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 HeelFace 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). 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 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.
- In 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 Internment camps, 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.
- Played with in Code Geass R2: after becoming The Emperor, Lelouch 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 has Ruruka Andou. Their Deadly Action is "Letting anyone leave the game stage", forcing them into becoming a villain that 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 that 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 paranoiac 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 are closer to True Neutral.
- 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.
- 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.
- The main character of Looking Up To 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.
- 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 kill him if he tries to betray them. Removing the parasite is also dangerous since their life force 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 LokiAgentOfAsgard. 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 (1942): 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.
- 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).
- 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
- 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.
- 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 she felt she had no choice in the matter.
- In 36 Hours (1965) a woman is taken from a Nazi concentration camp and ordered to use her skills as part of an elaborate Faked Rip Van Winkle deception against a captured American officer - or she will be sent back to the camp.
- In Blood for Dracula, we get perhaps the most sympathetic version of the count: a sickly, dying vampire that needs the blood of a virgin in order to avoid a very painful death. He considers this a curse and doesn't seem to enjoy killing.
- Felix Gillie in The Comedy of Terrors only goes along in Trumbull's schemes because he escaped from prison and Trumbull is blackmailing him into compliance. He would much rather conduct their mortuary business ethically and be with Amaryllis. It is subverted when he and Amaryllis run away together while Trumbull is accidentally poisoned.
- In Baby Driver, Baby only works as a getaway driver for bank robbers (who are not a particularly nice group) because he owes a debt to Doc, an underworld kingpin.
- Harry Potter has Draco Malfoy as zig-zagged example who, for the first five books, is just a nuisance for Harry to deal with at school. Admittedly, he does 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 murder so easily, he remains hesitant throughout the next book, and only stays in Voldemort's service because he's terrified of the man.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Invoked by the Black Ajah in The Wheel of Time books. They are magically bound by oaths that will kill them if they betray the organization, so even those who have second thoughts are stuck with them, and one character's Moment of Awesome involves realizing the wording includes "Until the hour of my death."
- In 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 system before Torak took back the reins and sent them into a genocidal war.
- 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.
- 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 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 propanganda 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 an episode of Bones the Perp/Victim of the Week was strapped into a bomb vest and forced to rob a bank or else the bomb would be set off.
- Rebecca in Burn Notice. The only reason she was working for Anson was because he had her brother captive.
- 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 his 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, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Vampires have to drink blood, either killing the victim outright or turning their victim like it or not or they starve to death.
- 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.
- And then, in the War of the Spark storyline, Liliana decides she can't stand being Bolas' thrall after everything she's gone through with the Gatewatch, turns against him, and she begins to burn from the inside as her centuries catch up with her. But before the breaking of the contract can take hold, Gideon takes the damage unto himself, dying in her place.
- There's a Gilbert and Sullivan opera with this premise, Ruddigore. There's a baron who is cursed so that he has to commit a crime daily or die. The resolution is he reasons that, by the terms of the curse, if he refuses to commit a crime, he is courting death by his own act, that is to say, attempting suicide. But attempting suicide is a crime. So he fulfills the terms of the curse by refusing to do so.
- 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.
- Dr. Cossack from Mega Man 4. Sure, he's not threatened to death, but what about his daughter?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 HeelFace 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 Deadly 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 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.
- 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 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.
- 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 Dragon Ball Multiverse, the novelization implies this is pretty much the only reason why Bujin still hangs out with Bojack.
- In one arc of Jack, 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. 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.
- 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.
- In El Goonish Shive, this is the reason Hedge, Guineas, and Vlad stuck with Damien. After his death they immediately made Heel Face Turns.
- Sluggy Freelance
- Dr. Irving Schlock decided the only alternative to years of running for his life from Hereti Corp to be 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.
- In The Order of the Stick prequel Start of Darkness, Xykon invokes this on Redcloak with a merciless Breaking 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.
- Jin from Bastard!! is trapped into helping his father commit and cover up his crimes because the alternative for him isn't pretty.
- 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.
- In The Dreamstone most of the Urpneys are impersonal dim wits 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 off their duties. Frizz and Nug would still rather not be dragged into missions however.
- 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.
- In the first season finale of Teen Titans, Slade forces Robin to become his apprentice and turn on his comrades or else they will die.
- In Adventure Time episode "Jake vs. Me-Mow", kitty assassin Me-Mow forces Jake into killing Wildberry Princess with the threat of death.
- Parodied in the Wacky Races episode "Super Silly Swamp Sprint". Dick Dastardly says that it was the other racers who force him to be a bad guy, by making him using his mechanical mosquitoes to eliminate them. He claims that he doesn't want to, in a very unconvincing tone.
- Helga from Hey Arnold! is a variant: she's acutally 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 the other kids will lose respect for her if they find out what's she's really like.