: I'm Strong Bad, and you don't know it yet, but I'm the reason you're here. Homestar Runner
: It's true. Strong Bad
: Check me out! No, seriously, check me out.
The term "Dark Horse" has its origin in horse racing. A relatively unknown horse would be risky to place bets on, compared to a horse with a known track record, because the gamblers would be "in the dark," so when an unknown horse won a race it was called a "Dark Horse Victory
." The term is also used in politics to describe a lesser known candidate who does better than expected in an election.
Generally, it's used to describe a side character making up part of the Ensemble, either a non-lead secondary character or a mere Flat Character
, who can sometimes become unexpectedly popular
with the fandom (sometimes, even more than the lead characters) depending on who
is, as well as what the other characters are like in comparison (for example, the hero is not as popular because s/he is too much The Everyman). Often, this can happen because the character has very few character traits, allowing fans to imagine this character to have traits that they like. The Ensemble Dark Horse
can sometimes be viewed as the character equivalent of a Cult Classic
The writers or producers may be tempted to Retool
the show's premise to put them in the spotlight
. Sometimes this works, but usually it's a bad idea for two reasons, both relating to what happens when you take a supporting character and move him or her into The Protagonist
's position. The first is that writers often "adjust" the character so that s/he can fit into a conventionally heroic role — in the process destroying the unconventional traits
that made the character an Ensemble Dark Horse in the first place. The second is that if the writers don't do this, traits that were entertaining in a secondary character may become grating and unpleasant in The Protagonist
However, it's still good business to bring Dark Horse characters back, even if they were originally meant to be featured for only a short time. Thus, episodes which do not specifically require a certain character will be more likely to use the Ensemble Dark Horse.
Occasionally, if an antagonist becomes a Dark Horse, the writer may decide to have them perform a Heel-Face Turn
in situations where the only other option is being killed by the protagonists. However, if the series doesn't have an end planned, it's more likely that they'll just escape.
If the Ensemble Dark Horse becomes
an important character, they're now a Breakout Character
. See also Adaptational Badass
, Ascended Extra
, Memetic Bystander
, Lower Deck Episode
, A Day in the Limelight
, and One-Scene Wonder
. Creator's Pet
is the polar opposite, a character who the writer grows fond of but the fans do not. An antagonist who becomes popular despite the author's intentions is Draco in Leather Pants
— an example of Misaimed Fandom
. The natural extension of this is the Spotlight-Stealing Squad