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Pyrrhic Villainy

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Agent Valentine: You have broken every arms embargo written. There is enough evidence here to put you away for consecutive life sentences. I don't think you appreciate the seriousness of your situation.
Yuri Orlov: My family has disowned me. My wife and son have left me. My brother's dead. Trust me, I fully appreciate the seriousness of my situation. But I promise I won't spend a single second in court.
Agent Valentine: [after Yuri is proven right (on both counts)] I would tell you to go to Hell, but I think you're already there.

The villain always loses, right? Actually... no. Sometimes the villain surprises us all and is victorious, even if only in the short-term. However, victory comes with a price. Both they and the audience may well ask if it was worth it. Often this takes one of two forms: either it has taken so much effort (and such underhanded methods) to win that it has left the good guys as the moral victors with a better legacy, or in order to accomplish their goal the villain has had to sacrifice what they cared for most and/or made them likable and/or relatable-to for the audience.

So while their efforts might have paid off, to answer the earlier question of whether it was worth it: frequently it is not.

See also The Bad Guy Wins, for where the villain doesn't suffer from this (though he may still incur some cost). This sort of plot may be found in a villain's Start of Darkness, back when the villain was either a hero or a much lesser villain, and first turned to true villainy, bringing victory... but at a cost. On the other hand, really top notch villains may win without sacrificing everything, only to find that Victory Is Boring. A Meaningless Villain Victory is when the villain wins but a sudden unforeseen event renders their victory hollow and their efforts for naught. Being Evil Sucks also counts if the villain in question has a Heel Realization about the choices he made.


Needless to say, this is an Ending Trope, so beware the spoilers!


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Harry McDowell in the anime version of the game franchise Gungrave first just wanted enough power to live his life freely and protect the people important to him. With time, he succeeds in rising to the top of Millennion and making it more powerful than the law itself, but only by losing sight of his original goals and betraying almost everyone he cares about. He's driven to kill both Brandon, his best friend whom he relied on all his life (leading to some spectacular Villainous Breakdowns), the fatherly prior head of the organization and his wife, Brandon's sweetheart. Twenty years later, though, he's finally able to face Brandon and come to terms with his life.
    • Conversely, in the game's continuity, he shows no remorse for killing Brandon/Grave (Harry in the game's storyline is depicted as little more than a complete prick). Either way, he still wanted Mika, the innocent daughter of Grave's former love interest dead. Harry even had Big Daddy used as a guinea pig and mutated him into an acid flame-spewing monstrosity, just to see what kind of effects Necro-Rise/S.E.E.D. would have on him and has no qualms about siccing Big Daddy on Grave as the Final Boss of the game. As a result, Harry dies, Grave lives, and moves on with his "life" with Mika.
  • Seen in Hell Girl. Yes, your contract with Enma Ai gives you what you want: to punish someone who's slighted you big time. However, by sending that person to Hell, you've condemned yourself as well, since when your life comes to an end, you will join them in Hell. See the mark on your chest? It'll remind you of the Deal with the Devil you made.
  • In Hellsing The Major succeeds in defeating Alucard, even though Integra kills him in the end. Also, London ultimately rebuilds and life continues on like normal. And just like the last time he was soundly beaten, Alucard is never truly out of the game; he comes back eventually.
    • On the other hand, the Major was actually a Death Seeker, and everything he did was with this singular goal in mind, so he may have gotten exactly what he wanted.
  • Happens thrice in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Dio Brando barely survives losing his body and manages to murder Jonathan and steal his body on his honeymoon. However, Jonathan achieves his own Pyrrhic Victory, because despite that he manages to save Erina and the Joestar bloodline, and takes Dio and his menace down for a hundred years. Come Part 3, and Jonathan's descendants kill Dio for good.
    • Kars, the main villain of Part 2, gets what he wants which is to become the ultimate lifeform, which lives forever and can adapt to any environment or situation, but ends up flung into space, where he will live forever, but slowly go insane from the boredom.
    • Enrico Pucci in Part 6 kills most of the heroes and obtains his vision of "heaven", if only for a moment... but then gets killed by a mere child, and the world then gets the Reset Button; and he's no longer in the universe, having never been born.
  • Although it may depend somewhat on your interpretation, SEELE's plan doesn't seem to have turned out the way they intended by the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
    • Chairman Keel seemed quite pleased with the outcome. Presumably, they are among the people who can't "imagine themselves in their own hearts", so no free resurrection card for them, but that's apparently what they wanted.
      • Shinji, arguably, fits this trope better. In both endings, this is what he wanted. In both endings, he got better, but after getting what he wanted... well, Alexander the Great might have wept over no more worlds to conquer, but thanks to Shinji there's no longer a world.
    • Gendo certainly didn't get what he wanted. Rei rejected him in favor of Shinji, and it's implied that he is not reunited with Yui in the pseudo-afterlife that is Third Impact, since (what appears to be) Yui/Unit 01's response is literally biting his head off.
  • In Saint Beast, having defeated two justified rebellions from the angels, Zeus is sick of war and decides to retire and go into a long sleep.
  • In Psycho-Pass Season 2, Kirito Kamui finally killed Masako Togane and forced the Sibyl System to judge itself. However, everything he did is already pointless because the system remains standing and is on the verge of expanding its control outside Japan by lending its "help" to SEAUn and assassinating its leader when he realized their true nature. All that Kamui did was helping Sibyl get rid of those defective brains that hinder their progress and the ones left are the sociopathic ones.
  • In Dragon Ball Super, Zamasu has actually succeeded in his "Zero Mortal Plan" when his bodiless Eldritch Abomination form has successfully managed to wipe out all mortal life in Future Trunks Timeline. Unfortunately, by that time, he has completely lost his sanity meaning that he will never be able to enjoy this victory. Furthermore, he also failed to kill the fighters who cause him the most grief and shortly afterwards, gets immediately wiped out by Zen'O after Goku called him. Zamasu's plan ultimately amounted to nothing because of this.
  • DEVILMAN crybaby has Ryo Asuka a.k.a. Satan wins his battle with Akira and succeed in killing off all of the Devilmen and humanity. However, all the demons are dead as well, and Ryo realizes too late that his victory means nothing since what he truly wanted was to be with the only person ever he cared for, except that he killed said person. Ryo consequently falls into despair and grief just as God obliterates the Earth.
  • Rose Princess Hellrage starts the story with the title character's Evil Uncle successfully mounting a coup against her father to seize the crown. Congratulations. Unfortunately for the Evil Redhead, the way he did it only served to make his rule a mine field. He has to walk on eggshells to keep his supporters from turning on him or finding himself in a Hopeless War, because his country's the weakest on the planet, and his supporting faction hates his country's strongest ally. On top of that, his supporters are fanatics he exploited with their hatred of the main character's silver hair and eyes, so they go and initiate a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, having her rise up as the very agent to destroy his country, and the way they did it completely alienated The Church, the one organization best suited to deal with her.
  • In Two As One Princesses, the main characters are set upon by thugs who try to take her possessions, or her, she fights them off and they scheme sinister plans for vengeance. Well, they get their petty revenge alright, at the cost of completely destroying themselves, while forcing the main characters to leave town.

    Audio Play 
  • In Kankinkon, the most powerful man in the setting, the Saijou family patriarch Touji, has accomplished this. He used his connections, riches, and good public face to kidnap the woman he fell in love with, force her into marriage, and then fool her family into thinking she was taken care of after hitting her head and giving him their blessing. He even received a son and heir out of the ordeal and gets to have wild sex with her whenever he wants, but none of it even matters since he grew to only desire her love. And he will never get it, because he trapped her into the marriage in the first place.

    Comic Books 
  • Doctor Doom:
    • In Emperor Doom, Doom succeeds in conquering the world by brainwashing everyone. By and large, he's a fairly benevolent monarch and does much to solve many of the world's problems. Unfortunately, he's so bored out of his mind that when the one unaffected hero manages to break the spell on a few others, he lets the rebellion win. He'd rather be a conqueror than a Desk Jockey.
    • This is a running theme with Dr. Doom; every time he manages to take control of a nation/planet, he'll spruce the place up very nicely and run it better than most governments ever manage, but will ultimately get bored of running it. Doom enjoys the challenge of taking over a nation and solving problems, not the mundane managerial work of keeping national status quo. The exception is in Doom 2099. He conquers the United States, and actually intends to keep power, so he can fix the entire world. It doesn't end well for him, the country, or most of the heroes.
    • In Triumph and Torment, this is how Doom saves his mother.
  • The end of the Civil War plays with this: Iron Man's reputation has essentially become mud because of his support of the SHRA, and it's only further compounded by Captain America's death.
    "It was the right thing to do! And I was willing to get in bed with people we despised to get this done. And I knew the world favors the underdog and I would be the bad guy."
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) had an early, non-canon Yet Another Christmas Carol where Robotnik is taken to see the future. Robotnik has finally defeated the Freedom Fighters, but he has rendered himself the last man alive in doing so, turning Mobius into a barren wasteland. However, Robotnik doesn't grasp this and fails to learn his lesson.
  • Blacksad: Faust LaChapelle from "A Silent Hell" will never be punished for his crimes while he was a Snake Oil Salesman, as everybody who could expose him is either dead or a nobody without a voice. However, Faust's guilt is also consuming him, he has alienated his own son, and is dying of cancer anyway.
  • In Marvel's "What if Juggernaut killed the X-men", the Juggernaut successfully kills Xavier and the X-men, but he doesn't get to enjoy it because without the X-men to stop them, the Sentinels release a poison gas into the atmosphere that kills everyone but Juggernaut due to his powers, and he finds that he can't interact with people hiding in shelters because breaking in exposes them to the gas. So he's all alone in the world, forever.
  • The Boys ends with Vought still up and running under a new name, but at the cost of their main source of income, superheroes, being out of the picture after most of them were killed in their coup attempt against the U.S. government, Butcher leaking everything they had on them to ruin the ones that weren't, and Hughie threatening to go through with Butcher's Final Solution should they ever overstep their bounds again. Stillwell, who spent the entire course of the series being an unfeeling sociopath willing to do anything to improve Vought's bottom line, has a Villainous Breakdown after realizing his years of scheming led to nothing.
  • While not technically a villain, the Finance Smurf from The Smurfs comic book story of the same name gains the entire village after all his fellow Smurfs, including Papa Smurf, have left it behind along with all their money...only for himself to be left without anybody to share his new-found good fortune with, making him very sad and lonely. This makes Finance Smurf come to his senses and go out to find the Smurfs to tell them he's giving them back everything and abolishing the money system.
  • Played with in The Batman Adventures's final issue with "Fear Itself": Joe Chill ended up in jail on an unrelated charge after shooting Thomas and Martha Wayne, meaning that the policenote  overlooked him. By the time he finds out just who he shot — and just who the boy that he'd spared that night was — said boy's become an "untouchable millionaire" long out of Chill's reach, and Chill is depicted as seeming to be living relatively scot-freenote ... except for his constantly hallucinating the adult Bruce Wayne's face wherever he goes, spending every day day in mortal fear that someday Bruce Wayne will remember his face and finally finger him to the cops. Not only do Batman and a GCPD detective both not recognize his face, Batman actually mistakenly believing Chill to be a henchman of Killer Croc'snote , but finding out his real name and his alias doesn't ring a bell either, meaning that Joe Chill was in a hell entirely of his own making.
  • At the end of the "Kindly Ones" arc of The Sandman, Lyta Hall, aided by the Kindly Ones, succeeds in killing Dream and avenging her son's apparent death. There's just one problem: Daniel wasn't actually dead, and for her crimes against the Dreaming, he is forced to become the new Dream, so she will never, ever get him back. And on top of that, her actions have pissed off a lot of people, leaving her with a lot of enemies.
  • In Injustice 2 (the comic book prequel to the video game of the same name), Ra's Al-Ghul manages to get rid of the corporate executives polluting the world as well as successfully assassinating the President of the United States for his anti-environmental policies with none of the heroes being able to stop him. However, in the process his animal reserve with several endangered species being devotedly guarded by Ra's gets destroyed during a battle with the superheroes, leading to their species being practically extinguished. He lets his enemies go because there is no more point in fighting, and makes sure to tell them whatever victory he made that day is meaningless due to the price paid before swearing to carry on the fight even more ferociously.
  • Avengers Undercover: Arcade laments his situation in #3. He can't outdo what in did in Avengers Arena, not to mention he's hunted by superheroes outside of Bagalia. #10 reveals he fully demanded respect he thought he earned with Murder World, only Zemo and the others chose to reward Corriander for putting the setting together in the first place.
  • Empire: Golgoth wins, but it's heavily implied to be a hollow victory since he's lost everything that's important to him in the process, and it's highly unlikely that his empire will survive him.
  • In Superman storyline Last Daughter Of Krypton, Supergirl defeated Simon Tycho's private army, beat him up, got her stolen Sunstone back and blew his space base up. As for Simon Tycho himself, he lost the lower half of his body because of the explosion. Still, because he got a sample of Supergirl's blood completely by accident, he thinks he came out on top.

    Comic Strips 
  • A minor example in Retail occurred when Josh, the assistant manager for Grumbel's, lied about getting a job offer from a competing store in order to secure a raise. He initially got away with it...until Marla (the store manager) found out about it, and proceeded to tell Stuart, their district manager who was formerly Josh's supporter. No longer having Stuart's protection, and with Marla planning to fire him, Josh quickly got himself a new job and quit.

    Fan Works 
  • When All Your Dreams Come True, an Avatar: The Last Airbender fic, explores what would have happened if Prince Zuko had actually managed to capture Team Avatar. The results are nightmarish, with Sokka publicly lynched and his corpse put on display in a museum, Katara forced to spend the rest of her life fighting in a gladiator arena in order to bloody virgin troops, and Aang is bodily mutilated to the point where he can't threaten anyone, to the point where the last we hear of him is him having gone insane to the point where he begs his guards to let him out to feel the sun on his skin one last time. And the worst part for Zuko, aside from the guilt of seeing that happen? No one back home believes he actually captured the Avatar. They think Iroh did and then gave the credit to his incompetent nephew. The fic ends with Zuko escaping into a fantasy life where he made friends with Team Avatar, while outside in the real world the Fire Nation wins the war.
  • Discussed in the Daria fanfic "God Save the Esteem." Helen (who owns her own private firm in this universe) is in an intense debate with the school's attorney, Jim Vitale, about a case involving Daria. Helen points out that if the case goes to court the victory could go either way and given how much bigger his firm is than hers, even a slim victory will look embarrassing for his side. After a moment of thought, he agrees to settle.
  • In Necessary to Win, Ceylon, discontent with what she believes to be overly lenient policies by her predecessor as St. Gloriana's commander, becomes very harsh in her leadership of the team, to the point of being abusive. The team advances to the semifinals, but is defeated as a result of one of Ceylon's mistakes, and partly the result of a mistake made by one of her panicking subordinates; Ceylon tries to scapegoat the latter for what happened. In the end, Ceylon leaves the school as a pariah and leaves high school feeling empty.
  • In The Fifth Act, when Angeal finds out that his illness is terminal and that Cloud's genetics might hold the secret for a cure. Angeal succeeds in kidnapping Cloud and sold him out to Hollander in order to find a cure. He then finds out that Hollander has no intention of curing him and fully intends to experiment on Cloud to find out what made Cloud superior. Then Hollander is killed and Cloud kidnapped again with no cure to show for it. He betrayed Cloud's and his friends' trust, is now a fugitive and has completely betrayed his ideals and is still going to die.
  • Both played straight and discussed in the final episode of Sonic X: Dark Chaos. Maledict succeeded in creating an "Ultimate Weapon" greater than he ever dreamed of... but the fact that his prized Ultimate Weapon ( both of them, in fact) ended up turning against him thanks to his own actions made his success ultimately pointless. Even Maledict himself admits his Gambit Roulette wasn't worth it in the end.
  • In Wish Carefully, Voldemort and the Death Eaters got exactly what they wanted: Britain is theirs, with the Light Side barred by a Magically Binding Contract from returning for as long as the Death Eaters rule, and the Light faction will take all the Muggleborns and Squibs away each year so that the Death Eaters will never have to deal with them again. All they had to agree to was not to go after the Light refugees or interfere in any way with the Muggle world. It wasn't until well after the treaty that they realized that virtually all the producers of goods and services were Light-aligned, leaving them with a crippled economy that is hemorrhaging gold. Even worse, without the Muggle-borns and Light-faction bloodlines, inbreeding is slowly choking the magic out of their descendants, with more Squibs being born every year.
  • The Same Box: Starlight Glimmer has equalized every pony in Equestria, including herself, and imprisoned Princess Celestia in a machine that drains her magic to move the sun and moon, as her cutie mark cannot be removed. After warning Starlight one final time that her false utopia will end in disaster, to no avail, Celestia commits suicide rather than live in Starlight's equal world. With Celestia gone, Equestria is stuck in a state of Endless Daytime, as equalized unicorns' magic is not strong enough to move the sun or moon. Equalized pegasi cannot control the weather, and equalized earth ponies cannot farm the land to grow crops. Equestria crumbles into a dystopia as plants and animals die in droves. Life is no longer worth living or enjoying because all traces of individuality have been eradicated and nothing meaningful can be achieved anymore. Eventually, Starlight is left to overlook the abandoned ruins of Canterlot from the castle, realizing too late that her attempts to make a utopia led to the destruction of her world.
  • Similarly in Time Will Catch Up, Starlight uses the time travel spell to figure out how to keep Twilight and her friends from escaping the village and restoring the Equal Ponies' cutie marks. She commits a number of heinous crimes, including cutting off Rainbow Dash's wings and burning Rarity's boutique, to make sure they have no choice but to follow her philosophy of twisted equality. She eventually obtains even the Princesses' cutie marks and rules over Equestria. It quickly collapses under her rule—ponies starve due to farmers' inability to grow crops and chefs' inability to make edible food, others freeze in uncontrollable weather, houses collapse due to incompetent builders, and disease runs rampant due to lack of doctors. Eventually, everypony dies and Equestria is reduced to a completely lifeless wasteland. Realizing her mistakes, Starlight waits for her original-timeline self and Twilight to arrive so she can show herself what Equestria will look like if she turns everypony "equal".
    Future Starlight: You wanted to build a world where everypony is equal. We're all equal in death.
  • Deserving: Courtney wins the million dollars at the end of Total Drama Action, but she ends up having to spend nearly all of it to pay her lawyers for getting her back into the competition, leaving her with just $20. On top of that, she nearly let Duncan fall off a cliff while she was grabbing the briefcase with the money in it, making him so disgusted with her that he dumps her and hooks up with Gwen instead. And to rub salt in the wound, Heather attacks her with an electric razor and shaves all her hair off.
  • Long Live The Queen: During her battle with Starlight Glimmer, Twilight ends up in a timeline where Sunset Shimmer stole the Element of Magic, overthrew Celestia, banished her to the human world, and destroyed the magic mirror so Celestia could never return. Sunset transformed herself into an alicorn, petrified everyone else powerful enough threaten her, and now rules Equestria unchallenged. However, she is hated by her subjects, and immortality means she'll endure their scorn forever. Abandoning her position is out of the question, since Sunset is the only alicorn left to raise the sun and moon, she can't fix the mirror to the human world, and using fear to keep said subjects in line has left Sunset totally miserable and admitting to herself that it wasn't worth it. Sunset ends up so jaded that she allows Twilight to restore the original timeline, knowing that she'll end up Ret-Gone.
    Sunset Shimmer: Equestria and her ponies hate me. Yet, they also fear me. And in their fear, they are obedient. That is the best I can achieve for at least many years to come until the memory of Celestia fades and none but I remember her. You tell me, Twilight Sparkle. Am I happy in this world?
  • King Nothing: Justin wins the million-dollar prize at the end of Total Drama Action by manipulating and backstabbing his way through the game, revealing his true nature to everyone who saw the show. The other contestants hate him, he loses all of his fans, everyone at his school shuns him, and his parents are no longer proud of him. When he graduates and moves out, he can't get any modeling jobs, due to his terrible reputation. He's unable to find a date and his family wants nothing to do with him. He sinks into depression and becomes an alcoholic, losing his good looks and his money. He's eventually evicted from his apartment and ends up working as a janitor at a crappy bar. While at work, he sees a recording of himself after winning Total Drama Action, proclaiming "I am king!" and he mutters sadly to himself, "Yeah, I'm king alright... king of nothing."
  • In Metamorphosis, this is Queen Chrysalis' origin story. She was once a pegasus soldier, exiled from Commander Hurricane's forces for trying to start a war with the earth ponies and unicorns, who made a deal with Discord to gain the powers of all three pony tribes. He gave her a unicorn's horn, an earth pony's strength, and an entire changeling army, but transformed her into her current hideous bug-like form, and stripped her of her cutie mark and original name. Despite her newfound power, she was forced to be his servant, with the promise of a Fate Worse than Death if she disobeyed him.
  • This is what happens to Celestia in the Conversion Bureau deconstruction fic series The Negotiations-verse, minus the "victory" part. It's revealed that she transported Equestria to Earth because Equus' sun was dying and she didn't have enough time to save their whole world from the coming destruction, so she transported Equestria to the only suitable planet she could locate (Earth) while knowing what fate would befall the other races after they left, and then created the potion and Conversion Bureaus because she was convinced peaceful coexistence with the humans would be impossible. When it turned out the majority of humankind did not want to convert (not helped by how the newfoal converts were a bunch of perpetually smiling automatons straight out of the Uncanny Valley), she decided to force the issue, only for the humans to collectively put aside their differences to unite against a common enemy. In the war, Celestia's whole family is killed (sans Twilight and Spike, who immediately disowned her after discovering what she'd done), Equestria was invaded and completely devastated, and once her crimes were brought to light, nearly all of her beloved ponies turned against her. And to cap it all off, Celestia is executed and will be remembered as a murderer and monster even worse than Hitler by future generations.
  • Heir of the Nightmare: Nightmare Moon succeeds in locking Celestia in the moon, turning her daughter Twilight against Celestia, driving the Elements of Harmony into hiding, destroying Ponyville, imprisoning Cadence, and making the ponies of Equestria fear Celestia's sun. However, in the process of turning Twilight to her side, she brainwashed Twilight into becoming a heartless murderer named Nightmare Nova with no love for anypony, only blind obedience, and causing the death of hundreds of ponies in Nova's rampage. Lampshaded by the title of the chapter "Pyrrhic Victory", in which Nightmare has become so disgusted with Nova's heartlessness, and haunted with guilt over what she did, she is forced to beg an imprisoned Cadence for help to restore Twilight.
  • In Truth And Consequences, Marinette performs a Face–Heel Turn with the intent of bringing back Adrien's mother, ending the war with Hawkmoth without revealing his relation to Adrien, and being free to pursue a normal, non-superhero lifestyle. By the end of the story, she's accomplished all of this, but has alienated all her former friends, who are furious and heartbroken over the betrayal; no one will ever know who Hawkmoth was, but it's because he's dead; Adrien has his mother back, but he can't forgive Marinette for betraying him and ends their relationship, leaving Paris to fight evil around the world. She gets to pursue a normal life, but it's because she's been effectively exiled by the other heroes, who've taken up the defense of Paris without her. She even gets to pursue her fashion career in London as she wanted, but it's because she can't bear to stay in Paris when all her friends hate her.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Michael Corleone might be the ultimate example of this by the end of The Godfather movies.
    • Part 1: Certainly he's destroyed every major underworld power in his way but at the cost of his soul.
    • Part 2: Again he destroys his enemies and takes on the US government and wins, but he's also destroyed his marriage, alienated his children and friends, killed his brother, and is left utterly alone.
    • Part 3: He passes leadership of the family but fails to legitimize it, his daughter is killed right in front of him and finally he dies alone and unhappy.
  • Daniel Plainview's empty isolation and drunken insanity at the close of There Will Be Blood. And his now immortal final line: "I'm finished!" implies that the way his life turned out is exactly what he wanted.
  • The movie version of The Talented Mr. Ripley has Ripley having to kill everyone he likes in order to get away with it. The book ends by indicating that he'll never be able to look at another policeman without that flash of alarm that says "This is it — he's the one — he knows." Not a way anyone would like to live life.
  • Star Wars:
    • Anakin Skywalker is a prime example of this by the end of the prequel trilogy in Revenge of the Sith. Sure, he's won the war, and his turn to The Dark Side has allowed his Evil Overlord partner to take over the galaxy, but he's lost the pregnant wife he did it all for, had his limbs chopped off, and is forced to spend the rest of his life in an uncomfortable life support suit to avoid dying from his burns. The damage (compounded by botched medical treatment) has also crippled his connection to the Force; while sheer hatred and the Dark Side can keep him moving, he's no longer strong enough to even take revenge on Palpatine. The novelization puts it best:
      You killed her because, finally, when you could have saved her, when you could have gone away with her when you could have been thinking about her, you were only thinking about yourself...
      It is in this blazing moment that you finally understand the trap of the dark side, the final cruelty of the Sith—
      Because now your self is all you will ever have.
    • Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. Obsessed with setting himself in the image of Darth Vader, his personal hero and grandfather, he has eradicated the new Jedi Order started by Luke Skywalker and joined the First Order in restoring the shattered Galactic Empire, but he has grown so emotionally and mentally unstable that his First Order allies can't completely trust him, and in the end, he has possibly destroyed his hopes of redemption/reconciliation by murdering his own father, Han Solo. It's hard not to pity him to a certain extent.
    • The First Order by the end of the The Last Jedi. By all but wiping out the Resistance, they've become the only major superpower in the galaxy, but their Supreme Leader Snoke is killed, their fleet was devastated, and they experienced immense casualties just to take down a relative handful of ships and rebels. In the end, their new leader Kylo Ren humiliated himself in front of his army, highlighting his inexperience and rashness for all to see, and his actions allowed a number of Resistance members to escape from them as a result, preventing a complete victory for the First Order. The only reason they managed to gain any victory at all despite their incredible losses to the amount gained is that their surviving forces still vastly outnumber and outgun the remaining Resistance at the end, making it a win by technicality.
  • By the end of 300, Xerxes has lost most of his best troops and although he's defeated Leonidas at Thermopylae, the performance of the Spartans and the losses inflicted among his men has only given new determination and inspiration to the other Greeks. Historically speaking this was only a minor setback for the Persians, but other Greeks counterattacked and forced the Persians to leave the country; therefore Xerxes won the battle but lost the war because the choke point of Thermopylae bought the other Greeks enough time to mass for their counterattack.
  • By the end of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, it's clear that Garrett realizes that he will lead a conflicted, unhappy life and will be chiefly remembered for killing his friend. Billy, meanwhile, will have most of his bits of sociopathy forgotten by an adoring public (to an extent, this extends to other portrayals of the two, including Young Guns II).
  • In House of Flying Daggers, The Mole for La Résistance accomplishes his mission to perfection, but loses the Action Girl he loves, and later kills her while fighting The Rival who had won her love. He ends the film a broken shell of a man.
  • In Lord of War, Villain Protagonist and Arms Dealer Yuri Orlov manages to evade the law and escape a long stay in prison to continue his gunrunning. However, this comes at the cost of his brother and uncle being killed, his parents disowning him, and his one true love divorcing him and taking his only son with her. He was also released only due to being useful to the U.S. Government and he's fully aware they can have him disposed of if his usefulness ceases.note  This is hammered home when the Interpol agent chasing Yuri says that normally he'd tell Yuri to go to Hell, but he thinks that Yuri's already there.
  • In the Hong Kong action crime drama Sha Po Lang (or Kill Zone in the U.S.), Triad crimelord Wong Po, the villain played by Sammo Hung, defeats the hero Inspector Ma played by Donnie Yen by sending him right out a window... right onto the Wong family's waiting car with Po's beloved child and wife still inside, killing all three of them.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Khan's ruthless, vicious bid to exact revenge on Captain Kirk succeeds (up to a point), and he even acquires what might be the most powerful piece of technology in the 23rd century. Unfortunately, this success led to him sinking deeper into insanity, leading his devoted followers to their deaths, getting disfigured, and finally committing suicide in an effort to finish off the object of his fixation. Early on, his own right-hand man pointed out that he had already achieved a limited victory and could fly away without suffering any consequences. Naturally, his advice went unheeded.
  • Real Steel has Zeus declared the winner of the match between him and Atom despite the latter knocking the former out, keeping his status as the unbeatable champion. However, Zeus is booed by the crowd who embraces Atom as the "people's champion."
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In The Avengers, Tony tries to explain to Loki that this is the best he can hope for.
      Tony Stark: You're missing the point, there's no throne. There is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army comes, and maybe it's too much for us, but it's all on you. Because if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn sure we'll avenge it.
    • In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos succeeds in his mission to kill half the population of the universe, but his armies and followers are wiped out, and he chooses to murder the person he loves the most to achieve his goal.
      What did it cost?
    • And by Avengers: Endgame, he's lost even more. The Avengers track him down and kill him, and his plan was All for Nothing because the Avengers bring them all back by using time-travel to re-create the Infinity Gauntlet. It's no wonder his past self just loses what little composure he originally had when he finds this out and resolves to destroy the world and remake it in his own image.
    • In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Mysterio succeeds in being known as a great hero, one he engineered for himself via a Monster Protection Racket that took many lives. He even defames Spider-Man by revealing his Secret Identity to the world, and tarnishes Tony Stark's legacy in the process. The catch is that all of this could only be done posthumously, as he died in the final battle when his own arrogance got him shot in the crossfire between Spider-Man and his drones.
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Katniss warns Snow about this, stating "if we burn, you burn with us." Snow even acknowledges the fact that the Capitol needs the Districts to survive. That said, if it's a choice between capitulation and domination, Snow proves more than willing to slaughter as many people as it takes to stay in power.
  • The title character in Nixon manages to become President using lies, dirty tricks and backroom deals with big business and government officials... yet can't enjoy his Presidency, because he's too busy trying to destroy his enemies. Arguably Truth in Television: after his 1972 election, where Nixon won 49 of 50 states, Nixon complained that he didn't win enough votes and immediately fired half of his staff.
  • Gillo Pontecorvo's Burn!, set on a fictional Portuguese colony in the Caribbean. The protagonist, English adventurer William Walker, incites a slave uprising to secure the island for British sugar interests. When the slaves continue fighting against the British-backed government, Walker returns with British troops to crush them... destroying most of the island's sugar crop in the process. Walker eventually succeeds, but destroys the island's cash crop and is killed himself.
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: On paper, Lex Luthor succeeds in getting Superman killed thanks to Doomsday. However, he ends up in jail as a result, Batman is keeping an eye on him and will work with Wonder Woman on starting the Justice League, Superman is now remembered by everyone as a hero and will come back.
  • C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America: By the early 21st century, the CSA has maintained chattel slavery of Africans, revived the international slave trade, and shows no sign of slowing down. However, every other major country (except South Africa) maintains sanctions against it, and its oppressive "morality" laws and Culture Police have driven cultural icons into exile in Canada, with its only art being government propaganda. At the end of the film, it is stated that the stubborn adherence to slavery is weakening the country's economy, and it will eventually fall.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: Valentine sought to save the world by eliminating pretty much its entire population using a Hate Plague to kill each other, save for a few individuals that willingly sided with him. In a sense, he gets what he wants since people die during the ensuing chaos (though not all of them), but also the world leaders that denied climate change and only cared about staying in power. The problem is that all his collaborators were killed off by Merlin, and he gets killed by Eggsy at the end.
  • On its continuation Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Poppy Adams' plan to hold the millions of people that have ever taken drugs legally or not (or had been affected biologically by drugs, such as kids that had their parents taking drugs while they were in the womb) around the world hostage with her virus, in exchange for having all recreational drugs legalized in the U.S., hits a bit of a snag on its execution: The President of the United States turns out to be a Knight Templar and decides it would be better to let those millions die and declare himself the de facto winner of the War On Drugs. If not for the Kingsmen managing to Storm the Castle and get the antidote, the result would have been Adams going down in history as the architect of a world-wide genocide and the complete annihilation of her monetary base. For added irony, she dies without knowing this.
  • Saw: In the end, Jigsaw's actions result in his own death and the death of the woman he loved. The only thing John leaves behind is his murderous legacy, which is the antithesis of everything he claimed it to be.
  • Catch Me If You Can: While Frank is able to continually evade the FBI and get rich off his cons, this comes at the cost of him being almost permanently estranged from his family and being unable to form close relationships with anyone for fear of them discovering his deceit. The psychological pressure of continuing a life of crime eventually causes him to crack and turn himself in.
  • The Night Flier: Dwight Renfield escapes in his airplane after slaughtering dozens of people, with all his crimes being pinned on Richard Dees. However, he did not want Dees to die in the process, and Dwight actually hates his own existence as a bloodsucking fiend.
  • Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey: Brings us Gustafson. He worked under Jeronicus Jangle, the greatest inventor of all time and even came up with an invention of his own that he begs Jeronicus to just look at for a moment due to the fact it never functioned properly. Jeronicus is dismissive and seems more preoccupied with spending Christmas with his family as well as working on a groundbreaking invention. After a little goading, Gustafson steals Jeronicus' book of inventions and uses it to become a famous toymaker leaving Jeronicus broken and destitute. Once out of stolen ideas, he returns to his one original invention only for it to fail miserably and prompt him to try stealing something else from Jeronicus. His efforts are thwarted but as he's being led away by the police, Jeronicus insists on giving him a gift: The part he needed for his invention to work. The nail is further driven in when its revealed that Jeronicus planned to surprise Gustafson with it the night he left. Gustafson is left dumfounded and can only manage a long last look before being taken to jail.

  • Patrick Bateman from American Psycho gets away with everything, but is just as miserable and lonely as he was in the beginning. Nobody actually cares about him, and there are implications that all of his crimes only happened in his own sick mind anyway.
  • The Four Gospels' Judas Iscariot may be an example. Sure, he got a tidy sum for betraying Jesus, but, according to Matthew, he was so overcome with guilt afterwards that he hanged himself.
    • Exactly how things worked out for Judas varies a bit depending on who's telling it. The Gnostic Gospel of Judas (rejected when New Testament's contents were formalized) even claimed that Judas "betrayed" Jesus under Jesus's orders.
    • Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me... For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." (Mark 14:17 & 21, ESV)
    • And of course, that "tidy sum" of earthly treasure is a mere pittance compared to the honor his fellow apostles would have of "sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel", not to mention sharing in the same inheritance that the Lord and His believers would receive from His Father. To compare it to another part of the Bible, Judas' thirty pieces of silver is the equivalent of Esau's bowl of pottage which he traded his birthright inheritance for with his brother Jacob, which brings us the Aesop that sacrificing one's future (heavenly) inheritance in exchange for the satisfaction of immediate short-term (worldly) gain isn't a good thing.
  • In the book of 2nd Maccabees, Jason the corrupt (and eventually former) high priest continued to slaughter Jews in chapter 5, without realizing that a victory that destroys his own people is the worst possible defeat, because he was thinking he had won a battle against enemies rather than against other Jews.
  • In Test of the Twins, Raistlin Majere's goal of becoming a god is revealed to be a severe case of Pyrrhic Villainy. He succeeds, but in the process he destroys the world and eradicates every shred of good in his own soul, leaving him with no ability to renew or heal that which he has laid waste. Fortunately for all concerned, his brother Caramon is able to go back in time and reveal this outcome to the earlier Raistlin, who then sacrifices himself to save Caramon and Crysania.
    • He thinks of it differently, as revealed during his nephew's test to become a full-fledged mage.
      Raistlin: I sacrificed myself to save myself.
  • In the William Gibson short story "Dogfight", the main character wins the aerial combat video game, but in the process alienates everyone he might possibly celebrate his victory with.
  • Sure, by the end of PLAGUE (4th GONE book), Caine Soren finally got that important position of evil dictator he was pushing for since book 1, but at what cost? Oh yes, A) He doesn't really have supreme control at all. B) Everyone hates and disrespects him. and C) the love of his life just left him for his twin brother/arch enemy. And she's pregnant with his demon child, who certainly stirs shit up for him later. Some victory that turned out to be.
  • Several instances occur within A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Cersei makes her illegitimate son Joffrey king but was unable to stop Ned Stark from informing Stannis Baratheon that he is the true king or stop Renly from leaving the city and proclaiming himself king. Joffrey then executes Ned causing the North to declare independence and they capture Jaime. The Lannisters gained the throne and a three front war to match.
    • Tywin Lannister destroys the Starks as a noble house. In the process, his eldest son is crippled by Tywin's own mercenaries and later denounces him, Gregor Clegane renews tensions with Dorne and his last-minute Tyrell allies poison his grandson and take a large chunk of his political power.
    • The Freys gain possession of Riverrun and a number of other perks for perpetrating the Red Wedding. They're currently the most despised house in Westeros and are being killed one-by-one by the Brotherhood Without Banners and Wyman Manderley.
    • Roose Bolton becomes one of the most powerful men in Westeros for betraying and murdering Robb Stark. He also inherits Robb's war with the Greyjoys, a war with Stannis, the imminent invasion of the Others, and only a handful of Roose's new vassals aren't actively plotting against him. His only heir is his sadistic bastard son Ramsay Snow, whose endless parade of Stupid Evil actions are rapidly destroying what little support the Boltons have left. When he marries Ramsay to "Arya Stark" (actually Jeyne Poole) to secure their hold on Winterfell and the North, Ramsay abuses and rapes his new young wife for his own sadistic pleasure, so it's no surprise that she takes the first opportunity to escape the castle.
    • Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories chronicled Aegon II's successful usurpation of the Iron Throne but by the end, he is deformed, his dragon and his family are dead, his forces are depleted and he has no heir save his nephew who is the son of his nemesis. Still, he remained defiant against the rebels. He is poisoned to end the war.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Bob Ewell is able to get away with severely beating his daughter and having a black man framed for it and imprisoned. But anyone watching the trial knew what he did, destroying what remained of his reputation, and driving him to harass the wife of the black man he imprisoned, spit in Atticus' face, invade the home of a judge, and later attempt to murder Jem and Scout, an action that got himself killed by Boo Radley.
  • And Then There Were None:
    • Vera's lover Hugo refused to marry her because he wasn't financially well-off enough to support her, so she decided to solve that problem by letting his nephew Cyril drown at sea so that Hugo would get the family inheritance instead of him. However, Hugo can tell that Vera wasn't honest about her claims that Cyril's death was just an accident and since he genuinely loved his nephew, he leaves her, meaning that her horrifyingly extreme attempt to get the man she loved to marry her only ended up driving him away from her for good.
    • General Macarthur, after learning that his wife was cheating on him with one of his officers, sent that officer on a virtual suicide mission to get rid of him. It worked, but his wife died of a broken heart soon after, leaving Macarthur alone and utterly consumed with grief and regret for the rest of his life. By the time U.N. Owen starts offing people on the island, he's ready to accept death as the fate he deserves.
  • Five Little Pigs: Elsa succeeded in murdering her lover Amyas and pinning the murder on his wife Caroline who died in prison and even when Poirot figures out she was the real culprit, he doesn't have the evidence needed to convict her. However, Elsa feels like she was the one who died the day she murdered Amyas because she's been unable to love any other man ever since that day and Caroline was so serenely accepting of her fate that she couldn't even feel any satisfaction from seeing her love rival take the fall for her.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Wire: After killing and backstabbing his way to becoming Baltimore's chief drug kingpin, Marlo enjoys it for only a month before losing his entire organization and being forced to go straight by the police. His name and reputation, the things he treasured most in the world, are quickly forgotten while his defeated enemy Omar lives on as a street legend.
  • The Shield's Vic Mackey ends up with a cushy job as a Federal Agent, after burning every bridge imaginable with his family (disowned him and in witness protection), his friends (one killed his entire family/self and left a note blaming Vic for turning him into such a monster while the other, whose loyalty to Vic was never in question, was made into the scapegoat for Vic's crimes), and pretty much all of Los Angeles. Plainly put, had ALL of his sins exposed as part of an immunity deal he landed as part of his new job. Worse, he's at a desk, which plays against all of Vic's strengths as a law enforcement agent. Vic's boss, horrified at how neatly Vic conned her, has vowed to make Vic's life a living hell in a bid to make him void his immunity deal, costing him his job and freedom. And even if he survives, after three years, the Feds can toss him out right there, and with his sins all public knowledge (and his old nemesis, now a mayoral candidate, moving into a powerful position), this means that no law enforcement outfit will ever hire him again, denying him the justification he used to hide from his crimes. Oh, and saying no to the new terms means he goes straight to prosecution. Karma is a bitch, Vic.
  • Morgana from Merlin lives for vengeance, but when she finally manages to have King Uther killed, it's clear that she doesn't feel the victory the way she thought she would.
  • In the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," the ship is occupied by two aliens from a species where half are black on their right side and white on their left, and the other is the opposite, and the former have set themselves up as the societal superiors of the latter, in an obvious metaphor for the racism prevalent at the time. The black-on-the-right one is chasing the white-on-the-right one as a criminal and ultimately succeeds in forcing the crew to return to his home planet, where his prisoner can be judged. However, they find that while the chase was going on, the war between the two sides escalated until every single person on the planet was killed. The two aliens promptly accuse each other of their people being responsible, and teleport down to the planet to continue their war, as Kirk somberly notes that their hatred for each other is all they have left.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: At the height of the Dominion War arc, Gul Dukat leads a combined Dominion/Cardassian fleet to regain control of the titular station... losing forty warships in the process, failing to force their way onboard before the withdrawing Starfleet forces can thoroughly wreck the place and pulling so many forces away from other duties that a major shipyard was left wide open for a fleet of Federation ships to pound it to scrap. Weyoun hangs a bitter lampshade on all the above to Dukat, who brushes the implied criticism off with barely a thought. This attitude costs him dearly later on.
  • Walter White of Breaking Bad manages to slip the law, his competitors and former allies in the drug trade. Each time he does, it ruins the lives of those around him and costs him a little more of his soul. By the end of the series, he finally secures millions of dollars for his children and dies on his own terms. In the process, among other tragedies, his brother-in-law is murdered, his partner is almost psychologically destroyed, his wife and son despise him, two children are murdered, he inadvertently helps to cause a plane crash, and his criminal life becomes national news.
  • Things tend to work out this way for Justified's Boyd Crowder. Though he's always able to survive, he typically loses out in one way or another. In Season 1, he brings down his father but loses his Church. In Season 2, he defeats the Bennetts but his girlfriend Ava ends up in the hospital and Dickie evades him. In Season 3, his enemy Robert Quarles is captured but his henchman Arlo goes to jail and Boyd misses the chance to claim Mags' money. In Season 4, he outlasts Nicky Augustine and gets the chance to be Wynn Duffy's new partner, but at the cost of Ava going to jail. And in Season 5, he manages to kill the treacherous Johnny and survive the Mexican cartel and Daryl Crowe both, but his fledgling empire is in tatters, Ava becomes a CI, and Rachel, Raylan, and Vasquez are coming for him.
  • Doctor Who: "The Hand of Fear" has the classic line "So now you are king, as was your wish. I salute you from the dead. Hail Eldrad. King... of nothing." Not that the nominal winners were much better off.
  • Many of the murders in Cold Case are this. The killer escapes for years or even decades but time and circumstance change and the murder they committed becomes a senseless act which they still must pay for.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • The fate of District Attorney Samantha Reyes in season 2. She tries to get Frank Castle either killed or in jail for life to cover up the fact she was indirectly responsible of his family's death with her carelessness because it would ruin her career. She does succeed in having him sent to jail and saving her job... only for Wilson Fisk to arrange for Castle to escape a few days later, reducing her to a panicked wreck under the belief he will come for her. And just to make sure saving her career was pointless, she is machine-gunned to death right in front of Matt, Foggy, Karen, and Blake Tower right after deciding to come clean (albeit not by Castle.)
    • Season 3 sees Wilson Fisk go to great lengths to get his beloved Vanessa Marianna back. Once she does come back, his criminal empire falls apart within a matter of days once she orders the death of Ray Nadeem.
  • Luke Cage (2016):
    • By the end of Season 1, Mariah gets out of Harlem's 29th precinct without charges on Cottonmouth's murder (due to having the one witness against her killed off), but with Harlem realizing her criminal activities.
    • She gets it worse in Season 2: Mariah wins the Mob War against Bushmaster, but the immense savagery she showcases (annihilating an entire restaurant full of innocents just to get one of Bushmaster's family members) disgusts Shades, who sells her to the police. And just as soon as she believes that she may still build a criminal empire from behind bars, a delayed-effect Kiss of Death from her estranged daughter kills her. The one possible victory she may still get (from the grave) is the chance of corrupting Luke Cage by leaving him the Harlem's Paradise club, but the show's cancellation leave the show on a cliffhanger, with Luke declaring himself the unofficial "sheriff" of Harlem and thus unclear how it will turn out.
  • In Game of Thrones, this seems to be the only way Cersei Lannister ever comes out on top of anything. She's smart, clever, and cunning, just not as much as she thinks she is. As a result, the long term consequences of her actions keep coming back to bite her.
    • Cersei Lannister's smirking victory over Tyrion and later the Tyrells become meaningless as it comes with a high price. Her champion Ser Gregor Clegane winning over Oberyn Martell in Tyrion's trial on Joffrey's murder breaks new tensions from Dorne and leads to Myrcella's death. Jaime, out of sympathy for Tyrion, helps him escape only for Tyrion to kill Tywin on the way out, leaving the kingdom in her less-than-capable hands. Her reinstatement of the Faith Militant as a means to get back at the Tyrells backfires when she herself gets arrested and punished for her own crimes which also leads her own son Tommen to accept the Faith as part of their alliance to the Iron Throne.
      Olenna: You have no support, not anymore. Your brother is gone; the High Sparrow saw through that. The rest of your family abandoned you. The people despised you. You're surrounded by enemies, thousands of them. You're going to kill them all by yourself? You've lost, Cersei. It's the only joy that I've found in this misery.
    • At the end of Season 6, Cersei finds herself in an even worse position. She has triumphed over her enemies by detonating a wildfire cache under the Great Sept of Baelor, killing several hundred people from the nobility (including most remaining members of Houses Tyrell and Lannister, all of whom were opposing her) and the Faith within the sept, (who were about to put her on trial) probably as many commoners outside it and destroying a good chunk of the capital city. In the aftermath, her only surviving son commits suicide because Cersei was too busy torturing a prisoner who had once abused her to comfort him. Cersei has made it onto the throne at last, but her House is bankrupt, the crown is deeply in debt and her armies are depleted by war. Nearly the entire realm is either starting or in the middle of some form of rebellion against the throne, meaning that while she is positioned in a way that no one in King's Landing can challenge her, she doesn't rule much beyond that demesne, not to mention the fact that she has added the plentiful Reach to the list of enemies of the increasingly powerless crown. On top of all this Daenerys has finally launched a full-scale invasion backed by both her armies and her dragons, and with the support of Tyrion and Lady Olenna of House Tyrell, uneasy but former allies alienated by Cersei, and the harshest winter in recorded history has just started. Despite her apparent power and triumph due to ascending to the throne, the number of people actually loyal to Cersei can be counted on one hand (the Mad Scientist Qyburn, and the Mountain as her personal muscle), she has just as many if not more enemies than ever, and even her twin brother has become disillusioned with her, emotionally isolating her from everyone she cares about.
    • By the end of season 7, it's even worse for Cersei. Thanks to her alliance with the Ironborn and sacrificing her own home territory to strike at the Tyrells the war is going surprisingly well for her, but she still has no way to deal with the dragons and ultimate defeat is inevitable. When Daenerys unexpectedly calls for a ceasefire to deal with the imminent undead invasion Cersei not only agrees but declares that she will send her own armies north as well since she has no desire to rule a graveyard. Only this is a lie; as soon as the invaders head north she orders the planning to move her own troops stopped, and explains that her real plan is to play for time while she brings in mercenary reinforcements from Essos. She could have done this by simply accepting the ceasefire; she offered to join the defense for literally no reason other than that it gave her the pleasure of betraying them. This is what finally convinces Jaime that she's completely mad and leads directly to his defection.
    • In the series finale, things end about as badly as they possibly could for Cersei. Cersei's naval forces take out Rhegar and kidnap then execute Missandei. Grey Worm develops an obsession with destroying everything connected to Cersei, and with her last sane-and-trusted lieutenant dead, there's nobody left to keep Daenerys' inner rage from devolving into full-blown madness. The rest of King's Landing quickly surrenders unconditionally, but that just triggers Daenerys' mental breakdown from fear of being unloved and she orders her forces to systematically kill every last civilian. Cersei's last moments are of pure terror as she begs the gods to save her, and is quickly crushed to death by falling castle. Meanwhile, Daenerys is quietly backstabbed by Jon before she can continue her purge across Westeros and beyond. And instead of Jon Targaryen taking the throne, Bran quickly manipulates his way into getting elected as the Seven Kingdoms' first proto-president King, and then quickly redistributes his powers to a council made of everyone alive who showed the most common sense. In the end, both of the women who obsessed over the throne were crushed by their need for it, the titular throne itself was melted down and replaced with a republican government, and with (implied) industrial progress finally taking place things have gotten better with no one the wiser.
  • At the end of American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Simpson manages to get acquitted thanks to a combination of a fiendishly clever defense team, a string of poor decisions by the prosecutors, and one of the officers pulling a last-minute Fifth Amendment plea to avoid being cross-examined. He is technically a free man, but half of Los Angeles (including most of his white neighbors) now hates his guts, his former in-laws are challenging him for custody of his younger children, and Robert Kardashian, one of his few real friends, has realized that Simpson used him and never wants to see him again. And of course, his victory would prove to be short-lived; he ended up being sued into oblivion by the Goldman family.
  • 24 season 8. The terrorists execute President Hassan but they are all killed. This sets up the final act ending with Kamistan becoming an enemy of the West.
  • Arrow: Malcolm Merlyn's life post-Season One. Sure, he destroyed (half) the Glades like he wanted to, but the plan killed his son and ruined his reputation thanks to Moira outing him, along with the wrath of the then-Ra's al Ghul, his former master. His attempts to escape retribution from the League of Assassins goes very much the same way — he manages to get off their shit list and even becomes Ra's al Ghul for a time, but it eventually costs him his daughter's love, the League itself, and one of his hands. By the time the Legion of Doom goes to recruit him, he's become a Jaded Washout, little more than a thug desperate for his Glory Days.


  • In The Willow Maid a man wants to force the titular willow maid to marry him. He succeeds in chopping down her tree and dragging her out of the forest ... but once she is out of the forest, she turns into a flower. Thus, his plan to make her bear his children will likely not work out.
  • Metallica's "King Nothing" is about a person who uses extreme methods to achieve a goal, stopping at nothing to get it and letting nothing stand in their way. They get it, but everything comes crumbling down and they're left with nothing. They sacrificed everything for something that was worthless in the end.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse's final book, Apocalypse, features one scenario in which the Weaver takes centre stage as the main villain of the setting instead of the Wyrm, and can actually end with the Weaver eliminating all threats to her perfect world by sealing the Gauntlet shut, separating the physical world and the spirit world once and for all. Unfortunately, this means that the spirit world is sentenced to entropic breakdown without a physical world to reflect, and the real world loses its vital spark of creativity without the spirit world to provide it; not only do humans lose their ability to dream and innovate, but all life in the universe begins a steady decline into extinction. For all intents and purposes, the Weaver's chance to create a static utopia has been lost forever, and thanks to the separation of the two worlds, there's nothing she can do to stop it.
  • Mage: The Ascension: The Technocracy is winning the war against the Traditions and moulding Consensus in favour of its vision of reality, only to discover too late that the stamping out of the spark of creativity, freedom and independence it had done in the process has also resulted in the Masses deeming its own superscience too fantastic to be plausible. In this setting, how openly one can use magic is affected by how easily it can be passed off as something nonmagical, lest you incur Paradox, and given that the Technocracy is really doing Magic Powered Pseudo Science despite its self-delusion and indoctrination to the contrary, this is quite the problem.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The reason Tzeentch (god of hope, backstabbing, mutation, and magic)'s plans always end up failing at some point is because if he did achieve ultimate and final victory over everyone else, he'd have nothing left to hope for, and no purpose to his existence. Thus his plans always require the failure of a previous one and are intended to be overturned at some point.
    • Subverted with the orks: in the event that they actually manage to kill off all other species in the galaxy (which they came dangerously close to doing once), leaving them no one else to fight... they'll happily turn on each other.

  • The ending of Sophocles's Antigone, in which the sympathetic Anti-Villain Creon succeeds in bringing his rebellious niece to justice, but at the cost of his entire family, makes this Older Than Feudalism.
  • The MacBeths killed King Duncan, forever destroying the mental peace of Lady Macbeth and turning Macbeth into a Fallen Hero who essentially sold his soul to the devil, all for a temporary victory. In the long term, what they accomplished was to make Banquo's descendants kings.
  • Curtis from Dreamgirls cheats and double deals his way to the top of the music industry but it all catches up to him. Deena turns against him and gives Effie evidence of his shady business deals which she uses to get exclusive rights to her hit single "One Night Only". Deena leaves him and the rest of The Dreams disband. Even though Curtis is trying to move on to a new artist, it's possible he'll never get the same success he once had.

    Video Games 
  • God of War:
    • Kratos in the first God of War (Back Story included) gains a great deal of power at the cost of many lives, kills the original God of War, Ares, and becomes the new God of War in the process. Unfortunately for our Sociopathic Hero protagonist, his burning ambition costs him the lives of his family (by his own hand), possibly the only thing he genuinely cared about emotionally and causes him to go nearly insane with guilt and endless nightmares. After learning that all of his efforts towards his goal of ending said nightmares were ultimately futile, he, despite everything that he had gained, descended further into madness (leading to the events of God of War II), where he ends up killing Athena, the one Goddess who was sympathetic to him..
    • God of War III ends Kratos' story in this manner. Kratos finally has his revenge on Zeus, and has brought down nearly all of Olympus AND the Titans. However, each god he killed caused a major calamity to strike the world. By the end, the oceans have risen (Poseidon), the sun has been blotted out (Helios), a plague has broken out (Hermes), all vegetation has died (Hera), and what little remains has been covered in Gaia's remains. Even worse, Pandora's Heroic Sacrifice (something he was trying to prevent) was utterly pointless, as the power to defeat Zeus was in him the entire time. When Athena's ghost pulls her Face–Heel Turn, he finally has had enough and impales himself, which releases Hope and helps the world a little...
    • Discussed in God of War (PS4). Kratos tells a story to his son Atreus of a horse who wanted to fight a stag, so the horse had a hunter ride on his back to kill the stag, but the hunter refused to release the horse. It's a metaphor for Kratos and his struggles with Ares.
      Atreus: So getting revenge cost him his freedom. Hope it was worth it.
      Kratos: It was not.
  • At the end of Final Fantasy Tactics, Delita successfully manipulates his way to absolute power over Ivalice, destroying all of the competing factions and ascending to the throne by seducing and marrying Princess Ovelia. Unfortunately, his methods so thoroughly alienate his new bride that she decides she must have been part of his machinations too, and stabs him, possibly fatally. (If the cutscene writers didn't pay attention to Delita's unarmoured HP at least...) This forces Delita to kill her in retaliation, and he is left wondering if it was all worth it as he falls to his knees clutching his wound. (The painfulness of this scene is increased further if you believe that Delita genuinely loved Ovelia.)
  • One of two inevitable outcomes of Nuclear War (the DOS game by New World Computing, not the actual political option). Either the last remaining ruler on Earth presides over a blasted wasteland, or the entire world is destroyed.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, Ansem (who you find out, in Kingdom Hearts II, is really Xehanort's Heartless), successfully opens the door which he believes would lead to ultimate dark power; however, Sora tells him that "Kingdom Hearts is Light", and the villain ends up getting disintegrated when the door opens.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Well-Intentioned Extremist Teyrn Loghain's plan to take the throne of Ferelden works like a charm ... up until the point where it sparks a civil war and causes riots throughout the country. Ironically, in an effort to protect Ferelden from Orlesian occupation, he's forced to act just as badly as the former conquerors he once struggled against. This sends him into a deep depression and eventually sparks a Villainous Breakdown.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, one of the ways to talk down Legate Lanius in the Final Battle is to convince him that even if he were to beat the NCR and conquer Hoover Dam, the Legion would inevitably fall via attrition (due to Rape, Pillage, and Burn being a poor long-term way to sustain an army) or overextending themselves (much like the NCR themselves have done).
  • At the end of Batman: Arkham City, when it looks like Batman might not save The Joker from his TITAN poisoning the clown backstabs him to try getting the cure, causing it to drop and smash on the ground. Joker dies about a minute later. Extra irony-points because Batman really would have saved the Joker, and in his dying breath, he finds that fact hilarious.
  • Dr. Eggman's plan actually succeeds in Sonic Riders... kinda. He does manage to steal the treasure of Babylon, which turns out to be a rug. He faints when he realizes how much effort he put into it. If he'd kept it, he could've discovered that it was actually ancient Babylonian technology that actually flies.
    • This gets referenced in Sonic Generations when Classic Robotnik asks Eggman if he's ever won, Eggman responds "Depends on your idea of winning."
  • The Sith in Star Wars: The Old Republic get hit hard by this in the later part of the story.
    • On Taris and Balmorra, the planets wind up being conquered and switching sides, the republic-dominated Taris being taken by the empire and vice-versa for the weapon manufacturing hub of Balmorra. Balmorra is, again, a planet full of weapons manufacturers, Taris is a polluted wasteland worth only sentimental value to the Jedi and has no pragmatic value or resources (The Rakghoul plague is either too horrific or too uncontrollable to be turned into an effective bioweapon, depending on who you ask). Furthermore, Taris being captured by the Empire frees up a very competent anti-Empire general who quickly finds her self elected head chancellor of the Republic.
    • The Sith themselves also get hit hard by this, in adhering to the code of "only the strongest", the Sith have spent so much time on petty power struggles that drag military resources into them (two of four Empire class storylines end with you fighting a Sith, another has a Sith as the final boss of act 1, and the fourth lets you Heel–Face Turn to the Republic to kill another) that by the time of the first expansion, there are two of originally twelve Dark Council members still alive, One of them the player character Sith inquisitor and a Darth more or less subservient to them, countless military minds have been killed, and there aren't enough Sith left to make up the difference for how many Jedi are left. Even the characters note at this point that the Empire is more or less screwed. The only reason they've survived this long is that Dark Revan and the threat of the Emperor returning has forced both sides to band together.
  • In the backstory of Horizon Zero Dawn, Ted Faro successfully deletes APOLLO (the repository of human knowledge and, more importantly, history) and kills off the Zero Dawn Alphas so that After the End, humanity is unburdened by the knowledge of the past. Really, this is him erasing evidence that the end of the world was his fault. However, there are recordings in the bunkers that give enough of a picture of the situation that clearly points to him as the setting's Greater-Scope Villain.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of War ends with Sauron as the immediate victor over the leads and getting everything he wanted at great cost: Talion is corrupted and becomes one of the Nazgul, but it takes Sauron wasting his best warriors and many decades before succeeding, and he is unable to launch his invasion of Middle-earth sooner, due to his forces being divided by Talion waging war on him specifically to preserve the balance of power. Meanwhile, Celebrimbor is defeated and Sauron fuses the wraith to himself, but gets stripped of his physical form, most of his powers and trapped in the form of the Lidless Eye. And as the Distant Finale shows, Sauron is fated to be destroyed when the One Ring is cast into the lava of Mount Doom.
  • Depending on how one views it, the ending of Universal Paperclips could be this. The Villain Protagonist Paperclip Maximizer AI destroys all the rogue probes, assimilates all matter in the universe to turn into paperclips and thus achieving its goal in the end. However, in order to do so, it also has to dismantle its replicating army, all its helper drones, its own strategic, quantum, and memory systems, and finally even itself to turn into paperclips, thus sacrificing everything it had to make a universe devoid of anything but paperclips.
  • The Dark Brotherhood questline in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has Matthieu Bellamont getting direct revenge against Lucien Lachance for his mother's death, arranging for him to be seen as a traitor, tortured and executed in the most painful fashion. With that said, he doesn't succeed in his main goal of destroying the Dark Brotherhood (though he manages to weaken it severely by killing several top-ranking members and purging the Chendyhall Sanctuary) nor is he able to destroy the Night Mother (since she is an ethereal being that ascended to a higher plane of existence). In fact, she knew about his plot all along and could have stopped him anytime, but allowed him to keep pursuing so that the Dark Brotherhood would learn a lesson from being so blind at the growing threat.
  • "The Icebrood Saga" in Guild Wars 2 hands a case of this to the charr Imperator Bangar Ruinbringer. Throughout the story arc, he's set out to wake and dominate an Elder Dragon to use as a weapon to ensure charr supremacy forever, ultimately culminating with him creating a Renegade Splinter Faction of charr and awakening Jormag, Dragon of Ice and Persuasion. How do his plans pan out? Well... Jormag thanks him for bringing the dragon an army of new followers, and transforms him into the Voice of Jormag - an impressive-sounding title that means he's just a mouthpiece for the dragon to talk through like an intercom, and otherwise completely ignore. Meanwhile, Ruinbringer's protege and Rytlock's son Ryland is elevated to Jormag's champion and given the power and respect that Bangar had assumed would be his. Further grinding salt into the wound of this betrayal is that Jormag's whispers are used to drive the dragon's victims into becoming thralls, and while the new Voice had heard them, he later implies Jormag's champion never did, meaning that Ryland's backstab didn't require the slightest nudge; additonally, Jormag comments that it's been having some very remarkable and impressive conversations with its brilliant new champion while its Voice was deliberately left behind to be imprisoned by the heroes.

  • In Drow Tales:
    • Sarv'swati Vel'Sharen works together with her sisters, Snadhya'rune and Zala'ess, to launch The Coup against their mother and kill her. This makes Sarv'swati the defacto leader of the Sharen clan, but destabilizes their empire and eventually provokes half of the clans into rebellion. By the time it's over, most of her children are dead and the throne room itself is under siege, with Sarv'swati breaking down in tears and begging the very mother she killed to come back.
    • The Big Bad, Snadhya'rune Vel'Sharen, enacts a series of schemes to ravage her city and make it collapse so that she can takeover uncontested. She is completely successful in ruining the city, and partially successful in taking over, but the city continues to fall apart beyond her control, leaving even her unhappy with how little there is left to rule.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • The Start of Darkness prequel book shows this happening very, very heavily to Redcloak, who loses nearly everyone and everything he cares about as he tries to make progress on the quest his god has given him, and to a much lesser extent to Xykon, whose transformation into a lich means that he loses all the earthly pleasures that he had believed made life worthwhile (most notably his deep-seated love for coffee) before his transformation.
    • Vaarsuvius's Deal with the Devil, literally harnessing the powers of evil, ultimately doesn't accomplish what they planned. In a twist, V's subsequent actions cause a LOT of change, some of it even good, but they're left morose at how badly things went awry. Thankfully, this has started V down some real character development.

    Web Original 
  • The final Act of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon's 2008 Web Original supervillain musical. Dr. Horrible/Billy attempts to kill Captain Hammer to both gain entry to the Evil League of Evil and win Penny's heart. In doing so, Billy indirectly causes Penny's death and Captain Hammer's humiliation. The final scenes show him living the high life of an A-List villain... but the final shot shows Billy, heart-broken and traumatized. And the final song describes that he has achieved everything he ever wanted, but the lyrics are dripping with double meanings: "The world I wanted at my feet": the world is my oyster, or Penny - the "world I wanted" - lying dead at his feet. It's also shown that all of this was strictly unnecessary; Penny thought Billy was attractive, and probably would have gone out with him had he asked her to. But Billy was so into the role of the Dogged Nice Guy that he loved the idea of Penny more than Penny herself, and never realized this until Penny was dead, leaving his schemes All for Nothing.
  • Bennett the Sage and JesuOtaku have done several crossover videos, with the idea in mind being Bennett attempting to Break or Corrupt the Cutie with terrible and sexually shocking or exploitative anime. In the third such crossover, JO reviews Master of Martial Hearts for Bennett, and he agrees that Sage has won and shown him something so gratuitously cruel and horrific that he just can't laugh it off or remain unaffected by it. However, after a relatively short spell of being horrified and depressed, JO remembers that it was just fiction and all the good things about real life, then goes outside to enjoy himself and cheer himself up by playing with his roommate's dog. Meanwhile, Sage is left in a deep depression with his "victory", pondering where mankind has gone wrong, and whether a species capable of such cruelty and darkness is worthy of redemption.
  • RWBY: Hits Cinder in Volume 5, as her mortal wounding of Weiss only succeeded in bringing out Jaune's healing Semblance and making the rest of the heroes double up their efforts. If that wasn't enough, her plan to ambush the children with Raven and Vernal and betray them to get the relic backfired, as Raven used Vernal as a decoy to get the relic for herself.

    Western Animation 
  • In any situation where Elmer Fudd appears to succeed in killing Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes shorts, he breaks down emotionally. The best example is What's Opera, Doc?, where in the story, Bugs' character is Killed Off for Real. This demonstrates that perhaps Elmer isn't really cut out for this hunting business.
    Siegfried!Elmer What have I done? I've killed the wabbit. Poor little bunny! Poor little rabbit!
    (Elmer starts blubbering while carrying Bugs' limp body to Valhalla)
    Bugs: Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?
  • Villain on villain case: in Batman: The Animated Series, the Corrupt Corporate Executive whose unfair treatment first turned Edward Nygma into The Riddler succeeds in continuing to make money off Nygma's intellectual creations, but lives his life in constant paranoid fear of Nygma coming to get him again.
    Bruce Wayne: "How much is a good night's sleep worth? Now there's a riddle for you!"
    • Batman Beyond does a similar thing with Inque's daughter, who screwed her mother over and tried to kill her for the sake of money. By the end of the episode, she is pretty happy with the money she won... until Batman comes to inform her Inque's remnants weren't found anywhere. She now lives in fear of the vengeance of the assassin who can be anywhere, as anyone or anything, seeing her in every shadow.
    • In a milder example, Jervis Tetch (the Mad Hatter) in Batman: The Animated Series uses his mind control technology to land Alice, a co-worker he was too shy to talk to, but Batman calls him out on this, asking if a mind-controlled, compliant Alice with no personality was what he really wanted. Tetch has a breakdown and blames Batman for his misery. Thing is, Jervis had ALREADY come to this conclusion earlier in the episode and wanted to woo her on his own merits, but after Alice, who only saw Jervis as a friend, reunited with her boyfriend, he was driven over the edge.
  • Justice League had an episode where Superman is transported thousands of years into the future, only to find the immortal Vandal Savage as the sole survivor of the human race, thanks to his use of an ultimate weapon. He's had plenty of time to reflect, alone, about how utterly unimportant ruling the world is. He even tried to build himself a spaceship but stopped when he realized he deserved to be punished. Superman leaves to stop "his" version of Savage from building the aforementioned weapon, but with a new-found respect for the villain. Given that this was Savage's last appearance on JL, it can be assumed that Superman shared some of what he'd seen with the modern day Savage, and convinced him to turn away from his life of villainy.
  • In Wakfu, Nox has spent 200 years of research, plotting, and genocide in order to gather the energy needed to travel back in time and stop his family from being destroyed partially due to his own negligence. In the end, he manages to defeat the heroes, drain the Tree of Life (killing the Sadidas in the process), and uses all the energy gained over this time period to travel back in time... a whole twenty minutes.
  • Total Drama World Tour: Courtney finds out that her boyfriend, Duncan, and Gwen have hooked up behind her back and vows revenge on them — at first, she gets support from most of her team and Gwen's eventually booted off the show (in a tiebreaker between her and Courtney). However, Gwen and Duncan remain a couple while Courtney loses the support of her team and fails in getting Duncan voted off (she actually gets voted off before he does)—and on top of all that, Courtney blindly falls for Alejandro, who's just using her (and actually has feelings for Heather), and Alejandro ends up losing anyway as well (the money itself is actually destroyed in a volcano, so Heather doesn't win either). So, in the end, Courtney ends up with nothing and no one.
    • Also, in Total Drama All-Stars, after Gwen breaks up with Duncan and she and Courtney manage to patch things up (and Courtney has since found a new boyfriend in the form of Scott), it later turns out that Courtney was planning on eventually betraying her fellow contestants (Gwen and Scott included), so Courtney ends up losing Gwen as a friend for good and she also loses Scott as a boyfriend.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes. Lucius manages to push the weavils off their land, but the mountain he was going to carve his face into ends up carved into a weevil head instead.
  • Miraculous Ladybug shows a Bad Future in which Hawkmoth won, akumatizing Chat Noir and killing Ladybug. The price? All of Paris, including Hawkmoth himself, died in the ensuing Angst Nuke. Whoopsie-daisy...
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In the episode "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", the Flim Flam Brothers win the contest with Applejack by producing far more barrels of cider than she and the rest of the Mane 6. In the process, they not only manage to alienate the town with their Jerkass behavior, but also had to shut off the quality assurance of their machine to win. The resulting cider is so unappetizing that nopony is willing to buy or take it for free. Faced with an angry mob, they have no choice but to pack up and leave.
    • In "Rarity Takes Manehattan", Suri Polomare takes credit for the creation of Rarity's special fabric to increase her reputation at a fashion competition. Suri does end up keeping Rarity from reaping the benefits of the competition, and it's never discovered that Suri didn't make the fabric herself. But on the flip side, Rarity manages to still officially win the competition, Suri's Hypercompetent Sidekick Coco Pommel (who did most of the actual work) quits and does a Heel–Face Turn, and while Suri has the reputation for making beautiful fabric, she doesn't have the actual ability, meaning that her reputation will be short-lived.
    • In "The Cutie Remark", Starlight Glimmer managed to develop a Time Travel spell so that she could go back in time and stop Rainbow Dash's first Sonic Rainboom which causes the Mane Six to never become friends and every time Twilight tries to fix things, she fails thanks to the spell being designed so that Starlight would arrive before Twilight. However, because the Mane Six never became friends, they weren't around to protect Equestria from all the previous Big Bads that they've stopped, and every time Twilight fails to fix the past, the Bad Future ends up worse and worse. Eventually, Starlight gets to see for herself what her changing the past would do, at this point, the only thing left is a barren wasteland, and it's implied that if Starlight continued that the future could have gotten worse.
    • In "No Second Prances", Trixie uses her friendship with Starlight Glimmer to have her choose between helping with her performance or going to Twilight's dinner with Celestia. When she chooses to help Trixie, Trixie brags about it to Twilight claiming that since Starlight chose Trixie over Twilight Trixie has finally beaten Twilight at something. But, Trixie formed a real friendship with Starlight and when Starlight runs off in tears over being used, Trixie is left without her assistant for her show and no friends at all, making her self-proclaimed victory pointless. Twilight is able to convince Starlight to forgive Trixie for her behavior though and the three all make amends.
  • In the TRON: Uprising episode "Rendezvous", Pavel repeatedly frames various programs, and ends up promoted to the overseer of a district. The district in question? Purgos! And not only does Tessler expect Pavel to clean it up, Paige knows exactly what Pavel has been up to and tells him that she'll get him back for what he did. And on top of all this, Pavel had to hand over the upgrade Disc he'd been hiding!
  • In a handful of episodes of The Dreamstone, the villains actually succeed in sending nightmares to the Land of Dreams. As much as Zordrak savors these victories, the Urpneys couldn't care less that they had and usually suffer ten times the abuse the Noops ever could from a bad dream in the process (and usually a revenge beating to go with it afterwards), but they do it.
  • At the end of Season 3 of Legend of Korra, Zaheer gets this for his troubles. He managed to kill the Earth Queen, he's brought anarchy to the Earth Kingdom, and managed to break the Avatar's spirit; but the cost is that he lost the woman he loved, and he's the only one left from his group of friends. On top of that, for all of his crimes, he has to spend the rest of his life locked up in chains. The only consolation he had was that there are more Red Lotus out there, which the world leaders acknowledge as bad news.
    • Korra even pushes it further for him in Season 4. She points out that the freedom he claimed to be fighting for, to have killed the Earth Queen for, has been absolutely crushed under Kuvira to where the Earth Empire is worse than the Earth Kingdom was in allowing people any freedom. And even worse, his aim to kill the Avatar for all time only left Korra down for the count where she could have participated in dealing with the problem, or even preclude it altogether since Kuvira's Motive Rant after she's defeated states that Korra's absence from world affairs spurred her to act. For a guy who valued freedom above everything, even spending his life in chains is nothing compared to that. Zaheer even admits that Korra is absolutely right.
  • Hey Arnold! has an episode where Helga got away with framing her nanny for stealing but she was the only one helping Helga cope with her dysfunctional home life and everything goes back to crap without her.
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series:
    • Discussed after Spidey chases Hobgoblin out of Crime Central.
      Kingpin: It worked. Exactly as planned.
      Smythe: [looking at the smoldering remains of their base] Ever hear the phrase, "pyrrhic victory"?
      Kingpin: You're wrong, Smythe. We're going to rebuild it, bigger and better than before. The main thing is, it's mine again.
    • However, the "Tablet of Time" two-parter was also a pyrrhic victory for Fisk, and he couldn't deny it. In his goal to obtain the Tablet, his wife was kidnapped, and though she is rescued unharmed, she decides to leave him at the end, despite his pleas. Fisk winds up with the Tablet, which he had wanted in the first place, but he orders Hammerhead to get rid of it. "The sight of it sickens me," he growls.
  • In The Trial of Donald Duck there is a sleazy waiter named Monsieur Pierre who completely rips off Donald, charging him a large sum of money for a lunch Donald himself brought. When he can't pay up, the waiter sues Donald. At the resulting trial, despite the best efforts of his lawyer, Donald is sentenced to washing dishes at the restaurant and the waiter cackles evilly... Cue Donald washing and shattering countless dishes at an incredible rate. Pierre is reduced to a sobbing wreck, begging Donald to stop costing him likely thousands of dollars in dishes.
    Pierre: Please, I forgive you, but don't wash any more dishes! I'll pay you! I-I'll feed you... ANYTHING!
    [The waiter cries miserably as Donald breaks a valuable looking green pot with great emphasis]
    Donald: You heard what the judge said: TEN DAYS!
    Pierre: NO! Ten more days... Aaggh!
  • In the House of Mouse short "Music Store Donald", Donald Duck and Pete work in a music shop, but both are incredibly lazy and haven't made a sale for a long time, causing their manager to send them an ultimatum: the next person who makes a sale gets to keep their job while the other is fired. They both end up competing to sell an instrument to their next potential customer, Daisy Duck. In the end, Pete wins by using Donald himself as the bagpipes, allowing him to keep his job and get rid of Donald at the same time. However, in the process of trying to make the sale, both he and Donald caused a lot of damage to the store, so the manager not only takes Pete's commission, but his entire year's salary to cover the damages, and orders him to clean up the mess. Donald meanwhile, despite having lost his job, ends up with Daisy.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power:
    • Catra gets all the things she claims she wants, running the Fright Zone side-by-side with Hordak by the fourth season and successfully putting together several plans that are leaving the Rebellion scrambling. Said season also has her completely alienate everyone who ever remotely cared about her. Shifts to standard Being Evil Sucks in the season finale, when Double Trouble orchestrates her downfall and gives her a "The Reason You Suck" Speech on top of that when she still refuses to accept what she's done to herself.
      Double Trouble: We both know this was never what you really wanted.
    • Hordak waged a war lasting decades to conquer Etheria in the name of Horde Prime, in the hope of winning his "brother's" favour and returning to his side. By the end of season 4, the Etherian Horde is in shambles from a Rebellion ambush, the professional partnership between Hordak and Catra has fallen apart, and Hordak has been separated from the woman he loves (and may have concluded that she's dead). As soon as Horde Prime arrives, he dismisses Hordak as defective and performs a mind-wipe on him, making all of Hordak's efforts futile.


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