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Knight of Cerebus

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"All my days were happy, fun and cheerful. I liked that world and peace that we had. In that world, there were only thieves who stole wallets from citizens and we played who would get him first. Funny days... Normal days... School, hanging out with girls and finally beating delinquents. But one day they came... that thing came! They took everything from me! My life and my home! My friends are dead! My family was killed in front of me! My happy world fell into darkness and despair! "
Hitori explaining his life after DEM Industries and Isaac Westcott's appearance, Date A Live

In order to add more drama to a series which has been, up until that moment, lighthearted and comedic in nature, a villain (or antagonist of some sort) is introduced and is portrayed as a genuine threat, in contrast to the bumbling and comedic villains the heroes have faced before. The villian's arrival is sudden, and is usually either a totally new character, or a character that has undergone a particularly dramatic Face–Heel Turn.

This villain's arrival is heralded by a sudden downturn in humor (although if the villain is Laughably Evil, expect it to turn into Black Comedy), showing the audience this one means business. In other words, a catalyst for a drastic change in mood toward the dark and dramatic. Some characters may take the story to darker territory without being villainous in the slightest, but this trope is reserved for evil creatures. Grim Dark shows and stories that take place in a Crapsack World are much less susceptible to this kind of influence, but even they have exceptions if this villain shifts the story from Black Comedy to being more serious. This isn't only about the character themself, it is also about their relation to the story.


A Knight of Cerebus may be a blatant Hero Killer who poses an actual threat, or even an Invincible Villain. They also tend to be the trigger of The Worf Effect against the hero. They may be the Arch-Enemy as they might have a strong personal tie to the hero or heroes of the work. They are usually distinguished from the other villains as perhaps being worse, stronger, or more personally tied to the protagonists. Sometimes this type of character can be a Complete Monster if they have no redeeming traits and do terrible things by the standards of history in an initially more lighthearted series. Often this character's arrival is a Gut Punch.

Their opposite is the Fun Personified, who may not be able to change the tone as effectively, but still works to prevent things from getting too dark. See also Dead Serious and Not-So-Harmless Villain, when a villain starts as ridiculous but, because of some change from within, ends up becoming this. Compare Shoo Out the Clowns, when the darker tone coincides with decreased screentime for comedic characters.


Remember, Cerebus Syndrome is a prerequisite for this trope. The Knight of Cerebus heralds a long-term tone shift in an episodic work and cannot exist within a single installment. An increase in danger as a conflict escalates is present in almost any story with a villain, and is not automatically notable. Can overlap with Vile Villain, Saccharine Show when the setting itself contrasts heavily with the character's grimness (and in fact, Vile Villain, Saccharine Show may be what you want for a single work).


Other examples:

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    Pro Wrestling 
  • New World Order. They debuted in one of wrestling's most cartoony eras and proceeded to utterly annihilate every face who stood in their way. They were led by Hulk Hogan, formerly an Invincible Hero, now a cruel and vindictive heel who loved to play the numbers game. Hell, they were so dark that Sting went through a personality 180 from a cheery surfer to a brooding Crow-type just so he could effectively combat them!
  • The Undertaker's Ministry of Darkness. They crucified and hanged their enemies, kidnapped women, brainwashed midcarders, made blood pacts in the middle of the ring... only infighting and The Undertaker getting injured put an end to them.
  • The Nexus made their debut by savagely beating down everyone around the ring- and we mean everyone. The faces, the heels, the trainers, the announcers, the commentators... they even destroyed the ring! Wrestling/RAW ended with the seven of them standing tall, everything around them utterly annihilated. And it got worse from there.
  • The Wyatt Family. With the WWE's current Lighter and Softer atmosphere, it's really jarring to see a gimmick like this one, especially considering it may be one of the most disturbing and genuinely unnerving characters in the history of the company.
    "Hey, wanna see something... really scary?"
    • Taken Up to Eleven with Bray Wyatt's "The Fiend" persona. How so? When he debuted at SummerSlam 2019, the show was given a TV-14 rating simply because of his presence. And what is Bray like when he’s not the Fiend? A frightening but ultimately harmless Depraved Kids' Show Host.
  • A well-booked Wrestling Monster usually qualifies, since they will steamroll face after face until someone puts them down. Well-known examples include Kane, Brock Lesnar, Mark Henry since his 2011 Face–Heel Turn, and even Beth Phoenix.
  • The Shield. While they've started to fall apart in 2014, they debuted as a brutal SWAT Team-like trio who would steamroll anyone with flawless teamwork and then Triple Powerbomb them through a table.
  • Randy Orton. It's easy to forget that, prior to the summer of 2007 when he really began to establish himself as a main-event heel, WWE had for months and months been a carnival of kooky gimmicks: evil cheerleaders, a leprechaun, a "monster" who ate worms, Booker T thinking he was a medieval king, Mr. McMahon getting his head shaved...Even the (kayfabe) destruction of McMahon's limo and Chris Benoit's (real-life) death earlier that summer couldn't quite put a damper on the silliness. Then Orton loses his title bout against John Cena at SummerSlam, pouts about it...and, after Jonathan Coachman tells him that he hasn't "proven himself" yet, kicks Cena's father in the head just to guarantee that he'll get a rematch.
  • Seth Rollins has gotten progressively unhinged, then came the last RAW of 2014. He holds Edge hostage and actually threatens to kill or at least paralyze him via Neck Snap. When John Cena tries to save him, Seth orders him to stop and laughs that if Edge is unable to hold his daughter for the rest of his life due to paralysis, it is all on Cena's head. Cena gives in to all of Seth's demands, only for him to calmly say, "Damn, you gotta know me better than that, John. I'm gonna kill him anyway." Fortunately, Cena was able to stop him from stomping on Edge's neck, but still.
  • Kevin Steen was already a pretty dark character in his "wrestling's worst nightmare" persona, but then he came to NXT under the name Kevin Owens. He has since established himself as the darkest, cruelest, most heartless heel in NXT's young history- injuring anyone who he doesn't like, damn near killing his former best friend Sami Zayn, and generally asserting himself as someone who does not give a damn about who or what he breaks on his way to the top. Case in point, he vowed to beat John Cena at Elimination Chamber 2015 and he kept his promise, not only throwing everything he got, but also got a CLEAN win over Cena, which very few in the WWE have managed to do.
  • Lucha Underground has three Knights of Cerebus
    • First there is Pentagon Jr. a brutal luchador who became this when he started attacking and breaking the arms of those on the roster, snapping them like twigs and dedicating each one to his Master. Showing zero interest in capturing titles as the only thing that mattered was sacrificing limbs to his Master. He even proved that gender was no issue to him when he not only attempted to break the arms of the ring announcer but Sexy Star as well.
    • Second is Mil Muertes, a giant of a man who flat out demolishes those he faces. Unlike others on the roster, he does not waste any time or give his opponents even though he outclasses them opportunities to fight against him.
    • Last but not least is Matanza, who is the brother of The owner of Lucha Underground, Dario Cueto. Kept locked in a cell in the basement in The Temple, its been stated that he was responsible for the deaths of Black Lotus's parents and also her village. He's kept locked up and we never get a scene with him but the only sound you hear is his snarling and breathing from within his cell. Matanza finally proved himself to be this when Dario, furious after a henchmen of his had failed, forced them against the bars of Matanza's cell and Matanaza destroyed him with blood splattering all over the room.
  • Jimmy Havoc became this for Progress Wrestling when he turned heel, before that most of the heels were just assholes, Havoc was Ax-Crazy, some of the things he did was threaten to set Mark Andrews on fire for a title match and he tried to cut Will Ospreay's ear off to make a point to the companies management. When he was threatening to set Mark Andrews on fire for a title match someone from the crowd shouted out "you're a psychopath".
  • CHIKARA is pretty well known in the wrestling world for being a mostly lighthearted, family-friendly and often comedic wrestling promotion, filled with goofy colourful gimmicks, slapstick comedy routines during matches, and storylines that would not seem out of place in a superhero comic. And then in 2014 along came The Flood, a massive stable of almost every single major villain and rudo-stable the company had ever seen. And leading them was Deucalion, a massive body-armour-clad black-eyed super-soldier in a gas mask who looked more than a little bit like Bane from the Batman comics, with one goal: To destroy CHIKARA and all that it stands for, from the inside out. What resulted was a massive year-long war between The Flood and the technico-wrestlers. Now CHIKARA had seen it fair share of serious villains, such as Die Bruderschaft des Kreuzes and GEKIDO, but there was one major difference: Deucalion was not afraid to kill (in kayfabe, anyway) any wrestler that got in his way, regardless of what side of the war they were on. And he had been responsible for the 'deaths' of six wrestlers before he finally met his demise at the hands of Icarus. To date he is still the darkest and most dangerous wrestler that CHIKARA has ever seen.
  • Jake Roberts: A thinking man's heel, "The Snake" was ahead of his time with his masterful promos and character work. Some of his most "memorable" Kick the Dog moments include DDTing Ricky Steamboat on concrete, locking Ultimate Warrior in a room full of snakes, and having Randy Savage bitten by a king cobra in front of a live audience. It is telling that even The Undertaker, who was once his accomplice, eventually had enough of his actions and turned against him.

  • Adventures in Odyssey is largely a realistic show about realistic small-town problems, frequently more comedy than drama. It had a few forays into serious territory early on, whether it was an adaptation of a Bible story or a robbery... but when Dr. Blackgaard showed up, things changed.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 effectively has two in its history.
    • The first to appear were the four Chaos Gods. Before they showed up, humanity was more or less kicking ass and taking names. Then the Chaos Gods make their presence known by corrupting Horus, turning half of humanity to their side, nearly wiping out all of Terra, having their new servant Horus cripple The Emperor and indirectly causing the imperium of man to become the Crapsack World it is today. However, this was only in the Horus Heresy, and it only really applied to humanity. After their first defeat, humanity began gaining ground against the forces of Chaos until they downgraded to The Usual Adversaries. Something that The Eldar ALREADY saw them as.
    • Then came the Tyranids. In their very first attack, they crippled the most well respected Space Marines in the galaxy. In their second, it took both the Eldar AND Humanity working together just to gain a Pyrrhic Victory over them. And their third assault STILL hasn't been stopped, despite the sacrifice of billions upon billions of humans. Every time a Hive Fleet has appeared, the races of the galaxy have had to cross the Godzilla Threshold in order to stop it. EVERY Hive Fleet is treated as an apocalyptic event for the galaxy and these are just the scouting fleets, the main force isn't even here yet. While every other race has spent millennia fighting over one galaxy, the Tyranids are implied to have consumed multiple ones. This is just their next meal. The Chaos Gods are scared of the Tyranids, because they have the power to completely block out the Warp. And the Tyranids are implied to be running away from something EVEN WORSE.

  • Makuta from BIONICLE started out menacing enough, but his constant defeats and failures gradually robbed him of his credibility. After the original head of the Story Team left, the character of Makuta underwent a serious retcon, which resulted in him turning into a calculating mastermind who had planned his victory from the start, turned out to be the Greater-Scope Villain behind a lot of former villains, and by the end of the story arc, ended up winning.

Alternative Title(s): Cerebus Knight


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