A person or monster The Hero has to get past to get at the Big Bad. Much of the time, but not necessarily, the Big Bad's top enforcer. He, she or it embodies a narrative trope: the penultimate challenge that the hero must face before confronting the Big Bad. This challenge will test their worthiness in some fundamental way.
Some Dragons are ferocious fighters who leave the heavy thinking to the boss. Others are smart, detail-oriented administrators who oversee the day-to-day running of the evil organization. A common but by no means universal theme is to have the Dragon pose a physical challenge to the hero, while the Big Bad poses a mental or moral challenge.
This role is somebody the Big Bad can rely on (or thinks they can rely on) in a time of trouble to step up and beat the living heck out of The Hero, or maybe just take charge for a while, should the Big Bad not be around to do the job.
The term dragon for this role originates from analysis of folklore in which the hero fights dragons or other monsters. As described in "The Hero with a Thousand Faces", a non-fiction comparison of various fantasy heroes written by Joseph Campbell, monsters serve as obstacles to be overcome in order to fulfill the hero's quest. Note, however, that in folklore they are villains or obstacles in their own right (see the tale of Saint George The Dragonslayer) whereas in accordance with this trope (which mostly applies to modern media) they are often subordinate to other villains.
For literal dragons and their permutations, see Our Dragons Are Different. Not to be confused with Dragon Lady, who is more likely to be a Big Bad than the Dragon, or Dragon, which was a magazine. Definitely not to be confused with The Savage Dragon.
The Champion may be The Dragon if they follow the Big Bad, or may play a similar role to a straight Dragon for a nonvillainous character. See also: The Man Behind the Man, Hypercompetent Sidekick, Psycho for Hire, The Consigliere.
Tropes related to The Dragon:
- Beta Bitch - Number Two to the Alpha Bitch, often fills the Dragon role when the Alpha Bitch is the Big Bad.
- Co-Dragons - Two or more characters split the Dragon role between them.
- The Creon - A Dragon is this if they vehemently reject every opportunity to become the Big Bad.
- Demoted to Dragon - A previous Big Bad is revealed to be, or is reduced to being, the Dragon to another villain.
- Devour the Dragon - The Big Bad kills the Dragon in order to become stronger.
- Dragon Ascendant - When they take over from the Big Bad after the latter is defeated or leaves.
- Dragon-in-Chief - When they are more dangerous than the Big Bad and the de facto main villain of the story. Like Dragon with an Agenda, may be The Man in Front of the Man. Not to be confused with The Heavy.
- Dragon Their Feet - When the Big Bad is defeated or killed first. The Dragon may or may not show up afterwards to rescue or avenge them, but they might just take their business elsewhere.
- Dragon with an Agenda - When they have different goals from the Big Bad. If those goals are mutually exclusive, The Starscream, Rule of Two or Dragon-in-Chief may be in play.
- The Heavy - The "active" villain that drives most of the plot. This is more often the Dragon than the Big Bad, since most authors want to keep the Big Bad in the background and mysterious for most of the story. Not to be confused with Dragon-in-Chief.
- It's Personal with the Dragon - When the Dragon is the hero's Arch-Enemy instead of the Big Bad.
- The Lancer - The Good Counterpart in the Five-Man Band.
- Mook Lieutenant - When the Dragon is merely the leader of the Big Bad's minions when the Big Bad isn't around.
- Mouth of Sauron - When the Big Bad themselves is almost never seen taking an active role, The Dragon is usually the one who picks up the slack on reminding people why they're afraid of the Big Bad in the first place.
- Noble Top Enforcer - A trope that often overlaps with the Dragon; when the Big Bad's Number Two is an Anti-Villain that is considerably more virtuous than their master. Likely to turn on the Big Bad if their actions piss them off enough.
- Number Two - The second-in-command of a team or organization, often overlapping with The Dragon.
- Number Two for Brains - A bumbling Dragon.
- Rule of Two - A standard Big Bad and Dragon dynamic where betrayal is expected, and often inevitable.
- The Starscream - A traitorous Number Two; often fulfills the role of the Dragon.
- Villainous Friendship - When a Dragon is good friends with the Big Bad.
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- In chess, the queen is arguably the Dragon of the king, and quite clearly the most powerful piece on the board. Just look at any themed chess set: the Big Bad will be the king, and the Dragon will be the queen.
- In Betrayal at House on the Hill, there were several Dragons, ranging from a literal example to a slasher killer, a witch, and even man eating plants. One of the players could even be the Dragon to the scenario's Big Bad... or turn out to be Big Bad, and get furnished with a Dragon. The game has "betrayal" in its name for a reason.
- Magic: The Gathering:
- Volrath has Greven.
- ... As Greven has his Vhati il-Dal.
- And Volrath himself was Dragon to Yawgmoth, until he was replaced by Crovax (and, later still, Tsabo Tavoc).
- Technically (at least according to the novels) Tsabo and Crovax were active at the same time, not to mention a Phyrexian-augmented Ertai, running about causing havoc. So it's more like a case of triple Dragons, no? Also, in that same block the 5 Dragons were awakened, each of whom had their own Golem Attendant, that could be considered their own Dragons.
- Ertai has more shades of Evil Genius; Yawgmoth would too, except that he's the Big Bad. The five dragons are more a case of Good Is Not Nice, though.
- In Kamigawa, Lady Masako the Humorless serves Emperor Konda as administrator, and she's a rather harsh mistress. Oh, and despite the trappings, she's not Konda's wife.
Konda's servants dared not neglect their duties for a moment under Masako's icy gaze, knowing that what she saw, Lord Konda would hear.
- In Conflux, Nicol Bolas (the Big Bad despite being a literal dragon) has Gwafa Hazid, Malfegor, and Rakka Mar as minions, but had to go for something extra special to lead them - Sarkhan Vol, a psychopathic, dragon-worshipping (and perhaps Brainwashed and Crazy) planeswalker. He also has Tezzeret, a planeswalker he has rebuilt after said planeswalker was Mind Raped and left for dead by Jace Beleren. Bolas has saved Tezzeret from death twice, so the latter owes the former a significant debt, albeit grudgingly.
- Chakal from The Book of Life, has one in a bearded bandit named Chato who informs him of his medal's whereabouts.
- Care Bears
- In The Flight of Dragons, the evil red wizard Ommadon's Dragon is a literal dragon, Bryaugh, who is defeated by the Hero's literal Lancer, Sir Orin. Sir Orin is a knight who allows Bryaugh to engulf him in flames, then casts his fiery sword into Bryaugh's chest. They both die, though Orin gets better.
- In Disney's Hercules, the Hydra is a large serpentlike creature, a literal dragon sent by Hades to kill Hercules. After the Hydra's defeat, Hades sends more monsters, only to have Hercules defeat them all.
- In The Invincible Iron Man, the leader of the four elemental mini-bosses and The Dragon to the mystically powered Mandarin is an actual dragon, the physically dominating Fin Fang Foom, who gives Iron-man his toughest battle, where the magically powered Mandarin is defeated by reaching out to the Mandarin's host and convincing her to cut the Mandarin's power at its source, the magic rings.
- The Prophet: The Commandant is in charge, but its the Sergeant who enacts his will; be that leading the soldiers, retrieving Mustafa, or destroying Mustafa's work to ensure his legacy will be gone.
- Roadside Romeo has Chhainu, Charlie Anna's bumbling top enforcer.
- In The Snow Queen (2012), the Snow Queen controls the powerful North Wind.
- In the obscure movie Twice Upon a Time, The Big Bad Synonamess Botch has a dragon in the form of Ibor, a giant mechanical gorilla with a television for a face. (Neatly, one of the clips that turns up on said face is of Darth Vader from The Empire Strikes Back — George Lucas executive produced this film.)
- In Rhapsody (of Fire)'s musically told-fantasy-epic, the Algalord Saga, Akron the Black King, prone to ravaging every proverbial puppy in the story is served loyally by The Dragon Dargor, a fearless and honourable half-demon warrior prince, who is apparently so awesome as to warrant an entire song of his own (with two variations!). All of this is a fairly transparent foreshadowing of Dargor's HeelFace Turn at the climax of the story. And HOW!
- Cyborg Noodle acts as one to Murdoc in the Gorillaz canon.
- Nikki acts as this for Doctor X in Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime.
- In the Evillious Chronicles, Lemy Abelard and Gear serve as these for Pere Noël and the awakened vessels, respectively.
- Both Mini-Me and Fat Bastard are prominently featured on the playfield of Austin Powers.
- Flash Gordon has Kala and Klytus, who are seen on the slingshop bumpers beside Ming himself.
- Starscream fits this role for the Decepticons in Transformers
- Following its playing-card naming motif, Lights... Camera... Action! has "Jack," the Big Bad's enforcer.
- In Popeye Saves the Earth, the Sea Hag is this for Bluto.
- Vince McMahon, being WWE's owner and Big Bad, has had a LOT of Dragons throughout the years. Wrestlers who have been Vince's Dragon include: Mick Foley, The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Big Show(when he wasn't The Brute), Brock Lesnar, Batista, Eric Bischoff, etc. Even Hulk Hogan was this when Vince brought in the nWo to help him kill WWE, though they didn't interact much until Hogan turned face and feuded with Vince. Perhaps the most shocking was "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Vince's Arch-Enemy, who became Vince's Dragon in order to be WWE champion.
- Shane McMahon was Vince McMahon's most consistent Dragon. He started off as a non-action one, serving as Vince's second-in-command and letting whoever was the other dragon do most of the fighting, but over time began wrestling more frequently and he eventually Took a Level in Badass so that he played a more physical one as well.
- ARN ANDERSON: Basically made a career as "The Enforcer" of the Four Horsemen, always there as the second-in-command to Ric Flair. Even the one time they were at odds in September-October 1995, it was all a setup for Flair to turn on Sting at WCW Halloween Havoc 1995 and reform the Horsemen with Brian Pillman, and Chris Benoit being added the next night on WCW Monday Nitro.
- In wrestling, Asskicking Equals Authority. Therefore, usually if you're going to have a Dragon, it's in a situation similar to Vince McMahon and The Corporation - a Corrupt Corporate Executive as the Big Bad and his hand-picked champion as The Dragon. Some examples...
- Meng/Haku made a career out of playing The Dragon to various heels. He Dragoned for Bobby Heenan, Colonel Robert Parker, Kevin Sullivan (during the Dungeon of Doom), and his final mainstream wrestling role was The Dragon to Rikishi during Rikishi's attempted main event heel push.
- CHIKARA had a rare subversion of the Asskicking Equals Authority with Die Bruderschaft des Kreuzes (BDK). The stable's top wrestler was Claudio Castagnoli, but the real mastermind behind the whole thing was Claudio's tag partner Ares.
- Jack Swagger played this role to Michael Cole during Cole's feud with Jerry Lawler.
- John Laurinaitis had David Otunga as one...who at one point left him during a match against John Cena.
- Dolph Ziggler seemed to be playing the role of The Dragon to Vickie Guerrero, until he went out on his own, aligned himself with A.J. Lee and now has Big E. Langston on his side.
- Most recently, Randy Orton to Big Bad Triple H.
- In Survival of the Fittest, the main Dragon to Danya (although he has a number of prominent henchmen) is Steve Wilson, who was effectively in charge of orchestrating a whole slew of the kidnappings which comprised Version 2 of SOTF. However, the three other members of the so-called "Big Four" — Jim Greynolds, Melvin Carter and Sonia Nguyen — could each be considered a dragon in their own right; it's up to interpretation who is the official right-hand man.
- This is literally the scenario in the Age of Worms campaign where the Big Bad's second in command is a dracolich.
- Various The World of Darkness games give vampires and mages the ability to create what effectively is their own Dragon. Vampires in both Vampire: The Requiem and Vampire: The Masquerade have ghouls, human slaves who are addicted to vampire blood, inherit a share of the vampire's powers, and generally acts as a vampire's bodyguard and enforcer wherever the vampire him or herself isn't required. Mage: The Awakening gives mages have their own version of this, called Sleepwalkers. These are humans immune to paradox, that allow mages to do all sorts of nifty, reality bending tricks without a nasty abyssal horror eating their faces off.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- In the cosmology, Dagon serves as The Dragon for Demogorgon, he closest thing the Demons have to a leader. It's hinted, though, that Dagon does this because it's a convenient cover for his own plans, and that he gets quite a bit more out of the bargain than Demogorgon (for one, Demogorgon is on pretty much everyone else's hitlist, be they rival demon lords, archdevils, celestial paragons or even some deities and mortals. Dagon? Not so much). He may even be the Obyrith behind the Tanar'ri.
- Also in the Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, Tiamat (the evil Dragon Goddess of the chromatic dragons) has five dragons (one of each chromatic type) as her Dragons.
- Within the Greyhawk setting, Kas was the right hand man, enforcer, and assassin of the archlich Vecna until he betrayed his master.
- Typically averted with actual dragons: if the players meet an evil dragon it is usually the Big Bad of the adventure.
- The Herald from the Cthulhu Mythos board game, Arkham Horror. Giving the Ancient One a Herald greatly increases the difficulty of the game and every expansion adds a new Herald to the pool.
- Quite a few in Legend of the Five Rings, as the Big Bad Fu Leng spends almost all of the story as Sealed Evil in a Can. During the Clan War, the undead Scorpion shugenja Yogo Junzo opened the first of the Black Scrolls that kept Fu Leng imprisoned, and led armies of Shadowlands monsters and undead to find the others. Junzo has his own dragon, Moto Tsume.
- The James Bond RPG refers to this character type as the "Privileged Henchman".
- In noh theater, this archetype is called the wakizure, second to the waki who is the Big Bad.
- In Broken Saints, Gabriel, son of the Big Bad Lear Dunham generally seems to fill this role in the grand scheme.
- In the Madness Combat series of Flash animations, Jebus/Joe/the one with the halo was originally The Dragon for The Sheriff, but he has since taken over as Hank's arch-nemesis.
- Parodied in Dangeresque with Perducci's "secret weapon", Killingyouguy!.
- Amaroq in No Evil appears to serve this role to Charles, the ten-year-old Big Bad.
- DSBT InsaniT: ???'s Tyrannomon is this to him. He seems to treat it almost like a partner Digimon.
- Dreamscape: Keela used to be one for the Master of the Dammed, but it was all a gambit so she could kill him. Kaila was his Dragon before that.
- The Most Epic Story Ever Told in All of Human History: Ridiculously Epic Fail seems to be this to Ridiculously Epic.
- In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Moist could technically be seen as Dr. Horrible's Dragon since he's the only henchman he has.
- The Slender Man will sometimes use one, such as Albert Conaghan in Seeking Truth. In Marble Hornets, it's initially implied that totheark is this, but by the end of Season 2 it's fairly clear that totheark has his own agenda while the role of Dragon belongs to Alex.
- Simon seems to become The Dragon to Oswald Sherzikien in Return of the Cartoon Man and Journey of the Cartoon Man.