I warned you...but you didn't listen! I gave you one last chance to walk away, and you BLEW IT! FREEZAAAA!
Bob The Hero
and Charlie The Big Bad
have had their climactic battle and Bob has won. He chooses to spare Charlie's life, perhaps to show his moral superiority or perhaps because he doesn't want to become a killer (the villain is often on his knees at this point, begging for mercy
). As Bob turns and walks away, triumphant, the defeated Charlie lets out a scream of rage and dives at the hero, attempting to strike him down while his back is turned
. Bob decides that one chance was enough. He turns and delivers the finishing blow he had previously withheld, usually (though not always) killing Charlie. (An Offhand Backhand
is optional but undeniably good form.)
This trope falls under Karmic Death
(not counting the variations where the villain is given an Offhand Backhand
): even though the hero technically does the killing, the initiative is entirely with the villain. Bob has just given Charlie's life back to him, but the villain throws that mercy away in favor of one last strike at Bob. Like all Karmic Deaths, it allows the hero to dispatch the villain without having to do it unprovoked; killing in cold blood usually comes across as unheroic no matter what the circumstances (unless the hero is a Combat Pragmatist
who doesn't have a problem with taking the direct route).
A form of Self-Disposing Villain
. Not to be confused with Taking You with Me
, which differs from this trope in two important ways: first, "Charlie" is either dying or expects to die in the process of killing "Bob"; and second, Bob has not previously made an offer to spare Charlie's life.
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Anime and Manga
- After the Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man tracked him down and beat him nearly to death. Spidey was so angry that he wanted to kill the Goblin, but at the last minute stopped himself. He thought that Osborn was no longer a threat and Osborn, who was still able to remotely control his goblin glider, positioned it behind Spider-Man and hit the gas, hoping to impale him. Spidey dodged the glider and it hit Osborn instead, killing him. At least, that's how the story originally went.
- In the final issue of the Kitty Pryde & Wolverine limited series, Logan had defeated Ogun and brought him to his knees. He spared Ogun's life and began to walk away alongside Kitty. Ogun produced a knife and rushed at the two of them from behind. Wolverine noticed it in time to tell Kitty to use her phasing power, causing the knife to pass harmlessly through her. He then stabbed Ogun with his claws, killing the villain.
- A variation occurs during the climax of the The Legend of Zelda fic Blood and Spirit. After her defeat, Veress tries one last sneak attack on Link, but Sheik, being the only one who saw it coming, jumps in the way and subsequently dies Taking the Bullet. Veress, having killed her dearest friend, whom she still cared for despite her Face-Heel Turn, is left in tearful remorse and subsequently banished to the Twilight Realm, where she is Driven to Suicide.
Films — Animated
- Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (although original production materials did indicate that this may not have been a backfire).
- Jenner in The Secret Of NIMH, literally stabbed in the back by his minion.
- The Disney version of Peter Pan has Peter, after his climatic duel with Hook on the ship, in which he puts Honor Before Reason, takes Hook's sword and threatens him with it, to which Hook says something to the tune of "Please, I Will Do Anything!" Peter complies, but only if Hook says that he is a codfish. Hook is only too happy to oblige and Peter decides to let him go. But when Peter crows in triumph, Hook raises his hook at Peter to backstab him with it. However, Peter, with his ability to fly, takes to the air in the nick of time, leaving Hook to lose his footing on the mainbrace where they dueled and fall right into the jaws of the waiting crocodile.
- The Lion King:
- Scar tries to shift the blame to the hyenas before his final confrontation with Simba. Unfortunately for him, the hyenas overhear and they aren't very pleased, as well as hungry...
- Additionally, during the two's faceoff, Simba actually does have Scar at his mercy but instead chooses to exile him, repeating the last words Scar spoke to him as a cub. Scar instead sneak attacks Simba with some hot coal to try and put him off balance. Though it does wing Simba, he's still as combat adept as ever and eventually tosses him off a cliff down to where the above-mentioned hyenas are.
Films — Live-Action
- Prince Caspian in the film of the same name.
- Kung Fu Hustle
- Captain Hook in Hook. And he would've had Peter Pan, too, if not for Tinkerbell and a not-quite-dead crocodile...
- Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Twins Prince Nuada and Princess Nuala are linked; Hellboy defeats Nuada in a duel but spares his life (and thus, Nuala). When Hellboy turns away, Nuada starts to attack, only to be stopped by his sister, who kills herself (and thus, Nuada).
- Inverted in Ip Man, where the Hot Bloodedly-heroic Zealot Lin tries to attack the not-quite-evil General Miura while the latter has his back turned and gets fatally wounded for his trouble.
- Played comedically Robin Hood: Men in Tights where Robin Hood spares the Sheriff of Rottingham after beating him and turns his back on him. When the Sheriff goes for the backstab, Robin is sheathing his sword and accidental impalement occurs.
- The Big Bad dies this way in the first Bad Boys film.
- At least one film adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac changes the dueling match in the first act so that the title character wins without killing his opponent. Said opponent instead dies while attempting to stab him in the back after the fight's officially over. (Note that this does not apply to the original.)
- Peter Stegman does this to Mr. Norris in Class of 1984. As he is hanging from the rafters of the school, he pleads for Mr. Norris to help him, saying that he's "just a kid". When Mr. Norris extends his hand to help Stegman, Stegman tries to stab it with his switchblade in a final act of malice. It ends up causing him to fall and become hung by electrical wires over the school gymnasium.
- In Alien vs. Predator, after "Scar" allows Weyland to live after discovering he has cancer, Weyland creates a makeshift-flamethrower and set Scar ablaze...only for it to be completely useless and makes Scar stab him in the chest.
- Overlaps with Secret Test of Character in Taken 2; Bryan (after killing the current wave of thugs looking for revenge for the first film,) confronts the Non-Action Big Bad, Murad, and confirms that he has other sons who will perpetuate the Cycle of Revenge. While holding the Murad at gunpoint, he offers him a chance to call off the blood feud and just go home. Murad accepts, Bryan puts the gun down and turns to leave. Murad immediately picks up the gun and tries to shoot Bryan In the Back, only to discover that it's empty. Murad has time for a brief Oh, Crap moment before Bryan kills him. Note that unlike a straight heroic example of this trope, the killing is not done in simple self-defence; the backstab was comprehensively defeated and the villain rendered completely harmless before being killed in cold blood.
- The original live-action Spider-Man film starring Tobey Maguire recycles the scene described in the Comic Books section above pretty much verbatim, only Peter's motivation is somewhat different because he didn't let Gwen Stacey (or rather Mary-Jane Watson) die this time and the Green Goblin is more of a Tragic Villain due to the circumstances of his origin story.note
- In "The Girl Hunters" (1963) tough private eye Mike Hammer warns an innocent young woman about her carelessness in leaving a shotgun muzzle down, which allowed it to get clogged with dirt. Later, he reveals, through a door, that he knows she is the big bad while carefully pushing the shotgun muzzle into a potted plant, packing it with dirt. He then walks away, at which point she emerges, lifts the shotgun and with an evil grin tries to shoot him in the back, with predictable (and off screen) results. (BTW - the Mythbusters kind of proved this wouldn't work so don't try it)
- Happens occasionally in Redwall, notably in the fight between Logalog and Hogspit in Long Patrol.
- Inverted in The Silent Blade. Drizzt Do'Urden and Artemis Entreri have engaged in a duel to the death to determine once and for all who is the better fighter. Entreri ultimately loses (more because of bad luck than any difference of skill between the two fighters), and tells Drizzt to finish him since he cannot live with the knowledge that he was beaten. Drizzt refuses, and begins to walk away. Entreri runs at him from behind and cries out in rage; with the implied goal of alerting Drizzt of his attack so that Drizzt will be forced to kill him. And Drizzt does defend himself by turning around and stabbing Entreri. However, a protective spell cast on Entreri without his knowledge protects him and mortally wounds Drizzt instead... so, while Entreri was not playing this trope straight by trying to kill Drizzt, his attempt to get himself killed backfired. And he was furious.
- At the end of Brotherhood of the Rose CIA-trained assassin Saul is sneaking up on the hotel where his surrogate father, Diabolical Mastermind Elliot, is staying...only to find Elliot standing out in the open waiting for him, clearly exposed to his fire. Elliot asks for an end to this conflict between him and his 'son', and to be allowed to retire peacefully. Saul nearly shoots him anyway, but realises he could have been killed while they were talking. So he agrees to a truce and follows Elliot into his hotel room where he gets jumped by Elliot's bodyguards. After all, as Elliot says, what's to stop Saul from changing his mind later on? This way he can dispose of Saul without alarming the hotel guests. Saul is able to overcome the attack and promptly submachine-guns Elliot to death. No point in making the same mistake twice.
- Happens with alarming regularity in Wheel of Time. Mostly by the bad guys.
- A notable one happens in one of the later books, when Galina (a Black Ajah) teams up with Faile (the wife of one of the three main heroes). Galina needs the Aiel Oath Rod, and promises Faile freedom if she gets the rod for her, all the while intending to betray Faile once she has her hands on it. After Faile does so, Galina collapses a building on top of Faile, and leaves her for dead. Just a few chapters later, Galina is caught by the one person that her Restraining Bolt compels her to obey, leaving Galina to live the rest of her life as a slave, with no chance of escape. The cruel (or funny) twist of fate is that if Galina had played things straight, she would have been rescued right alongside Faile, with the Oath Rod, and successfully pulled off a Karma Houdini.
- Played with in the Honor Harrington series concerning the duel with Pavel Young. Young shot her in the back by turning and firing before they'd reached the proper places, and the referee's shooting of him in punishment (which ended up being coincident with Harrington's own return shot, while lying on the ground wounded) meant his attempted backstab would have resulted in his death even if he'd killed or incapacitated her.
Live Action TV
- In The Order of the Stick; Nale kills the vampire Minister Malack, who hates him for killing his vampire spawn, when his guard was down by removing his Protection from Daylight spell. His father Tarquin, who was Malack's best friend, kills him in turn, and one of Malack's other friends disintegrates the corpse to ensure Nale stays dead.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Commander Zhao attacks Zuko after losing a firebending duel, only to be stopped by Iroh who proceeds to effortlessly push the disgraced Zhao halfway across the field, showcasing that he's far more competent than his jolly exterior indicates. "Even in exile, my nephew is more honorable than you."
- In the grand finale, Ozai attacks an indecisive Aang, but is effortlessly restrained. Aang still doesn't kill him, instead using a new skill to permanently de-power him.
- Happens to Starscream all the time throughout all Transformers continuities.
- In a flashback in the Batman Beyond episode "Ace in the Hole", Bruce Wayne, while making his pilgrimage to the site where his parents were murdered, was ambushed by a Jokerz thug who wanted to mug him. He effortlessly thwarted the attack. However, the mugger then tried to attack him again as he stood at the murder scene. However, Wayne wasn't the one who stopped him this time: Ace stopped him.
- In the pilot of Gargoyles, Hakon tries to stop Goliath from attacking him by blaming the Captain for the Wyvern Massacre. The Captain, enraged by Hakon's attempt to frame him, wrestles him off the cliff.
- In the Grand Finale of Jackie Chan Adventures, Uncle and Tohru casted a chi spell to banish Drago into Demon Realm. As Drago clung to the edge, he pleaded for help from his father (Shendu), who agreed to help him while reminding Drago Earth was Shendu's world. Drago then took advantage of this to pull Shendu into the abyss and win their Evil Versus Evil. It backfired when Shendu grabbed Drago's tail, pulling him down.