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Morally Grey Characters Are The Best Characters

What's better than pure-hearted princesses, knights in shining armor, and castles far, far away? Morally grey characters that we can relate to.
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As children, we’re told stories about princesses locked in towers being saved by handsome heroes. But as we grow up, we start to realize those stories are just that – stories and nothing more.

When I realized life wasn’t going to be rainbows and butterflies like in fairytales, I turned to darker fantasies and science-fiction novels. Through those books, I found the best characters that aren’t fully good or evil. I now think morally grey characters are just better. Here are some of my favorite characters from books, shows, and movies that fit this character type. And spoiler alert because I will talk about characters’ arcs in their respective books, shows, or movies.

Annalise Keating from ‘How to Get Away with Murder’

Annalise Keating from 'How to Get Away with Murder'
ABC | Disney-ABC Domestic Television | Shondaland | NoWalk Entertainment

At first glance, Annalise might seem like a great person. But she’s done some questionable things, even though she has managed to avoid killing anyone herself. She does hide crimes from law enforcement to protect those she cares about.

Everything she does is to protect those around her, even when the odds are stacked against her. Though most of what she does is for good, her actions keep her from being truly good. However, she’s the closest to being good instead of morally grey than anyone else on this list.

The Mikaelsons from ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘The Originals’

Rebekah, Klaus, and Elijah Mikaelson from 'The Vampire Diaries' and 'The Originals'
The CW | CBS | Warner Bros. | Outerbanks Entertainment | Alloy Entertainment | My So-Called Company

When I say the Mikaelsons, I’m primarily focusing on Klaus, Elijah, and Rebekah. But to be completely fair, Kol, Freya, Esther, Finn, and Hope constantly toe the line between good and evil. That said, Mikael is the only purely evil character in this family.

Everyone assumed they were evil when we first met Klaus, Elijah, and Rebekah. But after they befriended the Mystic Falls crew and then moved back to New Orleans, they just wanted to protect each other, even if it hurt those around them.

Let’s go through the rest of the family: Esther broke the laws of nature to save her children from death. Finn tried multiple times to kill his siblings to protect other people in their way. Kol just wanted freedom because he had been sleeping for centuries of his life. And Hope? She’s just a clone of her father with tunnel vision about protecting those she loves.

Hannibal Lecter from ‘Hannibal’ and Dexter Morgan from ‘Dexter’

Hannibal Lecter from 'Hannibal' and Dexter Morgan from 'Dexter'
NBC | Sony / Showtime | CBS

Okay, both of these characters are murderers, but they did some good things, too. Hannibal Lecter less so, but let’s look at his actions in all of his shows and movies, not just Hannibal. After being arrested for his… hobby, he did help the FBI find other serial killers.

Dexter is much closer to the good side than Hannibal Lecter, but he is still pretty bad. He’s a blood splatter analyst for the police and uses that expertise to hide his murderous tendencies. And yes, those tendencies are typically only used to kill “bad people” instead of innocents. So I say he’s morally grey, but I still wouldn’t want to come across him.

Oliver Queen from ‘Arrow’

Oliver Queen Green Arrow Season 5 Suit
Warner Bros. Television | DC Entertainment | Berlanti Productions | The CW

Oliver Queen started out as a vigilante killer. However, he did leave those days behind him for the most part. However, he still doesn’t see the world as “good” and “evil,” which honestly helps him be a better hero.

Compared to the other Arrowverse characters, only a few are on the same level of morally grey as him. While most of The CW’s DC heroes are somewhat grey, only Sara Lance, Mick Rory (Heat Wave), and Leonard Snart (Captain Cold) share Oliver’s worldview.

Read More: The Best ‘Arrowverse’ Fights

Almost All ‘The Walking Dead’ Characters

Rick, Daryl, and Negan from 'The Walking Dead'
AMC | Idiot Box Productions | Circle of Confusion | Valhalla Entertainment | Skybound Entertainment

When dealing with a zombie apocalypse, you can’t be entirely “good” or “evil.” You just can’t survive that way. During an apocalypse, you have to be willing to knock a few heads and ally with people make it out alive (at least for a few seasons).

Look at the survivors on The Walking Dead – they’ve all done some questionable things. But we can’t blame them because we’d probably do exactly the same thing if we were in their shoes. This might be why morally grey characters are becoming more and more popular: They’re relatable.

It’s been a while since I watched the show, but Daryl and Rick did some horrific things to protect their group. And even though we don’t see Rick anymore, I can only assume he’s still kicking and fighting like he always did.

Octavia, Echo, and Clarke from ‘The 100’

Octavia Blake, Echo, and Clarke Griffin from 'The 100'
CBS | Warner Bros. | Alloy Entertainment | Bonanza Productions | The CW

Octavia Blake started out as an okay character who grew so much in such a short time. Then she went down a dark hole, but everyone in the bunker would have died without her actions. She’s one of my favorite characters from the whole show and is a perfect example of morally grey people.

Clarke did everything she did to survive and ensure the survival of those around her. In season five, she constantly hurt those she protected before to take care of her adopted daughter, Madi. She even shot Bellamy to protect her (sadly, it was in vain).

I didn’t like Echo until the end of the show, but watching it back, she’s always been morally grey. Again, it was all to survive. Even after she didn’t need to fight anymore, she still did if it meant helping Bellamy and the others who spent time on the Ark between seasons four and five.

See related: The Best and Worst Tropes in YA Fiction

Rhysand from ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’

A Court of Thorns and Roses series original cover art
Bloomsbury Publishing

When we first met Rhys in A Court of Thorns and Roses, he’s made out to be this monster who will hurt anyone and anything to get ahead. Then, we finally get to see the other side of him – the side that went through so much trauma to protect the Court of Dreams.

Yes, Rhysand did some awful things in the first book, but he really redeemed himself as the series went on. And let’s just focus on the first three books because he was boring in A Court of Frost and Starlight and had barely any growth in A Court of Silver Flames.

Aelin Galathynius from ‘Throne of Glass’

Throne of Glass series cover art
Bloomsbury Publishing

She started out as Celaena Sardothien, an assassin who somehow survived a prison where most inmates die within a year. Then she became a fae princess with fire magic (and one singular drop of water magic). Finally, she became Aelin Galathynius, the Terrasen queen who would kill demons if it meant protecting her loved ones.

Though the series is a good representation of who Aelin is and how far she’d grown in a short time, I think The Assassin’s Blade is even better at seeing how her morals shift depending on her situation. She could kill a thug in one scene and donate tons of money the next.

Almost All ‘Game of Thrones’ Characters

A still image from Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4. Members of the Stark family survey their home, Winterfell
HBO

Other than a select few, most Game of Thrones characters were morally grey (in both the books and the show). I can only hope the same can be said of the spin-off House of Dragons. The only genuinely evil characters were Joffrey Baratheon, Euron Greyjoy, and Ramsay Bolton.

My favorite example of morally grey characters is the Stark siblings, Sansa, Arya, Robb, and Bran. But, I’ll focus on two others: Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. Daenerys and Jon have done horrible things for the “greater good.” Jon even killed Daenerys to save the rest of the kingdom!

Batman

The Batman Featured
Warner Bros Pictures

DC has a habit of making its heroes “good” rather than morally grey. That said, Batman is the second example from DC that fits perfectly into this shadowy category. While he doesn’t kill much in his movies and shows, the comics showed a much darker version than I grew up watching.

He killed quite a few villains in the comics. While most of his kills were from early comics, he’s still got that dark side to him. Even though he has a large “adopted” family, Batman’s still done some horrible things and will put aside someone’s villain status if he finds them attractive–I’m talking about Catwoman.

The Darkling from ‘Shadow and Bone’

The Darkling from 'Shadow and Bone' and 'Shadow and Bone' book cover
Netflix | 21 Laps Entertainment | Chronology | Loom Studios | Henry Holt & Company

The Darkling might be a horrendous person in the books, but let’s focus on his TV counterpart for a moment. His backstory really added to why he was just a person and acted in anger (much like most of us would).

He watched people kill the woman he loved just because they were different. I don’t know about you, but I would be angry, too. I might not have tried to kill all of them, but I would’ve been angry. That’s how he somehow became a morally grey villain rather than “evil.”

Kaz Brekker from ‘Six of Crows’

Kaz Brekker from 'Shadow and Bone' and 'Six of Crows' book cover
Netflix | 21 Laps Entertainment | Chronology | Loom Studios | Henry Holt & Company

Now that we’ve got the first morally grey person from the Grishaverse, let’s move on to everyone’s favorite gang leader. Kaz Brekker is the perfect example of morally grey in most people’s eyes. I was on the fence about the books, but I immediately bought the book once someone told me about Kaz.

Kaz does sketchy things. He won’t hesitate to kill or maim someone if it means getting what he wants. But there’s one thing Kaz doesn’t do that sets him apart from the rest of the criminals. He’s loyal to his group and won’t betray them unless they betray him first.