The 15 Best 'American Horror Story' Characters

American Horror Story: Cult is currently underway, and the season is a remarkable return to form for the anthology series, which is semi-infamous for its great but occasionally hollow concepts. Still, even when the show flounders in plot, it's an always-great showcase for actors looking to sink their teeth into meaty roles. Cult sees the return of AHS veterans like Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters, who are turning in career-best performances as the trauma and phobia-afflicted Ally Mayfair-Richards and the maniacal Kai Anderson.

To celebrate Cult's excellent first streak of episodes, we're looking back at the memorable characters of seasons past. Here are 15 American Horror Story characters who left a cutting impression on the fabric of the show, and who – given its interconnected nature – might just pop up again in the future.

best american horror story characters misty day

15. Misty Day, Coven

Misty doesn't get much to do in Coven, and is killed off in a way that feels incongruent with the loving and spirit-filled good witch she was. But her flowing, Earth mother vibe was a welcomed breath of fresh air on a show often bogged down by darkness. Misty, the Stevie Nicks-obsessed woods witch with a gift for necromancy, had the style and substance of the best AHS characters. It's hard to hear Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon" without her slinking into your conscience.

best american horror story characters violet harmon

14. Violet Harmon, Murder House

Murder House is the best season of AHS, and Violet is a big reason why. Yes, she's a petulant teenager – in the mold of Angela Chase and Lydia Deetz, largely disaffected by the horrors around her – but that lends a gravitas to the Harmon family, who move into the titular house and are immediately hammered by hauntings. Near the season's end, we learn that the suicidal Violet was successful her attempt, and that she's been dead for several episodes. It's a great reveal made all the more tragic by Taissa Farming's visible agony over the realization. Her relationship with Tate is also one of the show's most memorable couplings – it's a Heathers-style match made in hell that feels, somehow, daringly romantic in the best and worst ways.

best american horror story characters pepper

13. Pepper, Asylum/Freak Show

Pepper was an instantly iconic addition to the AHS family, so beloved that she plays a major character in two seasons – making her the first clue that the Horror Story world is interconnected. Her deformity – a form of microcephalia – made her a perfect fit for Fräulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities in Freak Show, but after the death of her lover, she is sent to live with her sister and is framed for the murder of her deformed nephew, which lands her in the Briarcliff Manor in Asylum. Pepper's sweet and playful demeanor constants painfully with the tragedy of her life.

best american horror story characters adelaide langdon

12. Adelaide Langdon, Murder House

Jamie Brewer is excellent in both seasons that she appears, but it's Murder House's Adelaide where she gets the most development and care. Adelaide, the daughter of Jessica Lange's Constance, is a protector: she warns the Harmon family to stay away from the haunted house they just moved into, which – by the season's tragic end – turns prophetic. Her desire to be a "pretty girl" is met with disdain by her mother but leads to a tender friendship with Violet, the Harmon's equally misunderstood daughter. Adelaide's death is a harrowing moment – since it occurs beyond premises of the Murder House, she is unable to come back as a ghost, which lends the first iota of humanity to her grieving mother and creates one of AHS's most gut-wrenching cappers.

best american horror story characters the countess

11. The Countess, Hotel

On paper, the Countess is way cooler than she is in action (apologies to Lady Gaga, who gives it her all but is void of the acting vibrancy needed to make the role sing). But it's hard to deny the power of an ageless, seductive, bisexual vampire living in a fabulously cooky hotel. Her backstory is needlessly complicated, and Gaga is a low-grade Jessica Lange stand-in, but the Countess brings a level of irresistible glamor to AHS that it never quite dabbled in before. She's evocative of Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness, with her pouty lips, luxurious furs, and milky white skin. It's all such delicious imagery.

best american horror story characters sister jude martin

10. Sister Jude Martin, Asylum 

There's no denying the power of Jessica Lange, and her season 2 character lets her play every card in the deck. Sister Jude is horrific, insane, pained, pathetic – she goes through a roster of scenarios and emotions that showcase what a startling talent Lange is, and what gravitas she brought to the show. She can also turn it on a dime and find delight in cruel moments, such as the show's infamous "Name Game" scene, where Sister Jude's catatonia is briefly respited for a fantasy song and dance moment. It's the sort of magical lunacy that makes AHS occasionally brilliant, and Lange sells the scene with the manic energy of a true pro.

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9. Myrtle Snow, Coven

Myrtle is tragically underused in Coven, but it's no matter – she's the best sort of AHS character, one that delights in the ridiculous high camp that Murphy aims for and rarely nails. Thank God for Frances Conroy, who can do with a minor character what a master chef can do with a clove of garlic. Myrtle's high fashion and biting quips are expert level – she's like a deranged concoction of Anna Wintour and Truman Capote, gloved hands, tenuous expression and all. She also gets the show's best-ever (second) death, and the best-ever final word: "BALENCIAGA!"

best american horror story characters dandy mott

8. Dandy Mott, Freak Show

Freak Show struggles to re-capture its initial horror streak after the too-soon death of Twisty the Clown, but goes an interesting route with Dandy Mott, the spoiled mama's boy who wants so desperately to be a freak that he warps himself into a different breed of one: a sociopathic murderer hell-bent on satisfying the desires of his blackened heart. Dandy is ruthless and cruel, and memorable for Finn Wittrock's totally bonkers acting style. He's a great villain because he feels so real, an example of the dangers of unchecked and unrivaled white manhood.

best american horror story characters marie laveau

7. Marie Laveau, Coven

Ryan Murphy did the goddess good when he hired Angela Bassett, and did them even better when cast her as real-life voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Beautiful, intoxicating, dangerous – she's a great foil to Lange and Kathy Bates, whose Delphine LaLaurie is equally memorable but for far more repulsive reasons.

best american horror story characters tate langdon

6. Tate Langdon, Murder House

He may be a despicable school shooting rapist father of the Antichrist on the outside, but Tate Langdon... well, no, he's mostly just awful. Murder Houses's resident bad and dead boy, he's made soft by Violet Harmon, and his Kurt Cobain tresses are swoon-worthy. Tate remains a complicated fan favorite for that exact duality. Is he a monster, or a victim? A lover, or a manipulator? Evan Peters is excellent in the part, and it's a great introduction to an actor who puts in strong work every season. Peters simply is AHS, the same way Paulson and Lange are.

best american horror story characters liz taylor

5. Liz Taylor, Hotel

Denis O'Hare is so great in American Horror Story that it's easy to forget he's there at all. That's no slight to his acting or characters, which are both uniformly excellent. He's just a true-blue chameleon, who works best in the shadows. Liz Taylor is his most vivacious role, and one of the series best, less for the striking costume design and more for the quiet way O'Hare handles her secretive nature. Liz is tender, kind – the sort of character who sticks out for her pure lack of theatrics. Hotel is a muddled season with an odd storyline, but Liz Taylor is its beating heart.

best american horror story characters sister mary eunice

4. Sister Mary Eunice, Asylum

Lily Rabe is the secret weapon of AHS, and Sister Mary Eunice is her most daring effort. The sexpot, devil-occupied nun has more fun than anyone on the show ever has. She also gets the best line of the season, delivered with an achingly hilarious timing: "We're all going to be together in the dark watching The Sign Of The Cross, a movie full of fire, sex and the death of Christians. What fun!"

best american horror story characters twisty the clown

3. Twisty the Clown, Freak Show

Twisty is the show's most iconic villain, one of the prominent images that sparks to mind when you think of the show. But as Freak Show demonstrates, he's also the best kind of villain – the tragic kind. John Carroll Lynch plays the hulking figure to full effect, recalling films like Zodiac as he stalks through broad daylight and stabs young couples to death. His reappearance in Cult is a welcome reunion with a character who is – for a giant, murderous, demon-faced clown – oddly lovable.

best american horror story characters constance langdon

2. Constance Langdon, Murder House

Jessica Lange left a sink hole in her wake when she departed AHS after Freak Show. It'd be easy to populate this list with all of her characters, so memorable was every last one. Still, it's Murder House's Constance Langdon that stands out for being the most vile bitch on the block, a death and chaos-obsessed Norma Desmond with devil horns. Constance's feverish devotion to the Murder House next door is the series' greatest love story – it's her soulmate, whom she seeks to satisfy, and does to the extreme that she orchestrates the rape-birth of the Antichrist. The things we do for love.

best american horror story characters lana winters

1. Lana Winters, Asylum

Sarah Paulson is nothing short of a magician on AHS, and every role – from her brief turn as a psychic in Murder House to her double-headed Siamese twins Bette and Dot in Freak Show – is an all-timer. She's currently killing it as a traumatized housewife in Cult, but her best – and the show's best – character was Lana Winters, the balls-to-the-floor investigative journalist so committed to her job that she winds up institutionalized. Asylum is a great season of the show, with a large cadre of great characters, but Lana's journey – from respected writer to a woman incarcerated for being gay to a survivor who kills her rapist and becomes a Barbara Walters-type – is its most memorable. There's no defying moment so satisfying as Lana flipping off Dr. Thredson as she rides away with his confession tape. Lana is one of the show's few "heroes" – a character easy to love and root for, whose trauma is so well recognized that it feels physically painful to behold. Her survival in the face of adversity is one of AHS's only true happy endings.