Not Always Evil
It's a common literary conceit to have Mooks that are so persistently evil that heroes can freely slaughter them. Subversions are usually on a case-by-case basis, and rarely justify recategorizing the race as a whole as neutral. That means it's time for a deconstruction! In short, this trope is a subversion of Always Chaotic Evil, since it turns out that these Mooks or Mooks in general are not always evil. Some authors will throw us a twist and reveal that these guys aren't naturally evil... or at least, there's a whole lot of them out there, and we've only seen the bad apples. This can take many forms:
- The mooks encountered are actually a rebel faction of a larger, more heterogeneous culture/species
- They are pressed into the ranks — Evil Overlord may simply coerce them with threats, or
- They may be under a Villain Override as a species, making them an evil Hive Mind,
- Their boss knows something you don't and they're fighting for a greater good that also involves killing you,
- They are dark but not evil, and are being forced to ally with the villain for protection,
- They are well-meaning, but either party had the first contact Gone Horribly Wrong due to being too clumsy or alien for another,
- They're all Gullible Lemmings whose only crime is believing the Villain with Good Publicity,
- At worst, they're Well Intentioned Extremists who believe Utopia Justifies the Means (and the Big Bad just so happens to have lied to them about the "utopia" part).
- They're similar to humans in the regard that they have both saints and criminals; the ones you happen to meet are the latter.
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Anime & Manga
- Beastmen in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann are introduced as an Always Chaotic Evil race, but after their evil overlord is defeated by the heroes, they're revealed to be perfectly capable of peaceful co-existence with humans.
- The Hades chapter of Saint Seiya revealed the previously completely evil Spectres were lied to, and they thought Hades, lord of the dead, would end the world to bring about a paradise where everyone was immortal and there was no suffering. As it turns out, Hades has this sort of vaguely defined distaste and loathing for the living in general and humans in particular, and wants to freeze the world to death just because. It's unclear whether his Spectres would have survived or if he had any loyalty towards his minions to begin with. In the end, the last six or so Spectres rush one of the heroes, Ikki, saying they'll fight him to help Lord Hades's vision. He kills them, but you feel somewhat sorry for them.
- Kurumada drove the point home by having Thanatos channel General Ripper, stating that they don't give a damn about the Spectres, calling them mere "slaves", and saying him and Hypnos could fully do the job themselves.
- The vampires in Trinity Blood. They get fleshed out throughout the anime as being just like humans, except with different dietary needs and a longer lifespan, and it's revealed that the Rosencruez vampires are terrorists who are trying to instigate an all-out war between humans and vampires, with no concern for the massive casualties that would befall both sides.
- Yukimi from Nabari No Ou looked like a typical Mook in his first appearance. Boy, were we wrong...
- The black knights in 11eyes tried to kill Kakeru and his companions because they fear the Voidstone fragments within all of them will unseal the Big Bad evil witch Liselotte Werckmeister. Kakeru was surprised and said "They are actually the good guys??" upon learning the truth from Shiori.
Films — Animated
- In the '80s animated film Fire and Ice there's a race of Neanderthal-like humanoids. They do the bidding of the evil sorceress and her son, and are pretty brutal about their business. However towards the middle of the movie one them gets injured a hell of a lot, while pursuing the escaped beautiful princess, and is literally limping towards her out of sheer willpower. While she kills it, you can't help but feel sorry for him, trying so hard and through such pain (then again, the sorceress is pretty brutal). After the sorceress and her son are beaten, the hero wants to kill a random survivor Neanderthal but the same princess stops him. She tells him now it's time to forgive them, since without the sorceress they're basically harmless.
- In How to Train Your Dragon, dragons aren't evil, but are being controlled by the Green Death, a giant dragon that's essentially their Hive Queen. They have to bring back food or they get eaten. Once the Green Death is killed, the Vikings of Berk can coexist with the dragons.
- The other toys in Sunnyside Daycare (such as Ken) in Toy Story 3. The real reason why they were all evil in the first place is they were all afraid of Lotso.
Films — Live-Action
- The alternate ending of the 2007 I Am Legend movie had Robert Neville discover the ghouls were people despite being victims of a Viral Transformation. The lead ghoul not only learned to adopt Robert's tactics against him, but was only attacking him because he had kidnapped his girlfriend/wife/mate to try and see if his newest cure was working. The revelation causes a near Heroic BSOD as he looks at the wall of ghouls he'd killed trying to "cure" them. This is similar to the ending of the book and first film, in which a good many vampires/zombies were still fully sentient, just nocturnal, so Robert had been murdering innocent people along with the mindless zombies.
- In fact, it was the whole point: they executed him at the end, because to their society he'd become this terrible, daywalking monster that slaughters people with ruthless efficiency. Legendary.
- Robert realized this, and that's the reason why he took the suicide pill.
- In fact, it was the whole point: they executed him at the end, because to their society he'd become this terrible, daywalking monster that slaughters people with ruthless efficiency. Legendary.
- The armed band of natives in The Ruins. From the point of view of the protagonists, they're murderous villains; but in the big picture, the protagonists really shouldn't be allowed to leave the ruins alive.
- Used powerfully in Animorphs. When we first see them, the two main alien races controlled by the Yeerks are the Hork-Bajir - who are giant and appear to be basically made of knives - and the Taxxons - who are giant, all-devouring centipedes who allied with the Yeerks willingly. The protagonists have little if any compunction about killing either, though they go out of their way to avoid killing humans controlled by the Yeerks. As the series continues, things get more complicated.
- The Hork-Bajir are peaceful vegetarians whose blades are used for removing bark from tree trunks.
- The Taxxons, while not "good", are slaves to their overpowering hunger (to the point where they'll eat themselves if there's nothing else around) and accepted Yeerk control to escape this.
- The Yeerks themselves are blind and deaf slugs for whom controlling other beings is really their only way of interacting with or experiencing the world; at the least, they're not the Always Chaotic Evil race the reader is initially intended to see them as, and some Yeerks opposed the invasion for ethical reasons.
- They also have a "sister species" in the Iskoort, a quite literal Planet of Hats across the galaxy who have single hosts for their entire lifetimes. The host Isk is barely sentient and cannot survive without the Yoort which controls it; the Yoort, meanwhile, is a Kandrona-eating Yeerk in all but name, with one modification: it, too, needs the Isk, not just to experience the world but to survive at all. The fact that they could teach the Yeerks that there is another way makes them a Cosmic Keystone in the "game" between The Ellimist and Crayak.
- Probably the best example are the Howlers, who commit savage murders and have wiped out other species. When the main characters morph them, they find that they are playful like dolphins, raised (they were created by an evil Sufficiently Advanced Alien to wipe out peaceful species) to think it's all a game and don't realize their actions are wrong. The species have a Hive Mind, and so when the heroes managed to "contaminate" it with their own memories, it's implied that the entire race abandons their violent ways.
- The Buggers in Ender’s Game.
- And later on, the Piggies in Speaker for the Dead.
- Not that they were ever just 'the enemy' from a narrative perspective; it was obvious there was some kind of reason for what they'd done quite apart from malice and the problem was the comprehension gap, even when speaking the same language.
- And later on, the Piggies in Speaker for the Dead.
- In the Inheritance Cycle, The Urgals only seem Always Chaotic Evil because they've been brainwashed by The Dragon, Durza. They do a Heel-Face Turn as a species after his death.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe
- Noghri iwere first introduced as evil mooks serving The Empire Remnant. When Leia found out that they were, in fact, manipulated by Palpatine into serving him, they reject their former allegiance and join the good guys.
- To an extent, the Yuuzhan Vong. They're introduced as Always Chaotic Evil fanatics, but it gradually turns out that the fanaticism is deliberately instilled in them by their corrupt (and largely insane) leadership to create more pliant minions and their religion is essentially a massively flanderized and corrupted version of its original self. Once this starts coming out, a lot of Vong start turning against their leaders. Then there were the Shamed Ones, who were little more than oppressed slaves and were treated sympathetically from their introduction.
- The flying monkeys and Winkies in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The flying monkeys served the Wicked Witch because she had an artifact that bound them to grant three wishes, and the Winkies served her because they were afraid of her.
Hail to Dorothy! The Wicked Witch is dead!
- In The Silver Chair, the creatures dwelling in the Underland seem like terrifying monsters, but they've been bewitched by the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Once she's dead, they're horrified by the notion that they might have invaded the frigid, exposed surface world and happily go back down to their magma tunnels.
- It seemed like this would be the case for the wildlings in A Song of Ice and Fire. Then, Stannis showed up. Many of the Wildlings are allowed past the Wall when they make terms with Stannis and the Night's Watch.
- Early on in The Belgariad, the Angaraks are treated as Always Chaotic Evil servants of the Mad God Torak. As the books go on, its revealed that while Angarak leaders and their agents are as a rule despicable monsters (due to said Mad God filling their culture with the "values" of conquest and Human Sacrifice, natch) the rank-and-file are really just like everyone else, except that they're the ones getting taxed into oblivion and having their hearts cut out on sacrificial altars. By the end, whole kingdoms of Angaraks turn against their oppressors and in the sequel series, more than a few join the True Companions. It shows most in the Mallorean Empire, where the military and bureaucracy predominated over the Grolim priesthood, so most people live ordinary lives and barely pay lip service to Torak.
- In Alias the people working for the Big Bad thought they were a secret section of the CIA. The Reveal to that came in the 1st episode though, so it might qualify. The reveal then came with Sydney alone, who continued to have to work with the members of SD6 who genuinely thought they were good guys. The reveal for them didn't come until partway through the second season.
- The Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. As the show progresses, both the humans and the viewers begin seeing that the Cylons aren't merely soulless machines, but complex sentient beings.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel plays this one for laughs. Earlier seasons have all demons as Card-Carrying Villain Monsters of the Week who would go on a rampage then be killed by the heroes. In later seasons there are short glances into demon "society" where we meet "civilian" demons who are, well, maybe not "good", but are at least portrayed as merely working schlubs like you or me who are just trying to mind their own business and who don't seem to require human as part of their dietary intake. Not to be confused with the many Banality of Evil villains in Angel, who really are evil but in an unglamorous Punch Clock Villain way.
- There are also demons who are good, plain and simple, on the side of the Powers That Be in the eternal struggle. Angel manages to kill a couple of them in his own series, since there are no obvious tells for goodness. Since there seems to be no angel-equivalents in the Buffyverse, demons have to play both sides. By a few seasons in, "demon" is basically just a term for non-human sentient beings (usually originating in some other dimension)
- In Doctor Who, the Slitheen, who tried to wipe out the human race, turn out to be not at all typical of their species; their aggression against Earth would earn them the death penalty if they ever went back home. Additionally, it turned out that the species were the Raxacoricofallapatorians; the Slitheen were just a single criminal family.
- Also in The Curse of Peladon, the Ice Warriors turn out to be among the good guys. In previous stories, they had been the villains. Other stories set in this era show there are still Ice Warriors who follow the old ways but they are in the minority.
- The Others in Lost. For the first three seasons, they're the show's main antagonists and seem pure evil. In Season 4, they team up with the survivors to battle a greater threat. By the end of the series, it's clear that they should never have been the enemy in the first place, had they had more contact with their leader, Jacob. He himself was built up to be the Big Bad, turns out he was the Big Good the whole time.
Mythology and Religion
- Undertale. The entire game. The entire premise of the damn game. Monsters, although wanting to kill you, are given personalities and lives past i am monster must kill, and the player can spare them after interacting based on that personality.
- Unless they're an Orc, chances are the Beastmen in Final Fantasy XI simply have some really bad differences with the player races:
- None of the Beastmen willingly wanted a part in the Crystal War. The Shadow Lord either forced them or tricked them into fighting for him.
- Bastok's conflict with the Quadav is because Bastok keeps taking over, mining, polluting, and outright keeps destroying the Quadav's homes, leading to the Quadav going all out to protect their home. Of course, the players themselves know from the get-go that Bastok needs it's mining to stay a solid nation, and with both sides having people that don't know the meaning of the words "peace and compromise", it's one of the Grayest conflicts in the entire game.
- The Paper Mario series, which just loves to deconstruct its parent series, contains large numbers of nice goombas, koopas and other enemies.
- Everyone in the Touhou series.
- The Liberation Front in Deus Ex were revealed to be the good guys less than half-way through the story, vindicating the players who stuck with non-lethal force to fight them. Of course there's still recurring examples of how good the people of the original organization were, so the Triads and MJ 12 were introduced for the player to spend their live ammo on guilt-free.
- Similarly, the Scions in Battlezone 2 are actually Phlebotinum Rebels. The player is offered a chance to join them halfway through the story.
- The demon world of Formido Heim from Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier. They started a bloody war with a neighboring world ten years ago, and appear to be up to no good again when their elite task force starts showing up in other worlds. It turns out that the war was started by the Einst, who killed and impersonated their king. Their ridiculously evil-looking commander actually killed the imposter and ended the war, and has spent the past ten years rebuilding his devastated world and secretly ensuring that the Einst wouldn't be able to harm the rest of the multiverse. This doesn't stop the random encounters with Formido Heim's denizens, possibly because they didn't actually know that they were Good All Along.
- In Tales of Symphonia, Fantastic Racism sets half-elves up this way at first: humans view half-elves as cruel, greedy oppressors, because the most prominent group of them - the Desians - is exactly that. However, it's gradually revealed that a) most half-elves join the Desians because humans have a tendency to do things like burn their villages and slaughter their families, and the Desians are their chance to fight back and gain the upper hand, and b) there are a number of half-elves who disagree with the Desians, and are really just trying to live peaceful lives, hampered by racism from the humans. And that's before the fake ending and subsequent plot twists...
- Later, another group is revealed, the Renegades, who are another variant of this trope. They look just like Desians so that their activities remain hidden from the Big Bad, but they're actually fighting back against the Desians' plans. And you, if you get in their way. Their ultimate goal is to save the world, and as far as they're concerned, they don't need some Idiot Hero mucking that up.
- The Warcraft universe:
- The Always Chaotic Evil orcs from Warcraft and Warcraft II were afterwards retconned to have been under the control of demonic magic after their leaders made a Deal with the Devil. Thus they were not originally inherently evil as a species after all, and after the demonic influence wore off, were left as a much more human Proud Warrior Race.
- One quest in World of Warcraft requires you to kill a seemingly random mook, who then drops (as loot) an unsent letter to her father revealing that she was blackmailed into service in the evil organization, and was trying to sabotage it from inside. The NPC you turn in the letter to comforts you, saying that "there is no way you could have known".
- In Mass Effect 2, Legion, the geth who saves your life aboard the dead Reaper, explains to you that the Reaper-worshipping geth whom you've been slaughtering for the past two games are actually just a small percentage of the whole geth population and are considered to be "heretics," and have split from the main geth population. Besides the heretics, the geth just want to be left alone.
- In the first game, you run across a rachni queen who tells you that the rachni that the Citadel fought against two thousand years prior were driven insane by an external influence (Reaper indoctrination), and that rachni are actually a peaceful race. Letting her go and loading the save in Mass Effect 2 reveals that the rachni remnants live on uncharted planets on the edge of known space, repopulating their species, apparently to aid Shepard in the final battle against the Reapers.
- Amazingly enough, it turns out, in StarCraft II that the zerg Overmind was not evil, it had just been compelled by a biological Obstructive Code of Conduct implanted by the Xel'naga to destroy the Protoss. Seeing no other option, the Overmind executed a Thanatos Gambit to create a new being, free of the Xel'naga directive, and put it in command of the zerg swarm by attacking the Protoss homeworld, which was effectively suicide. That's one Alternative Character Interpretation, anyway. With what little information was given so far, it could just as easily have been that the Overmind was still evil, but it had a vendetta against a rogue Xel'naga who had the nerve to claim to be Eviler Than Thou.
- In the UFO Afterblank series, it's revealed that the aliens that nearly destroyed humanity in Aftermath are actually a rebellious faction of the Reticulan race. They wanted to try creating a gigantic supercomputer brain, and the rest of their species said no. The rebellious Reticulans then split from their race and destroyed Earth. This is all just interesting backstory until the UFO Afterlight, when the non-evil Reticulans show up and propose an alliance with the remnants of humanity in an attempt to tame Mars. Of course, they will still try to screw you over, taking some of the most resource rich territories on planet, but attempting to kill them is much more difficult due to their significantly more powerful technology.
- Ash Crimson from The King of Fighters series. Watch the ending of KOF XIII.
- Turns out that Saturos and Menardi were motivated by purely good intentions in Golden Sun 1.
- Hardly believable, given the fact that while they were Proxian soldiers sent on a save-the-world mission, that never stops them from using unnecessary brutal force, kidnapping, and taking sadistic pleasure in harming innocents. Heck, they even nearly kill two children! However, Karst and Agatio, the duo that replaces them in the sequel follow this trope up to code, making it quite clear that they're against this kind of violent behavior unless necessary. See the whole showdown in Saturn Lighthouse if you need proof.
- A lot of fans believe that Saturos and Menardi were so because they knew of Alex's master plan, the whole of it, and wanted their share of the Golden Sun's power. Much unlike Karst and Agatio, who were in solely to save their homeland, which was dangling in the edge of a world abyss. Though it could simply be so because Alex didn't tell them of the Golden Sun phenomenon this time, seeing how the previous Battle Couple went way too adamant in their mission thanks to a chance to reach godliness.
- The Vortigaunts are enemies in the original Half-Life, but at the end of that game you free them from their mind control and they become allies to humanity.
- King's Quest IV: The Perils Of Rosella: Edgar may look like a deformed little green hunchback though that isn't his true form, but he does plead with Lolotte to spare Rosella, gives her the means to escape (attached to a red rose), and doesn't grieve overmuch after Rosella kills Lolotte with a love arrow. It's just easy to miss as the poor fellow's too shy to speak up for himself.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, you will meet a man named Zherron in Dantooine, speaking with a deep, grave voice, having dark features and is involved with the mercenaries who is harassing the settlement. It turns out that he was spying against the mercenaries.
- In Bungie's Marathon series, the S'pht, an alien cyborg race, fight alongside the real bad guys, the Pfhor, because they are under control. After a mission in which they are freed, they become fantastic allies, mowing wave after wave of Pfhor.
- The Heartless of Kingdom Hearts fame are mostly mindless creatures with an instinctive drive to eat hearts, and are always evil in the storyline. In gameplay however, we have the White Mushroom, a harmless encounter that just wants to play charades and hand out prizes. Their cousins, the Rare Truffles, are equally harmless and want to be juggled. The worst thing either will do is vanish in a huff if you mess up their games.
- The smaller factions of the beastmen tribes in Final Fantasy XIV are this compared to their evil counterparts. Beastmen in general are considered enemies by the spoken races because beastmen summon primals when threatened and summoning primals drains aether, which is the planet's life force. What also didn't help was some of the beast tribes became hostile because the spoken races did some unsavory things to them first. There are other factions of beastmen of the same species that are not hostile and either want to be left alone or are willing to work with the spoken races for peace between them.
- The demons of the Disgaea series are Card Carrying Villains who believe Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad (with a healthy dose of Insane Troll Logic). Each game makes it pretty clear that demons are more concerned with appearing evil than actually being evil, and underneath it all they're fairly decent individuals.
- Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice star characters that try to live up to the demonic ideal but then find that they're better people than they thought they were. Makai Kingdom, which is not a Disgaea game but is set in the same setting, has something similar. It also shows that high-level demons are willing to look out for each other, even though they may also be rivals. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten stars the noblest of Noble Demons, a characters who is just a few steps shy of being an actual hero. Finally, one of the characters in Disgaea 5 is shocked to find that his demonic allies genuinely care about each other and other people. The character is secretly an angel that was framed as a spy by other angels. The fact that demons can be better people than angels throws him for a loop.
- The Order of the Stick
- The Order meets some Good goblins. It turns out they're teenagers who became good to hack off their Always Chaotic Evil parents. Unfortunately, one of them grows out of it in time to betray them.
- Then there is this page, where La Résistance finds a hobgoblin among the freed prisoners, who says he is Good All Along because he hates (regular) goblins, including Redcloak. Subverted though, as the elves are Genre Savvy enough to assume he is a Fake Defector, and just kill him. We will never know what the truth is, but, especially in light of more recent events, we can assume that he was.
- Penny Arcade plays with this here.
- In The Gamers Alliance, the Sirithai are introduced at the beginning of the Vanna arc as violent human-eating monsters but are later revealed to be misunderstood victims of persecution from the Clergy of Artemicia which was manipulating the Grand Alliance to get rid of them. They still won't hesitate to brutally slaughter and eat captives but they're also willing to listen to reason once their opponents have proven their worth to them.
- /tg/ loves to bring this trope to its ultimate form: "The Tarrasque is actually a pretty swell guy".
- Kharn: What a fun guy.
- The Tarrasque is actually a border-line example in the source material: the Tarrasque isn't evil as usually encountered (it is neither made of evil nor intelligent enough to hold any malice), but it is suggested in Spelljammer that in their natural habitat, they are docile lithovores (with the solitary aggressive consume-everythings of other worlds being a result of something in the atmospheres).
- An episode of Adventure Time has Finn trying to convince Flame Princess she is this, even though all fire elementals are supposedly evil. the jury is still out on whether he was right or not. Although Flame Princess is definitely capable of caring about others, it also seems that fire elmementals have a very strong inborn desire to wantonly burn and destroy things. This is consistent with an earlier episode where she tried to burn down a goblin village just because "it needed more fire", and Finn had to stop her.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Most Fire Nation civilians. It's the Fire Lords of the Sozin dynasty - and a few fanatically loyal and self-aggrandizing military commanders - who are the really evil ones. Even the military firebenders with their skull-faced helmets, parties to genocide, are carefully shown to be basically just guys. Our heroes have killed a lot of them, though never face to face.
- Even Sozin was not purely evil. He originally wanted to share the greatness of the Fire Nation with the rest of the world, and this unfortunately led to him leaving his former best friend to die, committing genocide against the Air Nomads, and starting the one hundred year long war. He died deeply regretting the horrible actions he committed and the man he became, with no way to fix it. Unfortunately, his predecessors were worse, until Zuko came along.
- The orcoid things in W.I.T.C.H. - they are initially presented as just mooks, but it later turns out they've been misled by Phobos' propaganda. A large number of them help the rebels in the Final Battle and later help with reconstruction.
- In one Tom And Jerry Kids short, the duo encounter an evil witch and her Frankenstein monster henchman. After chasing them outside, the monster tells Tom and Jerry he's really a good guy and has been trying to get out of the witch's castle for a long time. The episode ends with the three of them walking off.
- Mike Chilton in Motorcity used to work for KaneCo but was never a villain and had good intentions all along. He just wasn't aware that Kane was willing to harm innocent people in their line of work.
- In the 2006 revival of Biker Mice from Mars, the main villains are a race of cat-like aliens called Catatonians, but the episode "Surfer Cats of Saturn" has the Biker Mice end up teleported to Saturn, where they encounter some surfing Catatonians who cut off ties with their race because they were disgusted by their intent to conquer other planets. Throttle, Vinnie, and Modo manage to get along with the Catatonian surfers just fine.