I Want Them Alive
"Remember, men, take him alive... so there's something left to kill."Maybe the villain wants the satisfaction of killing the hero himself, especially if he considers himself The Only One Allowed To Defeat Him. Maybe he needs the hero in order to finish a magic ritual. Maybe he wants someone to take hostage. Maybe the villain wants the hero to join him, or just wants the hero. Maybe he's under orders by superiors. Or, perhaps, he wants to take the hero prisoner for interrogation. He announces to his minions, "I want them alive!" Usually sets up an increased amount of urgency with the scene. After all, you can only be killed once, but if the Big Bad wants you alive, then you know you're in for a really bad time. For extra sadism, he might instead ask for only the protagonist to be taken alive, and everyone else to be killed. Less menacingly, this is a standard line for a Noble Demon who would genuinely prefer to keep the body count as low as possible while carrying out his Evil Plan—a sentiment his minions may or may not share. If the villain is a Worthy Opponent or Friendly Enemy, expect an Antagonist in Mourning scene if his henchmen choose to ignore this stipulation. (It's okay, though, because they probably Never Found the Body and just assumed that No One Could Survive That). If the minion who receives this order is Genre Savvy, they may respond with Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? Justified if they have important information and the Big Bad wants them alive for interrogation, or wants to leave an Empty Shell of his former opponents rather than martyrs. Sometimes used on the heroic side, especially if the hero is a Technical Pacifist or, conversely, if killing the villain is Something He's Got To Do Himself. The Kid with the Leash may need to add this injunction to all his orders. Regardless of which side, if death is not an option and the opponent is aware of this, they will definitely use this to their advantage. A variant of Leave Him to Me.
— Zapp Brannigan, Futurama
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Anime and Manga
- Attack on Titan: The Titan Shifters, humans who infiltrated the walled city and attacked it go through a lot of trouble to capture main character Eren Jaeger alive, seemingly because he has the same powers as them, but since they're stronger many people were confused for a while as to why they specifically needed him alive and wouldn't just kill him when he became too much trouble. Then we find out that he has another power—the ability to control the mindless, main eating titans that populate the outside world. When the titan shifters are incapacitated, the royal family's personal guard starts to launch kidnapping attempts.
- Akatsuki want all the Jinchuuriki alive because killing them would kill the Biiju sealed inside them, which is what they're after. In something of a subversion, this doesn't stop them from trying to cripple them (Kisame suggested cutting off Naruto's legs to keep him from running away, and later tried to actually do it to Killer Bee).
- Well, in Naruto's case it would kill the fox; not all the seals work like that, but having a free bijuu rampaging around is...inconvenient.
- During the fourth world war, Itachi and Sasuke fight Kabuto, but they have to defeat him without killing him, since otherwise the world will be screwed.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Father and the Homunculi want Ed, Al, Roy, Hohenheim, and Izumi alive, so they can be used as sacrifices, of course. Ed gets the most profit out of this, followed by Roy. If anyone else had walked into the middle of the Ancient Conspiracy the way he did, they would have been quietly offed.
- Riza survived. Even after her coded message was intercepted. But then, she was being used as a leash on Roy, and Pride seemed to enjoy messing with her.
- In One Piece, it's stated that the World Government would rather criminals be turned in alive, so that they can be executed publicly. A dead body causes the reward to drop by 30%.
- A more personal example would be the CP9's capture of both Nico Robin and Franky, because they want to interrogate them on the location and blueprints of the ancient, island-destroying weapon Pluton. Nero forgetting this and trying to kill Franky gets him killed by Lucci.
- A heroic variant occurs in Karneval: When Circus storms Smoky Mansion in order to rescue Karoku, Eva and Tsukumo take on Uro and only wound him without causing any serious damage. When he mocks them for their failure to kill him, Eva reveals that they were ordered to capture him alive and even comments on how hard it was to hold back against him. He manages to escape before Circus can take him into custody, however.
- In the Cowboy Bebop universe, bounty hunters are, as a general rule, supposed to bring fugitives in alive and without any unnecessary roughness in order to collect their reward.
Spike: I blow the bounty if I blow you away.
- In D.Gray-Man, we find out why the Millennium Earl and the Noah family are so intent on capturing protagonist Allen Walker. He didn't have the 14th's memories. Allen is the 14th. The Earl makes it clear because of that fact, he wants Allen over to his side.
- And in recent chapters, he is now sending high level Akuma to capture Allen alive.
- In an early issue of Daredevil, the Masked Marauder tells his men to capture "Daredevil" (in reality Foggy Nelson, whom the world is convinced is old Hornhead), but makes especial note that "Once you have him helpless, leave him for me! The Masked Marauder must have the honor of actually finishing him!"
- A more reasonable variant in a 1950s or '60s newspaper comic, when the villain told his troops to take Tarzan "alive if you can — dead if you must!"
- Parasite is one of the few members of Superman's Rogues Gallery that doesn't want to kill the Man of Steel. No, he wants to keep Superman alive so he can keep feeding off of him for his powers.
- Heroic version in Dungeon Keeper Ami. The Light have made it as obvious as possible to their followers that if they have the option, they need to take Ami alive due to her actual morality.
- Dead or Alive 4: The Devil Factor: As Ayame knows where one of the Jewels of the Forsaken that he's looking for is, Vergil is adamant to his minions that they capture her alive.
- Hyrule Warriors: Cia tells her minions repeatedly that she wants Link brought to her alive.
Films — Animated
- Cade gives the order to capture Shua alive at the start of Sky Blue.
- In the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, after the "feast of fools" sequence wherein Esmeralda humiliates Frollo and his troops, Frollo says to Phoebus, "find her, captain. I want her alive." It's good to know that Frollo is, at least, not a necrophiliac.
- Ice Age: Soto tells Diego to bring him the human baby alive, wanting to eat him "fresh" so he can really enjoy his revenge.
Films — Live-Action
- Darth Vader from Star Wars is fond of this.
- In Dragonheart, the villain wants the dragon captured alive, because killing the dragon means killing the villain.
- Averted in The Three Musketeers (1993), with Tim Curry's Cardinal Richelieu declaring a bounty on the titular Musketeers: "One thousand gold pieces on each of their heads, dead or alive!" (Steps away, then returns) "...I prefer dead!"
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
- Lord Cutler Beckett, in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End to Davy Jones: "We need prisoners to interrogate, which tends to work best when they're alive."
- Will is one of the few characters to use this trope to his advantage. Though in his case, Barbossa didn't know it was specifically Will he needed alive until he told him.
- In The Film of the Book The Wizard of Oz, The Wicked Witch Of The West takes the "extra sadism" route: "Do what you want with the others, but I want [Dorothy and Toto] alive and unharmed!" Possibly justified in that she thinks it's necessary that way to get the Ruby Slippers.
- In Hudson Hawk, the villains berate one of their henchmen for threatening to kill a captured Bruce Willis, remarking that they need him alive to steal a MacGuffin for them. Realizing that they can't kill him, Bruce takes the opportunity to begin acting outrageously (singing a silly song, slapping the henchmen around, and grabbing the villainess and dancing lewdly with her) until The Dragon threatens Bruce with a Groin Attack, and the villainess remarks there's one body part that he won't be needing to steal the MacGuffin later on.
- In The Mask, Dorian Tyrell offers fifty thousand dollars to anyone who can find the titular Mask character... and bring him in the next day alive, so Tyrell can find out where The Mask took the money from a bank robbery.
- In Masters of the Universe, this is a case of Pragmatic Villainy when Skeletor's lead mercenary Karg starts yelling at the other mercenaries who are shooting and throwing things at Julie not to kill her because they need her alive for questioning; she's one of the few people on Earth who might have any idea where the McGuffin they've been sent to retrieve is.
- Jason X: Professor Lowe tells Sgt. Brodski and his men to capture Jason Voorhees alive, because he plans to sell Jason to pay off his debt. However, as soon as Lowe is out of earshot, Brodski tells his men that they're just going to kill Jason outright, and to "put one in his leg so we can say we tried."
- The Fly II: After Martin Brundle mutates into the Martinfly, Bartok tells the security detail that he wants Martin captured alive, because only Martin knows the password to the Telepods. However, after quite a few people fall to the Martinfly, the head of the security detail decides to simply gun Martin down, and even threatens Bartok at gunpoint when he objects.
- Subverted in Braveheart with Edward Longshanks. "Bring me Wallace. Alive if possible. Dead... just as good."
- In The Warriors, Masai bellows, "I want ALL the warriors, alive is possible, dead if not!"
- The opening scene of Banlieue 13, thus allowing for a cool scene of Le Parkour.
- Gambol's response to the Joker flouting the Mob's authority in The Dark Knight: "I'm puttin' the word out. Five hundred grand for this clown dead. A million alive, so I can teach him some manners first." Boy did that end horribly.
- Also used by Gordon, except from a heroic rather than villainous perspective. "I want Lau alive. The Joker, either way." Note that this was because Lau was going to testify against the Gotham mob, which may have finally ended their power. Becomes a moot point when the Joker sets the mob's money and Lau on fire, and then kills the other mob bosses.
- In the first Blade movie, after spending the entire movie trying to kill Blade, Frost realizes he needs him alive for his plan.
Frost: Bring me Blade—alive.
- In The Fellowship of the Ring when Sauraman sends the Uruk-Hai out to battle, he tells the leader that "one of the halflings [hobbits] carries something of great importance" so he wants them alive "and unspoiled." Luckily, (for Merry and Pippin) the leader doesn't know he has the wrong hobbits.
- A good example in Eraser. After DeGuerin frames Kruger as a traitor, Chief Beller tells him to find and bring Kruger back. DeGuerin agrees. Then Beller points out that he wants Kruger alive, suspecting something in DeGuerin's behavior. Naturally, DeGuerin has no intention of Kruger being alive to reveal the truth about him.
- Averted in Riddick; the bounty on him is worth twice as much if he's dead (presumably because he's more trouble alive). Fortunately the leader of one of the bounty-hunting teams has his own reasons for wanting Riddick alive and talking.
- A Justified Trope in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Specifically, Trask wants Mystique alive, since he needs not just her blood (which he gets) but also her brain tissue and spinal fluid for what he plans to do with her abilities.
- Big Bad Lord Hong from the Discworld book Interesting Times orders his army to capture Cohen and the Silver Horde alive, so he can spend months or years torturing them.
- In Dragon Bones, the villain wants the hero alive to make a deal with him. However, his underling, who is given this task, still tries to kill the hero, because of a personal enmity. Doesn't succeed, though, and then seems content with taking the hero captive, as per the original order.
- Tolkien's Legendarium:
- Saruman does this off page with the Uruk-Hai in Lord of the Rings. He wants the hobbits that they capture alive because he believes that one of them is carrying the One Ring that Saruman wants, and he fears that if the orcs killed the hobbits and searched the corpses, one of them might realize just how powerful an item they have in their hands and try to claim it for their own rather than bringing it back to their master. The hobbits are also wanted alive so they can be interrogated. The leaders of both Saruman's and Sauron's orcs say as much. In both the books and The Movie, the orcs have orders to bring them back "Alive and as captured; no spoiling."
- In The Silmarillion:
- Morgoth and his then minion Sauron order for several characters to be taken alive, although in these cases it's because they either act as hostages for their allies or know very classified information.
- Morgoth also occasionally orders his forces to bring random people back alive, so they can then be horribly tortured. This is for two reasons: first Morgoth really likes torturing people, and second is that their screams will have a demoralizing affect on their allies.
- Lord Voldemort consistently orders this where Harry Potter is concerned, although in a slight subversion, some of his mooks (of the Psycho for Hire type) reason that he would be equally happy with a brain-dead and badly injured Harry so long as he was able to deliver the Coup de Grâce (of course, they never get an opportunity to test this plan out). A handful of Death Eaters figure out a way to do this without personal risk (which is common in Harry Potter kidnap attempts). They call Dementors to eat Harry's soul. He'd technically be alive, but wouldn't fight back. Brilliant though it was, the plan didn't work.
- The titular Villain Protagonist of Artemis Fowl uses the Noble Demon variant as his Battle Butler leaves to deal with the Redshirt Army:
Artemis: I prefer scared to dead. If possible.
- In Stephen King's The Stand, Randell Flagg's second-in-command Lloyd Henreid issues this order to the people belatedly chasing after escaping spy Tom Cullen. Although in this case it's more Flagg will want him alive, and if he isn't, everyone's gonna be very sorry...
- Both used and averted in The Executioner novels by Don Pendleton. The hero Mack Bolan is a One-Man Army conducting his personal war against the Mafia. On one occasion a mob boss demands that Bolan be taken alive and unharmed so he can torture him to death. The button man assigned to the task retorts that from what he's heard of Bolan's reputation, the boss had better be happy with getting him in any condition whatsoever. On another occasion a hitman who's discovered Bolan holed up in a motel tells his mooks that if they find Bolan "in bed with his pants down" they're to capture him, if not just blast him on sight.
- Subverted a couple of times in the Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- In Shadows of the Empire, the main antagonist Xizor orders the Millennium Falcon destroyed: "If you can disable it and capture the crew and passengers, that would also be acceptable."
- In Dark Force Rising, Grand Admiral Thrawn (notable for being less cruel to his subordinates, as well as a big fan of the Evil Overlord List) says of the heroes: "I want them also alive if possible. If not — If not, I'll understand." He did, however, specify that the prisoner the heroes were rescuing needed to be recaptured alive. The prisoner was one of only people in the entire galaxy who knew the location of a lost but fully operation fleet of warships that Thrawn was seeking, and thus killing him without getting the information would have been a significant inconvenience.
- The EU seems to have established that as long as it's not explicitly stated, you don't have to bring back your bounty target alive...but you tend to be paid a lot better if you do. But if the target is dangerous enough and/or the bonus for a live capture isn't large enough, more pragmatic bounty hunters will opt to just kill them.
- Hutt crime lords have a tendency to post alive-only bounties on those who have betrayed or just offended them, so as to inflict some nasty torture before killing them.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, Valerius inverts it:
You all know the Countess Albiona. Search for her, and if you find her, kill her and her companion instantly. Do not try to take them alive.
- In "A Witch Shall Be Born" Constantius orders it for Conan.
- A big part of the reason why Galbatorix was ultimately defeated by Eragon and Saphira in Inheritance Cycle. Had he wanted to, he could have easily had them snuffed out like candles, or done so himself, well before the fourth book. But no, he was hoping to break their will and turn them to his side, hoping to use Saphira (whom he believed to be the last female dragon), to establish a new line of Riders.
- Trapped on Draconica: Gothon insists that Ben and Kalak be brought to him alive. He knows that Kalak is his son, and Lucia has convinced him that sacrificing Ben can bring his dead wife back to life.
- This is a common statement by vermin commanders in the Redwall books that are either looking to take prisoners or make examples.
- The titular doctor of Dr Franklins Island turns animals and people into strange hybrids, some of which survive in very twisted forms. It's stated early on that he doesn't like to have any of them deliberately killed. So when there's a jailbreak, his security has a hard time.
No! Don't shoot to kill! Don't damage them! I want them alive! I haven't finished with them!
Live Action TV
- In Farscape, John Crichton knows his buried knowledge is invaluable to his enemies, uses it, and abuses it to the point of strapping himself with a bomb to blow up an enemy base and getting away with it. Twice.
- Scorpius himself, who was at the wrong end of this prior to his more-or-less Heel-Face Turn, acknowledged the tactical genius of this move before ordering the evacuation of his doomed base.
- Not to mention also facing down heavily armed troops once using this: after being captured by Scorpius' right hand man Braca, Crichton is subjected to a bit of gloating by radio from Scorpy, who in the process mentions that Crichton's wormhole physics knowledge is possibly unique in the universe. This leads Crichton to realize that Braca's threat to shoot him, even in a non-vital limb, is a bluff, since the human tendency to bleed out (something Sebaceans don't share) would make it impossible for Braca to seriously harm him without endangering the information he carries. Crichton has no such reservations about hurting Braca, though.
- In the season one finale of Burn Notice, Michael uses the knowledge that his pursuers need him alive to take himself hostage and force them to let his family go.
- Star Trek:
- Parodied in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Playing God". In the B-plot O'Brien is dealing with an infestation of Cardassian voles and Sisko teases him, "Phasers on stun, Mister O'Brien. I want those voles taken alive." After they start causing problems in the episode's A-plot, Sisko tells him to take the phasers off stun.
- Used in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. In an earlier episode, Captain Archer had escaped from Rura Penthe and a bounty was placed on him. He is turned in to the Klingons by a bounty hunter, but then manages to escape in an escape pod. One of the Klingons asks if he can charge weapons, but the Klingon captain responds, "No, I want him alive." Later, in the first "In a Mirror, Darkly" episode, the Dark Malcolm Reed offers to kill the Dark Admiral Forrest and Dark Jonathan Archer replies "I want him alive."
- In Angel's fourth season The Beast declines to finish off any of the main characters despite having multiple opportunities to do so. This turns out to be because Jasmine wants to make them her primary servants once she's born.
- This is pretty much the Senior Partners' entire M.O.: Angel will be a big player in the apocalypse, whether for good or for evil, and they plan to corrupt him to their side for that. Therefore, no matter what, no one at Wolfram & Hart is allowed to even try to kill him, though that doesn't stop some of their flunkies from trying (and failing) to do so.
- Surprisingly averted by Apophis (usually the most cliche of bad guys) in the season 1 finale of Stargate SG-1. Klorel, son of Apophis, discovers Teal'c and O'Neill hiding out on his ship. When Klorel asks if Apophis wants them alive, Apophis quickly states that Klorel should kill them both, quickly. The Genre Savvy didn't help, though.
- In the seventh episode of season one of Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister, in ordering the City Watch to arrest Ned, curtly orders, "Take him alive. Kill his men."
- In Pokémon Live!, Giovanni instructs Team Rocket to bring him Pikachu alive and unharmed so it can fight MechaMew2.
- Later, when Ash surrenders to Team Rocket, his friends and family try to follow them—but Meowth specifies the Boss only wanted Ash.
- A variation of this trope occurs in Pokémon. To catch a Pokémon, you must first weaken it, than throw a Pokeball at it. The catch is, if you go too far and hurt the Pokémon too much, it will faint and you will not be able to catch it. It it very frustrating trying to catch a shiny/legendary Pokémon, and hurt it too much. You might have another chance to catch a legendary, but a shiny is almost impossible to find, making them rarer than legendarys.
- A Genre Savvy variation of this trope occurs in Mass Effect 1 - "Spare the asari if you can. If not, it doesn't matter."
- A second even more Genre Savvy one comes from the second game - "I want his body recovered, if possible."
- In No One Lives Forever, Magnus Armstrong regularly orders mooks to tie up and take the protagonist Cate Archer alive. The minions appear to be Genre Savvy, as they regularly ask why they don't just kill her.
- A Scot doesn't kill a Scot... at least in this game.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II, crime boss Goto has posted a substantial bounty on Jedi, with an I Want Them Alive stipulation attached. This causes a legion of bounty hunters to pursue the protagonist in order to collect on the bounty... and almost none of them bother even trying for a "live capture".
- The irony here is that Goto actually wants a Jedi brought to him so they can work for him, which deadness kind of precludes.
- He really doesn't care though: as he puts it, "A true Jedi would have no trouble surviving such attacks...and if you could not then would be useless to me."
- The irony here is that Goto actually wants a Jedi brought to him so they can work for him, which deadness kind of precludes.
- Rare hero example: in Jak II: Renegade after you defeat Krew, you discover that the latter sent Sig on an assignment to open a door in the Underport. When you get there, you see him fighting for his life and claiming Krew set him up to open the door and let hundreds of Metal Heads into the city.
Jak: Krew's dead.Sig: Yeah? Well he's lucky! 'Cause he would not want me to catch him alive!
- The Mercenaries series encourages this. While your contacts don't have a problem with you killing high value targets, they pay you double if you manage to capture them alive.
- Which only makes sense, as your targets are high-value military personnel who most likely have information wanted by the guys paying you to capture them.
- In Mischief Makers, the Beastector are told to bring in Marina and the Prof alive. They misinterpret this as dead.
- In Iji, the bounty the Komato put on Iji's head has three conditions: a low bounty for total destruction, a bounty more than an order of magnitude higher for preserving her equipment (as her Nanogun is an example of technology they don't have and want), and a bounty fifty times that for taking her alive. Asha, while an arrogant bastard, will settle for dead.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Zelda herself does a mild variation of this late in the game.
- The player in X-COM often finds himself in the position of issuing this order whenever the squad identifies an alien with useful knowledge.
- Dr. Doppler in Mega Man X3 tells his minions Bit and Byte to bring X to him... alive if possible. Both of them, when X finds them, interpret the order as "kill X". So does Vile.
- The Amazing Spider-Man: Norman Osborn tells the guards of Oscorp to capture Spider-Man alive, but the guards are also informed that "if you accidentally load your guns with bullets instead of tranqs, well... oops."
- Street Fighter X Tekken: Kazuya and Nina's pre-battle cutscene has shades of this. Nina asks if they really have to take their opponents alive, to which Kazuya responds, "It's preferable, but accidents do happen."
- Malia Gedde in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers leaves a message for Doctor John: "Keep eyes on GK but do not harm."
- The Force Unleashed has Darth Vader tell his men, "Take them alive, The Emperor wants to execute them personally."
- Sluggy Freelance: During the "That Which Redeems" arc, Horribus insists that Torg be taken alive so that Horribus can rip out his soul and torture it for all eternity.
- Ferretina's reaction to Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer.
- Frans Rayner in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja subverts this when Doc's father is making his way towards Rayner's base.
Rayner: "Bring him in, dead or alive, whatever. It would be cool if I could kill him myself, but you know... whatever."
- In Exterminatus Now, this is used to justify Lothar being barred from a mission. Lothar protests by saying he got his last suspect alive...
Commander Schaefer: Yes. And the doctors say that if he ever wakes up, he might just have enough of his brain left to answer our questions.
- Star Wars Rebels, when approaching the fort Kanan and Ezra are hiding in, the Inquisitor tells his squad of stormtroopers to "Keep them contained. I want them alive."
- Justified in Avatar: The Last Airbender, where killing Aang would just lead to some other Avatar being reincarnated and the hunt having to start all over again. However, the series is big on Fight Scenes so this often led to jarring circumstances where Aang is nearly killed by the same people who explicitly stated that they wanted him alive moments beforehand. This up and down went on until the season 3 where the notion is dropped altogether. Even if he does reincarnate that still buys them probably a decade without worrying about him, and the Fire Nation could probably conquer the rest of the world then (especially after taking down the Earth Kingdom).
Xin Fu: She's wanted - dead or alive.Master Yu: No she's not! I'm certain her father wants her alive!
- Toph's dad puts out a reward for finding her, but Xin Fu seems to misunderstand the mission.
- One Bugs Bunny cartoon depicted Bugs as being a wanted fugitive, wanted dead or alive... with the wanted poster explicitly saying "preferably dead."
- Also Justified in Galaxy Rangers. The Queen is very specific about making sure any humans are brought to her "alive and undamaged." Otherwise, they can't be used to power her Slaverlords.
- In Superman: The Animated Series, Livewire busts Parasite out of jail, wanting him to drain Superman so she can take him down. He complies, but when she moves in for the kill, Parasite betrays her because Superman is much more useful to him as a live prisoner... and so is she.
- Police forces prefer to capture rather than kill suspects and fugitives, generally only resorting to killing to prevent other people from dying.
- The fact is that police forces in countries with Rule of Law have no authority to use deadly force except in situations where bystanders would have that same right.