After a villain attacks a location, there will usually be one or two wounded people left lying on the floor wincing in pain (sometimes begging for mercy depending how tough they are). The villain will then dispatch them with a single shot, or any kind of One-Hit Kill, to the head. Usually one handed.
If pronounced after the French manner, the term is pronounced "coo deh graass" and translates as "blow of mercy". However, most English speakers hypercorrect the pronunciation so the last word is pronounced "grah", which in French changes the meaning to "blow of fat". However, since we're speaking English and not French, it's a bit of a moot point. It comes from the use of such execution methods as the "Breaking Wheel", often used in France during the Dark Ages, where the victim is stretched across a wheel and has their limbs broken by a very large hammer. Often, it was then ordered for the executioner to deliver a fatal blow to the chest, in order to end the torturous ordeal quickly.
Also used in assassinations. In Russia, this is known as a "control shot". It's also used by hero protagonists on occasion, often spy characters, either to ensure a kill has succeeded, or to make sure a Big Bad is indeed dead. Not to be confused with actions such as a "Double Tap" in which multiple bullets are fired during the initial action; these are additional killing shots (or blows) delivered at some point after the target is disabled.
If it's done to ensure a swift and painless death, see Mercy Kill. May be used as (part of) a Finishing Move. Contrast Finish Him!. Part of the Coup de Grâce Cutscene, obviously. Contrast Thwarted Coup de Grâce.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime and Manga
In Black Lagoon, the leader of the Extra Order company does during their attack on the Yellow Flag in the first arc. Revy also delivers a Coup de Grâce to a neo-nazi she mortally wounded in a later arc.
Death Note. Averted at the very end, when Matsuda's final shot at Light is deflected by his fellow officers, causing it to hit the concrete next to his head. Also averted earlier on, when Soichiro can't kill Mello, even at the cost of his own life. For a series so heavily steeped in Grey and Gray Morality, it's suitably marked by the good guys' inability to kill anyone. Mello and L are exempt from this one.
In the anime Hellsing, Sir Integra has to do this for all Helsing personnel after the mansion is attacked.
In Monster, Johan performs several on screen, and God knows how many off.
Naruto: After Naruto defeats Kakuzu with Wind Style: Rasenshuriken, Kakashi finishes Kakuzu off with Lightning Blade. Pain tries this once on Kakashi with a nail, and while Kakashi makes the nail disappear with his Mangekyo Sharingan, he seemingly dies of exhaustion after saving Choji from a missile. Pain seemingly does this a second time on Hinata, although it doesn't kill her. Sasuke starts to deliver one to a stabbed through Karin by Madara's advice that she knows to much to let her live but is interrupted by Sakura arriving.
Sin City: Marv does this to a female sex-slaver in a Christmas issue. Yes, there was a Christmas issue.
In the Warhammer40000 graphic novel "Imperius Dictatio" it is done with Humongous Mecha.
In Full Metal Jacket, Joker shoots a Vietnamese sniper in the head as a Mercy Kill. She'd already been so wounded, she was going to die anyway, but Joker eased her suffering. His squadmates completely miss the point, and praise it as a cold-blooded kill, despite the Heroic BSOD, complete with Thousand-Yard Stare on Joker's face.
300: An amusing hero-on-villain version; Leonidas and the Captain idly converse about how there's no reason they should not "be civil" when dealing with the Persians. Leonidas is even eating an apple... and all the while the rest of the Spartans are searching the fallen for wounded Persian soldiers to finish off. This is also present in the comic, with one of the Spartans humming or whistling.
Hero on bad guy: Mal shooting an Alliance pilot, although Book had already shot his ship down by the time the crew of Serenity got there.
And Hero on NPC: Mal shooting a guy about to get eaten and raped to death by Reavers.
Pan's Labyrinth: Done generously throughout, mostly by Captain Vidal but briefly by the heroic guerrilleros as well.
When clearing the White House lawn and foyer, the Dangerously Genre Savvy terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen shoot each and every downed opponent in the head whether they seem alive or not. When Banning turns the tables on them, he has no problem with ventilating their skulls in kind.
In The Patriot, Benjamin Martin is treating wounded American and British soldiers. The British Colonel Tavington orders the American soldiers shot and the house burned down as punishment for "harboring the enemy".
In Rambo, after the titular character has shot up the crew of a pirate boat (with a pistol vs automatic weapons, no less; he gets six shots off in the space of about one second, and they all hit) there is still one pirate left wounded, so Rambo blows his brains out.
In Bad Company, Anthony Hopkins shoots an unconscious terrorist dead for no readily discernible reason (there were like 50 CIA agents in the building, so it's unclear why they couldn't have just taken the guy prisoner.). He later complains that there's no one left to interrogate after the second terrorist jumps off the roof of the hotel.
In one scene in Blade: Trinity, Blade and his sidekicks get into a fight against a bunch of security guards armed with nightsticks. After easily overpowering most of the security guards, Blade whips out a gun and kills the last security guard for no apparent reason other than to show that he can.
In Commando, Arnie's character, sitting next to a bad guy on a plane, knocks the thug unconscious and, even though the enemy is out cold, then proceeds to break his neck, just to be sure. ("He's dead tired.")
After Sonny's No Kill Like Overkill execution in The Godfather, one of the killers walks over and gives him a superfluous final burst to the chest. Then kicks him in the face.
In T Force, one of the cyborg cops, blindly following directives, kills a disabled terrorist, despite her pleading for mercy.
Haywire: after a thorough Curb-Stomp Battle against Paul, leaving him dazed and likely seriously injured, Mallory proceeds to execute the man with a bullet to the head (using a pillow silencer).
After Derry overcomes two men who tried to drug him in Fathane, he finds that one of them is injured but alive and near returning to consciousness. He slits the man's throat before setting the scene to resemble a murderous quarrel, and he vomits in an alley a short distance away.
Time Enough for Love: In Robert A. Heinlein's novel, Lazarus Long invites a man and his two sons to dinner out in the middle of nowhere on the prairie where his homestead is. After the man pulls a hidden gun and proceeds to inform Lazarus that he and his sons are all going to rape Lazarus' wife, she shoots the gun out of his hand. After the man's two sons are killed, Lazarus asks him if he has any last words before putting him out of his misery. (Lazarus' misery, that is.)
In the The Book of Dreams, the final The Demon Princes novel, Howard Alan Treesong is faced with a Fate Worse than Death, permanently immobilized and surrounded by vengeful enemies. His split personalities, however, have enough psychic power between them to knock him over into a pool of water and drown him.
In Malevil, surviving enemy commander Jean Feyrac is shot with a bow when he rides a bicycle ahead of his retreating men. He falls silently and it isn't until a few minutes later, after the ambush is sprung, that someone checks on him and learns he was only fatally wounded. Hervè is reluctant but Feyrac's crimes are too great and he finishes him off with his rifle.
Live Action TV
LOST: One tragic example is that mercenary bastard Keamy killing Alex in the fourth season.
The TV adaptation of the Robert Harris novel Archangel.
CSI: Miami features a rare example of a goodie doing this. On two occasions, with only the first being just in style as the guy still had a gun.
Burn Notice: The pilot starts with the hero being viciously beaten up by some Nigerian arms dealers. After decoying a pair of their dumber thugs into carrying his supposedly helpless self into the bathroom where he then knocks them out, the hero stands over the unconscious thugs while drawing and cocking a pistol. The camera immediately cuts to a viewpoint outside the bathroom — and then we hear two pistol shots through the door. The door then opens, revealing the hero limping away.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Another example of the good guys doing it to a fallen villain: Giles cold-bloodedly smothering Ben the doctor to death during the season 5 finale (see Shoot the Dog).
Giles: "No, she couldn't. Never. And sooner or later Glory will re-emerge, and make Buffy pay for that mercy. And the world with her. Buffy even knows that and still she couldn't take a human life. She's a hero, you see. She's not like us."
In an episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, John does this to Cromartie, just to blow off some steam, apparently, since one bullet from a handgun won't do much to a Terminator.
A debatable example depending on one's view as to whether Terminators are actually sentient (i.e., alive), made more complex by how the Terminator Cameron is depicted in the series (is she or isn't she?)
Subverted in Battlestar Galactica. When the insurgents ambush the Cylon execution squad and rescue the human prisoners, Cavil is still alive but badly wounded. Rather than finish him off, Seelix leaves him lying there to suffer, saying, "I hope it hurts a long time before you go to Download City."
"The Plan" has Cavil getting angry at Boomer for shooting Adama in the chest instead of the head. Indeed Adama himself learns from his experience — when he orders Admiral Cain's assassination (using a plan clearly based on his own shooting) he makes a point of telling Starbuck to shoot Cain in the head.
A later episode of the original La Femme Nikita TV series has the heroine rather disturbingly casually firing bullets into the heads of a group of unconscious Section agents, to ensure their deaths.
It's shown in the NCIS season finale "Judgment Day" that Mike Franks finishes off the bad guys Jenny Shepard only managed to wound during her last stand.
In the premiere of Copper one of the police officers finishes off a wounded bank robber. The criminal was reaching for his gun so it's ultimately justified but given the overall Values Dissonance the copper probably simply did not want to deal with a wounded prisoner.
On Ultimate Force, in conjunction with No Kill Like Overkill, SAS troopers are shown taking down terrorists with controlled bursts and then raking the body with a few more to make sure their targets don't get back up.
Done quite often in Dungeons & Dragons; there are actually rules in the 3rd edition of the game for when it may be done and how it affects attacks. One of the most surefire ways to kill something in 3rd edition is to have a spell-caster paralyze or otherwise incapacitate your opponent and then have a fighter or a rogue with a high-critical weapon perform this trope on them while they're down, because a coup de grace is a guaranteed maximum damage critical hit. You don't roll anything at all. If the victim survives that, they must roll a fortitude save with a difficulty equal to the damage dealt plus ten or die. Often, it's the failure of the save that kills them, not the damage. It comes up in earlier editions as well, back to the original D&D rules in the "Three Little Brown Books" that came immediately after Chainmail. A helpless person could be slain instantly, for example paralyzed or magically-sleeping ones. Most of the durability of a person (Hit Points) were abstract. It was assumed that regardless of the combat rules one should still be able to behead or neck-shiv a comatose man.
There are rules for coup-de-grace (here called "point-blanking") in Unknown Armies. Appropriately for the themes of the game, they also detail the effect killing a helpless victim has on the executor's Sanity Meter.
Aimed shots to the head of an enemy BattleMech are essentially this in BattleTech. This is because they can only even be made if that 'Mech is already immobile (due to reactor shutdown or pilot KO) and because the head is relatively easy to destroy and usually holds the cockpit with the pilot, thus killing two birds with one stone.
In Deus Ex: Human Revolution the protagonist is given one after being thrown through a wall of plate glass and having his throat crushed during the prologue chapter. He survives, obviously, but the person doing it intended a coup de grace.
In Knights of the Old Republic, if you are unable to turn Bastila back to the Light Side, you have three options: defeat her in combat and kill her, be defeated and killed by her, or defeat her and then give her a quick, execution-style death.
Done by Big Bad Zakhaev to the incapacitated SAS troops in the final bridge scene.
Also done by Captain Price to Khaled al-Asad.
You yourself can do this to wounded enemy troops, which is usually a good idea: you have no idea if they're going to produce a pistol or a grenade to take you down with them. Call of Duty does a damn good job reminding the player of the merciless brutality of war.
In Call of Duty: World at War, in the campaign mode, there's various sections where you can finish off unarmed and surrendering Germans. Reznov encourages killing them, but it's ultimately up to the player.
Subverted when it comes to Tenpenny in San Andreas, where he's already dead after delivering his last words, and when the player character takes aim to put a bullet in Tenpenny's corpse, another character tells him not to.
Gears of War famously allowed the player to curb-stomp wounded enemy soldiers. Gears of War 2 ups the ante with many, many more instant kills to wounded enemy soldiers. Oh the humanity.
The World Ends with You has an instance of this in the case of a certain spoileriffic death: Joshua shooting Neku while he's down and startled.
Dark Messiah: The player can use a bladed weapon to run through any enemy that's been knocked to the ground.
Eternal Darkness features this in spades - Not only did each weapon have its own finishing move, each person had their unique ways to finish off horrors as well. Most of these are with blades as few characters have access to firearms. Also, players were encouraged to finish off enemies as doing so restored sanity. These include:
Each member of the Killer7 has their own method for dispatching Heaven's Smiles that have lost their legs. They range from Dan kicking the target onto its back and double-tapping, to Coyote curb-stomping it, to Garcian bashing its head in with his briefcase.
Done by Ocelot in Metal Gear Solid 3 during the Virtuous Missionnote Virtual Mission?. He walks in while Snake is surrounded by Spetnaz, and then shoots all of them. One is left on the ground, squirming on Ocelot's beret. Ocelot promptly shoots him in the head and picks up his hat.
In Scarface: The World is Yours, if you get into melee range with an enemy while having a gun out, Tony can force him onto his knees and shoot him up. The game clearly labels this as "Execution" and gives you extra Balls for killing folks this way.
In Assassin's Creed II you have the option of attacking enemies on the ground and doing so while armed is a One-Hit Kill. Some of the moves shown for Brotherhood include sweeping an enemy off his feet and shooting him with the crossbow or following up a flooring Groin Attack with a curb-stomp.
At the end of Mass Effect, regardless of whether you killed Saren or talked him into committing suicide, Shepard will tell his/her squadmates, "Make sure he's dead." One of them will walk up to his body and shoot him in the head. Immediately after which, Sovereign reanimates said body for the final boss fight.
At the end of the first level in Max Payne 3, you see some UFE members do this to downed gangbangers, the first sign that something's up with them.
In Spec Ops: The Line this can be done to wounded or stunned enemies. It also is used to show Walkers Sanity Slippage, as they go more and more vicious during the course of the game.
The finale of The Walking Dead has Lee infected and on the brink of death. It's up to you as a player if Clementine shoots him or leaves him to turn.
Roy Greenhilt delivers several of these to Goblins afflicted with sleep in one of the early chapters. The technique he uses is even called "Coup de Grace." It wasn't V's spell which put them to sleep but the length and boring nature of the speech leading up to the incantation.
"I never knew you had such great cleavage, Roy."
Much later, Durkon snaps Zz'dtri's neck after knocking him out.
Spoofed in Penny Arcade, as a rule of nerf gun fighting, if a player finds an enemy who is out of ammo he is allowed to shoot them executioner style.
Gabe - "Killing me won't bring her back."
Tycho - "Ain't that a shame. (Toink)"
The eponymous protagonist in Sarab deals out one of these to an unnamed girl. Or rather, her avatar.
Kaleb: Bastard! You think you're really changing anything? Solus has more power and influence than you could ever dream of. You can't stop him — and if you kill me, another will take my place. Agrippa:(slashes Kaleb's throat with his combat knife) Then their fate will be the same as yours.
When fighting in Real Life, be aware that employing this trope may be in violation of The Laws and Customs of War, depending on the circumstances. Even if the enemy in question was requesting a Mercy Kill, he won't exactly be able to vouch for you at your court martial later on.
Relatively common in mechanized and naval warfare. An enemy disabled in the heat of combat may then be ignored while more threatening targets are focused on. While it is a crime to Sink the Lifeboats, there is nothing particularly wrong with swinging back to finish off a crippled Cool Ship if there is any chance the crew may repair her and bring her back into the fight. This was indeed a common role for submarines during larger battles during World War II. Arguably justifiable under rules of war as one is technically delivering a death blow to an inanimate vessel, not the people aboard her (who simply become collateral damage if they don't survive).
Before modern medicine, the blow of grace was frequently delivered to a mortally wounded enemy. Many weapons could deliver mortal, incapacitating wounds which would leave a human helpless and in agony for hours before their death. Given the battlefields were also prone to attract scavenging wildlife, being swiftly slain after the battle could be a great act of mercy.
Occasionally employed during executions in some countries, particularly firing squad, if the initial action does not instantly kill the condemned. An officer or other official, upon determining that the prisoner is still alive, may choose to fire a point-blank round into the person's head to ensure death.