Raine: We're heading into great danger. We need to decide in advance on whose lives take priority.A heroic character wants to do something dangerous. Dangerous as in "you might be Killed Off for Real, or at the very least, maimed" peril. Before he can get started, one of his friends will knock him out and go to do the dirty work himself. Their reasoning as they do will fall along the lines of how their friend is more important than themselves and thus if one of them has to die, it shouldn't be him. Cue the Heroic Sacrifice The Atoner is likely to pull this hoping for Redemption Equals Death. It's also likely to be someone with a Convenient Terminal Illness. It's often preceded by a More Hero Than Thou dispute, or deliberately pre-empting such a dispute. Usually part of an Only I Can Kill Him scenario — The Hero is too important to waste on this minor sacrifice preceding the big showdown. Alternatively, it could be needed to avert Shoot the Medic First. Puts the "Cannon Fodder" in We are "Team Cannon Fodder" and is a standard Job requirement for the Hero Secret Service. Contrast Martyr Without a Cause. See also The Needs of the Many. Compare Men Are the Expendable Gender. Death Trope. Spoilers ahoy.
Regal: I see. That's the sort of discussion that would likely anger Lloyd.
Raine: Lloyd... we must protect him no matter what.
Regal: I see. That's the sort of discussion that would likely anger Lloyd.
Raine: Lloyd... we must protect him no matter what.
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Anime and Manga
- In Attack on Titan, entire squads of soldiers are tasked with throwing their lives away if it means keeping Eren safe, because of how valuable his special abilities are.
- In Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta knocks Goku, Trunks, and Goten out in succession before using his suicide attack against Buu.
- Also, much earlier in the series, Gohan (who is only five years old at the time) doesn't actually knock Piccolo out, but tells him to stay out of the fight because if he dies, they lose the Dragon Balls meaning that everyone who has died so far will be Killed Off for Real. Not that it stops Piccolo once Gohan is in danger...
- Also, in Trunks's timeline Gohan does this to Trunks before the fight where the Androids finally kill him.
- Another interesting example during the Saiyan Saga where Yamcha volunteers to fight the Saibamen before Krillen, as the latter had already been wished back to life with the Dragonballs during the original series, whereas Yamcha hadn't. This - along with a case of failing to make sure his enemy was down - leads to Yamcha's death.
- In a Naruto flashback, Hyuuga Hiashi's twin brother Hizashi knocks him out with a punch to the solar plexus in order to take his place as a human sacrifice.
- There's a later one with Asuma and Shikamaru where Shikamaru wants to use a more sure fire strategy that also happens to put himself at greater risk. The plan is shot down because of this. Oddly enough, it's actually more like 'Kotetsu and Izumo and more expendable than you' because Asuma would be on the frontlines anyway. But Asuma is the one who dies.
- Sailor Moon: In the first season, the Sailor Senshi all sacrifice themselves, protecting Sailor Moon and preventing her from rescuing them, just to get her to Queen Beryl. Done again in the final season, with all the Senshi giving up their star seeds (and thus dying) so that Sailor Moon can fight Galaxia.
- In yet another variation one Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water story has Grandis volunteering to take her tank (and her two minions) out to clear a minefield that's pinned in the Nautilus, mostly to show off to Nemo. Her boy's reaction? Sanson cold-cocks her and leaves her in the cabin while they go out on a near suicide mission. Fortunately Jean stows away on the tank, and he is NOT expendable, even in a Gainax show.
- Franz in Gankutsuou (an anime variation of The Count of Monte Cristo), intentionally gets Albert too drunk to attend a duel with Edmond that Franz knows Albert wouldn't be able to win. Knowing that he also has no chance, he then puts on the armor, attends the duel in Albert's place, and is killed.
- Double... no, triple... okay, multiply subverted in the end of GaoGaiGar. The Mobile Unit enters the body of the Z-Master. One by one, each hero holds back an enemy so that Guy can reach the boss (straight). Then, when he gets there, they aren't dead and come back to join him in the final battle (subverted). Then he never even has the opportunity to offer to sacrifice himself, because King J-Der does it for him (double subverted). Then, the character gets better enough to return in FINAL. Oh, and then the battle with Zonuda resubverts with all the heroes getting absorbed one by one, then GaoGaiGar himself also getting absorbed and a surprise Deus ex Machina saving the day.
- At the end of Fullmetal Alchemist, Greed and his human host Ling are being absorbed by Father. Greed, who is known for always telling the truth, falsely reassures Ling that they are going to fight together. With Ling distracted, Greed separates himself and allows himself to be absorbed, and then pulls a Taking You with Me on Father.
- In Bleach, when Orihime and Sado are about to go and save some innocent bystanders from Yammy and Ulquiorra, he asks her to grab her friends and run, and leave the fighting to him - because she can heal people and he can't, so he's more expendable. She agrees, but comes back just in time to stop the scene from doubling as a Heroic Sacrifice.
- "Just in time" being about a minute later.
- The end of the first season of Ronin Warriors has this happen when each of the main characters sacrifices themselves to save Ryo until only Ryo is left to face Talpa.
- Early in the second season of Code Geass, Urabe uses this as justification to execute a suicide attack against Rolo in order to give Zero and the others time to escape and topple Babel Tower. Much later in the series when the Black Knights turn on Lelouch, Rolo sacrifices himself to rescue him, which he does by overuse of his geass.
- At one point in D.Gray-Man, most of the cast is packed aboard a ship that is only kept afloat by Miranda's power, which keeps everything in a stopped-time state from before the damage was incurred. When the ship is attacked, several crewmembers fling themselves in the way of deadly attacks to protect her, on the reasoning that they've already taken mortal wounds and will die as soon as the spell is released anyway, but if Miranda dies, then everyone dies.
- In a Shadow Game on Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yugi and his friends (who have all been turned into monster cards) are facing Bakura's Man-Eater Bug, which will destroy whoever attacks it. Tristan's ready to take the hit for his friends, but Joey gut-checks him and launches the attack instead.
- In Pokémon 2000, Team Rocket, of all people, pull one of these. Lugia is flying over the ocean while trying to calm down the world-threatening fighting of Moltres, Zapdos, and Articuno, but is being weighed down by Jessie, James, and Meowth clinging to his leg after he rescued them. They realize this, and knowing that Lugia is the only one who can save the world, they let go, plummeting into the ocean with the full expectation that they're going to die. (They don't). Best of all, it's Jessie, the most mean-spirited and selfish of the three, who suggests it.
- In Pokémon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew: Ash and Lucario at first both seem to cooperate in sacrificing themselves to power up a suicidal aura move to heal Mew and save the Tree of Beginning. However, as Ash's life force drains away and he begins to die, Lucario forcibly shoves him away and finishes the healing himself, and dies from it. It's strongly implied, from his body language and previous moments of foreshadowing, that he wants to spare Pikachu the same grief of losing a trainer that he suffered.
- In Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea Ash and May are both trying and failing to repair the Sea Crown without being drowned in the flooding temple, until Ash finally tricks May into getting into an airtight emergency capsule ahead of him and locks her inside, explaining that she has to take care of Manaphy and Pikachu, and dives back into the depths of the temple alone to finish the repairs himself (as he expected, he winds up drowning in the attempt, although he is revived).
- Discussed in Isekai De Kuro No Iyashi Te Tte Yobareteimasu. Since healing magic is so rare, Cyan tells Renee that she simply cannot allow herself to die and that she must be prepared to let people die so that she can save more people in the future.
- A classic storyline in The Mighty Thor featured Thor insisting on covering the escape of his colleagues and several innocent human souls from Hel, only to be cold-cocked by his former enemy Skurge. Cue extremely awesome You Shall Not Pass moment.
- ElfQuest runs a similar bit early in the Troll war arc. The Elves are escaping from overwhelming numbers and Kahvi, the chief of the local tribe is set to play rear-guard. Vaya, one of her warriors, knocks her down and orders the other elves to take her, "She'd fight till they tore her to pieces, and that's a warrior's privilege, not a chief's!" before taking over the rear-guard. Later we learn that Vaya is Kahvi's daughter.
- Iron Man does this for Captain America, at one point asphyxiating himself in the process of (successfully) giving CPR. That time his reasoning is explicitly, 'He's more important', although he's tried to kill himself to save Cap several times.
- Birds of Prey: Huntress chooses to challenge Lady Shiva to a death duel, arguing that Black Canary would be more sorely missed.
- Classic example from a Jim Shooter Legion of Super-Heroes story in which Ferro-Lad punches Superboy unconscious so that Ferro-Lad can be the one to martyr himself stopping the Sun Eater instead, on the grounds that the world needs Superboy more. This has since been aped repeatedly.
- Subverted at the end of the "Public Enemies" story arc of Superman/Batman: Captain Atom knocks out Superman so that he, Cap, can be the one to fly the weird Superman/Batman action-figure spaceship into the giant kryptonite meteoroid that's hurtling toward the earth, not because he sees Superman as less expendable, but because he knows Superman will fail.
- Empowered: When given the choice between using a single-use, low "bandwidth" teleportation device to escape a crippled space station as a colleague with a deep-space capable alien battlesuit flushed herself out the airlock to try gliding to safety or insuring her own death by hijacking said colleague's limbs and forcing her to teleport out; the telepath Mindf**k cited this trope when picking the latter.
- In the Puella Magi Madoka Magica fanfic To the Stars, it is recognized in military policy that magical girls are more valuable to the war effort than entire platoons of ordinary troops, and so those troops are taught that it would be dishonourable for them to allow a teenagenote girl to die to save their skin. Medals are often given to soldiers who save magical girls, even if they had to disobey orders to do so.
- This is pulled off twice in a row in MGLN Crisis. Chrono plans on staying on board the Claudia to fire off the Arc-en-ciel one more time but Griffith punches him in the face. Then when he's getting an unconscious Chrono into the last escape pod, Lucino pushes Griffith in as well. It later turns out that she survives. Both cases were preceded by the words It Has Been an Honor.
- In The Undesirables, this is essentially the reason why Starlight Glimmer joins the team Luna puts together as an alternative to using the Elements of Harmony — she feels that the Elements are too important to risk as a first response to every potential threat, but sees herself, due to her past actions, as less important and okay to risk before the Mane Six.
Films — Animated
- At the climax of Disney's The Black Cauldron, the Cauldron Born have been created and dispatched to conquer the world, and the only way to prevent them from doing this is that someone must jump into the titular cauldron, and thus, die. The hero, Taran, is ready to do so, until his ally Gurgi stops him. After explaining that "Taran has many friends, Gurgi has no friends", the furry guy makes his heroic leap, halting the undead warriors in their tracks. Even though this is a dark Disney animated film (arguably THE darkest), it is still a Disney animated film, so Gurgi's life is brought back in trade for the Black Cauldron at the end of the movie.
Films — Live-Action
- Gran Torino contains an excellent example. The protagonist locks the kid in his basement, then goes out to the gangsters' place and intentionally gets murdered in front of many witnesses, getting the gangsters put in jail. He was dying of cancer and did not want the kid to destroy his future by trying to get revenge on the gangsters.
- At the end of Armageddon, Bruce Willis' character tricks Ben Affleck's, and averts the disaster at the cost of his life.
- In the Battlefield Earth Film of the Book, Jonnie explains that the only way to ensure the Psychlos don't return is to wipe out their homeworld with a nuke, as their breath-gas reacts explosively with nuclear radiation. He decides to divert the nuke himself, but another man (a little cowardly) offers to go in his place, as there's no rebellion without Jonnie. Jonnie eventually agrees.
- Air Force One plays this straight, inverts it and then subverts it. The Secret Service agents on board the plane perform Heroic Sacrifices to get the President to safety but in the end it is the President who stays on board to fight the terrorists after the rest of his (expendable) staff are evacuated. It's played straight again at the end of the movie where the damaged plane is about to crash and the remaining military personnel on board insist that the President evacuate the plane before them. However, The Mole is not willing to die for the President and fights him for the last evacuation slot. The President wanted to get his family off and MEDIVAC a wounded staff member before saving his own life.
- Ant-Man: Why Hank wants Scott to pilot the Ant-Man suit instead of his more experienced daughter. It speaks of how distant they are that he never communicates it well. Scott, being a father himself, is quick to catch on.
- In The Young Victoria, Albert takes a bullet that was meant for Victoria. When she later asks him why he did it, he says "I am replaceable and you are not".
- A rather horrifying case in Warbreaker, dozens of Hallandren priests attack a squad of Lifeless unarmed to protect Susebron for a few more seconds.
- Perhaps the most famous example of the trope is found in A Tale of Two Cities, when Sydney Carton takes the place of his look-alike Charles Darnay to be executed on the guillotine. He did this because he loved Darnay's wife and because he'd never before done anything he considered truly worthwhile. The origin of the "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done..." quote.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh: Before Gilgamesh and Enkidu set off on their first adventure, the people of Uruk makes Enkidu promise to bring their king back alive.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry offers to make a blood offering instead of Dumbledore, only to be told "Your blood is is worth more than mine." Later, the last spell Dumbledore casts is an immobilization charm to keep Harry still under his invisibility cloak, and thus, unnoticed by the Death Eaters who were coming to kill Dumbledore, which made him unable to defend himself from them.
- A variant in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, spelled out in the film, when Ron sacrifices himself in the chess game because he knows that Harry is the one who needs to confront Snape and Voldemort. "Not me, not Hermione, you!"
- In Ciaphas Cain's first adventure, when his attempt to escape ran into a Tyranid horde, he explained that he had guessed it and scouted; when his commander said he could have sent someone else, Cain says that he's the most expendable officer in the company.
- This happens to Thalia Ng in The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. She's trapped with a bunch of civilians in an orbital habitat that's been taken over by rogue robots; she comes up with an escape scheme that begins by blowing up a bunch of structural supports, and then discovers that the timer on her explosives isn't long enough to make it away safely. The civilian she's been confiding in knocks her out, drags her away from the supports, and sets the explosives himself.
- In Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, Luke willingly and gladly risks his life for a stranger, who as it turns out knew Anakin Skywalker, being mind-controlled by the villain. A couple chapters on, that character, no longer controlled, is about to kill thirty other mind-controlled characters to save Luke when he realizes that Luke won't shrug it off like Anakin would have. He would be disappointed and sad. Luke would sacrifice himself to save thirty innocents. He'd sacrifice himself to save one innocent. He'd just almost sacrificed himself to save one not-so-innocent. Luke isn't expendable, but he doesn't seem to realize that at all. So this character has to take out the mind-controlled characters the hard, risky way.
- Played with in The Siege of Mount Nevermind where in a cruel joke, some gnome soldiers tell the gully dwarves under their command that "expendable" means "brave". Later, when one of the gully dwarves with the protagonists gets sucked up an aqueduct, his brother prepares to rescue him, claiming he's the most expendable. The gnomes try to tell him that no one is expendable, but he simply shouts "Ragg as expendable as a lion!" and jumps in the aqueduct.
- In Serpent Mage, when some women find out that they need to go alone in a submarine to an unknown destination to save their people, the boyfriend of one of them knocks her out and takes her place, managing not to get discovered until the ship has left. His reasoning was that he thought she would die and couldn't bear the thought of living without her. Everyone who goes in the sub ends up surviving the trip (though not necessarily the whole story), the girl left behind kills herself, believing her beloved to be dead and their people doomed.
- Magnificent Bastard Cao Cao is saved by Cao Hong's Heroic Sacrifice in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Cao Hong's final words to Cao Cao roughly translate to, "The world can do without me, but not without you!"
- In London, Peter and Thomas drug their brother-in-law in his prison cell so that Peter can take his place, before he can be burned for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as the new head of the Church. Notable in that, for Peter to be free to visit the prison, he had to first swear that he accepted the king's decree, which means he's fairly certain that he'll be going to Hell when he agrees to lay down his life. No "far better resting place" expected, in this case, yet he does it anyway so their sister's family won't be left without a husband and father. Subverted in that Peter, who's been ill for a while, has a heart attack and dies of natural causes before Thomas can smother him as they'd planned.
- Various Animorphs do this for Jake at various points, with or without his consent - especially toward the end of the series, when things are getting critical and losing him really would mean the end of the world.
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Played straight by Conseil and Ned Land when they give Aronnax some precious oxygen in the Almost Out of Oxygen situation, then conversed:
"Good lord, Professor," Ned Land answered me, "don't mention it! What did we do that's so praiseworthy? Not a thing. It was a question of simple arithmetic. Your life is worth more than ours. So we had to save it."
- In ˝ Prince, when preparing to compete in a melee battle, the members choose the person most likely to survive and decide to protect Doll at all costs so they can win. When they later decide to split into groups of two to escape more easily, they're divided so one of them can sacrifice the other if they have to.
- Honor Harrington gets assigned a Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards who have great trouble convincing her of this.
- In M.Y.T.H. Inc in Action, all of Skeeve's gang have reasons why they should be the one to kill the Queen. Big Julie cuts through it all by saying that as an old man he's the most expendable; the fact nobody would survive an assassination attempt on the Queen being the one thing that was going unmentioned, although it was the real reason none of them wanted to let someone else do it. As it turns out everyone sneaks off to do it in order to spare everyone else, but Skeeve turns up and resolves things without bloodshed.
Live Action TV
- In Smallville, this mentality towards Clark is so firmly ingrained into Chloe she must have a dozen of near-deaths (and a handful of actual deaths) for him throughout the seasons.
- Angel: Unable to talk the title character out of risking his life, Doyle knocks him off the ledge instead, then disarms the bomb himself, dying in the process.
- At the end of the second season of Primeval, Cutter attempts to stop the escape of several prehistoric beasties: but is only able to do this by sealing a door from their side. Stephen Hart, knocks him out and takes his place instead.
- In this case, Stephen atones for sleeping with Cutter's wife.
- A couple of Star Trek: The Original Series examples:
Kirk: Consider yourself on report. This is no time for heroics. I have no intention of sacrificing myself, at least not yet.
- In "The Empath", aliens intend to use either Spock or McCoy for an experiment that is highly likely to cause death or permanent insanity. Spock declares that he is volunteering; McCoy overrules that decision by jabbing him with a hypo when he's not looking.
- Subverted in "Obsession", after Ensign Garrovick tries to knock out Kirk to take his place as bait for a blood-draining Monster of the Week. Kirk points out he wasn't planning to stick around long enough to actually be dinner for the creature.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Worf is about to sacrifice himself to delay a pursuing enemy. The aged and crafty Dahar Master Kor knocks him out and takes his place piloting the damaged ship (Worf is a young warrior in his prime, with many battles left to fight in this war and others, while Kor's mind is starting to slip and he has no more chances for a glorious death). His last words to the unconscious Worf are a promise that when he gets to Sto'vo'kor, he will tell Worf's dead wife of his bravery.
- When our heroes on Star Trek: Enterprise find the Xindi superweapon, they come up with a plan to destroy it—but doing so would be a Suicide Mission. Trip and Travis each argue to be the one to go on the mission, but Archer chooses himself, deciding that, after everything he's done in the Expanse, he won't order anyone else to die.
- Doctor Who:
Rogin: You don't want trouble with the Space Technicians Union, Doctor.Doctor: What?Rogin *punches the Doctor out*: That's my job!
- In "Forest of the Dead", the Tenth Doctor is saved from frying his brains out in order to save the day when an old friend he hasn't met yet, River Song, handcuffs him to the wall and sacrifices herself instead.
- In the classic series, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart does this to the Doctor in "Battlefield", punching him to the ground with the exact words "Sorry, Doctor, but I'm more expendable than you are."
- It was also averted in the classic series on occasion. One time, a UNIT Ascended Extra suggested he be the subject of a dangerous experiment instead of the Doctor, and the Doctor promptly refused.
- Another Classic Who example, this time played straight. In Ark in Space, minor character Rogin knocks the Doctor out and puts him a safe distance away from the ship, which would kill anyone underneath it once they released the locking mechanisms necessary to send the Wirrn out away from the Ark.
- An inversion occurs in "The End of Time" when the Doctor sacrifices himself for Wilf, a minor recurring character who happens to be pushing eighty. Wilf even begs him not to do it, basically citing this trope.
- In season 5's "The Almost People" it is the "gangers" (clones) who make the heroic sacrifice, including The Doctor's ganger.
- In the episode "The Time of Angels", Amy tries to tell the Doctor go on without her, thinking that she's about to die because she can't move. The Doctor, has other ideas, breaking the illusion that was keeping Amy in peril.
- In Highlander, Duncan MacLeod is challenged by someone he seems ready to lose to, so Methos calmly shoots him dead and sets off to kill the guy himself. Duncan resurrects just in time to intervene, much to Methos' frustration.
- In the Merlin series 1 finale this happens twice, first with Merlin declaring that Arthur's life is worth a hundred of his own and then - when it becomes clear that the deal was for a life, not necessarily Merlin's, and his mother becomes dangerously ill - Gaius sacrifices himself in Merlin's place. It doesn't last, as Merlin realizes that killing the witch who cast spell in the first place also worked and used her as the sacrifice.
- Happens again in the fourth series premiere. They need to sacrifice someone to heal the veil between the worlds, and Arthur thinks it should be him. Merlin wants to take his place, since, as a servant, his life is more expendable. When the time comes to sacrifice someone, Merlin knocks Arthur out, and offers himself to the gatekeeper of the spirit world. As they're talking, Lancelot sneaks behind him and walks through, providing the necessary sacrifice.
- A non-lethal example occurs in "Lancelot and Guinevere" when Gwen trips while escaping from bad guys with Morgana. Morgana wants to help Gwen keep going, but Gwen insists on staying behind so Morgana can escape. Presumably, Gwen thinks she's more expendable since she's a servant and she wants to protect her best friend.
- Season 7 of 24: Jack Bauer tries to kill himself to save the president, but Bill Buchanan jumps in instead.
- In season 2, George Mason, who was already almost dead from radiation poisoning, talked Jack into letting him make the Heroic Sacrifice.
- At the end of season 3 of Lost, Charlie volunteers to swim to the Looking Glass, which Sayid had intended to do. Then Sayid convinces Jack to lead the group to the radio tower while Sayid takes on the invading Others, because Jack is the leader.
- This trope appears in the Miniseries adaptation of Horatio Hornblower; however, none of it happened in the books.
- Midshipman Clayton steps in in the first episode to get the title character out of a duel with a particularly violent bully.
- In the second series, Archie Kennedy, knowing he would die anyway, takes sole blame for a mutiny to save Horatio's life and career.
- A non-lethal example in Stargate SG-1, where the team finds a second Ancient database, which can only be accessed by uploading it in its entirety into a brain. Unfortunately, modern humans haven't quite evolved to the point of surviving such an upload for long periods of time. Daniel tries to use it on himself when they are attacked, but Jack, who previously had one in his head, tells him that Daniel is the only one who can't do it, since he's their only expert on the Ancient language and has to translate the ramblings of the "possessed" person. Jack then uses the device on himself again and ends up saving the Earth from an alien invasion. The two-parter ends in a sad moment when Jack has the team put him into a suspended animation chamber indefinitely in order to survive the sheer amount of knowledge.
- It is later revealed that no one else would've likely survived the upload, as Jack actually is the most advanced human on Earth, from an evolutionary point of view, possessing the Ancient gene and having intuitive control over their technology.
- A very sad occurs in Farscape when someone has to initiate a process that will separate Moya from another ship and save the lives of everyone aboard her. The catch is that the person who starts the process has to do so from the other ship, which will be ripped apart. Both Crichton and Aeryn try to intervene, but Zhaan (who is already dying from having saved Aeryn's life earlier in the season) insists on doing it and is killed in the process.
- This Heroic Sacrifice was made for production reasons. Actress Virginia Hey, who played Zhaan, had been suffering allergic reactions to her extensive makeup. For some time, she was given limited face time to limit her exposure to the irritating cosmetics, but ultimately they decided to write her out of the show and chose this as the point to let her go out heroically.
- Reese has a habit of doing this in Person of Interest, especially when it comes to Finch, taking on stupid amounts of Mooks and jumping into the line of fire to protect his friend; even going so far as to come back for a Big Damn Heroes moment to save his best friend after he quit the team. His excuse?
Reese: You're one of those people the world can't afford to lose.
- A common theme in Chuck. Since the eponymous character has all the government's secrets in a computer in his brain, his handlers Sarah and Casey often tell him that his life is worth more than theirs when he objects to them risking their lives to protect him.
Mythology and Religion
- Subverted in Classical Mythology. A Greek king, Admetus had a deal with Death: he could send someone else in his place when it was his time to die, provided the person went willingly. Admetus thought, well, no problem, I'm a beloved king with a devoted family and I'm an all-around nice guy. But when it comes time for him to die... no-one steps up to the plate. His elderly father won't do it, none of his subjects love their king enough to die for him, all across the board. So Admetus returns home to his palace, frustrated, only to find that his wife, Alcestis, has quietly gone down to Hades for him. So Admetus got to live, but with the knowledge that the one person who loved him enough to die for him was gone forever. (It has a happy ending, though. Heracles heard of Alcestis' love and loyalty, and made a point of rescuing her next time he was sojourning in the Underworld. Or in some versions, Hercules simply beats the crap out of Death before it can takes Alcestis' soul.)
- The entire party in Tales of Symphonia pull off this trope, one by one in succession against the Malevolent Architecture of the (presumably) final dungeon, to make sure Lloyd makes it to the (presumably) final fight with the game's Big Bad. He is the only one who can properly wield the Sword of Plot Advancement that's needed to save the world, so if he died at any point in the process, nothing else anyone did would make any difference to the eventual outcome. Everyone's aware of this, which is why none of them hesitate to do everything necessary to make sure Lloyd is able to get through, no matter the price.
- SaGa 3 One of the underlings of the Big Bad is defending the barrier machine that prevents the heroes from traveling to the Mt. Goht, the heroes try using the Mystic Swords that would kill the beast, but the barrier prevents even that from occuring, A bomb was planted in Dion in case of an emergency and he charges the machine and destroys it. Allowing the Heroes to defeat the enemy and advance. He is brought back to life through biomedical cloning at the end of the game.
- Towards the end of Super Paper Mario, you lose companions one by one to this, until you're left to fight the boss battle yourself. It doesn't last, though.
- Attempted in Wild ARMs 4, when Raquel (with her Incurable Cough of Death) tries to order Arnaud to leave her behind when the pocket dimension they've been trapped in begins to collapse. Arnaud essentially says "Nuts to that!" and drags her with him anyway, both narrowly escaping in time.
- While the ending of Quest for Glory V is more Gondor Calls for Aid, the aid people will gladly sacrifice themselves if the hero tries to do so.
- Annoyingly averted at the end of Fallout 3, where the three NPCs who are the most likely to actually survive the dangerous task all refuse to do it for you and the only NPC who is willing to do it but will die for sure has to be begged to go through with it.
- Retconned and played straight with the Broken Steel expansion, where the three companions can now go through with it.
- Annoyingly, the game still plays the ending cutscene that, basically, calls you a coward for doing the smart thing. Honor Before Reason indeed. Of course, even if you do it yourself in the expansion, you survive.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Midna is tormented through light exposure and left for dead; Link brings her to Zelda for help. Midna, reconciled to her own death, only asks Zelda to help Link complete the quest. Instead, Zelda gives up her own life, transferring her essence into Midna to restore her to full health. She gets better - both of them.
- In Phantom Brave, Ash is prepared to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to prevent Sulphur from entering Ivoire. Walnut shoves him aside and does it instead.
- In order to get the plot-necessary magic power "Anfini" in Breath of Fire II, Ryu is told he must sacrifice the life of one of his friends. Naturally, everyone volunteers (after all, they're trying to save the world). As it turns out, you have to refuse to sacrifice anyone, since Anfini is The Power of Friendship and cannot be given to anyone who would sacrifice a friend in return for power.
- Played with in Halo Wars. The Badass Normal Hero Sergeant Forge is rightfully far more expendable than the three Spartan-II Super Soldiers under his command, which comes into play for the final mission; when Someone Has to Die, one of said Spartans volunteers to sacrifice himself, but Forge decides to do it himself, citing this very trope:
Forge: Son, I've a feeling before this is over, we'll need every last Spartan in the fight. I can do this. Report back to the ship.
- Inverted near the end of The Saboteur. Vittore volunteers to race his car (which will be rigged to explode after driving it in to the winner's podium) in the Paris-wide race the Nazis are planning. Sean promptly knocks Vittore out and takes his place instead. Ironically, after the race, it is Vittore who ends up dying, and not Sean.
- At the end of Ultima VII Part II: Serpent Isle, a life must be sacrificed to restore the Chaos Serpent. The Avatar draws the short straw, but his companion Dupre dives into the crematorium in his stead.
- In Metroid: Other M, Adam disables Samus with his ice gun, and specifically says "I'm no galactic savior" to her before going on to sacrifice himself in the destruction of Sector 0 and its invincible Metroids.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, if you reject Morrigan's proposal (which is also a proposition) and take Alistair with you (and are female and pursued a romance with him), Alistair will sacrifice himself instead of you in order to kill the Big Bad.
- Prior to that Riordan volunteers, reasoning that since he has been a Gray Warden for far longer than the other characters, he has much less time left before the taint kills him. However, Riordan ultimately fails to kill the Archdemon, necessitating one of the other characters to make the sacrifice.
- In the first Mass Effect game, on Virmire, Ashley will try to invoke this trope by telling Shepard to save Kaidan over her because he outranks her. Unfortunately, Kaiden makes the same plea, not wanting one of his soldiers to die because of him. It's up to Shepard whether to decide who to agree with, but neither is a desirable choice.
- Homestuck: Rose does this to Dave during the sequence with Doc Scratch's scrapbook. Using a ball of yarn, no less. Then things get weird. Well, weirder.
- The title character, being a mere henchman, is considered far more expendable than the rest of the team in the eyes of teammates Yeager and Artax, who regularly do things like use him to disarm traps by throwing him into them when Piffany isn't looking. Piffany has to heal and/or resurrect him disturbingly often. And the whole plot of "A Kind of Tragic" stems from a side effect of Nodwick's frequent resurrections: The Immortals mistake him for one of them and his head rolls often throughout the book.
- While Nodwick has it worse than usual for henchmen, his situation in general is typical for the trade. Only one henchman has ever lived long enough to die of natural causes.
- Practically spoofed in Danny Phantom, when somebody has to wear the Exo-suit to defeat the Big Bad, but doing so might drain the wearer to death. Danny plans to knock everyone out to use it for himself, but that proves to be unnecessary as everybody else knocks each other out, each claiming that he'd do it.
- In X-Men, Wolverine and Cyclops argue over who should sacrifice himself to resurrect Jean after her Heroic Sacrifice. The Phoenix nips the argument in the bud by explaining that the lifeforce needed to save Jean can be taken from multiple donors without anyone immediately dying though all of their lives would be shortened.
- In the Exosquad episode aptly titled "Expendable", the Able Squad outright invokes this on Sean Napier, saying that despite being an elite unit, they are still more expendable than the leader of the entire Terran resistance.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Princess Twilight Part 2", when the Mane Six and Spike venture into the dangerous Everfree Forest to investigate why it's expanding uncontrollably, they are attacked by a Cragodile. After defeating it, Applejack suggests (and the other ponies agree) that Twilight should go back to Ponyville and let the others continue the mission without her, because she is the only princess left in Equestria at the moment and they can't afford to lose her.
- In the Adventure Time episode "James", Finn, Jake, PB, and the titular James find themselves in a pit filled with radioactive candy zombies, and the only way out is if one of them performs a Heroic Sacrifice and distracts the zombies. Finn volunteers, but PB knocks him unconscious and sends James out instead, later telling Finn she did it because she can just clone another James, but she can't clone another Finn.
- Used and then discussed in the Young Justice episode "Failsafe". The Earth is being invaded by aliens, which have already killed off 99% of the Justice League. Our heroes are making an evacuation via teleportation, but can only do so one at a time. A normal human general they've come accross insists on going last, since the super-powered individuals are more valuable than him, but The Leader Kaldur insists to at least let a wounded private escape first. When the aliens arrive, Kaldur than sacrifices himself so that Superboy could escape. Later, the characters realize that saving the private's life at the expense of their leader's was not a good tactical decision. Fortunately for everyone involved, it turns out to just be a training simulation gone wrong.
- In an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, Peter, Ray, and Winston use a device to go to the Netherworld to rescue Egon from a demon named Tolay; while searching the demon's dungeon complex, they meet another prisoner, an alchemist named Heironymus who has been there since 1690. Heironymus offers to help them find Egon and escape, but he has a condition - he wants to go with them. This becomes a problem when they manage to bust Egon out, because the device they used can only transport four people back to Earth (no more, no less). Unwilling to break their promise, the four heroes start a four-way argument like this (not the best time, as a demonic army is closing in) but Heironymus then says he prefers to stay, saying that from what they've told him about how Earth has changed, he'd be even more out of place there. (They give him a proton pack before leaving to give him a fighting chance.)