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False protagonist

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In fiction, a false protagonist is a literary technique, often used to make the plot more jarring or more memorable by defying the audience's preconceptions, whereby a character who the audience assumes is the protagonist is later revealed not to be.

A false protagonist is presented at the start of the fictional work as the main character, but is then removed from the role, often killed (usually for shock value or as a plot twist) or relegated to a different role in the story (i.e. making them a lesser character, a character who leaves the story, or revealing the character to actually be the antagonist).[1]


In film, a character can be made to seem like the main protagonist based on a number of techniques (beyond just simply focusing the plot on their role). Star power is a very effective method; audience members generally assume that the biggest "name" in a movie will have a significant part to play. An abundance of close-ups can also be used as a subliminal method. Generally, the star of a film will get longer-lasting and more frequent close-ups than any other character, but this is rarely immediately apparent to viewers during the film. Alternatively, the false protagonist can serve as the movie's narrator, encouraging the audience to assume that the character survives to tell the tale.[2]

Many of the same techniques used in film can also apply to television, but the episodic nature adds an additional possibility. By ending one or more episodes with the false protagonist still in place, the show can reinforce the viewers' belief in the character's protagonist status. Also, because TV shows often have changes of cast between seasons, some series can have unintentional false protagonists: characters who begin the series as main characters but then are replaced early in the show's run by other characters entirely. When the series is viewed as a whole, this can lead to the appearance of a false protagonist.

In video games, a false protagonist may initially be a playable character, only to be killed or revealed to be the antagonist. One key way in which video games employ the method that differs from uses in non-interactive fiction is by granting the player direct control over the false protagonist. Since most video games allow a player to control only the main characters (and their success or failure is based on playing skill, not pre-determined story), the sudden demise of the character that is being controlled serves to surprise the player.



The Book of Samuel starts with Samuel as a young boy. He was the main focus in the first few chapters until he eventually becomes a minor character.
The Book of Samuel starts with Samuel as a young boy. He was the main focus in the first few chapters until he eventually becomes a minor character.
  • The Book of Samuel begins with Samuel's birth and God's call to him as a boy. At this point, the readers are led to believe that Samuel is the central figure in the book. By the sixteenth chapter, the book starts to primarily focus on David.[3]
  • The story of Aladdin in the Arabian Nights begins with a sorcerer making a difficult journey all the way from Morocco to China, on a quest for a marvelous magic lamp - giving the clear impression that he is the protagonist. Even when he makes contact with the boy Aladdin, pretending to be his long-lost uncle, this is still told from the sorcerer's point of view. Only after the sorcerer quarrels with Aladdin and leaves him trapped in a dark cavern does the point of view shift to Aladdin and it becomes clear that he is the true protagonist and that the sorcerer is the story's antagonist.
  • George R. R. Martin's novel A Game of Thrones, the first entry in the A Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy series, features chapters told from the point of view of numerous characters, but the most prominent is Ned Stark, who is the viewpoint character for the greatest number of chapters; in the television adaptation Game of Thrones he was portrayed by Sean Bean, the best-known actor in the cast. He appears to be the novel's main protagonist until the final chapters, in which he is unexpectedly executed.[4][5]
  • Kumo Kagyu's Light Novel Goblin Slayer begins Volume 1 with a trio of adventurers recruiting a Priestess for a Goblin killing contract where the trio are eaten, poisoned to death, and reduced to a vegetative state from the trauma. Before she was harmed the Priestess was rescued by the legendary Goblin Slayer who replaces her 3 three escorts as the protagonist. [6]


  • Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho opens with Marion Crane as the main character. However, she is killed partway through the film, making the murder far more unexpected and shocking.[7] Hitchcock felt that the opening scenes with Marion as the false protagonist were so important to the film that when it was released in theaters, he compelled theater owners to enforce a "no late admission" policy.[8]

Video games

  • Bandai Namco's Tekken fighting game series featured Kazuya Mishima as the protagonist of Tekken 1 (1994) and a major antagonist for each game after that. He participates in the King of Iron Fist Tournament hosted by his abusive father Heihachi Mishima. Believing he killed his father, Kazuya appointed himself CEO of the Mishima Ziabatsu. Rather than cleansing the company of his father's corrupt practices he engaged in more ruthless endeavors such as kidnapping, genetic engineering, seizing control of Hokkaido, and used his vast wealth to carry out his plans for world domination. Even after Heihachi regained control of the Zaibatsu, Kazuya remained a major antagonist. This conflict is described as part of the Mishima family's nature to kill and betray each other in a cycle of abuse which Jin Kazama, Kazuya's son and Tekken's true protagonist, wants to break.[9]
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001), developed and published by Konami, begins with the player controlling the preceding game's protagonist Solid Snake, who is investigating the creation of a new Metal Gear. The tanker Snake is on sinks, and he is presumed dead. For the rest of the game, the player controls Raiden, a rookie FOXHOUND operative, even after Snake is revealed to be alive.[10] The game's design document claimed that Raiden was envisioned in order for female players to more easily empathize with him than they might have done with Snake. Hideo Kojima, the game's writer and director, revealed that one reason for introducing Raiden was that the frequent use of the in-game CODEC radio that provided the player with valuable information would have made less sense being used by the veteran soldier Snake.[11] He also wanted to take a jab at Snake's popularity among gamers by portraying him as a legendary figure from other characters' perspectives, which required the player no longer be in control of him.[12]
  • Assassin's Creed III (2012), developed and published by Ubisoft, begins with the player controlling an ancestor of the games titular Assassin's Order, Haytham Kenway, believing him to be an Assassin as well. Haytham fights alongside members of the American Revolution, eventually saving and becoming intimate with a Native American woman, who bears his son. It is eventually revealed that Haytham is actually a member of the Templar Order, the sworn enemies of the Assassin's. Hereafter, the player takes control of Haytham's son Ratonhnhaké:ton who trains as an Assassin, taking the name Connor, and fighting the Templar's influence in the revolting colonies. His journey leads him all the way to Haytham himself, whom he fights in the games climax.[13]
  • The Last of Us Part II (2020), developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, introduces the antagonist Abby early in the story when she kills the first game's protagonist, Joel, for unknown reasons. Ellie, the first game's secondary protagonist, seeks revenge and is controlled by the player over three in-game days until she encounters Abby again. At this point, the player begins controlling Abby in a flashback, playing the same three days from her perspective and learning her motives for killing Joel. Upon reaching the point of her encounter with Ellie, the player fights her while in control of Abby. The player then alternates between both characters, culminating in a final showdown against Abby while playing as Ellie.[14]


  • Anime series Gurren Lagann, produced by Studio Trigger and premiering in 2007 gives Kamina a large amount of focus. The story is told from his point of view until Episode 8, where a plot twist has Kamina sacrifice himself and delegate trust in his younger brother Simon, who takes the role as the protagonist. [15]

See also


  1. ^ Christopher W. Tindale (2007). Fallacies and Argument Appraisal. Cambridge University Press. pp. 28–33. ISBN 978-0-521-84208-2.
  2. ^ Jonason, Peter K.; Webster, Gregory D.; Schmitt, David P.; Li, Norman P.; Crysel, Laura (2012). "The antihero in popular culture: Life history theory and the dark triad personality traits". Review of General Psychology. 16 (2): 192–199. doi:10.1037/a0027914. S2CID 53478899.
  3. ^ Gordon 1986, p. 18.
  4. ^ Hibberd, James (June 12, 2011). "Game of Thrones recap: The Killing". Entertainment Weekly. p. 1. Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  5. ^ Poniewozik, James (June 13, 2011). "Game of Thrones Watch: The Unkindest Cut". Time. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Smith, Benjamin. "Back to School: 1,001 Facts You Learned and Forgot in High School". Simon and Schuster, 2014. Page 17.
  8. ^ Leigh, Janet (1995). Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Harmony Press. ISBN 0-517-70112-X.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
This page was last edited on 13 September 2020, at 06:31
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