My theme for the A to Z challenge is Villain Archetypes.
Yes, 26 descriptions of some of your favorite villains of literature, TV, and movies.
April 27 – W is for Widow/Widower
This particular tragic villain archetype is a little but different from the others in so far as it can easily be applied to a hero, side-character, etc. equally as well as an antagonist. The key to understanding and employing a good Widow/Widower villain is aligning their motivations with their back story. Everyone’s favorite widow is of course the Black Widow, but she wouldn’t fit this archetype even if she were a villain (which on occasion, she is in the comic books). I’m also not using this archetype to describe the more esoteric “Black Widow” that seduces and kills men for money, thrills, etc. That’s more of a description than an archetype. A Widow or a Widower villain archetype is pushed to commit dastardly deeds and evil acts either out of grief, revenge, or in service to a lost or dying loved one, usually a wife or husband but not necessarily. Motivated by extreme loss, these bad guys are some of the most sympathetic yet the most desperate, driven to extreme examples of villainy by sadness and regret.
Even though they may be sympathetic, this archetype is rarely redeemable. Keenly aware that they’re choices are wrong, they nonetheless make them, because they feel like they have to. On some occasions they’ll be turned, or offered a more productive alternative by the protagonists, but usually they ride their dark decisions into oblivion, never really achieving the revenge, justification, or results they desired. This is problematic for the audience in some cases, as we see that the heinous acts this villain perpetrates are deplorable, yet we understand the desperation and emotional turmoil that drove them to it. When employed properly, a Widow/Widower archetype is a complicated but emotionally interesting antagonist in any story.
While compelling as an arch-villain, a Widow/Widower is also occasionally employed as a trusted henchmen or even an “indentured” contributor to an arch-villains maniacal plans. A Big Baddie might bait them with an offer of curing, returning, or offering revenge for their loss, holding sway over the unfortunate, grief-stricken man (or woman) and employing their skills or expertise to further their destructive plots. A Widow/Widower archetype can have all sorts of attributes, ranging from extreme intelligence to powerful physical skills. They’re relatable, sympathetic, and occasionally enjoyable characters that still commit unspeakable, irredeemable for what they deem as a good cause.
Famous Widow and Widower villains:
- Mr. Freeze (DC)
- Mrs. Coulter (His Dark Materials)
- Darth Vader (Star Wars)
- Davy Jones (Pirates of the Caribbean)
- Tywin Lannister (Kind of; Game of Thrones)
- Alistair Mechanus (Heart of Steel)