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Dig Your Own Grave

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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 we wants to eke out as much time for his 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.


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  • 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 

    Comic Books 
  • The cover of World's Finest Comics #195 (pictured above) 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.
  • 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.

    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.

  • 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).
  • The Nazi prisoner who uses the opportunity to try to endear himself to his captives in Saving Private Ryan.
  • Happens in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Digging a grave by hand does take a lot of time, a lot of things can happen.
  • 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...
  • The Soviets did this to the Polish officer corps in Katyn.
  • Happens to the banditos in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
  • In 90's gangster film Montana, Kyra Sedgewick plays a hit woman 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in A Feast for Crows. Brienne of Tarth captures insane outlaw Shagwell and forces him to dig a grave with his bare hands; not for himself but for her companion Dick Crabb, whom Shagwell just killed.
  • 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 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.

    Live Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • I though he was a Interior Decorator...
  • Happens to Cal Lightman in the Lie to Me episode "Beat the Devil".
  • 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted on 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.
  • Sherlock is ordered to do this in one episode of Elementary.
  • 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.
  • In Blue Bloods, Danny Reagan is forced to do this by a ex-con he helped put in prison.
  • 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.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Dungeons & Dragons once had a cursed magic item that did this. When the Shovel of Internment 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 
  • Officer Tenpenny has C.J. do this in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas when C.J. finally outlives his usefulness. Though it isn't C.J. who ends up in the grave.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Tales from the Borderlands has Vasquez do this to Rhys and Vaughn in Episode 2, though it doesn't get far before they escape.

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    Western Animation 

    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.