What would Star Trek look like without Klingons? It would be much less interesting, far less violent, and probably a great deal quieter. As Quark once pointed out on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, things in his bar can get pretty loud when there are Klingons in the room.
From the original series on, every Trek show (and almost every film) has featured this Kahless-worshipping alien race. They are as pivotal to Star Trek as phasers and warp drive, with some specific Klingon characters stealing the show whenever they show up.
Though I’m a fan of almost all Klingons (except for you, Toral), I do tend to show favoritism towards a few in particular. Some have incredibly long arcs, spanning the course of multiple shows and films. Some only show up in a single film and are never seen (or mentioned) again. Some are relatively new, as Star Trek: Discovery has really added some spice to the gagh, and added a shipload of new Klingons to canon.
With all of this in mind, it’s time to break out a barrel of bloodwine (2309, of course) and rank the top ten best Klingons in all of Trek. I’m not only looking at how effective and dramatic these characters are — I’m looking at how endlessly entertaining some of the characters can be. You may think that a certain Klingon has a lock on the number one spot… I’ll tell you right now that he doesn’t.
Wish me Qapla, and remember — Tlhlngan maH taHjaj!
First appearing on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kurn was pivotal to the ongoing Klingon drama that consistently went down on that series. When Worf (Michael Dorn) discovers that Kurn (Tony Todd) is his brother, a chemistry begins between the characters (and the actors) that was fantastic to watch. Worf's decisions always made things difficult for Kurn, most notably when he returns on Deep Space Nine, asking Worf to kill him. Worf has indeed made things that bad for his brother.
Part of Kurn's appeal is probably how great Todd is in the role. He relishes every word, every syllable, and makes Kurn into a character you remember.
A newcomer to the Klingon ranks, this petaQ from Star Trek: Discovery may only feature in a few episodes, but boy oh boy does he make the most of them. Kenneth Mitchell fares very well with the new prosthetics that the show created for the Klingons, and he makes Kol a nasty piece of work.
Some of the Klingons on Discovery have noble intentions — Kol most definitely does not. I had already grown to a place where I loved to hate him, and then he picked his teeth with Captain Georgiou's Starfleet badge. Yeah, you don't get to do that and live.
Though Kol didn’t survive the first season, Mitchell returned to play his father, Kol-Sha, in Season 2. He didn't even make it through the episode, so here's hoping that Mitchell shows up as more members of that family at some point. He gives good Klingon.
Doctor McCoy would pay real money for this guy to shut up. The Klingon who just won't stop quoting Shakespeare ends up being endlessly quotable himself in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Christopher Plummer sinks his pointed teeth into the role, devours half of every set that the character walks onto, and the result is joyful.
Clever, deceitful, and full of brilliant line deliveries (it's almost impossible to pick just one), perhaps Chang’s best scene (and one of the best scenes in the film) is when he prosecutes Kirk and McCoy. Plummer soars as he hammers these two again and again, screaming when necessary, and then taking things down to a whisper when you least expect it.
He may barely have ridges on his Klingon head, but Chang was the Klingon that taught us that "in space, all warriors are cold ones." Sadly, he heard the chimes at midnight. Not to be.
This was a hard call. Look, Robert O’Reilly’s Gowron was always going to be on this list. He started stealing scenes on TNG, and then started gobbling them up over on DS9. He’s a brilliant character and O’Reilly is extraordinary in the performance. Why, in that case, does he not rank higher?
Gowron, in so many ways, represents everything that is wrong with the Klingon Empire in the 24th century. He’s a political manipulator, pulls all kinds of behind-the-scenes idiocy, and almost loses the Dominion War for the entire Alpha Quadrant because of his ego. He’s loyal to you when he thinks that you’re useful (Worf, Martok), but when you’re not? You’re an instant enemy to the Empire.
Once he was made Chancellor, he was a shining example of how corruption can warp a society. He is endlessly entertaining, and I am excited any time that O’Reilly’s name appears in a list of guest stars… but seriously, screw Gowron. The Empire is much better off after Worf did what he probably was always destined to do — kill this corrupt POS. We do not forgive, or forget.
She’s only half-Klingon, but it really shows. Roxann Dawson’s Maquis-turned-Chief Engineer on Star Trek: Voyager added most of the Klingon action that the series had, and it was always welcome. B’Elanna was unique, as her Klingon side and her human side were always at war with each other. We’ve seen shades of this before (Spock being half human), but never with a Klingon. B’Elanna’s human side was a little temperamental on its own — when her Klingon side decided to play? Clear the deck, everyone.
Dawson was fantastic at portraying this duality through all seven seasons of Voyager, and she made B’Elanna one of the most interesting characters on the show. She was a brilliant engineer, and even though she’d rather not tell them, she was endlessly loyal to her fellow crewmates.
Her relationships with Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran) were always interesting, but it’s when the show decided to pair her with Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) that B’Elanna (and Tom) really went to warp speed.
Yeah, I’m doing it. I don’t care. I love this Klingon, and I don’t give a targ if everyone knows it. The primary antagonist of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock doesn’t get the glory that he deserves, and I am here to try and right that wrong. Christopher Lloyd plays this villainous Klingon with such unhinged glee that he provides most of the best parts of the film.
This was before TNG gave new life to the Klingons, and though we briefly saw them at the beginning of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kruge and Kompany really set the tone (and the dress code, and the language) for what the "New Klingon" would be.
If you doubt the power of Kruge, watch the film again and wait for the moment when he whisper-screams the line, "Very good." His name is never spoken in the film, but Kirk grows to hate him so much, so quickly, that he utters one of his most famous lines before kicking Kruge off a cliff — "I… have had… enough of… YOU!"
Speak for yourself, Kirk. I can never get enough.
Here's another newcomer thanks to Discovery, and she is so high up on this list for a reason. Played by Mary Chieffo, L’Rell began as a regular officer in the first season of the show, and now she's the Klingon Chancellor. Her goal is unification of the Klingon houses, and I have a feeling that she’s going to do whatever needs to be done in order to fulfill that goal.
Her scenes with both Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook), Tyler/Voq (Shazad Latif), and Saru (Doug Jones) in Season 1 were great, but it is her work in the third episode of Season 2 that secures her high standing.
Her rule isn’t necessarily respected by everyone... she’s there, after all, partially thanks (but no thanks) to Section 31. In her first second season episode (which plays like a Shakespearean Klingon drama), L'Rell loses a child, but she decides that she will be "mother" to the whole of the Klingon Empire.
Mary Chieffo has a history of playing big roles in Shakespeare, and as General Chang before her has taught us, Klingons and Shakespeare go together like Kirk and Spock. There is so much potential here, and I can’t wait to see how far Chieffo takes Chancellor L'Rell.
First appearing in the original series episode Errand of Mercy, this highly memorable Klingon would go on to feature on Star Trek: The Animated Series, and then really come back with a vengeance on DS9 in a recurring role. Played by John Colicos (except in the animated show), Kor, Dahar Master, is one of the greatest Klingons there is.
We don't get to know him all that well in the original series, but when he shows up on DS9 with his fellow TOS cohorts Kang (Michael Ansara) and Koloth (William Campbell) in the Season 2 highlight Blood Oath, we're off to the races. He's funny, charming, often drunk, is on the side of Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) from the start, and he actually survives the episode. It was a good day to die, but not for him.
It's great that he does survive, because the show brought him back a few more times. This enabled him to share some screen time bonding (and bickering) with Worf, and also show how Kor's age has started to creep up on him. He may be a Dahar Master, but he's stuck in the past. He is called out on some elitism that he'd shown in the old days (towards General Martok, how dare he), but it doesn’t really register. He is old, times have changed, and the fact that his mind has started to go isn’t helping things.
More unforgettable than Kahless himself, Kor's best moment is probably his last. Rather than let Worf sacrifice himself, he knocks him out and takes his place in a pivotal mission. He perishes, and the last we hear from him is the line, "Long live the Klingon Empire!"
With that line, the last of the old-school Klingons joins his comrades in Sto-vo-kor. Here's hoping that Kor, Kang, and Koloth spend eternity in glorious battle — they wouldn't want it any other way.
What's this? Possibly the most famous and widely featured Klingon in all of Trek at…number 2? Is it is a mistake?
It's not a mistake. It wasn't an easy choice, either. Look, this is all my own opinion. For many Trek fans, there's no beating Worf when it comes to Klingons. We had seven seasons with him on TNG, we got four more with him on DS9, and we had four films with him as well. There is a lot of support in the fan community for a Worf-centric spin-off show, with fans still spreading "We Want Worf" all over social media. I want that too.
Michael Dorn created a Trek legend here, there can be no doubt. Worf, son of Mogh, is as Klingon as they come — but he was raised by humans. He has the honor of being the first Klingon in Starfleet, and when we first see him in uniform on TNG, it's immediately clear that relations with the Klingons have changed in the 24th century.
Through finding and losing a brother, to redeeming his family honor, to having a son and losing that son's mother, to falling in love, to marriage, to losing that love, to deposing the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council, to being called everything from traitor to hero to traitor again, Worf has been through it. The one thing that he has always maintained, through all of it, is his honor. That's enough for him.
Honor, and some serious badassery. Who else but Worf could take out a Borg with a mek'leth in zero-G? Who else but Worf would even bring that thing out there with them? Worf is epic, legendary, and essential to Trek. I promise to never play Irving Berlin in his presence.
He doesn't have the epic arcs and relentless drama that Worf had, but when it comes to the most Klingon-y Klingon in the pack, nobody beats Martok. Not for me, at least.
From the moment J.G. Hertzler shows up as the good General in the DS9 Season 4 opener, he makes a very bold impression. His stature is imposing, and his voice is jagged iron. We think he's an antagonist, and indeed he is for a season or so... until it's revealed that the Martok we thought we knew wasn't Martok at all — it was a changeling, taking his place, ensuring that the Klingons and Starfleet turned on each other. This mostly succeeded, until it didn't.
Thankfully, it wasn't long before the real Martok was found in a Dominion prison camp. The now single-eyed captive became fast allies with Worf, and their bond grew into something magical for the rest of the show's run. When Worf loses his Klingon house completely, Martok brings him into his own. This is a huge thing for a Klingon to do, and it not only speaks volumes about how highly Martok values Worf, but about Martok's character as well.
He almost acts as a surrogate father/brother figure to Worf after this, but he also proves to be an invaluable ally to Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) and the rest of Starfleet. He maintains a permanent office on Deep Space Nine, and gradually Hertzler started recurring more and more. When Worf finally gutted Gowron, Martok was the first to place the cloak of office on Worf's shoulders, proclaiming him the new Chancellor.
Worf knew better, though. He knew that the future of the Empire did not lie with him, it rested with Martok, a kid from the Ketha Lowlands that worked endlessly to get to where he was. Worf made Martok the new Chancellor, signaling that maybe there was some hope for the Empire after all.
The consummate Klingon warrior, Martok brings a barrel of his beloved 2309 bloodwine to Cardassia to toast a potential victory with. Though Sisko and Admiral Ross don't care to join in, Martok doesn't care — he joyously swigs some of it down over his fallen foes, as any Klingon would.
In case it isn't already clear, I love Martok. I love J.G. Hertzler and the way he plays him. I also love Worf, dearly, but Worf is always better (at least on DS9) when Martok is around. Martok, unlike Gowron, did not seek the power he wound up with. He had it thrust upon him. Worf himself put it best: "Hail Martok! Leader of the Empire! Leader of destiny!"