How The Mighty Have Perished YKTTW Discussion

How The Mighty Have Perished
A ruler or other authority figure suffers a humiliating/humbling death.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-09-12 17:43:51 sponsor: dragonslip edited by: DracMonster (last reply: 2012-10-05 13:05:19)

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ATTENTION Dragonslip: I'm in ur YKTTW launchin' ur trope! If you want it back at any time, feel free to delete this and take over again.

A Sub-Trope of Cruel and Unusual Death and Undignified Death, at the intersection of Break the Haughty, this is when The Emperor, President Evil, the Evil Chancellor or other ruler or authority figure comes to a demeaning or humbling end.

Although this is usually a case of Laser-Guided Karma (Aristocrats Are Evil, y'know,) it can also be political ploy to discredit a regime, or an act of (possibly unwarranted) vengeance. In Darker and Edgier works it can happen to a good ruler thanks to Disaster Dominoes leading to The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized. Alternately, The Good King may have suffered this at the hands of his Evil Chancellor or The Evil Prince in the backstory of the Hidden Backup Prince whose destiny is to repay the favor...

Even if they deserve it, just being killed is not in and of itself this -- it must emphasize the fact that the mighty have been brought low. Going down in a Last Stand against the freedom fighters may allow the tyrant a Dying Moment of Awesome, but being killed in single combat by the Farm Boy he had contemptuously dismissed is another matter. Likewise, being assassinated or a victim of Klingon Promotion or You Have Failed Me only counts if the circumstances are especially ironic or humbling, such as being denied a nobleman's execution in favor of a method normally used for dirty peasants.

As a rule of thumb, any death that comes at the end of an obvious Humiliation Conga, or involves the ruler reduced to acting like a Dirty Coward and begging for his life usually counts. If he's Defiant to the End or is able to Face Death with Dignity, probably not. Any death involving Rule of Cool such as Stuff Blowing Up is likely to reinforce his legacy rather than detract from it. A Rasputinian Death may or may not qualify, since this can sometimes demonstrate just how Made of Iron the victim is.

Suicide is not necessarily this either. It takes a certain amount of internal fortitude to go through with it, and is actually often a method of avoiding this fate -- Better to Die Than Be Killed, after all. Being Driven to Suicide after a suitable period languishing beyond the Despair Event Horizon can count, though.

Death Trope ahead! Unmarked spoilification imminent!


  • In Elfquest, the troll king Guttlekraw dies pleading for his life as the wolves his underlings had been intentionally starving tear him apart. Later on, Grohmul Djun is reduced to a broken shell of a man after his defeat by the elves -- he makes a feeble attempt at revenge using his children, but his son kills him and takes over the plan.

  • Denethor in the film version of The Lord of the Rings, last Steward of Gondor before the King returns, who dies in a pretty undignified way (less so in the original book).
  • The entire film Ran, being based on King Lear, is essentially one big tragic run-up to Hidetora's death from despair.

Live-Action TV
  • In HBO's Rome, the Romans try to manufacture the appearance of this happening to Vercingetorix to help subjugate the Gauls and show their strength, but his people steal his body away to give it a dignified end after the Romans throw it on a trash pile. Despite them both sounding dignified on paper the deaths of both Caesar and Brutus are presented this way.

  • In the Belisarius Series, Link the evil robot from the future, was finished off by having his human avatar unceremoniously captured by a random assassination team and brought back to be executed while the machine component was just smashed up with a sledgehammer.
  • In-Universe example with the Discworld: Lorenzo the Kind, the last king of Ankh-Morpork was beheaded by an ancestor of Samuel Vimes, which was extremely shocking to Ankh-Morporkians of the time as kings were somehow sacred (even when, as was Lorenzo's case, they killed and raped children). It's so strong a feeling that generations later, people look at Vimes wondering if he'll flip out and behead a king out of pique.
    • King Murune of Lancre (709-745), whose death involved a red hot poker, ten pounds of live eels, a three mile stretch of frozen river, a butt of wine, a couple of tulip bulbs, a number of poisoned eardrops, an oyster and a large man with a mallet.
  • The Valley of Fear: Maginty, the brutal Freemason boss who ruled the valley through fear, goes to the gallows whining and cringing.
  • At the end of The Lord of the Rings, Saruman is reduced to being at the mercy of the hobbits, although it's Grima that kills him. The film at least let him keep his tower to the end.

  • King Lear ends with the king dying of despair.

Western Animation
  • The Lion King: Scar is torn apart by his own minions, who overheard him trying to pin the blame on them.

Real Life
  • Nicholas II of Russia. Was forced to abdicate, taken into custody, transferred around the country as a hapless prisoner and finally executed in a grisly way by the Bolsheviks with all his family, because the city where their prison was located was under impending attack by Whites and Commies wanted to get rid of him fast before fleeing. The remains were thrown into mine shafts.
  • Benito Mussolini tried to escape Italy in a German uniform, was captured by partisans and shot, then hung by the feet from the roof of a gas station.
  • The supposed end of Edward II of England. It was unlawful to shed the blood of a king, so an inventive assassin employed a red-hot poker up the anus. This is the popular version, anyway, but is generally considered appocryphal. He was definitely killed in prison, so it was likely an unpleasant death.
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