"Make no mistake, all of you. You shoot one cop, or one innocent bystander, and the public stops cheering and the cops stop looking the other way and all of a sudden you're just another dirtbag on the street."All about the complex, soldiers are hunting for our hero, with orders to shoot to kill. They know he's dangerous. They've taken shots at him. He may even be wounded. But.... his gun is still in its holster. Why isn't he fighting back? Why is he just defensively dodging? Because they ought to be on his side. They're good guys, and he knows it. The Rival, believing his own Malicious Slander, sent them after him, or The Mole is deliberately trying to disable him — but at any rate, these apparent Mooks ought to be on The Hero's side, so he can't shoot them, no matter how deluded they are about who's the good guy. A Sub-Trope of Never Hurt an Innocent and Friend or Foe. Policemen often fall under this if The Hero is accused of a crime, especially with the better sort of Vigilante Man. (Wrongful Accusation Insurance not withstanding — and it does make Clear My Name much easier if he doesn't do this.) Sometimes overlaps with Arrested for Heroism. It also may plant seeds of doubt when the character doesn't attack as violently as expected. Especially when The Hero refuses to Get It Over With. More common on the idealistic side of Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, though not quite as high as Thou Shalt Not Kill. On high stakes missions, a character may have to kill such men to keep his mission going. This trope comes into play if it results in Dirty Business, no matter how high the stakes. (Such as, all the guards will die if he doesn't defuse the bomb, and so he has to get past them.) This tends to push things toward cynicism. See also Apologetic Attacker.
— Mack Bolan, The Executioner #2: Death Squad
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- A variant in Fullmetal Alchemist. Roy Mustang and his men are willing to return fire when fighting the military but specifically avoid shooting to kill. Any other enemy would have been burned to death instantly. The army interprets this as Mustang trying to mess with their heads and tries harder. On the other hand, the Briggs forces (including Falman, formerly of Mustang's group) really have no choice but to kill Central forces, who are shown as equally brave against the odds as the heroes.
- In Busou Renkin, this is why Kazuki refused to kill the Alchemist Warriors sent after him when he is about to go Victor.
- Totally and completely averted in the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. After the whole of Section 9 is falsely accused of a crime, you would need an accountant to keep track of the dead among the black-ops military team sent to arrest them. They even finished off soldiers who had already been neutralized as a threat.
- Transformers Cybertron: While the Autobots fight Starscream's army, the US Military launches several jets to attack everyone involved, unaware of the different factions. Despite taking fire from two directions, the Autobots only fire on the Decepticons, while the Decepticons "do not hesitate to fire on anything that gets in their way". The episode comes off as something of a Take That to how Autobot-Human military relationships tend to go in the Transformers comics.
- During the Heavenly Emperor Arc in Fist of the North Star, Kenshiro comes to realize that Falco and his soldiers are honorable good people, so he avoids fighting them while figuring out why they seem forced to do evil deeds.
- In a Marvel What If?, Captain America refused to lay aside the name (instead of the arc when he was just The Captain). Soldiers come after him, having been told he's an imposter; one actually thinks it's hard to believe that it's not Captain America, but jumps into the fray. Cap doesn't want to hurt them.
- In an issue of Superman where he goes to Earth Prime, which is basically our world with all its mundanities, an army commander orders his men to shoot on Superman. They do so, thinking he's some sort of impostor or crazy person, but when the smoke clears and he's just fine, the men turn on their commander.
- The final run of Garth Ennis' The Punisher MAX involved Frank being in the sights of a cabal of Corrupt US Army Generals...who use their connections to send a group of special operations soldiers after him. Frank doesn't kill them, but that doesn't mean he doesn't fight them. This would appear to only apply to American soldiers, too; he doesn't hesitate to shoot Russian soldiers in a nuclear missile base. Frank also usually takes it easy on superheroes who get between him and his targets. Of course, "taking it easy" for Frank Castle still usually involves fisticuffs, non-lethal shootings, stabbings, and on one occasion, a steamroller. In that particular story, he was fighting Wolverine and was allowed to go all out since Wolverine can always get better.
- In The DCU, the Vigilante (the Adrian Chase version) refused to shoot at honest cops, even when they were trying to shoot him.
- In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, John Connor forbids the Terminator from killing the SWAT officers who are swarming the building. The Terminator follows orders, strictly speaking, but stops the cops anyway by shooting them in their legs.
- The heroes in the film version of RED go out of their way not to kill any of the police, feds or secret service agents trying to catch them, instead pinning them down with suppression fire and running away. The only people they ever do kill are the mercenaries and CIA spooks actively trying to kill them.
- In The Dark Knight, Batman is forced to non-lethally disable a SWAT team that has mistaken the hostages for armed hostage-takers, a plan of the Joker meant to cruelly force this trope to its darkest possible outcome. Granted, Batman never intentionally kills people, but he's noticeably more careful in that scene and doesn't brutalise or cripple them either.
- Later, it does indeed all go downhill for him in the eyes of the law and the public when he takes the blame for the death of Harvey Dent (and the murders he committed).
- In Salt, the titular protagonist tries her very best not to fatally injure any of her "good guy" pursuers. Sure, she causes them a lot of pain and broken bones, but nobody dies, especially not the Russian President, who is merely knocked out with spider venom.
- In Minority Report, Anderton must first dispatch a group of his own pre-crime teammates, and then with a number of FBI agents. Though law enforcement is already mostly geared toward non-lethal weapons in this universe, Anderton takes more care to make sure none of his comrades are hurt too extensively. At one point, he makes sure one of the pre-cops has a good, secure grip on a fire escape before he steals the cop's jetpack.
- Contrast this with the Xbox video game adaptation, which throws this trope entirely out the window, along with a dozen or so honest cops trying to do their jobs. Spoony's review of it calls it out on how horrifying and ridiculous it is to insist your innocence of one murder while performing a hundred more.
- In Rush Hour, Lee is without his credentials and finds himself at gunpoint when he mentions the ambassador's daughter to some FBI agents. He disarms both (in trademark "Jackie Chan" style) and dismantles the guns.
- Sidestepped in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. The film avoids the issue that loyal secret service and US military, not realizing that the president has been replaced, would continue to protect and serve as necessary and not all be Cobra infiltrators. Therefore during the final battle when the Joes are shown ruthlessly killing these men, the film avoids addressing whether this trope is actually being averted in some cases.
- In First Blood, Rambo goes out of his way not to kill any of the cops who are pursuing him and only kills one of them when they really force his hand.
- In The Zombie Knight, Hector very carefully avoids hurting any of the many police chasing after him. At one point, he gets extremely frustrated and breaks one cop's arm, but he more or less never stops feeling bad about it. His behavior later pays off, as the care he took not to kill innocents was instrumental in allowing the queen to clear his name later.
- In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Eisenhorn novels, Eisenhorn has to kill several fellow Inquisitors, because they were set on his trail by a rogue Inquisitor and if he dies, no one will stop the rogue. He feels it very hard.
- The Executioner novel series. Mack Bolan decided early on that he would not fire on police officers, even though being arrested would end his war against the Mafia (and result in his death once the Mafia got to him in prison). That may, however, have been pragmatism as much as anything. As seen in the page quote, Bolan was savvy to the fact that as long as only bad guys died, the law would feel inclined to look the other way. As soon as innocents or cops start dying, the boys in blue will tear heaven and earth apart to find you.
- The Spider didn't kill cops for much the same reason—even crooked cops. (He had no compunction about beating the snot out of them, though; the Spider wasn't stupid.)
- There's an odd example in Solo Command. Lara Notsil gets discovered to be the woman who caused the deaths of Talon Squadron, and she's well aware that the fact that she became the mask and went through a Heel–Face Turn doesn't change her history. Despite being shot at by her love interest, the only surviving member of Talon Squadron, all she does is flee. She goes to the enemy, Warlord Zsinj, as a Fake Defector, and when she actually has to face the squadron she powers down her lasers so that she can shoot at them without actually doing damage. Suspecting the situation, Wedge Antilles orders that she isn't to be fired on. And it turns out that her low-powered lasers were doing more than just giving the pretense of attacking; she was blasting them with an encoded message.
- The Modesty Blaise short story "I Had a Date with Lady Janet" (published in the collection Pieces of Modesty) describes a situation dating back to when Modesty was the leader of a criminal gang in which a lucrative robbery job was cancelled due to Modesty being unable to work out a plan that didn't involve police officers being hurt.
- The Hunger Games plays with averting this trope as Katniss continually has to remind herself that she might have to kill sympathetic competitors such the child, Rue, or her friend Peeta in order to survive the game. Ultimately, she doesn't have to kill any sympathetic characters, however in the third book of the trilogy, Mockingjay, the trope is finally averted when she cold-bloodedly shoots an innocent bystander during the final battle.
- Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files goes way out of his way to keep cops out of harm's way, even when they're shooting at him. While it has nothing to do with his intentions - and in fact it's doubtful whether Harry ever thinks that far in advance - that position buys him credibility and favors from many skeptical cops.
- The Sword of Truth has the titular sword magically enforce this trope - the wielder physically cannot harm someone they believe to be innocent. Of course, that necessitates that only incredibly perceptive and quick-thinking people are qualified for the position, because there's a deep gulf between belief and fact. Richard discovers that the restriction only applies when the sword is powered by anger. When it's powered by love, it's no-holds-barred. Interestingly, this turns out to ultimately be the key to the power of Orden - being able to unlock the love mode and do what has to be done, regardless of the cost. YMMV.
- Averted in the Death Merchant novel, "The Soul Search Project" where the protagonist and his team kill dozens of NYPD officers during a chase without blinking an eye and justify it by saying: "you have to break a few eggs to get an omelet". Of course the titular Death Merchant is a Anti-Hero who won't think twice about averting Never Hurt an Innocent if it's the quickest way to accomplish a mission.
- The same author also wrote a series of books called C.O.B.R.A. in which this trope is inverted regularly as the protagonist, Jon Skul, frequently kills police and innocent bystanders in order to complete his missions, with zero remorse shown (and in fact on one occasion an ally attempts to pull a What the Hell, Hero? on Skul, only to be shouted down.
Live Action Television
- In the Babylon 5 episode "Messages from Earth", the White Star enters the Solar System illegally to destroy a Shadow warship that the Earth Government are trying to reactivate. Having done so, they are then pursued by Sheridan's old ship, the Agamemnon. Naturally, Sheridan refuses to fire on it.
- Dexter wasn't willing to kill Doakes, instead keeping him held hostage for a couple episodes after the latter discovered that he was the Bay Harbor Butcher. Luckily (or Unluckilly), though, Lila came along... Though Dexter wasn't exactly grateful.
- Leverage features this in the episode "The Lost Heir Job" after Parker is framed for shooting a police officer. Eliot claims that he isn't going to hit the cops that are following them. Fortunately, Parker is more willing to use Stun Guns on them.
- On Burn Notice, Michael is good enough to fire shots to dissuade pursuit without actually hurting any of them, and he even discusses the need for it in the voiceovers by pointing out that the cops really are just doing their jobs and it's not fair to hurt one even when he really needs them off his trail. Madeline later describes this trait to one of the people Michael shot at: "If my son wanted to kill you, you'd be dead."
- In the second season of 24, Jack breaks orders (as usual) and attempts to sneak out of the CTU with Kate Warner to locate proof that the Middle Eastern country charged with detonating a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil is innocent. Tony discovers this and attempts to keep Jack from leaving by holding him at gunpoint. However, it's merely a bluff and Jack realizes this, using Tony's refusal to actually shoot him as a chance to instead knock him down and escape.
- In season four of Person of Interest the ISA send a team to obtain a virus that our heroes are also after. Devon Grice, one of the ISA operatives, gets the chance to shoot Shaw and take the virus, but instead lets her go.
- Crops up in a late-series episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when the main characters are attempting to infiltrate Cardassian territory in a captured enemy warship. A Federation starship detects them and opens fire Unable to break radio silence without potentially blowing their cover, and unable to simply outrun their pursuer, Sisko eventually -and reluctantly- orders his crew to return fire and target the Federation ship's weapon systems. It forces the ship to break off the attack without destroying it, but it's very possible that some of its crew were killed or badly injured. That's DS9 for you.
- Shirou has this attitude during the Grail War, which causes every single one of his allies to facepalm or threaten him with death. Seriously, only going after bad guys in a There Can Be Only One fight to the death? More often than not though, he's proven right with this stance, especially when the truth about the Holy Grail comes to light.
- In the original Splinter Cell, killing CIA security forces while trying to break into CIA Headquarters resulted in an instant mission failure.
- In Chaos Theory you could kill U.S. National Guard forces while sneaking around New York, but it'd automatically drop your mission score to 0%. The same applies to the ROK soldiers during the Seoul mission. In the final mission, killing JSDF personnel while breaking into a Japanese base results in an instant mission failure (although it's more due to political consequences rather than moral considerations). Towards the end of that mission though, lethal force is authorised when it is clear who are the real enemies.
- Completely thrown out the window in Double Agent, where you're undercover as a member of a domestic terrorist group, and can kill prison guards, security guards and Mexican marines at your leisure (although doing so drops your NSA trust meter, which can lead to a game over if you overdo it). The Nintendo GameCube and 6th Generation versions forced you to avert this trope at times. There was only one trust meter, which went back and forth between NSA and JBA. Sometimes you had no choice but to gun down a couple of security guards or police if you were leaning too close to the former.
- This trope is played straight in Conviction for the most part where the POTUS orders Sam not to kill the DC Metro Police who confronts him. In coop, the protagonists are prohibited from killing the St Petersburg SWAT team and Azeri police in the following mission. The Russian bodyguards/plain-clothed soldiers guarding the GRU delegation in the aforementioned mission cannot be dealt with lethally until it is confirmed the general they are protecting is dirty.
- In Blacklist, this extends to the American soldiers while breaking out of the Guantanamo Bay prison and Indian soldiers in one mission of the co-op campaign. For a certain definition of good guys,the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps gets no such protection in Blacklist despite Iran being framed and actually attempting to apprehend one of the villains involved with the attacks. This is likely because the country is an adversary state to the US, and the IRGC is listed as a terrorist organisation, even if they are innocent of backing the Engineers.
- In Callof Duty Black Ops 2 one of the missions has the player in the role of the mole in Menedez's organisation who has no choice but to kill any Yemeni soldiers who gets in his way for self-defence and to keep his cover.
- During the Chaos Rising expansion of Dawn of War 2, this can be played straight by killing only Chaos tainted members of the Blood Raven Honour Guard to preserve purity points or averted by killing everyone who gets in your way to corrupt your squad.
- This is one gameplay option in Shadow the Hedgehog and Shadow's canon modus operandi from now on. He'll still fight Sonic, but they're each other's Worthy Opponents and Sonic appreciates the excitement, plus it's technically sparring. Sonic himself wouldn't attack a good guy outside of sparring either. Or when fighting for his life against a misguided Silver.
- In Alpha Protocol, Mike has one or two opportunities to shoot at police and other aggressors that are "just doing their jobs", mainly in Taiwan. Doing so will often score him negative points with his handler. Mina's opinion of you will drop by 1 point per kill, making it possible to go from "best buds" to "worst enemies" faster than you can say "but I didn't have any tranquilizer darts!". Fortunately, both these sedative darts and non-lethal melee takedowns let you Take a Third Option, albeit often painfully hospitalizing the target in the latter case. Additionally, characters may remark on your lethality (or lack thereof) and appreciate that in later meetings, especially Albatross in regards to infiltrating one of the G-22 facilities and engaging a number of soldiers there. The same goes for U.S. Marines. On the other hand, killing police, CIA agents, and Marines will also help prove to Leland that you're a worthy asset, who is willing to get things done, and helps unlock the endings where either Mike goes to work for Halbech, or betrays Leland and proceeds to Take Over the World.
- Discussed in Battlefield 3, as a GRU Spetsnaz team attempts to stop a terrorist plot to nuke Paris. The team leader points out that there will be no time to establish their credentials with French police, who won't see the difference between them and the terrorists, and that in the grand scheme of things, sacrificing a number of French cops to prevent a war in which millions of Russians die is no contest. He's clearly unhappy about doing this, however, but feels it has to be done.
- Mentioned but not used very much in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Snake sneaks aboard a tanker that is crewed by Marines who are guarding a new Metal Gear variant. As such, he is armed only with a tranquilizer gun so that he won't cause any fatalities amongst the Marines who are simply doing their duty. However, that all goes out the window when the ship is taken over by Ocelot's mercenaries.
- While American enemies show up all over the place in the Metal Gear series this trope is never really applied because the Americans in question are otherwise traitors, terrorists, rebels against the US, or they're conducting seedy black operations for the US Government — this places them firmly out of the realm of sympathy for the audience. Also in contrast to Metal Gear Solid 2, nothing stops Big Boss from killing the US Marines stationed at Camp Omega (an analogue for Camp Delta, the infamous prison camp on Guantanamo Bay soil) in the pursuit of his mission in Ground Zeroes. While some of the Marines are shown mistreating the prisoners, it seems unlikely that everyone there was guilty of that, and no moral dissonance is made from Big Boss killing former comrades (he's former US Special forces). Though whether Big Boss kills these Marines is all up to the player's gameplay choices.
- In DROD: The City Beneath, when Beethro returns to his hometown of Dugandy and finds the royal guards now have orders to kill him, at first he says "I don't know if I could kill a fellow Dugandite." Whether he makes it through this part of the game living up to that, or changes his mind and slaughters every guard in sight, is up to the player.