Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Best Justified Villains Ranked

One of modern television's best Western series, "Justified" is an engrossing, fast-paced drama bursting with memorable characters. Based on the works of often-adapted author Elmore Leonard, the series is set in Harlan County, Kentucky, and centers around Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. A sharp-shooting lawman who rides the line between do-gooder and outlaw, he's one of the most recognizable heroes in a striking hat this side of Harrison Ford's whip-wielding relic hunter.

While Timothy Olyphant is excellent as Raylan, what really makes "Justified" so riveting is its ensemble of villains. A string of violent thugs, heinous henchmen, and ruthless rogues, each one seems worse — and better — than the last. With so many devilishly delightful villains to enjoy, you might find yourself wondering how they rank against each other. You're in luck: We've put them in order, from the sleaziest crooks to the most powerful crime lords. Don't be too upset if your favorite missed our list — the show is just so jam-packed with great baddies, we couldn't include them all. Put on your hat and put out a BOLO, because we're ranking the best villains on "Justified."

13. Fletcher Nix

While most of the best villains on "Justified" are part of season-long story arcs, there are also plenty of singular antagonists too. These villains are often just as compelling as bigger threats, and bring plenty of problems to Raylan's doorstep. But there's only one single-story swine sinister enough to vault their way to this list of the series' best baddies: Fletcher "The Ice Pick" Nix.

Appearing in the Season 3 opener "The Gunfighter," Nix is a nasty number who loves to instill fear in his victims. Notorious for his use of an ice pick, he's already an infamous federal fugitive when he's hired by Dixie Mafia man Emmitt Arnett, and proceeds to rob and kill watch store owner Delmar Coates. Playing a twisted game with the man, Nix puts his gun at the center of a table and challenges him to reach for it in a quick-draw contest. Though Coates gets the gun, Nix uses his ice pick to stab his hand before brutally gunning him down.

In the episode's climactic showdown between Nix and Raylan, Nix holds the marshal's ex-wife Winona Hawkins hostage. He offers him a round of the same game, but the lively lawman outsmarts him. With his eerily cold stare, the unflinching and callous Nix is the show's finest one-off villain.

12. Colton Rhodes

Not every villain in "Justified" is a well-organized criminal kingpin or a slickly calculating killer. Many are just morally bankrupt crooks who give the marshals a run for their money with little more than moxie. Firmly in this category is Colton Rhodes, a one-time war buddy of Boyd Crowder who's recruited into his gang after the death of henchman Devil. 

Formerly a military policeman, Rhodes has seen his share of killing, and adds big time muscle to Boyd's gang. But the same belligerent attitude and short temper that got him demoted and discharged from the service follows him to Harlan. Moreover, he's using drugs to cope. Under Boyd's wing, however, he proves deadly, and grows even more dangerous after he botches Ellen May's execution.

It's not just killer instinct that makes Rhodes so brutal — it's also his military training. He almost kills the marshals with a roadside trap as they take fugitive Drew Thompson into custody. Only fellow serviceman Tim Gutterson's good instincts save the day. Appropriately, Gutterson gets the final showdown with Rhodes after finally tracking down Ellen May.

11. The Crowes

Fans may be divided on Season 5 villain Daryl Crowe Jr., but the wider Crowe clan is memorable and dangerous. We meet a lesser Crowe right away in the form of bumbling gator-poacher Dewey Crowe, who Raylan comes up against upon his return to Harlan County. More comic relief than outright villain, Dewey's repeated run-ins with Raylan always see him on the losing end. But in Season 5, he wins a lawsuit against the marshals for Raylan's abuse, and comes away with $300,000. This brings his money-grubbing extended family to Kentucky.

Patriarch Daryl Crowe Jr. is a heck of a lot savvier than Dewey, and far more lethal. With his brothers Danny and Dilly, plus swamp assassin Jean Baptiste, he brings hell to Harlan, taking on Boyd Crowder and even putting Raylan's boss Art Mullen in the hospital. Sorely underestimated though they might be, it takes nothing short of the betrayal of one of their own to finally take the Crowes down.

10. Avery Markham and Katherine Hale

Though we could rank these two separately, Avery Markham and Katherine Hale are at their most dangerous when they work together. Hale is first introduced as the widow of Grady Hale. She comes to Harlan at the behest of Wynn Duffy, who hires her to assess his dealings with Boyd Crowder. Hale's advice eventually helps solidify their business, and the three begin working together. They use Boyd to rob  Avery Markham, a man with a dangerous reputation.

But Hale and Markham have a long history, and when they reconnect they become criminal cohorts and lovers. Soon, the duo is a major thorn in the marshals' side, with lots of plans to run the marijuana business in Harlan County. Firmly interested in the long game, they're looking to control the market ahead of potential legalization. You see, this duo wants to put their criminal lives behind them and become upstanding businesspeople ... and they don't care who they have to kill to do it.

Hollywood stars Mary Steenburgen and Sam Elliott deliver deliciously scenery-chewing performances as this law-breaking pair. Why the producers had Elliott shave his trademark mustache, though, we'll never know.

9. Boon

All series long, Raylan Givens goes up against the meanest scum Harlan County (and beyond) has to offer. But as violent and brutal as many of them are, Raylan never faces anyone who can go toe-to-toe with him as a gunfighter – until the show's final season, that is. Here, he comes face-to-face with Avery Markham's slickest hired gun, a mysterious old-school outlaw named Boon.

In many ways, Boon is a dark mirror of Raylan himself: He's the kind of man he might have become if he'd never put on a badge. Like Raylan, Boon's a snarky, swaggering gunslinger, and the fastest draw around. But Boon has no scruples, though he also has no desire to take over the criminal underworld, or even get rich. All Boon wants is to show off just how good he is with a six-shooter, which makes him a formidable foe when he comes gunning for Raylan.

Though the big bad of Season 6 is Avery Markham and the final episode sees the ultimate stand-off between Givens and Boyd Crowder, it's actually Boon who gives the lawman the biggest run for his money. Boon and Raylan engage in a quick-draw showdown on an open stretch of highway, from which only one man walks away.

8. Arlo Givens

Though every "Justified" fan loves the series' stylish crime stories, its morally grey complexities are what make it a classic. Raylan Givens is no saint, to the point that he borders on being an antihero. On the flip side, even the worst villains aren't one-note bad guys. In fact, some of Raylan's most despicable enemies were once his friends, or even family. His own father, Arlo Givens, is the greatest example of this: He proves just as twisted and ruthless as any federal fugitive the marshal has to contend with.

It's made clear from the start that Raylan has no love for his father. Viewers go on to learn that the senior Givens was once a low-level drug dealer and a partner to Kentucky drug lord Bo Crowder, who is father to Boyd. With his son back in town with a badge, Arlo finds himself back in the game and squaring off against his own kin. If you think he isn't willing to shoot to kill when his son is in his crosshairs, think again.

7. Bo Crowder

A grimy, gritty drug dealer with no qualms about offing anyone who gets in his way, Bo Crowder once had total control of the region's drug trade and close connections to the Miami cartels. But when the series starts, Bo is sitting in prison. After getting out on a technicality, he goes straight for Ava, the woman who shot his son in the chest and left him for dead. Raylan must protect her, while Boyd's apparent reform soon turns father and son against each other. 

Bo shows himself to be just as dangerous as ever, and every bit as willing to do whatever it takes to seize control in Harlan. While the elder Crowder may not be the smartest tool in the shed, he's as shrewd as they come, and that makes him even scarier than many of the show's biggest bad guys. He cleverly plays Raylan's own father against him, hiring Arlo to take out his son. The Season 1 finale "Bulletville" sees Bo, Boyd, Raylan, and some Miami hitmen all converge for the series' first major showdown — and not everyone makes it out alive.

6. Ava Crowder

Few villains are more complicated than Ava Crowder. This woman is all things to Raylan Givens: A damsel in distress, a helpful informant, a passionate partner, and eventually one of his most vicious rivals. Though Ava and the marshal had a romance many years before, Raylan finds her married to lowlife Boyd Crowder when he returns to Kentucky. But when she becomes the target of her husband's rage (and eventually her father-in-law's as well), Raylan is forced to protect her. In doing so, he becomes her lover.

After Boyd's release from prison, Ava leaves Raylan for her husband. She eventually joins the gang, where she's put in charge of Audrey's brothel. For a time, she even runs the outfit herself, and proves that she may be even more malicious than Boyd. Ava goes from being a fairly token damsel to one of the most fascinating characters on "Justified," powered by a killer performance from Joelle Carter that flits between enemy and ally. It can be hard to tell which side Ava is on from moment to moment: You never know whether she's going to help Raylan or stab him in the back. This is precisely what makes her one of the show's best villains.

5. Dickie Bennett

Season 2 of "Justified" is the show at its finest. One reason why is its assortment of new villains, most of whom are part of the Bennett clan. An influential family run by mother Mags, they operate the region's marijuana trade. Slack-jawed son Coover is the muscle, while his brother Doyle is the local chief of police, who keeps the family business outside the law. The most deranged Bennett is Dickie, a twitchy, angry, long-time rival to Raylan Givens.

Written to be underestimated by everyone, including the audience, Dickie doesn't initially seem like much of a serious threat. He has a short fuse, a sloppy attitude, and a certain air of ineptitude. But his unpredictable nature makes him all the more dangerous. When he's cast out from his own family, he becomes an even bigger villain, capable of just about anything. Jeremy Davies' scene-stealing performance as the mercurial madman is so good, it won him an Emmy Award.

4. Wynn Duffy

Wynn Duffy is a mid-level gangster who passes himself off as a legitimate businessman. While he can't equal Raylan's skill with a six-shooter (or his sheer guts and backbone), Wynn's sly and smarmy attitude makes him the equal of the cocksure marshal.

Assisted by the ever-loyal Mikey, Wynn is the point man for every big-time mobster who comes to Kentucky, and somehow always manages to find his finger knuckle-deep in every pie. But neither his deadliness nor his twisted tendencies make him a great villain, though they certainly have their moments. No, it's all down to how utterly entertaining he is to watch. An eccentric character who never met a tanning bed he didn't like, Wynn always has a clever barb or a sarcastic threat at the ready. He's never intimidated by Raylan, either — in fact, he's more often amused by him. Wynn is just so much fun, you can't help but root for him, no matter how devious he gets.

3. Robert Quarles

If we were to rank this list of villains by sheer evil, then Season 3 nemesis Robert Quarles would top it, and it wouldn't be a close call. An unfeeling and violent criminal from Detroit, he arrives in Harlan County after a falling-out with mob boss Theo Tonin. Determined to make things right with his old mentor, he shows up to collect a debt from middle man Emmitt Arnett, then decides he wants to take over his criminal business. He kills Arnett in cold blood without an ounce of feeling or remorse. 

More than just a savage killer, Quarles is smart — perhaps the most well-educated enemy Raylan Givens ever goes up against. With seemingly no boundaries he won't cross, Quarles is an unpredictable and sadistic force of nature. If you like your villains psychotic and venomously violent, then this guy is probably your favorite baddie on "Justified." But be warned: If you're just dipping your toe into the series, everything involving Quarles is decidedly dark, even within the confines of this gritty show.

2. Mags Bennett

Jeremy Davies isn't the only actor to win an Emmy Award for playing a villain on "Justified." Following the Season 1 loss of Bo Crowder, Season 2 needed a new big bad. In stepped Mags Bennett. Unlike so many of the villains on "Justified," Mags is a fiendish foe whose looks are deceiving. She comes across as a kindly matriarch who's just looking out for her family — but in reality, she's as ruthless as anyone Raylan ever draws down on.

Unlike the towering henchmen or sharp-shooting assassins the marshals fight week after week, Mags is chiefly a cunning criminal mind. Moreover, the Bennett family has a generations-long feud with the Givens clan, which ups Mags' villainous intensity. Though she puts on a kindly face, unforgiving Mags has a deep hatred for Raylan's family, and would like nothing more than to put an end to him. We see what she's capable of when crossed in her very first appearance: She murders a man for calling the police on one of her family's employees, who attacked his daughter. Finding herself at odds with both the law and a corporate carpetbagger, Mags will do anything to protect her people. Her relentless brutality makes her nearly unstoppable.

1. Boyd Crowder

Was there ever any real doubt who was going to come in at number one? When it comes to TV villains, few are as sinister, charismatic, and downright compelling as Boyd Crowder, the criminal miscreant who torments Raylan Givens through six seasons of "Justified." That's not just our opinion, either. The wild-haired desperado regularly ranks among the best baddies in the history of the medium: Rolling Stone even put him ahead of Hannibal Lecter. No wonder Walton Goggins snagged an Emmy nomination for his performance as the dastardly foe.

The perfect foil to Raylan, devilish Boyd is more than just a crook with a bazooka, or the leader of a gang of Southern thugs. He's a cold, calculating, amoral enemy whose silver tongue can beguile just about anyone. The acts he commits are among the series' most cruel. This makes Boyd into the quintessential villain viewers love to hate: He robs, double-crosses, and murders in cold blood, and audiences just want more. And who can blame them? His presence is so electric, it's impossible not to want yet more showdowns between him and Raylan.