Created By: Eclipt on July 13, 2009

Locked Out Of The Fight

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Didn't find it through Lost and Found, so:

Sometimes, writers want their main character to be accompanied through the plot by some friends and allies, but also want their main character to fight a bad guy one-on-one, without being helped. This means that they must find some excuse for the allies to be removed from the fight. The allies may be able to see the fight, and may be able to shout encouragement, and may even be able to do small things that assist the protagonist, but they're unable to actually take part directly.

There are lots of methods for achieving this. A door which the main character walks through could suddenly slam shut and lock itself before the allies can follow. The roof can collapse, with the main character and the allies ending up on different sides of the rubble. The main character can nobly tell his allies to swing across a deep ravine first, only to have the rope break before the main character gets a turn. Everybody could be caught in an explosion, with only the main character and the villain remaining conscious. Or whatever - the point is that although the main character has friends, events have contrived to remove those friends from the fight.

Reasons for doing this vary. For one thing, it increases the sense of danger, especially if the method of incapacitating the allies leaves them in trouble if the protagonist loses. It also allows a protagonist to demonstrate toughness and skill more effectively than if it's a team effort - defeating the villain in a one-on-one fight is more impressive than defeating the villain in a six-on-one fight. And sometimes, it's just thematically or narratively appropriate that the protagonist defeats the villain alone.

Compare with This Is Something He's Got To Do Himself and Combat by Champion, where the hero fights alone but it's deliberate. Also compare with We Are "Team Cannon Fodder" and Only I Can Kill Him, where the allies can take part in the fight, but are just not able to actually achieve anything.

  • In the final fight of Star Wars: Episode 1, Obi-Wan is cut off from the fight between Qui-Gon and Darth Maul by some ominously glowing force-fields, and as such, can't help.
  • [provided by ndmp45 when I asked about this at Lost and Found] From Kingdom Hearts 1: When Sora is rushing up the stairs to fight Riku/Ansem in Hollow Bastion, he passes the top of the stairs safely but Goofy (and shortly afterwards, Donald) are blocked out from the arena by an invisible wall. The same thing happens when he fights some of the end-game bosses. What the hell, this trope is used every time Sora fights alone in the series (also in KH2 in the cutscene against Roxas, the card fight against Luxord, the one-on-one match with Xehanort's Nobody, etc., etc.)
Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • July 13, 2009
    Christopher Tumber
    Star Trek TOS episode "Arena".
  • July 14, 2009
    nick uzifang
    Clint Eastwood movie "Gran Torino."
  • July 14, 2009
    random surfer
    The hero could just say "nobody help me. I'm doing this on my own." Happens at the end of Act I of Cyrano De Bergerac when he goes off to battle 100 men. (ETA: I don't think this is covered by This Is Something Hes Got To Do Himself, Combat By Champion, or anything else I've come across.)
  • July 14, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    In the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the challenges require both Ron and Hermione to stay behind, leaving only Harry to actually reach the stone and fight for it.
  • July 14, 2009
    Paul Atreides in Dune does this with Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. It's even lampshaded in the book, and for once justified that Paul is just plain old stubborn like his grandfather (who got himself killed bullfighting).

    Baldurs Gate does this a couple of times, too. Although most of the time you can circumvent the rule somewhat by buffing the protagonist up before the encounter in question begins.
  • July 15, 2009
    This is kind of what happened during the big battle in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, which is described from the perspective of Susan and Lucy who did not take part in it like their brothers did.

    It also happened when Pegasus took his duel with Yugi to the Shadow Realm, obscuring the fight from his friends.
  • July 15, 2009
  • July 15, 2009
    Subverted in Firefly, with Mal grappling with The Dragon of a Complete Monster
    "This is something he must do himself"
    "No it isn't!!"
    "Oh" Everyone shoots the The Dragon, he falls to his death
  • July 15, 2009
    Videogames have beaten this TO DEATH. An interesting variant is exemplified by the quicksand scene in Time Crisis 4, where the players are sucked into the pit and have to fight terror bites while NPC Captain Rush is bothered by more traditional foes at the top.
  • July 15, 2009
    Very closely related to Deus Exit Machina.
  • July 21, 2009
    Now that I think about it, do we have one for situations where the hero deliberately refuses help? I mentioned This Is Something He's Got To Do Himself and Combat By Champion, but they don't seem quite the same thing. I think it should probably be a separate trope. (Actually, I should probably edit the intro I wrote to make it more clear what I was aiming for.)
  • July 21, 2009
    There's a bit in Dominic Deegan where the party is rushing toward the main villain of the arc, but various lesser villains pop out to stop them, with the effect of slowly reducing the party's members ("You guys keep going - I'll hold him off!") until only two people made it to the center ring.

    I think I proposed a trope about this, or at least asked about it, some months ago, but I can't recall what happened to my query.
  • July 21, 2009
    @Eclipt: The villain version (vs. a single hero) is Leave Him To Me. If the hero has done it since the beginning, it's I Work Alone.

    @Kilyle: It was pointed out that You Shall Not Pass already covered it ("reach their destination"). I thought it should be split off (that page is pretty large), but as far as I know no one did so.
  • July 21, 2009
    Now that I read its description again, I think This Is Something He's Got To Do Himself is actually meant to cover deliberate choices by the hero as well. To quote it, with emphasis: "The hero's friends and reinforcements show up in time to intervene and give the hero a decisive victory with their overwhelming numbers and/or firepower, but they don't — or the hero won't let them — because "This is something he's got to do himself." So yeah, I should eventually change the introduction to a) make that point more obvious; and b) mention Leave Him To Me and I Work Alone.
  • July 21, 2009
    In Conan The Destroyer, the heroes infiltrate an evil wizard's tower to steal a plot coupon. When Conan enters a room with full-length mirrors covering each segment of the wall, a pane of one-way glass slams down behind him (naturally, it appears identical to the other mirrors when viewed from inside the room), allowing the wizard to summon a monstrous brute which Conan must defeat alone (fortunately, Conan is able to figure out that the mirrors are the monster's Achilles Heel).
  • July 22, 2009
    Repeatedly abused in Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. Not only with doors and things, but even a special Cut Scene Power To The Max force power that some bosses use to literally paralyze everyone in the party other than you.
  • July 24, 2009
    Still don't know whether having the hero deliberately wave off help should come under This Is Something He's Got To Do Himself, under this, or under a trope yet unborn. I personally think either option one or three, but what do I know? However, I'll launch this one now with just the core Contrived Coincidence aspect I tried to focus on, and if it needs other things added to it later, that can be done.