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Don't Sneak Up on Me Like That!

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Mac: She grabbed me from behind. It was instinctual.
Dennis: I know that, man. You don't grab.
Mac: You don't grab from behind!

Bob has something important to tell Alice. She's busy and focused on something, and he's been told never to interrupt her... but this is important! Surely she won't mind... He taps her on the shoulder.

"Hey, Alice, I- " POW!

Alice punches Bob across the room the moment he touches her. Then she realizes who it was. "Bob! I told you not to sneak up on me like that!"

This trope is about any instance where a character attacks someone accidentally, just because they were taken by surprise. If it's being Played for Laughs, the attacker will usually utter some variation of the trope's title. However, if the victim is seriously injured (or killed), it usually leads to My God, What Have I Done? and Cradling Your Kill instead.

One common variation is for the victim to be playing a prank on the attacker by dressing as something they don't like, without considering that fear may lead to violence. Or it may be a subversion of Cooldown Hug, where it fails to have the desired effect and just angers the huggee even more (possibly leading to a Deadly Hug).

Friend or Foe? is the Super-Trope, while Wake Up Fighting is a common Sub-Trope. Contrast The Anticipator. See also Cat Scare, Offhand Backhand, Stealth Hi/Bye, and Reflexive Response.

Thanks to the perennial issue of people either not understanding or refusing to accept the concept of personal space, this trope is Truth in Television.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency, Wamuu can apparently sense it when someone steps on his shadow, and responds with a reflexive attack.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple
    • This is a reflex conditioned into Miu through years of martial arts training: she always throws anyone who touches her (or, God forbid, grabs her) from behind.
    • However Rimi Kokorone from Yomi has demonstrated the ability to sneak up on Miu (and frisked her as well) without the latter being aware of it until after the former had already left.
  • In Naruto, when Naruto lost control of the Kyuubi, Sakura tried to calm him down and got slapped with a Hellfire-imbued tail for her trouble. She didn't really sneak up on him, he was just berserking and attacked her because she presented herself as a target.
  • In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Rain Mikamura flips Chibodee over her shoulder one-handed when he taps her on the shoulder in a dark, creepy system of underground tunnel ruins.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing this happens if a pilot loses control of the ZERO System. It's a combat system, so one has to maintain absolute focus; if you start thinking about your girlfriend or that Bus Full of Innocents over there, the System will tell you the best way to kill them, which tends to lead to a slippery slope right down into a Freak Out. In at least one instance the response to such a Freak Out was to have the pilot's allies clear the area.
  • In Elfen Lied, Bando punched a woman with that excuse, and, by extension, Kicked a Dog.
  • In Kill Me Baby, when Yasuna sneaks up on Sonya, Sonya inflicts crippling injuries on her. Yasuna never learns her lesson.
  • Golgo 13. This is a Berserk Button for the normally stoic and professional Golgo 13. The very few occasions when he makes a mistake usually involve his Reflexive Response to this. He always stands with his back to the wall when meeting new clients, and when someone came behind him during one meeting, he shot the guy. It was his client's assistant.

    Comic Books 
  • Red Robin: When Tim is distancing himself from Dick and preparing to leave in order to track down more clues as to Bruce's location after Bruce's "death" Stephanie sneaks into his safe house and approaches him from behind without announcing herself and ends up getting kicked into some shelving for her trouble.
  • In the first issue of Scooby Apocalypse, when Velma arrives via a well hidden entrance In an attempt to expose Project Elysium Fred mistakes her for an attacker and knocks her out.
  • Yorick's reunion with his mother in Y: The Last Man went more or less "She contemplates another night in a lantern-lit White House office two months after the Gendercide, he steps out of the shadows behind her with a crack about security, he ends up on his back via adrenaline-fueled shoulder throw."

    Comic Strips 
  • Bloom County, "The Great Bloom County Snake Massacre". Several main characters set out to kill a snake at the local swimming hole. In one strip Binkley was carrying a club when the groundhog Portnoy came up behind him, touched his shoulder and said "See anything?" Binkley, scared out of his mind, started wildly swinging the bat around and knocked Portnoy unconscious.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Problem With Purity, as Head Girl, Hermione gets a bedroom all to herself. After she got used to no longer being in a dormitory, she didn't expect anyone to enter her bedroom. So when she was moping inside and felt an intended-to-be-comforting hand on her shoulder, she was so startled she cast a wandless wordless stunning spell on the person who had entered.
  • In Chapter 7 of Faery Heroes, Dobby suddenly appears behind Harry Potter, startling Harry into drawing his wand and pointing it at Dobby's head. Harry warns "Dobby, don't scare me like that!"
  • In Chapter 64 of Angry Harry And The Seven, Harry Potter reacts to a sudden (and unwanted) camera flash in his face by destroying the camera, then he warns the photographer, "Startle me like that again, snot-gobbler, and you better hope I don't retaliate with a Cutting Curse or similar!"

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 

  • This happens in Servant: The Acceptance by Lori Foster.
    She jerked. Still held by the bellicose nostalgia, she reacted on instinct. Grabbing her confronter, she put him in a deadly hold—and heard a choking laugh.
    "God, Gaby, I've missed you," the strangled voice said.
    Mort. "You idiot!" She loosed him with a shove of temper. "Don't you know better than to sneak up on me?"
  • In the Sherlock Holmes book "The Valley of Fear", McMurdo's girlfriend sneaks up on him while he's writing a letter:
    If she had expected to startle him, she certainly succeeded; but only in turn to be startled herself. With a tiger spring he turned on her, and his right hand was feeling for her throat.
  • William Gibson's Neuromancer. Case forgets to knock when dropping in on Molly.
    He placed his chip against the black plate. The bolts clicked. She seemed to hit him, somehow, before he'd actually gotten the door open. He was on his knees, the steel door against his back, the blades of her rigid thumbs quivering centimeters from his eyes...
  • A tragic example in The Silmarillion: When Beleg Strongbow tries to rescue his friend Túrin Turambar, Túrin assumes it's another orc come to torture him, snatches Beleg's dagger, and kills him. Unsurprisingly, Túrin has an attack of guilt-induced catatonia.
  • Harry Potter: Don't ever surprise Mad-Eye Moody. Although chances are he already knew you were there, if you actually do catch him off-guard... well...
  • Apparently in the Mistborn series, an experienced Mistborn will flare all their metals when startled, and an experienced Misting may do this too with their one metal. However, sneaking up on an allomancer isn't easy, especially when they're burning tin, so it's unlikely for someone to sneak up on them by accident.
  • Clear and Present Danger: This exact line is said by Clark when the pilot Larson walks up behind him, in the immediate aftermath of a gunfight, without warning him first, and nearly gets himself shot for his trouble.
  • In Ender's Game, Ender has a reflex self-defense reaction to Valentine touching him, showing how deeply he's been changed in his years at Battle School.
  • The Ethical Engineer (aka Deathworld 2) by Harry Harrison. Jason dinAlt gets his wrist broken by his Action Girlfriend Meta when he kisses her unexpectedly. She was raised on a Death World where the Reflexive Response to something unexpected is to hit it or shoot it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000. Crow learns from The Days of Our Years that when getting someone's attention while they're blowtorching something, they should use gentle pressure. Crow forgets, startles Mike and gets charcoaled.
  • In season 2 of Dexter, after her recent traumatic experience of being kidnapped by a serial killer, Deb punches a guy in the nose when he comes up behind her at a bar.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy herself does it pretty often, which is excusable considering that she hunts monsters by baiting them into jumping out at her from the shadows. It's how she meets Oz, for example.
    Oz: That is a tense person.
    • Happens in reverse after Buffy returns to Sunnydale in "Dead Man's Party". Buffy sees a suspicious-looking character in an overcoat creeping along a dark alley at night. She sneaks up on him, only to step on a discarded soda can whereupon she's almost staked by a startled Xander.
    • Played for Laughs when Giles is startled by his Love Interest Jenny walking up behind him while he's on patrol. He waves a cross in her face and she quips, "I get that reaction from men all the time."
    • Exploited by the villains in the season 6 episode "Dead Things", who manage to make Buffy think she killed an innocent woman this way.
  • Angel. In the episode "Expecting", Cordelia is doing her makeup when Angel (who being a vampire doesn't appear in the mirror) speaks from behind her, causing a major lipstick accident.
    Cordelia: And now I look like the Joker.
  • On Get Smart, after 86 and 99 got married, he'd occasionally make the mistake of sneaking up on her to give her a kiss, only to get karate chopped.
  • Mac on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia punches Dee in the face when she grabs him from behind. This is foreshadowing for him doing the same thing to Carmen in public, causing a couple of guys to chase him over what they think is a hatecrime. A conversation with Dennis suggests this is a common problem;
    Mac: She grabbed me from behind. It was instinctual.
    Dennis: I know that, man. You don't grab.
    Mac: You don't grab from behind!
  • On Cougar Town, Laurie's soldier boyfriend Wade surprises her by popping out of a recycling bin, and she reacts by punching him.
  • On Teen Wolf, Derek does this to people all the time. Poor Stiles is the most common recipient, since he's human and all.
  • In Happy Endings, Jane really hates surprises. When her husband tries to surprise her with a list of future surprises she elbows him in the face.
  • Community's faux-clip show episode "Paradigms of Human Memory" includes a flashback to Annie practicing karate and punching out anyone who "sneaks up on her"... which in Shirley's case consists of walking up behind her and saying "Hello."
    Annie: When I'm startled, my training takes over!

    Tabletop Games 
  • The "Berserk" disadvantage in GURPS, in addition to everything else the disadvantage entails (rabidly attacking every enemy on hand with whatever weapon is on hand), also conveys this, treating anyone trying to restrain the character, friend or enemy, as an enemy. Earlier editions nicknamed the berserker rage "the Doom of the North" for this very reason.
  • The Berserk disadvantage/complication in Champions works like this.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • This is how Ike's mother got killed in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, as she was trying to retrieve a medallion from her husband that turned him into a crazed berserker. She succeeded, but not without getting stabbed.
  • In Assassin's Creed III Connor does this, it's hilarious.
  • The Walking Dead plays with this trope more than once.
    • In the main story Season Two, this happens right off the bat. Omid is shot and killed by a girl who is startled by the door closing as he entered.
    • In 400 Days, Bonnie is snuck up on by one of the other central characters of this story. As a result she accidentally bludgeons them, as they were both running from a group trying to attack them.
    • In The Final Season, Marlon starts a friendly conversation with Clem and AJ, touching AJ's shoulder from behind. It earns him an elbow to the crotch.


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!, naturally. Once, after being set-up with one of Francine's oldest friends, Stan's boss accidentally snapped her neck during the date, leading to Stan desperately trying to cover up the murder from his wife. Hilarity Ensues.
    • Happens again with Doc and Molotov, wherein she kicks him into the opposite wall.
  • Big City Greens:
    • Happens in "Cheap Snake" when Cricket wants to show Gramma the snake he got.
      Gramma: Cricket, you know better than to sneak up on me during Gramma Time!
    • Done again in "The Van" when Cricket and Gramma are snubbing about Rick the van owner behind his back, because they assume he's secretly a creep who left his van on their property when he's really a nice guy. When he overhears them talking, this stuns them.
      Cricket: (with faux surprise) Ohhhh my gosh, Rick! Don't sneak up on us like that!
      Rick: Oh, sorry.
  • In one episode of Camp Lazlo, Lazlo comes in as Lumpus is apologizing to Slinkman for tossing him out a window without realizing that the monkey is there. Lazlo slides up near him and hugs him, just as the moose sees his slug assistant outside his window. Suddenly, Lumpus pushes Lazlo out of the way and is about to attack him with Kung-fu when he realizes that it was only him.
  • Family Guy
    Ninja: Ooh, sorry honey! You know you can't sneak up on me like that...
    • Played With in "The Griffin Family History" where Peter thought he heard a burglar and so is prowling the house with a baseball bat.
    Meg: Dad! What is it? What's going on? I heard a noise. Is somebody downstairs?
    [Peter stares at Meg for the 5 full seconds it takes for her to say the above before clocking her with the bat]
    Peter: Oh, God, Meg, you startled me, I'm sorry!
    Meg: What the hell's your problem, you dumbass?!
    • A Cutaway Gag from "McStroke" had Peter with a horse's leg kicking Brian in the face when he appears.
    Peter: Sorry, Brian. But what do I keep saying? Do not stand behind me, because I will get scared.
  • Ready Jet Go!: A running gag is Mindy constantly sneaking up on Mitchell while he is spying on Jet, which he finds totally annoying and uncomfortable. He even has to remind her to stop, but she never listens. This also shows that she's the only one who knows he is out to expose Jet as an alien and this allows her to overhear him.
  • Played for Drama in Steven Universe: Since Connie has been training to save the world, when another student bumps into her in a school hallway her training takes over and she throws him, accidentally breaking his arm. Although she apologizes and he forgives her, her mistake is taken seriously and leads to her doing meditation training with Garnet.
  • The Venture Brothers
    • Happens with Hank and Brock.
    • Also with 21 and 24...sort of.
    24: BOO!
    21: Dude, I was about to kill you! I have dangerous cat-like reflexes.
  • W.I.T.C.H.:
    Cornelia: Sneaking up on people might be okay in Meridian, but here it's, rude!

    Real Life 
  • This was apparently what happened when Dick Cheney accidentally shot his friend Harry Whitington during a quail hunt in 2006. Whitington had moved away from the main group and came back around to their rear and when a bird flew behind Cheney he turned and shot Whitington by accident.
  • Don't approach a horse from directly behind. That's the horse's blind spot, and the horse's first instinct will be to kick at whatever is in that blind spot just in case it's a predator. This safety rule also applies to donkeys, zebras and other equines. As the saying goes, "Be careful in front of a goat, in back of a horse, and on all sides of a drunkard."


Video Example(s):


Moana smacks Maui

Maui sneaks up behind Moana in front of Tamatoa's cave and promptly gets smacked in the face because Moana thought he was a monster attacking from behind.

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Example of:

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