Spear Carrier

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A few lines, just to show how people were amazed at what George McFly did.
If you cannot sing Siegfried you can at least carry a spear.
—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

A character who walks into a scene, says a few lines at most, and departs. Essentially, an extra with a line. But hey, it's a part. You have to start somewhere, and they wouldn't give away a part this small unless it served some purpose in the story, however small.

Plus it's usually enough to get you a card in one of the actors guilds.

Bit Character is the next step up.

Compare with the Almost-Dead Guy, who walks into a scene, delivers a message, and dies horribly.

The word may come from Greek tragedy; when a play dealt with members of the nobility, their military entourage would usually serve as messengers—often with bad news. It is also the standard term for an operatic supernumerary, one of several silent extras of either sex who may carry anything from a flagon to a kidnap victim. (See here [dead link].)

A Herald is usually more dramatic and foreshadows The Call.

Compare The Cameo and Pursued Protagonist. Not to be confused with the native assistant of the Great White Hunter, or with literal wielders of spears. Can sometimes result in a One-Scene Wonder.

Examples of Spear Carrier include:


Film[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In the picture, the couple at the dance at the end of Back to The Future, who are amazed that George McFly stood up to the school bully.
    • There's also Red the Bum, who calls Marty a "crazy, drunk driver" towards the end of Part I, and a "crazy, drunk pedestrian" in the alternate 1985 in Part II.
  • The extra who wasn't supposed to speak in Star Trek IV the Voyage Home, but her answer to the "Nuclear Wessels" question was so perfect, it was a Throw It In.
    • She wasn't even an extra to begin with: she was just some random inhabitant of San Fransisco who gave Chekov such a straightforward answer because she wasn't aware that it was for a film. The crew, after quickly deciding to Throw It In, actually had to chase her down in order to give her pay as an extra (so the union wouldn't complain).
  • In Citizen Toxie: Toxic Avenger IV, an actress playing a nurse agreed to be nude on screen in exchange for a line.
  • From Ghostbusters: the carriage driver in Central Park who remarks: "What an asshole," after Rick Moranis has a conversation with the horse.
  • In Bruce Almighty: Bruce asks a young boy if he knows how to work a video camera. He replies, "Duh." They even make special mention of him fitting this trope (not in those words) during the DVD commentary.
  • Jamie in Mystery Team is essentially this; she does very little to add to the plot, and is good for a few laughs.
  • In The Naked Gun, the man at the baseball game who yells out "It's Enrico Pulotzo!!!" is credited as such during the closing credits, not even having a name.
  • The member of the crowd in Life of Brian who is individual enough to admit he isn't. Interestingly, that was a Throw It In line—and he was paid extra for coming up with it.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In a commentary to the Dragonriders of Pern, author Anne McCaffrey described Masterharper Robinton and Mastersmith Fandarel as spear carriers in the first book, who later evolved into major characters.
  • In Alexei Panshin's 1968 science fiction novel Rite of Passage, the main character muses on the existence of spear carriers as disposable:

"A spear carrier is the anonymous character cut down by the hero as he advances to save the menaced heroine. A spear carrier is a character put in a story to be used like a piece of disposable tissue. In a story, spear carriers never suddenly assert themselves by throwing their spears aside and saying, ‘I resign. I don’t want to be used.’ They are there to be used, either for atmosphere or as minor obstacles in the path of the hero. The trouble is that each of us is his own hero, existing in a world of spear carriers."


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The various messengers ("My lord, I bring news!") in the first series of The Blackadder. Also, the messenger in the Blackadder II episode "Money", who keeps telling Edmund the Queen wants to see him at inconvenient times.

Blackadder: Now I'm sure I can think of something as long as I'm not interrupted...
Messenger: My Lord! The Queen does demand your urgent presence on pain of Death!

  • Early in Boy Meets World Cory's class is putting on a production of Hamlet. Cory is cast as Hamlet, but refuses the role because he doesn't want to wear tights. He gets a part again... As a lowly spear carrier. ( His best friend Shawn had previously been one, but got bumped up to noble when Cory quit. ) Subverted/parodied just before the credits roll, as he uses the spear to knock everyone off stage and claim domination over the stage.
  • Nikki, a blonde nurse in Holby City who never speaks on screen (and is considered as Fan Service by many viewers), becoming an unlikely cult character, and the show from which Holby became a Spin-Off of has its own.
    • Kath, who is a non-speaking Spear Carrier in Casualty. Similar to the above, but also an unlikely cult character too. (note that the bluelinked articles have pictures of them, for those unfamiliar with these shows).
  • Star Trek: Voyager features Lieutenant Ayala, a character who appears in 120 episodes including the series premiere and finale but only speaks in four of them (and one of those is an overdubbed communicator voice). Having survived the entire series despite not being a main character, he became something of a fan favourite.
    • Sister show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took it one step further and gave Morn, a character who appeared in 96 episodes yet never spoke onscreen, an episode all to himself, as the characters dealt with his supposed death.
  • In pretty much every episode of iCarly there are random interactions between the main 5 characters and members of their school or viewers on the webshow. Occasionally some of these become a Bit Character like Wendy, and Gibby (who eventually was upgraded to the main cast), whilst most vanish and are never seen again after one or two episodes.
  • Discussed in Seinfeld : "These pretzels are making me thirsty."

Music[edit | hide]

  • Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida has a messenger who is possibly the smallest credited role. He has like three lines.

Theater[edit | hide]

  • In Macbeth, Seyton only shows up to tell the king his wife is dead (and to hint where she's gone).
  • Bundles, from Annie.
  • Depression-era American playwright and former actor Clifford Odetts was so frustrated by constantly being cast as Spear Carriers that when he started writing plays, he deliberately wrote many of his minor characters to be One Scene Wonders. The union members in Paradise Lost in particular stand out.
  • Hopkins in The Crucible

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Baldur's Gate: Hold there, traveler, Elminster just wants some attention.
  • Half Life. Barney the guard pops up to deliver a message or herald Gordon a few times. Sometimes you can recruit him to do something, and once he manages to become the Almost-Dead Guy just before Gordon is ambushed too.
    • Then there's Blue Shift...
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: the prisoner Jiub only managed to deliver ten short lines of dialog before you were separated from him.
    • However, fans became so fond of Jiub that mods eventually allowed you to free him, as well. There's also one mod that makes Jiub the prophesied hero, and the PC just a random adventurer.
    • Even Bethesda got into the act. In Oblivion we learn that "Saint Jiub" drove the Cliff Racers from Morrowind.
  • Gothic: his name is Mud and he wants to talk to you. Sadly, he has nothing useful to say. No, Mud, go away.
    • Curiously, once the Old Camp turns hostile to you after the mine collapse the locals will attack and murder him. Apparently they didn't like him either.
  • In The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush wants to be in a theater production but is told he "doesn't have the hands of a spear carrier."