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Hesitant Sacrifice

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"I want to see you all again. Just one more time. I'm...scared. I don't die."
Emil, NieR

When a hero is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good and they have a sudden realisation: "Wait, I Don't Want to Die!" It might be a Chosen One wondering why they specifically have to die instead of somebody else (though of course, if everyone has to die, that doesn't necessarily make the deal any sweeter, and might even make an individual death seem even more pointless).

If our hero takes the "blustering" route, expect wild rationalizations, such as "I've already done enough!" or "I'm too young to die!" (even if the hero is, in fact, very old). "I have a wife and kids!" or "This can't happen to me! I'm a [self-important description of oneself]!" may be heard in more comedic works.

This scenario is often used to show a somewhat flawed, human side to the hero, and also to make the scene more dramatic. It is characterized by very unheroic responses and actions wherein they lose bravery, resolve, consideration of the greater good and, sometimes, dignity. It is likely that the hero will need someone to help them calm down if they don't end up doing so themselves and Face Death with Dignity. There's also the possibility that this will be their Despair Event Horizon and might lead them to try and Screw Destiny by running away. The hero may also realize that there's something or someone that needed their help and he needs himself to be alive to do so, which makes the sacrifice problematic. Attempts to Take a Third Option don't usually work out. Although there is the possibility of a Deus ex Machina to save the day, this may or may not affect the impact of the scene.

There is also the chance that, if not done right, it could make the hero look like a Dirty Coward in an unsympathetic way.

Unlike a Heroic BSoD or Heroic Safe Mode, this realization is very emotional and often met with the Five Stages of Grief.

See also Mortality Phobia for the fear of death in general and Mid-Suicide Regret for hesitance during a suicide attempt.

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


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    Comic Books 
  • In Fables, Darien Wolf comes to the realisation that if he sacrifices himself, his sister will survive, while they will both die if he doesn't. He resists the dawning knowledge continuously, and after his (logical, but unsuccessful) attempt to Take a Third Option fails, he laments how unfair this is, and that this isn't the way it works in stories. It turns out that being brave and loving your sister does not automatically mean you Face Death with Dignity, especially if you're only eight years old.
  • In Runaways, Karolina spends a good chunk of the first volume struggling with suicidal thoughts because of the double whammy of finding out her parents are evil and aliens (making her one as well). Then during the final confrontation with the Pride, Alex reveals himself as The Mole and threatens to kill her for her parents' planned treachery against his parents (averting it was the entire reason he formed the team). Karolina begs him not to kill her, saying she doesn't want to die anymore.
  • Comes up repeatedly in the Star Wars (Marvel 1977) story "World of Fire". Outnumbered and performing a Delaying Action, Leia realizes it's unlikely that she'll make it halfway to safety and thinks "So who said I wanted to live forever? - I did." Later, Mici is injured and has to be left behind in the ship while the others continue the mission. She knows how badly she's hurt. "I'm afraid that while you're gone I'll die here, in the dark - alone. Oh, Luke, I don't want to die!"

    Fan Works 
  • Five Worlds War: When Kidoumaru catches Chelia Blendy and Mashiro Kuna in his web, summoning a Giant Spider to eat them both, Chelia screams that she's too young to die.

Fate Series

Harry Potter

  • Kaleidoscopic Grangers: After learning that she's a Horcrux, Ariadne becomes deeply depressed. She doesn't want to sacrifice herself, but sees no way around it, and miserably mourns the future she'll never get to see.


  • Androgyninja's A Drop of Poison: As a civilian-born shinobi, Sakura fears that she's considered to be more expendable than her teammates. Sasuke repeatedly sneering that she's nothing more than Cannon Fodder - and Kakashi's silence on the matter/refusal to correct or berate him - hardly helps. Despite her fears, whenever push comes to shove, she forces herself to stand her ground, partly because she sincerely cares about the rest of Team Seven... but also because she suspects that if anything happened to her teammates, she'd be blamed for it.

    Films — Animation 
  • Played With midway through Disney's version of Peter Pan, when Princess Tiger Lily is threatened with drowning by Captain Hook if she will not tell him where Peter's hideout is (which is even worse than it as first sounds, because, as Hook notes, in Tiger Lily's tribe's religion, Indians who drown stay underwater forever and never make it to "The Happy Hunting Grounds"). Tiger Lily is completely silent and doesn't even look at Hook, and seems totally indifferent even as Mr. Smee is setting her down in the middle of the Skull Rock lagoon so that the tide will eventually wash over her. But right after Peter Pan has defeated Captain Hook (at least for a time), the princess seems to reconsider her decision and begins crying out for help - but by that point, she's already drowning, and the seawater is muffling her screams. Peter pulls her from the water just in time and flies her back to the Indian camp.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A possible subversion occurs at the end of Angels with Dirty Faces. When Rocky is sentenced to death, Jerry visits him just before his execution and asks him to do him one last favor - to die pretending to be a screaming, sniveling coward, which would end the boys' idolization of him. Rocky at first refuses, and insists he will be "tough" to the end, and not give up the one thing he has left, his pride. But at the very last moment, he seems to change his mind and has to be dragged to the electric chair screaming; the boys read newspaper headlines that Rocky died a coward, although not believing it at first, Father Jerry verifies that the paper account was accurate. However, with no confirmation from Rocky himself, it is up to the viewers to decide whether he actually changed his mind and did it for Jerry and the kids' sake, or whether he really was a coward when the time finally came. (Jerry, however, has no doubts that it was the former.)
  • Played for Gallows Humor in Armageddon (1998). Moments after forcibly taking AJ's place to perform a Heroic Sacrifice on the asteroid, Harry takes in the sights and deadpans, "Well, this was a real good idea."
  • Dance of the Dead: Gwen admits this after revealing a zombie bite.
  • The End, a 1978 comedy about a terminally ill man named Sonny (Burt Reynolds) who intends to take his own life rather than die of the rare toxic blood disease he has been diagnosed with. After a number of (comically?) failed attempts, and encounters with people — an inexperienced priest, his self-absorbed parents, his estranged daughter and ex-wife, and his girlfriend — who don't seem to care (at least in his view), Sonny drives to a secluded beach and swims out to the middle of the ocean, planning to drown himself. While underwater, his life flashes before his eyes and he finally realizes his purpose in life. He suddenly resurfaces and swims to shore, bargaining with God that, if he makes it to shore, he'll be a better man. Indeed, Sonny does make it to shore ... but only to discover that his "friend" Marlon (Dom De Luise), a psychopath who had helped him with his previous attempts to take his life, is waiting for him and intends to follow through with his promise to help him die. Sonny tries to reason with Marlon that he wants to live ... and seems to have succeeded when, as the two are walking to the road to go home, Marlon pulls out a large butcher knife. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!" screams Sonny as he flees (the knife-wielding Marlon in pursuit) down the beach under the final credits ("Another Fine Mess" by Paul Williams).
  • Help! revolves around Ringo being marked as a cult's human sacrifice - after some hair's breadth escapes, the others suggest over his objections that he should 'take one for the team'.
    Paul: That bloke with Scott — I always admired how he went out into the snow for his mates.
  • Discussed and averted in The Magician: After Ray shoots his friend in the back after leading him and Max to believe he was helping him escape a hit, he explains to Max that he took the contract himself because if someone else had taken it, "he would have known it was coming and he would have been pissing his pants and crying his eyes out."
  • Uttered verbatim by a plague victim in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. It's not really a sacrifice in that the plague is not targeting him personally: almost everybody in the town is slowly succumbing to the epidemic, and he just happens to be one of the first. His outburst forces all the characters to have to reflect upon their collective mortality, and even to wonder if there's anything to look forward to after they go through with their deaths. The fact that for much of the movie both the characters and the audience can't even see the plague (which does appear in a personified form occasionally) makes it infinitely worse. One of the heroes finally snaps and shouts up to God, demanding to know why this has to happen and whether God is listening or even really cares. In the end, all of these characters do die, except for one family who takes a darkly casual attitude toward their narrow escape.
  • Jimmy behaves this way when he thinks he's going to die in Two Hands. The scene is not intended to make Jimmy look like a coward, bur rather an ordinary guy who's in way over his head.
  • Steve Trevor's death in Wonder Woman (2017). Conveyed entirely through facial expressions in a major He Really Can Act moment for Chris Pine; he clearly has to psych himself up to actually pull the trigger and blow up the plane, but he ultimately manages it, knowing he's helping save numerous lives.

  • A variant in Cirque de Freak. Darren doesn't have to die, but he really doesn't want to fake his own death to abandon his family. Unfortunately, he has to do so or else, as a half-vampire, he runs the risk of accidentally killing his family or friends. At one point he asks Mr. Crepsley if there's any way he can just run away in the middle of the night. He's told he cannot, because his family would never stop looking for him.
  • The Dresden Files: In White Night, "Lash" (a.k.a. the Shadow of the Fallen Angel Lasciel) usually helps Harry because she would die if he died. However, when she realizes that Harry wants her to shield him from Vittorio Malvora's Outsider-induced psychic attack for long enough that he can save everyone, she completely freaks out. She literally starts begging Harry to take up the Coin because she doesn't want to watch him die, and breaks down crying that she doesn't want to die either. It's only when she finally figures out that he's willing to suffer serious brain damage on behalf of Thomas, Murphy, Ramirez, and Justine that she realizes that his Heroic Willpower is such that he will never take up the Coin. She then "takes a psychic bullet" for Harry, and he's understandably heartbroken about her Heroic Sacrifice later on.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry learns that he is a Horcrux and must die if Voldemort is to be made vulnerable, he does not speak to Ron, Hermione, or Ginny as he heads to his death, because he knows that doing so might cause him to cave in and not go through with it.

  • In "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, one of the lines is "I don't wanna die; I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all."
  • Hollywood Undead's single "I Don't Wanna Die".
  • In the American folk song "O'Death" the protagonist pleads with Death to pass them over until they're older.
    But what is this, that I can't see, with ice cold hands taking hold of me?
    When God is gone and the Devil takes hold who will have, who will have mercy on your soul?
    O'Death, O'Death, consider my age, please don't take me at this stage.
  • In the Vocaloid song Daughter of Yellow: Closure of Yellow, Allen reveals that he actually didn't want to die, and confesses the fact that escaping with Riliane and Germaine might not have been a bad idea. Of course, he knew deep inside that in order for his sister's safety for the remainder of her life, Someone Has to Die.

    Myths & Religion 

  • "Gethsemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar is the musical version of the Biblical scene above. Going further than in the Bible, Jesus demands to know what good his death will do. At the end of the song, depending on the production, he is somewhere between recommitted to the cause and sullenly resigned to his fate.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Chapter 4 of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, everyone is trapped in a funhouse with no food until a murder occurs. Gundham and Nekomaru mutually agree to a Duel to the Death, and it is implied that both of their intentions for doing so were to sacrifice themselves to save everyone else from starving to death. However, Gundham, who won the duel, has a personal philosophy of never giving up on life, so he couldn't allow himself to be found guilty and executed right away, and sets up a very elaborate and confusing crime scene to try and save himself. When suspicion starts to fall on him, though, he comes clean easily.
  • Fate/stay night: In the Normal Ending of the Heaven's Feel route, Shirou's mind is already dead when he goes to destroy the Holy Grail. His last thoughts were about how he doesn't want to do this and how he wants to live, even if only for one more day. The True Ending has him dwell on these feelings before destroying the Grail long enough for Ilya to arrive and perform the Heroic Sacrifice instead.
  • In Fate/hollow ataraxia, this is done by none other than Avenger, the spirit of Angra Mainyu himself! As he prepares to end the the four-day time-loop the entire cast has been trapped in throughout the story, a part of him really wants to just let the loops keep going so he can keep playing the part of Shirou Emiya, because without them he'll cease to exist. However, even though he acknowledges this, he still chooses to go through with it, because he knows it's meaningless and his Master Bazett needs to move on. The fact that he inherited some traits from Shirou helped him with this.
  • Little Busters!: While the others face their death with acceptance and dignity, when Riki starts yelling in earnest how much he cares about him, Kyousuke breaks down sobbing and admits that he's saddest of all because he dearly loved Riki and Rin as well and can't stand that he'll never be able to see them again. In this case, the declaration actually humanises him by showing how much he truly cares for his friends.
  • The major premise of Shall We Date?: Destiny Ninja 2 is that the heroine must be killed by her true love before her twentieth birthday, or her entire homeland will be destroyed. In the good endings, she is able to Take a Third Option.

    Web Comics 
  • In Doc Rat, they suggest getting rid of the computer that the now-fired practice manager brought. It begs and pleads.

    Web Original 
  • Noah of Tribe Twelve admits this during the November 11th Livestream Incident video when, after weeks of asserting that he doesn't care anymore if he lives or dies, he breaks down in tears and asserts his desire to live shortly before the deadline that the Observer had set for killing him.

    Western Animation 
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Wheeler has always struggled the most with the Planeteers' mission, but in "Two Futures" he gives up on it entirely when he gets trapped in a cave-in with Dr. Blight. After MAL announces they're suffering from oxygen deprivation, he realizes that he'll most likely suffocate before the others can dig him out, especially when Dr. Blight points out that the only way out might be to prevent things from getting this far in the first place. He explicitly warns his past self that the ring will get them killed. After seeing the Bad Future that resulted, he seems to forget about this entirely.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
    • Mara admits to Adora in Season 4 that although she knew it was the right thing to do, she really didn't want to die, and she had hoped that Adora would never be in the same position that she was.
    • Adora struggles with this trope as She-Ra, especially in Season 5 when the Failsafe puts her life at risk and she tries to convince herself that she's okay with sacrificing herself for Etheria, even when she's clearly scared and her friends think it's unfair she has to die in order to protect everyone else.

Alternative Title(s): I Dont Want To Die, Sacrifice Hesitation