Inevitable Mutual Betrayal

Harry Dresden: You know he's not going to honor the truce. He's going to try to take me out somewhere along the line. He's going to betray me.
Queen Mab: Of course. I expect superior, more creative treachery on your part.

Sometimes, characters form alliances. Sometimes, those alliances end in betrayal. This trope is for when both sides knew it was coming. For whatever reason, two or more characters must work together despite knowing that the alliance is temporary. This is usually the case in any Enemy Mine situation, and what distinguishes it from others is that the alliance will certainly end in betrayal assuming that both parties are alive when they finish what they teamed up to do, and that they both know it from the very start. The connection may be friendly or not, and in fact both parties will frequently be horrified enough at the idea that they hope one of them dies before it comes time.

Compare Enemy Mine, which often overlaps; Betrayal Insurance, for a plan against betrayal which one or both sides may or may not have; and Rash Equilibrium, when both sides independently decide to backstab each other after agreeing to an alliance. Contrast Teeth-Clenched Teamwork, where they can't get along even for the limited time they are working together but may or may not betray each other by the end.


Anime and Manga
  • In Bleach, Aizen predetermined that Ichimaru Gin would betray him when he joined up with him, nearly a hundred years ago. He was only concerned with how.
  • Nearly all alliances in Liar Game. This is the reason why the protagonist is so important - with her naive and righteous attitude she can serve as The Heart for her team, because she is the only one in the game anyone can ally with reliably.
  • Lupin III vs. Detective Conan: The Movie: It's a given that as soon as the heat dies down Lupin and Conan are on opposite sides of the law and will go back to acting like it, though they both talk a bigger game than their actions actually support.

Comic Books
  • In Astérix the Gaul, Crismus Bonus tells his second Marcus Ginantonicus that with the magic potion in their hands, they will march on Rome, overthrow Julius Caesar and form a triumvirate. As they clink their glasses to this, thought bubbles reveal their true intentions:
    Crismus Bonus: I need you now, but afterwards I'll be the triumvirate on my own!
    Marcus Ginantonicus: I'll have him thrown to the lions, and then I alone will be Caesar!

  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it is stated that Vader was planning to betray Palpatine, and that Palpatine was taking every available precaution to keep Vader under control while he searched for a viable replacement apprentice. This is par for the course with Sith apprenticeships, the master always looking for a better apprentice and the apprentice always looking for an opportunity to become the master.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: This is visible right as Solo and Illya start working together since both are after the same set of information which could give their respective countries an edge over everyone else, which means for obvious reasons they do not want the other to get a hold of it.

  • In the Kamigawa Cycle, Toshi and Hidetsugu both knew when they formed the Hyozan that it would end in betrayal. Toshi had to make a deal to get away from Uramon and keep Hidetsugu from killing him, but Hidetsugu only expected it to be slightly more convenient. Both of them knew that one of them would betray the other, but they had hoped that one of them would die first. It is later revealed that Hidetsugu had figured out before they had even bound themselves how to kill Toshi without triggering the Hyozan magic.
  • In The Hunger Games, tributes frequently form temporary alliances. Since there can only be one winner these alliances are by necessity temporary and end in betrayal, except for Katniss and Peeta.
  • In Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, any alliance between the lower-class criminal gangs eventually ends in betrayal. The question is only who can profit more by turning on their onetime associates at the opportune moment. The alliance that Vin's crew forms near the beginning of the story is expected to end in betrayal, but Vin's crew decided to bail out way earlier than expected, accepting only the 3000 boxing down-payment offered by the obligators and then trying to vanish and let the other crew take the fall.
  • In the Codex Alera series, everyone who works with Invidia Acquitaine tries to take her Chronic Backstabbing Disorder into account, with degrees of success that range from "filleted for their trouble" to "left Invidia stranded naked in the woods deep in enemy territory."
  • In Skin Game, the plot revolves around Harry being forced into working for Nicodemus, a member of The Dresden Files' Big Bad Ensemble. Harry fully expects that Nicodemus, being Nicodemus, will turn on him the moment that their task is complete, while Nicodemus expects that Harry, being Harry, will do the same as soon as his obligation ends. The person who got Harry into this mess is also fully aware of this, and expects "superior, more creative treachery" on Harry's part.

Live-Action TV
  • This happens pretty often on Survivor (and other reality shows with a Voted off the Island format). Players make voting blocs to knock out other players until only their alliance is left, after which they can start targeting each other. That's the point when problems can emerge, as it gets messy figuring out who will betray who first. And that's assuming that someone hasn't jumped the gun and tried to take out an ally before all the outsiders are gone.

Tabletop Games
  • In Munchkin, most of the strategy is based around convincing people that you are the opponent who has gone the least distance across the Godzilla Threshold. Betrayals can come at any time when it would be profitable or funny, and are more or less guaranteed once you reach level 9 and will win the game in your next combat.
  • In Diplomacy it is essential to team up with one or more of your opponents just to survive vs. other alliances. However, only one player can win, so in almost every game there will be multiple occasions where one member of an alliance will backstab the other(s) for an advantage or total victory. Ethical players will put limits on their alliance (such as it only lasting for a specific period of time) so that when they do attack their allies they won't be making a surprise attack.
  • In the Game of Thrones board game, alliances can be very beneficial, but since the game ends when one nation gets 7 castles, your alliance will break the moment one member is close to getting 7. Either that player exploiting the weaker defense of his ally, or his ally stopping him from getting the 7th castle.

Video Games
  • Dawn of War: Winter Assault has this in all four campaigns. The Imperials are violent xenophobes, while the Eldar are known to happily allow billions of humans to die if it can save one of their own. The forces of Chaos and the orks, on the other hand, end all their conversations cheerfully reminding the other that they will kill them as soon as they're no longer needed.
  • BioShock Infinite: In Part 2 of Burial at Sea, Elizabeth strikes a deal with Atlas to rescue a Little Sister; bring him the "Ace in the Hole" and he lets The Little Sister (named Sally) go. She knows that Atlas cannot be trusted and Andrew Ryan even tells her as much in an attempt to get her on his side. In the end Atlas betrays her, by threatening to lobotomize her and Sally if she didn't hand him the Ace. She does it because she knows that Atlas will die in the original Bioshock, though she dies by the end of the episode
  • In Diablo III, Tyrael mentions that the Lords of Hell often lost during the Eternal Conflict because they couldn't stop betraying each other. This dependence on this trope bites the angels in the ass when Diablo becomes the Prime Evil, the sum total of all seven Great Evils in one being.
  • There's a game mode in DEFCON where all the players start out as allies. Since the point of the game is to inflict as many casualties as you can on the opposing players while protecting your own cities as much as you can, this alliance will inevitably crumble.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • In Max Steel 2013, Dredd and Makkino form an alliance to defeat Max Steel and N-Tek but both have previously admitted to the other that they don't trust each other and both fully understand that the alliance lasts only as long as Max Steel and N-Tek does.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: After Long Feng and Azula pull off a coup in Ba Sing Sae, Long Feng approaches her with the line, "Now comes the part where I betray you." Which they both knew was coming. He then orders the Dai Li to arrest her, but she had already co-opted them, and brought them onto her side. Long Feng acknowledges that she's beaten him at his own game, which she laughs off with, "You were never even a player."
  • Near the end of the first season of Transformers: Beast Wars, Megatron proposes a Maximal/Predacon truce to Optimus Primal; even admitting upfront that it's to afford him the chance to divert his attention elsewhere for a while. Primal accepts because he's honor-bound to give peace a chance - but he still sends spies to the Predacon base to find out what they're up to.

Real Life
  • The USSR and USA in World War II, since more or less everyone knew that conflict would be inevitable but that a Nazi victory would be far worse than a war with the other.
    • Early in the same war, the non-aggression pact between Germany and USSR.
    • Even earlier in a war that became part of the same war (it's complicated) the Guomindang teamed up with the warlords Yan Xishan (Shanxi province), the Guangxi Clique (Guangxi and Guangdong provinces), Long Yun (Yunnan province), Mao Zedong (Sha'anxi province) the Shandong and Guizhou Warlords, and several hundred local Warlords against Japan. After Japan surrendered, they turned on each other pretty quickly. The Guangxi Clique - Guomindang struggle was particularly fierce, with Li Zongren claiming the presidency of the Republic of China and Chiang Kai-Shek fighting him (politically) for control of the army. And Mao turned on everyone else too of course.