->''"In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a deserter from the Night's Watch. No man is more dangerous. The deserter knows his life is forfeit if he is taken, so he will not flinch from any crime, no matter how vile."''
-->-- '''Eddard Stark''', ''Literature/AGameOfThrones''

Most people take an understandably dim view of abandoning a military post. Even works that [[ArmiesAreEvil disapprove of warfare on general principles]] usually won't approve, especially if it took place "in the heat" of battle (thus leaving more loyal soldiers hanging). So those who say ScrewThisImOuttaHere to a legitimate group tend to be [[VillainByDefault bad people]].

The problem is often not ''just'' their dishonorable abandonment. The real problem is their now-desperate situation. Desertion is usually punishable by death, so these people have no more incentive to refrain from other capital offenses, like murder, and every reason to ''engage'' in them if they think you'll turn them in. They also tend to be armed. They tend to steal what they need from the surrounding countryside. And they can't just settle down, lest they be caught. They may try to pass themselves off as WarRefugees.

There are a few [[DefectorFromDecadence sympathetic deserters]] out there, usually having [[MookFaceTurn left a villain's army]] which they had no choice about joining, but they are not this trope. The Dangerous Deserter is hardened, desperate, and, well, ''[[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin dangerous]]''.

Contrast RebelliousRebel. Criminals who are determined to [[NeverGoingBackToPrison Never Go Back To Prison]] may have a similar level of dangerous desperation to them. Compare and contrast FromCamouflageToCriminal, where regardless of the circumstances under which someone left the military, they use their military skills in a life of crime.



[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* In ''Manga/{{Bleach}}'', shinigami can't ''retire''. [[spoiler:Quitters are separated and watched by the 2nd division, and it's revealed that Urahara Kisuke was part of this. Mayuri Kurotsuchi was one of them.]] Although he didn't actually try to leave. They considered him potentially dangerous so they held him without charge.
* ''Anime/PumpkinScissors'' starts with a confrontation with a tank unit that deserted after the war ends and formed a bandit group terrorizing a small village. Later on, there are several other former soldiers who became bandits in order to survive. It's clear the military high command knows about and tracks a number of these units, and chooses not to go after them. Most likely because it doesn't want to admit that they or their equipment were ever any part of the military, so they ''can't'' be hunted as deserters or allowed to talk as prisoners. It's not even certain all of them did technically desert; as insane as the idea of decomissioning special forces, letting them keep weapons of mass destruction, and turning them loose within your own borders is, it's actually within the bounds of this military's thinking processes.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* In an issue of the ''ComicBook/InfinityInc'' comic, a Doctor Midnight (a black woman) is captured and [[AttemptedRape almost raped]] by a group of [[FishOutOfTemporalWater time-tossed]] deserters from the Confederate Army (it is made clear that they were already deserters before they got lost in time).
* Overlord, the BigBad of ''ComicBook/TheTransformersLastStandOfTheWreckers'', is an AxCrazy PersonOfMassDestruction working for the Decepticons, happy to stay at a lower level in the hierarchy as long as he gets to slaughter as many living beings as he can. Then Megatron tried to rein him in and reserve his power for the final stage of invasions. Overlord refused, and is possibly the only Decepticon deserter who actually scares Megatron.
* ''ComicBook/RogueTrooper'' will help out his former comrades in the Southern Army when it suits him, but good luck trying to arrest him for desertion.
* In ''ComicBook/LadyMechanika: The Tablet of Destinies'' #4, Mechanika and Winifred are captured by a deserter from the British army who now leads a gang of slavers.

[[folder:Comic Strips]]
* ''ComicStrip/ModestyBlaise'': In "Death Symbol", a squad of deserters from the Chinese Army takes over a small village and monastery in a remote valley in Tibet. Willie and Modesty have infiltrate the valley and battle the deserters to rescue the daughter of one of Willie's old friends who is being held prisoner.

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* The {{Villain Protagonist}}s of ''Film/RedZoneCuba''. The final third of the film is a nigh plotless series of crimes they committed after deserting.
* The Lithuanian [[LesCollaborateurs SS-collaborators]]-turned-looters who provide Hannibal Lector with his [[FanonDiscontinuity controversial]] FreudianExcuse in ''Film/HannibalRising''.
* Hachi from ''Film/{{Onibaba}}'', who narrowly escapes death as a soldier only to become a desperate bandit with nothing to lose and no honest way to make a living--despite the fact that he might be the closest thing we have to a hero in the film.

* ''Literature/ASongOfIceAndFire'':
** The first book opens with the execution of one of these; see the page quote. There's no sign that the deserter was actually dangerous; it's just that he signed on to fight wildlings and found himself face-to-face with the FairFolk instead. A headsman's ax probably seemed like the lesser risk.
** Mance Rayder may well be the most dangerous deserter in the history of the Night's Watch; he abandoned his post and came back at the head of a conquering army.
** Averted and totally deconstructed with [[spoiler:Septon Meribald]], who deserted out of sheer exhaustion and heartache and only wants to live a life of peace. However, he does warn that deserters are dangerous, and the traveler must fear them ("but he should pity them as well") in [[WarIsHell his "broken men" speech]].
** A rare example who is desperate, dangerous, willing to commit crimes to stay on the run yet sympathetic is Sandor "the Hound" Clegane who deserted from the Kingsguard when a weapon triggering his [[WhyDidItHaveToBeSnakes major phobia]] is used in the battle of the Blackwater.
* In ''Literature/{{Animorphs}}'' [[spoiler:David]] can be considered one of these. Granted, the team is a [[MildlyMilitary civilian guerrilla force]] and not a legitimate military unit, but they're still Earth's only defense against the [[PuppeteerParasite Yeerks]].
* ''Literature/{{Discworld}}''
** ''Discworld/MonstrousRegiment'': Borogravian deserters are an unseen, background threat- "They will not be nice people! They will be impolite!" The [[KickTheDog murder of a random elderly couple]] is also attributed to them.
** ''Discworld/InterestingTimes'' features a couple of deserters who are cowardly even by the standards of the trope, but are quite happy to cut Rincewind's head off if they're completely sure he can't fight back. Luckily (so to speak), the Lady intervenes.
* [[spoiler:Tobias Kelp]] becomes one in ''[[Literature/CiaphasCain For The Emperor]]''. In fact, a considerable amount of tension in that story comes from the worry that, with five people on death row doing a suicide mission with the protagonist, someone will do this, because they would ''have'' to kill the main character to have any chance of getting away with it. [[spoiler:Unfortunately for Kelp, he decides to make his move within range of a melta. After Cain orders Jurgen to kill him, the narration notes his last expression was OhCrap.]]
** [[spoiler:The book also gives a ''major'' RedHerring in that the most obviously treasonous of the death row prisoners -- the psychotic ColdSniper who openly suggested killing Cain and splitting -- never does it, even when given the prime opportunity to do so.]]
* In the original ''Literature/StarshipTroopers'' book, the government makes no effort to catch people who desert from Basic Training. Since the military forces are all volunteers, they figure there's no point, although some people decide they can't live with the guilt and eventually turn themselves in. If they do, they're just given 50 lashes and turned loose (with no prospect of citizenship, but no worse off than if they never enlisted at all). Nevertheless, one is caught and hanged because he raped and murdered a little girl, because the Mobile Infantry takes care of their own.
** Additionally, if someone signs up for government service and has a change of heart, they can fail to show up on their departure day with no penalty, save being disqualified from government service. Also, in both book and film, a volunteer can choose to drop out at any time, file the appropriate paperwork and be back in civvies the next morning, no questions asked.
** On the other hand, "desertion in the face of the enemy" ''is'' a capital offense, as it is in many military forces today.
* Averted in ''Literature/TheWarriorsApprentice'' by Creator/LoisMcMasterBujold with Baz Jesek. He is never asked what he did or why he deserted and, despite interacting with active duty military personnel, is never forced back or faces any charges. Despite him deserting in the heat, which carries an automatic death sentence, the charges against him are eventually dismissed -- probably a result of spending a decade as part of a classified [=ImpSec=] unit that pulled off a number of very high-profile operations that the Barrayaran government had no official involvement in.
* OlderThanTelevision: ''Literature/GoneWithTheWind'' had that Union deserter who [[spoiler:Scarlett shot in the face.]]
* In Creator/DanAbnett's TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}} Literature/GauntsGhosts novel ''Straight Silver'', troopers find a HauntedHouse in the woods -- that proves to have a deserter in it.
** In ''The Armour Of Contempt'', a small band of deserters attempt to loot Dalin Criid's "corpse"; when they realize it's not actually a corpse yet, they try to ensure that it becomes one.
* In Creator/EdgarRiceBurroughs's ''Literature/TheMonsterMen'', the {{Denouement}} reveals that von Horn was this.
* ''Literature/TheStormlightArchive'': In the first demonstration of a Lightweaver's true power, Shallan Davar transforms a band of deserters back into loyal soldiers. Some even die rescuing a civilian convoy from bandits.
* Averted in ''TheEyesOfTheDragon'' where two deserters are in line for execution, despite having only deserted to help their families survive an unusually harsh winter, then returned to their posts. Queen Sasha manages to persuade her husband to pardon them, unknowingly earning the ire of court magician Flagg, who wanted the men executed for his own political reason. This incident leads Flagg to have her murdered, disguised as death by childbirth. Flagg also happens to be another incarnation of Stephen King's recurring villain [[Literature/TheStand Randall]] [[TheDarkTower Flagg]].
* ''Literature/TheIronTeeth'' web serial has a lot of these. Deserters that have turned to banditry are quite common in the North.
* In ''Literature/GunsOfTheDawn'', most able-bodied men are away fighting in the war, and a gang of men who theoretically ''should'' be fighting in the war see an opportunity to prey on undefended lands well behind the front lines. Wealthier households such as the protagonist's are prime targets, especially when they contain [[spoiler:people like the protagonist's sister, who's unwise enough to be lured a supposed romantic rendezvous by a hostage-seeking bandit]].
* {{Subverted}} with ''Literature/KrisLongknife: Deserter''. She's certainly a dangerous ActionGirl to mess with, but she didn't desert ''deliberately'': she was trapped on-planet past the end of her leave by an infectious disease quarantine and couldn't call home to inform headquarters because the SubspaceAnsible was sabotaged.
* ''Literature/{{Andersonville}}'': Ira Claffey encounters three "bummers" from the fringes of Sherman's march while he is trying to travel to Richmond. It turns out that fall 1864 is a bad time to be on the roads in Georgia. Ira thinks he's going to get shot but the bummers are content with stealing his wallet.
* There is a band of deserters from the Malloreon army in ''Literature/TheMalloreon''. The heroes don't see them, but they do come across a farmstead with its inhabitants brutally slaughtered. Garion reflects on how similar it is to Faldor's farm, where he grew up, which fills him with TranquilFury. [[spoiler:He hears them near their camp that night and goes and kills them all by himself. He never tells the others, but he does bring back the deserters' horses, and Belgarath hints he knows what happened.]]
* ''Literature/TheUnknownSoldier'' completely averts this. While some of the officer characters are bitter about the deserters, the narrator only has sympathy for the fear and the sufferings of the soldiers. The most reasonable officer explains that those who become deserters simply were taken to the limit of what a human could be expected to withstand... and then over it. They wouldn't have been of use in battle anyway, so let them go. One of the central characters tries to become a deserter but is lost from his companions and returns back to his platoon with nothing but a joke for an excuse for his absence. The others don't hold it against him.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''Series/GameOfThrones'':
** The two men with Osha who attack Bran in "A Golden Crown" wear the black of the Night's Watch.
** The Hound provides a rare sympathetic example after his pyrophobia gets the better of him in "Blackwater". However, the Lannisters regard him as dangerous, especially after news of his slaughter of Polliver and his goons reaches the Small Council, after which Lord Tywin puts a sufficiently large bounty on him to tempt any idiot to take a shot at the Hound.
** Karl and his fellow mutineers fully display their sadism and depravity in "Oathkeeper" and "First of His Name".
* An small army of these crops up in at least of the TV version of ''{{Sharpe}}'', made up from soldiers of all sides including Sharpe's nemesis Obadaiah Hakeswill.
* In ''Series/QueenOfSwords'', Captain Grisham is an American deserter from from the War of 1812. However, the truly dangerous deserter is Krane, the man they tried to hang in Grisham's place.
* ''Series/{{JAG}}'': In the season nine episode "Shifting Sands" a Navy petty officer believed to be lost since the first UsefulNotes/GulfWar is found in Iraq, married to a Bedouin sheikh. It turns out that she’s provided intelligence to Saddam’s regime through the years.
* ''Series/HoratioHornblower'':
** Bunting in "The Examination for Lieutenant": When the ship is put on half rations, he becomes desperate and afraid that they will starve. He starts mutinous talk and steals food, which earns him severe flogging. He decides to desert, but he's caught, but Midshipman Hornblower gives him a chance to prove himself worthy. However, Bunting knows it still means a court-martial and very probably a death sentence, so he tries to escape whenever he can. He's the only one who tries to mutiny and desert, so he's not that dangerous to the crew. Hornblower is forced to shoot him later, and considers it a great failure that he couldn't save the man.
** In "Retribution", Randall and several men decide to desert in "Mutiny" when the situation on the ship becomes difficult: a crazy Captain, a weak 1st Lieutenant, and possible charges of mutiny for the whole crew. When Gunner Hobbs finds out they're deserting and stealing guns, he's offered to go with them, but his UndyingLoyalty doesn't allow him to leave his captain. Randall clonks him unconscious, not caring whether it kills him or not, and they hurt or kill several {{Red Shirt}}s on their way to sea. The deserters are later discovered dead, killed by the slave rebel army who thought they were their former Spanish masters.
* In the ''Series/{{Supernatural}}'' episode [[Recap/SupernaturalS02E22AllHellBreaksLoosePartTwo "All Hells Breaks Loose, Part Two" (S02, E22)]], Jake Talley is reminded by the Yellow-Eyed demon that the Army will not take him back because he is AWOL. This helps to convince Jake to join the dark side.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* In ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyTactics'', Ramza runs into a group of deserters on his way somewhere else. They have no interest in fighting; he has no interest in getting in their way. That is, until one of them points out that Ramza is on wanted posters all over the continent, and if they kill him and turn him in, they'll not only be forgiven for their desertion, but probably given medals and dismissed from the army. Ramza tries to talk them out of it, but is forced to kill them.
* In the Compilation of ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyVII'', these are often the cause of the Shin-Ra Corporation's worst problems. Genesis took nearly half of SOLDIER with him when he defected and waged war on the company, Angeal left a mess behind, Zack wiped out an entire battalion of troops but for three men, and Sephiroth burned a trail across the Planet and through the company's ranks, to say the least. And those were the elites. What [[spoiler: Cloud]], a humble [[FacelessGoons trooper]]-turned-[[YourTerroristsAreOurFreedomFighters terrorist]], accomplished through the course of the game (through intent and ignorance both) ''led to the loss of the company's place as the de-facto world government''.
* In ''VideoGame/GuildWars: Prophecies'', one of the final quests in the Northern Shiverpeaks is to track down a band of deserters to retrieve the supplies they've stolen. Alas, they're not all that dangerous if you actually play through the game to that point instead of getting run through like so many seem to.
* ''VideoGame/MountAndBlade'' has these in spades. From a technical point of view, they are very similar to regular groups of bandits, but are often far more numerous and better equipped. They can be a DemonicSpiders style threat early in the game, but become less intimidating after the player levels up considerably and creates his party.
* In ''VideoGame/FableIII'' deserters from [[TheCaligula Logan's]] army take the place of the previous game's bandits.
* Several of the hired guns in ''VideoGame/KnightsOfTheOldRepublic'', especially the sequel, were deserters from one side or the other ([[HeelFaceRevolvingDoor sometimes more than one]]). Most are just {{Punch Clock Villain}}s, but some, especially those who were former Sith, could be [[AxeCrazy downright sadistic]].
** Among the examples from the second game is [[spoiler:Atton Rand]], although he does a [[PsychicStatic pretty good job of]] [[StepfordSmiler hiding it]] for most of the game (and can be redeemed by the Exile's influence).
* ''Franchise/DragonAge''
** One sidequest in ''VideoGame/DragonAgeOrigins'' involves tracking down a trio of deserters from a mercenary group known as the Blackstone Irregulars, who stole valuable materials from the mercenary company. In a twist, the mercenaries don't want to punish the deserters (though they don't care if you kill them), they just want their property returned. All three deserters attack the player immediately upon identifying who they represent, even if they're just trying to peacefully recover the supplies.
*** Your party member Zevran was originally a mercenary sent to kill you, though he quickly offers to desert and join your cause instead when it's apparent he's not a match for your team. When the Crows send another member to finish his job and collect him, he may or may not rejoin them. If you've befriended him, he'll remain loyal to you and help you fight off the Crows; if not, then he'll [[HeelFaceRevolvingDoor happily desert your party as well]] and go back to the Crows, forcing you to kill him in self-defense (and maybe out of honor, depending on your Warden's feelings about the subject).
** A group of these appear early on in ''VideoGame/DragonAgeII'', having deserted the Ferelden army and fled to Kirkwall. They attack one of the guard posts when the officer in charge agrees to contact one of Hawke's relatives inside the city, thinking that this means Hawke will be let inside ahead of them.
*** You'll also fight several small bands of Tal-Vashoth, deserters from the Qunari army and way of life. Since Qunari only learn one skill or trade in their lifetime, those who have been training as soldiers since they were twelve have no way to make a living ''except'' as mercenaries and bandits, making them desperate and dangerous to most anyone.
** The third entry in the series, ''VideoGame/DragonAgeInquisition'', features the Freemen of the Dales, deserters from both sides of the Orlesian Civil War. Unfortunately, they see the Inquisition as yet another warmongering oppressor, and also end up colluding with the Venatori and Red Templars, who are two of the Inquisition's primary targeted enemy factions. The nature of the Tal-Vashoth is also deconstructed with [[spoiler:Iron Bull if he goes Tal-Vashoth. If he does, he is unsure what he's more afraid of: becoming this trope, or discovering that he won't, and that all the Tal-Vashoth he hunted down as a member of the [[SecretPolice Ben-Hassrath]] were ''[[MyGodWhatHaveIDone not]]'' this trope too.]]
* You can encounter a few in ''VideoGame/FalloutNewVegas'' in Primm, attempting to start a protection racket and attacking you if try to turn them in. They're survivors from a outpost that was overrun by [[TheEmpire Caesar's Legion]], and think the [=NCR=] will be defeated by them soon.
* Whiskey Foxtrot from ''VideoGame/{{Battleborn}}'' is one. A lore challenge of his reveals that he had deserted his post in the UPR. The report states that he should be considered ARMED and DANGEROUS and ANGRY. For this, he was given a bounty of 589,000,000.00 credits. Considering that he joined Reyna and the Rogues who despite their desire for freedom tend to sometimes engage in questionable acts such as space piracy, the caution is warranted.

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* In ''Webcomic/TheGreenEyedSniper'', Sekhmet is a wanted war criminal and a deserter. [[http://ges.smackjeeves.com/comics/2542187/ges-part3-page41/ Here]] she claims to Blitz that being fed up with a never-ending war was the main reason she went AWOL, although she also confesses to Shanti that she lied about a lot of the circumstances she recounted later.
* ''Webcomic/TheWaterPhoenixKing'''s first act is all about the consequences of fleeing troops of a dead god's empire, who usually turn to banditry and conquest as their ideology and paychecks go down the drain. The protagonist ends up killing captains [[AntiHero who were once better than she is]] [[FallenHero but are now worse than she'll ever be]].

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* At the end of the first season of ''WesternAnimation/TransformersPrime'', [[spoiler: Starscream tires of his treatment in the Decepticons and attempts to join the Autobots; when that doesn't work out, he declares himself neutral, making him an enemy to both sides]].
** Airachnid was implied to be this when she first appeared; later she gets drafted back into the Decepticon army. [[spoiler: After killing Breakdown and finding a nest of insecticons she can control, she's back to being this again.]]
** At the end of season 3, [[spoiler: Predaking becomes this as well]].

[[folder:Real Life]]
* Deserters in peacetime in the UK's RAF were ignored. When they turned up again (they usually gave themselves up to the police), they were put in military prison for 'not turning up for work' (usually only a few days extra duties), then discharged from the RAF with loss of back pay and reported to the civilian police as deserters. UK police have wide discretionary powers, depending on how the deserter has behaved while 'out'. All of this was explained exhaustively to new recruits, some of whom desert immediately. One guesses it rids the armed forces of the really unwilling ones.
* In his autobiography ''Lord of Misrule'', Creator/ChristopherLee tells of how he guarded a group of deserters in Rhodesia during UsefulNotes/WW2, and they were tough, hardcore types as opposed to the [[DirtyCoward weak, shifty characters]] portrayed in the movies. Lee was so nervous he kept his hand on his sidearm at all times, which ironically caused the prisoners to complain about ''him'', as they thought Lee was a TriggerHappy nutcase just waiting for an excuse to shoot them. Given how intimidating Sir Christopher looks one can see their point.
* Unfortunately, this is often very accurate, particularly when an entire military or nation pretty much folds up and goes out of business, like what happened in Eastern Europe during the two world wars, where bands of armed deserters would sometimes wreak absolute havoc on the countryside until they either stopped or were forced to stop.
** This pretty much describes central Europe near and after the end of the 30 Years' War, with the added irony that most of the governments involved couldn't afford to pay their hired mercenaries the years of back pay they were owed; desertion became an economic necessity for the unpaid troops.
** Some of the notorious outlaws of TheWildWest (such as the James-Younger Gang) were Confederate "bushwacker" guerrillas who turned to crime after UsefulNotes/TheAmericanCivilWar. Also, near the end of the war, while Sherman was marching his armies through Georgia and devastating everything in his path, many Confederate deserters went on a mad rampage of their own right alongside them.
** In Albania, the simultaneous collapse of a number of pyramid schemes subsequently collapsed the government as well. Demonstrations by people who'd lost their life savings quickly turned to riots, and the government called out its troops to put these riots down. However, those troops were all related to the rioters and many of them had also been burned in the pyramid schemes, so they joined the rioters. Among other chaotic incidents in the state of total anarchy that ensued, some of these deserters actually robbed a bank with a ''tank''.
* Also, used to happen pretty often in the late Soviet/modern Russian army until very recently. Since the deserters were armed, desperate and highly afraid of reprisals, they were inevitably pretty trigger-happy as well.
* During the famines in the 1990s in UsefulNotes/NorthKorea, rogue members of the [[UsefulNotes/NorthKoreansWithNodongs Korean People's Army]] supposedly wreaked havoc across the countryside in search for food, going as far as waylaying civilians and other military units.
* Creator/GeorgeMacDonaldFraser tells of being detailed to escort a persistent absconder to a military prison in Northern England in 1943. He found the hardened case he was escorting, recaptured after deserting, to be pleasant and unthreatening company. But his nerve failed when he saw the prison and met a typical guard. ([=MacDonald=] Fraser also resolved to be a good soldier for the rest of his service)
* Subverted in the case of Private Eddie Slovik during WWII, who simply walked away from his army rifle company to the rear and immediately surrendered as a deserter to the first soldier he found. U.S. Army officers tried three times to convince him to return to his unit (without punishment), and all three times Slovik stated if he were put back at the front he would run away. He figured he'd be imprisoned and then dishonorably discharged. Instead, because the Allies were facing a serious German offensive and degraded morale, he was tried and executed.
* {{Averted}} by UsefulNotes/AbrahamLincoln, who issued a blanket pardon to any Civil War deserters who returned to their proper posts within 60 days, famously saying that it was better to "err on the side of mercy" when dealing with such men.