Follow TV Tropes


Aesop Collateral Damage

Go To
King Midas's daughter appears to pay the ultimate price for her father's lust for gold.

"Once upon a time, in the most lavish of palaces, an enchantress came along and gave some little Joffrey Bieber shithead prince exactly what was coming to him. However, the spell he was placed under also transformed his servants that lived in the castle. Because, you see, the enchantress was kind of a bitch herself."
Narrator of The Editing Room’s abridged script for Beauty and the Beast

Sometimes in mythological, religious and fantasy works, somebody does or says something that shows he's in need of an attitude adjustment. Either a being (often a deity or similarly powerful creature) or Fate itself will act overtly to teach this lesson. Unfortunately, the direct victim of this tutelage will often not be the person in need of the lesson, but rather one or more persons close to him, who have not been shown to have done anything wrong. Typical victims of this twisted situation are parents, children, spouses, and colleagues of the culprit, and the suffering often involves their deaths. In light of this, the culprit expresses remorse and either changes his ways or gives way to grief. Either way, he won't be making that mistake again. It is rarely, if ever, mentioned that the entirely innocent suffer the most.

This is quite common in many mythologies, where the gods teach someone a lesson by cursing his entire family — but not necessarily them — or setting up his descendants for misery. Sometimes this is the result of severe Values Dissonance. In comic books and the like, in Stuffed into the Fridge's purest form, female supporting characters die so that male heroes can learn vague lessons about the price of heroism, after which said heroes usually find new love interests and generally get on with their lives. It's also a core part of It's a Wonderful Plot stories, given that the people around the hero have to suffer in the alternate timeline to persuade him that he needs to return to existence; however, the unfortunate facets are softened by the fact that the hero's innocent social circle are saved and blissfully ignorant of what happened by the end. It's definitely part of The Punishment where the punished usually becomes some kind of monster that hurts innocent people.

This often overlaps with Revenge by Proxy and Misplaced Retribution. Naturally, the Innocent Bystander is an aspect of this trope. Generally a result of Protagonist-Centered Morality. Can be considered a Hard Truth Aesop in its harshness — the culprit is taught that their actions have consequences that affect other people. For cases when the aesop-learner themselves cause the damage, see Kick the Morality Pet. Also compare Special Aesop Victim.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Lelouch, the protagonist of Code Geass, started war against the empire of Britannia, but early on didn't fully understand the consequences of war. Sure, he knew that he's putting his life on the line and that he'll have to kill in order to win, but he didn't care much about casualties on any side, and while he tried to avoid or at least minimise collateral damage he didn't give much thought to it when it happened. Then, in episode twelve, he learns that one of the Britannian soldiers killed in his latest battle was a good friend's father. He later gets said friend and his beloved half sister killed too.
  • Happens throughout the entirety of Death Parade, as Decim learns about the importance of empathy and the weight of judgement through the suffering of his guests, which he often enforces to begin with. This is most evident in the finale with his assistant, as he finally gains empathy and realizes how much his cruel games and judgments have been making people suffer by witnessing her suffering at his hands.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Dr. Leslie Thompkins purposely let Stephanie Brown die just to demonstrate to Batman the dangers of letting kids fight crime. The subsequent Retcon held that it never happened; Dr. Thompkins faked Steph's death and lied to Bruce about it.
  • Happens a lot in Chick Tracts. A particularly nasty example is Mean Momma, where the title character and her delinquent sons commit various crimes, from petty grudges to robbery. What follows is that the elder son dies in a crash, driving a truck he stole, then the middle kid immediately hangs himself for hearing that the late son was his mom's favorite. Then, while the mother is away from town to buy medicine for her feverish baby, a tornado razes their house with the baby still inside. All happened with the implication that it was God's handiwork, so that the mother will repent. And the mother thanks God for his kindness in saving her, ignoring that the children whom she raised to be hateful and bitter individuals are now burning in hell.
  • Since the late 1990s, this has been played up frequently in Daredevil, as his supporting cast start to notice that they're often the collateral damage that teaches Matt Murdock a lesson about something or other.
  • In Hellblazer, John Constantine constantly pisses off powerful beings like Heaven and Hell and flips them off when he's satisfied. Though his enemies can't touch him, his family and friends substitute to pay the price which was supposed to be his in the first place. He ends up mourning them afterwards. Though with Constantine's luck, his friends and family tend to die even when he's not doing anything to endanger them.
  • In Runaways, whenever Nico needs to face consequences for a bad decision, said consequences usually involve something bad happening to one of her teammates. Her decision to kiss Chase indirectly led to Gert getting killed. Her hasty use of magic against the Light Brigade caused the Runaways to become scattered until it was too late to effectively fight the Brigade, causing Xavin to hand themselves over in exchange for the Brigade sparing the rest of the team. And her decision to quit the team in order to join A-Force (which in turn led to her becoming a wanted fugitive) led to the Runaways' hideout getting raided and Klara being hauled away to foster care.
  • In John Ostrander's take on The Spectre, this was sometimes used to illustrate the dangers of the Anti-Hero protagonist's extreme Black-and-White Morality, which bordered on Blue-and-Orange Morality at times. In one example, the Spectre threatened to slay every living person in the state of New York if an innocent man was executed, since technically the State of New York passed the sentence. The children, anti-death-penalty protesters, and the man's defense attorneys would presumably be among those killed.
  • Spider-Man: Uncle Ben's death teaches Peter that he should use his powers with responsibility, and most versions of Spider-Man across the multi-verse, (non-Peter versions of Spider-Man replacing Uncle Ben with another character, like Peter for Spider-Gwen or Miles Morales,) and in most adaptations of the comics, have this tragedy as a central feature of his backstory.

    Fan Works 
  • Ancienverse: One of Gladion's biggest issues is how he refuses to work with others. He learns just how important this is when his stubbornness results in Lillie getting kidnapped by Lusamine.
  • Coward Trilogy: In Hero, Lance decides to punish Josiah for hacking Scar in by killing off Josiah's entire team and rendering Josiah a quadriplegic.
  • A Running Theme in Infinity Train: Blossomverse:
    • When Chloe ends up on the titular Train after running away from home, everyone in Vermillion City eventually winds up suffering as a result.
    • In Voyage of Wisteria, most of the adults in Pallet Town decides that Ash needs to be knocked off his supposed pedestal with A Lesson in Defeat. Their efforts to punish him nearly get a dozen innocent children killed by the forest fire they set.
  • Lost in Camelot: Kilgharrah eventually reveals that the deaths of the other dragons were effectively this: the Blood King cursed them in order to punish Kilgharrah for attempting to assist the underfae in an attempted rebellion.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the household staff are cursed, as well as the Beast himself. The Broadway version and live-action remake (see below) soften the collateral damage by having the staff discuss that they were the ones who had let the Beast turn into a Spoiled Brat in the first place, however it still doesn't justify turning a seven-year-old into a teacup.
  • The Doraemon movie, Doraemon: Nobita and the Tin Labyrinth has an aesop for Nobita to stand on his own feet for once and stop over-relying on Doraemon's gadgets, and to facilitate that aesop, the story have Doraemon attacked by Napogistler's soldiers, captured alive and electrocuted to the point of unconsciousness before being dumped into the oceans of Chamocha until Nobita finds him.
  • Disney's Pinocchio. Pinocchio plays hooky from school and ends up being kidnapped and taken to Pleasure Island. His creator, the kindly woodcarver Gepetto goes looking for him and ends up getting trapped inside Monstro the whale. Pinocchio learns a lesson about being a good boy from the experience.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) tries to deal with the implications in the Disney version by having the servants take some blame for the Prince's behavior since they did not protect him from his abusive father after his mother died. However, this still does not explain Chip (a child) and Garderobe and Cadenza (performers who were hired and simply happened to be at the party that night). The opening scene makes it look more like the curse just hit whoever didn't get out of the room in time. Even worse, once the last petal falls the objects will turn inanimate, effectively killing the servants and others who got caught in the curse. Belle's town is also collateral damage as they all magically forget about the nearby castle and all its inhabitants which includes family members and loved ones for the duration of the curse. No wonder the Enchantress shows up herself to fix things once the last petal falls right before Belle can say she loves the Beast. A cut scene even has LeFou call her out on it!
    • This is especially unfair when one considers that as servants, especially in the given time period, there was no way they could have protected the Prince or corrected his later behaviour as it would be seen as completely going above their social rank and suggesting that they had the audacity to tell their masters what to do — both big no-no's. A noble would throw such rebellious servants out without job references at best, making it very difficult to secure future employment and leaving them in poverty.
  • Clash of the Titans. Queen Cassiopeia says that Andromeda is more beautiful than the goddess Thetis herself. The goddess says that Cassiopeia will repent of her boast and demands that Andromeda be sacrificed.note 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Happens a whole lot to Wanda/The Scarlet Witch. She learns that Revenge Myopia is a bad thing when her Mind Rape of Tony Stark pushes him to create Ultron, who then proceeds to destroy her country and kill her brother. When she gets reckless dealing with Crossbones, she accidentally gets a lot of people killed in his suicide bombing (albeit this one is shared with the rest of the Avengers). When she finally learns for good that she can't get a family by force, it comes at the cost of hundreds of people who tried to stop her and severely traumatizing an alternate Wanda and her family.
  • In the final segment of the full version of the 1970s UK educational film Play Safe, a boy who partakes in vandalizing electrical equipment causes his sister to die in a traffic accident via being struck by a car due to said vandalism causing the traffic lights and streetlights to not have power as a way of driving home the fact that vandalizing electrical equipment is dangerous.note 
  • In the cheesy sci-fi movie R.O.T.O.R., the protagonist Barrett Coldyron eventually learns a valuable philosophical lesson, albeit at the cost of his robot killing or maiming several people.
  • The Sunset Limited (2011). Black recounts his story of finding God after being being shivved in the jailhouse and includes a part where he busted open the head of his attacker and gave him permanent brain damage. White is unimpressed.
    White: You don't think this is a strange kind of story?
    Black: Yeah, I do think it's a strange kind of story.
    White: No, what I mean is that you didn't feel sorry for this man.
    Black: You're getting ahead of the story.
    White: The story of how a fellow inmate became a crippled one-eyed halfwit so that you could find God.
  • In Spider-Man, Peter refuses to stop a fleeing criminal as petty revenge against the fight promoter, who refused to pay Peter his award, and subsequently the hero's beloved Uncle Ben is killed by that criminal, teaching our hero that valuable lesson that With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. This lesson is flipped on its head in the third film when we see that Uncle Ben wasn't shot by the man that Peter let escape but by the man's partner, and, in fact, the shooting was a complete accident for which the shooter felt tremendous remorse.

  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin involves a town that has a rat problem, which the title character proceeds to help them with by using a set of magical pipes with which he lures them into a nearby river and drowns them. The town refuses to pay him for his service, which gets the piper pissed enough to come back on a church day and play the pipes again, this time taking the town's children away. Many versions differ on what fate befalls them, but in the darkest ones, the kids meet with the same fate the rats did.

  • Linda Fischer in Blubber is bullied to the point of tears to set up for the protagonist's eventual fall from popularity so she can learn a lesson. Unfortunately, the lesson doesn't seem to have much of an impact on the protagonist and Linda never receives any sort of compensation or remotely happy ending after all she went through.
  • A horrific and intentional example of Aesop Collateral damage is found in Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story Hell Screen. An obsessive and sadistic painter cannot paint anything he hasn't seen, so when he is commissioned to paint a picture of Hell by the tyrannical Japanese lord he serves, he tortures his apprentices to get the references he needs. Finally, he decides he needs to have a carriage set on fire and the woman inside to burn alive. The lord agrees. The victim? A pure, innocent and intelligent young woman ...the painter's daughter, and the one thing on Earth he truly loved. According to the servant narrating the story, the Lord does this to teach the painter a lesson about putting art above all other duties and concerns. However, the servant is unlikely to be telling the precise truth, out of fear of or devotion to his lord, so it seems more likely that this was the lord's twisted revenge on the daughter, Yukimi, for spurning his advances...advances that the narrator claimed never happened, despite witnessing his attempted rape of Yukimi. After the execution, the painter finishes his screen and is Driven to Suicide - the lord is a Karma Houdini.
  • Little Women uses this trope a few time in its first half:
    • Amy falls through thin ice and nearly drowns because Jo was angry with her and didn't warn her the ice was thin. This teaches Jo a lesson about controlling her temper.
    • Beth's pet bird Pip dies of starvation when Beth forgets to feed him, teaching her a lesson about responsibility.
    • Beth asks Meg and Jo to visit the Hummels in her place when the baby has scarlet fever, thinking they could take care of him better than she can, but both older sisters decline out of laziness. Result? Beth goes through the horror of having the baby die in her lap, and that night she falls seriously ill with the same disease. Of course realistically, she probably contracted the fever a few days earlier, as it has an incubation period. But Jo still blames herself for not having gone to the Hummels instead, and both she and Meg learn to be more responsible.
  • Looking for Alaska is one of the most famously gutwrenching examples in teen literature, featuring the friends of the eponymous Hard-Drinking Party Girl encouraging her self-destructive behavior due to seeing it as endearingly rebellious rather than a cry for help, and learning their lesson after the ultimate result is her being killed while driving drunk.
  • In the children's book Sam, Bangs & Moonshine, Sam is warned that her habit of making up false stories, or "moonshine", will get her into trouble. She tells her friend, a little boy named Thomas, that her mother is a mermaid who lives in a distant cove. Thomas believes her and goes off to the cove, followed by Sam's cat Bangs, and both are presumably lost in a storm. Sam is very remorseful about their loss and learns An Aesop about not lying to people. Thomas and Bangs are eventually recovered alive, but Thomas is ill from his ordeal.
  • Wulfrik: For most of the book, Wulfrik is trying to undo the curse he brought on himself through his hubris (boasting that he was the greatest warrior in the world, which the Dark Gods demanded he prove endlessly or be tortured by daemons for eternity). Once he has finally learned that You Can't Fight Fate, everything he used to want, leadership of the Sarls, the death of Viglundr, the hand of his daughter Hjordis, has been destroyed by his hand. He sets Viglundr up for destruction by multiple tribes, leaving him alive to see it, and reluctantly sacrifices Hjordis to the gods. He reflects that he has lost a lot in trying to escape his fate, his tribe, his love, his friends, but it made him even more famous and powerful than if he had succeeded (he never wants for volunteers on his flying teleporting longship which he also obtained thanks to his curse).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Merlin (2008) has an episode, which is about Prince Arthur being cursed after he killed a unicorn and didn't even show any remorse. Which would have been fine, except for that this just leads to his innocent subjects suffering from hunger and thirst (all the crops suddenly wither and all the wells also dry out at the same time) until things are back to normal by the end of the episode. Unusually, it is actually stated in this case that this is completely unfair. The innocent poor people shouldn't have to lack both food and water, just so their prince can learn a lesson about not being arrogant!
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl develops a gambling addiction. He takes Catalina to a seedy underground "casino," and lends her his car because she's late for work. She ends up speeding to make up for lost time, gets pulled over, and the cops discover that her driver's license is a fake. She ends up getting deported back to her homeland (at this point, assumed to be Mexico, later called "Guadelatucky.") Earl has to go down there and bring her back to Camden.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000, though most famous for mocking corny sci-fi films from the '50s and '60s, also featured a lot of corny crime films from the same period, which employed this trope in spades due to the standards of The Hays Code mandating that criminals could not be shown profiting from their misdeeds, something Joel, Mike, and the Bots laid into with utter glee. Standout examples include The Girl in Lovers' Lane, where the title character is raped and murdered by a stalker mere minutes after her boyfriend decides to resume his life as a drifter, rather than settle down with her (and the boyfriend himself is nearly lynched by her vengeful father, who believes he is the killer, for good measure); and High School Big Shot, where a hapless teenager's intended-to-be-bloodless attempt to lift some mob money from his boss' safe to impress his crush abruptly blooms into a gory Mexican Standoff between his group of thieves, the mobsters, the cops, and the girl's sociopathic ex-boyfriend that leaves most of the participants dead and everyone else shipped off to jail.
  • In a Sabrina the Teenage Witch episode, Sabrina's boyfriend Harvey is turned into a beast by her saintly but ugly cousin Susie, who has green skin and warts, to teach her a lesson about shallowness. Cousin Susie is treated as entirely justified in teaching Sabrina her lesson, while everyone ignores the fact that the blameless Harvey is the one who finds himself growing fur, claws and tusks.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Q Who". Irritated by Picard's arrogance, Q sends the Enterprise light years across the galaxy to an unexplored region of space and then disappears. They run into the Borg, who kill eighteen crew members. Picard learns his lesson, but eighteen innocents die for it: Picard calls Q out on what he has done and says that while he understands the lesson and appreciates its message, there must've been a way to teach it that didn't result in the deaths of eighteen people, to which Q retorts "If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you should go home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here, it's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But, it's not for the timid." Later episodes revealed that Q actually did this in part to provide the Alpha Quadrant with a disguised warning about the existence of the Borg so that Starfleet could start mobilizing and be ready before they arrived.
  • 7 Yüz: Happens pointedly in the episode "Refakatçiler". To prove her point, Vildan draws Serdar's attention to Semih's new car, which seems a tad too expensive for his family's income bracket. Jumping to immediate conclusions, Serdar storms to Alihan's apartment in a rage, accusing the father and son of shamelessly stealing from him. Alihan and Semih are naturally hurt and offended by the accusation, and the unpleasant incident prompts them to sever their relationship with Serdar, who while regretful, seems too proud to apologize.

  • The Christmas Shoes gets a lot of hatred based on this trope. The narrator is disillusioned and irritated with how the holiday has been commercialized, then overhears a child attempting to buy their gravely ill mother a pair of shoes. The narrator interprets this as a message from God, teaching him 'the true meaning of Christmas' by giving said mother a terminal case of cancer.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible frequently focuses on how the sin of one person can harm many more, so naturally it is full of these:
    • King David has sex with the wife of one of his generals and gets said general killed in battle to get away with his adultery. God inflicts an illness on the child coming out of this affair. David repents and God forgives him. The king, that is. To really teach David that justice has to be done, the child however still has to die from the illness. David, and his new (stolen) wife have another son though, the future king Solomon, and seem to live happily ever after except for that David's oldest son rapes his half-sister, and another son goes to war against his own father.
    • The general Jephthah hastily pledges to sacrifice the first creature he encounters after an upcoming battle if God helps him to win it. His army is victorious, but the price for his hubris is quite terrible: As he's returning home, his daughter runs out to meet him.
    • A tragic example occurs in Joshua, when he warns the Israelites who have just conquered Jericho not to take any of the treasure for themselves, but to deposit it in the treasury. Unfortunately, Achan takes a Babylonian garment, 200 silver shekels, and a gold ingot weighing 50 shekels for himself, and after the Israelites are defeated at Ai, lots are cast, indicating that Achan was the one responsible for taking part of Jericho's plunder for himself. As a result, his wife, children and livestock suffer as they are stoned to death along with Achan.
    • The story of Job is actually not an example, though it might seem so — it goes one step further, and beyond the trope, in that even the person who is "punished" by having his loved ones die is innocent. Job loses everything, including his family, but though his friends insist he must have done something to deserve it, he's in fact innocent and God is just (sort of) testing him. Still, the logic is much the same in terms of collateral damage — he even gets new children in the end. This is considered a happy ending, but not for Job's first kids. Though given they are likely in Heaven, it is still downplayed.
      • Some have noted that technically, the Biblical narrative never says they died—just that messengers TOLD Job that they did. This has led to an alternate interpretation that the two sets of kids are actually the same.
    • As Mark Twain points out, there had to have been the usual proportion of children born to the people of Noah's generation. Then God sent the rain, "and drowned those poor little chaps". Though admittedly with the state of the world, it is tragically unlikely the children would have turned out better than their parents.
    • It is very common in Biblical stories that innocent descendants (even if they lived centuries after the crime in question had happened) are punished for what their ancestors did. One example is when Noah puts a curse on his innocent grandson Canaan and his descendants, since Ham (Canaan's father) had peeked at a drunk Noah's naked body! note  And in the end of the Book of Genesis, when Jacob is proclaiming his last blessings to his sons, he brings up Simeon's and Levi's violence and wrath (he is probably referring to how they had killed all the men in a city, because one guy had raped their sister), before he proclaims that their descendants (who are not even born yet and thus had nothing to do with that event) are cursed to be scattered among the other Israelites. note  And that is only two examples from the first book!
  • Greek Mythology:
    • A strong example to modern eyes is the story of the Minotaur. King Minos of Crete received a white bull from the gods. It was intended as an offering to Poseidon, but Minos kept it as a prize of his herd instead. Aphrodite retaliated by making his wife, Pasiphaë, fall in lust with it and arrange to play the part of a cow. Sure, Minos was stuck with the result of that union: a Minotaur, that would eat human flesh. But he only had it locked up in a labyrinth, and then periodically fed innocent Athenians to the beast until Theseus killed it. So let's do a recap: Queen Pasiphaë, the Minotaur and many innocent Athenians all had to suffer. But as for Minos himself, he kept the bull, stayed as king of Crete, and was even made one of the three judges in the paradisiacal section of the Greek afterlife. So except for the shame that his wife had sex with a bull (which would have been a blow to his ego, even if she was basically brainwashed into doing that), Minos came out unscathed.
      • The Athenians were actually being punished for killing Minos' son. Harsh, by our standards, but not quite the same trope.
    • Queen Niobe was severely punished for boasting about her fourteen children, comparing herself to the goddess Leto and condemning the people for worshiping Leto. Leto's two children (Apollo and Artemis) started to kill off all of Niobe's fourteen children with arrows. Niobe's husband, King Amphion, was Driven to Suicide or killed by Apollo for wanting to avenge his children, depending on the version of the story. Niobe herself would grieve so much that she was turned into a cliff, with a powerful stream caused by her neverending tears flowing down from it. She was never forgiven for her stupid moment of hubris. And yes: her family were killed just so she could be taught a lesson, even though at least her children hadn't done anything wrong.
    • King Midas had made a stupid wish for that everything he touched to turn to gold. But after this wish had been granted, it started to backfire on him - the original myth averts this since Midas quickly realizes when eating that 'Food' is part of 'everything', and gold isn't consumable, begging for the original god who granted him the wish to take it back - but later retellings makes Midas an Adaptational Dumbass by immediately afterward hugging his daughter, thus turning her into this trope.
    • Laocoön nearly stopped the plan with the original Trojan Horse, since he was smart enough not to trust it. But as the gods couldn't let him jeopardize the Greek victory at the last moment, they sent a sea serpent to devour him. Which sounds terrible and unfair enough to our modern ears, but it becomes even worse: Said serpent also killed Laocoön's two innocent sons!
    • One of the biggest examples in Greek mythology comes from the House of Atreus. Tantalus, the family's patriarch, was a demigod who got along with his divine relatives rather well until he decided to test the limits of their omniscience by killing his son Pelops and baking him into a pie, which he then served on Mount Olympus. Nearly all the gods immediately saw through the ruse (with the exception of Demeter, who had recently lost her daughter Persephone to Hades and thus took a small bite before she too stopped) and were absolutely furious. The gods gave Tantalus his famous punishment—to be cursed with a burning hunger and thirst and forever trapped in a pool of water with a fruit tree right above his head, with the water and fruit always moving just out of reach—but that apparently wasn't enough retribution for what he'd done. His entire family line was cursed: Pelops (who the gods revived) had three children who did horrible things including murder, incest, and forced cannibalism, while his grandchildren included Agamemnon and Menelaus, who you might know for their involvement in that whole Trojan War thing. And Agamemnon himself also killed one of his daughters to appease the gods and ended up murdered himself (as did the psychic Cassandra, whom he'd taken as a war prize, and who was cursed by Apollo to never be believed for refusing him), which led two of his remaining children - Orestes and Electra - to cause even more death and destruction until Orestes finally begged Athena for forgiveness, at which point the curse was broken. So to recap: wars were fought and raged, innocent children were killed, rape and incest occurred on a grand scale, and countless people died...all because one person decided to test the power of the gods. Yikes.
  • According to some maltheists, the idea that everyone is burdened with "original sin" inherited from Adam and Eve is a variety of this trope.
  • In Egyptian Mythology, one story told of how Isis, while in hiding as a beggar with her baby son Horus, asked a noblewoman for shelter. The noblewoman insulted her and refused to help her, leading her to instead find refuge with a poor woman. A group of seven scorpions responsible for protecting Isis were outraged by the noblewoman's cruelty, and punished her by sneaking into her house and stinging her young son. Isis heard the noblewoman's cries and revealed her true identity by using her magic to heal the boy. The noblewoman was humbled by this, and gave all her jewelry to the poor woman out of remorse.
  • In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the beast-man Enkidu is the gods' response to the people's complaints that Gilgamesh is an abusive king. He's civilized without his permission, forcing him to lose his friends among the beasts, and becoming Gilgamesh's counterpart leads to Gilgamesh taking them on a quest to kill a forest demon that results in Enkidu's death—all so that Gilgamesh can experience friendship and grief, thus learning to care about someone other than himself.

  • The old-time radio show Diary of Fate had as its constant Aesop, "Choose evil and you will be destroyed." Okay, but often three or four people other than the main character would die in the process of him learning that lesson, without having chosen evil at all.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Gamer arguments about the moral/ethical status of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft often hinge upon this trope, with fans who believe them to be malicious and/or terribly corrupt citing the large number of innocent non-monsters who are trapped there, at the mercy of the Land's many monsters and alongside the darklords (who do deserve their fate). Those fans who consider the Dark Powers' actions to be justified have been known to argue that everyone there must've done something to merit their captivity, or even that the native peoples are merely constructs that look and act like actual people, but aren't "real".
    • The 5e update makes it clear that the vast majority of native Barovians really are just soulless constructs who exist to fill out the world. That said, some people , like Ireena, the reincarnation of Tatyana, Strahd's "lost love" (ie, constant stalking victim) are still real, and Ireena/Tatyana hasn't done anything to deserve being repeatedly reincarnated and tormented to teach Strahd a lesson he'll never learn (though at least if you do the exact right sidequest, you can bust her out of the cycle). Some plot points also cross back into What Measure Is a Non-Human?; Ireena's brother Izek, who is a construct, clearly feels genuine love and grief for her, albeit in a warped and unhealthy way (he's been commissioning dolls of her and will try to kidnap her).

    Video Games 
  • God of War, in a nutshell, is two angry gods trying to kill each other with this.
  • Puyo Puyo!! 20th Anniversary: Playing tricks isn't good, but playing matches is! Then you possess Satan to make your point...
  • Rise of the Third Power: The writing makes it clear that Rowan's alcoholism is ruining his life and causes him to be unreliable to others. Sparrow/Brooke gets him to talk about his party's movements while he's drunk, leading to Arkadya locating and wiping out his Resistance allies, with only Rowan and the rest of the party as the survivors. This is what convinces Rowan to empty his bottle and take life more seriously.
  • In Scribblenauts Unlimited, Lilly gets turned to stone by an old man after Maxwell gives him a rotten apple.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: This is ultimately the source of everything wrong with the world. The gods punished Salem for her hubris in trying to trick them into resurrecting her love by giving her Complete Immortality. Whether that is a reasonable punishment is up for debate, but at least it only affected the guilty party. When she gathered an army to attack the gods, they decided to punish her by wiping out all of humanity, leaving only her alive. Furthermore, the God of Light resurrected Salem's lover Ozma with instructions to unite the remnants of humanity; once he believed he had succeeded, he was to summon the gods back, who would either restore humanity's full magic to them or destroy the entire planet. Ozma was at least given the option to refuse, but the rest of humanity has no idea they're caught in the middle of a massive Forever War between two immortals on behalf of the gods.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in Aqua Teen Hunger Force when Master Shake fails to lay the electrical bills, and Frylock refuses to pay them instead so that Shake will be forced to learn his lesson no matter how much all of the Aqua Teens suffer. As it turns out, Shake's too much of a lazy, selfish bastard to learn from his mistakes, and he just starts mooching off of Carl instead, while Frylock continues to refuse to pay the bills for the sake of Shake learning the aesop.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: After Iroh's son died during the Earth Kingdom campaign, Iroh went into Heroic BSoD and wanted nothing to do with ruling the Fire Nation. His scheming brother Ozai tried to convince his father Azulon to name him as heir. Azulon did not take it well and ordered Ozai to kill his own firstborn, Zuko. And Ozai would cheerfully have done it too, but he made a deal with his wife: she would make an untraceable poison with which to kill Azulon, in exchange for letting Zuko live. Ursa then fled the Fire Nation, leaving Zuko a "Well Done, Son" Guy, his sister Azula a Daddy's Little Villain, and Ozai free to continue trying to Take Over the World.
  • Season 2 of Infinity Train introduces Grace Monroe, a teenage passenger who leads a group of fellow child passengers called the Apex; they are shown to actively be trying to make the numbers on their hands go up (when the numbers are actually supposed to go down so they can leave the train), and do so by frequently attacking the train's native denizens. Season 3 sees Grace and her best friend and second-in-command, Simon, get separated from the rest of the Apex and have to find their way back, working together with a little girl named Hazel and her denizen companion, Tuba. It turns out to be Grace's Redemption Quest, and at the end of the season, she's made a Heel–Face Turn, convinced the rest of the Apex to do the same, and they're all working to get their numbers down so they can go home. However, it comes at a great cost: Simon murders Tuba just as Grace is becoming attached to her; Hazel (whom Grace had come to love like a little sister) is so traumatized by her time with them that she leaves them forever; and Simon jumps off the slippery slope, becomes worse than ever, tries to murder Grace even after she saves him from falling off the train, and then dies in front of her. Though Grace is becoming a better person, it's clear by the end that she's quite emotionally worn down by everything that happened to reach that point.
  • This is parodied on The Simpsons: The "Treehouse of Horror XII" story "Hex and the City" had a fortune teller curse Homer's family because he insulted her. They suffer through freakish transformations, and Bart actually dies, but Homer goes on refusing to reverse the curse by apologizing because none of it is happening to him. It's especially cruel of Homer because the apology wouldn't just reverse the curse, it would even resurrect Bart.
    Homer: Well, me saying I'm sorry won't bring him back.
    Marge: The fortune teller said it would.
    Homer: (crosses arms, looks away sulkily) She's not the boss of me.
  • Parodied in Yin Yang Yo!: A fairy creates a villain that grows every time Yin and Yang lie. At the end, she shows up and congratulates them on learning their lesson... only to have the townspeople angrily point out that she destroyed the city in the process.


Video Example(s):


Uncle Ben's Death.

After deciding not to stop a robber because the victim cheated him out of payment, Peter finds out that Uncle Ben was killed by a carjacker. Then he discovers the killer was the robber from before, meaning Peter was responsible for Uncle Ben's death. This would teach Peter the importance of responsibility.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / AesopCollateralDamage

Media sources: