Hannibal Kills

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I was asked recently, by one of my readers, (The Laughable Cheese) to elaborate on my thoughts  about the whys and wherefores of Hannibal’s murderous motivations on the show. Now, I’m no psychologist, so what I’m about to write is sheer speculation on my part, based mainly on my thoughts about the series version of Hannibal.

Throughout the series we’ve seen him kill to aid Will Graham, out of spite and anger, to satisfy his curiosity, out of a sense of whimsy, to protect himself from being captured, or manipulate others, but it is not until season two that we get any deeper reason for his murders.

Acc­ording to Holmes typology, serial killers can be act-focused (who kill quickly), or process-focused (who kill slowly). For act-focused killers, killing is simply about the act itself. Within this group, there are two different types: the visionary and the missionary. The visionary murders because he hears voices or has visions that direct him to do so. The missionary murders because he believes that he is meant to get rid of a particular group of people.

Process-focused serial killers get enjoyment from torture and the slow death of their victims. These include three different types of hedonists — lust, thrill and gain — and power-seeking killers. Lust killers derive sexual pleasure from killing. Thrill killers get a “kick” from it. Gain killers murder because they believe they will profit in some way. Power killers wish to “play God” or be in charge of life and death.

— http://people.howstuffworks.com/serial-killer1.htm

I think Hannibal kills for a multitude of reasons, but seems to fit the model of being a process killer. The act is drawn often a long drawn out event, which has a lot of meaning for him. We can see that in his killing and eating of Abel Gideon, in season two and three.

A lot of fans speculate that Hannibal kills because he can, and that’s as good a reason as any other, but I don’t feel that goes deep enough. Hannibal’s reasons are complex. Why does he feel he can? Because Hannibal likens himself to God. Why does he want to assert himself as God’s equal? For the same reason that many others seek to assert their power. Because, on some level,  he knows how it feels to be powerless.

In season one, Hannibal mostly kills the rude (for food), or to protect his identity. He kills Georgia Madchen because he believes she saw him killing Will’s doctor. He killed Will’s doctor because that man knew too much about his unethical manipulations of Will Graham, and could blackmail him for it.

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The first time we encounter one of Hannibal’s kills,  is when the body of Cassie Boyle is found in an open field. Hannibal has impaled her on a rack of antlers, (and removed her lungs, so that he can eat them.) Crawford and his forensic team discover her body after Will is confounded  about  the murder  of another young woman, named Elise.

Hannibal kills Cassie to provide what Will calls “a negative” to the body of Elise. Will thinks Cassie Boyle was killed to aid him in his search for Elise’s killer, and he’s not wrong. That is one of Hannibal’s motivations for killing the young woman, but another motivation, and this is just my speculation, is that he was also inspired by Elise’s killer, to create a more elaborate death. The way Cassie Boyle was killed was simply a way he hadn’t tried before.

In fact, no mention is made of how the Chesapeake Ripper (also Hannibal) killed or displayed his victims prior to the show’s opening, although the Chesapeake Ripper is mentioned as someone Jack has been hunting for many years. His killing and display of Cassie Boyle is the first mention of what Will calls “Field Kabuki”, which stands in direct contrast to how Elise was killed by Garret Jacob Hobbes. That contrast is what helps Will develop a picture of Hobbes, but also has the side effect of  bringing Hannibal to Will’s attention.

Now remember at this point, Hannibal has only  just met Will, after being given the task by Jack Crawford, of being the caretaker of Will’s sanity, while Will helps the FBI catch serial killers. Already we can see that he is fascinated by Will, and wants to get closer to him. He wants to be friends. So he was willing to take that risk to aid Will. He would get to see how Will’s mind works and better understand him. So one could argue that Cassie’s death was an overture of friendship to Will (although Will does not know that.).

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The very first meal that Will and Hannibal eat together is Cassie’s breakfast scramble. Prior to that we are shown Hannibal eating this alone in his house. He doesn’t appear to have any friends until he meets Will. After feeding Cassie to Will, he seems to have developed a sense of satisfaction from feeding the remains of his victims to his acquaintances, because he continues to do this throughout the entire series run, feeding his victims to Jack, Will, Alana Bloom, and various dinner guests. In the movies, Hannibal is shown feeding his victims to dinner guests, so there is precedent for it, but that’s  only shown in the TV show once, and only after he meets Will Graham. After that he mostly feeds his victims to his “friends”.

Hannibal kills for multiple reasons in season two. He also manipulates people into attempting to kill others. He manipulates Abel Gideon into  killing Alana Bloom, so that Will Graham will be forced to kill Abel to protect her. He does the same to Miriam Lass, using her PTSD against her, to get her to kill Frederick Chilton, who he has framed as the Chesapeake Ripper. He and Will attempt to orchestrate the killing of Mason Verger, and Lecter  successfully manipulates Will Graham into killing Randall Tier, by sending Tier after him at his home.

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Hannibal kills others for  a dinner party. One is a doctor who was rude to him, and Sheldon Isley, a land dealer who opposed the salvage of some wetlands. Lecter kills him out of spite and plants his body within a tree. It is the clues from Sheldon’s body that lead to the discovery that Miriam Lass, (a detective whose disappearance had been attributed to The Chesapeake Ripper), is actually alive.

However, his most notable and memorable killing, in season two, is the judge in Will’s case. Having framed Will as The Chesapeake Ripper in season one, Lecter now regrets his actions, and misses Will. The judge dismissed the testimony he gave in his attempt to free Will. In a fit of spite, Lecter simply removes the judge, which has the added side benefit of freeing Will, as his case gets thrown out.

Most of his reasons for killing in season three are pragmatic.  In season three he kills to protect his identity, as when he kills Reynaldo Pazzi, a detective who recognizes him from a previous case, and Anthony Dimmond, a man who tried to blackmail him. He kills to establish a new identity when he kills and eats Roman Fell and his wife.

But the most notable killing in season three are the flashbacks to the  killing and eating of Abel Gideon, the man who tried to steal his name and reputation as the Chespaeake Ripper, and knew too much about his manipulations of Will Graham. It’s especially horrifying as he spends most of that time talking with Gideon about what he’s doing to him, and forcing Gideon to partake of his own flesh.

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Note that what Hannibal does with his victims bodies afterwards is not the reason he kills them. He is not necessarily killing them to help Will, or send messages, or be artistic. He is making art out of something he already feels compelled to do. For example, he didn’t kill Dimmond to make the origami heart for Will. He just took advantage of a death he caused to leave Will a message. He killed Dimmond to protect his identity as Norman Fell.

Lecter has also talked, at length, about ethical killing, claiming to Bella Crawford that he employs an ethical butcher, who doesn’t make the food suffer before killing and eating it, and in season two he chides Will for terrifying Freddie Lounds too much before killing her, saying that it makes her flesh taste acidic. What he is saying is that the method (the process) by which he kills is important to him.

Miriam Lass, in her testimony to the FBI, also claimed that the Ripper never tried to cause unnecessary pain, informed her of his actions beforehand, and taking care to see that she didn’t experience undo anguish. So one could make the argument that Hannibal is definitely a “Process” type killer.

One of the theories for why Hannibal kills goes back to his childhood and the loss of his little sister Mischa. In the book version of his back story, (Hannibal Rising) he lost his sister during the war, when a group of enemy soldiers took his family prisoner, killed his family, and ate his sister, which he witnessed. Subsequently he hunted, killed,  and ate each of  them in turn, and this is a habit he simply developed and continued. Killing and eating people he thinks were rude to him.

In the show, this has been changed to;  witnessing his sister’s death, and then eating her himself, after he had pledged to always protect her. But Hannibal’s motivations on the show parallels his motivations from the books. He says to both Will Graham, and Margot Verger, that killing bad people feels good. Of course Hannibal’s criteria for “bad” is fairly loose, in that almost everyone can meet it. Hannibal likens their behavior to disrespecting God (himself).

Of course Will is allowed to be as rude to Hannibal as he likes. His motivation for trying to kill and eat Will, in season three, is not because Will is rude, but because Bedelia suggested it to him, as the only way to relieve his heartache over Will.

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Because Hannibal doesn’t see his victims as people, he sees them as creatures far beneath him (a theme that will more heavily come into play late in the second season, after Mason Verger is introduced). A much truer version of his thoughts is heard in season two when he says that God kills with impunity, and so should he. When killing the “Eye of God” killer, he explains that he is God’s equal and uses that argument to persuade the Eye of God killer to sacrifice himself for his art.

This thirst for power over people, to be godlike in his killing of them, may have derived from the vigilante killing of his sister’s killers. Having helplessly stood by and watched her be killed would be excellent motivation for taking back his power by killing her killers. In a sense, Hannibal is a kind of vigilante killer, only killing and eating those people who his cellkeeper Barney, in the movie Hannibal, referred to as  “Free Range Rude”. And what may have started as a form of vigilantism, to avenge his sister’s death, or to right the wrongs of the world, has simply evolved into a lust for power. Put all these reasons together and Hannibal definitely comes across as a Power type of Killer.


2 thoughts on “Hannibal Kills

  1. The Laughable Cheese

    That was great! Thank you. I don’t know that I read anything that remotely tried to tackle the why on Hannibal’s behavior like you did! So it was great that you did this.

    Okay here are my reply notes:

    I think Hannibal fed people his victims before Will, because of the episode where we see Hannibal at the opera house and there is that woman asking he do another dinner party. I think that implies he knows her from before Will and has these ‘dinner parties.’

    I think they only show him feeding his victims to his friends after meeting Will, because meeting Will is the order that the show needed to go in story wise. They only show Hannibal halfway through ep. 1 to build his darkness up.


    The judge wasn’t killed by Hannibal I thought but the guy who ends up trying to kill Hannibal in the pool scene. he is doing it to impress Hannibal I think at that point.

    It’s been a while but I thought Will got released from prison when more people are still dying and it becomes clear that Will isn’t the killer and just steadily more and more doubt is thrown on his case. When Hannibal kills the man in the room ( i believe again antlers are involved which puts tons of doubt on Will being the killer) and other things makes people get suspicious of Hannibal. So Hannibal does purposely let suspicion go back on him to try to release Will, but I don’t think the judge is his.


    You say he kills to be pragmatic, but I have lot’s of questions also on why he kills in 3. Bedelia points out how his killing people is unwise and leading the cops to find him and later even asks if he’s doing it on purpose to lead them here.

    Okay yes, Pazzi. Dimmond said he wasn’t going to tell on Hannibal and it seemed like Hannibal was considering letting him live. But then when he walked in the house with Dimmond saw Bedelia trying to escape and then killed Dimmond, and so the kill seemed in part at least about Bedelia trying to leave. And then he has that whole participating or observing conversation, testing Bedelia. Which my guess the test from the get go is to see if she worthy of being around him alive or to kill her. Which of course they both know he wants to kill her.
    Also more then any part of the show the sequences with Bedelia seem to have a sexual tension in relation to killing her. At least that is what I felt. Slow sensual camera scenes but of him doing something that implies danger to her.
    Though this is really the only time I have seen anything like that. Everyone else, the killing is completely different, and as you say, mostly fast, fairly painless.


    “Lecter has also talked, at length, about ethical killing, claiming to Bella Crawford that he employs an ethical butcher, who doesn’t make the food suffer before killing and eating it”
    That’s really interesting. Cause that would imply he does not kill out of sadism per se. As a sadist would enjoy the suffering of others more then anything.
    But purely the that he likes the taste of people and is annoyed by rude people. That seems even colder then I thought of him before.
    ‘rudeness,’ is a really funny phrase, cause it doesn’t imply vindication for someone who has committed an equal crime. But more punishment for a daily minor annoyance. That no one has the right to do such a thing around him.

    In the show they didn’t really show a clear connection to what level of rude behavior that Hannibal would have happen to him to want to retaliate like in the movie. In SOTL Miggs does what he does to Clarice and then later find he has swallowed his own tongue because of what Hannibal has said to him. That rudeness is very clear all around.
    But tv Hannibal, “Rude,” is a murky undefined word, I feel.


    I loved your starting paragraph where you point out Hannibal has his first kill to ocmmunicate and help Will before even knowing him. I hadn’t thought of that before so much. But it’s clear that’s true. And then takes Will as a patient, taking a risk to get closer to him. He even says, “I will help Good Will see his cannibal,” or something like that. Which I think says he knows Will will eventually see him if he does htis. Which is a great risk. So Hannibal never really having a friend, it seems, decided to change this with Will.


    That’s really interesting about the types of killers there are. Really helpful for figuring out motives, to have them separated like that. Though I still have some questions about what type of killer he is, I think I mainly agree with what you say about him doing so for power.
    Also I could definitely believe that he does it and it could have started about getting justice, but became much pettier over time. Also there is a motive as well for recognition which you don’t mention. I think a huge reason why Hannibal may have been interested in Will is because he could have Will see everything about himself. He got tired of hiding.
    As you can see with his cooking, he likes to show off his abilities and talents. And the same with his killing apparently. He wanted someone to know what he was doing. So had a need for recognition. Beyond what he was getting with his cooking performances.
    He needed someone to see what he couldn’t show anyone. I think at least. In the movie, SOTL, I personally don’t see this being a motivation for Hannibal, so this motivation is new to the show I think.


    One theory reading the back story you say, gives me, is that he when his sister got killed, he killed others after because he believes the world is unjust (his sister taken from him) and thus he could be enacting revenge, specifically on God. As he doesn’t emotionally seem to care about hte individuals he kills.


    Very nicely done. Again thank you for taking the time to write this interesting article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The reasoning I used for the episode in which Will’s judge on his case gets killed is here:

      I’ll watch the episode again to see if I went wrong but I could’ve sworn that the reason the Judge was killed was because he dismissed Hannibal’s credentials while he was sitting on the stand, and Hannibal does not like anyone questioning his credentials.That Will’s case was thrown out is a beneficial side effect. I thought the Judge died because he pissed off Hannibal.I thought Brown was the copycat who killed the bailiff to attract the Chesapeake Ripper’s attention. I’ll watch it again because your argument that it might have been Hannibal is sound.


      There’s a certain element of humiliation involved when someone is being rude to you and this feeling may be the foundation of Hannibal’s compulsion to kill rude people. I’m sure watching his sister being killed, while unable to do anything to save her, had to be humiliating and that seems to be one of Hannibal’s triggers. I think we all have those elements of our personality that strangers can unknowingly stumble onto that makes you go off on them. Witness how in season three Professor Sogliato tries to humiliate Hannibal in front of a room full of people Hannibal wants to impress. I knew Sogliato was gonna die after that. He killed Sogliato to regain his dignity and show his power over someone who tried to bully him. (and its possible Hannibal sees rude people the same way he viewed his sisters killers. They are bullies. In a way, Hannibal reacts like a small boy who wants to get back at his bullies.)
      I think whenever anyone makes Hannibal feel that way, from the doctor who was snarky with him, to people who thwart his future plans, killing them is his reaction.


      I don’t think that was the case with Dimmond. I think there was a huge element of testing Bedelia to see how much like Will Graham she might be, hence their followup conversation about participation, and observation. I think Hannibal discovered that she can be easily compromised but she does not have in her the depths of Will’s darkness, and I think Hannibal thinks Will’s darkside is a direct offshoot of his empathy disorder.


      Remember that first season was all about the sense of sight. Everything in the dialogue and plots was built on the foundation of seeing. From Hannibal’s conversations about Will, to the audience being introduced to Will’s ability to SEE crime scenes. I talked about that in my first season reviews, too. And yes, he did want Will to SEE him, and I think Hannibal thought of Cassie Boyle’s body as Will’s first sight of him.

      Also since this is a dark fantasy world, that is only nominally based on the real world, everything is skewed slightly off base. It can be hard to match any diagnosis of Hannibal with a real world counterpart because the showrunners took elements of lots of different motivations and personality traits to craft him. Also even real world motivations are not that cut and dried, either. People in the real world sometimes mix different killer’s traits. I only used the Power Killer designation as a sort of helpful guide, but the only real motivation is that Hannibal just enjoys killing when you get down to it, and will find excuses to do it when he doesn’t have any particular motivation to do it like in Dimmond’s case.

      Liked by 1 person

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