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Red Herring

A clue that leads in the wrong direction.

A red herring is a good red herring when it interweaves itself into the story's events. For example, the murder victim may have been a philanderer. His wife has no alibi. Aha! It was the wife!

The wife's lack of an alibi is a red herring. It turns out the wife was shtupping somebody else at the time and didn't want to provide that information. However, the deceased husband's philandering is what got him killed, as it turns out, by his girlfriend's jealous husband. Philandering as a motive is introduced for good cause, not just to set up suspicions about the wife's lack of an alibi.

The supertrope to Red Herring Shirt, Red Herring Mole and Red Herring Twist.

Compare: Mistaken for Evidence, where the same result is caused by a mix-up instead of intentional misdirection. The Untwist is when a plot twist is confused for a Red Herring because it's too obvious, but turns out to have been genuine all along. See also Chewbacca Defense, when a red herring is used to baffle your opponents, and Non Sequitur, when an event does not make sense in context. See also Big Secret. If a major star is used to sucker the audience rather than the actual characters, you've just been served Dead Star Walking, or at least an aversion of Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize.

Warning: Due to the nature of this trope, unmarked spoilers ahead!


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  
  • To cite a very early example, the English dub Speed Racer had a one-off character named Red Herring for completely no reason. However it is also a subversion because the actual character did have a sizable portion in the episode.
  • Red Herrings are a staple of Case Closed, but a big one happens in the recurring Black Organization meta-arc when Vermouth finally shows herself and it's not who you think it is at all. She's been impersonating Dr. Araide. The suspicious-looking foreign English teacher? She's the FBI agent on Vermouth's trail.
  • Similarly, Kindaichi Case Files, as a fellow mystery manga, makes use of the red herring. Perhaps two of the best were in "No Noose is Good Noose," indicating two different innocent suspects as the killer. The fact that Utako Mori's name is an anagram for "komori uta," the killer's trademark phrase? The presence of Takashi Senke in the background of one of the photos of suicided students, indicating a possible motive? Both mere coincidence, with no purpose other than to draw smug readers away from the real clues. Although the second served a doubly sneaky purpose. Those who remember that red herring may be more inclined to dismiss Senke as a suspect in "The Forest of Cerberus," only this time, he is the killer!
  • Magical Project S. When Romio is talking about how she has selected a third magical girl, she shows a picture featuring Haida prominently in the foreground and Eimi just casually strolling by in the background. Take a wild guess who the third magical girl is.
  • Tokyo Mew Mew sets up some Red Herrings to hide the true identity of the local Mysterious Protector. (That it doesn't fully work in the anime version because of his voice is another story...) The Mysterious Protector has blond hair and blue eyes, and there's another character in the cast possessing these traits (Ryou Shirogane). The manga, in addition to pointing out those similarities, briefly uses another character (Keiichiro) to make a red herring via a subversion of the Revealing Injury trope. The real identity of the Mysterious Protector looks nothing like his transformed form, but the abovementioned voice link in the anime version, coupled with healthy amount of Genre Savviness from the audience, renders the whole point moot. His surname "Aoyama" contains the word for "Blue" in Japanese, which gives some hint as to his identity.
  • Bleach:
    • Mayuri is pure evil, who is motivated solely For Science!. However, he is not working with the enemy and remains on the side of the protagonists. Word of God describes him as an exploration of the concept of 'necessary evil'.
    • Ulquiorra appears from the start to be Aizen's right-hand man among the Espada, and the ultimate target everyone needs to reach to save Orihime. When Ulquiorra realises Ichigo thinks he's the top Espada, he reveals he's only the fourth Espada.
    • Barragan takes command in Aizen's absence, making it seem to characters that he's the top Espada until it's revealed that he's only the second Espada. It's an unsuccessful example as Kyouraku admits to his opponent (the real number one) he'd suspected all along that Barragan was number two, but had been hoping otherwise.
  • Deliberately planted by the antagonist in StrikerS Sound Stage X'' of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha''. After spending a good portion of the plot hunting down the instigator of the latest incident, the Time-Space Administration Bureau officers eventually learn from Jail Scaglietti that Toredia Graze, their prime suspect, has been dead for four years. The real culprit, TSAB Enforcer Runessa Magnus, impersonated Toredia while contacting his associates.
    • An earlier example- in Nanoha A's, Chrono's deceased father is brought up a few times. Meanwhile, a mysterious masked person whose hair color happens to match Chrono's appears to occasionally help out the villains. Turns out that there's actually two of them, and they're the Cat Girl familiars of Chrono's mentor, sent to make sure the villains succeeded in their plan, then absorb them so that the Book of Darkness can be sealed away along with Hayate.
  • Certain series of Pretty Cure have characters who are red herrings for the identity of the Sixth Ranger Cure. Fresh Pretty Cure! started the trend with the Cure's dancing mentor Miyuki; even the characters speculated she could be the fourth Pretty Cure of the series. (She wasn't, of course). Suite Pretty Cure ♪ had the heroes' classmates Waon and Seika - and the production staff even created fake artwork that implied they would become Cures. DokiDoki! Precure topped the others with Dark Magical Girl Regina, who shockingly did not join the heroes as a Cure - in fact, the series's Sixth Ranger was a character that had never appeared before.
  • In the beginning of "Remote Island Syndrome Part 1" in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, we see an adult woman ripping apart papers and letting them fly from the balcony. Does this have anything to do with the following plot? No. In fact, the "murder mystery" that follows is one great big red herring; it's just a game set up to prevent Haruhi from getting bored, which could have inadvertently caused a real murder mystery to take place.
    • The "Where Did The Cat Go?" mystery from the novels centers on a red herring: the cat's location seems to rule out certain suspects, until the brigade-eers realize there are two cats... .
  • One Piece uses a Red Herring to take advantage of a recent reveal while hiding another one. When Garp visits Ace in prison and expresses his desire that he had wanted Ace and Luffy to grow up to be Marines, Ace response by reminding Garp this is impossible because "Luffy and I both have the blood of an international criminal mastermind running in our veins." At first glance, this appears to follow the revelation by Garp that Luffy's father is Dragon the Revolutionary. In fact, it does so while simultaneously hiding the later reveal that Ace's father is the Pirate King Gold Roger.
    • Once upon a time, it was widely believed that Shanks was Luffy's long-lost father, and for good reason. There were too many seemingly genuine clues to this for it not to be intentional on Oda's part, which makes The Reveal of Luffy's father more shocking. This was certainly helped by the fact that the earlier art style made Luffy and Shanks look a good deal more alike than they do now. Don't lie: you would've laughed at anyone who would have theorized this, if only because Shanks seemed like the more rational choice. Oda probably loves this trope considering how unpredictable One Piece is.
    • This is used as a red herring in regards to Ace, as well. Soon after this reveal, we see a scene Ace says that he despises his father, rejects him so thoroughly that he uses his mother's name instead. The obvious implication is that Ace is talking about our friend Dragon, but in fact it's revealed that Luffy and Ace are not blood related.
    • The identities of future crew members have sometimes been hidden this way. At the end of Alabasta, both Vivi and Bon Kurei look like they're about to join, only for Nico Robin to do so instead. Water 7 started with the crew looking for a shipwright and finding a company of six, several of whom getting along fairly well with the crew. Then Kaku and Lucci leave and Franky, who'd been written as a villain at first, ends up joining.
    • Duval's identity was done like this. He started out having a personal beef with the Straw Hat Pirates, but especially Sanji, leading to some speculation that he might be Don Krieg. The real answer was far more hilarious: He'd never actually met the Straw Hats before, but he looked exactly like Sanji's poorly-drawn wanted poster.
  • In Code Geass, Cornelia and Schneizel are set up as two possible suspects for killing Lelouch's mother Marianne. Neither one of them did it; V.V. tried to kill her, but she managed to transfer her soul into Anya's body before she died.
    • Then again, given the significant changes that the plot of season 2 allegedly went through due to the time slot change, it's possible that this could be less of a Red Herring and more of an Aborted Arc. It was, however, made clear at the end of season 1 that Cornelia had nothing to do with Marianne's death, contrary to earlier implications.
  • When ghosts escape from prison because of the door wards failing - in the Arcanum arc of Muhyo And Roji - Biko, an artificer who makes wards, is implied to be the culprit after an envelope with Enchu's seal turns up in her house. The real culprit is her teacher Rio.
  • BioMeat: the first chapter shows your typical split-screen shot of the main characters, which seems to set up a Five-Man Band. The first one of the five that we see is even given a name, but when the time comes, he decides not to join up with the other four. In fact, he almost gets them killed by cutting the rope one of the heroes is going down. He gets his Karmic Death soon enough.'
  • In Naruto, Itachi at one point claims that he let Sasuke live so that he could take his eyes as an adult. It is later revealed he was lying and let Sasuke live because he could not bring himself to kill him.
    • Not just that. Everything the reader was ever told about Itachi is a lie or a coverup. The truth about him has only started coming out in recent chapters. Its so dramatic that for most of the series he appeared to be the unquestionable Big Bad of Sasuke's storyline, when in fact he's apparently the Big Good. And who turned out to be Sasuke's personal Big Bad? Loveable, goofy Tobi.
    • Tobi himself. He claimed to be Uchiha Madara, but during the Fourth Great Shinobi World War it was revealed, via the Edo Tensei, that the actual Uchiha Madara was Dead All Along. Then it turns out that the real Madara is the mastermind behind the entire plot, as he used Tobi to act out his plans, and is arguably the real Big Bad. The Dragon, Tobi, was later on revealed to be who fans speculated him to be all along: Obito. And then Obito hijacked Madara's master plan, promoting himself to the role of Big Bad. Until Madara hijacked it right back and resumed being the Big Bad.
  • In Macross Frontier, Sheryl Nome is well... Sheryl Nome. Publicity for the new Macross series included judicious use of Sheryl Nome's full name, the last name of which is shared by Mao and Sara from Macross Zero, Mayan High Priestesses with a unique blood type that gave them some fairly unique powers bordering on ESP if taken a face value (Though how much of that was actually done by the Bird-Human is anyone's guess). Many fans assumed that this was a big hint for the plot of the show and that Sheryl would turn out to be something like Mao's granddaughter. The latter part turned out to be true, but did this really affect the plot at all? Not one bit. It truly never comes up, and becomes simply another Shout-Out to one of the previous shows (Frontier was laced with these).
  • A beautiful one in Appleseed Ex Machina, which works only on viewers aware of John Woo's love for Disturbed Doves. If you haven't seen any Woo movie, you can guess that the birds are bombs. But if you have, you will only say "Oh my god, Doves again !".
  • In the Outlaw Star episode "Final Countdown", a terrorist group uses a red herring to its fullest extent. They set up an elaborate plan to crash an advertising ship rigged with a bomb into Heifong with its independence as the ransom. As it turns out, this was just a plan to evacuate the city so that the "terrorist group" (which is more like a group of petty, if clever, thieves) can loot the empty city without fear of being caught. Unfortunately for them, the main characters catch on to this ruse and show them what for.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist drops a bunch of hints that Ed and Al's father Van Hohenheim and the Big Bad and leader of the Homunculi, Father, are one and the same. Nope. While they do have an important connection, they're definitely separate people.
    • When Alphonse reunites with Hohenheim, he explains the situation to his father. Hohenheim then asks him if he's sure he wants to tell him, given that the leader of the Homunculi looks just like him. Alphonse is silent for a moment, refusing to back down, and Hohenheim says he's relieved that his son trusts him.
    • When Edward is about to go fight Gluttony, Riza Hawkeye gives him a pistol, telling him it may just end up saving his life. Much later, when his alchemy is switched off by villainous Anti-Magic, he realizes he still has the gun and pulls it out, but is never able to shoot anyone with it.
    • When they first meet, Barry the Chopper drops a potential bombshell that Al may have never really existed as a human; that Ed created all of his memories and personality and stuck them onto a suit of armor. It's eventually revealed that this was just Barry screwing with Al's head.
  • Up until vol. 9 of Durarara!!, it's heavily implied that "that thing back in middle school" was that Izaya stabbed and nearly killed Shinra. This is exactly what Izaya wants people to think.
    • Since Mika Harima has the same face as Celty Sturluson and has a scar that goes all around her neck, everyone is led to believe that Mika is a corpse that has had Celty's missing head grafted on to it to give it life. It turns out that Mika had plastic surgery to look exactly like Celty. She doesn't know where the head is now.
  • Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin: The principal of the school, Chihiro, is set up to be the main threat as throughout the series she spies on Maya and disapproves of her snooping around. Then the Wham Episode hits and it turns out that a seemingly sweet and innocent girl named Mikaze, that Fumiaki was dating, was the true villain all along. What's more Chihiro is actually an ally that was looking after Maya at the behest of her father.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has two major examples: The witch in the prologue has some marked design similarities to Sayaka's Magical Girl outfit. Turns out that Sayaka's actual witch form has considerably fewer design similarities. In a more meta example, concept art shows Madoka and Homura both with bows, leading to speculation about Homura being future Madoka. And then Homura is revealed not only to be her own person, but to have a completely different weapon.
  • THE iDOLM@STER - The first episode was misleading people into thinking the adaptation of the game would be a literal adaptation, since the Producer's lines weren't voiced, only subtitled, as in the game.
  • In the Duelist Kingdom arc of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Tristan/Honda gets suspicious of Pegasus and suspects that he doesn't really have the power to read minds. Upon inspecting the arena, he, Tea/Anzu, and Bakura find a hole in the wall, and a tower outside. Tristan theorizes that a mook hides in the tower and uses a telescope to look through the hole and spy on players' cards, then relay the info to Pegasus via a receiver. The hole is just a coincidence, and Pegasus really does read minds.
    • Funnily enough, in the Battle City arc, the Phony Psychic Esper Roba uses exactly this trick with the help of his younger siblings.
    • It first happened with Pegasus in his duel by videotape with Yugi in the manga version. Yugi accuses Pegasus of not really using magic powers to predict his moves, instead claiming that Pegasus used subliminal messages to get Yugi to build his deck and play the cards that he wanted. While Pegasus did use subliminal messages, Pegasus proceeds to actually use magic from that point on.
  • In the "Turnabout Showtime" case of the Ace Attorney manga, the defendant, Julie Henson, is suspected of killing her ex-boyfriend Flip Chambers because he left her for another girl. She's innocent, and this piece of information is never brought up again.
  • In Baccano! (particularly in the light novel), a nameless woman in fatigues secretly making her way across the train is heavily implied to either be the Rail Tracer, expert assassin Claire Stanfield, or both. Turns out both of those roles were taken by the supposedly murdered redheaded conductor.
  • In Soul Eater, Kid tries to check out an old manuscript of The Book of Eibon in the DWMA's secure library but finds it was checked out and never returned. The name it was checked out under was simply "M", and Kid notices that the date is the same day Medusa abandoned her cover as the school's nurse. Turns out Maka checked it out by borrowing her father's security ID.
  • Two big ones in Eureka Seven AO, revealed back-to-back:
    • Episode 7 shows an image of Nirvash type TheEND from the original series in Generation Bleu's basement. In Episode 20 Generation Bleu's base is destroyed, exposing TheEND...which is then unceremoniously blown away by the other thing in Generation Bleu's basement.
    • In Episode 11, the character Elena Peoples is shown to have visions of the original Eureka Seven setting, and she desires to go back there. Then in Episode 14 Ao learns he may have an older sister somewhere...and Elena has an extreme reaction to seeing Eureka again, almost like an abandoned child. But then Episode 21 comes along, which reveals that Elena is actually from the past, and her visions were simply what she saw when Eureka brought her through time. It's ultimately a Mythology Gag to the original series's Compilation Movie where a group of characters see a glimpse of the original series's universe and become obsessed with finding it again.
    • And if you're wondering Ao's older sister died shortly after she was born. The twists reek of Writer Cop Out.
  • Early in the second Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! novel, a random punk tries to hit on Rikka while Yuuta is getting something, and manages to get her name and school before Yuuta steps in. Near the end, Rikka gets kidnapped outside of the school and the kidnapper contacts Yuuta by phone and talks about taking Rikka for himself if Yuuta can't find her in time, with the voice distorted to the point that Yuuta wasn't able to recognize it at all. It turns out to be Satone, however, who actually wanted to break them up so that she could take Yuuta for herself.
  • In episode 4 of Tamako Market, it appeared that Anko had a crush on a hyperactive classmate, but in the end it turned out it was on the sweet boy he was walking with.
  • Dragon Ball provides one of the most famous red herrings through Goku's origin. When Goku first appears it seems as though all signs point towards him being nothing more than a homage to the character Sun Wukong from the classical novel Journey to the West, hell his name in Japanese is Sun Wukong. However, we later find out that Goku is actually an alien, more specifically a Saiyan, that was sent to Earth as a baby to conquer it. To add to the shock of the revelation, it's revealed that the Saiyans are a race of bloodthirsty, battle-loving space pirates and the only reason Goku didn't end up like one of them is because of the head injury he suffered as a child which result in him wiping his memory and losing his original objective of taking over the world.
    • King Piccolo's origin is even more of a red herring. It was strongly hinted that King Piccolo was a demon, not just through his personality but through his actions such as asexually producing his own spawn which would look even more like a demon than Piccolo himself. Hell, in the manga and the original Japanese version of Dragon Ball he's referred to as the "Great Demon King". And guess what the only way was at the time of defeating him? Using the Evil Containment Wave, which is a technique designed specifically to seal demons away. It's eventually revealed that King Piccolo is actually a Namekian, a race of humanoids with slug-like characteristics. And we also later find out there is a whole planet full of Namekians, and contrary to how evil King Piccolo was, the Namekians are actually an inherently peaceful race.
    • Frieza has often been credited for single-handedly bringing the Saiyan race to verge of destruction by destroying the home planet of the Saiyan's Planet Vegeta because he supposedly afraid of the growing strength of the Saiyans, there was even a TV special that expanded on that story. However, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods reveals that it was actual Bills, the God of Destruction, who ordered Frieza to destroy Planet Vegeta because King Vegeta did not give Bills a sumptuous enough banquet and he couldn't be bothered to do it himself.
  • At one point in Part 3 of Jojos Bizarre Adventure, Joesph uses his stand powers to divine that Kakyoin is The Mole. Turns out it's actually the next enemy stand user, Rubber Soul, using his stand powers to masquerade as Kakyokin.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei introduces the perpetually-injured and covered in bandages Abiru by having Nozomu investigate a possible domestic abuse situation. After following Abiru's father around as he goes shopping (his paranoia making him think that every single thing he tries to buy is going to be used to abuse his daughter,) he eventually finds out that Abiru's injuries actually come from her obsession with pulling animal tails.
  • In Umi Monogatari, the Elder Turtle is often wary of Kanon and is convinced she will fall into darkness if not watched. He's wrong. Marin does.

    Audio Play 
  • Invoked/Parodied in "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger": when Rocky Roccoco is pulling items out of his brown paper bag and showing them to Nick, one of them is "nothing but a tin of red herrings in heavy oil!"
  • In the Big Finish Doctor Who story "Jubilee", we discover that the humans are keeping a Dalek locked up in a tower and are torturing it, but also that it pales in horror compared to the other prisoner. The other characters gossip about the other prisoner being horrible, completely mad, in a wheelchair, and that he created the Daleks - all of which would cue the Genre Savvy listener into thinking the prisoner is Davros. He turns out to be this timeline's version of the Doctor, who has been imprisoned solitary in a tower for a hundred years and has gone mad.

     Comic Books 
  • An odd example in Watchmen: During the book's opening scene, all we get to see of the Comedian's attacker are his arms. It's probably not the first thing you'd notice, but he's wearing a brown woolen sweater. Much later on in the comic, Hollis Mason is shown between scenes preparing Halloween candy and talking to his dog (the dog being the only clue that it's Hollis talking at all), and all we see are his arms - wearing that exact same brown sweater. If the reader notices this at all, the most likely moment of recognition comes just before a small number of flashback scenes which portray Hollis from a somewhat more negative perspective than most of the rest of the comic does. In short, all these things put together make this particular character extremely suspicious until the real killer is revealed... but only an extremely small number of readers would even notice it on the first read, essentially making it an Easter Egg Red Herring.
  • One of the stories in Deadpool #900 has a running red herring gag involving a chicken in a murder investigation.
    "You're still paying attention to the chicken, aren't you? Look at ME!"
  • In the Elseworlds story The Nail, Lex Luthor is the Big Bad... or is he? The question is, who is the one manipulating Luthor? The JLA heroes believe at first that it's Starro, but it turns out that Starro is just a mutated Krypto, and the real Big Bad is... Jimmy Olsen. Yes, THAT Jimmy Olsen.
  • A reboot Legion of Super-Heroes storyline involves Element Lad trying to deduce who is behind a series of thefts of ancient Earth objet d'art. Early on, he describes the thief as a "vandal", while we see a shadowy figure in old-fashioned Earth clothes gloating. It is eventually revealed that the mastermind is ... some random alien businessman. Not Vandal Savage at all.
  • In JLA: Year One there's a subplot regarding the identity of the backer who's secretly funding the League's headquarters and equipment. The offer is made shortly after Batman observes the new League in action and decides he doesn't want them operating in Gotham, and reference is made to the financier being 'a bit of a crusader'. The mystery backer turns out to be Bruce Wayne's fellow millionaire-turned-crimefighter, Oliver Queen AKA Green Arrow.
  • A crimefighter calling herself Jackpot was introduced concurrently with One More Day providing a case where a character turned out to be Red Herring. She wore a mask but bore a strong resemblance to Mary Jane Watson, like her she liked to call people "Tiger", and her code-name echoed MJ's line at her first meeting with Peter Parker, "Face it, Tiger, you just hit the Jackpot!" The aim apparently was to encourage MJ-friendly readers to keep reading the series after Mephisto erased the Parker marriage by leading them to suspect that she had now become a superheroine (because otherwise she was absent from Amazing Spider-Man to make way for new romantic entanglements for Peter). Later it was revealed that it was just one incredible coincidence after another, Jackpot actually was a fan of Mary Jane's soap-opera acting who just so happened to bear a strong facial resemblance and put on a red wig. Plus they added a Retcon that Mary Jane had used the "Face it, Tiger" line in her soap opera role and made it popular enough to make someone call herself "Jackpot" (in the previous decades it had been treated as a private thing between her and Peter). To make matters even more complicated, it also turned there were actually two women who fought crime as Jackpot; the one who appeared in the early Brand New Day issues and who, to make the resemblance to Mary Jane even greater, was shown to have a crush on Spider-Man, eventually got herself killed, transforming from a Red Herring to a Dead one.
  • In Flashpoint, Barry Allen wakes up in a horrible alternate timeline where Superman doesn't exist, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are villains, etc. Zoom reveals he remembers the original timeline and continually taunts Barry about what has happened. Barry assumes Zoom went back in time and changed something to create this timeline (a reasonable assumption given Zoom can travel through time). It turns out, Zoom didn't do anything; Barry accidentally caused a Time Crash when he went back in time to save his mother from being killed.
  • At the start of X-Force, X-Force, false hints were dropped that Cable and his arch-enemy Stryfe might be the same person (they use a bunch of the same catchphrases, and Stryfe removes his helmet for the first time showing readers that he has the same face as Cable), playing X-Force and the Mutant Liberation Front against each other for some reason. It's later shown that there's a completely different reason for their similarities.
  • Not to mention Kyle Baker's run on "Plastic Man", which featured a villain named Red Herring deliberately complicating Plastic Man's attempts at investigation.

    Fan Works 
  • In Game Theory, Alhazred. Somewhere between chapters 6 and 11, Precia decides to abandon her attempt to go to Alhazred and instead researches how to use a Jewel Seed to revive Alicia. The Promethean Metabolic Auxillary Mechanism, seemingly created to allow Alicia to survive her trip into Imaginary Space, was actually created to revive Alicia fully. What made the latter revelation particularly effective is that before the Promethean mechanism was created, Precia was testing the effect of anti-magilink fields (based on the natural properties of Imaginary Space) on the Jewel Seeds - the reader was fooled into thinking Precia was telling the truth about the mechanism.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Mr. Black's hostile actions towards Mega Man were meant to make readers think Mega was a target. In reality it was Wily.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney's Frozen:
    • There's a red herring inside a red herring! Elsa accidentally hits her sister Anna in the heart with her ice magic, cursing Anna to slowly freeze from the inside out until she is nothing but an ice statue. Only "an act of true love" can thaw out her heart and reverse the curse. Well, Hans is Anna's true love, right? So all we need is a kiss from him and she'll be alright. Or so you would think. In fact, Hans never loved Anna in the first place, only using her status as Princess to get into the Arendelle royal family. Anna realizes that it's Kristoff who is her true love, so Anna tries to find him for his kiss. Unfortunately, her curse freezes her solid just as Hans is about to kill Elsa, which saves Elsa from Hans' sword. This counts as "an act of true love", thus reversing the curse. Hey, nobody ever said it had to be a romantic act of true love!
    • The revelation of Hans as the villain also makes the Duke of Weselton a red herring as well. While his decisions and attitude regarding Queen Elsa and her ice powers are certainly reprehensible, he's far more open with his intentions and desires. While he does nearly succeed in his goal of killing the queen, he at least believes what he's doing is necessary and in everyone's best interests, and he makes that clear after Hans lies that Anna is dead. All of this means that, while he is devious, he certainly isn't anywhere near as evil as Hans. For all his paranoia, he isn't even GenreSavvy enough to question Hans' story, and falls for his "grieving widower" act just like all the other diplomats do. Hans, on the other hand, is a master manipulator, can alter his plans on the fly, and is perfectly capable of taking full advantage of a crisis to benefit himself, and does all of this while coming off like a saint. The only reason he failed was because Olaf found Anna and kept her alive long enough for her to perform her Heroic Sacrifice.
  • In another Disney film, this one being Wreck-It Ralph, Street Fighter's M. Bison is the first character to ask Ralph if he's "going Turbo". One may think that M. Bison is making a reference to the "Turbo" update of Street Fighter II, where he was playable for the first time, but he's referring to a game character who abandoned his game, and who later turns out to be the main villain.
  • In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Jordan Pryce is obviously supposed to make the viewer think he's the Joker in disguise. He has similar features and the same voice actor.
  • In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the audience is led to believe that the Phantasm is Carl Beaumont. In-story, many characters initially believe the killer to be Batman. The best part is that Andrea Beaumont went out of her way to make everyone think this in-story. She stole into Gotham as the Phantasm in order to kill her first victim, then left and returned a few days later as Andrea (this time on an airplane) before resuming her killing spree. She hoped that this would allow her to plausibly shift the blame for the murders to her dead father, but the Joker (and Batman) eventually caught on. Also in-story, the Joker theorizes that Arthur Reeves hired the Phantasm to kill the mob bosses (and Joker himself) to hide his past deals with them. He confronts Arthur about it and they are interrupted by a call from Andrea which clues the Joker in to the real identity of the Phantasm.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Aliens, Ripley meets the android Bishop, who she's intensely distrustful of due to her experience with Ash in the first film, and is later seen examining some dead facehuggers. It looks as though Bishop will betray our heroes in the interests of acquiring a xenomorph for the company, just like Ash, but it turns out Burke is the one who really wants to bring in a xenomorph. Bishop was only following his initial orders.
  • In Attack of the Clones, when Anakin is trying to fight against the Geonosians inside of the Droid factory, he at one point gets his arm trapped within a piece of molded armor, and is drawing closer and closer to a crushing machine/cutting machine, causing the audience to think he'll lose his arm as a result of the battle. Turns out he actually loses it during the battle with Count Dooku towards the end.
  • At the beginning of Batman, we see a couple of crooks mugging a couple and their child. We're led to think this is the young Bruce Wayne and his parents Thomas and Martha, and we're about to see the murder of his parents, but suddenly, Batman swoops in and beats up the crooks.
  • The movie Bloody Murder had a moment where it looks like one girl is the murderer in the camp. It then cuts to showing her at the dock, with an evil grimace, as she picks up an oar and beats one of the characters causing him to fall into the lake. It turns out she isn't actually the killer, and they make no attempt to explain why she turned evil for a split second.
  • In the horror anthology film Body Bags, every customer at the gas station in the first segment is implied to have nefarious designs on the heroine, but they all turn out to be unrelated to the real killer.
  • The creepy stalker guy in The Bodyguard was just that. The real killer was a hitman hired by Rachel's sister.
  • At one point in the middle of Brick the main character is attacked by a thug seeming to disrupt him. The origin of this is not revealed and it's implied it'll provide a greater wrinkle to the plot. The explanation isn't revealed until the end, and it turns out he was just hired by another character the protagonist humiliated earlier in the film for revenge.
  • The mystery/comedy film Clue was shot with three alternate endings, and in all three of them, it is revealed that "Communism was just a red herring!"
  • The Final Destination series generally uses Disaster Dominoes to set up its incredibly bizarre deaths. The lead-up to Candice's death in 5 includes a pipe leaking onto an exposed wire and a nail landing on her gymnastics beam. She finishes her routine without even noticing the nail, and never steps on the wire. Then she moves onto the horizontal bar, which looks dangerously loose... At which point, the next girl to use the beam steps on the nail and falls off, setting off a much shorter chain of events.
  • Flight Plan: With his history of playing villains, Sean Bean's casting as the pilot was this.
  • In The Fugitive, after his dive off the dam, we see Dr. Richard Kimble get a ride from a woman, and we cut to the marshals saying "they've got him - shacked up with some babe over in Whiting" who "left work tonight and took him home". When Gerard and his men raid the house, surprise - it's Copeland, the other convict who survived the train wreck and escaped, and is shot dead by Gerard after resisting arrest and taking one of his deputies hostage.
  • Every trailer for Godzilla (2014) made Godzilla out to be the primary threat, but in fact the MUTOs are the real bad guys.
  • In GoldenEye Q waxes lyrical about the features of the new Bondmobile, none of which are used in the film.
    • In A View to a Kill, Max Zorin's genetically modified racehorses have nothing to do with the plot and serve only as an excuse to get Bond involved in Zorin's business.
  • One film critic joked that Robert Downey Jr.'s character in the movie Gothika should have just been named Red Herring, it was so obvious that's what he was.
  • A small one in Gummo in which the narrator talks about two brothers, and saying 'They seemed to have wonderful lives. I don't know what went wrong.'. We then see the two brothers fighting, and it's expected that it something drastic will happen between the two. However they're fight soon comes to and end, then one of them calmly asks the other what's for dinner
  • In Hot Fuzz the Red Herrings don't so much lead to the wrong killer, as to the wrong motives behind the murders. Nicholas comes up with a very complicated plan that involved money, land, cheating and jealousy. Turns out there were no connections between the victims. One was just killed because he was a bad actor. Another because she had an annoying laugh. A third because he had an awful house and the fourth because he made so many spelling mistakes in the local paper.
  • Hot Shots! has a character named 'Red' Herring.
  • The racially-charged environment of In the Heat of the Night had nothing to do with the murder. It was just a mugging gone wrong.
  • Similarly, promotional material for Iron Man 3 (2013) smokescreens the fact that The Mandarin is just an actor paid to take the blame for the real Big Bad.
  • In Kindergarten Cop, when John Kimble starts posing as a kindergarten teacher, he finds that one of the boys in his class is perpetually sullen and morose, frequently having bruises which he claims come from falling down. He suspects that he is Cullen Crisp's son, but it turns out he's not; he simply has an abusive father, who Kimble beats the crap out of.
  • The Machinist at one point shows blood prominently flowing from a refrigerator, implying that the main character has killed someone and placed the body in there. The source is just some fish due to the electricity going out and the fridge failing. It has no real bearing on the plot.
  • Prince Phillip becomes this in Maleficent, wherein the fairies believe that his Love at First Sight for Aurora will break her curse. It doesn't, because a love that deep cannot exist between two people after just one meeting, and in the film it is rather forced by the fairies, leaving little room for any "true love". This works because it did break her curse in the original film.
  • A few in Mystery Team. Parodied with Old Man McGinty, played straight with the union strike.
  • No Way Out has the antagonists start a Witch Hunt for a Soviet mole suspected of killing the Defense Secretary's mistress as a red herring to divert attention from the real murderer.
  • Alma in Now You See Me.
  • Played straight repeatedly in A Perfect Getaway, where the protagonists try to find out which romantic couple is a pair of killers. Just for good measure, two characters are introduced all shadowy-The Faceless-like to drive the Genre Savvy audience crazy. Even better, another possible suspect invokes "red snappers" in his second scene.
    • And as it turns out, they're both red herrings, as the real killers are the protagonist couple themselves, and the whole movie hasn't been about finding the killers, but about finding their next victims.
  • The 2013 film Prisoners is about two little girls being kidnapped by a serial killer, and the main characters' borderline-Knight Templar efforts to find the girls. A man named Bob Taylor is finally set up to be "the culprit". There's lots of evidence: he buys small childrens' clothes despite not having kids, he has a creepy, suspicious personality, he behaves evasively when Detective Loki shows up to question him, there's even a climactic "resisting arrest" scene before Taylor is subdued, and just to drive it home how psychotic Taylor is, he keeps friggin' snakes in the same trunks as the bloody children's clothes, those clothes also being a clue. The problem is, this is all a Red Herring; Taylor was actually a previous kidnapping victim who simply went bonkers and started imitating the true culprit. Also, Alex Jones could count as a Red Herring, but since Mr. Keller goes Knight Templar trying to torture information about the girls out of Jones, the audience was already pretty sure Jones was going to turn out to be innocent.
  • In Red Riding Hood, the Wolf had certain dialogue that made it sound like it could be Peter and also there was also Valerie's grandmother who was creepy and unnatural at times.
  • In the first Scream (1996), the Chief of Police gets a Feet-First Introduction which shows that he wears the same kind of shoes as the killer. And then he barely appears for the rest of the film.
    • Derek and Cotton (and his bloody hands) in Scream 2, detective Kincaid and John Milton in Scream 3, Deputy Judy and Trevor in Scream 4. They love this trope.
    • Played with very cleverly in the original; Sidney's boyfriend Billy is very obviously set up as the killer, and given the savvy nature of the film and its characters, the audience will assume that this is a Red Herring. It's not. Billy actually is the killer; the true twist was that Stu was his partner in crime. Bonus points for faking his death too.
  • Bond's Aston Martin in Skyfall serves as a Bait and Switch Continuity Nod. The scene soon after we're introduced to the car, Bond alludes to its passenger-side Ejection Seat but he doesn't use it. In fact, the ejector seat never gets used; the purpose of this scene is to establish that this is the vintage Goldfinger car. Thanks to this, the audience has no reason to question the machine guns behind the headlights.
  • In Sunset Boulevard, Max, Norma's butler seems to have motive and opportunity for the murder of Joe Gillis: he was Norma's discoverer and first husband, and is still slavishly loyal to her, trying to comfort her even as Joe wants to leave her, and he was outside with hi. However, it turns out that Max is actually polite and docile, and Norma shoots Joe herself.
  • Twelve Monkeys has the titular twelve monkeys, and Brad Pitt's squiffy-eyed loon and seeming cause of it all as mother of all Red Herrings.
  • In the film version of the nuclear farce Whoops Apocalypse, a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Princess Diana is kidnapped, drugged, and placed on display in Madame Tussaud's London wax museum. The obvious assumption is that she's disguised as the waxwork of herself, but it turns out that she's actually disguised as Sleeping Beauty.
  • X-Men:
    • In X-Men, Magneto looking at Wolverine's dogtags before asking Sabretooth, "Where is the mutant now?" This is to mislead the audience into the same line of thinking as the heroes, that Magneto is after Wolverine, instead of his true target Rogue.
    • Will Yun Lee (Harada) was promoted to have rigorous sword training but throughout The Wolverine, most of his action scenes involved archery. If you're familiar with the comics character, one might be surprised that in this film, Harada is NOT the Silver Samurai.
  • Lampshaded in 22 Jump Street, where a jock suspected of being the dealer due to possessing a tattoo of a bazooka reveals that his tattoo is actually of his old high school mascot: the Plainview Red Herring.

    Literature 
  • In The Red Pyramid, Carter hears Set speak French in a vision, leading him to assume that Set is being hosted by the French speaking Desjardins. He's wrong.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, Rawne is kidnapped and tortured by Heldane. Later, Heldane thinks about how to create a "pawn" - painfully - and manipulates "the pawn" by Gaunt. Rawne reacts to Heldane and acts suspiciously about Gaunt. In the end, he is merely sensitive to Heldane, and in fact kills the actual pawn, because his sensitivity alerts him to something happening before it actually does.
  • Graeme Base's book The Eleventh Hour is a lavishly-illustrated children's book filled with hidden clues and secrets in almost all the illustrations — including a few figurative and literal red herrings.
  • Dan Brown uses this Once Per Book: near the beginning of each book, we are introduced to a character who is a rather unpleasant and/or sneaky fellow and has more or less the same mindset of the people orchestrating the current crisis. Naturally, they end up being completely innocent and the real Big Bad turns out to be someone that has no logical reason to do what they did and/or helped the protagonists the most. The specific examples in each book are:
  • Harry Potter has at least one Red Herring distraction per book. After readers started catching on that the first suspect was never the guilty party, Rowling started upping the ante with hints pointing to a second suspect... who wasn't it either. Then in the sixth book, suddenly, all the people up to something are exactly the ones Harry suspects from the start. J. K. Rowling even indulges in some Lampshade Hanging in book six, with various characters pointing out that Snape and Malfoy had been accused in the last five books.
    • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry, Hermione and Ron are positive that Snape is trying to steal the above-mentioned stone. He's certainly nasty enough to be the villain. Harry doesn't find out the truth until the very end though, when it turns out poor, shy, stuttering Professor Quirrell had been behind everything that happened all along, and Snape had been trying to protect Harry.
    • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets The trio once more suspects one of the obvious antagonists, Draco Malfoy, believing he has opened the Chamber of Secrets and is attacking the muggle-born students in the school. After some amateur sleuthing they are able to debunk that though, and come to suspect Red Herring #2, Hagrid. Just to keep the cleverer audience members on their toes, Percy begins acting shifty and ambitious, and fits the facts of the case strangely well. By the end of the book it turns out Ron's sister Ginny, possessed by the Diary of Tom Riddle, has been behind the events of the book.
    • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban and is out to kill Harry. First reading it, and not knowing Rowling's formula, you wouldn't suspect anything. He betrayed Harry's parents, he's one of Voldemort's loyal Death Eaters and now is out to get the protagonist in order to avenge his fallen master. Despite a few counter-clues, the majority of the book is geared toward making the reader believe this. Turns out Sirius is completely innocent and was falsely accused, and the person that betrayed Harry's parents was Ron's pet rat, who turns out to be an animagus (shape shifter), and is really Peter Pettigrew, an old friend of his parents. Even if you were onto the fact Sirius wasn't the antagonist, you wouldn't have seen that coming.
      • One of the most brilliant red herrings involving Snape happens here too. When he discovers the trio with Sirius and Remus, Snape flat out attempts to murder Sirius, saying "Give me a reason. Give me a reason to do it and I swear I will", which seems downright evil considering we've just found out that Sirius is entirely innocent. The kids put him down, though, and it's all good. Once again, Snape's evil nature is further revealed. Then it turns out that Snape's desire to put Sirius down had nothing to do with the werewolf attacks, or the fact that he was a Death Eater, but because he still honestly believed that Sirius had caused the death of the only woman he'd ever loved, and the very plot point that saves him from being a villain.
    • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Popularity of the books shot off like a rocket after the third book of the series became popular worldwide. With popularity comes the fanbase (Harry Potter has one of the largest web-based communities), and with millions of devoted fans comes fan speculation. Many caught on to Rowling's formula, so she adapted. The fourth book is in more of a whodunnit style, with a variety of suspects who could be working to kill Harry. Could it be the Obviously Evil headmaster of the Academy of Evil? Or maybe the Obstructive Bureaucrat who appears to be suffering Sanity Slippage? Or the possibly Affably Evil guest judge who has a vested interest in Harry's success in the tournament? It turns out to be none of these suspects, but instead the gruff-yet-lovable new professor, Mad-Eye Moody, who has been supposedly helping Harry the whole time. (Though, truthfully, it was a Death Eater disguised as Mad-Eye Moody, through the use of Polyjuice Potion.
    • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix The red herring here is less pronounced. There are two consecutive plots occurring: the Ministry of Magic's takeover of Hogwarts, and Voldemort's search for a weapon that can win him the war. There's a possibility though that the two plots aren't so separate when the Ministry-appointed Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Dolores Umbridge makes Harry's scar burn (which only happens when Voldemort is feeling a particularly strong emotion...or is close by). Voldemort has possessed people before, and out of the last four DADA Professors, half have been directly working for the Big Bad. This theoretical connection doesn't pan out, however. It was either a coincidence Harry's scar burned when Umbridge touched him, or Umbridge's own aura of evil is just that strong. There's a reason there was a trope named after her.
    • In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Harry suspects his two favorite nemeses, who he has falsely accused before – Snape and Malfoy – of being up to something. No one believes him, however, and there is Lampshade Hanging when various characters point out Snape and Malfoy have been falsely accused before by Harry. You are almost inclined to believe they are innocent as the obsessiveness of Harry's stalking them becomes annoying to the reader. It is obvious from his point of view that they are up to something. Everyone else gets a big slap in the face when it turns out he was right, and Malfoy lets Death Eaters into the castle and Snape kills Dumbledore. Though it turns out that Snape was acting under Dumbledore's orders.
    • The adults never explicitly tell Harry he is wrong. At least not Dumbledore. He simply tells Harry not to worry about it and that he has everything under control. Harry just assumes Dumbledore doesn't believe him. And he is right, whether or not Draco is a Death Eater is really not Harry, a 16 year old student's, problem.
    • Also in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Much effort is made to make it look like Tonks is under the Imperius curse, turns out it was actually Rosmerta. Tonks' odd and depressive behavior is simply a result of her relationship problems with Remus.
    • In the context of the entire series, Severus Snape was the ultimate Red Herring. He's presented as a potential villain in every book, and he never is.
    • In a somewhat more obscure case, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them featured a red herring, of sorts: in addition to cataloging the creatures previously mentioned, a number of (at the time) new creatures were featured to help round out the scope of the setting. One of these was the Lethifold - a shadow creature, thick as a membrane, which could slide anywhere and killed people by smothering them and digesting them in their beds. It could only be defeated with a Patronus, which was, at the time, a sort of secondary Signature Move for Harry. As a result, a lot of people expected one to show up in the final books of the franchise, probably as a weapon used by Voldemort, but it never featured.
  • Common in Golden Age detective fiction. Dorothy L. Sayers' Clouds of Witness has a setup not unlike the one in the intro (and the book has several others!) and a later book, with six suspects, is entitled The Five Red Herrings.
  • Lampshaded in A Series of Unfortunate Events, where the protagonists believe their friends (previously captured by the Big Bad) are hidden inside a box of Very Fancy Doilies; in reality they're hidden inside a large red fish - the red herring. A patient in the Heimlich Hospital has a name that is an anagram of red herring.
  • In the second book of the Xenogenesis trilogy, it's mentioned prominently that plastics are one of the only things that the Oankali can't biodegrade, and are in fact poisonous to them. One suspects on first reading that this will somehow prove important to the humans' resistance to the aliens, but it never comes up again.
  • In And Then There Were None they mention a 'red herring' right in the poem. For good reason because the killer Judge Wargrave fakes his death and then drowns his assistant Dr. Armstrong, leaving the remaining characters Vera, Philip, and William to suspect each other of being the killer.
  • In Feet of Clay several characters, including Vimes himself, note the horrible green wallpaper in Vetinari's bedroom while trying to work out how he's being poisoned with arsenic. In Real Life, Napoleon was poisoned by arsenic fumes from green wallpaper, and several murder mysteries have used this as a resolution. It turns out the arsenic is in the candles; Terry Pratchett treasures letters he received saying "We were SURE it was the wallpaper, you bastard!"
  • The Hound Of The Baskervilles is up to the brim (do Deerstalkers have brims?) with Red Herrings. They imply that The Butler Did It. He waits until everyone is in bed, and stalks about the mansion. He is also the only character that has a beard that matches the man glanced shadowing Sir Henry. Then there's the escaped convict, Selden, who has been lurking upon the moor, and the other mysterious man upon the moor, who wants to stay hidden. Most film adaptations, notably the Basil Rathbone film, like to make Dr. Mortimer seem extremely suspicious, but the book does not. There's also the looming idea that the threat might be supernatural, but none of these are the final solution.
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer:
    • Johannes Cabal makes his Deal with the Devil, much fuss is made about how he has a finite amount of Satan's blood to use in his adventures. That all comes to nothing. It's mentioned a few times in the middle of the book, but by the end it's fallen out of the plot entirely. He never runs out of blood, and it's never a plot point.
    • There's another red herring at the climax, when Johannes tricks the devil into demanding the box of contracts rather than all of the contracts. Thus, Johannes saves the souls of the innocents he coerced into signing.
  • In Father, Forgive Them, Red Herrings abound. None of them are the true killer, but this example is unusual in that all the suspects insist they wish they had killed the victim, and were present at the time of death, and had the means to do so.
  • In Meg Cabot's Avalon High, Ellie is suppose to fall in love with Lance and isn't suppose to affect the plot because her namesake Elaine of Sharlott fell in love with Lancelot and committed suicide when he didn't return her affections. Ellie decides to Screw Destiny and rescue Will anyways. Turns out that her namesake was just the red herring, as she isn't the Lady of Sharlott but the Lady of the Lake.
  • In Detectives in Togas, the slave Udo tells the boys he was at a certain place where he heard sounds of swords clashing and someone shouting constantly "Ave imperator, morituri te salutant!" The boys look for one gladiator school and don't find it. And then they stumble upon a blacksmith forging swords with a parrot constantly shouting that phrase and know: Udo was here.
  • The sixth Wheel of Time novel "The Lord of Chaos" introduces two new characters. One is a Forsaken named Demandred, who is a powerful channeler, can hide his identity, and betrayed the main hero's previous incarnation out of spite. Demandred is given a secret mission by The Dark One in the opening of the book. The other new character is Mazrim Taim, who is a powerful channeler with a shifty background, appears out of nowhere to offer his services to the hero, and shows no sign of the madness that male channelers who aren't aligned to Darkness suffer. When Taim first appears, the afore-mentioned previous incarnation goes mad in the hero's head and starts screaming about killing the Forsaken right now. Despite all this, Robert Jordan said in an interview that Taim is not Demandred in disguise, and indeed seemed somewhat surprised at the prevelance of the theory. Some fans believe this was Jossed, because there were just so many clues. The last book confirms that while Demandred recruited Taim for the Shadow, they're not and never were the same person.
    • Also, the character of Padan Fain, Ax-Crazy Humanoid Abomination of frightening powers with a grudge against both sides of the good vs. evil conflict, was generally assumed to be key to how the Last Battle would play out. In the last book he only appears briefly and, though his ultimate plan was pretty horrifying, was killed off before really accomplishing anything. Word of God indicates that this was entirely deliberate and that Fain had always been intended as a character whose role in the conclusion was minimnal but that readers would be drawn heavily to speculate about.
  • Most of Fred Vargas' novels have Red Herrings, in regards to the murderer's identity : they are generally sympathetic characters who only seem to be marginal characters. A particularly memorable example is in This Night's Foul Work, where all the Brigade is put on the track of a very plausible culprit by the real killer, Docteur Ariane Lagarde, and it takes Retancourt's attempted murder for Adamsberg to finally discover the truth.
  • In George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, it's almost a given that characters will lie to achieve their own ends, so there is a lot of misinformation going around. The reader is given a slight advantage as the point-of-view switches around constantly. For example, much of the main plot in the first book is driven by the murder of Jon Arryn, the previous Hand of the King (essentially, the second most powerful man in Westeros after the King). The book leads readers to believe that Cersei and Jaime Lannister are involved in the poisoning. Cersei confirms as much, as she obviously has the most to gain from his death. Jon Arryn had discovered that all three of Cersei's children were fathered by Jaime and not King Robert, and were all illegitimate heirs to the throne. The real answer is a little more complex. The third book clears things up. Jon Arryn was poisoned by his wife, Lysa, having been encouraged by Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. Lysa then sends a letter to her sister Catelyn at Winterfell that the Lannisters had poisoned Jon Arryn.
    • The first book also has the attempted murder of Bran. This plot is not completely resolved until the third book, as well. Catelyn believes that Tyrion Lannister sent the assassin and arrests him, leading to a long chain of events. The first book never quite makes it clear who sent the assassin. The dagger was believed to have been Tyrion's, who won it from a bet from Littlefinger. Littlefinger lies to Catelyn, telling her the dagger belongs to him. The third book disproves this, as the dagger had belonged to Robert Baratheon. Joffrey had overheard the king saying that it would be more merciful to kill Bran, rather than live as a cripple. Joffrey sent the footpad, armed with the king's dagger, eager for his father's attention.
  • In One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, one of the suspects in a political conspiracy is actually named Red Herring. Since the characters know they're in a work of metafiction, this leads to some strange deductions.
    "What about Red Herring, ma'am?"
    "I'm not sure. Is Red Herring a red herring? Or is it the fact that we're supposed to think Red Herring is a red herring that is actually the red herring?"
    "Or perhaps the fact that you're supposed to think Red Herring isn't a red herring makes Red Herring a red herring after all."
    "We're talking serious meta-herrings here."
  • Chaff and Seeder in the second book of The Hunger Games initially seem like they would be important characters. They are from the same distinct as Rue and Thresh and at different points, Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch all consider/advocate for them to team up. Plus Chaff being close friends with Haymitch and Seeder deliberately seeking out Katniss to thank her for looking after Rue and Thresh's families. Instead, they are both killed in the Quarter Quell without making an appearance despite both being aware of the rebel's plan.
  • In The Westing Game, the fact that the clues invoke America the Beautiful leads the reader (and a couple of characters) to suspect Otis Amber (i.e. Amber waves of grain). Turns out, that was just a coincidence.
  • Galaxy of Fear: Ghost of the Jedi is crowded with these. People are dying of unknown causes as they find a Spooky Silent Library. Dannik Jerriko, a highly suspicious and surly character who soon proves to be an Anzati and able to kill without leaving marks, but he was actually hired to take out another assassin and promptly leaves the book. Then a curse or an angry Jedi ghost is made to look at fault.
  • In Natalie Mooshabr's Mice, there are several plot points that appear important, but lead nowhere. For examples, Mrs Mooshabr, an employer of the ominous state agency Care of Mother and Child was assigned to take care of a boy named Linpeck who is troublesome and roams. She buys him a cake and the details imply that she's going to poison him. However, he appears in the next chapter and is all right. Mrs Mooshabr's job at the agency is another Red Herring: she is one of the good people in the story and a caring old woman. She's in fact Widowed Duchess Augusta, a rightful ruler or the country.
  • Happens rather annoyingly in Chatroom Trap. All those creeps who wanted to see the girls naked online? Have nothing to do with the crime. The culprit is the man who runs a fake model agency.
  • Illegal Aliens features a literal red herring. An alien reporter who resembles a red, anthropomorphic fish.
  • Throughout the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and up to The Heroes of Olympus, the reader is lead to believe that Nico di Angelo has a crush on Annabeth. In House of Hades it's finally revealed that he's really had feelings for Percy the whole time.
  • Two of the Dinoverse books have this in the form of the amber key. The characters know that an amber key and preventing a disaster are essential to getting home. They find a key-shaped fragment of amber that sets off happy feelings in anyone who touches it, and spend a lot of effort on the thing, but it turns out that the key is a dinosaur with amber markings who needs to survive a difficult event. The actual key is only useful in distracting other dinosaurs when a character fucks up, and is given no further thought or explanation.
  • After Romeo kills Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, Lady Capulet tells Juliet that she plans to send someone to Mantua to give Romeo "an unaccustomed dram" (or in other words, an assassin will poison him). Because the audience knows that Romeo and Juliet are going to die, but not exactly how, this line suggests that Romeo may be murdered at the end (which, of course, is not the case).
  • The first few chapters of Tyrannosaur Canyon set up a Last Request to deliver a dead man's treasure map to his estranged daughter. Instead the deliveryman spends the whole story tracking down the treasure himself and trying to keep the map out of the wrong hands. The estranged daughter is addressed in the final few pages, outside the plot entirely.

     Live Action TV 
  • In Smallville, season nine, Doctor Fate tells Chloe Sullivan that she walks the same paths as he. After the original Doctor Fate dies, the preview for season 10 has Chloe holding Fate's helmet and at one point saying "Goodbye, Clark." However, the show ended with her future rather ambiguous.
    • It is part of a series of red herrings involving Chloe that spans seven seasons. In Scare, she reveals that her mother is in a mental institution for a hereditary illness - but it turns out to be a lie. In Tomb, she seems to go crazy and sliced her own wrists but it turns out there is a ghost involved. In Labyrinth, Chloe in Clark's hallucination may or may not be insane, which serves as some ambiguous "foreshadowing". She is infected with Brainiac in season eight for a significant period and a previous victim in Persona is reduced to a blubbering vegetable. In Legion, the Legion mentions they have never heard of Chloe sparking more speculation that she ended up in an asylum. Season eight in general put such incredible stress to her that it is a miracle that she didn't snap. When she becomes Watchtower full time, fans may remember Superman's line from STAS - "I need to be Clark. I'd go crazy if I had to be Superman all the time!" Season nine sees her losing touch with life, locked up in the Watchtower. And finally Kent Nelson is a stuttering wreck without the helmet of Nabu, and the helmet asks her to sacrifice her sanity...While she seems to have a Happily Ever After, there was never a resolution.
  • In NCIS, Ducky explains what the Red Herring is to Palmer saying something about the murderer the style of "I don't know why the murderer didn't use the Red Herring technique". Palmer asks what a Red Herring is and then Ducky proceeds to give a correct explanation.
  • JAG:
    • In "Pilot Error", A growing body of evidence suggests that Pendry and McKee had an affair, including the two going to visit a doctor for what appeared to be an abortion. McKee had actually suffered a miscarriage, and the child was their commanding officer's, rather than Pendry's. Pendry was simply there for emotional support.
    • In "Brig Break", the Aryan Nation folks pretty much stop being relevant one scene after being introduced.
    • In "Boot", Private Johnson isn't the villain. She's just a Jerk Ass.
  • The first season of Arrow introduced a Canon Foreigner named Tommy Merlyn as Ollie's best friend. Comic fans who realized that "Merlyn" is the name of Green Arrow's Evil Counterpart from the comics anticipated an inevitable Start of Darkness moment for Tommy, only for the show's version of Merlyn to turn out to be his dad, Malcolm Merlyn.
  • The second season premiere of Burn Notice painfully telegraphs The Reveal that Carla is Jimmy's wife, to catch the Genre Savvy audience off-guard with her even more obvious appearance later in the episode.
  • Used at least once in every episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
  • In Heroes, Ted Sprague was the Red Herring for the identity of Sylar, or at least was hyped as such by a few in show characters. It soon became obvious that he wasn't Sylar, because the MOs of the real Sylar and Ted were different.
  • In LOST, Jacob's introductory scene involves him gutting an actual red herring, more than likely addressing this trope and as it headed into the final season, probably marked the end of the series' many uses of red herrings.
    • However, the Season Finale of Season Five shows the Losties attempting to detonate a bomb in an electro-magnetic well in order to prevent any of the incidents on the island from ever happening. In Season Six, it's unclear whether it worked as they are still there. However, it appears there is an alternate timeline where the characters haven't visited the island and many lead different lives, suggesting that they *did* prevent many of the events from the show from happening. Nope, turns out that the "alternate timeline" is just a type of purgatory where all of the dead characters have been living their lives until they are "woken up" and realize it's time to move on with their after-life.
  • On Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Detectives Goren is adept at recognizing red herrings. One notable exception: A Person of Interest, in which Dr. Daniel Croyden is accused of killing an ex-U.S. Air Force nurse and for being involved in an anthrax terrorist plot. When Croyden commits suicide, Goren is vilified in the press. However, the detectives soon learn that the real culprit is Goren's arch-nemesis Nicole Wallace. She killed the nurse, planted evidence to incriminate Croyden, killed him, staged his suicide, then planted more evidence to exculpate him, all in a ploy to discredit Det. Goren. Nicole chose Dr. Croyden as a target because she knew that he'd left his wife while she was battling cancer, and that he had been delinquent in his child support payments. Wallace had previously discovered that Goren's father was a philanderer who had abandoned him and his schizophrenic mother.
  • Subverted in an episode of Monk where the killer actually waits for there to be witnesses before she shoots her partner with a shotgun, leading Monk to dismiss another suspect with no alibi and investigate someone who had a (faked) air-tight alibi.
    • The episode "Mr. Monk and the Red Herring" is named for this trope. We think that the intruders at Natalie's house want the Replacement Goldfish in her tank. They wanted something from the fish tank, but it was not the fish: it was an expensive moon rock smuggled out of its museum as part of an aquarium kit.
  • Starbuck's resurrection makes her a big red herring for the identity of the Final Cylon in Battlestar Galactica.
  • House uses red herrings in many of its teasers, to help avoid the formulaic "guy has cough, guy collapses, start Title Sequence". Instead it has the equally formulaic "guy has cough, other guy collapses".
  • Practically a plot necessity for Teen Wolf, several people were heavily hinted at as the Alpha in Season 1 and later the Kanima and it's master in Season 2, only to turn out as Red Herrings. Most notably the veterinarian Deaton as the Alpha and the chemistry teacher as the master of the Kanima.
  • One episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures has a sinister alien ship claiming it needs "the darkness" it saw in Sarah Jane's mind, and using several other Arc Words from Doctor Who indicating a sinister connection to the death of the Doctor. As it turns out, the darkness it referred to was the black hole Sarah Jane was keeping contained, and they just wanted it to fuel their ship, thus removing the danger it posed.
    • Another episode had Sarah Jane set back in time, when things start looking bad she comes across a police box, a very familiar motif plays and then it's made apparent it's a real police box not the TARDIS.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In Planet of the Dead, a low-level psychic named Carmen tells the Doctor that "your song is ending, sir", and that "He will knock four times", thus providing a clue as to how the Tenth Doctor will die. In the season ending two-parter, The End of Time, the Master is resurrected, and he summons the Doctor by banging out a four-beat rhythm on an oil drum — making it obvious that the clue was a reference to the drumbeat in The Master's head. But after the episode's climax, when the Doctor appears to have triumphed over his old enemy unscathed, his friend Wilfred Mott turns out to have locked himself in a radiation containment chamber. He knocks to be let out... in a familiar four-beat rhythm. The Doctor must enter the chamber to save Wilfred, suffering a lethal dose of radiation poisoning in the process.
    • Most of Season 5 heavily foreshadows a universe-collapsing event at the hands of some evil cosmic being, with the Arc Words "The Pandorica Will Open. Silence Will Fall." apparently hinting at said being's release. But in the Twist Ending of The Pandorica Opens, when the title prison chamber is finally opened... it's empty. It turns out that the "evil cosmic being" is actually the Doctor, and that the Pandorica was built by his enemies as a prison for him. The prophesy turns out to be a reference to the Doctor's imprisonment (which prevents him from saving the day), not to another being's release.
    • In Season 6, the Doctor is again fated to die. The companions and the audience see this death happen first-hand, while the Doctor himself (a past version) is blissfully unaware for half the season. When the gang discover a factory utilizing easy to make not-quite-clones known as "Gangers", the audience, and the character jump to the hypothesis that Doctor who dies was/will be a Ganger as opposed to the real thing. In actuality, the Gangers had nothing to do with the resolution; the Doctor had been shrunk down and piloting a shapeshifting robot (established in another earlier episode) the whole time.
    • In Time Heist, the introduction to the heist establishes various facts: the walls have flamethrowers, the air is regulated, and the safes are atomically sealed. The first never comes up again, while the second is only marginally related to the fact that the private vault has its own life support system.
  • In the second version of the Bonus Round on Nickelodeon's Think Fast, teams must find seven matches of costumed people in fifteen lockers. The odd one out is dubbed the Red Herring and, if the kids are asked to find his match, they must pull the "Herring Handle" at home base to reset the lockers.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers had a big one in season 2. Around the time Tommy had lost his Green Ranger powers, a new guy had came into Angel Grove and started working in Ernie's bar. Come the White Light story, many were wondering who the new White Ranger was. However, once the helmet came off, the new guy would never appear again...
  • The character of Sam Evans in Glee was obviously built up to be Kurt's alleged boyfriend that he would be getting this season, especially in "Duets". However, in the end of the episode, he asks out Quinn and blames his awkwardness on having from an all-boys school.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is guilty of severe overuse of this trope.
  • The Beast in Angel arose from the spot Connor was born, and when he shouted at it to leave Cordelia alone, it laughed and did so, suggesting the two are linked. It turns out that it works for the entity possessing Cordelia, and the spot of its arrival was presumably an in-universe Red Herring to divide and distract the team.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The episode "Earshot" has not one but two red herrings. An unidentified person is planning a mass murder. The two obvious suspects are Jonanthan, a lonely nerd and Ascended Extra who comes to school with a large gun but turns out to be Bait and Switch suicidal; and a pessimistic school newspaper writer who disappears suspiciously (it turns out he was under the impression they were looking for him to beat him up). The real culprit was found in a Crowning Moment of Funny (foreshadowed by an offhand joke Xander fired earlier): Xander walked in on a cafeteria worker pouring rat poison into the food, was spotted, and then ran.
    • In the episode "Phases", the Scoobies are all looking for a werewolf. The obvious suspect would be Larry, as they figure out right away. Turns out he's not a werewolf, he's just gay.
    • The Season 6 episode "All the Way" spends the first half building up the creep factor of an old man, watching kids menacingly through his window. When Dawn, her friend, and two guys try to pull a trick on them, he invites them inside for some "treats" and then goes into the kitchen with one of the boys, and reaches for a knife. Then, it's revealed that he really is a harmless man making brownies, and the two guys are vampires.
    • In Season 8, the "Black Hope"'s other alias, "The Madwoman," and her manner of dressing seem to openly imply that the Black Hope is Drusilla; its actually Willow.
  • In episode 3 of Lost Girl, Bo and Kenzi investigate the disappearances of girls from a college. The dean is very uptight, resembles Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter in looks and personality, refuses to report the disappearances to the police, and encourages everyone not to talk about them. The local sorority is creepy and resembles a cult, and Bo finds tunnels under their mansion that could potentially be where the missing girls are. The dean was just a jerk who was more concerned about the college's reputation than about the safety of the students. The creepy sorority was just that, and apparently unaware of the tunnels. The real culprit was an unassuming janitor who was kidnapping girls and imprisoning them in the tunnels until he could feed them to his pet kappa.
  • In the pilot episode of Firefly, Simon Tam is introduced with the strong hint that he's working with the Alliance. He's reserved, a bit standoffish, he asks lots of prying questions, he's occasionally spotted wandering around restricted areas of the Serenity, and he comes aboard the ship with a mysterious, ominous-looking metal crate. So when it turns out that there's a mole on the ship, all eyes naturally turn to him. The Alliance mole is actually another passenger, a bumbling young man named "Dobson"—Simon is a fugitive from the Alliance trying to smuggle his captive sister to freedom.
  • The Sherlock episode "A Scandal In Belgravia" starts out looking like a fairly faithful update of Doyle's classic story "A Scandal in Bohemia", with the only real changes being that Irene Adler is a lesbian dominatrix, and that the MacGuffin is a cell phone filled with compromising photos of a member of the Royal Family. Then it turns out that the case has nothing to do with compromising photos, and Adler's BDSM hobby is just a cover for her other job—international espionage. The phone actually contains evidence of a secret Ministry of Defense ploy to save a group of plane passengers from a terrorist attack.
  • The Vampire Diaries: Those who have not read the books would get the impression that Alaric Saltzman is a vampire.
  • The X-Files: Red Herrings were used in quite a few episodes, and more importantly, they were employed on the Myth Arc level as well. Several clues that appeared to be important to the mysteries the agents Mulder and Scully were supposed to unravel ultimately lead nowhere, or were not simply addressed at all, very likely due to Chris Carter Effect or Kudzu Plot.
    • The fate of Samantha Mulder, Agent Fox Mulder's sister, was probably the biggest Red Herring of the series. Her abduction was a defining moment of Mulder's life as it triggered his belief in the paranormal and motivated his career at the FBI. Throughout the series, Mulder was tormented by her clones and doubles ("End Game"/"Colony", "Redux II"), statements that she's still alive ("End Game", "Blessing Way", "Two Fathers"), and one lead confirmed that a recent tissue sample had been taken from her ("Paper Clip"). However, the show also suggested alternative explanations for her disappearance ("Paper Hearts": Perhaps a child molester took her?). In the two parter "Sein und Zeit"/"Closure", it was revealed that she had been abducted by the conspiracy who had collaborated with the aliens. Horrible tests had been performed on her and then she had lived with the Cancer Man and his family (the Spenders). When she was 14, she was saved by some strange kind of fairies or angels which made her body disappear, meaning that her corpse will never be found, but Mulder did see her ghost.
    • "Red Museum" is one big Red Herring. Viewers are teased with teenagers' weird kidnappings, vegetarian cultists wearing red turbans, a plane crash in which a local doctor dies, cattle inoculation, hallucinogenic sequences in the woods, or a creepy Peeping Tom, but none bear significance for resolution of the case. The episode even appears to be a Monster of the Week story, but it turns out to be connected to the Myth Arc. However, those motifs did not resurface in the later mythology episodes.
    • "Grotesque": Mulder and Scully are asked to investigate a case of a nasty Serial Killer who claims to be possessed by a demon. There is a copy-cat killer and it must be somebody from the FBI team as the information about he mutilation was not released to the public. The killer bit Agent Nemhauser when they were arresting him and his wound was addressed and shown several times. However, the copy-cat was the team leader Agent Patterson, a sad case of a trope called He Who Fights Monsters.
    • "Demons": Mulder wakes up in a motel room, covered in blood and suffering from an amnesia. Evidence leads Mulder and Scully to a dead old couple who were killed by Mulder's gun. Did he shoot them? Also, a disturbed guy who obsessively cuts his heads out of all photographs keeps appearing. Perhaps he did it? No, he shoots himself in the middle of the episode. The old couple were alien abductees, and they and Mulder both underwent some radical and dangerous treatment. Their death was ruled out to be a case of Murder-Suicide.
  • Several episodes of Haven have the heroes suspect the wrong people of being the Monster of the Week, often because they were Jerkasses and/or had a grudge against the victims.
  • MythBusters: The literal version was tested on a police bloodhound in the "Hair of the Dog" episode. This was the episode's most effective distraction for the bloodhound, as it first tried to stop and eat the herring, and then it temporarily lost the trail. However, after the handler led the dog back to Jamie's scent trail (near the herring), the dog picked the trail back up and managed to track Jamie down. Because it didn't completely throw off the bloodhound, the myth was considered Busted.
  • Dancing on the Edge paints Jessie as The Ingenue, receiving lots of male attention and being completely oblivious about it. Near the end of the first episode, the Prince of Wales becomes very interested in her and his brother implies that she "might be a very busy young lady" as a result. A later episode has a minor character note that any woman the Prince of Wales shows interest in is expected to sleep with him. All of these clues make it seem like Jessie is going to end up in some sort of trouble as a result of the Prince's feelings for her, instead sweet, immature Julian is the one who tries to rape and ultimately kills her.
  • Psych: Every episode has at least one Red Herring and that person almost always ends up dead before the police get a chance to confront them.
    • Before interrogating a potential suspect, Shawn greets him with "Hello, Red Herring". He doesn't even bother with the first potential suspect because he seems "too obvious" (he admitted he hated the victim and made a joke about killing him).
    • The episode "Dead Air" had a suspect named "Redd Herring". He didn't do it.
  • The Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode "For Those of You Just Joining Us", which is set in the modern day, features a character named Norma Bates. She is creepy and Hera's Leitmotif plays whenever she appears. The writers admitted this was a deliberate attempt to mislead the viewers on who the episode's real villain was.
  • FX's The Bridge spends much of its first season following the antics of Stephen Linder, a creepy trailer-dwelling loner who appeared to be kidnapping young women. It looked pretty strongly like he was the Bridge Killer. Later, it's revealed that Linder has a side job rescuing women from pimps and/or abusive boyfriends. He made these rescues look like kidnappings to make it harder for the abusers to find the women.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Sex and Violence", the Monster of the Week is a Siren, a creature that preys on men by disguising itself as an irresistible woman. While investigating, Sam meets an attractive doctor who he rather suddenly ends up having sex with. She's not the monster.
  • Used from time to time in Cases of the 1st Department. For instance, in episode "Lab Rat", they find a suspect and everything fits together perfectly — he works in a morgue lab, he seems obsessed with dead bodies, he's a relative of the woman who works in a photo lab which developed the lead photographic evidence, his girlfriend got lost and nobody reported that she was missing, he rents a secluded cottage... They follow him, but it turns out he's just a wierdo. The episode subverts all viewers' expectations because it turns out that there was no murder at all. It was just a very realistic film prop. It was so good that it tricked all forensic experts and criminal investigators.
  • In the Cold Case episode "Offender", one of the suspects is a now-grown man who frequently bullied the victim and his friend when he was a teenager. When the boy's bicycle, which he was riding when he went missing, is found buried in his backyard, his status as the killer seems all but certain. Only for his lame excuses—he stole the bike from the boy in yet another bullying incident and buried it when he heard the boy was dead, knowing that everyone would assume he was responsible—to be true.
    • This was been averted in at least two episodes where the person with the most evidence against them was in fact the murderer, and subverted in others where all suspects were presented with motive, means, and opportunity before it was determined who was the guilty one.
  • Tru Calling normally had a bunch of red herrings in each episode, to the extent that it was often clear the killer was a character who was named but never actually did anything before the last five minutes. Special mention goes to "In the Dark" - the victim is anonymous, but all the evidence points to either Avery killing Jensen's fiancée, or Carrie being killed by her late husband's sister. Plus Jack is harassing both possible victims. In the end, it turns out the real victim was a janitor at the morgue, who was electrocuted while trying to fix some bad wiring.

     Video Games 
  • Maniac Mansion has plenty. The staircase that's out of order, the chainsaw without fuel, the hamster in the microwave, shall I continue?
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • In Kingdom Hearts II, masked character DiZ has the same unique skin tone and eye color as series villain Ansem, the same interest in manipulating anti-hero Riku, admits to using a pseudonym, and in dialogue is heavily hinted to be Ansem himself. The twist? DiZ is Ansem, while the villain we knew to be Ansem isn't. Played straight in that all the clues pointed towards DiZ being a villain, while he's actually the most useful hero of the whole bunch.
    • In Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days the mysterious fourteenth member of Organization XIII, Xion, resembles a black haired Kairi. Nomura has said this is to throw people off her actual origin: an Opposite-Sex Clone of Sora.
    • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep seems to indicate that Tetsuya Nomura's fond of this one. The Big Bad of the game has a mysterious apprentice named Vanitas. Vanitas (apparently) wants to be a deadly rival to Ventus. He's the apprentice of Master Xehanort, like Riku was mentored by Xehanort in the first Kingdom Hearts. Vanitas even has armor that's very similar to Riku's. Who is it? Ventus's Enemy Without, who looks just like Sora. Didn't see that coming.
  • In Final Fantasy VII. The illusion of player control on the first disk. Specifically the date mechanics, and Cloud's personality.
    • Aerith is presented as a possible love interest on the first disk to make the Player Punch that much harder.
  • In The Secret of Monkey Island, a Red Herring is actually a solution to a puzzle: In the game there's a troll guarding a bridge, who demands "something that will draw interest but have no real use" so that Guybrush may pass the bridge. The solution? Feed him a literal red herring. The puzzle's actual red herring is the description that leaves our hero to look for a figurative red herring. It's so meta it runs into itself coming the other way.
    • One puzzle has Guybrush tied to a tiki idol and thrown into the water. There are several sharp items near him, but are just out of reach, making him think that the puzzle involves finding a way to reach one of them. He can pick up the tiki idol and leave the water.
    • Episode 2 of Tales of Monkey Island actually references the Red Herring. Part of the solution of actually obtaining the Red Herring was to scare the seagull away. Here Guybrush actually had to somehow lure the seagull away from his cut off poxed hand, by cutting loose a barrel full of fish on the mast. When the seagull gets to the barrel, he pulls out the aforementioned Red Herring.
    • Later on, Guybrush can obtain fish egg bait, which he can use on a certain spot to fish. Turns out that not only is the fish egg bait itself a Red Herring, using the fish egg bait on the Fishing Well actually results in pulling out a Red Herring, only for it to slip out of his hands.
  • A quest in Runescape gives you a red herring as a part of a very intricate puzzle. To solve it, you have to cook it, so that the colour goes off. Then you are left with a normal herring, which with you can finish the puzzle.
    • That puzzle contains other items too, some of them which are no use (red herring).
  • The bizarre point & click game Sanitarium featured several bogus clues, all involving literal red herrings: An empty shed with a red fish painted on the roof (your character even remarks on how certain he was that there'd be something important inside), a mental patient holding a large red fish who reacts to an incorrect puzzle solution, and finally a ruby-studded fish artifact that does nothing but take up an inventory slot. A developer explained, "Straka's one complaint about our design was that we didn't have any 'Red Herrings' in the game, so we literally decided to add them." There was originally supposed to be one in the shed, as well.
  • The (actually pretty good) RPG Maker 2000 game Sensible Erection featured a Fetch Quest involving rugs with various colors of fish on them. Guess what the last one was.
  • The point-and-click adventure Morningstar featured a literal Red Herring. It's optional to pick up, but once you do there's no way to get rid of it.
  • Quite literally in the Game Boy game James Bond 007. There is a man in a market place who offers to help you in exchange for a "small rogue fish." Alas, the fish is nowhere to be found.
  • Red Herring are among the creatures described in the documentation that came with the Infocom Interactive Fiction game Beyond Zork. They were also an example of this trope, and never actually appear in the game.
  • An Ultima game for the original Game Boy pulls this off rather cleverly — one dungeon has an optional room marked with the words 'Lair of the Scarlet Fish'. Its contents: a Wand of Fireballs that is impossible to actually get.
  • The Godfather: The Game subverts The Law of Conservation of Detail. There are various places that appear different on the map, many a locked door... Quite a few of those aren't of any consequence whatsoever, even in sidequests.
  • In Mass Effect 1 the trailers, the prequel novel and the early gameplay imply that the Big Bad Saren is motivated by his racist hatred towards humans. As it turns out, this character trait is purely coincidental to his actual plans. In reality, he's been brainwashed by the true Big Bad, who is an Omnicidal Maniac.
    • Mass Effect 1 has tons of this, due to massive amounts of All There in the Manual that have nothing at all to do with the gameplay. One example that does get into the gameplay is the Asari Consort. She's hyped as a major player in Citadel intrigues, implied to have psychic powers beyond the usual Asari abilities, and is suggested to be something like an oracle. But after running a pair of optional sidequests for her, she never appears again- the door leading to her room is even permanently locked. An even bigger Red Herring is the Prothean trinket she gives you for no clearly stated reason. It does have a use- if you can find where to use it- but all it does is unlock another interesting-but-irrelevant piece of backstory. That, and an enormous sum of experience points.
    • The Destiny Ascension is introduced (as a literal Chekhov's Gun, you might say), as the strongest ship in the Council fleet ("Look at that monster! It's main gun could rip through the barriers of any ship in the Alliance fleet!" – "Good thing it's on our side, then!") Turns out it will need any help it can get in the final battle...
  • A rather cruel example can be found in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, where in Gorrester's storyline you have the option to electrocute a bunch of animals in cages to death in order to get a key. However, it turns out that the key is a red herring.
  • This mixed with Plot Hole in Heavy Rain. One of the protagonists, Ethan Mars, keeps blacking out for long periods of time, coming to in the middle of a plot-important street, holding origami figures in his hand, and having visions of drowning bodies, which is exactly the Origami killer's MO. When it turns out he's not the Origami Killer, it is never explained and makes absolutely no sense.
  • Girl Stinky in season two of Telltale's Sam & Max games talks in a suspicious or guilty manner every other sentence, and Max blames her for any number of things. In that season, she deliberately did nothing worse than be really sarcastic and a terrible cook. Things change in season 3, though.
    • In particular, a running thread through Season 2 was what happened to Grandpa Stinky. Girl Stinky first said he went on a vacation, which grew more and more grandiose in each episode. Both Sam and Max blatantly accuse her of killing him at various points. Then the season finale rolls around, and she was telling the truth. Stinky was on an expedition... but Sam and Max erased a super-powerful adhesive from existence, thus causing an accident that killed him.
    • She remains a Red Herring in Season 3, where she doesn't actually do anything other than conspire in secret. Though there's circumstantial evidence she attempted at least one murder, on Flint, in this series you can expect the real culprit to show up next Season.
    • In Episode 4, Sam has to convince Flint Paper she's a red herring so he can tail her by telephone, discovering...absolutely nothing. Even when involved with the dogglegangers, she was under Mind Control.
  • Every time you prevent a murder in Persona 4 it cuts to a mysterious figure in the fog who seems angry that "nothings happened again", and implied to be the murderer angry that his killings have been stopped right? It's actually Namatame, glad to see that he's "saved" another person. Although he actually is the one who endangered the people you saved, he just isn't the one who murdered the people who actually died and has no idea that he's doing anything harmful.
    • Also, Mitsuo Kubo. The party thinks they've caught the killer by catching him... but it's Jack the Ripoff.
  • Singularity has an interesting example; the Red Herring is a case of in-game Hey, It's That Voice! on account of Nolan North. His distinctly recognizable voice is lent to Devlin, the protagonist's Red Shirt squaddie. Because the game is about time travel, you either assume the familiar sounding but shadowed man who yells one line in the same voice is Devlin on account of an alternate timeline bringing him there, or you pass it off as a voice actor being recycled, as happens in many games. It's actually North being recycled, but the character he's recycled as is the protagonist, from the future..
  • Mortal Kombat Deception has a Konquest game mode that sets up the story behind Onaga's return. The game throws a couple of red herrings and- as the game's name suggestions- deceptions your way, but the most interesting one is the shuriken. Early on it's possible to find a shuriken. In normal play, it doesn't seem to do anything, which led to a lot of fan debate and theory for many years. Further inspection has revealed, however, that it actually does absolutely nothing at all. Whether its purpose was merely Dummied Out or it was thrown in there to mess with the fans is entirely down to your personal viewpoint.
  • In Riven: The Sequel to Myst, the Fire Marble Puzzle has 6 fire marbles. You only use 5 of them to solve it. This should not constitute a spoiler, or even a surprise; the numerological motif of "five" is everywhere in the game.
  • Lands of Lore has two notes in Urbish Mines that read "Piscata Rosea 4 4 5."
  • Assassin's Creed II
    • The town of Forli which looks to be important. It has feathers, glyphs, side-missions, the works. Ezio passes through it on his way to Venice, seemingly setting up a Chekhov's Gun. However, before the DLC was released or if you did not get it afterward, Forli turns out to be ultimately inconsequential, as no further non-DLC plot points play out there. With the DLC in hand, this is subverted as it becomes the focus of the 12th memory sequence.
    • In Brotherhood, various hints such as Ezio claiming Mario led him to Cesare in the In Medias Res start, cutting away from showing Mario's death onscreen, not showing a body - contrast with the rest of Ezio's male relatives whose corpses you see - and Machiavelli apparently not knowing how Ezio arrived in Rome suggest that Mario somehow survived. Nope.
  • Conkers Bad Fur Day:
    • The Windmill. It visibly has paths on higher levels of it that are just out of jumping reach and appears to have a Context-Sensitive Button on top of it. It gets blown up after the War chapter. Conker was sure it was going to be the final level.
    • The Panther King's castle. It's a huge structure visibile from several parts of the game, the area leading up to it is a broken bridge with several signs to keep anyone out, yet the final area only takes place in a bank that is a small part of it. Conker never enters the castle itself in actual gameplay.
  • Promo and art of Record Of Agarest Wars leads people to believe that Leonhardt is the protagonist of the story. This is true for only 1/5 of the game since the game runs on a generaton system. People consider his great-great grandson Rex to be the true protagonist. He's the guy that stands behind Leonhardt on the game cover.
  • In the game D2, Kimberly seemed to get infected by the monsters of the game, with several signs pointing to her being infected, the only really clear way to get an idea on whether or not one is infected is to see if there's green blood. She is not infected, as right after Laura, the main character, kills a clone, Kimberly spits out red blood.
  • Invoked in Professor Layton and the Last Specter. Luke, having locked himself in the room, issues a test for Layton, to do something he can hear from inside his room in order to gain entry. Around Luke's door, various items have the numbers 1 to 7 on them. The solution is to do nothing; Luke says he deliberately set up the puzzle to test Layton.
  • In Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, one mission has you infiltrating a bathhouse in Japan to witness a deal between one of the antagonists and an unknown party. The owner of the bathhouse is said to have ties to a crime syndicate called the Red Nishin. If you interrogate a particular civilian, you ask him what that name even means. The civilian describes a kind of fish which Sam identifies as a herring. Needless to say, the syndicate had nothing to do with the deal.
  • L.A. Noire: At the end of one case, Phelps has two highly possible suspects for a set of murders with plenty of evidence going against them, no matter who he puts away, it is later discovered that the evidence was planted and neither of the two were at fault.
    • Actually, this only counts in universe. From a player's viewpoint it's EXTREMELY easy to guess that the ending of this case is a red herring seeing as how they make it BLATANTLY clear that this murder is almost identical to the previous one. This is either an example of Rockstar deliberately making the player have more knowledge then the in game characters, or then screwing up a plot twist and making it really easy to see coming from miles away. Take your pick either way.
  • In the 8-bit Action Adventure Spellbound there is an actual red herring which proves quite useful for casting Fumaticus Protectium. The real Red Herring is Prism, the author hated the company of that name.
  • In Guru Logic Champ, the pictures you reveal sometimes look nothing like what their preview implied.
  • In Valkyria Chronicles, Welkin's interest in natural science tends to be directly and non-directly useful throughout the course of the war. However at one point while exploring some Valkyrian ruins, he says the shape of the structure looks familiar to him for a large portion of the scene before determining that it reminds him of the spiral shell of a type of marine cephalopod, then wondering if there might be a connection due to the resemblance. This observation has no baring on the plot and is quickly dismissed, but it makes for a mildly interesting in-joke: the art director mentions that he didn't base Valkyrian design on any particular culture but instead used a collection of seashells he found as a reference.
  • In Dark Souls, in the beginning of the game you pick a gift. One of these gifts say that it don't do anything at all, but that didn't stop people speculating about it, resulting in long articles on the wiki about it. After over a year of teasing by the game's director, he finally admitted it did nothing at all and he just wanted to see what people would do.
  • The Adventure Game Flight of the Amazon Queen has a gorilla that you need to bypass. There's a banana in a nearby area, but using it on the gorilla does nothing. Instead, you need to talk to it to make it leave the path.
  • In the first Baten Kaitos, the party loses the sole End Magnus they've managed to keep from The Empire. Savynna proposes the possibility of a spy, but after confirming that nobody would've had the chance to pass it off to The Empire, and after a run-in with Giaccomo, who not only does not deny the claims of somehow stealing the Magnus, but implies he may have, the party comes to the conclusion that there's no spy. There is. It's none other than Kalas, the main character, and he didn't pass it off to The Empire. He passed it off to Melodia, who is manipulating the Emperor into gathering the End Magnus for her. The delivery happened when the party met her at Parnasse and she "tripped" so that Kalas would "catch" her. The reason the player never picks up on this fact is because the player is a spirit watching from another world, thus never see things from Kalas' point of view.
    • In the second game, Baelheit's aggressive promachination campaign earns him the scorn and enmity of the rest of the nations, while being hailed as a hero in The Empire he hails from. Later, after unveiling the man-made machina continent Tarazed to the world after being crowned Emperor, he states that he will destroy the other islands, including the origin of his Empire. This all but assures us he is trying to force the world to submit to him. That's not his goal. He wants to stop people from relying so much on their hearts, forcing them to rely on machina instead, so that they won't grow too powerful, in order to prevent another catasthropic war from occurring, like it did one-thousand years ago, forcing humanity to live in the sky as they do in the present. Thus, he's no tyrant, but a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • In Arc Rise Fantasia, despite his constant attempts to dissuade the party, everybody thinks Rastan is the legendary swordsman Leon, and as everything about his person seems to support this fact, they simply ignore his protests. He's telling the truth. He isn't Leon. Serge is Leon, but he left that name after his sword-hand was crippled by Ignacy.
  • Ib has a multi-coloured skeleton sculpture entitled "Puzzle". It does nothing and plays no role of importance.
    • The game has a particularly nasty version with the Endings: a dialogue option only available if you haven't done anything to anger Mary yet suggests the possibility that both Garry and Mary could survive at Ib's expense. However, this is impossible - one of the two dies no matter what the player does.
  • The interactive fiction puzzle Final Selection has several red herring clues, including a crossword puzzle clue of "Marxist found in shoals provides a clue of doubtful value" and a hard-to-find and even-harder-to-decode clue in the fireplace that translates to "FOOLISH NO HOPE".
  • To make the puzzles in Dweep even harder, the levels often contain "decoy" items or other features meant to lure the player onto a false train of thought.
  • Super Smash Bros.:
    • The debut trailer for Rosalina's appearance in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS (simply titled "Comet Observatory" on the official Super Smash Bros. Youtube channel), which premiered in a December 2013 Nintendo Direct that was meant to focus on Nintendo games coming in the first half of 2014, begins with Kirby flying through space on his Warp Star as Kirby Air Ride music plays. Then the camera pans over to Rainbow Road as Mario, Donkey Kong, Bowser, Luigi and Peach are shown in a Mario Kart race (Mario Kart 8 being one of said 1st-half of 2014 releases) as Kirby zooms between Mario and Donkey. The implication seemed to be something along the lines of Kirby being a Mario Kart character. Then a Super Mario Galaxy Launch Star is shown being activated, Kirby gets knocked onto the track, and a Luma goes to check on Kirby. Only then does Rosalina get truly revealed.
  • Shortly into Killer Is Dead, we meet a woman named Moon River who Mondo swears he knows from somewhere, even having flashbacks to his childhood, where they were friends, along with having a pet unicorn. It turns out that no, they never knew each other, but the man she asks him to kill did, and is indeed Mondo's brother.
    • Indeed, the whole game is full of red herrings; the man who you control in the first chapter seems to be Mondo but it's actually David, the man who asks you to save the world from aliens is actually an alien himself and so on.
  • The World Ends with You has several.
    • Kariya assumes that Joshua's overpowered abilities are a product of his being alive and sneaking into the Game, and Joshua runs with it. They actually come from his being the Composer.
    • There are two for Neku's murderer. First, a cutscene shows Joshua apparently shooting Neku, but then an extended version of the scene shows he was actually shooting at Minamimoto, behind Neku. Then it appears that Minamimoto shot Neku. However, the cutscene is later extended a second time, showing that Minamimoto was shooting at Joshua, and it really WAS Joshua who killed Neku.
    • Finally, the game goes to great lengths to lead the player and Neku to believe that Mr. Hanekoma is the Composer, since his alter-ego, CAT, is responsible for designing the player pins and the red pins. However, Joshua is actually the Composer, and Mr. Hanekoma is the Producer.
  • In Broken Age, the protagonists of the game's two seemingly-unconnected plotlines both meet characters that are heavily implied to be the other story's protagonist many years in the future. Which one is correct? Neither. The two stories are taking place at the exact same time.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3, it's implied that Ocelot knows Tatyana (actually EVA) is a double agent due to her wearing the same perfume during an earlier encounter he had with her (while the latter was disguised). It's later revealed when he blows her cover that the perfume had nothing to do with his suspicions, it's that she stank of gasoline from the motorcycle she rides around on.
  • During BioShock Infinite, Booker and Elizabeth are approached by the Lutece twins to choose a necklace for Elizabeth to wear. One has the emblem of a cage, and other has an emblem of a bird. The players naturally assumes that the choice might determine an important part of the game's story, and possibly even alter what ending the player might see. Turns out it doesn't matter what necklace Booker chose, because it doesn't impact the direction of the story at all, including the ending.

     Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney has a lot of these, with several deliberately playing on the expectations gained from earlier cases.
    • In Justice for All Adrian Andrews seems like the killer due to both motive and placement, but it turns out that she merely framed your client Matt Engarde with the already-dead corpse. The real killer? Matt himself, by proxy of an assassin.
    • Investigations gives us the ridiculously innocent, fluffy, naive Colias Palaeno. The twist is that he's actually innocent of everything despite being so obviously non-evil that he looks guilty. From the same game, Zinc Leblanc II, an irritable Funny Foreigner who's obsessed with being on time and is so obnoxious that he's bound to be your initial suspect.
    • Apollo Justice's first case has Olga Orly, who's not only the first witness other than your client, but has a suspiciously timid and innocent demeanor. But she's not the murderer—her only part in the crime was helping the victim cheat in his card game and getting knocked out when it didn't work.
    • In Dual Destinies, there are two:
      • Herman Crab, from the DLC case "Turnabout Reclaimed". He behaves suspiciously throughout the case and treats Phoenix Wright with distaste. It turns out he is hiding something (a secret with 5 Psyche-locks, which typically are given to plot-critical secrets), but he's not the one who killed Jack Shipley. Instead, what Crab is hiding is that he and Jack Shipley didn't actually put the first orca down like they said they would, but instead moved her somewhere else. That and Crab keeps tabs on the marine life using the TORPEDO system, the problem being that the system is illegal.
      • During the third case, an incriminating piece of evidence against the defendant, Juniper Woods, is a recording of a woman shouting "You're a goner!", presumably to the victim. At one point, Athena notices that due to the poor quality of the recording, the voice could actually be saying "Hugh O'Conner", the name of a character in the case. Turns out the tape actually was saying "You're a goner!"
    • In-universe example: From the police's point of view, the defendants are always Red Herrings, with something making them seem suspicious enough to arrest. Whether it be because they were found at the crime scene, were framed by the real killer, had confessed, or otherwise had "decisive" evidence implicating them.
  • In the Murder Mystery Visual Novel Jisei, one the suspects realizes that the best way to draw attention from themselves is to accuse someone else of the murder.
    • There's also a "meta-example": in one of the bad endings the player can get, Chance poisons the protagonist to death. So if the player got this ending before getting the good ending, then the player might naturally assume that this means Chance is the killer. She's not; the killer is someone else. Chance did poison the player in a bad ending because he was getting too close to the truth, but the truth in Chance's case is not that Chance is the killer, but that Chance was hatching her own, completely unrelated plan to steal the valuable data that sparked the murder plot, and the murder actually screwed that plan up.
  • A common Nasu Verse trope. Often, an explanation for an unusual event is given, but later proven false and the true cause is revealed, allowing the player to piece by piece set together the whole picture of what happened in the past or is happening now during the multiple routes.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry has two of them: 1. The Sonozakis' Yakuza connections. More specifically Oryou being the mastermind of all the murders. 2. Oyashiro's Curse. Both of these are actually quite obvious to those familiar with Knox's Decalogue. Since Oryou was not introduced into the overall story until the fourth arc (of eight), Knox's 1st rules her out from being guilty in the chain of murders. Knox's second rules out Oyashiro/Hanyuu. Either way, VERY nastily deconstructed since the pursuit of these red herrings is half of the cause of the cycles of madness and death.
  • Umineko: When They Cry: has the epitaph: it's a riddle that initially seems as though it describes a grisly ceremony that will revive Beatrice the Golden Witch if no one solves it, but it really has nothing to do with any kind of ceremony at all and it's not actually why the murders are happening. Secondly, Kinzo Ushiromiya, the person who supposedly started said ceremony, turns out to have been dead for almost two years and only an Unreliable Narrator was making it seem as though he was still alive.
  • Mostly subverted in Ever17 with all the hints about alternate realities, events occasionally being irreconcilable, strange incidents like the kick the can game (which is never explained properly) and most importantly, Sora going out of her way to lecture Takeshi about different versions of people and how from a different perspective they're entirely different people, but they can 'join up' at a sort of Y junction and meet up. So it seems like the idea is to join up the alternate realities of all the paths right? Wrongggg. Those all mean something entirely different when not discarded utterly. Mostly subverted in that it is sort of what they do in the final ending, but not nearly in the sense they implied.
    • Also, The Kid having amnesia and having strange glimpses of future events, Coco when she isn't in that storyline or knowing things about people that he can't possibly have known. Sounds a lot like Tsugumi's amnesiac friend from the research lab who could see the future, right? Even the ages seem to match up. But it's not him, obviously.
    • Furthermore, Coco and Sara seeming to have some obvious plot-related connection due to playing similar character roles in their respective routes and knowing the same lullaby. The Kid even has a flashback/vision on Sara's path about a man scolding a crying little girl about her having everything she's wanted thanks to the loss of another girl's life, which seems to strongly imply that the reason Coco only shows up as an apparent ghost on the routes where Sara is part of the cast has something to do with Sara's past and powers. But it turns out that they're one of the few pairs of characters in this game that don't have any meaningful relation with each other.

     Web Comics 
  • El Goonish Shive used a literal red herring to Lampshade an Aborted Arc. Elliot needed to return some beers to the fridge for Ellen because Grace brought them up mistaking them for soda. He put the beers "behind the red herring" as a way of saying "this isn't actually important anymore."
    • Later on, a character was introduced who the author has nicknamed "Eric the Red Herring." He was set up to look like the person who had been summoning a fire monster, but if it had been him, then he wouldn't be on this page.
  • After Dina from It's Walky! was killed, there were numerous hints, including a strip of Walky flat-out asking Joe, that she may have returned (in the past) as The Wanderer. Nope. (He was on the right track in two ways, though: first, The Wanderer is the spirit of a murdered love interest - namely, Linda's David, and second, Dina does return, in an afterlife sequence.)
  • At one Sluggy Freelance Halloween party, one girl comes dressed as a superheroine, and Torg notes how "odd" it is that they've never seen this girl and Zoë together. The girl isn't Zoë — she's Sasha, who we've never seen before.
    • In the chapter Aylee, Torg and Aylee end up in a dimension overrun by something called "ghouls", though nobody knows what they actually are. Aylee starts to be haunted in her dreams by a figure in white robes adorned with jewels. In the meantime, some minor characters are doing research into what Aylee's gigantic dragon-like form may have been, and one of the suggestions they come up with is Rithuly, ruler of the demonic Rayths, who appears as both a gigantic dragonish thing and a jewel-wearing man, and is supposed to always be looking for the perfect mate. Torg and Aylee even meet an alternative version of Kesandru, who in their dimension had made a Deal with the Devil with Rithuly. And then the real answer to what the ghouls are comes right out of nowhere and makes perfect sense.
    • Also, in the "Paradise" arc, the Evil Overlord is called "His Masterness," and posters show a face suspiciously similar to the Minion Master. Nope.
  • Sam and Fuzzy: For the first year or so of the Noosehead arc, Sam, who went on the run from the Ninja Mafia at the end of the last arc, is nowhere to be seen. When Mafia Ninjas show up, roadie and seemingly new character Aaron, who resembles Sam with a goatee and new haircut, panics and confides his fear of being caught in Fuzzy. Eventually Mr. Black confronts Aaron, accuses him of being Sam, and swings his sword . . . only for Aaron to block it with his bionic hand. Yup, it's fellow refugee Jackson. Meanwhile, Crash, another roadie, shaves off his beard and removes his hat, revealing a familiar hairstyle . . .
  • In 8-Bit Theater, the infamous 434th episode foreshadowed a future conversation between an evil'd up Black Mage and another character. This single strip grew nearly six years worth of thick Epileptic Tree forests. After the conversation actually appeared, the major deaths that happened right before it were reverted, and the creator admitted that it was just made to distract people from actual important mysteries.
    • Arguably, everything involving Dr. Swordopolis and Darko, as well as the latter "unlocking the Nexus" within Black Mage. A lot of build-up, a lot of foreshadowing, and then absolutely nothing comes of it. The fact that such things are common in the story was lampshaded by Black Mage himself.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, emphasis is placed on an old photo of six characters from the earlier generation of students, only one of whom we have never met. Her identity is later revealed rather offhand and unspectacularly, and though she may turn out to be important, being a Valkyrie, she doesn't seem to be that relevant to the mysteries about the characters' parents.
  • The creator of Von Slayer had an accidental red herring. She asked fans to look for clues to figure out the name of a main character who's name at that point was yet to be announced. Seeing the character run away with (among other things) Tea Party plans and the period it took place, people linked it to the Boston Tea Party. They were wrong.
  • In Book 6 of Fans!!, Di is seeing a man who looks suspiciously like Keith Feddyg, and sure enough, Feddyg is not only one of the villains, but makes himself the Big Bad over the course of the story. However, Feddyg even comments on the resemblance, in a way that makes it clear there's no connection between them.
  • In Kevin & Kell, Kevin's father is suspected to be the assassin Rabbit's Revenge sent to kill Sid at Herd Thinners because the victim's blood was found on his jacket. When Kell confronts her father-in-law, he claims Rabbit's Revenge was trying to kill him as a scapegoat and that Angelique wrote the message on the wall. It turns out that they framed each other and the real culprit is technically Danielle; she couldn't bring herself to kill the victim, and he accidentally shot himself with her stake gun.
  • In the ZX Spectrum game Everyone's a Wally there exists a "Red Herring" item.
  • In Act 6 Act 2 of Homestuck, uu makes an offhand comment about his game skills:
    BuLLSHIT. I AM BASICALLY THE MASTER OF ALL RED HERRINGS.
    THEY SWIM THROuGH MY VEINS. THIS WAY AND THAT.
    • Later, it is revealed that uu is not a troll at all, making his red blood a literal Red Herring.
    • In an earlier example, the Trolls often made reference to an "invincible demon" that ran rampant through their session and ruined everything. Since the nebulous Big Bad, Lord English, had been described as "invincible" before, many readers assumed that he was responsible. Then a later flash revealed that Bec Noir was the "demon" in question, and Lord English had nothing to do with it. Hussie later admitted that this misdirection was deliberate on his part.

    Web Original 
  • In the early Whateley Universe stories, Phase follows the clues and deduces that the person out to get him is really Deputy Headmistress Amelia Hartford, who has a grudge against his family. Wrong. Word of God has said that the current suspect is the right one, but we are still waiting to find out for sure.
  • We Are Our Adventuring Avatars: During the Second Marvel Universe arc, Dr. Octopus was assumed to be the cause of the cracks in the Marvel universe that lead to the DC universe. This was not the case, as the Octobot observed on the plane entering from the DC universe was hacked by a unknown villain.
  • An episode of Board James has James being stalked by an unknown killer talking to him via the Dream Phone, who at one point says "And I know you've got the balls", which causes James to suddenly freeze up, the music to shift from fast-paced to a slower rising violin, and for the camera to focus on the sink where James drowned Mr. Bucket. He slowly walks over with the knife brandished to find...Mr. Bucket still lying in the sink, with the voice saying "You'll have to do better than that".
  • The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: Episode 8 was a Mr Rochester tease. Most viewers who follow the web series read the book, and knew that Jane met Mr Rochester when she was walking to the post office. When Jane announced she had a weekend off and planned to take a walk, the audience got hopeful. However, she really went just to take a long walk and take some photographs. She later talked about her late friend Helen, revealing something of her back-story.
  • A couple in Noob:
    • The plot of Season 2 was set off by Tenshirock deciding to give Noobs powerful items. In early Season 3, he demonstrates his ability to make avatars say what he wants with voices that sound just like their players. He never gets to do anything relevant with that due to the true plot Season 3 revolving around someone else revealing a secret Tenshirock meant to keep under wraps, turning his attention to finding the culpirt.
    • In Season 4, the main guild's leader gets a girlfriend who likes the same stuff as him, but happens to be in the same in-game faction as the previous season's villain, who's suddenly nowhere to be seen and is his predecessor. Season finale revealed there was no link between the two facts.

     Western Animation 
  • Parodied on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which featured a bully who was actually named Red Herring. Although Fred accused him Once an Episode of being behind whatever mischief was going on, Red was only guilty in the one episode where Fred had promised to stop accusing him for a day.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Phineas and Ferb where the boys go to look for "the Lake Nose Monster". Upon seeing a literal red-herring, Phineas cheerfully exclaims "Let's go follow it!"
    • Also a subversion, since it actually DID lead to Nosey..
    • The song "Perry's Hat" features this wonderful line;
    Is this herring red, or a plot point?
    • Turns out that yes, its a red-herring.
  • In the Pucca special Chefnapped, the chefs (while being held hostage) see a bunch of T.N.T. Barrels with a timer about to explode... until they realize that the timer isn't attached to anything. After that a man in a red fish costume comes out.
    • Ho: "Red Herring! I hate that guy!"
  • When Doomie was stolen, Beetlejuice and Lydia find a skeleton leg at the scene. Later, when Jaques shows up without his leg, Beetlejuice immediately begins to blame him before Jaques cuts him off to explain how he lost his leg. A literal red herring flops across the screen while the three stare at it in confusion.
  • At the end of the Rollbots episode Teacher's Pet, Ms. Appie acts incredibly suspicious, but it turns out that she had no evil intentions and that she was referring to Spin's secret.
  • Subtly parodied in the Robot Chicken sketch "12 Angry Little People". One of the Little People disagrees with the other 11 about the murderer's identity, suspecting the victim's mistress instead of his employee. A flashback to her testimonial shows her clad in red, and one of the reporters actually refers to her as, "Ms. Herring".
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode ""The Clock King", in less than five hours Batman encounters a Time Bomb, a Room Full of Crazy Clocks, a Bank Robbery, and a Gas Chamber Death Trap, all designed to keep him busy so the villain can kidnap and kill the mayor.
  • Happens a few times in Gravity Falls, the most prominent example being in the first episode when Dipper thought that Norman was a zombie but he was in fact a stack of gnomes, and in the episode "Headhunters", where Dipper and Mabel believe that the gossip writer is the killer of wax Stan, when the crime was perpetrated by the vengeful wax statues the real Stan had locked away for years.
  • In one episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Pinkie has been entrusted with guarding a delicious cake that the Cake family is planning to enter in a contest. Early in the episode, Applejack tries to take a bite of the cake but is stopped. Later on, the cake has some bites taken out of it, which Pinkie takes to mean a deliberate act of sabotage by the other competitors. Predictably, given Pinkie's wild accusations, the other competitors turn out to be a red herring. However, Applejack is also a red herring: she tried to take a bite of the cake at the beginning of the episode, but Applejack learned her lesson at that point and she's not the culprit. There are three culprits, and Applejack is not one of them.
  • Near the beginning of Young Justice Season 2, the writers began heavily foreshadowing the death of Barry Allen, who as comic fans know, famously died while pulling a Heroic Sacrifice during Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Series Finale presents a similar situation, but when it comes time for said sacrifice, it's actually Wally West, Barry's former sidekick, who ends up dying.

     Real Life 
  • The term "red herring" comes from a technique for training tracking dogs. While a dog is tracking one scent, it is often overlapped with other, more powerful and enticing scents. Usually fish, often actual red herrings, which have a particularly potent scent. Which turns out to be a Red Herring in itself.


Puzzle ThrillerMystery TropesReverse Whodunnit
Real Vehicle RevealInfauxmation DeskRed Herring Mole
Recursive CanonOlder Than SteamReturning The Handkerchief
Burn NoticeJustForFun/Tropes Examined by the Myth BustersReliably Unreliable Guns
Purple ProseLit. Class TropesRising Conflict
Real TimeWe Are Not Alone IndexRedshirt
Cool PlaneImageSource/PhotographyRed Light District

alternative title(s): Chekhovs Blank; Red Herring Suspect
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