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Red Herring

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"The chief difference between the exceptionally knotty problem facing the detective of fiction and that facing the real detective is that in the former there is usually a paucity of clues, and in the latter altogether too many."

A clue that leads in the wrong direction.

A red herring is a good red herring when it interweaves itself into the story's events. For example, the murder victim may have been a philanderer. His wife has no alibi. Aha! It was the wife!

The wife's lack of an alibi is a red herring. It turns out the wife was shtupping somebody else at the time and didn't want to provide that information. However, the deceased husband's philandering is what got him killed, as it turns out, by his girlfriend's jealous husband. Philandering as a motive is introduced for good cause, not just to set up suspicions about the wife's lack of an alibi.

The term "red herring" comes from a technique for training tracking dogs. While a dog is tracking one scent, it is often overlapped with other, more powerful, and enticing scents. Usually fish, often actual red herrings, which have a particularly potent scent. Here is a link to the dry history of the term on Wikipedia.

It's also worth noting that quite a few schools of mystery writing are of the opinion that a Red Herring should at the very least have some kind of explanation attached to it, in the interest of avoiding an Ass Pull, whether said explanation is rooted in the plot or the characters involved. This explanation will either come up in the course of the investigation, where the detective will delve into the false lead alongside the audience and discover how it's unrelated to the case alongside them, or, alternatively, it will be brought up during The Summation, where the detective will bring the Red Herring up, but also explain at the same time why and how they figured it turns out to be unrelated to the case.

The supertrope to Red Herring Shirt, Red Herring Mole and Red Herring Twist.

This trope is often coupled with Never the Obvious Suspect, where the obvious suspect is used as a red herring, and the real culprit turns out to be someone unexpected.

Compare and contrast with:

  • And You Thought It Was Real, when an object that is fictional is mistaken for being real (e.g., the Red Herring suspect was carrying a prop knife for a play).
  • Chekhov's Gun, this trope's direct opposite, where a prominent clue does foreshadow a later development.
  • Dead Star Walking, where a major star is used to sucker the audience rather than the actual characters. (Or at least an aversion of Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize.)
  • Fauxshadow, where a development is repeatedly hinted at but never gets a payoff at all.
  • Mistaken for Evidence, where the same result is caused by a mix-up instead of intentional misdirection.
  • Photo Identification Denial, wherein someone denies knowing a person upon being shown their picture, but actually does know them.
  • The Un-Twist, when a plot twist is confused for a Red Herring because it's too obvious, but turns out to have been genuine all along.
  • Creepy Red Herring, where a character's off-putting, sinister, or menacing demeanor is used to draw suspicion away from the actual threat and/or culprit.

Subject to being Spoiled by the Format: if they've just found a plausible suspect, but there's 180 more pages to go, well...

Warning: Due to the nature of this trope, unmarked spoilers ahead!

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Other Examples:

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    Audio Plays 
  • In the Big Finish Doctor Who story "Jubilee", we discover that the humans are keeping a Dalek locked up in a tower and are torturing it, but also that it pales in horror compared to the other prisoner. The other characters gossip about the other prisoner being horrible, completely mad, in a wheelchair, and that he created the Daleks - all of which would cue the listener into thinking the prisoner is Davros. He turns out to be this timeline's version of the Doctor, who has been imprisoned solitary in a tower for a hundred years and has gone mad.
  • Invoked/Parodied in The Further Adventures of Nick Danger: when Rocky Roccoco is pulling items out of his brown paper bag and showing them to Nick, one of them is "nothing but a tin of red herrings in heavy oil!"
  • Jan Tenner: As Big Bad Seytania's father and the one to give her her planet, Logar is built up to be a villain like Seytania. The heroes are even told that if he were to ever enter their universe, it would be the end of everything. But when they meet him, it turns out he is a Well-Intentioned Extremist at worst who only kidnaps other people to fight against the Void, an Eldritch Abomination determined to consume all of existence, as well as a Reasonable Authority Figure who laughs at Jan Tenner's brazen disrespect and is more than willing to take the deal they offer him in return of freeing all he had captured and leaving Earth alone. He even saves the heroes later on when his daughter Seytania attacks and conquers Earth in his name without his knowledge and is seconds away from winning.

    Card Games 
  • Part of the setup for Shadows over Innistrad block in Magic: The Gathering was a two-part mystery: why is everything mutating, and why has Avacyn declared war on humanity? The official Magic story articles and the card reveal schedule were aimed at creating this gradually unfolding mystery, and naturally, they put in a couple of fake-outs. There are references to a fourth angel sister, sibling to Gisela, Sigarda, and Bruna, who Avacyn killed a long time previously, but she's left as a background detail and the story has nothing to do with hernote . A corrupted angel drops the phrase "the Great Work", which is associated with the Phyrexians, but they turn out to be uninvolved. The actual culprit is eventually revealed to be Emrakul. Unfortunately, the attempt was Spoiled by the Format, specifically the Standard Format; the previous block had been about Eldrazi and there was no way they weren't adding the third Titan before the other two (and all the attendant support cards) rotated out. Pretty much everyone called it before the false leads could even be introduced.

    Fan Works 
  • In Arc-Ved Protagonists you can be forgiven for thinking that Necro Gardna is going to be a Chekhov's Gun in Jaden's duel against BB in “Dark Fusion” once it is discarded to the Graveyard, as it's effect can be used there to negate an attack. It is never used, the actual "gun" here is the Elemental HERO Burstinatrix discard at the same time.
  • Calvin & Hobbes: The Series employs this in "RIP Calvin". When the protagonists meet their future selves, Calvin's is nowhere to be seen, and the other future selves awkwardly refuse to discuss him. This, plus the very title of the episode, imply that he had died in the meantime - until it's found that he is alive, albeit as a Brain in a Jar.
  • In The Loud House fanfic Clown Scene Investigation, a boy named Collin cries when Luan, his party clown, asks him how he liked the party, causing Luan to be wrongly accused of traumatising him. Her siblings conclude that someone deliberately made Collin cry to frame Luan, at one point suspecting a boy named Roy because he got angry that he wasn't invited and injected salmon oil, which Collin is allergic to, into the cake. Despite this, however, he wasn't the one who made Collin cry to frame Luan; it was his father, Phil Stork, who wanted to avoid paying Luan due to being in debt.
  • The Empty Turnabout, a fan-made Ace Attorney case:
    • Athena Cykes is questioned in Chapter 2, and in a twist, Apollo tells her that he only summoned her to the stand to make her think this trial was about her and that Apollo was desperate enough to accuse an innocent person just to get his revenge on her. She's shocked.
    • Mary Adair is accused in Chapter 3, and we get to read her inner thoughts about destroying Apollo's theory, but Apollo doesn't manage to produce enough evidence to prove she killed Arts. She didn't have access to a gun, so she's ruled out and the trial is over with a guilty verdict for the defendant.
  • In Game Theory, Alhazred. Somewhere between chapters 6 and 11, Precia decides to abandon her attempt to go to Alhazred and instead researches how to use a Jewel Seed to revive Alicia. The Promethean Metabolic Auxillary Mechanism, seemingly created to allow Alicia to survive her trip into Imaginary Space, was actually created to revive Alicia fully. What made the latter revelation particularly effective is that before the Promethean mechanism was created, Precia was testing the effect of anti-magilink fields (based on the natural properties of Imaginary Space) on the Jewel Seeds - the reader was fooled into thinking Precia was telling the truth about the mechanism.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Mr. Black's hostile actions towards Mega Man were meant to make readers think Mega was a target. In reality it was Wily.
  • My Ridonculous Race: Early on in the Japanese leg teams are tasked with getting their travel tip by finding a dog whose name tag has the same symbols as the Hachiko statue. There are several other dogs who have tips that will lead teams to a joke challenge, which is only discovered after they complete it.
  • Mystery of the Self-Loathing Loud, a Dark Fic based on The Loud House, has hints that nearly all of the sisters were the one who wrote the suicide note, when in actuality, it was Lori, who wasn't even a suspect since she never entered the kitchen where the note was.:
    • Leni had been acting nervous around the time the note was dropped, cried in her sleep and then slapped Lori the next morning (and she and Lola gave conflicting reasons for the slap), continued to cry and act nervous throughout the day, didn't put her make-up on, and during the meeting, she kicked Luna and even appeared to be in shock at one point. However, this just turned out to be because she knew who the real note-writer was and was shaken up by it.
    • Luna seemed nervous initially and was acting a lot more quiet and reserved than usual, at one point playing her ukulele, which she usually only does when sad. Later, she snaps at Lincoln, and at one point, it's revealed that she wrote a song about wrist-slitting once. As it turns out, she was sad, but only due to being dumped, and she just wrote the song because it was trendy.
    • Luan had had a bad time at school and was thus very gloomy, at one point asking Lisa for a lethal injection (though she claimed it was a joke). She also gave Mr. Coconuts to Lincoln (claiming that it was so she could concenrate on her homework) and got very angry when the twins found her joke book, in which she'd written a joke about suicide.
    • Lynn was quick to point the finger and the first one to leave the meeting, and at one point made a joke about killing herself.
    • Lucy behaves in a macabre way in general, and the possibility was raised that she had just meant she wanted to be a vampire when she said she didn't want to be alive.
    • Lisa was writing with a green pen early on in the story, and the note was also written in green.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: In the sequel, Picking Up the Pieces, Wind Breaker travels to the Griffish Isles, where he helps deal with the proprietors of a crooked orphanage, and learns from their files about a griffon who might be his mom. It turns out she isn't.
  • Pound and Pumpkin Cake's Adventures (and Misadventures) in Potty Training: In "To Snatch a Potty", Mr. Cake becomes oddly nervy when the possibility of Pumpkin's potty having been stolen crops up, hinting that he stole it. Actually, it was Pound who'd stolen it.
  • In Risk It All, There are multiple hints that Ren's mysterious uncle is a member of the Triads, given how unusually wealthy he is to easily pay for Ren's six-month stay in intensive care, the Triads' unusual cooperativeness toward him, and his parents' unwillingness to talk about him. This is all window dressing for the real reveal that Ren's father descends from a line of superhuman Qi cultivators. Any theories of Triad connections go kaput.
  • Ruin Value is set After the End, and describes Celestia searching the ruins of a post-modern city for supplies. The story describes many details about the city, but the whole story intentionally leaves the reader with the sense that the story is set well after the end of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. The story is actually a Stealth Prequel to the series, set in Humanity's Wake.
  • During the third season of Total Drama Everything, Vicky is set up to be a bad egg from the start, with many commenters guessing she would be the villain of the season. She is rude to the other contestants, makes it very clear she intends to dominate the game and sabotages Webby during the first challenge. However, unlike the villains from the past seasons, this gets her voted out first.
  • Heroes In Forgone Dreams: Due to the pattern of past bosses, many readers were quick to guess that the boss of Forgo Zone was going to be Forgo versions of Francisca and Flamberge. Instead, however, it's revealed that they, along with Hyness, are currently protecting Dreamland, revealing why they aren't in the story. The true boss of Forgo Zone is instead Forgo Dyna Blade.

    Films — Animation 
  • A beautiful one in Appleseed Ex Machina, which works only on viewers aware of John Woo's love for Disturbed Doves. If you haven't seen any Woo movie, you can guess that the birds are bombs. But if you have, you will only say "Oh my god, Doves again!".
  • Batman:
    • In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Jordan Pryce is obviously supposed to make the viewer think he's the Joker in disguise. He has similar features and the same voice actor.
    • In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the audience is led to believe that the Phantasm is Carl Beaumont. In-story, many characters initially believe the killer to be Batman. The best part is that Andrea Beaumont went out of her way to make everyone think this in-story. She stole into Gotham as the Phantasm in order to kill her first victim, then left and returned a few days later as Andrea (this time on an airplane) before resuming her killing spree. She hoped that this would allow her to plausibly shift the blame for the murders to her dead father, but the Joker (and Batman) eventually caught on. Also in-story, the Joker theorizes that Arthur Reeves hired the Phantasm to kill the mob bosses (and Joker himself) to hide his past deals with them. He confronts Arthur about it and they are interrupted by a call from Andrea which clues the Joker in to the real identity of the Phantasm.
  • Big Hero 6: The villain, Yokai, uses microbots developed by Hiro, despite them apparently being all destroyed in the fire that killed his brother Tadashi and his teacher Professor Callaghan. The heroes come to the conclusion that Yokai is the local Corrupt Corporate Executive Alistair Krei, who Callaghan told them not to trust and was interested in the microbots. Nope. Yokai is actually Callaghan, who started the fire so he could steal the microbots and take revenge on Krei for a portal accident that killed Callaghan's daughter. Krei may not even be corrupt, as all the things he does that hint at it could just be honest mistakes and Callaghan is the only one who says he's bad. It also turns out that Callaghan's daughter is still alive, just trapped inside the portal.
  • BIONICLE 2: Legends of Metru Nui: Dume is acting as The Dragon to Makuta and has been talking to him through a dark veil. Actually, Dume has been captured the entire time and Makuta was Dume in disguise.
  • In Brave, the Witch tells Merida that she must "mend the bond, torn by pride", to undo the spell she accidentally put on her mother. Merida naturally assumes this refers to her mother's tapestry — which she tore apart during an earlier argument. However, the "bond" actually refers to the relationship between Merida and Elinor, and the latter only reverts back to normal after Merida apologizes for her behavior and admits that this whole mess is indeed her fault (as opposed to the Witch's).
  • Disney's Frozen:
    • There's a red herring inside a red herring! Elsa accidentally hits her sister Anna in the heart with her ice magic, cursing Anna to slowly freeze from the inside out until she is nothing but an ice statue. Only "an act of true love" can thaw out her heart and reverse the curse. Well, Hans is Anna's true love, right? So all we need is a kiss from him and she'll be alright. Or so you would think. In fact, Hans never loved Anna in the first place, only using her status as Princess to get into the Arendelle royal family so he could kill both sisters and usurp the throne, just so he could get some respect from his family. Anna realizes that it's Kristoff who is her true love, so Anna tries to find him for his kiss. But then once she finds that Hans is about to kill her sister, she abandons the chance and ended up intercepting Hans's blow to Elsa where her curse freezes her solid just as he is about to do so which saves Elsa from Hans' sword. This counts as "an act of true love", thus reversing the curse. Hey, nobody ever said it had to be a romantic act of true love!
    • The revelation of Hans as the villain also makes the Duke of Weselton a red herring as well. While his decisions and attitude regarding Queen Elsa and her ice powers are certainly reprehensible, he's far more open with his intentions and desires. While he does nearly succeed in his goal of killing the queen, he at least believes what he's doing is necessary and in everyone's best interests, and he makes that clear after Hans lies that Anna is dead. All of this means that, while he is devious, he certainly isn't anywhere near as evil as Hans. For all his paranoia, he doesn't question Hans' story, and falls for his "grieving widower" act just like all the other diplomats do. Hans, on the other hand, is a master manipulator, can alter his plans on the fly, and is perfectly capable of taking full advantage of a crisis to benefit himself, and does all of this while coming off like a saint. The only reason he failed was because Olaf found Anna and kept her alive long enough for her to perform her Heroic Sacrifice.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part: Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi sings a song full of Suspiciously Specific Denials of being evil, though everyone except Wyldstyle is convinced by them. At the climax of the movie, it turns out that she really isn't evil, it's just that she didn't communicate it very convincingly.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Forgotten Friendship, Sunset Shimmer refuses to add a "Greatest and Most Powerful-est" label next to Trixie's picture in the yearbook, so Trixie gets angry and swears revenge. Later, all of Sunset's friends and classmates lose their memories of Sunset as a hero and shun her because they only remember her as the jerk and bully she used to be. Trixie gloats when she sees Sunset so miserable, so naturally, Sunset thinks she is responsible for this. Trixie had actually lost her memories of Sunset being a hero as well, and after being convinced of Sunset's story, helps her find the real culprit.
  • Patlabor: The Movie: Amidst a spate of construction Labors going berserk across Tokyo and growing evidence that the new Hyper Operating System is responsible, Special Vehicles fears that its own Patrol Labors might similarly go berserk. These fears come to nothing, because it turns out their mechanic Shige didn't believe the hype around HOS and never installed it on the Patlabors in the first place (he just changed out the boot-up splashscreen to make it look like he did).
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, Street Fighter's M. Bison is the first character to ask Ralph if he's "going Turbo". One may think that M. Bison is making a reference to the "Turbo" update of Street Fighter II, where he was playable for the first time, but he's referring to a game character who abandoned his game, and who later turns out to be the main villain.
  • In Zootopia, while investigating the missing mammals, Judy and the audience are led to believe that Mr. Otterton's ranting about "Night Howlers" refers to the wolf mercenaries that abduct the predators that go savage. The truth isn't revealed until much later, when Gideon casually mentions that Night Howler is a common name for a plant that will make anything go savage.

  • Maze: Solve the World's Most Challenging Puzzle: Don't bother trusting anything you see in the Maze, as only about 20% of the book's bizarre clues and images are actually helpful. The rest is just there to confuse you. There's even an actual red herring over the entrance to the house on the book's cover.
  • You Be the Jury: Usually, one or two of the illustrated evidence exhibits helped to reach a verdict of guilty or not guilty. In most cases, the third piece of evidence is completely useless.
  • Zaltec II: The Generation Stone: One of the "ancient" artifacts sold by the artifact dealer is a literal red herring.

  • The Adventure Zone: Balance: In Murder on the Rockport Limited, the victim has been beheaded and be-handed in a locked train car on a train where all passengers are required to surrender their weapons upon boarding. Jess, a powerful warrior with no alibi and a super-sharp, summonable soulbound ax that can't be separated from her would seem to be a prime suspect. There was also Graham the Juicy Wizard, who was found at the scene of the crime and had a possible motivation, with Jenkins haven taken the job Graham tried out for. In the end, it turns out the decapitation was accomplished by Portal Cut by another character.
  • The intro to season 8 part 2 of Acquisitions Incorporated hints at a possible return of Aeofel. However, it's Viari who re-joins the party to save the day.
  • In Strange Woods has multiple examples, most of which revolve around the mysterious Peter Howland.
    • In episode 3, the bear that attacks the New Year's party is hinted to have had contact with humans before, and it's the kids resolving the incident that lets their parents okay the Final. It seems like Howl may have had something to do with it, but ultimately he didn't.
    • Howl's shady past and the ambiguity of whether he let Jacob die or not seems like foreshadowing that he'll be up to something during the Final, or perhaps is training Peregrine for a sinister purpose. Ultimately, his actions are sincere and nature itself is the only obstacle to making it back.
    • During the Final, the listener learns that Peregrine made it out alive but that someone close to her died once again. The story leans towards several candidates in various stages of distress, with Woodsley getting hypothermia and Eric not being found, but those crises are resolved and the real victim was Howl, who never made it back and may not have died at all.

  • The original Trope Namer is probably this Mother Goose rhyme.
    The man in the wilderness
    Asked me,
    How many strawberries
    Grew in the sea?
    I answered him
    As I thought good,
    As many as red herrings
    Grew in the wood.

  • Nan Quest has tons of these involving the identity of the Pilgrim, a mysterious and powerful adversary. When Nan uses Time Travel to visit the past, she meets a Lorenzo, a self-described pilgrim who seems intimately involved with mysterious happenings. To really hammer it in, the Pilgrim is a skeleton with a horse skull, and Lorenzo is a horse. So obviously he's the Pilgrim, right? Nope! Turns out it's someone else entirely. Furthermore, midway through the story there is a shot of a cloaked figure in the shadows that looks very much like the Pilgrim. It isn't, but the character who is is in the same scene, so to any reader who assumed the shadow was the Pilgrim will think that character has an airtight alibi.
  • We Are Our Adventuring Avatars: During the Second Marvel Universe arc, Dr. Octopus was assumed to be the cause of the cracks in the Marvel universe that lead to the DC universe. This was not the case, as the Octobot observed on the plane entering from the DC universe was hacked by a unknown villain.

  • The Mrs. Hawking play series: The mystery in Base Instruments has how Elena Zakharova seems to have a motive for the murder, been perfectly positioned to commit it, and telling lies to conceal her actions.
  • The Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth play Turnabout Teleportation has two in one play:
    • Tomorou Asukai is the first, admitting to the murder almost immediately and challenging Edgeworth to figure out a way Koyuki's body was moved without Asukai's "teleportation". Eventually it's revealed that he's merely Taking the Heat for the true culprit.
    • Yaichirou Chiage proves to be even more suspicious than Asukai, given his desire to buy the village's land and build a dam (something Koyuki had protested) and the murder weapon being the Briefcase Full of Money that he always carries around. With later revelations that Koyuki had actually been on his side, Chiage turns out to also not be the one who killed her.

    Web Animation 
  • This animation shows the story of a couple over the years since they met. It opens with an image of a woman in a wedding dress and a boy to her right, and the rest of the video is told from the girl's partner's POV. This is used to hide the fact that the woman's partner is actually another woman, and the boy we see is actually her adopted son. The image was actually two pictures: one of the woman's own wedding with her wife and another of her son's wedding with his own husband.
  • In the Pucca special "Chefnapped", the chefs (while being held hostage) see a bunch of T.N.T. Barrels with a timer about to explode... until they realize that the timer isn't attached to anything. After that a man in a red fish costume comes out.
    Ho: Red Herring! I hate that guy!
  • RWBY:
    • Over a decade before Volume 5, the then-new Spring Maiden couldn't handle the responsibilities her mythical power carried with it and ran away from both the Big Bad and Big Good, disappearing off everyone's radar. Qrow Branwen eventually discovers that she has been hiding in the wilderness with his estranged sister Raven's Bandit Clan, but the villains reach her first. Raven and Vernal are forced to help Cinder Fall gain access to the Relic of Knowledge, but each side is planning to double-cross the other. Cinder attacks Vernal, determined to obtain the Spring Maiden's power, but discovers Vernal's a decoy to hide the fact that Raven's the real Spring Maiden. Raven killed Spring many years ago, who bequeathed the power to her. She later trained Vernal as her decoy should the two ever face Salem.
    • In Volume 7, it's revealed that James Ironwood has assigned Winter Schnee to take care of the frail Winter Maiden, so that she will receive the power when Fria dies. In the finale "The Enemy of Trust", she is sent to take Fria's power, but Cinder intervenes to ensure the power doesn't go to either of them. Only Penny Polendina can reach the Winter Maiden in time, and so the dying Fria passes the power to her instead of Winter. It is then subverted one volume later when a dying Penny chooses Winter to receive the power, feeling it's fitting that the person it was originally intended for receives it, after all.
  • Wolf Song: The Movie: the main antagonist, the Death Alpha, needs 3 items to release his brother, the pure of heart being one of them. Just, who can this pure of heart be. At first glance it could be Alador. He is nice, caring and has displayed selflessness on a number of occasions, heck, everyone in the cast seems to believe it’s him, and upon him being captured, his troubled sister Kara needs him back because it’s him who is the pure of heart. Actually no, that’s not the case at all. While his attributes are genuine and his heart is in the right place, Alador is not the pure of heart and he reveals that fact to his sister during his dying moments, passing before he can elaborate. The true pure of heart all along.. is his sister Kara, the whole time.

  • 8-Bit Theater:
    • The infamous 434th episode foreshadowed a future conversation between an evil'd up Black Mage and another character. This single strip grew nearly six years worth of thick Epileptic Tree forests. After the conversation actually appeared, the major deaths that happened right before it were reverted, and the creator admitted that it was just made to distract people from actual important mysteries.
    • Arguably, everything involving Dr. Swordopolis and Darko, as well as the latter "unlocking the Nexus" within Black Mage. A lot of build-up, a lot of foreshadowing, and then absolutely nothing comes of it. The fact that such things are common in the story was lampshaded by Black Mage himself.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • A literal red herring is used to lampshade an Aborted Arc. Elliot needed to return some beers to the fridge for Ellen because Grace brought them up mistaking them for soda. He put the beers "behind the red herring" as a way of saying "this isn't actually important anymore."
    • Later on, a character was introduced who the author has nicknamed "Eric the Red Herring." He was set up to look like the person who had been summoning a fire monster, but if it had been him, then he wouldn't be on this page.
  • In Book 6 of Fans!, Di is seeing a man who looks suspiciously like Keith Feddyg, and sure enough, Feddyg is not only one of the villains, but makes himself the Big Bad over the course of the story. However, Feddyg even comments on the resemblance, in a way that makes it clear there's no connection between them.
  • In General Protection Fault, the arcs after "Surreptitious Machinations" reveals that Trudy has a long-lost younger sister, whom their mother gave up for adoption. Agent #12 of the U.G.A. is suggested to be that sister, since she mentions in passing that she is adopted, but it turns out to be Sharon, who is also adopted. The comic took advantage of this when having Nega-Trudy introduce Trudy to her younger sister while both Sharon and Agent #12 were present, resulting in the two other women being confused as to which one was the sister (Sharon had just arrived).
  • Gunnerkrigg Court:
    • Emphasis is placed on an old photo of six characters from the earlier generation of students, only one of whom we have never met. Her identity is later revealed rather offhand and unspectacularly, and though she may turn out to be important, being a Valkyrie, she doesn't seem to be that relevant to the mysteries about the characters' parents.
    • This was also done unintentionally in the second chapter. There's a single page focusing on a group of glowing photos showing footprints in the sand. Word of God has said that he intended these pictures to be important later on, but later dropped the idea.
  • Homestuck:
    • The Trolls often made reference to an "invincible demon" that ran rampant through their session and ruined everything. Since the nebulous Big Bad, Lord English, had been described as "invincible" before, many readers assumed that he was responsible. Then a later flash revealed that Bec Noir was the "demon" in question, and Lord English had nothing to do with it. Hussie later admitted that this misdirection was deliberate on his part.
    • In Act 6 Act 2, uu makes an offhand comment about his game skills. Later, it is revealed that uu is not a troll at all, making his red blood a literal Red Herring.
    • This has led to the fans outsmarting themselves at times. Comments like "The story's hinting so heavily at the reveal being X that I know it cannot possibly be X" are rather common, and then it turns out it really was X all along.
  • Kevin & Kell:
    • Kevin's father is suspected to be the assassin Rabbit's Revenge sent to kill Sid at Herd Thinners because the victim's blood was found on his jacket. When Kell confronts her father-in-law, he claims Rabbit's Revenge was trying to kill him as a scapegoat and that Angelique wrote the message on the wall. It turns out that they framed each other and the real culprit is technically Danielle; she couldn't bring herself to kill the victim, and he accidentally shot himself with her stake gun.
    • Also connected to Kevin & Kell is its 2004 crossover with General Protection Fault, "A Tail of Two Species". One would suggest that their dimensions are intertwined from the storyline's progression. However, The Gamester, an omniscient being that protects/oversees the GPF dimension, suggests the connection isn't supposed to exist: Nick combining the MuTeX with Project Velociraptor caused some weird issues with space-time that The Gamester needed to fix as a result.note 
  • In Misfile, the universe is controlled by a celestial filing system... and someone is going around killing everyone with the keys to access it. And wow, Ramael sure looks guilty, doesn't he? Turns out that was by his own design; if he was arrested as the killer then the lock-down would end... meaning the keyholders wouldn't be in set, isolated locations where Xaphrael could easily pick them off. He just didn't anticipate Xaphrael managing to grab and imprison him in complete secrecy, effectively nullifying his gambit.
  • Rain (2010): The early chapters appeared to be setting up a love triangle between Rain, Gavin, and Maria. That is until the Halloween Party when Rudy accidentally kisses Rain. He realizes the following day that he has a crush on her and asks her out.
    • After that revelation, it would be easy to think that one is meant to view Rudy's attraction to Rain as problematic given her trans status. That he sees her as a way to have a girlfriend that he'd be attracted to, because he "sees Rain as a boy". Further fueled by his initial shock at Rain saying she will fully transition. As it turns out Rudy really does see Rain as a woman. He fell in love with her due to her boldness and that despite being gay, he saw her as his only exception.
    • To many readers who thought the relationship was doomed to fail anyway, one is led to believe that Rudy will be the cause of him and Rain's relationship ending. Due to him being gay and his shock at Rain saying she'll fully transition. As it turns out, it's Rain who ends up being the cause for them breaking up. As she realizes she isn't into boys.
  • Sam & Fuzzy: For the first year or so of the Noosehead arc, Sam, who went on the run from the Ninja Mafia at the end of the last arc, is nowhere to be seen. When Mafia Ninjas show up, roadie and seemingly new character Aaron, who resembles Sam with a goatee and new haircut, panics and confides his fear of being caught in Fuzzy. Eventually Mr. Black confronts Aaron, accuses him of being Sam, and swings his sword... Only for Aaron to block it with his bionic hand. Yup, it's fellow refugee Jackson. Meanwhile, Crash, another roadie, shaves off his beard and removes his hat, revealing a familiar hairstyle...
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • At one Halloween party, one girl comes dressed as a superheroine, and Torg notes how "odd" it is that they've never seen this girl and Zoë together. The girl isn't Zoë — she's Sasha, who we've never seen before.
    • In the chapter "Aylee", Torg and Aylee end up in a dimension overrun by something called "ghouls", though nobody knows what they actually are. Aylee starts to be haunted in her dreams by a figure in white robes adorned with jewels, who's otherwise shown leading the ghouls. In the meantime, some minor characters are doing research into what Aylee's gigantic dragon-like form may have been, and one of the suggestions they come up with is Rithuly, ruler of the demonic Rayths, who appears as both a gigantic dragonish thing and a jewel-wearing man, and is supposed to always be looking for the perfect mate. Torg and Aylee even meet an alternative version of Kesandru, who in their dimension had made a Deal with the Devil with Rithuly. And then the real answer to what the ghouls are comes right out of nowhere and makes perfect sense.
    • Also, in the "Paradise" arc, the Evil Overlord is called "His Masterness," and posters show a face suspiciously similar to the Minion Master. Nope.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: In the prologue, Saku Hotakainen is a perfect candidate for that guy in outbreak stories who turns out to have been sick all along. He's heavily implied to have some form of deadly condition oriented Hypochondria and appears in the segment confirming that the disease from the story is deadly, while previous ones had it officially non-lethal and only conspiracy nuts thinking it was possibly deadly. One of the symptoms is supposed to be vomiting, and Saku spends the segment being seasick on his brother-in-law's jacht while the brother-in-law in question is telling his sisters all about the quarantine room he installed on the boat, but hoping he won't have to use it because it isn't quite finished. Then we get Saku's young nephew, who just found out about the disease's deadliness on the news, telling Saku about it and Saku replying that he hopes he has it. A photo of the family from two weeks later, the maximum incubation time of the disease, shows Saku huddled in a big bed with the rest of the family, hinting nothing happened disease-wise. The vomiting being actual seasickness is confirmed via Saku's great-grandson Lalli, who's one of The Immune, being prone to seasickness.
  • The creator of Von Slayer had an accidental red herring. She asked fans to look for clues to figure out the name of a main character who's name at that point was yet to be announced. Seeing the character run away with (among other things) Tea Party plans and the period it took place, people linked it to the Boston Tea Party. They were wrong.
  • Walkyverse: After Dina from It's Walky! was killed, there were numerous hints, including a strip of Walky flat-out asking Joe, that she may have returned (in the past) as The Wanderer. Nope. (He was on the right track in two ways, though: first, The Wanderer is the spirit of a murdered love interest — namely, Linda's David, and second, Dina does return, in an afterlife sequence.)
  • Yumi's Cells has a scene where Yumi talks to her ex-boyfriend Babi, who wishes to get back with her. Then we get a Flash Forward scene showing Yumi mentioning her husband during an interview, and Babi browsing in the store while carrying a toddler, implying that Yumi accept Babi's proposal. It is later revealed that Yumi actually rejected Babi's proposal and he goes on to marry Da-eun. Yumi herself would eventually fall in love and marry Soonrok Shin.

    Web Originals 
  • The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids: The story Genesis of the Cupids, advertised as revealing the identity of the Clockwork Cherubs' mysterious Creator at long last, sees various villains travelling back in Time to a Clock Punk-themed Planet of Hats intent on erasing the Cupids from history by killing the Creator before her time. While this is going on, it spends a lot of time on a new POV character, a young woman native to the clock-punk world, called Evangeline Forger, who is shown to have discovered the mysterious ability to give clockwork robots human-like personalities and free will. However, by the story's end, it turns out that Evangeline is not the Creator — the Creator was instead the mysterious "special guest" of the Workshops, Professor Hartnell, whom Evangeline was trying to reach. When the two finally meet in the Epilogue, however, Evangeline does pass on the secret of robotic sentience to Hartnell, meaning Evangeline's discovery was still involved in the Cupids' creation even if she isn't the Creator.
  • In None Too Holy, Hardestadt Delac is led to believe that a witch is the one who murdered his friend Anthony, and is the one terrorizing the orphanage. As it turns out, the witch is nothing more than a kind lady who lives in the woods alone. The real villain is a Pijavica disguised as a nun.
  • In the early Whateley Universe stories, Phase follows the clues and deduces that the person out to get him is really Deputy Headmistress Amelia Hartford, who has a grudge against his family. Wrong. Word of God has said that the current suspect is the right one, but we are still waiting to find out for sure.

    Web Videos 
  • Meaners Badso from Adventures in Jedi School has all the marks of an Obvious Judas; he has red eyes, his casual language is threatening, he seems to know the Dark Side of the Force same as the Principal, he keeps a red lightsaber, not to mention his Obviously Evil name. He never actually gets around to doing anything evil, and its Randy Carmesian who turns out to be one of the bad guys.
  • The clone that the Atop the Fourth Wall arc "The Clone Saga" was named after was ultimately this. While it was first seems the copy of Linkara walking around is a clone, it's ultimately revealed that he isn't: he's really a Came Back Wrong Mechakara and Mirrorkara used him for his plans (and stole and killed the real clone).
  • The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: Episode 8 was a Mr Rochester tease. Most viewers who follow the web series read the book, and knew that Jane met Mr Rochester when she was walking to the post office. When Jane announced she had a weekend off and planned to take a walk, the audience got hopeful. However, she really went just to take a long walk and take some photographs. She later talked about her late friend Helen, revealing something of her back-story.
  • An episode of Board James has James being stalked by an unknown killer talking to him via the Dream Phone, who at one point says "And I know you've got the balls", which causes James to suddenly freeze up, the music to shift from fast-paced to a slower rising violin, and for the camera to focus on the sink where James drowned Mr. Bucket. He slowly walks over with the knife brandished to find... Mr. Bucket still lying in the sink, with the voice saying "You'll have to do better than that".
  • In Critters: A New Binge, it initially seems like the pet Uncle Murray has hidden away that he occasionally feeds is the missing Crite that the other Crites have come to Earth to find. It turns out in the fourth episode that Uncle Murray's pet is really an owl.
  • A couple in Noob:
    • The plot of Season 2 was set off by Tenshirock deciding to give Noobs powerful items. In early Season 3, he demonstrates his ability to make avatars say what he wants with voices that sound just like their players. He never gets to do anything relevant with that due to the true plot Season 3 revolving around someone else revealing a secret Tenshirock meant to keep under wraps, turning his attention to finding the culpirt.
    • In Season 4, the main guild's leader gets a girlfriend who likes the same stuff as him, but happens to be in the same in-game faction as the previous season's villain, who's suddenly nowhere to be seen and happens to know him quite well. Season 4 finale revealed there was no link between the two facts.
  • Rooster Teeth:
    • Ten Little Roosters had a set of murder weapons which to be chosen by viewers as to who would die and by how. The ones never used, seen, mentioned or even alluded to were a bathroom scale, the power of math, Ruby Rose's Crescent Rose Scythe and an actual red herring. Word of God later revealed that Miles Luna was a red herring for just about every possible victim until the end.
    • Eleven Little Roosters has a mysterious figure in a black hoodie who appears at the scene of several assassinations. The viewers, and Agent Moose, are left to assume that this is the Saboteur in disguise, surveying their handiwork, but by the end of the series the two are revealed to be unrelated and the person in the hoodie's identity is never explained. And, just like in Nan Quest below, their presence in one scene misleads the audience to assume that the real Saboteur has an alibi.
  • During his video on Polybius, Ahoy calls out "Steven Roach", a "Welshman" who "worked as a programmer in 1980s Czechoslovakia", as this, due to the many inaccuracies in the latter's claim about having created Polybius, such as "being consulted by a South American company", "moving to Communist Czechia to do business" and having based his claims entirely on the established Polybius myth, not to mention sharing the name with an American ex-policeman who ran a scandalous troubled-youth camp in that country around the same time.
    "Let there be no doubt: Stephen Roach is a red herring - and his story? Entirely fabricated."

    Western Animation 
  • All Grown Up!: The episode "Thief Encounter" revolves around someone stealing stuff from gardens, and Tommy repeatedly blames Dil for it. It's revealed in the end the thief was actually Tommy himself due to sleepwalking under stress.
  • Batman:
  • When Doomie was stolen, Beetlejuice and Lydia find a skeleton leg at the scene. Later, when Jaques shows up without his leg, Beetlejuice immediately begins to blame him before Jaques cuts him off to explain how he lost his leg. A literal red herring flops across the screen while the three stare at it in confusion.
  • Big City Greens: The episode "Chipocalypse Now" has Cricket discover Chip Whistler issued a petition which the residents of Big City seemingly signed signifying they want the Greens out of the city, making Cricket think everyone hates them. When he goes to confront Remy, one of the suspects, he claims he never betrayed Cricket once and didn't sign any petition; it is that moment Cricket comes to the conclusion Chip lied and the petition is a fraud.
  • Duckman: In “Days of Whine and Neuroses”, Duckman spends the episode trying to capture the man who he falsely believes is the culprit, who is literally named Cyrus Redherring (from the Macguffin agency, no less). Lampshaded by Cornfed, who captures the real culprit.
  • Garfield's Babes and Bullets: There are many suspicious shots of Tanya watching Sam as he's pursued by a huge tough guy. It turns out these are unrelated — Tanya was watching Sam to make sure he was able to do the job she hired him for... and the big goon was just his landlord looking for back rent.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • In the first episode, Dipper thought Mabel's boyfriend Norman was a zombie but he was in fact a stack of gnomes.
    • In the episode "Headhunters", Dipper and Mabel believe that the gossip writer is the killer of wax Stan, when the crime was perpetrated by the vengeful wax statues the real Stan had locked away for years.
    • After having the main characters and audience believe for the entire episode that Old Man McGucket was the author of the journals, it's revealed that he was only an assistant that underwent Sanity Slippage.
    • Across the entire series is the "Zodiac Wheel", a collection of ten symbols on a wheel with Bill Cipher depicted in the center that flashes at the end of the intro for every episode, and that Bill himself displays during his first appearance. It's revealed in the final episode that bringing the people associated with those symbols together is the key to defeating the demon, but due to Stan and Ford arguing over the former's grammar, they aren't able to accomplish the needed ritual before Bill arrives and destroys the circle and turns everyone who isn't a member of the Pines family into a tapestry. Bill is destroyed by another method, and creator Alex Hirsch would elaborate in a DVD commentary that the wheel was originally just intended as a cool image; it was only included in the finale's plot once the writers realized fans had inflated its importance and were expecting some kind of payoff.
  • Hit-Monkey: Despite being an all-around jackass, Ozu is not the one behind the conspiracy. He even lampshades it when confronted by Monkey, pointing out he was already beating Ken substantially in the polls and had no reason to order the hit.
  • I ♡ Arlo: Near the end of the first season, Arlo gets a distress call from his adoptive mother Edmée from the swamp saying she's in danger; the follow-up package includes a note from his former rivals Ruff and Stucky, saying Edmée is being held hostage and demand ransom within 24 hours for her release. Once Arlo and co. get to the swamp, they find it under a thorny curse and Edmée not at home, and the hunters reveal the note was just a set-up by the wicked Bog Lady as part of her plan to lure Arlo to her.
  • In the two-part Justice League episode "Injustice For All," it's revealed that there's a traitor within Lex Luthor's group. Cheetah was previously shown flirting with Batman, strongly implying she was the turncoat. However, at the very end of the episode, it turns out that the traitor was Ultra-Humanite, who switched sides after Batman bribed him with a large amount of money that he could use to fund his favorite opera company.
  • Martha Speaks:
    • In "Martha and the Thief of Hearts", there are some clues that Truman was the thief of the art supplies — he looked at T.D.'s notebook before it disappeared, he got nervous when Carolina threatened to contact everyone's parents, he was the only human not in the kitchen when the notebook disappeared, he admitted to being afraid of crafts due to gluing himself to his desk in kindergarten, and he admits that he looked through the notebook. The real thief was Skits, who stole the craft supplies to get attention.
    • In "The Crooning Crook Caper", Helen and Martha are investigating the identity of someone called "the Whistler". They see some muddy footprints, but they turn out to just be T.D. trying to get a mop unstuck from a muddy boot. Helen even points out that it's a red herring.
    • In "The Big Knockover", it's suggested that Skits was the one who knocked over some trashcans — he hid when Mrs. Demson showed up, was late to a meeting of dogs and seemed tired during said meeting, and was the only member of the Lorraine household with no alibi (Jake was too small and it would be out-of-character for Helen, Danny, or Mariella). The real culprit was a group of raccoons.
  • Molly of Denali: In "Suki's Bone," Oscar discovers a rusted metal ring by the river, which he believes is a washer, until Molly later claims it's a thousand-year-old copper bead after seeing a similar artifact on a museum website. The kids then learn Oscar tied the metal ring to a kite tail and got the kite stuck in the tree. A good chunk of the plot is dedicated to trying to retrieve it—only to find out it really is just an iron washer from a modern machine.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In one episode, Pinkie has been entrusted with guarding a delicious cake that the Cake family is planning to enter in a contest. Early in the episode, Applejack tries to take a bite of the cake but is stopped. Later on, the cake has some bites taken out of it, which Pinkie takes to mean a deliberate act of sabotage by the other competitors. Predictably, given Pinkie's wild accusations, the other competitors turn out to be a red herring. However, Applejack is also a red herring: she tried to take a bite of the cake at the beginning of the episode, but learned her lesson at that point and is not the culprit.
    • In the Season 4 opener "Princess Twilight Sparkle", a potion of Zecora's causes Twilight to see what she thought was Luna transforming into Nightmare Moon a second time; she finds out later that she's actually seeing a flashback to 1000 years ago to when Luna's jealousy turns her into Nightmare Moon, and Celestia used the Elements of Harmony to banish her.
  • The Owl House strongly implied through most of Season 2 that Emperor Belos' ultimate plan was to invade the human realm, and the "Day of Unity" would either merge the human and demon realms together or transport the Boiling Isles to Earth, which is why Belos was so intent on getting Eda's portal door to Earth. It's eventually revealed that Belos is actually a human Witch Hunter called Philip Wittebane and the Day of Unity is actually a ritual to drain the life force of every witch on the Boiling Isles, and he just wants the portal to return home.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • Lampshaded in an episode where the boys go to look for "the Lake Nose Monster". Upon seeing a literal red-herring, Phineas cheerfully exclaims "Let's go follow it!"
    • The song "Perry's Hat" from "The Remains of the Platypus" features this wonderful line: "Is this herring red, or a plot point?" Turns out that yes, its a red-herring.
    • In "Imperfect Storm", Doofenshmirtz is planning revenge on a mean girl named Grulinda who always soaked him with buckets full of water in their childhood. When he comes upon an ugly woman whom he assumed to be Grulinda at first at her garden party, she turns out to be an unknown lady who looked like the young Grulinda and points in the direction of the real Grulinda, who has gotten a Girliness Upgrade into adulthood.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): The final riddle in "Him Diddle Riddle" ends with the girls finishing at the Rite On Time Diner, but the Professor is not there. Turns out, he was at the Otto Time Diner across the street, and the girls lose.
  • The Ready Jet Go! episode "Detective Mindy" has Mrs. Peterson's sunglasses go missing, and Mitchell, being a detective, naturally tries to find out where his mother's sunglasses went. Mindy, Sean, Sydney, Sunspot, and Jet all get involved in this mystery, too, one by one. Mr. Peterson said the kitchen counter, where Mrs. Peterson lost her sunglasses, was like a black hole, which causes all the kids to believe that the kitchen counter really is a black hole, and they waste their time trying to find an actual black hole. In the end, it is revealed that Mr. Peterson was just using an expression.
  • Subtly parodied in the Robot Chicken sketch "12 Angry Little People". One of the Little People disagrees with the other 11 about the murderer's identity, suspecting the victim's mistress instead of his employee. A flashback to her testimonial shows her clad in red, and one of the reporters actually refers to her as, "Ms. Herring".
  • At the end of the RollBots episode "Teacher's Pet", Ms. Appie acts incredibly suspicious, but it turns out that she had no evil intentions and that she was referring to Spin's secret.
  • Scooby-Doo has a lot of moments where, during a mystery, there is a person who may be a likely culprit. They're (often) not the ones.
    • In the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! episode "Nowhere to Hyde" the villain pulling the "Scooby-Doo" Hoax (calling himself "the Ghost of Hyde") intentionally left a lot of Red Herrings to make the gang suspect his maid was behind it. When Shaggy found a real clue - a pair of suction cups used for climbing — the villain grabbed him. (The maid wouldn't have needed those to climb the way the villain did; she had training in acrobatics from having worked as a circus performer.)
    • Parodied on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which featured a bully who was actually named Red Herring. Although Fred accused him Once per Episode of being behind whatever mischief was going on, Red was only guilty in the one episode where Fred had promised to stop accusing him for a day. And in that case, the crime was stealing his Aunt's motorcycle... which he borrowed in order to fix it up as a surprise birthday present. As for every other episode, Fred provided no motivation for the accused Red Herring other than he's a jerkass bully, though one episode does eventually flashback to the gang's first solved crime from when they were even younger, in which Red was the culprit. THAT is why Fred, without fail, blames Red for EVERY crime.
    • The What's New, Scooby-Doo? episode "Roller Ghoster", about a green-skinned creature attacking a theme park, prominently featured a young boy who was constantly getting turned away from the park's rides for being too short. He got more irate about it as the episode progressed and eventually began making ominous threats. It's not him; in fact, Velma specifically points out during The Summation that he's too short to fit in the costume.
    • Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island bases its entire plot around this, as the gang are brought onto Moonscar Island, and particularly a pepper plantation run by two women to solve a ghost mystery that turns out to have real ghosts and zombies. While the long-deceased pirate Morgan Moonscar is the central figure for this, there's a couple other characters the cast suspect, like Beau the gardener, secretly an undercover officer, and the Jerkass Scruggs. By the end, however, the Mystery Gang learn the hard way that the entire plot was a Red Herring; the plantation owners had brought them on-board to waste their time with the mystery so they could be set up as the newest sacrifices to their god for eternal life. The zombies and even Morgan himself were the good guys trying to warn the heroes.
  • The Simpsons: "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" has a few false lead-ins as to the shooter's identity, when it was actually the Simpsons' youngest daughter Maggie, who shot him in a scuffle over a lollipop:
    • Before passing out, Burns pointed at the letters "W" (which looked like an "M" from where he was) and "S" on the sundial. WS could refer to Waylon Smithers, Willie (who's Scottish), or W. Seymour Skinner, or to Abe's gun which was a Smith and Wesson, and MS could refer to Moe Syzlak, Sideshow Mel, or Santa's Little Helper (who was referred to as the "Simpson mutt").
    • When everyone looks around suspiciously at one point, Jimbo looks nervous. He'd also had his clothes stolen by Mr. Burns earlier.
    • Snake Jailbird had a gun and said that he would have done it if he hadn't been on the toilet.
    • Otto wanted Burns gone due to never having gotten a guitar from him, was one of the last people to leave the town hall and one of the first people to arrive at the sundial, and smiled when Burns was being taken away in the ambulance.
    • Barney wasn't there initially during the crowd scene when the unconscious Burns is first discovered.
  • In Sonic Boom's episode "Inn Sanity", Eggman finds out that a secret reviewer is going to show up to review his hotel. In a prime example of Lampshade Hanging, a red heron shows up to the desk and introduces himself as "Red Herring", with Eggman assuming he's the secret reviewer. He's not. (It's Amy).
  • In South Park, the episode "Lice Capades" has one built into the structure of the episode: it's A Day in the Limelight for Clyde, which helps hide the fact that everyone had lice and believed that they were the only one.
  • In the Spider-Man: The Animated Series episode "Goblin War", Peter's Spider-Sense goes off just as he's about to shake hands with Jason, Felicia's fiancé. He initially thinks it's because Wilson Fisk is in the room, but it later turns out that it went off because Jason is really the Hobgoblin.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the climax of "The Secret Box", at first the "secret" of Patrick's secret box is revealed to be nothing but just a string ("a SECRET string!"), but once SpongeBob has left, Patrick reveals pulling the string reveals the real secret: an embarrassing picture of SpongeBob from a Christmas party.
    • In "The Pink Purloiner", SpongeBob cannot find his special jellyfishing net and continuously accuses Patrick of stealing it. It turns out near the end Patrick didn't take the net at all; he just left it on the bus.
  • Star Wars Rebels: in the two-part episode "Ghosts of Geonosis", Ezra, Kanan, Chopper, and Rex go to Geonosis — whose people are implied to have been wiped out by the Empire — and find what appears to be the very last Geonosian, who killed every other member of Saw Guerrera's team (who had gone there to investigate earlier) with repaired Separatist droids. The trailers even bring up exactly what the implication of this is: the Geonosian draws a circle within a circle in the dirt to try to explain why it's there and why Saw's men had to be killed, and those familiar with the second film in the Prequel Trilogy will remember that the Geonosians had a hand in creating the Death Star. Except it's not about the Death Star, it's an egg, possibly the last one of the entire Geonosian race, and he was just trying to protect it.
  • Steven Universe:
    • We are lead to believe due to the Crystal Gems' own speculation that Peridot arrived on Earth so she could reactivate one of the "Kindergartens" and start Gem production again, which would suck the life from the Earth and doom all living things. Except, despite constantly going to the location, why does she never try repairing the deactivated machines that would do just that? The episode "When It Rains" has Peridot herself revealing that her true mission was to gather data on and monitor the Cluster, a massive artificial Gem superweapon incubating beneath the Earth that's intended to destroy the planet within a few months time.
    • The death of Pink Diamond. At the end of season three, we're told by several characters that Steven's mother Rose Quartz killed Pink Diamond near the end of the Great Gem War. Fast-forward to Steven going to Homeworld and being put on trial for his mother's crime at the start of season five, where his lawyer realizes that the official story makes absolutely no sense considering how heavily guarded Pink Diamond would have been at that point in the conflict. As the season goes on, Steven starts putting together other clues that lead him to confront Pearl about whether she committed the deed. This turns out to only be half-right, as while "A Single Pale Rose" reveals that Pearl did do it, Pink Diamond never actually died; Rose Quartz was the war hero alias of the monarch and the "murder" was an excuse to remain in the former role permanently and potentially remove the other Diamonds' desire to continue the war. Which worked, from a certain point of view.
  • Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters: When the Flex Fighters attempt to figure out Blindstrike's true identity, they choose as their suspects some male classmates and faculty, who demonstrate remarkable physicality, scientific knowledge, and/or meanness. Instead, Blindstrike becomes revealed as Riya Dashti, the reclusive, Stretch-hating girl, on whom Stretch harbors a crush.
  • In one episode of Vampirina, Vee gets a visit from the Great Esmeralda, a fortune teller who is never wrong. When she predicts Vee is going to "lose a friend", Vee assumes she and Poppy won't be friends anymore and spends the episode trying to impress her. As it turns out near the end, the friend Vee really lost was her dog Wolfie, who escaped into Poppy's backyard after forgetting to bathe him.
  • The W.I.T.C.H. animated series does this with the identity of Phobos' long-lost sister, with some signs pointing to protagonist Will being his sister: her parents are divorced with her father going unmentioned, she's biracial with the same shade of Ambiguously Brown, and she's in the correct age range. We learn halfway through the season that his sister is actually Elyon, a supporting character introduced in the third episode as one of Cornelia's friends. Averted in the comics, however.
  • Near the beginning of Young Justice (2010) Season 2, the writers began heavily foreshadowing the death of Barry Allen, who as comic fans know, famously died while pulling a Heroic Sacrifice during Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Series Fauxnale presents a similar situation, but when it comes time for said sacrifice, it's actually Wally West, Barry's former sidekick, who ends up dying.

    Real Life 
  • In debating, there is a related trick/fallacy called "Pivoting", where one person will ask a question with a simple answer (like "no" or "15" or "because we ran out of money"), but instead of giving that answer, the other person will go off topic (often rambling at length) to try to get out of answering, and in some cases to drag on long enough that the other person (and the audience) just forget what the original question was. Unfortunately, most novice debaters aren't adept enough to recognize this trick and say something like "you're not answering my question, did X happen or didn't it?"
  • In terms of actual mysteries, The Phantom of Heilbronn was an epic one. From 1993 to 2009, crime scene investigators found DNA samples of the same woman at 40 crime scenes in Germany, Austria, and France. Searches for this mystery killer came up short. Then, someone noticed that all the cotton swabs used for the DNA testing at the crime scenes were shipped from the same location. The DNA was then traced to the factory that made the cotton swabs and a worker who accidentally contaminated them.
  • Puzzlehunt puzzles often don't intentionally contain red herrings, as most are found accidentally. With that said, the red herrings themselves are sometimes put up intentionally as a signpost to disregard information. One puzzle from the MIT Mystery Hunt plays with this trope— "Red Herring" from the 2022 Hunt.

Alternative Title(s): Chekhovs Blank, Red Herring Suspect


Red Herring

Fred accuses Red Herring, a bully named after this trope, of stealing Shaggy's bike.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

Example of:

Main / RedHerring

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