These are the characters whose moral standing is kept in the dark. Maybe they work for the Big Bad
, but don't do anything really evil themselves. Perhaps they are Wild Cards
who use the Heel-Face Revolving Door
constantly. They may kick
as many dogs as they pet.
Or maybe they are Evil Overlords
who can seriously claim to be Reasonable Authority Figures
. But one thing is certain: until they do something truly heroic or heinous, placing them somewhere in the Character Alignment
is a wasted effort.
Sometimes, the writers will deliberately leave it to the audience to decide what their true colors are.
Compare with Byronic Hero
, Villain Has a Point
, Wild Card
, and Noble Demon
. Contrast Hidden Agenda Villain
, whose motives and goals are kept in the dark but whose morality is never uncertain; also contrast with the less subtle characters who are unambiguously evil
. Often a trait of the Mysterious Backer
and the Enigmatic Minion
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Anime And Manga
- Neon Genesis Evangelion:
- Gendo Ikari. At the start, he keeps it unclear whether he does care about his son, Shinji, and the world's safety or not. In the end, we learn that it's neither, he's just obsessed with bringing back his wife and will use any means to do it, but while he doubtlessly puts getting his wife back before anything else, the way he justifies his actions in episode 25 suggest that he genuinely believes that his version of the Human Instrumentality Project is the only way for humanity to survive, his final words make it pretty clear that he did care about Shinji, but happened to have the very same self-esteem issues Shinji has, and the same can be argued for Rei (given that Fuyutsuki, usually the more moral/sentimental of the two, calls him out on getting to attached to her), and he still opposes the actual villains of the show with the goal of doing what he thinks is protecting mankind, ultimately making him more of a Byronic Hero. ...We think.
- Kaworu Nagisa is another example; while he is an Angel and tries to bring about Third Impact, he eventually changes his mind and decides to let Shinji kill him so humanity can live. His motivations have been hotly debated, from interpretations ranging from naive but ultimately well-meaning boy who wanted the best for Shinji to cruel Manipulative Bastard who, when his plans for destruction of humanity failed, settled for pushing Shinji beyond the Despair Event Horizon.
- Stocking from Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt claims to be a demon, but could be under mind control.
- Schneizel from Code Geass is, for most of the show's run, foreshadowed as an Evil Counterpart for Lelouch. But for the most part, he comes across as an Anti-Villain or even a Hero Antagonist. Turns out, he's the final Big Bad and is really quite evil.
- Lelouch fits this trope to a T. How sympathetic and selfish are his goals? And does his goals justify his means of trying to achieve them?
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, the Seven Barian Emperors are supposed to be the villains in Season Two, but despite this, the only one who has ever committed any actions that could truly be defined as "evil" is Vector (other than fighting the good guys, if you want to count that) and the rest don't even seem to like Vector at the best of times. (Gilag has Brainwashed a few humans into helping him, but even then, this never seemed to cause them any permanent harm.)
- In Fruits Basket, Shigure is usually a goofy slacker who is also something of a pervert. There are moments though, when he says some very creepy things. Unlike other characters like Rin or Tohru, he shows no interest in ending the Zodiac curse himself and says he's perfectly content to sit back and let other people do it while he reaps the benefits. He does want the curse ended, but it's mainly because he's in love with Akito and knows he can't have her all to himself as long as she's obsessed with all of the Zodiac members rather than wanting everyone free. Despite these selfish views and the fact that he openly admits to being "the worst sort of man", he really doesn't do anything bad and some of the things he does, like agreeing to let Yuki and Tohru live with him, are very beneficial to the protagonists in addition to furthering is own ends..
- This is the whole premise of V from V for Vendetta. Hero or terrorist? Or both?
- In Watchmen, it's left largely up to the reader to decide whether Ozymandias' master plan was truly the right thing to do.
- Same with Rorschach. He is deliberately left morally ambiguous to let the readers decide whether his extreme methods of fighting evil were necessary or not. Or whether exposing Ozymandias's plan was the right thing to do or not.
- The Punisher is a Sociopathic Hero who punishes various people who are the worst of the worst in the criminal world.
- Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Cyclonus and Whirl. The former was a former lieutenant of Galvatron, who quit his service and signed on for the quest, he's distrusted by many of the Autobots, because he killed many during his service under Galvatron. Whirl is a dangerously unstable psychotic who's responsible for the great war, teaching a still pacifistic Megatron a brutal lesson in violence, and was twice voted the Autobot most likely to defect. As the comic goes on, both get Pet the Dog moments (Issue 12 giving them separate ones to the same character), Cyclonus reveals a more soft side, and Whirl is shown to be a pitiable Jerkass Woobie who still has some severe mental problems.
- Then there's the Galactic Counsel, a coalition of worlds devoted to peace. They really don't like the Cybertronians, and attack them over a misunderstanding. Such hostility is not unfounded, seeing as the war has laid waste to countless worlds, and before the war, Nova Prime's expansion involved experimenting on other planets and purging organic cultures. Rodimus regards them as fascists, but not all of Rodimus's statements should be taken at face value, how they operate among other cultures remains to be shown.
- Monster X in The Bridge has shades of this. On one hand he's been the vanguard of a brutal invasion force numerous times and is now currently serving the Big Bad. On the other hand he's a Noble Demon who refuses to harm the defenseless and even saved the life of a pegasus after arriving in Equestria.
- The Moon's Apprentice has Nightmare Moon. While she does seem to have a grudge against her sister and it's implied she want to make "the night last forever"... She acts more like Celestia (canon Celestia, not Ron the Death Eater Celestia) then her canon counterpart! There's not an Evil Laugh or a overly dramatic decoration that the night will last forever to be found. She even says she'll forgive her sister! ...Eventually.
- Queen Chrysalis is an even bigger example, to the point where, if it weren't for the actual show, you'd think she was always a good guy.
- Bludworth, the enigmatic coroner who somehow always seems to know what is going on, in the Final Destination series. Whether he's helping Death or not, or is just an uninterested third party is left deliberately vague.
- The Old Man who is the boss of Omni Consumer Products in the Robocop movies. Even more so in the TV series.
- It was implied that the elderly gas station owner from Wrong Turn may have been involved with the cannibalistic mountain men. The sequel outright confirmed it.
- Elsa Schneider in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade goes back and forth between supporting the Nazis and helping Indiana Jones. Overall, her motive is to get the Holy Grail at whatever cost, and she helps anyone who gets her closer to that goal.
- Memento: Introduced as a villain, it gradually becomes clear that Teddy is Leonard's only real friend, but is manipulating him for his own ends. At the end he claims that he helped Lenny get revenge on the original John G. and has been trying to help Leonard cope with his amnesia. Even then we don't find out whether he's telling the truth or not, leaving Teddy's true motives ambiguous.
- Bob the (maybe) angel in Eagles Gathered has unclear motivations and goals, like most characters in the film. He says he's supposed to "take care of" Silver, but it's left ambiguous whether that literally means to help her, or to see to it that she dies.
- Discworld's Lord Vetinari is a Magnificent Bastard par none, who keeps Ankh-Morporkh's nobles in check through manipulation and intimidation. He is also a former Professional Killer to boot. Apparently, he got into his position thanks to a few well-thought-out assassinations and a firm belief that Humans Are the Real Monsters. He's also the most competent and benevolent patrician the city has ever had.
- Severus Snape of Harry Potter fame is the poster boy for this trope. His true allegiance is revealed only after his death. Turns out, he's good.
- A Song of Ice and Fire.
- Varys. He's a cunning liar and manipulator who does some villainous things and keeps his motivations ambiguous. He claims that he's working for the good of the realm, and we find out fairly early that he's trying to bring back the Targaryen dynasty. In A Dance With Dragons, however, we learn that Varys went to Westeros with the plan of expanding his and Illyrio's criminal empire. His interest in the Targaryens might be no more noble than Illyrio's: he just wants a big reward.
- Tyrion is willing to do a lot of evil things, sometimes purely for his own desires. He also fights to expand the power of his evil family. However, he also seems to have a genuine interest in saving lives and helping those who cannot help themselves. It's unclear sometimes whether we should really want him to succeed, but he's likable either way.
- Melissandre. She thinks she's doing the right thing, and is willing to do quite a lot of evil to make that "right thing" happen. However, what she views as "right" might be a bit different from other peoples'. All we know is that some powerful force is backing her, but whether it's truly benevolent, or a god, or even cognizant isn't yet clear.
- In the backstory, there's Brynden "Bloodraven" Rivers, an albino sorcerer bastard who ruled as hand of the king about a hundred years before the main timeline. Everyone was afraid of him and his spy network and supposed use of blood magic. Since then, he's become the Three-Eyed Raven, a master seer beyond the Wall, and his tutoring of Bran Stark is certainly suspect in nature.
- Youko Tsukimori from the lightnovel Gekkou. The driving question of the novel is whether or not she's a killer.
- Mad Oracle Rashk from Glory in the Thunder teaches a runaway boy how to read and gives little intelligent birds as gifts to children. He also makes those birds out of human souls.
- The Vampire Count Of Monte Cristo has this towards the Angel of Vengeance.
- In Twilight, there's the Volturi. Despite being the Big Bad of the series who are later revealed to be corrupt, they are the only force of law and order in the vampire world and their rules (don't let humans find out about vampires and don't make vampire children) are very reasonable. They repeatedly give the Cullens second chances in regards to them not turning Bella into a vampire and, when Alice, Edward, and Bella turn down offers to work for them, their leader kindly agrees to let them go home. The Illustrated Guide also shows that they're literally the only thing standing in the way of the Romanian and Egyptian vampires rebuilding their empires and enslaving humanity as food and cattle.
- Archvillain: is Kyle a Villain Protagonist or just a misunderstood Anti-Hero?
Live Action TV
- Mad Men's Bert Cooper is not afraid to resort to blackmail to get his way, and has threatened to lock someone who disagreed with one of his schemes in a closet for a weekend if he didn't comply. Another character believes that he has arranged for someone to be killed before. However, it is never made clear if he intended to follow through with his threats or if he really had that person killed. He always comes off as a kindly, albeit eccentric, old man.
- Dexter. Season 2 is one long examination of this trope.
- Sister Jude starts off American Horror Story: Asylum as a Knight Templar intent on literally beating the sin out of the residents of Briarcliff, with a rather loose interpretation of what contitutes "sin" but the revelation of her own backstory, she's atoning for her own sinful life which culminated in a hit-and-run accident involving a young girl plus the far worse people and...things inhabiting Briarcliff move her into this territory making her either an Anti-Villain (combination of Types II and III) or Anti-Hero (Type V).
- There's no doubting that Walter White of Breaking Bad isn't a moral person - he cooks crystal meth. However, his reasons for doing so are understandable (he is in a terrible financial condition and he is dying of cancer), and the real question is whether his intentions are noble or not. Early on, it's clear he wants his family to have a stable financial future after he dies, but as time goes on it becomes more apparent that part of the reason why he's making drugs is to get revenge on the society that treated him like dirt for years. His questionable morality serves as a crux for the plot of the story. In the end, he claims that he was really doing everything for himself, though he at least tries to redeem himself in the last episode. However, he is still completely unapologetic about his sins and makes it quite clear he would do it all over again if given the chance.
- The insurance salesman and possible mobster from an episode of The Office
- Ben Linus for most of LOST, who alternates between helping the heroic protagonists and endangering them, all in the name of what he says is for the island's protection. He even lampshades a character's misplaced trust whenever he inevitably double-crosses them. By the end of the series, he slides more into good-guy territory once it's revealed he's a pawn for the real Big Bad, and another villain makes the mistake of murdering his daughter in front of him. While he still performs actions of questionable motives, he winds up aiding the protagonists and serves as Hurley's number-two in guarding the island.
- Gul Dukat quite deliberately uses this trope in all his appearances. True, he's one of Deep Space Nine's primary antagonists, responsible for many pre-series atrocities, and a Smug Snake on top of all that, but he claims it was all out of loyal service to Cardassia, he portrays himself as a family man forced away from his family time and again, and he does seem to genuinely respect his enemies. This facade gets a little strained after he negotiates Cardassia's service to the Dominion, which wasn't good for anybody in the long run. Then his daughter betrays the Dominion, his second in command shoots her, he goes through a brief bought of insanity in which he realizes he wasn't evil enough, and he allows himself to be possessed by what is essentially the devil. Come season seven, he's Evil with a capital E.
- A straighter example is Garak, the Cardassian tailor in exile on Deep Space Nine. Over the course of the series it is revealed he was (and might still be) a spy for the empire, that he was exiled after he betrayed his spymaster except he claims he didn't, that said spymaster is his father, that he apparently has a history with Dukat... And yet he seems to help out the protagonists quite often.
- Willy Wonka in the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a Trickster Jerk with a Heart of Gold, but because he zig-zags tropes like Benevolent Boss and Callousness Towards Emergency it has become common over the years to suspect him of being an Anti-Hero / Anti-Villain if not an outright villain — particularly in parodies. In the 2013 stage musical adaptation, both the light and dark sides of the character are gently expanded upon — and this trope emerges in the process. It is For Happiness that motivates this sensitive Mad Artist, but his priorities are dangerously skewed and those who seek out hedonistic pleasures will pay dearly for not heeding his warnings about the temptations of his wacky world. Even when the bratty kids' misadventures prove potentially fatal — one actually explodes offstage, and another and her dad are last seen headed for an incinerator — he consistently has No Sympathy for them. His personality is sugar and ice; he shows no interest in getting to know his tour group better and even his introductory song "It Must Be Believed to Be Seen" is a Villain Song in score and style, if not lyrics. As it turns out, he's the reason Charlie Bucket got a Golden Ticket in the first place...but in order to execute a proper Secret Test, dog-petting is out of the question.
- The G-Man from the Half-Life series has a rather ambiguous background, putting Gordon Freeman into stasis twice, while at the end of the first game, when Gordon chooses not to make the deal with him, the G-Man would just send him to a dimension full of hostile aliens where he can't possibly survive.
- First Enchanter Orsino from Dragon Age II. In the endgame, he admits he knew about the blood mage serial killer who murdered Hawke's mother (and others), but kept his existence secret for fear of the backlash against the Circle. He also claims that he didn't know the extent of Quentin's madness until too late, and never used the man's research until Meredith went completely insane. The writers have said that whether he is telling the truth is left for the players to determine.
- Flemeth from both games. She dismisses rumors without confirmation or denial, and there hasn't been a witness to or onscreen demonstration of her villainy. She's done more to assist the heroes, and her battle with the Warden was only in self-defense. Her power is said to come from demonic possession, yet neither her motives nor methods match any other examples. Morrigan discovers a ritual that supposedly permits her to possess others, but the reasons and results for using it have been cast in question.
- Her daughter, Morrigan, easily follows in her footsteps. Despite sticking with the Warden for the entire game, her true motives are left in the dark throughout the game, such as why she wanted a child with the soul of an Old God. She can also convince the Warden to slay Flemeth for her to prevent the aforementioned possession ritual, but Morrigan was the only one capable of reading Flemeth's grimoire where the ritual was mentioned, making it possible she lied simply to get her mother out of the way.
- In Witch Hunt, Morrigan is initially reluctant to agree if the Warden requests to travel with her, believing that they - especially male Wardens who romanced her - wouldn't agree with or understand what she needs to do to enact her plans.
- Ulysses from Fallout: New Vegas is pretty much this. He seems destined to end up fighting The Courier in some sort of legendary battle. Joshua Graham implies that he might have ties to Caesar's Legion. He carries the flag of the Old World on his back, which has connotations, and Old World Blues hints pretty strongly that he wants to do something in The Divide, related to waking up the Old World. Though audio files from the same add-on detail him rescuing Christine from the Big Empty and nursing them back to health.
- Eventually, he's revealed to be a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds of sorts on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Courier for destroying a nation in-the-making, with his ultimate plan being to use ICBMs to cut off the NCR supply lines, leading to the NCR, Legion, and the Mojave destroying each other so that a new nation may rise from the ashes of the Old World symbols.
- In Immortal Souls, there's only two things anyone knows for sure about the Black Witch: She's very very powerful, and very very crazy. She seems to do both great harm and great help on a whim, and only she knows what her true motivations are.
- Pokémon Black and White 's Team Plasma is this for roughly five minutes. Ghetsis' speech does make sense, but they are the shady organization in a Pokémon game. Then we see one of their grunts kicking a Munna. N does keep his ambiguous status till the end when we learn that he's just misguided. Upon being shown evidence that his point of view was wrong and that he had been manipulated all his life by Ghetsis, he leaves peacefully to do some soul-searching, and upon his return in the sequel he's pretty unambiguously heroic.
- The Spathi of Star Control 2 are a textbook example. They fight for the Ur-Quan and don't seem terribly upset about being party to the enslavement of all intelligent life, but while spineless and shifty they never come close to doing anything evil.
- The Arilou are a somewhat more benevolent version. They clearly care about humanity, though their reasons for doing so are left ambiguous. They are also The Greys, and have done experiments on us throughout our history, again for purposes they are reticent to discuss. And while they joined the Alliance, they abandoned it as soon as it became clear that the human race was "safe" (i.e., safely enslaved), and were unconcerned with the fate of their other allies.
- The Orz. Weird Starfish Aliens whose language we can't properly translate. They are quite friendly, and will gladly ally with humanity...but there's something a little bit sinister about them. You meet them in Androsynth (evil cloned human) space, with no sign of the Androsynth anywhere. Demanding answers from the Orz as to what happened is their Berserk Button, and they will attack if you keep bringing it up. The Arilou (see above) insist they are dangerous, and vaguely dole out Eldritch Abomination / Cosmic Horror Story implications. It's all surprisingly creepy.
- Star Control 3 resolves this question: the Arilou are arrogant and narcissistic but not outright evil, while the Orz are Les Collaborateurs for the game's Big Bad. Of course, Star Control 3 in its entirety is Fan Discontinuity.
- Certain comments made by the Spathi leadership in 2 points to them being quite simply very, very cowardly. They are in fact upset about being party to the enslavement of all intelligent life — not really because they are opposed to enslavement, but because they don't want to risk themselves enslaving others (they actually wanted to be safely protected beneath a slave shield instead, just like the humans would be, but another slave race messed with the choice). Going against the Ur-Quan would be even more dangerous, which is why they keep co-operating.
- The Voodoo Lady appeared unquestionably good during most of the Monkey Island games, but some of her actions in Tales of Monkey Island have brought her true alignment into question.
- Marek from Broken Age dresses in a wolf costume, has yellow eyes, but is apparently a member of La Résistance. However, he constantly tries to stop Shay from saving the very last prisoner on the rescue missions he convinces Shay to go on. It's revealed that the rescued prisoners were really human sacrifices to the Eldritch Abomination that Shay's spaceship was disguised as.
- Dark Souls: Most of the big players in the backstory are heavily dependent on interpretation, the codifying dichotomy being that between the two Primordial Serpents, Kingseeker Frampt and Darkstalker Kaathe. Each will have you believe the other is deceiving you regarding whether or not to take Lord Gwyn's place as the fuel of the First Flame. Frampt claims that not doing so will be The End of the World as We Know It, Kaathe claims that letting the fire die will bring about the Golden Age of Mankind and that the current state of affairs are the unnatural extension of the Age of Fire. Neither case has a great amount of evidence to back it up.
- Likewise, Gwyn himself is either the long tortured husk of a god sacrificing himself to save the world from the dark, or a selfish tyrant, unwilling to forgo the rule of giants and the subjugation of mankind.
- Quelaag, the Chaos Spider, may have been doing all she could to ease the suffering of her younger sister.
- Mantorok in Eternal Darkness. It's the fourth of the game's Ancients, the other three are unambiguously evil, and it works against them throughout the game. In the game's secret ending, it turns out to have engeneered all the events of the game to ensure all three evil Ancients are killed in parallel timelines at the same time, destroying them for good. Whether it did this to protect humanity or to get rid of its competition is unknown. Though lore in the game indicates ancient people did worship it as a fertility god... basically, Mantorok is either the Big Good or Eviler Than Thou, but it's impossible to tell which.
- Raymond from Resident Evil: Revelations. His first scene in the game makes him look like an antagonist, but he spends most of his screen time as an ally. He seems to be a good guy by the end of the game, and even saves Parker's life, but The Stinger just makes it even more ambiguous.
- Everyone in Shadow of the Colossus. It mostly hinges on Dormin's moral ambiguity; if They're evil, then so is Wander for trying to unseal Them, and if They're neutral or good, Emon is evil for violently standing against them, and is still ambiguous anyway because of his implied involvement in sacrificing Mono. If you get into the wild mass guessing about the game Shadow is a prequel to, ICO, even Mono can end up becoming ambiguous. The only character who isn't at all subject to this is Agro, since, being a horse, she's just a loyal steed doing as her master directs her.
- The Narrator from "Video Game/The Stanley Parable" qualifies. In some endings, he helps you out (or tries to make you happy). In other endings, he is the Big Bad.
- Phone Guy from Five Nights at Freddy's and its sequel is implied to have had some manner of involvement in Freddy Fazbear's Pizza's bloodsoaked history, but his true identity and what he actually did is all left up in the air.
- Multiple characters in Shikkoku No Sharnoth, including M, Heinz, Arthur, and James Moriarty.
- Most of the witches in Umineko no Naku Koro ni fall into this category as suits their whims, leaving it quite difficult to tell which if any of them is evil, good or simply in it for shits and giggles. Surprisingly enough, should you have read Higurashi, it turns out that Takano expy Lambdadelta is the one who is actually a decent person and reliable ally as compared to the Rika expy Bernkastel who is only in it For the Evulz.
- This happens with quite a few characters in the Ace Attorney series, depending on how you interpret certain behaviors and motives.
- In the third game, Iris dated Phoenix in college and really fell in love with him to keep her insane sister from poisoning him and later participated in a plan to stop Dahlia's return. On the other hand, one of her lines could be interpreted to mean that she knew about the times Dahlia killed people and only bothered to step in and protect Phoenix which, combined with her implied Love Martyr tendencies towards Dahlia, implies that she was fine with letting her sister kill people she had no personal connection to.
- Also in the third game is Godot, or Diego Armando. He was a defense attorney until a poisoning and coma combined with the death of his girlfriend left him bitter and more than a little hostile towards certain people. While he did hatch a plan to save Maya from Dahlia, his actions caused her to be put in danger in the first place (he used an incredibly convoluted plan instead of simply stealing or destroying Morgan's letter before Pearl read it) and he admitted that he was so overcome with anger at the sight of Dahlia that he stabbed her right away, not even bothering to consider that he was killing the spirit medium channeling her, who was also Maya's mother.
- Of the six members of The Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius is the most morally ambiguous. Vaarsuvius is condescending and arrogant and doesn't really care much about saving the world; s/he just joined the Order in pursuit of Arcane knowledge and power, and is trigger happy in his/her use of magic. But s/he genuinely cares for the rest of the Order, and is appalled by Belkar's psychopathy. S/he also made a deal with some fiends for some nasty dark magic to save hir family from a vengeful black dragon, but used that magic to destroy the dragon and all family members related to her. S/he then held onto the power and used it to teleport the Azure fleet to an abandoned island where they could establish a base and get supplies, and used the magic to unsuccessfully fight Xykon. This eventually led to hir losing hir temporary power and divorcing hir partner. There is much debate over hir Character Alignment.
- Minister Malack, while working with the Empire of Blood and the unashamedly evil Tarquin, is mostly a pleasant guy who treats his differences in alignment and deity with Durkon as more of a friendly religious debate than enmity. He also seems to hold to a personal code of scruples. Turns out he's actually a Vampire and Always Chaotic Evil.
- Yokyok of the Linear Guild. For the most part the Guild are Evil Counterparts to the Order, but while their first Kobold member Yikyik was as evil as his opposite number Belkar, it's implied that Yokyok may differ as much in alignment from his party as Belkar does. His only goal is to get revenge for Yikyik's (his father) death by killing Belkar (who has it coming about a hundred times over). Nevetheless, he seems to have no qualms about letting the rest of the guild destroy a whole town if it means he can get to Belkar.
- In Girl Genius, Baron Klaus Wulfenbach starts out as a villain who has conquered most of Europe. The reason he did this was to keep in check his fellow mad scientists, who were mostly waging an everyone-against-everyone war on ruins of a halfway-happened Zombie Apocalypse when he crashed the party.
- Jägers are mostly considered nightmarish monsters outside of their masters' land — where they are, conversely, mostly considered heroes. The sorts of people who chose the transformation and indefinite active military service are obviously dangerous, but "good sports" and honorable in their own strange way. Most are not actively malevolent — one is, but he "iz no longer a Jäger". Still, their word for a Heterodyne who choose good over evil is "boring".
- King Radical. His actions could easily label him as a Anti-Villain or even an outright hero. Dr. McNinja, on the other hand, is certain that he's a Villain with Good Publicity, and his future self even admitted that he had been planning something big. Just what he's planning, and where it stands morally, though, has yet to be said.
- Ava's Demon: TITAN serves as the antagonist of the series. On one hand he's conquered numerous galaxies, and even threatens to destroy all of the planets under Wrathia if she does not surrender to him. On the other his subjects have a decent amount of prosperity, and fairly good medical programs, having saved Gil from death and healed him. Back to the first hand, his empire is set up as something of a Social Darwinist society with the motto "Failures don't get into paradise." Finally, he hasn't appeared in the current narrative, his appearances are told through very biased people, Wrathia, a brutal alien warlord who wishes to take him down and Gil a meek medic who idealizes him.
- Amical from morphE. When he is introduced he is forcing people to fight one another to the death and kills 3 people in cold blood. After adopting the seedlings he legitimately cares about their feelings and becomes upset when he is accused of cruelty. The audience is always kept wondering if he just has a different set of morals as a mage or if he is being pleasant for a greater and more sinister purpose.
- Jhudora from Neopets. Everyone thinks she's evil, but no one has ever been able to prove it.
- Don't Hug Me I'm Scared:
- Notepad in the first instalment. She's clearly a Jerkass and a Control Freak, but it's unclear whether she could be considered actually evil. The answer would depend on whether or not she deliberately drove the puppets insane or whether things simply got out of her control. So far, there's been no definitive answer either way.
- Malcolm in the third instalment. The way The Love Cultists talk about him makes him seem like a God of Evil (though they don't see it that way), but since he never actually says or does anything apart from moving his jaw it's unclear whether this doctrine actually comes from him or he's just a giant stone head and The Cultists are crazy enough to think is giving them these messages.
- Lucy of Mr Deity. She's generally the first to object to anything in "the script" promoting hatred or violence, and generally seems to reserve her tortures for those who genuinely deserve them, but she's also completely casual about arranging all kinds of eternal tortures for minor crimes in her first appearance, resolves in a meeting with David Silverman to "stop eating babies", and suggests inventing Nazism after Mr. Deity tells her to make an alternative philosophy to Jesse's.
- Mr. Deity himself could count as this. He rarely actually commits or condones evil acts, and he seems just as disgusted by many of the evil acts of his followers as anybody, but his refusal to actually prevent them is quite alarming; in the first episode, when given the choice of how much evil can be tolerated in his creation, he deliberately allows things like Down's Syndrome and natural disasters to exist for no real reason. He also loves the smell of blood and is responsible for the creation of Hell, the brutality and injustice of which is noted many times throughout the series.
- On Galtar and the Golden Lance, Rak and his son, Tuk, are mercenaries who serve either Galtar or Tormack, depending on the circumstances.
- Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender starts out this way. He is the first antagonist, but is given enough sympathy points through out the first season that it is more than a bit hazy on which side of the fence he'll wind up. He ends up choosing evil over good...then, realizing what a mistake this was, chooses good over evil.
- Its sequel series, The Legend of Korra, follows the tradition but alters the execution:
- The masked and compelling Amon of Book I has a sympathetic backstory told by himself, a number of legitimate points, a mysterious and horrifying ability that he initially only used on the deserving and a meticulous, effortless brand of manipulation that throws everything he says and all his motives into question. While he eventually goes past the Moral Event Horizon (even targeting children), with his public backstory revealed to be a lie (with himself being a Boomerang Bigot), his true backstory is still a very tragic one, and his brother Tarrlok believes that Amon really does think that what he's doing is the right thing, thus keeping him under this trope.
- His Equalist subordinates belong here as well, despite being relatively minor characters, (there's only four Equalists who have any lines and only two of them actually have names). They do try to eliminate bending from the world, but only in an effort to make things, well, equal. Though many are implied to be merely prejudiced and/or in it primarily for personal revenge, a good percentage of them see themselves as crusaders of justice fighting to reverse the perceived second-class status of non-benders by putting everyone on the same playing field. The Lieutenant in particular becomes very angry when he sees proof that Amon is a bender who's been using his own powers the whole time.
- Korra's uncle and spiritual advisor, Unalaq, seems to be taking up this mantle as of Book II, with subtle shades of Evil Mentor and The Fundamentalist, but he ends up going deep into full-out evil territory when he's revealed to be a sociopath working for Vaatu, spirit of chaos, with the intent to plunge the world into 10,000 years of darkness under his rule, though his ultimate intention is to create "balance" by abolishing all nations and rejoining the human and spirit worlds.
- Zaheer of Book III detests tyrants, sincerely hopes to create a better world for people to live in, cares quite deeply for his main teammates, and can be quite kind to bystanders (even calling out one of his own teammates for needlessly threatening a radio operator), but he plans to accomplish his goal by killing all government leaders and having the entire world descend into chaos, and he is more than willing to kill both lesser minions and innocent bystanders to fulfill his plans.
- Kuvira in Book IV. A captain in Suyin's metalbending corps and one of the members of her dance troupe. Following the fall of the Red Lotus, she raises her own army and claims to be seeking to unite the fractured Earth Kingdom, but many, including Suyin, see her as nothing more than an ambitious conqueror. Whether or not she is just a conqueror or is genuinely trying to restore the Earth Kingdom remains to be seen.
- On Adventure Time, Marceline was this trope in at least her first few appearances, where it was sort of unclear if she was actually going to start killing people or was just messing with Finn and Jake. More recent episodes portray her as basically good, if somewhat mischievous and perhaps capable of true nastiness.
- Peppermint Butler can talk to you in your dreams, likes the taste of human flesh, just mentioning that you know him will get Death himself to do favors for you, and when Finn tried to expose his true aura, he embarrassingly remarked, "You don't want to see that." He's still a loyal butler to his not-evil princess, and occasionally helpful.
- Flame Princess. Though she comes from an evil race and has willingly caused massive damage, she does not seem to have any real malice in her actions. Time will tell where she really falls.
- Lemongrab. He takes the "Well-Intentioned Extremist" and "Ambiguous Disorder" tropes and stretches them so far that we're not sure if he's evil or just extremely crazy and amoral. The worst thing he's ever done in the show is torture children in an electrical chamber, but it's possible that during this part, he was legitimately insane. He also appears to have a loving family, so it's complicated. And then "Too Old" came along, turning him into a tyrannical dictator who partially ate his clone and keeps shock collars on all his children...
- Related to that, Princess Bubblegum. You can't help but wonder if she'll turn out to be evil by the series end.
- Case in point, her partial clone Goliad wound up going mad with power quite quickly, while her second "candy sphinx" Stormo is stated to be incorruptibly pure thanks to being a partial clone of the incorruptible Finn. What does that say about Bubblegum?
- MacBeth in Gargoyles. He's quite ruthless about achieving his goals but his main goal is to destroy Big Bad Demona (and thus himself) and he has his share of Pet the Dog moments.
- In El Tigre, Manny Rivera often swings between good and evil. In one episode, a device that detects if a person is good or evil exploded when he went through it.
- Grunkle Stan from Gravity Falls has had some suspicious moments, even those separate from his status as The Barnum. Like that thing in the basement.
- Shockwave, in the Transformers: TransTech/Transformers Animated script-reading play, "Bee in the City". He describes himself as "morally ambiguous".
- In Warhammer 40,000 this is the Alpha Legion's hat, down to the last man. While they sided with Horus during the Horus Heresy, they were apparently attempting to fulfill a prophecy in which Chaos would be destroyed permanently (at the cost of the human race albeit). After the Heresy, they're the only legion not present in the eye of terror, and are generally planning something...