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This is the pathway a character has to travel along to get to his/her ultimate goal. Deviating from the path is not an option, and even if you attempt to do so for any brief period or for any reason, inevitably you'll have to go back onto the path to complete the journey's chief objective.
It doesn't have to be a literal pathway, but can refer mainly to the route that a character needs to travel along to get from start to finish. Also note that there aren't multiple goals to be fulfilled beyond the end of the journey; the journey's end is just that.
Not related to No Sidepaths No Exploration No Freedom, which focuses mainly on videogames' design; this trope focuses on linear storylines within all media.
- The Trope Namer comes from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and led the protagonists to the Emerald City, as the page image shows.
- The Hanna-Barbera Alice in Wonderland has Alice following the Unwinding Road, which unscrolls before her like a carpet (not yellow, though).
- Many an RPG's journey pathway is like this.
- Subverted in The Path. You are told specifically NOT to leave the path, but you have to if you want to accomplish anything.
- Literally Zig Zagged on Star Trek: Voyager with Voyager going back and forth from toeing the straight line to the Alpha Quadrant, completing minor story arcs and plain old Monster of the Week detours.
- Played straight in Milton Bradley's Game of Life.
- The Snake Way in Dragonball Z could be seen as this. Goku had to travel along this path to get back to Earth from the afterlife in time to fight the Saiyans. It ends up subverted, however, in that defeating the Saiyans was not an end in and of itself.
- Trigun: Vash's journey to find Knives is essentially this.
- A variation of this takes place in One Piece: the ultimate goal for all pirates searching for the titular treasure is Raftel, the last island in the Grand Line, where Gold Roger is believed to have hidden the treasure. Each pirate crew's navigator has a Log Pose (a compass worn on the wrist like a watch) that points out the direction to the next island along the journey...but it's a variation because there are several winding paths along the Grand Line beginning from Reverse Mountain, all of which have in common Raftel as the final stop. Therefore, the specific pathway that the Straw Hats have been traveling from Reverse Mountain is just one of several routes they could have sailed.
- Bioshock 2: Maps of the Atlantic Express essentially plot out the entire game.
- Jumanji and Zathura.
- John Bunyan's The Pilgrims Progress. Stick to the straight and narrow, or you will regret it. Even leaving it for an easier road that parallels it is bad, as Christian is quick to find out.
- Lemmings 3D has a level called "Follow The Yellow Brick Road", where you have to do just that (it's a bit harder than it sounds).
- The Mississippi River functions as this in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. At first, they were floating down to reach Cairo, Illinois, from whence they could sell the raft and buy tickets up the Ohio into the free states, but after they miss Cairo in a fog, they keep heading south...kinda just because.