Default to Good

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Luke: So... you got your reward and you're just leaving then?
Han Solo: That's right, yeah. I got some old debts I've got to pay off with this stuff. Even if I didn't, you don't think I'd be fool enough to stick around here, do you? Why don't you come with us? You're pretty good in a fight. We could use you.
Luke: Come on. Why don't you take a look around? You know what's about to happen, what they're up against. They could use a good pilot like you. You're turning your back on them.
Han Solo: What good's a reward if you ain't around to use it? Besides, attacking that battle station ain't my idea of courage. It's more like... suicide.
Luke: All right. Well, take care of yourself, Han. I guess that's what you're best at, isn't it?
[starts to storm off]
Han Solo: Hey, Luke... may the Force be with you.
[Luke exits. Chewie growls]
Han Solo: What're you lookin' at? I know what I'm doin'.

Fairly often in fiction, a Dedicated Loner character will appear. He (or more rarely, she) is pretty useless, evil, or just a little strange. However, sometimes these Switzerland types are in possession of just enough power to sway the final battle, should they choose to get involved. If they do, the chances are excellent that they'll end up throwing in with the Good Guys at the very last minute and providing the decisive element in the victory over evil. Sometimes they provide a little more decisive element than necessary.

These unaffiliated loners may initially refuse to join a side for many reasons. They may not care about the conflict in question ("Eh, meet the new boss, same as the old boss"), or may not care enough to consider it worth risking their own precious skins ("I'm not stupid, I'm not expendable, and I'm not going,") or may have reasons to hate both sides of the fight equally ("A plague on both your houses; I hope you annihilate each other completely and leave the world a better place.") Generally, they relish their uninvolved status, although you may see them randomly helping out the Good Guys (or even the Bad Guys) once or twice just because it livens up a dull day.

Occasionally, this particular loner gets stuck with what might be called a "destiny choice", especially if he appears in Epic Fantasy—the character's personal salvation depends on his making the "right" choice at a certain juncture. The salvation of the rest of the World As We Know It becomes something of an afterthought. The moment of choice will be accompanied by loud exhortations from the Good Guys to "Choose well!" If the loner character manages to screw up "the big choice", it's definitely a subversion.

If you want to bring one of these guys over on to your team, there are a couple of simple suggestions you might want to follow:

If You Are The Good Guys: Don't attempt to bribe him through false displays of affection. He'll see right through it and scorn you for the attempt. Bribing with cold hard cash or other valuable commodities might work, but make sure the bribe is of an appropriate size; these guys never come cheap. They will be offended if the offered price undervalues their worth. Generally, trying to guilt them into helping you out won't work either, although there are exceptions. Your best bet is to win them over with a genuinely unforced gesture of friendship or affection, with no agenda behind it. Picking an attractive member of the appropriate gender to offer this gesture may be effective, but again, don't pander or it will backfire. You can also try reason: "Do you want to live in the kind of world the Big Bad is going to create? No? Then make yourself useful!" The odds are in your favor if you don't mess it up by being too obvious.

If You Are The Bad Guys: Whatever you do, do not choose this character as a subject to randomly display how evil you are. If he wasn't inclined to help those other twits out at first, dropping him into a tank of flesh-devouring blood eels to prove your villain credentials won't help. He'll happily forget whatever grudge he had against the Good Guys and join up with them in order to take you down. Displays of affection are out since you're Evil. But, since you are Evil, chances are you can outbid the Good Guys either in mercantile goods or in offers of worldly power. Good, in addition to being dumb, is also often cash-strapped. Remember that the odds are against you in this effort, however; if the loner refuses your carefully considered and politely delivered bribe, kill him immediately. Do not take half measures! These types are noticeably difficult to dispose of, and if you fail to kill him, well...remember what we told you about the tank of blood eels? Same deal, only more so.

Note that this is not the same as either a Heel Face Turn or a Face Heel Turn. Someone who Defaults To Good was neither a Heel nor a Face to begin with; they are affiliated with neither of the main sides until some critical point very late in the story. For most of the tale, they are only on their own side, although they may have an affiliation with a third group that is not taking an active part in the main conflict.

Defaulting To Good is sometimes a Changed My Mind, Kid moment.

Examples of Default to Good include:

Anime and Manga

  • Subverted, then played straight by Rabat in Vandread flees before the final battle at the end of season 1. Despite pleas from the crew of the Nirvana, he never comes back. Then at the end of season 2, he not only fights in the final battle, but brings a whole fleet with him!
  • Averted like hell with Amon Garam in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. After being neutrally helpful (but manipulative!) throughout the first arc of season three and then showing his own goals in the second (but still a bit helpful, if distant), you get to the spot right after Haou has been defeated, where he steps up and sacrifices the woman who loves him and that he loves back in order to control Exodia. Then, he starts his plan to become king of the world. But then it's double subverted (without being subverted in the first place, get over it) when he reveals himself as a Well-Intentioned Extremist.


  • As noted in the starting quote, Han Solo is the most famous example of this trope. While he certainly wasn't the first to pull this move, people of a certain generation will never forget "YAHOOOOO! You're all clear, kid. Now let's blow this thing and go home."
  • The real ur-example has to be Rick, the original Mr. "I stick my neck out for no one," from Casablanca. He pulls it off so well he gets Captain Renault to turn right after him.
  • Happens a couple of times in Michael Clayton to two different characters.

Live Action TV

  • Gabriel winds up doing this in Supernatural. He helped advance the villain's agenda in his second appearance on the show, and tried to advance it in his third, because he thinks the whole destined mess should be gotten over with as quickly as possible, but he doesn't actively back either side. His official story is he doesn't care; it's pretty clear he doesn't want to be responsible for either side losing because he cares about them both, but then:

Gabriel: I've been riding the pine a long time, but I'm in the game now. And I'm not on your side, or Michael's. I'm on theirs.
Lucifer: Brother, don't make me do this.
Gabriel: No one makes us do anything.


  • Averted hard in Lloyd Alexander's The Iron Ring. The neutral king Bala, who has been curt to both good and bad sides, not only throws in with the bad guys in the final battle, but tips the scales greatly in their favor.
  • In The Fionavar Tapestry, the big Destiny Choice goes to Darien, son of the Big Bad. He chooses for Light (of course) and, well, you can guess how that ends up.
  • In Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, just before the climactic battle, the forces of the Dark attempt to stick John Rowlands (who, being human, is a part of neither the Light nor the Dark and is not even really aware that there is a conflict going on) with this choice, bribing him with a promise of freeing his possessed wife from their control in exchange for his deciding in their favor on a matter critical to the outcome of the big battle. He is not fooled, however, and this little move causes him to side decisively with the Light, as he both rules in their favor on the matter in contention, and goes on to play a small but vital role in the final victory.
  • In David Eddings' Malloreon Cyradis, explicitly described as the incarnation of True Neutral, has the sole purpose of deciding whether the Child of Light or the Child of Dark won. It's described as being as random as a coin flip, but needless to say, she picks good. It helps that the forces of Dark blatantly tried to cheat.
    • Well, the good also cheated by removing her blindfold, which led to her losing her prophetic powers.
  • Subverted, like so many things, in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Lord Eddard Stark thinks he has secured the vital loyalty and aid of "declared neutral" Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. However, that fellow has gone over to the Bad Guys instead. The results are not pretty.
  • Riana, The One Immortal, in the novel Lord Brother by Carolyn Kephart. A very powerful magic-user but chronically neutral, she's initially only concerned with lounging around and having sex with the main character or whatever other gorgeous man might come her way. By the end, she's moved to provide what is almost a Deus Ex Machina to help the good guys.
  • In Garth Nix's Old Kingdom, this role falls to Yrael, also called Mogget.

Western Animation

  • Subverted in an episode of She Ra Princess of Power. Both the Rebels and the Evil Horde court a magical being (in the form of a talking tree) to get it on their side. Just when you think it'll go with the good guys, instead it says, "I choose to - think about it" and vanishes.