Sometimes whimsical and sometimes dark and dangerous, magic has long had a home on television. Witches and wizards have starred in television shows as far back as the 1960s, when Betwitched enjoyed several years as one of America’s most popular shows. Nowadays, it seems like every network is trying to get into the business of witchcraft, with new shows appearing each season that explore the supernatural and occult. To celebrate Halloween, here’s five of our favorite witches and wizards who have appeared on the small screen:
One of the most popular wizards in all of literature, Merlin has appeared in countless television shows and movies, usually as a mentor and ally of King Arthur. BBC subverted the classic Camelot myths in the 2008 series Merlin, which starred Colin Morgan as a younger, more inexperienced version of the legendary wizard. In the BBC series, Merlin and Arthur were contemporaries and friends, living in a Camelot ruled by Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. This version of Camelot was a kingdom without magic, as Uther had banned the practice of magic around the time of Arthur’s birth and mercilessly persecuted, exiled and executed any witches, wizards and other magic users he found. While Merlin kept his powers a secret during much of the series, he became more proficient in their use, thanks to the help of his guardian Gaius (an ex-sorcerer turned physician) and the Great Dragon, one of the last magical creatures living in Camelot. Although hiding his powers often made Merlin look foolish and weak to his friends, the wizard used his powers to save Arthur and Camelot countless times, particularly from Morgana, Arthur’s half-sister and another secret magic user.
Another “legendary” magic user, Once Upon a Time’s Regina Mills is the Evil Queen from the Snow White fairy tales. Regina, played by Lana Parrilla, established herself as an elite magic user in the first episode of the ABC series when she sent an entire realm of fairy tale characters into the real world and erased their memories, trapping them in the remote town of Storybrooke. Regina settled into her role as Mayor of Storybrooke, keeping a tight lid on her true identity and occasionally ripping hearts out of enemies to manipulate them to her will. While Regina has largely reformed thanks to the combined efforts of Henry, her adopted son, and Emma, Snow White’s now grown up daughter, her immediate family continues to plague Storybrooke in various ways. Regina’s mother (the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland) was a major villain in Once Upon a Time’s second season, while her sister the Wicked Witch of the West threatened the fairy tale characters last season.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch, starring Melissa Joan Hart, was among the most popular comic book characters on TV in the 1990s, even if no one realized it. The Archie Comics character starred in her very own TV show, which ran for seven seasons on ABC and the WB Network. Sabrina brought much of her supporting cast from the comics to TV, including her aunts Hilda and Zelda, her cat Salem (who later gained the ability to speak in the comics) and her longtime love interest Harvey. Sabrina’s TV series focused on the young witch learning to use her powers while also attending high school. The two worlds often collided, with humorously disastrous consquences, but Sabrina would always learn the right spell (along with a life lesson or two) to fix everything by the end of the episode. Later seasons of the show explored Sabrina’s college years and complicated love life, but ended on a positive note when Sabrina finally reunited with her love interest Harvey, once and for all.
The infamous Red Woman, Melisandre is the haunting advisor to Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones. A priestess of the faith of R’hllor, Melisandre (played by Carice van Houten) worships the Lord of Light, who allegedly grants her the power of prophecy by looking into open flames. In addition to her alleged (and often disputed) visions into the future, Melisandre had one of the most bizarre shows of magic in Game of Thrones. In the second season, she births a shadow creature to assassinate Stannis’s rebellious brother Renly, causing most of Renly’s supporters to side with Stannis after their leader is murdered in his tent. Melisandre has a tendency to “sacrifice” those who oppose her by openly burning them at the stake. However, these fiery sacrifices ultimately backfired, as Stannis lost most of his army when he sacrificed his daughter Shireen to secure a victory over the approaching Bolton forces. As Melisandre fled to the Wall, Stannis lost his family, his aspirations for the Iron Throne and ultimately, his life.
WGN’s Salem is a loose reinterpretation of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s with one key difference: in this Salem, magic is very real and very deadly. In the middle of the witchcraft, secrets and lies is Mary Sibley (played by Janet Montgomery), the leader of the coven at Salem and wife to one of the most powerful men in town. Sibley became a witch after giving up her newly born son to the Devil in order to keep her adultery secret from the Puritan rulers of Salem. As retribution for her loss, Sibley then conspire to bring a literal Hell to Earth by summoning the Devil to America. As the “Grand Rite” approaches, Mary’s dedication to the cause is weakened by the unexpected arrival of John Alden, her former lover. She also discovers their son is also alive, hidden away by the other witches to use in the Grand Rite. After failing to save her son from hosting the Devil in his body, Mary sacrifices herself to resurrect her lost lover John, committing one final, noble act to make up for her years of evil and manipulation.