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Dirty Coward

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"It is better to be the Devil's right hand, than in his path."

The Dirty Coward is the slime of the earth, working exclusively for themselves and shamelessly retreating from harm's way even if that harm is about to hit the All-Loving Hero that just saved his or her life two seconds ago. They'll take every advantage and are not above using dishonorable tactics and dirty tricks, but they'll cry and moan every time the tables are turned and someone uses the same tactics against them, asks for a volunteer, or reminds them of that promise they made. Often full of vicious plans for anyone they dislike, as long as they aren't in need of that person's skills at the moment.


Though the Dirty Coward may be a sociopath (or a Social Darwinist), they're certainly not heroic or comedic. And if they're a bastard, they're certainly not meant to be magnificent. They're usually only marginally competent to start with, and even the cleverest of them tends to be short-sighted. Even when they know that breaking ranks will leave a hole in the defenses that will let the enemy in, leading to far more danger for them in the long term, they will generally run for it anyway (and get shot In the Back). Their allegiance almost always lies with whoever can cause them the most immediate harm, even if that threat isn't likely to last. They'll be happy to badmouth people to their faces when they can not immediately hurt them, only to attempt to curry favor when the roles reverse. Dirty Cowards are especially prone to suffering a Karmic Death, usually at the hands of whatever they were trying to run from, and are similarly likely to suffer a Villainous Breakdown. Dirty Cowards often flipflop from smugness to groveling depending on whether they have the advantage at the moment. An arrogant villain might beg for his life when the heroes have him at their mercy, only to take advantage of the heroes' lowered guard to escape or strike back, then mock them for their carelessness.


Usually a villain unless used comically, although they may sometimes be a certain type of civilian that gets in the way. When used as a villain, this is a cheap way to make the heroes look good in comparison, even if they're not everything they should be. Villainous Dirty Cowards tend to fall squarely into Neutral Evil, since they are first and foremost out for their own hides at the expense of others. One of the best ways to demean the Big Bad is by making them out to be a coward. It's doubly ironic if the one who brings fear into the hearts of others turns out to be a pathetic scaramouch who hypocritically makes others feel weak because they are really the weak one and try to hide it. After all, only The Bully can bring the "dirty" into the Dirty Coward trope.

It's tough to make a main character into one of these without them coming off as more slimy and irritating than funny. Unlike most villains, the dirty coward doesn't even have finesse, which can make them extremely annoying. The dirty coward may or may not have a horrific past to explain their actions, but it doesn't usually redeem them, at least not in the minds of the audience. When their backstory doesn't seem all that convincing, but convinces The Hero, it can be seen as a major cop-out.


The best way to make this character tolerable is to make them at least somewhat clever. Some enlightened self-interest can occasionally be mixed in, although too much of any trait other than cravenness tends to change the character into something else.

May Level Grind in courage if they realize "My God, What Have I Done?".

The Dirty Coward is pretty much almost Always Male, for the dubious reason that women aren't expected to be brave in the first place, and are allowed to sacrifice others to save themselves. Fridge Logic may lead to the Neutral Female coming off as a Distaff Counterpart to the Dirty Coward.

May be the Miles Gloriosus, and even believe his own brags when out of danger. The Fearless Fool may invoke this to persuade his companions to act like idiots. The Bully is often a Dirty Coward, brave enough when tormenting those weaker than they are, but showing their true colors in the face of those equal to or stronger than they are. Also similar is the Original Position Fallacy, in which one holds a moral position on the assumption that they will receive the benefits, without considering that they may be among the ones to suffer from said beliefs. Not to be confused with the Combat Pragmatist, who may employ tactics that can be considered dirty and cowardly but does so out of cold calculation rather than fear. Contrast the Lovable Coward, who numbers among the good guys and has foibles portrayed far more sympathetically, generally due to their not trying to pose as anything but a coward, and even then will often face their fears and ultimately still risk their lives if the chips are really down (as will the Cowardly Lion). The So-Called Coward is by definition mistaken for one of these; if they don't want to be, they'll say "Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!." Also see Sore Loser, for when someone isn't afraid of death or injury so much as they are of losing, though many Dirty Cowards are also Sore Losers. See also Opportunistic Bastard. Does not apply when retreating really is the most practical option one has.

This Trope might apply to a Cowardly Boss, but it more often applies to a "Get Back Here!" Boss. Compare Villains Want Mercy.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog: Anti-Sonic/Scourge the Hedgehog, Sonic's Mirror Universe counterpart, loves to talk a big game and throw his weight around, but whenever someone stands up to him or puts up a better fight than he expected, he folds like a lawn chair. Best shown in issue 172: Scourge tries to break into Sonic's house in the middle of the night to attack him, only to be confronted by Sonic's father Jules, who rather than back down to Scourge's threats, stands up to him and matter-of-factly states that he had fought on the frontlines in the Great War of Mobius Prime, that he would not simply lay down, and that if he did die, Sonic would be truly livid; that's all it takes for Scourge to retreat.
  • Doomsday, the monster that once killed Superman, is normally a mindless bundle of rage and power. When he was granted intelligence, he was revealed to be this trope in the end. All his new intelligence did was make Doomsday painfully aware of his own crippling fear of death — deep down, he's terrified of anything that could possibly be a threat to his life, which in his mind is everything. (The entire reason he's so powerful is because he was repeatedly cloned and let loose on a Death World until some bizarre process of Lamarckian evolution made him capable of surviving the worst it had to offer. It took a LOT of clone generations.)
  • Dr. Venom from the early run of Marvel's G.I. Joe comics was a damn near epitome of this. Any chance he could backstab someone else, he would, and if he got caught, he would plead for mercy on his hands and knees.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Subverted by Roderick Kingsley, AKA the Hobgoblin. While his twin brother Daniel really was a spineless wimp who lived up to this trope, Roderick merely made himself look like this to get people to underestimate him. Having his cowardly brother act as his stand-in helped a good deal. This usually led to him sabotaging his competitors' companies and destroying their reputations before buying them up cheap, or to keep anyone from thinking that he could be a cold-blooded Magnificent Bastard like the Hobgoblin.
    • Played straight with Angelo Fortunato, the oft-forgotten second Venom. After he got ahold of the symbiote, he brags about how it puts in the same league of supervillain as Magneto or Doctor Doom and kills a random civilian to prove it. But once Spider-Man gains the upper hand in their one and only battle, he immediately turns tail and runs, disgusting the symbiote, who declares Angelo to be an unworthy host, and it ditches him just as he's leaping between two buildings.
    • Kaine falls into this during the "Grim Hunt" arc. He's so terrified of the Kravinoffs that after they capture Araña and Arachne, he insists to Peter that they can't win and their best option is to "run and screw the rest." Spidey responds by decking Kaine in the face and giving him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, absolutely disgusted that Kaine shares his DNA and memories yet acts like a selfish coward. This actually reaches Kaine, who subsequently knocks Peter out, dons his costume, and dies fighting the Kravinoff family in his place.
  • Manchester Black, a member of the Elite, is a cocky, arrogant, and cheerfully murderous antihero who lectures Superman on how his brand of heroism is outdated... as long as he has his ludicrously powerful teammates and Phoenix-level psychic powers backing him up; the moment he's isolated, Brought Down to Normal, and facing a vengeful Supes, he immediately breaks down and cries like a scared little girl, on live TV. When he comes back to trouble Supes again, he hides behind waves of Mooks and psychically tortures a helpless, powerless mortal woman. The second incident turns out to be a subversion: Black isn't afraid of death — he actually wants Superman to kill him under false pretenses to "prove" that Supes isn't a true hero. When Supes refrains from killing Black even in the face of such extreme provocation — up to and including the apparent murder of his wife Lois — Black immediately fixes everything and then commits suicide because he can't live with the truth: rather than being an antihero, he had become just another supervillain.
  • Roark Junior, The Yellow Bastard in Sin City has a bit of a Meaningful Name. Not only is his yellow-skinned, but he is also more than willing to run away from a fight and whine about it. If he makes an attack, expect it to be a sneaky one.
  • In The Sandman, Lucifer has no respect for Remiel because of this. He thinks that the only reason Remiel remained loyal to God was fear and not true loyalty. Lucifer also guesses (correctly) that Remiel whimpered and wailed when God made him the new steward of Hell in Lucifer's place. Lucifer contrasts Remiel with his silent friend Duma and guesses (again correctly) that Duma was the one who had the courage to actually take the Key to Hell.
  • In Violine, Kombo, the Nominal Hero sidekick of Violine, tries to save his own skin whenever danger looms, and is resigned to the apparent fate of whoever he abandons. Other characters always drag him back onto the good side, though, to his disgruntlement. Despite this, he is not treated as a villain, and the heroes insist on dragging him along anyway. After the heroes are saved, he will boast that it was all him, even when he has done nothing at all.
  • Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol has an expy of John Constantine who acts competent and tough when he has the advantage, but becomes a sniveling coward whenever he doesn't.
  • Black Moon Chronicles: When Wismerhill first goes on a campaign against the empire, some cities who surrender before his army can sack them take groveling to a degree that disgusts their conquerors and pillagers, even offering their wives and daughters.
  • The Phantom Zone criminals of the Pocket Universe in The Supergirl Saga are shown to be this when faced with death by that world's Green Kryptonite radiation. General Zod is ready to throw Quex-Ul under the bus to save his own skin, and Zaora is left pathetically begging for her life, promising to show pleasures to Superman for her freedom.
  • Ultimate Marvel
    • Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra: Trey took a gun, set a trap for Elektra and was ready to kill her. But she was ready for him, took him from the back by surprise, forced him to drop the gun... and the rest is too humiliating to detail.
    • Ultimate Spider-Man: Flash accused Kong of being a coward during the attack of the Green Goblin. Kong replied that everybody reacted as cowards back then.
    • All-New Ultimates: Taskmaster will not stay to fight against the giant. That wasn't in the contract!
  • Wonder Woman (1942): Prof. Ainchent does fairly well with all the spookiness in King Aknaten's tomb, until Wonder Woman, Etta Candy, Bobby Strong and Glamora Treat all fall down a trap door, at which point he essentially declares, whelp they're dead, runs all the way back to his plane and flies back to America before even bothering to make a report. Steve Trevor is not impressed and forces the professor to show him exactly where the cursed tomb is.

    Fan Works 
  • I Will Not Bow series:
    • Noboru provokes a fight with a golden slime against Alice and the others' warnings, and when the slime calls for help, uses a teleport crystal to escape, leaving the others to fend for themselves; Alice and Mai are the only survivors, and only because Ren, Riku, and Helios heard their screams and saved them. He proves just as cowardly in real life, forcing Alice to grovel before him to prevent him from posting a video to ruin Dan's reputation, and gleefully beating her up and calling her worthless to her face... only to completely Freak Out and beg for mercy when Dan shows up and beats him senseless.
    • Yamato, Sugou's Dragon. It's most pronounced in chapter 8; he openly calls Kirito's group maggots and takes great delight in gloating about how much stronger he is than them and how he Loves the Sound of Screaming... but the minute Kirito, possessing Kayaba's ID and admin privileges, depowers him, he screams like a little girl and immediately tries to make a break for it.
    • Rotto uses Luna as a Human Shield against Rin during a tournament and slowly beats her to a pulp while she can't fight back. When he's beaten up by Lilly in the next chapter, he begs for the mercy he didn't show Rin; Lilly gives him none.
    • In the Caged Canaries arc of The Lost Stories, Sugou's men molest Alice, then tinker with her mind and force her to attack Ren, watching and laughing as she attacks and tries to kill him with sadistic glee. When Alice breaks free of the brainwashing and Ren turns his attention on them, they immediately lose all their bravado and freak out, the last one standing even begging Ren for mercy.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia fanfic Gankona, Unnachgiebig, Unità: The homophobe is this. The homophobe, despite having brutally beaten and nearly raping Italy, ran like a pansy after Italy convinced Germany and Japan to stop beating the crap out of him.
  • Zazu in The Lion King Adventures. In Zazu's in Charge, he's willing to abandon Simba and Nala in order to save himself from Scar and Hago.
    Hago: You can't escape us now.
    Zazu: Actually, I could always fly away.
    Simba: And leave us behind? You chicken!
    Zazu: When things get very serious, I look out for my own best interests. In a situation like this, I find you very irrelevant.
    Nala: You are a chicken! You'd leave us to die just so you could save yourself?
    Zazu: I'd love to say no, but unfortunately the answer is yes.
  • Hobbes, intended to be a Lovable Coward or Cowardly Lion, ends up developing into this in Season 3 of Calvin and Hobbes: The Series. Word of God confessed it was due to unintentional Flanderization, and it was finally taken down a notch by Season 4.
  • Near all Naruto focused fics have the Civilian Council of Konoha as this, to the point that they are either described as: wetting themselves, blabbering like babies, sweating like mad, knocked out, crapping themselves, or all the above by the tiniest amount of Killing Intent from Naruto or other characters. This is also common in any fics that focus on bashing Sakura.
  • Gilda in Ace Combat: The Equestrian War. When torturing Medley and threatening to rip her wings off, she uses her as a living shield, much to Rainbow Dash's disgust.
  • The government of Lesotho is portrayed as this in Worldwar: War of Equals. The Lesotho government actually keep their promise to seek peace with the invaders and surrender, despite being kilometers away from any of the fighting. They get invaded by South Africa to deny The Race a safe landing zone into Africa and all of the country's leaders are arrested under charges of treason.
  • Bad Future Crusaders: Featherweight relies on his status to intimidate others, and his changeling minions to fight them for him. When neither works, he runs away with his tail between his legs.
  • Alexander Valentine of the Rosario + Vampire fic Here In My Arms. At first, he's smugly gloating over Tsukune and his harem and boasting of his superiority, but the very instant he discovers that Tsukune's a Blood Sage and that Inner Moka is released from her seal, he changes his tune, shamelessly begging Moka for forgiveness and trying to run for his life. Inner Moka even lampshades his attitude change right before she literally beats him to a bloody pulp:
    Inner Moka: What happened to all that confidence you had, weakling?
  • Ranma Saotome, Chi Master has Qiáng Wang, a Triad boss who wants revenge on Ranma and his guru for destroying his organization. He goes after Ranma because he's the weaker of the two, and because killing him will hurt her. When he finds out he underestimated the pigtailed martial artist, he flees from the fight they're having, leaving a Brainwashed and Crazy Ryoga to kill him. It's also mentioned in the backstory that he ran away both times his organization was dismantled.
  • This is Wheatley's Fatal Flaw in the Portal 2 fic Blue Sky, where he shows this trope twice, and both times cause Chell to be genuinely pissed off at him:
    • In one instance, he considered just abandoning a wounded Chell away from GLaDoS's wrath just to save his own skin, but relents at the last second.
    • In another instance, he suggested to Chell to just leave the residents of Eaden to GlaDoS and go away together.
  • Janos Slynt in Robb Returns. Jon chooses not to send him to the Wall, knowing the message this might send.
  • Old West: Benjamin Hares is a conman who left his pregnant wife Grace penniless and homeless to escape the people he owed. When he returns and fails in selling Grace's lands so that the Big Bad would cover his debts, he resorts in his desperation to assaulting Grace to make her obey, actually relishing in it. All the bravado evaporates when he realizes he has brought that way upon himself the Unstoppable Rage of Rattlesnake Jake, the same one whom he acted condescendingly towards earlier. Benjamin then spends his last moments as the coward he is.
  • First Enchanter Monette in Walking in Circles always looks out for herself first, even if she has to look away when injustices happen to innocent mages despite the fact that it's her job to be their voice. She’s one of Evelyn's constant reminders about what’s wrong with the Circles, thus giving her one more reason to see them gone.
  • It is acknowledged in Lost Boy that when Snotlout is not being a Fearless Fool, he will rig a fight through cheating and underhanded tactics to give his opponent no real options.
    Hiccup: Snotlout - the only time we actually fought, I had you down[.] And you - the coward that you are - had the twins pull me off you and hold me helpless as you beat me up. And then you whined to your parents that we had fought and they beat me as well. You held me helpless with a knife at my throat and assaulted me. You never fight fair! So which of us is the coward, Snotlout? You challenge me now when I am still healing and have only just lost a leg! Are you afraid of me in a fair fight?
  • In this Miraculous Ladybug Salty Prompt, Lila Rossi abandons the three young children she was babysitting (Chris Lahiffe and Ella and Etta Césaire; Nino and Alya's younger siblings) during an akuma attack, allowing said akuma to kidnap and brainwash them.
  • Cat-Ra: Discussed. Adora eventually comes to this conclusion about Catra in her own version of the iconic scene from "Promise," believing Catra was never a true friend and always ran when they got in trouble, leaving her to take the rap.
  • Maiko in Natural Selection never fights fair and never fights her own battles. She got Gamagoori's position by killing the true winner of the Naturals Election at the last minute after spending the entire thing hiding. She also refuses to fight anyone she's afraid of, like when she sent her men after Gamagoori despite her being a Three-Star and him not even having a Goku uniform at that point. She even spends the entire Naturals Election in the story hiding out in her manor watching everything unfold.

    Film — Animation 
  • Iago of Disney's Aladdin. For much of the second movie Aladdin: The Return of Jafar onward, he spent a lot of time looking out for himself almost exclusively (he even makes up a whole song about it), although unlike many of the examples here, he can be courageous and selfless. Two examples come up in the second film.
  • In Home, this is practically the Boov's hat. As Oh himself puts it: "When probability for success drops below fifty percent, Boov give up." Captain Smek is even worse, often shoving aside other Boov to ensure his own safety. Part of Oh's Character Development is moving beyond this.
  • Kent Mansley in The Iron Giant reveals himself as this when he has a nuclear missile launched at the Giant, standing about five feet away from him. Upon realizing he's doomed the entire town, he immediately hijacks an army jeep and tries to drive away and save his own skin.
    Mansley: Screw our country! I WANNA LIVE!
  • The Lion King (1994)
    • The minute Simba has Scar cornered at the pinnacle of Pride Rock, he pathetically begs for mercy, then viciously attacks Simba when the latter falls for his pleas.
    • The Hyenas from the same film also qualify, preying on those weaker than they are (cub!Simba, cub!Nala, and Zazu) while acting tough until a real threat such as Mufasa comes to make them run away with their tails between their legs. Also, they prefer to gang up on a defenseless individual like a bunch of bullies, which is fitting due to Hyenas being scavengers.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games, while everyone else pitches in to help others during the climax, Principle Abacus Cinch instead attempts to escape. Afterwards, she refuses to accept responsibility for causing the disaster in the first place.
  • Roland from Strange Magic is an example. He uses nearby fairies to act as human shields against an irate Marianne, even the girl he cheated on her with! He pressures Sunny to risk his life to make the love potion while he safely stays in the fairy kingdom. He hides when the goblins raid the Spring ball, despite being a fully armored soldier. The moment the odds are at all against him, he bails.
  • Trolls: To save himself from getting eaten, Creek makes a deal with the Bergens and leads them to the other Trolls.
  • Similar to Scar from The Lion King mentioned above, Gaston of Beauty and the Beast acts all smug and tough, taunting Beast throughout their fight in the climax, but when Beast fights back and has Gaston at his mercy, he pathetically begs for his life. Then he stabs Beast in the back when he let his guard down. He gets shoved by Beast into the ground below for his trouble. It's even worse in the live-action adaptation below.
  • Coco: Ernesto del la Cruz is first proven to be a coward when Hector attacks him upon learning that he poisoned him with wine. Without making an effort to fight back, Ernesto calls his security guards for help. At the climax, Ernesto finds himself outnumbered by Hector and Miguel’s family and runs from them once again calling his security guards for help. As Ernesto is about to throw Miguel off the building, he warns Miguel’s family to stand back with a nervous look on his face. Even Miguel calls him a coward.
  • Disney’s Robin Hood gives us the treacherous but sissy mama’s boy Prince John. Prince John is greedy and abusive. He also plots revenge on Robin Hood. During the brawl at the archery tournament, Prince John attempts to smite Robin Hood with his sword, only to be disarmed by the latter. Prince John pathetically pleas, “Don’t hurt me! No, no, don’t hurt me!” Then he cries “Help! Help” as he runs and hides behind a barrel.


    Myth and Legend 
  • Thersites from The Iliad.
  • Ares from Classical Mythology. He reveled in the bloodshed and chaos of war, but he actually wasn't that good a warrior and had low pain tolerance. His response to being wounded in the Trojan War was to cry and run back to Olympus.
  • King Mark from the Tristan and Isolde part of the Arthurian Legend. Or at least he's like this in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.

  • Mime from Richard Wagner's opera Siegfried is a Dirty Coward to the core, but is often inappropriately played as The Woobie.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This is a classic heel character in Professional Wrestling. The Honky Tonk Man made a career out of this gimmick in WWE and Christian Cage was in this mode following his Face–Heel Turn in TNA.
  • In the late 90's following his infamous Face–Heel Turn, Hulk Hogan. While he might squash any challenger that came his way at a PPV, Hogan would often spend at a least a month hiding behind members of the New World Order talking trash as his future opponent would rip apart the jobbers in the nWo a few feet away.
  • Averting this trope is one of the reasons Kane is so popular, even as a Monster Heel. He will never back down and has gotten into the ring with guys far bigger than him. In the Royal Rumble match, he will always stare down the biggest guy in the ring, nod, and when it is returned the two will ignore everyone else until one of them is eliminated.
  • Kurt Angle was famous for this in early WWE run (1999-2002)
  • This is one of the main reasons Xavier is the least popular Ring of Honor Champion to ever hold the belt. Superficially, his wrestling style resembled that of fan favorite Low Ki, but while Ki was an intense, honorable and took on all comers, had an entire Power Stable to hide behind and in fact was a protected figure head of that stable who Christopher Daniels set up after failing to win the belt himself. Even similar figures that came later like Adam Cole were at least proactive. In fact, there was an angle where ROH set up a new number one contender's system just to ensure Xavier had to face a challenger.
  • Edge is very good at portraying this type of heel, though sometimes it's subverted somewhat when it is shown that the women who are in love with him actually want to risk their necks to save his, and do so without his prompting (see Lita and Vickie Guerrero). CM Punk milked this trope as part of his Charles Manson-like cult-leader gimmick, with his skin-headed moll Serena smiling as he uses her as a human shield. Edge was such a coward as a heel that it wasn't unusual for him on house shows to spend up to ten minutes stalling outside of the ring before eventually locking up with his opponent.
  • Subverted by John Cena, who acted this way until his full-blown Heel–Face Turn in 2005. Despite being very strong and tough in his own right, he would use a steel chain wrapped around his knuckles to knock out larger opponents and gain victories over them - and he still got cheered.
  • Michael Cole IS this trope following his Face–Heel Turn. To put it in perspective, he's put himself in a bulletproof glass case for his protection and constantly backs down when someone challenges him to a match.
  • Bryan Danielson's heel run in WWE is borderline comical in this respect. It's a Running Gag that, if things get hectic while he's at ringside, he'll disappear from the action, but the camera will soon cut to a shot of him leaving up the entrance ramp huddling his World Title with AJ following close behind.
  • This trope defined Nemesis as PGWA Champion. The governing body, Special Events, gives every champion a large say who gets to challenge for the belt, and while this lead to many champions, most infamously Nikki Roxx, being accused of cowardice, Nemesis was the first to truly use this clause to put off title defenses for as long as possible.
  • Nicole Matthews has the dubious distinction of being the first SHIMMER Champion who was also a coward. She won the belt with a fireball and even admitted in an interview that if she could be champion, anyone could. She later backed down from that stance, telling perennial rivals Kellie Skater and Tomoka Nakagawa they would never win the belt but quickly reverted to ducking them as much as possible after Nakagawa kicked her butt and spent most of her reign running from that fireball's victim, Madison Eagles.
  • For all his talk about being The Most Must-See WWE Superstar of All Time, The Miz is willing to hide behind his wife's back to avoid a beating.
  • When Seth Rollins is in the Authority, he acts as if he is such a big shot but he rarely wins a match without back up from J&J security and Kane and will normally runs away if the tables are turn,
  • Whenevever he is losing in a tag team match, Kevin Owens will normally abandons his partner (usually after tagging them) and walks away.

  • Major Bloodnok (Peter Sellers) in The Goon Show is a coward through-and-through, and there's not a thing he won't do for money.
    • Also, everyone else. While deciding who gets volunteered for a dangerous mission:
      Seagoon: I'm terribly sorry, but I have a wife and 63 children!
      Bloodnok: I too have a wife and children. That only leaves dear old -
      [rattle of telephone]
      Eccles: Hello, hello, operator? Get me the marriage bureau!
      Bloodnok: Flatten me cronkler with spinach mallets. So, both of you have turned cowards, eh. That only leaves me. Two cowards, and me. You know what this means?
      Seagoon: Three cowards.
  • Thomas in Old Harry's Game (whose nastiness disgusts even Satan) has many horrible characteristics, but his dirty cowardice is among his defining traits. Though he does occasionally show signs of Character Development, this is nearly always unwound by the end of the episode.


  • The Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts require point deductions for "Timidity", including the avoidance of contact, the dropping of mouth guards and the faking of injury.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician. His tactical insights include:
    "Everybody but me— CHARGE!"
    "Don't look at it! Maybe it'll go away!"
  • Exalted: The Ebon Dragon may be one of the Titans who created the world, and one of the most overwhelmingly powerful beings in existence, but his pitiful Virtues (especially Valor), the easily exploitable holes in his defenses, and the personality constraints of his Excellency make him an utterly rank coward. He will very rarely engage in a straight fight against anything capable of hurting him (which can be everything) and will never do so against something that has the slightest chance of killing him. Fortunately for him, being the Principle of Villainy makes one really good at talking your way out of trouble, or just plain running away.
  • Warhammer:
    • The Skaven are sneaky, conniving, selfish, cowardly, and backstabbing, and each of these ratmen would gladly sacrifice their entire race for their own hides if not for their innate fear and paranoia. However, this does not make the Skaven race weak, as their disease-resistant qualities, large numbers, and dedication to keeping themselves hidden from mankind and the other races (to the point that they are regarded as a myth even when presented with irrefutable evidence of their existence) would make them a formidable foe that could potentially overtake the world if they could just put aside their in-fighting and distrust for each other for one millisecond.
      • Taken to extremes with the Skaven special character Tretch Craventail, a coward even by the Skaven's admittedly nonexistent standards. His special rule "Stay Here; I'll Get Help!" allows him to abandon his own unit at any time and teleport into another, nearby unit.
    • Hobgoblins are quick to turn tail when the odds are against them. One example is a hobgoblin mercenary Oglah Khan, who constantly switches sides when the side he is on is losing. Other Greenskins detest them for their cravenness and treachery.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Night Lords are a legion of Chaos Space Marines who specialize in raids, terror tactics, and guerrilla warfare. However, their reliance on this kind of fighting means they are themselves rather cynical and cowardly, lacking the conviction of the other, more fanatical legions. Several Night Lords characters are also shown to be willing to abandon their own brothers in the name of self-preservation, a trait which is also symptomatic of many fallen Chaos Space Marine warbands.
    • Necromunda: The Spyrers. Justified by the fact that each and every one of them is a One-Man Army in a world full of Badass Normals, so, if a gang manages to kill one or even more of them...
    • Gretchin are small and craven, with Leadership 5 and a tendency to hide whenever anything makes a loud noise nearby. Possibly justified given that compared to a Gretchin's stats and equipment, Imperial Guard Cannon Fodder look like Space Marines — Gretchin are weaker, more fragile, slower, and have lower range, neatly explaining why they run like scared rodents as soon as the Ork who's pushing them into battle runs away. The Heralds of Ruin Kill Team rules hack has a Grot Rebels team, based on a mob type in Gorkamorka; because morale enhancement is so out of character for Grots, the upgrades to offset the penalty from their Mork-awful leadership rating are themed around the Grots compensating for cowardice with rank stupidity, meaning they take fewer Rout tests because they're too stupid right now to realise they should be.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Goblins are typically portrayed this way in every edition, due to their lot as one of the smallest and weakest of evil humanoids.
    • Kobolds were often portrayed this way until Third Edition, when the game decided to play up an alleged relationship to dragons and the race as a whole Took a Level in Badass.
    • The Craven feat in The Book of Vile Darkness invokes this trope: it gives bonus to Sneak Attack damage but penalizes will saves vs fear and specifically states that characters who are immune to fear aren't eligible for it.
    • The 3rd Edition Monster Manual describes mind flayers as being this way: should they be in a fight that goes sour, they just flee and leave all their Mooks to die.
  • Pathfinder: Umbral dragons have no interest in anything resembling a fair fight. They happily prey on those weaker than themselves, but as soon as a foe actually manages to strike back at them they flee back into the shadows to lick their wounds and plot ways to get revenge without actually having to expose themselves to harm.
  • A Touch of Evil: If you select a Town Elder with the Coward Secret to join your Hunting Party, there's a very real risk of that Elder abandoning you in the middle of the fight.


  • In Commander Kitty, CK himself has his moments. His expression sheet even has him pushing Nin Wah into the line of fire for "fierce".
  • In Endstone, the Grave Robber Bolo tries to steal the Lightstone and puts the blame on his companion when caught.
  • The Chief in Goblins, who survived the massacre by hiding and ignoring the cries of his villagers. Afterwards, he becomes a cleric to start a path of redemption. Which comes to a tragic end when he performs a Heroic Sacrifice to prevent Kore from slaying his fellow goblins.
  • In Impure Blood, their ride dumps them in the city and leaves.
  • Lightning from Sidekicks all the way. Despite being a Superhero, he never puts himself in the line of fire unless he absolutely has to or he is provoked into doing so. It's no wonder that three (four if you count Theo being overtaken by Metheos as the former dying) of his previous five sidekicks have died. He's also indirectly responsible for the destruction of the Committee headquarters.
  • Dr. Schlock, from Sluggy Freelance, is played for laughs in this manner: He helps the cast out more often than not, but that's only because Riff has a gun to his head. When he eventually gets into a situation he can't run away from, he's revealed to be more dangerous than he looks.
  • Tower of God gives you Paracule, a tall, haughty jerkass with a green fish face, who in general calls everybody scum, is the first to abandon somebody, demands that people should be sacrificed for his ends or in his stead, sticks up for nobody, openly switches sides to gain the majority's favor, and has neither skill nor intelligence to back his behaviour up. He is known in the fandom as the ass, although he gained some popularity after one occasion where he "ruined" a dramatic moment in an epically hilariously stupid way. Why he survives is a mystery to all.
  • In Weak Hero, Jared Sun only cares for himself and will do everything in his power to bolster his reputation and connections while avoiding any sort of actual, physical battle. He was the only member of Wolf's gang to abandon the climactic battle between Ganghak and Eunjang, escaping down the emergency ladder while no-one was looking. This cowardice ends up being his undoing, as his lack of injuries alerts Wolf to something being off with him.

    Web Original 
  • Dead Fantasy: Aptly sums up what Final Fantasy fans thought about Hayate's actions in episode 5. During live screenings, the crowd could be heard booing because he sent an entire squad of Ninja after Tifanote , who'd been weakened during her fight with Hitomi. And stood idly by, not caring how many of his men died, just to keep from getting his hands dirty. It isn't until Tifa's exhausted and bound in chains that he casually strolls up to her and finishes her off. At which point, a member of the audience shouts: "That's fucked up! C'mon!!" (heard at 4:31).
  • RWBY.
    • Blake thinks she's a coward because she feels her response to problems is to run away. Even her Semblance reinforces her self-belief by creating decoys that take her hits for her. Examples she uses to "prove" she's a coward include her fleeing the team when she actually lets slip to Weiss that she's ex-White Fang and her abandoning Adam during the Black Trailer. When she runs away to protect the people she cares about from Adam's vengeance, a physically and emotionally broken Yang bitterly judges her for running away because Blake hasn't told anyone why she's gone. In "Taking Control", Sun calls her out on constantly running away, informing her that contrary to what she thinks, constantly abandoning her loved ones and friends is anything but selfless and in fact hurts them more than the bad guys ever could; hearing this, combined with the discovery that Adam intends to usurp the White Fang and then destroy Haven Academy just as he destroyed Beacon, finally gets Blake to decide she's done running.
    • Despite having come to the elite Beacon Academy to train to become some of the world's top Huntsmen, when Team CRDL is attacked by a giant Ursa, they don't attempt to fight it. They turn tail and flee, abandoning Cardin and Jaune to face the monster alone. Cardin cowers in terror when the Ursa disarms him, leaving the combat novice, Jaune, to face it alone.
    • Raven's philosophy is that the weak die and the strong live; she'll only ever save a person once — they must save themselves if they find themselves in danger again. She also refuses to get involved in the conflict between Ozpin and Salem, stating that anyone foolish enough to trust Ozpin will die for a lost cause. By the end of volume 5, Yang makes Raven aware that she's willing to risk other people's lives whenever a danger arises; Yang declares that she is willing to fight Salem despite her fear while Raven would rather run despite being more powerful than her daughter; when Yang gives her the option of fleeing once again, she does so with a tearful apology, leaving her daughter to take the heat from Salem for possessing the Relic of Knowledge.
    • Leo is an easily frightened man who's desperately attempting to leave from the conflict between Salem and Ozpin that he's involved in. Salem uses his paranoia of her to manipulate him, and he has been working for her as a mole against Ozpin for a long time. Raven wonders what Salem has on Leo to have turned him against Ozpin and, when Ozpin sees for himself how Leo is behaving on Salem's behalf, he wonders what happened to Leo. Leo realizes that Oscar hasn't been Ozpin's host for very long and therefore isn't truly Ozpin yet; he concludes that if he can deliver Oscar to Salem, Salem will grant Leo's release. Ultimately, he dies pleading for his life with Salem, appropriately enough, calling him a coward.
    • Jacques Schnee is perfectly composed, smug, and arrogant as long as he's in control of a situation; said smugness, arrogance, and composure goes away when things don't work in his favor. Best shown in Volume 7; when he's outed for collaborating with Dr. Watts to rig the council election in his favor, he's reduced to a sweating, stammering wreck who can only muster feeble lies in his defense before trying to make a break for it.
  • RWBY Chibi: Neptune's terror of water makes him avoid anything that is water-based, even if it's a tiny puddle. While briefly covering for Sun on lifeguard duty, Jaune falls into the pool and starts drowning; Neptune blatantly refuses to save him and just looks the other way, pretending that nothing's happening as Jaune begs for help and eventually sinks under. When Sun reminds him of this incident, Neptune is forced to acknowledge that his fear of water might actually be a problem.
  • Gaea from Noob. She blackmails and cons her own guildmates while thinking of them as human shields in battle and weasels her way out of contributing to her guild's common fund while frequently stealing from it. She even plays Squishy Wizard, which makes her optimal battle strategy consist of taking cover (or sometimes attempt to ditch the battle while pretending to do so) and hitting enemies with powerful attacks.
  • In this video Tess Masazza, author of the Italian Webseries Insopportabilmente Donna, flees at the first hint that her new house might perhaps be haunted. It is a parody of the Final Girl trope of Horror Films, after all.
  • DSBT InsaniT: ??? mostly relies on his Digimon to fight for him. As a result of rarely fighting, he can be bested in combat rather easily.
    • Psycho Man summons Darkness counterparts to fight for him. When they are dispatched like the lowly Mooks they are, he retreats through a portal.
    • Eel, the Big Bad. After Killer defeats all of his brainwashed acquantinces and is ready to fight Eel, he distracts Killer by destroying a stand where a mongoose is and then has Screech carry him away.
  • In Achievement Hunter Let's Play videos, if there is some sort of survival game they're playing, especially games like GMOD: Murder or Dead by Daylight, expect Geoff Ramsay to be like this. In games like Trouble in Terrorist Town, the first words out of Geoff's mouth is "I'm not the killer!" Usually, it's true, but because he's so loud and adamant, they blast him early on just to make sure. In games like Dead By Daylight, he'll easily leave the others to suffer at the hands of the monster, but start begging for help when he gets caught.
  • Liu Bei is absolutely this in Farce of the Three Kingdoms, despite being the Designated Hero. He'll abandon his family at the drop of a hat, avoid fighting at all costs, and burst into tears whenever things go wrong.
  • Cobra Kai: Yasmine is a shameless cyber-bully (as Aisha can attest) but refuses to do any physical fighting.


Video Example(s):


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Samuels tries to cut and run.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / DirtyCoward

Media sources:

Main / DirtyCoward