Follow TV Tropes


Cruel Mercy

Go To

"I want him to live a long life alone with his cowardice."
Westley, The Princess Bride

Some work towards crushing their opponents. Others, though, prefer to just step back and watch them live on. This is "Cruel Mercy" — sparing one's enemy (or, in some examples, even actively keeping them alive) as a punishment rather than a reward.

Heroes rarely kill their enemies: they either practice Thou Shalt Not Kill or have a moral friend remind them "If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him" if they ever get too tempted. However, some heroes are creative. Much like a torturer using a Cool and Unusual Punishment, the hero does forgive the villain, or at least spare his life, but does so only to inflict suffering and/or enact some poetic justice.


Villains will also do this. If they are doing it for revenge, their aim will be to make the hero feel what they've gone through. Some are mental — rather than wishing to hear So Proud of You, it's their arch-enemy's disapproval they start to crave. Other villains are trying to make the character break down — they subject them to a series of Mind Rapes and make them watch as they destroy what's precious to them, all in an attempt to push them beyond the Despair Event Horizon. Maybe they want to see the heroes cry, or bring them over to The Dark Side. Some villains delight in showing the hero to be Not So Stoic, or they wonder what will happen if they Teach Him Anger... or they just enjoy ignoring the hero's repeated pleas to Get It Over With.

There is no typical Cruel Mercy; each is tailored to the person for maximum effect. However, there are a few repeating variations. Sometimes, one is just allowed to live, especially if he believes Might Makes Right and Asskicking Equals Authority, and now that he isn't the strongest, his self-esteem is non-existent. Similarly, some villains lose it because Good Hurts Evil and Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, so the hero's mercy is a kind of Brown Note. For others, the hero may force them into a mundane life where they go through a daily mental Humiliation Conga. Still more might refuse to take a life themselves but won't deny othersespecially those who have been wronged by the villain — their own chance. In some situations, the hero may decide that being left to live with the consequences of his actions is the most fitting punishment for the villain. And sometimes, if the villain is too dangerous to let free, he is trapped in a Tailor-Made Prison along with the people he hates most in the world, or with a view of something he despises or which upsets him...


Usually, the villain or one of the hero's friends will ask "Why did you let me/him live?" Expect the hero to give a vivid description of how they believe they are being much crueler this way. Might also overlap with Not Worth Killing if the intended message is used to insult the value of the person being spared.

See also Bait the Dog. Not to be confused with Villain's Dying Grace. Contrast Mercy Kill, which aims to do the exact opposite, and Do with Him as You Will, where the hero only spares the villain to let others kill him. Contrast Go and Sin No More, where the villain is grateful for the hero's mercy. Inverse of Cruel to Be Kind, where the act is hurtful but will ultimately benefit the victim. If the Mercy is genuine and the Cruelty perceived, it's Don't You Dare Pity Me!. May be part of And I Must Scream or overlap with Fate Worse than Death.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece has a lot of this due to the fact that despite being focused on fighting, death is very rare in the series. Luffy in particular does this very often. He attacks with all his might, but would rather see his enemy live with all his hopes and dreams gone than downright killing them. Occasionally, however, some villains actually end up better off than they started (Wapol, for example became an incredibly wealthy toymaker and tyrant of another kingdom, and Eneru went to the moon like he originally wanted).
    • This seems to be Blackbeard's modus operandi in dealing with his defeated opponents. If you're lucky, he'll kill you on the spot. If you're really unlucky, he'll have you turned in to the World Government, who'll send your ass straight to Impel Down, an outright monstrous prison where pirates and other criminals are put through such horrendous torture, they beg for death on the mere first level. And Blackbeard greatly prefers the second option. So far, he has done this to Portgas D. Ace and Jewelry Bonneynote . Only the latter escaped alive.
    • Sometime during the Time Skip, he and his crew defeated the rest of the Whitebeard pirates during the Payback War. But their fates are currently unknown.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Goku planned to do this to Frieza during their fight on Namek, beating the tyrant senseless and driving him to a Villainous Breakdown before deciding that, with Frieza's ego in shambles over having been defeated by a Saiyan of all beings, he's Not Worth Killing, outright telling him as such and ordering Frieza to "go crawl off someplace and hide" and continue to live with the shame of his defeat. Later, after Frieza lost his arm and entire lower body, he tried it again before flying away. It backfires both times: the entire reason Frieza lost his limbs in the first place was because he got hit with his own energy disc, and when Goku gave him some energy to at least survive, Frieza turned around and tried to kill him with it; by this point, Goku is done giving Frieza chances and blows him away, outright calling him a fool for not just walking away when he had the chance.
    • Earlier, after Goku tricks Captain Ginyu into switching bodies with a frog, Vegeta chooses not to kill him for this reason, finding Ginyu being forced to live life as a frog amusing.
    • In Dragon Ball Super's Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ adaptation, Gohan easily beats Ginyu-in-Tagoma's body despite being out of shape and only able to hold Super Saiyan form for a few moments. He spares Ginyu and tells him to get lost. This pisses off Frieza so badly, as it reminded him of the aforementioned mercy Goku gave him, that he goes and tortures Gohan for it.
    • Frieza could actually be considered a Deconstruction of this trope. Every time Goku showed mercy with the intent of making him live with the shame, Frieza would either attempt to kill him or blow up the planet, the latter of which in Resurrection F and Super killed everyone on Earth and would have lead to a bad ending if Whis hadn't turned back time. Frieza is the type of foe who needs to be killed.
  • Happens to Ritsuko in episode 23 of Neon Genesis Evangelion. After revealing the secrets of the Terminal Dogma and of Rei and the Dummy Plug System to Shinji and Misato, Ritsuko realises that Gendo used her, and destroys Rei's clones. She then breaks down into tears, inviting Misato to shoot her, saying that she welcomes death. Misato refuses, saying that Ritsuko is a fool for saying so.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist (both the manga and the Brotherhood series), Scar does a violent variation (not exactly mercy) to Dr. Marcoh and really makes it clear that post-Heel–Face Turn, he's still an Anti-Hero. Marcoh comes to Scar admitting that he had created the Philosopher's Stones which were used to wipe out most of the population of Ishval (Scar's country). While Scar has in the past killed state alchemists for less, he's cooled by this point and is also taken aback when Marcoh begs for death (Marcoh had been threatened by Lust and Envy that if he didn't make another Stone for them, they would kill Macoh's entire village). So, what does Scar do? He "helps" Marcoh to fake his death by using his powers to horribly disfigure his face.
    • And by this point, Marcoh loathes himself so much that he doesn't really care. While he has the skill and opportunity to repair the damage later, he decides to keep it as penance.
    • It also served a practical purpose: No one besides the homunculi were able to recognize the disfigured doctor, allowing him and Scar's group to travel with more ease.
  • In Samurai Champloo, a previous comrade of Mugen betrays him so that she will not be alone, something she's terrified of. He kills everyone in the old crew who betrayed him and then just ignores her, even when she asks him to kill her so she can be Together in Death.
  • Hiei of YuYu Hakusho was ordered killed by the village of his birth due to the expectation that any male child born to their One-Gender Race of normally Truly Single Parents would inevitably destroy them if allowed to grow up. Years later, he returned to do just that, but, after seeing the pitiful lives the villagers lived, he came to the conclusion that killing them would only end their misery.
  • In Noir, after Chloe reveals that Kirika was the one who killed Mireille's parents, Kirika begs Mireille to keep the promise that she made in the first episode and kill her. Instead, Mireille walks away, severing their partnership and leaving Kirika with the knowledge that she is now alone. They reconcile in the penultimate episode.
  • Fist of the North Star
    • Kenshiro ends up doing this to Souther, partially. While he does ensure that Souther eventually dies soon enough, the fact that he actually does show mercy to Souther is the dagger through the heart of Souther, who himself had sworn off all kinds of mercy, making it a heavy blow onto his pride. Possibly Amiba as well. Kenshiro doesn't directly kill him and mocks Amiba's inability to avert his fate.
    • He also subjects this to one particular thug with Hokuto Goukin Bundan Kyaku (Iron Muscle Shredding Kick). Unlike the fates of many other thugs that dealt with Kenshiro, this thug just got the muscles of his arms shredded, but by doing so deprived him of his brute strength he used to bully others. Kenshiro then suggested that the thug uses what remains of his life to live a honest life instead of bullying others since he left enough strength for the thug to do that. The thug fled the scene crying because he couldn't do whatever he wants anymore.
  • Veronica of Franken Fran makes one friend (Yura) in her month long stay at a girl's school. Every other student performs multiple acts of bullying, from dumping water on her to writing on her clothes. In the end, none of the bullies (except one) are harmed, and her friend turned out to be the one who was behind all the bullying and sold the bullied girls to pedophiles. Veronica brutally kills the men in Yura's room, along with the bully, and leaves Yura there to explain the situation to the authorities.
  • Ginga Densetsu Weed: Hiro leaving Kamakiri to recover by himself (not likely) comes to this. Hiro has left the Irish Wolfhound wounded, bloodied, de-fanged, and castrated on the ground, but instead of killing him for killing his father when he was a puppy, he leaves him there after saying to live with his wounds to understand the feelings and pain of others. Kamakiri tries to attack him one last time... but fails, leaving him howling in pain and rage as his death arrives.
  • My Hero Academia The villian Shigaraki deals this out to fellow villian Overhaul when he has the chance to kill him, Shigaraki decides it would be a crueler and more fitting revenge to instead takes both of his arms leaving him incapable of using his quirk and then leaves him for the police to pick up and incarcerate him. Effectively leaving him a quirk less and crippled man who will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.
  • The ending of Revolutionary Girl Utena can be seen this way. Rather than actually killing or hurting Akio, Anthy simply walks out on him, leaving him powerless. Since there wasn't really too many ways to kill him anyway, it mightn't have been mercy, as such. But since Akio needs Anthy as a part of his plans, this is the worst thing that could've happened to him, plus he gets to see how Anthy ultimately regained enough of her self-worth to leave him out in the cold forever.
  • The ending of Senki Zesshou Symphogear G has Genjurou sparing Dr. Ver, preventing him from attempting to kill himself upon witnessing all his plans unravel when Maria, Kirika, and Shirabe, Symphogears he manipulated to advance his goals of making himself look like a hero by exploiting the chaos of the moon crashing into the Earth courtesy of Nephilim, his creation, finally wised up and joined Hibiki, Tsubasa, and Chris to stop Nephilim. Genjurou's reasoning is that he's not going to let Ver be written off as having pulled off a "Heroic Sacrifice" in the attempt to stop the moon's fall, instead making sure he's going to see justice done. It was so bad that by the end he's reduced into a giggling fit as he's being led away in handcuffs.
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, after Motoko goes completely berserk and unloads a full clip of a .50 cal anti-material rifle point blank into Gayle's Armed Suit cockpit for nearly killing her, running out of ammo is the only thing that stops her from killing him. At that point, the pressure from the denting of the armor plating was suffocating him inside his suit. She only allowed him to live so that he would forever regret ever hunting her down.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Josuke, the protagonist of part 4 has a Stand that allows him to restore things to their original estate, including wounds. However, when he's angry he can use his powers in pretty sadistic ways. Like one villain who ended up crippled in the hospital, was visited by Josuke. The villain immediately started pleading that he wouldn't hit a poor, crippled man in a hospital. Josuke heals him back to perfect health just so he can beat him up so bad he cripples him again.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, after escaping his restraints Kaneki beats Yamori within an inch of his life and devours his Kagune. Then, having crippled the other Ghoul suitably, he simply leaves him to be finished off whenever CCG finally finds him.
  • The ultimate fate of Queen Nakia in Anatolia Story is this: she's in perpetual house arrest and living comfortably... but she knows that she owes it to Yuri and Kail, the portagonists and her worst enemies, who intend for her to witness how the Hitite Empire blossoms and flourishes without her in power. As a plus, her son Juda aka the person she intended to put in the throne as her Puppet King, has completely deserted her.
  • A meta example comes from Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, which has its primary antagonist Katejina Loos lose both her eyesight and her memory in the final battle to make a surprise appearance at the very end where she is reduced to The Ophelia. The decision to spare Katejina from death was motivated by this trope, as Yoshiyuki Tomino detailed in an interview, describing Katejina as having committed too many war crimes for death alone to be a sufficient punishment. As he directly puts it, "Life was a heavier punishment for her".
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Allelujah Haptism receive a cruel mercy from the Federation after the loses of Celestial Being in Season 1. Instead of being killed by the federation, Allelujah faced his worse fate in their hand by being placed in isolated prison, being muzzled and straitjacketed, and receive dozen torment and interrogation by the federation for 4 years before he finally being saved by his comrade thanks to Nena and Liu Mei information.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • After managing to overpower Sugou in real life, Kirito is fully prepared to just slit his throat and be done with it, but ultimately settles for just knocking Sugou out and letting the cops arrest and incarcerate him, his dreams and ambitions crushed, his body permanently damaged, and exposed to the world as a cyber-criminal.
    • After their fight in Underworld, PoH fully expects Kirito to give him a warrior's death, boasting that he'll just keep coming after Kirito and Asuna again and again until he finally slits their throats and rips their hearts out in real life. Instead, Kirito subjects him to a Fate Worse than Death by turning him into a tree and trapping him in Underworld, declaring that he'll never log out.
  • The Death Mage Who Doesn't Want A Fourth Time: Our protagonist can do this if he thinks his enemies deserve punishment without killing them. The first example is the townspeople who watched in enjoyment as his mother burn at the stake, so he uses his magic to make their fields, walls and houses just, walk away, leaving them helpless.
    • He decides to get payback on the Mirg nation for attacking his new home by sending an army of undead, their own army at that, to harass the villagers and forcing them to evacuate. He then steals their crops, poisons their waters and fields and leaves some undead for good measure, turning thousands of people who had benefitted from expelling him and the Ghoul tribe who took him in from that territory, into refugees.
  • At the climax, Pokémon movie Pokémon 4Ever when the Iron-Masked Marauder is surrounded by angry forest Pokémon as they confront him for all the heinous crimes he has committed, the Marauder begs for mercy, but his pleas are ignored, and they tie him up using String Shot.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman has done this a few times, as his no-killing policy can make it a necessity; in one instance, a man inadvertently killed a mutual friend as part of a revenge spree, but destroyed the evidence. Batman forced the killer to stay in the same small town, referring to it as the killer's "prison," and returned once a year to make the guy sit at the gravesite of the friend he rued killing.
    • Similarly, in Kingdom Come, the evil members of the Mankind Liberation Front are ultimately forced into helping care for the survivors of an attack they helped launch; Lex Luthor is especially galled at having to empty bedpans.
    • Or the time he tracked down the black ops agent who helped frame him (Bruce Wayne) for murder. Since there was no evidence of the man's existence, he couldn't be tried, so Batman put him in Arkham. The spy tells the doctors that he's not crazy; he's a secret agent who framed Bruce Wayne for murder and there's no record of the mission because he was tasked directly to the president. None of the doctors believe him.
    • He also managed to pull this off on The Joker once in "The Devil's Advocate", when the Clown Prince was on Death Row for a crime that he, surprisingly, didn't commit. Batman's investigation found the real culprit, so Joker was spared. But Bats gets one last dig at The Joker.
      Batman: You came close, Joker. Just minutes from death.
      Joker: But I'm still HERE bay-bay!
      Batman: That's right. And when you're sitting here alone... in the middle of the night... unsleeping in the dark. Remember... every breath you take you owe to me. What's the matter? Don't you have any jokes for me?
  • Captain America does this inadvertently sometimes. His enemy Flag-Smasher once went into a lengthy Motive Rant about how he couldn't stand knowing Cap was simply a better person.
  • The Twilight King in Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things. Though enraged when a mortal murders one of his daughters, rather than take revenge directly, he curses the mortal to fall in true love with the dead girl so that he will mourn her loss as keenly as her family does. Forever.
  • Daredevil:
    • In the comics, Bullseye's hatred of Daredevil was actually exacerbated after the hero saved him from an oncoming subway train, which Bullseye considered a humiliation. He gets a nice little speech about it in the issue where he breaks out of jail and kills Elektra.
    • The first arc in Volume 2, "Guardian Devil", focuses on a dying Mysterio wanting to go out on one last swan song, and unsure if Spider-Man is the real deal due to the events of The Clone Saga focuses on Matt instead, trying to drive Matt into a rage so he'll be forced to take his life. Daredevil refuses to give in and instead gives him a brutal “The Reason You Suck” Speech, breaking Mysterio and driving him to shoot himself.
  • In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Batgirl explains Supergirl that she doesn't want Lex Luthor dead because she wants him to suffer. If he's dead she can't make him pay for his crimes which include her parents and Supergirl's cousin's murders.
    Batgirl: Stop. I need him alive.
    Supergirl: But why?
    Batgirl: Because... Because he has to suffer for his crimes!
  • The Flash, rather than killing Inertia for killing Bart Allen, leaves him trapped immobile to stare at a statue of Bart for an eternity. Wally has gone on record in support of killing villains under desperate enough circumstances; he intentionally took a much more sadistic keel in this case.
  • Supergirl: In Action Comics #286, Luthor killed himself accidentally. Because he shot himself with an experimental nuclear Kryptonite ray-gun, Supergirl was capable of finding a method to revive him. Why would she do THAT? Because he was sentenced to life, and she didn't want him to escape his life-term jail sentence through death.
    Lex Luthor: Before I was respected! Now the other criminals will laugh at me behind my back because I was saved by you!
  • Superman seems to do this to Lex Luthor on an almost daily basis without even trying. Apparently, Lexi's ego is so enormous that having a man more powerful than him, who uses his might out of genuine altruism and refuses to work for him, is so incomprehensible that it galls him like nothing else ever could.
  • In one Spider-Man story in the early 2000's, a particularly ugly fight between Spidey and the Green Goblin (the Goblin had just crippled Flash Thompson) ended with Spidey coming within a hair's breadth of finishing Norman off. Spidey spares him, and later tells him that just being a person as horrible as Norman is its own punishment. Norman's reaction implies he sees the truth of this.
    • During "The Gauntlet" and "Grim Hunt," the original Kraven the Hunter is brought Back from the Dead by his ex-wife Sasha, who put Spider-Man and his "spider family" through Hell in the process, killing Madame Web, Mattie Franklin, and Kaine, the last of whom was sacrificed in a Black Magic ritual to bring Kraven back. Having met his end by his own hand, Kraven is not happy to be alive again, especially since he Came Back Wrong because the ritual that resurrected him needed the real Spider-Man, not a clone. During Spidey's subsequent Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Sasha and the Kravinoffs, he nearly kills Kraven with a spear, but Julia Carpenter persuades him not to by showing him visions of a Bad Future that will result should he go through with it; Kraven is not happy, since he wants to die and, according to him, can only die by Spider-Man's hand.
  • Ghost Rider actually has this trope as one of his powers. His Penance Stare does no physical damage, but forces his opponent to feel every single bit of pain or evil they've inflicted on others. Most recover, but have something to think about for the rest of their lives.
  • This is what Cyclops decides to do to Kaga, the crippled evil genius Big Bad of Astonishing X-Men #31-35, who hates the X-Men because they're a bunch of incredibly attractive people with superpowers, whereas he is a realistic mutant, sickly and deformed as a result of being born to a Hiroshima survivor. After Kaga's Motive Rant, Cyclops decides to arrange for Mutants Sans Frontièresnote  medical funding to be used to take the best possible care of him until he dies of natural causes.
  • In New X-Men, Emma Frost, upon catching Kimura trying to assassinate X-23, proceeds to explain to the nigh-invulnerable villain exactly why she acts the way she does by pointing out that she only does what she does to X-23 because of her childhood before erasing her one and only happy memory and then sending her off with the psychically implanted suggestion of hunting down her employers.
  • In the 1993 X-Men storyline Fatal Attractions, Magneto's new Mouth of Sauron Exodus explains to Fabian Cortez that the sole reason why he doesn't "hurl you into oblivion like the insignificant flea you are" is because Magneto himself has decreed that Cortez live for the purposes of this trope, knowing that being stripped of his power and authority over the Acolytes — being reduced to a "victim of someone else's legacy" as Exodus calls it — is a far more painful punishment for the ambitious Cortez than death alone could ever be.
  • In the "Acts of Vengeance" storyline, Magneto captures Red Skull and buries him in an underground tomb. He says he should kill him, but he's not like him. He instead leaves him there, with only air and ten gallons of water.
  • In the 2010 Wolverine — Mr. X one-shot, the titular villain, having lost once before to the titular hero, trains obsessively for months to prepare himself to counter Wolverine's berserker rage, then lures Wolverine into a fight. But Wolverine refuses to let him trigger his rage and ultimately refuses to fight him at all, realizing that leaving Mr. X forever wondering Who Would Win will cause him more torment than simply defeating him.
    • A particularly nasty example is Wolverine's treatment of Matsu'o Tsurayaba, the Yakuza boss who killed Wolverine's lover Mariko. Every year on the anniversary of her death, Wolverine fought his way past Tsurayaba's defences, took a piece of his body, and left him alive. This was taken to the point of Wolverine actively stopping Tsurayaba from killing himself or anyone else from killing him, because Wolvie wanted him to suffer as long as he did. By the time we find out about this, Tsurayaba is missing a hand, an arm, a leg, half his face, and his body is covered with scars and medical implants.
    • Wolverine isn't a stranger to this sort of treatment himself: during Chris Claremont's run, his Arch-Enemy Sabretooth had his "yearly tradition": every year, on the day that Wolverine believed to be his birthday, Sabretooth would track Wolverine down, regardless of where he was or what he was doing, beat him to within an inch of his life... and then walk away, just so that Wolverine knew that Sabretooth could kill him whenever he wished.
    • In a story published in X-Men Unlimited(1st series) #40, 2003, Sabretooth did the same to a man who was hunting him. The hunter was treating Sabretooth like any other beast he hunted, and it was working. Sabretooth turned tables when he refrained his instincts and animalistic tendencies and started to act like a human, using his brain to outsmart the hunter. The hunter, then, thought he would be killed by Sabretooth… what didn’t happen. Sabretooth, instead, took the hunter’s clothes, weapons and technology, leaving him alone and naked in the woods, telling the guy that all he needed to do to survive was behave as an animal.
  • In American Vampire, infamous outlaw-turned-vampire Skinner Sweet attends the book signing of a writer who was there back when Sweet was turned, and has since made a fortune from his one novel, a fictionalized account of the outlaw's story. Sweet exits the event, leaving behind a note saying "You are old and I am young for eternity. So I let you live to suffer and die. Why not? What better revenge is there than that?"
  • In a flashback in Planetary #7, Jack Carter happens to run into an Invisible man, who explains that he's "this year's Herod", a Punch-Clock Villain sent by the government to kill a pregnant local prostitute just in case she's carrying the second coming. Disgusted, Carter does a seemingly ineffectual spell and walks away. When the Herod goes to continue his mission, he finds he's been trapped on that street corner in an invisible forcefield only a few feet in diameter. For the rest of his life.
  • Played with at the end of the Young Justice comic book; when Secret turns back to the light side, Darkseid takes "revenge" by restoring her to life as an ordinary mortal. Though he considers this cruel mercy, in reality it's exactly what she wanted.
  • Towards the end of Nikolai Dante, Arkady/Dmitri has both Jena and Nikolai kidnapped, and says he'll stop torturing Nikolai to death if Jena marries him.
  • The Sandman.
    • The first time Morpheus goes to Hell, he escapes by pointing out that "What terrors would Hell hold if those entombed within could not dream of Heaven?" This gets kicked up a notch when Hell is taken over by a pair of angels after Lucifer abandons his position. The two decide that horrible things will still happen, but for the purpose of reform instead of punishment. This makes everything so much worse, because it implies a false hope that the torment of the damned might someday end. Key word being "false." (The damned, for their part, are astonished that the angels achieved this.)
  • New Republic commander Mirith Sinn is captured and tortured to learn the location of an enemy of the Empire. She holds out until the Big Bad orders an orbital bombardment on her men's secret fallback position. She dejectedly gives him the information he wants...and he orders that the bombardment continue until every last rebel is dead. But he keeps one part of his deal... he lets her go.
  • During the events of "Dead End Kids", the Runaways become stuck in New York City in 1907, where they encounter past versions of Gertrude Yorke's parents. When the Yorkes discover that their daughter is dead, they launch a plan to nuke the city to kill the Runaways. It fails, and the Runaways' leader, Nico Minoru, decides to punish them by casting a spell that forces them to go back and live out the rest of their lives knowing that they and Gertrude will all die, and they can't do or say anything to stop it.
    Nico: They'll go back where they came from. And they'll know. What happens to Gert, what happens to them, they'll know every second it's coming. They won't be able to change anything they do. Or say anything. Not even to each other. For all the world, their short, useless lives will play out exactly like they did before. But inside... they'll never stop screaming.
  • In one of the Marvel Star Wars stories, the Millennium Falcon accidentally breaks through a Negative Space Wedgie to find a Pocket Dimension where a group of former Rebels have isolated themselves from the rest of the Universe. When a group of Imperial Destroyers follows the Falcon, they attack and ultimately destroy this refuge, but doing so eats up all their reserves, leaving them defenseless to the Falcon's guns and unable to cross the border again. The crew of the Falcon decides against destroying the Destroyer, opting to "leave them here, rotting away as a tribute."
  • In the Punisher Franken-Castle arc, Frank spares the life of overzealous monster hunter Robert Hellsgaard. Hellsgaard thanks him for his mercy, which prompts Frank to smirk, "Yeah, right. Mercy," as he leaves him behind, alive but forever trapped in the burning demonplanes of limbo.
  • In My Little Pony: Fiendship Is Magic #1, Sombra ultimately chooses not enslave or harm Radiant Hope in any way as he still had feelings for her after he embraces his inner darkness. Though this ultimately leads to his defeat, Sombra's final act of making the Crystal Empire disappear for 1,000 years is a form of suffering specifically meant for Hope as she is forced to spend the rest of her life as the sole surviving Crystal Pony and isolated from everything she had ever known.
  • In the final arc of War Machine Vol. 2, Rhodey and his friends hatch a complex plan that ultimately results in a group of extremely dangerous White Collar Criminals suffering a collective Fate Worse than Death. When Norman Osborn asks Rhodey why he was spared, Rhodey says that he studied Osborn's psychological profile extensively, and came to the conclusion that leaving him unharmed, but with the knowledge that Rhodey and his friends were too smart for him, would be far worse than any other punishment they could dole out. Osborn laughs this claim off as ridiculous, but as soon as Rhodey leaves, he falls to his knees in anguish, indicating that Rhodey's assertion was 100 percent accurate.
  • In Kick-Ass, Vic Gigante, the big Dirty Cop of the series, is the only major villain to survive the trilogy, but not before Mindy brutally maims him with a Groin Attack which also cripples him waist-down, intending to let him live and force him to become The Stool Pigeon to his fellow Corrupt Cops. The last time Dave heard of him in the ending is that the whole experience caused him to lose quite a lot of weight when he was brought to court to testify.
  • Green Lantern: Red Lantern Bleez intended to inflict this on one of the men responsible for selling her into slavery. She wanted him to live the rest of his life in fear of her, but her leader Atrocitus killed the man on the spot, saying that her method wasn't how the Red Lanterns worked.
  • Lucky Luke: "The Bounty Hunter" ends with the titular bounty hunter, having brought in a small army to capture a wanted Indian (who wasn't even guilty in the first place), be let off by Luke. Luke then claims the reward for the Indian and puts it on the bounty hunter's head instead to let him experience being hunted down.
  • Diabolik usually murders those who have earned his wrath, but sometimes his revenge consists in him making them know he could kill them anytime and leaving after telling them that one day, when he'll be bored enough, he'll come back to kill them, making them live in terror as they wait for him to come back and destroy themselves in the process. Apparently, he never comes back.
    • Done more horrifically to Elisabeth Gay, that he drove to insanity because he knew she considered it a Fate Worse than Death. When she recovered and tried to take her own revenge for that and choosing Eva over her, he let her leave not because of this but he had realized he had gone overboard and couldn't bring himself to hunt her down.
    • Subverted in "Diabolik's Treasure": it seems he's planning to do this to most members of the group that stole his favoured treasures, but in the end his revenge is limited to enjoy their fear as they escape the country as not only this was their own revenge for when Diabolik unwittingly ruined their own lives as part of his capers (and that's something he can respect) but he's actually grateful for them exposing one of his weaknesses and starting a chain of events that destroyed it.
  • Atar Gull is the son of an African chieftain who is Made a Slave in Jamaica. He begins working his way up the ladder, gaining the trust of his masters, the Wil family (who are considered among the kindest on the island, even by the escaped slaves, for such humane treatments as only applying half the beatings prescribed by the law), and using it to slowly ruin them, poisoning their cattle and slaves (including his own son) and murdering their daughter by putting a snake in her bed. When Wil is completely broken (his wife having committed suicide), Atar refuses his freedom, claiming that he'll stay with the master in France and take care of him, earning nothing but praise and admiration from the locals for his devotion. Once Wil suffers a stroke that leaves him unable to move or talk, Atar drops the mask and gloatingly confesses everything, including his intention to keep Wil alive as long as possible, as revenge for his treatment and Wil having hanged Atar's father. When Wil dies, Atar breaks down entirely.
  • Purgatori: After Lucifer takes away her powers and sends her to Earth to suffer never-ending hunger, Purgatori repays him by leaving Lucifer to fend for himself in the pit of hell after he just lost most of his own power due to Cremator's demon-destroying blade.
  • Garfield, Played for Laughs in this comic.
  • Thanos Rising: During his confrontation with his father at the end, Thanos decides to leave him alive just so he can continue to witness his son's atrocities while being unable to stop him.
  • Subverted in Dark Times. Jennir spares the life of the Fallen Hero Demanna, and the latter presumes it’s this trope; robbing him of his honor and cutting off his hand, but leaving him alive to suffer. A disgusted Jennir says that, no, he really is showing Demanna mercy and giving him a chance to regain his honor. Demanna just can’t understand that because of the same arrogance that led to his defeat in the first place.
  • Ultimate Marvel
    • Ultimate Vision: Tarleton, under orders of Gah Lak Tus, drops the AIM satellite out of orbit, killing the people with reentry. He says that they should be grateful, that fire is a clean and nice way to die.
    • All-New Ultimates: One of the Skull Serpents is burning, and asks for help. Scourge helps him... with a knife.

    Fan Works 
  • Megami No Hanabira: Yuuna suggests subjecting Archibald Phillips to this after they defeat him: considering Phillips fancies himself a god, detests humans and is terrified of death, sending him to prison where he would be powerless and ordered around by other humans while he waits for death would be exponentially worse than just killing him on the spot. It doesn't pan out: Metatron sacrifices Phillips to fuel his appearance in the human world.
  • Salem and Miss Malachite from Ruby and Nora love to spare their enemies if it means they suffer.
  • The Lunar Rebellion:
    • In the aftermath of the Pegasopolan rebellion, everyone is eager to see how Celestia will choose to deal with the defeated rebel forces. Her allies are initially furiously outraged when she announces that she will not have the rebel clan leaders executed for their crimes, and the rebels themselves can scarcely believe how light they are getting off... until she reveals that she intends to completely and totally disband the clans, essentially striking their very cultural identity from Equestrian history. The intensely traditionalist clans seem to consider this a Fate Worse than Death.
    • On a more individual level, this is why Sunbeam Sparkle chooses to prevent Dusk Charger's execution, although he had betrayed the Solars, let the Avatar into Canterlot and kidnapped Sunbeam's daughter to deliver her to warlocks, crimes that other characters note fully warrant execution. As far as she's concerned, having to watch the clans be systematically dismantled and the culture he had built his life around destroyed, all the while living with the knowledge that his actions led to this happening, is a far worse fate than any death or torture she could devise. Dusk himself agrees.
  • In The Noble Nine, A Kill BillEsque Tale of Revenge, Crono's only goal in life is to die a noble death in battle... so Samus, playing the role of the Bride in this story, spares him. The other seven members of the Nine are all dead by the end of the story - all by Samus's hand, except for Sonic, who denies her the satisfaction of his death by killing himself in front of her.
  • Some fan fiction views Aang's mercy on Ozai from the Avatar: The Last Airbender Grand Finale as this. "The Avatar calls this mercy." Considering Ozai planned to burn a continent to the ground to secure his rule, on top of a lifetime of other atrocities, his Cruel Mercy may be very well-deserved.
  • In the fanfic The Girl Who Lived, Rose Potter takes the Harry Potter example mentioned further down and ramps up the 'cruel' factor by about a thousand percent. Harry persuades Sirius and Lupin to spare Pettigrew because he doesn't think James would want them to become murderers (and to help prove Sirius's innocence). Rose, on the other hand, describes in rather ghoulish detail how much worse than death life in Azkaban will be for him, and this isn't even the creepiest thing she does.
  • In the Deep Space Nine fanfic The First Tile, a bereaved Trill father whose daughter's death was ordered by the planetary government hopes the monarch has a long life in prison.
    "I'm glad he will spend the rest of his life in a prison, eating meager food, surrounded by cold walls, performing the same kind of labor many Unjoined spend their entire working lives doing. I don't want him to get out. I want him to spend the rest of his life remembering what he did to our world, and when he dies, I hope that even the wind forsakes him. I say that as a father, in the name of every other parent who will, or *has* faced the same truth."
  • In Frigid Winds And Burning Hearts, Princess Luna realizes that killing Captain Braveheart will just confirm in everyone else's eyes that she's a monster. So instead, she spares his life, and teleports him to his commander, telling him to have fun explaining his actions to his superior. Braveheart is not too happy upon hearing her plans. Unfortunately, this backfires, as he just tracks them down again and ambushes Twilight.
  • Mr. Evil's Original Character Fredi Heat sees this method as worse than just killing them. Despite having no qualms about brutally killing someone that looks at him wrong (did I mention he is a "good guy"), he always sees it more cruel to take someone in alive rather than dead. As he quotes "'Alive' just means you can still breath on your own".
  • The courts decided not to prosecute John Patterson for letting his wife Elly go insane and then attacking her in The New Retcons because his reputation was already shot and it'd just be a waste of the court's time. John, having a Self-Serving Memory, thinks he beat the system. He does eventually see their point when Christmas rolls around and he's all alone.
  • A Brief History of Equestria: After Hurricane's coup against Commander Sullamander, the latter's remaining loyalists tried to stage a counter-revolt and were effortlessly crushed. When Hurricane realized that his own (unloving and unloved) mother Star Saber was the leader of the revolt, he spared her — not out of familial obligation, but because he wanted her to live with her utter failure.
  • The Fall of the Fire Empire:
    • After Yue/Tui destroys Yuan's fleet, she lets him live to wallow in his failure and insignificance. Unfortunately for him, Shiyan is much less merciful.
    • And at the end of the story, Jiazin's first act as Fire Lord is to force Qing Xi into retirement as punishment for collaborating with the majority of Azula's crimes.
  • Grey Hoof suffers this in the Waking Nightmares chapter "A Blank Story, part 2". (Story of the Blanks is considered canon.) After he's shown to have learned nothing from his punishment by transferring the curse to everypony in Ponyville just to save himself, Celestia decides he needs a more severe punishment... trapping him in the ruins of Sunnytown, alone, under a spell that makes him imperceptible to others (and causes them to avoid the area). The spell also keeps his mind calm and sane, as falling into madness would be a merciful escape, and Celestia won't allow even that.
  • In The Prayer Warriors, during The Evil Gods, Part 2, after Jason kills the Roman god Socrates, Thalia comes to him with one of Socrates' captured followers. The follower begs Jason to kill her, but he tells her he will not, because murder is a sin, and says she will become his slave and has Thalia take her away to be punished. This may also apply to a Communist Mook in Threat of Satanic Commonism, whom Jerry spares after cutting off his arms and legs and blinding him, so that he can suffer from his wounds and have the possibility of converting and going to Heaven.
  • Sometimes Naruto/Naruichi's mercy in The Darkest Light are this. While one man he begged to be spared for the sake of his son, the next he begged to be spared because "If he dies, he won't be able to teach the lesson." Said man was beaten to unconsciousness then forced to work for free for a month while wearing a sign that makes people ask questions, thus causing him to explain that he's only alive due to his victim's pleas. Then again, the first man Naruichi wanted spared since he attacked Naruichi thinking he was harming his boss. The second gave a fake coin to Naruichi (who is blind), which is considered a horrible crime.
  • Hivefled: Darkleer fell in love with the Disciple and let her go, hoping she could rebuild her life. She didn't want to, and tracked him down with the intention of killing him for not letting her join her dead lover.
  • When Sasuke defects in Reaching for a Dream, Naruto lets him leave, just to rub in that Sasuke was no match for him. Subverted however when Naruto's words drive Sasuke to attack him in a rage, causing Naruto to kill him.
    Naruto: "You're old enough to be making your own decisions, so if you want to shack up with a weirdo like Orochimaru, that's fine with me, just make sure you can live with the consequences."
    Sasuke: "Wait, you mean you're just letting me go?"
    Naruto: "We both know that you're not even close to being strong enough to get away from me unless I let you. So run away little boy, run away and escape the only way you can. Because I let you."
  • In Swinging Pendulum Central 46 decides to permanently imprison Ichigo in isolation and darkness instead of executing him with the rest of the Visoreds as an acknowledgement for killing Aizen. A very horrible punishment for a guy known for his loyalty to his True Companions. Shinji lampshades it:
    Shinji: What kinda fucked up acknowledgement is that?! Death is better, ya thrice-damned Shinigami!
  • In A New World, Lunarians have invaded Gensokyo en masse to avenge a centuries-old murder, and in pursuit of that revenge, have used Earth's own nuclear weapons to nearly exterminate mankind. Even so, Tenshi isn't overtly concerned until after a brutal battle, her Only Friend Suika is slain by a Lunarian warrior. An embittered Tenshi asks the Lunarian Was It Really Worth It?. The answer (no) and the response (a suicide attempt) so infuriate Tenshi, she invokes Heaven's Mercy on said warrior, condemning her to an unending life of self-sacrifice and absolute piety until the wounds the Lunarians have inflicted upon Earth heal. The broken woman can barely whisper how much worse her punishment is than Hell's Justice.
  • In Vengeance of the Star, Twilight is forced to watch as her adopted son Spike is killed infront of her by assassins. In retaliation she captures them and during their trial, after stripping them of their wings and horns, kills their families in front of them before stripping them of their magic and banishing them from Equestria.
    Twilight: "You three are hereby banished from Equestria, should he ever return, my guards will send you back in worse condition than before." She stated before leaning down and glaring into their eyes. “Now you will know the pain I will have to suffer for the rest of my life, the pain of knowing that your actions have cost you your family, the pain of knowing that you will die alone, with your entire bloodline hated by all of Equestria. The pain of knowing that your entire legacy is now tainted. All. because. of. you."
  • In Harry Potter: Geth, a Quarian admiral who attacked Tali and was (along with the other admirals) telling the Migrant Fleet Blatant Lies about the Geth and life on Rannoch is sentenced to house arrest on Rannoch for the rest of her life. Specifically, she has to live there without receiving the nanites that would let her leave her suit and her apartment has a window that takes up an entire wall to let her see the Geth and Quarians living together in peace.
  • The Second Try: Ritsuko claims that she saved Gendo's life because being in a coma is a fate worse than death to him, though it's not clear whether she's being sincere.
    "Though you still would have died if Ritsuko hadn't found and helped you. At first she always said she didn't even know why she had done it. Later she changed it to 'Having to live in this condition is a bigger punishment for him than death'."
  • Blood and Honor: When Sanguis realizes that killing Jedi isn't as satisfying as she hoped it'd be, she turns to this instead, bringing out the darkness lurking in the hearts of several of her opponents and then leaving them to face the truth about themselves.
  • In tjhe Supernatural/Arrow crossover fanfic God Is Cruel, after Oliver's actions lead to Laurel being stabbed by Slade, her husband Dean furiously tells Oliver he'll kill him if she dies. Later, as Dean prepares to take her off life-support, he tells Roy he's actually going to make sure Oliver lives, and gives to a To the Pain-esque speech about why that's actually worse. Roy is left genuinely terrified by it.
    Dean: God is cruel, Roy, and so am I. You tell him he's going to live a long, healthy life. Death is too easy. Death would be wasted on him. You tell him he's going to wake up every single day with her blood on his hands. You tell him he's going to live with Tommy and Laurel and everyone else he's killed whispering in his ear every night. I'm not gonna waste a bullet on Oliver Queen, Roy. I'm gonna make sure he lives.(leans in closer). Laurel is going to die tonight, and he's gonna have to live with himself for a long time. And trust me, that's worse than death.
  • In All This Sh*t is Twice as Weird, this is the Lord Inquisitor's logic in deferring to the Lady Inquisitor when judging Blackwall. "Toria will forgive him. And... that forgiveness will be harder to accept than any condemnation."
  • In Heart of the Inferno, Smaug meets the aged Bilbo Baggins in Rivendell and attempts to kill the enemy he hasn't seen for sixty years. However, Bilbo has a fit induced by his exposure to the One Ring and searches for his "precious". Disgusted by how the hobbit seems to have become deranged, Smaug finds it unsatisfying to kill an enemy who can't register their own death. He opts to let Bilbo live the rest of his life tormented by insanity.
    Smaug: Be left with the prison of your own design, with the poison of your own making, thief-in-the-shadows. Once again, you've denied me the satisfaction of killing an enemy. But I know death will come for you. It comes for all of us. Especially the insane. Enjoy your tormented world, Bilbo Baggins. I shall certainly enjoy watching you slowly die.
  • In Young Justice: Darkness Falls, the heroes universally agree that it would be far worse to allow their Apokoliptian enemies live and suffer Darkseid's wrath rather than kill them.
  • After his assassination attempt against Emperor Zero in Darwin, Suzaku is imprisoned for life in a cell with a news feed. Zero explains that he wants Suzaku spend the rest of his life watching the world praise Zero and give him more power until he rules the world and to know that every night Zero is having sex with Suzaku's former fiance Kaguya at her behest. Lastly, he wants Suzaku to spend the rest of his life knowing he'd been less than an inch away from stopping Zeronote .

    Film — Animated 
  • The Lion King: Simba corners Scar at his mercy and after a climactic fight scene, eventually sends him off the edge of Pride Rock, where Scar is now at the cruel mercy of his hyena henchmen, who finish the job on their traitorous boss.
    • In the sequel, this is implied to be the case for Kovu's exile:
    Let him run, let him live
    But do not forget what we cannot forgive!
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Quasimodo poises Frollo's dagger above him. Frollo begs for his life, but Quasimodo nails him with his speech that Frollo has lied to him all his life about the world being dark and cruel.
    Frollo: Now, now! L-L-Listen to me, Quasimodo!
    Quasimodo: NO, YOU LISTEN! All my life, you've told me the world is a dark, cruel place! But now I see that the only thing dark and cruel about it is people like YOU!
  • Barnyard: Otis prepares to punch Dag like his dad did, but instead orders him to NEVER return, before hitting him with a golf club and Dag soars out into the distance while howling in pain.
  • Open Season: Shaw prepares to shoot Boog when Elliot leaps in front and the bullet hits him instead. This makes Boog enraged and he pins Shaw to the ground and roars fiercely in his face, before tying him up with his own gun. Elliot's fine; the bullet only shot off his remaining antler.
  • Usually, the objective of a Duel to the Death (whether it's a Wizards Duel or otherwise) is to kill your foe. However, in The Sword in the Stone, Merlin wins the duel with Madame Mim by giving her a rare but non-lethal disease, mocking her by saying she'll be as good (or rather, as bad) as ever in a few weeks after plenty of rest, fresh air, and sunlight. (and Mim really hates sunlight.)

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Kill Bill:
    • The Bride does this to Elle Driver at the end of their fight in Kill Bill Volume 2 after she snatches out her remaining eye and crushes it underfoot, leaving her stuck in the narrow-halled trailer with a poisonous snake while she's thrashing about in a literal and figurative blind panic — all in the middle of the desert. She was toast.
    • She also "spares" Sofie Fatale after chopping off her other arm (the first was lost when fighting O-Ren) during her interrogation and hurling her down a hill, just so that she can deliver a message to Bill, and makes a point that she could do a lot more than just take her arm if Sofie doesn't cooperate.
  • The Princess Bride: Westley threatens Prince Humperdink with a duel To the Pain, which involves leaving the loser alive but severely disfigured, "wallowing in freakish misery forever."
  • In Serenity, Captain Mal spares the Operative's life so he can show him a message which proves that an Alliance experiment killed almost everyone on the planet Miranda and created the Reavers out of the remainder, crushing the Operative's dream of the Alliance creating a "perfect world".
    Mal: "I ain't gonna kill you. Hell, I'm going to grant your greatest wish — I'm going to show you a world without sin."
  • 300: "You there. Ephialtes. May you live forever." To the Spartans, not achieving a "beautiful death", which meant dying in battle, was a horrifying prospect; those who died of old age didn't even get gravestones.
  • In The Karate Kid Part II, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel that he let John Kreese live (after inducing Kreese to break both of his hands, delivering an Ironic Echo of Kreese's own words, and embarrassing him with a nose grab) because for a man as twisted as him, living is a worse punishment than dying. Daniel does the same to Chozen at the end of Part II, but this was more a case of teaching someone who should know better. Kreese doesn't take the humiliation well. The plot of Part III revolves around his plan of revenge.
  • In the recent Burton adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the White Queen, due to her vows not to harm any living creature, condemns her sister to spend eternity wandering the borders of Underland chained to her right-hand man, the one person she loves. Being shunned wouldn't have been so unbearable, since she thought he loved her too... until he tried to kill her, and later begs to be killed to get away from her. The only response from the White Queen is a faint smirk and the reply "But I don't owe you a kindness.". Beware the Nice Ones indeed...
  • Invoked and then subverted in John Ford's My Darling Clementine. After the O.K. Corral gunfight, Wyatt Earp tells Old Man Clanton (whose sons have just been killed in the fight, and who had earlier killed Earp's brother James) that he's not going to kill him: "I hope you'll live a hundred years, so you'll feel just a little of what my pa's gonna feel." Then he tells him to get on his horse and get out of town. As Clanton is departing, however, he suddenly turns to shoot Wyatt, and Wyatt's brother Morgan shoots and kills him.
  • In Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart's character confronts the young Confederate soldier who's just shot and killed one of his sons after mistaking him for a Union soldier, telling him he hopes he lives a long life and has many children so that he can come to feel about them the way that Stewart does. "And then, when a man comes along and kills one of them..." he starts, before he's overcome with emotion and walks away.
  • Little Big Man has a scene where General Custer spares Jack Crabb's life, after Crabb attempts to kill him in his tent but loses his nerve at the last second. Crabb states in narration that this is the worst thing Custer could have done to him.
  • Near the end of The Departed, Costigan finally captures Sullivan, The Mole inside the police force. Sullivan begins trying to threaten and intimidate Costigan, then begins breaking down into tears and pleading with Costigan to "Just kill me". Costigan refuses, saying "I am killing you", meaning that he's intent on bringing Sullivan up on charges, thus ruining his life and forcing him to live through and experience everything that will result from that. Immediately afterwards, Costigan is killed, and a couple scenes later, after getting away with everything, Sullivan receives a rather painless death.
  • Hard to Kill:
    • The ending features Steven Seagal's attempt at this trope. After roughing up the villain anyway, he tells him "Death is far too merciful a fate for you. So what I'm going to do is put you in prison. A nice petite white boy like you in a federal penitentiary... now let me just put it this way: I don't think you'll be able to remain anal-retentive for very long."
    • He does much the same thing to the Big Bad of Fire Down Below, disabling his enemy with one shot instead of killing him, for much the same reasons as the above flick. No one ever accused Steven Seagal movies of an abundance of originality.
  • Ricochet has this exchange:
    Styles: Why don't you just kill me?
  • In Training Day, Ethan Hawke's character leaves Denzel Washington's character alive after their final confrontation. It might seem merciful, but Denzel owes a very large debt to The Mafiya, and Ethan took the money he was going to use to pay them off. He doesn't last long.
  • A lenient example — sort of — happens in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. At first it seems like Blondie is going to ride away and leave Tuco to hang himself when he eventually falls as retribution for double-crossing him. At the last minute, however, he turns, and fires his rifle, severing the rope, saying "Just like old times." Tuco is alive and has his share of the gold, but with no horse and in the middle of the desert, getting back to civilization won't be easy. (Of course, he did manage it when Blondie abandoned him at the beginning of the movie.)
  • In Bent, Max convinces the guards in the concentration camp to let him and Horst have a better, safer job than the other people. Taking rocks from one side of the room, and putting them in a neat pile on the other side of the room. They then have to repeat this task over and over, all day, every day. Eventually they both start going insane from this psychological torture, and start dreaming about piling rocks even in their sleep.
  • The ending of the original Cape Fear (the remake has Cady suffer a Karmic Death instead):
    Bowden: "No! That would be letting you off too easy, too fast. Your words — do you remember? Well, I do. No, we're going to take good care of you. We're going to nurse you back to health. And you're strong, Cady; you're going to live a long life... in a cage! That's where you belong, and that's where you're going — and this time for life! Bang your head against the walls. Count the years... the months... the hours... until the day you rot!"
  • At the beginning of Hocus Pocus, Winnifred Sanderson punishes Thackery by transforming him into an immortal housecat.
    Winnie: His punishment will not be to die...but to live forever with his guilt.
  • In the end of Ever After, Danielle saves her stepmother and stepsister from transportation to America, and almost certain death. When the queen asks her what shall be done with them instead, she simply asks "That you show them the same kindness that she showed me." That kindness would be de facto slavery.
  • In the biopic film Elizabeth, the eponymous queen has Walsingham expose the Catholic plots to assassinate her, culminating in her ex-lover Lord Robert Dudley being exposed as one of the conspirators after she previously rejected him. He knows he is destined for execution as a traitor to the crown and begs for it, but Elizabeth decides: "I rather think to let you live; to remind me of how close I came to being weak."
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan gives us this little gem:
    Khan: I've done far worse than kill you. I've hurt you, and I wish to go on... hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, left her, marooned for all eternity at the center of a dead planet, buried alive, buried alive...
    Of course Kirk is only acting at this point; he already knows they will shortly be rescued
  • In Highlander: Endgame, Jacob Kell's goal is to make Connor MacLeod's life a living hell, killing all those close to him and keeping Connor alive until they are the last two Immortals left.
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: For Klingons, getting captured alive is probably the worst humiliation you can visit upon them. The one remaining crew member of the Klingon ship gets the Enterprise crew to promise to kill him instead of keeping him captive. Later, Kirk orders them to lock him up. When the Klingon shouts, "But you said you would kill me!", Kirk responds: "I Lied".
  • In The Dark Knight Rises:
    Bruce Wayne: Why didn't you just... kill me?
    Bane: You don't fear death. You welcome it. Your punishment must be more severe.
    Bruce Wayne: Torture?
    Bane: Yes. But not of your body. Of your soul.
    Bruce Wayne: Where am I?
    Bane: Home, where I learned the truth about despair, as will you. There's a reason why this prison is the worst hell on Earth: hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy. So simple. And like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope. So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls. I will let them believe that they can survive so that you can watch them clambering over each other to stay in the sun. You can watch me torture a city. And then when you have truly understood the depth of your failure, we will fulfill Ra's al Ghul's destiny. We will destroy Gotham, and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes... then you have my permission to die.
  • In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Smaug briefly considers letting Thorin have the Arkenstone just to watch it drive him mad with greed, and later refrains from killing Bilbo just to make him watch Laketown and the people who helped him burn.
  • In The Duellists, d'Hubert wins the final duel with Feraud with one bullet remaining. By the rule of combat, Feraud's life now belongs to d'Hubert, and he forces Feraud to finally submit to his notions of honor instead. Feraud is to leave d'Hubert alone forever and live out his life knowing that his archrival defeated him.
  • End of Days. After Satan successfully acquires the girl whom he needs to sire his child and dispatches Jericho, he leaves him alive and crucifies him to a building solely so he can lament his failure and personally witness The End of the World as We Know It.
  • In Se7en, the killer has already proven himself to be a monumentally depraved piece of work with the sheer methodical cruelty of his various killings. When he corners Detective Mills during a downtown chase in the rain, he leaves him alive in what appears to be a random moment of mercy. It turns out that he had already been stalking the Detectives who were pursuing him for some time. He had far greater plans for Mills in mind, decapitating his wife Tracy out of Envy and making him the final piece in his murder set by letting Mills kill him out of Wrath.
  • Played with and then Subverted in Hard Candy. Hayley seems to do this when she makes it clear to the pedophile Jeff that just killing him would be too easy, and her ultimate plan is to castrate him so he can never have sex again. She fakes the surgery very well and leaves Jeff mentally defeated. But the whole thing was a trick to further mentally torture Jeff until he finally gives up and Hayley talks him into killing himself.
  • In The Hidden Fortress, after being defeated in duel, Hyoe demands to be killed by Rokurota but the latter decides to spare his life, much to Hyoe's dislike
  • In Thor: The Dark World, Loki's sentence is this. While life in prison would normally be a merciful sentence considering what he's done, consider that for someone who lives as long as Loki, that might mean spending four thousand years in solitary confinement. Odin spared Loki's life because Frigga asked him to, but he did it in the cruelest way possible for both of them, actually making it part of Loki's sentence that they could never see each other again. That's not only a cruel punishment for Loki, it is one for Frigga as well, especially since, unlike her son, she did nothing to deserve it.
  • In Maleficent, at the last second of cursing Princess Aurora, Maleficent responds to King Stefan's begging for mercy with a Curse Escape Clause: the eternal sleep can be broken by True Love's Kiss. Which Maleficent firmly believes does not exist. She's eventually proven wrong when her own kiss awakens Aurora, as by then she's come to love Aurora as a surrogate daugther, therefore fulfilling the 'true love' part.
  • In Cinderella (2015), Ella forgiving Tremaine definitely counts as this, as it means that all of Tremaine's efforts to break Ella have failed.
  • In The Beast of War, a Soviet soldier convinces the Afghan rebels to spare the crew of the tank that massacred their village, then tells the tank commander why:
    Koverchenko: Sorry, sir. Not much of a war. No Stalingrad. How is it that we're the Nazis this time? How is that? I tried to be a good soldier. But you can't be a good soldier in a rotten war, sir. I want you to live to see them win.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman brands certain criminals with a Bat symbol, letting other inmates know they're responsible for particulary vicious crimes, such as the human trafficker at the beginning of the film. These branded criminals are then often murdered in prison by the other inmates (although the inmate who murders the aforementioned human trafficker is paid to do so by Lex Luthor). At the end of the film, it looks like he's about to brand Lex Luthor as well, but instead arranges for him to be transferred to Arkham Asylum.
  • In The Mask of Zorro, Montero lets Diego live in prison rather than killing him so that he can dwell on how everything he loves has been taken from him, including witnessing the death of his wife and the knowledge that his daughter is being raised by Montero. Diego returns the favor at the end, having taken back Elena and ended Montero's schemes. It doesn't prevent Montero from suffering a Karmic Death, however.
  • In I Shot Jesse James, Frank James has Robert Ford at gunpoint. However, he decides to spare Bob, but not before telling him that his Love Interest Cynthy is leaving him for his rival John Kelley. Given everything he's been through, Bob doesn't take this news well.
  • Once Upon a Time in America. Noodles discovers that his best friend Max faked his death, and arranged Noodles' imprisonment and the death of their friends. Now Max is facing his own lengthy prison sentence, he invites Noodles to take his revenge by killing him. Noodles pretends not to recognise him, stating that the Max he knew was a good friend who died long ago. Max says that's a better way than any of getting revenge, and kills himself by throwing himself into a garbage compactor truck.
  • The Grey Zone: At the end, Oberscharführer Muhsfeldt spares Doctor Nyiszli's life, despite not needing to and after the Doctor previously tried to blackmail him. It's implied that Muhsfeldt wants the doctor to suffer more by continuing to be forced to engage in human experiments, stating that they both still have work to do.

  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry convinced his godfather Sirius Black not to kill Peter Pettigrew, the man who betrayed his parents to Voldemort and framed Sirius for this crime, condemning him to a decade of horrible imprisonment in Azkaban. Sparing Peter and turning him over to the magical law enforcement is actually worse than killing him, as Azkaban is guarded by Dementors, foul creatures sucking every positive emotion out of their victims, inflicting a horrible depression on them. Unfortunately, this mercy backfires, as Peter Pettigrew manages to escape and is ultimately responsible for Voldemorts resurrection.
  • In the backstory of Dragon Bones, Oreg is an immortal slave who Cannot Self Terminate, so provoking his owner, the only one who can kill him, into doing it, is his only means of committing suicide. An attempt to do so failed, his owner decided to have him beaten to what would usually be death by someone else, thus keeping him alive.
  • Anastasia Furan does this to Laura in the seventh installment of the H.I.V.E. Series by making her a student of the Glasshouse instead of killing her. She showed Laura the setup of an execution of Otto, Wing, Shelby, and Franz, and then led her away letting her believe the death of her friends was her fault. Laura was thrown in with the rest of the Alphas, who blamed her for their predicament. In addition, Laura was very physically weak, and at a distinct disadvantage in the Glasshouse's rigorous training.
  • In the end of Thomas Sniegoski's The Fallen series, the hero, Aaron, forgives Verchiel, causing him to go back to heaven. Since Verchiel has spent the last few millenia systematically wiping out various angelic offspring, allowing eldritch abominations to thrive on Earth by ignoring his job, and generally being a douche, the welcoming reception is NOT pretty.
  • A Battle Sister in the Warhammer 40,000 novel The Bleeding Chalice refers to the villainous version of this trope: Chaos troops sparing Imperial soldiers because they'll suffer more that way, after she was spared by the "traitor" Sarpedon (who was actually sparing her because he was a good guy at heart(s) and admired her determination).
    • In Trooper Caffran's Day in the Limelight in Ghostmaker, his squad encounters and defeats a Khornate Chaos cult, which worships death. As a reward, he gets to execute the cult leader personally — but refuses, saying that since the cultist longs for death, keeping him alive is the real way to punish him. Gaunt agrees.
    • One of the short stories in Fear the Alien anthology book has a Dark Eldar Archon sparing the life of a woman who answered his question, despite her begging to die since her husband was killed. Unusually for Dark Eldar, though, the Archon was not being intentionally cruel: he spared her life so that she may savour her agony, which the Dark Eldar (being beings who literally feed on pain and misery) would consider a good thing.
    • The Traitor's Hand wraps up with Cain deciding to pull a few strings to get Commissar Beije out of a probable death sentence, not because he likes Beije (he doesn't) but because he knows Beije will hate having to live with the knowledge that he's alive thanks to Cain.
  • Frodo in The Lord of the Rings does this to Saruman. Or so Saruman alleges.
  • At the end of Fool's Fate, the Pale Woman's prophecies have all been thwarted and her power destroyed. She screams at Fitz to kill her, saying that her visions told her this would happen if she failed. Fitz responds that they are not in her vision of the future, but his, and that she dies slowly, alone. She does.
  • This is advocated in The Bible. "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." — Proverbs 25:21-22
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • In The Mountains of Mourning novella, Miles Vorkosigan had to judge an old woman for the killing of her "mutant" granddaughter (who only had a harelip, actually). The woman was upholding cruel traditions she'd grown up with, but executing her (per the law) would not serve any purpose other than to make people cling more tightly to the backwards traditions rather than less. Instead, Miles declared her legally dead and forbade anyone from performing traditional funerary rites for her. In her mind, and in the minds of those who would have agreed with her killing her granddaughter, this effectively destroyed her soul. It also made her legally dependent on her daughter, the mother of the child she had murdered.
    • In Memory, Miles's boss/mentor Illyan's biochip was sabotaged by one of Illyan's subordinates and friends, which nearly drove him insane to the point where he begged for a clean death. After they ferret out the culprit, Miles wonders if the man will commit suicide now that he's been caught, and asks Illyan if he would want to allow that.
      Illyan: Dying's easy. Living's hard. Let the son of a bitch stand his court-martial. Every last eternal minute of it.
  • In Les Misérables, Valjean frees Inspector Javert, the man who hunted him for nearly 20 years of his life, when the latter is captured and sure to be executed by La Résistance for spying on them. Valjean doesn't mean it to be cruel, but for Javert, it's the cruelest thing he could have done: it breaks his brain that he should owe his life to Valjean, whom he thought of only as a criminal and fugitive. The Cognitive Dissonance drives him to suicide. See the entry under Theatre.
  • Done in Animorphs to Visser One (formerly Visser Three): when he's finally captured, he's made to give up his prized Andalite host body, put on trial for his many, MANY crimes, and forced to live out the rest of his life in his natural Yeerk state (i.e. blind and helpless), imprisoned, in complete isolation, and with no chance at ever getting another host body.
    • Also done to David. Rather than kill him, they trapped him as a rat and left him alone on an island.
  • Attempted by Lysa Arryn in A Song of Ice and Fire. When her prisoner, Tyrion Lannister, wins his Trial by Combat, Lysa is forced to release him... so she orders him to be escorted to the Kingsroad, where he will be at the mercy of bandits. This ends up backfiring on her badly. He has the bandit tribes (up to that point only a threat to small groups of travelers) united and armed with military-grade gear, then points them right back at her.
    • Sansa Stark deliberately invokes this trope by convincing Joffrey to spare Ser Dontos by appealing to the Royal Brat's sense of cruelty, telling him it would be far harsher to make Dontos live as a Fool at Court rather than to have him executed on the spot. She was genuinely trying to save the guy's life, and both Dontos and Sandor certainly helped her sell it. Once they cottoned on to her angle. It kind of comes back to haunt her later, though.
    • Arya Stark refuses to grant Sandor Clegane a Mercy Kill when he's wounded and feverish, instead choosing to ride off and leaving him to slowly die. It's implied, however, that despite Sandor's atrocities, she is simply very reluctant to actually kill him, after all they've endured together. She repeatedly tries to maintain it was this trope all the way, but... the Faceless Man training her doesn't buy it for a minute.
  • In Day Watch (the second book of the Night Watch series), a group of Dark Others is convicted of a serious crime and given the option between two fates: execution by hanging (as opposed to the more severe dematerialisation) or being allowed to live in return for never using their powers again and living a normal human lifespan. When they choose the latter option, Gesar (head of the Light One delegation) is asked if he has any opinion, and he reluctantly recommends that their sentence be commuted to permission to perform extremely minor magic, which is granted. One of the Day Watch witnesses notes that, in the long term, this is even crueler than being killed or having no magic at all, as using incredibly weak spells will act as a constant reminder of the power they truly have but can never use.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • Rand, who cannot bring himself to have a woman executed, decides that Lady Colavaere, who usurped the throne of Cairhien and murdered opponents, is to be sent to the smallest farm she possesses, and to live off it. She hangs herself.
    • One villain deals with an uppity mage underling by blocking off her magical abilities with a permanent, insanely complex shielding spell. She then explains that she used the shield rather than an irreversible De-Power spell so the underling could live the rest of her life in the faint hope of finding someone capable of dispelling it. This, in a world where mages who are cut off from their powers tend to die of despair within a few years. By the end of the series, she's still shielded.
  • Discworld:
    • In Wyrd Sisters, Granny Weatherwax attempts this by showing the villain her True Self. Subverted because it doesn't work: Lady Felmet is proud of her strength and cruelty. While she's busy boasting about it, Nanny Ogg clubs her with a cauldron.
    • Featured a lot in the witch books, actually. In Witches Abroad, Lady Lilith locking the witches in a dungeon instead of having them executed is described as this.
    • The Elf Queen tries this on Granny Weatherwax in Lords and Ladies, describing how she'll drive Granny insane, reduced to looking through scraps while remaining aware of how the villagers see her. Too bad Granny already knows what the villagers think of her, and doesn't care.
    • In Maskerade, a band of muggers threaten Granny Weatherwax, only to injure themselves in an encounter with the Ankh-Morpork Opera House's famous Phantom. Granny decides to take pity on them by stitching up their self-inflicted wounds... with a blunt needle.
    • Witch philosophy as a whole runs like this: if you kill your foe, your foe is dead and that's that. If you beat your foe, but let them live, then your foe is beat and knows they've been beat, and they'll know it for the rest of their life, and there's no point in beating a foe if they won't be around to know they've been beat afterward. This is explicitly given as one of the reasons for the setting's Unequal Rites; when one young witch learns a bit of simple Wizard combat magic (which is based on killing your enemy before kills you) her peers can't see the point of it.
    • Magnificent Bastard Vetinari knows usurping rulers like to employ this trope and plans for it. "Never build a dungeon you wouldn't be happy to spend the night in yourself." Said dungeon has locks and bolts on the inside of the door, a secret stash of food, keys, and other things. Also, room service (intelligent magically-mutated rats).
  • In Dune: House Harkonnen, Duke Leto invokes this trope on a man who was involved with the death of Leto's son (and is very remorseful about it, to the point that he is considering suicide):
    Leto: I sentence you... to live.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, when Boba Fett escapes from the sarlacc's stomach, he considers killing it, but leaves. The sarlacc asks him why, and he says that leaving it alone in the desert, immobile and depending on creatures falling into its mouth every few years for food, will be a more fitting revenge.
  • I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is very, very much about this: The antagonist is an insane, sentient supercomputer who has brutally murdered the entire population of Earth, save for five people he keeps indefinitely alive inside his own systems and tortures for his own amusement. And when four of these five people find a way out, the supercomputer punishes the remaining survivor by making him incapable of suicide and altering his perception of time. The computer game adaptation expands on the supercomputer's motivations, by explaining that in becoming sentient, he was driven mad by only being able to use his vast intellect to kill others.
  • After Mr. Wickham runs off with Lydia in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mr. Darcy tracks them down and bribes Wickham into marrying Lydia and going into the priesthood on the condition that Darcy gets to beat the crap out of Wickham. The punishment is threefold: Wickham is trapped for life with the most annoying person in the entire P&P&Z universe, he has to give up gambling and seducing women, and he can't run away from any of this because he can't move under his own power. Considering that the Bennett family probably would have just killed him, this punishment is somewhat more fitting.
  • In one of the Horrible Histories books, Terry Deary writes an account of Lambert Simnel, a peasant boy who was chosen to be the figurehead of a rebellion against Henry VII because he resembled the Earl of Warwick. Henry crushed the rebellion and made Simnel one of his servants in a display of Pragmatic Villainy. In Deary's account, Simnel is left shellshocked by watching the rebels being slaughtered, and writes: 'Cruel Henry had the real Earl of Warwick put to death, but cruellest of all, he sentenced me to live'.
  • Used in one of the John Carter of Mars books. A minor bad guy has just been caught rigging a duel to put John Carter at a disadvantage, and the jeddak orders said bad guy to duel Carter. Carter simply carves an X in the guy's face, then disarms him and declares that he's satisfied because living with that scar is a Fate Worse than Death.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel deliberately invokes this in the sequel Sir Percy Hits Back when he tells his Arch-Enemy Chauvelin that he finally has his chance for revenge. Chauvelin naturally assumes that the hero intends to let Chauvelin's daughter be executed, but finds out at the end that Sir Percy's "way of hitting back" is to save his daughter and spare his life. No! Anything but that!
  • In Roger Zelazny's Forever After, Gar Quithnick uses a nerve strike on a deposed villain that will kill him the instant he holds himself superior to another person, although he can still live a long life of humility.
  • God in Stephen King's Desperation.
    "You said 'God is cruel' the way a person who's lived his whole life on Tahiti might say 'Snow is cold.' You knew, but you didn't understand. Do you know how cruel your God can be, David? How fantastically cruel? Sometimes he makes us live."
  • Lanre in The Name of the Wind lets Selitos live after destroying all they hold dear.
    • Kvothe himself does this to the leader of a group of thieves and rapists pretending to be Edema Ruh. The rest of them he simply kills, but he wounds the leader fatally in the stomach and leaves him alone to die by inches, leaving behind a water skin only so that dying of thirst won't end his pain before the wound kills him.
  • Honor Harrington: When pragmatic politics requires that she can't simply have them offed, or even tried, Queen Elizabeth III of Manticore forces the two conspirators most responsible for her father's death into exile on newly-annexed and quite primitive Basilisk, away from their political power bases, and allows the third to move to Sphinx and perhaps find a treecat to adopt her. Being empathic, every treecat will know she's a traitor.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • If you've pissed off Harry Dresden and he doesn't kill you, it's because he's making sure you really suffer. On one occasion, a man possessed by a Fallen Angel "agreed" to repent before Knights of the Cross — since technically, getting such repentance is their job, it gave him immunity from them, but not from Harry. This comes back to bite him later.
    • Mab keeps giving Harry the option of giving her disgraced Winter Knight a Mercy Kill. Harry says he doesn't deserve it. Harry does eventually kill him but he's only doing it because he needs to claim the Mantle of the Winter Knight. He refuses to consider it mercy.
  • Wizards in the Sword of Truth like doing this. Zoranders and Rahls are especially well-known for it.
  • Implied in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. After Frankenstein's death, the monster himself explains how letting the monster live would have been a more satisfying revenge than killing it outright, since forcing it to live alone and in guilt of its crimes would be torturous.
  • In the final Mythos Academy book by Jennifer Estep, Gwen is fighting her nemesis, Vivien, who murdered Gwen's mother and many others. She uses her psychometry magic to shove every bit of suffering she'd experienced in her own life or through others' memories into Vivien's head until her mind broke. When last seen, Vivien is curled up in a ball mumbling and begging for it to stop. It's implied that her condition is permanent; rather than kill her, the good guys stick her in prison to live out the remainder of her days.
  • In the third book of the Inheritance Cycle, Eragon does this to old blind Sloan by cursing him to wander in the land of the elves and never visit his beloved daughter again unless he becomes a better man. By the end of the series, Sloan hasn't changed enough to break the curse, but Eragon at least restores his eyes so Sloan can watch his daughter and granddaughter from afar.
  • In Sharon Kay Penman's first novel, The Sunne in Splendour, Edward of York has every good reason in the world to execute the defeated Marguerite d'Anjou, but refrains. She asks him the Armor-Piercing Question: "Even if it were a mercy?" His response: ''Especially if it were a mercy."
  • Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin. Because Blaine had a damn good reason for killing his father (in addition to raping his own daughter Mari, he had beaten Blaine and his brother Carr for years), one of King Merrill's advisers convinces him to commute what should be a beheading offense to transportation to a Penal Colony in the far north. It's not much of an improvement: despite Merrill sending the prison warden a note saying he is explicitly forbidden from killing Blaine, it's only Blaine's own determination and badassery that let him survive. Downplayed in that Merrill is genuinely being merciful here, but can't simply pardon Blaine for publicly killing a nobleman.
  • The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok: When Aslaug leaves Aki and Grima, the couple that murdered her foster-father, she forgoes taking revenge on them, because they also raised her; but she predicts that their lives will be unhappy and will only go downhill from there.
    "[...] I will not do you any harm—but I now pronounce that each day will be worse for you than those that have passed, and your last day will be the worst."
  • Deconstructed in Villains by Necessity, through the actions of its chief Hero Antagonist Mizzamir, who could best be described as a Lawful Good Evil Overlord.
    • Mizzamir detests killing, which he views as barbaric and wrong, preferring more "enlightened" methods of dealing with criminals. Unfortunately, these involve turning them to stone and stripping them of all their free will. Even though Mizzamir is doing his best to adhere to the Thou Shalt Not Kill trope, the story does display that the action isn't really that much better and only technically counts as "merciful." The book's leads (and who include among them an unapologetic assassin) openly admit they'd prefer being killed to what Mizzamir would do to them.
    • The book's backstory reveals that brainwashing people and robbing them of their free will was a recent act for Mizzamir, and his previous actions were even worse. When his compatriot Sir Pryse's brother was turned to the dark side, Pryse begged Mizzamir for mercy and not to kill him. Mizzamir's "mercy" was to turn Pryse's brother into a horse. This really turned out to bite him in the ass, as Pryse realized just what a horrible person Mizzamir was below the surface and joined the forces of darkness to dethrone him.
  • The ending to R.S. Belcher's Nightwise features this in the final showdown between Laytham Ballard and Dusan Slorzack: after a grueling Wizards Duel, Slorzack realizes that with his supply lines shut down, there'll be no more deliveries of food and water to his home in the Greenway; worse still, thanks to his previous Deal with the Devil, he can't leave the Greenway to stock up on supplies without Satan claiming his soul, and due to its nature as an impenetrable sanctuary that even the Devil can't touch, Slorzack can't affect the world outside the Greenway. So, caught between dying of starvation and suffering for all eternity in Hell, he decides to let Laytham kill him, even delivering an impressive speech in an attempt to Face Death with Dignity... only for Laytham to shoot him in the leg and leave him to it.
  • Breq's orders regarding their captive instance of Anaander at the end of Ancillary Mercy, overruling Sphene's offer to throttle her: let her go, because she can't really do anything to hurt them, and now she'll have to ask nicely to be taken to another system instead of being able to order it - and that will, subjectively, be way worse than simply being throttled.
  • A rare villainous example: This (or Cruel Faux Mercy?) is the modus operandi of Sybil Rorke in the EF Benson short story "Inscrutable Decrees." When her act of unconcealed cruelty resulting in the death of a small girl is revealed, she is very likely Driven to Suicide.
  • In The Rising of the Shield Hero, the Queen appeals to Naofumi's sense of vengeance with precisely this, saying that if the King and her first daughter were to die, it would be like throwing away a golden opportunity for a moment's satisfaction. Naofumi agrees, and instead decides to let them go after stripping their titles and changing their names via royal edict.
  • The Belgariad: Belgarion punishes a Cultist who threatens his family and kingdom by giving the man a small farm... on a tiny, remote Deserted Island in a bleak, storm-wracked sea, where his fellow cultists will never find him.
  • The Word for World Is Forest. When Selver captures Captain Davidson, the human who raped his wife causing her death, Selver ignores his demand that he Get It Over With and has the Athsheans maroon him on a now barren island that was deforested by the human loggers under Davidson's command. He could adapt to this, but Selver acknowledges that Davidson will more likely Go Mad from the Isolation instead. No-one's going to go looking for Davidson either — the humans have agreed to leave Athshe and assume he's been killed anyway.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In one episode, a hypochondriac sells his soul to the devil for immortality. He starts thrill-seeking, but his wife dies trying to stop him from jumping off a building. He's convicted of murder and tells his lawyer to get him sentenced to the electric chair, but his lawyer manages to talk the judge down to life in prison instead.
    • Combined with a "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner in "The Obsolete Man". "Yes! In the name of God I WILL let you out!"
    • A robber wakes up in an afterlife — and quickly realizes that, through his companion, can wish for absolutely anything, ever... and gets bored after a while... and realizes he's in Hell.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The end of the episode "The Family of Blood": "We wanted to live forever. So the Doctor made sure that we did." In fact, an earlier warning that he may be forced to kill the family is revealed to actually have been an offer of kindness in comparison (though what he had really been pushing for up to that point was to help the whole family find a planet they can live on peacefully without harming any intelligent creatures).
    • In a later episode, "I forgive you" was almost certainly as devastating to its target, but the Doctor probably didn't mean it to be. But then, what could possibly be more devastating to the Master than being at someone's mercy, i.e., being under another's mastery? So much so that when Lucy shoots him, he REFUSES to regenerate, despite having spent the entire classic series descending to progressively lower depths just to keep himself alive.
    • Also, in "A Good Man Goes To War", he shows his cruel mercy by making the man who plotted to kill him instead get known as "Colonel Runaway."
      Strax: Colonel Manton, you will give the order for your men to withdraw.
      The Doctor: No. Colonel Manton, I want you to tell your men "run away."
      Colonel Manton: What?
      The Doctor: Those words. "Run away." I want you to be famous for those exact words. I want people to call you Colonel Runaway. (getting angrier) I want children laughing outside your door, 'cause they've found the house of Colonel Runaway. And when people come to you and ask if trying to get to me through the people I love! (he composes himself)... is in any way a good idea, I want you to tell them your name. Look, I'm angry, that's new. I'm not really sure what's going to happen now.
      Madame Kovarian: The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.
      The Doctor: Good men don't need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.
      Madame Kovarian: Give the order. Give the order, Colonel Runaway.
    • The fate of Strax is a case of this. The Doctor sentenced him to become a nurse. Problem being, Strax is a Sontaran, a fanatic cloned warrior race who consider dying on the battlefield the ultimate act of honor (to the extent that they only have three fingers, since that's all that's necessary to hold a weapon and pull the trigger.) To not only deny him the ability to die on the field of battle, but be forced to prevent others, often his enemies, from dying of the field of battle, is Cruel Mercy bordering on Ironic Hell. This is, however, mostly glanced over, and Strax has taken to his new duties surprisingly well.
    • The War Doctor had every intention of dying with the Gallifreyans and Daleks when he activated the Moment, a sentient superweapon, as he believed he didn't deserve to live. The Moment understood just how much this trope would hurt him.
    The Moment: Then that's your punishment. If you do this, if you kill them all, then that's the consequence. You. Live.
    • In "The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos", Graham initially advocates killing the villain Tzim-Sha (AKA Tim Shaw), but eventually opts to seal him in a stasis pod that preserves its inhabitant in a state somewhere between life and death, in a display of both this trope and A Taste of Their Own Medicine.
  • A Law & Order episode ended with the wife of a man who blew up a helicopter (killing all six passengers, including his wife's alleged paramour) begging the court to not use the death penalty. When it was revealed that the wife was the Chessmaster who set the whole thing in motion by faking the affair, the attorneys asked why she begged for mercy for her husband. The answer: she wanted him to live a long life knowing he was powerless and trapped.
  • Angel:
    • In season 3, Angel's newborn son Connor is kidnapped by his old enemy Holtz, kicking off a series of events that result in Holtz taking Connor to Quor'toth, a hell dimension referred to as "the darkest of the dark worlds." Lilah and Wolfram & Hart were present during the incident, planning to capture Connor for research purposes, but seeing Angel overcome with grief at the loss of Connor, Lilah is perfectly content to just let Angel suffer and drives off.
    • Fred attempted this when she found out exactly who sent her to Pylea, and opened a portal to a far worse hell dimension. However, Gunn couldn't bear to see her do that to somebody else, so he ran up and broke the man's neck before he could get sucked in.
    • Angel himself spent many years as a soulless vampire committing countless atrocities including killing everyone in his village including his own sister. After torturing and killing the favorite daughter of a tribe of Kalderash Gypsies, they curse him by restoring his human soul, thus afflicting him with a conscience and condemning him to an eternity of remorse for the crimes he has committed.
    • Later, Connor locked Angel in a steel coffin and dropped him in the sea, knowing that he would not die, but starve and go mad.
  • D'Hoffryn pulls one of these on Anya in an episode of Buffy. Overwhelmed with guilt over slaughtering a fraternity for a vengeance wish, Anya begs D'Hoffryn to undo it. He tells her the price is the life of a vengeance demon; to atone for her actions, she is all too happy to accept death. He then summons Anya's friend Halfrek and kills her instead.
    D'Hoffryn: Haven't I taught you anything, Anya? Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain.
  • Highlander:
    • In the episode "The Colonel", during a flashback set in World War I, Immortal Simon Killian ignores an order that the war has ended and orders his men to attack, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of many soldiers on both sides. At his trial, he is initially convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad, but Duncan testifies that Killian was insane at the time and didn't deserve execution. Killian is sentenced to life in prison, spending 70 years locked up.
    • In another episode, the crew of a ship mutinies against their uncaring captain, an Immortal. Duncan convinces the crew to leave him on a deserted island, rather than shoot him. When the captain pleaded with Duncan not to leave him there, Duncan told him he brought it on himself and to be thankful he still had his head attached. The Immortal captain spent over 100 years on that island, dying of hunger and thirst every few days, only to revive.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • Captain Kirk and company at one point find themselves trapped with the infamous Harry Mudd, an Affably Evil fraudster. The Enterprise crew works together with the villain to escape the android-run prison that they are trapped in, but in the end Kirk decides to leave Mudd behind. Mudd is left to enjoy a life of luxury, but is also left with at least 500 androids— all of which have been programmed to mimic his overbearing, nagging wife (and ignore his override commands!).
    • Forcing Cyrano Jones to pick up every single tribble on K-7 (a task estimated by Spock to take 17.9 years), instead of arresting him for trial, is a form of Cruel Mercy on Kirk's part. Especially when you consider there's nothing to stop the tribbles breeding...
      • Kirk had told him that the sentence he would have received for the crime would have been 20 years, so he considered it a better option. Still, the problem with them continuing to breed was a concern that no-one mentioned.
      • Given the extreme amount of time, it's possible they had already factored breeding into the calculation.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • "The Wire." Garak mysteriously collapses, leading Bashir on a quest to the Cardassion Union to meet the one man capable of saving Garak's life, Enabran Tain. The problem is that Tain is the man who exiled Garak from Cardassia and now hates his former protege with a passion. When he quickly offers Bashir all the information Bashir needs to save Garak's life, Bashir is surprised and thankful. Tain chastises Bashir's gratitude telling him — to Bashir's growing horror — that he's not doing Garak a favour by saving his life. He wants Garak to live a very long life in exile, surrounded by people who hate him for being a Cardassian and knowing he will never, ever be able to return to his beloved homeland again.
    • "Sons of Mogh." Cultural differences resulted in Cruel Mercy to Worf's brother Kurn. With their family dishonored in the eyes of the Empire, Kurn seeks Worf out to give him his honor back... by killing Kurn in a specific ritual. When Dax puts the pieces together (the identity of the Klingon that recently arrived; Worf's belligerence toward Quark over acquiring a specific type of Klingon incense), she arrives just after Worf has struck with the ritual blade, but is in time to have Kurn transported to the infirmary and save him. Denied the restoration of his honor (especially since Sisko threatened Worf not to try it again), Kurn suffers a Fate Worse than Death for a Klingon, and slips into a deeper depression, turning suicidal... until Worf decides to provide him with a new identity, and have Kurn's memory wiped, so that he can start his life as a Klingon anew.
    • In one episode, O'Brien meets an alien who is specifically bred for Hunting the Most Dangerous Game by a Proud Warrior Race. The prey ultimately gets captured by the hunters in a shameful way, so they give him a Fate Worse than Death by sentencing him to go back to their homeworld alive and caged, the ultimate humiliation. O'Brien rescues him and allows the hunt to continue, to the joy of both prey and hunters.
    • In the episode Broken Link Odo is judged for killing a member of his species and as punishment he is stripped of his shape shifting abilities and turned into a humanoid. One of his fellow changelings sadly comments that it would've been kinder to simply kill him.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In the episode "Too Short A Season", a now-aged admiral returns to negotiate with a hostage-taker he had previously betrayed years ago—the terrorist wanted weapons, but the admiral gave them to both him and his enemies to preserve the balance. The admiral is taking illegal drugs that make him de-age, but eventually cause incredible pain and death. When they finally meet, the terrorist initially wants to kill the admiral with one of his own smuggled weapons for poetic justice, but then decides a better revenge is to leave him to live in the pain caused by his drugs.
    • In the episode "The Survivors", the Dowd Kevin Uxbridge invoked this on himself. After an attack by the Husnock resulted in the death of his beloved human wife, Kevin used his powers to kill every Husnock in the galaxy with a single thought. Out of guilt, Kevin exiled himself on the colony world with only a replica of his wife to keep him company and remind him of his crime. Captain Picard notes that his crime is beyond the human scale to judge, but Picard notes in his ending log that if he sees it as fitting, then he should be left alone.
  • Heroes:
  • The Shield:
    • Midway through the final season, popular supporting cast character Ronnie Gardocki gives a speech about how killing turncoat murderer Shane Vendrell would be too merciful and would be more content with him rotting in jail for the rest of his life. The irony fairy strikes Ronnie at the end of the series as he is arrested and facing possibly spending the rest of his life in jail. A nasty bit of subversion, given that Ronnie survived countless injuries that would have killed lesser mauve/red-shirt characters over the course of the series, let alone him being the only subordinate of Vic Mackey's to survive the end of the series alive.
    • Vic Mackey's final fate as well could be described as "cruel mercy"; made to face the fact that he turned his protégé into a man who murdered his pregnant wife and young son, forced to watch his most loyal friend arrested (with his betrayal of Ronnie shoved into both men's faces for added "fuck-you"-ness), and then ordered out of the police precinct, now knowing that every one of his sins are now public knowledge amongst the rank and file police officers who used to look to Vic as the precinct's resident Alpha Male. Vic Mackey was given immunity for his numerous and varied crimes, and got a nice cushy contract working for ICE to boot. However, Agent Murray, in her capacity as Mackey's Literal Genie, tells him that he's not going to be out on the street busting skulls like he used to; he's going to be sitting at his desk, with its sterile surroundings and bad lighting, doing paperwork for his entire tenure. Noncompliance means dissolution of his immunity agreement, and off he'll go to prison. And once said tenure is over, he'll be kicked out and never be allowed to work in law enforcement again. Some familiar with Mackey's character would see this as his own personal hell. This is open to interpretation, however, as the last scene of the series is Vic strapping on his pistol and heading out into the night, suggesting that he will somehow find a way to continue being who and what he is.
  • In Robin Hood, Robin spares Gisborne's life after he has killed Marian, the woman they both loved, and Robin's wife. Gisborne begs Robin to end his life; instead Robin spares him and forces him to live with his guilt (though by the next episode Guy is terrorising the village of Locksley and ends up killing the new regular's kid brother, so letting him live probably wasn't such a good idea after all). They do end up reconciling by the end of season 2, especially after finding out that they share a half-brother (by Robin's father and Gisborne's mother), only for both to be killed in the Grand Finale.
  • Played with in Firefly episode "Shindig" when Mal is informed that not killing a beaten foe in an honor duel indelibly stains their honor, as they've been marked as Not Worth Killing. Mal considers this as Atherton is lying on the ground.
    Mal: I bet. It would be humiliating, having to lie there while the better man refuses to spill your blood. Mercy is the mark of a great man. [stab] Guess I'm just a good man. [stab] Well, I'm alright. [throws down his sword and walks away from his more-wounded-than-necessary opponent]
  • Blake's 7
    • Towards the end of Season 2, Blake calmly refuses to kill his nemesis Travis, now a crippled fugitive. Considering what happens in the season finale, this turns out to be a pretty major head against wall moment, something both Jenna and Travis point out in the scene itself.
    • In "Orbit", a Mad Scientist invents a superweapon and wants to join with Servalan to rule the galaxy. When the weapon is destroyed, Servalan (who's had no problem killing those who've failed her in the past) decides that leaving him alive will be a better punishment, knowing what he might have been. As it turns out, he's killed right after she leaves by an abused underling.
  • A villainous example is seen in the Merlin (1998) TV miniseries. After he turns against her, Mab removes Frik's powers, but doesn't kill him, instead leaving him to wander the world in his misery, not a magical being but not quite human either. Luckily for him, he turns out to be quite happy as a human.
  • There's a particularly vicious example in La Reina Del Sur where Teresa, a drug trafficker in Spain, captures and tortures one of her many enemies, a French heroin trafficker who also uses the drug to keep women high and under his control in his brothel. She has him savagely beat with a bat to the point where his spinal cord is damaged beyond repair, yet she leaves him alive so that he can "drag himself at the feet of others like the animal that he is," as Teresa stated (she had major issues against someone using drugs to force women into prostitution). He is killed in the following episode for telling the cops about it, though.
  • Farscape:
    • At the end of Season 2, John is strapped to an operating table to remove the neural chip Scorpius had implanted in his brain. Partway through, Scorpius comes in, incapacitates the doctor, takes the chip, and... lets John live, strapped to the table and unable to speak. It's especially fitting given what drives Scorpius.
      Scorpius: I condemn you John Crichton... to live. So that your thirst for unfulfilled revenge will consume you! Goodbye.
    • In the Season 4 episode "Mental as Anything" Macton (the man who killed D'Argo's wife) attempts to break D'Argo's mind by trapping him in a mental recreation of his cell on Moya. Luckily, D'Argo prevails and ends up breaking Macton instead by trapping him in a mental recreation of his worst memory - disfiguring his sister's corpse to make it look like D'Argo killed her. When asked why he didn't kill Macton, D'Argo can only say he wasn't enlightened enough to give the man a Mercy Kill.
  • True Blood. Eric wanted to leave Russell in the sun to burn, until he had a vision of Godric and decided to spare Russell. By burying him in concrete the following night. Naturally, his vision of Godric does not approve. It also backfires, as a vampire zealot ends up freeing Russell in an attempt to overthrow the Authority. Eventually, though, Eric finally has his vengeance and stakes Russell.
  • Used quite often on Burn Notice. Though some of his opponents do get killed as a result of Michael Weston's machinations, just as often they are left alive, in the burning wreckage of their lives, holding the match as the police sirens close in.
    • Special mention has to go to the episode where Agent Pierce learned that the man who killed her fiance years ago has become a CIA asset due to his status as a Knowledge Broker, and because he keeps turning over his information piece by piece, the CIA has been forced to allow him to continue living like a king. She makes the man think he's about to die from a rare and lethal virus, so the man calls his son so the son can take all the information the father was using and continue to live large off of it. When that happens the team she has following the son takes him and the information into custody, meaning that now both the man and the son have officially outlived their usefulness. Everything is then summed up in the following quote.
      There is no virus. We have the information you murdered Gene for. We have your son. And we have you. I'm not killing you, Ahmad, but believe me, your life is over.
  • Hotch explicitly cites this idea on Criminal Minds when he explains to Haley why he doesn't think that Foyet will make an explicit attempt on his life.
  • In the CSI episode "Living Legend", Mickey Dunn, a legendary mob boss thought dead for decades, goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge on the people who tried to kill him. The reason why he waited this long is revealed when he goes into cardiac arrest: the bullet in his chest moved and he was told that he only had a week to live. When he wakes up, he brags about how this will go public and his legend will be revived only for Catherine to show him the bullet: the hospital doctors (much more competent than "mob doctors") removed the bullet with no problems, and estimate Dunn now has about 20 years to live, all of which he will spend in a prison filled with a generation of criminals who don't know who he is and eventually fade to obscurity.
  • On Luther, the title character gives this to Ian Reed, refusing to kill him and insisting he is punished for his crimes despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he's transparently trying to commit Suicide by Cop. He's very unhappy when Alice Morgan then decides just to kill him anyway.
  • Parodied in Blackadder Goes Forth. Blackadder and Baldrick crash behind German lines and are captured during World War I. The Red Baron tells them that rather than have them shot, they're going to be sent to a convent to teach home economics to girls. "For a man of action such as yourself, the humiliation will be unbearable!" The punishment doesn't seem like such a bad thing to Blackadder.
  • Breaking Bad
    • Gus Fring does this to Hector Salamanca, keeping him alive and visiting him every time he kills someone related to Salamanca. Made worse by the fact that Salamanca can only move his finger. This backfires spectacularly when Hector, with Walt's help, manages to kill Gus via suicide bomb.
    • This started even earlier with Better Call Saul when Gus pays for a hotshot neurologist to come rehabilitate Hector after his stroke— but only just until he's sure that Hector is really still in there, and no more.
    • Near the end of the series, before the neo-Nazis kill Jesse, Todd argues to keep him alive so they can continue making meth. Walt, who originally called in the neo-Nazis to kill Jesse, agrees, thus forcing Jesse into a life of slavery and telling him that he watched Jane die just to break his spirit.
  • Horatio Hornblower: Horatio attempted this on Simpson, after being given a free shot at him when he cheated in their duel. After hearing Simpson beg for his life, Horatio spares him, declaring that he's not worth the gunpowder. Ultimately subverted in that Captain Pellew disagreed, and also didn't take kindly to Simpson trying to backstab Horatio after that declaration.
  • In Once Upon a Time, Snow White is in a major Heroic BSoD and shows signs of being a Death Seeker. She goes to Regina and asks her to end the feud (and her misery) and just kill her. Regina is at first happy to oblige, but then notices a dark spot in Snow's heart. Regina gleefully explains that that spot will grow, and darkness and evil will consume her. It will destroy her and her family. So Regina decides to let Snow live, despite her now begging for death, knowing that this will be her revenge.
    • In a later season The Evil Queen, separated from a reformed Regina, threatens to unleash the water from The River of Lost Souls on the whole town of Storybrooke, unless Snow White and Prince Charming come to her to be executed. After not finding a proper solution, they agree, since they will be Together in Death. Realizing this, The Evil Queen instead infects their hearts with a modified sleeping curse: one of them will be asleep, if they are woken up by True Love's Kiss, the other one will fall asleep in their place, making them live unable to be together.
  • In Spartacus: Blood and Sand both the Romans and the rebels get in on this. It backfires every single time.
  • Defiance: In "The Serpent's Egg", Irisa lets Daigo live despite him being responsible for the abuse she suffered as a child, because being forced to live a normal life is far greater a punishment than any torture or execution she could give him.
  • In the episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? called "The Tale of Cutter's Treasure," a boy’s little brother is kidnapped by the ghost of Jonas Cutter, a pirate captain cursed by the boys’ grandfather to guard a cave filled with treasure but never be able use it. He rescues his brother, and defeats Cutter in battle with a magic dagger, but he quickly realizes that using the dagger on Cutter would put his his soul to rest. Rather than allow Cutter to be free from his curse he breaks the dagger and abandons him in the cave,leaving him trapped guarding his treasure, alone forever.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Threads", it seems like Anubis will execute his minion Ba'al for betraying him and failing to defend Dakara from the System Lord's enemies. Even Ba'al thought Anubis' plan to wipe out all life in the galaxy at once was a tad overkill, if only out of self-preservation. However, Anubis lets Ba'al live solely so he can witness the coming end of all life, himself included, knowing that his work on the Stargate network made it possible.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Sandor Clegane Mercy Kills a farmer slowly dying of a gut wound while Arya Stark looks on. After he's severely injured with a broken leg miles from aid, he begs Arya to kill him as she's been threatening to do since Sandor cut down her friend Mycah on the orders of his sadistic master Prince Joffrey back in Season One. Instead Arya robs him and walks off leaving Sandor to die slowly, an act that comes across as much more cold-blooded than in the novel.
    • Littlefinger seems to see being spared by Brandon Stark like this when he says "In the end, she wouldn't even let him kill me," in "You Win or You Die".
    • Cersei Lannister doesn't execute Ellaria Sand, the woman who poisoned her beloved daughter, Princess Myrcella, for the sake of petty revenge for her lover's death (who would certainly not approve of such tactics). Instead, Cersei poisons Ellaria's beloved daughter, Tyene Sand with the same toxin used to kill Myrcella, before leaving Ellaria bound and gagged to a wall opposite her daughter who's in the same predicament, so Ellaria can't touch, hold or even comfort her daughter during Tyene's final hours, before Cersei promises Ellaria that after her daughter dies, she will be kept alive in the cell, even if her guards have to forcefeed her, so she can watch every second of her daughter's body decomposing.
    Cersei: Your daughter will die here in this cell, and you will be here watching when she does. You'll be here the rest of your days. If you refuse to eat, we'll force food down your throat. You will live to watch your daughter rot. To watch that beautiful face collapse to bone and dust. All the while contemplating the choices you've made. Make sure the guards change the torches every few hours. I don't want her to miss a thing.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: In "Midnight Train to Kingston", Murdoch and Dr. Ogden are among those on the train taking James Gillies to be hanged. At one point, they're discussing the situation, and Julia speculates that it might be better for Gillies to rot in prison instead, suggesting that a life sentence would be "crueler".
  • Supernatural In season 10, it's revealed that in 2003, Dean (presumably) killed a young boy's father. In 2014 he finally finds Dean, who has been turned into a demon, and is beaten horribly by him. Sam later tells Dean that even though he is now a demon, he still let the man go. Dean tells him that that was the worst thing he could have done, as the man had trained his entire life for the moment when he would finally gain vengeance on Dean, and instead, Dean "whipped his ass."
  • Power Rangers Super Megaforce: In the episode "Vrak is Back, Part 1", the returned villain Vrak shows the Megaforce Rangers cruel mercy not once, but twice. At the end of their first battle, he tells the Rangers he wants them to suffer in the humiliation of their defeat. At the end of their second battle, he once AGAIN says he won't destroy the Rangers, instead leaving them alive so they are Forced to Watch his Drills destroy the Earth.
  • The Originals: After Tyler tries to get his revenge on Klaus, Klaus lets him live after realizing Tyler wanted to die.
  • The 100: When Clarke is given the chance to kill Emerson for his role in killing 42 Sky People but instead she decides to banish him and force him to live with the knowledge that he'll never get revenge for his son and his people's death. This comes back to bite her in the ass when he returns to kill all her friends personally. Having learned her lesson, she just kills him.
  • In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Compromised", Sara, who's been trying to kill Damian Darhk all season, decides to spare his life — before telling him of his own future, where the grand plan he's been preparing for all his long life is doomed to failure, letting him live the knowledge that everything he's working for will come to nothing. Unfortunatly, Darhk knows an evil time-traveller, and decides to Screw Destiny.
  • In the Supergirl episode "The Darkest Place", J'onn tries to kill M'gann when she reveals she a White Martian, one of the race that destroyed his. At the last minute, he spares her life, not out of mercy, but so she can live out the rest of her long life imprisoned in a DEO cell.
  • In the series finale of Forever, Henry is faced with a seemingly impossible choice. He can't allow Adam to go free because the fellow immortal would simply continue his sociopathic murder spree and continue attacking those Henry cares about. At the same time, he can't kill him because Adam merely resurrect somewhere nearby (and prove Adam's argument that Henry will eventually become as killer just like him). But Henry is a doctor, and therefore knows how to cause Adam to have a stroke that will leave him paralyzed and unable to communicate so he can't kill himself and can't tell someone else to kill him, but still aware. With modern medical technology, and regular payments of the bills, he can be kept alive in that state indefinitely. Which is a very long time when you can't age and die.
  • In Penny Dreadful, the Putney family try to imprison and enslave Caliban as the first exhibit in an abusive freakshow, not realising his physical strength. He kills Mr and Mrs Putney, but deliberately leaves their daughter Lavinia, who had particularly callously pretended to befriend him while being in on the plan, as a blindnote  orphan about to stumble on her parents' gruesomely wounded corpses.
  • Hemlock Grove: Norman finds out that his lover Olivia murdered his wife, so he plans on murdering her in revenge. He relents when he discovers that she's already dying from cancer and goes on a “The Reason You Suck” Speech describing the deleterious effects all the various drugs will have on her withering beauty. She doesn't take it well, ultimately murdering him as well.
  • The Punisher: After horribly disfiguring Billy Russo's handsome face by dragging it across a broken mirror, Frank decides to let him live so he can learn how Frank himself feels every day after the deaths of his family.
    "Dying's easy. You're gonna learn about pain. You're gonna learn about loss. Every morning, I look for them, Bill. I look for them. But then I remember. It's gonna be the same for you. When you look at your ugly, mangled face, you'll remember what you did."

  • In The Adventure Zone: Balance, the main ethos behind Wonderland. In order to maximize the amount of suffering they consume, Edward and Lydia keep participants alive. For example, Cam has been kept alive for several years now as a disembodied head.

  • In the Grand Finale to the New Eighth Doctor Adventures the Dalek Time Controller tells the Doctor he will be left on Earth and watch as it becomes a plague planet. Due to being a Time Lord, he will survive long enough to see humanity die out.

  • The idea of eternal suffering for those who are sent to Hell in Christianity can be seen as this, as God would most likely in that scenario let them suffer in eternity without doing anything to make it worse or better for them.

  • And once again in Shakespeare's Cymbeline by Posthumous Leonatus to Iachimo who had just confessed to masterminding a plot which caused Posthumous to order his wife murdered.
    "The power that I have on you is, to spare you;
    The malice towards you to forgive you: live,
    And deal with others better. "
  • In William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, the Duke does not kill Lucio as threatened, but forces him to marry the whore who bore his child. "Marrying a punk, my lord," Lucio laments, "is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging."
    • Depending on how you interpret it, the Big Bad Angelo suffers this as well. The Duke doesn't have him killed, but forces him to wed a wife he didn't want and live after having his crimes revealed publically. His original plan was to have him marry her and then be killed, but he ultimately changes his mind.
  • In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Antonio insists on Shylock, a Jew, converting to Christianity as punishment for what he's done. For a Jew, that's... let's just say bad. In Yiddish, the word for "Jew", "yid", is used as a synonym for "person". As a former Jew, he'd be neither accepted by the Jewish community nor the Christian one. And as what's a pitiful parting shot in comparison, Antonio takes some of his money and forces him to bequeath his estate to his runaway daughter and son-in-law in his will.
    • Even worse, in Shakespeare's time, this would have been considered a happy ending. The Jew gets to be saved, right? It was not until much later that productions started to focus on the negative consequences of converting.
    • Worth noting that the contemporary parallel play, The Jew of Malta, involves the eponymous Jew dying by being boiled in a pot of oil. *shrug* Fate Worse than Death versus Cruel and Unusual Death...
  • Yet another Shakespeare example: In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo murders Tybalt, a fellow aristocrat of Verona, and as Tybalt's aunt says, the punishment for this is death. But the Prince of Verona tempers the sentence to exile, because Tybalt killed Mercutio (the Prince's cousin) and Romeo avenged his friend's death. When he hears this news, however, Romeo hears it as Cruel Mercy, declaring exile to be a Fate Worse than Death because it means separation from Juliet, and threatens to kill himself. Friar Lawrence proceeds to chew him out over all the Wangsting he's been doing.
  • In Les Misérables, as in the novel, Valjean has the chance to kill Inspector Javert and instead lets him live.
    Damned if I'll live in the debt of a thief!
    Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase!
    I am the Law, and the law is not mocked!
    I'll spit his pity right back in his face!
    There is nothing on earth that we share! It is either Valjean or Javert!
    It was my right to die as well,
    instead I live, but live in Hell!
  • The Laramie Project. Based on the real-life trial following the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, the victim's father says that while their family believes in the death penalty, they ask the jury to instead give the murderers consecutive life sentences to honor their son and show the killers the mercy that they didn't show.
    "May you have a long life. And may you thank Matthew every day for it."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, it's a common habit among the Infernal Exalted. Indeed, there's a Kimbery charm which ensures this is the only kind of mercy you can show without spending willpower.
  • As many stories in the Ravenloft setting have proven, may the gods help you (Hah, we're kidding, there are no gods here) if you to try to cheat, con, steal from, or harm the Vistani. They are notorious for inflicting dark and horrible curses on anyone who does, and victims of such often wish they were never born.
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG, there are a few cards that prevent your opponent's monsters from being destroyed by battle, such as Underworld Dragon Dragonecro and Serpent Suppression. However, this is not to help your opponent stand up better to you. The first one, while keeping the monster it battles alive, drains away its ATK points (and soul, in the manga), leaving only a 0 ATK point carcass instead, and even creates a token for its controller with the drained ATK as its Attack points. As for the second one, it is seen in Reptilliane decks, which focus on making the ATK of opponent monsters 0. Combined with this card, they can relentlessly keep attacking the weakened monsters, who, despite not being destroyed, are still inflicted with damage which their controller takes. Some Comboes are even famous, such as using a card that prevents destruction by battle on an opponent monster and keep attacking it with a monster with the ability to attack multiple times, such as the infamous Chimeratech Overdragon, Great Poseidon Beetle, and Number C107: Neo Galaxy-eyes Tachyon Dragon.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the Dark Eldar, arguably the most evil faction in the game (an impressive feat given the setting), once rescued Craftworld Iyanden from Chaos. The Craftworld had resorted to taking souls from the Infinity Circuit to power Wraith Constructs, something Craftworld Eldar revile as necromancy. The Dark Eldar saved their Craftworld cousins just to ensure they would be forced to live with what they had done.
  • In Planescape, the baernoloths (mysterious fiends believed to have created the yugoloth race) can heal any wound upon a creature that they have personally inflicted. Typically, they only do this to a captive victim while sadistically torturing it so that the victim won't die quickly.
  • Zigzagged in The Dark Eye by the Trollzacker barbarians. Due to their religious belief, that every suffering in life means to lessen the inavoidable suffering in the afterlife, their worst punishments involve banishment and painless forms of death. If on the other side, a captured fighter is regarded as a Worthy Opponent, he will be tortured to death in days long rituals as a token of respect and mercy.

    Video Games 
  • This happens in the Golden Ending of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. If the player spares Menendez, he doesn't get martyred for Cordis Die like he wanted to. In addition, all of his plans unravel, and he has to watch the people who did it from inside of his cell mock him on late-night TV.
    • This seems to be Menendez's modus operandi, along with Disproportionate Retribution and Knee-capping: take out his grief on everyone close to those who have wronged him, while leaving his actual targets to "suffer with him". Case in point, he has multiple opportunities to kill Woods for the death his sister and flat out tells David, the SEAL commander leading the worldwide manhunt for him, that he will not kill him several times, getting more satisfaction by tricking Woods into murdering his best friend and grooming David into being the Unwitting Pawn in his plan to destroy America and the First World. Woods puts it best:
    Woods: The dead don't suffer, kid. That's why you and I are still here.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain:
    • At the end of Mission 31, Big Boss and Miller come across Skull Face crushed under a collapsed radio tower, who begs them to finish him off. Instead, Big Boss and Miller elect to blow off Skull Face's arm and leg with his own lever shotgun and leave him to die slowly as revenge for Skull Face causing the destruction of MSF during the events of Ground Zeroes. Ultimately averted, as just after they have done so and are turning to leave, Huey shoots Skull Face in the head.
    • After Huey is confirmed to have betrayed both MSF and the Diamond Dogs, Venom Snake lets him live... but exiles him from Mother Base, forever known to the world as the failure he is. As one last act of spite, Venom Snake has Huey exiled on a small life raft, forcing Huey to throw his treasured mechanical legs overboard to stay afloat.
  • In the trailer for Portal 2's co-op mode, GLaDOS provides a voice-over that ends, "Don't disappoint me..." Beat "...or I'll make you wish you could die."
  • Also by Valve, in Team Fortress 2's Meet The Medic, the disembodied head of the BLU Spy being stored in the fridge says "Kill me." The Medic replies with, "Later..."
  • Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice: In the 'normal' ending of after defeating Super Hero Aurum, who orchestrated everything that happened in the game, the defeated boss asks Mao to kill him. Mao refuses, and instead drags Aurum home to his lab to 'experiment' on him, presumably to unlock the secret of his One-Winged Angel transformation. You see him briefly during the credit-roll, and he looks... decidedly uncomfortable. This is particularly amusing in that Aurum THOUGHT he was performing a Xanatos Gambit — if he had defeated Mao, he would have been famous and revered throughout the world as the hero who slew The Overlord, and if he lost, he got the glorious death he'd always wanted... shame it didn't work out that way, huh?
    • Played with in the original, where Flonne wants Laharl to throw a fight against the ghost of a hero so that he can rest in peace after defeating a Demon Overlord, but Laharl refuses and fights with everything he has, defeating the ghost. The ghost then thanks Laharl for the battle, pointing out that the only heroic death is to fall against a mighty opponent; Flonne was unknowingly promoting Cruel Mercy, while Laharl was being mercifully cruel.
    • Disgaea 4 gives us Nemo, an Omnicidal Maniac who firmly believes Humans Are the Real Monsters and seeks to wipe out Earth (which will mean the end of Celestia and the Netherworld as well). When he finally discovers that Artina, the one example of Incorruptible Pure Pureness he ever encountered in this Crapsack World, is "alive" as an angel, he relents and tries to pull a Redemption Equals Death. Specifically, this will mean the destruction of his soul. The heroes decide that this is not sufficient punishment for his crimes, and instead give him a normal death so that he will be reincarnated as a Prinny and be forced to work off his karmic debt. They then cheerfully list the horrible labors they will have him endure for eons. In a mild subversion, Nemo accepts this and the end credits show him as a Prinny looking up at the Red Moon (signifying his eventual reincarnation).
  • In Iji you can bypass the second battle with Asha instead of killing him in a duel to the death. You end up crushing his ego so deeply that he kills himself in despair.
  • Near the end of Dragon Quest VIII, Angelo saves Marcello from a Disney Villain Death. Given that he had just given a massive “The Reason You Suck” Speech to a crowded amphitheater that veered into Evil Gloating, then was possessed by Rhapthrone and resurrected the demon's body in front of said crowd, leaving his ambition, reputation and everything he'd spent his entire life working for in tatters... yeah, death would've been kinder. Getting saved by the half-brother he despised was just another kick in the side at that point.
  • In Starcraft, Kerrigan exhibits this on Zeratul after he kills his Matriarch who demonstrated that she was Kerri's thrall.
    Kerrigan: "I said you are free to go. I've already taken your honor. I'll let you live because I know that from now on your every waking moment will be torture. You'll never be able to forgive yourself for what I've forced you to do. And that, Zeratul, is a better revenge than I could have ever dreamed of."
    • She also showed cruel mercy to Mengsk:
      Kerrigan: "I think I'll leave you here, Arcturus, among the ashes of your precious Dominion. I want you to live to see me rise to power. And I want you to remember, in your most private moments, that it was you who set me loose in the first place."
      • As Starcraft II showed, however, that part really didn't stick: Four years later, the Dominion has become the dominant power in the Korpulu sector and Kerrigan is nowhere to be found. The campaign ends with Mengsk almost succeeding at 'fixing' his mistake. In Heart Of The Swarm, Kerrigan has also learned from this and just kills Mengsk...or at least tries to. Even with his home planet invaded and him alone while confronting Kerrigan, Mengsk still nearly kills Kerrigan again, until Raynor interrupts the party.
  • Briefly mentioned in Titan Quest when the Yellow Emperor reveals that the Telkines are rampaging around to free Typhon, strongest of the Titans. The gods banished all other Titans after defeating them, but bound Typhon in nigh-unbreakable chains beneath a mountain so for all eternity he would be chained to what he desired most but could never have.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, the Jedi Council spares Darth Revan's life, only to completely overwrite his personality in order to make him into their pawn.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords,
    • You can do this to Atris, leaving her to be driven insane by the hissing of Sith Holocrons, shortly after she's learned that she's actually evil and has been beaten within an inch of her life.
    • You can pull this on two of the Jedi Masters you're trying to find, too. Let's see, Vrook. You're on this rock that hates Jedi, but makes an exception for me because I saved the place and you didn't. Have fun. Oh, Zez-Kai, you're a broken coward living in a Wretched Hive, surrounded by every Crapsack World trope in existence and you can't manage to pick up your lightsaber and do a thing about it while I did. I'm getting stronger and will kick the Sith's arse while you sit and mope. Meditate on that for a while and get back to me.
    • Kreia loves this tactic. She is quite happy to sit back and let her enemies know in great detail how badly they screwed up, but she won't destroy anyone or anything she can use, which means she'll spare them and then recruit them into whatever agenda she cares to run.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic:
    • Several characters (particularly the Imperial faction) have this as an option. For example, sparing Nomen Karr as the Sith Warrior means sending him back to the Jedi Council as a humiliated fallen Jedi while leaving Tarro Blood imprisoned as a Bounty Hunter means denying him an honorable death and letting him go down with the ship you're about to blow up.
    • Light-sided Imperials often use this as a justification to their crueller allies for leaving people alive. They wouldn't be able to get away with just leaving them alive for moral reasons, but have to come up with a pragmatic or evil reason to do so.
  • According to Ryusei Date, this trope is the true reason behind the 'Mercy' Spirit Command on the Super Robot Wars series, which leaves the target with 10 HP if the next attack would destroy it.
  • In the canon ending of Drakengard, Caim doesn't kill Manah after defeating her, instead opting to personally drag her around the entire country and tell everyone that they meet that everything that has happened was entirely her fault (well, figuratively 'telling': Caim's mute. Presumably he uses Sign Language, or 'interpretive brutal murder'). Caim, being Caim, is making a traumatized formerly-possessed 6-year-old with abandonment issues walk from village to village in the cold and the rain, just so that everybody she meets will hate her, and this is in character for him. In the end, she stabs him in the eye and jumps off a cliff to escape. When they meet again in the sequel, she utterly freaks out at the sight of him.
  • In Drakengard 3, after Zero kills Four, Decadus begs to die alongside his former mistress. Zero tells him that she kills her sisters and takes their men as her own and expects him to be prepared for a busy night. Granted, things end up working out for him in the end.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, you can do this to Darko Brevic, the man who betrayed Niko's old army unit. When Niko meets him, he is a drug addicted, guilt-ridden wreck, who confesses to having sold out his unit's lives for a mere $1000 dollars in order to fuel his drug addiction and begs Niko to kill him. The player is thus given a choice: if Niko shoots Darko, the latter thanks him with his dying breath and the former ends up not feeling any better. If Niko spares him, he remarks that letting Darko live with his addiction and guilt is the bigger punishment and Darko utterly loses it. Ironically, if the player chooses to spare Darko, Bernie (the other survivor of Darko's treachery) will call Niko congratulating him for having overcome his desire for revenge.
  • In Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, if you shell out the absurd amount of money for Mephistopheles's True Name, you not only get to skip the final boss fight, you can bind him to your service afterwards — including the option to force him to serve as a chambermaid in an inn for all eternity.
  • Deconstructed in The tale of Elwin and Shaera. The Hero defeats Lord Harke, then despite all of his crimes, spares him and locks him up, but not before delivering a long speech about how he's been humiliated and broken. Harke then somehow gets the guards to send false news of Elwin's death to Shaera, knowing that she will commit suicide. It didn't work, but it has proven that Harke is just as dangerous as a prisoner as he was with an army behind him.
  • In The Force Unleashed, Starkiller spares the life of Maris Brood after defeating her. Senator Bail Organa protests, but Starkiller says that she isn't free, the memories of what she had done will haunt her forever.
  • World of Warcraft
    • Baine Bloodhoof inflicts this in the Expanded Universe novel The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm. Baine wants to take bloody vengeance against Magatha Grimtotem ( Who is 90% responsible for the death of his father Cairne) and Garrosh Hellscream (Duped into being the other 10%). However, he also knows perfectly well that doing so will only cause division and civil war. Instead, upon defeating Magatha's attempt at a Grimtotem coup, he personally smashes her Shamanistic totems (an affront to the elements that would take a great deal of apology and abasement for Magatha to be forgiven for) after offering full pardons to the quarter or so of Grimtotem Tauren who would swear allegiance to the Horde. As for Garrosh, he puts aside Garrosh's role in events because the Tauren need the protection the Horde can offer.
    • Attempted with Garrosh by denying him a warrior's death. Unfortunately, he breaks free and tries to take over the world again.
  • The end of the last mission in Advance Wars: Dual Strike has something like this. If the player chooses "Yes" when Jake has to kill Von Bolt, Jake is handed a gun from Hawke, who would have shot him himself if Jake couldn't bring himself to (if the player chooses "No"). Jake doesn't hesitate, and shoots Von Bolt's chair, which was what was about to revive the Grand Bolt the good guys defeated earlier. When asked by Von Bolt why he didn't kill him, Jake stated that he didn't want him dead while everyone else cleaned up his mess.
    Jake: Welcome to natural selection, chump!
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, Cass' companion quest involves taking revenge on two groups of people who wiped out her caravan. Cass initially wants to take a direct, violent approach, but you can instead offer to uncover evidence of the conspiracy and pass it along to the NCR. Though Cass is initially disappointed, she'll decide that the NCR's legal procedures will do more harm to her enemies than a faceful of buckshot ever could.
    • Once you pop Mr. House out of his life-support chamber, you'll have three options for how to deal with him — simply killing him, setting his equipment to electrocute him, or putting him back inside but cutting him off from the rest of his systems. The last choice is considered the worst, since exposure to outside microbes will leave him to slowly die over the course of a year, trapped in a coffin-sized canister and unable to do anything but watch while you dismantle everything he's accomplished.
    • At the end of the Honest Hearts DLC, you'll get to help decide what the vengeful Joshua Graham does with his enemy, White Legs warchief Salt-Upon-Wounds, after crushing the rest of his tribe. Graham is all too happy to execute the tribal for his crimes (which include butchering Graham's hometown), but if your Speech skill is high enough you can exorcise his inner demons and bring some measure of peace to his soul by convincing him to let Salt-Upon-Wounds go. The ending narration reveals that despite their leader's survival, the White Legs never recover from their defeat, abandoning him and leaving him a sad, pathetic wreck of a man.
    • It's easy to overlook, but if you read the terminals left at the H&H Tools building and pay attention to the game's backstory, you can see that Mr. House did this. He was cheated out of the family hardware business by his half-brother, but started his own robotics company and became one of the most powerful industrialists on the planet. House all but took over Pre-War Vegas and dismantled the company that was his birthright on the stock market... except for that last store on the outskirts of Las Vegas, so that his half-brother would be around to see how successful House was. From the building's log entries, it's clear the experience drove him quite mad.
    • According to Mr. House, sparing General Oliver in an Independent Vegas ending either with House or you in charge counts as this. He will be forced to go back west humiliated and empty-handed as a scapegoat for leading thousands of soldiers to their deaths in an unpopular war with his chance at a political career completely destroyed. House even calculates a probability of him committing suicide from it all. The same goes for President Kimball if he's still alive, though House notes a much smaller chance of suicide.
  • Near the end of Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Jango Fett faces down his arch-nemesis, Montross. Aside from doggedly attempting to kill Fett and steal bounties from him, Montross was personally responsible for the deaths of both Fett's foster figure and a later mother figure. After Fett beats Montross in their final duel, the defeated man gasps that he deserves a better death than this. So Fett leaves him alive, ignoring his pleas that Jango finish him, and Montross is subsequently given the extremely ignominious death of being torn apart by feral cultists.
  • Subverted in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade: Eliphas the Inheritor is confronted by a daemon who blows off his attempts to place the blame on his followers but instead of torturing him in good-old Chaos fashion, simply kills him outright.
    Eliphas: No! I will NOT go to the Basilica of Torment again!
    Daemon: Fear not, Apostle. The Basilica is reserved for those who may redeem themselves. You will have no such chance.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Archangel's (AKA Garrus) loyalty mission involves hunting down The Mole who betrayed his squad. When you meet the guy, you see he's an absolute mess, wracked by guilt. Subverted in that sparing his life is the nicer option — you just have to convince Archangel that killing the guy won't make him feel any better, and that they both have to live with what happened that day. Letting Archangel kill him as planned, meanwhile, is played as an incredibly cold-blooded and mean-spirited move if you don't try to talk him out of it first.
    • There's an incident in Jacob's loyalty mission as well: you find Jacob's father shipwrecked on a planet with eventually deadly vegetation having set himself up with a harem of partially brain-damaged women from his crew (and besieged by the hyper-aggressive brain-damaged men thereof). The Paragon path has you bring him back to stand trial. The Neutral option is to let him go... having destroyed his camp's defences on the way in, so the feral crewmen can tear him apart. The Renegade option has you leave him, while Jacob hands him a mostly empty pistol.
    • In the second game, Aria's predecessor as the most powerful figure in Omega is kept around as a supposed adviser, but the truth is that she keeps him around as her personal trophy, with his new nickname "The Patriarch" being a Stealth Insult since to an Asari it is a nonexistent and meaningless word to reflect his complete lack of power. However, it's possible to either give him some bit of comfort by either agreeing to deal with assassins coming for him on his behalf (giving him some semblance of actual power) or to convince him to deal with them himself (which at least lets him die as a Krogan).
    • Aside from this, there was an instance in the Mass Effect DLC ''Bring Down the Sky" that allowed something similar. If you opt to let some hostages die in order to capture batarian terrorist Balak, you can either kill him outright or spare him. Doing the latter means taking him to the planet he'd tried to destroy to stand trial...which, incidentally, was where the hostages came from.
    • In Mass Effect 3, a sidequest revolves around a batarian terrorist (not Balak) who committed a variety of destructive acts in revenge for Shepard wiping out a batarian star system in the "Arrival" DLC of the previous game. Badly wounded from an attack on the Citadel by Cerberus, he lies in the hospital of the refugee camp, and asks you to Mercy Kill him. Shepard can either turn off his life support, or invoke this trope and call the nurse to come to his "aid".
  • Near the end of the first Baldur's Gate, with about three battles left in the game, you can meet Sarevok's mentor, cast aside and too injured to move. He expected to die in Sarevok's ascension to godhood and go down in history as its architect, but you have the option to leave him alive to watch his plans crumble and eventually die in obscurity (without the option to surrender).
  • In Assassin's Creed II, Ezio does this to Rodrigo Borgia, the man behind the conspiracy that killed his father and brothers as a youth. At first Ezio sought revenge by fighting the Templars and dismantling Rodrigo's plans over the course of twenty years, only for him to go into hiding and eventually resurface as Pope Alexander VI, vested with virtually unlimited political and religious power to help the Templars further consolidate their control over Europe. Not that this stops Ezio, though, as he decides to take the fight to the Vatican and try to publicly assassinate Rodrigo, culminating in a fistfight following a chase, which Ezio won. However, instead of killing him, Ezio leaves Rodrigo alone, humiliated just as ultimate victory was within reach. Even as Rodrigo pleas to end his misery, now that he has nothing to live for, Ezio states that killing him won't bring back his family and innocence, instead letting him waste away in despair, knowing that the Piece of Eden hidden in his papal staff refused to allow him to open the Vault, but it did for Ezio. Come Brotherhood the it got worse for Rodrigo, as his role became nothing more than a figurehead for his son Cesare. Finally, when Cesare kills him (to prevent his role from influencing opposition to his cause), it was Ezio, of all people, who comes to comfort him in his dying moments, and this played as the climax of Ezio's Character Development, showing how he has transcended his desire for vengeance, having decided that everything he does, however bloody, will always be for the greater good.
    • However, in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Machiavelli chews out Ezio for leaving Rodrigo alive since after all's said and done, the Borgia are still in power and are still major threats to the Assassins. In fact, it leads to Rodrigo's son Cesare leading an assault on Monteriggioni and killing his uncle Mario. Ezio later states that because of this, he's not going to make the same mistake twice.
  • In Dragon Age II, there is a way to do this to Anders. He fully expects to be executed and die as a martyr after blowing up the Chantry and enticing a full-on civil war between the Templars and Mages, and if released from custody will try to die in battle anyway if you side with the Templars. But if the Champion has a full Rivalry meter with him, s/he can convince Anders that he must atone for what he did, freeing him and keeping him in the party while you help the Templars exterminate every mage in the tower. Siding with the mages makes the mercy less cruel, but the "martyrdom would be the easy way out" aspect is still there. Writer Jennifer Hepler stated in an interview that she believed this fate would be "poetic justice".
  • Dragon Age: Origins itself allows you to do this to several characters, to include Sten (though the option is less about outright killing him, and more about leaving him in his cage to die later), Jowan, Zevran (who enters into a "service contract" with you afterwards), and Loghain, in exchange for him serving you and the Grey Wardens, no less. There are other potential instances, such as Branka, though the cruelness of them comes down to YMMV.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition, continuing with the tradition, has this for the Grand Duchess Florianne. One option is to spare her life and sentence her to serve as the Inquisition's jester, denying her all her wealth and fancy clothes, ruining her reputation, making her a laughing-stock in both Orlais and the Inquisition fortress, and forcing her to wear flat shoes.
  • In Alpha Protocol Mike has the option to spare whoever the final boss turns out to be, knowing they'll be dragged through courtroom after courtroom for the rest of their lives, watching while their empire crumbles.
  • Dishonored has been billed as a game about assassination in which you don't actually have to kill anyone. You can do a full Pacifist Run, but the targets still need to be "neutralized" in some way or another. There's a non-lethal option for dealing with each individual target, which is often a Fate Worse than Death and possibly quite ironic.
    • High Overseer Thaddeus Campbell: Branding him with the heretic sign of his own religious order, rendering him into a social pariah. And then he catches The Plague.
    • Morgan and Custis Pendleton: Arranging a criminal to disfigure them, cut their tongues and put them to work in their own slave mines.
    • Lady Boyle: Handing her over to a Stalker with a Crush, never to be seen again.
    • Lord Regent Hiram Burrows: Exposing his crimes to the public, ruining him and getting executed by his former subjects.
    • Averted however in the case of Daud, where sparing him is considered either a legitimate act of mercy (if you beat him in a fight) or simply sending him a message (if you pickpocket his purse from him).
    • The DLCs with Daud continue this tradition. Bundry Rothwild: Torturing him in his own interrogation chair and then locking him in a crate of his own design that's bound for a voyage set to last for many months.
    • Arnold Timsh: Evicting him from his home, getting all of his property and assets seized by the government, and being thrown into Coldridge Prison for good measure.
    • Edgar Wakefield: Can be simply knocked out...and left to the mercy of the savage and cannibalistic captain he mutinied against.
    • Delilah: Trapping her as an inanimate island within the Void for all eternity... At least until she escapes several years later.
    • And once again, it's averted in the case of Billie Lurk, where sparing her is a genuine act of mercy.
  • Dishonored 2 brings back the tradition of non-lethally neutralizing enemies, often with a side of poetic justice.
    • Mortimer Ramsey: Locking him in the Empress' secret chambers with the imperial coffers and taking the key with you so there's no way for him to get out.
    • Kirin Jindosh: Using an electroshock chair he created to functionally lobotomize him.
    • Breanna Ashworth: Tampering with her magical device so that it drains her of her powers, rendering her useless to Delilah.
    • Luca Abele: Get his more sane and humane body double to switch places with him, who will have him committed to an asylum.
    • Once again, it's subverted with the case of the Crown-Killer, in which you cure Alexandra Hypatia of her Superpowered Evil Side and Aramis Stilton, where ensuring that he doesn't go mad in the past changes history for the better. Delilah's fate is debatable since you trap her in the Void once again, but this time in a world where she'll forever live out her fantasies of being Empress.
  • At the end of Max Payne 3, Max leaves the Big Bad alive to suffer with the massive, utter loss of everything he'd been working towards — his power, money, status, and prestige — not because of Cruel Mercy, but so that the public can know the full extent of what happened and have someone to rightly blame for it. But, just for good measure, Max gives him some immediate karma by stomping on the villain's leg, breaking it so badly that the bone sticks through his skin. It's also worth noting that the Big Bad doesn't last a week in jail before being found dead.
  • In Hitman: Absolution after interrogating Lenny Dexter, 47 has to deal with him in some way. While he's given various different ways to kill him, the easiest and perhaps cruelest way is to simply drive away and leave him in the middle of the desert, letting the heat and the vultures do his job for him.
    • In Hitman (2016), Hokkaido mission, 47 can deal with Erich Soders via a great variety of Cruel and Unusual Deaths... or he can simply destroy the extremely rare replacement heart Soders betrayed the ICA for, condemning the latter to a slow death in a hospital bed since there's no way of getting another heart in time.
  • In BioShock Infinite you have the choice on whether or not to kill Cornelius Slate. If you spare him, Booker remarks it "was no mercy" since Comstock's men will arrive any second and drag him off for Cold-Blooded Torture. Sure enough, if he lives, you find him in a cell, lobotomized.
  • The Golden Ending of Ghost of Thornton Hall can be interpreted this way. Nancy has the choice to save the culprit, Clara, rather than let her burn to death. However, this means that Clara will have to face justice for possibly-unintentionally killing her cousin and reveal the truth to her family. Clara implores Nancy to leave her behind to die, but Nancy responds that she deserves to pay for her mistakes.
  • Saints Row 2: in the Brotherhood storyline, The Boss attacks Maero's tattoo artist Matt during a live performance with his band and lets him live, but not before using the pyrotechnics on the stage to burn his guitar-playing hand.
  • Most of the Parasites in The Cat Lady end up dead by the end of the story, but you can choose to spare one of them: Eye of Adam, the crippled suicide cult leader who tries to goad Mitzi into ending his life. If you can talk her out of it, he spends the rest of his life in a care home, denied both the death he craves and the computer he needs to interact with the rest of the world.
  • In PAYDAY 2, one of the heists, contracted by Vlad the crazy Ukrainian, involves stealing a tiara meant for the bride of his enemy, Dmitri, completely ruining the wedding. When the heist is concluded, Vlad cheers, "I could have killed wife, but why give him dead wife for short time when I can give him nag wife forever?"
  • One way to avoid massive diplomatic penalties when waging war in Civilization 5 is to declare peace once your opponent is down to one non-capital city in the middle of nowhere. Not only will your opponent most likely cease to be a threat for the rest of the game, but there's always a chance another civ will simply finish them off while they're weak and take the warmonger penalty for you (bonus points if they were complaining about your warmongering earlier).
  • In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, this is a possible fate for Whoreson Junior. Between having three other major crime bosses after him, his secret backing from King Radovid being pulled, and Geralt and Ciri slaughtering all his men and destroying his underworld empire, Whoreson ends up hiding in the Bits, trying to get by as a beggar and having children taunt him and throw rocks at him.
    Ciri: On the way here, I didn't know what I'd do. Killing him was definitely an option.
    Geralt: Still want to?
    Ciri: No. This is worse.
  • Persona 5: Ann Takamaki ultimately spares the Starter Villain, who'd been trying to coerce her into sleeping with him, and outright sexually assaulted her best friend when he lost his patience. She does this not out of kindness, but so he'll have to suffer a lifetime of shame and punishment for his sins.
  • Heavily implied to be the reason Zero from Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors didn't kill Hongou despite masterminding deaths of other people who planned the First Nonary Game. Hongou was the one Zero hated most, and that's why he was to suffer most getting officially tried and forced to live knowing he was completely defeated and spending rest of his days in prison.. Word of God confirms that(if "i think that's what happened" counts as confirmation).
  • Dr. Weil's punishment in the Mega Man series for starting the Elf Wars is to be converted into an unaging cyborg and be exiled to wander the wastes created by the destruction the Elf Wars caused. Seeing as he eventually went on to become the shadow dictator of Neo Arcadia and the Big Bad of the Mega Man Zero series, this probably wasn't the best idea.
  • Towards the end of the War Within -quest in Warframe, the player is given a choice to either kill one of the Twin Queens, order Tenshin to do the dirty work or just let her be. Even though sparing her gives the player alignment points towards the Sun (representing mercifulness and empathy as opposed to the ruthless and cruel Moon options), it's arguably even more cruel than killing her outright because without the scepter that allowed her to Body Swap, she is doomed to suffer a slow, lingering death in her decaying body. The option to spare her outright states "Let her rot".
  • GUN has Colton White trapping Magruder and listing all the possible ways he could kill him like cutting his fingers, slitting his throat or jamming a cross into his good eye, in order to make him pay for his crimes such as the murders of his biological parents, his adoptive father, his love interest and his friend's mutilation. Instead, he decides to leave him there as the entire cave is collapsing because of the explosives Magruder were throwing to kill Colt.
  • In the epilogue of Red Dead Redemption, you play as Jack Marston as he's searching for Edgar Ross in order to avenge his father's murder. Eventually, you'll encounter Ross's family, who end up guiding Jack straight to Edgar himself. At this point, you can either commit a Revenge by Proxy and murder the entire Ross family...or let them live and just eliminate Edgar himself. Doing the latter forces the family to live with the untimely death of their loved one, just like Jack has been all these years. To add insult to injury, they'll also live knowing that they led Edgar's killer straight to him.
    Jack: And don't worry about a thing. I'm sure your husband will be just fine.
  • Ys: In the Esteria arc, Dalles is an Evil Sorcerer who has a habit of sparing the playable character right after doing something horrible to their loved ones, all so he can savor their despair and mock them for their powerlessness. His worst (albeit non-canon) moment is in Hugo's route of Ys Origin, where he slowly petrifies Epona and shatters her in order to make Hugo suffer, despite having the power to finish off the protagonist whenever he wants.
  • Forever Home: General Barclyss of the Tren army captures a group of Auria's soldiers, and then has all but Corporal Slash brutally slaughtered in an arena, all out of spite towards the corporal for refusing to join him. When the party breaks Slash out of the prison, the latter is clearly traumatized from listening to the screams of his comrades.

  • Horribly/Hilariously Subverted in Schlock Mercenary after Kevyn captures an alien warlord who had just executed one of his squad members simply to test a theory and was about to do the same to his Love Interest before he intervened. Rather than take his revenge on the warlord ("I know he murdered our friend, but [revenge] will take you into a very dark place, Nick"), he opts to turn him in to the proper authorities... who will then kill him and eat him a little bit at a time!
    Nick: Your place sounds darker, sir.
    Kevyn: It has the advantage of being legal.
  • Thaco in Goblins destroyed Dellyn Goblinslayer's carefully-constructed legacy, leaving his elite guards dead, his prisoners escaped, and his reputation in Brassmoon ruined. When Dellyn finally faced Thaco and was defeated, he expected to be killed and earn a place in the legends of goblins as their racial nemesis until Thaco told him he was not worth the XP to kill.
    Complains: "You fought the Goblinslayer? Did you kill him?"
    Thaco: "No. I destroyed him."
  • Samus Aran uses this as a threat in Captain SNES: The Game Masta: "I will not permit you to die."
  • Done in Girl Genius. After Dr. Beetle dies, Baron Wulfenbach tells Dr. Merlot that for his part in the incident, he'll be put in charge of the city of Beetleburg...after Dr. Beetle has been given a hero's funeral with full honors, and the full details of Dr. Beetle's death, including the fact that Dr. Merlot's theatrics were the direct cause of it, have been released to a public that loved and respected Dr. Beetle.
    • Also, Merlot's punishment for his first screw-up on the new job? Sent to join the repair teams in Castle Heterodyne.
  • Done in a social way for humor in Eerie Cuties, to set up for its spin-off, Magick Chicks. After the Hellrune Coven have tried to use a gender-bending magical orb for a small plan that turned into a fiasco that left one boy stuck as a girl, they're called in front of the headmistress. Since they're also the "Queen Bees" of their school, they're told protocol would demand they be expelled. However, the headmistress believes that would let them off TOO easily. So she talked with the head of Artemis Academy to get them transferred over there as part of an exchange program, forcing them to start all over without any social benefits from their soon-to-be-former school. To a young girl who fought a lot of her high-school life to be popular, losing your status and being "socially dead" is worse than a physical death.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • When defeating Samantha and her father, Roy decides not to kill them, just leave them there. He argues that after disbanding the bandits, they won't be able to cause more trouble in the future. Then Belkar points out that it is this trope, leading to the trope-naming line of Your Approval Fills Me with Shame.
    • Played for Laughs: After Redcloak delivers a scathing Not So Different-themed “The Reason You Suck” Speech to the (currently trapped in a forcecage) paladin Miko, Xykon comments that he was just going to kill her, but now thinks it'd be crueler to let her live and think about what Redcloak said. Subverted in that she reacts to Redcloak's speech with a blasé, "Meh. As indignant speeches go, I've heard better." Also subverted in that it was Redcloak's plan from the beginning to let her escape so he can scry on her when she gets home, providing intelligence for the upcoming attack.
    • Tarquin is dealt with in this way. Rather than slaying him in an epic showdown like Tarquin wants, Elan simply ditches his father in the middle of the desert, thereby giving their story an unsatisfying and anticlimactic end, something that the drama-obsessed, self-absorbed Tarquin finds utterly unacceptable.
  • Parodied in 8-Bit Theater when Black Mage desperately tries to convince Sarda to employ this trope. Played straight when Sarda agrees.
    Sarda: Oh, I wanted to kill you the first billion, billion and a half years, but then... it just wasn't enough anymore. Besides, killing you started to lose its novely after the first few times. [Zaps all the Light Warriors] See? I barely cracked a smile over that one.
    Red Mage: I wish he'd stop making incredibly painful points with our corpses.
  • At the end of chapter 49 of Drowtales, Minka Dutan'vir sees former Kyorl'solenurn Holy M Other Valla'drielle, who earlier in the chapter had ordered the reclaimed tower of his people dropped and many of them killed, then tried to burn Minka himself at the stake as an example only to be interrupted by a peaceful protest led to by the intended Holy Mother of the clan, Anahid. He chases and corners her and begins to choke her, but remembers and echoes Anahid's words that forgiveness is true strength and lets Valla'drielle go. Valla'drielle simply spits Fantastic Racism at him, and is left to live and fade away in ignominy as the Knight Templar attitude she embodies will soon be a thing of the past.
  • In a twisted form of charity, Brain from Sam & Fuzzy offers to let Fuzzy go after Fuzzy has inadvertently helped him find The Pit instead of killing him — but after deleting all his memories and causing him a Death of Personality. Given that Fuzzy has an extreme sore spot about his already existing Laser-Guided Amnesia and the fact that 'he' went through it once before as Eric and left Fuzzy severely traumatized, the 'offer' becomes this.

    Web Original 
  • Ink City: Trevor pulls this on Mew, with a twist of manipulation: originally, he was poised to take his revenge on another Mew who had just arrived. He waited until Mew publicly confessed before informing her he wasn't going to seek his pound of flesh; watching her live as an outcast would be far more satisfying.
  • Chakona Space: Allen Fesler's character, Neal Foster has pulled this off a few times.
  • In the YouTube Poop "One more Final: I need you(Tube Poop)" After Zelda's death, Link tries to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff, but ends up landing on Yoshi, injuring him and eventually killing him. Luigi heads to Link with a gun, but ends up refusing to kill him despite his pleadings, preferring to let him live with the misery of Zelda's death.
  • The Nostalgia Critic: The Devil's daughter Evilina thinks that it would be crueler to leave the Critic alive to suffer the pain after reviewing Son of the Mask, despite him wanting to be killed.
  • Twig: Sanguine, the last of a unit of experimental assassins that were killed by the Lambsbridge Gang, decides to let two members of the gang live after he's determined that one is infected with an incurable plague, satisfied that they've suffered enough and his dead fellows would be content with that punishment.

    Western Animation 
  • Explicitly invoked in the Centurions episode "Cyborg Centurion". Ace McCloud is in a deeply nasty area, and has to defeat a local tough in a Gladiator Game to establish his credentials. The woman he's with asks Ace, "Why didn't you kill him?" and Ace tells her "I did worse than that. I humiliated him and let him live. He'll never command respect from these people again."
  • Optimus Prime refuses to kill Big Bad Megatron, who had just caused the deaths of one of his soldiers minutes before, during the finale of Transformers Animated, telling him, "That would be the easy way out, Megatron. You don't deserve it." Instead he destroys Megatron's weapon and drags him back to Cybertron to face justice in stasis cuffs, humiliated.
  • Another Optimus Prime is clearly tempted to break his code against killing or even harming humans when an Egomaniac Hunter traps and tortures some of his Autobots to get to Prime himself and take his head as a trophy. This causes the Big Good of the series to go on a Papa Wolf Roaring Rampage of Revenge and culminates in prime effectively leveling the hunter's mansion without actually hurting him. Optimus proceeds to tie the old man to the nose of a Soviet fighter plane that the hunter had stolen earlier in the episode and ships him right back to Siberia and into the hands of a very displeased Soviet Union.
  • A G.I. Joe skit from Robot Chicken has a new member joining the Joes. He has a doctorate and is extremely skilled with a sniper rifle, but due to a small accident he is given a humiliating code name and not respected by the rest of the Joes. He later joins Cobra and kills all but one of the Joes with his aformentioned sniper rifle. What happens to the last Joe left?
    Duke: You motherfucker, you killed everything I love! [Rips off his shirt and stands out in the open, making himself an easy target] Take me too! Take me too!
    Calvin: No. No, you live with it.
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero:
    • In the "Sink the Montana" episode, retiring Admiral Lattimer learns that his ship, the U.S.S. Montana, is about to be decommissioned and sent to the scrapyards, and defects to Cobra, in a desperate attempt to save the ship to which he has become emotionally attached. The Joes set out on a mission to stop Cobra's pulse modulator weapon (which can render technology useless) by "borrowing" the U.S.S. Constitution, an old-school 19th century navy ship that doesn't have any computerized technology to disable. Near the end, when Lattimer realizes that his ship is set for self-destruct on a collision course with the Norfolk naval base after the pulse modulator is destroyed, Destro locks the Montana's guns in automatic firing mode before retreating.
    General Hawk: Come on Lattimer, let's get out of here!
    (Flashback to Lattimer's commissioning ceremony)
    Admiral Overton: Captain Lattimer, command of the U.S.S. Montana is now yours, serve her well.
    Lattimer (in the present time): No, no, I-I-I can't leave her!
    Hawk: My aching back, George! Forget that going down with the ship stuff!
    Lattimer: No, I'm staying!
    (Hawk promptly and reluctantly knocks out Lattimer before rescuing him from the sinking Montana)
    • Soon afterwards:
    Shipwreck: What'll happen to Lattimer now, Hawk? Court martial, prison?
    Hawk: I don't know, but he's already received the worst punishment imaginable.
    [The Montana sinks with an explosion cloud resembling a cobra's lower fangs].
  • One of the most memorable aspects of the Avatar: The Last Airbender Grand Finale is this trope: Aang doesn't kill Phoenix King Ozai, but takes his ability to firebend from him. Knowing Ozai, it would be a Fate Worse than Death, which isn't to say he didn't deserve it. He's also left to rot in a cell (the same cell where he imprisoned his brother, Iroh no less) as a powerless wreck while the son he hated becomes the new Firelord.
    • Azula pulls this on herself during her Villainous Breakdown. She hallucinates her mother, and this follows, completely breaking her world view.
      Ursa: I think you're confused. All your life, you've used fear to control people like your friends Mai and Ty Lee.
      Azula: But what choice do I have?! Trust is for fools! Fear is the only reliable way! Even you fear me.
      Ursa: No. I love you, Azula. I do.
    • Katara does this to the man who killed her mother. After finding out how horrible his life is, she decides to spare him so he can continue to endure it.
  • In King of the Hill, Peggy confronts Cotton on his deathbed to Call The Old Man Out for being such a horrible, emotionally abusive father to Hank, who only ever wanted his father's love and approval. She takes a hint from one of the page quotes above by saying she hopes he will never die, so that he may live forever in the hell that he has created for himself. Cotton, just to spite her, responds "Do you, now?" and dies immediately thereafter.
  • In "The Dragons' Graveyard," the darkest episode of Dungeons & Dragons, the kids have finally had it with Venger constantly attacking them and preventing them from getting home. Against Dungeon Master's wishes, they attack Venger, and finally have him at their mercy. Hank could easily kill him, but finally spares him, saying verbatim that "If I did, we'd be no better than you are." But Hank makes it very plain to Venger as they leave, "We've beaten you, and you know it."
  • Grimian, a member of the Vandals in Hot Wheels Battle Force 5, overthrows Captain Kalus but instead of killing him, spares his life so he may live in shame. When Kalus returns and defeats him, he tells him the exact same thing and promotes him to his second in command so Grimian can live in his shadow. After Grimian sells out the Vandals to the Red Sentients, Kalus and Grimian have a final battle, ending with Kalus' victory. After destroying Grimian's car, he banishes Grimian instead of killing him, once more prefering the traitor live in shame rather than die in battle like a warrior. However, after his next attack, which has the entire planet invaded, Kalus just executes him.
    • While he doesn't see it as such, Zemerik, under the control of the Alpha-Code, forgiving Krytus is seen at this by Krytus. Krytus had just finally got his revenge on Zemerik for betraying him, but forgiving him, Zemerik also rendered Krytus' revenge meaningless.
  • In the Justice League episode "War World", the gladiator Draaga fights the despotic ruler Mongul; Draaga defeats him, but refuses to grant him a warrior's death, preferring to let him live in disgrace. (This may or may not have been a mistake on Draaga's part. Mongul does make a return appearance... But what ultimately happens to him could well be considered even worse, depending on your point of view.)
  • In an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), Evil-Lyn, Whiplash, and Beastman set up a trap when Skeletor is out on an errand. Said trap involves using a shrink ray on He-Man's allies and holding them captive in a small cage. Eventually, after the hero restores them to proper size, Whiplash and Beastman (along with Skeletor's steed, Panthor) get a taste of their own medicine and fall victim to the shrink ray. Evil-Lyn assumes he's going to use it on her and pleads with him not to. He does not. He smashes the weapon, thereby leaving her to explain to Skeletor what happened to it and the other henchmen. (Skeletor's reputation as a Bad Boss is well known.)
  • Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic breaks and Hate Plagues five of the mane cast, breaks apart their friendship, and plunges Equestria into a World Gone Mad, driving everyone insane... but never touches Twilight Sparkle. No, he merely lets the fact she's lost everything she cares about drive her over the Despair Event Horizon and cause her to lose all hope. Thankfully, she finds a way to turn this around.
    • The Mane Six inadvertently end up doing this to Starlight Glimmer after she pulls a Heel–Face Turn at the end of Season Five. Despite stealing cutie marks from ponies, enslaving a village, and then nearly destroying the world due to a time-travelling revenge scheme, Starlight Glimmer surprisingly isn't punished for her actions. Instead, Twilight Sparkle and the others easily forgive Starlight and give her a second chance as Twilight's student. Throughout the following season, Starlight still can't understand why she was forgiven, developed a personality quirk, and spends most of the season struggling with her shame and being haunted by her evil past, to the point where she takes on a Troubled Fetal Position when confronted by her old village.
  • This is how Razer joins the Interceptor crew in Green Lantern: The Animated Series. He tries to goad Hal Jordan into killing him, since Razer had just caused the destruction of an inhabited planet, as well as the planet's resident Green Lantern, but Hal catches on to what Razer's trying to do, and refuses to let him off that easy, instead taking his Red Lantern ring and taking him prisoner. Razer, understandably, freaks out, and begs for death.
  • At the climax of the "The Battle For Mewni" special of Star VS The Forces Of Evil, Toffee intends to do this on Queen Moon, burying her halfway in the dirt and walking away, with Moon's kingdom in shambles, her husband seemingly sent to oblivion, her daughter lost in the realm of corrupted magic, and all magic she could draw forth about to be drained from Mewni completely.
  • In X-Men: The Animated Series (90s), Storm meets and falls in love with a charismatic ruler. He ask her hand in marriage and she accepts, only to discover short afterwards that he's a cruel tyrant. She destroy his entire kingdom leaving it in ruins, freeing the people he had enslaved whom start to rebel, and all while he's powerless to stop her. "STOOOORM!!!"
  • In the season three finale of ReBoot, Enzo brutally defeats Megabyte. He’s given the chance to kill him for all the things he’s done, but refuses to. Instead, he leaves Megabyte alive, so he can spend the rest of his miserable existence alone and crippled, forced to always remember the day he was humiliated in front of the whole world by the same child he once tormented. And just for extra mental torture, he notes that the only reason he’s indulging in this is because he thinks Megabyte isn’t worth the trouble of killing, crushing the villain’s fragile ego to bits. Megabyte tries to take advantage of the cruel mercy to escape... but given what ends up happening to him as a result, he probably wishes he hadn’t.

    Real Life 
  • One of the many, many arguments thrown about between pro-death penalty/anti-death penalty groups is the theory that spending the remainder of one's life in prison is a harsher sentence than being executed. But the pro-death-penalty people note there are people like true psychopaths (as noted a few times above) who will never see it that way; as long as they're alive, they'll never stop conspiring to win: be it by trying to break out, by trying to corrupt the prison, or by any other way they can devise. In which case, Death Is the Only Option.
    • This is practically the argument of philosopher Michel Foucault in his book Discipline and Punish: someone who went into prison and served their sentence, more often than not, will find it far harder to integrate back into normal society, essentially being marked wherever they go.
    • Invoked some time ago in Italy by some lifer prisoners who requested death penalty to be restored, because they found spending the rest of their lives in prison an excessive punishment.
    • When Communism fell, the Russian Federation abolished capital punishment. Anyone convicted of murder after that point would be sentenced to life in prison, and anyone who was previously on death row had their sentence commuted to twenty-five years from that point, regardless of how long they had already been in prison. Many former death row inmates, who had spent years or decades awaiting execution, killed themselves, unable to face even more prison time.
    • Suicidal Death Row inmates are put on suicide watch. Let that sink in for a minutenote .
    • Even the most merciful form of punishment, rehabilitative justice, still addresses that criminals must have their personality completely changed in order to be reintegrated back into society (assuming this is possible, given the aforementioned psychopaths). Compounding this is the everlasting guilt of reformed criminals, as well as the stigma that will follow them well beyond their sentence.
  • Turkish Sultan Alp Arslan did this to the captured Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV after crushing his army in the Battle of Manzikert. His own court quickly deposed him, and later had him blinded.
  • Julius Caesar specialized in this, often showing clemency to defeated rivals especially in Rome's civil wars, which, under the rules of Roman high society, left them permanently beholden to him because they owed him their lives. Cato the Younger actually killed himself to avoid this.
  • This is one aspect of the Counting Coup practice among the Great Plains Indians. It sends the message, "I can lay my hands on you and there's not a damn thing you can do to stop me. You are so far below me that you are Not Worth Killing."
  • In pre-modern times, exile was this. Being kicked out of your country's borders with no way home, no support network, and a strong likelihood of being unable to speak the local language or know the way to a civilization, much less a friendly one.
    • Marooning, the naval practice of abandoning someone on a beach, is a variation of this. Ironically, the stereotypical desert island was a kinder punishment than a location with food and potable water: even assuming the latter scenario wasn't a Hungry Jungle, the poor mapping and navigation of the era meant discovery was virtually impossible, and the marooned sailor would Go Mad from the Isolation.
    • Another variation is excommunication from a religious institution. Execution is kinder, as it still grants rites that allow the dead to go to their proper place in the afterlife. Excommunication means both being cut off from your social support network in this life and damnation in the next onenote .
    • Similarly, being declared an outlaw. Make yourself annoying enough to those in power by not following the laws, and rather than seek you out and cast you into a dungeon, the King declares you literally "outside the law"; if you refuse to obey the laws, you also don't receive their protection, and anybody may rob, beat up, and even murder you without any penalty.
  • A popular internet meme is the phrase "May my haters live long to see my success."
    • Ninja from the band Die Antwoord has a tattoo of a similar line, "May my enemies live a long time so they can see me progress."
    • This is one half of the sentiment behind the old aphorism, "living well is the best revenge". (Along with the idea that stronger forms of revenge aren't usually worth it.)
  • Many, many examples from warfare. One noteworthy tactic is wounding enemy soldiers instead of killing them, because wounded soldiers take up more resources. For instance, small land mines (nicknamed "Toe-poppers") used in Vietnam against American soldiers, would horribly wound but not kill, forcing the entire squad to withdraw and call for medivac, rather than mark the location of a corpse to be picked up later, and continue with the mission.
  • After winning the Battle of Kleidion against Bulgaria, Byzantine Emperor Basil II, rather than kill all 15,000 of his prisoners, instead ordered that 99 out of every 100 prisoners were blinded, with the 100th left with one functioning eye to guide the others home. The idea was that having to take care of people who could no longer contribute back to their communities would cripple the enemy far more than simply killing them would.

Example of: