My Obsession with Morally Grey Characters

I enjoy morally grey characters.  This is absolute fact.  I don’t really care when people argue that the white knight is the absolute best character in a book, comic, movie, whatever.  White knights are boring.  You know what they’re going to do all the time.  The right thing.  Boring.

I also don’t like completely evil characters.  They’re also boring.  You know what they’re going to do before they do it.  The ‘bad’ thing.  Boring, boring, boring.

I like characters where you don’t know what they’re going to do.  That makes them infinitely more interesting.  This also tends to put them into the land of morally grey.

Now, what’s morally right and what’s morally wrong really depends on the perspective.  Morals vary from person to person.  There are some things we can assume that stay true.  Killing is bad, unless absolutely necessary.  Cheating is bad.  Just consider the 10 commandments, those tend to be things that, religious or not, people follow.  We’ll leave it at that.  ***This technically will contain spoilers for whatever characters I’m going into!***Moving on…

Characters who are morally grey tend to be my favorites.  I’m not talking about a pale shade of grey, I’m talking a true grey character.  I’m going to go through some of my current favorite characters

Severus Snape

Severus Snape.  Where do I even start?  Throughout the whole series, Severus is portrayed as outright mean, verbally abusive towards his students, and is associated to the big bad.  He is a very grey character.  While the kids always expect him to do the ‘evil’ thing, he often times does something inexplicably good.  Throughout the series, he was one of my favorite characters, even if he is a snarky bastard.  Perhaps that’s why I like him so much.  In terms of tropes, Severus is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, Good is not Nice, and a Knight in Sour Armor (among way too many others).  Look up his trope page, seriously.

What makes him a grey character to me is that while he really is a jerk, he is primarily good.  Sure, he does some nasty things, sure, he’s a really mean guy, but what he does is for the greater good.  Also, I was one of the people who thought Snape was good prior to Deathly Hallows being released.  Go me.

Hector Barbossa

Ah Hector Barbossa.  I’ve already mentioned that he’s one of my favorite characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.  I could actually use pretty much any of the characters in PotC to go with morally grey characters…but you know what?  I like Barbossa and we’re using him as an example.  In the first movie, Barbossa is the bad guy.  Gore Verbinski (director of the first three films) sees Barbossa as a dark trickster, a foil to Jack Sparrow.  Geoffrey Rush sees him as a fallen hero.  Who says they can’t be one in the same?

Barbossa is a very intelligent pirate, often leaving loopholes in agreements that allow him to get his way.  Even when he’s the villain, you can’t help but feel a little bad about the hell he and the rest of his crew are going through.  He’s a sympathetic character, to me at least.  Every time he has a grand plan, something bad happens (cursed gold, Jack stealing the important part of the charts, dying, etc).  In terms of tropes, he is an anti-hero (and anti-villain!), Jerk with a Heart of Gold, and a Villain Protagonist.

He’s a grey character to me because you never really know what he’s going to do, but when he does it, you can be sure that there’s something for him in it.

The Wei Clan

Dynasty Warriors.  I don’t know about everyone else, but the poster-boy clan (Shu) has always annoyed me.  Sure, its nice of them to think that benevolence will help them conquer the land.  Of course, there was a time when I would have thought the same thing.  Its idealistic.  Moving on.  The Wei clan.  The clan that will never be a poster-child for the series.

I love the Wei clan.  They have some of the most interesting characters in the series.  There are also a series of magnificent bastards and manipulative bastards that allow the Wei clain to ‘win’ (temporarily, you know, until the grandmaster of them all manages to steal the throne).

Why are they grey?  They are ambitious, manipulative, and motivated by power.  They are definitely portrayed as the villains in the series.  Of the three clans?  They’re fighting for power.  Shu fights for benevolence.  Wu fights for family.


I could talk about this for a long time.  I love morally grey characters.  They’re just absolutely fascinating.  I think it boils down to the whole ‘no one is completely good or completely evil thing’.  Everyone is a shade of grey, and thus, grey characters feel the most realistic to me.  Who knows.

What do you think of grey characters?

Thanks for reading!




9 thoughts on “My Obsession with Morally Grey Characters

  1. I agree! Purely good characters are so boring (in real life as well). As a reader, I want to see flaws and mistakes and all those things that make characters human. Also, I hate it when authors insist on describing their characters as bombshells. I want to read about REAL people.

    Great post!

    • So very true! Characters that feel real enough to be actual people are amazing. Flaws make characters more interesting.

      As for bombshells? Sometimes I start with a really pretty character, then their backstory comes in and magically the character has some horrifying scars. Or they’re not mentally stable…I’m not nice to my characters.

      Thank you so much!

      • I agree– as an example of a character who got ruined by making him too “good” was Han Solo and the “he didn’t shoot first” remake. The original movie, before the changes left it as a questoin in the characters mind– was Han going to just leave? He comes back, but up until that point we weren’t certain– and that creates the growth of the character, because if you start out good, and nobody really believes you’d leave your friends in the lurch, there’s no where to grow *to*.
        Morally gray characters aren’t only more rounded than purely good (or evil) characters, they also give the writer a lot more room to play with them.

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  4. The strory of my life. I tend to dislike the white characters and always seem to be rooting for the shady/grey ones(Cole from Charmed, Sylar from Heroes). I’m instinctively attracted to them and are able to understand the motivation behind their actions :).

  5. The overwhelming popularity for Game of Thrones definitely stems from the hunger there is for morally grey characters.

    We love a Samwise Gamji and a Link but sometimes you crave something more relatable and more realistic.

    Wasn’t it Sirius Black who said we have both light and dark inside of us?

  6. Pingback: On the Characters You Relate To | Rants from a Starving Writer

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