Follow TV Tropes


Losing the Team Spirit

Go To

Sometimes, the loss of an item or, more usually, the death of a character, pushes an entire group of heroes or villains into a Heroic BSoD or over the Despair Event Horizon.

When this party-wide Heroic BSoD is triggered by a character dying, this is when the heroes, or occasionally the villains, lose the person who was really keeping their team going, either through leadership and direction, motivational speeches, or simply being funny and light-hearted and bringing some light into their grim reality. Maybe The Hero Dies. Maybe The Heart fell. Suddenly losing the group's Mentor, or The Squad's A Father to His Men commander, will do it, and the loss of a family member will send a Badass Family into shock.

If it was an item, maybe the item was really important to the team, or maybe it was really important for something, and the heroes are painfully aware of what the loss of the item means. Failing to prevent the plot macguffin from falling into the villain's hands can also be a blow for a heroic team's morale.

An apparent death can do the trick as long as the appearance is really good, and they have a period of time when they are utterly convinced. (When the appearance is engineered, expect the characters to be enraged when the deceit is revealed.)

Note that an individual's grief doesn't class as this trope. The loss of this person, or this item, has to have had a devastating effect on the morale of the majority of the regular party, one serious enough to temporarily stop the team from working towards their goals. It can happen to villains as well, but this tends to hit the heroes hardest. It can lead to a Darkest Hour event.

An El Cid Ploy occurs when people try to lie to avert this trope.

If the death stemmed from a Heroic Sacrifice, someone may make a Rousing Speech reminding them all that if they fail, the death will become a Senseless Sacrifice. Indeed, the reminder that "Jack would not have wanted this" may stem from any death. Due to the Dead may come into play as they seek to challenge their grief. It can seriously complicate You Are in Command Now, though the new commander may remind them that their dead commander would be So Proud of You if they soldier on. Field Promotion is easier, but still reminds characters of the dead subordinate. The Chain of Command is theoretically meant to help alleviate this trope, but the loss of a charismatic or popular teammate or leader isn't something so easily overcome.

Compare We Were Your Team and Grief-Induced Split. Contrast Decapitated Army.

Note, this is at least partially a death trope, so unmarked spoilers ahead.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

  • Berserk: The Band of the Hawk manages to avert this when Griffith is imprisoned since they have hopes that they'll one day rescue him and things will go back to how they were before. Once Guts returns and they rescue him, however, they lose it once Casca can no longer hide the fact that Griffith, whose tendons and tongue were cut out while in jail, will never be the man he used to be. The entire Band goes into Heroic BSoD, which of course is the moment for Griffith to get his Behelit back and send everything straight to hell as the Eclipse goes down.
  • Digimon Adventure: The Chosen Children go through this after Taichi's disappearance. After failing to find him, the kids go separate ways and fail to do anything important for months on end, though Sora has been sneaking around making sure that they were at least safe and out of trouble. When Taichi finally returns to the Digital World, he has to get his friends back together to continue their mission.
  • Dragon Ball Z: The Z-Fighters all suffer this when Goku sacrifices himself to prevent Cell from self-destructing and destroying the Earth, especially when Cell regenerates From a Single Cell, comes right back to Earth to continue the fight, and Gohan suffers a broken arm. Only Goku's encouragement from beyond the grave gives Gohan the strength to keep fighting, and in the ensuing Beam-O-War between himself and Cell, the other Z-Fighters, remembering how Goku and Gohan changed them one way or another, quickly jump in and start firing on Cell in an attempt to help Gohan.
  • Keichii of Higurashi: When They Cry's demise at the hands of Takano Miyo. A Shut Up, Kirk! moment had an immediate and demoralising effect on the entire group, turning a genuine fight-back into a hopeless rout.
  • Rebuild World: A supernatural instance of this happens over something that shouldn't really effect a whole team but does, Katsuya's heart breaking after he sees his Unrequited Love Sheryl hugging his rival Akira. This is used to highlight how the Psychic Link between this antagonist and his team is like a creepy borderline Hive Mind, as when he gets talked out of his depression with lies and half-truths, everyone else in the team is suddenly cheerful despite not having been there to hear said talk.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Kamina's death.
  • Transformers: The★Headmasters: Soundwave and Broadcast/Blaster kill each other fairly early into the series. While Steeljaw is promoted to lead the Autobot cassettes, he and the other Cassettes Ramhorn, Eject and Rewind are too dejected following Broadcast's death to go on a mission when ordered by Rodimus. They perk up immensely when Rodimus reveals that thanks to the Headmasters, they will revive Broadcast as Twincast.

    Comic Books 
  • While the events of Civil War (2006) tore a rift between the heroes of the Marvel Universe, seems like the supposed death of Captain America brought on hell for the heroes, particularly the Avengers, and especially Iron Man. The Skrulls launching their siege of Earth didn't help resolve matters, and Norman Osborn becoming America's newest hero was just adding insult to (mental) injury.
  • The group of fugitives in Negation went through many deaths, but Matua's death was arguably the one that really made them begin to despair, partly because of the way he died, partly because he was just a nice guy that everybody liked. Indeed, inscribed on his grave marker were the words, "he deserved better."
  • The Transformers (Marvel): Optimus Prime becomes very concerned about this trope following the events of Target:2006, where he was incapacitated and the Autobots were so ineffective against the time-travelling Galvatron that they even agreed to work under Megatron in order to fight him. He planned to fake his death in order to observe how the Autobots would respond without him, but due to an unfortunate sequence of events he wound up teleported to Cybertron with the Autobots genuinely thinking he was dead.

    Fan Works 
  • Hades attempts to invoke this during the DC Nation Olympics arc - twice. All it succeeds in doing is pissing off the Titans (and Arrows, and Lanterns) to the point where Athena herself has to call a halt to things.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Gettysburg subverts this. At the time (1993), popular perception held that the Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the war because the Confederacy couldn't recover from the shattering defeat of Lee's army. The film's ending narration, however, points out that their spirit was "far from broken", and there were two long and bloody years of war still to come. (It was, however, Lee's last attempt to conduct a campaign in the North, and the "high water mark of the Confederacy" is alluded to in the film's denouement.)

  • The group of Animorphs breaks up for various reasons once or twice. And near the end of the series, there's a period where they all fucking hate each other.
  • Dumbledore's demise at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has this effect on the entire school.
  • The loss of the Silmarils, as well as the darkening of Valinor, has this effect on the Valar in The Silmarillion. However, it doesn't have this effect on a large group of Elves, who simply decide to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge instead.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, this happens to the fellowship when Gandalf falls in Moria. Even though he's not really dead, they don't know this. Aragorn manages to pull them together long enough to get them to safety.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Deus Encarmine, the already outnumbered Blood Angels are attacked by sorcery. Most of them fall victim to the Black Rage, which turns them into berserkers who fall on each other and die to the last man while their enemies jeer. The handful of survivors are dispirited. Arkio has to suggest suicide to Turkio to get him to rouse at all, even to the notion of a Last Stand, and when he proposes an actual attack, the others do not support him. He accuses them of being afraid — and they (Space Marines!) admit that yes, they are afraid.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel Duty Calls, Cain is bewildered that anyone would go to extensive efforts to assassinate him when there were so much less expendable targets. Amberley Vail comments in a footnote that he obviously didn't consider the effect on morale of his death, which would have been horrific.
    • This is illustrated later in the same book when Cain is injured and an extract from Sulla's memoirs is inserted to fill in the gap. Along with the details of the battle, it relates her horror on hearing that he had fallen and relief when it was reported that he just had a concussion.
  • In Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" when the Lieutenant is killed helping two wounded Mobile Infantry to the recall boat. The characters undergo the Heroic BSoD, but recover fairly swiftly.
  • In Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire, Katniss is so important to the rebellion that other tributes die to preserve her — and save Peeta, because no one can tell what she will do if he dies.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only In Death, Rawn is keenly aware of the danger of what losing Gaunt means to the regiment, and flatly tells his juniors that they are to tell the men that failure on their part means Gaunt's sacrifice was in vain.
  • In Jeramey Kraatz's The Cloak Society, after Alex loses hope and says so in a meeting, Amp talks with him privately because his despair might infect the team and bring about this.
  • Inverted in Forever in Blue: when the Traveling Pants go missing, the friends come together to look for them, reuniting as a group for the first time in a year and realizing they can't take their friendship for granted.
  • Sparhawk's companions suffer this in the final book of the Elenium trilogy when they grow suspicious of him and even start plotting to overthrow him and cancel the quest. It takes divine intervention—literally—to make them understand that the Bhelliom (a magic jewel in Sparhawk's custody) is messing with their minds in an attempt to free itself.
  • At one point in By The Sword, Kerowyn's mercenary company is fighting against a Karsite splinter faction that insists on hauling an elaborate (theoretically-)portable shrine to the god Vkandis around with them. When she manages to get archers with fire arrows close enough to torch the shrine, this trope goes into effect.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Charmed, Prue's death had this effect on her sisters. Piper reacted with a full-blown Rage Against the Heavens ("You can tell them that we buried their precious Charmed Ones when we buried our sister"), but even Phoebe was unsure how to go on without Prue.
  • The deaths of both Hillbilly and Ack-Ack on Peleliu cause a Heroic BSOD for Sledge's entire company in The Pacific. Although we have little time to see its full effects, the distress of his men is evident when Basilone is killed on Iwo Jima. Although he isn't dead, in The Pacific's spiritual predecessor Band of Brothers Winters's promotion out of the company and an incompetent replacement after his had-picked successor is accidentally shot and wounded by his own sentry severely impacts the morale of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge, particularly after Buck Compton's departure.
  • Merlin (2008): The relationships between Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights are all quite strained after Gwen is exiled for betraying Arthur by kissing Lancelot.
  • In Game of Thrones, Stannis burning his own daughter Shireen at the stake for the Lord of Light's favor did produce the desired results, but the horrific act effectively destroyed his army's morale. The sellswords he hired to give him a fighting chance against the Boltons desert him and take the horses with them, refusing to work for someone who murdered his own daughter. This makes the upcoming battle with the Boltons completely unwinnable, meaning he sacrificed Shireen for nothing.
  • House of the Dragon: Lucerys' death at the hands of Aemond is what changes Rhaenyra's mind about how to approach fighting the Green faction for the throne. He was the most insecure of her sons and the closest thing to The Heart the Blacks had, and now with his death, Rhaenyra completely abandoned any pretention to fight for her rights in the most peaceful and diplomatic ways possible. After she learns about the death of her son, she's immediately spurred into war just like Daemon.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer, where the battle standard often has various effects on morale. The mechanics have changed over the years, but in some incarnations killing a standard bearer could rout an army.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, killing the Tau armies Ethereal has this effect. Either it breaks their morale, sending them fleeing, or causes them to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, gunning down any enemies on their patch.
  • Squad Leader works on this principle. A simulation game based on small-unit mechanics - things rarely get to consist of much more than an infantry company or a squadron of tanks - each individual platoon or infantry section has its nominated squad leader - denoting an NCO or junior officer. If this player-token is killed, lost, or incapacitated, the unit it commands is effectively decapitated and can take no action other than surrender, retreat, or immediate self defence. This state lasts until the unit makes contact with another squad leader who can restore the initiative. While this accurately represents real-world warfare, the game makes no allowance for the emergence of new leaders who can restore order, as sometimes happens in real warfare.

    Video Games 
  • While Cloud's reaction to Aeris' death was the most noticeable, in Final Fantasy VII the entire team suffers from grief after the event, though they display an astonishing amount of faith in Cloud despite Sephiroth's apparent ability to inflict Mind Control on him when present.
  • A persistent game mechanic in the Total War series - units may have health bars or headcounts for them, but the real thing the opposing sides want to attack are the enemy units' morale (or Leadership for the Total War: Warhammer series) since the vast majority of units, aside from a few units which are Not Afraid to Die or possibly a Death Seeker or methods to cause units to be fearless, will usually flee and be harmless to the enemy before they all die (and then while they're running away, you can kill them anyway). Standard ways throughout the games to demoralize enemy units faster are to exhaust them, damage and slaughter a lot of an enemy unit very quickly, have units that are for whatever reason considered The Dreaded and their presence will weaken the enemy's morale, outflank them, or just cause them to overpowered by your army's own numbers (causing the enemy to be sufficiently outmatched by you from taking enough losses will even cause the entire non-unbreakable remainder of the enemy army to panic and flee).
    • In Rome: Total War, some units carried a standard which if lost had a morale impact across the entire army. Also, across the entire series, if you lose a general in battle, your army will suffer a morale penalty. Lose the entire ruling family and your faction breaks up, We Cannot Go On Without You style.
    • In Total War: Shogun 2, this is often the end result of field battles, especially when large numbers of ashigaru are present. Killing the general is often enough to push their morale down to 'Wavering', while samurai are quite a bit tougher to crack due to their sense of honour and warrior monks/nuns are so devoted to their cause that they often fight to the last. Hero units will almost never break. During siege battles, it isn't possible to force a cornered foe into surrendering; instead, they fight to the death, often inflicting enormous casualties on your forces before going down.
  • Killing the highest-ranking guard in a group you are fighting in Assassin's Creed and its sequel will send the rest fleeing potentially. Also, from a storyline perspective, Giovanni's death in the second game has this effect on Ezio's family. Ezio manages to pull them together, but has to be pulled round to the idea of fighting back.
  • In Halo, killing the Elites or Brutes that are leading a group of Grunts will temporarily throw the latter into panicked disarray. It can happen from time to time with low-ranking Jackals as well in the original Halo: Combat Evolved, but they're usually disciplined enough to stand and fight.
    Grunt: Leader dead! Run away!
  • In Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, morale affects on how well your AI-controlled troops do, so you can gain it by fulfilling mission objectives or killing enemy generals and lose it via failure or death on your side.
  • Persona 2: Innocent Sin: everything goes to hell after Maya's death, leading right into Eternal Punishment.
  • In Persona 3's story, Ikutski's betrayal and the death of Mitsuru's father has this effect on SEES. Happens again in grand fashion in The Answer; when the Player Character dies following the events of The Journey, the team begins to drift apart almost immediately, and the sense of regret and despondency is practically tangible. At the beginning of the game when the cast is getting together to hand in their evokers, Akihiko and Yukari don't even bother showing up.
  • When Commander Shepard is killed at the beginning of Mass Effect 2, the team is unable to hold together, and breaks apart. Shepard was the linchpin holding the group together.
    • Unfortunately, the fact that s/he's working for Cerberus means that some former squad members feel that the team spirit is completely gone.
    • Widespread in Mass Effect 3, between the horrific casualties caused by the Reaper invasion and the seemingly invincible nature of the attackers. One of the most common sidequests is recovering an artifact or emblem of [group X] to restore their will to fight.
  • This happens at the end of Wild ARMs 2 after the team is forced to kill their leader Irving, who sacrificed his sister to seal the Kuiper Belt inside himself. They saved their entire universe from annihilation, but can't bring themselves to call it a "win", and walk out in a slump. Unfortunately for them, the protagonist also has a demon sealed inside of him, and it feeds on negative emotions. On the other hand, delivering a Combined Energy Attack with a "No More Holding Back" Speech is very cathartic.
  • Occurs towards the end of Blaze Union following Velleman's betrayal and death and Siskier's suicide. The fact that this comes hand-in-hand with The Reveal concerning Gulcasa's true identity doesn't help. While Gulcasa eventually starts to pick himself back up (with a little help from Nessiah) and most of the team rallies around him as the new Heart, it's too late for Jenon and Medoute, who betray him, which causes the party to schism even further as they and a few other members leave for good.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: As revealed in the cassette tapes, during the nine-year Time Skip between Ground Zeroes and this game, Miller approached several survivors of the attack on Militaires Sans Frontières and attempted to get them to join his new PMC, Diamond Dogs, but they refused to do so, seeing no point in doing so because Big Boss wasn't there.
  • The death of Griel near the start of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is a major blow to the Griel Mercenaries, with a few party members even leaving the group as they don't believe Ike to be capable of filling his father's shoes as he takes over the leadership role. Fortunately, the player is able to eventually recruit them again later down the line.

    Web Comics 
  • In 9th Elsewhere, Carmen and Eiji experience this because of the accidental destruction of the key that unlocks Carmen's mind.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Roy's death ultimately has this effect on the party. Their physical separation is problematic enough, but it's the loss of their guiding sense of purpose and the mediator responsible for keeping their individual neuroses in check that causes the group to fray so badly and fail to accomplish anything significant for months on end.
    • Durkon's death has Roy in Heroic BSoD and urging this on the group. Belkar, of all people, gives the Rousing Speech to counter it.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, this briefly happens to Team Avatar when they become trapped in a desert after Appa is stolen. Aang is upset and depressed, Toph is stumbling around with no sense of direction, and Sokka and Momo are tripping on Cactus Juice. Katara, on the other hand, refuses to just give up and die, and forces them all to work together to get out of the desert.
  • Justice League - in an alternate universe, the death of the Flash results in the League becoming the obsessive, world controlling Justice Lords. It's implied that the same thing would happen in the regular universe, if Luthor were allowed to come to power as President. It's later revealed that Luthor wants the League, and especially Superman, to think this way, so an obsession with the idea of him becoming President would distract them from his actual agenda of becoming a god. It almost works.
  • Teen Titans: In "How Long is Forever?", Starfire ends up stranded in a Bad Future where she learns that the other Titans went their separate ways after her disappearance. The episode illustrates her role as The Heart who keeps everyone's spirits up, and the future Titans work together to send her back and prevent this future from happening in the first place.
  • The Transformers: In the episode "Divide and Conquer", Optimus Prime is badly wounded and a squad sent to Cybertron to recover a spare component so save him apparently failed. Even though they're aware that Megatron is leading the entire Decepticon force to wipe them out, the Autobots mope and moan about their impending doom. It's actually their human companion Spike who rallies them to at least try to fight back.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: The Rebellion gave up after the battle that got Glimmer's father killed. Much of the first season is the Best Friends Squad trying to regain support from the original Rebellion's kids. When Entrapta is apparently killed, everyone breaks up again.The battle of Bright Moon brings them back together again.

    Real Life 
  • This is an efficient method of stopping enemy armies. Killing the enemy's main motivator can do wonders to crush morale, and by extension, the enemy's will to fight. Depending on circumstances, the elimination of a particularly symbolic individual may not necessarily work; it may instead turn them into martyrs, motivating their supporters and others in ways that they could never have done when alive.
    • To reiterate how effective this is, historians are generally of the opinion that the majority of an army's losses from a battle in ancient or post-classical history would be taken from its disorganized troops getting cut down as they fled after a rout. It's a lot easier to kill people not trying to fight back effectively, who knew?
  • Ancient Romans had standard bearers that would carry a golden eagle as well as the unit's standard. As long as this eagle was in the hands of a Roman soldier, they would continue to fight and protect the standard bearer. If it was lost, the entire battle was considered a lost cause as well. During an invasion of Britain, soldiers were reluctant to get off the boat due to not being able to get close enough to shore thanks to enemy attacks and projectiles. The standard bearer jumped off the boat and started running into battle. He was quickly joined.
  • This is what battles of Ancient Greece consisted of for many years: Hoplites were deep formations of heavily-armoured men with spears and large shields, making them nearly invincible head-on. Thus, the only way to fight them back head-on was another hoplite formation. Being heavily-armoured, the formations would more smash into each other rather than kill one another - the first side to crack under the pressure would break ranks, and then flee due to having no hope of fighting the enemy formation as individuals. This eventually changed when skirmisher tactics shot at them from afar while never letting the slow-moving formation get close enough to hit back. Even with their extensive protection, hoplites were not completely invulnerable and would be gradually worn down.
  • Analysis during World War One and World War II showed that in a modern battlefield, one can effectively halve an enemy unit's effectiveness by killing on 5% of the unit, and killing 10% of a unit will effectively eliminate it from the battlefield. This is due to the sheer amount of destructiveness of modern weaponry and the morale impact this has on the receiving unit; if you're hitting them with so much firepower that 5-10% of the unit has been killed or incapacitated, the rest of the troops will be so demoralized and psychologically devastated that most of them will attempt to flee, shelter in place, or surrender.
  • One of the most effective tanks in World War II was the British Crocodile flamethrower tank, because it tended to do this to enemy fortifications. Being relatively well-armored and resistant to infantry-portable anti-tank weapons, the Crocodile could close to effective range and spray fortifications with incendiary fuel. Since infantry couldn't often retaliate effectively against the tank, and burning to death was a terrifying prospect, many German and other Axis troops would abandon their positions or surrender upon seeing one start shooting. In fact, the Crocodile was so fearsome that it would often force a retreat by firing a single burst that would fall short of the enemy position, or barring that, spray un-ignited fuel into the enemy position, making the defenders realize that they could die at any moment.
  • In the workplace, morale can be lost by the departure or termination of a beloved coworker, resulting in the office’s team dynamic dying as a result of the loss. Fear of this trope can sometimes be cited as a reason why a certain coworker isn’t terminated despite their supervisors wanting to get rid of them (unless the worker did something genuinely bad and immoral that warrants their termination).
  • The Battle of Aljubarrota, between the Kingdom of Portugal and the Crown of Castile, had the former under attack by the latter while the Castilians outnumbered them by over a factor of 4. However, the Portugal positions were well-fortified with terrain making it difficult for their enemy to even fit into their positions and the Castilians were tired from the march and heat, so just an hour of fighting went very poorly for the Castilians. At this point, the Castilians were so demoralized that they proceeded to rout entirely after their royal standard-bearer fell and their rearguard assumed that their king had died (he would actually die five years later).