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The Best TV Character of the Century Bracket

It’s time to celebrate all our greatest small-screen figures tournament-style, from bosses like Tony Soprano to millennials like Fleabag, from scene stealers like Tyrion Lannister to wild cards like Michael Scott

Ringer illustration

A wise man once asked, “What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags?”

No, the man scoffed with a careful shake of his head. And then, in hushed tones, he continued. “Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.”

That’s a nice sentiment, and while it might actually be true—despite it also being a case of two creators metatextually patting themselves on the back at the most inopportune time—it is, seen another way, an argument for something else. And now it’s my turn to adopt hushed tones: characters. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good character.

Because who other than Tyrion Lannister could have given that speech in the series finale of Game of Thrones and made it feel captivating (if still narratively blasphemous)? The stories that we watch on television are important, but it’s often the work of the characters in those stories that compels us to care. It’s the way we marvel at them, understand ourselves better by watching them, or even see who we want to be in them that often gives TV its power. Tyrion Lannister was a function of Game of Thrones’ story, but the story functioned because of Tyrion Lannister. And Arya Stark. And Cersei. And on and on.

With one bracket left unfilled, we at The Ringer wanted to create another, one that highlights all the characters who have embedded themselves within us and have brought us joy over the past two decades. Welcome to the Best TV Characters of the Century Bracket.

Before we really dig in, let’s run through how we assembled this field of 64. [Puts on suit, emerges from bunker, pretends to be interviewed by Scott Van Pelt on Selection Sunday.] First, there were a few rules:

  • Only characters from the 21st century were eligible. To define what “from the 21st century” meant, we considered characters whose shows aired a majority of their episodes after January 1, 2000. That is why you’ll see Tony Soprano holding down a 1-seed—though The Sopranos debuted in 1999, the bulk of the show aired this century.
  • The field was limited to three characters per show. Our apologies to Jaime Lannister, Roger Sterling, and Gus Fring. You guys will do great in the TV Characters NIT.
  • Reality TV characters were not eligible.

With those rules in mind, the Ringer staff was asked to compile their own personal character rankings. From those results, seeding was calculated from 1 to 64; characters were then sorted into four regions: Bosses, Millennials, Scene Stealers, and Wild Cards. The sorting was executed with as much fidelity to seeding and character type as possible, though in several cases the former was prioritized. For example, Michael Scott is quite literally a boss, but in order to maintain his 1-seed status, he was placed at the top of the Wild Card region. (In our defense, he is also a wild card—one time he burned his foot on a George Foreman grill.) Difficult decisions had to be made (very sorry, Bob Belcher) but we absolutely refused to expand the field. There are no play-in games; we, unlike the NCAA, have some integrity.

Now, it’s up to you. For each round, you can vote here on the website, on Twitter, and on Instagram every day till 6 p.m. ET, through Friday. Voting will go as follows:

Monday: Round of 64
Tuesday: Round of 32
Wednesday: Sweet Sixteen
Thursday: Elite Eight
Friday a.m.: Final Four
Friday p.m.: Championship
Saturday: Winner revealed

Now let’s get to the best of each region.

Bosses

Most Intriguing Matchup: (5) Don Draper, Mad Men vs. (12) Dexter Morgan, Dexter

It’s a little shocking that Don Draper—the lead character of one of the defining dramas of the 21st century—ended up as a 5-seed. The man grew up as Dick Whitman in a brothel, then ASSUMED THE IDENTITY OF ANOTHER PERSON in the middle of the Korean War. [In tears.] He did the Carousel Speech.

It’s also a little shocking that Dexter Morgan—the serial killer who killed only bad guys—ended up as a 12-seed (though not that shocking: This is what happens when you flee Miami to become a lumberjack). So this 5-12 matchup pits two antiheroes of the aughts prestige drama boom against each other; two difficult, absurdly flawed men; two characters we unabashedly rooted for despite one being a serial adulterer and the other literally chopping people up. It somehow feels right that they’re facing off—even if it’ll be sad to see one of them go so early. (The stakes of this bracket! They are high!)

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    (5) Don Draper, ‘Mad Men’
    (32152 votes)
  • 18%
    (12) Dexter Morgan, ‘Dexter’
    (7482 votes)
39634 votes total Vote Now

Character Who Got Screwed: (9) Liz Lemon, 30 Rock

Really tough draw here for El Tejón, the creator of TGS; the woman who once shotgunned an entire pizza; who dressed as Princess Leia to get out of jury duty. There ain’t no party like a Liz Lemon party (because a Liz Lemon party is mandatory), and yet the lady couldn’t even get a home game in the first round. Not only that, she has to go up against the dude who saved the United States from terrorism in one day multiple times and never went to the bathroom once. And even if she does knock off Jack Bauer, she’s gonna get Tony Frickin’ Soprano in Round 2. Just brutal—Winona Ryder in 100 Years/Fart Barfunkel/Paul Simon probably deserved better.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    (8) Jack Bauer, ‘24’
    (12418 votes)
  • 68%
    (9) Liz Lemon, ‘30 Rock’
    (27348 votes)
39766 votes total Vote Now

The Long Shot: (7) Elizabeth Jennings, The Americans

The Americans hive is weirdly vigilant on Al Gore’s internet, and while a second-round matchup with Heisenberg seems daunting, I’ve got a weird feeling that Jennings could make it out alive. As our resident Americans fanatic Miles Surrey tells me, “She’s basically the Terminator in the body of a runway model.” Watch out for her.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    (7) Elizabeth Jennings, ‘The Americans’
    (21878 votes)
  • 28%
    (10) Vic Mackey, ‘The Shield’
    (8604 votes)
30482 votes total Vote Now

Upset Special: (1) Tony Soprano, The Sopranos vs. (16) Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty

I can’t believe I’m even typing about the possibility of one of the greatest characters ever created losing to the guy who turned himself into a pickle. But this thing is partially an awareness game, and while I’m pretty sure Tony still has enough cachet to defeat Rick, the good doctor certainly has some lurking upset power. So allow me this space to make a plea to the internet: Please vote for Tony; please don’t make a decision that will immediately invalidate this whole exercise. Tony created an archetype that is more or less responsible for half the characters in this bracket. If civilization is to continue, he must move on.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    (1) Tony Soprano, ‘The Sopranos’
    (30311 votes)
  • 25%
    (16) Rick Sanchez, ‘Rick and Morty’
    (10315 votes)
40626 votes total Vote Now

The Rest of the Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    (4) Leslie Knope, ‘Parks & Recreation’
    (33345 votes)
  • 15%
    (13) Boyd Crowder, ‘Justified’
    (6282 votes)
39627 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    (6) Eric Taylor, ‘Friday Night Lights’
    (20543 votes)
  • 42%
    (11) Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles, ‘Atlanta’
    (14889 votes)
35432 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    (3) Selina Meyer, ‘Veep’
    (31037 votes)
  • 14%
    (14) Queen Elizabeth, ‘The Crown’
    (5392 votes)
36429 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    (2) Walter White, ‘Breaking Bad’
    (37808 votes)
  • 6%
    (15) Olivia Pope, ‘Scandal’
    (2654 votes)
40462 votes total Vote Now

Millennials

Most Intriguing Matchup: (6) Kendall Roy, Succession vs. (11) BoJack Horseman, BoJack Horseman

Interestingly enough, Kendall more or less acted out the opening of BoJack Horseman in that Season 2 party scene when he told Cousin Greg that he was “looking for pussy like a fucking techno Gatsby.” These two characters have plenty in common. (Fun fact: Will Arnett is the only actor to have two characters in this bracket.) Yet it’s quotes like those that ought to push the saddest, most damaged Roy sibling into the second round. I mean, come on, we can’t let the man who created “L to the OG” lose in Round 1.

Don’t let his boy Squiggle down.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    (6) Kendall Roy, ‘Succession’
    (17116 votes)
  • 52%
    (11) BoJack Horseman, ‘BoJack Horseman’
    (19204 votes)
36320 votes total Vote Now

Character Who Got Screwed: (2) Fleabag, Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag is one of the most captivating characters of the past five years; she is perhaps the only character in this bracket who could make falling for a priest feel touching. And though seeding would have you think she’s destined for at least the Elite Eight, it’s going to be a massive struggle. First she’s matched up with Cartman, the face of the long-running, immensely popular South Park; then she’ll likely have Tim Riggins in Round 2, which, good luck (Fleabag and Tim Riggins would be the crossover romance of the century, by the way); and then waiting for her on the upper half of the bracket is freaking Arya Stark or Baby Yoda, or worse, Waller-Bridge’s other creation Villanelle. It says a lot that Fleabag is a top-eight overall seed, but her odds to win this whole thing are poor.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    (2) Fleabag, ‘Fleabag’
    (16616 votes)
  • 57%
    (15) Cartman, ‘South Park’
    (22806 votes)
39422 votes total Vote Now

The Long Shot: (7) Tim Riggins, Friday Night Lights

As I just mentioned, a Riggins upset in Round 2 is a bet I’d take any day of the week. Sure, Arya Stark or Baby Yoda likely wait in the wings—by the way, what a Round 2 matchup that’ll be—but it’s Tim Riggins. He’s the only character in this bracket who had an entire day at The Ringer devoted to him. Texas forever.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    (7) Tim Riggins, ‘Friday Night Lights’
    (17663 votes)
  • 49%
    (10) Jonah Ryan, ‘Veep’
    (17511 votes)
35174 votes total Vote Now

Upset Special: (5) Arya Stark, Game of Thrones vs. (12) Seth Cohen, The OC

I know, I know, I know—it’s not gonna happen. Thrones fans can outvote OC fans any day of the week, and Arya probably deserves to move on anyway. But Seth Cohen introduced a nation to Chrismukkah; he sailed to Tahiti all by himself; he had both Summer Roberts and Anna Stern pining for him. Summer dressed up as Wonder Woman for him! Anna left a sick New Year’s Eve party to roll up on him! And then the next season, a punk rocker girl with purple hair who drank beer and stuff and was played by Olivia Wilde was all like, “Yes, this is the boy I would like to date.” There’s now an entire subset of adult men who crafted their personalities based on Seth Cohen. (Am I one of them? Do I still listen to Death Cab for Cutie? I plead the fifth.) He probably has no chance in this matchup, but I’d like to believe he does.

(Also: Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf is also in this region. Adam Brody, who played Seth, and Leighton Meester, who played Blair, are now married in real life—and I have a pipe dream that the two of them somehow upset the universe and meet in the Elite Eight.)

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    (5) Arya Stark, ‘Game of Thrones’
    (31314 votes)
  • 18%
    (12) Seth Cohen, ‘The OC’
    (7176 votes)
38490 votes total Vote Now

The Rest of the Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    (1) Villanelle, ‘Killing Eve’
    (19955 votes)
  • 35%
    (16) Blair Waldorf, ‘Gossip Girl’
    (10785 votes)
30740 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    (8) Nathan Fielder, ‘Nathan for You’
    (21496 votes)
  • 31%
    (9) Hannah Horvath, ‘Girls’
    (9942 votes)
31438 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    (4) Baby Yoda, ‘The Mandalorian’
    (24165 votes)
  • 33%
    (13) Ilana Wexler, ‘Broad City’
    (12353 votes)
36518 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    (3) Jesse Pinkman, ‘Breaking Bad’
    (34655 votes)
  • 8%
    (14) Lindsay Jillian, ‘You’re the Worst’
    (3148 votes)
37803 votes total Vote Now

Scene Stealers

Most Intriguing Matchup: (7) Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones vs. (10) Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights

Two of our most famous TV mothers. Tami and Cersei actually have a lot in common: Tami liked wine, Cersei loved the stuff; Tami took over the volleyball team, Cersei took over Westeros; Tami fiercely protected her daughter Julie even though Julie was the worst, Cersei fiercely protected her son Joffrey even though Joffrey was the worst. It’s a great matchup—I wouldn’t want to face off against either of ’em.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    (7) Cersei Lannister, ‘Game of Thrones’
    (27944 votes)
  • 25%
    (10) Tami Taylor, ‘Friday Night Lights’
    (9717 votes)
37661 votes total Vote Now

Character Who Got Screwed: (8) Darius Epps, Atlanta

First of all, is this bracket the first time you realized that Darius from Atlanta has a last name? Me too!

That’s just a sign of his greatness; he doesn’t need a last name—he’s simply Darius. And what a great character. From the moment he showed up on Atlanta asking Earn’s dad if he could “measure [his] tree” to surviving being inside Teddy Perkins’s house, Darius has been a source of both comic relief and profound insight. And yet, he finds himself facing the 1-2 punch of Leon Black and Tyrion Lannister. JB Smoove’s character is a treasure, morphing and elevating Curb Your Enthusiasm with his unique brand of improvisational humor. Only Leon could respond to a story about constipation by talking about the time he gutted through a hot dog eating contest. And then there’s Tyrion, who’s so elite as a character that this entire post began with a treatise on how he sold one of the most disappointing moments in modern TV history. So yeah, Darius is screwed.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    (8) Darius Epps, ‘Atlanta’
    (13418 votes)
  • 60%
    (9) Leon Black, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’
    (20287 votes)
33705 votes total Vote Now

The Long Shot: (5) Dwight Schrute, The Office

Blood alone moves the wheels of history! Have you ever asked yourselves, in an hour of meditation, which everyone finds during the day, how long we have been striving for greatness? Not only the years we’ve been at war, the war of work, but from the moment as a child when we realized that the world could be conquered? It has been a lifetime struggle. A never-ending fight. I say to you, and you will understand that it is a privilege to fight! We are warriors! Salesmen of northeastern Pennsylvania, I ask you once more: Rise and be worthy of this historical hour! No revolution is worth anything if it cannot defend itself! Some people will tell you salesman is a bad word. They’ll conjure up images of used-car dealers and door-to-door charlatans. This is our duty: to change their perception. I say salesmen … and women of the world unite! We must never acquiesce, for it is together—TOGETHER!—THAT WE PREVAIL! We must never cede control of the motherland!

(My hottest take is that Dwight will make it further in this thing than Michael.)

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    (5) Dwight Schrute, ‘The Office’
    (31807 votes)
  • 20%
    (12) Janet, ‘The Good Place’
    (8159 votes)
39966 votes total Vote Now

Upset Special: (14) Kim Wexler, Better Call Saul vs. (3) Ron Swanson, Parks & Recreation

If I had to choose one underdog to hang my hat on in this region, it’s Kim. Rhea Seehorn is currently submitting the best performance of this year, and that recency bias might propel her forward. Meanwhile, though Ron Swanson is one of the most iconic characters in this bracket, maybe Nick Offerman’s current, off-putting performance as Forest on Devs will color the opinions of certain voters. Unlikely, yes, but it’s called an upset for a reason.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    (3) Ron Swanson, ‘Parks & Recreation’
    (32878 votes)
  • 48%
    (14) Kim Wexler, ‘Better Call Saul’
    (31012 votes)
63890 votes total Vote Now

The Rest of the Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 92%
    (1) Tyrion Lannister, ‘Game of Thrones’
    (34105 votes)
  • 7%
    (16) Diane Lockhart, ‘The Good Wife/The Good Fight’
    (2714 votes)
36819 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (4) Al Swearengen, ‘Deadwood’
    (14851 votes)
  • 53%
    (13) NoHo Hank, ‘Barry’
    (17064 votes)
31915 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    (6) Gob Bluth, ‘Arrested Development’
    (22727 votes)
  • 34%
    (11) Lucille Bluth, ‘Arrested Development’
    (11908 votes)
34635 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    (2) Peggy Olson, ‘Mad Men’
    (23871 votes)
  • 31%
    (15) Dean Pelton, ‘Community’
    (10779 votes)
34650 votes total Vote Now

Wild Cards

Most Intriguing Matchup: (8) Charlie Kelly, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia vs. (9) Samantha Jones, Sex and the City

Two characters who managed to emerge from their respective ensembles to become iconically singular figures. Beyond that, Charlie and Samantha have nothing else in common: Samantha Jones was the high-minded head of her own public relations firm; Charlie is a janitor specializing in rat massacres. Samantha had sex constantly; Charlie has spent 14 seasons pining for The Waitress, who has slept with all his friends. Samantha can read; Charlie, uh, cannot. But both characters are more than worthy of moving on (and moving deep into this tournament, honestly). It’s gonna come down to what voters prefer more: class and a liberating perspective on sexuality, or grime and a fascination with boiled denim.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    (8) Charlie Kelly, ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’
    (29109 votes)
  • 18%
    (9) Samantha Jones, ‘Sex and the City’
    (6566 votes)
35675 votes total Vote Now

Character Who Got Screwed: (7) Peggy Blumquist, Fargo

In a lot of ways, it’s quite a feat that Peggy Blumquist, Kirsten Dunst’s zany, low-key-dangerous character in the second season of Fargo, not only made it into this field of 64, but also locked down a high-ish seed. There aren’t many miniseries characters in this bracket for a reason, but Peggy overcame her short lifespan. Unfortunately she’s drawn Pete Campbell—an all-time, iconic sniveler—in Round 1, and from there it only gets worse. Her chances are about as dead as Kieran Culkin was in the Season 2 premiere of Fargo.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    (7) Peggy Blumquist, ‘Fargo’
    (12961 votes)
  • 58%
    (10) Pete Campbell, ‘Mad Men’
    (18240 votes)
31201 votes total Vote Now

The Long Shot: (6) Kenny Powers, Eastbound and Down

I’m putting Kenny Powers here in an attempt to will his advancement into existence. He deserves it. No other character here ever rode a Jet Ski in jeans—that’s just a fact. (Bold prediction: Whoever wins the 3-6 matchup between Larry David and Kenny Powers is going to win the Wild Cards region.)

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    (6) Kenny Powers, ‘Eastbound and Down’
    (26154 votes)
  • 21%
    (11) Dr. Cristina Yang, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
    (6974 votes)
33128 votes total Vote Now

Upset Special: (1) Michael Scott, The Office vs. (16) Wags, Billions

More than any other region, it seems that the Wild Card region has the best shot at going chalk in the first round. So while I don’t think Mike “Wags” Wagner is going to defeat Michael Scott, it’s the upset that I’d most understand. Wags is the best part of Billions, the man who gave a presentation on sushi etiquette (“YOUR EXPENSE ACCOUNTS DON’T ENTITLE YOU TO FUCK HIS ART UP THE ASS”); he’s the man who once tried to smoke golden frog poison. He’s a hero. And let’s be honest: Upsetting Michael Scott as a 16-seed would be classic Wags behavior.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    (1) Michael Scott, ‘The Office’
    (34916 votes)
  • 9%
    (16) Wags, ‘Billions’
    (3519 votes)
38435 votes total Vote Now

The Rest of the Matchups

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    (5) Saul Goodman, ‘Breaking Bad’/’Better Call Saul’
    (32582 votes)
  • 6%
    (12) Dougie Jones, ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’
    (2184 votes)
34766 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    (4) Rust Cohle, ‘True Detective’
    (25355 votes)
  • 21%
    (13) Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, ‘Battlestar Galactica’
    (6984 votes)
32339 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    (3) Larry David, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’
    (29712 votes)
  • 13%
    (14) Nora Durst, ‘The Leftovers’
    (4760 votes)
34472 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    (2) Omar Little, ‘The Wire’
    (29171 votes)
  • 16%
    (15) Desmond Hume, ‘Lost’
    (5580 votes)
34751 votes total Vote Now

Remember, voting closes at 6 p.m. ET. Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the round of 32. If Tony Soprano is not part of it, I will secede from society.

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