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Pragmatic Hero
"The mark of a true hero is somebody who's willing to sacrifice his own personal morality to help keep the world safe."
Tess Mercer, Smallville

Most great fictional heroes fall into one of two broad categories: the Ideal Hero, such as The Cape or a Knight in Shining Armor who is pretty much exactly what one would hope for in a hero - skilled, courageous, morally pure, etc., and the Anti-Hero, who lacks one or more qualities normally considered necessary for an Ideal Hero. For example, a Classical Anti-Hero lacks ability or self-confidence. A Knight in Sour Armor lacks a positive attitude, and a Nominal Hero lacks morally pure intentions.

A Pragmatic Hero lacks the "moral cleanliness" of an Ideal Hero. When fighting evil, they often commit acts that might seem more characteristic of a villain than a hero. However, Pragmatic Heroes have morally good intentions and often hold themselves to strict moral standards—it's just that those standards aren't always what others might expect from a hero. This type of hero tends to be much more concerned with whatever heroic business the plotline has assigned them than the niceties of proper heroic etiquette. However, with the exception of unintentional mistakes, they will rarely if ever commit a villainous deed that doesn't further the cause of good in a way.

This character is one step further toward the dark side of the Anti-Hero from the Knight in Sour Armor. Wheras the Knight in Sour Armor complains but does the right thing anyway, the Pragmatic Hero is more about doing the right thing whether anyone likes it or not, and will shove aside more idealistic heroes who give them a What the Hell, Hero? moment.

At the end of the day, their justification is typically I Did What I Had to Do, they love giving "The Reason You Suck" Speech to a poor Wide-Eyed Idealist, and they might evolve into cynical mentors. However, they will never say "Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!". Deep down, they want the best for others, and this character may have shades of Chronic Hero Syndrome as he/she will often be the one to defend a captured minion or fallen hero. Being pragmatic, they also have both the flaws and strengths a more passionate hero lacks, so are less likely to let personal intentions get in the way of their job. In this sense a Pragmatic Hero contrasts a Blood Knight or He Who Fights Monsters. Compare/Contrast Good Is Not Nice if the good ends will have to be met through not-nice means.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Homura Akemi from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, who is willing to do anything to protect Madoka.
  • Fakir in Princess Tutu, to the point that Duck (and most of the audience) thinks he's a villain in the first few episodes. He tries to kill the resident Dark Magical Girl (and threatens to kill Princess Tutu, as well), and his overprotective treatment of Mytho can only be described as emotional abuse (or would be, if he had any emotions to be abused). However, his only goal is to protect Mytho, since he feels it's his duty as the Knight, and once his original plans fall through, he teams up with Duck to find another way to help him.
  • Patalliro: Most of the cast, to an extent, but Bancoran fits the most with his "bishounen killer" persona and Hair-Trigger Temper. And yet, he's always the first to show kindness and it's clear that there's a strong sense of honor and duty underneath it all.

    Comic Books 
  • Wolverine is sometimes portrayed as this, for example in the 2013 Crisis Crossover Age Of Ultron, where he goes back in time and murders Hank Pym before Ultron can be created.
  • Wonder Woman. While she will always try to find a peaceful solution first, she is perfectly willing to kill if she has no other alternative.

    Fanfiction 
  • In the RWBY fic ''Before Beacon, Otto is this.
    The village, he sensed right off, was in trouble. Grimm had likely been troubling it for days, weeks, months- he didn't know and couldn't tell. He needed to clear it, for the villagers' sake. And he would be damned if he didn't get a nice pile of gold doing so.
  • Cyborg and Persephone hate the idea of killing anyone in the finale of the Coincidence And Misunderstandings series, but understand that it's likely going to be necessary when storming a base filled with villains.
    • Likewise when Mammoth mercy killed Otto/Plasmius, Persephone remarked on how tragic it was that such a thing was necessary. By contrast, Nightwing arrested Jinx for murder after she destroyed Overload.
  • Sarutobi allows Naruto to get away with being a Kleptomaniac Hero in Demon's Dirty Dreams partially because Naruto is so good at Loop Hole Abuse that it can't be proven he's actually stolen anything. Mostly however, it's because 1) rich merchants losing things they can easily afford to replace is a small price to pay to keep the resident jinchuuriki from going nuts and 2) Naruto turns in anything he steals that points to a traitor or someone cheating the system.

    Film 
  • Hit Girl from Kick-Ass is pragmatic hero, though more accurately fits the type, seeing as her motives are more demonstrably good that her father in the long run.
  • The title character of the Dirty Harry franchise.
  • Some Jedi in Star Wars do not object the creation of clones genetically engineered to defend the Republic from the separatists. Then again, they have strongly held ideals, and think the Republic is the best possible regime, but YMMV on whether this is this trope or an isolated case of Utopia Justifies the Means.
  • Glinda from The Wizard of Oz may be this. Though sometimes, people like an Alternate Character Interpretation.
  • John Wayne played many, many Pragmatic Heroes with guns, who rarely verge on Unscrupulous Hero, but can easily be judged a bit too tough.

    Literature 
  • Much of Fate/Zero is spent describing Emiya Kiritsugu's cold pragmatism. Originally, he wanted to be "a hero of justice" who would help the weak and needy, but a necessarily brutal career turned him into an assassin capable of committing atrocities in his belief that the needs of the many outweigh those of the few. For Kiritsugu, sacrificing a hundred people to save a thousand is something he would do without batting an eye. Despite this, Kiritsugu never gives up his ideal of achieving a everlasting peace without conflict, and is willing to do anything necessary to bring such a utopia around sooner. This leads to his willing participation in the Holy Grail War for the artifact's supposed wish-granting power.
    • Honorable knight Saber despises her master Kiritsugu for using the most brutal and dishonorable methods to achieve victory. Kiritsugu retorts that not only do his methods end the war quickly, but they also leave survivors averse to further bloodshed. Meanwhile, chivalry perpetuates war by ennobling and glamorizing it.
    • As a child, he is forced to gun down his own father when the senior Emiya's research into immortality infects an entire island with vampirism. At the end of this, he meets freelance cleaner Natalia, who trains him and becomes his mother figure.
    • Many years later, he makes the choice to kill Natalia during a botched assassination contact aboard an airliner. The target magus booby-traps his own body to release swarms of bees that irreversibly zombify anyone they stung. Knowing that the airliner could endanger entire cities if allowed to land, Kiritsugu shoots it down even though his mother/mentor is on board. In their last exchange, she seems to approve.
    • His ideals are finally tested when he has won the Holy Grail War and obtained said wish-granting Grail. The newfound knowledge that it would bring "peace" to the world through bloody means little different than his own leads Kiritsugu to destroy the artifact instead.
  • Harry Potter is constantly breaking the rules and ultimately uses two out of the three unforgivable curses, and robs a bank to stop Lord Voldemort's schemes.
    • Dumbledore as well. He leaves Harry in the care of the Dursleys (who are far from the ideal guardians ever), but does so because his living with them will invoke an ancient magic that protects him from Voldemort. Notably the times when he doesn't follow this trope (he keeps from telling Harry vital information because he doesn't want to cause him distress from the knowledge), it backfires horribly since Harry walks into danger as a result.
  • Grimble from Guardians of Ga'Hoole fits here, like some other owls in the series do, by virtue of the high stress they have put on efficiency in fighting for good.
  • In The Mists of Avalon, Vivian may be one, or be anything else...
  • Edmund Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia is this, especially when compared to the chivalrous, idealistic Peter. Edmund seems to have a more cold-natured thinking, a sharp mind and logic. He is rarely driven by emotions and is mostly collected and down-to-earth, having an acute sense of justice, going to the point where he becomes unsympathetic towards enemies and downright cruel, as opposed to Peter, who is more impulsive and emotional. This is proven when Peter battles Miraz, because Edmund tells Peter not to be chivalrous and to strike Miraz. The scene suggests that, if Edmund had been in Peter's place, he would not have hesitated and would have killed Miraz in a heartbeat.
  • Warrior Cats features violent fight, tough decisions, and cats betraying the warrior's code, but some of the cats implicated do it for the right reasons.
  • The good guys in David Weber's Safehold are clearly good anyhow, but they justify and present their actions and motivations as purely pragmatic moves. Better to be merciful and honorable to defeated enemies so future foes will be more willing to surrender rather than fight to the last, better to treat your people well so they'll be loyal to you in turn, and so on.
    • frequent remarks are made along the lines of "Isn't it nice when the moral thing to do and the pragmatic thing to do are the same thing?"
  • Ciaphas Cain insists that, contrary to his image, he's an abject coward, and almost always seems to have an explanation as to why a given course of action seemed to best ensure his personal safety. He also tries to complement and be nice to his subordinates, because many a Cowboy Cop hard-driving Commissar has been "accidentally" shot by the men he was leading into battle. Note that the series hints that the claims of cowardice aren't always true; there have been plenty of times when he's been unable to come up with a pragmatic explanation, and blames it on shock or injury when it's clear he's acting out of actual caring.
  • Joseph Carrion from the Mediochre Q Seth Series. Mediochre at least tries to be an Ideal Hero but isn't very good at it. Joseph, by contrast, never saw any need to restrict himself to "good" actions in the first place, and is perfectly fine with gunning people down if it's for a good cause and there's no better option available.
  • Pretty much all of Mike's followers in John Ringo's Paladin of Shadows series
  • Lord Vetinari of the Discworld series always has the smooth operation of the city in mind, but the people in the city aren't as carefully considered.
  • Tennyson Hardwick, small time actor, part time detective and bodyguard, former gigolo and hero of the eponymous series by Blair Underwood, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due is a man hardened by his past enough to kill when he has to but still moral enough to regret having to do it, even though he acknowledges that the men he killed had it coming. he also bends or even break the law often enough to sometimes put him at odds with his former cop father and current cop brother figure.

    Live Action TV 
  • 24: Jack Bauer is a highly unconventional government agent who won't hesitate to torture his enemies to find out what he wants to know. Given that knowledge may be the only thing standing between the world as we know it and some very bad things, he falls in this category.
  • Angel:
    • The eponymous character thinks he has to take down the forces of evil by any means, and tries to distance himself from humans because they make him more remorseful, and ultimately, less ruthless. He also joins a dubious organization. Possibly momentarily downplayed when he tries to turn into Angelus, his Enemy Without.
    • It becomes a plot point in season 5, when it drives him further and further away of his function of Champion. Eventually, it resulted in the murder of an innocent champion called Drogyn.
    • A perhaps even larger example of Angel's pragmatic hero complex is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight comics. He adopts the status of a masked figure called Twilight under order of the Powers, intentionally putting himself against Buffy and supposedly the Slayer organization to keep her focused and alive for the inevitable Twilight prophecy because he believed Buffy would die, along with the rest of the world. In the end, it resulted in the deaths of 200 slayers and Buffy's watcher, Giles. Though he was possessed in some areas (Long story ... )
    • Wesley also frequently displayed this trope. He was against rescuing Willow from the Mayor for a box, tortured a woman in a closet to gain information on Angel's wherabouts and stabbed a a girl that was getting high off vampire's feeding off her to find out where Angelus was:
    Wesley: "You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everyone killed."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Giles, later in the series. Buffy avoids this. Faith doesn't, when a good girl she will Shoot the Dog and seek out Revenge by Proxy, as well a keeping a cynical, pragmatic and decadent attitude, but is altruistic just the same.
  • Camelot: Merlin sees himself as this. It is unclear whether he is actually this at the end of the series, but it seems he wants to be this and will succeed later.
  • The Closer: Brenda Leigh Johnson is a Pragmatic Hero, verging on the Lawful choice of the dilemma To Be Lawful or Good because she genuinely thinks she has to (but choosing good ultimately, though a rather tough good).
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor is this, at one point sacrificing a city to prevent the world from being ruled by the villains. However, this tends to vary between incarnation, and sometimes even episodes. In one episode the Doctor will be willing to comment genocide against a destructive race, and in the next he'll be refusing to wipe out the Daleks (AKA, the worst things in the universe). A big theme of the revived series is whether the Doctor is a messianic figure, or whether he's a narcissist hypocrite who looks down on others for not following his high and inconsistent standards.
    • Jack Harkness too, although he swings widely between this and Unscrupulous Hero, especially in Torchwood. In Doctor Who proper, he is more often between Disney and Pragmatist.
    • This is pointed out in "The Sirens of Time", where the 6th Doctor says all his incarnations are pragmatic but he is more so, stopping the villain by shooting the controls.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Elliot Stabler, possibly. He uses I Did What I Had to Do as a Catch Phrase, because he is highly moral, but also sometimes too determined in achieving what he thinks are the best results. He has a closure rate of 97%, after all.
  • Legend of the Seeker:
    • It is explored greatly in this ABC show.
    • First of all, it is Played Straight with the incorruptible Kahlan. She sacrifices her chances to get her immediate happy ending with the man she loves, her safety and the right to have the normal life she dreams of since so long ago, but can be a bit too extreme, even after her Love Interest. For instance, when she learns that her baby niece is actually a baby nephew, and discovers he'll be a terrible dictator of the Always Chaotic Evil men Confessor kind, she initially wants to drown him. She is also ready to kill a dangerous, potentially apocalypse-causing, yet innocent young lady Confessor.
    • Zedd seemed to show signs of being this, but it gets Subverted when he is willing to get revenge on Panis Rahl while it doesn't help in his quest, nor in his goal, not even helping to fulfill his personal standards, morally or otherwise. Then, it gets Double Subverted, as he refuses to do so when he realizes how bad it would be.
    • It is played with with Cara, who behaves like one due to Richard's orders (but it is unclear whether she completely or just partly adopted this mentality).
    • Subverted with Richard, who is supposed to be turned into a Pragmatic Hero by his training but always Takes a Third Option, remaining (depending on your point of view) either a Heroic Archetype, either a hero with shades of type I antihero.
    • It gets Deconstructed for antagonists such as Darken Rahl, Nicci, the first Mother Confessor in the series's run, and the Sisters of The Light, except Verna, who see themselves as this, but unlike Kahlan, Zedd and Cara, refuse Richard's solutions about taking a third option.
  • Medium: The heroine, Alison Dubois, uses death threats, emotional manipulation and horrible phobias to make people get caught by the police, or confess their crimes. Sometimes, she even lets murderers die when they can't get caught. She justifies it by thinking they cause a threat, but is several times seen rejoicing, which is justified again because she has many proofs of the afterlife.
  • Merlin: Merlin from this BBC show could be seen as this. Merlin poisons the innocent Morgana to save the good future he works for. Gaius encourages him on this way, and they both end up talking about how hard making difficult choices can be, but how it becomes necessary. Morgana is later characterized by her lack of planning and impulsivity, which cause her to go to great length either to make something way too extreme happen, either to prevent one of this situations realize, until the season 4 premiere, in which she accepts to do an enormous sacrifice.
  • NCIS: Ziva David was once a Dark Action Girl, who used manipulation and brutal intimidation to save her country. Since officially joining the team and under Gibbs influence she has dialed back to being a Knight in Sour Armor.
  • Revolution: Miles Matheson, thanks to Charlie's influence, goes from Unscrupulous Hero to this type of hero as the series goes on ("Sex and Drugs", "The Children's Crusade"). He wants to take down his old friend Sebastian "Bass" Monroe and atone for his misdeeds ("No Quarter"). Still, characters have had to intervene to make sure Miles doesn't go too far ("The Love Boat", "Clue").
  • Smallville:
    • Has Tess Mercer, who defines herself and people who are really heroes, as the people who are ready to do the dirty work for the good of the many.
    • Oliver Queen refuses to adhere to Clark's Thou Shall Not Kill policy pretexting that it prevents him from being this. This argument is possibly used by Lionel Luthor, and all those who wish Clark would at last become more effective and implicated, or who want him to went Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
    • Chloe Sullivan becomes this to protect Clark at one point, but she is guilt-stricken in the afterwhile.
  • Oliver Queen from the Series "Arrow" is a prime example in season 1, killing the bad-guys to save the day.

    Roleplay 
  • Elite Agent Rotor in Dino Attack RPG happens to be guilty of multiple war crimes, but he's also fighting to save the world from Mutant Dinosaurs and does a dang good job at it.

    Table Top Games 
  • In general, this is where the nicer chapters of Space Marines from War Hammer 40000 fall.

    Theater 

    Toys 

    Video Games 
  • Yuri Lowell from Tales of Vesperia did what he had to do to Cumore and Ragou and many a "The Reason You Suck" Speech are given by him to Flynn Scifo.
  • A Renegade Commander Shepard can be quite pragmatic in Mass Effect. With a general "I Did What I Had to Do" philosophy as the core tenet of the playstyle, all kinds of morally questionable actions can be done.
    • Even Paragon Shepard slips into this during the second and third game.
    • Mordin Solus falls into this. He's a decent person and firmly on the heroic side, but he's also extremely pragmatic and isn't afraid to be ruthless and do horrible things for the sake of the greater good. He is first introduced as a doctor who willingly went into a heavily plague-infested area to save as many lives as possible... and who mercilessly gunned down mercenaries trying to stop him and hung their corpses up outside his clinic as a warning to others.
    Daniel: You're a doctor! You're supposed to help people!
    Mordin: Many ways to help people. Sometimes cure patients. Sometimes execute dangerous individuals. Either way helps.
  • Raiden from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance firmly believes that some people have to die in order for innocent lives to be saved. His evil alter ego, Jack the Ripper, makes him a borderline Unscrupulous Hero.
    Raiden: There's a saying I like: 'One sword keeps another in the sheath.' Sometimes, the threat of violence alone is a deterrent. Sometimes, by taking a life, others can be preserved. It's the code the samurai lived by...
  • The new Tomb Raider game has Lara develop into this over the course of the game. While she starts out as a Classical Anti-Hero who must simply kill in self defense merely to survive the extreme conditions around her, she gradually becomes more and more jaded and numb until she's spouting Badass Boasts that imply she's now come to revel in the carnage she reaps. She even has a standard "brushes off of an attempted What the Hell, Hero? " moment.
    • Although that moment came directly after a friend sacrificed himself to save her and the What the Hell, Hero? speech was used to unfairly blame Lara for his death, so she was both justified in brushing it off and not in the best frame of mind at that point.
  • Jim Raynor in StarCraft II
  • Lee Everett in The Walking Dead Video Game can be pragmatic depending on player choice.
  • Hector: Badge of Carnage, Hector is willing to use any means to get where he needs to be, even if it involves lying, black mail, stealing...anything to get the job done.
  • Captain Walker in Spec Ops: The Line certainly considers himself to be one of these. Whether the player still agrees with him by the end of the game is another story...
  • Shadow from the Sonic the Hedgehog series became one after discovering his true purpose in his self-titled game. He realizes that Maria's wish for him is to protect the world, but he has no qualms in going the extra mile in doing so, especially if it involves fighting against Sonic and the other heroes.

    Web Original 
  • In Worm, Armsmaster, a Badass Normal Gadgeteer Genius, is a clear example of this. He notes to Taylor that she should avoid fights where she can, develops technology specifically to incapacitate the villains of his city, and gets several supervillains deliberately killed in order to give him a chance to kill Leviathan.
    • A later and even more extreme example is found in Alexandria of the Triumvirate, who is entirely willing to manipulate the system that she created to keep parahumans under the control of normal people to put her civilian identity in a position of authority where she can do the most good with her Thinker powers, threatens the lives of a villain's friends in order to force her to give in, is willing to work with a far worse villain for the sake of maintaining security of the foremost parahuman prison, and is guilty of enough crimes against humanity to push her into Well-Intentioned Extremist territory.
  • The SCP Foundation is ultimately trying to protect the world from potentially dangerous items. However, they are often forced to do morally ambiguous things for the sake of their mission. Among other things, many of the items captured are sentient and fairly harmless and are only considered to require containment because they interfere with their conceptions of what the world should be like. Plus their use of D-Class personnel as expendable individuals who's sole purpose is to observe and get killed SC Ps, even if they survive they killed them anyway.

    Western Animation 
  • Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time, of all people, given some of the depths she will go to at times. Finn and Jake have even called her out a couple times, though not always face to face.
  • Batman in Batman: The Animated Series.
  • Kyle from South Park often plays this role, particularly when confronting one of Cartman's many schemes.
  • Rose from American Dragon Jake Long is most likely this, being willing to pull off a Final Solution to save her family and the entire Magical World from the Huntsclan.
    • Though this is only after she finds out Jake's secret, up until that point she's an Anti-Villain.
  • Few of the heroes in The Dreamstone seem to really give a flying fish if the Urpneys are Trapped In Villainy, and will take any measure to stop them. This bordered Blood Knight or outright Unscrupulous Hero territory in early episodes, though later seasons made their retaliations more passive, often disinterested in attacking the Urpneys outside the means to protect the stone. They sometimes relapsed however.
  • The Land Before Time: The heroes are not averse to fighting dirty when confronted with sharpteeth.
  • Popeye holds himself to a strict moral code, but this doesn't stop him from beating people or animals to a pulp (occasionally for little to no reason, in the early shorts anyway). And a sometimes when he rescues Olive, he does so to prevent Bluto from having her rather than for her own safety.
  • Many of the past avatars from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, most notably Kyoshi, who wouldn't hesitate to murder somebody if it would save the lives of innocents.


The ParagonKnight In Shining TropesProud Warrior Race Guy
Pragmatic AdaptationPragmatism TropesPragmatic Villainy
Nominal HeroQuirky GoodBeware the Honest Ones
Pet the DogGoodness TropesRedemption Demotion
Pillars of Moral CharacterMorality TropesPrinciples Zealot
Nominal HeroHeroesSociopathic Hero
Noble Bigot with a BadgeIndex with a Heart of GoldThe Proud Elite
Post-Historical TraumaCharacterization TropesPresent Absence
The Power of HateCynicism TropesThe Promised Land

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