"I follow the strongest side!Sub-Trope of Defeat Means Friendship. In a normal Defeat Means Friendship scenario, someone formerly opposed to the hero joins their side or at least becomes more affable towards them shortly after being defeated by them. In this trope, the defeat is the sole reason for their Heel–Face Turn. The defeated character effectively says, "Okay, now that I know you're stronger, I'm gonna join up with you now. " The reasons for this varies:
...That is all I have ever known."
...That is all I have ever known."
— King Bulblin, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
- They're a Proud Warrior Race Guy, Blood Knight, or other character type that admires strength. Since you proved to be stronger than them, they respect you enough to want to help you.
- They're an Opportunistic Bastard who feels that his/her interests would be better served on the hero's side.
- They wanted to join the hero's side all along. They just wanted to test the hero's power first.
- They're a Dirty Coward who doesn't want the hero to finish them off.
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Anime And Manga
- Kenpachi Zaraki in Bleach eventually does a Heel–Face Turn (sort of, it's complicated) and decides to help out Ichigo and his True Companions, on the basis that if Ichigo survives, Zaraki will get to fight him again.
- In Rei's first appearance in Fist of the North Star, he's helping bandits to invade Mamiya's village, but then betrays them when he sees how strong Kenshiro is and uses this trope as justification.
- Stratos 4:
Mikaze: Whose side are you on?
Karin: *pause* The winning side.
- Thorkell in Vinland Saga repeatedly inverts this trope, in that he tends to join the weakest side because the stronger side is more fun to fight. He ends up playing it straight after being beaten up by Thorfinn and then stared down by Canute — of course, the fact that the latter has proclaimed that he's going to pick a fight with the King of Denmark may also be a contributing factor.
- Breo's girlfriend in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, who automatically dumped him and hit on the guy who beat him.
- Monster Rancher: When Durahan's attempt at overthrowing Moo fails, his Dragon Lilim betrays him, revealing that she prefers to serve powerful men, and his failure proves that Moo's stronger than him.
- In My Bride Is a Mermaid, Chimp served as Kai's Hypercompetent Sidekick, but his allegiance switches to Akeno. When Kai protests, Chimp says that he was only serving him because he was the toughest, but now, not only is Akeno tougher than Kai, she is a really hot girl. When Akeno kicks Chimp to the curb, he apologizes for his foolishness and returns to Kai's service.
- Kendappa-ou in RG Veda. She claims to like strong people, and despise weakness, resolving to serve the tyrant Taishakuten as long as she lives. Even if it means killing the only person she ever loved, because she cannot go back on her word.
- The Spriggan Twelve of Fairy Tail are twelve extremely powerful mages who serve Emperor Spriggan of the Albareth Empire as his Praetorian Guard. Prime Minister Yajeel's conversation with Markarov implies that the main reason they follow Spriggan is because even they pale in comparison to him.
- In Fate/Apocrypha, William Shakespeare is a Caster class Servant. He is only willing to work for whoever he considers the "main character" and will abandon them if someone comes along who better fits that description. This carries on to his appearance in Fate/Grand Order.
- Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog: Sergeant Simian only works for the strongest; when Scourge attempted to win over the Destructix into working for him, he had to convince Simian that he was strong enough to earn the latter's respect and loyalty.
- In his earliest appearances in Superman comics, Bibbo Bibbowski was like this - He broke his hand punching Superman, and from then on Superman was his "fav'rit" because he was tough. When he saw the Man of Steel getting beaten up by Lobo, his reaction was "Yer even tougher than Superman. Yer my new fav'rit". In later appearances he respected Superman for always doing the right thing.
- In Untold Tales of Blackest Night, the Rainbow Raiders (a group carrying on the legacy of the original Rainbow Raider) attempted to side with the Black Lantern Corps. However, they have no idea how becoming a Black Lantern actually works and end up killing themselves for nothing.
- In Final Crisis, Kalibak's forces follow the strongest. So when Kalibak himself ends stomped by Tawky Tawny, he orders his warriors to gang up on him. They refuse, as, well, his defeat has already kind of proven he's not the strongest.
- Blazing Saddles. After Sheriff Bart has defeated Mongo:
Mongo: Mongo stay with Sheriff Bart. Sheriff first man ever whip Mongo. Mongo impressed, have deep feelings for Sheriff Bart.
- Sao Feng, in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End says "There is no honor in fighting for the weaker side" when it's revealed he's been working with the Royal Navy.
- Every single member of the kif species from the Chanur Novels by C. J. Cherryh. Since the kif have nothing that's recognizable to other oxygen breathing species as a conscience or sense of morality, this is how their entire society is organized.
- Harry Potter:
Your devotion is nothing more than cowardice. You would not be here if you had anywhere else to go.
- The Dirty Coward Wormtail attaches himself to "the biggest bully in the playground"; the Big Bad even calls him on this:
- Magic wands in the Potter Verse function as Loyal Phlebotinum for their specific owners but may switch allegiance via You Kill It, You Bought It. For some especially fickle wands like the legendarily powerful Elder Wand, you don't even need to kill anyone; beating the owner in a Wizard Duel can work just as well even if nobody dies. Granted, acquiring the Elder Wand in particular tends to entail murdering the owner outside the context of a duel, since beating it in a fair fight is nigh impossible, the only known instance being when Albus Dumbledore defeated Gellert Grindelwald (even then, we don't know the exact details on how it happened). But you can also apparently wrest control of the wand by disarming its owner before a fight can even begin. The Elder Wand can even shift loyalty by proxy if the owner loses a duel while using a different wand. That's how fickle the Elder Wand is, people.
- In Destiny of an Emperor, Lu Bu decides to serve Yuan Shao upon seeing how big and powerful his army is.
- Near the end of the second book in Harry Turtledove's Tale of Krispos series, the Big Bad Avshar's Haloga mercenaries start to desert him when Krispos finally manages to beat him. The first man to join Krispos tells him that he only followed Avshar because he thought he was the strongest man in the world, but Krispos beat him, so that means that Krispos is the strongest and he must serve him.
- A Song of Ice and Fire. Sellswords are notorious for switching sides like this. When Queen Danys accuses Brown Benn Plumm of betrayal, he simply points out that his mercenary company the Second Sons took a vote, and didn't think she was going to win. Now that Danys has proven herself a Dragon Rider, the Second Sons look ready to defect to her side again.
- In Discworld, when Nobby Nobbs was a soldier, the generals used to keep an eye on what uniform he was wearing in order to judge how the battle was going.
- In Into The Hinterlands, the Cutter Stream Colonies start out allied to a nearby group of Riders, though the alliance is much more ephemeral than the Stream government thinks it is. After Allenson loses his first campaign against the Terrans, the Riders defect en masse to the other side.
Live Action TV
- Game of Thrones:
- House Tyrell and their vassals will always back the winning team and will drop anyone at the drop of a hat if they become a liability. If both sides of a war appear to be evenly matched they'll simply stay out of it. The one time they stayed loyal to anyone they lost a war.
- Why nearly fifty thousand barbarian warriors follow Daenerys. The Dothraki only fear three things. The poison salt water, lightning storm fires on the Great Grass Sea and of course by extension; dragons. Dany is not only able to walk through the biggest threat to their way of life; which causes all their warriors and shamans to kowtow in reverence. But is topped even further when her mount is revealed to be the largest dragon left in existence, effectively making Dany the greatest rider who ever lived in their history. They follow her easily over the sea after all that and obey her without question.
- Isabella in Robin Hood specifically states that she wants to be on the winning side, and this (along with an ill-timed break up speech) is what causes her to turn against Robin and the outlaws.
- In Farscape there is a human alien named Vreena that betrays her people because of this.
"Peacekeepers, scarrans, what does it matter who rules? I'll never be in charge. I'm just doing what I have to to survive."
- Tyr from Andromeda uses this as an Exact Words scam on a temporary ally. He never said he was on their side, he said he'd chosen the winning side.
- In Spartacus: Blood and Sand season 3, Spartacus kills Seddulus, the leader of a Germanic tribe, prompting the rest of the tribe to join him out of respect.
- Discussed in Doctor Who when new prime minister Harry Saxon (The Master) criticizes those working for him for being traitors to their party, having gone to work for him only after they realized their party would lose the election. He then kills them.
- In the Stargate SG-1 pilot, Teal'c switches sides when he decides that he's found allies who actually have a chance of defeating his masters:
Jack: I can save these people!!
(Teal'c points his staff weapon at Jack.)
Jack: Help me! (pause) Help me.
Teal'c: Many have said that.
(Teal'c suddenly turns and shoots another Jaffa, then tosses his staff weapon to Jack.)
Teal'c: But you are the first I believe could do it!
- A later episode shows a Flashback of Teal'c first meeting seeing the captive team and discussing them with his mentor Bra'tac. This reveals that his decision was pre-empted by hours of contemplation caused by seeing "freedom" in the eyes of the captives, a rare sight in the Goa'uld-dominated galaxy. O'Neill's promise just helps to seal the deal.
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Clairvoyant a.k.a. Agent John Garrett gives this as an explanation for his allegiance:
Coulson: Spreading death and destruction? You really believe all that crap?
Clairvoyant: I wouldn't say I'm a true believer. Let's just say I felt the wind changing direction and swung my sail.
- In Breaking Bad Saul Goodman takes this attitude as the main reason he partners up with Walt, in the "opportunistic" style of the Trope. He even explains to Jesse, "That's the way of the world, kid, go with the winner," to explain his allegiance. Subverted in the end, though. When Walt DOES become the strongest side by killing Gus, his actions have become too extreme for Saul. Unfortunately, by that time Walt won't let him back out.
- The Season 1 finale of Gotham sees the corrupt members of the Gotham City Police Department switch their support to Sal Maroni after an attempt on Carmine Falcone resulted in Falcone being hospitalized.
- Luke Cage (2016): Shades Alvarez is consigliere to various crime bosses in Harlem. His loyalty though can be compromised if his cohorts become self-destructively violent or aggressive. If it's clear his employer is losing it, he will find a new employer. He won't cross them, but if they cross him, he's not holding back.
- Paul Heyman. Constantly backstabbing the wrestler he was sponsoring once "the next big thing" comes along. Man would sell out his own mother if he saw the writing on the wall.
- The reason why Kurt Angle betrayed WWE to join The Alliance, saying that he represents everything great about America; he is a winner, and he fights for the winning side. This was subverted at Survivor Series 2001, as he was actually Vince McMahon’s mole and cost the Alliance everything in their Winner Take All match.
- Magic: The Gathering has the Ghazbán Ogre, which goes under the control of the player with the most life at the start of every turn. Spoofed by the Ghazbán Ogress, from the Unglued set, which instead goes to the player who won the most games of Magic that day, unless there's a tie.
- Alucard in Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse as well as Legends is a Type 3 example. Both boss fights are just tests to see if the Belmont is capable of taking on his father.
- Grobyc from Chrono Cross is this.
- The ending of Advance Wars 2 has this. After Hawke kills Sturm and declares himself the new leader of Black Hole, the three remaining Black Hole lieutenants are visibly shocked. Flak and Lash quickly decide to follow Hawke, since they don't care who's in charge as long as they still get to do their thing. Adder is more visibly disturbed by this chain of events, but after uttering the trope name almost verbatim, Hawke cuts him off mid-sentence and accepts his allegiance before he can regain his train of thought.
- Dragon Age: Origins:
- This is why Zevran joins the party. In his own words, even if he managed to kill the hero through backstabbery, he might be killed by his masters on principle for failing the first time anyway. Basically, he enlists because it's his best chance to survive.
- When reaching the village of Haven, which is isolated from most of the Darkspawn invasion, Sten will threaten to take control of the party because he feels you are too weak and thinks you are fleeing from the battle. Once you beat him in a duel he admits that you are strong enough and will follow you with no more complaints (unless you have high enough influence with him before the duel. In that case, he expresses his concerns but can be convinced that you know what you're doing with no duel necessary).
- In the Kamen Rider Dragon Knight video game, if chosen as the player character, Kamen Rider Strike, originally having joined Xaviax because he perceived him as strongest, comes to believe that good guys have better odds and decides to turn on Xaviax. While his ending does have him saving the world, the story mode still pits him against the heroes...
- In Kill Zone, ISA gets a good deal of traitors amongst them throughout the invasion of Vekta, Adams shut down the defense line that allowed the invasion to happen and the Colonel allowed nuclear weapons to fall into enemy hands.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- King Bulblin from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess as quoted above is the Trope Namer, and a Type 1 example. He gives you a key that helps you progress through the final dungeon, and he stops harassing you.
- In numerous battles on Adventure Maps aquired via DLC for Hyrule Warriors, knocking King Bulbin out without defeating his guards will have him repeat his speech from Twilight Princess word-for-word and join your side. Captain Keeta from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask follows the same ideology, defecting to your side if you stop attacking him when he admits defeat.
- Also in Hyrule Warriors, when fighting against Ganondorf with Cia's army during the "Darkness Falls" mission, Cia orders Wizzro to attack Ganondorf's army after defending their keeps from multiple Gohmas, but Wizzro refuses to listen to her and switches sides to fight with Ganondorf, whose army is much larger.
- The Dual Blade from Lufia & The Fortress of Doom behaves like this.
- The Elder Scrolls
- Mazken (aka Dark Seducers), are an intelligent race of lesser Daedra in service to the Daedric Prince Sheogorath. Mazken are said to be a treacherous race that will quickly switch allegiances if it becomes beneficial to them. The group of Dark Seducers fought in Battlespire betrayed their former master (a lieutenant of Nocturnal) to side with Mehrunes Dagon when he promised them greater power. Because of this, it's difficult to tell if they've always been servants of Sheogorath or if he is simply their race's most recent master of convenience.
- This is a staple of dragon culture, going hand in hand with their beliefs that Asskicking Equals Authority and their tendency toward Honor Before Reason. Dragons will only follow those who prove themselves to be the strongest. Odahviing, the right-hand of Alduin, aids the Dragonborn after the Dragonborn forces Alduin to run away at the Throat of the World and captures Odahviing himself. Odahviing explains that he is doing this because a) he wants to free himself and b) after Alduin fled like a Dirty Coward, Odahviing and the other Dragons are no longer certain that he is worthy to lead them. After the Dragonborn defeats Alduin, Odahviing will swear his loyalty, allowing the Dragonborn to summon him with the "Call Dragon" shout. An interesting variation comes from the backstory - Paarthurnax betrayed Alduin and sided with Mankind during the last Dragon War, teaching the Ancient Nords the Thu'um, the draconic Language of Magic, which allowed them to turn the tide and defeat Alduin and his followers once and for all. Essentially, Paarthurnax chose to follow the strongest side as all Dragons do... he just happened to make them the strongest side first.
- The dragon example is repeated in the Dawnguard DLC with Durnehviir, an undead Dragon bound to the Soul Cairn and thus unable to truly be killed. He swears fealty after the Dragonborn proves to be the first person to ever defeat him.
- Jarl Elisif proves to be one if the Stormcloaks win the Civil War questline. Elisif, who Ulfric Stormcloak widowed to become High King, will submit to the Stormcloaks since the Empire is now gone from Skyrim and she has no other choice. She still despises Ulfric however.
- Saia in Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis offers Alphonse a deal after being bested in combat, agreeing to fight against other demons alongside Alphonse since he only cares for power.
- You meet a lot of these guys in the Suikoden series. A lot of characters won't join until you have a castle of a certain size, which depends on how many other characters have joined you; some won't join until you have a certain number of characters, period. The implication is that they want proof you have a large enough army to do anything before they sign up.
- An example in Tales of Symphonia: Zelos utters this line after betraying the party to Yggdrassil. Of course, in all but one of the endings he turns out to be lying.
- Warcraft III has Varimathras, a Dreadlord who switches sides to avoid being killed by Sylvanas, and who even has "I'm always on the winning side" as one of his responses. In World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King it's revealed that he lied and never left the Burning Legion, using his position as second to Sylvanas to be The Starscream.
- Happens to Augus in Asura's Wrath. As shown in episode 15.5's interlude, Augus wasn't interested in joining the eight Guardian Generals at first, stating that they were "weaklings". Then Deus came along and fought him to a tie. After the fight, Deus promises Augus that all battles will be like the one they were in if he joins his cause. Augus complies.
- This happens fairly often in player vs player online gaming in general. However, due to most game's measures to enforce balanced teams, players typically opt to further widen the gap between team skill in other less dignified manners. Some games takes measures against it, if the server in question has some kind of plugin that kick/ban the player who tries to do so.
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic:
- Several missions have you allied with a person who is allied with the Sith Empire just so he can become Prime Minister of the planet. If he becomes Prime Minister or not depends on how much a dick you are. In addition, your Bounty Hunter character can express this as the reason for working with the Empire.
- Surprisingly inverted with the Mandalorians of that era. they are fighting for the Empire because they actually have more respect for the strength of the Republic and Jedi. They don't want to fight for the strongest side. They want to test their mettle against it. Somewhat played straight by Jicoln Cadera's faction, who rebelled against the current Mandalore since they revered Mandalore the Vindicated, who supported the Republic for this reason.
- Canderous gave the same inversion of this trope ("I want to test my strength against the strongest side") for why his people fought the Republic in Knights of the Old Republic Later, after The Reveal, he swears Undying Loyalty to your character because you are Revan, the one who kicked their shebs into obscurity, playing this entirely straight. Then again, seven people and two droids in a stolen smuggling boat against the entire might of Malak's armies is just the kinds of insane odds Mando'ade dream of fighting.
- In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the Broodmothers (Zerg Queens that take the place of the old Cerebrates) were specifically programmed by Kerrigan to follow this logic. Dehaka, who joins with Kerrigan on the planet Zerus, cites this as his reason for joining her.
- Inverted by the god Skaen in Pillars of Eternity. The god of hatred, resentment, quiet loathing, and — most importantly — rebellion, he will abandon any followers of his once they fulfil their ambitions or otherwise become too powerful, favoring only those who are both oppressed and willing to bargain with a creature as bloodthirsty as Skaen.
- Saïx in Kingdom Hearts II outright says that The Heartless ally with whoever's strongest, though this refers not to them making peace with or joining Sora (which would be...problematic on several levels), but to them ditching Maleficent and the Disney Animated Canon villains for the Eviler Than Thou Organization XIII.
- Lantry and Kills-in-Shadow joins your party for this reason in Tyranny. In Lantry's case it's because he's a Tagalong Chronicler who believes in Great Person History, and thus attaches himself to interesting/strong people because they tend to shape interesting history to chronicle (that you saved his life helps, too). Kills-in-Shadow, meanwhile, is a Beastwoman, and in their society a leader must be strong — Killsy just applies the same logic to a non-beastman (you). In fact, a great way to increase Killsy's Loyalty to you is to insist, upon meeting her, that you should fight so you can prove your strength to her.
- This appears to be the case for the Dai Li in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Because Earth King Kuei was weak and merely a puppet, they had to answer to Long Feng, who was mostly in charge of the government. When Azula came along, Long Feng sought an alliance with her, but she proved to be a much stronger leader to the Dai Li, causing them to switch allegiances. By the time of The Legend of Korra, the new Earth Queen went out of her way to avoid being as weak as her father (by being an evil tyrant), thus the Dai Li decided to pledge their loyalty to her.
- In the Transformers mythos, most Decepticons or Predacons serve only the most powerful among the faction. Should a leader be deposed through either trickery or combat, the bulk of the army will quietly settle under the usurper's authority without much in the way of objection after the dust settles (though the process is rarely smooth if the usurper isn't up to snuff). As far as the 'Cons are concerned, you're only worthy of authority if you can hold onto it. If somebody else takes it, then they deserved it more than you. As you'd imagine, this policy tend to lead to a lot of scheming among the higher ranks.
- Justice League Unlimited: This is heavily implied to be the case for Killer Frost, when Gorilla Grodd attempted to stage a coup on Lex Luthor, she was on his side but when it failed, then immediately switched allegiances and froze the other mutineers.
Luthor: Can any of you give me one good reason to let you live?
(Killer Frost fatally entombs the other mutineers in ice.)
Luthor: Killer Frost, you've got a future. Get rid of the rest.
- Tala's modus operendai seems to be "bone the strongest" as she starts off in a (possibly) romantic relationship with Gorilla Grodd, then switches over to hanging off Luthor the moment he took control of the society.
- As seen in Star Wars Rebels, this is a rather logical side-effect of the Mandalorian culture being based around the idea of "leadership belongs to the strongest"; since they are used to just falling in line when one of their own takes over, many of them are happy to fall in line when some other power proves strong enough to defeat the Mandalorians as a whole. This is why most Mandalorians are working for the Empire.
- Older Than Feudalism with the story of St Christopher; a warrior that went out to search for the strongest lord to follow. He found the strongest living man in the world but also learned that he was afraid of the devil. Then he learned that the devil was scared of God and went on a search to find him. After an eventful river-crossing he found Jesus and learned the weight that rests on his shoulders and forever served him...before being killed by Roman Emperor Decius. Of course being a saint martyrdom did nothing to cramp his style.
- There's an old tale about a man who goes in search of the most fearsome thing in the world. He makes progress by asking each creature to tell him its fear, and works his way up to some mighty, powerful being ... only to find that the mightiest giant fears something tiny and weak, taking him full circle.
- This is how Saito Musashibo Benkei came to serve Yoshitsune, according to legend. He'd disarmed and collected the swords of 999 swordsman before finally being defeated by Yoshitsune, serving as his retainer until their deaths.
- Bandwagon fans in various sports, who cheer for the team that's doing the best at the current time, jumping ship if a new team becomes the best. These are particularly hated in soccer, where they are known in the UK as "glory hunters".
- In some countries there is not even the need to jump ship, as there is a specific team that has all the financial support and investors and is therefore the winner by default. The majority of its fans just chose it, knowing it that they would never need to change.
- Amongst political scientists who study international relations, there is much debate over whether states tend to balance or bandwagon. Balancing refers to states allying against the most powerful or threatening state; bandwagoning refers to states allying with the strongest or most threatening state. To the extent that there is any consensus, it is that states balance when they can and bandwagon when they must. In other words, weak or vulnerable states tend to ally with the strong.