Character Witness

"At first they didn't believe me. The Fire Nation soldiers assumed I was a spy. But one man vouched for me: the old man you attacked. He urged them to trust me, and we got everyone out in time."

Like Androcles' Lion, but with people. The hero goes out of their way to help an "inconsequential" Innocent Bystander, often at personal risk either to himself or reputation. Later on, if he's set up by the villain and it looks just like the Untrusting Community of Crazy Survivalists is really going to kill him... out pops the Character Witness ready to repay their kindness with life saving timing. Usually, they're a Wasteland Elder or a Reasonable Authority Figure whose voice has weight, or just a child he befriends who is adept at Shaming the Mob.

A common variation is that the hero just needs a second to escape The Chase, or a distraction so the Big Bad goes the wrong way.

Subtrope of A Friend in Need. Compare Chekhov's Gunman. Contrast Androcles' Lion.

Contrast Disproportionate Reward and Zombie Advocate.


  • Early in Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Allelujah disobeys orders and rescues people at a space station, and during this time aids the governmental forces which are his group's enemies, impressing the antagonist, Sergei Smirnoff. This comes to Allejuah's aid later in the show, as Smirnoff lets an injured Allejuah go and take Marie/Soma Peres, Sergei's adopted daughter/Allejuah's love interest with him, since he recognizes Allejuah's voice and knows he's a nice guy.
  • In the first episode of Samurai Champloo, we see an arrogant noble standing in the middle of a crowded road, harassing and threatening a commoner who had bumped into him, until Jin effortlessly cuts through his bodyguards for standing in his way. By the end of the episode, he has been captured and is about to be executed for the offense. Fuu has some fireworks she plans to use to free him, but she doesn't have anything with which to light them. No points for guessing who reaches up from the crowd with a match.
  • The little fox kid in Xxx Holic who vouches for Watanuki in the Demon Parade. Earlier, Watanuki had given him an arrow tail, which is a powerful ward against evil (and the "demons" in the parade are of the Dark Is Not Evil variety). So when the demons threaten to eat him and his friend, the fox kid steps up and proves his good nature by showing them the arrow piece.
  • In the Ace Attorney manga, Phoenix hopes that Thomas Spitzer, Bobby Wolfe's Only Friend, will serve as a variant of this by proving that if he had someone to care for his spiders, he would not burn down the Den of Spiders to Mercy Kill them once his brother Robin, who had supported them, was dead. Edgeworth, however, calls Spitzer to the stand, whereupon he says that Edgeworth had convinced them that Bobby would have done it, and agrees with his theory, saying that the spiders were too expensive for him to care for.
  • Two important, non-related examples in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX:
    • The first one involved Judai. On the day of an important exam, the Duel Academy's card shop got a shipment of newly released cards; but Professor Chronos got their first and bought them all. Then he gave them all to Manjyome, and said he would manipulate the match-ups in the field exam so that he and Judai were opponents, hoping Judai would not only fail, but be humiliated. Meanwhile, Judai overslept, and while running to class, met an old lady struggling with her stalled truck. Knowing he'd be late anyway, he stopped to help her with it. Later, when he finally got to the card store, he found out she owned the place, and saved one of the new packs of cards for him; Judai was actually able to win the duel against Manjyome with it, gaining a promotion. (Which he turned down.)
    • The second example: After Manjyome left Duel Academy in disgust after a second humiliating loss to Misawa, he ended up shipwrecked and near North Academy, Duel Academy's rival school, which was situated in a arctic tundra. He was told by a disheveled man by the door that they wouldn't let anyone in without a full deck of forty cards, and there were cards hidden around the area; he himself had found 39, but was too exhausted to keep looking. Because the man refuses to sell them, Manjyome goes out and searches for his own, finding forty of them; but when he fears the man might freeze to death, he gives him one so he can go in (fibbing and saying he has 41). When the man goes in, Manjyome wonders what he's going to do now; and suddenly he sees another card, which later becomes essential to winning a duel later in the episode. He later finds out that this was a Secret Test of Character; the guy was North Academy's chancellor.

Comic Books
  • Spider-Man is always boggled when he runs into someone who he helped once, because J. Jonah Jameson is always working to make him a pariah in New York. But in a city of millions, all the people the wallcrawler has helped are ready to stand up for him if the situation calls for it.
  • The mutants of X-Men fare have had people give them cross country rides, duck them away from mutant hating authorities, etc, all because one X-Man helped someone else at some point, so anybody legitimately wearing the (X) is considered a good guy worth assisting.
  • Superman's main defense against Lex Luthor? It's not his powers, it's the city of Metropolis, which loses its collective shit whenever people attack their mascot, and will permanently destroy Luthor's Villain with Good Publicity status if he ever gets caught openly hurting Supes without a really good loophole to escape the blame. It's also been implied at various times (particularly in the Elseworlds JLA: The Nail) that Metropolis is responsible for setting the trend for the citizens of the DC universe to not be suspicious, fickle, ungrateful assholes to their heroes like their Marvel counterparts, due to Superman's altruism towards them.

Fan Works
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, team leader Courtney is nominated for elimination and can’t defend herself because she’s in the infirmary. Ezekiel, whom Courtney has been re-educating to be acceptable to polite society, stands up for her. Ezekiel’s sexist attitudes are well known, so his “testimony” carries a lot of weight.
    Izzy: Guys, you know what Zeke thinks of girls, and we can just imagine what he thinks of girls being in charge. And yet he was the first one to stick up for Courtney. That should tell you something.

  • In the Adam Sandler film Billy Madison, Billy calls one of his old classmates to apologize for bullying him when they were in school. The classmate reacts calmly, but after he's hung up the phone, he crosses Billy's name off of his "People to Kill" list. At the end of the movie, he shows up when Eric, the villain of the movie, is trying to kill Billy and shoots Eric (not fatally).
    "Boy, I'm glad I called that guy."
  • The 1999 movie Election: the same janitor whom Mr. McAllister unknowingly offends during the opening credits is also the person who reveals McAllister's tampering with the election at the end of the movie.
  • Edward The Black Prince, in A Knight's Tale, declares William a knight due Edward seeing the kind of spirit in him. He also mentions that the fact his apparent servants love him would have been enough on its own.
  • Crops up memorably in Scent of a Woman. Charlie Simms has been dragged around New York City by the retired, blind, and terminally irritable Colonel Slade who he is supposed to be babysitting. His fortitude pays off, however, when Slade unexpectedly intercedes before the school's disciplinary committee which has been convened to force Charlie Simms to testify against his classmates or be expelled. The colonel's speech is the paradigmatic movie speech, beginning a bit roughly, moving into a withering indictment against the establishment, and ending in thunderous applause.
  • In Spider-Man, Spider-Man is helpless, holding up Mary Jane and a cable car full of kids, while the Green Goblin comes in for a lethal attack run. Then, he starts getting pelted with objects and distracted. As one New Yorker puts it:
    Bystander: You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!
  • In the infamous Steel movie, the titular character starts his crime fighting career by saving a couple from some muggers. Later on, when Steel is wanted by the police the same couple is called to pick Steel from a line up where John Henry Irons is present. The couple recognizes him, but they claim they had never seen him before. Likewise, a police officer Steel saved from an explosion by jumping on him claims John Henry Irons isn't Steel when taking a close look at him.

  • In "The Tinderbox," a soldier has a magical tinderbox which enables him to summon large-eyed dogs to do his bidding. He uses the dogs to get a look at the princess of the kingdom, with whose beauty he falls deeply in love, but is captured and sentenced to be burned at the stake. While in prison, he catches the attention of a boy and recruits him to retrieve the tinderbox from his room at the inn, which he later uses to escape. The boy does this for him, because he remembers the soldier buying food for his family when they were impoverished.

  • Interestingly, a novel within a novel in Slaughterhouse-Five said the story of Jesus delivered the wrong aesop, in that it showed that the Romans made the mistake of picking on the wrong man, one who was the son of God, so the message came across as, "Make sure that whoever you pick on isn't important". Instead, it says that Jesus should have been a nobody, a bum, and when the Romans crucified him, God should have appeared and decided to adopt this worthless bum as his son.
  • Going Postal. The first letter delivered after years of no service brings unexpected benefits for the hero after a huge catastrophe.
  • Prior Philip in The Pillars of the Earth is betrayed by a monk named Remigius, the former deputy prior, as part of a plot by the prior's enemies. Later on, he forgives Remigius and allows him to return to the monastery rather than live in poverty (Remigius' allies having since discarded him). And a good thing, too, as Remigius is the only person in the world with the information that can save Philip from a witch hunt at the climax.
  • The Hollows: Rachel Morgan, shunned, gets assistance in the unlikely person of a TSA operative since Rachel helped out his grandmother once.
  • October Daye: There's a cab driver named Danny that doesn't let Toby Daye pay because Toby helped his sister once.
  • Thursday Next doesn't have to pay a diner waitress because of her heroic actions in a war in the past.
  • Don Quixote: Hiliarously subverted by Andres and Tosilos, who come back Laser-Guided Karma not in defense, but against our protagonist.
    • Andres, a boy that Don Quixote thinks has rescued at chapter IV part I shows up again at Chapter XXXI part I. Don Quixote wants him to defend his Chivalric Romance delusions, but instead Andres denounces him with a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero speech and left with a bitter Stop Helping Me!.
    • Lacquey Tosilos appear at chapter LVI of the second part when Don Quixote is trying to We Help the Helpless, and comes back in chapter LXVII to inform Don Quixote that all was a Shaggy Dog Story.
  • In The Ramayana, Vibhishana advises King Ravana not to kill a messenger from the enemy army. Some chapters later, Vibhishana has switched sides and the protagonists are debating whether or not he's trustworthy. The messenger vouches for Vibhishana, because his previous actions showed him to be a man of honor.

Live-Action TV
  • Turns up, oddly enough, in The Mighty Boosh, albeit in a uniquely absurd fashion. While looking for Howard, who left his job to become a binman, Vince gives £58.30 (via credit card) as well as his beautiful cape to a hobo who thinks Vince is a lady. Later on, when Vince and Howard are fighting a magic-fueled, crack-addicted fox in the sewers, the hobo shows up out of nowhere, attacking the Crack Fox long enough to allow Vince and Howard to run away. Yeah...
  • In several episodes of The Pretender, starting with the pilot, Jarod takes time out from his mission to help somebody in trouble, and they repay him at the end of the episode by helping him evade the Centre operatives hunting him.
  • The Seinfeld finale offered a parade of previously-wronged guest stars testifying about what horrible people the protagonists were as an excuse to end with a clip show.
    • A similar example happened in the earlier episode "The Cadillac": Jerry's dad Morty is being accused of embezzling funds from the office of condo president with Morty's new Cadillac being cited as proof (the Cadillac was given to Morty by Jerry as a gift, but the guy accusing Morty doesn't believe Jerry is talented enough to make that much money). Morty's sole favorable testimony is from an old woman who, unbeknown to Morty, Jerry had stolen a marble rye bread from in an earlier episode. Once she remembers that incident, she withdraws her support and Morty is impeached from condo president. That lady would once again show up in the aforementioned finale.

Video Games
  • Chrono Trigger has this in the trial scene, and also its inversion - you can get random bystanders to testify against you if you've done something bad. It doesn't matter anyway, though, since if you get declared not guilty, you still get arrested for a minor crime, and the chancellor uses creative paperwork to get you scheduled for execution anyway. Getting cleared just gets you a bag from sympathizers with one to six ethers depending on how many jurors voted guilty.
    • If you help a young girl find her cat, it helps you get more jurors on your side.
  • In Conquests of the Longbow, whether or not Robin Hood ends up with Maid Marian, ends up alone, or gets hanged in the ending depends partly on how many Character Witnesses he manages to impress.
  • An indirect example occurs in City of Heroes when a member of a villain group gives you the information you're seeking because you once saved his cousin, though he doesn't tell you who that person was.
  • Quest for Glory II ends with the hero (your character) having a formal audience with the Sultan of Shapeir, surrounded by people he's helped throughout the game. Everyone has some very nice things to say about the hero, making it a good Crowning Moment of Heartwarming. At the end of it, the Sultan publicly adopts the hero as his own son and therefore the Prince of Shapeir, as an Awesome Momentof Crowning. Now that is gratitude that more heroes should receive.
  • There are two seemingly inconsequential quarians Shepard meets in Mass Effect 2: the first, Veetor'Nara, is a traumatized adolescent who just witnessed the abduction of an entire colony; the second, Kal'Reegar, is a marine who was sent out to protect Tali from being captured by geth. If you send Veetor home to the Migrant Fleet instead of having Cerberus interrogate him, and if you make sure Reegar survives the mission on Haestrom, during the trial you will have the option to "Rally the Crowd" and they will speak up to vouch for Tali's innocence in a Crowning Moment of Awesome (Reegar in particular has a few very choice words for the Admiralty Board about their attitudes).
    Reegar: Tali's done more for this fleet than you assholes ever will!
    • Gets lampshaded if you talk to the Admiralty Board afterward, as one of them points out that you didn't actually prove anything.
    • In Mass Effect 3, if you saved the original council, the asari councilor will point out that when they distrusted Shepard, they ended up being wrong. This is helpful to ensuring that you can talk down Kaidan or Ashley, whom Udina is trying to convince that you're still a willing member of Cerberus, without killing them.

Web Comic
  • In Love and Capes Mark got a ride home from a planet where he'd been stranded by hitchhiking. The aliens who picked him up don't generally pick up hitchhikers, but they were glad to do it for him because he'd saved their planet from being destroyed.
  • In Tales of the Questor, Quentyn is found by a poor farmer's family and he treats them with the utmost courtesy and kindness while he bunks with them. Later, when the hero is presented by the region's duke to help with the Unseelie crisis and the public incorrectly scoffs that he is one of the enemy too, that farmer steps up to praise Quentyn's character and that wins over the crowd.
  • In General Protection Fault, Fooker is accused of murder as part of an elaborate plan by Trudy, and since he was on a mission for the U.G.A., all the evidence that would provide an alibi is classified. The group is hoping that his best friend Chuck can help them, but Trudy has Chuck serving her with a chip that she can use to cause him pain, and forces him to testify that he knew Fooker was planning the attack and that he knows where Fooker has a cache of (planted) weapons, which is the final nail in Fooker's coffin.
    • In Fred's case, when he's being sued for libel by Trent, several of his fellow employees speak up for him, and suggest that Trent was the one who had been the aggressor and had caused trouble for Fred. Trent's lawyer complains about this wasting their time, and what enables Trent to win is that his claim that Trent had tried to kill someone was, in fact, true.

Western Animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In the episode "Jet", Sokka helps an old Fire Nation man, who later helps him convince his village to evacuate before it is flooded.
    • Subverted with Haru in the episode "Imprisoned". He saves an old man with his illegal earthbending. Old man turns him in...
  • Subverted in the first episode of X-Men: Evolution. Wolverine saves an entire family, and one of them turns him in to the Mutant Patrol first chance he gets.
    • Later played straight when army officers are about to arrest Rogue and Kitty on. The major tells his troops to stand down as Rogue had saved him from being hit by a car.
  • There's a Jamaican cab driver who goes by "Mouse" on ''Spider-Man: The Animated Series" who tries to be available for the webslinger because he saved her from a mugging.