Brilliant Brutes

The Brilliant Brute is a simple misdirection ploy many forms of narrative media that deal with conflict might use when crafting a tough character, presenting a burly brick wall of a fellow who then later displays a heretofore hidden depth of intelligence and erudition. Speaking as a heavy-set guy who errs towards being overly verbose and perspicacious (or at least one who maladroitly presents a façade of such with a ten-dollar vocabulary), this is one trope that particularly resonates with me.

List items

  • The enigmatic Letho of Gulet is a fellow witcher and a titular Assassin of Kings in the highly acclaimed CRPG The Witcher II. Part of his deadly nature is being considerably more intelligent and cunning than his brutish countenance would suggest.

  • While this concept could ably apply to the entire Thomgog race of the Lands of Lore series, Baccata in particular is a bit of a dandy of a scholarly mage who is currently apprenticing to the powerful sorceress Dawn. He's a versatile ally in the first game and a potential foe in the second.

  • Oleg's quick to establish himself apart from his mindless clones by presenting an enlightened attitude towards his nudity upon being freed by whatever apparatus the Morning Star group had been using to create said beastly homunculi. He's often seen in later cutscenes thrashing Pierce at chess and keeping up with Kenzie's incomprehensible computerese.

  • Sarevok's the mastermind of the grand iron conspiracy of the original Baldur's Gate, which the player character slowly unravels in the hunt for his father's killer (who, of course, is Sarevok). Yet first impressions paint him as an enormous psychopath, revelling in the kill. Two sides of the same coin, it turns out.

  • Over the past half-decade Valve's ensured, in lieu of any and all advancements to the story of one theoretical physicist, that Team Fortress 2 and its depiction of an endless and pointless war between two colour-based conglomerates is filled to the brim with humorous elements. Heavy Weapons Guy defies expectations by being very savvy with just how much his ridiculous weapon "Sasha" costs to maintain, and lets slip that he has a PhD in Russian Literature during a conversation with an outmatched Tycho Brahe.

  • Fawkes the Super Mutant is uncharacteristically bright among his kind (or her kind, we should say) and is one of the most useful companions the player might come across in the Capital Wasteland. However, Fawkes doesn't appear to be smart enough to save you from a grisly death by radiation. Marcus from the same universe is also an aberration among Super Mutants for his intelligence and cool-headed demeanour.

  • It's probably cheating to cull from the comics universe for more examples, but Beast perhaps personifies this trope like no other. He's definitely one of the earliest examples. Though a powerful bestial attacker, Beast is more helpful to Professor Xavier and the X-Men as a scientist and scholar.

  • A burly ex-con still wearing the iron shackles from his internment probably isn't anyone's first choice for a Scrabble partner, but Regal's backstory is one of a brilliant but troubled President of one of the most powerful companies in the world (or one of two worlds) of Tales of Symphonia. Dude's got some baggage, to say the least.

  • Hard to say whether Grunt or Wrex is the more intelligent; the former reads up on Hemingway when bored (though he's not the most able typist) while the latter is able to hold together the volatile Krogan tribes with his shrewd leadership. They're two anomalies among an entire race of raving, brutal warriors.