There are two undeniable truths about Americans: We love guns and television is the foundation of our modern culture. This being the case, it’s no surprise that many of our favorite shows, from Archer to Breaking Bad to True Detective focus heavily on guns and the people who use them. But who is the top gunslinger on television? Remember, the mere act of pulling the trigger does not a gunslinger make (still looking at you there, Todd).
The term “gunslinger” evokes the image of a pistol-twirling American cowboy, and for good reason. Hero or villain, the cowboy gunslinger combined skill with style, righteous anger with an occasional dose of humor. In other words, to be a true fictional gunslinger you can’t just shoot people. You have to look good while doing it. I’ve rated these characters on their shooting skills as well as their “slinging” ability to come up with a definitive ranking. The gunslinger rating is difficult to fully explain but easy to understand. It’s the character’s style, that je ne sais quoi which separates the Doc Hollidays of our endlessly violent and entertaining world from the Ike Clantons. Also, I only included shows that have aired in the past year, otherwise this post would just be 5,000 words on why I’m still p*ssed that Deadwood got cancelled.
#9 & #10 Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, True Detective
Rust and Marty are hard to rate, and not just because the show hasn’t wrapped yet. True Detective is more focused on exploring the psyche of each man, rather than showcasing their trigger fingers. Also, if time is a flat circle, such concerns are probably pointless anyway. All that being said, these two have a solid background in gunslinging. It’s also hard to imagine that this show will end without a few more shots being fired.
Marty Hart is your standard-issue lawman (at least when it comes to guns). He even carries a six-shooter, which he used on the scumbag Reggie LeDoux to great effect. Even though the detectives haven’t actually done a whole lot of shooting yet, they are both extremely violent men. In fact it’s hard to tell what Marty loves more, his family or a mix of violence, women, and booze. Rust Cohle, while being a more difficult person to analyze, is easier to rate as a gungslinger. We know he spent a lot of time undercover and was shot three times. He can certainly dress the part, and he kept a few party favors from his time as a narc. Recent events have shown that Cohle possesses the ability to operate in high-stress situations while under the influence of enough drugs to make Toronto Mayor Rob Ford say, “Let’s dial it back.” There are a lot of theories floating around regarding the conclusion of True Detective. My only prediction is more bloodshed, and no matter how it turns out Cohle and Hart at least have the tools to get the job done.
Gunslinger rating: Obligatory…
#8 Frank Reynolds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Sure Sunny wasn’t the first show that came to mind when you clicked on this article. But let’s not forget that The Gang has a long and difficult history with firearms. If you take the term “gunslinger” literally you end up with with the following definition: “to cast a gun with a sudden and usually sweeping or swirling motion.” Nobody fits that description better than Frank Reynolds. Every character on this show is deranged to one extent or another, but no one is more dangerous than Frank. His method of slinging usually involves drinking heavily and threatening to “blast” anyone in his immediate vicinity. Frank’s love of intoxicants and YOLO attitude towards guns (pictured above) has led to some tragic results. Like the time he ended Doyle McPoyle’s fledgling football career in ‘The Gang Gets Invincible’. This resulted in a dangerous hostage situation. Frank had a chance to be a real hero in the ensuing standoff on the roof Paddy’s Pub. But when he attempted to finish off the cursed McPoyle clan he missed them all at close range.
Going one for four in McPoyle blasting isn’t going to win anyone major points here. Still I have to give Frank some credit, not only for his capacity for random acts of violence, but also because he played a role in inventing the Shot Gun.
Gunslinger rating: The only time Frank should be allowed to touch a gun is during re-shoots of ‘Lethal Weapon 6’
#7 Chibs Telford, Sons of Anarchy
Choosing just one gunfighter from Sons is like trying to figure out who the best drunk on Mad Men is (for the record, that would be Roger). This modern-day outlaw Western is a running bloodbath. At one point last season I lost track of how many ambushes Jax & Pals had successfully carried out and my only frame of reference for specific episodes became which criminal group had been wiped out the night before. Every member of SAMCRO has made a significant contribution to the mayhem, but Chibs ultimately gets the nod because of his long history as a successful gunman and enforcer as well as his stoic attitude when confronting long odds. Few members of the gang limit themselves to firearms, knives and fists are nearly as popular. Having been on both sides of the Glasgow Smile, Chibs has set himself apart as the member of the gang who can most efficiently dispatch the competition.
Gunslinger rating: Capable of handling anything, including this…
#6 Hank Schrader, Breaking Bad
Hank is a study in contrasts. That is to say, he was both a knucklehead and a hardcore SOB. I suspect that if you took all the scenes of Hank with a gun in his hand out of Breaking Bad, he’d end up looking like a better-paid Barney Fife most of the time. Hank was prone to telling bad jokes and dressing like a manager at Target. But all that ignores the fact that when his Glock came out, the bullsh*t stopped. As a rising star in the DEA, Hank’s gun skills contributed to his stellar reputation in the agency and earned him promotions, parties, and a gangster’s grill.
Unfortunately, brother-in-law Walter White’s sins were frequently visited upon the members of his family. In Hank’s case this meant getting shot, a lot. But in the excruciating seconds that followed, when Hank held his life in his own hands, you forgot all about the dumb jokes because he refused to go down easy. Hank didn’t get the death he deserved, but in the spirit of some great gunslingers who went before him, he accepted his fate with gravitas.
Gunslinger rating: Hell yeah.
#5 Tim Gutterson, Justified
Mike Ehmantraut was a gunslinger who took little pleasure in his craft. A professional who abhorred loose ends, he came across few problems that he felt couldn’t be solved with the proper application of lead. Guns were merely the tools of his chosen trade. He was good with them but would have preferred that the criminal enterprises he was involved in ran smoothly so he could spend more time with his granddaughter. On a show filled with memorable characters, he stood out. This had a lot to do with his attitude, a mixture of boredom and anger brought out by incompetent people who he felt were better off dead. The curse of Walter White spared few characters in Breaking Bad. Like so many people who live by the gun, Mike’s life did not end well. Still, it will be a long time before I forget his mastery of the suppressed handgun.
Gunslinger rating: Second to none.
#1 Raylan Givens, Justified
Look, we all knew where this was going. Justified is so consistently good, and Raylan is such charming badass that I’m almost at a loss for words to describe the most endearing gunslinger on television. Raylan has turned the humble Glock into the Swiss Army Knife of pistols. Seriously, he’s like the Jackson Pollock of lawmen; fundamentally redefining the relationship between crime and justice while using his sidearm in ways no one had ever considered before. Raylan’s only weakness as far as I can tell is his stubborn insistence on lone-wolfing it. The Lexington Marshall’s office has a stable of some of the finest gunslingers imaginable. Yet time after time, Raylan goes off on his own to confront a revolving door of dangerous criminals. He usually gets away with it too, in fact Raylan’s icy glare is probably his greatest weapon. His standard investigative procedure is to walk into a room full of armed rednecks and threaten them. Sometimes they back off, sometimes they don’t. Either way Raylan usually walks out without major injuries.
Gunslinger rating: Only the greatest gunslingers can use misdirection while quoting Clint Eastwood to subdue a criminal.