Modern television is filled with colorful characters of all kinds, but there's been a special trend towards morally gray anti-heroes who end up in complex situations without right and wrong answers.
Assassins and hitmen are common in these kinds of shows, who tend to be good at heart but damaged by the world, stuck in occupations where they're forced to commit heinous deeds.
These characters often tread the same tropes, mostly as skilled fighters recruited by shadowy organizations or as government agents who are disillusioned by corruption. Regardless, they only know one thing: how to be clean and efficient killers.
From emissaries turned rogue to henchmen gone ballistic, here are the best assassin and hitman characters on television.
10. John Reese (Person of Interest)
In Person of Interest, ex-Special Forces and CIA operative John Reese is the perfect man for an assassination. As a former soldier with a heavy background in national defense, he knows a threat when he sees one.
It's no wonder why billionaire innovator Harold Finch chooses to pull him out of solitude and recruit his help.
What's the gig? Using information provided by his artificial intelligence supercomputer—the Machine—to stop potential domestic threats.
With Reese weighed down by the heaviness of his past, he's emboldened to protect the world and its innocents. With every mission, he's caught in a moral conflict as he puts his skills to use.
Brought to life by Jim Caviezel's sharp performance, John Reese is a stone-cold killer with many layers to himself.
9. Cad Bane (The Book of Boba Fett)
The galaxy is filled with many lethal assassins who are mostly at odds with any force of good or evil that comes in their way. But as far as lethality goes, one assassin ranks above the rest: Cad Bane.
Bane is recognizable for his piercing eyes, wide-brimmed hat, and blue skin. His history and legend are indisputable amongst other bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe. Using his cunning wits and sharpshooting skills, he can take on any job.
His notoriety extends from the underground syndicates to the highest bidders, clashing with Clone Force 99, Fennec Shand, and even the Jedi. As a spine-chilling assassin, Cad Bane's cult infamy is inescapable.
8. Richard Harrow (Boardwalk Empire)
In Boardwalk Empire, the corrupt Nucky Thompson surrounded himself with tight-fisted lackeys like James Darmody and Eddie Kessler. However, none were as tenacious as Richard Harrow.
You might recognize him for his tin mask that resembles the right side of his face. But underneath that guise, with his soft demeanor and muffled voice, is a broken but deadly man.
Harrow made his start as an associate to Jimmy Darmody. After his death, he climbed through the ranks and caught the eye—and trust—of Nucky Thompson.
However, even with his deadly streak, Harrow senses his own frail morality, and that makes for an engaging character: the reluctant assassin who's hard to pity but flawless at his job.
7. Cigarette Smoking Man (The X-Files)
Mulder and Scully battled extraterrestrial threats and murderous adversaries throughout The X-Files, but no one had as much menace as the sinister Cigarette Smoking Man.
In the man's first appearance, he supervises two FBI agents but throws away evidence from their investigation. Over the course of the series, the Cigarette Smoking Man executes the plans of the Syndicate using whatever lethal means necessary.
His appearance brought tons of mystery, making his motives feel all the more sinister. While it wasn't hard to decipher his next moves in subsequent seasons, the Cigarette Smoking Man was always a deadly presence who triggered doom with a single gunshot.
6. Nicholas Brody (Homeland)
On the surface, being a prisoner of war and surviving the ordeal is admirable. But there might also be malevolent demons within for the once-noble Nicholas Brody.
Upon his return to American soil, Brody is suspected as compromised and now a double agent for Al-Qaeda, lured to execute their plots. It's especially skin-crawling to see the once-patriotic Brody show his red flags and murder his supposed allies.
He makes for a compelling character and foil to CIA agent Carrie Mathison. Thus, his journey is both heinous and engaging.
5. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (The Americans)
The Americans hinges on the allegiances of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings to their motherland of Russia. They've been living in America as undercover Americans but are secretly cold-blooded KGB agents who will do anything to achieve their mission—body counts included.
Both assets have their own skills and strengths. In carrying out assassinations, they never relent, although Philip feels more ethically concerned about it. As for Elizabeth, her callous murders are propelled by her own past that seethes beneath her calm veneer.
But even with blood on their hands, they always find ways to come to each other's aid. Their identity as a couple, which began as a fake relationship, soon becomes a real-yet-lethal one.
4. Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri (The Sopranos)
Across Tony Soprano's mafia empire, he surrounded himself with trusted subordinates who could carry out his deeds and learn from him.
That's especially true of Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri, one of his chief henchmen. Paulie leaned heavily on old-fashioned mob practices, but sometimes went unhinged with his jokes, opinions, and paranoia.
But as a killer, Paulie was remorseless when carrying out murders. His deference to Tony is what drove him to understand and absorb his extreme views about his enemies.
Paulie's competitive nature drove him from simply being a soldier of the squad to a caporegime (or captain). The arc of his character's journey is what makes Paulie one of the most colorful in The Sopranos.
3. Lorne Malvo (Fargo)
Many assassins across all forms of fiction are treated as personifications of the Devil. Fargo has that type of character in Lorne Malvo.
As the primary antagonist of the first season, Malvo appears out of nowhere to carry out an assignment. During his time spent in Bemidji, Minnesota, he tosses all shreds of morality from Lester Nygaard and exposes his deadly, nihilistic views about life.
Malvo is relentless with his murders, treating all without empathy. He can carry out any task without a semblance of humanity, and he enforces his behavior with eloquent philosophy.
Out of all the characters in Fargo, he's the most terrifying by far.
2. Villanelle (Killing Eve)
One of the most compelling aspects of any assassin-centric television show is the cat-and-mouse game between them and those who want to apprehend them.
In today's TV landscape, Killing Eve's Villanelle is one of the most legitimately terrifying examples of this trope.
Lustrous yet dangerous, Villanelle is a hired killer who works with her handler Konstantin—and being an outright psychopath, she never misses an opportunity to enjoy performing murders.
However, underneath that is a woman searching for self-fulfillment, which she finds in her rival, Eve Polastri. Something about Eve fascinates her, causing her to toy with Eve in a most unique way.
Combining style and malice, Villanelle is an unforgettable TV assassin.
1. Mike Ehrmantraut (Breaking Bad)
At the top of our list is Mike Ehrmantraut.
Some hitmen would follow a code that aligns with their clients or handlers. Mike abides by his own code no matter what his bosses might say, whether they be Saul Goodman or Gus Fring.
After his son's death, he pushed himself to avenge him and provide for his daughter-in-law Stacey and his granddaughter Kaylee.
What's chilling is his disregard for his wrongdoings. Even though his past corrupt activities led to his son's death, Mike shows no remorse or regret when falling back into his corrupt ways.
That's one of the things that make his murders shocking and terrifying, but also what makes him so complex. No wonder he's a fan favorite.