Top 25 Characters from The Wire: Numbers 10 – 1

Numbers 25 through 11 can be found here.
A note on spoilers: because I know not everyone is caught up on all five seasons of this show, but I still want as many people to read this as possible (I’m vain that way), this list will be as spoiler-free as possible. I will have to reference some events in order to talk about the characters, but no major events will be discussed (especially the ultimate fate of any character). Also, since characters move up and down their career fields throughout the series, I’ll avoid referring to character by title as much as possible. When it is needed to refer to a character by their job title (i.e., Lieutenant, Judge, Mayor, etc), I’ll only refer to the job title the character holds when we are first introduced to them. That said, if anyone wants to get into spoilers, I’ll gladly do so via comments (with spoiler warnings).

10. Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins (played by Andre Royo) – Just as Wallace is an example of how the show fills in the story top to bottom, Bubbs is an example of how it looks at the issue from all sides. There’s been shows in the past that have shown us the lives of cops before, and some that have shown us criminals before (albeit not in the same depth), but there’s never been a series to examine the lives of drug users like The Wire does with Bubbles. Most fans of the show count Bubbs as one of the series best characters, largely because of Andre Royo’s remarkable portrayal of him. As a top ten character on this list, obviously I do as well, but I still rank him a little lower simply because there were times when he didn’t fit into the overall narrative as well, but his story was still shoehorned in to keep the character active. Which was ultimately a good thing, as he provided the series with some of its most affecting moments.

First appearance: Season One

9. Cedric Daniels (played by Lance Reddick) – David Simon has repeated said in interviews that The Wire is informed by the traditions of Greek tragedy, in comparison to most Western cinema, which tends to be Shakespearean-based. Daniels is a great example of this, in that in a normal show where the individual has power over his on destiny through his choices, Daniels would have eventually prevailed in affecting real change in Baltimore. He is an exceptionally skilled leader of men with strong convictions and an inherent decency that would normally be assets. But on this show, he’s subject to the whims of petulant gods, with those convictions and decency being that which prevents him to ever be in a position to effect real change (thus, he never would be able to, for if he lost those traits, he may achieve more status, but would know longer possess the necessary qualities for change). This is why David Simon’s Baltimore is in such trouble, because it doesn’t know what to do with a man like Cedric Daniels.

First appearance: Season One

8. Shakima “Kima” Greggs (played by Sonja Sohn) – One of the strongest and best female characters in the history of television, Kima Greggs is the conscience of the show. Like every character on the show, she’s far from a perfect human being, but manages to exhibit a moral fortitude throughout that makes her good po-lice, even when those around her are looking to take shortcuts. It was a pivotal moment at the end of the first season involving Kima when I knew that I was hooked on The Wire. Prior to that, I already knew that I was interested in it, and the quality was readily apparent. But when the incident happened, I knew I was invested, and have been since.

First appearance: Season One

7. Michael Lee (played by Tristan Wilds) – Michael is an intelligent, self-reliant, strong kid who is a natural leader at the age of fourteen, so it makes your heart ache when you consider what the streets of Baltimore have to offer such a young man. It’s worse when you think about those who reached out to him, and possibly could have offered him something better, but were rebuked due to his inability to trust anyone (the understandable result to his upbringing). What makes Michael’s fate different from that of his peers is that he went into it with his eyes open, making the decision he felt he had to make to take care of his people, whereas the other kids of season four largely had their fates decided for them.

First appearance: Season Four

6. Duquan “Dukie” Weems (played by Jermaine Crawford) – Like Dukie, who never had a chance (yes, I know I said I’d keep this spoiler-free, but I can’t imagine any Wire fan would consider it a spoiler to learn that things go poorly for a character on this show). Poor Dukie, the constantly kicked puppy of season four; my favourite of the boys of season four. I’d write more about why, but I’d probably just start to cry, so I’ll leave it at that.

First appearance: Season Four

5. William “Bunk” Moreland (played by Wendell Pierce) – Hands down, the funniest character on the show. There’s a lot of great gallows humour on the show, but nobody held court like the Bunk. And he did it all without ever playing the clown (well, other than maybe the time he was completely bombed out and decided to get rid of the trace evidence). I could probably do a top 25 Bunk quotes list (hmmmm… future idea?). But beyond the humour he brings to the show, Bunk is also the one to call anyone on their shit when they need to be called on it. Beneath his weary cynicism and delicate approach with the bosses lies a real conscience, which is probably what helps make Moreland better than most of the humps who make up the homicide unit.

First appearance: Season One

4. Jimmy McNulty (played by Dominic West) – The city of Baltimore is the main character of the show, but Dominic West is the lead performer on the show, as evidenced by the fact that his name leads the credits while the rest follow in alphabetical order. But that lead role wouldn’t be enough to crack the top five by itself, instead it’s McNulty’s role as the straw that stirs the drink though most of the series that puts him up here. In most cop shows, McNulty would be the passionate alpha dog type who always Takes! It! Personally! McNulty is passionate enough, but it has nothing to do with empathy for the victims of Baltimore. Nope, McNulty is consumed by his overwhelming need to prove himself the smartest guy in the room, and he’ll fuck anyone over that he needs to in order to do it. Which makes him a good detective, but a rather wretched human being, and a much more interesting character.

First appearance: Season One

3. Russell “Stringer” Bell (played by Idris Elba) – The man who tried to change the game. The top three characters on this list are three of the most unique characters I’ve ever seen on television, and three of the strongest African American characters ever. There’s been African American criminals on television before, there’s even been African American kingpins, but they were all closer to Avon Barksdale than Stringer Bell. Suave and deductive, Bell was the mastermind of the Barksdale organization, always staying one step ahead of the game as one of the smartest people on the show. He made for a seductive villain, but Elba always made sure to mix in enough menace with his sophistication so we never forgot that he was more than simply a worthy adversary.

First appearance: Season One

2. Lester Freamon (played by Clarke Peters) – Stringer was one of the smartest guys on The Wire, but Cool Lester Smooth is the undisputed smartest. When we first meet him, Freamon seems like just another mope brought in to fill out Daniels’ unit. It doesn’t take long to realise that he’s the key to the whole operation. Only a place with institutions as messed up as Baltimore could a man of Lester Freamon’s talent and integrity be pushed down for 13 years and 4 months. Of course, Baltimore being Baltimore, and The Wire being The Wire, his talent and integrity only matter for so much once he works his way back up, constantly banging into departmental barriers to get the job done. Despite those barriers, Lester was always able to keep his cool, always ready to put anyone in their place with a fiery diatribe, or, more likely, a disappointed look.

First appearance: Season One

1. Omar Little (played by Michael K. Williams) – Of course it’s Omar. The only reason to keep him out of the number one spot is to be contrary for its own sake. There’s never been a character like Omar Little, a stick-up boy who robs drug dealers, then gives out money around the community like Robin Hood. He’s the fiercest person to ever appear on the show, yet he never puts his gun on people who aren’t in the game, and doesn’t even swear. Oh yeah, he’s also gay. Yet he’s almost universally the most popular character on the show. In a series that examined each side of the game from top to bottom, the guy who didn’t play for either side ended up being the most interesting. Yet, despite his place as beloved anti-hero amongst fans, the series didn’t let us forget that Omar was both a symptom of, and a contributor to, the problems of the streets of Baltimore. He was as fresh and exciting a character to come along in the history of the medium, but in a better world, he wouldn’t exist.

First appearance: Season One

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13 thoughts on “Top 25 Characters from The Wire: Numbers 10 – 1

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  5. In NO WAY is Prez a better character than Marlo Stanfield. This would have been an accurate list, but the author threw away all his credibility with that choice.

  6. Great list. I aggree with the one guy that Marlo should be higher. Marlo is the man from his first scene (“do it or don’t, but I got places to be”) to his last (back “home” with a grin on his face). You don’t realize just how much the man Marlo is until that very last scene. Please Mr. Simon, do a movie- The Return on Marlo Stanfield

  7. Good list and good analysis. But where are Rawls and Prop Joe? IMO, Dukie and Prez should be replaced with those two.

  8. Marlo I do think should be up there. He is facinating to watch. He’s a reflection of the world he lives in, in the coldness of humanity that has emerged in the city of Baltimore. For his time on the show, his efficiency and lack of feeling evident in his methodology make him a frightening and fascinating character to watch. Always keeping his cool (for the most part) and being as cold and as ruthless as absolutely possible make him fascinating. He puts outsmarts the cops in ways that are more effective then previous gangs, he outsmarts even Omar’s patience and careful calculation, and eventually emerges as one of the most powerful and feared forces in Baltimore and one of the most chilling characters on TV.

    • Frank Sobotka is easily a better character than half the people on this list. One of the few characters who is truly back and forth. I think Stringer should be #1. By far the most 3D character on the show. Omar’s great, but he’s really just a great cartoon. Stringer somehow makes you very sad and dissappointed when a kingpin dies. Hands down winner.

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