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Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work

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John: No... no, I can't.
Scorpius: [sighs] I can. [grabs pistol in John's hand, and fires]

There's a problem, and the heroes can't solve it or make it go away. It boils down to a situation that requires a decidedly unheroic action to solve, whether it's hurting, killing, or something even less pleasant. The heroes can't very well do it and still be classic White Hats, but not doing anything would have grave consequences. Who can save the day now? Not the Big Damn Heroes, but the villains! Hey, they're evil already, doing an evil act to save the day is no problem. Essentially the author's version of Take a Third Option in a narrative lose/lose situation.

Different from a Heel–Face Turn because the villain isn't necessarily being heroic; the villain may be entirely motivated out of self-interest, such as fighting a common threat or because a competitor is challenging his place as nemesis. Another possibility is it makes them even for a previous Save the Villain behavior. If they're on friendly terms with the heroes, they may take it upon themselves to get their hands dirty specifically so that the good guys won't have to. It's possible for it to even be a complete coincidence. At any rate, in more philosophic works, the villain will be likely to subject the hero to some flavor of "The Reason You Suck" Speech, explaining that the hero can only afford to be so squeaky clean because of this trope. Sometimes, this role will fall to a Superpowered Evil Side of a protagonist if the protagonist has a Split-Personality Team situation going on.

Sub-Trope of Non-Protagonist Resolver; in this case, the "resolver" is the villain. Contrast Villainous Rescue, where a villain pulls a Big Damn Heroes without committing any acts that were too reprehensible for the good guys in the process. If the villain saves the day by accident by doing something villainous, that's Nice Job Fixing It, Villain. Overlaps with The Dog Bites Back when the "dog" is a minion. See Disney Villain Death for when there is no other bad guy to do the work, so it is done by gravity. If the hero deliberately sets it up, this is a possible case of Do with Him as You Will. Compare Always a Bigger Fish, when a usually non-sapient monster saves the heroes from another monster. Contrast Won't Do Your Dirty Work, where someone (usually either a Token Good Teammate or someone on the villain's team who is a lesser evil), gets ordered to do a morally questionable task and refuses.

No Place for Me There and Necessarily Evil are this trope applied to Utopia Justifies the Means.

Also see Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Designated Evil, Psycho Supporter, Asshole Victim, Pay Evil unto Evil, Indispensable Scoundrel, Sparing Them the Dirty Work, Self-Disposing Villain (also spares the hero from killing them), and Token Evil Teammate (the 'hero' inclined to play dirty pool in a team of good guys), and Adaptational Self-Defense (keep the hero morally upright by making their unsavory actions into self-defense).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • The Central 46 are Obstructive Bureaucrats of the worst kind. Good thing Aizen kills them all. Although the person who killed them had been frequently acting in their names, manipulating, or outright impersonating them for a long time now (all the decisions relating to Rukia's sentence were carried out by Aizen and his accomplices impersonating them), so it's hard to tell just how obstructive they really were...
    • After Giselle zombifies Hitsugaya, Rangiku, Kensei and Rose, Mayuri states that having to fight his zombified comrades is more than his (non-existent) heart can handle... so instead he sics zombified Arrancar on them while he deals with Hitsugaya.
  • In Case Closed, Pisco knew of Haibara's true identity and there was no way the story could continue for Haibara if Pisco was still alive. But the heroes didn't even need to do anything about that as Gin suddenly killed Pisco for screwing up an assassination.
  • In Chainsaw Man, Quanxi takes out huge numbers of Santa Claus' doll minions when Denji is reluctant to harm them out of fear that they're still human and very much alive despite their transformation.
  • In Code Geass, hardly anyone outside of Britannia likes the Imperial Family, which the main character claims to be a symbol of evil that looks down on others. They promote Social Darwinism, support militarism and genocide, and/or are pretty much a band of over-privileged parasites. The only exception all three of these is Euphemia and Lelouch accidentally geasses her into starting a massacre, forcing him to Shoot the Dog by killing her. As for the rest, Prince Schneizel does the world a favor by annihilating most of them in one swoop, though this doesn't change the fact that he blows up the entire capital with all its inhabitants in the process.
  • Cross Ange: When Ange has her brother Julio at her mercy, she's more than ready to finish him off even when he shamelessly tries to plead for his life. However, Embryo steps in and kills Julio himself, because he does not want Ange to "taint her hands".
  • In Digimon Ghost Game, Gammamon's Superpowered Evil Side GulusGammamon firmly believes in Pay Evil unto Evil unlike his All-Loving Hero Tamer Hiro, and showed up to finish off their more irredeemable opponents Sealsdramon & Arukenimon when they had no options left. Averted with Myotismon however, as Hiro managed to talk Gammamon down and he instead reached his Ultimate form Canoweissmon before allowing Myotismon to escape.
  • Doki Doki! PreCure has it in for Bel killing off Leva and Gula after they got defeated by Precure for the last time, effectively giving the team not only free from the duo but also getting their darkness to use it on Ira and Marmo.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Vegeta's entire purpose, story-wise, for being on Namek is to kill every single minor villain so the heroes (or at least Goku) don't have to. Cui, Dodoria, Zarbon, 4/5ths of the Ginyu Force (two while helpless!)(and he gets the last one later) and most of Freeza's mooks. Goku clearly doesn't want him doing this, and even calls him out after killing the two helpless Ginyu Force members. Though Goku kills Freeza himself, or would have if King Cold didn't show up to revive him... only for both of them to be killed off by Vegeta's Kid from the Future.
  • In EDENS ZERO, Homura lets Madame Kurenai go. She runs off into some woods, laughing at her daughter's weakness. And promptly runs into Cedric and his gang - and they definitely do not let her go, Cedric repaying her disfigurement of him with high interest and a metal baseball bat. Not to mention what is implied to happen to her afterwards - and for a whole year.
  • In Fairy Tail, after the eponymous guild is satisfied with just letting Grimoire Heart, the worst villains they faced so far who are clearly still evil, off with a scolding due to their leader being the guild's former master, Grimoire Heart leaves. As they lament their failure, Zeref, who they spent the entire series trying to get their hands on, approaches them. When they attempt to instigate their plan, he brushes them off, lets them know why he hates their guts, and makes their leader the third person in the series to be killed. Even functions as a Kick the Dog moment: Grimoire Heart spends years collecting the keys to "awaken" Zeref's true personality and unleash his true, genocidal self. But Zeref reveals he was never "sleeping"; that was simply a rumor spread to explain why he suddenly stopped killing, when in reality he stopped voluntarily.
  • This tends to apply frequently to the main characters of Fort of Apocalypse, although most of their actions could be written off as Villainous Rescues. One particular instance of this is Yoshioka stabbing another inmate through the hand and pinning him to a table to divert the zombies, giving them a chance to escape.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • After Shou Tucker merges his dog and daughter into a chimera that is in constant pain, it really seems a Mercy Kill is the best that could be done. However, Ed and Al were likely unwilling to do so, and their own government were taking the chimera in for medical experimentation. Luckily, Scar was in the vicinity.
    • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), the brothers need to create the Philosopher Stone. Problem: By episode 40, it became obvious that in order to do that, one needs to kill quite a lot of people. Solution: Scar did it. And died in the process.
  • In the climax of After War Gundam X, The Frost Brothers betray everybody and vaporize both the leaders of the New United Nations Earth and Space Revolutionary Army, i.e.: The assholes who started the Apocalyptic 7th Space War in the first place, and were trying to do it all over again. This leads to Gundam X being one of the few Gundam series' to have an unambigously happy ending.
  • Is It My Fault That I Got Bullied?: A non-criminal example with Shinji Suzuki. He’s a successful banker because he is sent to handle clients that appeal to the banker's conscience, where he ruthlessly rejects feeling sympathy for them. It’s implied that his boss uses him for that kind of work, and his Coworkers greatly admire him for his ruthlessness, even if some are uncomfortable with it, with one of them viewing him as an elite person. Deconstruction by the final chapters of the story. Shinji's mistress and former victim revealed him to be a cheater and a bully to his boss and coworkers. His boss was disgusted and denied him the promotion and later demoted him to make copies of documents all day. His coworkers wanted nothing to do with him, ignored him, and refused to be threatened by him or even talk to him. They were willing to tolerate and even admire Shinji's ruthless methods when it was good for business, but they draw the line when they see what a monster he really is and cut ties with him. And eventually, one of the people Shinji abused and bullied when he was a banker killed him just as he was planning to put his life back together, showing that there are even consequences when legally doing dirty work because your cruelty will catch up to you when one of your victims sick of your abuse.
  • Made in Abyss: Bondrewd dismembers his daughter Prushka and turns her into an anti-curse cartridge, which Reg, Riko, and Nanachi are horrified by. However, Prushka in her cartridge form is able to produce a Life-Reverberating Stone, which is necessary for a White Whistle to be made that can help Riko and her friends get to the sixth layer of the Abyss. The only way to make a Life-Reverberating Stone is by a cave raider's loved one sacrificing themselves for them, and even though they only knew each other a short time, Prushka and Riko grew to like each other very much.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Due disposes of the TSAB High Council, which was responsible for having Scaglietti created, preventing any such mistakes in the future.
  • Johan from Monster kicks off the plot by killing the corrupt doctors who screwed Tenma's career over. He also tends to kill any lesser villains who might be threatening Tenma or Nina.
  • A recurring theme in Moriarty the Patriot:
    • In The Two Detectives, William is the one who "cheats" and forces the killer to confess to his crimes when Sherlock's deductions come up just a bit short
    • William and his brothers save Irene Adler's life when Sherlock can do nothing to help her against the British government
    • William stops the Jack the Ripper murders while Sherlock doesn't even take the case
    • William sends Bond and Patterson in to get the evidence needed to prove Chief Arterton's frame-ups, who passes the evidence along to Lestrade and Sherlock when they fail to get it themselves
    • Sherlock uses the leverage gained by agreeing to stop William's crime spree to change Parliament
  • My-HiME:
    • One wonders what The Omniscient Council of Vagueness group of old ladies who rule Japan (First Division) would have done to the cast had Shizuru not gone crazy and killed them all after the cast kills their god. It's doubtful that they were resurrected along with the rest of the cast. A scene with the Obsidian Lord indicates that he was planning to kill them himself anyway, but Shizuru got to them first.
    • In Mai's fight with Shiho, she's unable to go on the offensive, realizing that as both of them consider Yuuichi their most important person, either of their Childs being destroyed will result in his death (Shiho, being overcome with jealous rage, fails to realize this). Yuuichi, not wanting them to fight, orders Mai to destroy Shiho's Child while fully knowing that he'll kick it, but she refuses. Then a brainwashed Mikoto jumps in, having been conditioned to attack Mai's enemy, and destroys Shiho's child. Yuuichi thanks Mikoto for this before he passes away.
  • In Naruto, Sasuke kills Danzo when there's no way for the good guys to get rid of him without a huge political mess because he was their acting leader at the time. His action enables Tsunade to resume leadership once she awakens from her coma without any complications such as a power struggle.
  • One Piece: In-Universe example. After Saint Charlos tries yet again to kidnap and enslave Shirahoshi, her brothers quickly try to attack him in response. Saint Mjosgard steps in the way and tells Fukaboshi to show restraint as a royal... before giving Sai and Leo verbal permission to flatten Charlos. Since they are pirates, their countries won't have to answer for their crimes.
  • At the very end of Pluto, Brau-1589, the first robot to kill a human being and a Hannibal Lector Expy who spent most of the manga giving breaking speeches to his visitors in prison, breaks free and kills The Man Behind the Man/Big Bad.
  • In one episode of Pokémon: The Series, the heroes arrive at a festival dedicated to the Pokemon Wobbuffet, and several party-crashers come and start destroying things. The festival people explain that since Wobbuffet can't hurt the enemy except by reflecting attacks, in honor of that they will not attack the party crashers. Ash & co know the guys must be stopped but are unwilling to break the rules of the festival. Team Rocket, on the other hand, have no such qualms. Ass kicking ensues.
  • Discussed, but subverted in Rave Master. After defeating Hardner and learning about his sad past the heroes and their allies of the week are wondering what to do with him when Lucia comes out of nowhere and stabs him in the back, claiming they should be grateful that he solved the problem for them. Due to quick action, Hardner is instead saved and becomes the only Rave Master villain not to suffer from Redemption Equals Death.
  • The big bads of Sailor Moon kill off most of their own subordinates who fail them, which keep Sailor Moon and company from having to get their hands dirty. This courtesy does not, of course, extend to the Big Bad themselves or often to their Dragon, who Sailor Moon will more often than not kill personally. In the manga and Crystal, they regularly kill most of their adversaries.
  • In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, at the end of the Koryo arc, Syaoran talks Chunyan out of killing the ryanban, but he is conveniently taken care of by his own previously mind-controlled servant.

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers: Happens a lot in The Avengers (Jonathan Hickman). With the Incursions threatening all existence, the Illuminati reform to try and find a way to stop them. However, their first option doesn't work, and their next option they consider far too horrific to actually do it. So Namor reforms the Cabal, who for eight months handle the Incursions themselves, albeit with the wholesale slaughter of other universes thrown in for good measure. Elsewhere, Doctor Doom sets about analysing the Incursions, and learns far more about their mechanisms than the Illuminati ever did.
  • Batman:
    • In the 1947 story that introduces Joe Chill, the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents, Batman confronts Chill and, in a fit of anger, reveals his Secret Identity to him. Since this was back when recurring villains didn't get to learn such secrets, but Batman doesn't kill, Chill is instead killed by his own enraged men after he tells them he is responsible for creating Batman... and, naturally, dies before he can say just who's behind the mask.
      • The story was later adapted for Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but tweaks it by having Chill die in a freak accident before Batman's enemies could get him — which was heavily hinted to have been arranged by The Spectre. It still qualifies as this trope, as the Spectre is considered a hero but one that's far, far less scrupulous than Batman.
      • In Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, Joe Chill would be killed off by psycho vigilante The Reaper just as Batman is struggling with the decision to kill him himself or not.
    • The remnants of The Black Glove that tried to utterly destroy Batman (and utterly failed) in Batman RIP could have caused problems in the future. It's probably for the best that Joker as Oberon Sexton killed them all. Later on, the same thing happens to Simon Hurt.
      • Similarly, when Batman finally goes after the leadership of the Court of Owls, he finds that they've all already been killed by Lincoln March.
  • Deadpool: In the last issues of Deadpool's first ongoing series, his friend and assistant Sandi is hospitalized after her boyfriend assaults her. When Deadpool and Taskmaster visit her, she makes Deadpool promise he'll only scare the abusive boyfriend off, not kill him. Deadpool follows through with a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Taskmaster didn't make any promises. Cue Gory Discretion Shot.
  • Infinite Crisis: At the end of the series, Alexander Luthor has managed to escape the Final Battle and is planning to start over. Unfortunately, he forgot that he had pissed off everyone's favorite homicidal clown. Not content with the possibility that Luthor might return, the writers have Mister J burn him with acid, electrocute him and shoot him in the head.
    Now who's stupid?
  • Christopher Priest's Justice League run introduced a character called the Fan. As one of the technicians who helped build the Justice League's Watchtower HQ, the Fan had managed to spy on the team and uncover many of their secrets, leading to a situation that made it impossible to simply send him to prison. Batman and Aquaman debated what to do with him, with the latter arguing that killing him would be the only way to ensure more people didn't get hurt, while the former argued that heroes never kill. Ultimately, they never got to finish their debate, as Deathstroke ended up shooting the Fan to death, thus taking care of the problem for them.
  • Namor has a history of this. During the Emperor Doom graphic novel, he was the one who ultimately stopped Doctor Doom's mind control machine by killing the Purple Man.
  • In My Little Pony: Nightmare Knights, when Princess Luna finally regains her powers and has Eris dead to rights, at first she is royally pissed about everything the villainess has done and seems eager to exact revenge. However, she starts having second thoughts when Eris literally drops to her knees and pathetically begs Luna for mercy. Unfortunately for her, Daybreaker will have none of it.
    Princess Luna: Eris, I don't want to hurt you.
    [cue fireball enveloping Eris in flames, blasting her out of the window and into oblivion]
    Daybreaker: I do.
  • In The Punisher / Daredevil crossover Seventh Circle, Matt Murdock arranges for the guilty-as-hell Antonov to be put on trial in Texas, as there's no way they can get an impartial jury in New York. Frank Castle (who doesn't know they're the same person) has a different theory: Murdock is setting up the trial in Texas as they still use the death penalty, ensuring Antonov dies legally rather than a sniper's bullet (Frank's plan). Several people die because they can't agree on the ethics of the whole thing.

  • Rat-Man: In the final issue, the title character struggles with the idea of killing Topin, even after his former apprentice nearly destroyed the world, kidnapped his daughter and was revealed to have influenced him into not contacting her or her mother. Before Rat-Man can steel himself and do the deed, Valker stomps on Topin's head.
  • Secret Six: After someone put out a hit on the Six, resulting in Scandal's beloved girlfriend Knockout being critically injured, Scandal tracked down the would-be assassin and brought her back to their base. However, having tied the woman to a chair, she was unable to bring herself to finish her off. Her teammate Deadshot stepped in and shot the woman himself, sparing Scandal the trouble.

  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): In a later comic, Shadow confronts Eggman and outright states he's going to kill him. Eggman tries to play the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule. He turns out to be a Horrible Judge of Character, as Shadow points out: "Sonic holds such beliefs. But then, he's a hero... I'm not."
  • Street Fighter vs. Darkstalkers: Jedah Domah is killed by Gill (his partner whom Jedah betrayed) by pulling out his heart from his body and then Akuma (a decidedly grey character) delivers the killing blow by striking him with the Dylec sword. Granted, it's not like the heroes weren't trying, it's that Jedah was so powerful that it just so happened the ones to defeat him were bad guys. Ironically, Gill himself is defeated when he tries to claim victory for getting rid of the competition, as he is teleported back to Earth by his own cultists trying to resurrect him. Also the demonic fetus created by the villains is defeated when Morrigan and Lilith Aensland fuse together and deliver a powerful blast at the demonic child. An unusual only-adaptational case giving they are not evil in canon, but in the comic they are depicted as malevolent succubi that kill humans draining their souls.
  • Thunderbolts: In issue #14 of the original series, the Thunderbolts have to kill an alien leader in order to get out of the dimension they're stuck in. Even though he understands the necessity of it, Abe (MACH-I) can't bring himself to, and Moonstone has to instead.
  • Transformers:
    • In The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Whirl believes he's already a monster and knows that sometimes to keep people safe there are difficult decisions in which there is no winner. He is willing to make those choices so that good people aren't forced to do bad things.
    • Rodimus can't bring himself to kill Getaway while retaking the Lost Light, going so far as to save him from a fire. Then the vicious scraplets Whirl befriended get involved. Getaway doesn't survive.
    • In The Transformers: Punishment, Slug says that the Dinobots are the group that "does the things so that the heroes can keep being heroes." During the Great War and actually well before that, they functioned as a black ops group that specialized in missions where collateral damage was not a concern. Optimus Prime really clashes with them over their behavior.
  • Ultimate Marvel:
    • Ultimatum: Reed is fully aware of the things that Van Damme did, including his part in all this, but his moral code does not allow him to kill him. So he blames himself that he's partially responsible, because his unwillingness to kill caused all this. He confided all this with Ben, who then took it to himself to do what Reed did not dare to do, and kill Van Damme.
    • The Ultimates: The Ultimates recruit Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, from the Brotherhood of Mutant Supremacy. Nick Fury points that this is not the first that the security services made deals with terrorists.
    • Ultimate X-Men: Xavier loathes mutants taking advantage of their superior powers to impose their will of regular humans, no matter the circumstances. Wolverine, on the other hand, has no problem making a display of his powers to a mafia boss so he accepts to leave Colossus alone.
  • Wayne Shelton: The series exploits this trope: the Big Bad is killed by another villain. Shelton confesses that he hoped him to do this, and call this a bargain with his own conscience.
  • Wolverine: Wolverine considers himself damned already because of his past, so he's willing to cross lines actual heroes shouldn't. He does not want anyone else, especially kids, following his example.
  • X-Men:
    • In the graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, the X-Men and their erstwhile ally Magneto have captured a few of the enemy "Purifiers." The heroes are desperate for information about the Big Bad's plans, but the Purifier they question refuses to talk. Magneto, who at this point has yet to enter the Heel–Face Revolving Door, the man to force him to answer.
    • Something comparable happens in Uncanny X-Men #269. Here Rogue and the personality she absorbed from Ms. Marvel come out of the Siege Perilous as two separate persons; unfortunately, there is only life force for one of them to survive, and therefore the Ms. Marvel revenant (a separate being from Carol Danvers, who was then in outer space as Binary) tries to kill Rogue. Rogue manages to defeat her, but can't bring herself to kill her even to survive, and so "Ms. Marvel" turns the tables again. She is about to kill Rogue when Magneto intervenes and kills the Ms. Marvel revenant. This could possibly be interpreted as Magneto being a Combat Pragmatist, but the subsequent story (#274-275) shows him starting on the road to becoming a villain again.

    Fan Works 


  • Beyond the Outer Gates Lies... A high school library?: Combined with We Have Ways of Making You Talk by Harry. When a suspect refuses to cough up their intel on the Loki faction because The Mob Boss Is Scarier, Harry simply lets him go... but notes that the Loki faction likely isn't going to believe that he didn't fess up, especially since he was freed. The threat of being tracked down and tortured in order to learn what he supposedly told them is enough to make the suspect crack.
  • In Celestia's Rocket Adventures, while Twilight and Ash are certainly willing to fight, they aren't the sort of people who are going to make an example of fallen foes to terrify the rest into flight. But Giovanni is.
  • Cute Meets Psycho: J.D. makes Hotaru his 18th victim, taking out Mistress 9 in the process, before the Sailor Scouts could ever even meet her.
  • The Dark Lords of Nerima: Played With - when Beneda escaped from the Sailor Senshi, Tuxedo Mask believed she was already dead due to an injury he'd inflicted, and they needed to leave the scene before the police arrived. However, the senshi assumed that Jadeite would employ his usual method of dealing with his failures, meaning they didn't have to worry about her.
  • A Devil Amongst Worms, Makima is the one to permanently defeat Leviathan and drive most of the villains, like the ABB and E88 out of Brockton Bay, not that the people of Earth-Bet realize Makima's true nature.
  • Earth's Alien History has a couple of examples:
    • When the Reapers invade the Alpha Quadrant, they do several things that inadvertently help out the rest of the galaxy, such as killing the Mekon and breaking the power of the Orion Syndicate.
    • When the Romulans help Blackfire take over Tamaran, they also take the time to destroy the Citadel Empire (not to be confused with the Citadel Council), which had been tormenting the Tamaraneans for years.
  • Deconstructed in Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters; the Rebellion's reliance upon its Token Evil Teammates to handle its dirty work is shown in a very poor light, with the rest of the Rebellion being disgusted by them.
  • This is pretty standard procedure for Ulquiorra in A Hollow in Equestria when something needs to be done that the ponies can't do themselves.
  • Infinity Train: Blossomverse:
    • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail:
      • Grace Monroe, leader of a denizen killing cult, discusses this trope with Chloe Cerise, stating that there are some things that only adults should do — one of them being killing Walter just as he's strangling Chloe. She's also the one to ultimately disband her cult when she realizes how much damaged it has caused.
      • While UnSara had been assaulted by a million Pokémon moves beforehand, Parker Cerise is ultimately the one to defeat the apparition for good, not only wishing for the Bad things she did to be followed by good things, but make sure those good things remain long after she's gone.
    • Infinity Train: Boiling Point: Hazel saves The Innocence from The Trauma and then snaps their neck while verbally breaking down Grace.
  • Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger: Just like in canon, the heroes ultimately do little to prevent Cinder from causing the Fall of Beacon and contribute nothing to her downfall. Instead, Darth Nihilus is the one to foil Cinder's plans by killing Roman before he can hijack control of Ironwood's army; causing Cinder's death, thus returning her half-Maiden powers back to Amber; absorbing the Wyvern before it can destroy all of Atlas' airships; and killing Adam just as he got the upper hand on Winter during their duel. Of course, none of this was intentional on his part and it was really more of a lucky side effect caused by him pulling an Eviler than Thou at just the right moment.
  • In Little Black Death Note: Kira disposes of Voldemort, while Team Slytherin investigates Raito Yagami and Hondo Makurai.
  • A bizarre example happens in The Prayer Warriors. After Dumbledore is killed, the heroes need to burn his body, and they apparently do not have any other means to set a fire, so they have Harry Potter, their (recently Back from the Dead) enemy, burn it with fire magic, because he's going to hell anyway.
  • Roze From Remnant: After Roze defeats Salem, Oma Zi-O pulls the villainess to Earth 2068 and confines her there, keeping Remnant safe while his younger self builds up the power to take down Salem permanently.
  • Spider-Ninja: In the chapter "Shred of Green", the Shredder is defeated in a fight with Splinter. However, Splinter doesn't kill him and orders him to surrender (seeing as how the Turtles and Spider-Ninja have defeated his soldiers and the entire building is surrounded by SHIELD agents). Before Shredder can get up and keep fighting, however, the Green Goblin enters the scene. He gets the Hamatos and Fury to leave by telling them he planted a bomb outside that they need to disarm. Once they're alone, Goblin gives Shredder a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and stabs him through the heart.
  • Zero vs Kira has Kira declaring war upon the forces of Brittania after being accidentally transported to their world.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

  • Avatar: The Legend of Arata: Arashi is the one who kills Visola, rather than any of the heroes.
    • Averted with Tsume; Arata and Kinto don't care that they might have killed him while taking him down, and he ultimately dies at the hands of one of his victims.

Danny Phantom

  • In Mortified, Skulker leads an army of ghosts, filled with villains like Johnny 13 and Kitty, Desiree, Walker and his goons, and former Circus Gothica performers, to attack the GIW headquarters.

Disney Animated Canon

  • The Lion King Adventures features two examples:
    • In Friends to the End, Hago kills Scar whilst his back is turned.
    • In The Interceptor's Challenge, the Interceptor rips Shocker's head off, before burying him underneath the ground for all eternity.

Elfen Lied

  • The Butterfly Effect: Kaede is going out of her way to avoid killing anyone. Lucy has no such qualms, going after anyone who targets Kaede and her loved ones.

High School D×D

  • Issei: The Gaming Gear: While Issei thinks he managed to kill Armârôs during his battle with her. She actually just fled to the abandoned church home to Raynare's group. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a fatal move on her part, as Azazel designated her a rogue agent, giving Raynare the excuse to shoot her.

Jackie Chan Adventures

  • Queen of All Oni: So far, all of the villains killed off have met their ends at the hands of Jade or her minions.
  • In Webwork, an enraged Tohru almost crosses the line by killing the new Squid Khan General Simon Leston. Before he can, however, Jade swoops in and handles it for him.

The Loud House

  • In Chains of Reality, the morally grey Stella is the one who stops Renee, Haiku and Giggles from making the situation worse than it already was.

Miraculous Ladybug

Monster Rancher

  • Phoenix's Tear: Reignition: Inverted by Avila in Protectorate of the Color Pandora; after Stone Dragon proves to be a Bad Boss, she deliberately turns a blind eye towards Hare and Mocchi's plan to stop him from filling the shrine with flames. She then considers finishing him off herself, but decides to leave it to the rebels instead, sardonically referring to them as 'heroes'.


My Hero Academia

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

  • Loved and Lost: When the heroes have Prince Jewelius cornered in the final battle, Queen Chrysalis arrives and has her Changelings devour Jewelius as revenge for double-crossing them, thus alleviating the heroes of having to dispose of him.


  • Androgyninja's A Drop of Poison: During the Konoha Crush, Kabuto attacks Shimura Danzo, rendering them comatose. This helps prevent them from taking advantage of Konoha's weakened state after the invasion and seizing power, or from immediately exploiting the death of Sakura's parents.
  • Glass Marionette: Kankuro recognizes that he can't deal with Rasa himself; so instead, he opts to leave him to Orochimaru, letting him Kill and Replace him as part of his scheming.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

  • A Glass of Wine: After Asuka spares them during the final battle, Kaworu repays her by taking out the entire SEELE council by themselves.


  • In Those Silver Eyes, Summer Rose refuses to kill Barbary, even though he's blatantly threatening to spark a second Faunus War to Kill All Humans. Even after he tries to kill her after she spared his life, she refuses to finish the job. Fortunately, he runs afoul of a pack of Ursa Majors, who have no such qualms.

Simon Boccanegra

  • In Stabilization, Paolo acknowledges himself as an example – honorable people are the benevolent authority figures, while the unsavory side of politics is left to people like him.

Sonic the Hedgehog

''Teen Titans]]

  • In The End of Ends, Dr. Beljar makes it really easy for the Titans to not kill Beast Boy since he takes over control of the Dark Prognosticus, and it's required that whoever controls the Prognosticus must die in order to close the void. This arguably ends up being a moot point, though, when Beast Boy dies anyway from injuries sustained in the battle.
  • Homemade Happy Ending: Mad Mod decides to intervene and help Beast Boy and Terra reunite by disposing of Slade for them. Though naturally, he's also doing this to benefit himself by using Slade's life energy to rejuvenate himself.

Total Drama

  • Unbreakable Red Silken Thread: This is the reason why Heather is helping Gwen instead of Dawn or Jo. The latter is limited because of how the law works when it comes to using her authority in cases of domestic abuse while the former is constrained by her morals and ethics.


  • Seed has Taylor become the Terror Hero Faust; while she avoids killing anyone, she still takes extreme measures in her efforts to clean up Brockton Bay... and becomes incredibly popular with the public in the process, much to the dismay of the PRT. Over the course of two months, she makes more progress dealing with the gangs than the Protectorate had in decades, in no small part because she's trying to curtail crime through more than just violent methods, improving the infrastructure and economy of the area and working to help people out of poverty.

Young Justice

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the title character is being pursued by gangsters who want him to pay $50,000 for roughing up the son of a local real estate mogul. Rather than paying, he lures them to a place where he's meeting a drug kingpin that he's in business with. When the gangsters try to steal the kingpin's product in payment for what the protagonist owes, the kingpin and his men kill them all.
  • Discussed but ultimately Averted in Best Seller, in which a psychopathic Professional Killer teams up with a detective turned novelist to write his story about his work for a Corrupt Corporate Executive. The novelist decides to publicly expose the executive instead of shooting him, causing the killer to quip that he ruined a perfect ending for the book.
  • In The Big Heat, Debby kills Mrs. Duncan and brings down the titular big heat on the mob — sparing the Technical Pacifist hero from doing it.
  • Blue Beetle (2023): Big Bad Victoria's right hand man Carapax is the one who kills Victoria, taking himself in the process, which spares the hero-protagonist Jaime from having to do it.
  • Chris Pine's character in Carriers where everyone is a Crazy Survivalist shoots the dog many times in order to spare his more innocent brother from doing it himself. It rubs off on his brother though, who later finally gets his hands dirty by killing Pine when he is infected.
  • In Child 44, Leo finally catches up to the serial killer who's been gruesomely murdering children... and he proves to have a similar back-story to Leo himself, as well as being wracked by guilt about his horrific crimes, which he claims not to be able to control. As Leo hesitates over whether to shoot him as he intended to, Vasili comes along and does it for him.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick saga is based on taking this trope and making a franchise out of it.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
    • Subverted in Batman Begins: Bruce is about to assassinate Joe Chill when the mob assassinates him instead for becoming an informant. This is when Bruce realizes that crime has become so pervasive, killing one person won't resolve anything.
    • The Joker did this in his own twisted way in The Dark Knight, when a Wayne Enterprises accountant discovered Bruce's big secret and was about to reveal it to the world on live television (because the Joker had threatened a massive killing spree if Batman didn't reveal his identity). But leave it to the Joker to take something that would have been a favor to Batman, and to twist it to his own ends:
      The Joker: I don't want Mr. Reese spoiling everything, but why should I have all the fun? Let's give someone else a chance. If Coleman Reese isn't dead in sixty minutes then I blow up a hospital.
    • Later, the Joker strands two ferries in the harbor, one filled with civilians, the other with convicts, and tells them that if one boat doesn't use the provided trigger to blow up the other boat within an hour, he'll blow up both. The guard with the trigger on the convicts' boat hems and haws about what to do, when a Scary Black Man convict comes up and offers to do it for him so that he can keep his hands clean. And subverted, as the convict tosses the trigger out the window, having recognized that the moral thing to do is allow the civilians to live.
    • Straight example in The Dark Knight Rises: Batman's one rule keeps him from killing Bane. But Catwoman has no such restriction.
  • Devil in a Blue Dress: Easy Rawlins discovers that a friend was involved in a woman's murder. He leaves the man to be guarded by his Psycho Sidekick Mouse while he goes to save the Damsel in Distress. When he comes back, his friend has been strangled by Mouse. When Easy gets upset, Mouse pointedly asks, "If you didn't want him dead, Easy, why did you leave him with me?"
  • Enemy of the State: The film opens with Dean negotiating with mobster Pintero over a compromising videotape that Dean had obtained, and which he gives Pintero in exchange for leaving Dean's clients alone. Later, Dean unknowingly obtains a recording that shows the assassination of a Congressman, which places him in the NSA's crosshairs. When he and Brill are captured by NSA bigwig Reynolds, he tells Reynolds that he will take them to the tape, leading them to Pintero instead. Dean remains vague enough about what he means by "the tape" when introducing them that Pintero assumes Reynolds is the man who made the mob tape coming to blackmail him, while Reynolds thinks that Dean gave the assassination tape to The Mafia, leading to a violent shootout where both Mafia and NSA forces wipe each other out.
  • Ultimately subverted in Exam; as White is going into a coma, Brown tries to prevent him from getting his medicine. His plan doesn't work when Blonde gets the pill anyway.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's: Towards the end, William Afton dawns the Spring Bonnie suit and comes to the pizzeria to either kill the heroes or have the animatronics do it. Abby, however, is able to remind the children that they were murdered by Afton, who placed them in the animatronics so they could be his servants. Once they remember this, they are the ones to trigger the springlocks in the suit, killing Afton. This allows Mike, Vanessa, and Abby to escape the pizzeria (and keeps them firmly as the protagonists since they didn't kill Afton or destroy the animatronics).
  • In The Handmaiden, Kouzuki brings Fujiwara back to his estate after being tipped by Hideko as to his location, and then Fujiwara kills himself and Kouzuki. Sook-hee and Hideko are able to escape without needing to kill either of them directly.
  • In Insurgent, Tori, one of Tris's friends, kills Jeanine near the end of the novel to avenge her brother. In its film adaptation, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, it's Evelyn who does the job, likely to foreshadow the fact that she is much crueler than she appears to be.
  • James Bond:
    • Quantum of Solace has a rare case of the villain not dying at Bond's hands. Bond chooses to strand the film's main villain in the desert to fend for himself and it doesn't go well for him (he's later said to have been found with bullets in his neck).
    • In No Time to Die, it's a Mad Scientist acting on behalf of the film's Big Bad, Lyutsifer Safin, who rids the world of Spectre, by sabotaging a party of them that was intended to be for Bond's death, turning the nanomachines-based virus they stole against themselves.
  • The climax scene of Let the Right One In goes...this way, kind of. As the kid's about to be drowned, Eli shows up and saves the day. But since she's a vampire, she kills three people doing so.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:
    • In the extended cut of the film, what to do with Saruman is a bit of a problem for Théoden and the Fellowship. He resists coming quietly to be questioned until Gríma backstabs him after being kicked around one too many times.
    • The sudden presence of Gollum at Mount Doom means that Sam doesn't have to fight or even kill Frodo to complete the quest and destroy the Ring after Frodo succumbs to the Ring's temptation and refuses to destroy it himself, since someone is already handling the fight for him.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
  • In Red Sun, the villains are about to kill the heroes, only to be interrupted by an attack by murderous Comanches.
  • In The Shootist, the sheriff wants to rid his town of the notorious gunslinger John Book so he releases an inmate who's looking to settle a score with Book.
  • Salim from Slumdog Millionaire spends most of the movie playing The Caretaker to Jamal, shooting and kicking the dog alternately allowing them both to survive, but allowing Jamal to remain relatively untarnished.
  • In Sam Raimi's first Spider Man film, Peter goes after his uncle's killer immediately after his death. After an intense chase scene, Spider-Man corners the man in an abandoned building and is clearly ready to kill him... but pauses when he realizes that the man who killed Ben is the same thief Spider-Man allowed to escape. He takes responsibility for what happened, and chooses not to kill the thief. The second he hesitates, the thief tries to shoot him, but Spider-Man breaks his wrist. The guy, panicking, trips over a pipe and falls out the window to his death. The bad guy did the dirty work to himself, leaving Spider-Man with his firm no-kill policy.
  • This is the reasoning behind assembling the eponymous Suicide Squad (2016), though in this case, it's not about saving "good guys" (the US government) from having to do things they're morally opposed to. It's to allow them to make the "hard decisions" while maintaining their reputations, having villainous fall guys (and Harley) take the blame for their morally dubious acts. It still allows "heroic" characters to keep their hands clean. note 
  • Downplayed examples in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Cody discovers Dobbs, Curtin, and Howard's secret prospecting operation, and tries to join their group for a share of the gold they dig up. Dobbs and the rest don't want to share, but they also fear Cody will expose them if they send him away. They vote (2-to-1) to murder Cody—but before they can act on this decision, banditos attack their camp. Cody gets shot and killed in the ensuing gunfight, and the survivors feel guilt over the murder they planned but never carried out.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • X-Men: The Mutant Registration Act is defeated due to the Brotherhood unintentionally killing the Act's main supporter and Mystique replacing him later on.
    • X-Men: Apocalypse: A Brainwashed and Crazy Wolverine slaughters all of Stryker's soldiers holding our heroes prisoner.

  • In Bernard Cornwell's book Agincourt, the main character, Nick Hook, has made a vow to a priest not to kill the murderous rapists with who his family has been in a blood feud for generations. His arch-enemy, father-in-law, and prisoner (it's complicated) made no such promise.
  • In Animorphs Rachel starts out as The Big Guy, but as the war goes on slips into Token Evil Teammate. Upon realizing they may need to kill David, Jake immediately thinks of getting her. She's torn between acknowledging she's the person for the job and wondering what it says about her (and his opinion of her) that he knows that. Much later, she takes it upon herself to do a particularly morally dubious but necessary action, and when Cassie questions if she can really do it, angrily demands to know if Cassie can instead. She can't, which leaves Rachel. In the finale, Jake sends her on a suicide mission to kill his brother, her cousin. She agrees, knowing she's the person for the job, and by this point is too broken by the war to do anything else. She also, at one point rationalizes the need for her to do these things, so the others don't as:
    "They needed me to be the bad guy. And I needed them to be the good guys. Because if they were good guys, and I was on their side, then that meant that I was a good guy too. Even if I was different."
  • Bazil Broketail: Ironically, Thrembode is the one who kills General Lukash, the leader of the Padmasan army invading Argonath in book three — depriving it of leadership just when it is being curb-stomped by intervening Argonathi troops at Sprian's Ridge. Thrembode himself is offed by Relkin shortly afterwards before he's even finished gloating
  • In the backstory of A Brother's Price, the princesses were married to Keifer Porter, an abusive rapist who was prone to temper tantrums. The elder princesses were madly in love with him because he was so pretty, and as it was the eldest sister's decision to divorce him, the younger sisters' only option to get rid of him would have been murder. Keifer conveniently dies in an attempt on the princesses' life, which sadly also claims the lives of many innocent people, among them half of the princesses. The dead sisters are mourned, Keifer is not.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: In The Last Battle, Tash (i.e. Satan) gets rid of some of the bad guys - since they inadvertently summoned him for real, thinking he didn't exist.
  • The Culture:
    • In general in Culture novels, Special Circumstances plays this role for the rest of the Culture (and their non-Culture Citizen agents play this role to the rest of the organization). Use of Weapons contains a particularly clear example of this with the amoral/immoral protagonist and his anti-hero handlers taking on a morally ambiguous mission that will help promote freedom and tolerance in general for a particular region, but cost a lot of innocent and not-so-innocent lives in the meantime.
    • Matter has a Sealed Evil in a Can being released and in typical Banks fashion killing most of the main cast. While this is nearly all of the heroes, it also includes the Evil Chancellor who had usurped a throne and his minions. Thus, the Culture are able to set up the surviving hero as the future prime minister, and unlike in other novels in the series, didn't actually have to act morally ambiguously and get rid of corrupt leaders themselves.
  • Dead Man's Land by Robert Ryan. Dr. Watson is unable to shoot the fleeing murderer In the Back, but knows he can't let a man who's committed several cold-blooded murders escape. He decides to let the 'Gods of War' decide and fires off a flare, lighting up No Mans Land and revealing the murderer to a German sniper. He's aware though that what he did was little different from committing murder himself.
  • The Deverry Cycle has little Olaen. When the Deverrian civil war ends, five-year-old Olaen 'rules' the losing side. The choices to prevent future challenge are death, castration, or blinding, the latter two involving turning him over to the priesthood to raise. Oggyn poisons the boy with 'Dwarven Salts'.note 
  • Discworld:
    • In Night Watch, Vimes frees prisoners from the Cable Street watch house. In the process, he has to subdue a torturer, who he leaves tied to a chair and forgets about until someone reminds him. Since he gets reminded after he started burning the place down, he has to run back in, all the while trying to decide whether to kill the mook, cut him free, or cut just enough rope that he can maybe escape before he burns to death. Luckily, Captain Swing shows up and kills the mook before Vimes has to make his choice.
    • Vetinari: In his own words “history needs its butchers as well as its shepherds” or, in plainer language “Magnificent Bastards do the dirty work.” Note Swing also used the phrase.
    • "Stoneface" Vimes used more or less the same phrase, and executes the last king of Ankh in person, without any form of trial. To be fair, the king deserved it, and some of the comments about the event indicate that he tried for a trial, but there wasn't anyone willing to be the judge.
    • Going Postal also had this, in a way. It turns out that the backlog of unsent letters at the Post Office are sentient and want to be delivered, and are powerful enough to cause telepathic hallucinations. Not only is this very dangerous given the number of Vetinari's men that got killed falling off of ledges that they couldn't see, but it is also flatly impossible to deliver some of them since they come from another universe's Post Office, and could cause a lot of upheaval if they accidentally got out. Conveniently, Reacher Gilt's Dragon is an arsonist and burns the office down, letters and all, relieving Moist of the burden.
  • In Dragon Bones a minor villain is killed by his boss because he didn't do a good enough job. Although the heroes are horrified at the cruel manner of execution, it is very convenient for them, as the man in question betrayed his heroic older brother in order to become the one in charge of their estate. His brother loved him very much, and it would have been a real problem to determine what to do with him, had the villain not solved the problem for them.
  • The Dresden Files: This is why the Knights of the Cross sometimes fight alongside Harry Dresden. He's not evil, but he's willing to Shoot the Dog and do morally questionable things if it averts a greater evil — freedom the Knights, who are truly good, loving people — do not have.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Executive Intent, the Chinese assault on and takeover of Mogadishu is likened to this In-Universe by one character, noting how China had solved the problem (Somali pirates, to be exact) most of the world probably secretly wanted to deal with but could not bring themselves to handle.
  • James S. Corey's The Expanse:
    • In the first book of the series, Leviathan Wakes, Outland-esque rent-a-cop Joe Miller is present when the heroes make their final move on the base of the genius sociopath-staffed corporation responsible for setting loose a bio-modifying hyper-advanced fractally programmed engineered virus on a space station filled with millions of people. When they capture the head researcher, the de facto Big Bad of the novel, and they mean to interrogate him, he goes into a very well-planned justification speech that actually has a lot of legitimate reasoning, and leaves the protagonists kind of doubting their own motives. Miller, recognizing that the man might actually walk, and already having been on a despair bender for the majority of the book, decides to do what no one else seems to have the initiative to, and promptly shoots the man in the head. Three times, no less.
    • In the final book, Leviathan Falls, Colonel Tanaka, Laconia's most experienced, motivated, and bloodthirsty marine officer, is tasked with finding and recovering their self-made God-Emperor Duarte after he Came Back Wrong and wandered off. When it is discovered that he has taken it upon himself to implement his own homebrewed Assimilation Plot, her mission changes from recovery to neutralization. At the eleventh hour, she finally finds him inside the Precursor artifact at the center of the ringspace, with James Holden and Theresa in tow. Neither Holden nor Theresa has the will, let alone the ability, to kill him with the station's Lost Technology at his command, so it falls to Tanaka. She rips him bodily apart with a brutality even she had not displayed before.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Pensieve reveals to Harry that Snape felt he was subjected to this when he was told to kill Dumbledore so that Draco wouldn't have to cross the point of no return.
  • In Heavy Object a young girl forced into slavery by the people who killed her parents has the opportunity to kill her tormentor but can't bring herself to take a human life. Qwenthur does it instead and tells the girl that this is merely proof she's a good person; it's up to people like Qwenthur, the bad people, to kill others.
  • Played with in How to Build a Dungeon: Book of the Demon King. The evil sorcerer Aur, the openly-evil Villain Protagonist, winds up catching a beautiful hero trying to slay him. As part of his attempt to corrupt her, he first displays the ways he helps villages that agree to serve him and then takes her to the village that had asked her to kill him. These villagers try to stone her out of rage over all the losses they suffered after Aur took away his aid. When hero Yunis breaks and tries to kill the villagers, Aur does the task for her claiming that it's a villain's job, not a hero's.
  • The Hunger Games are about a competition where 24 children have to kill each other until only one is left standing. Luckily for the main character, a group of kids who went into the game by choice rather than by force are painted in a very negative light and commit almost all of the unprovoked killings e.g. Rue. As Katniss would be rather unsympathetic if she was forced to kill a terrified 12-year-old who saved her life, looked up to her, and reminded her of her little sister, one of the fellow competitors does it for her. Indeed, in the entire trilogy, she never has to do such "dirty work" against any sympathetic character, which is why her murder of the unarmed Capitol woman in the third book is so shocking.
  • Wormtongue killing Saruman near the end of The Lord of the Rings.
  • The Probability Broach: It would be wrong to attack the Hamiltonians before they import a nuclear weapon, so they're killed off by a previously mentioned side effect of closing a broach when something is halfway through it.
  • Ruahkini in The Quest of the Unaligned is an incredibly rude and borderline crazy Rich Bitch perpetually insulting Laeshana and patronizing Alaric, as well as being partially responsible for the destructive imbalance in Caederan's magic. Unfortunately, he's also the royal chancellor, so there's no conceivable way for the heroes to get rid of him. Luckily, his Axe-Crazy hoshek brother Gaithim shows up and kills him.
  • In Shadow of the Conqueror, Daylen cites this as the reason why he should be allowed to Pay Evil unto Evil, saving the innocent from having to experience such extreme violence.
  • A chilling example in both the book and film version of The Shawshank Redemption combined with Laser-Guided Karma: After Boggs and the Sisters beat Andy "within an inch of his life", Boggs returns cockily to his cell after his spending his time in solitary, whereupon the brutal and corrupt Hadley and the other guards beat him nearly comatose...but the Sisters leave Andy alone after that.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire this is how Lannisters endeared themselves to Robert Baratheon. Robert's Rebellion was won except for the Targaryens' last holdout, King's Landing. Tywin Lannister, who had stayed out of the fight until it was all but decided, tricked the Targaryens into letting his army inside their city and then sacked it. Tywin's son Jaime Lannister instigated a Bodyguard Betrayal on King Aerys, while Tywin's bannermen assassinated the last of the Targaryen line still in the city. This deflected a lot of blame for the atrocities at King's Landing onto the Lannisters, sparing Robert's reputation and conscience. Tyrion would question the wisdom of this, citing that it made the entire realm despise the Lannisters when they could have let Robert take the blame. Tywin, however, felt that they had to do it to prove their allegiance, and Robert would be exceedingly grateful to them for doing the dirty work of killing off the royal bloodline, which simultaneously satisfied Robert's desire for revenge against the Targaryens and would prevent future uprisings by Targaryen loyalists.
    We had come late to Robert's cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty. When I laid those bodies before the throne, no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever. And Robert's relief was palpable. As stupid as he was, even he knew Rhaegar's children had to die if his throne was ever to be secure. Yet he saw himself as a hero, and heroes do not kill children.
  • On more than one occasion, Spenser has found himself forced into a position of murdering someone in cold blood but can't bring himself to do it. Hawk, on the other hand, has no such scruples and cheerfully does the deed himself.
  • Sword of Truth: In Soul of the Fire, Kahlan falls pregnant. She was told by Shota that a child she will bear will be a male, and male Confessors tend to be Always Chaotic Evil (even if this one does not, Shota had promised to kill him or die trying just in case). She obtains a miscarriage-inducing potion, but since Good Girls Avoid Abortion, ultimately discards it... cue a bunch of thugs beating her nearly to death, causing a Convenient Miscarriage.
  • Tortall Universe: In the Trickster's Duet, Aly's god-ordered objective is to put one of two sisters on the throne of the Copper Isles as part of a revolution. Among the people they will be usurping are the five-year-old king and the girls' own three-year-old half-brother, whom Aly (and a number of the other Rebel Leaders) has personally cared for. Aly considers binding them with magical oaths to not try and retake the throne and exiling them with a bodyguard, but everyone knows that isn't a perfect solution and the boys could still be figureheads or martyrs for a counterrevolution. Then Aly mentions the problem to said god, he gets impatient over such an "insignificant" problem, and whispers in the regents' ears until they decide to kill the boys themselves so they can have the throne.
  • A weird meta example occurs in the first Warrior Cats Myth Arc. Firestar had to defeat Tigerstar, but being the classical The Hero he needed to beat Tigerstar with moral superiority. Unfortunately, Tigerstar's plan was actually beneficial to the forest, with its only problem being that someone crazy and evil was designing it. The problem was resolved in the last book of the arc The Darkest Hour, when Tigerstar's ally Scourge betrays him and becomes the Big Bad, allowing Firestar to have an opponent he could kill by having greater morals.
  • When the Azn Bad Boys begin a bombing spree in Worm, supervillains of the town team up to attack the ABB's bases in order to remove that chaotic element from the table — and end up doing a lot more visible damage to the organization than the local superhero teams.
    • It's growing into a major theme, stretching from taking down the ABB, to going toe-to-toe with several major threats, to Skitter keeping the peace in her territory safer than it had been for years. People noticed, too. They noticed enough to shield her from an arresting band of "heroes".
    • The one trope that best summarizes the theme of the story. The Biggest, Damnedest Villains of all, Cauldron, exist for the purpose of saving as much of humanity as possible from an inevitable catastrophe, and even the Endbringers pitch in to help when that catastrophe arrives.
  • In An Unwelcome Quest, the villain Todd wants to kill all the characters. After Jimmy (who was the Big Bad of book 1) is given his powers back, he leaves and then comes back to rescue everyone else. He then erases Todd from the reality file, effectively killing him (well, not really at first, but he does it for real later when Todd refuses the option of going back to prison for life). The others are in shock, but Jimmy points out that it had to happen to ensure their continued safety, and none of them would stoop to his level. Realizing they can never trust him again, he pretends to erase himself to prove that he can be trusted, but in actuality decides to start a new life in modern-day Reno.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the second season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Cal kills Jiaying so that Skye doesn't have to.
  • An interesting use occurs in the Angel episode "Reunion" when the main character leaves most of the key employees of Wolfram and Hart in a cellar with Drusilla and Darla, whom the lawyers had been helping (mainly just to piss Angel off and get under his skin), knowing full well that the two will kill most or all of them. Unusually, this is played as Angel becoming evil, or at least turning into an Unscrupulous Hero even though it's technically villains doing the dirty work.
  • In the second season finale of Arrow, Brother Blood finds out Oliver Queen is The Arrow, and their last conversation implies that he's very likely to blackmail Oliver with this knowledge. Then suddenly, Ravager shows up for a You Have Failed Me.
  • Ash vs. Evil Dead: In the penultimate episode "Judgment Day," the Dark Ones show up during Ash's showdown with Ruby and Kaya, and promptly kill them both. They even expel Kaya's soul from Kelly's body in the process, which Ash needed to be able to bring her Back from the Dead. Ash takes advantage of the distraction to steal the body and the Necronomicon and make a break for it.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • It's obvious midway through "Pegasus" that Admiral Cain is dangerous and has lost the plot, as she uses brutal and horribly immoral methods that are also often counterproductive, and thus she will need to be dealt with. The very next episode, both Cain and Adama are hatching plans to assassinate each other and assume total control of the fleet. Adama is ultimately too moral to go through with an assassination, and, to her credit, Cain declines (for now) to go through with assassinating Adama and was even helpful to the crew during a mission, but it's still obviously a matter of time before the two factions clash again, and Cain has the upper hand. Fortunately, Baltar has let loose a Cylon with a grudge against Cain. The Cylon kills Cain and Adama is able to peacefully become commander of the combined fleet without the potentially devastating infighting that would otherwise happen.
    • In one episode, Roslin has Baltar in the brig and threatens to throw him out of an airlock if he won't tell her what she wants. Baltar says that she wouldn't go through with it, so she brings in Col. Tigh. Even that was a bluff, but nobody doubts that Tigh would have done it.
  • The Bonanza episode, "The Ape," ended with the Cartwrights joining a posse looking for a massive mentally disabled Manchild, Arnie, for murder. When Arnie tries to attack the posse, the Cartwrights are out of sight of the attack and the less sympathetic character are the ones who shoot him, to the Cartwrights' regret.
  • In the final story arc of Breaking Bad, Walter is captured and arrested by his brother-in-law, who he refuses to kill because he's family. But then unexpectedly Jack Welker and his men show up and kill Hank, allowing Walter to go free, although he's not too happy about it.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • "Wild at Heart": The Scooby Gang don't kill werewolves, because they're human most of the time, but Oz's wolf side is amoral and thus free to kill Veruca.
    • In "The Zeppo", Xander defeats his undead Villain of the Week with a Breaking Speech, but lets him go. Moments after the departing baddie swears vengeance, he, too, is eaten by feral-werewolf-Oz.
    • Buffy can't kill the Anointed One, partly because she's prophesied not to but mostly because he's a kid. Luckily, Spike does it for her in "School Hard".
    • Borderline case because he's not a bad guy, though he has apparently had his moments: in "The Gift", Giles kills the hellgod Glory while Ben, the mortal human man with whom she shares a body, is the one on the surface because Buffy won't kill a defenseless human being.
  • This is Michael Weston's modus operandi in Burn Notice. Michael mostly abides by Thou Shalt Not Kill, in part due to guilt over a past that includes having killed innocent people to get his target, but, despite this, many a Villain of the Week has wound up dying in incredibly horrible ways at the hands of their boss or criminal rivals due to Michael's actions. Seldom (if ever) has Michael or any other member of Team Weston batted an eye at this happening or expressed any moral qualms at indirectly causing the death of their target. As an example, Sam once goaded three criminals into a Mexican Standoff inside a house, then stood outside the house and fired his gun into the ground so that the three would all pull the trigger at once and kill each other. Yipes.
    • Note that none of the main characters ever expresses a moral objection to killing. (And frankly, considering their pasts in Special Forces [Sam], various spy agencies [Michael and Jessie], and as a bomb maker for the IRA [Fiona], it would be surprising if any of them did have unresolved moral hangups on the subject.) Most of the early episodes have an obligatory scene where Fiona offers to murder the bad guys and Michael explains why that would cause more problems than it solves. They're all okay with bad guys being killed, it's just easier to accept them as the heroes if they don't do it themselves.
    • It has more to do with pragmatism than anything else. Unexplained dead bodies attract police. If they let the bad guys kill each other, any investigation by the police will stop there.
  • In the first episode of Cimarron Strip, Marshal Crown is saved from death by two-bit alcoholic Screamer, who shoots the villain Ace Coffin from behind, even though he won't get a $10,000 prize for it. Not that Crown himself isn't above killing, even in self-defense.
  • The season 6 episode War Zone of The Closer had two crime scenes: a triple murder of Army Rangers and the murder of a grocery owner (whose shop was under the protection of the local street gang) and his grandson. One of the gang members, the twin brother of one of the Army Rangers, tried to frame the shooter of the rangers for the murder in the grocery store. But once he got immunity from the DA, he made a full confession including of the murders of the shop owner and his grandson. Since LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson couldn't prosecute him for the double murder, she escorted him home where his ex-gang was already waiting for him and, once the police were gone, he was beaten to death.
  • Da Ren Wu is a Chinese TV series based on a classic kung-fu novel set in medieval China. The heroes, as usual in wuxia literature, are staunch Confucianists: morally opposed to unwarranted violence and who don't approve of killing under any circumstances. At one point, Sisi, the main heroine, is tricked by some crooks who steal everything she owns and give her to a Masqueraded School for whores. The boss and his cronies take great pleasure in tormenting defenseless girls and kill those who don't respond well to the training. Three characters come to Sisi's rescue, one after another: 1) Yang Fan is the first. He can't find Sisi in the School (the boss locked her in a hidden room), so he leaves convinced he made a mistake. 2) Qin Ge, a famous kung-fu master, is the second. He can't find Sisi either. He suspects something, but can't prove anything. He leaves as well. 3) The hunchback is the third. He's a major bad guy. He needs Sisi for some nefarious plan. He waits till night, gets into the School, finds Sisi, and takes her with him. He pummels the cronies, and when the cross-dressing boss tries to stop him: the hunchback pulls a Fist of the North Star on him. After leaving the School with Sisi, the hunchback tracks the crooks who had tricked her. He finds them, makes them give back the stolen stuff and beg for mercy on their knees...and then kills them nevertheless, just because! They say the author was very surprised when the hunchback's popularity with the audience skyrocketed after this story arc.
  • Dexter, end of season two. Sgt Doakes can prove that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher, so Dexter locks him up in a lonely cabin until he can decide what to do. Dexter won't kill Doakes because he's a moral sociopath. Lila, who is as psychopathic as Dexter but with no such code, finds the cabin and blows it up.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Five Doctors", the Master has been captured by the Cybermen and is initially being forced to do their bidding. He ends up turning the tables and wiping the whole lot of them out by skipping through a trap he's figured out the solution to, but conveniently forgets to tell his captors about.
    • Downplayed in the revived series four episodes "The Stolen Earth" and "Journey's End". The Daleks take over the Earth and several other planets with their creator Davros at the head of a full-fledged Dalek army. The Doctor is on a severe pacifist kick and rejects all means of actually fighting back against the threat, even condemning Martha's and Jack's gambits to thwart the Daleks' plans. The army is only destroyed when a cloned version of the Doctor, who because of the circumstances of his creation is The Unfettered, does what the real Doctor won't and triggers a galaxy-sized backfire that destroys all the Daleks completely.
    • "The End of Time": The Master forces Rassilon back behind the time lock on the Time War, and won't let him take the Doctor with him, either.
    • Subverted in "The Pandorica Opens". A good number of the Doctor's foes all band together to save the universe... from the Doctor, who they've been tricked into believing will destroy it, when in fact he's the only one who can stop the explosion that will destroy the universe.
  • Elementary: Elana March orders an attempt on Joan from prison, and there doesn't seem to be much the police can do to stop her - even from solitary confinement, she sends threatening letters that she will succeed next time. Jamie Moriarty, however, won't have a lesser villain interfere with her Worthy Opponent, and has Elana killed.
  • Slightly downplayed example in The Expanse: halfway through the third season Prax, a temporary new addition to the crew and the only one that is morally uncompromised, comes face to face with the doctor who kidnapped his young daughter Mei to use her in protomolecule experiments, a process which would have certainly either killed Mei or destroyed her mind. Prax tries to work himself up to kill the evil doctor, but never having had to kill before, let alone in cold blood, (Prax is a botanist, not a former soldier, revolutionary, or criminal like the rest of the crew) he's having a difficult time. As Prax is struggling to pull the trigger, Token Evil Teammate and quasi-sociopath Amos stops Prax and has him leave the room. He then turns and blows the doctor's brains out with absolutely no fanfare or hesitation whatsoever.
    Amos: [whispering to Prax] You're not that guy. You're not that guy. [A tearful Prax leaves the room]
    Doctor Strickland: Oh thank you. Oh... thank you. [Oh, Crap! face as Amos turns to him with a calm Death Glare]
    Amos: I am that guy. [gunshot]
  • Farscape: In the episode "Prayer", it's ambiguous whether or not John knew Scorpius was going to kill the merged Chiana-Aeryn when he brought him along to the alternate universe, but it's what had to be done. See page quote.
    • In an earlier episode, Moya is in orbit around a planet with notoriously sexist laws, and accepts a visit from a mechanic- accompanied by an armed security guard. Things go well, up until Chiana discovers that the mechanic is actually a woman, rebelling against the government by doing a Sweet Polly Oliver; just when it looks like they're becoming friends, the security guard shows up and, infuriated that he's had a woman under his nose all this time, holds both of them at gunpoint. Given that there's almost nobody else aboard the ship at the time, it looks as though the two of them are going to die...right up until Scorpius calmly drifts past and snaps the man's neck. All the more impactful because Scorpius had been having a friendly chat with the guard before then.
  • In an episode of The Flash (1990) where a baddie had discovered his Secret Identity and blackmailed him (with even a Theyd Cut You Up threat). He ended up killed by other baddies, with a Car Starter Bomb.
  • In The Flash (2014), Dr. Harrison Wells ( AKA the Reverse-Flash) is determined to keep Barry's secret safe at all costs, including getting rid of those who would exploit him for his abilities. To this extent, he kills Simon Stagg and delivers General Eiling to Grodd.
  • Gotham, being a Batman origin story, can't allow young Bruce Wayne to take a life. Young Selina Kyle, on the other hand, is not so restricted.
    • Later in the series, Bruce has found the identity of the man who killed his parents, and he needs Alfred's help to track him down. In return, Alfred demands that he be the one to kill the guy, instead of Bruce. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out that way... Alfred is hospitalized and Bruce finds the killer on his own. He intends to kill him, and the man even begs him to, but he can't bring himself to do it, so the killer eats the gun after Bruce leaves the room.
    • The series does this ALL THE TIME considering how many villains die at the hand of other villains — often for all the wrong reasons. The Penguin does this most often thanks to his tenuous, but not quite antagonistic so far, relationship with Jim, compared with the other criminals.
      • The most awesome example comes towards the end of season 2, when Theo Galavan, resurrected in the form of Azrael, is about to kill Alfred, Bruce, and Jim. Cue his mortal enemy Penguin showing up... with a ROCKET LAUNCHER.
        Butch: Goodnight, fellas!
  • In Chris Carter's short-lived Harsh Realm the Three Percenters are a population of virtual zombies caused by a glitch in the program. They can convert just about anyone playing the game and nearly do so to Hobbes and Pinocchio. Mel Waters sees through them immediately and he's the one who eliminates the threat.
  • In the third season of Heroes, a depowered Peter heads off with the Haitian to kill his father Arthur Petrelli and destroy the Formula. Just as Peter shoots him, Sylar shows up, complete with recently stolen lie detection power, to ask Arthur if he's really a Petrelli. Naturally, Arthur lies, thus causing Sylar to allow the bullet he had paused in thin air to kill Arthur stone dead permanently. Sylar actually lampshades the fact that he's preventing Peter from becoming a murderer.
  • For most Kamen Rider shows, the monsters are often monsters taking the guises of humans. Double and Fourze, however, do the opposite: humans who take the guise of monsters. While taking them out is a breeze (all that's needed is to break their Transformation Trinket and they will no longer be able to transform), taking out the higher-ranked members, some of which are Anti Villains, might be a hassle, especially with Double being a detective who helps the police nab criminals and Fourze being the All-Loving Hero. Leave it to the resident bad guys or self-dooming inflictions to do those villains in. Though Double and Fourze have their share of defeating the higher-ups, rarely killing them in the process (or putting one in a coma for one case).
    • Kamen Rider Ryuki has a There Can Be Only One approach and the protagonist is unwilling to kill anyone. Leave it to his badass partner to do the work for him. Though even he has hesitations to kill. Cue the Rider who's job prior to being a Rider was nothing BUT killing.
    • In Kamen Rider Wizard, the main hero is all about being the Hope Bringer. Though the Big Bad's hope is to revive his daughter. Well, noble goal, right? Well, his means involve sacrificing tons of people and converting them into monsters so as to power up a spell to revive her. What's a Hope Bringer like Haruto to do in a situation like that, especially since he was going to do this all over again? Cue The Dragon to come and run the Big Bad through with his own sword. Although, because this action might cause people to think this Dragon is a hero, he kills the Big Bad's daughter next.
      • It would be good to note that said Hope Bringer has Good Is Not Nice tendencies and killed The Dragon, disregarding his wish to become human again. He was a monster even when he was still human so there was not much to pity.
    • In Kamen Rider Gaim, this was done not so much as to spare the hero from killing someone, but to make it so the person doing the dirty work crosses the line in doing so and becomes the local Hate Sink. Want context? Well, Kouta is hesitant to fight a human that he saw transform into an Inves before his eyes and is dead set on trying to have him be human again. He gets to his breaking point and at that time, Sigurd arrives, easily kills the human, then rubs it in Kouta's face by claiming it as a heroic feat. A similar thing happens late in the series, when Mad Scientist Ryoma has just vivisected Mai in his quest for the power that she now holds, killing her in the process and also reducing another villain to tears in the process. Kouta might be too nice to kill him (and had been in a bad situation of nearly dying), but Kaito isn't; brutally beating Ryoma and driving him to suicide cemented himself as the series' final antagonist.
    • Gaim's finale subverts this as while Kouta had to kill Kaito or let him destroy the world so he could remake it in his image.
    • Kamen Rider Drive pulls this off a bit differently. Throughout the series, the Roidmudes are presented as cruel and vicious towards the human race, to which the heroes must stop them. However, over time, Roidmudes who are actually good towards humans get slowly revealed. One such example is a Roidmude who befriends the cast and another is a Roidmude commander who considers every other Roidmude to be his friend. To spare the dilemma of killing off the former Roidmude, one of the other commanders is revealed to be a genocidal yandere who murders said Roidmude to quell the number of Roidmudes not acting according to their programming. However, eventually even that commander is revealed to be an Anti-Villain. The solution? Bring in their inventor, who proves to be Eviler than Thou. The moment he is revealed to be the Big Bad, every Roidmude death afterwards was either caused (in)directly by him or if it's by the hero's hands, have said Roidmude be Brainwashed and Crazy.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Played straight and enforced as no matter how much the events had hardened Emu he would never stop trying to save the villains. So obviously someone or something had to come in and fix it. The first Hate Sink, Kuroto Dan was killed by Parado and second Hate Sink, Masamune Dan, killed himself twice just to screw everyone over. Parado himself, on the hand, had been redeemed by Emu.
    • This gets exaggerated with Kamen Rider Build, as the show slowly reveals that Blood Stalk, later revealed to be Evolt was responsible for every single bad thing that happened to the protagonists, even removing Gentoku from the responsibility of plunging Japan into war and killing Ryuga's girlfriend via members of Evolt's race reveal that they talked him into doing that. Another thing to note is that Evolt is the one that removes the major powers from conflict: using Faust as a stepping stone and ditching it when it no longer served a purpose, putting Hokuto in a military coup, killing Seito's Prime Minister, and decimating Namba's forces.
    • Kamen Rider Zi-O has a minor example in regards to a Monster of the Week. In most cases, they're often the Victim of the Week as well, being manipulated by the Time Jackers to become their puppet. Then we get to Yuko, who is an outright yandere who murdered someone before she even received her powers. After she's defeated, one of the Time Jackers, Ora, kills her due to her earlier fooling around with them. She would have otherwise walked away with nary a scratch.
  • In the L.A. Law episode "Beauty and Obese," Grace Van Owen has just joined a two-man law firm which is, unbeknownst to her, championed by a mobster named Frank Vincent. Vincent asks her to represent his nephew, who's charged with murder. Grace declines. Vincent takes her to lunch and makes it clear he's not politely asking anymore, and that people who go against his wishes sometimes get hurt. Grace still refuses and raises Vincent's ire; at that point a gunman disguised as a waiter walks up and puts a bullet in Vincent's head. Later on in the series, Grace tells Frank Kittredge about this incident, saying, "I was relieved. Got him out of my life. Once these people have you, they don't let go."
  • Inverted in Legends of Tomorrow: When Rip Hunter thinks that they may need to kill their own teammate Martin Stein to keep the secret of the Firestorm matrix from falling into the hands of Vandal Savage, he turns to Sara Lance, the White Canary, rather than to hardened criminal Leonard Snart, Captain Cold. Lance, it is true, is a trained assassin, but she is not evil and has never been one of the bad guys. Snart was a villain on The Flash (2014) before being recruited by Hunter, and remains a cold-blooded criminal even in Hunter's service. Snart even calls Lance out on this, pointing out that in all the jobs he pulled, no matter how bad things got, he never killed one of his own accomplices. Lance responds that if killing Stein is the only way to stop Savage and save the world, then she will do what she has to do.
  • This is one of the main ideas of Leverage. Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.
    • When Nate goes for revenge on the two men behind his father's murder, Elliot warns him that straight-up murder carries a much higher moral cost than their usual method of destroying a bad guy's life. In the end, Nate plays the two against each other (getting each of them to point out why they should want the other dead) then leaves them to fight over a gun with a single bullet. They both fall off the nearby cliff while fighting over the weapon.
  • Many episodes of Mission: Impossible involved manipulating characters associated with the target into killing them.
  • In the NCIS episode "Iced" a low-level hood killed his gang's leader and then used text messages supposedly from said leader to take control of the gang. The team doesn't have enough evidence to get a conviction, so instead they hold the hood in interrogation while showing the gang's senior members exactly how they've been duped. The hood is dropped off at his gang's hideout and is found dead the next morning, executed gangland style and left in a dumpster.
  • At the climax of The Night Manager, the heroes are able to screw up Richard Roper's arms deal and get him arrested, but he smugly predicts that his connections will prevent any actual jail time. Then his very angry business partners show up and take him away from the police, clearly intending to kill him.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • In the third season, Peter Pan and his Lost Boys kill previous Big Bads Tamara and Greg, after they've become no longer necessary.
    • In "Good Form", Regina mentions that she could tear out the lost boy's heart and use that to control him to deliver the message to Henry. Snow White freaks out, but Emma tells her to do it. Later she says something to this effect when Snow White says she doesn't want Emma to have to do those things.
    Regina: She didn't, I did. That's what I'm here for.
  • Inverted in Oz. Schillinger and O'Reily's separate efforts to stop Adebisi's takeover of Em City fail miserably; instead, the noble and principled Saïd is the one who ultimately brings him down.
  • The chief way Person of Interest writes off its larger villains, who often can't simply be arrested legally. Even an existing legal avenue isn't a guarantee this won't occur: when Reese attempts to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Simmons for killing Carter, it is actually Fusco who tracks Simmons down and hands him over to the FBI. However, in the clearest example of this trope, Simmons never makes it to jail, as mob boss Elias brings in his own goon to strangle Simmons while he watches.
    • By Season 5, the ethics of our heroes are starting to slip. When Elias uses a car bomb to blow up the Villain of the Week, he suggests that Finch brought him along just to invoke this trope. Finch doesn't contest the idea.
  • Power Rangers in Space has this happen in the finale when Darkonda destroys Dark Specter with a planet-destroying missile, and Dark Specter returns the favor by devouring Darkonda whole. All of this greatly simplifies the mission of the Rangers to simply having to stop Astronema and Ecliptor from taking over the universe. In this case of course, the rangers likely would have killed Dark Specter themselves if they could have.
  • This has happened tons of times in Smallville.
    • Clark has to face people with dangerous superpowers, and while he can beat them readily enough, he can't very well run a super-jail or convince them to lead an honest life because, well, Kryptonite gives most people a god complex, and most krypto-freaks aren't stable/good to begin with. Having Clark kill or permanently disable them is far too squicky for a proto-Superman to do, so the preferred solution is to have them depowered or hoist by their own petard. The other solutions that pertain to this trope are to have them be killed by evil infighting among themselves or having Lionel (and later Lex) deal with them.
    • A big one in season nine. Both the Justice League and Zod have a bone to pick with Checkmate. Oliver and John get captured at different points, although they managed to escape. Chloe is also kidnapped and almost killed in an attempt to blackmail Clark into revealing more about their team. Zod, on the other hand? He comes over to visit and burns down their entire castle base with heat vision. Zod will not tolerate human nonsense. Kneel Before Zod.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Garak often falls into this trope, since his morality is almost always teetering on the line between gray and black. Probably the best example is from "In the Pale Moonlight", in which he lies, extorts, and murders at least six people (a criminal, a Romulan senator, and his four aides) to bring Romulus into the Dominion War on the Federation's side. He notes at the end that that's exactly why Sisko sought his help because he was capable of doing the dirty work Sisko wasn't willing to do.
    • Sisko himself pulls this gambit in "For the Uniform" in order to capture the renegade Maquis operative Eddington, by using (and threatening to continue using) a biogenic weapon to make a Maquis colony uninhabitable. For anyone else in the Federation, this would be far too heinous an action — but for Sisko, It's Personal.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Subverted in "Redemption". Chancellor Gowron offers Worf the chance to execute Toral, Puppet King of the Duras family who've done Worf so much harm. Worf refuses. So Gowron just orders Kurn to do the deed, but Worf stops this too, pointing out that Gowron has granted Toral's life to Worf, and he's chosen to spare it.
  • In an episode of Taxi, Elaine visits a trendy hair stylist(played by Ted Danson) and comes away with an atrocious hairdo. She, Alex, and Louie pay the stylist a visit to demand an apology and he rebuffs them. Elaine considers dumping a bowlful of hair dye on the stylist's head but decides not to, declaring "I'm better than you." Before they leave, Louie casually dumps the hair dye over the stylist and says, "She might be better than you, (Beat)...but I ain't!"
  • Teen Wolf has both Peter and Deucalion kill the third season's Big Bad.
    • Gerard also killed the Kanima's master a season earlier.
  • Torchwood: The trope gets played with. Captain Jack Harkness fills the role of the trope, despite not actually being villainous. Torture, murder, kidnapping, or any other action that would normally fall under this trope and require a villain to perform it gets performed by Captain Jack at the protest of the other characters.
  • In the finale of The Wire, the police department needs to explain several apparent murders (which Jimmy McNulty, one of the series' protagonists) had faked at the scene(s) to look like the work of a serial killer that did not really exist). Rather than admitting that they were faked, the mayor wants to blame them on a mentally ill homeless person the police had recently picked up. McNulty objects to putting the blame on the mentally ill man; deputy of operations Bill Rawls (one of the series' antagonists), however, does so anyway, and it keeps McNulty from facing any legal consequences.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition book, Oriental Adventures, suggested that even if the players wanted to play samurai or other members of a noble caste in an Asia-themed game, the players would still probably want at least one dishonorable or lower-caste party member to do the dirty work - sometimes literal dirty work, such as searching enemy corpses.
  • Pretty much the whole point of the Pact Primeval in the 3.5e+ D&D cosmology: good gods don't want their followers to become evil, but they don't want to punish them. What do they do? Leave the punishment up to Asmodeus. This, of course, backfires on them spectacularly. In Asmodeus's own words: "We have blackened ourselves so that you can remain golden." It should be noted that Asmodeus is the in-universe source of this information so may have a biased view on the issue. .
  • The whole sacred purpose of the Guardians of the Veil in Mage: The Awakening, along with other ways of keeping other Mages on the straight-and-narrow. They also believe this makes them ritually and spiritually unclean, and members vary between No Place for Me There and hoping the Hieromagus (who will, notably, 'not be a Guardian, as they will be pure and righteous) will redeem them for the good they've done through bad means.

  • The Witch offers to do this in Into the Woods, when the Giantess demands that the other characters hand over Jack. She points out that they seem to be more motivated by being "nice" rather than "good", whereas she has no such qualms, and she will gladly be labeled a villain if it means ending the threat.

    Video Games 
  • In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Ezio promises Suleiman that he will spare the Templar Leader, Suleiman's uncle, Ahmet if he can. During the confrontation, Selim, Suleiman's father and Ahmet's brother, interrupts, strangles Ahmet, and throws him to a Disney Villain Death.
  • Batman: Arkham Series:
  • Invoked by Anti-Hero Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite: After Elizabeth is tortured by Comstock's men, she insists that they find and kill Comstock rather than escaping the city as they had planned. Booker does not want her to become like him.
    Booker: I'm not gonna let you kill him.
    (Elizabeth summons tornado)
    Elizabeth: Really, Booker? What are you going to do to stop me?
    Booker: Not a damn thing. Because I'm gonna do it for you.
  • In Drakengard 2, it transpires that one of the pact knights that keeps the Goddess Seal intact is Ulrich, a party member and Nowe's Big Brother Mentor, and must be killed to break the seal. Despite wanting to destroy the seal, Nowe can't bring himself to do it. Fortunately, Caim happens to be in the area and is more than happy to oblige, even if it means having to go through Nowe to do it. Especially if he has to go through Nowe to do it, really...
  • Reaver's job in Fable III is to do this. He stands in court to argue in favor of the evil option when making decisions as king. While these options are generally quite despicable and having an orphanage would be fine and dandy in the long run, you could really do with the 1,250,000 you would make from opening a brothel right now to fight back the Eldritch Abomination that threatens to destroy Albion.
    • He also does this in the previous game. If the player does not kill Lucien in the middle of his Motive Rant, Reaver will take the chance to shoot him.
  • Gaius from Fire Emblem: Awakening is a thief and general scoundrel. As he explains to Badass Preacher Libra, he considers it his duty to do the army's dirty work so that The Good King Chrom doesn't have to. Likewise, Sociopathic Hero Henry from the same game. Robin takes issue with killing unless it is in self-defense. Henry has no such reservations and will do whatever it takes to end the war, even summoning an army of zombies that he has no idea how to control. If they overrun a few villages, oh well!
  • In Iji, if you're taking the pacifist path, two of the bosses get backstabbed by their underlings; conveniently meaning you don't have to kill them. This was actually added in since earlier versions meant a completely innocent run was impossible.
  • Injustice 2: In the Arcade Ladder mode, almost all character endings for supervillains, anti-heroes, and Regime members have Brainiac killed often in brutal and cruel ways, while he survives in most superhero endings where he is jailed instead. The only heroes to explicitly kill him are Sub-Zero and Raiden, who by DC standards could qualify as anti-heroes but are actually two of the greatest champions of good in their setting. In the story mode, this trope becomes a plot point when at the end, the Regime elects to kill him since he is considered Too Powerful to Live, but Batman and his allies disagree and a fight breaks out between the two factions, with the player deciding who is right.
  • A staple of the Like a Dragon franchise.
  • In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Dark Samus kills the corrupted Hunters after you defeat them. Samus probably couldn't bring herself to Shoot the Dog, making Dark Samus quite convenient in a twisted, twisted way.
  • Nintendo Wars: In Advance Wars Dual Strike, the Big Bad is defeated and at the player's mercy. But the machine he hooked himself up to is still draining the planet, and he needs to be killed. Von Bolt taunts Jake, asking if he can really shoot a defenseless old man. The player is offered a choice of whether to shoot him or not and if you don't, Hawke shows up and does it for you. The odd thing about this is that either way, the shooter just destroys Von Bolt's machine itself.
  • Marvel's Spider-Man 2: Kraven is revealed to be a Death Seeker who is trying to find a Worthy Opponent to slay him in battle, by forcing them into battles to the death (because he's Secretly Dying of cancer and can't bear the thought of passing quietly of a disease). Of course the Spider-Man duo, as heroes who refuse to kill, can't grant him this request even if they defeat him, so Kraven is instead killed by Venom, who takes over the role of Big Bad afterwards.
  • Invoked in Suikoden V by Sialeeds. She performs a Face–Heel Turn to the Godwins' side in part because, if the Prince's faction won the war cleanly after the New Queen's Campaign, he would be forced to spare corrupt nobles like Salum Barows and leave the system of nobility in place, and that would risk starting the whole circus up again a generation down the line. Instead, she joins the Godwins to prolong the war a bit and Purge Salum and the remaining Nether Gate assassins, knowing full well that she will be killed in action. When the war is finally over, nobody is left alive to oppose Queen Lymsleia's reforms, and she and the Prince have clean hands to do it with.
  • A borderline example between this and Villainous Rescue occurs in Super Robot Wars 3. Anavel Gato's claim to fame in his show of origin is launching a stolen nuke at a peace conference. He reenacts this scene in the game, but this time the "peace conference" is between two villainous factions. What makes this a borderline example is the fact that the heroes congratulate him on this and gladly accept his Heel–Face Turn application, suggesting that they may have done the same thing if they had a nuke lying around.
  • In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, after defeating the Final Boss Lazarevic in a blatant example of Get It Over With, Lazarevic dares the protagonist to shoot him and end it. True to character, Nathan is not the one that has to end it. The Guardians, originally mini-bosses, arrive to finish the job for you.
  • Valkyria Chronicles is pretty devoted to this trope.
    • Selvaria's going to crush the militia! What do we do? Have Faldio shoot Alicia and awaken her Valkyria powers so she doesn't have to accept responsibility for becoming one herself.
    • You also have Georgios Geld in a side chapter. A notorious war criminal who tortured and killed Eleanor Varrot's lover, he is nonetheless released in an If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him! moment. Naturally, someone this bad can't be allowed to get off scot-free, so he flees back to the Imperial headquarters... only to be court-martialed and executed by his own side! Also doubles as Even Evil Has Standards. It also sorta falls flat because Geld's superiors knew all about his war crimes, they just didn't care until they noticed a protagonist wasn't cool with it, apparently.
    • General Damon is an asshole with no apparent positive qualities, and he spends the entire game sending Squad 7 out on suicide missions in order to keep his success record looking good. When Squad 7 finally manages to capture Selvaria alive, he immediately leaps in to take all the credit for it. Welkin and Alicia get upset at Damon for not being nice to her (apparently they've forgotten how she's been killing thousands of Gallians, some of which might be Squad 7 members depending on how you play) but he's the top brass, so they can't stop him and are assigned to escort the Imperial soldiers away from the battleground at Selvaria's request. And then Selvaria fries the entire army with a Suicide Attack, so Damon gets his comeuppance, Varrot becomes the only authority Squad 7 answers to, Selvaria is no longer an obstacle, and the good guys don't get a single drop of blood on their hands.
    • Maximillian's on the ropes and the land battleship is about to explode; it's too dangerous to approach and Welkin and Alicia can't capture him alive! How do we solve this? Have Faldio show up out of nowhere, grab Max, and pitch himself into the exploding inner workings of the machine, killing them both. Again, the villains get their punishment, and our heroes are utterly unconcerned.
  • World of Warcraft has a rather bizarre version where YOU are the bad guy/antihero. A quest in Borean Tundra has the Kirin Tor capturing a Beryl Sorcerer that needs to be interrogated. The Kirin Tor laws prohibit them from using torture on their prisoners. YOU, however, have made no oaths and they'll give you an electrical device so you can get the information they need while they look the other way.

    Visual Novels 
  • Near the end of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the Big Bad Momokuma/Junko Enoshima invites the remaining students to vote for execution for putting everyone through the Killing School Life. Having survived this long without doing so, none of them are willing to pull the trigger and break out, especially since it just plays into the villain's hands. So she pushes the execution button herself, happily following the Monokumas as they lead her to her doom.
  • Invoked and dissected in The Great Ace Attorney. Any criminal suspect who escapes conviction by Barok van Zieks mysteriously dies by other grisly means within months, while he himself has a Suspiciously Clean Criminal Record and an ironclad alibi for each death. Everyone recognizes that something is going on, but since all the victims are bastards done in by other bastards, most just chalk it up to karma. Barok himself expresses disinterest when pressed, but the feeling of guilt builds up enough over the years that he simply gives a Karmic Nod when he's falsely charged with all of their deaths. Then it's revealed Stronghart actively engineered this correlation, outside of van Zieks's knowledge, knowing the public would accept karmic justice far more readily than extrajudicial assassinations. Van Zieks is appalled, particularly at himself for tacitly endorsing the murders through his indifference.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: In Volume 5's climax, the heroes and fight villains over the Relic of Knowledge, but the heroes aren't yet as skilled as the villains. They succeed due to a third-party antagonist taking on the strongest villain. Raven sides with the villains only to gain access to the Relic, which she intends to take for her own reasons. She fights Cinder, successfully defeats the Fall Maiden's powers, and leaves her for dead. However, Yang confronts her with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech just as she's about to take the relic, resulting in her abandoning it to the heroes and ensuring their victory.
    • In Volume 10, Neo summons an army of Jabberwocker-type Grimm to eat the Curious Cat alive. Team RWBY is visibly disturbed.


    Web Original 
  • Both inverted and played straight in the same example in AJCO when A_J requests that she and Pi be put through the re-education process. Inverted when Egg, arguably the only 'true' good guy (or at the very least the only one without centuries of blood on her hands), is forced to make the decision - then played straight when Req, the most amoral of the four, is the one to push the button. A_J is quick to blame Egg when the Doctor dies, however.
  • Neopets: In the 2023 Faerie Festival, the heroic Illusen and the villainous Jhudora attempt to get information from Monty, but he gives dodgy answers. Jhudora has Illusen step outside so that she can scare Monty into telling the truth.
    Jhudora: If fear is what motivates him, then let me have a private chat with Monty. Just the two of us.
    Monty: Hold on there, Illusen, let's not be hasty now! You seem like the levelheaded one here to me, so maybe just hang back with us-
    Illusen: Buh-bye, and good luck Monty! *Steps outside*
  • In the Whateley Universe, a religious cult attempts to blackmail a student at the titular Academy of Adventure by threatening her friends' families. So the Headmaster calls the alumni association and suddenly all of the superhero alumni are looking the other way while the supervillains take action.

    Web Video 
  • In To Boldly Flee the crew of the USS Exit Strategy needs a bit more time to counterattack the villains, who are already locked on to them and might just win. Cue Mechakara, whom those same villains betrayed at the end of the last episode, beating up the whole evil bridge.

    Western Animation 
  • In Aladdin: The Series, in the episode "The Citadel", Aladdin threatens to turn a magic-eating monster loose on Mozenrath, who taunts him by pointing out that he's not ruthless enough to do that. "You're right. I'm not." Then Aladdin points at Iago, who is already poised to remove Mozenrath's control collar from the beast. "But he is!" And Iago proves it.
  • In The Batman, Wrath and Scorn have figured out Batman and Robin's identity. Even though they are arrested, Batman really can't do anything to keep them from revealing this to everyone. Luckily, the Joker (much like in The Dark Knight) didn't want someone else causing the end of Batman and gassed them while they were in the police van.
  • In Castlevania, the Bishop serves as the Arc Villain of the first season, as his fanatical control of Wallachia is what caused Dracula's rampage in the first place (by killing his wife for supposed witchcraft), and leads to him persecuting the few people who can actually do something about it. But in the end, while Trevor and his allies fight the Bishop's men, they don't have to deal with him personally, as Dracula's demons track him down and kill him in his own church.
  • Played for Laughs in DC Super Hero Girls. Kara (Supergirl) and Harley (Quinn) are paired up for an Egg Sitting assignment, only they lost their egg. They decide the only way to avoid summer school is to steal an intact egg from one of the other groups. Kara reaches to take an egg, but her conscious stops her.
    Kara: "There has to be another way." *pulls Harley in front of her* "Like you doing it!"
    Harley: "Okay!"
  • George of the Jungle: Tom Slick once raced against a cheater who, after being defeated, was told by Marigold he would get his comeuppance. He said good guys like Tom Slick don't get even. Then he got his comeuppance from another racer wronged by his cheating.
  • Doomsday's first appearance in Justice League. In the comics, when Doomsday first appears, he kills Superman. (Superman soon got better). However, in "A Better World", he's not facing our Superman, but rather Supes' Knight Templar counterpart from an Alternate Universe, Justice Lord Superman, who is completely unburdened by moral constraints like Thou Shalt Not Kill. Not long after the fight has started and he's felt how strong and dangerous Doomsday is, Justice Lord Superman decides to skip out on a protracted battle with Doomsday and simply uses his eye lasers to lobotomize Doomsday, bringing the fight to a swift end in a way that Superman never would have done. (Doomsday eventually gets better and is mighty pissed, but that's another story/episode.)
  • In Kong: The Animated Series, Ramone De La Porta is the main villain and constantly causes trouble for Jason, Kong, and the gang when he is trying to unlock powers of the Primal Stones, while often making threats and trying to kill Kong, yet they often save him whenever he is in danger (and he only returns the favor once, just so they're even). In the final episode, Harpy sucks De La Porta's life force out as part of a ritual to awaken Chiros. De La Porta survives when his life force is returned to him later but is left in a permanent state of shock.
  • In The Legend of Korra, the Earth Queen becomes a major thorn in Korra's side after Korra and her allies liberate a bunch of Airbenders from her Kingdom. She rules as a brutal tyrant who is driving the Earth Kingdom into ruin, but as the only authority over the land, her assassination would cause the Earth Kingdom to descend into chaos. Korra doesn't dare kill her, so she has no real way to deal with her. Then she gets on Zaheer's bad side and he asphyxiates her to death. He's fine with creating chaos.
  • Robot Chicken inverts this in a He-Man sketch where Skeletor leases out Snake Mountain to some College frat boys. Sick of the loud parties, Skeletor tricks his tenants into thinking Castle Grayskull is a rival frat talking shit about them, provoking the Frat into egging Castle Grayskull. This results in He-Man and his crew killing the frat and dumping their bodies in a river.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • "Voyage of Temptation": The traitorous Tal Merrik has Obi-Wan's Old Flame Satine Kryze at gunpoint, while also holding a detonator that will blow up the ship they're on if he's let go. Cue a lightsaber blade through the chest, courtesy of Anakin Skywalker, who's rather suspiciously comfortable with murdering someone in cold blood...
    • In the Umbara Arc, General Pong Krell is a very dangerous combination of ruthless and incompetent, but unfortunately for the clone troopers under his command, he's their commanding officer and they're in a cartoon, so Unfriendly Fire is not really an option. Even after he's revealed to be Evil All Along, Rex can't quite bring himself to execute an unarmed and kneeling man. Dogma, who was previously Krell's most loyal supporter, isn't quite so ready to forgive, and kills him with Fives' blaster.
    • "Escape from Kadavo": While she's a cruel and arrogant slavedriver and tyrant, Queen Miraj Scintel poses no physical threat to the heroes, and as such the Jedi, being heroes, can't really just use the Force to choke her to death. Count Dooku, on the other hand, has no such qualms.
  • Star Wars Rebels: Throughout Season 2, the Inquisitors, Vaders personal Quirky Mini Boss Squad, had been a recurring threat to the heroes. However, they were so badly outclassed by the Jedi that the only reason they kept coming back was that they were allowed to retreat. Finally in Twilight of the Apprentice the heroes were forced into a brief Enemy Mine with Maul, who slaughtered them all in short order and berated the heroes for refusing to do it themselves.

    Real Life 
  • Particularly heinous imprisoned criminals being killed by other inmates is often seen as this, most stereotypically with child molesters. The killing of Jeffrey Dahmer by Christopher Scarver is one famous example.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Big Damn Villain, Villains Do The Dirty Work


That's Why You Came to Me

In "In the Pale Moonlight," Sisko backhands Garak after learning that he was responsible for the death of the Romulan senator Vreenak, and lands another blow after figuring out that he killed the forger Tolar as well. But, as Garak points out, Sisko came to him in the first place precisely because, having tried everything else, he needed somebody that was willing to do whatever it took if he was actually going to draw the Romulans into the Dominion War.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / BadGuysDoTheDirtyWork

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