(Spoilers for the fourteen Wheel of Time books are below, do not read if you do not want the series spoiled).
To complement our ranking of the Wheel of Time heroes we have decided to rank the villains as well. Like the heroes, the Wheel of Time villains are flawed, and in some cases they are fairly incompetent, making readers wonder why they should ever fear them and the heroes safety.
There are some villains where that is not the case and they have readers questioning whether or not they will be able to defeat the heroes. Some villains are partially competent, meaning there are some books where the villain appears to be competent, but in later installments the villain turns out to be an idiot.
Besides being ranked for competence, the villains are also being ranked for what they contributed to the story in terms of interesting storylines. It’s positive villain qualities minus negative villain qualities and that’s how this list was compiled.
Before beginning the top ten list, here are some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the ranking. These characters are:
(Artwork below was done by John Seamus Gallagher).
It’s a shame Padan Fain is at the bottom of this list. In the early books he had great potential. He was one of the top villains in two of the best books in the series: The Great Hunt and The Shadow Rising. In the early books Fain manages to accomplish a lot of evil: he opens the ways for the trollocs to invade the Two Rivers in The Eye of the World, he steals the Horn of Valere in The Great Hunt, and he leads the invasion of the Two Rivers in The Shadow Rising.
After The Shadow Rising he almost all but disappears, leaving readers waiting her for his next big moment and it never came. A quick run in with him in The Path of Daggers where he nearly kills Rand occurs, but that was virtually all he did until A Memory of Light. In A Memory of Light all he does is get killed by Mat Cauthon (it’s very anticlimactic), allowing Jordan/Sanderson to wrap up a potential plot hole rather than do something with one of their villains with the greatest potential.
What was Fain’s potential? He could instill fear into Myrddraal and kill them with ease (a unique trait), starting midway through The Eye of the World he lost his connection to the Dark One and became a rogue villain (this had a lot of potential), and he had established personal conflicts with the three ta’veren. For Fain to just suddenly be stabbed to death after fourteen books and a well established and uniquely created character position was unfortunately one of the greatest wastes in the series. Fain makes the top ten for his contributions to the earlier books and for his demented insanity.
9. Shaidar Haran
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Shaidar Haran is like Padan Fain, another villain with great potential that is ultimately wasted. Unlike Fain, Haran’s intentions are clear: he means to defeat the Dragon Reborn.
What makes Shaidar Haran great is he is the combination of a unique personality with great power. He is a giant Myrddraal with a sense of humor. Additionally he is able to easily overpower all of the Forsaken which demonstrates his strength. One of his most notable scenes includes abusing Mesaana in front of Alviarin.
His great power and his established track record had many wondering who he would confront in A Memory of Light. An epic battle with Rand or possibly a fight with Padan Fain would have been a battle to behold. Instead readers are treated to a giant empty Myrddraal cloth once Rand enters the cave to fight the Dark One. Shaidar Haran dissipates into nothing, infuriating readers, and forcing his ranking as a great villain to plummet. For his great power and cynical sense of humor, Haran is ranked ninth on this list.
Asmodean is only a major character in two books: The Shadow Rising and The Fires of Heaven. In The Shadow Rising he was very close to grabbing the saidin ter’angreal that would have granted him access to the Choeden Kal, but he was ultimately defeated by Rand and Lanfear.
That’s not before he creates the artificial dragon markings on Couladin which leads to an entire story arc and conflict with the Shaido Aiel.
Although Asmodean is a serious threat to Rand in The Shadow Rising, he really makes this list for the interesting role he plays in The Fires of Heaven. After Rand defeats him, Lanfear makes a unique shield for him that will allow Asmodean to channel saidin in trickles. Once shielded, Asmodean is forced to teach Rand how to use saidin, giving away a number of secrets from the Age of Legends.
Since Asmodean is giving Rand valuable information, it appears he will genuinely have to try and help Rand win the Last Battle, since the Forsaken and the Dark One will never take him back. The hiding of Asmodean amongst Rand’s followers and Asmodean’s presumed personal conflict with serving the side of light drives the fifth book in the series. Unfortunately readers never get to see whether or not Asmodean will willing serve the side of light as Graendal kills him shortly after Rahvin is defeated in Camelyn
Mazrim Taim is first declared a False Dragon in The Eye of the World. Shortly after he is captured by the Aes Sedai and eventually escapes captivity. He doesn’t make his first extended appearance as a major character until Lord of Chaos when he meets Rand and is appointed to train Asha’man at the newly created Black Tower.
Taim is kind of a mystery. The mystery being was he always a Dark Friend? After his appointment he finds hundreds of male channelers and begins to train them. He eventually uses them to save Rand’s life at the Battle of Dumai’s Wells. Whether Taim was a Dark Friend at this point is never made clear, but after Dumai’s Wells, he goes all evil.
Taim’s evil accomplishments include: becoming the only Dark Friend in the series to get promoted to one of the Chosen, nearly assassinating Rand al’Thor, training an army of Dreadlords for the Dark One in the Last Battle, and for being largely responsible for killing Egwene al’Vere.
Where Taim truly excels is with his ambiguous intentions early in the series, and with his overall sense of creepiness. Taim always gives off a creepy feeling to readers: whether its Taim trying to sneak a peak at Elayne nude, or his creepy laughing at the end of Knife of Dreams, he has the ability to make a reader’s stomach turn.
6. Ishamael (Morodin)
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Ishamael (later Morodin) is referred to as the most powerful of the Forsaken, and he is the most frequently encountered villain in the series by its primary protagonist Rand al’Thor. Ishamael should be higher on the list, the problem is that he is not that believable of a master villain.
The reason for this is because Rand defeats Ishamael three separate times in the first three books when Rand is at his most vulnerable. After Ishamael is officially killed in the Dragon Reborn he is reborn as Morodin and fights Rand one last time in the final book, A Memory of Light. In A Memory of Light, Rand is now at his most powerful. See the problem here… the reader feels no threat to Rand’s life since he has previously defeated Ishamael three separate times. On top of that Rand defeated Ishamael when he was at his weakest. So again how are readers supposed to believe that Ishamael is going to have any chance against Rand in A Memory of Light?
Minus this gaping flaw, Ishamael does have some impressive sequences as a villain. His dream sequences in The Eye of World are genuinely awesome, and initially they make Ishamael’s role as the master villain seem plausible in the first book. The way he is able to get a leash on Lanfear and Moghedien is also impressive. His status as the leader of the Forsaken and some of his earlier roles in the series justify him being included on this top ten list.
Semirhage was gifted with a great back story. Her turn from being the greatest healer of her age to the greatest torturer is a fantastic reversal for her character.
Semirhage’s great ability to cause pain is ironically due to her knowledge of healing. She knows how much pain the human body can take, and thus she can keep people alive for extended periods of time for torturing. Jordan also positions Semirhage as a type of boogeyman to the people of the current age, which is a neat twist.
Semirhage’s two attempts on Rand’s life are brief, but they are both the apex of the myriad assassination attempts on his life. Her first assassination attempt comes shortly after she murders the entire Seanchan royal family (except Tuon) and then poses as Tuon to meet with Rand to discuss a Seanchan treaty. The quick battle results in Semirhage’s capture, but Rand loses a hand in the process, making this the closest assassination attempt on his life in the series.
Shortly after her capture she is released by Shaidar Haran and her second assassination attempt of Rand begins. In what is the darkest scene in this series, Semirhage collars Rand with the Seanchan male a’dam and forces him to strangle Min to death. Rand is only able to stop strangling Min after he discovers he can use the True Power, which he promptly kills Semirhage with. Despite her brevity in the series, Semirhage has two of the most distinct villainous moments, and that is why she is ranked as high as she is.
Moghedien is the least powerful of the Forsaken and she largely gets beaten up throughout the duration of the series. Her only moments of dominance occur when she bullies the thirteen Black Ajah into submission, and when she rips Birgitte Silverbow out of Tel’aran’rhiod.
Moghedien is as high as she is largely due to her role in developing Elayne and Nynaeve as credible protagonists. Nynaeve’s battles with Moghedien in The Shadow Rising and The Fires of Heaven are two of the best powerful villain vs powerful hero battles in the series. Her role as a kind of second Asmodean in Lord of Chaos where she is forced to submit her knowledge of weaves from the Age of Legends to Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene has the same air of mystery around it that was around Asmodean.
Moghedien maybe a coward, but above all else she is survivor. Her greatest accomplishment may be the fact that she is the only villain on this list that is in her right state of mind or isn’t dead by the end of the series. That has to count for something.
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Demandred makes sporadic appearances throughout the series but he doesn’t make his first major appearance until A Memory of Light where he is revealed to be the Dark One’s General for the Last Battle. Despite only appearing in one book as a major villain Demandred takes every advantage of his limited page time.
Besides bringing hundreds of additional channelers to the battle and converting Taim to the dark, Demandred manages to thoroughly out maneuver Mat Cauthon as a general until Mat’s luck kicks in and the Horn of Valere is blown. Besides being an incredibly skilled general, he is also a formidable warrior. He kills Gawyn Trakand in a duel while he is wearing three of the Seanchan assassin rings, he defeats Galad Damodred in one on one combat, and he forces Logain to flee before nearly killing him as well.
It’s Lan who finally kills Demandred, but not before having to sacrifice a severe wound to himself in order to finally kill him. It’s only Aes Sedai healing that allows Lan to escape with his life. With Demandred readers got the most bang for their buck, and that is why he is ranked at number three.
When Graendal is first mentioned and described in The Shadow Rising I thought she would not be long for the story (apparently that’s what Lanfear thought too). Instead, book after book, Graendal endured while the other Forsaken were killed. Her abilities as a force of evil however, weren’t made clear until Towers of Midnight.
In the prologue of that book it is revealed that Graendal survived Rand’s attack on her fortress in The Gathering Storm. Furthermore the way she survived, managed to kill one of her Forsaken rivals, and convince Rand that she was dead finally showed readers how clever she really was and why she had lasted this long.
Ironically Graendal doesn’t accomplish much for the evil side (she does kill three of the other Forsaken). Her ability to last as long as she does, the way she does, is impressive though. She proves she is a skilled survivor in A Memory of Light by not being killed by Perrin Ayabara in Tel’aran’rhiod and by fighting off multiple Aes Sedai (including Cadsuane), Wise One’s (including Aviendha), and Aiel warriors at once. Ultimately it’s bad luck that brings an end to Graendal’s reign of terror, as one of her compulsion weaves backfires on her, making her a willing servant to Aviendha.
Is this really a surprise? Lanfear, as a character, is by far the strongest and most complex of the villain characters in the Wheel of Time. Her introduction in The Great Hunt and her subtle manipulations of the three ta’veren immediately suggests to readers that looking ahead Lanfear is a much greater threat than Ishamael, whom is considered the primary villain up until that point. It’s clear in the early going that Lanfear can easily over power Rand and destroy him if she wants to. Why she doesn’t destroy him is what makes her so interesting.
Her ambiguous intentions right up until Rand’s final battle with Morodin is one of the most compelling plots in the entire series. As she struggles with her feelings with Rand and her service to the Dark One, it’s only later revealed that Lanfear ultimately comes to the define the corrupting influence of power.
As it turns out, Lanfear meant to defeat both Rand and the Dark One and she nearly succeeds. Ironically her inability to understand the power of love is what gets her killed when Perrin snaps her neck after she tries to use compulsion on him. Perrin’s love for Faile allows him to escape Lanfear’s spell and save Rand, and the rest of the world.
Lanfear comes close to defeating both the Dark One and Rand, and that places her in a special category all by herself. That plus her complexity as a character is why she is the number one pick for the villains in the Wheel of Time.