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Assassins Are Always Betrayed

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"Yeah, the assassin hired an assassin to assassinate somebody and then followed the assassin to supervise the assassination and then assassinated the assassin when the assassination went wrong."

A Plot Twist where the main character is an assassin and is betrayed by his organization, or at least his mentor. Often it turns out that the main character has been assassinating members of his own organization, as a ploy for Mission Control to gain power.

In order to keep the main character sympathetic, this is almost inevitable when the main character doesn't betray his allies first.

Often an example of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness. This betrayal usually takes the form of a Contract on the Hitman or Hunting the Rogue.

Related to Murder, Inc. and Professional Killer.

As this is a Betrayal Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk
    • Subverted when Griffith sends Guts to murder Count Julius as a stepping stone to marry princes Charlotte, using Guts' undeniable talent for violence to best effect. Griffith does betray Guts, and the Band of the Hawk, much later, but for entirely unrelated reasons.
    • Played straight with the people who kidnapped an advisor's daughter to keep him from interfering with Griffith's plans, who are killed by Guts as soon as the daughter is returned.
  • In Darker than Black season one, it turns out all the various organizations hiring contractors do so with the express purpose of killing said contractors.
  • Golgo 13 has often been betrayed by his employers. The one thing more spotless than Duke Togo's assassination record is his record of lethal vengeance against said employers.
  • The World's Finest Assassin full title  opens with "Allen Smith" doing One Last Job for "the organization" which he grew up in and which taught him to be the titular "World's Finest Assassin." After the job is completed he is supposed to transfer to Japan to work as a teacher in one of the organization's assassin schools. Unfortunately for him, this trope is in full effect and the plane he's on from LA to Tokyo is "hijacked" and then shot down by an American fighter jet. Killing him and leading to his reincarnation.

    Comic Books 
  • Alluded to in Batman: DOA, a graphic novel-length story where Batman has been poisoned and needs to find an antidote, stat. Two-Face, one of the three instigators of the plot (the other two being the Joker and the Penguin), mentions that he got one of his best men to administer the poison, and an even better hitman to take out the poisoner.
  • Scud the Disposable Assassin is an assassin robot programmed to self-destruct once the job is done. After accidentally reading his label in the mirror Scud decides to put his target on life support instead, and take up “freelance” work to pay for continued care.
  • Shakara: When Valentine is hired by a Femme Fatale to assassinate a politician, she teleports her associates into the room after he completes the mission to kill him too for being a loose end. This fails when he had already planned for this, and kills his contractors before they can do the same to him, having lived long enough to write his memoirs by being Crazy-Prepared.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This is the crux of The Art of War, in which Shaw (Wesley Snipes) is an assassin/covert agent for the UN, who has to uncover an international conspiracy after being set up, by his employer, Elenor Hooks (Anne Archer), with help from his best friend and fellow agent, Bly.
  • Part of the premise of Assassins of Brotherhood, a 2018 martial arts film. The hero, Wei, used to be a member of the titular 'hood, until after an assignment, he's betrayed and ambushed by his own former brothers- and sister-in-arms. He barely survives the assassination, and ends up escaping into the mountains where he's rescued by some monks and upon recovering, sets off for revenge.
  • Attack of the Clones: After assassin Zam Wesell has been caught by Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jango Fett shoots her with a poison dart to keep her from spilling any details on their attempt to kill Senator Amidala.
  • Bitter Lake ends with the Big Bad murdering the assassin after he successfully carried out the plan to murder the diplomats at Bitter Lake. The Stinger implies that he is about to be betrayed and assassinated himself however.
  • The Bourne Series starts with the titular character being hunted down by his organization after he botched an assassination. Interesting in that both sides think the other betrayed them.
  • In Crank, it turns out near the end that Chev Chelios' assassination was planned by Verona.
  • In Hitman, Agent 47 is betrayed by his superiors after carrying out the assassination of the Russian President, because he's the only one who knows for sure that the guy is dead and has been replaced by a body double. Everyone else thinks he was only wounded.
  • John Wick: Chapter 2: Big Bad Santino forces John to kill Santino's sister so that Santino can get her seat at the High Table, then calls John to inform him that Santino has to have him killed for killing his sister. John hangs up in disgust before he can even finish, clearly having seen this coming a mile away. When John kills forty of Santino's men in about four minutes, Santino extends a seven million dollar contract on John that results in a legion of independent assassins coming after him.
    • It's heavily implied John had prepared for this from the start. He's clearly expecting Ares and her team to show up to clean up "Loose ends" and the majority of his prep for the Santino job (buying an assault rifle and shotgun for the "end of the evening" and stashing them right around where Ares's squad appears, and getting a second bulletproof suit for the daytime) seems to have been for Santino's men ambushing him and the inevitable bounty hunt on him the next day. It would also explain why he was so begrudging about taking the job in the first place despite it being almost too easy for him. John knew it would end with Santino declaring war on him.
  • Kill Bill:
    • The Bride seeks revenge after Bill and the other members of her organization blow away her entire wedding party, give her a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown and put one in her skull.
    • Budd is killed by Elle using a black mamba in the Briefcase Full of Money.
  • Ah Jong from The Killer (1989) is betrayed by his boss upon completing his last job.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) is a double example of this, since both Mr. and Mrs. Smith are betrayed by their respective agencies.
  • This is mentioned in Shooter, with a man claiming that the real killers of JFK were themselves killed and buried in the desert within hours of the assassination ("Still got the shovel"). The actual conspiracy plays with this. The assassin is high ranking enough to avoid being betrayed too quickly, but after leads on Swagger dry up he's bluntly informed he'll be used as bait to draw him out. Whether or not he survives that is uncertain, that's the danger of being bait after all. After successfully luring Swagger in, said assassin kills himself.
  • The 1995 Venezuelan film Sicario has a group of Columbian street kids being trained for an assassination by a cartel boss. He picks the best one, the protagonist Jairo, and sends his men to kill the others. Despite a speech by the Affably Evil cartel boss about how they're not so different, Jairo knows full well he's next on the list after he carries out the assassin, so draws a gun on his best friend who's driving his getaway motorbike, only to be forced to kill him when he refuses to let him just walk away. Jairo and his girlfriend then try to get out of the city, only for Jario to be gunned down by another street kid like himself.
  • Early in Snake Eyes, the Secretary of Defense is killed thanks to a conspiracy that includes both military figures and defense contractors who were unhappy with the Secretary. The actual trigger man, however, is an Islamist radical who is shot and killed by the Secretary's security mere moments after firing the fatal shots, in the hopes that it will look like he acted alone. Sometime later one member of the group wonders if the assassin knew that he was going to be killed after carrying out the hit, and another quips that if the guy didn't know beforehand he certainly does now.
  • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the two low-ranked crewmen who actually carried out the assassination against Gorkon and many of his aides are in turn shot with a phaser on stun right against the temples by the orchestrator on board the Enterprise, Lieutenant Valeris, killing them without setting off the weapon discharge alarms. Valeris almost suffers this fate as well as a second assassin tries to clean up loose ends after our heroes thwart the attempt on the Federation President's life at the Khitomer peace summit.
    Kirk: First rule of assassinations: kill the assassins.
  • In This Gun for Hire, after Raven kills someone his employer reports a fake robbery and gives the police the numbers of the bills with which he paid for the murder.
  • In Wanted, Wesley is only recruited by the Fraternity so he could kill his own father for them, and he is betrayed immediately after doing so.

  • Subverted in The Death of Achilles: Achimas thinks his contractor betrayed him (as he expected from the start) but it turns out that it was just his liaison who tried pocketing Achimas' payment. His contractor lets Achimas kill the liaison and thanks him for a well-done job.
  • In Dune the Baron Harkonnen not only has Yueh killed after he opens House Atreides' defenses and brings Duke Leto to him, he kills Yueh's wife whom he was holding hostage as well. Though, Yueh was expecting that and hid a poison gas capsule in the Duke's teeth.
  • The John Rain novels by Barry Eisler
    • In A Clean Kill In Tokyo, Rain discovers that he's been working all along for his CIA nemesis from The Vietnam War.
    • In Extremis, Rain goes to great lengths to protect Midori, who ends up betraying him to the Yakuza in the belief that he'll always be a threat to their son.
    • In The Detachment, Colonel Horton hires Rain, Dox, Treven and Larison to forestall The Coup which he claims is being plotted by senior American officials. However Horton is working both sides and intends to Leave No Witnesses of his involvement.
  • Mistborn: The Original Trilogy has Zane in "The Well of Ascension", who his employer (his own father) has people attempt to kill in his sleep near the end of his story for what said father assumes to be a betrayal of Zane's own. The attempt fails, but Zane doesn't return the favor.
  • In Tom Clancy's Red Rabbit, the Soviets hire a Bulgarian hitman to assassinate the Pope. He, in turn, hires someone else to be the actual gunman, with the intention to kill him once the hit had been done and escape in the chaos that would surely follow an attempt on the Pope's life. It doesn't turn out that way, as Jack Ryan sees and subdues the Bulgarian before the hit occurs, but doesn't realize there's another gunman until he starts shooting.
  • In Orson Scott Card's Empire, Major Reuben Malich gets framed for planning the assassination of the President and Vice President. Even though he's innocent and can prove it easily enough, he decides to temporarily go into hiding rather than be de-briefed by the FBI or Pentagon because he's "afraid of Jack Ruby". Sure enough, when he goes to his Pentagon office to get the evidence proving his innocence, Malich's own trusted secretary shoots him in the head.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Daredevil (2015): Wilson Fisk regularly disposes of underlings he has no further use for. This sometimes includes the very assassins he hires for hits.
    • In the very first episode of season 1, two attempts are made to kill Karen Page to keep her from talking about what she uncovered at Union Allied: first, Clyde Farnum tries to hang her in her cell with her bedsheets, and after that fails, Rance tries to kill her in her apartment. Both attempts fail, as Karen subdues Farnum by drawing blood from his eye, while Matt rescues her from Rance. Fisk has both of them purged and their deaths staged to look like suicides: Farnum being shot through the mouth and made to look like he ate his gun, while Rance gets hanged in his cell with his bedsheets.
    • In the third episode of season 1, John Healy is arrested after botching an assassination for Fisk. James Wesley hires Nelson & Murdock to take his defense. After strings are pulled to get Healy off with a hung jury, Matt tracks Healy down to interrogate him, and he spills Fisk's name. Merely moments later, Healy kills himself by running his head into a fence spike so that his loved ones won't incur Fisk's wrath.
    • In the season 3 finale, there's a variant of this in that Fisk doesn't betray Benjamin "Dex" Poindexter, but the usual effect of this trope happens when Matt breaks Dex's loyalty to Fisk by revealing that Fisk had Dex's friend Julie Barnes killed so that she couldn't compete with Fisk to be his North Star. However, it's implied by a few earlier conversations Fisk has with Felix Manning that he had plans to dispose of Dex once Dex had filled his purpose of making Matt look like a mass murderer.
    • It's played straight for the assassins Fisk uses to kill Julie, as he has them quietly killed off shortly thereafter. Dex finds their bodies in the same meat locker as Julie's frozen corpse.
  • Mission: Impossible: Subverted in "The Killer", where the IMF turns the assassin on his boss by making it look like the boss betrayed him. Staging betrayals is a common tactic of theirs throughout the series.
  • Nikita left Division after they had her civilian fiancé killed, ostensibly to protect the secret.
  • Underbelly looks at the phenomenon with gangsters and standover men betraying and killing each other, with highlights including Benji Veniman who may or may not have been betrayed by Mick Gatto, or may or may not have betrayed him by killing his best mate Graham. Gatto was released on self defense and Graham is by now a cold case, unsolved. Assassin Lewis Caine would also be set up and killed by an old gangster called The Journeyman, who wanted everyone dead so he could move in and take over.
    • A Tale Of Two Cities had Ax-Crazy Psycho for Hire Chris Flannerly who had proven to be disloyal, untrustworthy and so dangerous to other criminals, the police and the public that it wasn't a case of who would be behind it, but who wouldn't. "Legitimate businessman" George Freeman was the prime suspect and portrayed as working with corrupt police in Flannerly's murder but this was a case of Who Murdered the Asshole.

    Tabletop RPGs 
  • Seems to happen quite a lot in Shadowrun, even when the runners' mission is not an assassination. In the hands of certain GMs, you can count on the Johnson who hired the party to stab them in the back when it's least convenient.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney: Whenever an assassin shows up, their clients always try to pull something over them, though it tends not to work out for the client.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All, the culprit hired Shelly de Killer to perform an assassination and secretly filmed it to have blackmail material; as the person boasts, they trust no one and especially not assassins. This turns out to be a bad idea, as Phoenix is able to inform de Killer of the blackmail tape. Shelly de Killer values the trust between himself and his clients highly, and is not happy to find out he's been betrayed, placing the now-former client between a rock and a hard place- either he pleads guilty to first-degree murder, or goes free and de Killer targets him.
    • In Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth 2, Shelly de Killer is again hired and betrayed- though in this case, what happened was that his client didn't tell him some important information about the target, namely, that the target, Di-Jun Huang, was an impostor who'd replaced the real Huang long ago. This time the client gets away with it, because Shelly spares him at the request of fellow assassin Sirhan Dogan.
      • In the backstory of the same game, Sirhan Dogan was sent to assassinate the president of Zheng Fa, and the conspirators tried to kill him so he couldn't reveal their plot, but a third party intervened and Dogan escaped. Simon Keyes saved Dogan out of gratitude for Dogan saving his own life earlier, but this led to Simon himself being targeted and having to go into hiding. Simon understandably developed a serious grudge against the conspirators, and set out to destroy them by tricking them into turning on each other.
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • In Assassin's Creed, it turns out that Al Mualim was actually a Templar and has sent Altaïr to assassinate the other leaders of the Templars in order to get the piece of Eden himself.
    • This later leads another Assassin to make a power grab and turn the other Assassins against Altaïr in Assassin's Creed: Revelations.
    • Inverted in Assassins Creed IV where Duncan Walpole turn out to be a former Assassins who decided to join the Templars. Duncan is killed by Edward Kenway in self-defense before he can complete his betrayal, however, Edward goes through with it anyways while impersonating him.
    • Then there's Lucy who has also betrayed the Assassins to the Templars.
    • In Assassin's Creed Rogue, protagonist Shay Cormac is an Assassin that ends up defecting to the Templars after growing horrified with their obsession with precursor artifacts that lead to mass destruction.
  • In Baten Kaitos Origins, Sagi starts the game working for the dark service, whom are given the task of assassinating emperor Olgan. Once Sagi and his group reach him, it turns out Olgan's already dead. Immediately afterwards, they are framed for the murder by the very group that gave them their orders, and are attacked.
  • In Dishonored, you are betrayed by Admiral Havelock, who attempts to poison Corvo and kills most of his Loyalist allies so that he can seize control of the city. And depending on your Chaos level, Samuel the boatman may betray you as well.
    • In the Knife of Dunwall DLC, it is revealed in the final mission that Billie Lurk, Daud's Dragon was working with Delilah to kill him. Depending on his Chaos level, she either goes through with it or ends up confessing and throws herself at his mercy.
  • Leliana in Dragon Age: Origins was a reformed priestess and former bard, the game's code for assassin or spy. Leliana's Song gives details of how she was concerned about stealing state secrets and given at the time she was a vicious killer her mentor fears Leliana would betray her so she struck first.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Oblivion's Dark Brotherhood storyline eventually has Lucien Lachance arrive to tell you that your last several marks were in fact members of the Brotherhood's upper echelon, due to a mole tampering with the dead drops where you got your orders.
    • Skyrim does it again with the Brotherhood. When trying to assassinate the Emperor, you are sold out by Astrid, who is trying to spare the Dark Brotherhood by making a deal with the target.
  • Hitman:
    • In the original Hitman: Codename 47, Ort-Meyer, the client who ordered the assassinations, is really trying to capture 47, whom he created as a "perfect human". The last assassination he ordered is in fact a trap, and the others were a test of his skills as well as eliminating dead ends.
    • Hitman 2: Silent Assassin pulls off pretty much the same scenario, with the client turning out to be Russian terrorist Sergei Zavorotko who orchestrated the kidnapping of 47's friend to get him back into the assassination business so that he can use 47 to, in order, kill everyone who knew about the nuke Sergei stole, acquire a missile guidance system and steal the guidance software to deliver it, steal the nuke back when it got stolen from him and finally eliminate a traitor. Once these tasks were done, Sergei was outed as a terrorist and the UN ordered a hit on him... except Sergei set up a trap specifically designed to get 47 killed via Scope Snipe, with a second trap laid at 47's home in case he survives the first one.
    • Inverted in Hitman: Absolution. Agent 47 actually betrays the Agency, leading to them hunting him down. However, he does this for the sake of the game's Morality Pet, Victoria, who is a genetically-altered child just like him, and he doesn't want anyone else to turn out like he did.
    • In Hitman (2016) the final mission is an assassination to the former high-ranking member of the ICA after the previous mission revealed that the former member leaked the whole agency's information.
    • In Hitman 3 One of the mission is about Agent 47 hunting five assassins sent by ICA themselves after him in a secluded nightclub made out of decommissioned nuclear power plant in Germany.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, the GenoHaradan series of quests ends with Hulas revealing that the targets the Player Character has been sent after are the other three guild overseers. You have the option of walking away or meeting Hulas for a duel on Tatooine.
  • In the Downloadable Content of Mafia II, this is the eventual fate of Jimmy in The Betrayal of Jimmy, and becomes the driving force behind his Roaring Rampage of Revenge in Jimmy's Vendetta.
  • In Mark of the Ninja, most of the second half is determining whether you have been betrayed, or have instead gone insane. It's both.
  • Metal Gear Solid:
    • In MGS1, first Master Miller reveals Naomi to have ulterior motives for helping Snake, and implicates that she only assisted in the mission as revenge for Snake killing her adoptive brother. Then Master Miller turns out to be Liquid Snake, the Big Bad.
    • In MGS2, Raiden is betrayed by Mission Control, and then learns that the entire mission was an experiment.
    • Inverted in MGS3, where initially The Boss betrays Snake, and America with him, until near the end, where it turns out she was acting on orders to infiltrate Volgin's group.
      • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker reveals that The Boss was a straight example of this. Hot Coldman (who was coincidentally Reassigned To South America) planned out the entire Snake Eater Op, including Volgin's psychotic breakdown, the nuclear strike on a Russian military base, and Snake's involvement as the Boss' assassin. Eva's research reveals that the CIA deliberately sent her on increasingly suicidal missions which they intentionally sabotaged, because they feared that her status as a legendary heroine, her international assets and connections to the world's most powerful organizations, and her vision of a new world order made her a potential one-woman Non-Governmental Organization who could put an end to the CIA's conspiracies.
  • In The Outfoxies, your playable characters are hitmen from all walks of life, from The Generic Guy, to a pair of Creepy Twins, to even a Maniac Monkey. Their employer attempts to kill off whoever you chose after they kill everyone else so that they won't have to be paid. They don't take it well.

    Web Original 
  • A variation occurs on the Dream SMP, as Purpled isn't necessarily an assassin, but is a mercenary nonetheless. A week before the Red Banquet, he catches Quackity filling his UFO with TNT (to get his attention), but is convinced to help him crash the Banquet after being promised payment from Las Nevadas. After the Banquet, Purpled collects his money... only for Quackity to blow up his UFO anyway... and then try to convince him to join Las Nevadas with promises of a preserved legacy, now that his UFO, which used to be one of the few major builds on the server Purpled has done, is gone.
  • Knights Of Jebalot: A group called the Crew brings in two supers for their clients, and are paid by killing two and turning one against her will into an immortal soldier.
  • Mary in Twig is abandoned by her creator after she's no longer of any use, and is taken in by the Lambsbridge Gang after Sylvester convinces her to give it a shot, becoming a key part in the gestalt...until Sylvester, who has decided to quit the gang, kneecaps her in order to stop her from pursuing him, bringing this trope full circle.

    Real Life 
  • The Hashashin (where the term assassin originated) would get their would-be tool stoned and show them extraordinary settings of women and honey as a promise of the afterlife for their suicidal assassination. The poor dope would then publicly kill their target in broad daylight, expecting to be killed in retaliation, or die refusing to reveal their employer.
  • According to conspiracy theorists, this is what happened to Lee Harvey Oswald. Part of the reason why the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories got started in the first place was that Oswald was killed before he could testify, leading the suspicious-minded to believe he was killed because He Knows Too Much, which does however beg the question as to why nobody bothered to silence his killer Jack Ruby, who was an infamous loudmouth.
  • In Montreal during the biker gang wars, hitmen were known to have been hired and then gunned them down after a job to prevent any witnesses.
  • The Melbourne Gangland Wars as pointed out above had numerous criminals set up and murdered, including hitmen Flannerly, Veniman and Caine. Benji as he was affectionately known is dicey because the man behind his death, Mick Gatto, may not have actually set him up, with Benji being known to fly off the handle, if indeed he is even a mobster.


Video Example(s):


Same Question Three Times

Mustafa reveals the question he is asked if it asked three times in a row because he can't stand it. This leads to him being killed.

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Main / RuleOfThree

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