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Leave Behind a Pistol

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Ronald: Half-charged? You've seen the crazy ones, this won't stop them!
Jacob: It's not for them.

Sometimes, good guys — or friends of good guysgo bad; they turn traitor, go too far in pursuit of good, or have stared into the darkness for too long and let it corrupt them. Sometimes when they do, their former friends have to bring them in.

And sometimes when it's all done the hero will meet their former friend, now in chains or facing disgrace, and tell them that they can't let the matter go to trial and become public. Perhaps it'll hurt the hero too much to see their former friend ruined and disgraced, or will hurt an innocent loved one of the villain to learn what a monster they've become. Perhaps it could even have repercussions that will shake or destroy an entire society. Perhaps the former friend simply doesn't deserve the clemency he may possibly receive, or is facing a horrific fate the hero wouldn't wish on anyone, especially if it's disproportionate to the crime. Perhaps the former friend simply deserves a chance to reclaim their sullied honor, and their old friendship is worth that much.

So when they leave, the hero will Leave Behind a Pistol. A loaded pistol, with one round in the chamber. And maybe a bottle of Scotch, if you're lucky. The implication is clear.

We may then see the hero walking down a corridor. And hear a single gunshot from the room they've just left.

A subtrope of Redemption Equals Death and Driven to Suicide, with a side-order of Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves. Commonly occurs to heroes who have turned to the dark side, friends of the heroes who have done the same, or the Worthy Adversary. Often tends to occur in military or espionage settings (or characters involved in the same), where codes of loyalty and honor may require an extreme solution if violated. It doesn't have to be a gun — any time when the hero offers a noble suicide to a disgraced foe applies — but the 'pistol with a single round' version is quite common.

If a villain does this, it will probably overlap with You Have Failed Me: a subordinate has screwed up badly, and is now called upon to atone. However, in this case the villain counts on the underling to be honorable and loyal enough (or in darker cases, perhaps just broken enough) to take care of the matter himself, rather than executing him.

A variation is shown in works that feature pirates; a pirate marooned on a Desert Island (in fiction, at least) is usually left a pistol, powder, and shot to kill himself before he dies of thirst/starvation/boredom.

Another variation occurs in stories involving a Zombie Apocalypse, wherein the person being left a pistol is a Zombie Infectee, and kills him/herself to prevent returning as a zombie that would menace the other heroes. Unlike most examples under this trope, the person killing themselves often didn't pull a Face–Heel Turn, and simply got the bad luck of being bit by a zombie during an intense action scene, making their story a case of tragic disaster instead of Laser-Guided Karma.

A Sub-Trope of both Driven to Suicide and Ate His Gun. May be the start of a Treachery Cover Up — partly because they must Never Speak Ill of the Dead. Often occurs alongside Don't Tell Mama. See also Face Death with Dignity. A particularly cruel subversion is when the villain goes to take the hero's offer... only to learn that the gun's empty.

Has nothing to do with the common time-traveller's gambit in which a gun is deposited where you know an ally (or an alternate you) will be needing one later, or with downed video game enemies leaving behind a weapon to collect.

For people outright telling someone to kill themselves, see Suicide Dare and Ordered to Die.

This is a variation on the idea of "honorable" ritual suicide; see Seppuku and Bath Suicide. Much like Seppuku, it has traditionally been reserved for gentlemen.

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


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A variation happens in Attack on Titan. During the Battle of Trost, Armin offers to give Mikasa his remaining gas so she can use her ODM gear to help the others. Since Armin would be stranded in a Titan-infested area, he asks to keep a small blade that's too small to use against a Titan so that he can kill himself rather than be Eaten Alive by the Titans. Luckily, he never ends up having to use it.
  • Dutch and Revy of Black Lagoon do a variation of this to a Neo-Nazi leader. Subverted in that the man doesn't have the courage to kill himself and tries to shoot them instead (they don't leave the room), only to find that the gun has no bullets. Turns out the bet they were discussing a minute ago was which one of them he will try to shoot first, the hulking black man Dutch, or the Chinese-American woman Revy. "It wasn't much of a bet."
  • Actively and repeatedly subverted in Case Closed, despite (or perhaps BECAUSE of) Japan's historical affinity for using suicide to regain one's lost honor. On several occasions, Conan goes well out of his way to prevent cornered criminals from committing suicide (including old-school Sepuku in one memorable case), stating that since HE'S the one who solved the case and left them cornered, their deaths would otherwise be on his conscience.
  • At the end of the second season of Higurashi: When They Cry, when Okonogi is convinced the battle is lost, he surrenders. His boss Miyo Takano refuses to surrender. He delivers a venomous "The Reason You Suck" Speech, gives her a gun, and tells her the only option she has left is to take all responsibility for the failure with this trope. She uses the gun to make one last attempt at revenge against the after-school club of Hinamizawa.
  • In Hellsing, the cowardly and incompetent British official Sir Penwood chooses to stay at the command center in the midst of the SS Blitzkrieg on London, even though it meant certain death. The man was visibly terrified, but refused to abandon his duty when it could be the single most important thing he'd ever done with his life. Integra Hellsing, impressed by his dedication, slides a pistol across the table to him...but it isn't for Penwood to use on himself. The explosive, holy silver bullets were a parting gift for him to use against the vampiric Nazi soldiers.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, at the end of their fight, Avdol sets Polnareff on fire and then gives him a dagger, instructing him to use it so that he can die quick and painlessly. This turns out to be a Secret Test of Character, because Polnareff's refusal to either kill himself or throw the knife at Avdol is what gets Avdol to put out the fire, as it indicates that he is honorable enough to feel remorse for his wrongdoings, and thus worth saving.
  • A variation occurs in Juni Taisen: Zodiac War: rather than a gun, Boar leaves her sister a perfectly sharp knife when she's been holed up after she started killing her schoolmates and masnion staff, muttering to herself about killing something.
  • In the end of the first episode of Mnemosyne, Maeno gets hit by Clone Angst hard, so Rin just hands him a loaded gun and leaves. Although it looks like he kills himself, it is later revealed that he wavered in the last moment, being left with just a light scratch on the forehead. In the end, he stays with Rin for the half of the series.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Treize Khushrenada breaks with the Romefeller Foundation over their use of "mobile dolls" (Humongous Mecha Attack Drones). Out of respect for his past service, the Foundation does not have him executed. Instead, they confine him to their headquarters and give him a fancy single-shot pistol. However, Treize refuses to use it and bides his time until he can take power back.

    Comic Books 
  • In .303, the unnamed Russian protagonist shoots down an American helicopter close to an Afghan village that the Americans have just bombed. He finds the sole surviving crewman injured and trying to draw his sidearm; he snatches it from him, removes the clip, and places a single bullet in the chamber before handing it back and walking off, all without speaking a word. Then the survivors of the village come, blood-spattered women with stones in their hands...
    One shot. Then screams that turned to squeals. Young fool.
  • In the gangster revenge comic Back to Brooklyn, Bob throws Churchill to a pack of hungry attack dogs and gives him a gun to kill himself quickly. It's empty, and Bob watches with glee as Churchill is eaten alive.
  • One Batman story has him hunt down his parents' killer, Joe Chill, and psychologically torture him for weeks. Eventually he confronts Chill, shows him the gun used to kill Thomas and Martha Wayne, and informs him that there is one bullet left in the chamber. Chill realizes that he is to blame for creating Batman and that the supervillains of Gotham will tear him apart for this. Batman then gives him the gun and leaves. He's barely out of the room before Chill makes use of it.
  • In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, when Batman discovers that the Mutants are using military-grade weapons, he tracks the sales to a U.S. general (who needed the money to pay for his sick wife's treatment). The end panel of the sequence has Batman carrying the general's body, covered with the US flag and with the smoking gun still in his hand.
    Batman: I almost asked him why.
  • In Captain Britain and MI13, when Fallen Hero Captain Midlands is arrested for betraying the team, he and Pete Wisdom discuss how neither of them want a trial (in Wisdom's case because he's not sure Midlands wouldn't get off), and Wisdom leaves a gun in the cell. As he walks off, he doesn't hear a shot, and bitterly reflects that the worst part is he's not even surprised.
  • Deadpool is hired by both a wealthy old man and his extremely attractive trophy wife to kill the other. At one point, he has both of them in a room and tries to convince them that they should work their problems out rationally, instead of with violence. To do this, he leaves an unregistered pistol with a single round on the table between them, noting how either could grab the gun faster and do the job themselves if they want to that badly. He leaves, confident that they'll talk things out. A sudden BLAM makes him realize that, when it comes to gambits, he's no Batman.
    • Both characters cameo in a later issue, alive but wounded, with the old man getting the wife some new jewelry. The comic makes it unclear who managed to get the gun first.
  • In the Diabolik special The Return of Gustavo Garian the title character, terminally ill and condemned to die a slow and painful death, asked Ginko to lend him his gun after confessing he had been the one hiring the killers who had apparently murdered Diabolik and were supposed to kill Gustavo too. Ginko, actually Diabolik in disguise, gave him a gun and left in shock at discovering who had almost got him killed.
  • Subverted in Max Brooks' run on the G.I. Joe comic book where, in an issue featuring on COBRA methods of interrogation, a captured soldier who'd defended his allies to the end (and saved one round for himself) was denied access to his gun until he gave the Cobra interrogator certain unspecified information. If the soldier refused to cooperate, he would be released a few months after Cobra had anonymously released a fake camera record of the battle portraying him (almost certainly impersonated by Zartan) as a coward who abandoned his men. If he complied, he'd be given his gun with the single bullet and left alone to take care of his business while the real footage was released. The story implies that the soldier, whose life had been dedicated to living up to the expectations of his Colonel father, complied with the interrogator.
  • One Largo Winch arc ends with a Burmese general (in league with a corrupt CIA agent to control the country's opium export). When the plot is revealed, the CIA guy panics, but before he can escape, the general enters the room with two armed guards, who then leave the room. The general then tells the agent that due to his rank, he was allowed two privileges: first, to have this conversation inprivate; second, they left him his sidearm... with two bullets. The guards outside don't flinch when they hear the first shot, or the second sometime later, after the general finished his cigar.
  • It's a piece of rope instead of a pistol, but what Jesse Custer in Preacher does to (sympathetic, so of course it turns out he's an ex-Nazi) Gunther at the end of the "Salvation" arc is pretty much this trope writ large.
  • In Promethea, a demon in human guise probes a cab driver's memories and reveals that he knows the driver molested his granddaughter. Instead of a fare, he hands the driver a gun, telling him he knows what to do with it. The shaken driver agrees and shoots himself.
  • In the final issue of The Punisher MAX, The Dragon of the 8 corrupt generals has captured Castle and leaves him alone in a room with a gun. Except it turns out he was sympathetic to The Punisher, who saved his life in Vietnam, the whole time. He left him a gun with 8 bullets, one for each of his bosses.
  • Sort-of example from the "Tales of Human Waste" trade paperback of Transmetropolitan; an excerpt from Spider's column after Spider has forced The Beast to leave office reads:
    "The Beast is Dead. Well, Near as damnit. He has been removed from power. Which, for such as him, is much the same thing as being dead. ... I feel uncommon pity for him. So I have sent him, care of his feedsite's address, a loaded handgun. I have marked it with the words USE THIS ON YOURSELF. I urge you to do likewise."
  • Wolverine did this to Mystique in the one-shot comic, Wolverine: Get Mystique after the events of Messiah Comple-X. Of course, he DID snikt her immediately beforehand to the extent where she would've bled out slowly if she hadn't followed through with the gun.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Babylon 5 fanfic The Dilgar War, this is the form that Jha'dur's mercy takes: officers that encur her wrath usually suffer horrifying punishments, but when battlemaster Yeg'dra screwed up and reported for punishment to Jha'dur without justifying himself, Jha'dur spared him whatever horrible punishment she was thinking about and gave him paper, pen, a pistol and two minutes to leave a message for his family and kill himself, allowing him to die with honour.
    • Subverted by Jha'dur herself: when Par'nan, after giving her back her sword, tried to get her to do this by telling her how her Morality Chain had died in battle and her mentor was comatose and invoking whatever guilt she may have felt for the devastating defeat at Markab, Jha'dur cut his head.
  • In the Star Wars fanfic Wilhuff Tarkin, Hero of the Rebellion, Tarkin confronts Pellaeon about covering for and even marrying Barriss Offee and, after mentioning doing the honorable thing, puts a bottle of liquor and his sidearm on the desk before leaving the room, at which point the officer pours himself a glass, puts the blaster at his head, and pulls the trigger. The blaster was empty, as this was a Secret Test of Character before recruiting him for the Rebellion.
  • In the Highschool of the Dead fic World of the Dead, Saya reveals this to be the reason she opted to save a fully-loaded Luger as a "last resort"; as she points out, it's better than starving or freezing to death. Takashi adamantly shoots it down, declaring that they haven't made it this far just to give up.
  • In the World War Z fanfic "The Way is Shut", the corpse of a high-ranking North Korean officer is found locked in a room, having apparently shot himself despite not being a Zombie Infectee. What everyone finds creepy is that there's a (now defunct) CCTV camera mounted on the wall, pointed at the corpse.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The climax of 36 is a subversion — after confronting Klein, Vrinks does leave behind a pistol, but Klein doesn't use it, instead running outside to taunt Vrinks. Then a Chekhov's Gun fires.
  • The 39 Steps (1935): The Affably Evil spymaster explains to the protagonist that You Know Too Much and must be killed, but gives him the option of shooting himself if he wishes. This would have a double benefit of wrapping things up nicely for the inevitable police investigation. He declines the offer, and gets shot by the spymaster. Which is just as well, as a Pocket Protector saves his life.
  • Adventure in Sahara: When Jim turns Savatt and the few men remaining loyal to him loose in the Arab-haunted desert with only a fraction of the water and food needed to get back to civilization, he gives each of them a revolver containing one bullet, so they can shoot themselves when the hunger and thirst becomes too much for them. One of the other mutineers comments that this clever, because they cannot be held responsible for the men's deaths if they killed themselves.
  • A scene filmed for Aliens has Carter Burke impregnated and cocooned to the wall. Ripley gives him a grenade to detonate and moves on. The scene has never been included in any release of the film, apparently because it breaks up the tension of the final segment, plus it would raise potential plotholes with regard to the alien lifecycle. However, the scene is included in the novelization and the Newt's Tale comic series.
  • At the start of Assassins, Rath has a contract on another hitman. The man doesn't want to die like a 'mark', so Rath takes out a second gun, removes the magazine so there's only a round chambered, and gives it to him so he can commit suicide.
  • The Big Bad of Athadu, who ordered the murder of his political rival Siva Reddy, also goes out through a variant of this after he is exposed for the scum he is by Pandhu. His friend on the force confronts him with the tape that proves his involvement in the murder plot, and while Baji Reddy points out that this doesn't constitute solid evidence, the officer tells him that it will be proof enough for Siva Reddy's hotheaded son, who has sworn vengeance for his father's death. After the officer leaves, Baji kills himself with his own revolver.
  • Blade. Whistler is attacked by Frost's men, and is left dying and soon to become a vampire. The eponymous character, rather than kill his friend and mentor, gives him a gun with one round. Blade leaves Whistler, and it is assumed that Whistler kills himself off-screen. A deleted scene has Whistler becoming a vampire, and this is confirmed in the sequel, where he reappears as a prisoner of the vampires who keep him around for interrogation. He is cured of his vampirism and returned to human after Blade rescues him. And then he's killed in the last movie!
  • Bourne does this in The Bourne Supremacy to the Big Bad.
  • In The Colony (2013), Sam leaves a pistol for Mason - the Jerkass leader of their colony, who's wounded and refuses to leave anyway. Mason picks the gun up and points it at Sam as if to shoot, but Sam reminds him that he's going to need every bullet against the cannibals who are currently breaking through the door. Mason only needs one bullet as it happens, to Shoot the Fuel Tank and take them all with him.
  • Subverted in The Count of Monte Cristo: the disgraced Villefort is led to the paddywagon (just like he had done to Dantes so many years before); inside it he finds a pistol and is told by one of the gendarmes that it's "a courtesy for a gentleman." However when he pulls the trigger, nothing happens.
    Dantes: You didn't think I'd make it that easy, did you?
  • Cry Blood, Apache: When Billy is paralyzed by Vittorio's arrows, the others leave him behind in the desert. As they depart, Benjy hands him a pistol. After they are gone, Billy presses the barrel to his forehead, planning on committing suicide, but Vittorio catches up to him first.
  • Dead Air: When one of the surviving terrorists loses his pouch of anti-venom that would prevent him from getting infected after releasing an airborne Zombie Apocalypse virus, his leader hands him a pistol and leaves him with the following words:
    "There is not enough anti-venom for the two of us. How you choose to leave this world is up to you."
  • Deep Rising: Joey gives nasty mercenary Hanover a gun when he sees he's been caught by the monsters that are following them. The ungrateful Hanover instead tries to shoot Joey out of spite but misses. Once Joey escapes, Hanover then tries to shoot himself but the gun is now out of rounds so he dies a horrible death by being digested alive.
    Joey: Here. Don’t say I never did nothing for ya.
    [Hanover shoots, narrowly missing him]
    Joey: YOU ASSHOLE!!!'
  • Lampshaded in The Departed: an understandably mentally unstable Billy Costigan asks his shrink for a Valium prescription. She hands him one pill. "Why don't you just give me a bottle of scotch and a handgun to blow my fucking head off!" She eventually gives it to him, the jerk...
  • Enemy at the Gates: "I have to report to The Boss. Perhaps you'd like to avoid the red tape?"
  • Escape to Athena (1979). David Niven (playing the leader of the POW's) gives Roger Moore (playing the German commandant) a choice between aiding the Greek Resistance or being killed by them. When the commandant asks if there's any other option, Niven wordlessly chambers a round into his P-38 and removes the magazine, leaving the weapon with the commandant. He elects not to kill himself.
  • The Godfather Part II has Tom Hagen doing this to Frank Pentangali after Frank balks at implicating Michael Corleone at a U.S. Senate investigation. While Tom has no weapons given that Frank is being held under heavy guard at an army barracks, the implication is clear. Frank Pentangeli ends up taking Tom's advice.
    Tom Hagen: You were around the old timers - and meeting up on how the family should be organized. How they based them on the old Roman legions and called them regimes - the capos and the soldiers. And it worked.
    Frank Pentangeli: Yea, it worked. Those were the great old days you know. And we was like the Roman Empire. The Corleone Family was like the Roman Empire.
    Tom Hagen: It was once. Frankie - when a plot against the Emperor failed - the planners were always given a chance to let their families keep their fortunes.
    Frank Pentangeli: Yea - but only the rich guys, Tom. The little guys - they got knocked off and all their estates went to the Emperors. Unless they went home and uh, killed themselves - then nothing happened. And their families - their families were taken care of, Tom.
    Tom Hagen: That was a good break - nice funeral.
    Frank Pentangeli: Yea - they went home - and sat in a hot bath - opened up their veins - and bleed to death. And sometimes had a little party before they did it.
    Tom Hagen: Don't worry about anything, Frankie Five-Angels.
    Frank Pentangeli: Thanks Tom, thanks.
  • The film adaptation of The Hunger Games features Seneca Crane finding a bowl full of poisonous berries in his room, implying that he can use them to avoid being executed for the games he designed backfiring on the Capital so badly. In fact, the reason things went so wrong was because Katniss and Peeta had planned on committing a double suicide with said berries rather than fighting to the death, thereby forcing the games to announce two winners.
  • Variation in The Last Samurai. Near the end of when Katsumoto is imprisoned some men come to see him. At first it seems they mean to assassinate him, but instead one man simply leaves him a tanto dagger so he can save them the trouble by committing honorable suicide.
  • The Life of Émile Zola offers an example that is at once inverted—as it is the bad guys offering the innocent Alfred Dreyfus a pistol after they've arrested him for espionage—and subverted, as Dreyfus angrily refuses the pistol and insists he is innocent.
  • Mad Max: Max catches up with the last surviving member of the motorcycle gang that killed his wife and son; he forces the man to secure himself with handcuffs by his ankle to the steering column of his car; then he throws a hacksaw into the car, telling him that it will take about 10 minutes to cut through the chain, but if he really wants to escape, he can cut through his ankle in five; as he walks away, as an added incentive, he punctures the fuel tank and sets it on fire.
  • Man on Fire plays this trope completely straight, though the scene itself remains tense. Creasy gives Pita's father a gun loaded with a bullet that he tried to use to kill himself earlier in the film, but which misfired. He states that the bullet always knows if it needs to fire, and that it didn't work for him, before loading it into the gun and walking away. It works for Pita's father.
  • After confronting the killer in Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Poirot places a pistol on the table in front of them and turns his back, telling them that if they wish to go free, they need only shoot him and consign his body to the lake. Mrs Hubbard takes the pistol, but tries to commit suicide with it. The pistol is empty, implying that Poirot did it as a Secret Test of Character as he was debating whether to let them all go.
  • From Oliver Stone's Nixon; whilst not an example of the trope for obvious reasons, President Nixon lampshades it to General Alexander Haig at one point. It's when Watergate is starting to go sour, and a revealing insight into his less-than-healthy mental state at the time:
    Nixon: Hey Al. Men in your profession, you give 'em a pistol and then leave the room. I don't have a pistol, Al.
  • Octopussy: In Octopussy's backstory, Bond gave her father Dexter Smythe the option of taking his own life rather than face court-martial. She's grateful to Bond for giving him the option.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl:
      • A variation; when Captain Jack's crew mutinies, they dump him on a desert island with a pistol and a single shot, so that he may kill himself rather than face a long, painful death from starvation and exposure; not so much an honorable end as a quick one. Jack keeps the pistol, and eventually uses it. But not on himself.
      • Before Barbossa maroons both Jack and Elizabeth, he gives Jack his pistol back (still with a single shot). Jack points out that, as there's two of them, a gentleman would give them a pistol each, to which Barbossa suggests that Jack can be the gentleman, by shooting Elizabeth and starving to death himself. Ouch.
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Used again, but with Jack doing the marooning. He at least picks an island on a busy trade route. "You can signal a passing ship - or you can just bite the proverbial bullet, as it were." Angelica tries to shoot him as he rows away, only to miss.
  • The finale of Point Break (1991) is something like this: Bohdi is caught bang to rights, but is given the option of dying in the surf. Which he takes, of course.
  • In Quigley Down Under, Quigley interrogates a badly-wounded mook:
    I wonder which will get you first - the dingoes, or the ants? ... (Mook aims his revolver at Quigley) You've got one shot left in that shooter. Make it a good one. (Quigley turns and walks away.)
  • The Raid (1954): When Maj. Benton is forced to leave behind a wounded officer who is slowing them down before they cross into Canada, he gives the man a pistol. Rather than kill himself, the officer chooses to shoot at the pursuing Union troops and die in a fusillade of return fire.
  • In the 1986 Arnold Schwarzenegger "epic" Raw Deal (1986), undercover cop Mark Kaminsky had previously been driven out of the FBI on Excessive Force charges by a zealous Federal Prosecutor, who advised him to "resign or be prosecuted." At one point in the film, he invades a Mob bar, killing everyone but that self-same District Attorney, who is in the pay of the local Mob Boss.
    Kaminsky: "This must be what they mean by "poetic justice." Because of you, a lot of people are dead. And now it's your turn."
    Prosecutor: "No, no, no..."
    (Kaminski drops a pistol in front of the prosecutor.)
    Kaminski: "Resign or be prosecuted."
    '(Kaminski walks out. From behind the closed door comes the sound of a single gunshot as the prosecutor chooses to "resign.")''
    • In the unedited version, the prosecutor tries to back-shoot Kaminski after being given the gun, and is blown away for his trouble.
  • Played nearly straight in Romeo Must Die. At the end, Jet Li's character meets his father in his office. His father takes a gun out of his drawer and sets it on the desk as Jet Li explains how he figured out the betrayal. As Jet Li walks away down the hallway, a shot is heard, causing him to pause a moment before continuing.
  • The Scavengers: Sgt. Ward discovers that Captain Harris has been lying to him and that the war has been over for months, and goes to the captain, who is lying pinned under his dead horse. Harris orders Ward to get the horse off him as the Circling Vultures start to land. Ward instead jams Harris' sabre into the ground a short distance from him and then walks off: leaving Harris use the sabre to either fight off the buzzards, or kill himself.
  • In Shotgun (1955), Clay rides away from Reb and Abby, but then hears gunfire so turns back. By the time he arrives, Abby is gone and Reb is nailed to a tree by an Apache arrow through his chest. Clay goes to cut the arrow out, but Reb tells him to leave it. He knows he is dead either way, and says his death will be slower but less painful if the arrow remains in place. When Clay leaves to find Abby, Reb asks him to leave him a pistol 'in case the Apaches come back'. Clay hands him a revolver and walks away. As he does so, he hears the gun being cocked behind him followed by a single shot. Clay keeps going without turning around.
  • The Sleeping Cardinal: After Moriarty issues his ultimatum to Roland Adair, Adair asks what happens if he refuses to comply. Moriarty replies that his alternative is in the box on the table. When he opens the box, he finds a pistol inside.
  • Sand Serif does this to Donenfeld in The Spirit, after he fails her.
  • A variation in the 1992 TV movie Stalin. Sergo Ordzhonikidze discovers that his brother has been tortured into giving false testimony against him. He grabs a pistol to shoot Stalin, who says You Wouldn't Shoot Me because then Russia would fall into chaos, the fascists would invade and Sergo would go down in history as the man who betrayed Russia and his family would suffer the consequences. If he shoots himself however, his death would be declared a heart attack and he would be buried with honours. Stalin then turns his back on the pistol-carrying man and walks out the door, pausing briefly when he hears a gunshot.
  • At the first Sukeban Deka movie's end, a high-ranking member of the Japanese government, who supported a failed Coup D'état, kills himself with a gun which was left behind by the Dark Inspector.
  • Towards the end of the made-for-TV movie Tempting Fate, Bollandine (Abraham Benrubi's character) is exiled by the government to a cabin in the woods with a pistol with one bullet. He's about to use it when other exiles show up, at which point he elects to join them instead.
  • Things to Come (1936). John Cabal leaves his pistol with a dying enemy pilot as Deadly Gas is floating towards him. The pilot had given up his gasmask to a small girl trying to flee the gas he had just dropped.
  • In Ten Dead Men, Ryan leaves Axel with a gun with single bullet in it to kill himself. Instead, Axel uses it in an attempt to kill Ryan. Bad move.
  • A villain-to-protagonist variation in Valkyrie. After the plot to overthrow Hitler fails, Beck asks his jailors for a pistol "for personal reasons". They give it to him, and he puts it to his head and pulls the trigger. Unlike in real life (see below), he successfully kills himself. Presumably, it was determined that seeing him fail to kill himself and have to be given a Mercy Kill would have made an otherwise tragic scene seem absurd.
  • War for the Planet of the Apes: When Caesar makes his way into the Colonel's bunker to kill him with his own pistol, he sees the Colonel lying in his bed, succumbing to the Simian Flu offshoot that diminishes a human's mental capabilities, including the ability to speak. Taking pity on him, Caesar puts down the pistol and allows the Colonel to kill himself with it.
  • Played with in Where Eagles Dare. A suspected traitor is given a gun, but when his treason is revealed on the plane ride at the end of the movie, and he tries to shoot the main character, we find that the firing pin had been removed. The main character gives the traitor the chance to leave the plane before it lands and he would get arrested. He takes it. He doesn't, however, get a parachute...
  • The Wolfman (2010). While visiting his son in the mental hospital where he's been confined for the 'delusion' that he's a werewolf, Sir John Talbot says he's decided to embrace his own curse, but leaves a straight razor for his son in case he doesn't feel the same way. However his son is more interested in vengeance than a Heroic Suicide.

  • The Alchemist by Ken Goddard. A criminal abducts a rival, who wakes up in the back of a police car in Mexico, with a dead police officer in the front seat, surrounded by horrified Mexican police. Knowing he's facing a Fate Worse than Death, the man grabs the dead officer's revolver and puts it to his head, only to find all the rounds have been fired. It's implied this was done as a final Mind Screw by the criminal who set him up.
  • In the short sci-fi Space Opera Between Two Dragons by Yoon Ha Lee, Chosar officers carry the "white gun" as part of their uniform, a ceremonial weapon loaded with a single bullet for suicide in dire straits.
  • Done to Danny Upshaw in James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere. One of the other characters notes the trope.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Chessman of Mars, when they decide to proclaim A-Kor jeddak of Manator:
    "There can be but one jeddak in Manator," said the chief who held the dagger; his eyes still fixed upon the hapless O-Tar he crossed to where the latter stood and holding the dagger upon an outstretched palm proffered it to the discredited ruler. "There can be but one jeddak in Manator," he repeated meaningly.
    O-Tar took the proffered blade and drawing himself to his full height plunged it to the guard into his breast, in that single act redeeming himself in the esteem of his people and winning an eternal place in The Hall of Chiefs.
  • Agatha Christie:
    • In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot tells the culprit that he will turn them in the following morning - and suggests that they perhaps spare their loved ones the shame of the truth...
    • The short story "The Cretan Bull" ends with the perpetrator dismissing Poirot's theory that he is mentally unbalanced and has been Gaslighting his wife's illegitimate son in order to drive him to suicide as a load of nonsense, going off to shoot rabbits. Everybody involved is well aware he's going to have "a hunting accident".
    • In both Death on the Nile and Peril at End House, Poirot correctly deduces the gun's existencenote  but does not attempt to prevent its use. This gives him deniability since he has no actual knowledge.
    • In Dumb Witness and Three Act Tragedy, Poirot reveals to the murderer that he knows the truth and lets them choose their way out.
    • Subverted in The ABC Murders. No easy death for this cold blooded murderer. Poirot goes out of his way to unload the murderer's gun from him before the Summation Gathering at the end of which he attempts suicide.
  • Towards the end of the short story "Death Stops Payment", the money-grubbing private detective locks the murderer in a windowless room with an unloaded pistol. He only delivers the bullet after the killer's check clears.
  • In the Evelyn Waugh novel Decline and Fall, the lovable cad Grimes describes this being done to him during World War I after he "ended up in the soup" (which is implied to be a euphemism for homosexual activity, possibly with a significantly younger partner). Grimes was left a loaded gun and some alcohol to steady his nerves. When his fellow soldiers came back, they found him alive and roaring drunk. Luckily for Grimes, a commanding officer who heard about this happened to have gone to the same public school and Grimes instead got posted in rural Ireland, where as he put it, he could get into the soup without problems.
  • The Doctor Who New Adventures novel Just War has the Doctor pull this on a captive, unrepentant Nazi in the guise of a round of Russian Roulette. The Doctor plays by the rules, and no harm comes to him. The Nazi, when he gets the gun, cheats and tries to shoot the Doctor, and accuses the Doctor of cheating when the gun fails to fire. The Nazi then looks in the gun — and discovers it's loaded. The Doctor leaves the Nazi with the gun and the knowledge that he's ultimately a coward and a failure.
  • In "Dream Street Rose" by Damon Runyon, the protagonist is described doing this for the man who ruined her, though at least one of the listeners in the frame story doubts that the confrontation went down quite that way.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis, Sturm is offered this, and promptly tries to kill Gaunt with the pistol. In Traitor General, Sturm pleads with Gaunt to allow it again, and Gaunt risks it. Sturm thanks him and shoots himself.
  • A non-firearms example in "The Great God Pan":
    Austin said nothing, but nodded his head slightly; he still looked white and sick. Villiers pulled out a drawer in the bamboo table, and showed Austin a long coil of cord, hard and new; and at one end was a running noose.
    "It is the best hempen cord," said Villiers, "just as it used to be made for the old trade, the man told me. Not an inch of jute from end to end."
    Austin set his teeth hard, and stared at Villiers, growing whiter as he looked.
    "You would not do it," he murmured at last. "You would not have blood on your hands. My God!" he exclaimed, with sudden vehemence, "you cannot mean this, Villiers, that you will make yourself a hangman?"
    "No. I shall offer a choice, and leave Helen Vaughan alone with this cord in a locked room for fifteen minutes. If when we go in it is not done, I shall call the nearest policeman. That is all."
  • At the end of Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr, Dr. Gideon Fell cuts a deal with the murderer: a full confession in exchange for a handgun with one bullet in it. The last chapter of the book is the murderer's written statement. The trope gets twisted in the final two sentences, when the murderer is too afraid of death to raise the gun to his temple. But hey, Dr Fell fulfilled his part of the bargain, not his fault the murderer will now have to face the hangman.
  • Anthony Horowitz:
    • In A Line To Kill, the third novel in the Daniel Hawthorne Novels, it is strongly implied that Hawthorne secretly tips off Derek Abbott that he is about to be arrested and charged with homicide and blackmail. Unwilling to go back to prison, Abbott commits suicide by jumping off a nearby cliff into the sea. Unlike other versions of this trope, Hawthorne's actions were NOT done out of respect for either Abbott or his surviving family.
  • In I Am Legend, Robert Neville spends his days slaughtering infected people before they inevitably die and become undead monsters. Eventually, he meets Ruth, another survivor like him, and takes her to his house and befriends her. Later on, he realizes that she is also a vampire and she escapes after drugging him. Neville is captured by the infected survivors and held in a room to await execution for his crimes, but is visited later by Ruth. Having understood his motives and taken pity on him, she stays with him for a short while and gives him pills to take. Neville swallows them after she leaves and it is implied that the drug kills him.
  • Toward the end of Into the Looking Glass, the Mree general that lead the invasion forces trying to stop the protagonists from taking the Looking Glass is trapped on Earth after the Glass is sealed by Dr. Weaver's deploying the Ardune device on the other side, and neither he nor his men can process Earth food, leaving them to ultimately starve to death. Command Master Chief Miller leaves behind his pistol for the general to use after a brief discussion about honor, and outside the holding room the general is heard using it to take his own life once Miller and Dr. Weaver leave.
  • Intruder in the Dust: Long after Crawford is arrested for the murders, people are left wondering about the circumstances behind him being allowed to keep his gun (with just one bullet in it, which he used on himself) in his cell with him.
  • When Jack Reacher returns home from England at the end of Personal, he tells the real mastermind how he figured everything out and leaves him a pistol he took from one of the minor bad guys in the book. A month later he reads in an Army newspaper that the mastermind shot himself by accident with an unfamiliar gun.
  • Jack Ryan:
    • At the end of Clear and Present Danger, the General Ripper who sold out several dozen US soldiers to ruthless Colombian druglords to save his own career, is confronted by John Clark (who is basically The Punisher with government backing). John tells him that they managed to save a handful of the soldiers, and have plenty of evidence to reveal his involvement in the whole affair. He also informs him that he's being watched by federal agents, and that they'll come by to arrest him within a couple of hours, to put him on trial for a multitude of crimes, up to and including treason. Then he leaves him. Shortly after, the General goes jogging... and halfway through his route, steps out on the street in front of a busnote .
    • Inverted and then defied in a later novel, Debt of Honor. Once the Big Bad's plan comes apart at the seams, he asks the official coming to arrest him for "a moment alone" with clear implication he is going to kill himself rather than face the dishonor of being captured and dragged before the court. It is pointed out that normally, this would be allowed given his country's views of favoring suicide over captivity, but in this case, the official doesn't allow him the luxury since the leaders of his country want him to answer for his crimes.*
  • In the James Bond short story "Octopussy", Bond tells Major Smythe that he has about a week before he will be arrested and taken back to London to face a court-martial. As Smythe considers fighting the charges versus killing himself, he is fatally stung by a scorpionfish and pulled underwater by an octopus. Bond privately assumes that Smythe chose to kill himself, but classifies the death as an accidental drowning to spare his reputation. In the movie, Smythe (Octopussy's father) apparently did 'take the honorable way out', thereby earning Bond her gratitude.
  • Judge Dee gives a(n attempted) parricide a "Reason You Suck" Speech and a borderline order to commit suicide before charging him with his crime (not so much for the Asshole Victim's family's sake, but because the idea of attacking one's parents is particularly monstrous to the Tang Chinese mindset). In another, he watches as the mastermind of a vicious court conspiracy takes his 'medicine' knowing perfectly well it is actually poison.
  • The Lord Peter Wimsey series includes several examples of Lord Peter doing this:
    • In The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Lord Peter and Colonel Marchbanks, having extracted a signed confession from the murderer, leave him alone in the library with the Colonel's loaded revolver.
    • In Whose Body, Lord Peter gives the murderer a sufficiently clear hint that he tries to kill Lord Peter, and when that fails, chooses to kill himself and leave a suicide note addressed to Lord Peter.
    • In Murder Must Advertise, the drug ring the murderer's involved with has shown a nasty penchant for staging fatal accidents for anyone who gets in their way. So, after he's confessed, Peter tells him that there's one way to get out of this without his family being dragged in: go home slowly, on foot, and don't look behind him too carefully.
  • In Mara, Daughter of the Nile, when Thutmose reclaims the throne from Hatsheput, he offers her a poisoned goblet. She accepts, on the condition she be allowed to drink it in the privacy of her chambers, although Thutmose accompanies her as a witness.
  • Discussed in the Modesty Blaise novel A Taste for Death. At the end of the novel, the Big Bad, Presteign, a Villain with Good Publicity, receives an unofficial visit from the head of the British secret service, Sir Gerald Tarrant, to tell him that they know what he's done. Tarrant recalls the "quaint but rather civilised custom" of the discreet withdrawal and the loaded pistol, and suggests that Presteign might wish to avail himself of it. Presteign spurns the suggestion, pointing out that Tarrant has no leverage because there's no way he can prove Presteign's involvement. (Shortly afterward, Presteign receives another unofficial visit, this one from Modesty Blaise, who expresses her thoughts on the matter more briefly and much more directly).
  • Rex Stout uses it several times in his Nero Wolfe stories, although it's usually some sort of explosive device, rather than a pistol. The names of the stories are spoilered out.
    • In one novella, Nero has Archie put a grenade under a tree in the middle of a remote field, then drops off the murderer (who used a similar grenade as his weapon), telling him that his other option is to face a court-martial and utter disgrace as a traitor.
    • In a short story ("Instead Of Evidence"), when Wolfe finds that his client is the murderer, he has Archie deliver a photo of the victim, with duplicate of the small but powerful explosive they used as the murder weapon taped to it.
    • In the novel A Family Affair, the blackmailer/murderer is taken out of the brownstone and given a duplicate of the murder bomb. In this case, it's not Wolfe who decides to do this, it's Archie, Saul, and Fred. They don't even consult Wolfe about it. The murderer is Orrie Cather, one of Wolfe's other free-lance men, who proceeds to blow himself up on Wolfe's front steps.
    • Discussed after an occurrence in one novel, where Archie rather snarkily suggests that the main reason Wolfe engages in this practice is to ensure that he won't be called upon to leave his home to testify in a murder trial rather than out of any feelings of honor.
  • At the end of Nexus by Ramez Naam, after the ERD's illegal operation is exposed and instructions for creating Nexus are released onto the internet, Maximillian Barnes informs Warren Becker that he's going to be Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee tomorrow - and leaves behind a poison pill. Becker takes it and wipes massive swathes of the ERD's computer network, rather than have its activities revealed to the world.
  • Deconstructed in the PD James novel, Original Sin. Finding the murderer sympathetic, Daniel does a version of this for him. This is completely illegal, and it's implied that he ends up fired or even nailed with criminal charges. The main character is torn about having to turn Daniel in, and there's a major tearjerker when his co-worker stumbles on the scene and immediately knows what happened and what's going to happen.
    Kate: Oh, Daniel, you could have been so good, you were so good.
  • The Past Doctor Adventures novel The Devil Goblins Of Neptune features a subversion; a spy who's been acting to undermine U.N.I.T has discovered that his superiors have betrayed him, and has been captured and tortured by them as a result when he tried to defect. Later, one of his minders appears to leave a gun behind to end the spy's misery; he tries to, only to learn it's not loaded. His former boss then enters the room and bluntly tells him that he'll be the one to decide when it ends for him.
  • Red Seas Under Red Skies: When Locke and Jean are dumped in a rowboat at sea by their ship's crew, one of the mutineers slips them a stiletto. Unusually for the trope, it's in gratitude for them having given proper Due to the Dead earlier, so they have a quicker option than death by exposure. They're rescued before it becomes an issue.
  • In the Rihannsu series it's mentioned that when the constituents of a particular Romulan senator are especially displeased with his operate they would send them swords so they could commit suicide and pass their senatorial dignity to their heirs, rather than have the constituents do the deed or, if especially incensed, strip them of senatorial dignity and elect a replacement.
  • A Sailor of Austria by John Biggins. Otto Prohaska is awarded Austria's highest military honor for sinking an enemy submarine, but it later appears that he might have sunk an German submarine by mistake. His superiors can hardly court martial him after giving him a medal, so consider this trope instead. However they decide the 'suicide' of such a hero would also be embarrassing, so assign him to a hazardous part of the front. Fortunately he survives long enough to be cleared of the accusation.
  • In Solar Station by German author Andreas Eschbach, the traitor aboard the eponymous space station is allowed to walk outside by himself (without a space suit...) once all his accomplices have been dealt with. Quite a dignified death, as expected by the almost-all-Japanese crew, who just ignore him and leave him come to his conclusion alone.
  • Played with in Stephen King's The Stand. Nadine Cross and Harold Lauder defect from the good guys at the Boulder Free Zone to the side of Big Bad Randall Flagg, but Flagg decides that someone who's turned traitor once is not to be trusted and resolves to kill Harold by arranging a motorcycle accident on the way to Vegas which leaves Harold crippled, stranded, and doomed to die of thirst and exposure. Nadine decides to leave behind a pistol as an act of mercy, but where said pistol is traditionally loaded with a single bullet in situations like this, Nadine leaves him one that's fully loaded instead. Perhaps in recognition of her generosity, Harold returns the favor by attempting to return several of the extra bullets to her. With gusto. After a few days of enjoying the fall weather and penning an extensive suicide note, Harold uses the last bullet on himself.
  • At the end of Suicide Hill by James Ellroy, Lloyd gives a loaded revolver to Gaffaney, and leaves the room. Bang! "And then there was a second shot, and another and still another." Lloyd runs back to the room, and embraces Gaffaney in an act of forgiveness.
  • In The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern, the President of the United States is facing capture by the occupying Soviet forces. Knowing that he'll be used as a puppet ruler, he orders a member of the Secret Service to leave behind his pistol and instruct him on how it works.
  • Ellery Queen does this to the murderer at the end of Ten Days' Wonder.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • On Barrayar, the punishment for Vors who commit treason is public exposure until they starve to death; Aral Vorkosigan at one point observes that nowadays they are given a chance to kill themselves discreetly, but for him, if it came to that, he'd insist on getting the full punishment.
    • Referenced in Memory — after the villain is captured, Miles mentions to Simon Illyan that someone in the villain's position might be expected to commit suicide, but that it was difficult for a prisoner to do so without some help. Simon, who had been reduced to begging to be given an easy death earlier in the book, decides that said help should not be provided, as "Dying's easy. Living's hard." and he wants the man to suffer through every eternal minute of his court-martial.
    • Count Vorloupulous, who tried Loophole Abuse to get around a ban on private armies by hiring 2,000 "cooks" to carve up his enemies, was sentenced to die by public exposure and indeed started his sentence... but then the Cetagandans invaded, so he was released to fight them, and met his death in battle. Barrayarans consider this a sort-of heroic tale; Galactics make uncomfortable faces when told it.
  • Part of Andrei Taganov's backstory in the Ayn Rand novel We the Living describes an encounter with a wounded soldier during the Russian Revolution. The man turns out to be an enemy officer, who asks for Taganov's gun as they limp across the battlefield. Taganov gives it to him and never looks back after hearing one shot.

    Live Action TV 
  • Agent Carter: Subverted when Dooley gets information from a Nazi war criminal by offering to give him a cyanide pill and walk away, allowing him to avoid the humiliation of a public execution. After he leaves the room, he reveals the cyanide pill was fake.
  • Arrow. Recurring villain The Count is introduced punishing a dealer who gave up his name to the Hood. He injects him with a pure dose of the drug Vertigo which causes agonizing pain, then gives the dealer a pistol with one bullet that he can use to shoot the Count for revenge or put himself out of his misery. Apparently everyone takes the Mercy Kill. In Season 5, Oliver Queen finds himself in a similar situation, given a hallucinogen and locked in a cell with a pistol with one bullet. He's able to resist and uses the bullet to Shoot Out the Lock instead.
  • Implied in one episode of Battlestar Galactica (the new version): Baltar and Boomer (who is beginning to suspect that she is a Cylon agent) have a long conversation discussing how she needs to "do what's right for herself." As Baltar leaves, a gunshot is heard from the room behind him.
    • Something of a subversion. She missed.
  • In the Blake's 7 "Rumours of Death", Avon captures a professional Federation torturer and teleports him to an underground cave with a limited air supply. He offers the man a "way out" if he tells him what he wants to know about his ex-lover who was supposedly tortured to death. After the man breaks down and tells Avon all he can, Avon coldly teleports away, leaving him his "way out": a loaded gun.
  • In the 9th season finale of Criminal Minds, this trope is played with. The Big Bad, who has spent the first half of the two-parter framing local pimp Preacher Mills for several murders, lures him to a diner with three corpses and two guns with several magazines worth of ammo. One of his cohorts then calls in the FBI and police, and he shoots the non-corrupt sheriff and forces Mills into a Last Villain Stand.
  • In the Season Five finale of CSI, Nick Stokes has been Buried Alive by the perp and was given a gun to commit suicide. Nick instead figures out that his air supply and the lights are on the same battery, and uses the gun to shoot out the lamp of the coffin to give himself and his colleagues more time to rescue him before his air runs out.
  • Doctor Who: In "Image of the Fendhal", the Doctor leaves the villain a gun when he's frozen in place by the Fendahl, so he can kill himself rather than be taken over.
  • Foyle's War:
    • An episode has Foyle confront a businessman who'd been dealing with the Nazis with the fact that, as a result of his dirty dealings, his business empire is crumbling, his son's been arrested for murder, his wife has left him, and his reputation is ruined. He then leaves the businessman and walks outside — and we hear a shot. Foyle's lack of reaction indicates that he expected this.
    • In another episode, he offers a gay airman implicated in a murder the chance to fly one last mission in the Battle of Britain. His plane is shot down. He does not bail out.
    • In another episode, he allows a killer to return to his duty on the Arctic convoys, an extremely dangerous job in the period the episode is set in.
    • And then there was the episode where a German spy was uncloaked. When said spy threatened Foyle with a gun, he merely replied that the house was surrounded and turned to leave. Cue the gunshot as soon as he had left the building.
  • Game of Thrones.
    • Ser Jorah Mormont's infection has progressed to the point that the maesters intend to ship him off to die with the stone men. However, because he's a knight, they'll allow him to remain a day and have left his sword in his room. How he chooses to spend that day is up to him. As he's writing out his final letter however, Samwell Tarly turns up to offer a forbidden and very painful treatment.
    • After Olenna's forces are defeated and Highgarden is captured, Jaime Lannister gives her a vial of poison to kill herself with, a more merciful end than Cersei would have subjected her to. Olenna downs the poison and subsequently stamps on his mercy by revealing that she killed his son Joffrey, robbing him of any chance to take revenge before she dies.
  • Get Smart: At the end of "The Decoy", the head of a KAOS team rebukes a subordinate for letting CONTROL accomplish their goals, hands him a pistol, and menacingly orders him to do the honorable thing. Unfortunately for him, his subordinate thinks that the honorable thing is to shoot his boss and take over the group to save himself.
  • The Good Wife: In ‘The Last Call’, Kalinda finds out that Jeffrey murdered Will, and offers the accused the chance to kill himself with his (previously confiscated) belt while in prison. Jeffrey, guilty for his crime, reaches out to take the belt. Kalinda pulls it away, and condemns him to live with what he did.
  • Gotham: When Bruce Wayne confronts Patrick Malone, the man who killed his parents, he sees that Malone wants Bruce to kill him, but Bruce can't bring himself to do it. Bruce takes a third option by leaving the gun he brought and Malone kills himself when Bruce leaves.
  • A variant in House of Cards (US) when Frank puts Peter into a hot bath, gives him a lecture, and puts a razor on the edge of the bath.
  • I, Claudius:
    • When Piso and Plancina are accused of killing Germanicus, Emperor Tiberius' stepson, Livia suggests that Plancina could keep her house intact by convincing Piso to kill himself before the trial in which the truth of their guilt will definitely come out. (This was a standard practice for public officials who had been caught in criminal action or had failed grandly—conviction of treason resulted in the state seizing everything, but honorable suicide allowed their families to keep their property.) Piso considers it and then backs down, deciding to brazen it out. Plancina resorts to feigning her own suicide, causing him to intervene and giving her an opportunity to stab him.
    • When Emperor Claudius' wife Messalina is involved in treason and adultery, his advisors get Claudius to sign her death warrant while he's too tired and hungover to realize what he's doing. The centurion sent to carry out the execution is told to offer Messalina a knife first, because if she commits suicide they won't have to show Claudius the death warrant the next day.
  • Joy of Life: When Zhu Ge’s treachery is revealed, Chen Pingping gives him a dagger to kill himself with to spare him the shame of being dragged back to the emperor in chains to face justice.
  • Several episodes of Mission: Impossible ended this way.
  • The Last Man on Earth: Martinez gives Karl a noose to hang himself with if he doesn't want to wait until the food runs out.
  • In The Musketeers episode "The Homecoming", Captain Treville leaves his pistol for Emile de Mauvoisin. However, de Mauvoisin has to prompt him to do it, because Treville really wanted to arrest him for framing a Musketeer.
  • NCIS: Los Angeles: Played straight. Hetty warns her ex-friend/coworker that he's going to jail for the rest of his life. She walks away, and you can hear the bang.
  • Person of Interest
    • Strange variation in an episode involving a prosecutor accused of murdering her defense attorney husband. It turns out that the husband faked his death, is still alive, and is cleaning out accounts of charities they ran and is ready to go on the run, but then it's also revealed that she in fact was collaborating with him rather than being framed. However she also finds out that he was planning on double crossing her and was having an affair with her best friend, so when they finally meet up on their boat she pulls a gun on him. John Reese shows up, but after finding out neither one is the victim and deciding neither is worth saving leaves behind a second gun for the husband and leaves the boat, after which the sound of gunshots are heard implying they killed each other.
    • A perp is about to jump off a building after Reese has exposed his murder plot. Reese tells him that being shot by a cop has a better life insurance payout than simple suicide does. He tosses a gun at his feet, then uses this to legally kneecap the man when he goes to pick it up.
    • Greer establishes his badass credentials by doing this over the phone, with the victim using their own gun. We later discover the organization he works for will generously compensate the family of any employee who chooses death over capture (and by implication kill their family if they don't kill themselves).
  • In Prison Break, Agent Mahone tells C-Note that his wife will go free if he uses what is in the package Mahone gives him. C-Note opens it to find a rope, already tied in a noose. C-Note tries to use it, but the guards manage to pull him off just in time. Subverted in that this isn't about honor at all. C-Note ends up agreeing to testify against Mahone and is given a new identity, along with his family.
  • The Punisher (2017). Frank's original plan for dealing with both of the Schultzs, giving them a choice of being exposed for all the murders they've had committed over the past season, or killing themselves and preserving the reputation of their son, a US senator. However, Eliza Schultz gets her brains blown out before Frank has a chance to explain this, when she tries to stab Amy. Anderson ends up taking up the offer.
  • Actually Played for Laughs in the "Roger of the Raj" episode of Ripping Yarns. At dinner one night, as the ladies are leaving, one officer blurts out, "We'll be in to spank you later, you firm-buttocked Amazons, you." As everyone stares at him, his commanding officer says, "I think you know what to do," and he apologizes, steps outside and shoots himself. One by one, each of the other officers decides to rebel against the social order by committing another crime against etiquette, like passing the port the wrong way around the table, and then voluntarily does the honorable thing.
    "All right, I'll go. But I want you to know I don't care, do you hear? I don't care! If that's the way you want to pass the port, you pass it — but you can pass it without me."
  • In the latest Robin Hood series, Guy's sister Isabella is in the dungeon following the capture of Nottingham by the peasants. Her execution is scheduled for the next day. While Guy doesn't exactly feel anything for his Face–Heel Turn sister, he does give her a vial of poison, claiming she'll be dead by morning. Isabella manages to escape and, in the ensuing fight, kills Guy with a dagger and then cuts Robin with it, having covered it with the poison beforehand. This gives Robin just enough time to kill the Sheriff and Isabella and say his good-byes to the gang.
  • Sharpe:
    • Subverted in Sharpe's Battle. Sharpe remarks that leaving a disgraced officer in a room with a loaded pistol might be the gentlemanly thing to do, but of little use to the regiment or the officer's family. He gives him a chance to lead a suicidal charge instead.
    • In Sharpe's Eagle, after getting a lot of people killed and losing the regiment's colours, the incompetent Colonel Simmerson is advised to go behind a tent with his pistol and "blow out what is left of your brains", but Simmerson tries to pull a Screw the Rules, I Have Connections! instead.
  • Sons of Anarchy: Upset that Wendy's drug use while pregnant has led to Abel being born prematurely and with complications, Gemma visits her hospital room and leaves behind a syringe with enough drugs to cause an overdose. Wendy takes them, but survives.
  • Spooks: one episode ends with one of the masterminds behind a planned coup d'état behind bars, waiting to be officially arrested. He asks Harry, the head of Section D, that his belt wouldn't be taken. Harry complies.
  • The Stand (2020):
    • Dr Ellis gives Stu a scalpel, implicitly so he'll be able to take the easy way out rather than starve to death as everyone who knows where he is dies. Instead, Stu uses it on Cobb in self-defence, and is released from the facility by General Starkey.
    • When Stu breaks his leg in the gorge and has to be left behind, Glen leaves him a supply of pain pills and a pointed lecture about the dosage. When Stu briefly comes close to taking an overdose, Kojak whines until he stops.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In one New World of Darkness Hunter: The Vigil supplement, a man accused of multiple murders is given this option:
    "What you want do give me that for?"
    "I don't think you'll use it to escape. Be a man, Joe."
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay features a short story where a witch-hunter finds that a town's local priest of Sigmar, and an old friend who once saved his life in his youth, has become a chaos cultist. Rather than treating his old friend to the usual round of Burn the Witch!, he offers him a dagger and leaves the room. The priest is given a hero's burial.

  • In Peter Grimes, the titular character is Convicted by Public Opinion to have been the murderer of his two young apprentices, eventually driving him delirious and ostracized from the borough with fear of being lynched. Captain Balstrode advises him to sail his boat out to sea and intentionally sink it. The next day, the coast guard reports a sinking ship.
  • The Visit: A vengeful billionaire has offered the impoverished town of Güllen a fortune if one of the residents kills Alfred. The townspeople emphatically refuse, then waffle over it, then eventually the Mayor tries to give Alfred a pistol and a speech about The Needs of the Many. Alfred refuses, telling him that he won't absolve them of any responsibility for the deed.

    Video Games 
  • Subverted in The Cat Lady. Susan is strapped to a table having recently been abducted by the 2nd parasite, when he enters the room and notices that his wife has blinded Susan with a bottle of bleach. He tells her that since he was going to kill her anyway, he's going to leave a one-bullet pistol so she can choose to Mercy Kill herself if she wishes... then he leaves the pistol just out of her reach, because "Life's a real fucker sometimes."
  • One of the weapons you can pick up in Dawn of War 2 mentions that leaving a shotgun with a single shell in it in the cell of someone charged with treason is common practice on Meridan. Considering the alternatives that have been described for treason convictions in the setting, this is a ridiculously merciful and humane act.
  • In Death Stranding, after Sam defeats Higgs on the Beach, Fragile is seen walking offscreen over to where Sam left him, rifle in hand, and then a round of gunfire rings out. It's later revealed that this wasn't Fragile executing Higgs — she couldn't bring herself to pull the trigger — rather, it was Higgs shooting himself after Fragile left the rifle behind to let him choose between death and eternal solitude on the Beach.
  • In Mass Effect 2, on Jacob's loyalty mission, he finds his father marooned on a planet where the men of his crew have gone feral and he's kept the women as his personal harem, all of them except Jacob's father suffering from mental degeneration from the food on the planet. You find out how things went so horribly wrong, and have the option of either taking him in, leaving him alone with a pack of bloodthirsty, feral former crew members...or leaving him alone with a half-loaded gun and said feral formal crew members closing in. If you do the latter, the trope plays straight, complete with the gunshot while walking away.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, after Volgin's torture session, Ocelot puts a Single Action Army with no ammo into your holster. This has more to do with the fact that Ocelot is a double agent rather than giving Snake a way out.
    • Snake does this to Eli in an unused scene for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Eli also happens to be stranded on an island and infected with vocal cord parasites. Fortunately for him, Rebenok removes the parasite and lifts him off the island, allowing Eli to pursue revenge against Snake in the future.
  • Somewhat subverted in Metro: Last Light, as it was requested, and the shooter was somebody else. When the Reds flood Oktyabrskaya station with the ebola virus a captain is wounded. Another soldier gets ready to euthanise him, but the captain demands a bullet instead. The unnamed soldier unceremoniously obliges with his sidearm.
    Captain Rzhavin: "What? Gonna put me to sleep like a fucking overgrown mutt?! I'm a soldier, I followed orders. You owe me a bullet."
    Unnamed Soldier: "Have it your way then, Kapitan."
  • Mengsk does this with Raynor in Starcraft II Heart Of The Swarm, leaving behind the revolver fully loaded so Raynor will either shoot himself or Kerrigan who had reassumed her Queen of Blades form.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, Luke and Natalia, two members of royaltynote , are sentenced to death, and told to die by their own hands, so they're brought a bottle full of poison. Luckily, the rest of the party arrives before they're forced to go through with it.
  • Variation: In Tenchu Stealth Assassins, you confront a corrupt government minister. Rather than killing him, you offer to assist him (by delivering a coupe de grace) if he chooses an honorable death by seppuku.
  • A potential interpretation of Admiral Tolwyn's death in the winning endgame of Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, when he hangs himself the night before his execution. Why was he left alone, without a guard, with at least two obvious methods of suicide (his bedsheet and his belt)?

    Web Original 
  • A variation of this trope occurs in AJCO when A_J expels Egg from the Silo into the irradiated, poisonous wasteland above. She is given a single bullet for her pistol.
  • Girl Genius: Gil gives Moloch von Zinzer a poison pill upon his departure to Castle Heterodyne, underestimating the degree of von Zinzer's Action Survivor skills and Genre Savvy. It has yet to be revealed if Zinzer still has it and what he will do with it.
  • Marten jokes about this briefly in Questionable Content during a bout with food poisoning.
    Dora: I asked if I could get him anything, and he said "a family pack of toilet paper, a copy of War and Peace, and a gun with a single bullet, just in case."
  • This is the Director's fate in Red vs. Blue, by his own request. Particularly poignant in that the person he asks to leave him the pistol (Agent Carolina) came there to kill him, but decided at the end that it wasn't worth it — probably in part because they were father and daughter. She also sees that he's a broken man, who could never let go of the memory of his wife, her mother, and created Project Freelancer specifically to bring her back, at least in part. He sort-of succeeds with Agent Texas, who is actually an AI echo of his late wife, but, like the real Allison, Tex is destined to always lose in the end. At the end, Project Freelancer is a failure, most of the agents are dead, and Tex is gone, so the Director really has nothing left (as far as he's concerned; plus, his own daughter hates him).
  • Subverted for SCP-451, a former agent who can no longer perceive or directly interact with other people. A colleague left a gun for him as a favor. The bullet didn't touch him.
  • Screen Rant Pitch Meeting: In the Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials pitch meeting, Winston's companions leaving him a pistol so he can kill himself is considered a remarkably stupid move, considering that they left behind their only usable gun.

    Western Animation 
  • In one Robot Chicken skit, Dora the Explorer decides to climb a mountain and Swiper follows her up. Unfortunately for Swiper, he's not prepared for the cold and quickly succumbs to hypothermia and altitude sickness. When Dora comes across him again, she leaves behind a pistol for Swiper so he can end his suffering. He tries to use it, only to find that it's empty.
    Swiper: You bitch...
    • Another sketch—which is a rare departure from the series' stop-motion into live-action, parodying both Yogi Bear and Power Rangers—has the final punchline that the guy pitching this idea to a bunch of Japanese executives is handed a katana to commit seppuku with before the others walk out of the room in disgust and leave him ashamed of himself.

    Real Life 
  • Older Than Dirt: Per the 12th-century BCE Judicial Papyrus of Turin, certain royal personages of the "harem conspiracy" to assassinate the Twentieth Dynasty Pharaoh Ramesses IIInote  were "left where they were" after being found guilty of high treason but pointedly not (yet) explicitly sentenced to death. These conspirators are then noted to have taken their own lives.
  • Seemed to be popular among the Nazis:
    • When Erwin Rommel was implicated in the "Valkyrie" plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was told that if he were to "die from his injuries" (from an earlier Allied air raid), his family would be protected as the heirs to a war hero. If he was convicted of treason, all his family property would be seized by the government. While he was left a Cyanide Pill and not a pistol, the principle is the same.
    • Ludwig Beck was likewise offered the chance to commit suicide after his arrest for his role in the Valkyrie plot. Unfortunately for him, he survived the gunshot — twice. A sergeant had to deliver the killing blow.
    • Following the Night of the Long Knives, Ernst Röhm (unlike the other victims of the purge) was offered this choice. Reputedly, he responded by demanding that Hitler kill him himself. When the guards returned to execute him, he had pulled his shirt open to given them a target.
    • At the climax of Battle of Stalingrad, Hitler promoted Friedrich Paulus, commander of the German forces in the city, to Field Marshal — with particular emphasis on the fact that no German or Prussian field marshal had ever surrendered. Paulus did not take Hitler up on his offer, and Hitler swore Paulus would be the last Field Marshal he ever appointed (he didn't keep his promise, but still).
  • Colonel Alfred Redl was the head of the Secret Service of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the years leading up to World War I. The Russian Empire, however, had discovered that he was gay and blackmailed him into selling secrets and agents to the Russians. He was finally discovered in 1913 — ironically by his subordinates, who applied the very methods Redl had developed and taught them — and was offered a revolver with a single bullet. He took the offer.
  • During Estonia's first independence from 1918 to 1939, this was the official way of carrying out the death penalty. A convict was offered "a cup of legally approved swift-effecting and painless poison" — only if he refused to drink it was he executed by firing squad. The Soviet Union abolished the poison option once they took over, and once Estonia regained its independence it abolished the death penalty entirely in 1995.
  • This was pretty much standard in the medieval Far East. Elites implicated in capital offenses other than treason were given the chance to commit suicide and protect their honor. It was often effected by an Imperial "gift" of things that can be used this way (e.g. poison, a sword, a long piece of silk); the condemned would usually get the idea.
  • The British Army has long used the term "Mess Webley" to refer to the phenomenon, named after the revolver of the same name traditionally left behind. These days, pretty much nobody actually commits suicide like this, so the term is used metaphorically (cf. "to fall on one's sword") — one takes responsibility for having screwed up and faces all the consequences of it, even at the expense of their own career. The related term "spreading some newspaper down" refers to cleaning up the mess this creates, again more used metaphorically these days.
  • Pirates who wanted to do this to someone (usually to mutinied captains) would strand them on a Deserted Island and leave them a flintlock with a single bullet; it's that, or dying from hunger or exposure. This is one of the more historically accurate events of the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
  • An American paratrooper during the Battle of the Bulge witnessed a Mercy Kill of this kind. Following a skirmish with a German squad, a great many German soldiers surrendered; but the Americans didn't have the food, manpower, or supplies to actually take them as prisoners. The American squad leader disposed of all of the Germans' weapons — except for a single machine pistol and just enough ammunition for it, leaving it to his German counterpart (who spoke English) and explaining the situation to him. A few minutes after the Americans left, they started hearing single gunshots behind them.
  • A similar examplenote  happened with an American Infantryman during the Battle of Peleliu in the Pacific War. He described how a mortally wounded Japanese soldier collapsed near his foxhole. As he laid there dying, the Japanese soldier tried to end his own life with his grenades, but all of them were duds. Seeing this, the American soldier then asked his sergeant to give him one of their own. The sergeant agreed, and infantryman offered a grenade to the enemy soldier, who gratefully accepted. He then tossed the grenade to the Japanese soldier, who then put it under his own stomach and blew himself apart.
  • A non-lethal variation often happens in the corporate world — someone who deserves to be fired might instead be given the chance to resign. While they lose their job either way, they can at least honestly say they weren't fired. (And from the company's perspective, in some jurisdictions they don't have to pay out unemployment claims if the employee voluntarily separates on paper, no matter how "voluntary" it actually is.)
  • A similar non-lethal variation is common in politics — a politician facing a huge scandal will be offered a chance to resign instead of being removed from office. For whatever reason, they almost always do so "to spend more time with my family", a reason which the public usually associates with this trope. One of the most prominent examples of this kind of resignation was Richard Nixon after the "smoking gun" tape was released on August 5, 1974; with no more than fifteen Senators willing to vote for his acquittal in an impeachment, a group of Nixon's political allies convinced him to resign rather than try to fight a battle he would almost certainly lose.
  • A few subversions:
    • Thomas Baker subverted this trope while badly injured and retreating from a Japanese attack. He told another soldier that he was slowing down the retreat and asked to be left behind with a loaded pistol. He needed a new one because his existing one was damaged from melee combat. He was last seen sitting against a tree, calmly holding a pistol and loading it — with eight rounds. When they went back for his body, he was indeed dead, exactly where they left him, but they also found eight dead enemy soldiers laying in front of him. Far from dishonor, Baker was posthumously awared the Medal of Honor — in effect, it was a Dying Moment of Awesome.
    • Sir Iain Blair, former head of the London Metropolitan Police, subverted the trope by reputation — he was described as the kind of man who, if offered the traditional revolver and bottle of whiskey, would drink the whiskey and come out shooting. This is why the proverbial pistol is loaded with only one round.
    • French Army officer Alfred Dreyfus, falsely convicted of spying for the Germans in 1894, was given this option by an interrogator but refused. Good thing he did, as this kickstarted the "Dreyfuss Affair", in which writer Émile Zola took up his cause and published his famous missive J Accuse.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Ten Minutes With A Pistol


Kouki Doesn't Commit Suicide

"Cats Don't Laugh". After escaping the Aoyama Pharmaceuticals lab, Kouki wonders if he is in fact one of the clones that were created there, and what to do with himself next. Rin hands him a pistol and tells him it's up to him whether he lives with the pain, or chooses not to. She returns to the truck, and we hear a gunshot. However, later, back at her and Mimi's office, Kouki shows up with his head bandaged: apparently he jerked the gun aside at the last moment and only grazed himself, and states that whether or not he's a clone, he's the only one who can live his life, and asks them if they're hiring.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / BaitAndSwitchGunshot

Media sources: