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The Watcher

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Don't mind me. I'm just here to spectate.

"I observe and record. I do not interfere."
Uatu, Fantastic Four #13... and many times after

A recurring character whose role is, well, to Watch and literally nothing else. Yet, strangely, instead of remaining completely passive it will probably give some advice to the hero and then disappear, or otherwise interfere in some small (but important) way to help the heroes triumph. Indeed, given the various observer effects, if they were really doing their job, they shouldn't be detectable at all. Often explained by saying The Watcher has some rules which restrict it from taking action, and it will then regularly ignore this Obstructive Code of Conduct as much as it can...

Not to be confused with the Mysterious Watcher (who observes the characters from afar for their own purposes), though the two can certainly overlap. Also not to be confused with the person on the other side of the TV screen/Fourth Wall, nor the Evil Overlooker, which is a box art phenomenon.

Also see The Mentor and the Mysterious Informant. Frequently an All-Powerful Bystander. Normally a Fantastic Anthropologist. Compare The Omniscient Council of Vagueness.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bookman and Lavi in D.Gray-Man are supposed to be unbiased recorders of "the secret history." Supposed to be...
  • Mikuru Asahina from Haruhi Suzumiya is a Time Traveler who's assigned to watch over Haruhi to unlock the mystery about why it's now impossible to time-travel beyond a certain day.
  • Osaragi from Kaguya-sama: Love Is War doesn't actively participate in plots, but she does take notice of all the things going on with Iino, and the situation in middle school. Thankfully, this means she can see the good points of those who are shunned, like Iino and Ishigami.
  • Meta Knight acts as the Mentor for Kirby in the Kirby: Right Back at Ya! anime, and tends to act this way rather a lot of the time, often serving as Mr. Exposition. Although he and his henchmen do take the odd opportunity to display how badass they are on a regular basis, Meta Knight seems happy to leave the problem solving to Fumu and the ass kicking to Kirby.
  • In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Big Bad Paptimus Scirocco would like people to think he is this, as evidenced by his Charcter Catch Phrase "I'm merely a witness to history", but the truth is he's just a very good player of Xanatos Speed Chess and is content to make a move only when he has to.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Kyubey is the living embodiment of this trope. Despite being a Manipulative Bastard, his actions only indirectly influence the storyline, and he really cannot break the rules which are assigned to him (grant a wish to an up-and-coming Magical Girl, no matter how weird it is). Of course, this does not stop him from giving out a Wham Line in almost every episode. He's also one of the few examples to employ this trope somewhat malevolently, being the absolute king of Exact Words and You Didn't Ask.

    Comic Books 
  • Uatu the Watcher is the Trope Namer, a Marvel Comics character (introduced in Fantastic Four #13) who lives in a secret base on the moon, watches everything transpiring on Earth, and occasionally pontificates to the readership about it. He always loudly proclaimed "Yes, it is I; the Watcher, who is always watching, but must not interfere", roughly every other sentence as if people were going to forget it. Which to be fair is probably a valid concern because quite notably, in spite of his Character Catch Phrase, he almost always ended up interfering anyway. It's implied by others of his race that Uatu has more personal investment in the planet's inhabitants than is normal for Watchers.
    • As Uatu is well aware, his mere presence is a degree of interference. Earth's heroes long ago learned that Uatu only shows up in person when something really big is about to happen, so just by allowing himself to be seen he gives them a passive warning without technically breaking the rules. He Exploited this to great effect to ruin The Stranger's machinations in Beyond, showing up and letting him assume this meant he would be beaten in this stage of the Eternal Recurrence, since Uatu never showed up before. Naturally, the truth was the heroes had no way of defeating the Stranger, but Uatu's presence made him decide discretion was the better part of valor, and flee.
    • A hilarious example of him actually not interfering comes when the Red Hulk, who punched Uatu when he was on his Villain Sue trip, appears about to die. Uatu shows up and tells him "Sadly I am forbidden to intervene" and stands there so he can watch him get sucked into a black hole.
    • In Original Sin #0, new Nova Sam Alexander asks Iron Man and Captain America why Uatu watches everything. After a beat, Cap admits that they have no idea. Nova later learns that Uatu is looking for a world where his father (who was the cause of the Watchers' "no-interference" policy) was right. At the end of Original Sin, Nick Fury becomes Uatu's successor The Unseen, as punishment for his actions.
    • A different explanation for why the Watchers watch comes from Earth X: They have a complicated relationship with the Celestials, who punished the Watchers for allowing Galactus to exist, since Galactus eats Celestial seeds planted at the center of planets. The Celestials got retribution by forcing the Watchers to observe other seeds mature, and made the technology they use to observe.
  • Also from the Marvel Multiverse, we have The One Above All and the Living Tribunal, number 1 and number 2 most powerful beings in Marvel respectively, they only get involved when there are threats to the multiverse
  • From The DCU, The Phantom Stranger is a little more proactive than most Watchers (in fact, he is, as he points out in the JLA/Avengers crossover, a sometimes member of the league), but still fits the bill. Destiny of the Endless is perhaps the DCU's purest example, although there are others as well.
    • It helped that in some of his comic incarnations, the Phantom Stranger was an agent of the Lords of Order and it was his duty to intervene against cases where Chaos was involved.
  • The Spectre in Kingdom Come acts like this. His job is to witness the coming (possible) apocalypse, not to interfere with it (only to punish the wicked should anyone be left after said apocalypse). Pastor Norman McKay who accompanies him fulfills the same role (having been chosen by the Spectre to accompany him in his observations). Norman however refuses inaction; telling the Spectre that this would be as evil as those who brought the whole situation to happen, and steps in to stop Superman's Unstoppable Rage.
  • The New Universe from Marvel has The Witness, a character who dies as a result of the White Event, but continues to exist as an intangible ghost. He is drawn to places where people are manifesting paranormal powers, but can only watch what happens, unable to intervene in any way.
  • Parodied in The Pro with The Viewer, who observes the world from a cloaked satellite and grants superpowers to the main character on a whim. His robot companion frequently calls him The Voyeur.
  • X-Men had the Gamesmaster during the '90s. As a high-order telepath cursed to constantly listen to every mind on Earth, he would find various ways to stave off Go Mad from the Revelation, one of which was to rip off Uatu by psychically showing up to observe various important events.
    • There was also The Witness (not to be confused with The Witness from The New Universe mentioned above), an elderly Seer from Bishop's future who warned him about the "X-Traitor" that Bishop would hunt for throughout the '90s. Though his identity was never confirmed, the Witness was heavily implied to be Gambit, while the X-traitor he warned Bishop about was eventually confirmed to be Professor X in his Onslaught persona.
  • Tempus Fuginaut from Tales from the Dark Multiverse is the watcher of the Dark Multiverse, where the multiverse runs on the hopes and fears of the heroes and villains that thrive in the prime multiverse. There, he witnesses several well known DC events diverging for the worst compared to what happened in the original timeline(s), such as Batman failing to take back his position from Azrael and seeing Gotham turning into a fortified city where criminals live in fear lest be killed by him or his goons, or the one time where Lois Lane became The Eradicator and became hell-bent on lashing out at those who let Superman die in vain, villain and heroes alike...however, unlike Uatu...he really, REALLY sucks at his job of preventing them hopping into the main multiverse...can't blame Duke for beating him down, eh?

    Fan Works 
  • Blackened Skies: Korekiyo fancies himself as such, claiming to be a neutral observer of human behavior who's fascinated to see how everyone reacts to being thrown into another mutual killing game. While this doesn't stop him from questioning and undermining Kaede's efforts to unite the group against Monokuma, he's far less overt about this compared to others like Celeste or Gundam, preferring a much subtler touch. In particular, after he triggers a vote of no-confidence against her leadership, he refuses to participate in the vote itself, claiming that "it's not my place to interfere" and that he's content to simply observe the outcome.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Animorphs: The Ellimist claims to be this at first. Later, it is revealed that although both he and his evil counterpart Crayak would love to be more proactive, they tie each other's cosmic hands. Every time we see one of them do something, the other has agreed behind the scenes to let them do it as a part of a compromise, because otherwise they could cancel each other out endlessly. The trick to making progress in their "game", for the Ellimist, is hoping that the Animorphs will have the right reaction to the limited help or information he is able to give them, and/or that Crayak won't realize the true significance of a "move".
  • In Teresa Edgerton's Celydonn books, Dame Ceinwen often plays this role - she considers it part of the responsibility of having great power that she must not interfere too much.
  • In C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen and Regenesis, this role is played by the first Ariane Emory to the second Ariane Emory by way of the messages she left in Base One.
  • In the Discworld novels, both Death and Lu-Tze of the History Monks are constrained by rules that prevent them interfering with history, although both bend these rules considerably in certain circumstances.
    • They both at least have something to do in the world, whereas their meddling is sometimes provoked by actions of Auditors, who are truly supposed to do nothing at all but observe and register.
  • Terry Pratchett's other work, Strata has people who stay in cryostasis on a orbiting satellite and are only woken to record big developments on a planet below. The job literally takes thousands of years.
  • Astinus of the Dragonlance novels is The Watcher of Krynn. Rumoured to be the god Gilean (the God of the Book, of course) in human form, he's the only man on the planet who, according to Raistlin's time vision, is not dying. He spends all of his time recording the events of the world in (generally) unbroken sittings. This is even to the extent that he'll be writing things like On this morning, Caramon entered my office— before turning to the visitor. He has also unintentionally interfered in events — mostly through Time Travel, when a protagonist obtained and brought back to the present one of his books from the future. On that day there was only one recording in his book: On this day of Overwatch Rising, Caramon of Solace brought me a volume of Astinus's Chronicles. A book that I will never write.
  • Fate/strange Fake: Sigma ends up summoning Servant Watcher, a mysterious being or group of beings that can shape shift into various forms. Since Watcher is intangible and Sigma is the only person who can see and hear them, Watcher passively observes the Holy Grail War. They are seemingly aware of everything that happens in the city, though they cannot see the future, the past, or read minds, and gives Sigma warnings and advice, though they claim that they are putting Sigma through tests to turn him into True Lancer.
  • Harry Potter: This is the role of anyone viewing a memory in a Pensieve. Simultaneous viewers can still interact with each other.
  • Warrior Cats: StarClan take this attitude toward the living characters, believing that interfering directly with the physical world would make the living cats their "playthings". This hasn't stopped them from occasionally making their will very clear, such as when they cause lightning to strike a specific tree, causing it to fall over and create a handy bridge to an important island, while simultaneously killing off a traitorous warrior attempting to usurp WindClan's leadership. Actually, there is no concrete proof that StarClan was responsible for the lightning strike. Some of the characters assume it was a message from StarClan, but StarClan never takes responisbility for it, and for all we know it could have been a freak lightning strike. It's more likely that StarClan wasn't responsible because they've never done anything that drastic before.
  • Invoked in the Watchers series by Peter Lerangis. It was a six book series based on observers (who act like the Chess Master). It mainly focused on the Watchers' interference with ordinary teenagers who got caught up in weird situations involving Mind Uploading / Creepy Twins, being Trapped in the Past, Clone Angst, stuck on an island of Elderly Immortal or (even worse) Ground Hog Day Loop... The Tag Line was "They see what we can't see."
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Message": The ideal time-traveller is never seen by people in the past, never takes anything, and never leaves anything. It's an Implied Trope that the Butterfly of Doom could change things if they didn't follow the rules. Naturally our time-traveller violates the rule. George Kilroy tagged a wall to inform other people that he had been there.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Season 5 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. features the Chronicoms, a race of alien androids sent to observe life on Earth but never interfere, unless it's to prevent an extinction-level event.
  • On Buffy, Angel shows up in the early episodes only to offer Buffy cryptic messages about upcoming threats. Despite their name, Giles and the other members of the Council of Watchers act more like Mentors, and occasionally fight demons themselves.
    • Played straight(er) in the movie, where there was only ONE Immortal Watcher, who has trained The Chosen One's for centuries. He was allowed to do so by the Big Bad, so that the Big Bad would have some entertainment every now and again. Of course, The Watcher DOES intervene to save Buffy's life, and shortly afterwards dies for it.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Time Lords. Again, while they were officially supposed to never interfere, a lot of them were really bad at it. Notably, their doctrine of noninterference was largely self-imposed; they made that decision in the first place because they're almost all horribly corrupt, and the doctrine is basically there to keep them from screwing up and/or conquering everything else.
    • Played straight with the Watcher from "Logopolis", who watched the Doctor and his companions throughout the serial, and was revealed to be a manifestation of the Fourth Doctor, which Foreshadows his regeneration into the Fifth Doctor.
  • Fringe: The Observer and his organization are a group of bald men with advanced technology and almost no emotions (or taste buds) who observe major events in history, but seem to be showing up more and more frequently in the present day (Once an Episode, to be exact). Their purpose is unknown; they may be time travelers, immortals, or interdimensional police. They do sometimes interfere by communicating with the main characters in order to prevent the two universes from destroying each other, but they justify it as righting previous errors.
  • The Watchers of Ghost Whisperer, who annoy Melinda with their inability to give straight answers.
  • Future Hiro took on this role in Heroes when he told Peter to "save the cheerleader", and again when he told his past self how to stop the bomb.
  • The Watchers from Highlander are prototypical, being members of an organization who observed the conflict between immortals but were sworn to remain apart from it. And just like Uatu they're really really bad at that second part.
    • The series actually deconstructs the idea of an organisation charged with observing a hidden world. While some Watchers take it very seriously, most treat it like any other nine-til-five job. They have pensions and even vacation time; in one episode Joe reveals to Duncan that they don't know who beheaded a recently killed Immortal, because that Immortal's watcher took some time off for his sister's wedding.
    • The Watcher assigned to the oldest known immortal Methos is actually Methos himself, hiding in plain sight. Duncan discovers the truth when he meets the Watcher for the first time and his "an Immortal is near" sense is triggered.
  • Medium: Allison's dead father-in-law fits the trope. He also annoys Allison by not giving straight answers and inflating the danger of what will happen just to be on the safe side or teach a lesson.
  • Stargate-verse: The Ancients. And if we say they don't interfere, we mean it. The number of times Ancients interfered in the plot can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and every time, the individual who did so was genuinely punished by the rest. On two occasions an Ancient has evaded punishment by sacrificing all their powers and becoming human, then using just their superior knowledge to interfere.
  • Supernatural has the Men of Letters, a secret society dedicated to studying the monsters and magic of the world but never directly interfering themselves (they have Hunters to do that for them). We learn in their first appearance that John Winchester's entire family were members, which is what led to his father's death pre-series, before John could learn of their existence.
  • The X-Files has several people in Watcher-like roles (often emissaries of the Powers That Be, or those within the Powers That Be but secretly working against them, e.g. Mr. X).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has creatures known as zodar, hulking figures in all-enclosing black armor that occasionally attach themselves to adventuring parties. Zodar are habitually silent - one might speak once during a human lifetime - and they typically do nothing more than follow and observe, fighting only to defend themselves. In very rare cases a zodar will suddenly burst into action and display a feat of superhuman strength, perhaps throwing a toppled ship's mast like a javelin at an enemy, or leaping forward to subject a particular being to a Killer Bear Hug. They can also use the wish spell once per year, though if they do so, the effects are so subtle that it's difficult to recognize. But most of the time, a zodar is more likely to watch in silence as a Total Party Kill unfolds before them than intervene to save anyone. So between their inscrutable behavior and taciturn nature, nobody knows what the zodar's agenda is, only that it's best not to get in their way.

    Video Games 
  • ANNO: Mutationem: The mysterious Masked Woman who informs Ann about the truth of multiple revelations reveals herself to be the vital force of a watcher, who solely desires to guide Ann towards the path that will save the world from destruction.
  • An "Onlooker" in BlazBlue is supposed to observe and not (directly) interfere. Their power to "observe" things (i.e acknowledging the existence and happenstance of things, which - due to quantum theories - has multiple applications) is far greater than anyone else, but if they decide to interfere, they'll steadily lose their power bit by bit. Rachel Alucard is one of those Onlookers; she's also one of the "players" in the verse's Cosmic Chess Game who moves others (particularly the hero, Ragna) to help her protect the world from the villains. As the games' story continue, however, she'd been forced to interfere a couple of times just to ensure her victory, and as of the fourth game she's steadily losing her powers. Another Onlooker is Amane Nishiki, who later succeeds Rachel's job of watching over and protecting the world.
  • In Deus Ex, this role is played by different characters throughout the game.
    • Initially, The Watcher is Alex Jacobson, the computer guy at UNATCO; he drops out after the La Guardia mission.
    • Daedalus takes over the role at the beginning of the Majestic-12 sequence.
  • The G-Man from the Half-Life series. Although he might also be considered the Sufficiently Advanced Alien as well. Then again, as time goes on, it appears that he's becoming less and less of a Watcher, especially after the death of Eli. "Prepare for unforeseen consequences", indeed.
  • Hyrule Warriors: Cia, the Guardian of Time, was originally a straight example of this as she observed the various timelines of the Legend of Zelda series. Things started to go wrong as she became more and more enamored with The Hero as she observed the heroic deeds of his various incarnations, and became more and more envious of the various Zeldas. After being egged on by Ganondorf's corrupting influence, Cia abandoned her duty and raised an army to invade Hyrule to get rid of Zelda and take the Hero for herself.
  • The mysterious narrator/the Lord of the castle in Knights in the Nightmare is one. He implies that the entire world was created as an experiment into human nature.
  • Persona: Philemon from Persona and Persona 2 is mostly this, limiting his direct actions to giving the heroes the power to summon avatars of their inner psyche and pressing the Reset Button when his Evil Counterpart manages to destroy the world. In subsequent games in the series, he simply lets his servant Igor do all the work.
  • Teo and Lippti from Radiant Historia, though they are allowed to give the hero advice from time to time. Specifically, Teo and Lippti are permitted to tell Stocke anything they like, they just can't see any possible timelines until he's already created them with a decision, and thus can only coach him on where he went wrong. The one thing they are absolutely forbidden to do is reveal or even imply anything about the goals and identity of the Black Chronicle wielder to the holder of the White Chronicle. This frustrates Stocke's efforts, but they later reveal it also protected him, since it works both ways. When they break this rule, they can only provide oblique and obscure clues, and it causes them excruciating pain.
  • In Sdorica, the Player Character is the Watcher, who's watching the events of the game using the Book of the Bequeathers. Everything else about them is a complete mystery.
  • In the Thief series, the Keepers act like this for the most part, although they will get involved if the situation demands it. Since they are undisputed masters of stealth, even when they do get involved nobody realizes it, and very few outside their organization are aware that they even exist. Deconstructed in the third game, when the Keepers — more specifically, their Glyphs — are the problem. A rogue Keeper who became a twisted immortal monster through her abuse of Glyphs is the Big Bad, and the leader of the Keepers spends the entire game hampering Garret's progress before finally accepting that the Keepers have become too attached to the power of the Glyphs. Right before the Hag kills him, he tells Garret to activate the Final Glyph which ends the power of the Glyphs and with it the Keeper organization. At the very end of the game Garrett is the last true Keeper. Which is rather ironic since he spent most of his life rejecting that calling.
  • When They Cry: In Umineko: When They Cry, Bernkastel takes this role for the first two games, but once Beatrice indicates that she knows where Bern's loyalties lie, she takes a much more active role. It may or may not be the same Bernkastel as in Umineko, but Frederica Bernkastel is The Watcher of the Higurashi: When They Cry continuity, as she is the collective amalgamation of all past Rikas, and is responsible for plugging Rika into another kakera after Hanyuu invokes her power.
  • Sanae Hanekoma from The World Ends with You, whose purpose it is to actually watch over the Game as a whole.
  • XenoGears: Miang is the human avatar for Deus, who manipulates the world's inhabitants so they may evolve to assimilate with it.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Jones fills this role, although she does take on a teaching role as a way to mingle with humans. She doesn't teach any information that humans couldn't otherwise learn. Coyote has taken to nickname her "Wandering Eye".
  • Homestuck has Doc Scratch. The audience does eventually learn that he has an agenda of his own, but he brings about this agenda by contacting a few people and giving them advice to nudge them in the right direction.

    Web Original 
  • Gubaru from the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes often watches the progress of the Dimensional Guardians via his base tucked away in a pocket dimension, occasionally contacting them via their Guardian Bands to offer advice.

    Web Videos 
  • Virgil in lonelygirl15. He's not the only "watcher" in the series, but he's the only example of "The Watcher".

    Western Animation 
  • Cuber, the spinner of "graybles" in Adventure Time, functions as a watcher, albeit one from the future.
  • Danny Phantom: The Observants who watch, but never act; and Clockwork who watches and acts when he feels the need to.
  • The Simpsons had an example of this in the episode "Helter Shelter", where the Simpsons participate in a reality show where they are reduced to late 19th century living, and the producers enforce ratings stunts to keep the show interesting. When the Simpsons ask the show's creator if they can have lunch with the crew, he claims, "We're not allowed to interfere with the reality of the show." This is after the crew deliberately uprooted the house and sent it down a river.
  • The Venture Bros. parodies this trope with "The Galactic Inquisitor," a towering alien who loudly insists he's only there to observe ("IGNORE ME!!"), but his presence is so jarring and burdensome he just keeps getting in the way. Subverted in that according to the alien disguised as Rusty's dad, when he was done with his evaluation he would have destroyed the Earth.
  • What If…? (2021):
    • The show uses Uatu the Watcher as a narrator and Framing Device for the alternate realities seen in each episode. Twice he is noticed. First by Doctor Strange Supreme, whose begging for help is shot down as Uatu says A God I Am Not and that Strange now must deal with the oblivion he caused. But it gets worse the second time when an Ultron with all six Infinity Stones notices him and gives Uatu a devastating beatdown, forcing the Watcher to get help from across the multiverse, lest the borderline omnipotent Omnicidal Maniac rampages and destroys the multiverse.
    • Uatu actually deconstructs the trope as the series goes on. Uatu's oath of non-interference ends up leaving him emotionally drained as he's forced to watch dark, melancholy timelines with no way of interacting with anyone within them and Ultimate Ultron and Black Widow point out the questionable morality of watching the downfall of entire universes but never lifting a finger to prevent any of the catastrophes.

    Real Life 
  • Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein portrayed Deep Throat this way in their book All the President's Men, and the movie follows suit. Understandable, as Nixon was known to fire anyone who he even thought was against him; indeed, Woodward and Bernstein were so certain their contact would be killed they made it clear they would not reveal his identity until after he died. (Although Deep Throat, a.k.a. W. Mark Felt, beat them to it.)