What's bigger than a hero? (beat) Rick Mattox:
A dead hero.
A martyr (from Greek word mártys
, "witness") is a person who is suffering (or has suffered) persecution for their beliefs, and has inspired other people through their behaviour. The most frequent assumption in popular culture, is that the martyr has died because of their belief in their cause.
It isn't a requirement to die, although the term "living witness" may be used instead of Martyr, in that case. Many times, the martyr's enemies will give them one last chance to refute their belief, just before killing them. If the martyr dies reasserting their belief, the crowd is often inspired by their death. If the martyr does refute their belief, the crowd's inspiration may be destroyed (which is why the enemy is trying this at all). If the crowd loses their inspiration, this is a subverted trope. If the crowd hears the martyr disown their beliefs, and still
remains inspired by their example, it's a Double Subversion
Compare As Long as There Is One Man
and You Cannot Kill An Idea
(both are about how the cause shall stay living), Martyrdom Culture
(a culture that encourages meaningful deaths), Failure Gambit
(the martyr may use one of those to invoke this trope), Doomed Moral Victor
(which doesn't necessarily move people to the cause), Thanatos Gambit
and My Death Is Just the Beginning
(who intentionally dies to further a plan, but not necessarily involving a cause). Compare also The Paragon
whose goal is the same (being an inspiration for people), but doesn't involve suffering (at least, not as much as this trope).
Contrast Martyr Without a Cause
(when their "cause", while heroic, is rather trivial). Also contrast Heroic Sacrifice
, which is any example of injury from a brave or heroic act. The Martyr may not have even been a hero themselves, but their death inspires others to become heroes.
Be wary of people who understand well the symbolism and effect of this trope - for those people, see Don't Create a Martyr
Do note that while martyrs do not have to die (per its definition), they often do, so expect unmarked spoilers.
No Real Life Examples, Please!
- the term has been linked to politics these days and we know what that entails.
- One Piece:
- When it's clear that their plans are about to fail, the higher ups of the New Fishman Pirates started slaughtering their own subordinates while invoking this trope; in their own words, "die and be left as a grudge (for fishmen's freedom)". Brook pointed out how nonsensical it is, then the Straw Hats kicked all their asses to just to show everyone how wrong they were.
- Straighter example in Gold Roger, the Pirate King, who used his death to become one of these. His final words are what inspired countless people to take on the life of a pirate in search for his lost treasures. Later Whitebeard in his death does the same.
- Dr. Hiriluk, from the Drum Arc. His willingness to die, relief that a possible disaster was only a trick intended to kill him, and his desire to heal his sick country inspire several characters, including Wapol's captain of the guard and the 20 M.D.s Wapol keeps in his service, to work for the betterment of the kingdom.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has to go over the top every time, and this is no exception. Kamina, Decoy Protagonist of the series, dies as his team is attempting to capture the Dai-Gurran. The morale is crushed, so Word of God is that he came Back from the Dead to inspire his team to continue fighting. His dream of all children being able to look up without fear is the dream that drives everyone to save humanity. After his death, flashbacks and Dead Person Conversation allow him to remain an inspiration to his team.
- In Nemesis the Warlock, Torquemada aims to become one when, his secretly alien body rapidly mutating, he commits suicide and orders the Terminators present to tell everyone he died battling Nemesis, thus ensuring the Termight Empire would rise to new heights of xenocide.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, it is hinted that the rebellious General Thunderhide may have purposefully set up his own death to seem suspicious to ensure his martyrdom, and to strengthen his legacy of the growing pegasi nationalism movement.
- Braveheart's main character, William Wallace, is used as a Martyr to the Scottish nobles. Throughout the movie, the common men of Scotland have been revolting against the English, but it isn't until Wallace's death at the climax that a Scottish noble decides to follow Wallace's example, and lead Scotland to freedom.
- The protagonist of the Nazi propaganda film Hitler Youth Quex: A Film about the Sacrifical Spirit of the German Youth (1933) is a teenager who opts to become a Hitler Youth rather than to join the communist youth organization. For this and for repeatedly foiling the communists' plots of sabotage and terroristic attacks on the Hitler Youth, Heini is harassed and threatened and finally stabbed to death by communists while distributing leaflets for the Nazi party. With his dying breath, he repeats "Unsere Fahne flattert uns voran!" ("Our flag flutters ahead of us!"), the refrain of the Hitler Youth marching song "Forward! Forward!" sung earlier in the movie. The film ends with the song being played while images of the marching Hitler Youth are seen, with the song's last line, fittingly "Die Fahne ist mehr als der Tod!" ("The flag means more than death!"), coinciding with a shot of the swastika flag. The film was claimed to be based on the real-life case of Herbert Norkus, a 15-year-old Berlin Hitler Youth who had been killed by communist streetfighters in 1932. It, being a propaganda, challenges the audience to follow on his footsteps.
- During a timeout during the Ultimate Game in Space Jam, Michael Jordan raises the stakes involved: if the Monstars win, Moron Mountain gets Michael Jordan; if the Toon Squad wins, the NBA players get their talents back. Once the Toon Squad becomes victorious, Michael asks the loaded question, "Why do you take it from this guy?" referring to the Monstars' ruthless boss Swackhammer. Inspired by Jordan's daring gambit, the Monstars turn on their boss and exile him to the moon.
- 300: Rise of an Empire: Leonidas' heroic death at the Battle of Thermophylae in the first movie is exploited by Themistocles to try to unite Greece against Persia.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe the destruction of Alderaan was followed by an upwelling of support for the Rebellion.
- Mistborn: The Original Trilogy has Kelsier, who deliberately invokes this trope by knowing that he is too weak to defeat The Lord Ruler directly, wishing instead for his sacrifice to inspire the Skaa Rebellion to continue despite deaths. The Lord Ruler is eventually defeated by Kelsier's handpicked successor.
- In The Hunger Games, after the death of Rue, Katniss makes a large show of honoring her to the cameras. This is the spark that ignites the rebellions that begin to spring up around Panem.
- In Wraith Squadron, the backstory of ex-child actor Garik "Face" Loran features several films that are thinly-disguised pro-Empire propaganda, including one entitled Win or Die where he embraces the Imperial cause, over the objections of his stodgy, Republican parents, who eventually end up shooting him. In a stunning fit of patriotic Glurge, he dies in the Emperor's arms, wishing he would take over the galaxy already. Apparently, recruitment for the Imperial Navy went up 5% when it was released. The modern-day New Republic fighter pilot is not proud.
- Towards the end of the first Arcia Chronicles, Lupe's worthless husband and wannabe poet Rodolph Gleo gets drunk and recites a short poem in public, calling his fellow Tayanans to resist the ongoing Tarskian occupation. He is promptly shot by a Tarskian informant but his Famous Last Words ("They shoot because they're scared... can't shoot us all... Fight them!") spurs on a riot that quickly spreads throughout the country and eventually lifts the occupation.
- In Clocks that Don't Tick, William kills the Lady of Pestilence in order to make her a martyr. It works quite well.
- The Dune series plays a lot with the themes of heroes, messiahs and martyrs.
- Paul's walk into the desert in Dune Messiah is an example and is fully exploited by his priesthood through Children of Dune
- In the Legends of Dune prequels by Brian Herbert, the death of Serena Butler's infant son at the manipulators of the robot Erasmus set off the Butlerian Jihad. Later Serena was set up to become a martyr herself by the Jihad's leaders.
- The Dune/Encyclopedia offers a differing, though similar, explanation of a forced abortion of Jehanne Butler's unborn daughter Sarah, which would have bore the Kwisatz Haderach. It is at that point that some humans feel that the machines have too much control. The Jihad in this instance wasn't a Robot War but a religious movement against the use of machines.
- The captain of the Japanese submarine I-53 is this is The Great Pacific War. He pulls off a successful torpedo attack against US ships off navigating the Straits of Magellan off the coast of Chile, but is later interned by the Chilean government and commits seppuku for this dishonor. His attack had already made him a hero back home, but the suicide raised him from "hero" to "heroic martyr figure".
- Warhammer 40K has a variation: Living Saints are Sisters of Battle who are martyred by the various enemies of the Imperium, their images and backstories used to boost morale. Unlike most examples, they come back- as glowing-eyed, angel-winged incarnations of His wrath with six-foot flaming broadswords.
- A Confessor named Dolan spoke against the Cardinal Bucharis, who was committing heresies against the Imperium and creating his own empire by conquering worlds to his rule. Bucharis hoped that executing him would discourage any rebellion, instead the people under the Cardinal rose up against the Cardinal. Million of unarmed citizens mobbed the Cardinals armed guards, and they cornered him and tore him to shreds with their bare hands.
- Warhammer: A young boy was found in the Empire believed to be the reincarnation of Sigmar, The Empire's deified founder. As the boy was brought to the capital, where it was believed the current Emperor Karl Franz would step down from the throne, he was found murdered with a Skaven dagger.
- In Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Raul Menendez becomes one in any ending where David Mason kills him. His death causes the ending to include a post-mortem posting of a YouTube video, which inspires supporters of "Cordis Die" to revolt all around the world.
- "The Martyr" is one of the three predefined world templates in Dragon Age II, which you can select if you don't import a Dragon Age: Origins save: it depicts the Warden (Player Character of DAO) as a young, idealistic Dalish Elf girl who fought for justice and ultimately gave her life to defeat the Archdemon (Dalish Elves being pretty much the most downtrodden minority in Thedas). It has since been confirmed to be the default canon for Dragon Age: Inquisition (if you don't import a save), which features a Dalish elf uprising as a major conflict.
- The Matrix: Path of Neo averts this trope by diverting from the movie's events in favor of a more action-packed finale.
Andy Wachowski: ...at this point, it's Martyr time. Now that may work in a movie, but in a video game, the Jesus thing is, well...
Larry Wachowski: Lame.
Andy Wachowski: Really lame.
- Bioshock Infinite: In an alternate universe, Booker DeWitt has (posthumously) become an icon of the Vox Populi. When he apparently shows up again, alive and well, he is not welcomed as a hero, but relentlessly pursued as a supposed imposter because he's more valuable as a martyr.
- The Influence path to victory in Republic: The Revolution requires arranging one of your inner circle members to be murdered by The Government, then turning them into a martyr to rally your supporters in a bid for power.
- Joan of Arc Ageof Empires II in her campaign, she is captured and burned by the English. Despite her death the French continued their war in memory of Joan, they soon won the war in the end.
- This backfires rather badly on the Confederacy in the backstory to Starcraft. When a popular senator on one of their core worlds, Angus Mengsk, started stirring up trouble, they sent in assassins to silence him in a dramatic fashion (killing him, his wife, and their daughter, and then cutting his head off and taking it with them), hoping to cow the resistance into submission. Instead, the world entered open revolt. The Confederacy doubled down, nuking the entire planet with orbital missiles. This, in turn, inspired Angus's son, Arcturus Mengsk, to create his own rebellion, called the Sons of Korhal. These rebels were eventually able to take down the Confederacy.
- Mengsk himself proves somewhat wiser, slandering the rebels that beset his regime and opposing them militarily but avoiding assassins. While he would love to kill Raynor and the others, he knows he has to do it in a way that makes Raynor out to be the villain.
- Tiny kitten Edmund dares to confront the towering, powerful villain The Grand Duke in Don Bluth's Rock-A-Doodle by chanting the hero's name repeatedly. The Duke swats Edmund down hard, to the point where it's uncertain if Edmund survived. Nonetheless, the dog Patou begins to take up the chant, as do most of the other small animals. Their collective chanting of his name causes Chanticleer to realize that he must have the power to raise the sun, defeat the Duke and dispel the gloom.
- Defied by Amon The Legend of Korra as he knew that debending the Avatar too soon before his following had grown strong enough would rally every bender in the world against him.
- Ironically, Amon himself could've been one after he was defeated by Korra and knocked into the bay, if not for over the top use of his hidden bending.