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Dark Shepherd

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"You have two options. You can wait until I leave, and then murder Abigail. But then I'll come back. I'll slay every lice-ridden peasant, anything that moves and can't climb a tree. Or, you can lead honorable lives; clear your conscience and start again, like humans. The choice is yours."

Good's version of temptation. When moral argument falls on deaf ears, a Good Shepherd might have a Dark Shepherd moment, herding the sheep along the path of righteousness with the stabby end of the crook.

If the baddie has been remonstrated in some morally sound way, once they're around the corner, safe and alone, they may suffer doubt... or perhaps he was only acting remorseful to escape, with no intention of repentance. Whether out of habit or malice, the villain is poised to forget the moral lesson and do the exact same thing that got him in trouble. At which point, the Dark Shepherd steps in.

The Good Shepherd is optimistic in his heavenly intentions and arguments, but the Dark Shepherd focuses on the evil in people. The Dark Shepherd is a spiritual Drill Sergeant Nasty who resorts to threats and fear in the sheep's moment of doubt or descent, to scare the sheep away from the edge of the cliff.

The Dark Shepherd can be evil. His point is that you shouldn't be. While his Good Counterpart has integrity, the Dark Shepherd has low expectations. Out of sympathy or disgust, he sees the sheep as egocentric, thoughtlessly driven by pleasure or pain, incapable of learning, or perhaps just too addicted to bad behavior, too weak to make the right decision like a hero.

If the sheep won't do the right things for the right reasons, the Dark Shepherd encourages an alternative.

A Dark Shepherd moment can become a lasting transformation when a good character is made weak by a lapse of faith, resorting to evil methods (intimidation, insult, injury) to achieve an end. The underlying assumption can be dark: Good deeds aren't intrinsically satisfying enough. However, the Dark Shepherd may remain good and faithful if the motivation behind his action is merciful: Good is hard to understand and choose at first, so in the meantime...

Heaven is the carrot; Hell is the stick; the Dark Shepherd wields the latter.

(Watch for common markers such as surprising the sheep alone with their conscience and giving incentive that a more moral character Good Shepherd is unable to give with integrity.)

A form of Good is Not Nice. Through the lens of Good Cop/Bad Cop, the Dark Shepherd closes the sieve. However, usually aware of the somewhat shameful nature of his persuasion, the Dark Shepherd's work is often private, behind the back of any Good Shepherd that may put a stop to it. See Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand where the Good Shepherd is the former and the Dark Shepherd is the latter.

Compare Knight Templar and Hobbes Was Right. Not to be confused with Dark Messiah.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the title character foils a store robbery. When the robber is tied up, the shopkeeper picks up his shotgun and threatens him with it. The Batman still has a code, though.
    Batman: Pull the trigger... and I'll be back for you.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Child of the Storm has this as Doctor Strange's mode of operation when he's in a particularly bad mood and/or his usual manipulations won't cut it, terrorising entire pantheons of gods (with the aid of the Tesseract) into behaving and following his line.
  • Shattered Reflection, a Fire Emblem: Awakening fanfic: Having a seriously Dark and Troubled Past involving being betrayed by her own version of the Shepherds, Rose has absolutely no faith in their ability to make moral and rational decisions when she visits the timeline that the story takes place in, and thus defaults to this whenever trying to get them to do something.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The grim hermit Michael of Macedonia in the Belisarius Series is both a Good Shepherd and this trope, who later helps raise up an Alternate History version of the Knights Hospitalier.
  • Discworld:
    • At the end of Unseen Academicals Andy Shanks is jumped in an alleyway by Pepe, who basically says that Mr. Nutt forgave him and that's lovely, but someone ought to leave him with a reminder not to do it again.
    • The same book also mentions what happened to Mightily Oats from Carpe Jugulum: He now preaches throughout Überwald, bringing Forgiveness to where it is needed. 'Forgiveness' is the name of the axe he killed the Count von Magpyr with in Carpe Jugulum.
    • In Hogfather Death shames the Good King Wensenclas expy by exposing his charity as simply trying to make himself feel good, without caring what the peasant wants. It's down to Albert to take the king aside afterwards and explain that if he thinks of taking this out on the peasant later "well, that's the sort of mistake a man should treasure, on account of it being the last mistake he'll ever make."
  • Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files has elements of this in how he treats his apprentice Molly, combined with Scare 'Em Straight. In an earlier moment, Cassius, who is host to a dangerous demon, fakes a Heel–Face Turn and the Knights have to leave him alone as he has given up the demon, even though it's blatantly obvious he did this to not be harmed and he's indulging in Evil Gloating over what happened to one of their comrades. As he still has crucial information to his boss' evil plan, Harry gives a candidate for the page quote.
    Fortunately for you, [Michael and Sanya] are good men. Unfortunately for you... *produces baseball bat* I'm not.
  • In The Mental State, Zack threatens to use his influence to undo some of the improvements he has made to the prison in order to control the other inmates. He also recruits Charlie, a celibate lolicon, to his side so that he can threaten rebellious inmates who have children.
  • In the original short story version of Children of the Corn, Burt describes "He Who Walks Behind The Rows" in these terms after reading the nightmarish texts he finds in Gatlin's church, which largely consists of original writing and the Bible with most of the New Testament cut out. "A shepherd who had sacrificed his lambs instead of protecting them". According to Word of God, He Who Walks Behind The Rows is actually an incarnation of Randall Flagg.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Firefly:
    • River Tam clarifies Jayne's situation ("Also, I can kill you with my brain.") when she suspects that Simon's eloquent trust speech may not be effective. An example of an arguable good-neutral character borrowing the crook for a moment.
    • Shepherd Book from Firefly is a Good Shepherd with Dark Shepherd moments, as when he warns Mal that taking advantage of a naive and innocent (-seeming) young woman will get him sent to a "special hell" in "Our Mrs. Reynolds". Also, while he won't kill, the Good Book is a mite fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Pediatrician Emu Hojo sees and believes in the best in everyone and is the Good Shepherd to a T, but the Crapsack World he lives in and the other Doctor riders' lack of interest in much else but beating each other with their respetive emotional baggage taught him that sometimes people need negative encouragement to be better instead.
    • The breaking point was when when he needed the other riders' help to save a patient, but they refused to even think about working in a team with him and more importantly, with each other. He despaired for an alternate solution and ended up pulling on the ego of each of them to make them cooperate against him to fit into the plan.

    Oral Tradition 
  • A common joke whose basic skeleton is that an atheist challenges God to knock him down if He exists. Some audience member comes up and shoves the guy, stating: "God was busy, so He sent me." The words alone are Good Shepherd; the threat implied by the violence is Dark Shepherd.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • While working for independent promotions Pro Wrestling Xtreme and Pro Wrestling Syndicate, New Jack would preach to younger wrestlers about the dangers and draw backs of Garbage Wrestling, and it is hard to think of anyone who would know better than New Jack. He'd also preach on the virtues of conventional wrestling, and go on to teach both hands on, by proving he could out wrestle them conventionally and force them on the right path with garbage wrestling.


    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • If the player chooses Renegade options in the Mass Effect trilogy, the protagonist, Shepard, will act like this. (Taking Paragon options makes them a Good Shepherd, and both courses of action have pros and cons.) Either way, Shepard ends up saving the galaxy.
  • In The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia has seen too much to believe that monsters are always defined by their species. If anyone commits horrible crimes for reasons that are exceptionally stupid, he can threaten to consider them monsters and kill them because he really, really wants to kill bad people. Most are pretty stupid, but a few consider throwing down their arms and going home.
  • Prophet Zachary Hale Comstock from Bioshock Infinite counts. He convinced everyone in Columbia that God told him to build the city as a haven for the chosen people: non-Irish white people who believe his message that the lesser races are only meant to be used as free labor for the chosen few, and that a "false shepherd" with an evil mark (AD), "will lead the Lamb astray."

    Web Comics 
  • Baron Wulfenbach's modus operandum in Girl Genius; since the aristocracy can't be relied on to develop a decent society, he'll civilize Europa with an iron fist. The main law of his empire is thus: "Don't make me come over there." His son Gil is struck with an epiphany of this, after beating down a thug persistently strong-arming him into returning to his father against Gil's protests.

    Western Animation  
  • Batman: The Animated Series is full of classic Dark Shepherd, usually used on civilians who are corrupt but not yet evil. The Batman doesn't claim to be good, he doesn't act good, but he wants everyone to be good. Most common Dark Shepherd scenario: vanishing, leaving a potential villain with food for thought, but not a scratch on him yet.
  • Sister Butch of John Callahan's Quads!. Her only motivation (read: only motivation) for doing anything in life is her faith, and you'd better believe she'll do anything from threaten people with eternal damnation for not donating enough to a charity to breaking and entry to taking on Satan in a wrestling arena for that purpose.
  • A Book 3 episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender has Katara become this when Zuko joins the group. She basically threatens to kill him if she even thinks he's about to go back to his old ways.
    • The Book 1 Finale, "Siege of the North," has Iroh deliver one to Zhao when the latter threatens to kill the koi fish avatar of the Moon Spirit. He makes good on his promise after Zhao kills it.
    Iroh: Whatever you do to that spirit, I will unleash on you tenfold!
    • Unalaq from Sequel Series The Legend of Korra wants to unify the Water Tribes whether they want it or not. That, and he also sets up Tonraq to be banished from the North by destroying the spirit forest so that he could be chieftain instead.
  • Littlest Pet Shop (2012) has a villainous example: Fisher Biskit considers his Alpha Bitch twin daughters Whittany and Brittany to be absolutely rotten people. Due to that, he repeatedly creates tasks and trials in a constant effort to get them to behave more respectfully towards other people and appreciate their kindness. It invariably fails, causing the opinions of his daughters to sink further each time. This example doubles as Hidden Depths, as he is depicted as a Corrupt Corporate Executive most of the time, but he is shown to truly understand compassion, honesty, and generosity, repaying it when done to him and hoping that someday, his daughters will do the same.