Dark Shepherd

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Murphy: "Do not kill, do not rape, do not steal. These are principles which every man of every faith can embrace!"
Connor: "These are not polite suggestions! These are codes of behavior -- and those of you that ignore them shall pay the dearest cost!"

Simon (to Jayne, after surviving his betrayal): "I'm trusting you. I suggest you do the same, because I don't see this working any other way." (Exits)
River (to Jayne): "Also, I can kill you with my brain."

Good's version of temptation. When moral argument falls on deaf ears, a Good Shepherd might have a Dark Shepherd moment, herding the sheep along the path of righteousness with the stabby end of the crook.

If the baddie has been remonstrated in some morally sound way, once they're around the corner, safe and alone, they may suffer doubt... or perhaps he was only acting remorseful to escape, with no intention of repentance. Whether out of habit or malice, the villain is poised to forget the moral lesson and do the exact same thing that got him in trouble. At which point, the Dark Shepherd steps in.

The Good Shepherd is optimistic in his heavenly intentions and arguments, but the Dark Shepherd focuses on the evil in people. The Dark Shepherd resorts to threats and fear in the sheep's moment of doubt or descent, to scare the sheep away from the edge of the cliff.

The Dark Shepherd can be evil. His point is that you shouldn't be. While his good counterpart has integrity, the Dark Shepherd has low expectations. Out of sympathy or disgust, he sees the sheep as an egocentric, thoughtlessly driven by pleasure or pain, incapable of learning, or perhaps just too addicted to bad behavior, too weak to make the right decision like a hero.

If the sheep won't do the right things for the right reasons, the Dark Shepherd encourages an alternative.

A Dark Shepherd moment can become a lasting transformation when a good character is made weak by a lapse of faith, resorting to evil methods (intimidation, insult, injury) to achieve an end. The underlying assumption can be dark: Good deeds aren't intrinsically satisfying enough. However, the Dark Shepherd may remain good and faithful if the motivation behind his action is merciful: Good is hard to understand and choose at first, so in the meantime...

Heaven is the carrot; Hell is the stick; the Dark Shepherd wields the latter.

(Watch for common markers such as surprising the sheep alone with their conscience and giving incentive that a more moral character Good Shepherd is unable to give with integrity.)

Through the lens of Good Cop, Bad Cop, the Dark Shepherd closes the sieve. However, usually aware of the somewhat shameful nature of his persuasion, the Dark Shepherd's work is often private, behind the back of any Good Shepherd that may put a stop to it.

Examples of Dark Shepherd include:


  • The twins and Il Duce of Boondock Saints have a Dark Shepherd final speech, unique in that they are warning the unidentified stray sheep via P.A.

Live Action TV

  • River Tam from Firefly clarifies Jayne's situation ("Also, I can kill you with my brain.") when she suspects that Simon's eloquent trust speech may not be effective. An example of an arguable good-neutral character borrowing the crook for a moment.
    • Shepherd Book is a Good Shepherd with Dark Shepherd moments, like his "Special Hell" comments from "Our Ms. Reynolds".


  • Jesus himself. He is always condemning corrupt religious leaders and not uncommonly doing a Drill Sergeant Nasty even on people who really want to learn, even on his own closest disciples. On the other hand he did not make distinctions and anyone who wished to follow him, whether honest priests, repentant prostitutes, repentant tax collectors (at the time that almost always meant "racketeer" because of a system that let collectors keep the surplus) and even gentiles including Roman soldiers. Or just average Joes and Janes. Those who had sins to get rid of, or Earthly needs to heal, were allowed near him. But he can make a rather painful read, and anyone who thinks that he is an amiable fellow has not read scripture.
  • Moses. To this day many Jews make a point of only saying a partial Hallel (praise chant) for Passover. Celebrating their freedom is fine, celebrating the suffering of their enemies is less so.
  • Judah Maccabee. He was a war leader, not a priest -- but he came from a priestly family and led Jewish resistance against the Hellenistic persecutors.

Oral Tradition

  • A common joke whose basic skeleton is that an atheist challenges God to knock him down if He exists. Some audience member comes up and shoves the guy, stating: "God was busy, so He sent me." The words alone are Good Shepherd; the threat implied by the violence is Dark Shepherd.


  • Russian Stalinists think Stalin was this, and the purpose of his cruelty was scare any and all crooks, mobsters, corrupt bureaucrats and conspirators straight. Since The New Russia is particularly full of mobsters and corrupt bureaucrats, they desperately want someone to do this again.
  • Mao Zedong and Pol Pot were both ruthless leaders who are determined to create a "proletarian paradise", and have no problems in disposing millions of people who they consider as enemies or of no use to them.

Tabletop Games

Web Comics

  • Baron Wulfenbach's modus operandum in Girl Genius; since the aristocracy can't be relied on to develop a decent society, he'll civilize Europa with an iron fist. His son Gil is struck with an epiphany of this, after beating down a thug persistently strong-arming him into returning to his father against Gil's protests.

Western Animation

  • Batman: The Animated Series is full of classic Dark Shepherd, usually used on civilians who are corrupt but not yet evil. The Batman doesn't claim to be good, he doesn't act good, but he wants everyone to be good. Most common Dark Shepherd scenario: vanishing, leaving a potential villain with food for thought, but not a scratch on him yet.