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

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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...

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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.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece:
    • Luffy attacks with all his might, but he avoids killing his opponents. This because Luffy believes that forcing someone to live with all their hopes and dreams destroyed is a Fate Worse than Death. Occasionally, some of Luffy's 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(albeit as part of his larger plan) 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 was 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 Yu Yu 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.
  • Final Fantasy: Lost Stranger: When Sara announces her desire to spare the Magus Sisters despite their crimes, Cindy scoffs at her and asks if she wants them to suffer even more. Sara replies that she indeed wants them to suffer, but also to atone so they can work together to produce a better Mysidia.
  • 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 an 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.
    • The real irony is that it was true mercy: while even The Ingenue Humanoid Abomination Adorea managed to make some friends in that school, Veronica has No Social Skills nor the slightest idea how to make a friend. She knew from the very beginning that Yura was a False Friend. Even so, Veronica really felt that a false friendship is better than nothing, so Veronica led Yura into her own plan, trying to enjoy the most of their false relationship. That simulation really meant something to Veronica, and for that, Yura was spared. The last panel shows her denying her tears to Adorea.
  • 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 villain Shigaraki deals this out to fellow villain Overhaul when he has the chance to kill him, while attacking the police convoy transporting Overhaul and his men to prison. Shigaraki decides it would be a crueler and more fitting revenge to instead takes both of Overhaul's arms, leaving him incapable of using his Quirk and then leaves him for the police to retrieve. Effectively leaving him a Quirkless 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 weren'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.
    Josuke: If I heal you up first, then I figure it's a fair fight, right?
  • 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 Red River (1995) is this: she's in perpetual house arrest and living comfortably... but she knows that she owes it to Yuri and Kail, the protagonists 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 receives a cruel mercy from the Federation after the loss 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 burns 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.
  • It's unclear in Assassination Classroom whether Nagisa realizes this, but his finishing move against Takaoka counts as this. Even as it's happening, he knows that he'll never get Nagisa's smile out of his nightmares. It may have been kinder to just kill him.
    Nagisa: [sincerely, with a genuine smile] Takaoka-sensei, thank you very much.
  • In the anime adaptation of The Rising of the Shield Hero, Naofumi plays off his request for The King and Malty to be spared as this. This also doubles as a case of Adaptational Heroism, as in the original Light Novel, Naofumi instead called for the two to be executed and had to be talked down. Their punishments were quite fitting for those who would abuse their royal power for selfish gains. They were stripped of all power and authority, and to rub salt in the wound, Naofumi had their names legally changed to "Trash" and "Bitch" respectively.
  • In Yume No Shizuku Kin No Torikago, when Hurrem confronts a concubine that tried to sneak her way into the bed chamber of the sultan in an attempt to gain his favor, everyone expects Hurrem to have said concubine assassinated. But instead of that, Hurrem banishes her from the harem. Several concubines actually thought this was very merciful of her, but Gulbahar points out the opposite: the women in the harem are taken in at an early age and life in the harem is actually rather luxurious, so for them to be cast out into the world outside is actually pretty cruel.

    Comic Strips 

    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 as 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. (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 Humperdinck with a duel To the Pain, which involves leaving the loser alive but severely disfigured, "wallowing in freakish misery forever." To further the cruelness, the loser loses their eyes, their nose, their hands at the wrist, their feet at the ankle, but they keep their ears "so that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, 'Dear God! What is that thing,' will echo in your perfect ears." Instead, as the page quote above shows, Westley leaves Humperdink untouched, save for his realization that for all his bluster and prestige, he ultimately is a Dirty Coward who folded at the first bluff.
  • 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 Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010), 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 do not 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 of 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?
    Blake: Oh, I don't wanna kill you. I wanna kill your life!
  • 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.
  • At 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, but it is also 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 daughter, 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 particularly 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.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: The Count does this to Villefort by giving him an unloaded pistol, which he tries to use to off himself, to no avail. "You didn't think I'd make it that easy, did you?"
    • Later tho Edmond averts the trope with Mondego. "What happened to your vaunted mercy?" "I'm a count, not a saint."
  • Near the end of Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa confronts Zemo, the man responsible for the bombing that killed T'Challa's father, after realizing that Zemo, not Bucky, was the culprit. T'Challa then prevents Zemo from committing suicide and hands him over to Everett Ross to be imprisoned (albeit partly because T'Challa realized he was losing himself to his lust for revenge).

    Myths and Religion 
  • 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.
  • In 1 Kings 2, after David dies, Solomon becomes king over Israel. Abiathar the priest is relieved of duty and forced to resign from the priesthood for participating in Adonijah's attempt to seize the throne. Instead of immediately executing Abiathar, Solomon allows him to retire to his fields in Anathoth in recognition of his service to King David.
    • Shimei is restricted to a house in Jerusalem, and is not allowed to cross the Brook Kidron under penalty of death. After three years, two of Shimei's servants run away to Gath, and Shimei goes to Gath to retrieve them. Afterward, Solomon has Shimei executed.
  • In Greek mythology, Arachne is a skilled weaver who credits herself for her weaving abilities instead of the gods. Athena comes down and challenges Arachne to a weaving contest. Athena's weaving depicts the fates of mortals who considered themselves equal to the gods; Arachne's weaving depicts the alleged faults and shortcomings of the gods, and their alleged ill treatment of mortals. Athena is so infuriated by Arachne's weaving that she tears it to shreds. Arachne attempts to hang herself in shame, only for Athena to prevent it, transforming Arachne from a human into a wretched spider.

    Podcasts 
  • 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.

    Radio 
  • 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.

    Theatre 
  • In Danganronpa the Stage, Makoto Naegi stops Junko Enoshima's suicide by execution for this very reason. Since Junko is only capable of feeling pleasure from despair, be it from others or herself, the worst thing Makoto can do to her is save her life.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Medieval Times ends with the champion of the knight's tournmant defeating the Herald of the North in what the latter intended to be a Duel to the Death. However, the King of Spain - as a way of "honoring" the Herald's valor - opted not to execute him, instead sentencing him to life imprisonment.
  • The ancient Greek play Medea has this as the crux of the title character's plan; after being betrayed by Jason (who she sacrificed everything for), she kills their kids and his new girlfriend, specifically not doing anything to him because she wants him to live with the pain. Her Revenge by Proxy scheme is so impressive that even Hera, Jason's divine patron (who he also pissed off with his betrayal of Medea) can add nothing to it, so she just lets Medea's punishment stand.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, it's a common habit among the Infernal Exalted. Indeed, there's a Kimbery charm that 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 Combos are even famous, such as using a card that prevents destruction by battle on an opponent monster and keeps 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 evilest 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 unavoidable 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.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • When Salem attempts to trick the God of Darkness and the God of Light into bringing a dead man back to life, the divine brothers punish her with immortality. Because she was unable to accept the death of her lover, they punish her with being unable to reunite with him in death; this results in her being completely immune to any form of death. Seeking vengeance, she raises an army against the gods; the God of Darkness wipes out the whole of humanity, asking her if she thought she could not be punished any further than she had already been. The two gods then abandon Remnant, leaving Salem to live alone on an empty world, unable to die. The gods eventually bring humanity back, but by this time, Salem has been driven mad and consumed with hatred, so she aims to wipe it out herself.
    • When Maria was young, she lost her eyesight in battle against an assassin called Tock. Although Tock had been hired to kill her, she felt that she had met the terms of her contract by blinding Maria. She therefore admits that she's tempted to let Maria live, knowing that her eyesight is forever lost. Maria possessed silver eyes and had mastered the power that came with them. Tock was hired by an unknown client to kill Maria to put an end to the power of her silver eyes. However, blinding Maria achieved the same goal, which is why Tock toyed with allowing her to live.

    Webcomics 
  • Su Lüxia of Cheating Men Must Die sometimes uses this tactic to get revenge on her host characters' cheating lovers.
    • Her fiancé Su Youji and his new lover Wei Na are allowed to leave their families to start a new life together, with Su Lüxia knowing full well that the two Spoiled Brats won't be able to live comfortably without their financial safety nets and that their lack of common sense and the resulting poverty will lead to a bitterly unhappy marriage.
    • She gives in to Bai Ting and Liang Qun, agreeing to divorce Liang Qun so the two can marry. However, by this point Liang Qun has already seen Bai Ting's true colours and no longer wants to be with her, but Su Lüxia later manipulates events to force them to marry and see her revenge through.
  • 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 has 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 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 novelty 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 Mother 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 extremely 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.
  • Jon Bois' Pretty Good categorizes one incident that happened during the most lopsided college football game ever (Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland 0). At halftime, Cumberland's already down triple-digits and their coach begs Georgia Tech's coach John Heismannote  to just end the game then. Heisman agrees to shorten the game...by five minutes.
    "Sometimes, a weak expression of pity is the deepest act of cruelty."

    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 aforementioned 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 (since taking a human life, even if they are a horrible person, goes against his Thou Shall Not Kill beliefs) but instead uses energybending to permanently get rid of Ozai's ability to firebend so he can never hurt anybody with it ever again. 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 Fire Lord.
    • 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 preferring 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 asks her hand in marriage and she accepts, only to discover short afterwards that he's a cruel tyrant. She destroys his entire kingdom leaving it in ruins, freeing the people he had enslaved who 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 that 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. Unfortunately this backfires for Enzo when Megabyte comes back from said Hell, now more powerful and dangerous than ever, and takes over the Principal Office.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Black-Eyed, Please" Homer manages to pull this on Ned after Ned finally, finally, has enough of Homer's behavior and gets punched in the face for it. Ned desperately wants forgiveness to soothe his guilty soul and offers to let Homer punch him back. Homer refuses to do it not to be nice or because it's the right thing to do, but because he knows it'll drive Ned up the wall. He rubs it in so much that Ned punches him again.
    Homer: I'm not punching you, Flanders. Because if I hit you back, we'll be even. But if I don't hit you, that makes me the better man. And I'm liking the way that feels.

    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 the 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 be 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.

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