"I'll tell him that the substitute Shinigami he was worried about... turned out to be a piece of trash that wasn't even worth killing."
The averagely-skilled friends of the highly-skilled hero survive their encounter with the Big Bad
because the bad guy couldn't be bothered finishing them off. Whether or not this makes any sense as an excuse to keep the secondary protagonists alive varies. Sometimes it's an excuse from a Worthy Opponent
or Noble Demon
to not engage in wanton slaughter. Sometimes the villain needs to remain stealthy and realizes that a large body-count does not aid that. Sometimes the heroes fit into an Evil Plan
of the villain that requires their survival (for the moment). Sometimes the villain figures that the would-be victim is actually a net liability to the heroes
or a potential convert to the villain's cause
The most literal examples of the trope refuse to kill their targets for the same reason a normal person doesn't hunt down and stomp on every cockroach they see; it's just not worth the time and effort unless they're making a nuisance of themselves. This usually applies to villains arrogant enough to believe
that the heroes aren't a real threat, or powerful enough to know
that they aren't a threat. Genre Savvy
heroes should be aware that a villain can and will change their stance if they cause enough trouble for them.
Also sometimes used by the Anti-Hero
as an excuse for not wiping out the Mooks
. May be related to Doesn't Like Guns
. Compare Cruel Mercy
and Villains Dying Grace
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Anime & Manga
- Mr. Satan from Dragonball Z "fights" Perfect Cell and is simply backhanded a few hundred feet backwards into a mountain. He inexplicably survives (Piccolo suggests Cell didn't want to waste a single drop of energy when he was about to fight Goku).
- Goku subjects Freeza to this during their fight on Namek. He fights until Freeza is no longer a challenge, then throws that fact in his face, believing that living with the shame of being defeated by a superior fighter was a far worse punishment than simply killing him, made worse by the fact that said superior fighter was 'just a monkey'.
- In Bleach, Ulquiorra took this line with Ichigo after their first confrontation, but later acknowledged him as someone that "needs to be eliminated" and started fighting him more seriously. Ichigo turns this around with his Super-Powered Evil Side and performs a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Ulquiorra.
- In Gundam Age Decil gets bored seeing a UE mook clearly beating the Gundam Titus in episode 8 and orders the UE to retreat.
- In Tokyo Babylon and X1999, Subaru, the protagonist of the former, is left alive by the Sakurazukamori because Seishirou explicitly tells him that he's not worth killing. This becomes Subaru's primary motivation in the sequel; he believes he can only be worth something to Seishirou (who he loves) if Seishirou kills him. However, as it turns out, it's not that Subaru isn't worth killing - it's that Seishirou wants Subaru to kill him.
- Part of Sasuke's backstory in Naruto is that this was why his brother spared his life alone among the extended family. Or so he believed for years.
- Sasuke also gives this excuse for not killing the mooks he faces in his quest to kill his brother.
- Mirielle says this to Altena in the last episode of Noir, specifically that it's "not worth soiling a bullet" with her blood. Altena then tries to shoot Mirielle, but Kirika jumps in and tries to pull a Taking You with Me, though Mirielle manages to grab her in time.
- Phoenix Ikki from Saint Seiya delivers this line to Sea Dragon Kanon at the end of the Poseidon Saga, throwing the pointlessness of his plan in his face before turning his back on him and walking away. Kanon tries to retaliate, but fellow Marine Shogun, Siren Sorrento, confronts him after hearing the truth behind Poseidon's premature resurrection. Like Ikki, Sorrento reasons that Kanon is so pathetic and worthless that fighting him would be a dishonor to Poseidon.
- Hal in Texhnolyze tells this to Shinji after being turned into a Shape, musing on his earlier promise to kill him when they next time met.
- In Code Geass, this is probably the only reason Tamaki survives any given battle.
- And in the penultimate episode, Diethard is not worth Geassing.
- Fushigi Yuugi has Miaka's ex-best friend Yui justify (in both of Miaka's visits to Kutou, mind you) that she only wants to keep Miaka and the Suzaku Seven alive because after all, "Where's the fun in killing them right away?" Yeah right.
- Death Note's Light doesn't really target the regular Joes in the task force, figuring that they can be hoodwinked easily enough and besides, they're decent enough people. (The fact that his father is a part of said task force probably has something to do with it, too.) When Aizawa catches on, though, they pretty much all have to die when Near does.
- Invoked in Fist Of The Blue Sky, when a mook asks a mob boss and a French general about his share of the money of a drug operation and finds himself held at gunpoint by both of them. They discuss the thing and agree he's not worth the price of a single bullet... And then they shoot him anyway.
- Adolf Hitler is spared by Liu Zong Wu because he thinks the tyrant is far too pathetic to deserve a good beating.
- Younger Toguro spared Suzuka, Bui, and Karasu in YuYu Hakusho. He said Suzuka was a pathetic and spineless coward, who was not worth killing. He made the other two serve him and join his Dark Tournament team. Averted with his brother. Elder Toguro says he will spare one of the two defeated team members that lay before him in the semi-finals. One begged for his life and was instantly killed. The other says he would rather die than do the same. Toguro says that his brother would let him live, but he won't and finishes him off.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers, The Huge attack on the TSAB's Headquarters left destruction of property, wounded many troops and main characters alike, and kidnapped two secondary characters. They let no one died. This bites them hard in the end when the wounded main characters was the turning point of the final battle and this is when they decided to drop the trope.
- InuYasha: When Inuyasha was controlled by his Superpowered Evil Side and killing bandits right, left and centre, it took Sesshoumaru to bring him down. To the gang's surprise, instead of killing Inuyasha, Sesshoumaru merely tells them how to reverse Inuyasha condition. When Miroku demands to know why Sesshoumaru spent the entire fight holding back against Inuyasha and refusing to kill him, Sesshoumaru simply responds that there's no point killing someone who's in no condition to know even his own self. He also adds that he'll kill Inuyasha when he's ready. He never does.
- Weed from Ginga Densetsu Weed would often spare a bad dog's life, saying that they're not worth killing and murder is wrong. A few dogs in his own pack call him out on this...especially Kyoushiro.
- Hiro decides this with a recently beaten Kamikiri, who's been castrated brutally, and says that he's only showing him mercy one time. Kamikiri tries to attack the Great Pyrenees once more, but...surprise, surprise! His fangs were ripped out! And it's been confirmed that he died from his wounds.
- In the Astro City story "Great Expectations," actor Mitch Goodman (who plays the "Crimson Cougar" on a soap opera) is ambushed in public by the Dark Centurion, who easily pummels him. When Mitch begs for mercy, the Centurion sneers that he's Not Worth Killing and leaves. It was a ruse set up by Mitch and his friends so Mitch could stop being a high-profile
celebrity super-villain target.
- In the Marvel Transformers Generation 1 story "Target: 2006", Galvatron decides not to kill Ironhide on the grounds that such a pathetic specimen simply doesn't deserve to be killed by one as great as him.
- In Fables, Baba Yaga and the djinn find themselves trapped in the business office with Buffkin, Frank, the mirror, and some of the barleycorn brides. Buffkin challenges Baba Yaga and the djinn, but they just laugh at him and float away. This has some consequences later. Snicker snack, indeed.
- Inverted in Kill Bill, where The Bride hacks her cold-blooded way through literally dozens of sword-wielding Yakuza foot-soldiers, then decides one of them, a young teenager, is too pathetic to kill. She puts him over her knee, spanks him with the flat of her sword and tells him to go home to his mother. He flees.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after her sidekick comes to help her out and her Obi Wan dies in a Heroic Sacrifice to save her, The Dragon is about to turn around and finish Buffy off, when the Big Bad says it's time to leave:
Lothos: She is not ready yet.
Amilyn: What? Dinner's off!?
- Seen in the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee movie Horror Express. The brainsucking alien finds the crazy monk not worth killing, and eventually the crazy monk starts worshiping the alien (which the alien finds somewhat annoying).
Crazy Monk: "Are you going to kill me?
Brainsucking Alien: "Oh, there's nothing in your head of any use."
- Nemesis in Resident Evil Apocalypse effortlessly mows down an entire squad of S.T.A.R.S while leaving the Ethnic Scrappy L.J. untouched. We see L.J. through Nemesis's eyes and he's identified as "Armed Civilian. Threat: Minimal". When L.J. throws down his gun, the reading changes to "Noncombatant. Threat: None" and Nemesis walks away.
- In Alien vs. Predator, at one point one of the Predators has a chance to kill Charles Bishop Weyland, but instead turns away, due to Charles' terminal illness meaning that he's not a threat and thus not worth killing. Charles gets offended at being ingnored and fires a makeshift flamethrower at the Predator. The Predator then kills him, apparently having re-evaluated him as a legitimate target. Of course, it might also have something to do with the Predator being more than a little pissed off that he'd just been partially set on fire.
- In Predator Dutch is about to smash the mortally wounded Predator's head with a boulder but then changes his mind and apparently decides to leave the creature to die on its own. The Predator then demonstrates why following this trope can be a really bad idea, when he activates his self-destruct mechanism, and Dutch barely escapes the resulting explosion.
- In Breaking Dawn Part 1, when Bella is feared dead, Jacob blames Edward and tells him to his face, "I won't kill you. That would be too easy. You deserve to live with this."
- In Batman & Robin Poison Ivy is about to kiss Commissioner Gordon before deciding to spare him, saying that he's way too old for her.
- In Tamora Pierce's Trickster's Queen, Vereyu kills the recently-appointed spymaster (who's not really sympathetic, just incompetent, but you do kind of pity him). The heroine, Aliane Cooper, tells her that he was "not worth killing". Vereyu retorts that he "wasn't worth leaving alive, either." Aly remarks that that's true.
- This basically saves Rincewind's life and the world in Sourcery when tries to attack the nigh-omnipotent sourcerer Coin with a half-brick in a sock. Coin is so fascinated by the idea of someone trying to use a weapon that feeble against him that he defies his father's orders to kill him.
Live Action Television
- Super Sentai and Power Rangers feature multiple examples of honourable villains who will let the Rangers go after beating them.
- Mahou Sentai Magiranger (Power Rangers Mystic Force) has a subversion: Wolzard (Koragg) has a suppressed good side which leads to him finding excuses to let the Rangers live, the main one being that it's dishonorable to slay an unworthy opponent. When a Ranger confronts him, Wolzard gives the standard 'unworthy opponent' speech, and the hero responds with a volley of lighting bolts. Wolzard is completely unharmed, but decides anyway that the hero's worth fighting after all, and proceeds to utterly mop the floor with him. (He still lets him go in the end.)
- Rio from Juken Sentai Gekiranger has more than one Crowning Moment of Awesome where he proves that his Juken is stronger than theirs by pummeling the Rangers flat, then lets them go because they are not yet worthy of being killed by him.
- In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cromartie slaughters the FBI agents sent after him, but leaves Ellison alive in the end, apparently for this reason.
- As it turns out, Cromartie does this because he believes Ellison will lead him to the Connors. However, in a recent episode another Terminator leaves at least one minor character alive because, as the audience sees through the Terminator's vision, the character has a threat level of "none". In what may or may not be a subversion, the same minor character is (apparently) killed later in the episode by the same Terminator - offscreen. Granted, this was (apparently, this part was also offscreen) after he unloaded a Mossberg into said Terminator, which presumably upped his threat level a tad.
- Also, in most of the Terminator films, Terminators have a habit of hijacking a vehicle, then ordering the driver to "get out". Presumably, scaring the driver out of the vehicle is less time consuming then killing him and dumping his body outside.
- Or, the person could simply be deemed to be a "WASTE OF AMMO."
- Or that in the time it would take to kill the driver/pilot, it might lose track of its primary target.
- Cameron later explicitly tells John (after being confronted with an empathy test) that Terminators are not designed to be cruel. Which makes sense, being unfeeling machines they think logically and practically, simply following their motivations. Interpreting an action of sheer pragmatism as cruel or benevolent is something only a human would do.
- Played with in Burn Notice. Michael Westen takes great pains not to kill anybody himself—often employing elaborate Plans instead—because a body count would draw too much heat while he tries to clear his name. A few people are worth it, but the consequences are still generally unpleasant.
- Horatio Hornblower: Horatio tells his opponent in a duel Jack Simpson that he's "not worth the powder" after Simpson has fired prematurely, claiming it was a misfire, wounding Horatio and giving him a free shot. Simpson then begs for his life like a Dirty Coward. The minute Horatio turns his back, however, Simpson attempts to stab him In the Back. Captain Pellew can afford the powder and shoots Simpson with an exceptionally fine shot.
- In the Supernatural episode "Time Is on My Side" Dean tracks down Bela with the intent to kill her, before announcing that she's "not worth it."
- Game Of Thrones. At the beginning of Season One and the end of Season Two, the White Walkers leave a single member of the Night's Watch alive, either to spread fear or as an example of this trope.
- In Traveller Intersteller Wars the Vilani don't bother making a real effort to subjugate the Terrans because they are "just another barbarian tribe". By the time they learn differently it is the Vilani who are being subjugated.
- In The Gamers Alliance, Ronove, the new Dreadlord of the Northern Horde, decides to spare the surviving defenders of the besieged city of Vanna and allow them to flee while the horde takes over the city. His superior and peers later question the merciful act as well as the fact that the survivors will inevitably spread news of the horde's activities and strategies to other cities which will be prepared for the upcoming war. He quickly justifies his actions by explaining his reasons for letting the heroes flee: their worthy opponent status, the promise of a later even bloodier battle worthy of higher demons' time, as well as the heroes' tales of the siege which will weaken other cities' morale when they find out about the horde's unstoppable might. However, the Dreadlord is playing a much more complicated game because among other things he also wanted to pay the defenders back for helping him when he was helpless by letting them flee to fight another day.
- The Dimensional Guardians from the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes find themselves being spared from death multiple times, often by the Big Bad, who would much rather his servants take care of matters that are beneath him.
- In The Salvation War there is a psychic woman who had been mentally tormented by a demon for her entire life. After the human army conquers Hell, she finds and confronts her tormentor... who turns out to be a teenager, literally a Troll From Hell, for whom driving a random innocent person insane was just a game (well, you know the kind). She's about to shoot him, but after seeing him groveling and wetting himself with fear, she decides that he is not worth pulling the trigger.
- Avatar The Last Airbender: Katara meets the man who murdered her mother, and after seeing what a sad, pathetic wretch he's become since then to the point that he's even begging her to kill his own mother in exchange, and Lampshading it with a mini-"The Reason You Suck" Speech she lets him live with the knowledge that she will never forgive him for what he did to her and her family and that he's already living out a Fate Worse Than Death.
- Ben 10: In one episode, after Kevin went around committing crimes and placing the blame on Ben, they end up in a showdown on a bridge. At one point, Kevin shifts back to his normal human form on accident and is completely at Ben's mercy, who is still using Fourarms. It seems like he's about to crush his skull with a well placed fist or two but instead hits right next to him before walking away, stating that he was never worth killing. This however, doesn't end up going well for him as he ends up needing to be saved by the guy who's been hunting him down the entire time due to Kevin's rage at being told this causing him to go One-Winged Angel.
- On Robot Chicken The Yakuza kills all of N Sync except Joey Fatone, who was in the kitchen at the time. When he begs them not to shoot him, they tell him they wouldn't waste their bullets on a simple roadie.
- Used in Futurama, except not with killing. Zoidberg teaches Cubert that the best way to avoid an ass-kicking is to pitifully grovel at the feet of a bully. It works surprisingly well.
- The first time someone tried to release New York Ripper in Britain, every single print got returned to Italy after the BBFC refused to classify the film.