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The Best TV Characters Critics Had to Learn to Love — IndieWire Critics Survey

Annoying, frustrating, or just misunderstood, these characters eventually evolved (or viewers did) to become favorites.

Sophie Turner, “Game of Thrones”

HBO

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: Who is a TV character you learned to love or grew on you? This could be because more was revealed about the character, the character evolved, or you the viewer evolved.

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

In the early days of “Game of Thrones,” I (as a former tomboy) identified strongly with Arya, and I still have a deep fondness for the character. But as Sansa Stark has grown up, it’s become clear she’s more and more capable of owning the show, and my growing respect for what Sansa has gone through over the years has endeared her to me… at least until this season and some very poor writing choices on the part of Benioff and Weiss. But despite those choices, I’ve been surprised by how fond I’ve gotten of Sansa. Girl certainly deserved a helluva lot better than she’s gotten.

James “Hercules” Strong (@hercAICN), Ain’t It Cool News

Ser Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock. He tried to murder tiny, bright-eyed Bran Stark in the first episode — but Jaime also had to break an oath to single-handedly prevent (or at least delay for decades, I guess) Aerys II’s intended holocaust.

(My runner-up might be the Chris Pratt character from “Everwood,” who launched as a thuggish, myopic swine, then quickly and inexplicably evolved into the show’s most entertaining presence.)

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

Roland Pryzbyelewski, “The Wire”

Michiel Huisman, “Treme”

HBO

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Rolling Stone

Usually, I am pretty good at differentiating between characters who were meant to frustrate me and ones who just frustrate me despite the creative team’s intentions. With Sonny, the junkie musician on “Treme,” I couldn’t resist hating a character the show didn’t want me to like. As Sonny’s drug habit and his jealousy of more talented partner Annie threatened to drag them both down, I became overly protective of her and pretty condemnatory of him. If you go back and look at some of my recaps from that show’s first season, I was very very harsh on him in a way that suggested he was ruining the show for me. I think at some point, David Simon himself even appeared in the comments to stick up for the character, not because he was supposed to be a good guy, but because I and some of my readers were getting a little too venomous about a fictional character who had a clearly planned story arc. And, sure enough, he did get better as time went on – just not with Annie. By the end of the series, he wasn’t a major character, but I was still rooting for things to turn out OK for him, because of the writing, and because of the fine performance by Michiel Huisman, who made the good and bad Sonnys feel like the same guy. Sometimes, patience is all you needed, and the character will turn himself around for you.

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

I don’t know how it happened exactly, but Euron Greyjoy — that walking plot twist of a man — has become one of my favorite things about the final two seasons of “Game of Thrones.” He’s just so… convenient! He exists solely to serve the plot, and it seems like he knows he only exists to serve the plot. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s played by Pilou Asbæk, who was so wonderful on the Danish series “Borgen” (and in the Danish film “A War” and in all manner of Danish things). But, also, I like how he feels like a one-character subtweet of the very show he’s starring in. Any time you might be tempted to get too mad about how the series has been a letdown toward the end, he sails onto screen to cackle and act like a pirate. Or he lunges out of the ocean for a sword fight. Euron rules, and I’m sorry I ever doubted him.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE -- "The Word" -- Episode 213 -- Serena and the other Wives strive to make change. Emily learns more about her new Commander. Offred faces a difficult decision. Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

Yvonne Strahovski, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Hulu

April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics

Initially, I was underwhelmed with the casting of Yvonne Strahovski as the Commander’s wife Serena Joy on “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She had none of the televangelist fire, edge and camp that Faye Dunaway brought to the film version paired with the steely (Commander) Robert Duvall. Settling into the Hulu series it soon became evident she was the unpredictable MVP of the entire cast whose importance has grown as this story has extended past the narrative set forth by Margaret Atwood.

This adaptation is on fire with Strahovski’s restrained and intelligent version of Serena who was used for her celebrity then hemmed in by the prison she helped build. Stahovski just kills it in this version of Serena with her cobra-like stealth and under-the-surface anger towards Commander Fred and her barren state and the biblical conundrum of having to use another woman to fulfill her maternal needs. This series is heavily on my mind these days given the reality we are facing with the recent anti-abortion legislation in Georgia and Ohio that makes life imitating art an all too chilling reality.

Clint Worthington (@clintworthing), Consequence of Sound, The Spool

Science fiction tends to have a really rough time with child characters – they’re either bratty teens or obnoxious whiz-kid geniuses, or just boring in general. That’s why, as a kid myself, I was tremendously bored by Jake Sisko on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” during its initial run. Maybe I was already disillusioned by the self-insert nature of “Trek’s” previous child regular, Wesley Crusher; maybe I hated the way his subplots took away from the action and exploration I’d come to expect from the franchise. And oh boy, did Jake’s wardrobe reflect the show’s… unique vision of 24th-century civilian clothes. (Dollars to donuts, people just joined Starfleet so they’d have something non-hideous to wear during work hours.)

But I grew up, got older, looked back on the series, and discovered the secret to Jake Sisko’s success: he’s just a kid. “Deep Space Nine” gave us a character that was the opposite of Wesley Crusher: Jake wasn’t in danger of upending the adults, coming up with a universe-saving gadget, or having mysterious aliens show up to herald their secret genius. He’s a scared, relatable boy forced to wrestle with the stresses of growing up in wartime, and the uncertainties of finding out who he wants to be. On top of that, there’s his incredible, layered relationship with his father, their scenes together some of the most emotionally rich in the show. (When Cirroc Lofton wanted to leave the show for a rap career, Avery Brooks convinced him to stay – it was too important to depict a healthy black father-son relationship in space.) For a series emphasizing the grimier, ground-level aspects of the Roddenberry utopia, Jake is a surprisingly effective vehicle for this introspection, and I’m sad I didn’t see that earlier.

Allison Williams, “Girls

HBO

Daniel D’Addario (@DPD_), Variety

I was set up to love Marnie Michaels from the moment “Girls” premiered. And yet something held me at arm’s length. Although Allison Williams was perfectly cast for the role, Marnie felt like a somewhat harshly written figure. She seemed, to my eye, to exist only to provide a counterpoint to the less “together” but vastly more emotionally fluent Hannah. As the series went on, the “Girls” writers showed many more facets of the character, and made her into a person whose preppy upbringing was both emotional armor and an albatross she tried to shrug off with moving little rebellions. The show allowed her meaningful growth through her coping with (and, in one of the series’s best episodes, definitively moving beyond) the endless reversals of her boyfriend Charlie, struggling to find her place in the working world, and making decisions that, because they felt somehow more thought-through than those of the other three principal characters, carried more weight. The humiliations that came along with Marnie may not always have come from a place of love — her singing Kanye West’s “Stronger” a cappella comes to mind — but they were read by me as expressions of what was human and wanting within a character who’d, early on, been all carapace and no inner life.

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

I think it’s Leslie Knope. Her quick transformation from a slightly oblivious, Brendanawicz-obsessed, amateurish politician to the focused, goal-oriented, dream public servant was what turned “Parks and Recreation” from an “Office” spinoff into its own institution. Her switcheroo was so convincing it’s come to inform those foot-finding early episodes, making them a pleasure to revisit instead of a black mark and a perfect segue to her contradictory yet amazing campaign slogan: “Knope We Can in 2012!”

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “Barry,” “Veep,” and “What We Do in the Shadows” (two votes each)

Other contenders: “Better Things,” “Chernobyl,” “Game of Thrones”

*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.

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