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Bearer of Bad News

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"Láthspell" I name you, Ill-news; and ill news is an ill guest they say.
Grí­ma Wormtongue, The Lord of the Rings

Someone doesn't know the bad news. And you have to tell them.

When dealing with villains, may combine with You Have Failed Me, leading to Shoot the Messenger.

When dealing with heroes, there is merely the horrible pain that you know you will inflict. In comic stories, it is often merely your imagination. In dramatic works, it is usually as bad, or worse, than you expect; the Bearer-Of-Bad-News often finds himself feeling that it was Dirty Business. Euphemisms don't cut it, and only prolong your agony. On the other hand, being clear up front may lead to recriminations: why didn't you break it to him ''gently''? You may have to cope with Manly Tears. Worse, you may find the character tearless and not know how to cope. (And all this, perhaps, after you have labored to Bring News Back.)

Characters who frequently bring bad news may be blamed for it, and regarded as actively unlucky. Talk to the Fist is possible with hot-tempered recipients. If you're translating for such a character or a Bad Boss or Big Bad type, you might want to try to do a Tactful Translation in order to avoid the pain. Accusations of Malicious Slander may also follow.

The Herald and the Almost Dead Guy are often bearers of bad news. In more lighthearted moments or comedic works, the bad news may merely be met with a Collective Groan. More serious news often comes with a preamble of "You'd better sit down..." He Didn't Make It is one of the commonest, and hardest.

A Super-Trope to Breaking Bad News Gently, Bad News in a Good Way, Good News, Bad News, Bad News, Irrelevant News. Not to be confused with Bears Are Bad News (although, come to think of it, they could overlap if somebody brought bad news about a bear attack).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Subversion of sorts: Nobody in Fullmetal Alchemist wants to be the one to tell the Elric brothers that their friend, Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes, has been brutally murdered. This is made even worse (for the reader) by juxtaposing scenes of the boys and their friend Winry laughing and having fun on a train at the same time that the funeral is taking place. How do they finally find out? From the newspaper.
    • In Brotherhood, an oblivious Edward asks Roy Mustang about Hughes's whereabouts; Mustang, having taken the situation hard himself, can't bring himself to tell Edward, and instead tells him that Hughes decided to retire and move to the countryside. Edward takes the lie at face value, and decides to discuss it with Maria Ross when he bumps into her in the hallway. Ross, who wasn't privy to Mustang's lie, assumes Edward already knows the truth, and discusses it as such. The miscommunication doesn't sink in until Ross notes that Hughes was promoted two ranks posthumously — which Edward realizes wouldn't happen to somebody who'd willingly retired. Ross is then forced to explain the truth to an increasingly distraught and guilt-ridden Edward.
  • Henkyou no Roukishi Bard Loen: Bard Loen wanted to write a letter to Lady Aidra about his travels, after not being able to see her in years. Joulran informs him she has passed away a long time ago. In turn, Bard has to tell her old maid about it.
  • No one had the heart to inform Annerose von Grünwald about Siegfried Kircheis's death in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Fortunately for them, Oberstein had already done that. In general, with the rate of death in the series, this happens often.
  • In Monster, Tenma finds himself having to meet up with his ex-fiancee to let her know that her current love interest is dead.

    Comic Books 
  • The various Heralds of Galactus in Marvel Comics are constantly bringing bad news to people. Usually of the "your planet is going to be eaten by a space god" variety.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Wizard of Id. The King, aware that his useless knight Sir Rodney is bringing news of his defeat, reminds him of the old Roman custom in which the bearer of bad tidings was put to death. A sweating Rodney replies with the 'joyous' news that one of the King's more awful provinces with its rebellious peasants, stinking swamps (etc, etc) has been given to the Huns to worry about.

     Fan Works 
  • Done repeatedly in the Dragon Age: Inquisition fanfic Beyond Heroes: Of Sunshine and Red Lyrium. First, Varric has to be the one to tell his old pal Hawke that the rumors about the Conclave explosion are true, and "I don’t know how to tell you this, but there was exactly one survivor of the disaster and she’s got the same name as you." This is the least bad of all the bad news anyone has to deliver during the course of the story.
  • In Child of the Storm, Strange observes that, like Gandalf, people generally aren't happy to see him because he usually only pops up when everything's about to go wrong.
  • In the Loud House fanfic From the Wreckage, Rita tells each of the surviving Loud kids that Lori, Lola, and Lynn Sr. are dead.
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Aleksei frantically calls Melissa to tell her that something has gone wrong with the Electro System and Max is caught in the middle of it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, one of the Hydra officers comes back to the Red Skull to tell him Cap and the Howling Commandos destroyed another of their factories, but they "fought to the last man." Red Skull pulls out a pistol, saying, "Evidently not!" ''*bang*'
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Rick Stanton. Throughout the film, he's the one who reports unfortunate and negative turns of events to the rest of the cast. Notably examples include telling everyone that they've lost track of Godzilla (apologetically saying in advance that he hates to crash the party), and solemnly reporting Godzilla's apparent death after the Oxygen Destroyer's blast which has in turn left Ghidorah free to take his office as the King of the Monsters.
  • Into the Storm (2009) features the historical figure of Captain Pim. Poor Captain Pim. Man only gets to announce the bad news. Lampshaded by Churchill when he finally announces something good (the German surrender and the war's end).
    Churchill: After bringing me bad news for five years, in one fell swoop you have redeemed yourself.
  • In A League of Their Own, a Western Union man would have been the bearer (of the news of Betty's husband's death), but he treats it so disrespectfullynote  that Dugan kicks him out and shoulders the duty himself.note 
  • The premise of The Messenger (2009), about an American army officer whose job is to inform the relatives of soldiers that their loved ones have died in Iraq.
  • The Perfect Storm. Bob Brown, the owner of the Andrea Gail, has to personally drop the news to the crew's friends and relatives that the rescue helicopter had to ditch in the middle of the storm. Lampshaded by Bobby's mother at the moment he enters the tavern:
    If it were good news he would've given us a phone call.
  • At the start of The Right Stuff, the widow of a test pilot is shown cowering in fear from the saturnine black-clad priest approaching her door, being all too aware of what his presence means.
  • In Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Mervyn (The Sheriff of Rottingham) comes to tell Prince John about Robin. Prince John tells him that he doesn't want to hear Bad News. The Sheriff tries to tell him the news while laughing about it. John asks him, "What are you insane? That's terrible news!"
  • Saving Private Ryan. Mrs Ryan collapses on seeing an army vehicle turn up at her house with a priest.
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker:
    • Played for Laughs with Temmin Wexley when he informs Leia and Rose that they lost contact with the Falcon crew, only to be told by the two women to be more optimistic. He somehow misinterprets this and tells them this is good news with hilariously fake optimism.
    • Played more seriously with Commander Larma D'Acy as she is the one tasked with telling the crew of the Falcon that Leia had died while they were gone.
  • This is one of the duties of Robert Sean Leonard's character in Swing Kids, as part of his Nazi training. Thing is, he doesn't actually know that he's delivering bad news — he's just delivering boxes. When one of the recipients screams after opening hers, he opens the one he has yet to deliver and sees that he's bringing Jewish widows — who had been unaware that they were widows — the ashes of their husbands.'
  • The Australian film The Telegram Man (2018) has the title character delivering telegrams to isolated Outback farms, a job that makes him quite popular as the bearer of news from the outside world... until World War II breaks out.
  • Tough Guys: Richie has to reluctantly tell Harry and Archie a lot of bad news upon their release (such as that Harry has reached mandatory retirement despite his desire to have a job and that the terms of their parole forbid them from hanging out for three years).
  • The taxi cab driver in We Were Soldiers. Mrs. Moore is not pleased when he scares her by coming to her door with the telegram, only to ask for directions to another house. He sadly replies that he didn't want that job, he's just trying to do it. note  Mrs. Moore tells him to bring all future telegrams to her house, so she can take on the job herself.

  • In Irish and Scottish folklore, the banshee (or bean-sidhe) is a fairy-woman and often guardian spirit of the old Gaelic families who can foretell death in "her" family; she wails and cries through the night to warn the family that one of them will soon die; if the family hears her crying three nights in a row, they know that they should begin planning a funeral. As she can foretell death in the family that she protects, the banshee is also grieving for the family as well as warning them of impending death. When multiple mná-sídhe (fairy-women) are heard wailing at once, it foretells the death of an important political or religious figure. As she is often a guardian spirit to specific clans and can foretell death in "her" family, she is mourning the impending death as well as warning the family. Most often, the banshee is depicted as an old, frightening woman, but she can also appear as a strikingly beautiful woman of any age that suits her.

  • In Allegiant, Cara is the one who tells Tobias that Tris died.
  • In The Bible, David gets word from his military that his rebellious son is dead, and goes into a Heroic Blue Screen of Death. The messengers repeatedly try to avoid the issue, afraid they'll be killed, but David just goes into mourning.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel Death or Glory, Kolfax comes to tell Cain, THE HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, that the first possible waterhole has no water in person; Cain explicitly observes that he does not want to be the bearer of bad news over the vox.
  • In the Darkest Powers series, Chloe, being a necromancer, is the one who has to break the news to Liz that she (Liz) is dead. The book ends just before Chloe tells her. The second book reveals that, understandably, Liz didn't take it well.
    Chloe: [takes a deep breath] Liz? There's something I need to tell you.
  • In the Discworld book Night Watch, Nobby Nobbs is never allowed to be this, due to what is only referred to as "the "bet you a dollar you're the widow Jackson" nonsense".note 
  • Cumber from Dragoncharm is given the unenviable task of locating a Natural dragon to take on a tour into his cave system (that the Natural will believe is just for adventure), educate them that the Charmed are in terrible straits, and convince said Natural to accompany him to the nexus of the Charmed world to tell the leader about said terrible straits.
  • Toward the end of The Elenium trilogy, Sparhawk dreads having to deliver the news of his squire Kurik's death to his wife. He reaches the house only to find that she already knows, having received the information from another bearer.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, Mikhail recognizes the bearers of bad news by their expressions. They confirm that Turk was murdered, rather than dying in an accident.
  • In Aaron Allston's Galatea in 2-D, Roger proves to Donna that she's not going insane, but this entails that her ex-husband is trying to drive her insane. She is angry about the news.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only in Death, when Ludd and Beltayn had just managed to secure the water they desperately needed, Rawne had had to break the bad news from the battle.
    Ludd and Beltayn had been so proud of their achievement. Rawne had taken no pleasure in wiping the smiles off their faces and the triumph out of their hearts.
  • In the ballad Gorm Grymme by the German writer Theodor Fontane, king Gorm of Denmark loves his son Harald dearly and one yule day he tells his vassals that anyone who brought him the news of his son's death would die within an hour. So when Harald is killed in battle, nobody wants to inform the king. Queen Thyra then manages to convey the message to Gorm without words, by taking off her jewelry, dressing in black, lighting twelve candles and covering the great hall and throne with black drapes.
  • Honor Harrington features this trope (among pretty much all of them):
    • In Field of Dishonor, Michelle Henke, the title character's best friend, is the one to bring her the news of Paul Tankersley's death.
    • In At All Costs, Thomas Theisman is the one who has to tell Eloise Pritchart that her lover Javier Giscard has been killed in battle.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:
    • Grí­ma Wormtongue dubs Gandalf "Láthspell" — ill news — because of his way of arriving with bad news. He's also nicknamed "Stormcrow" due to his reputation for showing up just as things are about to get very bad. Denethor also professes his dislike of Gandalf for the same reasons, though less aggressively
    • There's also a true example: Frodo himself. The Ring itself is a harbinger of the upcoming war, but even if Frodo succeeds, many of the people he meets will be killed or dispossessed by the consequences.
      Galadriel: Thy coming to us is as the footstep of doom.
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere: An Autumn Tale, Lindsey's brother dies, but it's several chapters before Raechel, who knows, connects with her. Then she has Lucian do it, since he's her Elder.
  • From Mostly Harmless:
    Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws. The Hingefreel people of Arkintoofle Minor did try to build spaceships that were powered by bad news but they didn't work particularly well and were so extremely unwelcome whenever they arrived anywhere that there wasn't really any point in being there.
  • Temeraire: The protagonist survives a shipwreck that kills Tom Riley early in Crucible of Gold. When he crosses paths with the dead man's wife late in the book, he realizes to his horror that the news hasn't reached her yet, and she immediately guesses the truth from his abrupt change in demeanour.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In Gav Thorpe's short story "Renegades", after the company goes renegade they find that Rykhel launched a saviour pod to get away from them; the captain is angry that he did not stand up and face him, but Rykhel is determined to bring back news of their treachery and murders. (The captain thinks No One Could Survive That!.)
    • Horus Heresy series:
      • In James Swallow's novel The Flight of the Eisenstein, Dorn strikes Garro for the news he brought. Then, as Qruze pointed out, Dorn had clearly held the blow, which could have killed Garro, because he wanted to hear it all. He listens to the rest, and accuses him of insanity. When Garro accuses him of blindness, he decides to execute him. Only Keller's intervention saves him.
      • In John French's novella The Crimson Fist, Perturabo beats his adjutant Berossus after the latter informs him that Sigismund, whom Perturabo expected to be in command of the Imperial Fists fleet that the Iron Warriors are attacking and was hoping to capture, is not present on the battlefield. The beating is so severe that Berossus ends up interred within a dreadnought.
    • In Ben Counter's Soul Drinkers novel Hell-Forged, despite Lygris's Frozen Face, Sarpedon can tell he brought bad news.
    • In James Swallow's Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, Mephiston meets Dante in the garden to bring him news — and Dante knows it's bad at once. Mephiston tells him that Vode, Gallio, and all Gallio's men are dead; Dante tries to deny the obvious implication, thinking of other possibilities than that they were killed by fellow Blood Angels.
      • Later, Stele brings Arkio news of why the power plant failed and warns him that it was hard. Arkio is angry that he tries to shelter him — and then still more angry as Stele tells him that it was an attempt to kill them all by having the plant blow up. Arkio guesses the saboteur was a Word Bearer or other renegade, and Stele tells him it was not only a Blood Angel but his own brother.
    • In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, Skall is desperate to avoid this.
  • X-Wing Series:
    • In Wraith Squadron, Wedge Antilles has to compose and send a letter to Admiral Ackbar explaining that his niece Jesmin Ackbar died in combat. He's shown agonizing over the phrasing of the opening line; among other things he rejects "I'm afraid this letter comes as the bearer of bad news". In the end Wedge spends the entire night on the letter, thinking with a faint pride that at least It Never Gets Any Easier, because he never gets deadened to or glib about the deaths of his people.
    • Later in the series, General Melvar has to bring Zsinj some very bad news: not only has a deathtrap failed to kill Wraith Squadron (or even any of its members), but they have managed to take one of his key personnel alive. In a subversion of You Have Failed Me (and an inversion of Shoot the Messenger), Zsinj has an epic Villainous Breakdown where he destroys practically everything in his office but the person who brought him the bad news.
      General Melvar: Will you be wanting your office restored, or do you wish to redecorate?
  • Inverted by Sherlock Holmes with regards to Watson: Watson bringing news of trouble means an interesting crime for Holmes to solve.
    "A very commonplace little murder," said he. "You've got something better, I fancy. You are the stormy petrel of crime, Watson. What is it?"

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Adam-12 Malloy and Reed notify a woman that her husband was killed in an accident. At first, the woman doesn't believe them and says he's working on a ship in Galveston, Texas. Malloy says they know — the police in Galveston contacted the LAPD to make the notification in person rather than over the phone.
  • Angel:
    • "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb" ends with the heroes returning from an adventure in another dimension, all feeling pretty good about themselves... only to find Willow waiting for them, looking miserable. One look at her face is all Angel needs.
    Cordelia: What's...?
    Angel: It's Buffy.
    • In Season 5, Wesley has to tell Fred's parents their daughter's body has been hollowed out and possessed by an ancient demon. Illyria spares him the trouble by briefly shapeshifting *into* Fred.
  • Arrow
    • In "Heir To The Demon", Felicity Smoak discovers evidence that Thea Queen is actually Malcolm Merlyn's love child with Moira Queen. Seeing how Felicity is smitten with her son Oliver, Moria tries to use this trope to threaten her into silence, saying that the revelation will tear their family apart and Oliver will always blame her for that. It doesn't work because Felicity isn't an Ignored Enamored Underling but Oliver's Fire-Forged Friend (and it's implied he has romantic interest in her) so Oliver gets the truth from her anyway and Moira's actions remove any sympathy he might have had for his mother.
    • In the same episode a flashback shows that Moira had the unpleasant task of telling the Lance family that their daughter Sara absconded on the Queen's Gambit with Oliver and was Lost at Sea. Given that she witnessed the subsequent destruction of the Lances and Quentin's hatred of her own family, it's likely she's thinking of her own experience when she threatens Felicity.
    • Oliver starts to be this for Nyssa after she has come searching for Sara, only for her to realise before he tells her that Sara's dead. Katrina Law's acting is so good in this scene, you can literally see the moment that Nyssa realises the love of her life is dead.
  • The Barrier:Regularly used, since, when Learned from the News isn't used, either the police or one of the two main families finds out about something a significant amount of time before someone else who is entitled to the knowledge.
    • When Enrique's reason to visit the Covarrubias household is to bring news, it tends to not be good news. A scene of the second-to-last episode has Luis telling the President that he has been seeing a lot of Enrique recently and that he has come to associate Enrique with bad news for reasons he's unsure of.
    • Begoña takes it upon herself to inform Emilia of the death of Sergio/Juan's biological parents.
    • A female character who was established to be pregnant and to have been in close proximity to a confirmed case of noravirus within the same day finds herself breaking the latter news to the father. Right after he comes to tell her that he's willing to give raising the child a try if she wants to keep it.
  • In The Bill, a police officer is sent to tell a man his brother has died, only to have him flee the house at the sight of him. Turns out he's involved in criminal activity; when he's arrested at the end of the episode, the police realise they still have to tell him the bad news, but he takes it calmly as they weren't close anyway.
  • Played for Laughs in the first season of Blackadder, as the King (BRIAN BLESSED) receives a messenger who tells him that "Lord Wessex is dead.":
    King: I like not this news. Bring me better news.
    Messenger: Err... Lord Wessex is not dead?
    King: Aha! This news I like better!
  • In The Commish, two police officers dither for an entire episode about passing on the news to a family that their father is dead. When they eventually do, And There Was Much Rejoicing happens instead.
  • In Criminal Minds, this is actually part of JJ's job description.
  • The titular character of Dexter, not normally known for his tact, botches this horribly when he has to tell his stepkids, Astor and Cody, that their mother has been murdered. While wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
  • In Game of Thrones, Roose Bolton delivers most of the bad news for Robb: that Winterfell has been seized by the Ironborn and later that it has been sacked, that Bran and Rickon are presumed dead, and that his grandfather Lord Hoster has died. He also tries to invoke this to Jaime by trolling him about Stannis' attack and taunting him with the possibility that Cersei and the others might have died.
    • In the final scene of the first Season Finale of House of the Dragon, it's Daemon Targaryen who announces to his wife Rhaenyra that her son Lucerys has perished (eaten by Vhagar, the massive dragon of the enemy faction to hers). From then on, nothing can stop the Civil War from erupting.
  • In the The Goodies episode "Earthanasia":
    Bill: As you well know tomorrow never comes and do you know why? Because, little dewy eyed Timbo, tomorrow we'll all be dead! Dead, dead! D! E! E! D! DEAD!
    Graeme: You might have broken it to him gently.
  • In the JAG episode “Critical Condition”, Admiral Chegwidden has to tell Bud’s wife Harriet that her husband stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan and is in critical condition.
  • Man Stroke Woman:
    • Subverted when a doctor tells his patient that they have her test results. He asks, "May I be blunt with you?" to which she responds, "No." He looks confused and struggles for what to say. Finally he says, "Well, everything is fine. You're not gonna die!" She is very happy with this information and leaves as the doctor sighs to himself.
    • In another episode, a doctor sits in his patient's lap and tells her that her father is dead. As she cries, the doctor calls someone on speaker phone and tells a friend that sitting on the lap didn't work. She was still crying.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • Radar, in the episode "Abyssinia, Henry":
      "I have a message... Lieutenant Colonel... Henry Blake's plane... was shot down... over the Sea of Japan... it spun in... there were no survivors."
      • This was an unusual example of Radar's actor, Gary Burghoff, also being the bearer of (much less serious) bad news to the rest of the cast. Until he came in and read the telegram, the cast had no idea that there was any intention to kill off the character of Henry Blake.
    • In a later episode, a soldier dies in an ambulance wreck; he was the driver, had previously been called out on his Drives Like Crazy tendencies, and was responsible for the wreck. Radar brings in a suggested draft of the letter to the soldier's parents that puts the death in a kinder light.
      Colonel Potter: Don't change a thing.
    • In another episode, a young officer asks Colonel Potter for advice on writing a letter to the family of a soldier killed under his command. Potter ruefully notes that he has written too many such letters himself.
  • In Million Yen Women, Minami works at night and comes back before the rest of the household. This causes her to be the one to find Nanaka's dead body and to have to tell the others.
  • NCIS:
    • In the pilot episode "Yankee White", Gibbs finds out that Caitlin Todd's ex died shortly after meeting with her. He takes her aside and drops the news bluntly into the middle of their conversation, so that he can observe her reaction and gauge her guilt or innocence.
    • Happens also when Director Jenny Sheppard is killed and Ducky is told by phone, and then has to tell Abby and McGee. And again in Season 6, when Gibbs has to tell Michelle Lee's little sister, whom she has been raising like her daughter, that Lee is dead.
  • In the Orange Is the New Black episode "Appropriately Sized Pots," Healy is this to Rosa. While she's been undergoing cancer treatment for the length of the show, Healy has to tell her that a life-saving treatment isn't covered by the DOC, and she doesn't have much time left.
  • Parks and Recreation's upbeat Chris doesn't like to give bad news. Fortunately, he has Ben to do it for him.
  • In the Revolution episode "Ties That Bind", Corporal Lawrence has to tell the bad news to Sergeant Strausser that they failed to capture Miles Matheson. Strausser, being a sociopath, responds by stabbing Lawrence to death.
  • Major Paul Davis of Stargate SG-1 is nicknamed "Disaster Davis" by the fans, as he usually appears with bad news, sometimes at bad times with even worse news. This is a Justified Trope by the nature of his character however, he's the liaison between the Pentagon and Stargate Command, so he is really only ever sent when the Pentagon has bad news.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Bonding", Captain Picard has to tell the young son of one of the crew that his mother was killed on an away mission. He laments to Troi that this is why he disagrees with children being aboard ship, while Troi points out the blow would not be any softer if the boy was on Earth. It's also implied Picard also was the one who told Beverly and Wesley Crusher about Jack's death.
  • In The West Wing, Bartlet's best friend and chief of staff Leo has to bring him two of the worst pieces of news of his life. Once is when Mrs. Landingham, his beloved secretary, has been killed in a car accident; the other is when his youngest daughter Zoey has been kidnapped. Notably, there is no sound in either of these scenes. In the final season, it's C.J. who has to tell him that Leo has died of a heart attack. Another moment, featuring severe Mood Whiplash, is in a flashback to the Bartlet campaign's first big victory at the Illinois primary, when Donna (who's only recently started working for Josh) has to interrupt his celebrating to tell him his father died.

  • "Bad News and Bad Breaks" by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones:
    ''Bad news, if he could choose,
    Would he refuse to be the bearer?
    It seems what he has to do
    Could not be any clearer.
    It's a job he can't neglect.
    Its consequences will affect.
    I'm glad that I'm not in his shoes.
    He's the bearer of bad news.
    What can you do?
    He's got an ugly job to do!((
  • "When The Tigers Broke Free" by Pink Floyd (from The Movie of The Wall) plays this for very black sarcasm.
    Kind old King George sent mother a note
    When he heard that father was gone
    It was, I recall, in the form of a scroll
    Gold leaf and all (...)
    And my eyes still grow damp to remember
    His Majesty signed with his own rubber stamp!

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Wade Barrett frequently does this as a running gag for WWE webshow The JBL and Cole Show... not out of any genuine concern or to inform people of things, but just to be an obnoxious jerk. And now he's doing this on the TV shows as well, going so far as to officially change his ring name to Bad News Barrett. This change has definitely helped his career big time, as even as an obnoxious heel, he gets Bad News Barrett chants whenever he appears, including the WWE Hall of Fame.

  • This is the entire purpose of messengers in classical tragedy. And they're usually Spear Carriers, to boot. Sometimes they can be upgraded to Bit Characters.
  • The Courier in 1776 exists solely to deliver despondent and doom-laden dispatches from George Washington to Congress... and to sing a tearjerker song about how his best friend died alone at Lexington and Concord.
  • In Antony and Cleopatra, a messenger has to tell Cleopatra that Antony has remarried. She is not happy.
    • An earlier scene has a messenger that lampshades this trope and foreshadows the beating that Cleopatra would give.
  • Subverted in Caesar and Cleopatra, where the garrison of a border post receives a bearer of evil tidings with much fuss and honour. A Persian mercenary expresses surprise at this, and his commander explains:
    Belzanor: O barbarous Persian, hear my instruction. In Egypt the bearer of good tidings is sacrificed to the gods as a thank offering; but no god will accept the blood of the messenger of evil. When we have good tidings, we are careful to send them in the mouth of the cheapest slave we can find. Evil tidings are borne by young noblemen who desire to bring themselves into notice.
  • A slightly bizarre example occurs in Faust: First Part of the Tragedy, where Mephisto informs a widow: "Ihr Mann ist tot, und läßt Sie grüßen" ("Your husband is dead and sends his regards").
  • Henry the Tenth (Part Seven), a coarse-acting play by Michael Green, has a Running Gag involving a herald who gets beaten up every time he does this.
  • In J.B., a pair of unnamed Messengers report the successive deaths of Job's children in Scenes Three through Six, with their occupations varying from scene to scene. They agree in each case that the Second Messenger was the sole witness to their demise ("I only am escaped alone to tell thee..."), but he is always the less articulate of the two.
  • In L'Orfeo, Sylvia delivers the news of Eurydice's tragic death, and is so upset by being the one to deliver it and break Orpheus's heart that she exiles herself.
  • In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Ross must bring MacDuff the news that his wife and children were all killed. And Seyton brings Macbeth the news that his wife has killed herself.
  • Rowan Atkinson in Pink Tights and Plenty of Props had the Bearer of Good News, then the Bearer of Bad News, followed by the Bearer of Indifferent News, and then the Bearer of Bad News Which He Thinks Is Good News.
    • Watch this (from 2:21) for some insight into the role of messengers in Elizabethan theatre. According to Rowan Atkinson.
  • Shakespeare's Richard III, in the last act, strikes the messenger before he even finishes his sentence about his enemy the Duke of Buckingham, crying, "Till you bring better news!" It turns out that the news is that Buckingham has surrendered. The scene shows that Richard is beginning to crack up under his confident facade. At least when the messenger finishes delivering his message, Richard apologizes to the man and gives him some money to make it up to him. And it's worth pointing out that the messenger was actually the third messenger in a row to come to Richard with news and the first two had been all bad.
  • In Euripides' The Trojan Women Talthybius, Agamemnon's herald and friend, always appears to deliver some brand new misfortune... like that all of the women are being divided up and given to different Greek heroes, or that Cassandra will be given to Agamemnon and Hecuba to Odysseus. Or even worse, he delivers to Andromache news of the Greeks’ plan to kill her son.

    Video Games 
  • This is actually the name of a mission in Borderlands 2, where the player must tell the folks of Sanctuary about Roland's death.
  • Dragon Age:
    • The Grey Wardens tend to fill this role. The bad news is usually Darkspawn related, i.e. "Darkspawn are coming", "Darkspawn are already here", "A Blight has begun so get ready for an army of Darkspawn led by an Archdemon"... as a result, people tend to have mixed feelings when Wardens show up.
    • In Dragon Age: Origins, one of the sidequests has you informing the widows of fallen soldiers of the fates of their husbands. You can either do this yourself or have a party member do it for you. Alistair, Wynne, and Leliana try to break the news as gently as they can, while Morrigan, Oghren, or Sten will either be incredibly blunt or just plain insulting.
      Oghren: Good new! Erm... You're single!
    • Dragon Age II:
      • During one quest, you have to bring news to a man that part of his missing wife's body has been found. You can either break it gently ("Just know that she will not be coming home") and return her recovered wedding ring, or blurt the truth callously and send him into a complete meltdown.
      • Depending on your choices during the expedition to the Deep Roads, you may have to bring the news to your mother that your surviving younger sibling either died or had to become a Grey Warden to avoid death.
      • Later, you get to be the one to inform your mother's brother that she's been murdered by a serial killer. How he initially reacts depends on your chosen delivery, although either way he mellows by the end of the conversation. If your sibling is still alive, he takes on the duty of this trope himself, promising to break it to him/her gently.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition:
      • Depending on whether you sided with the mages or the Templars, either Cole or Dorian shows up at Haven to announce that the Elder One is attacking.
      • Later in the game, if Hawke is chosen to make the Heroic Sacrifice in the Fade, Varric will take on this duty, sending letters to the Kirkwall companions.
  • Farpoint have Dr. Grant Moon being the bearer of the discovery to his colleague, Dr. Eva Tyson, that the planet they're stranded upon isn't near Jupiter, as they assumed, but turns out to be 3 billion lightyears away from Earth, where after being stranded on said planet for two months, they would likely never see Earth ever again. Eva doesn't take it well.
  • In Final Fantasy X and its sequel, it is the role of seemingly every Zanarkand character to tell Spirans facts they don't want to hear. "Death is inevitable" (Yevon), "You can't solve your problems by killing yourself" (Tidus), "There's a giant apocalypse machine about to go off" (Lenne), "War Is Hell" (Shuyin), etc. Notably, the destruction of Zanarkand and everyone living in it is what plunged the entire continent into an era of censorship and ignorance. Maybe truth is Zanarkand's hat?
  • Several members of the player's staff in Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis are this by profession in-game, owing to the nature of their jobs. Park veterinarian Dr. Sattler will only contact you if dinosaurs are sick and/or dead, Peter Ludlow will only contact you if the park’s finances or reputation are dire enough (John Hammond will contact you if they’re doing well), and when Game Warden Robert Muldoon calls and the player hasn’t just constructed a ranger station or a park tour… odds are good that something very dangerous has just broken out.
  • Much like Wedge, above, the Mass Effect 2 DLC pack "Lair of the Shadow Broker" includes a file on Tali writing and rewriting the letter to the parents of someone who was killed serving with her. She even uses some similar lines — trying not to be trite, finding the right balance between distance and closeness, etc.
  • Mother 3 has a very sad example: So the forest's burning and everyone is looking for Flint's family. A search is organized for his wife. When the kids are finally found, a neighbour wants to tell Flint some news. The good news? They found an awesome Drago Fang that would make a great weapon! The bad news? It was found lodged in his wife's heart.
  • In Pokémon, Absol is noted under its Pokedex entry to be able to sense disaster and attempts to warn others of its arrival. Unfortunately for it, it frequently gets mistaken as causing said disaster. Poor Absol.
  • World of Warcraft has a veritable wealth of opportunities to break bad news. One of the most notable examples would be when you must carry the shield of Bolvar Fordragon (Alliance) or rent armor of Dranosh Saurfang (Horde) to King Varian Wrynn and Warchief Thrall after the catastrophic "Wrathgate incident."

     Web Animation  

  • Champions of Far'aus: One of Dorawn’s guards goes to tell Wila that her sister and brother-in-law had died to a monster they were hunting, while also escorting her nephew Will to the Hyperia Pantheon House so he can live with her. Punnily enough, the guard happens to be an Ursarer, making them the Bear-er of bad news.
  • Taylor, aka Labor Day, is this when he has tell the protagonist of Holiday Wars that the Easter Bunny is out to get her.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Haley has to tell Celia of Roy's death. She takes it better than Haley had thought; after all, it still means they are only a spell apart.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, Lieutenant Fobius and two grunts have to inform Captain Tagon's father of his death. However, due to the killers' policy they were going after his family and associates too, and so the Toughs wound up rescuing him from assassins in his home, and not having to break the news because the assassins had already done so.
  • In Something*Positive, Davan — who has to be the one to do it because he's the only one who knows — takes on the duty of informing his sisters and his two closest friends (who might as well be his sisters too) that his father, Fred, has Alzheimer's disease. He gives them this information immediately after his mother's funeral, his mother having died without ever finding out that her husband was sick.

    Web Video 
  • Cairo's mom Leila. As great & supportive of a mom she is, every other line coming from her is often a hurdle for the protagonists to overcome.

    Western Animation 
  • Good news, everyone! A Running Gag in Futurama is that Professor Farnsworth will give bad news in a cheerful way to make people feel better. Until someone replies, "Uh-oh, I don't like the sound of that..."
  • Ready Jet Go!:
    • In "Back to Bortron 7", Eggplant is the person who tells Carrot and Celery that after they do their presentation, they will have to leave Earth forever. Yikes.
    • In "Project Pluto", Jet loses to Sean and Sydney in a game of "not it" and has to tell Mindy that Pluto is no longer a planet. However, he gets off easy because when he tries to tell her, she tells Jet that she already knew.
  • This is Butch's main role in Recess. Randall can do this sometimes as well.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Bossy Boots", Mr. Krabs doesn't have the heart to fire Pearl, so he has SpongeBob tell her because "It's okay if she hates you."
  • In Thunder Cats 2011, prodigal Four-Star Badass Grune informs his king Claudus of mutual friend and fellow general Panthro's death with a headshake, and melancholic praise for his skill in battle. Then he hands over a single nunchaku of Panthro's.
  • In Young Justice (2010), when everyone is mourning the death of Artemis, a few people angrily wonder why Nightwing isn't here. When they're told that he's gone to break the news to her boyfriend, Wally, their expressions turn to one of pain and sympathy. Sure, he wasn't actually going to do that at all, but still.

    Real Life 
  • You've probably had to do this at some point in your life, and can vouch for the fact that it's never easy.
  • The death of a US service member is announced by two members of the honor guard at the door of the deceased's next of kin. The families of the wounded in action are notified by phone call. Consequently, everyone in a military community dreads the arrival of the honor guard. Kids growing up on military bases may be playing outside when they see them approaching, and they know that it means someone's dad or mom just died, and they can only pray that it wasn't theirs.
  • Howard Cosell of Monday Night Football turned into this when John Lennon was killed in 1980. Thanks to Alan Weiss, producer for WABC-TV's Eyewitness News (at the time, the highest-rated local newscast in the country) being brought to Roosevelt Hospital after a motorcycle accident, overhearing the cops saying the blood-soaked, lifeless man they'd just brought in was John Lennon, and lying on a gurney right outside the room where the surgical team tried to save him. Weiss managed to get word to his staff, who contacted Roone Arledge, then head of both ABC News and ABC Sports. He promptly passed it down to Cosell, who was in the booth calling a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. Cosell and the other commentators debated during a break whether or not to announce it, but ultimately agreed.
    Frank Gifford: And I don't care what's on the line, Howard, you have got to say what we know in the booth.
    Howard Cosell: Yes, we have to say it. Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps, of all of the Beatles. Shot twice in the back. Rushed to Roosevelt Hospital. Dead. On. Arrival.
  • News anchors are, by nature of the profession, required to bear bad news. Walter Cronkite famously choked up in tears while announcing to the US public that President Kennedy had been shot and killed...and only paused long enough to wipe off his glasses, before continuing to explain the situation in his usual calm and authoritative manner.
  • Related to the Kennedy assassination but lesser known is the announcement by Erich Leinsdorf, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, prior to a concertnote  that was broadcast on local public radio. The orchestra followed the news with an impromptu performance of the Funeral March from Beethoven's Third Symphony.
    Leinsdorf: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a press report over the wires. We hope that it is unconfirmed, but we have to doubt it, that the president of the United States has been the victim of an assassination.
    Audience: [shocked gasps]
  • This is one of the reasons Cassandra Truth is a thing. First of all those who have to "prophesize" a negative outcome (due to their expertise) want to avoid being blamed for the message and second of all those who ought to receive (and act on) it are likely to dismiss it, because that's often easier...
  • This nearly caused the demise of the telegram industry until they came up with the idea of a "greetings telegram" to convey good news.


Video Example(s):


That's Not Mina

After an intense battle, Star and Eclipsa finally but barely defeat the Solarian Soldier, only for Marco to deliver a devastating revelation.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThoseWereOnlyTheirScouts

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