For seven tumultuous seasons, Sons of Anarchy presented viewers with some of the vilest and most loathsome individuals to ever grace the small screen – and that was just the members of SAMCRO.
Away from the chaos and violence of Charming’s most infamous biker gang, the show also found time to offer up some truly despicable villains both big and small.
The IRA, Chinese triads and some deeply unpleasant bigots all featured across the show’s 92-episode run, but even that was only the tip of the iceberg.
If anything, it could be argued that some of Sons of Anarchy’s most despicable villains came from within the ranks of the local police force, D.E.A., and of course, SAMCRO itself.
At their best, the show’s big bads varied from tightly-wound balls of fury, like Henry Rollins’ A.J. Weston, to coldly calculated and consistently conniving individuals, like Ron Perlman’s Clay Morrow, and they always left an impact on the show.
However, Sons of Anarchy didn’t always hit the high notes when it came to the antagonists. Some came off cartoonish, while others were just a little tame.
Then there was that whole excursion to Ireland. An astonishingly inaccurate portrait of life on the Emerald Isle, the only thing worse than Sons of Anarchy’s Irish setting was some of the painfully bad accents on display.
Titus Welliver is a fine actor and perfectly cast in the titular role on Bosch, but his attempt at an Irish brogue while playing Jimmy O’Phelan still represents one of the biggest travesties in television history and a major blot in the Sons of Anarchy copybook.
When Sons of Anarchy’s villains were good, they were among the best on TV, but when they were bad... oh boy.
With that said, here are the 10 Villains That Hurt Sons Of Anarchy (And 10 That Saved It), Officially Ranked.
20 Hurt: David Hale
Taylor Sheridan did a decent job playing one of the few honest men living in the moral cesspit of Charming. The problem was that, as one of SAMCRO’s main adversaries in the early part of the show, his character was a little too decent to play an antagonist.
Nicknamed "Captain America" by his boss, Wayne Unser, Charming’s Deputy Chief of Police was a squeaky-clean presence throughout the first two-and-a-bit seasons of the show.
However, in a series where the lines between good and bad blurred constantly, this square-jawed, moralistic macho man stuck out like a sore thumb.
His surprise departure at the start of the season three did at least ensure that he went out with a bang.
Also, given what Sheridan has gone on to, Sons of Anarchy’s loss was definitely Hollywood’s gain.
19 Saved: Ernest Darby
Kurt Sutter pulled off a minor masterstroke in casting Mitch Pileggi as Ernest Darby.
Prior to Sons of Anarchy, Pileggi was best known for playing Mulder and Scully’s buttoned-down boss, FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner on The X Files, making the role of the bigoted substance dealer Darby a major departure.
It was a shift that he managed with aplomb.
Pileggi’s Darby is a dishonest scumbag, only too happy to renege on a deal and double cross a criminal rival at the first opportunity.
Alternating between sinister and pathetic, he never poses a major threat to SAMCRO, but his constant attempts at undermining the gang and their business makes him an intriguing and enduring element to the show, operating on a different plane to some of Sons of Anarchy’s deadlier foes.
He's a welcome addition to proceedings.
18 Hurt: Viktor Putlova
As a forgettable presence during Sons of Anarchy’s second season, Viktor Putlova was supposed to be the ruthless leader of the Californian branch of the Russian Mafia.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t an especially fearsome presence on the show.
Played by American actor Keith Szarabajka, Putlova would have been more at home as a cheesy, clichéd portrait of an Eastern European gangster - the kind of secondary character more commonly found lurking around on shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, popping up in a couple of scenes before the episode moves on to a meatier main villain.
It was a similar case on Sons of Anarchy, with Putlova largely serving as a helping hand to Jimmy O’Phelan in his battle against SAMCRO.
Regularly outsmarted by the biker gang, he soon met his end with little to no fanfare.
17 Saved: August Marks
The stakes were raised significantly at the start of Sons of Anarchy’s fifth season with the introduction of Billy Brown’s August Marks.
He was the right-hand man of crime boss and kingpin Damon Pope. While Pope was the brains of the operation, Marks was his ruthless enforcer.
It was a welcome chance to flex some acting chops for Brown, who was previously best known as the two-dimensional Detective Mike Anderson on Dexter.
Cold and consistently ruthless, Marks eventually made the step-up to crimelord following Pope’s shocking demise.
He also duly delivered one of the biggest shocks of the shows entire run by dispatching beloved member Bobby Munson after Jax’s attempted double cross on the Lin Triads.
He was always going to meet a grisly end, but it was eventful while it lasted.
16 Hurt: Jacob Hale
Jacob is undoubtedly the lesser of the two Hales. While David Hale was a little too straight-laced for his own good, his brother Jacob went too far the other way.
Constantly conniving to strike a deal that will see him exploit the people of Charming for his own personal gain, the main problem with Jacob is that, as a villain, his character never really developers beyond being a double-dealer.
It’s just a series of meetings in cafes and offices where a lot of discussions take place. While these are discussions that drive storylines forward, they don’t make for riveting viewing.
This doesn’t really work in a series like Sons of Anarchy where actions tend to speak louder than words.
15 Saved: Lee Toric
As far as Sons of Anarchy villains go, they don’t come more complex than Lee Toric.
Donal Logue put in a career-best performance as the ex-US Marshal waging a one-man war against SAMCRO following the passing of his sister at the hands of the incarcerated Otto Delaney.
Obsessed with the idea of retribution rather than justice, Otto learned first-hand of Toric’s penchant for excessive force, while Tara came seriously close to prison time thanks to the former lawman’s machinations.
Responsible for some of the show’s most unsavory moments, Toric’s twisted moral compass even saw him attempt to frame SAMCRO associate Nero to no avail.
Though Logue’s time on the show was cut short after he became a series regular on Vikings, his sudden exit at the hands of the vengeful Otto did provide viewers with another major shock.
14 Hurt: Charles Barosky
Like Dexter before it, Sons of Anarchy enlisted the excellent Peter Weller to appear on the show and, like Dexter, managed to waste his sizeable talents in the process.
As the leader of a gang of corrupt police officers, Charles Barosky was a character who promised a lot but delivered little.
At first appearing as an ally to Jax and Nero, Barosky was eventually revealed to be as cold and calculating as some of SAMCRO’s biggest adversaries.
Motivated by money alone, he turns rat against the gang, siding with the Chinese triads and making a fatal mistake in the process.
Though Weller does his best as Barosky, there’s definitely a feeling that he could have had more fun in a more substantial and better defined role.
13 Saved: Lincoln Potter
One of the biggest challenges facing Kurt Sutter on Sons of Anarchy came in creating a series of villains somehow nastier and more nefarious than the members of SAMCRO themselves.
It was a challenge that he rose to again and again as the series progressed, with Ray McKinnon’s Lincoln Potter a prime example.
As the Assistant US Attorney investigating the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Lincoln might rank as the most cerebral of all the villains to appear on the show.
As an eccentric but carefully strategic figure, Potter sowed the seeds of discontent in Juice, setting in motion a tragic series of events that saw the SAMCRO member go from dedicated soldier to deceitful informant.
A conflicting operation involving the takedown of the Galindo Cartel may have prevented him from bringing SAMCRO to justice, but the damage was done by then.
12 Hurt: Hector Salazar
Jose Pablo Cantillo had a blast playing Jason Statham’s adversary Ricky Verona in Crank, but cut a far more subdued figure on Sons of Anarchy.
Cast in the role of Hector Salazar, the president of the Lodi chapter of the Calaveras Motorcycle Club, he was the guy dispatched by the Mayans to do their dirty work with mixed results.
As a regular on season three of the show, Salazar’s fall from grace proved swift, with Hector stripped of his patch, excommunicated, and shuffled off this mortal coil in the space of one series.
This was all because he didn’t stay loyal to the club and ultimately hatched a failed plan that put Tara’s life at risk.
Though this is all fun enough, it felt a little bit too repetitive and formulaic in the wider context of the show.
11 Saved: Gaalen O'Shay
Though the decision to feature the ‘True IRA’ on Sons of Anarchy was a questionable one at best, Timothy Murphy’s Gaalen O’Shay proved a fine addition to proceedings.
The ruthless leader of the group, O’Shay certainly lived up to his nickname as the “Butcher of Belfast” on the series.
As an old-school operator who finds twisted kinship with Ron Perlman’s Clay Morrow, Gaalen boasts a pretty impressive rap sheet that includes trafficking, weapons dealing, and terrorism.
Not only does he eliminate the beloved Filthy Phil in gruesome fashion, but he also dances between being a reluctant ally and formidable foe of SAMCRO and Jax Teller in particular.
Murphy, himself an Irishman, conveys the necessary mix of cunning and ferocity that makes O’Shay such an unpredictable and devastating force.
10 Hurt: Josh Kohn
Fans of The Shield were given a treat when Jay Karnes popped up on Sons of Anarchy. Known for playing the occasionally eccentric LAPD detective Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach on the former, this was a chance to see Karnes doing something a little different.
The character of Josh Kohn was an intriguing one too, as he helped add a little something different in the show's early days.
As a disturbed federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agent, he followed Tara Knowles to Charming after the breakdown of their relationship.
It soon becomes clear, however, that his obsession with Tara was a dangerous one.
However, what starts as an interesting setup is short-lived when Jax came to the rescue after Kohn confronted Tara in her home.
Jax arrived, despatched Karnes, and disposed of the body. It felt like a waste.
9 Saved: A.J. Weston
After a relatively slow start to proceedings, the introduction of Henry Rollins’ AJ Weston was a brilliant bolt from the blue.
Arguably the most disturbed villain to ever arrive in Charming, this high-ranking member of the bigoted Brotherhood meant business.
Rollins was perfectly cast too, injecting Weston with the necessary intensity and deranged stoicism to make this extreme and outlandish character somehow believable.
Kurt Sutter didn’t just create a simple stereotype. While Weston is capable of savage acts of depravity like the one he exercises on Gemma Teller, he’s also a loving single father of two sons whom he protects above all else.
Given his methods, a prolonged stint on Sons of Anarchy was never likely but, while his flame only burned briefly, it was bright.
8 Hurt: Georgie Caruso
The addition of Tom Arnold to the Son of Anarchy ranks felt like a real coup for the show when he first arrived on the scene.
The decision to cast him as adult film producer Georgie Caruso seemed like a shrewd move too, with Arnold possessing the correct level of sliminess to pull off this kind of part with aplomb.
However, the results didn’t quite live up to the billing.
Though Arnold excelled as Georgie, he always felt like something of a sideshow to the main event.
As more of a secondary antagonist, Georgie’s lack of screen time minimized his despicable deeds and meant that the show didn’t make the most of having someone like Arnold in their ranks.
The character and motives of Georgie were simply never really examined. He was a scumbag, but he could have been so much more.
7 Saved: Damon Pope
When Tig unleashed a drive-by attack on One-Niner Leader Laroy Wayne, little did he realize that he would be unleashing arguably the biggest and most dangerous criminal in the entire Sons of Anarchy universe.
As a slick and sophisticated force, Oakland kingpin Damon Pope possesses the necessary savagery and manpower to make him a worthy match for SAMCRO.
Another game-changer in the world of Sons of Anarchy, it was Pope who orchestrated fan favourite Opie in an extraordinary prison-based action sequence.
Yet that's nothing compared to the disturbing punishment he dishes out to Tig for his initial attack on Wayne and Pope’s niece.
He is easily one of the most intelligent and calculated foes they face.
However, the only disappointment comes in the relatively simplistic way in which he is eliminated from proceedings.
6 Hurt: Henry Lin
Introduced in the very first season of the show, Henry Lin may have been a semi-constant presence in the Sons of Anarchy universe, but he was never a particularly memorable one.
The sheer number of characters and subplots in need of attention put paid to that with the Lin Triad proving somewhat secondary despite the fact they stepped up as one of SAMCRO’s main adversaries later in the show.
As another character too often bogged down in the kind of deal-making dialogue-heavy scenes that represented Sons of Anarchy at its worst, Lin just wasn’t given enough to do.
Kenneth Choi impressed with limited screentime in The Wolf of Wall Street but in Sons of Anarchy, he was only able to flex his acting chops towards the end of the show, when Lin meets his maker at the hands of Juice.
5 Saved: June Stahl
As the most formidable female presence on Sons of Anarchy - at least outside of SAMCRO - June Stahl is the master game player on the series.
She’s the one who uses Chibs’ estranged family to help turn him against the Biker gang. Gemma Teller also falls foul of the crooked ways after being framed for a crime she didn’t commit.
Stahl is also the one who makes the club believe that Opie has become an informant, with dire consequences for the group and, ultimately, herself.
As a strong woman in the male-heavy world of law enforcement, she lords it over David Hale and Wayne Unser, outsmarting and overruling them at every turn.
She is constantly plotting to bring down SAMCRO and anyone who stands in her way.
Nothing is off limits with Stahl, which made her a force to be reckoned with.
4 Hurt: Ethan Zobelle
Considering that Ethan Zobelle was playing the leader of the League of American Nationalists on a series not known for its subtly, he proved a surprisingly moderate force on the show.
As a stark contrast to the searing intensity of Henry Rollins’ AJ Weston, Adam Arkin came off as a far more ponderous and weak.
Arkin just never felt believable as the leader of a group of right-wing extremists.
Maybe this had something to do with the fact Zobelle ended up being outed as an FBI informant but, then again, maybe that’s giving Arkin and the creative team behind the series too much credit.
Though he did play a prominent role in shaking things up for SAMCRO during the show’s breakthrough season, there was little clamour for his return after he made an escape at the end of the season.
3 Saved: Clay Morrow
The final season of Sons of Anarchy may have been the most shocking but it was lacking a key ingredient integral to the show’s success.
When the idea of Hamlet on motorbikes was first pitched, it was the presence of Ron Perlman that helped make it a winner.
With his gruff demeanour and looming physicality, Perlman was perfect for the part of Clay Morrow, a character with more layers than an onion.
It takes a remarkable actor to pull off this kind of part, starting out as the archetypal anti-hero before evolving into one of the biggest antagonists of the entire series.
Playing a complex character who often dealt in conflicted motives, Perlman made Morrow both a fan favourite and the ultimate villain.
Whether you loved him or hated him, the show just wasn’t the same without his Machiavellian dealings.
2 Hurt: Jimmy O’Phelan
If the makers of Sons of Anarchy were expecting viewers to find Jimmy O’Phelan as fearsome an adversary as Chibs did on the show, they probably should have thought about casting someone else in the role.
Titus Welliver’s Irish accent ranks among the worst ever attempted on the small screen and fatally undermines O’Phelan as a character on the series.
As a laughable presence, his awful deeds were eclipsed by Welliver’s astonishingly bad performance.
The fact that he’s so poorly cast is only further highlighted by the success of Timothy V. Murphy – an Irish actor – as Gaalen O’Shay.
Though part of Sons of Anarchy’s risible series set in Ireland - complete with its Irish-style theme tune - this is one pretty much everyone involved in must surely want to forget.
1 Saved: Gemma Teller
The final season of Sons of Anarchy lacked Clay Morrow but that at least cleared the way for Katey Sagal’s Gemma Teller.
As a complex and difficult to define character, Gemma started her descent into oblivion in the previous season during her shocking confrontation with Tara. There was no going back from that point.
Once capable of manipulating SAMCRO to commit any number of crimes both petty and serious, Gemma crossed a line during that clash with Tara, setting the show’s endgame in motion.
She always walked a fine line between antihero and antagonist - she was the reason why Jax’s dad wasn't around in the first place, having colluded with Clay to ensure that he met his maker.
She was a born survivor willing to do whatever it takes, and in a distinguished career, this remains Sagal’s greatest ever role and the show’s best character.
What do you think? Who were the best and worst villains in Sons of Anarchy? Let us know in the comments!