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Ex-Big Bad

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It's a simple setup. The heroes on the one side, and the villains on the other. The story consists of their back and forth until the primary evil, the driving force behind the villainy in the story, the Big Bad, is foiled. That's a wrap, call it quits, everybody can go home. But what happens after that?

What happens in stories where the heroes continue to have adventure after dealing with their original Big Bad? Sure, the easy answer is that they'll have to deal with a new Big Bad, but what about the old one? After all, the Big Bad doesn't die in every story. Some of them lead lives in other sectors of the world.


This trope is for the figures in a work who once held the title of Big Bad, but no more. Maybe it's a case of How the Mighty Have Fallen, and they're struggling to claw their way back to the top; maybe this was the work of the The Man Behind the Man. Maybe they've decided to become a Retired Monster, and leave all the hard work to the next generation. Maybe they've only been Demoted to Dragon. Maybe they've undergone a Heel–Face Turn, joined the heroes as their Token Evil Teammate, or even become The Atoner.

...Or maybe they just want you to think that, and some poor sap is about to have their plan Hijacked by Ganon. Or they only claim to have turned a new leaf, only for it to turn out to be a lie.

Compare the Overarching Villain, a villain who may not appear in every Story Arc but will usually have a prominent say in the Myth Arc.


Note Bene: In order to keep this trope from decaying into "Big Bads Who Lose But Don't Die", the Ex Big Bad must be shown or at least referred to as being no longer a Big Bad during a future point of an ongoing series. Villains who lose the status at the end of a story don't count, but if they appear in a sequel or a later season, they do.

Warning: This is usually a major plot point, so most if not all of these examples are unmarked spoilers.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Clover: As the leader of the Eye of the Midnight Sun, Licht is the main villain of the first saga, leading the Third Eye and his other underlings to obtain all the magic stones and reincarnating the elves into humans' bodies to resurrect his tribe and get revenge on the Clover Kingdom. However, Zagred reveals himself to be the mastermind behind the elf massacre Reincarnation Magic, leading him to work with the Magic Knights to stop the devil. Afterwards, he plans to atone for his misdeeds.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Piccolo is the final Big Bad of Dragon Ball, but in the Sequel Series, Dragon Ball Z, he reforms under Son Goku's influence and joins the good guys full-time, fighting a slew of new Big Bads alongside them.
    • In Z, Vegeta was the Big Bad of Saiyan Arc, bent on seeking Immortality and stuff like that. After he is defeated, he begrudgingly and gradually joins the Z fighters against other forces more evil than him, and settles down with Bulma.
    • Frieza, who serves as the Big Bad of the Namek Saga as well as the "Resurrection F" arc in Dragon Ball Super, and is subsequently brought back again much later to serve as a Token Evil Teammate for the crew during the Tournament of Power arc.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, Hayate is the "Big Bad" for most of the story (even if the Final Boss is the embodied Book of Darkness that Hayate used). After our heroes helped to deal with the whole problem, Hayate then got to get proper treatment for her illness, and some years later in StrikerS, she becomes the Big Good.
  • MegaMan NT Warrior: Dr. Wily is, of course, the original Big Bad of the show, but after ultimately falling from grace, he spends the duration of Stream and Beast as a hobo on the streets, his ambition mostly depleted.
  • Naruto: Orochimaru was the Big Bad of Part I. In Part II where the stakes are higher, he is reduced to a recurring villain who gets killed of my Sasuke partway through, and gets replace by much more powerful and intimidating villains that have more effect on the plot than even he does.
  • One Piece: Because Luffy tends to leave the Big Bads of each arc alive but severely beaten, all arc Big Bads in the show are this. Some of them are given a side story to show what they do with their lives after their defeat (Wapol, Lucci and the CP9, Buggy, Enel), while some others are imprisoned and punished (Buggy, again, and Crocodile (through they escape just in time for the War Arc), Hody, Doflamingo) or at least implied to be as such (Arlong), and yet others are unknown.
  • Sword Art Online: Akihiko Kayaba was the Big Bad of the first arc, but after his initial goals of seeing SAO to the end were complete, he performs a Brain Uploading and remains around for the rest of the series as a Virtual Ghost, becoming a Friendly Enemy to Kirito and often assisting him when he's in a tight spot.
  • Lordgenome of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is the Big Bad pre-timeskip, but after he's defeated, he becomes our heroes' ally post-timeskip.
  • Hiei of Yu Yu Hakusho, who was the Big Bad for the first real story arc in the series and later becomes a main character.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has Seto Kaiba, who serves as the Big Bad for the Death-T arc, and is brought back in both the Duelist Kingdom and Battle City arcs to serve as The Rival and an occasional ally to Yugi while he faces off against new Big Bads. Subverted with Yami Bakura, as he plays the role in the Monster World arc and then takes a backseat into a minor antagonistic role during the two previously mentioned arcs, but returns with a vengeance as the Big Bad for the final arc of the series.
    • Pegasus was the Big Bad of the Duelist Kingdom arc, and after his defeats at the end of it, he gives up on villainy and continues to make minor appearances, occasionally offering aid or advice to the heroes. Notably though this only apples to his anime counterpart, in the manga he is murdered by Yami Bakura after having his Millennium Eye ripped out following his defeat by Yugi's hands.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In the Discworld book The Last Hero, Cohen and his crew of octogenarian barbarians team up with "Evil Harry Dread", a former Evil Overlord with the vibe of a clapped-out old rock star, against whom they waged epic campaigns in their younger days. They reminisce about old times with a kind of camaraderie.
  • Harry Potter: Downplayed. While the books are about Harry's clash with Voldemort, hanging in the backstory is Dumbledore's clash with Gellert Grindelwald, which figures prominently in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Only the "prequel" movies based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feature Grindelwald as the villain.
  • Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought
    • This trope is downplayed in A Fire Upon the Deep. Emperor Scientist and Evilutionary Biologist Flenser is noted to have previously been in charge of the Flenserists (a faction which was, of course, named after him), but for all intents and purposes, his defeat prior to the events of the book have made him a (literal) fragment of himself, and Steel runs the show. At the end of Fire, Flenser undergoes a Heel–Face Turn and becomes genuinely invaluable to the protagonists in the sequel, taking the trope even further.
    • In The Children of the Sky, the pack Screwfloss is revealed late in the story to actually be the remains of Lord Steel, disguised and rearranged with a new member or two. He's still not the nicest fellow, but he seems to have undergone a Heel–Face Turn since escaping from the Fragmentarium, a sanctuary for fragmented packs.
  • In the Fairyland series by Catherynne M Valente, the Marquess, the Big Bad of the first novel, makes several appearances in later novels, and is eventually redeemed in the final one.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Negan from The Walking Dead serves as the Big Bad during the second half of Season 6 and the entirety of Seasons 7 and 8, but survives to be deposed as leader of the Saviors and becomes a Token Evil Teammate to the heroes during the Whisperer arc of Seasons 9 and 10 and onwards.
  • Malcolm Merlyn in Arrow. While he was the Big Bad of the first season, he remains around after his initial defeat. In the second season, he only has a handful of appearances, and in the third, he instigates the conflict with Ra's, but is soon forced to ally with Oliver over his fear of the man. He develops back to a full-time villain by season 4's end, but doesn't regain his footing as Big Bad, having to ally with Team Arrow in the finale again (on Arrow, anyway; he's part of the Big Bad Duumvirate in Season 2 of Legends of Tomorrow). At the end of Season 5, he returns to help the heroes against new Big Bad Prometheus and goes out in a Heroic Sacrifice to save Thea during the season finale.
  • Farscape did this twice. The first season's Big Bad Crais rethinks his life after being tortured by Aeryn and Demoted to Dragon by Scorpius, and spends the second season as a Wild Card before joining the protagonists for the third season, and dying heroically at the end of that one. Scorpius himself is the Big Bad for the second and third seasons, but at the beginning of the fourth season, after being deposed by Grayza, he pulls an Enemy Mine with the protagonists against the Scarrans and remains their Token Evil Teammate for the rest of the show.
  • King Richard in Galavant starts out as the main villain, kidnapping Galavant's girlfriend Madalena in the first episode and setting up the main conflict. But he turns out to be completely ineffectual and is replaced in short order by Madalena herself, as both ruler of Valencia and Big Bad of the series. By the second season, Richard has been reduced to being Galavant's sidekick.
  • In Season 2 of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Season 1's Big Bad Rita Repulsa is usurped by her superior Lord Zedd, whom it turns out Repulsa was just acting as regent for while he was elsewhere. And then Season 3 and beyond has both demoted into downright comic relief.
  • In Pretty Little Liars, after being revealed as A, Mona spends the third season as an ambiguous figure: is the "new" A actually still her, is she helping the new A, or is she actually reformed? It turns out to be the second, but A drops her at the end of the season. Ever since, she's been an ally of the main characters, if not an entirely trusted or trustworthy one.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • Regina Mills, aka the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is the Big Bad in the first season, but undergoes a slow redemption process afterwards, with some setbacks.
    • Her sister Zelena, aka the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, is the Big Bad of the second half of Season 3, and eventually ends up undergoing the same process.
  • Subverted with Charles Logan in the long run of 24. After serving as the Big Bad in the fifth season, he seems to seriously regret his actions during Season Six and ends up as The Atoner aiding Jack, but ends up on the receiving end of a (non-lethal) Heel–Face Door-Slam instead. This ends up having a nasty end result, as in the eighth season he ends up returning and retaking his position as Big Bad.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike starts out as the Big Bad of Season 2, only to lose the position to Angelus come the second half of the season; after forming an Enemy Mine with Buffy to take Angelus down, he later tries to regain the Big Bad title, but fails and ends up pulling a Heel–Face Turn, going from one of Buffy's most dangerous enemies to one of her most trusted allies.

    Video Games 
  • In Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia, Mir is the Big Bad who wants to wipe out all of humanity. In later games, she became The Atoner and tried to return the world to its original state. In the second game, she even joins the party, and the protagonist Croix can romance her.
  • Art of Fighting: in the first game, Mr. Big was the Big Bad who kidnapped our hero's younger sister and forced their father to work for him. In the second game, he still appears, now as one of the regular fighters who wants to go against his boss, Geese Howard.
  • Towards the end of Dragon Age: Origins, it is possible to recruit Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir — the Bad of the game's The Good, the Bad, and the Evil ensemble — into the Grey Wardens, instead of simply executing him for his crimes. If this option was taken (and he survived the Final Battle of Origins), Loghain appears in following games as one of the good guys, such as when he helps out the title organization in Dragon Age: Inquisition to fight the Elder One.
  • Halfway through Far Cry: New Dawn, the people of Prosperity, Hope County, decided to send the Captain to ally with the cult village of New Eden, formed by the surviving members of the Project at Eden's Gate left over after the former Player Character, the Deputy of Far Cry 5, killed most of them, and after Hope County got nuked in the "Resist" ending of the last game. After being allowed entry to New Eden upon finding a book of the teachings of Eden's Gate's founder, Father Joseph Seed, the Captain ventures into the north to find Joseph living as a meditating hermit. Joseph, having mellowed out upon seeing that the world was a lot less peaceful after society's collapse than he hoped it would be, is no longer interested in trying to brainwash and capture more converts to his cult, instead focusing on keeping his remaining flock alive. So for that reason, he agrees to ally with his former enemies at Prosperity against the murderous Highwaymen, and he even names the Captain his successor as the leader of New Eden and gives them a mystical empowering apple to boot. Sadly, Joseph's bastard son Ethan is bitter towards his father for giving that power to someone not of the cult, and not to him, his own family, so he decides to sell his people out to the Highwaymen in exchange for a mystical apple of his own. After the apple's power mutates Ethan into a monster and the Captain has to kill him, Joseph finally feels the pain and heartbreak he'd forced the rest of Hope County to experience, realizing that spreading death and destruction was not what God wanted, and begs the Captain to grant him a Mercy Kill so he can face God's justice.
  • The King of Fighters: the same Geese Howard above was the Big Bad of 2 of the Fatal Fury games, while his half-brother Wolfgang Krauser was also the Big Bad in one FF game. In KOF 96, they appear together as Bosses Team along with Mr. Big; they aren't the masterminds of the story (that'd be Goenitz), but they do act as mid-bosses who try to get their hands on the power of the Orochi. In KOF XIV Geese reappears, now along with his 2 henchmen as the participants for the tournament that year.
  • Kirby:
    • In the very first game, Kirby's Dream Land, King Dedede was the Big Bad who stole all the food in Dream Land and Kirby had to take it back. In subsequent appearances, Dedede has been either mistaken for the Big Bad, possessed by the real Big Bad, or even a friendly rival for Kirby.
    • In his first appearance, Magolor from Kirby's Return to Dream Land manipulated Kirby and his allies into defeating Landia for him so he can claim the Master Crown for himself and become a Galactic Conquerer. New Challenge Stages from Kirby's Dream Collection features Magolor returning to build Kirby a theme park in Dream Land to make up for the incident. He's more of a rival to Kirby in this instance, but at least they depart on friendly terms in the end.
  • The first Knightfall game has Satan as the Final Boss. In the sequel, you find him Drowning His Sorrows in a tavern near the beginning.
  • Mega Man Battle Network
    • Original Big Bad Dr. Wily plays with the trope. Rather than appear directly in his capacity as an [Ex-BB] (like his NT Warrior self above), Dr. Wily is often presumed dead after his schemes, only to reappear and retroactively establish that he'd been acting as a Greater-Scope Villain of some kind or another. He plays it straight at the end of the fifth game, appearing to redeem the current Big Bad by force.
    • Played straight by former Gospel head Sean in the third game, who appears and reveals he's been using his skills to help people, despite his tragic history.
  • Portal. In both the first game and the first half of Portal 2, GLaDOS acts as the Big Bad of the game. But once Wheatley ended up getting uploaded into the facility, he becomes the new Big Bad of the second half while GLaDOS becomes the Deuteragonist as she teams up with Chell to stop the facility from being destroyed out of Wheatley's sheer stupidity.
  • In Sengoku 3, there's Byakki and Okuni, two nukenin that ran away and became some of the first bosses the protagonist group fights. In the end, both join the group by Defeat Means Playable to defeat the Greater-Scope Villain.
  • Street Fighter
    • In the very first game, Sagat was the Big Bad and Ryu's final challenge. In his subsequent appearances, he becomes a part of Shadaloo to take revenge on Ryu, but then grows disinterested in revenge and then becomes a regular fighter.
    • M. Bison, leader of Shadaloo, is the Big Bad in 2 and Alpha. In 4, the Big Bad is Seth, leader of one of Shadaloo's branches, and Bison goes to fight him (and anybody in-between). M. Bison regains the Big Bad status in 5, where he is Killed Off for Real.
  • At the end of Tales of Xillia, Gaius is convinced by the party to stop his campaign of gathering all of the world's most powerful weapons. As an Anti-Villain, Gaius respects the party's strength because of his code of honor, and willingly stands down after he loses. Come Tales of Xillia 2, he's undergone a total shift in attitude, even joining the player's party to help stop the next crisis from occurring.
  • In the Touhou series, each game only covers a single incident. Since each incident is usually separate, and Defeat Means Friendship is in effect, the Big Bad of one game can make a friendly appearance in the next. Sometimes they even become playable characters.
  • Zeus from World Heroes 2 Jet is the Big Bad of the game, organizing the tournament in which the fighters are involved. In the next game, World Heroes Perfect, he appears as the "Big Bad", but after defeating him in one round, the real Final Boss, Neo Dio, appears and replaces him for real.
  • Sarevok in Baldur's Gate. He's the final boss of the first game. Then in Throne of Bhaal you are forced to resurrect him and he becomes an optional party member who never betrays you. A good Charname can even convince him to change his alignment to Chaotic Good.

    Web Comics 
  • Following his defeat and subsequent sealing in a literal Pocket Dimension, Dark Star of L's Empire spent most of his time being swarmed by small annoying creatures and getting into Flame Wars with the readers. He was later joined by the following Big Bad, Phala, and they had a kid together.

    Western Animation 
  • Jackie Chan Adventures:
    • In the first two seasons of the series, Valmont is part of the Big Bad Duumvirate with the demon Shendu, but after two different gambits lost, he ends up a poor beggar on the streets, desperate for cash and a chance to make his comeback. Shendu likewise loses his prominence, but he has much closer ties to the other significant villains of the show, and so his fall isn't quite as far.
    • Also, Daolon Wong is the main villain for most of Season 3, until he decides to resurrect Shendu, which results in Shendu betraying Wong and upstaging him as the antagonist of the season finale.
  • In The Legend of Korra, Zaheer and the Red Lotus were the Big Bad in Book 3, but by the end, Zaheer is the only known survivor after the Red Lotus were defeated. But due to their actions of killing the Earth Queen Hou-Ting, the Earth Kingdom is left in anarchy, and a new Big Bad arrives in Book 4 in the form of Kuvira, who ends up taking over the Earth Kingdom. Korra meets with Zaheer in his prison, where he realizes that his actions led to a new enemy rising up and he decides to help Korra deal with her fears.
  • The end of the first season of Loonatics Unleashed revealed Optimatus as the mastermind behind two attempts to eradicate Acmetropolis with meteors. A seemingly lesser second season villain, General Deuce, attempts to abscond with Ace's Guardian Strike Sword, and recurs in the second season finale as an accomplice to Optimatus. However, Deuce is The Man Behind the Man, and betrays his cohorts as part of an Evil Plan to control all subspace travel in the galaxy. This stinging betrayal triggers Optimatus' Heel–Face Turn in the finale.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • Total Drama
    • Heather is the most prominent example in the series. Being the original Big Bad of Total Drama, after the conclusion of her first season, she remains around for most of the series. All the other contestants are all too wary of her shady past, but she never quite ascends to the status of main threat ever again. In World Tour she actually becomes the Villain Protagonist for the first half of the season before going through a Hazy Feel Turn and ends up as the Anti-Hero up against the new Big Bad Alejandro.
    • Alejandro is the most prominent example other than Heather. During World Tour, Alejandro proved himself to be the most charismatic Total Drama villain of all time, manipulating and backstabbing his way through the season all the way to the finale, and having a hand in almost everyone's eliminations. Come All-Stars, unsurprisingly there is no one who trusts him due to his heinous past. This causes trouble for him once a threat greater than him emerges in the form of Mal. Being one of the few characters aware of Mal's true nature, Alejandro's attempts to warn everyone else falls on mostly deaf ears with everyone believing he's Crying Wolf.
    • Scott after causing havoc in Revenge of the Island returns in All-Stars as one of the returning villains. However unlike Alejandro and Heather, he's never treated like much of a threat, with most people brushing him off as an idiotic farmboy.


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