When it comes to some of our favorite television shows, the best characters always have a progressive and satisfying arc to their story. They change, for better or worse, and end up in an extremely different place from when audiences first met them. Sometimes it’s easy to predict what journey a character will go on, and on other occasions, it’s not quite so clear. There are also times they end up going down a trajectory and becoming something no one would have predicted.
There are multiple characters over a range of different TV series whose arcs have surprised us in both good and bad ways. The original hero may now be the villain, or the person who audiences couldn’t stand initially is now their favorite. What all these arcs have in common is that they don’t follow a conventional route, and take viewers by surprise with both shock and delight.
WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.
Haley Dunphy (‘Modern Family’)
When audiences first meet Haley Dunphy (Sarah Hyland) in the first season of the hit sitcom Modern Family, she’s a spoiled, ditzy, rebellious, and typical teenage girl. Throughout the show’s eleven seasons, however, she matures into a thoughtful and responsible young woman, still keeping her feistiness.
Haley ends the show as a young mother with twins, a character decision that was controversial with some viewers who felt it regressed her to her ways from the first season. This seems like an unfair assessment, as Haley taking on the responsibility of parenthood shows just how much she’s grown up and left her petty and selfish persona in the past.
Steve Harrington (‘Stranger Things’)
No one could have predicted that when we were first introduced to Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), Nancy’s (Natalia Dyer) popular and self-centered boyfriend in season one of Stranger Things, four seasons later he would arguably be the show’s most beloved character.
Steve goes through an arc that initially sees him from a more antagonistic stance – he has awful friends, bullies vulnerable people like Johnathan (Charlie Heaton), and takes Nancy for granted. By separating Steve from Nancy and having him develop relationships with the younger characters, he was given the chance to display his insecurities, become a better person and do the right thing, leading to his redemption.
Ryan Howard (‘The Office’)
When Ryan (B.J. Novak) arrives for his first day as a temp in season one of The Office, it’s easy to think he’s going to be the most normal character in the series amongst all the other crazy personalities. However, you couldn’t be more wrong. Ryan seems like a regular guy until he is promoted to work at the Dunder Mifflin’s New York office as Vice President of Sales.
Ryan then becomes an obnoxious and egotistical businessman who has no time for his former co-workers, gets into drugs, and commits fraud, landing himself in jail. Michael (Steve Carrell) ends up finding him as a bowling alley employee with bleached blonde hair and brings him back to the company, but the character never redeems himself from his spectacular fall from grace.
Eve Polastri (‘Killing Eve’)
Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is the obvious psychopath and antagonist of Killing Eve, but as the series progresses, once innocent and straight Eve (Sandra Oh) is not so different from the killer she’s obsessed with. What takes place is a fascinating role reversal as Eve, an M15 analyst, follows Villanelle around the world in what begins as a manhunt, but evolves into something more.
As Eve’s obsession with the assassin grows, she becomes desensitized, slowly losing her empathy and humanity, which also ends her once stable marriage. In the final season as Eve hunts down The Twelve, the organization Villanelle works for, she too takes part in the violence and carnage she once condemned and ultimately ends the show in a place that is so far removed from the person she once was.
Killian Jones (‘Once Upon a Time’)
Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), otherwise known as Killian Jones, is the one-handed and evil fairytale villain we all know from Peter Pan when we are first introduced to him in Once Upon a Time. What we never could have predicted is the transformation his character would go through, as he becomes the protagonist’s love interest and one of the most heroic characters on the show.
Through his unlikely alliance with Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), which eventually turns into a romance, Hook is able to turn to the light and leave his pirate ways behind. His charming, sincere, playful, and honorable personality is able to shine through thanks to his exposure to good through Emma, as the series manages to completely alter the story of one of literature’s most iconic foes.
Daenerys Targaryen (‘Game of Thrones’)
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) instantly became a fan favorite when Game of Thrones first premiered back in 2011. The Mother of Dragons was a fierce, kind, and powerful beacon of hope in the brutal land of Westeros, ruled by the men who had once tried to control her.
We knew there was rage deep within Daenerys, and within the Targaryen family who descended from The Mad King, but the decision to turn her into an insane and murderous ruler was one that divided audiences unlike anything else. This once beloved character fell from grace after she destroyed King’s Landing, killing anyone who stood in her way. It was a shock for fans to see their hero take such a dark turn, even if it had been hinted at previously.
Howard Hamlin (‘Better Call Saul’)
Just like Jimmy McGill did (Bob Odenkirk), viewers initially saw Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) as an irritatingly prim and proper golden boy at the beginning of Better Call Saul. With his confident strut, intense tan, bleached hair and allegiance to Jimmy’s bitter brother Chuck (Michael McKean), he certainly wasn’t a character you liked.
As the show progresses, however, we see that Howard is a genuinely good person who has no ill intentions, even if he is a little cocky. When Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) pull a number of cruel pranks on him in the final season, it’s genuinely hard to watch, and he earns a lot of sympathy. He becomes a character viewers empathize with at the end rather than Jimmy and Kim, which makes his shocking departure all the more tragic.
Amy Farrah Fowler (‘The Big Bang Theory’)
When Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) is first set up with Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) at the end of season three of The Big Bang Theory, she is essentially his female counterpart. Robotic in delivery, devoid of any real emotion, and uncomfortably awkward, she’s a difficult person for both viewers and the rest of the characters to warm up to.
However, in a much more extreme and rapid version of Sheldon’s development, Amy loosens up and becomes a more human and relatable person. She eventually becomes someone who craves affection and has a lot of love to give, which is tested through her relationship with the ever-so-stubborn Sheldon. She most certainly still has her quirks but is a whole new and improved woman by the end of the series.
Nathan Shelley (‘Ted Lasso’)
No one’s arc could have shocked audiences more than Nate (Nick Mohammed) from Ted Lasso, who took a dark turn at the end of the show’s second season. When Ted (Jason Sudeikis) first meets Nate, he’s a shy and awkward kit man for AFC Richmond. Ted sees potential in Nate, nicknaming him ‘Nate the Great’ and helping him build more confidence.
Nate starts to stand up for himself, which earns him the role of Assistant Coach at Richmond. He then starts to crave power and wants to “be the boss”. As a result, he becomes resentful toward Ted, and in a lower-than-low move leaks Ted’s panic attack to the press. To top it all off, Nate defects as coach to West Ham United, the rival team owned by Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham) awful ex-husband Rupert (Anthony Head). The once endearing underdog ends the season as the most hated character on the show.