A character who walks into a scene, says a few lines at most, and departs. Essentially, an extra with a line. But hey, it's a part. You have to start somewhere, and they wouldn't give away a part this small unless it served some purpose in the story, however small... right?
Plus it's usually enough to get you a card in one of the actors' guilds.
The term comes from Greek theater, specifically tragedy: While the plot of a given play focused on members of important nobility, the theater still needed actors to fill the role of their military entourage — you know, the kind of soldiers whose only job on the stage is to stand at attention and give a salute whenever a noble walks by them. It has also become the standard term for an operatic supernumerary, one of several silent extras (of either sex) who may carry anything from a flagon to a kidnap victim. See here.
In mid-20th century domestic dramas, this was often the role of household servant characters, who would be neither seen nor heard at most times, but occasionally would be called on to deliver some tidbit of dialogue that none of the main characters could credibly utter.
Compare The Cameo and Pursued Protagonist. Not to be confused with the native assistant of the Great White Hunter, or with The Lancer, or with literal wielders of spears. Can sometimes result in a One-Scene Wonder. Or a Red Shirt. For just a generally dull character, see The Generic Guy (or Girl). If an already established character plays this role at some point, see Mandatory Line.
- Unlicensed knockoff Larry Poppins from The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part only appears in one scene to make a joke about the "spoonful of sugar" line.
- In The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Giuseppe appears in two scenes; one where he praises Mario and Luigi about their accents, and later, cheering for the Mario Bros. alongside the townsfolk of Brooklyn after the brothers defeat Bowser.
- That squeaky rubber shark in Toy Story, who takes Woody's hat and does a terrible impression of him:
Mr. Shark: Look, I'm Woody! Howdy, howdy, howdy!
- While the Shark does show up in the second film, he has no dialogue.
- In Turning Red, the streetcar driver who Mei proudly shows her transit pass to:
Driver: Good for you.
- Back to the Future: The couple at the dance at the end of the film, who are amazed that George McFly stood up to Biff.
- Back to the Future Part II:
- There's Red the Bum, who calls Marty a "crazy, drunk driver" towards the end of Part I, and a "crazy, drunk pedestrian" in the alternate 1985.
- The guy who thinks that Marty took Biff's wallet. He thinks Marty took Biff's wallet.
- In Bruce Almighty: Bruce asks a young boy if he knows how to work a video camera. He replies, "Duh." They even make special mention of him fitting this trope (not in those words) during the DVD commentary.
- In Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, an actress playing a nurse agreed to be nude on screen in exchange for a line.
- Christopher Lee's acting debut was in the 1947 film Corridor of Mirrors, where he gets a single line while sitting in a nightclub. His next role was a literal spear carrier in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948).
- From Ghostbusters (1984): The carriage driver in Central Park who remarks: "What an asshole," after Louis Tully has a conversation with the horse.
- The member of the crowd in Monty Python's Life of Brian who is individual enough to admit he isn't. Interestingly, that was a Throw It In line—and he was paid extra for coming up with it.
- Jamie in Mystery Team is essentially this; she does very little to add to the plot, and is good for a few laughs.
- In The Naked Gun, the man at the baseball game who yells out "Hey, it's Enrico Palazzo!!!" is credited as such during the closing credits. At least one other spear carrier is billed as such, which is common for the ZAZ team.
- The woman Chekov asks about "Nuclear Wessels" in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was just supposed to appear as an extra (i.e. non-speaking), but her answer to the question was so perfect they had to Throw It In, promoting her to spear carrier.
- Discussed— rather bitterly— in the John Ritter film Hero at Large. Steve is talking to his agent Marty about Marty not getting him any stage work (instead of all the commercials he's doing).
Steve: Marty, how much can you do with, "That's what I call beer"? Marty, get me a play, any play.
Marty: It's not like you never had one. Last summer, Shakespeare in the Park.
Steve: I carried a spear. Marty, that's a joke. When an actor says he carried a spear, he doesn't mean he carried a spear. I. Carried. A spear.
- Mad Max: Fury Road gives us one nameless Warboy who, for our benefit and Nux's, neatly summarises what kicked off the plot:
Random Warboy: Treason! Betrayal! An Imperator gone rogue!
- The Greatest Story Ever Told has a remarkably literal example: John Wayne as the centurion at the Crucifixion.
Centurion: Truly, this man was the Son of Gawd.
- Betty just says one line and tosses her bouquet at the start of The Rocky Horror Picture Show but becomes an Ascended Extra in the sequel, Shock Treatment, though played by a different actress.
- In a commentary to the Dragonriders of Pern, author Anne McCaffrey described Masterharper Robinton and Mastersmith Fandarel as spear carriers in the first book, who later evolved into major characters.
- In Alexei Panshin's 1968 science fiction novel Rite Of Passage, the main character muses on the existence of spear carriers as disposable:
"A spear carrier is the anonymous character cut down by the hero as he advances to save the menaced heroine. A spear carrier is a character put in a story to be used like a piece of disposable tissue. In a story, spear carriers never suddenly assert themselves by throwing their spears aside and saying, ‘I resign. I don’t want to be used.’ They are there to be used, either for atmosphere or as minor obstacles in the path of the hero. The trouble is that each of us is his own hero, existing in a world of spear carriers."
- In his essay "The World's Last Night," C. S. Lewis muses on the unsung nobility of a Spear Carrier from King Lear.
In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely "First Servant." All the characters around him—Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund—have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and pointed at his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.
- The various messengers ("My lord, I bring news!") in the first series of The Black Adder. Also, the messenger in the Blackadder II episode "Money", who keeps telling Edmund the Queen wants to see him at inconvenient times.
Blackadder: I'm sure I'll think of something as long as I'm not disturbed...Messenger: My Lord! The Queen does demand your urgent presence on pain of Death!
- Early in Boy Meets World Cory's class is putting on a production of Hamlet. Cory is cast as Hamlet, but refuses the role because he doesn't want to wear tights. He gets a part again... As a lowly spear carrier. ( His best friend Shawn had previously been one, but got bumped up to noble when Cory quit. ) It's defied/parodied just before the credits roll, as he uses the spear to knock everyone down and claim domination over the stage.
- Happened once again in the spinoff Girl Meets World with Farkle, who gets the part of Spear Carrier in his school production of Romeo and Juliet, only to take over the entire show. Twice.
- Kath, who is a non-speaking Spear Carrier in Casualty. Similar to Nikki, but also an unlikely cult character too.
- Game of Thrones: Wendel Manderly is played by an established actor, but has no lines or discernible role other than to introduce his House.
- Nikki, a blonde nurse in Holby City who never speaks on screen (and is considered as Fanservice by many viewers), becoming an unlikely cult character, and the show from which Holby became a Spin-Off of has its own.
- In pretty much every episode of iCarly there are random interactions between the main 5 characters and members of their school or viewers on the webshow. Occasionally some of these become a Bit Character like Wendy, and Gibby (who eventually was upgraded to the main cast), whilst most vanish and are never seen again after one or two episodes.
- Discussed in Seinfeld : In "The Alternate Side", Kramer gets promoted from non-speaking extra to Spear Carrier in a Woody Allen movie, and spends much of the episode working on how best to deliver his one line, "These pretzels are making me thirsty."
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: Voyager features Lieutenant Ayala, a character who appears in 120 episodes including the series premiere and finale but only speaks in four of them (and one of those is an overdubbed communicator voice). Having survived the entire series despite not being a main character, he became something of a fan favourite.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Morn, a character who appeared in 96 episodes, yet never spoke onscreen, with a whole episode dedicated to his supposed death. Hilariously, there's a Running Gag that Morn never stops talking.
- Babylon 5 would occasionally use these guys as fodder for promotion later on. Zack Allen (the Chief of Security in the later seasons) started off as a Red Shirt getting thrown down a hallway by Ambassador G'Kar. Lieutenant Corwin, meanwhile, started off as B5's equivalent to Stargate SG-1's Chevron Locking Guy, and ended up as the station's second in command. The first season also featured a French-accented woman who shared Corwin's duties of announcing whenever the Jump Gate opened.
- In Deadwood, Richardson was originally an extra, then promoted to Spear Carrier when he received a line, then promoted to regular cast member when the showrunners liked the results.
- Several small characters on Battlestar Galactica (2003). The actor playing Chief Tyrol had a habit of ad-libbing names for these characters, leading fans to get attached/interested, leading to repeat appearances for them, leading to them becoming significant characters. Specifically the "knuckledraggers" of the flight crew
- Night and Day's Dennis Doyle is given this exact role in-universe in the school play, which reflects how he feels about himself; but it's not especially an accurate assessment of how the show treats him.
- Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida has a messenger who is possibly the smallest credited role. He only appears in the middle of the first act to bear mews of the Ethiopians' invasion, and has like three lines.
- Shakespeare uses a lot of those in his plays:
- The servant from King Lear is known for delivering one line, getting killed, and being one of the best characters in the play. In his theological essay "The World's Last Night," C. S. Lewis observes that "if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted."
- In Macbeth, Seyton only shows up to tell the king his wife is dead (and to hint where she's gone).
- Depression-era American playwright and former actor Clifford Odetts was so frustrated by constantly being cast as Spear Carriers that when he started writing plays, he deliberately wrote many of his minor characters to be One Scene Wonders. The union members in Paradise Lost in particular stand out.
- While Spear Carriers are less common in contemporary plays due to shifts in directing and casting for live theatre (fewer large troupes performing multiple plays at once and competition for professional extras from the film and TV market), musicals nearly always need a chorus regardless of the scale of the production. In small scale and/or amateur productions, chorus roles can be expanded to this to take pressure off the main cast, make use of talent, or even replace a secondary character who couldn't be cast at all.
- Waiting for Godot has the messenger boy who brings the news that Godot will not arrive today.
- Westeros: An American Musical: In "Sword in the Darkness", a couple random members of Mance's army (who are actually Demoted to Extra named characters from the original story) each have a couple of comments about Jon Snow.
- Explicitly mentioned during the Teachers Argument song in the musical Fame, with one of the teachers pointing out that not all of their students have what it takes to be great stars, and some are only good for carrying spears. The argument is over whether Tyrone is the former or the latter.
- In the first act of Critic's Choice by Ira Levin, Parker Ballantine caustically ruminates on amateur-written plays "all beginning with the maid answering the telephone and subtly delivering information." The second act begins with the Ballantines' hitherto unseen maid, Essie, doing precisely that for a caller who hangs up before identifying herself (but is later revealed to be Parker's ex-wife Ivy). Essie then walks out the door and thereby leaves the play: as the stage direction notes, "that's the last we see of Essie until the curtain calls."
- In George Washington Slept Here by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, Rena Leslie describes the walk-on, walk-off part she has to perform at a nearby summer theatre:
"Yes, I've got to be on my way. Rush through my dinner, streak it over to the theatre, put on a make-up, fix my hair, get into a tight girdle, walk on and say, 'Madame is resting.' Back to the dressing room and take it all off again. I ought to have my head examined."
- Baldur's Gate: Hold there, traveler, Elminster just wants some attention.
- In The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush wants to be in a theater production but is told he "doesn't have the hands of a spear carrier."
- The Elder Scrolls series has the semi-recurring character Jiub. In his first appearance in Morrowind, he only delivers ten short lines of dialog before you are separated from him for the rest of the game. However, being a shirtless, bald, one-eyed fellow prisoner made him popular enough with fans to generate countless Fan Fics and Game Mods which add him back into the game. Bethesda took notice and, in Oblivion, mention that he became a Saint in Morrowind for driving the (much reviled) Cliff Racers to extinction. His spirit makes a cameo in Skyrim's Dawnguard DLC, where he offers a sidequest in the Soul Cairn.
- In the first game, scientist and guards occasionally pop up to deliver a message or herald Gordon. Sometimes you can recruit them to do something, though one guard doesn't even manage to finish his message before being shot in the back.
- Half-Life 2: A woman can be found in a culvert as Freeman leaves the recently raided Station 1 who says she's going to stay there to keep the underground railroad open a while longer.
- Half-Life: Alyx: Olganote is there at the start of the game to inform Alyx that the Combine are reacting more strongly against Eli's theft than they normally would. On a meta level, the developers put Olga there to ensure that players understood that they were playing as Alyx, as well as reinforce that Alyx will be responding verbally to her surroundings, unlike Gordon.
- Gothic: his name is Mud and he wants to talk to you. Sadly, he has nothing useful to say. No, Mud, go away.
- Spyro the Dragon (1998): Basically all the dragons to free. After freeing them, they say a few words and disappear. Most of them don't appear again and dialogue with them never lasts longer than half-a-minute.
- Lampshaded in Zeus: Master of Olympus, where the Theater and Drama School buildings have an actor complaining that his spear has gone missing, and he can't exactly be a Spear Carrier if he doesn't have his spear. Gets a Call-Back in the sequel, where an Atlantean spearman not doing anything asks if maybe there's someone who can use a spear since he's not using his at the moment.
- The Cry of Mann: Courier Martinez only has two scenes and a few lines, in which she drops off a letter to the Mann house and then comes to take Agent Martinez back to the MPO headquarters.
- Parodied in the second Phineas and Ferb Christmas Episode:
Candace: What is all this? Arrgh! Fake snow, fake house, and who are all these people?Isabella: Extras.Spear Carrier: Not me. I got a speaking part. But it's just this line so it's pretty much over now.
- And later:
Spear Carrier: I had one line earlier.Kelly Clarkson: And now you have two!Spear Carrier: Oooh!
- The pilot episode "Rollercoaster" has quite a few generic kids as passengers on Phineas and Ferb's ride in lieu of the more developed cast that would emerge later (Isabella is the only kid in their age group who's established in the episode). This leads to a No Fourth Wall gag in "Rollercoaster: The Musical," when significant secondary character Buford van Stomm cuts them off as they're about to tear down the flier Candace is getting ready to show her mom in hopes of scoring a free ride:
Buford: Hey, if anyone's gonna ride this thing, it's gonna be me. Not one of you lousy extras.
- And later:
- Parodied in the South Park episode "Asspen" when a guy walks onscreen just to explain what the K-13 is before walking back offscreen.
- Parodied in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius where Sheen is stuck in the role of a guard in Macbeth in Space, complete with a laser spear. And he manages to forget his solitary line.
- In It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, Sally performs in a stage play in which she plays an angel who walks onstage, says "Hark!," and departs as part of a scene transition. She rehearses this one word relentlessly during the few days leading up to the play, but because Charlie Brown was frequently carrying hockey equipment during this time (due to him participating in hockey practice), Sally accidentally blurts out "Hockey Stick!" instead.