Who Is The Greatest HBO Character of All Time? We Set Up A Massive Battle Royale To Figure Out The G.O.A.T.
Now that Game of Thrones has come to an end, the debate will naturally turn to (if it hasn’t already) where the show stands among HBO‘s best. Unseating The Sopranos and The Wire was always a long shot, and by most accounts, it fell short of pulling that off.
A likelier landing spot for Thrones is among the second tier of great HBO shows, placing it on the same shelf as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, Veep, and (possibly) Sex in the City, depending on who you ask.
However, if you were to dig deeper and see where some of the main characters on the show rank among the best the network has to offer, it’s a slightly different outcome. Game of Thrones might not be able to crack the upper echelon of HBO shows but could any of the show’s characters?
Let’s find out.
But first, some rules.
How Will Winners Be Determined?
- The character’s role on their show
- Their length of time on their show
- Cultural significance
- Memorable quotes and/or scenes
Because March Madness-style brackets are always a good time, that’s how I decided to set this up. I’m not messing around with 64 characters though. None of us have time for that. Instead, I went with 32. That felt manageable.
The maximum amount of characters from a show is four. Any more than that would be overkill and would mean that shows with fewer great characters might end up being left out. I am nothing if not fair. So four it is.
The shows this impacts most would be The Wire and Game of Thrones, two programs with deep enough benches to merit their own tournaments.
For seeding, I started with a fairly long list of characters and then got to eliminating those not ready for prime time. I also had to make some hard decisions with Thrones and The Wire. Only being able to pick four from each show was tough and if it’s any consolation, Arya not making this tournament is the one omission that hurts the most.
Once I had my 32 characters, I ranked them. This was pretty easy until I got to about 20. Then I earned my paycheck.
The tournament’s four number-one seeds are Tony Soprano of The Sopranos, Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones, and Jimmy McNulty and Stringer Bell from The Wire (Tony is the number one overall).
Here is how the bracket looks.
Let’s start with Tony’s bracket.
The “Don’t Stop Believing” Bracket
1. Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) vs. 8. Richard Harrow (Boardwalk Empire)
The overall top seed isn’t going out this early, that’s for damn sure. Although to be fair to Richard, it’s not his fault. He didn’t stand a chance.
I was always torn between wanting to know more about Harrow and feeling perfectly comfortable with how much I knew about him. Maybe that was good enough.
I will say Harrow was part of one of Boardwalk Empire’s best sequences, so at least he has that going for him.
Winner: Tony Soprano
4. Bubbles (The Wire) vs. 5. Flight of the Conchords (Flight of the Conchords)
Bubbles was the Shakespearean fool of The Wire and his heart-wrenching journey from hopeless drug addict to hopeful recovering addict was one of the few stories in The Wire you could walk away from feeling good about.
Meanwhile, The Conchords (Bret and Jermaine) had a brilliantly funny and amusing sketch comedy show that left a handful of great songs stuck in your head despite only lasting two seasons.
Yet no matter how much I love The Conchords—especially the first season—Bubbles kicked a crippling drug addiction!
I’m sorry, Conchords, but you barely kicked an addiction to hair gel.
3. Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire) vs. 6. Al Swearengen (Deadwood)
It’s kind of two sides of the same coin here as both characters were only made possible by the path created by Tony Soprano. Tony cleared the way for this specific type of anti-hero—the crime boss anti-hero—who you still found yourself rooting for despite committing a litany of unspeakable things.
Nucky was the star of Boardwalk Empire and the show revolved around him. Even when it looked like Boardwalk was drifting away from him in the second season, it still ended up coming back in his direction. It was ultimately his story, for better or worse.
Meanwhile, on Deadwood, Swearengen shared top billing duties with Seth Bullock and neither man would be as interesting without the other. They needed each other. If this came down solely to quotable moments, there’s no doubt Swearengen would win, but this is about more than that.
Boardwalk Empire needed Thompson to exist, whereas Deadwood could have happened without Al Swearengen (at least to an extent).
Winner: Nucky Thompson
2. Kenny Powers (Eastbound & Down) vs. 7. Gillian Darmody (Boardwalk Empire)
Time might not be on Gillian’s side here, as her role in Boardwalk Empire may have been forgotten some since the show ended. However, it should be noted that she was way more important in that show than we all thought.
Gillian’s importance to the overall story of Boardwalk Empire didn’t fully become apparent until the show’s eleventh hour though, when Nucky was killed by her grandson, an act that stemmed in part from Nucky’s treatment of Gillian as well as her son, Jimmy.
Kenny Powers, by his own admission, rocked Eastbound & Down like a effin’ hurricane from start to finish.
Winner: Kenny Powers
1. Tony Soprano vs. 4. Bubbles
I think it’s a safe assumption that everyone knows who Tony Soprano is. Even if you never saw The Sopranos, you know who Tony is. That’s because during the show’s run he became such a force of cultural significance that it was damn near impossible not to know who he was.
You probably even know that he may or may not have died in the last minute of the show’s finale even if you never watched it (for what it’s worth, I don’t think he did).
Bubbles didn’t die either, even though it looked like he was going to several times during his five seasons on The Wire.
Bubbles was the one junkie on The Wire that we really cared about and someone who provided commentary about life on the street that cut between the police and drug dealer storylines.
There was nothing we wanted more than to see Bubbles get clean, which he finally did by the end of the series. He tried in season one and came so close before eventually breaking our hearts by falling apart again. This led to three more seasons of Bubbles hijinks, which were great from an entertainment standpoint but a massive bummer from the perspective of caring about a character’s well-being.
Throughout his journey, we were able to see just how much of an uphill climb a junkie like Bubbles faced. The Wire’s payoffs were always earned and there is no better illustration than when Bubs finally got clean and got his life on track.
Bubbles was the heart and soul of The Wire, serving as both comic relief and (at least at times) the voice of reason. He was all over the place, and through him, we got a much better view of the grim world the writers were trying to show us. The Wire was a show of layers and Bubbles allowed us to see those layers in a lot of the scenes he was in.
But in the end—and this is going to break my heart—I just can’t have Bubbles beating out Tony Soprano. Here’s why.
Bubbles was a passenger on the bus whereas Tony was the driver. Bubbles was at his best when giving observant asides. Tony gave us monologues and entire scenes that propelled the show forward.
It’s like how baseball nerds say each year that a relief pitcher or designated hitter shouldn’t be able to win the MVP because they only contributed to a part of the game, not the whole thing.
Bubbles contributed to parts of The Wire. Tony contributed to all of The Sopranos.
Winner: Tony Soprano
2. Kenny Powers vs. 3. Nucky Thompson
Kenny and Nucky were the bus drivers on both of their shows. However, I think a key differentiator is the magnitude of the show they were driving and what was required of their character.
Nucky Thompson was a complex dude, someone who openly straddled the line between politician and gangster. Over the course of the show’s run, he thwarted uprisings from his mentor, his prodigy, his brother, and a wildly deranged asshole from New York (among others).
Nucky was comfortable for about half of an episode before everything started to turn to shit. He killed his wife’s first husband, saw his brother get thrown in jail before having to run away to Chicago, and made a nice little trade with the Irish by trading guns for whiskey.
An aside: Guns for Whiskey would be a great name for a band.
Boardwalk Empire was a well-dressed hurricane of a show from start to finish. It wasn’t great but it had its moments and Nucky was there for all of it, serving as the grimacing, pained, tortured eye of the hurricane.
On the other hand, Kenny Powers is hilarious.
While both Powers and Thompson fit the bill as far as anti-heroes are concerned, Powers was a little more original than Thompson was.
Thompson felt familiar, like something we had seen before (probably because we had.)
Kenny Powers, on the other hand, felt like a space alien.
Winner: Kenny Powers
1. Tony Soprano vs. 4. Kenny Powers
If originality is important (which, of course, it is) it’s hard to top Tony Soprano. As I alluded to before, you could make an argument that if there’s never a Tony Soprano, there probably isn’t a Kenny Powers.
Powers might indeed think he’s better than everyone but I would imagine that in a quiet moment even he would admit that Tony has him beat.
Tony moves on.
Winner: Tony Soprano
The Natural Police Bracket
1. Jimmy McNulty (The Wire) vs. 8. Murray Hewitt (Flight of the Conchords)
Here’s what Murray has going in his favor: every scene he was in on Flight of the Conchords was hilarious. You can make the argument that his presence on the show is what made Flight of the Conchords a better program than Tenacious D.
Murray appreciated the rock ‘n roll lifestyle and I appreciated Murray.
Unfortunately, Murray is going up against Jimmy McNulty and while I’m not going to sit here and list the numerous reasons why McNulty is great (there will be time for that later) I’ll just point out the following: McNulty once crashed his car while driving drunk and then proceeded to reenact the crash several times as he investigated why it happened.
That’s the kind of rock ‘n roll lifestyle that Murray respected so much.
Winner: Jimmy McNulty
4. Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones) vs. 5. Larry Sanders (The Larry Sanders Show)
With The Larry Sanders Show having ended over two decades ago, you could be forgiven for either having forgotten about it or know of it only as a myth or campfire story. It’s understandable. 1998 was so long ago. The Cubs and the Red Sox were still cursed, the biggest box stars out there were Robin Williams, John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, and the price of gas was around $1.15.
So let this serve as a quick refresher. The show was hilarious and a trailblazer for HBO, as it was one of the network’s first forays into original programming. With Larry Sanders being the show’s main character, that’s enough to earn him a five-seed.
However, we can’t talk about trailblazers without talking about Cersei.
She took the idea of a Wicked Queen to another level and it took a Mad Queen—which is just a notch above a Wicked Queen—to take her down.
This could be recency bias, but Cersei wins this one.
Winner: Cersei Lannister
3. Jon Snow (Game of Thrones) vs. 6. Vern Schillinger (Oz)
If this were a year ago, Jon Snow being a one or two-seed would have felt like a lock. But that’s why we play the game, right?
Even still, Jon really had an amazing run on Game of Thrones. It wasn’t that long ago when he was still Emo Jon, seemingly doomed to be told he knows nothing for eternity.
Look how far he came.
He went deep cover with the Wildlings, climbed The Wall, became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, was murdered, was brought back to life, was named King of the North, got himself a girlfriend, learned who he really was, lost that girlfriend, and became one of the show’s best warriors (if not also the worst at planning for battles).
Jon outlasted Ned Stark and Robb Stark, two characters people initially assumed would be the show’s hero, and surprised everyone by staking his claim to that title.
Meanwhile, Schillinger was a cold-blooded, murderous psychopath who ruled Oz with an iron fist. Good, but not good enough to top Jon.
At least he tried.
Winner: Jon Snow
2. Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) vs. 7. Ali G (Da Ali G Show)
Ali G will live forever in our hearts for pitching the idea of ice cream gloves to Donald Trump, which is just one of the many phenomenal stunts he pulled over the years.
But, you know, it’s Larry David.
Winner: Larry David
1. Jimmy McNulty vs. 4. Cersei Lannister
One thing these two have in common is that at various points during their show’s runs, you could have talked yourself into thinking that they might not be there in the end, as they both have pretty destructive tendencies.
At first glance, how could McNulty not win?
McNulty was The Wire’s motor. He got things started back in the very beginning of the show when he began keeping tabs on Stringer and Avon. All the investigations that came after were the product of Jimmy’s initial curiosity into Stringer as they sat in that courtroom together.
Without McNulty, there isn’t The Wire.
However, it should be noted there wasn’t McNulty for almost an entire season. My dude sat out pretty much the entire fourth season, a season that is arguably the show’s best. Sure, it’s mostly considered to be the best mainly because of the four kids that it centered around but it’s a little bit of a knock on the importance of McNulty that the show still thrived in his absence.
Cersei, on the other hand, never took a season off. She was M.I.A. for two episodes in the show’s final season but that’s because the action was elsewhere, not because she was sitting things out. The fourth season of The Wire still took place in Baltimore. McNulty was there, just not that involved.
Cersei was always involved, whether it was as the wife of the king or mother of the king or mother of the other king or (finally) as Queen. She was relentless and ruthless and almost made it to the end.
But the end is just part of it; it’s all about the journey.
Winner: Cersei Lannister
2. Larry David vs. 3. Jon Snow
Man, Jon Snow would have a better chance at advancing if he were the four-seed. He probably could have beaten McNulty too.
However, instead of getting a favorable draw and advancing, Jon gets Larry David.
With that said, Jon would have wound up facing him anyway, so it’s kind of a bummer no matter which way you look at it. It’s pretty on brand for Jon to get stuck in a lose/lose situation. No one is swooping or riding in to bail him out this time though.
Winner: Larry David
2. Larry David vs. 4. Cersei Lannister
One thing these two have in common is that they saw plans repeatedly blow up in their face.
Larry David sees his plans and schemes backfire on a regular basis while Cersei thought she had things under control when Daenerys came calling (we know how that worked out). If you go back further, Cersei really blew it when she thought she could manipulate the High Sparrow and use him as an ally, only to end up becoming his prisoner and being forced to walk home naked.
These two know failure, I’ll give them that.
I think this one comes down to which character was more important on their show. While there’s no doubt that Cersei was a central figure on Thrones, she was one of a small group of central figures and it’s perhaps worth noting that she was the first of that small group to die.
I don’t think Game of Thrones could have worked without Cersei but I also think she could have been killed earlier in the show’s run and it would have still survived with another character presumably in her place.
However, there’s no Curb without Larry David. Plain and simple.
Larry David moves on to the Final Four.
Winner: Larry David
The With Fire & Blood Bracket
1. Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones) vs. 8. Nate Fisher (Six Feet Under)
Nate Fisher, one of the main characters of Six Feet Under, was fine. Just fine.
But unless Fisher somehow managed to top one of the following things during Six Feet Under’s run, then there isn’t much of a decision to be made here:
- Walked into a roaring fire and lived to tell about it
- Also emerged from said fire with three dragons
- Lost the Dothraki but won them back by burning their main dudes alive
- Freed the slaves of Mereen
- Took control of the Unsullied and did so with some serious style and swagger
Let’s not focus on what else she did. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that what she did is definitely more than what a dude who worked in a funeral home ever did.
4. Hannah Horvath (Girls) vs. 5. Eric Northman (True Blood)
Was Eric the best character on True Blood? He might have been. Remember that time when he had amnesia or something and wasn’t himself? That was a bummer.
But it’s also irrelevant.
You can’t sleep on the cultural significance of Girls—especially when it first came out—and Hannah was at the center of it all from start to finish.
Winner: Hannah Horvath
3. Ari Gold (Entourage) vs. 6. Johnny Drama (Entourage)
I don’t think history has been all that kind to Entourage. The movie probably didn’t help and it came out a year or two later than it should have. Talk about missing a window.
But still, Entourage was really a lot of fun to watch, especially early on. It made you want to make deals and talk on your cellphone and end calls without saying goodbye.
Johnny Drama, while no doubt being one of the most consistently comical parts of the show, was an appetizer; nothing that would fill you up and would only tide you over.
Not so for Ari Gold.
That dude was the real deal, multiple phones, endless expletives, and sexually abusive comments and all.
Winner: Ari Gold
2. Omar Little (The Wire) vs. 7. Jimmy Darmody (Boardwalk Empire)
There was a moment there in the early going of Boardwalk Empire where it looked like a very real possibility that the show was going to be Jimmy’s story, not Nucky’s.
Of course, things change.
Jimmy died at the end of season two and Boardwalk Empire still had a ways to go. He had a good run, but it was a short run.
This is unfortunate, largely because I’m of the opinion that a show built around Jimmy coming up in the world surrounded by baby gangster versions of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lanksy would have been much more interesting than the version of Boardwalk we eventually got.
When the show first came out, this idea of seeing legendary crime figures before they became the versions of themselves that we most commonly associate them with was a major selling point.
The tag line of “You can’t be half a gangster” was a good one, but if it was in reference to, say, Jimmy’s moral dilemma with dabbling in a life of crime, I think we would all look back at Boardwalk Empire a little differently.
I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
Just like Jimmy beating Omar.
1. Daenerys vs. 4. Hannah Horvath
Both of these characters became cultural icons. However, Hannah’s stay in the zeitgeist was relatively short-lived. It wasn’t her fault. I think it was at least in some part due to the overall perception of Lena Dunham. The two became too closely linked for you to think of them as separate entities and as the tide began to turn on Dunham, the tide began to turn on Girls.
Girls ended fairly strongly, but by that point, the ship had sailed. I think the show would have been stronger and would have had a bigger cultural impact if it had been a limited series. It simply overstayed it’s welcome.
Meanwhile, over on Game of Thrones, a common complaint among fans of the show was that there wasn’t enough of it. It acted like it overstayed it’s welcome when we would have gladly let them shack up in our guest room for the summer.
With the show now over, I can’t imagine Daenerys fading away like Hannah has. We’ll be talking about the Mother of Dragons for some time.
2. Omar vs 3. Ari Gold
The argument for Ari is that he made Entourage entertaining even when it wasn’t.
Entourage was on for eight seasons. Yes. EIGHT SEASONS. That’s not a typo. I had to look it up because I didn’t think it was more than six. How is that even possible?
So yes, Entourage was on for eight seasons and Ari Gold was essentially the same Ari Gold he was when it started by the time it was finished. Sure, he went through some career changes and a personal hiccup or two, but ultimately, that dude was the same dude he’d always been when the show ended.
A little more successful, sure, but he was still loud, brash, and brashly loud.
Now I could go off here and maybe make some bold and wild comparisons between Ari and Omar; how they were both warriors, beholden to a code and unafraid to storm into an especially dangerous situation if they needed to, but that doesn’t feel right. It feels kind of cheap and dirty.
And you know why?
It’s a disservice to Omar.
Why is it a disservice to Omar? Because while Ari was an enjoyable, entertaining character, Omar was a effin’ great character.
1.Daenerys vs. 2. Omar
I have loved Life cereal for as long as I can remember. I honestly don’t know when it started but I can say that one of my earliest Life-related memories was back when I was a young fella in my grandparents’ kitchen up in Maine.
Granddad had a thing for Life and I remember it being in one of the cupboards. Other cereals have drifted in and out of my life but Life has been a constant. My wife has started pushing organic cereals on me but Life will not be deterred.
As a result, you can naturally imagine how I felt when they introduced Cinnamon Life. Now I had two favorite cereals— the old stand by and the new kid on the block. I love them both equally and I consider it a good day when grocery stores have deals where you can get boxes of both.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, my love of Life and Cinnamon Life and my inability to choose between the two is the easiest way I can sum up how I feel about this matchup.
I don’t even know where to start with this one.
As far as Daenerys goes, I do think the looming threat of recency bias is there, both from a positive and negative standpoint. Were there multiple variations of the character throughout Thrones‘ run or were they all part of the same character, with each twist, turn, and development contributing to her eventual heel turn?
I’d also be curious to know if impressions of her changed once she broke bad.
I know it was tough for those weirdos out there who named their kid Daenerys or Khalessi, but then again, they named their kid after a Game of Thrones character so they have their own challenges.
Before she became the villain, a major knock on Daenerys was her consistency. For every group of slaves she freed or burning temple she emerged from, there were long stretches of time spent kicking around a pyramid stewing or wandering the Essos countryside.
Moments like when she torched the Khals and regained the support of the Dothraki were wild. However, they were highlights. They don’t accurately reflect her whole journey (although they do help explain her penchant for massacres).
Daenerys was the big play receiver, the one who disappears for large chunks of the game but shows up every so often with a crazy catch or long touchdown. Kids have her jersey and she’s always a popular pick in fantasy football.
Omar, however, is the reliable, bruising running back.
He’s there for nearly every play, whether it’s a one-yard run or an eight-yard scamper up the middle for the first down. However, he’ll also break free once or twice a game and give you a highlight like you’d get from Daenerys.
Which one do you want: flash and sizzle or reliable dominance?
I’m all for reliable dominance.
I’m all for Omar.
The 40-Degree Day Bracket
1. Stringer Bell (The Wire) vs. Barb Henrickson (Big Love)
Barb is in this tournament because I felt Big Love needed at least one person to represent the show and she would be a stronger representative than Roman Grant or Bill Henrickson.
There was a time there when Big Love was a great show. It went from that creepy show about Mormon polygamists to a wildly entertaining and brutally intense drama about Mormon polygamists before losing its way and petering out in its final season. But throughout the entire run of the show, Barb was the rock and (as much as possible) the moral center.
I feel she was the one character the audience sympathized with and boy did I want her to leave Bill. But she never would. She stuck by her man and the other ladies her man married.
It was twisted and admirable, much like the show itself.
Unfortunately, the best Barb is going to do in this tournament is the above paragraph because she stands literally no chance against Stringer. To be honest, I’m not really sure who in this tournament does (but I guess we’ll see).
Winner: Stringer Bell
4. Carmela Soprano (The Sopranos) vs. 5. Carrie Bradshaw (Sex in the City)
Bradshaw, like Barb Henrickson, is in this tournament because Sex in the City needed some love and Carrie was the logical choice.
Carmela is in because of her role on The Sopranos, which can’t be ignored and probably too often is. You could totally make an argument that HBO tends to favor strong male characters when it comes to building their shows (especially the hour-long dramas) and I wouldn’t argue against that one bit. These two ladies certainly brought it but I’m just not sure how to stack one against the other.
I once asked my cousin who was better and she said, “Carmela will fight dirty but don’t put it past Carrie to use a pair of her Jimmie Choo’s in battle.”
That’s fine and all but Carmela had no problem running around her house carrying an M16 when she thought someone was breaking in. I also think that you have to give Carmela points for kicking Tony out of the house and trying to live a life without him.
The Sopranos was a boys’ club, but besides Tony, there really wasn’t a character stronger than Carmela.
Winner: Carmela Soprano
3. Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones) vs. 6. Christopher Moltisanti (The Sopranos)
Both of these dudes certainly had their moments (as well as their vices). While Tyrion slipped some as Thrones went on, he never really fell by the wayside. He was always a central character even when he wasn’t present.
On the other hand, Christopher was never really a central character. Instead, he spent the bulk of The Sopranos in Tony’s orbit and shadow. Tyrion could have suffered the same fate if not for his ability to escape said fate.
We’re here to give props for determination.
Winner: Tyrion Lannister
2. Selina Meyer (Veep) vs. 7. Rust Cohle (True Detective)
The majority of the characters that have been included so far are characters from shows that ran for at least a couple of seasons, giving us a substantial body of work to pull from. Rust Cohle from the first (and best) season of True Detective is the one exception.
I have to be honest: I’m still not entirely sure what “time is a flat circle means.”
Rust Cohle was the perfect character for a one-season show (or, in this case, an anthology show). I liked knowing that our time was going to be limited and it helped with his likability. His shit would have gotten old after a while and I can’t see a way in which you wouldn’t have gotten tired of him if he kept on for three or four seasons.
Selina Meyer, though?
Veep just ended and I had more feels about that than I did Game of Thrones ending.
Winner: Selina Meyer
1. Stringer Bell vs. 4. Carmela Soprano
To borrow a popular Stringerism, Carmela Soprano is a forty-degree day. In the end, there just isn’t much to talk about. There isn’t much to complain about. There isn’t much to be happy about.
It’s just forty degrees.
Was that a little too harsh? Does Carmela deserve better?
A little something for the sequel I guess.
2. Selina Meyer vs. 3. Tyrion Lannister
This matchup is much, much tougher than the last. To figure this one out, let’s go back and consult the rule book, which states characters are judged on certain criteria.
The Character’s Role on Their Show
Both play important parts, although based on the difference in size and scope, it seems like Selina plays a bigger one.
You could make an argument for Tyrion, though, especially in light of how things shook out for him during the show’s finale. Even in manacles, Tyrion was able to talk people into things. Talk about a flex.
However, Tyrion could only make it as far as Hand of the King. Selina became President twice.
The choice is an easy one. Selina it is.
Their Length of Time on Their Show
If you asked some random strangers I bet most people would be more familiar with Tyrion. Game of Thrones is (or was) a cultural phenomenon. It’s more than just a television show—it’s a lifestyle choice.
Veep was a great television show, but not the supernova that Game of Thrones was. I think we’ll appreciate Selina Meyer more now that Veep is over, but for now, Tyrion steals one.
Memorable Quotes and/of Scenes
There’s no shortage of memorable Tyrion quotes.
“Why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what’s on the other side?”
“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.”
“I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things.”
“Drinking and lust. No man can match me in these things. I am the god of tits and wine… I shall build a shrine to myself at the next brothel I visit.”
“It’s not easy being drunk all the time. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
“That’s what I do: I drink and I know things.”
Selina wasn’t as quotable in the grand scheme of things, but she did have plenty of memorable scenes.
Unfortunately, it goes back to Thrones being more popular than Veep and anything Tyrion might have said or done dwarfs (pun intended) anything Selina said or did.
Both these characters suffered their fair share of defeats, but it was always more entertaining when Selina did.
Winner: Selina Meyer
1. Stringer Bell vs. 2. Selina Meyer
Stringer Bell losing?
From the jump, I’d say it would be a stretch. This is Stringer Bell we’re talking about here. Stringer Bell is an icon plain and simple.
But in simply assuming that Stringer moves on aren’t we selling Selina Meyer short?
I think we might be.
For seven seasons, Selina Meyer was a battering ram of comedic rawness and brilliance. She was vicious and mean and crass and bombastic yet somehow still a character we cared about. Should we have? Probably not, but we did anyway.
She was so honest and transparent that it was endearing, even if what she was being honest and transparent about was straight up abhorrent.
Meyer was also a female character doing the dirty work usually reserved for male characters and that surely counts for something. If Carmela Soprano carved a niche for herself in the male-centric world of The Sopranos, Meyer lit the house on fire and created her own world.
Stringer Bell is a force and will forever have a home in popular culture. But as time has gone on, I think he’s been surpassed if only slightly enough to prohibit him from moving on.
Selina for the win.
Winner: Selina Meyer
The Final Four
1. Tony Soprano vs. 2. Larry David
I have to think about this one because I want to make sure I tackle this rationally.
It’s been a few years since I’ve watched The Sopranos, whereas Larry David is still out there being Larry David. On top of that, the last couple of seasons of Curb (minus the most recent one, which was just okay) were the strongest (at least in my opinion).
Tony on the other hand, well… it’s Tony Soprano.
Tony was the cat’s pajamas on HBO before cats even started wearing pajamas. Cats slept naked or with just boxers on. Then Tony came along and just like that, cats are wearing pajamas and it’s so revolutionary and innovative that the phrase “cats’ pajamas” became a compliment. And who better to bestow such a compliment on other than Tony Soprano?
Larry David makes me laugh though and laughing is the best.
In a weird way, Larry David is also easy to relate too. There are times when I feel like I am Larry David. I never feel like I am Tony Soprano and I even live in New Jersey now.
Let’s do this one by the book.
The Character’s Role on the Show
On both shows, these characters are the main character. Each one is about their lives.
However, The Sopranos is a much bigger world, and as a result, stories and plots existed that don’t even include Tony. That doesn’t happen as much on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and even when it does—like when Jeff and Suzie’s dog was sick—Larry somehow still gets involved.
Curb is the world through Larry’s experiences. The Sopranos is Tony’s experiences in the world. That’s a big difference. Neither show would exist without either character, but you can at least somewhat picture The Sopranos without Tony. You can’t begin to picture Curb without Larry.
Larry gets the W.
Their Length of Time on the Show
This one is a tie, as both characters have been on their shows from start to finish.
So instead of talking about how this is a tie, let’s watch this clip of a man playing with nunchucks in a grocery store parking lot in Richmond, Virginia.
On to the next one!
This is another tough one because it’s basically neck and neck when it comes to the significance both Tony and Larry have from a cultural standpoint.
Think about how quotable Larry David (the character, not the person) has become during Curb’s run. Things like the “chat & cut” and “pretty, pretty good” have become staples in our lives. Part of David’s genius is that he is able to verbalize and stage situations that we all go through and experience and on top of that, make them so incredibly funny.
Larry David is like playing fantasy football. We all think we can run an actual franchise but we all know we really can’t. Playing fantasy football lets us pretend that we can. We run that fantasy through the vehicle of fantasy football. Larry David is such a vehicle. He says what we wish we could and does what we wish we could do. He’s an everyman with carte blanche.
There were times when Tony Soprano was also an everyman but it was rare. There were tidbits we could relate too—mostly the family stuff—and if you’ve ever been in charge of anything, managing people. Yet what makes Tony Soprano so strong from a cultural significance standpoint is the general essence of his character and how it felt so large.
Also, he was one of the very first anti-heroes out there and remains one of the most popular ones, even in the wake of Walter White, Don Draper and others.
A lot of critics point out the fifth episode of The Sopranos‘ first season, “College,” as the one that announced what exactly the show would become. That episode showed both sides of Tony: the family man and the mafia man. It was also the first time we saw Tony kill someone.
Up until that point, any violence that Tony was involved with was minimal (although he did chase a guy down with his car in the first episode, but come on, who hasn’t done that.) With the strangling of Febby, a former wise guy turned snitch, our relationship with Tony became increasingly complex. The dude was a killer, yet we liked him.
It felt kind of weird but we still went with it.
The Sopranos ended with the famous cut to black and the start of the endless debate as to whether or not Tony died. How did his story end? I remember I felt conflicted about it. It seemed like he should go to jail and that made sense. It also seemed like he could be killed and that too made sense.
Yet it also seemed his life would continue, which both made sense and made me happy. We didn’t want Tony to die and we didn’t want him to go to jail. We also didn’t want him to go straight and quit the mafia because what fun is that?
Since The Sopranos, HBO has made a cottage industry out of shows that revolve around characters like Tony. Larry David is funnier but Tony is more important.
Memorable Quotes and/or Scenes
I’m going to defer to YouTube for this.
If you search “Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm” on YouTube, pages upon pages of clips come up. Each one is hilarious and each one is amazing.
That’s not the case with Tony, and in the end, that’s what this category comes down to: the YouTube legacy of each character. Tony’s actual legacy might be greate but not his online one.
The final verdict?
Winner: Larry David
2. Omar Little vs. 2. Selina Meyer
If picking between Omar and Daenerys was the equivalent of me trying to pick between regular Life and Cinnamon Life, then trying to pick between Omar and Selina Meyer is like me trying to pick between Life and Honey Bunches of Oats.
For the record, I fully realize that if I’m using a cereal analogy when discussing Omar, then he should be Honey Nut Cheerios.
But I need to be true to myself. I do love me some Honey Nut Cheerios, but it’s an accent piece for me. They’re like ice cubes or brown rice: there for assistance only.
Omar is not an accent piece. Not at all.
With that being said, the Omar/Honey Nut Cheerios scene was my first introduction to the character as I took somewhat of a curious route down The Wire hole, having started with season four when I moved to Philly and discovered I magically had free HBO. I didn’t ask any questions, I just rolled with it as you’re supposed to.
Season four of The Wire started around that time and I wanted to check it out. I didn’t want to jump in mid-stream but a buddy had told me you could start with four and be okay.
I watched it and was immediately hooked. When that was over, I went to Hollywood Video and tried to rent season one because this was “back in the day” and “back in the day” we went to places called video stores.
They didn’t have disc one but they did have disc one of season three, and needing a Wire fix, I went for it. After finishing season three, I then watched season one, then season two, then seasons three and four again and then waited patiently for season five.
Every junkie has a story and that’s mine. It might not be pretty, but it’s true.
Before we go any further, here is a list of my five favorite TV characters:
- Michael Scott (The Office)
- Gob Bluth (Arrested Development)
- Charlie Kelly (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
- Coach Eric Taylor (Friday Night Lights)
- Omar Little
I love Omar. Everyone loves Omar. There has never been a character like Omar and there will never be a character like Omar.
With that out of the way, let’s also tackle this one by going by the book.
The Character’s Role on Their Show
In Omar’s defense, there wasn’t a star on The Wire. It was an ensemble in every sense of the world.
Veep was an ensemble too but the ensemble was essentially Selina’s backing band. They were an amazing backing band but a backing band nonetheless.
Omar operated on the fringes of The Wire, whereas Selina was right smack in the middle of the chaos that was Veep.
Their Length of Time on Their Show
Omar dipped out for a while and unfortunately didn’t make it to the end as he got killed by that punk Kenard in the eighth episode of the show’s fifth season. Talk about an unceremonious way to go, huh?
Selina was there on Veep from start to finish. She didn’t take any breaks (her visit to the “spa” happened between seasons) and she didn’t get brought down by a middle schooler.
A little while back, I did some informal polling in my office and asked participants if they knew who Omar was.
At least a handful of people replied that even though they had never watched The Wire, they did know that Omar’s comin’.
In the spirit of full disclosure, a poll was not conducted about Selina Meyer. There are only so many hours in the day, and at a certain point, your co-workers are going to stop answering your random questions. But if I had asked around, I’m pretty confident how things would have broken down.
Omar has become one of those characters that reach a certain kind of cult status but in a totally widespread kind of way. One name says it all: Omar. Two words—”Omar’s comin'”—say even more.
That sounds like some serious cultural significance to me.
Memorable quotes and/or scenes
Selina faces the same problems here that she faced when going up against Tyrion. Her body of work is more expansive but Omar’s has the bigger impact. Omar stole scenes like he stole from drug dealers.
And as far as quotes go, Omar quotes have played a large part in his legacy.
“A man’s gotta have a code.”
“The game’s out there. And it’s either play or get played. That simple.”
“Come at the king, you best not miss.”
“Money ain’t got no owners…only spenders.”
“Boy, you got me confused with someone who repeats himself.”
Those are just some of Omar’s quotes.
I’m not going to say it’s a quality vs. quantity argument because that’s not fair to Selina. She had her fair share of memorable scenes and quotes. However, none of them have (or likely will) ever reach the level of any of Omar’s.
The Championship: Omar Little vs. Larry David
It’s Omar. It was always Omar. Before I even realized it was Omar, it was Omar.
When I first sat down to do this, I thought it might end up being Tony Soprano or Stringer Bell or maybe even someone from Game of Thrones. I had my eye on Omar, but it just felt like he’d eventually hit a roadblock—Daenerys, Stringer, or possibly even Ari if I was able to talk myself into it.
I did not see Larry David coming, though. That seems wild in hindsight.
Larry David could not be stopped.
Unfortunately for him, neither could Omar.
I don’t even know how I came to the conclusion that Omar was the winner. I just know I did.
I think it was something I wrote when choosing between Omar and Selina Meyer in the Final Four: there has never been a character like Omar and there will never be a character like Omar. I genuinely believe most of the things I think and 80% of what I say.
That statement about Omar is something I believe to be true.
Larry David did get some consideration, but it was fleeting. I wanted to figure out how could I make it a fight.
I thought of comparisons, like how Omar and Larry David are two characters in a world full of people giving a shit who flat out don’t give a shit. They are role players in that respect. They allow us to envision a world where we could say or do anything we please.
That’s why we hold Larry and Omar so close and place them on pedestals. We can’t settle our disputes with a shotgun and we don’t have the chutzpah to casually use the phrase “pussy rash.” We don’t identify with these characters—we aspire to be them. They are superheroes whose superpower is bravado.
Yet you can’t make the call based on who gives less of a shit. It’d be a draw.
Omar is just so much more of a transcendent character than Larry is. He’s bigger than Larry. Omar is bigger than the entire Curb Your Enthusiasm world.
While I would agree with you if you said that Larry was bigger because his role on the show is bigger, that’s not what everything this tournament is based on. It’s one of the things but not the only thing.
Larry David is the main character on his show. Omar was one of many leads on The Wire. Is he even a lead? Is he supporting? Shit, if he was just a supporting character then that makes him all that more impressive. But I don’t think he is.
Bunk or Lester or even Wee Bay were supporting characters on The Wire. Omar, along with Stringer and McNulty, were the show’s main characters (even though Stringer didn’t make it past season three).
But come on, it’s Omar.
It was always Omar.
I swear I did not plan any of this.
Decisions in this tournament were made on the fly. I had irrational arguments with myself. I leaned on friends and co-workers. I talked myself in and out of things sometimes in the span of just one paragraph and sometimes even within the span of one sentence or one thought.
This tournament was the furthest thing from science since the anti-vax movement came into existence. There were no givens. No certainties.
In the end, however, there was one certainty.
A gay, shotgun-wielding stickup artist cruising the fringes on one of the best television shows ever. A quotable son of a gun and merciless scene stealer who was taken out by a youngin’ but who was such a force that people on the street weren’t convinced he was dead.
Governed by a code and the mantra “It’s all in the game.” A believer in things like The Sunday Truce and keeping civilians out of it and the dude who pulled some Spiderman shit by jumping off of a four (or five) floor balcony and walking away with just a bum leg.
“Money ain’t got no owners, only spenders.”
It was a valiant effort by Larry David, and if we do this again sometime down the road, we’ll see how time has treated characters from Game of Thrones and if someone from Barry, Big Little Lies, or Westworld make the cut.
But this tournament?
This one belongs to Omar.
It always did.