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These are the characters whose moral standing is kept in the dark. Maybe they work for the Big Bad, but don't do anything really evil themselves. Perhaps they are Wild Cards who use the Heel Face Revolving Door constantly. Or maybe they are Evil Overlords who can seriously claim to be Reasonable Authority Figures. But one thing is certain: until they do something truly heroic or heinous, placing them somewhere in the Character Alignment is a wasted effort. Sometimes, the writers will deliberately leave it to the audience to decide what their true colors are.

Compare with Byronic Hero, Wild Card, and Noble Demon. Contrast Hidden Agenda Villain, whose motives and goals are kept in the dark but whose morality is never uncertain; also contrast with the less subtle characters who are unambiguously evil. Often a trait of the Mysterious Backer and the Enigmatic Minion.

Examples of Ambiguously Evil include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, we have Gendo Ikari, who, at the start, keeps it unclear whether he does care about his son, Shinji, and the world's safety or not. In the end, we learn that it's neither, he's just obsessed with bringing back his wife and will use any means to do it.
    • That's debatable - While he doubtlessly puts getting his wife back before anything else, the way he justifies his actions in episode 25 suggest that he genuinely believes that his version of the Human Instrumentality Project is the only way for humanity to survive, his final words make it pretty clear that he did care about Shinji, but happened to have the very same self-esteem issues Shinji has, and the same can be argued for Rei (given that Fuyutsuki, usually the more moral/sentimental of the two, calls him out on getting to attached to her), and he still opposes the actual villains of the show with the goal of doing what he thinks is protecting mankind, ultimately making him more of a Byronic Hero
    • ...We think.
  • Stocking from Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt claims to be a demon, but could be under mind control.
  • Schneizel is, for most of the show's run, foreshadowed as an Evil Counterpart for Lelouch. But for the most part, he comes across as an Anti-Villain or even a Hero Antagonist. Turns out, he's the final Big Bad and is really quite evil.
    • Lelouch fits this trope to a T. How sympathetic and selfish are his goals? And does his goals justify his means of trying to achieve them?

Comic Books

  • This is the whole premise of V from V for Vendetta. Hero or terrorist? Or both?
  • In Watchmen, it's left largely up to the reader to decide whether Ozymandias' master plan was truly the right thing to do.
    • Same with Rorschach. He is deliberately left morally ambiguous to let the readers decide whether his extreme methods of fighting evil were necessary or not. Or whether exposing Ozymandias's plan was the right thing to do or not.
  • The Punisher.
  • Galaxity in Valerian. Though they claim to be keepers of the peace, and are certainly a force of calm and order, they also brand themselves as The Empire and are quick to jump on Necessarily Evil and Lawful Evil actions that ensure their jobs would be easier and once forced a whole species off their planet simply because Galaxity didn't want to give up such a rich bounty of resources.


  • The Old Man who is the boss of Omnitech in the RoboCop movies. Even more so in the TV series.
  • Bludworth, the enigmatic coroner who somehow always seems to know what is going on, in the Final Destination series.
  • Medusa, in both versions of Clash of the Titans. Sure, she was a nasty-looking monster who brutally killed the four Red Shirts Perseus brought with them, but then, they were trespassing in her home with the intent to kill her and take her head, so it was hardly unwarranted.
  • The urSkeks in The Dark Crystal. While presented as unambiguously good in the movie, the Expanded Universe casts them in a much murkier light, not being shy to say that their Benevolent Alien Invasion was essentially them bribing Aughra for access to the Crystal of Truth so they could continue the experiments that got them banished from their homeworld, even if they did grow fond of Thra and genuinely considered Aughra a friend. The Skeksis had to get it from somewhere after all.
  • The Avengers themselves ask this about Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. For all that he desires to Kill All Humans, it's never made clear if he has enough emotional intelligence to fully understand the depravity of his actions, being quite convinced that they'll be enough survivors to rebuild from his Colony Drop.


  • Discworld's Lord Vetinari is a Magnificent Bastard par none, who keeps Ankh-Morporkh's nobles in check through manipulation and intimidation. He is also a former Professional Killer to boot. Apparently, he got into his position thanks to a few well-thought-out assassinations and a firm belief that Humans Are the Real Monsters. He's also the most competent and benevolent patrician the city has ever had.
  • Severus Snape of Harry Potter fame is the poster boy for this trope. His true allegiance is revealed only after his death. Turns out, he's good.
  • Varys from A Song of Ice and Fire. When most of the characters are busy grabbing as much power for themselves as possible, Varys seems to be the only one who actually cares about the realm and it's subjects. While he hates the selfish and power hungry nobles, he is also willing to throw good...well, goodish characters to the wolves. What he wants and why is yet to be revealed.
    • Not anymore, ending of A Dance With Dragons shows he has his own agenda and is corrupted enough to train children to kill someone because he was trying to "Heal the realm. However, even though this seems as close to a Motive Rant as he's ever going to give us, there is still the possibility that he was lying in some way.
    • Tyrion also qualifies. Has been referred to by the producer of the TV show as "Our Good Bad Guy or Bad Good Guy."
  • Youko Tsukimori from the lightnovel Gekkou. The driving question of the novel is whether or not she's a killer.
  • Most of Tej's family in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance are like this. They are ruthless about defending their patrimony and talk about murder with a creepy casualness. But their Family Business is a comparatively honest one for Jackson's Whole being the management of a space station with sidelines in information brokering and hostage negotiation. The father though was a pirate in his younger days. The Grandma apparently took part in war crimes though that seems to have been mostly record-keeping. On the whole they are a likable bunch who have a certain charm despite their misdeeds.

Live Action TV

  • Mad Men‍'‍s Bert Cooper is not afraid to resort to blackmail to get his way, and has threatened to lock someone who disagreed with one of his schemes in a closet for a weekend if he didn't comply. Another character believes that he has arranged for someone to be killed before. However, it is never made clear if he intended to follow through with his threats or if he really had that person killed. He always comes off as a kindly, albeit eccentric, old man.
  • Dexter. Season 2 is one long Lampshade Hanging.
  • The Time Lords of Doctor Who. Some are easily good or evil but most are more mercurial, just as willing to go along with the Doctor as they are to go along with Rassilon.

Video Games

  • Pokémon Black and White's Team Plasma is this for roughly five minutes. Ghetsis' speech does make sense, but they are the shady organization in a Pokémon game. Then we see one of their grunts kicking a Munna. N does keep his ambiguous status till the end when we learn that he's just misguided.
  • First Enchanter Orsino from Dragon Age II. He associates with a serial killer mage and does use blood magic, but he claims that he only associated with said serial killer because exposing him would give the templars more justification for oppressing the mages, and also claims that he never used blood magic before the end game. The writers have said that whether he is telling the truth is left for the players to determine.
    • Flemeth from both games. She dismisses rumors without confirmation or denial, and there hasn't been a witness to or onscreen demonstration of her villainy. She's done more to assist the heroes, and her battle with the Warden was only in self-defense. Her power is said to come from demonic possession, yet neither her motives nor methods match any other examples. Morrigan discovers a ritual that supposedly permits her to possess others, but the reasons and results for using it have been cast in question.
    • Her daughter does follow in her footsteps. Despite sticking with the Warden for the entire game she does want a child with the soul of a god, for whatever reason.
      • Also, the only one who reads the book where the ritual to possess others is mentioned is Morrigan. Who also seems concerned if you had read it before, and is just as morally ambiguous as her mother, which makes the whole thing rather suspicious.
  • Ulysses from Fallout: New Vegas is pretty much this. He seems destined to end up fighting The Courier in some sort of legendary battle. Joshua Graham implies that he might have ties to Caesar's Legion. He carries the flag of the Old World on his back, which has connotations, and Old World Blues hints pretty strongly that he wants to do something in The Divide, related to waking up the Old World. Though audio files from the same add-on detail him rescuing Christine from the Big Empty and nursing them back to health.
    • Eventually, he's revealed to be a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds of sorts on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Courier for destroying a nation in-the-making, with his ultimate plan being to use ICBMs to cut off the NCR supply lines, leading to the NCR, Legion, and the Mojave destroying each other so that a new nation may rise from the ashes of the Old World symbols.
  • The Spathi of Star Control 2 are a textbook example. They fight for the Ur-Quan and don't seem terribly upset about being party to the enslavement of all intelligent life, but while spineless and shifty they never come close to doing anything evil.
    • The Arilou are a somewhat more benevolent version. They clearly care about humanity, though their reasons for doing so are left ambiguous. They are also The Greys, and have done experiments on us throughout our history, again for purposes they are reticent to discuss. And while they joined the Alliance, they abandoned it as soon as it became clear that the human race was "safe" (i.e., safely enslaved), and were unconcerned with the fate of their other allies.
    • The Orz. Weird Starfish Aliens whose language we can't properly translate. They are quite friendly, and will gladly ally with humanity...but there's something a little bit sinister about them. You meet them in Androsynth (evil cloned human) space, with no sign of the Androsynth anywhere. Demanding answers from the Orz as to what happened is their Berserk Button, and they will attack if you keep bringing it up. The Arilou (see above) insist they are dangerous, and vaguely dole out Eldritch Abomination / Cosmic Horror Story implications. It's all surprisingly creepy.
    • Star Control 3 resolves this question: the Arilou are arrogant and narcissistic but not outright evil, while the Orz are Les Collaborateurs for the game's Big Bad. Of course, Star Control 3 in its entirety is Fan Discontinuity.

Visual Novels

  • Multiple characters in Shikkoku no Sharnoth, including M, Heinz, Arthur, and James Moriarty.
  • Most of the witches in Umineko no Naku Koro ni fall into this category as suits their whims, leaving it quite difficult to tell which if any of them is evil, good or simply in it for shits and giggles. Surprisingly enough, should you have read Higurashi, it turns out that Tkano expy Lambdadelta is the one who is actually a decent person and reliable ally as compared to the Rika expy Bernkastel who is only in it For the Evulz.

Web Comics

  • Of the six members of Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius is the most morally ambiguous. Vaarsuvius is condescending and arrogant and doesn't really care much about saving the world; s/he just joined the Order in pursuit of Arcane knowledge and power, and is trigger happy in his/her use of magic. But s/he genuinely cares for the rest of the Order, and is appalled by Belkar's psychopathy. S/he also made a deal with some fiends for some nasty dark magic to save her family from a vengeful black dragon, but used that magic to destroy the dragon and all family members related to her. S/he then held onto the power and used it to teleport the Azure fleet to an abandoned island where they could establish a base and get supplies, and used the magic to unsuccessfully fight Xykon. This eventually led to hir losing hir temporary power and divorcing hir partner. There is much debate over hir Character Alignment.
    • Not to mention V had recently shown to be quite... abusive, towards a dominated foe. Though it is a bad guy under V's control, if there were laws on how a dominated enemy can be treated, V would've broken more than a few of them in just two strips.
    • On the other hand, V seems to be drifting more towards the "Good" end of the spectrum lately, courtesy of several My God, What Have I Done? moments.
  • In Girl Genius, it's more about who's all the way barking crazy and who keep themselves in check.
    • Baron Klaus Wulfenbach starts out as a villain who has conquered most of Europe. The reason he did this was to keep in check his fellow mad scientists, who were mostly waging an everyone-against-everyone war on ruins of a halfway-happened Zombie Apocalypse when he crashed the party.
    • Jägers are mostly considered nightmarish monsters outside of their masters' land—where they are, conversely, mostly considered heroes. The sorts of people who chose the transformation and indefinite active military service are obviously dangerous, but "good sports" and honorable in their own strange way. Most are not actively malevolent—one turned out to be, but he "iz no longer a Jäger" (due to breaking his fealty and turning on the masters). Still, their word for a Heterodyne who choose good over evil is "boring".
      • The brothers were "boring" mostly because they insisted Jägers stay at home and don't accompany them on the adventures. Jägers themselves understand that they have quite a reputation and this is a way to avoid scaring people, but didn't like it. Then again, brothers left them behind not only when they saved yet another Damsel in Distress (which perhaps is a good idea), but also when they were in heavy fighting, with a particularly dangerous enemy while Europa was in flames (which obviously isn't). And this indeed didn't end too well, given that only one of the brothers was seen after this in hiding, Europa was still in flames until another guy raised a proper army, and their enemy came back later. This also led to Dimo fishing for reassurance that the incumbent Heterodyne needs him and "boyz" by pretending to shirk his responsibilities.
  • King Radical. His actions could easily label him as a Anti-Villain or even an outright hero. Dr. McNinja, on the other hand, is certain that he's a Villain with Good Publicity, and it's strongly implied that he's planning something big.
    • He is most definitely planning something big. His future self even admitted that he had been. Just what he's planning, and where it stands morally, though, has yet to be said.

Web Original

  • Jhudora from Neopets. Everyone thinks she's evil, but no one has ever been able to prove it.

Western Animation

  • On Galtar and the Golden Lance, Rak and his son, Tuk, are mercenaries who serve either Galtar or Tormack, depending on the circumstances.
  • Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender starts out this way. He is the first antagonist, but is given enough sympathy points through out the first season that it is more than a bit hazy on which side of the fence he'll wind up. He ends up choosing evil over good...then, realizing what a mistake this was, chooses good over evil.
  • Its sequel series, The Legend of Korra, follows the tradition but alters the execution - the masked and compelling Amon has a sympathetic backstory told by himself, a number of legitimate points, a mysterious and horrifying ability that he's thus far only used on the deserving and a meticulous, effortless brand of manipulation that throws everything he says and all his motives into question.
  • On Adventure Time, Marceline was this trope in at least her first few appearances, where it was sort of unclear if she was actually going to start killing people or was just messing with Finn and Jake. More recent episodes portray her as basically good, if somewhat mischievous and perhaps capable of true nastiness.
  • Penny from The Mighty B. Being a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, she teams up with Portisa and Gwen to make Bessie eat Zukini.
  • Principal Pixiefrog from My Gym Partner's a Monkey.
  • Nester's Mother, Momma from Scaredy Squirrel.
  • MacBeth in Gargoyles. He's quite ruthless about achieving his goals but his main goal is to destroy Big Bad Demona (and thus himself) and he has his share of Pet the Dog moments.
  • Stewie Griffin from Family Guy. He started out as a Card-Carrying Villain, and still does indulge in Comedic Sociopathy, but he's far more likely to have a My God, What Have I Done? reaction that anyone else in the house at his cruel deeds.
  • The Maximal rulers in Beast Wars and the Beast Machines. They were certainly better people than the Predacons but they were many implications and hints that they seemed to be building up to a great push of galactic colonization. Colonization on its own its not evil, but there were some hints, such as treating the Predacons as second-class citizens and breeding Super Soldiers, that He Who Fights Monsters might have infected the Autobots who founded the Maximals.


  • Shockwave, in the Transformers Trans Tech/Transformers Animated script-reading play, "Bee in the City". He describes himself as "morally ambiguous".
  • In Warhammer 40000 this is the Alpha Legion's hat, down to the last man. While they sided with Horus during the Horus Heresy, they were apparently attempting to fulfill a prophecy in which Chaos would be destroyed permanently (at the cost of the human race albeit). After the Heresy, they're the only legion not present in the eye of terror, and are generally planning something...