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Trapped in Villainy

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Freeza: You know, Zarbon, I'm starting to think my people don't understand what I pay them for.
Zarbon: You don't pay us—
Freeza: Allow them to live for.

So you've got yourself an Anti-Villain. He's a pretty decent guy, and if you were on his side, you'd probably be best buds. And yet he constantly wants to kill you. Why? Can't you guys just talk it out? I mean, surely you can come to an understanding. What's the worst that can happen?

Oh wait, that's right: his boss will kill him.

See, many a Big Bad rules through fear, and that includes his subordinates. As such, they'll often threaten their Mooks, their Quirky Miniboss Squad, and even their Dragon, with death (or some other severe punishment) should they fail in their tasks. That doesn't seem too bad to a villain if they see themselves working for the Big Bad indefinitely, but if they have a Heel–Face Turn, a Heel Realization, or realize that they dug themselves too deep, what are they to do? Defy the Big Bad and get killed for it? Or keep on doing the villain's dirty work, even if that means just digging themselves even deeper into their disastrous situation? It's quite a conundrum.

Sometimes, a villain will find protection from the Big Bad (or those higher up on the food chain than him) by joining up with the good guys and using them as his shields. However, this isn't quite as easy if the villain is stuck in a hostage situation, or if their boss has the power to remotely kill off the former villain should they ever hesitate to perform their duties. But their strongest weapon is, again, fear. Even if it would be ridiculously easy to join the heroes (clinging onto their honor aside), sometimes a Big Bad will have such a strong grip of fear over his minions, that they don't even dare to try to betray their master.

The "oppressive force" in question doesn't always have to be a Big Bad, or even a villainous character. The former villain may have wielded a dark power, and failure to continue doing their job will cause the power to turn on them. This may be brought on by Horror Hunger, if an evil character has to feast on something...unpleasant, and after deciding he doesn't want to be evil anymore, will remain incapable of fighting his urges (at the risk of death).

See Anti-Villain for other forms of non-evil villainy. Compare with the much darker Punch-Clock Villain, where the villain does their evil deeds just because it's a job, and hey, they have to be paid (but they don't feel anywhere near as much remorse for it), and with the smaller-scale Peer-Pressured Bully, who is mostly just afraid of being a bully victim themselves. This often occurs due to a character who is Driven to Villainy, but then wants to get out. Contrast Just Following Orders, since that is used as an excuse after the fact, and in most cases they didn't have much of a problem with following orders at the time. These may often overlap with Forced into Evil and/or become a Regretful Traitor. A criminal-specific inversion is Just a Gangster, where a criminal refuses to leave the world of crime when given the chance.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan:
    • Reiner, Bertolt, and Annie are a case of this. They aren't particularly happy about what they're doing, but view it as absolutely necessary. They hail from a totalitarian nation where their people are kept in Fantastic Ghettos and have absolutely no rights as human beings. Should they fail their mission or be suspected of rebellious thoughts, their superiors will kill them and condemn their entire family to A Fate Worse Than Death. If they won't complete their mission, their superiors will simply find someone else to do it.
      Bertolt: Tell me! Who the hell would want to kill people, by their own choice?! Who the hell would like doing this sort of thing?! Do you think I wanted to do this?! Our friends hate and despise us. We've done such terrible things, we deserve to die. Things we'll never be able to take back. But we... just couldn't... come to terms with our sins. The only time we had some respite... was when we pretended to be soldiers. That's not a lie! Conny! Jean! It's true we may have deceived everyone, but it's not all a lie. We really considered you comrades! Neither of us have any right to even apologize. But... Someone... Please... Someone, please... Someone find us!
    • Eren actually calls Hange out on doing this to them, pointing out that the entire military had four years to come up with alternate ways to save their home and ensure a peaceful resolution to things, but that they have done nothing, so of course they had to go with the only option originally given. Their inactivity resulted in strong-arming Eren into having to attack Libero, killing innocent people, and making Historia a baby-making machine, to go along with Zeke's plan for the Eldrians on Paradis. Eren committed atrocious things in his attack on Libero, but at least he achieved something by eating the War-Hammer Titan and getting its abilities, compared to the nothing that the rest of the military had achieved. Hange later admits that she was incapable of saying anything in response, as they were absolutely right.
  • Chainsaw Man: Asa Mitaka, the protagonist of Part 2, only survived a critical injury thanks to a contract with the War Devil, Yoru, giving the latter complete control of Asa's body as payment. Asa can only act when Yoru allows it, and is under constant threat of mental erasure. Yoru promises to free Asa once they restore the nuclear weapons Chainsaw Man had Ret-Gone, but tries to make Asa more willing to hurt people for her own sake, especially when it comes to their shared power to turn people into weapons powered by the guilt for killing them.
  • Played with in Code Geass R2: after becoming The Emperor, Lelouch Lamperouge instructs his most faithful followers (particularly, Sayoko) to surrender to his enemies and to claim that they only obeyed him out of fear. But then again, he is not exactly a villain.
  • Black Ghost in Cyborg 009 is fond of picking a hero, then going out and getting a nice and sympathetic guy (or tracking down the hero's loved ones if Black Ghost is feeling particularly mean), forcibly augmenting them with cybernetic parts, and ordering them to go kill said hero or the self-destruct mechanism in them will explode. He does this so often that it's practically his modus operandi.
  • Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School has Ruruka Andou. Their Deadly Action is "Letting anyone leave the game stage", forcing them into becoming a villain who has to keep everyone inside the building and hide the only way out. This turns out to be completely pointless, as there's no exit and the "way out" actually leads to the power source of the building which can stop the game and deactivate her code, making her code unbreakable. The mastermind still uses this to manipulate her into Sanity Slippage based on her already paranoid behavior.
  • Many Contractors in Darker than Black. They're extremely powerful, so they're very in-demand as spies and assassins for various organizations; however, if they can't/won't do this, they aren't allowed to live. On their own, most have a Lack of Empathy but are benign and unambitous.
  • The main character of Gushing Over Magical Girls was offered to become a Magical Girl, which was her dream... only to find out that she would be fighting for the forces of evil and facing her heroes in battle. She tried to back off, but the magical envoy threatened to release her Transformation Sequence video to his Twitter account. Thus she had no choice but to keep fighting for the forces of evil... and hilarity ensued.
  • In Inuyasha, Kagura quickly comes to hate Naraku, especially when she begins to develop sympathy for poor Kohaku (and eventually a crush on Seshomaru). Unfortunately for Kagura, Naraku has possession of her heart and can kill her easily at any time by crushing it.
  • My Hero Academia: The traitor in the UA who's been leaking intel to All For One is none other than Aoyama, but not on his own volition. Turns out that he was born Quirkless, and while his parents loved him dearly, they were afraid he'd be an outcast because of this, and when they heard of someone giving out Quirks, they immediately jumped the chance to give their son one so he could fulfill his dream of being a hero. Since then, he's been forced to endanger his classmates lives on repeated ocassions, due to fearing for the lives of his parents.
  • Most of the villains in Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. It's part of the package when you're forced to work for a dictatorship.
  • One of the Devil Stars in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman is a combination of this and Punch-Clock Villain. She goes racing when she's stressed and not on duty and had a fiancé who truly loved her. She also wanted to leave Galactor but was unable to do so because her parents and siblings all worked for Galactor, so at the end of the episode where Joe rescues her from an accident at the racetrack, she is trying to get away for good, when she spots Joe, now the Condor, waiting. He kills her.
  • Venus Puts Fur On Me: Of a sort; Nakajima only bullies Shirosaki, regularly subjecting her to all sorts of humiliation and violence, because if he doesn't, she will, at minimum, torture him with her ice picks, and has flat-out threatened to kill him if he quits bullying her.

    Comic Books 
  • Mikey Rhodes in Birthright made a deal with the Big Bad to reunite with his family in exchange for paving the way for his conquest of Earth. To ensure his loyalty, he was infected with a parasitic spirit to ensure his loyalty by torturing him whenever he shows defiance or, if necessary, killing him if he tries to betray them. Removing the parasite is also dangerous, since their life forces are now tied and Mikey will die if separated from it for a long period of time. Mikey doesn't want to see Earth conquered, but he has no choice other than obeying.
  • Loki in Loki: Agent of Asgard. His first, evil self decided to play the role of the villain, but since gods are creatures of magic and thus creatures of story, First!Loki was stuck like that. He became predictable (and, as he said, "No god of chaos could stand such a thing"), but he couldn't escape that role until the day he died, so...he died. Through his reincarnation into a younger body, he was able to escape and be the hero for once, but the villain of his solo series is none other than his evil future self, slipped back into villainy for good.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Paula hates the Nazis, but she's working for them because when she first refused, they murdered her husband and took her daughter hostage. Paula decided she cared more for her daughter than the rest of humanity, and by the end is even getting a measure of sadistic pleasure from the torture and murder she's inflicting for the Nazis, even if she still hates the Nazis themselves.

    Fan Works 
  • Ignis Clover in BlazBlue Alternative: Remnant. Her husband, Relius, stripped her of any free will when he forced her into the Detonator. As revealed after her fight with Penny and Noel, she's very much NOT a willing participant in her husband's atrocities and wants to fight against him, but she's physically incapable of doing so and has to go along with his orders.
  • Blackened Masks has Ryuji forced into an assassin role by Shido in his chapter, since he threated to kill his mother if he refused. The entirety of his chapter shows how much he hates his line of work, but knows that stopping will result in him losing the only family he has left.
  • Inverted with I.M.P. in A Divine (Romantic) Comedy. After Blitz and Loona accidentally stumble upon his date and he learns of their illegal assassin business, Lucifer conscripts them into serving as bodyguards for his daughter as well as extra security for her hotel, which has far more noble, heroic ambitions than what they normally get up to.
  • God of War: Chains of the Heart: Sindri wants nothing to do with Sinmara or her quest for vengeance against Kratos and Atreus. He'd rather just stay far away from his former colleagues. The only reason he finds himself assisting her is because he's trapped in her realm and she's threatening to kill him unless he helps her break out.
  • In Heirverse, Aizen, since if he doesn't play nice with Jac, he would be ruined. That's assuming that Jac wouldn't just take over altogether in revenge and Gin would likely face a Fate Worse than Death. Inverted to an extent in that Aizen was a Sociopath to begin with.
  • Lenore Raven's Mayura Marinette has this happen to Marinette after Lila tricks Master Fu by Stealing the Credit for saving his life. Lila proceeds to spread Malicious Slander both as herself and as Ladybug, turning all of Paris against her as people are convinced that she must be working with Hawkmoth. Gabriel takes advantage of this to offer Marinette a job... and then Blackmails her into actually working with him as Hawkmoth, with the threat of him using his connections to completely destroy her family's reputation hanging over her head.
  • Oogway's Little Owl: Played for Laughs. Fung and his gang of Croc Bandits decide to abandon the criminal lifestyle and ply their skills as law-abiding mercenaries. Unfortunately for them, everyone who hires them turns out to be a villain trying to take on the Furious Five, or otherwise commit crimes. First they're brought on by a corrupt aristocrat to rob Tigress's old orphanage, which they abandon as soon as they realize they're stealing from orphans, and then by an ape with a grudge against Master Viper, whom they ditch for her to take out.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, the sidestory Cipher Interlude features a trainer named Shawn, who as a rookie wanted to toughen himself up to one day grow to become champion. Unfortunately, he chose Orre of all places to start his Pokémon journey, and it didn't take long before he lost all of his money, to the point the only choice he had to survive was to join Cipher as a Peon and do a lot of things he didn't want to (including having to kill an old friend of his just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time).
  • Service with a Smile: Everyone in Cinder's faction. Roman and Neo would rather not destroy Vale because they can't steal anything if everyone is dead, but Cinder will kill them if they try to leave. Adam feels terrorism is the only way to get Faunus rights, but would rather not destroy Beacon because the fall of the Academy would benefit only the Grimm, but Cinder will kill his people if he tries to leave. Mercury was mostly just going with the flow until he found things he actually cared about, but Cinder will kill him if he tries to leave. Even Cinder herself isn't really happy with her goals, but she still wants the Maiden's power and ambition is the only thing that really drives her.
  • Son of the Sannin: Yakumo Kurama appears as an agent of Root under the command of Danzo Shimura. When her former teacher Kurenai confronts her, it's revealed that she's following Danzo's order simply because he offered her the means to control her powers after she accidentally killed her parents with them, and she was so desperate that she felt she had no choice in the matter.
  • The Story of Twilight Glow: Moondancer would rather not work for Nightmare Moon, but can't disobey her, or else her friends and family will suffer.
  • A Thing of Vikings: Valka is horrified by the Free Nests deciding to enslave humans, but recognizes that if she tried to escape, they'd just kill her, while if she stays as "head slave", she can communicate between humans and dragons, hopefully preventing deaths due to misunderstandings.
  • Vow of Nudity: One story’s guest star, Fiora the Forest Witch, has her entire backstory revolve around this. First her college bans her from becoming a graduate student because she’s poor, then she realizes her favorite professor had been co-opting her research to prime the school for demonic invasion. Left with seconds to act and nobody to turn to for help, she sells her soul to an opposing demon lord to stop him, and suffers for years as an unhappy abyssal thrall for her sacrifice. (Worst of all, since nobody else knows the true context, she’s remembered by everybody as only an insane/jealous demon worshipper who killed her teacher.)
  • When Life Gives You Lemons (Worm/Portal): Aperture Science was very good at luring in scientists and then trapping them with contracts and threats that ensured they could never leave the company despite the horrifying nature of its experiments. Most of the AI cores Taylor works with were originally Aperture employees who wanted to escape the company and used their new status to eliminate its worst elements.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The heroine and her cult-sisters in The Assassins of Tamurin are cursed to be tortured by wraiths should they undergo a Heel Realization and turn on their "Mother"... which she, naturally, does, and is why she's so terrified when she realizes how "trapped" she is.
  • The Belgariad:
    • This applies to most of the Angarak people ruled by the Mad God Torak. Apart from the priests and the more zealous warriors, most just pay lip service to his Religion of Evil except when coerced, and many are quietly on quite good terms with their Western "enemies." Notably, the Mallorean Empire displaced the priests and developed a cosmopolitan, bureaucratic, moderate society, up until Torak took back the reins and sent them into a genocidal war.
    • Zedar the Apostate made the ill-advised choice to infiltrate the evil god Torak's inner circle, only to find that an evil god simply enslaves his minions to his will rather than hope they'll stay loyal. Even after Torak was crippled and left comatose, Zedar is still forced to serve his agenda.
  • The Curse Workers: Despite having no magic "work" of his own, Cassel Sharpe is born into a family with close ties to a powerful magical crime family, and his earliest memories are of his mother sending him to break into houses, and his father teaching him how to lockpick. Even when he tries to live a normal life by attending private school, his ties to the magical underworld prevent him from succeeding.
  • Harry Potter has Draco Malfoy as a zig-zagged example who, for the first five books, is just a nuisance for Harry to deal with at school on his own accord. Admittedly, he does some pretty nasty stuff during those five books, from bullying and verbal abuse towards Harry's dead parents to starting a smear campaign against Hagrid and attempting to have his pet executed. Once he joins the Death Eaters, however, things change. He's given the job to kill Dumbledore, which seems simple enough in theory. But once Draco realizes that he can't follow through with direct murder so easily, he remains hesitant throughout the next book, and only stays in Voldemort's service because he's terrified of the man.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: In Brightly Burning, the leaders of the Karsite army are pyrokinetics who will burn deserting or troublesome subordinates just as gleefully as they burn foreign prisoners. They have also fed those subordinates propaganda all their lives about how the country they're invading is demonic. This is why they keep attacking even as it becomes clear how hopelessly outgunned they are. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending: after several hours of watching his countrymen get slaughtered, a mage on the Valdemaran side snaps and annihilates the Karsites.
  • In The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom, as a prisoner, is interrogated by a Nazi, who at one point comments that he is "less free" than she is, and is generally shown to be quite human but forced into what he does by his superiors.
  • Murtagh in the Inheritance Cycle is bound by Galbatorix to serve under him, since the Big Bad knows his true name, and thus can control his actions. When he first encounters Eragon in battle, Murtagh manages to exploit a loophole in Galbatorix's orders to spare Eragon, but warns that Galbatorix would have covered the loophole, and that he couldn't be as merciful the next time they meet.
  • Officer Jeff in The Mental State acts as an informant in the police force for Saif Dhu Hadin. He even provides him with the means to control the other prisoners. However, the only reason why he does this is because Saif is paying for his daughter's medical treatments and she would die without them. He is clearly unhappy with his current predicament but unable to do anything about it. Once Zack devises a method by which Saif is forced to pay the medical bills anyway, Jeff happily accepts his punishment and even thanks Zack for what he did.
  • In Pact, the spirits that control the world don't differentiate between different members of the same bloodlines, (regardless of how moral the descendant in question might be), and breaking any oath (even one made when the person is impaired, coerced or a young child) leaves you open to a Fate Worse than Death. Throw a load of ancient wizarding clans into the mix, and you have a whole lot of people who are thoroughly miserable with the status quo of being forced into an Arranged Marriage with a Big, Screwed-Up Family of practitioners, or servitude to a malevolent Anthropomorphic Personification of conquest, but are as trapped as their own parents were, and their own children inevitably will be.
  • Spinning Silver: The Evil Prince Mirnatius was Forced into Evil when his mother bound a demon to him in the womb, and is now stuck feeding human victims to the demon. Irina feels deeply sad for him when she realizes he would have preferred to be an artist and scholar, and ultimately destroys the demon to save him.
  • Tress of the Emerald Sea: Captain Crow attempts to invoke this on her Friendly Pirate crew to force their loyalty by sinking a ship they planned to loot. Ordinary piracy is prosecuted like theft, but deadrunning — sinking their victims to Leave No Survivors — is a death sentence from both the government and other pirates. In the end, Tress disposes of Crow and negotiates a royal pardon.
  • The Wheel of Time: Invoked by the Black Ajah. Their magically binding oaths prevent them from betraying the organization, so even those who have second thoughts are stuck with them. The wording includes "until the hour of my death", so one member pulls a Dying Moment of Awesome that dismantles the entire Ajah.
  • The Zombie Knight:
    • Jeremiah Colt works for a crime boss because said boss is holding his children hostage.
    • General Lawrence doesn't want to go along with the rogue Vanguards' plans, but his reaper will release him into death and get a new servant if he doesn't.
    • House Blackburn appears to be in the same boat as the General, implied to be because the orchestrator of the plot is blackmailing them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 24, this is the ultimate fate of Ira Gaines. As a mercenary for hire, he takes on the job to kill Jack Bauer and his family along with David Palmer for a large sum of money from the Drazens. Unfortunately for him, he didn't realize how unstoppable Jack Bauer really is. He seems to regret taking on the job by the end, but fights to the death anyway because he knows that getting killed by Jack is a better fate than what the Drazens would do him.
  • In the Bones episode "The Goop on the Girl", the Perp/Victim of the Week is strapped into a bomb vest and forced to rob a bank or else the bomb would be set off.
  • Breaking Bad: After Walter kills Gus and blows up the superlab, and helping Walt destroy the incriminating evidence with him, Mike decides to hang up the towel because he knows working with someone as prideful as Walt is a very bad idea. However, he discovers that the DEA found and confiscated the offshore bank accounts Gus was using to pay Mike's men, and with no one paying them to keep quiet, some of them are getting desperate. With no other recourse, Mike reluctantly agrees to work with Walt and Jesse in order to get the funds needed to continue paying off his former workers.
  • Rebecca in Burn Notice. The only reason she was working for Anson was because he had her brother captive.
  • Daredevil (2015): In season 3, the FBI agents on Wilson Fisk's protection detail have been blackmailed into working for him. When Nadeem finds out that this includes his boss SAC Tammy Hattley, he asks why exactly she's chosen to do Fisk's bidding and hasn't bothered trying to blow the whistle to another law enforcement agency like the NYPD, and she states that she can't because Fisk makes sure that the only way you can get out of working for him is by a bullet to the head, and also is willing to threaten your family to keep you in line.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • In season 2, Theon Greyjoy feels this way (in contrast to the book, where he's much less sympathetic). He has not outright been threatened with death by his father, but he felt compelled by family loyalty to fight for them against his friends, and though he initially thinks he can be a Punch-Clock Villain, he finds himself kicking dogs left and right as he struggles not to lose the respect of the mutinous killers he has for subordinates. When Maester Luwin gently confronts him about the brutal facade he's been putting up, Theon replies that he's "gone too far" to let go of it. His fear of his underlings proves justified, as they turn on him in a second when he's proven his incompetence and it's their lives or his.
    • Tyrion feels compelled to serve his power-hungry and ruthless family. Eventually, he manages to break free from the Lannisters, still leaving in this trope older brother Jaime, who Took a Level in Idealism after suffering a lot, but due to even closer bonds to the royal family, is still forced to do bad things for them.
    • Stannis really and truly wants to serve the Realm, purge corruption, and restore order, and he's the only one of the Five Kings who responds and comes to the aid of the Night's Watch and places the White Walker invasion on priority. However, circumstances, bad luck, and cruel fate forces him to rely on Melisandre's magic powers and the great price that comes with it. She herself tells Stannis that he will be forced to betray everything he holds dear to save the realm. He never finds out all that it implies until he realizes that he has to sacrifice his daughter in order to win the campaign to liberate the North from the Boltons to better help the Night's Watch.
  • When Londo becomes Emperor of the Centauri in Babylon 5, he is forced to take on a Drakh Keeper, upon threat of the Drakh detonating fusion bombs they'd hidden all over Centauri Prime, which would kill millions of his subjects. He thus spends his 15-odd year reign as Emperor forced to either rubberstamp or stay out of the way of Drakh policy in their shadow-rule of the Centauri Republic, which they use as a seat of power to subvert and make war on the Interstellar Alliance. Per the Centauri Trilogy of novels (and the flashforward scene in the episode "War Without End"), Londo does have moments where he manages to discreetly work around the Keeper, generally when he's inebriated since alcohol can temporarily put it to sleep.
  • Prison Break: Quite a few people who work for the Company and the General are being coerced in some way. For instance Mahone's child is injured when he refuses to play ball.
  • Castiel has this problem near the end of season four of Supernatural. He comes to realize that the angels are not the righteous good guys they claim to be, and wants to help Dean against them. Unfortunately, he knows damn well what will happen if he actually does turn against them (at one point, he simply tried to warn Dean about their plans and it's heavily implied that they tortured him for it). When he finally throws caution to the wind and sides with Dean, he's promptly killed by the archangel Raphael. He gets better.

  • Coolio: The singer character of "Gangsta's Paradise" feels trapped in his criminal lifestyle because nobody is willing to help him change for the better.

    Mythology and Folk-Tales 
  • Vampires have to drink blood, either killing the victim outright or turning their victim, like it or not, or they starve to death.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Forgotten Realms: Prior to his apotheosis, the mercenary Kelemvor Lyonsbane would transform into a dangerous werepanther due to a family curse if he did something out of kindness.
  • Played with in Magic: The Gathering; Liliana Vess is a ruthless, selfish woman in general, and freely manipulates the rest of the Gatewatch to her will, but would not voluntarily betray them. At the end of the 2018 Dominaria storyline, Nicol Bolas reveals that by killing all of the fiends she bartered with for eternal youth and beauty, her debt has defaulted to him instead. If she disobeys him, she will immediately return to her true age, which, given the centuries she has spent as a Planeswalker prior to the Mending, will kill her all but instantly. Since she is, at heart, too much of a coward to let herself die, she is forced to serve Bolas and betray her former comrades.


    Video Games 
  • Yoshimo from Baldur's Gate II. He can't go against his boss, Irenicus, because he has a geas placed on his heart that will kill him, painfully, if he does not carry out his orders. He either dies at your hands or is killed instantly after he sees you again, depending on whether you take him with you to Spellhold.
  • The titular character and his brother Mugman from Cuphead after being suckered into a Deal with the Devil are, in exchange for the Devil considering to let them off the hook, forced to hunt down his various debtors and claim the contracts for their souls, effectively dragging every single one off to hell if they succeed. In the end the duo try a different idea: they get tough enough to beat the Devil's ass down and destroy the contracts, instead saving the souls of everyone and becoming heroes in the process.
  • Dungeonmans: He never really explains why, but it's made quite clear that Mazzik the Grieving is bound to Dread Foom's service whether he likes it or not. The player can point out that he doesn't seem "into it", and he'll state that his own opinion on the subject doesn't matter — though if he did have a choice, he'd rather have an alpaca farm.
  • Fable: The Dragon Maze, your own mentor and the Mole in Charge of the Heroes Guild, combines this with I Owe You My Life. The villain saved him from a Balverine attack in his youth, but then butchered a pair of heroes in front of him as a show of force and made clear that he'd meet the same fate as soon as he outlived his usefulness.
    "For some of us, the quest — the only quest — is to escape death, whatever the cost."
  • Marcoh in Fear & Hunger: Termina was forced to work as a thug for the mobster Riccardo, with threatened to harm his sister if he refused. He eventually ended up solving the issue by killing Riccardo, then taking the first available train out of town.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • From Chapter 10 of Fire Emblem: Awakening: This conversation between a Plegian general and his soldiers after Emmeryn's Heroic Sacrifice is the result of a Heel–Face Door-Slam amongst the Plegian army:
      Mustafa: So be it! Those of you who are unwilling to fight are dismissed!
      Soldier: But I don't wish to abandon you, sir!
      Mustafa: I cannot defy the king, lad. I know him well. He would murder my wife and child to set an example. I will accept the blame for your actions today. Now go!
      Soldier: W-wait, General! I see a cause worth fighting for, one I believe in: loyalty to my general.
      Mustafa: ...Aye. That's a good lad.
    • This goes for the Avatar's Nohrian siblings in Fire Emblem Fates. They're not evil themselves, just jaded from lives spent in the Decadent Court, and most of their less savory actions are ordered by their cruel father. A Nohr-aligned Avatar also counts since they follow said cruel father out of loyalty to said siblings.
    • In the first game and its remakes, Minerva is forced to fight against Marth and his allies because her younger sister Maria is being held prisoner. If Marth rescues Maria, he can talk Minerva into a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Knight Eternal: In the ending, the queen of Zamaste reveals that she has been cursed to start a world war with Halonia that will eventually destroy all of humanity, and she wants her daughter Adalia to replace her as soon as possible so that the latter can lead Zamaste onto a more peaceful path. Knight Bewitched 2 reveals that this was due to the Vulcan Stone curse.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV, it is revealed that Giliath Osborne had to make a Deal with the Devil in order to save his son's life. He then has to do the whims of the curse and whatever the Black Records dictate to steer the course of history and try to find a way to get rid of the curse of Erebonia for good.
  • In Lost Judgment the accomplices of Jin Kuwana are his former high school students back when he was a teacher that he's blackmailed into being his lackies. Unlike other examples, they're treated fairly unsympathetically since they're responsible for driving a kid to suicide (for which they don't show any regret) and Kuwana treats forcing them to act as his goons as a form of atonement.
  • Dr. Cossack from Mega Man 4. Sure, he's not threatened with death, but what about his daughter?
  • In Odin Sphere, the noble dragon Belial is forced to do the Three Wise Mens' bidding since they control his heart with magic. Belial is only freed when Cornelius mortally wounds the dragon by piercing his heart. Belial uses his last remaining seconds of life to devour one of the Wise Men.
  • During the events of Soul Calibur IV, Sophitia Alexandra is threatened with the death of her daughter Pyrrha by the Soul Edge, and ends up fighting anyone who would destroy it.
  • Starcraft II: It's revealed at one point that Tychus Findlay's armor is both unremoveable and can be remotely activated to kill him. So at the climax, he's about to shoot the now deinfested Kerrigan or be killed by Mengsk (it's the only reason he was released from prison in the first place). Raynor shoots him. However, its implied that this was a Suicide by Cop, as Tychus hesitates to shoot Kerrigan, giving Raynor time to reach for his gun and shoot him in the head.
  • In Tales of Destiny, Leon did genuinely see the party as friends, albeit begrudgingly. Shame Hugo was holding Marian hostage, forcing him to steal the Eye of Atamoni for him and sending him to delay his friends and try to kill them.
  • The Reapers in The World Ends with You are mostly Punch Clock Villains, but they do point out that if they don't erase players, then they get erased instead.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • Roman Torchwick was already Vale's crime boss, but he never sought the world-changing death and destruction Cinder Fall was planning. By the time he realised what Cinder was doing, he was in too deep to get out. In Volume 3, he tells Ruby Rose no-one can stop these super-villains; you have to join them or die.
    • Ilia Amitola is not a fan of the extreme methods that the White Fang employ and doesn't relish the idea of hurting people. However, she has long since crossed the Despair Event Horizon and genuinely doesn't know how else to help the Faunus aside from violence. While dueling each other in the Volume 5 episode "True Colors", Blake Belladona points out to Ilia she keeps making the wrong choices. Eventually, a tearful Ilia asks Blake what she is supposed to do. She finds her answer after stopping Corsac Albain from attacking the Belladonnas, and pulls a Heel–Face Turn.
    • Hazel Rainart hates Ozpin because he feels the Huntsman Academies are throwing away the lives of children. Though Ozpin accepts Hazel's perception of him, he's baffled by Hazel's conclusion that opposing him means siding with the monstrous Salem. While torturing Ozpin for the password to the Relic of Knowledge, Hazel admits he did go after Salem first. She let him kill her repeatedly until he broke from the futility of fighting her. She redirected his rage at Ozpin, promising him a Huntsman-free world. Hazel's true problem with Ozpin is his determination to encourage opposition to an Invincible Villain instead of accepting its futility; when he refuses to believe Ozpin's explanation that Salem's true end-game is planetary destruction, Oscar Pine intervenes to give Hazel the password to the Relic of Knowledge in the hope that Hazel will use it to discover the truth for himself.
    • Tyrian Callows believes that Mercury Black's boast about being fine with serving Salem because he's a trained assassin is hiding the fear of leaving the cycle of pain and violence his abusive father trapped him into. After Salem promotes him out of Cinder's group, Tyrian confirms to him and Emerald that Salem's true end-game is to destroy the world. A visibly hesitant Mercury is whisked away to Vacuo by Tyrian before he can discuss it further with Emerald; these leaves her free to defect, but not him.

  • Knull Snow, nephew of the dreaded captain Snow, bloodthirsty pirate and the scourge of Archipelago, has been abducted by his uncle to serve on the pirating crew, because he has a powerful Anti-Magic talent that makes kidnapping people so much easier. He's a Nervous Wreck, hates himself for not standing up to the captain, and manages to slip in a few acts of sabotage here and there, because he doesn't want to kill anyone, but nevertheless, without his cooperation, the villains' job would be much harder.
  • Jin from Bastard (2014) is trapped into helping his father commit and cover up his crimes because the alternative for him isn't pretty.
  • This turns out to be the reason why the Nightmare Knight from Cucumber Quest has not made peace with the rest of Dreamside. Due to the circumstances when he created them, the Disaster Masters depend on his overwhelming magical powers to stay alive. Unfortunately, his powers scale with the amount of terror that his name inflicts on the populace, so despite wanting peace he's stuck putting on the act of an imposing Big Bad while secretly sabotaging the efforts of what are effectively his own children.
  • In Dragon Ball Multiverse, the novelization implies this is pretty much the only reason why Bujin still hangs out with Bojack.
  • In El Goonish Shive, this is the reason Hedge, Guineas, and Vlad stuck with Damien. After his death, they immediately made Heel Face Turns.
  • In one arc of Jack (David Hopkins), a man becomes the assistant of a doctor who is working on a new treatment that could save the man's wife from dying of cancer. The man eventually discovers that the doctor is a twisted paedophile who is molesting child patients in his "care". He immediately threatens to go to the authorities, but the doctor reminds him that his research is the only hope his wife has and he is weeks away from completing it. The man reluctantly chooses his wife's life over the well-being of the children. This becomes a Shoot the Shaggy Dog Story when the doctor eventually murders all of the children to cover his tracks, and the man's wife dies of shock when he confesses what he did. The only bright spot is that a hidden camera placed by a suspicious security guard exposed the doctor's crimes and he gets executed via lethal injection while whimpering in fear. The powers that be are sympathetic to the man's plight; though his sin denies him entry to Heaven, he is sent to Purgatory instead of Hell.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: More than one of the Seven Demiurges are sick of the demands of being one of the most powerful gods in the multiverse and weary after countless millennia of miserable immortality. However, none dare give up their position for fear of upsetting the delicate balance of power between them. Specifically, six of them are roughly equal in strength to the seventh member (Jagganoth) alone, who wants to bring about an all-encompassing war to annihilate all of existence and has the power to do it, and they need to be around to stop him from doing so.
  • In The Order of the Stick prequel Start of Darkness, Xykon invokes this on Redcloak with a merciless Break Them by Talking speech. As he says, if Redcloak wants to betray Xykon and abandon the Plan, he'd have to face the crushing Heel Realization that every evil thing he did, including murdering his own little brother, was his own fault. Effectively, Redcloak traps himself in villainy with the Sunk Cost Fallacy and the delusion that Xykon, as a more powerful Card-Carrying Villain, can be blamed for the things Redcloak does as his lackey.
  • In Sam & Fuzzy, Sam isn't exactly happy being the Ninja Mafia Emperor. He can't just up and retire since the Mafia doesn't have a retirement policy that doesn't involve a bodybag.
  • Poor Isauro from Sidekick Girl is trapped as a henchman. A villain tricked him into essentially being an accessory to mass murder in Mexico. The villain's organization then made his green card contingent on working for them and only for them, so he will be deported back to Mexico and be executed for the crime if he doesn't.
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • Dr. Irving Schlock decided the only alternative to years of running for his life from Hereti Corp to be a hostile takeover of the company. After acknowledging his Start of Darkness, he's in charge of the same agents who had been out to kill him.
    • After taking in Oasis, Kareen Zapata felt her family was becoming more and more burdened with accessory to her slaughter of criminals. Though at first the town owned Oasis for cleaning up organized crime, she remained a ruthless vigilante and compulsive killer.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time episode "Jake vs. Me-Mow", kitty assassin Me-Mow forces Jake into killing Wildberry Princess with the threat of death.
  • In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, hard luck civilian Charlie Collins goes through this when he cusses out a driver after getting cut off on the highway while already having a bad day. That driver turned out to be the Joker, who then forces Charlie to help him in an assassination plot against Commissioner Gordon and the Gotham police department during his birthday celebration. Charlie changed his name and moved his family to another location far away, hoping the Joker couldn't find him, but as the Joker pointed out, he was watching him and his family the whole time after their encounter. Charlie was able to turn the tables, however, and get the Joker off of his back by beating him at this own game.
  • In The Dreamstone, most of the Urpneys are impersonal dimwits who only follow Zordrak's orders because of his tendency to turn Mooks into stone or feed them to his carnivorous pets should they annoy him. Granted, they do not have their conscience bothering them over their actions during military service. They would just prefer not to be sent out on dangerous missions with ridiculous gadgets in tow, to steal from angry Noops and Wuts. They change to Punch Clock Villains in later episodes, even sabotaging one of Zordrak's schemes so he won't relieve them of their duties. Frizz and Nug would still rather not be dragged into missions, however.
  • Lena from DuckTales (2017) has no interest in her aunt's evil plans and hates the fact that she's forced to manipulate and lie to her best friend, but a combination of them being magically bound together and emotional abuse keeps her under Magica's thumb. And when she finally does muster up the courage to turn on Magica and try to warn Scrooge of her plans, Magica decides to cut out the middle man and take control of her body directly.
  • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002), Skeletor traps He-Man with a gem that forces him to be evil or else die. The heroes eventually reverse-engineers this to get Skeletor to only be good, but in the end, both devices break, as nothing would really change from this.
  • Helga G. Pataki from Hey Arnold! is a variant: she's actually a pretty nice person, and part of her wants to be nice, but she still acts like an obnoxious bitch most of the time as she fears that the other kids will lose respect for her if they find out what's she's really like.
  • Titan from Invincible (2021) is an Anti-Villain who would rather not be involved in crime at all, wanting to reform and support his wife and daughter. Unfortunately for him, he is very good at crime and owes money to a powerful supervillain named Machinehead, who forces him to work in his gang by threatening his family and refuses to let him quit out of fear he could be poached by rival villains. Titan retaliates by selling out Machinehead and his crew to the Guardians of the Globe, resulting in all of them except his lieutenant being arrested. Unfortunately for everyone else, Titan's experiences have convinced him to not reform after all, but instead take Machinehead's now empty throne and become the new local crimelord in the name of looking out for his family and community.
  • In the first season finale of Teen Titans (2003), Slade forces Robin to become his apprentice and turn on his comrades or else they will die.
  • Parodied in the Wacky Races episode "Super Silly Swamp Sprint". Dick Dastardly, as always, is preparing a trap, making robotic mosquitoes to attack the other racers. He says that it was the other racers who force him to be a bad guy and claims that he doesn't want to, in a very unconvincing tone.


Video Example(s):


Fox King

When Lin Chung ask the Fox King again why he attacked his team due to considering him to be too honorable to serve on the evil side, he reveals that he is being forced to due to High Roller threatening his family’s lives. Fortunately however First Squad is able to help him save his family, with the Fox King threatening High Roller to ''rearrange his features'' implying that he is threatening him with death, causing High Roller to flee in terror.

How well does it match the trope?

4.75 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / TrappedInVillainy

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