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Instant Death Stab

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Death by bladed weapon is frequently portrayed as being more instantaneous than it is in real life. Whether it's a throwing knife flying into someone's head, someone literally being stabbed In the Back, or a Slashed Throat, the victim is likely to die immediately. In the midst of combat, a single slash from the hero is enough to make enemy mooks drop dead on the spot, regardless of any armor they may be wearing. No one is ever shown to sustain more than a single blow, attempt to limp or crawl away, or writhe in pain on the ground. In some cases, death is so instantaneous that the victim doesn't even have time to scream or make any kind of noise, which may allow a Stealth Expert to pick off entire groups of enemies one by one without any of them noticing their allies being killed.

In some videogames, striking someone with a melee weapon can inflict critical hits, occasionally resulting in the aforementioned phenomenon where bladed weapons kill characters instantly.

Although death can come in short order after being stabbed or slashed with a bladed weapon in real life, depending on where the wound is and how deep it is, this generally is not Truth in Television, unless it's a stab to the back of the head, in which case the brain most likely shuts down instantly once it's been severed from the rest of the body. Stabbing generally causes severe blood loss: the main purpose of blood is to carry oxygen throughout the body, so if it's flowing out of someone, it's not going to their organs, resulting in oxygen deprivation which can be fatal if the bleeding is not stopped quickly. But even then, one can remain conscious for several seconds while bleeding out, and it'll take a few more minutes after that for death to come.

Sister Trope to Instant Death Bullet and Perfect Poison, two more popular murder methods that are often unrealistically quick in fiction. Contrast Agonizing Stomach Wound, where getting stabbed (or shot) in the stomach makes someone die slowly.

This is a Death Trope, so spoilers are unmarked.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Forever (2014)
    • In "Skinny Dipper" Adam kills cabbie Raj Patel by thrusting a sword through the back of his seat and straight through his chest, impaling his heart and emerging through his sternum. He barely has a chance to look a little surprised, and is dead before the sword is withdrawn.
    • Adam, who has Resurrective Immortality, also evades the police in "The Last Death of Henry Morgan" by cutting his own throat, which is shown as causing him to die and vanish instantaneously. In "The Frustrating Thing About Psychopaths" he also does a twisted version of Mercy Kill on the protagonist, Henry, when he's suffered slowly fatal stab wound and a broken back and is in danger of dying in front of his partner and thus revealing his own immortality; Adam cuts his throat, again causing him to vanish and reappear in the East River instantaneously.
    • Deliberately averted by the killer in "The Frustrating Thing About Psychopaths" when he stabs Henry clean through his chest, but in a way that punctures his lung and nicks his vena cava but avoids the heart and major arteries. This leaves Henry dying painfully for several minutes, unable to scream due to blood preventing his lungs from inflating much.
  • Inside No. 9: In "Death Be Not Proud", David dies instantly after getting stabbed in the back with a knife.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Galadriel kills a snow-troll on an instant after stabbing him in the head with her sword. Justified, the creature was already badly harmed when Galadriel stabs it.
  • Star Trek: Picard:
    • In "Remembrance", Dahj's boyfriend immediately drops dead after he's knifed in the chest.
    • In "Absolute Candor", Tenqem dies as soon as Elnor's tan qalanq goes through his neck; green blood oozes from the wound before the ruffian's head slides off.
    • In "The Impossible Box", the lives of three Romulan soldiers come to an abrupt end the moment they meet Elnor's blade, which includes at least two slit throats and flying arterial spray.
    • In "Nepenthe":
      • Three of Narissa's lackeys are instantly slain after Elnor strikes them down with his sword.
      • It's averted with the fourth mook because he's still alive (although he's not able to move) after Elnor lacerates his face, and we hear the man groan as Elnor shoves him to the floor.
      • It's also averted with Hugh, who becomes the Almost Dead Guy after Narissa's knife pierces his jugular vein.
    • In "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2", the footage that Altan Soong manages to retrieve from Saga's optical processors shows that her systems shut down right after Sutra stabs her left eye. Saga's right eye is still intact, but the fact that it doesn't record anything further proves that she's dead.
  • In Season Two of True Detective, Ani Bezzerides manages to pull off a more-or-less realistic version of this while undercover at an Orgy of corrupt politicians, and while drugged to boot. It's not a stabbing, but a rapid series of deep slashes targeting the primary veins and arteries in the limbs, including the femoral arteries in the thighs, which are about the least survivable places to get a deep knife wound - Snow Crash describes the effect as being like "cutting the bottom off a polystyrene cup". The mook who was threatening her drops like a marionette with his strings cut, and she exits post-haste, with the witness she needs in tow.
  • Zig-Zagged in the Wayne and Shuster sketch "Rinse the Blood Off My Toga" (a parody of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar). A knife in the back will either kill someone instantly—often mid-sentence—or leave them alive long enough to perform a His Name Is...; depending on what is needed for the joke.

     Religion 
  • The Book of Mormon:
    • Teancum assassinates the sleeping king of the Lamanites with a javelin straight to the heart, killing him so quickly that he doesn't have a chance to wake anyone else up. Later subverted when Teancum tries the same thing on the king's successor, but is angry enough that he throws the javelin; it's a mortal wound, but not instantaneous, allowing the king to wake his guards to retaliate.
    • Helaman's servant, who has been undercover and learned of an assassination plot, manages to approach the would-be assassin and stab him in the heart, dropping him dead "without a groan". Even such a quick and quiet death isn't fast enough, though; the assassin's employer notices he's not back in time and evacuates before anyone can catch him.

     Theatre 
  • In Hamlet, when Hamlet stabs Polonius through the arras, the latter only has time to exclaim "O, I am slain!" before expiring.
  • At the end of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet does this to herself with Romeo's dagger. Tybalt's death by Romeo's sword also plays out this way. Averted with Mercutio, however, who has ample time for Gallows Humor and a Dying Curse after being stabbed by Tybalt, and with Paris, who has time to beg Romeo to lay him beside Juliet in her tomb.
  • In West Side Story, Riff (despite being based on Mercutio) has only a moment after Bernardo stabs him to hand his knife to Tony before dropping dead, and Bernardo dies even more instantly when Tony stabs him in turn.

    Video Games 
  • The protagonists in the Assassin's Creed video game series carry a hidden wrist blade. Any one cut or stabbed with this is more or less dead on contact. Somewhat justified in that it's a fairly long blade, several inches wide that are usually used to stab in the stomach, back or throat during time periods were medical care was spotty at best if anyone even noticed you'd just been stabbed in the middle of the riotous crowd.
  • Call of Duty
    • In most games starting with Modern Warfare, the player has a Quick Melee knife attack which inflicts a One-Hit Kill under normal circumstances.
      Roll up and see the terrifying ripper with his blade! / His magic knife will end your life; of one-hit-kills it's made!
      He'll lunge right through your bullets and he'll stab you in the toe / then farewell to your controller out the window it will go.
    • Some games also give you a throwing knife or tomahawk, which is also usually a guaranteed instant kill if it lands, no matter where it hits or how far away the target is. The tomahawk can even bounce off walls and floors while still keeping enough velocity to inflict a lethal injury. And yes, The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In (again, unless it's the tomahawk and hits a solid surface).
  • Early in Chrono Trigger you're trapped in a prison and need to escape. If you manage to sneak up on the guards your kill them instantly and silently without a fight and get a Mid-Tonic for the effort.
  • Desperados III: Cooper uses a Bowie knife to quietly take out targets in this stealth game. A victim of the knife dies instantly and with minimal noise.
  • Dragon Age: Origins had a blade that the Gray Warden would pull out to kill characters in cutscenes. One stab and the target dropped dead.
  • Zig-Zagged in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, depending on your skill level in sneak and various melee weapons. Played straighter and straighter at higher levels.
    • Get enough perks in 1-handed or 2-handed, and a power strike after charging against a humanoid enemy technically kills them before your weapon even hits them, due to the striking animation and hurtboxes not being exactly synchronized.
    • Also, attacking at melee range while sneaking does between 3 and 15 times the weapon's base damage, allowing for instantaneous kills against many targets, especially sleeping ones.
      • The Killcams sometimes mitigate it with a flashy, violent animation that implies it took several hits to kill the target, but functionally speaking the game simply calculates that you deal more damage than the target's entire health bar, armour taken into account, thus offing them in just enough time it took for the game to calculate it.
  • In Mud And Blood 2, the Brandenburg infiltrator has a tendency to kill soldiers they engage in CQC instantly by stabbing them with a dagger.
  • Primal Carnage: The Trapper has a hunting knife which will One-Hit Kill small dinosaurs that have been immobilized by one of his traps (his Net Gun, a Bear Trap, or the electric mine). As you might imagine, it's quite useless against big dinosaurs, which cannot be stunned by a trap.
  • The 1985 NES game Rush'n Attack is a Run-and-Gun adventure where actual guns are surprisingly hard to get, and harder to hold on to. Thus, the unnamed protagonist's primary mode of attacking enemies is nothing more than a swift stab from a combat knife. Fortunately, most regular enemies fall to a single strike of Captain Stabby's blade.
  • Team Fortress 2: While the Spy's knives are weak when used from the front, they can instantly kill any class in the game if he strikes them from behind. Unlike some other examples, the target does scream loudly while dying, which can alert their teammates to what just happened, unless the Spy is wielding Your Eternal Reward, which makes the kill silent (as well as making the body quickly turn invisible, and causing the Spy to immediately disguise himself as his victim).

    Visual Novels 
  • Justified in Tsukihime and The Garden of Sinners. Being stabbed usually isn't fatal in that series... unless someone bearing the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception stabs you in your point of death. If that happens, you die. No matter what, you die. Period. At best, you can hold on for about thirty seconds if you've lived for a really long time before the point of death was hit, but that's about it.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Discussed in Overly Sarcastic Productions' Trope Talk on Tone Armor, referencing how not only Plot Armor, but also the tone of a story, can establish how durable a character is. It's mentioned that being a Mook in, say, a Heroic Fantasy movie gives you negative plot and tone armor, to the point where a single light hit from a hero's sword, which doesn't even draw blood, can be instantly lethal even through armor, which also keeps the tone from getting too dark by avoiding showing the minions slowly dying.
  • Shadiversity, when examining historical recreations in films and TV, refers to this trope as a "Lightsaber moment", referencing the very justified ability of a lightsaber to instantly kill any creature it hits, but applied implausibly to physical swords, especially when used against people in heavy armor who would realistically survive the blow and possibly even be unharmed.

    Western Animation 
  • Steven Universe: Gems are made of Hard Light, and can take quite a beating before "poofing" and regenerating themselves; however, Gems that have been stabbed or otherwise pierced will poof near-instantaneously, often only getting a few seconds to realize what happened before their form gives way.


Alternative Title(s): Instant Death Slash

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