Sometimes, a main character, usually Our Hero, kills someone. Maybe it's by accident - maybe they had to do it to save someone else. Either way, they feel guilty about it and have a break down
, maybe vowing to never kill again, maybe hang up the sword entirely.
This is not
In contrast to the aforementioned, anti-heroes and villains can see killing as a necessary if distasteful step in reaching their goals - they may have even carefully planned out their first kill with a great deal of thought put into whether the target genuinely needs to die. The reasons they give for this and the amount of anguish they go through before deciding can also say a lot about the character.
In this context, the willingness to kill is used to show that they are fully committed to their cause. An actual death is not necessarily required as long as the protagonist decides that killing for their cause is justifiable.
Usually, this is for simple pragmatic reasons - some villains either just can't be held
, or there is no authority that would or could arrest them
. So the only way to stop them from either blocking your way or harming other people as soon as your back is turned is, well, to kill them. Angst afterwards is fine -they have
just killed someone, after all- as long as they ultimately decide that the act was justified.
Note that it is their mental state and decision that is key to this trope - 'someone who kills people' is not valid unless we see them choose to kill or explain their reasoning. It is a popular event to show in flashbacks, for those characters who don't begin with an origin story.
They may find may find that It Gets Easier
. Or not
. Going crazy
Anime and Manga
- Lelouch from Code Geass throws up after his first murder (granted, he brought it upon himself by shooting a guy—his half-brother, no less—in the face at close range) but It Gets Easier for him.
- In Digimon Adventure the heroes we're forced into do or die situations so often that they would kill when they had to. However in the sequel series the first few seasons the new members only fought mind control victims (that they freed) and artificial control spire enemies which they had no problems destroying since they weren't real. Towards the end of the series all three of the new recruits this season are forced to kill at least one real enemy which shakes them up.
- Dragon Ball: Gohan, while being in several life or death fights throughout the series where he usually acted on instinct, (and was never powerful enough to kill enemies on his own outside of filler arcs) was faced with the decision to consciously kill Cell during the Cell games. Despite being brutalized by Cell and watching him torment all the other Z fighters and threaten the planet, Gohan doesn't gain the will to kill until Android 16 encourages him that in this instance it's okay before being crushed to death just a few feet away from him. This turning point pushes him into a sustained Super Saiyan 2 form for the first time.
- The Actual Pacifist Vanessa in Madlax has trouble coming to terms with shooting a guy to protect Madlax until the latter confirms that she only wounded him. Still, this leads to quite a bit of Character Development in Vanessa, who eventually asks Madlax to teach her to shoot properly.
- Light's first two kills in Death Note serve as this. The first guy Light kills is a serious headcase who had taken a school full of kids hostage. Light writes the guy's name into the title notebook as a means of figuring out whether or not it was real or just a sick prank. When the criminal in question dies of a heart attack 40 seconds after Light wrote the name in, Light still isn't completely convinced that the Death Note is real, so after school, he decides to test out the notebook a second time, taking out the leader of a motorcycle gang and stopping his Attempted Rape of a young woman by sending him and his bike into the path of an oncoming semi. After wrestling with the implications of passing judgement upon people like this, Light makes the decision to become Kira and "change the world" by killing off its criminals and evil people, which sets him on the path to developing his infamous god-complex and becoming the Villain Protagonist of the series.
- In episode 8 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, this happens to Sayaka when she brutally attacks and possibly kills two sexists on a subway. It's around this point where she becomes Oktavia von Seckendorff and lets go of her humanity.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Adrian Gecko finds Exodia in a sealed chamber, and in order to obtain Exodia's power he decides to use his Designated Love Interest Echo as a sacrifice, so he can become King of the alternate dimension and create a world void of poverty.
- In Watchmen, this was a major sign of Rorschach having transformed into his current persona - up until that point, he had only beaten criminals up and tied them up for the police. But after finding that a kidnapped child had been chopped up and fed to the kidnapper's two Alsatians, he begins to kill villains as necessary.
- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Harry Evens-Verres crosses this line during a battle with a mountain troll, and a close friend is mortally wounded. This causes Quirrel to note that they had "just discarded [their] foolish little reluctances". They kill the thing that was attacking, and later cooly plans the murder of Lucius Malfoy if he refuses his offer to form an alliance, as he will otherwise remain an enemy.
- Silently Watches' fanfictions typically involve a hero who (among other things) does not kill in canon deciding to do so.
- Raven in Coincidence And Misunderstandings, who accepts her demonic heritage as a part of herself and subsequently becomes darker in mind and body - this is marked by her decision to mentally kill Dr. Light via Go Mad from the Revelation at the story's end to prevent him from harming anyone else, though she regrets this when she realises that the Titans wanted to interrogate him.
Live Action TV
- The Alex Rider series plays with this. While the villains usually end up dead, and mostly because of Alex, he rationalises them away as accidents (in that he didn't intend any of them to die or directly have a hand in their deaths). Alex's willingness to kill is treated by the story as a Moral Event Horizon that he has no intention of crossing - when SCORPIA manipulates him into trying to kill Ms. Jones by showing her ordering his father's death, Alex still has trouble shooting. Eventually, he does shoot, but later is told that his shot would have missed despite being at point-blank range, meaning he really can't kill. In the last two books, Crocodile Tears, Alex begins to lose this innocence, doing things that would definitely kill the recipients - he cuts open a mook's protective suit while in a toxic biodome, and attaches an explosive to a barrel before rolling it over to the main villain. Finally, in Scorpia Rising, the last book he shoots Hugo Grief point-blank in the head while the former was at his mercy.Unusually, this is treated as a good thing, kind of. Ms. Jones states later that due to Julius' personality and appearance, Alex also symbolically killed off the part of his mind that MI5 created - in other words, the part that killed Julius in the first place.
- Brienne goes through this before killing her first man (in self-defence) in A Feast for Crows, questioning whether she has the strength to take a life. ultimately, it gets easier for her but she still doesn't enjoy it.
- Inverted in Orca, when death-on-two-legs Sethra Lavode reassures Vlad that she'd decided long ago that keeping her alternate identity as Kiera secret was not worth taking a life for. She's quite willing to kill for honour or necessity or a cause, but not for that.
- The eponymous Sweeney Todd was originally a wronged man looking to get his daughter back from an evil judge, who abducted the girl after raping Sweeney's wife and sending Sweeney himself to Australia on a trumped-up charge. That all changes when a charlatan named Pirelli recognizes Sweeney as an escaped convict and threatens to turn him in, driving Sweeney to kill him. Sweeney has never killed before, but he shows no remorse for this act, having decided it was necessary to protect his cover. When his friend Mrs. Lovett proposes disposing of the body by baking it into meat pies, Sweeney finds he has no qualms about continuing to kill, and launches himself into a frenzied campaign of revenge against the world that wronged him by becoming a Serial Killer and handing the bodies over to Mrs. Lovett for, er, disposal.
- Jason's first kill in Far Cry 3 occurs when a pirate ambushes him with a knife, and in an attempt to defend himself he accidentally forces the knife through the pirate's neck. He then spends a few seconds looking at his hands in shock. Over the rest of the game, he becomes more comfortable with the prospect of killing people, while his friends get less comfortable with his shift in personality.
- This is part of Luke's Character Development in Tales of the Abyss. Originally a Sheltered Aristocrat, having to kill a soldier that came after him turned out to be a traumatic experience, and when he tries to avoid doing it again he just ends up putting his party in jeopardy. He eventually comes to terms that killing is necessary if he wants to protect himself (though he still doesn't like it.)
- Worm: Skitter first uses lethal force to try and kill Coil, though she admits that he likely has an antidote to her spiders' venom. Later, however, she does end up executing him.
Coil: You’re not a killer.
Skitter: No... but I suppose, in a roundabout way, you made me into one.
- Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: this occurs to Dr. Horrible after Captain Hammer tells him that he is dating Penny, Horrible's crush, purely to spite him. This causes Horrible's hatred for Hammer to overcome his previous reluctance to kill, and in Brand New Day openly plans to kill him. In the end, Horrible can't bring himself to kill Hammer before the latter gets free, but his plan ends up accidentally killing Penny. His final state depends on your interpretation of whether he has crossed the Moral Event Horizon or not by the end.
- Rasa: In order to protect the secret of her attempted escape, Jova overpowers Ya Gol Gi, takes his tabula, and commands him to stop breathing. The murder is a defining moment of Character Development for her as she matures to match the brutality of the Crapsack World she lives in.
She felt no pity, no regret, and no remorse. Only triumph.
- An episode of Justice League involves an Alternate Universe version of the League called the Justice Lords. At the beginning, we see a flashback showing Superman make this decision and killing Lex Luthor at Luthor's goading. After that the League has no problem killing (or lobotomising) criminals, justifying it as the greater good.