How am I not
supposed to take offence to that? What am I, a liability? Lee:
Great. Just great. Thanks a lot for the vote of confidence.
—The Walking Dead
Probably one of the most hated characters in a movie or series fandom, The Load is a liability to the heroes. They are not
always the proximate cause
of the heroes' failures, but they're weak, they're often Too Dumb to Live
, and for some reason they've just got
to hang around with the cool heroes and be a part of the action all the time. It doesn't occur to The Load that, being an unathletic Muggle
, it really might not be such a good idea for them to rush headlong onto the battlefield
along with the heavily armored and super-powered heroes. Said heroes will usually have to spend at least half the battle keeping The Load alive. It's not hard to see why the fans hate them so much.
The Load must be played carefully, lest they become The Scrappy
. If they must be protected, or come along despite lacking any useful skill, there should be a good reason for it, and not just as interaction, or perhaps they were not invited to the battle but brought themselves along. If a character who was once clearly the Load starts upstaging the characters who are competent or powerful, they are even more likely to be hated.
The Load is the TV/movie equivalent of a powerless NPC
in a video game Escort Mission
— only, unlike a video game, you don't have the power to press the "B" button and throw The Load to the zombies
if you start getting irritated by them.
What makes this trope especially grating is that The Load often actually does
have powers or an ability that will come in handy
for the heroes, which is, of course, why
they must keep dragging The Load around with them. The one instance where The Load uses this power to save the heroes, however, does little to make up for the 99 percent of the time that they have spent being a screeching boat anchor.
Closely related to the Damsel Scrappy
, Non-Action Guy
, The Team Normal
(if this character is the load because of a lack of powers), and the Satellite Love Interest
. Can lead to a Live-Action Escort Mission
, Badly Battered Babysitter
, or similar. Might result from a Story-Breaker Team-Up
where one of the members is out of their league. The character may be a Living MacGuffin
or The President's Daughter
If a Time Skip
occurs in the series, expect The Load to have Taken a Level in Badass
. Compare The Millstone
, who is much more proactive in making failure the only option
, and Helpless Good Side
, for when a character with a Split Personality
is the load half the time. Contrast The Drag-Along
, who wants to avoid danger, but is forced to join a party of heroes against his will.
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- Calvin and Hobbes: The Series
- Socrates tends to fit this category. Hobbes seems to be the only one who likes him, but over time, even he starts to find him annoying. Of course, Socrates does pull through for the group from time to time, often saving their lives.
- Sherman, the MTM, and Jack have all taken their turns as this also.
- In The Darkness Series Wormtail is this to the Death Eaters and Harry considers Ron to be this in his other life.
- In Gods Of This New World Matt is this to Mello and Near—he spends all his time eating their food and playing video games rather than plotting with them on how to take out Kira.
- My Little Unicorn:
- Lightning Dawn. Despite his physical strength, most of the villains use magic and his inability to use magic is quite a liability in battle. Anytime he finishes a battle is with his Uniforce.
- Krysta is more of a hindrance to the others than anything.
- Brain also qualifies.
- Mary West, the mother of Wally West, became a particularly notable Load during his early years as the Flash. What are her Load bonafides? Start with the fact that she treats her twenty-something son (with years of superheroing experience) like a fourteen-year-old. This leads her to beg Wally not to help people, and basically act unwilling to let Wally out the door at all. She also behaves like a shrill banshee regarding Wally's girlfriends, calling them gold-diggers - even when Wally is dirt poor! She manages to get herself into various dangers due to her own wanderlusts, and she also blindly sets up several dangerous situations by telephoning the villains and giving up important information because "they seemed nice". Readers undoubtedly cheered when she married a European secret agent; you can have her, buddy.
- Rick Jones from The Incredible Hulk. What could be more useful to some of the most skilled and powerful super heroes in the Marvel Universe than some kid with a motorcycle following them around? Not to mention that he's apparently responsible for Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk. The only reason he's around is because he's one of the only people capable of calming the Hulk down as his friend.
Peter David eventually subverted this in his Incredible Hulk and Captain Marvel series by showing that Rick had spent so much time hanging around superheroes, he'd actually picked up enough general knowledge, including extensive combat training during the time he insisted on being Captain America's sidekick, Bucky, to be able to handle himself in almost any situation (like, say, carrying around a parachute in case he's suddenly stuck on an exploding spaceship).
Another instance was when two big strong tough guys tried to mess with Rick, only to discover that hanging out with the people he had, and his general experience, made him a very competent hand-to-hand fighter against other normals, he trashed them without much effort. By the standards of "normals", Rick Jones is not someone you want mad at you.
- Tin of the Metal Men is a very fragile guy (what with the metal he was made out of and all), yet he does his damndest to prove he does not fall under this trope, with little success. Tin isn't so much a Load as a kind of ablative armor for the team and comic in general. Need to show someone's a serious threat but not damage anyone that actually has useful abilities? Let Tin take one for the team — he's not strong, tough, or fast, but he's very brave.
- Aunt May is such a load in sixties comics, it's frankly bizarre. This isn't helped by her tendency of referring to "that awful Spider-Man," and her belief that Otto Octavius is a polite and charming man — while he's holding her hostage and Peter is trying to rescue her. Aunt May is a bit different from the usual instances. She isn't insisting on following Spider-Man around, for example, or trying to hang out with him. She's a Load, but she's Peter's Load, not Spider-Man's — and with the number of times Peter's had move back in with her, he's probably Aunt May's Load too. She's such a Load that everyone worries about her well-being when her nephew is a superhero... but not because she's so ridiculously old. And then... then there was One More Day. Aunt May became such a Load that Peter Parker lost his marriage in a literal Deal with the Devil just to keep her from dying (thanks to circumstances Peter brought upon her himself). In a subsequent storyline, she unknowingly dates a supervillain, but nothing could have ever come out of it because we had already seen reality itself get altered for the sake of her not dying.
- Sally Avril, prominently featured in Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Heady with the idea of being a super-hero, she created a blue-and-white costume, called herself BlueBird, and tried to help Spider-Man with an arsenal of egg-themed gadgets. Unfortunately, her inexperience and malfunctioning eggs caused her to be such a burden that Spider-Man even allowed one villain to hurt her quite badly in an attempt to dissuade her.
- A number of sidekicks from the comics of The Golden Age of Comic Books and The Silver Age of Comic Books are The Load...
- Such as Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen, the JLA's Snapper Carr, and the JSA's Johnny Thunder. Modern comics have managed to avert this to an extent, such as by making Jimmy a closer friend of Clark Kent's than Superman's, or by making Johnny a hero in his own right.
- The Golden Age Red Tornado (Ma Hunkel, not the android) was part this, with a heaping dollop of comic relief. She was tough enough to at least hold her own in a fight against non-super-powered thugs, though.
- Bucky of Captain America seems to be the ultimate (comicbook) example of The Load that Took a Level in Badass. He went from being saved from Hitler twice a month to a Badass Normal Legacy Character.
- Robin usually subverts this, but not always. Let's just say there's a reason the Boy Wonder is sometimes called the Boy Hostage.
Films — Animation
- In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it seems like Brent will be this when he invites himself along to help save the world, but he turns out to be a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass.
- Po in Kung Fu Panda 2 is a literal example. He is a capable kung fu master and can direct the members of the Furious Five in battle fairly well. However his mobility is so poor that he is often literally thrown and carried around by his much quicker comrades.
- One could interpret the Squeeze Toy Aliens in Toy Story 3 in this role, as they exist either as superlatives or hindrances to the toys escaping from Sunnyside. From almost alerting Big Baby to getting stuck in the dumpster and (indirectly) causing the toys to get sent to the dump. Inverted in the incinerator scene, in which the Aliens save all of the toys via the claw.
- In the pilot movie for Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, the Aliens are shown to be loyal and competent engineers under normal circumstances. But once the artifact that powers their species' Hive Mind is stolen, they can hardly function.
- Russell in Up at first seems to fit this category: he loses his Wilderness Explorer GPS, literally acts as a deadweight while Carl is towing the house, cannot put up his tent, and reveals to Muntz that he and Carl have met "the Monster of Paradise Falls" (i.e. Kevin the Bird). Probably meant to be an inversion of how in many films where a crotchety old man is paired up with a spunky kid, it's the adult who's portrayed as inept and in need of rescue. Plus, Russell has the excuse that he has no real way of getting home under his own power. If Carl doesn't do it, the poor kid is toast. However, he eventually takes a level in badass.
- In Fathom, the divers' female companion can only sit in the boat and watch the waters uselessly while her friends are being attacked by deadly mermaids.
- In several rides at Universal Studios, the riders themselves are this from the perspective of the attraction's storyline:
- In Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, the riders are attacked at every turn from the likes of security trolls as well as Bellatrix and Voldemort themselves. The main trio end up having to spend extra time in the bank just to save them.
- Despite being quickly recruited by Jimmy himself in Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast, the riders do absolutely nothing to help stop Ooblar and only get tossed around all over the place in the attraction, with Jimmy having to pilot their ride vehicle via remote control throughout the whole.
- In The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, the riders nearly get themselves killed multiple times by the Sinister Syndicate, leaving Spider-Man to save them again and again.
- The Yuri VN Akai Ito is an interesting example. Hatou Kei, the main character is The Load and all fighting are done by her Action Girlfriend. This eventually gets so grating that the sort-of sequel Aoi Shiro has a hypercompetent Action Girl as the main character. As a Continuity Nod, Aoi Shiro has an unlockable minigame based on one of the Multiple Endings in Akai Ito, where (long story short) Kei Took a Level in Badass and become a Demon Slayer.
- The main point of view character of Visual Novel/Hakuoki is Chizuru, a young woman who becomes closely involved with the Shinsengumi during the end of the Edo period. Given the time period, it's no surprise that Chizuru has very little fighting ability, and she's painfully aware of her status as The Load; throughout the action of the VN she frets constantly over how much of a burden protecting her places on them and how little she can do to help them, especially once the Boshin War breaks out and the Shinsengumi have to leave Kyoto.
- Justin of El Goonish Shive feels like The Load during the Painted Black Arc because everyone assumes he's not strong enough to help rescue Elliot. (All of the other candidates for the team had magic and/or super powers.) In fact, his dream that night casts him as a helpless hobbit who's forced to stay behind while the girls who saved Elliot are cast as the Fellowship.
- Homestuck: Nepeta is an Ensemble Darkhorse, but her sole achievements in the five thousand page comic were to be Aradia's server player, serve as Equius's Morality Pet, and scar Gamzee's face. Eridan was either this or The Millstone, since he doesn't seem to have done anything constructive. Among the Pre-Scratch trolls, Kankri a) never realised his Seer of Blood powers, b) is a passive class with an Aspect that has never been described in any detail, and c) when shown onscreen, does nothing except deliver trillion-word sermons that manage to passive-aggressively insult everyone they are directed at, so they could probably have done without him entirely and would quite happily have done so.
- Iki of Off-White is a Big Eater wolf that is bad at hunting, is clumsy, and slow. If he was not part of a pack, he would have died by now.
- The Order of the Stick
- In Sluggy Freelance, Kiki is by far the most useless character in a fight, and her tendency to play with anything shiny has often put the characters in danger from explosions, dimensional portals, and radiation poisoning. However, because she is The Ditz, the Genki Girl, and the Team Pet, most readers love her anyway. To be fair, it's not Kiki's fault that only Bun-Bun has figured out how to utilize (read: weaponize, using a pixie stick and a cardboard tube) her.
- What would it be like to assemble a team of so-called heroes where every member is The Load to everyone else through stupidity, greed and general antisocial behavior? The answer is the Light Warriors of 8-Bit Theater!
- Although every member of the team in Sturgeons Law is incompetent or a sociopath or both, Jenn is too much of a slacker to be of much use to the party.
- Bogey in Kid Radd, who, being a One-Hit-Point Wonder who can only attack by walking into people, is outclassed by nearly everyone else. He knows it, too, frequently angsting over his general uselessness, which eventually causes him to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to give Radd his power-up before he gets killed by the Final Boss.
- Achievement Hunter usually has theirs in the form of Gavin Free, but not solely because of his usual status as Troll — certain games go way over his head, such as American sports games (due to him being British), and thus he needs to be handheld across it. In Let's Play Grand Theft Auto IV and V, he's a very poor driver, prompting Michael and Ray to tell him to get out of the car when he's driving during a Team Lads vs. Team Gents match.
- The main character in the blog novel Flyover City! is a slacker / fanboy in a world where superheroes are real. His mundane call center job for the “big evil empire” eventually leads him to the sidelines of several super-powered battles.
- Kyle's character in Statless And Tactless is the team's load. Having his stats spread out to make him a generalist (as well as having terrible dice rolling luck), means he pretty much can't pass any check. Joe attempts to be the load as a form of coercion, but is actually fairly useful.
- In Survival of the Fittest, Cara Scholte becomes this for Maxie Dasai. The latter has to literally pull Cara around for a good half a day and was prevented from fleeing from a dangerous encounter with Adam Reeves in concern for her companion's well-being. Sure, Cara was catatonic at the time, but given the outcome of the fight...
- Chou in the Whateley Universe thinks that she is becoming The Load for Team Kimba due to her complete lack of powers when not doing what the Tao wants, which has lead to serious injury for her in some battles. Not wanting to be this trope any more is the cover story for her leaving Team Kimba during the spring term.
- Simon Lane, while hardly useless in the Jaffa Factory series (part of the Yogscast Minecraft Series), does less work than Lewis Brindley or Duncan Jones and spends a lot of his time easily distracted, forcing them to get him back on track.
- In Noob,
- Valentin seems to be this to Relic Hunter guild, via going Casanova Wannabe on female players at very inappropriate moments, such a the middle of a fight. His actual talent in battle in unknown, but the webseries version has him beaten offscreen by one of the protagonists and resort to running away when two of his magic-using guildmates basically become People Puppets and start attacking him.
- The webseries and novel version show Saphir having that sentiment towards Omega Zell after he joins Justice.
- The American Vice President will more than often be seen as this. Usually if they were competent enough, they would have gotten the nomination. It helps that they have very little power.
- Germany has been plagued by this in both World Wars. In World War I they had to prop up their allies Austria- Hungary and the Ottoman Empire; in World War II it was their ally Italy.
- And there's France in both of these wars, especially World War II - the French are often portrayed as incompetent, cowardly buffoons who couldn't do anything without British and American help. In fact there's a whole trope about it: Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys. But as noted on that page, the truth is a bit more complicated (and this applies to the Austria-Hungary and Italy examples above, too).
- This is recognized in the world of business by "The Peter Principle", where skilled employees are promoted through the ranks eventually to management — where they are no longer doing what they are qualified to do and thus no longer competent in their jobs, making them The Load.
- And expanded upon using "The Dilbert Principle" by the cartoonist Scott Adams in his book of the same name. The principle states that incompetent employees are promoted to middle management where they will safely become The Load instead of remaining in their former positions where they could do actual damage to the company as The Millstone. Another name for this phenomenon is being Kicked Upstairs.
- Expanded further in "The Way of the Weasel" where it's explained that incompetent employees that cannot be fired tend to be moved where they will do the least damage: management.