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Threshold Guardians
aka: Threshold Guardian

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"How far are you prepared to go? How much are you prepared to risk? How many people are you prepared to sacrifice for victory? Are you willing to die friendless, alone, deserted by everyone? Because that's what may be required of you in the war that is to come."
Sebastian, Babylon 5

A figure or event that tests the resolve of a hero as he pursues his destiny and/or his goal. The Guardian is not necessarily adversarial, but puts the hero in a position where he must make a decision that reflects a sincere commitment to the task at hand, by providing a threat or bar to progress that the hero must specifically choose to overcome. In simpler terms, the Threshold Guardian exists to make sure the Hero is prepared for his adventure.

Sometimes the Guardian's challenge is an illusion which must be penetrated; when it is not, the Guardian himself is often the challenge, and defeating him can turn him into an ally. Whatever form the Guardian and his challenge take, their defeat forces the hero to grow; heroes that are not yet ready for their journey are forced to turn back until they have matured sufficiently to handle the task.

Physical force is not necessarily the solution. Outwitting the guardian or persuading them to your side may, in fact, be required. The guardian may also use a test of the hero's ability to withstand pain to measure their commitment.

A hero may have more than one encounter with Threshold Guardians during his adventure — each one tests him and at the same time heralds an escalation of the danger (and consequent reward) the hero faces.

The term comes from the work of comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell — next, the hero undergoes a Symbolic Hero Rebirth.

In the work of Vladimir Propp, this character is the donor, laying more emphasis on the benefits gain than the testing to get them.

Compare with Secret Test of Character, in which the obstacle put before the character is a moral one. Although this can shade into that, when the guardian is testing courage, perservance, willingness to listen to advice, or courtesy. Also compare with Red Pill, Blue Pill, which is a similar event meant to test the hero's willingness to embark on his adventure in the first place.

In Video Games, these guys may be responsible for a Broken Bridge. Also, compare Beef Gate, which is more on the game mechanics side of things than the more plot-centric Threshold Guardians.

A guardian challenging an Anti-Hero may provide them with the opportunity to prove their willingness to perform morally questionable or outright evil acts, such as sacrificing others.

Compare Ancient Order of Protectors, MacGuffin Guardian.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The God Hand in Berserk serve as this to potential apostles, posing them with the choice to sacrifice their loved ones in exchange for great demonic power at the absolute depths of their despair. The most notable of these tempted few Griffith who is reminded of his dream by the God Hand after he is broken physically and mentally, encouraging him to pursue it simply because he's come too far and sacrificed too much to relent now.
  • Yukio is this to Rock in Black Lagoon. Subverted when he decides to Take a Third Option.
  • Bleach:
    • Subverted when Ichigo encounters a Hollow trying to catch a lost soul. Rukia tries to turn the fight into his Threshold Guardian event, demanding that he either let the Hollow eat the ghost or vow to protect all souls. It flops, as Ichigo shuts her up mid-sentence and saves the soul because he wants to.
    • The spirit in Ichigo's Zanpaktou tests Ichigo several times.
  • In Digimon Frontier, Dark Trailmon serves as this for Takuya, who at the time is having a Heroic BSoD because of the heroes' defeat by Duskmon.
  • Digimon Data Squad:
    • BanchoLeomon invites the DATS trio into a special dojo where they cannot escape from it unless they pass through his test of strengthening their DigiSoul. Their Digimon Partners have no choice but to wait outside and are rendered helpless against Kouki, Nanami and Ivan. The will and strong emotion to protect their partners allows the trio to unleash their DigiSoul Overdrive and restore their destroyed DigiVices and allowing their partners to evolve into their Ultimate/Mega-level.
    • Craniummon acts basically as a gatekeeper for Yggdrasil and only those who can beat his spear Claíomh Solais and his shield Avalon are allowed to pass through. Craniummon, who already witnessed the combined power of human and Digimon and had lost to them once before, loses again to Masaru and his friends, being finally convinced that the human heart is able to stand against Yggdrasil and shaken the latter's absolute authority, leading Craniummon of joining the heroes in saving both worlds.
  • Doki Doki Pretty Cure has Melan who can transform into a dragon. Unlike Coupe, the Pretty Cures cannot defeat her, but they still gain the Legendary Mirror.
  • HeartCatch Pretty Cure! does this twice for the heroines' Mid-Season Upgrade — the first is a fight with Tsubomi's grandmother's fairy partner Coupe in a test of resolve just to obtain the item. The second is a fight with their Mirages, representing their major hang ups. The last one doubles as a Secret Test of Character.
  • Yunan, the wandering Magi is this to Morgiana in Magi: Labyrinth of Magic. She meets him at the Great Cliff before the Dark Continent, the homeland she longs to see, and tells her that there's some Fanalis left in there. But he declares that once she crosses, she'll never come back, since war will start soon in the realms from where she comes, where her friends remain. She chooses to return and help her friends instead of finding her origins, and Yunan decides to join her to help.
  • The title character of Naruto needed to overcome Yami Naruto, the incarnation of all of his darker emotions, before he could challenge the Kyuubi. Only by accepting that darkness back into himself rather than rejecting and repressing it could he break the Kyuubi's hold on him and face it in a fair battle.
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Evangeline's filled the role a few times. Characters about to become better acquainted with themselves (or her) keep encountering progressively scarier versions of her.
  • Silvers Rayleigh serves as this in One Piece. After his devastating defeat at Marineford, he warns Luffy that if he doesn't learn Haki, his crew likely won't get far in the New World. Cue the Time Skip.
  • The heart shard of Fear in Princess Tutu serves as a Threshold Guardian for both the main character and Mytho. When Ahiru hears Mytho say that he's "afraid of Princess Tutu" she almost gives up, even tossing away her pendant. Mytho also is forced to decide if he wants to continue receiving heart shards, even when they restore emotions that could hurt him. Both characters eventually choose to continue on.
  • The many Sanctuary challenges in the Saint Seiya series. Each Gold Saint is a Threshold Guardian by him/herself.
  • Yamori from Tokyo Ghoul unintentionally serves as one to Kaneki, when he captures and tortures the idealistic young man for a week and a half. Kaneki is only able to free himself and defeat his tormenter when he fully accepts his Ghoul nature, and decides to become "someone that hurts" rather than "someone that is hurt". This decision is a crossroads for the series, with Kaneki embarking on a quest to destroy Aogiri Tree that sees him transform into a ruthless and unstable Anti-Hero.
  • Each of the planets in Transformers: Cybertron involves an encounter with a threshold guardian, as well as several other points in the show. The most interesting example is Override, whose challenge was neither an illusion nor a fight, but a race that served as a coming of age for the rookie Hot Shot. Optimus Prime tended to face the other Threshold Guardians, generally with Leobreaker or Wing Saber.
  • Vinland Saga: Thorfinn has several over the course of his long Character Development, but the most blatant one is during the second arc: Thorfinn is all that stands between Gardar, an unconscious man, and Snake, who has sworn blood vengeance on Gardar over the murder of his men. Having sworn never to do harm ever again, Thorfinn is visited by his Spirit Advisor who asks him if he intends to stay on the path of true pacifism, or choose to fight to prevent greater harm to those who cannot defend themselves. Thorfinn chooses the latter and attacks Snake, unarmed, to save Gardar.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Genkai serves this role beautifully for Yusuke in the Dark Tournament arc.

    Comic Book 
  • In The Thessaliad, the Sphinx and Lester are both supposed to serve as threshold guardians on Thessaly's quest. Thessaly, being Thessaly, cheats her way past both of them, answering the Sphinx's riddle before she even has a chance to ask it (and then providing her with an unsolvable riddle in return) and shrinking Lester into a normal-sized human before dashing his head in with his own ax.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Nu'bia can serve as a challenge to those seeking adventure or something else beyond Doom's Door, but her charge is keeping stuff from going the other way and she's usually too busy with that to care about people entering it.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In The Bird Grip and The Golden Bird, despite warnings, the older princes go to the merry inn, where they forget their father, and their quest. The youngest goes to the dark inn and travels on to complete the quest.
  • In The Golden Goose, the old man they meet on the way.
  • In Jesper Who Herded the Hares, the old woman they meet on the way to the castle.
  • In The Seven Foals, an old woman tries to lure aside the men set to watch the king's foals all day. She succeeds with the older two of three brothers, but the youngest runs by her.
  • In Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf, the three princes each come upon a stone with three warnings; two decide to chose none, and turn back, yet Prince Ivan presses on.
    Who rides straight forward shall know both hunger and cold.
    Who rides to the right shall live, though his steed be dead.
    Who rides to the left shall die, though his steed shall live.
  • In Tsarevich Petr and the Wizard, the old man met along the way.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, since solvable trials seem to be wizards' idea of good protection, the Third Floor Corridor naturally gets some living one on top of the enchantments from First Year when it gets upgraded in 1992. They include a Sphinx, an Acromantula, a Gargoyle, and, most recently, Sirius Black. Each has some sort of test or challenge for trespassers.

    Films — Animation 
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: The Leviathan guards the entrance to Atlantis. It's very good at its job, as there are sunken ships there from "every era."
  • Master Shifu is Po's first threshold guardian in Kung Fu Panda, and only by choosing to overcome Shifu's Training from Hell and eventually besting him in a sparring match over a dumpling does he indicate his preparedness to take on Tai Lung, who while the Big Bad of the first film, also qualifies as a Threshold Guardian in the larger context of the subsequently developed franchise.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avengers: Infinity War: The Soul Stone is watched over by a still-alive Red Skull, who spells out to Thanos the sacrifice he has to make in order to retrieve it. And yes, it is unusual for this trope to apply to the villain of the story rather than the hero, but again Thanos is very much the Villain Protagonist here, and he certainly believes he has a heroic goal.
  • Casablanca has an interesting variation where the Guardian guarding the two MacGuffins that The Hero and Big Bad want is the main character and The Hero's love rival, and thus has a personal stake in who he wants to give the MacGuffins to or keep one for himself. Rather than physical conflict between The Hero and the Guardian, the story plays out as an emotional conflict between the Guardian and the Love Interest, while The Hero is mostly powerless.
  • Tyler Durden sets up one of these in Fight Club for Project Mayhem. All applicants are initially rejected as too young, old, fat, thin, etc. If they stand on the porch for three days and nights without food, shelter or encouragement, they are allowed in.
  • It's a Wonderful Life: Inverted with everyone who offers George the chance to leave Bedford Falls. It seems that George does a Refusal of the Call every time. The truth is that his true call is staying and looking after his hometown.
  • In Labyrinth, Sir Didymus guards the bridge that must be crossed, though rather than defeating him in combat or other traditional means, Sarah remembers her lesson to not take things for granted, and listens to Sir Didymus's statement that none may cross without his permission. So she politely asks if she may cross and he, unsure what to do since nobody else has ever asked, says yes. Didymus even decides to help Sarah out in her quest.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    • Naturally spoofed:
      Bridgekeeper: Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.
      Sir Lancelot: Ask me the questions, bridgekeeper. I am not afraid.
      Bridgekeeper: What... is your name?
      Sir Lancelot: My name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot.
      Bridgekeeper: What... is your quest?
      Sir Lancelot: To seek the Holy Grail.
      Bridgekeeper: What... is your favourite colour?
      Sir Lancelot: Blue.
      Bridgekeeper: Right. Off you go.
    • Spoofed to Hell and back: right after Lancelot, Sir Robin is asked a surprisingly difficult question rather than the three easy ones he expected from watching the former, and is flung to his death. Sir Galahad gets the same favorite color question as Lancelot and somehow still gets it wrong, and is flung to his death. Finally, King Arthur gets another tricky question about the airspeed of an unladen swallow, but when he asks the Bridgekeeper to be more specific, it turns out he doesn't know the answer either, and is flung to his death.
    • Spoofed three times: The Black Knight guards the bridge (in reality a small plank) across the river (in reality a creek one could just as easily hopscotch over) and refuses to let anyone, even King Arthur himself, pass. Arthur must defeat the knight in battle to continue, which he does handily...only the Knight is immortal and even being completely dismembered isn't enough to stop him. Arthur and his flunky ride on even as the Knight continues to scream "Come back here! I'll bite your legs off!"
  • The NeverEnding Story:
    • Atreyu is required to pass by two golden sphinxes. As he gets closer to the Threshold Guardian sphinxes, he views the fallen bodies of those who went before him who didn't have the faith to pass.
    • The Childlike Empress' chancellor also acts as a Threshold Guardian, warning Atreyu of the danger ahead, to leave on his quest alone, and to abandon everything but the Auryn. Atreyu unwittingly ignores the caution to travel alone, leading to the death of his beloved horse, Artax.
  • A similar scene in Robin Hood: Men in Tights introduces Robin to Little John by way of making Little John the "tollkeeper" of a bridge. Robin refuses to pay the toll, since the river is on his family's land, leading to an epic comedy quarterstaff battle. (The "threshold" to be crossed in this case is that Robin proves himself chivalrous in battle by "saving" Little John from drowning, thus recruiting the first of his Merry Men.) All the while, Robin's friend Ahchoo tries to talk him out of the fight by pointing out the obvious:
    Ahchoo: Look, Robin, you don't have to do this. I mean, this ain't exactly the Mississippi. Look. [hopping from bank to bank] I'm on one side. I'm on the other side. I'm on the east bank, I'm on the west bank. It's not that critical.
    Robin: It's the principle of the thing.
    Ahchoo: Been nice knowing you.
  • The old man guarding The Wall in the Stardust movie. Turns out rather atypically since he actually prevents Tristan from crossing, so Tristan has to get around him with his dad's help.
  • Star Wars:
    • In A New Hope, Mos Eisley is the First Threshold, and the stormtroopers are its Guardians. Luke's escape from them aboard the Millenium Falcon is his crossing of the threshold.
    • The cave on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke battles an illusory image of Darth Vader. Notably, Luke fails the test by not understanding the lesson, foreshadowing tragedy when they fight for real later in the movie.
  • The penultimate scene of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has Wonka exploding at Charlie and refusing to give him the promised prize of a lifetime supply of chocolate. This turns out to be a test of Charlie's loyalty, which Charlie passes by returning Wonka's gobstopper instead of selling it to the rival candy maker Arthur Slugworth. Even better, the man we thought was Slugworth was actually an actor named Mr. Wilkinson, hired by Wonka as part of the test. After demonstrating his loyalty, Charlie not only earns a lifetime supply of chocolate but also becomes the heir to Wonka's company.

  • 1Q84: The Esso Tiger billboard stands near the entrance to the world of 1Q84. Aomame comes to think of the Tiger as a guardian of sorts, even finding comfort in the mascot.
  • Magali is sort of a threshold guardian in the Astral Dawn series. She watches over the exit of the Way of Ascension, a tunnel of light that funnels ascending spirits into the astral plane. She's the first person Caspian meets after flying through it in pursuit of Ixchel.
  • In H. P. Lovecraft's Beyond the Gates of the Silver Key Yog-Sothoth appears as a literal threshold guardian on Randolph Carter's astral journey, marking the point where Carter must choose between returning to his normal life or exploring the universe (but risking never getting back).
  • The Mercy Thompson book Blood Bound, the killing of the second vampire starts Mercedes on her genetic duties.
  • A literal example shows up in Stephen King's The Dark Tower series with the Demon Elementals, six powerful and evil creatures with male/female aspects that sit in magical circles known as Speaking Rings on the ends of the Beam. "Pulling" someone into Midworld (where the story takes place) requires traveling to a Speaking Ring and completing a magical ritual, which the Demon tries to interrupt. The only way to distract the monster is with sex; Susannah Dean, for example, literally traps one's member between her legs while Roland and Eddie perform the spell.
  • The Divine Comedy: Before Dante can ascend above the universe and see God, he has to prove the truth of his virtues to three of Christ's apostles. Faith and hope are easy enough, but St. John's test of love blinds Dante and terrifies him, until he can articulate that loving God requires loving everything He creates. At that point, his sight is restored and enhanced beyond anything he has ever known.
  • Don Quixote deconstructs this trope: Where can you find a Threshold Guardian in Real Life? Why, in that condescending moral guardian that warns you against the evils of escapism, sex, and The New Rock & Roll! After the first sally of Don Quixote he is discouraged because he didn’t find any dragon, enchanter nor any Damsel in Distress. His family asks the curate and the barber help as Moral Guardians to destroy Don Quixote's delusions, but their Condescending Compassion makes them pull a Revealing Cover-Up that involves A Wizard Did It, enforcing the delusions they were intending to destroy, making them Threshold Guardians.
  • Mantle in Dragoncharm is the guardian of the entrance to the Maze of Covamere. When he first meets Cumber he finds him to be a little cocky, until Cumber truly realises who and what Mantle is.
  • In Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear, Jack lampshades this by actually telling the psychologist who is evaluating his fitness for duty that she is serving this role. This throws her into an existential crisis, and Jack relents and comes up with a backstory for her.
  • In Gene Stratton-Porter's Freckles, when Freckles looks for work at the camp, the Camp Cook tells him the boss won't take him.
  • J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter:
    • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone:
      • Though done quite subtly, this is Draco Malfoy's function throughout the first book — he offers Harry his hand in friendship and thus causes Harry to openly refuse it and Slytherin House, instigates the Rememberall fiasco that ends in Harry becoming Seeker, tricks Harry into the midnight duel that leads to him finding Fluffy, and practically leads Harry right to the villain during detention in the Forbidden Forest. Basically, if Draco Malfoy hadn't been around in Philosopher's Stone, Voldy might've risen before the school year ended.
      • A much more obvious example involves the various traps several staff members set up to prevent Voldemort from reaching the titular Philosopher's Stone.
    • "The Fountain of Fair Fortune", one of the stories in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, features a magical fountain that has some barriers being set up for anyone journeying to the fountain in question.
  • Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, which follows The Hero's Journey very closely, puts a number of challenges before young Simon that he must rise to in order to become The Hero. One of these occurs when he is wandering Aldheorte Forest, starving and alone. He encounters a Sitha man trapped in a woodcutter's net. When the woodcutter returns, Simon must make a choice to help the Sitha or abandon him to his fate. Choosing to help gains him a powerful future ally and is the first step to bringing the Sithi out of their isolation from mortal affairs. It also earns him the White Arrow which is instrumental at the climax. That one choice literally saves the entire world.
  • In Robert Charette's Never Deal with a Dragon trilogy of Shadowrun novels, the protagonist Sam encounters a literal threshold guardian that bars his way to the Astral plane. He's eventually shown to be a psychic manifestation of the villain, and once his corrupting influence is removed the guardian returns to his normal, though unhelpful, self.
  • The Neverending Story:
    • The two golden sphinxes Atreyu has to pass on his way to the Southern Oracle.
    • The second doorway to the Oracle is a mirror you have to step through, which shows fears or thoughts of the seeker.
    • The third door, on the other hand, plays this a bit more... strangely: you can't pass it if you want to, because it's made of some kind of phlebotinum that shuts the door ever faster the more you want it to open. Good thing then that the mirror also temporarily wipes your memory to see if you'll go through on curiosity alone.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Red Fury, Gorn insists that Rafen give him the message intended for Lord Seth. Rafen demands to be treated with respect. Gorn's reaction is that he has some fire after all.
  • The Wee Free Men has several. First there's the supernatural incursions onto the Chalk, which Tiffany must stand up to to demonstrate she's the Hag o' the Chalklands (Jenny Greenteeth, the Headless Horseman, and the Grimhounds). Then when she's entered Fairyland there's the dromes, which she has to overcome in order to face the Queen.
  • In E. D. Baker's The Wide-Awake Princess, inverted. Annie meets an old woman along the way who asks for some food. Annie hands it over. The old woman contemptuously throws it away — and finds herself with toads and snakes falling from her mouth in the best fairy tale style.
  • In A Wizard of Earthsea, graduating from the school of magic in Roke begins with the realization that it has a Threshold Guardian.
  • Humphrey employs guardians to keep people out of his castle in Xanth. Of course as the Magician of Information, he always knows who is coming to visit and devises the guardians with that in mind. More impressively, he tends to schedule so that his present visitors will prove suitable guardians for expected future visitors. He's managed to at least once maintain the pattern when there were no inhabitants of his castle and it was left technically undefended, even ensuring visitors would receive their answers in his absence.
  • Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure has a number of them:
    • The "guardian-tree" at Zeus's old temple.
    • Marcus, who runs the ferry to Hades six months out of the year when Charon takes vacation
    • Cerberus, guarding the gates to Hades
    • The Orthlaelapsian Wraith, which guards the nine cans in which the Titans are the back room of an antiques shop in Swindon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sebastian, the Vorlon inquisitor, in Babylon 5 Season 2 episode "Comes the Inquisitor" tests Delenn's commitment when she is going to help lead the other younger races against the coming darkness. He is there to break her down and, if she continues on and is unworthy, kill her before she can do serious harm to others. He has done it to others, destroying the self-righteous who would be corrupted by the power, who would do the right thing for the wrong reasons and taint the nobleness of the task. In the end he deems her worthy when Captain John Sheridan arrives to save her and is captured himself by Sebastian. Delenn demands Sebastian release him and will die to protect him. And for her, John would do the same. This act of mutual sacrifice not for glory, for vanity, for some great and noble cause, but because it is one life on the line proves they are the right people in the right place at the right time.
    Sebastian: How do you know the chosen ones? No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for his friend. Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame... for one person. In the dark. Where no one will ever know or see. I've been in the service of the Vorlons for centuries, looking... Diogenes with his lamp looking for a man willing to die for all the wrong reasons. At last, my job is finished.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Cordelia Chase, in Season 1, provides an excellent example of a non-adversarial Threshold Guardian: when she invites Buffy to join the popular girls' clique, she forces Buffy to choose between her calling as the Slayer and her desire to be a popular girl.
    • The demon Skip acts as one for Cordelia herself. Making her choose between her dream, or her duty as Angel's seer. Of course, as it's later revealed, Skip was one of Jasmine's minions, and was manipulating Cordelia into making certain choices.
  • Kalem strays into this in The Legend of William Tell, especially in Master of Doubt where her goal is to get Will to think about things instead of simply rushing in. Will has to logic his way past the Knights and Knaves problem while The Smart Guy is elsewhere and in danger.
  • In Loki (2021), He Who Remains, a variant of Kang the Conqueror serves as the final test of whether Loki and Sylvie are truly capable of Character Development at the end of Loki Season 1, with him representing everything Loki wanted to be at the start of the show and everything Sylvie wanted to destroy regardless of the costs. Loki succeeds, only caring about his friend's well-being rather than the throne He Who Remains offers, while Sylvie fails, betraying the one person who cares about her for the sake of her revenge.
  • The Gatekeeper in the Merlin episode "Eye of the Phoenix". It was combined with Only the Worthy May Pass because he kept most people away from the Fisher King's lands, but the trio of Arthur, Merlin and Gwaine (Strength, Courage, and Magic) were the ones he foresaw breaking the curse on the land.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The girtablullus, a.k.a. scorpion-men, who guard the passage of the sun in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Almost all of the strange people and creatures encountered by the Knights of the Round Table while on the Grail Quest acted as Threshold Guardians; most knights failed their challenges.
  • The Bible: David had two of these:
    • The giant Goliath mocked the people of Israel and their God, and not a man in the army would go up against him, and so it fell to a 12-year-old boy with no military training to do the deed, and so a hero was born.
    • King Saul was completely bug-eyed crazy for the last decade of his life, partially because the Lord had already decreed that his son Jonathan would not succeed him as king, partially because the people already loved David more than him, and partially because David sat in his court strumming a harp day in and day out. And so Saul ran him out of town and set to trying to kill him. This forced David to run for years. David could easily have killed him on at least one occasion, but it was decreed, "touch not the Lord's anointed." The Lord knew what was going to happen with Saul, and David had to trust that it would work out.
  • In Greek mythology, the Sphinx set herself up as one of these outside of Thebes, challenging anyone who wanted to enter with her classic riddle. Those who could not answer were messily destroyed. Oedipus successfully solved the riddle and drove the Sphinx to kill herself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Hero's Journey is a recommended template for astral quests in the roleplaying game Shadowrun, so you get lots of these. But special mention goes to the mysterious Dweller on the Threshold, encountered at the beginning of every astral quest, who tests both the mage's resolve and their ability. In-universe, it's thought to be there, or possibly have been put there, as a safety precaution to prevent mages from biting off more than they can chew.

    Video Games 
  • Blaze Union: Baretreenu serves this purpose, stipulating that her son must battle her to the death if he really wants full access to his demon powers, thus proving his resolve. Unfortunately, in this case it's not so much "resolve" as "abject terror of failing". Gulcasa walks out of this encounter empowered, orphaned, and even more traumatized than he already had been. A little later on in the game, Soltier tries to act as one of these too, but by then Gulcasa has gotten sick of hearing it.
  • darkSector: Features such a guardian; moreover, the level where it appears is actually called 'Threshold Guardian.'
  • Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening:
    • Most of the bosses function like this, and Defeat Means Friendship in the Mega Man style. Dante cheerfully tears his way through all of them regardless, but three of the bosses in particular (Ceberus, Vergil (2), and the Shadow) function as true Threshold Guardians. The Shadow gets special mention because it has both literal and metaphorical significance... which Dante promptly subverts.
      (after entering a roiling door of shadow, Dante sees his own shadow rise up from the floor and take on his Devil Trigger countenance)
      Dante: I know why you're here. You're here to ask me some questions. Well too bad, I've already answered them myself. I don't need you anymore.
      Shadow: (draws its sword)
      Dante: Come on, you poser.
    • Lady and Vergil are both Threshold Guardians of the metaphorical sort. Really, the entire game actually serves as this.
  • Diablo II: The Ancients in Act 5. No one is allowed inside Mount Arreat without having proved their worthiness to the Ancients, (aside from Baal, who cheated with a stolen relic), and the only way to do so is to best them in battle. Once you achieve this (which is one of the hardest things in the game), all that's left is Baal and his minions.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Duncan acts as the Threshold Guardian during the Joining Ritual, which tests the resolve of potential Grey Warden recruits. When Ser Jory learns that this involves drinking Darkspawn blood and is potentially lethal, he foolishly draws his sword and tries to back out. Duncan swiftly kills him, hands the Joining Cup to the protagonist and makes it very clear that there is no turning back.
  • In EarthBound (1994), after Ness visits the first sanctuary of Giant Step, he must go to the Onett Police Station to ask the chief, Captain Strong, to let him leave Onett. Captain Strong responds by challenging Ness to fight both his men and Strong himself, and once Ness prevails, Strong keeps his word and lets Ness through the roadblock to Twoson.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Morrowind has one for the Morag Tong faction. In order to join, you must find their secret, well-hidden headquarters in Vivec City and then successfully complete a trial execution in order to be accepted.
    • Oblivion has one in the main game in the form of Lucien Lachance, your ticket into the Dark Brotherhood, and a second in its Shivering Isles expansion, in the form of Servile Snarker/Only Sane Man Haskill. Both these characters greet you in a conversation after passing a prerequisite for their respective factions, and offer you the archetypal choice of turning your back on them and leading a normal life or undertaking their quests.
    • Skyrim:
      • To even enter the College of Winterhold you must demonstrate to Faralda some skill in magic by casting a relatively basic spell of her request. If you don't have the spell at hand, she'll teach it to you for a small price. Alternatively, using a Thu'um Shout will also impress her.
      • Gaining admittance to the Dark Brotherhood involves Astrid ordering you to kill one of three individuals she's captured and bound up at the moment (though you can also use this opportunity to kill Astrid, setting you up for the quest to destroy the Dark Brotherhood instead).
      • In order to join the Companions, you must present yourself to the Harbinger (the de facto "leader" of the group, as they haven't had a true leader since Ysgramor) who then tasks another member test you out in combat. (Considerably Downplayed, as you pass the test no matter what.)
      • In order to join the Thieves' Guild, you have to take part in a con with a senior member of the Guild. While he distracts the gathered crowd, you have to steal a piece of jewelry and plant it on a particular spectator in order to frame him for stealing it.
      • When in Sovngarde as part of the main quest, you must defeat Tsun, the old Nordic god of "trials against adversity" and shield-thane to Shor in single combat in order to prove your worthiness to enter Shor's Hall of Valor.
  • The Eidolons in Final Fantasy XIII appear to all L'Cie in times of great emotional conflict. The L'Cie must overcome the Eidolons in a way that also helps them overcome the issues that summoned the Eidolons in the first place. Defeating them allows the L'Cie to summon the Eidolons in times of need.
  • FTL: Faster Than Light Multiverse The Anointed acts as this, forcing you to fight if you want to save Wither and begin the true ending questline.
  • God of War: In the series, many of these stand in Kratos's way, such as sacrificing a random soldier through incineration. Subverted Trope in that Kratos has absolutely no qualms about bashing the guardians' heads to a bloody pulp on the threshold, and then smashing the threshold itself for good measure.
  • Kirby: Meta Knight acts as this for Kirby. This is most notable in Kirby's Adventure, where Meta Knight sometimes gives Kirby a power-up, sometimes requires you to defeat his minions to pass, and is one of the last bosses to fight.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: The first encounters with both the pirates and the King of Red Lions place them in this role, with the latter asking pretty much the same questions as the page quote. Later on, the Tower of the Gods in its entirety is a more literal version of this trope.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Midna serves as this in her first appearances. Later, the Skull Kid in the Sacred Grove serves as the guardian for the Master Sword, as do the statues in the same area.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has the Old Man on the Great Plateau, who tasks Link with completing the four Shrines on the Plateau while promising to give the Paraglider in return. The Old Man also uses this opportunity to gauge Link's willingness to defeat Calamity Ganon and force Link to acquire the four basic functions of his Sheikah Slate necessary to accomplish the task. Link is stuck on the Great Plateau without the Old Man's help.
  • Nancy Drew: The eleventh title, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, features one of these combined with Only Smart People May Pass. The Penvellyn family has long guarded a mysterious treasure — namely, what very may well be the Philosopher's Stone. The ancestor who originally possessed it felt his son wasn't worthy of receiving it and instead passed the treasure onto his grandson, but only after creating a puzzle that the young man had to solve to find it; said grandson then created another puzzle to both protect it and challenge his own grandchild. It thus became tradition for every second Penvellyn generation to become a Threshold Guardian by passing the trials of their forebears, then making a new riddle or mechanism to solve that would inspire the next one. Nancy accidentally becomes a Spanner in the Works when she solves the challenges herself.
  • Persona 4: The Shadows are Threshold Guardians that embody everything people don't like about themselves. Denying them is the wrong thing to do and leads to a boss fight. Every party member except the main character has to face his/her personal Shadow and defeat/accept it both to grow as people and to gain their own Personas. The main character was granted his shadow without undergoing this process as he was chosen for a greater task. His Threshold Guardian is the entire game itself.
  • In Persona 5, the main cast are all challenged by their own personal Shadows internally. The Shadows call out each of them for holding themselves back from doing what they know is right and avoiding painful truths. They then challenge them to stand up for themselves against the enemy oppressing them. After a brief, but painful, sequence they agree and gain their costumes and the power to summon the Shadow as a Persona.
  • Pokémon: The Gym Leaders can be seen as a form of this for trainers in the anime and games: despite their status as the strongest trainers in an area, they aren't (normally) antagonistic to their challengers and even skew the rules of the battle in the opponent's favor, but if you can't beat eight of them you won't get anywhere near the Pokémon League.
    • The Elite Four are an even better example: after a trainer gains eight badges and navigates the punishing Victory Road, they have to fight the region's Elite Four. All of them, consecutively, with only short breaks in between for the contender to heal their team with whatever they had on-hand before beginning the challenge. Unlike the Gym Leaders, they usually carry nearly full teams and operate under the same rules as the challengers, letting them heal and switch team members in battle. If the challenger loses or leaves at any point in the challenge, they'll be forced to start all over again. Only after the Four fall will a trainer have the right to face the current Champion for their title with whatever they have left in the tank. So only after defeating the five strongest trainers in a region in a row will a trainer have the right to call themselves a Champion. In-universe, this tradition is so tough that some regions never even had an official Champion before the main characters and their rivals showed up.
    • Even among Gym Leaders, Kabu stands out in this regard, as he's also considered a major one In-Universe. Multiple characters comment how Kabu is the first major roadblock of the Gym Challenge, with multiple Trainers dropping out of it due of them being unable to clear his challenge, let alone defeat him. He's aware of his reputation; after the player defeats him and starts to leave Motostoke, he makes a point of meeting them at the entrance of the city and seeing them off before they leave for Hammerlocke.
  • In Pyre, those exiled to the Downside must face each other in a series of rites, culminating in a Liberation Rite, to prove themselves worthy to regain their freedom. Your opponents serve as this to your party, and you to them. The inversion goes further as the Nightwings you direct are designed by the Scribes to test the other triumvirates, which is why you always get to play the Liberation Rite — from your opponents' perspective, you are the Final Boss.
  • Shadowrun: The video game version also includes the Dweller (see Tabletop Games, above).
  • Spec Ops: The Line: The game's defining moment counts as a Threshold Guardian. And Captain Walker fails to measure up to it and own his Tragic Mistake, instead blaming everything on someone who turns out to be dead.
  • Dr. Bian Souldark serves as this in every iteration of Super Robot Wars he appears in, challenging the heroes to fight him to prove that they're worthy to take on the aliens.
  • Kildean stands neutral over the issues the Super Robot Wars X protagonist has brought forth to their Order as long as the protagonist is able to provide a legitimate reason for his or her actions. As the protagonist continues to defy their knowledge, Kildean considers the protagonist to be a candidate for the top spot of their Order, which will surpass himself — "The Pope".
  • As you approach the endgame of Undertale, you find yourself in the Final Corridor, where the lazy skeleton Sans is blocking the way to judge you for all that you've done throughout the game. If you pass with flying colors, he congratulates you and wishes you luck. If you've engaged in some Video Game Cruelty Potential, he'll call you out on it, particularly if you killed his brother. If you've gone full No Mercy, well... He did warn you that if you kept going down that road, you'd end up having a bad time.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Certain raid encounters are known as "gear checks". A Party Wipe on one is a subtle hint from the developers that you might not fare any better on the later encounters. For example, the abomination Patchwerk in Naxxramas serves as a gear check for his quarter, and players must be quick to defeat him because he as a shorter berserk timer than most bosses.
    • Some fights are complicated or unpredictable or require quick reactions. Gear checks, on the other hand, just require that everyone kill the boss as quickly as they can without dying, but they are tuned (boss's damage on the main tank, for example, or maybe a timer at the end of which the boss starts doing massive damage) such that doing so requires some of the best gear available thus far.
    • Norushen is a more traditional example in Siege of Orgrimmar, albeit one that is also a boss battle. In order to enter the room where the Heart of Y'Shaarj was kept and the Sha of Pride now is, he says the players have to purge themselves of their corruption, which involves defeating a large Amalgamation of Corruption that can only take full damage from players who have completed individual trials. A bar is shown to indicate how much corruption the players still have, and that same bar gradually fills during the Sha of Pride battle, signifying that you need to purify yourselves before facing it.

    Visual Novels 
  • Shirou of Fate/stay night crosses a threshold in each of the three routes, and his decision in each defines his relationship to his ideal of becoming a hero.
    • In Fate, Shirou is confronted by Kirei and his own memories of the fire which destroyed his original life. Faced with the choice of following his ideal without regrets or changing what has already occurred, he chooses to move forward.
    • In Unlimited Blade Works, Shirou is confronted by Archer, his future self, and the knowledge of how pursuing an impossible ideal will break him. Shirou refuses to accept defeat and pushes on toward his dream because it is worth pursuing, despite the cost.
    • In Heaven's Feel, Shirou is confronted by Archer and the choice of saving Sakura or the hundreds she may kill during her rampages. Faced with this choice, Shirou abandons his ideal in order to save the girl he loves. A far more chilling reaction and immediate end to the story is if Shirou chooses to kill Sakura and follow the same path as Kiritsugu.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: In the White Trailer, Weiss is shown fighting and defeating an Arma Gigas, earning a permanent scar to her eye in the process. The Arma Gigas is a creation of her father's, and is a test of her resolve and ability: if she wins, she is allowed to attend Beacon Academy and train to become a Huntress; if she fails, she has to submit to her father's control and give up her dream. Thanks to her Semblance, the growth she experienced as a result of defeating the Arma Gigas means that she can now freely summon an ice avatar of it to fight on her behalf in battle.


    Web Videos 
  • The wonderflonium heist and death ray construction in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog each represent thresholds on Dr. Horrible's Start of Darkness. The hesitation in the first — and lack of hesitation in the second — signal exactly how far down the slippery slope the hero (er, protagonist) has gone.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Adventure Time that barely includes the main characters has an epic quest playing out amidst the roots of their treehouse, with Kent the newly born worm (formerly the tip of his big brother's tail) journeying to forge a sword that can defeat the evil rat king. As he encounters the guardians of the three elements he needs to craft his weapon, each one plays out this trope by offering him a temptation if he gives up the quest. First he turns down "untold wealth" and then "true love" because he only cares about "fighting bad guys" (like the rat king). Finally he turns down "eternal life" because:
    Kent: Well, um, I was just born this morning, so I don't really have a sense of my own mortality.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Aang goes through this in his backstory. The Air Nomads elders decide to take him away from his guardian Gyatso, as they feel that Gyatso is impeding Aang's progress as the Avatar. Aang is one of the heros who is defeated and symbolically killed at the Threshold, as fleeing the Threshold Guardians gets him frozen in ice for a hundred years until he wakes up in the crisis.
    • Zuko has to defeat Commander Zhao before proceeding with his quest to find the Avatar.
  • The Order of the White Lotus, Lin Bei Fong, and Tenzin later serve as Korra's threshold guardians in The Legend of Korra.
  • Samurai Jack: Jack finds a portal that will bring him back to the past. Unfortunately, its guardian won't let him through. Even Jack's skill is insufficient to beat him, but as the guardian is about to land the deathblow, the portal talks to him. The guardian lets Jack go, while the portal shows an image of a much older Jack with Manly Facial Hair and a crown.
    Guardian: You can't use it yet, Samurai Jack. Not yet. Not yet.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: A demonic tower rises out of the ground to block the heroes from reaching a bridge. When Star asks what the demon wants, Marco goes on a long rant about how trite and annoying this trope is, and how they'll have to "feed him a goat or something!" ("There's always a thing!"). Marco thinks that he and Star have to move a couch by themselves for magical reasons, and decides to just get it over with. Then the demon's supervisor shows up and says the actual test was a standard fight to the death; the tower demon was just trying to con them into moving his couch. His supervisor doesn't even make the heroes fight because he's so annoyed at the whole situation.
  • The Teen Titans (2003) episode "The Quest" is really one big Homage to this trope.
  • In Thunder Cats 2011 arc "The Trials of Lion-O", the Spirit Stone makes Lion-O face guardians in the form of the other Thundercats that challenge him to overcome his various flaws. Each guard keys that he must win through defeating their challenges, which then open gateways to proceed further in the trials, given to him to see if he is worthy of a second chance at life.
  • Wakfu:
    • Yugo meets a Threshold Guardian in the person of Adamaï, his dragon brother, and the improvised golem he conjures, who are putting the hero's Eliatrope powers to the test.
    • Later, the demon Rubilax himself, usually sealed into a sword, officies as a Threshold Guardian to Sadlygrove, when his master, Goultard, frees the Shushu from the sword. Sadlygrove has to fight and beat Rubilax to earn his respect, as he can't hope staying a Shushu guardian otherwise.

Alternative Title(s): Threshold Guardian