"There are two wars going on: The one out there and the one in here, and we're losing both of them."
The opposite of Locked in a Room
: the ensemble of diverse characters starts to argue and turn against each other during intense situations. E.g. being boarded up in a house/building/store when there are rampaging viruses
/ Jehovah's Witnesses
or what have you looming outside
) trying to get to you
. Which leads to paranoia, frustration, and disagreement among the group when it comes to fixing the dilemma. Patience starts to run short, the ensemble is starting to get on each other's nerves, and things quickly get out of hand and possibly implode.
When this occurs against something threatening to wipe out humanity as a whole
(such as the ever-popular Zombie Apocalypse
) this usually leads to An Aesop
for the survivors (or the audience) about how we need to look beyond our differences and focus on the big picture,
or a scathing indictment of humanity's self-destructiveness
and how we can sometimes be even worse
than the monsters we're fighting. This trope is also a good way to showcase the darker side
of characters under stressful situations whom are otherwise good people. This also can be caused by clashing egos, But mostly it's due in part to conflicting personalities.
This trope is named for a famous Biblical quote that Lincoln later borrowed about how "a house divided against itself cannot stand," though it is also referred to in writing circles as "Scorpions
in a Box" (not to be confused with Rats In A Box
, which is when this trope is invoked for the purposes of Perp Sweating
This is frequently combined with an Ontological Mystery
Subtrope of Divided We Fall
. May be caused by an Artifact of Attraction
or other Apple of Discord
. Compare Gold Fever
. When this erupts into a full-scale war, particularly within a country, you have a Civil War
Occasionally, a villain will try to set this up deliberately
. This never works.
See also: We ARE Struggling Together
making this Truth in Television
Typical Character types that are found in this trope are:
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Anime & Manga
- Infinite Ryvius. After the adults die, it takes all of two episodes for the children to start turning on one another. The vicious infighting continues even in the middle of battles.
- In Naruto, there's a hardlined military faction called Root that works against the members of Konoha that follow the teachings of the 3rd Hokage, which includes, among others, the main character and the 5th Hokage. There are also other factions in the Land of Fire who want the fifth gone. None of these groups particularly liked the third Hokage either.
- In the RS arc of Pokémon Special, the Gym leaders realize that there's a terrorist group out there planning to screw over Hoenn. Since Aqua and Magma work against each other, the Gym Leaders argue about which group are the real bad guys, not realizing that though the two teams have opposing goals, both groups are terrorists. The Gym Leaders probably would have duked it out between themselves if not for the fact that Groudon and Kyogre start destroying the region. Made worse by the fact that Tate and Liza weren't there due to their duty to guard the Red and Blue Orbs, and Norman knew better and refused to take sides. Shame Sapphire wasn't at this particular meeting, or she could have vouched against them both, being a witness to the heinous deeds of both groups.
- Happens to the girls holed up in the lighthouse in the Battle Royale manga.
- And they all wind up dead, especially the instigator. Oh so much.
- Baccano!: The alchemists aboard the Advenna Avis were already divided in conflict before they received their elixir of life. Immortality should've resolved most of their disputes and rendered the rest futile to continue. But the gifting demon left an escape clause in case they tired of eternal life; they could absorb each other to take all their knowledge and experience. They quickly figured how this might be used against each other.
- Marvel's Civil War arc has caused this among its heroes.
- So far the group in The Walking Dead comic manages to avoid this...for the most part.
- The core members have learned to trust each other over the constant fear that the other people aren't making the best decisions. EVERY time someone new comes into the fold, the tension surfaces. Time, and sometimes a death or two, will put things back to 'normal'.
- Used in a strip in Doctor Who Magazine in which a group of minor villains that the Doctor has previously defeated gather together in a deserted space-station to plan a final attack that will finish him once and for all. One of them dies horribly, and as the others begin dying one by one afterward, it seems (to them, anyway) as if the Doctor has infiltrated their midst in disguise and is picking them off one by one. Finally, the last couple — paranoid that either one of them could be the Doctor in disguise — kill each other... and at that point, the Doctor arrives, not recognising any of them. Turns out the first death was just an accident with a faulty machine and the other deaths were just everyone picking each other off out of sheer paranoia.
- The Pocket God story arc "A Tale of Two Pygmies" revolves around this. Klik doesn't like how Ooga treats the tribe like a joke and is jealous at him for meeting the gods. When their hut burns down, he accuses Ooga of doing it and exiles him. However, Nooby and Booga go with Ooga; splitting the tribe of six into two tribes of three. When their sacred Gem of Life is missing, Klik accuses Ooga's tribe of stealing it and the tribes go to war. Turns out the culprit was a female pygmy named Sun, who manipulated the tribe into fighting amongst each other so she can steal their Gem of Life.
- The entire point of Schism was to break up the X-Men into those siding with Wolverine and those siding with Cyclops.
- This was pretty much the plot of the "Home Schooling" arc of Runaways. Victor Mancha inadvertently causes a drone to crash into the Runaways' house, resulting in Klara and Old Lace getting buried beneath rubble. The rubble gets sorted out relatively quickly, but Old Lace dies and Klara loses control of her powers, burying the house in vines. The team then becomes divided over how to deal with the vines, with Chase and Victor preferring to force Klara to retract them while Karolina, Nico and Molly prefer to wait until she's calmed down enough to retract them of her own free will (eventually, Nico uses a magic spell that tranquilizes Klara, but this angers Molly, who considers forcing someone to sleep against their will to be abusive.) Further complications arise when a paramilitary unit arrives to investigate the attack, causing the Runaways to flee the house while Chase abandons the team. Apparently, the arc was supposed to end with them being reunited by a suddenly-revived Gert Yorkes, but the series was cancelled halfway through the arc...
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act III: Throughout the first few chapters, the ghoul inside Tsukune causes a schism within Tsukune's posse, with some (Moka, Kurumu, and Rason, for example) trusting Tsukune to keep the ghoul contained with the Holy Lock and others (Dark, Mizore, and Felucia, for example) firmly convinced that the ghoul is too dangerous. They all get over it pretty quickly, however.
- In The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan, the Greeks and Romans need to ally themselves so they can defeat Gaea. Otherwise, they are SCREWED.
- And then in The Blood of Olympus the actual union between the campers is sidelined to the point where it has literally nothing to do with the conflict against Gaea and the giants.
- The story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, which provided the inspiration for the movie The Thing (1982). A shape-shifting alien is thawed out, and proceeds to start killing people in an isolated Antarctic research station. Everybody is understandably paranoid and scared to death. Besides being eaten to death of course.
- Much of Tanya Huff's Smoke and Mirrors—in which a television crew gets locked in a Haunted House—consists of this trope; they don't descend to killing each other, but... not by much.
- In the Stephen King short story "The Mist", this happens to around 80 people stuck in a supermarket. The main threat is a deeply religious woman who urges the others to make a blood sacrifice to stop the monsters outside.
- Will Navidson and his significant other Karen move into the house because they are trying to avert this trope, but the strange happenings in House of Leaves don't allow for that sort of healing.
- In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, wizards have a weird, formalized version of this. Wizards get along about as well as a sackful of soggy cats, something apparently programmed into them at a genetic level (or at least the level that passes for genetics on the Disc). Unseen University was created to redirect that murderous energy into a strict hierarchy where a cutting note could do nearly as much damage to one's opponent as a hurled fireball, but with a much smaller risk of bystanders being turned into charcoal (or possibly haddocks). They still cheerfully murder one another with creative booby traps, but things have settled somewhat now, since the current head of the University has proven himself more or less unkillable (and he sleeps with two loaded crossbows, although he's a kind man and probably won't shoot you in both ears).
- Machiavelli in Discourses on Livy believes that this is one of the reasons for a republic's strength, since it allows the right leader to come to the fore at the right time.
- Seen in Star Trek: Gemworld during a crisis, when the six races of Gemworld, and their leaders, fail to work together succesfully. Barclay calls them out on it, by appealing to the Good Old Ways:
"This is not how your ancestors survived, by ignoring a problem...The inhabitants of Gemworld have gotten soft. You prefer to bicker and fix blame instead of finding a solution. I'm sorry...that's not how the Ancients would have faced this ...The question is - will you act like your ancestors? Will you do what it takes to survive? Or would you prefer to hide in this room and bicker?”
- The lighthugger Nostalgia For Infinity in Revelation Space. Despite having a crew of six (seven if you're generous), almost the entire crew hate each other's guts and are willing to murder each other. The only two characters that get along are Hegazi and Volyova, or Volyova and Khouri
- The good guys in Tolkien's works are all too prone to this. The elven factions in Beleriand are one example. Another would be the mistrust between Arnor and Gondor, and the various succession crises, secessions, and outright civil wars within the realms, which give Sauron opportunities to weaken and (in the case of Arnor) eventually destroy an enemy he couldn't take on all at once. It looks like the Ring-war is going the same way (Rohan occupied with internal problems, and the southern fiefs of Gondor reserving most of their manpower to defend their coastlines) until Gandalf and Aragorn shake things up.
- In the first Hunger Games novel, it's mentioned that this usually happens to the Career tributes. The Careers typically work together in the beginning of the games to set camp, protect each other and kill as many of the non-Career tributes as possible early on. However, since there can only be one survivor in the end, as soon as there are so few non-Careers left that the Careers don't really have a common enemy anymore, distrust and disapproval starts spreading among the group, until they inevitably turn on each other.
- In Undead on Arrival the rival gangs that control Devon seem more concerned with killing each other than the hordes of zombies.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has this as a recurring theme played straight, subverted and deconstructed in many flavours, both in the backstory (the split between the Targaryens and Blackfyres is a classic example) and the main (the three-way Baratheon split couldn't play it straighter). Of course it happens depressingly often: with bells on. It's safe to say that any House or institution is at risk when they all play the Game of Thrones. No exceptions. Moving one stage further and hitting Divided We Fall occurs, too (the Freys, Karstarks, Greyjoys and even the Lannisters face this as an increasingly likely outcome of their inner rivalries). Some manage to pull through, however battered: the rarer cases, these (the Night's Watch has a long, chequered history of falling apart at the seams, patching it as required and soldiering on kind of as a unit... to then repeat the process all over again down the line).
- In Babylon 5, the alliance against the Shadows turned in against itself when it was left leaderless by Sheridan's death. Order was only restored when the Messianic Archetype returned from the dead.
- Happens from time to time on LOST. Often a main character will stop the fighting and remind everyone that there are other threats to their survival without them turning on each other. Jack, Locke, and Hurley have delivered such speeches, beginning with Jack's "live together, die alone" speech in an early episode.
- One interesting example, from season two: Sawyer and Michael, essentially Locked in a Room on the wreckage of their raft, start bickering about whose fault it was that Walt was kidnapped by the Others. This becomes the issue that their being Locked in a Room allows them to overcome.
- Doctor Who:
- Pretty much the entirety of "Midnight" is an extended Scorpion Box. it's easily one of the most disturbing Doctor Who episodes ever aired.
- Also the plot of the First Doctor serial, "The Edge of Destruction".
- The Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street".
- In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Abduction", an alien kidnaps five high school students, and tells them that one must be killed. They must decide which of them it will be. And of course they're from completely different social groups. Ray, a typical jock, Danielle, the hottest girl in school, Jason, a stereotypical geek, Brianna, a devout religious girl, and Cody, a social outcast. So needless to say they don't get along. But then again it was a test. And the ensemble was picked for that very reason.
- The 4400 episode "No Exit" features most of the major characters being Locked in a Room... that's trying to kill them. Their bickering and political differences lead to Shawn and Meghan's deaths, and in the end Jordan and Tom need to work past their personal differences to save the others.
- In Angel when the cast were regressed to their 17 year old versions and trapped in the hotel. They all belong to the types listed in the header: Angel (Marty Stu), Gunn (Bald Black Leader Guy), Fred (Distressed Damsel), Cordelia (Damsel Scrappy by that time), and Wesley (Jerk Ass).
- Also happens in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Yoko Factor" when Spike turns the Scoobies against one another.
- In the Haven episode "Real Estate", the house is a malevolent Genius Loci that uses the characters' pre-existing tensions against them, culminating in a three-way Mexican Standoff.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: This came up in "The Ship", when Captain Sisko and crew have to take shelter in a crashed Jem'Hadar fighter while more Jem'Hadar are shelling their position. Most of the tension is between O'Brien and Worf over how to deal with a dying Red Shirt (O'Brien wants him to keep fighting for life, while Worf implies killing him to spare his suffering), though everyone gets into the act.
Sisko: I know it's hot. We're filthy, tired, and we've got ten isontons of explosives going off outside. But we will never get out of this if we don't pull it together and start to act like professionals!
- Game of Thrones is this Turned Up to Eleven. The whole realm is at war with one another over the iron throne, while a greater threat of the White Walkers with a horde of wights mobilizes in the north.
- This was offered as the main reason the nWo was so successful against WCW; the WCW wrestlers were a bunch of gloryhounds with a ton of unsettled issues against each other and a desire for the spotlight, while the nWo operated like a well-oiled machine.
- Warhammer 40,000's Imperium intentionally invokes this trope with every institution, organization and military unit mistrusting everyone else. This does leave them with a bureaucratic nightmare where military or humanitary aid for worlds may arrive a century after it was needed, but it also keeps the human race comparably safe from the danger of a high-ranking defector. This lesson was learned after two bloody civil wars, one of them tearing humanity out of its beginning golden age.
- This also happens to foster an environment where different parts of the military occassionally go to war with each other, however...
- Warhammer Fantasy, this happens occasionally in The Empire, when an Emperor dies or retires the Elector Counts tend to disagree who would be the next. There was once the time of the Three Emperors, where three Counts decree themselves as Emperor of the Empire that its a miracle that the provinces didn't go on an all out civil war on who is the rightful Emperor.
- Then there's the Realm in Exalted, now that the Scarlet Empress has vanished. The Anathema are on the loose, new and sinister forms have emerged, one Realm outpost has been conquered by a Deathlord, the Bull of the North is on the rampage, and the most likely outcome within the Realm itself is all-out civil war over the Scarlet Throne.
- Happens regularly in BattleTech, the five great houses generally have infighting among themselves from time to time. The most prominent example is House Marik, which broke up into four factions after the Jihad. The Clans also have this a lot, they are divided into two groups the Crusaders, and the Wardens who have conflicting views on Kerensky's legacy.
- In Dangan Ronpa, the villainous headmaster Monokuma informs his students that the only way to escape Despair Academy is to murder one of the others without getting caught. On top of this, he gradually introduces extra motivation, leading to more paranoia as nobody can be sure who's going to try and get out.
- This came out particularly strongly in the first arc of Umineko: When They Cry because the characters are stuck in a Closed Circle where Everyone Is a Suspect.
- This quickly sets in during Virtue's Last Reward due to the way the Nonary Game is set up. If someone opens the "9" door before everyone else can get 9 points, then no one else will be able to escape. Furthermore, if someone is betrayed and drops to 0 points, they die. And finally, it's fairly certain that one of the participants in the game is Zero, the mastermind behind the whole thing.
- A subversion of the villainous version happens in Survival of the Fittest - Burton Harris/Ken Lawson plays off the paranoia and reservations of a group of students hanging out in a cottage in order to get the entire uneasy alliance to dissolve. Burton/Ken wasn't exactly a villain though, just a dick who thought that the place was too crowded.
- The Trolls from Homestuck eventually become this, as shown by this update and the ones following it. They start off with twelve. Currently, they're down to four (five and a half if you include Aradia and Sollux), and Kanaya expresses an interest in making it three.
- One Hundred Yard Stare: Episode four sees the girls turning into this trope.