Brooke Shaffer

Author, Gamer, and Cat-Collector Extraordinaire

Villains and Antagonists: The Hero

Welcome back to the Villains and Antagonists series. Today we're going to talk about Heroes as Villains. I got super pumped about writing this installment, and I think it's because I love to see heroes as villains. I don't mean antiheroes, either, but real villains, even if it's just for a moment.

This installment is all about the hero as a villain, but I would like to divide it into two parts. The first part is when the hero becomes the villain. The second part is when the hero turns out to be the villain.

What is the difference, you ask? Hero-becoming-villain is about the hero making a conscious decision to become the villain. Maybe he's lost everything he cared about, his superiors have lied to him, and he's just going to go to the dark side. Or maybe he has an attack of ego and switches sides. Maybe he is smoothly coerced by the villain into joining his team. Whatever the case, hero consciously becomes a villain.

Now then, there is a bit of a caveat to that, because there is a tiny group of heroes out there who may be captured by the villain and are blackmailed into switching sides. The one that comes to mind initially is Robin from Teen Titans. In the two-part episode The Apprentice, Slade infects four of the titans with microbots that will kill at just the push of a button, unless Robin does everything that Slade says and does his bidding. Yes, Robin is working for Slade and he does some bad things, but it is under duress, and Robin never stops trying to rescue his friends and stop Slade, which he eventually does.

In that instance, while exciting in its own right, I wouldn't necessarily classify the hero as a true villain, more of a prisoner. So that's my bit on that.

Turning our attention to hero-turning-out-to-be-the-villain, this is when the hero is fully active in his role as a hero throughout the entire story (ending optional, as you will see), yet at the end it is revealed that everything he has done has only served the villain, or else been villainous in nature. We'll get into more detail on that in a few minutes, but that is the primary difference between the two hero villains. One makes the conscious choice to become the villain, the other is revealed to be the villain only at the very end.

So for HBV villains, I think the most light-hearted, shall we say, of this category has to be the Tenth Doctor. In the Christmas special with Donna Noble, the Doctor is pitted against an arachnid who is going to unleash her little hellspawn spiders upon the earth and the entire universe to feast. The Doctor ends up murdering her and her children, and Donna chastises him for it later. Not that he had to do it, but because he just stood there like a stranger, completely aloof.

Later, in another special, the Doctor goes to Mars, to the first sustainable human colony. But alien microbes in alien water start turning the people into monsters, and the Doctor learns that he's stumbled onto a great tragedy. As a Time Lord, he is duty bound not to interfere in such matters because it could change all of mankind's history blah, blah, blah standard time travel rules.

In the end, however, he makes a decision to save the commander of the mission. As they're talking afterwards, she chastises him, too, saying that her death would have been a noble one if it inspired humans, most notably her granddaughter, to return to Mars and bring humanity into the larger universe. But the Doctor is unmoved and declares himself the Time Lord Victorious. He holds all the power with no one to stop him, and he's going to use that power.

The mission commander rebukes him, then goes into her home where she commits suicide. It snaps the Doctor out of his short-lived power trip, but the damage is done.

The Doctor chose to become the villain here, and I fully believe he would have gone on to be a full and true villain. He made a conscious choice to set aside the rules and indulge in the time-bending power at his fingertips, renouncing any loyalties he once had and determined to do things his way.

Another villain who made such a choice but was not saved in time is Harvey Dent, or Harvey Two-face. I think his progression is fascinating in that it revolves around his trick coin. He says he makes his own luck, and it charms his girlfriend and the courts and anyone else he's trying to impress with a cheap trick. Later on, it becomes a dangerous weapon. In the hospital, when it's just him, the Joker, and a gun between them, Harvey brings out the coin once more and now uses it as a tool to determine life or death. Things have taken a very dark turn for him.

Now then, does he really qualify, seeing how he just lost his fiancee and maybe isn't in a position to make good decisions? In the case of the Dark Knight, this might be debatable. However, Harvey Dent is no newcomer to the world of Batman, but that can't all be shown in a two-hour movie. So in the larger Batman universe, yes, he does qualify.

And finally, this all brings us to, quite possibly, one of my favorite HBV villains, because he truly is a hero. That is Slave Knight Gael from Dark Souls III.

Like Bloodborne, Dark Souls is so packed with history and lore and twists and turns that it is futile to try and explain it all. For the sake of brevity, some of it you will just have to take at face value. If you want to explore more, there is no shortage of speculation and storytelling on the Internet.

Gael is, fundamentally, one of the most minor and yet most important characters in all of Dark Souls, yet he appears only in a two-part DLC for the third game. Gael has been around since the time of the gods, the last living person with memory of the Way of White Corona Miracle. As a Slave Knight, he was revered, yet his position demanded that he be fodder for the field of battle. At some point, he got away from the wars and ended up in the Painted World of Ariandel.

Like the outside world, Ariandel is facing its destruction and must be cleansed by fire to destroy the rot and take shelter in a new painted world. Father Ariandel and Sister Friede don't want this, instead content to let things rot away, locking up the white-haired girl, the Painter, and doing everything in their power to ensure that fire never comes to Ariandel.

Gael befriended this girl and promised to find the Blood of the Dark Soul to use as pigment for a new Painted World. Now, the Dark Soul had never been used for such a purpose, but the hope was that as the Dark Soul granted longevity, even immortality, that using it as pigment would bring about a new Painted World that never decayed.

There were a few problems with this, however. The Dark Soul, discovered by the furtive pygmy in the age of the gods, could be carried on in the blood, which was what Gael was after. However, when he went to the Ringed City looking for the pygmy lords, he found that they had grown so old that their blood had dried up and could no longer be used for pigment.

The second problem was that the Dark Soul was the embodiment of all the darkness of humanity. Dividing it had been the saving grace of the pygmies, but having it all together would drive any Undead absolutely mad with the power of the Abyss.

But Gael is so determined to help the Painter create a new world, he goes anyway, knowing he will almost assuredly become corrupted by the Dark Soul. As you make your way through the Ringed City, you discover pieces of Gael's red cloak marking the path. Even his ghost points the way into the demon's lair just before you get to the city proper. He is so sure that you will follow him. As one of the two Unkindled destined to bring fire to Ariandel, he knows you are a great warrior and you will help. Ash seeketh ember.

The meaning of the events in Filianore's chambers are debated, whether they are just an illusion and the Ringed City is long gone, or if you have been teleported into the future. In this instance, I don't think it matters.

What does matter is that you and Gael are the last people alive at the end of the world. He has consumed all of the pygmy lords and their dried blood, their dark soul fragments, taking them into himself. When he sees you, he does not recognize you, and instead demands your dark soul, the only sliver of sanity left in him still understanding that it is for his lady's painting.

What follows is a boss battle of pretty epic proportions, but it is sad. Gael, the oldest living thing in the world, veteran of countless battles, goes on a journey he knows he will not return from. He cannot. He knows the Dark Soul will corrupt him, but he is so committed to saving the Painted World that he will go anyway, and he lures in an Unkindled, such as yourself, to fulfill a prophecy and bring fire to Ariandel, then look for him at the end of the world. In consuming the soul fragments of the pygmy lords, he has brought the Dark Soul together, as whole as it has been since the time of the furtive pygmy. He resurrects it in his own body, using his blood as the catalyst, so that when you defeat him, the Dark Soul remains in tact and able to be used as pigment, without corrupting yourself.

The extra salt in this wound comes when you return to the Painter to give her the Blood of the Dark Soul and she asks when Gael is coming home, for she is painting this new world for him, where it will be cold and dark, but gentle, a goodly home for any wayward soul.



The Hero, Part II – When the Hero Turns Out to be the Villain


Next we'll move into the HTV villain, the one where good actions all lead to villainy.

The first thing I want to say is that there is a difference between HTV and simple misunderstanding. The hero who raids a building and burns it to the ground because he's told that the man who killed his father was in there, and later finds out that it was full of widows and orphans and the real villain just wanted to frame him—that doesn't count in my book.

This hero-villain has to meet at least two criteria right off the bat. First, it has to be an ongoing endeavor, a fairly lengthy or else substantial timeline. Not a one-off event or anything like that. It has to be traceable, remarkable, something you can review later on. Second, each individual event has to be rock solid in its own right (with some light foreshadowing allowed). It has to make sense by itself and be seen as good by itself, and in tandem with other events going on.

What does that mean? Well, I'll give you an example.

His Lord Prism, Gavin Guile, from the Lightbringer series. Again, huge series packed with lore, I'll try to bring it down.

In this world, people can be light drafters, those who see light and construct it into solid things based on their chromacy. Red drafters can take red light and make it into solid red “luxin”, green drafts can form green luxin from green light, and so on, for the entire visible spectrum plus ultraviolet and I believe what they call “parl” is actually X-rays. Those who can do this magic have a shortened lifespan, and their irises change color and fill up with their draft color or colors. Those who “break the halo” as it's called, or exceed their use of magic, go insane and must be put down. Those who escape are called wights.

The Prism is sort of the overseer of the drafters, involved in politics, war, the academy where young drafters are trained, and so on. The Prism can draft all colors, and it is his job to ceremoniously execute those who have broken the halo before they turn into wights.

Gavin Guile was appointed the future Prism at age thirteen. He had a younger brother Dazen who was also, remarkably, Prism-eligible, something entirely unheard of. Well, they fall in love with the same woman, and one of the brothers, thought to be Dazen, burned down her home with a lot of people inside. This started a whirlwind war, where Gavin and Dazen dueled over who had to the right to be the Prism.

As far as anyone knew, Gavin won, killing Dazen at Sundered Rock, though no one there could say just what happened. Dazen was presumed dead, though Gavin had him captured and brought back home where he built an elaborate dungeon to keep him just barely alive. Dazen manages to escape the dungeon eventually, but Gavin kills him.

Meanwhile, politics and wars happen, and Gavin goes out to fight armies of wights that are forming. As he does so, he discovers that he is slowly losing colors and can no longer draft. Indeed, he can no longer see the colors at all. In the middle of a war that his people are losing, he can't let on that he's no longer the invincible Prism, drafter of all colors, so he tries to hide it.

More wars, more politics, and in the end, we get the truth about Sundered Rock and the brothers Guile. Gavin is not Gavin as we have been reading, but younger brother Dazen who has been impersonating Gavin. Furthermore, while Gavin was indeed a Prism who could see and draft all colors, Dazen was a rare, reviled black drafter. He did not use light to create, he took light to destroy. Black drafting only destroys, and it also wipes the memory of the user and those in the vicinity, the affected distance determined by the degree of usage. It also produces a bit of insanity in the user, which was why he thought he had his brother's body brought back and put in a dungeon. The dungeon was real, but the brother was not. It was all a hallucination.

Furthermore, because black drafting only destroys, in order to draft color, Dazen had to kill other drafters and basically take their abilities. He thought he was going to destroy wights in order to save his people, when he was just harvesting their abilities in order to keep up the charade that he was the Prism. Again, his own abilities played against him, and his memories of these events are warped and twisted by the black drafting.

The line between hero being hero and hero being villain is so thin, it's fantastic. If the two concepts could be overlapped—laying out all the events as they lead to good, and again as they lead to evil—they should be so close to perfect as to be basically identical until the final plot twist that rips them apart, where the last piece of the puzzle drops into place and suddenly the entirety of the story changes. Suddenly, it's not Gavin Guile going to save his people, it's Dazen Guile going to destroy wights and take their powers, even if he himself doesn't realize it.

Another example of this is in Ender's Game. Granted, I did not read the book, so this is based only on the movie. In short, humanity is threatened by aliens, and the military wants children to help with their defenses. They have quicker reflexes and faster processing power than adults, and they're superb at video games, which is what this defense is billed as.

The commanders run the kids through trainings and scenarios and simulations one after another, trying to unlock their brain power, telling them that they're doing great. And no one has any reason to suspect that anything is amiss. In any other war story, everything would be fantastic.

Ender is the main character and he is particularly gifted. While dealing with life changes and bullies and everything else, he seems to be having some sort of telepathic communication with this invading alien race, even if he doesn't fully understand it. He just wants to protect Earth, save humanity.

Then, one day, they run a simulation. Stop the invasion, destroy the enemy, all the usual stuff. Ender brings out a crazy idea and just runs with it, full bore. The alien race is destroyed, humans are victorious. It's a great scenario.

Then the commander reveals that it wasn't a scenario. That was a real live situation. They just obliterated the alien race. For real. Like, for real for real. The kids weren't told because the commanders didn't want them to panic or second guess, just do everything as easily and effortlessly as they had been so far.

A more complex example of this is Danaerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, and actually I think Tyrion sums it up best. For her entire campaign, Dany had been lauded as a hero, as she burned the slavers and their cities, as she conquered and ruled. Everyone applauded her, everyone loved her. Everything she did was right. So why would she think that her final act of burning down King's Landing and promising to do the same to the rest of Westeros wouldn't be met the same way?

As you go back and try to rework everything, try to find some instance that would be the telltale sign of everything going very wrong, it's hard. You don't want to find that thing because she has done good. But she has also done evil. Suddenly this character you've been rooting for is no longer the darling but the devil instead.

I know that Seasons 7 and 8 of GoT gets a lot of crap, and I'm not going to say that they weren't clunky and awkward at times, but I do think that Dany's story arc was one of the more coherent ones that got carried through, as you are forced to wonder if she is fully lucid and just a merciless tactician, or whether she really has gone mad like her forebears. You hope she's a tough but fair queen, and then it all comes crashing down when you see that look in her eye as the bell tolls, suing for peace, and she wants none of it. She wants her revenge. And so she does the only thing she knows how: she destroys. Just like the slavers and their cities and all who have stood in her way so far.


Part III-ish: The Corrupted Hero


I will probably cover this motif in the Heroes series, but I want to give it a brief mention here. The Corrupted Hero is the Hero who becomes the villain, but does not make the conscious choice, and may not even realize that corruption has occurred, and may even continue on in their original endeavor, but in a villainous way. Dany could fit here. Gael could fit here.

But the particular villain, or villains, that I have in mind are Knight Artorias and Farron's Undead Legion, the Abysswatchers, from Dark Souls I and Dark Souls III, respectively.

Knight Artorias, and his Great Grey Wolf Sif, was the only one of Gwyn's knights to be equipped, prepared, ready, willing, and able to stop the spread of the Abyss and free the princess from Manus, Father of the Abyss. But Manus defeated him and so corrupted him. Artorias fled the Abyss and continued to go after Abyssal creatures, but he didn't stop there. When you kill him, he asks for forgiveness, “for I have availed thee nothing.”

His legend is kept alive and in tact, however, inspiring the later Abysswatchers and the Watchdogs of Farron. But, like Artorias, being so close to the Abyss eventually corrupts the Abysswatchers, and because they are Undead and Hollow, they are locked in an unending loop of killing each other, for they are sworn to defeat all Abyssal creatures, never realizing that they have also become Abyssal.

Frodo and the One Ring is another example of this, as he has fought against the ring's power for the length of his journey, stumbling at just the very end, rescued only by Gollum.

Again, I'll probably go more into the Corrupted Hero in the actual Heroes series, but I wanted to touch on it here.


So that's my bit on the Hero Villain, arguably my favorite kind of villain. You may be wondering what the difference is between this villain and the Tragic Villain, covered in a different installment. For me, the only difference is where they are at the beginning of the story. Gael starts out as a hero when you meet him. Ludwig and Artorias are already villains.

In the next installment, we'll cover the progression of antagonists to villains, or villains to antagonists. Enjoy.

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