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"One day it will be over, and everyone will forget that this was the moment. This was when it turned. And it wasn’t the mighty Fleet, it wasn't some fancy new weapon. It was a drill instructor named Zim who captured a Brain."

An unorthodox Plot/Story Arc where a character gets much Character Focus and is clearly played up to be a Hero Protagonist — as in The Protagonist, whom the plot is about, who will also be the one to resolve his plot's Conflict — and it turns out the conflict isn't resolved by him, but someone else instead.

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The only requirement for this trope is that we have The Protagonist "Alice" (could also be a group) who is actively trying to kill the source of conflict and whom the narrative is focused on, and there is this Red Herring Shirt "Bob" (again, can also be a group) who the narrative doesn't pay much attention to, who then kills the source of Conflict for whatever reason, leaving Alice with nothing more to do since the Story Arc is technically over with the conflict out of the way.

Note: Just because the "Story Arc is over", doesn't mean the story ends. This kind of plot can also happen to a sub-arc, not just Grand Finales, so it can still allow the story to continue.

Super-Trope to the following:

  • Crack Defeat: The focal characters lose to an unlikely competitor.
  • Dark Horse Victory: A plot involving competing rivals in a contest, where the focus of the story is the rivals, but the winner is neither of them. Do note, however, that this trope doesn't have to signify a resolution of the conflict.
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  • The Meddling Kids Are Useless: the eponymous kids do everything except resolve the plot.

Involves a Red Herring Shirt by nature, called "Bob" here. Compare A Day in the Limelight, where a minor character (or a group of them) gets an episode where they are The Protagonist. Will sometimes overlap with "Shaggy Dog" Story, when The Protagonist's efforts become for naught as someone else resolves the conflict before he can. May be a Deus ex Machina in execution if the "Bob's" intervention comes out of nowhere; to avoid such a case, the story may show Bob half-prominently but with little relevance to the story until later. If the "Bob" of the plot resolves the conflict by accident/not by his own volition, he may be hailed as an Accidental Hero after the events of the plot.

Unrelated to the following:

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Compare Supporting Protagonist, the counterpart for said "resolver", as well as Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work, when a villain plays the "resolver" role.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Blast of Tempest has The Mage of Exodus Megumu Hanemura— who didn't have any trace of involvement in the first half of the story, which was about Mahiro's quest to avenge his dead younger sister with his good friend Yoshino, which happens to involve Saving the World from the eponymous "Civilization Blaster" (which was revealed to literally be the source of all Conflicts in the story) as well— ending up being the one Saving the World and "getting his girl" (who herself was never even named).
  • Digimon Tamers has a mild example, with it being the adult scientists and government agents who come up with, build and plan how to defeat the D-Reaper; the kids simply have to bring the resulting device to the D-Reaper's core. It enters this trope by the amount of screen time and plot focus said scientists get, and the last few episodes pointing out that the kids are kinda standing around getting in the way during the periods where they're not actually fighting.
  • The Future Trunks Saga of Dragon Ball Super marks the first arc where the villain, aka Zamasu isn't defeated by the Z-Fighters. Instead, he is defeated by Future Zen'O as a last ditch effort after Zamasu turns into a bodiless Eldritch Abomination that the heroes seemingly couldn't touch at all. The Universe Survival Saga is a second, where Goku and Frieza sacrifice themselves to ring out Jiren, leaving Android 17 to win the tournament for Universe 7.
  • Fairy Tail builds Natsu up as the only person in the world capable of killing Zeref, one of the two Big Bads, who is cursed to kill those whose lives he cherishes and never die. Despite all of the training and power-ups he gets to make it possible, Natsu loses his once chance to truly finish him off, and can only leave him temporarily beaten and broken. The task instead falls to Mavis, the Big Good who shares the same curse, which is broken when they accept each other's love, the one force capable of killing immortals like themselves.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has some examples:
  • Macross Delta: You'd expect Hayate to be the one who kills Roid; instead Keith does the deed while Hayate is busy saving Mikumo from the Sigur Valens. Justified because Hayate abhors killing and Keith has a more personal reason to go after Roid.
  • In Parasyte, Shinichi is trying to kill the Parasite who killed/took over his mom, but freezes up at the critical moment, with his opponent looking like she'll get the final blow instead. At this point, Mamoru Uda and Jaw (the only other human/Parasite pair known in the series) jumps in and takes care of her instead, with the former saying that he doesn't think Shinichi should be the one to have to kill her.
  • Pokémon has done this often.
    • The biggest offender is the two-part "Red Gyarados" arc. First Ash, Misty, and Brock end up getting captured by Team Rocket, meaning Lance had to save them. Then, Lance was the one to defeat the Team Rocket Trio and destroy the base where the evolution experiment was being conducted. Then, Lance was the one to defeat and capture the lead grunt, and finally, Lance was the one to capture the red Gyarados after Ash and his friends failed to stop it. Why were Ash and the others there again?
    • The Mega Evolution Specials setup Alain with being the one in the employ of Team Flare and Lysandre then is outraged at their role in getting Mairin's Chespin ill from the Zygarde core, implying he will turn against them in the main story. Instead, it's Steven Stone who does the rescue of Chespy from Lysandre Labs while Alain is fighting in Lumiose City; despite having appeared far less than him.
    • Also applies to nearly every League. You’d think, being the protagonist, Ash would handily win, right? Wrong. Ash is usually knocked out of the tournament after doing better than he did last time, usually by a rival who had been just introduced during the League. It’s ultimately in Alola, where all the potential opponents he could face are all established characters, nearly all of them from the games, that he actually wins.
  • In the B2W2 arc of Pokémon Adventures, the protagonist Whitley has a chip that could disable the Colress Machine that's used to control Kyurem. Hugh and Rood of the Seven Sages are the ones to secure the chip and disable the Colress Machine, freeing Kyurem from Team Plasma and foiling their plan of freezing Unova.
  • In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, while the protagonists Syaoran and Sakura do manage to escape from the tube Fei Wang sealed them in, it is Kurogane and Fai who finish the Big Bad off while he is distracted by the destruction.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Newspaper Spider-Man's conflicts are often settled by someone else, in contrast to his hardcover comic counterpart.

    Fan Works 
  • Dear Diary (a story adaptation of a Nuzlocke run of Pokémon Black): It ultimately ends up being Lillil who defeats Ghetsis and Caitlyn who stops Reshiram and Zekrom, thanks to Prima and Opal being (at least sort of in Opal's case) dead by the climax.
  • A Diplomatic Visit: In chapter 7 of the sequel Diplomat at Large, Twilight, Pharynx and Tempest Shadow handle most of the job of defeating the Storm King. It's Bon-Bon, however, who actually kills him without realizing it when he gets knocked out a window and lands on the battlefield behind her.
  • Discussed in Eleutherophobia: Slaughterhouse-Five. Jake tells his class that contrary to popular belief, it was Visser Seventeennote  who got Visser One (née Three) to surrender, not the Animorphs.
  • The Legend of Total Drama Island: Dawn, an intern, has A Day in the Limelight during the 17th Night chapter. She (presumably) resolves a subplot in the process, and then goes back to being a supporting character.
  • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail: The main focus of the Red Lotus Trio/Quarto is to stop the Apex from their killing spree and then later save them from a murderous cult. Ultimately, it's Grace Monroe, the leader of the very cult that they're off to stop, ends up dismantling the Apex after seeing how much damage her little lie caused.
  • The MLP Loops: Loop 193.7 is set during Equestria Girls: Legend of Everfree, and Sunset is preparing to act when the human Bulk Biceps, a non-Looper, suddenly steps up and talks Gloriosa/Gaia Everfree down, pointing out that if she keeps them there, she's keeping them away from their families. Sunset's surprised by this, but happy with the results.
  • Party Crusher: Kim, by getting critical information to the others about Hawk Moth and Party Crasher, allows Bunnyx to resolve the akuma problem by time travel. Pegasus unknowingly saves Emilie as well, by clearing the party to avoid a panic and getting Markov unplugged.
  • The protagonist of With This Ring comes back to the Vega Systems after several months, to check on how they're doing, mediate a peaceful solution to a civil war that's cropped up, etc — and then feels a disturbance in the orange light. Turns out that while he was away, Captain Comet already unified most of the parties in the Vega Systems, and just now finished mopping up the Psions. Paul's return did help to resolve the liberation struggle with a little less violence, but overall, the New Vega Alliance already had things well in hand.
    Adam Blake: I'm not complaining about what you did, Paul. But you left, and Vega had to forge ahead without you. And this is what happened. That peace you thought you were trying to broker? I did that four months ago.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Cars 3, Lightning McQueen does not finish the Florida 500, but his former trainer Cruz Ramirez does under his number. Because of this, they are both considered winners of the race, meaning Lightning gets to keep his job and has won the bet against Sterling.
  • Ego Trip starts when some killer robots come out of a time portal and into Dexter’s Lab, announcing they have come to destroy "the one who saved the future." Dexter defeats the robots, and travels forward in time to find out how he saves the future. In the final battle, where the four Dexters are struggling against the four Mandarks as they try to reach the switch to re-set the corrupted Neurotomic Protocore, Dexter's ditzy sister Dee Dee comes out of the past and hits the switch, unwittingly saving humanity and stealing the glory from Dexter. The Dexters are so angry that they construct the killer robots to go back and kill "the one who saved the future", which creates a Stable Time Loop when Dexter in the past mistakenly assumes the robots came to kill him instead of Dee Dee.
  • Robots, Rodney was played up to have the makings of a hero when he stood up against Corrupt Corporate Executive Ratchet with his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. At the final confrontation? his Robot Buddy Wonderbot who is a robot (who up until then, was just a Plucky Comic Relief) built specifically to help in dishwashing is the one who fights, puts the Big Bad right back to his place, and kicks the Jerkass receptionist out. Justified in that Rodney was played up as a Science Hero, not an Action Hero, and in the climax, he actually played Supporting Leader and helped collectively defeat the Big Bad's minions.
  • Toy Story 3:
    • A particularly touching one: The Hero duo Woody and Buzz, along with the rest of the toys are facing their Darkest Hour, the show has already Shoo Out the Clowns (i.e. The Little Green Men Trio, who were also The Load, and everyone had lost hope and given up and were just waiting for their death from the Incinerator Pit they got themselves trapped into. Cue a literal Deus ex Machina from out of nowhere (it was never in the shots!) in the form of THE CLAW, controlled by none other than The Little Green Men trio, whom Mr Potatohead "rescued" (and ignored for repeatedly saying "You have saved our lives, we are eternally grateful!") back in Toy Story 2. Which prompts him to echo their words to them after their rescue. As for the relevance of The Claw; The LGM were toys obtainable only through a Claw Crane Game in Pizza Planet. They consider The Claw there as sort of savior that will "take the chosen to a better place". Making The Claw scene in Toy Story a Foreshadowing.
    • Also, at the end, Lotso doesn't get his comeuppance at the hands of the heroes. Instead, he's found by a garbage man, who decides to tie him at the radiator of his truck as some kind of decoration. Thus giving him his And I Must Scream fate.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Angel (1984): Despite her vow to avenge the the murders of Crystal and Lana, and his obsession with closing the case, it is neither Angel or Lt. Andrews who stops the Serial Killer. It is aging movie cowboy Kit Carson who arrives with his sixguns blazing like a one man cavalry to save both of them: emptying twelve shots into The Killer's body.
  • Avalanche Sharks the plot is resolved and the titular monsters (Native American totem spirits) are stopped not by The Sheriff or his wife, not by any of the prominent skiers and snowboarders who've been taking the warnings seriously (and in two cases, lost relatives to the sharks), not by the old hermit whose been warning people from the beginning, but by a random skier, far away from the range of the attacks, who happens to find the damaged sacred totems and straighten them back out due to simple curiosity, which appeases the sharks in time to save the last survivors.
  • Billion Dollar Brain. British agent Harry Palmer runs around trying to recover a stolen bacteriological virus hidden in a container of chicken eggs and stop mad General Mindwinter from starting World War 3. Turns out his counterpart in the KGB Colonel Stok has known about the plot the entire time; he has Midwinter's army wiped out by the Soviet air force and his Femme Fatale Spy steals the virus from under Harry's nose. Then as a final humiliation Stok hands the container of virus back to Harry as a goodwill gesture, only it's full of baby chickens he put there as a joke.
  • T'Challa only solves one of the three simultaneous climaxes in Black Panther: Okoye forces W'kabi and the border tribe to surrender to the Dora Milaje and the mountain tribe, and it is Agent Ross of all people who shoots down the escaping craft carrying Vibranium weapons.
    • Specifically invoked earlier in the film: after T'Challa fails to apprehend Klaue in Korea, Killmonger shows up in Wakanda with his body. It, along with N'Jobu's ring, is what helps convince W'Kabi and other Wakandans to back him, or at least hear him out.
  • At the end of Blackenstein, the police call in the Los Angeles County Canine Corps, and the Dobermans surround Eddie, knock him to the ground and, with a fittingly macabre irony, viciously tear the monster to pieces in the same way he killed his victims: absolutely nothing to with Winifred or Dr. Stein, the movie's primary protagonists.
  • The Book of Henry: School principal Janice started the showcase of how Adults Are Useless by refusing to do something about Christina's abuse by her father because she lacked evidence, which is what started Henry down the path of deciding killing Hank (the aforementioned abusive father) was the only solution. At the climax, at the very same time that Henry's mother decides not to carry out Henry's murder plan (because Henry is dead and can't do it himself) and tells Hank that she knows, Janice sees Christina's immense sorrow as she's doing a ballet routine for the school halfway across town, finally gets a My God, What Have I Done? reaction, and calls the police with her complaint, Just in Time because Hank had already called the cops to come arrest Henry's mother for the conspiracy to commit murder and thus they just decide to change targets. Hank, knowing an investigation will inevitably expose his abuse and he will be arrested, blows his brains out.
  • Captain America: Civil War: while Cap does eventually incapacitate Iron Man long enough for him and Bucky to escape, it is T'Challa who eventually apprehends Zemo, the man responsible for most of the action in the film, and brings him to justice. Furthermore, The Stinger shows T'Challa housing at least Cap, Bucky, Black Widow, and the rest of team Cap somewhere in Wakanda. And even despite all that, the Sokovia Accords pass, so Cap and Bucky's only victory is that at the end of the day, they are alive - only T'Challa actually resolves the conflict by apprehending Zemo.
  • The ultimate resolution of The Climax occurs because of the Vienna police and not the hero Franz. While escaping from the police, Dr. Hohner locks himself in Marcellina's tomb, and sets fire to it. (The film is ambiguous as to whether this act is deliberate or accidental.) Hohner perishes alongside his dead love as the police struggle to open the door.
  • Curse of the Headless Horseman: Insofar as this film even has a protagonist. When Mark suffers his Villainous Breakdown, he grabs a pistol and starts trying to shoot his way out. In doing so, he kills one of the stuntmen who stage the gunfights in the park. After a brief shootout, he is shot and killed by the stuntman's brother.
  • In District 13, the two main leads Damien and Leito spend the whole movie trying to get to the main villain Taha. Rather than having a confrontation with him, the government seizes all of his funds and its Taha's own thugs who gun him down, since he can no longer pay them and they were through being abused by him.
  • The Ghost Ship: Finn is a mute crewman who narrates a few scenes but has a small enough role that he isn't listed in the opening credits. In the end, he, rather than Mr. Merriam, is the one who gets the crew to realize that their captain is a murderous nut job. He later walks in on the captain about to murder a helplesss Merriam and kills him after a fight.
  • In Goldfinger, the role of James Bond in the plot is actually rather limited. He spends most of his time tailing Goldfinger and hanging out in his base as a prisoner, always trying to get intel outside, but failing. Sure, he does manage to kill Oddjob (in the novel, he also kills Goldfinger, but in the movie the "shot plane window causing Continuous Decompression" is more accidental than deliberate), but that doesn't affect the plot very much, and the bulk of the work ends up being done by the US Army and the CIA. They even disarm the nuke for Bond. The only vital thing Bond does manage to do is, ironically enough, screwing Pussy Galore (who then performs a Heel–Face Turn and sabotages Goldfinger's 'grand slam').
  • In Iron Man, since Tony partially disassembled his armor (he attempts a Hand Blast before forgetting he removed his glove) and had no power to use his weapons thanks to working with an inferior arc reactor, Pepper is the one who winds up taking out the Big Bad via overloading the reactor so he gets electrocuted and suffers a Disney Villain Death.
  • In Iron Man 3, Tony realizes the Big Bad is still alive but unfortunately, he doesn't have his armor. Fortunately, a newly super-powered Pepper Potts comes in to take care of business.
  • Lake Placid vs. Anaconda: The eponymous anaconda isn't killed by Reba or Tully, but by Noble Top Enforcer, who pulls the pin on his grenade after being swallowed by the snake.
  • The Man from Colorado: It is outlaw Jericho Howard, and not protagonist Del Stewart, who finishes off Hanging Judge Owen Devereaux. After being shot by Owen, Jericho spoils Owen's shot on Del and then drives him back into the burning down, where they both perish beneath a collapsing building.
  • The Man Who Could Cheat Death is ultimately resolved when Margo, the Madwoman in the Attic, hurls a lantern at the rapidly aging Dr. Bonnet: turning him into a Man on Fire and setting the rest of the cellar ablaze. Gerard, Janine and Inspector Legris are forced to flee, leaving Bonnet and Margo to perish in the flames.
  • The Meteor Man: A guy is given superpowers by a meteor and tries to clean up his corrupt neighborhood. At the end the bad guys have him, but he makes an impassioned speech and the listening apartment dwellers fight back (one, a jazz fan, by throwing his valuable records as Frisbees).
  • In New Jack City, it looks as though Nino, the Big Bad drug kingpin, will either go free or at least get a very light sentence. Then an old man, who has railed against Nino’s drug operations throughout the entire movie, shoots and kills him.
  • In The Jackal, the terrorist released from prison and hired to help stop the feared assassin (who he worked with in the past) from killing a politician, doesn't kill him in the end, as the Jackal gets the best of him. Instead, he is killed by the terrorist past love interest. Becomes Death by Irony, because the Jackal kept taunting him about how he can't protect his women. But clearly, his women can protect him.
  • Denis Villeneuve likes this trope. Mary, Adam's girlfriend, accidentally getting herself and Anthony killed allowing Adam to take his identity in Enemy, and Alejandro killing Big Bad Alarcon while Kate is sidelined in Sicario.
  • In Starship Troopers, Rico seems set to lead the team that captures the Brain Bug. After being diverted from his primary goal to find his desperately endangered ex-girlfriend, however, he has to abandon this objective. He finds the bug anyway, but is unable to capture it because of the hordes of warrior-caste arachnids surrounding it. After escaping, he and the others who survive from his group find that the Brain Bug was eventually captured by a minor character from much earlier in the series who left off being a drill sergeant to fight again, and whose character arc was never followed much beyond that.
  • In Office Space the three programmers paint themselves into a corner when their money skimming operation goes wrong. When Peter resolves to take all the blame, he prepares himself to be discovered and arrested, but perennial office doormat Milton (who's not aware of the scam) coincidentally decides that he's had enough crap from his employers and burns the whole office building down, and along with it the incriminating evidence.
  • Discussed in The Princess Bride, when Westley - the obvious hero - is found dead, and the Grandson in the Framing Story frantically asks his Grandfather: "Who kills Prince Humperdinck? I mean, somebody's gotta do it! Is it Inigo? Who?" Ultimately, it is Westley who resolves the story's main stakes, since he was Only Mostly Dead, though he makes a point of not killing Humperdinck.
  • In The Rawhide Terror, the Rawhide Killer is shot and killed by two random members of the posse, with the sheriff only arriving in time to hear his dying words. Narratively, this allows the killer (who is a mass murderer) to die without the hero being forced to kill his own brother.
  • The central plot of Shaft (2000) revolves around Shaft's mission to get an extremely wealthy and extremely pampered white supremacist found guilty for killing a black man. Each time Shaft arrests him, a judge sets him free on bail, much to the dismay of Shaft and the victim's mother. At the very end of the movie, the murderer is once again brought to court, and Shaft assures the mother that they have a new judge and credible eyewitness. The mother tells Shaft she believes there will be justice this time, and a few minutes later she shoots her son's killer herself.
  • The Thing from Another World: The electrical trap which kills the Thing is worked not by Captain Hendry, but by the least talkative of the science team, and the only member of the air force crew whose last name is never mentioned.

    Literature 
  • Deathwatch: Ben avoids being killed by Mardec on his own, but the last couple of chapters have Mardec try to pin his crimes on Ben. He only fails and faces justice because a previously unmentioned medical examiner notices that the dead man was killed with the kind of gun that Mardec uses and not the kind Ben uses. This is averted in the film adaptations Savages 1974 (where Ben exposes Mardec himself) and Beyond The Reach (where there is no inquiry and Ben kills Mardec).
  • In The Hobbit, Smaug isn't killed by Bilbo, or Gandalf, or any of the dwarves. It's Bard the Bowman who finishes him off - though Bilbo does manage to give some indirect assistance by finding out Smaug's weak point and passing it on to Bard through a bird messenger.
  • While Island (1962)'s hero Will has the authorization to negotiate on behalf of one of the oil companies that threaten Pala, he never does and his presence on the island doesn't change squat, at least not in terms of international situation. He himself learns a lot, but that's it.
  • Ghost In The Noonday Sun: Oliver is the narrator, but Jack o' Lantern is the one who figures out a way to trick Captain Scratch into thinking he's died and turned into a ghost so he won't resist being marooned. He also saves Oliver's life when the pirate ship sinks soon afterward.
  • Harry Potter only destroys one of Voldemort’s horcuxes himself, the diary. Dumbledore destroys the ring, Ron the locket (although Harry does play a supporting role in that one), and Hermione the goblet. Crabbe uses a powerful fire spell he can’t control in the Room of Requirement and takes the tiara with it. Voldemort inadvertently destroys one himself when he “kills” Harry. Neville then kills Nagini after Harry’s “death”, making him mortal once and for all. Harry also doesn’t technically kill Voldemort. Voldemort uses the killing curse on him and since Harry is the master of the Elder Wand, it backfires on Voldemort and kills him.
  • Josephine Tey hero Inspector Grant is an impressive cop, but on several occasions, he fails to solve a case on his own.
    • In The Man in the Queue, Grant arrests an innocent man, albeit for understandable reasons, and is reluctantly prepared to ignore his Gut Feeling that the suspect is telling the truth when the real culprit turns herself in and confesses.
    • In A Shilling for Candles, he only solves the case because of a magazine article where the author jokingly suggests both the killer and the right motive.
    • In The Franchise Affair, Grant is only a secondary character (and a Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist) but neither he nor the Crusading Lawyer for the innocent people Grant reluctantly arrests based on false evidence solves the case. Instead, a witness reads about it in the paper and comes forward to expose a lying accuser at the last minute.
  • In the first trilogy of John Carter of Mars, some of the main antagonists are felled by someone else's hands other than the titular character.
    • Sab Than is killed by Tars Tarkas during the first book's climax. This trope is actually a plot point since Than was betrothed to Carter's love interest. Martian customs decree that he cannot marry a woman if he killed her husband/betrothed, and Tars being the one to do the deed allows Carter to marry her.
    • The other Big Bad of the first book, Tal Hajus, is also killed by Tars Tarkas during a duel for Klingon Promotion. Their fight does not even last a single sentence. Don't mess with Tars Tarkas.
    • Played with in the third book, which has a Big Bad Triumvirate. Carter only kills one member of the group, Salensus Oll, before the final confrontation, while the other two - Thurid and Matai Shang - turn on each other during the climax. Thurid wins, but is then killed by Shang's vengeful daughter, Phaidor.
  • Similarly, in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo becomes corrupted by the One Ring before he's able to destroy it, but Gollum ends up causing it to be destroyed by accident while trying to take it from him. Also, Sam is the one who actually carries the ring into the precipice of Mount Doom, Frodo having collapsed from exhaustion just prior.
    • Tolkien would later imply that the lure of the Ring was so powerful that no-one could intentionally destroy it, and that Eru (God) had ensured Gollum's survival up to that point precisely so he could destroy it by accident.
  • In Monstrous Regiment Polly is the protagonist but it is the Duchess (channelled by Wazzer) who saves Borogravia.
  • Tarzan is not the protagonist of Edgar Rice Burroughs' fourth novel Son of Tarzan (which is still a Secondary Character Title, but the protagonist is Meriam, the girlfriend of said son), but he's still the one who saves the day, showing up Big Damn Heroes-style to save his trapped son from a well-meaning but dangerous elephant.
  • In the John Boland novel White August, scientist Dr. Garrett has been vital in figuring out what is causing the freak England-wide snowstorm, and develops a device to track down its source. He helps track down several lesser weather control devices that are shielding the main one, but just as he locates the last one, is shot down and is rendered comatose. The United States military resolves the conflict by dropping an atomic bomb near enough to the final device to knock it out.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24:
    • Season Five has Jack attempting to prove that President Logan was the mastermind behind the conspiracy that included the death of Former President David Palmer, only Logan's wife Martha ends up being the one to trick him into confessing.
    • The eighth season not only takes Jack out of action early on in the finale but builds up Chole and Core Ortiz as the ones who are going to expose the conspiracy and coverup of the current President (having fallen under Logan's sway), which includes protecting terrorists who were involved in the day's events. Only Chloe and Cole both end up getting arrested and the one to expose the crooked wrongdoings is... the President herself, who hits a major Heel Realization and out of guilt confesses everything that's happened.
  • Arrowverse: Supergirl's first crossover with The Flash (2014) has the two heroes go up against a Villain Team-Up of Livewire and Silver Banshee. However, the villains are actually winning until some firefighters whom Kara saved in a previous episode show up and blast them with water; this causes Livewire to accidentally defeat herself and Silver Banshee with her electrical powers. This does tie into Kara's arc about people learning to trust her again after the Red Kryptonite incident, but it's odd when, during the show's first superhero team-up of all times, the Muggles wind up saving the day.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "The Gift", Buffy has defeated Glory, but Glory reverts to the form of her human host Ben, and Buffy can't kill an innocent human even if that means a powerful Demon God will be able to return to menace everybody again. Enter Giles.
    Ben: She could've killed me.
    Giles: No, she couldn't. Never. And sooner or later Glory will re-emerge, and... make Buffy pay for that mercy. And the world with her. Buffy even knows that... and still she couldn't take a human life. She's a hero, you see. She's not like us.
    Ben: ...us?
    [Giles calmly smothers Ben to death]
    • In "Grave", Buffy is stuck in a cave with Dawn fighting off creatures as Willow attempts to destroy the world. It ultimately ends up being Xander who saves everyone by bringing out Willow's humanity through a speech touching on their friendship throughout the years.
    • In "Chosen", it's Spike (with a sunlight reflecting amulet supplied by Wolfram and Hart) who takes care of the Uber-Vamps. Said amulet had nothing to do with the main protagonist or anything that had occurred during the entire season, it was brought in at the last minute from Angel.
  • Doctor Who: In the memorably creepy episode "Midnight", the Doctor ends up spending the crisis at a loss to understand the Eldritch Abomination menacing everyone, slowly earning the suspicions of the other passengers, and then paralyzed and totally at the mercy of a group of humans driven to murderous paranoia who are now convinced that killing him is the only way to fix things. The entity is only defeated when the hostess sacrifices herself to throw it and its stolen body out of the shuttle, saving the Doctor's life.
  • Game of Thrones has a partial example. Even though Arya Stark is a protagonist, she's had little to do with the war against the Army of the Dead and her cousin Jon Snow, who has been leading the efforts against them, is the prophesized hero who would lead the living to victory. Instead, Melisandre reveals through a prior statement that Arya was the prophesized hero minutes before the end of the episode, wherin Arya sneaks past the White Walkers and kills the Night King, causing his army to collapse, and ending the war while Jon is stuck trying not to be killed by the Night King's Dracolich.
  • Merlin has a particularly cruel version of this. Throughout the entire series, we are told that Merlin will guide Arthur into being the king of Camelot. Together they will unite Albion, legalize magic and rule through a new Golden Age. However, Arthur dies in the Grand Finale and Merlin goes into self-imposed exile, leaving Queen Guinevere to accomplish all these goals. While the two set the framework for Albion and indeed make it possible, they aren't the ones to achieve that Happy Ending.
  • No Ordinary Family: In his first appearance, Detective Cordero and not Jim is the one to ultimately stop a murderous vigilante by drawing him out with a sting operation and then regretfully shooting him when he elects to commit Suicide by Cop.
  • In The Walking Dead, Carol is set up as the one who will ultimately kill Alpha. Negan does it instead. That said, Carol freed Negan from jail, meaning she still played an important role in Alpha's demise.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In the Book of Judges, Barak is chosen by God to defeat Sisera, head general of the Canaanites. However, he refuses to go into battle without the prophetess Deborah, who therefore prophesizes that Sisera will be killed by an unnamed woman. After Barak defeats Sisera in battle, Sisera flees and is taken in by Jael, a random woman living in a nearby tent. After she feeds him, he falls asleep, and then she drives a tent peg through his skull.

    Theatre 
  • In Urinetown, the protagonist Bobby Strong is the leader of a group of freedom fighters who is unceremoniously murdered halfway through Act II by Caldwell B. Cladwell, the Corrupt Corporate Executive who runs the town through its public restrooms. It's Cladwell's daughter Hope who leads Bobby's followers in the revolution that takes down her father's regime.

    Video Games 
  • In Crisis Core, one of the biggest turning points of the plot is Sephiroth's Face–Heel Turn at Nibelheim, leading to a climactic showdown between Zack and Sephiroth. However, Zack is defeated and it ultimately falls to Cloud, who up until this point has been a bit character, to finish him off.
  • One possible sequence of events in Iji: If Iji has fewer than 270 kills at the end of sector 9, she can take a detour into Deep Sector and meet up with a rebellious Assassin who has political issues with the level boss. If she does, the Assassin will join her in the ensuing boss fight, and deal the fatal blow to the boss, keeping Iji's hands technically clean. Until 1.7, this was the only way of getting through the level with zero kills.
  • Inverted in Street Fighter V when Ryu is the one to finish off M. Bison, even though their conflict has never been as personal compared to other characters against the latter such as Chun-Li, Guile, or Charlie/Nash (who does help Ryu through his Heroic Sacrifice).
  • The Trails Series is very fond of this trope due to the fact that while the main characters do something, they're not the ones who ultimately save the day.

    Web Comics 
  • 8-Bit Theater, being so fond of an Anti-Climax, ends with the Light Warriors not defeating Final Boss Chaos. Instead, it's White Mage and three other such healers - as payoff to a Brick Joke set up in the first pages of a comic that ran for over 1000!
  • In DM of the Rings the three remaining players in the game, playing Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, get very annoyed that for all their hard work, victory or defeat in the campaign comes down to a dice roll by the DM for whether or not Frodo, now an offscreen NPC after the hobbits' players left to play Star Wars d20, can throw the Ring into Mount Doom.
  • Only three of the major villains in L's Empire were directly defeated by the protagonists, and they were Harmless Villains. The rest were all taken out by allies or — in one case — a former Big Bad.
  • Wilde Life: The author has noted with some amusement how early on, fans were always wondering "how is Oscar going to solve this problem?," when in fact, Oscar pretty much never solves the main conflict — usually, it's Eliza or Cliff who fights off the opponent.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dragon: Jake Long: In the final battles with the show's two most important villains, the Huntsman and the Dark Dragon, it's not Jake, but his Love Interest Rose who saves the day on both occasions.
  • Big City Greens: In "Sellouts", the Greens' stand is going broke due to not getting as many customers, so they try several methods to sell everything which fail. It's Gloria who ends up saving the stand, because she remembers she took a picture of one of their chickens which went viral, inspiring them to advertise their stand on social media which in turn makes them even more popular. She even makes a more noticeable sign for the roof so it now fits in with the others.
  • Justified in Godzilla: The Series, where the titular kaiju will be occupied fighting the Monster of the Week, while his human allies attempt to find a solution to stop the other monster/creature's rampage.
  • Kim Possible: It's Ron Stoppable and Drakken who defeat the Lorwardians in the Grand Finale.
  • Often used on Looney Tunes for Rule of Funny. "The Dover Boys" has a double-whammy for one. First of all the villain isn't defeated by the heroes, but by the Damsel in Distress, who beats him up even as she calls for help. By the time the Dover Boys arrive to finish the job, they only succeed in knocking each other out. Second, the Dover Boys don't get the girl in the end; instead, she goes with the old guy in the Old-Timey Bathing Suit that keeps popping in and out during the film for seemingly no reason.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "A Canterlot Wedding - Part 2", the Mane 6 are captured by the army of Changelings before they can retrieve the Elements of Harmony. Instead it is Cadence and Shining Armor who combine their powers to use a love powered energy barrier to blast the Changelings out of Canterlot.
    • In "The Cutie Map - Part 2", Starlight runs away with the Mane Six's cutie marks. Four town ponies who just got their own marks back catch up to her in time, using their special talents to travel faster than the talent-suppressed Mane Six could.
    • In "The Crystalling - Part 2", Shining Armor is the one to persuade the crowd to evacuate, after three of the Mane Six can't get through to them.
    • The main premise of the season six 2-parter finale is to have a gang of redeemed adversaries to the Mane 6 go and rescue them, along with the rulers of Equestria, from the Changelings. Discord, one of the redeemed villains, lampshades this.
      Discord: Well, isn't this quite the combination of secondary characters.
    • The Tree of Harmony becomes this twice in Season 8. First in the infamous "The Mean 6" when it quickly recognizes the mane characters' Evil Doppelgangers as fraud and immediately drains the spell that gave them life right out of them. Done again in the finale "School Raze" when it uses just enough magic to free the Young Six from getting sent to another world with all the Equestrian magic, so they can restore the magic to Equestria and foil Cozy Glow.
  • The New Scooby-Doo Movies: In A Good Medium is Rare, Ms. Dillard's neighbor loves spying on her house with binoculars in the middle of the night and is quick to call the police when she sees the gang entering through the window. It turns out that there are real burglars in the house, though, and the police arrest the thieves before the gang has a chance to trap them.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Day the Violence Died", when Bart and Lisa think of a plan to save Itchy & Scratchy Studios they rush over, only to discover that two previously unseen characters named Lester and Eliza (who look like Bart and Lisa did in The Tracey Ullman Show days) have already saved it.
    • In "Poppa's Got a Brand New Badge", Homer, who has started a private security company, is being threatened by local mobster Fat Tony and his gang. As they advance menacingly someone starts shooting and the criminals run away. It tuns out it was Maggie.
  • In the third season finale of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) which deal with the Turtles' Final Battle with Ch'rell, the Utrom Shredder (at least until Turtles Forever), the Turtles attempted to stop the Shredder from leaving the Earth and continue his attempt to take over the Utrom homeworld. Despite their best efforts, their final encounter with him, following him entering a new, more powerful exosuit, resulted in them being defeated by the Shredder worse than ever before. Feeling there was no alternative, the Turtles chose to blow up the Shredder's starship rather than let him spread his evil across the universe. However, it is then that the Utroms arrive, and using space-time technology, pull everyone off the ship before it's destroyed, rendering the Turtles Heroic Sacrifice unnecessary, along with everything they did since the beginning of the two part finale. Following that, the Shredder is finally brought to justice, not by the Turtles, but by the Utroms, who send him into permanent exile for his crimes. Leo spent half the next season dealing with the failure to stop the Shredder by growing angrier and edgier than Raphael.
  • Transformers: Generation 1: Near the end of the 3-part "More the Meets the Eye" pilot series, Optimus Prime literally gets shot down while trying to pursue the Decepticon space cruiser. When the other Autobots regroup with him, he notices that Mirage is missing. The scene then shifts back to the Decepticons right as Mirage de-cloaks and guns down the ship's controls. Then bails as the ship plummets into the ocean, taking the Decepticons with it.
  • Inspector Gadget is a recurrent Played for Laughs example. The opening titles and narrative generally play off Gadget as the one going after Doctor Claw and his MAD agents. In reality, Gadget is more often than not a Useless Protagonist, with his niece Penny and dog Brain being the ones to do the actual competent sleuthing behind the scenes with no one the wiser. It's pretty much a role reversal whenever Penny fails and Gadget ends up stopping MAD himself (usually by accidental buffoonery).

 
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Sellouts

The Greens' stand is saved by Gloria teaching them how to advertise their stand through social media.

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