Donna: Yes, you do. 'Cause sometimes...I think you need someone to stop you.
The Morality Chain is a character who is the reason another character is Good. Stereotypically a love interest, a parent, a child, or a younger sibling; as long as this person is alive, their target of affection will at the very least be a Noble Demon.
There is no Restraining Bolt involved; this person is the only thing preventing someone from doing worse things, perhaps to the extreme that they'd happily kill their "friends" and family. (One wonders whether such a form of "goodness" has much value in it until one remembers that it keeps them from killing their friends and family.)
If a Morality Chain were to fall, betray, or get seriously hurt or die, there is nothing to prevent a Face–Heel Turn from happening fast and hard. This is more than the Roaring Rampage of Revenge; everyone has to suffer.
A similar, and often confused with, trope is the Morality Pet. The difference between the two is subtle: A morality pet is a character who redeems a villain. The villain's affection for the pet starts them down the path of good, and even should the pet get hurt the villain will most likely behave as a hero (or anti-hero) in seeking their revenge or protecting the pet. By contrast, the morality chain keeps an otherwise anti-heroic character (such as a Sociopathic Hero) from going full villain. The loss of the chain would spell doom for any involved party, and likely anyone nearby as well. In a nutshell: A morality pet turns a bad guy good; a morality chain stops a good guy from turning bad. That said, the two tropes can certainly overlap: if the character redeems a villain and then also helps keep them from slipping back to evil, they are both a Morality Pet and a Morality Chain.
Sometimes this is Inverted. The death of the Morality Chain can motivate the target of affection to become more determined to be good to honor their memory. Usually in these cases the cause of death is either natural, or because of a villain (especially if it's a buddy of theirs that the Morality Chain had disapproved of). Now, if the cause of death is their loved one, either through an accident or because they Kicked the Morality Pet, then they may either go comatose or crazy.
If the villain doesn't have a Morality Chain, you may have to Hit Them in the Pocketbook.
See also: Morality Chain Beyond the Grave, Morality Pet, Cynicism Catalyst, Morality Chip, Living Emotional Crutch, Reformation Acknowledgement and Driven to Villainy. Contrast: The Kid with the Leash and The Farmer and the Viper.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films — Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- The Hunchback Of Notre Dame: The Archdeacon serves as the morality chain to Judge Claude Frollo, limiting his cruel persecution of the Romani people for much of the movie. It is thanks to the Archdeacon's watchful eye that Frollo spared and raised Quasimodo for 20 years after killing his mother, and it is the Archdeacon who keeps Esmeralda safe from Frollo's lustful advances. Once Frollo gives into his lust during his confession, he ignores the Archdeacon completely, culminating him pushing the elder man to the floor as he goes to finish off Quasimodo and Esmeralda for good.
- In The LEGO Movie, Bad Cop has a morality chain in the form of... himself. While not the dominant personality, Good Cop is strong enough to rein in Bad Cop's sadism and prevents him from using the Kragle on his parents. When Lord Business rubs out Good Cop's face with nail polish remover, Bad Cop goes through with freezing his parents.
- In The Magnus Archives, Basira Hussain serves as this for Daisy Tonner. They're close friends who formerly worked together as Sectioned cops, and Basira is the only reason Daisy hasn't fully given in to the Hunt and started killing ordinary humans as well as monsters. Daisy decides not to kill Jon only because Basira shows up at the last second and intervenes, and when Daisy loses her connection to Basira (for example, during the Unknowing), she embraces the Hunt and turns fully monstrous.
- Mark Briscoe serves as such for his older brother Jay, preventing him from getting in (too) much trouble with ROH censors, from bringing avoidable legal trouble to the company and from causing too much damage on the farm. Mark has plenty of his own vices, such as trespassing, envy and irresponsible handling of farmyard equipment/firearms that Jay is almost completely unable to do anything about.
- Black Rose helped cement La Amazona's Heel–Face Turn in IWA Puerto Rico, as she shifted from harassing whoever she could to trying to protect Rose from La Morena, Killer Kat and Sweet Nancy. Black Rose eventually turned heel on Amazona over the women's title belt, but wound up being the face by default as Amazona not only reverted to her old ways but set out to be worse than Black Rose to people who had done nothing to her like Genesis.
- Fabi Apache was able to successfully keep her sister Mari on the tecnica path in AAA during the 2010s, though this was preceded by a feud between the two in the 2000s and Mari is liable to fall back into her bad habits when Fabi isn't around.
- After his departure from WWE, Jon Moxley (as Dean Ambrose) has been strongly implied to be this to his former teammates in The Shield, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. Barely two years after he was gone, both men went on to make heel turns that saw both of them suffer serious Sanity Slippage: Rollins developed a messiah complex and became a Practically Joker Psychopathic Man Child, while Reigns became a sociopathic mob boss who gaslighted his cousins The Usos into becoming his lackeys. What makes it ironic is that during their time in the Shield, Rollins and Reigns were the ones keeping Ambrose from flying off the handle all the time.
- In 1st Kings and 2nd Chronicles of The Bible, Jehoiada the priest served as King Joash/Jehoash's Morality Chain as long as he was alive, as the king did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, including having the Temple repaired. However, after Jehoiada died, 2nd Chronicles records that Jehoash forsook the Lord, and served the groves and idols, even going as far as having Zechariah the son of Jehoiada murdered for speaking the Lord's words against the king. In the end, his own servants conspired against him and killed him, and he was not buried alongside the kings of Judah.
- Classical Mythology: Patroclus, to Achilles. Achilles was said to be arrogant and callous to everyone except him, and was generally so tender and affectionate with Patroclus and only him that to this day there are people who debate over whether or not they were actually lovers. Then Patroclus dies during the Trojan War, and Achilles, not caring that it will likely kill him, starts mowing down Trojans en masse and then spends twelve days straight desecrating the corpse of Patroclus's killer.
- In Survival of the Fittest, Elizabeth Priestly is this to her twin brother Lenny. When she's not around him, he acts even more of a complete bastard to get her back/find her.
- And now that she's permanently out of the picture, we can probably expect even nastier things to happen to anybody Lenny meets...especially Gabe McCallum.
- In Rifts, Baarrtk Krror is only prevented from giving in entirely to hate by his dear friend, Malik Savant.
- The Vampire: The Requiem supplement Danse Macabre introduces the concept of "anchors" as a replacement for the Humanity system. The way it works, essentially, is that you have a set of Morality Chains that prevent you from degenerating and giving into The Beast. You lose an anchor when they become too exposed to the rest of vampiric society or you damage the relationship too thoroughly. Did we mention that the anchor system is meant to be used in conjunction with the Atrocity system and your anchors are the easiest way to safely vent Atrocity dice?
- In Fate/stay night, Illya is evidently this to Berserker. Note, he's still a massive lump of destructive impulse given terrifying form, he's just better tempered when she's around... unless she orders him to kill someone. Then he gets WORSE.
- There's also implications that Enkidu was this to Gilgamesh, who was The Good King while they were friends, but reverted back to being the arrogant jackass he was before he met him.
- Shirou is Rin's morality chain. Despite not meeting him directly, Rin developed a grudging admiration towards the boy she saw couldn't do a high jump despite his efforts, developing a softer side to her personality. After the two meet she starts getting more curious about him and the two even fall in love in the UBW route. Because she felt defeated by his hard-working personality, being the complete opposite of her, Rin became somewhat nicer to others. So Shirou is basically the only reason why Rin isn't a complete bitch to others, or even a full-blown villain.
- Umineko: When They Cry has Hideyoshi Ushiromiya fulfilling this role for his wife Eva. Whenever he kicks the bucket (which happens in every arc), she snaps.
- Your Turn to Die: Kanna Kizuchi eventually ends serving this role to Sou Hiyori, particularly during Chapter 2. If you as Sara deliberately cause her death in the end, Sou is so utterly enraged that he retaliates with an malicious AI tailor-made to induce Trauma-Induced Amnesia. If, on the other hand, he dies instead because of your vote, he's content enough to provide a caring AI as a "final present" before he succumbs to his wounds.
- Chapter 3-1B reveals that this is why Joe Tazuna was chosen for the death game and not Ryoko — without him to keep Sara in check, she would begin manipulating the others in order to win.
- Dr. Horrible of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has two motivations: to Take Over the World and to get up the courage to talk to Penny, the girl at the laundromat. When the Jerkass Designated Hero, Captain Hammer, accidentally kills her with Dr. Horrible's Death Ray, Horrible's closing song makes it clear that he's lost the only thing he really cared about and now there's nothing keeping him from turning truly evil.
- Eddsworld's 2005 Christmas Special implies that Edd is the only thing keeping Tord from snapping and trying to take over the world. In the Series Fauxnale, it's revealed that Tord being away from Edd for a considerable length of time caused exactly that to happen.
- In Epithet Erased, Giovanni ironically serves as this to Molly. Creator Brenden Blaber has remarked that Molly is a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing more than anything else, despite coming across as an endless fountain of kindness and patience, and it if wasn't for Giovanni being present to offer her a safe outlet all her deep-seated anger, she would have been a few years away from violently acting on these feelings.
- The Ethics Committee works as this for the entire SCP Foundation. In-Universe, most people at the Foundation consider them comically useless at this, considering all the morally questionably stuff the Foundation gets up to, but several tales and SCPs depict them as highly competent and powerful, sometimes even matching or surpassing the O5 Council in power.
- Sylvester, narrator of Twig, plays with this due to his status as a Blank Slate; he allows his friends to define the limits of his morality. When paired with the Token Good Teammates Jamie or Lillian, Sy becomes practically heroic, but when he's partnered with the amoral Mary or the bloodthirsty Helen he will display an almost sadistic focus on causing the enemy the maximum possible harm as they act as The Corrupter to him.