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Some point in the past, a character has had something terrible happen to him, usually the loss of a family member or other loved one and has sworn vengeance on the one who did it. However, getting Revenge at the time may not have been easy, often as they were too young, or weren't sure who the perpetrator was. But they still knew that the murderer has it coming, and know that someday they'll meet them and that drive for vengeance runs through their life.
Years later, they spend their time Walking the Earth, getting ready for that fight, somehow. Maybe they're fighting to become strong enough to best the villain, or battling evil in the hope they'll meet the villain (or someone suitable for getting revenge on the villain with). They may be doing this to help others, saving them from their fate, or if the enemy is a monster, they'll hunt those down with a passion. But what they really want is to find the one who messed up their life, bring them to bloody justice and, through that sort out their problems. Pity the poor hero whose target declares that for them, it was Tuesday.
Named for the French (or Klingon, or drow, depending on who you ask) proverb, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." At least in the case of drow it also means one can have well-planned revenge and pull Paranoia Gambit as a bonus.
For the 2009 novel by Joe Abercrombie, see Best Served Cold.
Anime & Manga
- Inverted in Black Cat. Train spends the entire series racing after his stalker/ex-partner Creed who wants to rule the world alongside him, because Creed murdered his only friend, tried to kill his new partner, and is trying to become ruler of the world. This is seemingly at odds with Train's unspoken vow not to kill. However in the last couple chapters, Train reveals that he doesn't want to kill Creed, he wants Creed to redeem himself -- and that's what he did all this work for.
- Clare from Claymore becomes one of the eponymous warriors and trains for years specifically to take down Priscilla, after Priscilla kills Clare's mother figure, Teresa. It takes her over a decade to finally track Priscilla down. Priscilla has no idea who Clare is and finds her more annoying than anything else. Nevertheless, Clare remembers, and she's been waiting for this moment. And then subverted horribly when Clare loses the fight. Priscilla is the strongest character in the story by far, and Clare can't even scratch her.
- In Naruto, Sasuke Uchiha wants to kill his brother Itachi Uchiha for killing all the other Uchihas, especially their parents. Once he is told by Madara that Danzo was the one that convinced him to do it he decides he wants to destroy the whole damn Leaf Village (even though they purportedly killed the clan because they were about to start a civil war).
- Afro Samurai has spent his life since childhood getting revenge on the man that killed his father for the number one headband.
- The villain even lampshades this trope.
Justice (To Young Afro): It's unfortunate you had to see this, boy. This moment'll always haunt you. You will be consumed by hatred for me. Challenge me, when you're ready to duel a god!
- Transformers Armada's Wheeljack ends up accidentally abandoned while trapped in the middle of a fire. He survives, and eventually tracks down the one he believes responsible, and traps himself, the other guy, and a mostly innocent bystander in a burning factory. All three survive.
- After the events of the Eclipse which led to the fall of the Band of the Hawk, Guts from Berserk spends several years Walking the Earth, hunting down and killing the demonic Apostles of the Godhand as the Black Swordsman. He's hoping to become powerful enough to take on his former friend Griffith, who has become one of the Godhands themselves and was responsible for betraying his True Companions and driving his Love Interest insane.
- Much of the plot of Code Geass revolves around the protagonist seeking revenge on his dear old daddy the Emperor for failing to save his mother's life and his sister from being crippled by an attack inside the castle, abandoning him and his crippled sister in Japan, and then invading said country and leaving them for dead.
- GetBackers drops a few hints towards Kazuki being like this, but he doesn't come into the full trope until he actually thinks that he's getting close to the enemy that murdered his family. Since it doesn't end before they kidnap his gang, who were with him mostly to facilitate his revenge, it gets pretty messy.
- Suitengu of Speed Grapher is practically a patron saint of this trope. When he was 13, his parents fell into massive debt to the wrong people and killed themselves, leaving him and his little sister at the hands of their amoral debt collectors. They were both sold off, he to a military organization and she into prostitution. Once he is free and finds his sister worse than dead, he begins his decade long revenge plan. He builds himself up to the right hand of the most powerful CEOs in Japan, then kills her and takes over her company, becoming worth over 3 trillion dollars. When the time comes, he eliminates all of his targets in one swift stroke, personally murdering the man who kidnapped and sold him and his sister, then destroys the entire fortune of the corporation, shattering Japan's economy and severely injuring other world powers who had much invested in it. So, at least two decades after he was wronged, he successfully executes a plan that not only kills the men responsible for destroying his family, but the entire corrupt society that allowed such practices to become commonplace.
- Gin from Bleach waited one century to finally get his revenge on Aizen for attacking Rangiku when she and Gin were still living in Rukongai.
- Barnaby from Tiger and Bunny becomes a superhero with a very public identity in order to provoke the man that killed his parents out of whatever hole he's been hiding in for the last twenty years. This would have been a better idea if it wasn't the killer himself who suggested it.
- In Basilisk, Tenzen has a grudge against both the Koga and Iga clans, as his mother was a member of the Iga who was killed by a member of the Koga (Tenzen's father). Tenzen was raised among the Koga but defected the Iga as an adult, and plotted for a long time (being immortal, while he looks about 40, he's actually over 200) to fan the flames of hatred between the clans in order to cause the deaths of everyone else in both groups. He succeeds.
- Bill Cosby recalled an account that was more low-key and literally cold on his album "Revenge", where, as a kid, he got back at nemesis Junior Barnes, who hit him in the face with a slushball. Cosby built the perfect snowball and stored it in the freezer, and waited. July. July 12th. His birthday.
- Batman, who took up a life of crimefighting after seeing his family murdered before his eyes, is a great example of how it motivates someone.
- Lampshaded in Wanted. After Mister Rictus guns down a boy's parents in front of him, his henchmen ask him what to do about the kid and he replies:
Mister Rictus: Leave him. With any luck, he'll spend the next eighteen years training himself to avenge these idiots and give me someone interesting to fight when I'm an old man.
- A villainous example in Doctor Doom, who may be a Magnificent Bastard and a world-conquering supervillain, but whose entire purpose in life is to cause Reed Richards as much pain and suffering as possible as revenge for bruising his ego.
- Taken to a whole other level in Superman Batman Generations: The Ultra-Humanite is nearly killed in 1939 by Superman. His body ruined, he has his brain transferred into his minion Lex Luthor's body. He then spends the next fifty years getting his revenge, first by turning Superman's son against him, then murdering his family, then just to twist the knife further he has Superman's friends like Jimmy Olsen and Perry White Jr. killed while Supes is too consumed with rage to do anything but chase "Luthor". And then it turns out this was all part of a Gambit Roulette to steal Superman's body.
- In Firing Range, the inventor dedicated himself to the tank, in order to get revenge on the generals who got his son killed.
- In Death Rides a Horse (AKA As Man to Man or Da uomo a uomo), a 1967 "Spaghetti Western", Ryan says to Bill, "Somebody once wrote that revenge is a dish that has to be eaten cold. As hot as you are, you're liable to end with indigestion."
- Perhaps the poster boy would be Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, a man who for years did nothing but practice sword fighting to avenge his father, armed with nothing more than the sword that his father made and the knowledge of the killer having six fingers on one hand.
- The phrase was made famous again by Khan, in Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan, though he wasn't especially wandering around hunting for Kirk.
- He was stating that it is a Klingon proverb. It is never explained how he learned it while being marooned on Ceti Alpha V.
- His wife that he took from the Enterprise was a Starfleet historian. Also, they let him take books with him.
- He was stating that it is a Klingon proverb. It is never explained how he learned it while being marooned on Ceti Alpha V.
- While the Bride was already rather skilled before her Roaring Rampage of Revenge in Kill Bill due to her training as an assassin, it's also implied that the daughter of Vernita Green was set up for this archetype after seeing the aftermath of the battle in which the Bride kill her mother.
- Also, in the titles. Cited as the Klingon proverb, no less.
- Happens twice in Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns. In For a Few Dollars More, Col. Mortimer has spent years honing his skills as a bounty hunter, tracking down the bandit who raped his sister and murdered her lover in front of her, which led to her suicide. Likewise, Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West has spent most of his life hunting down Frank, who murdered his brother when they were teenagers. By putting a noose round the brother's neck, and forcing him to stand on Harmonica's shoulders until his legs gave way, no less.
- Played for laughs in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, where a one-armed man trains himself for months to shoot left-handed and get revenge against Tuco, the titular "ugly", who caused his mutilation. When he finally tracks him down, he goes on to give him the obligatory monologue, until an unimpressed Tuco kills him with his concealed pistol, annoyingly quipping "When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk".
- In The Lion King 2, Zira's attitude towards revenge.
- Leonard Shelby, of Memento, is so traumatized by his wife's rape and murder that he literally cannot remember anything else. Not even that she survived. Or that he already killed the guy who did it. Maybe.
- The western The Quick and the Dead has the heroine tracking down the man, and his gang, that made her kill her sheriff father.
- The movie version of Conan the Barbarian had Conan searching for Thulsa Doom, who killed his family and put him in slavery (and turned innocent young Conan into Arnold Schwarzenegger).
- In Sleepy Hollow the wife of Baltus Van Tassel had actually been planning revenge on his family for years for stealing her family's home. Thus gains control of the horseman to fulfill this plan.
- In The Fall, all five of the men in Roy's story have a reason to be going after Odious, ranging from revenge for a loved one's death to being banished from their homeland.
- In Gladiator, in this life or the next.
- In Throne of Blood, Lady Kaede has been planning the eventual destruction of Washizu's entire family tree for decades, since he killed her own family when she was a child.
- In Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini sleeps with his old rival's fiancee on the day before their wedding. As Louis remarks:
"I couldn't help feeling that even Sibella's capacity for lying was going to be taxed to the utmost. Time had brought me revenge on Lionel, and as the Italian proverb says, revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold."
- In The Godfather Part 2, young Vito Andolini's father was murdered by Don Ciccio, Mafia Don of Corleone, Sicily. Shortly after, Vito's brother is killed while out for revenge, and Vito's mother is killed when she goes to Ciccio to beg for Vito's life. Vito manages to escape to America and takes the name Vito Corleone, making his fortune as a gangster. He returns to Sicily some 20 years later and finally takes his revenge on the elderly Ciccio by stabbing him to death on his own front porch.
- Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan: The Executioner, and all his homage characters such as The Punisher.
- Judge Dee's lieutenant Chiao Tai turned outlaw when the Imperial court refused him justice against the general who betrayed Chiao Tai and his whole command to the Tartars.
- Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, probably the greatest revenge story of all time.
Count: "And now, farewell to kindness, humanity and gratitude. I have substituted myself for Providence in rewarding the good; may the God of vengeance now yield me His place to punish the wicked."
- In David Eddings' The Belgariad, The Hero Garion swears vengeance against the Grolim sorcerer Asharak after finding out that he was responsible for burning his parents alive in an attempt to kill Garion as an infant.
- In George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, Doran Martell has been patiently waiting and plotting his revenge on House Lannister for their brutal murders of his sister Elia and her two young children. He intends to restore the Targaryens to power, utterly destroying the Lannisters in the process and taking away everything they gained from Elia's murder.
- And then there's Arya Stark, who after seeing her father betrayed and executed starts an ever-growing list of people she plans to get revenge on, which she repeats before going to sleep each night.
- Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold is (obviously) centered around this. The protagonist is betrayed and left for dead, and spends several months in recovery and the rest of the book methodically seeking out the seven men who did it and taking revenge.
- In the Dale Brown novel Act of War, Renegade Russian Colonel Yegor Zakharov seeks the destruction of Harold Kingman and his oil company for taking over Zakharov's old oil firm. National Security Adviser Robert Chamberlain, a former employee of Kingman's, also wants in, and naturally the two are in cahoots.
- In the Andrew Vachss Burke book Dead and Gone, it eventually turns out that the villain who ordered the plot-critical hit was an old enemy of Burke's who wants him dead for what had been done to him in the past.
- The narrator in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest mentions that Enfield Tennis Academy student Michael Pemulis is very fond of taking revenge against those who had done him wrong years afterwards (which for a 17-year-old high school student is more or less geologic). He's noted to like spiking the target's food/drink/whatever with drugs for the desired effect.
- The core of the plot in Henning Mankell's novel "The Man From Beijing" is a murderous revenge exacted for wrongs inflicted on the Big Bad's grandfather.
- This is a major plot point and point of worry for Bean and co. regarding the villain Achilles. Because he always seeks revenge on those who see him helpless and because he can wait indefinitely, use whatever methods, and always makes sure it's done where nobody can trace him, the heroes have to be very careful to never let themselves alone where he can get them. Bean and Suriyawong learn how to exploit this.
- In Death: Vengeance In Death reveals that it took time for Roarke to gather the money, resources, and power needed to take on Marlena's murderers. When he did, he was careful to take them out one at a time, kept the kills at two a year, and cover his tracks. The killer of the story spent years preparing to take on Roarke and his associates. Cold.
- In Shadows of the Empire, this trope is the reason why Xizor waits so long to get vengeance on Darth Vader after a bio-experiment the latter was in charge of led to the destruction of the former's family. 'It was never a question of if, but rather a question of when. Xizor gets his chance when he learns of Luke Skywalker's connection to Vader, and decides some karma is required.
- In Codex Alera, Gaius Sextus waits twenty-five years to avenge the death of his son, killing one of the High Lords responsible via volcano and getting another eaten by Vord
- Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: This trope drives the first 7 books of the series, with some of the characters wanting Revenge for wrongs that go back at least 20 years ago! Unfortunately, you might find it difficult to sympathize with the main characters after awhile.
- Principal Wood in Buffy the Vampire Slayer fought vampires in the hope of finding the one who'd killed his mother. Turns out it was Spike, pre-Heel Face Turn.
- Daniel Holt in Angel. Angelus killed his family, so Holt has himself frozen, sends himself magically forward in time to present day, kidnaps Angel's infant son and raises him in a hell universe for sixteen years before sending the boy back to our dimension to kill his father. That's dedication.
- The brothers in Supernatural are out to avenge their mother, a task they succeeded in. Inadvertently starting a chain of events leading directly to the end of the world. Nice job breaking it, woobies.
- While not training, Sawyer in Lost swore to track down and kill the man who drove his father to suicide.
- And he did, some thirty years later.
- The overarching plot of Monk is that Adrian Monk is trying to figure out who killed his wife and bring him to justice. He finally succeeds in the series finale, though the killer cheated justice by killing himself when his crimes were proven.
- An episode of Cold Case dealt with a man whose son was molested and murdered in 1987. The father was pegged as the killer and spent 20 years in prison before being exonerated, and when he gets out, he starts killing one registered sex offender or pedophile a day, vowing not to stop until the real killer of his son is arrested. At the end, he corners the murderer, planning to kill him before committing suicide, but is convinced not to by his ex-wife, who still loves him.
- An episode of CSI had a particularly epic example of this. While at a sports game, a morbidly obese woman was in the winning seat, and got called down. A Jerkass in the audience started jeering her, and got everyone else going (a regular occurance, as his other "victims" stated). She was utterly humiliated, her fiance left her and things actually got worse from there. Obssessed, she dieted, worked out, etc. excessively, eventually becoming stunningly hot, succeeded in joining a sports team's cheerleaders, rigged the winning ticket contest so that the loudmouth jerkass won, and kissed him when he came down, killing him via poison she had put on fake lips.
- In True Blood, Eric proves to love icy revenges. Russell killed his whole family when he still was a human viking, and he waited more than 1000 years to kill his husband while fucking him.
- The song "Bad Blood" by the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band tells of a one-eyed man who trains for three years, then wanders four more to get revenge against the man who left him like that. When he fails to kill him, he's rather miffed:
"I've been after that particular son of a bitch for nearly seven years! I could've been a doctor, or an architect."
...You really don't know how long I've waited for your destruction / I'm telling you, you just can't get away / A whole lifetime planning out your destruction, with no other function / You really don't know...
- A Boy Named Sue, written by Shel Silverstein and performed by Johnny Cash, tells of a man who's hunting the man who named him Sue -- who it turns out gave him the name so he'd grow up tough. It works.
- "The Mariner's Revenge Song" by the Decemberists is a sea shanty ballad about a man who spent his whole life searching for the seaman who caused his mother's death when he was a child.
We are two mariners, our ship's sole survivors, in this belly of a whale / its ribs are ceiling beams, its guts are carpeting, I guess we have some time to kill / you may not remember me, I was a child of three, and you a lad of eighteen / but I remember you, and I will relate to you, how our histories interweave...
- 'In the Air Tonight' by Phil Collins. 'I can feel it coming in the air tonight, O Lord/ I've been waiting for this moment for all of my life, O Lord ... ' (I personally love how the song is just savouring it--and when he gets to 'Well I remember!/ I remember, don't worry ... ', it sounds like he starts lashing out, then STOPS and composes himself!)
- From Macbeth
There the grown serpent lies; the worm that's fled
Hath nature that in time will venom breed,
No teeth for the present.
- In other words
We killed his dad and he's gonna be pissed when he grows up.
- In Final Fantasy XII, Montblanc had formed Clan Centurio to seek revenge on Yiazmat, who killed his master. Later the hero (Vaan) will accept a mission from him in order to slay it.
- In F.E.A.R., Alma waited several decades after she died for the revenge she sought against Armacham.
- In Yggdra Union, antagonists Luciana and Aegina have been waiting to get revenge on Yggdra for seventeen years as they were exiled and supposed to be killed while Yggdra, their younger sister, was pampered and groomed to receive Fantasinia's crown. The valkyrie twins believe Yggdra's ignorance to be almost as bad as Ordene's crimes. Then we have Nessiah, who's been waiting to get revenge on Asgard for the way they treated him for a thousand years. Served cold, indeed...
- In Assassin's Creed II, it takes Ezio twenty years to get to the man who ordered the deaths of his father and brothers. although the man who directly kills them dies much much earlier.
- And even then he doesn't outright kill him, the evil pope. He just kicks his ass and punches him brutally. I repeat: Ezio kicks the ass of the then current POPE. It takes another game for the pope to finally die, and not even at the hands of Ezio, but by his own poisoned apple.
- The protagonist in Sid Meiers Pirates embarks on a pirating career of 20 years or more to get revenge on the Marquis de Montalban for imprisoning his family. Eventually, however, the Marquis admits he's beaten and agrees to serve as your personal valet.
- While Manfred von Karma's revenge on Gregory Edgeworth was served hot, he attempted revenge on Gregory's son Miles just as the statute of limitations on Gregory's murder was running out. He prosecuted Miles for the murder of the defense lawyer on Gregory's case, and then for the murder of his own father. What makes this more painful is von Karma was the one to adopt Miles and teach him how to be an effective prosecutor.
- A recurring theme in G Senjou no Maou. Several of the characters have been affected in their childhood, and their primary motivation is getting revenge for the things that happened to them. The most obvious one would be the protagonist towards Azai Gonzou.
- In Order of the Stick, the Lawful Good Inigo Montoya parody Yokyok seeks to avenge his father's death by killing Chaotic Evil protagonist, Belkar, in a bizarre inversion. Also, the first quest of the main story is for Roy to fulfill his father's blood oath to destroy Xykon for killing his master.
- In Cwen's Quest the titular character is seeking revenge on her father for trying to kill her when she was a child. In fact you could say she is fairly obsessed as she has thus far expressed little interested in other activities like helping others or amassing wealth in favor of her singular goal of revenge.
- Taken to new extremes with the Big Bad of Eight Bit Theater, Sarda, who waits for billions of years to get revenge on the main characters after they scarred him for life, murdered his family, murdered multiple sets of foster parents, and destroyed the orphanage that he lived in in addition to all of the other atrocities that they committed.
- In Darths and Droids, Jango Fett spends ten years building an army and plotting the destruction of the Jedi Order and the downfall of the entire Republic, just to get revenge against Obi-Wan for killing his "business" partner.
- In El Goonish Shive, the shadowed character known only as "The Child Left Behind" trained for years for the chance to avenge someone he knew who was killed by Damien only for Grace to do the job for him. He now seeks Grace to properly thank her.
- In an Ever Quest fan comic, a high-level female Barbarian warrior approaches Cros Treewind (an NPC who kills players he sees fighting animals) from behind and yells "Cros Treewind, your ass is mine!", while he stands frozen with an Oh Crap expression on his face. The caption says revenge is best served many levels later.
- In The League of STEAM's webisode, "Tall Tails", Thaddeus has his revenge... and literally serves it afterward.
- Batman the Animated Series had a particularly awesome example, as it was Mr. Freeze that said it.
- Macbeth in Gargoyles puts a twist on this one: "Revenge is a dish best eaten cold. And I have waited nine hundred years for this meal." However, Goliath points out to him and his nemesis Demona that every time either of them has attempted to get revenge, it only made their lives worse. As such, it goes beyond a subversion into an outright denunciation of the very idea of revenge. "What profit vengeance?" has been described by producer Greg Weisman as one of his favorite themes.
- Indeed, the hallmark Xanatos Gambit concludes with the trope namer reminding Fox that he believes "Revenge is a sucker's bet."
- On Invader Zim, Tak wants to conquer Earth before Zim, since Zim was the one who made her fail her military exam and sent her to work as a janitor (on Planet Dirt) for fifty years. She actually doesn't view it as revenge so much as setting things right, though---as she (correctly) points out, she's a highly competant invader who deserved to get assigned a planet, while Zim was sent there just to get him out of the Almighty Tallests antennae.
- Hilariously parodied, like everything else, in Freakazoid by none other than Ricardo Montalban himself.
Revenge is a dish best served with pinto beans and muffins
- Dan Vs has an interesting take on the proverb:
Dan: There's an old saying. Revenge is a dish best served immediately!