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Cloning Gambit

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Luke Skywalker: Clones! So it's true!
Emperor Palpatine: The dying is painful... the transition is not an enjoyable experience. But the suffering is a small price to pay... for eternal life.

A Cloning Gambit is a scheme involving a character cloning themselves, by some means and using said clone to last out multiple deaths. Maybe they send clones out on suicide missions that they don't want to give to anyone else. Maybe they can Body Surf and transfer their mind from clone to clone, or use a set of "inactive" clones as a Body Backup Drive. Maybe they can't transfer their consciousness between clones per se, but each clone in a succession of them activates with their memories and personality. In any of the above, there's always a version of them out making trouble or appearing, in person, to crash the enemies' celebration party.


The clone may or may not be subject to Cloning Blues; they may or may not realize that they're not "the original", but they are very disposable, they rarely come up with their own unique identities, and they are very rarely prone to Which Me?. Only rarely does this overlap with Send in the Clones, since typically neither the other characters nor the viewer see more than one or two of that character walking around at any one time. Floating in People Jars, perhaps, after the reveal that the character is using this trope, but not up and talking.

The genetic duplicate to Backup Twin. Either trope can easily turn into an Ass Pull, if not properly foreshadowed, and often results in Opening a Can of Clones. Compare Actually a Doombot.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the fifth The Garden of Sinners movie, Aozaki Touko is revealed to have created a perfect puppet of herself (a clone, for all intents and purposes) out of pure scientific interest, then went into hibernation until it is killed by Araya. Or it may have been the other way around.
    • More clear in the novel: since the copy is completely identical, she doesn't care which one is original, completely discarding concept of identity. So she makes several bodies, links their memories with some ersatz Hive Mind spell, and stuffs all but one in multiple freezers, achieving punctuated linear existence: once the currently active body is killed, nearest one activates and pick up on wherever she stopped. And then she makes new copy, both for practical reasons and to prove that she is still the same being.
  • The series Akumetsu is almost entirely based off of this.
  • Played with in Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-. The evil twin-type clone, despite being created by the villain, manages to fill this role nicely due to a really last-minute Heel–Face Turn.
    • He then reincarnates back in time to reappear five minutes later (though it was decades to him), and dies for his original(s)/sons a second time
  • Naruto only uses short-lived clones, but he is very good at this. One bonus to the shadow-clone technique is that a clone's memories return to the user upon its death, which is useful for reconnaissance and fast learning.
  • A variant is used in Neon Genesis Evangelion: when Gendo cloned his wife Yui to create Rei, he also created dozens of clones he keeps in a tank of LCL somewhere around Central Dogma. In the event she dies (happened twice so far), a new clone is pulled out and uploaded with some of her memories. Rei knows that she's replaceable so she lets herself be used by the Commander since she would be killed and replaced at the first sign of defiance. He knows she knows this and uses it as leverage against her... until Ritsuko destroys the clones in episode 23. One could only wonder how far Gendo took this leverage...
  • Used in an early episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. A resistance leader appears to keep surviving assassinations by using clones. Somewhat subverted in that its actually other high ranking members of the organization who keep the charade going, while the original has been dead for years.

    Comic Books 
  • This was the explanation created as a way to rectify the two contradictory deaths of Sate Pestage in the Star Wars Expanded Universe comics. Currently canon holds that the one in the X-Wing Rogue Squadron series was real and the one who survived until Dark Empire was the clone. This will probably change again the next time someone who preferred Dark Empire gets to write for the Fact File or New Essential Chronology.
    • In Dark Empire, Palpatine, following his death at Endor, inhabited a clone waiting in a storage facility on a secret fortress world. Six years later, apparently spending the whole time building superweapons, he reappeared to the Empire and launched campaigns against the New Republic, and was killed multiple times, always activating a new clone. Then things went wrong, when one of his Royal Guardsmen sabotaged the process so that each clone degraded quickly, forcing Palpatine to look into other options - like, perhaps, Leia Organa's unborn son. In the Hand of Thrawn duology, Mara sardonically says that she doubts this was really Palpatine, since during all that time he never called on her, his agent. Nevermind that she was just one of his many agents, despite his telling her she was unique.
  • X-Men:
    • Mr Sinister has become famous for this since the 2010s. Not only is he extremely hard to kill to begin with, if you do manage it, there will be at least a dozen more waiting. He's even started taking it to the point of creating entire cities full of his clones, all programmed for specific roles within his society - even rebels against said society, in the case of Sinister London - and more recently, the Bar Sinister, both on Battleworld and in the main 616 reality.
      • In X-Men The End, it’s revealed that he once created a clone from his original, baseline human DNA as part of a plan to take down Apocalypse (he needed a body without Apocalypse’s genetic meddling). He spliced in some DNA from Cyclops, believing the Summers genes would ensure awesome superpowers. He was right, the clone would grow up to be, ironically enough: Gambit.
    • Sinister is also known for doing this with his chief minions, the Marauders (though he hasn't used them so much in recent years), activating cells of them when they're needed. In the run-up to Secret Wars (2015), Magneto found them and hijacked them, reprogramming the clones as disposable minions.
  • Lex Luthor famously did this a few years after John Byrne's reboot of the Superman franchise, when the kryptonite ring he constantly wore to keep Superman at bay gave him terminal cancer.
  • Kurt Busiek eventually declared this was how Iron Man's enemy Madam Masque kept coming back from the dead, and why her personality was inconsistent from one appearance to the next.
  • The Avengers' robot enemy Ultron does this routinely. He always has hidden equipment set up to rebuild him from a backed-up copy of his memories if he is destroyed. Amusingly, this happened when he was presumed dead during the original Secret Wars (1984). When that Ultron finally returned to Earth, he found that not only had his machines built an improved replacement copy, but he was horrified to find that the "improvements" made the copy nice. They fought and evil Ultron won, naturally.
  • Any time you see someone or something kill Nick Fury, it was actually a Life Model Decoy.
  • Loki: Knowing he was liable to die at some point, Loki set up one of these. After his demise in Siege, Loki was reborn as a young boy, with none of his older self's memories or issues. And then a copy of the original Loki's personality appeared, planning to take possession of the child Loki, and use it to get away with more schemes. Only the process didn't go exactly according to plan, as the new Loki began feeling guilt over killing a child, and part of the child Loki's personality seeped through into them, and after nearly getting reality itself destroyed by their self-loathing in Young Avengers v2, they attempted to make a genuine Heel–Face Turn in Loki: Agent of Asgard. In this case Which Me? is extremely common and invoked/exploited/lampshades/etc. like there is no tomorrow (it's in Loki's nature to create as much confusion as possible).

  • At the end of Children of Time season 1, the heroes Never Found the Body of Professor Moriarty — even worse, they caused his death, were right there, but were focused on the injured heroine. Two episodes later, in season 2, the Professor Moriarty responsible for terrorizing New London is revealed to be a clone. He later tells Beth Holmes that his conscious can return to life in a new clone again and again, as many times as necessary to accomplish his goals. However, the intended Badass Boast fails in an epic way when Beth can only express horror for this, as she, too, has died and can't imagine the thought of experiencing death over and over again like that.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters uses this for a major twist at the end of the Dark Hand arc. The Bartholomew Chang arrested by Section 13 after Harold Hale "changes sides" is actually a magically created clone. This enables the real Chang to keep running the Asian branch in secret, while Harold takes over the American branch, while pretending to be Section 13's Mole in Charge.
  • In Ladder, the Professor tries to revive his daughters by cloning them and transferring their memories, but each time fails. He repeats this dozens, if not hundreds, of times to the point where he becomes the antagonist. He also has clones of himself for whenever he's killed.



  • Variation in Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception. Fairy cloning technology can create a clone that is physically and genetically identical to the original, but has no brain functions beyond life support. Opal Koboi clones herself, fakes a coma, then leaves the clone apparently catatonic in the hospital while she skips off to ruin the heroes' lives.
    • Played straight(-er) in the final novel by Artemis himself, who realizes that the reason these clones are catatonic is because they have no soul. So he gets Foaly to create a clone of himself, pulls off a Heroic Sacrifice to ruin Opal's final revenge plan, then later allows his spirit to inhabit the clone's body, effectively bringing him back to life, albeit at the cost of his memories.
  • Time Wars: The main villain, Drakov, created a number of identical clones and implanted them with his memories, so that even he/they aren't sure which one is the original. This allows the heroes to kill him in one book and still have to fight him in the next one.
  • Played straight and inverted in J.C. Hutchins' 7th Son novels. While John Alpha's clone willingly and knowingly sacrifices himself, Klaus/Special K sacrifices his original self so that his clone, into which he's downloaded his memories and personality, is free and clear to carry on with the Evil Plan.
  • In Iain M Banks' Against A Dark Background The central character gets lucky with this - the big bad has a clone made of her, which is killed. The corpse is soon found by the religious fanatics who want her dead.
  • In the X-Wing Series novel Isard's Revenge, Isard tells the Rogues that she had clones, each of which believed herself to be the original, which she activated and used regularly to be where she could not, and killed once they were no longer useful. One of them was sent to scatter the prisoners from the Lusankya, managed to survive afterward, and unwittingly opposed Isard by working with a warlord the real one wanted dead.
    • Also in the series, a clueless Imperial talking to a disguised Wedge speculates, based on the number of times the most famous Rogues have seemingly come Back from the Dead, that Wedge Antilles, Tycho Celchu, Wes Janson, Hobbie Klivian, and others have died again and again, but the New Republic just keeps activating new clones.
    • One of the (many, many, many) subplots in the Hand of Thrawn duology is that Grand Admiral Thrawn, who died at the end of The Thrawn Trilogy, set up a clone to be activated ten years after his death, telling his people to be ready when it happened. It didn't fall through (thanks, Luke and Mara), but there are occasional hints that There Is Another. Timothy Zahn has said that he would like to introduce a Thrawn clone one day, when the Galaxy Far Far Away needs a master strategist - but, unusually, this clone will be fully aware that he is not Thrawn, and will be under enormous pressure to live up to the original.
    • Outbound Flight has Palpatine sending all of the Outbound Flight Jedi to their deaths, but taking genetic samples first, making it a Reverse Cloning Gambit.
    • The novel Darksaber had an involuntary Cloning Gambit: Whenever Bevel Lemelisk did something to displease the Emperor (such as failing to notice a certain thermal exhaust port in the Death Star designs), Palpatine had him killed in a variety of hideously painful manners (eaten alive by piranha beetles or slowly dipped into a smelter full of molten copper, for example), and then transferred his mind to a clone at the moment of death so that the Empire would not lose his services as a master engineer. When finally captured by the New Republic and sentenced to death for designing numerous weapons of mass destruction, Lemelisk is actually relieved that he is going to die and stay that way for a change.
  • The involuntary Cloning Gambit for involuntary immortality is also used in Orson Scott Card's short story "A Thousand Deaths" in his short story compilation Maps in a Mirror.
  • Inverted in Brandon Sanderson's Firstborn in which the clone is created by someone else for the sole purpose of being pitted against the original who has grown too powerful.
  • A central factor in the rather convoluted plot of A. E. van Vogt's The World of Null-A and its sequel The Players of Null-A.
  • One of the many things Jackson's Whole is infamous for in the Vorkosigan Saga is the clone brain transplant business, where the brains of the rich are transplanted in the bodies of their younger clones. The clone's brains are then discarded.
  • In the Age of Fire series, this is revealed to be the secret behind why the Red Queen can't be bothered to die. She has a magic tree that grows copies of her; every time her body's killed, her spirit just moves to another. AuRon destroys the tree after killing her... but then she just possesses Infamnia.
  • In Sandpaper Kiss, Lucretia discovers that her best friend Lucy is a clone grown to give her disease free spare parts. She doesn't like the idea, and instead gives the clone her diary so a part of her can live on,

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "A Man Alone", the villain clones himself and then kills the clone in order to frame Odo for murder.
    • The Vorta have several clones on standby at all times, all of whom share their predecessor's memories (including how they died), and can be restocked almost instantly. The main Vorta of the series, Weyoun, was actually the fourth one when he first appeared. He was on his eighth life when the base holding his clones was destroyed, and was finally Killed Off for Real in the Grand Finale.
  • In Smallville, Lana Lang does this to get away from Lex Luthor.
  • This is the m.o. of Ba'al for the last few seasons of Stargate SG-1. The viewer is never sure which is the real one, but it's strongly implied in Stargate Continuum that Col. Mitchell killed the last one off.
  • Power Rangers S.P.D.: Z uses one of her duplicates as a decoy to fool a monster that turned people into dolls.
  • A season finale in First Wave ends with Cade's best friend shooting him on live TV in front of a Gua. The first episode of the next season flashes back to Cade and Eddie finding a clone of Cade created to house their Antichrist. While Gua/human hybrids normally dissolve after death, they gambled that this "feature" is activated by the process of Brain Uploading. It's only a short reprieve, though, as the Gua find out they've been duped fairly quickly.
  • Dollhouse features something like this trope. Those closest to the dollhouse elite can back up their memories every month, ready to be uploaded into a new body after death. Of course, they don't actually have the body-cloning tech that goes with it, so you have to "borrow" someone else's body to make it work. Good thing there's so many dull, unimportant poor people around who don't matter.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Heaven Sent" The Doctor clones himself literally billions of times, one after another in an endless loop, to enable himself to break through a twenty foot thick wall made of a substance harder than diamond, with only his bare fists at his disposal. It takes him a total of 4.5 BILLION years to break through.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons:
    • A "simulacrum" is a short-lived duplicate of the caster that is basically designed to be treated as expendable.
    • There's also a 'Clone' spell. The spell creates a clone of the body of the target. In AD&D the clone has all of the original's memories up to the point where the tissue sample was taken and if it meets its' original they each have an irresistible urge to kill the other, though the clone can be grown after the original dies. After 3rd Edition the clone is merely inert flesh until the original body is killed, at which point the creature's soul enters the clone.
    • Used in Trial by Ordeal (Forgotten Realms anthology Realms of Shadow). Original is responsible for the actions of "spell effect" anyway and not vice versa, but what judge has to do if it's impossible to tell who of these two was an offender and who is original now, even using strong magic?.. The plan was almost impeccable...
    • The "Acererak" that you kill in the original Tomb of Horrors module? Pfft, forget it, he's just a underpowered clone of the real demilich. Who sits right in the middle of the Negative Energy Plane in the sequel module...
  • GURPS has a lot of stated ways to do this. In the basic rules a clone spell and the Advantage "Extra Life" exist to help facilitate this (and keep players alive).
  • This is one of the main mechanics in Paranoia. Should one of the PCs die - and if someone DOESN'T die at some point during the session, the GM is not doing their job right - their next clone is just shipped off to the scene with the same personality as before, and thanks to MemoMax technology, the same memories as well. Including how they died.
    • One PARANOIA module even suggests a way to get the clone to the party Outside: the new Sub-Orbital Clone Insertion Module! When somebody dies Outside, the GM starts a long, descending whistle ... the number of descending whistles shortly afterward depends on how many Troubleshooters have the presence of mind to take cover at that point.
  • In the Car Wars universe, it's possible to buy true life insurance from Gold Cross, which will maintain a clone body and memory tape, enabling you to pick up where you left off (as of your latest memory update session) if you die. Just don't miss a payment or the clone gets used for spare parts.
  • Easily done in the world of Eclipse Phase, where humans back up their brains as software on a regular basis. True clones can get expensive, though; it's more cost-effective to get an off-the-rack body and have it cosmetically engineered to match.
  • Champions: The robotic villain Mechanon (an Ultron Expy) can either detach his head and send it off if he's about to be destroyed, or upload his mind to his closest base. Either way, when he builds his new body he'll be able to tweak things to adapt to whatever caused his failure the last time.

    Video Games 
  • Pretty much the entire scheme enacted by Big Boss in Metal Gear. (To a lesser extent, completed by Liquid Ocelot in Guns Of The Patriots.)
  • A major, title dropping plot point in Chrono Trigger. At least the clone is completely mindless.
  • Neverwinter Nights has this in its expansion pack where Halastr Blackcloak (not a big man in the sanity department at any time) tries this, only for the clone to be saved by the Player before he wanted it to be saved by him. Or not, it might be that the original that was captured and the clone who came to save him... They can't agree.
  • Sort of used in Tales of the Abyss: Big Bad Van needs Ashe's powers for his "End of the World" Special, but a prophecy had dictated that Ashe was going to die at the age of 17. So Van creates a clone to take Ashe's place in the world, including his death. Things get complicated when the clone actually survives the event that would have killed him...
    • Another example is in the case of the original Fon Master Ion, who was also prophesied to die. So Ion creates a bunch of clones in the hope that one of them will die instead (or that their mere existence will be enough to throw off the prophecy). Unfortunately for him, it doesn't work.
  • You can pull a Cloning Gambit in Evil Genius, transforming one of your minions into a duplicate of your evil mastermind. If the clone is killed, the world powers will think you're dead, reducing your heat significantly.
  • Frank Fontaine of BioShock pulled one of these by using Plasmids to turn one of his subordinates into his Body Double. When the double was killed, all of Rapture thought that the illustrious criminal mastermind had finally fallen, allowing him to organize La Résistance in the guise of the charismatic rebel leader Atlas.
  • EVE Online: The players. Upon death they transfer their consciousness (or at least some of their memories) to a prepared clone, hence explaining their ability to respawn.
  • This also explains respawning in Destroy All Humans! and the reason why Cryptosporidium-137 is there on Earth in the firs place. The Furon have cloned themselves so much that they run the risk of going extinct so Crypto and his clones have to collect Furon DNA contained in human brains to add fresher blood into his species.
  • The clones P.B. Winterbottom makes in The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom so he can get all of his pie.
  • Implied in Little Big Adventure, since Dr FunFrock has perfected cloning technology. You have to kill him twice in the first game, and twice more when he reveals himself as the Big Bad of the second as well.
  • In Infinite Space, Zenitonian Admiral Rubriko has a base full of clones standing by to receive uploaded memories in the event of his death. After fighting him four or five times, the player party finds the base and activates all of them, resulting in psychic feedback that kills all of them in a pretty horrifying way.
  • In the ZX Spectrum game Astroclone (definitely a Meaningful Name) the in-universe explanation for the player's extra lives is that the mission has been entrusted to a squad of clones.
  • In Hack 'N' Slash, Alice is the result of one of these. Her creator/source code is still around, though - just incapacitated.
  • The Futurama Playstation 2 Videogame uses this to explain the characters' multiple lives. Every time they die their consciences are transferred to a new cloned body.
  • Akatsuki Blitzkampf uses this trope with some twists:
    • The Elektrosoldat Praetorian Guard are all clones of the Smug Snake Adler, but one of them begins to grow a mind of his own and realizes how expendable they all are. So he decids to rebel and fight back...
    • Murakumo is known to have cloned himself twice and having placed his two clones in huge positions of power in a Chinese Triad and the Japanese Army. At least one clone has been ultimately offed after trying to seize power for himself instead.
  • From what appears to be the case in the Five Nights at Freddy's series, Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator saw the long-overdue Final Death of William Afton, series Big Bad and the infamous "Purple Guy", leading to an eternity of suffering in Ultimate Custom Night. However, in Five Nights At Freddys VR Help Wanted we learn that he managed to leave a copy of either his mind or his soul in the chips for the Spring Bonnie suit he was trapped in, and tries to use it to perform Grand Theft Me on the player. Worse yet, he appears to have picked up an apprentice...
  • In Crying Suns, the main character is a clone of the Empire’s greatest admiral. He comes from a secret facility dedicated to churning out clones of him and his crew: if the current clone dies, his memories will be transferred to a fresh one.

  • In Schlock Mercenary, F'sherl-Ganni wormgate technology can be used to make a very quick (perfect) copy of whatever passes through it. When threatened with murder by a sinister military force, three scientists decide to escape using the gate-copy technology. One of them figured out how to turn that same technology into a small WMD, leading to this line:
    Gav-0: That begs a question: Does it count as selfless sacrifice if you clone yourself before your suicide mission?
    Kevyn: I'm putting it in my resume and hoping nobody asks.
  • In Starslip, protocol officers are deemed mission-critical, so on their death their minds are automatically uploaded to a fresh clone. We find this out two strips after we see protocol officer Quine stabbed through the heart.

    Western Animation 
  • The Gerry Anderson series Terrahawks has its lead character, Doctor "Tiger" Ninestein (or should that be characters?). An early episode sees him unambiguously killed...then, in the aftermath, as his friends are grieving, he calmly walks in. Ol' Tiger has a Significant Name. He's been cloned nine times, so - if one of him is killed - a full memory/personality download is made on the next clone in line, who promptly fills the gap of his predecessor.
  • In the second season of Exo Squad, Big Bad Phaeton sends a clone of himself to fight in the Battle for Venus. The clone is betrayed and left for dead by treacherous General Draconis who, in turn, is executed by the real Phaeton.
  • In the Men in Black Animated Adaptation, this is the most second most common use of the Quick-clones, behind being simple decoys. The clones only last for a few hours anyway before melting, so NBD. In one episode, a bunch of Quick-clones play a basketball game once their job was done, since their lifespan isn't long enough to worry about much.
    • Another episode had an alien criminal clone himself before being captured, so that the clone could free him from custody.
  • In Invincible (2021), Robot hires the Mauler Twins to clone him a new body with a copy of his consciousness, as his original one was horribly deformed. They inform him that the process doesn't copy over his consciousness and that he'd still be stuck in his original body, but he doesn't care and wants to die in peace while someone with his Super Intelligence can help save the world in his place.


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