"The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do. [...] And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can't bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not?"When one person spares the other's life (despite really wishing to kill him on the spot) because he intends to use him later. One response to Get It Over With. If a lesser villain is smart, they may make sure their boss always needs them, lest they outlive their usefulness. Can also prompt Stop, or I Shoot Myself! to put the boss at a disadvantage. Clever characters (almost invariably villains in this case) will typically resort to I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure to get around this. This trope is a good way to avoid Mook Depletion. Can apply to both good and bad guys; if the latter, it's a subtrope of Pragmatic Villainy. Compare to Enemy Mine and I Want Them Alive. Contrast You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, You Have Failed Me, and We Have Reserves. Compare/contrast Sympathy for the Devil and Sympathy for the Hero. See also Vetinari Job Security.
— Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
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Anime & Manga
- Attack on Titan: The entire Eldian race, who are used as both Cannon Fodder and as Titans.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- When Vegeta and Nappa first attack Earth, they make a point not to kill Piccolo, as they need his help finding the Dragon Balls. Notably, they don't know that the Balls are tied to his and Kami's life-force, and when they learn Goku's coming they decide to just kill him and get the Namek Balls.
- In Dragonball Z Resurrection F: this is Vegeta's response to Freeza offering to allow him to kill a weakened Goku. He says that as much as he hates Goku, it's their rivalry that keeps really pushing him to get stronger, and he's not willing to give that motivation up.
- Despite the insistence of his comrades, Goku refuses to kill Piccolo at the 23rd World Martial Arts Tournament for a couple of reasons. Specifically, his link to Kami's life force, that killing his opponent would disqualify him from the tournament and the fact he wanted a powerful rival to keep him on his toes.
- The villains of Fullmetal Alchemist and its 2003 anime need the Elric brothers alive to fulfill their respective master plans.
- Kimimaro of Naruto stated that he fully intended to kill Tayuya once they returned to Orochimaru. The only reason he didn't do so immediately was that she could still be useful in slowing down the Leaf ninja.
- In the anime, Orochimaru states that he believes that this is the reason why he, Kabuto and Sasuke were allowed to get off with a relative slap on the wrist after the end of the original series: they are potential last resort options to be called upon for the next world-ending threat.
- Invoked in One Piece by Tom. His trial was an open and shut case and he was sentenced to death. At which point Tom reveals that he can build a new form of travel that will revitalize the Wretched Hive they live in, earning a stay of execution. Once he was done he was even looking a a full pardon at his retrial only to get another sentence of execution because he took the blame for an attack on the city his apprentice was framed for.
- Jaco the Galactic Patrolman, Stealth Prequel to Dragon Ball, explains why Frieza allowed a handful of Saiyan to survive the destruction of their homeworld (and actually planned for it): the Galactic Patrol has bioweapons that could kill any lifeform on a planet, including his soldiers, but the Saiyans happen to be immune.
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: When the main characters take over CGS, they tell the adults to get lost (and kill those who try to fight back). When CGS's chief accountant says he'll leave peacefully, Biscuit says they still need him to manage their finances since most of the kids are illiterate. Unlike a lot of examples, they treat the man decently and actually consider his advice in important matters; as a result he stays loyal to the group and is one of its few adult members.
- Bungou Stray Dogs:
- In chapter 31, Dazai passes up an opportunity to kill Q, his stated reason being that as long as Q is around, Dazai's nullification ability is needed as insurance, so the Port Mafia can't kill him. Dazai himself is still alive partially for a similar reason; Mori wants to recruit him back into the Port Mafia and thus has placed an order to not kill him.
- Fyodor has a sniper shoot Dazai in chapter 46, but states that the bullet should have missed anything vital, because Dazai still has a part to play in Fyodor's plans.
- John Pinette's routine of his visit to France, wherein he learned how close he was to the French-Italian border (and Italian food). After spending several weeks in France.
John Pinette: I'll kill you later 'cause I need directions.
- Family: Silver tells Kurt that he'd ordinarily kill him for going out with a member of the family, but he gives him a tip-off since he wants to take down Gio as much as he does.
- Judge Dredd: In "Dominion", the only reason Judge Death doesn't murder both of the crew members of the spaceship that bumped into him is so that he can use that person as a host, figuring that subterfuge works better for getting to the nearest seat of power. Of course, eventually the guy does outlive his usefulness.
- The Stars Ascendant justifies Tirek sparing his drained victims by noting that he only retains the power he steals as long as his victims are still alive.
- In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands crossover, it's revealed this is the reason the Citadel Council kept Samantha Shepard around despite her less-than-heroic actions during the Reaper War. Taken to a larger scale with Sarah, the Force-wielding Siren, whose targeted death sprees killed hundreds of millions. Without this person, fighting the Flood would be next-to-impossible, and to be fair, some Character Development and a Heel–Face Turn make that individual more palatable/useful to the heroes' cause.
- Neji, Sasuke, and Kiba in Four Teams only keep from killing each other because it'll take all of them to kill their sensei, Kakashi.
- In The Bridge, Bagan pretends to be a Benevolent Boss and treats his servants well, but secretly wants to kill them all. He holds off on doing this because they can't serve him if they are dead, and if he kills them before they succeed in their tasks to restore him to full strength, he'll eventually become helpless when his stored power runs out.
- The Ultimate Evil has a heroic version, when Nataline expresses the desire to kill Valmont whose body is possessed by Shendu. She's discouraged from this by the Chans with this logic: should Valmont die, Shendu could be freed from his siblings' spell that is keeping him trapped in the crime lord's body and able to possess anyone else's body.
- In the final chapters of The Very Secret Diary, invoking this trope is how Ginny keeps herself alive, despite her frequent insults and acts of defiance against Tom. When he threatens to kill her for her disobedience, she points out that if he gets rid of her, his plan is at a dead-end, and he has to start over again from square one.
- Invoked and defied in Cycles Upon Cycles by Daro'Xan, the leader of a Quarian Renegade Splinter Faction. When captured by Shepard's Strikers, she tries to bargain for her life with all the information she has at her disposal. However, Shepard just reads her mind to gather anything relevant, and then lets Kasumi execute her.
- In With This Ring, Paul debates if taking the opportunity to kill a weaken Nabu is worth it in "Hullevow". He ultimately decides against it.
For a moment, I contemplate taking advantage of his momentary weakness. Drug Kaldur with something that would let me blame his loss of consciousness on the Terror Thing, chain Nabu up again and hit his helmet with Mageslayers until he's gone. Might work, but… No. Do the job I'm here to do. He might be useful.
- In Out of the Corner of the Eye, there are several occasions during the Massachusetts Arc when the Mythos cultists and entities have a chance to kill the J-Team members, but know that they can't, because they're needed alive for the Outer Gods' plans to go forward. During a fight in Innsmouth, Jackie and Viper take advantage of this, until Francis White realizes that alive doesn't mean unharmed, and shocks them within an inch of their life until they can be restrained.
- In For Love of Magic, Harry and his group keep from killing Adrastia Zabini because she's more useful alive than dead and, more importantly, She Knows Too Much but Harry suspects she has contingencies in place to reveal his secrets if she dies.
- This Bites!: The ever-growing pirate population is literally the only reason why Sengoku hasn't dishonorably discharged Akainu, tossed him into Level Six of Impel Down, and thrown away the key. That being said, he was dangerously close to doing so anyway after the PR fiasco that was Enies Lobby, but ultimately just reassigned Akainu to the New World and ordered him to wage war against the Four Emperors (away from the public eye) instead.
- Invoked on a national scale in the Triptych Continuum's central story: in the years since the Elements have been rediscovered, there has been more happening than in the decades prior — especially when it comes to attacks on Equestria. Doctor Gentle won't let anypony in the conspiracy kill the Bearers because he feels it's possible there's more coming — and even though leaving them alive means he has to flee his own country, he refuses to leave that nation defenseless against future assaults. (He's also practical enough to realize how the palace would react upon discovering the deaths: a standard search might eventually give up, but one meant to find the murderer of the Bearers would only end with his capture or demise.)
- This happens to Joseph Fenette and Prince Clovis in the Code Geass fanfic Rise Of A New Moon. The former is a part of Code-R, but is spared because Luna doesn't want to Shirley to be hurt. The latter is spared so she can use him as a puppet as part of her plan to take over Japan without a fight.
Films — Animation
- In Disney's The Great Mouse Detective, after Hiram Flaversham refuses Ratigan's command to complete a clockwork robot to impersonate the Queen, and adds insult by calling him a rat, Ratigan barely restrains himself from feeding Hiram to Felicia. When Hiram expresses that he isn't afraid to die, Ratigan instead threatens the life of his daughter, Olivia.
Films — Live-Action
- In Abandon Ship there are too many survivors for the one lifeboat. Most of the people are left clinging to the outside of the boat but the captain allows one passenger to pull his huge dog in. The dog's owner is incredibly grateful but another survivor demands to know why the dog gets in while he doesn't. The captain's answer was "If we're not picked up immediately we could be out here for a long time. If that happens, we can't eat you." Cue the horrified look on the dog owner's face.
- After the hospital scene in Collateral, Max (who is being used against his will) takes the assassin Vincent's briefcase with the target names and throws it off of a bridge in hopes of stopping him for killing anyone else. Instead of killing him, Vincent thinks of another way to use him to get a backup copy of the target names.
- In Crimson Tide, a US submarine gets word that some Renegade Russians are preparing to launch some nukes they've managed to get ahold of and are ordered to launch their own nukes first. Then a second message is Lost in Transmission regarding the launch, and the crew soon tears itself in two between those who want to launch nukes now, and those who want to confirm the intent of the second message. Eventually, the Captain is put in a position where he is threatening another officer with a gun to try to and get the launch codes. The officer, who is the only one who can access those codes, refuses to turn them over. The captain counts down... and then doesn't go through with the shooting it because if he kills the officer, no one on the ship will be able to use the nukes. The Captain gets around it by threatening to shoot the officer's subordinate and friend instead.
- In Deadpool, this is the only reason the Merc with a Mouth doesn't just kill Francis the first time they meet in the story. Once Francis reveals that he can't fix Wade's face, his minutes are numbered.
- Invoked by Vijay in Deewaar, when Samant suggests getting a Ballistic Discount. Vijay retorts that it would be killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, which sways Samant's mind. Vijay then proceeds to rip Samant off.
- Ma-Ma in Dredd doesn't kill one of her lieutenants for getting her drug operation exposed, but only out of practical concerns, because Dredd has already killed too many of her soldiers by that point and she's short on manpower.
- James Bond examples:
- From Russia with Love. During the fight in the Gypsy camp, a knife-wielding Bulgar rushes Bond from behind, only to get sniped by Red Grant, as it doesn't suit SPECTRE's plan to have Bond dead at that point.
- In Thunderball, the SPECTRE operative Angelo Palazzi, assigned to kill and replace Major Francois Derval, demands an increase to his payment, smugly pointing out he's the only one able to do the job. His superior Count Lippe is sorely tempted to kill him until he's talked out of it by Fiona Volpe. But when word of his behavior gets out to Blofeld, he orders Largo to eliminate both Angelo and Lippe.
- In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Blofeld keeps Bond alive after the obligatory Just Between You and Me speech, because he wants Bond to convince the governments of the world of the threat Blofeld's Virus Omega represents.
- In Diamonds Are Forever, Shady Tree rescues James Bond from Albert Wint and Charles Kidd's incineration attempt on him because he had passed phony diamonds on to Shady, and Shady wants the real stuff. Albert R. Saxby tries to rescue Shady Tree in the same manner, but as James soon finds out, Saxby had talked the two assassins down too late and Shady had already been shot in the head by Mr. Wint.
- Casino Royale (2006):
- Le Chiffre loses money from some African freedom fighters after Bond foils his attack at Miami airport. Their leader, Obanno, attacks Le Chiffre at Montenegro where he's attempting to win back the money. He tells Le Chiffre "I would take your hand, but you need it to play poker.", and threatens Le Chiffre's girlfriend. Obanno is subsequently killed by Bond, when he realized he was snooping on them.
- Also, when M assigns Bond to play in Le Chiffre's game, he initially thinks M wants Le Chiffre eliminated, but M tells him that MI-6 needs him alive to take down the terrorists he'd funded, something Le Chiffre also notes to Bond. Le Chiffre gets killed by Mr. White for failing to get the money from Bond.
- Played with in John Carpenter's Vampires, where Father Guiteau puts himself in this scenario to save Jack. He shoots Cardinal and, when Valek demands Guiteau do the ritual insteadnote , he puts the gun to his own head with one hell of a Badass Boast:
Guiteau: Try and make me!
Jack: Attaboy, Padre! Fuck with him!
- In Lockout, Alex kills one prison engineer, the second one has a problem getting the door open, so Alex has a third engineer brought up, shoots the second, hands the third the door control the second was trying to activate, and tells him he has two minutes to get the door open. Realizing this isn't enough time, the engineer tells him, "You can shoot me, but I can guarantee I can get the door open in five minutes." Alex is pleased, admitting how he liked that this third engineer knows how to negotiate, and lets the engineer live after he does what he said he would.
- Mission: Impossible II: In the climax of the movie, Nyah injects herself with the last sample of the Chimera virus. If Ambrose kills her then, before the virus replicates enough to be harvested or reaches its contagious phase, he will lose the obscene amounts of money he planned to make selling the antidote for the virus.
- In Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Shao Kahn seems to think nothing of executing his minions if they mess up. He knocks Rain into a pit of lava for failing to sufficiently torture a pair of Earth Warriors (specifically, by making them beg for their lives before killing them) and he later, after feeds Jade to a monster carving in a wall after she fails to kill them when following Kahn's plan. However, when Sindel tries to stand up for Jade, she's threatened with the same punishment, but Kahn spares her, as she's too crucial to his plans and one of the most powerful generals.
- The Mummy (1999): When Beni gets lost in the pyramid, the recently resurrected Imhotep is about to kill him as the cowardly Beni prays to various gods in an attempt to ward him off. When Beni starts to chant in Hebrew, Imhotep recognizes the language and instead forces Beni into his service, since having someone around who can actually understand him would be useful to someone who's planning to conquer the world.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl:
Jack Sparrow: "And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can't bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not?"
- Jack and Will steal a ship, then fight when Jack tells Will his father was a pirate. Jack gets Will down with a sword to his neck, then reverses the sword, admitting he needs Will to sail the ship.
- Later in the film, Elizabeth burns all the food, the shade, and the rum to signal a passing Royal Navy ship. Jack, who normally is reluctant to kill (which makes him a somewhat ineffective pirate in most areas), is so angered by this that he pulls out his pistol in a rage to shoot her in a moment of Black Comedy, but he stops himself when he realizes that in order to reclaim the Black Pearl and rescue Will, he will have to smooth-talk his way onto another ship. Which, thanks to Elizabeth, will be a Royal Navy ship. Shooting Elizabeth would remove the only thing keeping them (or Will) from executing him on sight, as well as waste the one shot he's been saving for Barbossa.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: Jack tricks Beckett into thinking this by telling him he can convince the other pirates to meet Beckett's armada head on rather than holing up in Shipwreck Cove.
- In Star Trek Into Darkness, Spock is inches away from killing Harrison when Uhura stops him, because they need Harrison's blood to save Kirk's life.
- In Street Fighter, this is why M. Bison allows Dhalsim to live after Dhalsim makes the mistake of pressing Bison's Berserk Button by calling him psychotic. Dhalsim is the one designing his army of Super Soldiers that he needs to Take Over the World, after all.
- True Lies: After it appears that the hero Harry has been killed, terrorist leader Aziz stops his paid ally Juno from shooting Harry's wife Helen too on the grounds that they may need a hostage.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
Walter Donovan: [pointing a gun at Indy] The Grail is mine. And you're going to get it for me.
Indiana Jones: Shooting me won't get you anywhere.
Walter Donovan: You know something, Dr. Jones? You're absolutely right. [Shoots Henry Jones in the stomach]
- Pathruushkè of The First Dwarf King would like nothing more than to kill his Dragon with an Agenda, Trang Barok, but doesn't, due to the latter's usefulness as a subordinate.
- Happens more than once in Duumvirate. The biggest example is when William wants revenge on his creator for enslaving him to his own brother, but this trope kicks in instead.
- The Lord of the Rings: The dynamic between Gollum, Sam, and to some extent, Frodo.
- In Max Barry's Machine Man, the Corrupt Corporate Executive Cassandra Cautery has this in mind for Dr. Charles Neumann. She plans to keep him alive so Better Future can calibrate its weaponized parts for Super Soldiers.
- In the Warrior Cats series, the Big Bad, Tigerstar, decides to spare Featherpaw and Stormpaw because he thinks they may still be useful to him. (Presumably as hostages, since they're the children of his enemy's best friend.)
- This is Mara Jade's opinion of Luke Skywalker in The Thrawn Trilogy. She wants revenge for the death of her old master, the Emperor, but always finds herself relying on him for survival or some other more immediate problem. As she comes to realize, it's actually not her desire for revenge; it's the last command of the Emperor, given to her as he died—not that this makes it any easier to ignore; if anything, her resistance to the command actually makes the compulsion stronger. She eventually frees herself from the compulsion by killing Luke's Evil Clone instead.
- In the second book of the Chaos Walking trilogy, the protagonists finally have the Big Bad at their mercy. Then, the native species of the planet launch a war against all humans, and they realize that they need him to command his army in order to survive.
- In John Birmingham's Final Impact, the "uptimer" Australian submarine Havoc wipes out the remains of the Japanese fleet, except the carrier of the the "Ohka" kamikaze jets. Just before the battleship Yamato is destroyed, Admiral Yamamoto receives a secret message from the "uptimers" with the location of the Soviet nuclear development facility in Kamchatka. Yamamoto sends the order to the Ohkas just before the Yamato is hit by a torpedo. The carrier launches its suicide fighters, who wipe out the Soviet facility. The Havoc then finishes the job by torpedoing the carrier in order to remove any witnesses.
- In All Our Yesterdays, the doctor keeps Em and Finn alive because they know the whereabouts of top secret documents. It's later revealed that they burned them ages ago and he uses it as an excuse to keep them alive, wanting them to truly believe he's made a better world.
- In The Machineries of Empire, the Kel Command would much rather terminate Jedao, but his track record (he's never lost a battle) makes him too useful to discard.
- Downplayed in The Belgariad: Relg was on the verge of becoming a Sinister Minister to a genuinely good Physical God named UL. UL had no plans or even desire to kill Relg, but he did find Relg's actions annoying and disappointing and told Relg as much. Then he commanded Relg to travel with The Hero and his True Companions. Relg was terrified of this journey, but told UL he'd go, even if it killed him. UL responded that he had plans for Relg after the journey, so it wouldn't kill him.
- Breaking Bad:
- The main plot of season 4. Gus can't kill Walt and Jesse because he has no one else to cook meth. However, since they've already shown themselves willing to defy him, he tries to play them off against each other instead.
- In season 5, Walt has a sit-down with Lydia, his supplier of methylimine, to ask her for the list of people from Gus Fring's old operation who might turn state's witness and implicate both of them unless they're disposed of. Lydia worries that Walt will kill her too the moment she hands over the list, and tells him that she can help him expand his meth business to Europe through her company. Walt mocks her paranoia, pointing out that they're in a public space in broad daylight. Later, it turns out that he really was planning on killing her by slipping a poison into her drink, but she convinced him out of it.
- Spike pulls one of these in one of the earlier Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons, when he needs Angel to heal Drusilla.
- In The Flash (2014) episode "The Man in the Yellow Suit", Reverse-Flash's first encounter with the Central City police has him attempt to slaughter the team sent after him. However he pauses mid-attack when he sees that Eddie Thawne is amongst the team, giving the Flash enough time to stop him. It's later revealed that the reason Reverse-Flash froze up is because Eddie is his direct ancestor, so he can't do anything to Eddie without wiping himself from existence by triggering a Grandfather Paradox.
- In the spin-off Legends of Tomorrow
- When Leonard Snart travels back in time to his childhood, he expresses desire to kill his father then and there for the years of abuse he will suffer at his hand, but lets him go because Leonard's younger sister and Morality Pet Lisa hadn't been born yet.
- Kuasa would really like to kill Amaya... but killing her grandmother is tantamount to erasing herself from existence.
- Game of Thrones:
- Ramsay Snow claims this is why he won't kill Theon Greyjoy. It's pretty obvious that the real reason is that he's having too much fun torturing his prisoner. His father Roose even berates him for wasting such a potentially valuable hostage. However in the following season once he's broken Theon, he does put him to good use in getting the surrender of a castle that's been seized by the Ironborn.
- Littlefinger invokes this a lot, which is why he is able to get away with so much crap by offering valuable information and resources to people that otherwise would have wanted him dead. Sansa Stark is wary of him and would have ordered his death for the many unpleasant things he put her through, but is forced to rely on him such as when she summons his army to save her brother in the Battle of the Bastards. Littlefinger's luck runs out when Winterfell is recovered, his bannermen pledge their allegiance to Sansa's brother as King in the North and their surviving siblings return home, she finally orders his death when he has no use for her.
- On Haven, Nathan and Duke keep Mara alive because she's the one who created the Troubles and is the only one that can provide them with answers.
- The Defenders (2017):
- Daredevil (2015): In prison, Wilson Fisk intends to use Frank Castle to assassinate Dutton, the kingpin of the prison's underground economy. After Frank does the deed, Fisk has him locked in the cell block and releases Dutton's men from their cells, so that they can get revenge on their boss's killer. Frank makes short work of all of them, so Fisk decides that he won't kill Frank, but rather, have him smuggled out of the prison disguised as a guard, since that will allow Frank to continue his vigilante crusade, weakening Fisk's rivals to ensure that his return to power when he gets out of jail is much easier.
- Luke Cage (2016): Diamondback, suspecting that Shades killed Cottonmouthnote , draws a gun and points it at Shades' head:
Willis "Diamondback" Stryker: Give me one good reason why I shouldn't splatter this pristine desk with your brain matter.[As if by pure luck, Zip suddenly enters the office]Zip: Because it won't help you find Luke Cage any faster? [Diamondback grins and emits a wheezy laugh as he lowers his gun. Shades breathes a sigh of relief]Willis "Diamondback" Stryker: You're smarter than your name implies, Zip.
- Invoked and subverted in Iron Fist (2017), when Danny Rand guesses that Bakuto probably isn't allowed to kill him. Bakuto agrees, says that this won't stop him doing whatever is taken to subdue him, then draws a katana and tries to slice him open. Since The Hand can resurrect people he's likely not worried about Danny even surviving, so long as his head is still attached.
- A subversion kicks off Ozark. Marty and his accounting firm handle the money laundering for Mexican drug lord Del Rio. When Del Rio shows up, pressing on who's been stealing from the till, Marty snorts that they're not intimidated as he knows full well how vital they are to Del Rio's operation. At which point, Del Rio shoots innocent secretary Liz and has the group dragged to a garage where a crew is already preparing to dispose of their corpses. Too late, they realize Del Rio has no problem with killing them all and just hiring a new firm for his money.
- With a gun literally to his head, Marty talks about setting up a new system to launder millions in a small town and he's the only one with the connections. While suspecting (correctly) that Marty is just stalling, Del Rio is intrigued and so lets Marty do it while Marty uses this chance to prove his worth and keep himself and his family alive.
- Person of Interest. When Control discovers that one of her assassins let Rogue Agent Shaw live after encountering her during a mission, she coldly informs him that normally he'd be killed (and we've seen more than enough evidence to back this up), but she's going to let him live as she needs a Rogue Agent of her own, having become suspicious of their so-called ally in the War on Terror, private intelligence service Decima Technologies.
- Moriarty seems to fully intend to kill both Sherlock and John during the swimming pool confrontation, but backs off immediately after he gets a phone call. Apparently he still needs Sherlock alive so that Sherlock will solve Irene Adler's code for him.
Moriarty: Not time to die.
Sherlock: Did you get a better offer?
- In the third season finale, "His Last Vow", after Sherlock killed master blackmailer Magnusun once he realized there would be no other way to bring him to justice, Mycroft decided to exile Sherlock to Eastern Europe on what would likely be a suicide mission for MI-6. Within minutes of Sherlock's plane taking off, he is ordered back when every TV in London suddenly shows a picture of a seemingly-dead Moriarty asking, "Did you miss me?" and Sherlock is the only one clever enough to take Moriarty on.
- Moriarty seems to fully intend to kill both Sherlock and John during the swimming pool confrontation, but backs off immediately after he gets a phone call. Apparently he still needs Sherlock alive so that Sherlock will solve Irene Adler's code for him.
- In the Stargate SG-1 two-parter "The Quest", Adria protects the good guys (and Ba'al) from a dragon (It Makes Sense in Context) because they have the clues leading to the MacGuffin that she's also after.
Adria: I extended my protective shield. [looking at Daniel] You're lucky I still need you.
- In the second half of Star Trek: Enterprise's "In A Mirror, Darkly" the Mirror Universe version of Archer chews out its version of T'Pol for having sabotaged the I.S.S. Enterprise and thereby overturned his mutiny against Captain Forrest. He tells her that he'd frankly like to throw her out the nearest airlock, but needs her help getting the still-crippled U.S.S. Defiant up and running. He also threatens to kill her anyway if he hears "so much as a rumor that you've been working behind my back!"
- In season 4, Uriel tells Sam to cease his demon blood consumption at once, because the minute he stops becoming useful to the angels, he intends to kill him.
- In season 5, the boys and demon Crowley capture another demon who serves and looks after the Four Horsemen. They need him to reveal the locations of Pestilence and Death, but the situation is complicated because this demon is revealed to have tortured and roasted Jessica, Sam's deceased love interest. The demon gives a disgusting gloat about his crimes, and Sam can just barely resist killing him on the spot and getting his revenge because they still need him.
- In the seventh season, a slipping Castiel does this to Crowley because he still has use for him despite Crowley's counterbetrayal to him the previous season. He directs Crowley to downsize Hell and maintain the Cage for the two remaining Archangels. Crowley happily obliges.
- At the end of season 8, Dean and Sam capture Crowley for the last trial. In season 9, they still have him locked in the basement, citing this trope, though he hasn't been useful to them yet.
- Million Yen Women: A clear aversion shows up, as the killer deeply regrets having had to kill Minami, because she had talents and connections that would have been of use to them, but keeping her alive was an even bigger risk to their plans.
- A variation in Good Girls. Beth, Annie and Ruby discover too late that they ripped off a grocery store that was the front for gang leader Rico. Not impressed by their ideas to pay him back, Rico is ready to kill the trio in a faked home invasion. However, Beth points out that murdering three women known as normal, law-abiding suburban mothers will spark a massive investigation that Rico isn't ready for. Rico thus realizes sparing them will avoid a lot of heat and also how the trio can be useful running errands for him to pay off their debt.
- In World of Warcraft, many quests that directly involve the Lich King will have him letting you walk out alive for seemingly no reason; in one such quest exclusive to Alliance characters, he will even overtly say It Is Not Your Time. Turns out this trope is the reason; he's actually letting you kill his most powerful troops to test you and make you stronger so that when you reach the Frozen Throne, he can kill you with just a snap of his fingers and raise you under his service. This is exactly what happens when you fight him. You're only saved by a last minute Deus ex Machina courtesy of Tirion Fordring and the Ashbringer.
- Dragon Age: Origins: If you already know the final Reveal (that one of the Grey Wardens in your party must perform a Heroic Sacrifice after the Final Battle), this may become a motivation to spare the life of Teyrn Loghain and instead recruit him to the Grey Wardens. Riordan tries to argue in favor of doing so without publicly stating why.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition, when presiding over the trials of captured enemies, with the right perks there's generally an option to make them serve as agents of the Inquisition on the basis that they possess useful skillsets/connections and that simply killing or imprisoning them is too much of a waste. For example, you can make Magister Alexius into a magical researcher due to his time magic being potentially useful or in one particularly silly case, "exile" an irate Avaar warlord and his clan to Tevinter with as many weapons as they can carry.
- Starcraft II: It is revealed that former Big Bad Kerrigan is needed to stop a Greater-Scope Villain.
- This is the standard Paragon outcome to Zaeed's quest in Mass Effect 2. If you've already completed the final mission at this point, however, you can leave him to die instead.
- Similarly, in Mass Effect 3, Shepard can choose to spare Balaknote in order to get the batarian fleets on her/his side. It's made exceptionally clear that Shepard would love nothing more than to kill him on the spot, but there's too much at stake to murder someone who could bring extra firepower to the war against the Reapers.
Officer Noles: Is that... Do you want me to arrest him?
Shepard: I want you to put a bullet in his head, but we're all making some sacrifices today.
- Fable III: If you choose to spare Logan in the third game, the Hero Prince explains that "now is not the time for revenge.", politely asking for his brother's help. A kind way of putting it- you spare Logan because you need his built-up military to assist you.
- In Ada's final chapter of Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Ada finds her contact dead and a computer with Wesker's face on it. He tries to mock her and pull a You Have Failed Me, until she dangles the G-Virus Sample in his face.
- In AdventureQuest Worlds, Drakath, the Big Bad, has many opportunities to kill the Hero, but always chooses to save him or her on multiple occasions. The reason he still wants the Hero alive, however, is because... He intends to transform The Hero into the 13th Lord of Chaos, unleash a purple plague of Chaos upon Lore, unleash the 13th Chaos Beast then open the portal to release the Mother of All Monsters — which requires the defeat of all 13 Chaos Lords. Drakath kills the Hero and rampages across Lore, but unfortunately, the Hero has other plans...
- Dawn of War: In Retribution, the Imperial Guard campaign has a scene where Merrick is holding a gun to General Castor's head, fully intent on shooting him for throwing the lives of Guardsmen away. Castor replies that yes, he has sent men to their deaths before, and will do so again (like every other Imperial Guard officer)- but what he does not do is waste those lives. He could have Merrick shot for insubordination right there (and indeed, the commissar is waiting to pull the trigger), but cites this trope to spare him.
- Grand Theft Auto V: Trevor's supposed reason for not killing Michael after finding out Brad was dead is that they've still got the Union Depository to do. However, his reaction to Michael's death in Ending B, and a post-game conversation in Ending C both imply he was lying and using the promise of the heist as an excuse.
- Doomfist of Overwatch knows Sombra is using both Talon and Volskaya Industries for her own purposes. He could easily do away with her, but doesn't due to her hacking skills being amazingly useful, and being impressed with her ambition.
- In the climax of Metroid: Samus Returns, Ridley does not attack the Baby Metroid, despite the fact that it is actively helping his arch-enemy Samus in the fight against him, because the Space Pirates need it for their plans to take over the galaxy.
- Dominic Deegan includes a couple of these. Notably, Evil Necromancer older brother Jacob including "don't kill Luna" as a major part of his demands when negotiating with the Shindula, simply because he expects to get some use out of her... for now. Of course, he has his Heel Realization and saves her just 'cause at the end of the arc. "Don't say I never did anything for this family."
- General Tarquin from The Order of the Stick was trying to use this to protect Nale, his son, as he is a screw-up who should've been cut loose and killed a long time ago. When Nale eventually denounces Tarquin, Tarquin kills him without a second thought.
- Happens to Blackarachnia twice on Beast Wars. First in "Aftermath", Megatron threatens to kill her for working against him until she points out that, despite Optimus Primal's death during "Other Voices: Part II", the Predacons were still outnumbered thanks to Scorponok and Terrorsaur's deaths during this episode. Second, in "Optimal Situation", Blackarachnia officially turns against the Predacons because Megatron's attempt at killing Optimus Prime would have erased her existence. However, instead of killing her, he just non-fatally shoots her since she has the access codes to the Ark in her memory.
- A humorous variant occurs in an episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command where Buzz is in an Enemy Mine with Warp Darkmatter. At the end of the episode, Buzz is happy that Warp came back to help him, instead of stealing his space-car and abandoning him on the planet, prompting a Power of Friendship speech... only for Warp to interrupt and explain that he literally couldn't leave without Buzz: he can't drive stick.
- In the five part pilot for DuckTales (1987), Glomgold and the old captain attempt to kill Scrooge and his nephews to keep them from reaching the lost ship first. Then they discover their map being eaten by their donkey and hastily undo their attempt on Scrooge's life.
- The Legend of Korra:
- Amon discusses this trope. Ridding the new Avatar of her ability to bend and killing her when he first meets her would only create a martyr, so he fully intends to save her for last. He tells Korra all of this during their first meeting, and she's so terrified that she doesn't fight back.
- After Bolin and Varrick's failed defection in Book 4, Kuvira sends Bolin to a re-education camp but keeps Varrick around, as she needs him to keep working on developing superweapons based off of the spirit vines.
- In the first serial of Rocky and Bullwinkle "Jet Fuel Formula" Boris keeps getting contradictory orders from Fearless Leader — keel moose, or don't keel moose — depending on whether or not they think they have all the ingredients for the rocket fuel Bullwinkle accidentally cooked up.
- Invoked by Sleet in the Sonic Underground three-parter "Chaos Emerald Chaos". Robotnik is about to Roboticize Sleet as punishment for his and Dingo's attempted coup, when Sleet points out that he knows where Dingo is. Robotnik immediately lets him go, mainly because Dingo has absorbed a broken Chaos Emerald and is threatening to destroy the entire planet.
- South Park: This is the reason why Eric Cartman won't kill his mother.
- Star Wars Rebels:
- "Always Two There Are": The Seventh Sister points out to the Fifth Brother that killing Ezra, who they've just captured, right away is short-sighted because he can be used as bait to draw out the other rebels, Kanan and Ahsoka in particular.
- "Through Imperial Eyes": At the end, Grand Admiral Thrawn tells Colonel Yularen this is why he's not having the Reverse Mole, Kallus, arrested and executed — now that Thrawn knows who the traitor is, he can Feed the Mole.
- Steven Universe has Peridot invoke this, as she points that she is the only one with full knowledge concerning the nature of the Cluster, a large alien creature lying dormant under the Earth's surface and whose awakening would destroy the planet from the inside out.
- In the final episode of the first season of Young Justice, Vandal Savage notes this about the Justice League, explaining that they are still needed for Phase Two of the plan, mind-controlled or not.