Follow TV Tropes


Dig Your Own Grave

Go To

Beatrice: Why do they even have you digging these holes?
Wirt: Planting seeds, or something.
Beatrice: Maybe they're gonna bury you out here!
Wirt: Pfft.
Greg: Hey! Buried treasure!
Wirt: Wow, really? (to Beatrice) See, Beatrice? (to Greg) What'd you find?
Greg: A skeleton!
Over the Garden Wall, "Chapter 2: Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee"

When a character must literally dig a hole for their body, usually being forced to as the last thing they do before being killed or even Buried Alive.

In these situations, since the character is going to die anyway, one might wonder why the character doesn’t outright refuse this indignity. Usually the reasoning is that the prisoner goes along with it because they want to eke out as much time for their life as possible. And, at least in fiction, this is often what saves the character. Much like an elaborate Death Trap, it gives the digger time to think of an escape plan, or their allies time to save them. Or, unless they are being forced to dig with their bare hands, they may figure this is a chance for their enemies to hand them a plausible weapon.

Not to be confused with the figurative meaning of "digging your own grave"; for that, see Open Mouth, Insert Foot; Not Helping Your Case; and Digging Yourself Deeper.


    open/close all folders 

  • Subverted in an advertisement (for life insurance?). A middle-aged man announces that "If you want something done properly, do it yourself," and begin to dig. After several shots angled to make it look as if he's digging his own grave, it's revealed that he's actually working on a swimming pool.

    Anime and Manga 

    Asian Animation 
  • Played for Laughs in BoBoiBoy, in the episode concluding the heroes' plight of having their emotions manipulated. BoBoiBoy is struck with so much despair that he considers their fight a lost cause and proceeds to dig his own grave. Even after he splits into three, his emotional state remains with the three of them, and he gets more helping hands for the grave-digging.

    Comic Books 
  • Code Name: Gravedigger: In Men of War #5, Nazi troops force the residents of a French village to dig their own mass grave before machine gunning them.
  • A lynch mob does this to Lucky Luke in the album "The Klondike". However, Luke pretends to have found gold in the hole, holding up a nugget, and flee in the resulting confusion. The digging site was actually the tomb of some long-dead guy who happened to have a gold tooth.
  • The cover of World's Finest Comics #195 had Batman and Superman forcing Robin and Jimmy Olsen to dig their own graves. In context, it was Supes playing along with Batman's delusion that he was the crime lord he'd been posing as while getting him to snap out of it.

    Fan Fiction 
  • A particularly bizarre example happens in The Prayer Warriors when Jerry's group raids the temple of Artemis in "The Evil Gods Part 1." They find a group of "whores" doing "wrong things" to married men and so kill the men and force the women to dig their own graves. Once the women are done, Jerry has them stoned to death, and throws them in their graves, but doesn't bury them, in the hopes that wild animals will eat their bodies.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Near the end of Bataan, the protagonist is all alone after all his men are killed. So he digs his grave (after burying the rest of his comrades), hops in it, and uses it as a foxhole for his Last Stand against a large force of Japanese soldiers.
  • In Creepshow, a man forces the guy who committed adultery with his wife to dig a hole in the sand on the beach, then jump in and be buried up to his neck. When the tide comes in...
  • Edge of Darkness: The leaders of La Résistance in a Nazi German-occupied town are forced to do this. Just as they're ordered to stop digging and the German soldiers line up to shoot them, the people of the town arrive and attack the Germans.
  • Goldstone. Josh tries to infiltrate the conspiracy by posing as a Dirty Cop, but when the outlaw bikers tell him he can help out by bringing them a shovel, he realises they intend to kill him instead. Fortunately Jay has followed him to the meeting and the time he takes to dig the grave gives Jay time to get into a sniping position for a Big Damn Heroes.
  • A different take occurs in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A thief escorted by Union soldiers is carrying a coffin on his back. The soldiers put him against a wall and shoot him, then place him in the coffin.
  • In The Irishman, the mob hitman main character got his start in the Italian front in World War II, where he was steel-nerved enough that he was frequently tasked with being the one to execute German prisoners. Shown in flashback, he recalls that the actual executions didn't really bother him - they were enemy soldiers and he figured they deserved it. What did bother him is that when he ordered them to dig their own graves first, they would comply without objection, leaving him baffled: did they somehow think that if they did a good job of digging, he would decide to spare them?
  • The Soviets did this to the Polish officer corps in Katyn.
  • In A Life Less Ordinary the protagonist is made to do this as part of a scheme to have him be rescued at the last minute. He uses the shovel to knock his assailant down, then runs.
  • In The Locals, this is what Grant thinks is happening when Martin holds him at gunpoint and forces him to finish digging the partially opened grave, resulting in Paul begging for his life. However, Martin is trying open Bill's grave so he can get Grant to remove bill's bones from the valley, thereby freeing him of Bill's ghost.
  • In Machete Kills, El Chameleon corners Machete in the desert and orders him to dig his own grave. Fortunately, Machete digs deep enough to reach an underground tunnel that illegal immigrants use to cross the border, jumps down and escapes.
  • In 90's gangster film Montana, Kyra Sedgewick plays a hitwoman who at one point is being forced to dig her own grave after running afoul of her employer, but uses the opportunity to turn the tables on her supposed executioners. She finishes the graves anyway to dispose of the bodies, allowing a random kid who happened to stumble onto the scene to join in when he asks if he can help.
  • Happens in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Digging a grave by hand does take a lot of time, a lot of things can happen.
  • Happens to all the (former) deputies at the hands of the wanted mass murderer, former District Attorney Mike Powers, in Reno 911!: Miami. They try to make the best of it, although it takes a really long time (Junior suggests they go back into town and rent a backhoe).
  • Subverted with Nazi prisoner "Steamboat Willie" in Saving Private Ryan. He's being forced to dig graves for the dead Americans killed by his machine gun nest. Captain Miller actually lets him go, to his squad's disgust and outrage.
  • Happens to the banditos in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

  • The title army in An Army of the Dead digs their own graves as well as their enemies. After they die, at that.
  • The Bloody Road to Death by Sven Hassel. The German army makes several guerrillas captured in the Balkans do this before being shot. They wipe off the spades before handing them back to their executioners because as peasants they know the value of a good spade.
  • Witches in the Discworld series know exactly when they're going to die, so some of them will dig their own graves and lie down in them when the time comes, to make everything nice and tidy. Wizards also know when they're going to die, but they tend to use that knowledge to take out large loans, empty their wine cellars and have death parties.
  • Subverted in The Eternity Code; Mulch is forced to 'dig his own grave' with the eventual fate of being Buried Alive but he's a dwarf, with natural tunnelling abilities, so the only problem he has with the situation is that maintaining his disguise as a short human requires him to use a spade.
  • The mammoth mobster Vassily "The Whale" Zhukovsky forces our hero to do this in the comic neo-noir Get Blank. He wants revenge for a... probing.
  • The Green-Eyed Lama: As fugitive lama Agvaan watches in horror, a Communist death squad takes out a group of Buddhist lamas and forces the lamas to dig a ditch. Then the death squad shoots them and tosses them into the ditch. The head of the death squad even screams "Dig your graves" at the lamas.
  • K is for Killing by Daniel Easterman. A group of American concentration camp prisoners are ordered to dig a hole, and only belatedly realise it's their own grave that they are digging.
  • Krabat: In his second year as an apprentice in the mill of Schwarzkollm, Krabat realizes the miller's contract with the Devil requires one apprentice to die on every New Year's Eve, and that certain unmarked graves in a clearing nearby are the graves of previous apprentices that have been sacrificed by the miller. When, on Christmas morning, Krabat meets the apprentice Michal returning with a pick and shovel, he understands that Michal knows he will be the next victim and has spent the night digging his own grave. The third year, Krabat himself is ordered to dig a grave which the miller calls "his last task", and which he obviously intends for Krabat.
  • In Pale Horse Coming by Stephen Hunter, corrupt cops arrest the protagonist, and one orders him to dig his own grave. However, the police chief, recognizing the protagonist's badass potential, says it's a stupid idea and has him thrown in jail instead.

    Live Action TV 
  • In The A-Team episode "The Road to Hope", Hannibal is captured by baddies and forced to dig his own grave, but he escapes. Later in the episode, the same baddies have him, BA and Face digging.
  • In Blue Bloods, Danny Reagan is forced to do this by an ex-con he helped put in prison.
  • In Brass Eye's episode "Crime," a fake news report on juvenile delinquency told the story of a kid who dressed up as an angel, broke into an old man's house, convinced him he was dead, and then forced him to bury himself outside.
  • Cannon: In "A Deadly Quiet Town", Cult members terrorize an old wino by forcing him to dig his own grave in potter's field. Exactly a week later, they murder him.
  • Criminal Minds episode "Revelations". Spencer Reid is forced to dig his own grave, but acts as though he's too weak to finish it. His captor puts down the gun and grabs the shovel and Reid picks up the gun and shoots him.
  • Sherlock is ordered to do this in one episode of Elementary. He refuses on general principle.
  • Father Brown: In "The Devil You Know", a Nazi war criminal holds Father Brown and Inspector Mallory at gunpoint and forces them to dig their own graves, preparatory to killing them.
  • In the Inspector Morse episode "The Way Through The Woods", the murderer forces Lewis to dig a grave for himself and another victim. As per the trope text, this gives Morse time to come to the rescue.
  • On Justified, stupid crook Dewey Crowe takes a man out into the woods with intention of shooting him dead and burying the body. He asks the man to bring a shovel since they are supposedly there to find some money that Dewey buried. The victim is Too Dumb to Live and believes the story so he obliges and brings a shovel with him. The problem is that he brings a small modular shovel that is good for digging small holes but not for digging a man-sized grave. Dewey has the man start digging anyway but it takes so long that Dewey decides to just shoot the man and leave the body in the woods. He bungles that too and things only get more farcical afterwards.
  • Subverted in Las Vegas, when Ed hauled a creep out to the desert and ordered him to dig his own grave with his bare hands, terrorizing him for his misdeed, then just left him standing there.
  • Happens to Cal Lightman in the Lie to Me episode "Beat the Devil".
  • In Life, there was a two-partner called "Dig A Hole" and "Fill It Up." In the first episode, Crews and Reese solve a murder case where the Sympathetic Murderer forced his victim to "dig a hole" and then "fill it up." In the second episode, when Crews finds the real killer of the crime he was falsely imprisoned for, he forces him to dig a hole...but doesn't kill him.
  • In the sixth season of Lost, Ben is forced to do this by Ilana. He's able to get away, though, and is redeemed when he confronts her and she forgives him for killing Jacob.
  • In the Mission: Impossible episode "The Council", a shady mobster digs his own grave before being beaten, tossed into the grave, and buried alive by his boss. The IM Force dig him up immediately afterward so they can interrogate him about that boss.
  • An unintentional example in Neighbours when Finn Kelly is digging a grave meant for Susan Kennedy once he murders her. The dry earth is too hard to shovel, so Finn uses a hose to wet and loosen it. This backfires when he slips in the mud, falls into the grave and hits his head on a rock, paralysing him. He drowns as the hose water fills the grave.
  • One of the imagine spots in Scrubs shows Elliot doing this as she antagonises Carla as a Visual Pun of Elliot making the situation worse by digging herself deeper. Truth in Television, as any doctor will tell you that the number one rule of a hospital is "Do not piss off the nurses". Indeed, they make Elliot's life hell for the rest of the episode.
  • The Sopranos episode "Pine Barrens". Christopher and Paulie try to force Russian mob member Valery to dig his own grave. Valery attacks them with the shovel and escapes. They later discover that Valery was a former special forces soldier.
  • The Westerner: In "School Days", a rancher who is planning on lynching Dave tosses him a Bowie knife and orders him to dig his own grave at gunpoint.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Dungeons & Dragons once had a cursed magic item that did this. When the Shovel of Interment was used it dug a hole, forced the user to jump into the hole and paralyzed him, then filled up the hole, burying the victim.

    Video Games 
  • Afterlife (1996): The "Grave Consequences" punishment for Slothful souls starts with this, by way of forcing the Slothful to dig their own grave in a frozen, rock-hard tundra using only a tiny spoon. And however long that takes, it's followed by eons Buried Alive (well, post-alive anyways).
  • In BioShock Infinite, the Lutece twins are seen digging their own graves while calmly giving a bit of exposition to what's going on after Lady Comstock has been "resurrected" as the Siren. Interestingly, the Luteces are supposed to be dead according to the people of Columbia but are actually existing between dimensions.
  • In Fallout 2, the Player Character can potentially inflict this on Pretty Boy Lloyd in New Reno, though in this case he buried his loot in a grave and you at first force him to excavate it at gunpoint. Once he gets the loot out, it's your choice whether or not to make the now-empty grave his or not.
  • Late in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Officer Tenpenny has C.J. do this for himself and Hernandez (the latter of whom had been discovered to have betrayed Tenpenny and Pulaski) when C.J. finally outlives his usefulness. As C.J. is digging, he tries to appeal to Pulaski with the warning that Tenpenny will dispose of Pulaski, too, but while it doesn't work, Hernandez regains consciousness and tries to attack Pulaski. Pulaski shoots Hernandez dead and tries to escape, but C.J. is able to chase down and kill Pulaski.
  • Agent 47 does this to Lenny in Hitman: Absolution, complete with the victim's frantic begging (not to mention wetting his pants) while 47 calmly eats an apple a few feet away.
  • Max is forced to do this by a vengeful mobster in Max Payne 3. He gets out of it with a Shovel Strike, before snatching one of their guns.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV. When negotiating with a demon, they may ask to dig, with all three of your options being to do so, and when you finish digging, the demon states that the hole is indeed your grave.
  • Tales from the Borderlands has Vasquez do this to Rhys and Vaughn in Episode 2, though it doesn't get far before they escape.

  • Defied in Kiwi Blitz: After 42 captures Barkley before taking him to the woods and producing a shovel, he fears she wants him to dig his own grave. She declines on grounds that she's better at digging.
  • Lackadaisy: One side comic has Victor and Mordechai doing this to a Chihuahua.
  • After accidentally killing his parents in his sleep, Sock from Welcome to Hell digs three graves: two for his parents, and another for him before he immediately stabs himself and falls into his grave.

    Western Animation 
  • Near the end of The Fairly OddParents! special Channel Chasers, when Timmy is digging a hole to put a time capsule, Cosmo asks him if Vicky is making him dig his own grave again.
  • In the third Family Guy Star Wars special, Peter, as Han Solo, makes several stormtroopers dig their own grave, then shoot each other because he's tired of dealing with Ewoks.
  • In Chapter 2 of Over the Garden Wall, Greg and Wirt are sentenced to a few hours of manual labor for minor crimes in a town. After digging for a few hours, Greg finds a skeleton, and Wirt comes to the realization that they're digging their own graves. Subverted, however, when it turns out they were actually digging up graves so the skeletons inside could come to life and join the community, thus revealing that the entire town is actually living skeletons wearing clothes and pumpkins.
  • In The Owl House, "Eclipse Lake" sees Hunter finding that any Titan’s blood in the titular location is gone. Fearing Belos’s retribution if he returns empty-handed having already failed his last mission, Hunter manically digs into the ground—not looking for more Titan's blood, but figuring that he's doomed either way and should cut out the middle man, before Amity snaps him out of it.
    Hunter: Long story short, this is m'grave. [cheerfully] Want me to make you one too?
  • In one episode of The Simpsons, Comic Book Guy and Skinner are ordered to dig their own graves by Mr. Burns. Comic Book Guy prays to Superman for help digging his hole.
  • Tom and Jerry:
    • In The Bodyguard, Jerry whistles for Spike to protect him as Tom hastily digs an impromptu grave and writes his will.
    • In Jerry's Cousin, a group of cats see Muscles Mouse approaching and begin running for cover. One of the cats digs a grave in the sidewalk, buries himself, and uses a chunk of pavement as a headstone.
    • At the end of The Duck Doctor, Tom sees a falling anvil about to hit him and, resigned to his fate, digs his own grave and smokes one last cigarette. After the pounding, he falls backward into the hole, the impact of which causes the surrounding dirt to cover him, and the anvil becomes an impromptu headstone.
    • At the end of Hiccup Pup, after causing the rain gutters to fall from the house and cause the loudest noise of all in front of Spike and Tyke, who are suffering from hiccups, Tom quickly dug a hole and buried himself to avoid getting a beating from the former. However, the noise actually cured Spike and Tyke's hiccups, leading to Spike pulling Tom out while shaking his hand in gratitude, declaring that "anything you do from now on is okay!" Jerry hears this and, realizing he can no longer count on Spike to stop Tom, pack his things and flees to the horizon.
  • Near the end of crazy Deranged Animation short Tup Tup, the protagonist attempts to do this. He digs his own grave, puts a gun to his temple, squeezes the trigger—and, a frog comes out.

    Real Life 
  • Notorious Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy, who had a construction business, at one time charged some of his employees with digging trenches in the crawlspace under his house. Gacy later killed one of those employees, Gregory Godzik, and threw him in the trench that Godzik had helped dig.
  • There's a story of the Mob ordering one of their members to kill a guy. The hitman contacts the target and tells him that he needs his help setting up another guy. They drive out into the woods, and the guy is told to dig a grave for the other victim. After he's finished, he asks if the hole is deep enough. The hitman responds "Yep, that'll do." *BANG*
  • The Nazis did this to some of their victims during the Holocaust.
  • A Japanese proverb says "When setting out for revenge, first dig two graves", meaning one for your target, and one for yourself.
  • A non-lethal variant occurred in the aftermath of the 2004 Pitcairn Islands sexual assault trial. As the British colony is the least populous national jurisdiction in the world and thousands of miles away from any real civilization, the convicted were forced by the British government to build their own prison.


Video Example(s):


Hunter fails his mission

Hunter, who already failed one mission for Belos and doesn't believe he can afford to fail another, decides to find his uncle the Titan Blood he needs. However, after arriving at Eclipse Lake, where the Titan Blood is rumored to reside, all he finds is an empty lakebed. Believing he can't go back empty handed, he goes completely manic and cheerfully starts to dig his own grave.

How well does it match the trope?

4.56 (27 votes)

Example of:

Main / LaughingMad

Media sources: