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In fiction (and in Real Life
) during a great war there's a certain strategic loss that is very significant to the point of being demoralizing, shocking, and Iconic in universe. One faction might be fighting a intergalactic war with Scary Dogmatic Aliens
, But there's one place in the galaxy that has no chance in hell of falling at the hands of the enemy. Perhaps it's a planet that's fortified by surrounding Kill Sat
, a squadron of Sun Crushers
and an armada of Titan-class motherships
, guarded by battalions of Voltrons
and other Combining Mecha
, SDF fleets and Valkyries
But in the end, said planet falls, sending a chilling wave down the spines of The Federation
. Sometimes it could be a turning point in the war, but not always. A faction can suffer these defeats and not necessarily be defeated. But it's still a crippling loss that'll at least slow them down significantly. Sometimes these defeats are due to surprise attacks
. Could end up as a Pyrrhic Victory
for the attackers. Sometimes it's described as a Noodle Incident
in some stories. This is usually The Worf Effect
, but for battles/wars (or even sports) instead of individuals. Usually to show how high the stakes is.
Usually overlaps with Hopeless War
, Remember The Alamo
, and Last Stand
For the victors it could overlap with Pyrrhic Victory
, and Was It Really Worth It?
Anime and Manga
- The Rebel Alliance from Star Wars blowing up not only the first Death Star, but the second one as well.
- The destruction of Vulcan in the 2009 Star Trek. Not only was a massive loss for the Federation, but a signal to the fans that this was not going back to the status quo.
- The Battle Of Yonkers. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at the enemy and still lost. Though that was actually a detriment in the end, as all their gear and defenses and tactics were based on fighting an enemy that obeyed no human nor life norms (no pain, no fear, no stopping...)
- The Fall of Coruscant to the Yuzzhan Vong in the New Jedi Order series. Under the incredulous eyes of many of the surviving characters, the lights of The City That Never Sleeps go out for the first time in several thousand years.
- The Dropsite Massacre of Isstvan V from the Horus Heresy. Four noble space marine legions had suddenly turned traitor and fortified themselves on said planet (after burning Isstvan III and purging their own ranks of traitors), an overwhelming seven legions were sent to crush the rebellion before it could spread. Instead, four of those legions turned traitor too, and all of them caught the remaining three loyalist legions in a crossfire that saw hundreds of thousands dead. It went From Bad to Worse from there...
- The Silmarillion: The Battle Of Unnumbered Tears. It begins as a noble effort of the Elves, Men, and Dwarves to finish Morgoth once and for all. It's the first coalition of all the races together to fight Morgoth, and the greatest army seen so far in the world outside of the gods. It gets crushed so badly and so many people die that Morgoth literally makes a hill out of the corpses. The worst part is that they never had a chance. And things get so much worse from there.
- In the Honorverse these were the Battle of Manticore for Haven and Grendelsbane disaster during the opening stages of the Second Havenite War and later the Operation Oyster Bay (though Manticorans didn't knew its official name) for Manticore, though both nations recovered from these pretty damn quickly, and with the vengeance.
- The Battle of Wolf 359 from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine provides a few:
- The Dominion attacking and destroying New Bajor, and shortly after the Galaxy-class USS Odyssey. The writers invoked this trope to emphasize the Dominion threat - A starship the same class as the Enterprise stood no chance against this foe.
- The loss of Betazed in the Deep Space Nine series to the Dominion.
- The Breen attack on San Francisco. Not as damaging as some of the others on this list, but shocking in that they were able to stab at the heart of The Federation.
- The Battle of Serenity Valley in Firefly, which was apparently the battle that lost the war for the Independents and sent Malcolm Reynolds over the Despair Event Horizon.
- In Doctor Who, much of the Last Great Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks has only been explained through dialogue by the Doctor himself. However, we do have a definite shocking defeat that was said on the show: the Fall of the Cruciform, which was so shocking that it made the Master himself flee to the end of the universe.
- There was another one. The Doctor himself mentions that he was at the Fall of Arcadia, and that he might be able to come to terms with it someday.
- In the finale of Power Rangers Turbo, the planet Eltar falls, stripping the Rangers of their powers, forcing them into space to try and rescue their old mentor Zordon.
- In World of Warcraft there are numerous examples of this, as well as a couple of subversions, but given the name of the game, that's hardly surprising. There is the War Of The Ancients which led to the destruction of the Kaldorei kingdom and the world splitting apart. Then the Orcs almost complete annihilation of the Draenei on Draenor. After which, said orcs go on to invade the world of Azeroth and sack the human city of Stormwind. Later, they go on to enslave the Red Dragon Flight, with which, they almost reduce Quel'Thalas to burning ash. Later, Prince/Death Knight Arthas ends up killing every man, woman, and child in Stratholme. After that, he kills his father, several paladins, including another father figure, Uther, then sacks Quel'Thalas and Silvermoon City to use the Sunwell, which he then blows up. Oh yeah, at the end of that campaign, Archimonde comes around to completely demolish Dalaran. The Kaldorei lose their beloved demigod, Cenarius, in a battle with Grom Hellscream. Finally, the Kaldorei give up their immortality by blowing up the World Tree to kill Archimonde. Did I mention there were a lot of examples in this?
- HOWEVER the killing of Archimonde, the whatever happened to Sargeras and Azeroth's ability to merely RESIST the Burning Legion are all pretty big. And implied to be bigger than anyone knows. Given this entails two cosmic horror like beings killed in a setting every (sane) person knows to be a cosmic horror story its kinda big.
- Wrath of the Lich King introduced the battle of Wrathgate, where a united Horde and Alliance force was destroyed by treasonous members of the Forsaken. This set back the offensive aginast the Lich King by years and renewed the waning war between the two factions.
- Mists of Pandaria begins with Garrosh Hellscream destroying Theramore, home to the peace-seeking Jaina Proudmoore. The leader of the neutral Kirin Tor is killed and Jaina nearly destroys Orgrimmar in return. Following these events, Jaina assumes leadership of the Kirin Tor with a decidedly anti-Garrosh mindset.
- The Fall Of Reach in the Halo universe. Which is the equivalent of America's CENTCOM, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Fort Bragg, and Norad being taken out all at once. And that's not counting the civilian casualties.
- The Covenant get one of their own by losing a whole armada of about five hundred ships thanks to Bad Ass Admiral Cole.
- 90% of the Fleet of Particular Justice was lost during the Fall of Reach. The remainder was annihilated during the destruction of Installation 04. The loss was so spectacular the Prophets laid the blame on Fleetmaster Thel'Vadamee and declared him Arbiter. One of the few times BOTH sides in the conflict had a chain of shocking defeats... at the same battles.
- When Flood overrun the Covenant capital High Charity it signals a massive loss for the Loyalists and the gradual turning of the tides.
- Deus Ex: the (French!) terrorist group blows up the Statue of Liberty!
- Mass Effect has Shanxi, a human colony that was blockaded and sieged by the Turians during the First Contact War until it was forced to surrender. The DLC Bring Down the Sky features a devastating Colony Drop that heralds the return of the Batarians into galactic politics. Averted thanks to Shepard, though.
- EVE Online has the battle of Vak-Atioth, a Curb-Stomp Battle between the Jove and Amarr Empires, which sent the latter reeling into Vestigial Empire status. Later on, the Amarr reversed their fortune in the Battle of Mekhios, where they wiped out an entire Minmatar fleet and send the remnants of their forces packing.
- Dragon Age: Origins has the Battle of Ostagar, in which the Player Character participates. Much of the Fereldan army, and all of the Grey Wardens but the Player Character and The Lancer Alistair, are killed after Teyrn Loghain's forces, The Cavalry, abandon the battlefield.
- Avatar The Last Airbender had Iroh's siege.
- Not the best example, since the siege failed but didn't even slow the Fire Nation's progress. More appropriate examples would be the conquest of Omashu and Azula's coup in Ba Sing Se during the second season: the latter was particularly significant as Ba Sing Se was the last free city in the Earth Kingdom.
- However, considering the effect it had on the line of succession in Fire Nation's monarchy, it was an important defeat nonetheless. The city of Ba Sing Se was sieged relentless off and on for a hundred years, but Iroh's siege is the only notable attempt to capture Ba Sing Se due to it being a turning point in the history of the Fire Nation, and as a result, the 100 Year War. Iroh's loss in favor gave Ozai an opportunity to make a claim on the throne, which was successful, and as a result of Ozai's leadership, the Fire Nation came dangerously close to winning once and for all. Shocking Defeat Legacy is not a killing blow or major surprise attack, but instead a defeat that no one saw coming and one that has major consequences. Nobody imagined Iroh's son would be killed, nor that as a result Iroh would retreat. If it were any other soldier, Iroh would probably have pressed the attack and won. Or, at least, that's what everyone was expecting to happen. He might still have lost, but that's irrelevant. It's the perception of defeat at the hour of victory or safety that defines this trope.
- Iroh was a much better leader than Card-Carrying Villain Ozai, and if he hadn't retired, he would've found a way to crack Ba Sing Se open anyway, either with his original siege or later (he later managed it with a much smaller army, and against an army of comet-empowered Firebenders no less). Demoralizing Iroh and pushing him away from the war and the conquering mindset was the all-important coup which led to the Fire Nation's eventual defeat. Moreover, a hypothetical Fire Lord Iroh would have encouraged massive numbers of Les Collaborateurs due to his competence, winning personality and kindness, ensuring Fire Nation dominion over the Avatar world during his lifetime at least. Instead, Ozai succeeded Azulon, but he only really cared for himself and increasing his personal power, using and abusing even his favoured daugher and his country as a whole as tools to this end and running both ragged in the process; further, with his evil antics, he put all his enemies into a very motivating "do or die" situation, as well as adding his own son and brother, considerable powers in the world especially the latter, to their ranks. Any fight against Fire Lord Iroh would have been half-hearted at best, by comparison. TL, DR: It was this trope because it replaced Iroh's solid leadership with Ozai and his Villain Ball, a major strategic defeat for the Fire Nation.
- Assuming, of course, that Iroh had zero Character Development between the loss of his son and the start of the series, and was always that Cool Old Guy.
- Another example was the Day of Black Sun. The Water Tribes and Earth Kingdoms had united to hit the Fire Nation at exactly the time that firebenders would be unable to bend. Everything was planned out and executed perfectly, but due to some clever stalling tactics by Azula and Ozai, the Fire Nation held out and the good guys were forced to break and retreat, and the Fire Nation could prepare for Sozin's Comet unopposed.
- The loss of the Homeworlds for the Terrans in Exo Squad, although the utter destruction of Mars late in the second season was an even more devastating blow to the Neosapiens. Phaeton built most of his anti-Terran propaganda upon it afterwards.
- The 04 Dream Team during the 04 Olympics, who were soundly beaten by... Puerto Rico. The media never let them live it down. Until they started curb stomping international teams again.
- The New England Patriots are best remembered for their 18-1 season. They were undefeated heading into the Super Bowl, and they lost the game to the underdog New York Giants on a flukey catch.
- The Miami Heat, led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, ran roughshod through the Eastern Conference in the 2011 playoffs, defeating even the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls in five games apiece. Entering the Finals against Dallas, the Heat led the series 2-1... before losing the next three games to the Mavericks. It especially stings when you consider LeBron saying that he'd win multiple championships with Wade and Bosh. The media, the fans and the internet never let the Heat live it down after that, and the loss was haunting enough that it sent LeBron past the Despair Event Horizon. (he lead the Heat to the title the following year winning basically every award in the process, but the legacy remains because he left Cleveland solely to finally get a title, only to fail again with a better team)
- It didn't help that the Heat seemed on the cusp of seizing victory for the series in both Game 2 (which would have severely crippled Dallas' morale) and Game 4, only for Lebron to get a little presumptuous by celebrating with Wade next to the Dallas bench in Game 2, leading to the miracle comeback that was led by Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki. From there, the Finals were a hard-fought battle to the finish.
- Speaking of Cleveland, their teams have plenty of this, helped by the fact that most of their notable defeats can be summed up with a single phrase (The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive, Red Right 88, The Slip). Two were even off-field (The Move, where the Browns were moved overnight to Baltimore; and The Decision, where LeBron announced his departure).
- The World Cup has at least three finals, 1950 (Brazil loses at home; 5 titles later, it's still a sore point), 1954 (Dark Horse Victory of Germany over the heavily-favored Hungary) and 1974 (Dark Horse Victory of Germany over the heavily-favored Netherlands... though not as unexpected as the previous one).
- The Boston Red Sox emassed quite some in their 86 year drought. The Chicago Cubs's one also deserves mention.