The world is filled with idealists who believe in truth and justice and devote their lives to fighting for it. And then the world keeps letting them down. For them, Being Good Sucks. But rather than giving up on their goals, they replace their shiny armor with a full plate of pure cynicism. These characters realize they live in a dark, cruel and brutal world and choose to fight not because they believe they will truly make a difference, but because it's the right thing to do.
More often than not these characters are in settings that feature Black and Gray Morality. They're usually survivors who have largely given up on believing in Honor Before Reason, but still strive to be Lawful Good or as close to it as reality allows them to be. They are willing to bend the rules to save them. In Lighter and Softer settings, these characters are Grumpy Bears and are often mocked by the other characters for being so sour all the time.
The presence of cynicism usually makes the idealistic behavior even more noteworthy: it's easy to love everyone when Rousseau Was Right, but you really have to be a good guy to believe that Humans Are Bastards and care about them anyway. Such characters can also be The Fettered; their cynical outlook tells them they could probably get away with all kinds of things that they don't do because that would be wrong, and just because the world sucks doesn't mean you need to make it worse. Then again, this kind of character goes great with a world where you Earn Your Happy Ending after much strife.
This is the inverse of the worldview of most Well Intentioned Extremists, especially those who believe that Utopia Justifies the Means. Extremists or Knights Templar may believe themselves to be this, but their actions are far too extreme. A Knight In Sour Armor believes in the rules and breaks them only when absolutely necessary, which is very rarely; not surprisingly, many have taken a Heroic Vow related to this behavior. Often has a personal set of rules, trimmed down to those that really matter in order to minimize conflicts and distractions. Contributes to the Knight's gruff tendencies, since politeness tends to appear a lot further down the priority list than feeding orphans and so on.
Generally, these characters fit one of two personality types. Members of the first type are former Wide Eyed Idealists who have come to accept that their world is on the low end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, but who still find something beautiful in their former ideals that they want to hold on to. Those of the second type are born cynics, who would make natural Jerkass antiheroes, but who nevertheless have devoted themselves to a code of honor or fair play. In either case, these people tend to have gone through (often painful) Character Development in their past, meaning that they are normally older than the average hero.
These characters show up often in Film Noir, Dark Fantasy, and Low Fantasy. Law enforcement is a particularly attractive career, but the Knight in Sour Armor will usually hold back from becoming a Cowboy Cop. Very frequently, they end up as The Mentor, a Grumpy Bear with Jade-Colored Glasses, The Last DJ, or a Cool Old Guy if they last long enough. As teammates, they are often the Sour Supporter. They also frequently end up as Hero Antagonists and extreme Woobies. This is often the final state of The Atoner post-Heel–Face Turn. Despite their cynicism, they behave like The Anti-Nihilist.
Will often overlap with The Snark Knight. Compare Angst? What Angst?, for characters who take the troubles of a good alignment with far less complaint; Noble Demon, who will proudly declare himself evil, but still finds himself doing good once in awhile; and Jerkass Woobie, who spits in the face of the alignment chart. Converted Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids! or Good Is Old-Fashioned believers may well find themselves becoming this trope if the heroes can bring them around. If they don't like idealism, but don't like cynicism, either, then you also have a touch of Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!
- Edward Elric of Fullmetal Alchemist is smug, rude, and claims to be motivated only by a desire to regain his and his brother's bodies, and yet he suffers from a really bad case of Chronic Hero Syndrome.
- Roy Mustang from the same series considers himself to be an irredeemable monster for his actions during the Ishvalan War of Extermination and believes that his country is headed down a monstrous path. He knows he faces forces of unbelievable power and that his chances for success are nearly nil. And yet he works within the system to take it down, willingly suffering injuries to both his body and reputation, in order to make things right.
- Fakir in Princess Tutu, fitting the jerk type, but only after he gets a grip on his - perfectly understandable - fear.
- Being a former assassin, the titular character from Rurouni Kenshin has a very cynical view of the world. However, he'll seize any opportunity to fool around and will help Wide Eyed Idealists whenever he can.
- After being defeated by Kenshin, Sanosuke adopts this view as well. After his group the Sekihoutai were persecuted by the government, he's become a bit more cynical noting the arbitrary labels of good and evil, yet still resolves to protect the weak from oppression.
- Hiko, Kenshin's mentor, is just as cynical as Saitou. He berates Kenshin that yes, the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu successor is meant to protect the innocent and uphold justice, but as a warrior unbound by political prejudices, not a political tool. He knows the age of the swordsmen is over, and is quite bitter about it.
- In the Tsukioku-hen OVA's we meet Kenshin's other two mentors, Kogoro Katsura and Shinsaku Takasugi. They were not exactly happy with how the soon-to-be Imperial Japan was developing, and they weren't shy about letting their unhappiness show either.
- Kazuma Kuwabara of YuYu Hakusho seems like the only character in the series who both recognizes how truly nasty people can be, and still fights to do right by them.
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Duo Maxwell is outwardly a cheerful goof, but inside he's experienced the horrors of war first-hand when his adoptive home was destroyed pointlessly by the military (and before that when he was a street urchin). In spite of all this, his ultimate goal is to bring peace to the world, and he's glad to be The Grim Reaper—"It’s a lot better than being the hero of a massacre!"
- Near the end of the 1st season of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Neil Dylandy expresses his attitude that he has hidden deep inside with these words: "You people, are you satisfied with this world...? I'm not, and I hate it...!" And right then, he dies.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
- Homura Akemi. For someone who knows how the world works and that with kindness comes naïveté, courage becomes foolhardiness, and dedication has no reward, she has a particularly strong ideal and hope in protecting Madoka, even if it means suffering an endless recursion of time for it.
- In the finale, Madoka. She sacrifices all semblance of her own identity to change the Magical Girl system. She creates a new world where suffering runs just as rampant as ever, acknowledging good cannot exist without evil. And why? Because, by God, Magical Girls deserve to die happily anyway, and she's willing to become the embodiment of hope itself in such a despair-filled world.
- Sayaka Miki. After learning the first Awful Truth of becoming a Magical Girl and having a heart-to-heart with Kyouko who tells her that she is better off battling witches for her own rewards than to protect others, she still chooses to continue to stay a hero. However, when her Locked Out of the Loop friend Hitomi admits to having also been in love with Kyosuke and gives her a day to admit her feelings, which she can't due to the nature of the truth, her ideals begin to gradually shift more and more until she becomes a witch herself.
- Smoker from One Piece is a Lawful Good one: He seems to realize how many marines, especially the higher ups, are corrupt and follows his own idea of justice instead of the absolute justice that is proposed by the most higher ups. Yet, despite being constantly screwed over by his own bosses and his allies, he keeps being a marine and hunts pirates. He's a example of the second type.
- In Hayate the Combat Butler, Hayate and Hinagiku both qualify. Hayate is seen to be extremely cynical due to his horrid childhood, especially in the manga, but simply can't help but help people he sees in need. Mostly. If he's particularly annoyed with someone (ex: The SC Rangers, Fumi) he will try to avoid getting involved with them but after getting roped into it anyway he always does his best to actually help out. Hinagiku is in a similar position, as past experience has also left her quite cynical to the point where she's more likely to snark at a villain's motives than actually be surprised. Nevertheless, she is a steadfast Ally of Justice (with a legendary sword or two to prove it) who will leap into action to protect others. Both also have a shared trait of helping others even when it would be a detriment to themselves.
- Robotech: Rick Hunter goes from being a pacifist to an ace pilot and The Captain everyone revolved around in The Sentinels. By the time of the New Generation segment, it is said that the order to use Neutron-S missiles on Earth came directly from Admiral Hunter (yes, confirmed to be the same Rick Hunter from the Macross Saga). Albeit a Salt the Earth tactic was practical but it would have killed millions of humans along with hopefully destroying Reflex Point (Invid headquarters). The comic book Prelude To Shadow Chronicles attempts to lampshade this not only by making it appear to be a committee decision he acquiesced to but he also states "I was an idealist in my youth, but...". Rick did have to deal with the betrayal of General Edwards (in this Sentinels Retcon, Rick is noticeably hurt by Edwards' betrayal indicating that he was at one time a trusted friend), the near death of Lisa Hayes Hunter and the miscarriage of their baby. And there might be the difficulties associated with Minmei who just can't keep herself out of trouble.
- Ghost Talkers Daydream: It isn't that Misaki doesn't care about helping the deceased move on, she's just tired of being bothered with it. But also realizes that they won't leave her alone, because she's got the gift, which is why they're naturally drawn to her. So the only way she can find a moment's peace, is by helping them find theirs.
- Many depictions of Batman fall into this as seen below. As does Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight Saga. Batman Begins' depiction of Gordon borrows a lot, including his fitting this trope, from Batman: Year One.
- Sin City: John Hartigan is probably the last good cop in Basin City, up until his forced retirement. He doesn't have much to show for it. Except the knowledge that he did the right thing, and a friend who stays by his side no matter what.
- Gemini Storm: Elizabeth Rose is a possible saviour of Junessa, yet tends to think of the world around her in a negative light.
- The universe (particularly the Ultimate universe) loves to kick Spider-Man in the nuts when he's down, and he's quick to point out that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, but Lord bless him, he keeps on keeping on. This End Credit song of Spider-Man 2 gives out such a point well.
- DC Comics' Hans von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, retains his "Knights of the Sky" view of air combat (refusing to, for example, shoot down an opponent who is out of ammunition) despite how much the realities of war challenge his ideals.
- Matt Murdock in Daredevil may be one of the best examples in comics. He's put through the emotional ringer a dozen times over and his life always seems to get worse when you think it can't possibly decline further. Its so bad the poor guy can barely muster the energy to brood. Despite this, he struggles on and refuses to ever give up on saving people.
- Grimjack is this on a good day (on the bad ones, he's Ax-Crazy.) This is actually discussed at one point.
Lillian Seffington Perhaps in the shadows, the dividing line has between Good and Evil has become difficult to see.Grimjack Balls. There are standards. If you can't see one, you make one and stick to it come hell or high water — until you see a better one.
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Peter Quill, who looks back on his original time as the Star-Lord with distaste, isn't exactly thrilled about heroics or self-sacrifice, but will still risk violent and painful death to save the universe, time and time again. Because the universe needs protecting, and there's no-one else around.
- In Drowntown, Leo Noiret used to be an investigator for the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but got disillusioned when he realised he wasn't really changing anything. He ended up with something like a dishonourable discharge, and is now something like a bodyguard and private detective, but he still has a moral compass.
- A Brother's Price fanfic The mysterious Trini has Jerin describe Princess Trini as this. While he does it in an answer to her being upset about someone else looking down on her, his justification is sound; she IS disillusioned and didn't want to marry anyone in the first place, but did it to help Jerin, even though she was wary of him and suspected he might be evil.
- Doing It Right This Time: Shinji, Asuka and Rei are more determined than ever to save the world after having gone through the canon's events and returned the past. They are also more sarcastic than ever due to be fully aware of having been puppets used to fight massive alien monsters and cause the end of the world.
- Caphriel, angel and Love Martyr, from the Good Omens Dark Fic The Sacred And The Profane: it's his job to love and protect the world and the people in it. It all keeps letting him down over and over again (across millennia), but he can't afford to give up.
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fanfic The Long Walk, the Original Character, jaded Grumpy Bear cynic Breech Loader is portrayed this way - she's fighting on the side of good, for good reasons, but despite a devotion to learning the ways of honour, she still fights horribly dirty.
Leonardo: "You're one of us now, Breech, and we're a family full of good people."Breech: "You don't pay much attention when I fight, do you?"
- The only thing the protagonist of Dragon Age: The Crown of Thorns lacks is the attitude, but everything else fits in with the trope. He knows full well, and always did, that the world is full of liars and backstabbers, but he is determined to keep trying to make it a better place as long as worthwhile things (like the potential of the younger generation) continue to exist. Of course, he's trying to make sure the world itself keep existing at the moment.
- In every Fanfiction Mr. Evil has used his Original Character Fredi Heat. He shows absolutely no care for people in general, and many of his own teammates appear to even be scared of him. But he always does what's right, despite his dislike for doing so.
- From the Negima/Naruto crossover fanfic Broken Faith by Kur 0 Kishi, Naruto Uzumaki becomes jaded due to certain extenuating circumstances before the story begins. The end result, is a bitter idealist who at times tells the other characters as he trains them to not follow his path, as well as becoming an enforcer of sorts known and feared by most mages worldwide as The Black Paladin
Gandolfini: "Naruto-sama doesn't know it, not many dare to call him that to his face but his actions on missions has earned him the moniker Black Paladin among the wider mage population because of his actions. He always fights what for what is right regardless of the rules and protocol, hence the Paladin, but his methods and results are rather... disturbing and he usually dresses completely in dark colours, hence the Black."
Amethyst Love is about a Naruto who has found something more important than those ideals.Broken Faith was about a Naruto who has abandoned those ideals as childish but slowly learns to see that maybe, just maybe, being idealistic isn't all that bad after all.Caliburn Initiative is about Naruto that held onto his ideals. The problem was that the environment he is in has changed. His ideals are NO LONGER RELEVANT.End Game is about one who has forgotten those ideals.Unwavering Sky is about one whose ideals have changed along with the environment but the core principles never changed.
- A number of Kur0kishi's fanfic have Naruto as a mix of this and Jerk with a Heart of Gold. As taken from their profile directly:
- Mass Effect Human Revolution:
- Adam Jensen knows as a repeatedly demonstrated fact that he lives in a Crapsack Galaxy. But he gets up and kicks the crap out of pimps, serial killers and assassins because he's not going to just accept it.
- David Anderson is determined, almost desperately so, to continue fighting the good fight in a galaxy whose systems seem constantly out to test and betray his faith in them.
- Edward Grey was broken by his experience in Akuze, and while he came back still heroic, he's quick to opt for the Kill 'em All option against slavers, xenophobic lynch mobs and other criminal scum.
- Detective Hard Boiled of Starlight Over Detrot. His city is a veritable hive of crime and he knows it - but that doesn't stop him from fighting tooth and nail for it.
- Tech from Tech 10 Rebooted has basically given up on people and the law, but fights as hard as he can for what he sees as justice.
- In Yu Gi Oh: The Thousand Year Door Redux, Francesca almost crosses the line into this in the Final Battle. When Sophia's attack leaves the Queen mortally wounded, Fran briefly considers simply stalling during her turn to let her bleed to death, but she refuses to do something so underhanded, offering her foe a chance to surrender (which the Queen refuses, Defiant to the End). When the Queen is able to assume her true form and recover, Fran briefly curses herself for changing her mind. ("I could have just took my time and stalled a minute ago…" she laments. "A few minutes and she would have bled to death, but NO! I had to be some goodie-goodie hero who believed all that stuff about “don’t sink to her level” and “you’re a better person than she is!" Fortunately, Andy appears in spiritual form and tells her to Get Ahold Of Yourself Man (complete with a Dope Slap) and she comes to her senses.
- In Sleepless, Minuette is getting increasingly cynical as the story progresses. The same thing happens to Dr. Stable in the first sequel, Thirsty.
- Sonic and his friends become this in Sonic X: Dark Chaos. The Milky Way Galaxy is an utter shithole and the rest of the universe is somehow even worse, but it doesn't stop them from trying to make things better.
- Guardian explores why Lulu is like this in Final Fantasy X. Although she's somewhat cynical about pilgrimages and the Church of Yevon, she never wholly abandons her faith—she transfers the greater part of her belief in Yuna, who she knows to be good and trustworthy.
- Asuka from The Second Try is sick of fighting to save a world that keeps taking everything from her over and over again and resetting itself. She's determined to save it anyway.
- In Once More with Feeling, Shinji doesn't want to be a Humongous Mecha pilot... but in the original timeline everything went to Hell, everyone died and he lost his loved ones because he ran away from his duty. So he's determined to pilot Eva -even though he hates it- and save the world.
- Ume from Sugar Plums is rightly incredibly mistrustful and cynical about the shinobi system, the people who run it and the entire bullshit power scaling of the world. This doesn't stop her from spending a LOT of time and effort accruing resources, allies and making very detailed plans to make things better.
- Ezylryb (Lyze of Kiel) of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole may be a legendary warrior, but he takes no pleasure in it whatsoever, as he demonstrates by displaying his slashed face and blind eye.
Ezylryb: This is what it actually looks like when you've fought in battle. It's not glorious, it's not beautiful, it's not even heroic. It's merely doing what's right and doing it again and again, even if someday you look like this.
- Shrek is crude, hot-tempered and cynical, but nearly always manages to do the right thing, especially for people (and donkeys) that have proven they're able to see past the idea of "big, stupid, ugly ogres."
- Toy Story 3:
- Woody becomes this, in that he knows full well that going back to the daycare is suicide, not to mention the difficulty in helping his friends escape and making it back home before Andy leaves for college. The logical thing to do would be to try and go home alone. No points for guessing what he decides to do.
- Chatter Telephone and Chuckles the Clown; the former had been stuck at Sunnyside for years but used his knowledge of the place to (try to) help the other toys escape, and the latter saw some of Lotso's rather despicable actions firsthand, and told Woody about this to warn him of Lotso's true nature.
- In Zootopia, law enforcement is principally in the hands of Chief Bogo, a strict and blunt-spoken example of Da Chief. When Judy Hopps, the newest rookie on the force, feels responsible for a sudden sharp rise in racial tension, he reassures her in a very Knight-in-Sour-Armor way.
Bogo: Don't give yourself so much credit, Hopps. The world's always been broken. That's why we need good cops... like you.
- Alternative Universe Superman in Justice League: Gods And Monsters; Hernan has seen injustice,he knows about prejudice, rasism, xenophobia and poverty. He knows that most of the world doesn't hold a favorable view on him, he knows that he often gets blamed of things he doesn't do, he knows that America has an ugly side, and yet he fights monster and villains in order to protect the people who despise him so much.
- Jöns from The Seventh Seal. You won't find anyone fitting to the trope more closely than him. His being a squire, not a knight is pretty much the only difference.
- Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, as archetypal Film Noir Private Detective Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, and as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Those three movies, plus High Sierra, led to Bogie being typecast in this role. Additional examples include Tokyo Joe, The Enforcer, The Harder They Fall, To Have and Have Not, Dead Reckoning, Dark Passage, and The Barefoot Contessa, month others.
- When you think about it, isn't this the sort of role John Wayne often plays? He is usually a Boisterous Bruiser as well, but combined with a tired yet resolved demeanor. The "Knight" side of his persona's codified with that classic catchphrase (often attributed to him), "Well, a...man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."
- In High Noon, Marshall Will Kane tries to raise a posse to fight off four gunmen led by an ex-con who had previously made all their lives miserable before Kane threw him in prison. You'd think the population of an entire town would be able to take on four men. Only an old, one-eyed drunk and fourteen year old kid would help Kane (and he refuses them, since they wouldn't have much use in a gunfight). Everyone, who would rather live in fear than risk their lives to protect their own freedom, money, and dignity, tells Kane to leave town. He ends up taking on the gunmen by himself, then abandons the town in disgust.
- Kaji from The Human Condition, who becomes hardened and cynical as the result of WWII Japan.
- Han Solo definitely becomes one of these by the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, and fills a Sour Supporter role for the rest of the Original Trilogy. In stories of the Expanded Universe, it's seen that before the original trilogy was once fairly idealistic, though never to the point of being wide-eyed.
- Although MacGregor is fairly consistent throughout the film Rob Roy in standing by his own code of honor, he does have a moment of doubt after his money is stolen, his property ransacked, his wife raped, his brother killed, one of his clansmen shot and he himself has narrowly escaped being lynched. He starts believing that he should have gone against his principles by lying and saying that the Duke of Argyll was a Jacobite to avoid all the hardships he and others went through. His wife makes him see sense.
- In Dragonheart, Bowen (who is a knight in a real sense) goes through this twice. He has to go against (and ultimately abandon) his quest to kill all dragons when he has finally killed all but one of them and is forced to strike up an alliance with said sole survivor and become a con artist. He then goes on to questions his own codes of honour when he discovers that his pupil, the young King Einon did not have his nature poisoned by Draco's tampering with his heart but merely exploited Bowen for his skills in swordsmanship and became evil of his own volition.
- William Somerset in Se7en keeps trying to retire because he finds the world horrible and his work demoralizing. He frequently sermonizes bitterly about how horrible the world is. Yet he can't find it in himself to quit.
- Sheriff Bell in No Country for Old Men is this at the beginning of the movie. The events of the movie are too much for him and he bitterly retires.
Agent Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.
- Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Sheriff Bell, actually plays a fair few of these, including Kay from Men in Black:
- Pamela Landy in The Bourne Series is the only CIA operations chief who actually seems to be in it to do the right thing.
- Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Since his brother's death he's loathed Toons but ends up helping one anyway.
- Die Hard: John McClane gives a speech in Live Free or Die Hard where he pretty much describes himself as this.
- Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a textbook example... Especially when it comes to the part about hating himself for it.
- An Alternative Character Interpretation of Arthur Bishop in The Mechanic (1972) says he is this, and that's why he lets his student McKenna kill him.
- Sheriff 'Monk' McGinn in Gangs of New York. He starts out as an Irish Ronin muscle for hire with dozens of notches on his shillelagh, and is viewed with contempt until we find out he's really this. Then he goes out with a rousing speech and puts the villain in his place, which unfortunately, Bill the Butcher does not respond well to.
Monk: Citizens of the Five Points! Mr. Bill Cutting is attempting to draw me into an argument that would no doubt end in bloodshed and the compromising of my office! What do ya think? Should I engage and silence this relic of the ancient law? Or shall I be your chosen voice, in a new testament, in the New World! (silence) There you are, Bill. The people have spoken. The very notion of violent reprisal be-numbs them.
- Several characters in Sin City, an otherwise Black and Gray Crapsack World.
- The title character in RoboCop has nothing to live for, and as the film series progresses, seems more aware that his creation was only a publicity stunt, but his sense of duty and spirit for justice keeps him going. (Well, that and his ineluctable programming.)
- The Wild Geese: Rafer Janders, one of the mercenary lieutenants, tried to be a freedom fighter but became disaffected when the liberators he fought for turned out to be dictators just as repressive as the ones they deposed - a new mission rekindles a little of his doused idealism.
- Olive Penderghast in Easy A is an extremely Deadpan Snarker, but she is willing to let her reputation be ruined to rescue a friend from bullying, preserve her favorite teacher's marriage, and otherwise help people.
- Jim Gordon from The Dark Knight Saga.
Gordon: In a town this bent, who is there to rat to anyway?
- Batman himself counts as this. He watches his parents gunned down in front of him, the woman he loves is killed (and then he finds out that she loved someone else more than him), the Knight in Shining Armor he hoped would let him retire had turned insane, the city he had fought so hard to protect has vilified him, he has seen the worst humanity has to offer, he spent eight years in seclusion, three separate psychopaths have tried to destroy the city he swore to protect, he gets the shit beaten out of him and is tossed into a prison described as "hell on Earth" and is forced to watch his city turned into an anarchic prison... and yet he is still a staunch idealist who believes that Rousseau Was Right, that people are worth saving, and refuses to kill anyone.
- Fire Chief O'Halloran from The Towering Inferno is clearly sick and tired of saving stupid people from the consequences of their own idiotic mistakes, but he still keeps charging into burning buildings to rescue them.
- Several incarnations of James Bond, especially Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig's versions. The latter is a self-described "half monk half hitman" who describes murder as his "employment," but still holds onto his ideals of patriotism to his country and loyalty to allies, especially to his boss, M.
- Dirty Harry from the eponymous films.
- Cyclops from the X-Men Film Series. No matter how much of a boy scout Wolverine thinks he is.
- Wolverine himself, being a long-lived mutant who has been the subject of inhumane science experiments, amnesia, and scorn from a hateful society (plus the blood he has put on his own hands through his various escapades through history) but still helps Professor Xavier's cause because he recognizes the good it can bring to the world.
- Günther Bachmann from A Most Wanted Man. An adaptation of a John Le Carre book (of which the character is known for utilizing this trope in his realist spy novels), Bachmann is the typical Le Carre protagonist where he is jaded and cynical about his world and the corruption around him but seeks to do the best job he can anyway because of some personal morality. It is Philip Seymour Hoffman's last movie
- John Rambo, especially in Rambo IV. Traumatic experience from wars and the ugliest side of humanity has left the Vietnam War veteran a bitter, misanthropic man, but he will still go out all his ways to do the right things to save the people worth protecting.
- Wonder Woman: Where Diana is the Wide-Eyed Idealist, Steve Trevor is this trope in spades, describing himself as a thief, a liar, and a killer, all traits which Diana has expressed distaste in despite her decision to help him on his mission. He does what he does, sacrificing his own ideals, because he saw the madness the world was going through and just felt he had to do something to try and stop it.
- Older Than Feudalism: Confucius in Analects 18.7 "A superior man takes office, and performs the righteous duties belonging to it. As to the failure of right principles to make progress, he is aware of that."
- Princess Trini in A Brother's Price is just a minor character, but what we see of her fits this. She is very pessimistic about Jerin's character, pointing out that her sisters were deceived before. Eventually, though, when she is told that he might be in danger, she quickly forgets about her former suspicions and decides to marry him so that the family of her ex-husband doesn't get him. It could be partly revenge, but she is also shown to be quite aware of the issue of poverty in her realm, so it is reasonable to believe that it was mostly selfless.
Trini: I wouldn't give a dog to the Porters.
- Most of the main characters are this to some extent in Animorphs:
- Jake started off wanting to fight to free Tom and save the world. As the series progressed, he became more hardened and cynical, realizing that there was no help coming, and it was just as likely that he end up killing Tom as saving him. Despite that, he continued the fight and made the hard decisions, because he had to do something, and fighting the Yeerks was the right thing to do.
- Despite all the battles he won, and all the blows he struck against the Yeerk Empire, Elfangor wasn't even sure he was making a difference.
- A few in A Song of Ice and Fire
- Though Jon Snow starts off the series as a Wide-Eyed Idealist with dreams of being a gallant defender for the Night's Watch, his idealism is slowly chipped away by this series' Crapsack World over the course of the books. Still, he believes wholeheartedly in his father's beliefs about goodness and decency, is honorable and heroic, and strives to do the right thing but — though he doesn't feel good about going against rules — will compromise them when necessary, in order to do what's right and protect innocent lives.
- Daenerys Targaryen as well.
- Ned Stark is very honorable, believes in duty, but thinks the world sucks and most people don't care for anything. However, he keeps trying, holds onto his goodness, largely adheres to a strict code of honour and does what's right, which gets him killed, but these latter two things aren't always the same thing. As a result, though he is uncomfortable doing so, he is willing to sacrifice his honor in some instances for the sake of doing the right thing.
- Adding the Hound to this page would involve unwisely calling him a knight. However, his armour is made of the purest citric acid. Even he would cop to that.
- There's also Tyrion Lannister, who's snarktastic and has contempt or hatred for most of those around him (because they either assume he's a Lannister and think he's untrustworthy, or see that he's dwarf and dislike him based on that), but he truly tried to do what was best for the kingdom. He also showed his concern by designing a special saddle for Bran after his fall and went back to Winterfell to give them his design, although he knew he would not be much welcome there.
- Jaime Lannister surprises himself by gradually regaining principles to (sarcastically) defend and genuinely believe in after years of resigning himself to Then Let Me Be Evil when believing in inheritance goodness failed him the first time. The process is spotty, but, dammit, he's going to give it a shot and sod the consequences!
- Sturm Brightblade of Dragonlance has watched the Knights of Solamnia he grew up idolizing turn into earnest failures at best and corrupt monsters at worst. He has the darkest sense of humor of any of the main cast outside of Raistlin, and yet he is truer to the knights' code than most of the knights who were actually given full status.
- Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's main character, is explicitly described by the author as a 'knight in shining armor' despite being a Deadpan Snarker First-Person Smartass.
"I looked down at the chessboard. The move with the knight was wrong. I put it back where I had moved it from. Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights." — The Big Sleep
- Mina Davis of Hungover and Handcuffed and Asshole Yakuza Boyfriend follows proudly in Marlowe's snarky footsteps.
- Terry Pratchett often writes like this, especially in Discworld.
- Sam Vimes may well be the ultimate example. He's even described as possibly being slightly knurd in his natural state — anti-drunk, which means seeing things horribly clearly without all the normal fuzzy self-deception that makes life bearable — and yet, he's one of the most incorruptible, moral, and downright decent characters on the Disc, hands down. (Vimes is also literally a sour knight, having been elevated into the ranks of nobility against his wishes — he feels it makes him a class traitor.)
- Granny Weatherwax is a fairly good example as well; Witches Abroad alludes the idea Granny was a good candidate for a "bad witch," until her sister took up the role and she had to balance it out. Granny's adamant belief in Right and Wrong over anything else is predicated on the fact that neither of those necessarily involve what someone (including herself) would like to do.
- Lord Vetinari also counts, as seen from his speech in Unseen Academicals. ("Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.")
- Death gives a metaphysical version of the idea in Hogfather: Notions like justice or mercy are not found in the universe — not one atom — but humans need to believe in them in order to make it so that they are.
- Karrin Murphy of The Dresden Files is one of these. Her lawfulness causes her to threaten to throw the book at Harry more often than she'd like. She also gets angry when an archangel uses her as a mouthpiece when she takes up one of the Swords of the Cross.
- Karrin Murphy is being forced toward a change in worldview by the realization of the cold fact that the law, which she idolized (almost literally) in early books is just simply inadequate to deal with the reality of the world as she has come to know it. She's also begun to realize just how much Harry was protecting her, even when she angrily insisted she wanted no such protection; now she knows she needed it...and resents that fact.
- In Blood Rites, when Harry looks upon Murphy with his Sight, she appears as an angel, but one that has been covered in blood and soot and is bearing terrible wounds - a direct contrast to the more idealistic image of a pure angel in shining white clothes that she appears as in Grave Peril, four books earlier when she is still an idealistic cop who hasn't had her faith in the law twisted and abused.
- Donald Morgan is also ultimately revealed to be one. For a long time he just seems like a nasty, abusive Jerkass Knight Templar, but over the course of the series it is gradually revealed that the he really does believe in the White Council's laws, and most of nastiness comes from being a tired, bitter man who has spent his entire extended lifespan fighting the forces of darkness.
- Harry himself has elements of this trope. He can be pretty cynical, but he always tries to do the right thing.
Willamena: It sounds like you don't think very highly of people, Mr. Dresden.Harry: People suck. But persons are worthwhile, Miss Rogers. Always.
- Councillor Arfarra in Yulia Latynina's Wei Empire Cycle started out as a Knight Templar. By the first large novel, he became sourly disillusioned in The Empire and somewhat penitent, but soldiered on trying to reform it, ultimately failing despite doing some good in the process. Then he became even more disillusioned in the very foundations of the Empire, and spent twenty-five years in exile. Then he got dragged back unto the political scene, and very reluctantly took control, this time just trying to keep the whole thing running and to avoid having the world drowned in blood in a horrible civil war. He sort of failed due to circumstances far beyond his control, but kept relentlessly looking for ways to at least marginally improve the situation right until finally dying from old age.
- From the Harry Potter series:
- Severus Snape allies himself with people like Harry (who he hates because he's the son of the woman he loved by the man he hated), Sirius Black (who he hated nearly as much as James Potter and who tried to kill him at least once), and Dumbledore, who, in spite of affection, uses him ruthlessly. He's also the only one of the heroes who is willing to get branded as a traitor by making a huge sacrifice for their cause (namely, Albus Dumbledore). However, it should be noted that Dumbledore himself was willing to die, so that sacrifice wasn't exactly minimal. Additionally, his motives weren't exactly the purest - not matter whether you take the view that Lily was his Lost Lenore or that he was a Stalker with a Crush (which side you take is your choice, and let's leave it there), he made it fairly clear that he was Not in This for Your Revolution and pretty much entirely motivated by Lily's memory.
- Dumbledore's brother Aberforth is this as well. He tells Harry point blank that he thinks it's a lost cause. He still shows up to fight in the end.
- Stephen Donaldson protagonists tend to be big fans of sour armor. The titular lead of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant novels turns this trope Up to Eleven, stubbornly persevering even though he knows everything he does will be turned into disaster by the Big Bad.
- Sparhawk of David Eddings' The Elenium is a world-weary, cynical knight, old before his time who will readily cooperate with and ally with career criminals against far more terrible evils and readily establish a reputation for savagery in combat to convince enemies not to fight. Nonetheless, he has an ironclad sense of personal honor and dignity, and his bark is generally far worse than his bite. Which is to say that, while he threatens to do a lot of horrible things, he only actually does some of them.
- Meyer Landsman of The Yiddish Policemen's Union is certainly one of these on top of being a Defective Detective—a cynical jackass, but feels personally compelled to close his investigation instead of let it be shelved as a cold case for bureaucratic reasons.
- Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He joins the Brotherhood knowing full well that he won't see any change in his lifetime and that he will be killed for it eventually. Too bad the Brotherhood doesn't actually exist—it was set up by the government as a way to entrap Thought Criminals. Maybe.
- 1st Sgt. Welsh in The Thin Red Line, who lacks faith, ideals, patriotic fervor and any interest in either medals or career advancement, yet keeps on fighting due to a sense of duty (and because he's good at his job).
- Gawyn Trakand from The Wheel of Time series swears an oath as prince to protect his sister to the death and yet she not only makes his childhood a hell with her antics, she runs off in the middle of training in the White Tower two times leaving him behind. This comes to a head when Gawyn decides to support a coup against the Amyrlin and slays his own teachers from his frustration to help but later helps the Amyrlin escape. The guy just can't catch a break and it doesn't help later when in the middle of Dumai Wells his men are surrounded and getting killed. Cue Min dropping the bomb on him that his sister is in love with Rand and the emotional turmoil must be unbearable.
- In the play "The Dragon" by E. Schewartz we have Lancelot The Travelling Knight:
Lancelot: I was injured lightly nineteen times, severely eleven times and deadly five times, but I'm so light a soul that I'm still alive.
- In Altered Carbon, Takeshi Kovacs seems to be an inversion of this; a life-long cynic, Kovacs has slowly but steadily gained an idealistic side, strongly influenced by the philosophy of his homeworld's revered revolutionary leader and Knight in Sour Armour Quellcrist Falconer. However, his particular status has left the cynicism deeply ingrained, with the result that he seems to strongly resent his idealistic side and reacts with a Snark Knight schtick that ranges from convincing to desperate.
- Typically in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Luke Skywalker is quite idealistic. But in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, the Big Bad makes him mentally experience an eternity after the heat death of the universe in an attempt to break him and get him ready for a Grand Theft Me. It doesn't entirely work, but when Luke gets out, he's made deeply cynical, believing that everyone's life is waste, saving someone wasn't really saving them because that would just prolong the brief interval. All striving leads to nothing, and everyone who talked about duty and honor and love was just using him. He doesn't want to believe it, but he does—and he makes the very conscious decision to act exactly like he did before, like when he trusted in these airy concepts and believed lives were worth saving, in the hope that he can fall back into the dream and become the mask. Later he sees a very Mind Screw-y vision that relieves some of that cynicism, though, so he's not a sour knight for very long.
- In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, a demon's mentor, warns him about these. "Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." Ironically, he occasionally takes the tone of one himself, finding that his goal to corrupt humans is tedious whenever it fails but believing that it "must win in the end".
- In C. S. Lewis' "The Silver Chair", part of The Chronicles of Narnia series, the "Marsh Wiggle" named Puddleglum is perpetually pessimistic and always believes the worst is about to happen, yet is staunchly and resolutely (and usefully) on the side of good throughout the story.
- Dedicate Rosethorn from the Circle of Magic series qualifies. She's very much a sarcastic and irritable Cynical Mentor to Briar, but she has given up a normal life in order to help the poor.
- Most of the protagonists in the Anthology Dark and Stormy Knights, edited by P. N. Elrod are this although there are also examples of Noble Demon, Action Survivor and Punch-Clock Hero.
- Garrett from the Garrett, P.I. series describes himself like this.
- Haymitch from The Hunger Games. He just wants a world where no more children can be tortured from being forced to kill each other.
- Katniss too, especially after she fully accepts her role as "the Mockingjay".
- Johanna and Finnick also qualify.
- The Quest for Karla Trilogy: The main character, George Smiley, is an experienced but cynical spy. Despite the moral complications and issues of his work, Gordon always seeks to do the best job he can in his spying because he still believes it is the right thing to do. George is idealistic but also fully aware of the moral greyness of his environment.
- The Hallowed Hunt: Ingrey is actually rather youthful for a Bujold protagonist, but the tortures he endured—meant to help him control the wolf-spirit he harbors—made him "frighteningly self-controlled" not to mention dour and sarcastic. His love interest lampshades it:
"Now what makes you grow grim?" Ijada demanded.
Her lips twisted in exasperation. "To be sure."
- DC Grant in Rivers of London tries to be idealistic even though he knows it is all going to end in tears.
- Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird is utterly and correctly convinced that, because of Maycomb County's inherent racism, Tom Robinson cannot escape being convicted for a crime he didn't commit. Atticus still does everything in his power to get Tom acquitted, and treats it as the most important case of his entire career despite the reaction from the people of Maycomb County.
- Jayfeather from Warrior Cats doesn't believe in the way the Clans work, the ideals of StarClan, or the Warrior Code. Despite this, he vows to fight for the Clans until long after the day he dies, will never give up on saving anyone, and devotes his whole life to protecting his Clan.
- Brian Duffy of Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark starts sour, and only becomes more sour as the story progresses, but never loses his desire to do the Right Thing, despite serious temptation.
- In Melisa Michaels' Skyrider series, Skyrider is cynical, taciturn, snarky, and anti-social, but when the chips are down, she knows she's the best, and often only, person for the job, and reluctantly picks up her metaphorical lance. Again.
- Patrick McLanahan from Dale Brown books. The world never gets permanently better, an awful lot of people are Ungrateful Bastards at best, hostile and traitorous at worst, and his friends and family keep dying violently, but he keeps fighting to make the world better nevertheless.
- Song at Dawn: Dragonetz came back from the Second Crusade as one of these; disillusioned of the Church and haunted by his deeds. If you ask him what he thinks about the knight's oath to 'protect the weak' he'll tell you it's a 'suicide oath'. However, he still possesses faith in God and the idealism that he can make the world a better place.
- Corwin in The Chronicles of Amber is, in many ways, an homage to Phillip Marlowe, so it's little surprise that he shares this trope. As more of a redeemed villain than a bitter hero, he's a rather dark example.
- Jimmy Gage star reporter for SLAP! magazine and hero of Robert Ferrigno's Flinch and Scavenger Hunt who is pretty much the only serious reporter for a magazine that is halfway between Vanity Fair and a tabloid. His investigative reporting usually only ends in partial victories but he continues to fight the good fight. His cop girlfriend Jane Holt qualifies as well.
- Tsovinar of Glory in the Thunder literally sets her hopes and dreams on fire after accepting they can never come true, and wonders aloud why she even bothers intervening for the good of others, but she just keeps doing it.
- Nero Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin responds to most of the world's frustrations with a sarcastic, cynical quip, but as Wolfe perceptively notes deep down he's quite the knight-errant. For all his snark, it's not hard to provoke him into rushing out headlong in order to do someone a good deed — particularly if the someone needing the good deed doing is a pretty young lady.
- Seth Hammerstaal, who's the male protagonist in Överenskommelser by Simona Ahrnstedt, is a very cynical man, who does many stupid things. But still, he never stops believing that you should always do the right thing.
- Blake Thorburn of Pact is a formerly homeless man who has seen much of the worst that humanity has to offer, from beatings to events so traumatic that he refuses to elaborate on them, and sees himself as a fundamentally broken person, but he expresses his faith in the inherent goodness of humanity nonetheless, as there exist many people whose good actions outweighed the bad and helped him when he needed help. He therefore strives to do the right thing, even though, as a hereditary diabolist, everyone expects him to fall to villainy and most supernatural creatures despise him.
- Scott of Hobgoblin can't stand most of his classmates, but when Fergus goes crazy and starts killing them, he steps up to fight because it's what a hero should do plus it's his chance to actually live out a mortal battle. Afterwards, he still can't stand his classmates.
- Highprince Dalinar Kholin from The Stormlight Archive. A great warrior and great leader of his people, he tries to live by an ancient code of conduct, which only makes other nobles mock him. And even though he could (and some say that he should) take the throne for himself, he is very protective of the current king, his nephew Elhokar - who constantly disappoints him.
Kaladin: Honor is dead. But I'll see what I can do.
- Kaladin Stormblessed definitely qualifies. Not that you could blame him, given the life he's had. Sarcastic, cynical, and bitter at only twenty years old, but he still just can't bring himself to stop protecting people - most of his sourness comes from all the times he couldn't protect somebody. Lucky for him, on Roshar that fast-tracks you to become a Surgebinder. The following quote from Words of Radiance actually sums up his character quite nicely:
- Everyone in The Hearts We Sold. Every single member of the heartless troop has been through hell, and then some, but it falls to them to save the world, so they keep fighting — albeit, with some coercion from their boss.
- Although many of the older characters in Alexandre Dumas The Three Musketeers have elements of this, Athos is the primary example (and something of a Trope Codifier to many more recent writers).
- In Tom Kratman's "Okuyyuki", the protagonist Reilly is cynical and even bitter at the corruption in the Army, but still determined that he, at least, should do his part as a soldier.
- In Mr. Robot, Elliot is cynical and jaded, but does try to help people and bring down those who are hurting others. Often he puts others' safety before himself. He ultimately decides to tip off police about Shayla's abusive boyfriend, who's a drug and weapons dealer, even if it means not being able to get his withdraw medication, though he was hesitant at first. He also dislikes any innocent people getting hurt, even if the end result is something he wants. This differs from Mr. Robot, who doesn't care who gets in the way of his goals, as he believes he's creating a better world.
- Game of Thrones:
- Ser Loras Tyrell becomes this in Season 2 after his lover King Renly Baratheon is murdered. It's even shown symbolically, as his once spotless suit of armour (which practically made him look like a walking mirror in Season 1) is now somewhat tarnished.
- Brienne of Tarth also undergoes a similar transition when she fails to protect Renly, whom she harboured feelings for, from a monstrous Living Shadow.
- The Hound, much like his book counterpart is hinted to be this beneath his Blood Knight exterior, especially after leaving King's Landing during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. After that, pretty much anyone he meets who talks about fighting in the war gets this line:
The Hound: "Fuck the king."
- It becomes even more evident in season 6 and beyond. The Hound is as bad-tempered and cynical as ever, but he keeps fighting for a cause that's bigger than him because he understands precisely what is at stake.
- Robb Stark becomes one, especially as the war goes on.
- Jaime Lannister is much closer to this as of Season 4. For a long time, he was scornful of the double standards of chivalry as far as how Westeros regards his "kingslaying" and how in their eyes, he's dishonored himself for all time. Despite this, Jaime does value the Kingsguard and does aspire to the example of the likes of Ser Barristan. He tells his father, Tywin, that while he has soured his honor for killing a king, he won't sour it by abandoning the Kingsguard altogether.
- Despite his cynical outlook of the world, Tyrion still tries to do the right thing.
- Serving kings that were either Ax-Crazy (Aerys) or a drunkard (Robert) greatly jaded Ser Barristan, but still does his duty with full dedication.
- Joe Caputo, the prison administrator in Orange Is the New Black is sleazy, bitter, angry, and generally hard to like. But a lot of that comes from his noble but frustrated attempts to protect the inmates and guards from corruption, underfunding, and callous corporate interference. It remains to be seen whether he will remain any kind of knight after the season 3 finale, where he opts to sell out for a promotion.
- Max Black of 2 Broke Girls. She basically had to raise herself and her mother. If something needed to be done Max got it done. Her attitude fits this to a T. She is seen to be able to do the right thing when it all comes down to this.
- Babylon 5:
- Marcus Cole has one of the darkest wit of any characters on the show, knows his way around the station's criminal underworld, and yet acts like a knight of the round table.
- Also Michael Garibaldi, a jaded cop who joins Sheridan's extremely idealistic rebellion unhesitatingly. It's worth noting, however, that he eventually leaves said rebellion specifically because he's cynical. And no, Bester didn't intend for him to do that.
- By the end of the series, Ivanova.
- Arrow: Sara Lance to a certain extent. Her family thought she was dead and she spent years away from her home trapped on an island, training, and being forced to kill. She considers herself the furthest thing in the world from a hero. Despite this, she's willing to risk her life to check on her family, protect women that she has never met from assault, and run into a burning building to save a baby.
- Most people involved with the government in 24 seem to believe this. Despite their constant sacrifices to save America, even Redshirt agents seem to realize that their victories are Pyrrhic at best, and rarely make attempts to mask how jaded they are.
- Prior to the first season, Jack Bauer probably was not. After Terri dies because of Jack's job and having to face down the reality that saving lives and Obstructive Bureaucrats do not mix, his armor gets mighty sour.
- Battlestar Galactica:
- Lee Adama is this at times in a sort of contrast with the Honor Before Reason driven Helo. Both believe in rules and the system, but Lee is more willing to bend the former to save the latter.
- Lawyer Romo Lampkin is this way, as he has the cynicism of the disillusioned idealist. We never get to hear why he hated Lee's grandfather, a famous criminal defense attorney, so it's difficult to say. Lee's grandfather was revealed in Caprica to have gotten through law school funded by the Tauron mafia and in the very first episode bribes a judge to get off mobsters, among other things. He apparently got a lot better, but there were probably lots of reasons to dislike him.
- Battlestar Galactica (1978)
- Tigh, being a rough and gruff Drill Sergeant Nasty, is the most prominent example of this trope
- As is Starbuck. He can be very cynical at times, especially when it comes to the law system. He also smokes, gambles and courts women on a daily basis when he's not in his Viper. When he is, he's most at home blasting away as many Cylons as he could. He does have moments of idealism, though, as shown when he protects a group of warrior kids from the Cylons while stranded on a planet in which nearly everyone else is wiped out.
- Apollo can be this at times as well, especially towards the Council. Given that they were responsible for their long-time enemies blowing up all twelve of their homeworlds, it's not all that jarring.
- Dr Cox of Scrubs is a cynical, angry, egotistical man, who firmly believes everyone should get the best treatment possible and often tries to stop injustice in the system. Indeed, many a Dr. Jerk could be described as this. Why do you think they're doctors?
- "Chicks, money, power, and chicks." As said by Cox in "My Bed Banter and Beyond". In the same breath, he admits that he doesn't get any of that.
- Angel. Hell, the entire cast of that show could fall under this, especially Angel and Wesley.note Angel's philosophy is stated by Angel himself in the Season 4 episode "Deep Down." "Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh and cruel but that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be. You're not a part of that yet. I hope you will be. I love you, Connor. Now get out of my house."
Gunn: "What if I told you that none of it mattered? That the world is controlled by forces much more powerful than we are, and that those forces will never, ever let things get better? What would you do then?"Anne: "I'd tell you to finish getting those supplies off that truck and take them inside."
- Summed up beautifully (it's the show's mission statement) in the final episode, when Gunn is helping Anne unload supplies for her teen homeless shelter from a truck on a day when the world might very well end:
- Boyd in Dollhouse. Ballard seems to be on his way to this from his original Knight in Shining Armor characterization. Then Boyd turned out to be both The Mole and the Evil Overlord (and a Knight Templar).
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Giles becomes one at some point in the show's run (certainly by the finale of season 5, when he kills Ben to kill Glory), probably around the time the Watcher's Council fired him for refusing to endanger Buffy's life. Joss Whedon seems to enjoy the trope.
- Also, Spike became this after his Heel–Face Turn.
- Almost every single good cop in The Wire knows that their objective is ultimately a futile effort, and that the city of Baltimore is in far more disarray than they could possibly hope to rectify. However, this sure as hell doesn't stop them from trying.
- Colby from Survivor, who said the game he first played in 2000 was outdated and gone, being one of the few players (other than Coach and Rupert) who was Honor Before Reason.
- Mal Reynolds of Firefly. He lost his faith in God and humanity in one fell swoop, but when presented with the choice he goes out of his way to do the right thing.
- Derek Reese from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. He's a miserable man who was once a young boy playing baseball, then suddenly, got thrust into the apocalypse. He will spend every last ounce of energy, and stop at absolutely nothing including murder, in order to fight the coming cybernetic invasion, simply because no matter how hopeless it gets, it's not just the right thing to do...it's the ONLY thing to do.
Dean: "I think the world's going to end bloody, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't fight. We do have choices. I chose to go down swingin'."
- Dean is the series' prime example. He's cynical, pessimistic, and very blunt on the negative side of a life fighting evil. At one point he even concluded the world wanted to end. Not the most likely hero, but still cares about the lives of people and devotes his life to saving them.
- Castiel in seasons 4,5, and especially 6.
- Most of the characters on Criminal Minds have been this at one point or another. (Except Garcia, and even she has her borderline moments.) Derek Morgan explicitly gave voice to it near the end of 4x25/26, "To Hell And Back." pointing out that however many unsubs they catch, the world always produces more. He wavered on whether to leave- except that he didn't, giving truth to the Trope. The exception being Jason Gideon, who seemed like one for a while, and then abandoned the team in 3x01 because the awfulness of the world had overwhelmed him.
- Andy Sipowicz from NYPD Blue, as an intersection of Noble Bigot with a Badge and Rabid Cop, with a decent dose of Deadpan Snarker and a surprisingly large amount of The Woobie.
- Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle from The Honourable Woman, is a jaded and very cynical spy similar to many of the protagonists in Le Carre novels. He starts off completely apathetic to his work and the Middle East due to the senseless violence that he feels he can't do anything about but ends up striving to help both Nessa and Atika anyway.
- The Doctor from Doctor Who qualifies for this in nearly all of his incarnations at one point or another, but a few stand out among the rest.
- The First Doctor began it all; he was a cranky old man who still saved the universe often.
- The Third Doctor was exiled to Earth, and to outsiders could be seen as moody, and he often butted heads with The Brigadier while facing alien threats.
- After five regenerations, the Sixth Doctor reverted back to a brash, difficult individual, yet constantly facing foes and battling corruption throughout time and space.
- The War Doctor (Especially in the audios, comics and novel), is bitter, spiteful, condescending, hates himself, the Daleks and the Time-Lords, and wishes for nothing but to stop the Great Time-War at any cost. But still treasures life, and will do anything to defend the innocent.
- The Ninth Doctor refers to Humans as "stupid apes," but saved Earth again and again.
- After spending two regenerations as a young-looking and acting man, the Twelfth Doctor was once again a cranky old man. However, he very much wanted and strove to be a good man from the beginning, and was frustrated by having to be a Pragmatic Hero so often. He Took a Level in Kindness by the start of Series 9 (his second season). By the end of his tenure, he was perhaps the kindest, most empathetic Doctor of all...and in his Grand Finale it was the example he set to the First Doctor that allowed that original self to accept regenerating for the first time. As for his own regeneration, as much as he wanted to be released from his long lifespan and loneliness at last, he decided that helping others was Worth Living For (and worth a Loss of Identity) instead. His Final Speech, addressed to his successor, includes the admonition "Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind." A speech along similar lines from his penultimate episode can be found on this trope's Quotes page.
- Sirens (UK) has Stuart (and possibility Ash) who after years of dealing with drunks fighting every Saturday in the street and the general lowest ebb of the human condition are fed up with the world. But given half the chance they'll crawl through broken glass or climb the side of a building to help those that need it.
- Nick in New Girl is filled with bitterness, anger, cynicism and self-loathing but is still a great friend and almost always does the right thing even as his life keeps getting progressively worse.
- Derek Hale in Teen Wolf is a prime example of this. He's even got the In-Series Nickname of being a "sourwolf" to add to the characterization.
- After being on Degrassi enough seasons you either end up here or Jade-Colored Glasses, just a fact of life for teenagers. Best examples for this side of things would be Spinner, Darcy, Jimmy, Marco, Sav, Clare, Alli, and Jenna. The series is abundant with drama and cruelty for them, but they still believe no matter how the world sucks... it's what they have and it's worth it to not give up. But the world unquestionably sucks, they are all more than clear there.
- The title character of Merlin, a Deadpan Snarker Hurting Hero who nevertheless has a strong set of values and is determined to free his people.
- Once Upon a Time:
- Emma Swan is tough and cynical, and doesn't believe in the curse, but she still stays in Storybrooke and goes against Regina and Mr Gold.
- Post Heel–Face Turn, Regina Mills qualifies. She is snarky and cynical, and is the first to make biting remarks, but is firmly on 'Team Heroes' and will always do the right thing
- The third season and (to a lesser degree) the fourth season of Enterprise did this to Captain Archer. He's so upbeat, excited and optimistic about exploring the galaxy in the first two seasons, continuing to get blindsided by all the pre-federation bullies. When the Xindi Weapon devastates Earth he not only takes a level in badass but his attitude switches to be even colder throughout the entire third season. He mellows a bit in the fourth but still exhibits this when the going gets tough.
- Rust Cohle from the first season of the HBO Anthology series True Detective is a straight up nihilist, thinking that human consciousness was a mistake and that humanity should voluntarily stop breeding and die out. He is also a tireless fighter for what's right no matter the personal cost.
- Gotham's Jim Gordon quickly becomes this, which isn't surprising considering the environment he's working in. Harvey Bullock has become this although in his case it's actually a step up from the cynical Corrupt Cop he was when we first met him.
- In Healer, both Min Ja and Young Jae. Min Ja is a former detective who refused to leave her post while her four year old son was dying in the hospital, only to be ordered to destroy the evidence and close the case. Young Jae was one of five True Companions who opposed the regime's media censorship by way of a pirate radio broadcast, and went to prison for eleven years, only to find two of his former friends dead at, seemingly, the hand of the third. At one point in the series they have a conversation in which they both admit that they are this trope—and that they both hope that the hero, still in the Knight in Shining Armor phase of his life, will succeed without becoming like them.
- In Jessica Jones (2015) on Netflix, this describes the title character to a tee. She's cynical to the core, often rude, sarcastic, pushes others away, and generally doesn't show much outward sympathy to others. She still does everything in her power to protect innocent lives, including (if there's no other way) giving Kilgrave, the one who traumatized her in the first place, what he asks for.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit ran afoul of this in its earliest seasons with a cast that could almost be described as a cluster of rain clouds who live and breath sarcasm and misanthropy. (Probably justified in a show focused on "especially heinous" assault and abuse cases.) Even the guest cast of suspects and crossover cast had nothing to add but more rain. Some episodes seemed to be a reminder how everyone hated life. In later seasons, the show started to get out of its funk.
Liv: What happened to you?Alex: I opened my eyes. I opened them wide, and I saw that for twelve years I saw that I was a cog in a 'holier than thou' wheel and the wheel keeps spinning and tossing off bodies as it goes."
- The biggest example is former ADA Alex Cabot. Once, she was all about the law, incredibly strict to the point of undermining a case rather than cross ethical lines. After a long absence, Cabot returns in season 19's "Sunk Cost Fallacy" where she is now part of a group who help battered women and children escape their lives by faking their deaths. She's even willing to let a husband go to jail for the "murder" of his family. A fight with Liv has Cabot ranting on how Liv could have lied under oath as the "tell the whole truth" thing is just a load of crap to make people think the justice system gives a damn about them and her methods work much better.
- The Norse worldview basically consisted of a largely amoral universe where bad things happened to good people and everything ended in death. Yggdrasil was eaten by serpents from below, and deer from above, and even the Aesir would die at Ragnarok. Until then, the Aesir weren't entirely good guys either. Nevertheless, the warrior's code was to fight the good fight and the mythology is riddled with examples of standing and fighting even when death is inevitable, because that's the right thing to do. On the other hand, Thor was viewed as the protector of Midgard and friend of Men, the Good Guy fighting giants to protect the Aesir and humans alike. Most stories focusing on him tend to be far more upbeat, with Thor overcoming challenges after much fun is made at his expense.
- In the Dragnet radio dramas (as well as the later remakes), Sergeant Joe Friday sometimes trades his shining armor for sour mail when exposed to particularly bad cases of social decay.
- Harry Nile in The Adventures Of Harry Nile. A former Chicago cop who wound up retiring after seeing widespread corruption in the force, and almost murdered a crime boss in order to get out of debt before working as a private investigator instead. Yet despite just how much of the seedy side of society he's seen, the guy's own humanity is his greatest asset, and he cares for his clients.
- As The Four Gospels portray Him, Jesus could say "forgive the one who hurts you, and do good to those that persecute you" when He knew in advance that He was to be brutally killed by the very people He was saving.
- David occasionally takes this tone as well in the Old Testament (notably in Psalm 22).
- A common character type in Warhammer 40,000, especially among the Imperium of Man. Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt is perhaps the most prominent example, a genuinely selfless, courageous, and noble hero who is becoming deeply bitter and cynical towards the Imperial Guard command structure. Major Elim Rawne of the same series quite arguably worked his way into this trope from the other direction-he started as a ruthlessly cynical, self-serving bastard, and remains a ruthlessly cynical bastard-but one with a very tarnished and deeply hidden heart of gold. Commissar Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, projects this at times... because his reputation (and possibly he) would be shot if anyone knew how he actually is.
- The author himself has stated that he doesn't know if Cain really is the Dirty Coward he presents himself as, or if Cain just doesn't give himself enough credit. Still, Cain isn't like the stereotypical commissar that shoots his own men at the drop of a hat, which is a huge point in his favor.
- Certain members of the Tau have lived long enough and seen enough of the universe to understand that their race is fundamentally naive and that their dream of uniting the galaxy under the Greater Good is a Tragic Dream at best. However, they reconcile themselves with the Greater Good by embracing the philosophy that even if the Greater Good is a utopian ideal and their galaxy a Crapsack World, simply striving towards those ideals is good enough.
- And then there's the Lamenters Chapters. Founded during the Cursed 21st Founding, they are Blood Angels successor chapter who seems to be free of the Red Thirst and Black Rage. Unfortunately they seem to be cursed by terrible, terrible luck, going into Iron Woobie status. And yet despite being distrusted by their own allies, almost annihilated for unwittingly fighting for the wrong side, almost eaten by Tyranids, and forbidden from recruiting more to their Chapter, they are still loyal to the Imperium. Hell, other chapters have been known to turn renegade for a fraction of the shit they went through.
- Dungeons & Dragons brings you the Grey Guard Prestige Class. Paladins who tend to fall early and often for breaking their code in the pursuit of genuine Good (not making the job quick and easy) are sometimes approached by the knightly equivalent of the CIA. The abilities they pick up take the 'goodness and light' of the Paladin and turn it into 'goodness and Bad Cop interrogations.'
- The Paladin class itself flirts with being an example of this even before one takes the Gray Guards into account, especially in a setting where the government is harsh or totalitarian. It's pointed out in the Book of Exalted Deeds that when faced with a choice between Law and Good, a true Paladin will always choose the latter (the Paladin's code in the book has a loophole about "Legitimate" authority for this reason).
- As the Ravenloft setting is bound to eat your average Knight in Shining Armor for breakfast, it's home to quite a few of these instead, striving to hold back the darkness. The game-setting's knights of the Circle function more like vigilantes or undercover operatives, keeping their heroic deeds under the darklords' radar.
- Shadowrun being what it is, most established characters with a strong moral compass fall under this category. A near-embodiment of this trope, however, is Captain Chaos.
- Most clerics of Ilmater.
- Pan Dachshund is one of the sample characters in Pugmire and is one of the two characters (along with the more idealistic Yosha Pug) who Break The Fourth Wall throughout the rule book by explaining details and concepts to the reader. He's grumpy, cynical and doesn't believe any of this crap about the sacred legacy of Man or the inherent nobility of Pugmire, but he'll fight any monster who threatens honest dogs, because that's just the right thing to do.
- Cassandra in Code 21 is a good example. She decides to work in mental health because she wants to make a difference and over the years adhering to the system's rules makes her feel embittered and less hopeful about the world.
- Wicked: Why, Miss Elphaba... you and this trope deserve each other.
- In Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote might be this; he has a skewed perception of the world as a beautiful, marvelous place when it clearly isn't, but he indicates that, even when he knows the world is a dire mess that has little hope of elevation, he will fight on. When he converts Dulcinea to his cause, she becomes a full-fledged example.
- "The Impossible Dream" sums up this trope perfectly
- Miguel de Cervantes, or at least his character here, is more this than Don Quixote (although the two are described as being closely related) because Quixote seems to be more truly mad. Cervantes specifically gives a speech saying that he has seen evil in the world, but that it has convinced him even more that it is important to do good. People "asking not why they died, but why they had ever lived" for example.
- Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII veers between this and just being a Jerkass (later revealed to be Jerkass Façade because Love Redeems.) Especially notable beause doing the right thing, for him, means not only fighting for a world he might not think is worth fighting for (most of the game, anyway), but also serving the forces which have forbidden him from exercising his free will for his entire life. (Though, to be fair, he has been strung along most of the time because he doesn't know what he would do otherwise)
- Kratos Aurion in Tales of Symphonia fits this like a glove. He started out as an idealist alongside Mithos Yggdrasill who just wanted half-elves to be accepted, and then became what we see in the game.
Colette: Our weapons are love!
Genis: Justice! And...
- Yuri Lowell from Tales of Vesperia left the royal knights because he felt they were doing very little to change the lives of the poor and downtrodden and end the corruption among the upper class, but his sense of honor and justice still drives him toward this goal.
- Jolee Bindo in Knights of the Old Republic has rejected the Jedi Order as hypocritical and hidebound, but he hasn't rejected his moral center. Carth Onasi fits the trope as well. He's closer to good on the Karma Meter than the Jedi in your party, but his capability to trust in the good of others has been torpedoed by personal tragedy. He's vocally suspicious regarding the player character and the entire situation; that suspicion eventually turns out to be eerily dead-on. The comics, set a few years before the events of the game, make it clear that his entanglement with Revan wasn't the first time he found himself involved in a Jedi scheme and cover-up.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic has Keeper (later known as the Minister of Intelligence) in the Imperial Agent storyline. He joined Imperial Intelligence hoping to do some good for the Empire, only to be blocked by red tape and Sith interference at every turn, and usually forced to just make things worse for people. Years of this have led to him becoming a massive cynic. Still, he keeps on trying to use his power to do the right thing. In the end, he finally gets the chance to do some good, helping the Agent destroy the Star Cabal and giving the Agent the option to use the Black Codex to wipe out all evidence of their existence, abandoning Imperial government in favour of acting as a sort of freelancer, helping the Empire wherever help is needed.
- It's also very easy for the Imperial Agent themselves to become this, as a result of the Trauma Conga Line they can have to endure. Many players find their Agent becoming increasingly less idealistic and more disillusioned with the Empire, similar to what Keeper went through.
- Sakura Wars: Yoneda's introduction to Ogami says it all:
Yoneda: "A hero? No kid; I'm just a filthy old bastard who got badges for murdering a lot of people."
- Garrus from Mass Effect falls into this, especially in the second game. He starts a vigilante group on Omega to help combat the crime, corruption, and decay of the station, and admits that he knows he wasn't really making a big difference; for all of the irritation he gave the mercenary groups after him, Omega was a pisshole when he started and was a pisshole when he left. And he fights on anyway.
Consort: "I see the sadness behind your eyes, it tells a story that makes me want to weep. Pain and loss. But it drives you, makes you strong. It is that strength that people are drawn to. It is why you lead and others follow without question. You will need that leadership in the battles to come."
- Shepard can be played like this, if you act douchey in dialogue but ultimately do good things. If you have a Colonist background, the Asari consort says as much, 'detecting a sadness behind your eyes'.
Shepard: People are messy, awkward, sometimes selfish and cruel. But they're trying, and I'm going to make sure they have a chance.
- Wrex turns out to be this if you befriend him. He's old enough to remember his species in their glory days and has become very cynical as all his efforts to reverse their self-destructive slide to extinction have failed due primarily to Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. But if he survives the first game, he decides that there is reason to hope for the future and returns to his homeworld to give the krogan another shove at being better than just a bunch of thugs-for-hire.
- At the end of the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, Liara will ask Shepard how s/he's doing. If you choose the right dialogue option, Shepard will vent about how tired s/he is of dealing with Cerberus and the Council treating him/her like s/he's nuts. But in the end s/he keeps going because s/he wants to give people the chance to change for the better.
- Keldorn and Jaheira from the Baldur's Gate series have shades of this, the former being a 60+ year old paladin and the second a very cynical Harper (a secret society devoted to spreading good).
- In Metal Gear, Solid Snake is arguably the best example in gaming. He's cynical, jaded, world-weary, really couldn't care less about being seen as a hero or a legend, and doesn't believe he'd make a difference to the future ("I'm not as arrogant as that."), but he continues to fight because no one else can or will.
Snake: "I'm no hero. Never was, never will be. Just an old killer, hired to do some wet-work."
- His papa, Big Boss, is another example until his Face–Heel Turn, particularly after being forced to kill the Boss.
- The Boss herself is, knowing that a soldier's calling is not something they can decide for themselves but must be heeded regardless, though she takes it better than her protégé or Solid Snake do (she's learned to suppress the "sour" and accept things as they are).
- Keisuke from Devil Survivor becomes this if you can convince he's wrong after he snaps.
- Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins fits this trope well. He LITERALLY stopped short of becoming a Knight Templar.
- You yourself can play as one of these too, if you so choose. If.
- Also a natural fit for an elf Grey Warden—humans have been bastards to you, your family, and your race for longer than they can remember, and don't exactly feel guilty about it. The game demands that you save the mostly human kingdom of Ferelden, re-unite it under legitimate political authorities, and generally leave it a much stronger and more powerful nation than it was before you entered the picture. One bit of dialogue has an NPC thanking you for saving the kingdom, and one of your responses is along the lines of "I'm saving my people from the Blight. Your kingdom can burn for all I care."
- His fellow tank warrior Aveline from the sequel also fits; she's a world-weary widowed soldier and cop who's seen a lot of bloodshed and suffering and whose goal is to protect her friends and keep what order she can in the world.
- Varric Tethras fits into this trope in Dragon Age: Inquisition. In the beginning, he outright states that he's pretty sure the world is going to end no matter what they do, but he stays and helps anyways. By the end, should you play your cards right, he changes his attitude a little by believing that the Inquisition, with the Inquisitor leading them, is the final, best hope for Thedas, but he still acknowledges that the world is in a bad situation.
- Hawke can fall into this, especially Snarky Hawke: they've lost friends, family, siblings, they've had a ton of crap dropped on them, and while they'll drop sarcastic asides at every opportunity, they'll still force themselves up and go and do the right thing.
- Neverwinter Nights 2: Casavir also behaves like this sometimes. Just try asking him about the circumstances of his first exit from Neverwinter.
- Ryudo from Grandia II fits this trope to a tee, in reaction to the original title's protagonist, Justin, who was an idealist with a strong wanderlust — almost Sonic the Hedgehog in human form. In the sequel, Ryudo is a misanthropic mercenary who wants nothing more than to escort his charge (a sickeningly cheery do-gooder, Elena) from A to B and collect his reward. He's also a bit of a smartass, always ready with a sarcastic remark. The game goes down the usual JRPG paths, peeling back the onion to expose Ryudo's reasons for distrusting everyone and everything, and revealing his kinder side from time to time.
- Cole MacGrath from inFAMOUS. If you finish the game with good karma, he ends up as Empire City's savior, but the final scene has him musing about his isolation (given that his girlfriend is dead and his best friend's betrayed him) and wondering how long it will be before the city turns against him. Unfortunately for him, he knows that there's something big and powerful coming, and he's the only one that can stop it. He's not happy about it at all.
- Hash from Live A Live. After defeating the demon king, he was heralded as a hero, but the very nature of human beings continued to disgust him much to the extent that he faked his death and hid out in a cabin in the mountains, only being convinced to help Oersted save humanity again because despite his hatred, he knows that it's the right thing to do. When he dies, he asks Oersted to believe in his friends and not become bitter like he did. Unfortunately, Oersted's own adventure eventually pushed far beyond merely being bitter.
- Jim Raynor from Starcraft was more of a Knight in Shining Armor (and Kerrigan lampshaded it) before he realized that the Koprulu Sector was a Crapsack World. As of Starcraft II, he's still a Knight In Sour Armor.
- By the "Heart of the Swarm" Kerrigan herself joins him there.
- Marshal Leigh Johnson of Red Dead Redemption is a bitterly jaded old man who nonetheless remains Lawful Good throughout the game (though by the epilogue he moves as far away from Armadillo for his retirement). John Marston has similar tendencies when he decides to help out people (mostly Bonnie and Luisa), to the point that Abraham Reyes refers to him as a "romantic trying to be a cynic".
- Landon Ricketts also qualifies. And Jack in the epilogue.
- From the Sonic the Hedgehog series:
- Shadow the Hedgehog eventually becomes one. He went from fighting against the world, to fighting for himself, to fighting for the world. Pretty much his only reason for this is because a little girl told him to before she died. It took Shadow a while to remember that, but when he did, the bad guys began wishing he was still one of them. When one of the villains tries to bring Shadow over to his side by telling him that the world will turn on him one day, Shadow simply responds by saying he'll fight like he used to.
- Gerald Robotnik. Since he's an old guy, he can't really fight, but he knew that humanity was good and deserved saving. So what did he do? He created an immortal, powerful hedgehog named Shadow to protect humans, despite that Shadow pretty much hates humans, calling them "pathetic" at every chance he gets. Bonus for Gerald in that he pretty much hates humans just as much as Shadow, although this may be because the aforementioned little girl was his granddaughter, and her death made him go insane, considering how she'd been killed because experiments to save her had been considered too dangerous. However, when he was sane, he reveals to Shadow that he built the gigantic gun on the ARK station to actually save the Earth from an alien attack that would happen 50 years later, while Shadow previously thought that he had built it to destroy Earth. Guess who pulls the trigger?
- Devil May Cry series protagonist Dante based on his tragic past. His family troubles and basically living in endless poverty has a "live-and-let-live" sort of view on justice. Dante basically lives life on his own terms and besides devoting his life to stopping demons, he's a jerk with a snappy one liner ready to distance his involvement with getting to close with people and barely has a care of the world outside of stopping the demonic invasion of the week. Regardless, He will still fight the good fight.
- Chris Redfield of Resident Evil fame expresses such views in the the fifth game; with bioweapons running rampant and in the hands of terrorists since Umbrella's fall, Chris actually wonders at times if fighting against bioterrorism is even worth it. Taken to another level by Resident Evil 6 where Chris starts to drink heavily on a near daily basis after seeing most of his men get slaughtered on a mission they were on. Chris starts to believe that nothing he does will change anything. but it takes some bonding time with his partner, Piers, to get Chris back to his fighting spirit and shed the sour armor.
- Gabriel Belmont Castlevania: Lords of Shadow also qualifies. As his mentor Zobek tells us, he could have given up all hope of saving the world because he has done so many questionable deeds—which he himself admits so. However, something in his mind still forces him to continue on—bitterly ...
- He also makes a good buddy for Solid Snake, if they happen to exist in the same universe... They share the same bitter personality as well as the same game company.
- Even after becoming Dracula, the sequel reveals that he still fights for the world despite his hatred of it. Specifically by being the apex predator that keeps other more evil but less powerful villains in check.
- Max Payne. His entire family murdered, his best friend killed, and both the good sides and the bad sides of the city trying to kill him. He even contemplates leaving the city early on, becoming a fugitive, but quickly decides that he'd rather see things through to the end. He ends up paying for it pretty harshly, though.
- Garrett from Thief fits this role well. He's a completely unrepentant criminal who acts as though he has nothing but contempt for others, his surroundings, and the whole corrupt, depraved pit that is the City and the world he lives in - most of the time. But there are hints that Garrett cares more than he'd ever want to or admit when he witnesses cruelty against almost anybody, especially the poor and already down-trodden, and even people who've tried in the past to kill him. (Possibly because it's a really, really long list.)
- Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII is a female example. She does believe in doing what's right, but the world she lives in is so messed-up she has very little "right" to believe in and she bitterly laments her fate as a cursed l'Cie.
- While we're on the subject of Final Fantasy XIII, how about Sazh and Oerba Yun Fang? Sazh's only desire is to see his son again and he's willing to turn himself in to see his son one last time before he is executed. Vanille is what keeps him going. The same is said for Fang when it is revealed that she was a Pulse l'Cie before the start of the game along with Vanille and cracked Coocoon's shell as Ragnarok. By extension, the entire main cast if you go by their backstories and their cursed fate as a l'Cie. Even Genki Girl Oerba Dia Vanille who lied to everyone about being a Pulse l'Cie so she could help them. Had she not lied at all, things would have gone differently.
- In L.A. Noire, Herschel Biggs and Jack Kelso are both perfectly aware of and disappointed in the state of the Los Angeles, and how little of what they do is actually meaningful. They try their damndest anyway. Protagonist Cole makes the shift from idealist to sour knight over the course of the game, despite his attempts not to, thanks to the corruption and politics endemic in the LAPD.
- Manuel Calavera of Grim Fandango is a cynical man who claims to only look out for himself. When he joins the LSA and heads out across the Land of the Dead to search for Mercedes, he claims it's only because she is his ticket to the next world. However, he does thaw somewhat over the course of the story, as particularly evidenced by his relationships with Meche, Glottis, and the Angelitos. As Grim Fandango was based on several Film Noir classics including Casablanca and Double Indemnity, this characterization fits the milieu perfectly.
- Several characters in Fallout: New Vegas qualify for this. Rose of Sharon Cassidy is a hard-drinking and somewhat surly woman who also happens to have a strong moral code, being the one character who will specifically complain about the player's Karma Meter if it gets incredibly low. Also, there's Colonel Hsu and Chief Hanlon of the NCR, who despite being personally against the war (especially considering the fact that their commander, General Oliver is a Glory Hound and General Failure) do what they can for the sake of the soldiers
- Orion Moreno and "Cannibal" Johnson are also good examples, especially Orion. Both were former members of the Enclave. At the destruction of their oil rig, the New California Republic dismantled the Enclave, seeing them as too great a potential threat to ignore. Decades later, the NCR finds itself up against Caesar's Legion, a group of totalitarian slavers. Moreno sympathizes with the Legion, unable to forgive the NCR for defeating the Enclave, which he considered the last remnant of the old America (and he's kind of right). Johnson supports the NCR, seeing their democratic government to be in the spirit of the old America and preferring them to the brutality of the Legion. Both men can be convinced to join the final battle—but serving the wrong side will require a very difficult Speech check—Johnson will abandon you rather than fight the NCR, and Moreno will try to kill you—after donning his Powered Armor and hefting a minigun.
- Cody from the Final Fight, and later Street Fighter series is a perfect example. In Final Fight, he was a straight out Hero, who fought the Mad Gear Gang to rid his city of them and rescue his girlfriend Jessica. Along the way he beats up a corrupt cop named Edi, who later has him arrested for assault and battery. While in prison he develops an addiction to fighting, and when he gets out, walks the streets looking for the slightest provocation to fight. After he is thrown back into prison, his girlfriend leaves him and travels to Europe, her father Haggar is all but through helping Cody, and only his best friend Guy still believes in him. By the time of the Street Fighter series, he believes that he is no longer a hero, and that the only purpose he has left in the world is to fight, which he frequently tells everybody is meaningless. However, he still has some desire to protect the world, as he breaks out of prison to seek out villains like Bison and Seth to defeat, and his theme implies he wishes to relive his glory days of heroism, but has convinced himself it is too late.
- Agate from The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a perpetually angry young man who especially at first has nothing but scorn to ther heroine and her extremely optimistic outlook. In spite of the misanthropy, he's one of the best Bracers in Liberl. Originally, he Used to Be a Sweet Kid until his little sister died during the war, making him channel all his anger into fighting, not helped when he joins a gang in Ruan until he got the crap beaten out of him by local Greater-Scope Paragon Cassius. He softens up a bit after befriending the preteen Tita, who he became fond of after she went out of her way to protect him. He eventually becomes even less sour when Loewe of all people deconstructs that mindset as regressive. If he just uses his sword as a crutch to channel his anger, he'll never be able to move past his weakness and find enlightenment. Yet he's too sentimental to fully make use of his vengence as a tool, not a crutch and commit to villainy. That, and an effective speech from Tita to trust her as a friend, and not his sister's replacement.
- This is probably the defining characteristic of Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher. As a mutant monster hunter, Geralt is hated by almost everyone and knows it since they mock him, spit on him and violently attack him just for being what he is. As a witcher he is solely supposed to work for money killing monsters. Despite always telling himself and others that he only works for money and doesn't want to get involved with normal people or politics, Geralt seems to have one of the worst cases of Chronic Hero Syndrome of any character in gaming, constantly putting his life on the line for people who don't care if he lives or dies. This exchange from the third game solidifies it.
Thug: You pay on time, you get protection. If you don't... (Slaps the woman he's intimidating) Or are you expecting a Knight in Shining Armor?Geralt: Close enough.
- In Fire Emblem Fates, the Avatar becomes this in the Conquest route, and develops some shades of this in the Revelations route. In the Conquest route, their wide-eyed naivete is slowly crushed by the bitter experiences throughout the route (though does nothing to shatter their resolve to see their mission through). In the case of Revelations, they mostly have elements of Knight in Shining Armor, but because of learning the truth behind the conflict, and the fact that there is a bigger threat in the form of Anankos, they become no longer naive about the happenings of the world anymore and their naivete is tempered by wisdom.
- From Dead Rising, Frank West, a freelance photojournalist with a rough attitude and a determination to set things right in the zombie-infested world.
- Canach from Guild Wars 2. He made some bad choices in the past, but he's trying to make up for that by helping the Commander fight the elder dragons and save the world. That said, he is still holding onto his salty attitude, making him fit solidly into this trope.
- In Cultist Simulator, Hunters can have both the "Grim" and "Idealist" traits, which makes for a nasty combination to the Villain Protagonist player character. "Grim" makes the hunter more susceptible to a Hannibal Lecture based on the lore of Winter, but grants immunity to attempts to sway them with the lore of the Lantern; "Idealist" has the opposite effect, making the the Lantern more tempting while granting them immunity to attempts to scare them with Winter. The two traits together cancel out their weaknesses while providing their immunities.
- Ace Attorney
- Most of the SL-9 crew in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. They're demoted, fired, and generally jaded but still want to find the truth of what happened to Neil Marshall.
- Detective Badd in Ace Attorney Investigations, as part of his Film Noir detective persona. And he still fights for justice as the Yatagarasu.
- Dev Hanshin from the Death Room. He clearly doesn't think the world is sunshine and roses, but he always tries to do the right thing.
- * In SwordCat Princess, Kathryn no longer engages verbally with those she saves, instead prompting them to run from danger by threatening them with her swords.
- Roy Greenhilt of The Order of the Stick finds himself filling this role more often than he'd like.
"As much as I loathe how you've manipulated my friends and me, Xykon is an actual threat. I'm not going to sit and let him get away with whatever he's got planned just because my father happens to be a self-absorbed arrogant jerk. There are too many lives at stake" - source
- In The Letters Of The Devil, Detective Cedric Dustin is more interested in advancing himself by doing the least amount of work possible than he is in actually solving crimes.
- Karkat Vantas of Homestuck. He'll shout, he'll whine, he'll mock his friends and foes alike, but ultimately he'll do the right thing. Dave Strider as well. In addition both Karkat and Dave are literal knights.
- Other characters with traits along these lines include Rose Lalonde and Sollux Captor.
- Oddly enough, Davan and some of the other main characters of Something*Positive sometimes come across like this. They live in a Crapsack World and are completely aware of it, but they'll go to great lengths for each other.
- A running theme in Sluggy Freelance is our heroes running into situations that almost make them this trope, but eventually resulting in them keeping their idealism, especially as they meet characters who embody it. The best example of this kind of character would have to be the aged alternate version if Riff in the 4-U City arc, who has been tirelessly working to fix his doomed world for decades while knowing that the dystopia he's ignoring is causing the citizens to suffer. By the time he meets another human being for the first time in ten years he's one giant ball of bitterness. Seeing that possible future causes Riff to reaffirm his idealism during that arc, but even he ends up landing in a balance between idealist and cynic most of the time.
Riff: "The sound of children playing in the streets for the first time in decades. Hate that sound. But I know it's a good thing."
- Heathcliff Sinclair of Slightly Damned puts on a mean face, but shows his true colors when the chips are down.
- In El Goonish Shive, Elliot describes Susan as something like this.
- Corrick of Plume is incredibly jaded with his masters and the world in general, but still manages to bond with Vesper and do more than just keep her alive.
- Zebra Girl: Sam. The fact that he's a cartoon rabbit makes his jadedness all the more pronounced.
- Lamar in We Are The Wyrecats is incredibly dour, but quick to take action nonetheless.
- /tg/ discusses this and Knight in Shining Armor at length here. (warning: somewhat NSFW)
- Coltaine and to a lesser extent Win'Tyr of Dungeons And Drogans.
- Powder Keg from Fallout Is Dragons is a type two Knight In Sour Armor.
- Blake from RWBY has this mentality towards heroes, particularly Wide Eyed Idealists like Ruby. She wants to end corruption, and refuses to partake in the violence that The White Fang inflicts on humans, who systematically oppress Faunus. However, she balks at Ruby's heroic nature and desire for a happy, fairy-tale ending.
- The Courier in Courier's Mind: Rise of New Vegas is a cynical and very reluctant hero, but never the less, usually does the right thing.
- The regular robot in this tumblr cartoon.
Regular Bot: The world is still a very magical place! Even if it is also full of garbage.
- Dreamscape: Keedran knows protecting humanity is a thankless job because of her unsettling appearance, but she does it because its her job as a protector of the planet, not because people like her.
- Genie from Aladdin: The Series becomes this in one episode. He agrees to help the Muktar, a member of a genie hunting, magic sensing race that is considered the mortal enemy of all genies. The reason? If he does so, the Muktar will free his friends Aladdin and co., who have been captured and trapped in a magical locket. At one point the Muktar is attacked by a plant creature, and Genie seizes the opportunity to snatch the locket and run away. However, because he is a good guy, his conscience forces him to turn around and save the Muktar from the plant creature. Later he is betrayed by the Muktar and sold out to Mozenrath, a sorcerer who hired the Muktar to catch Genie. After being imprisoned in a crystal, he angrily says to himself "I could have run away, but noooooo, I'm a GOOD guy!" Later the Muktar turns around and saves the protagonists, including Genie, from Mozenrath, but the point still stands. Sometimes a good character will be disgusted with itself for doing the right thing when amorality could have paid off so much more.
- Ratchet from Transformers Animated has seen what the worst of war can bring out of the Autobots as a medic and mentor to Omega Supreme. Yet, not even his Grumpy Bear attitude can completely jade his loyalty for his people. Overall, the series' theme seems a bit more sour than any other Transformers series.
- In Transformers Prime, not only does Ratchet carry on this trait, but most of Team Prime, even Optimus himself, carry bits of it with them after spending hundreds of millenia fighting against the Decepticons and losing their home.
- Silverbolt became one in Beast Machines after being reformatted, as a result of trying to reconcile his established Knight in Shining Armor personality with the fact that as a Vehicon, he enjoyed murder, mayhem, and general evilness.
- Dinobot too.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender Prince Zuko becomes this after his Heel–Face Turn and becoming the Sixth Ranger and The Atoner. And while he's on the side of good now, he's still as grumpy and emo as ever and still firmly believes that Aang's silly ideas about pacifism should remain in air temple preschool where they belong, for Aang misses the bigger picture.
- South Park has Stan, a young boy who knows most of the things he will do won't change anything, especially his sociopath of a friend Eric Cartman and the idiot town of South Park, but he keeps doing good deeds regardless because it's the right thing to do.
- Tron has developed a very nasty case of this (along with Good Is Not Nice) in TRON: Uprising, after being betrayed, damaged, and left for dead. He's very gruff towards Beck, but for good reason; he wanted to talk the kid out of it, but since the younger Program isn't going to quit, he'll try to harden Beck so that he survives.
- Warhawk (a member of the Justice League in the future time period of Batman Beyond) is very much like this, along with Good Is Not Nice, sharing both traits with Big Barda, who is also a member at this time.
- Buttercup of The Powerpuff Girls is the Blood Knight of the trio and can act like this a lot, seeing as she represents the Spice aspect of Professor Utonium's original recipe.
- Zodac from In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002), is like this, but wasn't always. He was once a Knight in Shining Armor type, but after King Hsss killed his brother in the original war with the Snake-Men centuries ago, he became colder and harsher in his ways. In the present-day storyline, he barely avoids crossing the line into Knight Templar territory when Hsss returns.
- Samurai Jack: Jack himself has hit this territory as of Season 5. While he continues to fight Aku's forces, he's become completely and utterly broken. Having been trapped in the Bad Future for fifty years without aging or finding a way back to the past, Jack has become little more than a shell going through the motions, and even finds himself arguing with his own subconscious over how hopeless his situation has become. This is visually reflected by his new outfit, a suit of dark-colored samurai armor that has replaced his original pristine white gi.
- Jonathan Swift, despite being a self-proclaimed Misanthrope Supreme who wrote entire books dedicated to proving (quite hilariously) that Humans Are Bastards, nevertheless spent much of his life trying to help the powerless and dispossessed. He particularly tried to help the Irish - even the Catholic ones - having himself seen (as an Anglo-Irishman born in Dublin) exactly how wretchedly they lived. Sometimes, he did both at once. Worth spelling out that Swift was the Dean of Dublin Cathedral, thus a high official in the Anglican Church of Ireland, which at the time believed that all Catholics would go to hell. (And it gets better - the Deanship was really a political appointment, so he was not just going against the policy of the Church, but of the State as well.)
- The official philosopher of this view must be Joseph de Maistre, who wrote in his St. Petersburg Dialogues:
The philosopher can even discover how permanent carnage is provided for and ordained in the grand scheme of things. But will this law stop at man? Undoubtedly not. Yet who will kill him who kills everything else? Man! It is man himself who is charged with slaughtering man.But how can he accomplish this law, he who is a moral and merciful being, who is born to love, who weeps for others as for himself, who finds pleasure in weeping and who even invents fiction to make himself weep, and finally, to whom it has been said that whoever sheds blood unjustly, by man shall his blood be shed?
- The Existentialist movement is like this. Yes, such a "meaning in life" does not exist anyway in this Crapsack World, but they still continue to make the most meaningful out of it and live it. Søren Kierkegaard, considered the first Existentialist philosopher, basically described his Knight of Faith as a somewhat more poetic version of this trope. Like both nihilists ("aesthetic people") and those who resign themselves to the afterlife (the "knight of infinite resignation"), he knows that pursuing an unreachable goal in this world is cynically absurd/meaningless (if it's impossible to reach someone you love, the vast majority would just give up), yet in contrast to them he does anyway as a way of making his life even more meaningful.
- Abraham Lincoln spent most of his life, especially The American Civil War, severely depressed over the nature of the country, particularly the South, and he fought to keep it together anyway.
- George Orwell, who despite the grim darkness of most of his works remained adamant that Democracy and Socialism were worth fighting for (and got shot through the neck doing so—in the Spanish Civil War—yet somehow survived).
- Kent M. Keith, "The Paradoxical Commandments":
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Be good anyway.Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.People need help, but may attack you if you do help them. Help them anyway.Give the world the best you have, and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
- Dmitri Shostakovich, a bitter Soviet composer who refused to become a propagandistic servant to the totalitarian state he lived in until the end.
- Glenn Greenwald, a Salon columnist and former civil rights attorney who, despite being a Deadpan Snarker, firmly believes in civil liberties.
- War poets such as Siegried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen subverted this trope slightly in the sense that they wrote about hating war whilst continuing to serve as soldiers (since they would still have viewed fleeing as treacherous and cowardly). Rudyard Kipling played it a little straighter in the sense that he likewise took on a less jingoistic tone in his poetry after his son died in battle, but he continued to view the concept of besmirching soldiers or the war effort as little better than treason.
- History will remember Ludwig van Beethoven as a bit of a grump. He did not like people, it seemed, but he still produced music that celebrated the finest qualities of both man and divinity, like the famous vocal exert of Ode To Joy.
- Secret letters found to belong to the late Mother Teresa, a renowned symbol of religious compassion, revealed that she had suffered a crisis of faith in the existence of God that lasted 50 years of her life, beginning the same year she began her work helping the poor in Kolkata which continued unabated until her death in 1997.
- Many long time International Humanitarian Aid workers who have worked in the developing world fall into this category too.
- Keith Olbermann, a blazing idealist who wraps himself in a protective shroud of cynicism, snark, and anger. Though generally appearing to be exasperated with the world around him, Keith doesn't do a great job of hiding the fact that he's mostly angry with the world for not being as good as he believes it can be, and obviously can't help but keep believing that someday, it'll get there. If nothing else, his Special Comment on Proposition 8 shows more clearly than anything else that, underneath the snark and the grumbles, Keith Olbermann is a hopeless romantic of the first order.
Keith: ...this isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics. This is about the human heart, and if that sounds corny, so be it.
- On the other side of the aisle, Rush Limbaugh, self-described "Mayor of Realville" who's seen too much over his career to take hope for his ideals winning over at face value, and constantly tells his listeners to never get complacent when things seem to be going "our" way. Still, he also is sure to say "I will tell you when it's time to panic," and holds firm to the belief that America's strong enough to take anything.
- Sufferers of depression often become something of a real-world equivalent of this if they survive and overcome the disorder. Prolonged depression tend to give people a more negative outlook on life, but many act in a selflessly and joyous manner to compensate.