"No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise."A character who cares too much about their principles, often at the expense of caring about the results of their actions. While many characters believe in ideals like truth, knowledge and the rule of law, these folks take it to uncomfortable levels. May be Played for Laughs, or played straight in one way or another. A person who Will Not Tell a Lie, for example, crosses over into Principles Zealot when they maintain truthfulness even in the face of horrible consequences that they know could be averted by telling a Jedi Truth. A hero who will commit any atrocity rather than break a promise, even if they were tricked into making it, is a Principles Zealot. Please note that such a Principles Zealot isn't necessarily more principled than someone who normally Will Not Tell a Lie but can make exceptions in extreme cases. The difference is that the zealot refuses to see the big picture, clinging blindly to the principle and the principle only. This has a certain bloody-minded logic: the threat of looming negative consequences could always be a trick or illusion, or there might be an escape route, but once you tell the lie to avoid it, there's a 100% certainty that you are now a liar. Psychologically, categorical imperatives can also be a source of immense power. A Principles Zealot can be a Well-Intentioned Extremist, Knight in Sour Armor, Knight Templar, Lawful Stupid or even a someone who ended up on the wrong end of that Sliding Scale. Contrast Totalitarian Utilitarian, who is another side of these four kinds of fanaticism: While the Principles Zealot cares only about principles, the Totalitarian Utilitarian cares only about results. Note that a fanatic doesn't have to fall into either of those two categories: their fanaticism can be about a cause or a belief instead. Things can get really ugly when this character suffers from Black and White Insanity. See also The Determinator and The Fettered. Contrast Honor Before Reason: Principles Zealot is a character type, while Honor Before Reason is a motivation/characterization. Honor Before Reason is explicitly idealistic and heroic, whereas Principles Zealot is an idealistic character, but is on the cynical side of that Sliding Scale. No Real Life Examples, Please!
— Rorschach, Watchmen
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Anime and Manga
- In Berserk, Farnese comes to Bishop Mozgus while he's praying and admits her doubts about their mission, recognizing that their paranoid and brutal inquisition against heresy is hated by the people as well as the knights enforcing it and has so far failed to end the attacks on priests. In response to her asking if they are merely causing needless suffering instead of helping anybody, Mozgus tells her a parable with the lesson that since you cannot predict how your actions will be perceived by the people you are trying to help, you should not worry about it as long as your intentions are righteous. While he admits that he doesn't like to cause so much pain, he feels no guilt about it because he does so in the name of God. Therefore, he urges her not to question God or the scriptures, but instead execute her task no matter what the consequences will be for herself or others. Unlike Farnese, who eventually realizes the error of her ways, Mozgus himself hangs onto his misguided principles until the very end.
- Suzaku Kururugi from Code Geass starts out like this, refusing to support Zero even though their shared goal is to liberate Japan from discriminatory (and lethal) oppression, believing that change has to be received by due process or it eventually results in pointless chaos; he tried to do things the rebel way by killing his father and screwed things up. Unfortunately, the power of Geass proves that the wisest people can be coerced into doing stupidly genocidal things (or even chose to do them of their own free will), and ends up joining his archrival once the level of insanity reaches his armpits.
- Once Euphemia goes insane and dies, he starts selling out and slowly reaches a level of power that he could never have obtained as an ordinary citizen. From there, things go horribly wrong.
- Schnizel then turns Suzaku's act of trust into a total betrayal, which drives Lelouch paranoid and unwilling to take him seriously, straps a warhead to Suzaku's mech and orders him into the line of fire (knowing that Suzaku's brainwashing will inevitably force him to fire it, killing millions), and then uses Lelouch's (fake confessions) in the wrong context to convert the entire Black Knights to his side. It really shows that principled acts can be used by the highest authority into freestyle bastardy.
- It's also implied that Suzaku found something at Ground Zero that caused him to lose his mind. He starts taking things pragmatically from that point on, rather than choosing based on principles.
- And this reaches a breaking point when he discovers that Lelouch's parents intend to destroy identity and free will by lobotomizing the collective unconsciousness' brain stem. Lelouch convinces him that even the Assimilation Plot is run by selfish people who hog all the control. By then, he's literally at a loss of principle because no human principle invented has involved breaking into heaven and brainwashing god. By accident.
- Light Yagami of Death Note believes in justice. This belief leads him to kill thousands of people and manipulate everyone around him. Granted, his idea of justice does shift slightly over time...
- Greed from Fullmetal Alchemist claims that he never lies (even to enemies). If this were true then that would mean he would never lie even if it could further his goals, and being the physical incarnation of the sin itself, attaining things like status, sex, money, etc. is very important to him.
- Ira Gamagoori from Kill la Kill is a semi-comedic example. He is willing to give Mako and Ryuko a ride to a gas station when their scooter breaks down, and in the next episode refuses to fight Ryuko because their fight does not start for another few hours.
- Yuuji Yugami from Yugami-kun ni wa Tomodachi ga Inai is a comedic example. His stubbornness is always Played for Laughs and it's part of the reason his classmates tend to avoid him — not that he cares, since he's quite happy without friends anyway and practically refuses to make any.
- Rorschach in Watchmen follows this trope consistently. This is probably because he's The Anti-Nihilist; he believes that the world has no other meaning than the one we impose upon it. If he abandoned his principles, he'd have nothing. The page quote is literal. He would rather let the world perish than neglect one of his moral principles just once. His reaction to Ozymandias's plan to save the world is a perfect example. He knows Veidt's new utopia will be a lie built upon a foundation of corpses and cannot let that injustice pass, and thus welcomes death by Dr. Manhattan's hand because he can no longer abide living in a morally bankrupt world where injustice must prevail in order to save lives.
- There is however one time where he could be viewed as straying from his principles. A former criminal, Edgar Jacobi, previously known as Moloch the Mystic, is shown to have Laetrile tablets (fraudulent cancer 'medicine' illegal in the US because it contains cyanide) in his house. When Rorschach presses him, Jacobi admits to having terminal cancer and using them because he's willing to try anything. Rorschach, having taken down the name of the manufacturer, let the offense slide. Given that he took the name of the manufacturer down, he may have been seeing Moloch as a victim rather than an actual thief. Since Moloch stole the pills, that meant the drug was being produced in the United States despite being illegal to do so and that was the true offense in his eyes.
- Before he became Rorschach, Walter Kovacs seemed to be able to see shades of grey... as shown in his belief that it was right to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki because the deaths of those people would effectively stop the deaths of many, many more should World War II instead continue; this is in direct contrast to the situation that Rorschach finds himself in once Ozy's plot is discovered. Then again, President Truman was an elected official and thus had legal authority to carry out that action. Given how big he is on the rules, Rorschach accepted this. By contrast, he didn't accept what Ozymandias did because he had no authority or jurisdiction to do it. However, Truman didn't have any authority over the Japanese he had killed, which makes this belief of Rorschach look like "but my people are exempt", making Rorschach's Principles Zealotry actually a moral improvement in this case.
- Judge Dredd is in many ways a parody of this, with Judge Death as a parody of the parody. While Judge Dredd is a Knight Templar By-the-Book Cop and Judge Death an Omnicidal Maniac Hanging Judge, they are still the same kind of Principles Zealot. And this is what makes them Not So Different.
- Batman can sometimes fall into this, especially when it comes to why he doesn't kill the Joker (or at least allow him to die). He is adhering to Thou Shalt Not Kill, and is somewhat justified in being afraid of not being able to stop once he crosses that line, but how many people have died at the hands of the Joker, thanks to his principles?
- Twilight Sparkle became one in one issue of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW), where she utterly refused to use any magic, either offensively or defensively, against some foes because they were "non-magical residents of Equestria". Needless to say, this drove the entire conflict of the comic and resulted in a lot of property damage and a lot of injuries to her friends and civilians.
- Mo from Dykes to Watch Out For often borders on this (as — ironically — does neoconservative Cynthia in the final years of that strip). Mo's lover-to-be Sydney invokes it early in their courting:
Mo: What do your "sources" tell you?
Sydney: Oh, just that neither Lois nor your friend Clarice are speaking to you because you're such a rigid, self-righteous prig.
Mo: Is that right? Well, if I had a superiority complex the size of yours, I wouldn't throw stones.
Sydney Sounds like my sources were right.
Mo: Sydney, if you don't like my personality, feel free to go pester someone else.
Sydney: But that's just it! I do like your personality, Mo! I admire you for putting principles before people-pleasing.
Mo: Well! As long as you admire me, what do I need with friends?
Films — Live-Action
- Nicholas Angel, the hero in Hot Fuzz, takes By-the-Book Cop to zealot levels. He gets better.
- Batman, in The Dark Knight, would rather veer off and crash his bike, leaving himself vulnerable to the Joker, than simply running the Joker over and ending the whole fiasco. Even though the Joker is unloading machine-gun fire into random motorists at the time, Batman still will not kill him.
- Harry from In Bruges snarls that if he ever killed a child, he would stick his gun in his mouth and pull the trigger then and there. At the end of the film, when he believes he has shot a kid, he follows through on his claim.
- Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. He is so thoroughly principled that he converted to Judaism for his wife and refuses to abandon it even after their divorce.
Walter: Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don't work, I don't drive a car, I don't fucking ride in a car, I don't handle money, I don't turn on the oven, and I sure as shit don't fucking roll!
- He also rather notoriously threatens to shoot a man because he didn't take a penalty during a bowling game.
- In Man of Steel, Pa Kent took keeping young Clark's identity a secret very, very seriously, to the point of willingly letting himself die to protect it.
- In The Bridge on the River Kwai, Col. Nicholson almost gets himself and his officers killed by the Japanese because he insisted on compliance to the Geneva Conventions which forbids officers to do manual labor.
- The main plot point and Fatal Flaw of Carlito in Carlito's Way. Carlito is completely dedicated to the street code of honor that he grew up with, to the point that he ignores all the common sense signs of trouble around him, including how several people close to him (especially one guy in particular that Carlito has an I Owe You My Life sort of debt to) are planning to use and betray him. Even the warnings of his own girlfriend, (who isn't as street savvy, but clearly sees the writing on the wall) go unheeded in many situations.
- In The Haunted Mansion, Ramsley's principles about honor and distinction are the reason why he killed Elizabeth to stop Master Gracey from marrying a woman of such low social status.
- Galad Damodred in The Wheel of Time is described as someone who "always does what's right, no matter who it hurts," which also indicates a very peculiar idea of what constitutes "right." He does, though, very specifically and especially include himself in "no matter who."
- Stannis Baratheon from A Song of Ice and Fire. His dedication to his principles as a goal in itself approaches levels of The Unfettered, but the chapters seen from Davos' point of view also shows that Stannis himself is conflicted by this. At times Stannis does have to go against his very strong principles (pardoning lords he considers traitors, and at one point he considers burning one of his nephews for a magical ritual) but he hates going against his principles and only does so out of a strong sense of duty.
- In the Xanth novel Man from Mundania, Grey Murphy is so Lawful that he feels obligated to honor the promise his father, the exiled Evil Magician Murphy that previously attempted to conquer Xanth made to the evil Com Pewter, a machine which wanted a human to aid in its world conquest plans. He only escapes by finding an overriding law concerning taking the place of Humphry, Magician of Information, service to whom overrides any and all prior obligation.
- In Brothers in Arms, Miles Vorkosigan and Duv Galeni discuss this while being held captive by Duv's Komarran-rebel father. Miles mentions how his mother has always argued that one should put people before principles, and Duv observes that his father has always been a very principled man.
- Investigator Paula Myo in Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga was apparently genetically engineered with the inability to tolerate any breach of the law, regardless of context.
- Tarl Cabot of Gor gets in trouble at least twice when he is arrested/captured and refuses to defend himself or tell even a simple and plausible lie.
- The Knights of the Cross in The Dresden Files are a lighter example of this: they have principles and beliefs from which they will not (and cannot) stray. If one of their most hated enemies repents, falsely or not, then they must accept that as a form of redemption and stop all hostile activities, something that almost infuriates Harry, whose moral compass is much more malleable. That being said, the code of the Knights of the Cross is vague and open to interpretation: as long as they are doing God's work, He doesn't seem to mind how they do it: Sanya's preferred weapon is not his sword, but rather an assault rifle.
- Victoria gives us John Rumford, who is willing to kill hundreds of thousands to support his traditional society. His introduction is interrupting a remembrance ceremony for fallen Marines rather than allow a woman to say 'Iwo Jima.' No women fought on Iwo, so no woman has the right to honor the war dead. When offered the choice of a public apology or getting discharged, he chooses the latter.
- Banage of The Spirit Thief is absolutely uncompromising when it comes to any actions that might harm spirits. As such, he's often derided by Sara and the Council as a thick-headed extremist, and his opinions are rather unpopular. This being said, when there are spirits being abused, you really want this guy to be on your side, because if you're the abuser, he'll absolutely wreck you and your operation.
- In Star Trek: Voyager, Seven of Nine has this attitude to her ideals of perfection. Janeway also drifts into this territory sometimes, when it's her principles that are at stake. Many of Seven's earlier episodes did a good job displaying that while she'd been separated from the Collective she still exercised a Borg's way of thinking and acting as a matter of principle. She has no problem sacrificing herself for the good of her "new collective" and will obey the choices of the larger whole despite her own opinions.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Homeward", Captain Picard (and thus his crew) chose to let an entire civilization die, one that they could easily have saved. They commit this genocide-through-inaction for the simple reason that the rules say so. Of course, it doesn't take long before Nikolai Rozhenko, Worf's foster brother, goes all What the Hell, Hero? on them. Specifically, he could easily have saved some of the planet's inhabitants, although there was no way to save all of them. It's almost certainly impossible to transplant a civilization without destroying it, so the question is whether you let all of them die or let most of them die. In this case, when one of the people who were illegally and unknowingly rescued discovers what had happened, the implications of everything they had left behind and lost drove him to suicide (presumably at least some others in their culture would have responded similarly).
- Not to be outdone, in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Dear Doctor", Archer actually does let an entire civilization die slowly and painfully from a disease while they've spent the entire episode begging him for help, due to a specific set of principles that don't even exist yet and wouldn't apply to this specific civilization even if they did.
- In JAG, Harmon Rabb defends Rear Admiral Thomas Boone (played by Terry O'Quinn) who is accused of war crimes during The Vietnam War. While the old officer doesn't plead guilty, he does nothing to defend himself or help the defense. It turns out that he is innocent but believes that no matter the cost he can never break a vow of silence once it's given.
- Chris and Victoria Argent on Teen Wolf qualify, due to their Fantastic Racism and Hunter of Monsters thing. After being infected with lycanthropy, Victoria commits suicide, with Chris' help, even though they know that werewolves can learn to control their condition and they have the resources to keep one contained until that can be accomplished. The emotional trauma this is guaranteed to cause their daughter is secondary to their adherence to Hunter rules.
- An episode of Law & Order centered around this: a murder case against a serial killer hinged on finding where he'd hidden the bodies. The killer told his rookie public defender where the bodies were located. The rookie finds the bodies where the killer said they were, but refuses to break attorney-client privilege, even when he's removed as the killer's defender and when he knows it will end his career. Jack McCoy even says to him "I'm sure you would be forgiven for breaking [privilege] in this case." The defender still refuses, saying that anyone who'd forgive him for breaking one of the most sacred principles of law should be ashamed of themselves.
- As in the original novels the show was based on, Stannis Baratheon is this in Game of Thrones, refusing to compromise to the point of insanity. Most tellingly, he plunges blindly into battle after battle despite being ridiculously outnumbered, refusing to surrender his claim to his younger brother despite the latter's far greater popularitynote , and likewise refusing to concede to the North's desires to secede from the Iron Throne. It doesn't matter to him that he's already caught in a war with the Lannisters and the inbred bastards falsely claiming his family name, or that he's so hugely outnumbered; Renly and Robb Stark are traitors and must be crushed. That said, there's also a case of Ambition Is Evil melded in, as his drive to achieve his goals ultimately leads to him committing some pretty morally murky things in his hopes of achieving them. Like burning his daughter alive as a Human Sacrifice. It gets so bad that his already-meager forces desert him in disgust, ultimately leading to his death.
- Eddard Stark is a downplayed version of the same. Whilst he's not as blind to its dangers as Stannis, his honor and the immense pride he takes in preserving his honor, leads to him making some very unwise decisions that ultimately get him killed.
- Magic: The Gathering has Elesh Norn, praetor of the white Phyrexian faction. Strangely, she gets along well with the Totalitarian Utilitarian blue praetor, Jin-Gitaxias.
- Pretty much every single "good" member of the Imperium of Man that isn't a direct member of the local Church Militant should be like this. Especially the soldiers and doubly so for the Commissars. It's to the point that if you disobey an order but win a battle, where obeying an order would lose the entire war, you will be court-martialed and executed. During active combat, so much as suggesting an alternate route could be, at officer's discretion, punishable by death.
- In some editions of Dungeons & Dragons, paladins and members of extreme alignments are like this or can be like this.
- The Hellknights of Pathfinder are feared for their complete, unflinching dedication to the law. They don't care if the law was put in place by a kindly ruler or a tyrannical despot, whether it asks them to lay down their own lives for a beggar or execute an entire village over a single stolen coin, if the law tells them to do something they will do it.
- Planescape: Torment gives us Vhailor, a Mercykiller avatar of Justice. Even death didn't slow him down- he didn't even notice his, but continued his work as he possessed his old battle armour. Not even the protagonist is safe from his swift justice if he happens to realize who the Nameless One is...
- If Shirou follows this, it can lead to an infamous bad end in the Heaven's Feel route of Fate/stay night.
- The Qunari of Dragon Age. Whilst there are exiles who do not follow their code, those that adhere to the Qun will never compromise if the "demands of the Qun" aren't met. Sten can never return home without his sword, as he will be killed on sight for having lost it.
- Dragon Age II has several examples. Katojen submits to the Qun despite its consequences for him, and regardless of Hawkes' actions, willingly chooses death. An Arvaarad attempts to kill you even if you have his respect because you may be "corrupted". The Arishok will not leave without the relic and Isabela despite your willingness to let it all end peacefully. He and his men will leave peacefully if you hand said party member over.
Hawke: I see a man who's willing to start a war on principle.
Sister Petrice: Qunari. Even their rebels conform.
- The Qun itself seems to encourage this - one is assigned a role at birth, and this is all they may do, because, by choosing to be born, they have chosen this life. A farmer will still be a farmer, even if he attempts to become a warrior.
- In their own way, even the Tal'Vashoth, the Qunari exiles, seem to find ways to adhere to the tenets of the Qun. They are told that those who have left the Qun become mercenaries and murderers, and that is what they do, because that is all that they know to do when they refuse their place in Qunari society.
- For a non-qunari example, Anders. Playing host to a spirit of Justice/Vengeance really did a number on his ability to handle shades of grey, and as the game goes on he gets steadily more aggressive and unreasonable in his expectations, eventually alienating him from almost the entire party because surprisingly enough not many of them are willing to drop everything and devote themselves full-time to mage liberation. Eventually, he commits a massive terrorist act and starts a continent-spanning war, because even if innocents have to die, mages have to be freed.
- In Final Fantasy VII, the Corel prison warden, while nominally a regular guy, absolutely refuses to let the party leave, even to plead their innocence. More to the point, he refuses to let them go even when Barret is waving a gatling gun in his face, valuing enforcing his prison rules more than his own life.
- The entire mainstream Brotherhood of Steel degenerates into this in the Fallout series. They keep on getting more and more obsessed with keeping to the Codex as more and more schismatics splinters off from the mainstream thanks to the increasing insanity of trying to keep to all the rules. This is worsened by the fact that there is significant evidence that the Codex has been altered... to be more strict (for those that wonder why this is here and not under Honor Before Reason, the Codex, at least by New Vegas, includes parts about not helping outsiders, which is hardly heroic or idealistic), even as hiding in bunkers and keeping all pre-War tech to themselves becomes increasingly less of an option. Even though Nolan McNamara, the elder of the Mojave chapter is quite aware that the Brotherhood is actively stagnating he will not break the followings of the Codex, though if the Brotherhood form a truce with the NCR and helps them win, they'll at least agree to patrol the roads (otherwise if the NCR are not around, they take the opportunity to try and harass travelers for tech).
- The Brotherhood have always been highly xenophobic and all about hoarding technology. In Fallout 1 they were so close to becoming total zealots that the assassination of just one of their leaders, Rhombus, leads to them becoming the Steel Plague, fanatics who actively hunt down anyone else with advanced technology and usher in an even darker age. Only the Chicago and Washington D.C. Brotherhoods have ever truly diverged from rigid adherence to the Codex, mainly due to being cut off from the central leadership.
- The Railroad of Fallout 4 are arguably a slightly more positive example. They're a ragtag bunch of idealistic wastelanders who are hunted daily by the Institute and risk their lives for a tiny minority of people in a land that's hellish enough already. Why? Because Androids Are People, Too, and helping them to freedom is the right thing to do. However, they've shown themselves to care more about robots (with some willing to protect even Gen 1 and 2 synths, which aren't even sentient) than their fellow man, and are willing to kill children (as there are children found in both the Prydwen and Institute), put civilians in harms way, and betray their allies if it benefits their cause.
- This is the main problem of Andrew Ryan, the antagonist of the first BioShock. Ryan had self-imposed principles of personal responsibility, hard work, and ruthless capitalism that allowed him to rise up in the world and become a Self-Made Man. Unfortunately, these principles failed spectacularly when he attempted to apply them to an entire city he built; a downtrodden working class immediately was formed who were being exploited and mistreated by the rich. Ryan simply expected them to pull themselves up like he did, ignoring that the system he put in place made it impossible for them to do so.
- Parodied in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, "Evil Ethics": A kid espouses evil deontology, which involves purposefully finding bad things to do based on the fact that it's based on a moral principle, like finding life-saving lies you could tell and refusing to do it on principle. (The other kid is an evil utilitarian.) It's a parody of this concept but couldn't be a straight example because the consequences do matter, just in a reverse way.
- Lingur, from the Sporewiki Fiction Universe is this. He is so dedicated to his principles that other people have been seen to talk for him at military meetings, despite him being the head of his empire's military, because if he were allowed to speak he might call another attendee evil. In fact, his love interest Callanni partially exists as a plot device when the plot requires him to do something he normally wouldn't. She is the only one he's been seen to listen to on such issues.
- Though Lingur is the only commonly featured example, it is implied that virtually all Aeoneonatrix are like this.
- Adventure Time has the Earl of Lemongrab who, while not evil (just a huge jerk), definitely qualifies for this trope. All Lemongrab wants is a clean, quiet, orderly kingdom. He tries to achieve this mild goal by screaming at everybody, terrorizing the candy people, and sending folks to the dungeon at the slightest provocation.
- Batman: The Animated Series: Parodied with the Clock King, whose Blue and Orange Morality make him a fundamentalist Schedule Fanatic willing to kill someone for something worse than a crime: making him late.
- In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Mrs. Puff has a flashback to the unfortunate day that she met SpongeBob. She's just opening her new boating school and gives her word that she will accept ANY student and never give up on them. Cue Spongebob's arrival. In a later episode, the entire plot revolves around Mrs Puff's increasingly blatant desire and attempts to get Spongebob KILLED in a destruction derby accident. She would sooner COMMIT MURDER than go back on her word and just kick him out of the school.
- Halcyon Renard of Gargoyles is a zealot about personal responsibility, to the point that he locks up Goliath until the latter is willing to admit his responsibility for the unprovoked destruction of one of Reynard's research bases. (Goliath had been deceived and manipulated into doing it, but he did do it.) While his attitude isn't portrayed negatively and he lives up to his own standards, this zealotry has cost him friendships and the love of his family. He also reacts badly to his daughter, a black sheep who revels in an amoral, irresponsible lifestyle.