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Cruel Mercy

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"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.

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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...

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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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Examples:

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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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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 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.
  • 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 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.

    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 2000s, 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...which 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. Keyword 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 as 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 to 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.
  • After Loki's confession in Young Avengers that he is a copy of the original Loki who pulled a Kill and Replace on his well-intentioned child self, that he summoned and double-crossed the Eldritch Abomination plaguing them, and that he has been manipulating the whole team all along, America Chavez decides to leave him to his guilt.
    Loki: End it. Before I can talk my way out of this.
    America: ...I'm not going to make this any easier for you, chico.
  • In Batman: Damned, Etrigan saves Batman, but tells Constantine that he only did so in order for Batman to experience more suffering.
  • In Halo: Escalation, Jul 'Mdama captures and spares Sali 'Nyon, rather than give him an honorable death in combat.
  • In Legion of Super-Heroes story The Great Darkness Saga, Darkseid fights and defeats the Legion in the Sorcerers' World, but he decides against killing them because he wants them to watch helplessly how he destroys the galaxy.

    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 Wings 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 crueler 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 is 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 to be 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 acknowledgment 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 acknowledgment 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 overly 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 in front 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 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 to 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 to 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 .
  • In Cross Cases, after Sam allows Lucifer to take him as his vessel, Lucifer lets Sam keep control of his body so that Sam can go back home and tell Dean goodbye. Sam notes in his internal narration that this really does seem nice on the surface, but perceives it as a final "fuck you" so that Sam's last moments as himself and of Dean are of Dean reaming him out for handing himself over to Lucifer, hopefully followed by Dean killing him in an attempt at taking Lucifer with him. This thought keeps Sam lingering in St. Mary's convent, whereupon he finds the teleportation spell.
  • In God is Curel, Oliver uses Laurel as bait for Slade without her knowledge. Slade takes advantage of the set up and stabs Laurel in the stomach, nearly killing her and ultimately putting her in a coma. Dean, Laurel's husband, furiously tells Oliver he'll kill him if she dies. When the time comes to take her off life support, Dean tells Roy he'll make Oliver live instead, and explains why that's worse. Roy is left genuinely terrified by it.
    "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. 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.
  • Bethany employs this in Beyond Heroes: Of Sunshine and Red Lyrium, when she learns about the actions of the Mayor of Crestwood. Rather than waste Inquisition resources to track him down and bring him in, she decides to just let him go, explaining to her friends that living with the knowledge of what he's done is worse than anything she could have done to him anyway.

    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."
  • 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."

    Literature 
  • 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 millennia 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, quoted by Paul the apostle in Romans 12:20.
  • 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 beaten, 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 beaten 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 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 cruelest 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 more satisfying revenge than killing it outright, since forcing it to live alone and in the 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 Anti-Hero of The Mental State is a big believer in this trope. He actively enjoys watching his enemies suffer for as long as possible, preferring to maim, traumatise or isolate his opponents without actually killing them. Over the course of the story, he only kills one person (a psychotic street thug who was never likely to feel any regret for his actions, and this was regarded as a mercy killing).
  • 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.
  • In Shadow of the Conqueror, Daylen thinks that the Light thwarting his attempt at suicide and making him live with his guilt is A Fate Worse Than Death. His trial at the end is also this, as Daylen hoped that the Senate would execute him, but they instead said that they Can't Kill You, Still Need You.

    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.

    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.

    Theatre 
  • 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 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 
  • 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 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 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.

    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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