A form of characterization resulting from Executive Meddling used to prevent a hero character from seeming too sadistic. Normally, the original scene is a typical example of Shoot the Dog; in the edited version of the scene, it's basically self-defense meets Karmic Death, even if the original shooting was in self-defense. Some call it Bowdlerising, some call it necessary, and it has spawned the "Han Shot First" meme.
Here's how it might play out:
Goodie and Baddie struggle on edge of building. Goodie drops Baddie off edge of building.
Goodie and Baddie struggle on edge of building. Baddie winds up hanging from the arm of Goodie. Baddie shoots at Goodie while hanging onto his arm; Goodie, while dodging the bullet, is forced to let the Baddie fall.
Sometimes this trope comes into play without Executive Meddling. The writer assumes that the audience will lose sympathy with a hero who kills preemptively (and in some case might be accurate, if the audience feels the hero was portrayed in a way that such an action would still be against that character).
Not to be confused with The Dog Bites Back. Also should not be confused with The Dog Was the Mastermind.
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Anime and Manga
Inverted in Mazinkaiser, a reimagination of Mazinger Z. In the OVA, Dr. Hell dies because his base exploded while he was trying to escape. When Go Nagai penned the Mazinkaiser manga, Kouji shoots him in an abrupt, albeit iconic and stylized, sequence.
The 2011 Hunter × Hunter anime does this with a villain. In the manga, Hisoka kills several Hunter Exam competitors, mostly For the Lulz ("playing examiner"). In this version, they ambush him because they deem him too evil to become a Hunter. He still mostly kills them For the Lulz, though; they couldn't have actually harmed him much, given how powerful he is.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: In the HD Remaster, Nicol's death was reanimated to make it appear largely accidental. In the original, he attacks, his target counters, and he's killed. In the remake, he attacks, his target dodges, and his attack carries him into his target's sword, which kills him. Here's a comparison video.
In the original comic book, Spider-Man accidentally killed Gwen Stacy when she was falling by failing to consider the speed difference between them, snapping her neck. Marvel constantly switches between the positions that either Spider-man couldn't have saved her no matter what he did (as she would have died from the fall anyway) or that she was already dead when her body was thrown off of a bridge.
In Infinite Crisis, Batman is holding a gun to the head of the Big Bad who has caused destruction and murder on a cosmic scale though Wonder Woman convinces him If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him. In the original release of the issue, one panel has a "CHAK" sound effect to indicate Batman chambering a round. Several fans assumes the effect indicated Batman was pulling the trigger and the villain only survived because of an empty gun, causing a small uproar. For the trade, DC opted to remove the "CHAK" entirely to avoid the confusion.
Deliberately averted in Serenity, according to Joss Whedon as "a reaction to the Greedo incident in the revised Star Wars." Malcolm Reynolds, who is a Combat PragmatistAntihero, has no problems with shooting first.
Operative: I want to resolve this like civilized men. I'm not threatening you... I'm unarmed. Mal: Good. [Mal Quick Draws his gun and shoots the Operative.]
Star Wars: The trope name comes from one of the changes made from the movie's original cut to the Special Edition.
In the original, during Han's Establishing Character Moment, Han shoots Greedo when Greedo holds him at gunpoint, tries to take his money, and implies that eh, he might wind up dying anyway. This sets Han up as an Unscrupulous Hero who might end up betraying his passengers to save his life, and it lays the foundation for his Character Development into a better man.
In the special edition, Greedo shoots, misses at point-blank range, and gets shot in self-defense. (This was done so the movie could maintain its PG rating.) The scene was later re-re-edited to make Han dodge the shot and fire at almost the same time as Greedo.
In one of the original scripts (dated January 15, 1976), Han indeed shot first. Which makes it even more insulting when George Lucas made a statement, in 2012, claiming that Greedo has always shot first: "The controversy over who shot first, Greedo or Han Solo, in Episode IV, what I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo [who seemed to be the one who shot first in the original] to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn’t. It had been done in all close-ups and it was confusing about who did what to whom. I put a little wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first, because they wanted to think that he actually just gunned him down."
Amusingly, though, this whole debacle has become something of an Ascended Meme that even the Star Wars creators are willing to joke about:
In the video game Rogue Squadron, the narrator states "Han didn't like to shoot first when it came to bounty hunters but some of us didn't have that opinion" when they meet IG-88.
It extends to the Star Wars Miniatures line, where Han has the 'Cunning Attack' ability, giving him an attack buff against an enemy who hasn't taken its turn yet.
This infamous edit has partially gone on to shape Greedo's entire character. Before he was just a random bounty hunter that Han happened to get the drop on, but now he's near universally portrayed as the Butt Monkey of the Star Wars universe who's too incompetent to kill a bug all because of a single edit. Talk about Never Live It Down. And in one of the card games, Greedo gets a desperation attack which allows him to shoot first, but if it fails he dies instantly (it's the only technique in the game that has this result).
Ironically, the book Han Solo at Stars' End contains this quote by Han Solo: "I happen to like to shoot first, Rekkon. As opposed to shooting second." Ironic because it was released in 1979, way before the Special Edition.
It's even older than Star Wars, as it also features in the first James Bond film, Dr. No. In it, Bond confronts Professor Dent. The original script called for Dent to get shot right off the bat, but execs chewed them out ("Oh, sure he has a license to kill. Just Take Our Word for It!") and the scene was changed so that Dent actually fires a gun's worth of missed bullets into a decoy before Bond interrogates him and picks him off. One snafu with this is that they took a line verbatim from the book for the new version of the scene, even though it made no sense anymore (in the book, the scene relied on Dent using a six-shot revolver; in the movie, he now has an automatic that should have held at least one more bullet).
They seem to be sending a message with more recent movies, that "Ha Ha. We don't have to do that anymore" but occasionally seeming to go over the top. The deaths of Carver and Elektra seem pretty brutal given Bond's usual personality. Elektra actually bothers to point out that Bond, as the ultimate Chivalrous Pervert, wouldn't dare shoot an unarmed woman:
Elektra:You couldn't kill me, you'd miss me. (bang) Bond: I never miss.
In Elektra's case; she is arguably the Big Bad, with an Evil Plan to cause a nuclear explosion that would destroy Istanbul just so she could make more money. He also didn't shoot her until she started to warn Renard that he was coming, making it practical and necessary.
The new Bond movies with Daniel Craig portray Bond as almost ruthlessly cold-blooded. From the beginning of Casino Royale when he shoots an unarmed spy without even blinking to the end of Quantum of Solace when he takes Big Bad Greene out into the desert after interrogating him and gives him a can of motor oil before leaving him miles upon miles from any sort of water source, it's clear that this Bond has his license to kill and he's not afraid to use it. A lot.
The Night of the Hunter: In the original book and movie, the children's father is hanged for a bank heist gone wrong (he killed two people). In the remake, the Big Bad murders him in his cell. This is just one of the many reasons that nobody likes the remake.
Inverted by the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: In the book, Gollum bites the Ring off Frodo's hand, leaves the hobbit writhing in pain, revels madly in his triumph, and falls into the Crack of Doom through his own fault. In the movie, Frodo, apparently still in the Ring's thrall, gets up and starts fighting Gollum for the Ring, knocking them both off the edge where Sam rescues Frodo. Peter Jackson figured it was more satisfying for the audience to see Frodo actually take part in the Ring's destruction, but it lacks the book's irony: Frodo ultimately fails in his quest, but his uncle Bilbo's sparing Gollum's life out of pity all those years ago let Gollum live so that he would destroy the Ring. Gandalf's line that "Bilbo's pity may rule the fate of many" loses something.
The line doesn't lose much. Someone had to get the ring off Frodo before the Nazgűl got there. If not for Gollum, Sam would've been the only one there, and one simply does not know if he had it in him to do it.
Sam doesn't. Frodo is in the same place that Isildur was, with a close friend just like Isildur, and fails to destroy the ring. The foreshadowing of history indicates the exact same thing will happen to Frodo and Sam that happened before, was it not for Gollum. Film or book, the message is still consistent, Bilbo's mercy basically saves the world through Gollum.
Furthermore, in the DVD commentary, Peter Jackson mentions that Elijah Wood played Frodo as trying to get the ring back from Gollum because he still wanted it for himself, not so he could destroy it, so the book's themes of mercy and providence are preserved.
On the other hand, if not for Gollum, Sauron wouldn't have known where the ring was, in the beginning of Fellowship. The entire trilogy would have been very different.
According to a letter by Tolkien, Frodo didn't have a choice but to claim the Ring for his own, after bearing it for so long (and possibly also the Ring itself knowing it'd be about to be destroyed and exerting even more influence on Frodo). But after Gollum takes it and he's relieved from the influence, trying to take it from Gollum as in the movie would have placed him past the Moral Event Horizon.
Perhaps not. Bilbo was never completely rid of the Ring's influence, and he actually gave it away. Frodo had it taken from him, and had a chance of getting it back, so it's not unthinkable that Frodo might still be under the influence of the Ring at this point.
There may also have been a bit of Serendipity Writes the Plot in play here—In the book, Gollum basically takes the Ring from Frodo, starts jumping for joy, slips, and falls into the volcano to his death. This worked in Tolkien's Purple Prose text, but onscreen it probably would have been extremely anticlimactic and narmy. Indeed, in the DVD extras for the extended version, it's shown the producers did shoot a version of that scene, but it was, yep, too anticlimactic and narmy to work. A second version of the scene, where Frodo pushed Gollum over the edge deliberately, went too far in the other direction, so the third version, where the two struggled and went over the edge together in the scuffle, was the one used—and indeed, it preserves one of the other themes of the book, where an element of chance was required to destroy the Ring.
In live action version of Hogfather Mr. Teatime grabs Susan's sleeve, which tears and sends him falling down the tower. In the original, she briefly wonders whether he's crazy enough to try and kill the person he's holding onto, probably lampshading how this usually goes, decides he would be, and kicks him. Presumably this was changed because viewers couldn't read her thoughts in the live-action version, so they wouldn't have known her justification.
In the original film, Nikita, the title character is a drug-abusing psychopath who murders one cop in cold blood, stabs another through the hand with a pencil, etc. who is taken in and trained by the government into becoming an assassin, which causes her to change into a better person, providing the drama of the film. In the first television show based on the movie, La Femme Nikita, the title character is remade as a non-drug-addicted, non-psychopathic, remarkably centered street kid who is framed for a crime she did not commit before getting shunted into the secret government program. Inexplicably, it works.
In the next TV adaption, Nikita, a corrupt cop kills a friend of Nikita's and then she takes the cop's gun and shoots him dead. Her actions are more justified then in the film but it is still murder.
The film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen replaced the original Invisible Man — a serial rapist and murderer, which only differs from Wells' original novel character in that the first is confirmed rather than implied — with a burglar who'd stolen some of the first Invisible Man's potion. Granted, this was one of the film's lesser outrages, was due in part to some legal wranglings, and, in any case, asking mainstream moviegoers to accept a sex offender as a PG-13 hero wouldn't have gone over well.
Inverted in the film of The Long Goodbye as compared to Chandler's original novel in the book, Terry Lennox gets a Karma Houdini with his only punishment being his own guilt; in the film, Marlowe kills him.
In Enough, the heroine, after being chased and threatened by her abusive husband, breaks into his house, removes anything he can use as a weapon to defend himself, plants evidence to make it look like he tricked her into coming and attacked her, all so she can beat him to death with her bare hands. After they fight, she has him at her mercy and can't actually go through with it, at which point this trope kicks in, he lunges at her again, and ends up getting knocked out the window to his death.
Seen in Watchmen, the film adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. In Chapter VI (“The Abyss Gazes Also”) of the graphic novel, Rorschach fatally injures a prison inmate by burning him with cooking oil. The reader is supposed to understand both that Rorschach’s life is threatened and that Rorschach fatally disables his assailant pre-emptively. In the film, the assailant attacks Rorschach first - whereupon Rorschach successfully defends himself with a metal cafeteria tray, renders the assailant senseless with the tray and then kills him with a steam table cauldron full of deep fryer oil. Within the meaning of the trope, the effect is at best ambiguous. The graphic novel’s Rorschach reflexively attacks the Greedo analog first, but the movie’s Rorschach smashes a glass window to grab the oil and deliberately kills a man whom he has already disarmed, disabled and knocked to his knees.
As unnecessary as the finishing move was, Rorschach may have been trying to show the other inmates what he would do to them if they came after him.
In the film Rules of Engagement there is a court martial trying to decide if Col Samuel L. Jackson overreacted by ordering his men to fire into a hostile crowd. At the end film footage is found showing that every member of the crowd - including women, children and a donkey — was heavily armed.
In the original ending of A Perfect Murder Emily shoots Stephen before he even begins his attempts to kill her and fakes a struggle to ensure her freedom, thus creating the "perfect murder". Test audiences didn't take to the ambiguity of the character so the final version has Stephen attack her (even giving him a Not Quite Dead sequence), Emily's struggle now genuine and her murder of Stephen now spontaneous and in visible terror for her life.
In L.A. Confidential, Bud White storms into the house of a man who has kidnapped and raped a woman. After finding the woman tied to the bed and the rapist watching cartoons, White promtply shoots him. Then he takes the dead man's own gun, fires a bullet into the wall behind him, and plants it in his hand before the other policemen arrive.
In the theatrical release of Dirty Harry, Harry fired five shots during the bank robbery, then cocks the hammer when confronting the surviving bank robber, but lowers the hammer when the robber backs down. When he's told "I got's to know", he cocks the hammer - rotating the cylinder to an already fired chamber - then pulls the trigger, clicking the hammer against a spent round. In the DVD release, he fires six shots - an additional, offscreen shot is added when the getaway car pulls away - thus making his confrontation of the robber an empty threat.
Layer Cake has this between the book and film in the protagonist's assassination of his treacherous boss. In the book, he first messily kills the guy's guard dogs and then shoots him in the head a few times for the fun of it. In the movie, the dogs live and the assassination is a single neat and bloodless shot to the head. Admittedly, the latter is presented in a pretty cool way.
Agatha Christie did something like this in adapting her novel Ten Little NiggersTen Little IndiansAnd Then There Were None into a play. The newer version has a happier ending and in doing so, changes the crimes of the surviving characters such that they are much less culpable. Or at least tried to- one of Lombard's crimes is abandoning a number of tribesmen who were his guides to die in the wilderness, which he explains as perfectly OK as that's how things work in Africa. He does this both in his Heroic Sociopath version in the novel and as a Gentleman Adventurer in the play (though in the latter, he does later mention that he left all the food, water, and weapons with his guides afters they got hopelessly lost, and was just incredibly lucky to be found once he set out on his own). In the 1945 movie version, it goes even further and changes Lombard to an impersonating friend of Lombard (who himself has committed suicide) who goes to the island looking for information on what drove his friend to it.
Subverted in Star Trek: New Frontier. Makkenzie Callhoun wants to kill some guy as revenge, but being a Starfleet officer, he cannot shoot first. So he outright PROVOKES the guy into trying to kill him, so he can kill the guy in self-defense.
In a flashback, Calhoun decides to execute a man because the man ordered the deaths of his Captain's brother and daughter. He knows he'll be court-martialed, but commits to the act in order to spare his CO's sanity. As he's pressing the trigger, the victim pulls a phaser he'd lifted from a security guard. Everyone present assumes Calhoun saw the weapon, reacted in self-defense, and just happens to have lightning-fast reflexes.
In first novel of The Dark Tower, The Gunslinger, Allie is held as a shield and hostage by Sheb as the residents of Tull attack Roland. Originally, Roland kills her out of pure instinct. His trained hands react quicker than his mind. She screams at him not to shoot, but it's too late, and the guilt of her death sits on Roland throughout the rest of the story. In the revised edition, there is a convoluted subplot in which after Walter resurrects a dead man, he tells Allie that if she says "nineteen", he will tell her what he saw on the other side. Knowing will drive her crazy, but so will not. Later, during the shootout, she begs Roland to kill her because she has spoken nineteen to Sheb and can't bear the horrors that he whispered back to her. As she dies King says that "the last expression on her face might have been gratitude."
The Doctor Who episode "Deep Breath" deliberately leaves it ambiguous whether the Doctor pushed the cyborg off the hot air balloon, or whether the cyborg jumped.
In the original play of Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour though unable to shoot the dentist, purposefully stands back and lets the dentist suffocate in his laugh Gas Mask, even singing about how he can kill him without lifting a finger. However, in the movie remake, Seymour is clearly reluctant to shoot/kill the dentist, and the song from the play is cut out. This was probably done to make the protagonist a little more sympathetic.
Also applies to a later scene, where Seymour tricks Mushnik into looking inside the plant. The movie changes this to Mushnik looking inside the plant against Seymour's objections. Both of these scenes led to the original ending, where Audrey II eats Seymour, then goes on to conquer America, testing poorly.
Specifically invoked by a quest in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. You're supposed to "take care of" some members of the Camonna Tong, but you aren't permitted to murder them or you'll be arrested. So you just have to taunt one of them until he or she finally gets pissed off enough to attack you, wherein the others will join the fight, and you can kill them all in self-defense.
Gets even better in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The illusion spell tree has a series of spells (Fury[single], Frenzy[area explosion], Mayhem[unholy signature attack], and some sidequest-fueled powers) designed to "enrage" the target, making them attempt to murder the closest thing that moves. This magic attack is considered an assault, but not murder. Do it on an innocent, unarmed man AND EVERYONE WILL HATE HIS EXISTENCE AS MUCH AS HE CURRENTLY DOES. Have fun killing the target in self defense AFTER he throws the first cherry tap, or better yet, let his friends and family kill him with an execution move! Nobody even bats an eye after they gruesomely murder someone who has been a close friend their whole lives, much less question why he was raving, frothing and glowing for the last ten seconds of his life. You'd think that the girl who cast spells in public or the guy who turned invisible MIGHT have had something to do with that...
Oh, and two more things. When assassinating The Emperor, there may be a small chance, if you are detected while killing Maro but run away to the ship that The Emperor is on, in a Crowning Moment Of Black Comedy, the guard who saw you might get uber-paranoid, assume that this is all a plot from the Elder Council to kill The Emperor and frame Skyrim as a whole, and kill as many Pentaculus Occulus Agents (Tamriel's version of Covert Operatives) as he can before being gunned down, although this troper saw him succeed at butchering the open deck. And to kill your target without entering a murder on your tally, conjure a frost rune next to the nearest weapon, provoke the target, wait for him to run out the door and come back and grab the weapon and KABLOOEY! "Silent kill, no murder".
Played straight in Fallout3 due to quirky programming. Some quests allow you to murder a significant character to hasten a conclusion, but you'll generally be given negative karma for the whole murdering act plus the rest of the town descending to tear you apart. However, if you can provoke a person through dialogue into attacking you (such as Roy Phillips), you can them kill them afterwards with no karma loss, and often citizens will barely comment on the whole ordeal.
World of Warcraft lets us know that the bandit kingpin VanCleef was originally the leader of a guild of stonemasons who turned to thieves when the nobles of Stormwind refused to pay them for rebuilding the capital. Even though it was made clear enough that the corrupt nobility was to blame, this apperantly made the Alliance look too cruel, so an RPG book of additional information changed the event into VanCleef demanding insane amounts of gold for the work and flipping out when the king refused to pay him extra. Then, the whole thing was changed again into a plot by Onyxia, who was manipulating everyone involved with magic - the Stonemasons into asking for more than the agreed-upon price and the nobles into trying to pay them less.
According to all the information found within WoW and the official site, the Stormpike dwarves went into Alterac Valley, disregarded pleas to go away and started digging the local orcs' graveyards for archeological treasures, which spawns a small war in the area. Once again, the RPG books try to make the Alliance seem less grey-moraled by saying the Stormpikes have lived practically three miles away for hundreds of years or something like that and the Frostwolf clan (who are typically portrayed by Blizzard as quite peaceful) invaded for no apparent reason. Thankfully this is ignored in World of Warcraft.
The original story of Anduin Lothar's death is that Doomhammer ambushed him while the later was on its way for negotiations. This is later retconned into Doomhammer challenging him to honorable combat and winning. Blizzard in general is fairly liberal in changing their lore as they see fit.
In Warcraft III, as part of Arthas' fall to theDark Side, he slaughters the people of Stratholme before they can become plague zombies to spare them and their countrymen from that horrible fate. It's a very morally ambiguous event designed to illustrate his potential for evil. In World of Warcraft, thanks to the Caverns of Time, you can participate in this event with your own character. In this retelling, however, most of the people he kills are already zombies or are cultists, and most of the rest reveal themselves to be evil time-traveling dragons. Needless to say, this completely shatters the ambiguity of the event. (Although while you're busy killing undead in the city, Arthas is back at the entrance slaughtering any of the still-human citizens who naturally respond by fleeing the city.)
Han Solo turns himself in for accidental manslaughter and serves two years in an Empire prison. Meanwhile, the Rebellion is crushed when the Imperial Death Star successfully destroys their base on the fourth moon of Yavin.
On his release, Solo dedicates his life to social work, trying to make a difference amongst the oppressed poor. He lives out his life in obscurity and dies early from overwork, while the Empire endures for another thousand years.
Tuuk: I blew up a ship of thirty-seven... In my defense, they shot at me first. Rameth: I killed my parents... In my defense, they abused me as a child. Gulroth: I set fire to an orphanage... In my defense, um... I... uh... well, you know how it is.
Darth Vader: What you're doing, you?.. You shot first!
Han Solo: Yeah. Why wouldn't I?
Darth Vader: I, eh... I don't know the answer on that.
On Animaniacs, the Warners would only screw with people who were mean to them first. This allowed them to be obnoxious, but still likable. However, in the original storyboard for Plane Pals, which is available online, the Warners start messing with a guy on the plane first. The studio thought this made the Warners look needlessly cruel, and had the writers change it so the guy was antagonistic before the Warners did anything to him.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. In the uncut original, Tim Drake shoots The Joker with a "Bang!" Flag Gun while Brainwashed and Crazy, visibly impaling him. The Bowdlerised television broadcast turns this into the Joker being attacked by Tim instead and, after a brief struggle, slipping backwards and being electrocuted by some nearby exposed electrical wiring. Ironically, while the latter version is technically an accident and happens off-screen, the silhouette and scream make it even more gruesome.
It's been said this is the recurring method the DCAU writers used to avoid censorship from Standards and Practices. "If you order us to change something, we will follow your orders to the letter while making it substantiallymore horrific".
The 1944 Looney Tunes cartoon Hare Ribbin' has two different endings, both too violent to be shown on kids/family TV but one being slightly more messed up. The ending that was originally shown in theaters at the time had Bugs Bunny handing the dog a gun so he could shoot himself in the head and commit suicide. The "director's cut" ending (which is currently only available on the fifth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVDs) had Bugs pulling out a gun and shooting him in the mouth. That's probably as messed up as Bugs can get in a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Mark Bowden's book, Killing Pablo, mentions that Colombian policemen would summarily execute drug dealers and say they died "during a shootout with police."
Similarly, some police officers have been known to carry "throw down" guns, unregistered weapons (often confiscated from another criminal) that can be planted if they shoot someone who turns out not to be armed. In New Orleans they're called "ham sandwiches".
This tradition goes back years with the NOPD, and officers used to carry "drop knives" for the same purpose. The apocryphal cautionary story tells how a veteran sergeant arrived at the scene of a shooting, turned over the suspect's body, and discovered that thanks to over-eager recruits he had apparently been threatening officers with four knives.
Tacking on a charge of assaulting the arresting police officer is another "tradition" — Monty Python's Flying Circus had a sketch (partly) about police brutality where everyone in the courtroom was invited to join in on reciting it, and in The Onion's video piece "Judge Rules White Girl Will Be Tried As Black Adult," it's one of the effects of the ruling.
One of Tucker Max's books has a story about meeting an FBI agent on a flight, and the agent tells him about people he knows in Border Patrol, who will shoot illegal immigrants from 100 yards away with a rifle at nighttime, then write in their report "Subject was threatening agent with a rock".
In certain areas of Pacific Island countries like Papua New Guinea, those who mess with or greatly inconvenience the police - who are as a rule corrupt and tend to overlap with the region's criminal elements - have been known to end up with a neat bullet-hole between their eyes, or in their temples. On the rare occasions when they are called to justify themselves, the police invariably claim they had been acting in self-defence.