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Attack on the Heart

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Buffy: Why don't I just put a stake through her heart?
Giles: She's not a vampire.
Buffy: Yeah, well, you'd be surprised how many things that'll kill.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "The Wish"
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In the center of the chest (and tilted slightly to the left) lies the heart: an extremely important muscle that happens to be the sole thing responsible for moving blood throughout the entire body. As such, causing severe enough damage to it is one of the surest ways to kill someone. In real life, police and military personnel are trained to fire at the center of mass (read: chest/heart) specifically for this reason: it incapacitates or kills a target much more consistently than aiming for extremities.

Along with throat-slitting, decapitation, and shots to the head, this is one of the classical ways of killing someone in media. Generally speaking, any character that takes a direct hit to the heart will either die instantly or drop dead after just a few seconds.

This trope can easily overlap with Impaled with Extreme Prejudice or Inertial Impalement. Vampires, which are otherwise immortal, can often be killed anyway by impaling them through the heart with a wooden stake: a depiction so common that it's a trope in its own right. If the attack actually removes the heart from the body, the victim will often see their own heart, still visibly beating before they die.

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Because filmmakers aren't necessarily familiar with anatomy, on occasion a wound will treated as damaging the heart even though it's clearly not in the center of the chest. Instead, they place the wound beneath the left shoulder, where the heartbeat can be felt. That would be the aortic pulse, not the heart itself. That said, almost any penetrating wound to the thorax has a high chance of being fatal due to the number of important organs and (more significantly) major arteries and veins. The heart itself can also be affected by shock damage even if the injury itself misses, so there's some Truth in Television to this, as well.

This trope should not be confused with Shot to the Heart, which is the act of using a hypodermic needle to inject a life-saving chemical directly into someone's heart.

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


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Assassination Classroom: One of Koro-sensei's greatest weaknesses is his heart, located right underneath his tie. When fighting against Kayano, Koro-sensei allows her to attack his heart (albeit not long enough for it to be lethal) in order to create an opening for Nagisa to distract her, thus letting Koro-sensei take out her tentacles before they fully exhaust her. Also, in the finale, Koro-sensei allows Nagisa on behalf of Class 3-E to assassinate him just before graduation day, by having Nagisa stab his heart.
  • Code Geass: The penultimate episode has a geassed Schneizel shoot Diethard through the heart. In his dying moments, Diethard askes Lelouch to geass him, only for the latter to reply that he's not worth it.
  • Doraemon: Nobita's Great Adventure into the Underworld has Doraemon and the gang facing a new threat, the all-powerful demon Lord Demaon, whose sole weakness is his heart. Trying to attack it as harder than it sounds, however, because it turns out Demaon's heart is not in his body, but is a floating lump of flesh in outer space.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Early on in Goku's fight against Frieza, the latter blasts a critically wounded Vegeta through the heart in response to Vegeta's boasting over Frieza getting in over his head with Goku. Before dying, Vegeta tearfully reveals what Frieza did to the rest of the Saiyan race and asks Goku to avenge them all. Of course, this being DBZ, he gets wished back to life along with the rest of Frieza's victims on Namek.
  • Red Sprite: Tatsu kills Shepherd by stabbing him in the heart with his sword, but only penetrating up to the pericardium so he can electrocute it with his Thundercore powers. The resulting convulsions cause the heart to implode and crush itself.
  • Dr Prisoner: Tsukishima, the female protagonist got hit from the force of a bomb explosion. The impact of the explosion has caused cardiac tamponade to Tsukishima's heart. Fortunately, Reiji is there to save her life.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • The Arithmancer: In the sequel Lady Archimedes, Hermione's medical research leads her to develop a variation on the Sumerian Strike Hex, which is no more powerful than being punched in the nose — but her version delivers that force directly to the heart in a way designed to cause cardiac arrest. And it can penetrate single-layer shields. She almost kills Bellatrix Lestrange with it in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, but another Death Eater, Rookwood, was smart enough to revive her.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Zarekos temporarily kills Wemos - a vampire - by attacking his heart:
    cracked-open ribcage, grabbed the beating heart, and plucked it from its exposed perch in a shower of blood. Immediately, the separated organ and its owner dissolved.
  • In Rabbit of the Moon, Bell finishes off the minotaur that killed him by reaching into its chest and ripping out its Magic Stone.

    Films — Animation 
  • Frozen: When Anna was hit in the head by one of Elsa's ice beams, she was knocked out and got a permanent white hair streak. The troll shaman manages to heal her, but warns that a similar strike to the heart would lead to a painful, slow, and inevitable transformation into solid ice that can only be reverted by "an Act of True Love."

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Dracula: The titular Vampire is actually killed by a knife through the heart (not a stake) and being decapitated by another knife at exact the same moment.
  • In EndgameTrilogy Kala's is stabbed into the heart by Baitsakhan. However, it doesn't kill her immediately.
  • in The Grimrose Girls, the fake Penelope is killed by being stabbed in the heart. Her blood stains her killer's clothing over their heart, as if they were wounded as well.
  • Jaine Austen Mysteries: If someone is stabbed in these books, expect it to be right in the ticker. There are exceptions, like Frenchie from Shoes to Die For, who was stabbed in the neck.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius: The Smoke Knight Malek is killed when a Geisterdamen spears him through the near center of his chest with a type of hook and then uses it to yank him out of the carriage he's in and fling his body away.
  • Midnight's War: One of Lord Ruthven's associates is killed this way after an assassin baits her out of her office.

    Web Animation 

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: This trope is discussed by Princess Bubblegum. She points out that it's a bad for her opponent — a walking heart by name of Ricardio - to have his heart exposed.

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