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Heroic Suicide
'"An old man dies. A young girl lives. A fair trade."
John Hartigan, Sin City

Suicide is generally considered a bad thing. Even when the person committing it feels he has no other choice, it's still far from heroic. In contrast, Heroic Sacrifices are almost always regarded as noble, and those who perform them are held in high regard. Despite the similarities, these two things rarely overlap.

But sometimes they do.

This trope is about situations where suicide becomes heroic. Say a character discovers that he is a Person of Mass Destruction, a crucial part of an Evil Plan, or the Big Bad's Soul Jar. In such situations killing oneself may be the only way to save the day.

This is a specific sub-trope of Heroic Sacrifice. The difference is that in most Heroic Sacrifices dying is merely an unfortunate by-product of a heroic act. In a Heroic Suicide, dying is the goal. Or, to put it another way, a Heroic Sacrifice engages in lethal activity even though it will get him killed. A Heroic Suicide engages in lethal activity BECAUSE it will get him killed.

The clearest examples are when a character personally will become the threat that endangers others, and they have to kill themselves to prevent it. Any such situation definitely counts as a Heroic Suicide. Otherwise, it might count, but be careful.

A good rule of thumb is that in most Heroic Suicides, the character's death is both necessary and sufficient to acomplising their immediate goal. That is to say, they can't accomplish their goal without dying, but how they die doesn't matter much. To elaborate:
  • Necessity: Ask yourself if there's even a theoretical possibility that the character could accomplish their goal without dying. If there is, it's probably a regular Heroic Sacrifice. For example, say you drink poison intended for someone else, trade places with a man on death row, or turn your spaceship into a guided missile. None of those qualify, because in each case your death is only a side-effect of what you are doing. The point is to prevent the other person from drinking the poison, buy time for the man to escape, or disable the enemy ship. You would still accomplish these goals even if you discovered you were miraculously immune to poison, received a last-minute pardon, or were beamed off your ship at the moment of impact. This trope only comes into play if the character has to die to accomplish their goal. Though that isn't to say their death will always be permanent.
  • Sufficiency: Ask yourself how important the circumstances are under which the person dies. Do they accomplish their goal just by dying, or does it matter what they were doing when they died? For example, say you get yourself killed defusing a bomb. In that situation, it's stopping the bomb that makes your actions heroic, not the dying. You couldn't achieve the same goal just by, say, shooting yourself in the head. On the other hand, say you are the bomb. In that case, it doesn't matter how you die, as long as you do it quickly. Shooting yourself in the head is fine. So is getting poisoned, stabbed, or decapitated.

Compare Thanatos Gambit, My Death Is Just the Beginning, Seppuku, and Better to Die than Be Killed. See also I Cannot Self-Terminate, which can be a heroic suicide by proxy. Often overlaps with Cyanide Pill which could be considered a sub-trope (examples go there, not here).

Warning: This is a Death Trope. Expect lots of unmarked spoilers.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The plot of Naruto begins with the Minato "Fourth Hokage" Namikaze sealing the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox into the titular character, sacrificing his life to do so. We later learn that one of the seals he used specifically required his death in order to work.
    • Similarly, Minato's wife and partner Kushina allowed herself to be impaled with a giant claw to protect baby!Naruto and then help Minato as much as she could to make these seals.
  • Kazuki from Busou Renkin decides he must kill himself before he becomes a full Victor-Type and tries to destroy the world, since one of his alternate options failed and it seems the other won't be ready in time. Thankfully he doesn't have to go through with it in the end.
  • In RG Veda, Ashura's Enemy Within took control of the body to destroy everything but to do that it needed to kill Yasha, Ashura's most important person. So in the last moment, their bond of love give Ashura enough willpower to re-take control and kill himself, not only saving Yasha but their whole world.
  • Sulia Gaudeamus does this in the Fatal Fury motion picture, stabbing herself in the chest to use her Psychic Link with her older brother and current Big Bad, Laocorn, to the group's advantage so they can de-brainwash him.
  • Touched upon in The Nineties Sailor Moon anime when one of the Seven Great Youma, while still human and able to predict the future, makes a plan to go to an amusement park with the love of his life for the last time before ending his life to prevent the Dark Kingdom to gather all of them to combine their powers to kill the Senshi. He was talked out of it though.
  • Invoked and then defied in Orphen Revenge. Licorice is a girl whose life and death can determine how a massive gambit from an Eldritch Abomination will develop or not, and both her Anti Villainous family and her True Companions are fighting it out. She then takes a piece of a broken sword and says that since they're fighting for her, she will cut her own throat and keep them from fighting to the death because of her. Right when she's about to kill herself, however, Cleao's magical pet Lucky uses his powers to vanish the weapon away and undo Licorice's desperate gambit.
  • Basically, what Hokuto Sumeragi did at the end of Tokyo Babylon. Knowing that Seishirou would come to kill her twin brother Subaru, she dressed up as him and went to face "Sei-chan", both to get killed in Subaru's place and, as she lay dying, execute a Thanatos Gambit to try helping the two. Subverted in that Seishirou was perfectly aware of what she wanted to do, but went along with it anyway and used this in his own Thanatos Gambit.
  • Cruelly weaponized by Big Bad Duumvirate Dino and Yau-Si in Banana Fish. Yau-Si hands Ash a pistol and says if he blows his brains out right there, they'll leave Eiji, Ash's innocent young friend, alone for the rest of his life. Ash immediately takes the pistol, puts it to his head, and pulls the trigger. It's empty. He asks for a bullet.

    Comicbooks 
  • Quoted above: John Hartigan from Sin City kills himself so that no one will hurt Nancy to get at him.
  • In the Iron Man storyline "Execute Program", a villain remotely hijacks several of Tony's Iron Man suits, causing them to go on a rampage all over the world. Tony takes down four of the five, but is unable to defeat the last one, which is about to crush Captain America. Because the suit is controlled through software that's plugged directly into Tony's brain (long story), he realizes that he can deactivate it by killing himself. Which he does, by using his suit's power source to give himself a massive electric shock (don't worry, he gets better).
  • At the end of the 2011 run of Journey into Mystery, the all-powerful Fear Crown falls into Mephisto's hands and he's poised to bring all the Nine Realms under his rule in Hell. Because the Fear Crown was created from Kid Loki's worst fears, if he stops existing it will, too. Even though Kid Loki's certain there must be another way to stop Mephisto, he knows that it would take too long to figure out and billions of people would suffer and die in the meantime, so he completely annihilates himself and lets his older self return.
  • To defeat Shuma-Gorath, Doctor Strange absorbs a portion of his power. Once Shuma-Gorath is dead, Strange knows he will become Shuma in turn, so he kills himself. (He survives, devoid of any memory or sense of self — his ally Kaluu manages to bring him back to reality).
  • Dark Phoenix Saga —- Jean Grey commits suicide to prevent becoming Dark Phoenix again, and to stop the Shiar from destroying the world. (It depends on the interpretation of the story — retcons make this story a mess/)
  • At the end of Superior Spider-Man, Doc Ock comes to realize that, despite his incredible genius, his arrogance and overcompensation of it was why he was failing. He comes to realize that the true Superior Spider-Man was Peter Parker all along and, after begging him to rescue the kidnapped Anna Maria, erases his own memory, and thus taking the last bit of his life out, so Peter can go in without any distractions.

    Fanfiction 
  • Dean does this in the fic Reverse Crypt Scene (1-0) to prevent the demon possessing his body from getting out.
    Deanís eyes meet his. Thereís an apology there, and a terrible finality. Thereís so, so much more.
    Dean turns the blade toward himself.
    Cas isnít strong enough to stop him.

    Film 
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-800 ally must kill himself at the end to destroy the last possible source of Terminator technology that could let people reverse-engineer Terminators and Skynet.
  • Constantine. Angela Dodson's identical twin sister Isobel commits suicide when she realizes that the Big Bad plans to use her as part of a ritual to release Hell on Earth. She sends a psychic message to Angela from beyond the grave to tell her to find Constantine, and leaves a message for them so that they can stop the Big Bad from performing the ritual on Angela.
    • Isobel gets extra points for not just dying, but voluntarily damning herself (a highly devout Catholic who had never done anything wrong to anyone) to an eternity of pain and suffering in the process.
    • Then Constantine kills himself at the climax, because he knows that the only being with both the power and the motivation to stop the ritual, Satan himself, will personally come up to claim him. After Mammon is stopped, Satan admits that he owes John a favor, which John uses not to extend his own life but instead to let Isobel get into heaven. However, because of his self-sacrifice, John's own soul is now redeemed as well. So with this one act, he is able to save both of them.
    • Fridge Logic - "Greater love hath no man than he give his life for his friends." By killing herself specifically to prevent being used in the hell-unleashing ritual, Isobel is doing this for the whole of humanity - Heaven's gates should be wide open for her from the start, with Christ Himself rolling out the red carpet.
  • In Alien≥, Ripley falls backward into a smelter to stop the Queen Alien gestating in her from birthing and starting the whole ordeal all over again. To emphasize that she did this just in time, it actually bursts through her chest in mid-fall, but Ripley holds on to it all the way down.
  • In Gran Torino, after his previous attempts to stop a gang from harrassing his neighbours failed, Walt Kowalski taunts them so that they will kill him. Thinking he was grabbing a weapon, they gun down an unarmed old man in front of an entire block worth of witnesses and are sent to prison.
  • Looper: At the end, Joe realizes that his older self's attempts to prevent the rise of the Rainmaker will instead lead to his Start of Darkness. Left with no other way to stop Old!Joe, Young!Joe shoots himself, thus retgoning Old!Joe out of existence and presumably changing the future.
  • In Scanner Cop II, Sam Staziak's real mother kills herself by jumping off a balcony, to prevent Volkin from absorbing her power so he can use it against her son.
  • In the live-action Death Note films, L writes his own name in the Death Note and gives himself the maximum amount of time to live, preventing anyone else from killing him with a Death Note.

    Literature 
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry lets Voldemort kill him after discovering that he is one of the Horcruxes, and that Voldemort cannot be killed as long as he survives.
    • In this case, how he dies matters a great deal and has consequences reaching far beyond the immediate aim. Among other things, it effectively renders every single Hogwarts defender invulnerable to Voldemort, which - until Nagini's death - at least keeps them safe from the one enemy they themselves can't kill, though whether Harry realises this at the time is uncertain.
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar novel Oathbreakers, Jadrek drugs himself asleep with the intention of dying quietly of cold rather than continue to be The Load to Kethry and Tarma if they're unable to find shelter from the bitter mountain winter weather they're lost in. Fortunately, they do find shelther and he sleeps the medication off without further complications, although Tarma at least suspects what he was trying to do.
  • Numerous priestesses in Chanters of Tremaris poison themselves so their bodies can be sealed into the wall of ice in an attempt to stop the spread of the illness killing magicians. However, they were forced by the High Priestess. It's unclear whether they would have sacrificed themselves given any actual choice in the matter.
  • In the Halo: Evolutions short story Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian, Michael Baird and the AI Mo Ye need to activate the self-destruct of their ship, but can't because Mo Ye is restricted from harming a human. (As a warship AI, she can usually just ignore the Three Laws, but currently she's damaged.) Thus, Baird lets an alien invader kill him so that Mo Ye is no longer restricted.
  • In Warbreaker, the Returned can magically heal one person at the expense of their own life, and Lightsong does so at the climax to restore Susebron's tongue, which allows him to use Awakening.
  • In one of the last books of The Wheel of Time, Verin has to do this. A member of the Black Ajah, she wants to become a Reverse Mole, but is held by a binding oath that she "not betray the Great Lord until the hour of my death". Recognizing the loophole, she takes poison and spends her last hour giving details of the Black Ajah's membership and weaknesses.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dawn tries to pull one of these in the fifth season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when she realises that a gateway to hell can only be closed if her blood stops flowing. She is saved when Buffy realises she can achieve the same effect by killing herself in Dawn's place. Buffy's death is thus also an example.
  • Heroes
    • Like Dawn, Peter Petrelli considers killing himself to keep from blowing up New York. Also like Dawn, he is saved by the last-minute intervention of his elder sibling, though that's not an example of this trope.
    • Eden also performs one when she blows her brains out to prevent Sylar from getting at them (and thus her mind control powers).
  • On Angel Darla (a vampire) stakes herself so that her and Angel's 100% human son can be born.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Waters of Mars", the Doctor changes history to rescue someone doomed to die, which causes him to go totally A God Am I with megalomania. His rescuee kills herself in order to stop him, after which he snaps out of it.
    • In another episode, "The Angels Take Manhattan," when Rory learns that his future is fixed and that he will be sent back in time by an Angel and live out his life in one of the Winter Quay rooms, he (and Amy) decide to jump off the building, creating a paradox that should kill all the Angels.
      Amy: You think you'll come back?!
      Rory: Don't I always?
    • In "Father's Day", despite Rose's attempts to keep him in the dark and the Doctor even sacrificing himself to the Reapers trying to find another solution, Pete Tyler eventually realises that the time paradox that's destroying the world began when Rose saved him from being run over, which never happened in the original history. In the end, Pete decides to step in front of the car that was supposed to hit him, sacrificing himself to restore history to normal and bring back everyone that had been consumed.
    • The Eighth Doctor committed one at the end of the Big Finish audio "The Last." He got better, but was just a little traumatized by it.
  • Al Gough on Flash Forward learns that in the future an innocent woman will die due to his actions, so he jumps off a building so as to Screw Destiny so it can never happen.
  • In Sherlock Moriarty invokes this by setting up Sherlock to be "exposed" as a fraud and telling him that if he doesn't commit suicide by jumping off a building, a group of assassins he's hired will kill his friends (Sherlock appears to jump, but he's revealed to still be alive at the very end). Also an inversion in that Moriarty shoots himself to prevent Sherlock from foiling his Evil Plan by forcing him to call the assassins off.
  • In Once Upon a Time when Henry realizes that Regina's parting gift to Emma was an apple turnover, he grabs it and takes a bite out of it before she can, knowing full-well that the turnover is poisoned and he may never wake up.
  • In Supernatural's fifth season finale, Sam's plan to defeat The Devil is to allow Lucifer to possess him and then wrest back control of his body long enough to jump into Hell and take Lucifer with him before the gates seal behind them. He initially fails, but after Lucifer kills two of Sam's close friends and starts to beat Sam's brother Dean to death, he manages to take control long enough to make the jump.
  • In one episode of Haven, an OCD suffering Troubled is keeping the town trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop in an attempt to prevent a car crash, but forgets about it every time the day is reset. Once Audrey explains the situation to him, he steps in front of the car himself in order to end it.
  • Attempted by Hoshi Sato in Star Trek: Enterprise when the Reptilian Xindi have captured her and pumped her full of mind-control parasites so she can crack the codes of the superweapon. When they let their guard down, she breaks free and tries to throw herself to her death. The Reptillians grab her before she can succeed, but they are impressed by her willpower.

    Videogames 
  • Planescape: Torment ends with its immortal protagonist killing himself permanently because every time he "dies" and comes back to life, someone else dies in his place (and the spirits of the people who've died for him stalk and torment him).
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Radiant Dawn has Pelleas, who partway through the story was crowned king of Daein, pulling one of these. He unwittingly signed a Blood Pact, a curse which, if invoked, will slowly kill a leader's subjects. The one at the reins of this curse is Lekain, who is using it to strongarm Pelleas into fighting a war. Pelleas eventually learns that a Blood Pact will end if the one bound is killed so... yeah, you know the rest. Unfortunately, it didn't work. Pelleas received incomplete information. The way to end a Blood Pact is for either the one bound or the one in command to die, and the document itself must be destroyed on top of either of those. Thankfully, you can let Pelleas live in a New Game+.
    • Awakening has Emmeryn, the ruler of Ylisse and Chrom's older sister, who is captured on the edge of a cliff to force Chrom to make a Sadistic Choice: either give up the Fire Emblem aka Ylisse's treasure, without which the world will surely come to ruin, or let her die. To save him the pain of the choice, she gives a rousing speech and jumps from the cliff herself. Notably, her actions and final words touch even the enemy army, to the point where most of their troops decide to go Screw This, I'm Outta Here!.
      • This can be subverted if the player wishes so. Somehow she manages to survive the fall and ends up on a distant island, albeit with amnesia. You can recruit her in the Spotpass chapter that you meet her, if she doesn't die during the battle.
      • In the Sacrifice ending of the game, this happens again. Because the Avatar is the prefected vessel of Grima, if s/he is the one who lays the final blow to him instead of Chrom (who can only seal the Dark Dragon for a millenia before it raises again), Grima will be banished forever... but the Avatar will be erased from existence in exchange. Subverted again: The Stinger reveals that s/he turns out to have survived too. (Or more exactly, s/he was erased, but ultimately returned to life out of his/her unbreakable will.)
  • Dragon Age: Origins has a somewhat less heroic, but still important, example. Alistair reveals to the Warden early on that a Grey Warden, as a result of drinking darkspawn blood, modified or no, will eventually succumb to the taint of it. This doesn't necessarily kill the Warden, but it will cause them to lose their free will to the Darkspawn - or even worse, the Archdemon leader, if one is active at the time. This gets worse if your Warden is female, and you've played through the Deep Roads section: If your character were to lose her will to the Darkspawn, they'd bring her down to the depths, mutating and raping her until she became a Broodmother, which is what gives birth to new Darkspawn in the first place. The final burden of being a Grey Warden is kind of a mix of Heroic Suicide and Heroic Sacrifice - a Grey Warden must be closer to the current Archdemon as it's slain than any Darkspawn (usually meaning the Grey Warden has to do the slaying themselves) otherwise the Archdemon's soul will jump into the Darkspawn, and it'll regenerate in its original form - a massive freaking dragon. The soul will then instead jump to the Warden - which kills them both.
  • The destruction of the Bentusi upon encountering the Beast in Homeworld: Cataclysm.
  • Mother 3 has an utterly heartbreaking example. Your main character, Lucas, has a twin brother named Claus. The two of them were the best of friends, until, shortly after the game starts, he goes missing in an attempt to avenge the death of his mother. It's these events that kick off the game's plot. Three years later, Lucas starts on his adventure to pull seven "needles" scattered all over his home island in order to save the world. Porky, the Big Bad happens to be after them as well, in order to ''destroy'' the world, and is using the mysterious, masked commander of his army to do so. Many, many hours of gameplay later, after the Big Bad has been sealed away for all eternity, Lucas and the Masked Man face each other in front of the final needle. The Masked Man is revealed to actually be Claus, with no memories or sense of identity, under the command of Porky. After one of the most painful "I Know You're In There Somewhere" Fights in all of fiction, Claus slowly remembers who he is and electrocutes himself. The worst part is that we don't know for sure if this was a Heroic Suicide or not. While it's very possible he did it to free himself from Porky's control, it's also equally possible he simply did it because he realized all the wrong he's done against his will.
  • At the end of RefleX, the ZODIAC Ophiuchus takes the cores of the other 12 ZODIAC units and activates its seal program, shutting itself down in order to bring about a peaceful future safe from ZODIAC harm.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IV's Law ending, you and Merkabah reach the Yamato Perpetual Reactor one last time and activate it to have Tokyo obliterated once and for all, as the citizens of Tokyo, known as "Unclean Ones", are deemed unworthy of existence. Merkabah points out that you and him also must die, because they have been affected by the "Filth" of Tokyo. Indeed, you both perish in order to secure the utopian future of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado: a kingdom where Filth and sin are not known and the peace lasts for all of eternity.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Little Busters!, Kyousuke pulls off a successful non-permanent one in order to help Riki and Rin save the victims of the bus crash. In the fake world he created to build up Riki and Rin's strength, whenever he sleeps he finds himself at the moment of the crash and desperately tries to drag himself over to the oil leak so he can block it with his body before it catches fire and explodes, killing everyone. However, whenever he wakes up his position is reset. The day he finally reaches the leak, he realises what he has to do: reset his starting position. Since that is based on the moment he died, he needs to kill himself here so when he wakes up the next time he'll start there and be able to block it, saving everyone. He does it without hesitating, and it works.
  • This is how Sakura Oogami from Danganronpa died. She chose committing suicide instead of murdering other students (which would emotionally wreck her as she's very lawful and honorable and one of the students is her best friend Aoi) or letting her beloved dojo be destroyed (since Monobear is forcing her to be The Mole upon threatening said dojo).

    Webcomics 
  • In Homestuck this is one way of reaching God Tier, which is the highest level a player can reach. For a player to achieve God Tier, they must die on their quest bed. Obviously, a player usually chooses to reach god tier in pursuit of a heroic goal, and since this is one of the ways to go about it, it counts as a Heroic Suicide. It's implied that it's meant to test the player by challenging them to accept and overcome the fear of their own demise. So far, the only character we've seen attempt this is Dave Strider. However, he finds himself unable to go through with it
  • In TheBeastLegion Njora sacrifices himself to his serpent transformed daughter so that Xeus can concentrate on saving Fyre.


Heroic SacrificeDying Moment of AwesomeJumping on a Grenade
Cut the Safety RopeHeroic SacrificesInspirational Martyr

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