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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 himself, 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.

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 and Manga 
  • 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 Dragon Ball 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.



  • 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 
  • Malcolm Merlyn in Arrow is the big bad of the first season. In the second season, he only has a handful of appearances, and in the third, he is a semi-good guy. He develops back to a villain by season 4's end, but doesn't regain his footing as Big Bad (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.

    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.
  • 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 

    Western Animation 


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