Follow TV Tropes

Following

Unwitting Pawn

Go To

"I was a fool. I had been deceived that I had been working for a greater good. I was in fact an unknowing tool of a greater evil."
Shunjinko's biography, Mortal Kombat: Deception

This is the kind of person that the Magnificent Bastard and Batman Gambit depend on. Not only does an Unwitting Pawn fail to stop the bad guy, but he actually furthers the villain's plan in the process. The Manipulative Bastard will take great delight in using them and then deconstructing their naivete and blind faith as they gloat (in which case compare What Have I Done). Not surprisingly, they also have a tendency to die ironically after inadvertently helping the villain. But if they survive... there's bound to be some nasty surprises in store for the Bastards.

Advertisement:

These guys are not always being manipulated by the villain; sometimes they blunder their way into helping him of their own accord. Not that the villain's going to examine his gift horse for cavities...

The Wide-Eyed Idealist often becomes this, but sometimes the Knight Templar and Well-Intentioned Extremist can fall into this too. When the main character does this, and then has to fix it, it's Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.

Sometimes the unwitting pawn is deserving of his fate. They may be a Corrupt Corporate Executive, Evil Businessman, or someone else who has achieved great success through questionable means. Sometimes, he owes his success to someone he screwed over. They will often fall victim to blackmail or the reminder of what could happen "if the truth should get out...". Sometimes, the pawn is allowed to remain a figurehead to keep up appearances while his strings are pulled behind the scenes. This often happens to Corrupt Politicians as well who come to realize that they probably had a lot of help to realize their ambitions and get to the top.

Advertisement:

Compare Out-Gambitted, Unwitting Instigator of Doom. Contrast the Spanner in the Works, who just as ignorantly harms these schemes.

Tend to be played by The Chessmaster, logically enough. But also the Manipulative Bastard uses them too.

Beware: many examples are by nature spoilers!


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • In IDW Publishing's Beast Wars comics, the Predacon Shokaract believes that he is the mastermind of a plot to elevate himself to godhood. He has no idea that his lieutenants are worshippers of Unicron, the Transformer God of Evil, and are manipulating him to bring about their master’s return.
  • DIE: Sol and the various writers who became the Masters were ultimately all pawns of Die itself, which reached through time to manipulate them all into creating the archetypes and game which led to its creation.
  • When Doctor Octopus reformed the Sinister Six in the six-part story "Return of the Sinister Six", he used the other five members this way. He told them that his plan was to launch a satellite armed with a deadly poison, and then blackmail the world into making them its rulers lest they use it. This was a lie. The "poison" was something used to prevent people from using cocaine, and he planned to blackmail cartels and everyone else who benefitted from the drug trade, gaining incredible influence in the underworld on an international level — alone.
  • In Green Lantern story Sinestro Corps War, the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps turn out to be these after Sinestro reveals that he (Sinestro) won the war by making the Guardians override their own principles and disable the "no killing" function on the Lantern rings.
  • The Knights of the Old Republic comic writer love these. Usually one or more of the main characters, but often the villain.
  • In The Multiversity, a number of characters unknowingly further The Gentry's invasion.
    • Ultra Comics #1: Ultra Comics itself acts as vector of contagion to The Gentry in different worlds (including ours).
  • One of the more hated aspects of The Punisher: Purgatory was the retcon that Frank Costa was really a demon named Olivier put into the body of a stillborn baby and that he orchestrated the events that caused Frank Castle to become the Punisher so Castle could be one of these for him, building an army of those Castle killed.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics):
    • Mina Mongoose was this to Ixis Naugus — he used her musical protests against NICOLE as a conduit for his magic, inflaming the public's distrust of NICOLE into paranoia and hatred, beginning a series of events that leads to Naugus being appointed king of New Mobotropolis.
    • Geoffrey St. John. It was pretty obvious that Naugus was taking advantage of the then recent death of Geoffrey's father Ian St. John to get the poor kid to help him. Any doubts were dropped when Naugus possessed Geoffrey to escape his mutations.
  • Superman:
    • Supergirl has occasionally been pawn of some villain — such like Lex Luthor — who intended to seduce her as part of a plot against Superman or herself. However, she always finds out about the truth sooner or later, and when she does... Cue Unstoppable Rage and Curb-Stomp Battle.
    • In the H'el on Earth arc, H'El seduced her and talked her into helping him bring Krypton back, assuring that no Earthmen would suffer. She joined him... until she found out that his plan involved blowing the Sun up and destroying Earth. Then she turned on him right away.
    • In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Supergirl and the whole Justice Society were Lex Luthor's pawns, who was using them to increase his power, popularity and fortune.
    • Subverted in Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade when Linda needs to leave classroom and pretends she is being abducted by an invisible superhero and she is "just an unwitting pawn in a larger game". Played straight with Belinda Zee, who has no idea that she's Mr. Mxyzptlk's pawn.
    • In Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus to Lex Luthor. Lex tricked Doc Ock into helping him destroy Superman. He pretended it was a partnership between equals, but Ock was kind of Lex's hired muscle, and Lex planned to betray Otto all along.
    • Subverted in The Coming of Atlas. Sam Lane goads Atlas into fighting Superman to study the Kryptonian's hero's capabilities. However, Atlas makes clear he knows Lane is using him with the intent of destroying him as soon as he has outlived his usefulness, but he is playing along for the time being.
    • Strangers at the Heart's Core: Most of villains fought by Kara throughout the story -Shyla Kor-Onn, the Visitors, Klax-Ar, Gravitron Man, Gravity Lord- were all unknowingly telepathically influenced by Lesla-Lar into attacking Supergirl.
    • In Superman vs. Shazam!, Superman and Captain Marvel are fooled into fighting each other by the Big Bad so they cannot interfere with his master plan. It is invoked by old wizard Shazam! when he explains the situation to both heroes.
      Wizard Shazam: Only by engaging in mortal combat could you regain your sanity... For you have been unwitting pawns in a vicious plan!
    • In Starfire's Revenge, the titular villain's soldiers are fooled into thinking they are helping a revolutionary leader change an unfair society for the better, when they are just making a self-serving, power-hungry upstart richer and more powerful.
    • In The Hunt for Reactron, Guardian, Perseus Hazard, the squads of Metropolis Science Police... are fooled into believing they are hunting dangerous terrorists by General Sam Lane, who has framed Supergirl, Nightwing and Flamebird and now seeks to destroy them. Hazard only realizes that they are being manipulated, and Lane foisted Reactron on him to not leave loose ends, shortly before Reactron burns him and his squad to ashes.
    • In Escape from the Phantom Zone, villain Xa-Du convinces young psychic Gayle Marsh that he can fix her mental issues if she goes into the Phantom Zone. Gayle manipulates Supergirl into coming to her, uses her body as a beacon signal to find the Zone, and finds out that Xa-Du's real goal is to use her inborn power to break out of his dimensional prison and cause mayhem in the physical world.
    • In The Plague of the Antibiotic Man, Amalak uses his alien pet Jevik to spread a plague across Central City, and then attack Superman. Jevik is a barely sapient beast who only does what he is told, so he does not know or understand his owner intends him to be killed by Superman in order to break the Man of Steel's spirit.
  • Ultimate Marvel:
    • The Ultimates: The Liberators and their backers are motivated by rejection of the American foreign policies, and intended to "Liberate" the US from what they saw as an evil government. They were manipuled by Loki, who organized all this to screw his brother Thor, member of the Ultimates, just for kicks.
    • Ultimatum: Doctor Doom arranged the events of Ultimates 3 to make Magneto go into an even more radical attempt to cause worldwide destruction. It worked. It worked too well.
  • Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan and to a lesser degree all the other main characters become suckers for Ozymandias.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): When Artemis won The Contest and became the new Wonder Woman she was approached by agents of the White Magician as very quickly after she arrived in America, who ensured that her "heroics" were either completely ineffective affairs with paid "actors" as the villains or things which outright helped the White Magician and his extensive black market superweapon deals.
  • Laff-A-Lympics: In "The Purple Pig Puzzle," a rich gambler named Lucky Starr won the money that the Laff-A-Lympics event raised for charity. Starr gives the teams the chance to win it back by locating a ceramic purple pig. The teams are given clues as to the pig's whereabouts, but Starr, who has wagered a bundle on the Really Rottens to find it first, hedges his bet by having his minions make sure the Rottens get the clues first. (They do but they're so dense they can't piece the clues together.)

    Film — Animated 
  • Frozen: Prince Hans dupes Anna by faking his romance with her so she could unwittingly hand over Arendelle to him on a silver platter after "staging a little accident" for Elsa.
  • In The Little Mermaid (1989), Ariel was completely unaware that Ursula was using her as a pawn to become the ruler of Atlantica. As quoted by the 2004 Disney Princess storybook:
    Ursula: It's not you I'm after. You're merely the bait to catch your father.
  • In The Princess and the Frog, Naveen doesn't realize that Facilier and Lawrence were only using him to trick Charlotte into marrying Lawrence (disguised as Naveen) to get all Charlotte's money until the near end of the movie.
  • Everyone in Sugar Rush in Wreck-It Ralph is this to King Candy (in reality Turbo in diguise).
  • In Zootopia, Judy Hopps was manipulated by the Big Bad Bellwether for most of the movie before catching on pre-climax.
Advertisement:

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In AM1200, Sam Larson becomes aware that he is this to a cosmic entity lurking within a mysterious radio station.
  • Michael in Arlington Road is trying to avoid a terrorist attack. What he doesn't realize is that he's being played and his actions ultimately lead to the bombing of the FBI Headquarters.
  • Assassin's Creed (2016): Cal Lynch is used by the Templars-backed Abstergo Foundation to find the location of the Eden Apple of Granada by exploring the life of Aguilar in 1491. Sophie makes for an unusual Templar in that she wants Cal to be witting and therefore willing to help them. He makes up for it by stealing the Apple back from her father, after killing him.
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Batman ends up this to Lex Luthor, who exploits his jaded and violent vigilantism and the existing fears of Superman to manipulate Bats into trying to kill Supes. And it almost works.
  • Subverted in Blade II. The Evil Overlord's Affably Evil daughter mocks the eponymous protagonist for agreeing to a meeting with his enemies too easily, but quickly shuts her trap when its revealed he was prepared to kill them all with a LOT of carry-on explosives at the first sign of treachery. Later in the movie, when The Mole reveals himself and gloats at the heroes' gullibility, Blade corrects him by stating that he knew of his duplicity from the beginning, a fact he illustrates in explosive fashion.
  • Robert the Bruce becomes this at the end of Braveheart, when his father uses him to lure the hero William Wallace into a trap.
  • Subverted in Collateral Damage: The protagonist very nearly succeeds in helping the terrorists' Evil Plan come to fruition, but luckily becomes wise to his true situation just in time to foil it.
  • In The Dark Knight, most characters involved in the Joker's plots played right into his hands when they thought they were about to stop him. Even Batman, who had never faced a criminal like him before, is his pawn through much of the film.
  • Diamonds Are Forever:
    • Blofeld kidnaps Willard Whyte and uses his industrial empire to build and launch a Kill Sat. Only one other person in Whyte's organization knows what's going on: the rest are kept ignorant.
    • A rocket scientist helped Blofeld to build the Kill Sat because he thought Blofeld would use it to help achieve world peace. Of course, this wasn't the case.
  • In Die Hard, it's the police and the FBI. They face a major "terrorist" attack with standard procedures, unaware that Hans Gruber knows all about them and his Evil Plan depends on them operating in that matter so he can manipulate them into helping him open a super secure vault and then cover his escape.
  • In Equilibrium, John Preston turns over the entire leadership of La Résistance for a chance to see the Big Bad face to face and assassinate him. Except DuPont knew about this plan all along and arrested Preston as well. DuPont would have succeeded, except he took the time to gloat before killing Preston, triggering Preston's Unstoppable Rage.
  • Christopher Nolan's first film, Following has two levels of Unwitting Pawns. A house burglar and a blonde femme fatale sucker a floundering writer into framing himself for the burglar's murder charge. Then we learn that the burglar is actually working for a gangster who the blonde is blackmailing, and he was setting the writer up for her murder.
  • Frank Pentangeli in The Godfather Part II. He's caught in Michael's war with Hyman Roth and is callously played by both sides. Michael encourages him to meet with the Rosatos to ascertain Roth's guilt in an assassination attempt. In turn, the Rosatos try to kill Pentangeli and pin it on Michael. Pentageli survives and informs against Michael to the FBI. Michael intimidates Pentangeli into recanting his testimony and ultimately into committing suicide.
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen. Present, lampshaded, and part of the symbolism. A mockingjay is a powerful symbol to the rebels, but it's also a bird that can't sing its own songs, relying on what others sing to it.
  • Everything that Morpheus does in The Matrix, since The One, The Prophecy, and The Oracle are all further systems of control of the humans by the AI's.
  • MonsterVerse:
    • Kong: Skull Island: Both the soldiers and the LANDSAT scientists. Only Randa (and, to a lesser extent, Brooks and possibly San) had any idea what they were walking into, and he deliberately withholds that information until all of Packard's helicopters have been swatted out of the sky and most of their crews and the LANDSAT team are dead. The airdropped seismic charges were intended to flush Kong out (which worked out just great), and also awoke the Skullcrawlers. Brooks even protests before takeoff that they should warn Packard of what's really going on, only to be brushed off by Randa.
    • Godzilla vs. Kong: Monarch (Nathan Lind in particular) and by extension Kong are this to Apex Cybernetics, as during the joint mission to enter the Hollow Earth with Kong, Apex are only using them so the corporation can harvest the Hollow Earth's energy source for themselves and power up Mechagodzilla. Apex in turn, with their sheer hubris, arrogance and stupidity, end up unwittingly bringing the threat of King Ghidorah back, reincarnated in Mechagodzilla, due to Apex integrating a power source they had absolutely no understanding of into the Mecha whilst using Ghidorah's still-telepathic skull as the core of the Mecha's brain, although it's a bit of an Ambiguous Situation whether Apex simply blundered into helping or were being actively manipulated by Ghidorah the entire time (with the novelization providing hints towards both interpretations). Speaking of the novelization, it reveals that Walter Simmons' right hand Ren Serizawa is a Dragon with an Agenda, who would've been in the perfect position to dispose of Simmons and become a Dragon Ascendant if not for Ghidorah possessing Mechagodzilla at that moment.
  • In Mortdecai, Charlie spends the first half of the movie as one, unwittingly smuggling the stolen painting to Krampf in his Rolls Royce after Krampf bribes his mechanic, Spinoza, into hiding it there without Charlie's knowledge.
  • Philip in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, who rushes back to Syrena as soon as he regains consciousness... and thus rewards Blackbeard with Syrena's tear and gets her tied up to die.
  • The Hovitos in Raiders of the Lost Ark were manipulated by Belloq into believing that Indiana was stealing their fertility idol and that Belloq simply wanted to protect it for them. They stopped Indiana from escaping with the idol and then attempted to kill him, during which time Belloq made off with the idol.
  • Everyone in the Saw movies is like this. The entire franchise is one giant incomprehensible Gambit Roulette, and all the characters are constantly walking right into Jigsaw's plans.
    • Though inverted because Jigsaw genuinely wants the suckers to live; he doesn't expect them to make the wrong choice and die but he wants them to make the right choice and live, therefore he doesn't do Evil Plans. His successors and helpers, however, do seem to want everyone to die, and expect them to do dumb things — which they do. All the time.
  • Star Wars: Virtually everyone in the Prequel trilogy is played like a fiddle by Palpatine.
    • Mace Windu dies in an attempt first to arrest and then just kill Chancellor Palpatine, which is not only unsuccessful, but also provides Palpatine with ammunition for his claims that the Jedi are revolting against the Republic and SHOT FIRST. In a double irony, he also ends up making The Chosen One, who he himself had doubts about already, switch his allegiance to the man he attempted to "assassinate".
    • In Attack of the Clones, Palpatine asks rhetorically what senator would be brave enough to propose the Republic create an army within earshot of the easily manipulated Jar Jar Binks, currently interim senator of Naboo. Always eager to please, and knowing that Padmé trusts Palpatine, Jar Jar does exactly that.
    • Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace ends up getting Palpatine into power because Palpatine pretended to be on her side while openly criticizing senator Valorum, causing her to start a vote of no confidence and eventually get Palps elected.
    • The entire Confederacy of Independent Systems are manipulated into declaring independence from the Republic by Dooky, who's working for Palpatine. The goal being to start the Clone Wars and get Palpatine emergency powers.
  • In a rare example of a villain being this to the hero, Lex Luthor finds himself being played by Supes himself during the climax of Superman II. Specifically, he believes he had depowered Supes when he had in fact unwittingly depowered General Zod and his co-conspirators.
  • It's strongly implied in The Terminator that John Connor deliberately manipulated Kyle Reese into falling in love with his mother by giving him the picture of her. Reese was just allowed to be unaware that his own son was sending him back in time (to his almost certain death) to ensure he could be conceived and grow up to save humanity. It must've been a heartbreaking decision for John.
  • In the original Total Recall (1990), Quade is his own unwitting pawn. He had his own memory wiped as part of his cover to infiltrate La Résistance and identify its leader.
  • Touch of Evil: Menzies is an honest cop who comes to the disheartening realization that his longtime partner and friend has spent years planting evidence and tricking Menzies into discovering it.
  • In Twice Upon A Time, Synonimess Botch tricks our heroes Ralph and Mumford into bringing him the mainspring from the Cosmic Clock, giving him control over time and the chance to cover the land of Din in nightmare bombs as part of his plot to trap the Rushers in waking nightmares.
  • Van Helsing: Dr. Frankenstein. He thought Count Dracula was helping him create his Creature because Dracula believed in his work. But once the Monster is brought to life, Dracula reveals he was solely using Victor so he could use the Monster's artificial life to bring his vampiric children to life.
  • In Wanted the main character is played, especially through the charms of the hot chick. Who is played herself, along with everyone in the order. At the end, some of her "colleagues" decide going into business for themselves isn't such a bad idea, but she has the... balls to set things right.
  • In White Noise, once John begins experimenting with EVP (a way of listening to/seeing spirits in the beyond) on his own, he starts receiving messages from his late wife, believing them ways to save people. They're really trick visions sent by three very, very malicious spirits so that they can follow him and break into the realm of the living through the door he's opened up. And Anna's constant insistence that he 'Go now!'? Those were visions of when he arrived at the final location the messages showed him, where she was trying to warn him to get away and save himself. "Exactly as planned" indeed.
  • Wild Things 2: Maya King, Julian Haynes, Detective Morrison, Niles Dunlap, and possibly even Brittney's mother were all hapless pawns in Brittney's scheme to get rich. Terence initially wasn't a part of the scheme and almost becomes a Spanner in the Works when he tries to blackmail them, but ends up being framed for Maya's murder.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): Ludendorff and Doctor Poison are manipulated into creating their gas weapon by Ares, who wants to use it to extend the war indefinitely.
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine:
    • The look on Wolverine's face when Blob told him that Stryker was performing experiments on mutants and when he realizes what led him to willingly get his brand spankin' new adamantium skeleton... priceless.
    • Emma Silverfox becomes Stryker's hostage -> Kayla is forced to work for Stryker -> Kayla faked her death as a part of their plan -> Wolverine accepted Stryker's offer to coat his bones with adamantium to avenge Kayla's 'death' at the hands of Sabretooth.

    Multiple Media 
  • In BIONICLE, Makuta Teridax used the entire universe as his pawns. The goal of the Toa Mata was to reawaken Mata Nui, put into a deadly coma by Makuta himself. Knowing that they will succeed because it was their destiny (and since Mata Nui's death would cause the end of the world), he manipulated nearly everyone he came across and lead his Brotherhood of Evil with an Evil Plan whose exact details he kept to himself. Long story short: his manipulating ensured that he would have enough time and be in the right place to commit a Grand Theft Me on Mata Nui when the heroes awakened him, thereby becoming the ruler of the universe.

    Podcasts 
  • Cecil of Welcome to Night Vale cheerfully reports the obviously bogus coverup stories concocted by the City Council with little to no indication that he doesn't believe every word. Also, choosing not to question what one is told seems to be the only way to survive living in Night Vale.
    "Ignorance may not actually be bliss, but it certainly is less work."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Hunter: The Vigil: This is a constant danger. It can be pretty hard for Hunters to tell the difference between the good-ish supernaturals and the true villains, and they often get suckered into working for the latter. For example: Division Six is a group of mage-hunters being used by a Seer of the Throne as his private hit squad, the Knights of Saint George are serving the agenda of an Abyssal entity, the Inquisition is run by a ghoul, Les Mysteres are run by the Pure, and so forth.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Lim-Dûl the Necromancer was a powerful sorcerer that terrorized Ice Age Terisiare with his magic and undead armies, but was ultimately a tool for the wills of the beings he gained his power from — the spirit of Mairsil the Pretender, who inhabited Lim-Dûl's Ring of Power and slowly poisoned his mind in order to use him for his own plans of vengeance, and the planeswalker Leshrac, who saw Lim-Dûl as a valuable minion and intended to use his undead army for his purposes. Eventually, Leshrac asserted full control and made sure than Lim-Dûl had no delusions about who precisely he served.
  • Ravenloft runs on Paranoia Fuel, so this is so common in adventures it's almost more of a Plot Twist when it doesn't happen.
  • Warhammer: It's strongly implied that Bretonnia's whole "Cult of the Lady" religion is a complete sham, set up by the Wood Elves who dwell in the forest in the south of the country so they have a nice, easily-manipulated buffer zone to protect them from the world. The End Times reveals that, yes, the Lady is actually the Elven goddess Lileath.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Adeptus Mechanicus is all but stated to (knowingly, in the case of the higher-ups) worship the Void Dragon as the Omnissiah (rather than an aspect of the Emperor). The C'tan being on par with the Chaos Gods in terms of Big Bad and the Mechanicus being responsible for humanity being able to travel the stars and defend themselves, this is as bad as it sounds. This also leads to a lot of enthusiastic Mechanicus dropping in on tomb worlds, waking up the Necrons as they poke around, and the next thing you know there's yet another system or two lost to the Imperium.
    • Read the introduction to any Imperium-centric story carefully for a nice bit of horror: It is the 41st Millennium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor of Mankind has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is the master of mankind by the will of the gods. What Gods do they mean by that? It could just be a figure of speech, but...

    Theatre 
  • Fittingly, many characters wind up as pawns in Chess. It all culminates in “The Deal (No Deal)”, a song that’s essentially just ten minutes of Walter and Molokov manipulating the entire cast.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar portrays Judas as a man who unwillingly advanced the agenda of Caiaphus and the Council, as well as fulfilling prophecy.
  • Othello: Iago manipulates everyone in his vengeful goals, leading to, as is the case with a Shakespeare tragedy, multiple deaths.
  • Thrill Me has the moment where Richard finds out that Nathan has been lying to him about basically everything since the murder, including when Richard thought he had the upper hand. In fact, Nathan's masterminding is the reason they got caught. Yes, getting caught was part of Nathan's plan.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney's Klavier Gavin is the Unwitting Pawn for his brother Kristoph's Evil Plan to get Phoenix Wright disbarred.
    • Trials and Tribulations has Pearl Fey, who is manipulated into triggering the events of the final case by her mother, Morgan Fey. While Pearl thinks she's just following her mother's orders for Maya's sake, her actions are actually the means to kill Maya. Luckily, the plan isn't fulfilled thanks to a third party who knew about it beforehand.
    • Justice for All has the third case where Franziska performs a surprise search on Acro's room, which forces him to hide the murder weapon on his person. Franziska only did the search because of Gumshoe, who in turn brought the idea of the search due to Edgeworth suggesting it to him and knowing Phoenix would be the defense attorney on the case. This turn of events causes Phoenix to correctly guess that the murderer hid the weapon at the bottom of his wheelchair and under the blanket he wears over his legs. Franziska loses and is flabbergasted that she, a perfectionist, made a mistake and curses herself for conducting the surprise search. In actuality, she was just the unwitting pawn to Edgeworth, who helped Phoenix catch the true killer without him even knowing it.
  • Several in the Danganronpa series:
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
      • Makoto in Chapter 1. The whole point of the trial is Naegi trying to clear his name in Sayaka's death. What's interesting is that he was framed by the victim in her own failed attempt to murder someone else — Makoto is only cleared because even the murderer was tricked by Sayaka.
      • Hifumi is tricked into helping Celeste in her scheme due to his lust for Alter Ego and Celeste making a False Rape Accusation against her first victim. Once he's finished in his part of the plan, he's murdered by her.
    • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair: Teruteru and "Byakuya" (actually the Ultimate Imposter) are the Unwitting Pawns of Nagito. Nagito sent a note warning "Byakuya" of his murder plot to get "Byakuya" to host a party in the old dining hall then got himself assigned cleaning duty so he could set up a murder plot. Then he allowed Teruteru to discover what he's doing, confesses and tells him his entire motive. He managed to entice "Byakuya" to set up the Locked Room Mystery Nagito needed in a room which goes completely dark in a blackout and gets Teruteru to try and murder him, starting the Killing Game. He didn't intend for "Byakuya" to die, however.
  • Double Homework: Unlike the protagonist, whom Dennis enlists for the same purpose, Henry is completely unaware that Dennis is using his voice recordings in order to catfish unsuspecting girls and women over the internet.
  • Fate/stay night has Shirou and Rin being pawns in the schemes of Gilgamesh and Kotomine in all three routes, with Shinji joining them in Unlimited Blade Works.
  • Monster Prom: The REVENGE ending. Miranda will ask you to do a series of seemingly random tasks to help her out, with very flimsy reasons for it. It turns out that this is her plan to kill the water polo team for kicking her out by feeding them eggs from a sea monster and them telling said sea monster they ate her eggs, she reveals that this was her plan if invited to prom after the events are completed.
  • Mary in Shikkoku no Sharnoth is obviously the pawn of multiple competing factions, but doesn't realize it fully until well into the story.
  • In Zero Escape trilogy, everyone who isn't Zero or willingly working for Zero is this to some extent. Special mentions:
    • Ace, aka Gentarou Hongou from Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, ends up being used by Zero to mop up the other Corrupt Corporate Executives who ran the Nonary Game 9 years ago.
    • Dio, a Free The Soul agent from Virtue's Last Reward, sent to sabotage the Nonary Game. What he didn't realize was that not only the organizers anticipate his infiltration of the game, it was actually necessary. If that's not enough, revelations in Zero Time Dilemma show he was also Brother's unwitting pawn as well, sent in to deliberately fail without Dio's knowledge.

    Web Animation 
  • Vegeta ends up being this for Commander Daiko in Dragon Ball Deliverance, as he was being used by him to weaken the out of control Broly enough that the Legendary Super Saiyan could be retrieved and put under Daiko's control.
  • In the Strong Bad Email stupid stuff, Strong Bad makes a bet with Kevin Grumbles that he can make Homestar say something intelligent. In desperation, he tries saying something nonsensical ("I say there, Homestar... butt's twelve by pies?"); as it turns out, Homestar apparently made his own bet with Kevin Grumbles that he could make Strong Bad say something stupid, and Strong Bad just won it for him. The real kicker is that Kevin actually wanted Strong Bad to make Homestar say something stupid, but Strong Bad thought that was too little of a challenge. Perhaps he should've asked an insultingly simple math question. He could have at least gotten Coulomb's law out of it. He also gets suckered in the game Strong Badia the Free. He spends the entire game trying to become the new king, only to find out that it was all a ploy by the King of Town to get Strong Bad stuck in the castle and the King in Strong Bad's position.
  • In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, the Emperor makes Magnus realize that both his supposed savior, Tzeentch, and his supposed Cool Big Bro Horus manipulated him so that he'd fall to Chaos and doom his people and Imperium. This plays crucial role in Magnus' Heel–Face Turn.
  • RWBY:
    • In Volume 3, Yang's predictable fighting style becomes a useful tool for the villains to exploit during the Vytal Festival tournament. She is tricked into attacking Mercury unprovoked after defeating him in the finals. This results in a huge negative public backlash against Beacon which attracts vast hordes of Grimm that the military struggles to contain. This is the beginning of Cinder's plan to turn people against their governments, kingdoms against each other and start the process of destroying the Huntsmen Academies.
    • Discussed. It is apparent to characters that General Ironwood's militancy, paranoia, and domineering, uncooperative and controlling nature are easily exploited by the villains. Tyrian comments that Salem's plans depend on Ironwood maintaining a mistrustful attitude, while Cinder observes that Ironwood's extremism makes him predictable. In Volume 7, the heroes repeatedly warn him that squeezing Mantle so hard to achieve his goals is playing into Salem's hands by turning Mantle against Atlas. After shooting Oscar for warning him that he's becoming as dangerous as Salem, Ironwood's descent into villainy climaxes when he holds Mantle hostage, threatening to bomb the city if the heroes don't surrender. Stating that he's doing Salem's job for her, Marrow abandons Ironwood, and Winter joins him. By the end of the volume, the kingdom is destroyed and the villains obtain two Relics.
    • Discussed. Jacques's obsession with winning makes him a perfect dupe for Watts. When Watts offers to help rig the election so he can lay off his Mantle workers to cut costs, he happily agrees to give the doctor his log-in credentials to do so. Not only do the lay-offs and Jacques's victory increase tensions, draw more Grimm to the city, and gives Jacques the foothold to interfere with Ironwood, his upgraded access allows Watts to not only hack into more of Atlas' systems but also begin to lock the rest of the council out. Watts then uses this access to turn off the highly secure heating grid, causing riots and a full-on Grimm invasion.
    • Councilman Sleet has legitimate reasons to denounce Ironwood for abusing his power and keeping secrets from the Council. However, being Locked Out of the Loop makes him vulnerable to exploitation, allowing Jacques to manipulate him into supporting an attempt to remove Ironwood from the council. Once he's brought into the loop about Salem's existence, and Jacques' deal with Watts is exposed, he becomes cooperative.

    Webcomics 
  • Bad Moon Rising recently showed that Terry was originally sent to Sokolov Academy to act as a spy for his mother, but was unaware of the real reason he was sent to the school at the time.
  • Sillice of Drowtales when Kalki tells her that the Nidraa'chal she's just fighting are just a diversion for the enemies that are currently most probably killing the Val'Sharess. Sillice then barges into the ravaged tower, confronts one of her sisters (the only one NOT included in this plot) and then gets accused of having killed all the guards in an attempt to overthrow her mother, and has to run away to exile with their mortal enemies. No one suspects the ones that are truly pulling the strings: Snadhya'rune, Sarv'swati and Zala'ess, who get off scot free and take control of the clan while pretending their mother is still alive.
  • Fighter of 8-Bit Theater is an example of this. The other Light Warriors often get him to do things by convincing him it is for the greater good. There's also the fact that he still believes they're heroes after all the untold damage they've caused.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Tara is manipulated into attempting to kill Elliot by the Immortal named Voltaire who she believes is forbidden from lying like the Ancients of her world.
  • Nick in the "Surreptitious Machinations" arc of General Protection Fault. The entire plan hinges on him being isolated from his friends and building the "Project Velociraptor" to power Trudy's energy weapons, enabling her and C.R.U.D.E. to take over the world. He's also one of the only ones who still trusts Trudy, so the heroes have to try to convince him to see the truth.
  • Terezi of Homestuck is usually Awesome by Analysis, but she's recently fallen into this at the hands of Gamzee, who she has no idea turned evil.
    • Absolutely everyone to Doc Scratch. There's a reason he calls people who aren't omniscient "suckers." Which is taken beyond the impossible in [S] Cascade, where its revealed that he manipulated the entire main cast into creating the Green Sun. Note that the main cast has been doing everything in their power to destroy the thing. Scratch's last word, said to Gamzee, is even "S u c k e r s", a succinct summary of just how much he played everyone.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: In an uncharacteristically manipulative moment, in her second appearance, Voluptua lets Bob fly off on what he thinks is a very simple mission, while she suspects an alien supercriminal just might be waiting for him.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Miko Miyazaki leads the villains to Azure City and allows them to discover the location of Soon's Gate. She kills Lord Shojo, leaving the city more vulnerable to attack. Then she destroys Soon's gate when the villains are on the verge of losing, giving them a chance to escape certain death. And all the while, she believes that she's following the will of the (Lawful Good) gods. Although she was only being manipulated into the first one of these, the least important error really. The other two she she accomplished on her own.
    • Vaarsuvius turned into one when they attacked Xykon with their newfound power, knocking him off his throne, exactly as the fiends who granted Vaarsuvius that power planned.
    • As it turns out, Xykon himself is this to Redcloak, who's been playing humble servant all these years in order to get Xykon to aid in completing the Plan (which, it seems, doesn't aid Xykon's own goals at all). But he doesn't mind being a pawn, because he has better things to do with his time than deal with a backstabber who already has a self-destruct button tied to the back of their head: The Monster In The Darkness is brainwashed to kill Redcloak the moment he betrays Xykon openly.
  • Kat Vance from Sequential Art finds herself in the Quinten Research Laboratory, where she learns the human staff has succumbed to deadly gas that permeated most of the facility. The A.I. Is a Crapshoot prototype computer OZ-BASIC explains that the fault that caused the tragedy exists in other Quinten facilities, and asks Kat's help in creating an uplink in panel #474, so that others can be forewarned in time. In reality, OZ-BASIC seeks to take control of the Pipingrad Death Ray satellite, with which to expunge all those that would oppose its Evil Overlord status.
  • Riff of Sluggy Freelance was eventually revealed to be this, having worked for the Nebulous Evil Organisation Hereti-Corp producing inventions in return for funding, and not realizing the purposes they were being put to.
  • Tower of God: Rachel, Khun, and Bam all play into Yu Hansung's and Headon's hands in their plot against the ruling system.
  • TREVOR: Downplayed. The new members of the medical team have no idea they are part of a military funded Super Soldier project with Cold-Blooded Torture-style experiments, but they are at least somewhat aware of how dark the work they’ve been doing is.
  • Played with in We Are The Wyrecats. K.A. certainly was this, but the rest of her team, as it turns out, is more than aware that the Big Bad is using them. They just aren't equipped with a lot of options on fighting back at the moment. By letting her remain unaware of this, K.A. effectively becomes her own team's Unwitting Pawn, and she does not take it well when she finds out.

    Web Original 
  • Only just before the final battle of Web Game Demon Thesis do the main characters realize that they've been pawns for the Manipulative Bastard Eldritch Abomination Mesmerus that they hate. After a strange stone totem was brought to the library of their university, the main characters suddenly found themselves gifted with Elemental Powers and other spells, and fighting off various monsters while Mesmerus encourages the violence. At the end they learn this is because them using his power to cast spells is necessary to weaken the barrier between dimensions and allow Mesmermus to cross over into our world. By the time they do learn this, it's too late to do anything, and Mesmerus appears.
  • In The Normal Innocent Bystander's Survival Guide, point 17 is:
    "If the Evil Overlord offers you immortality, superpowers, or infinite wealth, and all you have to do is something that seems terribly trivial, don't. It's a trick. You will be used as a pawn in a larger game, and then crushed like a bug."
  • In The Ruins of an American Party System, it's eventually revealed that Floyd Olson (otherwise presented as a President Mary Sue), has for most of his administration been manipulated by his Attorney General, Huey Long, who has been exploiting his influence over Olson to build his own political empire within the government, effectively turning Olson into his puppet. Once Olson realizes this, however, he spends the last months of his life before succumbing to cancer building up resources that his Vice-President and successor Fiorello LaGuardia is later able to use to dismantle most of Long's power base.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Long Feng thought he was using Fire Nation Princess Azula to regain control of the Earth Kingdom capital, Ba Sing Se. In reality, she was using him to take control of it for the Fire Nation. By the time he realized she was playing him, she had already turned his own men against him. When he admits defeat, obviously impressed at her, she rubs salt in the wound by indicating this was all he was to her.
    Long Feng: You've beaten at my own game.
    Azula: Don't flatter yourself. You were never even a player.
  • In one episode of Batman: The Animated Series, a businessman builds a casino... themed after The Joker. Joker is understandably incensed, a breaks out of Arkham to punish this act of image-theft by blowing up the joint. As Batman discovers, the businessman had spent too much on his building, and gave it a Joker-theme so the Joker would do just that, and then cash in on the insurance. Joker gets more incensed when Batman reveals this to him.
  • Big Hero 6: The Series: In the Season 1 finale, Obake sends his minions after a case containing a failed prototype of an energy amplifier. It's actually worthless; the real reason is that he knew Hiro would become interested in making a real one, which he could then steal.
  • Danny from Danny Phantom becomes one of these almost every time he encounters Vlad Masters. Usually Vlad hints at what he's going to do right away, and Danny fails to understand and plays right into his hands anyway. Surprisingly, Valerie was an even bigger sucker than Danny — her entire ghost hunting 'career' was started by Vlad as part of a gambit and just became the gift that kept on giving for him and all his plans. She was NOT happy when she found out the truth.
  • Numbah 1 (Nigel Uno) in Operation Z.E.R.O.. Father steals the "supposedly" inactive recommissioning module in an attempt to recommission the Big Bad of the movie, Grandfather. All that was needed was a DNA sample from an active KND member, and knowing which KND operative would be so quick to come after him for the theft and to stop whatever plan that involves it, guess who suddenly became a key part of the plan?
  • In Episode 7 of The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, it's stated that Krupp and Melvin were using resident Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold Bo as a scare tactic to keep the other students in line, which in turn makes everyone in school fear him. This later backfires after a comic book made by George and Harold completely flips the script and turns Bo from a threat to a hero.
  • The Fairly Oddparents:
    • Timmy is this sometimes, most noticeably in "School's Out! The Musical", where he, along with Flappy Bob, are pawns in the pixie's Gambit Roulette.
    • Chester becomes this in "Fairy Idol" when Norm uses his friendship with Timmy to trick Cosmo and Wanda into quitting their jobs so he can steal their position and become his fairy godparent in their place.
  • Where Sinedd from Galactik Football goes, intergalactic conspiracy is sure to follow.
  • In Gargoyles, Xanatos was accustomed to using this trope: almost every major character was his pawn at one point or another. In one memorable episode, however, Xanatos is outsmarted and used as a pawn by one of his creations.
    Xanatos: Owen, I think I've created a monster.
  • Gravity Falls has almost every character that interacts with Big Bad Bill Cipher become this, furthering his plans for Weirdmageddon with every trick he pulls. This culminates with him possessing Blendin Blandin to trick Mabel into giving him the space-time rift that was the final key to his plan, causing the aforementioned event.
  • Kim Possible found herself in this position in So The Drama, when it was revealed that Erik was really a "synthodrone" working for Drakken. As Ron observed, "Drakken hasn't won, he played you." An even more direct case was in the episode "Hidden Talents", where Drakken created fake messages from Wade (as well as sending a virus to the real Wade) to get Kim to bring him one of Dementor's inventions. He also attempted to do it a second time after he forgot to tell Kim to get the adaptor plug, but the second time didn't work as well due to Wade debugging his computer.
  • In Over the Garden Wall, the Woodsman is tricked by the Beast into maintaining the Beast's Soul Jar, which he believes contains his daughter's soul instead. He was also initially unaware that the eidelwood trees he was using used to be human children.
  • Scooby Doo in episode 16 of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated; Pericles used Scooby's need to save the town to further his own plan to find the Cursed Treasure of Crystal Cove.
  • South Park:
    • Both the Good and Evil characters in the Imaginationland trilogy, manipulated into war for a terrorist cell's plot to destroy collective imagination by getting both sides to kill each other, despite the narrative's full support for the Good characters starting in Part 2 as if the Evil characters were the Big Bads instead of the already-dead terrorists, when they weren't, despite what they literally are. However, the plot fails because the Good characters win the war and the Evil characters are imprisoned.
    • Stan, Kyle, and Scott Tenorman in "Scott Tenorman Must Die". To a lesser extent, the rest of the town was this to Cartman in that episode. The only thing he hadn't planned on was Chef actually taking the Chili Contest seriously and submitting an entry, though this simply means Cartman has delicious chili to eat while he explains his master plan.
    • This happen to Kyle again when Leslie tells him that Pc Principle kill Jimmy and that Randy is helping him to kill any objectors to his political but in reality shes a ads whos wants to get rid of Pc Principle so she can turn South Park against each so ads can take over the world.
  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the Kaminoans were this. They knew about Order 66 as they were the ones who implanted the control chips in the clones, but were told that it was a secret trump card against Dark Jedi that needed to be kept under wraps. As such, they sabotage Fives' attempt to reveal the truth and indirectly get him killed, and the Revenge of the Sith goes on without a hitch despite the best efforts of Master Shaak Ti.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil has an interesting variation in that a villain is used as a pawn for another: that being Ludo being used as a tool and puppet by Toffee of Septarsis.
  • Challenge Of the Superfriends: In one of the more infamous plots from the series, the Legion of Doom collaborates with a group of Venusians to rework Earth's climate into something more tropical. To this end — in what may be the single most contrived Gambit Roulette in history — they enact a series of disasters, and the Superfriends play right into their hands when their attempts to stop them result in filling the atmosphere with steam, flooding the western hemisphere, and moving the Earth out of its orbit. Uh, oops?
  • In Season 4 of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, both the turtles and the Well-Intentioned Extremist Agent Bishop are suckered royally by the Foot Mystics/Shredder's Heralds, resulting in the entire plot to Season 5.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): In early Season 5, Tiger Claw summons the demodragon Kavaxas to Earth in order to bring the Shredder, who was killed by Leo in the Season 4 finale, Back from the Dead, using a mystical talisman, the Seal of the Ancients, to keep him under control. By the fourth episode, "End Times," Kavaxas successfully resurrects Shredder... but Shredder is little more than a shambling corpse under Kavaxas' control, and destroys the Seal of the Ancients; as it turns out, Shredder's resurrection was one of three tasks Kavaxas needed to accomplish in order to bring about The End of the World as We Know It, and he was using Tiger Claw all along in order to accomplish those three tasks.
  • Harold in Total Drama Action, when choosing to listen to Courtney and Duncan of all people, in order to vote off LeShawna, his Love Interest.
  • In the Season 3 finale and Season 4 premiere of The Venture Bros., Brock Samson is this to Molotov, and Molotov herself is this to Gathers. Molotov puts a hit out on Brock for three of the top OSI assassins and pins it on the OSI, getting him to kill them so that her own assassin organization, the Blackhearts, would have no competition. However, she doesn't realize that that's exactly what Gathers wants her to do, as it would later lure Brock right into a trap set by Gathers to coerce him into joining the reformed SPHINX.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, Omi ends up playing right into Chase Young's hands in the second season, temporarily becoming his apprentice.
  • Wakfu: Qilby is very good at making Unwitting Pawns out of everyone.
    • Anathar becomes one to Qilby. He's one of the Shushu and is only fighting on Qilby's side because of his alliance with Rushu, but Qilby baits Anathar into entering the fray so he isn't present for Qilby and Rushu betraying each-other, and therefore continues fighting for Qilby against Yugo and Phaeris long after Qilby's pact with the Shushus has expired.
    • The Mechasms and their prince Orgonax in the Backstory are ultimately this. They went to war against the Eliatropes and forced the latter into a Homeworld Evacuation because Qilby ripped out Orgonax's heart — this was Qilby's plan all along, to manipulate his people into being forced to become Space Nomads since Qilby wanted to traverse the stars.

    Real Life 
  • Napoleon III, who got played by every second-rate power in Europe, and some overseas. He certainly WAS one to Bismarck, but that was because Bismarck was Bismarck rather than because Napoleon III was gullible. Indeed, he actually came out on top of most of his battles (Mexico and the war of 1870 were the exception, not the rule), and most of the time he was being "played" by said second-rate powers, it was largely because he grasped more or less what they were doing and sympathized enough to go through with it anyway (Italy 1859 is the most obvious example, but the Belgian revolution and the Crimean War came in close seconds). If anything, he fell victim to trying to be someone he wasn't and had the misfortune to run up against the most ruthless and skilled ruler in Europe in charge of the largest and best military on the continent.
  • A popular (at least, in modern Russia) conspiracy theory says that Adolf Hitler was one either for the US and the UK, because they used him to conquer most of Europe, attack the USSR, be defeated and occupied from both sides, with purpose of making Europe weak and controlled by the USA, or for Josef Stalin, who manipulated him into starting the war, defeating France and continental allies, and then Stalin planned to attack and crush him, but Hitler attacked first. Both theories has many facts behind them, but whether they are true is still Riddle for the Ages.
  • Henry Morton Stanley helped to explore the Congo and claim it for King Leopold II of Belgium. Henry, like many others, was under the assumption that the Congo Free State would be run for humanitarian purposes. He had no idea that Leopold II was using him to set up a genocidal dictatorship.
  • Supposedly, the only relatively foolproof reason for letting yourself be recruited as a spy is to do it for the money. Any other motives (freedom, nationalism, the workers' revolution, whatever) expose you to being played as an unwitting Double Agent, mole, or agent provocateur by the people you oppose. This is NOT a "useful idiot," which is when (usually overt) support for a third party's nominal, moderate, public goals is cynically manipulated by the latter to advance their more closely-held, radical and secret goals. The "idiot" part comes from them being The Quisling without realizing that's what they're doing. They claim to love their country/faction/family/4-H club, but their actions and words say otherwise — and they'd never believe you if you pointed it out.
  • On the TV show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, a guest uttered a stream of swear words, which were bleeped out. The guest then informed the production team that they had just broadcast the Morse Code for a certain four-letter word.
  • Nearly everyone involved in the Malet coup of 1812, aside from Malet himself and the Abbé Lafon. Even those who helped prepare the coup — including a law student who should have known better — had no idea of what Malet and Lafon were really plotting. As General Lahorie put it, "We were conspirators in spite of ourselves."


 
Feedback

Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Xanatos Sucker

Top

Melody the Pawn

Morgana tricks Melody into getting King Triton's trident for her so she can become ruler of the sea.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / UnwittingPawn

Media sources:

Report