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Deadly Graduation

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"Fully commit yourself to this program."

A classic for evil training programs, especially for assassins. Relatively good and innocent characters are trained in combat skills in a harsh and often deadly program. Often they are made to train in pairs for years building reliance on their partner. Now it is time for their final test. They must battle their best friend to the death!

A variation on this is the character's partner goes missing shortly before this mysterious exam only to be found tied up in the exam room with the test being to shoot them in cold blood. This can often end with the more talented best friend throwing the exam and sacrificing themselves in order to save their friend's life/any innocence he has left.

Occasionally, it is a Secret Test of Character, in one of two ways. Either you're not supposed to Shoot Your Mate, or you ARE but the gun is loaded with blanks. The Target will sometimes be an animal (almost always a dog), but this is not the same thing as Shoot the Dog, though they could overlap if an undercover Pragmatic Hero is taking the test.

Sub-Trope of Involuntary Battle to the Death. See also A Real Man Is a Killer and Tested on Humans. For a test of ruthlessness outside of training, see If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!. For a final test that's very dangerous to the testee instead, see Ultimate Final Exam.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Azumi, after deciding that his ten pupils are ready to start going on missions, Gensai Obata gives them one last test to ensure they have what it takes. They must pair up with whom they feel the strongest bond, then fight to the death. Azumi, in particular, is forced to kill her initial love interest.
  • Burst Angel has the Genocide Angels killing each other until only one remains... or at least they were supposed to: their final test is interrupted, they end up scattered around the world, and now Jo is pestered by the two remaining survivors who are there to kill her.
  • '''Naruto':
    • Killing your teammates used to be part of the Village in the Mist's initiation, until Zabuza decided to be a smartass and kill all the other graduates... before he was even old enough to actually qualify. They probably couldn't spare any future ninja past that point.
    • Danzo's also fond of employing this. A major part of Sai's backstory is that they were pitted against their foster brother in this fashion; however, he chose to let his Incurable Cough of Death claim him to give them a chance at eventually reclaiming their suppressed emotions.
  • The World's Finest Assassin: Lugh in his second life gets one of these from his father as part of, rather than the end of, his assassin training, of a convicted woman in their feudal domain's prison, being assured of her guilt beforehand. In order to be merciful, Lugh cuts her to let her bleed out relatively painlessly, but after she goes into a screaming Villainous Breakdown, he just throws a knife at her to shut her up.

    Comic Books 
  • In Granny Goodness's backstory, her final exam was to kill the loyal dog she had trained. She avoided this by killing the examiner, explaining to Darkseid that the dog would be more useful to him than the examiner. Darkseid later forced her to complete the test by siccing the dog on her. Darkseid was impressed enough that she was given her current position in his organization.
  • Sin City: It's implied that this is the final ritual for all prospective assassins in the Murder, Inc. division within Wallenquist's organization. Deliah AKA "Blue Eyes" murdered the only man she ever loved after reuniting with him on the Colonel's orders to prove her loyalty.
  • The Star Wars comic Crimson Empire has this as the final exam for Royal Guards.
    • In the "Shadow Academy" story arc of the Young Jedi Knights series, it's revealed that exactly this is necessary to earn the title of Darkest Knight in the Shadow Academy. Stormtrooper commander Qorl lampshades how wasteful this is, that regardless of the winner their second-best Dark Jedi will die. He's told that while this is true, the two top contenders hate each other so much that neither would accept the other as his leader and thus allowing the loser to live would guarantee a future Enemy Civil War.
    • And in the first Knights of the Old Republic, this is the final test for up-and-coming Sith.
  • Inverted by minor Decepticon Triggerhappy in Transformers: Generation 1 comics, in that rather than requiring he kill someone to graduate, he graduated from boot camp after an incident where he killed a lot of people. In this case, he fell off a hoverboard while firing a machine gun and hit his head, unwittingly disintegrating a half-dozen observing instructors in the process. Apparently such a display convinced the camp commander that this reckless idiot was sufficiently lethal, such that he graduated Triggerhappy on the spot and sent him to join the front lines.

    Fan Works 
  • Star Wars vs Warhammer 40K: The Crimson Razors are a homebrew Space Marine Chapter that recruits new members by taking young boys, placing them in squads, and then making those squads fight each other for months. Then, after the squads have been whittled down to the strongest (with the weaker squads being killed), each squad of Child Soldiers is ordered to fight amongst themselves; those that refuse are killed. The last boy standing from each squad is then told to execute his former brothers in arms. If he does, he is taken to be implanted with gene-seed and begin the transformation into a Space Marine of the Crimson Razors. If he refuses, he and his comrades are all killed.
  • In the Kingsman fanfic Trials, when faced with the test mentioned below, Eggsy takes a third option: he shoots Arthur, the leader of Kingsman and the one administering the test, instead. This takes him off the Kingsman trials but puts him on the fast track to become the next Arthur, as a knight does what he's told, but a king does what is right. Needless to say, Arthur was less than pleased with this turn of events.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron. Wanda gives Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) a vision of her time in the Red Room. One scene involves Natasha training to shoot pistols at a target, then the target becomes a hooded man whimpering in the chair he's bound to. Worse is the look of indifference on the faces of her fellow trainees.
  • In the movie Azumi, the ten young assassin students were told to pair up with the person they liked the most before their final exam. Then they were told to fight each other to the death. (This conveniently killed off half of the cast before the movie even began properly.)
  • The Bourne Ultimatum. In a flashback to his training for the Treadstone program, Bourne is told to shoot an unknown hooded man without any explanation whatsoever except that this act will result in "saving American lives".
  • Not exactly "good and innocent", but after the Joker kills Gambol in The Dark Knight, he talks about how his organization is "small, but growing". Then he mentions he only has room for one more member at the moment... as he snaps a pool cue over his knee and drops the sharper half between three of Gambol's men. "Make it quick."
  • One of the tests in Kingsman: The Secret Service is to shoot the dog the candidate had partnered with and cared for throughout the test. Failing to do so means they're booted from the tests. The gun's loaded with blanks. Eggsy failed to shoot JB, but after the Valentine crisis, he's allowed to be a Kingsman anyway. In Kingsman: The Golden Circle Eggsy used his knowledge of this test to try to traumatize an amnesiac Harry into regaining his memories by accusing him of being a dog murderer.
    "It was a fucking blank! I would never hurt Mr. Pickle!"
  • Done as a first test rather than a final test in Naked Killer. Sister Cindy has a Serial Rapist chained up in her basement until he's gone Ax-Crazy, and locks Kitty in the room with him. The key to the door is attached to his waist, so Kitty has to kill him to get it, using his own chain. When she runs upstairs to give Cindy a piece of her mind, her mentor just reprimands her for taking too long and failing to notice several potential weapons in the room. Later Kitty gets payback by locking Cindy in the basement with two mad rapists and all the weapons removed. Cindy lets them grope and slaver over her gorgeous body, then kills both with her bare hands.
    • The next film in the Naked trilogy does this particularly graphically. After years of assassin training, Madam M has half of the trainees take out the other half. Then the next day, the survivors compete to the death until only one is standing (though Madam M decides to cut the massacre short with the final three).
  • Subverted in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. Remo is given his first assassination assignment, which involves killing some old Korean guy. Who proceeds to Dodge the Bullet several times, casually remove the magazine from Remo's gun, then Nonchalant Dodge every attempt by Remo to lay hands on him. The old guy is Chiun, master of Sinanju, and now his real training will begin.
  • The opening montage of the Korean movie Shiri shows North Korean assassins going through a hellish training program and initiation. In one test, the cadets are made to bayonet a field full of civilians who are tied to stakes. One man shows remorse afterwards and is killed. In another, cadets are paired up and each given a disassembled pistol. The first one to correctly assemble it must shoot their partner.

  • The Scholomance, from Romanian mythology, is said to accept classes of ten students — but only nine graduate. The last doesn't make it out of graduation but is kept by Satan, who runs the school, as payment for the whole class's tuition. And while he doesn't kill the tenth student, he does enslave that student for all eternity by making him or her ride around on a dragon while controlling the weather.

  • The loaded-with-blanks version is used in a quite cruel joke.
    Three Special Forces members are applying to an elite inter-service unit. In the final test, each candidate is offered a gun secretly filled with blanks, and told to kill whoever they find in the next room — which turns out to be the candidate's spouse.
    The Army Ranger enters the room, wavers for a minute, and then marches out of the testing facility without a word. He is rejected for disobedience.
    The Navy SEAL refuses to handle the weapon, makes a cutting remark on illegal orders, and leaves. A commendation for high ethics is placed in his file, and he is rejected for disobedience.
    Finally the Marine Raider enters the room and stays for an oddly long time. When he finally leaves, the instructors ask him what the hell took him so long. "Some idiot loaded the gun with blanks," he replied, "so I had to strangle her."
There are of course countless variations of that joke, from CIA recruitment to SAS training, and from strangling to Pistol-Whipping to beating them to death with his chair...

  • The Jack Higgins novel (and 1989 miniseries) Confessional starts with an IRA terrorist being captured during an attempt to plant a bomb. He's actually in a Simulated Urban Combat Area behind the Iron Curtain and the KGB general in charge orders him shot on the spot. He kills his captors instead—it's then revealed that one of the fake policemen was an actor turned dissident who was presumably allowed to work there as an alternative to the gulag.
  • The Dead Can Wait by Robert Ryan. A German Femme Fatale Spy says that for the passing out test at the Sie Wolfe camp they had to hunt down live targets, and in her case the target was another female trainee who hadn't come up to scratch, but couldn't be released because the camp was top secret. This was during World War One when women were not expected to kill, so this trope was meant to get rid of any feelings of feminine squeamishness. It might have worked too well in her case, as she's turned psychopathic and kills a member of her Underground Railroad based on the mere suspicion she might also have outlived her usefulness.
  • Discworld:
    • Pyramids includes a graduation test for Pteppic, in which he's supposed to assassinate someone who is sleeping in a room "guarded" by one of his teachers. Pteppic is terrified by the idea of actually killing someone, however, and ends up firing his crossbow at nothing rather than kill (but still hits the target due to a "lucky" shot). Rumour among the student body is that the victim for an exam is a student who previously failed said exam, but it turns out to just be a dummy under a sheet. They're also perfectly allowed to inhume the examiners to pass with full marks... but the savvy ones don't tend to risk it.
    • In Wyrd Sisters it's mentioned that "competitive examination" means the number of student Assassins is drastically reduced by the end of the year (even before the Final Exam), which doesn't stop students at the Fools' Guild from envying them.
  • The Doctor Who New Adventures novel No Future features a U.N.I.T. soldier who has to do the puppy version (with a rabbit) when she was training for the British Army. The Brigadier's reaction is that the people who trained her were bastards.
  • In the first book of the Emperor series this happens to Gaius and Marcus after Renius spent years training them. Only in this case, their graduation is to fight Renius himself, veteran warrior and gladiator, to the death.
  • In the Forgotten Realms novel War of the Spider Queen the rebirth of Lloth is described in a prologue: you have thousands of spiders, they suddenly start killing and eating each other to gain power, but if one grows too strong, others will team up to get it down, until only the 8 most cunning ones are remaining. They then serve as the eight spider aspect avatars of Lloth.
  • On Gor, this is the final test to join the Caste of Assassins.
  • Charles Stross's story "Palimpsest" has a unique variation: the final test for a time agent is to go back in time a few minutes and murder yourself in the middle of your graduation ceremony. The purpose is to demonstrate you have the necessary ruthlessness to do the job and demonstrate you've learned you're now outside of causality and paradox.
  • The Unsullied eunuch slave soldiers in A Song of Ice and Fire are given a puppy to raise that after a year they have to kill. To actually become Unsullied they are sent to kill a slave child. It's mentioned that they have a harder time with the puppy test than the child one, and those that fail are killed, and fed to the surviving puppies.
  • In Warrior Cats, the cats in the Dark Forest are forced to fight to death as their final assessment.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Avengers (1960s). In "Invasion of the Earthmen", the villain is training students to conquer space, including a survival exercise involving two students where only one is allowed to return. Meanwhile, our heroes are infiltrating the school and end up getting into a fight with the students. Steed ties one up, and he watches horrified as the other student approaches him... only to cut him free. Turns out the exercise has been cancelled as everyone has been ordered to kill the heroes instead.
  • On Blindspot, it's revealed that the secret South African program Remy and Roman were in forced the children to care for rabbits and then gave the order to kill them. If a student didn't kill their rabbit, they were forced to watch their rabbit being horribly tortured and mutilated in front of them as punishment. Remy was the first to obey the order and snap her rabbit's neck which her instructors assumed meant she was a born killer. However there's reason to believe given her personality that she did it to give the rabbit a quick and merciful death.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Helpless" is the best example of this in the series, with Buffy's deadly ordeal of fighting a vampire while Brought Down to Normal. The element of moral compromise is there too, but it's Giles who is having his morals tested, not Buffy. When Giles helps out Buffy against instructions, he's removed as her Watcher.
  • On Charmed, one episode has Prue get in touch with an old friend of hers, who has fallen into a demon recruitment program and is about to graduate with this kind of initiatory killing of an innocent.
  • The Defenders (2017). In "Worst Behaviour", flashbacks show Elektra being trained as the Hand warrior Black Sky. In the final test of her training, ten Hand ninjas surround an unarmed and defenseless Elektra and unsheath their katanas. The room then suddenly goes dark and we hear the sounds of fighting. A few seconds later, the lights come back on, and all ten ninjas are lying dead around Elektra's feet as she drops two katanas she managed to grab from them.
  • Fleming The Man Who Would Be Bond. When Ian Fleming undergoes the commando course at Camp X, he's told of the K Protocol, a final secret test an agent must undergo before being sent into occupied Europe. Later Fleming wants to be put in charge of a frontline commando unit. His boss Admiral Godfrey will only agree if he passes the K Protocol, which turns out to be: go to a room and kill a man. "Now you know what the K stands for." Fleming hesitates at the moment of firing and is disarmed by his intended victim, who pulls the trigger on Fleming's revolver... fortunately the bullets are duds. Admiral Godfrey tells Fleming not to feel too bothered, as he didn't pass the K Protocol either.
  • Supernatural:
    • In the episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, E21), the Yellow-Eyed Demon brings all of the Special Children who have developed psychic powers to a ghost town where they are manipulated to fight each other until only one remains, so he can determine who is the strongest.
    • In "The British Invasion" (S12, E17) it's revealed that Doctor Hess forced young Mick Davies to fight his best friend to the death in order to graduate from British Men of Letters training.
  • Treadstone:
    • John Bentley has the "shoot the hooded man as a final test" as in The Bourne Ultimatum, in this case three fellow CIA agents to check his conditioning as a Soviet Manchurian Agent in 1973. While carrying out the kill he hallucinates that they are Vietcong soldiers, but a later flashback scene shows he was aware of what was being done to him beforehand and is dragged off for the final test while begging his captors not to make him do it.
    • While brainwashed, Bentley was also required to torture both fellow CIA operatives and hardcore criminals rounded up by the KGB—the latter because they would require extensive torture before cracking.
    • In the present day Treadstone agent Doug McKenna has a dream of being chained up underwater, and fighting another man in similar straits for the key to release his chains before he drowns. He wakes up and examines a faint circular cuff scar around his ankle.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Mentioned as a possible first assignment for a newly trained assassin in the article "The Assassin's Guild" in Dragon Magazine #64 (1982).
    • In Edition 3.5, one of the prerequisites to enter the Assassin Prestige Class is to kill someone for no other reason than to join the assassins.
  • Mage: The Awakening: The Guardians of the Veil, the Secret Police of Magical Society, require their trainees to execute someone who has committed a capital offense under the Guardians' code. However, unless the Guardians already know of a valid target, they stage it with a simulacrum or a magically protected agent rather than kill an innocent. For bonus points, some recruits are expected to perform the execution on their own initiative without being ordered to kill.
  • The Magic: The Gathering plane Amonkhet is a setting where children grow up practising all kinds of athletic, martial and magical arts, working towards the Five Trials, at the end of which everyone aspires to be deemed Worthy. They train in groups ominously named "crops". The fourth trial, the Trial of Ambition, requires the cropmates to sacrifice and trap each other in order to emerge alive. The fifth trial, the Trial of Zeal, is a fight to the death against other initiates or whatever monsters the God of Zeal deems appropriate. And the reward for victory? The God Hazoret will Deem Worthy the victorious initiates by killing them. So that the Big Bad Chessmaster dragon can raise them from the dead as an army of the zombies formed from the most perfect physical specimens of a whole plane.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 the final test for a Commissarial cadet before they graduate from the Schola Progenium is to execute their closest friend at the training facilitynote . This test is to ensure that the cadet will not hesitate to execute the troopers he is assigned to watch over as he has already killed someone far more important to him.

    Video Games 
  • According to Nathyrra's backstory in Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, it's common among Drow assassins as well.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Used as the second Death Knight quest. After carving the runes on your weapon, you're told to go kill one of the "unworthy trainees," in a fight to the death.
    • It's also later somewhat reversed in Naxxramas, during the fight with Instructor Rasuvius — you mind-control his trainees and force them to kill him.

    Visual Novels 
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Phoenix's case in Turnabout Succession involved this. Both Zak and Valant Gramarye were ordered by Magnifi Gramarye to come to his hospital room, where they will be provided with a gun, which they will then shoot "one shot, square in the forehead". Zak passed the test by shooting a nearby clown doll in the forehead, which was the intended solution. Valant lost by not firing at all.
  • The main premise of Monokuma's Deadly Game in the Danganronpa series: Lock a class of high school students in a Closed Circle, where the only way to leave is to kill one of your classmates and get away with it. If the other students correctly identify you as the culprit (which is decided by a vote), then you will be given an extravagant, personalized execution as punishment for your crime. If they get it wrong, however, you get to "graduate" and go free... while everybody else gets executed in your place. Subverted by the fact that every single "graduation" ends up being a trap. The first one would result in the "Blackened" being let loose into a Villain World filled with murderous lunatics, the second would result in them potentially being preyed on by the evil AI possessing their victims, and in the third there simply is no outside for them to go to.
  • The Labyrinth of Grisaia: Yuuji is subjected to this at Oslo's terrorist training facility as his graduation exam. Though they were not paired up throughout the training course, they deliberately chose the person who got the closest to him as his opponent. He was winning quite easily at the beginning, but ultimately he could not bring himself to kill her.

    Web Comics 
  • Valentino's backstory in the Marilith webcomic. Made even more horrifying since it was not an assassin guild, but a gulag.

    Web Original 
  • Critical Role: Caleb's backstory details how, near the end of his training as a Vollstrucker, he overheard his parents talking about betraying the Empire. Knowing what they had to do, Caleb and his two fellow students returned home a few nights later and killed their parents, Caleb specifically by blocking the exit to his old home with a cart, then setting it on fire. However, watching his parents burn to death shattered him mentally, and he would spend the next 11 years of his life in an asylum. During his stay there, he met a woman who, before going completely insane, cast a spell on him that "took the clouds away"... as well as the Fake Memories that had been implanted in his brain, as it turns out that Caleb's parents were completely innocent.

    Western Animation 
  • Exaggerated in Metalocalypse with the Klokateers first training step: all the candidates are put together in a large room and each one chooses a partner whom they must kill with their bare fists in order to make it to the next step. This becomes hilarious when one remembers that one of the Klokateers in "Go Forth and Die" is a sweet old lady who tutored Nathan in math, implying that she killed someone with her bare hands.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson", the commander of Rommelwood Military School mentions to Bart and Lisa's class that the Military School used to force its students to fight to the death to see who could graduate (which makes Lisa nervous). Turns out that it's a Bait-and-Switchthe Supreme Court ordered the school to stop this practice because it was a blatant act of child cruelty, so the school started to use a Death Course called "The Eliminator" as its Ultimate Final Exam instead.


Video Example(s):


From Russia with Love

From Russia with Love contains one of the earliest live-action examples. The Action Prologue has Bond being killed by the assassin Red Grant, only to reveal it's a SPECTRE mook wearing his face in a Deadly Graduation.

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