If you're dealing with any sword-oriented media, whether it be fantasy, medieval, kung fu, or something else, and it's more violent than a PG-13 rating, chances are, someone is going to get his head chopped off (and it may not even need the R rating if you're dealing with nonhuman enemies). One of the most common methods of execution back in the medieval era next to hanging, decapitation is usually one of the surest ways to ensure someone is Deader than Dead barring some very potent magic or divine intervention. Indeed, in Real Life, it is one of the very few ways that death can be instantly diagnosed.
Any Ridiculously Human Robot (even one with a Cranial Processing Unit) or other decidedly inhuman being will probably be capable of surviving decapitation, and will do so at some point either for a joke or as a plot point. In less serious series, the body will even continue to walk around bumping into things.
It is nearly always depicted as being surprisingly easy to do, even in one blow to a moving target. While Anne Boleyn did get beheaded with one stroke, most pre-guillotine beheadings took at least three strokes (plus, Boleyn's executioner was — by request — a professional swordsman who would know how to cleanly behead someone).
This trope is named after the line Off with his head; ó so much for Buckingham from Colley Cibber's adaptation of Richard III. The trope was also famously used by the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. See also Your Head A Splode for a much gorier version of this trope and Boom, Headshot when it comes to firearms.
Also see Alas, Poor Yorick, Decapitation Presentation and Severed Head Sports. When cutting of the head is theonlyway to kill something, it's Decapitation Required. If the decapitated head is somehow still alive after the fact for any notable length of time, that's Losing Your Head.
As per being a death trope, EXPECT UNMARKED SPOILERS!!!
Princess Mononoke has two instances when Ashitaka decapitated people by shooting them in the head with arrows. His arm was possessed by a demon, so that could have something to do with it.
Karura in Utawarerumono actually punches a mook's head off. That must have been messy.
In Bleach, the Fraccion Avirama Redder asks Lieutenant Izuru Kira what his 'weird-looking' Zanpakutou, Wabisuke - which is shaped like a square hook - can cut through. Kira gives him a demonstration by placing the hooked bit under Redder's neck and - yoink! There goes Redder's head.
This is how Daisuke Saiki dies in the manga version of X/1999. It was so gruesome that the TV series censored it.
The Queen of Hearts Made some tarts The Knave of Hearts Stole these tarts So the mad queen said "Off with his head!"
This is pretty much the only way to kill a sen-nin in The Twelve Kingdoms. Brutally proved by Governor Gekkei, who kills King Chuutatsu of Hou this way as punishment for his horrible reignand brings his head to his family. Then, he subjects Chuutatsu's wife Kekai and the kirin Hourin to the same fate, also as punishment for their own deeds (or inaction). "Royal Consort! Princess! Say goodbye to your King!", indeed.''
Teresa from Claymore is beheaded by Priscilla the instant she Awakens.
A lot of deaths in Gantz involve decapitation. Kurono and Izumi beheaded the oni boss, as well as the former beheading the shapeshifting oni. Katou also beheaded the Buddha boss. Anything else I miss?
Many deaths in Elfen Lied caused by Diclonius. Their vectors can pick off a person's head like picking a fruit off a tree or crush them like nothing.
Berserk: is powerful enough to shear off the head of a horse with one blow from his BFS, as evidenced during the rampage at the end of the first Black Swordsman story and against General Boscogn during the Golden Age arc, just before taking Boscogn's head as well.
Also a standard method of execution in the series proper. In the beginning of the third arc (the one before the Golden Age arc), a woman gets executed this way for heresy. Her head gets used by Guts to send a declaration of war to the Count, an Apostle who uses such accusations of heresy to provide him with people to eat.
During the battle against the Cell Jrs. Gohan decapitates two of them.
In the original series Goku kicked Drum's head off.
Two of the movies had decapitations, in the fourth Piccolo blasts Doradabo's head off and in the seventh Vegeta punches Android 15's head off.
In Amon, an alternative continuation to Devilman, Akira's love interest Miki and her little brother are both decapitated by an angry mob after it was revealed on TV that Akira is actually Devilman.
It did happen in the original manga too. Miki is searching for her brother and sees him fall from the second floor. She approaches him and sees it's his headless body, and a member of the angry mob has his decapitated head. Later, when Akira arrives too late, he sees Miki not only has been killed, but dismembered by the mob, and her head is on a pike (alongside her other limbs, each one in its own pike). Later, Akira is seen cradling her head in his arms, having crossed the Despair Event Horizon for real. In fact, it's said that this scene inspired the one in the X/1999 manga where Kamui does the same with Kotori's head.
In Ideon a girl named Asura is decapitated by a gunshot in the final movie, and we see her head vaporize as her lifeless body is sent flying by the recoil. She was the youngest member (around 4 to 5 years old) of the cast on top of that.
Also, while Kitty Kitten was shot to death in the series itself, she is decapitated in the movies.
In Detective Conan, the murder of the first episode. Who would have thought of using the momentum of the roller coaster and a wire with hooks to make a gruesome decapitation?
Also happens to Chikako Ikeda in the Mountain Villa Bandaged Man Murder Case. And her killer not only beheads her, but dismembers her and carries her head around hidden in his clothes.
In the School Days finale, Makoto's head is taken by Kotonoha soon after he gets knifed to death by Sekai.
In Lupin III: Dead or Alive, to show Ole he's serious about the situation, General Headhunter casually decapitates one of his own men with a sword.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Mami Tomoe is Killed Off for Real in the penultimate timeline in episode 3 after the witch Charlottedevours her head. This led to a funny/creepy Memetic Mutation where she is represented with her head off-panel, hidden or missing. Or carrying it. This also leads to the Japanese fans treating the word 'Mami' as this trope (as in "Mami'd/Mamiraretta" to be equivalent of having the head chopped off.)
Also, in that same timeline Sayaka Miki chops off the head of the witch Elsa Maria with her sword. And then she mutilates Elsa's corpse, as proof that poor Sayaka is this close to crossing the Despair Event Horizon.
In the spin-off series, Puella Magi Kazumi Magica, Mirai Wakaba meets this same fate after refusing to fight a witch that used to be Saki Asami, who Mirai loves.
In another Alice-related manga, Are You Alice?, the Queen himself (yes, him) states this a few times as an order. His job, executing "useless characters", also leads to this, with him using a giant scythe to do the job.
In Manga/Golgo13 The Professional, Duke sticks a grenade into Silver's mouth causing his head to be blown off his body in the resulting explosion.
Justice does this to Afro's father just five minutes into Afro Samurai. Right in front of the young Afro, no less!
The Voynich Hotel: The second of the Three Mothers, Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs, met her fate via beheading. Rumor has it that her head is somewhere in Spain, christened "The Singing Witch Head."
Turned upside-down by the finale of Macross Frontier: removing the Vajra Queen's head is presented as a nonlethal way of detaching Grace O'Connor from the main body. Due to Bizarre Alien Biology, Vajra don't actually have any vital organs in their heads (their nervous system is decentralized, so they lack a "brain" as an organ). The Queen is not harmed by the loss of her head anymore than the loss of one of her other limbs, and flies away with the rest of the Vajra once peace is restored.
In Samurai Flamenco, the show is mostly light-hearted at first, with a guy trying to be a superhero but barely managing to do it. He gets better and slowly changes the city for the better, and then episode 7 hits. A drug dealer takes some kind of pill before getting arrested, and turns into a giant gorilla with a guillotine in his mid-section. He then uses it to decapitate at least one of the cops, and nearly kills Samurai Flamenco the same way before being saved by his cop friend Goto.
In One Piece, this is only a minor inconvenience for Logia users and Buggy, as well as Brook after the timeskip, provided his bones don't get damaged. However, it can also happen to non-Logias, like the dragon on Punk Hazard, in which case it's obviously fatal.
There has been an exception, however, with the Devil Fruit powers of one Trafalgar Law. His Op-Op Fruit powers let him create a space in which he can alter anything however he chooses, and he often uses his sword in conjunction. The earliest example of this was decapitating a Marine and switching his head with a cannonball. Said Marine did not die, and his head still spoke and saw, and felt all that was happening to his body. Another exception is Donquixote Doflamingo, who survived decapitation despite not being a Logia, though Law didn't cut him. Time will tell how that person managed to survive.
The Headsman from Thunderbolts, as his name would imply, enjoys lopping heads off with his tremendous axe very, very much. This all traces back to his childhood, when his Aloof Big Brother Cody beheaded his beloved dog.
This is the only way to kill an Immortal in the Highlander series.
Thulsa Doom does this to Conan's mom in Conan the Barbarian (1982) after the raid on his home village that opens the movie. Conan himself returns the favor in the end, using two cuts in a "V" using the remains of his father's sword.
Actually took three chops: the first two to the sides of Doom's neck and the last one to the back of his neck as he knelt facing his worshippers. Not quite a Lizzie Borden, but good enough.
Aragorn does this to Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai Badass who killed Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring.
One of the NazgŻl does this to a Hobbit watchman, though the scene cuts away before the head is sheared off.
Return of the King has three examples:
…owyn chops the head off the Witch-King's fell-beast before facing him in person. It takes at least two strokes before the thing's head is severed.
In the extended edition, the nasty-looking orc general who survived everything the Battle of the Pelennor Fields had to offer and was chasing …owyn around gets his other arm sliced off, two axes in his chest, and his head chopped off by Gimli and Aragorn. Just to make sure he's Deader than Dead.
Also in the extended edition, Aragorn does this to the Mouth of Sauron.
The titular antagonistic species in the Predator series decapitate their victims to collect their skulls and sometimes do so in combat, the most infamous instance being the death of King Willie in Predator 2.
Astinos, one of the 300, goes out this way during a lull in the battle, which causes his father to go berserk on the Persians until he has to be dragged away by his comrades. This is also how Leonidas finishes off the Uber-Immortal later on in the movie.
The titular weapon of the Flying Guillotine kung fu movies, including Master of the Flying Guillotine, was a basket that was thrown and dropped upon someone's head. As the name would suggest, once the basket landed on someone's head, the chain was pulled, the blades would go to work, and it was Off With His Head!
This inspired an episode of MythBusters where Kari, Grant and Tory competed to see which of them could design and build a real flying guillotine that worked like the one in the film.
In the movie Johnny Mnemonic, the assassin was told to come back with Johnny's head, as it contained a cybernetic brain implant which had important information in it.
In The Mummy, Rick O'Connell decapitates a mummy, and it falls "dead" after the head spins for a bit. Then he decapitates another, and it starts juggling with the head, only falling "dead" after Rick hits the head towards the camera.
In The Mummy Returns, the only way to kill an Anubis Warrior is by taking off its head.
In the So Bad, It's GoodHudson Hawk, a villain with two blades hidden up his sleeves attacks the titular Hawk, who retaliates by making the man cut off his head.
In the 1974 film Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Godzilla managed to defeat his robotic counterpart by twisting its head off and making it explode. Odd, considering that Mechagodzilla's head was able to spin with no problem.
But in the 1975 sequel, Terror Of Mechagodzilla, not only does this not work, but the rays its exposed core begins firing at Godzilla actually get stronger !
The '74 film is refenced in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 comic Wolves At The Gate, part four as this is how Dawn kills her mechanical double.
In The Ice Pirates, Maida takes a swipe at an attacker, then asks, in a solicitous tone, "Feeling better?" The bad guy appears to be about to nod...and then collapses in two unequal pieces.
Hannibal Rising (2007). Hannibal is being raised by his aunt, the Lady Murasaki-Lecter, whose samurai ancestor was into collecting the heads of his enemies. When she's insulted by a local butcher, Hannibal cuts off his head and presents it to her. His aunt is not pleased, but when Hannibal is arrested for the crime she impales the head on the railings outside police headquarters while Hannibal is being interrogated inside. The police naturally assume they have the wrong man and let Hannibal go.
Transformers: Optimus Prime dispatches Bonecrusher by stabbing him through the neck and wrenching his head from his body.
Ramjet is killed this way in Reign of Starscream #5. Right after mocking the Autobot he was trying to kill for "not using his head", he's beheaded by Crosshairs. Can anyone say "irony"?
The above quote comes from Revenge of the Fallen, where Optimus doesn't just chop the Fallen's head off, he tears it off. And it's not a nice, clean cut either. He rips his face off, and you can see the Fallen vomiting up his equivalent of blood as he dies. Geez. Beware the Nice Ones, indeed.
Optimus sure likes this, as evidenced by Megatron's head, lying some distance from his body with an axe lodged in it.
Honestly just about every death is this in the 2nd and 3rd films. After having two characters that were "killed" by battle damage but later restored to life, destroying heads seems to be Transformers movieverse shorthand for "dead for real." (Mind you, in other versions, Losing Your Head is something that's easily remedied.)
Near the end of Akira Kurosawa's Ran, Kurogane decapitates Lady Kaede. Much blood spatter ensues.
Trevor Nunn bookends his film Lady Jane with decapitations.
The death of the reporter Keith Jennings from The Omen, one of Hollywood's very first onscreen decapitations, when a sheet of glass is launched from a truck in front of him and shears the guy's head off in horrific fashion. It's still considered by horror buffs to be one of the best deaths ever filmed.
Owen Wilson's character in The Haunting (1999) is stunningly decapitated by the giant flue in the fireplace.
In The Midnight Meat Train, the killer takes out one victim by hitting him so hard with a meat tenderizer that his head goes flying across the train car. For added Narm, the camera cuts to the point of view of the victim's head.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine; the title character talks about wanting to decapitate his big brother, but only end up beheading "Weapon XI" (Deadpool/Dudepeel, in this version an experimented up Wade Wilson).
Severance: Two characters discuss decapitation as a possible death and how long the head can remain aware even after it's severed. Guess how one of them dies. No, go on, guess...
Pinhead from the Hellraiser series would usually tear people apart with chained hooks (hooked chains?) but in the fourth movie Hellraiser: Bloodline he shot a bladed chain at a guy's neck. After the blade punctured the neck, it unfolded and on the reverse move decapitated the poor s.o.b. Have a nice day.
In the first Final Destination film, one of the characters was killed this way by an incoming sharp object caused by the train.
In Jeepers Creepers, the creeper beheaded a police officer with an axe while he was driving a car. In the second film, he trapped a student with his wings and beheaded him, leaving his body still twitching for a few seconds before collapsing. The creeper consumed the head in order to grow himself a new one.
In the Apocalypse film series, those who refuse to take the Mark of the Beast when inside the Day of Wonders virtual reality program are subject to a virtual beheading, or in some cases another form of death like a lethal snake bite, which causes the victim to die in reality.
This is how the corrupt attorney Jordan Kalfus dies in Man on Fire. Creasy finds his decapitated corpse floating in his pool, with a katana lying nearby.
In Idle Hands, The Offspring's Dexter Holland gets decapitated.
Seems to be the standard means of killing vampires in Byzantium as those that are killed during the story are decapitated.
Double subverted and Played for Laughs in Les Visiteurs: an English knight who fought the French king and Godefroy seemingly gets his head cut off, but it turns out he actually ducked under the armor's breastplate. He peeks his head out with a confident smirk, and gets his head cut off for real for his trouble.
In Showdown in Little Tokyo, Yakuza boss Yoshida does this to Angel with his katana in a ruthless Kick the Dog moment for warning Tanaka, his previous victim, about him behind his back.
Animorphs: Visser Three's preferred method of execution, though he's a fan of torture as well.
Nearly Headless Nick is decapitated, but his head stays attached to his body by some remaining flesh and remains that way in his ghostly form.
There are also properly decapitated ghosts that can throw their heads around at will.
In Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar, the heroine not only orders the decapitation of the enemy leader, she brings the head back to her base as evidence. In a shopping bag. The woman has style.
Good God, woman, where have you been?
Somewhat subverted in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. While Hiro does actually manage to decapitate someone with his katana, he muses to himself how difficult it is to actually kill someone in this manner, and considers himself lucky that he managed it rather than getting his sword lodged in his victim's vertebrae.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Green Knight dares anyone to chop his head off with his own battle axe. Sir Gawain chops off the Green Knight's head, only to have the Green Knight pick his own head up, and place it back upon his shoulders. One of the best-known stories of King Arthur.
In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, this is how the Inquisitor Heldane deals with the doctor who objects to his coming into the infirmary; it is told from the POV of the doctor, who sees his own boots and only then realizes that he lost his head.
In Traitor General, Uexkull kills the local commander this way when he fails to search for Gaunt and his men as a top priority.
In Duty Calls, Ciaphas Cain uses his chainsword to decapitate a psyker cultist who was trying to assassinate him.
Charles de Lint's novel Svaha has at least two scenes where characters (one of them the Big Bad) get decapitated in fairly gory detail.
In The Executioner series by Don Pendleton, when The Mafia boss says "bring me his head" he often means it literally. Bolan has to decapitate a man while posing as a Black Ace, whilst in another novel to stop the notorious One-Man Army from killing them all The Dragon hands over his Mafia bosses by floating them across a lake to Bolan in a boat. But not all of them. Just the heads.
Another favorite kind of death in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, especially as the Steel Ministry loves to dual-wield obsidian axes. There are the mass executions in The Final Empire, the first Steel Minister seen killed, and most brutally to the reader Elend Venture, possibly intentionally on his part at the climax of Hero of Ages.
Another memorable example is Elend killing his former best friend Jastes this way, the first person he ever kills.
Robert Olen Butler's book Severance consists entirely of vignettes presenting the imagined last thoughts of decapitation victims throughout history (including a few non-humans and the occasional fictional character). Very weird, quite fascinating.
Many know the trope name from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in which the Queen of Hearts shouts "Off with his head!" and "Off with her head!" and "Off with their heads!" to order the execution of almost everyone at the croquet game. It isn't until the Tim Burton version that the Queen is actually seen to have gone through it, though. Every other time, victims were pardoned behind her back by the King.
In the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, the rather shocking end of the road for Ned Stark, firmly planting the Anyone Can Die aspect of the series. Also the fate of several lesser characters declared traitors by the crown, including some poor, innocent dwarfs.
Also in the first book, Gregor Clegane decapitates his own horse during the tourney scene.
The entire series grew from George R. R. Martin's vision of a man being beheaded whilst a young boy watched. He wrote the scene and found it expanding into a second chapter and then a third. Thus, the first book was born.
However, the only "clean" decapitations are done with Valyrian steel swords. Decapitations using other weapons are usually done in three or more strokes.
In Isabel Allende's "The House Of Spirits", Clara's mother NŪvea has her head cut off when she and her husband Severo perish in a crash car and a metal shard beheads her. Her head goes flying and isn't found until much, much later, when Clara is about to give birth to Blanca: she gets a vision of said head and goes searching for it with Esteban and some servants.
Anita Blake often requests this (if she can't do it herself) for crazy old/powerful vampires/shapeshifters to ensure they're Deader than Dead.
Done through guillotines (referred to as "loyalty enforcement facilitators") on the general populace to enforce the law of taking the "mark of loyalty" during the Tribulation in the Left Behind book series.
Merlin does this several times in the Safehold novels. Often with comments by observers on the fact that normal people aren't physically capable of cutting people's heads off with a single swing. Of course, Merlin is a PICA with a battle steel katana, not a normal person.
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, our heroes are beset by a pack of vicious wolves. The Tin Woodsman swings his axe and decapitates one wolf, then decapitates another with a single axe swing, then another, then another; every swing of his axe separated a wolf's head from its shoulders. By the time he was done there was a great big pile of headless wolf bodies lying at his feet.
So many heads rolled in the miniseries Henry VIII (2003) that it practically became a Running Gag. The King plays a particularly nasty joke on Cromwell: the executioner has never taken off anyone's head before. The results are not pretty.
Unsurprisingly as it's the same story, The Tudors has this frequently as well, the scene of many a moving last speech beforehand. Though in this one the nasty joke against Cromwell is not by the king but several councillors. Eventually a nearby guard rushes in to take off his head, after over half a dozen less than accurate attempts by the inebriated headsman.
Beheading would appear to be the standard method of execution in Merlin (though Burn the Witch! is also pretty common). As of yet, they have not shown it on screen.
On the edu-tainment show, Deadliest Warrior, one of the hosts gives this as the signal when testing the makrakka, a sickle-like weapon used by the Zande tribe of Central Africa on a ballistic gel torso dummy. It does it's job.
And the Blackadder II episode "Head", in which Edmund gets made Lord Executioner, Baldrick becomes the man with the axe and Hilarity Ensues. We don't see the actual beheadings, although we do see one of the heads.
The 1980 miniseries Shogun was noted as being the first American network production to actually show a head being cut off on screen. The VHS version of the mini-series is gorier and shows the blood spurting from the neck.
The Highlander TV series, like the films, is also predicated on the fact that a beheading is the only way for Macleod to survive battles with other immortals. Therefore this happens in virtually every episode (although usually off-screen).
"D. U. Die": A drunken motorist suffering from a bought of car-sickness sticks his head out the window to puke...and is decapitated by a mailbox, to the horror of his equally drunken passenger.
"Road Killed": A hippie chick going to a hemp convention runs over a raccoon, and tries to use CPR on it. Tilting her head up to cough, she has her head ripped off by the bumper of an incoming vehicle.
"Tongue-Tied": Two teens driving separate cars lean out the window to kiss, only to get decapitated by a forklift in the road
"Golden Die-Angle": A Laotian drug lord chasing after thieves ends up decapitated by the very barbed wire fence he used as a security measure
"Kung Pao Pow!!!": A greedy crematorium worker steals the gold teeth from a corpse said to be of a man who died from getting struck by lightning strike. He wasn't killed from lighting, the man was actually killed when a weather rocket launched in order to bring rain to drought-damaged land refuse to detonate, fell back to Earth, and struck him in the chest. When the corpse was put in the furnace, the rocket's warhead ignites and blows the hatch off with enough force to decapitate the worker.
"Odds Are You're Dead": A loan shark cuts the hydraulic line on a scissor lift, which collapses onto his neck and decapitates him
"Miss-Ur Head": A criminal in early 20th century France is executed by the guillotine, with a doctor in attendance to his execution to study the effects of a freshly lopped-off head to prove that consciousness is maintained briefly after beheading, thus making the guillotine an inhumane form of captial punishment. (See Real Life below)
"Withdrawn": A bank robber (obviously based on Brian Wells) wears a C4 bomb collar around his neck to convince the tellers and cops that he was being forced to commit the heist. When one freaked-out teller deactivates her car alarm to get away from the madness, she unknowingly activates the collar's remote blast cap (which was on the same frequency as her alarm remote), causing it to explode and take the robber's head clean off. Well, not exactly clean, but you get the picture...
Occurs at least every third episode in the Stars version of Spartacus . Usually done in a single sword stroke, with one notable exception near the end of the third season.
The Body of the Week on one episode of CSI NY was beheaded using a katana swung with such force that the severed head remained balanced on the neck (he was sitting on a park bench at the time).
Ned Stark has an enormous greatsword made of Valyrian steel called Ice that he uses for executions, and he does so in the first episode, taking a deserter's head off in a single stroke. Towards the end of the first series, he is beheaded with his own sword.
In Season 3, Robb Stark is forced to behead one of his bannermen for treason. Like his father and unlike Theon, he manages to do it in one swift stroke.
In episode 6 of MythQuest, Alex takes the place of Caradoc the Younger. He beheads Elveis as part of a bet and is later sentenced to be beheaded himself (for a different reason).
Midsomer Murders: In "Midsomer Rhapsody" a motorcyclist is decapitated by a length of piano wire strung across the road at neck height.
The Doctor about to be beheaded as been used as a cliffhanger in at least three Doctor Who serials: "The Masque of Mandragora", "Four to Doomsday" and "The Visitation".
In "The Wrong War" (also known as "The Frogs and the Lobsters") from Horatio Hornblower miniseries, Colonel le Marquis de Moncoutant has his personal guillotine. He gleefully uses it to behead half the village for treason, which was actually stuff like selling old bread. It bites him in the butt, though, because when Royalist forces collapse, the villagers execute him, equally gleefully.
Older Than Feudalism: Perseus killed Medusa this way, using a magic sword to hack through the bronze scales on her neck, with the added bonus that her powers still worked on anyone he showed it to.
There's an entire category of Christian Saints - the cephalophores - who are usually depicted as holding their severed heads.
Saint Denis, patron saint of France, was decapitated by the Romans only to pick up his head and walk off with it, cheerfully singing praises to the Lord until he reached the nearest village and dropped dead there. Predictably, he's depicted in art and media as a headless man who carries his own mitred head in his hand.
The most intriguing figure though is probably Saint Cuthbert, who, while never decapitated himself, is frequently depicted holding the severed head of Saint Oswald. Mystifying when you consider that Oswald had been dead for decades before Cuthbert arrived on the scene.
The concept of cephalophore (Greek kephalos = head, phorein = to bear), a headless statue with the head on its arms, comes from the image of a beheaded saint.
John the Baptist was beheaded while in prison at the request of Herod's wife.
Sheba son of Bicri had his head thrown over a town wall in 2 Samuel 20.
Saul and Ishbosheth were both beheaded after they were killed (2 Samuel).
Judith decapitated the Assyrian warlord Holofernes in the apocryphal Book of Judith.
There is a truly creepy Chinese story of a beheaded general whose body did not die. His family took it home and it communicated with them via writing. It even begot a son on the 'widow'. ICK!
This is how the trolls are defeated in Big Guns, as their heads serve as dropdown targets.
In Sega Pinball's GoldenEye, failing the "Xenia Encounter" has the villainess crush a Naval Captain until his head pops off.
Averted in How Green Was My Cactus - when the prime minister of Cactus Island (Australia) particularly annoys her, Queen Bessie of Buckinghuge Palace is disappointed that she does not have the same powers as previous monarchs.
"Phillip, do I still have the power to behead people? Lock them in the tower, perhaps? Punch in the face would do."
Vorpal weapons from Dungeons & Dragons have this as their primary power, activating upon rolling a natural 20 on a D20 and then confirming the crit.
In New World of Darkness, both vampires and werewolves are capable of regenerating lost body parts... except the head. Lobbing off the head ends their hunt for good.
Worshipers and champions of Khorne go for the skull.
During the Horus Heresy, Fulgrim presented Horus with the polished skull of Ferrus Manus after the Drop Site Massacre.
The Horus Heresy Book One - Betrayal tells some stories of warriors who went this route. Captain Lercon Hurn of the XVI Legion's 3rd Company pulled the Panarch of Somon's head off with his bare hands after killing his guards with said hands and Horus sent the Emperor the gold-plated skull of Vatale Gerron Terentius with the message "So perish all traitors."
Subverted in The Mikado, wherein the Lord High Executioner only accepted the post to keep his own head and cannot bring himself to kill anyone else. He claims to have beheaded Nanki-Poo, but produces him alive when it transpires that Nanki-Poo was the heir apparent, and Ko-Ko now faces the Mikado's wrath.
In the musical Celebration, "Saturnalia" ends with the execution of the Mock-King by decapitated. Mr. Rich is startled, perhaps because the puppet's head looks like his own.
One of the ghosts inhabiting The Haunted Mansion is a decapitated knight. He has a small role in the video game, giving Zeke a Soul Gem.
Allegedly, the test dummies sent down the infamous looping water slide at Action Park came out this way.
The backstory of Dieu Mort, the Arcana of Death in Arcana Heart, was that he was an executioner so obsessed with chopping off heads that he eventually chopped off his own head out of madness and curiosity.
Alex Mercer from Prototype only consumes the head of Hunters and Leader Hunters, as opposed to eating the whole body for human(-sized target)s. He also decapitates the Supreme Hunter with the Blade.
Dead Head Fred's eponymous anti-hero Fred Neuman does this to pretty much ANYONE that angers him. Hell, it's even a major plot AND gameplay point!
Wet features two major decapitations in story. The first decapitation happens to Trevor Ackers upon Rubi's arrival with him in the hospital after taking him out of Hong Kong, beheaded by Tarantula on orders from who Rubi (and he) initially believes is the man's own father, William Ackers, but who turns out to be an Asian-based drug lord by the name of Rupert Pelham with aspirations of operating globally. The second decapitation is delivered by Rubi herself upon Pelham as her final vengeance at the very end of the game.
In the Japanese Playstation versions of Breath of Fire IV, Fou-lu decapitates the acting emperor Soniel with the very sword Soniel had just tried to run him through with. It's not graphically depicted, though, but shown in silhouette.
Unfortunately, this scene was a victim of Bowdlerisation in the non-Japanese Playstation versions as well as the Windows port.
The "WAR Update" gave the Demoman a new weapon called the Eyelander, a haunted claymore that whispers "Heads..." Kills with the Eyelander grant the Demoman a stacking boost to speed and health and an enemy Demoman can take that boost for himself [[karmicDeath if he takes the Demoman's head]]. There can be only one!
The Pyromania Update added the Hitman's Heatmaker as an alternative for the Sniper's Primary Weapon, which decapitates on a successful headshot kill.
In the No More Heroes games Travis Touchdown finishes off Mooks with either a vertical or a horizontal Finishing Move; the horizontal one decapitates them. Some of the bosses get their heads cut off in post-battle cutscenes, as well. Particularly impressive is Skelter Helter's death - his head is chopped off, flies straight up into the air, and lands right back where it had been removed from.
And then in the next cutscene, he talks to you, then rips his own head off. .... What?!
Doing a Perfect Shot in 50 Cent: Bulletproof will result in this. Even with submachine guns.
Invoked in many of the later Samurai Shodown games. One fatality involves the opponent being dragged down to hell in a portal, flayed, and their head thrown back to the battlefield with a satisfying thud.
Some creatures in the Resident Evil series could kill you this way. Eg. Hunters, Ivies (plant monsters), chainsaw-wielding enemies such as Dr. Salvador, Scythe Zealots, Garradors, and the advanced Plagas.
One of the death executions in Manhunt involves chopping the victim's head off with the axe. Another involves garroting with barbed wire, and another, decapitation with hedge clippers.
Blood Omen features Vorador, the most powerful character in the game, dying via decapitation. His head is later seen as a trophy in Soul Reaver 2. In Blood Omen 2, Kain will preform several decapitating stealth kills.
In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim this is possible with the appropriate perks in the One-handed and Two-handed skill trees. And, unfortunately, enemies can do it to you too with a lucky swing. With a high success rate to boot. Beheading is also used twice as a form of execution (at the start of the game, and the first time you visit Solitude).
Eldigan is executed this way in Fire Emblem : Genealogy of the Holy War. In the Oosawa manga adaptation, King Chagall then sends his severed head to Eldigan's friends Sigurd and Quan and his sister Raquesis to taunt them.
Postal 2, the sequel to Postal, allows the player to do this using either thrown knives or a certain silenced pistol.
In the expansion? Vanilla Postal 2 has decapitation by shovel with some interesting options of what to do with the head afterwards. You can also use a shotgun for Your Head Asplode.
One of the more common ways to kill a zombie in the Dead Rising series.
The Aliens Vs Predator games of course feature plenty of decapitations as trophies and/or delicious snacks. Special mention to the Predator Speargun in AVP 2 that removes human heads and pins them to the wall. You can then collect the heads to recover the spear and trophy.
Katanas in Grand Theft Auto games that have them are capable of decapitating, even if the swing animation seems to be a one-handed swat. Hilarity Ensues in San Andreas where there's an Asian gangster on a boat that challenges you to a duel if you then immediately manage to slice his head off with one swing.
Good aim and proper use of the game's physics mechanics and controls allows the player to decapitate enemies in the third-person adventure game Die By The Sword.
This is how Seiko dies in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. Ayumi's sister Hinoe also dies this way after pulling a Big Damn Heroes to save Ayumi and Naomi.
In version 3, the Ao Oni kills Takuro by biting off their head. This also effectively demonstrates to Hiroshi and the others that contrary to their suspicions, the monster is very real.
In some scenes in Brain Dead 13 when Lance's head gets cut off or knocked off or bitten off. Of course, this becomes Pulling Himself Together by his head rejoining itself to his body thanks to the power of resurrection.
Against humanoid enemies this is a possible finishing move with edged weapons in Dragon Age: Origins. It comes spectacularly close to Rasputinian Death if the character has a Dual Wielding build: you run the guy through with one blade, then lop his head off with the other.
This is also how the Warden executes Loghain mac Tir.
Happens fairly regularly in The Witcher when you use Group Style against humanoids. And appropriately so, since said sword art involves lots and lots of high-velocity horizontal slashes.
Raimund's death animation goes like this in RosenkreuzStilette: Upon receiving the final blow, he loses his Grollschwert and Grassense, and his Grassense cuts his head off before they disappear off the screen completely, after which the rest of his body starts exploding after his head disappears off the screen as well.
Diablo III's Demon Hunter can do this to demons with the Bola Shot ability. It was also apparently a common method of execution in Khanduras during the Darkening of Tristram, as evidenced in the Halls of Agony where you come across the decapitated ghost of Queen Asylla, who was executed by guillotine on orders from the maddened King Leoric.
Malthael does this to two of the Horadrim at the start of Reaper of Souls.
Age of Chivalry, later Chivalry Medieval Warfare allows the player to do (and suffer) this with a sufficiently powerful or accurate blow to the head.
Native Mount & Blade does not allow for this, but the easily-found "Dismemberment and Decapitation" mod is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Land a clean hit and watch as your opponent's head flies off with hilarious disregard for physics.
The old 1980s fighting game Barbarian featured a spinning jumping backslash move that if launched with the correct timing and distance to the enemy could instantly decapitate them.
Clive Barker's Undying: The only way to destroy the undead Covenants, and it has to be done with a certain weapon at that. This is also one of only two ways to make a skeleton stay down for good, the other being Revive Kills Zombie.
Miko in The Order of the Stick punched off a goblin's head. It struck the next goblin with enough force to kill it. So that's how unarmed people use the Cleave ability.
Roy decapitating the zombie dragon on which Xykon rides. You could say that he has great cleave-age.
Belkar killing the leader of the "beetle men".
In Goblins, when Big Ears kills Saral Caine, he stabs (!) him in the chest with an axe, then cuts off his head.
Happens to Candi Levens, twice, both times on a block, and with a single ax stroke. (Though the first time was an illusion.) Also happens to all three of her sisters, although Erin was already dead beforehand. Marina meets an identical fate to Candi. Miriam, however, gets the guillotine. Thankfully, all three die only in the epilogue.
In Homestuck, this was how the Black King, the White King, the Draconian Dignitary (by Dave), the Aimless Renegade, and the Hegemonic Brute (twice) were killed.
And now, Dirk pulled this off on himself as part of a brilliant example of the very rare ThanatosSpeedGambit.
Also, three mooks (well technically two mooks, due to time-related shenanigans) were beheaded by Spades Slick in the Midnight Crew intermission. And Hearts Boxcars did it to another mook as well, specifically he ''ate'' the mook's head..
Klay World's characters usually die this way. In the movie, Dr. Brown is killed this way.
Troy McCann, Daniel Brent and Guy Rapide in Survival of the Fittest V3 die by being decapitated. A close range gunshot to the back of the head beheads Uriel Hunter in V1. Hayley Kelly in V4 also seems to love this method, dispatching Steve Barnes and James Mulzet this way.
In Darwins Soldiers, Alfred beheads a Dragonstorm war machine with a sledgehammer.
In the final episode of There Will Be Brawl, Ganondorf infamously meets his end this way thanks to Kirby, who used Meta-Knight's sword to lop his head off after the big reveal on who the murderous butchers (Ness and Lucas) were.
In DSBT InsaniT, Kerry does this to Sand Snake by throwing Shovel at his neck like a boomerang.
SF Debris did a review of the Game of Thrones pilot. This trope was a basis for his in-universe Drinking Game: One shot for every head off and for every naked girl. Well, he ended up totally wasted and started to read his script from a previous show, mumbling about the philosophy in The Matrix.
In Ducktalez 4, Buzzkill was decapitated by a roller coaster cart launched by Huey.
Out of all things, in My Little Pony - the Evil Overlord Tirac keeps threatening his henchman Scorpan that if he won't get all four ponies he needs, Spike's head will roll.
In either homage to the comic book example, the Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gets this treatment after the turtles storm his headquarters he lives, because it's a robot suit.
In Vampire: The Masquerade, a stake through the heart only induces torpor, a deep coma-like sleep. In that condition it's pretty trivial to decapitate the vampire, which is a guaranteed Final Death solution.
Some Western folklore sources recommend staking, beheading and putting garlic in the head's mouth, carving out the heart and burying it at a crossroads, then burning the body.
Medieval martyrologies cite decapitation as a standard method of execution carried out by the Romans towards captured Christians. Examples: Saint John the Evangelist (who was actually beheaded in orders of Herod rather than the Romans themselves), Saint Paul of Tarsus, Saint Agnes of Rome, Saint Philomena, etc.) Supposedly, since Paul actually held Roman citizenship, he couldn't be crucified by the Roman authorities. Beheading was seen as a quick mercy for condemned Romans compared to a slow, painful, degrading death by crucifixion.
Decapitation was the standard method of execution for murder and other capital crimes in Germanic and Scandinavian countries from the Middle Ages to 20th century. Commoners were traditionally beheaded with an axe, noblemen with a sword. Later, a guillotine was preferred.
The last beheading in West Germany occurred 1949, when a convicted robber-murderer Berthold Wehmeyer was executed with guillotine. He was also the last person to be executed in West Germany. The last time a guillotine was used in these countries was in 1961 in East Germany.
Thieves were instead hanged in Scandinavia. It was considered that theft was such a vile crime that the convict not only deserved death, but didn't even deserve a swift end.
The last beheading in Scandinavia happened 1910 when Swedish murderer Johan Ander was guillotined in LŚngholmen prison, Stockholm.
Beheading was de jure execution method in Grand Duchy of Finland until 1917, although the last execution in Finland happened in 1828 [after that, all death sentences were commuted to internal exiles in Siberia]. The method was changed 1917 into firing squad, with Unfortunate Implications.
During the Middle Ages in France and England, decapitation was generally reserved for nobles and royalty who committed major crimes such as treason. The weapon of choice for headsmen varied between nations. While axes were often used in Britain, swords were preferred by their French contemporaries.
Although decapitation was the preferred means of departure for condemned members of the nobility, it could get pretty messy at times. In 1405 the Archbishop of York was executed for rebelling against King Henry IV; the headsman deliberately used five blows to sever the churchman's head to mimic the five wounds of Christ. In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth suffered an even more Nightmare Fuellish fate; the terrified executioner took seven unsuccessful blows to try and remove the head; he had to finish the job with a knife. One account states that at one point the executioner threw down his axe and offered a large sum of money to anyone in the crowd willing to take over the job. Another account says that the watch crowd was so horrified that the headsman had to be escorted out with armed guard as the mob was threatening to beat him to death.
France standardized 1791 beheading as the mandatory means of execution. The execution was to be carried out with a special device, which got the name of guillotine.
Obviously, Henry VIII of England, who had two of his six wives executed in this fashion. His kids did their fair share as well — Edward VI actually had two of his uncles beheaded; Mary I and Elizabeth I both had one of their cousins beheaded for claiming the throne — Lady Jane Grey and Mary, Queen of Scots, respectively. Given it was a major spectacle for the nobility, the fact that it took two or three strikes to get the job done was likely rather embarrassing to the headsman.
A particularly horrific case was that of the 67-year-old Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury; condemned by Henry VIII, who refused to admit any guilt and would not kneel at the headsman's block — one account says that she leapt from the block after the first clumsy blow and ran, pursued by the executioner, being struck eleven times before she died.
The guillotine was proposed for the sole purpose of beheading people as humanely (quickly) as possible. (It was so efficient that spectators were said to be disappointed at the brevity of the show.) Contrary to popular belief, Joseph Guillotin did not invent it (he merely proposed for it to become standard), nor was he a victim of it. The real ironies of the guillotine were (1) Robespierre dying by it (of course) and (2) Louis XVI had a hand in developing the standard design (specifically, it was he who suggested that the blade be angled, so as not to bounce off the neck of the condemned).
During the period of The French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror, as many as 16,594 people were executed by guillotine, such that it soon became the symbol of the Terror in general.
One contributing factor was that executioners who were skilled in decapitating people in a single stroke were generally of the upper class in France at that time. In other words, precisely the kind of people the revolution had been against and who were on the receiving end of executions.
The first guillotined convict was bandit Nicholas-Jean Pelletier in 1792.
Nazi Germany guillotined more people than were beheaded during the French Revolution. Beheading was the usual sentence for felonies rather than political crimes, though certain members of resistance groups, such as Hans and Sophie Scholl of the nonviolent White Rose resistance group, were executed this way. For extra cruelty points, the victims were often executed face-up, such that one was forced to watch the blade descend upon them.
Before 1787 Scotland also used a similar beheading device, called Scottish Maiden, for carrying out executions. Likewise, the town of Halifax had its own head-chopper called Halifax Gibbet or The Gin (short from "engine").
The last guillotining in France happened in 1977 when a Tunisian rapist-murderer Hamida Djandoubi was beheaded. Death penalty was abolished in France in 1981.
For the morbidly curious, the footage found its way into one those atrocious Faces of Death videos and is now available on the internet. It happens so suddenly that nothing can be seen; Vic and the two children are there one moment, the chopper comes down, and in the next moment they've disappeared beneath the wreckage.
Similarly to Vic Morrow, film director Boris Sagal (father of actress KateySagal died via being decapitated by the tail rotor blades of a stunt helicopter.
When the German medieval pirate Klaus StŲrtebeker was to be beheaded, he was granted the wish that those of his men would be pardoned, if he managed to walk past them after being decapitated. And according to the legend, he managed to walk past eleven of them (and may have continued, but the executioner tripped him).
The ritual suicide of the samurai known as seppuku was traditionally concluded by the samurai's second, or kaishakunin, chopping off the samurai's head to finish him off after the initial self-disembowelment. This was so their suffering would be brief, and such prevent the shame of showing pain.
Beheading prisoners with a Katana was a common war crime for the Empire of Japan during World War II. Just look at what happened to Leonard Siffleet.
Averted in the second Japanese offensive of the Imjin War, when the Emperor demanded that proof be sent back to Japan of the numbers killed, but as heads were too bulky, he had the noses sent back instead.
In the 1974 US Grand Prix, Austrian Helmuth Koinigg crashed into an armco barrier. The lower beam wasn't properly secured and buckled as the vehicle struck it. The car passed underneath the top portion... which was very firmly bolted on. Yikes.
Another Formula One death happened this way. Tom Pryce struck a track marshal who had foolishly run onto the race course to extinguish a minor fire on the other side of the track. Pryce hit the man at full racing speed, the impact ripping him in two. The fire extinguisher the marshal had been carrying entered the cockpit of Pryce's car and struck his helmet, ripping it up and out of the car. The helmet's strap partially decapitated Pryce and his now driverless car careened down the track before hitting another car and coming to a stop. There is footage of the incident on YouTube and various other video sites.
Although the stories about decapitated bodies walking on their own may be the stuff of legend, during the guillotine era it was scientifically confirmed that the heads can retain consciousness for several minutes after being removed, as a doctor reportedly was able to communicate with a removed head for several minutes, with the soon-to-be-dead man's eyes actually focusing on him. This was featured in 1000 Ways to Die's case "Miss-ur Head" (its alternative title being exactly the same as this trope)
Subverted by Real Life cases of "internal decapitation", in which the neck is yanked or struck with sufficient force to detach the vertebrae from the skull. So long as the blood vessels and trachea remain intact, survival is still possible, and if the spinal cord isn't broken the victim might eventually achieve a complete recovery.
Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was fond of this.
In a lot of insects, this is a standard means of killing a prey item, opponent or in the case of mantises, a mate. Incidentally, a lot of insects can still function without them. A cockroach, for instance can survive without its head for as long as it takes for it to ultimately starve to death, which can be weeks. Meanwhile, ants and termites can not only still function without their heads, the separated heads will continue to attempt to bite at whatever cut their heads off. Overall, being a bug is a pretty gruesome experience.
For this reason, some species of ant have been used as emergency sutures, by getting the ant to bite the wound and then breaking its head off.
Famously, this didn't completely work for Mike the Headless Chicken. On September 10, 1945, Mike was taken to the chopping block in preparation for killing and butchering... and, thanks to a botched axe swing, didn't die after his head was severed. He kept on walking around headless, as if nothing had happened, for a year and a half, and presumably would have lived longer if he hadn't suddenly choked to death on something.
During the Ming dynasty, army commanders were rewarded for victories based on the number of enemy heads they'd collected. Unfortunately the military was rife with incompetence and corruption, so often local peasants would be decapitated instead and the heads presented as proof of nonexistent victories. Mongol raiders would sometimes play along by driving the local peasantry ahead of them — once the Chinese had gathered enough heads for a 'victory', they'd withdraw and let the Mongols get on with their Rape Pillage and Burning.
Korean naval hero Admiral Yi Sun Shin was opposed to this, as he believed his sailors should concentrate on killing enemy soldiers who were still alive instead of collecting dead ones. However as heads were regarded as proof of a warrior's bravery, he made sure to let his men know that he would note who was brave and mention their names in his despatches to the king.