Follow TV Tropes


Graying Morality

Go To

"Last night, the man who killed my brother showed more character than the woman in charge of protecting the world. Good and bad's not so clear to me."
John Diggle, Arrow, "Suicide Squad"

Many series with Black-and-White Morality end up gradually getting more and more shades of grey as they continue on. What looks like a simple conflict between good and evil in the early installments gradually becomes more complex, and in the later installments there are many more gradations of morality. More often than not, the process is an unintentional side effect of exhausting the story possibilities of simple moral conflicts and adding less absolutely good or evil characters for variety's sake. In other cases, it's a deliberate statement by the creators about morality and conflict in general.

This can happen to entire genres: spy stories, war movies, westerns, superhero comics and so forth all incorporate significantly more Black-and-Gray Morality, White-and-Grey Morality or Grey-and-Gray Morality the longer the genres themselves are around. Also sometimes done intentionally as a means of averting or addressing Values Dissonance in especially long-lived genres or works; the Western, for example, has changed as historical perceptions of the American frontier in popular culture have grown more morally ambivalent.

Compare Cerebus Syndrome, Darker and Edgier, Morality Kitchen Sink and Grimmification, which can all sometimes involve this. However, plenty of works go through those tropes without shifting their basic moral scale. It may sometimes overlap with Genre Deconstruction if Black and White Morality is one of the key assumptions of the genre which the work is deconstructing. Contrast Debate and Switch, where a morally challenging issue is made into more of a Black And White one, or ignored. This is the inverse of Moral Disambiguation, where the work moves towards Black-and-White Morality.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan starts off with humanity having been driven to the brink of extinction by terrifying, Nigh-Invulnerable, man-eating giants, so the conflict between humans and Titans initially seems fairly straightforward. However, the series quickly becomes increasingly morally complex. Almost everyone is forced to take drastic steps to ensure humanity's survival, while several factions struggle for power in the midst of the war against the Titans, which themselves turn out to not be what they seem.
  • It's difficult for Soul Eater fans to believe that the series used to be a comedy. Inclusions of Mind Rape, actual rape, deals with the voice in your head, etc. aside, the most triumphant example of this would have to be the point in the series where the Grim Reaper decides to wipe out a whole town because the Kishin just might be hiding there. Eventually the Kishin could wipe out the whole world, but the situation at just halfway through the story is that dire.
  • One Piece started out as a story about a cheerful crew of good-natured pirates who fight other, more hostile pirates and a corrupt government. A little before halfway through the story, however, we start seeing absolutely ruthless fellow pirates who demonstrate why normal people fear that word, as well as government people who genuinely have the best intentions for the populace at large. The backstory of Luffy, the protagonist, comes up around this point in the series and strongly hints that he fights the government not out of a sense of justice, but for personal revenge, totally unbeknownst to his crewmates. Meanwhile, some key people from the Marines have defected while some notable pirates seen before have allied with the government, each for their own reasons. Finally, there is a growing notion that this government only appears to do evil actions to prevent superweapons with the ability to destroy the entire planet from falling into the hands of those who actually want to use it, most of whom are pirates, many of them acquaintances of Luffy. At this point, there are good and bad people on both sides and plenty of hard decisions people with power and/or fame must make.
  • The Universal Century continuity of Gundam underwent this as more series were written. The original Mobile Suit Gundam was light-gray versus black, with the Earth Federation being a well-intentioned government led by responsible people fighting against space Nazis, even though there were heroes on both sides and a few blemishes on the Federation. As the series became more developed, the Federation became increasingly portrayed as a corrupt and incompetent institution that inevitably becomes a tool of the villains, requiring heroes (who are often rather deeply flawed individuals themselves) to mutiny against the Federation to set it right. The various Zeonic movements remain consistently evil, though their leaders are often more sympathetic than the Hitler-idolizing Gihren Zabi.

  • In Why Am I Crying?, Scootaloo believes that Diamond Tiara and all bullies were born pure evil and that they were incapable of changing their ways. As the story goes on, Scootaloo finds out that Diamond Tiara had a Hidden Heart of Gold and that her kindhearted teacher Miss Cheerilee was a horrible bully in her high school days, and she soon realizes that bullies can change for the better.
  • In a unusual way Ace Attorney fic Just a Note does it to canon through Alternate Character Interpretation. One of the canon cases involved the death of an Interpol agent who was tracing smuggling of a cocoon which can be used as medicine or poison, and whose taking out of its origin country is illegal. The culprit wanted to sell the cocoon to a buyer whose son needed said medicine to survive, but in-game it’s made clear the culprit is just doing so to get a high-paying and sufficiently compromised client. The fic presents the culprit as a Well-Intentioned Extremist who never wanted any deaths and wanted to get the cocoon to a buyer not for money but to save the kid's life, and the victim as someone whose sticking to the rules resulted in a child's death.
  • The Stalking Zuko Series, like in canon, starts out with the Fire Nation as a clear antagonist, one that must be defeated in order to restore balance to the world. During the peace process, Zuko struggles to put his nation on the right track again and make amends for the Fire Nation's misdeeds, and while the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes are sympathetically portrayed, it's noted that not all of them are good people- the Dai Li and General Fong are guilty of war crimes, while the Northern Water Tribe refused to help the Southern Water Tribe as the latter bore the brunt of the Fire Nation's onslaught.
  • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail: The story begins with the brave Chloe of the Vermillion and her allies tackling the train to stop the Apex. As the story goes on, we see that the heroes themselves are flawed and the major players in the game to stop the Apex aren't completely pitch black as they are initially seen.
  • Shadows over Meridian: This Recursive Fanfiction of Kage continues the original story's trend of applying this trope to canon, introducing on the rebels' side Knight Templars who are professing loyalty to Elyon to excuse their extreme actions and/or self-serving goals, and on Phobos' side otherwise good people who have their reasons (such as the Fantastic Racism directed at their species) for taking the tyrannical prince's side.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Star Wars:
    • Happens with the first trilogy (IV-VI). A New Hope was like a comic book, with mostly clear-cut heroes and villains (except for Lovable Rogue Han Solo). In The Empire Strikes Back, we learn that Obi-Wan lied to Luke about his father, leading to Return of the Jedi where Luke is told that he must kill his own father or the Emperor will win.
    • The prequels end up being much greyer than the originals, with the heroes using Child Soldiers and a slave army. This is expanded on in The Last Jedi, where Luke scoffs at Rey's deification of the Jedi when they were accountable for the horrors that befell the galaxy in the rise of the Empire, and deconstructing tropes of hot-shot ace pilots, obstructive brass, and rogue characters that shade the series to shades of grey not seen since Empire.
    • The expanded universe runs the whole gamut. The first few novels are fairly light, only for subsequent ones to get darker. Then every couple of series there'll be a conscious effort to be lighter again, which in turn get darker, and so on.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean already starts off as Black-and-Gray Morality, but includes distinctly white characters such as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. These characters gain shades of gray throughout the second and third movies, with the end of the second installment where where Elizabeth kills Jack because she realises that the rest have a shot at surviving if he gets caught marking the point where the stakes have been raised enough to call for questionable choices. On the opposite side of the spectrum is ironically Barbossa, who was mostly black in the first film but is just as gray as the other protagonists after his resurrection by Tia Dalma as he doesn't have the luxury of doing anything more other than ensuring his own resurrection sticks.
  • The Captain America movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe received this treatment especially hard. The first movie, The First Avenger starts off as a straightforward Black-and-White Morality World War II period flick with the title character fighting HYDRA — A Nazi by Any Other Name. The first sequel, The Winter Soldier has the hero fighting the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. that was infiltrated by HYDRA ever since its creation but the antagonist raise valid points about security vs. free will in a world of superheroes. Come to full blown in the third movie, Civil War, the secondary antagonist this time is Steve's own former Avengers teammates and the government over whether or not superheroes should work with the government, making it dip into Gray-and-Grey Morality. Although Steve's side is still presented as the more right of the two.
  • In The Dark Knight, Bruce's ideal of an ethical vigilante is pushed into this trope when, after a wave of menace and tragedy fueled by The Joker, he is pushed into weaponizing Lucius Fox's sonar technology into an audiovisual eavesdropping tool covering telecommunication all over Gotham. Lucius Fox is not pleased and calls out Batman for treading into these waters.
    Batman: Beautiful, isn't it?
    Lucius: Beautiful. Unethical. Dangerous. You've turned every cell phone in Gotham into a microphone...You took my sonar concept and applied it to every phone in the city. With half the city feeding you sonar, you could image all of Gotham. This is wrong.
    Batman: I've got to find this man, Lucius.
    Lucius: At what cost?

  • Animorphs starts off as a typical children's sci-fi with the Yeerks as evil and the Animorphs, and by extension the Andalites, as the good guys. This doesn't stick. Specifically, while some characters (Visser Three and Crayak stand out) are introduced at and stay firmly in "evil" territory, the Yeerks as a whole are revealed to be a nuanced race with a sizable peace faction, the Andalites are elitist and in some ways only barely better than the Yeerks, and the Animorphs have to go seriously grey before all is said and done. Ultimately the series is less concerned with who is "good" and "evil" than it is with the overall point that War Is Hell.
  • The Saga of Darren Shan series developed along these lines due to the Character Development of the protagonist and narrator. While most of the adult vampires would admit that there was some good in themselves and the rival vampaneze, the story is told form Darren's point of view. The effect was that the act of taking blood went from a horrifying abuse of other people to everyday routine, vampire culture went from rigid and savage to traditional but noble, and even the Vampaneze, a branch of vampires who serve as the main antagonists, killing every time they had to drink blood and killing several of Darren's friends, went from being regarded as monsters to seen with a respect almost similar to that between different countries or rival political parties.
  • Karen A. Brush's children's book The Pig, The Prince, and the Unicorn begins as a classic Good vs. Evil Quest story, but as the naive protagonist (the titular Pig) finds out more and more about the opposing side as he journeys, at the end of his quest he's totally conflicted about whether to go through with it or not.
  • The Honor Harrington series started out reasonably black-and-white, with the Star Kingdom of Manticore clearly the good guys going up against the bloated, expansionist People's Republic of Haven that has to expand to stave off economic collapse. The Havenites get even worse in some respects when a coup overthrows the government and the new leaders authorize policies that make the original regime seem downright benign in comparison (this is the series that named State Sec), but while that's going on, several Havenites were given rather deep characterization that showed that most of them were decent people who were rather powerless to improve things. At the same time, many Manties were introduced who were rather self-centered at the expense of others, if not downright evil; the same happened with most of Manticore's allies. Almost every faction, good and evil, has been deconstructed at some point to show that everywhere you go you'll find some bad people, some virtuous people, and mostly neutrals who are rather swayed by the people in charge. About the only groups still firmly at one end of the spectrum are the Masadans, or at least the men of power there, and those secretly in charge of the Mesan Alignment, both of which are decidedly evil.
  • Galaxy of Fear has hints of this right at the start, where Hoole tells the protagonists that no, the Empire isn't a monolith of evil, but the early books still all have pretty black and white Imperial and Rebel representation. In the later books there are still loads of evil Imperials, and there's reluctance to really tarnish our heroes, but there's an Ineffectual Sympathetic Imperial and a cold but fair Noble Demon one. Some heroic characters are also forced into doing unheroic things, but a point is made that these don't come easily to them.
  • Canadian columnist Eric Nicol has the story of The White Knight, who rides off in search of the Black knight, whose path is marked by a string of thefts and seductions, and who gradually transforms into the Black Knight.

    Live-Action TV 
  • As shown in the page quote, this trope was a main theme explored through the entirety of Arrow. Oliver Queen's main arc revolves around defining the kind of hero he is and the legacy he wants to leave behind; is it a straight-and-narrow Thou Shalt Not Kill hero of optimism, a vigilante who finds the best way to rid crime in Star City is to go outside the law as judge, jury, and executioner, or something in-between? Along the way, he runs into many allies and enemies, and aligns himself with both sides of the coin at various times, who are equally not-so-easily defined as all-good and all-evil.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer started with purely evil vampires but just one exception; over the seasons, the need for more interestingly human villains and the larger point about power the series builds to has grayer elements, like more humanly motivated vampires, and even relatively harmless but ostensibly "evil" demons. The Spin-Off show, Angel, went still further into gray with the premises and universe Buffy originated.
  • Lost developed this in later seasons with the Others, whose motivations were pretty mysterious to begin with, but especially with Ben (the leader of the Others), who is pretty firmly established as a bad guy even though he constantly claims that he and his people are the "good guys" (and he's also a notorious liar). In later seasons, however, Ben becomes more sympathetic, due to both his Freudian Excuse and the fact that he's an interesting character. By the end of season five he's actually been ousted as the Magnificent Bastard because of the fact that he's been manipulated by someone who appears to be more evil than he is (Jacob's enemy). Maybe. Unless Jacob is the bad guy, because Jacob is leading the Others, and they're bad...unless they're not. And of course, the island is frequently visited by people who are definitely worse than the Others, and Jacob is the sworn enemy of a guy who despite not starting as such, is said to be Made of Evil.
  • Once Upon a Time eventually gives Big Bads Rumplestitskin and Regina backstories that can give them a good argument for being The Woobie, and Snow White commits a calculated, cold-blooded murder (albeit, it was a great case of Pay Evil unto Evil).
  • Power Rangers started out with wholesome community-minded teens vs evil petty space aliens. Around seasons six and seven it started having some villains that weren't wholly bad (Ecliptor, Astronema, Villamax) and some heroes that weren't completely good (the Magna Defender). The series has never completely stepped away from Black-and-White Morality, but there's some shading to it now.
    • Power Rangers Time Force was a radical shift. After Ransik lectured the Red Ranger about his origins, the Ranger was really troubled. You can seriously ask whether the Rangers are protecting innocents from monsters, or they are the armed force of a dystopian society destroying anyone not perfect. Doesn't help that the Rangers cryogenized the mutant instead of killing them, which the fandom interpreted as Fate Worse than Death instead of mercy.
  • Supernatural had much more black and white moral system in the first season, with the heroes hunting and killing monsters in order to preserve life. Then, the main characters started to fight demons, which required them to murder innocent human hosts, the supernatural creatures stopped always being evil due to their race, and they started to make deals with demons in order to survive. After a few series, the brothers wouldn't even bat an eye when forced to kill a room full of demons with human hosts, made moral decisions which trod the line between dangerously irresponsible and wilfully evil, and constantly traded away the safety and wellbeing of huge numbers of people. At this point, it's hard to say whether or not the Winchesters still count as good or even chaotic neutral. By the end of the series, it tilted back towards black and white with the Winchesters balking at dancing so close to the Moral Event Horizon, the introduction of Jack Kline on their side, and the final three Arc Villains after Amara being more evil and powerful than anything the Winchesters have faced before them.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles starts out with Skynet being clearly evil and the Connors being clearly good, but the Connors' efforts to stop Judgment Day quickly make them similar to the robots they're fighting, to the point that they openly admit to being terrorists. Their Graying Morality is really driven home in "Dungeons and Dragons", when Sarah repeats Kyle Reese's warning about the Terminators from the first movie... but this time it applies to Derek murdering Andy Goode in cold blood.
  • Highlander very gradually went through this direction over the course of the series. Duncan MacLeod starts the series with a pacifistic attitude and mostly avoided playing the Game (the constant battles against and killing of fellow Immortals). The first villain of the series, Slan Quince, is a Head Hunter (a type of Immortal who devotes most of his life to hunting other Immortals in an attempt to win the Game), a ruthless killer, and has no redeeming qualities. Throughout the first several seasons the conflicts mostly remain very black and white, with clear cut good guys and bad guys. Season 1 alone features enemies such as Dirty Cop Howard Crowley, who murders Immortals and frames innocent mortals for the crime, mind control expert Kiem Sun, Bitch in Sheep's Clothing Felicia Martins, would-be-rapist Caleb Cole, etc. Subsequent seasons started presenting villains with more sympathetic motivations, Well Intentioned Extremists, Fallen Heroes, and Immortals with genuine mental problems who can not control themselves.
    • Meanwhile as the show went on the "heroes" became quite a bit darker. Duncan loses his hesitation to kill, holds centuries-long grudges, and at times plays Judge, Jury, and Executioner. Flashbacks to his past reveal that he has committed his share of mistakes and even senseless murders, at times sentenced fellow Immortals to Fates Worse than Death (one was trapped on a desert island with no access to food or water, another was chained to the bottom of a river for decades, and a third spend most of the 20th century locked in an asylum), and has a criminal past. Duncan's student/Surrogate Son Richie Ryan went through his own phase as a Head Hunter, which is presented as a killing spree of random Immortals who have done little or nothing to deserve to be killed. Richie eventually changes his ways, but he had to face the consequences, including the (Immortal and mortal) loved ones of the people he killed. Duncan's new best friend Methos was early on established to have no problem hurting or killing women. (Which he demonstrates by killing a villainous female Immortal whose life was spared by Duncan and Richie). He justifies this by explaining that he was born long before the concept of chivalry was dreamed up and it became fashionable not to treat a female enemy exactly the same way you would a male opponent. He is eventually revealed to be a Retired Monster (albeit a remorseful one) who spent centuries as a raider, pillager, slaver, and rapist. While Methos claims he has outgrown this phase, (and helps Duncan defeat the other Immortals who were once his comrades in arms during that era) he still seems like a Karma Houdini. Lovable Rogue Amanda is early on established to have spend most of her life as a thief and entertainer, although even when acting as a thief she does not like hurting people. In later seasons, she is revealed to have once been part of an Outlaw Couple which went on a multi-state crime spree in the 1920s United States, and that she is more than a bit reckless, which has resulted in her actions having unintended consequences. Even minor supporting characters got darker. Cassandra was introduced as an Immortal witch who protected Duncan's life when he was a boy in Scotland. She was reintroduced as a former slave and rape victim whose life is at least partly driven by seeking revenge.
  • Cobra Kai: The series aims for something much closer to Grey-and-Gray Morality than the Black-and-White Morality from the original The Karate Kid. Johnny retains some of his Jerkass traits and gives his students the same Cobra Kai training he had, but he's doing it so that they'll become more confident, assertive, and able to fight back against anyone who bullies them. Daniel is understandably wary of the rebirth of Cobra Kai, but he grabs the Jerkass Ball and goes out of his way to antagonize Johnny even though Johnny's plan doesn't involve getting back at Daniel at all and he couldn't care less about his former rival. By the end of the first season, the series Reconstruction the black and white morality from the first film. While Daniel's teachings turn Robby into a better person who's willing to let go of his anger towards his father, Johnny's only end up leading his students into the very path that ruined his life. However, he does realize what he has done. A large sign of this is the return of the morally black Kreese. The following seasons basically become a fight between The Good, the Bad, and the Evil, with Johnny and Daniel eventually joining forces to stop Kreese. Although interestingly, there's still shades of graying morality by revealing Kreese to be a much more complex character, and while in no way justifying his actions, shows that he is motivated by a genuinely horrifying Freudian Excuse that easily trumps Johnny's shitty childhood.
  • Continuum started fairly black-and-white with a future cop chasing future terrorists. As we learn more of the Crapsack World future of Kiera from flashbacks and see the beginnings of that future in the corporate takeover of the Vancouver PD, we might begin to sympathize with Liber8. By the middle of the series the audience will probably start rooting for them, and by the end Kiera and Liber8 straight-up team up to (successfully) avert both the original Bad Future they come from and the even worse Bad Future accidentally created by Liber8's initial victory.
  • Game of Thrones: The series manages an inversion. Like the books it is based on it generally started out as a Grey-and-Grey Morality deconstruction of fantasy, showing that no character is really good or evil and war is a murky affair at best. With few exceptions there's not really any fighting for the greater good or justice, only dynastic interests. Over time, the main characters are forced to deal with purely evil villains, almost to the point where the series becomes closer to Black-and-White Morality. Many characters experience changes to their personalities to make them more clearly heroic or villainous, also adding the appearance of an Always Chaotic Evil faction that has been foreshadowed since the start of the show.

  • Billy Joel's song "Shades of Grey" is about this phenomenon occurring in his Real Life.
  • The song "Genuinely Bad" by Pretty Balanced implies this with the line "There's a point at which you realize that nobody is all bad."

    Multiple Media 
  • Each iteration of the Star Trek franchise seemed to get a bit "grayer" than the one before it; The Next Generation was grayer than the unabashedly utopian original series, Deep Space Nine was grayer than TNG, and by the 2009 film Kirk's originally heroic archetypal traits straddle the line between heroic strengths and serious personal faults.
  • Transformers tends to make the Autobots and Maximals a bit more gray as each adaptation goes on to showcase how the horrors of war have changed them. We see them making unethical deals, concealing information, researching dangerous technology such as combiners or experimental fuels and making personal sacrifices in order to win the war. Most of this is in response to whatever the Decepticons and Predacons are cooking up, which usually ends up being far worse than anything the heroes would have done.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In the World Wrestling League the feud between La Rabia and Los Rabiosos initially appeared to be socially active, charitable, sacrificing True Companions vs whiny, greedy Gangbangers. This was by Los Rabiosos' design. As it turned out, Los Rabiosos were as socially active and charitable as La Rabia. What this feud was, was a splinter in a large Power Stable over one side(Los Rabiosos) feeling the other had become posers. That and the fact there were only three tercias belts; everyone couldn't be hold one and Los Rabiosos refused to be overshadowed(yeah, WWL had plenty of other belts but Los Rabiosos weren't patient enough to wait on La Rabia to help them get those). La Rabia were still the better group but Los Rabiosos ended up being faces against anyone who wasn't La Rabia.


    Video Games 
  • The original Mega Man series is fairly Black And White. The sequel series get less and less so.
    • Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 11 both take cracks at making a more morally grey story, the first by revealing that the Robot Masters you're fighting are expired robots slated for demolition and given a new lease on life by Wily (albeit as his pawns for yet another world domination attempt), and the latter by revealing that Wily used to want to make heroes out of robots, until his ideas were callously shot down by Light and he was passed over for a research grant, causing him to become consumed with jealousy and hatred for Light and for Light to spend the rest of his life regretting that his callousness helped turned Wily into the revenge-driven Mad Scientist he is now.
  • In the Metal Gear series, the first game is very straightforward: you are to stop the leader of Outer Heaven to prevent war. Even though the leader turns out to be your commanding officer, it's very clear that you're supposed to stop him anyway. As the series goes on, it becomes less and less clear who, if anyone, is actually evil and not just a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • Word of God has it that this was intended to occur over the course of the first Geneforge game. Arguably, it's more subtly developed over the course of the series, as the rebels got more opportunities to make their arguments (and even took the spotlight in the fourth game.)
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn was very black and white, but by Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars the two sides are very very grey
  • Mass Effect was a very clear-cut black-and-white sort of game, but Mass Effect 2 descended into the realm of Black-and-Grey Morality. Mass Effect 3 was comprised largely of very, very grey decisions, and even tried to make the Eldritch Abominations a lighter shade of black.
  • NieR started with a father/brother (depending on your version) trying to get medicine for his daughter/sister, while dealing with Shades mindlessly attacking them. Then the "Shadow Lord" kidnapped the sickly relative and gave you an antagonist for the rest of the game. Then it's revealed the Shadow Lord's objectives aren't entirely malevolent, just directly opposed to your objectives. Subsequent playthroughs show that the Shades are the spirits of what was left of humanity after White Clorination Syndrome drove them all to put their souls (gestalts) into synthetic bodies (replicants), which eventually rejected the souls, causing the "Black Scrawl" disease that the daughter/sister was dying from. The Shades you fought were mostly defending themselves against the man carving through hordes of them for no reason they could ascertain. The player's actions in trying to save the daughter/sister lead to the last remnants of the project trying to find a solution to humanity's woes failing, dooming humanity.
    • The sequel, NieR: Automata treads a similar path. Originally, 2B and 9S are YorHa androids fighting against machines that invading aliens had left in their wake, trying to reclaim earth for the humans that had retreated to the moon. Shortly into the story, it's shown the machines aren't as basic as they seem. Some acting weirdly emotional, and others having broken off the main antagonistic force to live in peace, becoming uneasy allies with the protagonists. Then you learn all the invading aliens on earth were killed when their machines turned against them. "Adam" and "Eve" turn out to be entirely sentient machines, largely indistinguishable from the YorHa androids physically. But they lack any actual moral compass, still threaten humanity (mostly out of curiosity) and you kill Adam to save 9S, and kill Eve to save the continent after he freaks out due to Adam's death. Subsequent playthroughs get considerably more gray from every direction except for maybe the entity controlling the hostile machines, which is entirely malevolent. When rebooting from YorHa's mainframe after having his physical body destroyed fighting Eve 9S stumbles upon classified information revealing humanity isn't living on the moon. It's extinct (likely due to the events of the first game), and what's on the moon is just a server with humanity's genetic information. In short, it turns out even the Commander didn't know exactly who was pulling the strings, it turned out YorHa was actually being puppeteered by the entity controlling the machines in what was essentially a wacky sociology experiment. 9S ends up on the fringes of sanity, barely able to tell the difference between friend and foe, and simply fighting whatever is in his way, and 2A largely continues to fight just because that's all she can do, but is now haunted by 2B's memories, that she gained when she took 2B's weapons.
  • While many of the subplots of Dragon Age: Origins are very gray and many of the characters are morally questionable, the central conflict is between humanity and horrifying parasitic near-mindless monsters that love rape, cannibalism, and slaughter. The expansion pack Awakening features those same monsters, but some of them are not so mindless and evil, and one of them wants to stop his brethren from trying to destroy the world every few hundred years, albeit in a way that inadvertently caused the very invasion he was trying to stop. Dragon Age II takes it further; the central conflict is between factions of people who do bad things for good reasons, most of the major characters are deeply flawed, and no one person or entity is the Big Bad.
    • The Big Bad in Dragon Age: Inquisition is a much more cut-and-dry villain, being a former Blood Magic using, slave owning Tevinter magister who broke into the Golden City, thus corrupting it and unleashing the Blight. However, there is more gray added to the Qunari people, the Grey Wardens, and Tevinter. Most significantly, the elven Creators are revealed to have not been as benevolent as the Dalish believe. Trespasser especially shines light on this, showing that they weren't gods at all, but petty, vain and power hungry mages who kept slaves and nearly destroyed the world in their quest for power. Even the two "good" gods, Mythal and Fen'Harel, are not actually all that good.
    • The Grey Wardens are plenty gray in Origins, shown as early as when the Warden is recruited. The choices available to the Warden throughout the game range from noble and fair to underhanded and even cruel. Still, the Wardens are generally held up as heroes. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Orlesian Grey Wardens try to raise a demon army in a misguided attempt to preempt the Blight, going so far as to use Blood Magic and work with a Tevinter magister. The novels The Calling and The Last Flight also show the darker side of the organization.
      • The Wardens' actions in Inquisition actually result in a Broken Pedestal moment for Blackwall, who idolized the Wardens and never knew how shady they could be. Indeed, one of the clues that Blackwall is not really a Grey Warden is his obvious hero-worship of them, lauding their bravery and goodness. If the Player played Origins, they know the Wardens are less Ideal Heroes and more Pragmatic or Unscrupulous Heroes. It's also a Rebuilt Pedestal moment, as Blackwall feels the Wardens are still heroic and inspirational, but for different reasons than he believed.
  • BlazBlue already started with Black-and-Gray Morality, but most groups still get more nuanced as the story progresses. The mostly good Sector Seven gets more of its dirty laundry put out to air, revealing that Kokonoe keeps a loaded nuke silo as a "solution" for Terumi and aided Relius in making a core for Ignis, and the upper management redeploying Azrael; the defecting Makoto and Noel are only onboard due to picking the lesser of two evils. Meanwhile, NOL Main Branch gets Litchi Faye-Ling, and the Mutsuki house is unsatisfied with how NOL runs things and its leader Kagura Mutsuki is planning a coup.
  • The opening scene of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim makes sure you hate The Empire - they're prepared to execute several carts full of prisoners, including at least one for a petty crime (and they proceed to chase him down and kill him when he tries to escape) and one (the Player Character) merely for crossing a border when they happened to pass by. As the game progresses, and especially if you join them, you come to realise that things aren't as simple as they seem on both sides of the civil war.
  • Assassin's Creed III. Unlike the previous games, where the Templars were Ax-Crazy sociopaths and/or megalomaniacal tyrants with delusions of godhood, here most of the Templars Connor encounters are Well Intentioned Extremists who genuinely believe they are doing the right thing and that Templar rule truly is the best course for the world. We also start to see cracks in the Assassins' claim as the "good guys" when the Patriots basically stab Connor and his tribe in the back, and he is forced to fight them to avoid further conflict.
  • Almost every game in the Tales Series does this, with the story starting out like a typical Black-and-White Morality Cliché Storm before eventually revealing the villains have understandable motives and occasionally the heroes may not be entirely good.
  • Haze attempted to pull off this trope when the player defects from Mantel after realizing that the Promise Hand isn't as evil as he's been led to believe. Unfortunately, the developers botched it pretty badly-the Mantel troopers are Obviously Evil even when you're on their side while the Promise Hand faction is basically portrayed as saints.
  • Spec Ops: The Line, a Continuity Reboot of the Spec Ops franchise, moved the series firmly into Grey-and-Gray Morality territory (or Evil Versus Evil, depending on your interpretation), as opposed to the comparatively idealistic earlier titles.
  • Touhou Project was never blatant good vs evil — the protagonists weren't especially pleasant and the antagonists never seriously intended to cause harm — but at least one side was clearly the good guys, with youkai causing trouble for selfish reasons and the humans going out to beat them up until they stop. Then Continuity Creep and Going Cosmic happen, delving deeply into the nature of the relationship between youkai and humans, and it becomes increasingly clear that morality isn't a particularly large factor in what's going on (or, rather, that what's moral depends on who you ask, and few people will give answers that seem normal to most of the audience).
  • It really depends on the ending route of Aviary Attorney how this goes; in 4B (Égalité) everything seems brighter and in 4C (Fraternité) circumstances make the heroic characters more heroic and the unheroic characters much worse. But in 4A (Liberté) Jayjay Falcon loses all his faith in justice and becomes a Vigilante Man. His assistant Sparrowson loses most of his comic relief characteristics, becomes more serious about justice, and can decide whether to let a known murderer go free or burn to death, as well as whether to turn in Falcon to be tried and executed.
  • Up until Dynasty Warriors 5, fans seems to be fine with how Koei set it up that 'Shu = Good guys, Wu = Inbetween, Wei = Card-Carrying Villain'. By 6, thanks to Warriors Orochi, the Wei forces instead started taking swings into anti-villainy, with Cao Cao wanting to reunite China and bring an end to the fighting as quickly as possible, even if doing so makes him look like a ruthless tyrant. And then in 7, Shu's darker side started to show: After Wuzhang plains, Jiang Wei turned into The Fundamentalist, a fanatic to Zhuge Liang's old idea of 'world of benevolence' and continuously and futilely drains his country's resources just to fulfill that dream even if the country would rather him to just keep quiet and be at peace. And in that series' Xtreme Legends, they introduced Wang Yi for Wei, a woman extremely consumed with vengeance against Shu's resident justice-bringer Ma Chao who slaughtered her clansmen in his campaign of vengeance against Cao Cao, and he wasn't even recognizing her for that, overall painting a dark side to the 'Justice' he preaches.
  • The enemies in the Metal Slug series have mostly been an array of faceless Mooks and Bosses to be shot at. However, Metal Slug Attack has been steadily adding actual characters to the various enemy factions, and even several stories from their point of view.
  • In the Knights of the Old Republic you are mostly either fighting unquestionably evil villains or being needlessly evil yourself and the Jedi are portrayed without much moral ambiguity to them. The Reveal blurs the line between good and evil a little bit, but aside from your character having done a lot of bad things in the past and the Jedi Council pulling out a Brainwashing for the Greater Good on them things are still pretty clear. Then the sequel comes and changes things completely.
  • Warcraft I—II: The Horde of Always Chaotic Evil orcs who naturally destroy everything in their path invades a world of noble humans and other "nice" races who form The Alliance to protect themselves. World of Warcraft ten years later: The orcs were actually corrupted by demonic influences and escaping a dying homeworld, and now the Warchief of the Horde is the biggest peacemaker around and both the Horde and the Alliance are a mixture of heroes, neutrals and warmongering jerks.
  • The first Ace Attorney game was somewhat black and white. While the victim may turn out to be an Asshole Victim and the killer may turn out to be somewhat sympathetic, there's never any doubt that your client is innocent. Then Justice For All drops a bombshell that Phoenix's final client of the game, Matt Engarde, is indirectly the culprit via hiring a hitman to kill the victim. Worse than that, he also got the hitman to kidnap Maya and hold her hostage to ensure that Phoenix continues to defend him, forcing Phoenix to frame an innocent person until he can figure out how to both save Maya and get Matt convicted.
  • Metroid:
    • Metroid: Other M and Metroid Fusion showcase a more hypocritical and dark side to the Federation, as both plots are ultimately driven by its desire to use Metroids as potential weapons and power sources, not unlike what the Space Pirates have been doing all this time.
    • Metroid Dread: The Chozo have always been Benevolent Precursors, having long ago abandoned their warlike ways in favour of sharing knowledge with the rest of the galaxy. The closest they come to violence these days is training Samus and giving her a custom Power Suit. Enter Raven Beak, the very much active leader of a tribe of Chozo Warriors with an eye towards reliving the bloodshed glory days and taking over the galaxy.
  • In the first and second Age of Wonders games, each race had an alignment of Good, Neutral, or Evil. In Age of Wonders 3, this was dispensed with; while goblins might be more prone to sneaky tactics, for instance, a faction's alignment is determined entirely by their actions in-game, and every race has good, neutral, and evil members.


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender starts out looking like a typical battle of good versus evil, with the Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom being good and the Fire Nation evil, and by extension, their respective elements as well. As the series goes on, this initial picture is peeled away as flaws of the Water Tribe, and especially the draconian Earth Kingdom are revealed and the series introduces normal and kind Fire Nation citizens, including children. Meanwhile darker aspects of Waterbending are revealed, while Firebending is shown to be far more than the destructive art that it was initially cast as. The heroes remain good and the Fire Lord and his daughter remain evil and the Fire Nation's war of conquest must be ended, but the latter half of the series paints a far more complex outlook of the conflict, and war in general, than the beginning.
  • Reboot began as an episodic good versus evil plot, but season 3 introduces a Contrasting Sequel Main Character in the form of Shell-Shocked Veteran Jerk with a Heart of Gold Matrix and while Megabyte goes from a suave Manipulative Bastard into a Complete Monster, his sister Hexadecimal is able to be redeemed and even cured of her viral nature. Season 4's Daemon Rising arc also brings up the difficult question of whether it's ethical to kill brainwashed soldiers not acting of their own free will for the sake of the good of the universe, with different characters having varying opinions on the issue.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil is introduced as a typical good against evil story but by season 3 establishes the good guys as flawed with some Fantastic Racism issues where the characters assumed to be antagonists are actually just like the protagonists.
  • While She-Ra and the Princesses of Power establishes important gray characters from the start, the more the story is developed, more characters are shown to be surprisingly ambiguous. Major villains thought to be one-note like Hordak and Shadow Weaver are revealed to be much more complex, and heroic characters like Glimmer make some morally questionable choices. Characters often switch sides or take extreme measures to win the war for the side they're on, and this is logically explained by the individual development they have.

Alternative Title(s): Greying Morality