The Wire's top 7 characters

Feature Tom French 20 Jul 2012 - 09:43

Tom selects his favourite seven characters from HBO's superlative crime series The Wire. Find out who made the cut below...

WARNING: This article contains pretty massive spoilers for The Wire. If you've yet to watch it and don't want to know what happens... just go pick up the DVD boxset already.

Let’s just get my opinion out there before we start: The Wire is the best TV show ever made. Got it? Good.

Now that that’s out of the way, there are many things that make it brilliant. The slow-burn plots that are allowed to unfold at a steady but eventful pace. The authentic, sometimes to the point of being indecipherable, dialogue. The acting, with subtlety and nuance beyond pretty much anything else I’ve seen on television.

For me though, its real success is its characters. An ensemble show like The Wire relies on its characters more than most. It’s a tough balancing act having such a big cast, and making the show gel.

Thankfully, even the most minor of characters feel fleshed out. They are engaging, and you care about them. They feel real. I can’t think of one role that fits purely into a caricature or a stereotype, and doesn’t in some way challenge and overcome the viewer’s preconceptions.

With this in mind, I will hold back any more gushing compliments about what makes the show a success, and just talk about the top seven people that make The Wire’s Baltimore so damn believable.

D’Angelo Barksdale


D’Angelo is a big presence throughout the first three seasons of the show, even if he only lives to see halfway through the second series. We are introduced to him early on in the show’s first episode. He’s on trial for murder, and escapes conviction after the key witness is bribed to change her testimony. In the courtroom he looks remorseless, and understandably happy to escape conviction. What we should expect from his character seems obvious: he's a typical drug-pushing thug.

We get to know D’Angelo best through his time in ‘the pit’ - the low-rise towers he deals drugs from with Bodie, Wallace, and Poot. He looks out for his comrades-in-arms, acting as a mentor and helping them out in small insignificant ways. He teaches them how to deal effectively, and in a warped world, he comes across like a caring big brother to the young dealers in the pit.

He just doesn’t seem to fit into the brutal world around him. Deep down, (you know, excluding the murder charge), D’Angelo is a gentle soul hardened by the harsh world he lives in. He identifies particularly with Wallace, a 16 year old dealer who also doesn’t have the heart for the brutality of the Baltimore drug trade. He supports his decision to get out of the drug trade, and offers advice wherever he can.

Perhaps the best thing about D’Angelo isn’t the depth of his character, his character progression, or the brilliant performance by Larry Gilliard Jr, but the fact that he consistently defies expectation. Much like the show itself, D’Angelo constantly evolves, and you can never quite put your finger on him. RIP D’Angelo, you were taken from us too soon.

Preston ‘Bodie’ Broadus


‘Bodie’ is a mainstay throughout the first four seasons of the show, working on the front line of the drug trade, standing on corners and in the pit for the Barksdale organisation, and later pushing the product of Marlo Stansfield.

Much like D’Angelo, we first get to know Bodie properly through his time in the pit in the first season. And again, like D’Angelo, we feel we know what to expect from him. Unlike D’Angelo, what we expect is what we tend to get.

He’s a Baltimore youngster, entangled in the drug trade through his unfortunate circumstances, toughened up by the rough streets and the crappy hand life has dealt him.

He’s initially so focused on getting ahead in the drug-selling game, always unafraid to take arms against whomever he perceives to be a threat. So ambitious that he even helps to murder his friend Wallace to get in the good books of his superior, Stringer Bell.

Yet there is more to Bodie than mindless thuggery. He’s intelligent, vociferous, and rallies against rising drug lord Marlo Stansfield when he orders the murder of co-worker Little Kevin. Like D'Angelo and Wallace before him, he's worn out by 'the game'. Even Jimmy McNulty, a cop with a notorious detestation of dealers and drug traffickers, respects Bodie for his loyalty to his Barksdale allies and hatred of Marlo for his ruthless killing spree.

McNulty’s respect is what gets Bodie killed though when one of Stansfield’s lieutenants spots the pair together discussing Marlo’s crew. Just another young life plucked from the streets of Baltimore too soon.

Jimmy McNulty 

What sort of a list would this be without the best whisky-swilling, womanising, smart-ass cop on television? A pretty crappy one if you ask me.

Wonderfully brought to life by British actor Dominic West, McNulty is the perennial pain in the ass of everyone he encounters. He's brash, outspoken, and no matter what happens, in McNulty's head, McNulty is always right. On top of that, he's a drunk who sleeps around, with a track record for adultery. The guy's a bit of a mess. We should hate him, right?

Oddly, he's one of the most likable characters on the whole show. Anyone who I've ever spoken to about the show ranks him in their top two favourite characters. Despite the inevitable chaos that follows McNulty around, he's funny, idealistic, and a complete perfectionist. McNulty always fights to the end to produce the best case possible and put the biggest bastard he can find behind bars.

My favourite McNulty moment is arguably my favourite moment of the whole series. Jimmy gets drunk in a bar, and drives home. Squawking along to Flogging Molly on the stereo, eyes half shut, he takes a sharp turn, and crashes his car into a concrete bridge strut. Staggering out of the car unharmed, he assesses the car damage, judges the angle of his misjudged turn, and grumpily climbs back in.

Instead of driving off, he reverses the car back up the road, drives the car even faster than before, and smashes up the side of his vehicle further to finish the job. It's the most character defining moment possible, summing up his hunt for perfection and chaotic nature in one moment of madness.

To quote the man himself: 'What the fuck did I do?' You won our hearts with your charm and recklessness, McNulty.

Lester Freamon 

Lester, another cop in the Major Crimes Unit alongside McNulty, is the yin to McNulty's yang. Where Jimmy is impatient, Lester is methodical, and happy to let things take their course. When Jimmy shouts his mouth off about being one of the best policemen in Baltimore, Lester sits quietly, observing, modest. Freamon is summed up perfectly by his nickname, 'Cool Lester Smooth'. The great thing though is that ultimately, they're two sides of the same coin. Both tenacious, fiercely intelligent and talented police officers,

Lester is also a symbol for the effect of in-office politics and corruption in the police force. After successfully convicting a politically-connected criminal, Lester is effectively shelved, pushed into the pawnshop unit for 13 years (and four months, Lester would be keen to remind you). A tragic waste of an exceptionally gifted officer in a town painfully short of them.

Still, we get to follow his re-emergence, and it's a fun ride along the way. He's the thinking man's sort of a cop. A 21st century Shaft. I think that sums it up pretty succinctly?

Stringer Bell 

If The Wire were Shakespeare, then Stringer Bell would be Macbeth. The guy's smart, ambitious, ruthless, and a little bit evil. Stringer is consumed by his ambition to make money, and eventually his desire to turn the Barksdale drug ring legit. Sounds pretty Macbethian to me.

The second-in-command of the Barksdale organisation, if someone threatens him or the Barksdales, Stringer will not hesitate to arrange their murder. But unlike Avon Barksdale, his partner-in-crime, his aggression is more calculated. No doubt that he certainly has a temper, but that is balanced with an dastardly mind, constantly machinating his next move.

One of the series' most intense and memorable moments is when Stringer reveals to his friend and business partner Avon that he ordered the murder of Avon's nephew D'Angelo. Avon attacks Stringer, but Bell overpowers his friend, pins him to the floor and yells why he ordered D'Angelo's death. He's a man seemingly in control, now on the edge. Vitriolic, passionate, and heartbroken all in one, it really is unimaginable to think of anyone beside Idris Elba that could make Stringer Bell so believable and vivid.

It was the role of a lifetime for Idris Elba, and for a reason. Stringer rocks.

Roland 'Prez' Pryzbylewski


At first, Prez is incompetent, disrespected, and he wouldn't say boo to a goose. So maybe it's fair to say he has the most dramatic trajectory for any character during the show's five-season run.

Prez is sent to the Major Crimes Unit at the beginning of the show's run, as one of the many supposedly incompetent officers dumped on Lieutenant Daniels. Much like Lester Freamon, Prez proves to be a surprise package, showing a natural aptitude for the paper trail, even managing to crack the pager codes used by the Barksdale crew.

He also has a satisfying character moment when he punches his dragon of a father-in-law, also a Major in the police department, square in the face in front of a crowded room of witnesses. But he isn't suited to the rigours of police work.

Out in the field, Prez covers himself with far less glory, blinding a teenager in one eye by pistol whipping him, and even worse, accidentally killing another police officer in plain clothes while pursuing a suspect.

This leads him to quit the force and become a middle school teacher, encountering 'corner kids' Michael, Randy, Namond and Duquan along the way. This is where Prez shines, in particular taking Duquan under his wing. He's the sort of teacher these kids need, a dedicated and sympathetic one who understands their difficult lives, never patronising them.

We barely see Prez in the show's final season, which is a damn shame, because there's a lot to like about the guy.

Shakima 'Kima' Greggs 


If nothing else, the cast of The Wire is made up primarily of men. And that makes sense, with crime and the police being the main subjects of the show. It just makes it all the more important that the female characters are strong, capable, and engaging.

Enter Kima Greggs, a character about as far away from the 'damsel in distress' stereotype as I can imagine. The good thing is that while some of the characters may take note of Kima's gender in a male-dominated workplace, the writers have just made her another cop, nose to the grindstone each day, doing police work. It doesn't matter that she's a woman, not really, which is as it should be.

Her relationship with police informant Bubbles shows a softer side to her character, and the interactions between the two make for some touching scenes. The pair are so very different, and yet very much the same - people muddling through life, making the best of it.

The job puts a strain on her personal life, much like it does for McNulty. But she battles through it, much like the others. That is what makes her great - she is just like another cop, imperfections and all. She's human.

That's the strength of the show - man or woman, young or old, criminal or cop, every single character in The Wire is deeply believable, and more importantly, damn entertaining. If you haven't watched it yet, what the hell are you doing reading this still? Go tune in!

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here

Disqus - noscript

Unbelievable you missed out Omar! to be fair more than enough has been spoken about him. I would add the Bunk, Michael and Frank Sobotka, three characters that try their hardest to stick to their own morals in a corrupt world. **SPOILERS***On a side note the endings of season 2 and 4 where the most harrowing of the series due to the deaths of 2 of my favourite characters...

Omar?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Indeed. True dat.

Omar. Bunk. Bubbles. This is all.

Prezbo was hands down my favourite character. I found his character development over the first four seasons completely engrossing. He was sorely missed in the final season (apart from that briefest of cameos).

A lot of my favourite characters were the more 'minor' ones (although was there even such thing as a minor character in The Wire?): Cutty; Bunny Colvin; Chris Partlow and the most tragic character of all, Dukie. The strength of the supporting cast is one of the many reasons why The Wire is frequently cited as the greatest television series of all time.

OMAR......BUBBLES?

Oh indeed, do tell, why not?

I'm still amazed Bubbles survived!

Top 7? What a weird number to choose... Nonetheless, The Wire is as good as TV gets with such a high number of memorable characters. Most of the time you end up with roughly three people you like in a TV show, but this is the one where I would have trouble naming a top ten, let alone seven, characters without forgetting someone else. Omar, Bubbles, Bunk, etc. of course, but many people forget Clay Davis, who really had some awesome moments throughout the show, especially in the last season.
I can't really get my head around the fact that this show has never won an Emmy... considering that a crappy show like Desperate Housewives got what? Around seven of those shiny things... there's something wrong... but perhaps the Emmies were never about quality TV, so...

I still rank The Sheild and The Sopranos above The Wire although it comfortably takes the third spot in my all time list. With a gun to my head (or the threat of a crackheads penis), I'd put the shield at the top. That may change when Breaking Bad concludes though...

Excellent article. I'm as surprised as anyone else that you missed out Omar, but I guess everyone has their own personal favourites, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Greggs over Omar or bunk? Come on! Tis the greatest show ever though. It's a damn shame it wasn't more popular in the UK. People have missed out.

You nailed it, Tom. I can't think of a single weak or uninteresting character across the entire full 5 seasons and that's part of the reason I agree with the view that The Wire is the greatest TV show ever produced. I can't pick a favourite, but kudos for coming up with this list and exploring the features and nuances that made these fictional so real and worth our time.

The Wire had an amazing roll call of characters, and when I first read the title of this article, I wondered 'why seven', when it should so much larger. In no particular order, and certainly missing many fine characters, other "top" characters (not necessarily subject to the most characterisation) could include:

From the police: Bunk, Rawls, Daniels, Carver, Burrell, Valcheck, Bunny Colvin, Herc, Jay Landsman
At the courts: Rhonda, Maurice Levy
On the streets: Omar, Bubbles, Walon, Dennis "Cutty", the Deacon, Michael, Randy, Duquan
In the gangs: Slim Charles, Prop Joe, Marlo himself, Chris Partlow, Snoop, The politicians: Carcetti, his campaign manager Theresa D'Agostino, Norman Wilson, the old mayor whose name escapes me, and of course Clay Davis!Even the Sun: Augustus, Alma and Scott

And we could go on ... the Wire had simply too many great characters, though I am pleased that in this list Brodie, D'Angelo, Prez and Kima got love that usually goes to other, more popular characters (Omar!).

Kima over Chris, Omar, or Prop Joe? SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEIT!

agree with this analysis whoelheartedly. Dukie breaks my heart

The wire craps all over the shield LMAo, it's better then sopranos as well.

Worst list I have ever seen, no omar, or bubbles lol.

Read More About:

Sponsored Links