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Bearer of Bad News
Láthspell I name you, Ill-news; and ill news is an ill guest they say.
Grí­ma Wormtongue, The Lord of the Rings

Someone doesn't know the bad news. And you have to tell them.

When dealing with villains, may combine with You Have Failed Me, leading to Shoot the Messenger.

When dealing with heroes, there is merely the horrible pain that you know you will inflict. In comic stories, it is often merely your imagination. In dramatic works, it is usually as bad, or worse, than you expect; the Bearer of Bad News often finds himself feeling that it was Dirty Business. Euphemisms don't cut it, and only prolong your agony. On the other hand, being clear up front may lead to recriminations: why didn't you break it to him ''gently''? You may have to cope with Manly Tears. Worse, you may find the character tearless and not know how to cope. (And all this, perhaps, after you have labored to Bring News Back.)

Characters who frequently bring bad news may be blamed for it, and regarded as actively unlucky. Talk to the Fist is possible with hot-tempered recipients. If you're translating for such a character or a Bad Boss or Big Bad type, you might want to try to do a Tactful Translation in order to avoid the pain. Accusations of Malicious Slander may also follow.

The Herald and the Almost Dead Guy are often bearers of bad news. In more lighthearted moments or comedic works, the bad news may merely be met with a Collective Groan. More serious news often comes with a preamble of "You'd better sit down..." He Didn't Make It is one of the commonest, and hardest.

A Super Trope to Breaking Bad News Gently, Bad News in a Good Way, Good News, Bad News, Bad News, Irrelevant News. Not to be confused with Bears Are Bad News (although, come to think of it, they could overlap if somebody brought bad news about a bear attack).

Examples

Anime & Manga
  • In Monster, Tenma finds himself having to meet up with his ex-fiancee to let her know that her current love interest is dead.
  • Subversion of sorts: Nobody in Fullmetal Alchemist wants to be the one to tell the Elric brothers that their friend, Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes, has been brutally murdered. This is made even worse (for the reader) by juxtaposing scenes of the boys and their friend Winry laughing and having fun on a train at the same time that the funeral is taking place. How do they finally find out? From the newspaper.
    • In Brotherhood, an oblivious Edward asks Roy Mustang about Hughes's whereabouts; Mustang, having taken the situation hard himself, can't bring himself to tell Edward, and instead tells him that Hughes decided to retire and move to the countryside. Edward takes the lie at face value, and decides to discuss it with Maria Ross when he bumps into her in the hallway. Ross, who wasn't privy to Mustang's lie, assumes Edward already knows the truth, and discusses it as such. The miscommunication doesn't sink in until Ross notes that Hughes was promoted two ranks posthumously - which Edward realizes wouldn't happen to somebody who'd willingly retired. Ross is then forced to explain the truth to an increasingly distraught and guilt-ridden Edward.
  • No one had the heart to inform Annerose von Grünwald about Siegfried Kircheis's death in Legend of Galactic Heroes. Fortunately for them, Oberstein had already done that. In general, with the rate of death in the series, this happens often.

Comics
  • The various Heralds of Galactus in Marvel Comics are constantly bringing bad news to people. Usually of the "your planet is going to be eaten by a space god" variety.

Film
  • In A League of Their Own, a Western Union man would have been the bearer (of Betty's husband's death), but he treats it so disrespectfullynote  that Dugan kicks him out and shouldered the duty himself.note 
  • The premise of The Messenger (2009), about an American army officer whose job is to inform the relatives of soldiers that their loved ones have died in Iraq.
  • The taxi cab driver in We Were Soldiers. Mrs. Moore is not pleased when he scares her by coming to her door with the telegram, only to ask for directions to another house. He sadly replies that he didn't want that job, he's just trying to do it. note 
  • This is one of the duties of Robert Sean Leonard's character in Swing Kids, as part of his Nazi training. Thing is, he doesn't actually know that he's delivering bad news - he's just delivering boxes. When one of the recipients screams after opening hers, he opens the one he has yet to deliver and sees that he's bringing Jewish widows - who had been unaware that they were widows - the ashes of their husbands.
  • Into The Storm features the historical figure of Captain Pim. Poor Captain Pim. Man only gets to announce the bad news. Lampshaded by Churchill when he finally annouced something good (the German surrender and the war's end).
    Churchill: "After bringing me bad news for five years, in one feel swoop you have redeemed yourself."

Literature
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only In Death, when Ludd and Beltayn had just managed to secure the water they desperately needed, Rawne had had to break the bad news from the battle.
    Ludd and Beltayn had been so proud of their achievement. Rawne had taken no pleasure in wiping the smiles off their faces and the triumph out of their hearts.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Grí­ma Wormtongue dubs Gandalf "Láthspell" — ill news — because of his way of arriving with bad news. He's also nicknamed "Stormcrow" due to his reputation for showing up just as things are about to get very bad.
    • Denethor also professes his dislike of Gandalf for the same reasons, though less aggressively
    • There's also a true Bearer of Bad News in The Lord of the Rings: Frodo himself. The Ring itself is a harbinger of the upcoming war, but even if Frodo succeeds, many of the people he meets will be killed or dispossessed by the consequences.
      Galadriel: "Thy coming to us is as the footstep of doom."
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel The Flight of the Eisenstein, Dorn strikes Garro for the news he brought. Then, as Qruze pointed out, Dorn had clearly held the blow, which could have killed Garro, because he wanted to hear it all. He listens to the rest, and accuses him of insanity. When Garro accuses him of blindness, he decides to execute him. Only Keller's intervention saves him.
  • In The Bible, David gets word from his military that his rebellious son is dead, and goes into a Heroic Blue Screen of Death. The messengers repeatedly try to avoid the issue, afraid they'll be killed, but David just goes into mourning.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel Death or Glory, Kolfax comes to tell Cain that the first possible waterhole has no water in person; Cain explicitly observes that he does not want to be the bearer of bad news over the vox.
  • In Gav Thorpe's Warhammer 40,000 short story "Renegades" after the company goes renegade, they find that Rykhel launched a saviour pod to get away from them; the captain is angry that he did not stand up and face him, but Rykhel is determined to bring back news of their treachery and murders. (The captain thinks No One Could Survive That.)
  • In Wraith Squadron, Wedge Antilles has to compose and send a letter to Admiral Ackbar explaining that his niece Jesmin Ackbar died in combat. He's shown agonizing over the phrasing of the opening line; among other things he rejects "I'm afraid this letter comes as the bearer of bad news". In the end Wedge spends the entire night on the letter, thinking with a faint pride that at least It Never Gets Any Easier, because he never gets deadened to or glib about the deaths of his people.
    • Later in the series, General Melvar has to bring Zsinj some very bad news: not only has a deathtrap failed to kill Wraith Squadron (or even any of its members), but they have managed to take one of his key personnel alive. In a subversion of You Have Failed Me (and an inversion of Shoot the Messenger), Zsinj has an epic Villainous Breakdown where he destroys practically everything in his office but the person who brought him the bad news.
      General Melvar: Will you be wanting your office restored, or do you wish to redecorate?
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, Mikhail recognizes the bearers of bad news by their expressions. They confirm that Turk was murdered, rather than dying in an accident.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 novel Hell-Forged, despite Lygris's Frozen Face, Sarpedon can tell he brought bad news.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, Mephiston meets Dante in the garden to bring him news — and Dante knows it's bad at once. Mephiston tells him that Vode, Gallio, and all Gallio's men are dead; Dante tries to deny the obvious implication, thinking of other possibilities than that they were killed by fellow Blood Angels.
    • Later, Stele brings Arkio news of why the power plant failed and warns him that it was hard. Arkio is angry that he tries to shelter him — and then still more angry as Stele tells him that it was an attempt to kill them all by having the plant blow up. Arkio guesses the saboteur was a Word Bearer or other renegade, and Stele tells him it was not only a Blood Angel but his own brother.
  • In the Discworld book Night Watch, Nobby Nobbs is never allowed to be this, due to what is only referred to as "the "bet you a dollar you're the widow Jackson" nonsense".note 
  • In Aaron Allston's Galatea in 2-D, Roger proves to Donna that she's not going insane, but this entails that her ex-husband is trying to drive her insane. She is angry about the news.
  • In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, Skall is desperate to avoid this.
  • From Mostly Harmless:
    Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws. The Hingefreel people of Arkintoofle Minor did try to build spaceships that were powered by bad news but they didn't work particularly well and were so extremely unwelcome whenever they arrived anywhere that there wasn't really any point in being there.
  • Toward the end of the Elenium trilogy, Sparhawk dreads having to deliver the news of his squire Kurik's death to his wife. He reaches the house only to find that she already knows, having received the information from another Bearer of Bad News.
  • In the ballad Gorm Grymme by the German writer Theodor Fontane, king Gorm of Denmark loves his son Harald dearly and one yule day he tells his vassals that anyone who brought him the news of his son's death would die within an hour. So when Harald is killed in battle, nobody wants to inform the king. Queen Thyra then manages to convey the message to Gorm without words, by taking off her jewelry, dressing in black, lighting twelve candles and covering the great hall and throne with black drapes.
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere: An Autumn Tale, Lindsey's brother dies, but it's several chapters before Raechel, who knows, connects with her. Then she has Lucian do it, since he's her Elder.
  • In the Darkest Powers series, Chloe, being a necromancer, is the one who has to break the news to Liz that she (Liz) is dead. The book ends just before Chloe tells her. The second book reveals that, understandably, Liz didn't take it well.
    Chloe: [takes a deep breath] Liz? There's something I need to tell you.

Live-Action TV
  • Blackadder: Averted Trope in the first season, as the King (Brian Blessed) receives a messenger who tells him that "Lord Wessex is dead.":
    King: I like not this news. Bring me better news.
    Messenger: Err... Lord Wessex is not dead?
    King: Aha! This news I like better!
  • Criminal Minds: This is actually part of JJ's job description.
  • Dexter: Dexter, not normally known for his tact, botches this horribly when he has to tell his stepkids, Astor and Cody that their mother has been murdered. While wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
  • The Goodies: In the episode "Earthanasia":
    Bill: As you well know tomorrow never comes and do you know why? Because, little dewy eyed Timbo, tomorrow we'll all be dead! Dead, dead! D! E! E! D! DEAD!
    Graeme: You might have broken it to him gently.
  • JAG: In “Critical Condition” Admiral Chegwidden has to tell Bud’s wife Harriet that her husband stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan and is in critical condition.
  • Man Stroke Woman:
    • Averted Trope. A doctor tells his patient that they have her test results. He asks " May I be blunt with you?" to which she responds "No.". He looks confused and struggles of what to say. Finally he says, " Well, everything is fine. You're not gonna die!" She is very happy with this information and leaves as the doctor sighs to himself.
    • In another episode, a doctor sits in his patient's lap and tells her that her father is dead. As she cries, the doctor calls someone on speaker phone and tells a friend that sitting on the lap didn't work. She was still crying.
  • Mash:
    • Radar, in the episode "Abyssinia, Henry":
    "I have a message...Lieutenant Colonel...Henry Blake's plane...was shot down...over the Sea of Japan...it spun in...there were no survivors."
    • In a later episode, a soldier dies in an ambulance wreck; he was the driver, had been called out on his Drives Like Crazy tendencies before, and was responsible for the wreck. Radar brings in a suggested draft of the letter to the soldier's parents that puts the death in a kinder light.
      Colonel Potter: Don't change a thing.
  • NCIS:
    • In the pilot episode "Yankee White", Gibbs finds out that Caitlin Todd's ex died shortly after meeting with her. He takes her aside and drops the news bluntly into the middle of their conversation, so that he can observe her reaction and gauge her guilt or innocence.
    • Happens also when Director Jenny Sheppard is killed and Ducky is told by phone, and then has to tell Abby and McGee. And again in season six, when Gibbs has to tell Michelle Lee's daughter that Lee is dead.
  • Orange Is The New Black : In the episode "Appropriately Sized Pots," Healy is this to Rosa. While she's been undergoing cancer treatment for the length of the show, Healy has to tell her that a life-saving treatment isn't covered by the DOC, and she doesn't have much time left.
  • Parks and Recreation: The upbeat Chris doesn't like to give bad news. Fortunately, he has Ben to do it for him.
  • Revolution: In the episode "Ties That Bind", Corporal Lawrence has to tell the bad news to Sergeant Strausser that they failed to capture Miles Matheson. Strausser, being a sociopath, responds by stabbing Lawrence to death.
  • Stargate SG-1: Major Paul Davis is nicknamed "Disaster Davis" by the fans, as he usually appears with bad news, sometimes at bad times with even worse news. This is a Justified Trope by the nature of his character however, he's the liaison between the Pentagon and Stargate Command, so he is really only ever sent when the Pentagon has bad news.
  • The West Wing: Bartlet's best friend and chief of staff Leo has to bring him two of the worst pieces of news of his life: once that Mrs. Landingham, his beloved secretary, has been killed in a car accident, and the other time that his youngest daughter Zoey has been kidnapped. Notably, there is no sound in either of these scenes. In the final season, it's C.J. who has to tell him that Leo has died of a heart attack. Another moment, featuring severe Mood Whiplash, is in a flashback to the Bartlet campaign's first big victory at the Illinois primary, when Donna (who's only recently started working for Josh) has to interrupt his celebrating to tell him his father died.

Music
  • "Bad News and Bad Breaks" by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones:
    Bad news, if he could choose,
    Would he refuse to be the bearer?
    It seems what he has to do
    Could not be any clearer.
    It's a job he can't neglect.
    Its consequences will affect.
    I'm glad that I'm not in his shoes.
    He's the bearer of bad news.
    What can you do?
    He's got an ugly job to do!

Professional Wrestling
  • Wade Barrett frequently does this as a running gag for WWE webshow ''The JBL and Cole Show''... not out of any genuine concern or to inform people of things, but just to be an obnoxious jerk. And now he's doing this on the TV shows as well, going so far as to officially change his ring name to Bad News Barrett. This change has definitely helped his career big time, as even as an obnoxious heel, he gets Bad News Barrett chants whenever he appears, including the WWE Hall Of Fame.

Sequential Art
  • The Wizard of Id. The King, aware that his useless knight Sir Rodney is bringing news of his defeat, reminds him of the old Roman custom in which the bearer of bad tidings was put to death. A sweating Rodney replies with the 'joyous' news that one of the King's more awful provinces with its rebellious peasants, stinking swamps (etc, etc) has been given to the Huns to worry about.

Theatre
  • Rowan Atkinson in Pink Tights and Plenty of Props, had the Bearer of Bad News, followed by the Bearer of Indifferent News, and then the Bearer of Bad News Who Thinks It's Good News.
    • Watch this (from 2:21) for some insight into the role of messengers in Elizabethan theatre. According to Rowan Atkinson.

  • In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Ross must bring MacDuff the news that his wife and children were all killed. And Seyton brings Macbeth the news that his wife has killed herself.
  • In Antony And Cleopatra, a messenger has to tell Cleopatra that Antony has remarried. She is not happy.
    • An earlier scene has a messenger that lampshades this trope and foreshadows the beating that Cleopatra would give.
  • This is the entire purpose of messengers in classical tragedy. And they're usually Spear Carriers, to boot. Sometimes they can be upgraded to Bit Characters.
  • Subverted in George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, where the garrison of a border post receives a bearer of evil tidings with much fuss and honour. A Persian mercenary expresses surprise at this, and his commander explains:
    Belzanor: O barbarous Persian, hear my instruction. In Egypt the bearer of good tidings is sacrificed to the gods as a thank offering; but no god will accept the blood of the messenger of evil. When we have good tidings, we are careful to send them in the mouth of the cheapest slave we can find. Evil tidings are borne by young noblemen who desire to bring themselves into notice.
  • A slightly bizarre example occurs in Goethe's Faust, where Mephisto informs a widow: "Ihr Mann ist tot, und läßt Sie grüßen" ("Your husband is dead and sends his regards").
  • The Courier in 1776 exists solely to deliver despondent and doom-laden dispatches from George Washington to Congress... and to sing a Tear Jerker song about how his best friend died alone at Lexington and Concord.

Video Games
  • Mother 3 has a very sad example: So the forest's burning and everyone is looking for Flint's family. A search is organized for his wife. When the kids are finally found, a neighbour wants to tell Flint some news. The good news? They found an awesome Drago Fang that would make a great weapon! The bad news? It was found lodged in his wife's heart.
  • In Pokémon, Absol is noted under its Pokedex entry to be able to sense disaster and attempts to warn others of its arrival. Unfortunately for it, it frequently gets mistaken as causing said disaster. Poor Absol.
  • Much like Wedge, above, the Mass Effect 2 DLC pack "Lair of the Shadow Broker" includes a file on Tali writing and rewriting the letter to the parents of someone who was killed serving with her. She even uses some similar lines - trying not to be trite, finding the right balance between distance and closeness, etc.
    • In Mass Effect 3, Shepard has to tell the asari councilor that not only did s/he fail to retrieve important data that could have turned the tide in a very one-sided war with the Reapers, but also that s/he failed to prevent the fall of Thessia, the asari homeworld. It takes him/her a minute before s/he's finally able to get it all out.
  • This is actually the name of a mission in Borderlands 2, where the player must tell the folks of Sanctuary about Roland's death.
  • World of Warcraft has a veritable wealth of opportunities to break bad news. One of the most notable examples would be when you must carry the shield of Bolvar Fordragon (Alliance) or rent armor of Dranosh Saurfang (Horde) to King Varian Wrynn and Warchief Thrall after the catastrophic "Wrathgate incident."

Web Animation

Web Comic

Western Animation
  • Good news, everyone! Professor Farnsworth will give bad news in a cheerful way to make people feel better. Until someone claims "Uh-oh, I don't like the sound of that..."
  • This is Butch's main role in Recess. Randall can do this sometimes as well.
  • In ThunderCats (2011) prodigal Four-Star Badass Grune informs his king Claudus of mutual friend and fellow general Panthro's death with a headshake, and melancholic praise for his skill in battle. Then he hands over a single nunchacku of Panthro's.
  • In Young Justice, when everyone is mourning the death of Artemis, a few people angrily wonder why Nightwing isn't here. When they're told that he's gone to break the news to her boyfriend, Wally, their expressions turn to one of pain and sympathy. Sure, he wasn't actually going to do that at all, but still.

Real Life
  • The death of US service member is announced by two members of the honor guard at the door of the deceased's next of kin. The families of the wounded in action are notified by phone call. Consequently, everyone in a military community dreads the arrival of the honor guard. Kids growing up on military bases may be playing outside when they see them approaching, and they know that it means someone's dad just died, and they can only pray that it wasn't theirs.


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