Created By: Darth Howie on October 18, 2008

Pyrrhic Victory

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"Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone."
- King Pyrrhus of Epirus upon defeating the Romans at Heraclea in the original Pyrrhic Victory

This trope involves any victory that comes at a great cost. Often involves a Heroic Sacrifice. If the hero has to make an extreme moral sacrifice, he'll have to ask himself Was It Really Worth It?? If it happens at the end it will inevitably lead to a Bittersweet Ending. These are common in Darker and Edgier series and is one of the defining characteristics of a World Half Empty.

I'll write a more vivid description at some point but my brain is tired. Also expect more examples.


  • The Dark Knight - Pretty much every time the good guys win something at ANY point in the movie it comes at HUGE cost. Might even be the movie's main theme.
  • L.A. Confidential - Ed Exley has to destroy pretty much everything he cares about over the course of the movie.

Comic Books
  • Sin City: All victories in this series are pyrrhic and then some.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Defines Jon Snow. Even when he wins he loses.
    • The Battle of the Blackwater is another excellent example.


  • This trope is named after King Pyrrhus. See the quote at the top.
  • Happened in so many wars it's difficult to point out only one example. This tended to be the case in just about ANY battle during World War I due to trench warfare.


Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • October 13, 2008
    An excellent suggestion, if it doesn't already exist.
  • October 13, 2008
    Now, what does the Trope Namer Truth In Television example come from again?
  • October 13, 2008
    Sabre_Justice: King Pyrrhus, who defeated the Romans at Heraclea, and, when asked why he was not celebrating, said "Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone"; he had lost fewer men, true, but the Romans could easily recruit more, while Pyrrhus' forces were imported from Greece, and could not be reinforced so easily.
  • October 14, 2008
    This is the cornerstone behind a World Half Empty.

    Contrast Pyrrhic Villainy.
  • October 14, 2008
    The UK version of the quiz videogame 'You Don't Know Jack' had a question where the answer was 'Phyrric victory'. However, if you got it right the game took points off you anyway. Oh how we laughed.
  • October 14, 2008
    Was It Really Worth It, which had the alternate title OF Pyrrhic Victory until someone said "no."
  • October 14, 2008
    Darth Howie
    Was It Really Worth It features examples where the hero does something horrible to achieve victory. That's not necessarily the case here. The hero doesn't have to necessarily do anything horrible for victory to come at too high a cost. I'd say it's more of a comparable trope than the same trope. Or possibly a subtrope. Was It Really Worth It seems to be a What The Hell Hero Pyrrhic Victory.
  • October 17, 2008
    Darth Howie
    bumped to further debate. Is this the same as Was It Really Worth It or not?
  • October 17, 2008
    Frodo Goofball CoTV
    from Was It Really Worth It: "If someone wins a battle, but accidentally kills their friend's sister in the process, it's this.... If the 'it' was something like a Heroic Sacrifice, this may cause a Bittersweet Ending." Sounds like a supertrope of Pyrric Victory.
  • October 17, 2008
    Certainly little to do with Was It Really Worth It. That is where the hero sacrifices his moral integrity for a victory, the Phyrric victory is more to do with material losses, the victor need not do anything wrong or regret his actions. Closest relative to this would probably be the Heroic Sacrifice, but I'd like to see it troped, partially because I personally have a big ol' stiffy for classical references.

    Hamlet. Hamlet manages to avenge his father, but virtually every major character dies as a direct or indirect consequence. Lampshaded when he asks an actor to recite a speech about Phyrrus, albeit the Homeric Phyrrus and not the trope namer.

    Naruto. Shikumaru defeats Temari in the Chunin exam tournament, then declares that he has expended too much energy in winning and drops out.

    R.A Salvatore's The Crystal Shard has the final battle presented as one of these for the good guys.

  • October 17, 2008
    Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann episode eight! Sure, they capture the giant walking battleship, but then they loose the guy whom inspired the whole rebellion.
  • October 30, 2008
    Darth Howie
  • October 30, 2008
    Known Unknown
    Often the implication of a Lonely At The Top situation, where someone gets everything he wanted, but lost everything and everyone that helped him get there.

    I know I have a few examples of this floating around somewhere in my head, but I can't think of any right now...
  • October 30, 2008
    I would say this is different enough from Was It Really Worth It, after looking at the way I worded that page and the examples.

    Good name, plenty of examples, I'd say launch this bad boy.
  • October 30, 2008
    Another Real Life example: Depending on which historian you ask, the Battle of Kadesh, which pitted the Egyptians under Ramesses II against the Hittites, falls under this trope. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and even if one accepts Ramesses's claim of victory, neither side actually accomplished its goals.
  • October 31, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    A pyrrhic victory often forms part of a Bittersweet Ending.
  • October 31, 2008
    From Star Trek Deep Space Nine, "What You Leave Behind":

    "You may win this war, Commander, but I promise you, by the time it's over, you will have lost so many ships, so many lives, that your 'victory' will taste as bitter as defeat."

    Possible page quote, hmmm?
  • November 6, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Is this one Up For Grabs? If so, I'll launch it tomorrow under Pyrrhic Victory, assuming no objections to the title.
  • December 11, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    did this ever get launched?
  • December 11, 2008
    Lee M
    Arguably, Britain in World War Two. Britain held fast against the Germans almost singlehandedly until the Americans arrived. The Allies won the war in Europe, but Britain lost its Empire and was so badly impoverished by the war effort that it had to beg the Americans for aid and remained on rationing for most of the next decade.
  • December 11, 2008
    "It's like, even when we win...he wins."

    Not quite the same thing, but worth mentioning anyway. ^_^