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Pay Evil unto Evil

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Wardaddy: [in okay-ish German] Mayor, was he [pointing at an SS officer] the one hanging the kids?
Mayor: [in German] Yes.
Wardaddy: Hey, Abe. [casually points] Shoot that guy.

The dark, logical corollary to The Golden Rule.

So the character descends upon the settlement, burns their buildings, kills the inhabitants, takes their money and resources, and leaves, pleased that now they'll be able to buy that shiny new whatever-they-were-wanting.

Is this the new Big Bad? No! It's The Hero! ... oh wait, did you know that it was a settlement of demon worshipping cultists that supports their activities with banditry? A more Wretched Hive of arsonists, murderers, and jaywalkers never blemished a countryside.

Welcome to a special kind of morality where otherwise evil actions are considered okay because the victims deserve it and Revenge Is Sweet. Like all tropes, this can be played with any number of ways. It can be played straight, defied, deconstructed, or left disquietingly gray depending on the author. This one's very common with Revenge stories in general, since revenge at its core is a viciously personal case of Paying Evil Unto Evil, and when one is broken to the core by the suffering brought by the evil, even a desperate Revenge by Proxy becomes justifiable (or at least it will seem that way to the one taking revenge). Alternatively, the hero may use such tactics as part of a deliberate and calculated strategy to break the villains' morale.

Expect an extra heavy Villain Ball complete with kicking dogs by the Asshole Victim if the author especially wants you to know it's okay. The plot often uses this with a "people whom the law let get away" Karma Houdini combination. The villain may call out a "Not So Different" Remark to the "hero" as a final insult.

This sort of character often gains an Inspector Javert opponent, whose rightness depends from case to case. In other cases, this can be a result of Polite Villains, Rude Heroes dynamic, in which the heroes don't give respect to the villains they face.

It is also a common and effective way to give a Sympathetic P.O.V. to an Anti-Hero in works with Black-and-Gray Morality. In darker Crime and Punishment Series, this is often the reaction of the police department to Cop Killers (to the point of becoming Police Brutality).

And should a person have trouble doing this on their own, they can always ask for a helping hand.

If a victim of evil, or a Badass Pacifist, chooses not to Pay Evil Unto Evil, they may decide to Turn the Other Cheek. How effective either response is will depend on where the work falls on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.

Compare with Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred!, in which the villain deliberately goads the hero into doing the same terrible things he did to him, usually as a plot to get them to sink to their level.

Contrast with If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!, The Farmer and the Viper, Asshole Victim, and Laser-Guided Karma. Depending on the depiction, Hell may also serve as an extreme example, where those who do evil are punished forever with various torments you certainly wouldn't call good. May overlap with Disproportionate Retribution. See Revenge Is Not Justice, which is a possible deconstruction of this trope in which the hero is held accountable for victimizing the wrongdoer.

See also Bully Hunter, Good Is Not Soft, He Who Fights Monsters, Just Like Robin Hood, Karmic Thief, Screw the Rules, They Broke Them First!, Serial-Killer Killer, Sins of Our Fathers, Unscrupulous Hero, Vigilante Man, and Wife-Basher Basher.

In real life, the sort of thinking behind this trope is called "retributive justice" (though it could also be plain ol' revenge).


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    Asian Animation 
  • Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: In Joys of Seasons episode 4, Wolffy tricks Master Pao Pao into believing he's going to be blown up by a time bomb stuck to him unless he gives the wolf one of the goats. When it turns out the bomb is just an alarm clock, Weslie gets back at Wolffy by doing the same thing to his wife Wolnie with the trade-off that this time, it actually is a bomb and blows them out of Wolf Castle.

    Fairy Tales 
  • Alexander Afanasyev's "Little Master Misery": The titular character latches onto Ivan and coerces him to fund Misery's daily binge drinking, despite his host being too poor to feed his family, until Ivan has nothing left, not even a will to resist's Misery's unrelenting demanding and complaining. Since it is impossible for Ivan keeping buying him liquor, Misery leads him to a buried treasury and demands that Ivan begins spending it on buying him drinks immediately. However, Ivan tricks Misery into jumping into the pit where they fround the treasury and rolls one boulder over the hole, reasoning that Misery would drink up everything he has again.
  • In The Brothers Grimm tale "The Three Snake Leaves", the princess is executed for murdering her husband.
  • Reynard the Fox: Often times Reynard pays for slights against him with brutal retaliation, abject humiliation, and preferably both at once. In one story, King Leo had three creatures try to catch him for crimes; Tybalt the Cat ends up getting half-strangled to death and one eye popped out by a priest and he's put down as a whiner for the rest of the story.
  • "Snow White": The original tale ends with the prince ordering the Evil Queen to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance until she drops dead as punishment for her attempts at regicide against Snow.
  • In "The Three Little Men in the Wood", the wicked stepmother and her daughter murder the main character. Once his wife is brought back to life, the King asks her stepmother what should be done with someone who murders another person by throwing them out of a window into a river. The woman suggests a particularly painful execution, unaware that she is choosing her own sentence.
    The king was elated, but he kept the queen hidden in a room until the Sunday when the baby was to be baptized. At the baptism he said, "What does a person deserve who drags someone out of bed and throws him into the water?"
    The old woman answered, "The scoundrel deserves nothing better than to be put into a barrel stuck full of nails, and then rolled downhill into the water."
    Then the king said, "You have pronounced your own sentence."
    He ordered such a barrel to be brought. The old woman and her daughter were put into it, and the top was hammered shut. Then the barrel was rolled downhill until it fell into the river.
  • "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs": The main character tricks the king into going to a non-return place as payback for attempting to kill him several times.
  • In Franz Xaver von Schönwerth's "The Three Flowers", Katie's three brothers ambush and murder the man who was sexually harassing her.

    Films — Animation 

  • Played with in the AC/DC song Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. The suggested recipients of the titular deeds are a lecherous teacher, an adulterous husband, and a nagging wife.
  • The Insane Clown Posse has a song called To Catch A Predator wherein the protagonist talks about his exploits in baiting pedophiles into coming down to his house, wherein he mutilates them and chains them up in his basement. The chorus sums up his motives nicely: "I'm probably gonna burn for this/Ain't no lesson to learn from this/There's nothing I'ma earn/But it sure is fun".
  • "I Remember Larry" by "Weird Al" Yankovic is about a guy reminiscing on the increasingly cruel pranks played on him by his old neighbor... and the final verse has him recalling how he broke into Larry's house, dragged him bound-and-gagged into the middle of the woods, stuffed him in a plastic bag, and left him for dead.
  • Budgie's "Panzer Division Destroyed".
    Hear me call, panzer division destroyed
    Power gun, pounding and well deployed
    Everyman seems to burn, die in hell
    Twisted steel, twisted mess sealed the deal


    Pro Wrestling 
  • This is pretty common in general. If an individual or faction, especially a heel, is known for tormenting their opponents in a certain way (breaking a certain bone, setting them on fire, spray-painting them in order to humiliate them after the match, 5-on-1 attacks, etc.), chances are that it's going to happen to them before the gig is up. And semi-major heels are generally free game to humiliate and torture without earning the ire of the audience.
  • One of the big things that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is known for is harassing, sabotaging, and generally torturing his opponents (usually heel in these cases), often using their methods. (stalking and setting booby traps for DX, putting The Undertaker up on the cross, trying to kill HHH at Survivor Series 2000, etc.)
  • At LLF's fourth Anniversary show Polly Star, who had been voted "bitch of the year", ended up on the receiving end of her usual strategies in the second fall of her hair vs hair match against Nikki Roxx after having dominated the first, culminating in the fans roaring in approval when Roxx hit Butt-Monkey referee Mulato (known for his bias against foreigners) in the groin with a pipe and Star took the blame, giving Roxx the third fall by disqualification.
  • No one in Ring of Honor really liked "Red Poison" Delirious, especially not his use of said red poison which restricted the airways of those he applied it too. Since his main targets were the Hangm3n, who had in fact hung Delirious after stapling his mask to his head, and thus starting the "Red Poison" rampage, most times people simply looked the otherway.
  • Used by Edge against Kane. Kane is known for being a sadistic monster that torments and tortures his opponents without remorse: a Noble Demon at best, one of the biggest heels in all of wrestling at worst. Edge proceeds to kidnap Kane's evil father (who'd himself been seen as a monster quite often) and torture and torment him and Kane. Just so happens to follow Kane being an even bigger monster than normal, it's almost as if the WWE wanted to make sure Kane had it coming.

  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, Daigo poisons his stepmother to death after years of being abused by her. Then, after receiving his superpower, he uses it to murder a man that he finds beating up his girlfriend. While these two actions have some justification behind them, he's quick to fall down the slippery slope, using his newfound power to kill innocent people for the sake of his goal.
  • In Survival of the Fittest, Well-Intentioned Extremist Lenny Priestly kills Viki Valentine and runs off into the woods, leaving Gabe McCallum and Steve Digaetano to mourn her. Next time they meet, Gabe shoots down Lenny's sister, Elizabeth Priestly in a fit of rage, despite Steve's best efforts. Now that Lenny's been rid of his Morality Chain and decided to go on a suicidal Roaring Rampage of Revenge, it's clear that Gabe has fucked up here.

  • In Electra, despite the fact that murdering your mother is admittedly bad, if the gods are on your side it's acceptable ("acceptable" here meaning Orestes still spent years pursued by the Furies for his crime). Orestes and Electra feel particularly justified by the fact that Clytemnestra killed their father.
    • And Aegisthus had killed not just Agamemnon but (years earlier) the latter's father Atreus. And Atreus himself had it coming, seeing how he'd pretended to pardon his brother Thyestes only to trick him into eating his [Thyestes'] own sons. Aigisthus was raised to avenge the half-brothers he never knew.
  • In Hecuba, the title character learns that Polymestor, to whom she and Priam had entrusted the care and safety of their youngest son, killed him for the gold when Troy fell. She lures Polymestor and his two sons into a trap, kills them, and then pokes out his eyes so that his sons' corpses are the last thing he sees.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Zero Punctuation review of Fallout: New Vegas, Yahtzee mentions that since he stopped stealing everything that wasn't bolted down, he can now kill bandits with a smug sense of moral superiority... before taking all of their stuff.
    "Which isn't stealing! They attacked me first, making it mine by International Law of 'Go F*ck Yourselves'".
  • Red vs. Blue Reconstruction: Agent South Dakota caused the death of her brother North, and shot Agent Washington in the back and left him as bait just to save her own skin. She's finally cornered by Washington (after Caboose shot her) who shoots her in the head, and disposes of her body by burning it, burying it, and blowing it up. She deserved all that.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: several interactions Leman Russ has with Dark Eldar end with the Dark Eldar either dead or worse. As the Emperor himself Lampshades, the Dark Eldar are almost certainly the faction in Warhammer 40K who deserve any horrible fate that comes to them, and it is immensely satisfying to see the horrors of 40K verse delivered to those who actually deserve them for once.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Eye For An Eye, Pays Evil Unto Evil, Paying Evil Unto Evil


"Did you find the words?"

"Arise". With the first of his mother's murderers disarmed and at his mercy, Oliver Horn explains to Darius Grenville that he's about to experience ALL the pain he and the other conspirators inflicted on her, one pain curse at a time, and it's not going to stop until Darius finds "the right words". Oliver gets through 57 of 128 curses before Darius finds them: "End it." Oliver's eyes go empty, and he severs the man's head with his athame.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ToThePain

Media sources: