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Shot at Dawn

Death by firing squad has been a classic way of execution since firearms became widely used in war.

A classic scenario for a Just in Time rescue, a "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner, or a combination thereof. The condemned is sometimes offered One Last Smoke. Expect a hero to refuse a blindfold. Contrast You Always Hear The Bullet.

Most of the examples are set in World War One or in the Banana Republic, but they can occur at other times too.

As this is a death trope, beware of spoilers.


  • In one episode of The 08th MS Team, Eledore and Michel are scheduled to be executed at dawn after being captured by Zeon troops.
  • Nicola Fafas is executed in Gundam X for daring to discover evidence that Newtypes can be born on Earth as well as space.
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor. Captain Tylor faces execution by firing squad after handing back the Empress Azalyn whom he had prisoner. Showing his usual luck, he's not only saved at the last moment by an all-out Raalgon attack, the UPSF brass give him total command of their forces as he seems to be the only one who can get them out of this.

Comic Books
  • Happens to at least one character in Ninja High School.
  • Tintin faces this in Cigars of the Pharaoh (where his death is faked) and The Broken Ear (where his execution is put off due to political turmoil), as do Thompson and Thomson in Tintin and the Picaros (where they get a conventional Just in Time rescue).
  • One The Far Side comic has a very fat general giving the very skinny prisoner his last cigarette as the guns are already lined up... and a woman trying to warn people about the flames on the top floor yelling "FIRE!".

  • The film Breaker Morant, about the court martial of Harry Morant and Peter Handcock during the Boer War, ends with their dawn execution by firing squad.
  • Seen in The Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Paths of Glory starring Kirk Douglas. After an ill-planned attack fails, three solders are selected, condemned by a kangaroo court-martial for cowardice, and shot at dawn.
  • The two German boys from War Horse are executed after the elder pulls the younger from marching to the front.
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger vs. Space Sheriff Gavan: The Movie: after being arrested by Gavan, the Gokaigers are supposed to be executed by firing squad.
  • The War Game. After nuclear war has devastated much of Britain, armed police are shown executing two men by firing squad as part of the harsh measures used to maintain law and order.
  • Early in Casino Royale (1967), Sir James Bond's nephew (Woody Allen) is in front of a Banana Republic firing squad. He gets away using a concussion grenade hidden in his last cigarette, jumps the wall - and lands in front of a firing squad in the neighboring country.
  • In the silly 1926 comedy Hands Up!, Raymond Griffith is about to be shot as a Confederate spy (he is one). Every time the officer yells "Fire!", Griffith throws a dinner plate up in the air for the soldiers to shoot at. Eventually the soldiers are distracted and Griffith escapes.
  • Mata Hari opens with three German spies being executed by the French. This is Mata Hari's fate at the end, although the film ends as she's being marched away to the firing squad.

  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunts Ghosts novel The Guns Of Tanith, when Caffran is convicted of rape and murder, he is sentenced to be shot at dawn. Fortunately, Gaunt hears of it before then and dredges up more evidence, resulting in a second trial and acquittal.
  • In Jingo, Lord Vetinari tries, through subtle hints, to get through to Sergeant Colon what will happen if they are discovered as being from Ankh-Morpork in Klatch. "A nice sunny wall and a cigarette" is mentioned. It doesn't first.
  • In Voltaire's Candide, the main character witnesses a British officer being executed by firing squad and comments:
    "In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others [pour encourager les autres]"
    • This is a reference to the execution of John Byng, a British admiral, for "failing to do his utmost" at the Battle of Minorca in 1756.
  • Referenced in an exchange from the Animorphs:
    Ax: "Why must we attack at dawn?"
    Marco: "Tradition. You have shootouts at high noon, you stretch in the seventh inning, and you attack at dawn."
    Cassie: "You also get executed at dawn."
    Marco: beat "Well there's a cheerful thought."
  • In Seven Men of Gascony, one of The Squad is caught deserting. His final request is that his mates volunteer to do the deed because he wanted men who knew how to shoot to do the job.
  • Happens several times in Sven Hassel 's books, usually with the protagonists as the firing squad.

Live-Action TV
  • Blackadder Goes Forth - The title character is sentenced to death for shooting General Melchett's carrier pigeon. He gets an absolute Last Minute Reprieve (they got as far as "Ready, aim, FF-") thanks to George's uncle. Then he learns that George himself never got round to asking his uncle's help, as he and Baldrick got drunk celebrating their Eureka Moment. He's not happy; however, he does get his revenge by volunteering George and Baldrick for a Suicide Mission (they, of course, survive).
  • The Doctor Who story "The War Games" has the Second Doctor in a World War One re-creation sentenced to death by firing squad.
    • Averted in "Genesis of the Daleks", after the Doctor and Harry are captured. Their captor remarks that normally they would be executed by firing squad, but since ammunition is so scarce, they'll be hanged instead.
    • This also happens in the Fifth Doctor story "The Caves Of Androzani". The Doctor and Peri are captured and sentenced to death. Unusually, neither one refuses a blindfold (or, in this case, a red hood) but that's because they're android duplicates.
    • The Marshall in the Third Doctor story "The Mutants" tries to have four characters (including the Doctor's then current companion, Jo Grant) executed by firing squad. Two of the characters involved are charged with treason, a third with conspiracy, sabotage and terrorism. Meanwhile, Jo has been condemned simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica.
  • In the new Tales from the Crypt series, the episode "Yellow" centers about the general's cowardly son. Said son caused the deaths of his squadmates, due to his cowardice. So, he is sentenced to execution via firing squad. His father says, if he acts brave for the squad, he will load all of the rifles with blanks and put provisions so the son can escape, quietly. At the climax, after the son sees the provisions in the ditch and gives a brave final speech, the squad lowers their rifles and the general turns his face away, since he cannot watch his son being shot.
  • One episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus (the full-episode story "The Cycling Tour") features the Soviets trying to execute Reg Pither via the firing squad. The firing squad misses. Repeatedly.
  • A common sketch on You Cant Do That On Television has one of the kids apparently in front of a firing squad in some Banana Republic. Many sketches end with the commander getting shot instead.
  • Nick is in danger of this in one Forever Knight episode, where he annoys the Kazakhstani embassy while searching for a killer amongst them. As he's trying to figure out how to work around the diplomatic immunity problem, they threaten him with this. The shooting isn't a problem for a vampire, but the sunlight is, so Nick has to work his way out of it.
  • Happens to Winnie-the-Pooh in an episode of Red Dwarf, while Lister looks on in horror. Typically for this trope, he refuses the blindfold.
  • On The A-Team, the team are convicted in trial and sentenced to death in this manner.
  • Bonanza had an episode where Little Joe was mistaken for someone else, captured and sentenced to be executed in this manner. Fortunately, the real man was found Just In Time and Joe was released.
  • Oz: After Donald Groves is sentenced to death for the murder of a correctional officer, he chooses firing squad as his method of execution.
  • F Troop: Corporal Agarn is sentenced to be executed by firing squad after losing a prisoner in "The Day They Shot Agarn".
  • Happens to the main character Rene Artois on 'Allo 'Allo!. The trope is also somewhat subverted - the hero 'dies', as some friendly German officers have loaded the guns with blanks. Rene feigns his death and spends the next eight seasons posing as his own twin brother, also named Rene.
  • At the end of part 1 of a Two-Part Episode on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Brisco & Bowler are shot at dawn for treason.

  • This is a recurring theme of "Duck" Edwing's one-page "Tales from the Duck Side" comics in MAD magazine.

  • Protest the Hero's album Kezia ends with this.
  • The Doors' song "The Unknown Soldier" has one in the middle of the song. In live performances, Jim Morrison would put his hands behind his back to play the victim. He also fell back to the stage on cue with the shot.

  • Tosca features the titular character's love interest scheduled for execution at dawn.


Tabletop Games
  • Averted for the most part in Warhammer 40K. While there are mentions of firing squads being used, the vast majority of Commissars will use the ever-reliable Dramatic Gun Cock->Boom, Headshot to restore morale, confidence and enthusiasm among the troops. One comic where a planetary governor is convicted of treason gets the sentence read to him and executed within five minutes.

Video Games
  • If you fail a mission but survive after turning traitor in Wing Commander IV, a cutscene will play of Blair being escorted offscreen, being offered (and turning down) a blindfold, and then several gunshots.

Real Life
  • Formerly a popular way for executing people, it has since fallen out of practice for its cruelty and/or Squick. Except in the United Arab Emirates. It is notable for being used a lot during the two world wars, obstinately being used by the Germans and their allies in both wars as a means to get rid of undesirables. The Soviet Union also partook in this execution style, and it was how many Les Collaborateurs and Quislings were dealt with after Allied forces liberated German occupied zones. (Incidentally enough, Vidkun Quisling, the latter's trope namer, was executed in this manner in Norway after the Second World War).
    • The Soviets used the more quick, humane and easy to use method of shooting more often, by firing a single pistol bullet at point blank into the back of the neck section of the spinal cord. They had some real great devoted professionals for that trade, too.
    • If properly performed, it is the quickest and most humane way of execution. Unfortunately most people are very uneasy to shoot fellow human beings to kill, and it may lead into a very messy outcome.
    • Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu used this up until he was overthrown in the late 80's.
      • Ironically enough, latest usage (in Romania) goes to him too, although on the receiving side: he and his wife were the last people to be executed, just two weeks before the abolition of capital punishment.
    • Actually, the firing squad is still a real possibility for a small handful of people in the United States. There are three people on Utah's death row who can choose to be executed by either firing squad or lethal injection as the law banning firing squads is not retroactive. In 1996 John Albert Taylor chose execution by firing squad over lethal injection to make a political statement about the morality (or lack thereof) of the death penalty. In Oklahoma firing squads could still be used if lethal injection is ever ruled unconstitutional or other problems arise with it.
      • Utah's use of the firing squad was often connected to the now-discredited LDS doctrine of "blood atonement," in which forgiveness for bloodshed requires actual bloodshed.
  • Almost all of the war criminals at the end of WWII were hanged, rather than shot, despite many of them requesting death by firing squad instead. This was to emphasize the civil, rather than military nature of their crimes.
  • There was one story about an Arab officer during the Arab-Israeli Conflict who caught an Arab and a Jew spying inside his camp. The Arab was just hanged, being a traitor. The Jew however was Shot at Dawn as, although he was a spy he was serving his country and thus he deserved a "soldier's death" as befitted a Worthy Opponent.
    • Note that as a spy, he was not subject to the usual protections for prisoners of war. However, the mythos of the noble Arab is strong in the militaries of the Arab world, and thus a certain peculiar code of honor held in this situation.
  • Firing squad was the authorized means of execution in Finland 1918 to 1944 and abolition of death penalty de facto. The executions were carried out in sunrise; it was thought to be psychologically easiest that way to both the executioners and convicts.
    • The last Finn to be executed from civilian crimes, Toivo Koljonen, a sextuple murderer, was executed by this way 1943, as was the last Finn from military crimes: Pvt Mauno Laiho, a Communist activist, who was found guilty to desertion, espionage and high treason. He was shot 2nd September 1944, two days before the end of the Continuation War. Next day three Soviet infiltrators were shot as the last persons executed in Finland.
  • It's Older Than They Think, and existed in pre-gunpowder era, with bows. The canonical depiction of St. Sebastian's death is by a firing squad of archers. The Russian national epic Lay of Igor's Campaign also mentions this method of execution.

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alternative title(s): Firing Squad
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