So you've got a character who's dying. He's had a good run, and now that he's being let go you want a way to give him that one, perfect send-off that will cement him in the viewers' minds for the rest of the series to come. Not just a few words will do, but something defining to his character that can only be done by his character.
What would be more fitting that to have him do the habit he's been doing all series long, but give this one the most flair? Usually the object in question will be just out of reach, leaving a nearby comrade to hand them the item of importance as a dramatic good bye. If no such comrade is nearby, it's Bittersweet Ending. If he's not mortally wounded and can still stand, there'll probably be a One Liner involved or even a smile.
The object itself can manifest as many things: a book he was always reading ("Hmm, last page..."), a picture of a loved one ("At least I got to see your face..."), or some kind of music player with a simple tune to encourage the mood of the scene ("I always hated this song...").
Most often though, it's a cigarette, because Smoking Is Cool. This comes with the bonus of being able to see the character's final breath, and the added symbolism of the cigarette dying out. A character who has previously quit smoking may take this opportunity to smoke his Last Unsmoked Cigarette.
Clever heroes will often use this as a diversion by taking advantage of the villain's vain pity to escape certain doom. Naturally, this is listed on item 14 of The Evil Overlord List.
Under most cases, the character must be Killed Off for Real for the trope to be played straight. Examples involving the character's survival are a subversion. Compare with the much more time-friendly The Last Dance. See also Last Request.
As a Death Trope, SPOILERS AHOY!
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Anime and Manga
Kato Yue does this in the Angel Sanctuary manga. He stands at heaven's gate to complete one of the many Heroic Sacrifices of the series, but not before he lights up one last time.
Sanji of One Piece when he was defeated by Ghin. But it was actually a deliberate subversion, because he spat the glowing cigarette back into Ghin's face to distract him and evaded his final blow, continuing the fight.
Occurs in the Trigun anime, Wolfwood prepares one last cigarette as he's dying, inhales once, and then drops it when he remembers Milly playfully scolding him for smoking.
Subverted in Darker Than Black as he's dying following a Heroic Sacrifice, November 11 lights up as per his usual Power at a Price. However, given that he hates smoking, he decides that he can forgo this just once and throws the cigarette away, and it is put out by his blood.
Also subverted with Huang who is convinced to stop smoking and take care of his health shortly before he dies. It's unclear whether or not Hei knew he was dying at the time he gave this advice.
Arguement could be made that Saito from Rurouni Kenshin does this (or rather, subverts it by not dying) right before his apparent death. at the end of the Juppongatana Arc.
Shogo Kawada asks Noriko to light him one last cigarette as he lies dying in Battle Royale
In Death Note, Matt did this. It was exceedingly tragic. It was a subversion though: he had no idea he was going to die and just happened to have a cigarette in his mouth. Although it's a wonder he could keep a cigarette in his mouth while being gunned down.
In Wolf's Rain Hubb tries to smoke a cigar as he's dying. It's meaningful because his ex-wife Cher, who had just fallen in love with him again, had always wanted him to be "manlier".
In Hellsing, Walter is already smoking while the room around him burns down. He knows he's failed to do the only thing he really wanted to do, he knows he's done for and he accepts it. Just before the flames engulf him, he smiles, says goodbye to Integra and flicks his last cigarette into the fire.
In Attack on Titan, one Survey corps member is exhausted, badly wounded, and no longer has any weapons or gasoline to power his gear, and he's surrounded by Titans. He spots a bottle of wine he planned to drink later and is delighted to be able to have one last drink. He has a breakdown when he finds out the bottle is empty (because the wine was used to clean someone's wound earlier) and demands to know who drank it all while a Titan grabs him.
In The Books of Magic, while visiting the future in which the boy lead has become the Antichrist, the characters encounter a dying John Constantine fallen in battle, and he gets the kid to light him a last cigarette. Does not turn a hair at the arch-enemy appearing as the kid he was back when they first met, just provides exposition, smokes, and has an Obi-Wan Moment.
Parodied in one Sturmtruppen strip: cigarettes aren't avaible because the Colonnel is trying to stop smoking, so he has to chew bubblegum instead.
After betraying the Evronian Empire,scientist Ghortan crashes on Earth and is found by Paperinik.However,he has lost his tank which contains the emotional energy his species use as nourishment.Knowing he has little time left,he made a last request:
One Jewish folktale involves a kabaalist who had captured Satan and had him in chains. The devil asked for some snuff, and the hero took pity on him and agreed. The devil proceded to light the snuff on fire and use it to break his chains. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
In Fantômas se déchaîne, commissioner Juve managed to kill three guards and escape by asking for one last cigar, and offering some to two of said guards: Those cigars hid single-shot guns...
In Independence Day before Hiller (Will Smith) and Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) blow up the Alien mothership, they both smoke cigars because they think they're going to die anyways.
Defied at the end of Lethal Weapon 2: Riggs is shot up pretty badly and asks Murtaugh to get his cigarettes out of his pocket then tells him to throw them away. Those things'll kill ya.
Shorty: Cindy... I think they got me in the lungs... you wanna hit this shit? (dies)
Gallipoli has some prime examples of this where soldiers who are about to be ordered into an attack on the Turks, light and hand out cigarettes to their mates, probably to calm their nerves before a fight. This is especially seen towards the end of Gallipoli where the ANZACs are about to charge over their trenches to the Turkish trenches with nothing but a bayonet and no bullets, supposedly so that they can stab the Turks to death when they get there. This doesn't (and I repeat doesn't) go All According to Plan. In fact, the only successful thing about the whole Gallipoli campaign is the evacuation. Nobody died.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Blondie a.k.a. the Good gives some dying young soldier a drag from his cigar. It is not some special request, though; merely something nice you can easily do for a dying person you do not know personally.
This used in The Core, with the guy who'd been taping his observations the whole time. He started to smoke and use the recorder, then realized that nobody was ever going to get the recorder (duh), laughed and threw it away. He died cool.
When Two-Face falls to his death in Batman Forever, he still holds out his hand for his silver dollar to fall into.
In Heathers, J.D. lights up right before he goes boom.
The Usual Suspectsstarts with a heavily wounded Dean Keaton approached by Keyser Soze, who, despite being a monster, patiently waits for Keaton to enjoy his last drags before shooting him dead.
The recent BBC remake of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps played with this: The hero looks like he's about to get shot, and asks if he can have a smoke. The German spies holding him captive say no. He then eyes up the cigarette smoking in the ashtray, looking like he's going to do something with it. He doesn't.
Blofeld: The firing power inside my crater is enough to annihilate a small army. You can watch it all on TV. It's the last program you're likely to see.
Bond: Well, if I'm gonna be forced to watch television, may I smoke?
Blofeld: Yes. Give him his cigarettes. It won't be the nicotine that kills you, Mr. Bond.
Of course, the cigarettes are Tanaka gadgets containing a small rocket Bond uses to take out his guards and save the day.
In the comedy Casino Royale (1967) Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond has a last cigarette in front of a Latin American firing squad ("I'm gonna give it up any day now") - it's an impact bomb he throws at the squad. He climbs the wall laughing in triumph - and lands on the other side...in front of another firing squad.
In From Russia with Love Bond, at gunpoint and about to be shot by Red Grant, asks for a last cigarette, offering to pay for it - to get Grant to open up his booby-trapped attache case
The Crow — Officer Albrecht is badly wounded, and Eric helps him light a cigarette, repeating the same line ("Those things'll kill you") he said when he first saw Albrecht smoke. Subverted—it's a near thing, but Albrecht survives.
Zigzagged in a very complicated way in the 1998 film Fallen. The main character, played by Denzel Washington, is cornered in a remote cabin by the villain, a body-hopping demon possessing the body of his best friend. Denzel shoots him and in the process dooms himself, since as soon as the guy dies the demon will be free to possess the protagonist himself. Denzel takes a last smoke as the villain dies in front of him... only to reveal that he has poisoned the cigarettes, leaving the demon nowhere to run since there are no other humans close enough for him to possess. Death by One Last Smoke! Except the villain gets away and the hero doesn't. So it really was his last smoke.
Constantine played with the trope by having John try for a smoke after his death, but being unable to light the cigarette because he'd hit the tendons while slitting his wrists.
John: Coffin nail.
Lucifer: Very fitting, John.
Played straight in a surprisingly touching moment at the end of Shaun of the Dead, when Shaun leaves Ed to be eaten by zombies, placing a cigarette in his mouth and lighting it for him. Played with a moment later with a fart joke.
Appears in The Mask, of all movies. And it's done between the Big Bad and one of his henchmen.
"There's a special rung in hell for those who waste good scotch."
Used as a delaying tactic in a short from The Three Stooges. The boys are granted one last smoke, whereupon Curly pulls out a cigar the size of a horse's leg. (The firing squad falls asleep before the stogie can be finished.)
Parodied in Ernest Goes To Jail. As he's about to be executed, Ernest is offered a blindfold or cigarette.
"No, I'm afraid of the dark, and cigarettes will kill 'ya."
In The Naked Jungle, two workers are given cigars before their "hanging." After they receive a last-minute reprieve, they are seen happily puffing away.
The (in)famous Sicilian Scene in True Romance; when Dennis Hopper's character realizes that the only way to avoid torture (followed by a possible disclosure of his son's location) was to provoke the consigkiere into killing him on the spot, he finally asks for a cigarette (even though initially he refused when he was offered one)
Subverted in The Shawshank Redemption when Tommy (unknowingly) accepts his last cigarette from Norton. It is the stubbing out of Norton's cigarette (rather than Tommy's) that is symbolic, as this is his signal for the sniper to shoot Tommy.
In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mitty is leaning against a wall smoking a cigarette, then enters a Dream Sequence where a firing squad is ready to execute him.
In Discworld, executions have been referred to as something along the lines of "a short cigarette in the sunlight". They give you a nice white wall to stand up against, too.
The scene in Matthew Reilly's Ice Station where the British soldiers are about to kill Schofield by lowering him headfirst into a pool of killer whales. The commander gives him a last request- "A blindfold? Cigarette? Shot of brandy?" and Schofield makes a last minute plan, opts for the cigarette, and uses it to set fire to the detonator cord entwined in his handcuffs, and then he escapes, kills them all and becomes a legend for killing all the bad guys and blowing everything up, classic Scarecrow style.
Averted in a Ukrainian short story about a cossack being tried by the Poles. As he is facing the gallows, the judge offers him a last request. However, instead of a smoke, the man asks that he be allowed to dance a hopak (cossack dance). Everybody is confused and begs him to opt for a smoke instead. Turns out, it's a trick. As he is finishing his dance with a big jump, the boards that have been cut the night before give way, and he falls into a freshly-dug tunnel, his escape having been planned by the fellow cossacks.
The villain Falcon (the image of Chief O'Brien) grants agent Komoninoff (Kira) and Bashir one last kiss before he shoots them. Bashir proceeds to remove her earring while they kiss and tosses it to the floor to make it explode, distracting Falcon and his minions long enough to knock them out and escape.
Bashir and Garak are strapped to a giant laser. Bashir's last request is for Dr. Honey Bare (Jadzia Dax's body) to let her hair down. The holodeck has turned her into a mousy scientist, so she's very shy, but she does it. This is enough seduction for her to slip him the key. Quoth Garak: "Kiss the girl; get the key. They never taught me that in the Obsidian Order."
On Highlander: The Series, when Hugh Fitzcairn is captured by The Hunters, he asks if he gets a last request prior to his beheading. When the lead Hunter gruffly demands to know what it is, Hugh asks for "a last smoke of my pipe." The Hunter considers it for a moment before denying him, though this buys Duncan the last few moments he needs to get to the scene and rescue his friend.
On The A-Team, Face was about to be put in front of a firing squad by the bad guys. He asked for a last cigarette, which they oblige. Hannibal and the others manage to puncture a hole in a nearby gas tank, Face spits out the cigarette, igniting the gas and beginning the team's breakout.
Appears on Battlestar Galactica at the end of the Mutiny arc. After the mutiny fails, Felix Gaeta is seen smoking a cigar and having a friendly conversation with Gaius Baltar, talking about the aspirations he had while growing up. In the next shot, he is facing a firing squad.
Spoofed in an early episode of Friends, in which Joey is preparing for an audition in which the character practices this trope; he coughs after one smoke, and Chandler shows him the ropes, leading to a relapse in his addiction.
Scrubs has the terminal patient of the week asking for one last beer. He originally wanted a last smoke, but was turned down. Chuckling, he asked what the doctors thought would happen. JD commented that it could ignite the nearby oxygen tank, resulting in a huge explosion.
Hardison claims that this trope is required by the Geneva Convention for all captured combatants about to be executed. Eliot plays along and points out that, if they're really to be treated as combatants, than the militia has to let them smoke.
Beautifully and wordlessly evoked in the episode of Mad Men where Pete follows through on his threat to tell Bert Cooper what he knows about Don's past (that he deserted the army during the Korean War by switching dog tags with the real, dead Don Draper). As Cooper slowly gets up from his desk and walks around to where Pete and Don are standing, Don, expecting the worst at this point, faces straight ahead and lights a cigarette while waiting for the proverbial axe to fall. It falls on Pete.
Max:(takes out ridiculously-long cigarette) It might take a while.
A different take on this trope occurs in the 1988 sci-fi mini-series Something Is Out There. Jack Breslin finds his police partner dying, but the partner wants Jack to light up instead, as Jack's girlfriend has been harping on about him quitting. Double subverted when the dying partner then says "Now throw those things away before they kill you."
Inverted in Band of Brothers, Captain Speirs gives a bunch of German prisoners one last cigarette before he (supposedly) kills them all. Speirs giving them cigarettes is shown, but he is not shown killing them. It's possible someone else did that. The other soldiers don't seem to care that he killed prisoners, but are rattled that he gave them all cigarettes first, as it makes his action seem particularly cold-blooded.
Apparently aware of the rumors of this circulating Easy company, Spiers occasionally amuses himself by offering the other soldiers cigarettes. They understandably react with terror.
Subverted along with Famous Last Words in The Cape: The Obi-Wan, having been shot saving The Cape's life, talks about how he's cold, and how he always hoped he'd have something profound to say... but that all he can think of is that he really wants a drink... then he realizes he's not as mortally wounded as he thought, and shrugs it off.
Public Service Announcement
Yleisradio, the Finnish public radio company, aired an anti-tobacco PSA where a man was about to be executed by a firing squad. The commander of the squad proceeds to offer a cigarette to the condemned, who turns it down, having quit smoking last week.
Both subverted, double subverted and played straight in Metal Gear Solid 4: Snake is about to kill himself, so he has a last smoke, however, it then turns out that he doesn't need to. However, he quits smoking afterwards, so it was technically still his last. Played straight with Big Boss during the ending, however.
"No, thanks. Those things'll kill ya." -Snake, after 3 games of dodging bullets, tanks, and super-villains.
Played completely straight in Metal Gear Solid, however: When Sniper Wolf lies dying in the snow after the second fight with her, she asks Otacon to hand her her sniper rifle, and she dies holding it against her chest.
Subverted in two ways in the flash game Armed With Wings 2. After his defeat, Smoking Martillo requests to finish his final cigarette, and is consequently executed by the main character. Probably a wise decision, considering he fights with smoke from his cigarettes. He is later resurrected, along with the other generals you killed.
As seen in the page image, the Left 4 Dead comic "The Sacrifice" has Bill do this just as he's about to be attacked by three tanks.Word of God says that he killed all three tanks before dying
In Assassin's Creed III, Charles Lee is badly wounded by Connor and stumbles his way into a tavern. Connor, also wounded, follows him inside and finds him having one last drink. Connor wordlessly joins Charles and lets him finish his drink and accepts a swig after Charles passes the bottle to him, right before finishing him off.
From Duckman, Cornfed pulls this one in "A Civil War" after he's cornered by the mastermind in the episode's insurance-fraud plot. It doubles as a Brick Joke since earlier in the episode, he displayed enough skill with origami to turn a matchbook into a miniature medieval castle: this time he turned it into a pair of nun-chucks.
"You win, Heiny. One last smoke?"
[handing over the matches]"You know, smoking can be deadly."
In Incredible Victory, Walter Lord tells of some Japanese Officers who actually did this at the Battle of Midway. Some survived.
During World War II, Kamikaze pilots drank sake before a mission.
They were not the only ones: Reds with Rockets had an official regulation to give each soldier a 100 ml glass of vodka before each attack. When you think back about the Soviet casualties during the Second World War...
More to the point, as Iron Man has put it: who in their right mind would climb into one of those things sober?
Benjamin Guggenheim and his valet were last seen smoking cigars and drinking brandy as the Titanic sank.