Girls)
In Lena Dunham’s Girls, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is the kind of young woman you’d want on your side during an argument. Brash, confident and strongly aware of her sexuality, she has no problem shoving away a bare-chested woman or telling you your boyfriend should kill himself. Like Samantha from Sex and the City, Jessa’s brazen convictions make her a force to be reckoned with, and it makes her extremely intimidating to both sexes.
12) Kenny Powers (Eastbound & Down)
A baseball pitcher with the ability to pop out someone’s eye with a fastball, Kenny Powers is an intimidating specimen. Add in Kenny’s (Danny McBride) almost superhuman knack for braggadocios (“You’re f*cking out,” is a favorite), and you have a monstrous amalgamation of bravado and talent that’s hard to compete with. Also, Powers can drink and drug you under the table with one hand tied behind his back. Boom.
11) Ruth Fisher (Six Feet Under)
On the surface, Ruth Fisher (Golden Globe-winner Francis Conroy) seems like a gentle, kind woman. But, get her mad and she becomes a raging whirlwind of emotions who punctuates her speech with f-bombs. Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under is a show about the feelings and secrets that lie beneath, but Ruth wears her feelings on her sleeve.
10) Seth Bullock (Deadwood)
Before the age of handheld automatic weapons, it was key to be able to draw your revolver from its holster as quickly as possible. Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) is a man who knows how to shoot from the hip, and in one of the first episodes of Deadwood, his speed matches that of famed Wild West gunman Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine). Bullock is one of the most feared gunslingers in Deadwood, his ability eventually garnering him the title of Sheriff of the South Dakota camp. His bravery and tendency to back down to no man — including one devious gentleman on this list — makes him a daunting opponent for anyone in his path.
9) Samantha Jones (Sex and the City)
For men, few things are as intimidating as a woman who’s not only aware of her sexuality, but who’s unafraid to wield it like a scythe. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is the sexpot of HBO’s Sex and the City, a woman who knows what she wants in a man and knows what she wants out of each respective relationship.
8) Al Capone (Boardwalk Empire)
When a man bludgeons someone to death with a desk ornament, it’s probably safe to say that that man is someone not to be trifled with. Al Capone (Stephen Graham) is a proper gentleman when it comes to taking care of his wife and handicapped son in Boardwalk Empire. But when it comes down to business, the Chicago gangster is a blood curdling, ruthless man who has no qualms about using his caged ferocity to beat, stab or shoot someone to death — even if it’s one of his own guys.
7) Simon Adebisi (Oz)
Prison can make even the toughest man squeal or shriek in terror, and Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is the kind of guy whose mere presence was intimidating enough to make you stare at the ground when passing him in a prison corridor. In Tom Fontana’s prison drama, Oz, Adebisi is locked up for slicing off an undercover cop’s head, but Adebisi is also a feared drug-dealer (and rapist) who’s terrorized more than a fair share of the inmates in the Emerald City prison, and even helps stage a coup of the facility.
6) Al Swearengen (Deadwood)
Sometimes, the most feared man in any situation is not the most physical, but the most intelligent. Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) has that in spades. As the proprietor of the Gem Saloon and brothel, Al uses his cunning instincts to position himself at the helm of every power play in the camp of Deadwood. Few men (and women) can match wits with Al, and when his political prowess doesn’t serve him, he always makes sure he has a knife to seal the deal.
5) Vernon Schillinger (Oz)
As the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood in Emerald City, Vernon Schillinger (Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons) is right up there with Adebisi. Like Adebisi, Schillinger is a sexual deviant, and uses rape to torture other inmates, specifically Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen). A violent racist and homophobe, Schillinger uses his vast network of Aryans — inside and outside of the prison — to murder and maim anyone that stood in the way of his cause. And, whatever you do, never mispronounce his name.
4) Gyp Rosetti (Boardwalk Empire)
In the pantheon of violent criminals in Boardwalk Empire‘s history, perhaps none are as maniacal and twisted as Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale, in an Emmy-winning performance). Gyp is not only an intelligent entity — his stranglehold of Atlantic City’s booze pipeline became a big problem for Nucky — he’s also incredibly violent, going as far as dousing a policeman in gasoline and setting fire to him. Rosetti is also a sexual masochist who enjoyed getting strangled during sex acts, which provides an even stranger wrinkle to his demented characterization.
3) Omar Little (The Wire)
Whistling down the street while carrying a gigantic shotgun may not be the most stealthy of maneuvers, but Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) is confident in his abilities. (It doesn’t hurt that he also scouts his targets for maximum efficiency.) The boldness of his tactics serves more as a warning than an offensive front. Like other characters on this list, Omar sports a high IQ, one that allows him to rob drug dealers and stash houses with little help. His reputation precedes him, and if he can score a robbery without firing a shot — in many instances, he does — then his job is that much easier. When it comes to gunplay, though, few are a match for Omar, and just the mere mention of “Omar comin’,” can make tough guys wet their pants, including the fearsome Stringer Bell.
2) Brother Mouzone (The Wire)
What do you get when you cross a Muslim, bow-tie wearing idealist with a merciless hitman? You get Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts). Mouzone is feared in the streets of Baltimore for his proclivity in concluding his business exchanges with the help of a handgun, but there was much mystery to the man due to his upstanding demeanor and cold and methodical manner. In the scene that announces his arrival, Mouzone doesn’t hesitate to shoot Cheese (Method Man) with plastic pellets before warning him that the next round was a live hollow-point of his “own creation.” That scene captures what Mouzone is about: You either obey his code, or you meet the Reaper.
1) Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
The strength in Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) intimidation lies in his unpredictability. It’s hard to know what Tony is going to do next, whether he’s attacking one of his own bodyguards without prompt, beating a nightclub bartender with a phone or shooting his cousin in the face, many of Tony’s violent acts come without warning. His volatile temperament is rarely challenged, and to say he’s a bully would be an understatement. Somewhere, deep down beneath his bear-like build is a semblance of compassion, but it’s a trait that rarely surfaced.
Make no mistake: Tony Soprano is not a “good” guy. He’s a beast — a snarling, fanged, monster of a man who perhaps took no pleasure in killing, but did not lose sleep when he had to take a life. In some cases, Tony doesn’t have to kill, but that doesn’t deter the head mafioso from getting his hands bloody.
Honorable mentions: Stringer Bell (The Wire), Brother Justin Crowe (Carnivale), Avon Barksdale (The Wire), The Greek (The Wire), Arthur (The Larry Sanders Show), Marlo Stanfield (The Wire), Pauly Walnuts (The Sopranos), Tobias Beecher (Oz), Cy Tolliver (Deadwood) and Valentin Narcisse (Boardwalk Empire).