A clue that leads in the wrong direction.
A red herring is a good red herring when it interweaves itself into the story's events. For example, the murder victim may have been a philanderer. His wife has no alibi. Aha! It was the wife!
The wife's lack of an alibi is a red herring. It turns out the wife was shtupping somebody else at the time and didn't want to provide that information. However, the deceased husband's philandering is what got him killed, as it turns out, by his girlfriend's jealous husband. Philandering as a motive is introduced for good cause, not just to set up suspicions about the wife's lack of an alibi.
If a character's death or suffering is used this way, they're a Dead Herring.
Compare Mistaken for Evidence, where the same result is caused by a mix-up instead of intentional misdirection, and Non Sequitur, when an event does not make sense in context. See also Chewbacca Defense, when a red herring used to baffle your opponents.
WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.
Anime and Manga
- To cite a very early example, The English dub Speed Racer had a one-off character named Red Herring for completely no reason. However it is also a subversion because the actual character did have a sizable portion in the episode.
- Red Herrings are a staple of Case Closed, but a big one happens in the recurring Black Organization meta-arc when Vermouth finally shows herself and it's not who you think it is at all. She's been impersonating Dr. Araide. The suspicious-looking foreign English teacher? She's the FBI agent on Vermouth's trail.
- Similarly, Kindaichi Case Files, as a fellow mystery manga, makes use of the red herring. Perhaps two of the best were in "Smoke and Mirrors," indicating two different innocent suspects as the killer. The fact that Utako Mori's name is an anagram for "komori uta," the killer's trademark phrase? The presence of Takashi Senke in the background of one of the photos of suicided students, indicating a possible motive? Both mere coincidence, with no purpose other than to draw smug readers away from the real clues.
- Although the second served a doubly sneaky purpose. Those who remember that red herring may be more inclined to dismiss Senke as a suspect in "The Forest of Cerberus," only this time, he is the killer!
- Magical Project S. When Romio is talking about how she has selected a third magical girl, she shows a picture featuring Haida prominently in the foreground and Eimi just casually strolling by in the background. Take a wild guess who the third magical girl is.
- Tokyo Mew Mew sets up some Red Herrings to hide the true identity of the local Mysterious Protector. (That it doesn't fully work in the anime version because of his voice is another story...) The Mysterious Protector has blond hair and blue eyes, and there's another character in the cast possessing these traits (Ryou Shirogane). The manga, in addition to pointing out those similarities, briefly uses another character (Keiichiro) to make a red herring via a subversion of the Revealing Injury trope. The real identity of the Mysterious Protector looks nothing like his transformed form, but the abovementioned voice link in the anime version, coupled with healthy amount of Genre Savviness from the audience, renders the whole point moot. His surname "Aoyama" contains the word for "Blue" in Japanese, which gives some hint as to his identity.
- In Bleach, during the Soul Society arc, some characters voice their suspicion that all events are being manipulated by an unknown traitor among them. By far the most likely to be traitor is Ichimaru Gin, who has his Eyes Always Shut, features a constant Psychotic Smirk, and generally speaks and acts in such a way as to make him seem as untrustworthy, sadistic and creepy as possible. Played with in that although the Big Bad turns out to be another character, Gin is actually as evil as he appears and in the employ of the Big Bad - he just flaunted his traits to keep everyone's suspicion on him rather than his (much lower profile) master.
- A better version is Mayuri. Although he comes off as evil and a possible member in the conspiracy, he's actually just a Jerkass and Token Evil Teammate, but still a loyal member of Soul Society with no connection to the real Big Bad at all.
- Barragan also qualifies. When Aizen is caged, he starts giving orders. When Harribel questions him, he threatens her. There's also the fact that he appears to be the oldest arrancar (which goes along with Yamamoto being the oldest Captain) and his fraccion refer to him as either a god or king. This led everyone to believe that he was the primera. He's not. While Barragan is dangerous, the unassuming and incredibly lazy Starrk is the primera.
- Deliberately planted by the antagonist in StrikerS Sound Stage X of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. After spending a good portion of the plot hunting down the instigator of the latest incident, the Time-Space Administration Bureau officers eventually learn from Jail Scaglietti that Toredia Graze, their prime suspect, has been dead for four years. The real culprit, TSAB Enforcer Runessa Magnus, impersonated Toredia while contacting his associates.
- An earlier example- in Nanoha A's, Chrono's deceased father is brought up a few times. Meanwhile, a mysterious masked person whose hair color happens to match Chrono's appears to occasionally help out the villains. Turns out that there's actually two of them, and they're the Catgirl familiars of Chrono's mentor, sent to make sure the villains succeeded in their plan, then absorb them so that the Book of Darkness can be sealed away along with Hayate.
- In the beginning of "Remote Island Syndrome Part 1" in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, we see an adult woman ripping apart papers and letting them fly from the balcony. Does this have anything to do with the following plot? No. In fact, the "murder mystery" that follows is one great big red herring; it's just a game set up to prevent Haruhi from getting bored, which could have inadvertently caused a real murder mystery to take place.
- The "Where Did The Cat Go?" mystery from the novels centers on a red herring: the cat's location seems to rule out certain suspects, until the brigade-eers realize there are two cats... .
- One Piece uses a Red Herring to take advantage of a recent reveal while hiding another one. When Garp visits Ace in prison and expresses his desire that he had wanted Ace and Luffy to grow up to be Marines, Ace response by reminding Garp this is impossible because "Luffy and I both have the blood of an international criminal mastermind running in our veins." At first glance, this appears to follow the revelation by Garp that Luffy's father is Dragon the Revolutionary. In fact, it does so while simultaneously hiding the later reveal that Ace's father is the Pirate King Gold Roger.
- Once upon a time, it was widely believed that Shanks was Luffy's long-lost father, and for good reason. There were too many seemingly genuine clues to this for it not to be intentional on Oda's part, which makes The Reveal of Luffy's father more shocking. This was certainly helped by the fact that the earlier art style made Luffy and Shanks look a good deal more alike than they do now. Don't lie: you would've laughed at anyone who would have theorized this, if only because Shanks seemed like the more rational choice. Oda probably loves this trope considering how unpredictable One Piece is.
- This is used as a red herring in regards to Ace, as well. Soon after this reveal, we see a scene Ace says that he despises his father, rejects him so thoroughly that he uses his mother's name instead. The obvious implication is that Ace is talking about our friend Dragon, but in fact it's revealed that Luffy and Ace are not blood related.
- The identities of future crew members have sometimes been hidden this way. At the end of Alabasta, both Vivi and Bon Kurei look like they're about to join, only for Nico Robin to do so instead. Water 7 started with the crew looking for a shipwright and finding a company of six, several of whom getting along fairly well with the crew. Then Kaku and Lucci leave and Franky, who'd been written as a villain at first, ends up joining.
- In Code Geass, Cornelia and Schneizel are set up as two possible suspects for killing Lelouch's mother Marianne. Neither one of them did it; V.V. tried to kill her, but she managed to transfer her soul into Anya's body before she died.
- Then again, given the significant changes that the plot of season 2 allegedly went through due to the time slot change, it's possible that this could be less of a Red Herring and more of an Aborted Arc. It was, however, made clear at the end of season 1 that Cornelia had nothing to do with Marianne's death, contrary to earlier implications.
- When ghosts escape from prison because of the door wards failing - in the Arcanum arc of Muhyo and Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation - Biko, an artificer who makes wards, is implied to be the culprit after an envelope with Enchu's seal turns up in her house. The real culprit is her teacher Rio.
- Bio-Meat: Nectar: the first chapter shows your typical split-screen shot of the main characters, which seems to set up a Five-Man Band. The first one of the five that we see is even given a name, but when the time comes, he decides not to join up with the other four. In fact, he almost gets them killed by cutting the rope one of the heroes is going down. He gets his Karmic Death soon enough.'
- In Naruto, Itachi at one point claims that he let Sasuke live so that he could take his eyes as an adult. It is later revealed he was lying and let Sasuke live because he could not bring himself to kill him.
- Not just that. Everything the reader was ever told about Itachi is a lie or a coverup. The truth about him has only started coming out in recent chapters. Its so dramatic that for most of the series he appeared to be the unquestionable Big Bad of Sasuke's storyline, when in fact he's aparently the Big Good. And who turned out to be Sasuke's personal Big Bad? Loveable, goofy Tobi.
- In Macross Frontier, Sheryl Nome is well... Sheryl Nome. Publicity for the new Macross series included judicious use of Sheryl Nome's full name, the last name of which is shared by Mao and Sara from Macross Zero, Mayan High Priestesses with a unique blood type that gave them some fairly unique powers bordering on ESP if taken a face value (Though how much of that was actually done by the Bird-Human is anyone's guess). Many fans assumed that this was a big hint for the plot of the show and that Sheryl would turn out to be something like Mao's granddaughter. The latter part turned out to be true, but did this really affect the plot at all? Not one bit. It truly never comes up, and becomes simply another Shout-Out to one of the previous shows (Frontier was laced with these).
- A beautiful one in Appleseed Ex Machina, which works only on viewers aware of John Woo's love for Disturbed Doves. If you haven't seen any Woo movie, you can guess that the birds are bombs. But if you have, you will only say "Oh my god, Doves again !".
- In the Outlaw Star episode Final Countdown, a terrorist group uses a red herring to its fullest extent. They set up an elaborate plan to crash an advertising ship rigged with a bomb into Heifong with its independence as the ransom. As it turns out, this was just a plan to evacuate the city so that the "terrorist group" (which is more like a group of petty, if clever, thieves) can loot the empty city without fear of being caught. Unfortunately for them, the main characters catch on to this ruse and show them what for.
- Fullmetal Alchemist drops a bunch of hints that Ed and Al's father Van Hohenheim and the Big Bad and leader of the Homunculi, Father, are one and the same. Nope. While they do have an important connection, they're definitely separate people.
- When Alphonse reunites with Hohenheim, he explains the situation to his father. Hohenheim then asks him if he's sure he wants to tell him, given that the leader of the Homunculi looks just like him. Alphonse is silent for a moment, refusing to back down, and Hohenheim says he's relieved that his son trusts him.
- When Edward is about to go fight Gluttony, Riza Hawkeye gives him a pistol, telling him it may just end up saving his life. Much later, when his alchemy is switched off by villainous Anti-Magic, he realises he still has the gun and pulls it out, but is never able to shoot anyone with it.
- Up until vol. 9 of Durarara!!, it's heavily implied that "that thing back in middle school" was that Izaya stabbed and nearly killed Shinra. This is exactly what Izaya wants people to think.
- Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin: The principal of the school, Chihiro, is set up to be the main threat as throughout the series she spies on Maya and disapproves of her snooping around. Then the Wham! Episode hits and it turns out that a seemingly sweet and innocent girl named Mikaze, that Fumiaki was dating, was the true villain all along. Whats more Chihiro is actually an ally that was looking after Maya at the behest of her father.
- Madoka Magica has two major examples: The witch in the prologue has some marked design similarities to Sayaka's Magical Girl outfit. Turns out that Sayaka's actual witch form has considerably fewer design similarities. In a more meta example, concept art shows Madoka and Homura both with bows, leading to speculation about Homura being future Madoka. And then Homura is revealed not only to be her own person, but to have a completely different weapon.
- And then it turned out that the last one wasn't exactly a Red Herring after all...
- THE iDOLM@STER - The first episode was misleading people into thinking the adaptation of the game would be a literal adaptation, since the Producer's lines weren't voiced, only subtitled, as in the game.
- In the Duelist Kingdom arc of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Tristan/Honda gets suspicious of Pegasus and suspects that he doesn't really have the power to read minds. Upon inspecting the arena, he, Tea/Anzu, and Bakura find a hole in the wall, and a tower outside. Tristan theorizes that a mook hides in the tower and uses a telescope to look through the hole and spy on players' cards, then relay the info to Pegasus via a receiver. The hole is just a coincidence, and Pegasus really does read minds.
- Funnily enough, in the Battle City arc, the supposed psychic Esper Roba uses exactly this trick with the help of his younger siblings.
- In the "Turnabout Showtime" case of the Ace Attorney manga, the defendant, Julie Henson, is suspected of killing her ex-boyfriend Flip Chambers because he left her for another girl. She's innocent, and this piece of information is never brought up again.
- In Baccano! (particularly in the light novel), a nameless woman in fatigues secretly making her way across the train is heavily implied to either be the Rail Tracer, expert assassin Claire Stanfield, or both. Turns out both of those roles were taken by the supposedly murdered redheaded conductor.
- An odd example in Watchmen: During the book's opening scene, all we get to see of the Comedian's attacker are his arms. It's probably not the first thing you'd notice, but he's wearing a brown woolen sweater. Much later on in the comic, Hollis Mason is shown between scenes preparing Halloween candy and talking to his dog (the dog being the only clue that it's Hollis talking at all), and all we see are his arms - wearing that exact same brown sweater. If the reader notices this at all, the most likely moment of recognition comes just before a small number of flashback scenes which portray Hollis from a somewhat more negative perspective than most of the rest of the comic does. In short, all these things put together make this particular character extremely suspicious until the real killer is revealed... but only an extremely small number of readers would even notice it on the first read, essentially making it an Easter Egg Red Herring.
- One of the stories in Deadpool #900 has a running red herring gag involving a chicken in a murder investigation.
"You're still paying attention to the chicken, aren't you? Look at ME!"
- In the Elseworlds story The Nail, Lex Luthor is the Big Bad... or is he? The question is, who is the one manipulating Luthor? The JLA heroes believe at first that it's Starro, but it turns out that Starro is just a mutated Krypto, and the real Big Bad is... Jimmy Olsen. Yes, THAT Jimmy Olsen.
- A reboot Legion of Super-Heroes storyline involves Element Lad trying to deduce who is behind a series of thefts of ancient Earth objet d'art. Early on, he describes the theif as a "vandal", while we see a shadowy figure in old-fashioned Earth clothes gloating. It is eventually revealed that the mastermind is ... some random alien businessman. Not Vandal Savage at all.
- In JLA: Year One there's a subplot regarding the identity of the backer who's secretly funding the League's headquarters and equipment. The offer is made shortly after Batman observes the new League in action and decides he doesn't want them operating in Gotham, and reference is made to the financier being 'a bit of a crusader'. The mystery backer turns out to be Bruce Wayne's fellow millionaire-turned-crimefighter, Oliver Queen AKA Green Arrow.
- The mystery/comedy film Clue was shot with three alternate endings, and in all three of them, it is revealed that "Communism was just a red herring!"
- In Sunset Boulevard, Max, Norma's butler seems to have motive and opportunity for the murder of Joe Gillis: he was Norma's discoverer and first husband, and is still slavishly loyal to her, trying to comfort her even as Joe wants to leave her, and he was outside with him. However, it turns out that Max is actually polite and docile, and Norma shoots Joe herself.
- 12 Monkeys has the titular twelve monkeys, and Brad Pitt's squiffy-eyed loon and seeming cause of it all as mother of all Red Herrings.
- In Hot Fuzz the Red Herrings don't so much lead to the wrong killer, as to the wrong motives behind the murders. Nicholas comes up with a very complicated plan that involved money, land, cheating and jealousy. Turns out there was no connections between the victims. One was just killed because he was a bad actor. Another because she had an annoying laugh. A third because he had an awful house and the fourth because he made so many spelling mistakes in the local paper.
- In Star Wars: Episode II it turns out the assassin is a shapeshifter, which in a story about a plot to gain control of the entire galaxy would change everything completely. Except that she never uses her shapeshifting ability and no other shapeshifters ever play any role in the events.
- This might not be a deliberate Red Herring so much as George Lucas deciding a shapeshifting assassin would be cool, but not thinking about how much cooler it might be to work the idea into the larger plot.
- Played straight repeatedly in A Perfect Getaway, where the protagonists try to find out which romantic couple is a pair of killers. Just for good measure, two characters are introduced all shadowy-The Faceless-like to drive the Genre Savvy audience crazy. Even better, another possible suspect invokes "red snappers" in his second scene.
- And as it turns out, they're both red herrings, as the real killers are the protagonist couple themselves, and the whole movie hasn't been about finding the killers, but about finding their next victims.
- Hot Shots has a character named 'Red' Herring.
- No Way Out has the antagonists start a Witch Hunt for a Soviet mole suspected of killing the Defense Secretary's mistress as a red herring to divert attention from the real murderer.
- The creepy stalker guy in The Bodyguard was just that. The real killer was a hitman hired by Rachel's sister.
- The racially-charged environment of In the Heat of the Night had nothing to do with the murder. It was just a mugging gone wrong..
- One film critic joked that Robert Downey Jr.'s character in the movie Gothika should have just been named Red Herring, it was so obvious that's what he was.
- The Machinist at one point shows blood prominently flowing from a refrigerator, implying that the main character has killed someone and placed the body in there. The source is just some fish due to the electricity going out and the fridge failing. It has no real bearing on the plot.
- At one point in the middle of Brick the main character is attacked by a thug seeming to disrupt him. The origin of this is not revealed and it's implied it'll provide a greater wrinkle to the plot. The explanation isn't revealed until the end, and it turns out he was just hired by another character the protagonist humiliated earlier in the film for revenge.
- Flight Plan: With his history of playing villains, Sean Bean's casting as the pilot was this.
- The movie Bloody Murder had a moment where it looks like one girl is the murderer in the camp. It then cuts to showing her at the dock, with an evil grimace, as she picks up an oar and beats one of the characters causing him to fall into the lake. It turns out she isn't actually the killer, and they make no attempt to explain why she turned evil for a split second.
- In the first Scream, the Chief of Police gets a Feet First Introduction which shows that he wears the same kind of shoes as the killer. And then he barely appears for the rest of the film.
- Derek and Cotton (and his bloody hands) in Scream 2, detective Kincaid and John Milton in Scream 3, Deputy Judy and Trevor in Scream 4. They love this trope.
- A few in Mystery Team. Parodied with Old Man McGinty, played straight with the union strike.
- In GoldenEye Q waxes lyrical about the features of the new Bondmobile, none of which are used in the film.
- In A View to a Kill, Max Zorin's genetically modified racehorses have nothing to do with the plot and serve only as an excuse to get Bond involved in Zorin's business.
- In the film version of the nuclear farce Whoops Apocalypse, a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Princess Diana is kidnapped, drugged, and placed on display in Madame Tussaud's London wax museum. The obvious assumption is that she's disguised as the waxwork of herself, but it turns out that she's actually disguised as Sleeping Beauty.
- The Final Destination series generally uses Disaster Dominoes to set up its incredibly bizarre deaths. The lead-up to Candice's death in 5 includes a pipe leaking onto an exposed wire and a nail landing on her gymnastics beam. She finishes her routine without even noticing the nail, and never steps on the wire. Then she moves onto the horizontal bar, which looks dangerously loose... At which point, the next girl to use the beam steps on the nail and falls off, setting off a much shorter chain of events.
- In The Fugitive, after his dive off the dam, we see Dr. Richard Kimble get a ride from a woman, and we cut to the marshals saying "we've got him!". Turns out they've actually discovered the whereabouts of Copeland, the other convict who survived the train wreck and escaped.
- A small one in Gummo in which the narrator talks about two brothers, and saying 'They seemed to have wonderful lives. I don't know what went wrong.'. We then see the two brothers fighting, and it's expected that it something drastic will happen between the two. However they're fight soon comes to and end, then one of them calmly asks the other what's for dinner
- In Kindergarten Cop, when John Kimble starts posing as a kindergarten teacher, he finds that one of the boys in his class is perpetually sullen and morose, frequently having bruises which he claims come from falling down. He suspects that he is Cullen Crisp's son, but it turns out he's not; he simply has an abusive father, who Kimble beats the crap out of.
- In The Red Pyramid, Carter hears Set speak French in a vision, leading him to assume that Set is
possessingbeing hosted by the French speaking Desjardins. He's wrong.
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, Rawne is kidnapped and tortured by Heldane. Later, Heldane thinks about how to create a "pawn" - painfully - and manipulates "the pawn" by Gaunt. Rawne reacts to Heldane and acts suspiciously about Gaunt. In the end, he is merely sensitive to Heldane, and in fact kills the actual pawn, because his sensitivity alerts him to something happening before it actually does.
- Graeme Base's book The Eleventh Hour is a lavishly-illustrated children's book filled with hidden clues and secrets in almost all the illustrations—including a few figurative and literal red herrings.
- Dan Brown uses this Once Per Book: near the beginning of each book, we are introduced to a character who is a rather unpleasant and/or sneaky fellow and has more or less the same mindset of the people orchestrating the current crisis. Naturally, they end up being completely innocent and the real Big Bad turns out to be someone that
at first glancehas no logical reason to do what they did and/or helped the protagonists the most. The specific examples in each book are:
- Harry Potter has at least one Red Herring distraction per book. After readers started catching on that the first suspect was never the guilty party, Rowling started upping the ante with hints pointing to a second suspect... who wasn't it either. Then in the sixth book, suddenly, all the people up to something are exactly the ones Harry suspects from the start. J. K. Rowling even indulges in some Lampshade Hanging in book six, with various characters pointing out that Snape and Malfoy had been accused in the last five books.
- In Harry Potter, Harry, Hermione and Ron are positive that Snape is trying to steal the above-mentioned stone. He's certainly nasty enough to be the villain. Harry doesn't find out the truth until the very end though, when it turns out poor, shy, stuttering Professor Quirrell had been behind everything that happened all along, and Snape had been trying to protect Harry.
- In Harry Potter The trio once more suspects one of the obvious antagonists, Draco Malfoy, believing he has opened the Chamber of Secrets and is attacking the muggle-born students in the school. After some amateur sleuthing they are able to debunk that though, and come to suspect Red Herring #2, Hagrid. By the end of the book it turns out Ron's sister Ginny, possessed by the Diary of Tom Riddle, has been behind the events of the book.
- In Harry Potter Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban and is out to kill Harry. First reading it, and not knowing Rowling's formula, you wouldn't suspect anything. He betrayed Harry's parents, he's one of Voldemort's loyal Death Eaters and now is out to get the protagonist in order to avenge his fallen master. Despite a few counter-clues, the majority of the book is geared toward making the reader believe this. Turns out Sirius is completely innocent and was falsely accused, and the person that betrayed Harry's parents was Ron's pet rat, who turns out to be an animagus (shape shifter), and is really Peter Pettigrew, an old friend of his parents. Even if you were onto the fact Sirius wasn't the antagonist, you wouldn't have seen that coming.
- One of the most brilliant red herrings involving Snape happens here too. When he discovers the trio, Sirius and Remus, he flat out attempts to murder Sirius, saying "Give me a reason. Give me a reason to do it and I swear I will", which seems downright evil considering we've just found out that Sirius is entirely innocent. The kids put him down, though, and it's all good. Once again, Snape's evil nature is further revealed. Then it turns out that Snape's desire to put Sirius down had nothing to do with the werewolf attacks, or the fact that he was a Death Eater, but because he still honestly believed that Sirius had caused the death of the only woman he'd ever loved, and the very plot point that saves him from being a villain.
- In Harry Potter Popularity of the books shot off like a rocket after the third book of the series became popular worldwide. With popularity comes the fanbase (Harry Potter has one of the largest web-based communities), and with millions of devoted fans comes fan speculation. Many caught on to Rowling's formula, so she adapted. The fourth book is in more of a whodunnit style, with a variety of suspects who could be working to kill Harry. Is it the Evil Foreigner who'll do anything to win the Triwizard Tournament? Or maybe the Obstructive Bureaucrat who appears to be suffering Sanity Slippage? You are still shocked when it turns out to be none of the suspects, instead the gruff but lovable new Professor Mad-Eye Moody who has been supposedly helping Harry the whole time. (Though, truthfully, it was a Death Eater disguised as Mad-Eye Moody, through the use of Polyjuice Potion.
- In Harry Potter The red herring is less pronounced. There are two consecutive plots occurring, one being the Ministry of Magic's takeover of Hogwarts and Voldemort's search for a weapon that can win him the war. There's a possibility though that the two plots aren't so separate when the Ministry-appointed Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Dolores Umbridge makes Harry's scar burn (which only happens when Voldemort is feeling a particularly strong emotion...or is close by). He's possessed people before, and out of the last four DADA Professors, three have been nasty, two downright evil and working for the Big Bad. You're left to think about that for the rest of the book. It doesn't pan out though. It was either a coincidence his scar burned when she touched him or her own aura of evil is just that strong. There's a reason there was a trope named after her.
- In Harry Potter Harry suspects two of his old nemeses that he has falsely accused before, Snape and Malfoy, of being up to something. No-one believe him though, and there is Lampshade Hanging when various characters point out Snape and Malfoy have been falsely accused before by Harry. You are almost inclined to believe they are innocent as the obsessiveness of Harry's stalking them becomes annoying to the reader. It is obvious from his point of view that they are up to something. Everyone else gets a big slap in the face when it turns out he was right, and Malfoy lets Death Eaters into the castle and Snape kills Dumbledore.
- Also in Harry Potter Much effort is made to make it look like Tonks is under the Imperius curse, turns out it was actually Rosmerta. Tonks' odd and depressive behavior is simply a result of her relationship problems with Remus.
- In the context of the entire series, Severus Snape was the ultimate Red Herring.
- Common in Golden Age detective fiction. Dorothy L. Sayers' Clouds of Witness has a setup not unlike the one in the intro (and the book has several others!) and a later book, with six suspects, is entitled The Five Red Herrings.
- Lampshaded in A Series of Unfortunate Events, where the protagonists believe their friends (previously captured by the Big Bad) are hidden inside a box of Very Fancy Doilies; in reality they're hidden inside a large red fish - the red herring.
- In the second book of the Xenogenesis trilogy, it's mentioned prominently that plastics are one of the only things that the Oankali can't biodegrade, and are in fact poisonous to them. One suspects on first reading that this will somehow prove important to the humans' resistance to the aliens, but it never comes up again.
- In And Then There Were None they mention a 'red herring' right in the poem. For good reason because the killer Judge Wargrave fakes his death and then drowned his assistant Dr. Armstrong, leaving the remaining characters Vera, Philip, and William to suspect each other of being the killer.
- In Feet of Clay several characters, including Vimes himself, note the horrible green wallpaper in Vetinari's bedroom while trying to work out how he's being poisoned with arsenic. In Real Life, Napoleon was poisoned by arsenic fumes from green wallpaper, and several murder mysteries have used this as a resolution. It turns out the arsenic is in the candles; Terry Pratchett treasures letters he received saying "We were SURE it was the wallpaper, you bastard!"
- Hound of the Baskervilles is up to the brim (do Deerstalkers have brims?) with Red Herrings. They imply that The Butler Did It. He waits until everyone is in bed, and stalks about the mansion. He is also the only character that has a beard that matches the man glanced shadowing Sir Henry. Then there's the escaped convict, Selden, who has been lurking upon the moor, and the other mysterious man upon the moor, who wants to stay hidden. Most film adaptations, notably the Basil Rathbone film, like to make Dr. Mortimer seem extremely suspicious, but the book does not. There's also the looming idea that the threat might be supernatural, but none of these are the actual solution.
- When Johannes Cabal makes his Deal with the Devil, much fuss is made about how he has a finite amount of Satan's blood to use in his adventures. That all comes to nothing. It's mentioned a few times in the middle of the book, but by the end it's fallen out of the plot entirely. He never runs out of blood, and it's never a plot point.
There's another red herring at the climax, when Johannes tricks the devil into demanding the box of contracts rather than all of the contracts. Thus, Johannes saves the souls of the innocents he coerced into signing.
- In Father, Forgive Them, Red Herrings abound. None of them are the true killer, but this example is unusual in that all the suspects insist they wish they had killed the victim, and were present at the time of death, and had the means to do so.
- In Meg Cabot's Avalon High, Ellie is suppose to fall in love with Lance and isn't suppose to affect the plot because her namesake Elaine of Sharlott fell in love with Lancelot and committed suicide when he didn't return her affections. Ellie decides to Screw Destiny and rescue Will anyways. Turns out that her namesake was just the red herring, as she isn't the Lady of Sharlott but the Lady of the Lake.
- In Detectives in Togas, the slave Udo tells the boys he was at a certain place where he heard sounds of swords clashing and someone shouting constantly "Ave imperator, morituri te salutant!" The boys look for one gladiator school and don't find it. And then they stumble upon a blacksmith forging swords with a parrot constantly shouting that phrase and know: Udo was here.
- The fifth Wheel of Time novel "The Lord of Chaos" introduces two new characters. One is a Forsaken named Demandred, who is a powerful channeler, can hide his identity, and betrayed the main hero's previous incarnation out of spite. The other one is Mazrim Taim, who is a powerful channeler with a shifty background, appears out of nowhere to offer his services to the hero, and shows no sign of the madness that male channelers who aren't aligned to Darkness suffer. Demandred is given a secret mission by The Dark One in the opening of the book. When Taim first appears, the afore-mentioned previous incarnation goes mad in the hero's head and starts screaming about killing the Forsaken right now. Despite all this, Robert Jordan said in an interview that Taim is not Demandred in disguise.
- Most of Fred Vargas' novels have Red Herrings, in regards to the murderer's identity : they are generally sympathetic characters who only seem to be marginal characters. A particularly memorable example is in This Night's Foul Work, where all the Brigade is put on the track of a very plausible culprit by the real killer, Docteur Ariane Lagarde, and it takes Retancourt's attempted murder for Adamsberg to finally discover the truth.
- In George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, it's almost a given that characters will lie to achieve their own ends, so there is a lot of misinformation going around. The reader is given a slight advantage as the point-of-view switches around constantly. For example, much of the main plot in the first book is driven by the murder of Jon Arryn, the previous Hand of the King (essentially, the second most powerful man in Westeros after the King). The book leads readers to believe that Cersei and Jaime Lannister are involved in the poisoning. Cersei confirms as much, as she obviously has the most to gain from his death. Jon Arryn had discovered that all three of Cersei's children were fathered by Jaime and not King Robert, and were all illegitimate heirs to the throne. The real answer is a little more complex. The third book clears things up. Jon Arryn was poisoned by his wife, Lysa, having been encouraged by Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. Lysa then sends a letter to her sister Catelyn at Winterfell that the Lannisters had poisoned Jon Arryn.
- The first book also has the attempted murder of Bran. This plot is not completely resolved until the third book, as well. Catelyn believes that Tyrion Lannister sent the assassin and arrests him, leading to a long chain of events. The first book never quite makes it clear who sent the assassin. The dagger was believed to have been Tyrion's, who won it from a bet from Littlefinger. Littlefinger lies to Catelyn, telling her the dagger belongs to him. The third book disproves this, as the dagger had belonged to Robert Baratheon. Joffrey had overheard the king saying that it would be more merciful to kill Bran, rather than live as a cripple. Joffrey sent the footpad, armed with the king's dagger, eager for his father's attention.
- In One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, one of the suspects in a political conspiracy is actually named Red Herring. Since the characters know they're in a work of Meta Fiction, this leads to some strange deductions.
"What about Red Herring, ma'am?"
"I'm not sure. Is Red Herring a red herring? Or is it the fact that we're supposed to think Red Herring is a red herring that is actually the red herring?"
"Or perhaps the fact that you're supposed to think Red Herring isn't a red herring makes Red Herring a red herring after all."
"We're talking serious meta-herrings here."
Live Action TV
- In NCIS, Ducky explains what the Red Herring is to Palmer saying something about the murderer the style of "I don´t know why the murderer didn't use the Red Herring technique". Palmer asks what a Red Herring is and then Ducky proceeds to give a correct explanation.
- The second season premiere of Burn Notice painfully telegraphs The Reveal that Carla is Jimmy's wife, to catch the Genre Savvy audience off-guard with her even more obvious appearance later in the episode.
- Used at least once in every episode of CSI.
- In Heroes, Ted Sprague was the Red Herring for the identity of Sylar, or at least was hyped as such by a few in show characters. It soon became obvious that he wasn't Sylar, because the MOs of the real Sylar and Ted were totally different.
- In Lost, Jacob's introductory scene involves him gutting an actual red herring, more than likely addressing this trope and as it headed into the final season, probably marked the end of the series' many uses of red herrings.
- On Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Detectives Goren is adept at recognizing red herrings. One notable exception: A Person of Interest, in which Dr. Daniel Croyden is accused of killing an ex-U.S. Air Force nurse and for being involved in an anthrax terrorist plot. When Croyden commits suicide, Goren is vilified in the press. However, the detectives soon learn that the real culprit is Goren's arch-nemesis Nicole Wallace. She killed the nurse, planted evidence to incriminate Croyden, killed him, staged his suicide, then planted more evidence to exculpate him, all in a ploy to discredit Det. Goren. Nicole chose Dr. Croyden as a target because she knew that he'd left his wife while she was battling cancer, and that he had been delinquent in his child support payments. Wallace had previously discovered that Goren's father was a philanderer who had abandoned him and his schizophrenic mother.
- Subverted in an episode of Monk in which the murderer specifically waited for witnesses in order to establish the exact time of the killing, leading Monk to dismiss the suspect with no alibi and investigate someone who had a (faked) air-tight alibi.
- Starbuck's resurrection makes her a big red herring for the identity of the Final Cylon in Battlestar Galactica.
- House uses red herrings in many of its teasers, to help avoid the formulaic "guy has cough, guy collapses, start Title Sequence". Instead it has the equally formulaic "guy has cough, other guy collapses".
- One episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures has a sinister alien ship claiming it needs "the darkness" it saw in Sarah Jane's mind, and using several other Arc Words from Doctor Who indicating a sinister connection to the death of the Doctor. As it turns out, the darkness it referred to was the black hole Sarah Jane was keeping contained, and they just wanted it to fuel their ship, thus removing the danger it posed.
- In Doctor Who "Planet of the Dead", low-level psychic, Carmen, tells the Doctor that "your song is ending, sir", and that "He will knock four times", which apparently will be the clue. In the season ending two-parter, "The End of Time", The Master is resurrected with a mixture of Applied Phlebotinum. He summons the Doctor by banging out a four-beat pattern on an oil drum, repeatedly. Thus filled with dread and angst, The Doctor chews the scenery for his remaining screen time, while still managing to Save The World, The Universe and Time Itself, aided by a Heel Face Turn from The Master. The Doctor can't quite believe he's still alive, but this proves to be but a Hope Spot. His friend, Wilfred Mott, having locked himself in a radiation containment chamber, knocks to be let out, in a four-beat pattern (again, repeatedly... so he didn't really "knock four times", excepting that thou then proceed to five). Nitpicking aside, the bat-shit insane, angry banging of the Big Bad was the red herring, and benign Wilfred's timid knock was the prophesy fulfillment. The Doctor must enter the chamber to save Wilfred, causing himself to suffer a lethal dose of radiation poisoning.
- In the second version of the Bonus Round on Nickelodeon's Think Fast, teams must find seven matches of costumed people in fifteen lockers. The odd one out is dubbed the Red Herring and, if the kids are asked to find his match, they must pull the "Herring Handle" at home base to reset the lockers.
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had a big one in season 2. Around the time Tommy had lost his Green Ranger powers, a new guy had came into Angel Grove and started working in Ernie's bar. Come the White Light story, many were wondering who the new White Ranger was. However, once the helmet came off, the new guy would never appear again...
- And in Power Rangers Zeo, we're introduced to the Gold Ranger, just as Tommy's brother (temporarily) joins the cast. Not only is there a heavy indication that this brother is the Gold Ranger, but there's also the strong possibility of former ranger Billy (who is constantly disappearing without explanation) and a few other characters (up to and including Skull!) But the Gold Ranger's actual identity? A wholly new alien character, who almost immediately is forced to give up his powers to the original Red Ranger, Jason, who hadn't appeared in about two seasons.
- The character of Sam Evans in Glee was obviously built up to be Kurt's alleged boyfriend that he would be getting this season, especially in "Duets". However, in the end of the episode, he asks out Quinn and blames his awkwardness on having from an all-boys school.
- Law and Order: SVU is guilty of severe overuse of this trope.
- The Beast in Angel arose from the spot Connor was born, and when he shouted at it to leave Cordelia alone, it laughed and did so, suggesting the two are linked. It turns out that it works for the entity possessing Cordelia, and the spot of its arrival was presumably an in-universe Red Herring to divide and distract the team.
- In episode 3 of Lost Girl, Bo and Kenzi investigate the disappearances of girls from a college. The dean is very uptight, resembles Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter in looks and personality, refuses to report the disappearances to the police, and encourages everyone not to talk about them. The local sorority is creepy and resembles a cult, and Bo finds tunnels under their mansion that could potentially be where the missing girls are. The dean was just a jerk who was more concerned about the college's reputation than about the safety of the students. The creepy sorority was just that, and apparently unaware of the tunnels. The real culprit was an unassuming janitor who was kidnapping girls and imprisoning them in the tunnels until he could feed them to his pet kappa.
- Ace Attorney has a lot of these, with the top two deliberately playing on the expectations gained from earlier cases. In Justice for All Adrian Andrews seems like the killer due to both motive and placement, but it turns out that she merely framed your client Matt Engarde with the already-dead corpse. The real killer? Matt himself, by proxy of an assassin.
- Investigations gives us the ridiculously innocent, fluffy, naive Colias Palaeno. The twist is that he's actually innocent of everything despite being so obviously nonevil that he looks guilty. From the same game, Zinc Leblanc II, an irritable Funny Foreigner who's obssessed with being on time and is so obnoxious that he's bound to be your initial suspect.
- In-universe example: From the police's point of view, the defendants are always Red Herrings, with something making them seem suspicious enough to arrest. Whether it be because they were found at the crime scene, were framed by the real killer, had confessed, or otherwise had "decisive" evidence implicating them.
- Maniac Mansion has plenty. The staircase that's out of order, the chainsaw without fuel, the hamster in the microwave, shall I continue?
- Kingdom Hearts:
- In Kingdom Hearts II, masked character DiZ has the same unique skin tone and eye color as series villain Ansem, the same interest in manipulating anti-hero Riku, admits to using a pseudonym, and in dialogue is heavily hinted to be Ansem himself. The twist? DiZ is Ansem, while the villain we knew to be Ansem isn't. Played straight in that all the clues pointed towards DiZ being a villain, while he's actually the most useful hero of the whole bunch.
- In Kingdom Hearts 358 Days Over 2 the mysterious fourteenth member of Organization XIII, Xion, resembles a black haired Kairi. Nomura has said this is to throw people off her actual origin: an Opposite Gender Clone of Sora.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep seems to indicate that Tetsuya Nomura's fond of this one. The Big Bad of the game has a mysterious apprentice named Vanitas. Vanitas (apparently) wants to be a deadly rival to Ventus. He's the apprentice of Master Xehanort, like Riku was mentored by Xehanort in the first Kingdom Hearts. Vanitas even has armor that's very similar to Riku's. Who is it? Ventus's Enemy Without, who looks just like Sora. Didn't see that coming.
- In Final Fantasy VII. The illusion of player control on the first disk. Specifically the date mechanics, and Cloud's personality.
- In The Secret of Monkey Island, a Red Herring is actually a solution to a puzzle: In the game there's a troll guarding a bridge, who demands "something that will draw interest but have no real use" so that Guybrush may pass the bridge. The solution? Feed him a literal red herring. The puzzle's actual red herring is the description that leaves our hero to look for a figurative red herring. It's so meta it runs into itself coming the other way.
- One puzzle has Guybrush tied to a tiki idol and thrown into the water. There are several sharp items near him, but are just out of reach, making him think that the puzzle involves finding a way to reach one of them. He can pick up the tiki idol and leave the water.
- Episode 2 of Tales of Monkey Island actually references the Red Herring. Part of the solution of actually obtaining the Red Herring was to scare the seagull away. Here Guybrush actually had to somehow lure the seagull away from his cut off poxed hand, by cutting loose a barrel full of fish on the mast. When the seagull gets to the barrel, he pulls out the aforementioned Red Herring.
- Later on, Guybrush can obtain fish egg bait, which he can use on a certain spot to fish. Turns out that not only is the fish egg bait itself a Red Herring, using the fish egg bait on the Fishing Well actually results in pulling out a Red Herring, only for it to slip out of his hands.
- A quest in RuneScape gives you a red herring as a part of a very intricate puzzle. To solve it, you have to cook it, so that the colour goes off. Then you are left with a normal herring, which with you can finish the puzzle.
- That puzzle contains other items too, some of them which are no use (red herring).
- The bizarre point & click game Sanitarium featured several bogus clues, all involving literal red herrings: An empty shed with a red fish painted on the roof (your character even remarks on how certain he was that there'd be something important inside), a mental patient holding a large red fish who reacts to an incorrect puzzle solution, and finally a ruby-studded fish artifact that does nothing but take up an inventory slot. A developer explained, "Straka's one complaint about our design was that we didn't have any 'Red Herrings' in the game, so we literally decided to add them." There was originally supposed to be one in the shed, as well.
- The (actually pretty good) RPG Maker 2000 game Sensible Erection featured a Fetch Quest involving rugs with various colors of fish on them. Guess what the last one was.
- The point-and-click adventure Morningstar featured a literal Red Herring. It's optional to pick up, but once you do there's no way to get rid of it.
- In the Game Boy game James Bond 007 there is a man in a market place who offers to help you in exchange for a "small rogue fish."
- Mostly subverted in Ever 17 with all the hints about alternate realities, events occasionally being irreconcilable, strange incidents like the kick the can game (which is never explained properly) and most importantly, Sora going out of her way to lecture Takeshi about different versions of people and how from a different perspective they're entirely different people, but they can 'join up' at a sort of Y junction and meet up. So it seems like the idea is to join up the alternate realities of all the paths right? Wrongggg. Those all mean something entirely different when not discarded utterly. Mostly subverted in that it is sort of what they do in the final ending, but not nearly in the sense they implied.
- Also, The Kid having amnesia and having strange glimpses of future events, Coco when she isn't in that storyline or knowing things about people that he can't possibly have known. Sounds a lot like Tsugumi's amnesiac friend from the research lab who could see the future, right? Even the ages seem to match up. But it's not him, obviously.
- Red Herring are among the creatures described in the documentation that came with the Infocom Interactive Fiction game Beyond Zork. They were also an example of this trope, and never actually appear in the game.
- An Ultima game for the original Game Boy pulls this off rather cleverly—one dungeon has an optional room marked with the words 'Lair of the Scarlet Fish'. Its contents: a Wand of Fireballs that is impossible to actually get.
- The Godfather: The Game subverts The Law of Conservation of Detail. There are various places that appear different on the map, many a locked door... Quite a few of those aren't of any consequence whatsoever, even in sidequests.
- In Mass Effect the trailers, the prequel novel and the early gameplay imply that the Big Bad Saren is motivated by his racist hatred towards humans. As it turns out, this character trait is purely coincidental to his actual plans. In reality, he's been brainwashed by the true Big Bad, who is an Omnicidal Maniac.
- Mass Effect has tons of this, due to massive amounts of All There in the Manual that have nothing at all to do with the gameplay. One example that does get into the gameplay is the Asari Consort. She's hyped as a major player in Citadel intrigues, implied to have psychic powers beyond the usual Asari abilities, and is suggested to be something like an oracle. But after running a pair of optional sidequests for her, she never appears again- the door leading to her room is even permanently locked. An even bigger Red Herring is the Prothean trinket she gives you for no clearly stated reason. It does have a use- if you can find where to use it- but all it does is unlock another interesting-but-irrelevant piece of backstory.
- The Destiny Ascension is introduced (as a literal Chekhov's Gun, you might say), as the strongest ship in the Council fleet ("Look at that monster! It's main gun could rip through the barriers of any ship in the Alliance fleet!" – "Good thing it's on our side, then!") Turns out it will need any help it can get in the final battle...
- A rather cruel example can be found in I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, where in Gorrester's storyline you have the option to electrocute a bunch of animals in cages to death in order to get a key. However, it turns out that the key is a red herring.
- This mixed with Plot Hole in Heavy Rain. One of the protagonists, Ethan Mars, keeps blacking out for long periods of time, coming to in the middle of a plot-important street, holding origami figures in his hand, and having visions of drowning bodies, which is exactly the Origami killer's MO. When it turns out he's not the Origami Killer, it is never explained and makes absolutely no sense.
- Even worse, had any of the character's applied any thought to it, Ethan Mars could not be the Origami Killer: he surmises he must be him to test him and punish him for the death of his first son, and attributes it to the blackouts he's been having...only, the Origami Killer's killings have been going on for three years, well before his first son died, and Ethan himself was in a coma for eighteen months after his death.
- Actually, the blackouts were somewhat kind of explained. Shown here in one of the deleted scenes(storylines) taken out from the game. Apparently the day Scott witnessed the accident of Ethan and Jason, him and Etan shared some kind of bond from then on. And every time Ethan blacked out, players would get to explore the "dreams" Ethan saw. It was cut from the game for being too paranormal. Whether you see it as Canon or not is your choice.
- Girl Stinky in season two of Telltale's Sam and Max games talks in a suspicious or guilty manner every other sentence, and Max blames her for any number of things. In that season, she deliberately did nothing worse than be really sarcastic and a terrible cook. Things change in season 3, though.
- In particular, a running thread through Season 2 was what happened to Grandpa Stinky. Girl Stinky first said he went on a vacation, which grew more and more grandiose in each episode. Both Sam and Max blatantly accuse her of killing him at various points. Then the season finale rolls around, and she was telling the truth. Stinky was on an expedition... but Sam and Max erased a super-powerful adhesive from existence, thus causing an accident that killed him.
- She remains a Red Herring in Season 3, where she doesn't actually do anything other than conspire in secret. Though there's circumstantial evidence she attempted at least one murder, on Flint, in this series you can expect the real culprit to show up next Season.
- In Episode 4, Sam has to convince Flint Paper she's a red herring so he can tail her by telephone, discovering...absolutely nothing. Even when involved with the dogglegangers, she was under Mind Control.
- Every time you prevent a murder in Persona 4 it cuts to a mysterious figure in the fog who seems angry that "nothings happened again", and implied to be the murderer angry that his killings have been stopped right? It's actually Namatame, glad to see that he's "saved" another person. Although he actually is the one who endangered the people you saved, he just isn't the one who murdered the people who actually died and has no idea that he's doing anything harmful.
- Also, Mitsuo Kubo. The party thinks they've caught the killer by catching him... but it's Jack the Ripoff.
- Singularity has an interesting example; the Red Herring is a case of in-game Hey, It's That Voice! on account of Nolan North. His distinctly recognizable voice is lent to Devlin, the protagonist's Red Shirt squaddie. Because the game is about time travel, you either assume the familiar sounding but shadowed man who yells one line in the same voice is Devlin on account of an alternate timeline bringing him there, or you pass it off as a voice actor being recycled, as happens in many games. It's actually North being recycled, but the character he's recycled as is the protagonist, from the future..
- Mortal Kombat Deception has a Konquest game mode that sets up the story behind Onaga's return. The game throws a couple of red herrings and- as the game's name suggestions- deceptions your way, but the most interesting one is the shuriken. Early on it's possible to find a shuriken. In normal play, it doesn't seem to do anything, which led to a lot of fan debate and theory for many years. Further inspection has revealed, however, that it actually does absolutely nothing at all. Whether its purpose was merely Dummied Out or it was thrown in there to mess with the fans is entirely down to your personal viewpoint.
- In Riven: The Sequel to Myst, the Fire Marble Puzzle has 6 fire marbles. You only use 5 of them to solve it. This should not constitute a spoiler, or even a surprise; the numerological motif of "five" is everywhere in the game.
- Lands of Lore has a note that reads "Piscata Rosea 4 4 5."
- Likewise, in the first Legend of Kyrandia (made by the same company) you can find a "Piscata Rosea" item.
- Assassin's Creed II
- The town of Forli which looks to be important. It has feathers, glyphs, side-missions, the works. Ezio passes through it on his way to Venice, seemingly setting up a Chekhov's Gun. However, before the DLC was released or if you did not get it afterward, Forli turns out to be ultimately inconsequential, as no further non-DLC plot points play out there. With the DLC in hand, this is subverted as it becomes the focus of the 12th memory sequence.
- In Brotherhood, various hints such as Ezio claiming Mario led him to Cesare in the In Medias Res start, cutting away from showing Mario's death onscreen, not showing a body - contrast with the rest of Ezio's male relatives whose corpses you see - and Machiavelli apparently not knowing how Ezio arrived in Rome suggest that Mario somehow survived. Nope.
- A common Nasuverse trope. Often, an explanation for an unusual event is given, but later proven false and the true cause is revealed, allowing the player to piece by piece set together the whole picture of what happened in the past or is happening now during the multiple routes.
- Conker's Bad Fur Day has the Windmill. It visibly has paths on higher levels of it that are just out of jumping reach and appears to have a Context Sensitive Button on top of it. It gets blown up after the War chapter. Conker was sure it was going to be the final level.
- Promo and art of Record Of Agarest Wars leads people to believe that Leonhardt is the protagoinist of the story. This is true for only 1/5 of the game since the game runs on a generaton system. People consider his great-great grandson Rex to be the true protagonist. He's the guy that stands behind Leonhardt on the game cover.
- In the game D2, Kimberly seemed to get infected by the monsters of the game, with several signs pointing to her being infected, the only really clear way to get an idea on whether or not one is infected is to see if there's green blood. She is not infected, as right after Laura, the main character, kills a clone, Kimberly spits out red blood.
- Invoked in Professor Layton and the Last Specter. Luke, having locked himself in the room, issues a test for layton, to do something he can hear from inside his room in order to gain entry. Around Luke's door, various items have the numbers 1 to 7 on them. The solution is to do nothing; Luke says he deliberately set up the puzzle to test Layton.
- In the Murder Mystery Visual Novel Jisei, one the suspects realizes that the best way to draw attention from herself is to accuse someone else of the murder.
- In Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, one mission has you infiltrating a bathhouse in Japan to witness a deal between one of the antagonists and an unknown party. The owner of the bathhouse is said to have ties to a crime syndicate called the Red Nishin. If you interrogate a particular civilian, you ask him what that name even means. The civilian describes a kind of fish which Sam identifies as a herring. Needless to say, the syndicate had nothing to do with the deal.
- El Goonish Shive used a literal red herring to Lampshade an Aborted Arc. Elliot needed to return some beers to the fridge for Ellen because Grace brought them up mistaking them for soda. He put the beers "behind the red herring" as a way of saying "this isn't actually important anymore."
- Later on, a character was introduced who the author has nicknamed "Eric the Red Herring." He was set up to look like the person who had been summoning a fire monster, but if it had been him, then he wouldn't be on this page.
- After Dina from It's Walky! was killed, there were numerous hints, including a strip of Walky flat-out asking Joe, that she may have returned (in the past) as The Wanderer. Nope. (He was on the right track in two ways, though: first, The Wanderer is the spirit of a murdered love interest - namely, Linda's David, and second, Dina does return, in an afterlife sequence.)
- At one Sluggy Freelance Halloween party, one girl comes dressed as a superheroine, and Torg notes how "odd" it is that they've never seen this girl and Zoë together. The girl isn't Zoë—she's Sasha, who we've never seen before.
- In the chapter Aylee, Torg and Aylee end up in a dimension overrun by something called "ghouls", though nobody knows what they actually are. Aylee starts to be haunted in her dreams by a figure in white robes adorned with jewels. In the meantime, some minor characters are doing research into what Aylee's gigantic dragon-like form may have been, and one of the suggestions they come up with is Rithuly, ruler of the demonic Rayths, who appears as both a gigantic dragonish thing and a jewel-wearing man, and is supposed to always be looking for the perfect mate. Torg and Aylee even meet an alternative version of Kesandru, who in their dimension had made a Deal with the Devil with Rithuly. And then the real answer to what the ghouls are comes right out of nowhere and makes perfect sense.
- Also, in the "Paradise" arc, the Evil Overlord is called "His Masterness," and posters show a face suspiciously similar to the Minion Master. Nope.
- Sam and Fuzzy: For the first year or so of the Noosehead arc, Sam, who went on the run from the Ninja Mafia at the end of the last arc, is nowhere to be seen. When Mafia Ninjas show up, roadie and seemingly new character Aaron, who resembles Sam with a goatee and new haircut, panics and confides his fear of being caught in Fuzzy. Eventually Mr. Black confronts Aaron, accuses him of being Sam, and swings his sword . . . only for Aaron to block it with his bionic hand. Yup, it's fellow refugee Jackson. Meanwhile, Crash, another roadie, shaves off his beard and removes his hat, revealing a familiar hairstyle . . .
- In Eight Bit Theater, the infamous 434th episode foreshadowed a future conversation between an evil'd up Black Mage and another character. This single strip grew nearly six years worth of thick Epileptic Tree forests. After the conversation actually appeared, the major deaths that happened right before it were reverted, and the creator admitted that it was just made to distract people from actual important mysteries.
- Arguably, everything involving Dr. Swordopolis and Darko, as well as the latter "unlocking the Nexus" within Black Mage. A lot of build-up, a lot of foreshadowing, and then absolutely nothing comes of it.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, emphasis is placed on an old photo of six characters from the earlier generation of students, only one of whom we have never met. Her identity is later revealed rather offhand and unspectacularly, and though she may turn out to be important, being a Valkyrie, she doesn't seem to be that relevant to the mysteries about the characters' parents.
- The creator of Von Slayer had an accidental red herring. She asked fans to look for clues to figure out the name of a main character who's name at that point was yet to be announced. Seeing the character run away with (among other things) Tea Party plans and the period it took place, people linked it to the Boston Tea Party. They were wrong.
- In Book 6 of Fans!, Di is seeing a man who looks suspiciously like Keith Feddyg, and sure enough, Feddyg is not only one of the villains, but makes himself the Big Bad over the course of the story. However, Feddyg even comments on the resemblance, in a way that makes it clear there's no connection between them.
- In Kevin and Kell, Kevin's father is suspected to be the assassin Rabbit's Revenge sent to kill Sid at Herd Thinners because the victim's blood was found on his jacket. When Kell confronts her father-in-law, he claims Rabbit's Revenge was trying to kill him as a scapegoat and that Angelique wrote the message on the wall. It turns out that they framed each other and the real culprit is technically Danielle; she couldn't bring herself to kill the victim, and he accidentally shot himself with her stake gun.
- In the ZX Spectrum game Everyone's a Wally there exists a "Red Herring" item.
- In the early Whateley Universe stories, Phase follows the clues and deduces that the person out to get him is really Deputy Headmistress Amelia Hartford, who has a grudge against his family. Wrong. Word of God has said that the current suspect is the right one, but we are still waiting to find out for sure.
- Parodied on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which featured a bully who was actually named Red Herring. Although Fred accused him Once an Episode of being behind whatever mischief was going on, Red was only guilty in the one episode where Fred had promised to stop accusing him for a day.
- And in that case, the crime was stealing his Aunt's motorcycle - he borrowed it in order to fix it up as a surprise birthday present.
- Though in every episode, Fred provided no motivation for the accused Red Herring other than he's a jerkass bully.
- Brilliantly lampshaded in an episode of Phineas and Ferb where the boys go to look for "the Lake Nose Monster". Upon seeing a literal red-herring, Phineas cheerfully exclaims "Let's go follow it!"
- Also a subversion, since it actually DID lead to Nosey..
- The song "Perry's Hat" features this wonderful line;
Is this herring red, or a plot point?
- Turns out that yes, its a red-herring.
- In Return of the Joker, Jordan Pryce is obviously supposed to make the viewer think he's the Joker in disguise. He has similar features and the same voice actor.
- Similarly in Mask of the Phantasm, the audience is led to believe that the Phantasm is Carl Beaumont. In-story, many characters initially believe the killer to be Batman.
- And the best part is that Andrea Beaumont went out of her way to make everyone think this in-story. She stole into Gotham as the Phantasm in order to kill her first victim, then left and returned a few days later as Andrea (this time on an airplane) before resuming her killing spree. She hoped that this would allow her to plausibly shift the blame for the murders to her dead father, but the Joker (and Batman) eventually caught on.
- Also in-story, the Joker theorized Arthur Reeves hired the Phantasm to kill the mob bosses (and Joker himself) to hide his past deals with them. Arthur nervously tried to deny it, but they were interrupted by a call from Andrea which only proved the Joker right.
- Similarly in Mask of the Phantasm, the audience is led to believe that the Phantasm is Carl Beaumont. In-story, many characters initially believe the killer to be Batman.
- In the Pucca special Chefnapped, the chefs (while being held hostage) see a buch of T.N.T. Barrels with a timer about to explode... until they realize that the timer isn't attached to anything. After that a man in a red fish costume comes out.
- Ho: "Red Herring! I hate that guy!"
- When Doomie was stolen, Beetlejuice and Lydia find a skeleton leg at the scene. Later, when Jaques shows up without his leg, Beetlejuice immediately begins to blame him before Jaques cuts him off to explain how he lost his leg. A literal red herring flops across the screen while the three stare at it in confusion.
- At the end of the Rollbots episode Teacher's Pet, Ms. Appie acts incredibly suspicious, but it turns out that she had no evil intentions and that she was referring to Spin's secret.
- In an episode of DuckTales, a ship carrying cargo for one of Scrooge's firms is sunk by what appears to be a sea-monster. When Scrooge comes to investigate, he catches Pete salvaging the cargo. While he quickly accuses Pete of being a thief, Pete laughs and tells him that it became legal salvage after the ship sank, and Scrooge's own dock workers are quick to tell him that Pete has a point. Scrooge naturally starts to wonder if Pete is behind the serpent, having trained it to sink ships so he could salvage them. While Pete has been capable of such criminal acts in other episodes - and is being pretty rude in this one - he's not behind it at all, and actually helps Scrooge out when the true villain is revealed.