"It's conceivable, you miserable, vomitous mass, that I'm only lying here because I lack the strength to stand. But, then again... perhaps I have the strength after all."
As a rule, much of fiction ends with the villain being defeated by the hero. This should be dramatic, but if the true villain isn't that physically powerful
, then this is going to be a rather short fight.
Sure, a writer could give their master manipulator
a Humongous Mecha
or have your amoral industrialist
secretly be a martial arts master
, but there's also something satisfying in bringing the invincible hero down a few pegs. Many pegs. To the point where they're already a few moments from death when they meet; this has the effect of showing that the character isn't fearless simply due to having superior power, but superior character
-strength even when stripped of those abilities.
You Can Barely Stand is a scene where the villain meets the hero when he's in no fit state to fight. The threat of blood loss or collapse is as much a threat as the bad guy slapping him about and telling him he's failed
and that he's not that invincible after all
. The reason for the injuries can include a special weakness
, having been poisoned, having been tortured
, magical influence, or having just gotten the crap kicked out of him
by either the Mooks
or The Dragon
Either way, the hero will eventually get a dramatic burst
and fight on despite his weakened state, and will usually defeat their foe by the slightest of margins. Only once they've won will they be allowed the luxury of collapsing
. For a truly Bittersweet Ending
, they might never get up again
On the flip-side, The Hero
may be fighting a lackey who's just too stubborn to quit. In pity, the hero tells the lackey that they should surrender, or just leaves the fight themselves. This often happens in the leadup to a Heel-Face Turn
A common form of Drama-Preserving Handicap
. A villainous version of Tempting Fate
. If the hero is at their physical best when meeting the villain face-to-face, expect the hero to suffer a Game-Breaking Injury
Compare: Heroic Resolve
, Heroic Second Wind
, The Man Behind the Curtain
. Often caused by Combat Breakdown
or Crippling the Competition
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- Superman gets to do this a lot, including fighting weakened by a red sun and having just come out of a coma, or just having been stabbed with Kryptonite.
- Done with somewhat different implications in the animated series finale "Legacy," where a depowered Superman lets out his anger on Lex Luthor, shattering the latter's jaw in one punch.
- Reminding us all that even without superpowers, Clark Kent is still a big man who gets very intense workouts on a regular basis.
- Really more of an inversion. He can cut loose because he doesn't have to worry about accidentally killing Lex. This happened in Smallville too.
- Subverted in one instance in the comics (fighting a makeshift squad of villains). He's very ill, but still very strong. The conflict is that, as he says to the villains, he is so sick he has no idea if his punches will remove heads from necks.
- Spider-Man fought The Black Widow in one issue. He had a case of pneumonia that would have put an ordinary man into the hospital, but it just slowed and weakened him down enough that the Black Widow thought he been toying with her when he broke free of her swing line at the end of the fight.
- In ElfQuest, Cutter refuses to be healed during the first battle with the Northern Trolls because it would take him out of the fighting for too long, and his tribe needed every fighter they had.
- A non-combat version from The Sandman: an unnamed country punishes criminals by hanging. The big cities always have enough people willing to become professional hangmen, but in smaller towns, people aren't willing to face the social stigma. So what the small towns do is choose a condemned prisoner who's unlikely to be too much trouble and offer to suspend his sentence if he'll act as hangman. That "suspend" is key; if the prisoner isn't hanged sooner or later, the town loses their right to have a hangman. One character accepts the offer, but as natural death approaches, he decides that he'd really prefer to die in his own bed. When the enforcers arrive, he's standing to meet them, although he was too ill to move, let alone stand, a mere panel or two before. Once the enforcers leave, we find that the character was supported by one of his own hangman's ropes, strung to a roof beam.
- In the Firefly fanfic Forward story "Business," River and Jayne are in this state when they fight the Hands of Blue at the climax. This is because they had been captured and tortured by Niska previously, and had only just escaped that. In this case, Jayne actually proves to be the better fighter, if only because, being larger, stronger, and tougher, he was able to withstand the torture better than the much physically weaker River, who was reduced to a gibbering wreck following the ordeal and was so battered that she needed Jayne to carry her on his back. River is only able to fight because Jayne injects her with a syringe of synthetic adrenaline.
- The final scene of I Did Not Want To Die is this.
- Multiple times during the finale of the Tamers Forever Series, several people say this to the dying Takato, right before he does something insanely Bad Ass.
- In Discworld fic Whyand Were, Assassin Johanna Smith-Rhodes has to conclude an inhumation of a werecreature despite the fact it has broken her shooting arm and that her assistant has seemingly defected to the enemy camp.
- This is the case with the titular character at the end of Eisenhorn. His solution is to strap himself to a metal frame to ''let'' him stand.
- In the fourth book of The Sword of Truth, Richard defeats his evil brother, despite being barely able to stand due to a disease, and the brother wielding the titular sword. A couple minutes later, that brother tries to kill Richard, despite having his spine ripped out.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's short story "The Long Watch", the hero Lieutenant John Dahlquist barricades himself in an Interplanetary Patrol nuclear weapons bay on the Moon, while dying from the radiation dose he's getting from impromptu hammer-sabotage of a bunch of nuclear warheads sought by Colonel Towers, the leader of an attempted coup. It's sort of a You Can Barely Stand-off.
- Vimes in Thud! fights off a small army of dwarfs while badly beaten from a fall, cold and wet, and highly disorientated. However this is (probably) because of the Summoning Dark trying to control him. Where he really shows his Heroic Resolve is that, once he's run out of armed opponents, he stops.
- Harry Dresden. In nearly every book. In Fool Moon he basically uses up his magic— and that's before he even has a chance to confront the pack of werewolves he came to fight.
- Played with in Turn Coat: While it's really obvious that he can barely stand (numerous bandages, about to fall over from lack of sleep, and what have you) and he's hopelessly outnumbered, none of the other Wardens want to attack him because they've all heard about the crazy crap he's pulled when he's running on nothing but sheer bloodymindedness.
- Subverted in Changes, where the traditional early book injury is his back being broken, leaving him completely unable to fight or even move his legs. He accepts Mab's offer to be the Winter Knight, and for once goes into the fight not just fresh but stronger than he was when the book started.
- The RPG rulebook lampshades it. Harry asks why all the pictures of him show him beat to crap. Billy says it's because they're pictures of him on the case, and when he's on a case he's usually beat to crap. A little later on, Harry singles out one picture from a case file where he's not all beat up—only for Billy to point out it's from early in the case, and there's already a visible bruise on Harry's face.
- Old literary example: In Ivanhoe, the title character Wilfred of Ivanhoe meets Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert as challenger in a trial by combat despite barely being able to maintain his seat in the saddle due to severe wounds from a tournament earlier. Then Bois-Guilbert has a stroke and falls dead despite not even being touched by Ivanhoe's lance. This is of course taken as a sign from God.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Death-eaters are able to attack Hogwarts only because Dumbledore is severely weakened— likewise he is also able to be killed by Snape for this reason
- Although in Deathly Hallows, it's revealed that this killing arranged by Dumbledore and Snape themselves, it still was only believable because Dumbledore was in a severely-weakened state).
- Ron fits this trope literally in Prisoner of Azkaban. His leg is broken and he still gets up to protect Harry from an escaped convict (curse the movie for removing it).
- Northern Lights: Lyra sets up a fight-to-the-death between Iorek Byrnison and the usurper of the throne of the Armored Bears, Iofur, in a last ditch effort to help Iorek, only to realize later that Iorek, after a battle with cliff-ghasts and days of journeying through the tundra with no food and rest, will not be in the best condition to fight. The alethiometer eventually gets tired of telling her she has nothing to worry about.
- In Tad Williams' Otherland, Orlando Gardiner spends much of the story in this state, because he is suffering from a terminal disease in real life. Ironically, he should be the strongest of all the characters, since his online persona is a strapping barbarian warrior.
- In the Star Wars novel Shatterpoint, Mace Windhu has operated with little sleep for several days, gone through at least three separate battles that day, and been stabbed in the stomach with a lightsaber, and finds himself wobbling on his feet as he faces a man twice his size and much more powerful in the Force, who already beat him senseless once. it turns out the enemy's vibroblade weapons cut straight through each other, and a dead elite mook happened to leave one where Mace could force-throw it. The fight lasts maybe two seconds.
- In the Dale Brown novel Flight of the Old Dog, the titular Airstrike Impossible starts with the titular Cool Plane already damaged from a takeoff under enemy fire, with its operators not at 100% due to needs must, and gets into steadily worse straits along the way, including damaged/malfunctioning engines, compromised fuel tanks and failing sensors.
- Honor Harrington does this in Flag in Exile where after the best part of three days of awake activity, being shot out of the sky, having a bomb go off next to her, and being in a life-or death duel, she still has to fight her ship. Good thing she sits in her command chair.
- Also an example: that duel itself. She was already a wreck when she staggered into the Parliament session to denounce the Big Bad in front of everybody, and then he tried to outfox her by demanding a duel when she was clearly in no state to fight. He was one of the most accomplished duelers on the planet, and she had never so much as picked up a sword until she came to Grayson. She killed him in one stroke.
- In the Dragonlance series, Raistlin Majere is a rare case of the villain suffering from this. Suffering from the most severe Incurable Cough of Death in all of fiction because of his Test, Raistlin is almost constantly on the verge of keeling over or being blown away by a stiff breeze. Even Crysania, when she opposed him at first, sees him as a pitiable figure. And when Caramon confronts him in the Abyss, Raistlin had been burnt, stabbed, frozen, sheared and skewered to within an inch of his life, and yet Caramon still holds back. Not only because of lingering brotherly concern, but because even then Raistlin is still dangerous. 98% of his magic had been expended, but that last 2% was still enough to be worried about, not to mention his dagger of last resort that he had no compunctions to using.
- During the climactic battle in The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, Dean Moth fights a dragon offstage. When the protagonists do arrive on the scene some four chapters later, the duel is still going on and the dean is only standing upright because she's tied herself to a tree.
Live Action TV
- When Angel loses his soul for the umpteenth time, his sidekick calls in fallen Slayer Faith to hunt him down. This might have been a short fight, since Angel has a long record of getting soundly beaten every time he fights a Slayer (Faith herself managed to bounce him off the ceiling while attempting Suicide by Cop) so before the big fight she gets beaten to a bloody pulp by The Juggernaut. Oh, and gives herself a massive dose of magical opiates. She still nearly beats him, because Slayers are just that Bad Ass.
- Played straight in the original Battlestar Galactica series episode "Lost Planet of the Gods" two-parter.
Lt. Boomer: Colonel, Blue Squadron reporting for duty, sir.
Col. Tigh: Lieutenant, obviously you can't even stand.
Lt. Boomer: A Viper is flown from the seated position, sir.
- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy gets a rather cool line in the season four opener:
What about breaking your arm, (grabs at Buffy's left arm
) how'd that feel.
Let me answer that with a head butt. (she does and sends Sunday staggering
) And for the record, the arm is hurt,
(punches Sunday, sending her flying
) not broken.
- In Chuck, when Shaw has taken over the Buy More and has chained Sarah to a thick bar at the base of the Nerd Herd desk, Sarah tells Shaw that Chuck won't show up to save her because he can barely stand. Yet, lo, and behold, Chuck shows up while injured, gets a reboot, and takes the Paragon Path when he won't kill Shaw. Of course that doesn't stop Sarah from whacking him across the skull with the object of her restraint.
- Booth on Bones, in "Two Bodies In The Lab", after he's injured by the fridge bomb. He leaves the hospital against medical advice and makes Hodgins take him to where he realizes Brennan is being held. He can barely stay on his feet, but manages to stop the corrupt FBI agent and save Brennan. After which, he has to go back to the hospital.
- Very common in Professional Wrestling: the heel weakens the face before the big title match by getting his friends to beat him up, or forcing the face to have another match just before the title match, usually a handicap match, hardcore match or another grueling type. (This is referred to as the "Spirit of '76" spot, when the bandaged and battered face comes staggering out for the match anyway.)
- More commonly used now since the advent of the Money In The Bank match, which gives the winner the right to challenge the champion at any time, even right after a grueling title match where the title holder has been beaten brutally. Use of it this way often starts a Face-Heel Turn for the wrestler who wins the title this way.
- One does wonder about people like Commissar Yarrick in Warhammer 40,000, who have special abilities that allow them to stand up with one Wound left after being killed.
- Link gets a moment like this near the end of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. After Link meets up with Ganondorf for his last battle, the Gerudo rushes over and beats the stuffing out of Link. Thankfully, Zelda awakes, and the fight soon commences. Then, at the end of his sword-to-swordfight with Ganondorf and some assistance from Zelda, Link sends the Master Sword through Ganondorf's head, jumps back, and proceeds to bend over and collapse into the approaching Zelda's arms. But after a fight like that, who wouldn't be tired?
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare ends with your character taking multiple air-to-surface missiles to the face, leaving you in a half-unconscious state as the Big Bad walks over and starts gunning down your squadmates one by one. Your dying captain tosses you his sidearm, and the game's final action is a blurry slow-motion sequence where you shoot down the Big Bad and his two bodyguards before they can react and kill you.
- Modern Warfare 2's climax has you falling off a few hundred foot high waterfall after shooting down the Big Bad's helicopter. You recover, limping and badly injured, just in time for a hand-to-hand CQC fight with the Big Bad who is in much better condition following the crash.
- Modern Warfare 3's ending has you storm a gigantic Hotel highrise chasing after Makarov. As per usual in the Modern Warfare series you lose your weaponry (due to almost falling off the building), are critically injured (due to hijacking the escape helicopter but crashing it), and have to kill the Big Bad with basic weaponry (except this time you have to do it with your bare hands!)
- The final mission in Project Snowblind disables all the cool nanotech powers your character spent the game building up... but you're still left with standard FPS character Made of Iron durability, and there aren't many enemies in the last level anyway.
- Metal Gear Solid 4: after dealing with a bad heart/rebellious nanomachines, crawling through a hallway full of microwave radiation, and barely surviving a final assault by a bunch of mini-bots, Snake is captured by Liquid Ocelot, who challenges him to one last fight to the death. To ensure that it will be a fair match, Liquid injects Snake with some awesome drug, then, as they Cutscene Power to the Max, they continue to inject themselves with more and more of the drug, until despite their advanced ages, they are able to fight as if they were in their prime. This quickly devolves, however, to a You Can Barely Stand battle, as, at the end, the drug wears out, and it goes from two accomplished hand-to-hand combatants duking it out to two old men savagely slugging each other with whatever power they can muster. Note that Ocelot has a good 4 life bars, one for each game in the solid series, in different styles!
- Amusingly used in Disgaea. A villain springs one of Larharl's weaknesses, forcing you to go into a fight with his stats halved. That weakness? Giant breasts.
- Inverted in Golden Sun. 4 teenagers face the powerful villain Saturos in Mercury Lighthouse. Normally they would be no match for him, but the Mercury (Water) energy drastically weakens Saturos's Mars (Fire) Psynergy and gives Mia, who is a Mercury Adept, Psy Point regeneration. Still a somewhat challenging boss fight.
- Later in the game, at Venus Lighthouse, you fight Saturos and his partner Menardi to prevent them from lighting the lighthouse. Due to your massive increase in strength since the previous fight at Mercury, you defeat them with (relative) ease. After the fight, Mia actually says outright, "You can barely stand," in response to a comment from the injured Saturos. Cue Mia eating her words, dragon style. This trope, but with the roles reversed.
- The sequel Lost Age also has two incidents of this trope After the fight with replacement baddies Agatio and Karst atop the Jupiter Lighthouse. Regardless of how the fight goes, they're forced to make a hasty retreat because the fight with Felix and Co. took to much out of them, and the heroes from the last game are on their way up. Once the villains leave, Issac and co. arrive a tense standoff ensues between the two teams (long story). Ivan defuses the situation by suggesting they return to the local village to resolve things, as both teams are too tired to fight.
- By the time the last fight in video game Def Jam: Fight for New York comes around, your character has done the Charles Atlas Superpower power-ups for so long he has become a virtually Made of Iron fighting machine, so fighting the cowardly Manipulative Bastard Bad Boss who has never shown any sign of having any fighting ability seems like it should be pretty anti-climactic... except that he stabs you in the back with a cane sword before the bout begins, significantly lowering your health.
- And Crow isn't exactly a lightweight in the ring, either. (figuratively speaking; It is still Snoop Dog.)
- This happens in the fight with Incarose in Tales of Hearts, when other characters tell Shing to step down because of his recent state of being stabbed through the stomach. The weird thing is, you can't even put him in your party that fight. The lines are only known about because of the Sound Museum, although hacking him in does trigger the lines and even the victory animation.
- At the end of Sleeping Dogs the player is seriously injured in a massive explosion just before confronting the Big Bad. As a result, in the final fight you're too injured to attack, and can only fight by countering.
- In the final sequence of Assassins Creed III, Connor is severely injured and unable to fight; his opponent, however, is equally injured and so the two enemies are reduced to staring at each other across a tavern table.
- In Worm, Chevalier, leader of the Protectorate, is hospitalized after an assassination attempt that involved carving out his guts with a high-intensity cutting laser. Having just undergone major surgery to stabilize him, Chevalier awakens to find that in his absence the defense against Behemoth has gone poorly, with the city of New Delhi almost destroyed and most of the defending superheroes injured or dead. After getting some information on Behemoth's weaknesses from Tattletale, Chevalier grabs his sword, limps out of the hospital, charges Behemoth-a forty-five foot tall horned abomination that can instantly kill anything within thirty meters-and then hurts him badly enough to make him run.
- Considering that Chevalier survives quite some time inside Behemoth's Instant Death Radius this would have been an incredible feat even if he were fully functional.
- Kephri pulls this off late in the series, due to mental rather than physical damage. Terrifyingly enough, this doesn't make them any less dangerous.
- Beast Wars. Specifically Dinobot's Crowning Moment of Awesome where Megatron speaks these lines verbatim when Dinobot, after a long battle with several other Predacons is reduced to a large stick against an upgraded Megatron. Of course, Dinobot "improvises" and Takes A Level In Badass.
- In the very-first episode of Thundercats, the Mutants invade the Thundarian flagship, seeking to steal the Sword of Omens, and particularly the Eye Of Thundara set in its hilt. When they find it, it lies in the hands of a young Lion-O, and when he tries to threaten them, they laughingly reply that "You can barely hold that sword, much less lift it." Which is, of course, the sword's cue to start glowing. Moments later, Lion-O is swinging the full-sized sword around despite his young age, and the Mutants are running scared.
- Real life sports example: Curt Schilling in the 2004 World Series.
- There's a lot of examples from sports beyond that. Kirk Gibson was a lot closer to being crippled when he hit the game winning homerun off Dennis Eckersley in the '88 World Series. Steve Yzerman helped the Red Wings win the early series in the 2002 NHL playoffs despite having virtually no knee cartilage left. And Willis Reed famously started Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals despite a torn muscle in his thigh, which is often credited with helping rally the Knicks to victory.
- Gerry Byrne was an English soccer player famous for remaining in goal during the 1966 FA Cup Final despite having a broken collar bone.
- Another British soccer player Bert Trautmann, broke his neck in a collision in the 75th minute of the 1956 FA Cup Final. No substitutes were permitted back then, so he carried on for the remaining fifteen minutes, and even intercepted a shot. Hard bastards, these football players.
- This sort of thing is popular in sports, where people doped up on adrenaline, cortisone shots, or even just Advil and, naturally, are still competitive and don't want to abandon teammates. Even more so in contact sports like American football, rugby, and hockey, and sports where legs get tangled up frequently, like soccer and basketball.
- QB Ben Roethlisberger played against the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl with a broken foot and nose.
- In college, QB Byron Leftwich played with a broken leg, eventually needing his linemen to carry him down the field after successful passes.
- Tiger Woods won the 2008 US Open through four 18 holes rounds, an 18 hole playoff, and 1 sudden death playoff hole after still being tied with Rocco Mediate after 90 holes. He did all of this with a torn ACL and double spiral fracture in his shin, which caused him to exhibit some serious trouble walking at times. Both injuries were in his left leg, which is the leg that for a righty like him absorbs a lot of torque during the downswing and follow through.
- Michael Jordan played Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals with what was either the flu or food poisoning. Whatever the exact ailment, he could barely move the morning of the game, dragged himself out of bed at 5:30 PM that evening, an hour and a half before tip off, played 44 minutes, scored 38 points in a very close game, before needing his teammate, Scottie Pippen, to basically carry him off of the court after the final buzzer.
- Real life music example: Yoshiki in the March 28, 2008 X Japan reunion concert. He tries to play the full set of the show that he played 11 years before, despite years away from drumming in concerts and serious injuries to his neck and back from his career as a drummer. He collapsed on his drums halfway through the last song Art of Life. He would have major neck surgery the next year in a successful bid to save his ability to play drums (and a somewhat less successful one to spare his health), and recovered to do another two tours - which were also examples of this trope, though he had no on-stage collapses, due to ongoing health issues. Nevertheless, he's planning yet another tour...
- In the 2012 Australian Open tennis final, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal played such a grueling and merciless match that completely obliterated the former record for longest Grand Slam final with a length of six hours that Djokovic's dramatic collapse to the floor after a 31-ball rally in the fifth set looked like more than just his usual theatrics. To top it off, the match left both Djokovic and Nadal so physically drained afterwards that they visibly struggled to stay upright during the lengthy closing speech with Nadal having to lean on the net for support and Djokovic all but on his knees before chairs were brought out for them.
- At the 1996 Olympics, U.S. gymnast Kerri Strug performed her second vault attempt with a third-degree lateral sprain and tendon damage in one ankle. She landed on both feet, but stood on one foot while saluting the judges. After receiving a score of 9.712 (clinching the gold medal for her team), she collapsed to the mat and had to be carried to the medals podium.