Better to Die than Be Killed

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"Well, up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong;
'You'll never take me alive,' said he."
Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson, "Waltzing Matilda"

A situation where a character commits suicide rather than face capture, imminent death, enslavement, public humiliation followed by (possibly grisly) execution, or something even worse. If there is no way to avoid death, characters will often prefer to go on their own terms rather than let their enemy decide their fate. Sometimes it's just to deny the enemy the right to kill them.

The most common places that Better To Die Than Be Killed shows up are stories where people face a Fate Worse Than Death in either the classical sense or in a Body Horror / The Virus sense, such as in a zombie movie where being taken by the zombies means being eaten alive or joining their number. In the older stories, such as westerns, samurai, and kung fu stories, a woman faced with rape and death at the hands of her enemies would often choose to die by her own hand rather than suffer this fate.

A variation of this also appears in the classic scene where a disgraced army officer finds a loaded gun on his bed as the obvious hint to kill themselves in order to spare the regiment the embarrassment.

Another variation happens quite a lot, where a mook kills themself rather than let the heroes find out any information. This also shows up in espionage where a captured spy takes a Cyanide Pill, or in Military Fiction where a ship or base engages its Self-Destruct Mechanism, to deny captors any information they might gain from them under torture.

This trope may derive from Real Life. Many cultures that are primarily based around personal glory and honour ("shame societies"), including that of Ancient Rome, held that suicide was an acceptable form of death: to a Roman, suicide was not just a way to avoid experiencing perpetual dishonour or humiliating punishments such as Crucifixion, but a noble deed meant to demonstrate one's own stoicism and honour in the face of adversity. Emperor Otho was considered a weak, luxury-loving sybarite until he committed suicide shortly before a plot to assassinate him could be put into effect; his self-inflicted death changed Romans' minds, leading them to see Otho as a greater man than he perhaps really was. Feudal Japan had many similarities with the Romans in their opinion about "honourable suicides": see also Seppuku and Kamikaze. For other comparable examples, see Martyrdom Culture. The Christians were seen as depraved and disgusting by Romans such as Tacitus in part because they would rather accept fates worse than death instead of committing suicide, which the Romans interpreted as almost obscene (as was the Christian willingness to be crucified or dismembered by wild animals, literally the two most dishonourable methods of death a Roman could conceive of).

A small number of actual criminals would rather die than be taken to prison ("You'll never take me alive, copper!") — for the most part, people tend to treat these cases a lot less sympathetically than other examples of this trope, as it's seen as a cowardly way to escape justice. The criminal may even make one last shot at a Blast Out, meaning either a bloody escape, or more likely, Suicide by Cop. If there's a ledge nearby, you can bank on a High-Dive Escape.

Compare I Die Free. Contrast Face Death with Dignity, Mercy Kill, I Cannot Self-Terminate. In video games and some other media, this could be considered a case of self-kill-stealing, especially to stop experience or a reward being gained by the kill. Has nothing to do with the fact that "People die if they are killed".

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples:

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    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Suicide is an acceptable end for disgraced officers of the Imperial Guard, as well as an acceptable option for individuals who are touched by the Warp.
    • Defied by Space Marines, who live to fight and are only content dying on the field of battle. The only time they'll consider playing this trope straight is if it involves strapping grenades to themselves and charging forward.
    • In an amusing subversion, the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer expressly orders Guardsmen to not commit suicide, at least without authorization and certainly not wasting valuable ammunition to do so without authorization. The penalty for attempting to commit suicide is death. The penalty of committing suicide without authorization is having your body incinerated and the ashes shot into space, and then sending the bill to your next of kin.
    • The IG also have a "For Their Own Good" rule that basically means that if a sanctioned psyker suffers a Perils of the Warp attack within range of a Commissar, they are immediately shot and killed.
    • It's also a much-preferred alternative to being taken alive by the Dark Eldar or the Emperor's Children.
    • Arguably the rationale behind Exterminatus — basically assisted suicide on a planetary scale. It is typically performed on worlds that have been, or are in danger of being, overwhelmed by Chaos, Tyranids, or Necrons; through this, the resources (human and otherwise) are kept from the enemy, and the people are spared further suffering.
  • One High Elf King in Warhammer Fantasy jumped overboard and drowned himself rather than be taken by Dark Elves when his ship was captured. Considering that Dark Elves make Chaos Warriors look benevolent this was probably justified.
  • In Exalted, there is a spell called Unconquerable Self - it burns the person casting it, their possessions, and any artifacts attuned to them to ash. It requires no words, gestures or components to cast, making it useful if one were taken prisoner, for example. It also directly sends your soul to Heaven, preventing any form of soul trapping or other mystical enslavement.
  • Every single Infernoid in the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG share an effect that allows you to Tribute an Infernoid during either player's turn to some effect, mainly disrupting the Graveyard. This includes the effect's user himself, which means they can suicide at any time, dodging many nasty effects from your opponent.

    Theater 
  • Several variations in the plays of William Shakespeare:
    • Discussed, but averted in Macbeth - "Why should I play the Roman fool, and die on mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes do better upon them."
    • Played straight in Antony and Cleopatra, where both title characters commit suicide to avoid humiliation and death after their armies are defeated.
    • Four times in Julius Caesar. The last one was done by Brutus, who ran himself upon a sword held by his comrade because Brutus' Stoic philosophy expressly forbade him to commit suicide but he could see no other way out.
    • Invoked by Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice, when Portia tells Shylock to "beg mercy of the Duke": "Beg that thou mayst have leave to hang thyself!"
  • Puccini's Tosca. After killing the villain, the heroine is cornered by the villain's lackeys; she jumps off a high balcony to her death, rather than let the lackeys execute her.
  • Another Puccini example: Liu's death in Turandot. Rather than be tortured and possibly killed by Turandot's guards, she grabs one of their daggers and does herself in.
  • In Freud's Last Session Sigmund Freud tells C. S. Lewis that he plans to kill himself because he has a horrific case of oral cancer, forcing him to wear an ill-fitting prosthesis; the disease is causing him great pain and is slowly killing him.

    Web Comics 
  • One Cyanide & Happiness comic has a prisoner about to be executed. He gets out of it by requesting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as his last meal due to his peanut allergies.
  • In The Order of the Stick, destroying the Gates - dimensional barriers keeping the Snarl from destroying all that exists - is actually regarded as a superior alternative to allowing them to fall into the hands of Xykon, but is only halfway this trope: the reasoning behind that if the gate is destroyed, the Snarl will not come out immediately and in full force and said gate can be rebuilt later. While if it is knowingly summoned through one of them, the end of the world will be imminent.
  • Averted in this comic of Our Little Adventure.
  • In issue 10 of Sonichu, Author Avatar Chris and his "band" the Hedgehog Boys (which are pretty much some of the various Sonichus around in his series) use a song to destroy the 4-cent Garbage building, two villains who are left behind, Clyde Cash and Jack Thaddeus, opt to leap down an elevator shaft holding hands (they were apparently lovers) than let Chris kill them. It was actually pretty touching.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent:
    • One of the book salvaging spots, which is a barricaded room, contains a corpse in a Hazmat Suit holding a gun, with a small hole its visor.
    • Tuuri commits suicide when she finds out she has come down with the Rash.

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