There are few ways that more viscerally convey love and loss than the Pietà Plagiarism, where an unconscious or dead character who has been harmed at the hands of an enemy is cradled in the arms of a loved one. Which is why this gets really weird when it's the killer who does the cradling.
The murderer will gently hold and comfort their dying victim, caress their face, perhaps gently kiss them. They'll offer advice to reduce pain, explain how they're dying so they don't panic, make an Empty Promise about it all being fine, say the pain will end quickly, and tell them to "go to sleep." It's not uncommon for them to offer a sincere apology, and maybe, just maybe... beg for a forgiveness they know they won't get.
A character Cradling Their Kill might do so for various reasons, none of them good. If the killer is a good guy who was forced to shoot the victim, they'll cradle the victim out of love and guilt. Usually it's because of self defense, a Mercy Kill, or because of other forces beyond their control. Likewise, a Hitman with a Heart may consider it a professional courtesy to give their mark a personal send off, so that they don't fear Dying Alone. A Noble Demon who considers the murdered a Worthy Opponent may give their rival this treatment; worth noting is that the murdered can usually extract a deathbed promise from their killer. Another regretful murderer is the Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain, or outright Villain who has kicked the morality pet or killed their Love Interest who will cradle their victim as the Heel Realization kicks in. If the cradling happens before the victim is completely dead, they may be forming a Dying Truce.
There are, of course, much less merciful and worthy reasons for a killer to do this. A Combat Sadomasochist may torment their victim by mockingly aping a Pietà Plagiarism, using Terms of Endangerment, or twisting the blade to keep them in pain. A Nietzsche Wannabe may hold their dying victim and tell them they envy them for achieving the "peace" of oblivion. And of course, a murderer going for stealth wants to keep the victim from crying out or audibly hitting the floor.
Or they might just be crazy.
One Sub-Trope of this includes the White Void Room; the killer and victim enter the room and engage in a lengthy dialogue where motives, plot points, and Character Development are exposited in a minimalist and rush-free manner. This may be related to My God, What Have I Done?.
As a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- Guts from Berserk is sent by Griffith to assassinate Lord Julius, the King's brother and the man responsible for a failed attempt on Griffith's life. Moments after completing the task, he notices a figure in the shadows of the doorway and lunges towards it, impaling it with his sword. Then he realizes that he just killed Julius' son, a thirteen year old boy with whom Guts felt a small measure of empathy. He holds Adonis' hand as he dies, but can't do a thing to help him and is visibly distraught. The only thing that prevents him from going all HBSD is the timely arrival of a pair of guards.
- Kenpachi cradles Unohana in Bleach after delivering a fatal wound, pleading with her to stay and fight him a little longer.
- Code Geass: Suzaku holds Lelouch after impaling him with a sword at the very end.
- Light does this to L in Death Note.
- In Fist of the North Star, Rei's battle with Juda ends this way- Juda may have been a bastard, but hearing how his descent into madness was sparked by being unable to accept that Rei was the more talented and beautiful fighter, admiring him to the point of jealousy, perhaps even to the point where it seems Yuda might actually have been in love with Rei, is sobering. His final request is to die in Rei's arms. Even Rei is saddened by this revelation and outcome, and he doesn't deny Juda's request.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Greed Ling kills a lizard Chimera he used to know. He feels some sort of remorse for killing him and cradles his body in his arms, screaming in anguish when his old memories come back to him.
- Another particularly heartbreaking example happens in Ga-Rei -Zero- after Kagura killed Yomi, Yomi told Kagura how much she loves her.
- Similarly (and in something of an Homage to the above example), Reisi Munakata with Mikoto Suoh in the end of K.
- A particularly heartbreaking example happens in Kannazuki No Miko, in which the full extent of Chikane's plan was only revealed after Himeko killed her, thus fulfilling the sacrificial ritual to destroy Orochi. They got better.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers, Signum does this to Zest Grangaitz after the latter performs a Suicide by Cop through her. As the latter lies dying in Signum's arms, he asks for her to take care of his charges and to continue watching over the worlds that he and Regius had sworn to protect.
- In Rurouni Kenshin, Makoto Shishio stabs through Yumi Komagata when she gets between him and Kenshin during their fight. Then, since they're absolute Mad Love, he cradles and keeps her company as she dies. And a few minutes later, he loses and dies too.
- In the same series, Kenshin holds his first wife Tomoe's lifeless body when he accidentally kills her.
- The Sengoku Basara manga Bloody Angel has Mitsunari stab his beloved master Hanbe and hold him as he dies. Subverted in that Hanbe had asked him to Shoot the Hostage if such an event ever occurred.
- Suitengu Choji, in Speed Grapher, finds his baby sister Yui years after they were both sold into slavery. What followed? Yui had been forced into prostitution and her mind was so gone that she didn't recognize him, even after he showed her her favorite music box. Feeling that there was no other way to help her, he cleanly kills Yui, then weeps bitterly as he holds her body.
- Downplayed in All-Star Superman; Jimmy Olsen cradles Superman after being forced to fight him because he was exposed to black Kryptonite. Superman is beaten, maybe unconscious, nothing more.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe comic Tales of the Jedi: The Sith War, Jedi Knight Cay Qel-Droma tries the "I'm not going to fight you anymore" appeal to his dark side brother, Ulic. It was not his best idea. Ironically, after Ulic cuts Cay down in a fit of rage, he does a HeelFace Turn (complete with a My God, What Have I Done?) and that's when this trope shows up.
- In the Usagi Yojimbo story "A Mother's Love", an old woman kills her wicked son and tearfully cradles his body, begging the hero to kill her in turn so she will not have to live after that.
- The Batman story "Two Of A Kind" features a reformed Two-face planning to get married. However, he ends up having an affair with his fiance's twin sister, who murders her sister when he tries to end the affair. After killing her in revenge, Two-face holds her body in his arms and waits for Batman to come and take him back to the asylum.
- At the end of Innocence Lost, X-23 cradles Sarah Kinney in her arms as the latter dies. And oh yeah, Sarah was Laura's mother, and she was forced to kill her via the trigger scent just as they were escaping the installation where Laura was bred, trained and tortured for thirteen years.
- In this Merlin oneshot, Arthur cradles his kill. A bit of warning here: it does include character death.
- In I'm still alive, a Marvel Cinematic Universe fanfic, Jen accidentally shoots "Dottie Underwood" then holds her as she dies - while silently freaking out over seeing Dottie's real, childlike personality. What makes it even more creepy is that this is Jen's first (but definitely not last) murder.
- In I'm Not Going Harry cradles Hermione after killing her in order to destroy the shard of Voldemort's soul which entered her body due to unknowingly wearing a Horcrux for several weeks.
- In The Second String Harry kills a rabbit due to hunger, then cups it in his hands in a fit of remorse.
- Kadaj dying in Cloud Strife's arms in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Probably out of pity, since Cloud realised that Kadaj was just a puppet of Sephiroth too.
- Queen Elsa does this trope in Frozen when her sister, Princess Anna, becomes an ice statue because Elsa accidentally froze her heart with her powers. Elsa caresses Anna's frozen face and gives her a hug, knowing that Anna will never come back and that Elsa really is "The monster that she fears she is." Guess who ends up thawing and giving Elsa a big hug?
- Depicted in Ilya Repin's painting "Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan"◊.
- According to Classical Mythology, Achilles regretted the killing of the Amazon Penthesilea in the Trojan War immediately after the deed. The geographer Pausanias describes a painting by Panaenus (5th century BCE) seen in the temple of Zeus at Olympia which showed Achilles supporting Penthesilea as she died.
- Happens in the end of Beyond Re-Animator. However, the killer only cradles the victim's severed head.
- Blade film series:
- In Blade II, Blade carries Nyssa (who was infected with the Reaper virus) outside at sunrise to honor her last wish to see the sunlight, and die as a vampire.
- In Blade: Trinity, Danica Talos is laying on the floor hugging Hannibal King and whispering lovingly in his ear, while strangling him. He escapes as she dies so I'm not sure if this is an averted or a defied trope.
- In The Devil's Backbone Jaciento stabs Conchita while holding her in a tight embrace and cradles her against him before letting her fall to the ground.
- In the film of Dune, Baron Harkonnen takes a slave, and pulls his heart plug, while holding him close. It has too much Squick to properly explain.
- Although no cradling takes place, a similar scenario occurs at the end of Heat, when Detective Hanna mortally wounds McCauley and then holds his hand as he passes away.
- Inception showcases the stealth version early on. Later, there's an exceedingly odd variation: Cobb cradles his projected image of his dead wife as she dies a second time.
- James Bond comes close to doing this with Elektra King after he shoots her in The World Is Not Enough.
- The Mask parodies Pietà Plagiarism and this trope when Jim Carrey/The Mask is shot by Darien's goons and collapses into one of the stunned henchman's arms. Carrey coughs out, "Hold me closer, Ed, it's getting dark," and rambles on until he appears to have died. The henchman, moved, starts weeping. The movie then Breaks The Fourth Wall as an audience appears in the foreground. Carrey cries, "You love me, you really love me!" and accepts an Oscar award as the villains in the shot look on self-consciously and smooth their hair. Of course, Carrey is unharmed and escapes moments later.
- In A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, this is mocked by Freddy Krueger after he guts one of his victims with his claw. After wishing the victim off to the afterlife, he holds him in his arms and pats him on the back of his head.
- In The Raid 2: Berandal, Rama does this to both the Assassin and Uco upon killing them.
- In Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter comforts protagonist Will Graham after stabbing him.
Hannibal Lecter: Shh. Don't move. You're in shock now. I don't want you to feel any pain. In a moment, you'll begin to feel light-headed, then drowsy. Don't resist, it's so gentle, like slipping into a warm bath. I regret it came to this, Will, but every game must have its ending.
- Then he kind of ruins the oddly touching moment by saying "I think I'll eat your heart." Or perhaps adds to it in a strange way if you consider that Hannibal might be eating his heart because he has great regard for Will's courage and strength. Luckily for him, Will survives the encounter and gets Hannibal arrested.
- In The Return of Swamp Thing, Dr. Arcane finds out that Dr. Zurell sabotaged their experiment. He gets close to her by assuring her that he isn't angry, but then shoots her in the heart, killing her instantly. He lowers her gently unto one of the lab tables and says, "God will pardon me — that's his job."
- In Run All Night, after Jimmy Conlon kills Shawn Maguire in a running gunfight across the train tracks, Jimmy lets Shawn bleed out in his arms.
- In The Sacrament, Caroline does this as she kills her brother.
- Saving Private Ryan: The German soldier who pins Mellish to the ground and drives a bayonet into his chest whispers something along the lines of "stop resisting, it will be over quickly, you will see" to him, and leans in almost close enough to kiss him, making shushing noises as Mellish's life fades away. It's intensely creepy.
- The opening vignette of Sin City, in which the Salesman does this to his mark, shown at the top of this page. Word of God states that the victim actually hired the assassin, and requested that he comfort her in her dying moments.
- Featured in the conclusion of Sleepaway Camp. The killer, who turns out to be Angela, cradles Paul's severed head and strokes his hair.
- In Smokin' Aces, Pasquale cradles Bill after stabbing him in the lungs. Pasquale gives him a beautiful, tormented and sincere send off... while Bill is too in shock to be anywhere near clever.
- In Solo, Han Solo holds Tobias Beckett as he is dying, after shooting him (first). Beckett was a mentor to Han, and Han was grieved that Beckett betrayed him and that he was forced to kill him.
- The ending of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, in which Sweeney discovers that the beggar woman whose throat he just slit is his long lost wife.
- Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, a monster disguised as a human being changes back into her original form and kills her husband when he confesses to her that he saw a monster (her, although he doesn't know this) kill someone years ago. The monster enfolds/cradles her husband in her bat-like wings and bites him on the neck, laying him gently on the ground as he bleeds to death. She then howls in remorse.
- In X-Men: First Class, an interesting variation of this, which is more like "Cradling Your Cripple," happens when Charles Xavier receives his spinal injury. Moira MacTaggert tried to shoot Magneto after his FaceHeel Turn and he ends up deflecting one of the bullets into Charles, hitting him in the lower back. Erik Lehnsherr runs over and cradles him in his lap until he realises that Charles isn't likely to die. Magneto and his new minions are long gone before Charles voices that he can't feel his legs.
- The also happened in X-Men: The Last Stand when Wolverine was forced to gut Jean Grey. He grabs her, gives an Anguished Declaration of Love, guts her, holds her as she dies, and gives a Skyward Scream. Seeing this in Logan's memories makes Charles realize Logan is a Jerkass Woobie in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
- In one of the BattleTech/MechWarrior: Dark Ages stories, Alaric Ward does this. The victim was Katrina Steiner-Davion, his mother, who had counseled him to kill an ally, fearing for her own position and indirectly threatening his own. He even cried while doing so. Given that he was her son with her brother Victor who was born and raised with the sole purpose of bringing down the Inner Sphere...
- In City of Glass, Valentine holds his adopted son Jace (who he's just stabbed through the heart) while he dies, whispering, "My son. My boy."
- In Dragon Bones, Ward has to kill Oreg, his immortal slave, whom he inherited, and whose life is bound to castle Hurog, in order to make the castle collapse and stop the villains. Oreg has wanted to die for a long time, so it is a mixture of Mercy Kill and Heroic Sacrifice. Ward holds him as he drives a dagger into his brain, a method that he supposes "is painless. At least for Oreg."
- In Robert Browning's poem "Porphyria's Lover" the disturbed viewpoint character describes how he gently strangles his love with her own hair and cradles her corpse all night long, to ensure she will be with him forever.
- The Saga of the People of Laxardal: On the urging of his wife Gudrun and her brothers, Bolli finally participates in an ambush on Kjartan, his own cousin, foster-brother, and formerly closest friend. Bolli is still unwilling to fight Kjartan, but when the attackers cannot get the better of him despite their superior numbers, Bolli himself has to deal Kjartan the death blow. Then he "took up his body and held him in his arms when he died."
- In The Star of the Guardians, when Sagan kills Maigrey out of mercy.
- Invoked in one of The Witcher's short stories, as a Last Request of the killed. Subverted in that it is only to get the killer close enough.
- Also subverted in that Geralt wasn't foolish enough to grant the request and kept his distance.
- Arrow: Tatsu does this to Maseo after she stabs him in "This Is Your Sword".
- When Keats kills Viv/harvests his soul on Ashes to Ashes.
- This also happens when Gene shoots Supermac in self defense and then comforts him as he dies.
- In the third season of Battlestar Galactica, Saul Tigh is convinced that his wife, Ellen, has betrayed the human resistance movement by collaborating with the Cylons. The resistance leaders agree that she must be punished by death, so Saul volunteers to do the deed himself. He poisons her drink, and holds her as her last breath slowly slips away. This does his psychological state no favors.
- Avon does this with Anna Grant, in one of the sadder moments of Blake's 7.
- Wayne Brady's infamous skit from Chappelle's Show has him do this to a police officer whose neck he snapped.
- A Running Gag in Danger 5 involving Pierre cradling a dying friend or enemy, who'd use their dying breath to pass on the ingredients of a perfect cocktail they'd invented.
- In Season Two, Dexter injects Lila, his dark ex-girlfriend, with a spinal epidural and then carries her to the couch before laying her gently down and stabbing her through the heart. He then closes her eyes.
- In Season Four, Trinity forces his first victim to lie with him in a bathtub, holds her close and says, "Shhhhh, it's already over," before cutting her femoral artery. He continues to hold her as she bleeds out and dies. Made even more horrifying by the fact that he's an extremely specific ritual serial killer and has probably done exactly this to dozens of women over the years... including Rita.
- In the Season Seven finale, Debra shoots Maria LaGuerta who alternated between being her bitchy boss or some sort of a friend. Debra is horrified by what she did, runs to her to embrace her, crying the whole time.
- On The Event, one of the aliens imprisoned in Alaska offers to give up the information on those living amongst human society if he and his girlfriend are released in exchange. To keep him quiet, his girlfriend stabs him while holding him close, pleading with him to keep imagining the future they could have had together while he dies.
- In the sixth episode of Hannibal, the title character kisses the top of the head of a victim he is suffocating.
- On Jekyll, Mr. Hyde does this mockingly with his first kill.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Elliot Stabler does this in the final episode of season 12 when he is forced to shoot a sixteen-year-old girl who has gone on a shooting rampage in the precinct, killing a social worker and wounding the men responsible for her mother's rape/murder. A devoted family man with a daughter of his own, Elliot rushes to her side and holds her as she dies. He is utterly heartbroken and retires.
- Merlin does this to Morgana near the end of season 2 after he poisons her. He's the protagonist and he's only trying to save all of Camelot, so his reason for cradling her while crying his heart out is probably guilt and heartbreak. He DID just try to kill one of his best friends. Though it should be noted that he's cradling his "kill," but she doesn't actually end up dying.
- In the first Midnight Caller episode, Jack does this to his partner Rusty after accidentally shooting him dead.
- The killer does this a little in S10 Ep 01 of Midsomer Murders.
- In the Once Upon a Time episode Swan Song, Emma cradles Hook after she stabs him to end the darkness and the Dark Ones.
- In Smallville, "Sacrifice", Zod does this with Faora.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Day of the Dove", Kirk cradles Chekov as he takes him to sick bay, lamenting how he was driven to beat him senseless.
- Stargate SG-1's Sam Carter does this to Martouf after she is forced to kill him to foil his brainwashing-induced assassination attempt on the US President.
- True Blood: After Eric seduces and murders Russell Edgington's lover Talbot, an increasingly insane Russell goes out and finds a male prostitute who resembles Talbot, puts a stake through his heart, and while the man dies says the heartfelt goodbye that he never got to say to Talbot. At the end, he cuddles with the body of the now dead man.
- The Sufjan Stevens song "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." describes the actions of the titular serial killer:
He'd kill ten thousand peopleWith a sleight of his handRunning far, running fast to the deadHe took of all their clothes for themHe put a cloth on their lipsQuiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth...
- The Irish folk ballad "Molly Ban" features this. Justified as the killer was Molly's lover, who mistook her for an animal.
He quickly ran to herAnd found she was dead.And there on her bosomMany slow tears he shed.
He ran up beside her and found it was she
- A similar situation occurs in "Polly Vaughn", which may or may not be a more modern version of this particular ballad.
He turned away his head, for he could not bear to see
He lifted her up and found she was dead
A fountain of tears for his true love he shed
- The Vocaloid song "The Muzzle of Nemesis" from the Evillious Chronicles features the titular Nemesis cradling her lover in a flashback; she had been ordered to shoot him a year before the song takes place.
- Assassins Creed: It is tradition in the Assassin Brotherhood to treat one's targets respectfully in their final moments.
- Assassin's Creed I: Altaïr gives all of his main targets a Final Speech as they lay dying in his arms with a punctured throat. It borders on Exposition Beam since the Animus' loading screen replaces the landscape in this scene and he is surrounded by guards trying to kill him.
- Assassin's Creed II has a little more fun with the trope. One of Ezio's victims sarcastically asks if he was expecting a confession. Ezio averts the trope when he stabs another victim in a manner that could not possibly be described as calm. A third victim uses the moment to stab Ezio in the side. Generally, however, the trope is still played straight because Ezio's uncle, Mario, tells him to do so. This leads to Ezio's first Catchphrase, "Requiescat in Pace".
- A nonlethal version of this happens every time you use the Silent Takedown maneuver in Batman: Arkham Asylum.
- At the end of DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou, Saya embraces Hina's upper remnants as the latter dies after defeating her. This was also the Limited Edition's cover art.
- A heartbreaking example: Isolde and Connor in Dragon Age: Origins, dependent on the player's decisions and persuasion skills.
- Hitman uses this a few times, notably with Ort-Meyer's death in Codename 47.
- In Kingdom Hearts Three Five Eight Days Over Two, Roxas gets to do this with Xion. Even worse, she was one of his only two friends and the only person he could still trust.
- Thane Krios does this in his introduction scene in Mass Effect 2, shooting his target at point blank range, then gently arranging her body into a peaceful repose as she dies.
- In the bonus chapter of Mystery Trackers 7: Blackrow's Secret Emily Lockwood holds her fiance Jeffrey Dean after accidentally shooting him with a real gun which was somehow exchanged for the prop firearm from the play both were in.
- One ending of NieR has your character kill Kainé after the Shade possessing her takes full control, and sadly cradling her body and kissing her before she fades away.
- The final chapter of Oichi's story in Samurai Warriors 2 has her fight for her brother against her husband, Nagamasa. After defeating the latter, she holds him in her arms, as they exchange goodbyes and Nagamasa fades away.
- In a flashback in Sands of Destruction, it's revealed that Taupy held his best friend in his arms after defeating him in a duel-by-proxy. They had each taken a contract for an opposing nobleman, unbeknownst to the other until the time of the duel. Both had too much honor to think of backing out, and so they fought to the death.
- The trailer for Silent Hill 2 had James carrying Mary down a long hallway, Pieta-style, after having killed her.
- The World of Warcraft achievement Make Love, Not Warcraft also qualifies.
- In The Zombie Hunters, "Mercy" zombies approach sick, wounded or dying humans, and follow them, protecting them from other zombies, until they can no longer go on. Mercies deliver a single bite to a vital artery, then hold the dying victim, while gently stroking their hair and cooing softly. They'll even remain with their victims for hours after they turn. It is incredibly disturbing, but, compared to the horrible deaths other breeds inflict, also oddly sweet. Website materials state that some traumatized survivors seek them out as a form of suicide, hence the name.
- Errant Story has a good example, as Sarine does this at length with the remains of her oldest friend Sarna, whom she has just killed in a fight (not exactly a Duel to the Death, but close enough) she really, really didn't want to have.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, Refan ends up doing this to Awar after he kills him in the aftermath of the siege of Vanna.
- Though he only renders the target unconscious, Achilles of the Global Guardians typically does this to Mooks he's taken down when he's trying to be stealthy, just so the sound of their unconscious bodies doesn't alert anyone he's coming.
- Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: It was an accident, but Dr. Horrible's death ray exploded in Captain Hammer's hands, making both of them somewhat culpable in Penny's death. Dr. Horrible carries her body to the emergency stretcher.
- The ending credits for Zero Punctuation's review of Spec Ops: The Line show Yahtzee doing this after killing an Imp, as a parallel to how the game makes the player feel guilty for killing civilians.
- In Star Wars Rebels, Twin Suns, Maul attacks Kenobi, but is struck down. Kenobi catches Maul as he collapses. Maul asks if the person Kenobi was guarding was The Chosen One. Kenobi confirms this to which Maul's last words are "He will avenge us."
- Happens on many Bugs Bunny cartoons. Elmer (or whomever is hunting Bugs at the time, but mostly Elmer) thinks he's killed Bugs and cradles him as he "dies" - only for Bugs to get the best of him now that his guard is down. "What's Opera, Doc?" in particular is a good example.
- A form of this trope where the kill was accidental occurs in the Justice League episode "Only a Dream". Superman, having lost control of his strength, crushes Jimmy Olsen to death while hugging him. When he realizes what has happened, he cradles Jimmy's body and desperately apologizes. Luckily, as implied by the title, it's All Just a Dream.
- An interesting version of this trope occurs in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), where Harry unwittingly causes Nano's "death" in S01 Ep 05. Since Nano disappeared in a vat of molten liquid there was no body for Harry to cradle, but he found and picked up one of Nano's cracked masks that had escaped destruction. Holding it in his hands, Harry wept and talked to the mask as though it was Nano, apologising for what happened.
- There's actually one practical reason for doing this. Covert operatives who are trained to kill people quickly and quietly (usually with a discreet knife stab) will grab their target and gently lower them to the ground so the thud of a body hitting the floor doesn't alarm anyone else nearby.