Thicker Than Water

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"Bare is the back without a brother to it."
Proverbial

...Blood, that is. About six times thicker.

Blood relations have a claim on each other. In fiction, as in Real Life, characters will put up with a lot from relatives that they would never endure from unrelated people. Even when the blood relation comes out of the blue (Luke, I Am Your Father, Long-Lost Relative, Luke, You Are My Father), even when the characters were Separated at Birth. And they will leap to each other's defense. Indeed, the Big Screwed-Up Family may object to any of its members being mistreated in a far more mild manner than they routinely subject this relative to.

And other characters will expect this of them, too. Failure to acknowledge the bond is a serious flaw, even if it can be outweighed by other moral considerations. Youngsters may learn this in An Aesop.

Pushed too far, this results in Moral Myopia. A character who must sacrifice blood ties to other responsibilities may find his relative shocked that he would do such a thing, no matter how flagrantly in the wrong the relative is. Pushed as far in the inverse, characters will use it to justify their love.

Also frequently invoked ironically, by taking the Stock Phrase literally. And other—substances can substitute. Often countered by the add-on "but not as refreshing"

Avoiding this trope is a major factor in Conveniently an Orphan. Relatively Flimsy Excuse draws on this to make the (false) excuse.

Opposite of No Blood Ties. Compare Nepotism, In the Blood, Family Honor.

Somewhat Truth in Television, insofar that, as far as life-threatening situations are concerned, we are genetically programmed to put ourselves at more risk for someone more closely related to us.

Examples of Thicker Than Water include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In a way this is the initial premise of Sakende Yaruze but ends up not holding true. Because Shino is his father Nakaya (at seventeen) seeks him out hoping to form a familial relationship, and they do begin to grow close, but they're often at odds with one another and how they are supposed to act. In the end Nakaya decides that though he has a claim to Shino because of their blood relationship, it would go against his dad's happiness to force Shino to reject his Love Interest Tenryuu, so Nakaya gives up his stake in the affair and moves out, not wanting to be in the way. Their familial bond is important, but not overriding.
  • Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist
  • Subverted in Blood Plus. One may expect Saya to abandon her adopted brothers after discovering she's a Chiropteran and live with them. Instead, she decides to stay and fight as she feels the former are more important to her.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • When Connor Hawke showed up in Green Arrow, that Oliver Queen did not want to deal with him was regarded as a grievous flaw; Connor was a stranger, but also his son.
    • Connor wasn't really a stranger at that point, though. Ollie's anger and refusal to want to deal with Connor at that point stemmed from the fact that Connor had concealed the fact that he was Ollie's long-lost son. He had introduced himself to Ollie as a fan of Green Arrow and Oliver had no clue that his new sidekick was his long-lost son until the fact was accidentally dropped by a Parallax-possessed Hal Jordan. Given that Ollie was a wanted fugitive at the time, his paranoia about Connor lying to him because he wanted something or was working with the people hunting him is understandable if not particularly justified.


Films[edit | hide]

  • Star Wars: Luke doesn't have to join Darth Vader, but knowing that he's his father puts anguish in what would be a simple decision—and then he wants to pull him back.
    • This trope is also what saved Luke from an agonizing death from force lightning at the hands of the Emperor. Watching his son get electrocuted was the final straw that motivated Vader to toss the Emperor down the chasm.
  • The Princess Bride: "Hello. My Name Is Inigo Montoya. You Killed My Father. Prepare to Die."
  • Big Jake. Do not mess with the McCandles family; they are tougher than the Texas Rangers. And they are led by a "rough and unpleasant person".
  • The Godfather
  • Deconstructed by The Kids Are All Right. Joni and Laser meet the sperm donor who is their biological father, but the sperm donor's attempts to build a relationship with them and their mothers cause serious family friction and nearly break up the mothers' relationship with each other.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Cold Comfort Farm Flora explains this trope thusly when explaining her plan to live off her relatives: 'I am only nineteen, but I have already observed that whereas there still lingers some absurd prejudice against living on one's friends, no limits are set, either by society or by one's own conscience, to the amount one may impose upon one's relatives'.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Gods Of Mars, when Carthoris learns that the man he had met only days before is his father, and John Carter convinces him of it by asking after his mother, Carthoris jumps to embrace him and weep Manly Tears.
    • In The Chessman Of Mars, on learning that A-Tor is the son of Haja of Gathol and so his cousin, Gahan of Gathol is immediately interested in him, and assures him that if he had made it to Gathol, being her son would have assured him a welcome.
  • In LM Montogomery's A Tangled Web, we are told, in the Backstory, a mere family feud that keeps relatives from speaking to each other does not keep one of them from punching a man for insulting the other side of the family.
  • In The Dresden Files, Thomas Raith takes this seriously, partly because Daddy Raith raised his children that way to control them, but partly because he truly believes it. After he reveals their connection to Harry, to explain why he looks out for him, Harry returns it. Which is interesting because the rest of the Raiths do not act on it -- in spades.
    • Harry himself goes to ridiculous lengths to protect and help the few people who are related to him by blood. And he also often goes out on a limb to protect other families, especially the Carpenters. Having grown up as an orphan probably has something to do with it.
  • In Rick Riordan's The Last Olympian, Nico's argument to Hades: whatever the Olympians had done to each other, they were family. (Though, technically, that's Ichor Is Thicker. But candy is dandy.)
    • Earlier, Percy and Tyson deepen their bond by finding out they are half-brothers. (Not that they get along with all of Poseidon's other sons.)
      • It's played with, though. Tyson and Percy were already friends, it's just that finding out that one of your best friends is your brother and a cyclops makes things a bit...awkward between them. It doesn't help that Percy is teased relentlessly about it. Subverted when the Big Bad of that very book is Polyphemus, a fellow son of Poseidon, who Tyson and Percy open a can of whup-ass upon.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Brothers In Arms, Miles Vorkosigan's immediate interest in his brother/clone Mark is tempered by the events of the novel. But later in the series, both Miles and his parents evince interest in Mark based solely on the blood connection, and he does end up on Barrayan among the Vorkosigans.
  • In Dante's Divine Comedy, the next to last circle of Hell holds those who betrayed their own kin.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 Gaunt's Ghosts novels, Dorden was the only Tanith with a living relative, his son, also in the regiment. Making the son's death in Necropolis all the more tragic.
    • Even his noble motive—not disrupting their lives with their new parents—does not protect Kolea from criticism for not letting his two children know that he is their father.
    • In Blood Pact, Eyl tells the witch that she is his sister and he does not want to have to force her to do something.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 Deus Encarmine and Deus Sanguinius, Rafen looks for Arkio among the other Blood Angels who have arrived, because they are siblings, despite Sachiel's rebuke that all Blood Angels are brothers. When Arkio appears to be Sagninius reborn, Rafen feels bitter Conflicting Loyalty, others seek out Rafen because he is his brother, and he is allowed more leyway for his doubts. It also makes the threat, and reality, of their Cain and Abel clash all the more bitter.
  • In Patricia A. McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Burne can not bear the thought of losing Tanis, his only living relative.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, Miranda is anxious about her brothers and sister, becuase they are immortal; Mab points out they are immortal because of the Water of Life she gives them; Miranda justifies it because they are her family. To put it another way: if Miranda didn't believe this, the books would be a lot shorter.
  • Rob Thurman quite likes this trope. In her novel Chimera, Stefan Korsak would move Heaven and Earth to find his kidnapped little brother, Lukas. In the Cal Leandros series, Cal and his older brother Niko would do anything to protect each other. Threatening either one of them in the presence of his brother is likely to be met with a swift, painful, and possibly lethal response.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat: Jim's sons override his scruples on leading them into a life of crime on the grounds that saving their mother from the income tax people is a good cause.
  • In Tanith Lee's The Dragon Hoard, Onga points out that Jasleth lied to them not on his own behalf but because of his family, and everyone agrees it's a good reason.
  • In Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black And Gold, Stenwold is outraged when his niece is betrayed to the empire by another relative of hers. He still doesn't want to be a kinslayer, though. Fortunately, Tisamon's willing to kill the man for him.
  • In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet, Geary looks up another man in the fleet named Geary to find whether they are related. Other characters also base acts on blood relations.
  • A Murder Is Announced features twin sisters who have been Separated at Birth, don't know they're sisters, and one of them actually dislikes the other. However, once they realize the relationship, they develop a sense of family solidarity and one of them (the one who disliked the other) goes so far as to lie to the police for her sister's sake.
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere an Autumn Tale, Catarina criticizes Lucian for protecting a stranger from her, his own sister.
  • In Gene Stratton Porter's The Song of the Cardinal, the she-cardinal suffers because of a separation in the migration

She was so frail and weak she lost her family in migration, and followed with some strangers that were none too kind.

  • In Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom book Magic to the Bone, Mama tells one of her Boys he's bringing trouble on his family, he argues that he could get them money and power, and Mama counters he should not be ashamed of his real family.


Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

Alfred Hitchcock: I presume that story was intended to illustrate that blood is thicker than water. I always find it heartwarming to see a family standing shoulder to shoulder in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, the authorities were not thrilled by this sight, and were seen tossing about such phrases as, "obstructing justice," "accessory after the fact," "murder in the first degree."

Michael Knight: Kitt, she's Charlie's daughter. Blood's thicker than water.

Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 171.: Blood is thicker than water, and Latinum is thicker than both. - an example of using another substance, also an inversion.

Captain Kathryn Janeway: There's an old saying: "Blood is thicker than water". It means that the ties of family run deeper than any other kind of relationship. We'll often do things for members of our family we'd never dream of doing for anyone else.

Narrator: [narration as John 'John Boy' Walton, Jr. reading from his journal] In those grey and grinding days of the Depression we often found comfort in the old familiar proverbs. We knew that in unity there was strength, that blood was thicker than water, that to err was human, and to forgive, divine. Usually we never examined these truths too closely, but in the autumn of 1934 I discovered, through pain and remorse, just how profoundly true they were.

  • The Wire: Avon Barksdale will do anything for kin. Stringer Bell... Not so much.

Stringer Bell: "But there go a life that had to be snatched, Avon (...) Twenty years above his fucking head. He'd flip, man! They got you, me, and Brianna! No fucking way, man! Hell, no! Now, I know you family, you loved that nigga, but you wanna talk that 'Blood is thicker than water' bullshit, you take that shit somewhere else, nigga! That motherfucker would've taken down the whole fucking show, starting with you, killer!"

  • Comes up frequently in The Sopranos, during Tony's confrontations with his mother, uncle, and nephew at various points. A particularly notable story arc finds him agonising over giving up his cousin Tony Blundetto (guest star Steve Buscemi) to be killed by fellow crime boss Johnny Sachs. Blundetto has provoked this by killing one of Sachs' men, but Tony (S) knows his cousin would have a drawn out, torturous death. In the end he compromises by shooting Blundetto himself, quickly and painlessly.
  • Firefly: Picking on either Tam when the other is around is not good for one's health. "Not madness... something far more dangerous."
  • In the Doctor Who episode Planet of Fire, Turlough is immediately interested in Malkon, and when Malkon is injured, Turlough's ready to kill. The Doctor says it would do no good, whereupon Turlough reveals that they are brothers. And this when they were parted so young that Malkon has no memories of Turlough. Later, Turlough, on seeing the healing gases from the volcano, carries his brother into them when everyone else is afraid of being burned.
    • In The Mutants, Varan choses his own son for the assassin, which he cites as proof of his absolute reliability.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: Boss Hogg's Catch Phrase to his local relatives was that "Blood is thicker than water, but money is thicker than blood."
    • His nephew Hughie gives it an Ironic Echo in "The Return of Hughie Hogg", in which Boss Hogg signs over all his possessions to Hughie (as a tax dodge or something) and Hughie then refuses to give them back.
  • On Dallas, whenever a group of non-Ewings was ready to give JR what he had coming, Bobby would usually stand up to them and talk them down, despite the fact the JR messed with Bobby's personal and professional life more than everyone else combined.
  • Subverted on Angel with Connor.
  • On Buffy, Tara has this attempted on her by her family after it's proven that she is not a demon. It fails spectacularly.
  • On soaps its common for characters to quickly bond with their newly discovered family and completely forget about the non-blood relatives they grew up with.
  • Sanford and Son, Lamont is very patient with Fred's plots and schemes due to the father son relationship. During Season 3, Redd Foxx goes on strike and its written that Fred is visiting relatives in St. Louis. Grady goes to watch the house for Fred. Lamont doesn't extend his tolerance to Grady and is much more openly angered by Grady's plots than he is with Fred's.
  • Done in a disturbed way by most of the Winchesters in Supernatural, especially the main characters.
  • Subverted in The West Wing. The senior staff are not related, but are so tight-knit that when it comes to defending one of their own, even at political cost, they explicitly invoke this trope by comparing their friendships to flesh-and-blood family ties in order to explain why throwing a co-worker under the bus is not an option. (Bartlet has actually point-blank declared that the senior staff are part of his family, and shall be treated as such).
  • In Merlin, the reason for Arthur's trust in his Obviously Evil Uncle Agravaine is handwaved by the show with this excuse; that he is Arthur's mother's brother, and therefore trustworthy.
  • In season three of Justified, Detroit mob boss Theo Tonin raised Robert Quarles as an adopted son. However, when Quarles pointed a gun at Theo's biological son Sammy, Theo did not hesitate to put a bounty on Quarles' head and send mooks to kill him.


Music[edit | hide]

We're thought unconditional love,That blood is thicker than water, That a parent's world should revolve always around their son or their daughter.


Mythology[edit | hide]

  • When Theseus comes to Athens, his step-mother, Medea, tries to poison him, but Aegeus recognized the Orphans Plot Trinkets he had left for Theseus, saves him, and exiles Medea—although he had never even seen his son before.
  • King Midas finally learns his lesson not when he can't eat for turning food to gold, but when he turns his daughter to gold.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • One of the central tropes in Greek theater, especially the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles. Often dramatized as a conflict between "familial piety" (upheld by the Furies) and devotion to the gods (particularly Apollo in these texts). Does morality mean staying loyal to your family or doing what the gods (or reason) dictate?
  • The reason Antigone cites for burying her brother though it is against the law is precisely that he's her brother; "filial piety" demands that one put the just claims of one's relations above the law.
  • Aeschylus' Oresteian trilogy pretty much fits the above description to a tee. It chronicles Orestes' attempts to rid his family of a longstanding curse on the orders of Apollo. Unfortunately for him, getting rid of the curse involves killing his mother (who had killed his father who had killed his sister...yeah, it's that kind of story); which of course brings the Furies down on him in full force.


Videogames[edit | hide]

  • Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is ALL about this trope (hint: the title is a clue). The whole story is basically about the three McCall brothers dealing with their differences in all the wrong ways until the very end. In fact, the tagline of the game could be "We are a family".
  • The loyalty missions in Mass Effect 2 are supposed to resolve the deepest internal conflicts and motivations of their respective characters. Not surprisingly, half of them revolves around family matters: Grunt finds a tribe for himself; Jacob deals with his Disappeared Dad; Miranda rescues her twin sister; Samara tracks down her daughter; Tali has to deal with the blowback of her father's covert misdeeds; and Thane tries to return to his paternal duties.
  • And it was hardly the first time BioWare played that card. The "messenger" quests in Knights of the Old Republic serve much the same function. Carth's Dark Jedi son, Bastila's mother, Mission's deadbeat brother, the utter clusterfuck on Kashyyyk regarding Zaalbar's family...And while it probably isn't blood related, the Mandalorian concept of "family" would put the Jagi and Canderous on this, too.
  • The original Dragon Age has a sidequest which subverts this. Alistair knows he has a half-sister and he's always wanted to visit her, but when he does, she wants nothing to do with him and denounces him for trying to intrude on her life without giving her financial support.
    • Especially nastily averted with Morrigan and Flemeth. Blood ties are fine and dandy but they're not going to dissuade Flemeth from stealing Morrigan's body or Morrigan from having Flemeth killed. (It's not clear even to Morrigan whether Flemeth is Morrigan's biological or adoptive mother, but Morrigan considers this detail irrelevant.)
    • The City Elf Origin has got an example, with slight variations depending on the Warden's gender. In either case it consists of an elf and the Warden's cousin breaking into the Arl of Denerim's estate to rescue the kidnapped female wedding guests, and then the Warden teaming up with the aforementioned cousin to rescue a third cousin from the heart of the estate.
  • Dragon Age II plays this trope straight sometimes. You can be a complete ass to Carver, drive him to join the Templars, and at the end he will still step between Merideth and Hawke and say "I will not kill my own brother/sister".
    • It is however averted in the case of Bartrand and Varric, as well as with Merrill and her clan.
    • Gamlen comes close to referencing this trope by name while averting it, actually.
  • In Radiant Historia, the Big Bad's familial love for his nephew Stocke eventually drives him to sacrifice himself in Stocke's place in the Golden Ending.
  • Archibald Ironfist is not a good man (for starters, his scheme to get the crown involves arranging for the murder of the Royal Seer, and then continuing to murder the successors until he can put the blame on his brother Roland). He also clearly feels a familial connection to Roland (note that he could just have arranged for his brother's murder to get the throne, but doesn't), culminating in Archibald risking his neck to save Roland from a horrible fate in Might and Magic VII.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

Fry: Sorry, everyone, but need I remind you? Blood is thicker than water.
Zoidberg: Really? [writing] Blood ... thicker ... water.

Jenny: After all the bad stuff I said...
XJ8: That's what sisters are for.
XJ6: Oil is thicker than water.
XJ4: But so much harder to get out of a carpet.
XJ5: A few harsh words aren't going to break up the XJs.

Ebon: "Hey, this ain't no way to treat a brother, brother."
Rubber-Band Man: "Don't hand me that 'brother' stuff. You played me, Ivan."
Ebon: "Come on, blood is thicker than water."
Rubber-Band Man: And right and wrong are thicker than blood. * cue Curb Stomp Battle*

Big Bob: "It'll make me a ton money, and what's good for me is good for all the Pataki's, if you catch my drift, Helga."
Helga: (to herself) "Alas, I ran again, torn between two forces. Arnold's foolish idealism... and my father's unbridled greed. And this time, I fear blood is thicker than water. Oh, curse the day I was born a Pataki!"

Wade: Boy, it sounds like it got ugly. Do you really think Shego would have gone through with it?
Kim: We're talking about Shego? (thoughtful) But I've got to say it was pretty easy to get that power staff from her....
(cut to Drakken and Shego)
Drakken: Now that I know the whole story, I think you secretly wanted to lose.
Shego: What?
Drakken: That's right. You wanted your brothers to get their powers back. You don't really have it in you to betray them.

Aqualad: "Blood is thicker than salt water."


Webcomics[edit | hide]

Always my father this and my family that. . . if you loved them that much, why didn't you just stay home in the first place.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Adolf Hitler had a younger sister, Paula. After the war, she was interrogated by US intelligence officers, where she said this about Adolf: "The personal fate of my brother affected me very much. He was still my brother, no matter what happened. His end brought unspeakable sorrow to me, as his sister"
    • Contrast his nephew (the son of his half-brother), William Patrick Hitler, who joined the US army navy.
      • Most of his family, actually. Several joined the U.S. military, and most changed their names. See the other wiki for more info.