"Look at you. You know what you want me to do. You know what has to be done. But it's not 'honorable,' so the words stick in your throat. When the Queen proclaims one king, and the Hand proclaims another, whose peace do the Gold Cloaks protect... ? The man who pays them."There's a problem, and the heroes can't solve it or make it go away. It boils down to a situation that requires a decidedly unheroic action to solve, whether it's hurting, killing, or something even less pleasant. The heroes can't very well do it and still be classic White Hats, but not doing anything would have grave consequences. Who can save the day now? Not the Big Damn Heroes, but the villains! Hey, they're evil already, doing an evil act to save the day is no problem. Essentially the author's version of Take a Third Option in a narrative lose/lose situation. Different from a Heel–Face Turn because the villain isn't necessarily being heroic; the villain may be entirely motivated out of self-interest, such as fighting a common threat or because a competitor is challenging his place as nemesis. Another possibility is it makes them even for previous Save the Villain behavior. It's possible for it to even be a complete coincidence. At any rate, in more philosophic works, the villain will be likely to subject the hero to some flavor of "The Reason You Suck" Speech, explaining that the hero can only afford to be so squeaky clean because of this trope. Sub-Trope of Non-Protagonist Resolver; in this case, the "resolver" is the villain. Contrast Villainous Rescue, where a villain pulls a Big Damn Heroes without committing any acts that were too reprehensible for the good guys in the process. If the villain saves the day by accident through doing something villainous, that's Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!. Overlaps with The Dog Bites Back when the "dog" is a minion. See Disney Villain Death for when there is no other bad guy to do the work, so it is done by gravity. If the hero deliberately sets it up, this is a possible case of Do with Him as You Will. Compare Always a Bigger Fish, when a usually non-sapient monster saves the heroes from another monster. No Place for Me There and Necessarily Evil are this trope applied to Utopia Justifies the Means. Also see Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Designated Evil, Poisonous Friend and Token Evil Teammate (the 'hero' inclined to play dirty pool in a team of good guys), and The Dog Shot First (keep the hero morally upright by making their unsavory actions into self-defense).
— Littlefinger, Game of Thrones
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Anime and Manga
- This tends to apply frequently to the main characters of Apocalypse no Toride, although most of their actions could be written off as Villainous Rescues. One particular instance of this is Yoshioka stabbing another inmate through the hand and pinning him to a table to divert the zombies, giving them a chance to escape.
- In Bleach, the Central 46 are Obstructive Bureaucrats of the worst kind. Good thing Aizen kills them all. Although the person who killed them had been frequently acting in their names, manipulating, or outright impersonating them for a long time now (all the decisions relating to Rukia's sentence were carried out by Aizen and his accomplices impersonating them), so it's hard to tell just how obstructive they really were...
- In Code Geass, hardly anyone outside of Britannia likes the Imperial Family, which the main character claims to be a symbol of evil that looks down on others. They promote Social Darwinsim, support militarism and genocide, and/or are pretty much a band of over-privileged parasites. The only exception all three of these is Euphemia and Lelouch accidentally geasses her into starting a massacre, forcing him to Shoot the Dog by killing her. As for the rest, Prince Schneizel does the world a favor by annihilating most of them in one swoop, though this doesn't change the fact that he blows up the entire capital with all its inhabitants in the process.
- Invoked in Cross Ange when Embryo uses the Wave Motion Gun on his mech to kill Julio.
- DokiDoki! Precure has it in for Bel killing off Leva and Gula after they got defeated by Precure for the last time, effectively giving the team not only free from the duo but also getting their darkness to use it on Ira and Marmo.
- Dragon Ball:
- Dragon Ball Z: Vegeta's entire purpose, story-wise, for being on Namek is to kill every single minor villain so the heroes (or at least Goku) don't have to. Cui, Dodoria, Zarbon, 4/5ths of the Ginyu Force (two while helpless!) and most of Freeza's mooks. Goku clearly doesn't want him doing this, and even calls him out after killing the two helpless Ginyu Force members. Though Goku kills Freeza himself, or would have if King Cold didn't show up to revive him... only for both of them to be killed off by Vegeta's Kid from the Future.
- Dragon Ball Super, by contrast, does not have this trope in the Universe Survival Arc. Despite the presence of legit evil characters in the tournament like Frost and Frieza, of the five universes eliminated before the final bout, 9, 10, 2, 6, 4, and 3, all were done in by the Z-Fighters (including Vegeta, Piccolo and 17, but they haven't been villains for years.) While Frieza was in play for the defeat of Universe 3, it was in a combined beam with Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, and 17, not on his own.
- In Fairy Tail, after the eponymous guild is satisfied with just letting Grimoire Heart, the worst villains they faced so far who are clearly still evil, off with a scolding due to their leader being the guild's former master, Grimoire Heart leaves. As they lament their failure, Zeref, who they spent the entire series trying to get their hands on, approaches them. When they attempt to instigate their plan, he brushes them off, lets them know why he hates their guts, and makes their leader the third person in the series to be killed.
- He also got the second kill of the series, though that was an Accidental Murder.
- In the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, the brothers need to create the Philosopher Stone. Problem: By episode 40, it became obvious that in order to do that, one needs to kill quite a lot of people. Solution: Scar did it. And died in the process.
- This trope shows up several times in the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, though very rarely played straight.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Due disposes of the TSAB High Council, which was responsible for having Scaglietti created, preventing any such mistakes in the future.
- One wonders what the The Omniscient Council of Vagueness group of old ladies who rule Japan (First Division) would have done to the cast of Mai Hime had Shizuru not gone crazy and killed them all after the cast kills their god. It's doubtful that they were resurrected along with the rest of the cast.
- A scene with the Obsidian Lord indicates that he was planning to invoke You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on them, but Shizuru got to them first.
- In Mai's fight with Shiho, she's unable to go on the offensive, realizing that as both of them consider Yuuichi their most important person, either of their Childs being destroyed will result in his death (Shiho, being overcome with jealous rage, fails to realize this). Yuuichi, not wanting them to fight, orders Mai to destroy Shiho's Child while fully knowing that he'll kick it, but she refuses. Then a brainwashed Mikoto jumps in, having been conditioned to attack Mai's enemy, and destroys Shiho's child. Yuuichi thanks Mikoto for this before he passes away.
- Played with in Maou no Hajimekata. The evil sorcerer Aur, the openly-evil Villain Protagonist, winds up catching a beautiful hero trying to slay him. As part of his attempt to corrupt him, he first displays the ways he helps villages that agree to serve him and then takes her to the village that'd asked her to kill him. These villagers try to stone her out of rage over all the losses they suffered after Aur took away his aid. When hero Yunis breaks and tries to kill the villagers, Aur does the task for her claiming that it's a villain's job, not a hero's.
- Johan from Monster kicks off the plot by killing the corrupt doctors who screwed Tenma's career over. He also tends to kill any lesser villains who might be threatening Tenma or Nina.
- In Naruto, Sasuke played this role in killing Danzo, as there was no way for the good guys to get rid of him without a huge political mess because he was their acting leader at the time. His action enables Tsunade to resume leadership once she awakens from her coma without any complications such as a power struggle.
- At the very end of Pluto, Brau-1589, the first robot to kill a human being and a Hannibal Lector Expy who spent most of the manga giving BreakingSpeeches to his visitors in prison, breaks free and kills The Man Behind the Man/Big Bad.
- In one episode of the Pokémon anime, the heroes arrive at a festival dedicated to the Pokemon Wobbuffet, and several party-crashers come and start destroying things. The festival people explain that since Wobbuffet can't hurt the enemy except by reflecting attacks, in honor of that they will not attack the party crashers. Ash & co know the guys must be stopped, but are unwilling to break the rules of the festival. Team Rocket, on the other hand, have no such qualms. Ass kicking ensues.
- Discussed, but subverted in Rave Master. After defeating Hardner and learning about his sad past the heroes and their allies of the week are wondering what to do with him when Lucia comes out of nowhere and stabs him in the back, claiming they should be grateful that he solved the problem for them. Due to quick action, Hardner is instead saved and becomes the only Rave Master villain not to suffer from Redemption Equals Death.
- This is very common in Magical Girl series when it comes to the human-like lieutenants of the main villain. An example most western fans would be aware of is the big bads of Sailor Moon kill off most of their own subordinates who fail them which keep Sailor Moon and company from having to get their hands dirty. This is not the case of the Darker and Edgier manga however where they regularly kill their adversaries.
- Shiva and Agora from Saint Seiya invoke the trope when they throw little Helen inside an active volcano. They even say that it's the best, since they had killed her grandfather and would've died anyway; in their words, after being offered as a 'sacrifice' of sorts, Helen's "pure and gentle" soul will become a benevolent spirit. Ikki obviously refuses to take this explanation and says they just went in full puppykicking mode. And uncommonly for this trope, Helen survives.
- In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, at the end of the Koryo arc, Syaoran talks Chunyan out of killing the ryanban, but he is conveniently taken care of by his own previously mind-controlled servant.
- The first Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD story in the Silver Age ended with the fleeing leader of HYDRA being killed by his own men when they fail to recognize him out of his identity-concealing uniform. Curiously, both Fury's World War II stories in the concurrent Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandoes comic and later SHIELD stories depicted Fury or his agents killing bad guys in combat.
- In the 1947 Batman story that introduces Joe Chill, the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents, Batman confronts Chill and, in a fit of anger, reveals his Secret Identity to him. Since this was back when recurring villains didn't get to learn such secrets, but Batman doesn't kill, Chill is instead killed by his own enraged men after he tells them he is responsible for creating Batman... and, naturally, dies before he can say just who's behind the mask.
- In Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, Joe Chill would be killed off by psycho vigilante The Reaper just as Batman is struggling with the decision to kill him himself or not.
- Happens in Deadpool. A man who had been abusing Wade's friend is cornered by him, but unfortunately, she had earlier made him promise not to kill him. He leaves. Cue Taskmaster, who happily proclaims that HE didn't promise her squat. Cue Gory Discretion Shot.
- At the end of Infinite Crisis, Alexander Luthor has managed to escape the Final Battle and is planning to start over. Unfortunately, he forgot that he'd pissed off everyone's favorite homicidal clown. Not content with the possibility that Luthor might return, the writers have Mister J burn him with acid, electrocute him and shoot him in the head.
- The remnants of The Black Glove that tried to utterly destroy Batman (and utterly failed) in Batman R.I.P. could have caused problems in the future. It's probably for the best that Joker as Oberon Sexton killed them all. Later on, the same thing happens to Simon Hurt.
- Similarly, when Batman finally goes after the leadership of the Court of Owls, he finds that they've all already been killed by Lincoln March.
- In a late 'Sonic the Hedgehog'' comic, Shadow confronts Eggman and outright states he's going to kill him. Eggman tries to play the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule. He turns out to be Wrong Genre Savvy, as Shadow points out; "Sonic holds such beliefs. But then, he's a hero... I'm not."
- Wayne Shelton exploits this trope: the Big Bad is killed by another villain. Shelton confesses that he hoped him to do this. And call this a bargain with his own conscience.
- Depending on if you see him as a hero, anti-hero or an anti-villain, most everything John Constantine does could be seen as this: he certainly does what needs to be done when Swampy and others he interacts with hesitate to.
- In an early Thunderbolts story (#14), the Thunderbolts have to kill an alien leader in order to get out of the dimension they're stuck in. Even though he understands the necessity of it, Abe (MACH-I) can't bring himself to, and Moonstone has to instead.
- In the X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, the X-Men and their erstwhile ally Magneto have captured a few of the enemy "Purifiers." The heroes are desperate for information about the Big Bad's plans, but the Purifier they question refuses to talk. Magneto, who at this point has yet to enter the Heel–Face Revolving Door, does...something...to the man to force him to answer.
- Something comparable happens in Uncanny X-Men #269. Here Rogue and the personality she absorbed from Ms. Marvel come out of the Siege Perilous as two separate persons; unfortunately there is only life force for one of them to survive, and therefore the Ms. Marvel revenant (a separate being from Carol Danvers, who was then in outer space as Binary) tries to kill Rogue. Rogue manages to defeat her, but can't bring herself to kill her even to survive, and so "Ms. Marvel" turns the tables again. She is about to kill Rogue when Magneto intervenes and kills the Ms. Marvel revenant. This could possibly be interpreted as Magneto being a Combat Pragmatist, but the subsequent story (#274-275) shows him starting on the road to becoming a villain again.
- Wolverine considers himself damned already because of his past, so he's willing to cross lines actual heroes shouldn't. He does not want anyone else, especially kids, following his example.
- Similarly, in Transformers More Than Meets the Eye Whirl believes he's already a monster, and knows that sometimes to keep people safe there are difficult decisions in which there is no winner. He is willing to make those choices so that good people aren't forced to do bad things.
- Happens a lot in Jonathan Hickman's Avengers. With the Incursions threatening all existence, the Illuminati reform to try and find a way to stop them. However, their first option doesn't work, and their next option they consider far too horrific to actually do it. So Namor reforms the Cabal, who for eight months handle the Incursions themselves, albeit with wholesale slaughter of other universes thrown in for good measure. Elsewhere, Doctor Doom sets about analysis the Incursions, and learns far more about their mechanisms than the Illuminati ever did.
- Namor has a history of this. During the Emperor Doom graphic novel, he was the one who ultimately stopped Doctor Doom's mind control machine by killing the Purple Man.
- In Secret Six, someone once put out a hit on the Six, resulting in Scandal's beloved girlfriend Knockout being critically injured, and Scandal tracked down the would-be assassin and brought her back to their base. However, having tied the woman to a chair, she was unable to bring herself to finish her off. Her teammate Deadshot stepped in and shot the woman himself, sparing Scandal the trouble.
- In the final issue of Rat-Man, the title character struggles with the idea of killing Topin, even after his former apprentice nearly destroyed the world, kidnapped his daughter and was revealed to have influenced him into not contacting her or her mother. Before Rat-Man can steel himself and do the deed, Valker stomps on Topin's head.
- Valker was rescued from the Shadow specifically for this trope: being a a sociopathic villain who just happened to have a reason to side with the heroes, namely remembering that Rat-Man is his son, he's more than willing to murder any of the Shadow's minions, and, as his body count of superheroes can attest, extremely capable at it.
- In the Punisher / Daredevil crossover Seventh Circle, Murdoch arranges for the guilty-as-hell Antonov to be put on trial in Texas, as there's no way they can get an impartial jury in New York. Frank (who doesn't know they're the same person) has a different theory: Murdoch is setting up the trial in Texas as they still use the death penalty, ensuring Antonov dies legally rather than a sniper's bullet (Frank's plan). Several people die because they can't agree on the ethics of the whole thing.
- The Lion King Adventures features two examples:
- In Friends to the End, Hago kills Scar whilst his back is turned.
- In The Interceptor's Challenge, the Interceptor rips Shocker's head off, before burying him underneath the ground for all eternity.
- Queen of All Oni: So far, all of the villains killed off have met their ends at the hands of Jade or her minions.
- In The End of Ends, Dr. Beljar makes it really easy for the Titans to not kill Beast Boy, since he takes over control of the Dark Prognosticus, and it’s required that whoever controls the Prognosticus must die in order to close the void. This arguably ends up being a moot point, though, when Beast Boy dies anyway from injuries sustained in the battle.
- In Perfection Is Overrated, the First District is dealt with in a similar manner to canon, but this time by The Usurper-possessed Obsidian Lord and his minions.
- A bizarre example happens in The Prayer Warriors. After Dumbledore is killed, the heroes need to burn his body, and they apparently do not have any other means to set a fire, so they have Harry Potter, their (recently Back from the Dead) enemy, burn it with fire magic, because he's going to hell anyway.
- In the RWBY Fanfic Those Silver Eyes, Summer Rose refuses to kill Barbary, even though he's blatantly threatening to spark a second Faunus War to Kill All Humans. Even after he tries to kill her after she spared his life, she refuses to finish the job. Fortunately, he runs afoul of a pack of Ursa Majors, who have no such qualms.
- This is pretty standard procedure for Ulquiorra in A Hollow in Equestria when something needs to be done that the ponies can't do themselves.
- In Webwork, an enraged Tohru almost crosses the line by killing the new Squid Khan General Simon Leston. Before he can, however, Jade swoops in and handles it for him.
Films — Animated
- Simba from The Lion King is too moral to give Scar the killing blow. However, the hyenas who Scar tried to blame for everything when things started looking bad... they have no such morals. And they haven't eaten in a while...
- Similarly in The Princess and the Frog, the Friends on the Other Side pull this off after Tiana breaks Dr. Facilier's talisman, making it impossible for him to pay off his spiritual debt. They take him to the Other Side.
- In Ice Age: Continental Drift, Captain Gutt is implicitly devoured by the sirens.
Films — Live-Action
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
- The Chronicles of Riddick saga is based on taking this trope and making a franchise out of it.
- The climax scene of Let the Right One In goes...this way, kind of. As the kid's about to be drowned, the Eli shows up and saves the day. But since she's a vampire, she kills three people doing so.
- In Red Sun, the villains are about to kill the heroes, only to be interrupted by an attack by murderous Comanches.
- The Dark Knight Trilogy:
The Joker: I don't want Mr. Reese spoiling everything, but why should I have all the fun? Let's give someone else a chance. If Coleman Reese isn't dead in sixty minutes then I blow up a hospital.
- The Joker did this in his own twisted way in The Dark Knight, when a Wayne Enterprises accountant discovered Bruce's big secret and was about to reveal it to the world on live television (because the Joker had threatened a massive killing spree if Batman didn't reveal his identity). But leave it to the Joker to take something that would have been a favor to Batman, and to twist it to his own ends:
- Straight example in The Dark Knight Rises: Batman's one rule keeps him from killing Bane. But Catwoman has no such restriction.
- Subverted in Batman Begins: Bruce is about to assassinate Joe Chill when the mob assassinates him instead for becoming an informant. This is when Bruce realizes that crime has become so pervasive, killing one person won't resolve anything.
- X-Men Film Series:
- Chris Pine's character in Carriers where everyone is a Crazy Survivalist shoots the dog many times in order to spare his more innocent brother from doing it himself. It rubs off on his brother though, who later finally gets his hands dirty by killing Pine when he is infected.
- Salim from Slumdog Millionaire spends most of the movie playing The Caretaker to Jamal, shooting and kicking the dog alternately allowing them both to survive, but allowing Jamal to remain relatively untarnished.
- In Bad Lieutenant Port Of Call New Orleans, the title character is being pursued by gangsters who want him to pay $50,000 for roughing up the son of a local real estate mogul. Rather than paying, he lures them to a place where he's meeting a drug kingpin that he's in business with. When the gangsters try to steal the kingpin's product in payment for what the protagonist owes, the kingpin and his men kill them all.
- In Child 44, Leo finally catches up to the serial killer who's been gruesomely murdering children... and he proves to have Not So Different back-story to Leo himself, as well as wracked by guilt about his horrific crimes, which he claims not to be able to control. As Leo hesitates over whether to shoot him as he intended to, Vasili comes along and does it for him.
- The Lord of the Rings:
- In the extended cut of Return of the King, what to do with Saruman is a bit of a problem for Théoden and the Fellowship. He resists coming quietly to be questioned until Grima backstabs him after being kicked around one too many times.
- The sudden presence of Gollum at Mount Doom means that Sam doesn't have to fight or even kill Frodo to complete the quest and destroy the Ring after Frodo succumbs to the Ring's temptation and refuses to destroy it himself, since someone is already handling the fight for him.
- In Insurgent, Tori, one of Tris' friends, kills Jeanine near the end of the novel to avenge her brother. In its film adaptation, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, it's instead Evelyn who does the job, likely to foreshadow the fact that she is much crueler than she appears to be.
- In The Big Heat, Debby kills Mrs. Duncan and brings down the titular big heat on the mob — sparing the Technical Pacifist hero to do it.
- In The Handmaiden, Kouzuki brings Fujiwara back to his estate after being tipped by Hideko as to his location, and then Fujiwara kills himself and Kouzuki. Sook-hee and Hideko are able to escape without needing to kill either of them directly.
- Devil In A Blue Dress: Easy Rawlins discovers that a friend was involved in a woman's murder. He leaves the man to be guarded by his Psycho Sidekick Mouse while he goes to save the Damsel in Distress. When he comes back, his friend has been strangled by Mouse. When Easy gets upset, Mouse pointedly asks, "If you didn't want him dead, Easy; why did you leave him with me?"
- Discussed but ultimately averted in Best Seller, in which a psychopathic Professional Killer teams up with a detective turned novelist to write his story about his work for a Corrupt Corporate Executive. The novelist decides to publicly expose the executive instead of shooting him, causing the killer to quip that he ruined a perfect ending for the book.
- In the backstory of A Brother's Price, the princesses were married to Keifer Porter, an abusive rapist who was prone to temper tantrums. The elder princesses were madly in love with him because he was so pretty, and as it was the eldest sisters decision to divorce him, the younger sisters' only option to get rid of him would have been murder. Keifer conveniently dies in an attempt on the princesses' life, which sadly also claims the lives of many innocent people, among them half of the princesses. The dead sisters are mourned, Keifer is not.
- In Dragon Bones a minor villain is killed by his boss because he didn't do a good enough job. Although the heroes are horrified at the cruel manner of execution, it is very convenient for them, as the man in question betrayed his heroic older brother in order to become the one in charge of their estate. His brother loved him very much, and it would have been a real problem to determine what to do with him, had the villain not solved the problem for them.
- The Probability Broach: It would be wrong to attack the Hamiltonians before they import a nuclear weapon, so they're killed off by a previously mentioned side effect of closing a broach when something is halfway through it.
- When the Azn Bad Boys begin a bombing spree in Worm, supervillains of the town team up to attack the ABB's bases in order to remove that chaotic element from the table — and end up doing a lot more visible damage to the organization than the local superhero teams.
- It's growing into a major theme, stretching from taking down the ABB, to going toe-to-toe with several major threats, to Skitter keeping the peace in her territory safer than it had been for years. People noticed, too. They noticed enough to shield her from an arresting band of "heroes".
- The one trope that best summarizes the theme of the story. The Biggest, Damnedest Villains of all, Cauldron, exist for the purpose of saving as much of humanity as possible from an inevitable catastrophe, and even the Endbringers pitch in to help when that catastrophe arrives.
- The Culture novel Matter has a Sealed Evil in a Can being released and in typical Banks fashion killing most of the main cast. While this is nearly all of the heroes, it also includes the Evil Chancellor who had usurped a throne and his minions. Thus, the Culture are able to set-up the surviving hero as the future prime minister, and unlike in other novels in the series, didn't actually have to act morally ambiguously and get rid of corrupt leaders themselves.
- In general in Culture novels, Special Circumstances plays this role for the rest of the Culture (and their non-Culture Citizen agents play this role to the rest of the organization). Use of Weapons contains a particularly clear example of this with the amoral/immoral protagonist and his anti-hero handlers taking on a morally ambiguous mission that will help promote freedom and tolerance in general for a particular region, but cost a lot of innocent and not-so-innocent lives in the meantime.
- In Night Watch, Vimes frees prisoners from the Cable Street watch house. In the process, he has to subdue a torturer, who he leaves tied to a chair and forgets about until someone reminds him. Since he gets reminded after he started burning the place down, he has to run back in, all the while trying to decide whether to kill the mook, cut him free, or cut just enough rope that he can maybe escape before he burns to death. Luckily, Captain Swing shows up and kills the mook before Vimes has to make his choice.
- Vetinari: In his own words “history needs its butchers as well as its shepherds” or, in plainer language “Magnificent Bastards do the dirty work.” Note Swing also used the phrase.
- "Stoneface" Vimes used more or less the same phrase, and executes the last king of Ankh in person, without any form of trial. To be fair, the king deserved it, and some of the comments about the event indicate that he tried for a trial, but there wasn't anyone willing to be judge.
- Going Postal also had this, in a way. It turns out that the backlog of unsent letters at the Post Office are sentient and want to be delivered, and are powerful enough to cause telepathic hallucinations. Not only is this very dangerous given the number of Vetinari's men that got killed falling off of ledges that they couldn't see, it is flatly impossible to deliver some of them since they come from another universe's Post Office, and could cause a lot of upheaval if they accidentally got out. Conveniently, Reacher Gilt's Dragon is an arsonist and burns the office down, letters and all, relieving Moist of the burden.
- In Bernard Cornwell's book Agincourt, the main character, Nick Hook, has made a vow to a priest not to kill the murderous rapists who his family has been in a blood feud with for generations. His arch-enemy, father-in-law, and prisoner (it's complicated) made no such promise.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Pensieve reveals to Harry that Snape felt he was subjected to this when he was told to kill Dumbledore so that Draco wouldn't have to cross the point of no return.
- Happens in the second Daughter of the Lioness book by Tamora Pierce. Aly's god-ordered objective is to put one of two sisters on the throne of the Copper Isles as part of a revolution. Among the people they will be usurping are the five-year-old king and the girls' own three-year-old half-brother, whom Aly (and a number of the other Rebel Leaders) has personally cared for. Aly considered binding them with magical oaths to not try and retake the throne and exiling them with a bodyguard, but everyone knew that wasn't a perfect solution and the boys could still be figureheads or martyrs for a counterrevolution. Then Aly mentioned the problem to said god, he got impatient over such an "insignificant" problem, and whispered in the regents' ears until they decided to kill the boys themselves so they could just have the throne for themselves.
- A Song of Ice and Fire This is how Lannisters endeared themselves to Robert Baratheon. Robert's Rebellion was won except for the Targaryens' last holdout, King's Landing. Tywin Lannister, who had stayed out of the fight until it was all but decided, tricked the Targaryens into letting his army inside their city and then sacked it. Tywin's son Jaime Lannister instigated a Bodyguard Betrayal on King Aerys, while Tywin's bannermen assassinated the last of the Targaryen line still in the city. This deflected a lot of blame for the atrocities at King's Landing onto the Lannisters, sparing Robert's reputation and conscience. Tyrion would question the wisdom of this, citing that it made the entire realm despise them when they could have let Robert take the blame. Tywin however felt that since they entered the war that late, they had to do it to prove their allegiance.
We had come late to Robert's cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty. When I laid those bodies before the throne no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever. And Robert's relief was palpable. As stupid as he was even he knew Rhaegar's children had to die if his throne was ever to be secure. Yet he saw himself as a hero, and heroes do not kill children.
- In The Last Battle, Tash (i.e. Satan) gets rid of some of the bad guys - since they inadvertently summoned him for real, thinking he didn't exist.
- In the Dale Brown novel Executive Intent, the Chinese assault on and takeover of Mogadishu is likened to this In-Universe by one character, noting how China had solved the problem (Somali pirates, to be exact) most of the world probably secretly wanted to deal with but could not bring themselves to handle.
- Wormtongue killing Saruman near the end of The Lord of the Rings.
- A weird meta example occurs in the first Warrior Cats Myth Arc. Firestar had to defeat Tigerstar, but being the classical Heroic Archetype he needed to beat Tigerstar with moral superiority. Unfortunately, Tigerstar's plan was actually beneficial to the forest, with it's only problem being that someone crazy and evil was designing it. The problem was resolved in the last book of the arc The Darkest Hour, when Tigerstar's ally Scourge betrays him and becomes the Big Bad, allowing Firestar to have an opponent he could kill by having greater morals.
- The Hunger Games are about a competition where 24 children have to kill each other until only one is left standing. Luckily for the main character, a group of kids who went into the game by choice rather than by force are painted in a very negative light, and commit almost all of the unprovoked killings.
- The Deverry Cycle has little Olaen. When the Deverrian civil war ends, five-year-old Olaen 'rules' the losing side. The choices to prevent future challenge are death, castration, or blinding, the later two involving turning him over to the priesthood to raise. Oggyn poisons the boy with 'Dwarven Salts'.note
- Ruahkini in The Quest of the Unaligned is an incredibly rude and borderline crazy Rich Bitch who is perpetually insulting Laeshana and patronizing Alaric, as well as being partially responsible for the destructive imbalance in Caederan's magic. Unfortuantely, he's also the royal chancellor, so there's no conceivable way for the heroes to get rid of him. Luckily, his Ax-Crazy hoshek brother Gaithim shows up and kills him.
- In The Dresden Files, this is why the Knights of the Cross sometimes fight alongside Harry Dresden. He's not evil, but he's willing to Shoot the Dog and do morally questionable things if it averts a greater evil- freedom the Knights, who are truly good, loving people- do not have.
- In the first book of James S. Corey's The Expanse series, "Leviathan Wakes", Outland-esque rent-a-cop Joe Miller is present when the heroes make their final move on the base of the genius sociopath-staffed corporation responsible for setting loose a bio-modifying hyper-advanced fractally programmed engineered virus on a space station filled with millions of people. When they capture the head researcher, the de facto Big Bad of the novel, and they mean to interrogate him, he goes into a very well-planned justification speech that actually has a lot of legitimate reasoning, and leaves the protagonists kind of doubting their own motives. Miller, recognizing that the man might actually walk, and already having been on a despair bender for the majority of the book, decides to do what no one else seems to have the initiative to, and promptly shoots the man in the head. Three times, no less.
- A chilling example in The Shawshank Redemption combined with Laser-Guided Karma: After Boggs and the Sisters beat Andy "within an inch of his life", Boggs returns cockily to his cell after his spending his time in solitary, whereupon Hadley and the other guards beat him nearly comatose...but the Sisters leave Andy alone after that.
- On more than one occasional Spenser has found himself forced into a position of murdering someone in cold blood but can't bring himself to do it. Hawk, on the other hand, has no such scruples and cheerfully does the deed himself.
Live Action TV
- In the second season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Cal kills Jiaying so that Skye doesn't have to.
- An interesting use occurs in Angel when the main character leaves most of the key employees of Wolfram and Hart in a cellar with Drusilla and Darla, whom the lawyers had been helping (mainly just to piss Angel off and get under his skin), knowing full well that the two will kill most or all of them. Unusually, this is played as Angel becoming evil, or at least turning into an Unscrupulous Hero even though it's technically villains doing the dirty work.
- In the second season finale of Arrow, Brother Blood finds out Oliver Queen is The Arrow, and their last conversation implies that he's very likely to blackmail Oliver with this knowledge. Then suddenly, Ravager shows up for a You Have Failed Me.
- Battlestar Galactica: it's obvious midway through "Pegasus" that Admiral Cain is a dangerous psychopath who needs to be dealt with. Adama is too moral to go through with an assassination. Fortunately, Baltar has let a Cylon with a grudge against Cain loose.
- Ironically just after Cain proved that she wasn't completely insane yet, having in turn just refused to assassinate Adama.
- In one episode, Roslyn has Baltar in the brig and threatens to throw him out an airlock if he won't tell her what she wants. Baltar says that she wouldn't go through with it, so she brings in Col. Tigh. Even that was a bluff, but Tigh would have done it.
- In the final story arc of Breaking Bad, Walter is captured and arrested by his brother-in-law, who he refuses to kill because he's family. But then unexpectedly Jack Welker and his men show up and kill Hank, allowing Walter to go free, although he's not too happy about it.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- "Wild at Heart": We don't kill werewolves, because they're human most of the time, but Oz's wolf side is amoral and thus free to kill Veruca.
- In "The Zeppo", Xander defeats his zombie Villain of the Week with a Breaking Speech, but lets him go. Moments after the departing baddie swears vengeance, he, too, is eaten by feral-werewolf-Oz.
- Buffy can't kill the Anointed One, partly because she's prophecied not to but mostly because he's a kid. Luckily, Spike does it for her.
- Borderline case because he's not a bad guy, though he has apparently had his moments : Giles kills Glory while she is in her human form because Buffy won't kill a human being.
- This is Michael Weston's modus operandi in Burn Notice. Michael mostly abides by Thou Shalt Not Kill, in part due to guilt over a past that includes having killed innocent people to get his target, but despite this many a Villain of the Week has wound up dying in incredibly horrible ways at the hands of their boss or criminal rivals due to Michael's actions. Seldom (if ever) has Michael or any other member of Team Weston batted an eye at this happening or expressed any moral qualms at indirectly causing the death of their target. As an one example Sam goaded three criminals into a Mexican Standoff inside a house, then stood outside the house and fired his gun into the ground so that the three would all pull the trigger at once and kill each other. Yipes.
- Note that none of the main characters ever expresses a moral objection to killing. Most of the early episodes have an obligatory scene where Fiona offers to murder the bad guys and Michael explains why that would cause more problems than it solves. They're all okay with bad guys being killed, it's just easier to accept them as the heroes if they don't to it themselves.
- It has more to do with pragmatism than anything else. Dead bodies attract police. If they let the bad guys kill each other, any investigation by the police will stop there.
- In the first episode of Cimarron Strip, Marshal Crown is saved from death by two-bit alcoholic Screamer, who shoots the villain Ace Coffin from behind, even though he won't get a $10,000 prize for it. Not that Crown himself isn't above killing, even in self defense.
- Da Ren Wu is a Chinese TV series based on a classic kung-fu novel set in medieval China. The heroes, as usual in wuxia literature, are staunch Confucianists: morally opposed to unwarranted violence and who don't approve of killing under any circumstances. At one point, Sisi, the main heroine, is tricked by some crooks who steal everything she owns and give her to a Masqueraded School for whores. The boss and his cronies take great pleasure in tormenting defenseless girls, and kill those who don't respond well to the training. Three characters come to Sisi's rescue, one after another: 1) Yang Fan is the first. He can't find Sisi in the School (the boss locked her in a hidden room), so he leaves convinced he made a mistake. 2) Qin Ge, a famous kung-fu master, is the second. He can't find Sisi either. He suspects something, but can't prove anything. He leaves as well. 3) The hunchback is the third. He's a major bad guy. He needs Sisi for some nefarious plan. He waits till night, gets into the School, finds Sisi and takes her with him. He pummels the cronies, and when the crossdressing boss tries to stop him: the hunchback pulls a Fist of the North Star on him. After leaving the School with Sisi, the hunchback tracks the crooks who had tricked her. He finds them, makes them give back the stolen stuff and beg for mercy on their knees...and then kills them nevertheless, just because! They say the author was very surprised when the hunchback's popularity with the audience skyrocketed after this story arc.
- Dexter, end of season two. Sgt Doakes can prove that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher, so Dexter locks him up in a lonely cabin until he can decide what to do. Dexter won't kill Doakes because he's a good guy. Lila, who is as psychopathic as Dexter but with no such code, finds the cabin and blows it up.
- In a way, this trope is the entire premise of Dexter... Dexter is the Big Damn Villain, played straight whenever he interrupts a murder to abduct his target.
- In the Doctor Who special The Five Doctors, the Master has been captured by the Cybermen and is initially being forced to do their bidding. He ends up turning the tables and wiping the whole lot of them out by skipping through a trap he's figured out the solution to, but conveniently forgets to tell his captors about.
- Twenty-six years later, in "The End of Time," this same Master (well, different actor/regeneration) forces Rassilon back behind the time lock on the Time War, and won't let him take the Doctor with him, either.
- Subverted in "The Pandorica Opens." A good number of the Doctor's foes all band together to save the universe...from the Doctor, who they've been tricked into believing will destroy it, when in fact he's the only one who can stop the explosion that will destroy the universe.
- In "Last of the Time Lords," after the Master has spent a blissful year (for him) freely murdering Earth's population and doing horrible things to the Doctor's friends, when he is finally defeated, despite the fact that Jack and Martha are both perfectly willing to see him dead, the Doctor can't bring himself to kill him because he's the only other Time Lord left alive (maybe). Luckily, the Master's wife, Lucy, shoots him before the Doctor can do anything Subverted, however, because Lucy is beginning her Heel–Face Turn by this point.
- Elementary: Elana March orders an attempt on Joan from prison, and there doesn't seem to be much the police can do to stop her - even from solitary confinement, she sends threatening letters that she'll succeed next time. Jamie Moriarty, however, won't have a lesser villain interfere with her Worthy Opponent, and has Elana killed.
- Farscape: In the episode "Prayer", it's ambiguous whether or not John knew Scorpius was going to kill the merged Chiana-Aeryn when he brought him along to the alternate universe, but it's what had to be done. See page quote.
- In an earlier episode, Moya is in orbit around a planet with notoriously sexist laws, and accepts a visit from a mechanic- accompanied by an armed security guard. Things go well, up until Chiana discovers that the mechanic is actually a woman, rebelling against the government by doing a Sweet Polly Oliver; just when it looks like they're becoming friends, the security guard shows up and, infuriated that he's had a woman under his nose all this time, holds both of them at gunpoint. Given that there's almost nobody else aboard the ship at the time, it looks as though the two of them are going to die...right up until Scorpius calmly drifts past and snap the man's neck. All the more impactful because Scorpius had been having a friendly chat with the guard before then.
- In an episode of The Flash (1990) where a baddie had discovered his Secret Identity and blackmailed him (with even a Theyd Cut You Up threat). He ended up killed by other baddies, with a Car Starter Bomb.
- In The Flash (2014), Dr. Harrison Wells (AKA the Reverse-Flash) is determined to keep Barry's secret safe at all costs, including getting rid those who would exploit him for his abilities. To this extent, he kills Simon Stagg and delivers General Eiling to Grodd.
- Game of Thrones: The Hound's massive, Ax-Crazy brother Ser Gregor attacks Ser Loras after losing a joust to him. Sandor jumps in and blocks the blow because he hates his brother, not because he cares about Ser Loras. He is impressed with Loras for taking his asshole brother down a peg, and is unwilling to allow the young knight to be murdered for it.
Sandor: And this is all your idea? Seems every bad idea has some Lannister cunt behind it.Tyrion: And some Clegane cunt to help them see it through.
- Gotham, being a Batman origin story, can't allow young Bruce Wayne to take a life. Young Selina Kyle, on the other hand, is not so restricted.
- Later in the series, Bruce has found the identity of the man who killed his parents, and he needs Alfred's help to track him down. In return, Alfred demands that he be the one to kill the guy, instead of Bruce. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out that way... Alfred is hospitalized and Bruce finds the killer on his own. He intends to kill him, and the man even begs him to, but he can't bring himself to do it, so the killer eats the gun after Bruce leaves the room.
- The series does this ALL THE TIME considering how many villains die from the hand of other villains-often for all the wrong reasons. The Penguin does this most often thanks to his tenuous, but not quite antagonistic so far, relationship with Jim, compared with the other criminals.
- In Chris Carter's short-lived Harsh Realm the Three Percenters are a population of virtual zombies caused by a glitch in the program. They can convert just about anyone playing the game, and nearly do so to Hobbes and Pinocchio. Mel Waters sees through them immediately and he's the one who eliminates the threat.
- In the third season of Heroes, a depowered Peter heads off with the Haitian to kill his father Arthur Petrelli and destroy the Formula. Before Peter shoot him, Sylar shows up, complete with recently stolen lie detection power, to ask Arthur if he's really a Petrelli. Naturally, Arthur lies, thus causing Sylar to allow the bullet he had grabbed in thin air to kill Arthur stone dead permanently. Sylar actually lampshades the fact that he prevents Peter from becoming a murderer. So actually he wasn't here to do the job, just to keep Peter from having remorse.
- For most Kamen Rider shows, the monsters are often monsters taking the guises of humans. Double and Fourze, however, do the opposite: humans who take the guise of monsters. While taking them out is a breeze (all that's needed is to break their Transformation Trinket and they'll no longer be able to transform), taking out the higher-ranked members, some of which are Anti Villains, might be a hassle, especially with Double being a detective who helps the police nab criminals and Fourze being the All-Loving Hero. Leave it to the resident bad guys or self-dooming inflictions to do those villains in. Though Double and Fourze have their share of defeating the higher-ups, rarely killing them in the process (or putting one in a coma for one case).
- Kamen Rider Ryuki has a There Can Be Only One approach and the protagonist is unwilling to kill anyone. Leave it to his badass partner to do the work for him. Though even he has hesitations to kill. Cue the Rider who's job prior to being a Rider was nothing BUT killing.
- In Kamen Rider Wizard, the main hero is all about being the Hope Bringer. Though the Big Bad's hope is to revive his daughter. Well, noble goal, right? Well, his means involve sacrificing tons of people and convert them into monsters so as to power up a spell to revive her. What's a Hope Bringer like Haruto to do in a situation like that, especially since he was going to do this all over again? Cue The Dragon to come and run the Big Bad through with his own sword. Although, because this action might cause people to think this Dragon is a hero, he kills the Big Bad's daughter next.
- In Kamen Rider Gaim, this was done not so much as to spare the hero from killing off someone, but to make it so the person doing the dirty work in question crosses the line in doing so and punctuate himself as the local Hate Sink. Want context? Well, Kouta is hesitant to fight a human that he saw transform into an Inves before his eyes and is dead set on trying to have him be human again. He gets to his breaking point and at that time, Sigurd arrives, easily kills the human, then rubs it in Kouta's face by claiming it as a heroic feat. A similar thing happens late in the series, when Mad Scientist Ryoma has just vivisected Mai in his quest for the power that she now holds, killing her in the process and also reducing another villain to tears in the process. Kouta might be too nice to kill him (and had been in a bad situation of nearly dying), but Kaito isn't; brutally beating Ryoma and driving him to suicide cemented himself as the series' final antagonist.
- Gaim's finale subverts this as while Kouta had to kill Kaito or let him destroy the world so he could remake in in his image.
- Kamen Rider Drive pulls this off a bit differently. Throughout the series, the Roidmudes are presented as cruel and vicious towards the human race, to which the heroes must stop them. However, over time, Roidmudes who are actually good towards humans get slowly revealed. One such example is a Roidmude who befriends the cast and another is a Roidmude commander who considers every other Roidmude to be his friend. To spare the dilemma of killing off the former Roidmude, one of the other commanders is revealed to be a genocidal yandere who murders said Roidmude to quell the number of Roidmudes not acting according to their programming. However, eventually even that commander is revealed to be an Anti-Villain. The solution? Bring in their inventor, who proves to be Eviler Than Thou. The moment he is revealed to be the Big Bad, every Roidmude death afterwards was either caused (in)directly by him or if it's by the hero's hands, have said Roidmude be Brainwashed and Crazy.
- Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Played straight and enforced as no matter how much the events had hardened Emu he would never stop trying to save the villains. So obviously someone or something had to come in and fix it. The first Hate Sink, Kuroto Dan was killed by Parado and second Hate Sink, Masamune Dan, killed himself twice just to screw everyone over. Parado himself, on the hand, had been redeemed by Emu.
- In the L.A. Law episode "Beauty and Obese," Grace Van Owen has just joined a two-man law firm which is, unbeknownst to her, championed by a mobster named Frank Vincent. Vincent asks her to represent his nephew, who's charged with murder. Grace declines. Vincent takes her to lunch and makes it clear he's not politely asking anymore, and that people who go against his wishes sometimes get hurt. Grace still refuses and raises Vincent's ire; at that point a gunman disguised as a waiter walks up and puts a bullet in Vincent's head. Later on in the series, Grace tells Frank Kittredge about this incident, saying, "I was relieved. Got him out of my life. Once these people have you, they don't let go."
- Inverted in Legends of Tomorrow: When Rip Hunter thinks that they may need to kill their own teammate Martin Stein to keep the secret of the Firestorm matrix from falling into the hands of Vandal Savage, he turns to Sara Lance, the White Canary, rather than to hardened criminal Leonard Snart, Captain Cold. Lance, it is true, is a trained assassin, but she is not evil, and has never been one of the bad guys. Snart was a villain on The Flash (2014) before being recruited by Hunter, and remains a cold-blooded criminal even in Hunter's service. Snart even calls Lance out on this, pointing out that in all the jobs he pulled, no matter how bad things got, he never killed one of his own accomplices. Lance responds that if killing Stein is the only way to stop Savage and save the world, then she will do what she has to do.
- This is one of the main ideas of Leverage. Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.
- When Nate goes for revenge on the two men behind his father's murder, Elliot warns him that straight up murder carries a much higher moral cost than their usual method of destroying a bad guy's life. In the end, Nate plays the two against each other (getting each of them to point out why they should want the other dead) then leaves them to fight over a gun with a single bullet. They both fall off the nearby cliff while fighting over the weapon.
- Many episodes of Mission: Impossible involved manipulating characters associated with the target into killing them.
- In Series/NCIS Season 3 episode "Iced", the team discovers a Marine was killed as part of a hood's plot to take over a gang, but they do not have enough proof to go to court. So Gibbs keeps the hood under interrogation, while the rest of the gang is shown the proof that they have been manipulated by the hood, and then the latter is dropped off at his gang's hideout. The next morning, the hood's body is found in a dumpster, killed gang execution-style.
- Once Upon a Time:
Regina: She didn't, I did. That's what I'm here for.
- In third season, Peter Pan and his Lost Boys kill previous Big Bads Tamara and Greg, after they've become no longer necessary.
- In "Good Form", Regina mentions that she could tear out the lost boy's heart and use that to control him to deliver the message to Henry. Snow White freaks out, but Emma tells her to do it. Later she says something to this effect when Snow White says she doesn't want Emma to have to do those things.
- Person of Interest
- Reese attempts to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Simmons for killing Carter, despite his own life-threatening injuries. Finch and Shaw manage to catch him and talk him down (after his gun refuses to fire due to being clogged with his own blood), but Fusco tracks Simmons down, breaks his arms, and hands him over to the FBI. However, he never makes it to jail, as mob boss Elias brings in his own goon to strangle Simmons while he watches, because he liked Carter, too.
- By Season 5, the ethics of our heroes are starting to slip. When Elias uses a carbomb to blow up the Villain of the Week, he suggests that Finch brought him along just to invoke this trope. Finch doesn't contest the idea.
- Power Rangers in Space has this happen in the finale when Darkonda destroys Dark Specter with a planet-destroying missile, and Dark Specter returns the favor by destroying Darkonda with his last breath. All of this greatly simplifies the mission of the Rangers to simply having to stop Astronema and Ecliptor from taking over the world.
- This has happened tons of times in Smallville.
- Clark has to face people with dangerous superpowers, and while he can beat them readily enough, he can't very well run a super-jail or convince them to lead an honest life because, well, Kryptonite gives most people a god complex, and most krypto-freaks aren't stable/good to begin with. Having Clark kill or permanently disable them is far too squicky for a proto-Superman to do, so the preferred solution is to have them depowered or hoist by their own petard. The other solutions that pertain to this trope are to have them be killed by evil infighting among themselves, or having Lionel (and later Lex) deal with them.
- A big one in season nine. Both the Justice League and Zod have a bone to pick with Checkmate. Oliver and John get captured at different points, although they managed to escape. Chloe is also kidnapped and almost killed in an attempt to blackmail Clark into revealing more about their team. Zod, on the other hand? He comes over to visit and burns down their entire castle base with heat vision. Zod will not tolerate human nonsense. Kneel Before Zod.
- Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine often falls into this trope, since his morality is almost always teetering on the line between gray and black. Probably the best example is from "In The Pale Moonlight", where he lies, extorts, and murders at least six people (a criminal, a Romulan senator, and his four aides) to bring Romulus into the Dominion War on the Federation's side. He notes at the end that that's exactly why Sisko sought his help, because he was capable of doing the dirty work Sisko wasn't willing to do.
- Sisko himself pulls this gambit in order to capture the renegade Maquis operative Eddington, by using (and threatening to continue using) a biogenic weapon to make a Maquis colony uninhabitable. For anyone else in the Federation, this would be far too heinous of an action - but for Sisko, It's Personal.
- In an episode of Taxi, Elaine visits a trendy hair stylist(played by Ted Danson) and comes away with an atrocious hairdo. She, Alex and Louie pay the stylist a visit to demand an apology and he rebuffs them. Elaine considers dumping a bowlful of hair dye on the stylist's head but decides not to, declaring "I'm better than you." Before they leave, Louie(in a combination Crowning Moment of Awesome/Funny) casually dumps the hair dye over the stylist and says, "She might be better than you, (beat)...but I ain't!"
- Teen Wolf has both Peter and Deucalion kill the third season Big Bad.
- Gerard also killed the Kanima's master a season earlier.
- Torchwood: The trope gets played with. Captain Jack Harkness fills the role of the trope, despite not actually being villainous. Torture, murder, kidnapping, or any other action that would normally fall under this trope and require a villain to perform it gets performed by Captain Jack at the protest of the other characters.
- In the finale of The Wire, the police department needs to explain several apparent murders (which Jimmy McNulty, one of the series' protagonists) had faked at the scene(s) to look like the work of a serial killer that did not really exist). Rather than admitting that they were faked, the mayor wants to blame them on a mentally ill homeless person the police had recently picked up. McNulty objects to putting the blame on the mentally ill man; deputy of operations Bill Rawls (one of the series' antagonists), however, does so anyway, and it keeps McNulty from facing any legal consequences.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation. Averted in "Redemption". Chancellor Gowron offers Worf the chance to execute Toral, Puppet King of the Duras family who've done Worf so much harm. Worf refuses. So Gowron just orders Kurn to do the deed, but Worf stops this too, pointing out that Gowron has granted Toral's life to Worf, and he's chosen to spare it.
- At the climax of The Night Manager, the heroes are able to screw up Richard Roper's arms deal and get him arrested, but he smugly predicts that his connections will prevent any actual jail time. Then his very angry business partners show up and take him away from the police, clearly intending to kill him.
- The Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition book, Oriental Adventures, suggested that even if the players wanted to play samurai or other members of a noble caste in an Asia-themed game, the players would still probably want at least one dishonorable or lower-caste party member to do the dirty work - sometimes literal dirty work, such as searching enemy corpses.
- Pretty much the whole point of the Pact Primeval in the 3.5e+ D&D cosmology: good gods don't want their followers to become evil, but they don't want to punish them. What do they do? Leave the punishment up to Asmodeus. This, of course, backfires on them spectacularly. In Asmodeus's own words: "We have blackened ourselves so that you can remain golden."
- The whole sacred purpose of the Guardians of the Veil in Mage: The Awakening, along with other ways of keeping other Mages on the straight-and-narrow. They also believe this makes them ritually and spiritually unclean, and members vary between No Place for Me There and hoping the Hieromagus (who will, notably, 'not be a Guardian, as they will be pure and righteous) will redeem them for the good they've done through bad means.
- In Advance Wars Dual Strike, the Big Bad is defeated and at the player's mercy. But the machine he hooked himself up to is still draining the planet, and he needs to be killed. Von Bolt taunts Jake, asking if he can really shoot a defenseless old man. The player is offered a choice of whether to shoot him or not, and if you don't, Hawke shows up and does it for you. The odd thing about this is that either way, the shooter just destroys Von Bolt's machine itself.
- Reaver's job in Fable III is to do this. He stands in court to argue in favor of the evil option when making decisions as king. While these options are generally quite despicable and having an orphanage would be a fine and dandy in the long run, you could really do with the 1.25 million you'd make from opening a brothel right now to fight back the Eldritch Abomination that threatens to destroy Albion.
- Gaius from Fire Emblem Awakening is a thief and general scoundrel. As he explains to Badass Preacher Libra, he considers it his duty to do the army's dirty work so that The Good King Chrom doesn't have to.
- Likewise Sociopathic Hero Henry from the same game. Player Character Robin takes issue with killing unless it is in self-defense. Henry has no such reservations, and will do whatever it takes to end the war, even summoning an army of zombies that he has no idea how to control. If they overrun a few villages, oh well!
- In Iji, if you're taking the pacifist path, two of the bosses get backstabbed by their underlings; conveniently meaning you don't have to kill them. This was actually added in, since earlier versions meant a completely innocent run was impossible.
- In Fate/stay night, Ilya kills Shinji in Fate, saving Shirou from having to do it; Sakura does the same in Heaven's Feel. In Unlimited Blade Works, Shinji survives, but not before Gilgamesh puts him through an utterly horrific case of Break the Haughty, after which he seems to cease any villainous behavior. Also in Heaven's Feel, Sakura and Kotomine combined also kill off Zouken , who would probably have caused some moral quandaries since he's essentially defenseless on his own at that point even though his very existence is an abomination.
- In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Dark Samus kills the corrupted Hunters after you defeat them. Samus probably couldn't bring herself to Shoot the Dog, making Dark Samus quite convenient in a twisted, twisted way.
- And it may also double as You Have Outlived Your Usefulness.
- A borderline example between this and Villainous Rescue occurs in Super Robot Wars 3. Anavel Gato's claim to fame in his show of origin is launching a stolen nuke at a peace conference. He reenacts this scene in the game, but this time the "peace conference" is between two villainous factions. What makes this a borderline example is the fact that the heroes congratulate him on this and gladly accept his Heel–Face Turn application, suggesting that they may have done the same thing if they had a nuke lying around.
- Invoked by Anti-Hero Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite: After Elizabeth is tortured by Comstock's men, she insists that they find and kill Comstock rather than escaping the city as they had planned. Booker does not want her to become like him.
Booker: I'm not gonna let you kill him
(Elizabeth summons tornado)
Elizabeth: Really, Booker? What are you going to do to stop me?
Booker: Not a damn thing. Because I'm gonna do it for you.
- In Drakengard 2, it transpires that one of the pact knights that keeps the Goddess Seal intact is Ulrich, a party member and Nowe's Big Brother Mentor, and must be killed to break the seal. Despite wanting to destroy the seal, Nowe can't bring himself to do it. Fortunately, Caim happens to be in the area and is more than happy to oblige, even it means having to go through Nowe to do it. Especially if he has to go through Nowe to do it, really...
- Valkyria Chronicles is pretty devoted to this trope.
- Selvaria's going to crush the militia! What do we do? Have Faldio shoot Alicia and awaken her Valkyria powers so she doesn't have to accept responsibility for becoming one herself.
- You also have Georgios Geld in a side chapter. A notorious war criminal who tortured and killed Eleanor Varrot's lover, he is nonetheless released in an If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him moment. Naturally, someone this bad can't be allowed to get off scot-free, so he flees back to the Imperial headquarters... only to be court-martialed and executed by his own side! Also doubles as Even Evil Has Standards. It also sorta falls flat because Geld's superiors knew all about his war crimes, they just didn't care until they noticed a protagonist wasn't cool with it, apparently.
- General Damon is an asshole with no apparent positive qualities, and he spends the entire game sending Squad 7 out on suicide missions in order to keep his success record looking good. When Squad 7 finally manages to capture Selvaria alive, he immediately leaps in to take all the credit for it. Welkin and Alicia get upset at Damon for not being nice to her (apparently they've forgotten how she's been killing thousands of Gallians, some of which might be Squad 7 members depending on how you play) but he's the top brass, so they can't stop him, and are assigned to escort the Imperial soldiers away from the battleground at Selvaria's request. And then Selvaria fries the entire army with a Suicide Attack, so Damon gets his comeuppance, Varrot becomes the only authority Squad 7 answers to, Selvaria is no longer an obstacle, and the good guys don't get a single drop of blood on their hands.
- Maximillian's on the ropes and the land battleship is about to explode; it's too dangerous to approach and Welkin and Alicia can't capture him alive! How do we solve this? Have Faldio show up out of nowhere, grab Max, and pitch himself into the exploding inner workings of the machine, killing them both. Again, the villains get their punishment, and our heroes are utterly unconcerned.
- In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, after defeating the Final Boss Lazarevic in a blatant example of Get It Over With, Lazarevic dares the protagonist to shoot him and end it. True to character, Nathan is not the one that has to end it. The Guardians, originally mini-bosses, arrive to finish the job for you.
- In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Ezio promises Suleiman that he will spare the Templar Leader, Suleiman's uncle, Ahmet if he can. During the confrontation, Selim, Suleiman's father and Ahmet's brother, interrupts, strangles Ahmet, and throws him to a Disney Villain Death.
- In Batman: Arkham Origins The Joker murders Gillian Loeb to sow chaos and dethrones Roman Sionis and usurps his empire. Loeb was a politically corrupt douchebag who was as untouchable as he was corrupt, and Sionis was the top crime boss in town. So while the Joker's intentions weren't pure, he perversely got rid of two of the biggest sources of rot within Gotham. Joker later gloats to Batman that he has "done more in two nights than [Batman has] done in two years".
- Invoked in Suikoden V by Sialeeds. She performs a Face–Heel Turn to the Godwins' side in part because, if the Prince's faction won the war cleanly after the New Queen's Campaign, he would be forced to spare corrupt nobles like Salum Barows and leave the system of nobility in place, and that would risk starting the whole circus up again a generation down the line. Instead, she joins the Godwins to prolong the war a bit and Purge Salum and the remaining Nether Gate assassins, knowing full well that she'll be killed in action. When the war is finally over, nobody is left alive to oppose Queen Lymsleia's reforms, and she and the Prince have clean hands to do it with.
- Adventurers!'s Argent: While that may not have been necessary, if you know the backstory it's hard to blame him.
- Vriska from Homestuck attempts to take the fight to the Big Bad, and even The Omniscient thinks she might win. The price would have been leading the bad guy directly back to the Last Bastion and wiping out her race.
- In The Order of the Stick, it falls down to Tarquin to kill Nale. Being Genre Savvy he also points out that with this he freed the plot from yet another recurring villain, wanting himself to be the important villain.
- Incidentally, Nale's death was done partly because he killed Malack, Tarquin's best friend and the one who turned Durkon into a Vampire. This act also seemed to get rid of a potential threat in the form of a vampire, as it freed Durkon his Thrall state, allowing him to rejoin the Order of the Stick. Or so it seemed...
- Both inverted and played straight in the same example in AJCO when A_J requests that she and Pi be put through the re-education process. Inverted when Egg, arguably the only 'true' good guy (or at the very least the only one without centuries of blood on her hands), is forced to make the decision - then played straight when Req, the most amoral of the four, is the one to push the button.
- A_J is quick to blame Egg when the Doctor dies, however.
- In To Boldly Flee the crew of the USS Exit Strategy needs a bit more time to counterattack the villains, who are already locked on to them and might just win. Cue Mechakara, whom those same villains betrayed at the end of last episode, beating up the whole evil bridge.
- In the Whateley Universe, a religious cult attempts to blackmail a student at the titular Academy of Adventure by threatening her friends' families. So the Headmaster calls the alumni association and suddenly all of the superhero alumni are looking the other way while the supervillains take action.
- Doomsday's first appearance in Justice League. In the comics, he killed Supes (He got better). However, Supes' evil universe counterpart, Justice Lord Superman, used his eye lasers to lobotomize Doomsday not five minutes into the fight (he got better too, and was mighty pissed, but that's another story).
- In Aladdin: The Series, in the episode "The Citadel", Aladdin threatens to turn a magic-eating monster loose on Mozenrath, who taunts him by pointing out that he's not ruthless enough to do that. "You're right. I'm not." Then Aladdin points at Iago, who is already poised to remove Mozenrath's control collar from the beast. "But he is!" And Iago proves it.
- In Kong: The Animated Series, Ramone De La Porta is the main villain and constantly causes trouble for Jason, Kong, and the gang when he is trying to unlock powers of the Primal Stones, while often making threats and trying to kill Kong, yet they often save him whenever he is in danger (and he only returns the favor once, just so they're even). In the final episode, Harpy sucks De La Porta's life force out as part of a ritual to awaken Chiros. De La Porta survives when his life force is returned to him later, but is left in a permanent state of shock.
- In The Batman, Wrath and Scorn have figured out Batman and Robin's identity. Even though they are arrested, Batman really can't do anything to keep them from revealing this to everyone. Luckily, the Joker (much like in The Dark Knight) didn't want someone else causing the end of Batman and gassed them while they were in the police van.
- George of the Jungle: Tom Slick once raced against a cheater who, after being defeated, was told by Marigold he'd get his commeupance. He said good guys like Tom Slick don't get even. Then he got his commeupance from another racer wronged by his cheating.
- In Castlevania, the Bishop serves as the Arc Villain of the first season, as his fanatical control of Wallachia is what caused Dracula's rampage in the first place (by killing his wife for supposed witchcraft), and leads to him persecuting the few people who can actually do something about it. But in the end, while Trevor and his allies fight the Bishop's men, they don't have to deal with him personally, as Dracula's demons track him down and kill him in his own church.