HBO has been home to a number of TV's greatest characters over the last 20 years or so, but none are better than Omar Little from The Wire. Portrayed by Michael K. Williams through all five seasons, Omar wasn't just The Wire's most fascinating character, but also one that was - and still is - greater than any other to have graced HBO, and arguably TV as a whole.
The cable outfit recently started a huge debate when they asked fans on Twitter to name the top three greatest HBO characters ever, with few surprises among the popular replies, which included Tony Soprano, Game of Thrones' Tyrion and Cersei Lannister, Deadwood's Al Swearengen, and Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David. All of these and more are great HBO characters, but they don't quite match the sheer breadth of qualities that The Wire's Omar Little possessed.
First introduced in "The Buys", the third episode of The Wire's first season, Omar is immediately among the most complex characters on the show full of them. He's a stick-up guy, but he's robbing from drug-dealers; he's a black man who's a criminal, and yet he's also gay and in love. We're supposed to be sympathetic towards Omar because he's clearly not a terrible person, but at the same time he haunts the streets of Baltimore like a boogeyman, stalking gangsters with a sawn-off shotgun, frequent yells of "Omar comin!" and the familiar tune of "The Farmer in the Dell" punctuating his various appearances. He's a ruthless killer and a person with a clear moral code and compass. He's a product of the game and a contradiction of it. Williams is instantly magnetic in the role, capturing the nuances of the character and containing an appeal that never once wears off across the five years.
The Wire was full of memorable characters who felt like real people, such is David Simon's gift, but Omar was different. He was authentic, yet also completely unique, and there's still never been another HBO figure quite like him; he's a character who defies type. Even someone like Tony Soprano, a towering epic of a man that he is, now feels if not normal then at least feasible within the realms of TV, in a way that didn't and still doesn't fully apply to Omar. Throughout The Wire, there was no character who could offer a mix of thrills and tragedy like Omar Little did, and that stretches across the whole of HBO's back catalog.
With his recognizable facial scar and a long list of bodies behind him, Omar cuts a menacing figure. But he's also someone defined by his love and care for others, not just himself. To have a character who can flip between being so candid and callous, who can alternate from tenderness to rage when the moment takes him, is a remarkable thing. For being able to do it for five years, being a part of the most exciting storylines, and packaged in a character as complicated as any seen before or since, The Wire's Omar Little stands as HBO's greatest character. If you come at the king, you best not miss.