Let me go! Let me go, please! Don't hurt me! I'll do anything! ANYTHING!!
~ Gaston LeGume begging the Beast to spare him.
Simba, Simba. Please. Please have mercy. I beg you.
~ Scar cowardly begging Simba for mercy.

Cowards are villains who are very prone to run away from a fight or confrontation or even their own problems, or who pick on those who they know are weaker or who have less authority (It usually goes after kids because they don't know any better than adults).

They usually beg the hero to not kill them when overpowered by them and will try to kill them if they let their guard down, or are desperate to take the hero with them if they know that they are about to be defeated or killed (Gaston LeGume, Scar and Judge Claude Frollo are excellent examples of this). More often than not, they would also threaten to kill the hero's loved ones or use them as hostages to stop the hero from attacking them, rather than fighting the hero themselves (Agnus and Sanctus are good examples for this).

Sometimes, being a coward motivates evil as they will do anything to save only their own hides and do not care if others get hurt (providing they don't get harmed themselves); other times, it serves as a comedic relief side while at still other times, it simply makes a villain unlikable and/or weak in the eyes of a viewer or protagonist (and sometimes other villains as well).

They will also not hesitate to use cheap and dirty tactics if they deem it necessary to win a battle. Due to the fact that most Cowards will try to run away if they are in danger or even surrender entirely, they are rarely the leading antagonist (though exceptions do exist), tending instead to be bumbling sidekicks or henchmen. In addition, should these villains die, it is often disgraceful, unless they redeem themselves to die with honor.

Please note, however, that cowards are often extremely dangerous, powerful, or intelligent characters who have fear as a fatal flaw, as opposed to a basic personality trait (for example, Napoleon from Animal Farm is a coward, but is nonetheless a serious threat to the other animals, since he is constantly making plans and revising the Seven Commandments).

Not to mention, it can also make them seem even more heinous, considering they might just escape saving themselves and betraying others (e.g. Peter Pettigrew was James and Lily Potter's secret-keeper, but he revealed their location to Lord Voldemort, resulting in their deaths. Scorpio do not hesitate brandishing a gun against an unarmed man or threatening defenseless women and children but when Harry beats him, he called instantly his lawyer).

Cowards are the opposites of Nihilists as they really value their life. Also, cowards can never be One-Man Armies because they will only fight if they feel they have a significant advantage or know the other is weaker.

Just because a villain is scared once doesn't make them a coward. Good examples are Dr. Facilier, William Afton and Bill Cipher. Facilier was seen frantically begging for his life as he was being dragged to the world of his friends, William was freaking out when he saw the ghosts of the children he murdered and as Stanley's mind was being erased, Bill begged Stanley to make it stop. However, as these are reasonable reactions to being literally dragged to Hell, seeing the ghosts of your own victims and being erased from existence, they do not qualify.

Also showing fear in life or death situations or when confrontated by stronger individuals or unfamiliar situations does NOT make a character a coward either as only the insane are completely without fear - cowards are marked by the fact they are excessive in their fear and allow said fear to dominate their actions, often to the point of harming others.

Note: However, there are some instances where a villain cannot be considered a coward, or at least a complete one:

  • When a villain is afraid of something or even many things, but has the ability to overcome it and resume potentially harmful activities over and over again. (e.g. Scar and Emperor Palpatine are examples of this.)
  • When they do their best not to show that they are afraid of something, masking it with overconfidence, emotionlessness, rage e.t.c.. (e.g Hopper deep down fears ants, but he hides it with his angry demeanor.)

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