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I Let Gwen Stacy Die

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"Miles, the hardest thing about this job is... you can't always save everybody."
Spider-Ham, as the Spider-Gang mourns the loss of their loved ones, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Often, a hero needs more of a reason to keep on fighting than just to save the day. He needs to know that it's fairly Serious Business. That's why, on occasion, someone close to him will die for generally no other reason than for the hero to angst over his inability to save them, driving him to protect everyone else he can. If something is almost certainly going to result in a "You Did Everything You Could", "I Should Have Been Better" exchange, it is definitely this trope.

Sometimes, this happens because the hero in question is carrying the Idiot Ball for the day, in which case the hero has no reason to blame himself, but will do so anyway simply because it's "good for the hero."

The sacrificed character is frequently a Disposable Woman, but it could be a whole Doomed Hometown. Compare Cartwright Curse (when it happens over and over again to the same hero), Death by Origin Story (when they die during a hero's backstory or initial appearance) and Failure-to-Save Murder (if some third character blames the hero for the death). See also Cynicism Catalyst, Failure Knight, My Greatest Failure, and Survivor Guilt.

Note: While many Gwen Stacys are also Lost Lenores, not every Lost Lenore is a Gwen Stacy. Whoever lost Lenore doesn't necessarily blame themselves for the death, but this feeling of self-blame and assumed responsibility is a key defining criterion for a Gwen Stacy.

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

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ango from 7 Seeds blames himself for Shigeru's death — thinking that if he had not been injured, he could've not been such a load when it was necessary. He also blames himself for Mayu's death, among other people who died during the Final Test, mostly because he feels he should've told them that the test would mean "Live Or Die" for all of them, though Shigeru's death is the biggest one for him and the one he blames himself the most about.
  • The news of Katie's death hits hard Alyosha!, for the first time feeling anger and pain for the death of anyone. Fortunately, it was just a Disney Death.
  • Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan seems to be collecting them. As a child, he was helpless to save his mother from being eaten by a Titan. Years later, he becomes The Sixth Ranger to The Squad, a team of exceptionally skilled soldiers known as the Special Operations Squad. On their first mission together, he's repeatedly asked to believe in them and not take on the Female Titan. He decides to do just that, leaving them to face the Female Titan alone and watches helplessly from a distance as the entire squad is wiped out. He immediately blames himself for making the wrong decision and goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
    • Thankfully, he narrowly avoids this happening with Armin, after convincing Levi that his friend should be saved instead of Erwin. Several of the other characters, however, feel that this is a "You Let Gwen Stacy Die" moment, and think that Erwin should've been saved instead.
    • Reiner Braun feels eternally guilty about not being able to save his friend Marcel, who possessed the powers of the Jaw Titan, from being eaten by Ymir. It caused him to develop somewhat of a split personality because he couldn't shoulder his responsibilities, which lead to him being seen as a cool big brother by Eren and the rest of the Survey Corps recruits (mostly). Marcel's brother Porco calls Reiner out on this after he becomes the host of the Jaw Titan and sees Ymir's memories. And now Reiner seems to be setting himself up for this again.
  • This happens with Casca of Berserk, where Femto (i.e Griffith) comes with an army of demons to decimate Guts' group; he then proceeds to capture and rape Casca in front of Guts, who gets pinned down by one of the demons. Casca is not killed but the event affects her so much that has basically the same funcion.
  • Kai goes through this from Episodes 16 and 27 of the second season of Bakuten Shoot Beyblade after Yūya's fate at the hands of an unstable digital bit-beast. Yūya looked up to Kai and wanted to hang out with him, but Kai kept him at a distance, to which the boy reacted by becoming a blader for Psychic and force Kai to acknowledge him that way.
  • Bleach:
    • Ichigo transformed from a crybaby who got beat up by girls into a badass protector of everyone due to the death of his mother Masaki which he spent years thinking was his fault. The real cause of her death becomes very important to his decisions and behaviour in the final arc.
    • Ishida's resolve to protect people from hollows and also to work with a quincy's traditional enemies, shinigami, comes from guilt at being unable to save his grandfather's life despite having been a young child at the time. His (and especially his father Ryuuken's) behaviour is also deeply connected to the death of his mother, Kanae Katagiri, whose mysterious death becomes extremely important in the final arc and is also linked to the real cause of Masaki's death.
  • Luna in Casshern Sins. Casshern apparently killed her, causing the Ruin, and we are offered glimpses of his killing her at the beginning of every episode, although he doesn't remember any of it; his realization that he did it apparently causes a Heroic BSoD which leads him to try to make amends.
    • Luna turns out to be alive later, but she also turns out to be a Jerkass, which leads the characters to question whether she is really Luna at all.
  • In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Mikoto starts going into a mix of Heroic BSoD and a rage when she sees her clones get killed by Accelerator.
  • Mary Magdalene's death in Chrono Crusade is the main event in Chrono's background that drives a lot of his actions in the present. In the manga, her role is fleshed out and she has much more of a personality, but the anime gives her nothing more than a flashback in one episode, which weakens her as a character and gives her little more to do than to give Chrono a reason to angst.
  • In CLANNAD, after Tomoya Okazaki's wife Nagisa dies in childbirth, he regrets ever meeting her in the first place. He gets so bad that he barely looks at his daughter Ushio for five years, letting Nagisa's parents raise her instead. Getting over this forms the bulk of his Character Development in the second half of ~After Story~.
  • Claymore
    • Witnessing Teresa's death is the whole motivation that causes Clare to become a Claymore to begin with.
    • Undine is also a shining example with Deneve as the Hero, and all the other Claymore who died in Pieta can be considered this.
  • Code Geass has Euphemia li Britannia for Suzaku Kururugi, and Shirley Fenette for Lelouch vi Britannia. The latter eventually kick started a chain of events leading to Lelouch's Zero Requiem. Though the movie version shows how it still would have happened if she had lived.
  • Cowboy Bebop: Julia becomes a Gwen Stacy during the final episode, and it leads Spike to his own (possible) death in a fight with his arch-nemesis, who also dies in the process.
  • Leomon, from Digimon Tamers, could fall under this as a male example. Juri blamed herself for his death, and how she coped with it led to the D-Reaper almost destroying the world. She later realises what Leomon meant in his dying words to her (whether this lesson is about destiny or her having a lion's heart depends on the region), and begins to fight back against the D-Reaper.
    • Wizardmon from Digimon Adventure is probably this for Gatomon, as even by Season 02 when his digital ghost reappears, it still haunts her and the rest of the chosen children from the first series to this day.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Future version of Rogue Cheney that appeared in Grand Magic Games arc suffered from this. In his timeline, he let Frosch get killed by Gray Fullbuster turned evil, leading Rogue to turn evil as well. After his defeat, but before returning to his timeline, he left a warning about the turning point and Natsu swore to prevent the tragedy.
    • Another example is Zeref, which lead to his Start of Darkness. When he found out Mavis Vermillion had the exact same curse he has — specifically, Complete Immortality combined with an "Instant Death" Radius designed to kill anyone he could ever care about — he fell in love with her due to her treating him with kindness, and being the only person in the world who could ever truly understand him. The feelings were mutual, and they had The Big Damn Kiss... which killed her. Zeref had killed the only person he thought he could ever safely allow himself to care about and be around, and worst of all, it was The Power of Love that did it. That would break anybody.
  • Canon Foreigner Lily McGuire fills this role in the Fatal Fury anime specials and movie. Despite defeating her murderer in the first TV special, Terry is still haunted by her death in the second special and movie. Even when Lily's soul comes to him and explicitly tells him to not grieve for him.
  • Edward Elric has this in spades in Fullmetal Alchemist. He was unable to revive his mother, the botched attempt to revive his mother cost his brother his body, and he wasn't able to do anything better than attaching his brother's soul to a suit of armor, and then he wasn't able to save Nina. On top of that, he has a considerable amount of Survivor Guilt from Hughes' death.
  • In Guilty Crown, Hare is killed off in an explosion mostly to make Shu feel bad. She's promptly forgotten about by the next episode.
  • Van and Ray Lundgren's would be wives are this in GUN×SWORD.
  • The Gundam meta-series has used this trope a lot.
  • In Guyver Chronos kidnaps Sho's father and turns him into a Zoanoid who rips out the Guyver's brain, causing Sho to go unconscious which leads the Guyver killing Sho's father on autopilot. Sho doesn't remember this, but he develops a psychological block against transforming. He doesn't find out about what he did until later on, where his angst lasts for about a minute before he takes care of business.
  • Issei in High School D×D experienced this when Asia had "died" the second time, causing him to activate Juggernaut Drive and eating Shalba Beelzebub, the guy responsible, alive. He would have died too if it weren't for Vali's Big Damn Heroes moment where it was revealed he and his group were able to get Asia out of the void dimension.
    • He also has an interesting example much earlier on. Interesting because the Gwen Stacy in question, Yuuma/Raynare, had already murdered him once, killed above-mentioned Asianote , and mocked everything Issei had invested in their brief relationship. Issei snaps and punches her, only for her to revert to her Yuuma persona and plead for her life. Issei couldn't bring himself to kill her, but left her to Rias' discretion, knowing Rias now had more reason to ever to see her dead. His deeply conflicted feelings over the whole affair left him with intimacy issues that haunt him for a long time after.
    • Another example is with Baraqiel — Akeno's father, who blames himself for the death of his wife (by the hands of her own family, no less) and his daughter's subsequent estrangement and resentment. Issei, in Volume 7, manages to mend the ties between Akeno and Baraqiel by helping them defeat Loki.
  • Kaze no Stigma has the main character's lover die which motivated him to form the pact and create the story.
  • Yoji of Knight Hunters is primarily motivated by the death of his partner and love interest Asuka. Ouka also becomes the Gwen Stacy for Omi after she's killed by Murphy's Bullet.
  • Naruto:
    • Haku and Zabuza. While their deaths weren't directly caused by Naruto or Team 7 (although it's arguable that Kakashi caused the death of Haku), they forced the three to realize the suffering that came with being a ninja, and inspired Naruto to create his own way of the ninja — to never go back on his words.
    • Kakashi has lived a life full of regrets because he blames himself for both of his teammates' deaths. Unfortunately, only Rin died. Obito didn't, and let's just say he didn't take Rin's death too well...
    • During the Fourth Shinobi World War, Hiashi mentally apologizes to Hizashi for letting Neji die, even though it wasn't his fault as Neji willingly took the bullet to save Naruto and Hinata.
  • In One Piece, Ace's Heroic Sacrifice caused Luffy to suffer a massive shutdown, to the point he had to be carried off the battlefield by his allies. It's Ace's death that makes Luffy see that conviction and willpower alone isn't enough to become King of the Pirates, and that he's far too weak to go to the New World yet.
  • Psycho-Pass has Akane's friend, Yuki, whose throat got slashed by Makishima after she failed to shoot him. Her death changed Akane for the rest of her life which made her mature and more cynical about the Sibyl System.
    • Enforcer Teppei Sugo felt guilty for killing his own boss, Inspector Risa Aoyanagi, which he didn't know that at the time due to her having a very high crime coefficient and his line of firing is blocked by a wall. Ginoza understood that he's following protocol and then, told him not to speak to him again.
    • Mika Shimotsuki blames herself for her friend and crush Kagami Kawarazaki's death since she told her to speak to Rikako Oryo about Yoshika Okubo's whereabouts as Oryo was seeing her before she disappeared. Unfortunately, Oryo was the killer behind the disappearances and murdered Kawarazaki when she went to speak to her alone. She explicitly tells Kunizuka it was her fault Kawarazaki died.
  • In The Red Ranger Becomes an Adventurer in Another World, Abu Dhabi's Evil Gloating about how everyone is going to die for the sake of the Demon Lord's revival triggers a horrible memory for Red when he failed to save someone. The sheer anguish Red experiences is enough to send him into an Unstoppable Rage while swearing to never let anyone die in front of him again. Chapter 14 reveals that Kizuna Silver died saving his life, having foreseen her death well in advance. This, combined with his trauma from losing his parents at an early age, is the reason he's so obsessed with forming bonds with others and terrified of losing said bonds, serving as bandaids for the gaping hole in his heart left by their deaths.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin the accidental death of Kenshin's first wife Yukishiro Tomoe at his own hands was the prime motivator for him to swear his no-killing oath and become a wandering swordsman to atone for his past.
  • In The Sacred Blacksmith, the eponymous Blacksmith, Luke, is burdened with guilt for directly or indirectly causing the death of his childhood friend Lisa (pronounced "Leeza", not "Leesa"...). Eventually, he finds out the awful truth: He's angsting himself unnecessarily. Lisa voluntarily risked herself to protect him from Big Bad Valbanill.
  • Sailor Moon makes quite some original use of this trope:
    • The Sailor Team (Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus) are unique in this aspect that they've actually literally died twice for Sailor Moon. The first time in the original series, Sailor Moon brings them back with the power of the Silver Crystal, but they lose their memories (only in the first anime). The second time, they actually die permanently at the hands of Galaxia, but... It gets complicated from there.
    • The manga adds a third and even worse death at the hands of Sailor Moon herself, as Galaxia had revived them and brainwashed them into being her final bodyguards. This one is also notable because it was a case of Invoked Trope: Galaxia wanted to defeat Sailor Moon at her mightiest, so, when the first time she had killed them didn't completely work...
    • Codename: Sailor V, the manga that Sailor Moon is a spin-off of, has arguably the worst of the all given to Sailor Venus: the one who dies is Ace, her true love, and he dies because after reincarnating as a member of the Dark Kingdom he saw that Venus, who he loved from his past life, wasn't mentally up to the task so he, in a rather twisted Act of True Love, set in motion events that led her to fall for him and then having to kill him. After that event, Sailor Venus became more serious (possibly too much) and the leader the Sailor Senshi needed... But at the cost of serious mental issues that she refused to show.
  • Carrisford Radofrics in Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry, the death of whom disturbingly mirrors Sara's previous loss of her friends at Grabera.
  • In Sword Art Online, Kirito joins a guild of players, keeping the fact that he was a former beta tester and significantly higher in experience levels than his guildmates secret. This turns around to bite him in the ass when, while doing a dungeon run, he and his party get trapped in a room they can't warp away from. Kirito's level provokes the spawn of an entire horde of high-level monsters that, although Kirito was skilled enough to barely survive, they were way too much for his guildmates to handle. This causes the death of the entire guild (his party members dying in battle and the leader being Driven to Suicide). Kirito's guilt over letting his guildmates die drives him into Ineffectual Loner / Death Seeker territory for months afterward.
  • Simon in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann blames himself for the death of Kamina. He does get better by episode 11 but watching 3 episodes of depressed Simon is no fun at all. His return kicks all kinds of ass, though. Yoko also seems to feel a degree of this, but for different reasons.
  • In Episode 2 of Tenrou Sirius the Jaeger, this is Yuliy feels after killing a scientist named Dr. Hanada, which results in the latter's daughter being traumatized. This also impacts his worry over whether killing all of the Vampires was a good idea after he saw Mikhail was alive and turning into a vampire.
  • Usotsuki Satsuki wa Shi ga Mieru: This is implied to be Satsuki's motivation early on, but isn't explained until Chapter 57, where she tells the story to Akira. When she was thirteen, before she really knew how her powers worked, Satsuki saw the premonitory corpse of her mother. Not understanding what it meant, she ignored it for several days, eventually walking over the body of her dying mother due to assuming it was still just the premonitory corpse. It wasn't until a few hours later that she learned that was actually her mother, hearing her father scream in terror when he got home. To this day, her father blames her for what happened, and so does she, having since dedicated herself to figuring out how to prevent the deaths linked to premonitory corpses.
  • In Vampire Knight, you have the death of Fuuka, who is slowly falling into a Level E vampire in the light novel. It's all the more of a tear-jerker when it's Aidou who kills Fuuka at Fuuka's request.
  • The majority of Fushi's friends in To Your Eternity end up dying beyond his control whether it's from murder or natural causes. Either way, he felt guilty for not helping them enough and wanted to die at one point in time.
  • Willem from WorldEnd: What Do You Do at the End of the World? Are You Busy? Will You Save Us? starts a romantic relationship with Fairy Soldier Chtholly, even proposing marriage to her, only for it to be cut short when she saves his life by sacrificing her own. His failure to protect her haunts Willem for the rest of the series.
  • Kamui Shiro of X/1999 gets one in the form of his love interest Kotori Monou, whose murder sends him into a Heroic BSoD. After he snaps out of it, he carries on with the oath to never let it happen to his friends ever again.
  • Tokyo Babylon: Subaru Sumeragi has his twin sister Hokuto, who dies after Subaru falls into a massive Heroic BSoD of his own. Subaru actually helps Kamui out of his BSOD through their mutual experience.
  • Kisara from the last arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! is a prime example. Seto's romantic interest, she sacrifices herself to protect him and gives him the power of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon. This is what finally motivates him to reject the Dark Side.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: Aporia, as a young adult, lost his girlfriend while fighting the Meklord Emperors right before his very eyes. This what led to the creation of Placido, the embodiment of the despair of losing his lover.
  • While not a death per se, Kolulu in Zatch Bell! largely fits this trope since, within the scope of the series, getting your book burned is — for all intents and purposes — death. She provides the bulk of the motivation for the main character to strive on to become King of the demon world.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Jason Todd, the second Robin, is beaten nearly to death by the Joker with a crowbar, and soon after killed in an explosion. It's often mentioned as Batman's greatest defeat and shaped his personality to a significant degree. Ironically, when Todd comes back to life and Batman apologizes, Todd reveals that he forgave Bruce for letting him die. He was enraged, however, to discover that he had let the Joker live.
    • This scenario was repeated in the early 10s with the fourth (post-New 52) Robin, Damian Wayne, who is Bruce's son with Talia al Ghul. Damian was killed on Talia's orders, and his death sends Bruce over the edge to the point that he tries to force Jason to remember how he came back to life and breaks a girl's nose to dissuade her from helping him fight crime.
    • Subverted in Red Robin #10. Prudence (a former partner of Tim Drake in the League of Assassins) pulls a gun on the new Batgirl, Stephanie Brown, and says she was assigned to kill her. Tim has a time-slows-down/flashback monologue about how he can't possibly stop her in time and Steph is going to die and it's all his fault and he shouldn't have let her get involved in this... on the next page, Steph immediately disarms and wipes the floor with Prudence. That the gun wasn't loaded in the first place (Prudence was just testing Steph's reactions) diminishes nothing.
  • Daredevil: In Daredevil (Mark Waid) #11, Daredevil rather conspicuously call out The Punisher's partner Cole for believing in this trope — there are millions of cops and firefighters who simply want to do what's right, and claiming that they aren't as driven as someone with a dead loved one is a "vomitous insult".
  • In Boom! Kids' Darkwing Duck series, one of the alternate universe Darkwings fights with a bow and arrows, because, in his universe, his daughter Gosalyn pulled a Heroic Sacrifice, and there was nothing he could do to save her. He took up her Quiverwing Quack superhero identity in remembrance of her.
  • ElfQuest: The healer Leetah has never seen death before when her friend Thiro suddenly dies from an animal attack. She realizes that because of her healer magic, the villagers had grown careless; but also that because she was so confident of her abilities, she was never prepared to deal with serious injury. To understand death, she ends up stabbing herself on purpose and healing her own mortal wounds and becomes a stronger and more responsible healer by doing so.
  • Fantastic Four: During the period when Johnny Storm was thought dead, the Thing was hit with this horribly, as he had been restored to normal old Ben Grimm during that period, leaving him helpless to save his friend.
  • Marshal Law: Deconstructed in the original miniseries. Marshal Law's girlfriend Lynn is raped and murdered by superpowered Serial Killer the Sleepman. It is then revealed that the Sleepman is actually Marshal Law's Mission Control, and that the influence of Marshal Law's ultraviolent and sadistic approach to law enforcement played a major role in corroding his fragile mental and moral state to the point that he started killing people.
  • Runaways: In the last arc, Klara and Old Lace are caught in an explosion; Old Lace dies, and Klara lives, but temporarily loses control of her powers, trapping the other Runaways inside a large forest. This irritates her teammates until Chase and Victor began blaming her for everything that has gone wrong. A later appearance in Avengers Academy reveals that she's taken the accusations to heart, and now believes herself responsible for Old Lace's death.
  • Sonic the Comic: Sonic the Hedgehog went into a Heroic BSoD when Chaos killed Johnny. In the online continuation, when Sonic encounters his past self, he takes particular offence at the latter's disrespect of Johnny's sacrifice.
    Past!Johnny: Look — there's a plaque on the statue.note 
    Past!Sonic: Heh, probably says 'Johnny Lightfoot — Professional Sidekick'!
    Present!Sonic: YOU CREEP! Johnny was more of a hero than you'll ever be!
  • Superman:
    • In Pre-Crisis stories, Superman felt guilt for the rest of his life because, despite being the most powerful person in the world, he wasn't able to save Ma and Pa Kent from the rare disease that killed them. In addition to being an additional source of angst for a guy who was already the poster child for Survivor's Guilt, it was also an important lesson in humility for the man who can move planets, teaching him that even he has limits. A later story had Lois and Lana infected with the same disease. The cure came from Superman's own blood.
    • After the Post-Crisis reboot, Ma and Pa Kent never died from this rare disease, but Superman was instead unable to save Pa Kent from a heart attack in Superman: Brainiac.
    • In the Post-Flashpoint continuities, they were killed in a traffic accident by a drunk driver, a fact that has haunted Superman ever since.
    • In 2008 storyline Way of the World, Supergirl tries to find a cure for Thomas Price, a five-year-old cancer patient. She fails, and remains haunted for years by Thomas's death, to the point that rubbing her failure to save him on her face becomes a sure way to piss her off.
  • The Transformers (Marvel): Autobot spy Scrounge was Blaster's friend, even if he did have a tendency to report one too many false claims. However, Scrounge later died in a smelting pool trying to relay information about Optimus Prime's whereabouts, and with Blaster's help succeeded. Blaster was angsting ever since.
  • Wonder Woman: In Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, in her desperation to prove that she's absolutely worth all of Alethea's love and respect, Diana causes an incident that gets countless Amazons permanently injured, scarred, and/or paralyzed, including Alethea, who died trying to protect her. Diana does not take this well, and mourns her as much as she regrets what she did.

    Fan Works 
  • Happens a lot in Regular Show fanfics where Rigby becomes Mordecai's Gwen Stacy in the "Rigby dies and Mordecai suffers from it" fics that grew out of... well, Rigby regularly dying or being on the cusp of death due to either his or Mordecai's actions in early seasons of the show.
  • Tsukey is this for Tavros in Hivefled. She was one of the members of the sufferist cult and his former palecrush; he couldn't convince her to come with the main cast, and she was later captured, tortured for information and eventually killed, becoming one of the Kin along the way.
  • Subverted in Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams when the Green Goblin throws Gwen Stacy off the bridge and Spider-Man jumps after her to save her. He successfully manages to do so by spinning a full-fledged web net that cushions Gwen's entire body and prevents her from being hurt. Unfortunately, the Goblin had anticipated Spider-Man being able to save her, and plans to attack them while Spider-Man is getting Gwen to safety so they both fall to their deaths. Luckily, he didn't anticipate Sleepwalker catching up to the scene and distracting him, giving Spider-Man the time he needs to get Gwen to safety...
  • One fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was warped enough to make a shot-for-shot parody of this using screencaptures lifted directly from the show. God bless him.
  • Riko Amani is this to Peter in Jujustu Kaisen: The Spider's Curse. While protecting the girl from Toji Fushiguro, Riko accidentally fell causing Peter to try webbing her to safety. Unfortunately much like the titular Gwen Stacy, Riko's neck snapped, causing her death.
  • In The Ending of the End - Love and Tolerance Edition, Twilight does a bit of angsting over her failure to save Princess Celestia and Luna during the attack on Canterlot.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, Calhoun in Hero's Duty has been programmed with the most tragic backstory ever: her fiancé was eaten by a Cy-Bug on their wedding day because she had forgotten to do a perimeter check. This whole "tragic backstory" is deliberately played up to such absurd levels that it's purely Black Comedy, as the bug just appears out of nowhere, and she immediately pulls out a giant minigun from under her dress and starts shooting, screaming in terror. She and the other soldiers have learned from this mistake, as seen in her and Felix's wedding.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Ant-Man, Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man was broken by his wife's death when she committed a Heroic Sacrifice during one of their missions. As a result, Hank retired from being a superhero and prevented his daughter from taking the mantle. However, he changes his mind when Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man, escapes from the subatomic level, which gives him hope that his wife might be still alive; in The Stinger, he lets his daughter take up the mantle as the second Wasp.
  • In the second Austin Powers, Vanessa becomes this for all of thirty seconds before Austin realizes that this means he's single and available. Cue theme song. However, when Dr. Evil manages to kill Felicity, Austin goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge (as much as it's possible for Austin) until Evil tells him that, with the Time Machine, he can go back and save Felicity.
  • Avengers: Endgame: Tony Stark's failure to stop Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War indirectly led to Peter Parker's death, which haunted Tony for years to come. In the first act of Endgame, he is initially reluctant to help the other Avengers with the Time Heist due to his commitment to his new family, but in the end relents, largely motivated by the desire to correct Peter's death.
    • Even after Wanda Maximoff comes back from the dead, she's still visibly affected by — and wants personal revenge against Thanos for — the murder of Vision in front of her in the last movie. She gets it, too.
    • And by the end of the movie, it's come full-circle: Peter Parker apologises through tears for his failure to save Tony Stark, as his mentor gasps his final breaths. Promotional material for Spider-Man: Far From Home suggests that Peter's biggest internal conflict in that film will be being a better hero to fill in Iron Man's place. A clip from the movie has Happy Hogan explicitly tell Peter that Tony mainly did what he did in order to bring Peter back, pushing the guilt up a lot more.
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice establishes that Jason has already died in the film universe. Suicide Squad (2016) mentions that both Joker and Harley both participated in the murder.
  • In The Dark Knight, Rachel becomes Batman's Gwen Stacy when her warehouse blows up. This takes an emotional toll on Batman for the rest of the movie and raises the stakes of his feud with the Joker. She could also be considered a Gwen Stacy for Harvey Dent, as he had been saved in her place, likely thinking Batman chose to save him because he was more important to Gotham (when actually it was because the Joker lied). This has the opposite effect of pushing Harvey down the path to villainy.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce is still brooding, having hung up his costume partly because of his guilt over Rachel's death. It's not until much later that Alfred finally reveals that Rachel wasn't going to stay with Bruce but planned to accept Harvey's marriage proposal.
  • Invoked in the Live-Action Death Note movies. Light uses his Death Note to kill Naomi having her kill his girlfriend and be so horrified at her actions she commits suicide (he can do this by detailing how they both die in the notebook). He then plays this card with L, talking about how his girlfriend is dead because of the Kira case and asking to be put on the case to catch Kira (really so he can get inside information on the people trying to stop him). L agrees, but makes it very clear he's not falling for it.
  • Godzilla (2014) has this for Joe Brody. Back in 1999, he had his wife Sandra go down to investigate the Janjira NPP's reactor in the wake of mysterious tremors. Not only did this put her in harm's way when there was a breach, but he also ends up having to close the blast doors on her and her team in order to keep radioactive gas from leaking into the rest of the city. His obsession with figuring out the cause of the breach that killed his wife leads to him discovering that some large, strange entity is now active in the ruins of the facility.
  • Deja in Higher Learning has a relationship with main character Malik up until the end, where she is a victim of a campus shooting spree. This causes Malik to straighten up and fly right at the very end of the film.
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss' sadness over Rue's death leads her to go to great lengths to protect Peeta.
  • At the start of Prairie Fever, Sheriff Biggs tries to stop a bank robber who is using his wife as a Human Shield, but shoots and kills her instead. Two years later, he is the town drunk and laughingstock.
  • Piper Perabo's character in The Prestige who drowns during a botched escape trick, causing her husband to declare a vendetta against the man who tied the knots around her wrists.
  • In Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo falls in love with his female contact Co, but she is later shot in the back. This sparks his Roaring Rampage of Revenge at the end of the film.
  • Silence of the Lambs gives us a more symbolic Gwen Stacy: when Clarice Starling was young, she was woken up by lambs being led to slaughter. This motivated her to try to save one, but she failed at this; at a later age, she went on to join the FBI, and while on the Buffalo Bill case, Hannibal Lecter gets her to relate this story. In the end, after Lecter escapes custody and Buffalo Bill is caught, he calls Clarice to ask her "Have the lambs stopped screaming?", driving the role of the lamb as a metaphorical Gwen Stacy.
  • Shmi Skywalker and Padmé in the Star Wars prequels could be considered Anakin Skywalker's Gwen Stacys, as they both fed into his wangst that aided his Face–Heel Turn. The former's death he believed he could have prevented if he had stayed at home, while the latter he believed that he had accidentally killed (after all the trouble he went through turning evil to save her).
  • Superman: The Movie. There is a giant earthquake that threatens the very existence of California. Superman races against time to seal the fault before catastrophic damage is unleashed. While successful, several aftershocks occur, forcing Superman to complete several daring rescues (e.g., saving a school bus from falling over the railings of a crumbling Golden Gate Bridge and a train from falling into a hole in the tracks). While Superman is kept busy with rescue after rescue, Lois Lane is caught in one of the aftershocks while driving on a little-used road. The car — which stalls after running out of gas — begins to fall into a large crack, and the car is caught in an avalanche of debris and dirt before Lois can escape; she is eventually suffocated. Superman finally locates Lois' car, finds her dead and screams in angst.
    • The trope is quickly reversed when the distraught Superman -– ignoring Jor-El's admonition to not alter human history –- reverses time to the point where Lex Luthor unleashed his evil plan (setting off the above-ground nuclear explosion), and thus saves Lois.
  • In Top Gun, Maverick and Goose are Heterosexual Life-Partners, Goose being essentially the only family Maverick has. So when Goose dies in a training exercise gone wrong, Maverick takes it very hard, essentially quitting. Going through the scenario again when actually under fire enables Maverick to break out of his BSOD and live up to his full potential.
    Viper (about 2 weeks after the incident): The simple fact is that you feel responsible for Goose and you have a confidence problem.
  • In The Windmill Massacre, Jennifer had planned to murder her abusive father before he starts abusing her younger sister. She carried her sleeping outside, then returned to the caravan and set it ablaze, before leaving and padlocking the door. However, that then discovered that her sister had awoken while she was inside and returned to the caravan to collect her favourite stuffed toy. It is that tragedy that drives to try and save Kurt during the massacre.
  • This is the fate for Jean Grey at the end of X2: X-Men United for both Cyclops and Wolverine — though Cyclops, being married to her, takes it a lot harder. Of course, she comes back with an appropriate Face–Heel Turn.

  • In the prologue of The Alloy of Law, Bloody Tan manages to maneuver Wax into shooting and killing his girlfriend, Wax spends the rest of the book dealing with the trauma.
  • Rachel's death at the end of the last Animorphs book breaks both Jake and Tobias completely. Tobias abandons all pretense of humanity and gives in to the hawk morph entirely for years, while Jake falls into a long depression that takes the rest of the Animorphs beating the crap out of him to snap him out of. Jake is the straighter example of the two since being the leader it's his orders which resulted in Rachel's death.
  • In Tom Kratman's Caliphate, Hamilton having to give the order to bomb the position where an already-wounded Laurie Hodge (his girlfriend) was surrounded by Filipino Muslim rebels and about to be raped is enough to push him to leave the military.
  • Happens to Kethlun on Yali's account in Circle of Magic: Shatterglas.
  • Susan Delgado for Roland in The Dark Tower series.
    • Not to mention his mother, who he was tricked into shooting to death.
  • In the Deptford Mice trilogy, Thomas Triton is haunted by feelings of guilt for supposedly killing his friend Woodget Pipple, although it happened while he was under mind control so he was not responsible for his actions. Unbeknownst to him, however, Woodget is still alive with Identity Amnesia.
  • Divergent:
    • After Tris shoots a brainwashed Will to defend herself in Divergent, she angsts about his death for the rest of the series after it happens, and never fully forgives herself.
    • Uriah slips into a coma, brain damaged beyond hope after being caught in the rebellion attack in Allegiant. Four blames himself since he participated in the attack, and like Tris with Will he never really lets go of his guilt.
  • In Ender's Shadow, Bean blames himself for not saving Poke's life from Achilles.
  • Elizabeth in Frankenstein.
  • The Casefiles version of The Hardy Boys has Joe angsting and seeking revenge against the Assassins through several books after his long-time girlfriend, Iola, accidentally sets off a car bomb meant for the brothers.
  • In Harry Potter, Lily Potter is this for Severus Snape.
    Dumbledore: After all this time?
    Snape: Always.
    • This also came up in the fifth and sixth books. After Sirius Black was targeted by Voldemort due to his and Harry's close relationship, Harry decides to break up with Ginny to avoid her becoming his Gwen Stacy.
    • The seventh book loved this trope. First, played straight with Hedwig. Averted later, as many characters die and there isn't much Angst about it.
    • Dumbledore hated himself for over a century because his youthful dalliance with Grindlewald got his sister killed.
  • Austin from Hollow Places feels immensely guilty for using his sister as a meat shield when they were attacked by a predator drone a decade prior to the book's opening. Making up for her death is one of his main motivations for attempting his heroics.
  • Katniss never gets over not being able to save Rue in The Hunger Games.
    • In the final book of the series she has similar feelings about having agreed to be separated from Peeta in the Quarter Quell arena, thus making it possible for the Capitol to take him prisoner. While Peeta is still physically alive the person she gets back from the Capitol is not the boy she fell in love with but a tortured and mind raped person programmed to want to kill her on sight. Se states that for all intents and purposes she feels he is dead, grieves him as such and her whole motivation for going after Snow in the second half of the book is to avenge her lost love, as well as make amends for her role in his fate.
  • InCryptid: James Smith's best friend Sally lost her life making a deal with the Crossroads on his behalf. He feels responsible, and makes it his mission to destroy the Crossroads. Turns out she's still alive, just Trapped in Another World.
  • This trope has also happened to James Bond. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond ends up marrying the Girl of the Week. She is then killed by Bond's enemies, leaving him emotionally distraught.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Chandra Nalaar explains in The Purifying Fire that when she was young and first discovering her extraordinary talent for pyromancy, she lit a large bonfire outside of her village. Soldiers from The Empire saw the flames and believed the village was training an army of pyromancers to overthrow the government. They barricaded all of the villagers inside their houses and let them burn to the ground. The trauma ignited Chandra's planeswalker spark, and she fled her home. She never returned, but she couldn't leave behind the guilt of inadvertently causing the death of all her friends and family.
  • In My Brother is a Superhero, we get a Fallen Hero example. Stellar is a version of Luke from a universe where he got superpowers instead of Zack. He did a poor job stopping Nemesis, so that one of the many fragments killed his world's Zack. And he's willing to kidnap a Replacement Goldfish.
  • October Daye: Toby sees Dare as this for quite a while. Dare looked up to her as a hero and despite Toby trying hard to keep her out of things, Dare ended up dying trying (and succeeding) in saving Toby's life. Toby continually disparages how she got Dare killed and the girl still saw her as a hero up to the very end.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Eddard Stark has never forgiven himself failing to rescue his sister and fulfills her Last Request until he dies, though we don't know what it was and we can only suppose.
    • Oberyn Martell also felt guilty that had he not made fun of his older sister Elia's suitors, then she would have been alive, Happily Married with children and not an unfortunate casualty to Robert's Rebellion. This made him into a vengeful man wanting to kill the guy responsible for it and he fulfilled it at the cost of his life.
    • Sir Barristan Selmy felt that he failed his duty as Kingsguard after having seen three kings come and go. After Joffrey fired him for failing to protect his father, Robert Baratheon, Barristan went to the other side of the world to protect Daenerys Targaryen.
    • Jon Connington blames himself for the death of his best friend (and more) Rhaegar Targaryen during Robert's Rebellion, since if he'd been more ruthless and killed Robert Baratheon at Stoney Sept, the Battle of the Trident, where Robert killed Rhaegar, would never have been fought. This belief drives Connington to put Rhaegar's son Aegon on the Iron Throne, no matter the cost.
    Jon's thoughts: Others might claim that the realm was lost when Prince Rhaegar fell to Robert's warhammer on the Trident, but the Battle of the Trident would never have been fought if the griffin had only slain the stag there in Stoney Sept. [...] I wanted the glory of slaying Robert in single combat, and I did not want the name of butcher. So Robert escaped me and cut down Rhaegar on the Trident.[...] I failed the father, but I will not fail the son.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Kaladin has a long list of perceived failures that stack together to bring him down. The first instance of this causes him to blame himself for his failures to save everyone, as his brother Tien was sent to war as revenge against their father, and Kaladin followed in a failed attempt to keep him safe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parodied (along with many other Police Procedural tropes) in the 30 Rock episode "Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whisky," where Jenna has a whodunit storyline in which she draws on her experience playing TV detective Alexis Goodlooking ("who is also good-looking, and her special ability is being good at looking for clues"). From a clip of the failed pilot:
    Alexis: Let's get forensics in here. Have the techs lift a latent print and run it against AFIS. Maybe the perp's in the system. [thousand-yard stare] Unlike my husband's killer, who got away and it haunts me.
  • American Horror Story: Coven: Cordelia blames herself for not being able to get Queenie out of Hotel Cortez (which is essentially as bad as being trapped in hell), and considers it her greatest failure as Supreme.
  • Angel's very first client, a waitress with a stalker problem, ended up being murdered on his watch.
    • The finale even featured a villain listing off all the people Angel failed to protect over the course of the show.
  • On the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, President Roslin was forced to make a split-second decision to shoot down the Olympic Carrier (a commercial spaceliner) when it began a kamikaze maneuver. She reveals in a later episode that she carries around index cards as a reminder of her past mistakes. The latest one says "Olympic Carrier".
  • Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad feels this way about his girlfriend Jane's death from a heroin overdose, and it takes him much of a season to finally overcome the guilt.
  • Many in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, since this is a Joss Whedon show after all; Tara may be the most notable.
  • In Criminal Minds, Hotch spends most the episode "Omnivore" angsting about all of the people he could have saved if he hadn't given up on finding the Boston Reaper. Rossi snaps him out of it with the healing, healing power of caustic mockery.
    Rossi: So you think this is your fault?
    Hotch: (voice tight) It is.
    Rossi: Well, here, use mine. (offers Hotch his gun) No, really, you've convinced me. You hung up on him, practically killed them yourself. Go on, get it over with. Don't worry about us, we'll get this guy without you.
    Hotch: Dave, I had ten years to do something about this!
    Rossi: Shaughnessy made the deal. The killing stopped, he closed the case and sent the BAU away. For ten years you worked on other cases, active cases—
    Hotch: But I kept coming back to this profile.
    Rossi: Hey, I was retired! Should I blame myself for every victim that got killed when I was on my book tour? Look, if you wanna end up like Shaughnessy, like Gideon, blaming yourself for everything, you go ahead. But that voice in your head? It's not your conscience, it's your ego. This isn't about us, Aaron, it's about the bad guys. That's why we profile them, it's their fault. We're just guys doing a job, and when we stop doing it, someone else will. Trust me, I know.
    Hotch: (gesturing to the gun) You can put that away now.
    Rossi: You sure?
    Rossi: My wife always said I had a flair for the dramatic.
    Hotch: Which one?
    Rossi: All of 'em.
    Hotch: Thanks.
    Rossi: Anytime.
  • Josette DuPres, fiance of Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows.
  • In the Doctor Who mini-episode "The Night of the Doctor", the Eighth Doctor meets a prospective companion, Cass, a young gunship pilot of undetermined allegiance, during the Time War between the Daleks and Time Lords. When he shows her the TARDIS, she realizes what he is and refuses to board, despite his lame protestations that he's "one of the nice ones." Cass' ship goes down, and she is killed in the crash. This turns out to be the lever which causes the Doctor to join the war: Finally accepting the necessity of taking action, Eight takes her bandoleer and regenerates into the War Doctor, a soldier with no particular allegiance to either side in the war — only its victims.
    • The Series 9 endgame revolves around this. In "Face the Raven", his beloved companion Clara Oswald is Killed Off for Real in a Senseless Sacrifice when she tries to protect an innocent used as bait by Ashildr merely to trap the Doctor for the Time Lords. The Doctor blames himself for this disaster — he saved Ashildr's life in a way that made her immortal and eventually resentful of him, he saved the Time Lords at Clara's behest, and he didn't do more to stop Clara from trying to be like him when she was far more "breakable". Clara tells him it's HER fault and no one else's since she made the foolish choice to take on a death sentence, and orders him to hold to his principles, not seek revenge for her death, and keep helping others as her fate looms. But he despairs "What's the point of being a Doctor if I can't cure you?" Over the course of the next two episodes, "Heaven Sent" and "Hell Bent", his anguish and guilt over her demise are exacerbated by torture, meaning he never has a chance to process her death in a healthy way. By the time he escapes, he's been Driven to Madness and "saves" Clara by violating a fixed point in time and his principles, risking the safety of the space-time continuum and everybody in it for one person. Ashildr points out, again, that he was NOT responsible for Clara's death, while Clara herself causes him to realize his love for her is keeping him from being a hero. In the end, he is mind-wiped of key memories of her — he doesn't recall her face, voice, or why he loved her and thus has no idea she's now Only Mostly Dead and having adventures with Ashildr! Now up to this point a catchphrase of Clara's was "Run you clever boy... and remember me", as he'd first encountered her as "echoes" who helped him, and usually died for him, across space and time. But she changes it to leave one last message for him at the end, reminding him of what he really needs to do: "Run you clever boy... and be a Doctor".
  • Family Matters: The 1991 Very Special Episode "I Should Have Done Something" sees Carl unusually apprehensive and crabby (even for him) as the one-year anniversary of a hostage situation gone wrong approaches. Carl blames himself for the hostage's murder, despite being told time and again that he and the other officers handled the situation correctly. Incidentally, it is only after Carl goes to the old man's grave and breaks down in tears as he begs for the victim's forgiveness that he is approached by the old man's widow, who helps Carl realize that he was not to blame for her husband's death.
  • In the second season premiere of The Flash (2014), Barry Allen/The Flash is so shaken up by the deaths of his friends Eddie Thawne and Ronnie Raymond during the events of the first season finale that he now insists on working alone to avoid losing anyone else. By the end of Season 2, failing to prevent Zoom from killing his father and coming face to face with the real Jay Garrick from Earth 3, who is his father's doppelganger, Barry jumps back in time and saves his mother, creating a new reality that will be explored in Season 3, where both his parents are alive and well, but none of his friends (or his love) remember him.
    • In Season 2, Patty's motivation for becoming a cop on the Metahuman Task Force is to bring down Mark Mardon, the man who killed her father during a bank robbery and is now the supervillain Weather Wizard. In the Christmas Episode "Running to Stand Still", Patty reveals that she actually blames herself as much as Mardon for her father's death — a teenager at the time, she was supposed to be at the bank instead of her father, depositing money from her father's shop, but she had chosen to ditch her responsibilities to hang out with her friends.
  • The reason the unnamed protagonist of Fleabag is in a downward spiral in the first season is that her sleeping with her best friend Boo's boyfriend caused her death. Boo found out that he was cheating and stepped out in front of a bike to make him come see her in the hospital and it ended up killing her.
  • In The Remake of The Fugitive, Gerard is now a widower. It soon becomes obvious that part of the reason he's so obsessed with catching Kimble is because (a) he was unable to save his wife and he's incensed that Kimble would destroy what he would give anything to have back, and (b) her killer got off thanks to an Amoral Attorney, making him despise those who evade punishment. Too bad he's completely wrong and that the innocent Kimble himself feels this way about his own wife (aside from being unable to save her despite being a doctor, he stopped to get coffee after their run and didn't arrive home with her, leaving her to be attacked by the one-armed man).
  • Game of Thrones:
    • There was absolutely nothing Brienne of Tarth could do to defend her beloved king against Melisandre's black magic, but she nevertheless feels horrible that she couldn't save Renly Baratheon. She later feels this way about Lady Catelyn, who she similarly couldn't save because she was performing a task given by her and wasn't at the Twins at the time of the Red Wedding.
    • Barristan Selmy takes his failure to protect the drunken King Robert from the boar quite hard, despite being directly ordered to stand aside and Ned telling him it wasn't his fault. In addition, while he was disgusted by the Mad King's actions he still did his best to honor his vow to him and his failure to do so still haunts him. He carries further guilt for failing to stop Robert from killing Rhaegar and for failing to protect Rhaegar's wife and children from The Mountain. Basically, Ser Barristan has a lot of Gwen Stacys.
  • Happens to Hercules in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys twice with both his wives. Both are killed by the Gods to spite him.
  • Caitlin almost becomes this for Peter in Heroes, except he quickly forgets she ever exists, and leaves her in a disease-stricken alternate reality (which no longer exists after solving the season's plot means that it won't come to pass.) Oh well, that's life. Same for Simone in Season 1 when she is forgotten almost as quickly as she is killed. Charlie Andrews was Hiro's Gwen Stacy (which was even mentioned within the show). Except now, thanks to Hiro's time-meddling, she's alive again, at least.
  • Homeland: One of Carrie's contacts dies due to her inability to protect the operative. She blames the person's death on herself and doesn't cope with it well. She and the rest of the CIA also treat 9/11 as this, though it was more My Greatest Failure.
  • House has two: first, Amber "Cutthroat Bitch" Volakis, one of the candidates for House's diagnostic team in Season 4 who didn't make the cut, but later returned as Wilson's girlfriend. She was on a bus with House when she came to take him home after he went drinking when the bus crashed. Amber suffered injuries that, combined with flu medication, caused her to suffer multiple organ failure and die. House's guilt over her death remained seeded in him before manifesting in Season 5 as a Vicodin-induced hallucination. The second is Lawrence Kutner, a member of the team who committed suicide in Season 5. House convinced himself for some time that it was actually murder since suicide would've meant that he never caught on to his problems. When House hallucinates both Amber and Kutner at the end of Season 5, he concedes that he needs help and checks himself into a psychiatric hospital. Both hallucinations return one last time for the series finale when House begins to ponder whether his own life is worth living.
  • In the Human Target episode "Christopher Chance" it's revealed that Chance left Katherine alone long enough for Baptiste to blow up the boat she was hiding in, a mistake that cemented his Heel–Face Turn and one he's still atoning for.
    • It also reveals the reason for why he refuses to leave a client alone.
  • In Jupiter's Legacy, Sheldon feels that he could have stopped his father from jumping off the roof of his building, since he was right there when it happened. His wife tries to comfort him that there wasn't anything he could have done.
  • Law & Order: UK's Ronnie Brooks laments this about a previous partner to his current one. . . and laments this to his AA group when his current partner is killed too.
    • Matt Devlin blames himself for his friend's suicide, both for failing to notice how troubled he was, and for not protecting him from the priest who molested him when they were children — the very reason he was so depressed.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Four years after Mike Dodds' death, Olivia Benson is still extremely cautious, particularly in regards to the safety of her subordinates, around domestic violence cases (Dodds was shot while trying to help a DV victim). Rollins explains to a junior detective that Benson has "never forgiven herself" for what happened to Dodds.
  • Lost: Shannon for Sayid, Libby for Hurley, Juliet for Sawyer, and Charlotte for Daniel. Arguably Nadia for Sayid, once he leaves the island.
  • MacGyver (1985): In "The Widowmaker", Mike dies after falling off a cliff while rock-climbing with Mac. Mac believes he blames himself for her death and is in a depressive funk for the first half of the episode as a result, and it will take both Nikki's convincing and the return of Murdoc to get him back into shape.
  • An interesting version occurs for Monk: Although Monk does not continuously blame himself for his wife's death (although for the first season or two he does), he does blame his failure to locate the true murderer and bring them to justice, due to his excellent deductive skills. It is this reason why Monk feels he has to solve every crime and murder he comes across to make up for his failure.
  • Person of Interest: Jessica called Reese for help, but he was on a mission and couldn't be there in time.
    • When the Machine started generating the Irrelevant List, Finch ordered it to delete the List. However, his best friend Nathan put in a back door into the system and tried to save the people the List indicated were about to be murdered. When Finch discovered this, he cut off Nathan's access not realizing that Nathan's name was about to appear on the List. When Nathan was killed, Finch took it very hard and devoted his life to saving as many people on the List as he can.
    • Both Finch and Reese take it very hard when they are unable to save someone on the List.
    • When Root was a child, her best friend was kidnapped and murdered. This shaped her entire life and caused her to become a villain. When she figures out who the killer was, her revenge was merciless. Her Heel–Face Turn comes when she averts this trope by willingly stepping into the path of a bullet to save the life of an innocent man she is protecting.
  • Clark Kent on Smallville Wangsts about any death that he fails to prevent, although Jonathan's death probably is the best example.
  • Sha're becomes this for Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1 when she is kidnapped and possessed by a Goa'uld in the pilot. Many of the early seasons are spent with Daniel Jackson wangsting over not being yet able to save her. Eventually, she is killed by Teal'c, nearly causing Daniel to quit the team. He doesn't and Status Quo returns because he finds out she has a baby for him to rescue.
    • After they're found, Skaara appears a few times, but Daniel hardly mentions his wife again. The child appears on two more occasions, outside of which he isn't mentioned again, either.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: It doesn't come up that often, but in one episode, Will Riker makes a comment suggesting that he still feels responsible for Tasha Yar dying on an away team that he was commanding.
  • Strong Medicine's Dylan West blames himself for his fiancée's death. First for falling asleep while driving, leading to their accident, then by being unable to save her despite being a physician.
  • Sam from Supernatural had prophetic dreams about girlfriend Jessica's murder, and felt he should have been able to save her; both she and his mother were targeted (and killed) because of their relationship to him. Cue self-hatred.
    • Supernatural has quite a few Gwen Stacys. Dean was a child when his mother died horribly at the hands of a demon. Sam was a baby and can't remember it, but Dean can and does, and feels terrible guilt over the fact that he couldn't save her. Dean was four years old. Their father suffers the same guilt, even though they all would have died if he hadn't gotten the kids out of the fire first.
    • Mystery Spot is one of the best examples of Mood Whiplash in the series, going from absolutely hilarious to a punch in the emotional gut. Sam is put in a "Groundhog Day" Loop in which he relives a Tuesday over 10,000 times, each time witnessing Dean dying in ways he can't predict. The deaths are comedic at first until it hits home that Sam has tried everything to save his brother — and over 10,000 times, has failed.
  • Allison's death in Teen Wolf. The fact that she was Scott's main love interest and his 'anchor', and the fact that Allison was the female lead probably doesn't help the case either.
    Scott: I can't take your pain!
    Allison: That's because it doesn't hurt...
  • In Torchwood: Children of Earth, Ianto Jones is killed off (due to the Captain's actions), causing Jack huge amounts of angst.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "The Trance", the psychiatrist Dr. Greenburg blames himself for his wife's death as he was unable to get to her in time to prevent her accident. The strange voice speaking through Leonard Randall assures him that there is nothing that he could have done but Greenburg is furious as he believes that Leonard is using him and his grief as part of his psychic powers scam.

  • Brand by Henrik Ibsen. Brand is The Hero of the play, and his wife Agnes, who serves both as The Heart and The Lancer, is killed off at the end of the fourth act. Things unravel swiftly after that.
  • In Jasper in Deadland, Jasper blames himself for Agnes's death, because she drowned while trying to face her fear of diving in the hopes it would convince him to face his fear of commitment. When they reunite in Deadland, she has to convince Jasper it wasn't his fault.

    • Lhikan pulled a Heroic Sacrifice to save Vakama when Vakama tried to use the Mask of Time. This gave Vakama the extra determination he needed to cripple the Makuta, so he and the other Toa Metru could seal him away.
    • Early in his career as a Toa, Lesovikk accidentally led his team into a group of Zyglak and, because of his hesitation, all of his teammates, including his 𝖦̵𝗂̵𝗋̵𝗅̵𝖿̵𝗋̵𝗂̵𝖾̵𝗇̵𝖽̵ best friend Nikila, were killed. He spent the next several thousand years trying to redeem himself.
    • While on the quest for the Seventh Toa, Jaller was killed while protecting Takua, which prompted the latter to don the mask and turn into Takanuva and fight Teridax. Unlike other examples, after Takanuva achieved this goal Jaller was revived (although he didn't know this would happen at the time).

    Video Games 
  • Detective Badd blames himself for Cece Yew's death in Ace Attorney.
    • Played with in Trials and Tribulations. Phoenix never blamed himself for Mia's death, but Godot sure did. For clarity: while Godot outwardly blames Phoenix for most of the game, at the end of the game Godot admits that, more than anything, he blamed himself for not being able to be there, even though he was comatose and near death himself.
  • Baldur's Gate 2 has a particularly interactive version of this trope. Halfway through the game, your ally and party member Yoshimo, if traveling with you, reveals that he's been magically forced to spy on you, and fights you to the death. This is unlike most other forms of the trope where the main character is the target. This time it targets the player. It relies on the fact that the player has probably invested quite a bit of effort in building Yoshimo.
  • In Batman: Arkham Knight Batman can only watch helplessly from the other side of bulletproof glass as Barbara Gordon succumbs to Scarecrow's fear toxin and blows her brains out. However, it turns out that Batman was only suffering a hallucination brought on by the very same toxin, and Barbara is fine.
  • In the first video game adaptation of The Darkness, Jackie is unable to prevent the death of his girlfriend Jenny.
  • Dragon Age II does this several times. One of Hawke's siblings dies to darkspawn at the start, with the other either falling to the taint or being forcibly recruited by the end of the first act. Later, the player's mother is also killed by a crazed murderer.
    • Similarly, in Dragon Age: Origins the Warden can express guilt over the events of their Origin Story to the guardian in the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Said events including: their best friend being sucked into a magical mirror and disappearing (Dalish Elf), their entire family being murdered (Human Noble), and their cousin being raped (City Elf; additionally, their fiancé being murdered as well if the player character is female.)
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy VI has Rachel, who serves as this for Locke. One day, while exploring a cave with Rachel, he was too slow to keep her from falling down a cliff, which led to her contracting amnesia. Her father called out Locke on this and Locke left his hometown, and while he was away, Rachel was killed in an Imperial attack. Locke fully blames himself for once again not being there to protect her, like he promised he would. This is why he makes it his mission to protect Terra and Celes.
    • Final Fantasy VII: Aeris Gainsborough for Cloud. Actually, her example is to video game fans what Gwen's was for comic fans for the very same reasons. Her death provides the motive for Cloud to take down Sephiroth, but he is still angsting about it by the time the movie comes around, though Advent Children Complete and other materials make it clear that his angst in the film also relates to his failure to find a cure for the Geostigma, afflicting himself and Denzel, a hefty dose of survivor's guilt towards Zack, and depression and anxiety are symptoms of Geostigma.
    • Final Fantasy XIII: No less than three people feel this way towards Serah. First and foremost, her sister Lightning and fiancé Snow, the former for not believing her at a key moment, the latter for accidentally getting her captured by a fal'Cie, both of them blaming themselves for her subsequent transformation into a human paperweight. In this iteration, she gets better, but after dropping dead at the end of the second game, Lightning, Snow and Noel get this trope in spades. Again, she gets better, due to the universe being rebooted.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV after Haurchefant's death at the Vault, numerous scenes and dialogue options show that the Warrior of Light is haunted by his death, especially as he died from an attack meant for them.
    • Noctis suffers from immense guilt at Luna's death in Final Fantasy XV, even though the way it was set up made it seem like it was inevitable.
      Noctis: All I wanted was to save you...
      • Watching Noctis break down and consequently mourn for weeks after it occurred is a punch to the gut, especially when he finally realizes just how much she must have struggled to help him, and how he had been oblivious to all the hardships she had been through until it was too late and ends up crying alone.
        Noctis: It's... so hard... Guess it was hard for you too. I'm sorry... I couldn't be there for you.
  • This is the reason for Lon'qu's aversion of women in Fire Emblem: Awakening: his First Love, Ke'ri, pulled an Heroic Sacrifice to save him from bandits, so his "aversion" is much more about him believing that he will bring women misfortune and death. His supports reveal that while the family of the girl who died has eventually forgiven him, he hasn't forgiven himself and has constant nightmares over it.
    • Dimitri from Fire Emblem: Three Houses has an entire character arc, spanning more than half of the game, dedicated to overcoming his mania resulting from the violent murder of his entire family as a young boy, and his subsequent discovery that Edelgard, a family member and someone he trusted otherwise, apparently orchestrated or was at least partially responsible for it. He hallucinates his dead family members calling for him to take revenge. Edelgard, while by no means an upright character, was in no way responsible for the death of Dimitri's family; she only unwittingly aligned herself with the Agarthans, who were actually responsible.
  • While Malt Marzipan can be hit by this at any time during Fuga: Melodies of Steel, it becomes an actual plot point in Fuga: Melodies of Steel 2, due to him witnessing the death of his friend Hanna at the hands of Jihl when he destroys both the Taranis and the Tarascus with the Belenos. For the next couple of chapters, Malt becomes so consumed by grief that he goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, thinking that killing Jihl is the only way to absolve him of the guilt of letting Hanna die. Depending on the ending, this can result in Malt choosing to give up his own life to power the Soul Cannon and kill the Big Bad.
  • Antiheroic example: Kratos' wife and daughter.
  • Can happen two different ways in Grand Theft Auto IV depending on the player's choice earlier to either go along with the deal with Dimitri or take the opportunity to exact revenge. In the former scenario, an assassin sent by Dimitri tries to kill Niko but, as Niko tries to wrestle the gun away, ends up shooting Niko's cousin Roman at his wedding instead. In the latter scenario, Niko's girlfriend Kate is gunned down at the same wedding when irate mob boss Jimmy Pegorino tries to off Niko in a drive-by. In both scenarios, Niko blames himself for allowing other people to get close to him, knowing the risks of his criminal lifestyle. The death then provides the motivation for the final mission in the game.
  • Halo 4 ends with Master Chief sadly saying that he was supposed to protect Cortana as she dies. This affected him so much that he goes AWOL to follow a dream he had of Cortana in Halo 5: Guardians. As if to kick John when he's down, Cortana Came Back Wrong and tries to kidnap him.
  • Honkai Impact 3rd: The Hero Kiana feels guilty whenever her closest ones hurt themselves trying to help her, but most notably her teacher Himeko, who actually died while trying (and suceeding) to bring Kiana back from her Superpowered Evil Side. Kiana would later vow to follow Himeko's "final lesson" as a way to honor her.
  • inFAMOUS: Trish. Her death not only teaches Cole that the lives of many outweigh the life of the few but is the final push for him to kill Kessler and complete the predestination paradox.
  • Part of the reason the plot of Injustice: Gods Among Us happens. Superman got hit with a Fear Toxin by Joker and thought he was fighting Doomsday by taking him to space... only to reveal that he's actually taking his wife Lois Lane and their unborn baby. They die, and her death triggered a nuclear explosion that levels Metropolis. Most of it was Joker's fault, but part of Superman's descent of evil was because the loss of Lois and Metropolis was partially on his hands and feeling that he could have prevented it somehow.
    Superman: So many lives lost because I held back.
  • South Town, where Terry Bogard used to hang his hat, serves this role in the NESTS arc of The King of Fighters. If Another Day is canon, it suggests that South Town is rebuilt by the time the events of the Ash saga roll around.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, Jolee has an interesting inversion of this. He blames himself for failing to kill his wife after she fell to the Dark Side, after which she went on to kill Jedi.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, Millium is this for Rean as she sacrifices herself to save his life and become his sword. Thankfully, she gets better in Cold Steel IV.
  • Mass Effect 3 opens with this in a more minor example, as Shepard remarks feeling regret that they were unable to save a young boy from getting zapped by the Reapers on Earth, though the boy is actually just the face Shepard remembers when thinking about all the people dying on Earth to the Reaper invasion.
    • Notably, the original game initially seems averts this with the death of either Kaidan or Ashley on Virmire, as Shepard is the one who rationalizes to the survivor that a choice had to be made. The second and third games, however, show that it was not a death that Shepard ordered lightly, and they regret that there was no other choice.
  • Iris to Zero in Mega Man X4. Specifically, Zero was the one who accidentally killed her, and they were set up as a couple, even. Granted, she was already on her way out since she absorbed her brother's DNA because the whole reason they're siblings is that the original reploid they were meant to be could not handle the stresses of being together. However, Zero does feel guilt over the fact that he had to be the one to put her down, to the point that he tries to avoid all attachment to prevent that kind of loss again.
    • Zero drops a single line about this in Mega Man X5 right before he is mortally wounded and lost in a collapsing base. It bugged him until Mega Man Zero 4 when he finally realized who he was fighting for.
  • Mother 3, heavily implied with Hinawa and Claus for Flint and Lucas respectively, as Flint failed to protect his wife and Lucas let Claus go off alone on the journey that killed him. Subverted, as Claus isn't actually dead.
  • In Prince of Persia, Evil Chancellor Jaffar locks the Princess away and threatens to kill her in one hour if she refuses to marry him. If you don't rescue her before the hour is up, you're shown her empty bedroom.
  • Shadow Hearts: Covenant:
    • Yuri, our hero, feels immence guilt for failing to save Alice Elliot from the curse of Four Masks in the previous game. He usually doesn't let himself dwell on it, but eventually he tries to ressurect her, but fails.
    • Masaji Kato is in simular position, since he failed to save Kawashima from an assassin sent by Minister Ishimura in the previous game, and has grown very bitter and cynical. He also tries to ressurect her, and even partly succeeds, creating a clone known as "Ouka", but she ends up Taking the Bullet for him. Her death sends him into becoming the final villain in the game. Naturally, the game draws a lot of parallels between these two.
  • Maria Robotnik serves this role for Shadow the Hedgehog.
  • Shogo: Mobile Armor Division has several in its backstory:
    • For the main protagonist Sanjuro, his first girlfriend Kura, his brother Toshiro, and their friend Baku. Subverted that they were alive all along.
    • Played more straight in the case of Sanjuro's commanding officer Admiral Akaraju. His wife was killed in during an earlier battle with the Fallen. He became determined to wipe them out since then.
  • Space Griffin VF 9 being a survival horror, has it in spades as EVERYONE wangsts each time one of the team dies, and boy is there a lot of dying! Most of the time it's because one of them went off to explore on their own. Cue rest of team Gwen Stacying. Granted, they ARE in Macross Mecha, but it's an ABANDONED DERELICT SPACE STATION where so much blood is spilled the hangar looks like it came straight from Silent Hill on the hell side. You'd think they would know better even if they are in 20-foot tall death machines...
  • In StarCraft, this is what feels James Raynor right after Sarah Kerrigan is betrayed by Arcturus Mengsk and abandoned during a massive swarm of Zerg overrunning her position. He complains that he shouldn't have let her go alone and that he had to rescue her; meanwhile, he leaves Mengsk as "who knows who he will screw up next".
    • However, it is later revealed that she didn't actually die, rather become infested by the Zerg and self-taking the title of Queen of Blades, an evil force who will reduce to ashes anybody who opposes her. It doesn't change much as Raynor thinks that this is a Fate Worse than Death.
    • Defied in Brood War: Kerrigan deceives everybody into thinking that with the death of the Zerg Overmind she became free of its control and murderous attitude, but the truth is that she is manipulating everybody in order to get control of what remains of the Zerg swarm and destroy anything that could threaten her power. Raynor eventually vows to kill her after she murders two main characters, including a close friend of the former, only to go in exile after she becomes the dominant force in the sector.
    • However, by the time of StarCraft 2, the trope returns downplayed (since technically she didn't die, although her former self "died", similarly to how Darth Vader "killed" Anakin Skywalker), as Raynor feels guilty for what happened to Kerrigan and personally responsible for not going to rescue her the day she was taken by the Zerg and turned into a monster. Tychus is quick to realize this when Matt implies the two were close once.
  • Street Fighter Alpha has Charlie, who is fated to die and drive Guile to destroy Shadaloo. His Alpha 3 ending offers a happier, if not more gratuitous ending where Charlie nukes the Shadaloo base and shoots up Bison with the guns of a harrier jet. Guile's ending however shows Charlie committing a Heroic Sacrifice by stopping Bison from attacking Guile and nuking Shadoloo's building while he and the dictator are still in it, letting Guile escape. Guile, in this ending, however believes that Charlie is still alive.
  • Temporarily hit Lamia Loveless in Super Robot Wars OG Gaiden, whereas although she was really just separated due to a shot that hit somewhere else, Kyosuke Nanbu thought she's dead and goes a bit of a Wangst followed by a Heroic BSoD about not letting anyone else suffer her fate. Until eventually she came back Brainwashed and Crazy and sets up for Axel Almer's Heel–Face Turn event.
    • Kyosuke had a good reason for the Angst. He had rescued Lamia, was holding her in the palm of the Alt's (his Mech) hand and was talking to her. Unfortunately, he had also let his guard down (something he often warned others against), and the shot that was fired was aimed at the hand that was holding Lamia, causing him to throw her away and out of the reach of the others. And according to Axel, if he did not interfere, he predicts that Kyosuke would fall into despair out of this trope... and turns into another world-destroying maniac like Beowulf. It's that bad.
    • Also previously in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3, this hit Aya Kobayashi earlier when Ryusei launched a reckless attack against Balmar general Hazal Gozzo, and from that, not just Aya is thought to be dead, SRX is destroyed, forcing him to a lesser mecha until it's rebuilt as the far more powerful SR-Altered Banpreios. Turns out Aya's just captured and the Balmar made great use of her psychic power to make Mai's greater psychic power to run amok and threaten the party. But all is well when it turns out Aya has been rescued by both Luria Qayitz and Baran Doban.
  • The entire town of Akzeriuth getting destroyed serves as this for Luke in Tales of the Abyss, prompting a massive personality 180 as he tries to make up for it. Although he was manipulated into making it happen, the party still holds him partially responsible for keeping them in the dark about what was going on until it was too late to stop it. Not like they were much better, as quite a few had information on hand that would have possibly changed things; ie, Tear's reasons for trying to kill Van (her brother) and Jade having realized certain important and game-changing information before anyone else.
  • In Time Crisis 5, it turns out that three months ago, Christy, who was the Damsel in Distress in the second game and was Keith's girlfriend, was killed by Robert offscreen when Robert went rogue.
  • Isara in Valkyria Chronicles gets shot at one point during the game, causing everyone to be depressed and then motivated to fight for her sake for the next couple of chapters. It can be a little jarring, though, because it's possible to lose other members of Squad 7 in ordinary battles. Even if you're acutely aware of Gameplay and Story Segregation, it's hard not to be upset at the main cast for dropping everything to mourn for Isara, but not batting an eye at your favorite squad member (who's been in just as many battles as they have) getting killed.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, if the player turns Heather into a ghoul, she will be killed by the Sabbat towards the end of the game. This is mainly to give player more of a reason to hate the Sabbat, though this can be avoided if you make her leave your haven after she's devoted herself to you, therefore taking her out of the Sabbat's line of sight.
  • In The World Ends with You, Beat's life is one long string of failing to save his loved ones. First, he tried to shove his sister Rhyme out of the way of a speeding car, only to get plastered himself and accomplish nothing. Second, Rhyme shoves him out of the way of a shark Noise and is promptly turned into mulch, rendering her (seemingly) Deader than Dead. Third, Konishi crushes the pin holding Rhyme's soul, rendering her (seemingly) Deader Than Deader than Dead. Fourth, in "A New Day" in Final Remix, Rhyme shoves him out of the way of a shark Noise and is promptly turned into mulch. Fifth, he is helpless to prevent Coco from shooting Neku dead.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 1: Shulk had a vision of Fiora, his childhood friend and longtime crush dying at the hands of Metal Face. Despite this, he was unable to prevent it from happening. Getting revenge and becoming strong enough to not fail this way again motivates him to begin his adventure. He later discoveres that Fiora isn't actually dead.

    Visual Novels 
  • Discussed by Cecilia and Mortelli in Daughter for Dessert. Cecilia believes that the protagonist stole the money intended for Lainie’s medical treatment and used it to open his diner. In truth, Lainie never told him that she was sick, and he was never sure what she said to convince her family lawyer to give her that money.
  • In Doki Doki Literature Club!, the protagonist feels responsible for Sayori's suicide, either because he feels obligated to start a romance with Sayori when she confessed to being suicidal, or because his rejection of her feelings made her more depressed as a result. It's more complicated than that, as Monika is making Sayori undergo a Mind Rape in order to make her less appealing, but the protagonist doesn't know that. He also blames himself for not doing anything to prevent Sayori's suicide (but according to Word of God, there really is nothing the protagonist could do because Sayori hanged herself before he even woke up.)
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Snake thinks he couldn't protect Clover from being murdered in the Safe ending, and greatly blames himself for this. To make up for it, he dooms Clover's killer to burn alive along with him.
  • Steins;Gate 0 starts with Okabe still hung up from the previous game where he failed to save Kurisu and had not yet set up the Stable Time Loop for his future self to slap him in the face.

    Web Animation 


    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang aangsts a LOT over running away from the Air Temple and believes himself to be the reason the Fire Nation was able to successfully raid and destroy the Air Temple.
    • And a particularly good example, too. There's a possibility that if he'd been there during the attack, he could have re-enacted the Season 1 Finale with a hurricane or something. There's a much greater possibility that he'd have died as well, pretty much dooming the world. Running away was the right thing to do, even if he didn't know it at the time.
    • There's also another possibility that while he could have fended off the war, there would have been nothing he could have done to save his friends since the Avatar state is a defense mechanism, not something he can call upon (at the time) at will.
    • Aang's situation kind of toys with it in numerous ways. For example, had he died, there would most certainly have been another Avatar born in time to repel the Earth kingdom invasion. This is why Sozin and Ozai needed him alive. But, there's no telling how his friends at the air temple may have taken it. The series could have wound up with a completely different Big Bad as any number of ripples could have expanded out from Aang's premature death defeating the Fire Nation armada.
    • Sokka also goes through this. Since he was supposed to protect Yue, he blames himself for her death, even though she willingly sacrificed herself to save her tribe.
  • Darkwing Duck had Darkwing think that Gosalyn ran away during crime-fighting (She actually got caught up in Quackerjack's Time Traveling top and brought to the future). In the future, he became a Knight Templar named Darkwarrior Duck and ruling St. Canard as a merciless dictator with an All Crimes Are Equal policy.
  • The Castle Wyvern clan in Gargoyles are a villainous Gwen Stacy for Demona, who has a meltdown when she realizes that she is responsible for their deaths and actually becomes immortal just so she can live long enough to kill all of humanity.
    • Demona may be a subversion since she immediately backpedals and shifts ALL of the blame to humanity. The one time she admits culpability, it is under extreme duress (and hypnosis) and she backpedals again just as quickly.
  • In The Transformers, Rodimus Prime's tenure as the new leader of the Autobots is tinged with his regret and guilt over his unfortunate role in the death of the previous leader Optimus Prime.
  • In The Venture Bros., #21 blames himself for #24's death at the end of the third season. As a result, #21 Took a Level in Badass.
  • Morph in the 1990s X-Men: The Animated Series, a character created just so he could die in the first episode and give the characters (mostly Wolverine) a personal reason to fight. He came back later though, but as a bad guy, and it takes Wolvie a LOT to bring him back to the side of good. This is especially evident at the beginning of Season 2. Morph had 'died' in part because Wolverine was forcefully prevented from going back to help him after he was severely injured on a mission. When Wolverine discovers he's still alive, but in bad shape and on the run, he initially ignores the others (that think Morph should be left alone to sort things out for himself), and chases Morph all the way to the Amazon, rather than "abandon" him again. He eventually does let him go...but he and Cyclops, who gave the order to leave him behind (and Jean), immediately fly off to what appears to be Australia as soon as Morph calls them for help in the season finale.
  • Happens to Aquagirl in Season 2 of Young Justice. Aqualad blames his friends for allowing her to die during a dangerous mission, and ends up betraying the team and joining his father, Black Manta. It later turns out to be subverted, as while Aquagirl did die between seasons, her death was used as a cover story for Aqualad, who was actually acting as a double agent undercover in his father's organization.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Dead Because Of Me, The Gwen Stacy



The death of Sachi left a strong impact on Kirito whenever he remembers it.

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Main / ILetGwenStacyDie

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