"There's all sorts of stories where you think you've beaten the Final Boss, but then it just moves up to the next level!"
The heroes seemed to have defeated the ultimate villain but then the player realizes that they're on the first disc of a multi-disc RPG (or the audience realizes that the show is only in midseason). He's not the final boss; he might look like it, but he's defeated long before the story ends. They are the driving force in this early part, but they are not the ultimate threat. The real villain, The Man Behind the Man
, will show up later. Or maybe this guy will take a break to get your guard down, then come back and go all One-Winged Angel
on you pitiful, mortal fools. This may lead to the plot being Hijacked by Ganon
. This may also lead to You Can't Thwart Stage One
A cross between a Red Herring
and The Dragon
, with a little bit of Your Princess Is in Another Castle
thrown in. It takes its name from the video game trope of a Final Boss
, not a management figurehead — as much fun as it'd be to find your boss's boss is bringing about the Apocalypse. See also Disc One Final Dungeon
. Compare Decoy Protagonist
and Sacrificial Lion
. Likely to also be a Climax Boss
They can be considered an Arc Villain
, and if they're of the initial part of the story then they can also be considered Starter Villain
Spoilers abound, obviously.
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Anime and Manga
- Dragon Ball Z has a lot of these, most notably Raditz from the Saiyan Saga and the Androids from the Cell Saga.
- In what is probably an instance of playing with this trope, the jaw-droppingly powerful vampire/sorceress Evangeline A.K. McDowell in Mahou Sensei Negima! likens herself to both intermediate and final bosses from a video game, and refuses to say exactly which she is.
- In season 1 of Tenshi Ni Narumon, Dispell seems to be the Big Bad. It turns out, however, that he is a puppet of his "sidekick," Silky.
- Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch uses this in both its seasons; in fact, in the second season, it was effectively used three times, where the viewer thinks that Michel is the villain, then it's Fuku, then it's the fire spirit known as "him", then it's Fuku again, who is controlling Michel to be the final boss.
- Bleach has Sosuke Aizen. He was behind numerous events in the backstories of half the cast and manipulated all to his liking, but by the time Ichigo defeats him, the artist had already announced that the manga was only half finished.
- Quite common throughout the various Digimon anime universes:
- Starts out realistically in Digimon Adventure with Devimon, the Big Bad for the first quarter of the season — when he's defeated, he reveals that there are other, more powerful enemies out there (and gloats at how the heroes only barely defeated him).
- Reaches ridiculous heights in Digimon Adventure 02. The Digimon Emperor is the Disc One Final Boss under Arukenimon... who turns out to be reporting to Oikawa... who then gets Hijacked By MaloMyotismon. Oh, and then there was the Dark Ocean master and this guy called Daemon thrown in there somewhere, although they never received any plot resolution.
- Digimon Tamers initially has Yamaki, who gets outsmarted by the Devas, whose leader is ultimately a Well-Intentioned Extremist fighting against the real enemy, the D-Reaper.
- Digimon Frontier has Cherubimon acting as the main antagonist for the majority of the series, then Lucemon shows up.
- Digimon Savers has Merukimon, who gets overshadowed by his psychotic lieutenant Gotsumon and another Mega level Digimon, Saber Leomon, both of whom are replaced by Kurata, who later makes a Big Bad Ensemble with one of the Demon Lord Digimon, Belphemon. Once they were killed, Yggdrasil appears...
- Finally averted with Digimon Xros Wars, where Bagramon is introduced as the villain early on and stays the main threat through the first two arcs. (The third arc comes after a Time Skip with less focus on an ongoing plot and no main villain until near the very end.)
- The series does this, where we find out that instead of Pain, it's Tobi AKA Madara Uchiha who is the true leader of Akatsuki, though this is revealed sometime before the former even begins to directly fight the heroes. It's subverted later on. It's revealed that Tobi was impersonating the real Madara Uchiha, whom was was revived as an all-powerful immortal zombie beforehand. Even as we learn that Madara was Tobi's mentor and trainer, they're operating under Teeth-Clenched Teamwork more than anything else, so while Tobi is still the Big Bad, he's sharing it with Madara, just like he shared it with Kabuto beforehand.
- Orochimaru, the Big Bad for the longest time, suffers through Diminishing Villain Threat after the Time Skip, due to the long-term side effects of his battle with Hiruzen Sarutobi. While he remained a major player for a while, Akatsuki dominated the spotlight, with Danzo Shimura as a distant third in the Big Bad Ensemble. After Orochimaru is defeated (along with Danzo later on), Kabuto replaces Orochimaru as the main threat to Konoha, particularly once he allies with Akatsuki. As soon as Kabuto is out of the way, Sasuke revives Orochimaru, but the former Big Bad decides to sit back and do whatever Sasuke tells him to do.
- While Emperor Charles zi Britannia was always more of a Bigger Bad, he gets several episodes that somewhat heighten his threat level to Lelouch. As the target of Lelouch's rage, Charles dies five episodes before the finale, leaving Schneizel as the Final Boss. On the other hand, Schneizel was always a more direct and frustrating opponent to Lelouch than Charles ever was.
- In Suzaku of the Counterattack, this happens twice. The viewer expects Lelouch to be the villain, but Emperor Charles Zi Britannia is soon introduced as a potential Big Bad, only for Schneizel to assassinate him.
- In YuYu Hakusho, Zeru acts as the leader for Team Rokuyokai during the Dark Tournament. When Hiei kills him, Team Urameshi thinks they have the round in the bag, until the real leader shows up, killing two of the team's fodder in the process: Chu, who appears to be a joke of a fighter, but is in reality every bit as powerful, if not moreso, than Zeru.
- The Big Bad of Slayers' first season seems to be Rezo/Shabranigo, but it's actually Rezo's clone.
- In the second season, Gaav is the Disc One Final Boss, who gets executed by the true Big Bad, Hellmaster Fibrizo.
- Subverted in the third season with Valgaav, who seemingly gets killed off partway through. Just when it looks like Dark Star is the Big Bad, it turns out Valgaav merged with Dark Star and returns to become the real Big Bad after all.
- Zuuma in the fifth season.
- And in the fourth season, Gioconda is the Disc One Final Boss to Zanaffar.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
- In the Diamond Is Unbreakable arc, the story focuses on trying to get revenge on Red Hot Chili Pepper for killing Okuyaso's older brother. But he turns out to be far too dim-witted and easily beaten for a Jojo Big Bad. Say hello to Yoshikage Kira instead!
- The second seriesseries Battle Tendency began with Joseph Joestar being attacked by former Joestar ally Straights, who had become a vampire by the same means as series one Big Bad as well as Big Bad of later series Dio Brando. But Straights' tenure as villain was cut short only a couple chapters later when he killed himself. The real main villains of series two were in fact the Pillar Men who eat vampires, and against whom the ripple technique is of limited effectiveness most of the time.
- L, the Hero Antagonist in Death Note. Near, Mello, and Matsuda are the ones who ultimately bring about Light's downfall.
- In Sailor Moon R, Rubeus appears to be the Big Bad, but it turns out midway that he was answering to Prince Diamond, who was being used by Wiseman who was the true Big Bad of the season and had been there since the start of the story arc. Also, Galaxia turns out to be this in themanga as it is outright stated (but only implied in the anime) that Chaos is the the evil behind all evils of the entire SERIES and sent every villain Sailor Moon had fought up until that point. Funny thing is, Chaos cannot be defeated as he/she/it is the root of all evil. Pretty intense.
- Lordgenome in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann turns out to be this once the Anti-Spirals show up.
- In Star Driver, Head was built up to be the Big Bad, but his defeat at the hands of Takuto only halfway through the series hints at the fact that someone else is going to take up that role. This is subverted, as Head ends up being the Big Bad anyway.
- In Fairy Tail, just when the team thinks they've beaten Oracion Seis, their leader's Super-Powered Evil Side kicks in. Subverted in the Edolas arc. You're led to believe that Queen Shagote is the Big Bad behind King Faust, but Faust is the actual Big Bad.
- Master Hades, the Bigger Bad of most of the series and the Big Bad of the Tenrou Island arc, is disposed of like garbage by Zeref right after his defeat.
- In Rave Master, King seems like the Big Bad of the story, but he's taken out less than a quarter of the way through. But just when it seems like They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot with Demon Card, his son takes over the organization.
- Shin from Fist of the North Star. He's set up to be the antagonist until episode 22, where he gets killed in a somewhat anti-climatic duel between him and Kenshiro. It isn't until episode 44 that the actual antagonist of Raoh is revealed.
- The original manga take it a step further: Jagi (good-for-nothing black sheep turned unhinged psycho killer), Amiba (good-for-nothing Toki wannabe who murders countless victims in his experiments), and Uigur (sadistic petty tyrant) all are shown to be great threats before Raoh enters the picture. Shin actually gets it even worse; he's eventually revealed to have been manipulated by Jagi.
- In Angel Beats!, Angel is initially set up as the main (and only) enemy of the SSS; later on, it is revealed that she is simply another human soul like the rest of them and only wanted to help them move on from purgatory. She becomes their friend and ally in the fight against the Shadows. The really big twist, however, is the fact that she turns out to be the main Heroine and Otanashi's Love Interest.
- One can actually make a case for Kaiba being this in the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga. His second appearance (his first is as just a Monster of the Week) has him a far greater threat than any opponent Yugi and his friends had faced so far — previous enemies were (with some exceptions) just school bullies, while Kaiba actually tries to kill Yugi and his friends, and for an incredibly petty reason to boot. His climactic showdown with Yugi has a ton of buildup, the heroes get some Character Development for the first time, and at the end, Yugi learns of the existence of his other self, at a point in the story where nothing suggests that said other self is anything more than a Split Personality. Millenium Items other than the Puzzle had been revealed before this point, but not how many there are or any hint that Yugi must eventually acquire them all. The arc has enough of a denouement that a reader completely unfamiliar with the franchise could probably believe that Death-T is the final arc... only to discover that the series lasted for another 33 volumes.
- In the Dark Signer of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, the leader Rudger Godwin is defeated before the two female members. The True Final Boss is his younger brother Rex Godwin.
- In Attack on Titan, Annie, Reiner, and Bertolt turn out to be this. What exactly is worse, has only been hinted towards so far. But the implications aren't good for humanity, if claims of them merely being "small fries" turn out to be accurate.
- In Saki, Koromo Amae is built up as a fearsome mahjong opponent, and the greatest obstacle the protagonists will have to overcome if they want to win the prefectural tournament and advance to the nationals. The first anime series concludes not long after the main characters win the tournament, and Koromo's teammates mention that they were eliminated early on in the tournament, giving some indication of how difficult things will get for the protagonists.
- Bar-Kooda in a Boba Fett miniseries released in 1998 (later collected in TPB format as Death, Lies, and Treachery. The real villain is his older brother, Ry-Kooda.
- Big Tomato in Gear. Emperor Pago, who initially appeared, at best, as an unimportant dupe in Big Tomato's plans, turns out to be the real Big Bad.
- In the Our Worlds At War DCU miniseries event, Imperiex gets upstaged by Brainiac 13 in the middle of the series.
- "The Doctor" (aka Dr. Fu-Manchu) in the original volume of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Moriarty is the real Final Boss.
- The Big Fat Kill, a Sin City miniseries, features Jerk Ass Jack Rafferty and his Mooks harassing Dwight McCarthy's girlfriend and then escaping to Old Town to cause more trouble. By the end of the first issue, you're left wondering what sort of craziness is going to go down once Dwight ends up between Jack and the girls of Old Town. What follows is a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown as Miho takes Jack apart in sadistic fashion. The conflict comes from the fact that Jack was a cop, which leads to the real Big Bad, Manute, stepping in with Wallenquist's enforcers.
- Subverted in Star Wars: Legacy. Darth Krayt is set up as the Big Bad, only to be killed by his previously loyal Dragon Darth Wyyrlok after Krayt goes into a Villainous Breakdown and starts endangering his own vision. But it turns out Krayt figured out how to come Back from the Dead, and he Came Back Strong to boot. Wyyrlok's tenure as Big Bad got cut unceremoniously short, and Krayt ended up the final villain after all.
- Emperor Vakudos from Hottie 3: The Best Fan Fic in the World
- The Biggest Bad from Super Milestone Wars 2. He get's replaced by the King Dyce. Then King Dyce get's replaced, ala Hijacked by Ganon, by Princess Jody, the Big Bad of Super Milestone Wars.
- In Total Drama Battlegrounds, when Sandra was introduced, everyone thought she would be an even worse manipulative, Alpha Bitch than Heather and then she was the first one to be voted off.
- A Dark Knight Over Sin City starts with Batman tracking down the Yellow Bastard. Once he catches up to him, he finds out the Yellow Bastard has been killed by John Hartigan. It's soon clear that The Joker is the final boss.
- Star Kits Prophecy tries to set up TiggerStraw as its Big Bad, with HolyLeaf as his dragon. Then HolyLeaf kills him and TugerKit becomes the real Big Bad.
- The Legend of Spyro: A New Dawn begins with three Big Bads, Deadlock, Empress Tyrania, and Boss Kaze, with Deadlock as the true main antagonist, but Tyrania and Kaze serve as the main villains for most of the first half, at which point they're killed off and Deadlock returns to being The Heavy. After she's defeated and performs a Heel-Face Turn, she turns out to be a Disk One Final Boss herself and her Dragon with an Agenda General Grendel is the real Big Bad who was The Man Behind the Man for all three of the other Big Bads, forcing the group to have a Final Battle with him and the Eldritch Abomination he awakens before all is said and done.
- The Pony POV Series begins with the Discorded Series, which like the series proper has Discord as the Big Bad. In the main timeline, he's defeated and sealed just like in the show, leading to the Reharmonizing Series, where who the main antagonist is gets a bit... trickier. Loneliness, Trixie's Enemy Within, serves as the Big Bad of the story arc to save Trixie, eventually being destroyed by Trixie herself. Then Fluttercruel ends up accidently doing a Break the Cutie on Fluttershy which "Discords" her for real, causing Fluttershy to transform into a Superpowered Evil Side called Princess Gaia, a Well-Intentioned Extremist who begins trying to draw everypony into her Lotus-Eater Machine and serves as the second Big Bad. However, Discord has already been confirmed to escape sometime in the future to be the True Final Boss.
- "Origins": Discord's parents Havoc and Entropy serve as joint-Ultimate Evil for the first half of the arc, but after the Alicorn/Draconqeui War they disappear from the story, allowing Discord to take center stage.
- Dark World starts off with Discord as the Big Bad, but it eventually becomes a Big Bad Ensemble when the Nameless Passenger (the entity manipulating Twilight and her friends) turns out to be evil. Then, Discord is betrayed and mortally wounded by Rancor, and upon his death the Passenger reveals herself to be Nightmare Paradox, Twilight's potential Nightmare self; not only is she the Final Boss, but it turns out she'd been enforcing a "Groundhog Day" Loop on Dark World in order to perpetually torment Discord, making her the Bigger Bad of the timeline from the start.
- The Shining Armor Arc: Makarov and the Wolf are the greatest threats to Shining's continued existence, but the Wolf is also a threat to Makarov as well, for all the damage he's caused to the timeline. Ultimately, it erases him, before turning out to still be after Shining as well, since he's not supposed to exist either.
- In With Strings Attached, Jeft is revealed to be the Big Bad behind most of what happened to the four through the Second and Third Movements. However, after their indirect and unknowing defeat of him, he flees. All seems rosy, except that there's one more Movement to go, and Brox steps in to make things difficult for the four — proving to be worse in many ways, too. Unusual in that the two are in no way related, or even have any awareness of each other.
- In the Azula Trilogy, General Azun is the first Big Bad, and is a very credible threat, a fanatic with a growing army of Fire Nation imperialists determined to restore the Fire Nation to its conquering ways. However, he is defeated at the climax of the first story, and the rest of the trilogy make it clear that he was just one Unwitting Pawn of many of the true Big Bad, Zhan Zheng.
- Invader Zim The Series: Relationship Sue (and yes, that is her name) is the Big Bad of the story's first major Story Arc, but after her defeat at said arc's climax, she disappears. By the time she returns, the Rogues Gallery has grown so large that she's just one antagonist among many, and eventually ends up Demoted to Dragon for Tallest Spork, who establishes himself as the new Big Bad when he gathers most of the other antagonists into a Legion of Doom during the latter end of the story. And then during the final chapters, Spork himself ends up playing Disc One Final Boss to Sarong, who uses him in his plans to wipe out the Irkens once and for all.
- Time Lords and Terror: Matron Hydia is The Heavy for most of the story, carrying out a plot to release the S'Muz and conquer The Multiverse... unfortunately for her, the S'Muz is an Omnicidal Maniac to the extreme, and it proves itself worse than Hydia by rendering her Deader Than Dead before becoming the True Final Boss.
- Ace Combat: The Equestrian War has the main heroines destroy the griffin superweapon in chapter 10. It was certainly an outstanding victory for the ponies. But, as pointed out by the Princesses and Firefly, The War Has Just Begun.
- Doumon in Theory of Chaos. While the readers know from the beginning that she's working for someone else, it's quite a shock when Takato's Superpowered Evil Side comes out halfway through, casually offs her, and then nearly kills the other Tamers. Doumon's master, Daemon, doesn't take the stage until the very last scene and serves as Big Bad for the final story instead.
- Earth and Sky: Diamond Tiara starts out looking like the Big Bad, using the Flim-Flam brothers to try and ruin Harmony Aeronautics, but by the time the Pegalathon starts, has lost complete control of them and is stuck pulling what strings she can for her benefit. And then she gets kidnapped by the changelings and replaced by Chrysalis, beginning her road to a Heel Realization and a Heel-Face Turn.
- Friendship Is Aura: Chrysalis turns out to be a more serious threat than Razorfang, but was still subservient to Lord Tartarus.
- Star Wars: Paranormalities: Maesterus is made out to be the main villain and the leader of the Valkoran Empire throughout Episode I. Even when the Forceless Collective enters the story, he's still the most active villain. By the end of Episode I, it is revealed that he was really being controlled by Valkor, and upon realizing how truly evil Valkor and the Forceless Collective are, he performs a subverted Heroic Sacrifice by throwing Forceless Archfiend Belluzub into Krantisi's sun.
- In The Prayer Warriors Threat of Satanic Commonism, John Lennon is killed about 3/5 of the way through that installment, and the remaining chapters deal with the effort to defeat Stalin.
- Justice League of Equestria: General Zod in Mare of Steel, who's defeated at the end of the first arc, leaving room for Brainiac and Alexander Silversmith in the second (and last) arc.
- Total Drama Some Stars has Mike, who has taken several levels in jerkass, and it's more than implied that this is because Mal, the Superpowered Evil Side Big Bad of All Stars, had much more of an effect on the Split Personality Merge in the finale of that season than Mike would care to admit. This, combined with the canonical nature of this merge, makes him into an absolute force to be reckoned with... And then he's eliminated first by his all-too-Genre Savvy teammates, at Duncan's behest.
Films — Live-Action
- Star Wars:
- The Phantom Menace ends with Yoda and Mace Windu wondering whether the Sith that Obi-Wan slew was the Big Bad or just a Disc One Final Boss. (The audience, having seen him taking orders from a man he calls "master" earlier in the film, knows the answer...and those that hadn't probably could've puzzled it out from the "Episode I" aspect.) However, the in-universe possibility they consider is that they had killed the Big Bad, meaning that the former Disc One Final Boss was now the new Big Bad.
- Count Dooku and General Grievous are this for the first half of Revenge of the Sith.
- Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi.
- The Dark Knight Saga has every major villain fit into this trope. In Batman Begins Carmine Falcone is defeated, only to be revealed as the partner of The Scarecrow, who is later revealed as the puppet of Ra's Al Ghul. In The Dark Knight, the character Gambol, a powerful crime boss, is killed off fairly quickly by The Joker, who is later defeated, only for Batman to then have to encounter Harvey Dent, now Two-Face. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane is defeated by Batman, and then revealed as the partner (and possible lover) of Miranda Tate, who unveils herself as Talia Al Ghul.
- The Big Bad in Last Action Hero appears to be the mob boss, with Benedict as his dragon. As the far more competent Benedict starts to figure out what's going on, he shoots his boss and becomes the real threat himself.
- Especially tricky because the movie is almost over when he's finally taken down: Veck is not the Big Bad of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Commander Kent, the SWAT guy that took over the hostage negotiations and was chasing after Veck with Paul, was actually working with Veck all along. The new villain then gets taken down almost instantly.
- In the classic Rankin/Bass Christmas special Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, the Winter Warlock is hyped up as a terribly powerful, evil being and set up as the villain. However, he is convinced into a Heel-Face Turn by Santa in mid-film, and the dictator who had appeared toward the start of the film, Burgermeister Meisterburger, becomes the movie's Big Bad.
- Betty in Kung Pow!: Enter the Fist, with The Evil Council as the real Big Bad. Or at least they would, if the second film was ever made.
- The first half of Home Alone 2 is mainly about Kevin trying to make sure the hotel staff doesn't wise up to the fact that he's staying in the hotel alone, but after they discover what he's up to and he escapes from the hotel, the rest of the movie involves his conflict with Harry and Marv.
- Thor begins with the Frost Giants invading Asgard. Thor goes to their king, Laufey, believing he was behind the attacks. It is soon revealed that there is a traitor in Asgard and that Laufey was in cohoots with him. The rest of the movie deals with this character as the Big Bad while Laufey disappears for much of the action. He makes a return toward the end of the film and is promptly killed off without ever having fought the main character.
- In Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the gremlin Mohawk, who's been pretty non-interested in leading the other gremlins throughout much of the film, gets killed while the greater part of his brethren are still creating mayhem. The Brain Gremlin effectively assumed his place beforehand. The most dangerous gremlin in the film was likely the Spider Gremlin, but even then, the movie was far from over after it was killed.
- Kill Bill has O-Ren Ishii as the last boss of "disc 1" (volume 1). In true ironic Tarantino scene order, she's actually the first of the main victims of the bride in the storyline.
- In G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, James McCullen (played by Christopher Eccleston) is most definitely this. Because of the heavily publicized fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a more recognizable Hollywood name than Eccleston) was playing the villain, even those who were unfamiliar with Joe mythology couldn't help but understand that McCullen was just a placeholder until the Big Bad revealed himself.
- Iron Man 3: The trailers imply the Mandarin as being the Big Bad. He's not; he's simply a washed-up actor posing as a decoy.
- Subverted in Elysium. At first, Kruger seems like this, but then is revived and kills Delacourt, making her the true Disc One Final Boss.
- In The Wolverine, Shingen is responsible for the yakuza thugs and Logan fights him to end this plot thread and become "the wolverine" again, but there's a bigger villain in play.
- The rival band manager in Miami Connection, who gradually loses his importance to the story after siding with Big Bad Jeff.
- In The Amazing Spiderman 2, Electro definitely qualifies as this, having been defeated before the final Goblin fight.
- Phenomena features an odd one. According to the prophecy Phenomena does, the chosen children have to kill Tarkan on the Gredom Fields. But in the 2nd book, it turns out that Tarkan is merely The Dragon, and King Sherpa, the king from the country in the north, is the Big Bad they have to defeat there, since he's the one behind Tarkan. Gets even more complicated when King Veha defeats Tarkan on the Gredom Fields, and Alk kills Sherpa with his bare hands. If this wasn't confusing enough, the story does not end there, as it's still ongoing into "Phenomena: The Dark Chronicle.
- Mistborn combines this one with Well-Intentioned Extremist and Big Good. The Evil Overlord the protagonists spend the first book overthrowing was a tyrant, sure, but he was also the only thing standing between humanity and the real Big Bad. His death at the end of the first book leaves things wide open for The End of the World as We Know It.
- Depending on how the Alloy of Law era books go, seeing as Ruin has been replaced by Sazed as part of Harmony, the final Big Bad may end up being that of the overarching Cosmere, Odium.
- Thought Tywin Lannister was going to be the main antagonist of A Song of Ice and Fire? Nope! It's actually shaping up to be Littlefinger.
- In Inheritance Cycle, the Big Bad Galbatorix doesn't show up until the final few chapters of the final book. Before then, Eragon concerns himself with hunting down the Ra'zac, the henchmen who killed his uncle.
- Atsurak, the main opponent of the first book of Codex Alera, was taking his orders from Fidelias's boss High Lord Aquitaine.
- All the plotlines of Kitty Takes a Holiday seemed to be wrapped up after the apparent Big Bad is killed. But Reality Ensues when Cormac — who pulled the trigger on the Big Bad — is arrested for murder, sending Kitty and Ben off on a Clear My Name plot that takes up the last third of the book.
- New Jedi Order gives us every character who looks like a Big Bad. The Man Behind the Man? The kriffing court jester (who edges out Darth kriffing Sidious for the title of Most Evil Being In Recorded History).
- Salamander initially sets up Maridon and his pawn Coelus as the villains. By a third of the way through, Maridon is dead and Coelus has gone from Reluctant Mad Scientist to The Lancer.
- Warrior Cats:
- Brokenstar at first seems to be the Big Bad, but then Ravenpaw reveals Tigerclaw is evil. Later, Tigerclaw becomes Tigerstar, and Firestar sets out to defeat him. The stakes are set for an epic battle at Fourtrees... Wait, who's Scourge?
- In Power of Three, at first it seems Tigerstar's ghost is going to be the Big Bad this time. However, in Eclipse, a new villain named Sol appears and takes over ShadowClan. He's on the cover of Long Shadows and the blurb only talks about him. Also, in the prologue, the original leaders show up to talk about much of a threat he is. But then, he's defeated less than halfway through Long Shadows. Then he gets hijacked by Ashfur? Wait no, Ashfur's dead and his killer must be caught. So then Hollyleaf says that the killer is Sol. So the heroes spend Sunrise on a journey to capture Sol. But then Midnight says that Sol didn't kill Ashfur. And finally, we find out the final real not fake this time big bad. Who is it? Would you believe it's Hollyleaf?
- The first book of The Wheel of Time introduces the reader to an enigmatic, powerful figure who goes by Ba'alzamon, one of the lesser-known names of the Dark One, with every implication that he's the Big Bad. At the end of the third book (of fourteen) he's killed off, and it's revealed that he's not and never was the Dark One but rather his Dragon Ishamael, who'd been using one of his boss's names to rally his followers and hunt down his enemies. The real, far more powerful, Dark One is still out there, and as of the second half of the series Ishamael is Back from the Dead too in a new body, now going by Moridin — but no longer presenting himself as Big Bad.
- After Ba'alzamon's death, the series gets a second Disc One Final Boss (Disc Two Final Boss?) in the form of Sammael, one of the Forsaken who uses trickery to get himself set up as de facto ruler of a powerful nation, allowing him to take over the role of the most visible villain. He holds the title for several books, but gets defeated by the midpoint of the series.
- Wizards First Rule, the first book of the Sword of Truth Series, ends with the the defeat of Darken Rahl, the worst guy anybody knows. Then come 10 more books that gradually reveal and portray Richard's struggle against a much worse enemy: socialism!
- The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara has Antrax, who essentially takes over as the Big Bad of the middle book in the series, and is then killed off. Uhl Belk and The Wisteron from The Heritage of Shannara might also count.
- The Haruhi Suzumiya novels don't usually use Story Arcs, but this trope has happened at least twice:
- The very first novel is self-contained, and could easily be considered a standalone work, so Haruhi herself could be considered this when she almost recreates the world at the climax.
- The Anti-SOS Brigade in general, and Fujiwara in particular. Their plot is the focus of three novels and is foreshadowed even earlier. Fujiwara and Kuyou's attempted deicide makes them the first real threat in the series. They're this trope because the climactic battle fooled so many readers into thinking this was the end of the series that Word of God had to step in and state otherwise.
- In Sukhinov's Emerald City Decalogy, Corina is this. She gets a lot of development early on (even being Villain Protagonist for a while), and then is deposed in book 2. For a while, it looks like she may return to a threat status, but she is quickly Stuffed into the Fridge, and the actual Big Bad takes over.
- The first twelve books of The Dresden Files revolve around the war between the White Council wizards and the Red Court vampires, with the amorphous Black Council serving as the ostensible Bigger Bad. As of the end of Changes, the Red Court has been wiped off the face of the earth, leaving the series in need of a new major threat that is ultimately provided by The Outsiders and Nemesis, the latter of which is either a tool of the Black Council or the weapon that created it to begin with.
- The first book of the Dragonlance Ergoth Trilogy introduces the reader almost immediately to Spannuth Grane, a Magic Knight, Darth Vader Clone and Dragon-in-Chief to the Pakin Pretender, with every indication that he'll be the main villain of the series. Tol proceeds to defeat and kill him halfway through the book. This act, however, brings Tol to the attention of the Emperor's court, where he meets his real enemies—the Big Bad Ensemble of Prince Nazramin and Mandes.
- Paranoia: Adam Cassidy, forced by blackmail by Nick Wyatt to infiltrate Trion Industries, has his first boss be Nora Sommers. Nora looks for reasons to humiliate him in front of his coworkers, tries to get him to say something discouraging or worth firing over, and when he shows her up as a meeting in front of her boss, she tries to reassigned to North Carolina where his career would be over. By luck of making such a good impression with the boss, he is made personal assistant, and Nora spends the rest of the book being as sweet as possible to him.
- Toby Homolka of the Ahriman Trilogy appears to be the one behind everything, as he was commanding the massacre of the Bell family. As it turns out, he has a master with bigger plans, plans that he managed to screw up by being overzealous and lucky.
- 24: Begins each season with henchmen taking orders from a boss, who reports to yet another boss, and so on until we meet a boss of sufficient charisma to drive the rest of the season.
- And then sometimes, that boss will report to someone from the NEXT season, and it goes on and on and on...
- Played especially straight in Season 1, where the creators prepared for the possibility that they wouldn't be allowed to bring the season to its proper close and set episode 13 up to be capable of serving as a finale if need be, with Ira Gaines serving as the final boss.
- Season 3 is notable for being the only time the Big Bad of the season follows this trope. While all other seasons wait until the final episode before Jack is finally able to bring the main antagonist down, the third season villain is captured a few episodes before the finale, and the rest of it is devoted to stopping his henchmen from carrying out his plans now that he's out of the picture.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 2's faux Big Bad Daniel Whitehall...AND IS HE EVER!
- American Horror Story: Many viewers did not expect for Twisty the Killer Clown to be killed off in Episode 4 of the Freakshow storyline, after being billed as a main antagonist.
- Angel: The Beast appeared to be the major force of destruction that all the prophecies warned about, and it took the characters quite a while to figure out that it was working for a supernatural being more powerful than itself — and longer still to figure out the identity of this more powerful Big Bad. In fact, the Beast even manages to be a Disc One Final Boss to ITSELF. After discovering that Angelus has knowledge of the Beast that has been retconned out of all memories and records on Earth through powerful magic, they enlist the help of a mystic who creates a dream sequence in which they find a magical sword that can kill the Beast, so that Angel will experience the perfect happiness needed to bring Angelus back. So Dream Beast bites the dust... and then Angelus awakens and the Beast still needs to be dealt with. With the added fun of having Angelus around.
- Babylon 5:
- Avoided in the fourth season. Just six episodes into the season, the Shadows are persuaded to leave the galaxy and never come back. "Aha," the audience thinks, "we've only just started the season, so we must see them again at some point." No, we don't. They really are gone. Much of the rest of the series deals with cleaning up what they left behind.
- Played straight with the main villains of the first season — the Raiders get taken out by the Shadows when they first show up, and the Home Guard terrorists become irrelevant once President Clark, who supports their ideology but has far superior power and resources, takes office.
- Battlestar Galactica: During the first half of the first season, the "Skinjobs" running the Cylon force seem to be operating on an equal footing, with no hierarchy and all decisions made collectively. Then we are introduced to D'Anna, aka Cylon Model 3. The next time we see 3 interacting with other Cylons, she seems to be taking a more dominant role — the majority of aggressive decisions are made by her, and other Cylon models seem rather intimidated by her presence. Then the season 2 finale introduces Brother Cavill, aka Model 1, who, amongst other things has the entire Model 3 line 'boxed' when D'Anna sees the faces of the final five, and quickly becomes the dominant model (at least, amongst those who don't side with the humans in Season 4), firmly establishing himself as the Big Bad.
- In the third season of Breaking Bad, "The Cousins", a pair of Salamanca Cartel enforcers who sneak across the border hoping to kill Walt and Hank, are introduced in the season opener and set up as the season's biggest threat. Midway through Season 3, in "One Minute", they're both betrayed by Gus Fring — leading to their deaths, and setting Gus up as the Big Bad of Season 4 as he begins plotting Walt's demise.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The fandom refers to these guys as "Little Bads." They show up early on during the season and cause a great deal of trouble for Buffy and crew, but get incapacitated or killed off sometime after the season's midpoint, after which the real Big Bad of the season takes center stage.
- Happens twice in Season 2 alone; first the Anointed One, who takes charge after the Master's defeat, who himself is killed by Spike a few episodes in. Spike and Drusilla then cause the main trouble of mid-season two. Spike reappears crippled in episode 13, and in the very next episode, Buffy and Angel have their little moment of romance, which triggers Angel's Curse Escape Clause and results in the reemergence of Angelus, who becomes the Big Bad for the rest of the season.
- Mr. Trick in the third season is more of a fake Dragon. He joins up with The Mayor shortly after his arrival in Sunnydale, but is killed by Faith, who takes over his position with the Mayor.
- In season 4, Dr. Walsh and the Initiative filled the early villain role, though Dr. Walsh wasn't actually out to get Buffy until she became too much of a threat to the Initiative's plans. Then episode 13 comes along, in which Walsh betrays Buffy and is subsequently killed off by the true Big Bad, Adam.
- In the 6th season, Warren and his two cohorts appear to be the Big Bad for the season... right up until Warren shoots through a second-floor window while trying to kill Buffy, and the bullet meant for her kills Willow's girlfriend Tara instead. This proves to be a colossal mistake, as Willow snaps out, kills Warren, goes after his buddies, and then tries to destroy the world.
- In an example that doesn't follow the formula, in the first episode of the 5th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dracula is introduced in such a way to make it appear that he'll be a major force in the season, especially with his ability to reform after being killed... then leaves Sunnydale forever at the end of the episode. The actual Big Bad, Glory, shows up in episode 5. In a particularly elegant example of misdirection, the entire ad campaign that had been running in the weeks leading up to the premiere played up Dracula as the season's Big Bad. This was really a cross-promotion with the Vlad miniseries on a neighboring station owned by the same conglomerate.
- Adam from Season 4 (who is the only Big Bad who is killed in an episode other than the finale) acts as a disc one final boss to the first slayer, who believes Buffy has too many shortcomings to do her job properly.
- Burn Notice: The third season sets up Psycho for Hire Gilroy as the scary Big Bad for most of the season. Then, the episode right before the finale, he's killed and Simon — who was more-or-less a living MacGuffin beforehand — turns out to be the real villain.
- Chuck: In season one and two, we have the leaders of FULCRUM, towards the end of season two we have their main boss, Ted Roark, and in season three we have his boss, The Director, while Shaw becomes the Dragon Ascendant for the last half of the season. Then in the last four episodes of the series, it's discovered that Nicholas Quinn was secretly the driving force behind FULCRUM and the Ring.
- Defiance: Nicolette is set up in the pilot as the Big Bad, being behind both the Volge attack and the conspiracy to get at whatever is buried underneath Defiance. However, near the end of the season, Doc Yewll decides she's gone too far past the Moral Event Horizon and kills her, making it look like suicide. This now leaves Datak, the corrupt Earth Republic (represented by Colonel Marsh), and possibly Yewll herself as potential Big Bads.
- As of the season finale, Datak was reduced to being Colonel Marsh's puppet and killed him in retaliation, meaning the E-Rep will probably kill/arrest him and Stahma, while Yewll turns out to be The Atoner. So it looks like the Earth Republic as a whole will be the Big Bad after all.
- Doctor Who: The serial The War Games has a series of villains of increasing threat, but once the War Chief shows up, you're sure it's him... and then the Time Lords execute and exile the Doctor. (Indeed, the War Chief turns out to merely be the Dragon/Starscream to the War Lord, resulting in the last two episodes consisting of the War Lord killing the War Chief and the Time Lords killing the War Lord before they turn their attention to the Doctor.)
- The Invasion of Time is a particularly effective example. The serial deals with the Doctor's fight against the Vardans, which plays out over four episodes (the most common length of a serial) and reaches a clear conclusion at the end of episode four with a typical final scene full of goodbyes, when suddenly the Sontarans show up, revealing the entire Vardan invasion to be a set-up to disable the defense system, and the serial continues for an additional two episodes.
- In the episode "The Long Game", the evil owners of Satellite Five are destroyed, with the implication that mankind's development will speed up after the Editor and the Mighty Jagrafess stunted it. Instead, it's learnt that the Daleks have been manipulating the Earth, with the antagonists of the episode being just a small step, causing the planet to fall into depression, transporting humans to deadly game shows. The Daleks make themselves known when the Doctor is taken back to Satellite Five 100 years and five episodes later in "Bad Wolf".
- FlashForward (2009): D. Gibbons/Dyson Frost. Not only was he not the real Big Bad, but he was actually trying to defect to the heroes' side in order to prevent the impending apocalypse. Too bad he got shot.
- Game of Thrones: Viserys Targaryen is set up as a major threat, only to die at the end of the sixth episode of Season 1; similarly, King Joffrey Baratheon is killed off in the second episode of Season 4, after being set up for the least three seasons as one of the main villains. Technically every villain is this, as the real threat (White Walkers) still haven't arrived.
- Kamen Rider Gaim had Takatora, the Overseer of Yggdrasil be the main villain, plotting everything from the hero receiving his powers to ruling over the city with an iron fist. Even after he reveals his intentions and becomes more of an anti-villain, he and his band of Riders still become the antagonists for Kouta... At least until the latter has a Heroic BSOD and is talked out of it by an employee of Yggdrasil that Takatora ceases to be a major threat, as he also reveals the true villain of the story, the Overlords. However, they don't become major villains until one of them gets into the city and wrecks it up... That and after Takatora gets upstaged by his allies and left for dead. And even then their time was short. The three closest contenders were Roshuo, the King of the Overlords who holds the key to stopping the world from ending, but insists otherwise because Humans Are the Real Monsters. Mitsuzane, Takatora's little brother who took up his mantle and has a personal vendetta against Kouta, and Redyue, the Psychopathic Womanchild who is manipulating Mitsuzane to his downfall. After they danced their way out (taking Ryoma with them, the true Big Bad finally steps in, with the true villain hanging in the shadows uncontested.
- Kamen Rider OOO: Kazari had been the main villain most of the series, and if not him, then the Greeed as a whole. Then towards the final act, Dr. Maki takes the role by force and killed Kazari.
- LOST: At first, it looks like Tom Friendly was the show's Big Bad, only to have him be reduced to the role of The Brute in the Others' Five-Bad Band under supposed Big Bad Benjamin Linus, who in-turn was the alleged Dragon to Jacob. Jacob, it turns out, is actually the Big Good, and the real-true-honest this time Big Bad is an entity so far only known as "The Man in Black" / "The Smoke Monster". Other pretenders to the Big Bad throne include Charles Widmore, Alvar Hanso, and Richard Alpert.
- Merlin: In the first season finale, Arthur and Merlin go up against the Questing Beast. Merlin kills it before the ten minute mark, and the rest of the episode revolves around the fatal wound that it delivers to Arthur.
- Power Rangers S.P.D.: Emperor Gruumm is played as the main villain for the first half of the series, then starts making veiled references to a "Magnificence" which he worships. Only in the final episode is this revealed to be "Omni", a giant malevolent brain which Grumm has been secretly serving as lieutenant.
- "Veiled" is being nice. "Confusing" is more accurate, considering half the time Grumm implies that the Magnificence is a Doomsday Device he's building, not a person. You get the impression that the writers couldn't figure out what he was talking about either until the last two episodes. note
- There's also several instances of the Big Bad not being the Big Bad, but getting taken out about 1/3 of the way through the season. Diabolico and Morticon were this way. If the main villain is defeated too early in the series, sometimes he gets better, but sometimes someone else comes along. And sometimes someone else comes along, and the disc one boss gets better later.
- Primeval: Christine Johnson is the most prominent threat of series 3, only to be killed off in the second-last episode and replaced by Helen Cutter, who poses an even bigger threat.
- Revolution: For most of the first season, General Sebastian "Bass" Monroe and Randall Flynn have proven to be serious threats, the former in charge of his own republic along with men and weapons, and the latter having the inside track to getting the power back on along with power pendants that he supplies Monroe with from episode 11 onward. The first season finale first has Bass running off without any power, and his Republic is taken over by his former subordinate Tom Neville. Second, it has Randall, upon the power being turned back on, using the opportunity to launch Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to wipe the Monroe Republic and Georgian Federation off the face of the earth, and then committing suicide with his own gun. Finally, it turns out that Randall had been working for the U.S. government in exile all along, and now that he has completed his mission in getting the power back on, the government intends to come back into the U.S.A. and take back what's theirs.
- Smallville: Slade Wilson is a General Ripper who causes serious problems for the main cast in the first half of Season 10, leading the Vigilante Registration Agency in its attempts to force Superheroes to comply with the VRA's dictates. He kidnaps members of the Justice League and subjects them to Cold-Blooded Torture, nearly kills Clark with Kryptonite, and kills Hawkman in a Sword Fight right before being trapped in the Phantom Zone by Clark. Yet despite this list of achievements, he's still the Unwitting Pawn of Darkseid, and his defeat marks the foiling of only a part of the true Big Bad's plans.
- Both Brainiac and Lex fill this role in Season 8. They're both major villains from previous seasons who return to the show after a huge plot build-up, inflicting massive damage in the process. Brainiac drives most of the plot in the first half of the season, before being defeated in episode 11. Then, just as everyone is getting their breathing back to normal, Lex re-emerges, permanently ruining Clark and Lana's relationship and nearly taking half of Metropolis with him before being uncerimoniously blown up by Oliver. It's shortly afterwards that the real Final Boss emerges: Doomsday, whom both had considered little more than a pawn.
- Season 10 has another example right at the beginning: while Clark is hovering between life and death after his battle with Zod in the previous season finale, Jor-El warns him of a coming evil, and he has a vision of what appears to be Lex. Returning to life, he is then confronted by a demented, deformed clone of Lex, who he quickly defeats — only to find out that Jor-El didn't give a damn about the clone. He was talking about Darkseid.
- Lionel Luthor is this in Season 4. Having gone to prison at the end of Season 3, he spends the first half of Season 4 screwing with the cast from behind bars. After his release, one would expect him to pick up where he left off. Instead, he makes an attempt at going straight, and Geneveive Teague takes over as Big Bad.
- Sons of Anarchy: Lee Toric in season 6. After being set up as the Big Bad at the end of season 5 and driving the plot for 4 episodes of season 6, he is killed off suddenly and the focus shifts to the club's conflict with Irish and Tyne Patterson's attempt to take down the club.
- Supernatural: Crowley, having become King of Hell during the Time Skip between Seasons Five and Six, seems set up to take over the role of Big Bad. However, halfway through the season, he's killed off by the Winchesters and Castiel. Now, the role of Big Bad seems to be falling to the newly introduced being known as "The Mother of All".
- However, in "Mommy Dearest", just a few episodes before the season finale, not only is the Mother killed, but we discover that Crowley is still alive. So, this is a case of the apparent Disc One Final Boss turning out to be the true Big Bad after all, with the person we thought was the Big Bad turning out to actually be the Disc One Final Boss...anyone got anything for a headache?
- And then, in the season finale, it turns out that Crowley, the Mother, and Raphael were all Disc One Final Bosses to Castiel of all people, who ends the season by declaring himself the new God and demanding that the heroes bow down to him.
- Super Sentai: Happens occasionally across the series:
- Ninja Sentai Kakuranger has Young Noble Junior/Gasha Skull, prince of the Youkai Army Corps. He's killed about three-fifths of the way in, and his death provides the last bit of power needed to release the seal trapping his father Daimaou (Arch Demon), the true Big Bad.
- In Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger, three Highness Dukes each take their turn at the top of the Org hierarchy. The finale has all three revived and later fused into the final villain, Senki.
- Mahou Sentai Magiranger starts with General Branken running the show for Infershia. He dies around Episode 17, with the next leader being Meemy, the traitorous Heavenly Saint Raigel, for a Disc Two Final Boss. Then he dies, predicting the rise of the Hades Gods, and, wouldn't you know it, up they come with Dagon, swiftly making it clear that he is the leader here. However, from the first few minutes of Episode 1, it's made clear that the guy all of Infershia is ultimately answering to is Beast Emperor N'Ma, making Branken and Meemy and Dagon The Dragon.
- In Tensou Sentai Goseiger, similar to Gaoranger, there are three Disk One Final Bosses. The first is Warstar, the next is the Yuumajuu, and the final one is Matrintis. The final big bad is Buredoran, who was with all these groups all this time.
- Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger has the rather pathetic "Well Done, Son!" Guy Prince Walz Gill, son of fearsome Emperor Akudos Gill of the Space Empire Zangyack, leading the Empire's invasion of Earth. In #38, distraught over the loss of Barizorg, who he considered his only real friend despite being a subservient cyborg servant, Walz Gill decided to fight the Gokaigers himself, which resulted in his death. After Walz's death, the Emperor steps in and takes direct leadership of the invasion, becoming the true Big Bad.
- Averted Trope in Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters, which starts with the Big Bad position being held by a computer virus called Messiah, leader of the Vaglass organization. Messiah met a premature demise in #30. Rumours of a total retool of the show proved to be false, however. It is revealed that Messiah survived, living on through the 13 Messiah Cards, each of which has the potential to become a Metaroid which can be possessed by Messiah. However, with Messiah's current state, his holographic servant Enter seems to be becoming more in control.
- Survivor: A very common trope, due to the way the game can play out. Editing can sometimes mislead the viewer into thinking that a character will be important and/or unstoppable, only to be either a) taken out by a twist, b) taken out by the even bigger threat, or c) their tribe has enough of them and decides to get rid of them:
- Silas Gaither in Africa, the leader of the Samburu, controlled the game after eliminating tribal leader Carl, and him and his "Mallrat" alliance, made up of younger and lazier kids, were the most despised group at that point on the show as they picked off the older members. Then comes the first ever Tribal Swap, sending Silas and the last two remaining elders over to Boran, where everyone hated him enough to throw the immunity challenge and vote him out.
- Boston Rob filled this role in Marquesas. He was a fairly strong strategist before the merge, and once the merge started, he continued to strategize by trying to topple the other strategic mastermind John by planting seeds of dissent in the heads of John's alliance-mates Kathy and Zoe. His attempts backfired and got him voted out... but not for nothing: in the next episode, his remaining alliance-mates convinced Kathy, along with outsiders Paschal and Neleh, to join together and vote against John.
- Shawn in Pearl Islands, at least for Jonny Fairplay. When Rupert, Christa, and Sandra are forced to choose between keeping Fairplay or Shawn for the merge, they chose Fairplay over Shawn since he's "more trustworthy". Fittingly, Fairplay signs his vote for Shawn with a "F#%k You!".
- "Rocky" in Fiji. He was disliked for his bossy and rude attitude, but survived because he was strong despite being on the Can't Catch Up tribe. He even survives over the much more likable Anthony because he was strong and could possibly win them the much-needed immunity. Through a combination of twists (Lisi being sent to exile and would join the tribe that lost immunity, making them break even) and tribal switches, and with the merge just around the corner, his tribe finally decides they had enough.
- Jaime Dugan in China. She masterminds the elimination of one of Fei Long's strongest members, but then gets the Humiliation Conga edit after mistaking a wooden tile for a hidden immunity idol and being blindsided at the merge.
- Ace Gordon was the master strategist of Gabon... at least until Fang's last Tribal Council. Thanks to some quick thinking by the eventual villain Kenny, he and Crystal managed to flip Sugar onto their side by convincing her Ace was only using her for her hidden immunity idol. At a 5 person tribal council, Ace is sent home 3-2 over Crystal.
- Brendan Synnott appeared to have Tocantins in hand... until the first post-merge Tribal Council. Because he mishandled allies Taj and Stephen — who he'd joined up with during the stays at Exile Island — they along with J.T. joined up with Coach's "Warrior Alliance" and blindsided Brendan, getting rid of his idol in the process. Guess what Coach's nickname for him was?
- Boston Rob again in Heroes vs. Villains — when Coach sits on the fence when the Russell/Rob feud reaches its climax, his indecision allows Jerri to flip and gets Rob voted out 4-3-1 only one Tribal Council before the merge.
- A Dual Boss of sorts in Nicaragua — Marty Piombo and Brenda Lowe were both the huge power players of the season, eliminated one after the other after the merge. Marty is eliminated when Jane finally convinces the majority to get rid of him after slandering her at the previous tribal council, and Brenda is voted out next Tribal Council when everyone realises how powerful she's become and don't want her to get any further.
- One World features maybe the epitome of this trope in the context of Survivor in Colton Cumbie, a Camp Gay Smug Snake Manipulative Bastard Ascended Fanboy who, over the course of the pre-merge portion of the game, took control of his tribe, acquired a Hidden Immunity Idol, was the focal point of much of the editing, and looked poised to be one of the most loathsome villains the show has ever seen... and then he got appendicitis and had to be medivaced from the game, after which point the tribes merged.
- True Blood: Did this in their second season. The main plot of the season seemed to revolve around Sookie, Eric, and Bill rescuing Godric from religious fanatics in Dallas. When they finally invaded the Fellowship of the Sun's church mid-season, they had a face to face with Reverend Steve Newlin, but he is defeated rather easily and moreover, Godric manages to pull off a peaceful resolution. Returning to Bon Temps, Sookie and Jason found it to be overtaken with people acting like idiots, only to discover that Maryann Forrester, a seemingly innocent social worker who was introduced in season 1, was a bloodthirsty maenad bent on cutting out the heart of Sookie's boss and friend Sam Merlotte. Maryann's defeat didn't come until the final episode of the season, subsequently.
- The Vampire Diaries: Does this in season 2 when most people thought Katherine was the main villain. It was actually the top vampire Klaus.
- Zorro: The 1950s Disney series had The Hero fighting the evil Capitan Monistario — who found himself Hoist by His Own Petard after only 13 episodes, halfway through the first season.
- In Higurashi: When They Cry, it seems that the curse of Oyashiro-sama is to blame for the main characters going crazy and the bloodshed that follows...Surprise! Oyashiro is one of the good guys! It's actually a disease that causes the insanity.
- Played more straight in Umineko: When They Cry. Beatrice spends the first half of the story as a dog-kicking sadistic Troll who wants to make Battler surrender to her, and she is defeated in an awesome and fancy final battle. In Chiru, it turns out it was all an act: she loved Battler and wanted him to discover the truth, which he wasn't even close to solving in the "final battle". When he does reach it, she's already dead. Bernkastel takes the position of the Big Bad from that point on.
- Due to the branching storypaths, most villains in the Nasuverse will fall under this.
- Tsukihime: In the near-side routes, Nrvnqsr plays this role before Roa takes the stage. SHIKI is quietly killed off and replaced by Akiha in Kohaku's route, which is the last one.
- Fate/zero quietly shoves Tokiomi Tohsaka, Rin's father and the guy everyone expected to be a very serious contender, to the side and Kotomine takes his Servant.
- Fate/stay night: In the Fate route, Berserker is this, and in Unlimited Blade Works, Caster is the disc one while Archer is the disc two. In both routes, Gilgamesh is the True Final Boss, and in Heaven's Feel Zouken makes it to the end, at which point Sakura effortlessly destroys him and True Assassin. She also ate Gilgamesh about halfway through. Nom nom nom. The two big fights are against Sakura herself, the love interest, and Kotomine, who really ought to be dead. Obviously, he isn't because that wouldn't be interesting enough.
- Played with in Kara no Kyoukai, where Souren Araya really was the Big Bad, and was killed off in Movie 5. The two remaining movies explore loose plot threads and places Lio Shirazumi as Araya's final pawn and the last threat to Shiki.
- Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth sets up Case 5 as though you are going after The Yatagarasu, which in and of itself features several game-ending-worthy reveals, but count your evidence: there's more to go and there will be a very long, standing-room-only conversation in a hallway before this game is over.
- In the fourth case of the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game, you manage to expose the true murderer of Robert Hammond, Yanni Yogi, and when everything seems to be over, Edgeworth claims responsibility for the DL-6 incident, on the last day before the Statute of Limitations expires, and you have to find the true murderer from that incident. The port also adds a fifth case. But not until after rolling the credits as normal at the end of case 4.
- The last case of the third game has recurring villain Dahlia Hawthorne set up as the villain again as The Heavy to Morgan Fey. However, while the two are responsible for the events of the case, they weren't able to kill their target. Instead, after Dahlia is beaten, the case continues as the true killer is revealed to be Prosecutor Godot.
- In Dangan Ronpa, Monobear turns out to be a proxy for the real mastermind behind the events of the game, Junko Enoshima.
- In Homestuck, Jack Noir is the primary villain for most of the series. John in particular thought he was the Big Bad. He is pretty shocked when Vriska tells him that there's a far more powerful and evil villain out there — the time-traveling nigh-omnipotent cherub Caliborn, AKA Lord English — who is responsible for starting the entire mess they are facing. She even says that Jack isn't really evil enough to be the Big Bad. He's "just" a murderous asshole.
- Although in another sense, Jack didn't even become the Big Bad until after he offed the Black King and Queen. These two were the Big Bad duo for almost all other sessions of the game, yet turned out to be astronomically small potatoes in comparison to Jack and then Lord English.
- In fact, Homestuck is full of separate instances where characters think one person is the final boss, only to find out another is. The Black Kingdom royal family, Jack Noir, Doc Scratch, Her Imperious Condescension... Thankfully, at least so far, it's pretty obvious that Lord English is, for real this time, the actual Big Bad. We mean it. Unless he's not. Wouldn't put anything past Andrew Hussie.
- In Legion Of Superheroes, Imperiex is the Big Bad for most of the second season. In a possible nod to the Our Worlds At War storyline, in the comics he is usurped by Brainiac.
- Admiral Zhao in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Actually, defeating him was necessary to make the hero important enough to make the Big Bad focus on him.
- Before Zhao, Zuko was the main enemy to the group. Zhao just turned out to be even worse. After Zhao's defeat, the far more dangerous Azula took his place, but the True Final Boss was always Ozai, no matter who he sent after the group.
- Total Drama:
- In Season 2 (Action), Justin is positioned as the manipulative main antagonist, only to be defeated/replaced by the seriously OOC Courtney in "The Princess Pride".
- In Season 4 (Revenge of the Island), Scott is positioned as the weaselly main antagonist, only to be eliminated in "Eat, Puke, and Be Wary". Lightning, after he Took a Level in Jerkass upon accidentaly giving Cameron the win in said episode, becomes the main antagonist in the finale, and wins against him in the alternate ending.
- In Season 5.2 (Pahkitew Island), Amy, while not the Big Bad, served as the Starter Villain, only to be quickly eliminated after being Out-Gambitted by her sister, later, Scarlett is revealed to be the true main antagonist in "Scarlett Fever"; unfortunately, she gets eliminated along with Max in the same episode. Sugar then replaces her, but she gets eliminated in the final three. Dave then replaces her in the finale, after learning that Sky already has a boyfriend, upon which his Sanity Slippage gets worse.
- Alvin the Treacherous in Dragons: Riders of Berk acts as a recurring antagonist in season 1 and looks like he'll be a larger threat in Defenders of Berk, then in the second half of "A View to a Skrill" he's attacked and nearly killed by Hiccup's Evil Counterpart Dagur the Deranged, who then takes control of the Outcasts in Alvin's stead and looks like he'll be the main villain from then on. Meanwhile, Alvin returns to Berk in the finale and allies with Hiccup and company to defeat Dagur.