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Impeded Messenger

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A messenger has an important message/package/etc. for someone, probably the protagonist. Maybe they scheduled a meeting, making it a Doomed Appointment; maybe the protagonist doesn't know there is a messenger. One way or another, the messenger fails to deliver the message, or delivers the message too late. Could become an Unwitting Instigator of Doom. See also Product Delivery Ordeal.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the second season of Hamatora, Episode 6 has one of the characters follows a lead on his own. He is able to achieve his objective of locating and defeating the antagonist, but is left beaten and battered. When he calls the main character to tell him what has happened, it turns out that the main character has forgotten his phone at home. Unable to get in contact with anyone else or fight back, the antagonist's goons easily dispatch him.

    Comic Books 
  • In Project Superpowers, Fighting Yank's ancestor, Bruce Carter, was a Revolutionary War soldier who had been charged by Washington himself with delivering secret battle plans to the American forces. Unfortunately for him, he stopped for a drink and was killed by the British. For failing to complete his mission, he was cursed to guide his descendent, Bruce Carter III, into becoming Fighting Yank to protect America against enemies.
  • When Tim was thought to have died during an Arkham breakout most of the Batfamily ended up separated from him by a force field before he could tell them he'd escaped. Nightwing ended up beating the Joker to death when the Joker gloated about killing another of his brothers. Though of course he got better it showed Dick and the rest of the Bats that Dick could be pushed to lethal force.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In the fairy tale The Armless Maiden, the Wicked Sister-in-Law changes letters to and from the titular character and her husband (who's away in a war), by getting the messenger drunk when he stops to rest at her place.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Gallipoli has this as the major plot point in the film, where just as the soldiers are about to go over the top to attack the Turks in a futile attempt to gain ground, the order is rescinded. The catch? Mel Gibson doesn't deliver it fast enough and his best bud dies.
  • The entire movie of Kangaroo Jack. Which is probably a good thing, as the money that the protagonists were supposed to deliver is meant to pay the recipient to kill them.
  • In Deep Impact, the astronomer who realizes that the object is a comet on a collision course with Earth, tries to get the information out but dies in a car accident before he can alert the world.
  • The Madness of King George: Both averted and lampshaded in Thurlow's race to Parliament before the Regency bill passes.
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!: Attempts to transmit a warning message via radio to the American forces in Hawaii fail due to atmospheric interference. They decide to send the message via commercial telegram, but fail to mark the message as Urgent, meaning it sits in a backlog of messages in Hawaii and isn't delivered to Fort Shafter until after the attack is underway.
    • Further, an American destroyer spots a Japanese submarine trying to enter the harbor and sinks it, but their report of the engagement isn't received until after the air attack starts.
    • Further still, the Japanese send an ultimatum to the Americans, intended to be delivered before the attack as a final justification for the imminent war, but delays in decoding and translating the message into English mean this message isn't delivered until after the attack either. Understandably, the American government is not pleased by the timing of the message.
  • Invoked in Wicker Park where Alex deliberately withholds Lisa's letter that she was supposed to hand over to Matthew in order to sabotage their relationship.
  • In Troy, a Trojan scout discovers that the Greeks have not abandoned their war effort after all, despite their supposed peace offering of the giant wooden horse. He immediately tries to warn Troy of the deception but is promptly cut down by a Greek arrow.

  • Shakespeare:
    • The Impeded Messenger is a crucial plot point in Romeo and Juliet, as he's prevented from informing Romeo that Juliet faked her suicide and isn't really dead. This results in Romeo committing suicide for real, and Juliet following him after seeing his corpse.
    • And a smaller point in Hamlet and in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, where Hamlet changes the letter to the king of England so that R&G are executed in his place.
  • In the Discworld novel Thief of Time, it was mentioned that an Impeded Messenger example was averted when shortly after his horse threw a shoe, the messenger just 'happened' to run into a traveling peasant with a portable forge. This is played with further in that it is only due to the messenger's timely arrival that the dreadful Battle of Five Cities never happened.
    • Terry Pratchett uses a variation of this in Carpe Jugulum as well.
  • In The Andromeda Strain, the electronic version happens: the scientists working on the alien virus in an isolated lab don't get the notification that the president has ordered that an atomic bomb be dropped on the infected site (a very bad idea since the scientists have already discovered the virus is resistant to radiation and large amounts of energy just make it grow faster) because of a mechanical failure in the bell of the teletype machine that was supposed to alert them.
  • In Death and The Joyful Woman by Ellis Peters, young Dominic Felse sets out after the murderer, leaving a message for his police sergeant father with the intention that it will bring Sergeant Felse after him in time to rescue him if he gets in trouble, but not soon enough to forbid him going in the first place. An unexpected circumstance delays the delivery of the message, and Dominic very nearly gets himself killed.
  • Subverted in the J.A. Johnstone western The Last Gunfighter: Renegades: A cowboy who is sent to alert the state capitol to send in more Texas Rangers because the local ones are corrupt is seen being held prisoner and murdered along with several other locals who tried to fight back. However, it turns out that he did deliver the message and was captured on his way home (although The Cavalry Arrives Late).

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Horatio Hornblower episode "The Frogs and the Lobsters", a messenger carrying plans for a joint mission in France by British and French Royalist forces is killed and the plans stolen. In this case, the heroes know exactly what the message was, as it was a copy being sent to the Admiralty. Now the heroes have to consider the possibility that the plans might find their way into the Revolutionaries' hands before their operation can succeed. They do.
  • That's how Lion El'Jonson's fall had started in Embers in the Dusk. The Emperor sent Saint Celestine to warn him of the Abomination once he awoke, but, as usual, underestimated Chaos... despite being asleep said Abomination already had servants in place to intercept Celestine and deliver a message of their own.
    Video Games 
  • Video game variant where the protagonist is the messenger: in Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, the character Anthony is given a scroll he's supposed to deliver to Charlemagne, but the scroll proves in fact to be a trap carrying a nasty undead curse—which Anthony discovers by accidentally inflicting it upon himself. Anthony bravely decides to warn Charlemagne of the plot against him, and after battling ghouls, traps, and the curse slowly eating away at his body, reaches his destination to find...that the assassins got sick of waiting, and Charlemagne is already dead.
  • Fallout: New Vegas starts with the player character as a Courier who gets ambushed by a group of thugs led by a man in a suit, who proceeds to take the Platinum Chip that was to be delivered. The main goal of the first half of the game becomes tracking down said man and regaining the chip (completing the delivery is optional after that though).

  • The whole plot of Paradigm Shift turns out to have been instigated by a modern variant. A letter sent to Chicago PD detective Kate MacAllister from someone she participated in a clinical trial alongside some years previously is delayed by at least a week because it was sent to a previous address, meaning he's unable to arrange a meeting and warn her that the trial may have had some really dangerous side effects... Like turning her into a werewolf.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara realizes Zuko and Iroh are in Ba Sing Se and runs to warn the Earth King, only to be tricked by Azula and company, who are disguised as the Kiyoshi Warriors, leading to her imprisonment and setting the stage not only for the fall of Ba Sing Se, but also Aang's death. Played with in Bato of The Water Tribe, in which Aang receives the message for Bato and withholds said information until he feels too guilty to continue doing so.

    Real Life 
  • Many battles have been lost due to crucial communication holdups.
    • One famous case is the 06.06.1944 telegram that was supposed to inform Adolf Hitler and his Berlin staff that the Anglo-American armies had stormed the beaches of Normandy in the early morning of the same day, and that in order to beat them back, Hitler had to authorise the deployment of Panzer Reserves now. However, Hitler was a long sleeper and had declared he wasn't to be awoken, so the message lingered unread for hours, all while the Allies fought their way inland and subsequently robbed the German garrison of any possibility of an effective counter-attack. The rest, as they say, is history.
    • Similarly, shortly before the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor, the destroyer USS Ward spotted a Japanese mini-sub attempting to enter the harbor and sank it. The Ward's report of the engagement wasn't passed up the chain fast enough due to delays in transmission and decryption of the message, and the American commanders received it shortly after the air attack began.
    • On the same vein, the official declaration of war by Japan was delivered late to the American authorities because of various details (a miscalculation of the time difference between Pearl Harbor and Washington, D.C. and the American official leaving the Japanese ambassador's aide waiting, among others). The fact that this lateness made it look like the Japanese had deliberately lied about their intentions pretty much ticked off the American military even more.
    • The Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War was fought because a Confederate courier dropped a copy of the dispatch he was delivering, which was then found by some Union soldiers.