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Implied Death Threat

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"We're a lot alike, you and I. You tested me. I tested you. You killed me. I — oh, no, wait. I guess I haven't killed you yet. Well. Food for thought."
GLaDOS, Portal 2 trailer

This trope is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A character threatens to kill another, but without actually using the words "I'll kill you." Usually involves the use of an analogy, a hypothetical question or another subtle remark that comes off as a threat in context.

This often allows the maker of the threat to avoid being punished for making threats, since they can claim they never really threatened the target, and is often employed when neither side is allowed to take action against each other. Often the person making the threat will avoid naming the threatened person directly. Very often leads to Is That a Threat?. On occasion, this will fly over the head of the person being threatened, particularly if that person is rather dense or the threat is especially oblique.

If the threat is made against the other person's family or against their property, that's Shame If Something Happened. The clearest nonverbal versions are the Dramatic Gun Cock and the Throat-Slitting Gesture. When you apply this trope to the death of a third party, it's Deadly Euphemism. Through some Teeth-Clenched Teamwork, this can also lead to You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, if the character is working for or with the other character that they have just threatened. See also Scarily Specific Story, which could overlap if the threatener makes the threat into a story.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Gunslinger Girl: Henrietta recreates the death of a cyborg girl who shot her own handler and then killed herself after she realised that her handler did not return her feelings. Alarmed, her handler Jose knocks the pistol out of her hand; it turns out to be unloaded. After all, says Henrietta, how could she possibly kill herself "as long as you're this wonderful, Jose."
  • During the latter's introductory chapter in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Kaguya cheerfully holds a rubber knife to Ishigami's chest, telling him that if he ever reveals what he discovered about one of her plans, the knife won't be a toy next time. Made even more effective by the fact that she and the knife were both covered in stage blood (she was wearing a costume for the drama club).
  • Naruto: During the Chunin Exams finals, Neji tells the referee that the fight has dragged on too long and, if Naruto refuses to give up, Neji won't take any responsibility for what happens to him. Given that during the preliminaries he tried to attack Hinata with the intent to kill her (having to be stopped by four jounin at the same time) because she turned back his You Can't Fight Fate Breaking Speech against him, and Naruto was doing it too, it's very much clear that he too was going for deadly force for the same reason.
  • One Piece:
    • At the very start of the series, some mountain bandits are prepared to kill Luffy, when Shanks shows up to help him. When one of the bandits points a gun to Shanks' head, Shanks calmly asks if the man is prepared to risk his life by doing so, but the bandit isn't at all intimidated by the threat. Seconds later, Shanks' subordinate Lucky Roux shoots the bandit in the head at point-blank range.
    • Shortly after entering the Grand Line, the Straw Hats respond to Crocus' intimidating Death Glare by threatening to shoot him with their cannon. He replies that if they do that, someone is going to die. That someone being him.
  • After breaking Speed-O-Sound Sonic's sword by biting right through it, Saitama of One-Punch Man warns him (with a serious Death Glare) that he is busy and in a bad mood, and that anyone who gets in his way is going to get punched. This is coming from the guy who can kill just about anything with one punch, and it's enough to elicit an Oh, Crap! from Sonic, who already received one (accidental) Groin Attack from him.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, after Pegasus separates Mokuba's soul from his body, he tells Seto Kaiba that he will release him on the condition that he beats both Yugi and himself in a duel. Kaiba agrees, before delivering one to him in turn.
    Kaiba: For now, I have no choice but to play your game, but soon, as soon as I defeat Yugi, I'll be back, and you better make good on your promise to restore my brother, because if you don't, I'll take great pleasure in separating your soul from your body in my own way!

    Comic Books 
  • Blaze of Glory: Caleb Hammer gets in some pretty good trash talk while holding Kid Colt at gunpoint.
    Caleb: I can take you dead or alive. I got a preference. How about you?
  • While hitchhiking, Astrid of Clean Room lands one on a trucker who attempts to sexually assault her.
    Astrid: If you don't remove your hand I will turn you into an urban legend. A cautionary tale, to be specific. "The man who picked up the wrong teenager," it will be called. Told at truck stops to shivering long-haulers for decades to come.
  • Firefly: The Sting: At one point Saffron is pushing Zoe's buttons about motherhood and Zoe reminds her that she can kill her with her bare hands.
  • A G.I. Joe Origins short story (published by Devil's Due) showcased how "Duke" Hauser had been hired by the titular covert-ops team: during his debriefing with General "Hawk" regarding an ambush that he had single-handedly saved his comrades from, Hawk says that it was pretty brave and Medal of Honor material... too bad that it's posthumous because he was killed in action. During the debriefing he had been doing some Gun Stripping of a pistol, and by the time he explained the offer to enter G.I. Joe and mentioned the "killed in action" part, Hawk had the gun assembled, loaded and pointed towards Hauser.
  • In The Smurfs comic book story "The Reporter Smurf", Reporter gets Brainy to leave the newspaper's printing office and not suggest anymore changes to the paper by underhandedly threatening him with an "accident" while Greedy crushes a nut under the printing press to drive home the point.
  • The Transformers: Windblade:
    • Starscream has the following reasoning for saving Windblade's life:
      Starscream: When you die, it will be in public, with witnesses, and I'll be at least five miles away.
    • Windblade later retorts after saving Starscream with:
      Windblade: When you die, it'll be for something you deserve and all of Cybertron will know it.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • In one strip, Calvin prepares to throw a water balloon at the resting tiger, only to stop when Hobbes comments, "As if life isn't short enough."
    • In another strip, Hobbes offers this gem in response to Calvin once again trying to nail him with a water balloon:
      Hobbes: Here's a hypothetical question you should ask yourself. If you knew today was your last day on earth, what would you do different? Especially if, by doing something different, today might NOT be your last day on earth?
    • In another, Calvin's dad, fed up with Calvin using the distinction between his body and spirit to justify his actions, says "The body is the home of the spirit and if you're not in bed in two minutes, your spirit is going to be permanently nomadic".

    Films — Animation 
  • An "Implied Torture Threat" variant is used in Aladdin: The Return of Jafar: In an attempt to get Abis Mal to free him with his last wish, Jafar summons up a huge quantity of treasure for free, no wish required. Abis Mal is delighted until, in an uncharacteristically savvy moment, he questions if everything will disappear once he frees him. At this point Jafar gets mad.
    Jafar: The more pressing question is- HOW WILL YOU STAY ALIVE IF YOU DON'T?!
    Abis Mal: But... y-you said genies can't kill. You said that.
    Jafar: You'd be surprised what you can live through.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke: A crime boss demands that his underling, who is also his relative, returns the money he'd lost pronto, lest he wishes to become "a very distant relative".
  • In Ice Age, Soto does this twice to Diego, his second-in-command charged to bring back a baby so he can eat it alive. When Diego loses it over the falls, Soto snarls at him, "You'd better [get it]. Unless you wanna serve yourself as a replacement." The second time, he sends two of his sabres to warn Diego to bring back the baby or "don't come back at all!", which hints at certain death for Diego, since the tigers pretty much use each other to survive, at least in Soto's pack.
    • Continental Drift has Captain Gutt vow to Shira that he'll "have a tiger's skin hanging on [his] wall" at the end of his war with Manny and his herd after she betrays him and helps them escape. For the added touch, he says, "I don't care whose.", which implies that he will kill Shira regardless of the outcome.
  • In My Little Pony: The Movie (2017), The Storm King tells Tempest that if she fails him, her horn "won't be the only thing that's broken."
  • The Wolf in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish makes his intentions towards Puss known with one of these: taking out Puss's "DEAD OR ALIVE" "Wanted!" Poster to ostensibly ask for an autograph, only to tell him to "Sign right here," with a pointed tap on the word "DEAD".
  • Done non-verbally in Ratatouille. One of the many stories Horst tells to explain his stint in prison is that he killed a man with his thumb. Later, when he catches the disgraced Skinner spying on Gusteau's, he wordlessly brandishes that same thumb as a threat.
  • Shrek: When the Magic Mirror reminds Lord Farquaad that he technically isn't a king, Farquaad turns to his right-hand man Thelonious, who breaks a mirror by punching it. The Magic Mirror then nervously clarifies his statement.

    Music 
  • The Bad Lip Reading Star Wars parody "Seagulls! (Stop It Now)" ends with Luke criticizing Yoda's singing and irritably declaring that he's not Yoda's friend. Yoda replies in a creepy whisper, "Don't fall asleep. Don't. Fall. Asleep."

    Podcasts 
  • At the end of The Adventure Zone: Balance, Taako learns that he had a sister that had gone missing, and Lucretia fed her information to the Voidfish, meaning he completely forgot about her. After having his memory restored, Taako grabs his wand, points it at Lucretia's face, and starts counting backwards from ten.
  • In the Welcome to Night Vale episode "Numbers", Cecil describes how, despite the best efforts of the New Station management, they can't remove the Blood Stone doors from the radio station, leading to this quote;
    Cecil: So, our new owners have had to learn to live with those doors, bleeding on their way out. (Beat) Good practice for them.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WCW: Cactus Jack and Abdullah the Butcher brought a cake to celebrate Sting's birthday.
    Paul E. Dangerously: It's not Sting's birthday.
    Cactus Jack: I know that. Don't you think I know that? But I wasn't here for Sting's last birthday. I wish I was at Sting's last birthday. But you see it's very important that we celebrate now, because Sting's last birthday was Sting's last birthday! BANG BANG! BANG BANG!note 
  • On the January 18, 1992, episode of USWA Championship Wrestling, The Moondogs' manager Richard Lee brought a chair with him that read "RIP JEFF JARRETT.''
  • The Road Warriors were famous for threatening to perform acts of violence on their opponents that would at times stretch the limits of what is humanly possible—or permissible. In a vignette to hype their scaffold match against The Midnight Express ("Loverboy" Dennis Condrey and "Beautiful" Bobby Eaton, w/Jim Cornette) at NWA Starrcade 86, they dropped a pumpkin off of a fire escape.
  • At CHIKARA Showdown in Crisisland, July 21, 2007, UltraMantis Black cut a promo about the Order of the Neo-Solar Temple (himself/Crossbones/Hydra)'s match with Hallowicked, Cheech and Cloudy where they promised to "do a little jig on your graves."
  • Raven pulled this to Thumbtack Jack and Steve Douglas in the German promotion Westside Xtreme Wrestling. Raven said he came to the country to make some corpses and upset some parents.

    Radio 
  • The very first The Adventures of Harry Nile story, "West For My Health", had Harry up to his eyeballs in debt to a mob boss, who agreed to forgive Harry's debt if he went out to the west coast to kill a guy who was threatening his business. Just to make sure Harry didn't try to avoid doing the job, the mob boss sent an associate to watch him. The associate pulled Harry aside and told him, "I'm your doctor. I'm telling you to go west for your health."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In an in-game story segment from the first edition of Feng Shui, the unnamed Killer who is the protagonist of these segments is captured after a battle gone straight to hell. He wakes up in a rather stylish interrogation room with a one way mirror along one wall. In walks Inspector MacAllister, a cop working for the Ascended, who lets our assassin know where he stands in no uncertain terms:
    MacAllister: Now, son, you're gonna answer a few questions. And the folks behind that one-way mirror there are gonna listen to them, and very carefully decide whether to let you leave here breathing. Got my meaning, son?
  • Chaosium's Stormbringer adventure Stealer of Souls: Tormiel's house has a Demon of Protection that is required to give two warnings before attacking intruders, such as, "Gee, this is an unhealthy place to visit without an invitation," or "Do you know where your blood comes from?" If the intruders ignore his warnings, he's free to kill them.

    Theatre 
  • Walk This Way by Len Randall. The wife of a wealthy philandering husband tries to warn off his Sexy Secretary when she looks like threatening her nest egg.
    Wife: I have a friend who makes people disappear.
    Secretary: He's a hitman?
    Wife: No, he's a magician. But he's also a very bad driver.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations, Viola Cadaverini seems to have almost every other line be this, offering food and drink that is implied to be poisoned, all in a Creepy Monotone. She's a Mafia Princess, so it's not exactly an empty threat.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Phoenix wins the first "Not Guilty" verdict seen in the Kingdom of Khura'in in 23 years, since a law that causes lawyers to suffer their clients' punishments if they lose has killed off the defense attorney profession in the kingdom. At the end of the trial, Inga, the Minister of Justice, the Queen's husband and the one responsible for the law in question, greets Phoenix, makes an analogy to him being an overly lucky patron of a casino, and suggests it might be best to take his winnings and leave.
  • During the second Hatoful Boyfriend Yuuya finds out that his brother's butler Albert is actually an assassin. Considering his powerful Big Brother Instinct this disturbs him rather a lot. It's the one thing that breaches his cheerful, friendly version of stoicism and gets him to make direct threats. He settles back after hearing the explanation, but doesn't feel easy about it.
    "Sakuya seems to have this sorted out. ...but if you do end up hurting him, I'll hunt you to the ends of the earth and back. Remember that."

    Web Animation 
  • In Red vs. Blue: Season 3, Church and Tex are in ghost form and are searching for their unoccupied robot bodies together. After a few snarky comments by Church, Tex has had enough.
    Tex: Hey, Church?
    Church: Yeah?
    Tex: If I were to kill a ghost, do you think it would come back as a ghost of a ghost?
    Church: Well, I think— ... I'll just shut up now.
  • In RWBY, when Emerald and Mercury debate whether or not they belong with Salem in the absence of Cinder, Tyrian Callows reveals he's overheard their debate and suggests that if they're not doing what they love, they're in the wrong field. When Emerald asks if he's telling them to leave, he laughs and retorts that they can't. He then tells them to do whatever makes them happy. He's filled with sinister glee and points his scorpion stinger right at them as he says it. His message is clear: he relishes the opportunity to hunt them down and kill them if they do decide they want to leave.
  • In the Strong Bad Email "original", Strong Bad claims that Bubs is merely a replacement for "Original Bubs". Bubs shows up in person near the end of the e-mail, threatening Strong Bad with "We're gonna need a new Strong Bad in about two seconds!" and pummeling SB into admitting he made the whole thing up.

    Web Videos 
  • CollegeHumor: In "The New iPhone is Just Worse", Tim Cook eventually questions the fate of 4 members of the Apple design department, who are heavily implied to have been killed by Jony Ive. Jony, overhearing it, responds with "Careful, Tim." — and when Tim breaks down over missing Steve Jobs, Jony makes good on his threat.
  • Grog, Percy and Tiberius in Critical Role do this by telling the story, over a fancy council dinner, of how they killed a treacherous mindflayer, Clarota. It's a veiled threat towards the Briarwoods, who are present at the dinner. They are also traitors, guilty of slaughtering Percy's entire family.
  • In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the letter that Dr. Horrible gets from Bad Horse about how he now must commit murder in order to gain entry to the Evil League of Evil includes the line "There will be blood, it might be yours".
  • In Spyro's Bad Day, after having had to "collect all the things", Spyro demands that Ripto leave so he can finally go home. When Rypto asks why he'd be willing to do that, Spyro blasts both his minions and says, "Because now I'm not asking."
  • In Dimension 20: Mentopolis, this is part of The Fix's whole deal. By calmly reciting weird facts, he terrifies his victims into disappearing or injuring themselves to get away from him.
    The Fix: "I understand, we all sometimes wanna stick our finger in the birthday cake, but you're never gonna do that."
  • Stoogeposting: In "The Three Stooges go Hollywood":
    Larry: What kind of movie would it be, anyway?
    Moe: Well with hair like yours, it'd be a horror movie.
    Larry: Oh yeah? Well with a face like yours, it'd be a comedy!
    Moe: Huh?! Well with words like that, it'd be a murder mystery!

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • After the Gunfight of the OK Corral, a feud kicked up, with two of the Earp brothers getting shot and Wyatt Earp going on a vendetta spree. Johnny Behan, a police officer with some very longstanding bad blood with Earp (it included a love triangle and them running against each other for office), just so happened to be a part of the posse that was chasing after him. One day, when he was away from backup, he came across Earp in the street:
    Behan: I have to see you, Wyatt.
    Earp: One of these days, Behan, you may see me one time too many.
  • "Pretty Boy" Floyd once sent a message to the sheriff of his home town of Sallisaw, Oklahoma: "I'm coming to see my mother. If you're smart you won't try to stop me." The sheriff was smart.
  • During the 2020 Democratic presidential debates, candidate Beto O'Rourke vowed that he would ban and buy back all assault rifles should he be elected President. In response, Rep. Briscoe Cain posted a tweet saying "My AR-15 is ready for you, Robert Francis". Twitter has since deleted the tweet for violating their policy against violent threats.
  • Rodrigo Duterte's 2015 Christmas Message.
  • In response to the "Storm Area 51" thing that had gone viral, the United States Air Force officially stated "[Area 51] is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces." It's pretty much the friendliest way a military force could say "by the by, cross this line and you'll be perforated by 3000 rounds per minute." Of course, when people still seemed dead set on storming the place, they dropped the "implied" part and just said "[The Air Force] is ready to protect America and its assets."
  • In a 1995 interview, Terry Pratchett was asked why he writes fantasy when he is such a talented writer he could write for more "serious" genres. Pratchett responded, before rather exasperatedly spelling out his thoughts on the dismissing of fantasy as a "ghettoized" genre, "I had a decent lunch, and I’m feeling quite amiable. That’s why you’re still alive."
  • Jim Cornette has told the story about how Jack Pfefer, a dubious promoter who used to threaten to reveal that Professional Wrestling isn't legitimate unless other promoters used his wrestlers, once came to the Memphis territory. Apparently, Christine Jarrett warned Pfefer that, should he expose wrestling, he might just end up dead somewhere. Pfefer was a notorious record keeper and kept a note that said "This is where Christine Jarrett threatened to kill me."
  • The memetic phrase "_____ wants to know your location," where the blank is a person or an organization, and which is a play on smartphone apps and websites asking the user permission to access their location data (e.g. "Google wants to know your location [so it can fine-tune your search results]"). What it means is that the subject wants to find you and tear you a new one, in response to something you said that offended them.
    • Another of a more direct and dubiously-legal form is the response, "That's a very good argument. However [insert first user's IP/Home address here]." The meaning of this one is a bit clearer: They've already found you and they're coming.note 

 
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Fight Club- Warning the Boss

The boss should rethink threatening the person who wrote the rules of Fight Club, because the person who wrote that is dangerous.

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