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Pragmatic Hero

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"The mark of a true hero is somebody who's willing to sacrifice his own personal morality to help keep the world safe."
Tess Mercer, Smallville

Most great fictional heroes fall into one of two broad categories: the Ideal Hero, such as The Cape or a Knight in Shining Armor who is pretty much exactly what one would hope for in a hero - morally pure, compassionate, skilled, courageous, etc. - and the Anti-Hero, who lacks one or more qualities normally considered necessary for an Ideal Hero. A Classical Anti-Hero lacks ability or self-confidence, a Knight in Sour Armor lacks a positive attitude, an Unscrupulous Hero lacks compassion, and a Nominal Hero lacks morally pure intentions and selfless motivation.

A Pragmatic Hero lacks the "moral cleanliness" of an Ideal Hero. When fighting evil, they are willing to commit acts that seem more characteristic of a villain than a hero. However, Pragmatic Heroes have good intentions and generally hold themselves to strict moral standards — it's just that those standards aren't always what others might expect from an ideal hero. This type of hero tends to be much more concerned with whatever heroic business the plotline has assigned them than the niceties of proper heroic etiquette. However, with the exception of unintentional mistakes, they will rarely if ever commit an evil deed that doesn't further the cause of good in a way.

This character is one step further towards the gray side of Anti-Hero from the (first type of) Knight in Sour Armor. While the Knight in Sour Armor will do the right thing but cut the niceties, the Pragmatic Hero is more about doing the right thing whether anyone likes it or not, and will shove aside more honorable heroes who give them a What the Hell, Hero? moment.

At the end of the day, their justification is typically I Did What I Had to Do, they love giving "The Reason You Suck" Speech to a poor Wide-Eyed Idealist, and they might evolve into Cynical Mentors. However, they will never say "Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!," and are quite likely to view any unpleasant actions they take as Dirty Business and seek to avoid it if reasonably possible. Deep down, they want the best for others, and this character may have shades of Chronic Hero Syndrome as they will often be the one to defend a captured minion or Fallen Hero.

Being pragmatic, they also have both the flaws and strengths a more passionate hero lacks, so are less likely to let personal intentions get in the way of their job, possibly seeing that kind of behavior as shortsighted and unprofessional, since acting without thought for the consequences of one's actions is against everything they believe in. In this sense, a Pragmatic Hero contrasts a Blood Knight or He Who Fights Monsters. They are likely to have shades of a No-Nonsense Nemesis, if they aren't one outright.

However, if their methods are excessively violent or otherwise distasteful, they've become Unscrupulous Heroes. Compare Good Is Not Nice if the "good guy" extends his jerkassery towards non-villainous characters as well and Good Is Not Soft in for the instances when they get their hands bloody in the name of the greater good while remaining more or less decent people.

When they do come into conflict with one or more idealistic characters, see Idealist vs. Pragmatist.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan has several of these, given the kind of world they live in. The most evident are Erwin Smith and Levi, who puts the necessities and survival of the human race above anything else, even if it means risking the lives of many of their men to achieve it. They don't enjoy it, but with the significant circumstances against them, they have no choice but to use these methods.
    • Eren Kruger essentially calls himself one of these when he laments how he tortured and killed thousands of fellow Eldians. While he claims he did it to serve Eldia, it's clear that he's not proud of his actions.
  • In Black Butler, Ciel is willing to do all sorts of morally grey or even black things — murder, blackmail, emotional manipulation, sacrificing innocent lives, etc. — for the greater good of serving Great Britain's interests. That said, at times it seems to weigh on his conscience, and for the most part he does genuinely want to help people.
  • Daimos: Unlike Kazuya who's all head-over-heels over love, Kyoshiro is a much more reserved man who understood the dangers of war and love could sometimes be an obstacle. He'll chastise Kazuya over some blockheaded decisions in the name of love, but he's also very much against Miwa's extremism.
  • Minako Aino, of all people, graduated to this at the end of Codename: Sailor V when she killed Ace, her crush for being Kunzite's Dragon. Had shades of this since the start, as her first kill was Higashi, the disguised youma which she had a crush on, but she was holding hope she could save Higashi, while she attacked to kill when facing Ace.
  • Ange in Cross Ange is willing to dirty her hands if need be, but she's doing it so that her squadmates are safe from harm — even if she has to Kill Steal from them. She is also disgusted with the society of mana after witnessing its harsh bigotry when she's nearly executed for being a Norma and wishes to destroy it. She was definitely disgusted when she found out the DRAGONs she and her comrades had been killing were part-human.
  • Future Trunks from Dragon Ball Z, whose primary goal is to avert a hellish future timeline and protect the innocent from villains like Cell. This throws him into sharp contrast with Goku and Vegeta, who are unrepentant Blood Knights, care only about getting stronger, and do insane, universe-jeopardizing things like letting Cell get stronger because they want a better fight out of him.
  • The Goblin Slayer may struggle with anything that doesn't deal with slaying goblins, but he is very quick-witted and capable of using tools and spells in unconventional ways, such as using the Priestess's protection spell to trap goblins in a fiery death trap, or linking a portal-opening Gate Scroll to the bottom of the ocean, using intense water pressure from the abyssal depths to cleave an ogre in twain.
  • Being a relatively realistic war manga, most of the Generals in Kingdom fall into this; but Ousen would probably be the pre-eminent example. Almost completely devoid of emotion, he simply does whatever would give him the highest probability of success. Use allies as bait? If it works. Be merciful to civilians? If it benefits him in some way. Leave his own son to fight without support? It wins him the battle. It gets so extreme that when his aforementioned only son charges in to save his life from a pincer on his headquarters, he calls it an idiotic move because it had a high chance of failing.
  • Sherlock Holmes in Moriarty the Patriot has very little interest in avoiding crimes if it helps him and doesn't hurt people. He even murders Milverton.
    Sherlock: Because I also have a talent for crime.
  • Patalliro!: Most of the cast, to an extent, but Bancoran fits the most as a Yaoi James Bond Expy. He shows it by having a sense of honor and duty during missions and usually being the first to show kindness.
  • Fakir in Princess Tutu, to the point that Duck (and most of the audience) thinks he's a villain in the first few episodes. He tries to kill the resident Dark Magical Girl (and threatens to kill Princess Tutu, as well), and his overprotective treatment of Mytho can only be described as emotional abuse (or would be, if he had any emotions to be abused). However, his only goal is to protect Mytho, since he feels it's his duty as the Knight, and once his original plans fall through, he teams up with Duck to find another way to help him.
  • Homura Akemi from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, who is willing to do anything to protect Madoka. This eventually gets deconstructed when she ultimately decides the only way to protect and keep Madoka safe is to become the Devil to her God.
  • Naofumi, the titular protagonist of The Rising of the Shield Hero, has to become this out of necessity, given that he was summoned to a Crapsack World where within the span of a day he learns the hard way that there's people who will make his life a living hell just for the sake of it. While he goes out of his way to help people in need, he'll always demand fair compensation for his deeds because his heroic deeds are how he earns a living. Interestingly enough, this attitude actually makes him more effective than the other three summoned heroes, whose acts often have unforeseen consequences that cause more trouble than they solve, and Naofumi has had to step in and clean up their messes. While he gets his primary allies buying them from a slave trader, he treats them well enough and they quickly develop Undying Loyalty for him, and more and more people are willing to assist him as time goes on.
  • Rossiu from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a Deconstruction, as his cold pragmatism and willingness to Shoot the Dog would be fairly justified in a more cynical series, but in an ultra-idealistic world where the Rule of Cool is a law of physics and being Hot-Blooded is the answer to every question, trying to be a Pragmatic Hero is suicidally misguided.
  • The philosophical tension between this and Ideal Hero is a major component of Trigun. Vash steadfastly refuses to kill anyone no matter how awful they are, fighting to Take a Third Option every time. Deuteragonist Nicholas D. Wolfwood tells him he's being naive and that if he really wants to help people he will need to compromise his ideals at some point. Wolfwood covers for him several times by discreetly killing several villains Vash chooses to spare, a fact that horrifies Vash when he finds out. After Wolfwood's death, his prediction comes true: Vash is put in a situation where he truly cannot save everyone and is forced to kill the villain to save his friends.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman fits this thanks to his willingness to use fear tactics and physical or psychological threats while interrogating criminals. Coupled with his propensity for contingency plans against his own fellow heroes in case they turn against innocents, he's willing to make some dark choices to keep Gotham and any civilians safe.
  • Black Panther will often look for a diplomatic solution but is not above using lethal force or other morally dubious methods to save the day. He's also one of the few heroic examples of The Chessmaster.
  • Iron Man in Civil War (2006). When faced with the possibility of the implementation of a Superhero Registration Act, Iron Man tries to prevent it, to the point of speaking in a hearing against the SHRA. However, once the act becomes an inevitability and is subsequently passed, he decides to support it, not only hoping it could be diffused, but knowing that resisting the law would bring dire consequences for the superhero community. His methods to win the ensuing war between the pro-SHRA faction and the anti-SHRA forces (led by Captain America) include the creation of a prison for outlaw vigilantes in the Negative Zone and the recruitment of the supervillain team known as the Thunderbolts.
    "To do what I needed to do to win this quickly— I knew that meant you [Captain America] and I would probably never speak again. Or be friends again. Or partners again. I told myself I was okay with it because I knew I was right and I—I knew it was saving lives. It was!! It was the right thing to do! And—and—and I was willing to get in bed with people we despise to get this done. And I knew the world favors the underdog and that I would be the bad guy. I knew this and I said I was okay with it." (from Civil War: The Confession #1)
  • Godzilla Aftershock: Tarkan Çavusgolu, a member of Monarch's crisis response unit, isn't above keeping his allies in the dark if it'll get a threat neutralized. He uses Emma as bait without her knowledge in order to lure Alan Jonah into a trap.
  • Huntress has no problem using lethal force if she feels it's necessary. Naturally, she and Batman tend to butt heads with each other.
  • Judge Dredd: Joe Dredd is a jackbooted Judge, Jury, and Executioner who above all else has to maintain order in a decaying megalopolis with horrible crime rates. He frequently kills perps who don't comply and sentences handed out to those he arrests are quite harsh, but Dredd does this purely out of a sense of duty and his belief that law is absolute. It's extremely out-of-character for him to hound someone who's genuinely innocent of any crime or in need of help, barring some very overbearing The Needs of the Many justification. At several points in his career, he's actually come to question the legitimacy of the Justice System itself.
  • Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., he has done plenty of rather questionable things. But he does it for the good of everyone and knows he needs to do the actions other superheroes won't (and probably shouldn't) do. Retroactively turned up to 11 in the 21st century, when it's revealed Fury has served for decades as the "Man on the Wall," using lethal and immoral tactics to eliminate cosmic threats before the superheroes even find out about them.
  • The Darker and Edgier Italian branch of Disney created one in Paperinik, Donald Duck's superhero alter ego: at the start, and before Paperinik New Adventures, he was merely an avenger of himself who brought in criminals and the likes merely because he would not tolerate people taking the easy way.
    • Quite appropriately, Fantomius, the Gentleman Thief whose journal inspired Donald into becoming Paperinik (even wearing his very costume and using some of his gadgets in the first story, before acquiring some identical costumes and new gadgets), was one. He would steal, but always from Jerkass Victims, and only because he saw that the best counter to criminals masquerading as gentlemen was a gentleman masquerading as a thief.
  • Jason Todd is this in Red Hood/Arsenal.
  • In SnarfQuest, Snarf is more clever and opportunistic than brave or heroic, but he displays a certain "courage under pressure" and is usually able to talk or bluff his way through danger.
  • Star Wars: Republic: Kai Hudorra has a strong sense of decency, but he's realistic about which battles to fight and is willing to stray from the Jedi Code to keep himself and the Padawan accompanying him alive. In the days after Order 66, he does things like steal a bag of money from a slaver and use Force persuasion to make several bar patrons pick a fight with the clones pursuing him. Rather than fight back against The Empire, he tosses his lightsaber down a garbage chute and goes into hiding in the hope that he can outlive the Empire and resume being a Jedi after its fall. He also uses the Force to cheat at gambling to finance his new life.
  • After years of character devlopment Eddie Brock's version of Venom is portrayed as this, standing firmly on the side of good yet making decisions and compromises for the sake of the greater good. For instance, during Absolute Carnage Eddie does not object when Spider-Man guilt-trips himself into being the last man to use a machine that would protect him from Carnage- Spidey reasons that his bringing the Venom Symbiote to Earth allowed all this madness to happen, while Eddie knows that Symbiotes have actually been present on Earth for decades before that. The reason Eddie doesn't free Spidey from his guilt isn't that he still hates the webslinger or anything — the story itself shows them getting along rather well — but as Eddie puts it, he needs backup for the duration in which the other people need the machine, including Eddie's own son, and Spidey is the one most qualified to give him said backup. In general, Eddie's Venom is also not as bound to Thou Shalt Not Kill as most heroes- he won't go out of his way to kill relatively harmless lesser bad guys and in fact fears losing control, but for the absolute scum of the earth like Carnage or Green Goblin few tears are shed.
  • Eric Finch from V for Vendetta is ruthless in his pursuit of V, but ultimately noble enough to clearly understand that the regime he's serving is horrible. In the end, it doesn't take much for him to accept that V is correct and walk away from a regime that he had little to no attachment to in the first place outside of a sense of duty.
  • Wolverine is sometimes portrayed as this, for example in the 2013 Crisis Crossover Age of Ultron, where he goes back in time and murders Hank Pym before Ultron can be created. Or consider a heartbreaking one-shot comic where a teen boy manifests a mutant power that's immediately and uncontrollably lethal to humans around him. It's Ultimate Wolverine who tracks him down, shares a beer with him, explains what's happened, and then kills him for the greater good of mutants. Logan looks haunted afterward.
  • Wonder Woman. In the late pre-Flashpoint era: While she will always try to find a peaceful solution first, she is a warrior at heart and not hesitant to kill if she feels she needs to. In this arc in particular she crosses the line, killing Maxwell Lord as a last resort to break his mind control over Superman. She has notably mellowed out since, having notably averted a recurrence of that incident when working with Lord in the Rebirth era when he turns on her and taunts her with the inevitability that she will resort to killing him again here by showing her the event in an alternate reality.

    Fan Works 
  • All Assorted Animorphs AUs: The Animorphs decide to do everything as efficiently and quickly as possible in "What if they had a chance to do it all over?", which includes mugging David at gunpoint so they can get the morphing cube off him before he can become a problem, and killing 100,000 Yeerks with salt to force the Empire to surrender.
  • Fairy Tail story Angel's Breath has Ryusuke Yugure, a genuinely nice man with some unsavory tendencies who is perfectly willing to torture an enemy to get information on a group who may endanger his guild.
  • Jim from Becoming the Mask (Trollhunters) falls under the Anti-Hero scale of this trope. Much of Jim's inner monologue involves cold, logical, and rather disturbing observations of the people around him, making various comments about his loved ones under a plan to help keep them alive in a future where Gunmar reigns supreme (like including Toby as a part of breeding stock and having Barbara be a doctor for said breeding stock).
  • In the RWBY fic ''Before Beacon, Otto is this.
    The village, he sensed right off, was in trouble. Grimm had likely been troubling it for days, weeks, months- he didn't know and couldn't tell. He needed to clear it, for the villagers' sake. And he would be damned if he didn't get a nice pile of gold doing so.
  • Word of God states that Sarutobi is aware of more than Naruto realizes in Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto. He doesn't have Naruto arrested because the crimes he does know about aren't worth losing a jinchuuriki that's S-ranked at graduation. However there are other crimes that he would arrest Naruto for, he just doesn't know about them.
  • Child of the Storm has a fairly strong case of Black-and-Gray Morality (though there are a few examples of The Cape, who are all genuinely admired), and thus a number of these.
    • Magneto, who's Reformed, but Not Tamed, and as a rule, will be more than willing to do the right thing. However, he's ruthless to the point of sadism and considers himself to be mutantkind's necessarily lethal protector, in contrast to Xavier's idealism.
    • Loki, who's also Reformed, but Not Tamed, being a member of the Avengers and a genuinely kind and noble hero... but off-duty, he functions as Thor's shadow and Asgard's spymaster/chief assassin, methodically slaughtering his way through the Red Room and somehow cowing Sabretooth into cooperating and giving up vital information with a few words and a couple of undisclosed illusions.
    • Doctor Strange, meanwhile, is a ruthless master manipulator of people and events but is dedicated to preparing Earth to face and defeat Thanos, regarding his work as regrettably, Necessarily Evil, trying to steer his students away from his path, and reflecting sadly that his methods have turned him into something not so different to the kind of monsters he fights.
  • Applies to both sides for various reasons in "A Crossover", when Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl (Kick-Ass) kill Doctor Insano in front of the Commander and Jetstream (Sky High (2005)) when Insano opened a dimensional portal looking for a world without superheroes. While the Strongholds dislike the idea of superheroes killing others, they accept the argument that heroes without powers have to be more decisive in dealing with their enemies, and Dave and Mindy in turn accept the need to play by the local rules, which includes attending Sky High until the portal can be rebuilt to send them home.
  • Cyborg and Persephone hate the idea of killing anyone in the finale of the Coincidence and Misunderstandings series, but understand that it's likely going to be necessary when storming a base filled with villains.
    • Likewise when Mammoth mercy killed Otto/Plasmius, Persephone remarked on how tragic it was that such a thing was necessary. By contrast, Nightwing arrested Jinx for murder after she destroyed Overload.
  • The Heroes/The Twilight Saga crossover "Dark Days" ends with the evolved humans, the vampires and the wolf-shifters facing the threat that the human race is now aware of the existence of vampires (at least in certain government circles) and intends to hunt them down. Anticipating that such a campaign would be followed by attempts to kill the wolf-shifters and then the evolved humans, all parties agree to work together to convince the governments to adopt a more balanced approach. Part of this will involve the vampires finding a substitute for human blood, but in the meantime, those vampires who still kill humans to feed agree to pass on the word to feed less regularly and focus on those humans who won't be missed, such as known criminals.
  • Darth Vader: Hero of Naboo: Vader urges Padme to be this, suggesting that she should engage in backdoor dealings with less than savory — but powerful — groups that share her contempt for the Trade Federation in order to oppose the Naboo blockade, rather than relying on the corrupt and inefficient Senate bureaucracy.
  • Sarutobi allows Naruto to get away with being a Kleptomaniac Hero in Demon's Dirty Dreams partially because Naruto is so good at Loophole Abuse that it can't be proven he's actually stolen anything. Mostly, however, it's because 1) rich merchants losing things they can easily afford to replace is a small price to pay to keep the resident jinchuuriki from going nuts, and 2) Naruto turns in anything he steals that points to a traitor or someone cheating the system.
  • Escape from the Moon: In the sequel The Mare From the Moon, Spliced displays a touch of this when she chooses to help Twilight with Spike, out of a desire to avoid being punished by certain individuals for causing harm by deliberate inaction.
  • While she abhors necromancy, Jaina decides to nonetheless take lessons from Kel'thuzad in Frostblood after she accidentally becomes the new Lich King, stating that she has to understand her powers if she wants to control them.
  • Heroes Never Die: Dying countless times has given Izuku a very pragmatic approach to life. Unlike in canon, he doesn't use the hero costume his mother made for him because it was too cheap to be suitable in real combat; he feels guilty but refuses to compromise. He also gives Uraraka a very frank assessment of her costume along these lines, specifically informing her that high heels are never appropriate for hero work. On top of that, during the Battle Trial, Izuku kept resetting using a suicide pill specifically so he could be partnered with each of his classmates during different loops and interrogate them on their Quirks, making special note of their weaknesses. He then plants bugs on the opposing team to justify having this knowledge.
  • Harry Potter and Jedi Master Fay in I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For are the first to accept that the soulless Jedi clones they've discovered have to be killed. At best, they're complete sociopaths with Force powers; at worst, they're a Technically Living Zombie. Harry goes to each cell with a soulless clone and uses an execution spell (designed to knock a target out painlessly and stop their heart) while Fay uses the Force to make them sleep before snapping their necks. Fay explains that as distasteful as it is, the whole matter is little different than putting down rabid animals.
  • The VSS and Council of Vale in In the Kingdom's Service both make a point of not killing Roman Torchwick because regardless of how much trouble he causes, he keeps crime down overall out of a hatred for competition and "waste" (killing the people he robs).
    • When Jaune tries to stop the Breach, he's ordered to use the train's emergency brake so that only he, his team, Ciel, and Oobleck will die. When Jaune refuses, his superior activates his gears self-destruct to take out the train. Unfortunately for them, Jaune didn't bring his gear to Mountain Glenn and was wearing some he found in safe house.
  • Kage: When Will discusses her guilt over framing Raythor, the others assure her that she made the right choice at the time. Even Yan Lin thinks that while it's horrible to frame a innocent, it was the best option they had.
  • Let the Storm Rage On establishes Hans as one of these. As one of his brothers puts it, Hans will lie, trick, use force, or even play nice to get what he wants, and he uses all of these and more. But he is firmly the hero of the story, working tirelessly to save his persecuted subjects on multiple occasions.
  • Ethan Sunderland, aka the Courier, is depicted as this in Mass Foundations: Redemption in the Stars. To start, he killed a barbarian thug, stopping him from mugging him and looted the corpse for anything of value to use. He agreed to work with Cerberus on a project to repair his Transportalponder, abandoned Liara and Feron at the mercy of Tazzik when things turned for the worse in their pursuit of Shepard (though he was willing to rescue them at any cost), and took a Blue Suns centurion hostage to extract information on Liara's and Feron's coordinates from her comrades. On the other hand, he assisted the NCR during his travels in the Mojave. He was also squeamish working with Cerberus but didn't see much of a choice but to go along.
  • My Hero Academia: Mechanical green: Nezu is very much aware that sometimes, in order to ensure innocents are saved and lives are protected, bending the rules is necessary. While never to the extent of the corruption of the HPSC, Nezu is willing to employ more shady methods if he feels there is greater benefit than risk to them, such as allowing Izumi to keep Durandal as an emotional support animal/support item despite his being one of Paxton's robots, and enrolling the de-aged Chizome Akaguro / Hero Killer Stain into his villain rehabilitation program thanks to his being one of the few to have fought Argonaut and survived.
  • The Night Unfurls: While he is a brutal killer, The Good Hunter rarely takes things personally, justifying his morally questionable actions during the war against the Black Dogs as doing what must be done. He disparages honour and battlefield courtesy, but he never slams the nice idealists (e.g. Celestine, Prim) for simply being idealistic.
  • Jaune Arc in Not this time, Fate chooses not to enter Beacon, and plans to stay as far from the conflict as possible due to the way his "Groundhog Day" Loop semblance works. The longer he survives after Beacon's Initiation, the further Jaune gets sent back upon death; so if he can last a few years, he'll hopefully have enough time to prepare and actually Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
  • Origin Story: Alex Harris, after being made into a government fugitive, will not hesitate to be ruthless to those who hurt her or her loved ones. Highlights include robbing Norman Osborn of billions and throwing a corrupt government official into space after he nearly gets her girlfriend killed.
  • In Past Continuous Eleya isn't overly fond of the Cardassians but she notes early on that CDF officers like Berat should be involved in the operation to eject Loriss from Deep Space 9, because they saw Dominion War-era Dominion tactics and planning as friendlies, meaning they have a potentially useful perspective the Federation and Klingons don't have (demonstrated by Berat seeing a detail in Loriss' formations that Eleya and Admiral Marconi couldn't). She comments that a bit of the Vulcan "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" mantra rubbed off on her from a Vulcan operations officer (probably T'Var).
  • Chloe Price in Path of the Jedi: The Mandalore Catalyst is willing to assassinate Nathan Pris'kott to prevent him from murdering or harming anyone else she cares about. While she and Max Starfield are infiltrating the Pris'kott stronghold of Ebon Vella later on, she stops Max from protecting a couple being assaulted by corrupt guards, knowing that such heroics will only draw unwanted attention from the Pris'kotts and make it impossible for them to get to Nathan.
  • Fishlegs in Prodigal Son is an expert at playing politics in Berk, having been able to manipulate things so that they come out positively, having convinced the village into thinking that Astrid was secretly in a relationship with Hiccup, both saving her life and eventually securing her as heir to the chiefdom, and later manages to convince Stoick to allow "Prometheus" to explain himself while still coming across as being as anti-dragon as the rest of the villagers.
  • In "Shaking the Cycle", Dawn Thrace- Dawn Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) sent to Caprica as the sister of Kara Thrace (Battlestar Galactica (2003))- tends to present herself as this when telling her human allies not to kill Cylons, arguing that killing the C-Bucs' doctors and Sharon would risk giving the Cylons access to dangerous information about the humans' tactical abilities. While this argument is completely valid for the doctor, in Sharon's case Dawn has already come to trust Sharon enough that she wants Sharon to stay around for personal reasons rather than pragmatic ones.
  • Naruto during the second exam in Team 7's Ascension declares a no survivors policy whenever their alliance defeats another team. He doesn't like the idea, but they can't afford to have someone come after them for revenge, especially when other alliances are far larger than theirs. This is in stark contrast to Chouji who refuses to kill after his first (accidental) kill.
  • In To Protect Everything, Sengoku may find the idea of enlisting the aid of pirates via the Seven Warlords distasteful, but he nonetheless approves of Captain/Commodore/Rear/Vice Admiral Luffy's engagement to Boa Hancock. Regardless of his feelings on the matter, he knows that having her and her nation forming stronger ties with an upstanding marine insures their increased cooperation.
  • The Ultimate Evil:
    • The demon hunter Nataline Homato doesn't rule out killing humans — like those who are possessed by demons or are Others to them — if she thinks that will help keep the world safe from demons. This makes it initially hard for her to work with the more upright Chans.
    • Jade's future self is willing to try and kill Valerie in order to prevent her from giving birth to Drago. However, she has enough sense to stay focused on her actual purpose for coming back in time.
  • "We Are Not Shining Stars" features a low-key example of this when the characters of Firefly are placed in the universe of Battlestar Galactica (2003). While Serenity survives the Cylon attack, the crew initially keep the ship's existence secret from the rest of the human resistance on Caprica, as Serenity lacks weapons or an FTL drive that could help them fight or flee from the Cylons. Once Helo, Kara, and Sharon join the group, Sharon is able to help them steal a Cylon raider so that Kaylee can add its FTL drive to Serenity, allowing them to take the entire resistance to the fleet in one ship where a raider would have been too small to take more than a few.
  • White Sheep (RWBY): Jaune wants to give Menagerie Dust and supplies for free, but Weiss insists it's better to sell them for a fair price. Giving them for free would make Menagerie seem like a charity case and hurt their own attempts to make the other countries see them as a legitimate nation. Plus, seeing the Grimmlands ask for money will reassure everyone else a bit; after all, greed is an understandable motivation, and they'd have no need for money if they planned to just kill everyone.

    Film — Animation 
  • Judy Hopps from Zootopia is a competent police officer who, at the end of the day, just wants to do her job. However, she does some devious things, like blackmailing Nick into helping her by threatening to charge him with tax evasion, and later using her relationship with a mob boss to have him intimidate a suspect into providing evidence.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Ximenez from Balibo is a genuinely heroic man willing to lay down his life for his country, but he's willing to use torture to get information out of his enemies.
  • Batman in the two films directed by Tim Burton. While he seems to avoid killing generally, he racks up quite a body count.note  There is one time he is clearly smiling after trapping a thug in a hole with a bomb. However, in Batman Forever, he explains to Robin that he has come to regret killing and has cleaned up his act.
  • The title character of the Dirty Harry franchise.
  • In Last Train from Gun Hill, Matt Morgan is committed to bringing Rick in, but is willing to put Rick in danger and even use him as a hostage at gunpoint if necessary.
  • Nick Fury and Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fury is a Chessmaster, Black Widow is a consummate spy, and they're both more comfortable with deception and dirty business than the likes of Captain America — but they're just as dedicated to protecting the world.
  • Ethan Hunt from the Mission: Impossible franchise is a unique combination of this and a standard idealistic hero. Ethan has a knack for concocting audacious schemes that involve ethically questionable and downright insane moves in order to bring down his targets. That being said, he is a compassionate person who believes in saving as many people as possible and would Never Hurt an Innocent, and is loyal to his teammates and refuses to leave any of them behind.
  • Some Jedi in Star Wars do not object to the creation of clones genetically engineered to defend the Republic from the separatists. Then again, they have strongly held ideals, and think the Republic is the best possible regime.
    • The Phantom Menace: Being a Jedi doesn't stop Qui-Gon from manipulating Boss Nass into providing transport to the capital of Naboo, trying to swindle Watto out of a hyperdrive generator, cheating at gambling to free a slave, or subverting the authority of the Jedi Council to ensure that Anakin is trained as a Jedi.
  • John Wayne played many, many tough Pragmatic Heroes with guns, though they verge on being Unscrupulous Heroes at times.
  • Ray Ferrier in War of the Worlds (2005) will do anything to protect his children, at one point murdering a man who is putting his daughter at risk.
  • Wolves: Cayden has a tendency to overcome finer feelings for practical reasons. When he wakes up next to his parents' ravaged bodies, he instantly moves past a Heroic BSoD to run from the police. During the Fugitive Arc, he's horrified to find he's killed two bikers, but still helps himself to a leather jacket and a bike. See also Combat Pragmatist.

  • In Acacia, in contrast to her older brother Aliver who is an Ideal Hero, the Acacian princess Corinn is this while she still retains quite a bit of her morals, she's not one to worry too much about that. How so? She overthrows her family's usurpers through treachery, continues her empire's use of drugging the population to pacify them (though she concedes a bit by using less of them), mind-controls opponents and even her own siblings if they get out of line, and drops the equivalent of a magical nuke on an enemy city that does various horrible things including causing a victim to be flayed alive. However, her pragmatism makes her queen while his idealism ends up getting her brother killed
  • Animorphs: All of the Animorphs turn into this over the course of the series, though they show signs of it as early as the David books, where they condemn David to a Fate Worse than Death after he tries to kill them. Jake, Marco, and Rachel even cross the line into Unscrupulous Hero or Sociopathic Hero sometimes (for example, when Jake blackmails Erek by threatening to kill Chapman, and later when he kills 17,000 defenseless Yeerks in the heat of the moment), when Marco told his father that his stepmother had been a Controller from the beginning and never actually loved him, and Rachel whenever she indulges her Blood Knight tendencies). By the end, all have turned into He Who Fights Monsters.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: Myne's mentor Ferdinand is overall a good man, but he lives in a world where Aristocrats Are Evil and are seen as being too soft if they don't execute lower-ranking people who don't fall in line. As a noble semi-retired from politics, Ferdinand frequently finds himself needing to Shoot the Dog or order people whose disobedience he can't ignore to be executed.
  • The Belgariad:
    • Garion at one point changes an outdated law that taxed commoners more than nobles; at the time the law was written, the nobles were expected to provide troops, but since they no longer had that responsibility, it was fairer to tax commoners and nobles equally. When another character compliments Garion on his fairness, he doesn't hide the fact that his reasons are wholly pragmatic: he points out he'll have fewer people angry at him this way, because there are fewer nobles than there are commoners.
    • Garion's (very)-great-aunt Polgara shares this trait: when refugees from a destroyed city stream into her territory, she orders food and shelter set up to receive the women and children while the men join her army. When someone says this is very kind of her, she says her reasons have nothing to do with kindness, and that she doesn't want her new soldiers to be worried about their families' wellbeing: they'd probably get desperate and raid her kingdom if they were!
  • In A Brother's Price, the Whistlers are a very pragmatic family. Some of their great-grandmothers were executed for treason, but no one ever considered taking revenge on the royal family; they were criminals, and that's the price you pay. Jerin, therefore, is quite a pragmatic hero. At the start of the novel, without regard for his own reputation and chastity, he leaves the house guarded only by his preteen sister, carries a wounded soldier to the family farm, and strips off her clothes, chaperoned only by his toddler sisters. Later on, after he's been kidnapped he gives his word of honor to make no attempts to escape if his companion is spared. He later admits that he had no intention to keep his word.
  • Edmund Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia is this, especially when compared to the chivalrous, idealistic Peter. Edmund seems to have a more pragmatic way of thinking, a sharp mind, and a good sense of logic. He is rarely driven by emotions and is mostly collected and down-to-earth, having an acute sense of justice, going to the point where he becomes unsympathetic towards enemies and downright cruel, as opposed to Peter, who is more impulsive and emotional. This is proven when Peter battles Miraz because Edmund tells Peter not to be chivalrous and to strike Miraz. The scene suggests that, if Edmund had been in Peter's place, he would not have hesitated and would have killed Miraz in a heartbeat.
  • Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, insists that, contrary to his image, he's an abject coward, and almost always seems to have an explanation as to why a given course of action seemed to best ensure his personal safety. He also tries to compliment and be nice to his subordinates, because many a Cowboy Cop hard-driving Commissar has been "accidentally" shot by the men he was leading into battle. Note that the series hints that the claims of cowardice aren't always true; there have been plenty of times when he's been unable to come up with a pragmatic explanation and blames it on shock or injury when it's clear he's acting out of genuine caring.
  • Dire, in The Dire Saga, has no problem with setting deadly booby traps, preemptively attacking the enemy, or executing unrepentant killers to ensure that they don't kill again.
  • Lord Vetinari of the Discworld series always has the smooth operation of the city in mind, but the people in the city aren't as carefully considered.
    • Also 71-Hour Ahmed from Jingo, the chief policeman of Klatch, who broke Sacred Hospitality to execute a murderer, who poisoned an oasis and killed many people and animals. He also doesn't follow the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule, which his Ankh-Morpork counterpart, Samuel Vimes tries to follow.
  • The Emperor's Gift: During his duel with Logan Grimnar, Hyperion Lampshades the fact that, given the state of the galaxy, the best anyone who fights for the Imperium can be is a Pragmatic Hero, and that the Grey Knights, as the Emperor's Gift, know what they have to do is often horrific but the alternatives are worse and they will not stint in their duty.
  • Salvor Hardin in the Foundation series has this as an explicit goal. One of his more famous quotes is "Never let your sense of morality get in the way of doing what's right."
  • Grimble from Guardians of Ga'Hoole fits here, like some other owls in the series do, by virtue of the high stress they have put on efficiency in fighting for good.
  • Harry Potter is constantly breaking the rules and ultimately uses two out of the three unforgivable curses, and robs a bank to stop Lord Voldemort's schemes.
    • Dumbledore as well. He leaves Harry in the care of the Dursleys (who are far from the ideal guardians ever) but does so because his living with them will invoke an ancient magic that protects him from Voldemort. Notably, the times when he doesn't follow this trope (he avoids telling Harry vital information because he doesn't want to distress Harry with this knowledge), it backfires horribly since Harry walks into danger as a result. It’s also implied that he made a tough call in letting the Death Eaters kill the Muggle Studies professor to protect Snape’s cover.
  • Journey to Chaos: By the start of Looming Shadow, Eric is fully willing to use any means at his disposal to win a battle, complete his mission, and keep his team alive. He'd also rather avoid battles unless there's profit involved (he's a mercenary after all) or It's Personal.
  • Joseph Carrion from the Mediochre Q Seth Series. Mediochre at least tries to be an Ideal Hero but isn't very good at it. Joseph, by contrast, never saw any need to restrict himself to "good" actions in the first place and is perfectly fine with gunning people down if it's for a good cause and there's no better option available.
  • In The Mists of Avalon, Vivian may be one, or be anything else...
  • Anton Kivi in Modern Healing Mage will do whatever he needs to so that he doesn't die, and good people don't either. Whether that be maiming, lobotomizing, killing, or even letting a demon possess him.
  • Pretty much all of Mike's followers in John Ringo's Paladin of Shadows series
  • Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime: In "Special Delivery," after Bass foils Buck and Kevin’s attempt to hijack his truck, he doesn’t turn them into the cops because the following debriefing might reveal that he was driving without stopping for a longer stretch than the law allows and would also delay his efforts to get his time-sensitive load to River City.
  • The Running Man: Ben Richards is forced to engage in some morally questionable actions to survive the Deadly Game, such as killing off several cops in a gas explosion to avoid capture. In the end, when he learns that his family is dead, he flies a hijacked airplane into the Games Tower.
  • The good guys in David Weber's Safehold are clearly good anyhow, but they justify and present their actions and motivations as purely pragmatic moves. Better to be merciful and honorable to defeated enemies so future foes will be more willing to surrender rather than fight to the last, better to treat your people well so they'll be loyal to you in turn, and so on.
    • Frequent remarks are made along the lines of "Isn't it nice when the moral thing to do and the pragmatic thing to do are the same thing?"
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Stupid Good has a very short shelf-life in this series, but that doesn't make trying to be smart and good any easier.
    • Stannis falls firmly into this... while playing around with Lawful Stupid. He has a very strong sense of what is right and will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to achieve this; including having his own brother, Renly, assassinated with blood magic, though the matter still torments him. Later, Stannis considers burning his bastard nephew alive in a ritual to raise a dragon, but he is clearly very reluctant to do so and tells Melisandre if it fails, she'll die slowly. Luckily, his advisor Lord Davos Seaworth sends Edric away from Westeros before Stannis can do so.
    • Daenerys Targaryen is... learning; she is a rather young queen after all. The various outcomes of some of the methods she tries have some people in-universe thinking she's a villain, not a hero. In reality, she is compassionate and well-intentioned, wants to protect vulnerable people (while making their tormentors pay very dearly), tries to go about doing the right thing whatever the cost, bleeds for every mistake she makes and is genuinely learning from both her success and failures — despite her passionate stubbornness and tendency to leap a lot before properly looking. The problem is, gaining experience with pragmatism through merely bull-headed trial and error (and a massive resolve to not be like her brother) is only really an effective way to wind up in deep, deep trouble. While running in circles getting more and more frustrated, to boot.
    • Like Daenerys, Jon Snow is also compassionate, heroic, and always trying to do the right thing, and has to start climbing the learning curve at top speed when he joins the Night's Watch. While he has many traits of a "classic hero" and is trying to protect people, he also finds out that following his Stark traits of honor and duty puts him at odds with other members of the Night’s Watch. Jon's continued efforts to do the right thing and his sympathy for the Wildlings do not earn him the best reputation from some fellow members. While he maintains his morality and compassion, this strains his personal safety and well-being, when he is elected Lord Commander he becomes noticeably more stoic and isolates himself to try and focus only on duty. In addition to Jon's humanitarian reasons for rescuing the Wildlings, he also makes a pragmatic argument that they can't risk letting the Wildlings die, as anyone who dies north of the Wall would become part of the the Others’ giant army of the dead, which is coming for them all and they need a way to defend against this.
  • Tennyson Hardwick, small-time actor, part-time detective and bodyguard, former gigolo and hero of the eponymous series by Blair Underwood, Steven Barnes, and Tananarive Due, is a man hardened enough by his past to kill when he has to but is still moral enough to regret having to do it, even though he acknowledges that the men he killed had it coming. He also bends or even breaks the law often enough to sometimes put him at odds with his former cop father and current cop brother figure.
  • These Broken Stars: Tarver all over. Showcased most obviously when he finds some bodies from the Icarus, and in burying them, takes boots from one of the women for Lilac.
  • Conrad Nomikos in This Immortal. He is not above resorting to guerrilla warfare, standing aside and potentially seeing someone killed or insulting sensibilities by dismantling the pyramid of Cheops to prove his point and achieve the greater goal of an autonomous Earth with its inhabitants returned. He does, however, take the time to first make damn sure it's the best course of action towards that goal.
  • The titular Miklós Toldi of the Toldi poem trilogy wants to live the noble life of a knight. He has a kind heart and is always ready to place others first but his strict sense of honor, self preservation and violent temper occasionally make him into a murderer, even if his actions are justified. The king often commands his knights to do horrible things, and Toldi follows his orders because he respects the rule of authority and wants to protect his country, though he questions if serving the nobility is worth it if innocents suffer. Late in his life, he still clings onto his ideals of chivalrous knighthood and goes berserk at those who make light of it, realizing his own hipocricy only at the end. The Animated Adaptation Heroic Times plays up Toldi's angst and rage, making the contrast between honorable and sinful behavior its central theme.
  • Warrior Cats features violent fights, tough decisions, and cats betraying the warrior's code, but some of the cats implicated do it for the right reasons.
  • In Worm, Armsmaster, a Badass Normal Gadgeteer Genius, is a clear example of this. He notes to Taylor that she should avoid fights where she can, develops technology specifically to incapacitate the villains of his city, and gets several supervillains deliberately killed in order to give him a chance to kill Leviathan. Although it should be noted that he also has an attention complex during this time of the story, so he's just as likely doing these things to the glory and fame.
    • A later and even more extreme example is found in Alexandria of the Triumvirate, who is entirely willing to manipulate the system that she created to keep parahumans under the control of normal people to put her civilian identity in a position of authority where she can do the most good with her Thinker powers, threatens the lives of a villain's friends in order to force her to give in, is willing to work with a far worse villain for the sake of maintaining security of the foremost parahuman prison, and is guilty of enough crimes against humanity to push her into Well-Intentioned Extremist territory. Deconstructed however as she ends up getting killed because she pushes someone too far with her manipulations.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24: Jack Bauer is a highly unconventional government agent who won't hesitate to torture his enemies to find out what he wants to know. Given that knowledge may be the only thing standing between the world as we know it and some very bad things, he falls into this category.
  • The 100: Clarke Griffin manages to be both this and an All-Loving Hero. She's an incredibly caring and kind-hearted person, who does her level best to save everyone, even people who have attacked her or murdered her friends. However, she also has an uncanny knack for suppressing the part of her that cares for people. If Clarke believes there's no way out of a situation without someone getting hurt, then she's going to decide who needs to be sacrificed and act on it with barely any hesitation. Even close friends and lovers aren't safe if Clarke decides The Needs of the Many have to come first.
  • Angel:
    • The eponymous character thinks he has to take down the forces of evil by any means and tries to distance himself from humans because they make him more remorseful, and ultimately, less ruthless. He also joins a dubious organization. Possibly momentarily downplayed when he tries to turn into Angelus, his Enemy Without.
    • It becomes a plot point in season 5 when it drives him further and further away from his function of Champion. Eventually, it resulted in the murder of an innocent champion called Drogyn.
    • A perhaps even larger example of Angel's pragmatic hero complex is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight comics. He adopts the status of a masked figure called Twilight under order of the Powers, intentionally putting himself against Buffy and supposedly the Slayer organization to keep her focused and alive for the inevitable Twilight prophecy because he believed Buffy would die, along with the rest of the world. In the end, it resulted in the deaths of 200 slayers and Buffy's watcher, Giles. Though he was possessed in some areas (Long story ... )
    • Wesley also frequently displayed this trope. He was against rescuing Willow from the Mayor for a box, tortured a woman in a closet to gain information on Angel's whereabouts and stabbed a a girl that was getting high off vampire's feeding off her to find out where Angelus was:
    Wesley: "You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everyone killed."
  • Oliver Queen from the Series Arrow is a prime example in season 1, killing the bad guys to save the day. Surprisingly Realistic Outcome as his allies and friends are aghast at his casual nature of this, and after suffering a series of tragedies by the end of the season, he takes up a Thou Shalt Not Kill oath going forward.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Giles, later in the series. For example, he has no problem with killing the unwilling human host of a God of Evil in order to also kill the god. Buffy avoids this. Faith doesn't, when a good girl she will Shoot the Dog and seek out Revenge by Proxy, as well as keeping a cynical, pragmatic and decadent attitude, but is altruistic just the same.
  • Camelot: Merlin sees himself as this. It is unclear whether he is actually this at the end of the series, but it seems he wants to be this and will succeed later.
  • In Chernobyl, General Pikalov decides to take the high-range dosimeter near the core himself after Legasov informs him how dangerous it will be. This is partly because Pikalov is a Reasonable Authority Figure, but the subtext is that Pikalov knows that the double-talking plant managers, Bryukhanov and Fomin, will immediately try and discredit anyone who doesn't colossally outrank them.
  • The Closer: Brenda Leigh Johnson is a Pragmatic Hero, verging on the Lawful choice of the dilemma To Be Lawful or Good because she genuinely thinks she has to (but choosing good ultimately, though a rather tough good).
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor is this, at one point sacrificing the city of Pompeii to prevent the world from being ruled by the Pyroviles. However, this tends to vary between incarnations, and sometimes even episodes. In one episode the Doctor will be willing to commit genocide against a destructive race and in the next, he'll be refusing to wipe out the Daleks (AKA the worst things in the universe). A big theme of the revived series is whether the Doctor is a messianic figure or a narcissistic hypocrite who looks down on others for not following his high and inconsistent standards. The Twelfth Doctor in particular does a lot of soul-searching over what kind of a man he is and how his first companion Clara gradually becomes more pragmatic due to his influence. It's telling that Twelve comes to regard himself not as a hero or even a good man, but rather an idiot who passes through the universe helping others, forever striving to live up to a heroic ideal he's set up for himself and not always succeeding at it. As he puts it to Clara in "Flatline" when she asks if she was a good Doctor in his stead during the crisis of the week, he says she was exceptional but "Goodness had nothing to do with it" — she had to do the kinds of pragmatic things she had been criticizing him for in previous episodes, such as lying and not stopping to mourn death, to save the day.
    • Jack Harkness too, although he swings widely between this and Unscrupulous Hero, especially in Torchwood. In Doctor Who proper, he is more often between Disney and Pragmatist.
    • This is pointed out in "The Sirens of Time", where the 6th Doctor says all his incarnations are pragmatic but he is more so, stopping the villain by shooting the controls.
    • The Brigadier would do what he deemed necessary in pursuit of his duty. Since the Brigadier and UNIT were at their most prominent at the point where the Doctor was at his most traditionally heroic, this caused a fair amount of friction, especially when he bombed a Silurian city because he thought it had to be done.
  • Forever: Not knowing if Adam's pugio could really kill him for good, Henry chooses a more practical and certain way of keeping him from hurting anyone else, even it is likely a Fate Worse than Death.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • As a whole, Daenerys Targaryen has good, just morals, but she has a record of treating those who make an enemy of her with total brutality... which, of course, is made much more justified in the fact that most of her enemies have been colossal assholes.
    • While he's the Token Good Teammate of House Lannister, unlike the previous two Hands of the King, Ned Stark and Jon Arryn, Tyrion Lannister does enjoy playing the game of thrones and tries to play it well.
  • Krypton: The Cythonnites have spent generations guarding the indestructible and now-insane Doomsday to keep him from going on a rampage, but this duty has made their lives miserable and their outlook on things cynical. By the end of season 1, they are unwilling to oppose Brainiac shrinking and stealing Kandor because if he suceeds, it will give them a chance to send Doomsday away with Kandor. When they are told that Kandor's theft will destabilize and doom their planet, they still go through with their plan. They reason that Doomsday is about to get free of his chamber and will put the whole planet at risk anyway, and at least this way they will have a generation free of their burden before Krypton's doom.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Elliot Stabler, possibly. He uses I Did What I Had to Do as a catchphrase, because he is highly moral, but also sometimes too determined in achieving what he thinks are the best results. He has a closure rate of 97%, after all. He finally hangs up the badge when "what he had to do" becomes too much for Stabler, in the form of having to shoot a child rape victim who had accidentally killed innocent bystanders while also (quite deliberately) killing her rapist.
  • Legend of the Seeker:
    • First of all, it is played straight with the incorruptible Kahlan. She sacrifices her chances to get her immediate happy ending with the man she loves, her safety, and the right to have the normal life she dreams of since so long ago but can be a bit too extreme, even after her Love Interest. For instance, when she learns that her baby niece is actually a baby nephew, and discovers he'll be a member of the Always Chaotic Evil male Confessor kind, she initially goes along with the Mother Confessor's plan to drown him. She also advises Richard several times to leave innocent people to their fates rather than helping them, because their mission is more important.
    • Zedd seemed to show signs of being this, but it gets subverted when he is willing to get revenge on Panis Rahl when it wouldn't help his quest, or his goal, or even to fulfill his personal standards, morally or otherwise. Then, it gets Double Subverted, as he refuses to do so when he realizes how bad it would be.
    • It is played with with Cara, who behaves like one due to Richard's orders (but it is unclear whether she completely or just partly adopted this mentality).
    • Subverted with Richard, who is supposed to be turned into a Pragmatic Hero by his training but always Takes a Third Option, remaining (depending on your point of view) either an Ideal Hero or a hero with shades of a Classical Antihero.
    • It gets deconstructed for antagonists such as Darken Rahl, Nicci, the first Mother Confessor in the series's run, and the Sisters of The Light, except Verna, who see themselves as this, but unlike Kahlan, Zedd and Cara, refuse Richard's solutions about taking a third option.
  • Medium: The heroine, Alison Dubois, uses death threats, emotional manipulation, and horrible phobias to make people get caught by the police, or confess their crimes. Sometimes, she even lets murderers die when they can't get caught. She justifies it by thinking they cause a threat, but is several times seen rejoicing, which is justified again because she has many proofs of the afterlife.
  • Merlin: Merlin from this BBC show could be seen as this. Merlin poisons the innocent Morgana to save the good future he works for. Gaius encourages him on this way, and they both end up talking about how hard making difficult choices can be, but how it becomes necessary. Morgana is later characterized by her lack of planning and impulsivity, which cause her to go to great length either to make something way too extreme happen, either to prevent one of this situations realize, until the Season 4 premiere, in which she accepts to do an enormous sacrifice.
  • NCIS: Ziva David was once a Dark Action Girl, who used manipulation and brutal intimidation to save her country. Since officially joining the team and under Gibbs' influence, she has dialed back to being a Knight in Sour Armor.
  • Revolution: Miles Matheson, thanks to Charlie's influence, goes from Unscrupulous Hero to this type of hero as the series goes on ("Sex and Drugs", "The Children's Crusade"). He wants to take down his old friend Sebastian "Bass" Monroe and atone for his misdeeds ("No Quarter"). Still, characters have had to intervene to make sure Miles doesn't go too far ("The Love Boat", "Clue").
  • Smallville
    • Oliver Queen refuses to adhere to Clark's Thou Shall Not Kill policy pretexting that it prevents him from being this. This argument is possibly used by Lionel Luthor, and all those who wish Clark would, at last, become more effective and implicated, or who want him to went Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
    • Chloe Sullivan becomes this to protect Clark at one point, but she is guilt-stricken in the afterwhile.
    • Tess Mercer provides the page quote, though for her first two seasons she's an Affably Evil Well-Intentioned Extremist, not a hero. When she does go through her true Heel–Face Turn, however, she doesn't lose her pragmatic edge, pulling out Kryptonite brass knuckles against Zod and being more than willing to kill her father Lionel to protect Clark and Connor.
  • Star Trek
    • Star Trek: The Original Series Captain James T. Kirk has zero tolerance for threats to his ship, and even less for the derailment of a sentient species' right to freedom. He once threatened to bombard an entire planet to save his ship, and brazenly violated Starfleet's non-interference regulations to uncover a clandestine slaving operation. Spock was also this, being willing to sacrifice his life and the lives of other crew members if it was the logical option. He's also kept secrets and lied in service of a goal which runs contrary to his Vulcan sense of intregrity. It's how he saved Captain Pike and helped steal a cloaking device from the Romulans.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Captain Ben Sisko, who, faced with a brutal war with the Dominion, steadily becomes more and more this trope over the course of the series, even as it catches up with his conscience. This culminates in the episode "In The Pale Moonlight", where he hatches a plan to fake evidence of a Cardassian plot to turn the Romulans against them. The plan spirals out of his control and ultimately results in Sisko covering up multiple murders. At the end of the episode, he's haunted by it, but explicitly decides that he can live his crimes for the greater good.
    • Star Trek: Voyager When things got tough, Captain Kathryn Janeway from could give Sisko a run for his money in the morally grey department — hell, she had the gall to collaborate with the Borg in order to take down a stronger enemy.
  • Supernatural: Practically all three of the main characters fall into this category:
    • Dean is the most consistent example. More cynical than his brother Sam, he knows firsthand you can't save everyone and believes killing people is sometimes necessary in the fight against evil. However, he never kills without reason and genuinely believes he's doing the right thing.
    • Sam went through his phase during his demon blood addiction. He tortured and bled an innocent woman possessed by a demon so he could kill Lillith and stop the Apocalypse. Ironically enough ... he started it.
    • Castiel through Seasons 4-8. He stole souls, nearly destroyed an entire town to stop the Apocalypse, killed countless angels and people while trying to stop a Civil War in Heaven, killed countless more to restore Heaven, and killed an innocent girl while believing he was uniting his angels. Yeah, he did this a lot...
  • Alex Russo from Wizards of Waverly Place is as sour as a Disney heroine is allowed to be and at one point describes herself as an angry loner who occasionally does good and doesn't want anyone to know about it.

  • Elite Agent Rotor in Dino Attack RPG happens to be guilty of multiple war crimes, but he's also fighting to save the world from Mutant Dinosaurs and does a dang good job at it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In general, this is where characters from Warhammer 40,000 who are most worth considering as heroes fall. Most notably, the Imperium of Man as a whole is a horribly militaristic, totalitarian, theocratic dictatorship, but since it inhabits a galaxy populated by multiple hostile alien species and evil gods that are seeking to wipe out humanity, they're Necessarily Evil.
  • Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: Sigmar would certainly like to be the Ideal Hero, but he isn't stupid, and knows when he'll have to ally with morally dubious entities to hold the much greater threat of Chaos at bay. It's why he was willing to work with Nagash, and continues to work with Morathi, despite neither of them making any illusions about their true natures. It's also why he went through with utilizing the Stormcast, despite the toll the Reforging exacts from their souls, and the kinds of atrocities some of his more Knight Templar servants enact. He's not happy about any of it, but he's unwilling to take any chances where Chaos is concerned purely for the sake of his ideals.



    Video Games 
  • The revised translation for Azure Striker Gunvolt turns Asimov to this; as a realist, he believes that GV rescuing Joule and bringing her home (instead of being assassinated on the spot) would be a huge security risk. As Sumeragi's key to controlling Adepts, and possessing the precious Muse septima, she would be a walking tracking device and bringing her to QUILL would only allow Sumeragi to track down their hideout. This prompts GV to Take a Third Option - resign from QUILL and afford a low-cost apartment to take off the heat.
  • Michael Thorton of Alpha Protocol can be played this way in the Taipei mission, reasoning that saving President Sung from assassination will make it easier to rein in the resulting unrest and keep Taiwan from going to war with China, making it more important than preventing the deadly riots his assassins are also planning to start. The villain Henry Leland admires this particular attitude in him.
  • Pretty much everyone in Borderlands 2 who can be considered more than a Nominal Hero is remarkably willing to accept casualties in the name of doing what's right. Handsome Jack believes himself to be this, but he's more of a self-obsessed jackass with hints of a God complex who just wants control.
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has Kaede Akamatsu. For the first time in the franchise, the protagonist is given the right to lie amidst the Class Trial and commit perjury in order to get the culprit. She also tries to outright kill the mastermind, and winds up being the first 'culprit' (except not really) as a result.
  • Once Cao Cao from Dynasty Warriors gets his own story campaign he upgrades from a villain to this. While Wu and Shu have lofty ideals by which to found their kingdoms, Wei simply wishes to reunite China and bring an end to the fighting as quickly as possible, and to that end, Cao Cao is willing to be as ruthless as need be and embraces his role as a conquerer no matter how much of a villain it makes him look in the eyes of his opponents. On the flip side, his practicality has also led to Cao Cao recruiting a number of defeated enemy officers. The Sima clan that succeeds Cao Cao and his son Cao Pi fall into this camp even more, pulling far more underhanded tactics and with an added air of arrogance and egotism, but with the same goal of reuniting China under one banner and putting an end to the fighting that, at the time of their campaign, has gone on long enough to claim the lives of nearly the entire cast.
  • Fate/stay night: Archer shifted towards this from Iron Woobie in his former life, working his best towards being an idealistic crusader while recognizing that the world wasn't that convenient and knowing he'd have to kill a few to save many. After he became a guardian spirit and lost his free will, he crossed the Despair Event Horizon and lost all faith in his ideal, even though he technically acts on it through his role. Despite this, in the first two routes Shirou can still convince him that the ideal is worth pursuing.
    • Shirou decides to become this in the Unlimited Blade Works route, accepting that he can't save everyone but still deciding to try to live up to his ideal the best he can.
  • Soren in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance can skirt this at times, such as suggesting that Ike turn over Princess Elincia to the invading Daein soldiers to earn favor with the currently superior occupying force. He drops it as soon as Ike decides to protect her, though, and it's clear that despite his more questionable suggestions he's ultimately loyal to Ike and the Greil Mercenaries.
  • Ghost of Tsushima: This is the point of Ghost gameplay, where you abandon the Bushido code of the Samurai to slaughter your enemies with backstabbing, stealth, subterfuge, and other dishonorable acts. This contrasts with Samurai gameplay, where you treat your enemies with honor and respect and face them head-on.
  • Hector: Badge of Carnage, Hector is willing to use any means to get where he needs to be, even if it involves lying, blackmail, stealing...anything to get the job done.
  • Hero King Quest: Peacemaker Prologue: Spiderweb sees her allies as pawns to maintain the Dark Realm's stability, but she is also pragmatic enough to know that she should treat her allies well in order to maintain their loyalty. However, it's implied she believes in racial harmony beyond mere pragmatism, since she is upset at all the harm the Dark Ones went through under her sister. In the ending, she's willing to stage a false flag operation near the Dark Realm's borders to justify a war against the Silver Kingdom and Scarlet Empire, but scraps that plan once the enemy declares war on her first. Another of her plans is to instigate Bloody Duke Spinel to start a civil war in the Scarlet Empire and weaken them from within, leading to the plot of the next entry, Peacemaker: Bloody Emperor.
  • Knight Bewitched: Uno's description in the player guide DLC states that there are rumors that the king of Halonia hires Uno as his own personal assassin. It's implied that some of the corrupt aristocrats in the kingdom are so well-connected that even the king cannot publicly oppose them, which is why he secretly uses Uno as a way to avoid getting his hands dirty.
  • Rose from The Legend of Dragoon has spent the last 11,000 years killing the Moon Child and everyone around them in order to prevent The End of the World as We Know It. Upon learning that the current Moon Child is Shana, they still immediately try to kill them, only failing due to being stopped by the Big Bad.
  • A Renegade Commander Shepard can be quite pragmatic in Mass Effect. With a general "I Did What I Had to Do" philosophy as the core tenet of the playstyle, all kinds of morally questionable actions can be done.
    • Even Paragon Shepard slips into this during the second and third games.
    • Mordin Solus falls into this. He's a decent person and firmly on the heroic side, but he's also extremely pragmatic and isn't afraid to be ruthless and do horrible things for the sake of the greater good. He is first introduced as a doctor who willingly went into a heavily plague-infested area to save as many lives as possible... and who mercilessly gunned down mercenaries trying to stop him and hung their corpses up outside his clinic as a warning to others.
    Daniel: You're a doctor! You're supposed to help people!
    Mordin: Many ways to help people. Sometimes cure patients. Sometimes execute dangerous individuals. Either way helps.
  • In the Mega Man X series, Zero is this, in contrast to his best friend X's intense dislike of fighting. Zero wishes to achieve everlasting peace as much as X does, but isn't as affected by how much Reploid lives they have ended as much as X is. It generally falls to Zero to keep X reassured of their shared goal when he starts to question his purpose after killing so many robots.
  • Raiden from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance firmly believes that some people have to die in order for innocent lives to be saved. His evil alter ego, Jack the Ripper, makes him a borderline Unscrupulous Hero.
    Raiden: There's a saying I like: 'One sword keeps another in the sheath.' Sometimes, the threat of violence alone is a deterrent. Sometimes, by taking a life, others can be preserved. It's the code the samurai lived by...
  • Horribly Deconstructed by The Practical Incarnation in Planescape: Torment. His life's work helps guide you through the planes in your quest to find yourself. This by default makes him a Greater-Scope Paragon... Except he's a Sociopath and there's nothing he would not do to reach his goals, with his most heinous moment being manipulating Deionarra to fall in love with him and murdering her in cold blood so her spirit remains as a guide. Yet despite all the things he did that would make him one of most callous and sociopathic fictional character ever, his alignment is ultimately Lawful Neutral, implying that his Evil, Moral Event Horizon included, makes him not-evil in the eyes of the cosmos. If this is your hero, who needs villains?
  • Rave Heart:
    • When Tessa asks the party to rescue Veronica from Captain Sharky, Klein recommends against it because he wants to focus on proving Arcturo's innocence. He only relents when Ellemine makes it clear that she wants to protect all citizens of the galaxy.
    • Although Lord Percivus privately opposes Reverend Sergio's takeover of Rave, he doesn't make a move against the latter because he knows his soldiers are outmatched. He only does so once Ellemine's faction shows up to help him.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog series:
    • Shadow became one after discovering his true purpose in his self-titled game. He realizes that Maria's wish for him is to protect the world, but he has no qualms in going the extra mile in doing so, especially if it involves fighting against Sonic and the other heroes. He also has no problem using lethal force if he feels it's justified.
    • Sonic himself is this in Sonic and the Black Knight. He is fully willing to allow the Grand Kingdom to come to an end rather than allow Merlina to use her magic to make it eternal at the cost of turning it into a monster-ridden Crapsack World, unchanging and undying.
  • Captain Walker in Spec Ops: The Line certainly considers himself to be one of these. Whether the player still agrees with him by the end of the game is another story...
  • Jim Raynor in StarCraft II.
  • Yuri Lowell from Tales of Vesperia did what he had to do to Cumore and Ragou and many a "The Reason You Suck" Speech are given by him to Flynn Scifo.
  • Central from Technobabylon is a Wetware CPU AI designed to run Newton, including the city's law enforcement, which it does with ruthless efficiency and with no regard for things like compassion. For example, Regis is tasked with "neutralizing" a suicide bomber who, due to genetic engineering, has his bones laced with explosive materials. Regis has the option of talking him down and convincing him to turn himself in instead, but if he does Central has the bomber euthanized while Regis is out on another assignment, citing the high rate of such bombers blowing themselves up while in custody when Regis confronts it.
  • Tomb Raider (2013) game has Lara develop into this over the course of the game. While she starts out as a Classical Anti-Hero who must simply kill in self-defense merely to survive the extreme conditions around her, she gradually becomes more and more jaded and numb until she's spouting Badass Boasts that imply she's now come to revel in the carnage she reaps. She even has a standard "brushes off of an attempted What the Hell, Hero?" moment.
  • The drivers of Outlaw in the Twisted Metal games are willing to destroy their competitors, cause mass destruction, and endanger the lives of pedestrians all in order to end the titular demolition derby for good.
  • Lee Everett in The Walking Dead (Telltale) can be pragmatic depending on player choice. Typically, pragmatism is the smarter choice, but is also typically the choice Clementine doesn't like — it pretty much boils down to how much you don't want to disappoint her.

  • In El Goonish Shive, even after talking Abraham out of trying to kill Ellen, Nanase treats him as a threat until the proper authorities arrive.

    Web Original 
  • During Analog Control's Let's Play of Fable, the hosts’ protagonist, Arseface, shifted between pragmatic heroism, Chaotic Evil, and Accidental Heroism at sporadic intervals. Perhaps most notably when he freed a whorehouse full of reluctant sex workers… because he figured it would be a good story to pick up chicks with.
  • In Break Quest Club, party member Robert O. Cop generally tries to be a By-the-Book Cop, but sometimes dips into this territory in the way that you might let a minor thief go to lead you to a major operation. In "Family Duels", he opts not to intervene in the pet hippogriff eating a murder victim, on the grounds that it might unearth more details for the serious crime to solve.
  • Gertrude Robinson in The Magnus Archives. Though a Posthumous Character, we learn that she was a dedicated opponent of the Dread Powers and was willing to do truly anything to stop them, including sacrificing her own assistants and killing Innocent Bystanders. She justifies it to herself on the basis that a victory by the Dread Powers presents an existential threat; there is no cost too great if it means keeping the world out of their clutches. Ultimately deconstructed with The Reveal that the Dread Powers could never have succeeded due to a fatal flaw in their own methodology. All the horrors she committed to stop them were for nothing.
    "Do you know how many people I killed to keep the world in one piece?"
  • Matthew Santoro, the protagonist of his web series. In ''A New Planet & Antimatter!", for example, he believes that the antimatter isn't safe with the scientists who have it because it could accidentally destroy the world. He's correct, but he resorts to the questionable act of having Eugene sneak into the research facility with the antimatter and steal it, in order to ensure the safety of the world.
  • Resident Evil Abridged: Discussed between Chris and Rebecca after she inoculates Richard, which would leave him unconscious anywhere from 15min., to up to 2 hours. Given the circumstances, Chris suggests leaving him behind, since carrying him would put himself and their only medic at risk. Rebecca is shocked to hear him say it, but she reluctantly agrees since she was thinking the same thing.
  • The SCP Foundation is ultimately trying to protect the world (and reality in general) from potentially dangerous items. This occasionally means they are forced to do morally ambiguous things for the sake of their mission. Among other things, many of the items captured are non-malevolent sentients or even humans. Knowing that a child Reality Warper is rarely more than a childhood trauma away from initiating an apocalypse, and that even the most innocuous items can be abused in the wrong hands, the foundation does what it has to do.

    Western Animation 
  • Rose from American Dragon: Jake Long is most likely this, being willing to pull off a Final Solution to save her family and the entire Magical World from the Huntsclan.
    • Though this is only after she finds out Jake's secret, up until that point she's an Anti-Villain.
  • Zigzagged across Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Aang, the original show's protagonist, has a strict code he follows but most of the other characters and the past Avatars don't share his views.
    • Avatar Kyoshi let a dictator fall to his death in her time and took full responsibility for it in an early season 2 episode. In a conversation with her spirit towards the end of the season, Aang says that she didn't kill him, he was too stubborn to move. Kyoshi says she doesn't see the distinction because she was willing to kill him if push came to shove. Avatar Yangchen, who shares Aang's religious belief in pacifism, calls him out for being selfish for being unwilling to kill the Fire Lord if given no other option because as the Avatar his duty is to the world not to his own beliefs.
    • Sokka tries to take this approach in "The Painted Lady" when the group comes across a village suffering from pollution, hunger, and sickness. Katara wishes to stop and help them, but Sokka insists that they don't have time to help everyone they meet and that they would be doing a lot more good by succeeding with their plan to invade the Fire Nation. Even when she clandestinely holds the group up and sneaks food and medicine to the people, he points out that it's a bandaid solution at best since the real problem is the military's factory polluting the area (which, again, they can solve for this village and many others by defeating the Fire Lord and de-militarizing the country).
    • Korra is also willing to kill. She unambiguously kills her Evil Uncle Unalaq after he forces her hand in season 2 even though she regrets having to do it.
    • Korra's allies are also pragmatic in how they deal with villains. Suyin deliberately kills P'li by metalbending a cuirass around P'li head as she's about to fire another combustion ray. Mako also kills Ming-hua by shooting lightning up her water arms when she lures him down to an underground pool.
  • The Maximals in Beast Wars. The inhospitable nature of the planet they're fighting on means that some dirty fighting here and there is pretty much required to conserve resources or simply stay alive. Rattrap takes this furthest by far; for instance, his reaction to being challenged to a fistfight by Waspinator is to almost immediately knee him in the crotch before savagely beating him down while he's stunned, and he certainly doesn't believe Transformation Is a Free Action when he blasts Tarantulus with a point-blank shot to the chest as the Predacon is transforming. The series finale has a bit that pretty much summarizes this trope:
    Megatron: Oh well, come on, let's have it. The usual "destiny and honor" speech.
  • The Dragon Prince: Deconstruction. Viren initially had good intentions, wanting what is best for Katolis and all of humanity. However, at some point, his "doing things for the greater good" turns into an excuse to commit actions worse than the ones he is fighting against, eventually turning him into a full-blown villain, and blatantly seizing power in season 3 and reveling in taking it.
  • Few of the heroes in The Dreamstone seem to really give a flying fish if the Urpneys are Trapped in Villainy, and will take any measure to stop them. This bordered on Blood Knight or Unscrupulous Hero territory in early episodes, though later seasons made their retaliations more passive, often disinterested in attacking the Urpneys outside the means to protect the stone or even showing mercy if it made for a simpler victory. However they sometimes relapsed.
  • Six from Generator Rex. Despite looking and sounding like an unemotional The Men in Black agent, he has principles he won't compromise; Rex is, in fact, alive thanks to him, and he has admitted that he stopped being a mercenary *because* of Rex.
  • In Moral Orel, Reverend Rod Putty eventually becomes this, being one of the few characters not utterly blinded by hypocrisy and actually caring about the well-being of the main character.
  • Popeye holds himself to a strict moral code, but this doesn't stop him from beating people or animals to a pulp (occasionally for little to no reason, in the early shorts anyway). And sometimes when he rescues Olive, he does so to prevent Bluto from having her rather than for her own safety.
  • Benson on Regular Show is the grouchy, hot-tempered boss who is always threatening to fire the main characters, Mordecai and Rigby, unless they repair the damage caused by the Monster of the Week. Despite this, he is portrayed to be an honest, courteous, and kindhearted person who cares about his co-workers, even his mischievous slacker underlings. This was beautifully demonstrated in the episode "Benson Be Gone" which is basically him getting fired and replaced with a female boss who ends up being another eldritch monstrosity, leading to Benson returning to save the day in epic fashion.
  • Kyle Broflovski from South Park often plays this role, particularly when confronting one of Cartman's many schemes.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pragmatic Anti Hero


"I may be blind...

but my memory's perfect!"

Jerry's specs could give Coke bottle-bottom lenses a run for their money. Luckily for him, there are ways of faking good eyesight, such as paying attention to your teammates, and studying.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / BlindWithoutEm

Media sources: