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Lying Heroes, Honest Villains

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When people think of good guys and bad guys, most would expect that they should trust the heroes over the villains. After all, if the heroes want to succeed in their mission, they need allies that can trust them, which is difficult if they don't tell the truth, right?

Not always.

Just as outside appearances, dress quality, and social interactions can run contrary to expectations in a good and evil dynamic, so too can actions compared to words. In this area of contrast, the hero is spreading lies and the villain is truthful.

There are a number of ways this trope can appear. One could be that the hero's plan relies on trickery and/or secrets while the villain has no need to hide their true intentions due to the power they wield. The heroes could have secrets that they want hidden from their allies and the villain is trying to expose those secrets. Or the lies told by the heroes are intended to lure the villain into a trap set up by what was learned from the villains.

While this can go hand in hand with Polite Villains, Rude Heroes, both can exist without the other being in play; nice heroes can be dishonest Guile Heroes, and mean villains can be truthful Well Intentioned Extremists. This can be seen in Chevalier vs. Rogue settings where The Hero is the Rogue and the Big Bad is the Chevalier. The trope can also be related to Metaphorically True or Double Speak, where the villain tells the truth, but in a manipulative or convenient way.

Done well, the trope can illustrate how heroism can spell dilemmic circumstances for those seeking to do good; done poorly, it can make for a case of the villains becoming more sympathetic than the heroes.

Subtrope of Good and Evil for Your Convenience. This trope can readily appear in situations where Villains Never Lie. Often a sub trope for Pragmatic Hero if the hero in question believes they must be deceitful or underhanded to achieve a greater good. Can overlap with Go Mad from the Revelation, where the "truth" is so awful that the heroes may have a justified reason for keeping it secret.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency, Joseph Joestar is a known trickster who tends to manipulate his foes' behavior with lies to catch them off guard. By comparison, Wamuu is a proud warrior and a Fair-Play Villain who sees Joseph as a Worthy Opponent.
  • In One Piece, Usopp makes heavy use of lies, deception, and misdirection as part of his battling style. The bad guys he fights, on the other hand, tend to rely solely on their powers or brute strength, confident that they can beat Usopp without having to do anything complicated.note 

    Films — Animation 
  • Deconstructed in Shark Tale. Oscar pretends to have killed two sharks in order to boost his social status. Don Lino, the sharks' father, makes it fully clear that he intends to get revenge on the Sharkslayer. And Lola doesn't bother to hide the fact that she's a Gold Digger.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader reveals that he is Luke Skywalker's father when Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda intentionally misled Luke into believing otherwise.
  • Red Eye has Lisa Reiser, the hotel manager who lies about her drink order and the scar on her chest and Jackson Rippner, the Manipulative Bastard organizer who is always truthful.
  • Romancing the Stone: When Ralph steals the stone from Joan and Jack (who was previously plotting to keep it for himself), he points out that at least he's being honest about stealing it, not trying to seduce Joan for it like Jack was.

  • One of the pervasive tensions in the Night Watch (Series) is that the Light Others (ostensibly the good guys) have to repeatedly lie or obfuscate the truth For the Greater Good, while the Dark Others ("evil" guys) commonly employ Brutal Honesty to harm or to emotionally manipulate people.
  • The Warrior Cats book Moth Flight's Vision is from WindClan's point of view. A WindClan cat, Willow Tail, accuses SkyClan of stealing prey; the SkyClan leader Clear Sky, meanwhile, insists that Willow Tail is making it up because of her own grudge against one of the his cats. Clear Sky had been the main antagonist in the past, and even in the present still seems eager for battle and refuses to let the medicine cats perform their duties, so naturally the main characters and the reader believe the WindClan cat to be right. Turns out in the end that Clear Sky is right and that Willow Tail was indeed lying.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the eternal Enemy Mine relationship between The Doctor and The Master in Doctor Who, this trope is applied to the Twelfth Doctor and Missy (a.k.a. The Master in female form), where the former is a Byronic Hero who can't trust even in his companions and hides secrets from them, and the latter is a Lovable Alpha Bitch who always says the truth to him and Clara Oswald.
  • Forever: In the finale "The Last Death of Henry Morgan," Henry is forced to lie to Jo repeatedly trying to protect her from Adam, while Adam tries to manipulate things so that Jo will see Henry die and thus learn of his secret.
  • Hannibal:
    • Immoral Journalist Freddie Lounds tells Abigail Hobbs the truth that she is under suspicion of the murders her father committed, and that she has to get her story out there. Will is in total denial about just how much Abigail is suspected of from the police and tries to stop her talking to Freddie.
    • Hannibal is a total Manipulative Bastard (and his reasons for telling the truth are equally manipulative), but he tells Will the truth: that Margot manipulated him into having sex so she could claim a legitimate heir to her family's fortune, a fact which she conveniently kept from him.
  • Supernatural: In "The Man Who Knew Too Much", Castiel (an angel) and Crowley (a demon) team up to open a gate to Purgatory and absorb all the souls within for power. Shortly before the ritual can be performed, Castiel cuts Crowley out of the deal. Crowley is shocked and enraged that he was the one who had been acting in good-faith and got betrayed.

    Video Games