Few shows thrill, shock, horrify, and delight their fans quite like American Horror Story does. Every season we’re treated to a new story, locations, characters, time frames, and slight variations in the core cast. After Murder House, some actors who played minor characters (Jessica Lange, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters) were catapulted into starring roles, while other actors, like Connie Britton, were never seen on American Horror Story again. Shame, that.
For this list, we did our best to choose vital and fascinating characters from all five completed seasons of American Horror Story. We’re surely not far enough into My Roanoke Nightmare to know who the stand-out characters will be. But we have chosen our favorite major (and maybe one or two minor) characters from Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show, and Hotel. We also did our best not to select too heavily from one actor or one season. Expect spoilers for any season discussed.
Here are the 15 Best American Horror Story Characters.
15 Violet Harmon – Murder House
One thing American Horror Story has always been great at is showing us the difference between people with power and people without. As the Harmon’s only child, Violet (Taissa Farmiga) has no say in her parent’s failing marriage or the fact that this failure caused her to get dragged to a new town, a new school, make new friends, and deal with everything that comes along with living in a murder house.
Through all of it, Violet takes no crap, keeps her cool (mostly), and doesn’t lose sight of who she is. Though she ultimately dies horribly, Violet never betrays what she knows to be right. When her father is being a fool, Violet tells him. When her mother’s cloying weakness becomes a hindrance, Violet tells her too. When her boyfriend reveals… all that he’s done, Violet breaks up with him even though he’s about as close as it gets to being the proverbial Last Man on Earth. Violet Harmon is a good kid and a minor badass who provides a lot of the girl-power in Murder House.
14 Adelaide Langdon – Murder House
The other teenage girl in Murder House actually lives next door. Played by the great Jamie Brewer, Addie is cursed with a terrible mother and murderous brother. She also has Down’s Syndrome, which she believes keeps her from being a “pretty girl.” Despite not actually being a ghost, Addie provides some creepy lines in American Horror Story’s first season. Who wouldn’t want to move into a lovely new home, only to hear: "You’re gonna die in here?" Yikes!
Addie is headstrong; not fully understanding why it’s inappropriate to enter other people’s houses when they’re not there, or why it’s not smart to pet any random dog you encounter. Fans love Addie for her bravery, her willingness to converse with ghosts, her friendly demeanor, and the way she speaks her mind. Addie’s only kryptonite is the “bad girl room”, where we see her thrown when Constance is irritated with her. The “bad girl room” is a closet full of mirrors that forces Addie to see her own reflection—something she hates.
13 Fiona Goode – Coven
When making this list, it was nearly impossible to not include every character played by Jessica Lange. She was sublime. Always. Fans already know that most American Horror Story characters were written with the actors in mind. That’s probably why Fiona Goode loves cool clothes and is annoyed with the lesser humans she constantly has to tolerate. Lange plays these things to perfection.
This is never more true than in Coven, where Fiona Goode is an amazing witch, but a terrible mother and an even worse Supreme. To Fiona, power means never having to obey the rules. When we meet Fiona, she is dying. Giving her an obstacle to overcome only helps to illustrate what an incredible badass Fiona Goode is. She inspires loyalty in some (Spalding, the Axe Man) and enmity in others (Myrtle Snow, Pembroke) while keeping absolutely everyone on their toes. She also voted for Obama, twice. If only she’d been kinder to Papa Legba, maybe Fiona Goode wouldn’t have ended up surrounded by all that "knotty pine".
12 Moira O’Hara – Murder House
Fans still weren’t sure what kind of chicanery to expect from American Horror Story when they met the maid, Moira O’Hara. Frances Conroy has gone on to play many great characters, but Moira stands out among them. Moira is also played by Alexandra Breckenridge, who has only been back to American Horror Story one other time.
As you’ll recall, Moira appears to be a hot 20-something in a fetish-y maid uniform to Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) and as an “old” woman to Vivien. This eventually leads to some hilarious exchanges, like when Ben finally confronts Moira for “parading around in that slutty little outfit” while Vivien looks on as if her husband has blown a gasket. Moira was a nice girl who was assaulted by her employer, then murdered by Constance, her employer’s wife. As a result, she’s another ghost trapped in the Murder House for all time. How many of us wanted to see Moira get revenge on Constance by the end of that first season?
11 JP March – Hotel
Evan Peters has absolutely slayed his roles in every season of American Horror Story, though we still don’t know who he’ll be in season six. We suspect him to be a killer for the first half of Asylum, but he never really plays a bad guy until Hotel. We could argue that at, this point, he makes up for lost time.
JP March is a clear allusion to HH Holmes the hotelier and inventive murderer from the 1920s. March is a romantic, hopelessly in love with Countess Elizabeth (Lady Gaga), though he almost marries Ms. Evers, who is hopelessly in love with him. It’s a long, tangled story full of blood and hurt feelings. But isn’t that most of American Horror Story anyway? March is not just a creative murderer; he’s a tutor of sorts, revealed to have taught a few renowned killers the tricks of the trade—leading them to murderous immortality. Plus, those goggles were amazing.
10 Countess Elizabeth – Hotel
In the oversaturated world of vampire lore, it’s hard to find a new way to go. But Countess Elizabeth (Lady Gaga) is unlike any vamp we’ve ever seen. Sure, she’s seductive and powerful, we’ve seen that. Yeah, there are sex scenes that turn into bloodbaths, but everyone has already seen The Hunger, right? She’s a little Bathory, a bit of Vampirella.
Where the Countess really shines is in her soul, her conscience, her long storied past full of heartbreak, hope, love, and yes—blood drinking. She craves beautiful things and, we later learn, has spent decades pining for a lost love, that she loses again. The Countess gives March one night a month with her, even though she doesn’t like him. She helped Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) find her true self, and led countless children away from unacceptable homes and families. Okay, she’s also selfish, brooding, and kind of shallow. But we still love the Countess, maybe a little more than we should.
9 Marie Delphine La Laurie – Coven
The first time it was announced that Kathy Bates was joining the cast of American Horror Story, there were shouts of glee and dancing in the streets—somewhere, we presume. She’s such an obvious choice for a show that focuses on having a variety of strong women who are far more than set décor. Kathy Bates straddles a fine line between racism and vulnerability, psychopathy and comedy, in her turn as real-life murderess Marie Delphine LaLaurie.
Like Fiona Goode, Delphine is also a terrible mother (even worse than Fiona, though only slightly worse than Joan Ramsay). While racism isn’t exactly hilarious, we can’t help but laugh when we see Delphine weeping in front of the TV as she realizes that a non-white man is now President of these United States. In the present, Delphine learns about fast food burgers, how to battle zombies, and that her greatest enemies still hate her guts. Delphine’s deeds may be difficult to watch, but it’s even more difficult to look away.
8 Chester Creb – Freakshow
We did say we would mostly limit this list to major characters in the American Horror Story universe. But c’mon, if Neil Patrick Harris appears in something, it’s a safe bet that the something is gonna be amazing. Such is the case for Chester Creb, traveling lizard salesman and wannabe stage performer. But like many of the aspiring song-and-dance men in Freakshow, Chester has a wee streak of murder in him, and a larger streak of pure batshit insanity. He came back from the war feeling rather… wrong in the head. This was compounded by the complex relationship between Chester and his wife’s new girlfriend.
When Chester gets it on with the Tattler Twins, his puppet Marjorie (Jamie Brewer) becomes as murderous as he. Wait, what? Yeah, Chester believes, as so many puppeteers seemingly do in horror shows, that his comely girl dummy is real. By the time this leads to a horrified confession for the murder of someone who was never alive in the first place—it’s clear that Chester Creb will go down in history as one of the most memorable characters on all of American Horror Story.
7 Sister Jude – Asylum
Once there was an unhappy woman named Judy Martin. As a child, she killed her pet because she forgot to feed it. As an adult, she sang, and drank, and searched in vain for the right man. A terrible accident occurred one night, making Judy believe she had killed a child while driving drunk. Desperate for absolution, she joined a convent and rose to run Briarcliff Manor, a hospital and mental asylum for people whose families don’t mind if they are tortured or killed. Sister Jude has the major hots for Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes). Who wouldn’t?
Jude is also the spiritual advisor for her various mental patients, which to her means a lot of degradation, emotional and mental abuse, and routine canings that are treated as a “normal” part of treatment. Jude battles many foes in Asylum, and is beaten by a few of them, eventually becoming a patient named “Betty Drake” before being rescued by Kit Walker. As Jude’s nemeses include Nazi doctors, serial killers, the angel of death, and the devil himself, we’re not going to hold a few defeats against her.
6 Bette and Dot Tattler – Freakshow
Fans of Tod Browning’s Freaks already know that the inspiration for Bette and Dot Tattler is found in the real-life conjoined sisters, Daisy and Violet Hilton. While both sets of twins have fascinating life stories, the Hilton twins died separately, several days apart. Think about that for just a minute. This bit of historical horror is why much of the Tattler’s story hints at one of them dying while the other lives. Because that is horror.
Unlike the Hilton sisters, who were thrust into performance before they could sit up on their own, Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson and Sarah Paulson) were hidden away like filthy secrets—until they finally killed their captor/parent and were “rescued” by Fraulein Elsa Mars and taken to the Freak Show. Bette and Dot are very different young women, each compelling and likable in their own way. We enjoy seeing them squabble, but like it even more when they team up to achieve a few beautiful objectives, and end up happier than almost anyone else that season.
5 Bloodyface – Asylum
Deciding between including Bloodyface and Son of Bloodyface was not an easy task. Both men are aptly named, have an impressive kill count, and are delightfully insane. In the end though, we had to give Bloodyface extra points for originality. How long did it take viewers to figure out that the slightly off, but basically kindly doctor was the killer all along? It was impossible to tell until Lana was already in his house, which was far too late. Nobody offers a glass of wine and a mint!
Bloodyface (Zachary Quinto) is the main killer of American Horror Story: Asylum and the bane of Lana’s existence, long after she has the pleasure of killing him. Bloodyface is also one of the great contradictory characters. His hatred for women is matched only by his desire to be a father to his son. The way he blames a tied-up rape victim for "seducing" him is confounding and nearly unwatchable in its horror. His bizarre “therapy” designed to turn Lana straight might be the most unsettling thing of all… if only because otherwise respectable hospitals used to really do stuff like that. Ew.
4 Marie LaVeau – Coven
Marie LaVeau (Angela Bassett) is the immortal Voodoo Priestess who punished Delphine LaLaurie with immortality (200+ years of which was spent in the ground) after LaLaurie turned LaVeau’s man into a minotaur. LaVeau is one of the most powerful and baddest of witches in all of American Horror Story. We eventually learn though, that Marie has made a terrible bargain for her strength and victories. Papa Legba demands a baby from her, one for every year that she lives with youth, luxury, and power.
LaVeau’s many victories are even more amazing considering that she was a black woman who practiced magick while living through the times of slavery, Jim Crow, and lynching. Whenever possible, she used her powers to right wrong, fight injustice, raise the dead, or whatever else needed doing to improve the world around her. Marie was smart, brave, powerful, and an utter badass. She was also a great hairdresser.
3 Liz Taylor – Hotel
If you didn’t cry a little when Liz (Denis O’Hare) made up with her son, you should probably stop reading this article so you can look for your missing heart. Liz was a delightful part of Hotel, and easily the most likeable character we’ve seen Denis O’Hare play yet on American Horror Story. Liz began life as a dude named Nick Pryor. He was the sort who never quite fit in, just sort of went through the motions of life. He wasn’t sure why he never felt passionate about anything, despite having a wife and son. One day, he and some jerky business associates went to the Hotel Cortez where his life changed forever.
Or should we say, her life. Because deep down, this person called Nick Pryor was really a fabulous and poised woman named Liz Taylor. It’s a delightful transformation, one viewers cheered on all season. Sure, Liz dies before Hotel is over, but death in this world isn’t remotely what it is in other places. In death, Liz still had a good job, a loving husband, and tons of good friends who respect and admire her. Who can ask for more than that?
2 Sister Mary Eunice – Asylum
When is a nun not a nun? When she’s possessed by the devil himself. Mary Eunice McKee (Lily Rabe) was a painfully shy girl who longed to fit in. The first time she did was when she joined a convent… that eventually sent her to an asylum where she’d be surrounded by sick people and sycophantic Sister Jude-supporters. Mary Eunice did her best to be a team player, but everything changed when the young nun attends an exorcism at Briarcliff. She becomes possessed by the Devil himself.
Slowly, we watch as Sister Mary Eunice devolves from making a few off-color comments to becoming a murderous rapist with an eye toward taking over the hospital, then the entire Holy See. She manipulates everyone from Jude to Doc Arden (James Cromwell), from the Monsignor to Lana Winters. The real Mary Eunice fights the devil, but is not nearly strong enough. Possessed and evil, Mary Eunice is an exciting, hilarious, and wonderful character.
1 Pepper – Freakshow / Asylum
In all the seasons of American Horror Story so far, who’s the one character you’d like to scoop up in your arms and take home? The one who is the most undeserving of the horrors they’re forced to endure? Who is the one who seems the least equipped to face what they’ve been given. If you said, Duh, of course it’s Pepper, then we’re all in agreement.
Pepper’s (Naomi Grossman) perpetual abandonment ended when she turned 18 and was taken to join the Freak Show. When Elsa Mars sold the show to go to Hollywood, Pepper was sent to live with her sister—who helped frame Pepper for murder. Pepper then went to the horrible Briarcliff Manor as an insane murderess, where she ultimately died. It’s in Freak Show that we really get to know Pepper. Her wedding with Salty is one of the cutest things that’s ever happened. Pepper is sweet, kind, funny, and has tons of maternal instinct. But she also had microcephaly, which made her seem like a burden to everyone who saw her. To those who knew Pepper though, she was a great friend.
Did we leave out your favorite American Horror Story character? Who do you think will stand out in My Roanoke Nightmare? Tell us all about it in the comments.