"The mark of a true hero is somebody who's willing to sacrifice his own personal morality to help keep the world safe."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 and has purely selfish motivation. 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 towards the gray side of Anti-Hero from the (first type of) Knight in Sour Armor. While the Knight in Sour Armor will do the right thing, but cut the niceties, 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!," and are quite likely to view any unpleasant actions they take as Dirty Business and seek to avoid it if reasonably possible. 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, possibly seeing that kind of behavior as shortsighted and unprofessional, since acting without thought for the consequences of one's actions is against everything they believe in. In this sense a Pragmatic Hero contrasts a Blood Knight or He Who Fights Monsters. However, if their methods are excessively violent or otherwise distasteful, they've become Unscrupulous Heroes. Compare Good Is Not Nice if the "good guy" extends his jerkassery towards non-villainous characters as well and Good Is Not Soft in for the instances when they get their hands bloody in the name of the greater good while remaining more or less decent people.
— Tess Mercer, Smallville
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Anime and Manga
- Homura Akemi from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, who is willing to do anything to protect Madoka. This eventually gets deconstructed when she ultimately decides the only way to protect and keep Madoka safe is to become the Devil to her God.
- Patalliro!: Most of the cast, to an extent, but Bancoran fits the most as a Yaoi James Bond Expy. He shows it by having a sense of honor and duty during missions and usually being the first to show kindness.
- Minako Aino, of all people, graduated to this at the end of Codename: Sailor V when she killed Ace, her true love for being Kunzite's Dragon. Had shades of this since the start, as her first kill was Higashi, the disguised youma on which she had a crush, but she was holding hope she could save Higashi, while she attacked to kill when facing Ace.
- 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.
- Ange in Cross Ange is willing to dirty her hands if need be but she's doing it so that her squadmates are safe from harm even if she has to Kill Steal from them. Also disgusted with the society of mana after witnessing its harsh bigotry when nearly executed for being a Norma, and wishes to destroy it, but remains to be seen how far she will go. She was definitely disgusted when she found out the [DRAGONs] she and her comrades had been killing were part-human.
- Attack on Titan has several of these, given the kind of world they live in. The most evident are Erwin Smith and Levi, who puts the necessities and survival of the human race above anything else, even if it means risking the lives of many of their men to achieve it. They don't enjoy it, but with the significant circumstances against them, they have no choice but to use these methods.
- 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 cannot find an alternative method to ending a conflict.
- Black Panther will often look for a diplomatic solution, but is not above using lethal force or other morally dubious methods to save the day. He's one of the few heroic examples of the Chessmaster archetype.
- Huntress is pretty much the same as Wonder Woman and has no problem using lethal force if she feels it's necessary. Naturally, her and Batman don't tend to get along.
- Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., he has done plenty of rather questionable things. But he did it for the good of everyone, and so that the superheroes would look better than him.
- Eric Finch from V for Vendetta.
- Jason Todd is this in Red Hood Arsenal.
- The Darker and Edgier Italian branch of Disney created one in Paperinik, Donald Duck's superhero alter ego: at the start, and before Paperinik New Adventures, he was merely an avenger of himself who brought in criminals and the likes merely because he would not tolerate people taking the easy way.
- Quite appropriately, Fantomius, the Gentleman Thief whose journal inspired Donald into becoming Paperinik (even wearing his very costume and using some of his gadgets in the first story, before acquiring some identical costumes and new gadgets), was one. He would steal, but always from Jerkass Victims, and only because he saw that the best counter to criminals masquerading as gentlemen was a gentleman masquerading as a thief.
- Judge Dredd: Joe Dredd is a jackbooted Judge, Jury, and Executioner who above all else has to maintain order in a decaying megalopolis with horrible crime rates. He frequently kills perps and sentencing of those he arrests is extremely harsh, but Dredd does this purely out of a sense of duty and his belief that law is absolute. At several points in his career he's actually come to question the legitimacy of the Justice System.
- 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 Loophole 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.
- Fairy Tail story Angel's Breath has Ryusuke Yugure, a genuinely nice man with some unsavory tendencies who is perfectly willing to torture an enemy to get information on a group who may endanger his guild.
- In Past Continuous Eleya isn't overly fond of the Cardassians but she notes early on that CDF officers like Berat should be involved in the operation to eject Loriss from Deep Space 9, because they saw Dominion War-era Dominion tactics and planning as friendlies, meaning they have a potentially useful perspective the Federation and Klingons don't have (demonstrated by Berat seeing a detail in Loriss' formations that Eleya and Admiral Marconi couldn't). She comments that a bit of the Vulcan "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" mantra rubbed off on her from a Vulcan operations officer (probably T'Var).
- Word of God states that Sarutobi is aware of more than Naruto realizes in Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto. He doesn't have Naruto arrested because the crimes he does know about aren't worth losing a jinchuuriki that's S-ranked at graduation. However there are other crimes which he would arrest Naruto for, he just doesn't know about them.
- In The Ultimate Evil, the demon slayer Nataline Homato doesn't rule out killing humans — namely those who are possessed by demons or are Others to them — if she believes that the world can be kept safe from demons that way, making it initially hard for her to work with the more upright Chans.
- Naruto during the second exam in Team 7's Ascension declares a no survivors policy whenever their alliance defeats another team. He doesn't like the idea, but they can't afford having someone come after them for revenge, especially when other alliances are far larger than theirs. This is in stark contrast to Chouji who refuses to kill after his first (accidental) kill.
- Ethan Sunderland, aka the Courier, is depicted as this in Mass Foundations: Redemption in the Stars. To start, he killed a batarian thug, stopping him from mugging him and looted the corpse for anything of value to use. He agreed to work with Cerberus on a project to repair his Transportalponder, abandoned Liara and Feron at the mercy of Tazzik when things turned for the worse in their pursuit of Shepard (though he was willing to rescue them at any cost), and took a Blue Suns centurion hostage to extract information on Liara's and Feron's coordinates from her comrades. On the other hand, he assisted the NCR during his travels in the Mojave. He was also squeamish working with Cerberus but didn't see much of a choice but to go along.
- The title character of the Dirty Harry franchise.
- Some Jedi in Star Wars do not object to 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.
- John Wayne played many, many tough Pragmatic Heroes with guns, though they verge on being Unscrupulous Heroes at times.
- Nick Fury and Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fury is a Chessmaster, Black Widow is a consummate spy, and they're both more comfortable with deception and dirty business than the likes of Captain America - but they're just as dedicated to protecting the world.
- In A Brother's Price, the Whistlers are a very pragmatic family. Some of their great-grandmothers were executed for treason, but no one ever considered taking revenge on the royal family; they were criminals, and that's the price you pay. Jerin, therefore, is quite a pragmatic hero. At the start of the novel, without regard for his own reputation and chastity, he leaves the house guarded only by his preteen sister, carries a wounded soldier to the family farm, and strips off her clothes, chaperoned only by his toddler sisters. Later on, after he's been kidnapped he gives his word of honour to make no attempts to escape if his companion is spared He later admits that he had no intention to keep his word.
- 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 avoids telling Harry vital information because he doesn't want to distress Harry with this 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 pragmatic way of thinking, a sharp mind, and a good sense of 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 fights, 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, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, 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 genuine 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 enough by his past to kill when he has to but is 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.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Stupid Good has a very short shelf-life in this series; but, that doesn't make trying to be smart and good any easier.
- Stannis falls firmly into this. He has a very strong sense of what is right and will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to achieve that right; including having his own brother Renly assassinated with blood magic. It helps that Renly was a Jerkass who intended to kill Stannis, but what Stannis had to do still torments him — though it is still a matter for debate among the fandom how responsible Stannis was for Renly's death. Later, Stannis considers burning a bastard nephew, the illegitimate son of his late brother, King Robert, in a ritual to raise a dragon (for which King's Blood is required) but he is clearly very reluctant to do so, and tells Melisandre if it fails, she'll die slowly. However his honest advisor Lord Davos Seaworth sends Edric away from Westeros before Stannis can do so.
- Daenerys Targaryen is... learning and she is a a young queen after all. Depending on who you ask in-world, however, the various outcomes and methods she takes have some people thinking she's a villain, not a hero. However, in reality, she is compassionate, does have heroic intentions, tries to go about doing the right thing whatever the cost, bleeds for every mistake she makes and is genuinely learning from both her success and failures — despite her passionate stubbornness. The problem is, gaining experience with pragmatism through trial and error (and a massive resolve to not be like her brother) is only really a good way to wind up in deep, deep trouble while running in circles. Having a properly accredited teacher you actually listen to is a helpful thing when learning to hero, kiddies.
- Like Daenerys, Jon Snow has to start climbing the learning curve at top speed when he joins the Night's Watch, is compassionate and is always trying do to the right thing. While he has many traits of a "classic hero," is described as a "classic hero" by author, George R. R. Martin, and is trying to protect people, he also finds out that doing the right thing and his Stark traits of honor and duty put him at odds with other members of the Nightís Watch — learning that doing what's right and going by the Watch's tradition/rules donít always go hand in hand. Jon's efforts to do the right thing and his sympathy for the wildlings — whom Jon views as actual people in contrast to traditional views of the Nightís Watch — do not earn him the best reputation from some fellow members. While he maintains his morality, compassion, and drive to save people, this strains his personal safety and well-being and the stoic aspects of his personality amp up when he is elected Lord Commander, wherein he sends his friends away to do other jobs for the Night's Watch and isolates himself to try and focus on only duty (with varying success — but strong emotions, like his love for his family, arise) in an effort to observe the leadership advice his father and Maester Aemon had given him. When necessary, Jon will go against tradition and opinions of fellow Watch members for the sake of doing the right thing — like his efforts to save wildling men, women, children and other people in need, and teaming up with wildling warriors to fight everyone's true enemy, the Others. Though he has humanitarian reasons for rescuing the wildlings, Jon also makes a pragmatic argument to his opposers that they can't risk letting the wildlings die, as anyone who dies north of the Wall would become part of the aforementioned giant army of the dead, which is coming for them all and they need a way to defend against this.
- In Acacia, in contrast to her older brother Aliver who is an Ideal Hero , the Acacian princess Corinn is this while she still retains quite a bit of her morals, she's not one to worry too much about that. How so? She overthrows her family's usurpers through treachery, continues her empire's use of drugging the population to pacify them (though she concedes a bit by using less of them), mind-controls opponents and even her own siblings if they get out of line, and drops the equivalent of a magical nuke on an enemy city that does various horrible things including causing a victim to be flayed alive. However her pragmatism makes her queen while his idealism ends up getting her brother killed
- Journey to Chaos: By the start of Looming Shadow Eric is fully willing to use any means at his disposal to win a battle, complete his mission, and keep his team alive. He'd also rather avoid battles unless there's profit involved (he's a mercenary after all) or It's Personal.
- Conrad Nomikos in This Immortal. He is not above resorting to guerrilla warfare, standing aside and potentially seeing someone killed or insulting sensibilities by dismantling the pyramid of Cheops to prove his point and achieve the greater goal of an autonomous Earth with its inhabitants returned. He does, however, take the time to first make damn sure it's the best course of action towards that goal.
- Dire, in The Dire Saga, has no problem with setting deadly booby traps, preemptively attacking the enemy, or executing unrepentant killers to ensure that they don't kill again.
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.
Wesley: "You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everyone killed."
- 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:
- Oliver Queen from the Series Arrow is a prime example in season 1, killing the bad guys to save the day. Reality Ensues as his allies and friends are aghast at his casual nature of this, and after suffering a series of tragedies by the end of the season, he takes up a Thou Shalt Not Kill oath going forward.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Giles, later in the series. For example, he has no problem with killing the unwilling human host of a God of Evil in order to also kill the god. 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 commit 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 a narcissist hypocrite who looks down on others for not following his high and inconsistent standards. The Twelfth Doctor in particular does a lot of soul searching over what kind of a man he is and how his first companion Clara gradually becomes more pragmatic due to his influence. It's telling that Twelve comes to regard himself not as a hero or even a good man, but rather an idiot who passes through the universe helping others, forever striving to live up to a heroic ideal he's set up for himself and not always succeeding at it. As he puts to Clara in "Flatline", when she asks if she was a good Doctor in his stead during the crisis of the week, he says she was exceptional, but "Goodness had nothing to do with it."
- 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. He finally hangs up the badge when "what he had to do" becomes too much for Stabler, in the form of having to shoot a child rape victim who had accidentally killed innocent bystanders while also (quite deliberately) killing her rapist.
- Legend of the Seeker:
- 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 member of the Always Chaotic Evil male Confessor kind, she initially goes along with the Mother Confessor's plan to drown him. She also advises Richard several times to leave innocent people to their fates rather than helping them, because their mission is more important.
- Zedd seemed to show signs of being this, but it gets subverted when he is willing to get revenge on Panis Rahl when it wouldn't help his quest, or his goal, or even 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 a Classical 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").
- 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.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Captain Ben Sisko, who, faced with a brutal war with the Dominion, steadily becomes more and more this trope over the course of the series, even as it catches up with his conscience. We get a truly stunning example in season 5's "For The Uniform", where he has the atmosphere of a Maquis planet poisoned just to force Eddington, a former Federation officer and Maquis defector, to surrender to the authorities. It works, and Sisko never even faces any consequences for it.
- Supernatural: Practically all three of the main characters fall into this category:
- Dean is the most consistent example. More cynical than his brother Sam, he knows firsthand you can't save everyone and believes killing people is sometimes necessary in the fight against evil. However, he never kills without reason and genuinely believes he's doing the right thing.
- Sam went through his phase during his demon blood addiction. He tortured and bled an innocent woman possessed by a demon so he could kill Lillith and stop the Apocalypse. Ironically enough ... he started it.
- Castiel through seasons 4-8. He stole souls, nearly destroyed an entire town to stop the Apocalypse, killed countless angels and people while trying to stop a Civil War in Heaven, killed countless more to restore heaven, and killed a innocent girl while believing he was uniting his angels. Yeah, he did this a lot ...
- Alex Russo from Wizards of Waverly Place is as sour as a Disney heroine is allowed to be and at one point describes herself as an angry loner who occasionally does good and doesn't want anyone to know about it.
- Clarke from The 100 manages to be both this and an All-Loving Hero. She's an incredibly caring and kind-hearted person, who does her level best to save everyone, even people who have attacked her or murdered her friends. However, she also has an uncanny knack for suppressing the part of her that cares for people. If Clarke believes there's no way out of a situation without someone getting hurt, then she's going to decide who needs to be sacrificed and act on it with barely any hesitation. Even close friends and lovers aren't safe if Clarke decides The Needs of the Many have to come first.
- 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 characters from Warhammer 40,000 who are most worth considering as heroes fall.
- Shakespeare's Hamlet lets his beloved lose hope in their future together to do what he thinks is right, thus qualifying if you agree that he is doing what is right in fighting against the (possibly) traitor queen and her king.
- Prowl in Transformers Generation 1 is often portrayed this way in contrast to the rest of the Autobots tending to be far more idealistic. How far it goes ranges from him just being The Spock in the original cartoon, to being kind of a dick in the original comics, to being a Well-Intentioned Extremist in some of the recent comics (The Transformers (IDW), The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, The Transformers: Robots in Disguise...).
- 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.
Daniel: You're a doctor! You're supposed to help people!
- 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.
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.
- Jim Raynor in StarCraft II.
- Lee Everett in The Walking Dead 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. He also has no problem using lethal force if he feels it's justified.
- Fate/stay night: Archer shifted towards this from Iron Woobie in his former life, working his best towards being an idealistic crusader while recognizing that the world wasn't that convenient and knowing he'd have to kill a few to save many. After he became a guardian spirit and lost his free will, he crossed the Despair Event Horizon and lost all faith in his ideal, even though he technically acts on it through his role. Despite this, in the first two routes Shirou can still convince him that the ideal is worth pursuing.
- Shirou decides to become this in the Unlimited Blade Works route, accepting that he can't save everyone but still deciding to try to live up to his ideal the best he can.
- Michael Thorton of Alpha Protocol can be played this way in the Taipei mission, reasoning that saving President Sung from assassination will make it easier to rein in the resulting unrest and keep Taiwan from going to war with China, making it more important than preventing the deadly riots his assassins are also planning to start. The villain Henry Leland admires this particular attitude in him.
- 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 (and reality in general) from potentially dangerous items. This occasionally means they are forced to do morally ambiguous things for the sake of their mission. Among other things, many of the items captured are non-malevolent sentients, or even humans. Knowing that a child Reality Warper is rarely more than a childhood trauma away from initiating an apocalypse, and that even the most innocuous items can be abused in the wrong hands, the foundation does what it has to do.
- Matthew Santoro, the protagonist of his web series. In ''A New Planet & Antimatter!", for example, he believes that the antimatter isn't safe with the scientists who have it because it could accidentally destroy the world. He's correct, but he resorts to the questionable act of having Eugene sneak into the research facility with the antimatter and steal it, in order to ensure the safety of the world.
- Batman in Batman: The Animated Series. His manipulative methods ultimately served to drive his proteges away from him, one by one, until age finally caught up with him, leaving him a miserable old man alone in his mansion.
- 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 on Blood Knight or 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 or even showing mercy if it made for a simpler victory. They sometimes relapsed however.
- 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 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.
- Sokka tries to take this approach in "The Painted Lady", when the group comes across a village suffering from pollution, hunger and sickness. Katara wishes to stop and help them, but Sokka insists that they don't have time to help everyone they meet and that they would be doing a lot more good by succeeding with their plan to invade the Fire Nation.
- Benson on Regular Show is the grouchy, hot-tempered boss who is always threatening to fire the main characters Mordecai and Rigby unless they repair the damage caused by the Eldritch Abomination of the Week. Despite this, he is portrayed to be an honest, courteous, and kindhearted person who cares about his co-workers, even his mischievous slacker underlings. This was beautifully demonstrated in the episode "Benson Be Gone" which is basically him getting fired and replaced with a female boss who ends up being another eldritch monstrosity, leading to Benson returning to save the day in epic fashion.
- Six from Generator Rex. Despite looking and sounding like a unemotional The Men in Black agent, he has principles he won't compromise; Rex is in fact alive thanks to him, and he has admitted that he stopped being a mercenary *because* of Rex.
- In Moral Orel, Reverend Rod Putty eventually becomes this, being one of the few characters not utterly blinded by hypocrisy and actually caring about the well-being of the main character.