Demoted to Dragon

"You know, I actually like working for someone else. It lets me be a little more... hands-on."
Slade, Teen Titans

In the natural progression of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, a stronger Big Bad will replace the previous villain for the new season. However, what happens if the previous villain is still here? One of the things the former Big Bad can do now is to work for the new Big Bad as his Dragon. This is Demoted to Dragon in a nutshell.

Demoted Big Bads will almost always become The Starscream or a Dragon with an Agenda, especially if the only reason they were demoted was because the other Big Bad happened to have an advantage and the alternative would mean certain death. Better to lay low and wait for the right moment...

Contrast Dragon Ascendant, the inverse, and Big Bad Duumvirate, when the previous Big Bad isn't explicitly subservient to the new one. See also Big Bad Wannabe.

Beware of spoilers.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Naruto, Pain, thought to be the Big Bad, is eventually revealed to have been the Dragon with an Agenda to Tobi.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion, after Homura becomes the devil, Kyubey is forced into this role, turning from a potent and incomprehensible chessmaster to a lapdog whom she apparently Mind Rapes at the end.
  • Played with for the Team Rocket trio in the Pokémon anime. Though they always served under Giovanni, they usually worked on their own accord and were individual villains. In the Best Wishes series however, they are promoted to Elite Mooks, either taking orders directly from Giovanni, or being supervised by the organisation's scientist Dr Zagar.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Brokenstar was the Big Bad of Into the Wild, the first book of the Warrior Cats series. Then he gets driven out of his clan and killed, leaving Tigerstar in control of his army. Later in the Omen Of The Stars arc, Tigerstar and Brokenstar meet up in the afterlife and Tigerstar becomes Brokenstar's dragon.
  • Caine Soren is reduced to this briefly during HUNGER (the first of many sequels to GONE). He bounces back though.
  • Occurs in Needful Things, where John "Ace" Merrill, the Big Bad from Stand by Me, becomes a lackey for Leland Gaunt.
  • Happened in the backstory of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The three Raversnote  (formerly human, bodiless possessing demons) were the Land's reigning supreme evils for centuries, possibly millennia- at least until Lord Foul the Despiser showed up to seize the throne of Big Bad de jure. In the process, he made the Ravers his chief minions (an arrangement which worked out well for the Ravers; Foul was as evil as they were, far more powerful, and an extremely subtle chessmaster, so allying with him made them if anything even more dangerousnote ). However, by the time the actual books take place, this is entirely a matter of legend; the Ravers are well-known primarily as Foul's minions, and are even described as such in the books' glossaries.
  • A rather... tense... version in the later books of The Death Gate Cycle. Lord Xar is a Sorcerous Overlord Badass Grandpa and Magic Knight; Kleitus is an undead, omnicidal Implacable Man Necromancer. When they meet, Xar is able to force Kleitus into serving him by the simple expedient of being too powerful to kill (and Xar can't just kill Kleitus because he doesn't know the one spell that can destroy him). It's explicitly stated that Kleitus follows Xar around and does his bidding not out of any sense of loyalty, but out of the pure hope that he can be there when Xar slips up and use the opportunity to finish what he started. Xar, of course, is fully aware of this and doesn't trust Kleitus as far as he can kick him.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle, after Ash begins acting more openly and reveals himself to be The Man Behind the Man, he forces Thorn to become his right-hand-man - something Thorn resents, but has no means of combating.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • When Angel became Angelus, former Big Bad Spike became Angel's Dragon.
    • Mr. Trick, after having abandoned his master, Kakistos, to the Slayers, seeks to install himself as the next Big Bad and The Man Behind the Man. Cue the Mayor forcibly recruiting Mr. Trick.
    • Also subverted when the Mayor attempted to do this to Angelus. Angelus initially goes along with it (in a very openly-Starscreamish way) but it turns out the Mayor failed to actually take Angel's soul, and he was just playing along to get information from Faith.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Houses Stark, Lannister, Arryn, and Martell were kings or regnant princes before they bent the knee to the Targaryens and became wardens.
    • The wildling chieftains who serve under Mance Rayder, such as Tormund and Styr, all agreed to become this.
  • A strange variant in Smallville's Season 10 episode, "Dominion". General Zod of Season 5, and Major Zod (his clone), the Big Bad of Season 9, were fused into a single being by Darkseid, the Season 10 Big Bad, and used as his surrogate in the Phantom Zone.
  • Regina Mills, the Big Bad of the first season of Once Upon a Time becomes The Dragon to her mother Cora in the second.
  • Darken Rahl is the Big Bad of the first season of Legend of the Seeker. Then he's killed in the season finale. Come season 2, the Keeper has become the new Big Bad, seeking to kill every living thing, with the Rahl's soul being his Dragon. Not only that, but he reveals that he has always served the Keeper after making a Deal with the Devil for more power, and all his murders and slaughters were partly to appease his master. Then again, Rahl is a dick either way and really enjoyr killing. Of course, he turns out to be a Dragon with an Agenda and betrays his master by the end. Additionally, in the episode where Zedd's spell goes awry and rewrites history, Rahl becomes Richard's willing assistant, after Richard brainwashes him. Then the spell is broken, and Rahl is back to his old self. By the end of season 2, Rahl finds a way to return to the world of the living and turns his back on the Keeper.
  • Farscape: Crais briefly experiences this once Scorpius deposes him as captain of his Peacekeeper battleship, but takes the first opportunity to desert and do his own thing.
  • Done briefly in Stargate SG-1. Initial Big Bad Apophis is hunted down by replacement Big Bad Sokar and dies while hiding on Earth. In a later episode, one of the lesser Goa'ulds serving Sokar has a First Prime named Na'onak who turns out to be a regenerated Apophis in disguise. However, Apophis rapidly pulls a Starscream on both and reclaims the Big Bad throne.
    • Later on, the new Big Bad Anubis is defeated by O'Neill controlling the Ancient super-weapon. He is presumed dead, and Ba'al, whose rise to power is previously facilitated by SG-1 to counterbalance Anubis becomes their number 1 threat. Near the end of the Goa'uld rule, though, it's revealed that Ba'al has since become this trope after Anubis manages to come back and retake his empire. After the fall of the Goa'uld, Ba'al is the only real Goa'uld threat remaining.
  • In Person of Interest, Mr. Greer willingly and happily demotes himself to the role of The Dragon after succeeding in his two-season mission to install Samaritan, an Artificial Intelligence unfettered by morality, as the show's new Big Bad. His goal is to put all of humanity in the control of AIs, believing them to be logical, incorruptible and superior to human leaders in every way.
  • Denshi Sentai Denziman / Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan: Queen Hedrian, the Big Bad of Denziman, is revived and forced to serve Führer Hell Saturn (himself revealed to be The Dragon to The Omnipotent God, the actual Big Bad of the series) at the start of Sun Vulcan.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • The Undertaker, as the leader of the Ministry of Darkness, was clearly seen as the biggest threat in the WWF at the time, to the point where it seemed even Vince McMahon was getting face cheers over him and was being portrayed somewhat sympathetically. However, Taker began making references to a "Higher Power", and when it was time for the reveal, it was none other than McMahon himself who had been pulling the strings all along. The Ministry merged with The Corporation to form the Corporate Ministry, and Undertaker immediately became McMahon's dragon.
  • The nWo were the main Power Stable during their time in WCW, but after WCW was bought out by the WWF, they were reduced to Mr.McMahon's lackeys.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Vilgax from Ben 10 becomes the Dragon to Diagon in the Ben 10: Ultimate Alien season 2 finale, though he is hinted to be a Dragon with an Agenda. This is confirmed in the Grand Finale, where Vilgax is a successful Starscream, killing Diagon and absorbing his power to become the most dangerous villain the franchise.
  • In Danny Phantom the Fright Knight became Pariah Dark's Dragon when he awoke. Though in this case, the Fright Knight was always Pariah's Dragon, his boss was just Sealed Evil in a Can when the Fright Knight was unleashed the first time. Vlad convinced him to turn against his master offscreen.
  • In G.I. Joe, this happens to Cobra Commander when Serpentor is created. Worsened after the events of the movie where Cobra is reduced to nothing more than a pet snake for the latter. When changed back, Cobra Commander returns the favour to Serpentor to retake his position.
  • Magmion was the Big Bad of the first season of Gormiti: The Lords of Nature Return. Season 2 introduced Obscurio, and Magmion was reduced to his main henchman.
  • Gideon was the Big Bad of Gravity Falls in Season 1, but becomes Bill Cipher's enforcer in Season 2 after Bill regains his full power and brings the End of the World as We Know It.
  • Skeletor was the Big Bad of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), but became The Dragon to new villain Flogg in The New Adventures of He-Man. However, Skeletor's role wasn't all that different functionally, as he constantly manipulated the clueless Flogg.
  • Shendu, from Jackie Chan Adventures. For the first season he was the one calling the shots but after his defeat he is forced into servitude to his demon siblings. Though in this case, he demoted himself so they'd stop beating the crap out of him for leaving them to rot in their prison.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Twilight's Kingdom, Part 1", Discord thinks he and Tirek are a Big Bad Duumvirate, but in actuality he's this trope and Tirek double crosses him as soon as he is no longer important.
  • Professor Pericles from Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated acts as the Big Bad of season 1 but in the second half of season 2 is revealed to be the Dragon to the Nibiru entity.
  • Slade from Teen Titans is demoted to Trigon's dragon when the latter tries to take over the world. An unusual case where the former Big Bad is actually more of a threat to the heroes when he's serving as someone else's henchman, because Trigon gave him a truckload of powers in the bargain.
  • In Lilo and Stitch, Gantu acts as the main antagonist, though he's somewhat of a Hero Antagonist as he believes that Stitch is a threat to the galaxy and needs to be disposed of. However, after he is retired from being captain by the Grand Councilwoman, he ends up taking the role of The Dragon when he is hired by Dr. Hamsterviel, though he has a partner on his own in 625/Reuben.
  • Transformers Prime: This is played with when Unicron shows up. Megatron wants to serve him, but Unicron doesn't give a crap about Megatron, viewing him as beneath him. Which is a total reversal of the G1 situation ("serve me or get eaten") and the Transformers Armada situation ("you've actually been serving me all along.") where it's an unwilling Megs being made to work for Unicron until he can turn the tables. (If you go with the All There in the Manual Retcon that there's just one Unicron, it could be that the Chaos-Bringer has just learned that Megatrons don't make good servants.)
    • They do cross paths again in the finale movie. He still doesn't become Unicron's dragon. Megatron's dead body is hijacked by Unicron, and Unicron proceeds to torture Megatron whenever he speaks out of turn.
  • The Trix from Winx Club were the main villains in season 1. In seasons 2, 3, the 2nd movie, and 5 they work for the more powerful villains Lord Darkar, Valtor, the Ancestral Witches, and Tritannus.