The situation is dire, maybe even hopeless, and everyone is losing hope faced with certain death. The Chick
or The Hero
have to keep their friends and loved ones not just moving but hopeful
in order to survive. So they lie. They hold their loved ones close and say "It's going to be all right", or "Help is coming." The loved one may very well know it's an empty promise, but needs and wants
to believe it, because the alternative is panic or an emotional breakdown.
If the situation truly is hopeless
, expect them to say "close your eyes", possibly even killing them
to make sure it's a painless death.
If the loved one truly has no idea of what's going on, and is on the point of death, it becomes Let Them Die Happy
. Expect the hero to cradle their friend
as their doom approaches.
Not related to The Promise
. See also Survival Mantra
. Contrast with Heroic Vow
. Compare Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow
Anime and Manga
- Kazuki of Busou Renkin promised Tokiko they'd fight Victor together, even if it meant they would be killed. Ultimately he valued her life too much, and broke the promise to fight Victor one-on-one.
- In Fables book Peter and Max, Peter wants to leave to fight his evil (and extremely powerful) brother, while his wife Bo wants him to leave it to the better fighters. Bo lampshades this trope by saying that him promising her he would come back is useless to her; either he does return in which case the fulfilled Heroic Vow only serves to amplify his status as the big hero, or (more likely,) he gets himself pointlessly killed, and she wouldn't even be allowed to resent him for breaking his promise when he had "heroically" died trying to do the right thing. Either way, the promise would only serve to make him feel better about what he was doing, and would do absolutely nothing to help her, regardless of the outcome.
- In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent promises to Rachel that she will get out of their predicament alive. He genuinely hopes for that, but has no way to influence it and no reason to expect it. Sure enough, she doesn't get out of it alive. Later on, after Dent has become Two-Face, he challenges Gordon to do the same with his son, while holding a gun to his son's head.
- In the original 1954 Gojira — which was a lot more serious than its camp successors — the mother of a family trapped in the monster's path soothes her children with the promise that they would be with their father soon. No prize for guessing their father's status.
- Dr. Loomis to Jamie, in the school, in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Subverted when she asks him if he really believes they'll make it out all right, and he gives a barely audible Little "No".
- Towards the end of The Way of Shadows, when Logan and Jenine have been assaulted on their wedding night, he holds her head and whispers to her that everything will be fine, she doesn't have to be afraid, it's all right... while she is bleeding to death.
- In the sixteenth-century text The Prince, author Niccolň Machiavelli explicitly states that at times it is necessary for a ruler to make empty promises for the sake of his country.
- In Stephen King's Firestarter, when Charlie finds out that her mother is dead, Andy tells her that everything will be all right, though he knows "as every adult knows in his secret heart that nothing is really all right, ever."
- In Spock's World, Kirk wants to tell T'Pau that they're not going to die, but he feels as though the sheer blatant falsehood of it, given said character's condition, would be insulting.
- This is the reason Adell holds Honor Before Reason in Disgaea 2: He became a victim of an empty promise when his parents went off to fight Overlord Zenon, promising to come back. They never did. It later turns out Zenon brainwashed them and turned them into his minions, and Adell is forced to kill them without ever learning their identities.
- Played for all its tear-jerking worth in Persona 3. Aigis tearfully promises that she'll devote her life to protecting the main character while, depending on your dialogue choices, he asks her not to cry and tells her it'll be okay. In reality, he's dying in her arms, and, though not outright said, it's likely they both know it.
- In You's route in Ever17, You and the Kid are discussing the Kid's apparent ability to predict the future when the Kid says they'll definitely be rescued. You asks if that's a premonition; the Kid says that it's a promise. If you get the Bad End, the Kid ends up lamenting his inability to keep his promise as they both die.
- Subverted in the same game: Takeshi promises Tsugumi he won't die as he launches himself out of their submarine so it will float to the surface. He drowns. However, in the True Ending, he manages to survive thanks to Hokuto/Blick Winkel.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon has a lot of this between the player character and his/her partner.
- Miles Edgeworth makes one of these in Ace Attorney Investigations every time he infers that the current confrontation with the Big Bad will be the final one.
- On Virmire in Mass Effect, Shepard can insist he/she'll be able to come back for whichever human squadmate you had to leave behind, when both know that's not going to happen.
- Robot Chicken uses it in a horrifically bleak, though still funny, Black Comedy way, as Voltron's Combining Mecha sequence is taking so long that the enemy's destroying the space station that had called for help. The general's young sidekick is dying in the wreckage, blind and crippled from his injuries, and asks if Voltron's arrived. The general lies and tells him yes, Voltron's here and it's all going to be okay now, before shooting him so he'll die painlessly.
- In ReBoot, this trope is subverted. When Enzo appears to be losing a game against the User, AndrAIa promises Frisket everything will be ok and resets their icons. The Game Cube vanishes and the system announces "Game over, User wins," so it appears as though AndrAIa had made an empty promise, which is partly true: by resetting their icons to game sprite mode, she ensured the three of them would live even if they lost the game by leaving Mainframe with the Cube.
- In Titan A.E., Cale's father's last words to him are "I will see you again. I promise," despite the fact that he must know it's likely that he won't. Sure enough, Cale later encounters a recorded message from his father confirming that if it was activated, he is dead. The message then asks Cale to forgive him for breaking his promise.
- In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode where Jet dies, he tells his friends he'll be fine. Unfortunately, Living Lie Detector Toph is nearby, and although she waits to be out of earshot of the other two...
Toph: He's lying.
- In the wake of World War II, the SovietUnion promised the Allies that they would allow free elections in the territories they occupied. Nobody was surprised when those "elections" put Communist parties in power that declared their allegiance to Moscow. Stalin managed to avert this at the same time by keeping his promise to leave Greece in the Allied sphere of influence by not actively supporting the communists in the Greek Civil War.