We’re often told that villains shouldn’t kill their henchmen – that it’s a cliche. The ever-reliable TV Tropes talks about a few different flavors (of which we’ve picked the “You Have Failed Me” version as our sample) – and we’re sure there’s some CinemaSins commentary on the subject.
We find it ironic that, in this post-Game-of-Thrones world, where the knowledge of an upcoming wholesale hero slaughter isn’t even a spoiler anymore unless you specifically namecheck everyone who dies–that people are still beating the dead horse of “It’s a bad idea for villains to kill their own people.
We’d like to offer a rebuttal to several popular views we’ve heard. Here are just a few:
- Killing your minions is a waste. Is it, really? Whether or not we agree with the villain’s point of view, many villains work from an assumption that they’re better than their opponents. If you cull your minions, removing the ones you deem inefficient, you might simply end up with more efficient minions; that really depends more on the size of your labor pool than whether or not an individual death is a good idea. And sure, we often see minions killed for what look like bad or arbitrary reasons, or even for humor value. But even then, if you’re trying to optimize your workflow, getting rid of those who might be perfectly competent but don’t match well with your needs isn’t a bad thing. It’s potentially an evil thing – but hey: villain.
- Nobody would work for a villain who slays their own team. Really? REALLY? Consider the role of the heroic sidekick: YOUR OPPONENTS ARE ALWAYS TRYING TO KIDNAP OR KILL YOU. Consider the role of the villain’s minion: Your opponents are usually not only using nonlethal force, but will probably rescue you if you’re in mortal danger. If you work for a villain, your boss might kill you. If you work for a superhero, EVERYONE will try to kill you.
- There’s no incentive good enough to keep someone working for a murderer who might murder them. That’s not even vaguely true. Plenty of people will take hazard pay, in both fictional and real universes, for really dangerous jobs. Some people even enjoy the thrill. Why do we assume the villain is alone in their philosophies? What if the henchpeople feel the same way, and plan to apply the same logic when they have their own evil organizations someday? Supervillains ransom the world; that’s much better pay than most professions.
- If you shoot your whole army, you won’t have an army. That’s true, but that’s true of any resource. We don’t necessarily know how large the villain’s army is. It’s like saying “If you spend all your money, you won’t have any money”. It’s true, but meaningless. Also, if you’re good at what you do, you can make more money; and frankly, if you’re a desirable villain, you can often raise more troops. People want to work for excellent supervillains. (And some might not have a choice – like, say, aliens, or the undead.)
- Minion-murder is a cliche. That’s totally true. But it all depends on how you use it. Let’s be honest: fantasy, science fiction, horror, superheroism, and other unique realities have been mined pretty extensively; not every concept’s going to be entirely new. Sometimes, our goal is to have a totally unique idea; sometimes, it’s simply to do something that already exists, but do it better or with a new twist. And that is part of the challenge, and the joy, of writing.
-Dark Lord Journal
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