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Heroic Sacrifice

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I want to help you, Vasili. Let me do one last thing. Something useful for a change.
(takes off his helmet)
Let me show you where The Major is.
Danilov, Enemy at the Gates

A character saves another/others from harm and is killed, crippled, or maimed as a result.

A bad character who was once good can redeem themselves in the last act by Taking the Bullet that was meant for The Hero, thus expunging all their previous evil, avoiding forcing The Hero to arrest or confront him, and avoiding any real life penalties like disgrace and jail. This is like Redemption Equals Death. In this case, the death and redemption come in a single act.

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There are essentially three kinds of Heroic Sacrifice:

  • The one at the beginning of the story, which sets the tone for the rest of the tale.
  • The one in the middle of the story, wherein the Heroic Sacrifice leads to new heights of badassery, or new depths of depression, in the characters who are affected by it (depending on the story.) Sometimes both.
  • The one at the end of the story which serves as a Grand Finale, an example of "This character is Too Cool to Live", or the kernel of a Downer Ending or Bittersweet Ending. The "Too Cool to Live" Heroic Sacrifice is the most common type in American movies. Often, The Hero Dies in a heroic sacrifice at the end.

A Heroic Sacrifice usually requires that a character be Not Afraid to Die, even declaring It Has Been an Honor. If the Heroic Sacrifice was pre-planned, it's a Self-Sacrifice Scheme. Often preceded with a Sneaky Departure from the team, or a More Hero Than Thou dispute. A Friend in Need often requires it, and doing it proves your love for them. Contrast Villain's Dying Grace, when a dying villain decides to save a life. The Doomed Moral Victor fights a battle where the outcome is clear from the beginning. If the character has time to say some last words before dying, they often do so in an Obi-Wan Moment. Often a Dying Moment of Awesome. There's also the case where Someone Has to Die, which takes this Up to Eleven.

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Characters who Draw Aggro may not expect to live, and thus it will also be this trope.

This is a Super-Trope, and the Sub Tropes are listed under Heroic Sacrifices.

Compare and contrast Zero-Approval Gambit (where the hero sacrifices his good name instead of his life), Sacrificial Revival Spell (where the character uses a spell to save another), Death Is the Only Option, My Death Is Just the Beginning, Inspirational Martyr (who may not be that heroic, but their deaths may inspire others to become heroes), Taking You with Me, Senseless Sacrifice, Heroic Suicide, Suicide Mission and Stupid Sacrifice.

This is generally a Death Trope. Expect SPOILERS.


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    Advertising 
  • Segata Sanshiro, mascot of the Sega Saturn, heroically gave his life defending his beloved Sega from an attack from Sony or Nintendo-it's unclear which. He lives on in our hearts. At least he took something with him.
  • In an ad for a 90's board game called It From The Pit, an Indiana Jones Expy and two children come across the eponymous creature. As it reaches for them, the man pushes the kids out of the way and is dragged into the pit himself.
  • The launch of Planters' Super Bowl LIV campaign has their icon Mr. Peanut perform this. The character, with Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh as passengers, loses control of his Nutmobile and ends up driving it off a cliff, with Peanut, Snipes and Walsh barely saving themselves by hanging onto a branch. When the branch starts to give way, Peanut decides to let go of the branch and fall onto the wreckage of the Nutmobile, which subsequently explodes to dash any possibility of him surviving. The ad campaign would've continued to build up to Mr. Peanut's funeral, which was Planters' main ad for the game, but Kobe Bryant's tragic death led to the campaign getting suspended (though the funeral ad still aired as scheduled).

    Arts 
  • Michelangelo's The Crucifixion of Saint Peter shows the saint getting executed for refusing to stop spreading the good news. Judging by the look on his face, he remains defiant in his faith.
  • The Fallen Caryatid: Ancient Greek architecture included women carved into columns, holding up the roof. They were later carved into buildings done in the Classical style and evolved into men, demons, anyone one wanted to have holding up a building forever. The sculptor Rodin created the Fallen Caryatid as a woman collapsing under the impossible burden, but struggling to carry it still. Many interpretations exist, of course.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Season 7 episode 50 of Happy Heroes, Kalo uses what little energy he has left to defeat an army of enemy spaceships, killing himself in the process. The other heroes are understandably in tears over the occurrence, including Careful S. who is usually The Stoic.

    Comic Strips 
  • Because Lynn Johnston, the writer of For Better or for Worse, chose to tell her story in real time, complete with characters aging normally, it became inevitable that the Pattersons' family dog Farley had to go. In 1995, Johnston decided that Farley would go out a hero. When the Pattersons' four-year-old daughter April fell into a creek near their house, Farley went in to rescue her. The shock of the cold water, combined with his advanced age, caused him to suffer a fatal heart attack, but April survived; the strip ended with her preparing to attend university to become a veterinarian.

    Fan Works 
  • The character Maleus, in this World of Warcraft fanfic.
  • The Sangheili/Elite Zuka in the Halo story Enemy of My Enemy, who flies his nearly-destroyed Banshee, piloted by his nearly-dead self, directly into the exposed core of a hostile Scarab, saving the city.
  • Flt Lt. Fitzgerald sacrifices himself so the French pilot can get back to the Odyssey in Chapter Four of Reunions Are a Bitch.
  • In this Iron Man: Armored Adventures fanfic, both of Gene Khan's parents. Aung managed to nearly kill Zhang while bleeding to death, and Sarantuyaa let herself be killed in order to ensure her son would survive.
  • Ianto does this in ''Shades of Ianto'' in order to save the Earth.
  • In Heta Oni (a fan-made Axis Powers Hetalia video game based off of Ao Oni), after Italy dies, England sacrifices himself to rewind time to save Italy.
  • Wheatley in the Portal 2 fic Test Of Humanity'' invokes this while trying to save Chell and ends up getting caught in an explosion due to an escape plan gone wrong.
  • In Past Sins, Nightmare Nyx fights off all the monsters of the Everfree Forest in an attempt to invoke Death Equals Redemption. Actually, she's not attempting to invoke Death Equals Redemption so much as she's simply willing to die if that will help save the town.
  • Anne Littners dream is to "Go out in a blaze of glory" in The Spiral Path much to the disturbance of everyone who knows her.
  • In Touhou fan PV "Loitering Darkness", Yuyuko, fearing her ability of being able to will death onto mortals would inadvertently drive people to death, sacrifices her own life to seal off the cursed cherry blossom.
  • Amazingly, inverted by Guru in Dragon Ball Z Abridged. He senses that the dragon has been summoned and is granting wishes, and says to himself, "Would be a reeeeaaaal dick move to die right now." Which he does. Which banishes the dragon. Basically, he kills himself strictly For the Evulz. A Jerkass Sacrifice, if you will.

    Music 
  • The old-style country song "Big John" by Jimmy Dean, loosely based on the legend of John Henry, about a large mine worker who was generally known as a brute due to his sheer size and strength. However, when the mine began collapsing, he used brute strength to hold up the collapsing beams long enough for his fellow workers to escape the mine, staying behind to hold it up long enough for them all to get out safely. The mine then collapsed completely, entombing him under several tons of earth. Attempts to dig his body out were futile, so a marble sign was placed before the caved-in entrance: "At the bottom of this mine lies a big BIG man — Big John"
  • Another old country song, also based on a true story, about a truck driver on a narrow road only wide enough for one vehicle, the edge of which opened over a huge fall (a mountainside or cliff or chasm, I can't remember which) and coming from the opposite direction as him was a schoolbus full of children. Rather than hit the bus and most likely killing the children inside, he deliberately drove his rig over the edge of the cliff and plunged to his death, saving the lives of the children at the cost of his own.
  • "Soldier", a song by Harvey Andrews, an English poet and songwriter. It starts telling the story of a guy who joined the British Army, because work was hard to find and, besides, there were no wars right away, and (lucky man) found himself in the middle of the British-Irish urban guerilla. The song actually reaches its climax when the guy, who was running a boring patrol tour in a train station, jumps over a bomb just thrown by IRA guerilla fighters, thus dooming himself and saving the lives of the people around him, for whom he nurtured no enmity and who had treated him with cold hatred just seconds before. Inspired by real life example of Sergeant Michael Willetts, thank you other wiki. Damn, he surely must have had some massive balls of steel.
  • Way, way too many Israeli songs to count.
  • Mentioned in the song "Your Guardian Angel" by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.
    "I'll be there for you through it all / Even if saving you sends me to Heaven"
  • "Casey Jones/Mounted to his cabin/Casey Jones/With his orders in his hand/Casey Jones/Mounted to his cabin/And he took his farewell trip to that promis'd land."
  • Sinead O'Connor's song "Troy" is mostly about an obsessive love affair, but contains the line
    I'd kill a dragon for you, and die
  • Orden Ogan's "The Things We Believe In" is all about this.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • People tend to come down hard on Lot for offering his virgin daughters to the rapacious mob in Sodom in substitution for the angels he was sheltering in his home, but they often overlook a crucial detail in Genesis 19:6: when he went out to cut that deal, he closed the door behind him, thus cutting off his one escape to safety in the very likely event that the mob rejected his offer just to protect his two guests that he didn't even know at the time were angels. If they hadn't turned out to be angels, he really would have been screwed in more ways than one. Say what you will about him, Lot did put his own life and limbs on the line ahead of anyone else.
    • Jesus is the archetype of this character, though he's obviously not the first to have done so. Jesus had the advantage of knowing what was after death, and that he was going to sit at God's right hand... but he also knew he had to go through excruciating pain. This is even more starkly illustrated by His stating the line quoted below when discussing the subject, rather than something about the horrifying physical pain one would endure when dying of asphyxiation and blood loss during the crucifixion process, to the point where a word was made specifically to describe such pain: excruciating, or "out of the cross." In other words, the pain involved in his sacrifice was so much worse than torture that words could not describe it.
    "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." John 15:13
    • Samson combined this with Taking You with Me in a spectacularly epic fashion. He is captured by the Philistines and blinded, then put on public display in the temple. After praying to God to give him back his strength for a last time so he can go down honorably, he proceeds to tear down the pillars of said temple with his hands, crushing both himself and the Philistines and making this Older Than Feudalism (this being The Bible), as well as his Moment of Awesome. When he destroyed the Philistine temple, with himself and his enemies in it. With that one act, he killed more Philistines than in the rest of his life put together.
  • A divine being helping humanity through self-sacrifice has been an enduring theme in religion and mythology. See Prometheus, doomed to be chained for eternity with an eagle devouring his entrails as punishment for giving mortals the gift of fire. Although he was eventually freed by Hercules after a few thousand years. Legends say that even then, his punishment meant Prometheus had to wear a wreath and a ring of his chains for all eternity- and in respect, humans began wearing wreaths and rings as well.
  • Thanks to Earth's very tilted axis, people have long associated new life as coming from death, and gods/kings being sacrificed by old men whose knives were ''mostly'' used for cutting mistletoe.
  • The Book of Mormon, one of the four parts to LDS ("Mormons") scripture, tells the story of a prophet named Abinadi. King Noah was wicked: he and his priests committed murder and whoredoms and reveled in his riches, among other things, so Abinadi went to King Noah and told him that what he was doing is wrong, and that he needed to set things straight and repent. King Noah and his priests didn't listen and had Abinadi thrown out after warning him not to return. Rather than giving up and leaving, Abinadi returns in disguise and tells him his message again. The wicked priests try to kill him, but find that they cannot, and Abinadi says that they cannot harm him until he has finished saying what he came to say. After he finished, they burnt him to death, and while he is burnt to death, he prophecies that King Noah will also be burnt, which comes true. His death wasn't for naught, however, because one of the king's priests, Alma, listened to what Abinadi had to say, and then ran away from King Noah and repented. He alone helped thousands of people to find God, and many of the people who were righteous because of him converted thousands more.
  • Pre-"Vatican II" Catholic theology considered suicide by someone in their right mind to be an all-but-guarantied ticket to Hell…but the Principle of Dual effect held that if someone sacrificed their life to save others' because they could think of no other way—for example, the soldier who throws his (it was always 'his' back then) body on a grenade to save his comrades—they were not guilty of suicide.
  • According to some versions of the tall-tale, the legendary steel-driving man John Henry met his end when working on laying track through a mountain when the tunnel began collapsing. Henry, who supposedly Dual Wielded two twenty-pound sledgehammers because the standard ten-pound hammer felt light to him, was able to hold up the support beams until his fellow rail workers could escape, before his strength finally gave out. See Music below.

    Print Media 
  • Gleefully subverted in a Doctor Who Magazine comic strip; the Eighth Doctor is about to make a heroic sacrifice by crashing a military helicopter filled with canisters of gas into a slime creature, and makes a moving farewell speech to his friends. One of them — the spymaster whose helicopter it happens to be — sardonically points out that, whilst he appreciates the nobility of the gesture, if the Doctor just looks up he'll see a button that will allow him to eject to safety, thus negating the need for said sacrifice.

    Roleplay 
  • Survival of the Fittest:
    • Character David Jackson attacks Jacob Starr to buy time for Adam Dodd to free Amanda Jones and Madelaine Shirohara from a locked warehouse. David dies in the ensuing gun battle, though not before wounding Jacob.
    • Subverted in the case of Simon Wood, when he attacked Darnell Butler to buy time for his girlfriend, Madison Conner, to escape. The catch? Darnell isn't playing. Simon is killed in the ensuing fight, albeit accidentally.
    • Handlers can do this if the character of another handler gets rolled. They have one hero card, which means their character dies instead.
    • Ethan Kent from V4 did this in a fit of rage, taking out one of the cameras on purpose, giving the students an opportunity to subvert Danya's plans, but ensuring his own demise. Later, Feo Smith helps the sacrifice come full circle by (somewhat unintentionally) destroying all traces of Ethan's plan after a group of arrivals actually found the location of the island. She does this by setting most of the equipment on fire and shredding most of the paperwork, trying to accomplish it before her collar detonates for staying in a danger zone. Unfortunately, while she does succeed, she doesn't make it out in time.
  • Phylis Alince of The Gungan Council destroys the Heart of Darkness to keep it out of the Sith's hands. Some spectacular fireworks ensue as everything near her, including herself, disintegrates!
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, quite a few characters end up doing this. Hiroshi Hayabusa casts Shiropyr which kills both him and the Big Bad Taro Ofuchi. Kagetsu I does the same to Arawn. Geraud/Grady chooses to become the new world tree when the old one dies. Mori'sul sacrifices himself to save the heroes from a collapsing temple.

    Theatre 
  • Miss Saigon: Kim; she kills her incest cousin who was about to kill her son, and even makes the ultimate choice to kill herself so her son can go with his father and wife to America. Don't believe me? Listen to the song "I'd Give My Life For You" and you'll understand.

    Theme Parks 

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE:
    • In the film Mask of Light, Jaller and Takua/Takanuva do this mutually to each other. First, Jaller jumps into the line of Turahk's fear energy, braking its effect over Takua, but dies from pure fear. Later Takua, having become the Toa Takanuva, merges with Makuta and uses their combined strength to open the gate leading to the city of Metru Nui. They sacrifice part of their life-force to resurrect Jaller, but the gate crushes them. Then, Takanuva is also brought back. He later jokingly asks Jaller to never do this again.
    • In Legends of Metru Nui, Turaga Lhikan (whose mask was later given to Jaller) likewise jumps in between Vakama and Makuta's energy hand.
    • In the conclusion of the 2007 story arc, Toa Matoro sacrifices himself by wearing the Mask of Life, which converts him into energy used to revive Mata Nui.
      • Toa Ignika, the physical form of the Mask of Life does the same to kick-start Mata Nui's awakening, and while the mask remains sentient, it had to give up its body and its life as a Toa for good.

    Web Animation 
  • Shandala and Kamimura at the end of Broken Saints.
  • In Dusk's Dawn Donut charges into the Evil Twin's scepter, knocking himself out to save Star Whistle. He's alright.
  • In "Tube Clash"'s second season Max aka HandOfBlood volunteers to delete himself from the world, thus enabling the remaining two survivors to go through with their plan to save everyone else.
  • In "No Evil" Xipe Totec sacrifices her life to seal away the Black Tezcatlipoca. Episode 35, "Black, White and Red All Over", plays with it a bit: Murder sacrificed her life, but that didn't mean "dies on the spot"; it meant "forfeits her spiritual immortality, and the Black Tezcatlipoca would escape when she died".
  • For a comedy series, Red vs. Blue has had a couple
    • Alpha diving into The Meta in order to give Wash enough time to set off the EMP. Yeah, he played it off like he was still clinging to the "I'm a ghost, not an AI" thing, but it seems likely he knew by then what he was.
    • Then season 13 brought two, one partially inspiring the second.
      • Lovable loser General Doyle first overcoming his fear and going to attempt to overload the nuclear reactor, and then, when the controls are destroyed, doing it 'manually', knowing that he would not be able to leave.
      • Epsilon realizing that the only way that he could run the Meta's armor - the piece of tech that would net his friends the biggest chance to escape Hargrove's ship - was to effectively do a hard reboot on himself, erasing all his memories (the core of what Epsilon was), allowing for the other fragments to expand and use the freed up capacity. In addition, in a message left behind, he muses on what it is like making such a sacrifice, knowing that there is no way to know if it even did any good. To drive his point even further, the episode ends as he does this, so the audience also has no way to know if it did any good until two seasons later.
      Epsilon: It was actually Doyle who made me realize something I never thought of before. There’s so many stories where some brave hero decides to give their life to save the day. And because of their sacrifice, the good guys win, the survivors all cheer, and everybody lives happily ever after. But the hero… never gets to see that ending. They’ll never know if their sacrifice actually made a difference. They’ll never know if the day was really saved. In the end… they just have to have faith. Ain’t that a bitch?
  • The Leet World: After being severely damaged by Ahmad, Asher activates his self destruct mechanism. Ahmad goes into Flash Step mode and tackles him, taking the explosion himself and saving the rest of the cast.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device:
    • Sacrifices of this sort seem to be one of the only things that can get the eternally grumpy Emperor to actually and unconditionally respect someone, to the point of refusing to insult them in any way (which for this Emperor, is a fairly huge deal). Though he naturally does have (justifiedly) high standards: A Go Through Me moment brought up mostly because a "lesser" human did it first and you didn't want to be upstaged just earns you posthumous scorn, and a Stupid Sacrifice where there were actual non-suicidal options that didn't involve self-destructing Lost Technology pisses him off outright. Rather tellingly, Sanguinius who died giving the Emperor a chance to defeat Horus, is the only one of his sons who he doesn't insult at all.
    • Spoofed in the second Q&A when the Emperor decides to answer the questions sent in despite Magnus fearing that this may end up with destruction of Terra. "Sacrifices must be made", indeed.

    Web Original 
  • Brighthammer 40000: In this setting, the traitor Primarchs, led by Horus Lupercal, all committed ritual suicide during the Great Crusade during an event called the "Horus Ascendancy", which allowed them to become Princes of Order and counter the Lords of Order's influence, after the four gods got bloated from the souls who died and were corrupted into becoming tyrants. As a result, they're fondly remembered by the Imperium of Mankind and worshiped as the Emperor's Demigods.
  • In Dusk Peterson's short story The Fool, the Villain Protagonist writes in his Diary about the capture, rape and romance (Stockholm Syndrome) of his boy slave only to sacrifice himself to a Cruel and Unusual Death so the boy he's fallen in love with can escape and be returned to his surviving family.
  • Fine Structure has five separate examples. In order:
    • Jim Akker kills himself while Zykov/Oul is telepathically probing his mind in an attempt to take him down too. He also sends a last-minute warning to Ching.
    • Jason Chilton sacrifices himself to save millions of people and several named characters from the Unstoppable Rage of the Twelfth Power.
    • John Zhang kills himself in an ostentatiously physics-breaking way, forcing the Imprisoning God to isolate our entire solar system from the rest of The Multiverse.
    • Anne Poole jumps onto a black hole to undo the results of John Zhang's actions, allowing the Final Battle to go forward.
    • And finally, Ching sacrifices himself in the Final Battle, taking Oul with him.
  • In Pyrrhic, Hanako dies in order to protect Joshua, knowing that if they stop to attempt to heal her, he would likely die, as the person who shot Hanako (Marie) would catch up to them.
  • In the first act of Sapphire Episode III, Ivanka offers to be executed in Alec's stead. A Senseless Sacrifice is narrowly avoided.
  • The TV Tropes ARG The Wall Will Fall has an averted one when one of its members is chosen to face Cthulhu in the final showdown. Pretty much every player who owned a required smartphone (and a few who didn't) were trying to volunteer, citing why they should be the one who had to risk their lives over everyone else. Averted in that the final chosen player managed to get away with a concussion.
  • In Worm, Regent draws Behemoth's attention to save Imp and the cape Imp was trying to rescue, and is killed almost instantly.

    Web Videos 
  • Hero House gives us a heartbreaking example in episode six, with Batman dying to save Nightwing's life
  • Ma-Ti dies protecting modern civilization at the climax of Suburban Knights.
  • To Boldly Flee:
    • The crew of the USS Exit Strategy sacrifice themselves to expand the Plot Hole, allowing it to encompass (and thus protect) the entire world. They are resurrected shortly afterwards, but they had no idea that would happen going in.
    • At the climax, Nostalgia Critic fuses with the plot hole to stabilize it. He becomes something more, but at the end of the day Critic is gone, marking both the end to both the movie and his series.
  • In lonelygirl15, Bree Avery does the Ceremony to stop the Order chasing her friends, and Gina Hart takes a bullet to save Jonas.
  • In Marble Hornets, Tim, in the midst of a coughing fit and unable to stand, let alone walk, demands that Jay leave him behind when the Operator is approaching them in the tunnel.
  • Chip Cheezum's LP of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater brings us Mission J. Frog, a seemingly innocuous frog captured earlier on in the LP for "a mission". Hours later in the fight against Volgin, Chip throws out Mission J. Frog, who distracts Volgin the first time, but is fatally shot with electricity afterwards.

 
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