This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.
Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Traitor

Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Traitor

Judas Iscariot Peter Pettigrew Theon Greyjoy What started out as friendship, love, loyalty, or brotherhood has been twisted to the point that they are willing to betray those closest to them. Though the reasons for their treachery are numerous, the end goal—the betrayal of friends, families, and allies—is painful, brutal, and often fatal.

Traitors: The Origin

Wikipedia defines betrayal as “the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations”. Such treachery has been around since the beginning of time. From Judas Iscariot to Cassius and Brutus to Benedict Arnold, many historical figures have been laid low, stymied, or even killed as a result of treachery. Wars have been won or lost, kingdoms turned to ash, and history changed because of one decision to betray someone else. One study listed the most common forms of betrayal:
  • Harmful disclosures of confidential information
  • Disloyalty
  • Infidelity
  • Dishonesty
All of those carry with them a certain “sting” for the person who is betrayed. We all know how painful it can be to feel like someone else betrayed us. As the above-mentioned study explained, “he effects of betrayal include shock, loss and grief, morbid pre-occupation, damaged self-esteem, self-doubting, anger. Not infrequently they produce life-altering changes. The effects of a catastrophic betrayal are most relevant for anxiety disorders, and OC D and PTSD in particular. Betrayal can cause mental contamination, and the betrayer commonly becomes a source of contamination.” We, as human beings, need to trust others. It’s part of our “pack mentality”, our need to find bonds with others for self-preservation and protection. Trusting people helps to combat anxiety and depression, improves a sense of wellness, and boosts self-esteem. As one psychologist put it, “There could be no civilization, enduring health, or mental wellness without trust. The most ordinary interpersonal, commercial, medical, and legal interactions would be impossible without some degree of trust. In contrast, distrust is fraught with anxiety and resentment.” This is why we feel so hurt when someone betrays us! Many people wonder why others would consider betraying them. The list of “whys” for treachery is truly endless, but it often boils down to:
  • Money
  • Desire for positive outcome (feeling happier with someone else)
  • Desire to avoid negative outcome (betraying friends as self-preservation)
  • Dissatisfaction, disillusionment, defeat, or depression
  • Selfishness
There are hundreds of reasons someone would end up betraying another, but in the end, it comes down to a simple formula: the reason to betray is stronger than the emotional and physical consequences of that betrayal.

In stories

Betrayal is one of the most commonly used, and most emotionally devastating, themes in literature:
  • Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter series turned against not only the “good” wizarding world by siding with Voldermort, but against the friends (Sirius Black, James Potter, and Remus Lupin) who formed the Marauders.
  • The Night’s Watch in A Song of Ice and Fire betray Jon Snow by stabbing him and leaving him for dead, all because they believe the changes he’s making will lead them to ruin.
  • Jayne Cobb in the Firefly TV series betrays Captain Mal by selling out the Tams to the Feds, prompting the classic line, “Next time you stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face.”