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Demoted to Dragon

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"I see you still believe that I'm the Dark Lord. [...] I am now supreme commander over Lord Vearn's armies! I am Hadlar, the Dark Commander!"

In the natural progression of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, a stronger Big Bad will replace the previous villain for the new season. However, what happens if the previous villain is still here? One of the things the former Big Bad can do now is to work for the new Big Bad as his Dragon. This is Demoted to Dragon in a nutshell.

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This occurs by default when a Greater-Scope Villain takes a more directnote  role in the storyline but the former Big Bad is still serving them.

Demoted Big Bads will frequently become The Starscream or a Dragon with an Agenda, especially if the only reason they were demoted was because the other Big Bad happened to have an advantage and the alternative would mean certain death. Better to lay low and wait for the right moment...

Although, some Dragons will do the opposite: They will happily accept the new position, be actually loyal to the new Big Bad and have a trustworthy relationship, often because the Dragon will realize that he works better and more efficiently by working for someone else, and the Dragon may actually become a much bigger threat than when he was the main villain thanks to the help and resources of the new one; effectively an inversion of The Peter Principle. However, that good relationship might not last, and it may be the Big Bad that betrays him instead.

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Compare Quickly-Demoted Leader, which overlaps when a Starter Villain suffers this trope. Contrast Dragon Ascendant, the inverse, and Big Bad Duumvirate, when the previous Big Bad isn't explicitly subservient to the new one. See also Big Bad Wannabe, which overlaps if the demoted villain insists that he's Still the Leader.

Beware of unmarked spoilers.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
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    Fan Works 
  • Carmen Cole, the Big Bad of the novel Hottie by Jonathan Bernstein, becomes The Dragon to Emperor Vakudos in Hottie 3: The Best Fan Fic in the World.
  • Matt Pinfield, the Big Bad of The Naked Brothers Band animated special "Supetastic 6", becomes The Dragon to Princess Jody in the Spin-Off, Hottie x Supetastic 6: March Madness.
  • The Powers of Harmony: Eclipse (formerly Nightmare Moon) ends up forced to serve Cetus, her own creation. Naturally, she's not pleased with this.
  • My Little Mages: The Nightmare's Return has Chrysalis. Fifty years ago, she led one side of a war between the living and the Undead, but was defeated and forced to go into hiding, before Nightmare Moon recruited her for her new Quirky Miniboss Squad.
  • The Rise of Darth Vulcan has this happen to Chrysalis in relation to the titular Villain Protagonist. However, due to a combination of Mad Love and being genuinely impressed by him repeatedly, she doesn't mind much.
  • Persona EG:
    • The dark persona user Eris, a.k.a. Fluttershy seems to be the main enemy of ZIT, but it is eventually revealed she is working for the far more powerful and dangerous Mephistopheles, a.k.a. Sunset Shimmer.
    • Though she had already been trying to perform a Heel–Face Turn by the time it was revealed, Sunset herself was later revealed to have been an Unwitting Pawn to the Zodiac Shadows and it seems that the real Big Bad the whole time was actually Juan the Janitor, a.k.a. Red Flag.
  • Ladybug in a Half Shell: At an earlier point in time, Shredder found and strong-armed Hawk Moth into his services.
  • In The RWBY Loops, this happens to Cinder. See, Cinder was introduced as a looper before canon introduced Salem, The Man Behind the Man. Due to the way the loops work, Cinder really was the Big Bad, before the expansions made it retroactively Salem all along. And while Unawake!Cinder is content with the arrangement as long as she gets the Fall Maiden's power, Looper!Cinder is annoyed because her entire motive, Awake or not, was personal power. As a Looper, she's more powerful than Salem and has the experience of being powerful and beholden to no one to contrast it with.
  • Code Prime features an example where The Dragon of one villain is demoted to being The Dragon of another, nominally lower-ranked villain. Due to Cornelia continuously failing to defeat the Autobots or Black Knights without the assistance of the Decepticons, her father decides to make her Megatron's subordinate in all conflicts with the Autobots or Black Knights (she still retains her privileges as Viceroy in all other matters. Cornelia is enraged by this, but has no real way to go against the decision.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Brokenstar was the Big Bad of Into the Wild, the first book of the Warrior Cats series. Then he gets driven out of his clan and killed, leaving Tigerstar in control of his army. Later in the Omen Of The Stars arc, Tigerstar and Brokenstar meet up in the afterlife and Tigerstar becomes Brokenstar's dragon.
  • Caine Soren is reduced to this briefly during HUNGER (the first of many sequels to GONE). He bounces back though.
  • Occurs in Needful Things, where John "Ace" Merrill, the Big Bad from Stand by Me, becomes a lackey for Leland Gaunt.
  • Happened in the backstory of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The three Raversnote  (formerly human, bodiless possessing demons) were the Land's reigning supreme evils for centuries, possibly millennia- at least until Lord Foul the Despiser showed up to seize the throne of Big Bad de jure. In the process, he made the Ravers his chief minions (an arrangement which worked out well for the Ravers; Foul was as evil as they were, far more powerful, and an extremely subtle chessmaster, so allying with him made them if anything even more dangerousnote ). However, by the time the actual books take place, this is entirely a matter of legend; the Ravers are well-known primarily as Foul's minions, and are even described as such in the books' glossaries.
  • A rather... tense... version in the later books of The Death Gate Cycle. Lord Xar is a Sorcerous Overlord and Magic Knight; Kleitus is an undead, omnicidal Implacable Man Necromancer. When they meet, Xar is able to force Kleitus into serving him by the simple expedient of being too powerful to kill (and Xar can't just kill Kleitus because he doesn't know the one spell that can destroy him). It's explicitly stated that Kleitus follows Xar around and does his bidding not out of any sense of loyalty, but out of the pure hope that he can be there when Xar slips up and use the opportunity to finish what he started. Xar, of course, is fully aware of this and doesn't trust Kleitus as far as he can kick him.
  • The Mental State is essentially a story of a Sociopathic Hero contending with a series of Arc Villains. Most of them end up as underlings for the story's true Big Bad. One of them even becomes The Dragon to The Hero!
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle, after Ash begins acting more openly and reveals himself to be The Man Behind the Man, he forces Thorn to become his right-hand-man - something Thorn resents, but has no means of combating.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Arrowverse: Damien Darhk serves as the Big Bad of Arrow Season 4. He then migrates to Legends of Tomorrow and joins a Big Bad Duumvirate in Season 2, playing second fiddle to Eobard Thawne and constantly spatting with his co-dragon Malcolm Merlyn. Come Season 3, he becomes merely The Dragon to the time demon Mallus, before giving up his life to save his daughter.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • When Angel became Angelus, former Big Bad Spike became Angel's Dragon.
    • Mr. Trick, after having abandoned his master, Kakistos, to the Slayers, seeks to install himself as the next Big Bad and The Man Behind the Man. Cue the Mayor forcibly recruiting Mr. Trick.
    • Also subverted when the Mayor attempted to do this to Angelus. Angelus initially goes along with it (in a very openly-Starscreamish way) but it turns out the Mayor failed to actually take Angel's soul, and he was just playing along to get information from Faith.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End", Davros, creator of the Daleks and who had served as the Big Bad of most of the Dalek stories in the classic series since his introduction, has clearly been demoted to being a minion of the Supreme Dalek.
  • Farscape: Crais briefly experiences this once Scorpius deposes him as captain of his Peacekeeper battleship, but takes the first opportunity to desert and do his own thing.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Houses Stark, Lannister, Arryn, and Martell were kings or regnant princes before they bent the knee to the Targaryens and became wardens.
    • The wildling chieftains who serve under Mance Rayder, such as Tormund and Styr, all agreed to become this.
  • Darken Rahl is the Big Bad of the first season of Legend of the Seeker. Then he's killed in the season finale. Come season 2, the Keeper has become the new Big Bad, seeking to kill every living thing, with the Rahl's soul being his Dragon. Not only that, but he reveals that he has always served the Keeper after making a Deal with the Devil for more power, and all his murders and slaughters were partly to appease his master. Then again, Rahl is a dick either way and really enjoys killing. Of course, he turns out to be a Dragon with an Agenda and betrays his master by the end. Additionally, in the episode where Zedd's spell goes awry and rewrites history, Rahl becomes Richard's willing assistant, after Richard brainwashes him. Then the spell is broken, and Rahl is back to his old self. By the end of season 2, Rahl finds a way to return to the world of the living and turns his back on the Keeper.
  • Regina Mills, the Big Bad of the first season of Once Upon a Time becomes The Dragon to her mother Cora in the second.
  • In Person of Interest, Mr. Greer willingly and happily demotes himself to the role of The Dragon after succeeding in his two-season mission to install Samaritan, an Artificial Intelligence unfettered by morality, as the show's new Big Bad. His goal is to put all of humanity in the control of A.I.s, believing them to be logical, incorruptible and superior to human leaders in every way.
  • A strange variant in Smallville's Season 10 episode, "Dominion". General Zod of Season 5, and Major Zod (his clone), the Big Bad of Season 9, were fused into a single being by Darkseid, the Season 10 Big Bad, and used as his surrogate in the Phantom Zone.
  • Stargate SG-1
    • Initial Big Bad Apophis is hunted down by replacement Big Bad Sokar and dies while hiding on Earth. In a later episode, one of the lesser Goa'ulds serving Sokar has a First Prime named Na'onak who turns out to be a regenerated Apophis in disguise. However, Apophis rapidly pulls a Starscream on both and reclaims the Big Bad throne.
    • Later on, the new Big Bad Anubis is defeated by O'Neill controlling the Ancient super-weapon. He is presumed dead, and Ba'al, whose rise to power is previously facilitated by SG-1 to counterbalance Anubis becomes their number 1 threat. Near the end of the Goa'uld rule, though, it's revealed that Ba'al has since become this trope after Anubis manages to come back and retake his empire. After the fall of the Goa'uld, Ba'al is the only real Goa'uld threat remaining.
  • Super Sentai:
  • Yapool, the Big Bad of Ultraman Ace, returns in Ultraman Mebius as a minion of Big Bad Alien Empera.
  • The three Gorgom Priests are The Heavy for most of Kamen Rider BLACK. When they revive Shadow Moon in the latter half, they become Co-Dragons to him.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • The Undertaker, as the leader of the Ministry of Darkness, was clearly seen as the biggest threat in the WWF at the time, to the point where it seemed even Vince McMahon was getting face cheers over him and was being portrayed somewhat sympathetically. However, Taker began making references to a "Higher Power", and when it was time for the reveal, it was none other than McMahon himself who had been pulling the strings all along. The Ministry merged with The Corporation to form the Corporate Ministry, and Undertaker immediately became McMahon's dragon.
  • The nWo were the main Power Stable during their time in WCW, but after WCW was bought out by the WWF, they were reduced to Mr.McMahon's lackeys.

    Video Games 
  • In Super Mario Land. Tatanga is the Final Boss. In the sequel, Wario is the Final Boss, and Tatanga is simply guarding one of his coins for some reason. It's implied he may have been working for Wario the whole time, given that Wario takes over when Mario was distracted by Tatanga.
  • Played with in Crash Bandicoot. Dr. Cortex was always Uka Uka's Dragon, but only after the latter's release in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped does this become apparent and he directly serves under him. In Crash: Mind Over Mutant, Cortex finally tires of Uka's abuse and overthrows him, making himself the true Big Bad for the first time.
  • Happened to Lechuck in Escape from Monkey Island, though he does turn on the game's new villain in the endgame when they're defeated.
  • Medusa, the villain of the first Kid Icarus game, is actually reduced to this in Kid Icarus: Uprising. Though in what may have been an Author's Saving Throw in case this wasn't well-received, it's revealed that the Medusa in Uprising isn't actually Medusa, just a whole bunch of random souls Hades put together in a Medusa-shaped container.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Darth Sion starts out as one half of a Big Bad Duumvirate with Darth Nihilus. During the events of the endgame, in which Nihilus dies and Kreia reclaims her identity as Darth Traya, he becomes the sole Big Bad for a time, only to be forcibly demoted upon Traya's return.
  • In the arcade version of Double Dragon, Machine Gun Willy is the leader of the Black Warriors and the final boss in the game. In the NES version, he's simply the last guy the player must face before the final battle against the player's twin brother, who became the main villain in the NES version. Note that while the sibling battle also occurs in the arcade version, it was an optional fight that only occurs if two people were playing, whereas in the NES version it's mandatory to completing the game.
  • Sagat was the final boss in the original Street Fighter 1. In Street Fighter II, he's simply the last fighter the player must face before M. Bison.
  • The Magician reappears in House of the Dead 2 as the penultimate boss before the final stage. He isn't any easier to beat, though. Probably doesn't count though, since he isn't related the bad guy's plan at all. He's a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere.
  • Fatal Fury
    • In Fatal Fury Special, Geese Howard is the last opponent the player must face before facing Geese's half-brother Wolfgang Krauser. In Real Bout Special, it's the other way around.
    • Speaking of Geese, in the first Art of Fighting game, the main boss is an escrima-using crime lord named Mr. Big. In II, it's established that Geese defeated Big and took control of the underground in South Town. It's also why Big appears on the Villains team in KOF'96 alongside Geese and Krauser.
  • Kageyana Reiji from Inazuma Eleven is the Big Bad in the first game, but he returns in the third, where he's revealed to be The Dragon to The Man Behind the Man Garshield Bayhan.
  • In the Genesis version of Golden Axe, the player must face Death Bringer (a console-exclusive final boss) after defeating Death Adder (the final boss in the arcade version).
  • Ni no Kuni does this via plot expansion in an Updated Re Release. In the original DS version, Shadar the Dark Djin was the Final Boss. The PS3 version, "Wrath of the White Witch", keeps his original arc but continues afterwards, making him a Disc-One Final Boss, and adds cutscenes revealing him as The Dragon to the White Witch from the start.
  • As of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Ansem, Seeker of Darkness and Xemnas, the Big Bads of the first and second game, respectively, have both been Demoted To Dragon under Master Xehanort (either that, or Master Xehanort was playing The Man Behind the Man the entire time) For the record, these are all different incarnations/versions of the exact same guy.
  • In Battle Clash, the space alien Anubis is the last boss of the game. In the sequel, Metal Combat, it is revealed that Anubis was following orders from a race of alien invaders who were plotting to conquer the Earth as a replacement for their lost home.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable : The Gears of Destiny has former Big Bad Lord Dearche becoming the subordinate of the Unbreakable Darkness, the true master of the Materials. At least, that was the plan. Then it gets subverted when the Unbreakable Darkness turned out to be more unstable than expected and unintentionally destroys the physical bodies of the Materials in her introductory scene, forcing the Materials to join forces with the heroes to stop/save her. Lord Dearche does eventually become the subordinate of the Unbreakable Darkness, but only after a Heel–Face Turn for everyone involved.
  • Hyperdimension Neptunia features Arfoire, the Anthropomorphic Personification of digital piracy as the Big Bad, who in the Continuity Reboot of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 becomes the Greater-Scope Villain and the leader of her own gang of powerful software pirates. In mk2's sequel Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, she's merely a member of the Seven Sages, another group of supervillains plotting to wreak havoc across an Alternate Universe Gamindustri.
  • In Lunar: Eternal Blue, Zophar resurrects Magic Emperor Ghaleon, the Big Bad of Lunar: The Silver Star, to serve as his Dragon. In the end, this backfires spectacularly. It turns out that being dead for a thousand years gave Ghaleon plenty of time to think about what he did wrong in his previous life, causing him to act as a Stealth Mentor to the heroes. Zophar had been quite prepared for the possibility of a straightforward betrayal and revived Ghaleon in such a way that he could simply withdraw his power and cause Ghaleon to instantly die. But it never occurred to him that Ghaleon would pull a Heel–Face Turn and be entirely willing to die to stop him.
  • Delekhan from Betrayal at Krondor, though supposedly in charge, ends up the whole time to be working under the direction of Makala and The Six, which the player doesn't figure out until at least Chapter 6 (if not later) and the party doesn't figure out until Chapter 8 (of 9).
  • In Bayonetta 2 the Big Bad of this game, Loptr/Aesir tricks Balder, the big bad of the first Bayonetta game, into serving him by making him think Loki, Loptr's good half, was the one who killed his wife. However, the Balder in the sequel was brought to the present via Time Travel, and is not the same Father Balder from the first game, at least not until the end of the second game.
  • Mortal Kombat
    • In the first Mortal Kombat game, Shang Tsung appears as the Big Bad, with Goro as his Dragon. Starting with the second game, Shao Kahn overtakes his Big Bad status, where Shang Tsung becomes his one of his Co-Dragons, alongside Kintaro and later on, Goro.
    • While Shao Kahn gets replaced as main villain in later games, he never actually turns into this trope until Mortal Kombat 11 when the new antagonist, Kronika, enlists him in her Legion of Doom by promising to restore him to Outworld's throne and he surprisingly goes along with it.
  • Mega Man

    Web Comics 
  • In Harry Potter Comics, Voldemort is revived by a mysterious Necromancer for the sole purpose of being his Dragon (and fully opening the Chamber of Secrets).
  • In the Start of Darkness prequel to The Order of the Stick, the Evil Sorcerer Psycho for Hire Xykon wrests Big Bad status from his employer Redcloak through superior firepower unchecked by morality, decency, or self-restraint. Though Xykon acts more or less entirely For the Evulz and Redcloak fancies himself The Man Behind the Man to his machinations, Redcloak remains otherwise completely subservient to Xykon's whims.
  • In Sonic the Comic – Online! Robotnik is demoted to the brute of The Syndicate in the Sonic Adventure 2 arc.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

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