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Heel–Face Turn

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The Grinch, before and after a wondrous change of heart.

"And what happened then?
Well, in Whoville, they say,
The Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day."

When a bad guy turns good. This usually makes for a good plot, for three reasons:

  1. It lets the writer reintroduce the villain as a "darker, edgier" hero.
  2. It reinforces a desired notion of the inherent goodness within people.
  3. It prevents the Worthy Opponent from falling victim to What a Senseless Waste of Human Life.

There are also various in-story motivations for the bad guy to make the turn:

  1. An encounter with an All-Loving Hero or gaining a Morality Pet.
  2. Discovering that Being Evil Sucks or possibly that Good Feels Good.
  3. An Enemy Mine situation leading to Fire Forged Friendship or The Power of Love in the form of Deliver Us from Evil or Love Redeems changing their priorities. Conversely Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal makes them rethink their loyalties.
  4. Realizing that they are a Noble Demon.
  5. A Heel Realization, if they had never considered their actions evil or wrong in the first place.
  6. They become friends with a hero after fighting them.

Sadly, it sometimes leads to Redemption Equals Death, and when it doesn't, someone still needs to draw their "Get out of Jail Free" Card. Otherwise they may find the good guys unwilling to believe them; their conversion met with a Heel–Face Door-Slam (or they may "merely" find themselves Reformed, but Rejected). On the other hand, the bad guy may reject their chance at turning over a new leaf altogether, in which case it's Redemption Rejection.

The many reasons and the probability for a turn are listed in the Sorting Algorithm of Face-Heel Turning; probability is directly proportional to popularity. A very common act for the lone female character in any evil group, sometimes by a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal. Beware, some authors know the stereotypes of Heel Face Turning and will play with it accordingly.


The term "Heel Face Turn" comes from Professional Wrestling, in which an evil wrestler (a "heel") sometimes has a change of heart and becomes good, thereby becoming a "babyface". Magazines and other promotional material from the various wrestling leagues comment on various wrestlers' changes in alignment nearly as frequently as they cover events in the ring themselves.

Compare the Reverse Mole, who is secretly working for the good guys all along. May be the result of a person that was Good All Along. When someone who doesn't care one way or the other is forced to fight they become Neutral No Longer.

This is the opposite of a Face–Heel Turn and is generally found in stories with Black and White Morality. It has two subtropes: Heel–Face Brainwashing, more or less the opposite of Brainwashed and Crazy, and High-Heel–Face Turn (usually the redefining moment for a Dark Chick). See also Mook–Face Turn when the bad guy doing it is a Mook, and Heel–Race Turn when an entire faction does it. If a character keeps switching from one side to the other and back, they're in a Heel–Face Revolving Door. If they turns face, but still acts like a heel, they're Reformed, but Not Tamed. If a character pretends to reform, only to be revealed as Evil All Along, they're a Heel–Face Mole. If someone reforms because of faith, they're in a Heel–Faith Turn. Compare and contrast, also, with Hazy Feel Turn, when is unclear and/or ambiguous the sincerity and/or the extention of the Heel-Face Turn of the character.

In real-life the nature of Heel-Face Turn and Face–Heel Turn is subjective (one person's "seeing the light" is another person's "heartless betrayal or fall" depending on what group the individual is going to or leaving). No Real Life Examples, Please!

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  • A meta example: the apple mascot from Apple Jacks commercials, once the "Bad Apple" who tried to prevent Cinna-Mon from reaching the bowl, now merely racing him there in a Friendly Rivalry. This was apparently caused by Executive Meddling from the self-regulating arm of the advertising industry, who objected to the negative portrayal of a "healthy" food.
  • Cookie Crisp mascot Chip the dog started off as a sidekick to the Cookie Crook, helping him try to steal Cookie Crisp. He later gave up his criminal ways and began giving Cookie Crisp to others and is now Chip the Wolf. However, he did go back to his original ways without the Crook at some point.

    Card Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: In the artwork of "Advance Zone", it's suggested that "Steelswarm Roach" was purified by the Vylons. This can be further proven by his idle and laid-back appearance in "Breath of the Valient"'s artwork as the "Divine Serpent" passes by. Later on, "Steelswarm Roach" becomes "Evilswarm Exciton Knight"

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy's allies B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie used to be crooks. (Who later married and had a gorgeous daughter named Sparkle.)
  • Flash Gordon: It would almost be easier to list how many of Flash Gordon's friends didn't start out as his enemies. Even Zarkov was pretty scary in the very beginning. To his considerable credit, Thun is one of the few people on Mongo who treated Flash decently from the word go. Thun's a cool dude.

  • Rhapsody of Fire:
    • In the Emerald Sword Saga, Dargor turns against evil, striking down The Queen of the Dark Horizons and summoning an army of gargoyles to stop The Dark Lord in their moment of triumph.
    • Played with later in the Dark Secret Saga when betrayed in turn by Tarish.
  • After spreading terror, the eponymous Ringo by Lorne Green shows the narrator mercy for a past kindness. He's paid back moments later by being shot to death in the street.
  • The Megas' take on Proto Man starts out driven by bitterness, resentment, fatalism and an all-consuming rage, fighting Mega Man and planning to kill Dr Light. By the end of the History Repeating double album, after receiving a Kirk Summation from Mega Man, he acknowledges that Mega Man is the real deal, accepts that neither of them Just a Machine, and leaves to "make [his] own history".

  • In Interstitial Actual Play, Larxene decides to help the party out after DiZ has her assassinated and Edith subsequently keeps her from fading away.

  • Christianity features a few canonical examples, possibly the most significant being Matthew the Apostle who used to be a tax collector before his conversion. Also, Saul, before he was renamed Paul the Apostle, was a Pharisee, a member of a very zealous Jewish sect, and he was on his way to Damascus to murder members of the early church when the Lord Jesus Christ came to him in a vision. (Acts ch. 9)
    • The German version of This Very Wiki has Saul as the Trope Namer: Vom Saulus Zum Paulus, or "From Saul to Paul".
    • Orthodox Christianity states before we die, we are not Face, as we sin for our entire life, either by thought, word, or deed. Everything can change, and only death solidifies Heel-Face Turn or damnation... and in the latter case, not completely until the Last Judgement.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pathfinder:
    • The concept of redemption plays a significant role in the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path. One of the primary NPC characters, Aureshalae, is a succubus seeking to leave evil and the Abyss behind — she's managed to shift her alignment from Chaotic Evil to Chaotic Neutral by the time the adventure starts, and over the course of the story attempts to cement her Turn and become Chaotic Good. The players are also given the option of turning a traitor and a fallen crusader back to the light, and once they delve into the Abyss itself they can attempt to redeem Alderpash, one of the former Runelords of Thassilon and a very, very evil man. By the time the players get to him he's been trapped in Baphomet's Inelecutable Prison for millennia, and will do anything to get out — and if this entails him sticking to the straight and narrow in return for the players breaking him out of planar jail, he will give this an honest try.
    • Nocticula, the demon lord of seduction and assassins, is rumored by some of her more heretical followers to be seeking to cleanse herself of the Abyss' taint as part of her more widely recognized ploy for full divinity. As it turns out, this is entirely correct. If Nocticula ascends in Wrath of the Righteous she explicitly does so as a Chaotic Neutral goddess of outcasts and artists, something that Planar Adventures and later 2nd Edition establish as canon.
    • Balisse angels are formed from the souls of evildoers who forsook their former ways and embraced benevolence, and seek to help others undergo the same change of heart that they did.

  • Anastasia: In the stage version, Gleb, knowing now that this is truly the Grand Duchess Anastasia, chooses to not kill her and instead makes a deal to return to Russia and say she was nothing more than a rumor.
  • King Lear: Edmund goes from helping to plot the death of the play's most sympathetic characters to (ineffectually) attempting to save them: "I pant for life; some good I mean to do/Despite of mine own nature."
  • In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, partly because he wants to get out of his predicament alive and partly because Antonio suggested the order to convert to Christianity out of a desire to redeem his soul, agrees to become a Christian, departs from the court in poor physical health from what he had just gone through in his unsuccessful attempt to get the pound of flesh from Antonio, and signs the deed offscreen when the court delivers it to him.
  • Heathers: While their movie couterpart didn't, Heathers Mcnamara and Duke both reform in the finale Seventeen, Mcnamara after Veronica offered her to and Duke after seeing how happy everybody else as they stop being mean to each other.
  • inLes Misérables: Javert has a brief one after his Heel Realization upon being freed by Valjean when the latter could have easily taken revenge. Conflicted, he makes to arrest Valjean when he emerges from the sewers, but when he sees Marius's body on his back, he lets him go instead. He's so shaken by his own Turn that he kills himself shortly thereafter.
  • Oliver!: Fagin gives serious consideration to this in a song called "Reviewing the Situation".

    • Krika would have had one, if Gorast hadn't killed him.
    • Vezon, after he lost the Mask of Life.

    Visual Novels 
  • Bionic Heart: The Corrupt Corporate Executive's brand new android henchwoman turns on him when the psychic human brain he placed in her head allows her to have visions showing the destruction that will result from his future plans.
  • In Fate/stay night, Ilya is the main threat for the first half of the series, but she becomes an ally when her monstrous Servant Berserker is killed in Fate scenario (she couldn't keep fighting at that point, but that didn't mean she had to join the True Companions). In the Heaven's Feel scenario, she goes so far as to sacrifice herself for Shirou in the Good End.
  • Umineko: When They Cry: In Episode 8, Lambdadelta manages to do one, going up against Bernkastel .


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Face Turn, Turn To The Light Side, Evil Turns Good, Bad Guy Turns Good


Varian's Redemption

After confessing over his past deeds and Rapunzel apologizing for turning her back on him, Varian ultimately turns back to the side of good.

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Main / HeelFaceTurn