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Conflicting Loyalty
"So many vows... they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It's too much. No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or the other.”
Jaime Lannister, A Clash of Kings

Many people have more than one thing they consider worthy of Undying Loyalty: religion, country, family and friends, promises, perhaps a cause or whatever the author imagines. If a character is lucky, these differing claims can actually reinforce one another. But what happens if they conflict? Then we have Conflicting Loyalty.

Whichever the character chooses, he may regard it as Dirty Business. Many characters try (and may or may not succeed) to Take a Third Option. If the character can use a technicality, loophole, metaphorical truth, or harmless lie to resolve the dilemma in a way that benefits (or at least avoids harm to) both sides, expect this to usually be a moral act from a moral character, regardless of whether or not it succeeds.

Related to Sadistic Choice. Compare Rebellious Rebel, Anti-Mutiny. Sometimes invokes Honor Before Reason. Super Trope to Even Mooks Have Loved Ones and To Be Lawful or Good.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • Gunslinger Girl can get into this sometimes with the handlers trying to balance making the girls effective weapons while still letting them retain some semblance of happiness.
  • Naruto: Itachi Uchiha was forced to choose between his loyalty to his family and clan, or to his village. He chose his village without too much thought and wiped out his rebellious family. But his true conflicting loyalty is between choosing the village or his brother Sasuke, whom he loves more than the village but is also willing to strip of free will so he can protect the village for the rest of his life.
  • A major part of the second-season arc of Saiunkoku Monogatari centers around Ran Shuuei being caught in a conflict of loyalty — between his loyalty to his Emperor (who has shown him absolute trust) and his Big Screwed Up Clan, the Rans, who dislike the emperor and only care about their own people and lands. Getting it resolved takes a lot of work (and, ultimately, intentionally getting himself disowned so that he can freely swear his unconditional loyalty to Ryuuki).
  • Le Chevalier d'Eon has this as a major theme. Events really start unravelling around the topic of loyalty to an individual versus loyalty to a cause, or when loyalty to "king and country" ends up as two conflicting loyalties. The first event to really drive this home is when Durand - an unconditionally loyal secret agent - is ordered by his king to kill his friends to protect a state secret. This screws him up enough to nearly get him killed. In the end, he insists on protecting his friends while still trying to have it both ways. A villain later tries to persuade Durand to join him by calling him out on it, asking why Durand would serve a king who would give him such an order. Even then, Durand doesn't give in.
  • In Code Geass, Suzaku Kururugi is Japanese by birth, and only wants to protect his country - and is working in the military of The Empire that invaded it. And then there are his loyalties to the people he cares about, many of whom are at various points on opposite sides of the conflict. And then there's his personal ideology...
  • Vice Admiral Garp of One Piece has a pretty severe case of this throughout the Whitebeard arc. He's torn between his loyalty to the World Government and Navy as a Vice Admiral and as a friend/comrade of Fleet Admiral Sengoku, his feelings towards his grandsons Ace and Luffy who are both notorious pirates along with Ace facing execution, and his own promise to Gold Roger to take care of his son Ace. It's so bad that he all but throws the fight against Luffy when he tries to stop him from saving Ace. Ultimately, he fails to uphold any of these promises due to this conflict. Sengoku realized he threw the fight, Ace is killed by Akainu anyway, and Luffy suffers total mental collapse.
  • Athrun has this big time in Gundam Seed Destiny. On the one hand, Durandal sweet-talked him into rejoining ZAFT to protect his former nation PLANTs from EA attack. He also has loyalty to the crew of the Minerva as fellow soldiers who have tried to save a world that hates them. On the other hand, his adopted nation Orb was effectively blackmailed into joining the EA, and his best friend and his ex-fiancees were forced to flee with the Archangel. This all comes to a head when Orb is ordered to send a fleet out to fight ZAFT, and Athrun's ship the Minerva is sent out to fight it, and the Archangel ends up intervening against both ZAFT and the EA to protect the Orb fleet. Cue ten episodes of Athrun wrestling with his loyalties until he finally jumps ship (again) and joins Orb.
    • He never even really gets to totally make the choice. After learning of this Durandal decides he doesn't need someone that isn't completely loyal to him and sends soldiers after Athrun branding him a traitor to Zaft before he really did anything and forcing him to flee back to Orb.
  • In Wild Rock, Yuni and Selim are from feuding clans and both future chieftans, and choose to place duty before their feelings. Their sons later end up falling in love, but Emba chooses Yuuen over loyalty to his clan, which ultimately reunites them.
  • Winter Cicada is about Star-Crossed Lovers during the great Boshin civil war in Japan (1864 to 1869). Akizuki is on the isolationist side (expel foreigners and keep the Shogunate system) and Kusaka is on the imperialist side (open the borders and embrace modern culture). Somewhat subverted in that both main characters want to keep the borders open, but nonetheless they end up going along with their clans.
  • Transformers Energon gives an interesting variant with Demolishor, whose loyalties are both to Megatron. In this case, the conflict comes down to whether he obeys the last command Megatron gave at the end of Armada, or whether he disregards that to go along with the dramatically different orders Megatron starts giving after being resurrected.
  • In Pokémon Special, Black starts to show issues between his own personal agendas and the fact that he's apparently The Chosen One. He had been training his whole life to win the League but the Team Plasma shenanigans are getting in the way. It gets to the point where Reshiram refuses to come out for him just yet and his Munna leaves him because it can no longer feed on his dreams.
  • In A Cruel God Reigns, Ian goes through a period of conflict where he has to decide whose honor he wants to save- the good memory of his father or his step-brother Jeremy's innocence in his reasoning for Vehicular Sabotage.
  • Tsurara in Kurosagi has a tough time deciding if she should put more stock in her love of and belief in the law, or her growing love for her swindling landlord
  • In Attack on Titan, Reiner, Bertolt, and Annie are torn between affection for comrades and loyalty to superiors. It causes numerous major mistakes to be made, and more than one case of a Villainous BSOD. Reiner has it the worst, unable to reconcile his conflicting loyalties leads to Sanity Slippage and identity issues.
  • The duty-bound Souseiseki in Rozen Maiden is conflicted between her love for her sisters and her obligation to follow her Father's wishes, which is to fight in the Alice Game and kill off said sisters until one doll remains standing. She is also this towards her mediums, whom she addresses as "Master" and is determined to help them be happy even if it keeps her trapped with no free will.

     Comics  

  • The pivotal plot point of Scion: Ethan has to choose between loyalty to his family and kingdom in the war against the Raven Kingdom and loyalty to Ashleigh and her movement to liberate the Lesser Races.
  • Jimmy Olsen suffers from this in the Silver Age story "The Betrayal of Superman" - does he keep his pal's Secret Identity secure or keep his promise to a sick friend to take over his case? Fortunately, he manages to Take a Third Option.

     Fanfic  

  • In Act II of the Legends of Equestria continuity, Princess Luna is placed in an unfortunate situation when she realizes that her sister, whom she has sworn personal loyalty to, is rebuilding Equestria as a an authoritarian state and destroying all the freedoms they originally fought for.
  • In Stars Above, this trope and It's Not You, It's My Enemies cause Homura to coldly reject Kagami for a while.
  • As the Games begin in the Hunger Games fanfic Some Semblance of Meaning, Obsidian is torn between his ties to his fellow Careers and the inexplicable friendship he feels toward Vale and Kit. He ends up leaving the Career pack after he realizes the extent of their ruthlessness and eventually allies with Vale.
  • Necessary To Win
    • Shinzaburou, a servant of the Isuzu household, finds himself dealing with this problem, after his mistress and employer disowns her daughter for doing tankery. He opposes this decision, but finds himself unable to actively oppose his mistress, so he decides to serve as an intermediary, to help Hana reconcile with her mother.
    • Kikuyo, a maid for the Nishizumi family who is also a Parental Substitute for her mistress' daughter, Miho, also has this problem when her mistress tells her to inform Miho that she will be disowned if she loses to Saunders in the semifinals. She's personally loyal to her mistress, who was also her former tankery instructor, but also has no wish to see Miho be disowned, and so finds herself wondering what she can do to help.

     Film  

  • Chariots of Fire: "God knows I love my country. But I can't make that sacrifice." (Eric refusing to run on Sunday)
  • Lawrence of Arabia:
    Arab: You are loyal to England...
    Lawrence: And other things...
  • In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker fell to The Dark Side when circumstances forced him to choose between his loyalty to the Jedi and the need to save Padme, which Palpatine had promised he could do. He chose Padme. He FINALLY makes the right decision in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
  • Ringo Lam's City On Fire is all about this, as Chow Yun-Fat plays an undercover cop who has to choose between loyalty to his fellow cops and loyalty to the triad gang that he's infiltrated.
  • Tony Leung's Alan from Hard Boiled also has to deal with conflicting loyalties, both due to having to choose between Johnny Wong and his old triad boss, and also being an undercover cop as well.
  • In Star Trek The Motion Picture, the Enterprise has a different captain, Decker, but he's quickly replaced by Kirk and demoted to first mate. This sets up a number of moments of conflicting loyalty for the crew, particularly in a scene where Decker countermands one of Kirk's orders because he has better knowledge of how the new, improved Enterprise works.
  • This is a major problem for undercover LAPD Officer Brian O'Connor in the first The Fast and the Furious movie, assigned to get evidence against Dominic Toretto and his team who are truck jackers. He ends up falling for Toretto's sister and becomes Toretto's friend. In the end, he chooses to let Toretto go.

     Literature  

  • Lancelot is torn viciously between his place as Arthur's general and Guinevere's knight, to say the least of the romantic involvement. The original Chrétien version makes little of this, as Arthur is mostly an inept and impotent king, but from Le Morte d'Arthur onwards it tends to be one of the driving forces of the tragedy. Idylls of the King cranks it up to the point where the conflict inside him prematurely ages Lancelot, and the longest book of The Once and Future King is dedicated to Lancelot's story, at which this struggle is the focal point.
  • Conflicts of loyalty play a huge part in the Nibelungenlied. To point out the more important ones: In the matter of the murder of Siegfried, Gunther is torn between his obligation to protect the honour of his wife Brunhilde and those towards his vassal and brother-in-law Siegfried. Later, after the deed is done, Gunther and his brothers are torn between their feudal obligation to protect their vassal Hagen and their fraternal loyalty towards their sister Kriemhild; they opt for Hagen. Rüdiger of Bechlarn is visibly torn between the oaths he swore to his queen Kriemhild and to the Burgundians, one of whom is betrothed to Rüdiger's daughter. Kriemhild has to choose between her sisterly affections to her brothers (especially Giselher, the youngest) and to her loyalty to her dead husband Siegfried. She eventually opts for the latter, allowing Gernot and Giselher to die in battle and ordering Gunther to be executed. This is an interesting switch from earlier versions of the story (preserved e. g. in the Icelandic Atli-saga), she killed her second husband Atli (Etzel) in order to avenge her dead brothers.
  • The Chosen: Danny must choose between his father and friendship with Reuven.
  • In the 1632 series, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz is torn between loyalty to his new American wife, and to Spain. Ultimately, the wife wins.
  • The Bhagavad Gita makes this at least Older Than Feudalism. Arjuna's family has usurped his crown with the only hope of getting it back being to fight them for it, and he is stuck between two conflicting dharmas (duties): his duty to his family and his duty as a soldier and a king. Eventually, Krishna sorts him out and tells him that he should suck it up and fight the battle.
  • The Bible: The Israelite Prince Jonathan was caught by his insane father's paranoia of Jonathan's comrade David. He chose David.
  • Temeraire: At the end of Empire of Ivory, the British government has sent a dragon infected with a highly contagious disease to France, where it will infect Napoleon's dragons — and from where the disease will likely spread and kill off most of the dragons in the world. Laurence and Temeraire bring Napoleon the cure, an act of treason against Great Britain. Then Laurence goes back to England, fully intending to let them hang him for it.
  • The Assassins of Tamurin: Lale is torn between loyalty to her Cult mother and her lover after she becomes the mask.
  • Sebastian in The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, whose behavior is ambiguous because (a) he comes from the Gardella vampire slayer line, and yet (b) has a relative who is a vampire that he is very close to.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Horus Rising, Loken's distaste for lodges springs from the conflicting loyalties and secrecy entailed.
  • In Animorphs Ax's entire character arc is built on this. He is an aristh, the Andalite equivalent of a cadet, and thus the only one of the Animorphs to have prior affiliations. Further, his culture places a very high value on loyalty and service, meaning that even when he learns the Andalite military is doing things that aren't entirely kosher, he is still obliged to support them. And yet, he comes to find himself caring for his human friends, who are at first simple allies of expedience but slowly grow into true companions. This is the mean reason why David is referred to in-series as the Sixth Ranger rather than Ax - almost every book Ax has in the 54-book run is devoted to this conflict in some way, and it's not until he's given an ultimatum in the second-to-last book that he finally commits himself fully to the Animorphs.
  • Daisy Miller: Winterbourne must choose between Daisy (Rome's local strange girl who has caught his eye) and the approval of his peers (who scorn her for being a shameless flirt).
  • In the juvenile novel Treegate's Raiders by Leonard Wibberley, at the Battle of Cowpens , upon seeing some highlanders advance one of the title character's men shouts, "Go to the other end of the line, there are Frasers here", thus showing a conflict on both sides between military duty and tribal ties.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Encarmine, Rafen realizes that his brother's transformation is a danger to the Chapter, despite the oath he swore to their father.
    My brother is lost to me, and I am caught between the ties of blood to my family and my duty to the Chapter. . .
  • In Brothers In Arms one of the commanders mentions that this is why he didn't want to be a knight. He feared the potential for his lord and his god to demand conflicting things of him.
  • In War of the Spider Queen, half-demon Blood Knight isn't partial about who is giving him orders as long as he can brutaly tear someone to shreds. He is ordered by his mother, the high priestess of Menzoberanzan, to accompany his aunt Quenthel on her quest and follow her orders without question. However, when Quenthel starts to eat herself up with doubt and loses her faith in the Spider Goddess, he is conflicted between his loyalty and his believe that Asskicking Equals Authority, which is the foundation for their races entire society. Danifae however, who as a slave is nominally the groups lowest ranking member, proves herself to be a Manipulative Bitch who plays the game of lying, betraying, and instilling fear like no-one else. When Jegrred finally switches his loyalty, Quenthel helplessly resigns and doesn't try to stop them, but when she gets all her powers back, she sacrifices him for punishment.
  • Drives the plot of On My Honor: the POV Character is a Double Agent, working as a trusted assassin under a queen while secretly remaining loyal to his homeland. This puts him in a tight spot when the queen sends him to murder the current king of his country...
  • In Warrior Cats, the Warrior Code is very strict about inter-Clan relationships to prevent this kind of situation. It is broken many times, though, and results in cats having to choose between loyalty to Clan, family or love.
  • As indicated by the page quote, this is a common theme in A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Throughout the story, Ned always chooses Honor Before Reason, every time, no matter how much the other choice would help him. But at the end of the first book, he must choose between his honor and his family, the one thing that matters to him more. He finally decides against honor. It doesn't help.
    • Two books later, his son faces the dilemma as well. He must choose between a vow he'd made to take a wife from one of his bannermen or to protect the honor of a girl he slept with. He chooses to protect the girl's honor, but not without vast, far-reaching consequences.
    • Jaime is known across Westeros as the Kingslayer for killing the king he swore to protect. Once the readers get to know him, they learn that Jaime can actually be very loyal, if his loyalty is earned. When he killed the king, he'd been choosing between his duty and his vow or the lives of thousands of innocent people. He also muses at one point on an occasion when he'd debated with a fellow Kingsguard whether their vow to protect the royal family extended to protecting the Queen from the King.
      • The HBO adaption changes the page quote slightly, making the focus on Jaime's conflicting loyalties even sharper.
      Catelyn: You have forsaken every vow you ever took!
      Jaime: So many vows. They make you swear and swear. Defend the King. Obey the King. Obey your father. Defend the innocent. Protect the weak. But what if your father despises the King? What if the King massacres the innocent? It's too much. No matter what, you're forsaking one vow or the other.
    • Brienne's level of Honor Before Reason would confound even the Starks. She takes quite a number of vows, and it's always for a good cause. Protect Renly. Protect Lady Catelyn. Protect Jaime. Bring Sansa home. Later, she [possibly] takes another vow: kill Jaime. Not surprisingly, a few of her vows start to conflict after a while.
    • Jon Snow gets this a few times. At first it's always between the Watch and something else: family, love, home, friends. In the first book, he has a conversation with Maester Aemon about this conflict. Later, once he becomes Lord Commander, it's between his commitment not to interfere in the affairs of the realm and his desire to protect innocents and right wrongs.
    • Theon gets trapped between his best friend and his family.
    • Stannis notes this early, describing the difficulty in choosing to side with his brother in the rebellion against the rightful king.
  • Les Misérables: Conflicting Loyalties are build up in a majority of characters (including,but not limited to: Cosette, Jean, Eponine, and Gillenormand). But special notice should be given to Marius and Javert; Marius, because it's his position in the novel, and Jarvert because of the twist. Conflicting Loyalties are a central theme of the novel.
  • In Melisa Michael's Skyrider series, as tensions heat up between the belt and Earth, Skyrider's primary loyalty is to the belt, but she stayed out of the last war because she has close family still living on Earth.
  • A major theme of The Stone Prince, in which a great deal of bloodshed is caused by characters torn between love and duty.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, many of the Havenite characters experience this between the first and second revolution, when they're forced to deal with the conflict between their duty and honor, the loyalty to their nation, and the demands of serving an increasingly sociopathic dictatorship.
  • In the third book of The Queen's Thief series, Costis finds his loyalty torn between his queen and king. He wonders what he would do if they should ever go against each other.
  • At the end of Jingo, Vimes is briefly torn between his loyalty to the law and his loyalty to the Patrician. He picks, as the Patrician knew he would, the law. Anything else wouldn't be Sam Vimes.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Defender of the Crown forces Isengrim to choose between his friendship with Reynard (who is rapidly approaching the Moral Event Horizon) and his own notions of right and wrong.
  • Kaladin ends up facing this in Words Of Radiance, when his vow to the king he has sworn to protect conflicts with the vows he has made to his men, which include a man who hates the king. The conflict places him in a situation where he can't act honorably no matter what he does, which kills his honorspren (And with it his Windrunner powers) until he finds a way out of it.
  • In AncillaryJustice, the ship AI Justice of Torren is made to kill one of its officers by The Emperor Anaander Miaani, but immediately afterwards turns against him. At the end of the book the entire Radchaai empire faces one when it is revealed that Miaani has a Split Personality and is at war with himself.

     Live Action TV  

  • Smallville:
    • This happens to Chloe a lot. During most of the middle seasons she is seriously torn between Lana and Clark, and later between Oliver and Clark's colliding ideals.
    • Also between Davis and Clark, especially when Davis asks her to kill him and Clark asks her not to. Also when she runs away with a resurrected Davis in an effort to stop them from killing each other. There is nothing that could Break the Cutie as brutally as being caught between Superman and Doomsday.
  • NCIS: Ziva is torn between her father and Gibbs in the last few episodes of season six. She chooses her father, after Tony kills Michael and she believes Gibbs no longer trusts her. When her father promptly throws her under a bus when a mission goes south, it's Gibbs and his team who save her, prompting her to revise her earlier decision.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • "Amok Time": Captain Kirk must choose between obeying Star Fleet orders and going to Altair VI or taking Spock to Vulcan to save his life, which could result in Kirk being court-martialed.
    • Several times Kirk has to decide whether to violate the Prime Directive in order to save the Enterprise. Each time he goes ahead and breaks it, always coming up with a plausible rationale for doing so. The only time he ever enforces it is when another starship captain violates it.
    • In "The Menagerie" Spock shows his loyalty to his former captain Christopher Pike by risking the Starfleet death penalty for taking him to Talos IV. He spends the two-parter torn between his loyalty to Kirk and his loyalty to Pike - committing mutiny against the former to help the latter.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • At one point, Odo must choose between his loyalty to Starfleet and his feelings towards his race. He finds it quite easy to chose once he learns what his people are doing. He doesn't hate them or wishes them any harm, but that doesn't mean he is going to let them get away with their blatant disregard for Justice.
    • Later Garak and Damar are faced with similar choices.
    • Very early in the series, after the episode opens with Bashir and Garak discussing literature and Garak stating he would choose loyalty to the state every time over his personal feelings, later in the same episode he does actually face that choice (he's ordered to kill some dissidents who are under orders of execution by the Cardassian government, but which he personally feels is the wrong decision for the government to have made). Eventually, he chooses his feelings over the state. his decision is helped by the Gul who is representing the government making the Too Dumb to Live decision to try Bullying a Dragon; Garak implies afterward that this convinced him these dissidents were actually the better choice for Cardassia in the long run.
  • Kings, episode "Insurrection". David is sent to his home town by King Silas to convince the locals to accept the decision to give their land away in a peace deal. His family turn out to be the leaders of the protestors.
  • Firefly:
    • Simon chooses to rescue his sister, not only against the wishes of The Government but against those of his parents. He also chose her over a calling he loved which may have been even harder.
    • Also, in "War Stories", Mal admits that he was initially against Zoe's marriage to Wash, concerned that it would split loyalties amongst the crew.
    • Strongly averted by Zoe in the same episode when given a choice between saving Mal or Wash from torture.
  • Merlin is often conflicted at this. Should he protect Arthur or reveal himself as a wizard, where he would be executed?
  • Angel:
    • Wesley had this big time in season 3, during the baby Connor storyline. He was struggling over whether to stay loyal to the team and Angel or help the baby even if made the team hate him-which is ultimately what happened. Lampshaded in That Old Gang of Mine. Wes was addressing his speech to Gunn, but it's really easy to tell it was being pointed at Wes himself as well.
    • And Gunn, between his own vamp hunting team and Angel's group, in the same episode.
  • Murder Rooms: during a particularly difficult investigation in "The White Knight Stratagem" Conan Doyle, who serves as a mediator between his friend and mentor Joseph Bell and Bell's old enemy Lieutenant Blaney, grows to sympathize with the latter. Which doesn't make Bell happy, especially considering the fact that Doyle refuses to support his theory on the case and instead, apparently, supports Blaney's. Doyle feels uncomfortable. In the end it is revealed that Doyle joined forces with the lieutenant only because he suspected that Blaney had something to do with the crime. However, it is likely that Doyle still felt sorry for him.
  • In Necessary Roughness
    • Danni works as a therapist for the New York Hawks, a football team. As a psychiatrist her primary responsibility is to her patients, the players. However, this can conflict with the wishes of the team's management who want the problem fixed immediately and the players back on the field. When the new manager suggests that Danni break patient confidentiality, she tell him off and is fired.
    • Nico has to judge multiple instances of this. His loyalty to Danni can conflict with his loyalty to the team. His loyalty to the team can conflict with his loyalty to the team's owner Marshall Pittman. His loyalty to Marshall often conflicts with his loyalty to Marshall's wife and daughter. In season three he gets a whole new set of conflicting loyalties as he has to juggle his loyalty to Danni with his loyalties to his new bosses in V3 and his loyalty to whoever has him acting as a mole in V3.
  • Teen Wolf
    • Allison spent most of season two being torn between her family and Scott. It came to a head when she told them about Jackson being the kanima and then her mom almost killed Scott, only to be bitten by Derek. After that, she, under the influence of Gerard, went fully against the wolves until she learned how truly evil her grandfather was.
  • Supernatural: Castiel deals with this during season four. All of his existence, he has been loyal to the orders sent by God through the higher ranks of the angels down to him. However, of late the orders have been increasingly strange and apparently contrary to God's wishes, and he finds himself slowly persuaded by Dean's insistence in the need to protect human life. Should he obey the higher angels, or listen to Dean and do what he was always taught God wanted? Near the end, he tries to discuss something with the angels, and is punished so badly he becomes totally loyal to them again. Until the finale, at least, when Dean finally gives him the impetus to Fall for good.

     Theatre  

  • In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the eponymous lovers are each torn between their families' warring factions and their intense devotion to each other, especially as the fighting escalates. On a less grandiose level, Juliet's Nurse is torn between wanting Juliet to be happy with Romeo, and wanting her to be happy at all. In the end, she advises Juliet to give up on Romeo and marry Paris, saying that would be the practical option.
  • Antony and Cleopatra: A major part of Antony's character. He's stuck between his love for Cleopatra and his duty to serve Rome.
    • Enobarbus is also conflicted between his love for Antony and his duty to Rome.
  • The ancient play Antigone is about a woman choosing between law and loyalty to her brother. She chooses burying her brother though it is against the law, forcing her uncle to choose between her and the law. He chooses the law.
    • The laws of the gods insisted Polynices be buried; King Creon decreed that he must not be buried because he attacked the city. Antigone chose gods' law rather then king's law. A priest even calls Creon out on his treatment of Antigone.
  • Pierre Corneille's plays are full of this. In Horace, Camille has to choose between her Roman brother and her lover, who is fighting against Rome. In Polyeucte, Polyeucte chooses his (banned and persecuted) Christian faith over his wife and country.
  • What about Becket? His loyalty is most definitely torn between king and church.
  • Billy Elliot the Musical; When Billy's dad (who has been on strike for almost a year) becomes desperate to afford Billy a future, he must choose between breaking strike and betraying the community and his son Tony, or staying on strike and betraying Billy.

     Video Games  

  • Ishtar in Fire emblem 4 is torn between her love for her family and the big bad, the reincarnation of the evil god, and what's right. She choose to basically suicide on your army.
  • The Kingdom Hearts series has Axel. Although he apparently suffers from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and has no issues with being a Double Reverse Quadruple Agent when necessary, he's shown some capacity to be conflicted in which side to stick with:
    • In Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Axel's friendship with Roxas and Xion conflicts with his orders by the Organization to "let things run their natural course" . Even his friendship with the pair suffers from this trope, as he comes to realize that only one of them can survive, and one of them has to perish to ensure the survival of the other.
    • In Kingdom Hearts II, his friendship with Roxas is again the driving factor of his Conflicting Loyalty. While he has no qualms with his orders to bring Roxas back, he starts to grow disgruntled with his superiors when he is tasked to eliminate Roxas. He eventually screws over the Organization, and starts working independently, leading to a Tear Jerker when he dies at Sora's side, lamenting the fact that he never got to revive Roxas.
  • In Yggdra Union, Nessiah's first prerogative may be to ensure the safety and growth of the Gran Centurio, but he's also implied to care fairly deeply for the Imperial Army. When forced to choose between protecting the Imperial Army by killing the player's army, thus ensuring that the sword's current wielder will die, or joining up with the player to rescue Yggdra and oversee the Gran Centurio's growth personally, he decides to Take a Third Option and kills himself to let things play out as naturally as possible. (Which isn't as extreme as it sounds, because Nessiah's pretty nonchalant about dying for obvious reasons.) This is probably also done to preserve the balance of the game, but Nessiah having conflicted loyalties is the most reasonable explanation in-plot.
  • In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, Saturn realizes in the postgame that what he'd been working for was truly terrifying (he tries to tell you that he didn't know what his previous leader, Cyrus, was really after, but he was the first character to tell you the extent of the plan, so either he's lying or he's trying to convince himself that he didn't know). But he still believes in the ultimate ideal, which is a peaceful world. Having been left in charge of Team Galactic by default, he says he's going to try to work for basically what he's always worked for, having realized that "extremism is never the answer".
  • Etna from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness has great loyalty to King Krichevskoy, so great in fact that it remained with her even when she lost her memory. But she also made a promise to him; to protect Laharl and make sure he become a great Overlord, which may or may not be more then Etna can stand.
  • This trope is the basis for both Beatrix and Steiner's character development in Final Fantasy IX, where they stand torn between their sworn duty to protect Princess Garnet, and their loyalty to Queen Brahne who means to kill the girl. It's only when they find the queen trying to kill the princess outright that they finally come their senses and rebel.
  • The entire world of Dragon Age is designed to create lots of conflicts of interest, which are the main reason for many of the plotlines. But in the second game, this trope seems to be the primary theme of the whole story.
    • Ser Thrask is a templar, whose job it is to monitor mages and prevent them from falling to demons. But he also hates the inhumane treatment many mages see from other templars.
    • Avelline's duties as member of the city guard sometimes are at odds with Hawkes activies, who can be a good friend of hers whom she owes her life.
    • Isabella asks Hawke to help her find an "artifact" that she was supposed to transport to a crime boss so he calls off the assassins waiting for her in her homeland, while at the same time Hawke is trying to negotiate with the Qunari army to leave the city without causing trouble before rioters start a fight with them. What she neglects to tell Hawke is the artifact is a holy relic she stole from the Qunari and the army has been in the city causing problems for four years, because they are looking for her and the relic. Which shortly after leads to a full out battle that destroys half the city.
    • Anders had always had problems with his loyalties, but at the end of the second game, his conviction that the mages can only be safe if the Templar order is destroyed, leads him to ignore Hawkes attempts to find a diplomatic solution by killing the Grand Cleric, who had always been the only person who could stop both sides from attacking each other. By blowing up the entire temple with a magic bomb.
    • As a Keeper, Merrill regards it as her duty to restore ancient elven magic, even if the rest of her clan thinks it is madness to get help from demons to repair a cursed magic artifact.
  • Mass Effect 2 - Miranda is loyal to the end for Cerberus, having given up everything so they could protect her from her father. Then Shepard comes along and wins her loyalty by treating her as her own person and helping her out with a personal issue without expecting anything in return. In the endgame, if she goes with Shepard into the Final Boss area, when forced to choose between Shepard and Cerberus, she chooses Shepard. Without hesitation.
    • Shepard is accused of having to deal with this, with some characters demanding to know how s/he can be an agent of the Council and a member of the (human) Alliance at the same time. Reporter Khalisah al-Jilani is the most frequent critic along these lines. Shepard can give her an explanation in the first two games.
  • This is ultimately Giygas's undoing in Earthbound Zero. He's sort of a subverted Superman, sent to our world as an infant in the hopes that he would grow to conquer it, but he still feels love for the human couple who raised him. Playing a music box tune that was his childhood lullaby is enough to get him to back down.
  • In Solatorobo, Elh must choose between her duty to seal Lares (which requires the sacrifice of Red) and her loyalty to her friend. She ultimately can't do it and stops the Rite mid-way, unable to bring herself to finish.
  • In Asura's Wrath, Yasha had to choose between his family and his duty to protect humanity from the Gohma, since Deus' plan required Asura (Yasha's brother-in-law) being scapegoated as a traitor and Mithra (his niece) enslaved as the Brahmastra's Mantra-channeler. After witnessing many people suffering after the Gohma's recent attack, Yasha sided with Deus. It got worse for Yasha since his sister Durga (Asura's wife and Mithra's mother) was also killed though it's unclear whether Deus ordered it or Sergei did it on his own just to anger Asura. 12,000 years later, Yasha has to make the choice again when Asura returns, hell-bent on saving Mithra. He initially remains loyal to Deus since he still believes stopping the Gohma is more important than anything. Ultimately, Yasha turns against Deus after battling Wrath Asura helps Yasha realize that if there's even the slightest chance to stop the Gohma without resorting to Deus' horrific plan, then he has to take it.
  • A driving force in the plot of Sleeping Dogs is how attached undercover agent Wei Shen gets to the Triad gang he's infiltrating, and whether he'll end up defecting or not.
  • A relatively minor example happens in Worldof Warcraft in patch 4.1 Rise of the Zandalari. Following the Cataclysm, the previously player friendly Zandalari trolls have decided that they will rebuild the troll civilization at any costs, to which end they start making alliances with all the various barbaric troll tribes scattered throughout Azeroth, including the Horde aligned Darkspear Trolls, whose leader refuses the offer in a very much awesome manner:
    Zandalari Leader:Vol'jin of the Darkspear. You would turn your back on your own people?
    Vol'jin: Da Horde is my people. If it be war you bring, den i stand against you.
    Zandalari Leader: So be it, Darkspear.

    Xaril the Poisoned Mind: How does it feel to go rogue a second time, Swarmkeeper? Your empress was also gripped by paranoia, was she not?
    Hisek the Swarmkeeper: Grand Empress Zek'hara masked her true intentions behind the guise of matronly worry. She claimed her overbearing ways were necessary to protect us.When she tried to forbid the swarm, it was to prevent, as she put it, "a senseless loss of life."In reality, she was obsessed with control. She aspired to stay in power long past her time, and was willing to sacrifice our eternal cycle to achieve that.We had no choice but to end her.How does it feel? I have no regrets, if that is what you are asking. I am honored to serve the will of the Klaxxi.And having seen what Grand Empress Shek'zeer is doing to our land...I need no convincing.

     Visual Novels  

  • In Fate/stay night for the third route, there's a choice between killing the innocent Sakura or putting hundreds or thousands of lives at risk. The first is Shirou wanting to save as many lives as possible and the second is based on trying to have there be no sacrifices and everyone be happy instead.
  • Comes up a few times in Maji De Watashi Ni Koi Shinasai: Jun between Touma and his own wishes in the Ryuuzetsuran route, Chris between Yamato and her father in her own route, the entire group between Miyako and Wanko in Miyako's route, so on and so forth.
    • Miyako seems to act like one at times.

     Web Comics  

  • In Sinfest, An issue for Fuschia, Baby Blue, and Tomey. Or rather, it WAS an issue for Fuschia.
  • In The Order of the Stick Therkla is ordered by his master Kubota to kill Elan, who she is in love with. Elan successfully persuades her to quit even if he won't be her boyfriend, but she still won't betray Kubota. She tries to convince Kubota to step back because Hinjo already knows everything about his plan, but she also tries to convince Elan not to kill Kubota. Finally, she realizes that she can't have both ways and sides with Elan. It doesn't end well for her.
  • Trawn from Electric Wonderland has to hide Magical Girl Aerynn Arlia from the police, so that Aerynn won't get arrested for performing witchcraft. Unfortunately, this requires Trawn to act secretive towards one of her other friends, Action Girl Natasha Wing.
    • Natasha tells Trawn that "hypothetically", if she found Trawn harboring an illegal secret, she'd probably have to throw Trawn in jail, even though she can't stand that thought.
  • In Erfworld, Jillian is in love with both Ansom and Wanda, which is rather awkward when the two are on opposite sides of a war.
  • Tyler from morphE has been kidnapped and forced into learning magic from a charming sociopath who has murdered three people before his eyes. Of course he wants to side with his fellow captives and escape from this torment, he is always there to help them out with all their fact finding and scheming. And yet he would much rather be learning magic, getting closer to his captor and embracing the abnormal mage world instead of escaping to reality with his peers.

     Web Original  

  • Phase of the Whateley Universe. Brought up as an heir in the Goodkind family to hate mutants and know they are a threat to everything one should care about. Then Phase manifests as a mutant and ends up at Whateley Academy and in Team Kimba, where he is expected to support mutants and hate the Goodkind family. He's loyal to his family even after what they did to him. He's loyal to his friends and has risked his life for them.
  • An Echo Chamber episode is based on this trope. Dana tries to produce both Echo Chamber and its rival series [citation needed] at the same time, hoping she won't be forced to choose between the two shows.
  • For the first eight arcs of Worm, Taylor struggles between doing the right thing and betraying the only real friends she's has in years, a gang of supervillains that she has infiltrated. She picks her friends.

     Western Animation  

  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), Karai's loyalty to the Foot and her father will often clash with her loyalty to the turtles, who helped her restore the Foot when she asked for their aid.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has a slight example of this in the third season. Mai has to choose between her love of Zuko and her fear of Azula in "Boiling Rock," and chooses her love of Zuko. When Azula goes to kill her for this, Ty Lee makes a quick choice between her friendship-based love of Mai and her fear of Azula, and she also chooses the love. Either Azula isn't really that scary (which, let's be honest, isn't completely true), or both of her friends are much more loyal (to other people) than Azula previously thought.
    • Lampshaded in Mai's case, since she outright confirms which side of this trope she was on in the exact same scene
    • Zuko goes through this throughout the entire third season. He's finally got everything he's ever wanted, but he's betrayed the only family who cared for him. Team Avatar, his enemies, care more for him then his father and sister do. And then we find out that his grandfathers are not just Fire Lord Sozin but also Avatar Roku, splitting him even further. He finally chooses Team Avatar and his uncle - a decision which ultimately pays off in spectacular style.
  • Anything involving the Supertrooper project on Galaxy Rangers will send Shane Gooseman, the team's Lancer, straight to this trope. Goose was the youngest of the Troopers, and the only one who remained loyal to Earth's government after the disaster that ended the project. His loyalty was "rewarded" by BETA forcing him into becoming a Hunter of His Own Kind. It's not so much of an issue with Psycho for Hire Kilbane, but a much bigger problem when it came to Darkstar (who just wanted to be left alone with her boyfriend), and Max Sawyer (who may or may not have been guilty of the crimes he was charged with).
  • This was exploited in Justice League Unlimited by General Eiling, who used Captain Atom's loyalty to the USA to pit him against Superman while Cadmus tortured the Question for information. Captain Atom got a good beating for his trouble, and went back to the League in short order.
  • Kaldur/Aqualad went through this in the Young Justice episode "Downtime", wondering if he should stay on the team or return home to Atlantis where his crush Tula was. This was eventually resolved when he found out Tula was already in a relationship with his best friend Garth and he decided to pull an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy and thus return to Young Justice in good terms.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic villain Discord manipulates Rainbow Dash this way by tricking her into thinking she has to make a choice - stay and play the game by the rules or retake her wings and fly off to save her hometown from being destroyed. She picks the latter, and Discord uses this as an excuse to declare the game over because someone cheated. Not that it mattered anyway, as regardless of which choice she made, she'd play into his hand by betraying something she cares about and going against her Element Of Harmony which was Discord's intention.
  • In The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Ms. Marvel becomes the first superhero to work for two teams: The Avengers and SWORD. This fact comes to a head when Hawkeye becomes accused of being a Skrull in disguise, and Ms. Marvel risks harming her relationships with the Avengers if she turns him in.
  • In Motorcity: Julie suffers from this. While she definitely believes in the Burners' cause than Kane's by a long shot, she still wants to believe that her father can be a good person and wants him to be proud of her which might be why she agrees to succeed him if something should happen to him.

     Real Life  

  • There is a Medieval story where the King of France was invading Italy and met a local Prince. Both happened to have Swiss mercenaries and it was decided that "kinslaying" wouldn't do but both had their contracts. The Swiss officers on both sides met secretly. The agreement was that the ones on the Italian side would defer, but that the ones on the French side would spirit the Italian prince away by disguising him as a soldier in a sort of inversion of I Am Spartacus. The French King's general offered gold to whomever would betray the Italian prince and finally one did. This man was beheaded by the Swiss government for disgracing Swiss arms.
    • This was at Noverra in 1499. See The Mercenaries by Anthony Mockler.
  • The Thebans at Thermopylae were a curious clash between one interpretation of Patriotic Fervor and another. The Thebans were all exiles, yet stood and fought beside the 300 Spartans. In other words they put the honor of their city ahead of the laws of their city.
  • George Washington in the Whiskey Rebellion. As the hero of the American Revolution, he had a certain sympathy for people revolting against being taxed (particularly as he was himself a rural distiller—albeit one for whom paying the excise was not particularly onerous); as the President of the United States, he had a duty to uphold the Constitution and the laws made under it, including the tax laws. He resolved the conflict by exercising the office of President: as President, he led an army that captured the rebels; as President, he put them on trial for treason; and when they were convicted, as President he pardoned every one of them.
  • In his social history A History of Honor James Bowman suggests that Western Civilization is based on an uneasy tension between Christian values, old fashioned tribal/aristocratic values (and though he doesn't mention it, or not much, Greco-Roman Civic values) that formed something of a yin-yang which was ultimately quite fortunate. In his opinion the "Victorian Gentleman" was an attempt at compromising between these.
  • Many soldiers and sailors fighting for both the Federals and Confederates during the The American Civil War.
    • Sam Houston, considered one of the founding fathers of Texas and the 1st and 3rd president of the Republic of Texas (and many other things as well), was forced to resign as governor of Texas when he refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. When the US Army offered him a commission to lead an army and stop the rebellion in Texas, he refused. He was very pro-union, but he could not bring himself to cause misery to the people of Texas.
    • Robert E. Lee loved the United States and loved Virginia. He was even offered the position that eventually became Grant's during the American Civil War, but turned it down because it meant he'd be attacking his fellow Virginians, who ultimately chose to side with the Confederacy.
  • The early days of the Irish War of Independence constituted this for many Irish policemen, who were primary targets of the IRA. As one history book put it "the Irish policemen needed to decide if their loyalty lay with the British who payed their wages, or their fellow Irishmen who were shooting at them". Even more pronounced in the Irish Civil War (which began less than a year after the end of the War of Independence, and was the culmination of tensions which had been building since that time), which, as a result of the split in the IRA, meant that many men who had been comrades only a short time before were now fighting one another. It has been speculated that part of the reason the anti-government forces got such an early foothold was because Michael Collins was unwilling to use maximum force against people who had recently been his close friends.
  • In medieval times, it was possible for a minor noble to swear fealty to multiple overlords. To simplify matters when this trope came into play, such fealty contracts would often include statements on the order of "If liege A should go to war against liege B, I shall send X men-at-arms to fight for A, and fight with the rest of my troops alongside B".
  • After the Great Reformation, Protestant monarchs were often suspicious of their Catholic subjects because of conflicting loyalties that could arise between obedience to their king or to The Pope.
    • This was actually a source of prejudice in the United States against Catholic politicians. During his 1960 campaign for President, John F. Kennedy made several statements to reassure people that he was not running to be a Catholic President but a President who was also Catholic, and that neither he nor the Church spoke for one another.
    "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me."
  • Many codes of professional ethics direct their practitioners to avert this trope. For instance, judges are expected to recuse themselves from cases in which they have some tie to one side of the case that might raise questions about their impartiality.

Chronic Backstabbing DisorderBetrayal TropesThe Corruptible
Conflict BallExample as a ThesisConverse with the Unconscious
The ChampionLoyalty TropesDeclaration of Protection
Broken AceInternal Conflict TropesThe Corruption
Commonality ConnectionFriendship TropesCool Kid And Loser Friendship

alternative title(s): Conflicting Loyalties
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