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Pay Evil unto Evil

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Wardaddy (in OK-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 he'll be able to buy that shiny new whatever-he-was-wanting.

Is this the new Big Bad? No! It's The Hero! ... oh wait, did you know that it was a settlement of bandits? 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 deserved it. Like all tropes, this can 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 speech to the "hero" as a final insult.

This sort of character often gains an Inspector Javert opponent, whose rightness depends from case to case.

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 has 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 vs. 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, and Kick the Son of a Bitch (when the victim in question isn't recognized by the person victimizing them for the bad things they've done; the lines may be blurred in cases where the person inflicting harm was, at the core, just looking for someone to hurt and decided to use the victim's scumminess as an excuse to harm them). 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 also Vigilante Man, Just Like Robin Hood, Bully Hunter, Serial-Killer Killer, Unscrupulous Hero, Wife-Basher Basher, Karmic Thief, and He Who Fights Monsters.

In real life, the sort of thinking behind this trope is called "retributive justice".


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    Asian Animation 
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: 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.

    Film — Animation 
  • Deconstructed in Big Hero 6. Hiro had no qualms against ordering Baymax to murder Yokai/Professor Callaghan after the latter is revealed to have started the fire that killed Tadashi and insults Hiro for his grief. However, Hiro's friends stop his rampage and call him out for breaking their code. Baymax then asks Hiro if Yokai's death is what Tadashi would have wanted and if it would truly be worth it to make Hiro reconsider his actions, which succeeds.
  • ParaNorman: After being killed by the Puritans, Agatha Prenderghast (the supposed "witch") sentences them to walk around town as zombies in order to be attacked by the modern townspeople. This becomes deconstructed when Norman goes on to tell her that her actions are only making her come off as no better than them, especially since they have been truly remorseful for what they did and they've already been punished enough.
  • If Elsa from Frozen harms someone with malicious intent, it's pretty much safe to say they had it coming. Just ask the Duke of Weselton and his henchmen, who draw first blood and provoke her into an Unstoppable Rage against them. Not a particularly bright move on their parts, considering what Elsa is.
  • The Incredibles: Mr. Incredible kills the villain by causing him to get sucked into his plane's engine. Granted, the villain had previously murdered a great portion of his fellow superheroes, nearly killed his family and tried to kidnap his baby son to raise as a supervillain sidekick, but it's pretty jarring that earlier, he had mocked Incredible for his inability to resort to murder. What makes it worse is that Mr. Incredible did it right in front of his whole family. It should be noted, however, that Mr. Incredible did not directly throw the villain into the engine. He threw a car at the plane, and the collision is what threw the villain to his death. The scene remains ambiguous on whether Mr. Incredible did it on purpose or not. Though he still tried to throw a car at Syndrome's face, so arguably it's still this trope. In the videogame adaptation it's even worse: even prior to Syndrome's Start of Darkness, Mr. Incredible had little to no problem with throwing minor thugs from the roofs of skyscrapers to their doom.
  • Despicable Me: As soon as the obnoxious carny scams Agnes out of her stuffed unicorn, Gru obliterates the bastard’s booth and scares him straight into giving the unicorn to Agnes.

  • Robin Hood: Steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Goes up and down the scales with each retelling; sometimes it's anyone rich, sometimes it's clearly someone who has unfairly taxed said poor. If it was anyone rich, that may be because the folks that this lore was for probably thought all nobles were evil back then.
    • It's fair to note that that way of thinking was largely well-founded. Early Robin Hood stories had him nearly exclusively target clergy. Considering the way both The Catholic Church and later, The Church of England behaved back then, it's not surprising at all. He was later bowdlerised into a folk hero who robbed from the rich.
    • There are also elements of a race/culture conflict (not just a class one) here: the common people were mostly Anglo-Saxon; the upper class and nobility were mainly Normans. It's understandable that someone who is taking revenge on people you regard as invading foreign conquerors is seen as a hero regardless of exactly how he does it.
  • Reynard the Fox when he's not an out and out Sociopathic Hero; often times he 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.

  • 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.


    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 pretty much 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. 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 totally 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


Anakin Kills Tusken Raiders

Anakin Skywalker's mother has passed away in his arms. He is out for revenge against her kidnappers.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

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