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Leave No Survivors
aka: No Quarter
"Wipe this pathetic planet from the face of the galaxy!
of a villain that signifies a Kick the Dog
, especially if the victims are (comparatively) helpless. If the villain isn't the one directly causing mass murder or ordering his mooks
to do it, then he's shown giving this instruction to a Psycho for Hire
or Hitman with a Heart
. The naval expression for this is "No Quarter". In Real Life
, it's a war crime
Of course, if a Doomed Hometown
suffers this fate, then it's more likely than not that the hero escapes such a culling
and goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge
Sink The Life Boats
is the subtrope dealing with killing enemies who were alive after being left defeated
Compare, contrast with Kill 'em All
, Shoot Everything That Moves
, and Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies
. Going one step further from "kill everyone" to organized torture, looting, and
massacre of the population is Rape, Pillage, and Burn
. If you have to kill everyone because they saw too much, that's Leave No Witnesses
. When this fails, it often falls into the category of Genocide Backfire
. See also Traumatic C-Section
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- In the G.I.Joe one-shot "Special Missions; the Enemy", a squad of Cobra goons kill every living person in a hospital while looking for the Baroness' baby. The squad leaders even kill two of their own when it looks like they have reservations.
- Ildomir the Evil Sorcerer from Nodwick makes a note to himself to have this phrase tattooed on the back on his hand after being foiled by our heroes shortly after leaving them alive in a bad situation.
- In the flashback section of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn, after being hit by a broadside, the pirate ship hoists the red flag, signaling that they would not take prisoners. They do capture captain Sir Francis Haddock when a golden opportunity presents itself, but plan to execute him slowly the next morning.
- Joel Kent in Superman & Batman: Generations orders his troops to do this when they lay waste to a village that has been suspected of harboring Viet Cong troops, only to find nobody there but innocent peasants. The troops turn against Joel and shot him, taking his dog tags and leaving him for dead until Mei-Lai finds him and nurses him back to health.
- In Shell Shock, the captain orders his troops to do this to a large group of freshly captured POW's. It's as much for revenge as it is a sign for just how fucked up things are.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Iron Man: Stane, just after paralyzing Raza and his goons with some experimental technology outlawed by the government, orders his personal bodyguards to clean up the mess.
- Lawrence of Arabia: has the titular protagonist quite pissed off at enemies who just slaughtered a village: NO PRISONERS! ... NO PRISONERS!!
- In real life, he usually had his men take prisoners, but on one occasion, when really pissed off, told them, "The best of you brings me the most Turkish dead!"
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The White Witch: I have no interest in prisoners. Kill them all.
- In the film version of The Lord of the Rings, this happens twice. Saruman orders his Uruk-hai in the second film to "leave none alive!" in the battle of Helm's Deep, and the Witch-king orders his minions to slay everyone in Minas Tirith.
- "Release the prisoners"
- Also at Helm's Deep, Aragorn himself tells the defenders to show no mercy to their besiegers, "because the enemy will show none."
- Also done by Durza in Eragon in a very similar scene.
- From the Pirates of the Caribbean films:
- In the first film, of course, the cursed crew of the Black Pearl is famous for leaving no survivors.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
"What about the survivors?" "There are no survivors."
Beckett: Signal Jones to give no quarter. That should brighten his day.
- The Princess Bride: The standing order of the Dread Pirate Roberts, though with a condition: Only those who attempt to fight back are killed.
- Not to mention the threat the heroes use to clear out the men guarding the castle gate on their way to rescue Buttercup.
- Spartacus. The phrase is not uttered, but all of the surrendered slaves are crucified (except for the Hero and his second in command, who are ordered to fight to the death to see which one of them doesn't face the grislier execution).
- Star Wars:
- In Tomorrow Never Dies, the number of survivors from the sinking of the British frigate reaching the villain's ship very neatly matches the number of dead he reports as washing up on the beach.
- In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, after Saavik goes through the Kobayashi Maru test, Kirk tells her that the Klingons don't take prisoners. Since they do take prisoners in several Star Trek: The Original Series episodes as well as several TOS era movies, this is probably based on a faulty memory of the "Romulans don't take captives" quote from TOS.
- Although the earlier instances are contradicted by the later and more consistent representation of Klingons as Proud Warrior Race guys who consider being taken prisoner a fate worse than death. Death in combat is a notably DESIRABLE thing for a Klingon Warrior, such that any who do not fall IN BATTLE must have a victory won in their name in order to enter the Klingon Heaven (
Valhalla Sto-Vo-Kor). Given all that, it seems unlikely they would engage in such "dishonorable" conduct as TAKING prisoners.
- And, given the conditions seen on Klingon ships (spartan and probably with only enough supplies to sustain the crew itself for its length of mission), it's doubtful they would have had the capability to take prisoners, sort of like the Real Life submarine example closing out Sink the Lifeboats.
- The "prisoners" line probably stems from the opening scene featuring Romulans instead of Klingons. The KM test is in Gamma Hydra near the Neutral Zone — near the Romulan Empire in TOS. Also, the Klingon Bird of Prey in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was originally designed as an update to the TOS Romulan ship (Klingon didn't use Birds of Prey until that point). The decision to switch from Romulans to Klingons was apparently made by the writers at the suggestion of Leonard Nimoy, who felt they made better bad guys.
- Or Kirk was just being dramatic.
- Red Dawn (1984). The protagonists are seen shooting Soviet prisoners and wounded, because they're fighting a guerrilla campaign and can't take prisoners even if they were so inclined.
- The same occurs with German soldiers in Defiance.
- In Animal House, while wrecking the parade, Bluto shouts "Take no prisoners!"
- This was Blackout's intention in the opening scene of Transformers. He attempted to hack into the military defense network in order to obtain any information about the whereabouts of Megatron and the All Spark, but was cut off by the base commander. When Epps manages to take a digital snapshot of him, he dispatches Scorponok to eliminate the escaping soldiers, whilst he deals with everyone else on base. The investigation conducted in the aftermath reveals that he killed every single person on site. Scorponok however, whilst succeeding in killing/wounding two soldiers, failed to eliminate the rest of the group before they could call for help.
- It Happened Here ends with La Résistance massacring captured members of the British SS, as part of its deconstruction of heroic resistance tropes.
- In Judge Dredd, Judge Griffin says this in so many words to his people who are investigating the shuttle crash.
Griffin: You are in error, Capture Team. No one survived the shuttle wreck.
- We Were Soldiers: The Viet Minh commander gives this order after defeating a French column during the film's prologue.
Nguyen Huu An: Kill all they send... and they will stop coming.
- In Red Tails, "Pretty Boy", the German fighter ace, typically opens the fight with some order or another. By the final battle, he has lost all pretense of gentlemanly chivalry and simply orders his men to show no mercy.
- Alexander the Great (1956). After being abandoned by the Persians, the commander of the Greek mercenaries who fought against Alexander asks for quarter. Alexander refuses, saying they're traitors (even though they haven't sworn an oath to him) as he's ruler of all the Greeks. The mercenary commander asks again, not for himself but for his men. Alexander refuses this offer also. The commander says in that case they'll fight to the death. None of them escape alive.
- Star Trek Into Darkness:
- Admiral Marcus has no intention of letting any of the Enterprise crew live even after Kirk pleads that he alone should be punished for his command decisions.
- Every Klingon who witnesses Harrison ends up dead.
- Total Recall (1990): When Richter and his men pursue Quaid and Melina into the mutant district, they escape and Richter shoots the first person who refuses to answer him. When they retaliate, he orders the soldiers to kill everyone and barely escapes from the ensuing slaughter himself.
- The Dirty Dozen has the leader of the Allied group order his men to summarily execute some German soldiers who survive the raid on the mansion. Technically, this is a war crime.
- In The Hunt for Red October, the US wonders what to do with the crew of Red October, who don't want to defect—rejecting the option of killing them all as morally wrong. The reason the sub's destruction is faked is in order to allow the crew to go back to the USSR and claim the sub sunk.
- In the final Protector of the Small book, Keladry has to give this order twice while sneaking a band of people into enemy territory, and neither time does she like it. But they don't have the luxury of keeping prisoners and they can't let them go to warn the enemy where they are. A rare heroic example.
- In Changes, the Red Court strike teams like to operate this way to send a message to their enemies.
- Narrowly averted in Echoes of Honor. When the combined Grayson-Manticore fleet with the new podnaughts rides to the defence of Basilisk, Earl White Haven nearly has a heart attack when he thinks Admiral Yanakov ordered no quarter. Fortunately, the latter only called for no mercy. While any ship in range conceivably capable of fighting is blasted to pieces, the escape pods are left alone.
- But invoked in the Echoes' Children filksong No Quarter, based on the book.
- In the Confederation of Valor series, the Others are well known to not take prisoners. Which confuses the characters intensely in Valor's Trial: They're in a POW camp. The Reveal? It isn't run by the Others, a.k.a. the Primacy.
- In Out of the Dark, Shongairi soldiers attempt to surrender, but when Buchevsky again sees the children they have killed, he is reminded of his own killed daughters and has them all killed.
- Vladimir Vasilyev's No One but Us involves a Space Battle where The Alliance fleet (mostly made up of human ships) conducts a surprise attack of a Shat Tsur-held planet and has successfully made four passes through the enemy forces, dealing enormous damage to the defensive ships and orbital installations. When the defenders start flashing the universal surrender code with their running lights, the fleet commander orders the fleet to continue making passes, realizing that this is a ploy by the defenders to bog down The Alliance fleet with tons of prisoners. Only after two more passes does the fleet commander order the taking of prisoners. This is the only time this happens, though, as they quickly find out that the oppressed planetary populations are more than happy to watch the prisoners for the Alliance, freeing the fleet. The Shat Tsurs, though, don't like to take prisoners, especially where their former masters the Aczanny are concerned. By the time of the novel's events, 70% of the Aczanny race has been wiped out, most of them during the first few months of surprise attacks.
- The mildly insane royals do this in Tales of the Branion Realm, especially in The Stone Prince where the coldbloodedness and strength of mind necessary to be merciless is part of the protagonist's training by his mother. She is known for having hanged a hundred rebels at once, calmly discussing tactics with her aides while the sentence was carried out.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- The pirates in All Hands! all get killed when the Starcougar rams their ship.
- During the third book of The Hunger Games, Gale Hawthorne suggests a plan to destroy a Peacekeeper Fort by causing an avalanche. Not content to just kill the majority of those inside, he also suggested bombing the escape to ensure they all die. His reason for this is that Peacekeepers destroyed District 12, so he is out for revenge.
- Babylon 5:
President John Sheridan: Hit-and-run attacks, very efficient. No survivors, no warning.
- Minbari policy during the Earth-Minbari War was to destroy any and all combatants, regardless of their ability to fight back or if they surrender. Granted, they did leave many core colonies untouched as they made a beeline for Earth. However, it's likely they would've gone back to mop up every surviving human after Earth was no more.
- Sheridan exploited this tendency in the Black Star incident that earned him the moniker "Starkiller". With his ships damaged in a prior attack, he sent a fake distress signal, knowing the Minbari would come back to finish the job. Then he laid a minefield between him and the direction in which the Minbari ships had left, and waited for them to take the Schmuck Bait.
- Battlestar Galactica (Classic): In the original series:
- Red Dwarf: Comedic version: In one episode, a shuttle crashes and most of the gear on board is wrecked. While trying to find something worth salvaging:
(Cat smashes the guitar to smithereens against the wall)
Kryten: Not even Mr. Lister's guitar survived intact!
- Revolution: The title of the episode "No Quarter" is the same as the alternative name of this trope. This episode features the Monroe Republic fully intending to kill off every single rebel they find. The only reason they left one group of rebels alone was because they exchanged Miles Matheson in return for being spared.
- Stargate Atlantis: There's a heroic version. After repeatedly failing to kill Michael, and now dealing with his latest scheme which has taken control of the city, Sheppard orders the soldiers to give no quarter.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- Exploited by Sisko and Klingon General Martok before full-scale war broke out. The Defiant and Martok's IKS Rotarran would take turns sitting in space sending out a fake distress signal and wait for the Jem'Hadar to come by looking for an easy kill, whereupon the other ship would decloak and blindside them.
- Upon having the Cardassians rebel, the female Shape Shifter gives the order to kill every last one of them. Her only response to being told "That's going to take some time." is "Then I suggest you begin at once." Fortunately, our heroes manage to prevent it being completed (in part because most of the guards at Dominion HQ were sent out to kill Cardassians), but over eight hundred million are still killed during the attempted genocide.
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- The Romulans are noted to not take captives in the 2nd season episode "The Deadly Years". However, they try to do exactly that in the 3rd season episode "The Enterprise Incident".
- Possibly they do take prisoners but they don't ransom them, they keep them and refuse to acknowledge that they do. Certainly Saaviks Vulcan parent was a prisoner as was Tasha Yar.
- In the Supernatural episode "Phantom Traveler" (S01, Ep04), a demon causing airplanes to crash vows that there will be no survivors.
- Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms setting.
- Drow nobles have such a nice tradition. The Dark Elf Trilogy put this to use by making it completely unspoken. Klingon Promotions are a cornerstone of drow society: noble houses move up in rank by slaughtering the house above it. However, by their definition of "justice", if even one survivor is left to accuse them, their house will be exterminated as punishment. It's kind of hard to track them all, and hard to tell when they try to disguise, so there's no need for those in command to order their soldiers to kill anything that moves and then comb the compound afterward for any secret rooms where others may be hiding.
- Later sources elucidated the details. The obvious reason for this tradition is that whenever two parties among the drow are allowed to enter a Cycle of Revenge and others start taking sides, this eventually ends in an open civil war and complete destruction of the city. Naturally, with such prospects the rest of a community prefers to limit the damage to those already involved. Thus if two Houses begin an assassination war or other escalating hostilities, others will push them into an open attack as soon as possible — one side ceases to exist, the conflict ends. This also is applied only to legitimate members of the House, i.e. anyone who officially switched allegiance to another House, mercenary band or merchant clan doesn't belong to the House which gets eradicated/accused; this doesn't happen every day, but one guy survived the destruction of his House with Spider Queen's personal involvement without as much as leaving his city.
- Not an uncommon position for player characters to take with regard to enemy NPCs, for reasons ranging from in-game practical considerations to the infamous "they aren't worth experience points alive" (though it's worth noting that the latter hasn't been true for "modern" tabletop RPGs for at least a couple of decades by now). While non-player characters are of course technically not "real", this can still cause friction with other actual people at the table (players and Game Masters both) who might not be as comfortable with the "ruthless killing machine" approach to "heroism".
- TSR's Chainmail miniatures rules. Swiss, Landsknecte and Turkish troops do not take prisoners as a matter of policy. In any situation where opposing troops would surrender, they are considered killed instead.
- In Warhammer 40K, leaving no survivors (on the table) of the enemy's force is generally an alternative win condition to the particular game's objectives. This is known as "tabling" the opponent.
- Also worth mentioning that, story-wise, this is practically standard procedure for pretty much every faction. Except the Tau. Most of the time.
- Said by Jax and Sonya to Hanzo Hasashi, a.k.a. Scorpion, in Mortal Kombat Rebirth regarding the underground tournament. Apparently, even the cops are too fed up with the crime spree to bother arresting people.
- From ancient times there has been an unspoken rule that if the defenders of a city involved in a siege surrendered, averting the major battles and casualties that results from sieges and siege breaking, they would be treated relatively nicely. The alternative was that once the attackers broke the siege, generally incurring heavy casualties, they pretty had the right to completely destroy the city and slaughter the inhabitants in order to "encourage" the surrounding cities to surrender.
- Mongols practiced this to the letter, to the point of killing not only all the people but also all the animals and piling their skulls in huge pyramids. Such massacres were comparatively rare, however, since the frightful reputation of the Mongols caused so many of their enemies to surrender without a fight to avoid such fates.
- Littoral and archipelago warfare in general. Islands tend to be defended to the last man, and there are few facilities on tending the wounded and the prisoners.
- The Alamo, The Battle of Thermopylae, and several other Last Stands where the defenders were so effective (and/or annoying) that the victorious attackers finished off whatever survivors, wounded, or captured noncombatants they got their hands on afterward.
- The Massacre of Glencoe was ordered by King William of Orange with the line:
"You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the McDonalds (sic) of Glenco (sic), and put all to the sword under seventy".
- The part about leaving those over 70 was not mercy; in those days it was rare to find anyone much over 50 and the understanding was that anyone 70 or over would probably die on their own without someone to provide care for them.
- This is frequently applied by a force that manages to defeat one much larger than them - they can't maintain so many prisoners, so the logical thing to do is to kill them all.
- Also the case with insurgencies; who when they do take captives, have neither the institutions to put them on trial nor the facilities to detain them, so are left with no choice but to execute or release them back into the regime's forces.
- Famously happened during the Albigensian Crusade against Catharism in southern France. Asked by a soldier how to tell the difference between Cathar heretics and good Catholics, the Papal legate Arnaud Amalric replied:
"Kill them all. The Lord will recognize his own."
- This may be apochryphal, as exactly the same comment is ascribed to the man who captured Jerusalem in the First Crusade and was posed with the problem of sorting good Christians out from pernicious Jews and Moslems.
- Though it's debatable if he said any such a thing, as there doesn't seem to be any record of him saying those words until about 50 years afterwards.
- Arguably the result of any protracted siege in history. The soldiers, after watching their mates getting killed in various horrific fashions over a period of weeks or months, take out their frustrations on the defenders and civilians inside.
- The Jolly Roger. In real life, the Jolly Roger was a good thing (assuming you were being attacked by pirates), as it meant that the pirates would accept prisoners. However, a blood red flag meant "No Quarter".
- Both flags and their respective meaning are used in the flashback segment of the Tintin book The Secret Of The Unicorn.
- In Roman Conflicts, once the battering ram was deployed, it was the signal that no prisoners would be taken, even as slaves. The Rome episode "The Ram Has Touched The Wall" ("Murum aries attigit") explains this.
- To extend the explanation: when a (Roman) army approached a hostile city and the city surrendered before arrival, the city's inhabitants and possessions were sacrosanct, and there would be no (official) looting or pillaging. If the city held out, but surrendered before the siege engines were in place, the citizens who fought (those of fighting age) were taken as slaves and the city looted, but no (official) rape or other destruction would take place. If the siege continued to the full, and the city overrun, the invaders could do as they pleased, and the commanders either looked the other way or actively encouraged their troops. This even applied to Roman cities, such as those on Sicily, after they rebelled. There are accounts of Legionaries who expressed the hope that the city would not surrender, so they could get some good looting and rape in.
- The city of Carthage was completely destroyed by the Romans at the climax of the Third Carthaginian War. The Carthaginian citizens were either slaughtered or captured as slaves; none were spared.
- Roman deserters were always killed if captured by Rome. There were accounts of ex-Roman soldiers at Carthage building a great bonfire in the Basilica before it fell, and leaping into the flames to avoid mandatory crucifixion for their desertion.
- Shown in Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Thracians who deserted the Roman forces were killed or taken into slavery, along with those of their villages.
- Civil War Union General Tecumseh Sherman first coined the term "total war" (which was a variant of this) and used it as a strategy against the Confederate army. Military historian B. H. Liddell Hart referred to him as "the first modern general".
- More fully, "total war" is the doctrine that all of a nation's economic, industrial, and agricultural output is either put towards the war effort or, by being put into other things, frees up someone else's output for the war effort. (For various reasons this was not true in antiquity, but very much is true of many modern wars.) Thus, the theory goes, any form of production is a valid military target. Sherman's orders did not call for "no survivors", and civilians who didn't resist were to be left alive and with enough food to survive. Anything else was fair game, though: draft animals, food surpluses, slaves, cash crops and their means of production (like cotton gins), industrial equipment, and railroad lines were among the common targets.
- The Battle of Little Bighorn.
- Most of World War II in the Pacific Theater was this, especially after the tide turned and the Americans began their slow advance towards Japan. The Japanese refused to surrender in any significant numbers, preferring one Last Stand after another, while at the same time refusing to take any prisoners when one of their counterattacks was successful. At the same time, Allied troops, either through lack of wherewithal to care for prisoners in some areas, or through paranoia (a well-worn tactic of the Japanese was to secret live grenades upon themselves if wounded or otherwise attack Allied troops coming to render aid) or through out-and-out hatred/reprisal, adopted an unofficial policy of not taking prisoners. This trope was so abused during the war that some units had to offer cash bounties for prisoners so that they could have prisoners from whom they could glean intelligence.
- The Rape of Nanking had an official order to kill all prisoners.
- In the European Theater, during particular battles, both Allied and German troops were sometimes ordered or "encouraged" not to take any prisoners. However, often times these orders had practical motivations. During Operation Neptune, Allied paratroopers obviously had no rear echelon or base of operations to send prisoners of war to since they were operating behind enemy lines. During the Battle of the Bulge, taking prisoners would slow down the German advance, which was on a time critical mission. Naturally, since the Allies won the war, (only) the Germans that were caught doing this were tried for war crimes.
- This was also very common in partisan warfare. Reasons are many:
- Deliberate acts of terror or reprisal killings against civilians led to a Cycle of Revenge.
- There was no area that was 100% secure, so taking prisoners meant there was a risk they would be set free (this goes double for partisans, who had to constantly move their base of operations, and prisoners would slow them down).
- Long-standing ethnic or religious tensions between the local populace.
- Ideological polarization (e.g. communists and fascists often neither gave nor expected quarter from each other).
- Lack of food or medical supplies meant none could be spared for prisoners.
- The oriflamme of the French army between 1124 and 1415 was a blood-red standard and thus a signal that no mercy was to be shown. Unfortunately, they had a habit of losing it, once to the Flemish and three times to the English.
- At the Battle of Agincourt King Henry didn't have enough men to guard the French prisoners of the first wave and simultaneously repel the counterattack of the second wave. So he killed the (unransomable) commoners and spared the knights.
- This is the modus operandi of the Mexican drug cartels.