The 10 Smartest Characters on Television

In a television landscape full of The Bachelor and Snookies, it’s rare to find a character that bucks the trend of the ridiculous and the stupid.  In celebration of smart characters and the writers who created them, I give you the top ten smartest characters (in no particular order).

1) Tywin Lannister, Game of Thrones


Tywin is a man decorated with the only titles that matter in Westeros: hand of the King, Lord of Casterly Rock, Warden of the West and patriarch of clan Lannister.  Tywin is unmatched in his ruthlessness and cunning intelligence.  And if that wasn’t scary enough, he’s also the richest man in Westeros.  Lest you imagine that Tywin was handed a silver spoon, his father Tytos was known as a weak man who squandered the family investments.  When the House of Reyne of Castarmere rebelled against the Lannisters, Tywin personally struck down the rebellion and slaughtered their entire family (leading to the popular song The Rains of Castamere).  Tywin’s cruelty extends even to his own children who he gladly insults and manipulates.  While many of you might identify Tyrion as the sharpest cast member on Game of Thrones, I submit that even beloved Tyrion heeds Tywin’s advice and it’s clear the Lannister house would be in ruin without him.

2) Walter White, Breaking Bad

walter white

Walter is a gifted scientist, whose research on proton radiography helped a team win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  As a Caltech grad and an entrepreneur, Walter was destined to grace the cover of Forbes as the co-founder of Gray Matter Technologies. But life had other plans for Walter, who sold his financial interest in the company for $5,000.  And what is a brilliant man to do with his talents when he hits financial hardships and a cancer diagnosis?  Why become a meth dealer of course.  In an industry flooded with violence and chaos, Walter embraces the darker side without losing sight of the chemistry.  Alfred Nobel would be so proud.

3) Dana Scully, X-Files


Before Scully was teaming up with Mulder to solve the X-Files, she received a degree in Physics from University of Maryland and completed a thesis titled “Einstein’s Twin Paradox: A New Interpretation.”  After receiving her medical degree, she was recruited by the FBI for her skills in forensic pathology.  Scully exemplifies what I hope our greatest scientists embody:  a fervent skepticism when it comes to the supernatural but also a willingness to question what is believed to be true.

4) Sherlock, Sherlock (BBC)


Sherlock is the archetype of the eccentric genius and the fashion ingénue behind the deerstalker cap. He’s anti-social and emotionless but possesses an unrelenting drive to solve problems that baffle the rest of society.  In handling criminal cases, he’s often insensitive to his clients but has an uncanny ability to deduce key information that others cannot see.  Using the Method of Loci, Sherlock is able to store information in his mind like a complex operating system.  Sherlock lends his gifts to Scotland Yard, where he is the world’s only ‘consulting detective.’

5) Alice Morgan, Luther

Luther : S1 : Ep1

Alice is the evil and more destructive version of Doogie Howser.  At 13 she enrolled at Oxford University and received a PhD in Astrophysics at 18.  Despite her academic achievements, Alice is a sociopath who meticulously calculated the murder of her parents and is proud that she did not get caught.  She maintains a warm relationship with DCI Luther in spite of her crimes and even provides coaching in his complex cases.  Alice lives beyond the rules of society and plays regular people at their own game, remaining one of the most frightening characters of all time.

  • E. Lee Zimmerman

    Correction: Frank Underwood isn’t smart. He simply lives in a world of narcissistic ignoramuses, so it’s easy to appear smart.

  • Brendan McAlinden

    Ugh, boo Lisa Simpson. Her preachiness is why I haven’t been a regular Simpson viewer this last 6-7 years. Coulda went for Dr. Gaius Baltar from BS:G, Doogie Howser, Peter from Fringe, MacGyver, Daniel Faraday from Lost….anyone else :(

    • E. Lee Zimmerman

      All great suggestions, too. Methinks this list is a bit more pop culture friendly than it need be, but it is what it is.

  • Caleb K

    Boyd Crowder should be on this list

    • E. Lee Zimmerman

      Amen to that suggestion. That’s a big miss.

  • Chris Grein

    This list was the biggest disappointment I’ve seen on this site.

  • Fabio Kazuo

    Walter Bishop should be here!

  • RevJ


  • eninnlegger

    Scully? The master of not believing her own eyes? The queen of trusting her own senses less than established “truths”? The most frustratingly stupid person ever to be seen on TV, after Mulder…

  • Daraph

    Mmmmh… Where is Malcolm ?