Must be Monday. New podcast! Just click on the fancy logo below.
They fight for the good guys. They might even believe in the cause. But they are a hero only in name.
They are antiheroes
(Or Villains) who have a fundamental lack of empathy
, a sociopathic
disregard for human life. They may be motivated by boredom, or by some sort of carrot-and-stick arrangement - a chip in the head, an attachment to some person or thing that requires them to do good
, or a pragmatic code that prevents their truly inhuman nature from landing them in jail. Sometimes they may be a Reluctant Psycho
, whose attempts to do the right thing are obstructed by their own pathology.
They may solve their problems in much the same way as a villain would—ruthlessly manipulating and killing their way to their goal. They may routinely torture, murder, and commit evil acts nearly as bad as the Big Bad
. They'll do whatever it takes to win. The people they fight beside worry about their behavior, but feel "At least they're on our side
Compare Heroic Comedic Sociopath
, for when this kind of behavior is Played for Laughs
Compare Token Evil Teammate
, which he will be if a team player. A Sociopathic hero is generally a Nominal Hero or a Villain Protagonist
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- The titular character of MD Geist, who infamously is rescued from cryogenic stasis to be sent to stop a Robot War of apocalyptic proportions, only to then decide to unleash the killer robots on the planet himself after he succeeds, is somewhere between this and Villain Protagonist. While obviously he's an evil, evil man, he's also the psychotic result of a Super Soldier program by an offworld human faction, meaning that A: he's programmed to only care about fighting and seek to always have battles to fight, and B: he's still loyal to his creators, who have decided it's best to just scrub all life from the colony world and repopulate it with fresh colonists.
- Alucard from Hellsing. He has no regard for human life (though deep down he admires humanity), will kill at any opportunity if allowed, and enjoys the thrill of war. He does at least attempt to limit his body count to those who actually are a part of the battle he's in.
- The title character of Karakuridouji Ultimo: Very cute, good with kids, and created to be the literal embodiment of good. But provoke him in any way? Get ready for a world of pain.
- Death Note have several examples, which goes as follows:
- Mello is a ruthless mafia boss whose methods include kidnapping, extortion, and killing his own men and anyone who gets in his way but he is technically speaking on the same side as the detectives.
- While L doesn't kill (or at least take the act upon himself) he's not above manipulating, kidnapping, and torture to get the answers.
- Near is even more manipulative than L and treats the case like it was a game or puzzle and the other people in it as expendable pawns.
- Bleach: Mayuri Kurotsuchi and Kenpachi Zaraki are sometimes depicted this way but can also veer into the Heroic Comedic Sociopath trope as well.
- Dragon Ball Z has Vegeta when he was the Token Evil Teammate.
- Baccano's Claire is an odd case because his moral code is very strange. He will Pay Evil unto Evil by being eviler than the genuine bad guys yet he still has standards. He's motivated by heroism but he's also a professional assassin and employs countless methods of torture. He cares about his mentor and his fiancee and his family. Off the job he's a Nice Guy but can quickly shift into a Ax Crazy mode if his sense of morality is violated.
- Closer to the mark is Elmer C. Albatross, a genuine "essence of pure evil" sociopath who, thankfully for the world around him, decided that working For Happiness was more interesting than working For the Evulz.
- Black Lagoon has Roberta, who was once an amoral killing machine but has now dedicated herself to the Lovelace family and goes completely off the deep end when she thinks her young master has died. And Revy laughs and sings when she's gunning people down, and nine times out of ten her first recourse is to put a 9mm round in any given problem, but she's one of the protagonists and is shown to have a few standards.
- Guts in his days as the vengeance-driven Black Swordsman from Berserk was very much this trope. Even now, Guts is still a sociopath. The only reason he saves people is because one of his companions asks him to. Even before that, Guts clearly enjoyed his job as a mercenary, relishing in crushing the skulls of his enemies and striking fear into their hearts.
- Getter Robo pilots Ryoma Nagare and Hayato Jin in several continuities. Jin's first appearance in the original manga is as a violent revolutionary punishing would-be deserters by ripping a man's face off. He mellows a bit as he ages, but is still willing to send in his own fiancee as part of a force defusing booby-trapped atomic bombs by trial and error. Ryoma practically lives to fight.
Films — Live-Action
- Riddick from The Chronicles of Riddick series, at least mildly. He's more of a survivor than a sociopath, though Fridge Logic would suggest he's done a fair amount of killing over his life to earn a trip to a triple-max prison. He certainly has nothing against killing when it benefits him, at any rate. Just make sure you mind the children. Lookin' at you, Johns.
- Depending on the actor, James Bond is a borderline case. Being a 00 agent practically requires it, as one has to kill in cold blood; that is, without the deceased having been any direct, active threat to the agent.
- Daniel Craig's is explicitly intended to play this trope straight, showing no remorse for killing two men, and feeling perfectly justified in breaking into his supervisor's home in the middle of the night.
- Billy the Kid in Young Guns consistently behaves as one. He is excited every time there is bloodshed, and kills perhaps more people than any of his companions, often ignoring the original plan they agreed on just so he can kill more opponents.
- Richard Chance from To Live And Die In LA counts big time. He is impulsive, treats his CI/friend with benefits Ruth like crap, and robs an undercover FBI agent to finance his own sting against Rick Masters.
- Even when saving the Earth, Godzilla has shown himself to be very ruthless and brutal in his methods, though he subverts the trope in that he actually has some altruistic qualities.
- The Bride from Kill Bill. When she's under a truth serum from Bill, she admits that she genuinely enjoys killing and maiming people. In fact, what stops her from being a downright Villain Protagonist (she was after all a contract killer for most of her life) is the relative Heel Face Turn she went through upon finding out she was pregnant, and her very deserved revenge.
- Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is a nice, quiet variant.
- Ripley in Alien Resurrection. This Ripley is extremely cynical and callous, due to partially merging with the Aliens. A doctor theorizes that she has some form of emotional autism. Some examples of her sociopathy are trying to strangle Dr. Wren on a whim, breaking another doctor's arm immediately after she wakes up (in a deleted scene), and looking at another character getting dragged off by the Aliens with curious fascination. The only time she shows any real emotion is when she finds her other clones and incinerates them, and when her "son" (the Newborn) dies.
- If Snake Plissken gives even a fraction of a damn about the people who die helping him, he certainly doesn't show it.
- Of course, given the Black and Grey Morality Crapsack World Snake lives in, and how most of them would have willingly stabbed him in the back had it not been in their best interests not to do so, it's kind of hard to fault his general apathy about things.
- Private Joker from Full Metal Jacket proudly states he joined the Marines for the sole purpose of killing people and bragging about it.
- Let's face it, the heroes of MANY fairy tales behave this way, killing, lying and stealing their way to fame and fortune, often with no better excuse than "that guy deserved it." Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk), for example, commits multiple burglaries and then murders the person coming to reclaim their stolen property. The musical Into the Woods deconstructs this story, among many others.
- This is how Takeshi Kovacs views himself. Several times, he describes the traits needed to qualify for Envoy training as "psychopathic tendencies and a sense of team spirit", at least one of which he had instilled during time in the military. While he has enough of a conscience to Pet the Dog for those who he feels to be the victims, he has no problem with permakilling or torturing anyone who interferes with his goals.
- Several characters in Peter Watts's Blindsight; most prominently Jukka Sarasti: a potential murderer, a sociopathic vampire, but one who leads the crew against impossible odds, and who is possibly going out of his way not to offend their sensibilities.
- Like his television version, Dexter Morgan in Dexter in the Dark and subsequent novels.
- Severian the Torturer from the Book Of The New Sun series by Gene Wolfe. His values are so far astern from the readers sensibilities that he sometimes comes across as shockingly cruel. In some instances, it seems he is ambiguous when describing events that are of great moral relevance to the reader, apparently because he sees no ethical dilemma in them. He shows a mixture of traits, some of which may be sociopathic, others which may indicate a place on the autism spectrum.
- Peter Pan, probably much to the surprise of those only familiar with the Lighter and Softer adaptations. Peter spends an awful lot of his time killing off pirates, and often is willing to put his friends in danger simply because it would be interesting or even funny. This is because of the basic nature of his character; being a child forever, he's inherently selfish and often amoral. This is played up a bit in the 2003 film, but most adaptations soften the edges off the character.
- It is mentioned that during the fights between the Lost Boys and the pirates, if the pirates seem to be at a disadvantage, Peter will join their side to even things out. That's right, he will happily fight and kill his friends just because it's more of a challenge. Evidently, Lost Boys come and go, and Peter doesn't have any real interest in keeping track of them.
- Arya Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire is becoming one if she isn't one by now
- Also Sandor Clegane and Bronn.
- Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart is more sociopathic than hero at times. He executes his adopted son, and gets convicted for murder and arson, the arson being for burning down a church (Which was a stand against colonialism, but still...).
- John Cleaver from I Am Not A Serial Killer is actually a clinically diagnosed sociopath.
- The Dog Stars: After the End, the main character Higs has a partnership with Bangley, a sociopathic gun-nut who lives for nothing besides killing. Higs does all the practical work, while Bangley protects them.
- James Bond is more of a psychopath than a sociopath proper - he shows considerable devotion to MI 6, to Britain and to long-time friends like Felix Leiter - but he does fit this trope. To his credit, he is not as relentless as many other examples; a Mook that can be gotten of the way non-fatally will generally not be killed 'because it's easier'.
- John Galt of Atlas Shrugged — the man who has never experienced "fear or pain or guilt." This is supposed to be a good thing.
- The characters from the Objectivist series Swordof Truth often come off this way. They act perfectly kind and loving to people they care about, but have no problem killing non-combatants, torturing prisoners, threatening to take away people's free will (and following through if the threat doesn't work)...the only crime they DON'T commit or condone "if needed" is rape.
- The main character of "Revenge"- she proves several times over that she is willing to steamroll innocents to get what she wants.
- Dexter Morgan, in the TV show Dexter, is a prime example. A Serial Killer (albeit of other killers) who has to emulate emotions to go unnoticed by others, and is only motivated by his urge to kill.
- In the 4th, 5th and 6th seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the soulless vampire Spike plays this role, at first against his will, under the influence of an implanted chip that causes him pain when he attacks something with a soul. Now, his only outlet for his violent predilection is beating up monsters and demons. He sides with the heroes more out of boredom, looking for something to do. Later, he begins to do good for the love of a female character, but only because that's what she would want him to do. His transition to true selflessness occurs without him ever becoming capable of the soulful qualities that distinguish humans from Buffyverse vampires; for that reason, his final act of Season 6 is to seek a real soul.
- In the 5th season of Angel, the vampire Harmony works for the good guys, but her motivation is her own personal development. She does good because it seems like an interesting thing to do. In the finale, she turns on Angel, because as a soulless demon, it's just not in her nature to do good. Angel saw this coming and made it part of his plan.
- In Sons Of Anarchy, this applies to pretty much everyone in SAMCRO. Tig is the leading example in the early episodes, but he's overpaced by Happy. While the club watches an IRA member torture a traitor, most are shown to be either stoic or disturbed by the display. Happy is smiling.
- Damon in The Vampire Diaries, when the mood strikes him.
- Shane in The Walking Dead slowly slides into this role. By the second season when he shoots Otis in the leg and leaves him to be killed by zombies he's this fully.
- In Doctor Who, the later regenerations of the Doctor constantly struggle against becoming this. During "The Waters of Mars" the Tenth Doctor ended up going so completely off the deep end, he briefly styled himself as "The Time Lord Victorious" and was willing to break time itself in half to save people, even if they didn't want him to.
- In the BBC's Jekyll, "Hyde is love - and love is a psychopath."
- A lot of wrestlers who either have monster gimmicks or spent a long time as a heel will become this after a Heel Face Turn.
Religion & Mythology
- The heroes of religious stories often get a pass similar to the Fairy Tale folder above. In the [[Bible]], for example, the prophet Elijah asks God to punish a group of children for making fun of his baldness...and God complies by sending two bears to devour the lot of them.
- A character with Compassion 1 in Exalted can be played as this. Alchemicals with high Clarity are explicitly spelled out as not examples - they're emotionless, not wantonly cruel - but those infected by Gremlin Syndrome may well attempt to continue fighting the good fight even as their condition instils a psychotic desire to destroy and maim.
- Infernals who take enough Ebon Dragon Charms can easily become virtue-stripped sociopaths who have to actively resist the urge to flip out and ruin people's happiest memories, but they remain playable and capable of perverse nobility even as they're wrecking lives left, right and centre.
- Raiden from the Metal Gear series. Especially in Metal Gear Rising Revengeance. In fact, him going back to his sociopathic persona is a major plot point and acts as a Super Mode in later levels.
- Jade Curtiss from Tales Of The Abyss is a genuinely compelling example of this, being mentioned as killing animals for fun in his childhood, not being able to form significant emotional bonds, and being described by his own sister as having something "wrong" with the way he thinks. Despite what can be easily interpreted as a genuine lack of most emotions and morality, he still tries to consciously compensate for this and do what he speculates others would see as the "right" thing. And near the end, it manages to be deeply touching when Jade calmly tells Luke that even though Luke is objectively the better choice to die, he is compelled to stop him because he considers Luke his friend.
- Morrigan of Dragon Age: Origins is one of the Stupid Evil variants; her answer to everything tends to be "Eh, we don't need to help them, let's just kill everyone." This has at least some justification since her only social interaction for most of her life came from her mother, who might have intentionally crippled her emotionally in order to make her easier to eventually possess.
- The Warden can be played as such, which actually resonates with their entire order. Depersonalization is one of the reasons why the Wardens are such effective warriors, as we are often reminded, the Grey Wardens can and will do whatever it takes to defeat the Darkspawn. Even if it means razing a city to the ground to save the people within.
- The Legion of the Dead are also comprised at least partially of this. Exiles, criminals, murderers and even rapists from Orzammar are accepted as members, who hold their own funerals when they join, consider themselves dead and are willing to spend their last days waging guerrilla warfare and full head-on assaults against the Darkspawn horde.
- Kain really is a sociopathic hero, in that he was afflicted with some kind of mental illness seconds after he was born, making him megalomaniacal, anti-social (in the psychological sense of the term), and incapable of empathy. However, despite being a Villain Protagonist, he's the only real hope Nosgoth's got.
- Bayonetta from...Well Bayonetta. She sure does love killing angels...
- Caim from Drakengard fit's this trope to a T, he will slaughter The Empire and save his sister no matter what the others say. Well, until he found out a certain truth. Even Caim Has Standards.
- In the lore of The Elder Scrolls, Pelinal Whitestrake, the Divine Crusader, was a legendary hero and companion to Saint Alessia who was instrumental in toppling the tyrannical Ayleid Empire and personally slew their leader, Umaril. He was also a frothing-at-the-mouth racist and berserker who once did something so heinous it nearly caused the Divines to turn their backs on mortal life.
- Kotomine Kirei from Fate/stay night, albeit only in the backstory. He was a well-regarded member of his organization prior to his Start of Darkness, but was a pure sociopath and Reluctant Psycho from the start.
- Kratos from God Of War. In some games he's a somewhat-tragic Byronic Hero, in others he's just a rampaging deicide machine, but no matter what he's on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and anyone in his way is going to be splattered on the walls, regardless of consequences.
- Mass Effect 2 has the Bounty Hunter and Punch Clock Hero mercenary Zaeed. While he doesn't exact always propose Murder Is the Best Solution, he probably wouldn't be against suggestions for it, though he makes clear at a few points that he has standards nonetheless. The same game features Jack, a biotic Tyke Bomb who's been so abused and beaten that at this point the only pleasure she finds any more is in killing. It helps that the men who trained her would torture her any time she showed mercy, and inject her with drugs to get her to associate pleasure with killing.
- Alex Mercer from Prototype is a very complex case, but he ends up being well-intentioned in the end, saving New York from destruction. Doesn't prevent him from being an Axe Crazy Psycho Prototype who savagely kills his enemies, consumes people (though the player can choose whether to eat civilians or not) and has a hard backstory behind him. By the time the second game rolls around he's definitely no longer a hero - but bizarrely no longer a sociopath, either.
- Garrosh Hellscream for the horde is this in World of Warcraft has shown tones of this. The force driving him forward has been shown to be his desire take over the entirety of Kalimdor for the horde, and likely slaughter every single alliance member. and he's chosen to follow in the steps of his Blood Knight father to do so. While beloved by the soldiers, his lack of oversight and recklessness, and general idiocy have resulted in several atrocities in the name of the Horde and spawned a great deal of bad blood between him and the other Horde leaders.
- The Space Marine from Doom comes across as this during the "cutscenes" and manual descriptions. A sadistic grin will appear on his face when picking up a new weapon and his response to finding a chainsaw is: "A Chainsaw! Find some meat!"
- While the original Vault Hunters of Borderlands toed the line (especially Brick), most of the New Vault Hunters in the sequel qualify big time. Axton is a Glory Hound who committed treason against his government and purposefully puts his allies in danger just so he can look like a "badass", Salvador is a complete psychopath and cannibal, and Zer0 is a Blood Knight assassin who will kill anyone if the price and challenge is right. Even Maya and Gaige, easily the most moral of the New Vault Hunters, are more than willing to viciously taunt their enemies, making Maya a Type 2 antiheroines with hints of Type 3 and Gaige a Type 3.
- Guybrush Threepwood, especially in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, where just about everything he does, from stealing, to framing people, to blatantly cheating at things, is a jerkass move. Many fans of the series enjoy the sheer feeling of power this game provides.
- Interestingly, while Ultima IV is written with the clear expectation that you should be the diametric opposite of this, there is the fact that Virtues can't actually go below zero. So there's nothing stopping you from spending the first part of the game stealing, murdering city guards for money and experience, abusing the trust of blind herbalists by underpaying them for their services, and messing around with incredibly evil skulls... until you have a few levels under your belt, plenty of money, and reagents for your spells, at which point you turn into a living saint. Also, while giving money to beggars is Compassionate, doing so by giving one coin at a time (to maximise the reward) is questionable ethics.
- Xanauzumaki's alternate character interpretation of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask Link.
- From the first episode of Majora's Mask: (To the tune of the Hokey-Pokey) "You push your blade back in, you pull your blade back out, you push your blade back in, and you twist it all about. You stab and disembowel them until they start to shout, that's what it's all about, Second Verse!"
- Loophole of the Whateley Universe has slipped from the perfect southern belle into this as of A Cold Plate of Vengeance given what she does to an enemy who mind-raped her. And then doesn't see anything wrong with using a holographic projection of said rapist as the face for Loophole's AI.
- Sf Debris Alternate Character Interpretation of Janeway is played like this (to the point of being the Big Bad of the franchise). While it is done for humor there are several times where the Janeway in the show does something either as bad or worse than Sf Debris!Janeway.
- In his review of Latent Image he compared his Janeway and the shows Janeway's solutions to the events of the episode. He gave up partway when he realized that the real Janeway's solution was more extreme than her own parody.