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After much pleading, begging, pity and a sense of moral justice, The Hero arrives, determined to save the townspeople from a terrible fate at the hands of a devious villain. Everything's looking all right, everyone is happy and then-

Bam. Betrayed. The villain comes out of nowhere, captures The Hero and tells the townspeople "You have done well to betray this interloper, for after your plans failed I would have destroyed all of you". Note that the villain will probably still follow through with the original plans anyway, the complicity of the townspeople notwithstanding.

What The Hell, Townspeople? is meant to be the reaction of the audience to this situation as opposed to any general character. The idea is that the ostensibly good townspeople are basing their long-term survival plan on screwing over the only people who would actually be willing to be nice to them.

See also: Apathetic Citizens, Dying Like Animals, Les Collaborateurs. If they never liked the hero in the first place, they're probably All of the Other Reindeer. If someone actually says "what the hell, townspeople?", see Shaming the Mob.

Examples of What the Hell, Townspeople? include:

Anime and Manga

  • Partially justified in Soul Eater. While the village that demon sword Masamune was possessing prompting everyone to attack Black Star, and that everyone in the village had a personal grudge against the Star Clan, it didn't warrant the little kid smacking Black Star on the head with a branch of bamboo.
  • So tell me, oh townspeople who are regularly saved by Prince Dios — exactly why does it seem like a good idea to work your shining prince to the dying point, and then get all murdery when his sister decides he needs a vacation?
  • In Trigun, after learning that Vash the Stampede is in their town, the attempt to arrest him for the 60 billion double dollar bounty on his head after he saves them from asshole mutant bounty hunters.
    • Justified in that they need the money to repair the Black Box that keeps their town alive. When they claim a smaller but still pretty high bounty due to Vash they treat him like a hero. Give him free sandwiches.
    • Not to mention turning him in to the authorities would get the Humanoid Typhoon out of their town, which has had enough problems already, thank you very much.
    • Actually, in this particular instance (Inepril) they're pretty reasonable, in that after he does his hero thing they acknowledge it. The town where, regardless of the fact that he is, in fact, Vash the Stampede, who did, technically, destroy two cities, they drag an unresisting man behind a truck a la Hector, as part of the lead-up to a lynching, on one guy's say-so, is pretty 'what the hell.'
  • In Ode to Kirihito, Kirihito suffers serious discrimination because a disease has turned him into a petting zoo person. At one point, he is able to persuade some villagers to leave him and another doctor in a cave with a village elder alone for two days so they can operate on him and save his life. Some of the younger villagers decide to break into the cave early and kill him anyway. The elder overexerts himself in anger ordering the ruffians to stop being dumbasses; Kirihito had just saved his life. He dies. The warnings of the other villagers and the other doctor apparently weren't good enough.
  • The whole plot of Violinist of Hameln wouldn't have happened if it weren't for this trope. After all, it was the rampant discrimination they suffered in Anthem and the villagers selling them out to Hell King Bass that ended with Pandora in a crystal and Hamel his jaded, traumatized self after accidentally killing everyone except for Raiel.
  • The first Grand Line island the crew of One Piece visits seems friendly and is known for taking pirates in and setting them up right for the journeys ahead. Turns out every one of them is a bounty hunter working for Baroque Works.
    • In a flashback it is revealed the villagers of Koala's hometown betrayed Fisher Tiger when he brought the girl safely home. At least part of the reason was so the Marines would ignore their knowledge that Koala was an escaped slave.
  • In Junji Ito's manga Hellstar Remina, a scientist who discovered a new planet names it after his only daughter, Remina, causing her to become a celebrity and have numerous fanclubs and admirers. (Remina herself wishes they wouldn't pay so much attention to her because of that, though.) Then, when it's revealed that Planet Remina is hurtling towards Earth with no chance of anyone's survival, the entire city of Tokyo, and even the world, turns against the innocent teenager, finally tying her to a cross and trying to kill her--all because they share the same name.


  • The citizens of the Marvel universe. Over and over again. Especially where mutants or Spider-Man are concerned, but almost everyone gets this at one time or another.
  • The citizens of the DC universe are slightly better but not by much, as is the case with Lex Luthor. Since the first Crisis, he has been depicted as a popular public figure, either as a business man or even the president of the US. Everytime he is exposed as a Big Bad, the public somehow forgives after some flimsy Blatant Lies.
    • Luthor could perhaps be justified by the fact that most people never interact with him directly, so they only have media and his PR department to turn to. And people seem to be willing to forgive quite a lot when it comes to politicians in real life.
      • Plus, Luthor is Genre Savvy enough to know that he's living in a world where he can blame his worse actions on a robot duplicate/clone/EvilTwin from Another Dimension, and the general public will go along with it.
      • Also, with Luthor people can (until he goes ludicrously insane again) follow the money and have the feeling they know where he's coming from and going to. The superheroes possess no such pseudo-predictability, so Luthor appears to exploit people's fears of the superheroes' true motivations to paint himself as a victim a lot, even though the recurrentness of it and moments like where he had a cosmic Venom-doping selling-the-planet-to-aliens freak-out on live national television should make it a pretty hard sell.


  • In The Magnificent Seven, a small group of the villagers betray the Seven and allow Calvera into the village after they learn that Calvera cannot simply move on and raid another village, which was what they had hoped would happen when he discovered that the village had hired gunmen. The Seven understand their reasoning, even defending their actions when their children denounce them as cowards, and still return to save the village after Calvera released them far from the territory.
  • Done in Cave Dwellers, where the hero Ator promises to help a village fight the local snake cult so they can stop their young people from being claimed as Human Sacrifices... only to be drugged and tied up, since the villagers think that offering the snake cultists Ator will buy them off. Naturally it doesn't work.
  • High Plains Drifter: This happens before the beginning of the movie and is the basis for everything that happens during it.
    • Including the subversion that happens before we actually learn this; after seemingly teaching the townsfolk to fight back against the evil bandits threatening the town, the 'hero' betrays the townspeople by abandoning them, letting the bandits have the run of the town before he returns to take his own vengeance on them.
  • Dogville. The point that regular, small town, hard working Townsfolks are just as horrible people as anyone else is the whole point of the movie. Played with in that the townfolks' poor treatment of Grace is what causes the villain to kill them all. At Grace's request.
  • High Noon: the Marshal is trying to save the town from these criminals and the rest of the ungrateful townspeople don't lift a finger to help him. In fact some support the criminals being allowed to run the town.
  • Outland is basically High Noon in SPACE! but in this case the frontier town deep-space mining colony is run from Earth by a Corrupt Corporate Executive which pretty much ensures that the Marshal's efforts aren't probably going to have much long-term effect.
  • Van Helsing: After the fight with Dracula's brides when Van Helsing first arrive to the villages. When Van Helsing kill one of the vampire how do the townspoeple react? Wanted to kill Van Helsing and friend, because it fine and dandy when the vampire kill one of them once a month for food, but now the vampires will want revenge and slaughter them. And this is the same townspeople that follows Anna, another vampire hunter that has to kill Dracula.


  • In the Dune prequel, The Machine Crusade, a village of Zenshiites on the planet IV Anbus decide to obstruct the plans of a group of League soldiers, trying to keep a mechanized army from passing through their canyon village on its way to the capital. They don't believe that this will spare them from harm by the machines, though. The fact that their people have been traded as slaves in League worlds for years just makes them so angry that they're not willing to help the League Armada under any circumstances. This leads to their capital and holy city being destroyed by the Armada in an effort to finish off the machines before they can take over the planet, and a lot of Black and Gray Morality on both sides.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events : The Vile Village is a great example.

Live Action TV

  • The Firefly episode where Simon and River are kidnapped by a town in need of a doctor. He hates being kidnapped and calls the townsfolk on it, but grows to like being able to help the townsfolk and having a stable place to house River. However; when they find out she's "a witch" they plan to burn her at the stake, nothing he says will stop them, so he gets up on the stake too. And they were getting ready to burn them both! The same people who went to great lengths to get a doctor were perfectly willing to go back to their high mortality rates if it meant burning a mentally damaged girl. On the other hand, considering she's a deranged violent girl with psychic powers, even the Big Damn Heroes admit that the villagers aren't wrong about the witchiness per se.
    • Yes, but the villagers didn't know that. All they could tell was that River knew things she shouldn't have been able to and wasn't mentally all there. There was nothing to indicate that she was dangerous.
    • And the sweet god-fearing girl who kept trying to cast Simon's kidnapping in the light of destiny was the one to set it off. If she hadn't freaked at the mind-reading, no lynch mob.
    • As for being dangerous, the town leader did realize that she was psychic when he she explained how he got his job.
  • The people of Nettlestone are invited to Robin Hood's birthday party, but decide to send the Sheriff's mercenaries along instead. Even though this would give the Sheriff completely free rein to indulge in his hobbies of robbing, starving, torturing and exploiting them without interference from Robin's gang.
  • Just about every Civilization Of The Week SG-1 tries to save from the Goa'uld or the Ori, or for that matter from anything. Every one that doesn't fit this ends up home to a few Les Collaborateurs.
    • Often, SG-1 and Atlantis planets have exactly two notable characters: a Reasonable Authority Figure who supports the heroes and an Evil Chancellor who wants to follow this trope, sometimes even going behind the Reasonable Authority Figure's back to do so.
    • Of note are the villagers in Atlantis who capture Ronon to hand him off to the Wraith, hoping that the Wraith would let them be. Needless to say, they were all slaughtered for their trouble. Slightly justified in that Ronon inadvertently brought the Wraith to their village during his time as a Runner.


  • The first track of The Protomen's first eponymous album describes Protoman fighting for humanity, with the oppressed citizens rallying behind him. Until Protoman begins to be overcome, at which point none of the people come to his aide at the risk of their own lives. Light gives a What the Hell, Townspeople? summation to Megaman about it, but he doesn't take the lesson and goes off to fight. The entire fifth track is one long track dedicated to the still alive Protoman giving an increasingly cynical What the Hell, Townspeople?. And they prove him right.
    • Act II elaborates: Years ago, Dr. Light was framed for the murder of his girlfriend, Emily Stanton, by Dr. Wily. The townspeople believe Wily, and when Light is eventually found innocent, they see it as their justice system being corrupt and attempt to lynch him.
      • Wily even lampshades this, mentioning that all he had to do was point a finger at Light to get the people to turn on him.

Video Games

  • In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Ike and company are in a port town in Crimea, which has recently been conquered by the Daein Kingdom. One of their laguz allies is accidentally unhooded, and the racist townspeople promptly sound the alarm to local Daein forces.
    • Not quite done screwing over the heroes, a couple of those same townspeople tell the Daein soldiers where the Greil Mercenaries have gone after the mission, and are Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves.
  • In Overlord, the people of Bree Spree are very quick to begin praising the massive Khan over you, despite you having rescued many of their people and (maybe) not murdering them. Of course, once you defeat Khan's forces, they're instantly begging for your forgiveness.
    • Of course being an Evil Overlord, you could have been bullying and killing them this whole time.
  • In Mega Man Zero 4, the refugees of Area Zero, the Caravan, refuse the aid offered by La Résistance and Zero; a textbook examle of an Untrusting Community. Even when Area Zero came under attack by the forces of the Big Bad and Zero mounted a rescue, the Caravan's leader, Neige, attempts to stop the fighting by chewing out both sides (mostly directed at Zero and Craft, the Big Bad's general) for the atrocities that they have done throughout the series. Craft kidnaps Neige shortly afterwards, and the Caravan refuses to go rescue her, thinking that bringing Neige back would only ignite the war again. Cue Zero chewing them out:

 Zero: You're just going to abandon her? She put her life on the line to stop the fight and save you and your settlement!

NPC: What of it!? If we save her, we might get attacked again!

Zero: Look at you all cowering in fear. You're no different than the humans in Neo Arcadia...

NPC: H-how dare you!

Zero: If you're going to be like that, why even put your lives at stake to leave Neo Arcadia in the first place?

  • In Suikoden III, the Apathetic Citizens of Le Buque treat Franz and the other Mantor trainers like crap because he's trying to earn them second-class citizenship in Harmonia, who conquered their clan fifty years prior. After Harmonia withdraws their forces, their scorn gives way to outright violence and they threaten to mob Franz and the others. Geddoe punches out one of the Jerkasses and calls them on their cowardice.
  • A version of this happens in Final Fantasy XII. Instead of the hero arriving, when the "villain" Consul from the conquering Archadean empire arrives in the newly conquered Dalmasca, the gathered crowd boos him. He gives a little speech that amounts to, "I'm really not a bad guy, and I just want to get along with all of you and be a good ruler, so let's not worry about who conquered whom." They cheer him. Vaan and Penelo share a what the hell, fellow oppressed citizens?? moment.
    • Except that, he actually gave a nice speech, and if it wasn't for him being a Bishonen and being from The Empire then not even the player would've went HOLYCRAP HE'S THE VILLAIN.
  • Dragon Quest IX. Wormwood Creek. Great job betraying your Guardian Angel to The Empire, guys. Way to create a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
  • Harvest Moon: More of a wallbanger example, the townspeople will get mad at you for your animals dying of old age regardless of how well you took care of them, or god forbid you get second place. They have serious issues with perfection.
  • Dragon Quest VII has a couple of examples:
  • Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. The townspeople are bizarrely convinced that the protagonist is a diaper-wearing hobo of some sort. No, really.
  • Skyrim. You just saved the townspeople from a dragon by using your Dragon Shouts. Surely they'll all fall on their knees, thanking you, right? Wrong. At best they'll stand around gawking you, if not then the guards will warn you to stop Shouting because it puts people on edge. At worst, you'll actually be prosecuted for whatever damage you may have done whilst trying to take the dragon down.

Web Comics


 Ambassador: They've given us an offer. If we bring them the one known as Torg they will leave our world in peace. And since peace is the ultimate manifestation of good, I'd like to implore everyone to form unruly mobs and send this innocent man into the demons' eternal deathgrip as soon as possible!

  • Subverted in Dominic Deegan; when the people of Lynn's Brook get all Torches and Pitchforks-y on Dominic, Luna and Greg, he calls them out on their asinine behavior...which the mob then tries to justify.
    • They formed a mob in the first place because Luna summoned a threatening illusion after they threw rocks at her (minor facial deformity) and Greg (gimp leg) for their disabilities.

Western Animation

  • In one Superfriends cartoon, a planet petitions the heroes for help. They arrive and seemingly save the day, a banquet is held in their honor - and the denizens then trap them, promptly handing them over to Darkseid. (Apparently they never got the memo that these guys beat Darkseid, seriously, like every week.) Completely out of left field, Darkseid makes up an extremely flimsy technical excuse to blow the planet up anyway. The aliens realize the errors of their ways and release the Superfriends. Like that needed spoilers.
  • In an episode of Samurai Jack, Jack agreed to help a group of frog-people, but it turned out they planned on handing him over to Aku in exchange for being left alone. Notably, this averted thro most of the series as most people Jack saved are eternally gratefu, and at least two people simply help him out of the goodness of their heart.
  • In a Teen Titans episode, Snowblind, the people act like this to the Russian super soldier, Red Star, whose dark side is terrorizing them. Starfire calls them out on it by pointing out that it was the experiments in which they themselves partook that caused everything. After this they stop acting like assholes.
  • The Galaxy Rangers episode "Chained." Ozark is an isolationist colony in the middle of nowhere. The Black Hole Gang proceed to behave badly and torch a good section of the town. Shane rides in with local Action Girl Annie and save one of the town elders from a burning building. After the dust-up is over, the townsfolk hand Shane over to the gang. Needless to say, Annie's pissed off and pretty much shouts the trope at them.
  • In the first episode of Spider-Man Unlimited after Spidey fails to stop Venom and Carnage from getting on John Jameson's space shuttle all of New York City accuses Spidey of sabotage. It gets to the point where, after saving a firefighter from a burning building, the firefighter sprays Spider-Man from a hose and accuses him of starting the fire. Spider-Man calls the firefighter out. Then it gets subverted when Spidey fakes his death, getting a eulogy on live television aknowledging all the times he saved the city.
  • In’’ Spider-Man: The Animated Series’’ whenever any villain attacks Spider-Man is blamed. It gets egregious when Spidey is blamed for something caused by a vampire.
    • Even more annoying is that other superheroes exist. And so does S.H.E.I.L.D. and the X-Men. And yet none of them are ever blamed. WTF?!?
  • In Sonic Boom the villagers, no matter how many times Sonic and his friends save them, they turn on them for little reason. Deconstructed in “Just a Guy” when Sonic, while trying to stop Eggman, tells Mike the Ox he can’t come because he is “just a guy”, i.e. not having training of super powers. Everyone promptly shames Sonic until he lets Mike come, and turn on Sonic again when Mike gets injured and Sonic says “you people” in an obviously non-offensive tone. And then Sonic, after Amy makes a passive-aggressive remark about him, snaps and nearly quits herring.

{{Sonic: (furious) “Do you know what I think is compassionate? Saving the village from Eggman, like, every week! But do I get any props for that?'’No! Instead everybody just goes around gasping at me any time I call a guy “a guy” or people “people”! (The crowd gasps, proving his point) I QUIT HEROING, AND I QUIT THIS STUPID GROUP!”}}