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The disturbing reason why we're so fascinated with a particular type of TV antihero.

If there’s one thing that never goes out of style, it’s our overwhelming love for fictional men who do questionable things.

For decades, our pop culture consumption habits have revolved around our insatiable appetite for all things antihero, building up unbreakable emotional ties to male main characters’ lack conventional of heroic qualities and their ability to shun displays of idealism, courage and morality.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s very much a way to show a grittier and more humane style of hero and tell an elevated story that’s far removed from the more traditional ‘Superman narrative’ many of us were raised on.

With shows such as Game of Thrones, Billions and Catch 22 taking center stage in 2019, our fascination with antiheroes has never been more pronounced.

In recent times, the character arc of Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones perfectly encapsulated why our addiction to the anti-hero drug is still peaking, all these years on.

Here was a character who we were first introduced to as one half of an incestuous sibling hook-up, a man who attempted to murder a young boy to preserve his own life and reputation, and who had a penchant for arrogance laced with a touch of vapid cruelty.

Over eight seasons we watched his character unravel and then reform, he lost the selfish and cruel parts of his nature, but retained the elements that gave him that hint of redemption that appeared briefly in the pilot episode – a love for his family.

Not always a traditional love, it’s true, but a source of protectiveness and loyalty that saw his last act betray what was better for the greater good, in favour of what was better for the people he loved. It’s this warped sense of morality that cements him as an antihero, and what made his storyline the most fascinating to watch.

The character arc of Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones perfectly encapsulated why our addiction to the antihero drug is still peaking. Source: HBO.
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Perhaps the most popular and long term love affair we've had with an antihero, as the lead of a TV series, is a character who is still considered one of the best to ever grace our screens, Walter White from Breaking Bad. 

The most alluring aspect of Walter White is that while most protagonists have a storyline that features a clear arc, his was more of a spiraling downward trajectory. It was a storyline that would never have featured in a traditional hero's story, which made the viewing experience all the more thrilling and uncertain to experience.

Breaking Bad was a show that fully opened the door to our investment in the anti-hero as a lead.

Walter White from Breaking Bad is known as TV's ultimate antihero. Source: Stan.

Our fascination with antiheroes, however, is not solely linked to our investment in their darkened storylines.

A classic antihero will also always make a compelling (if highly problematic) love interest. As chronicled in the cult classic Buffy The Vampire Slayer when the cruel but charismatic Spike pivoted from straight up villain to a part of the heroic inner circle, a love story for main heroine Buffy, and a character with a torn moral compass who could never find true redemption.

Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a problematic antihero love interest. Source: 20th Century.
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As the antihero trend has heightened over the years, even teen TV shows have been infiltrated by this particular type of character.

Gossip Girls' Chuck Bass was 'redeemed 'over the course of the series from a selfish, drunk and sexually abusive teen monster, to one half of the show's greatest love story. He was originally only meant to be a supporting side character but quickly merged into a leading role, thanks to the audience's devotion to his broken ways.

A similar trajectory was utilised in the hit teen supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries with the character of Damon Salvatore, who was pretty much a Chuck Bass with teeth and a few more murderous tendencies. He too was the one left standing as the ultimate love interest and leading man in the series. Cementing the idea that only antiheroes can carry off the juiciest of storylines in modern TV times.

Gossip Girls' Chuck Bass is the ultimate teen antihero. Source: The CW.
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In this current TV climate, antiheroes are still present but they are less worshipped as problematic heartthrobs or rule-breaking icons. Instead, they are more appreciated for the complexity they bring to the screen and the storylines they allow to unfold.

Catch-22, the new satirical dark comedy series airing only on Stan, is one of the most compelling TV offerings so far in 2019, thanks to the fact that it is literally littered with antiheroes.

The protagonist of Catch 22, John Yossarian, is described as an  "incomparable, artful dodger". Yossarian is light on traditional heroic qualities and although his main motivation is to stay alive he adopts increasingly immoral and sneaky ways to go about it. As a US Army Air Forces bombardier in World War II, he attempts to delay missions, invent medical conditions and increasing lift the entertainment stakes by worming his way out of danger at every turn.

The protagonist of Catch 22 John Yossarian is a new kind of antihero. Cath 22 is streaming now on Stan.

From Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead, to Harvey Specter in Suits, to ambitious and ruthless billionaire Bobby Axelrod in Billions (now streaming on Stan), there are more than enough antiheroes currently playing across our screens to quench your thirst.

Their journeys certainly go against our own inner moral compasses, which is what makes them so thrilling to watch.

For more stories like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.  You can also visit our newsletter page and sign up to “TV and Movies”  for a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews (see one of her newsletters here).

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