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Forgiveness Requires Death

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Steve has been accused of a particularly heinous crime, and the locals are screaming for blood. While the supporting cast believe that Steve is innocent and seek to prove he was Wrongly Accused, Steve shocks everyone by admitting his guilt and preparing to accept whatever they do to him, as he's convinced that he deserves it and that Forgiveness Requires Death. It doesn't help matters that the grieved Untrusting Community usually has archaic laws where the penalty for Steve's crime (and all crimes in general) is death. Usually in a brutal manner at that.

In this setup, the supporting cast generally divides into three reactions:

Alternatively, someone who hates Steve for this actions (and perhaps was someone Steve personally wronged) seeks to kill him, and should Steve try to apologize during their attempt, they tell him they will only accept taking his life as an apology.

Distinct from Redemption Equals Death, which is the tendency of Heel Face Turners to buy it in a Heroic Sacrifice soon after changing sides. An extreme case of Self-Restraint. Contrast Dishonored Dead when even death isn't enough for forgiveness.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Trigun, Vash is such a pacifist that he holds himself liable for the deaths of people killed by the villain. Thus, when people learn his identity, capture him, and proceed to torture him with every intention of eventually killing him, all he can do is submit. He even states that he's to blame. It's only the interference of those he's befriended that stops the violence and frees him.
  • Pretty much the whole point of the Soul Society arc in Bleach. Rukia has pretty much accepted her fate to be executed over giving her powers to Ichigo, in large part because she believes she deserves to die for having to Mercy Kill her mentor Kaien. Her True Companions don't see it that way, of course, all the way down to the guy who supposedly hates everyone like her.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, this is Flay's attitude towards Kira after he fails to prevent her father from being killed. She says that the only way that she'll forgive him is if he kills himself fighting.

    Comic Books 
  • During the Apocalypse War arc of Judge Dredd, Chief Judge Griffin is captured by the Sovs and brainwashed to spout propaganda. When he breaks free of the brainwashing, he feels so guilty about it that he declares himself guilty of treason and assigns himself the death penalty. Dredd obliges.

    Fan Works 
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: Averted: After failing to take the Iron Throne from the Red Keep and getting Daenerys killed in the process, the Wolf tells Akkarulf that being killed may earn forgiveness from men, but not the Chaos gods, and so he must carry on with his mission instead of dying in battle to redeem himself.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the Millennium Falcon successfully escapes the pursuit of an Imperal Star Destroyer in an asteroid field. Captain Needa, knowing full well what's going to happen, visits Vader personally to take full responsibility for his failure. Vader forgives him... after he executes Needa by way of implied Force choke.
    Vader: Apology accepted, Captain Needa.
  • In The Green Mile, after Arlen Bitterbuck is executed, Percy casually remarks that the deceased is burning in hell, but Brutal objects, insisting, "He's paid what he owed. He's square with the house again, so keep your goddamn hands off him!"

  • Harry Potter: Severus Snape was a character who constantly bullied and belittled Harry (and many others, but especially Harry), and the hatred reached its peak after Snape kills Dumbledore at the end of the sixth book. However, during the final book, after Voldemort kills Snape, Harry sees his memories which put his actions in context such as Snape's loyalty to Dumbledore, love for Harry's mother Lily, and efforts to protect him. According to J.K. Rowling herself, Snape died for Harry out of love for Lily, so Harry paid him tribute in forgiveness and gratitude.
  • In the first book of the H.I.V.E. Series, the Contessa appears to be a Face who just happens to be creepy. In book two, she is bought by Cypher and assists in the intended demolition of the school, the kidnapping of Laura and Shelby, and the apparent death of Wing. Everyone who knows about the incident is practically vying for the opportunity to exact their revenge, but are under the impression that Number One killed her. This turns out to not be true in book three, when she is appointed by Number One to run the HIVE. However, when the school is slated for destruction, she acts as a suicide bomber to blow up the would-be killers. She is remembered fondly for the rest of the series, which contributed to the Alphas accepting her granddaughter, Lucy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1 did this with Teal'c attempting to die for the murder of a local's father when he was Apophis's First Prime. Naturally, the fact that Apophis had threatened to kill everybody if he didn't kill one guy did little to touch the "judge", who was the victim's son. By design. Further complicating things is the people would run when the gate activates but move at the pace of the slowest person. The man he killed is crippled and silently nods to be killed to help save more people the next time. Teal'c even hides the fact that he did it to save the rest of the community from his friends because he truly believes he deserves the punishment and doesn't want his friends defending his actions.
    Teal'c: While in the service of Apophis I did many things. For these deeds my victims deserve retribution. [...] Hanno's father was not the first or the last of those whose lives I have taken. And I have done far worse, O'Neill. I can not give all of their loved ones retribution, but I can at least give it to this one.
  • This is the main plot of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Duet": a minor bureaucrat in an infamous Cardassian labor camp attempts both to atone for his moral cowardice and to bring his government to account for its atrocities by impersonating the camp's commandant and submitting to a Bajoran war crimes tribunal, where he would face almost certain death.
    • In the Deep Space Nine episode "The Adversary", Odo killed another Changeling to prevent him from killing the crew of the Defiant. By doing this, he broke the law of his people never to kill a fellow Changeling. Although Odo had previously broken with his people and the Federation was soon to be at war with them, he headed to his home planet anyway, since he believed he deserved to be tried for his deed. The trial ended with Odo being found guilty and turned into a human, which basically meant his death as a Changeling.
      • Of course, this doesn't last and half a season later he's been turned back after absorbing the remains of a dying infant Changeling he had befriended. When he next encounters the Female Changeling who seems to have presided over the decision to turn him human, she considers the matter behind them, he's a Changeling again and "all is forgiven". Odo points turns this trope around her, declaring that while she/they may have forgiven him, he hasn't forgiven them (it's unclear whether he means for turning him human or for being Lawful Evil interstellar warlords)
  • Boston Legal, "Death Be Not Proud": Alan Shore goes down to Texas to try and get a kid spared from the death penalty, but cannot because the kid has been told so many times that he was guilty that he'd convinced himself of it. Ends with a passionate speech against the death penalty, and then a horrible scene where the kid dies. Emotional TV.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise, the final episodes from season one (Shockwave Part 1). As the crew visits a mining colony with a highly inflammable atmosphere the air suddenly ignites and the entire planet's surface is destroyed (along with the thousands or so of workers on it). While the officers claim to have followed procedures exactly it seems undeniable that the blast originated from Enterprise's shuttle and the colonist's homeworld demands retribution while the Vulcans use it as another argument to get Enterprise out of space.
  • In Once Upon a Time, Snow White seems to take this attitude in the letter she sent to the Evil Queen after she realizes that the Queen had sent a huntsman to kill her. In the letter, she admits that it is her fault that the Queen "will never know true love, so it is only fitting that I be denied that same joy." However, Snow is quick enough to run off when the Huntsman gives her the chance, so this may not actually be how she feels.

  • In the second album by The Protomen, Father Of Death, Dr. Light is framed for the murder of his girlfriend by Dr. Wily. Because Light built the robot that Wily used to kill her, he feels so guilty and hopeless that even when he's acquitted in court, he doesn't resist when Wily whips up a lynch mob out for his blood. His security detail getting him on a train out of The City is the only reason he lives long enough to make his plans to overthrow Wily.

  • The Bible teaches people that in order for God to forgive them of their sins, something must die in their place as their substitute so they will not be killed, since the wages of sin is death. In the Old Testament, this was usually handled with animal sacrifices of clean animals that were ritually offered to God by the high priest. In the New Testament, however, Jesus Christ became the sacrifice that was pure and holy enough to cleanse people of all sin for all time, and was risen from the dead to show that death no longer has mastery over those who have faith in Him who has the power over life and death.
  • Toward the end of The Ramayana, Rama says to Vibhishana, the brother of his fallen foe Raavana: "It is for you now, his brother, to do the rites. Death ends all enmity. I, his former foe, even I can rightly perform his obsequies. Your brother is my brother too, is he not?"

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • In the No Mercy path of Undertale, if you fall for the Final Boss's false offer of mercy, he will kill you and inform you that "if we're really friends, you won't come back [from death]." The reason for this is the fact that the boss is aware of your ability to hit the Reset Button, which re-starts the game with everyone alive. After all, if you're truly remorseful for killing everyone, why wouldn't you bring them back and avoid killing them in the first place if you have the ability to do so?
  • In World of Warcraft, during the Corrupted Ashbringer event, Highlord Alexandros Mograine confronts his son, Scarlet Commander Renault Mograine, a minor villain and head of the Scarlet Crusade who was responsible for his father's death, when Alexandros' soul emerges from the Ashbringer sword.
    Scarlet Commander Mograine: Forgive me, father! Please...
    (Highlord Mograine kills his son)
    Highlord Mograine: You are forgiven...

    Western Animation 
  • Happened to Green Lantern John Stewart in the animated Justice League (and the comic-book story the episode was based on). He was framed into thinking a stray blast from his ring destroyed a nearby inhabited planet as part of a larger plot.

    Real Life