Cry for the Devil

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?"

The villain stands poised for victory; he stares out at the ensuing carnage - all is going according to plan. The audience, sure of his intentions and motivations, hates him, loathes him, wants him to die, and knows deep down that they have every right to.


The storytellers cut back to earlier days; a time of would-be happiness for a younger, gentler person: the villain in his youth. In a short time, perhaps a single quip, or a single, unnarrated action, we see it: the event that tainted, jaded, and turned a normal, loving person, perhaps even a hero, into an unforgiving villain. Suddenly, the audience slinks down; some cringe, others start to tear up - for all intents and purposes, a real-life Face Heel Turn.

The audience begins to see the bigger picture: evil isn't born, it's made. After a lifetime of rejection, dismissal, cruelty, and hate, who wouldn't become a villain? And when that cruelty comes full-circle back to the originators, why are they the victims? Finally, the biggest question pops into the audience's mind: what if? What if someone, even one person, had shown even an inkling of kindness or love to them? What if someone stood up for them? Love can change, right? Then couldn't it also prevent?

It's easy to hate, but it's nearly impossible to understand or forgive, especially when we're so convinced that we are in the right, until we get hit right in the face with the facts. At this point, one feels what can only be described as anti-schadenfreude, and when one's sympathy or empathy for a villain's position reaches its peak, that's when you Cry for the Devil. Of course it is possible to present the villain in a sympathetic light from pretty much start to finish. That counts too.

This trope tends to invoke A Million Is a Statistic for the sympathy accorded to his victims.

This goes back at least to the 17th century; characters from all walks of life have been reexamined again and again, and often times, the worst, most evil villains make the greatest sympathetic, although still evil, protagonists. Put simply, humans are fascinated by what could turn someone to The Dark Side, most likely because we realize how easily we ourselves could, as well.

Is often instant-woobification, and, if done incorrectly, can also become instant Badass Decay, turning the character into an enormous Draco in Leather Pants for the fandom. Common keywords for pointing out the trope include something along the lines of "It's not really his fault he's evil, but...."

Is supposed to be a possible end-result of a Freudian Excuse done well. Frequently used to build the Tragic Villain. A particularly compelling version of this can even overturn a character's Complete Monster status, at least in the eyes of some fans.

Alas, Poor Villain is a Sub-Trope where this happens as the villain dies (or otherwise undergoes a downfall).

Compare Satan Is Good, Sympathetic Murderer, Monster Sob Story, and Jerkass Woobie. Not quite the same as Sympathy for the Devil—that's when characters in story sympathize with a villain, not just the audience. See also the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Can overlap with What Have I Done. See also Unintentionally Sympathetic, when a character wasn't intended to be sympathetic, but is, in the eyes of the audience, anyways.

Examples of Cry for the Devil include:

Anime and Manga

  • Lucy from Elfen Lied. As the series begins, Lucy is seen escaping a laboratory, and mercilessly slaughtering anyone, and I mean anyone, who stands in her way. It's a complete and utter mystery as to why she seems to be unwilling to kill the male protagonist, Kouta. Cut to a few chapters/episodes later and we are shown the girl's hellish childhood. Turns out that Lucy, whose real name is Kaede, was abandoned by her father at an Orphanage of Fear, where she was mercilessly tormented by the other children and neglected by the staff, who only pretended to be nice to her and spoke ill of her when they thought she wasn't listening. It all culminated with some of the children, led by Tomoo, slowly killing her puppy (the only living being she's ever cared for) in front of her, revealed to them by a supposed friend that backstabbed her, and laughing at her misery. Cue the girl going Ax Crazy and slaughtering them all in a textbook definition of both Beware the Nice Ones and Bloodbath Villain Origin. And thus, Kaede ceased to be, and Lucy, the destroyer of mankind, was born...
    • This was merely the beginning: after meeting Kouta, befriending him, and almost turning their relationship into something more, she discovered that he lied to her. Broken and betrayed, the girl flew once more into an Unstoppable Rage and crossed the Moral Event Horizon by brutally killing everyone around her, including Kouta's family right in front of him. Ultimately, this cemented her decision that all humanity had to simply DIE!!!
  • Death Note ends, as Light dies, with a rather moving flashback to the first episode when he was a carefree student. The series also has a Whole-Episode Flashback to the childhood of Ax Crazy Kira-substitute Mikami, who started off as a highly moral and kind student who protected others from bullies.
    • Rather drastically subverted in the Manga, where Light realizes that, in spite of having built a road to godhood with the bones of innumerable people, criminal and innocent alike, he's terrified at dying himself, and rather pathetically screams for someone, ANYONE, to help him, before begging Ryuk to save him. When Ryuk fulfills his promise from the beginning of the series and writes down Light's name, the former Magnificent Bastard says the not very classy Famous Last Words of: "I don't want to die! I DON'T WANT TO DIE! Oh, shit!", and dies with a demented look on his face.
      • Well, the anime does pretty much the same, but reminds us that he had been better once, and could have become a completely different man if it wasn't for the Note and his ego. In the live action movie version, the scene is sad, but your sympathy is with Light's father, who has survived to this point here, and not Light himself, who, with his last breath, insists that "Kira was real justice." even after all the horrible deeds he did (poor Shiori).
  • Gaara in Naruto seems like an uncontrollable sociopathic monster during the Chuunin Exams, until we learn his backstory and discover he is the For Want Of A Nakama counterpart of Naruto. He mellows out afterwards.
    • Even Orochimaru got one of these. He has a flashback of when he was a sad but normal child visiting his parents grave with the third Hokage and finding a snakeskin, which he was told symbolized rebirth. My, now what are all his abilities based around?
    • Pain was driven to these lengths by three main incidents in his youth which shattered his early idealism and dreams of peace.
    • Kabuto gets one of these too.
  • Mantid from Spider Riders has some moments in the final episodes. He reveals that he was once a spider rider and, over time, lost everything that he loved. In fact, it's so sad, even the Oracle cries in sympathy, preventing The Hero from finishing him off and causing him to re-evalute his own views on how to save people.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho has Sensui, the Big Bad of the penultimate arc. He used to be the Earth's Spirit Detective, which is now Yusuke's job, before his Face Heel Turn. Unlike the jaded Yusuke, Sensui had a black-and-white view of morality and justice. He fought hard to protect the human world from what he saw as absolute evil, the demons. And then, in one moment traumatizing enough for him to qualify as Mind Rape, he discovers that not only are demons not all that bad, but there are humans far worse than most demons.
  • In Monster, the main story line is about finding out what turned Johan into an unrepentant Manipulative Bastard and Complete Monster. We get to see all the horrible places he was sent to as a child. However, there's a Spoileriffic detail...: half of it didn't happen to him and the other half didn't change him in the slightest.
    • Played straight in the finale (Or is it?) when Johan reveals that his mother was forced to make a horrible Sadistic Choice in regards to him and his twin sister, Anna, causing Johan to question his own sense of worth.
      • The straightest example is Johan's suicidal tendencies and his attitude to other evil people. Throughout the story, the impression is that he is tired with his own evil nature, something everyone else makes a big deal of, but which, for him, is so plain, ordinary, and banal. He remarks that he is searching for the darkest place or person in the world, but fails to find it, presumably in a search for somewhere he can belong, which won't happen as he is The Antichrist (probably) and therefore more evil than anyone or anything, anywhere on Earth. Hence, he encourages people to try and kill him, and doesn't particularly care for all the apocalyptic plans his followers expect from him and he is presumably destined to fulfill.
  • Ginias Sahalin of 08th MS Team can qualify for this. What can be seen as uncontrollable rage and hatred in the last episode can also be seen as psychological agony, considering that he REALLY starts going off after Aina brings up their mother and his past. And realizing that Aina essentially did the same thing to him as she did, his fanatical dedication to his Wave Motion Gun and the carnage he inflicts goes from mere selfish jerk-assery to an act of psychological desperation by a man with some pretty deep-rooted trauma and pain.
  • In Hajime no Ippo, Mashiba Ryo is a quiet and pretty much sociopathic boxer who's nicknamed "The Executioner" for his horribly violent boxing style. Then, we see his backstory as an orphan who had to raise himself and his little sister, after losing his parents in an accident. By the time we learn what happened to him, Mashiba had pretty much lost faith in others and come to hate everyone but his current boss and Kumi...
  • In Fushigi Yuugi, the Big Bad Nakago gets this treatment via a flashback presented in the final episode, while Tamahome has his fist through him and gets to watch.
  • Broly from the Dragonball Z movie: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan. About 35 minutes in, when Paragus is explaining his motivations to the near-catatonic Vegeta. If seeing Paragus beg for his new son's life to an unrelenting King Vegeta, then watching the shadows cast on the wall from baby Broly being lifted out of his cradle and stabbed doesn't make you sick to your stomach, what the hell will?
    • Vegeta's own backstory will make you cry as well. It's not just the story, but the fact that he tells it with his dying breath and sheds tears over it.
  • An in-story example happens in Code Geass, with Nunnally crying for a dying Lelouch during Zero Requiem. Sort of a subversion, since Nunnally is crying after what Lelouch has actually done what he planned to do all along.
    • It also does it insanely well with Mao in episode 15. He's introduced as a completely diabolical Smug Snake who tries to kill our hero, Lelouch, and chase down C.C. and seems unstoppable with his mind-reading skills. Then C.C. confronts him and of Mao together with her as a (cute, huggable) little boy as she promises to stay with him forever...! And once he's taken care of for the episode, C.C. relates that she found him as a six-year-old orphan and gave him Telepathy that he lost the ability to control and which ultimately caused him to go insane...By the time he finally dies, it isn't a Karmic Death at all...and shouldn't very well be, since it wasn't even his fault he was insane!
  • Diva's backstory in Blood+ is definitely worth the viewer's pity. As a baby, she was separated from her twin sister, Saya, as soon as she was born and locked in a tower without a name and with nothing but the basic necessities to live. Her only companion was a man who was completely obsessed with her and only viewed her as a very interesting, study worthy creature. She spends the first twenty something years of her life like this, after which she escapes with her caretaker. As a result of her seclusion and her ruthless upbringing, she developed an unstable, immature personality and severe attachment issues, being unable to respond to her Chevaliers' undying devotion and affection (which messed up quite a few of them). Despite her deep, desperate craving for a family of her own, she never obtains it, as she dies before her babies emerge from their cocoons.
  • The Fullmetal Alchemist manga does this for Wrath/King Bradley. He was part of an experiment to create the leader of Amestris which involved a Training from Hell beginning in childhood, and then being put through a painful transformation into a homunculus. What makes the character somewhat sympathetic is that, because he had no real identity prior to the transformation, any human that did exist was killed, and you can see Bradley's Pet the Dog moments as the vestige of humanity in him. Nevertheless, he's still an extremely cruel Fantasy Counterpart Culture Adolf Hitler.
  • Twice in Black Lagoon, and literally at that. The first is when Gretel tells Rock about her and her brother Hansel's lives as orphans, snuff film "stars", and hit-children, literally making Rock break down in tears before Karma catches up with her, just like it did with her brother. The second is anime only, showing Balalaika before, during, and after the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
  • Midway though RahXephon, the series throws us a flashback episode about the childhoods of Itsuki, Makoto, and Helena. Seeing Makoto treated as a defective piece of equipment by the closest thing he has to a family, Bahbem and his other clones, and seeing the one thing he loved in life fall apart is pretty heart-wrenching. It doesn't excuse his Jerkass Smug Snake behavior, but it does explain it and cast it in a new light.
  • Miyoko Tanishi, aka Miyo Takano, from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. She never knew her mother, her father got in a car crash, and immediately after her father told her, with his last words, that she should go to live with a Mr. Hifumi, she's told that that's "not how it works" and shipped off to an Orphanage of Fear, where she was brutally abused and saw most of her friends die horrifically. After she was rescued by Hifumi about a year (?) later, she saw his (mostly correct) theories scoffed at and the man himself laughed out of the scientific community. I mean, ouch. After that, it's almost impossible not to feel a little sorry for her.
  • We're told how crappy the life Lucia, from Rave Master, lived before we even get to see any of the horrible things he does as a result. But for good measure, when he's entering the final phase of his plan to destroy the world, we get to see a page or so from back when he was six. If the horrified look on his face after having his mother shot down in cold blood by the government isn't enough for you, then seeing his reaction to being locked up had better be.
  • Alois Trancy from Black Butler season 2. Spent the first episodes abusing his maid and generally acting like a complete Jerkass. Then episode eight reveals in a flashback that Alois lost his brother, the only person he cared about, and was later sold as a sex slave to the earl. After telling his Battle Butler Claude, while bleeding to death from a stab wound he got in the previous episode, that he is the only one he's got left in the world, Claude simply kills Alois and takes his soul. Even Alois's greatest detractors found the scene quite heartbreaking. Having this song playing in the background did not help matters.
  • The Millenium World arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! has a flashback to the Thief King Bakura watching the massacre of his village, Kul Elna, from a hiding place.
  • In chapter 422 of Bleach, Ichigo expresses pity for Aizen after sensing his soul crushing loneliness when their blades clashed. He believes that the Hogyouku didn't reject Aizen; instead, it had finally granted Aizen's true desire: to be on the same level as other Shinigami.
  • Yomi from Ga-Rei Zero fits this trope to a T. The whole descriptive passage above aptly describes her without modification whatsoever.
  • Precia Testarossa in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The Movie First. Unlike the TV version, the viewers are shown her Start of Darkness and get to know exactly why she is the Big Bad. It's quite hard to fully hate someone who tried her best to be a good single working mother for her daughter, Alicia, whose life was shattered because the corporate executives she worked under didn't listen to her warnings, who worked hard despite declining health to return what she had lost, and who never forgave herself for failing to fulfill The Promise of spending more time with her now dead daughter. It certainly helped that this version of Precia was less of a maniacal-laughing psycho than the TV version, and more of a grieving mother with a Fatal Flaw.
  • In Soul Eater, we discover how Crona's mother treated him. She locked him in a dark room (and he was terrified of the dark) with Ragnarok, who repeatedly beat him, as punishment for his refusal to kill another living creature. She kept doing it again and again until he finally gave in, and it's implied that he never had any friends or received any compassion until Maka reached for him.
  • The Big Bad of Speed Grapher receives this near the end of the series. Suitengu Choji is cruel, manipulative, and merciless to those who owe him money or stand in his way, and uses a helpless teenage girl to further his plans. Then, in a flashback episode, the audience sees that Suitengu and his little sister were sold off to pay some of the debt his parents incurred. He was forced into the military to fight for whoever bought him, while his prepubescent sister was sold into prostitution. Years later, he finally tracks her down, only to find that she's so broken that she doesn't recognize him, and he euthanizes her before weeping, distraught, over her body. Everything that he did since was a part of an elaborate plan for revenge against the people directly responsible for his ruined life and the society that allowed it to happen.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin relates events prior to the main Mobile Suit Gundam series from the perspectives of its main characters, protagonists and antagonists alike. A lot of characters from the Principality of Zeon (the "villain" side) are portrayed more sympathetically in this arc, with a lot of focus put on Char Aznable and how an entire life suffering the Zabis' machinations turned him from Zeon Deikun's smart and passionate child to the bitter villain he is in the main series.
  • In the Yandere Fox Girl Short by barikios, a great deal of attention is given to the kitsune's emotions. In fact she is the only character shown expressing grief (admittedly it is pretty short and only 2 characters are depicted, but she shows grief multiple times, plus after the main comic there are stand alone images of her being sad). She comes off more as someone who's mind is ravaged by disease than as "a person who is evil". The sorrow she feels when she is 'betrayed' by the person she loved in particular makes you feel bad for her. Of course when the hero goes on the phone and hears his girlfriend’s health is recovering, you get the sense that what he did was necessary and that there was some No Ontological Inertia going on.

Comic Books

  • In The Killing Joke, there is one frame during the Joker's "One bad day" speech, which no one but the reader can see, in which he looks like a lost little boy, and even though he's shot and crippled Barbara Gordon, then kidnapped and brutalized her father in an attempt to break his sanity, we can't help but sympathise. Bear in mind, however, that the Joker is the king of liars and oft-aware of the fourth wall - who's to say he isn't trying to manipulate the reader as he is everyone else?
  • Herr Starr from Preacher (Comic Book) spends the entire series stomping on puppies. But he was once just a quiet little boy who had the bad luck of attracting the attention of bullies. They held him down and put out his eye with a shard of glass and there's no coming back from something like that.
  • Captain Marvel (from DC Comics) always treated his arch-nemesis Black Adam with hostility - even after Black Adam became a world leader and they had to team up with the Justice League of America to save the world. But on a trip back in time, he met Black Adam as he was before his Heel Face Turn and felt severe guilt. But when he got back to the present, Black Adam - who had spent thousands of years angsting - was not in any mood to receive an apology.
  • Dr. Doom's backstory has his homeland of Latveria being ruled by a cruel tyrant, prompting his mother to make a deal with Mephisto for the power to overthrow him. She does, but then dies afterwards, allowing Mephisto to claim her soul. Much of Doom's descent into villainy is related to his relentless attempts to free her soul through science and sorcery.
    • It Got Worse when he finally succeeded in freeing her soul at the cost of losing his mother's love for him. To save his mother from damnation, he had to make her hate his guts. When Doctor Strange, who witnessed it all, attempts to offer help, Doom quickly brushes him off and stands proudly alone, which is heartbreaking.
  • In-universe, Thor cries for his Arch Enemy and adopted little brother Loki when Loki sacrifices himself at the end of Siege to save Asgard from his own backfiring scheme.
  • Spending your childhood in a Nazi concentration camp would have a dark effect on anybody. Is there any surpises that Magneto sees all men as the kind who would exterminate a people based on a minor ethnic difference, and, as such, would certainly act quicker against mutants?

Fan Works

  • There is an Iron Man: Armored Adventures fanfic that does this for Gene Khan. In the order they occurred, he's seen his father shot in front of him, had his house burned down, his now dirt poor and homeless mother married a man who later killed her, spent the majority of his childhood being beaten and verbally abused by said man, and then his step father casually admitted to raping and killing Gene's mother just to hurt Gene even more. To quote the author, 'he never had a chance at being normal'.
  • Used so often by Naruto fanfics that it's become something of a Dead Horse Trope in that field. A large number of fanfics try to make the Kyuubi into a likable character using this strategy. Apparently, the savagely murderous and vile Kyuubi was just angry because somebody was picking on it or its family; the resulting murderous rampage that killed hundreds and orphaned just as many was a mistake it's very sorry for. Oh, and it's a girl.
    • This backstory has been in use for several years now and has changed little since then, even ignoring key revelations in the manga that would negate it.
      • The funny thing is, Kyuubi really isn't all that bad when you get to know him!
  • My Immortal, arguably. Satan was rather calm and nice (in fact, much more sane and likeable than the protagonist herself) and never did anything directly bad. Dumbledore even demonizes the goths and punks at the school, but Satan seems to ride this off. And he becomes Voldemort, who harasses the main characters constantly.
  • A Period of Silence does this for its main villain, Allucinere. Once an orphan known only as Maya Tromper, she watched her family burn to death when she was very young. Despite spending her youth in an orphanage, she managed to find joy in the form of Esme, a kind, outgoing, somewhat impulsive brunette who formed a perfect contrast to her more reserved nature. They eventually fell in love, but on the night of their high school graduation, Maya and Esme run into a man named Lazario, who arranged for the death of Maya's parents. He shoots Esme right in front of her, which causes her to snap. It wasn't what drove her over the edge, but it does give a certain context to her actions that inspires more of a tragic "what could have been" reaction from the audience rather than simple hatred.
  • There's a slew of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fics that give one-shot villains Gilda (from "Griffon the Brush-Off") and the Great and Powerful Trixie (from "Boast Busters") some sympathy, Character Development, and a shot at redemption, sometimes with a tragic back-story thrown in for good measure. There's also a bit of fanart and fanfic out there that depicts Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon in a sympathetic light, either giving them some Character Development, showing them as Lonely Rich Kids who only have each other as friends, or even having one or both as victims of emotional neglect or abuse. There's even one or two such fics for Prince Blueblood (from "The Best Night Ever"), who most fans regard as completely unsympathetic.


  • A Clockwork Orange, both the Kubrick movie and the original book. Alex, a muderer, rapist, and all-around Complete Monster, becomes sympathetic when he is laid low, repeatedly humiliated, and manipulated for political reasons by a corrupt system. Arguably, it's an ode to Complete Monsters everywhere, because if people aren't free to choose evil, they cease to be people in any meaningful sense.
  • Dr. Seuss' The Grinch. We all know the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas; we know how the cold-hearted, hate-filled Grinch tried to ruin the merriment of the good, honest Whos of Whoville, the wretch. But then, we're given a completely different look at things: we're still given the HOW, but now we're shown the WHY as well - and frankly, who could blame him?
    • It's worth noting that, in the scene where the mayor is giving an annual prize about holiday cheer or somesuch, Cindy Lou Who refers to the page quote and nominates the Grinch, saying that he's the one who needs it most. The fact that the Grinch is played hilariously by Jim Carrey helps.
  • Khan from Star Trek: The Original Series is one mean, manipulative, arrogant bastard, but the movie Wrath of Khan shows that maybe had his planet not turned into a Crapsack World, and a bunch of worms not killed off a third of his people including his wife, he may have been at least "a little" nicer.
    • Especially if you take into account the book To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh, where he really tries to become better and live a peaceful life with his people. He only becomes a villain again because that plan is destroyed by an ecological disaster. (All of which is hinted at in the movie.) That makes it really sad when he says in the film:

"This is Ceti Alpha V!"

  • The film of Bridge to Terabithia has a lot of this. The bully girl has a drunken abusive father, the cold emotionless teacher hasn't gotten over her husband's death, etc.
  • Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty is shown to be a complete bastard, cruel and vindictive towards his underlings. After the mutiny, he is shown in the lifeboat, taking care of the men who joined him. He prays for their safety and gives the bird they killed to the weakest man in the boat. He proves himself a masterful sailor. He and most of the crew survive and reach shore where Bligh regains command of another ship. He then becomes cruel and vindictive again, but the scenes showing him in the lifeboat gave another side that added the slightest respectability to the character.
    • Truth in Television. Bligh was no worse or better than most captains of his day, and he did, in fact, manage to sail that small open boat thousands of miles to safety, saving the lives of his crew who went with him. Meanwhile, back on Pitcairn, things were... less than rosy between Fletcher Christian, his fellow mutineers, and their Tahitian companions.
  • Max, a film from the Netherlands, applies this to no less a monster than Adolf Hitler, imagining a positive interaction between him and an art dealer in 1918, and indicating that, at least in the filmmaker's mind, Hitler might have been redeemed if anyone had loved him. (Alternately, it's about how people ignored all the warning signs of how bad Hitler was. Decide that for yourself.)
  • Darth Vader killed younglings, caused the destruction of the Republic by foolishly believing in a Sith Lord, and later participated in several massacres, but when he sees what he's become and how his son's been hurt, there is plenty of crying for him once he sacrifices himself.
  • The end of Cruel Intentions. Rich Bitch Kathryn Merteuil has spent the entire movie plotting to ruin the lives of people she considers social inferiors, using her stepbrother Sebastian Valmont as the tool for said ruination. She almost gets away with it...but she didn't reckon on two of her former victims deciding to get the goods on her and her schemes. While she's delivering a eulogy for her dead stepbrother in a church, the mourners begin to file out and her Smug Snake facade yields quickly to a "how dare you filthy peasants" sort of rant. She storms out angrily - and finds everyone reading copies of Sebastian's recently published diary, distributed by the two aforementioned victims. Kathryn's entire social circle now knows that she is a mean-spirited schemer and a cocaine addict, and to top it off, she finally gets to read the diary herself and see just how strongly Sebastian felt toward her. And she just stands there and silently cries, humiliated and shamed. Even Word of God in the DVD commentary finds it hard not to feel bad for her now, even considering all the villainy she's committed prior to this.
    • The story this film was based on has the character of Merteuil get it even worse. At least Kathryn will now likely be subjected to psychological help and rehab for her cocaine problem and get better from this phase of her life (IT'S HIGH SCHOOL!). The original Merteuil, on the other hand, loses everything when her reputation crumbles, and to add injury to insult, she contracts smallpox and her face ends up permanently disfigured. She was a manipulative bitch, but damn.
  • The beginning of Rob Zombie's Halloween is this trope; the viewers are expected to know that the cute little boy is serial-killer-to-be.
  • Loki in Thor. On the one hand, he's a conniving, power-hungry liar, willing to betray his brother and doom him to permanent banishment while he usurped the throne. On the other hand, he's a deeply damaged young man who's convinced he's The Unfavorite, especially after finding out he was not only adopted, but from an enemy race, and is desperate for his father's approval and affection.
    • Made even sadder because he already had his father's approval and affection but convinced himself otherwise. And also because he's obviously going down a darker path, being the Big Bad of the Avengers movie.


  • Paradise Lost is probably the Ur Example... for the first few books, anyway.
  • Similarly, everything Blake or Byron ever wrote.
  • Chapter 9: Storm Clouds, from Hell's Children, by Andrew Boland.
  • Wuthering Heights begins by showing the audience Heathcliff as an adult, nasty and abusive to everyone he's around (even sending his hunting dogs after his guest) and then quickly shows his childhood, when he had potential to be a better person. One line that stands out is when, at one point in the story, Nelly, the main narrator, consoles a crying Heathcliff by telling him that he may be a lost Asian prince out of a fairy tale, leading him to imagine regaining such status and taking revenge on everyone who has wronged him in a way that foreshadows his later Face Heel Turn.
  • Although it is actually written more to show a character as villainous who, up to this point, seemed more of a Loveable Rogue, Gogol's novel Dead Souls ends this way. Up to this point, the reader knows that the protagonist Chichikov is some kind of Honest John or con artist who has a mysterious plan to buy the records of recently deceased serfs, and he is presented as more sinned against than sinning. Then, the Lemony Narrator discusses how he came from an upwardly mobile family and, at a young age, had all of his creativity beaten out of him by his father and schoolmasters, leading him to become a Stepford Smiler and Smug Snake and manipulate and betray people in order to rise through the bureaucracy. Periodically, he is caught engaged in corrupt action and has to bribe his even more corrupt colleagues to escape complete disgrace. Thus, by the start of the novel, Chichikov has become something of an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain.
  • J.K. Rowling really loves to play around with this one. Snape is a complete bastard, but is hinted to be a good guy throughout the series. In the end, the reader can't be certain of what side he's on until Harry gets to see his memories and Snape is explained to be a good guy. Voldemort is explained to have had a bad childhood throughout the series, but Rowling says he's the only really bad person in the books.[1] Thus, he was bad from the start and his experiences in life are no excuse for who he is. On the completely opposite side of that is Harry, who had a bad childhood too, and yet is a very surprisingly selfless person.
    • When Harry does feel a twinge of pity for Voldemort after hearing his backstory, Dumbledore tells him to ignore it and to save that pity for Voldemort's many victims. Even after that, in their final confrontation, Harry tries to convince Voldemort to feel some remorse for his deeds to help him restore his soul. Harry knows that Voldemort is doomed to suffer a horrific afterlife otherwise, and it is not a fate he would wish on anyone, not even Voldemort.
  • The last section of Frankenstein shows very sharply that the creature was formed by his surroundings, not created evil.
  • Pretty much all of Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel - if the viewpoint character was anyone else, it'd be a lurid psycho-killer story, and Cave has the skill to make that obvious without breaking first person. There's one utterly heartbreaking scene where Euchrid, isolated and spiraling into paranoid schizophrenia, stumbles into a group of migrant workers and sidesteps a bottle of beer thrown to him with a cry of "catch it!", assuming from experience he's being called catshit and the men mean to beat and rape him.
  • Several characters in American Gods, including the serial child murderer of a small god who is revealed to have started life as a child raised in darkness and isolation for five years, then sacrificed...
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Smeagol/Gollum is a slimy little git—but, of course, he wasn't always that bad...the Ring basically drove him to insanity. Frodo hates Gollum at first, but eventually pities and even tries to help him—in fact, we can see some of Gollum in Frodo himself.

Frodo: But do you remember Gandalf's words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over.

  • Thomas Harris' Red Dragon provides a horrendous backstory for the "Tooth Fairy" Francis Dolarhyde, from his mother rejecting him at birth (illegitimate and with facial deformations), to a rough life in an orphanage, to adoption by his Evil Matriarch grandmother, to eventual adoption by his reluctant mother, whose other children reject and abuse him. After that, the Start of Darkness kicks in, and Axe Crazy as he ends up, he still, at one point, tries, albeit unsuccessfully, to fight his evil Split Personality, even in the middle of being played for an Unwitting Pawn by Hannibal Lecter.
  • In Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the point of the Christmas Past sections is to show how Scrooge became an old meanie. Basically, it shows how he came to believe that 'if you like anybody or let yourself feel any emotion, you'll get hurt'.
  • In Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, this trope, played absolutely straight, is the key to unraveling the Big Bad Storm King's Evil Plan, by showing him The Power of Love at a critical moment.

That was the truth behind this terrible, burning thing. No creature in all the cosmos deserved what had happened to the Storm King.

  • In I, Lucifer, the reader may feel a little swell of tears depending on how sympathetically they see old Luce's story, but an in story example has Raphael shed tears over Lucifer himself, when fighting a losing battle to convince him to redeem himself rather than face eternity in the void.
  • Stephen King does this so much that the trope could almost be named after him. Try to name one villain he's written that hasn't had a flashback to their shitty childhoods (cosmic horrors don't count). King definitely believes that evil people are made, not born.
  • David of Animorphs in his last appearance. After realizing he's been betrayed by Crayak, he accepts his death with dignity and even begs Rachel to end his misery.

David: It's a beautiful world. I'll miss it.

  • Jaime Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire. He was a young, dashing knight, proud member of the Kingsguard. Then he stabbed Aerys II in the back. In a Sympathetic POV, we find out that he didn't do it to help his family win the war - he did it because Aerys ordered the city to be burned with wildfire. Almost everyone in the Seven Kingdoms hates his guts for it. 14 years later, he has become the mask.
  • This is pretty much the point of Wicked; it does have Elphaba do morally ambiguous things (unlike the musical, where usually she tried to do good but it blew up in her face, book-Elphaba does some things that can't even be argued to have good intentions), but it explains where her opposition to the Wizard and her distaste for Ozian society in general come from.
  • Michael Henchard from Hardy's The Mayor Of Casterbridge does some very reprehensible things, including selling his wife and child for the price of a pint (more or less), manipulating his 'daughter' and telling her real father (it's complicated) that she has died because he wants to keep her to himself, and also ruining the life and reputation of another young woman. And yet by the end of the novel, when he dies alone and unloved it is possible to feel immense sympathy for him.

Live Action TV

  • The X-Files episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man".
  • Two similar examples from two TV Sci-Fi shows take a lone member of the Big Bad guys, capture him, and make you feel sorry for him. "I, Borg", from Star Trek, and "Dalek", from Doctor Who.
    • "I, Borg" and the later character 7 of 9 highlight the fact that every one of those unstoppable terrifying Borg drones is really another victim of the Collective with their freewill ripped away from them.
    • And speaking of Doctor Who, who can forget the Master? Tortured for centuries by an incessant drumbeat that no one else could hear, until The End of Time, when it's revealed it was put there by the Time Lords when he was eight so they had a chance to escape the Time War.
  • Glory from Buffy the Vampire Slayer got a moment like this, when she described what being in human form and going crazy was like for her (okay, technically, she wasn't talking about her, but the tone and body language made it kind of impossible not to figure out).

It's like you're in a crowded little dark room, all naked and ashamed... And there are things in the dark that want to hurt you because you're bad... Little pinching things, that go in your ears, and crawl on the inside of your skull... And you know that if the noise and the crawling would stop, then, you could remember the way out... But you never, ever will.

    • An earlier episode features someone who has summoned a bunch of demons to attack the high school senior prom. Buffy, determined to allow her friends one unspoiled moment in high school, corners the culprit and angrily demands to know why someone would want to destroy "the happiest night of the year". The culprit sneers that he has his reasons—and we're treated to a brief flashback of him shyly and politely asking a girl to go to the prom with him, only for the girl to cruelly reject him. This is played entirely for laughs.
      • The above scene can easily be read as a parody of many scenes earlier in the series that were legitimately this trope (the poor kid in "Lie to Me" springs to mind) - we're set up to expect some deeply scarring, tragic scene, and what we get is fifteen seconds of, "Hey, want to go to the prom with me?" "Nope."
  • By the end of Robin Hood, the Gisborne siblings, Guy and Isabella, are all but embracing death as an escape from their miserable lives. Before destroying each other, they share a moment in a jail cell in which Isabella sadly tells her brother: "You loved me once..." and he gives her a vial of poison to quicken her passing. Though she uses it to kill him instead, there is a moment toward the end of the episode in which she looks over his dead body with what looks like regret, and one recalls that, at the end of everything, they were still siblings and did, in fact, love each other long ago.
  • In the first season of Desperate Housewives, Miss Huber was nothing short of a blackmailing antagonist who everyone seemed to dislike. But as she is dying, her final thoughts were revealed to the audience as her life flashes before her eyes. A life of hoping for excitement, and romance, and adventure, and realizing she is about to die after having done nothing with her life.
    • The sixth season episode "Epiphany" does this for the Fairview Strangler, effectively turning them into a Tragic Villain by the end.
  • Benjamin Linus from Lost. It starts with "The Man Behind the Curtain", but it isn't until "The Shape of Things to Come" that it really starts to look like he may not be as much of a villain as everybody thought.


  • Lyrics common to both versions of the song Behind Blue Eyes (The Who's version and Limp Bizkit's version) seem to imply that the character it's sung from the point of view of is a villain, but both versions are still clearly intended to make the listeners feel sorry for the character.


  • Richard III. If you miss the first 15 minutes of the play, Richard is a Jerkass, unrepentant in what he's done, and deserving of all the hatred and scorn he receives. If you DO see the first bit, however, and pay close attention, something stays with you for the entirety of the play:

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

    • And then, in the very next scene, Shakespeare lets us see Richard successfully woo Anne, suggesting that Richard's deformity wasn't his reason for villainy, just his excuse.
    • Shakespeare was pretty good at these: the Thane of Cawdor is an utter bastard, but still a sympathetic character, and even King Claudius has that one scene where you can almost feel bad for him.
  • This is probably one of the biggest themes in Wicked: The Musical. Not only does it get the audience to see from the villain's point of view, but in turn points the finger at society for being such a bitch to one poor, different person.
  • Perhaps moreso as a result of times, but Shylocke, the Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice, has been depicted even more sympathetically than he was during the play's time, and he was already portrayed somewhat sympathetically at the time.

Video Games

  • In Aquaria, you spend the entire game witnessing the effects of the Creator's mad fury, and putting the remains of his creations out of their misery. Once you defeat him, you find out that he was a little boy whose entire family was killed, and "I should have died with them". He's spent hundreds of years trying to create someone who would love him like his mother did. Yeah, you're gonna cry.
  • In Dragon Age, you spend most of the game chasing after Loghain to make him pay for his crimes. When you beat him, you get the chance to execute him. Not only is he suddenly very honourable about it, but picking this choice will make his daughter, Queen Anora, object. Then Loghain kindly hushes her and tells her it's over. When she tells him she's not a child anymore, Loghain says: "Daughters never grow up, Anora. They remain six year olds with pigtails and skinned knees forever." Suddenly, he's transformed from Big Bad to loving father.
  • In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Richter wants to kill Marta, yet Emil still sympathizes with him. It turns out that Richter wasn't always a "bad guy", but is against Ratatosk because of the murder of his friend Aster.
  • In Fable II, we meet completely unrepentant bastard Reaver, whose unthinking and casually selfish evil surpasses the main villain's Well Intentioned Extremism. After the game, you have the option of finding out his backstory: his Moral Event Horizon of sacrificing the entire village of Oakvale was an accident, the unknown cost of a bargain to protect his life and youth. All of his Depraved Bisexual behavior and rampant human sacrifice afterward takes on a new light with the knowledge that his despair basically collapsed in on itself hundreds of years ago.
  • Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII is not terribly sympathetic in the original game, even after learning a bit of his backstory. In the prequel, Crisis Core, however, the character's origins as a heroic member of SOLDIER are explored. He still comes off as aloof, but has a more human side, and maintains real friendships with Genesis and Angeal. The revelations about his true nature are detailed in more depth than in the original game, and though it doesn't excuse his later actions, it's hard not to feel sorry for him in those moments.
  • Ultimecia in Final Fantasy VIII is another one, though most english-speaking fans only know it if they played the original Dissidia. In that game, she has numerous lines that heavily imply she longs for the innocent and happy days of her childhood, and moreso, that this longing is the actual driving force behind everything she does (this is even the point of her final speech to Squall, and the final text speech you get if you don't beat her as Squall in Shade Impulse). This motivation was apparently present originally in FFVIII, but was removed in the english port. For some reason, the writers for Dissidia Duodecim thought this was an excellent idea, as the rewrites for the 13th cycle in that game remove absolutely every trace of this aspect of her character, leaving a single line to Terra as the only hint of this part of her personality.
  • The bitter, nihilistic warlord Lans Tartare - it's revealed in the prequel/GaidenGame The Knight of Lodis, where he is the main character Alphonse Loeher, that the entire reason he's that way is because of the death of his best friend and girlfriend in the canon ending.
  • Silent Hill 4: Walter Sullivan. Just...Walter Sullivan. It's almost enough to excuse the fact that he's a delusional Serial Killer.
  • Fate/stay night uses this for every villain except Gilgamesh, who never gets any excuse at all. Even Shinji and Zouken get minor flashbacks, showing us how they ended up that way.
    • Gilgamesh's sympathetic backstory is actually a mix of All There in the Manual and offhanded lines spoken in Fate/Zero, the prequel novels.
  • Seiken Densetsu 3 does this with the wizard Koren, though it depends on whether you pick Angela or Duran as your main character. As the second to final boss, you defeat Koren, who then laments doing so much damage, claiming that, in his desperation to gain magic power, he sold his soul to the Dragon Emperor. If Duran is your lead character, he feels sorry for Koren and it makes the player do so as well as Koren takes his own life. However, if Angela, who hates Koren, is your main character, you get a much different scene. Koren claims it wasn't his fault; but Angela refuses to forgive him as he brainwashed Valda, her mother, into neglecting her and then tried to make Valda kill Angela. Angela calls him a coward and while Koren still takes his own life, it is made to seem as if Angela wanted to deal the killing blow instead.
  • Many players of In Famous felt this way about Kessler once they discovered he was Cole from an alternate future, doing everything in his power to ensure that, this time around, Cole will be able to fight "The Beast", the being that destroyed his world and life. Cole himself, however, is unmoved—he refuses to forgive Kessler for his heinous actions, even knowing why he acted the way he did and that he might even be justified in the long run.
    • To say nothing of the Beast himself! Hell, it's arguable if he even qualifies as evil when we learn who and what he actually is. He's just stuck in a situation where it's the Muggles or the Conduits, and he's a Conduit.
  • God of War: Kratos spends the course of three games murdering everything in Greek mythology on a quest for vengeance. He is presented as a violent, sadistic monster (though still not as bad as a lot of the more traditional Greek heroes), but he wasn't always this way. His desire for conquest led to him making a pact with the god Ares, offering his life in exchange for power. He and his army slaughtered thousands of innocents, and he grew more monstrous every day. But when Ares tricked him into murdering his own wife and child, Kratos realized the horror of what he had done, and tried to become The Atoner by serving the Gods of Olympus. The twist in all this is that Kratos is the player character. The experience of playing as him and seeing things from his point of view is the only thing that inspires sympathy from the audience; in any other situation, he'd be the villain.
  • Gehn doesn't get much back-story in Riven (aside from a journal entry mourning his dead wife), but read The Book of Ti'ana and you learn he lost his home world and almost his whole family - save only his mother, who was partly (albeit unintentionally) responsible for it. Then, at eighteen, he loses his young wife in childbirth. Everything he does is to try and restore his lost childhood. Not that it justifies his actions...
    • Saavedro from Exile, though played straighter. He might be insane, but he has good reason to be.
  • In Pokémon Platinum, you, at one point meet, an old man, who bemoans not intervening in his grandson's shattering, pressured life when he saw that the boy was falling apart from trying to live up to what his parents wanted. He doesn't mention the boy's name, but there's more than enough clues to point straight to who he's talking about: Cyrus. Made even more tragic by the fact that, by this point in the plot, Cyrus has already exiled himself to a parallel dimension and there's no way to tell his grandfather this or take him there or anything.
    • And therein lies the greater tragedy. For all the academic success, a great number of people can see the potential for good in Cyrus. The one person who needed to see this the most was the one conditioned into never seeing it at all. One of the brightest minds in Sinnoh instead dedicated himself to its unmaking...Cyrus' faith was in his parents seeing him as a point of pride, and the more you place your faith in one cause, the farther it has to fall.
  • Vergil from Devil May Cry, particularly in the third game, Dante's Awakening, after Vergil falls into Hell:

Lady: Are you crying?
Dante: It's only the rain.
Lady: The rain already stopped.
Dante: Devils never cry.
Lady: I see. Maybe somewhere out there even a devil may cry when he loses a loved one. Don't you think?
Dante: Maybe.

  • Moric and Qualna in MARDEK chapters two and three, respectively. Qualna turns out to only want to peacefully resolve the conflict between Rohoph and the Governance Di Magi. Rohoph goes ahead and seals his soul anyway. And Moric...Oh boy.
  • Dark Cloud 2's Sirus and Gaspard get this, each, and it's a Tear Jerker when they come to their final denouement.
  • The City of Heroes arcs that explore the origins of Countess Crey and Vanessa DeVore portray both as starting out well-intentioned, but losing sight of that en route to becoming the villains they are now.
  • If you don't feel sorry for Wendy at the end of Rule of Rose, you have no soul. It was all her fault, but she paid the ultimate price. Love Makes You Crazy.
  • In Portal 2, GLaDOS, after she gets her "face" ripped off and her systems shoved into a potato.
  • NieR: Quite simply, if you don't cry for the Shades when you realize what they are, you literally posses the antithesis of a soul. Arguable, given how they aren't even really villains to begin with...
  • Cuphead; ironically for this Trope, the Devil is one of the few Bosses in the game nobody feels sorry for, along with Mr. King Dice and Chef Saltbaker from the DLC. Everyone else, however, is different. Most of the bosses are nasty, some seem downright sadistic, all are trying to kill Cuphead and Mugman (and with some, like Cala Maria, it seems likely they've killed people before), but then you remember why the duo is fighting them - these are debt-runners trying to defend themselves from having their souls taken, making the whole game one big Mook Horror Show.

Web Animation

  • The Director of Project Freelancer in Red vs. Blue qualifies to an extent. His narrated letters to the Chairman in Reconstruction make the Director sound like a bitter, unfeeling monster who rampantly mistreats artificial intelligences and doesn't care who he has to hurt to get the job done. Then, his final letter at the very end of the season/series makes him sound like a lonely old man who has lost everything that ever mattered to him and is now being hounded by holier-than-thou bureaucratic twits who will never understand what he's been through or what it takes to survive. (It is debatable whether or not this makes viewers sympathize with him, but at least it adds new dimensions to his character.)

Web Comics

  • Gunnerkrigg Court: despite his nickname, Ysengrin is not a nice wood wolf. We first see him trying to instigate a war and attempt to skewer a 12-year-old girl for a percieved slight. Then you find out the incredible toll his powers have taken on him...
  • The Order of the Stick: in the prequel book Start of Darkness, we learn why Redcloak turned evil: he's doing what he thinks is the only thing he can to save the goblin race from being slaughtered without provocation like his entire tribe was.
    • Averted with Xykon. The author states outright in the foreword that Xykon is not only evil, but a jerk as well. The backstory was designed so that the audience would have no sympathy for him. (Beyond the first panel, at least.)
      • Bizarrely, the scene where Xykon realizes he can no longer taste the terrible coffee at the evil diner is still rather affecting, just because his love of coffee was his one and only humanizing trait. Not even a particularly good or noble trait, but a human one, and it's both sad and terrifying when that is gone.
  • Lots of this in Sinfest, including, but not limited to, this comic.

Western Animation

  • In-story example in She Ra: Evil Overlord Hordak has been poisoned, and the magic poison will kill him within a certain time period if he cannot find anyone willing to cry for him. Since She-Ra doesn't want anyone to die, even Hordak, she helps him by taking him to see almost everyone he's ever known, learning about his history along the way. With time almost up, it turns out that there is nobody at all who won't be glad to see Hordak dead. She-Ra herself cries over the realization of just how thoroughly Hordak has wasted his life.
    • Bit of Fridge Brilliance here: Hordak borders on Complete Monster, sure. Yes, he kidnapped Adora and tried to mold her into his Dragon and weapon...but he still raised her.
      • Not very well though. She not only rebelled against him, her father for all purposes, but also fails to be Daddy's Little Villain by not being Pragmatic Evil enough to kill him off. Too scrupled to be a good villain and far too stupid to be an effective hero with the self imposed Thou Shall Not Kill. So sad.
  • Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender. With her Villainous Breakdown in the series finale exposing her repressed inner problems, particularly regarding her mother, many expressed pity for the sociopathic princess, including Zuko and Katara (who had just defeated her), much of the fanbase, and even Mike and Bryan themselves.
    • A little bit earlier, Katara discovers an old drawing of a smiling, happy, innocent-looking baby. Zuko then points out that it was a drawing of Fire Lord Ozai himself, which does more to put a face and a history on him than three seasons of characterization previously, as well as remind everyone that Ozai is human, too.
    • Early, early in Season One, we were getting this for Zuko - his back-story certainly seemed to explain many of his evil tendencies. But then he went through a long character arc, eventually ending in a Heel Face Turn, so there was no devil to cry for.
  • Generator Rex, episode 8. Poor, poor, Breach.
  • Toy Story 3's Lotso gets this reaction from the audience when they learn his backstory. He ends up squandering it completely.
  • Judge Claude Frollo, Big Bad of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, has the best Villain Song in the entire Disney Animated Canon because of this trope. Behind closed doors, he prays to the Virgin Mary for protection from Esmeralda's "witchcraft", which he wholeheartedly believes is driving him to sin through lustful, burning desire. He begs Mary to either burn Esmeralda in Hell or deliver her to him as his love to free him from his sin. He may be a vicious Knight Templar, but he truly wants to be a good man, struggling with powerful inner demons he cannot control.

Frollo: God have mercy on her...God have mercy on me...

    • The man is a Complete Monster of the highest order, but the way he whimpers the "God have mercy on me..." line...for a brief moment, Frollo has the audience's pity. It doesn't last, but it's there.
  • The Ice King from Adventure Time at first just seems an ineffectual and mildly creepy princess kidnapper. Then we learn his tragic backstory and find out he Was Once a Man and has been slowly driven to madness by an Artifact of Doom, and even the emotionally oblivious main characters feel for him.
  • Done brilliantly in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Heart Of Ice" which focuses on Mr Freeze and turns him into a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Mr Freeze is almost completely unemotional, coldhearted and willing to kill anyone who stops him from getting revenge. But his backstory shows that he was trying to save his wife Nora when a heartless exec (Who was never caught) destroyed the lab for wasting money, permanently altering Freeze and killing his wife. The show treats him with an enormous amount of sympathy (His famous "Never again" monologue) and the target of his vendetta is treated as a Complete Monster who, while not dying, gets his long overdue Justice. The episode is always rated as being one of if not the best episodes of the series and benchmark for animated television.
  1. A bold claim.