Analysis

Five Villains Who Follow the Heroine’s Journey

I outlined the Heroine’s Journey last week, but it’s more fun to watch it in action. Because this structure is about a character who’s out of balance and makes a course correction, it’s often used for villains who take a heel-face turn. Here’s five villains you probably know that undergo the Heroine’s Journey, and end up good when they’re done.

Spoiler Warning: I’ll be covering their entire journey, so every section is a spoiler for the villain in question. That includes Villains from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Megamind, The Lego Movie, Harry Potter, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Harry Potter section also contains a huge spoiler for the series in general.

1. Spike From Buffy the Vampire Slayer

spike-sipping-blood

Every heroine undergoing the journey is caught between two sides of a duality. The structure refers to the either side of the duality as the feminine and the masculine, but they’re just placeholders for whatever duality the storyteller chooses. Spike’s duality is love and death.

But in the beginning he wasn’t called Spike; he was called William.

Shift From Feminine to Masculine

Before vampirism, William’s life revolves around two people. The first is his mother, whom he lives with and adores. The second is a woman named Cecily. He spends his spare time writing poems about his love for her. But Cecily rejects him, sending him straight into the arms of Drusilla, his father archetype. Drusilla shares a connection with him that he and Cecily didn’t have.

Even after becoming a vampire, the love within William is still strong enough that he turns his mother, so she could be happy and healthy again. But after she becomes a vampire, she too rejects him.

The Road of Trials, The Illusion of Success

Not long after, he renames himself Spike, and begins his pursuit of violence and murder. He has to prove himself to his grand sire, Angelus, and he does so* by killing a Slayer. But one Slayer isn’t enough for him. He lives for a hard-won kill. He romanticizes his fights with the Slayers by comparing them to dancing. He feels that like himself, Slayers are in love with death.

The Descent, Meeting With the Goddess

He starts his descent after Angelus decides to destroy the world. Spike realizes he likes the world how it is, and forms an alliance with Buffy to stop it. He succeeds, but soon afterwards Drusilla rejects him, telling him that she can still sense Buffy’s influence on him. He goes back to Sunnydale planning to kill Buffy, but falls in love with her instead.

Buffy is Spike’s goddess archetype. For him, she holds the truth not just about love, but about his own nature. He continuously wavers between wanting to kill her and trying to protect her, until he attempts to rape her. Fighting him off, she tells him, “Ask me again why I could never love you.” That makes him realize that he cannot truly love and be loved while he is a predator.

Reconciliation With the Feminine

He transitions back to the love side of his duality by getting his soul back. Afterward he returns, humbly asking to help protect everyone against the danger that is coming. He doesn’t tell Buffy he has a soul, or ask her to forgive him. He helps because he wants to do the right thing.

Reincorporation of the Masculine

For many episodes, Spike avoids killing anyone – even demons. Finally, The First Evil becomes dangerous enough that he is forced to reincorporate the death side of his duality in order to fight it. He retrieves and wears the jacket he took from the second Slayer he killed. In doing so, he acknowledges the killer within. He feels stronger after allowing it out in positive ways.

With both sides of his duality in union, he is finally in position to strike a great blow to their enemy.

2. Megamind

megamind-bird

Megamind‘s duality is pleasing others vs rebelling against them. Metroman, the superhero in his tale, is the mother and goddess archetype for his journey. The two begin the story in opposition, but by the end, they realize they aren’t that different from each other.

Shift From Feminine to Masculine

Despite being from another planet, when Megamind begins elementary school he is determined to fit in. He views fellow student Metroman as a model he should copy in order to be liked. But after his attempts fail, Metroman and the other kids humiliate him. So he stops trying to make them happy, and instead claims victory by defying them.

The Road of Trials

Megamind continues his rebellion against everyone well into maturity. He fights Metroman on a regular basis, but he doesn’t win, nor does he intend to. It’s the notoriety he wants, and he gets it. During this time he never attempts to form any outside relationships. His rivalry with Metroman and nuisance abductions of Roxanne Ritchie are the closest things he has to friendships.*

The Illusion of Success

Finally the impossible happens – he kills Metroman. He rejoices, and takes over the city. He writes his name on all the buildings, paints City Hall blue, and helps himself to priceless paintings. But it isn’t long before the amusement of total control wears off. He realizes that without Metroman, his life is empty.

The Descent

He begins his descent after he goes to the Metroman museum to mourn the hero, and runs into Roxanne. Under a disguise, he bonds with her over their loss. She helps fill the emptiness, and he slowly stops rebelling – but covertly, he creates another superhero so he can go back to his old coping behavior.

Meeting With the Goddess

Of course, that superhero, Titan, ends up a villain instead. Desperate for a solution, Megamind seeks out Metroman’s hideout, only to find the superhero alive and hiding there. Metroman tells Megamind what he should have figured out for himself: it’s time for him to convert to heroism.

The Union

Megamind ultimately succeeds at defending the city against Titan. He doesn’t abandon his villainous side when he does it, so he skips the reincorporation phase and goes straight to the joyous union.

By the end, he supports the public good, while receiving praise and acknowledgement for who he really is.

3. Good Cop/Bad Cop From The Lego Movie

good-cop-bad-cop

The duality here is so obvious it’s comical. Good Cop/Bad Cop has two faces – literally – that reveal the two sides of his personality. Good Cop is casual and caring, Bad Cop is emotionally distant and duty-driven.

The Lego Movie doesn’t spend enough time on Good Cop/Bad Cop to discuss his character arc in depth, but it shows a basic Heroine’s Journey framework.

Shift From Feminine to Masculine

He starts relatively in balance, switching frequently between being Good Cop and being Bad Cop in the course of his job. But after his nefarious boss, Lord Business, threatens his parents, his two sides go to war with each other. Bad Cops puts his job first, but Good Cop won’t harm his mom and dad. In retaliation for his reluctance, Lord Business takes a Q-tip with some paint thinner and simply erases Good Cop’s face.

The Road of Trials, The Illusion of Success, The Descent

For a while after that, Bad Cop does everything Lord Business wants him to do, even though he probably thinks it’s wrong. His loyalty is rewarded with betrayal as Lord Business leaves him to die with the heroes he captured.

Reconciliation With the Feminine

Finally, Bad Cop turns against Lord Business, helping the heroes save the day. He recognizes that Good Cop is still within him, and draws a crude Good Cop face on the back of his head.

4. Snape From Harry Potter

snape-holds-lily

Snape is caught between two warring factions in the wizarding world: the racist blood purists who fill up House Slytherin and form the Death Eaters, and the Griffindor-inclined opposition that forms the Order of the Phoenix. Most of his journey happens outside the Harry Potter series, but using the extensive flashbacks provided by Rowling, we can piece it together.

Snape is raised in a low income household by parents who fight frequently. That’s probably why he has an inferiority complex – he’s very touchy about his poor clothing, and reacts harshly to insults. From the beginning, he is also prejudiced against Muggles – probably because his father is one. Degrading Muggles makes him feel better about himself.

Shift From Feminine to Masculine, The Road of Trials

His neighbor Lily is his mother archetype. When he discovers she’s a witch, he gets a crush on her. She has two Muggle parents, but for her he makes an exception to his dislike of Muggles and the Muggle-born. With effort, he befriends her. To keep her happy, he has to curb the mean things he says about Muggles. When Lily’s sister Petunia picks on her for having magic, he provides support and encouragement.

But once they enter school, they become separated by house – Lily into Griffindor, Snape into Slytherin. Both in Griffindor, James and Sirius pick on him incessantly. By making him feel less secure, they encourage him to take refuge in the pure-blood faction. He becomes a champion at potions, naming himself the Half-Blood Prince and inventing cruel spells he can use to punish his enemies. Eventually, this pattern persuades Lily to end their friendship.

The Illusion of Success, The Descent, Meeting With the Goddess

After he leaves school, Snape succeeds in becoming a Death Eater. Then tragedy strikes. After Snape tells Voldemort about an important prophecy, Voldemort decides to kill Lily along with her husband and child. Even though they are no longer on speaking terms, Snape still loves Lily. To keep her safe, Snape runs to Headmaster Dumbledore, his goddess archetype. Dumbledore detests him, but Snape still agrees to do anything if Dumbledore will protect Lily. Dumbledore ultimately fails, and Lily dies. But the headmaster makes it clear that if Snapes really loves Lily, he will protect her son. Feeling responsible for Lily’s death, and sure that his own life is meaningless, Snape agrees.

Reconciliation With the Feminine

For sixteen years, Snape works under Dumbledore. While his pride makes him look like a member of the pure-blood faction, he is actually on the other team. By his own words he doesn’t harm anyone if he can avoid it, and he detests slurs like “mudblood.” Dumbledore even suggests that if the sorting hat judged students at a later age, Snape might have been in Griffindor. When Voldemort returns, he goes back into the Death Eaters as a spy, but his loyalties are clearly with the Order of the Phoenix.

Reincorporation of the Masculine

Usually this stage involves a positive reincorporation of the masculine side of the heroine’s duality. However, being in the pure-blood faction has no positive value. So instead of truly re-adopting pure-blood traits, Snape makes a superficial move toward rejoining them. It appears that he is a Death Eater, but in reality, he’s made a great sacrifice for the other side.

It starts when Dumbledore, who is secretly dying, insists that Snape kill him. He provides Snape with plans to carry out after his death, thereby ensuring that Voldemort will fall. Snape is not happy with this situation, but he fulfills his promise to the headmaster and ends his life in front of witnesses. This convinces everyone on both sides that Snape is loyal to Voldemort; no one living knows the truth other than Snape himself. And it remains that way until his own dying moments, when he gives Harry the key that will allow him to defeat the Dark Lord.

5. Zuko From Avatar the Last Airbender

zoku

Zuko’s duality is his heritage. He’s descended from the previous Avatar on his mother’s side, and Fire Nation royalty on his father’s side. While these two bloodlines were once at peace with each other, his great grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin, killed his great grandfather Avatar Roku, and started a war with the other nations. Because the Avatar exists to ensure balance and order, the Fire Lord cannot continue his aggressive attacks without also opposing the Avatar.

Shift From Feminine to Masculine

When Zuko is young, he is very close to his mother, though he doesn’t know she’s the Avatar’s granddaughter until much later. His mother prizes his sensitive nature, and teaches him to be kind to others. But to protect him from his father, she is forced to leave. Zuko is left trying to please a man who cares little for him.

The Road of Trials

When he is only thirteen, Zuko’s father becomes angry with him for speaking out of turn, burns his face, and banishes him. He is given only one way to redeem himself – to capture the current Avatar. To anyone else, this is impossible, but Zuko latches onto it as his only hope for redemption. By an incredible stroke of luck, the new Avatar, Aang, wakes up after being frozen solid for a hundred years. Zuko follows him all over the globe.

The Illusion of Success

Just when Zuko is wavering from his mission to capture Aang, his sister Azula asks him to join with her. This finally gives him a chance of success, so he accepts her offer. Azula critically injures Aang, and tells everyone that Zuko killed him. The siblings are welcomed back home as heroes. Zuko’s father finally praises and acknowledges him.

The Descent

Even though he should be happy, Zuko always feels angry. Finally, he acknowledges that he is angry at himself. He knows that he made the wrong decision when he joined Azula against the Avatar.

Meeting With the Goddess

Zuko receives a message from his uncle Iroh, a supporter of the Avatar. It tells him where to find the secret account of his great grandfather’s death. Zuko reads the account. He learns that his great grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin, killed the previous Avatar, but died many years later in his sleep. He is confused until Iroh informs him the great grandfather he meant was actually Avatar Roku. Iroh tells him that he must choose to either restore balance to the world, or destroy it.

Reconciliation With the Feminine

After openly defying his father, Zuko finds Aang and his team. He knows Aang still needs someone to teach him firebending, and he wants to fight on the side of the Avatar. After all the times he kidnapped Aang, the team is less than happy to see him. But Zuko is nothing if not persistent, and eventually Aang agrees to learn from him.

Reincorporation of the Masculine

When Zuko tries to teach Aang, he discovers his powers are all but gone. He realizes that his bending was fueled by an intense purpose – capturing Aang and pleasing his father. Now that those motivations are gone, his bending is weakened.

To teach Aang and reclaim his bending, the two make a journey to visit the last dragons – the original firebenders. The dragons teach them that fire is not just death, but life.

The Union

Confident in his firebending and his choice to join the Avatar, Zuko is ready to face his sister Azula. She has greater skill than him, but she is out of balance, and he is now in balance. When they duel, he gets the better of her.


The Heroine’s Journey recognizes that people with great potential don’t always do the right thing when they start. Instead, they become heroic through meaningful experiences. They are very different people at the start and the end of their journey. That’s what makes them so satisfying to follow.

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Comments

  1. Cay Reet

    Actually, Zuko does not defeat Azula – Katara does, after he almost sacrifices his life to safe her from Azula’s attack.

    • Chris Winkle

      No, he doesn’t defeat her alone, but he does get the better of her during the duel. He is poised to win when Azula breaks their agreement by attacking Katara.

      • Cay Reet

        Yes, that’s true. He would eventually have won the duel – the fact that Azula has constantly been losing touch with reality helped, though.

  2. Beccolina

    Zuko’s story arc is one of my very favorites. It’s one of the best redemption stories out there.

  3. RafaelSa

    Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey has a lot of similar events or stages as the hero’s journey, and can be worked in unison with the typical 12 steps of Vogler’s Hero’s Journey but splits off at the start into a feminine cycle, to later integrate the masculine with the feminine at the end.

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