Dirty Coward

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Don't eat me! I have a wife and kids! Eat them!"

Homer Simpson, The Simpsons

"I surrender! Here, eat my friends! Just give me one more second of sweet, sweet life!"

Bender, Futurama

Though the Dirty Coward may be a sociopath, he's not nearly as cool as the Sociopathic Hero (nor as funny as the Comedic Sociopath), and if he's a bastard, he's not magnificent. The Dirty Coward is the slime of the earth, working exclusively for himself and shamelessly removing himself from harm's way even if that harm was about to hit The Messiah that just saved his life two seconds ago. He'll take every advantage and use every dirty trick, but cry and moan every time the tables are turned. He's not above using dishonorable tactics and will face defeat like a coward. He is often full of vicious plans for anyone he dislikes, until someone asks Who Will Bell the Cat?.

Even the cleverest Dirty Coward tends to be short-sighted. Even knowing that if he breaks ranks, he will leave a hole in the defenses that will let the enemy in, leading to far more danger for him, he will generally run (and get shot In the Back). Or he will badmouth people to their faces, when they can not immediately hurt him, to curry favor with someone who can, even if the latter threat is obviously less in the long run. Dirty Cowards are especially prone to suffering a Karmic Death, usually at the hands of whatever he was trying to run from.

Usually a villain unless used comically, although they may sometimes be a certain type of civilian that gets in the way, a Designated Hero, or a character that's supposed to be a loveable coward but comes off as more slimy than funny, the dirty coward may or may not have a horrific past to explain his actions, but it doesn't usually redeem him, at least not in the minds of the audience. When his story doesn't do it for the audience but convinces the hero, it causes a major cop-out. Unlike most villains, the dirty coward doesn't even have finesse, which can annoy the audience. The best way to make this character tolerable is to make him at least clever. Some enlightened self-interest can occasionally be mixed in, although much of it means that he's no longer the Dirty Coward. Often, when used as a villain, this is a cheap way to make the heroes look good in comparison, even if they're not everything they should be. Villainous Dirty Cowards tend to fall squarely into Neutral Evil, since they are first and foremost out for their own hides at the expense of others, though it's not too uncommon for certain villains of other evil alignments to display this streak when they come across someone who they cannot deal with by their usual tactics.

The Dirty Coward is pretty much Always Male, for the dubious reason that women aren't expected to be brave in the first place, and are allowed to sacrifice others to save themselves. As Action Girls become increasingly unremarkable, this may start to change in the near future.

In video games, this trope might apply to a Cowardly Boss, but is far more likely to apply to a "Get Back Here!" Boss.

May be the Miles Gloriosus, and even believe his own brags when out of danger. The Fearless Fool may invoke this to persuade his companions to act like idiots. Not to be confused with the Combat Pragmatist, who may employ tactics that can be considered dirty and cowardly but does so out of cold calculation rather than fear. Contrast the Lovable Coward, who numbers among the good guys and has foibles portrayed far more sympathetically. The So-Called Coward is by definition mistaken for one of these.

Examples of Dirty Coward include:

Anime and Manga

  • Takehiko Inoue's Vagabond features Hon'iden Matahachi, whose usual "flight instead of fight" response) fuels his inferiority complex compared to his childhood friend Shinmen Takezou; after he didn't have the bravery (or whatever) to follow Takezou into a shed they're physically separated, and over the next four years he only catches fleeting glimpses of his former friend now called Miyamoto Musashi. It doesn't help that Matahachi had become a con artist passing himself off as Sasaki Kojirou, and is very self-conscious of his self-preservation instinct and inferiority complex both conflicting with his desire to exceed Musashi (if only in name, pinning his hopes and idolation on the real Kojirou as being the one who could overcome Musashi in fact).
  • Shinji Ikari of Neon Genesis Evangelion fervently believes himself to be a Dirty Coward, even though he's saved the world quite a few times despite being terrified while doing so. This is partially because his life just sucks that much. His infamous mantra, "I mustn't run away! I mustn't run away!" is him chiding himself for being frightened when he has absolutely every reason to be terrified of the giant monsters trying to kill him.
  • Pop from Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken started out like this, but he gets better.
  • Magnifico from Berserk is a good example and has yet to grow out of this.
  • Defied by Big Bad Phantom from MAR, who regularly kills any and every mook that runs from battle. He only does this a few times onscreen, but it is clearly established that he despises cowards. He even denies his mooks the death of the protagonist Ginta, saying that, since he's a worthy opponent, there's no reason to kill him until he's strong enough to put up a proper fight.
  • Akito Tenkawa spends much of the early part of Martian Successor Nadesico trying to flee from combat, though to be fair he's got some fairly serious psychological problems considering it's a comedy series. Unlike a certain other pilot of whom he is partly a parody, he gets over it. Eventually.
  • Mad Scientist Akihiro Kurata from Digimon Savers, just one of the many, many things that we hate about him.
    • However, this does make his downfall much more entertaining when we see this Complete Monster begging for his life as ShineGreymon Burst Mode gives him exactly what he had coming.
  • Zofis from Zatch Bell, who is revealed to be afraid of Brago and anyone with more power than him.
  • Jackal, a minor arc villain from Fist of the North Star, is the practitioner of a martial art called "Nanto Bakusatsu-ken" -- South Star Exploding Kill Fist. Despite the grandiose name, the style consists mainly of throwing sticks of dynamite at enemies while at a remove. Kenshiro calls him on this by snidely asking him if it's even truly a martial art.
    • Also applies to almost all minor thugs in the series who live long enough to realize that they're screwed. A lot of them end up completely breaking down and begging for their lives. Doesn't help that Kenshiro just loves delayed death attacks.
  • Chaka from Black Lagoon is a sociopathic asshole whose specialty seems to be Kicking the Dog and who sees nothing wrong with beating a noncombatant just to provoke his colleague into a gunfight, then running away while toting a human shield when things go badly for him and shooting several of his henchmen just because he's pissed. He fancies himself a Wild West gunman, but he's nothing more than a stupid, incompetent prick who thinks himself something far more than what he actually is.
  • Kishin Asura from Soul Eater became a physical font of insanity and evil because he was scared of everything—which led to paranoia and the desire to become so powerful that no one could harm him, at any cost.
  • Yoki from Fullmetal Alchemist constantly suffers the consequences of his scumbag actions, mostly because he keeps lying and backstabbing so he can bribe his way into a higher military rank. Every nasty scheme backfires, landing him in nastier and nastier situations to the point that he's the manga's resident Chew Toy. One of the characters even points out it's entirely his own fault how he gets into these messes.
    • In the manga, he finally starts to move out of this, first becoming actually useful, and then later showing some courage by ramming a car into Pride.
      • Let's clarify here. Yoki, the coward, who up to this point has been all about saving his own skin, rams the embodiment of shadows with a car, which could very well get him killed. Aw yeah.
    • In the manga, this was the accusation of Kimblee against Pride. On realizing he was near death, Pride tried to take over Ed's body as a new host, just moments after explaining his hatred of humans. Kimblee couldn't stand the cowardice and hypocrisy.
  • Tower of God gives you Parakewl, a tall, haughty jerkass with a green fish face, who in general calls everybody scum, is the first to abandon somebody, demands that people should be sacrificed for his ends or in his stead, sticks up for nobody, openly switches sides to gain the majority's favor and has neither skill nor intelligence to back his behaviour up. He is known in fandom as the ass. Why he survives is a ystery to all.
  • The first Big Bad of Mahou Sensei Negima is pwned by Chachazero after running from the final battle of the Kyoto arc. Chachazero's Hannibal Lecture is clear on this.
    • The whole incident is practically a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Chachazero, as the point of her Hannibal Lecture is proven completely true when she gives Chigusa the most ignominious defeat ever: scaring her so badly that she fainted, revealing her cowardly nature.
  • Hol Horse from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure manages to be the only recurring villain in Part Three...by running for his life whenever things go wrong. He also refuses to ever work alone, despite being an assassin; he knows how weak his Stand is against most other Stands, after all. The incident that finally dispatches him even comes about because of his cowardice: told by a fortune-telling book that he'll kill Jotaro at noon, he takes the shot from a far distance and from cover... which allows for a Prophecy Twist to send the bullets back into his head.
    • To be fair, Thoth was prescribing that shoot-from-cover bit. The only thing Hol did wrong was use his own watch, which was fast, rather than a perfectly accurate clock. Had he done that, the bullets would have hit Jotaro along with the water burst from the pipe. Also, he didn't die -- like with Enya, he disengaged Emperor before the wounds could become fatal.
    • A much better example of the Dirty Coward in the series is Alessi, whose Stand allows him to de-age anyone who touches his shadow. This is the only way he's willing to fight anyone (unlike Hol, who just adheres to the creed "run away to fight another day"). And even then, he has to use an axe to fight them. And to think he keeps calling himself a "good boy"...
  • Genma Saotome, father of the titular character of Ranma ½, falls somewhere between this and Lovable Coward. Despite being one of the more formidable martial artists in the locale, whenever trouble arises (and it's often his fault that it does), his plan of action invariably boils down to some variant of "run away" or "make Ranma deal with it". Whether it's pinning the blame on Ranma, telling Ranma that it's his "duty" to handle things, or simply vanishing into the woodwork and leaving Ranma with no choice but to try and handle something he hasn't the faintest idea about, Genma virtually never lifts a finger to help.
  • Yajirobe from Dragon Ball qualifies as this most of the time. With the exception of the time he ate Cymbal and him crawling out from behind a rock long enough to cut off Vegeta's tail, he'll constantly hide, cower and be a general wuss. Interestingly, when we first meet him he was seemingly set up as Goku's new Rival, before falling into Can't Catch Up even faster than all the other characters did.
    • Goku's brother Raditz is a more unlikeable example. For a sapian race of blood knights who would actually prefer death when defeated in battle than living with the shame of losing, he sure has the nerve to beg his younger, weaker (at the time) brother to let him go, only to backstab him when freed. Goku wasn't fooled again when he tried the same trick on him.
    • Frieza is proven to be one of these once he's no longer inaccessibly stronger than everyone around him.
      • Deep down, this is Frieza's ultimate motivation for killing the Sayians-he's afraid that they'll produce a Super Sayian, which will be his undoing.
  • Daemon Spade from Katekyo Hitman Reborn turns out to be one of these when facing someone who can actually defeat him. His "special move" is to bravely, bravely, run away to another dimension.
  • One Piece.
  • Yuna Roma Seiran of Gundam Seed Destiny was a snivelling coward and wannabe Manipulative Bastard who got Orb into the war on the Earth Forces' side, takes command of the army at the front...and then proceeds to spend the entire campaign having one panic attack after another. He's totally incapable of standing up to Earth Forces Captain Neo Roanoke, who more or less takes over the campaign and uses the Orb forces as cannon fodder, and is ultimately killed when trying to escape from a losing battle. Lord Djibril, Blue Cosmos leader, is a much more dangerous example, as he combines this trope with Diabolical Mastermind and Complete Monster. When things go south for him, Djibril always bails, leaving his allies in the lurch...only to return soon after with his latest Weapon Of Mass Destruction primed for combat. A slimy, cowardly bully who nevertheless manages to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths through pure malice.
  • Subverted with Taikobo in Houshin Engi. He pretends to be this early on but is actually a Chessmaster, using how people see him to his advantage.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh ARC-V it's widely believed by the public that Yusho Sakaki (Yuya's dad) is a coward, as he failed to show up for an important public match with reigning champion Strong Ishijima. His son remains his only hold out, and many of Yuya's early opponents believe the same of him. Subverted in both cases, however. Yusho had very important reasons for leaving that took priority, and Yuya can be the antithesis of a coward at times.
  • Despite styling himself as a cold-blooded, unflappable god in human form, one who will strike down anyone who gets in the way of him establishing a crime-free utopia, Death Note's Light Yagami is a pathetic, sniveling little worm of a man under all the bluster. In the manga, when Ryuk writes his name in the Death Note and seals his fate, Light dies like a little bitch, bawling and begging for mercy before his heart stops pumping. While he dies with a little more dignity in the anime, he still devolves into a screaming, begging coward when faced with his own mortality.

Comic Books

  • Doomsday, the monster that once killed Superman, is normally a mindless bundle of rage and power. When he was granted intelligence, he was revealed to be this trope in the end. All his new intelligence did was make Doomsday painfully aware of his own crippling fear of death—deep down, he's terrified of anything that could possibly be a threat to his life- which in his mind is everything. (The entire reason he's so powerful is because he was repeatedly cloned and let loose on a Death World until some bizarre process of Lamarckian evolution made him capable of surviving the worst it had to offer. It took a LOT of clone generations.)
  • Dr. Venom from the early run of Marvel's G.I. Joe comics was a damn near epitome of this. Any chance he could back stab someone else he could and if he got caught would plead for mercy on his hands and knees.
  • Subverted by Roderick Kingsley, AKA the original Hobgoblin and enemy of Spider-Man. While his twin brother Daniel really was a spineless wimp who lived up to this trope, Roderick merely made himself look like a Dirty Coward to get people to underestimate him. Often he forced Daniel to act as his stand-in to maintain the charade. This usually led to him sabotaging his competitors' companies and destroying their reputations before buying them up cheap, or to keep anyone from thinking that he could be a cold-blooded Magnificent Bastard like the Hobgoblin.
  • Yellow Bastard in Sin City has a bit of a Meaningful Name. Not only is his literally yellow-skinned, but he is also more than willing to run away from a fight and whine about it. If he makes an attack, expect it to be a sneaky one.


  • Beni from The Mummy 1999 fits squarely into this role, betraying just about every member of the cast and joining with the villain in order to save his own skin. His comeuppance is suitably horrible.
  • Bernie Bernbaum of the Coen Brothers film Miller's Crossing.
  • Lieutenant Roget from Paths of Glory
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: One of the glaring personality flaws of Captain Jack Sparrow is his tendency toward dirty cowardice, especially in the face of certain death, and escape from death becomes his major motivation in Dead Man's Chest and At World's End.
  • Carter Burke in Aliens. His meddling directly causes the deaths of everyone in the colony. When called on this he tries to bribe Ripley, then attempts to get Ripley and Newt infected so he can sneak them past quarantine. And to top it off, in order to sell a convincing story to the authorities he was going to kill the rest of the team in their sleep on the way home. Slime ball doesn't even begin to describe him. In fact, being such a Dirty Coward is what leads to his death. When the Aliens attack, he tries to escape on his own, shutting a security door behind him as he does, which seemingly prevents Ripley and the Marines from getting out as well. He then runs straight into a single Alien, which kills him. Doubles as a Complete Monster.
  • Luther, leader of the Rogues in The Warriors
  • Starscream seems to almost revel in it. From Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, in an exchange with Megatron that combines this with Know When to Fold'Em:

Starscream: Not to call you a coward, Master, but... sometimes, cowards do survive.

  • Simon, Elaine's fiancee from Airplane! 2: The Sequel. He lied and said that Stryker was wrong about the Mayflower shuttle being defective, and later abandons the shuttle rather than help save its passengers from the disaster.
  • In 'Attack', Captain Cooney continually puts his men in jeopardy by being too cowardly to send reinforcements. At the end, when they're trapped in a basement in a town overrun by SS and other Nazis, he becomes a full-on dirty coward when he grabs a gun and threatens anyone that would keep him from surrendering. This is despite the fact that one of his men is Jewish and the others tell Cooney the SS won't honor his POW rights. The others shoot him before he can surrender and reveal their position.
  • Ike Clanton in Tombstone. He always talks trash when he has fellow gang members to back him up, but instantly turns into a cowering dog when the tables are turned on him. He backs down in fear or runs for his life no less than four times in the film.
  • In Inception, Nash (Cobb's original architect) sells out Cobb and Arthur to Saito to save his own skin. But said person would then leave Nash to the mercy of Cobol Engineering who would inevitably hunt him down and kill him when they find him.
  • Dylan from Transformers: Dark of the Moon. He betrayed Earth to the Decepticons just so he would be safe.
  • Sgt. Watson in The Flight of the Phoenix. At first he fakes an injury to avoid going with his Captain into the desert, then he refuses to go with him to look for help. Both prove wise decisions, but Watson is clearly a coward made worse by the fact that he lives and never gets his comeuppance whereas more heroic characters do die.
  • Many villains in The Princess Bride:

Westley: Give us the gate key.
Yellin: I have no key.
Inigo: Fezzik, tear his arms off.
Yellin: Oh, you mean this key.


  • Harry Potter:
    • Wormtail; this guy spends two years in rat form, and when exposed, becomes a craven coward pleading for his life.
    • Also Mundungus Fletcher. His cowardice was the reason why Mad-Eye died. Draco Malfoy is one, to an extent, especially in the first few books, where he only trash-talks about the main characters as long as he has his two burly cronies at his heels.
    • Cornelius Fudge, definitely. Though when he retires, he becomes a feeble, rather kindly old man once more.
    • Don't forget Zacharias Smith, who during his last appearance in the series is bowling over first years to save his own ass just before the final battle.
    • Pansy Parkinson, who suggests that they just turn Harry in to Voldemort to make the Death Eaters leave Hogwarts.
    • Igor Karkaroff. A loyal Death Eater until the moment he was captured, at which point he sold all the information he had in order to reduce his sentence. When Voldemort returns, he flees, but the Dark Lord makes a point of hunting him down.
  • Discworld: Rincewind tries to play it straight (all he wants is to stay out of danger and doesn't particularly care what happens to anyone else) but subverts this because he's both The Chew Toy (which means the world really is out to get him) and a Cosmic Plaything of Lady Luck, doomed to repeatedly save the world by performing absurdly dangerous heroics.
    • It also doesn't help that his conscience is practically an intelligent entity in its own right - several times when he's saved the world, it's because his conscience told him to. In the form of a conversation.
    • In Interesting Times, Rincewind also gets to use all his knowledge of cowardice and panic in one magnificent Crowning Moment of Awesome when he starts a rumor among the soldiers of the Agatean Empire than Cohen's Silver Horde is most certainly not backed up by an army of 2,300,009 invisible bloodsucking vampire ghosts.
      • Also in Interesting Times, Rincewind ponders running away from the rebel army and letting them fight without his aid. He argues with one of the rebels about this, and the exchange goes like this:

Rebel: But there are ideals worth dying for!
Rincewind: No there aren't! Because you can pick up five new ideals at any street corner, but you only get one life!
Rebel: By the gods, how can you live with a philosophy like that?!
Rincewind: (deep breath) Continously!

  • The title character of The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a shameless example... or so he claims.
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • Wormtongue fits this trope pretty well. He was a soldier from Rohan once who betrayed his king and country, to curry favor with Saruman. Though some may say he helped redeem himself in the end by killing Saruman, though I'm pretty sure that wasn't courage, but extreme hatred.
    • Wormtongue started out as an ordinary villain. His original idea was, after Theodred was killed, to get Eomer disinherited, then have Theoden get Eowyn to marry him so that he could take the throne as her consort. A nasty bit of political dynastic maneuvering, but not really out of the way. But to do it he had to get Saruman's help, and by the time he realized what Saruman was really up to he was in over his head.
    • Also, this is in fact a common trait of orcs. They're very brave when they have a leader, but as soon as that leader is killed or abandons them, they turn into craven cowards far more willing to be killed after turning on each other than by anyone else.
  • The Pierson's Puppeteers from Larry Niven's Known Space 'Verse seem to fit this quite well. (When they can be found, that is.)
    • They actually consider bravery to be a form of insanity and their word for "leader" (Hindmost) literally translates as "he who leads from behind".
      • Although this is apparently a misremembered instinct, not to turn around and run, but to turn around and attack with their powerful hind leg.
  • Pretty much every Redwall bad guy ever. (And it actually works for many of the Mooks, though never for the Big Bad.)
    • A few Big Bads have some guts, but there are maybe a half-dozen of them over 20+ books.
  • Shakespeare used this at least twice: the braggart Parolles in All's Well That Ends Well cravenly betrays his fellow soldiers when they make him think he has been captured by enemy forces; more sympathetically is Falstaff
  • Thenardier and his wife of Les Misérables are described as the worst sort of scoundrels, to the extent that the Break-o'Day Boys (thieves and murderers, but not hypocrites!) are more sympathetic than them.
  • Paris in The Iliad might qualify seeing as he was such a bratty little wuss.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when invisible beings threaten to massacre them unless Lucy goes into the magician's tower and casts a spell, Caspian declares that they are trying to make her do something they are too afraid to let their own daughters do. They agree that he has put it quite nicely. (One reason why Lucy agrees is that she thinks it may not be as bad as they say, as they are obviously great cowards.)
  • John Carter of Mars:
    • In A Princess of Mars, John Carter describes Tal Hajus as this to force him into battle.

You are a brave people and you love bravery, but where was your mighty jeddak during the fighting today? I did not see him in the thick of battle; he was not there. He rends defenseless women and little children in his lair, but how recently has one of you seen him fight with men?

    • In Thuvia, Maid of Mars, Jav exults when he thinks Tario dead, and instantly cowers when he realizes he's alive. It does not save him, and he whimpers through the following ordeal.
    • In Chessmen Of Mars, O-Tar. When he berates his followers for cowardice, one of them declares:

The jeddak knows that in the annals of Manator her jeddaks have ever been accounted the bravest of her warriors. Where my jeddak leads I will follow, nor may any jeddak call me a coward or a craven unless I refuse to go where he dares to go. I have spoken.

  • Bishop Sansum from The Warlord Chronicles is a great example. Unfortunately he's also a Smug Snake who always manages to get an advantage out of his betrayals and slimy political power grabs. Also, very unusually, there's Lancelot who contrary to his Knight in Shining Armor image in most of the Arthurian Legend, here gets his reputation by paying off minstrels and bards to tell of his deeds and taking the credit for other people's work. However, it should be noted with Lancelot that he is basically the Arch Enemy of Derfel, (the story's protagonist) and Derfel does admit that Lancelot was a surprisingly good fighter when the two actually fought and that it's possible that his hatred for Lancelot is coloring the tale.
  • Nom Anor from the New Jedi Order series is a self-proclaimed coward- indeed, everything he does is to ensure his own safety, power, and comfort. He's an exception to the rule that a Dirty Coward cannot be a Magnificent Bastard, however, because he often comes off as the only one of his people with any common sense whatsoever.
  • Alfred Builder in The Pillars of the Earth does everything he can to be cruel to Jack Jackson out of jealousy and contempt. When he falls on hard luck, though, he meekly returns and begs Jack's mercy to grant him a job, only to use the position to back stab Jack shortly thereafter.
  • Maltsev becomes or turns out to be this in the end of The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar, revealing a willingness to sink as low as necessary to get out of Persia alive.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword," Dion turns out to be one of these, which is exploited by Thoth-Amon in order to get him on his side against his master Ascalante, whom he knows will have Dion killed when Conan is assassinated. Unfortunately, Dion makes the mistake of telling Thoth-Amon about a "ring of good fortune" that he bought from a Shemitish thief who stole it from a sorcerer of Stygia. When Thoth-Amon recognizes his lost Ring of Power, he promptly stabs Dion to death and reclaims it.
  • In Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, the Hernystyri monk Cadrach is portrayed as an unrepentant thief, liar, and coward who will sell out his trust for wine or convenience. At least until Princess Miriamele, in a fit of sympathy over Cadrach's self-loathing, manages to pry out his backstory in bits and pieces, revealing a once-brilliant scholar who unearthed Things Man Was Not Meant to Know and fell into an insanity born of despair. She struggles to reform him and is rewarded at the end.
  • In Jasper Fforde's Well of Lost Plots, Heathcliff cowers in the face of an attack by Pro Cath forces, and Havisham gets him to behave after by threatening to shoot him and claim the forces did it, making him cower again.
  • In Jurassic Park, Ed Regis, the Public Relations manager from InGen, proves himself to be one when the power goes down and the T-Rex shows up. He abandons Lex and Tim, John Hammond's grandchildren, in the car with the door open in order to save his own ass and gets the ignominious honor of being nommed on the can when the T-Rex knocks down the outhouse building he was hiding in.
    • The film version hands this role off to Donald Gennaro, the lawyer sent to inspect the title park.
    • The outhouse death was movie-only for Gennaro. In the novel, Regis initially escapes the T-Rex by hiding in a group of nearby boulders. Grant and the children later find him after they regroup...just in time to see him dispatched by the juvenile T-Rex who came along after the adult.
  • In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, the villains fled on the prospect of capture. Wessner in particular—Freckles can beat him, free, and so he torments him when Bound and Gagged.
  • Harry Flashman, eponymous Anti-Hero of his series (actually a Public Domain Character from Tom Brown's Schooldays); his three self-admitted talents are horse-riding, languages, and women—to which we can add credit-stealing, the ability to live through and run from anything, and total, cutting honesty in his memoirs. Interestingly, he does subvert the bit about cowards being short-sighted, which is part of the reason he lived through all the interesting historical events that he did.

Live-Action TV

  • Ethan Rayne of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Willy the Snitch is also one.
  • Arnold J. Rimmer from Red Dwarf. He slowly gets better over the course of the series. The recreated one in Series 8 is "Rimmer how he used to be", lacking all of the development of the previous series, so he also fits.
  • Mark Corrigan of Peep Show. Some of his more memorable acts of cowardice include hiding from his fiancee on their wedding day (in the actual church) rather than call it off, and using a past girlfriend as a human shield against a man who he tried to frame.
  • Baltar was this in the original Battlestar Galactica.
  • Stanley Tweedle from Lexx is mostly an example of this trope, although if he's pushed into an absolute corner he generally mans up and does the right thing.
  • Brad Bellick of Prison Break is this when he's not in the position to bully someone.
  • Dr. Smith in Lost in Space
  • Gibbis, from the Doctor Who episode "The God Complex". At first it's Played for Laughs ("All I want is to go home and be conquered and oppressed, is that too much to ask?"), but ultimately his actions directly result in the death of a sympathetic character. Worse, Gibbis survives the episode completely unscathed.
  • Chang in the penultimate episode of Community Season 2. At one point he runs through the paintball wasteland screaming "Does anyone have an alliance I can join?!", having betrayed at least 3 other groups already (The Study Group, Math Club, and The Cheerleader Alliance).
  • Lailoken, the soothsayer of King Vortigern in the 1998 Merlin series. He is motivated entirely to keep himself out of danger (makes sense, considering he's around Vortigern of all people) and preserve his own life. After Vortigern tasks him to try to find out why his tower is collapsing, Lailoken makes a perfect dirty coward quote while at his religious rituals.

I've been a follower of the Old Ways all my life. Now, that life is in danger, and it's a precious life . . . it's mine!

  • Angel Martin of The Rockford Files fits quite well. He frequently refuses to do his part in plans that put him in the slightest amount of danger, and he sells out his friends immediately when things go south and he ends up in jail, or in the hands of organized crime.
  • The victim of the Cold Case episode Justice is a serial date rapist who exploited the lax laws regarding date rape to repeatedly perpetuate the crimes, peed himself when several of his former victims confronted him at gunpoint, and then acted unapologetic and unrepentant about his actions once they left. The detectives become so repulsed by what they learned of him that they actually tell the killer what to say in court to defend himself.
    • The killer in the episode Blood On The Tracks was fearful of whatever punishment would be meted out for a crime she, her husband, and their friends were involved in a decade earlier—which the guilt-ridden husband was planning to confess to the cops about. So she enticed her ex-lover—who clearly still had feelings for her—to help her murder her husband in order to keep his mouth shut, with the promise of them running away together. Instead, she killed her husband and a friend of theirs whom she bore a strong resemblance to, assumed the other woman's life, and allowed her ex to suffer for 20-something years thinking that he had killed her, while she lived the ideal life of a suburban housewife. When confronted by Lily, she feebly denied being a monster, but outright admitted being "a coward".
  • Dicky Bennett of Justified. No other words come close.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Nor the Battle to the Strong", Jake Sisko gets a Reason You Suck Speech calling him this, which he owns up to at the end.

Oral Tradition. Folklore, Myths and Legends

Professional Wrestling

  • This is a classic heel character in Professional Wrestling. The Honky Tonk Man made a career out of this character in WWE and Christian Cage was in this mode following his Face Heel Turn in TNA.
  • Edge is very good at portraying this type of heel, though sometimes it's subverted somewhat when it is shown that the women who are in love with him actually want to risk their necks to save his, and even do so without his prompting (see Lita and Vickie Guerrero). CM Punk is currently (January 2010) milking this trope as part of his Charles Manson-like cult-leader character, with his skin-headed moll Serena literally smiling as he uses her as a human shield. (Depending on your attitude toward such relationships, I guess, this is either Nightmare Fuel or Fetish Fuel.)
    • Edge was such a coward as a heel that it wasn't unusual for him on house shows to spend up to ten minutes stalling outside of the ring before eventually locking up with his opponent.
  • In the late 90's following his infamous Face Heel Turn, Hulk Hogan had the bizarre distinction of being both a Villain Sue AND a Dirty Coward at the same time. While he might squash any challenger that came his way at a PPV, Hogan would often spend at a least a month hiding behind members of the New World Order talking trash as his future opponent would rip apart the jobbers in the nWo a few feet away.
  • Kurt Angle was famous for this in early WWE run (1999-2002)
  • Subverted by John Cena, who acted this way until his full-blown Heel Face Turn in 2005. Despite being very strong and tough in his own right, he would use a steel chain wrapped around his knuckles to knock out larger opponents and gain victories over them - and he still got cheered.
  • Michael Cole IS this trope following his Face Heel Turn. To put it in perspective, he's put himself in a bulletproof glass case for his protection and constantly backs down when someone challenges him to a match.
  • Averting this trope is one of the reasons Kane is so popular, even as a Monster Heel. He will never back down and has gotten into the ring with guys far bigger than him. In the Royal Rumble match, he will always stare down the biggest guy in the ring, nod, and when it is returned the two will basically ignore everyone else until one of them is eliminated.
  • Bryan Danielson's heel run in WWE is borderline comical in this respect. It's pretty much a Running Gag that, if things get hectic while he's at ringside, he'll disappear from the action, but the camera will soon cut to a shot of him leaving up the entrance ramp huddling his World Title with AJ following close behind.


  • Major Bloodnok (Peter Sellers) in The Goon Show is a coward through-and-through, and there's not a thing he won't do for money.
    • Also, everyone else. While deciding who gets volunteered for a dangerous mission:

Seagoon: I'm terribly sorry, but I have a wife and 63 children!
Bloodnok: I too have a wife and children. That only leaves dear old -
[rattle of telephone]
Eccles: Hello, hello, operator? Get me the marriage bureau!
Bloodnok: Flatten me cronkler with spinach mallets. So, both of you have turned cowards, eh. That only leaves me. Two cowards, and me. You know what this means?
Seagoon: Three cowards.

Tabletop Games

"Everybody but me-- CHARGE!"
"Don't look at it! Maybe it'll go away!"

  • The Ebon Dragon may be one of the Titans who created the world, and one of the most overwhelmingly powerful beings in existence, but his pitiful Virtues (especially Valor), the easily exploitable holes in his defenses and the personality constraints of his Excellency make him an utterly rank coward. He will very rarely engage in a straight fight against anything capable of hurting him (which can be pretty much everything) and will never do so against something that has the slightest chance of killing him. Fortunately for him, being the Principle of Villainy makes one really good at talking your way out of trouble, or just plain running away.


Cyrano (To himself): I will write, fold it, give it her, and fly!
(Throws down the pen): Coward!... But strike me dead
if I dare to speak to her,... ay, even one
single word!


  • Mime from Richard Wagner's opera Siegfried is a Dirty Coward to the core, but is often inappropriately played as The Woobie.

Video Games

  • Mumkhar from Xenoblade Chronicles should get some sort of award for this, due to the fact that he left his friends to die in the middle of a battlefield just to save his own skin... FIVE MINUTES INTO THE GAME! Interestingly, this isn't the case in any of his other appearances. It seems that being transformed into a Faced Mechon caused his sadistic, petty sense of cruelty to override his cowardly tendencies.
  • The Spathi from Star Control are a Planet of Hats devoted to craven cowardice and borderline paranoia as a way of life. A traditional Spathi prayer goes "Oh God, please don't let me die today! Tomorrow would be so much better", and the entire race lives in fear of a nebulous alien race they refer to (always in the same ominous tone) as "The Ultimate Evil". However, they can and will fight if backed into a corner (and they can fight quite well; the Spathi Eluder is one of the best ships in the game). However, this doesn't stop the Spathi from backing out of their alliance with the "hunams" and sealing their home world beneath an impenetrable force field the first chance they get.
    • Yes, the Spathi can fight quite well—mostly because their ships are so fast no one can catch them, and because they pelt anything that tries to catch them with a hailstorm of Backward Utilizing Tracking Torpedoes fired out of the back of the ship as it flees.
      • Which means, fittingly, that they fight best when they're running away.
    • Another memorable quote comes from the Spathi High Council, about a Spathi (named Fwiffo) who has been "captured" by the protagonists: "If you held a weapon to Fwiffo's head, he would say anything you wanted him to say. In fact, if you held a vegetable to his head he would probably say anything you wanted him to say."
  • Brad Vickers, S.T.A.R.S Alpha Team helicopter pilot from the Resident Evil franchise, who immediately turns tail and runs off, abandoning his teammates during the events of the first game when the Cerebuses attack. When Chief of Police Irons dismisses the rest of the team's claims about the mansion, Vickers goes along with them to keep his job. To the satisfaction of the player, he eventually is Killed Off for Real].
  • The mayor in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. A non-humorous example who gets a well-deserved Karmic Death near the end by trying to bargain with Big Bad Caulder to save himself after selling out the heroes to him.
    • From the same game, Waylon, whose own men desert him en masse after his first appearance because he would throw their lives away to cover his own. His theme song is even called "Flight of the Coward".
  • In Disgaea 2 we have Axel the Dark Hero who, in the style of Disgaea demons being Card Carrying Villains, is a Card Carrying Dirty Coward (hence the "dark" part). Further in Disgaea style, he's actually a Lovable Coward.
  • Yuber from Suikoden is a perfect example of this trope: Once he realizes he's in danger, he will flee, be it in a one-on-one duel or in a big scale battle as commander of his troops. On the other hand if he's feeling superior he will destory a village out of boredom or summon a huge monster to deal with the hero. What a dick.
  • Snowe from Suikoden IV is a particularly sickening example. Late in the game after everything he has done, you are given the chance of either adding him to your team or killing him, and it is very easy to make the second choice.
    • Pity that if you kill him, you won't get the True Ending. And the main character will die.
    • If you do forgive him, though, he gets better and becomes more humble and respectable.
    • In deference to the character, only the sudden escape from marauding pirates at the beginning of the game is cowardice. Everything else, he faces with at least a modicum of manliness, including the three times he's captured by the player and threatened with death.
  • One of the main reasons Prince Charmless is one of the least favorite Dragon Quest characters is that he's both a Dirty Coward and a Jerkass, and makes you do all the work for him on the one side quest where you're forced to take him along.
  • Jerry Ying from the John Woo game Stranglehold after his Face Heel Turn.
  • Porky from EarthBound. His Establishing Character Moment is ditching his little brother at night, forcing Ness to help look for him, and then hiding behind Ness and contributing absolutely nothing to every single battle between leaving Ness' house to fighting the Starman that chased after Buzz Buzz. He gets crueler and nastier as the game goes on, but not a single bit braver: even as Giygas's Dragon, he abandons his master to fight Ness and friends after proving that they're more than a match for him.
    • There's also the man in the tent in Threed, who abandoned his wife and children to the zombies. He doesn't seem to understand why they're angry with him.
  • Goblins, the weakest unit of the Stronghold Faction in Heroes of Might and Magic V: Tribes of the East. In game play, their cowardice causes them to run away from their attackers instead of retaliating. If enough of the stack is killed, they actually defect to the other side. Storywise, this attitude earns them a great deal of contempt from the rest of the faction, which primarily consists of Proud Warrior Race Guys. As a result, their "comrades" have no problem with letting their Shamans sacrifice Goblins for mana replenishing rituals or with letting the Cyclops treat Goblins as snacks and ammo.
  • In Fire Emblem:
    • Septimus, the boss of Radiant Dawn's Part 3 Prologue, is shown to be immensely paranoid about laguz attacks and runs off as soon as the player or allied armies get close, leaving his second-in-command to guard the seize point. He later shows up in 3-8, assigned to enter the lava-filled caves and bring back the bodies of the enemies that no doubt perished there as proof that they were dead—and is quite dismayed to find them (that's the player's army, again) very much alive.
    • A few minor villains in Fire Emblem: Three Houses are shown to be really lacking in moral fiber.
      • Leicester Alliance nobleman Acheron is nicknamed "The Weathervane" for being a cowardly opportunist, gleefully defecting to the Adrestian Empire in non-Crimson Flower routes so he can join the strongest side. When he and his men are sent to back up their commanding officer, they stay huddled near the map's exit and if Ladislava/Judith (depending on the route played) dies before him, he'll flee in a mad panic. He can be encountered before the timeskip if you do Lorenz's paralogue, which he's the boss of. He talks a good game about killing anyone who dares cross him, but when you defeat him he wastes no time groveling and screaming for mercy.
      • Randolph von Bergliez is shown to be this in the Azure Moon route. As an esteemed general of the Imperial army, he has killed countless people in the name of upholding Edelgard's tyrannical rule and is downright pumped at the thought of attacking Garreg Mach Monastery, a place of worship full of innocent civilians. But when he's defeated and at Dimitri's mercy, he whines about having a family back home and begs for Dimitri to let him go. Even in his frenzied, feral state, Dimitri cares a lot about protecting innocent people and gives him an earful about being a destroyer of families himself.
      • Kronya is not only an assassin working for Those Who Slither in the Dark, but a sadistic bitch who practically gets off to the thought of killing innocent people. When Byleth kicks her ass, she runs for the hills and when Solon kills her for outliving her usefulness, she begs them to save her despite cruelly murdering their father during the previous chapter.
  • The Baron de Valois from Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, who takes Bartolomeo's wife hostage to try and get the latter to surrender, makes a break for it when surprised by Ezio and will execute her quick if Ezio is detected trying to reach him.
    • The Doctor character from Multiplayer and Project Legacy is one too.
    • The series is rife with them. More than a few of Altair's targets would flee from him (though him being Altair might have something to do with it), city guards may quit the field if you show off your prowess and Borgia captains and couriers are more than likely to flee Ezio's grasp, though then again the same applies for Ezio, who's arguably deadlier than Altair.
  • The original Metal Gear features a boss fight against "Coward Duck" (later renamed "Dirty Duck") who, although a nearly a non-entity as far as characterization goes, lives up to both his codenames in his fighting style. He strikes at Snake from the relatively safe position of being surrounded by three hostages, and killing any of them makes the game Unwinnable by virtue of being unable to get the Rocket Launcher.
  • Khaled Al-Asad from Modern Warfare nukes a whole city to cover his own ass. Doesn't get much more cowardly than that.
  • The Mean Emcee from Wario World is this. He is absolutely terrified of Wario and will hide under a cup after he punches him enough.
  • Anub'Arak in the Old Kingdom dungeon in World of Warcraft is widely regarded as a despicable coward due to his fight mechanics, where he constantly burrows underground becoming untargetable and sends minions after the players. Far from being a challenge it is merely an annoyance and prolongs the fight unecesarrily.
    • That's probably a fan-reaction to a Scrappy Mechanic more than anything else. In The Frozen Throne, when he is first introduced, he is pretty brave, serving as Arthas' dragon, accompanying him through Azjol-Nerub and fighting at the front. In one mission, the duo meet a forgotten one (basically an Old God-lite), and Anub'Arak's first response is to charge the thing.

Anub'Arak: It cannot be... Look to your defences, Death Knight! Fight as you have never fought before!

    • Many generic enemies in World of Warcraft have a cowardly streak, upon depleting most of their health they will attempt to flee and the message "[enemy] is trying to run away in fear." is displayed. If not controlled or killed they could potentially reach other enemy groups for help resulting in a wipe.
  • Patches the Hyena of Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Armored Core: For Answer (as Patch the Good Luck), and Elden Ring fame. No matter the game, he's a slimy, opportunistic little weasel of a man who usually tries to kill you with trickery, and will waste no time begging for mercy once that fails.
  • Alduin in Skyrim turns out to be one of these when faced by someone who can actually hurt him. It's one of the reasons Odahviing agrees to help you pursue him — the other Dragons are no longer certain that Alduin deserves to be their leader since a true dovah would fight to the very end.
  • Alfonso in Skies of Arcadia is established as this in the game's opening sequence: once his ship is attacked by the Blue Rogues, he is more concerned with escaping than fighting and once he secures the means to do so he murders his vice captain in cold blood and tosses the corpse overboard in order to frame the vice captain as a traitor and cover his own ass. Luckily, Galcian gets a wind of this and Antonio is immediately Reassigned to Antarctica.
  • Kai Leng of Mass Effect 3 is a particularly unlikable case. He's not above playing dirty tricks on his enemies, and pulls several on Shepard, including calling in a gunship to provide fire support while his shields recharge and using the salarian councilor as a shield. Even worse, he endlessly taunts Shepard when he's out of danger, including sending him an email mocking him about the events on Thessia. In the final battle, Shepard points out that Kai Leng has always ran from him/her, which the latter responds rather ungracefully. When Shepard shatters/dodges his sword and guts him like a fish, you will cheer.
  • Kruller, the ghostly, overweight security guard from Luigi's Mansion 3. Not only does he seem to be more of a coward than Luigi, he doesn't seem to be all-too good at his job, hiding in the security office while Luigi (via the player) is likely looting and vandalizing the Hotel Stores. Not that he's a pushover as a boss, of course.
  • BubbleMan's scenario in MegaMan Battle Network 3 tasks you with chasing the ugly little guy all around the Net, with him refusing to fight you head-on and instead hiding behind a barrier that you can't penetrate without a special item carried by his men, who also force you to chase them around the net for it. When you actually fight him, he hides in the back row of his half of the battlefield, where he's protected by rocks and bubbles that constantly pour in from the middle. And once he's beaten, he has the audacity to beg Lan and MegaMan for mercy, only to betray them once they spare him, nearly killing a bunch of innocent people before getting bisected by ProtoMan.
    • And his cowardice ends up playing into his appearances as a ghost Navi: if you want to get his V2-V4 battle chips, you need your health to be in the red in order for him to show up as a random encounter in one of the Ocean Area's sub-areas.
  • The background lore of Elden Ring paints Godrick the Grafted as a gigantic wuss who would sooner hide among civilian women rather than meet his end on the battlefield. Ditto for literally licking the boots of a warrior that he insulted once she started kicking his ass. Interestingly, he doesn't display any cowardice when fighting you, and dies with his dignity intact.
    • This seems to be the case for the otherwise enigmatic Pidia. If he is indeed Seluvis as context clues seem to imply, he uses the man's body as a vessel through which he can act like a smug, nasty little Jerkass towards everyone he meets, only to play the part of a meek and groveling servant when confronted in person. Whether he truly is Seluvis or not, he is a creepy rapist who sexually abuses the "puppets" (sex slaves) that Seluvis keeps on hand, and dies pitifully begging his victims for mercy when they attack him after enduring god knows how many years of molestation at his hands.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Daffy Duck from Looney Tunes is a self-admitted one of these characters. He'll sell out his friends in an instant to save his own hide and/or claim wealth for himself. As he puts it, "Sure I'm a louse, but I'm a live louse!"
    • During the "Hunter Trilogy" of cartoons, he freely admits he's only sending Elmer after Bugs because it's "really duck season". Also inverted: while he is out for "thelf-prethervation", he also seems very set on his rival getting his head blown off. The numerous instances Elmer actually turns his attention on Bugs, and naturally screws up, Daffy will actually go up to Elmer and berate him to his face to "Shoot him! SHOOT HIM!". On one occasion, he actually snatched the gun from Elmer and attempted to do the job himself, with Elmer walking off bewildered.
    • His greed can overcome this, though: in "Ducking the Devil" (1957) he beats up the Tasmanian Devil when Taz takes some money from him!

Daffy: I may be a coward, but I'm a greeeedy little coward!

  • When the chips are down, Zapp Brannigan from Futurama is a coward through and through.
    • In one of the Futurama movies, Bender, Amy and one other character are trapped by a bunch of orcs in a castle. Bender tells the two ladies he has a plan, and next scene shows him holding them up in the air (and looking like he's about to surrender). Bender outright tells the orcs to take his friends first, just to give him one more second of sweet sweet life; fortunately, the orcs are killed by the Big Damn Heroes.

Fry: It's every man for himself!
Fry: (jumps out of a land rover and immediately gets stuck in moon dust) Help me Leela!

  • In "Bendin' in the Wind," the crew is plunging off a cliff. Bender grabs a nearby cable, loudly declaring, "I'll save ME!" The rest of the crew is only saved by grabbing his legs just in time.
  • Fry gets called pretty much this in "War is the H-Word" when he, wielding the only charged phaser, blasts himself a hole to hide in.
  • In Transformers Animated, Skywarp (a.k.a. Coward Starscream) is... well, he's a coward. He runs away from the slightest threat. We haven't seen him in full cowardly action just yet, but it's pretty obvious that this wretched little scumbag isn't going to be much good in a fight. Even when captured, he won't even fight back; he just lies there whimpering and pleading for his life.
  • The Fairly OddParents: King Grippulon, supposedly a fearsome king, frequently uses his wife as a shield when his life is in danger, and is willing to put his son on the throne after there are several assassination attempts.
  • Iago from Disney's Aladdin. For much of the second movie onward, he spent a lot of time looking out for himself almost exclusively although unlike many of the examples here, he can be courageous and selfless. Two examples come up in the second film.
  • Captain Hero on Drawn Together: "Save yourselves!"
  • Antoine of the Sonic The Hedgehog animated series, initially more of an arrogant Lovable Coward, was Flanderized into this trope later on, at least once offering to switch sides when the Freedom Fighter base had supposedly been found. Even Snively found him to be a " little worm".
  • Ben 10 con-artists Argit and Simian, although Simian can and will fight if backed into a corner.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Yon Rha, the man who killed Katara's mother, is this. When confronted by his victim's vengeful daughter, he cowers in terror and while he admits that what he did was wrong, he offers his mother's life instead of his own. Katara merely gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and leaves.
  • Dale Gribble from King of the Hill will often sell out his friends or run away.
  • Visionaries had two:
    • Lexor had the reputation of both a liar and a coward, and was given appropriate powers as such by Merklin. His animal totem was the Armadillo (an animal not known for being a fighter, but being defensive) while he staff channeled the Power of Invulnerability, often used to protect his own skin.
    • Mortdred was known as an unapologetic sycophant, and was fittingly given the Scampering Beetle totem simply to show how much of a bootlicker he was.
  • Warden Wrath from The Owl House; though a nasty and frightening foe the first time he appears, he proves to be this the second time, cowering when confronted by a stronger magic user.