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  • Caroline from 2 Broke Girls is in the episode where the diner she and her friend Max work at gets held up by a potentially armed robber. She begs the robber to take Max instead of her, pushes her closer to him, and actively uses Max as a human shield. Caroline later tries to shrug the incident off when everyone makes fun of her. To further highlight her cowardice, the show has her pee herself when she learns of the armed robber.
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  • Arrow has Merlyn. When he ended up on Ra's Al-Ghul's hit list for breaking the rules of the League of Assasins, he brainwashed his own daughter to shoot former League member Sara Lance. He did this specifically because Oliver would have to protect her from Ra's by fighting him; Merlyn completely refused to go anywhere near Ra's, let alone fight him. When Merlyn is eventually captured, he begs on his knees for his life, disgusting even Ra's.
  • Baltar was this in the original Battlestar Galactica.
  • Chuck is this in Better Call Saul in the sense that he lacks the courage to tell Jimmy up front that he doesn't want him working as a lawyer and effectively uses Howard as Jimmy's punching bag until Jimmy figures out the truth.
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  • Lydia Rodarte-Quayle from Breaking Bad. Her first impulse whenever something goes wrong or inconveniences her is to kill a subordinate. This is so ingrained in her personality that she expects it constantly from the people she works with but views as potential threats. She has no qualms about putting out hits on people who inconvenience her (such as Gus' henchmen, Declan and his gang, Skyler, Walt); however, when her own life is in danger, she panics and begs for mercy.
  • Buffyverse:
  • Cold Case
    • The victim of the episode Justice is a serial date rapist who exploited the lax laws regarding date rape to repeatedly perpetuate the crimes, peed himself when several of his former victims confronted him at gunpoint, and then acted unapologetic and unrepentant about his actions once they left. The detectives become so repulsed by what they learned of him that they actually tell the killer what to say in court to defend himself.
    • The killer in the episode Blood On The Tracks was fearful of whatever punishment would be meted out for a crime she, her husband, and their friends were involved in a decade earlier — which the guilt-ridden husband was planning to confess to the cops about. So she enticed her ex-lover — who clearly still had feelings for her — to help her murder her husband in order to keep his mouth shut, with the promise of them running away together. Instead, she killed her husband and a friend of theirs whom she bore a strong resemblance to, assumed the other woman's life, and allowed her ex to suffer for 20-something years thinking that he had killed her, while she lived the ideal life of a suburban housewife. When confronted by Lily, she feebly denied being a monster, but outright admitted to being "a coward".
  • Chang in the penultimate episode of Community Season 2. At one point, he runs through the paintball wasteland, screaming "Does anyone have an alliance I can join?!", having betrayed at least 3 other groups already (The Study Group, Math Club, and The Cheerleader Alliance).
  • Similar to Arnorld Rimmer but Up to Eleven, Brad Spitfire from the French-Canadian show Dans une galaxie près de chez vous. He not only admits to being a cowardly opportunist, The Quisling, and The Starscream of the starship Romeo-Fafard, he is immensely proud of it, crediting his mile-long yellow streak as the distilled genetic heritage of a long line of cowards who outlive a pursuing tiger by tripping up their friend.
    Brad: (upon recovering his memory after an alien mindwipe) YES! I'm a dirty bastard!!!
  • Doctor Who:
    • Fewsham, from "The Seeds of Death", collaborates with the Ice Warriors, fearing for his life, until he sees he's helping wipe the human race out. Then he grows a pair and gives the secret to stopping the Ice Warriors at the cost of his life.
    • Captain Cook from "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" spends the entire serial throwing pretty much everyone else under the bus — getting two of them killed — and eventually betrays the Doctor to the villains of the story, all in the name of saving his own neck.
    • Gibbis from "The God Complex". At first, it's Played for Laughs ("All I want is to go home and be conquered and oppressed, is that too much to ask?"), but ultimately his actions directly result in the death of a sympathetic character. Worse, Gibbis survives the episode completely unscathed.
    • The Doctor himself can get like this on occasion. While he's no stranger to physical danger or hard choices, he'll often run from the consequences. In "Hell Bent", having undergone a Sanity Slippage due to a Trauma Conga Line (and thus become — temporarily — a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds), he inspires this exchange from other characters:
      Ohila: [disgusted] He's running away.
      General: Where is he running to?
      Ohila: Same place he always does: Away. Just... away.
    • "Arachnids in the UK": Corrupt Corporate Executive Jack Robertson. When he gets approached by a Giant Spider, he screams in terror, causing his bodyguard to respond to the sound... whereupon Robertson leaves his bodyguard inside the room as he flees, doing nothing as he hears the bodyguard's screams and gunfire from behind the door.
    • "The Witchfinders": Becka Savage, landowner of Bilehurst Cragg. She's condemned dozens of villagers to death on suspicion of witchcraft... because she's trying to save her own skin, as she's been possessed by a malevolent alien lifeform. She even goes so far as to execute her own grandmother, so no one will find out the truth.
  • On the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, the main character's wife fits this trope. Whenever Debra is in conflict with another person, she will usually bully her husband Ray into confronting the other person for her, almost always growling "You need to back me up on this!", to the point where that line is almost her catch phrase (and even if the other person has a perfectly valid point, they will still be treated as being horrible simply for opposing Debra). Then when Ray inevitably caves into her demands and starts doing the verbal battling on her behalf, Debra always finds a way to sneak into the back and hide behind Ray while he takes all the heat from the other person. Then when Ray gives her a chance to speak her mind and join in, Debra always says something like "hey, it wasn't me, this was your idea," and goes back to cowering behind Ray's back and letting him be the target of the other person's anger. What's really infuriating about this pattern of behavior is the fact that Ray himself is usually in favor of making peace with the other person and wants everyone to get along, but he gets dragged into the argument anyway because his wife wanted him to, and yet she herself is totally unwilling to actually take responsibility for it, even when the fight is her idea. And yet she still treats him as if he's an unworthy husband, even though he always ends up doing her dirty work for her.
  • Lester Nygaard from Fargo. Despite being viewed by his peers as a quiet, nervous type, the truth is that he's a repellant little worm who will do anything to keep himself from harm, even if that means framing his own brother for the murder of his first wife. He crosses the Moral Event Horizon when, while fleeing town in an attempt to evade Lorne Malvo, he sends his second wife to be killed in his place, even giving her his distinctive orange parka to ensure she resembles him as closely as possible.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Tam from Firefly ignored all evidence that the government was experimenting on their daughter and turning her into a living weapon because they didn't want to jeopardize their posh lifestyle.
  • In an episode of Frasier, a gunman comes into the coffee shop and Bulldog tries to hide behind Roz (who's pregnant at the time) to shield himself. However, when he is trying to get behind her he manages to accidentally spill hot coffee on the gunman, disarming him and promptly leading to Bulldog being hailed as a hero, to the disgust of Frasier who saw what actually happened. Bulldog does this again during the award ceremony in his honor when Martin (who was sick of hearing Frasier whine about the whole thing) told Bulldog that there was a man with a gun and Bulldog used his own mother as a human shield.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • King Joffrey Baratheon is this. A Smug Snake, Royal Brat, and all around Jerkass. While he acts tough, particularly when he is certain of being in a position of authority, the truth is that he's nothing more than a coward. Some of the best parts from the show are watching him squirm like the worm he is whenever someone stands up to him. When Arya points a sword at him, he cries like a baby (to be fair, she had her direwolf helping her). There's also the scene when Tyrion bitch-slaps him, repeatedly, for his mocking refusal to at least pay lip service to the Starks. Then in the second season, not only does he not do anything when Tyrion outright calls him a "vicious idiot king", but Tyrion gets away with slapping him again and mockingly asks if his hand had fallen from his wrist. He panics very quickly during the Battle of the Blackwater and runs off when he hears that his mother has called for him, his voice visibly cracking as he does so, although he was reluctant to leave at that point.
    • Sam (rightfully) admits to being one in "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things", an admission so unheard-of that the other recruits act like it's a disease they might catch. Sam's case eventually gets treated with Character Development, though.
    • Grand Maester Pycelle remains fawning and servile to escape the notice of more ambitious courtiers because he wants nothing more than to live out his days in the comfort his office affords.
    • Walder Frey's defining trait is that he only acts when he's completely sure it'll work out in his favor. He's lived to a very ripe old age because he's very good at it. But his luck did eventually run out.
    • Rast enjoys bullying Sam but backs off whenever others get involved, stabs men in the back but panics when they turn to face him, and turns tail and runs rather than fighting in "First of His Name".
    • Lord Janos Slynt, originally Commander of the Watch in King's Landing. He readily follows Littlefinger's orders to turn on Ned Stark and then King Joffrey's orders to murder all of Robert Baratheon's bastard children, including knifing a baby himself, for which Tyrion commands him to join the Night's Watch. During the Battle of Castle Black, he's so indecisive that he must be tricked to leave the Wall, then he abandons the fighting to cower in the pantry, where even Gilly shows more bravery. He even pisses himself while he's hiding. Throughout the series, he's mostly concerned with his own status, right up to the part where he mouths off to Lord Commander Jon Snow when the latter orders him to take command of Greyguard and Jon beheads him for insubordination. He spends his last words on the block blubbering about how scared he is.
    • In "Battle of the Bastards", Ramsay refuses to fight Jon one-on-one, then stands back and watches the battle without getting his own hands dirty. When the knights of the Vale arrive and turn the tide, he turns and retreats to Winterfell. Then when Wun Wun smashes the main gate and Winterfell is stormed, he retreats. Finally, when he's cornered, he spitefully shoots Wun Wun in the eye and snarks that he's "reconsidered" Jon's offer for one-on-one combat, trying to kill Jon at a distance. He gets his face beaten in when Jon closes in using a shield. Quite the 180-degree turn from the shirtless Blood Knight in "The Laws of Gods and Men".
    • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is the greatest manipulator on the show and is the orchestrator of the War of the Five Kings. When he's finally put on trial for his many horrific acts/betrayals, he immediately (and true to form) tries to talk his way out. When that fails, he decides to flee to safety and orders the Vale lords to escort him. When that fails, he breaks down weeping and begs for mercy. He doesn't get it.
  • From GARO The One Who Shines In The Darkness, we have the Big Bad Kaneshiro Tousei. If it wasn't enough, he was one of the worse, if not the worst villain in the GARO series (being responsible for summoning a horror to kill his mother and being in awe of it and turning several good people, like Enho and Makai Knight Sonshi, into Makai Horrors, thus making them tragic monsters, as well as having his entire family killed, including his nephews and nieces) and becomes a Boisterous Weakling when he mocks the Makai Knights when they confront him since they can't kill humans. However, when he's put in danger, he's a sniveling, begging coward who runs at the first sign of trouble. Even after becoming a Horror himself at the end of the series...he is still a coward now since he's fair game for Ryuga and Rian. He gets a well-deserved Karmic Death by Rian, who shoots him with Makai Bullets while emphasizing the good people who died because of him.
  • Horatio Hornblower: Jack Simpson is a very well-written and wonderfully performed villain of The Bully variety. His true cowardice is revealed when he's unable to Face Death with Dignity and begs for his life as Horatio has right to fire at will at their duel. Horatio's "you-are-not-worthy-of-the-powder" scornful remark absolutely psychs him out morally, and he tries to stab Horatio In the Back.
    • A sympathetic example is found in Jack Hammond, who panicked during his first battle when someone else's blood splattered on him and ends up stranding his captain during a mission. Unlike Simpson, he's not a bad man, just a normal person out of his depth in a Naval career he didn't want and is completely unsuited to in the first place.
  • Justified has Harlan County marijuana dealer Dickie Bennett. A vicious, sadistic little man, Dickie tends to lose his courage the moment things aren't going his way, begging and pleading for mercy. He does it to Raylan twice, and to Boyd when the latter tries to force the location of his mother's money out of him. Late in Season 3, he seems to grow a spine, largely because he believes that he's a dead man anyway.
  • In Kamen Rider Gaim, we have Mitsuzane Kureshima. At first, his intentions could be interpreted as well-meaning, but his attempts to protect his friends end up backfiring spectacularly in an (admittedly heartbreaking) scene where the person he was trying to protect slaps him across the face for his efforts. However, he takes this turn of events way too hard, becoming complicit in an attempted murder of his brother, plotting against his friends and manipulating events behind the scenes, and selling out humanity to the God-like Overlords for a promise that he'd be allowed to govern the remnants of the apocalypse the planet was quickly heading towards. However, the crowning moment was when his big brother (who had earlier pulled a Heel–Face Turn) returned to fight him, he used every dirty trick in the book and only won because his brother showed a moment's hesitation at the thought of killing his beloved younger brother. Needless to say, Mitsuzane didn't share the same compassion.
  • Kingdom Adventure: Most of the villains are depicted this way:
    • Dagger cowers when Zordock is angry at him, and not without reason. He also immediately does as he's told when Pokum points the Emperor's sword at him and tells him to take him to Zordock.
    • Magistrate Pitts is just as afraid of Zordock as Dagger is, and is also afraid to go into the dark woods without his guards to protect him.
    • Zordock himself qualifies; it's a bit hard to see it for how scary Zordock is, but when the audience or in-universe characters analyze him, he fits: he's stated to be afraid of the Prince, and it's no lie: when the Prince so much as shows up, he retreats, though not without spoken defiance. He doesn't even kill the Prince himself; he forces a minion to do it for him.
  • Stanley Tweedle from Lexx is mostly an example of this trope, although if he's pushed into an absolute corner he generally mans up and does the right thing.
  • Dr. Smith, The Load in Lost in Space. For someone who valued himself so highly, he wasn't very good at taking care of himself — his desperate acts of self-preservation never failed to endanger him.
  • Lailoken, the soothsayer of King Vortigern in the Merlin (1998) series. He is motivated entirely to keep himself out of danger (makes sense, considering he's around Vortigern of all people) and preserve his own life. After Vortigern tasks him to try to find out why his tower is collapsing, Lailoken makes a perfect dirty coward quote while at his religious rituals.
    I've been a follower of the Old Ways all my life. Now, that life is in danger, and it's a precious life... it's mine!
  • Morgana Pendragon in Series/Merlin.
  • It's rare to find an Evil Overlord that fits a Trope like this, but Master Vile from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers likely does. He wasn't the only major villain who gave up and quit, but actually threw a childish tantrum and ran off to his home galaxy after the Alien Rangers defeated his army. (If you didn't see it, trust me, it was a rather pathetic display.) Sure, maybe it was a big setback, but a lot of villains in the series had experienced worse, and it didn't make them run away crying.
  • Mark Corrigan of Peep Show. Some of his more memorable acts of cowardice include hiding from his fiancée on their wedding day (in the actual church) rather than call it off, and using a past girlfriend as a human shield against a man who he tried to frame.
  • Brad Bellick of Prison Break is this when he's not in the position to bully someone.
  • Arnold J. Rimmer from Red Dwarf ranges from Dirty Coward, Lovable Coward, and The So-Called Coward/Cowardly Lion depending on the series, episode, situation, and the Rule of Funny; however, he slowly gets better over the course of the series. The recreated one in Series VIII is "Rimmer how he used to be", lacking all of the development of the previous series, so he also fits.
    • Though both Rimmers subvert this trope at least once. Hologram Rimmer not only saved the crew and prevented their deaths by blowing up the time drive without a bazookoid but also willingly becomes the next iteration of Ace Rimmer, his heroic alternate dimensional counterpart, and Series VIII Rimmer actually comes back to save his crewmates in the final episode when he could have stayed in the perfectly safe mirror world. For all his cowardice, he does seem to acknowledge 'better dead than smeg'.
    • Kryten becomes this when his guilt gets sucked away by the Polymorph, openly planning to feed the others to the Polymorph in order to save his own skin-like plastic casing.
  • Angel Martin of The Rockford Files fits quite well. He frequently refuses to do his part in plans that put him in the slightest amount of danger, and he sells out his friends immediately when things go south and he ends up in jail, or in the hands of organized crime.
  • George Costanza from Seinfeld exemplifies this Trope perfectly in one scene — he's willing to push women and children out of his way and knock them to the floor to get to out of a burning building. The episode's writer said that such an act was, "George stripped down to his essentials."
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Nor the Battle to the Strong", Jake Sisko gets a Reason You Suck Speech calling him this, which he owns up to at the end.
    • Also something of a Deconstruction, as Jake himself starts off contemptuous of a soldier who'd shot himself in the foot. The rest of the episode is him learning why not to rush into judgment about such things.
    • Subverted in "Valiant". Red Squad views Jake as one when he tries to convince them not to attack a Dominion warship—Nog even gives him another Reason You Suck speech about it—but in reality, Jake is the only one who recognizes that the whole mission is suicidal and is proven right by the end.
  • Don't expect Eric Forman's friends from That '70s Show to stick around when things go south of the border whenever their antics (Most often Kelso's) blow up in their faces.
    • More obviously invoked in "Halloween", when Kelso hears a noise which he takes for a vengeful spirit; he pushes his girlfriend out of the way in his haste to flee.
      Jackie: I can't believe Michael pushed me aside.
      Donna: Me neither. I thought he'd use you as a human shield.
  • The backstory of Gabriel from The Walking Dead reveals that he barricaded himself inside his own church and refused to let anyone else in, causing them to be eaten by the walkers.
    • Gregory, the leader of Hill Top, almost revealed where Maggie and Sasha were hiding to Simon to save his own ass. Luckily, Jesus moved them to the closet in Gregory's study before Simon or any of the other Saviours could get to them.
    • Then there was Spencer, who went behind Rick's back and tried to convince Negan to kill Rick so that he can be the leader of Alexandra. Despite being a horrible psychopath who brutally beat Abraham and Glen to death, Negan calls Spencer out on this, right before stabbing him in the gut.


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