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The Cavalry Arrives Late
"Leave anything for us?"
"Just bodies."
General Kirby and John Matrix, Commando

When the police/military/other supporting group arrive at the scene only after the hero has defeated the monster, killer, or Big Bad.

Sometimes this is played for humor, or to play up their uselessness compared to The Hero. Often, though, it serves the same purpose as No Ontological Inertia — while the hero has to defeat the Big Bad alone for the purposes of the story, The Cavalry is necessary to sweep up loose ends and ensure a happy ending, especially in real-world settings where the hero is on the side of law and order. Thus, they'll arrive just too late to interfere in the big fight, but just in time to handcuff the crooks... and to ensure that the hero isn't anticlimactically killed by a stray remaining mook or some other logical but narratively unimportant danger that wouldn't necessarily have gone away with the Big Bad's death. It also makes Post-Victory Collapse less hazardous for the hero, or allows the After-Action Patchup to go on without worrying about clean-up.

Usually signified by the growing sound of sirens in the background. On occasion, the knowledge of their approach is what makes the villain's attacks especially frantic, or especially powerful, or what have you — he has to finish the hero and flee.

(Note that this is really about cases where the cavalry arrives, as it were, just after the nick of time. If the hero defeats the killer, then phones the police to come mop up, and they turn up 15 minutes later in response to the phone call, that doesn't count.)

Contrast Big Damn Heroes and Just in Time for when reinforcements arrive before the villain is defeated, and You Are Too Late for when it's the good guys are defeated before reinforcements arrive.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • This trope is frequently used in the futuristic G Defend. Being that the main cast are government security agents, they're frequently told to not interfere in many investigations and to leave it to the civilian police. Alas, the agents end up cleaning up the messes most of the time before the police even arrives.
  • In Holyland, after Yuu beats Shougo, the other thugs beat Yuu up and the police only arrive while the beatdown is already in progress.
  • Pokémon:
    • If Officer Jenny shows up, it's always after the villain (usually Team Rocket) has been defeated by Ash and his friends.
    • In Pokemon Ranger And The Temple Of The Sea, Jenny shows up to arrest the Phantom after Ash defeats him.
  • In Berserk, Guts and Caska are attacked by over 100 enemy soldiers. Guts manages to create an opening for Caska to escape, and she runs to get the rest of the Band of the Hawk. Eventually, the Cavalry arrives to bail out Guts, only to find the battlefield quiet, with corpses littered all over it. They find Guts still and unmoving against a tree, and immediately assume the worst. And then Guts wakes up from the nap he took after single-handedly winning a battle where he was outnumbered by over a hundred to one.
  • In One Piece, Shanks and the Red-Hair Pirates show up at Marinford at the end of the Paramount War after Ace and Whitebeard died.
  • In Dragon Ball, Goku's friends find out that Goku is about to attack the headquarters of the Red Ribbon Army, the world's most powerful terrorists. By the time they actually arrive to help, Goku has pretty much wiped the army out.
  • It is a common complaint by other characters in A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun that the law enforcement organizations Judgment and Anti-Skill always arrive late. The Graviton Bomber reveals that part of the reason that he blowing everything up is revenge for everyone always showing up too late to save him from bullies.

    Comic Books 
  • Often happens in Lucky Luke, as a subversion of the trope found in classic Westerns of the cavalry always arriving on time. Lampshaded in "Western Circus" in which the cavalry arrives late, and the commanding officer has a nervous breakdown because of the breach of tradition.
  • In Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the cops arrive to clean up the mess after the climax. This is a rare case in that the heroes also have to flee the scene.
  • Astro City: The Honor Guard shows up after Steeljack puts the villain out of commission, and just get to lug him off to prison and send for an ambulance for Steeljack.
  • In a 2-part Darkwing Duck comic that was published in Disney Adventures, Gizmoduck shows up with the police to help Darkwing nab Megavolt, only to see that he's already managed to capture the villain.
  • Issue #27 of The Powerpuff Girls has the girls not allowed to go out for any reason — even crimefighting — until they clean their room. Each time they do, Him secretly makes it messy again.
  • Towards the end of Bone, Phoney Bone arrives with reinforcements immediately after the dragons subdue their queen, Mim.
    Phoney: Ohh! I missed the war!

    Eastern Animation 

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Cosmic Warriors Naru calls the police before calling Usagi to tell her about the man that has broken in. But the police don't arrive until after Usagi has fought him and he escapes.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Not an unusual sight in Bollywood movies.
  • The police come to save Sarah Connor and zip up Kyle Reese in a body bag only after The Terminator is defeated. Not that they did much against him earlier.
  • Die Hard:
    • Mostly subverted in the first three films, in that the police show up early in the film, but cannot intervene due to terrorists threatening hostages/airports/cities, leaving John McClane the only man able to save the day.
    • Played pretty straight in the end of Live Free or Die Hard, though.
  • At the end of Eight Legged Freaks, the state police arrive, expecting to find aliens, rather than giant spiders.
  • In Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Clamp and his SWAT team enter the building just in time to see the gigantic mushy puddle that's left after all the gremlins get electrocuted.
  • Subverted in Lethal Weapon 3; upon arriving a building with a car bomb in the garage, Riggs insists that he and Murtaugh have a look under the justification that "the bomb squad never gets here on time!" They go to the bomb, Riggs messes around with it, screws up the timer, and it goes off — and seconds after it does, the bomb squad shows up, having arrived in plenty of time to deal with the bomb had Riggs and Murtaugh not interfered.
  • The Mist, in probably the most depressing example of this ever.
  • Played straight (probably intentionally) in Hot Fuzz, complete with a helicopter.
  • In Firewall, the police show up practically the second after Harrison Ford killed the last bad guy.
  • The movie version of The Mask... The Mask has just finished flushing out Dorian Tyrell and his goons, when the police burst in with his best bud in tow, to 'arrest those men!'
  • The military arrives after The Monster Squad succeeds in banishing Dracula and the other monsters into Limbo.
  • In I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, the police arrive after our Heroes have killed Mr. Big (and most of his Mooks).
  • Big Trouble in Little China: The police arrive after David Lo Pan and the three Storms are destroyed. Justified in that Jack Burton and Wang Chi deliberately did not notify them.
    "Cops got better things to do than get killed!"
  • Demolition Man: The San Angeles police arrive at the CryoPrison after John Spartan has killed Simon Phoenix.
    • Then again, it's not like they could have done much even if they got there on time. The cops of that time are completely unprepared for someone like Simon Phoenix, which is why John Spartan was brought back in the first place.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: The police arrive right after the weasels die laughing and Judge Doom is liquidated.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: After Mola Ram is killed, a company of British-led Indian troops arrives to capture the remaining Thugee. Though they arrive when the main trio are trapped hanging from a bridge and the Thugee are about to shoot them full of arrows.
  • Judge Dredd: After Dredd kills Rico, the rest of the Judges show up outside the building.
  • Predator 2: After Harrigan kills the Predator and the other Predators let him go, the rest of Keyes' team arrives in their helicopter and the Los Angeles police arrive in squad cars.
  • Silence of the Lambs: The local police and FBI arrive after Clarice Starling kills Buffalo Bill.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: The British Airborne Aircraft Carriers arrive to rescue Sky Captain and Polly Perkins (and presumably all of the animals) after the rocket ship is destroyed and Dr. Totenkopf's scheme is foiled.
  • Jack and the Marines show up just after Bond beats the villains in GoldenEye.
    Bond: Is this what you call 'coming through in the clinch?'
  • The police usually shows up at the end of a Friday the 13th film to clean up the trail of bodies that Jason has left behind.
  • At the start of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film, Inspector Lestrade and the police arrive in time to arrest the villain and his mooks, after Holmes and Watson have defeated the mooks and unmasked the villain.
    Inspector Lestrade: You were told to wait for my orders.
    Sherlock Holmes: If I had, you'd be cleaning up a corpse and chasing a rumor. Besides, the girl's family hired me, not the Yard. Why they thought you needed any assistance is beyond me.
  • In Case 39, after Emily has climbed out of the water, we hear the sound of approaching police sirens right before the credits start rolling.
  • This is so prevalent in Filipino action movies that seeing the police actually arrive on time to aid in the warehouse shootout counts as a twist.
  • Commando: The United States Army arrives only after Matrix has defeated every enemy soldier on the island, including the Big Bad and his Dragon.
  • Captain America (1990): Reinforcements arrive after Captain America has killed Red Skull and his lieutenant.
  • Parodied in a short featuring The Three Stooges, literally involving the U.S. Cavalry; their commander isn't pleased. "You mean we made this nasty trip for nothing?"
  • Titanic: The rowboat only goes back to look for survivors after a significant amount of time has passed. By the time they get there, only a handful of people are still alive to be rescued. Likewise, the RMS Carpathia arrives eight hours too late to help the ship, though it does manage to rescue the people in the rowboats.
  • In The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey the elves arrive late to help the dwarves of Erebor against Smaug.
  • In the Disney Channel Original Movie Up, Up and Away!, Grandpa (AKA Steel Condor) bursts through the wall after the non-superpowered protagonist defeats the Big Bad and frees his family from an aluminum foil cage. After the hero's dad (AKA Bronze Eagle) tells his father he's late, Grandpa admits he should've just taken a cab instead of flying.
  • In Road to ... Rio (1947) Jerry Colonna leads a cavalry charge that races, and races, and races, and races to the rescue. Then it's all over and they never get there. At that point they all stop and Colonna breaks the fourth wall to say to the audience "But it was exciting, wasn't it?"

    Literature 
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Phoenix on the Sword", Conan the Barbarian deals with both assassins and Eldritch Abomination, and then, his courtiers show up. One is, however, able to show it was not All Just a Dream.
  • In Colas Breugnon, the military aid sent by prince de Nevers to help a besieged town arrives only after both sides have made an agreement, ended the siege and proceeded to feast together; these latecomers are welcomed with laughter and politely asked to go away.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire Lord Walder Frey showed up at the climactic battle of the civil war only after it was over - assuring the victors that, of course, he had been riding to their aid. Ever since he's been mocked as the "Late Lord Frey" as a dual reference to his tardiness and refusal to just die already (He's over ninety and has over 100 descendants.)
  • Sunshine: After Con and Rae take down Bo, the police turn up just in time to arrest them for being at the scene of the conflict.
  • In the Paladin of Shadows book Choosers of the Slain, Katya kills an assassin before the reinforcements show up. "About time you showed up. Reinforcements my ass."
  • In the Dale Brown novel Strike Force Hal Briggs dies under Iranian fire before air support and reinforcements can arrive.
  • In The Wee Free Men, Miss Tick returns with reinforcements in the form of Mrs. Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, just after Tiffany has finished wiping up the threat herself.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 novel "Legion of the Damned", the titular Legion's only surviving spaceship (a "Star Fort") appears out of nowhere at the last minute to destroy the Keeler Comet and obliterate the Chaos armada while the Legionnaires wipe out the planetside Chaos crusaders right on the verge of their victory.

    Live Action TV 
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus had "The Bishop", in which the title character would always arrive just too late to prevent various members of the clergy from getting bumped off (by the Church Mafia?)
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Friday's Child". After the Klingon is killed, Scotty and a Security team arrive to prevent any further hostilities.
    • Lampshaded, actually:
      Kirk: The cavalry doesn't come over the hill in the nick of time anymore.
      Spock: If by that you mean we can't expect help from the Enterprise, I must agree.
  • 1960's Batman series. The Gotham police always arrive after Batman and Robin have subdued the Guest Villain and his henchmen to take them into custody.
  • A mid-90s adaptation of Joan of Arc had her army prepare a rescue outside the city walls, only to look up and see the smoke of her pyre rising above the rooftops.
  • In 24, the cavalry usually manages to help somehow and has saved Jack at least once; but they did arrive late in Season 6. Jack storms the enemy base kills all the Mooks and hangs the Big Bad. His partner arrives with a heavily armed strike force moments later; but given that the strike force failed epically earlier in the day, their late arrival may have been for the best.
    Mike Doyle:(looks at Jack's carnage, shakes head) Damn, Jack.
  • Happens in an episode of Bones where the team is confined to the lab by the Secret Service. Booth bursts in and deliberately gets himself confined with the "squints". He notifies his boss at the FBI that he's being held against his will. The boss (who's dating Brennan) is furious that one of his agents is being held by another agency prepares a team to free them. They burst in just seconds after Booth has disabled every Secret Service agent in the building. The boss claims he would've been the hero had he arrived a minute earlier.
  • This occurs in Barney Miller in a New Year episode. A Hispanic lady is going into labor in the squadroom. The paramedics are called, but the baby isn't going to wait. Wojo delivers the kid himself (he had field experience in Vietnam) long before the paramedics finally show up.

    Opera 

    Radio 
  • The Goon Show episode The Red Fort features an inversion. The hero, Major Bloodnok is about to be shot by firing squad as Neddy Seagoon rides forth with the Cavalry to rescue him. Point of view rapidly shifts back and forth between the galloping cavalry and the firing squad, up until the final moment when Bloodnok is shot, ending the episode.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Played for drama in Magic: The Gathering's Ravnica novel when all of the angels, along with their sky fortress, Sunhome, fail to show up during the final battle; they don't reappear until the end of the next book, Guildpact.
  • If you place units in reserve in Warhammer 40,000 there is a chance, albeit a small one, that they will never turn up. Although they automatically pass the reserves roll on the fifth turn, if they hit something when coming down there's a chance of being put back in reserves for the next turn. This can keep happening indefinitely. The game can also end before the fifth turn, for example if all your/the enemy forces are wiped out before you get there. Any unit who fails to turn up counts as dead.

    Video Games 
  • The first boss fight in Beyond Good & Evil ends with Jade and Pey'j defeating an alien monster and then the Alpha Sections who are supposed to protect them from the aliens arrive. Pey'j proceeds to chew out the "defenders" but is promptly told to shut up. It is later revealed that Alphas are part of a Government Conspiracy and they were supposed to arrive late, whereas Pey'j is a high-ranking member of La Résistance.
  • The first two Max Payne games end with Max being found by the police after the final shootout. Though in the first game, they are out to apprehend him.
  • Invoked in Dawn of War: Winter Assault. General Sturnn holds back his Imperial Guard reserves, knowing that they would be cut to pieces if they tried to make landfall during a fight.
  • Entirely possible to do in Fire Emblem, but that's up to the player. In one case in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, defeating the enemy before their help arrives (really easy to do) makes you miss a really good recruit-able character, making him a case of What Happened to the Mouse? afterwards.
  • In Saints Row: The Third, redshirt Saints will usually show after you complete a Survival mission, late for the heavy lifting.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Done in the Aladdin episode "The Secret of Dagger Rock''. Iago and Abu, armed to the teeth (or beak, in Iago's case) show up up to help... only to to find the action ended hours ago.
  • Scooby-Doo. "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for You Meddling Kids!", just before the cops snap on the handcuffs. This is eventually lampshaded in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
  • SWAT Kats: "Looks like the Enforcers are here - late as usual."
  • Jonny Quest episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". After the Quests have destroyed the missile and escaped from General Fong's forces, Commissioner Wa and a boatload of Quetong police show up (and presumably take the remaining mooks into custody). Possibly Lampshaded when Dr. Quest says "Too bad they missed the party."
  • Part of Daffy's thrilling conclusion pitch of The Scarlet Pumpernickel to the WB execs. Only a part of it, mind.
  • Princess Luna from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is well known for her vanishingly small amount of screen time, and comments from the fans along the lines of "Wow, it would sure be nice if the second most powerful character in the show would notice that the villain is about to take over the world" are canonised when she turns up at the end of "A Canterlot Wedding" and asks if she's missed anything.
  • During the first season (65 episodes) of Inspector Gadget, Chief Quimby and a bunch of other police would invariably be called by Penny after she and Brain broke the case, or Gadget at best bumbled into breaking it himself. They would then arrive to arrest the MAD Agents and the Villain of the Episode and Quimby would congratulate Gadget. Also happened in the second season, except the Villain would escape.

    Real Life 
  • The Spartan relief force arrived at Marathon just in time to take a curious look at the Athenian's work.
  • The Siege of Khartoum in 1885. By the time the relieving British Army arrived, the Siege just ended in favour of the Mahdist rebels, killing Chinese Gordon and much of the Egyptian garrison within. The British Army, realizing their failure, withdrew.
    • The failure of the steamers to arrive on time caused a huge political fallout back in Britain, causing the collapse of the Gladstone government and a Strongly Worded Letter of rebuke from the Queen to the Prime Minister. It wouldn't be until 1898 that the British would reconquer Sudan.


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The CavalryAction Adventure TropesCavalry Betrayal
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alternative title(s): Cleanup Crew Cavalry; Just After The Nick Of Time
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