"Show the people my head. It's worth a look!"
How they loved to promise heads, these men who would be king.
Basically, a scene where, after killing someone, they are beheaded and the head is held up to demonstrate it.
of Off with His Head!
, which is about death by decapitation. This trope is about presenting the severed head in some way, be it by holding it up, or showing it stabbed on a pike, or throwing it casually to the one it is presented to, etc
Human heads are not required. Any character engaging in this is an Anti-Hero
at best, unless it's not the head of anything resembling a human at all
, like a dragon
. In the latter case, the purpose of this trope is to show off the badassness of the character carrying the head. If it's a human head, it effectively shows that the character has no problem with killing people
and often serves as a form of psychological warfare. An army engaging in this
is nearly always evil and often very primitive.
Reality check: A human head weighs around 7 kg (or for those living in the US, 15.4 lbs.); however, few shows manage to portray this realistically
. Of course, if someone had trouble carrying 15.4 lbs, they probably wouldn't have the physical strength to decapitate someone anyway.
Compare Dead Guy on Display
, Stuffed into the Fridge
. See also Severed Head Sports
, where the humiliation to the beheaded is taken even further.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In the manga for Rurouni Kenshin, Souzou Sagara, Sano's old commander, was executed and his head displayed after being betrayed by the government.
- Violence Jack: One scene in the beginning of the "Hell's Wind" arc has this scene after Jun's boyfriend, Tetsuya, gets dismembered.
- Also happened to both Miki and her little brother in the original Devilman manga.
- Just to make extra sure everyone knew Hidan had in fact been beheaded in Naruto, Kakuzu picked up his still-cursing head and toted it around until they could reattach it.
- One of the manga adaptations of Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu has King Chagall sending Eldigan's severed head to his friends Siglud and Cuan to mock them. This not only horrifies them and their entourage, but also throws Eldigan's younger sister (and starcrossed lover of sorts) Raquesis towards the Despair Event Horizon.
- When Governor Gekkei confronts Queen Kekai, Princess Shoukei and Hourin the kirin in The Twelve Kingdoms, he shows them the head of King Chuutatsu, whom he decapitated as punishment for his Knight Templar misdeeds.
- Subverted in the manga The King of Fighters: G by Ryo Takamisaki. Goenitz hasn't decapitated Chizuru but has beaten her to almost death, and when he shows up in the battlefield he does so while lifting her by the head and gloating about his evil deeds.
- Many artistic depictions of David after his battle with Goliath.
- Perseus is often depicted holding◊ Medusa's head◊.
- A painting called Return of Judith to Bethulia by Saandro Botticelli. Judith's maid is carrying Holofernes' head. See the painting here◊.
- In "The Two Brothers", the marshal presents the dragon's heads. Alas for him, the actual killer had gotten their tongues.
Films — Animated
- In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars film, the heads of Jabba's bounty hunters are brought back to him after their failure to retrieve his son. Jabba is not pleased about that.
Films — Live-Action
- The Green Knight holds up his own head by the hair after Sir Gawain chops it off in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
- The cover of Issue 2 of Nintendo Power, based on Castlevania II Simons Quest, drew some fire from Moral Guardians for displaying Simon Belmont with Dracula's severed head in his hand.
- From the Deryni works:
- Duke Jared McLain orders the execution of his architect Rimmell for his part in the deaths of his son Kevin and his future daughter-in-law Lady Bronwyn Morgan, and he tells his executioner, "I would see evidence of your work before you leave the garden, Fergus." Fergus shortly returns from the terrace holding Rimmell's head by the hair.
- Loris' messenger does this with Bishop Henry Istelyn's head at Kelson's court in The Bishop's Heir.
- In Arcia Chronicles, after Charles Tagere and his followers are ambushed and killed, the commanders' heads are nailed to the gates of a nearby castle. This (like the rest of the second duology) mirrors the actual historical event from the Wars of the Roses, when Richard Plantagenet's head was stuck on a pole on the York city walls after the Battle of Wakefield.
- There's a variation of this in Barrayar. Instead of holding would-be usurper Lord Vordarian's severed head up, Cordelia rolls it out of the shopping bag she has been transporting it in. The possibility of leaving it on the table while conducting ceasefire talks with the elements of the military who have backed Vordarian's coup is briefly discussed, but Aral isn't that sort of regent.
- Also shows up in Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" (from Through the Looking-Glass): "He left it dead, and with its head, he went galumphing back."
- In the ditch of the Sowers of Discord in Dante's Inferno, Bertran de Born holds 'his own head' up, "in the manner of a lantern."
- At the end of the first Sword of Truth book, Richard does this to his stepbrother Michael, who turned out to be The Mole earlier in the book.
- In A Game of Thrones, Joffrey takes Sansa Stark to the battlements to show her the heads displayed on spikes: the one of her father Ned, whom he had executed despite promising not to, the head of her tutor and the heads of other members of her household.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "A Witch Shall Be Born", Salome brings the head of Krallides.
- Conan does the same thing with the head of King Bajujah, as promised... sort of, in "The Vale of Lost Women". Unfortunately, Livia, the captive who he was going to rescue, has already bolted in terror from the general slaughter.
- The Sano Ichiro mystery Bundori, which revolves around the Samurai tradition of turning the heads of conquered enemies into war trophies.
- Pushed up a notch by Leo Bonhart in Tower of the Swallow, who forces Ciri to watch as he saws off her True Companions' (whom he previously slaughtered) heads off, leaving her First Love (a girl, to boot) for last, and then presents them proudly to her. Ciri doesn't take it very well, to say the least.
- The Second Variety: Decades before Ahnuld played an unstoppable assassin robot, Philip K. Dick showed him how it's done. The cover art shows a man holding up the severed head of a destroyed assassin android that looks like a 13 year old boy, not a giant thug
- Happens all the time in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, with both heroes and villains using the trope. Late in the story the sons of Guan Yu and Zhang Fei would casually announce that they've defeated an enemy general and "here is his head." This was even mocked in a parody webcomic: "Next time, don't leave a head on my desk."
- In The General series, Raj Whitehall's army happens to kill the brother of the Squadron's leader in a skirmish. He takes the opportunity to attempt to provoke their (large, but disorganized) army into a Zerg Rush at his prepared position, and sends one of his men to present the head to the Admiral during the pre-battle truce. The result is shock and horror amongst the Squadron nobles, enough that they actually open fire on the officer and kill him despite the white truce flag. Raj has every single noble responsible crucified, after a battle in which his army takes effectively no other casualties.
- In the last book of The Wheel of Time, Lan Mandragoran does this with Demandred, to show the result of their duel, and to dishearten his army.
- The Lord of the Rings:
- The Rohirrim slaughter a party of Orcs and burn their bodies. We're told that "Upon a stake in the middle was set a great goblin head".
- When the Orcs catapult into Minas Tirith "all the heads of those who had fallen fighting at Osgiliath" it's depicted as an atrocity.
- In the Highlander tie-in novel, "The Path", after Duncan kills the Big Bad Immortal and tosses his head to his army, asking who will be next to face him.
- In The Mighty Boosh Live, the Hitcher does this with Vince and Howard. He doesn't just hold them up.
- In Blackadder: The Cavalier Years, Baldrick's cunning plan to substitute a pumpkin instead of a head sort of fell apart when this moment came.
Edmund Blackadder: You see, when you've cut it off you have to hold it before the crowd and say "This is the head of a traitor," at which point they will all shout "No, it isn't. It's a large pumpkin with a pathetic mustache drawn on it."
- In Carnivàle, Justin does this with Scutter's head after he kills him.
- Turned into a Running Gag in an episode of Rome, where multiple severed heads are displayed on spikes above the door of a building because the owners of the heads kept pissing the wrong people off.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Wedding of River Song", the Doctor shows who told him of the whereabouts of Gideon Vandeleur by displaying the detached eyestalk of the Dalek whose data core he raided.
- Babylon 5, when Morden asks Vir what he wants:
"I'd like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors
come with too high a price. I would look up into your lifeless eyes
and wave... like this."
- Funny thing is, Londo wasn't present during this conversation and yet he orders this fate for Morden.
- Breaking Bad has a particularly gruesome and also hilarious example with the informant Tortuga. While planning to spy one some gangsters, the police spots him moving behind a hill with nobody else in sight. As they get in the car and drive down to see what's going on they find his severed head stuck on the shell of a turtle slowly crawling through the desert. And then it explodes.
- Stargate Atlantis, episode "The Last Man": Michael does this with the head of a Wraith queen.
- Farscape: After decapitating his Arch-Enemy Durka, Rygel wanders around waving it on a stick as a means of demonstrating how Bad Ass he can be. And yes, he's one of the technically good guys. He even uses it as a prop while negotiating with a group of mercenaries.
You need to start acting like professionals. (drops Durka's head on the ground. That is what we do to people who don't.
- Done several times in Game of Thrones:
- One of the White Walkers.
- Done by King Joffrey who shows Sansa heads on spike, one of them is Sansa's executed father, Ned Stark.
- One of Dothraki men was sent to seek help. His horse returned, with his head in a bag.
- In the 2000 Sci Fi Channel Dune miniseries, after the Beast Rabban is killed by a Fremen mob, a boy holds up his severed head.
- In the Masters Of Horror episode "Cigarette Burns", Dalibor creates a Snuff Film by filming himself decapitating Kirby's taxi driver right in front of Kirby, and presenting the severed head to him.
- 24 season 2 episode 2. Jack gains a terrorist gang's trust by doing this.
- Used for Black Comedy in Angel when a vampire is shown holding up a human head, which he then bowls down a bowling alley.
- Also used in an episode in the end of the second season. Lorne is returned to his home dimension of Pylea and is decapitated, his head placed on a platter complete with greenery, but he gets better.
- Prison Break: As punishment for trying to find Sarah and his son, Lincoln receives a package. He opens it to find Sarah's head. This is later Ret Conned into being another woman, and Sarah had actually escaped (the actress playing Sarah originally left the show but came back the following season). Apparently, Linc can't tell women apart.
- 666 Park Avenue: Gavin does this with Sam's head when sending Shaw a message.
- Grimm: Variant on the trope - two Reapers are sent to kill Nick. He sends their heads back in a box with a note: "Next time, send your best."
- In The Tudors, Catherine Howard is shown the heads of Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper on her way to the Tower.
- Angel. The Cliff Hanger ending for "Through the Looking Glass" has Cordelia being presented with the head of her demon friend Lorne. Thankfully due to his Bizarre Alien Biology Lorne can survive with his head cut off, so Cordelia has to think up an excuse not to dispose of his remains before they can be reassembled.
"Kaldar, remove the traitor's filthy head from our lady's august presence." Cordelia:
"No, no, no, no! I...like the filthy head. That is, ah, I want to defile it more! (Turns and spits on Lorne
, who is playing dead) I just keep it...to spit upon, and-and-and when I grow tired of that, I-I-I will make it into ah, a planter. A traitor planter...for all
to see. Or maybe a candy dish."
- Hawkwind's "Days of the Underground":
We saw that head held up
And our anger welled up
But we kept it cool
- Eddie, the mascot of Iron Maiden, has done this pose with the heads of Paul Di'Anno (on the original, rejected cover for Maiden Japan) and Satan (on the cover of the "The Number of the Beast" single)
- When Alice Cooper ends a concert with his being executed by guillotine, the executioner will hold up his "head" afterwards.
Mythology and Religion
- Biblical examples:
- David taking the head of Goliath.
- Salome's wish to her stepfather Herod (suggested by her mother) for the head of John the Baptist.
- In the apocrypha, Judith taking the head of Holofernes.
- Perseus weaponized this trope with the head of the gorgon Medusa, which turned any who looked upon its visage to stone.
- The Irish dullahan carries its head around like this.
- The backbox side art for Bally's Centaur shows a skull impaled on a spear.
- This guy◊ from Warhammer 40,000. As friendly as he looks. Tends to end up like this VERY frequently.
- Another Warhammer 40000 example in a fluff story behind one of the regions in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, an Ork horde was demoralized and defeated after their war boss had this happen to him. His skull adorned the defended city's main square afterward.
- Also in Warhammer 40000, Many Ork and Chaos models have spikes with heads impaled on them.
- The same goes for their counterparts in Warhammer. One Orc banner takes it a step further and has an entire Dwarf hanging on it.
- Yet another Warhammer 40000 example (Yes, happens there a lot, doesn't it?), any follower of Khorne will do this after killing an enemy leader (such as a Sergeant or other leader) mid fight often screaming something like THE TROPHY IS MINE. He's more interested in what's inside the head, though.
- Chaos tends to do this a lot. The trophy rack sprue for Chaos tanks includes a Tau helmet and a Necron skull, the Chaos Terminator Lord box has got a Tyranid Warrior's head impaled on spikes.
- An illustration in the Werewolf: The Forsaken handbook shows a werewolf holding two severed heads.
- Happens in Warrior: Coupe, a BattleTech novel by Michael Stackpole. The commanders of a mercenary company and a Draconis Combine regiment are locked in a duel. The Draconis 'Mech outweighs, out-armors, and outguns his opponent, but the mercenary manages to knock down his enemy. The Draconis commander pulls off one of the mercenary 'Mech's legs and attempts Grievous Harm with a Body Part, but loses the arm holding the leg to the mercenary's Last Ditch Move. The mercenary pins the Draconis commander's 'Mech and tears its head off, holding it up for all to see. The expected death that usually comes with 'Mechs losing their heads in this setting is subverted when it turns out that the Draconis leader is alive enough to punch out of his decapitated 'Mech's head.
- Dramatic example in Star Lord. The head of the last Amaris is gruesomely presented to the Council of Clan Steel Viper by the disgraced former Viper and exiled Mechwarrior Dawn.
- There are lots of disembodied heads floating around in Shakespeare's Henry VI plays, and although this action is not mentioned explicitly in the stage directions many directors do it anyway, 'cause it looks
- At the end of Christopher Durang's The Actors Nightmare, when the actor is stuck in a production of A Man for All Seasons as Sir Thomas More and is beheaded:
Executioner: Behold the head of Sir Thomas More!
- Usually done in productions of Macbeth:
Re-enter MACDUFF, with MACBETH's head
Hail, king! for so thou art: behold, where stands
The usurper's cursed head:
- In the opera Turandot, the Prince of Persia is decapitated offstage and his head is brought back impaled on a stake, as a warning to would-be suitors of Turandot.
- Some productions of Richard II do this, given that apart from executions (and the title character's assassination) the play is pretty bloodless.
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask uses a less violent variant. The masks that the bosses wear are substituted for the actual heads.
- God of War: Kratos to Medusa, her sister and Helios in each respective game.
- Maw mentions doing this to Kyle's father in Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, but the actual decapitation and subsequent public display of the head on a spike occurs offscreen.
- In F.E.A.R 2, Snake Fist is decapitated right before your eyes the game even has him hand you a BFG to make sure that you're good and close when it happens by a Cyborg Clone Ninja Mutant...thing which rips it off and carries it away. You find his head a short time later, deliberately left where you will see it and just before they're waiting to ambush you.
- In Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, this is done to the executed Vorador. Moebius, who was in charge of it, takes this trope up a notch by leaving the head in the hand of a statue of himself in the same pose, which is seen in Soul Reaver 2 about a hundred years later.
- Occurs on numerous occasions throughout World of Warcraft. While there are several quests that involve putting a decapitated head on a spear as a means of intimidation (most notably the old quest, "Ogre Head On A Stick = Party"), the quests that merely require killing someone and bringing back the head as proof are too numerous to count. There's even one achievement lampshading the frequent use of this trope: Bring Me The Head of... Oh Wait
- There's also a subversion in twilight highlands where you bring someone the heads of two ogre-magi, the horde version plays it straight, but in the alliance version the quest giver is squicked out at the heads and tells you he would have just taken your word for it.
- Orgrim Doomhammer is seen doing this to Blackhand in the instruction manual for Warcraft II.
- In a Kick the Dog moment, the Big Bad of the novel Warcraft Lord Of The Clans kills his mistress (Thrall's childhood friend) for helping Thrall escape and throws her head at Thralls feet when the latter comes to the keep with an orc army. Needless to say, the Big Bad doesn't survive the encounter.
- A bizarre example in Mortal Kombat Deception: Havik's Hara-Kiri involves him ripping off his own head then holding it out before dying. The usual version happens A LOT after Fatalities throughout the series. Most famously Sub-Zero's head/spine rip.
- Another weird example is Serious Sam with its line of 'Beheaded' enemies. As it sounds, they are undead enemies who have been beheaded...but, upon being raised from their graves, then proceed to carry around their own heads in the manner of this trope, ostensibly so they can aim their bombs and rocket launchers. Don't ask about the guys whose heads they couldn't find.
- After occupying the Viscount's Keep, the Arishok in Dragon Age II appears briefly to lift the head of Viscount Dumar for display, but dispenses with drama to dismissively roll it down the carpet.
- In Killer7, Curtis Blackburn hands his former partner Pedro a paper bag holding his daughter's severed head. This is merely the last of the many horrors Curtis inflicts on him.
- Severed in paper bags are a gameplay mechanic, too: die in the game, and your character's head in a bag is found at the scene of the crime. You must go back as persona Garcian Smith to fetch your dead Smith's noggin and bring them back to life.
- Grasshopper Manufacture head (ha, ha) Suda51 seems to be a big fan of heads in paper bags, as they also appear in the earlier Moonlight Syndrome and the later No More Heroes. To say nothing of Nick in Lollipop Chainsaw, though he's mystically kept alive past the decapitation, thanks to Juliet.
- It's (deliberately?) a little ambiguous, but have a look at the Tekken 3 intro. Is that Jun's head?!
- For the Mass Effect 2 downloadable mission Arrival, if you let the timer run out, this happens.
- One quest in Neverwinter Nights has you killing the red dragon Klauth and giving his head to the gold dragon Gorgotha. Given he's an old, big dragon don't ask how you carry his head around in your backpack.
- After Chasing Neclord out of North Window in Suikoden II Flik reports that after the South Window was invaded by Solon Jhee's Battalion he surrendered immediately.....His Head hanged from the Castle Gate the following Morning. Whether it was Solon Jhee's idea or by Luca Blight's orders is unknown.
- In Civilization IV, when you meet another civilization for the first time, you have the options to either say "Let there be peace in our time!" or "Your head would look good on the end of a pole!"
- Occurs in Siegfried Schtauffen's backstory in Soul Edge. The young bandit Siegfried holds up the severed head of the knight he just ambushed to show it off to his fellows.. only to realize it was his beloved father's head. He... doesn't take it well.
- The Legion's Establishing Character Moment in Fallout: New Vegas includes heads stuck on pikes.
- In Daryl Gates' Police Quest: Open Season, the severed head of one of the killer's victims can be found in his refrigerator.
- Depicted in the banner for Mann Up mode in Mann Vs. Machine in Team Fortress 2, with the RED Heavy brandishing the severed head of a Heavy-bot that he presumably pulled off just prior.
- From The Legend of Dragoon, the Undead common enemy found in Mayfil carries around with it a cackling severed head that it will hold up to one of the players, causing a Fear Status Effect.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic gives you this option a few times, most notably as the Bounty Hunter. In one such encounter, your options include killing him and taking his head back (dark side) or leaving him be and using a random already-dead same-species replacement (light side).
- During Dave and Bro's fight, Dave does this using the head of one of Bro's puppets, drawing a line across his throat after Bro gives him a "you're going down" thumbs down. Later parodied by Vriska when Tavros does the same thing to her, and she responds by holding up his replaced, severed legs and drawing a line across her waist.
- Gamzee assembles a "motherfucking JURY" consisting of the heads of Nepeta, Equius, Tavros, Feferi and Eridan, the five trolls Killed Off for Real at that point. It all appears to be out of the way and no-one's paying attention to it or him, though.
- Dirk later takes the historical route by putting the Hegemonic Brute's head up on public display through a stolen flagpole with an attached note as a warning to those in charge of Derse.
- Used in this SMBC strip, though not exactly as expected.
- This is an all too common pastime for the characters in The Overture
- Vanessa Olsen is a brutal warlord who displays the heads of her enemies on pikes in order to instill fear.
- The headhuntress wears the rotten skulls of her victims around her belt. The rest she leaves in a large pile outside of her layer.
- Before burning Sophia Finley alive, Sophie places the decapitated heads of Sophia's bodyguards in front of her in order to give her death an audience.
- In S.S.D.D the Anarchist's crazier-than-normal First Adviser Kimple was killed by an angry mob and his head stuffed and mounted in the Citadel's pool hall. Later his successor demands the head of whoever programmed that ICBM they just launched to hit Austin, Texas, and the Oracle states "Well, you're in luck there..."
- In Looking for Group Richard's undead subjects put the severed heads of the Imperial soldiers who tried to annex their village on stakes, with an expression of mild surprise on their faces.
- At the end of the "Terror at 5 1/2 Feet" segment of The Simpsons' fourth Halloween Episode, when the gremlin displays Ned Flanders's severed (and still-living) head to Bart in the window of the ambulance.
- Because of a misunderstanding, Treehouse of Horror XIII ("Send in the Clones") saw another of Ned's decapitations, at the hands of a clone of Homer's, with a chainsaw. We see the head, but just be grateful we didn't see the actual murder.
- The Dial M for Murder parody had Bart decapitating Ms. Hoover's head and showing it to Lisa.
Bart: You should have seen the look on her face. In fact, here it is!
- A Family Guy manatee gag has a group of nuns dealing with some Nazis. One pulls out engine parts to show she disabled their ride; another whips a head out.
Nun: (reacting to the other nuns' shocked expressions) Hey, I didn't start this war but it's on!
- This is the instigating factor of the war in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox: Wonder Woman decapitates Mera, who attacked her for her part in Aquaman's infidelity, takes her crown, and delivers her severed head to Aquaman. Ouch.
- This actually used to be standard practice, possibly to discourage followers of beheaded people from pretending they were still alive. "Behold the head of a traitor!" was the usual formula. Alas, when they tried it with Mary, Queen of Scots... the headsman failed to realize she was wearing a wig so it all went a bit wrong and her head rolled away. Bit of a Chew Toy was Mary.
- This was, of course, common in The French Revolution, with or without the benefit of the guillotine. Bernard, Marquis de Launay (the Governor of the Bastille) and several of his guards, Marie-Louise, Princess de Lamballe, and Joseph-François Foullon de Doué all had their heads hacked off by Revolutionary mobs and carried around on pikes.
- According to legend, when the Roman general Crassus was defeated, they brought his head to an enemy king, who was watching a play that ended with a severed head being displayed. They switched Crassus's head for the prop.
- Joaquín Murieta, California bandit and outlaw hero, whose head was removed so as to collect the bounty... and then preserved in a pickle jar and displayed for years.
- After being kidnapped and raped by Roman soldiers, Chiomara had her people, who came to rescue her, cut off her rapist's head. She proceeded to carry said decapitated head back home, threw it at her husband's feet, and told him "Only one man who has lain with me shall remain alive".
- Famously, Pompey Magnus's head was delivered to Julius Caesar as a gift from the Egyptians. Caesar was furious that his allies had treacherously murdered his honoured enemy and old friend.
- Overlapping with Murder the Hypotenuse is this horrific tale about a cuckolded soldier and his wife, pregnant by a friend. Also invokes horror, according to the wife's court testimony.
- Sigurd Eysteinsson, Jarl of Orkney (ruled circa 872 - 892), did this to Mael Brigte of the Scots during the Viking Conquest of Northern Scotland. Unfortunately, as he was riding home, his leg scratched against Mael Brigte's buckteeth, the wound went septic and he died of the infection. That's the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.