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Meta Twist

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Above: the usual result.
Below: the twist.

"[...] As you wait for the inevitable Shyamalan twist ending... that never comes. The twist is... there is no twist. The trees did it. Then it ends."

Say there is a particular author or ongoing franchise who likes having each story with a special kind of Twist Ending. It is done so much it has been done with almost every story. For some, it's predictable and groanworthy, while others might like it. Either way, it's expected to always be there, so this next story is going to have one... right?

Imagine the surprise when the story is setting up the expecting surprise and what happens is more designed to frustrate those expecting a certain twist, or the twist isn't even there. Much like an Empty Room Psych, a Running Gag is so common that its absence will throw avid fans who expected it for a loop.

Maybe they realized that using the trope was becoming predictable — or worse, a crutch — and ditched it. 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 unexpected element in that story was the absence of an established twist. Or, in other words, the plot twist was that there was no plot 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 unaware of what they were supposed to expect. 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, though conversely it may be perceived as a mean-spirited jab at audience expectations.

Compare with Disappointed by the Motive and 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. In fact, these spoilers are even more dangerous than the usual variety, since each example also gives away spoilers about other works by a creator, other works of the genre or even huge parts of fiction itself. This is your last warning; only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list.

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Other Examples:

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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:
    • The series did this powerfully in the Marineford Arc. A tradition in One Piece is that no one dies in the present, only in flashbacks. 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. Despite the series tradition, 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 Carmel, 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 were led 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 Carmel was actually a slave trader who used the guise of a holy woman to sell children to the World Government, 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 an eating frenzy.
  • 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. The 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.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • For over 20 years, Ash Ketchum lost every league tournament he entered — though typically placing higher and higher, going from the top 16 in Kanto (his first tournament) to 2nd place in Kalos. So imagine the surprise for both Ash and the fandom when he won the Alola League! And then defeated Tapu Koko!
    • And then in the next series, Ash ends up traveling across the Pokémon world to fight powerful and elite trainers in a World Tournament, which ends with Ash defeating World Champion Leon and therefore crowned as the world's most powerful trainer. This happens to lead to another meta twist, which is Ash and Pikachu being retired as the main characters despite the fact that Ash declaring he's not a Pokémon Master yet.note 
  • Dragon Quest: Your Story is a straightforward adaptation of the plot of Dragon Quest V right up until Ladja is defeated and the evil Grandmaster Nimzo is sealed away. Just when victory is achieved, however, Nimzo manifests as a computer virus, revealing that everything that had transpired, from the hero's birth to the present, was actually a virtual reality game, and thus none of it was real.
  • Tropical-Rouge! Pretty Cure: Expecting Cure Precious to show up at the end of this season? Too bad, she's reduced to a cameo, untransformed.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL is very fond of its Suspiciously Similar Substitute versions of characters from the original series, and a common Recurring Element in the franchise is to introduce a character later on who has some kind of supernatural involvement, forms a close connection to the protagonist and is forced to battle them for reasons beyond their control despite them being good at heart. This series would later introduce Rei Shingetsu as an amiable fast friend of Yuma who seems to have some kind of connection to the Barians and recurring villain Vector. As he's a dead ringer for Bakura in many respects, and Bakura was a guy who was only made dangerous by a Superpowered Evil Side, this means a lot of people were wondering when he would be possessed, have an Evil Counterpart, or in some way end up tragically opposed to the protagonists. As it turns out, none of these things are true: Shingetsu is Vector, and his initial friendly interactions turn out to have been entirely fabricated, with him being one of the most genuinely evil characters in the series.
    • Furthermore, most of the series depicted Shark as a more aloof expy of Jonouchi, the Friendly Rival / The Lancer of the main character with an initially sick sister. He's the one who becomes tragically opposed to Yuma, upon regaining his memories of being the Barian leader.

    Comic Books 
  • In Astro City, we are at one point introduced to the Confessor: a superhero who dresses in all black, exclusively operates at night, has enough strength and agility to take down multiple men with ease, can interrogate a man just by glaring at him, has never been successfully photographed, and can sneak up on people or leave the scene with incredible ease (even at one point appearing behind someone while they're looking in a mirror). Because Astro City is a series that loves its Expies, and given the superhero trappings, most readers don't even notice that he's meant to be anything more than a reference to Batman, when paired with his use of sidekicks, detective work, and elaborate base. This makes it genuinely surprising when a character with all the above traits is revealed to be a vampire.
  • Gwenpool Strikes Back has the titular Gwendolyn Poole behave like a manic, Talkative Loon. Most readers passed this off as a case of Depending on the Writer, as the character has had personality shifts like this before; something that the character herself has regularly highlighted in previous runs with the additional observation that, naturally, no one in-universe really notices such changes. Cue the final issue, where Kamala Khan directly confronts Gwen and it's revealed that she is well aware that Gwen is deliberately acting out-of-character and playing up her usual goofball tendencies to disguise her actual feelings, reframing the entire miniseries as Gwen being far more desperate and scared than previously let on.
  • 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.
  • Throughout the Halo series, stories about the UNSC and Covenant competing to capture a mysterious Forerunner artifact, often with it being destroyed or neutralised by the end of the story, are dime-a-dozen. When Halo: Collateral Damage opens with the premise that Blue Team are investigating why the Covenant decided to send a portion of an invasion force to a strategically unimportant mining settlement, it is clearly setting up a variation of that same story. Instead, we never find out what the Covenant were looking for, and it's irrelevant to the main plot which instead focuses on the tensions between Blue Team and the Insurrectionist group they need to ally with.
  • 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. At 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 permanently 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, not her being corrupted. Taking down Matt Murdock (here the evil leader of The Hand) and spending a year in prison helps her mellow out some.
  • During New Teen Titans arc "Who Is Donna Troy?" one of the factors driving Donna's curiosity about her past is her interest in her birth name, which was lost when Wonder Woman rescued her as a toddler. Dick finally tracks down someone who knew Donna before the fire and as Donna gets excited to learn her name the woman looks at her and calls her...Donna. Evidently her birth name was never lost at all despite all knowledge of it having been missing. This might have to do with Diana's innate connection to the truth.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • In one 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." Another later strip is similar, although in that case, it was because it was so cold out Hobbes didn't want to get out of bed.
    • In one later arc, Calvin creates a good version clone of himself to go to school and do all his chores. However, the arc starts off after this initial event has happened, so the audience is dropped into it just as suddenly as Calvin's mother, who, just like the viewer would be, is extremely confused why "Calvin" is suddenly polite and well-groomed.
      Bill Watterson: The humor of this story depends on the reader being familiar with Calvin's personality, so I could only do this sort of thing after the strip was established. Writing is most fun after readers are willing to enter the strip's world on its own terms.
    • The final arc with Rosalyn, Calvin's Badly Battered Babysitter, ended with this. Calvin's schemes against Rosalyn had gone on for years at this point, so when she shows up again, readers expect more of the same...except in this instance, Rosalyn tells Calvin that if he behaves himself and does his homework, she'll play any game he likes with him and even let him stay up past his bedtime to do it. Calvin naturally chooses Calvinball, and Rosalyn ends up picking up the rules quickly. They have a great time playing, and Calvin keeps his end of the deal by going to bed when she says so. It's even lampshaded when Calvin's parents arrive home expecting the usual horror stories and instead find Rosalyn with nothing but praise for him.
    • Done In-Universe in one of the many instances of Calvin hiding to avoid a bath. While he normally chooses extremely bizarre places to hide—including up the chimney, on the roof, or inside a vacuum cleaner bag—in this case he selects somewhere he knows his mother will never look: inside the empty bathtub.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, the primary conflict is that Mr. Krupp is planning to put George and Harold in separate classes. So, obviously, the resolution is going to be them reversing it and the two friends sticking together. Not only did the plot line from the books that this conflict seems to be based uponnote end the same way, but that's just what happens in kids' movies... except not here. Even though they try hard to prevent it, in the end, George and Harold actually are put into separate classes. And they're alright with that. They realize that their friendship can persist being separated, and even admit that they may have overreacted to the news a bit.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Argylle proudly advertises Henry Cavill involvment, giving him top billing and his character giving the film its name. Being a Genre Throwback to spy thrillers, the twist is that he is a character in Elly's books, based on her unconscious memories of her time as an actual spy when "Argylle" was her codename. The only scenes where Cavill himself appear are Imagine Spots or Elly describing what she is writing.
  • 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 cliché 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 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.
  • Knives Out plays with both the usual expectations of the Murder Mystery genre and director Rian Johnson's reputation for subverting popular tropes. The film at first plays out as a Deconstruction of the genre, as the murder turns out to have been a complete accident, the killer, Marta, is revealed early on with most of the film revolving around her attempts to evade justice, and the lead detective, Benoit Blanc, seems to be a complete buffoon rather than a Bunny-Ears Lawyer. This makes it actually surprising when it's revealed that there was a murder plot after all, the true killer was the most obvious candidate, and Blanc is a genuinely brilliant detective who knew all along about Marta's involvement in Harlan's death but chose to keep it to himself in order to find out what was really going on.
  • Scream:
    • Scream: Billy is set up to be really, really, ridiculously obviously the killer, but of course it’s Never the Obvious Suspect and the killer stabs him to death… except not really. Not only is he the true killer all along, the big twist is that he’s actually been working alongside an accomplice the whole time! The accomplice pretended to murder him at the start of the third act just to throw the other characters off the trail.
    • After two movies of each having two killers in tandem, Scream 3 has only one killer. For bonus points, it meta twists the first movie's meta twist by having the guy who's very obviously his partner this time around actually be completely innocent.
    • The first film famously based much of its marketing around Drew Barrymore's character, only to shockingly kill her off in the opening scene. The following three films followed suit in having a Dead Star Walking or Decoy Protagonist be killed off at the start of the movie, with Scream 4 even parodying this trend by having two fakeout openings in which Lucy Hale and Anna Paquin are killed only for these to be revealed to be scenes from the Stab films, before the true opening kills off Aimee Teegarden and Britt Robertson. In the opening of the 2022 movie, Jenna Ortega's character Tara is set up to receive the same fate as she's attacked in her own home by Ghostface in a direct Call-Back to the first movie, only for her to not only survive the opening scene, but go on to become a main character and survive the entire film.
  • 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 the 2009 movie 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.
  • While Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a reputation with some fans for having almost the same plot as A New Hope, The Last Jedi has enough twists that keeps it from being a total rehash of 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. Until The Rise of Skywalker walks this back with the reveal of who was really behind Snoke.
    • Rey's parents being revealed as just ordinary people means that she is unrelated to any pre-established characters or families, therefore avoiding (or inverting) the "I-am-your-father" type twist as in The Empire Strikes Back. Until The Rise of Skywalker again walks back on this with the reveal of her grandfather.
    • 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. And yet again, The Rise of Skywalker walks this back by him repairing the helmet, working under and intending to overthrow Palpatine, and ultimately turning back to the Light because of the feelings he still has for his loved ones, all just like Vader.
  • 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.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • Lawrence Van Dough spends most of Richie Rich scheming to break into the family vault, under the pretense that it contains the family's entire wealth, a sentiment likely shared by people familiar with the comics. The climax sees the vault open to reveal...nothing but family keepsakes and photo albums. After all, why would the richest family in the world keep all of their wealth in a single vault where it would retain the same value as opposed to investing it to generate further income through dividends and interest payments?
  • In the Mission: Impossible TV show, the team always succeeds and makes it to the end of the mission (with precisely one exception, ever). Mission: Impossible (1996) opens with an standard IMF mission that goes disastrously wrong, and agents - including ones played by big-time movie stars - start dropping. First it's "accidents", then assassinations (including Jim Phelps, the most famous character of the TV series). Then it turns out Jim survived, to the relief of longtime fans. Then it turns out he's the mole and Big Bad of the film, to the chagrin of the longtime fans. Some say they're still mad to this day.
  • In The Faculty, the protagonists are clear-cut analogues to the cast of The Breakfast Club, with the Jerk Jock Stan as Andy, the Alpha Bitch Delilah as Claire, the Stereotypical Nerd Casey as Brian, the Delinquent Zeke as Bender, and the Creepy Loner Girl Stokely as Allison. Viewers will probably wonder, then, where the New Transfer Student Marybeth fits in... an early clue that she doesn't. It turns out that she was the Big Bad all along.

  • Anti-Humor relies on this by providing a setup to an obvious punch line but instead giving something completely different or a Mathematician's Answer:
    • One example is this joke, which signals itself as a racial joke but instead swings it around on the answerer:
    Q: What do you call a Black/Chinese/Indian/etc guy flying a plane?
    A: A pilot, you racist asshole!
    • The "Chicken Joke" is the quintessential example, where the humor comes from the unexpectedly prosaic punchline as opposed to something off-the-wall and silly. This is unfortunately blunted by it being the among the first jokes most people ever hear, which usually just leads to a very confused youngster trying to figure out why it's supposed to be funny.
  • The "Orange Head" joke, in which the reason the man has an orange for a head isn't because a Jackass Genie screwed up his wish in a funny way. It's because his last wish was to have an orange for a head.

  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix very consciously builds its plot around Harry himself becoming accustomed to being the hero of the story, who each year makes mistakes along the way but ultimately discovers something important and snatches some manner of victory from the situation. This leads him to be utterly fooled by Voldemort, who deliberately arranges this trope in-universe by manipulating Harry into staging a heroic rescue, only to find there was nothing to rescue at all and that he'd put himself exactly where Voldemort wanted him. He accomplishes nothing but putting his friends in grave danger and getting Sirius killed - and, perhaps, convincing Dumbledore that Harry is too dangerously foolhardy to keep in the dark any longer.
    • 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, but no one believes him because of his habit of jumping the gun and getting Theory Tunnel Vision about red herrings. Even better, the culprits are Malfoy and Snape, both of whom had consistently been used as blatant Red Herrings in previous books. 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. Similarly, the Robert Langdon books had always involved Langdon being roped into solving a mystery based on a series of historical clues in order to find a MacGuffin or stop a tragedy. Not so in Inferno where the series of clues supposedly leading to a deadly bioweapon to be released were planted to waste everyone's time as a sick joke while the actual "weapon" (in reality a "mere" sterility virus meant to curb overpopulation) was quietly released before the first clue was even sent.
  • 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. As such, it becomes a Meta Twist in the stories where there effectively isn't a twist ending, such as in You Can't Scare Me.
  • Harry Turtledove is well known for his large casts 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.
    • Some books deconstruct aspects from previous ones. For example, Prince Raoden in Elantris ran secret meetings with fellow nobles and sons of nobles, planning to change the kingdom from within. When invaders strike, they fight back as True Companions. Similarly, Elend (the closest thing the Final Empire has to a prince) and his friends discussed dangerous political topics, such as the failings of the Lord Ruler. Once the revolution starts, only Elend steps up to stop the fighting, and the others run away. He has to execute one and the other is mostly irrelevant.
    • Warbreaker was written as the anti-Mistborn from top to bottom. Both start in a country ruled by a God-Emperor with fanatical priests, with a revolution fermenting in the oppressed classes, and a charismatic, funny group of mercenaries/thieves working with (and practically running) La Résistance picking up a girl with special powers. In Mistborn, it's a terrible life in the Final Empire: if you're skaa; you're essentially a slave, if you're noble; you live in a Decadent Court, and if you're half; you're a target for the Inquisitors. The Lord Ruler is a tyrant and his priests are either corrupt or Ax-Crazy, the rebellion is fully justified, the revolution improves the lives of the skaa wherever it rises, the thieving crew was handpicked to be men of character and morals, and Vin is a Mistborn who becomes their greatest warrior. In Warbreaker, Hallandren is not perfect, but still a decent place to live. God-King Susebron is a naive but well-meaning figurehead, and his priests aren't evil either. The rebellion has genuine greviances, but they go too far by harming the innocent, and the revolution would be bloody for even those the rebellion profess to be fighting for. And the mercenaries were Evil All Along, torturing and killing an innocent boy, and kidnapping Vivienna under the guise of her hiring them. Vivienna herself only becomes stronger once she runs away from them.
  • 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. Similarly, The Reveal that Agent Grant Ward was a Evil All Along HYDRA sleeper is made in large part so effectively jarring to the audience due to the character having been previously written and portrayed as another "typical" Mr. Fanservice Lovable Rogue Deadpan Snarker White Male Lead within the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, making any moments of suspicion around the character related to the darker implications of some of those tropes feel effectively Beneath Notice for most people watching the series for the first time.
  • Nearly all adaptations of And Then There Were None change the book's 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.
  • Season 8 of The Blacklist has Red in a relationship with Anne Foster, whom he meets while birdwatching in New York. Theories abounded as to how she might fit into the story - is she working for Elizabeth? The FBI? Is she connected to Red's past in some way? Does she have connections he intends to exploit? It turns out she has no connections to the criminal world whatsoever; she's a widow from a small town in Kansas and the two of them met purely by chance.
  • Black Mirror: Given the show's themes, and its universally bad or at best bittersweet endings up to that point, the heartwarming love story "San Junipero" is surely headed for a spectacularly tragic Cruel Twist Ending. With ten minutes left and things going too well to be true, a first-time viewer is likely filled with stomach-churning dread at how this couple's happiness is going to be destroyed. First they have a bad fight, and you think they won't reconcile. Then you start to think that Kelly's going to stick to her decision to die naturally instead of joining Yorkie in San Junipero; or that she'll change her mind but then one of them will die before they can be permanently transferred. During the very last shot, you might even be expecting the servers running San Junipero to suddenly blow up at the last possible second! But none of that happens. They make up after their fight, Kelly does eventually change her mind, they both live long enough to transfer to San Junipero, and they live happily ever after. It almost literally ends with them driving off into the sunset as "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" plays over the credits. This was the first-ever episode of Black Mirror to have an unambiguously happy and uplifting endingnote  (and they deliberately made the outcome uncertain until partway through the credits), so it's no surprise that it's reduced many a viewer to tears (especially LGBT+ viewers who are used to years of the Bury Your Gays trope and are touched). And in a show that can suffer from Too Bleak, Stopped Caring, this Surprisingly Happy Ending may be the biggest reason that many viewers and critics rank "San Junipero" among the show's best episodes, even now that it has nine more episodes to compete with.
  • 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.
  • Cobra Kai: Episode 9 of both of the first two seasons have Daniel and Johnny having a heart to heart and realizing that they aren't so different, only for circumstances to contrive to have them back at each others' throats by the start of the next episode. Episode 9 of Season 3 flips this on its head by ending on a note that implies another bust up between the two is imminent, with Johnny's Green-Eyed Monster flaring up when he sees Daniel hugging Ali at the Country Club. However, in the following episode, this doesn't materialize, and the two end the season more closely aligned than ever and having apparently buried the hatchet for good this time.
  • 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.
    • "The Time Meddler": Up until this point, every story has been either an historical story or a sci-fi story, and the story at first looks like an historical and comes about when an historical would be "due"... and then the first cliffhanger reveals it is a sci-fi story with an historical backdrop (a viewer at the time wouldn't have had the title of the full serial, which would otherwise have spoiled the twist). Of course, this meta twist presaged a shift where soon it would be more shocking if the Doctor visits an historical setting and there isn't some sort of sci-fi business going on there.
    • Steven Moffat is regarded 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 fear of the dark, fear of what's happening when you are not looking or fear of what you cannot remember 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's left ambiguous whether there ever was a monster, or whether it was all in the Doctor's head, an exceptionally terrifying monster he thought up 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 been 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 Twelfth and First Doctors 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. Turns out that there's still white supremacists in the 76th Century. This revelation pisses off Ryan quite a lot.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • The reality television series The Hotel Inspector features an episode in which, after host Alex Polizzi tries out the hotel and is underwhelmed by the owner's dedication to it, gives them an ultimatum as to whether they really want her help. Standard reality TV logic is that, since this is less than 15 minutes into a 45 minute episode, they will affirm that they do after a bit of suspense and an ad break. But this time, they actually decide to go it alone and respectfully decline Alex's (and the show's) assistance. The rest of the episode switches to a completely different hotel.
  • Dr. House's catchphrases get twisted every now and then:
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Most of the time, when one of the Gang tries their hand at something artistic or musical, especially dancing, they fail miserably. The episode "Mac Finds His Pride", which centers around Mac putting together an interpretive dance routine in order to come out to his dad, is built up to be just as grand a failure. But instead, we got one of the most beautiful dance scenes in television history set to the haunting melody of Sigur Ros' "Varúð".
  • In 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.
  • Loki (2021): The Marvel Cinematic Universe is famous for its antagonists typically being dark copies of its protagonists with similar abilities, so one would understandably expect the Hidden Villain of this series to be an evil Loki Variant to combat this series' Anti-Hero Loki Variant. The actual villain turns out to be "He Who Remains", a Non-Action Big Bad completely unrelated to Loki. They never directly fight each other and instead oppose each other on a more philosophical level; Loki and his Variants prove that people can change for the better, while He Who Remains believes that his Variants are evil by nature and that it can't be helped.
  • 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.
    • Yet again in the season 6 opener, in which 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.
    • The flashsideways being the afterlife is itself an example. For the entirety of the show's run, one of the most common theories as to how everything came together amid fans and critics alike was that the passengers all died in the first episode and the Island was Purgatory, even when the events of the story made this increasingly unlikely. The Grand Finale screws with those who held such theories a final time by driving home as hard as possible that the Island is not some kind of limbo or Dying Dream, but that the flashsideways subplot is.
  • Normally, when in the series The Ministry of Time the boss asks for the patrol, he receives a call from them. however, in "spell time" they do not.
  • Moon Knight (2022): A common theme through most of the preceding MCU Disney+ series has been the Big Bad and/or The Dragon being revealed to be a Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist after initially presenting themselves as being Necessarily Evil.
    • Agatha Harkness of WandaVision might correctly point out that Wanda's brainwashing of Westview is highly unethical, but she's only there in the first place because she wants Wanda's magical talent for herself. Similarly, S.W.O.R.D. Director Tyler Hayward is trying to manipulate Wanda into illegally bringing the Vision back online because he's a Glory Seeker with no care whatsoever for civilian casualties.
    • Karli Morgenthau of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier might make many good points regarding the refugee crisis created by the Blip, but it slowly becomes clear that she's getting Drunk on the Dark Side and is using the Flag-Smashers as a way to vent her frustrations and anger at the world at large.
    • Judge Ravonna Renslayer of Loki (2021) Season 1 absolutely refuses to believe that the Time Variance Authority's atrocities aren't actually justifiable because of her falling into the Sunk Cost Fallacy.
    • And the respective Meta Twist here for Moon Knight is that this series' Big Bads Arthur Harrow and Ammit are sincere Well Intentioned Extremists. Even though the former freely admits that his Heel–Faith Turn was motivated by sadistic impulses, he's completely genuine in wanting to atone for his past sins through his service to Ammit, and quickly offers up his life upon learning from his goddess that his own scales are imbalanced. Furthermore, despite the fact that Ammit herself is a goddess that literally grows in power with the souls she consigns to the Duat, both her actions and her conversation with Khonshu in the series finale show that she's completely sincere in wanting to make the world a better place through her Precrime Arrest murder spree, to the point where she gives the moon god a We Can Rule Together offer since she sees them as having the same goals in punishing sinners.
  • 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.
  • Quantum Leap (2022): In the original Quantum Leap, it isn't uncommon for an apparently supernatural plot to have a rational explanation, only for a Real After All twist to pop up at the very end of the leap. In the new series' episode "O Ye of Little Faith", which is about an apparent demonic possession, you'd expect some kind of reveal at the end that there actually was a demon present. However, the end reveals that there 100% was no demon present; instead, the actual twist is that the smoky demon seen during the episode was Janis Calavicci's homebrew hologram glitching out.
  • Saturday Night Live: Several sketches use a formula that features three women, two of whom are beautiful and lovely, and the third is weird in some way, and often played by Kate McKinnon (for example, in this sketch, three sailors are rescued by two beautiful mermaids and one blobfish mermaid). So when this sketch features three princesses and the third is Kate, the joke is that all three princesses are normal, which confuses the prince.
  • Sherlock:
    • "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.
    • Season Four in general plays with the idea that there might be a third Holmes brother, and at one point Mycroft has a significant phone conversation in which he refers to "Sherrinford". In old-school Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes Fanon, "Sherrinford" is often used as the name for a hypothetical oldest Holmes brother, never mentioned because he's a country squire who rarely comes to Town. In actual fact, it's revealed that "Sherrinford" isn't a person, it's the name of an island Tailor-Made Prison where the murderously psychotic Holmes sister Eurus, the season Big Bad, is confined.
  • 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:
  • The Walking Dead (2010) toys with viewers who read the original comic when it gets around to adapting Negan's introduction and Glen's infamously brutal death scene. In the show's version, there's more people in the heroes' group that get captured and instead of attacking Glen, Negan decides to kill the comparatively unpopular Abraham, whose death — while still vicious — is pretty tame compared to Glen's in the comic, making it seem like the writers decided to alter that scene to keep Glen alive as one of the main protagonists and wanted to tone down the violence a little. And then Negan abruptly turns and starts beating Glen to death too… and if anything, it's even more brutal than in the comics. For bonus points, right before that happens, Negan gets a line about how "there are no exceptions", seemingly taunting the viewer for thinking any of the characters had Plot Armor.
  • The X-Files: The episode "End Game" has what is technically a twist, but might have been intended as a meta twist. "End Game" and the preceding episode "Colony" concern 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.

  • The doujin circle Ariabl'eyeS makes Concept Albums and is known for their frequent Downer Endings. A translator was shocked when the Vampire Bride storyline turned out to have an unambiguously Happy Ending.
  • Music/Ulver is a Norwegian band known for completely changing genres continuously, surprising the listeners with every release: black metal, folk, avantgarde metal, electronics, dark ambient, trip hop, art rock, progressive, psychedelia, ambient pop, neoclassical darkwave, drone, synth pop... until they started to stick on synth pop for three releases in a row. Truly an unexpected surprise for those waiting to be "surprised" as usual.

    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.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • From the first game, both the first and second cases are Reverse Whodunnits (the third case opening cutscene had nothing to do with the murder, and just introduced the Steel Samurai Show Within a Show). The fourth case seemingly follows suit, with the Cold Open unambiguously showing that Miles Edgeworth is the murderer, before revealing that he will be your client. It ultimately turns out that Edgeworth is genuinely innocent, and that the whole intro of the case was a massive instance of Not What It Looks Like. The series going forward frequently plays around with whether its Reverse Whodunnit cases are genuine or a Red Herring.
    • Each game usually follows the Good Lawyers, Good Clients trope, so the few times in the series where the client actually is guilty (Matt Engarde, Simon Keyes, and Magnus McGilded) comes as a massive shock. Many consider their respective cases some of the best cases in the series.
    • Similarly, in Investigations 2, Simon Keyes, one of the people who Edgeworth proves to be innocent of the murder he is accused of, turns out to be a two-faced, conniving mastermind who orchestrated every single present-day murder in the game. Yes, including the one where he was arrested due to Sebastian's Insane Troll Logic and Edgeworth got him acquitted; he didn't do the deed himself, but he did knowingly manipulate someone else into killing the victim. Even Edgeworth can barely bring himself to believe it when he finally puts the pieces together.
    • 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.
    • 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 easily accept that she's the culprit... but she isn't, and Apollo quickly proves this. The true killer is Apollo's co-counsel, Kristoph Gavin. Before this, the true killer had never been behind the defense's bench.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Queen Amara Sigatar Khura'in manages to be such an effective Red Herring because she ticks practically every Ace Attorney Big Bad checkbox in the book. She was involved in a past unsolved case, appeared since early in the game, but as someone Beneath Suspicion, requires a lot of effort to bring to the witness stand, and has a dramatic transformation when accused, complete with new ominous Leitmotif and a terrifying "shock" animation. It's all there, yet she is not the final case's killer, and the realization probably won't hit the player until her "breakdown" is surprisingly anti-climactic, along with her complete lack of motive.
    • Similarly, Investigations has Colias Palaeno, the Babahlese diplomat in the final case. He has an overly-integrating manner that comes off as over-the-top and insincere (for example, his near constant hand-rubbing is associated in Japan with being sycophantic, and is a tic shared with the series' first culprit Frank Sahwit), he drops the act on occasion, and he cooperates with you completely and without hesitation- normally behavior associated with a true culprit reveal. Nope; dude is being completely on level with you and just wants the murder to be solved- y'know, like a normal person. Which in turn distracts the viewers from the person who plays convention absolutely straight- Colias's counterpart, Quercus Alba, who poses as a genial old man but actually leads a smuggling ring and has a 'transformation' where he drops his act and presents himself as a Four-Star Badass.
    • Within the Ace Attorney franchise, a trial happens Once per Episode with the Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth games being the sole exceptions due to the different gameplay style than the traditional Ace Attorney games. However, come to the first The Great Ace Attorney game that plays like a traditional Ace Attorney game, many fans were surprised that the second case was purely investigation with no trial at all, since the death occurs while the characters are at sea and it was an accident- Nikolina panicked and pushed Kazuma, who happened to hit his head in just the wrong way.
    • It's very common for the Ace Attorney franchise to build up the rival prosecutor as undefeated immediately before the player defeats them, but twice the writers play around with the convention. With Godot, it's quickly subverted as a joke; he's never been defeated because he's never prosecuted a trial before, so no one has had the opportunity to defeat him. In The Great Ace Attorney, characters instead tell Rynosuke and Susato that anyone prosecuted by Barok van Zieks is inevitably "doomed," which they take to mean the same thing. After defeating van Zieks in court, Susato proudly announces to Inspector Gregson that she and Ryunosuke successfully won an acquittal against him, only for Gregson to cynically set the two straight. Defendants aren't doomed because van Zieks successfully convicts every one of them—that would be impossible. They're doomed because the ones he doesn't convict die, as Ryunosuke's own client did immediately after the trial.
  • Zero Escape trilogy:
    • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, a huge plot twist was that Akane Kurashiki/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 drove 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 the characterization of Akane far deeper than it had been before. So when Virtue's Last Reward's cast page was released, and it described Luna as kind and naïve, the player may think that this must mean Luna is 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. The Big Bad is actually Dio, an overt Jerkass, the twist being that he really is as evil as he seems.
    • The Grand Finale, Zero Time Dilemma, has the characters face off against Zero II. In the previous games, Akane was somehow behind it all, and Zero/Akane turned out to be a Disc-One Final Boss and Well-Intentioned Extremist, with the real villain being the Wild Card that the Zero is trying to stop. Here, Akane is not the mastermind, but it is Zero II/Delta that was manipulating her all along, the Wild Card Mira is The Dragon to him, and although he is trying to stop a Religious Fanatic, said character is an unseen Greater-Scope Villain, meaning that this Zero remains the villain all the way through.
  • AI: The Somnium Files was written by Kotaro Uchikoshi, who's well-known for crafting late-game Mind Screw twists that throw the entire story on its head. Somnium seems to be leading towards a big revelation about its characters learning of the alternate timelines caused by internal Story Branching, much like the twist of Uchikoshi's earlier work Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Main protagonist Date inexplicably knows information after it gets revealed on other story routes, and Iris even insists that parallel worlds are real and could explain the big mysteries. So there's inevitably going to be big multiverse shennanigans, right? Nope! In reality, Date is merely working through his Laser-Guided Amnesia to remember stuff that he learned years ago, while Iris is fixated on parallel universes because she's actually suffering brain tumor-induced delusions. Alternate timelines are implied to exist, but are ultimately irrelevant.
  • Danganronpa:
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc quickly brings up the existence of a famous Serial Killer named Genocide Jack, who eventually turns out to be a Split Personality of the female Toko Fukawa, one of the students trapped in the school. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair then does the same set-up with a different Serial Killer. The killer of that trial, Peko Pekoyama, 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.
    • 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 Makoto's foiled execution in the first game, the two are found guilty under similar circumstances, 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.
    • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony:
      • The series as a whole has conditioned players to believe that the culprit is Never the Obvious Suspect; in nearly every trial, the killer turned out to be someone other than who the other characters believed it was. Then the third trial rolls around, all the evidence points to the creepy and Obviously Evil Korekiyo Shinguji being the culprit, the other characters believe him to be the killer, and the game does everything to convince you that he is. As a result, the player is likely to assume he is another Red Herring, and the game even entertains this possibility later on... before revealing that, no, he really is the killer. Essentially, the 'twist' of the trial is that there is no twist; the obvious guy really did do it.
      • By this point in the series, 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 this. But 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 (though the final scene implies that Featherine takes them all to the afterlife).

  • 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 Jim, a much more conventionally strategic and level-headed contestant easily beat Autumn, 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 Ass Pull 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 Royal Guard are, without exception, completely incompetent and incapable of even the most basic of tasks with it either being so the Mane Six can save the day with the Power of Friendship or it being Played for Laughs like their inability to find Princess Celestia's pet bird. Come "It's About Time" and, once again, they're shown to be falling for Twilight Sparkle's painfully poor and cartoonish attempts to sneak into the palace at night, failing to spot her when she's standing in plain sight or pulling the old Nobody Here but Us Statues gag. However, in the end, when she's finally caught red-handed trying to jimmy open the door to the palace library, the guard merely greets her and unlocks the door for her. After all, she's Twilight Sparkle, the protege of Princess Celestia, and always welcome in the palace — the guards simply didn't care she was running around the palace.
    • 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 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.
  • Transformers: Prime plays Predaking's sentience in this way. Initially introduced as little more than a powerful animal with only a dragon mode, he begins showing more and more signs of intelligence and independence. When he finally transforms and reveals his sentience it catches everyone offguard, but instead of betraying his creators, he pledges Undying Loyalty and reveals that all of his actions were just an effort to learn more about himself. Instead, it's the Decepticons fearful of his power that betray Predaking despite his loyalty.
  • The first two seasons of Infinity Train had their eighth episode be a major Wham Episode, so fans assumed season three would continue that tradition... said Wham Episode ended up being the fifth episode of the season, ending with Simon murdering Tuba and Hazel turning out to not be human.
  • In the Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "Heads of Beef", Courage suspects the burger joint he and Eustace went to turns its customers into burgers. His suspicions are seemingly confirmed and he flees from the restaurant, leaving a disbelieving Eustace to his fate. Then it is revealed Eustace (and the customer who was seemingly a Sacrificial Lamb) are alive and enjoying a bust made of hamburger meat, showing Courage was overreacting.


Video Example(s):


"I'm Putting A Twist On It."

When presenting a scenario based off Demon Slayer's first episode (in which Tanjiro's family is slaughtered save for his little sister who was turned into a demon), rather than allow himself to be like Nezuko and want to return to being human, Kurt instead runs off into the woods and presents the scenario that the others have to hunt him down. He even brings up that this is a twist when one of them jokes about putting him in a box and carry him around much like how Tanjiro did for Nezuko.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / HomageDerailment

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