Please Shoot the Messenger
Wilt thou know
The effect of what I wrote?…
That, on the view and knowing of these contents,
Without debatement further, more or less,
He should the bearers put to sudden death,
Not shriving-time allow'd.
The plucky, eager young Bob has been ordered to deliver a message to Alice. Bob, desperately wanting to please his superiors, runs along as fast as he can and hands over the envelope before the wax has dried. He watches, nervously, as Alice reads it and... wait, why is she pointing a gun at him?
What do you mean, the message told her to?!
This trope is when a character sends another - usually an Unwitting Pawn
- to deliver a message containing the single instruction to harm the person delivering the message. While the instructions are usually fatal, that is not a requirement for the trope. This method of disposing of the Unwitting Pawn
is usually a Kick the Dog
moment for the person sending the message.
Sometimes the message refers to the messenger, but not by name. This message often gets handed to a different messenger for delivery. Alternately, the messenger of another person intercepts and modifies the message.
Not to be confused with Shoot the Messenger
. It's related, however, to Shoot the Dangerous Minion
. For a (potentially) somewhat more subtle method of achieving the same end, see Uriah Gambit
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- This is how John Looney betrays Michael O'Sullivan in Road to Perdition. The message in question read "Kill O'Sullivan, and all is forgiven." Michael being Michael, however, the people that he sends this message to don't succeed in offing him. John Looney's son Connor, on the other hand, is a lot more successful in his part of the betrayal.
- One of the Mouse Guard books had a story where this happened to one of the protagonists, as a ruse by the king of his own land in order to get the guy's wife while at the same time ending a war that the two kings had been engaged in. The dude actually lives through the attack and is able to return, and his wife ends up killing the king.
- In "Vasilii the Unlucky", the rich merchant tries to avert his daughter's marriage to a poor man's son by many means, including having the son carry a letter to his wife with instructions to kill him. The three men who predicted that they would marry changed the letter to direct her to marry him to their daughter.
- In Joseph Jacobs' "The Son of Seven Queens", the son was given such a message by the wicked woman who had stolen the queens' eyes and usurped their place, but he altered it to say that her mother should give him his mothers' eyes.
- Happens via tampering in The Girl Without Hands. The message that she be well treated is turned to one that she be executed.
- In Kangaroo Jack: They're delivering the payment for their murder, rather than the contract.
- The opening of Return of the Jedi doesn't quite match this to the letter, but the idea is the same: R2D2 and C3P0 are sent to Jabba's palace with a message that they are being traded to Jabba, much to the surprise of C3P0 (but not R2). This is subverted when it turns out to be all part of their plan to rescue Han.
- The Fourth Protocol is about a Soviet plot to detonate a nuclear device on British soil and Make It Look Like an Accident. As such an act violates a secret protocol between the nuclear powers, various people get bumped off because They Know Too Much. A female military scientist is sent to assemble the bomb that the KGB agent played by Pierce Brosnan will detonate. She delivers a message which Brosnan decodes using a one-time pad, then he burns the message claiming that it just confirms her instructions re setting off the bomb. She ends up sleeping with him, and the morning after rolls over in bed and sees the imprint on the notepad: KILL HER. Brosnan immediately shoves a pillow against her chest and fires his gun through it, killing her as she's about to blurt out that the bomb's timer has been set to kill him the moment he activates it.
- Road to Perdition combines this with a Uriah Gambit. When Sullivan goes out on his debt collecting rounds for Mr. Rooney, he is given a special note from him actually from Rooney's son for the first debtor he visits - an offer to forgive the debt if the debtor kills Sullivan.
- The Transporter makes a living delivering packages no-questions-asked, so after he's done an assignment for them the villains give him a suitcase with a bomb in it to be delivered somewhere else. Fortunately he stops for a soda so the bomb explodes while he's out of the car.
- Dr. Bledsoe pulls a non-fatal version on the Narrator in Invisible Man with a supposed letter of recommendation that actually says something along the lines of "Do not hire this man under any circumstances."
- Vagabonds of Gor: Tarl risks life and limb to deliver a message from the regent in Ar to the commander of Ar's Station, but when he gets there, he learns that the message is, "This man is a spy. Kill him." The message wasn't from the regent but from another traitorous faction within Ar's government.
- In The Wheel of Time series, Mat carries one of these at one point. Being less than completely honorable, he decides to read it before he delivers it.
- Bayle Domon, too. He is Genre Savvy enough to read it before delivering it, and makes the entirely sensible decision to flee far, far away.
- I, Claudius has a downplayed version which doubles up as a Snipe Hunt: Caligula punishes someone who's annoyed him by sending him with a letter to the King of Morocco. The letter says, "Kindly send bearer back to Rome."
- In Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!), he suggests improving the track-and-field Olympic events in various ways, one of which is to give each runner a sealed envelope the winner is supposed to deliver. The envelopes contain a kill order for the winner. Everyone knows this but the runners.
- A variation in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact. Junior Commissar Ludd is given such a letter by his superior officer, with the caveat that he's only to deliver it (and thus be shot) if he feels he needs help earning the respect of the Ghosts, thereby failing in his role as morale officer.
- In The Destroyer series, if it ever becomes necessary to disband CURE via Killed to Uphold the Masquerade, Smith will commit suicide after sending Remo to deliver a Please Shoot the Messenger message to Chiun.
- In Blood Games by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (part of her Saint-Germain series), Justus sends his slave Monostades who has been helping him with a note instructing the recipient to seize the slave, geld him, cut out his tongue, and send him to hard labor. He learns to write (and testify) in the labor gang.
- Mack Bolan pulls a nasty version of this when he kills a Black Ace (an elite Professional Killer, answerable only to The Mafia Commission) dresses the body in his blacksuit and gives it to the idiot son of a Mafia boss to take to New York. When the Don finds out, he has a Villainous Breakdown at the thought of what will happen to his son for this cock-up.
- Done in Rome to the assassin of Pompey.
- In "The Luck Child," an episode of The Storyteller, an evil king finds a young man who's been prophesied to be king after him. He offers him a position at court and sends him to the castle with a letter instructing the Queen to have the boy cut into a thousand pieces. The letter doesn't make it into the Queen's hands, thanks to the intervention of a helpful forger who replaces it with instructions to have the bearer marry the princess instead.
- In the flash-sideways reality of LOST, Jin and Sun travel to the United States to deliver a large sum of cash to a business associate of Sun's father. The associate, Keamy, reveals that the money is Keamy's fee for killing Jin.
Mythology and Religion
- One Beetle Bailey strip had Sarge, tired of Beetle's antics, tell Beetle to deliver a letter to General Halftrack. Lt. Fuzz intercepted Beetle, declaring that if anyone was to deliver a message to the general, it should be him. The message? "Throw this idiot in the brig!"
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the unfortunate messengers in Hamlet. Notably, they actually did know what the letter was before Hamlet changed its contents from "Kill Hamlet" to "Kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern."
- Mortimer pulls this on hired assassin Lightborn in Marlowe's Edward II, sending him to kill the deposed King Edward with a note to Edward's jailers to kill Lightborn himself once the deed is done.
- In Drakensang II in order to win the trust of Captain Soorman you must deliver such a letter to one of his men.
- In Hitman: Blood Money, the agency has some sort of code that instructs their agents to kill postmen who bring them a letter marked with it.
- Can happen to you in Fallout 2: if you don't agree with Moore's views (even though he's right) about Vault City being a bunch of selfish assholes or pressure him to give you more payment for delivering his briefcase to Bishop, he will put a notice into the briefcase that prompts Bishop to set his thugs after you. In fact, there's no way to tell whether the briefcase carries the notice or not since the game notes it's sealed up real good so that you can't open it.
- Downplayed in Wizard 101: After giving you a menial task for failure, Professor Cyrus Drake sends you with a letter to the headmaster. The headmaster reads it and exclaims that he will not expel you, no matter what Cyrus thinks of you.
- A subversion in World of Warcraft : Wrath of The Lich King. You are instructed (by an Ebon Blade officer) to read the message aloud in front of a Vrykul warlord. The message itself is an order to submit and ceasing allegiance to the Lich King with surrender or die threat attached. At the end of the message, it is said that the messenger will also be the deliverer of said threat should he refused to submit (which he definitely won't).
- Dishonored has a variation: That message you're giving to Lord Shaw doesn't call for your death, per se, it just goads him into a duel. You are Pendleton's second. Pendleton is not present.
- Caliph Al-Akim is said to have toyed with this by dropping random missives for people to find and deliver, containing either an order to kill the bearer or an order to give them gold if delivered unopened.
- A nonlethal variant happened to Alfred Hitchcock. When he was a little boy, his father gave him a letter and sent him to a police station. The letter contained a request to throw little Alfred into a cell for a night. Since then, Hitchcock, generally a brave man, feared police.
- The Spartan general Pausanias who was conspiring with the Persian king communicated via letters with instructions to kill the messenger. This backfired when when one of them opened the letter and alerted the ephors.
- Played with by the infamously cruel Emperor Caligula, who once ordered a wealthy Roman to carry a letter to Ptolemy, king of Mauretania. The letter asked him to "Do neither good nor ill to the man I have sent."
- Played with in a popular urban legend. A young woman agrees to deliver a message for a blind stranger, but, finding the circumstances suspicious, takes the note to the police instead. They find a horrific setting selling human flesh. The note reads "this is the last one I am sending you today"