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"At last, the masks had fallen away. The strings of the puppets had become visible, and the hands of the prime mover exposed."

A situation where a Big Bad exists in the Story Arc, but his identity is not known until much later. This could be a result of the heroes going against The Faceless, requiring only a look under the mask to understand everything. In most cases, this is an inversion of the Hidden Agenda Villain, where we know that something bad is happening and the Driving Question is the one behind it all.

Usually a Magnificent Bastard post reveal. Compare Man Behind the Man, except without the first man. It can only overlap if the first man is obviously a Disc One Final Boss.

If the Hidden Villain turns out to be a previously known antagonist, see Hijacked by Ganon. If it was someone who was never suspected at all, then the trope is The Dog Was the Mastermind.

Examples of Hidden Villain include:

Anime & Manga

  • Twentieth Century Boys
  • Bleach (It Was His Sled. Even so, this particular Reveal was quite the Wham! Episode.)
  • While Fullmetal Alchemist introduced its main antagonist quite early on, the first 2003 anime version plays this straight.
  • Lord Baan/Vearn from Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken. Of course, when he is revealed, he's pretty unimposing. Until much, much later, when you learn that he's really inhabiting the body of a lesser Dragon who attempts Grand Theft Me on Hyunkeru to transfer to a younger, stronger body. Both the body-snatcher & the intended victim also are White Haired Pretty Boys.
  • Trigun appears to have an obvious big bad at first: a fatalistic killer named Legato Bluesummers, who has seemingly assembled a private army just to destroy Vash. Midway through the Legato arc, we're given a flashback episode that reveals the existence of Vash's brother Knives. A few episodes later, we finally learn that Legato has been acting under Knives' orders all along, and his true objective isn't to kill Vash, but to force Vash to kill Legato.

Comic Books


  • The Element of Crime, made worse by the fact that the elusive child killer may actually have been dead even before the events portrayed in the movie. And the whole movie is a flashback.
  • In The Usual Suspects, the mythical Keyser Soze is mentioned right from the beginning, yet his involvement in the events isn't at least somewhat understood until the climax, and only fully comprehensible at the very end.
    • It's pretty common knowledge by now, but... Verbal, the guy sitting there telling the story? Whenever he mentions Keyzer Soze, he's talking about himself.
  • The film version of Sin City has a scene similar to the one pictured above.
  • In Batman Gotham By Gaslight, it's left ambiguous to both the audience and Batman who the killer is, though of course it's not the title character despite what many characters in the film think. It turns out that it's James Gordon, who in this movie (though STILL a cop) is a Knight Templar.
  • Robert in Mystery Team.


  • The Dark Tower (The Crimson King isn't mentioned till book 4. From that point on details are given bit by bit.)
    • However, readers familiar with King's greater universe (Particularly those who have read The Stand) might be savvy enough to catch on a bit earlier.
  • The dragon-snakes from The Death Gate Cycle are the collective Big Bad and the incarnation of evil in that multiverse, given form by magic gone awry. As such, they're technically the ultiamte villains all along, but are only introduced directly in the fourth book, Serpent Mage.
  • For the first three-quarters of the first book of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, it's obvious that there is a Big Bad (Evil Sorcerer Pryrates is an obvious villain, but as he's getting his power through a Deal with the Devil he's also obviously not the ultimate string puller) but none of the main characters know who he is. It turns out to be the vengeful Sithi prince Ineluki, resurrected as the undead entity called the Storm King, who had only been mentioned in scraps of legends prior to The Reveal.
  • The Crippled God, Big Bad of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, was only introduced in person in the third book, though in hindsight he'd been pretty heavily foreshadowed in the first two.
  • In Warbreaker the Big Bad is hidden for almost the entire novel, and the most obvious candidates are eliminated one by one (either by proving harmless, or revealed to be only a cog in the big machine). It turns out to be Bluefingers, the God King's kindly, timid secretary, who had been considered an ally of the heroes up to that point.
    • Also from a work by Brandon Sanderson, it was very obvious from the beginning of Mistborn that the Lord Ruler won his position by saving the world from something even worse. In the second book, it was revealed that this entity was still around, and it was freed from its prison at the climax. In the third book, the entity was revealed as Ruin, primordial god of entropy and destruction.
  • In Fate of the Jedi, from the very first book something had started to make various Jedi go crazy, but none of the already introduced villains (President Evil Daala and an isolated but ambitious cult of Sith) seemed to have the power to cause it. In the third book, readers are introduced to an enigmatic woman with tremendous Force powers named Abeloth. Turns out that she's the avatar of an Eldritch Abomination who has been subtly influencing galactic events for a while now- and by the end of the book she's out of her can and ready to take the position of Big Bad full time.
  • In the first of the Otherland books, the focus occasionally shifts to an Egyptian simulation ruled by someone using Osiris as an avatar, who gives out orders and makes commentary that bears suspicious relation to other events in the book, but these connections are never actually stated. Late in the volume, the user is revealed to be a man named Felix Jongleur, leader of the Grail Brotherhood and creator of the Otherland system.
  • Most of the plotline of the Inda series is driven by Evil Sorcerer Erkric's scheming, as he's the one driving the Venn to be more warlike and expansionistic, but he's not directly introduced until the last third of the second book and his central role doesn't become apparent until later. This is at least in part because the Venn are initially portrayed as a faceless military juggernaut, though- he's introduced at the same time as Prince Rajnir and Commander Durasnir, the other two main Venn characters.

Live-Action TV

  • Lost, in which the fact that there even is a Big Bad is not immediately stated. After several possible major antagonists are introduced over the first five seasons, the true Big Bad is not revealed until the season five finale.
  • Desperate Housewives used this several times. The identity of the aggressor in season 6 was hidden this way until the reveal that he was a serial killer and actually one of Porter's friends.
  • During the third series of Doctor Who, the subplots taking place in present day London throw around the name Mr. Saxon. In the three-parter that ends the season, he is revealed to be none other than the Doctor's arch nemesis, the Master, who stole the Doctor's TARDIS and traveled 18 months before Martha was introduced, and in that time became the the Minister of Defence.
    • The events of series 5 are caused by someone or something capable of making the TARDIS explode, accompanied by the Arc Words "silence will fall".
  • The reveal of just who was really behind the Dollhouse and the Rossum Corporation had a very high HSQ when it was revealed in season 2.
  • Happened in Gekisou Sentai Carranger by half of the season the Bowzocks were believed to be the main bad guy's until Exhaus is shown to be the real Big Bad.
  • A really bizarre example comes from Breaking Bad, where the main character, Walter White, is the Hidden Villain Protagonist to his own brother-in-law, Hero Antagonist DEA Agent Hank Schrader.
  • Bones did this with the serial killer Gormagon as well as the Gravedigger. Their identities were only revealed late or in the end of the story arcs.
  • At least two members of the Person of Interest Rogues Gallery finally appeared onscreen, after several episodes of Foreshadowing and references, as that week's person of interest in disguise. Namely, Elias (in "Witness") and Root (in "Firewall").

Video Games


Web Original

Western Animation

  • Slade in Teen Titans starts out like this, being introduced in the first episode as a shadowy Chessmaster, but not even named or revealed to the heroes until later (and it's even longer before they meet him face-to-face and learn of his plans). Also a Hidden Agenda Villain, ironically- meaning that for his first few appearances, all we know about him is that he exists and is up to no good.
  • In Wolverine and the X-Men, pretty much the whole first season was masterminded by the Inner Circle, who wanted to get their hands on the Phoenix. They're not introduced until just before the Grand Finale, and aren't truly The Man Behind the Man because the only character they were directly controlling was one of the heroes.
  • During the third season of Ben 10, horror monster-themed aliens show up performing seemingly random tasks through several episodes. During the season finale, they are revealed to have been building a superweapon to allow Ghostfreak to achieve world domination.
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