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Meta Twist

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Above: expected result. Below: the twist.
Say you're into a particular author who likes giving each of their stories a special kind of Twist Ending. They like using it so much it's practically a signature element for their works. For some, it's predictable and groanworthy, while others might like it. Either way, it's always going to be there. Right?

Imagine the surprise when, after finishing with the story, the twist isn't there. Much like an Empty Room Psych, the author willingly removes that twist from their latest work to throw avid fans who expected It Was His Sled for a loop.

Maybe they realized that using the trope was becoming predictable or worse, a crutch, and ditched it. Or perhaps they plotted the surprise from the start from before even starting their first work just to give fans a huge surprise. And of course, maybe they just wanted (horror of horrors) to surprise the audience in order to entertain them. It doesn't matter which it is, the net effect is the same: the plot twist for that story becomes the absence of an established twist. So, a Meta Twist.

For a moment, the experienced have become just as easy to surprise as the newbie. In fact, a newbie into the works/genre will be pleasantly surprised regardless. The avid fan will get the added bonus of not knowing what happens next. This can be a good way to keep the audience interested in their future stories.


Compare with The Un-Twist. Not His Sled is a Sub-Trope where the Meta Twist occurs in an Adaptation or a Reboot as opposed to a sequel or an otherwise unrelated franchise by the same creator.note 

Note: This is a Spoilered Rotten trope, that means that EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE on this list is a spoiler by default and most of them will be unmarked. This is your last warning, only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list. In fact, these spoilers are even more dangerous than the usual variety, since it's impossible to not spoil the twist ending usually utilized from the moment the name of the work or creator is stated.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: When it was revealed that Gen Urobuchi was working on the series, many fans immediately suspected that the show would be a lot darker than it at first seemed. And they were right... mostly. The ending, while still bittersweet, was much happier than he is normally known for. Also a possible subversion of Lying Creator—when he claimed he wanted to write a heartwarming anime, few believed him. This gets twisted again in The Movie. The ending is even more happy and even more bittersweet at the same time.
  • One Piece did this powerfully in the Marineford Arc. A tradition in One Piece is that no one dies in the present. This had been taken to ridiculous extremes on multiple occasions, perhaps most notably when Pell sacrificed himself to carry a massive bomb into the sky where the explosion would only barely not reach the ground. It's not long before he's implied, then later confirmed to have somehow survived. Then in the Marineford Arc, a bunch of powers are all colliding, but Luffy's just there for his brother, Ace. They tease that he may not have enough time to save him, but due to an immense amount of luck, he makes it and rescues his brother (of course, no one dies, right?). However, Luffy has been severely taxed by the events leading up to the Marineford Arc, and collapses at the height of a dangerous battle (partially thanks to only surviving the worst poisons on the planet due to an immense will and extensive outside help, another example of death being avoided against all odds). His brother rushes to his defense to take the blow from Akainu, a man with lava powers. Ace has fire powers and can turn immaterial, so he'll be fine, right? Well, lava and fire are members of the same elemental family and since lava is much hotter he's able to directly injure even a man made of fire. Needless to say, he did not survive. The Meta Twist made this moment extremely powerful, making it a significant moment for the audience as well as the characters, while also symbolizing a major shift in the tone of the story. The Straw Hats were no longer just having fun adventures on the seas. They had drawn the attention of the biggest and most dangerous names in the world.
    • Throughout the series many flashbacks, it became tradition for the subject of the flashbacks to have formed a bond with someone, often a paternal figure, then lose them in an event which informed their later actions. So, in Whole Cake Island, when it's revealed that Big Mom was raised by Mother Caramel, an orphanage head and holy woman who instilled Big Mom's philosophy of a land of all people and mysteriously disappeared during a birthday party, fans where lead to believe they were in for a similar sequence of events. Which makes it all the more shocking when the flashback reveals that everything Big Mom said about her couldn't be further from the truth. Mother Caramel was actually a slave trader who used the guise of a holy woman to sell children to the World Goverment, and everything she told Big Mom was an utter lie. And the reason for her disappearance at the party? Big Mom ate her and the other orphans during eating frenzy.
  • In Fairy Tail, much of the Tartaros arc's final battle is about as formulaic as you can get with this series. Natsu is the last person standing against Mard Geer. He gets help from his friend(s)—Gray in this scenario—who eventually goes down and leaves Natsu finish the job. Natsu goes full Power of Friendship mode, unlocks a convenient new Power-Up, and pours every last ounce of strength he has left into his Finishing Move...but Mard Geer doesn't go down. And as it so happens, Natsu reveals he was counting on this as Gray reveals he was Playing Possum, allowing him to finish Mard Geer off as Natsu has him pinned right where Gray wants him. This marks the first and only break from the series' "The Hero beats the Arc Villain" streak since it began with Jellal at the Tower of Heaven, who came six villains before Mard Geer.
  • In My Hero Academia, the Hideout Raid arc sees All Might head off to his ultimate confrontation with All for One. If you've consumed any piece of media ever, you'll know that this means All Might's days are numbered. You'd be wrong. All Might wins the fight, but expends the last dregs of his power to do so and officially retires soon after, leaving the future in Izuku's hands. Meanwhile, All for One is arrested, but leadership of the League of Villains transfers to Tomura Shigaraki.
  • Like the games it's a continuation of, Danganronpa 3 sneaks a few twists in its plot. Mastermind has secretly been around the whole time, only to be revealed and punished in the same chapter? Tengan was killed before anyone could suspect him, by the guy who suspected everybody.

    Comic Books 
  • Final Night is about a present-day version of the Sun-Eater. It features, among others, Ferro (based on Ferro Lad, who died in the original Legion of Super-Heroes story against the Sun-Eater). When he's about to make his classic Heroic Sacrifice taking Superman's place as in the original story, he's saved by Hal Jordan, who makes the sacrifice instead.
  • Spider-Man
    • Mark Millar's run on Marvel Knights Spider-Man: Right after Spider-Man sends Green Goblin to prison, Aunt May is kidnapped. Osborn protests that he hasn't had time to formulate a revenge plan from prison yet, so it couldn't have been him. It turns out the mastermind was Mac Gargan AKA The Scorpion AKA the new Venom. But he didn't know who Spider-Man was and wasn't smart enough to orchestrate the scheme, so who gave him the instructions? Norman Osborn, of course.
    • The infamous comic The Night Gwen Stacy Died pulled this after ten years of ol' Web Head always saving the Damsel in Distress. Even with that blunt of a title (which, to the story's credit, was saved until The Reveal to avoid spoiling the ending), nobody saw it coming that yes, Gwen Stacy does in fact die in that issue. She doesn't come back from the dead and it's not a dream. She was thrown off a bridge and Spidey would never be the same again, with her death being a permanent fixture of the mythos.
    • An early example from Spider-Man's original run — villain Big Man was revealed to be Peter's coworker Frederick Fosswell. Later, Fosswell gets out of jail and gets his job back. The Crime Master shows up, having a mysterious relationship with Fosswell. In the end of the two-parter, it turns out the Crime Master is... some random, never-before-seen mobster. Fosswell did reform (as far as that issue went, at least), he was working as a police informant all along, which could explain how he got such a good plea bargain.
    • The Gwenom arc in Spider-Gwen. Most readers would expect it to mirror the original Venom story from the Spider-Man comics and told time-and-time again in adaptations; Spidey bonds with an alien symbiote and grows fond of the new abilities, he gets Drunk on the Dark Side for a while, eventually realizes what has happened, and removes the creature after a bit of fighting. Instead, the creative team goes in a very different direction at first, as the symbiote's first target isn't Gwen, but her universe's Wolverine. Gwen does become the next person to bond with the symbiote after that, but in another twist, she can fully control it. Gwen remains in an actual symbiotic relationship with the creature from that point on, with the black suit only manifesting when Gwen is particularly upset or wants to intimidate her foes. Okay, she does become bloodthirsty for a while, but that was the result of her and the symbiote being stressed out due to Captain Stacy almost dying. Taking down Matt Murdock (here the evil leader of The Hand) and spending a year in prison helps her mellow out some.

  • David Lynch, once he got famous for making Mind Screw movies, then directed a completely straight story called The Straight Story.
  • M. Night Shyamalan is so famous for adding completely unexpected twists to his works that when The Happening lacked one, people were disappointed. Though that was far from the only reason people were disappointed in the movie. In the case of Split, the twist isn't so much a shocking reveal about the story itself (as is the case of Shyamalan's other works) but a reveal about the world in which it's set (that of Unbreakable).
  • The Brothers Bloom is about con-men, and it has become something of a cliche that any story about con-men is usually a con itself—the viewer waits for the twist to be revealed. The twist at the end of the movie is... there is no twist. The movie has played fair with the audience all along, and what you saw is what really happened. The feeling of the viewer's plot-twist-sense tingling was just paranoia.
  • In David Mamet's debut movie House of Games, he played the aforementioned trope that the events in a con man movie are revealed to be part of a massive con straight. But when he directed his second con man movie, The Spanish Prisoner, he must have realized that viewers were now expecting this kind of a Plot Twist. To counter that, the movie keeps constantly introducing new plot elements that may be innocent, or may (to a viewer expecting the twist) be part of a con. The result is that by the end of the movie, a sufficiently paranoid viewer can't be sure how large the actual con was, or who exactly was involved in it.
  • Scream (1996): The guy that was really, really, ridiculously obviously the killer... was the killer! And another guy is his accomplice! They screw it in even further by having said accomplice pretend to murder him at the start of the third act.
  • Rear Window: Alfred Hitchcock is known for making movies with shocking twists, in which what appears to be going on turns out to have been something entirely different. Rear Window has the perfect setup for this kind of thing, as the main characters spend the movie speculating based on limited evidence... but it turns out that, yes, the main character's theory that his neighbor had murdered his wife was one hundred percent correct.
  • Though many viewers thought that Star Trek Into Darkness would reprise Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the rebooted continuity, others took Spock's words in Star Trek (2009) to heart and thought that it would resolve in some other way. It was reprised alright, along with the rest of "The Spock Trilogy", but with significant differences, the most obvious being that Kirk and Spock were swapped, making Into Darkness fit both this Trope and Not His Sled, each with regard to a different movie.
  • Sean Bean's reputation as a Chronically Killed Actor can make movies like National Treasure or Silent Hill where he lives to the end of the film a sort of twist. This also applies retroactively to films made before he had this reputation; in Goldeneye he appears to be killed in the opening sequence but faked his death and is later revealed as the Big Bad.
  • Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is about The Angry Video Game Nerd, a Caustic Critic renowned for reviewing terrible video games, and his adversarial relationship with Eee Tee, a game so horrible that it scarred him as a child. In the end, when the Nerd reviews what many consider to be the absolute worst video game in the entire history of the medium, the Nerd actually states that Eee Tee is not the worst game of all time, but one that, in spite of its myriad flaws, was actually very innovative for its time, especially considering it was developed in less than two months.
  • Just from Star Wars, we have:
    • While The Force Awakens has a reputation with some fans for having almost the same plot as A New Hope, The Last Jedi has many twists that keeps it from being the same as The Empire Strikes Back. Examples:
      • Supreme Leader Snoke, who was set up as taking the Emperor's place in the new trilogy, is killed by his apprentice before the final act.
      • Rey's parents being revealed as just ordinary people means that she is unrelated to any pre-established characters or families, therefore avoiding the "I-am-your-father" type twist as in The Empire Strikes Back.
      • Kylo Ren destroys his helmet, kills Snoke, tells Rey to let go of the past (which includes both the Sith and Jedi Orders), and takes over Snoke's role as Supreme Leader. Instead of becoming a menacing, faceless and strong Sith Lord like Darth Vader who is still loyal to the Emperor, he becomes a Composite Character, midway between Darth Vader and Palpatine.
      • Poe's plucky team of oddballs decides to go behind the back of the boss who didn't trust them to save the day on their own, much like Rogue One. Instead, they just end up making everything much, much worse. If anything, Poe justified Holdo's lack of trust in him.
    • Solo takes advantage of the fact that the Star Wars franchise has a long history of masked villainous warriors who dress in dark colors, often including robes and capes, and are often equipped with a unique weapon. This all makes it a genuine surprise when Enfys Nest, who fits all of these criteria, and is even something of a Darth Vader Clone, turns out to be Good All Along.
  • Cloud Atlas: Timothy mentions Soylent Green in connection with cloned Koreans before Sonmi's story even starts; the clones all drinking the same nutrients each day invokes the connection very strongly. But the plot thread seemingly gets dropped very early on in Sonmi's tale, to focus on political intrigue instead. Small hints are dropped — a reference to Malthus, for example. By the time Sonmi reaches the ship, it's of course a Foregone Conclusion that Xultation isn't real... but the sudden return of the Soylent Green theme is unexpected, if just because the story already includes such a large number of other famous sci-fi twists in its loving pastiche. And then it gets taken a step further when it turns out that not only is the Soap made of discarded clones, but so is the regular food in Papa Song's diner.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe:

  • Harry Potter:
    • The first five Harry Potter books follow a specific pattern: the people Harry suspects are never the actual bad guys. In Half-Blood Prince, Harry is actually right about who's responsible. There's a slight twist, admittedly, but the reader doesn't find that out until Deathly Hallows.
    • Half-Blood Prince also has another one: Up until then, the Defense Against Dark Arts teacher always had been a character newly introduced in the respective book. This turned out not to be the case in HBP. Even Harry and friends were surprised by this. There is a new teacher introduced, and everyone had been expecting him to take the DADA slot, but it turns out the new guy had actually been recruited to teach Potions, and Snape was finally given the position of DADA teacher. Also, in the first five books, the new DADA teacher was always unable to teach a second year. The reasons varied, but they always left the school at the end of their first year. The new DADA teacher from HBP was no longer teaching DADA in the next book, but in a shocking twist, this was actually because he had become headmaster instead.
  • Most of Dan Brown's work to date has involved the final villain of the story actually being a trusted ally in disguise, and the obvious villain just doing the dirty work for said person. So it was quite a surprise in The Lost Symbol when the obvious villain was the primary antagonist from start to finish.
  • In the opening chapters of Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, a main character thinks about her secret lover and why nobody can ever know about their relationship. As Waters' previous books centered on lesbians, it seems obvious where this is going — but the lover is actually a man (the forbidden love aspect is because he's married).
  • Goosebumps is notorious for having a Mandatory Twist Ending in practically every book. In the few episodes where there effectively is no twist ending, we get this.
  • Harry Turtledove is well known for his Loads and Loads of Characters, to the point where most of his books start out with a filler scene for each one that only serves to remind you of the position each of the many viewpoint characters were in at the end of the last book. Except on the rare occasion that one of them dies in this section.
  • The Cosmere: The World-Hopper Hoid has a cameo in every story in the series, working towards his own ends and often manipulating events. You reach Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, ready yourself for his usual appearance, and... he doesn’t show up. In fact, he’s not even mentioned and it’s indicated that he has absolutely no stake in the story’s events.
  • The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: The Reveal that the Utopian city of Omelas is a Town with a Dark Secret, and that secret is that the happiness of the city is Powered by a Forsaken Child, is casually dropped in the narration by the Lemony Narrator who makes clear he's doing it because, as he points out, by the time the story was published, False Utopia and Dystopian books were a sci-fi norm and the reader just won't believe that there isn't a catch somehow. The narrator then goes on to ask "there you go, the flaw you were looking for! Are you happy now?"

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24:
    • By the third season finale, fans have come to expect some huge cliffhanger twist. Jack enters his car, there's a long silence as the viewer waits expectantly... and then Jack breaks down crying. Whoa.
    • The deaths of David Palmer and Michelle Dessler in season 5 and Bill Buchanan in season 7 served as this, as they wound up happening at the beginning of an episode rather than the end which was usually the case whenever a major character was killed off.
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., of course the guy played by Brad Dourif is the Big Bad, right? Not this time.
  • Nearly all adaptations of And Then There Were None change the book's Kill 'Em All ending into a happier one where Vera is actually innocent of the murder that U. N. Owen accused her of committing, she and Lombard fall in love, and Lombard is consequently able to convince Vera to not kill him and the two survive the murderer's plot. Because of this, it can come as a nasty shock to viewers who are more familiar with the film adaptations than the original book when the 2015 BBC adaptation follows the films' lead of having Vera and Lombard fall in love and Lombard making a plea to Vera to trust him about the murderer being neither of them that's very similar to the plea he makes in the 1945 and 1965 films... and then having Vera — who is revealed immediately afterwards to be 100% guilty of the murder she was accused of — shoot him dead anyway.
  • A suspect in The Closer was a junkie arrested while he was high, showed violent tenancies when he chucked a chair through a window, had blood on his clothes, and possessed the keys to a stolen car with a murdered girl in the trunk. Rarely is the guilty party quite so obvious. The episode was largely dedicated to convincing Brenda that it was probably exactly what it looked like.
  • The cases on Cold Case are usually elaborate puzzles and webs of lies involving several people, each of whom has a more or less believable reason to want the victim dead, so it's the ones where the killer is obvious from the beginning that are the surprising ones, as the puzzle is therefore something else. Examples have included...
    • "The Runner", the case of a murdered cop who was recorded screaming "Runner! Runner!" before his death. Once the police discover "Runner" was the street name of an Evil Former Friend of the cop it becomes clear who did it, but he eludes the cops at every turn, at least until they find out there was another witness. And then they have to find her.
    • "Hubris": The killer had been correctly identified when the case was still hot, but the police were unable to prove it. The suspect has been hounded by the victim's family ever since, and in hopes of getting them off his back he asks for the case to be reopened himself, as in the interim he'd taken the liberty of framing someone.
    • "Creatures of the Night:" The killer is already in prison in another state, but thanks to a deal he took will soon be eligible for parole. After learning he'd spent time in Philadelphia, the Philly PD is forced to hunt for a victim they're not even sure exists in hopes of keeping him locked up.
    • "Saving Patrick Bubley:" Everyone knows that a vicious street gang is responsible for the deaths of four brothers. However, due to either fear of the gang or hatred of the police, no witnesses are willing to come forward, meaning all the cops "officially" have is a hunch.
    • "One Night" and "The Road": The killer is ID'd before the first commercial break, but during interrogation it's discovered there's a still-alive victim stashed somewhere. Cue a battle of wits between the cops and the killer to try to find them before it's too late.
  • There's an episode of Dangerfield called "Silence Has Rhythm Too" in which a musician and friend of series lead Jonathan Paige is found standing over the strangled body of the neighbour he didn't get on with, holding the cord she was strangled with. The police arrest him but obviously he's innocent and Paige will unearth the real killer, right? Instead the episode ends with Paige realising that, yes, he actually did do it.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Early Doctor Who fans had become quite used to very dodgy looking aliens. So when it turned out that Koquilion from "The Rescue" actually was a man in a costume, it managed to take people by surprise.
    • Steven Moffat is regarding as something of a master of the shocking twist. So when River Song was announced to have killed "a good man, the best [she'd] ever known", it was thought it was just too obvious for it to be the Doctor. After all, it was the first name which came to everyone's mind the second it was suggested. It just couldn't be true, right? In fact, entire sections of the fandom (across more than one discussion group) dissected the idea. They argued that River Song, knowing and often mentioning the Doctor's flaws, would never call him the best man she'd ever known. They argued that this Doctor had even said why he wasn't truly a good man because "good men don't need rules". Meanwhile, Rory (who doesn't need rules) was repeatedly stated to be a good man throughout the series. He showed a habit of dying several times (almost as though the universe were trying to make him...). When he was revealed out to be River's father in "A Good Man Goes to War", it seemed guaranteed (and many fans were sitting back quite content with themselves and saying "I told you so"). After all, who would a daughter be more likely to consider the best man she'd ever known than her father? And then it was the Doctor after all, only it wasn't actually him — it's complicated.
    • Moffat outdid himself spectacularly with "Listen". He is well-known for taking classic childhood fears like a fear of the dark or of statues and designing monsters around them. So when the Doctor theorizes that there is a monster that has evolved to hide so well it cannot be seen, ever, it seems like another Moffat monster. At the end, it turns out that there is no monster and that it's all in the Doctor's head. He thought up an exceptionally terrifying monster because he was once scared as a little boy. That's right, Moffat managed to deconstruct not only the character of the Doctor, but also his own idiosyncratic storytelling tropes.
    • At the apparent end of "Last Christmas", the Doctor discovers that Clara was actually attacked by the Dream Crab as an old woman, and that it's over sixty years from her frame of reference since the end of "Death in Heaven". This looks like exactly the kind of Diabolus ex Machina twist that the 21st-century series has frequently relied on to forcibly and angstily part companions from the Doctor. Then it turns out that it's just another layer of dream trap, and when they wake up completely she's young again and happily leaves with the Doctor for more adventures. This one's Real Life Writes the Plot, though: The actress had been leaning against returning for the following season, so it was written so that it could be Clara's exit. The "nope, still dreaming" bit was added when she decided she would return after all.
    • The Twelfth Doctor's final episode, "Twice Upon a Time", has the Doctornote  investigating a mysterious entity known as Testimony, which claims to appear at the moment of a person's death and "extract" someone. After much investigation, it turns out to be a human project from the distant future designed to copy the memories of everyone who's ever died, so that they can be recorded for all time in a kind of artificial afterlife; for once, the episode's "villain" wasn't actually malevolent, but rather just happens to have a needlessly ominous design. The Doctor lampshades this briefly, saying that he's not quite sure what to do in this situation.
    • "Rosa": For most of the episode, antagonist Krasko's motives for attempting to interfere in Rosa Parks' iconic bus ride remain unclear, implying that her stand on the bus has more effects on the future than just desegregation, until companion Ryan confronts him alone, and Krasko reveals that he's just a bigot like the bus driver.
  • Firefly:
    • In the pilot episode, Kaylee is shot and treated by Simon, with Mal threatening to pitch Simon off the ship if she doesn't recover. And Joss Whedon is well known for being willing and eager to kill off characters, levity, and anything resembling cuteness with extreme prejudice. So, of course, Mal walks in on Simon and declares simply that she didn't make it — and is lying through his teeth because he thinks it's funny (as does the rest of the crew).
    • The finale "Objects in Space" partially answers the question "just how great are River's mental powers?" River announces that she has "become" the ship, but she's really just broadcasting from Early's ship. So the answer is "not that great".
  • HBO helped pull this off in Game of Thrones. Who does the marketing focus on? Who's the obvious main character? Sean Bean, who's the biggest name and most recognizable actor, thus seemed to be the one star with Contractual Immortality. Fans of the book loved it because they fell for the Decoy Protagonist when reading it and from the sheer amount of reviews and YouTube videos so did most of the television fans. In hindsight, of course, this cemented Bean's reputation as a Chronically Killed Actor. Joffrey's death took fans, especially non-book readers, by surprise by happening in only the second episode of the fourth season.
  • During the 2009 season of Home and Away, police officer Angelo Rosetta is investigating a people smuggling ring operating out of the bay, and confides in Charlie that he suspects Hugo, Martha's new boyfriend. In the season finale, after several months of Angelo focusing on Hugo, it's revealed that, yes, he is involved.
  • Dr. House's catchphrases get twisted every now and then:
  • On the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Brief Interlude", a Canadian woman is found severely beaten, possibly by a random stranger. Then her husband, played by Richard Thomas (who had played a killer in an earlier episode), comes to New York and it eventually transpires that the guilty party was- a random stranger.
  • Lost is well known for its use of flashbacks, a fact which was taken into account in the first episode of both seasons two and three, each of which began with what appeared to be a flashback but was revealed to be showing a previously unseen area of the island.
    • The most notable example is the season 3 finale, with what appears to be a typical flashback turns out to be a flashforward instead. This twist has since entered It Was His Sled territory as being one of Lost's most famous.
    • Season 5 has an interesting variation: by this point, most of the audience knows that the opening scene will be set on the Island, but this time the opening scene turns out to be set in the 1970s with Pierre Chang and then we see Daniel Faraday, so the audience has no idea if this is a flashback or flashforward. Indeed, it isn't until much, much later in the season that this scene is revisited.
    • And yet again in the season 6 opener, where what looks like a flashback to the crash diverges from the actual events, and we get our first flashsideways. However, the twist is not the plane's failure to crash, because the viewer was previously informed of the likely creation of a no-crash alternate timeline. Instead, the twist happens when we pan down to see the island submerged underwater. Ultimately, even this becomes a Meta Twist, taking advantage of the audience's new expectation that the show will play around with the flashback/forward gimmick. At the very end, it's revealed that the "flashsideways" are actually depicting the afterlife of all the characters, at some point in the future after they have all died, meaning that the "flashsideways" had actually all been flashforwards the whole time.
  • Once Upon a Time had a habit of giving sympathetic backstories to the various Disney villains, often culminating in a redemption arc; so when Season 4 featured an episode entitled "Sympathy for the De Vil", everyone naturally assumed that Arc Villain Cruella de Vil would be getting the same treatment. Sure enough, the flashback section of the episode starts off on the same theme as those previous episodes, detailing how Cruella was locked in the attic by her abusive mother, who terrorized her with fierce dogs, and how the Author rescued her from her imprisonment. Except, as it turns out, even from a young age Cruella was a vicious sociopath who was responsible for murdering her father and two stepfathers; she was confined to the attic because her mother was afraid of what would happen if she were to escape. Rather than getting a redemption arc, Cruella ends up getting Killed Off for Real at the end of the episode as part of Rumple's Batman Gambit to engineer a Start of Darkness for Emma.
  • An episode of Person of Interest saw Detective Carter concur that a murder occurred just as it appeared to. The suspect was found at the scene standing over the victim's body with a gun and made a full confession. Granted, the murder had nothing to do with The Machine or the episode's main story.
  • The Sherlock episode "The Lying Detective" plays throughout the episode with the idea that Culverton Smith, whom Sherlock believes to be a depraved serial killer, is a completely innocent man who Sherlock is demonising out of pure paranoia and drug-related insanity — something which a number of deconstructive Holmes pastiches have done with Professor Moriarty, most famously the novel and film The Seven Per Cent Solution. It turns out that Holmes is entirely correct.
  • In Siberia, Carolina and Victoria claim they saw a tiger after deciding to form an alliance and try to undermine the others. It turns out there really is a tiger. Or there was. The show was too new for this non-twist to have subverted any established conventions, but as half of this show's tropes are on loan from Survivor...
  • Even The Twilight Zone (1959) did this. In the episode "Ninety Years Without Slumbering", an old man is determined to keep an old grandfather clock from ever running down, because, as his father and grandfather told him, when it stops, he'll die. Nobody takes him seriously, and eventually he's put in a situation where he can't wind the clock. This being The Twilight Zone, something bad is bound to happen when that clock stops, right? Well, what actually happens is that the old man decides that it really is silly to believe that the clock stopping will kill him, and he wakes up the next morning in high spirits, telling everyone "When that clock died, I was born again."
  • The X-Files episode "End Game" had what was technically a twist, but might have been intended as a meta twist. This episode and the preceding episode "Colony" concerned alien clones and the apparent return of Samantha Mulder, so to have the woman claiming to be Samantha turn out to be a clone seemed too obvious. On the other hand, had she turned out to actually be Samantha it would have been a strange card to play at that point when the show was virtually guaranteed a third season.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin opens the door, shouts that he's home, and Hobbes doesn't tackle him into the yard like he usually does. Calvin finally finds Hobbes sitting nonchalantly, and gets no more reaction out of him than an acknowledgment: "So you're home."

    Professional Wrestling 
  • At Wrestlemania 27, Edge and Christian headed into Edge's title match vs Alberto Del Rio with a series of tense promos that caused most to assume that Christian's Chronic Backstabbing Disorder would rear its head again and cause him to screw over Edge during the match. The match itself never even teased the possibility, leading to a clean win for Edge, with the two of them leaving the stage together. In a way, it was quite fortunate, as due to a medical condition Edge retired legitimately before he could wrestle another match. Instead of going out being screwed by the other half of the Edge-and-Christian Those Two Guys vibe, he retired as the champion with his best friend still in his corner.

    Video Games 
  • Brave Fencer Musashi had action figures of enemies and bosses you could purchase, often before actually facing them, which had actions and sometimes even voices that displayed their attacks. Of course there's an action figure of Colonel Capricciola with all of his attacks which never get seen in-game since he's The Unfought and actually helping you.
  • Uncharted:
    • The first two games had the twist of there being supernatural monsters (zombies and Yeti, respectively) involved in the events. The third game, Drake's Deception, has its supernatural enemy, the Djinn (Arab fire demons), turn out to be just a hallucination caused by...something in a large container. Finally, to cap it all off, A Thief's End has absolutely nothing. The pirate gold is uncursed. Everyone just stabbed each other in the back out of good ol' greed.
    • The villains of the first two games are big, scary bald men with foreign accents, so the player is lead to believe that Charlie Cutter, scary bald British man is the antagonist of the third game, but it turns out that's only to fool the real villain, and Cutter is actually an ally.
  • Mega Man X:
    • Given the series track record with villainous doctors, a lot of fans were surprised when they faced Dr. Doppler in Mega Man X3 and, rather than unveiling a Humongous Mecha, he instead tosses his coat off and fights X all by himself.
    • Sigma has always been the Big Bad and Final Boss in every game... except for one where he was part of a Big Bad Duumvirate with someone else, and that someone else steps forward to claim the Final Boss role after his death (Mega Man X 8) and a Gaiden Game where where he doesn't make an appearance at all (Mega Man X: Command Mission).
    • Mega Man X through X4 had minor characters as the intro level bossnote  that has no bearing whatsoever on the plot. Then Mega Man X5 changes it up by throwing Sigma himself at you as the intro boss in a battle that kick-starts the entire plot of the game.
    • Dr. Cain plays major role in the X series until his resignation from the Hunters after X3 and subsequent disappearance. So it's a rather big surprise when the Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X reboot is introduced, and the accompanying Day of Sigma OVA reveals that in this timeline Sigma killed Dr. Cain before the first game even began. Players familiar with the original Mega Man X might also go into the first fight with Vile in Maverick Hunter X expecting the usual Hopeless Boss Fight, only to get killed before finding out that it's now a normal boss fight that ends in a Heads I Win, Tails You Lose situation.
  • The Mega Man ZX series revolves around Biometals, artifacts containing the souls of past characters from the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series, including Model X, Model Z(ero) and the Four Guardians, Models H(arpuia), L(eviathan), F(efnir) and P(hantom). Advent then introduces Model A, who's fighting style is based on guns and his unique "A-Trans" ability, which allows him to transform into defeated bosses. At the end of the game, it's revealed that the A doesn't stand for Axl, but Albert, the Big Bad of Advent and the ZX series as a whole, who possesses an A-Trans ability of his own.
  • After spending an entire franchise as the Big Bad, Mega Man Legends threw players for a loop by making Wily a completely benign boathouse owner who even helps Mega Man on his quest.
  • Like the Sigma example above, it's well known that Dr. Wily is the Big Bad and Final Boss of every Mega Man (Classic) game. Both Mega Man V and Super Adventure Rockman, however, go for a half-twist, as while Wily is partially responsible for the latest batch of enemies Mega Man has to face (in that he uncovered and repaired them,) Sunstar and Ra Moon both refuse to be controlled by Wily and give him the Dr. Eggman treatment before facing Mega Man themselves as the Final Boss.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog's Dr. Eggman picked up a bad habit of getting upstaged by the game's real Big Bad around the Sonic Adventure-era games. It initially looks like this is going to be the case in Sonic Generations, until it's revealed that Eggman is the real Big Bad and Final Boss after all. Not just Eggman, in fact, but Eggman teaming up with himself from the Genesis-era games. Sonic Colors also completely lacks the upstaging part altogether by having Eggman be the Big Bad from beginning to end, and then when he's upstaged for real in Sonic Lost World he wrestles his Big Bad status back from the game's villains at the very end for one more Final Boss fight.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • If you are the father or main parental figure of the protagonist, you are going to end up in the ground by the halfway-point of the game, at best. However, there are two major subversions in the series.
      • In Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, Eliwood is introduced at the beginning as Roy's sickly father. After the first chapter, he loses practically all of his plot importance. The real Sacrificial Lion is Hector, the Love Interest's father and Eliwood's old friend.
      • In Fire Emblem Warriors, Yelena is introduced at the beginning as the queen of Aytolis and the mother of protagonists Rowan and Lianna. She is captured by enemy forces at the end of the prologue and later appears as their hostage, planned to be used in a ritual sacrifice. Rowan and Lianna manage to rescue her, and she ends the game none the worse for wear.
    • Normally, the Tin Tyrant leader of The Empire is rarely the actual Big Bad and is usually an Unwitting Pawn to an Evil Sorceror who is the real Big Bad and wants to bring about the revival of an evil dragon or god. In Path of Radiance, King Ashnard actually is the Big Bad and Final Boss (though when the sequel is taken into account, the Unwitting Pawn part is still played straight).
    • Zephiel in The Binding Blade has a similar thing going on. It's common for the villain to have once been a decent man, who was then corrupted by an evil force (Julius in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, Hardin in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem). Zephiel has characters explaining he used to be good but became twisted and malevolent, and he's usually shown alongside Idunn, a creepy woman in a dark cloak that apparently showed up when he changed. Then we learn that Idunn is an demon dragon from the distant past. So she was the one who corrupted him and he's just her pawn, right? Nope! Zephiel became the way he was through a good old-fashioned Despair Event Horizon, and when he did so, he released Idunn from her prison so she could help him. Idunn is the one who's a magically-corrupted pawn, and though she's the Final Boss, she's pretty much mindless for most of the game and is only carrying out Zephiel's final wish alongside his surviving servants by the time you fight her.
    • Fire Emblem usually plays Dark Is Evil straight for its final bosses. Both The Heavy and the Final Boss of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn fall into Light Is Not Good instead.
    • Fire Emblem Fates:
      • Iago fits every item on a Fire Emblem Big Bad checklist. While he is a major threat and one of the most prominent of the villains, he is surprisingly not either the Man Behind the Man or The Starscream to King Garon, but a perfectly loyal Dragon.
      • King Garon is the Big Bad and the evil dragon Final Boss, via One-Winged Angel, of the Birthright route; the only hint to the Greater-Scope Villain in Birthright is a throwaway line. On Conquest, he is still the Big Bad, though the route is more upfront about someone else working in the background.
    • Events of The Great Offscreen War in a Fire Emblem game's past were often Written by the Winners, with those painted as the villains then either being a lot more complicated that expected (Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade) or outright good (Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn). So when Fire Emblem: Three Houses makes a big deal out of Nemesis, the previous wielder of the Sword of the Creator, turning to villainy in the past and needing to be stopped, it's easy to guess he'll later be revealed to have been Good All Along. While it's true that Fodlan's history was distorted, Nemesis nonetheless turns out to be exactly as evil as the legends say, and then some.
    • It's extremely common to have a "Camus"-type character, a basically goodhearted and noble Anti-Villain who still can't be recruited because they chose the wrong side and believe in My Country, Right or Wrong. In The Binding Blade, we have Percival, a character who looks almost identical to the original Camus and even shares the same class, and looks to be fulfilling a similar role... and he is recruitable. (There are a few other characters in the game who fit the archetype and can't be recruited, but Percival is by far the most blatant.)
  • There is a Flash version of Portal, naturally known as Portal: The Flash Version. The final level is simply an open room, with a cake on a pedestal. When you move over to the cake... you pick it up, and can leave the room safely, completing the game, in complete defiance of expectation from anyone who's ever played Portal itself. In this case, however, it's unintentional- the Flash game was made before the release of the actual game, so the creators weren't aware of the twist.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. After seeing the ninja, western bandit, and caveman ancestors, who didn't expect Sly's medieval ancestor to be a Robin Hood Expy? Turns out he's a hilariously hammy noble knight, and Sly becomes the Robin Hood expy via a costume that lets him shoot arrows.
  • Used in Metroid Fusion to score a cheap shot on Samus. Everyone playing this the first time ran right in and tried to grab the powerup from the Chozo statue in Sector 1, only to be damaged by it and have the statue turn into a Core-X.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • It's frequent to have to explore three dungeons to gather an initial set of Plot Coupon items before something unexpected occurs and the Master Sword has to be collected (or, conversely, the Master Sword is collected and then the twist occurs). So it was very shocking for gamers to discover that the location of the third quest item from The Wind Waker is utterly destroyed and the holder of the item went elsewhere for safety (this was most likely due to time constraints during development). The item is gotten after a series of events in the overworld, rather than the completion of a dungeon. The real third dungeon, Tower of the Gods, is found after making use of the three quest items and is completed to find the Master Sword. And the traditional unexpected twist occurs after completion of the fourth dungeon (Forsaken Fortress).
    • Another twist on the Plot Coupon gathering formula happens in The Minish Cap, when Link finishes the third dungeon just to discover that the MacGuffin he was searching for isn't there anymore.
    • Since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the dungeon boss is usually fought with the dungeon item, so when Ghirahim shows up in the first dungeon of Skyward Sword, and is fought in a pure sword fight, it comes as a shock. It comes as an even bigger shock when you fight him again. A double shock because Zelda villains usually loom in the background, never encountering you until the finale. Lastly, bosses are never fought in the overworld prior to this game, yet Skyward Sword has a whopping four outside of dungeons (including the True Final Boss).
  • Pokémon:
    • In Pokémon Black and White, many aspects of the series' standard plot formula are subverted: the villainous team plot is not solved prior to the eighth badge and the Champion is actually defeated by the Dragon-in-Chief before you reach him. Said Dragon becomes the (next-to) Final Boss, relegating the Champion to the post of Bonus Boss. On the other hand, the Gym Leaders are not resting on their laurels either and take on several of the Evil Team's admins, allowing you to bypass them.note 
    • Pokémon Sun and Moon also subverts many standard Pokémon gameplay and story tropes. Pokémon Gyms are absent entirely, with Island Trials taking their place instead; the Pokémon League itself is only recently introduced to Alola. While there is the usual Team X as recurring antagonists, they're not the primary Big Bad. There isn't even a Champion as the Final Boss; rather, the player becomes the region's very first one after a final battle against (of all people) the region's Professor, and subsequent playthroughs of the League have the player defend their title from various important Trainers.
    • Ever since Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the main antagonists have used the Mascot Legendary in their plans. In both Black and White and Sun and Moon it is you, the player character, who uses the Mascot Legendary to stop the villains.
    • At the end of every Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, the Player Character has to leave for whatever reason, but inevitably ends up doing no such thing before the credits sequence ends. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon looks like it's going to go the same way, until it suddenly turns out that the partner is the one who has to return — and what's more, they don't come back until you advance the post-credits plot a bit.
  • Castlevania:
    • When you get to the end of a game, you can expect to fight Dracula as the final boss and for him to alternate between teleporting around and firing bursts of fireballs at you. Midway through the battle he'll usually transform into some grotesque creature, so the twist here are those few times he doesn't. For example, in Super Castlevania IV he merely loses the flesh on his head. Then there's Order of Ecclesia, where instead of transforming, Dracula simply power walks around much like the recurring golem and armor bosses.
    • On a more minor note, in most of the Metroidvania games in the series Dracula has 6666 HP. In Ecclesia once again, he instead has 9999 HP (as a bonus, it's simply "6666" upside down).
    • Aria of Sorrow pulled one, though it is widely known now. If Dracula has been reincarnated, you expect his new incarnation to be the final boss, not the player character.
  • Live A Live pulls the same trick as Final Fantasy IV where, if you face a boss and he has an animated sprite instead of a drawn portrait, you will recruit him at some point, thus spoiling who will and won't be a playable character. Except this isn't the case at all and you can and will play as not only a Humongous Mecha in the Near Future chapter, but will also control all the bosses if you play Oersted's final chapter.
  • Persona 5: Futaba's dungeon is set up exactly like one from Persona 4, a mental world created by the inner thoughts and insecurities of a future party member, controlled by their Shadow. It's all flipped on its head once you reach the end: Due to Futaba's outward self-loathing, Shadow Futaba is a Hero Antagonist who represents Futaba's repressed positive side, and only fought the Thieves because she thought they were trying to harm Futaba. She's not the boss of the dungeon, the real boss is a monster born from the feelings that caused Futaba's depression: the belief that she's responsible for her mother's death. Shadow Futaba pulls a Big Damn Heroes to help the party defeat the boss, by convincing Futaba of the truth and becoming her Persona.
  • Earthbound lets you name the four main party members right at the beginning even before any of them have been introduced by the narrative, so when you name Lucas, Claus, Flint, and Hinawa at the beginning of Mother 3 you know that's your party, right? Oh ho ho NO. You play as Flint until Hinawa die and Claus disappear very early on, driving the poor guy out of your party and into near suicidal depression, and Claus returns as a Hollywood Cyborg as well as the Brainwashed and Crazy Dragon to the Big Bad who offs himself in the final battle so Lucas won't have to do it. Yeah, it's that kind of game.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's:
  • For its time, Bowser joining Mario's Team in Super Mario RPG was a massive twist. Until then Bowser had just been the series Big Bad, no more no less. Then Smithy's Gang rolled up to the party, booted him out of his own castle, and caught everyone off guard when he "let Mario join the Koopa Troopa" to help take down Smithy and served as The Lancer for the remainder of the game. It was also a very big revelation that Bowser's honestly not such a bad guy at heart and is even A Father to His Men.
  • In the Mario RPGs, Bowser is normally demoted to Big Bad Wannabe and only acts as Big Bad when there is not an original villain to serve as the actual main antagonist. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is the exception, where it is the original villain who plays second fiddle to Bowser.
  • Batman The Tell Tale Series manages to pull a doozy when the Children of Arkham begin spreading the story that Thomas Wayne was actually one of Gotham's worst criminals ever and made his fortune through theft, murder, and sending innocent people to Arkham to rot. No way in hell any of this is anything other than a fabricated story to drag Bruce through the mud, right? It's all true. Every word of it. This time around the franchise's Paragon is actually a Greater-Scope Villain the entire time, and the only reason The Penguin and Lady Arkham's Roaring Rampage of Revenge isn't entirely justified is they're targeting Bruce and the innocent lives of Gotham to get it.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Tetsuya Takahashi is rather infamous for his tendency to include evil, Demiurge-inspired gods in his games. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover that the Architect is a genuinely benevolent figure who ultimately wants the best for his creations.
  • The Etrian Odyssey series has a well established pattern of fellow adventurers who are helpful and friendly early on, only to become antagonists after some major plot twist. So in the fifth game, when Lili and Solor show up for the first time, experienced players were already planning for the inevitable betrayal and battle. It never happens. While they become a major part of the plot around the third stratum, it leads to them fighting the boss alongside you.
  • In the Splatoon series, a lot of weapons are re-purposed everyday items such as hairdryers, washing machines, and giant paintbrushes. In addition, levels in the main campaigns are accessed via tea kettles. So come the the sequel's DLC campaign "Octo Expansion", some players may be forgiven for thinking that this could extend to other pieces of machinery and that the "thangs" they're collecting which look suspiciously like blender parts will form a teleporter or something. That is until Mission Control takes a glance at their video feed and realizes that, no, you've all been fooled into building a giant blender that's going to puree you into fish paste.
  • When The Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 popped up most people were inclined to think he was just this game's big mindless final boss monster and nothing more, as was the trend in the first two games. Then he kills your friend, looks you in the eye, and says "STARS..." Then he ambushes you and follows you from room to room, something no monster has done yet in the series. Then he starts shooting missiles at you. Then you realize he's after you specifically, no one else, and won't stop hunting you all across town until he gets you: for the first time in the series you're not dealing with a random mutation lashing out at life, but an intently created weapon made for the specific purpose of killing STARS members, the last of which you are.
  • Speaking of, the remake of the original Resident Evil on Game Cube added some new mechanics to surprise the crap out of veterans of the series. Most infamously is the Crimson Head mechanic that was set up to look like the new game was averting Everything Fades: so you've killed a zombie and left its body slumped in a hallway. Give it enough time and it'll get right back up, faster and deadlier than before, so now you have to either waste your very limited supply of kerosene to dispose of bodies or not be so eager to kill zombies. In every Resident Evil game thus far a killed zombie stays killed, not even respawning enemies unless there's a reason for more to show up, so imagine everyone's shock when, on their fifth or so time passing the same dead zombie they killed almost an hour ago, it suddenly gets back up and starts running.
  • Deltarune:
    • In Undertale, every single major monster the player battles turns out to have hidden positive aspects and are either Obliviously Evil or have genuinely good intentions yet simply went down the wrong path, and are reasoned with and pull a Heel–Face Turn. In the Golden Ending, this even extends to Flowey/Asriel. Cue King in the successor/sequel/Elseworld, who has a similar Boss Banter with the party as several of Undertale's bosses and seems to be setting up a sort of Freudian Excuse for himself... and it turns out he was just lying, trying to trick Ralsei into healing him back to his full strength so he could finish the team off, having not learned a single thing from the fight no matter what the player does. When he tries to throw Lancer, his own son, off the roof of his castle, it becomes clear that this guy is just a genuine jerk inside and out. Instead of befriending the player, King is either overthrown by his own people and locked up or he's put to sleep by Ralsei.
    • Undertale places a heavy emphasis on the player's choices and deconstructs the effect of killing monsters in an RPG by presenting them as characters all of their own instead of generic mooks. This is to the point where even the random encounters are given personality quirks and dialogue. Players are encouraged to go through Deltarune after playing through Undertale, so they would likely go in trying to pull a Pacifist Run from what they've learned in the latter game. Try to be violent, however, and it becomes apparent that the party can't kill enemies in the game — they always run off at low health. This falls in line with Deltarune's main theme being the exact opposite of Undertale's: a lack of free will. One of the bosses, K. Round, even has to be spared/defeated through acting as it has the ability to infinitely heal itself more than the team can damage it, denying a run where every enemy is dealt with by Non-Lethal K.O..note 
  • The first Nier features two characters Devola and Popola who are introduced as helpful allies, but eventually turn out to be major villains within the story. In NieR: Automata they suddenly make a reappearance, again being portrayed as helpful allies. Not only are they Good All Along this time, but they're not even the same Devola and Popula, but two other androids of the same model as them, who've been facing persecution their entire lives because of the actions of the Devola and Popula from the first game.
    • Yoko Taro is also known to make games with Multiple Endings, with each new ending more horrifying, tragic and/or confusing than the last. Ending E of Nier: Automata, while certainly confusing and bizarrely meta, is also the single most optimistic ending he's ever written, with the 14th Machine War finally coming to an end and all three main characters being brought Back from the Dead for a second chance at life.
  • The titular King of Fighters tournament has a long history of being hosted by people with ulterior, often sinister motives, or just someone with connections to the current Arc Villain (even in the Art of Fighting/Fatal Fury continuty, every iteration of the tournament was hosted either by Geese Howard or one of his relatives.) So it's quite a surprise when the tournament's host for XIV, Antonov, is neither of these. He's just a completely unrelated, actually pretty nice rich guy who wants to fight strong opponents, and Final Boss Verse has nothing to do with either him or the current tournament.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Each game usually follows the Good Lawyers, Good Clients trope, so the one case in the series where Phoenix's client actually is guilty comes as a massive shock. Many consider it one of the best cases in the series.
    • Similarly, in Investigations 2, one of the people who Edgeworth proves to be innocent of the murder they're accused of turns out to be a two-faced, conniving mastermind who orchestrated every single present-day murder in the game (yes, including even the murder Edgeworth acquitted them of, as they knowingly manipulated someone else into doing the dirty work for them). Even Edgeworth can barely bring himself to believe it when he finally puts the pieces together.
    • In the first case of every game (which serves as a tutorial), the culprit is inevitably the witness brought in, since the first case takes place in one day and there's no investigation period to establish multiple suspects. Thus, in the first case of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, when the witness is revealed to have been lying about the events of the murder and hiding a bold personality with a shy demeanor, players would suspect she was the culprit, only to find her to have not done it.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Amara Sigatar Khura'in manages to be such an effective Red Herring because they tick practically every Ace Attorney Big Bad checkbox in the book: Involved in a past unsolved case? Check. Appeared since early in the game, but as someone Beneath Suspicion? Check. Requiring a lot of effort to bring to the witness stand? Check. Dramatic transformation when accused, complete with new ominous Leitmotif? Check. Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon? Check. Terrifying "shock" animation? Check. It's all there, yet they're not the final case's killer, and the realization probably won't hit the player until their "breakdown" is surprisingly anti-climactic. Along with their complete lack of motive.
    • Also in Investigations 2, considering that every single other game in the series starts with a straightforward Tutorial Level for its first case where the bad guy is obvious from the beginning and the case is over with very quickly, once Edgeworth starts to home in on someone with an increasingly dodgy story, the player will most likely assume it's almost over. Not so - this case turns out to be a lot more complicated than it first seemed, and throws a few legitimate twists in. However, the effect is slightly lessened by the fake villain being a young woman, when these are (almost) never the bad guy; in fact, the whole thing might call to mind Adrian Andrews who was also a decoy villain.
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the first game of the Zero Escape trilogy, a huge plot twist was that June, the stereotypically kind, naïve love interest, was really the Deadly Game's amoral if well-intentioned mastermind, Zero, and Ace, the wise, old Reasonable Authority Figure, is the real Big Bad who drive her to it. (That was also, for reasons that make sense in context, confirmation that magical abilities did exist in the ZE universe, and formed the plot's backbone.) This drastically altered many facets of the story, and made June's characterization far deeper than it had been before. So when the second game's cast page was released, and it described Luna as kind and naïve, fans decided that this must mean Luna was an expy of Akane and secretly a two-faced murderer who couldn't be trusted. As it turned out, however, they were wrong- Luna really is a compassionate optimist who wants the best for everyone. She has her own...issues, like being a robot, but she's one of the most solidly good characters in Zero Escape. So that was a surprise in itself. The Big Bad is Dio, who was an overt Jerkass, the twist being that yes, he really is as evil as he seems.
  • Danganronpa:
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc quickly brings up the existence of a famous Serial Killer named Genocider Syo/Jack, who eventually turns out to be one of the students trapped in the school. Super Danganronpa 2 then does the same set-up with a different Serial Killer. The killer of that trial then reveals herself to be that Serial Killer, only for everyone to find out soon after that she was faking it as part of a ruse to get everyone to quickly vote for her as the culprit before they could find out everything that happened around the time the murder took place.
    • Super Danganronpa 2 in general is very fond of taking plot elements from the previous game and going in a completely different direction with them, eventually leading to a massive Player Punch with Chiaki's execution. It happens in the exact same chapter as Naegi's foiled execution in the first game, and the two are found guilty under similar circumstances (Naegi being framed outright and Chiaki being tricked by the victim himself into killing him without her knowledge,) and thus the sequence keeps trolling the player by continuously making it look like she's going to escape, before finally executing her for real.
    • New Danganronpa V3 pulls a big one near the end of the game. By this point in the series, pretty much everyone in the audience is expecting Junko Enoshima to be the one behind the new killing game; after all, she was the mastermind of the last two killing games, and is effectively responsible for almost every bad thing that has ever happened in the Danganronpa franchise. So when Chapter 5 has Shuichi and the others regain memories of being students at Hope's Peak, and The Stinger at the end of the chapter shows the silhouette of a familiar girl imitating Monokuma's laugh, that seems to confirm things, right? Nope, Junko has absolutely nothing to do with this game; the person we saw was actually the real mastermind, Tsumugi Shirogane, cosplaying as Junko. Also, Junko is a fictional character in the Alternate Universe. However, this is according to Tsumugi, who is an Unreliable Expositor, which leaves open the possibility that Junko may still be the ultimate villain after all.
  • From the When They Cry series:
    • In the original sound novels of Higurashi: When They Cry, almost every arc would end with a light-hearted "wrap party", consisting of the characters being Animated Actors who discuss what happened in the arc and put forth their own theories about what's going on. In Umineko: When They Cry, the first arc seems to end in a similar way as a "Tea Party"...but then Battler starts to feel disturbed by how the other characters all seem to agree that the witch Beatrice was behind everything with no one questioning it. Then the other characters rapidly return to their state of death, Beatrice reveals herself for the first time, and she whisks Battler away to Purgatorio, where their battles of logic will frame the rest of the series.
    • In both Higurashi and Umineko, there are characters who are trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong so that everyone can stop dying over and over again. Both of their last arcs are the most optimistic in tone. In Higurashi, Rika Furude is able to save everyone thanks to The Power of Friendship, leading to a big case of Earn Your Happy Ending. So that means in Umineko, Ange will be able to fix everything thanks to The Power of Love from her family, right? Wrong: almost everyone on Rokkenjima was killed and will never come back, and even though Battler survived, he is incapable of considering himself Ange's brother due to Trauma-Induced Amnesia. Thus, Umineko has much more of a Bittersweet Ending than Higurashi did.

  • Survivor: Fan Characters: Many of the webcomic's fans employ Survivor Edgic, a system that keeps track of the screentime and Manipulative Editing given to each contestant, to try to predict the seasons' winners ahead of time. After this led to them figuring out Season 7 and 8's winners much earlier than the creator expected, he began actively working to catch these Edgic-savvy readers off-guard by going for extremely unconventional winners who Edgic logic would've deemed as having too Out of Focus or Large Ham edits to win. Then, after four straight seasons of completely out-of-left-field winners, he pulled another Meta Twist in Season 13 by having a much more conventionally strategic and level-headed contestant easily beat a finalist that perfectly fit the mold of the loud, crazy, non-strategic type of recent winners and explicitly stated in his season notes that he deliberately played into his readers' paranoia about another Shocking Swerve outcome to generate suspense about the otherwise-predictable result.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed in Zero Punctuation: Yahtzee feels that the "shocking" moment in the Modern Warfare games has become so token that by the end of the third game, it'd be more shocking if there wasn't one.
  • The first three episodes of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared end with a Snap Back that leaves it open to interpretation whether the horrifying things the characters went through were All Just a Dream. This formula is broken in episode 4, which ends with Duck Guy and Yellow Guy still trapped in the digital world and Red Guy apparently dead, and is ignored for the rest of the series.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park fans know that Cartman is always, always doing good deeds for his own twisted reasons, which may range from Poke the Poodle to all-out Moral Event Horizon in scope. No matter how good he seems, fans and the characters can bet that he's really being manipulative. This makes his subplot in "Major Boobage" something of a surprise, when he really does take in all the town's cats (which had been recently outlawed) simply because he's a cat lover and felt sorry for them. It does, however, lead to some humor when Cartman, a well-known anti-Semite, gets compared to Schindler helping Jews hide from the Nazis.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra have something go horribly wrong in the tenth episode of each season. The Last Airbender has Jet bombing a dam and destroying a city, Appa getting stolen, and Ozai knowing all along about the invasion and leaving before it started. The Legend of Korra has Amon taking Lin's bending, Jinora being unable to return to her physical body, and the Earth Queen's death and destruction of Ba Sing Se in its first three seasons. One would think that in the final season of Legend of Korra, the 10th episode would be insanely horrid for our heroes considering the higher stakes of that arc. Instead, Lin's rescue mission works and Zhu Li tells everyone what Kuvira's plans are.
  • Scooby-Doo:
    • The franchise is naturally well known for the "Scooby-Doo" Hoax, so the off-chance where the monster they are chasing in a given film or episode is, in fact, a monster and not a guy in a costume, counts as this.
    • No matter how much Fred insists, Red Herring is never the culprit in any A Pup Named Scooby-Doo episodes. Except for that one time he was, and even then he had good intentions.
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson is not a smart man, nor one known for having any kind of scientific prowess or a clear enough sense of the world to understand how things might play out when, say, a comet is bearing down upon Springfield and threatening to wipe the town off the face of the earth. So in "Bart's Comet", when Homer predicts that the nuclear pollution from the power plant would burn the comet down to a small rock no larger than a chihuahua's head, nobody (in universe, or out) takes him seriously. And then that's exactly what happens. There's even a chihuahua conveniently nearby for scale. Bart, Lisa, and Homer himself are terrified by this.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a few goodies:
    • The first two major villains are dispatched with the Elements of Harmony, and of course the ponies try to use them to stop Queen Chrysalis as well. Turns out she anticipated this and stationed about umpteen-thousand changelings in the room to capture them. The Elements never actually get used; instead Shining Armor and Princess Cadance nuke the changelings with the Power of Love.
    • Starlight Glimmer manages to bring the Mane 6 down a peg by ripping off their cutie marks and rendering them unable to use any of their talents or even any above-average abilities. But that doesn't slow them down, does it? Actually, yes it does: they can't keep up and must rely on the villagers of the unnamed town to save the day. And even then, Starlight manages to escape and isn't seen again until the season finale.
    • A huge doozy comes in "Crusaders of the Lost Mark". After four seasons and change of the Cutie Mark Crusaders trying and failing to get their cutie marks, along comes yet another episode where they'll be humiliated by Diamond Tiara and not get jack in the end. Nope: not only do they manage to turn Diamond Tiara around, but they actually get their marks at the end.
    • Season 6 has a handful of episodes that break the trend of a recurring villain pulling a Heel–Face Turn. First comes "Viva Las Pegasus", where Applejack reluctantly enlists her Arch-Enemies, the Flim Flam Brothers, in an Enemy Mine situation to complete a friendship mission. Fluttershy expects them to say that Good Feels Good, but no; once the partnership is over, they slip right back into their conniving ways like a glove. The next and bigger example comes at the end of "To Where and Back Again", where a reformed Starlight Glimmer offers Queen Chrysalis a chance at redemption. At first, it looks like she'll go through with it, tentatively reaching out to grab Starlight's hoof in friendship...only to smack it aside and making it absolutely clear she won't be her friend anytime soon (and she never is).
    • In Season 8, Enfant Terrible Cozy Glow takes over the School of Friendship and tries to steal the magic from all of Equestria. If you assumed she'd have some kind of Freudian Excuse or she'd be given forgiveness since she's a kid or because the overarching theme of the season has been trusting, befriending, and understanding one another, you'd be very wrong: once she makes it clear she covets The Power of Friendship purely for the "power" aspect, she's arrested by the guards and sent to Tartarus for her crimes by Princess Celestia instead.
    • The premiere of Season 9 has King Sombra Back from the Dead and full-cocked to cause a ruckus. After outright destroying the Elements of Harmony, you're probably expecting the ponies to find some new MacGuffin, right? Nope, they use nothing more than their own inherent Power Of Friendship to defeat him and, unlike other enemies beaten like this, he's not sealed away or turned to stone or sent to Tartarus but graphically killed on-screen.
    • In the Series Finale, after the Legion of Doom has spent an entire season being forced to work together, and at one point being pushed close enough to Villainous Friendship that they feel the love and immediately deny it, it ends with one or all of them redeemed because The Power of Friendship managed to redeem villains like Discord and Starlight Glimmer, right? Nope, they learn nothing, become more evil than ever, and don't get so much as a shred of pity or understanding from the heroes for their sustained Redemption Rejection. Enjoy your eternity as a statue, guys!
  • Adventure Time had many cases of apparently cute entities who were actually very dangerous and/or evil. The episode "Conquest of Cuteness" has a group of apparently cute and harmless would-be conquerors who really are as harmless as they seem.
  • Samurai Jack: In the fifth and final season of Samurai Jack shifted to Cartoon Network's more adult-oriented sister channel [adult swim] and underwent a tonal shift in the process. In the previous seasons, Jack only fought monsters, aliens, and robots who would "bleed" green goop or oil. The second episode of the fifth season earns its TV-14 rating when Jack actually kills a human in self-defense, then spends the following episode covered in blood and traumatized before he kills even more people.
  • Dan Vs. fans know that whatever bizarre supernatural entity Dan blames for his problems will turn out to be real, and Dan will get revenge. Not so in "The Monster Under The Bed", where the eponymous monster turns out to be a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax by Dan's best friend Chris of all people, to get revenge for all the trouble he's been put through thanks to Dan's antics.
  • Rick and Morty: The promo for Season 2's finale focused on a single joke from the episode, with the episode itself ultimately being an emotional rollercoaster. After that, Season 3 had two more instances of misleading marketing: one for "Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender", where the eponymous villain was hyped while he was killed offscreen by Rick, and the second instance in the "The Ricklantis Mix-Up" promo focusing around Rick's and Morty's unseen journey to Atlantis, rather than the rebuilt Council of Ricks. So when the Season 3 finale only had a trailer of the President of the United States sending Rick and Morty off on a quest to beat a monster, many fans assumed, due to the vague plot summary of Rick taking on the President, that it would be Evil Morty, who became the president of the above council, and that the episode would have an emotional intensity on par with the previous season's finale, right? Wrong. The plot summary was Exactly What It Says on the Tin, the plot was mainly self-contained.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man does this with the Green Goblin's identity. In the comics, multiple people have worn the mask, but Norman Osborn is the first and most well-known. Midway through season one, Peter concludes the Goblin is really Norman... only to find it's Harry Osborn (the second comics Goblin), under the influence of a Fantastic Drug. When the Goblin reappears in season two, Peter assumes Harry's fallen Off the Wagon, only for the Goblin to attack him while Norman and Harry are standing right there. Then it turns out the Goblin is and always has been Norman, and all evidence to the contrary was either deliberate misdirection or a lucky coincidence.


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