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Tragic Hero

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"Tragic heroes always moan when the gods take an interest in them, but it's the people the gods ignore who get the really tough deals."

The tragic hero is a longstanding literary concept, a character with a Fatal Flaw (like Pride, for example) who is doomed to fail in search of a Tragic Dream despite their best efforts and good intentions. This trope is rare on television, perhaps because watching someone fail once teaches a lesson, while watching them fail every Tuesday gets boring—though that didn't stop shows like Arrested Development or the so-inappropriately-titled Good Times, no matter how hard they Yank the Dog's Chain. It is more common in Mini Series and anime dramas, where the program's entire run can be dedicated to one or more Story Arcs that lead to the Tragic Hero's ultimate failure. You'll most likely find this in the Theatre, where the trope was born and codified.


A Tragic Hero can work as a protagonist or an antagonist. As an antagonist, their goals are opposed to the protagonist's, but the audience still feels sympathetic towards them.

By the time a Tragic Hero antagonist is defeated, the protagonist feels sympathetic to the Tragic Hero, and a little bad about having to capture them. It is acceptable and common to defeat a Tragic Hero antagonist by stopping them from achieving their goal, but otherwise letting them go free. Tragic Hero antagonists are rarely killed, except when death is seen by the Tragic Hero as an honorable end which is preferable to capture. Tragic Hero protagonists usually die, but that depends somewhat on the tastes of each era (they always die in Shakespeare, but ancient protagonists would often suffer A Fate Worse Than Death and/or be left to wallow in their pain instead).


The origin of the term itself is a slight case of Newer Than They Think. It's usually attributed to Aristotle and his Poetics, but it really comes from Renaissance Italian and French commentators on Aristotle, who elaborated on their very general ideas about character through a humanistic lens. Aristotle only says that seeing a prosperous person fall is a good source of pathos, and that it's more pathetic to see a not-entirely-bad person suffer due to a mistake than to see wholly good people suffer for reasons beyond their control. That said, Aristotle's favorite tragedy, Oedipus the King, is a good example of this trope, so the trope itself is definitely Older Than Feudalism.

Compare with Classical Anti-Hero, Protagonist Journey to Villain, Fallen Hero, Hero Antagonist. Compare the Jerkass Woobie, a Jerk with a Heart of Gold whose Fatal Flaw is their mean streak. Compare Tragic Villain and Hoist by His Own Petard for the villainous counterparts. Contrast Byronic Hero, who has numerous, celebrated flaws. Contrast Karma Houdini, a character who gets away with their misdeeds.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ash from Banana Fish. It's brought up to him several times in the series that he's fighting a losing battle against mafia don Dino Golzine, and that his attachment to Eiji is a Fatal Flaw that endangers both of them. In the end, it's not Golzine who kills him, it's a friend of Chinese gangster Sing. Eiji survives the series, but is shown to never really get over the death of his soulmate.
  • Guts, from Berserk is the Trope Codifier for animes and mangas. Of course, he is one of the most badass characters in this folder, but as we see, it took a hell lot of a Dark and Troubled Past for him. Sit tight, cause it is a long one and needs lots of tissue papers. To recap, He was born as an 'abomination'note , got blamed for every other shit the mercenary troop that adopted him faced (such as the death of Sys, who will have ensured Guts had a happy childhood as possible, read on), the fires on the camp was all blamed on him, his own adoptive father not only made him a Child Soldier in the vain hope that he bites it on the field without any of his guilt, but also sold him to one of his men for a night for 3 silver coins, who then proceeded to rape him. After Guts found out his father intentionally sold him out on a drunk fit, his father basically screamed how much he hated the child, blaming him for his wife's death as well as various losses and other misfortunes. Guts practically had to kill his adoptive father when he was defending himself from his drunken rage, and had the rest of the troop turn on him for 'betraying' Gambino. 3 years later, Guts recruited himself into the Band of the Hawk by literally fighting on the verge of death, and would have been killed if their leader, Griffith didn't take a shine to him. All seems well for Guts, as he finds his True Companions in the Band of the Hawk, he finally declares his love for Casca and decides to quit his violent lifestyle to pursue his true dream, when Griffith decides now it is time to fuck everything up and gets himself captured and tortured for one year. When The Remnant decides to rescue him, Griffith, seeing Guts and Casca in true love, decides to commit suicide, which leads to the Eclipse. Griffith sacrifices all of his companions Guts bothered to bond and be friends with to become a God, while Guts had to see Casca raped by the newly-ascended Griffith (commonly known as Femto hereon). Guts vainly cut off his own arm to save Casca, to only get pinned by one of the monsters of the Eclipse, which then proceeds to claw his eye out, while the last sight of the eye being Femto's evil smirk as he rapes Casca. After the Skull Knight rescues him and Casca, he passes out from the trauma of the events, waking up to find Casca gone insane from the trauma of what Griffith did to her. Moreover, his child was born so heavily mutated that Guts outright disowned the poor baby as his child.And oh, did we mention that Guts is permanently branded from the Mark of Sacrifice, which ensures Guts could never have a normal night without monsters wishing to snack on him, and his final destination is Hell itself? Even though the present Guts is slowly recovering from the events and has become an optimistic man in front of his new True Companions, it took a hell of a Trauma Conga Line for Guts to be what he is.
  • Another CLAMP example is Saya Kisaragi of Blood-C. Even though she finally kills the guy who tormented her in the movie, it turns out that said guy is in love with her and everything that he did is for her survival, regardless that he tormented and killed a lot of people along the way. So yeah, Saya and Subaru are CLAMP's Queen and King of Tragic Heroes.
  • Code Geass
    • The noble yet vicious Lelouch and the heroic but ruthless Suzaku save the world only by turning against their own principles.
    • The idealistic Princess Euphemia whom Lelouch accidentally Geassed into committing mass murder. His final actions were specifically aimed at making himself look like the bigger villain than her.
  • Poor, poor Chiaki Nanami of Danganronpa 3. She's very similar to The Hero, Makoto Naegi, in that they're both sweet, optimistic individuals who serve as The Heart and hold The Power of Friendship in high regard. What separates her from him is that she lacks his luck, and as such she can't escape the consequences of such an attitude in Dangan Ronpa's dark setting (even he barely avoids them). Not only does she fail to succeed in any of her goals, her one big attempt to be The Hero ends in her classmates being brainwashed into evil and her being tortured to death. The series basically lets her think she's building up to greatness before slapping her in the face with Reality Ensues as brutally as possible.
  • Death Note: Light Yagami qualifies as this, albeit in the Macbethian and Greecian sense of a good man who falls to great evil with power, as he certainly isn't a hero. (To show how far he falls, he's possibly the only protagonist in a major media franchise to be considered a Complete Monster, although it takes him until the end of the series to become such.)
  • Digimon Tamers has Impmon/Beelzemon, whose desperation to be able to digivolve like all the other Digimon drove him to making a Deal with the Devil and nearly crossing the Moral Event Horizon. Unlike most examples, though, he gets a chance to redeem himself, although he believes he never can.
  • Arguably, Lucy from Elfen Lied. By the end of the anime, she even admits that both Diclonii and humans are too proud to surrender and live peacefully with each other.
  • Fate/Apocrypha: While she is on the villains' side, Atalanta actually fulfilled this role: She loved children and wished for nothing more than a world where children were loved. She got summoned into a world that is nothing like what she dreamed of, the children she wished to protect (forming Jack the Ripper) turned out to be beyond salvation, and chose to be exorcised by Jeanne d'Arc than saved by her own ways. Her love for children and her anguish at their passing drove her into madness and despair. She coped with hating Jeanne, attempting to kill her and in process, discarded her reasoning and humanity to turn into a monster capable of killing Jeanne that had to be Mercy Killed by her friend Achilles, and he died from it too, but at the very least he succeeded to bring her humanity back before dying. In the end, Atalanta's love for children proved not only to be her most apparent noble trait, but also the biggest cause of her downfall.
  • Fate/Zero's first line really says it all about Kiritsugu: Let us tell the story of a certain man. The tale of a man who, more than anyone else, believed in his ideals, and by them was driven into despair. Kariya Matou also went as far as to sacrifice his life to protect someone and ultimately fails.
  • Yomi of Ga-Rei -Zero- has a noble motivation and is of high status as an elite Vanquisher of the Isayama line, suffers a Fate Worse than Death: what little part of her consciousness is left is aware of the horrible things she's doing, but is unable to stop herself, and comes back to life twice only to do the same again, even though she explicitly states she never wanted to come back, and is destroyed by her Fatal Flaw, which is either her inborn hatred, or her almost exclusive love for Kagura.
  • Harry McDowell and Brandon Heat from the Gungrave anime are tragic heroes. This is a rare case where both protagonist and antagonist are tragic heroes. Harry McDowell, in his search for power so that he will never have to lose anything, ends up becoming a power-hungry Bloody Harry and kills his best friend Brandon Heat, turning Brandon into Beyond the Grave. The guilt over killing his best friend makes Harry slowly lose his sanity. On the other hand, Brandon Heat, who is loyal to the fault, cannot bring himself to stop Harry even when he knows Harry is obviously going down the wrong path and ends up getting killed. In a way, Brandon is also responsible for the deaths of his other loved ones as Brandon's death causes Harry to hunt down those whom Brandon holds dear (as Harry reasons that those people "took Brandon from him"). At the end of the series, after destroying each other completely, both Brandon and Harry realize that the only time they were truly "free" was when they lived in a slum with three other friends (whose deaths led Brandon and Harry to join the Millenion in the first place) and decide to take the only way out: killing each other.
    • Ends very differently in the videogame— Harry allows Grave to kill him, and Grave survives the ordeal. His only concern at that point is Mika's protection, so he leaves the city with her.
  • Guilty Crown: Shu Ouma seemingly evolved into this, but it's implied that he's been one all along. His Fatal Flaw is kindness. He went through many betrayals, and completely shattered after Hare's death. And that is his Start of Darkness.
  • Mikael from I'm Gonna Be an Angel!. Overall good-willed, but terribly misguided and with immense issues of self-denial. His obsession with becoming a full angel blinded him to other people's feelings/opinions and led him to undertake pretty harsh and questionable actions. In the end, he did realize his wrongdoings and although it was implied that he will probably never become an angel as he would like to be, he eventually got recognized as a decent... 1/3 of an angel? Or something like that.
  • Kikyo and Inuyasha, in regards to how their insecurities allowed Naraku to turn them against each other, kill Kikyo and make Inuyasha sleep for 50 years.
  • Oskar von Reuenthal from Legend of Galactic Heroes is one of the greatest examples found in anime, even if he's not the protagonist. A Broken Ace who is almost as ambitious and brilliant as Kaiser Reinhard. He could become a great ruler, if he weren't simply outshone by Reinhard. Over the course of the series, his conflicting loyalty, ambition, jealousy, his traumatic past and especially his pride eventually lead to his downfall after he is forced into committing treachery. It should be mentioned that he never really became a villain right until the end, despite it all.
  • Most of the cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Notable are Gendo, whose inability to relate to people other than his "dead" wife leads him to destroy humanity as we know it in order to meet her again, and SEELE whose belief that humanity is unable to help each other deal with their flaws is their flaw. Shinji is, surprisingly, an aversion: he ultimately overcomes, or at least learns to live with, his flaws and by doing so gives the rest of the cast, and humanity at large, the chance to do the same.
  • Unrequited love was the catalyst – not the cause – of Sayaka's downfall in Puella Magi Madoka Magica; what really pushed her over the edge was her righteousness. As a coping mechanism, she tried to become a hero who would uphold ideals. She believed in justice, but her growing resentment made her shift from protecting the innocent to punishing the wicked. When Sayaka realizes how she had come to contradict her earlier aspirations, all the hatred turns inward. It is precisely because of her unyielding nature that her spirit shatters. Unable to forgive this transgression, she inflicts her own punishment: a curse unto herself. From her Soul Gem hatches a mermaid-knight, a being representing the love and righteousness that she had once valued.
    • It's worth a note that the series itself is a nod to Goethe's Faust, and that Homura's character parallels the tragic hero of that story. In it, Faust's ambition leads him to make a Deal with the Devil, and Homura's deal with Kyubey is a reference to this. She earns a little bit more sympathy, though, since she's doing it to save Madoka. Even though the series touches on the idea, Rebellion Story really develops on Homura's role as a tragic hero, and is basically about her fatal flaw causing her descent into villainy. Ultimately, her undying love for Madoka and persistence to create what she deems a "perfect world" is what makes it a tragedy, and even though she's doing it all for good reasons, she becomes a Satanic Archetype. By the end, we're all left wondering if this is Faust or Paradise Lost.
      • Another reason that Homura will never succeed is because she would do anything- even die- to protect Madoka, and Madoka would do the same for Homura. The series' plot is shaped by their continual, endless sacrifices on behalf of the other person.
    • Really, all magical girls are this by Kyubey’s design; the whole point of the system is to extract humanity’s despair as energy to keep the universe running.
  • Utena Tenjou of Revolutionary Girl Utena seeks strength and nobility not for her sake, but to save another person whom she cannot even remember. However, the enemy she faces is vastly older, more powerful and more sophisticated than this 14-year-old girl and manipulates her handily, turning her into the Tragic Hero through the final third of the series. (Even so, Utena manages to pull off a win against him — confusing and puzzling, but a win nonetheless.)
  • Interestingly, Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fits the concept quite well. His overweening sense of determination and over-the-top Hot-Blooded-ness are integral to his success, yet in the end are what leads to his untimely death. Also, Lordgenome and even Rossiu to a degree.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Ken Kaneki trades one Flaw for another over the course of the story. He originally rejects his Ghoul half, clinging to his humanity and idealism to the extent that he is rendered helpless. Eventually, he concludes that his kindness is actually weakness and abandons his humanity in order to become strong enough to protect everyone. His quest for power, however, causes him to isolate the very people he seeks to protect and slowly destroys his sanity. He's eventually snapped out of this destructive spiral when Touka unleashes a "Reason You Suck" Speech, mocking him for acting like a "tragic hero" and calling him selfish. But by then, it's too late and he loses control of his Superpowered Evil Side before being struck down by Arima. The sequel reveals he survived, but has become an Amnesiac Hero in the service of CCG.
  • Subaru Sumeragi in X1999, oh so very, very much. His entire life came crashing down when he found out that the man he loved is actually a serial killer who murdered his twin sister later on. It doesn't help that when he finally killed him only to find out that this was due to his sister's last spell which caused him to deflect from the final blow and whatever Seishiro's last words to him were really broke Subaru.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman is eaten up by guilt for not being able to save his parents (even though he was just a boy) and he resolves to make sure this never happens to anyone else again even if it takes the rest of his life. And in some adaptations, it does.
  • Overman from Mastermen #1, or he may count as a Tragic Villain depending on your point of view. He began as a Nazi Superman, but he's actually incredibly guilt-ridden over what he did in their name, and realizes the world he created needs to be destroyed.
  • Morpheus, or Dream of the Endless, from The Sandman. His pride, his stubbornness and his fanatical devotions to his own duties as the aspect of Dream constantly conspire to make his life(?) an eternal mess. In the end, he has to choose between changing or dying, and as it turns out, he is unable to change himself enough.
  • Spider-Man, oh, so much. Doesn't matter how much he struggles he can make only a small difference, but never to truly end his crusade. This is why we can empathize with him: as human beings we control little beyond our own actions.
  • Rorschach, from Watchmen dies trying to expose Ozymandias' mass murder plan to end the Cold War.
  • Almost half of the X-Men have tragic backgrounds, such as Cyclops who can't control his powers, his love life in shambles, and accidentally killed his mentor/father figure

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Lowry from Brazil is Wrong Genre Savvy and believes he is a hero destined to overthrow what he thinks is an evil bureaucratic regime. He instead gets the woman he loves killed and he drives himself to madness.
  • Citizen Kane: Kane, all his life was the need to be loved... on his own terms. Lampshaded by Leland.
  • In Dark Blue, Eldon Perry is the type of corrupt Cowboy Cop who catches very bad criminals, but he also frames suspects, is excessively violent and a casual racist. However, he comes from a long line of cops in his family who raised him into their beliefs. His wife leaves him and takes their son because they're both terrified of him, and most cops outside of his corrupt friends are disgusted by his behavior. He ultimately chooses to expose his own shady dealings to do one last good thing before his days are over. The film ends as he watches over a burning Los Angeles with remorse.
  • Harvey Dent/Two-Face from The Dark Knight. He starts out the film as an honorable hero of Gotham nicknamed Gotham's 'White Knight'. He is uncompromising and risks his life for the criminals of Gotham to be put away. However, his Fatal Flaw is his illogical love for Rachel, which is shown when he would rather he die than Rachel, despite all the innocent people who are relying on him and all the criminals who would get put back onto the streets. This is what ultimately corrupts him, in contrast to Bruce Wayne who wasn't corrupted despite loving her too. After her death at the hands of The Joker he turns into a cop killing murderer, using a coin flip to determine who lives or dies regardless of morality or other factors which would have affected his decisions before. As Batman states at the end of the film 'he (The Joker) wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall'.
  • The film critic Robert Warshow famously wrote an essay, The Gangster As Tragic Hero arguing that heroes from classic gangster films like Scarface (original), The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, Angels with Dirty Faces, and White Heat appealed to audiences because they were the "great no" to The American Dream, holding dark mirrors to "the pursuit of happiness", he also cites the memorable death scenes in such films as The Roaring Twenties tend to be like that of tragic kings.
  • The Human Condition: Kaji's flaw is his idealism, and his soul is crushed by the realities of general human morality.
  • Eddie Felton from The Hustler definitely qualifies for "tragic"; whether he is a hero is another matter. His ambition to beat Minnesota Fats leads him to become The Unfettered that endangers everyone else around him.
  • Maximus from Gladiator just wants to go home after years of military campaigning but he makes the mistake of accepting Emperor Marcus Aurelius' plea to help restore Rome into a republic again. Things fall apart for him from there.
  • In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Tom Doniphon is actually the man of the title and a man perfectly adapted for survival in a lawless culture of violence, respected by all, even his enemies. He has a sense of justice that won't allow him to let the strong to victimize the weak, and his own heroism ultimately brings about his undoing and destruction. Tom could have let Liberty Valance kill Ranse Stoddard, which in turn would have let Tom keep his girl. Instead, he commits murder to save Ranse, with the certain knowledge that he would also lose his girl. By his own hand, he destroys his own hopes and dreams. That which gave his life meaning is gone. He lets Stoddard take all the credit, which leads to a successful political career, while Tom wanes into a nobody, a dissipated life, a forgotten man.
  • Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars is a Tragic Hero in the prequels. He is a hero of the Republic, gets the girl, helps win the war, and saves his Master a number of times. His Fatal Flaw is the fear of losing those he cares about, which feeds a hunger for power to prevent it from ever happening and eventually turned him into the frightening Black Knight Darth Vader.
    • His main Fatal Flaw is the desire for control- a concept that had evaded him his entire life. As a slave he had no control over his life and neither does he as a Jedi. His fear of death and the death of his loved ones is a representation of his need to control EVERYTHING, even what should be uncontrollable (i.e death). This flaw is tucked away for much of the prequel trilogy with only odd mentions (he mentions a couple of times to Padme how he wants to control the galaxy) but fully reveals itself in the OT where Vader is the epitome of tyranny and order. With all his loved ones dead or now his enemy, all that the man has left is his intense need for control.
    • The Force Awakens puts a twist on this: to the Dark Side-affiliated Kylo Ren, Vader, not Anakin, was a Tragic Hero whose Fatal Flaw was his compassion for his son, which resulted in his death.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The title character is a barber trying to get revenge on Judge Turpin for raping his wife and taking his daughter away from him. His Fatal Flaw was his tendency to take things at face value and his willingness to trust someone he really shouldn't have regarding his wife, and as a result, he unknowingly kills his wife, who has become a beggar woman, just before finally taking vengeance upon Turpin.
  • The eponymous band of This is Spın̈al Tap who are unable to walk away from the rock star life even when age is catching up to them.
  • Howie, whose honor and morals make him a perfect sacrifice to The Wicker Man (1973).

  • Jake from Animorphs. Being the leader is tough when you need to make decisions that cost you the respect of everyone around you.
    • All the Animorphs qualify, just with different flaws, all driven by fear: Jake’s is the impossibility of being the leader they need when he’s just a child and there are often no right choices he can make, the fear of making the wrong call and getting he others killed. Marco’s is his fear of failure: he can't stand the other's pity, he can't bear to fail with regards to his mother, he can't bear the thought of how his dad would disintegrate if Marco was killed, etc. and that drives his ruthlessness and cynicism. Rachel’s is rage, and a fear of helplessness. The fear that they might lose the war. Cassie’s is a moral panic, the realization that to save the world they might become that which they fight, a fear of doing evil. Tobias, who has never fitted in anywhere, it a fear of failing the rest of the team, the one family he has ever really known, and the creeping realization that even before the war is over, there is no place for him in the world after it. Ax is his pride in his race, and the shattering of those illusions, the fear of the reality that the Andalites are in fact almost as bad as the Yeerks in many ways.
  • Jerry Renault, the main character in The Chocolate War, is a rare Young Adult Literature example. His hamartia is when he participates in the raffle/boxing match at the end, to get revenge on the Vigils.
  • Mack Bolan, The Executioner, from the series of novels by the same name. He knows he can't kill every Mafioso, but he sets out to get as many as he can. In the end, he ends up faking his death and going to work for the government.
  • In the Harry Potter series, both Sirius Black and Severus Snape can very much be considered tragic heroes.
    • Sirius actually suffers from his fatal flaws several times. His hot headiness is what got him framed for murdering his best friend, causing him to serve several years in Azkaban. Later on, his behavior towards Kreacher ends up playing a pivotal role in the lead up to his death in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
    • Also Dumbledore. In his youth, his love for Grindelwald and lust for power made him help with his plans to rule the world, until his sister tragically died/was killed somehow during the duel between Grindelwald and the Dumbledore brothers. And a year before he died, Albus had brought upon himself a curse when, in an act of impulsiveness, he had failed to remember that the Resurrection Stone was a Horcrux when he put the ring on, because he wanted to see his dead sister again.
  • Lily Bart from The House of Mirth. Her fatal flaw is her inability to recognize how vain and materialistic New York high society is.
  • Les Misérables
    • Jean Valjean has Chronic Hero Syndrome born of a Guilt Complex he never shakes off. The epilogue implies his grave hasn't been visited in a long time. All readers can hope for is that his example was passed down to Cosette and Marius.
    • Inspector Javert is on the side of good and law, but is so inflated with extreme self-righteousness that, when confronted with Valjean's nobility he has no choice but to kill himself.
  • Michael Henchard, the title character of The Mayor of Casterbridge, stands apart from most of Thomas Hardy's doomed protagonists in that his downfall is almost entirely his own fault. His short fuse and immense Pride cause him to make bad decisions throughout his life, from selling his wife and infant daughter at auction in his youth to firing his talented business manager out of envy at his popularity, which ultimately cause him to lose his business, his fortune, his family, and finally, his self-respect, leaving him to die alone and miserable.
  • Winston from 1984 wants to bring down the Party but it's implied the Party purposely creates dissidents like him to justify its tyrannical rule.
  • The Silmarillion is made of these; though, since it mostly follows characters exiled for rebellion, it's kind of a prerequisite.
    • Húrin and Túrin Turambar are the prime examples. The former defies Morgoth and is punished by having his whole family cursed with bad luck, and is forced to watch their fates. The latter, his son, accidentally kills his best friend, loses all his companions to treachery, causes the sack of his new home, abandons his love to death, unknowingly married his own sister, is pursued by a powerful dragon, and when he finally manages to kill it, the dragon reveals the truth of the siblings' relationship. Said sister, Niënor Níniel, is driven to despair by this revelation and jumps off a cliff to her death. Túrin, feeling responsible for her death, subsequently follows as he falls on his own sword. After Húrin is released, he reunites with his wife in her dying hour at the site of their children's grave. Húrin then goes to the great ocean to drown himself, a way to die without a marked grave, which he feels he does not deserve. Feel-good novel of the century.
    • Maedhros is somewhat of a tragic hero turned villain. If not for his father's Oath, he could have been a hero. He was a royal-born powerful warrior and a skilled diplomat, classic traits of a hero among Tolkien's works. Among his more anti-villainous to straight up villainous brothers, Maedhros is presented as "the good one", as he refuses to take part in the Teleri ship burning and prevents his brothers from starting fights. But ultimately, he too fell to darkness because of the Oath. Maedhros is driven to violence twice in the (failed) pursuit of the Silmarils. Because of the violent kinslayings, the Silmarils deem him corrupt. When Maedhros finally gets his hand on a Silmaril, it burns him (as the Silmarils burn those who are evil or corrupt), and he is Driven to Suicide by the pain.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Nearly every major character in the series could qualify as well, particularly Eddard Stark, Robert Baratheon, Catelyn Stark, Robb Stark and Quentyn Martell.
    • Tales of Dunk and Egg has the likes of Baelor Breakspear who is accidentally killed defending the honor of a hedge knight, Eustace Osgrey who loses his wealth and sons in his quest to win back his ancestral home, and even Egg whose eyes are opened to the plight of the common folk only for his reforms to fall flat and himself to be considered a tyrant by his nobles once he becomes king. He, his son and Dunk then die in a fire blamed on his efforts to hatch dragon eggs and he enters the annals as another lunatic Targaryen.
  • Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart was basically written by Chinua Achebe to follow the classical Greek pattern for a tragic hero. At the start of the book he is one of the most prosperous and respected men in his village: He's a champion wrestler, has three wives and eight children, lots of wealth in yams, and a solid place in the community that he earned by working very hard. His father was a lazy weakling who preferred to loaf around and play music instead of taking care of his family and farm; In order to get rid of his father's shame, Okonkwo tried to be the exact opposite in every way. His Fatal Flaw is that he overcompensates for his underlying insecurity by being emotionally distant and overly concerned about everybody thinking he's manly, which leads him to make impulsive mistakes. For instance, he is given a boy called Ikemefuna to take care of who was a political hostage from another village, and for three years he raises him like his own son. When he's informed that the village had decided to kill the boy, that person warns him to take no part in it himself, but he does it himself because he's afraid to be thought of as weak. Subsequently he gets exiled because he accidentally killed a man, his son Nwoye converts to Christianity (for which Okonkwo disowns him), and after unsuccessfully trying to start a rebellion against the British colonial government he hangs himself in shame.
  • The Dragon (Rand) from The Wheel of Time series is doomed to eventually fail, as the goal of the Big Bad is to destroy the Pattern and the Wheel of Time, and the Wheel of Time will keep cycling until that happens.
  • The Emigrants gives many of its characters a tragic ending, but still, Robert is the real Woobie, who seems to never be allowed to catch a break during his whole life. He is the Book Worm and "dreamer" of the main cast, who never was able to fit in with the sturdy hard-working farmers around him. From a modern point of view, the best thing would have been to send him to school somewhere to get an education. But alas, his family is struggling farmers in the mid-19th century. So nobody seems to even consider helping him with becoming anything but a farmhand. And to add to all the misery, his master is a nasty sadist. It is during this hard time, that Robert is introduced to his only friend Arvid. But otherwise, his life at this point is just like a nightmare. He decides to run away from his cruel master, and he plans to follow his brother Karl Oskar over to America. But not even leaving Sweden means that things become better for Robert. His romance with Elin is cut short before it really even starts, and he never seems to be able to get near another girl. He sets out to find gold, but he only has to experience things like watching Arvid die a painful death and losing the gold he did find. And just a short while after he returns to Karl Oskar's new farm, he is found ill and dies from yellow fever. And he's only in his early 20s at his death, because he's from the "wrong" social class to be what he really is: an intellectual, who could have had a good career within any field of his choosing with the right education. But it was never meant to be...
  • In The Mental State, Zachary becomes a Sociopathic Hero after being forced to watch as his girlfriend was raped, terrifying her into running away from him by attacking those responsible and then getting thrown in prison for his attack. It is little wonder that he is as cold and brutal as he is.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Londo Mollari in Babylon 5 is a definite example of a tragic hero; while at first he seems to be a self-absorbed drunken buffoon, he is a true patriot who really does want his people to rise up from their malaise. He ultimately does lead the Centauri to glory, but the price he pays is too high, and he dies first.
    • Lennier was a faithful and devoted servant who never seemed to ask anything in return. But his Fatal Flaw was a jealousy he barely admitted to himself.
  • Gaius Baltar of the Battlestar Galactica (2003) series (not in the original ones, where Count Baltar is more of a Manipulative Bastard ): he actually has a lot of Fatals Flaws, primarily his pride and overconfidence. However, he strives to protect humanity (and therefore the fleet) from utter destruction on numerous occasions.
    • Even more so, Lt Felix Gaeta develops into a Tragic Hero antagonist, whose fatal flaw was...well, it's complicated. Not his idealism itself, but the way it crushed into bitter despair and anger after a series of brutal betrayals by his fellow and superior officers, and what it led him to do - even though from some perspectives, mutinying to defend the survivors of New Caprica from a second Cylon occupation enforced on them by their out-of-touch supposed protectors was an entirely valid, even laudable, choice of action.
  • Walter White from Breaking Bad is a textbook example. Walt is a genius-level chemist (restricted to a job far below his skill level), loving father, and all-around good person at the start of the series. Diagnosed with lung cancer, his own pride drives him to refuse handouts from anyone else and deal with the issue on his own terms. As time goes on, his decisions drive him further down a dark path, draining him of any morality. By the time he realizes just how far he's fallen, the only things left for him to do are humble himself and make amends before dying.
  • Craig Manning from Degrassi: The Next Generation is smart, charming, artistic, sensitive, romantic, and a perfect gentleman. But he inevitably breaks the heart of everybody around him, and himself, due to his Fatal Flaw — he is thoughtless, rash, and grandiose (eventually revealed to be due to bipolar disorder).
    • Ashley Kerwin is responsible, hard-working, and the most decent of all the popular kids. She is slowly destroyed by bad luck, unscrupulous rivals — and most importantly, by her own bitterness from all she goes through. (Perhaps inevitably, she and Craig wound up as Star-Crossed Lovers.)
    • In a similar vein, student Rick (who had pushed his girlfriend into a rock, leaving her in a coma) underwent anger management before going back to school, and genuinely tried to be a nice person... which failed, because essentially the entire school hated him for what he had done before. It got to the point that, after being dumped on with goo at an event Carrie-style, he took a gun to Degrassi and shot a fellow student in the back, paralyzing him, then threatening to kill one of the main characters before dying in a struggle with another student, Sean, over the gun. After his death, he was given a Lonely Funeral.
  • In Doctor Who, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) becomes this over the course of Series 9. The Doctor's long-standing, personal duty to save everyone and anyone he can has long been problematic due to Chronic Hero Syndrome. But by the end of this season, it is warped by centuries of loss, grief, and self-pity into a selfish need to save them no matter what — if it means going to extreme measures, defying the fates and the wishes of those he's saving, he'll do it, damn the consequences. A snowballing series of events begins in "The Girl Who Died" as he saves a young viking girl, Ashildr, by turning her into a functional immortal. Centuries later in "Face the Raven", she collaborates with the Time Lords to capture him — a trap that inadvertently leads to his beloved companion Clara's death. In "Heaven Sent" immediately afterward, he is trapped in a torture chamber, his grief fresh; consumed by rage and anguish, he fights his way out of it over billions of years. In "Hell Bent", his Tragic Dream is revealed: he will do anything to save Clara from her death despite its risks to the entire universe, having become The Unfettered because he just can't take the pain anymore. In the end, the first step in restoring things to rights is not only losing Clara again, but losing his memories of her, and he realizes this is only right and proper punishment for his selfishness. He lives to be the Doctor another day — a sadder, wiser man, free to be his best self again.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Stannis Baratheon's terrible acts to make himself king are all supposed to be for the best since he is The Chosen One destined to save the world from the White Walkers but he's just a tool. His dependence on Melisandre's blood magic proves to be his undoing, as he loses his principles, his army, and his family. His sacrificing his daughter to temporarily lift the snows was so the Stark coalition army can defeat Ramsay Bolton. Stannis, however, loses his battle and dies ignominiously.
    • Prince Doran Martell is an Actual Pacifist striving to keep Dorne out of war and falls victim to a coup.
    • Septon Ray and his community of refugees are massacred for refusing to help renegade members of the Brotherhood without Banners.
    • Ned is a straight example in that his values, character, and morals all lead him to his death — if he had done otherwise, he would not be the same person. He absolutely will not commit or condone the heinous action of killing a child, regardless of the political benefit. In the end, Ned is killed by the cruel whims of the same child that he had intended to spare from Robert's wrath. Another example in regards to Ned is — that out of love for his sister Lyanna and his nephew Jon — he lies to everyone that Jon is his illegitimate son to protect Jon from the Baratheon regime. This action causes strain in Ned's marriage to Catelyn, leading to Jon being raised under somewhat difficult circumstances, since — though Ned raises Jon in an otherwise loving family — Catelyn resents Jon for being her husband's son by another woman and there is nearly nothing Ned can do about this situation, as he needs this cover story to protect his nephew and keep him safe.
    • Despite Catelyn's efforts to see her children safe, she spends her final days knowing Sansa is a captive of the enemy, Arya is missing, and believing Bran and Rickon are apparently dead. When her firstborn son is killed right in front of her, she gives up all hope.
    • Robb's initial success at rallying the forces of the North is cut short because, like his father, he's unable to follow through on the political compromises needed to strengthen his victory. This results in a series of errors which make him vulnerable to betrayal, culminating in breaking his marriage pact to the Freys and marrying for love.
    • Tyrion's open animosity towards Joffrey really comes back to bite him when he is tried for Joffrey's murder. When Jaime offered him a chance to falsely confess his guilt in order for Tywin to spare him and send him to The Wall, Tyrion refused and demanded a Trial of Combat out of pride and anger, which nearly gets him killed and forces him into exile.
  • House definitely fits the bill—his addictive personality may make him a genius, but he continues to hit new levels of rock bottom each season.
  • Satoru Toujou from Kamen Rider Ryuki is this. Being a participant in the Rider War, his desires to use the promised wish to become a hero. This obviously becomes problematic when he winds up killing the people closest to him simply to achieve that wish. Shiro Kanzaki counts to some extent as well.
    • Ryubee Sonozaki of Kamen Rider Double. Despite being the lead antagonist, he's a Tragic Hero in true Shakespearean fashion. His Fatal Flaw of ambition ultimately results in the utter destruction of his family's happiness and unity and costs him his mind and his life. As much of a monster as he was, his final moments, which he spends in his burning, crumbling house laughing like a madman and reminiscing about the good times he had with his family before his Fatal Flaw took over drive the tragedy home.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Taiga Hanaya/Kamen Rider Snipe was called this trope verbatim in prequel special Episode Zero. Betting all he had on saving a patient caused him to run right into Kuroto's scheme and led to his downfall. He became obssesed with destroying all Bugsters at all costs, endangering patients and fighting others riders. He somewhat recovered while hanging out with Nico Saiba, but then became so devoted to protecting her he would rather die than fail. All these actions have a common denominator - Taiga's hard head. Once he sets out to do something, there are only very few things that can stop him. note  Flawed with pride and faulty moral compass, he aims for a good cause, but not neccessarily by good means.
  • Reese and Finch of Person of Interest save people as atonement for failing someone they love. Both are convinced they will die lonely deaths.
  • Six Feet Under, where characters and plot action alike were primarily defined by the tragedies they encompassed.
  • Pick anyone you like from Supernatural, but the two main characters' flaws are different flavors of desperation (Sam's obsession and Dean's devotion). Or maybe the same flavor—desperation for approval from an absent father—given different focuses based on their roles in the family.
    • Dean's so desperate to have a family that he has no sense of self-worth outside of it. His reason for living is so that he can protect his little brother; his perfect fantasy is a world where he's worthless (but most everyone else is happy and his mother is still alive); he's been Driven to Suicide by guilt and loss from his father sacrificing his soul for him and his brother dying just for starters.

      After dealing with the torments of hell, suffering a serious case of It's All My Fault since he's responsible for breaking the First Seal and initiating the beginning of the Signs of the End Times, and finding out he's The Chosen One to become a Destructive Saviour, it's losing faith in his brother that makes Dean willing to go along with the angels' destructive plan to end the Apocalypse. And in a show of Flaw Exploitation by his own brother, it's Sam's faith in him and the need to not disappoint his brother that keeps Dean from doing it.

      Dean is so focused on his brother that he doesn't want Sam to sacrifice himself even if it's the only way to avert the Apocalypse, and he gets called out on it:
    Bobby: ...What exactly are you afraid of? Losing? Or losing your brother?
  • The Sopranos: Assuming his eventual downfall or assassination, Tony Soprano is probably the biggest example of a tragic hero in modern television. He actually wants to be a good person, a good father and a good husband, and he tries hard, even getting flashes where you hope he'll improved (such as when he realizes that the stripper Frankie just murdered was the same age as his daughter), but is incapable of overcoming his own narcissism, shortsightedness and lack of empathy. And the fact that he's, you know, a mob boss.
  • Paul Woodrugh of True Detective is a very sympathetic version as his Fatal Flaw is his inability to accept his own sexuality, in his attempts to reintegrate into normal society after the war, and carry on his life. This continues haunt him up till him dying, being willing to walk into what he knows is an ambush than then his secrets get out. It comes as worse, as by this point he is the only one of the heroes with several reasons left to live.
  • Jack Bauer of 24 is every bit as fanatical in protecting the country as the terrorists trying to destroy it. His obsession with justice proves harmful to himself and others, and ultimately almost leads to setting off World War III because of his obsession with avenging the death of Renee Walker.
  • Captain Benteen on the hour long Twilight Zone episode On Thursday We Leave For Home. For years he lead a colony of people stranded on a hot, desolate planet. He helps them survive, holds them together and gives them hope for a rescue. When a spaceship finally arrives to take them home to Earth everyone is overjoyed including him. However Benteen feels the power he once had slipping away. When he learns that many of the colonist don't want to stay together when they return to Earth he becomes angry. He tells them that Earth is a horrible place and tries to destroy the ship. He refuses to go on the spaceship which will not return and chooses to stay. Only when he sees the ship leave does he realize he wants to go back home to Earth.
  • Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries. Stefan makes endless sacrifices by saving people and because of this, he often has to give up his morals and his humanity to do so. For example, Stefan at the end of season two was desperate to save his brother, Damon from dying from a fatal werewolf bite. In order to get the cure so that Damon could live, Stefan sacrificed himself to Klaus, turned off his humanity and became a Ripper in order to get the cure for Damon, protect Elena from Klaus and protect the entire town of Mystic Falls.
    • One of Stefan's fatal flaws is his inability to understand or embrace the concept of moderation; when he's in love, it's completely obsessive desperate love. When he's killing, he's doing it basically non-stop and incredibly violently. When he likes his brother, he'll do anything for him; when he doesn't, he shuts him out completely. His intentions are almost always good; his actions are about fifty fifty.
  • Frank Sobotka of The Wire just wants to make sure the Baltimore stevedores are going to stay in business. Unfortunately this means keeping slightly unsavory company...

  • Classical Mythology had too many tragic heroes to count. There is the story of Oedipus who was cursed to marry his mother and kill his father, Prometheus, Orestes.
    • Oedipus was mostly guilty of trying to fight his fate (and being a bit too harsh on murder and incest, since the punishments he gave himself were the punishments he said he would give to anyone who killed the king), running away from his adoptive home after an oracle said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and then later when another oracle said he should stop pursuing the former king's killer and they got in a fight, the oracle revealed that Oedipus was the killer, and that he married his mother.
    • Prometheus accomplished his mission, stealing fire for mortal man. And tricked the Gods as to which parts of animals the humans were to sacrifice. It's just... you know... he pissed off the Jerkass Gods in the process of helping humanity. So Zeus chained him to a rock and had an eagle eat his innards. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Since he's immortal. Hercules breaks him free. Eventually, after centuries. If anything, it counts as a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • Speaking of, Hercules could go on this list as well. Those famous 12 Labors? Penance, for being driven into a berserk rage (by HERA) and murdering his own family. Then he gets another wife, who gets kidnapped by a centaur named Nessus. Herc shoots him with a poison arrow (dipped in the Hydra's blood). Dying, Nessus tells her to rub his blood on Herc's clothes if she ever thinks Herc is being unfaithful, and it will tell the truth. Blood that is now laced with the Hydra's poison. It goes as well as you would think.
    • It's worse in Euripedes' version. After he has completed all 12 labors, he comes home to save his family from being killed by a tyrant king and all is well, right? Nope, Hera sends a goddess named Madness who hesitantly drives Hercules mad. During Hercules' madness, he thinks that he's killing Eurystheus and his family, when in reality he's killing his own and it takes Athena to stop him before he can kill his adopted father. Hercules is left a broken man and leaves his home of Thebes, knowing he cannot stay.
  • Karna from The Mahabharata. Abandoned at birth by his mother who later became a queen, mocked often for his common origins by the Princes and for his high origin by his mentor who cursed that he should forget all the things he learned from him for disguising himself as a brahmin, the Dragon to the Big Bad Duryodhana and half-brother to the heroes, the Pandavas. He dies because he actually had a sense of honor and that killed him in the end.
  • The eponymous Gilgamesh from The Epic of Gilgamesh who for all his accomplishments could not save his friend's life but learns the lesson that it is through deeds that one gains true immortality.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer had Aenarion the Defender, the greatest Elf warrior-king who expelled Chaos from the world, leaving only a trickle of their original power to menace it. He was only able to do this by using the Sword of Khaine, the most powerful Artifact of Doom in the game, to avenge his family's death. Aenarion dies and the sword's curse comes to fruition when he fathers the future Witch-King Malekith. It also turned out he didn't need to use the sword because his children had actually survived.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • The Emperor came so close to conquering the whole galaxy for humanity but his callous treatment of some of his Primarchs turned them against him, sparked the greatest civil war in human history and left The Emperor and his Imperium as decaying husks of its former self.
    • The whole Eldar race must die so their saviour god can be born but Slaanesh devours Eldar souls so they choose to live as long as possible even if it means the threat of near extinction.
    • This was Magnus the Red's Start of Darkness. He found out about Horus' betrayal, and attempted to use chaos sorcery to inform the Emperor about it as fast as possible. Unfortunately, this also messed up Big E's top secret webway project, and he ordered Leman Russ to apprehend Magnus and his legion. Horus changed these orders behind his back to killing the Thousand Sons (which Russ, never having liked that red-skinned nerd, didn't question). Faced with the extinction of his legion, Magnus made a deal with Tzeentch, solidifying his position as a traitor primarch. Just as Tzeentch planned.

  • Many of William Shakespeare's protagonists, of course. Some of the best examples are Brutus, Othello, and Hamlet.
    • If fact, if the title is a main character's name they tend to bite it by the end. Tragically.
      • Macbeth potentially being an exception. He comes NEAR the ultimate repentance of the Tragic Hero... but pulls out of his Villainous Breakdown and goes for broke.
    • Importantly, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes have Fatal Flaws specific to their situation. Put Hamlet in Othello and Desdemona will live. Put Othello in Hamlet and Claudius will be killed in the first act.
  • David Mamet's play Oleanna. A university lecturer about to get his tenure, with a loving wife and a payment on a house going through, decides to help a female student falling behind in his class. He makes a few off-the-cuff, inappropriate comments to the female student (he says "I'm not your father" in response to her wanting to be told want to do, he relates an anecdote about the rich copulating with less clothes on to the student), only to be told by the student in the next act that she's having him done for sexual harassment because of his comments.
  • Bare: A Pop Opera tracks main character Jason's story as he struggles with sexual identity and his Fatal Flaw of fear.
  • Arthur Miller intended to create the "modern tragic hero" in his legendary play Death of a Salesman. Previously, it had been generally thought by literary critics, academics et al. that for a character to be a tragic hero he must fall from a great social height- ex. Brutus in Julius Caesar. Miller, however, argued for years that Willy Loman was a tragic hero who fell not from the height of social position but from the height of his aspirations and self-delusions. Eventually, Miller admitted that Loman's character was pathetic, not tragic because he stubbornly failed to learn anything from his fall and thought maybe he would have achieved his goal if he had focused more on Willy Loman's son, Biff.
    • In The Crucible, John Proctor definitely qualifies as a tragic hero, and his fatal flaw would be either his temper or his pride depending on who you ask.
  • If your name is the title of a Greek play that is not a comedy, you fall under this trope and have an high chance of dying.
  • Seymour Krelborn of Little Shop of Horrors is brought down by his desire for Audrey's love; he makes a Faustian Bargain of sorts with the plant to win her love. It turns out to be a Senseless Sacrifice: turns out Audrey loves him all the same, even without the fame brought by the bargain.
  • Wicked: Elphaba. "My road of good intentions lead where such roads always lead..." No matter how hard she tries to do what's right, she cannot win.

    Video Games 
  • Litchi Faye-Ling in BlazBlue is haunted by her guilt over not preventing her friend Lotte Carmine to turn into Arakune. Therefore, she set herself to save him from this horrible fate, still a good intention no matter what, even at cost of sacrificing her own well-being and eventually, unwillingly signed up for NOL and being pitted against her former friends, with minimal knowledge about how bad NOL was because her friend's uncooperative attitude for her plight and the fact that she is corrupted on her own and it's slowly claiming her. All because she cared so much for who she calls 'friends' and her inability to forgive herself for that one incident. That was her Tragic Mistake, the one she sought, Terumi gave the solution by observing Arakune which would keep him intact as she 'wanted', but Terumi, like the malicious Troll he is, never mentioned that doing so destroys his chance to be restored into Lotte due to the nature of the observed, thereby making all of Litchi's efforts trying to be Lotte's savior completely pointless, all because of her own guilt, love and impulsiveness.
  • Both mage party-members (besides Bethany) in Dragon Age II.
    • Merrill wants to restore the lost heritage of the Dalish Elves, but is willing to mess around with extremely dangerous Blood Magic and a dangerous artifact called the Eluvian to do so. Her entire clan, including mentor Marethari, considers this a Very Bad Idea, but she's convinced that it's worth the risk and they'll understand when it's over. Marethari ends up sacrificing herself to keep Merill from getting possessed, and the rest of the clan may turn on her depending on dialogue choices.
    • Anders wants human mages to be able to live free of Templar oppression, and becomes less and less picky about how this will come about as time goes by. By the last act of the game, he's become The Unfettered and carries out a terrorist act specifically to force a confrontation and destroy any chance of compromise.
  • Sigurd of Chalphy in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War starts out as an upstanding if not idealistic young man on a mission to rescue his childhood friend, but due to events he had little to no control over he loses the woman he loves, is branded a traitor and forced to flee his homeland. It all culminates in his supposed ally Arvis of Velthomer stealing said wife for his own and burning Sigurd alive. Arvis himself was being played by an even bigger bastard, but that's no excuse for what he did. Nearly twenty years would pass before Sigurd would finally be avenged.
  • Edelgard von Hresvelg in Fire Emblem: Three Houses embodies this during the non-Crimson Flower routes in the game. In every other route, even if she takes the role of an antagonist, she is fighting against the corruption of the Church of Seiros and to bring freedom for humanity from Rhea, the Immaculate One, who abuses her power as the archbishop. Even though you defeat and ultimately kill Edelgard when you oppose her, her war resulted in society finally changing itself for the better, where Fodlan is still unified, and the Church of Seiros undergoes changes as a result of the war bringing enlightenment to many characters, including Rhea herself. Even those who slither in the dark are weakened heavily as a result of the war.
  • Kratos of God of War was tricked into killing the only two people he ever loved and the Olympian gods refused to get rid of his memories of this, even though he killed Ares, which they wanted. He's a total asshole, but still sympathetic - an apt hero for a game based on Greek mythology.
    • Kratos is a Tragic Hero because for all the impressive feats he manages, he himself is never able to get over the trauma of killing his own family. It is his love for his family that prevents Kratos from becoming a monster, but at the same time, it's due to that love that Kratos is unable to get over his feelings of guilt and is slowly driven insane. Kratos starts working for the gods because they promise to free him from his nightmares, but as time goes on, it becomes apparent that 1) the gods do not have the power to take away his guilt and 2) the gods only view him as a pawn. In this regard, his ignorance towards the Gods' anger (or causing said anger) is rather understandable.
  • Cole Phelps from L.A. Noire is an honest cop and by far the game's most moral character. However, he suffers the Fatal Flaw of making impulsive decisions. Many of these impulsive decisions Cole made includes hiding on sugar loaf field causing everyone including his friend to die, ordering Ira Hogeboom to clear an enemy cave that turned out to be a hospital full of innocents, and having an affair with Elsa, the latter of which would ruin his reputation. This flaw would latter end up killing him when he decided to save Kelso from drown and refusing to take Kelso's hand.
  • Raziel from Legacy of Kain is an Unwitting Pawn despite wanting to be free to make his own choices. In the end, he lets Kain kill him so he can fulfill his destiny.
  • Fain in the Back Story of Lusternia. The Elder Gods faced a Hopeless War against The Soulless. Knowing that the Soulless devoured Elders and lesser Soulless alike to increase in power, Fain and his followers pioneered an elixir made from fallen Soulless essence, fighting fire with fire. The side-effects caused the other Elder Gods to reject its use, so Fain and his followers continued drinking it in secret. They turned the war around single-handedly. But as The Dark Side Will Make You Forget, Fain - and his followers - became steadily more monstrous. They were exiled by the other Elders while on the cusp of victory, derailing and dooming the entire war effort. By the time of the game, Fain's twisted in appearance and motivation, and harbors an insane grudge against the world.]]
  • Harpuia in Mega Man Zero wants a world in which humans and reploids can live in peace. Too bad he's so blinded by pride that he can't see the truth. For extra irony, his goal makes him Not So Different from the leader of the Resistance. Becomes subverted in later games when he's capable of differentiating between a rebel and a psychopath and turns his wrath on the latter first.
  • The Illusive Man in the Mass Effect series is a villainous example. A Well-Intentioned Extremist to the max, he's one of the few people in the galaxy with the knowledge, resources, and charisma to stand a chance of defeating the Reapers. Unfortunately, his pride leads him to getting too close to Reaper technology, turning him into nothing more than an obstacle for Commander Shepard to deal with.
  • The Metal Gear series is all about these characters.
    • The first two Metal Gear games cast protagonist Snake as a tragic hero, who rapidly realises he doesn't actually care about his orders, is being exploited by his bosses and manipulated by the villains, who together constitute his only friends and family.
    • He's press-ganged into doing it all again in Metal Gear Solid, but in the end, he gets to disappear and chase after his own goals.
    • Metal Gear Solid 2 casts newcomer Raiden in a similar, but more Shinji-esque exploited hero role.
    • Metal Gear Solid 3 puts Snake's progenitor, Naked Snake, through the wringer to explain his turn to villainy, in an interesting contrast to Snake's own decisions. Being forced to kill his Mentor (who was also like a mother to him) for the sake of political bullshit between the USA and USSR caused him to lose all faith in his country. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker shows the full Face–Heel Turn, as being manipulated by both nations, betrayed by his friends and shown how little the US cares for its soldiers has him determined to build an entire nation of soldiers who will plunge the world into Forever War if it means they'll always have a place in it.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake is still a free man, but he has only months left to live.
      • Of course in the end, they do manage to earn a happy ending of sorts. The world is a better place when all is said and done, so they didn't really fail. The main characters get a shot at happiness too: Meryl and Johnny get married, Campbell can finally start to bond with his daughter Meryl, Raiden/Jack is reunited with his lover and their son for a chance to begin anew as a family, Big Boss finally dies in peace knowing that the world will no longer suffer from his mistakes, and though Snake/David will only have months to live he can do so as a free man for the first time in his life. He doesn't have to fight anymore.
    • Even the Greater-Scope Villain is one of these guys. Major Zero, founder of the Patriots in an attempt to unify and bring peace to the world. Thanks to his own paranoia, misjudgement, and sheer cynicism, he ended up creating the Patriot AIs, who would go on to create a world driven by constant, pointless proxy wars. He realized this, but by then it was too late-his own human-run Patriots had allowed Skull Face to come to power and lobotomize Zero, leaving him a vegetable Puppet King until he was one day killed by the friend he had driven away. The friend, it should be noted, he protected from his own organization.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2 has Ammon Jerro. Originally a kindly, eccentric court magician, once he learned about the King of Shadows, he decided to take it upon himself to combat him in order to protect the world. However, as time went on, his determination to defeat the King of Shadows slowly became a dark obsession, and he gradually began to lose himself, taking more and more extreme measures to defeat the King. These ultimately resulted in him selling his soul to the Abyss in order to gain an army of Demons under his command, and began a rampage throughout Faerun in order to obtain the shards of the only weapon that can harm the King of Shadows, perfectly willing to kill countless people that (knowingly or not) stand in his way. It's not until he accidentally kills Shandra, his own granddaughter, in a blind rage that he realizes how far he's fallen and how much his actions have harmed both the people he had sworn to protect, and most importantly, himself.
    • The expansion Mask of the Betrayer had Akachi, who led a grand crusade to tear down the Wall of the Faithless, where those who refused to worship a god were assigned to suffer for eternity. He did so to rescue the woman he loved, who died without dedicating herself to a God, and he was almost certainly doomed to fail from the start. As a consequence, he became the spirit eater.
  • Taro Namatame of Persona 4, who started throwing the main characters into the TV out of a misguided belief that he was actually saving them from the true murderer (his Shadow represents his delusions of himself as a savior). If the player manages to convince the others that he's innocent, Namatame will have a My God, What Have I Done? moment upon realizing the consequences of his actions.
  • In Planescape: Torment, the Nameless One is a perfect example of a tragic hero. The happy ending for the game ends with him choosing to pay his penance and undergoing torture for eternity.
  • Captain Martin Walker in Spec Ops: The Line. He genuinely hopes to do the right thing: Save the people of Dubai. However, he quickly found out that things in Dubai is harsher than what he thought, but he insists on pushing on and intervening to make things better. It was these things, along with his inner desire to become a hero, that forced him to commit atrocities like accidentally bombarding innocent people with the horrific white phosphorus bomb, stealing water supply from the innocent people and dooming them to die. In which comes along his next Fatal Flaw: he refuses to blame himself, despite subconsciously thinking that he did wrong things, causing him to snap, hallucinating and blaming it on his superior that he was trying to 'rescue' in the first place, John Konrad. Once he reached Konrad's supposed place, he found out that Konrad is Dead All Along and all the Konrad voices and taunts he was hearing was his own hallucination and he was instead a Villain Protagonist that doomed Dubai because he wanted to be a hero when he never was, with actions like those, and everything really was his fault.
  • Siegfried Schtauffen from the Soul Series could be deemed one. Roaming the land for a weapon strong enough to defeat his father's murderer, Siegfried's tragedy is that he himself was the murderer, his broken mind deluding him into chasing an imagined enemy. When he finally acquires his prize, the Cursed Sword Soul Edge, the Evil Sword is able to utterly consume his fragile psyche, completely transforming him into an extension of the sword itself; the demon-knight Nightmare. Following the events of Soul Calibur 2 and the sword's defeat, Siegfried is finally able to regain enough of his mind back to break the sword's control and reclaim his identity. Finally confronting the crimes he committed both as a man and as a vessel for the sword, he sets out on a quest of atonement.
  • Ryu from Street Fighter. Despite his kind nature, he is a very troubled and conflicted man. His master and adopted father Gouken was killed by his brother Akuma, and worse of all, Akuma is constantly trying to egg Ryu into giving into the Satsui no Hadou, Ryu resisting each time. In his first Street Fighter tournament, he made it all the way to the end, only to lose to Sagat. Unable to cope with losing, he gave into the Satsui no Hadou and gave a Metsu Shoryuken to Sagat, branding him with his signature chest scar and causing him to swear revenge on Ryu. Ryu is always at a constant inner struggle with himself: Should he continue to resist the Satsui no Hadou, or give in as Akuma suggests?
    • Also from Street Fighter Series, Cody Travers. While it is not actually seen in the games, multiple games tell the story of his downfall, which occur after the ending of the original Final Fight (which he is also a Hero Protagonist). Cody and his friends go out to save his girlfriend from the Big Bad in Final Fight. On the way, he beats up a corrupt cop named Edi, who later arrests the hero for assault and battery. Next, his girlfriend dumps him, and leaves the country to study abroad. Afterwards, he is let out of jail and tries to get revenge by fighting criminals outside. He gets arrested again, and becomes addicted to fighting within prison. He then eventually breaks out, and joins the Street Fighting cast in their tournament(s). After all these events, he usually claims that he will never be the hero again, and often states that all he has left is fighting (which he often exclaims is pointless). However, by the time of Street Fighter V, Cody has managed to at least keep his internal demons in check enough to convince the people of Metro City he's a changed man, and eventually win the Mayor elections. But while he does take his new job seriously, his quotes on the game clearly show this Nihilistic Tragic way of thinking is still buried inside him. Time will tell if he actually manages to fully conquer it.
  • Jin Kazama from Tekken. He is the son of Jun Kazama and Kazuya Mishima, and lived happily with his mother Jun until he was 15 and an evil entity named Ogre attacked his forest home in Japan and after the attack, his mother was nowhere to be found and declared missing. Jin then sought out his grandfather Heihachi Mishima to train him to take down Ogre once and for all, Jin unaware of his grandfather's ulterior motives. At the age of 19, he entered the Third King of Iron Fist Tournament where he managed to finish off Ogre and avenge his mother, but soon afterward, was gunned down by the Tekken Force, with Heihachi making the killing shot on his own grandson. Soon afterwards, Jin's Devil Gene awakens and lays waste to the Tekken Force and slams Heihachi through a wall and flies off into the night. It is from this point onward that Jin begins to loathe the name of Mishima and everything associated with them, even to the point of unlearning their fighting style and taking on traditional Karate. Jin strives to put an end to his accursed bloodline once and for all, if the Devil Gene within him doesn't completely dominate him first.
  • Grommash "Grom" Hellscream is one from the Warcraft series. He lived his life as a proud, strong Orc warrior and Chieftain of the Warsong Clan. His Fatal Flaw was his loathing of weakness in both himself and his Clan. This weakness claimed his mate and caused her death. To try and subvert the weakness, he drank the Demon Blood that Gul'dan offered, beginning the corruption of the entire Orcish race. In the end, he redeemed himself and his race by slaying the Demon Mannoroth who's blood they drank.
    • Tirion Fordring of Warcraft helps an orc who saved his life, and is in turn branded a traitor, has all his powers taken away, has his family leave him, and generally becomes a classic tragic hero. Also a subversion, because the powers were not theirs to take, leaving him ultimately as the founder of a new and less Jerkass order...

    Visual Novels 
  • Archer from Fate/stay night. His Fatal Flaw, ironically enough, was his idealism. Eventually, it killed him.
    • To expand upon this, Archer is an alternate Shirou who also fought in the Fifth Holy Grail War. As an adult he continued to pursue his ideal and saved many people. However, because he was so focused on his ideal he rarely spoke to people and never asked for rewards so he became estranged from them and was finally falsely blamed and executed for starting a war he had attempt to stop. Before he died he had made a contract with Alaya to save a hundred lives and became a Counter-Guardian on dying. He had hoped to continue saving lives with this role but was instead tasked with killing humans who threatened the continued existence of humanity. Feeling that his own ideal had betrayed him, Archer became bitter with his only hope being to cause a paradox that would erase his existence. Notably the same sentence used to describe Kiritsugu is also used to describe Archer.
    • Other heroic spirits in the Fifth Grail War are Tragic Heroes in their previous lives. Caster and Saber are some examples.
  • Shizune Hakamichi of Katawa Shoujo is deaf, and as such, has had difficulty making friends. She sets out to do things to make people happy so that they will like her, but her competitive personality and occasional difficulty avoiding coming off as abrasive drives away the rest of the student council, including her cousin Lilly. The only person who stays on is her close friend and interpreter, Misha, who has unrequited love for Shizune, and Shizune, unfortunately, ends up taking Misha's presence for granted. Much of Act 4 of her route involves her coming to terms with her flaws and taking steps to address them, such as making amends with Misha, who has been becoming distant from her.

  • Many of the people we see in Mandatory Roller Coaster view themselves in this light. Whether or not they truly are is open to interpretation.
  • There are a few in The Order of the Stick:
    • Redcloak in Start of Darkness. His goal: improve the goblin race's lot in life. Initially merely a Well-Intentioned Extremist, his Fatal Flaw turns out to be the "sunk cost" fallacy, which Xykon ruthlessly exploits. By the end, he's incapable of ever betraying Xykon, because if he does, he'll have to face the fact that he killed his own brother - and allowed many other goblins to die - for no good reason. He does have his moments of "redemption", such as when he reaffirms the value of other goblinoids even if they aren't his race of goblin.
    • Vaarsuvius seems to have recently arrived in this role, partly as a result of fan-diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. V's Fatal Flaw is Pride in magic, and an increasing inability to admit failure at a task and requiring the help of others. This leads to selling (leasing, technically) Vaarsuvius's soul out to fiends and refusing to give up the resulting power after the rescue of V's threatened mate and children, as "I have so much to do". Vaarsuvius's exact words were actually "I still have to fix everything", but the subsequent attempts to do so have allowed V to realize the mistake made without dying like so many tragic heroes. Sadly, this bit of wisdom is unlikely to be much help with fixing V's family life. The aftermath has cemented V's status; after a severe case of Break the Haughty and his/her mate filing for divorce, V is acting like an elf with not much left to live for.
    • Miko Miyazaki was a self-righteous headcase paladin who was the most powerful paladin in the Sapphire Guard. She was severely anti-social. Her only friend was her horse. As a consequence, the Sapphire Guard would send her away on long missions so they wouldn't have to put up with her. She believed that she was an incorruptible force of goodness and justice. She could not accept that she may be wrong or have made a mistake, and believed that if she believed something, it had to be true. Then, she killed Lord Shojo in a psychotic breakdown, after believing that Lord Shojo betrayed the Sapphire Guard, when he really wanted to protect the sealed rift from the forces of evil. As a result, she fell from grace and lost her paladin powers. When she tried to gain redemption by destroying the sealed rift to try and stop Xykon and Redcloak from taking it, she instead destroyed the seal to the rift and was later brutally bisected, and told by Soon Kim's ghost that "redemption was not for everyone". Possibly the real tragedy with Miko was that she could never find redemption, as she died before it could've been achieved. Backstory revealed in one of the prequel books also points toward her personality being a direct result of a corrupt mentor. Word of God was a bit more positive, saying that Miko "may have achieved redemption."

    Web Originals 
  • The Brave New World Universe: Sasha in Tech Adventures. He starts out as a paralyzed girl that needs a robot to do everything for her, then after he is Chosen, is constantly injured nearly to the point of death, which eventually caused his mind to fracture after a particularly horrific battle. It's basically the entire plot of the story. Which ultimately culminated with a Heroic Sacrifice to stop an army of supersoldiers using his powers to take over Africa. He's so tragic that when his mind is about to be broken by Mindwurm, the evil mind raper says it will actually be a blessing, Sasha's hopeful side, the last part of his mind not in hiding, agrees with him and stops fighting.
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Dr. Horrible manages to be both this AND a Villain Protagonist. His hesitation in killing Captain Hammer allows Hammer to break his death ray and then try to use it. The resulting explosion sends Hammer away whimpering, but kills Penny, causing Horrible to went Jumping Off the Slippery Slope into complete supervillainy. His Fatal Flaw is that he will do anything to gain fame and approval, even compromise his own beliefs. His hesitation is caused by conflicting influences.
  • Agent Carolina from Red vs. Blue is a highly competitive woman who soon becomes the best Supersoldier in Project Freelancer. But then someone better, Agent Texas, shows up, and Carolina's pride and desire to be the best lead to her becoming bitter, angry and only focused in solving her inferiority complex. This indirectly causes the deaths of some of her friends, as well as Carolina getting close to dying at points. It gets worse due to her upbringing: Carolina's mother died when she was just a child, leading to her father becoming absent as all he thought about was reviving his wife... which leads to him creating Project Freelancer, meaning Carolina's outstanding skills were partly to get approval from a cold and distant father. And the dead mother was revived in way through... Tex!

    Western Animation 
  • Fern from Adventure Time is a textbook of this trope. As someone who began to be a hero, his depression grew progressively and he blamed himself after failing to protect Ooo from the elemental curse. His subsequent redemption and death in the Grand Finale makes his whole storyline even more tragic.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender.
    • Jet's parents were killed and his village was destroyed when he was eight. He became the Well-Intentioned Extremist leader of a group of rebels who tried and failed to destroy the village the Fire Nation was occupying. He tried to move on and become a refugee, but was brainwashed for speaking about the war, and ultimately is killed the instant he breaks free from the brainwashing (see: Redemption Equals Death).
    • Zuko also spends most of Season 2 and late Season 1 as this - until he succeeds in getting his honour back, discovers that he really didn't want it after all, and sets out to join the Gaang.
  • The titular Bojack Horseman struggles to find happiness, dragged down by horrible decision making skills, Pride, a short temper, and selfishness.
  • The eventual fate of the DCAU version of Batman is this. While he is one the greatest heroes of his time, and was a dedicated philanthropist, he allowed his relationships with the people who loved him the most (and whom he loved in turn even if he didn't show it) to fall apart because of his failure to save a partner from becoming a killer. Because of this by Batman Beyond, he ends up a lonely recluse. God knows what would have become of him if Terry didn't show up, which makes it all the more tragic.
  • Oddly enough, Danny Phantom becomes one in an alternate universe of the show. Danny Fenton gains ghostly powers and decides to use them to protect his town from the ghosts and menaces threatening it. The twist however, is that his friends and family are killed in an explosion, leading his arch enemy Vlad to take him in. Far MORE twisted is that in a procedure to rip out his humanity from his ghostly half, the ghost half ends merging with Vlad's ghost half, murdering Fenton, and beginning a ten year rampage around the entire world and succeeding. Oh, and it was HIM that caused his family and friends' death! The fact that he's exists outside of his own alternate Bad Future is just a matter of when he will break free from his containment. Or would if not for Executive Meddling.
  • Ducktales 2017: Della Duck, the triplets' mother, had an incredibly classic tragic downfall prior to the series' premiere and actually set the stage for the pilot episode's status quo. Della had everything going for her: heir to the richest duck in the world, a massive mansion to live in with servants at her beck and call, three children on the way, a storied adventuring career at the ripe old age of 20-something, and was getting a rocket ship for her birthday. And in classic Tragic Hero fashion, it was all taken away from her by her Fatal Flaw when she took said rocket for a joyride.
    • Her Hubris kept her from turning back when she got caught in a cosmic storm.
    • Her Impulsiveness caused her to get into a fist-fight with an alien, kicking up so much dust that a rescue party could not see her crash site.
    • In a fit of Anger, she tore apart the ship's instruction manual when she saw that Gyro had insulted her in the margins.
    • And to top it all off, she had to spend the entire time chewing Black Licorice Oxy-Chew.
  • The last I Am Weasel episode reveal both Weasel and Baboon to be this. Weasel was always the less popular of the duo despite his name being in the title. Baboon's popularity hinges only in his being a Chew Toy and he is destined to always fail in everything.
  • The Legend of Korra has one in Wan, the first Avatar. After defeating Vaatu, he spent the rest of his life trying to broker peace between the different tribes of humans (Also a way to atone for unwittingly releasing Vaatu in the first place). He failed, but his death started the Avatar Cycle.
  • The Woodsman from Over the Garden Wall carries a lantern containing his daughter's soul, and spends his days harvesting Edelwood trees to keep it lit, only to discover that his daughter was never in the lantern to begin with, and he's unknowingly been harvesting souls to keep the Big Bad alive. He snuffs out the lantern and is reunited with his daughter in the end.
  • The titular hero of Samurai Jack is forced to endure a hell lot of hardship and misery. Although born into luxury and safety as a Japanese prince, Jack's happy childhood ended when the demon Aku burned his city to the ground and separated him from his beloved parents. While living in exile as a nomad, Jack trained and prepared to eventually return home and get his just revenge on Aku... only for the demon to send him on a one-way trip to a dystopian future world (ruled by Aku himself), thousands of years later. Jack tries to find a way back to the past to set everything right, only for Aku to thwart ALL of his attempts to return home, leaving Jack to be stranded in Aku's miserable hellhole for another 50 years. Driven to madness and sorrow by all the evil and violence he has seen, Jack is only moments away from killing himself (which he seriously attempts though fails to do). Jack does eventually succeed at his goal of returning to his own time, killing Aku for good, and reuniting with his family... only to pay the unexpected price of losing his first (and so far only) girlfriend. Though at least he can finally move on with his life in peace...
  • Kyle Broflowski from South Park serves as the moral voice of reason in his other-wise chaotic town always striving to do the right thing and convince others to do the same. However he suffers from one particular Fatal Flaw, his antagonism towards Cartman. While, Cartman has more than earned Kyle's ire, Kyle can takes this rivalry too far to the point where beating Cartman is more important than doing the right thing. This can lead to Kyle to endanger the lives of his friend and loved ones as "Douche and Turd" and "Fatbeard" both shown, prevent Cartman from receiving a greater comeuppances like in "Le Petit Tourette", punish Cartman for things he actually didn't do, like in "Skank Hunt", and inadvertently give Cartman ideas that would worsen the situation, like in "Buddha Box". It gets to the point when a girl he likes rejects him for Cartman and later becomes his Distaff Counterpart, he goes on a moral crusade which leads to him getting the President to nuke Canada.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Lapis's traumatic past hangs heavy over her character arc and feeds her self-sabotaging nature. As much as she's been hurt by others; her cynicism, anger, and a combination of selfishness and self-hatred sabotage any of her attempts at getting better. When she traps herself with Jasper inside of Malachite it's clear that as much as she wanted to save Steven, there were many other easier ways and she went with this one purely so she could have someone to drag down with her. Upon realizing the Diamonds will be returning to Earth, Lapis uproots her home and abandons Peridot and Steven, some of the few people to connect with her, stranding herself in a lonely prison of her own making.
    "I was so sure the Diamonds would destroy my new home, that I did it myself. It's like I'm back inside The Mirror, except I put myself here."
    • A big part of Rose Quartz's arc is breaking down the pedastal she'd been placed on by other characters to show. In many ways Rose was the kind, compassionate leader everyone remembers as but in other ways she was lonely, guilt-ridden, and consistently sad. It was revealed that she was Pink Diamond, having broke away from the other Diamonds to free Earth and liberate the Gems on it. In doing so she ended up compiling problem after problem upon the Crystal Gems as they ultimately could neither win the war, nor save any of the Gems corrupted by it. Much of the rhetoric she spoke about the evils of the Diamonds was her guilt talking and making her want everyone to hate Pink, aka herself, just as much as she did. To quote Rebecca Sugar:
    "Rose is her own worst enemy — literally, she fought herself. The way she felt about herself caused so much pain for everybody around her, especially the people who loved her and the people she wanted to love. One thing I find really interesting is that the way she idolized everyone around her was very sincere. She thought everyone around her was so much better than she was. So people would be drawn to her, Gems would be drawn to her, and I don’t know if they would necessarily realize that she was worshipping them, which was compounding her own sadness at the feeling that she couldn’t connect with them. It was a tragedy."
  • Rusty Venture from the Venture Brothers. In a show that the creators have described as being about failure, Rusty may be a sometimes brilliant scientist, but his flaws- the biggest of which is his inferiority complex regarding his father- often hold him back while his brother manages to attain great successes.
  • Wakfu: Nox turns out to be an antagonistic type as his motivations are revealed, and when his efforts are All for Nothing. He's insanely and utterly driven to succeed at any cost in reversing time so he can bring back his dead family, with the added justification that if he succeeds in his goal it'll also Ret-Gone all the atrocities he's ruthlessly committing on other to get there. The Bad Guy Wins, but it turns out all his 200-year-long efforts were doomed from the start, as all the wakfu he collects (which includes part of one of the most potent sources of wakfu in the world) are only enough to reverse time by twenty minutes. Though no-one but the audience knows at the end why Nox really did what he did, even Yugo feels bad upon witnessing his Villainous BSoD and lets him escape, at which point Nox dies as a Self-Disposing Villain.

Alternative Title(s): Tragic Heroine


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