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Go and Sin No More

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Rembrandt's painting of the trope namernote 
"Most Gracious Queen, we thee implore
To go away and sin no more,
But if that effort be too great,
To go away at any rate."
— Anonymous. Refers to George IV's wife, Queen Caroline

The villain has either been defeated or acknowledges the error of his ways. He surrenders to the hero, expecting to be killed or punished in some other way. Instead, the hero lets him go, telling him to repent for his crimes by doing good deeds.

This usually turns the villain into The Atoner and sends him on a Redemption Quest.

May overlap with The Punishment Is the Crime in cases where the hero decides that the villain has been sufficiently punished by his own remorse or other harmful consequences of his deeds.

Time may eventually subvert this, and show that the hero really intended Cruel Mercy, or worse, the villain may just go doing more sin. On the other hand, if Rousseau Was Right, then the villain may very well reform themselves and become a force for good in the world.

This is a common tactic of The Redeemer.

The Trope Namer is a story in The Bible in which Jesus releases an adulteress rather than stone her to death (which would have been common at the time). Easy, then, to see why the hero who bestows this mercy is often a Messianic Archetype or All-Loving Hero.

Compare Let Off by the Detective, when the fate the villain is spared is being processed by the official justice system.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Exorcist ninja in Ayakashi Triangle, as the name suggest, are tasked with "exorcising" ayakashi that hurt or endanger humans. For incredibly malicious ayakashi this means being outright obliterated, but less dangerous ones are "exorcised" by just performing a strange ritual that will scare them into staying out of human-occupied space.
  • Happens with Impmon/Beelzemon in Digimon Tamers when he kills Leomon. Jeri only prevents Gallantmon from dealing the final blow on him because she doesn't want anyone else to suffer.
  • Goku of Dragon Ball Z tries this on Freeza twice. It doesn't work.
  • This happens in the Nuts Fujimori manga adaptation of Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu. In this adaptation, one of the early bad guys, Kinbois of Verdane, is portayed as deep down not being evil, just someone influencable who was following the wrong path. Sigurd notices this, and lets him live on the promise he will atone for his sins. Kinbois is genuinely moved by this mercy and promises. This turns out to be crucial, as Kinbois' brother Jamuka later fights Sigurd because he believes, in a misunderstanding, that Sigurd has killed his beloved brother in battle: after learning the truth and seeing Sigurd's generosity, Jamuka joins his party.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: Several times by Kenshin because of his Thou Shall Not Kill thing. This earns him several friends. He doesn't try it with Shishio Makoto, probably because he recognized that the man is too far gone off the deep end in his belief in Might Makes Right and too dangerous to risk letting him live.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS: After his defeat at the hands of Soulburner, Varis turns to leave, promising to never bother him or Playmaker again. However, Soulburner implores him to make up for his past actions by stopping others who might try the same thing, to which he accepts their offer.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Smurfs comic book story "The Fake Smurf", Gargamel (and Hogatha in the 1980s Animated Adaptation) pleads for mercy when he is brought out into the forest after being revealed as the fake Smurf and his attempt to restore himself has failed, resulting in reverting to his original form but not also his original size. Papa Smurf spares Gargamel, telling him to go and let what has been done to him be a reminder to amend his ways. Gargamel flees, but as usual with the character, he still swears vengeance upon the Smurfs.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), this marks Dimitri's Heel–Face Turn, after appealing to his descendant Knuckles.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney fic Dirty Sympathy, Edgeworth decides to let Klavier and Apollo go instead of sending them back to the U.S. to get arrested after verifying that they were being truthful of their justification of their crimes and they truly had no way out of their abuse before everything escalated.
  • The premise of Hollow Knight fic Sins of the Father is the Knight (now the Shade Lord, as per the Godhome ending) returning to the Pale King's dream world and dragging him with them to the past, so he can prevent the wrongs he did to deal with the Infection.
  • The TRON fic Through a Diamond Sky features a bit more literal case than most. The villain's Dragon has second thoughts and switches sides to help the heroes and captured Isos. She fully expects Flynn to de-rez her, but Flynn has other ideas, giving her a directive to seek out other Programs and Isos who are in danger of losing their way like she did, and finishing it up by quoting the trope namer.

  • In Gandhi a Hindu comes to Gandhi as he's partaking in a fast and says he (the Hindu) is going to Hell, because he killed a Muslim child in revenge for Muslims killing his son. Gandhi tells the man he can repent by finding a Muslim boy whose parents have been killed, and raise him. But here's the kicker: he's to raise the boy as a Muslim.

    Folklore, Mythology and Religion 
  • In The Four Gospels, Jesus is frequently asked questions to set up a Morton's Fork: if the question was answered the one or other way then Jesus could be accused of either not following Jewish religious law (e.g. about helping people) or secular Jewish law (e.g. the Sabbath); and answering yet others (e.g. about taxes) could also mean trouble with the occupying Romans. Jesus' specialty was famously to Take a Third Option.
    In this instancenote , the question was if a woman caught in adultery should be stoned for it. Jesus wrote something in the dirt instead of answering. While what was written was lost to history and thus comes off as random drawings, an educated guess as to what non-random thing it might have been is that what Jesus wrote were the names of those asking the question - a direct reference to the words of Jeremiah:
    Oh Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake Thee shall be ashamed,[those who stray from Your word] shall [disappear in shame, they shall cease to exist like names that were] written in [the dust], because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.
    • As the people of the time were certainly familiar with Jeremiah: a not so subtle way of telling the ones asking that by instrumentalising God to set up a trap they, also, had strayed from the word of God and should be ashamed of themselves (and hence also deserved punishment according to their own logic). After pointing the accusers at this, Jesus invites anyone who thinks it is not applicable to:
      Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
    • When Jesus then resumes writing one has the notion that now it's less of the earlier reminder of the meaning of names in the dust, and more of giving the would-be accusers a chance to leave in some form of quiet - which they did. After the crowd disperses, Jesusnote  tells the accused that if no one else had condemned her on those terms, then neither would He; and to go and sin no more.
  • If you identify "the hero" in the page description with God and "the villain" with an individual human being, you'd have a fairly accurate representation of the Christian doctrines of repentance and salvation.
  • Most versions of the story of Momotarō end this way. He beats the oni in battle but, instead of killing them, tells them to change their ways.

  • Brother Cadfael discovers the recently-unmasked killer in Monk's Hood on the run... or rather, the killer attacks him, but can't bring himself to murder a monk in cold blood. Cadfael calmly tells him that he 'was never meant to be a murderer', that Cadfael knew his crime was done on impulse when circumstances made it possible, and gives him a sentence of voluntary banishment and always doing good for the rest of his life—oh, and making a confession to a priest as soon as he can and asking him to post it to the sheriff of Shrewsbury (as the man is illiterate) to clear his innocent relation of suspicion.
  • Earth's Children: After Attaroa's demise in The Plains of Passage, some of the camp are more than willing to execute her second-in-command Epadoa for both of their crimes. However, Ayla points out that this wouldn't make them any better than Attaroa and Epadoa states she's willing to make amends. The camp agrees to spare her and she is heartfelt about making up for her past misdeeds.
  • Happens to Flambeau, a thief, in the Father Brown mysteries. Specifically, in The Queer Feet, Father Brown catches Flambeau and then lets him go after listening to his confession (and retrieving the loot). Not long afterwards, Flambeau appears as a fellow detective.
  • The Horse and His Boy: Both King Lune and Aslan Himself attempt this with Rabadash after he gets captured (in a very humiliating way, no less). But he's too proud, too Hot-Blooded, too self-centered, and too stubborn to even consider accepting their mercy or instruction until he's hit with a Forced Transformation into the stubborn donkey that he'd been acting like.
  • In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean, a recently paroled convict, finds that no inn is willing to let a convict stay the night. The Bishop of Digne, seeing him wandering the streets, invites him to share a meal and stay at his humble home. In the middle of the night Valjean steals the silverware he noticed during dinner and flees. He is caught shortly after, and tells the police that the Bishop gave him the silverware. When they return Valjean to the Bishop he confirms the story, and hands Valjean the silver candlesticks, saying that he had given them to Valjean as well, but he must have forgotten. The police accept this and let Vajean go. The Bishop then tells Valjean that he has purchased his soul and given it to God, and that he should use the silver to make himself an honest man.
  • Old Kingdom: Justified at the end of the prequel Clariel. Clariel uses Black Magic in desperation to avenge her parents, goes Drunk on the Dark Side, and becomes an Unwitting Pawn of two malevolent spirits, yet pulls a near-Heroic Sacrifice to stop them. Because of this, her friends help her escape into exile with her magic bound rather than let the Queen execute her. She genuinely means to live a simple life in the woods, but it's her Start of Darkness as the legendary sorcerer Chlorr of the Mask.
  • In the Robot Series by Isaac Asimov:
    • The Caves of Steel: Instead of arresting the corrupt police chief for the (accidental, as it turns out) murder of a pro-robot, pro-space travel scientist, Elijah and Daneel tell him to rally support for robots and space travel among the Luddite "Medievalists" he worked with. Daneel uses the exact words "Go and sin no more" as Elijah had told him the story of the Trope Namer before.
    • The Naked Sun: The blame for the murder ends up falling on the person who manipulated events in order to cause the murder to happen, instead of the Unwitting Pawn who actually struck the killing blow.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series novel Spock's World, McCoy and Kirk tell the Big Bad to get out of prison and do some good with that intelligence.
  • In the first Warrior Cats series, Blackfoot is one of the antagonists, a Dragon of the villains who attempts to kidnap kits and manages to murder several cats. In The Darkest Hour, after Tigerstar's death, he's set to become leader of ShadowClan. Even though some of Blackfoot's crimes are recent, The Hero Firestar simply warns him to learn from his predecessors, and Blackfoot does go on to become a much better leader than the cats he served.
  • Subverted Trope in Wizard's First Rule. Richard forgives his brother Michael for everything he did to him. However, Richard still has him beheaded without a trial as he does not forgive him for crimes he committed against others, feeling he doesn't have the right to.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Doctor Who, the Doctor makes a Sontaran work as a nurse.
  • Power Rangers in Space; After Astronema figures out that she's Andros' sister, she turns herself in to the Rangers, and they - minus Andros - have to discuss how to handle this in private. She wonders if they're planning to dump her into a black hole, and Andros doesn't help matters by saying there's one nearby. To her surprise, they pardon her rather quickly.
    • If there is ever a debate over including a formerly Evil Sixth Ranger, and Tommy Oliver is around, he will be a solid vote for the new member's inclusion (notably vouching for Kat, who replaced Kimberly as the second Pink Ranger, and Trent Mercer). Usually his justification is that he was given a shot when he was in the same position. Most antagonist Sixth Rangers in Power Rangers get this treatment.
  • Played with in Ressha Sentai ToQger. Akira/Zaram is genuinely remorseful for causing it to rain on an otherwise sunny day to such a degree that he seeks his own Redemption Equals Death moment. Right clearly doesn't think he's the worst Shadow Monster they've met, but does use this trope to justify making him the team's Sixth Ranger. Of course, some time later, it's played much more straight. Akira betrays the ToQgers because, as a Shadow Monster, he genuinely thought that his Sixth Ranger Status was an alliance of convenience and didn't consider his teammates actually cared for and loved him. The genuine forgiveness of his teammates resolves his conviction to fight the Shadowline along side them.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Warriors of Kudlak", an alien who had been kidnapping children to use as Child Soldiers realizes that the war his people were fighting had ended without his knowledge. He allows Sarah Jane Smith to take his life, but she refuses. The alien then promises to return to his homeworld and bring back the humans he had abducted.

  • In Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, Posthumous is asked to choose a sentence for the villain who falsely "proved" Posthumous' wife unfaithful and thus prompted him to order her killed. Posthumous' answer: "Live, and deal with others better."

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham City, you can meet up with Mr. Freeze after you have helped him track down his still-frozen wife Nora. When Freeze says all he wants is for his wife to be healthy again, Batman replies that he should do that and give up his life of crime, because he's better than it.
  • This is a plot-point in BioShock Infinite. Comstock's sinful past of war-crimes and heinous acts against Native Americans led to him deciding to accept a baptism in order to wash away his sins and become a new, virtuous man. However, he misinterpreted the "Go Forth and Sin No More" line to mean "you are now unable to sin no matter what you do" instead of "stop sinning, you asshole". This led him to commit even worse acts, believing they were virtuous acts just because he was the one doing them.
  • You can potentially do this in Dishonored with Daud, the final assassination target by choosing to directly challenge him in a fight. After beating his target in a duel, Corvo listens to his target lament their fate, and ends it with a call to finish them. Corvo can, if the player chooses, simply holster his weapon and walk away, which stuns both the target and the Outsider. Most notably, this is the only time in the game where sparing a target is framed as a genuine act of mercy rather than an act of Cruel Mercy/getting them properly sentenced for their crimes.
  • A possible judgement for a Grey Warden in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Ser Ruth hands herself over to the Inquisition in order to atone for the crimes she feels the order has committed. You can say Off with Her Head! or send her in the deep roads, or invoke this trope. She's baffled as she leaves the throne room, but a later report shows it actually worked out well.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV has a few missions end with an option to finish a cornered enemy off with a Coup de Grâce or get rid of them with this trope.
  • After beating her in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the player has several options for what to do with the fallen Atris. One of the light side choices is to show her mercy in this fashion by acknowledging how the Exile's choice to fight in the Mandalorian Wars contributed to her fall.
  • In the The Legend of Zelda CD-i Games, after Duke Onkled betrayed the King of Hyrule by siding with Ganon, he gets off by being told to "Scrub all the floors in Hyrule."
  • In MARDEK, Gope gets this treatment from Mardek and Duegan. Unless you decide otherwise. He shows up later on and gives you an item needed to get to a bonus area, and again in the next game as a traveling merchant who can be useful for getting supplies in exotic places.
  • In several Mass Effect games, you can either kill an enemy as a Renegade decision or let them go for Paragon points. Most, but definitely not all, of the time it will work out in Shepard's favor to spare the character.
  • In Pathfinder: Kingmaker, many minor opponents and most of the Arc Villains can be offered this option. Tartuk or Hargulka will accept it and leave to build a civilization outside the reach of humans, Tristian will rejoin your kingdom, and Armag will rejoin his tribe, possibly to lead them to a better path. Irovetti can be offered it as well, but he will reject it and kill himself. Even Nyrissa can be redeemed, but only if you've put a lot of work into trying to sympathize with her through the entire game and have learned how curses work in the Stolen Lands.
  • In Planescape: Torment, you can tell Trias to redeem himself and seek forgiveness in the upper Planes after defeating him in battle. That is, unless you have Vhailor in your party...
    • Vhailor, despite his Black-and-White Insanity, has a couple moments where he will spare a sinner on the grounds that said sinner is already being punished enough.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, in the Jedi Knight quest line, you have an option to let one of the top Imperial agents go despite all the trouble he caused you. If you do, he will send a letter saying that he had assumed a new identity and found a new life in the Republic. They can also do this to a particularly honorable Sith, who if spared will show up later having defected to the Republic and become a Jedi.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: The Player Character can track down the infamous Southland Slasher and find that his Serial Killer activity was actually targeting the criminals who killed his family in a botched carjacking. With a high Persuasion score, they can convince him to stop on the grounds that his family would hate what he's become; otherwise they have to kill him or let him carry on as a Vigilante Man.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ren Fujii from Dies Irae pulls a variation on Kei after he beats her in Kasumi's route. While he planned on killing her first, after he sees her make such a pitiful and sad face he just can't bring himself to finish her off and tells her instead that she should continue to live and atone for her actions. Unfortunately, Kei having lost everything she considered worth living for and having accepted the truth about the Golden Alchemy ends up confronting Kasumi after the final battle and after a brief exchange, kills herself in front of her.