aka: If You Should Die Before You Wake
Someone is too close to finding out the truth. Or perhaps he or she knows too much for their own good. For whatever reason (possibly an earlier not-quite-successful murder attempt), this person has been seriously injured or ill, and is now unconscious in a hospital bed. An assailant slips behind the hospital staff and quietly sneaks into the hospital room with intent on killing the sleeping patient. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they don't. Scarily enough, there are cases where this is Truth in Television. Compare with Room Disservice and Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!. May overlap with Make It Look Like an Accident, especially if performed by a doctor or a member of the nursing staff. May also overlap with Slain In Their Sleep, if the slaying is done while the victim is still unconscious. Can overlap with Vorpal Pillow (suffocation with a pillow depicted as a much faster and quieter means of death than it actually is).
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Anime and Manga
- In one of the arcs of Higurashi: When They Cry , Satoko is killed like this when she is left as the sole survivor of Hinamizawa Disaster.
- Gaara tries this with Rock Lee, pre Heel-Face Turn, but is stopped by Shikamaru and Naruto. Of course, Lee didn't know any particular information. Gaara was just nuts enough to want him dead. (More specifically, Gaara couldn't comprehend why Gai would risk his own life to protect his protégé, when Gaara's own mentor tried to kill him. Rather than try to confront the fact that other people have love and he doesn't, he decided to remove the reminder.)
- Kabuto attempts this with Sasuke. Then Kakashi gets in the way. And we still don't know exactly what Kabuto's motives were.
- Happens to Rally in Gunsmith Cats. No outside assistance, and indeed she was never more than half awake as she shot the assassin down and threw the bomb under her pillow out the window.
- Several villains do this to a police detective in the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "The Fortunate Ones: MISSING HEARTS".
- This is done all the time! When nobody is able to kill the Major in combat, they try something else and send an assassin to kill her when she gets her cybernetic body replaced and is nothing more than a Brain in a Jar for a few minutes. Then the assassin looks away just long enough for the Laughing Man to plug her back in...
- Barely averted in Aldnoah.Zero,. Princess Lemrina starts to cut off the life support system that keeps her comatose older half-sister Princess Asseylum alive, so she can effectively "replace" her... but backs off at the last minute and re-starts the system because even if Asseylum is "her puppet" and at her mercy, they're still sisters.
- In the 14th album of the XIII series (Danger to the State) Irina Svetlanova disguised as a nurse attempts to do it to the main protagonist.
- Averted in Union Jack. Union Jack needs Arabian Knight's sword in order to fight off a Darkforce-powered villainess, but Navid is still recovering from a concussion. Navid states that he can't simply loan the sword, because its magic only works for its rightful owner, and suggests that Joey kill him on his sickbed so that he can become the rightful owner and use the sword. Joey decides to find another way.
- One Small Kindness: attempted upon Itachi by Kabuto, while he was recovering from his eye surgery.
- Possibly Mikoto though so subtly that one might miss it until a second read-through. Mikoto was injured severly and comatose before she died, suddenly and without warning. The cause of death is apparently mundane, but she was a known political opponent (some would even say, rival) of Shimura Danzou. And, as mentioned, Kabuto was at the hospital...
- Touched on in Dungeon Keeper Ami and featured following Ami's first real battle as a Keeper (commanding her forces, as opposed to adventuring alone like a hero). The battle against the Keeper Malleaus is a grueling contest of attrition, and leaves her utterly exhausted and lightly wounded. Upon her return to her own dungeon she collapses and has to be carried to bed. Jered, a heroic adventurer she met while exploring the surface world and recruited mostly due to convenience, briefly considers killing her in this fashion, due to the fact that she is at her most vulnerable. It is a true testament to how obvious Ami's heroic nature is that he doesn’t, every other instance of Keeper in the series is unapologetic evil.
- The Axis Powers Hetalia fanfic Iron Weakened By Rust has Norway attempting to do this to Estonia after the latter gives birth to a stillborn child. Thankfully, he's stopped in time.
- If Thems The Rules, Buck, another kid at the orphanage, attempts to smother Tom Riddle when the latter was severely ill from a cold.
- In Mass Effect Human Revolution, the Plot-Triggering Death of Shepard takes the form of an assassin slaying her as she is laid up in hospital.
- In The Rocketeer, the German giant does this to one of mobsters who hid the jetpack, to prevent them from talking to the FBI.
- Barely averted in both the first and second Godfather films. In the first Michael Corleone arrives to find the police guards have been 'reassigned'. He gets a nurse to move his father's bed to another room, then bluffs the killers by standing outside with Corleone's baker (who came to give flowers to Don Vito) and sliding a hand inside his coat when the carload of killers turn up. The killers assume the guards are still in place and drive off. In the second film the hitman (this time working for Michael Corleone), having distracted the nurses with a cake, is about to press a pillow over the patient's face when a squad of Cuban soldiers, who have been tipped off about the hit, march in and shoot him.
- Elle Driver disguises herself as a nurse and attempts to do this to The Bride in the first volume of Kill Bill. Fortunately Bill calls at the last minute and cancels the hit.
- Bethany from Dogma saves "existence" by doing this.
- ...to God
- Similar thing happens in Hard Boiled, only that the victim is not unconscious but rather, in a plaster cast from tip to toe, which only makes the murder (with a scalpel) crueler.
- The Steve McQueen thriller Bullitt (1968). A hitman sneaks into the hospital with the intent of finishing off his target, but is recognised and chased off by Bullitt.
- Telefon. A priest who's been brainwashed to commit sabotage is captured alive. A female KGB agent purchases a nurses' uniform from an on-site outfitters shop, while Charles Bronson (posing as a doctor) rings up the duty nurse and tells her that another nurse will be replacing her, as she's to report somewhere else. The false nurse then injects air into the IV tube of the patient.
- In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, it's hinted that Gríma did this to Théodred.
- Very nearly happens in Orphan.
- Subverted twice in The Dark Knight Saga:
- The Dark Knight: The Joker dresses up as a nurse (with hella scary lipstick) to visit a badly injured Harvey Dent in the hospital. He doesn't kill him, but his visit is enough to send Dent over the edge and make him fully embrace his new nature as the vengeful Two-Face. The Joker does, however, kill the two cops standing guard outside Dent's room.
- The Dark Knight Rises: A few of Bane's henchmen break in to Gotham General Hospital where Gordon is recovering from gunshot wounds Bane gave him in the sewers, with the intent to kill him. This being Commissionner Gordon, he manages to turn the situation to his advantage and gets the jump on two guys, and almost gets Blake.
Gordon: Don't forget to check your angles, rookie.
- In Super 8, done by Nelec to Woodward.
- In Death Wish II, Paul Kersey enters the hospital asylum posing as a doctor to kill the final mugger who was arrested and committed there. It starts out as a struggling fight until Kersey kills him by electrocution.
- The Transporter. The villain visits one of his mooks in hospital and after verifying he didn't talk to the police, wipes his mouth in apparent concern, then shoves the cloth down the man's throat while squeezing his IV bag. He then attaches the heartrate monitor to the man sleeping in the next bed over, so the alarm won't continue sounding.
- In Carlitos Way the odious Dave Kleinfeld is afraid of becoming a victim of this, so keeps a gun by his bedside. Unfortunately for him, Carlito has taken the precaution of emptying the gun. Goodbye, counselor.
- In both versions of The Wicked Lady, Villain Protagonist Barbara slowly poisons someone who knows too much about her double life as a highway(wo)man but has promised to keep her secret, thinking she can be redeemed. Soon he's bedridden, and he and everyone else thinks she's taking care of him as he suffers from an unknown ailment. When he realizes what she's doing to him and tries to cry out to others, she is forced to use the Vorpal Pillow technique to silence him for good.
- In Unknown (2011), an assassin slips into the hospital and tries to kill the hero with a poisonous infusion when the latter comes out or MRI. Of course, he fails.
- Dean Koontz's The Door to December features a hitman sitting in his car, preparing to sneak into a hospital in the middle of the night to whack a certain patient. The next time we see him, he's still sitting in his car — with his neck crushed by an unknown assailant.
- Happens very early in A Song of Ice and Fire to Bran Stark after he witnessed Twin Cest between the queen and her brother Jaime Lannister. Subverted, when it turns out Joffrey arranged it as a Mercy Kill. He thought it was; nobody else did, and the act triggers a war between the Starks and the Lannisters.
- Able Team ("Justice by Fire"). A corrupt FBI agent goes to interview the sole survivor of an Able Team ambush. It turns out he's willing to tell everything about those paying the FBI agent, who notices that the food service workers in the hospital don't have any form of identification. A few hours later, a man dressed as a food service worker presses a pillow over the patient's face.
- In My Soul to Keep, David kills an old, dying woman. She was his daughter, and he wanted to see her one last time, but then killed her to keep her from telling anyone that he's still young (because he's immortal). Big mistake... David's tendency to assume that Murder Is the Best Solution will get him in lots of trouble in this book.
- In Bored of the Rings, after the battle of Minas Troney, Farashlax is assigned a private hospital room, where he is visited by an apron-and-stethoscope-wearing Arrowroot (already now claiming the title of "true king of all Twodor"). The Ranger emerges with his apron covered in blood, and explains that Farashlax succumbed to "terminal abrasions and contusions with complications," though Legolam didn't think he was wounded that much.
- Happens to Chien in The Skein of Lament.
- In The Remittance Kid by J.T. Edson, one of the anarchists sneaks into a hospital disguised as a priest and uses a pillow to smother a wounded accomplice before he can talk to the police.
- The Forever War. A soldier who tries to frag Major Mandella dies on the operating table (after he attempted suicide) under the care of a doctor who has a covert attraction to Mandella. Unfortunately the suspicious timing of this death offsets the morale problems Mandella avoided by not having the soldier Thrown Out the Airlock.
- In Making Money Moist briefly thinks Vetinari did this to the old and sick Mrs. Lavish to allow Moist to take control of the bank. Vetinari does not take the accusation well.
- Averted in the original novel of The Hunt for Red October, an American doctor thinks a Soviet agent attempts to do this to a survivor of the "Alpha" class submarine E. S. Politovsky by lighting a cigarette next to his oxygen tent. It's just a case of a dumb smoker.
- Broderick Bode in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix. His friends sent him flowers. One of them was actually Devil's Snare.
- In Trainspotting, Alan Venters rapes a girl and knowingly infects her with HIV, which she then unknowingly passes to her boyfriend. The boyfriend conceals his knowledge and initiates a fake friendship with Venters as he is dying in hospital, visiting him frequently. He then creates a set of fake photographs which appear to show the horrific rape and murder of Venters's son (the only being besides himself that he cares about) and shows these to Venters before smothering him with a pillow, filling the last moments of Venters' life with anguish.
- In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The Conspiracy sends a guy to kill Zalachenko, who's recuperating in a hospital, as his Stupid Evil tendencies have made a horrible mess for them to clean up and has threatened to expose the entire conspiracy.
Live Action TV
- Happens in Fringe, episode 1x09
- New Tricks had a villain from the previous season attempt to smother Jack Halford while he was in hospital recovering from a car accident.
- Law & Order had this done to a child to make his mother keep quiet.
- Done in the first season finale of Twin Peaks.
- In the seventh episode of first season, this happens to Janet York.
- Inverted in season 5: an assassin sneaks into the wounded Tony's hospital room, but he's actually trying to lure Jack in there to ambush him instead.
- Season seven's villains love this — assassins working for them kill both Colonel Ike Dubaku and Ryan Burnett this way after they've outlived their usefulness.
- This is invoked in season eight — CTU release a news bulletin saying that the very dead Farhad Hassan is alive and has been taken to hospital in the hope that the villain will send one of his men to finish him off, who they can then capture.
- Later in season eight, the wounded Samir Mehran is killed by an assassin disguised as an EMT as he's being loaded into an ambulance.
- In Live Another Day when Simone Al-Hazari is hospitalized, her mother Margot decides that she's made too big a screw-up and doesn't want to risk her spilling anything, so she sends someone to finish her, but he's quickly dispatched. What does Margot do in response? Send a remote controlled drone to blow up the entire hospital. Jack and CIA agent Kate Morgan evacuate her in time, but many others aren't as lucky.
- In an episode of Family Matters, Carl ends up in a hospital after being hit with a bullet during a shootout. A shooter, seeking revenge for his relative who Carl recently arrested, dresses up as a doctor and sneaks into the hospital room intent on killing Carl. Steve sneaks up behind the shooter and knocks him out with the metal squatting pan.
- An unusual humorous (if morbidly so) example occurs in Rescue Me, in which a character suffering from kidney cancer awakens from a musical Dream Sequence gone awry to find a well-meaning uncle attempting to smother him as an act of mercy because the doctors say he's taken a turn for the worse.
- This is attempted at the end of the Grimm pilot.
- Leverage, "The Beantown Bailout Job." The bank manager behind the whole scam is on his way to the hospital to kill the only witness, who's lying in a coma... only to find the Massachusetts State Police waiting for him when he arrives.
- The X-Files. After A.D. Skinner is shot Scully thinks this has happened to him when she finds his room empty and the police guards missing. It turns out he's being transferred to another hospital. She decides to accompany Skinner there in the ambulance, which is just as well as that's where the attempted murder occurs.
- And Skinner himself attempts to do this to the comatose Mulder in "Deadalive", thinking he is saving Scully's unborn child by doing so. It fails, but ends up saving Mulder from a life of alien replication.
- Castle. In the first season, an assassin disguised as a nurse administers a lethal poison to the IV of a patient in witness protection. Moments later, Castle and Beckett appear on-scene to arrest her. She smirks, telling them they're too late, and Castle appears to panic - only to reveal that the IV wasn't connected. "It's almost like we knew you were coming."
- In The Pretender Miss Parker is sent to kill Sydney's twin Jacob, who was in a persistent vegetative state after a car accident caused by him wanting to leave The Centre. She faked his murder with Sydney's help. In a later episode this was found out, which lead to sweepers were sent in to do the job properly. They did not arrive on time.
- After being shot, The Mentalist's Bosco nearly died this way. Luckily, his Action Girl friend/co-worker/one true love, Teresa Lisbon manages to stop the shooter in a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Poor Bosco dies anyway, but at least he and Lisbon get to have their Anguished Declaration of Love before he does.
- In Boardwalk Empire, one of the gangsters attacked in the first episode turns out not to have been killed by Jimmy and Al and turns up badly wounded. Since Nucky is afraid he will start talking and name names, he arranges things so that his brother will smother the guy with a pillow while pretending to question him. This plan is interrupted by the FBI, but things don't go better for the patient after that, as the Knight Templar Agent Van Allen tortures him for information via Open Heart Dentistry, and he dies after giving up information.
- In episode 6 of The Shadow Line, this almost happens to Gatehouse when he's in hospital after being shot by Glickman. However, he's able to overpower and kill his assassin and escape.
- Attempted on Angel, though for revenge rather than to silence someone.
- Luther: Sociopathic killer Alice Morgan disguises herself as a doctor, hits the fire alarm and then tells the police officer guarding the man she intends to kill that there's some violent patients on the floor below who are hindering the evacuation. She then walks into the room and smothers her target with her bare hands.
- On Seinfeld, George is in the hospital and keeps going on about how he doesn't want to suffer and just be sick forever so he asks Jerry, that if it comes to that, to put him out of his misery. Jerry says "Like this?" grabs a pillow and start suffocating him while he struggles.
- In the 2010 TV version of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart, which moves the location to a 20th century dictatorship, the three witches are disguised as hospital nurses. They're first seen "taking care" of the wounded soldier who's just brought news of Macbeth's victory to the king.
- Happens in the Dark Angel 2nd season episode "Harbor Lights". While Max was in the hospital, a nurse (who was actually an agent of an evil organization) tried to kill her with drugs.
- Lampshaded in Game of Thrones when a Genre Savvy Tyrion wakes up after nearly being killed in a Bodyguard Betrayal to find Maester Pycelle (whom he had thrown into the black cells in an earlier episode) smirking down at him.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a killer intending to finish off Quark visits him with a bunch of flowers, which he shoves against the Bajoran deputy's chest, then removes to reveal he's stabbed the man with a knife. He then uses a Vorpal Pillow to finish him off, only to be interrupted by Quark's brother who starts screaming; Odo rushes in with more deputies and arrests the killer.
Odo: It's over Rom, you're a hero! You saved your brother's life.(Rom starts to smile, then realises he's going to lose the bar if Quark lives and starts screaming again. On his not-so-deathbed, Quark smiles.)
- On The Borgias, Cardinal Sforza is enlisted by his family to do this to Rodrigo after the latter survives being poisoned, but he's interrupted before he gets the chance and so far he's ended up siding with the Borgias after all
- In the unaired pilot of Dollhouse, Echo is programmed to kill Agent Ballard. She shoots him twice in the chest but non-fatally, so she defies Boyd and goes to the hospital to finish the job, grabbing a vase of flowers from a hospital admission desk as cover. Fortunately Boyd gets the order to cancel the assassination before she carries it out.
- Uther in Merlin. Merlin actually tries to save him, but Morgana, having turned evil, put a locket around Uther's neck, making Merlin kill him. It's horrific.
- The first two episodes of Grimm have a lot of this once Aunt Marie is hospitalized. The first attempt is averted thanks to Nick stopping it and taking the poisonous injection himself. The second attempt is thwarted by the reluctant Monroe, by way of disarming an attacker. The third attempt is thwarted by Marie herself. She then promptly dies of her cancer once the assassin is dead and Nick has arrived.
- NCIS: McCallister attempts this on Vance, who kills him first with the knife that Gibbs had slipped him.
- Kung Fu: The Legend Continues in the pilot episode Pete has to save his hospitalize newly discovered previously thought dead father.
- Star Trek: Voyager. An overt version is committed in "State of Flux". There's an unconscious Kazon in Voyager's sickbay who may know the identity of The Mole sending information to the Kazon-Nistrim. Their leader comes on board to see his injured man. Janeway is having a quiet word with the Doctor, asking him to delay any demand for the man to be removed, when the Kazon leader jabs him with a needle-ring containing a fatal nerve toxin. All Janeway can do is throw them off her ship.
- On Tyrant, Barry reluctantly kills Sheikh Rashid, who's been beaten into a coma by Jamal, as he lays in a hospital bed, because he can see no other way to keep the diplomatic talks going when one of the negotiating parties is represented by a man in a coma.
- The Avengers: In "The £50,000 Breakfast", a killer disguised as a doctor slips into the hospital room of a smuggler in a coma, dismisses the policeman guarding him, and administers a lethal injection.
- Penny Dreadful: Brona's affliction is pretty advanced tuberculosis, for which she is bedridden and in constant pain. At Ethan's request, Victor comes to assist in making her final moments more comfortable... Except that Victor also requires a beautiful female corpse to create a bride for his creature, necessitating Vorpal Pillow for a quick, easy, and bloodless technique.
- Breaking Bad: The Cousins, Leonel and Marco Salamanca, ambush Hank in a parking lot, having been sent there by Gus Fring to avenge the death of Tuco. Hank is tipped off by Gus, and thus, Marco is killed when Hank shoots him in the head, while Leonel survives, although his legs have to be amputated. To keep Leonel from talking, Gus personally brings fried chicken for every cop at the hospital, which serves to distract the cops while Mike Ehrmantraut sneaks up to Leonel's room and administers a lethal injection.
- Call of Cthulhu supplement The Fungi From Yuggoth.
- In the playtesting of the first adventure "The Dreamer", the PCs entered Paul LeMond's hospital room to find the cultist Clarence Rodgers strangling him. Rogers had infiltrated the hospital dressed as an orderly.
- The Worm That Walks. While a PC is in the hospital Mr Edwin sends the title monster to murder him by ripping him to shreds. The monster will masquerade as one of the PC's colleagues until it can attack him.
- Attempted on the main character in Sanitarium.
- In the end of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, Zoe Castillo is drugged by Helena Chang to save the real world via dreaming. After she is done, Helena injects her with even more drug, to make sure she never wakes up again. Apparently, it only works half-way: Zoe cannot wake up but possesses a lot of power even when sleeping.
- Considered in the first Persona game by Nanjo at upon discovering that their friend Maki is trapped in Kandori's DVA system, which has been the cause of all their problems. Mark decks him for it.
- A sidequest in Mass Effect 3 offers Shepard the chance to do this to a known batarian terrorist — with the twist that the victim is awake and begs Shepard to kill him.
- In Sailor Moon: Another Story, a youma tries killing Hotaru while she's overcome with dark energy. Haruka, being the only character cynical enough to prepare for such an eventuality, has, of course, prepared.
- In Broken Sword you must pretend to be a doctor to speak to someone, however an assassin does exactly the same thing, invoking this trope. Nico lampshades this.
- Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney has the killing of Magnifi who was dying in hospital from liver cancer and diabetes when his murderer apparently came in and shot through the head. Subverted in that he ordered his own killing. And further subverted in that neither of the people who he ordered to kill him could bring themselves to do it, and so he committed suicide.
- The reason Gil from Girl Genius had to send out Captain Vole to try to get Agatha is because waves of assassins were trying to kill his hospitalized father. The first assassin plays it cool slightly better than most when questioned. Slightly.