Deadly Graduation

A classic for evil training programs, especially for assassins. Relatively good and innocent characters are trained in combat skills in a harsh and often deadly program. Often they are made to train in pairs for years building reliance on their partner. Now it is time for their final test. They must battle their best friend to the death!

A variation on this is the character's partner goes missing shortly before this mysterious exam only to be found tied up in the exam room with the test being to shoot them in cold blood. This can often end with the more talented best friend throwing the exam and sacrificing themselves in order to save their friend's life/any innocence he has left.

Occasionally, it is a Secret Test of Character, in one of two ways. Either you're not supposed to Shoot Your Mate, or you ARE but the gun is loaded with blanks.

Sub-Trope of Involuntary Battle to the Death. See also Tested On Humans.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • It used to be part of the Village in the Mist's initiation in Naruto, until Zabuza decided to be a smartass and kill all the other graduates. Before he was even old enough to actually qualify. They probably couldn't spare any future ninja past that point. Danzo used this as a graduation for his ANBU program in the anime.
  • Burst Angel has the Genocide Angels killing each other until only one remains... or at least they were supposed to: their final test is interrupted, they end up scattered around the world, and now Jo is pestered by the two remaining survivors who are there to kill her.

Comic Books
  • The Star Wars comic Crimson Empire has this as the final exam for Royal Guards.
    • In the "Shadow Academy" story arc of the Young Jedi Knights series, it's revealed that exactly this is necessary to earn the title of Darkest Knight in the Shadow Academy.
    • And in the first Knights of the Old Republic, this is the final test for up-and-coming Sith.
  • In the Granny Goodness backstory her final exam was to kill the loyal dog she had trained. She avoided this by killing the examiner. Darkseid later forced her to complete the test by siccing the dog on her.

Film
  • In the movie Azumi, the ten young assassin students were told to pair up with the person they liked the most before their final exam. Then they were told to fight each other to the death. (This conveniently killed off half of the cast before the movie even began properly.)
  • The Wong Jing film Naked Weapon does this particularly graphically.
  • The opening montage of the Korean movie Shiri shows North Korean assassins going through a hellish training program and initiation. In one test, the cadets are made to bayonet a field full of civilians who are tied to stakes. One man shows remorse afterwards and is killed. In another, cadets are paired up and each given a disassembled pistol. The first one to correctly assemble it must shoot their partner.
  • Not exactly "good and innocent", but after the Joker kills Gambol in The Dark Knight, he talks about how his organization is "small, but growing". Then he mentions he only has room for one more member at the moment... as he snaps a pool cue over his knee and drops the sharper half between three of Gambol's men. "Make it quick."

Jokes
  • The loaded-with-blanks version is used in a quite cruel joke.
    Three Special Forces members of are applying to an elite inter-service unit. In the final test, each candidate is offered a gun secretly filled with blanks, and told to kill whoever they find in the next room— which turns out to be the candidate's spouse.
    The Army Ranger enters the room, wavers for a minute, and then marches out of the testing facility without a word. He is rejected for disobedience.
    The Navy SEAL refuses to handle the weapon, makes a cutting remark on illegal orders, and leaves. A commendation for high ethics is placed in his file, and he is rejected for disobedience.
    Finally the Marine Raider enters the room and stays for an oddly long time. When he finally leaves, the instructors ask him what the hell took him so long. "Some idiot loaded the gun with blanks," he replied, "so I had to strangle her."

Literature
  • The Unsullied eunuch slave soldiers in A Song of Ice and Fire are given a puppy to raise that after a year they have to kill. To actually become Unsullied they are sent to kill a slave child. It's mentioned that they have a harder time with the puppy test than the child one, and those that fail are killed, and fed to the surviving puppies.
  • On Gor this is the final test to join the Caste of Assassins.
  • Discworld:
    • Pyramids includes a graduation test for Pteppic, in which he's supposed to assassinate someone who is sleeping in a room "guarded" by one of his teachers. Pteppic is terrified by the idea of actually killing someone, however, and ends up firing his crossbow at nothing rather than kill (but still hits the target due to a "lucky" shot). Rumour among the student body is that the victim is a student who failed the exam, but it turns out to just be a dummy under a sheet. They're also perfectly allowed to inhume the examiners... but the savvy ones don't tend to risk it.
    • In Wyrd Sisters it's mentioned that "competitive examination" means the number of student Assassins is drastically reduced by the end of the year (even before the Final Exam), which doesn't stop students at the Fools' Guild from envying them.
  • In the first book of the Emperor series this happens to Gaius and Marcus after Renius spent years training them. Only in this case their graduation is to fight Renius himself, veteran warrior and gladiator, to the death.
  • Charles Stross's story "Palimpsest" has a unique variation: the final test for a time agent is to go back in time a few minutes and murder yourself in the middle of your graduation ceremony.
  • In the Forgotten Realms novels War of the Spider Queen the rebirth of Lloth is discribed in a prologue: you have thousands of spiders, they suddenly start killing and eating each other to gain power, but if one grows to strong others will team up to get it down, until only the 8 most cunning ones are remaing. They then serve as the eight spider aspect avatars of Lloth.
  • The Doctor Who New Adventures novel No Future features a U.N.I.T. soldier who has to do the puppy version (with a rabbit) when she was training for the British Army. The Brigadier's reaction is that the people who trained her were bastards.

Live-Action Television
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), the Yellow-Eyed Demon brings all of the Special Children who have developed psychic powers to a ghost town where they are manipulated to fight each other until only one remains, so he can determine who is the strongest.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Helpless" is the best example of this in the series, with Buffy's deadly ordeal of fighting a vampire while Brought Down to Normal. The element of moral compromise is there too, but it's Giles who is having his morals tested, not Buffy.
  • On Charmed, one episode has Prue get in touch with an old friend of hers, who has fallen into a demon recruitment program and is about to graduate with this kind of initiatory killing of an innocent.

Tabletop Games
  • Mentioned as a possible first assignment for a newly trained assassin in the article "The Assassin's Guild" in Dragon Magazine #64 (1982).

Video Games
  • Used as the second Death Knight quest in World of Warcraft - After carving the runes on your weapon, you're told to go kill one of the "unworthy trainees," in a fight to the death.
    • It's also later somewhat reversed in Naxxramas, during the fight with Instructor Rasuvius — you mind-control his trainees and force them to kill him.
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Phoenix's case in Turnabout Succession involved this. Both Zak and Valant Gramarye were ordered by Magnifi Gramarye to bring a gun to his hospital room and "shoot straight in the forehead." Zak passed by shooting the clown doll straight in the forehead. Valant lost by not firing at all.
  • The main premise of Monokuma's Deadly Game in Dangan Ronpa: the only way anyone can escape their Closed Circle Gilded Cage is to kill one of their classmates, then successfully cover up the crime. If the others students can't figure out who the murderer is, the culprit gets to leave... while the rest suffer a brutal punishment. If they're caught, though... well...
  • According to Nathyrra's backstory in Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, it's common among Drow assassins as well.

Webcomics
  • Valentino's backstory in the Marilith webcomic. Made even more horrifying since it was not an assassin guild, but a gulag.