The Dragon – A person or monster The Hero has to get past to get at the Big Bad. He, she or it embodies a narrative trope: the penultimate challenge that the hero must face before confronting the Big Bad. This challenge will test their worthiness in some fundamental way.-TV Tropes (you know you want to)
It’s been awhile since our last character archetype analysis, so you better believe I’ve been itching to do another one! Especially since we’ll be looking at another of my personal favorite archetypes: The Dragon (yes, the capital “T” is mandatory).
The Dragon is the Big Bad’s second-in-command. Their top enforcer. Their boo. And—brain, brawn, or both—the entirety of their role essentially comprises of being a badass in every possible way. What’s not to love?
Don’t let that cool, powerful exterior fool you, however. When it boils down to it, I don’t think anyone puts it quite as well as the protagonist of my meta epic fantasy series:
“The Dragon is someone’s bitch!”
Why We Like Characters
Before we delve into that, however, let’s review the two fundamental reasons we like characters:
- Because we identify with them
- Because we want to identify with them (or, in laynerd’s terms, because they’re AWESOME and we want to be awesome, too!)
So, as we venture into another archetype analysis, keep in mind that the characters we like (and don’t!) say everything about us and little about them. Therefore, by analyzing such characters—by coming to understand them—it stands to reason that we can better come to understand ourselves, no?
And understanding yourself just so happens to be the first step to badassery.
Examples of “The Dragon”
In order to better understand yourself, you must first understand just what a “Dragon” is. And what better way than by example?
The following is a list of Dragons (and their respective boos) that come to my mind when thinking of the term. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’ve seen at least one of them (if not a good handful of them) in action at one point or another.
If not… well, all I have to say is: what rock have you been living under??? And… is there room for two?
**Beware, adventurers: spoilers lurketh!
- Darth Vader to The Emperor , Star Wars – by far THE most famous (and popular) Dragon out there. Impressive. Most impressive.
- Kylo Ren to Supreme Leader Snoke, Star Wars – *Last Jedi Spoilers* He actually becomes what’s known as a “Dragon Ascendant,” killing Snoke and taking his place as the new Supreme Leader.
- Jack Noir to The Black Queen, Homestuck
- Bucky Barnes to HYDRA/Alexander Pierce, Captain America: The Winter Solider
- Gin Ichimaru & Kaname Tousen to Aizen, Bleach – as there are two of them, these guys are what’s known as “Co-Dragons.”
- Skurge to Hela, Thor: Ragnarok
- Shego to Dr. Drakken, Kim Possible
- Cinder to Salem, RWBY – personally, I love this bi-yotch, but she’s definitely one of the more polarizing Dragons! (am I the only one who thinks of her as the anti-Elsa?)
- Kabuto to Orochimaru, Naruto – *spoilers* Like Kylo Ren, he becomes a “Dragon Ascendant,” taking over for his boo after his death.
- Haku to Yubaba, Spirited Away – LITERAL dragon!
- Minion to Megamind, Megamind
- Suzanne to Vee, Orange is the New Black
- Cullen to Knight-Commander Meredith, Dragon Age 2 – one of my fave dragons! I love how much his roles shifted across the three current DA games. Talk about an arc!
- Samsom/Calpernia to The Elder One, Dragon Age Inquisition
- Goro Akechi to BOTH Masayoshi Shido and Yaldabouth (fake Igor), Persona 5 – rare instance in which this Dragon actually serves TWO boos.
- Mystique to Magneto, X-Men
- Azula to Fire Lord Ozai, Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Bianca to The Sorceress, Spyro: Year of the Dragon – because, you know, Spyro is on my mind.
- Kotomine Kirei & Gilgamesh… to each other?!, Fate/Stay Night – interesting case in which these Dragons take turns swapping between being each other’s Big Bad.
- Jenova to Sephiroth, Final Fantasy VII
- Shadow to Dr. Eggman, Sonic Adventure 2
- Number Two to Dr. Evil, Austin Powers – all I gotta say is: APPROPRIATE.
- The Black Knight to… Ashnard, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and then Sephiran, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn – I LOVE the Black Knight and I cannot lie. Another of my all-time favorite dragons, hands down.
- Shenzi, Banzai & Ed – “Co-Dragons” to Scar, The Lion King
- Bruton to Kron, Disney’s Dinosaur – this guy was my gateway drug into Dragon fandom. RIP, buddy. RIP.
- Kronk to Yzma, The Emperor’s New Groove – BEST. DRAGON. (Well, definitely the funniest and most sympathetic, in any case!)
Game of Thrones… has lots of examples, depending on who you’re viewing as the “good guys.” A few:
- Bronn to Tyrion
- Ser Jorah Mormont to Daenerys (not to mention her ACTUAL dragons as Co-Dragons)
- Jaime to Tywin… and then Cersei
As you can see, only two examples on the above list are actual dragons, so where’d the term come from?
According to TV Tropes, folklore is to blame. Remember those old fantasy stories where the hero would have to go off and defeat a dragon in order to save some princess or obtain some sort of special treasure? *coughHobbitcoughcough*
Dragons, with their claws and teeth and fire and wings, make for damn good obstacles, so fiction has been rife with them since… well, forever. No matter your background, it’s likely you’ve read a dragon story or two.
In Joseph Campbell’s famous “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” he talks about how monsters—such as dragons—make for good markers of growth along the hero’s quest. They’re an archetype that’s just kept on persisting throughout the years.
Back in the age of folklore, these dragons appeared as the main obstacle for the hero—in other words, they served as the Big Bad. Though as time has gone on, they’ve not only switched to mostly being people, but also to being subservient to some bigger Bad.
Enter: The Noble Top Enforcer
The “Noble Top Enforcer” is a subtrope of The Dragon. In other words, all Noble Top Enforcers are Dragons in some capacity, but not all Dragons are Noble Top Enforcers.
Before I delve into these babies, let’s look at another list of examples to see if you can figure out what makes these Top Enforcers so “noble” in comparison to their Dragon brethren. Many of these are from the above list, though I’ve also included some new ones.
- Darth Vader, Star Wars
- Skurge, Thor: Ragnarok
- Cullen, Dragon Age 2
- Calpernia, Dragon Age Inquisition
- Bianca, Spyro: Year of the Dragon
- Shadow, Sonic Adventure 2
- The Black Knight, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn – err… in his own mind, at least?
- Bruton, Disney’s Dinosaur
- Kronk, The Emperor’s New Groove
- Jaime, Game of Thrones
- Ira Gamagoori, Kill la Kill
- Leon Magnus, Tales of Destiny – he’s a tsundere AND a Dragon. No wonder I love him so much!
- Kratos, Tales of Symphonia
- Miranda Lawson, Mass Effect 2
- Zuko, Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Soren & Claudia, The Dragon Prince
If you happen to be familiar with a few of these—like myself—then maybe you’ll notice a throughline? But if not, prepare yourself for incoming SPOILERS.
Almost every single character on this list ends up turning on their Big Bad in some capacity. And even when they don’t, one fact remains indisputable: these peeps are sympathetic AF!
Why So Sympathetic?
Noble Top Enforcer – an Anti-Villain Dragon who is considerably more virtuous than the Big Bad.-TV Tropes (have you found your way back yet?)
Today, I’m actually going to address the nuances of the Noble Top Enforcer specifically just because they tend to be so goddamn sympathetic and—by extension—popular.
As we know, the reason we like characters comes down to identifying with them and wanting to identify with them. But how does that apply to our boo, The Dragon?
While Dragons in general are cool, we tend to only want to identify with them and their badassery. Your typical Dragon is capable of doing some really fucked up shit, after all, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume most of us find that pretty difficult to identify with?
Noble Top Enforcers, on the other hand, tend to be already-identifiable while also eliciting that sense of badass wonder we find so enviable.
It’s the ultimate combo as far as likability is concerned!
The Great Progression
As we evolve as a species, I think we’re becoming more and more cognizant of the fact that life’s not clear-cut black and white. To quote well… god, in Conversations with God, “no one does anything evil given his model of the world.”
The progression of this understanding can be seen clearly in how our fiction has progressed over the years.
In the old days, for example, The Dragon was just a brainless, bloodthirsty, fire-flinging dragon.
Eventually, that role shifted to being more human in nature, however. And finally, we reach modern times, where we have a proliferation of Noble Top Enforcers: bad guys with hearts of gold.
I think The Dragon—specifically, the Noble Top Enforcer—is so resonant because it so clearly demonstrates themes of moral fall and redemption.
We’re all conditioned to believe that we’re “not enough” on some level. And this not-enoughness chases us around for our entire lives, taunting and sabotaging us. It’s the monster in the closet of our subconscious minds. The shadow we never want to acknowledge.
In short, it’s the “dark side.”
And The Dragon is someone who’s all but been consumed by this dark side. Whether they realize it or not, they’ve lost themselves. They’ve given up their identity in favor of becoming… well, someone’s bitch!
But—in the case of the Noble Top Enforcer, at least—The Dragon teaches us that it’s never too late to turn things around. Even in cases such as Darth Vader’s, where they’ve spent the bulk of their lives reeking havoc and fucking shit up, these characters are still able to make things right. Even if it kills them.
In addition to the Top Enforcer’s nobler qualities, I find that Dragons of all walks of life tend to be sympathetic for one very simple reason: they’re stuck.
Whether or not they’re making lemonade out of lemons, these characters are all stuck in situations they’d probably rather not be in. It’s a staple of the trope for these people to be playing second fiddle to the Big Bad, and when you’re stuck as the BBB (Big Bad’s Bitch), you’re forced into doing their dirty work more often than not.
And that’s relatable, isn’t it?
How many of us are playing BBB to our jobs, our families, or even our societies at large? How many of us aren’t just even a tad bit resentful toward our “smart” phones and their needy beeping? Or that hot new Netflix series we’ve gotten behind on? Or even *le gasp* an often unforgiving video game release schedule?
No matter how it manifests in your life, I’m sure we can all say we’ve been someone—or something’s—bitch. And The Dragon lets us know that that’s okay.
Wish Fulfillment at its Finest
And why is that okay?
Because The Dragon is THE example of one who’s come to own their powers. Firebending? Sword-fighting? Force-choking? The Dragon can do all that with their eyes closed… and still have time for their spinach puffs.
These people are BADASS AS SHIT. Even more so than The Tsundere. Whatever their chosen field is (it’s usually death-dealing), these characters excel. They’re good, and they know they’re good.
And, as Noble Top Enforcers and Dragon Ascendants teach us, once they realize just how good they really are, the Big Bad can kiss their boo (and often, their life) goodbye.
So adventurer, who are some of your favorite Dragons? Do you feel like some of The Dragons from my first list could also be considered Top Enforcers? And am I the only who totally just realized that more than a copious amount of the Big Bads out there go simply by an ominous title?
What I’m Playing: Kingdom Hearts 3 – Just got to Arendelle and aaah, this game is so fun! But man, does Elsa look weird in comparison to Sora??? With those big eyes she’s like Alita-levels of alien compared to him…
What I’m Watching: The Dragon Prince – Holy shit, it really is as good as everyone says! And SO perfect to mention considering this is my “Dragon” post. My sole complaint is that they totally STOLE two of my major character names… though I really can’t fault them for that, can I? I mean, great minds think alike after all! 😛
What I’m Listening to: Don’t Think Twice and Face Your Fears, Utada Hikaru – Can’t stop. So good. ALL the Kingdom Hearts.
What I’m Reading: Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson – Still loving this but missing my favorite characters, Jasnah and Rock.
What I’m Writing: Tribe-born – It’s finished! (Well, the first draft is…) Deniz, the POV for this short, may just be one of my favortie characters now.
What I’m Contemplating: Revisions for Tribe-born – Here’s hoping I can make it all nice and pretty now!