Created By: ReturnedAgain on February 10, 2013

Breaking My Word, Saving the Day

A hero must break a long-held promise or oath to come to the rescue;no stigma results

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It's the darkest hour. An important struggle is in the balance. And the hero's mighty blade would surely save the day ... but he promised his mother he would never unsheathe his weapon again.

Anguished and unsure, he watches the fight grow more and more hopeless. And then, just when all seems lost, he strides forward (possibly with a "Sorry, Mom"), draws his sword and turns the tide.

You broke your word. And a good thing, too.

Unlike the Oath Breaker, no serious stigma will attach to a hero who exercises this trope, no matter how heartfelt the principles involved are. This can be a Broken Aesop if the lesson is "Promises should only be kept when they are convenient." On the other hand, the more family-friendly version might read "Hasty promises and poorly thought-out commitments are no excuse for not doing the right thing."

A possible consequence of I Gave My Word; indicates that a hero has abandoned Honor Before Reason. Violence Really Is The Answer is often (though not always) learned as a result.


  • In "High Noon," the hero's wife Amy (Grace Kelly) is a Quaker sworn to pacifism. But when her husband Will chooses to fight a criminal bent on revenge rather than flee, she saves Will's life by shooting his foe.

  • In Terry Pratchett's "Unseen Academicals," Trev Likely, the son of a brilliant football player who died during a match, has promised his mother he will never play the game himself. But when the wizards of Unseen University desperately need one more player to pull out their high-stakes game (and with his true love watching), Trev swallows his fears and joins the game. A partial subversion in that Trev proves to be terrible at handling a football ... until it's replaced, via a bit of Loophole Abuse, with the tin can he's an expert at kicking instead.

  • "Coward of the County," by Kenny Rogers, depicts a man named Tommy who promised his father that he would walk away from trouble and never fight. But when his girl is raped by a gang of outlaws, Tommy locks himself in a bar with them and clobbers every last one of them.

Western Animation
  • Rigby and Mordecai of "Regular Show" trap themselves in a no-holds barred stick hockey game against the murderous player Chong, only to be rescued by the skills of their overbearing boss Benson. Benson, it's revealed, is a former master of the game who swore never to play it again after Chong killed his apprentice during a match.
Community Feedback Replies: 8
  • February 10, 2013
    Surely we have this?
  • February 10, 2013
    We have something like this under Batman Grabs A Gun, though it is less about promises and more about general moral rules of the character.
  • February 10, 2013
    That does have a strong overlap, I agree. If it's deemed too similar, I won't be heartbroken, but the concept of the promise broken for the good of all does seem to come up a lot in fiction; it felt like a gap that needed to be bridged. (The High Noon example would certainly fit Batman Grabs a Gun; the Terry Pratchett one less so.)
  • February 11, 2013
    The Animorphs' continued existence depends almost entirely on the fact that the invading Yeerks don't know they're morph-capable humans. However, when the rivalry between Visser Three and Visser One (whose host body is Marco's mother Eva) escalates into open war, the Animorphs join the fight in the hopes of saving Eva. Marco accidentally lets it slip to her that the "Andalite guerilla" might actually be human, and at the book's climax, pushes Visser One off a cliff, thought-whispering "I love you, Mom." This does have consequences, however: in a later book both Vissers are standing trial for why the Earth hasn't been conquered yet, and Visser One manages to call Marco and the others to discredit Visser Three, but never reveals that they're all humans.

  • February 28, 2013
    Real Life: The cynical version of this can be found in Machiavelli's "The Prince," where he insists that a Prince should be renowned for keeping his word and should never break it without need ... but when the need does arise, a prince should break his word rather than harm his own interests.
  • March 1, 2013
  • August 31, 2013
    Literature: Inverted by Luke Castellan in the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series. He spends much of the series violating a childhood promise to be "family, no matter what" to Annabeth, only to keep it at the critical moment of the final book as part of his Heel Face Turn.
  • August 31, 2013
    I believe this is Godzilla Threshold. "Breaking a promise" can be considered the threshold in this case.