Created By: Desertopa on December 4, 2011 Last Edited By: Desertopa on May 21, 2012

Top Tier Traitor

Traitor to a teacher, organization or tradition is also the best student or practitioner.

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"The best of all would be the strongest student, yes? Wisest? Most learned in the ways of the Force? Best of all, Dooku would be! Our greatest student! Our greatest failure." ―Yoda

Most bad guys don't start out bad. People can turn for many reasons, and it can happen to anyone, even those with the humblest beginnings. But those who turn their backs on their teachers, their traditions, or fellow followers of their calling have a conspicuous tendency to also be the best and brightest at what they do.

There is some logic to this; it makes sense that the people who willingly break away from cohesive groups would tend to be particularly self assured, and in any case a premier pupil or top general who walks out on their side will attract much more attention than a lower level traitor. However, there are also more dramatic reasons for this tendency. A traitor who is more formidable than their former associates poses a much more credible threat than one who is less so, and the more valuable a person's contributions to a cause, the greater the pathos in their betrayal.

A Top Tier Traitor is likely to possess The Gift. If the group they left is the one to which the protagonist belongs, they are likely to be an Evil Counterpart.


  • Count Dooku, as described in the page quote. Anakin Skywalker also becomes this when he betrays the Jedi Order, having the greatest affinity with the Force of any Jedi, and besting Count Dooku in combat.

  • Lucifer, according to Christian tradition, was the greatest and fairest of the angels before his fall.

  • In the Wind on Fire trilogy, the Master was the most powerful of the Singer People, who possess Functional Magic but live strictly ascetic lifestyles. When he left, he used his powers to create an entire nation dedicated to his glory.

  • In Samurai Champloo, Shoryu, the 'street killer' was the sword instructor Zuikou's greatest pupil, until he studied Shaolin kung fu in China and used the skills he brought back to kill another pupil. To fellow members of his dojo, Jin also appears to be this.
Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • December 4, 2011
    You can just link Lucifer to Archangel Lucifer or Satan.

    I think we might have this, though maybe not. Compare Broken Pedestal.
  • December 4, 2011
  • December 5, 2011
  • December 5, 2011
    • In Kung Fu Panda, Tai Lung had been, at least up to that point, Shifu's greatest student.
  • December 5, 2011
    • Sephirot, who was considerted the best SOLDIER after he discovered his origins, the latter games [[Retcon Retconned it]] more as him being gradually falling culminating on the Nibelheim incident
  • December 5, 2011
    • Harry Potter: Voldemort as a student and Snape as a teacher were both fairly highly ranked and respected.
  • December 5, 2011
    Black Dagger Brotherhood: Lash is an excellant student, even planning to become a doctor. Guess who becomes The Dragon later on?
  • December 5, 2011
    Horus. How could you have mentioned Dawn Of War without mentioning Horus?
  • December 5, 2011
  • December 5, 2011
    • In Modern Warfare 2, General Shepard is revealed to have orchestrated most of the major events of the game (including the infamous airport massacre scene) in order to start a war between the U.S. and Russia. He also betrays the main characters in the game, killing Roach and Ghost and attempting to kill Soap and Price.

    Not sure if this example strictly fits, but it could be argued that he was a traitor to the U.S., considering his position. And though ultimately his motives were to strengthen the U.S. through the forge of another world war, he did some pretty traitorous things to do so along the way.
  • December 8, 2011
    Would anyone care to explain Mozgwsloiku's example? I know next to nothing about the series, and it's too Trope Overdosed to just search through the page.
  • December 9, 2011
    I feel a very strong overlap with The Paragon Always Rebels, so their distinction should be explained in the write-up IMO.
  • December 9, 2011
    In Orcs Must Die, it eventually turns out that the one responsible for the flood of orcs is the former 'rising star' amongst the War Mages, a powerful sorceress who decided that she's rather rule than serve, and went through the Rift to take control of the Horde
  • December 9, 2011
    In the Warhammer40000 story Horus was the Emperor's adopted son and his Warmaster ie essentially the Imperium's second-in-command. After he was corrupted by Chaos he rebelled and started the Horus Heresy. The Space Marine chapters and their Primarch leaders who joined him would also be examples.
  • December 10, 2011
    When I searched to see if we already had this, I thought The Paragon Always Rebels would cover it, but they're actually quite distinct. The Paragon Always Rebels is about a person who's a figure of hope taking lots of people with him or her upon changing sides. A Top Tier Traitor is distinguished by exceptional abilities and/or rank, but need not take anyone with them at all.

    The Paragon Always Rebels could possibly do with a rename, in fact, since the title is so unindicative of the content.
  • May 21, 2012
    I'm hauling this one up out of the grave. I think this is launchable with some more examples.
  • May 21, 2012
    FordPrefect defines "paragon" as: 1. "a model or pattern of excellence or of a particular excellence" (which matches The Paragon) 2. "someone of exceptional merit" (which better matches the Top Tier of this proto-trope)

    Given that The Paragon explains that #1 is what's intended, I think that part of The Paragon Always Rebels is okay. "Always" should be ditched as misleading (it makes it sound like the trope is about it happening repeatedly), and ideally something should be added to indicate the "takes lots of people with them" part ("Paragon-Led Mass Face Heel Turn" is a Boring But Practical option there).

    I suggest "The Best Student Rebels" for this YKTTW.

  • May 21, 2012
    • Fidelias in the Codex Alera is one of the most revered Cursors (read: spies) in Alera, until he plots against the ruling dynasty because of political differences.
  • May 21, 2012
    The Rebel Is Always A Paragon would be an accurate descriptor of this trope, but it would be misleading regarding its relationship to The Paragon Always Rebels.

    The Best Student Rebels isn't a bad name for this trope, but not all the examples can reasonably be described as students; the Archangel Lucifer, for instance. I think Top Tier Traitor is indicative (it refers to a person whose status or skills are of the highest level turning on their fellows,) and it had Added Alliterative Appeal. Does anyone think that the name is problematic?