Played By: Idris Elba, Wood Harris
Too often, villainous duos are carbon copies of each other. Despite superficial differences, they ultimately could be combined into one character. Stringer and Avon, on the other hand, are perfect foils for one another: Avon with his old-school, boots-on-the-ground understanding of the drug trade, and Bell with vain hopes of making the business of running corners into something more.
Though their conflicting perspectives initially leads to the the fast growth of the Barksdale Organization, it's also what eventually brings about their heartbreaking downfall. Before The Wire, we might have said it'd strange to feel sympathy for brutal drug dealers, yet series creator David Simon's masterful show draws your empathy and ire towards every one of his fully formed characters.
What makes Bell and Barksdale special is not how we feel about them, but how we watch them change in relation to each other. The result: a conclusion that we'd like to remember as surprising, but is ultimately inevitable.