Morality Chain Beyond the Grave

When someone dies (or apparently dies or becomes indefinitely unconscious or is otherwise taken out of the picture), their friends and loved ones have to deal with the aftermath. With emotions likely to be running high, the survivors will be faced with a variety of options and temptations, depending on the situation.

If they are at all thoughtful and respectful, they will sooner or later face the question: "What would the deceased have wanted?" In many cases, someone who is too caught up in grief and/or anger to think clearly will need to be reminded of this point by a cooler-headed friend.

A few common possibilities of actions that they may consider — and then reconsider after realizing that the deceased would not want have wanted them to do that:

The grieving character's response when this issue is raised generally comes down to one of two options:
  1. He decides (either through someone else's argument or his own realization) that what he intended to do is wrong, and refocuses his grief into something more constructive and consistent with the deceased's values.
  2. He replies with a Shut Up, Kirk!, usually something along the lines of "Too bad he's not here to stop me, then." or "The dead don't care what we do." The "avenge the dead (whether they would have wanted it or not)" option is particularly popular with anti-heroes, and in extreme cases may become a point of no return.

Related to Morality Chain, with the memory of the deceased taking that role in place of a living companion. Also related to What You Are in the Dark: realizing what the deceased would think of your actions (or perhaps believing that the deceased is watching from the afterlife) provides extra pressure to pass the test (or extra angst after failing).

Compare What Would X Do? (where X usually isn't a deceased friend, and the problem is usually practical rather than emotional or moral), Due to the Dead (giving the deceased a respectful funeral and proper mourning), Last Request (where the deceased specifically states a final wish), and Spirit Advisor (where the deceased personally advises the living).


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Itachi of Naruto took great measures to act as this for his brother Sasuke Uchiha. He grants him the power of Amaterasu and sets it to go off upon encountering Tobi( who knows the truth about why Itachi murdered his entire clan). He implanted a crow in Naruto that had Shisui's eye and was supposed to give the hypnotic command "Protect Konoha" to Sasuke assuming he had learned the truth and had subsequently taken Itachi's eyes to prevent blindness. Sadly, it's averted. Knowing full well that Itachi wanted Konoha protected, Sasuke becomes an Ax-Crazy Jerk Woobie, decides to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, crosses the Moral Event Horizon a thousand times over and forever cements his status as Draco in Leather Pants! True He ultimately gets better but not because of anything Itachi said or did. Even after Itachi is restored to life and talks with him. he only says he hates Konoha even more. Everything Itachi did to keep him on the right path was All for Nothing.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Death of Superman, Batman catches a terrorist trying to assassinate one of the visiting dignitaries at Superman's funeral. Out of respect for the deceased, he forgoes his usual harsh approach.

    Fan Works 
  • In A Scotsman in Egypt, the Scottish commander of an Egyptian fort is killed in battle, and a soldier says that he would have wanted to be buried there (the narration makes it very clear he hated the assignment, the climate, the people, and wanted nothing more than to go back home to Scotland, though apparently he put his duty first so no one realized).

    Films — Animation 
  • In Big Hero 6, Baymax asks Hiro if killing Yokai would have been what Tadashi would have wanted.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • In Kaze no Stigma, when Kazuma encounters the group that killed his beloved Cui Ling several years ago, he promptly goes from 'Anti-Hero' to 'Villain Protagonist', restarting the Roaring Rampage of Revenge that originally earned him the nickname 'Reaper of the Winds'. After finding out the backstory, Ayano confronts him and tells him that she wouldn't have wanted him to act like that. His response is to basically shrug and say "I know that, but she's dead, so she doesn't feel a thing. Meanwhile, I'M enjoying it."
  • Invoked deceptively in Mercedes Lackey's The Gates of Sleep. After Marina's parents die while they're in Italy, Arachne orders that they be buried there "since it's where they loved to be". Probably the real reason was to make it hard for anyone to find out Arachne had them murdered — as Earth Masters, their bond would have been to their English estate.
  • A Man Called Ove. The protagonist's wife serves as this.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A variation shows up in the climax of Agent Carter when Howard Stark, in the grip of a hypnotic illusion, is about to drop Midnight Oil on Times Square. Jarvis goes after him to shoot him down, thinking that if he's doomed anyway he would want to be stopped before he killed anyone else Subverted after Peggy is able to snap Howard out of it:
    Stark: You were gonna shoot me out of the sky?!
    Jarvis: Well, I thought that was what you would have wanted.
    Stark: No! No, it's not. And for future reference, under no circumstance would I want anyone to shoot or otherwise hurt me. You got that?
    Jarvis: Your point is amply made, sir.
  • In one episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, Autolycus is hellbent on killing the villain of the week who is the same man who murdered Autolycus' beloved older brother who practically raised him. Autolycus' thieving career began when he robbed the villain blind in revenge. Xena is worried that Autolycus actually killing the man might start him on a career as an assassin (noting that with his skills in disguise and infiltration he'd be one of the best). She convinces Autolycus to stop by asking him what his brother would have wanted, reminding him that while the villain may have made him the thief, it was his brother who gave the thief his heart. Xena asks him if it was the heart of a murderer.
  • NYPD Blue: Claimed by a perp who had accidentally killed his partner (who was also his brother) when they ripped off a clothing warehouse of silk shirts and leather pants. The perp tossed the leather pants down to his brother and they hit him in the head, killing him. When the cops arrest the surviving brother selling the shirts and pants out of the trunk of his car the next day, they question the morality of doing so. He claims that his brother would have wanted him to do it.
  • Doctor Who: In "Face the Raven", Clara's final speech tries to insure that her memory will dissuade the Doctor from going through with revenge threats.

    Video Games 
  • At the end of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, assuming you've fulfilled the requirement for the Best Ending, Laharl will halt himself from killing Seraph Lamington in revenge for him (apparently) executing Flonne, by realizing that if Flonne had still been there, she would've stopped him, just as she'd stopped him from killing so many others along the way... (If you DON'T fulfill the requirements, well...)
  • In Chrono Trigger the protagonist, Chrono, is seemingly lost to Lavos in a battle. Soon after the party meets Magus, who is indirectly responsible for Chrono's fate, and Magus agrees to fight the party with his now greatly reduced powers, virtually ensuring his death if he does so. Should the player choose to spare Magus, and if Marle is at the head of the party, she will comment that Chrono wouldn't want them to engage in such a useless and pointless battle.
  • In Injustice: Gods Among Us, Alternate Universe Joker mind controls Superman and forces him to kill Lois and their baby as well as level Metropolis. He goes off the deep end and installs himself as Earth's God Emperor, and the main universe DC heroes are pulled in to fight his regime. Several times he tries to justify his actions as what Lois would have wanted.
    Superman: I know what you lost.
    Regime Superman: And you judge me?! After I've killed you, I'll bring Lois here. When she sees how I've perfected this world—
    Superman: She'll be afraid and disgusted!
  • In Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, the spirit of Morgan Katarn invokes Jan's memory to get through to Kyle Katarn:
    Morgan Katarn: Do you believe this stream of power will ease your pain? Or that you can safely wield the Force with anger in your heart?
    Kyle Katarn: Jan is dead; anger is all I have left. Anger and revenge.
    Morgan Katarn: Is this how she would want to be remembered, with acts of anger and revenge?
    Kyle Katarn: ...No...
    Morgan Katarn: Then remember her as she was, and may the Force be with you...
    Kyle Katarn: It hasn't been so far.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Bounty Hunter storyline has Braden, your mentor and de facto father to Mako being murdered by rival bounty hunter Tarro Blood. At the end of the Chapter 1 arc, when you finally see Tarro locked up aboard a Republic cruiser that you've been assigned to blow up (after you kill a Jedi on board), he will try to goad you into letting him out so you can fight mano y mano. He'll tell you it's what Braden would want. But Mako says Braden would want to see him just as he is, trapped and humiliated and without the option of a big showdown. The decision is up to the player, let him fight you or leave him to die on the ship.
  • In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, one of Zero's Victory Quotes has this.
    If my friend X was here, he would've wanted to talk to you first. Unfortunately, he isn't here.
    • Note that X is actually alive and well, unlike many examples listed on this page. The remark is more of a Leaning on the Fourth Wall moment about how X isn't playable in MvC3, generally taken to be a dig at the Mega Man fans who wanted some permutation of the Blue Bomber on the roster.
  • In one of the side-quests in Mass Effect 2, you have to deal with a racist Asari who's been using her grief over the deaths of her daughters as an excuse to make other people's lives hell. The Paragon solution is to suggest that her daughters would not want to see her behave like that.
  • In Shadowrun Returns Dragonfall, you can point this out to the Big Bad regarding his dead brother, who was killed by The Dragon without the Big Bad's knowledge. In the Director's Cut, this appeal will actually work if you have also done your research on his plan, convincing him that his brother wouldn't have let him gamble the entirety of humanity on such uncertain premises.
  • In Jin's ending in Tekken 4, he is ready to deliver a killing blow to his defeated grandfather, Heihachi. As he pulls back to deliver the punch, a brief vision of his mother, Jun, appears, and he releases him, telling Heihachi to thank his mother for his life.
  • In the Heavensward scenario in Final Fantasy XIV, Hraesvelgr, a dragon, is kept in check by his deceased love, Shiva, an Elezen woman. Before Shiva died, she asked Hraesvelgr to eat her so their souls can be intertwined. Due to bad blood between dragons and man over the past 1000 years, Hraesvelgr has very low opinions of mankind and if it wasn't for Shiva's influence on him, he would have joined his brethren in slaughtering man.

    Visual Novels 
  • A non-violent example from Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru — the Genki Girl Yukari is attending the school because her idolized, late, 'onee-san' went there, and joined the track-team for the same reason. She's actually quite athletic, but her build and temperment lends itself best to short-distance sprints. Out of admiration for her dead sister, however, she insists on running the same long-distance races as she did, pushing herself to reach the same times despite being built differently. Naturally, it's Mizuho who has to gently remind her that her sister would have wanted her to do what she likes, instead of just blindly following in her footsteps...

    Web Comics 
  • In Not A Villain, Kleya's drive to stop being a villain and become a hero seems to be largely driven by memories of her mother and a desire to become what her mother would want her to be. Her insistence on always wearing pink and yellow, and on playing Erbana despite its low publicity, are due to trying to emulate her mother. (Of course a simpler desire to simply stop having society at large view her as a villain is another strong factor in her actions.)

    Web Original 
  • Played for Laughs in season 4 of Acquisitions Incorporated: After Aeofel dies on a mission in season 3, Jim suggests that the rest of the party spends the wealth they got from that mission on "cool magical shit", because "that's what Aoefel would have wanted". Just before that, Aeofel's player had made it perfectly clear that "Use the money to bring me Back from the Dead" would have been Aeofel's actual wish.
  • In Twig, Jamie had functioned as The Conscience for Sylvester prior to his Death of Personality, since Sylvester is morally a Blank Slate who adopts the characteristics of those around him. After Jamie is lost, Sy becomes increasingly more ruthless to fit the less moral tone of his other companions. However, when holding a hostage at gunpoint, Sy realizes that, in fact, he doesn't want to do this, and forces himself to hallucinate a spectre of Jamie to tell him not to, convincing him to spare the hostage.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied on The Simpsons when Homer accidentally kills his pet lobster Pinchy by putting him in a hot bath. He is then seen crying his eyes out while eating the lobster's remains, to which he says "Pinchy would have wanted it this way."
    • Also parodied when Mr. Burns is shot. Smithers says that "As Montgomery Burns' closest friend, I am certain there's nothing he would want more than swift, brutal revenge against Homer Simpson."
  • Batman: The Animated Series: An Only Mostly Dead example appears in "Deep Freeze", when Mr. Freeze agrees to help Grant Walker freeze the world (killing everyone outside his little utopian community) in exchange for a cure for Nora. Batman convinces Freeze that if he went through with it, Nora would hate him after she found out what he'd done.
    Batman: You think you're alone now? Wait until she learns the truth!
  • Justice League

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