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Spear Carrier
If you cannot sing Siegfried you can at least carry a spear.
— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow note 

A character who walks into a scene, says a few lines at most, and departs. Essentially, an extra with a line. But hey, it's a part. You have to start somewhere, and they wouldn't give away a part this small unless it served some purpose in the story, however small... right?

Plus it's usually enough to get you a card in one of the actors' guilds.

Bit Character is the next step up. Compare with the Almost Dead Guy, who walks into a scene, delivers a message, and dies horribly.

The term comes from Greek theater, specifically tragedy: While the plot of a given play focused on members of important nobility, the theater still needed actors to fill the role of their military entourage - you know, the kind of soldiers whose only job on the stage is to stand at attention and give a salute whenever a noble walks by them. It has also become the standard term for an operatic supernumerary, one of several silent extras (of either sex) who may carry anything from a flagon to a kidnap victim. (See here.)

A Herald is usually more dramatic and foreshadows The Call.

Compare The Cameo and Pursued Protagonist. Not to be confused with the native assistant of the Great White Hunter, or with The Lancer, or with literal wielders of spears. Can sometimes result in a One-Scene Wonder. Or a Red Shirt.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Film 
  • Back to the Future:
    • The couple at the dance at the end of the film, who are amazed that George McFly stood up to the school bully.
    • There's also Red the Bum, who calls Marty a "crazy, drunk driver" towards the end of Part I, and a "crazy, drunk pedestrian" in the alternate 1985 in Part II.
  • In Bruce Almighty: Bruce asks a young boy if he knows how to work a video camera. He replies, "Duh." They even make special mention of him fitting this trope (not in those words) during the DVD commentary.
  • In Citizen Toxie Toxic Avenger IV, an actress playing a nurse agreed to be nude on screen in exchange for a line.
  • From Ghostbusters: the carriage driver in Central Park who remarks: "What an asshole," after Rick Moranis has a conversation with the horse.
  • The member of the crowd in Monty Python's Life of Brian who is individual enough to admit he isn't. Interestingly, that was a Throw It In line—and he was paid extra for coming up with it.
  • Jamie in Mystery Team is essentially this; she does very little to add to the plot, and is good for a few laughs.
  • In The Naked Gun, the man at the baseball game who yells out "Hey, it's Enrico Palazzo!!!" is credited as such during the closing credits. At least one other spear carrier is billed as such, which is common for the ZAZ team.
  • The woman Chekov asks about "Nuclear Wessels" in Star Trek IV was just supposed to appear as an extra (i.e. non-speaking), but her answer to the question was so perfect they had to Throw It In, promoting her to spear carrier.
  • Discussed— rather bitterly— in the John Ritter film Hero at Large. Steve is talking to his agent Marty about Marty not getting him any stage work (instead of all the commercials he's doing).
    Steve: Marty, how much can you do with, "That's what I call beer"? Marty, get me a play, any play.
    Marty: It's not like you never had one. Last summer, Shakespeare in the Park.
    Steve: I carried a spear. Marty, that's a joke. When an actor says he carried a spear, he doesn't mean he carried a spear. I. Carried. A spear.

    Literature 
  • In a commentary to the Dragonriders of Pern, author Anne McCaffrey described Masterharper Robinton and Mastersmith Fandarel as spear carriers in the first book, who later evolved into major characters.
  • In Alexei Panshin's 1968 science fiction novel Rite of Passage, the main character muses on the existence of spear carriers as disposable:
    "A spear carrier is the anonymous character cut down by the hero as he advances to save the menaced heroine. A spear carrier is a character put in a story to be used like a piece of disposable tissue. In a story, spear carriers never suddenly assert themselves by throwing their spears aside and saying, ‘I resign. I don’t want to be used.’ They are there to be used, either for atmosphere or as minor obstacles in the path of the hero. The trouble is that each of us is his own hero, existing in a world of spear carriers."

    Live Action TV 
  • The various messengers ("My lord, I bring news!") in the first series of The Black Adder. Also, the messenger in the Blackadder II episode "Money", who keeps telling Edmund the Queen wants to see him at inconvenient times.
    Blackadder: I'm sure I'll think of something as long as I'm not disturbed...
    Messenger: My Lord! The Queen does demand your urgent presence on pain of Death!
  • Early in Boy Meets World Cory's class is putting on a production of Hamlet. Cory is cast as Hamlet, but refuses the role because he doesn't want to wear tights. He gets a part again... As a lowly spear carrier. ( His best friend Shawn had previously been one, but got bumped up to noble when Cory quit. ) It's defied/parodied just before the credits roll, as he uses the spear to knock everyone down and claim domination over the stage.
  • Kath, who is a non-speaking Spear Carrier in Casualty. Similar to Nikki, but also an unlikely cult character too.
  • Nikki, a blonde nurse in Holby City who never speaks on screen (and is considered as Fanservice by many viewers), becoming an unlikely cult character, and the show from which Holby became a Spin-Off of has its own.
  • In pretty much every episode of iCarly there are random interactions between the main 5 characters and members of their school or viewers on the webshow. Occasionally some of these become a Bit Character like Wendy, and Gibby (who eventually was upgraded to the main cast), whilst most vanish and are never seen again after one or two episodes.
  • Discussed in Seinfeld : "These pretzels are making me thirsty."
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Voyager features Lieutenant Ayala, a character who appears in 120 episodes including the series premiere and finale but only speaks in four of them (and one of those is an overdubbed communicator voice). Having survived the entire series despite not being a main character, he became something of a fan favourite.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Morn, a character who appeared in 96 episodes, yet never spoke onscreen, with a whole episode dedicated to his supposed death. Hilariously, there's a Running Gag that Morn never stops talking.
  • Babylon 5 would occasionally use these guys as fodder for promotion later on. Zack Allen (the Chief of Security in the later seasons) started off as a Red Shirt getting thrown down a hallway by Ambassador G'Kar. Lieutenant Corwin, meanwhile, started off as B5's equivalent to Stargate SG-1's Chevron Locking Guy, and ended up as the station's second in command. The first season also featured a French-accented woman who shared Corwin's duties of announcing whenever the Jump Gate opened.
  • In Deadwood, Richardson was originally an extra, then promoted to Spear Carrier when he received a line, then promoted to regular cast member when the showrunners liked the results.
  • Several small characters on Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined). The actor playing Chief Tyrol had a habit of ad-libbing names for these characters, leading fans to get attached/interested, leading to repeat appearances for them, leading to them becoming significant characters. Specifically the "knuckledraggers" of the flight crew

    Music 
  • Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida has a messenger who is possibly the smallest credited role. He has like three lines.

    Theatre 
  • Shakespeare uses a lot of those in his plays:
    • The servant from King Lear is known for delivering one line, getting killed, and being one of the best characters in the play.
    • In Macbeth, Seyton only shows up to tell the king his wife is dead (and to hint where she's gone).
  • Depression-era American playwright and former actor Clifford Odetts was so frustrated by constantly being cast as Spear Carriers that when he started writing plays, he deliberately wrote many of his minor characters to be One Scene Wonders. The union members in Paradise Lost in particular stand out.
  • While Spear Carriers are less common in contemporary plays due to shifts in directing and casting for live theatre (fewer large troupes performing multiple plays at once and competition for professional extras from the film and TV market), musicals nearly always need a chorus regardless of the scale of the production. In small scale and/or amateur productions, chorus roles can be expanded to this to take pressure off the main cast, make use of talent, or even replace a secondary character who couldn't be cast at all.

    Video Games 
  • Baldur's Gate: Hold there, traveler, Elminster just wants some attention.
  • In The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush wants to be in a theater production but is told he "doesn't have the hands of a spear carrier."
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: the prisoner Jiub only managed to deliver ten short lines of dialog before you were separated from him. Fans became so fond of Jiub that mods eventually allowed you to free him, as well. There's also one mod that makes Jiub the prophesied hero, and the PC just a random adventurer. Even Bethesda got into the act. In Oblivion we learn that "Saint Jiub" drove the Cliff Racers from Morrowind, and in Skyrim you can meet his ghost and help him complete his opus, detailing his incredible feats.
  • Half-Life
    • Half Life: Barney the guard pops up to deliver a message or herald Gordon a few times. Sometimes you can recruit him to do something, and once he manages to become the Almost Dead Guy just before Gordon is ambushed too.
    • Half Life 2: A woman is in a culvert as Freeman goes by, she says she's going to stay there to keep the underground railroad open a while longer, and tells him to keep going.
  • Gothic: his name is Mud and he wants to talk to you. Sadly, he has nothing useful to say. No, Mud, go away.

    Web Comics 
  • El Goonish Shive has this jogger who's only purpose is to jog up to Susan, Sarah and Grace, indirectly reveal the cave they are standing in front of is Invisible to Normals (and thus the one they're looking for) and promptly jog away.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in the second Phineas and Ferb Christmas Episode:
    Candace: What is all this? Arrgh! Fake snow, fake house, and who are all these people?
    Isabella: Extras.
    Spear Carrier: Not me. I got a speaking part. But it's just this line so it's pretty much over now.
    • And later:
    Spear Carrier: I had one line earlier.
    Kelly Clarkson: And now you have two!
    Spear Carrier: Oooh!
  • Parodied in the South Park episode "Asspen" when a guy walks onscreen just to explain what the K-13 is before walking back offscreen.

Mysterious InformantMessenger    
Social Circle FillerCast Filler TropesStompy Mooks
One-Scene WonderOne-Shot CharacterVictim of the Week
Someday This Will Come in HandyUniversal TropesStop Motion Lighting
Speaks Fluent AnimalCharacters as DeviceSpecial Guest
Spaceship Slingshot StuntWe Are Not Alone IndexSpeech Bubbles

alternative title(s): One Line Speaking Part
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