Heel Realization

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"It is such a quiet thing, to fall. But far more terrible is to admit it."

Few things are more crushing than realizing that you're one of the bad guys. You exclaim "My God, What Have I Done??" and perhaps shed Tears of Remorse. Or in some cases, you realise you're even worse than you thought you were. Either way, it's the moment you know you're in the wrong.

It may lead to The Atoner, a Redemption Quest, or Redemption Equals Death, or, if the author is feeling particularly vindictive, to Deadly Change-of-Heart. Conversely, may turn a Well-Intentioned Extremist Necessarily Evil, or force them to admit that there is No Place for Me There. There's also the possibility to ignore the realization. Sometimes these people were just working for someone who turned out to be doing horrible things. A common form is to Kick the Wrong Dog and/or Being Evil Sucks.

Common when The Dark Side Will Make You Forget or when Big Brother Is Employing You.

Compare Nice Job Breaking It, Hero and Unwitting Pawn. Contrast with Knight Templar (who never realizes he's a villain) and Card-Carrying Villain (who never thinks he's a good guy in first place). Also see Tomato in the Mirror, when one of the good guys realises he was a sleeper agent all the time.

For the opposite, see You Are Better Than You Think You Are where the character fails to see they are nobler than they give themselves credit for.

Examples of Heel Realization include:

Anime and Manga

  • Magical Project S, Misao Amano is shocked to find out she is Pixy Misa (the evil magical girl that has tortured practically every main character, including her parents and her best friend). While it was initially thought her evil side was due to brainwashing, it was in fact her repressed self, despite having no memory of her actions.
  • Some of the later episodes of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, particularly 23: Rossiu's been pretty much the personification of "Shoot the Dog" for the entire arc, saving only the 18% or so of the human population that he can...until it turns out that he was leading them into an ambush, and Simon's actions were able to save nearly all of them. Rossiu tried to do the right thing, but he just acted as an obstruction to the guy who was really doing the right thing, and the realization drove Rossiu to suicide. Or it would've, but Simon managed to invent teleportation just to stop him.
  • Happened in several arcs in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, with varying results.
    • Of note is the Heartwarming Moments in Tsumihoroboshi-hen when Keiichi recalls the events of Onikakushi-hen, and he realizes that he was the insane one, not them. Cue Keiichi hugging Mion. D'AWW.
  • Ken of Digimon Adventure 02 realizes that the Digital World is not a video game with good cruelty potential, that the Digimon are alive and sentient, and that sadistically torturing them as an Evil Overlord is in fact bad. He undergoes a Heel Face Turn soon after... if you can say he was a Heel to begin with. He honestly didn't know what he was doing until later in the arc, at which point he went into Dark Spore aided denial.
    • Yamaki in Digimon Tamers has a particularly nasty one when he realizes that not only has he been killing sentient beings in the name of destroying "digital anomalies", but that it may have been his efforts to control what he saw as an invasion that made the real invasion possible.
    • Before them, three out of the four human antagonists of V-Tamer 01 quit after this realization. The one that doesn't is told You Have Outlived Your Usefulness and thus quits before it.
  • In the final episode of Planetes, Hakim experiences this after a simple conversation with Nono. Because Nono was born on the Moon and lived there for her entire life, she has absolutely no concept of what a country is. Hakim, who has resorted to terrorism to bring attention to the plight of the third world realizes that development in space would eventually eliminate the borders between countries and loses his will to fight.
    • When a scrappy entrepreneur from The Old Country shows up, Claire (who was raised and educated in the USA since the age of eight and become a Workaholic ladder-climber) finds him annoying at first, until he reveals that his life's history is very similar to hers, at least before he went back to El Tanika to aid them with his education. Ultimately, this guilt bomb only serves to send her into a bit of a death spiral.
  • In Code Geass, Suzaku had one in R2, right as he was about to use Refrain on Kallen to get her to admit who Zero was. In his mind, this makes him just like the Geass-using Lelouch. Never mind that he'd sworn fealty to a man who he knows to also use Geass and is much worse about it than Lelouch. He has an even bigger one when he realizes the futility of trying to value means above results when he accidentally nukes the Tokyo settlement.
  • In Berserk, Griffith is made to realize at the Eclipse that rather than being the beloved leader that everyone thinks he is (including himself at times), he is an ambitious man who will do anything to realize his dream and uses people to that end, even into death on the battlefield. It's his spite for Guts' being the one person he couldn't control that sends him over the mother of all Moral Event Horizons.
  • Sadakiyo from 20th Century Boys realizes that he's been manipulated by Friend into doing evil when he bashes a former schoolmate's head in after the latter had come to him for information.
    • Also hilariously averted by Yanbo and Mabo: they never realized they were bullies to start with, and yet they manage to realize a Heel Face Turn without noticing.
  • Suzumiya Haruhi in Sigh, when she finally gets called out by Kyon on her treatment of Mikuru. Directly after this is one of her biggest Pet the Dog moments, and she becomes much nicer after this. Made more obvious in the anime rendition, where she looks away from Kyon as he calls her out and it's clear that she's at the verge of tears.
    • In the 11th book, Kyouko Tachibana has one of these.
  • In Ga-Rei Zero, Yomi realizes what kind of monstrosity she is after she crippled Kiri physically and mentally. Actually she realizes this multiple times, but the Sesshouseki robs her of clarity of mind and fills her with rage and despair. Happens again in the final chapters of Ga-Rei manga.
  • In Tegami Bachi, Sara has this realization after seeing the memories from the Shindan Lag used to finish off the Gaichuu. They had pretended to be part of the anti-government faction Reverse (with Hunt presented as the "Man Who Could Not Become Spirit" to prevent people from mistreating him because of the monster arms sewn onto him), and while keeping up that act, decided to prevent letters from coming to Honey Waters. A man took it upon himself to deliver the letters, but was attacked by the Gaichuu, lost his heart and died. After realizing that their lie caused his death, Sara turns over all the money they received to the villagers, and sets out with Hunt to start anew.
  • In Kurogane no Linebarrel, after Kouichi Hayase's selfish use of Linebarrel gets one of his friends killed, he realizes he's been a Designated Hero and resolves to be a proper good guy.
  • A major theme of the Black Moon Clan in Sailor Moon.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist. Most of these moments are in flashbacks, as soldiers in Ishval realize they're acting as Punch Clock Villains and become The Atoners we know and love. In the timeframe of the story itself, Scar gets a slower-acting one than usual, apparently beginning when he notices that he's standing menacingly over Ed and Winry in exactly the same way he remembers Kimblee standing over him and his brother.
  • In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, both Master Asia and Dr. Mikamura get them. For Master Asia, it was the fact that humanity was a part of the Earth as nature was and wiping them all out wouldn't solve a thing. For Dr. Mikamura, it was the realization that his own jealousy towards Dr. Kasshu lead them to the point where his own daughter was now the core of the Devil Gundam. Both of them suffer Tear Jerker-worthy Redemption Equals Death moments to atone.
    • In Turn a Gundam, Queen of the Moon Dianna Soreil learns that her policies, past antics and army have actually caused quite a bit of suffering both on Earth and on the Moon for years and allowed maniacs like Gym Ghingham to sieze ludicrous amounts of power. This turns her into The Atoner and causes her to undertake massive changes in policy upon regaining power.
  • The comedy series Daily Lives of High School Boys, surprisingly, has a few examples.
  • The final climax of the 2003 version of Astro Boy. For the entire series, Dr. Tenma had been trying to guide Astro so that he would eventually become the most powerful robot in the world, able to rule over all humanity. However, all this time, Astro had been fighting for peaceful man-machine coexistence. So in their final conflict, Tenma and Astro meet in the abandoned Laboratory 7, where most of Tenma's angst originated, first with his real son then with Astro's original incarnation. What finally ended the battle wasn't strength of arms at all, but Astro forgiving Tenma for everything he did. He suddenly realizes that the robot he built himself had shown himself to be more human than him, and he finally surrenders.
  • A Certain Scientific Railgun: When Accelerator first gained his powers, he killed many people without intending to. He later participates in a project with the goal of increasing his power, so that no one would dare challenge him again and get hurt. Said project consisted of slaughtering thousands of Sisters (clones of the third-most powerful esper). At the end of his fight with Touma, Accelerator realizes that the Sisters he'd been slaughtering for power are also human. This eventually leads to his Heel Face Turn and becoming a main protagonist.

Comic Books

  • In Y: The Last Man, one of the characters mentioned that she had been working for a long time to try and make the post-Gendercide world a little easier to deal with—It turns out she had been flooding the entire Pacific community with heroin, but figured that it really was not a bad thing since the entire world is circling the drain, and this is just letting people have a bit of happiness before humanity goes extinct. However, the fact of Yorick's existence, which means that extinction is not a guarantee, changed her perception of her role - she's not The Hero, he is, and she's just one of the baddies. Things do not go so well for her after that.
  • The Superman nemesis Manchester Black thought of himself as a "realist", operating as an anti-hero (i.e. killing without remorse). He perceived Superman's boy-scout morality to be a facade bordering on stupidity. In an attempt to give Superman One Bad Day, he created a telepathic illusion of Lois Lane being murdered to provoke a homicidal response out of Superman. When it failed, and he saw the depth of Superman's dedication, Black realized that he had been a villain who had been lying to himself all along, and there was such a thing as a Good Guy. He then promptly killed himself. Sort of. Poor little Vera.
  • The titular character in issue 1 of the Transformers comic book mini-series Megatron: Origin. However, he concluded that it was the only path he had to walk, turning him into the universe-conquering Decepticon we know and love.
  • Magneto has one of these in Uncanny X-Men #150, after he almost kills Kitty Pryde with an electric shock. He's so disturbed by it that he actually reforms (and stays reformed for a hundred and twenty-five issues), and eventually becomes the headmaster of Xavier's school.
  • This is basically what ended the Marvel Comics Civil War. After the final battle causes lots of destruction calls in the rescue workers and he notices civilians begging to him not to kill Iron Man, Captain America (comics) realizes that he's putting innocent people in physical danger by his actions and country wants and has basically become one of the villains he usually fights against. Unwilling to become an Anti-Hero and force his ideals on the public he promptly orders his side to stand down.
  • In the Marvel The Siege story arc, Loki looks on in shock when he realizes that his actions were what led to the destruction of Asgard. He only wanted to restore Asgard's ancient glory, and never intended for these events to happen.
    • The Sentry's case throughout Dark Reign (and even before) might also count, as he was constantly in doubt of his actions - 'course, the Void may be to blame for the most part, but let's not forget that Bob Reynolds himself is an extremely neurotic and superpowered individual. As he said in the first mission of the Dark Avengers, after ripping off Morgan's head: "What did I do? Was it good or bad?"
  • Enemy Ace, a series about an honorable German pilot flying in World War One, had a more recent series where the same pilot, now a gray-haired veteran, flew in World War Two. He was much unhappier about this war. At some point he got shot down and parachuted to safety near Dachau, saw one of the death camps, and underwent a textbook Heel Realization, even telling those under his command that they were fighting for the devil himself. He told them that he would no longer protect the Third Reich, and that he planned to fly to the nearest Allied airbase and surrender, giving them his undamaged fighter, then help them in any way he could.
  • Of all people, Superboy Prime seems uh, primed, for one of these in Blackest Night. Then again, he has been looking at his monstrous actions from a different perspective aka ours over and over again for months on end.
  • Happens twice in the Iron Man Armour Wars saga, once at the beginning when he realises his technology may have been responsible for some of the worst criminals in the Marvel Universe, and again at the end when he questions the extreme measures he has used in trying to solve the problem.
  • Nite Owl II in Watchmen finally begins to understand the potentially harmful social effects of superheroes during the Keene Riot.
  • This is played with in an issue of Nemesis the Warlock. The villain calls himself Torquemada, and in many ways models himself on the Spanish inquisitor of the same name. They meet through time travel, and the villain explains to the inquisitor what his philosophy has led to. It's the inquisitor who's horrified.
  • In Elf Quest, Knight Templar Rayek suffers a massive and acute Heel Realization just as he's about to kill all of the Wolfriders (for the greater good, he thinks). It's triggered when he meets his daughter Venka for the first time, who was trained her whole life to stop him. She refuses to, telling him that it has to be his own choice.
  • In Scott Pilgrim, the entire point of Negascott is to get Scott to recognize his own faults as a person and to understand that he's played a part in the failures of his past relationships rather than just blaming others.
  • Paradoxically, inverted in The Flash, after one of Flash's friends accuses Flash of not using the full extent of his abilities to help people. The friend then realizes the best way to make the Flash a better hero is to become a villain who'd push him to be one.

Fan Works

  • Trian Aeducan has one in Dragon Age: The Crown of Thorns and it's bad enough that he becomes unable to sleep properly, falls into a depression he can only distract himself from by abusing his body through incessant workout, and this is when he's not having a Heroic BSOD. Gorim, surprisingly enough, tries to get him out of it, but he doesn't have much luck because of how both of them are half-convinced the dwarven noble protagonist is dead, so he has his own grief to work out. Trian only really manages to emotionally recover, somewhat, when he discovers his talent for sculpting, something that happens weeks after the realization. Things aren't made much better by what happens with the king and the city-state itself afterwards. Let's just say those weren't the best few months of his life.
    • King Endrin Aeducan is a sort of aversion because he knows what he's doing is wrong from the get go. Still, his deathbed scene finally has him putting it into words, but it's far, far too late by then, or so he thinks. It actually wasn't, since everything had gone according to one of the DN's plans, but Endrin actually chooses to die because he didn't want to face his second son when he came back. It's just a very small point in his favor that part of the reason for his decision to give up on life before the second eldest prince has a chance to return is the fact that he doesn't want to put Raonar through the experience of having a second parent die in front of him. Needless to say, the second son in question quite rightfully calls him a stupid old man when he finds out.
  • In Team 8, Sakura overhears Naruto warning Lee about the fact that she is actually not a nice person to anyone other than Sasuke, and realizes, after some thought, that he is correct.
  • In the Babylon 5/Mass Effect Crossover Fic The Babylon Effect Matriarch Benezia decides to stop at Beta Durani to have a little talk with a caputured Minbari Shai Alyt on the way to a Peace Mission to Minbar. After pointing out that the Minbari had killed an Asari Matriarch during an earlier battle during the war and that, by the Minbari's logic, the Asari had every right to exterminate them, among other things. The Shai Alyt has a combination of this and a Oh Crap moment realizing that there are only two ways their war with the Terran Systems Alliance will end; either they make peace with them, or the Citadel Council will crush them like a grape.


  • A pretty funny example from Machete. One of the Mooks has an epiphany, telling his coworkers that "I've been watching the boss, and the boss is a real scumbag." That same Mook, when confronted by Machete shortly thereafter, promptly quits his job and gives Machete his gun.
  • In The Elephant Man, Dr. Treves is shaken by the Head Nurse's observation that the arrangement he set up for John Merrick, which include receiving respectable callers, means he is still being treated as a freak on display, albeit in a high class cushy style.

"Why did I do it? Am I a good man or a bad man?"

  • James Norrington of the Pirates of the Caribbean films realized only too late what side he was on in allying himself with Beckett, and promptly sought to make amends.
  • Undercover news reporter Babe Bennett has one in Mr. Deeds when she finds herself falling in love with Deeds after lying to him in order to gather information to slander him with.
  • Falling Down with Michael Douglas has this exchange near the end, after the Villain Protagonist Ubermensch is confronted by the retiring detective (well, sergeant) who lives!

Bill Foster: I'm the bad guy?
Sergeant Prendergast: Yeah.
Bill Foster: How did that happen?

  • In American Beauty, the middle-aged protagonist spends the majority of the movie fantasizing about a slutty teenager, and even starts working out to impress her. But when he finally gets a chance to fulfill the fantasy, he realizes that statutory rape laws are there for a reason: She's just as insecure and immature as any other teenager, and is actually still a virgin. He opts to be a Chaste Hero, not that it helps much.
  • The Operative in Serenity has one of these once he realizes just what the supposed "utopia" that he has been committing horrible acts to create would actually look like.
  • Jim Carrey has an excellent one in Liar Liar. Since he is magically compelled to tell the truth, what he thinks is a rant on his child-raising techniques opens with him saying "I'm a bad father!" His expression indicates that this is perhaps the first time he has admitted that to himself.
  • Subverted in the Bill Paxton film Frailty: Fenton's father locks him in a cellar with minimal food and water until the boy comes to the realization that the family is destined to be God's warriors on earth, killing demons. Fenton later does have an epiphany... that he is one of the demons. He summarily kills his father with his own axe and instructs his brother Adam to bury him in the same rose garden all of the other demons were buried in, when the time comes for him to be killed.
  • Hostel Part 2 plays it both ways. Two brothers are in town to enjoy the "products" of the Murder, Inc.. One of them is looking forward to the main event, but gets cold feet after accidentally mutilating his victim instead of just scaring her. The other straps his victim back in after initially releasing her.
  • The final part of Pulp Fiction involves Jules explaining to a mugger that he has come to realize this, and he explains that before he had his epiphany, he would have gunned down the muggers without hesitation, but now he understands how bad a man he's been right before he lets the muggers go.
  • Boxer in Southland Tales realizes in his last scene that he's a facet of the Antichrist. He doesn't really seem to take it all that badly, even though he knows it means he's about to be blown up by the true Messianic Archetype.
  • Nicholas, in The Last King of Scotland, realizes only too late whom he has been assisting for years, and in what.
  • Cass has one of these at the end of The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. Given that The Gamers and Dead Gentlemen in general is known for broad farce, pulling off such a vulnerable moment without Mood Whiplash is actually a small triumph.
  • In The Fox and The Hound, the Big Bad has one at the end when Copper prevents him from shooting Tod, despite the fact that Tod saved both their lives only two minutes earlier.
  • The expression on Captain Ramsey's face when the EAM is read looks like this.
  • "I fight for the users!"
  • Sybok from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is devastated when he finds out that "God" is actually a malevolent alien entity, making his hijacking of Captain Kirk's ship worthless and potentially fatal.
  • In Twelve Angry Men, when Juror #3, in the middle of explaining his 'Guilty' vote, sees the picture of his son in his wallet and tears it up ... and figures out why he really was voting the way he was.
  • A mild case with Jason in Mystery Team after Kelly chews him out for trash mouthing Charlie and Duncan.
  • The audience has one of these in Attack of the Clones; there is a scene at the end where troops ships are taking off from Coruscant to fight in the Clone Wars—the music playing in the background is The Imperial March. The audience realizes that for the past hour or so, they've been Rooting for the Empire.
  • "I will not die a monster!", exclaimed Doc Ock after his realization.
  • Jack's realisation in The Nightmare Before Christmas crystallises in the song "Poor Jack".
  • Cars 2 has Mater having a dream where he sees his activities over the past few days and finally realizes what an embarrassing jackass he's been to Lightning McQueen.
  • Bjarnfredarson is all about this finally happening to the titular character, who failed to realise this over three whole series of comedy.
  • In Dogma, Loki has a moment like this when he hears Bartleby claim that God unfairly favours humans over angels and that therefore they are entitled to kill a bunch of them if that means they get to return to Heaven.

"My God. I've heard a rant like this before... You sound like the Morning Star... You sound like Lucifer, man! You've fucking lost it! You are not talking about going home, Bartleby, you are talking fucking war on God! Well fuck that! I've seen what happens to the proud when they try to take on the throne... I'm going back to Winsconsin."


  • Ian Hunter of The Unicorn Chronicles spends the first book, plus a great deal of flashback, being on the side of his great-great-and so on- grandmother, who is trying to destroy luster and the unicorns, all to 'rescue' his daughter. Upon finding her, she yells at him for hurting her friends, and after he gets dumped in the middle of nowhere, he realizes that Beloved is a monster and he's been on the wrong side for the past ten or so years.
  • A halfway one from The Secret River: Thornhill says that he is "not a bad man", but is doing "something only the worst of men could do"
  • In Terry Pratchett's Witches Abroad, Lily Weatherwax ruled with an iron fist in order to make fairy stories come true (up to and including imprisoning a toymaker who serially failed to whistle as he worked) and didn't realise that this made her the bad one until her final confrontation with her sister.
    • She goes to her not quite death still insisting she's the good one, but Granny's insistence otherwise has rattled her somewhat. Granny, though, has on multiple occasions made a point of saying that only people who don't know better can actually be bad; if you know the difference between right and wrong, you can't choose wrong.
    • Subverted in Wyrd Sisters when Granny Weatherwax forces the monstrous queen of Lancre to see her True Self. Instead of repenting, the queen declares that given the chance to start over she would've done everything the same, only harder. She then suffers Karmic Death...sort of. Which would make the above point "if know the difference... and are sane..."
  • In the book Wicked, Elphaba is Genre Savvy enough to eventually pick up on her Wicked Witch role.
  • Sir Apropos of Nothing has a variation: he's not the villain, but instead he's the weird side character to someone else's journey. He eventually kills the hero and takes over his duties, to disastrous results. Then in The Woad to Wuin, when he wakes up from a coma, he realizes what "he's" done while he was "sleeping" and is scared out of his wits. When he realizes the same force that controlled him then makes him indestructible... well, he falls into the evil well face-first.
    • Though he'd been dangling just over the abyss to begin with, really. Kind of a self-serving-but-not-completely-evil-bastard/heel turn.
  • Lale fights this with all her might for awhile in The Assassins of Tamurin, until the crimes she realizes "Mother" has committed get personal.
  • This is the source of the title of I Am Legend. The protagonist is indiscriminately killing the vampires who have reformed and learned to control their urges and realizes at the end he has become a monster to them.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Alternate History Worldwar series, this happens to Panzer Commander of the Wehrmacht Heinrich Jäger when an old Jewish man shows him the bullet hole in his neck and tells him the story of how he got it. Heinrich had heard the rumors before then, but he hadn't believed in them. The third book sums it up nicely:

What Skorzeny didn't get and wouldn't get if he lived to be a hundred - not likely, considering how the SS man lived - was that what we were supposed to do and what our superiors ordered us to do weren't necessarily the same thing.
Soldiers didn't commonly had to make that distinction. Jäger hadn't worried about it, not until he had found out how the Germans dealt with Jews in the east. Since then, he hadn't been able to look away. He knew what sort of disaster awaited the world if the Lizards won the war. Like Skorzeny, he was willing to do just about anything to keep that from happening. Unlike the SS man, he wasn't willing to believe that everything he did was fine and virtuous.
That made for another subtle distinction, but he clung to it.

    • Another Turtledove book late in his Timeline-191 series features a character who has become a guard at what is basically Auschwitz in the extermination of American Southern blacks, and considers himself doing vital work for the safety of his country. When he eventually realizes, basically through the simple decency of one of the prisoners, that blacks are * people* , he is overcome at the evil he has been helping enact and kills himself.
      • This is especially poignant, as earlier in the series the character somewhat identified with blacks (though in a way that only made him dislike them more). He himself was of Mexican descent, and commented more than once that in the eyes of most Confederates, he was at most only one step away from blacks.
  • In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, James Taggart is helping to torture John Galt, and admits the latter's refusal to cry out is making him upset. When he realizes the significance of this, that he wants the man to be tortured to death—even though Taggart knows that Galt's the only one that can keep Taggart alive as civilization collapses, it dawns on him that he himself is total evil. At this point, he goes insane.
  • Reverend Hale in The Crucible has one of these and spends the rest of the play trying to make amends - by encouraging victims of the witch-hunt to confess and live rather than die for continuing to deny witchcraft.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Traitor General, Sturm, his memory partially recovered, regards himself as deeply injured by his treatment at the hands of the Imperial forces. However, as he recovers, he realizes that he had forgot his acts that inspired it, and that he deserves to die. (Which is more than he realized, with all his memories, at the end of Necropolis.)
  • Atonement gives one to Briony, the narrator, upon the realization that her actions sent an innocent man to prison.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Galaxy In Flames, after Abaddon and Aximand set out to lure Loken and Torgaddon to their deaths, Torgaddon points out to Aximand that he has doubt in his eyes—which doesn't keep him from killing him, but he sobs afterwards and speaks of how they had been their brothers. Abaddon thinks he needs to be watched.
    • In Graham McNeill's Fulgrim, Fulgrim realizes how great his betrayal is when he is fighting Ferrus Manus; his sword gets him to kill Ferrus Manus anyway, saying he will kill him otherwise, and then, when Fulgrim says "What Have I Done", it lets him realize the depths of his crime, and that his view of Ferrus Manus had been formed by spiteful misinterpretation of his deeds.
    • While we're on this, Sarpedon of the Soul Drinkers (another Ben Counter work) comes to the terrifying realisation at the end of Soul Drinker, upon finding out that his Chapter have essentially become Chaos Marines (although, had it not been for Chaos mind-befuddling, the mutations would have provided a pretty damn big clue). Having realised this, Sarpedon hauls himself and his Chapter back from the brink of Chaos just in time, and kills the Daemon responsible.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Deus Sanguinius, Sachiel comes into Inquisitor Stele's rooms when forbidden, and realizes the man is working for Chaos, and so Sachiel and everyone else has been Chaos-tainted. (Nothing Laser-Guided Amnesia can't fix, though.) During the single combat between Rafen and Arkio, he realizes it again, and this time Inquisitor Stele murders him.
  • In the novelization of the Magic: The Gathering story Urza's Saga, we have the Knight Templar archangel Radiant, whose last words are the startled "I'm the mad one!"
  • Star Wars novel examples:
    • In Allegiance, a stormtrooper refuses to fire on unarmed civilians, deliberately shooting to miss. Later he thinks back on how much he looked up to the Empire as a kid, when it came down on the Space Pirates who used to raid his homeworld, and how he joined the stormtrooper corps and served for ten years because it meant making that same kind of difference. But the Empire itself seemed to sour - there was that time he and the other stormtroopers forced a town to stand out in the pouring rain while their identities were checked and rechecked, there was that fanatical obsession with finding and killing Rebels which let other problems go unchecked, there was the promotion of murderers like Tarkin, there were things like the Imperial Security Bureau, and of course there was Alderaan. After sort of accidentally killing an ISB officer, he and his True Companions steal a ship and go on the run, and end up helping people and finding that Good Feels Good as they try to figure out what to do. But they don't stop being stormtroopers, and they don't join the Rebellion.
      • Word of God, and supposedly the upcoming novel "Choices", holds that these stormtroopers eventually get kidnapped by Thrawn and end up in his offshoot, the Empire of the Hand. The Empire of the Hand, judging by Survivors Quest and the short story Fool's Bargain, is apparently exactly what the stormtroopers used to think that the Empire was. Given that both of those feature stormtroopers who think for themselves and can make moral decisions, it's not surprising.
      • They end up forming a sort-of vigilante group that hunts down pirates and ends up helping Mara Jade expose corruption within the Empire. They called themselves the Hand of Judgment until Mara Jade saved them from getting killed for treason, then told them that there was only one Hand in the Empire, and it was her, the Emperor's Hand. They lost the name, but haven't quit hunting lawbreakers yet.
    • Death Star has most of its viewpoint characters, all of them on the Death Star, realize this either slowly or after Alderaan.
  • A Christmas Carol is essentially one long heel realization by Scrooge.
  • This is the central point in the The Wave, where a teacher wants to show his class how Nazi Germany came to be... and it all goes horribly right as they really begin to resemble Nazis. Various people have their Heel Realizations throughout the book, including the whole class at the end.
  • Jack McBride in Torch of Freedom, comes to the conclusion halfway through the book that promoting slavery and plotting to take over the known galaxy is bad and reacts by setting up a defection by a major researcher and then blowing up the Gamma center.
    • In other examples from the Harrington-verse, Alfredo Yu realizes what kind of sociopaths the Masadans he's been ordered to assist really are and wants nothing more to do with it (nor evidently do a good portion of his fellow Havenite crew). This eventually becomes a recurring theme with other Havenite characters until their second revolution and the overthrow of the Pierre dictatorship.
  • Pyotr Fursenko from the Dale Brown novel Warrior Class serves as the lead aerospace engineer for the Big Bad Pavel Kazakov. Detached from the atrocities by his distance from the fighting, the evil of his boss finally sinks in when he acts as Guy in Back on a bombing run on the German embassy in Albania, complete with civilian protesters surrounding it.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Transcedence, Gannis realizes that while he is technically not guilty of any crimes, his behavior has been petty, underhanded, deceitful, and disloyal, and he will be—quite justly—shunned for it.
  • In George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan, after Joan of Arc is captured, the English chaplain John de Stogumber pushes relentlessly for burning her at the stake; when he actually sees it done, he literally goes insane with remorse.
  • In Harry Potter, this happened to Dumbledore after the death of his sister.
    • Ditto on Dudley, who realizes exactly what he has become when attacked by Dementors in book 5
    • Also happened to Snape after his actions resulted in Lily Potter's death.
  • Valjean in Les Misérables had his Heel Realization after unthinkingly robbing a small child, right after Bishop Myriel had given him everything he'd owned, which got him to start taking his oath to the bishop seriously, and, well... you know the rest. Much later, Javert has his own Heel Realization when he sees Valjean's honest intent to save Marius shortly after having himself been spared by him, and realizes that the world isn't as black-and-white as he'd meant to believe; he doesn't take it as well.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Wide-Eyed Idealist The Professor Aronnax is truly happy to travel in the Nautilus making submarine research, but after he witness Captain Nemo crossing the Moral Event Horizon, Aronnax realizes the true price of his travels with Captain Nemo:

"He had made me, if not an accomplice, at least an eyewitness to his vengeance! Even this was intolerable."

  • In Death: There is this one lawyer in Ceremony In Death who defends one of the Satanic cult leaders that Eve is trying to take down. This lawyer happens to be a cult member himself. When Eve shows crime scene photos of a murdered cult member, the cult leader acts all "Meh", and the lawyer can only sit there and stare at the photos. Eve pretty much tips him off that she knows about his involvement and that he should think long and hard about what to do next. Later, when the lawyer is by himself, he ends up experiencing a Heel Realization, where he realizes that ever since he joined the cult he's been having blackouts...and in one of those blackouts, the cult member in the photos was murdered in a sacrifice! Who knows what else happened in those blackouts? He ends realizing that he is in big trouble, and decides to pull a Heel Face Turn...only to get murdered shortly afterwards.
  • "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield is about the main character, Laura, having one of these and realizing how unbelievably shallow her life is.
  • Mrs Granger in Frindle, after overreacting to a student's creative attempt to invent a new word, is Genre Savvy enough to realize that her actions have placed her in the role of the villain and uses this status to help the new word along.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: Roland Sullivan in Lethal Justice apparently experienced this after Alexis Thorne was sent to prison. The good news is that it left him pretty wrecked up. The bad news is that it was an Ignored Epiphany for him.
  • Till We Have Faces spends its second half working towards this, with Queen Orual gaining revelation after revelation that complicates her perceptions of herself. It culminates in her long-awaited chance to read her accusation against the gods ... but it comes out the way her inner self meant it, not the way she wrote it.
  • The eponymous Harry Dresden of the Dresden Files has this a few times:
    • Has one of these that he confesses to the avatar of his consciousness when a photocopy of the Fallen Angel Lasciel in his head. , his consciousness points out that Harry really doesn't have a choice, and that taking the high road means everyone dies. He then pointed out that Harry has the capacity to do good with the evil he agreed to working with. Later, on the same note, Harry and Michael discuss this somewhat.
    • Then, Lasciel's copy has one of these. To emphasize, Harry is so stubborn that he got the shadow of a Fallen Angel to turn back to good.
    • Later, when Harry is dead in Ghost Story, he realizes what his decisions in the previous book did to his friends, especially Molly. It turns out that accepting a devil's bargain in front of your partially-reformed warlock wizardling apprentice is a bad idea, and that she learns from your example.
  • In one of the Iron Warriors short stories, the renegade Space Marine Ardaric Vaanes realises that yes, he's become a Traitor Marine. At first, however, he doesn't care.

Live-Action TV

Iris: "I'm going to hell when I die. I know that. But if I am very fortunate, my brother will be there waiting for me with an embrace."

Mitchell: Hans... are we the baddies?

  • In The Middleman episode "The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown", former Middleman Guy Goddard realizes that he's the villain when he finds himself saying the villainous Once an Episode Catch Phrase "My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity."
  • Nicely played out in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Waltz", although some fans feel it began Dukat's descent into a more simplistic villainy. Upon being asked by the hero to justify his occupation of Bajor, Dukat's calm rationalizations gradually give way to a rant about the Bajorans' lack of gratitude for his mercy, until he answers Sisko's sarcastic "you should have killed them all" with an excited "yes! Yes, that's right, isn't it? I knew it. I've always known it. I should have killed every last one of them. I should have turned their planet into a graveyard the likes of which the Galaxy has never seen! I should have killed them all." When he later makes his escape, he's dropped the claim of being a misunderstood hero that he'd always made before, and becomes an unapologetic, nihilistic villain for the rest of the series - one of the few examples where a character recognizes his villainy and actually embraces it.
    • This also doubles as a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero given what Dukat would go on to do after Sisko basically goaded him into embracing his darkside.
    • Also occurs in the Original Series episode, "Changeling", for certain values of "hero" and "villain", as Kirk reveals to NOMAD that it has made an error. NOMAD realizes that it, too, is Faulty and Imperfect, and therefore must be Sterilized.
    • Also in "The Return of the Archons", again in the Original Series. Kirk must have studied Logical Judo in Starfleet.
  • 30 Rock, Liz goes to her high school reunion and finds out that the reason she was so unpopular in high school was that her humor was seen as bullying by EVERYONE else in the school.
  • On Dollhouse, Mellie/November gives Ballard a creepy speech indicating (between the lines) that she's been programmed with low self-respect, and he responds with a dose of rough sex. The next morning she asks if he'll be looking for Dollhouse clients, and he mutters, "I found one."
    • Topher begins to have this realization, and tries to fight it off with noble goals, such as saving Priya from a lifetime of sex slavery. Nonetheless, his scientific progress leads nowhere good, he holds himself responsible for the destruction his discoveries cause, and he goes insane.
  • Happens a couple of times in Quantum Leap.
    • In "Her Charm", Sam leaps into an FBI agent assigned to protect a woman who testified against a crime boss. His attempts to hide her should be successful, but fail when an informant in the agency keeps giving away her location to her pursuers. Sam groans in frustration when he learns that he (or rather, the man he leaped into) is the rat in question.
    • In "Last Dance Before an Execution", Sam leaps into a man in the electric chair who is given a 48-hour reprieve, seemingly to try to prove the innocence of the man he leaped into. But as it turns out, he really did it after all - he was there to save the co-defendant, who was innocent.
  • Richard Woolsey in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Inauguration", beginning his long journey to becoming one of the heroes and ultimately a regular on Stargate Atlantis.
    • And Harry Maybourne as well, from slimy weasel to convicted traitor to grudging ally to beloved king of an alien planet.
    • Tomin has one early in "The Ark of Truth". The Priors have a collective one after the Ark is opened.
  • Supernatural has an odd version in season five when Dean realizes where his current path leads after he's sent into the future and meets himself.

Dean: (Chained up) What? You don't trust yourself?
Future!Dean: No. Absolutely not. (leaves)
Dean: What a dick.

    • The moment at the end of season four after Sam has killed Lilith and Ruby revealed that Lilith was the final seal, not the one who was going to break the final seal, is Sam's moment when he realizes he's just an Unwitting Pawn who screwed up big time and brought about the apocalypse. His face during Ruby's triumphal and extremely ill-advised monologue conveys complete devastation. He's barely even paying attention when he and Dean subsequently kill Ruby.
    • In season seven, after getting Drunk on the Dark Side and Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, Castiel finally realizes he's out of his depth after his Disproportionate Revenge turns into an unintended massacre when the Leviathans inside him take over.
  • As The Wire winds to its conclusion, McNulty finally realizes that being a Cowboy Cop did not make him a hero after his plan to get more funding for the police via a fake serial killer story blows up in his face.
  • In Alias, the agents of SD-6 are not happy to learn they've been working for the enemy all along.
  • Third Season of Breaking Bad features Jessie realizing that he's 'the bad guy'

"Jesse: I learned it in rehab. It's all about accepting who you really are. I accept who I am.
Walter: And who are you?
Jesse: I'm the bad guy.

  • Doctor Who had a truly shocking one in "Journey's End", from a frigging Dalek no less.

Dalek Caan: "I saw the Daleks, what we have done throughout time and space. I saw the truth of us, creator, and I decreed: No! More!"

"I've taken lives. And I got worse, I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own. Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long."

    • How about this one, from a Dalek to the Doctor!
  • Sebastian the Vorlon Inquisitor in Babylon 5 had such a realization about his "reform" project for which he was "remembered only as Jack" (the Ripper).

Sebastian: The city was drowning in decay, chaos, immorality. A message needed to be sent, etched in blood, for all the world to see: a warning. In the pursuit of my holy cause, I did things, terrible things, unspeakable things. The world condemned me, but it didn't matter, because I believed I was right and the world was wrong. I believed I was the divine messenger. I believed I was...
Sheridan: Chosen?
Sebastian: I was found by the Vorlons. They showed me the terrible depth of my mistake, my crimes, my presumption. I have done 400 years of penance in their service. A job for which they said I was ideally suited. Now, perhaps, they will finally let me die.

    • Also from Babylon 5, Zack Allan. He was originally enticed into joining Nightwatch because of the extra pay it offered, but as he noticed Nightwatch get more and more oppressive, he began to resent his decision. Still, he stayed in and simply strove to involve himself as little as possible. Finally, as Nightwatch tries to take over the station, he lets slip that a bunch of Narns are coming in to replace them. The leader of the local Nightwatch musters every hand possible to capture them...putting all of them in one single secure location which Zack promptly has sealed. After both sides having told him he had done the right thing, it's only at this point that he feels he can believe it.
  • Done rather nicely in iCarly with Nevel, who was as close to a Big Bad as the show got. After spending the series doing everything he could to destroy iCarly, he gets caught on video being his mean, Jerkass self to a little girl who'd accidentally bumped into him. Not only does this ruin his life, it shows him what he's really been like. He pretty much says My God, What Have I Done? and makes a token effort to change his ways. Ultimately, the iCarly gang help him do so and he performs a Heel Face Turn as a result.
  • The Big Bang Theory had an episode with two unrelated stories about this. One centered arounnd reuinion between Leonard and a former bully, during which time he began to realize how much he'd hurt Leonard until he wakes up the next morning fully sober up and reverts to his older self. The other centered around Penny realizing that she used to be a bully and trying to overcome her guilt upon realizing how much she hurt her classmates.


  • Happens twice in Razia's Shadow: A Musical by Forgive Durden. First, when Ahrima goes into the darkness and Barayas (the Spider) convinces him that the only way to make people respect him is to make them fear him. He destorys the lamps, and is banished. In Toba the Tura, he laments "Oh, what have I done?". Second, Pallis. After accidentally stabbing his brother, Adakias, he begs and pleads for him to fight and stay alive. Though he was aware of his evil intentions, he didn't mean to take things so far.
  • The second half of David Bowie's "Cygnet Committee," wherein the second narrator first gleefully describes the violence he and his allies have turned to, but slowly sees it to be antithetical to his ideals.
  • "The Truth beneath the Rose" by Within Temptation seems to be about this.

I believed it would justify the means
It had a hold over me
Blinded to see
The cruelty of the beast
Here is the darkest side of me
(Forgive me my sins)
The veil of my dreams
Deceived all I have seen
Forgive me for what I have been.

I'm not a monster, Tom
Well, technically I am
I guess I am.

  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song "The Curse of Milhaven"

Since I was no bigger than a weevil
they've been saying I was evil
that if bad was a boot then I'd fit it
that I'm a wicked young lady,
but I've been trying hard lately
Oh fuck it! I'm a monster! I admit it!

  • "I Was Wrong" by Social Distortion.

When I was young, I was so full of fear
I hid behind anger, held back the tears
It was me against the world, I was sure that I'd win
But the world fought back, punished me for my sins
I felt so alone, so insecure
I blamed you instead, made sure I was heard
And they tried to warn me of my evil ways
But I couldn't hear what they had to say
I was wrong, self-destruction's got me again
I was wrong, I realise now that I was wrong

  • Happens in the middle of "Crusade" by Voltaire, after the narrator has slain one of the reportedly evil dragons he was crusading against.

The dragon fell upon the ground
‍'‍Twas then I heard a whimpering sound
A dragonling to his father clung
Who only fought to protect his young.


  • According to Christianity, acknowledging one's own "fallenness" is the first step to receiving salvation.
    • A specific example would be Saul, a notorious persecutor of the earliest Christians, who was knocked to the ground and struck blind by a vision of God on the way to Damascus ("Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?"). He converted within the week to Christianity and found his sight restored, and "the road to Damascus" would become a popular metaphor for the Heel Realization.
  • Older Than Feudalism in The Bible:
    • "Truly, this man was the son of God."
    • In the New Testament, when Judas Iscariot realizes that he's betrayed Jesus, he gives back the thirty pieces of silver, and hangs himself. (The other account for his death averts this trope.)
    • Another Biblical example—David, though beloved of the Lord, was rebuked by the prophet Nathan when he had Uriah the Hittite put on the front lines so he would be killed, and David could take his wife Bethsheba for himself. Nathan tells him that the child Bethsheba was currently pregnant with would not live. Indeed, despite David fasting and clothing himself in sackcloth, the baby died after seven days. (And during this time, David wrote the powerfully penitent Psalm 51).

Tabletop Games

  • In Ravenloft, having a Heel Realization is the only way a darklord can escape his/her Ironic Hell realm. The sourcebook does note that people actually capable of having a Heel Realization would never have become darklords in the first place.


  • The stage version of Little Shop of Horrors climaxes when Seymour Krelborn realizes what he's aided and abetted for a little fame and a shot at the woman of his dreams. Confronting Audrey 2 he damns them both, "You're a monster, and so am I!" He is then promptly eaten.
  • Valjean and Javert in Les Misérables - see Literature, above, although the episodes with Petit Gervais and Marius are sometimes omitted, the realizations following directly from the Bishop's undeserved gift to Valjean and Valjean's decision to spare Javert. Here, with Javert having been upgraded from "recurring nuisance" to "deuteragonist," an explicit parallel is drawn, Javert having a solo that's a Dark Reprise of Valjean's.

Video Games

  • In Tales of Phantasia, the main characters' primary motivation the entire game long is avenging the slaughter of their hometown, but they go too far and they end up nearly dooming a planet because of it. There's a nice few minutes of angst (not quite enough, though) right after the Final Boss fight.
    • About two thirds of the way through Tales of Vesperia, the party (which has to this point skirted the line between heroism and villainy, Yuri in particular) has a plan to defeat the newly-arrived Man Behind the Man, but it will involve destroying every blastia in the world. The crew considers this for a moment and decides they need to get the permission of the world's leaders for such an act which they get! Now the only problem is stopping resident White-Haired Pretty Boy Duke from sacrificing every human life on the planet in HIS attempt to destroy the Adephagos. Oh yeah, and after you beat the snot out of Duke, he plays this trope absurdly straight, even to the point where he survives.
  • In Valkyria Chronicles one of the Imperial generals, Yeager, realizes that even though he's fighting to liberate his own country, his participation in the invasion of Gallia makes him a hypocrite. Inspired by the zeal and dedication the Gallians show in defending their homeland, Yeager decides to abandon his post and leaves the Imperial army.
  • The page quote from Knights of the Old Republic II comes from a conversation between Kreia and Jedi Master Atris, during which Atris realizes that she had fallen to The Dark Side some time ago through her resentment of those she feels betrayed her. Atris subsequently embraces the role of Darth Traya, although the Jedi Exile has the opportunity to redeem her.
    • It's worth noting that Atris wasn't Darth Traya, or at least not the original Darth Traya. In the version of the game that shipped, which had quite a bit of story cut for time, Atris doesn't get a Sith name. The full story, including the bits that got cut, seems to be canonical, though. It's also hinted that Kreia went through the same realization sometime in her past, as well as Atton Rand, whose story you can find out more about.
    • And then there is the original KotOR, where at tho-thirds point in the game you learn that you were the amnesiac Sith Lord all along.
  • Devil Survivor has Well-Intentioned Extremist Keisuke, who only has this epiphany if made to realize they're Not So Different from the people they seek to punish: like them, he's looking for somebody to blame for conditions in the lockdown getting worse, and killing anyone he judges responsible.
  • White Knight Leo from Lunar 2: Eternal Blue is a Knight Templar who's really a Knight in Shining Armor at heart...which is why he flip-flops between Heel and Face. By the time he's mostly sided with Hiro, he's had to accept that the Althena he served was a fake goddess, put into position by the real dark god, Zophar. Oh, and that he's slaughtered an untold number of other innocent people by unquestioningly following the orders of his false goddess. It's a tough pill to swallow.
  • Infocom's Leather Goddesses of Phobos: Disarming Thorbast/Thorbala then returning his/her sword causes him/her to realize that he/she is the bad guy.
  • Xenosaga has Canaan, who actually does this twice: first as Lactis during the cellphone game Pied Piper, then a hundred years later during Xenosaga III: Also Sprach Zarathustra as Canaan. Both times, Redemption Equals Death. Reincarnation is fun, kids.
  • This "Let's Play" of Galactic Civilizations 2 was intended to be a peaceful attempt at attaining galactic superiority through advanced culture. Half way through comes the realization that something has gone terribly wrong:

God, look at me. This was supposed to be my quest for peace, and I've become addicted to destroying suns.

Eden: Perhaps...Perhaps there is a problem. I--I am unsure how to proceed.

  • If you spare Loghain in Dragon Age: Origins and increase his approval, he will eventually go through one of these. His last words if you allow him to slay the Archdemon make it clear that he knows his past actions are unforgivable, and all he wants is a chance to atone for them.
  • Cecil in Final Fantasy IV is loyal to his king at the start of the game, having been raised like a son by him. However, he draws the line when he's unwittingly used to burn down an entire village of innocent summoners. The next part of the game involves him trying to atone for the awful things he did as a Dark Knight in Baron's service.
  • In God of War III, Kratos goes through this due to a combination of The Reason You Suck Speeches given to him as well as developing a Morality Chain with Pandora, a girl statue given life who clings to hope in a world that Kratos is systematically destroying. By the end, he decides to relinquish the power of Hope via a Anti-Heroic Sacrifice, though by that time, it's far too late to fix anything.
  • Throughout Persona 4, Namatame (manipulated by the real killer) has kidnapped people he saw on the Midnight Channel and thrown them into the TV to protect them from a Serial Killer. He sincerely believes that the TV is a safe place, and he can retrieve them once the killer's found. What he doesn't realize is that they can't escape on their own, and once the fog lifts, they will be killed by Shadows. Once he himself enters the TV to escape police pursuit, it hits him just how wrong he was, and he does everything he can to assist the party as atonement... assuming you aren't cruel enough to kill him.
  • Quite possibly the entire reason Raiden attempts to change history in Mortal Kombat 9, coupled with Shao Kahn's victory. His revival of Liu Kang is one of the key events shown in the flashback message he sends to his past self.
  • Inducing this in the game is how you win You Find Yourself In A Room. If you mention hatred or anger as emotions you will be better off without, the game realizes that it is not the superior emotionless being it thought, as it it is filled with hatred and anger. This drives it into a despair in which it simply lets you go, finding no more meaning in its tortures.
  • In Back to The Future: The Game, Edna Strickland is hit with one of these in the fifth episode, after admitting that she accidentally burned Hill Valley to the ground when trying to destroy a saloon in the 1800s.

Edna: I'm a hooligan!

  • In Devil May Cry, Trish is a demon sent to lure Dante to his doom. He shrugs off her attempts to take his life, and even goes so far as to save her from a falling column—and then calls her a devil and tells her that he only spared her because she looks like his mother. Trish's stricken look at that moment speaks volumes.
  • In Asura's Wrath, Yasha spent the last 12,000 years going along with the plans of the same people who killed his sister and his brother-in-law, enslaved his niece, and regularly slaughter people for their souls. All for the sake of the "cause"—preventing the complete destruction of humanity at the hands of the Gohma. He justified it by believing with all his might that it truly was the only way to save humanity in the long run. Confronting Asura again and seeing how much power he's attained without mass human sacrifice helps Yasha realize that Deus' plan isn't the only way to save the world. When Asura calls Yasha and the other Deities fools for killing seven trillion people as part of their plan to "save" the world, Yasha agrees.

Visual Novels

  • In Tsukihime, Akiha route, you can, at one point, kill Ciel (thus, failing her test of Shiki's humanity), prompting Shiki to assume he IS a natural-born killer, after all, and give in to The Dark Side. Needless to say, it's a bad ending game over.
  • Part of Kotomine's Backstory in Fate/stay night is his realization that nice people do not enjoying watching others being tortured or that sort of thing. That's fundamentally why he can't actually become a Card-Carrying Villain; he actually has a sense of morality. The end result can be considered an Ignored Epiphany but he did try. For years.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Miles Edgeworth starts to have "doubts" after you demonstrate two defendants to be innocent, but it's not until he's the defendant in two murder trials in a row in which he's innocent that he really decides that forging evidence to get every single defendant found guilty is a bad thing. Furthermore, he finds out that although he became a prosecutor because of the fatal shooting of his father, it turns out that the real killer is the senior prosecutor who he works with - the one who taught him how to forge evidence!
    • Also, in the fifth case, Edgeworth finds that he's already guilty of using forged evidence, and the forged evidence was used to give a death sentance to a serial killer. He wasn't aware of it at the time (he himself didn't forge the evidence, and he was convinced at the time that it was the real deal), but it really came to bite him in the ass when people found it out and started to call him out on it. Even when they find out who forged the eivdence and why, sort of clearing his name a bit, he couldn't forgive himself for it...and it's implied that it's one of the many things that pushes him to leave the prosecutors office for a year, leaving what appears to be a suicide note.
  • In Katawa Shoujo, in Act 4 of Shizune's route, she realizes that she has been taking those closest to her for granted and pushing people close to her away. She thus resolves to, with Hisao's help, repair her friendship with Misha, and also says she will be less competitive in the future.

Web Comics

  • In Exiern, Tiffany hates Theresa for several bad reasons: They are both under a Gender Bender spell (and Theresa doesn't share Tiffany's whiny attitude about it), the guy Tiffany tries to tell herself she's not in love with seem interested in Theresa, and they (Tiffany & Theresa) are equally bigoted against each other's culture. After Denver give her the appropriate "What the Hell, Hero?", Tiffany finally realize what a bitch she has been to Theresa. See page illustration above.
  • Happens in Shades of Grey: the Well-Intentioned Extremist angel dude after he meets two nice - but traumatized - demons and freaks out.
  • Subversion: Cale'anon of Looking for Group believes he has turned evil after killing a little boy and tries to act accordingly, but really, he isn't made of the right (or wrong) stuff.
  • Parodied in Ansem Retort.

Axel: We've faced worse than this. Remember when Disneyworld was destroyed?
Marluxia: Larxene did that.
Axel: Well, what about that plane that got hijacked?
Marluxia: You hijacked that plane.
Axel: Okay, but there was that corrupt government.
Marluxia: That was, and still is Zexion.
Axel: Wow, we're assholes.

Agatha: And I'm the evil mad girl with the death ray and the freakish ancestors -- and the town full of minions -- and the horde of Jagers -- and the homicidal castle full of sycophantic evil geniuses and fun-sized hunter-killer monster clanks and goodness knows what else-
Agatha: -And you know what? I can work with that!

    • In fact, multiply parodied: Baron Wulfenbach gets a few lovely moments too - mostly in the vein of knowing he's the "bad guy" and being all right with that.
    • At one point, Gil Wulfenbach goes into a huge rant about how he always tries to be a Nice Guy but all that does is make people think that he is weak and that they can take advantage of him, and so the only time he can make people listen to reason is by beating the crap out of them first. And then he realises, to his horror: "This must be how my father feels all the time! "
  • 8-Bit Theater example:

Sarda: Well. Um. No. You're all selfish monsters who need to die for the good of everyone else. [1]

    • Ironically, Sarda doesn't seem to realize or care that he is the one that enabled them to do so much damage in the first place. Stable time loops are delicious like that.
  • Though not a villain, The Japanese Beetle had a moment where he realized he's a creep, and set about trying to become a decent person and a real hero.
  • In Darths and Droids, the PCs have always been skirting the border between merely Off the Rails and Obliviously Evil, casually trashing the GM's carefully scripted story and messing things up far worse than they were originally. The GM loves to point this out to them, but it isn't until #454 that Pete finally gets it. Of course, his reaction subverts the trope: "So we're the bad guys now? Cool!"
    • Played a little more seriously in #571, where Anakin slaughters the younglings. Jim can no longer sympathize with Anakin, thinking him to be a Complete Monster. In this continuity, he's probably right.
      • And then that one also gets subverted (at least, on Jim's end) in #576. Apparently, Lawful Evil is OK.
      • Interesting about this one is that Anakin's character arc has been mirroring something similar in Annie's life, and realizing what Jim thinks of Anakin gives Annie a nasty shock when she realizes that somehow she's taken playing an increasingly evil character as a pass to be amoral in real life.
  • Parson arrives at this fairly quickly after arriving in Erfworld (what with his side having all the classic evil minions like dwagons, gobwins, twolls, and giant spidews), but gets chewed out by his new boss and told that the whole "Good Guys/ Bad Guys" concept is just stupid. Comes up again after the climax of the Battle of Gobwin Knob, when the full impact of his plans and actions (tens of thousands of Erfworlders are DEAD) hits Parson and he has to wonder how much he was influenced by the spell that summoned him and how much by his own free will and genuine desire to command a battle.
    • King Slately, too.

"I am facing facts," he repeated, softly. "My friend. Hard, hard facts." The two rulers looked at one another for a long moment. "My son is more of a man than I am. All my sons have been. And you always knew it. Did you not?"
Don said nothing.
"You never would listen to me about Royal ideals," Slately said, frowning. "Honor, sacrifice, dignity, decorum, station...loyalty, bravery... You were too polite to me, Don. You couldn't simply say I was no Royal ideal myself."

Web Original

  • Steve in Kate Modern, when he realises his religion is actually a murderous cult, which he has been serving blindly.
  • Bobby Jacks in Survival of the Fittest, who realizes he's one of the bad guys very early on but then decides that now that he's killed somebody there's no going back. Lenny Priestly also arguably fits this, although he is less somber about it.
  • Cracked.com offers a helpful list of 5 Signs That You're The Villain In An Action Movie, including details like acknowledging one's own Red Right Hand and the possibility of being an Evil Brit.
  • The Escapist series Doraleous and Associates had an episode where the titular heroes-for-hire realized they were working for the bad guys. They immediately switched sides.
  • In this short video made for Christmas 2009, Jack Bauer begins to interrogate and torture Santa Claus. (Santa's flying over the US without a passport delivering mysterious packages, after all). With only a few sentences Santa makes Jack (who has just threatened to cut out Santa's eyes) realize that what he's doing is wrong. The video ends with an emotionally distraught Jack leaving the room and nearly having a breakdown in his car.
  • The original Dove was a vigilante crimefighter from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe who was active between 1989 and 1995. He considered himself a hero helping to defend ordinary people from street criminals. His usual modus operandi was to hunt any criminal whom he thought "got away with it"; that is, whenever he disagreed with a "not guilty" verdict. When captured, he was confronted with the fact that he wasn't a defender of the public, but rather just another serial killer and the idea horrified him to the point that he hung himself while awaiting trial.
  • Phase of the Whateley Universe is a fourteen-year-old who was kicked out of the richest family on the planet, the Goodkinds, when he turned into a mutant: the Goodkinds are notoriously anti-mutant, supporting the Knights of Purity and the semi-governmental Mutant Commission Office (MCO). Goodkinds, including the boy Phase used to be, have supported the MCO with billions of dollars over the years. Phase has defended the MCO to his new (mutant) friends at Whateley Academy, even though there are rumors that the MCO has kidnapped hundreds of young mutants who were never seen again. In "Ayla and the Grinch", Phase has to face the fact that the MCO really has been kidnapping, and "disappearing", young mutants, and he is partly responsible, since he helped fund the MCO.
  • Throughout Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the titular Villain Protagonist has been a villain in name only, mouthing Well-Intentioned Extremist slogans but too meek to actually do anything really bad. Then comes the challenge from the Evil League of Evil to which he aspires: commit a heinous crime or die. It's not until the very end, when his inability to pull the trigger on his Arch Enemy Captain Hammer has led directly to the death of his love interest, Penny, that he realizes that the murder will be attributed to him, and thus he is now a villain for real. His final song, "Everything You Ever", is a triumphant dirge simultaneously celebrating his ascenscion to true Evil and mourning the loss of his soul.
    • "Now the nightmare's real; now Dr. Horrible is here...."

Western Animation

  • Played with thoroughly (perhaps enough to count as a deconstruction) in one episode of The Venture Brothers where Dr. Killinger, a villain adviser who previously made massive changes/improvements to both The Monarch's villain career and personal life, shows up to advise Dr Venture. Killinger saves Venture Industries and helps Venture face his numerous childhood issues, especially about his father, but at the end produces two papers, one of which would officially make Venture a Super Villain, the other would dismiss Killinger and the "Venchemen" that Killinger had assembled to be Venture's army of Mooks. The semi-sociopathic Venture eventually chooses not to become a villain, but is left deeply shaken by the whole encounter.

Brock: Are you okay, doc?
Dr. Venture: I... I don't know. He thinks I'm a... Brock, am I a bad person?
Brock: (pauses, then rocks his hand in a "kind of" gesture) Ehhhh.....

  • In the final regular episode of Daria, Daria has a painful flashback memory about a loud argument her parents had over her. At this, Daria is wracked with guilt that she had been an unfair burden to her parent when she thought she was being herself. However, her parents make it clear that as much as they tried to encourage a more social attitude from her, they also accepted that her loner and iconoclastic ways were worth the price to have a daughter who is admirably intelligent, perceptive and principled.
  • Adora in the She Ra Princess of Power Pilot Movie.
  • Judge Frollo has one of these at the beginning of the Disney adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when the Archdeacon makes him realize that dropping a deformed baby down a well after killing its mother (in front of a cathedral, no less) might just damn his eternal soul to Hell. It lasts long enough for him to spare the child, but he doesn't seem to realize that all the OTHER horrible things he does would ALSO damn him to Hell and thus reverts back to his Knight Templar self for the rest of the movie.
  • In Megas XLR, Coop tries to protect the Earth, though it's usually his fault, and he does far more damage than anyone else. The S-Force and their evil nemesis, Ender, spend an entire episode pointing this out to him (aptly titled The Bad Guy), and nearly everyone else does at some point. In the series finale, an AU version of him actually was the bad guy. It was intended to be revealed at some point that he created the Glorft on accident, too.
  • In an episode of Family Guy where Stewie has learned he is actually a masochist as he tries to goad Lois to hit him he says, "Dear Lord, I really do have problems don't I?" and we agree.
    • Another episode, an inmate stabbed himself to feel what it's like to be a victim. After doing this, he comes to the conclusion on his actions and prison is where he belongs.
  • In The Lion King 2, after falling for Kiara and hearing Simba's side of Scar's death, Kovu finishes Becoming the Mask and gets a My God What Did I Almost Do moment, deciding not to go through with the assassination plot he had been sent to do. His mother didn't like this.
  • Not an easy process for Zuko of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but he eventually gets there: "I'm good now. I mean, I thought I was good before, but now I realize I was bad..."
  • In the film version of All Star Superman, Lex Luthor has one of his only heel realizations in any continuity after he finally gets it. What is "it"? Everything.

Lex Luthor: "I could have made everyone see! If it wasn't for you, I could have saved the world!"
Superman: "If it had mattered to you, Luthor, you could have saved the world years ago."
Luthor: "... you're right."

  • In the South Park episode "Crack Baby Athletic Program", Cartman talks Kyle into joining his business of getting crack babies to play basketball which, after some kareoke and bacon pancakes from Denny's, he accepts. He then tells Stan about it and Stan doesn't reply, making Kyle give a monolouge how him and satire target NCAA do good by using players like slaves. Then towards the end of the ep Stan just says he's starting to sound like Cartman and Kyle goes "No I'm not goddammit!" and cups his mouth in shock.
  • In "The Glass Princess", an episode of the original My Little Pony, Porcina has been turning Ponyland and the ponies there into glass at the encouragement of her Raptorian minions. But when confronted by some of the ponies face-to-face, she can't do it. She had only been able to do it to the others because they didn't seem real through her scrying glass, and ends up seeing the error of her ways.
  • In Gargoyles, Demona comes oh-so-close to hitting this multiple times, but always turns it into an Ignored Epiphany at the last second. John Canmore winds up doing the same.

Demona (and later John): What have I... what have they done?!

  • In the episode "Secret of my Excess" of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic Spike's draconic hoarding instinct triggers and he starts going through dragon puberty, growing to prodigious size and snatching everything he likes the look of. Then Rarity snaps at him when he tries to steal the wrong necklace (one made with a stone he gave her, after painstakingly "ripening" it with intent to eat it himself) and he realizes that not only does his beloved Rarity literally not recognize him anymore, she hates what he's become, and the Heel Realization is so powerful it actually reverses the puberty and he shrinks back down do his familiar size.
    • Fluttershy in "Putting Your Hoof Down." After becoming more and more violent and then proceeding to tell off her own friends and make them cry, after looking into a puddle and seeing her own rage face she's horrified at what she's become.

Real Life

  • "The merchant of death is dead. Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday." This obituary was erroneously published after the death of Ludvig Nobel. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, was spurred to create the Nobel Prize so he would be remembered as more than a murderer (That Other Wiki has more to say on the subject).
    • Specifically, he'd created dynamite as a tool to be used in construction (such as how dynamite was used in building railroads). When he discovered it was being used to kill people, he said My God, What Have I Done? and established the Nobel Prize in his will.
  • Albert Speer, the only man to plead guilty at Nuremberg Defense. "Twenty years. Well...that's fair enough. They couldn't have given me a lighter sentence, considering the facts, and I can't complain. I said the sentences must be severe, and I admitted my share of the guilt, so it would be ridiculous if I complained about the punishment."
  • Sometimes happens to residents of countries that censor their history, their present, or both.
  • Ashoka, the famous Indian conqueror, suddenly came to the realization that his conquests had caused a massive amount of death and suffering. Feeling lousy about himself, he took up Buddhism and became a peaceful ruler from then on.
  • Traudl Junge, the last personal secretary of Adolf Hitler, managed to rationalize her complicity in the Third Reich for years with the thought that she was too young to know better. Those excuses blew up on her face when she finally read a memorial plaque to Sophie Scholl, the great German heroine who gave her life opposing the Third Reich as a member of the White Rose resistance movement. It turned out Scholl was less than one year younger than herself at the time of her execution and Junge realized to her shame that she herself had no excuse for acknowleging and doing nothing.