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Make an Example of Them

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"Burn it! Until it smolders. These people are traitors and must be made examples of."
Judge Claude Frollo to a hapless miller's house, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This is for when the benefit of what you do to someone isn't so much in and of itself as about the message it sends to others, about what could happen to them. As is implied from this, what happened needs to be known in order for it to work. While the most common "example" is death, more cunning punishment forces realize that this can backfire, and will go for the Humiliation Conga and/or Fate Worse than Death.

It is often associated with governments, especially the more tyrannical of them, but not exclusively; see also the deterrence argument for the use of this in the context of more democratic societies. Also, even forces outside the law, like terrorists, criminal syndicates, and Serial Killers, apply this as well. It's also very common with revolutionary forces; with prisoners, stringing up or dumping their mutilated remains serves as a warning to soldiers of the current regime, while population centers that they suspect of being in league with the regime or even just not being supportive of them are likely to be brutalized as a "stand with us or else" message.


Often combined with You Have Failed Me, when an underling is punished brutally for failure "to encourage the others".

Note that the "example" is usually more severe than the "normal" punishment, making this Disproportionate Retribution. See also Scare 'Em Straight, which is effectively the end goal of this trope.


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    Anime & Manga  

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: During the Apocalypse War, the defending Judges execute a batch of Sov-Block collaborators and leave their bodies out in the open as a message to any would-be traitors.
  • The Wizard of Id. A peasant is dragged before the King for violating the curfew at night. The King demands his minion make an example of him. Cut to the peasant in the stocks all night. The next day, another minion drags him before the King, stocks and all, charging the peasant with violating curfew again.
  • Star Trek: Untold Voyages: In "Renewal", Krell kills his helmsman, Kross, after he reminds him that they were ordered to travel to Earth and meet with the Federation Council. This serves as a stark reminder to the rest of the crew not to offer any unsolicited opinions about how to run the ship. Nevertheless, Kross' replacement points out that they are still expected on Earth after Krell fails to capture the Enterprise and orders him to return to Klingon space. As he did with Kross, Krell kills the second helmsman. He then instructs the remaining members of the bridge crew to find him a helmsman who can keep his mouth shut.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The Sangtee Empire comes up with creatively cruel punishments and executions for traitors and revolutionary leaders explicitly to make an example of them. The nobility in particular get quite excited to see what new executions the Emperor is going to come up with.

    Fan Works 
  • In Code Geass: Lelouch of Britannia, though he doesn't kill them, Charles has the two princes who sold out Lelouch to the EU stripped of their nobility (allegedly for their incompetence), which he then grants to Lelouch. It's noted in-story as being a reminder that the fate and fortune of every noble, even the princes and princesses, lay in the emperor's hands.
  • In The Commission, Blake prefaces a late night visit to Velvet by nailing Cardin to a wall. Velvet notes after that that their entire conversation was had with Blake's hands slick with Cardin's blood, likely to make a statement.
  • In Courier's Mind: Rise of New Vegas, Vulpes Inculta explains that this is why he had to massacre the town of Nipton as brutally as he did. The Courier, after getting over his disgust, makes a point to give them a taste of their own medicine whenever he kills other Legionnaires later in the game, going out of his way to hack off their limbs or throw their corpses into fires as a big middle-finger to Caesar.
  • A Crown of Stars: Jinnai tells Shinji and Asuka he shot a general who was planning to depose him so that no one else thinks of trying a coup d'etat.
  • In The Havoc Side of the Force, Harry Potter has HK-47 make an example of Cad Bane after the latter kidnaps two of his crew. HK promises to "make every bounty hunter in the galaxy terrified of attracting [Harry's] attention."
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act II: When Fairy Tale is occupying the Snow Women Village, Miyabi decides to have Mizore's mother Tsurara executed to teach the other snow people their "place." It also doubles as a big Kick the Dog moment because mere moments before giving the order, he'd extorted Mizore for sex in exchange for not doing so. Fortunately, Tsukune and the others put a stop to it.
  • RWBY: Scars: A flashback shows Adam and Blake killing a human woman and photographing it in order to send a message to Jacques Schnee.
  • In The Ultimate Evil, after the Dark Hand's failure to retrieve the Talismans from the Living Statue of Lo Pei, Shendu decides to make Valmont more motivated to avoid further failures by burning his secretary to death in front of him.
    • After Shendu (now possessing Valmont's body) discovers that Hak Foo nearly killed Valerie, he punishes Hak Foo painfully in front of the other Enforcers to make it clear for all of them once and for all that Valerie is not to be harmed. Hak Foo is allowed to live only because he's the least incompetent of the Enforcers.
    • In the rewritten reality, Nat and her family tried to rebel against the Demon Sorcerers' rule. After killing them all, Shendu placed Nat's body on the wall in the outskirts of Hong Kong as a warning to humans never to defy the demons.
  • In The Witch of the Everfree, After Sunset Shimmer hits her hard enough to visibly burn her mane, Nightmare Moon banishes Sunset to the dark side of the moon with Celestia.
  • Yognapped:
    • Big Bad Sben threatens to string up the spinal cords of some scientists who might delay his operation, as a "motivational tool" to the others. He doesn't follow through with this, but he does end up killing one via eye stabbing.
    • Peva murders Sips to make the Yogscast cooperate. It only makes them hate him more.

    Films — Animated 
  • This tactic is often featured in Disney movies, and often associated with (or at least more explicitly mentioned by) the villains:
    • The above page quote, of course, refers to the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The context of the quotation is trying to justify burning down a house with a family trapped inside. This is not the only example; Frollo whipping the previous captain of the guard in front of the next one, apparently to show what happens to captains who disappoint Frollo, is likely also an example of this.
    • In The Lion King, Scar's Villain Song is punctuated at one point by him backing one of his hyenas into an open fissure in order to assert his dominance over them in his master plan which makes his later death at their hands as a result of his exploitation of them all the more ironic.
    Scar: The future is littered with prizes,
    And though I'm the main addressee,
    The point that I must emphasize is:
  • Pixar villains also tend to use this tactic, and a theme that often comes up with them is that they are trying to deter their victims from thinking.
    • Hopper, from A Bug's Life, uses this tactic often. He gives a speech to the other grasshoppers about how if "you let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up," and to drive the point home, even uses a demonstrated analogy involving grains that results in several of his henchmen getting buried; it's twofold in involving him applying it to his own henchmen in the context of a speech made to get them to apply it to the ants. Later on, it's revealed that he plans to squish the queen so as to "remind [the ants] who's boss," and also tries to find out whose idea the bird was so as to make an example of him or her.
    Hopper: Let this be a lesson to all you ants: Ideas can be very dangerous things.
    • Happens in Toy Story 3, when Andy's toys are imprisoned at Sunnyside daycare center. Mr. Potato Head is singled out on Lotso's command and put into the Punishment Box, so all could witness what happened if they did not obey.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, President Snow has people caught with the Mockingjay symbol shot publicly through the back of the head at the beginning as an example to the District uprising.
  • In Inglorious Basterds, the eponymous Jewish-American soldiers strike fear into the Nazis' hearts by leaving one survivor of every group of soldiers they massacre, branding them with a swastika carved into their forehead.
  • In A New Hope, Tarkin makes an example of the entire planet of Alderaan, after first rejecting Dantooine (where he was told the Rebel base was) for being "too remote to make an effective demonstration."
    • Expanded Universe material state that Tarkin's plan backfired and the rebellion used Alderaan to recuit thousands.
    • Tarkin actually had a history with this trope... And while he grew progressively more ruthless about it, it always worked until Alderaan:
      • His first claim to fame as a lieutenant was quelling the piracy in the Greater Seswenna sector, first by planning the trap that allowed the capture of the pirate queen Q'anah and her Marauders... And then putting them all men in a container rigged with broadcasting equipment, putting the container in a slowly decaying orbit over a sun, and broadcast their slow deaths on the holonet. Piracy in the Greater Seswenna almost disappeared overnight.
      • During the Clone Wars he was the prosecutor at the trial for the bombing of the Jedi Temple, and blinded himself at the idea Ahsoka was innocent and the faults in the evidence because by obtaining a death sentence he would prove, to the population and the Jedi themselves, that everyone, even the Jedi, were accountable before the law. He was appalled at himself when Anakin barged in with the real culprit and proved he had almost got an innocent executed.
      • Shortly after the war he was ordered to pacify multiple Separatist holdouts. He started by invading the planet Antar and massacring part of the population, without caring about who was a Separatist and who was a member of the loyalist guerilla. Numerous holdouts surrendered soon after, including Raxus, the Separatist capital.
      • Alderaan was to be his masterpiece, pacifying the entire galaxy by destroying a single planet through its planetary shield (that would have resisted a bombardment from hundreds of ships) and killing two billion people, and it could be argued that it would have worked had the Death Star, the battle-station that had annihilated Alderaan, not been destroyed by the Rebels the following day… thus causing the Rebels to make an example of him.
  • Paths of Glory. During World War I, an entire division of French soldiers refuse to go on a suicidal mission. Three soldiers are chosen at random to be tried & executed for cowardice.
    • While the incidents themselves were fictionalized to the point of being almost unrecognizable, the events in the movie (and the novel it was adapted from) were based on real incidents.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean has a hanging corpse and the warning "Pirates, ye be warned". Though it's notably ineffective, as not only does piracy run rampant through the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow removes his hat and salutes the hanging bodies of the pirates, presumably in honor of their "noble sacrifice".
  • In The Shawshank Redemption, Byron Hadley beats an emotionally-overwhelmed inmate to death on the prison floor for complaining out loud that he shouldn't be in prison. It is strongly implied that he is doing this to scare the other inmates into keeping their mouths shut.
  • The original Total Recall (1990) seems to feature this on Cohaagen's part, although being Cohaagen, it is likely that there is some spite added in there as well.
    Technician: Sir, the oxygen level is bottoming out in Sector G. What do you want me to do about it?
    Vilos Cohaagen: [as if obvious] Don't do anything.
    Technician: But they won't last an hour, sir.
    Vilos Cohaagen: Fuck 'em. It'll be a good lesson to the others.
  • Turkey Shoot. A scene which impressed even Quentin Tarantino is Ritter (played by 6ft, 3" Roger Ward) shadowboxing and then beating to death a tiny female inmate, picked at random as a 'lesson' to the New Meat.
  • Unforgiven's Little Bill, after savagely whipping Munny's friend Ned to death, puts his body out on display at the saloon as an example of how he and the others deal with "assassins." Unfortunately, this proves to be Little Bill's biggest mistake.
  • Mentioned in V for Vendetta by Chancellor Sutler towards the end (later averted as the military personnel guarding the Parliament refuses to shoot the marching civilians):
    "Tonight [on November 5, the day scheduled for V's revolution] any protester, any instigator or agitator WILL BE MADE AN EXAMPLE OF!"
  • In Warcraft (2016), this is how Gul'dan controls the Horde when it starts to lose respect for him.
    • When some orcs try to abandon him after he wins with Durotan by cheating, he vaporizes them on the spot.
    • Several members of the Frostwolf Clan are slaughtered and crucified to show what happens when you defy Gul'dan.
  • In The Young Messiah, the Romans routinely crucify rebellious Jews by the side of the road, for everyone to see, and it's implied that they are not above punishing completely innocent people to keep them all submissive.
  • The Hitman's Bodyguard: President Dukhovich is introduced paying a visit to a professor who's been saying things critical of his government. He decides that having the professor executed for treason will simply inspire other dissidents to step up and take his place, so he instead personally kills the professor's wife and son, then throws the professor in an internment camp.
  • In The Aggression Scale, crime boss Bellavance orders his chief lieutenant Lloyd not only to recover his stolen money but to send a "loud and messy" message by killing not only the thief, but anyone who could have been the thief.

  • Visser Three uses this tactic, or thinks he is, on the runaway Hork-Bajir in Animorphs "The Change". Only, the real Hork-Bajir are somewhere else, and the two 'dead' ones and the wolves 'eating' them are morphed Animorphs. He intends to do this with Aftran in "The Sickness", but Cassie rescues her before it can happen.
  • In Voltaire's Candide, the title character witnesses the execution of an admiral which is explained to him with the famous line: "In this country they find it necessary to kill an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others (pour encourager les autres)." The scene is based on the Real Life execution of the British Admiral Byng, whom Voltaire had met, for alleged cowardice in battle.
  • In the Deryni novel Camber of Culdi a tyrannical Deryni lord is murdered and dismembered, with his body parts left in various places. Fifty peasants are taken hostage and all but one executed when the killer(s) fail to turn themselves in.
  • Nikita of The Girl from the Miracles District finishes off the Arc Villain of the second book by nailing him alive to the wall of his room in a crucifixion pose — with a nail gun, no less — to show other Shadows how her next would-be killer will end up.
  • Played for Laughs in Good Omens with Crowley and his houseplants. Crowley's heard talking to plants helps them grow, so he takes this to heart in his own fashion. When his houseplants fail to grow fast enough, he puts the "fear of Crowley" into them, by taking the failure plant away, but first taking it around the apartment, telling the other plants, "Say goodbye to your friend, he just couldn't cut it." Then he takes the plant away, and leaves a large, empty pot somewhere conspicuous in the apartment.
    Crowley's plants were the most luxurious, verdant, and beautiful in London. And also, the most terrified.
  • Martín Fierro: This is the standars procedure in the Frontier army:
    • When the conscripted soldiers arrived at the Frontier, none of the old recruits are relieved. One of them complains, and he is promptly tortured.
    • Fierro dares to ask for his salary to the army officials, and they offer to investigate the matter, but when Fierro mocks a gringo about his incapacity to speak spanish, the Gringo mistakes him for the enemy and almost kills Fierro. When the officials get word of it, they took the chance to torture Fierro.
  • Quite common in the Redwall series, as villains have a tendency to kill their subordinates. Gulo is especially prone to this even killing a soldier when he had only about 6 or 7 left. Also Rigu Felis: 'What should have happened to those otters?' 'Th-they should have been slain, lord.' 'SLAIN!'(cuts down him down)'Just like this one.'
  • In the Sherlock Holmes tale Charles Augustus Milverton, Holmes and Watson argue that the eponymous blackmailer should accept a lesser sum from their client, as it would bring him no profit to ruin her reputation. Milverton however says that he has a number of other people that he's blackmailing (or will blackmail in the near future), and her public disgrace will only increase their willingness to pay.
  • In the backstory of A Song of Ice and Fire, young Tywin Lannister's absolute annihilation of House Reyne and House Tarbeck during their rebellion, even in the face of being offered a surrender, was partly an attempt to send a warning to any other subservient houses that had grown bold under his father's weak rule that any sign of disloyalty would not be tolerated. Decades later, this act has been immortalized into the song, "The Rains of Castamere", the mere singing of which by a messenger to any lord threatening to defy the now Lord Tywin is enough to make them fall into line.
  • Randall Flagg in The Stand crucifies people, particularly drug addicts, in the desert outside Las Vegas, as an example to the others not to break the community's rules.
  • The fate of the rat-stitcher in Super Minion. Tofu interprets it a bit too literally when he's told that Hellion wants someone to "make a message out of him", and leaves a message politely asking people not to attack civilians in Hellion's territory, written in his viscera.
  • In Wyrd Sisters, the Duchess has a thing about having underlings punished as an example to the others. The Duke remarks that if she keeps it up, eventually she'll be having the last remaining guard cut his own throat as an example to himself.
  • Warrior Cats: In The Darkest Hour, Tigerstar murders an innocent WindClan apprentice in front of the rest of WindClan. Tallstar and Firestar know that Tigerstar did it to send a message to them on what to expect if they continue defying him.
  • The Witches: The Grand High Witch sends a witch who dares to argue with her to a particularly unpleasant end: being burned to death with white-hot sparks from the Grand High Witch's eyes. Later it is revealed that she makes it a rule to do this to at least one witch at every meeting.
    Grand High Witch: I hope nobody else is going to make me cross today.
  • Evidence of Things Not Seen: Alvin Clark's dad, who owns the salvage yard, shoots tools that don't work properly. He tells the other tools, "This is what happens to lousy tools."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Spoofed on Arrested Development.
    Gob: I had to fire them. I had to make them an example to the others.
    Michael: There are no others. You fired everyone.
  • This is Vir's wish for Morden on Babylon 5. He gets his wish, but it's more of a gift to Vir from Londo, than a warning to others.
    Morden: What do you want?
    Vir Cotto: I'd like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I would look up at your lifeless eyes and wave like this. Can you and your associates arrange this for me, Mr. Morden?
  • Blake's 7. In "Shadow", an organised crime boss prepares to make a nasty example of two people who tried to steal from him. However the example isn't to discourage others from stealing, but to show his superiors and underlings that he's tough enough to run his territory.
    Bek: We are an object lesson for their own people. Largo's on his way up in the organization. One sign of weakness and he'll be on his way down again, probably minus his head.
  • In the second episode of Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow"), Syn learns that one of his smuggling crew plans to sell him out to the authorities. Since being arrested and unmasked is the greatest threat to him, Syn decides to put on a display so terrifying that nobody else will even think of turning on him and, as the Scarecrow, stages a Kangaroo Court and hangs the traitor. Or so it appears; in reality Scarecrow fakes it and then tells the man to flee the county because he'll surely be killed if discovered alive.
  • An unplanned version at the end of the Firefly episode "The Train Job". Mal tells Crow that he's giving him back all the money Adelai Niska advanced them for the job and that they'll stay out of his way from now on. Crow tells Mal that the last thing he'll see is Crow's blade. Mal kicks him into Serenity's engine intake and brings over the next guy, who falls over himself to agree before Mal can finish offering the deal.
  • On one episode of Friends, Monica starts working at a restaurant as the head chef, but can't seem to gain respect from her staff. (They were very friendly with the guy she replaced.) Joey suggests that she bring him in and fire him just to prove she means business. She does, but given that this is Joey we're talking about, it doesn't go as planned.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Rhaegal becomes Dany's instrument of sending a message to the other Meereen nobles when he roasts one of them alive. He then feasts on the burnt carcass with his brother.
      • When Dany roasts the crap out of the Lannister army, Drogon roars at the survivors who do not kneel, but some remain defiant. Then Dany sentences their general and his son to die by dragonfire, right on the dewy grass. Nobody refuses to kneel after that.
    • There's also a scene in season 2 which features the "hanging corpses" variety of this trope. While Brienne is transporting Jaime to King's Landing, they pair happen across three female corpses hanging from a tree with a sign that reads "They lay with lions". It transpires that these women were prostitutes who were killed by some northern soldiers for sleeping with Lannister men.
    • In season 8, Daenerys, fed up with the Lannister regime's continued resistance and what she perceives as Westeros' general lack of gratitude for helping win the Second War for Dawn, decides to make an example out of King's Landing and proceeds to sack and burn it to the ground.
  • A perfect example of this happens in a 2009/2010 storyline of General Hospital; Michael attacks Claudia Zacchara to protect his mother Carly and newborn sister, but accidentally kills her. As a result, Carly, Jason, and Sonny all opt to ship Michael out of Port Charles and for Sonny to take the fall, but just as the jury is about to announce their verdict at Sonny's trial, Dante Falconeri, Sonny's recently discovered firstborn and a PCPD detective, discovers the truth and gives Michael up, expecting that the judge will let Michael off with a suspended sentence. Instead, the judge, furious that Michael's family had been lying for months and fed up with the constant Courtroom Antics, decides to make an example of Michael for all those who try to twist the law for their own ends by sentencing Michael to two-to-five years in the Pentonville Adult Correctional Facility.
  • In The Handmaid's Tale, executed men and women are often hung out and displayed on a large wall in the city, to serve as a warning to other would-be rule-breakers.
  • In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, after being thoroughly beaten and captured by the Zangyack, Captain Marvelous was sentenced to a Public Execution to show the world that there was no hope left for them. Fortunately, Doc managed to thwart the execution and save him.
  • The Man in the High Castle: In season 2, when the Nazis prepare to invade the Japanese Empire, Obergruppenfuehrer John Smith's post is reinforced by SS troops from Germany to deal with the mounting resistance movement on the east coast. His new subordinate, Gruppenfuehrer Keller, advises to raze a town of 80,000 people where resistance activity is highest. Smith says he'll take him up on his suggestion, then immediately countermands the order when Keller leaves the room.
  • Our Miss Brooks: Part of Principal Osgood Conklin's modus operandi at Madison High School. There is, after all, a reason Miss Brooks considers Conklin to be Madison's dictator:
    Miss Brooks: Having expected a one way trip to Devil's Island, I thought the punishment Mr. Conklin meted out was comparatively just. However, it was just after 7:00 that evening when I got home.
    Mrs. Davis: Why Connie, I was getting to get worried about you! Where in the world have you been all afternoon?
    Miss Brooks: I was doing a little writing, Mrs. Davis.
    Mrs. Davis: Writing? What were you writing?
    Miss Brooks: Oh, I don't think you'd be interested, it's not your type of stuff.
    Mrs. Davis: I'm interested in everything you do, Connie. Please, tell me all about it.
    Miss Brooks: Well, if you insist, Mrs. Davis. But you'd better sit down, this may take quite a while.
    Mrs. Davis: Alright. (sits down) There. Now, what did you write?
    Miss Brooks: I wrote "Our principal is the best principal that any school ever had. Our principal is the best principal that any school ever had. Our principal is the best principal that any school ever had . . ."
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: During the final arc that sees the Federation invade the Dominion stronghold on Cardassia Prime, the Cardassian resistance (led by Kira, Garak, and Damar) is becoming an irritating bother for the occupiers when Weyoun suggests to the Female Changeling the idea of leveling a city of a million people to show the Cardassians what happens to anyone who betrays the Dominion. This has the exact opposite effect when almost the entire Cardassian fleet defects to the Federation-Klingon-Romulan forces.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Resistance", several crewmembers have been captured by an oppressive government. Janeway is helped by Caylem, an insane old man who believes Janeway is his missing daughter, and they're going to rescue his wife, also held by the government. Later when they're captured also, the evil Third Magistrate Augris reveals that his wife and daughter have been Dead All Along.
    Augris: I must say I'm impressed, Caylem. You never made it this far before. (to Janeway) Every so often he goes on one of his missions to rescue his wife. She's been dead for twelve years.
    Augris: Sometimes he gets all the way up to the front gate. We send him on his way and allow him to serve as a reminder of just how futile it is to challenge us. I thought you'd learnt that lesson when you lost your daughter. She made it as far as the tunnels before she was shot.
  • In The Wire, the Barksdale Organization that controls the West Side of Baltimore starts out as the most dominant and ruthless drug syndicate in the city. When Omar and his two stick-up partners steal from a Barksdale stash, Avon Barksdale quickly declares he wants an example made. Within days both of Omar's partners are brutally murdered: John Bailey is shot 46 times, his Bulletproof Vest not being able to save him, while Brandon Wright is brutally tortured to death, then left on display in the projects as an example.

  • The Bible:
    • In Exodus 9:15-17, God directly states this as one of the intentions behind His Signs and Wonders (AKA the Plagues of Egypt). Instead of wiping out all of the Egyptians, God is making an example of some of them despite the way they allowed the Hebrews to suffer (with the slavery and killing their male babies).
    "For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go."
    • In the various laws God lays down for His people Israel, the prescribed punishments for certain transgressions, such as a daughter "playing the harlot" in her father's house when it cannot be proven whether she was truly a virgin when she was given in marriage, was meant to be seen by the other Israelites to make them fear God and not follow after that person's bad example.
    • In 1 Timothy 5:19-20, if an elder sins, they must be rebuked publicly so that "others may also fear".
    • In 2 Peter 2:6, Peter says God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah with such a destruction, condemning them to ashes, to make them an example "to those who afterward would live ungodly."

  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, this is how Melissa convinces the Dark Dragon to attack the public instead of the government agent he'd been hounding. If he were to kill the agent, then she'd just be replaced, but if he attacked the innocent public, then he'd be sending a message out to the world that he wasn't to be messed with.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Battletech, this was the lorewise fate of Clan Smoke Jaguar, the Token Evil Teammate of the Invader Clans. When the Inner Sphere united into a second Star League their immediate concern was to demonstrate their strength so as to prevent further Clan attacks from the Clans who weren't bound by the Truce, and they singled out Smoke Jaguar to be their example. The Jaguars found themselves attacked on all sides in their Inner Sphere territory and ejected from the Inner Sphere wholesale, following which the Star League traced them back to their home world of Huntress and conquered their entire territory, effectively Annihilating the Jaguars in all but name.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, Imperial Commissars can do this in-game. If the unit they're part of ever loses morale and flees, the Commissar will automatically shoot and kill a model to motivate the others, with any officers present (if they're still alive) given priority.

    Video Games 
  • The Soviet Twinblade helicopter unit in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 may use "We will make an example of them!" as a quote if ordered to attack an enemy unit, a nod to the in-game fluff about its role in the Red Army as The Political Officer who usually patrols the edges of the battlefield and gun down any attempted deserters (something which isn't an issue for the player in actual gameplay).
  • Early in Dragon Age II, you're given the choice between helping a group of mages flee the Kirkwall Circle or turning them in. If you pick the latter, Knight-Commander Meredith has three of them hanged as a lesson to others (picked at random, at that). If you pick the former, they are eventually captured anyway and Meredith has three of them randomly made Tranquil instead. It's a good indicator of how she operates before she goes crazy from buying an Artifact of Doom.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, Caesar's Legion is very fond of this. A common tactic in dealing with enemies is to crucify them, and Caesar had one of his Legates covered in pitch and set aflame after he failed to take the Hoover Dam from the NCR as an example for the price of failure among his ranks.
  • Hoyt Volker in Far Cry 3 is very eager to enforce this. Jason Brody first sees him forcing three villagers to run across a rice field laced with landmines because they stole a transportation manifest close to his heart and they're sympathizers with the local Rakyat tribe, who Hoyt hates. The second time Jason meets Hoyt, disguised as one of his privateers, he gives an orientation speech which he rounds off by setting fire to one of his men locked in a furnace for breaking one of the three company rules. Ultimately, this trope costs Hoyt his life. He knows Jason and his supposed Dragon Sam are planning to kill him, but he decides to kill them at a poker game surrounded by his guards, just to rub it in that he was never fooled by them, which puts him within range of Jason's knife.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: as revealed in the Samurai job questline, it is not uncommon for a criminal's family to be made example for their crimes. When Ugetsu assassinated bakufu officials, the bakufu retaliated by killing his parents. His sister, Kagetsu/Makoto, barely avoided suffering the same fate.
  • This happens to Scarlet in the Conquest branch of Fire Emblem Fates. While Hans was already going to kill the remaining Cheve rebels anyway, Camilla notes that he killed Scarlet in a particularly brutal manner (which the player never actually sees), presumably to scare off whoever was left.
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us: After his Face–Heel Turn, Regime Superman and the Justice League establish a Police State on the entire Earth. But when people witnessed him kill his ally Lex Luthor on live television and questioned his rule, Regime Superman doesn't take this criticism lightly. To suppress this brewing rebellion against his rule, he sends in his forces to Metropolis and Gotham to set an example.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • Marco and the Galaxy Dragon: Tera Isezaki defaults on her payments to Galaxy Auction, so the alien representatives crucify her in a public place. They were going to execute her via guillotine as well, but Marco — a valued customer of theirs — showed up at the last minute to talk them out of it.
  • Mass Effect: A side-mission has Shepard finding a ship where the entire crew headed into Geth space for no reason they can determine, and wound up turned into Husks, en masse. Shepard and their team speculate it was the Geth showing what happens to anyone who enters their territory. Later entries in the series confuse this reading of events somewhat, as the "Geth" you encounter in the first game are not actually Geth, but "Heretics" who decided to ally with The Reapers, and it's the Reapers, not the Geth, who convert organics into Husks. As such, it's also plausible that this might be either a False Flag Operation on the Reapers' part to frame the Geth and draw them into the conflict, or that the crew encountered a Reaper Artifact and ended up in Geth space for some other reason.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: Depending on when the player finishes one mission, Ryder may come upon a base of kett who've been executed and left out in the sun, with messages from the Primus nearby detailing how she's going to purge the local forces of anyone loyal to the Archon.
  • At one point in Portal 2, GLaDOS mentions laminating Chell's skeleton after she dies to show an example of how the human skeleton should not be.
  • Tyranny: Kyros' Empire has many and various ways to do this. Kyros' Edicts are by far the flashiest and most obvious ways, as transgressors can see their entire country devastated to make an example for others thinking of defiance. In more local terms, The Disfavoured are big fans of this trope for those who defy them and Disfavoured territory commonly feature crucified rebels, bandits and oathbreakers by the road.
  • Valkyria Chronicles 4: In a cutscene, the party buy some tank parts from a market trader in the captured town of Einhemt. In a later cutscene, they find him hanging from a telegraph pole with a sign round his neck saying I BETRAYED MY COUNTRY FOR SCRAPS.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • In The Order of the Stick, the Thieves' Guild has a tendency to be very harsh with people who break their rules. Guild members who try to leave are usually killed, while guild members who sell secrets receive harsh punishments, like, say, having any body part they're nicknamed after removed.
    Old Blind Pete (formerly "Eagle-Eyed"): A word of advice: If you're going to do business with criminals, don't pick a nickname based on any body part you can't afford to lose. *sigh* I shoulda listened to Appendix Steve when he tried to warn me.

    Web Original 
  • After being eliminated in the first challenge in The Sidemen Experience, KSI had his legs waxed to show the other Sidemen what will happen to them should they wipeout or lose to the others in Olli Olli.

    Western Animation 
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Beginning of the End," Grogar suggests a Villain Team-Up to form a Legion of Doom to fight the Mane Six. King Sombra rejects the offer, instead saying that he'll Take Over the World alone. Grogar lets Sombra go, but all but says that Sombra is going to lose. Sure enough, when Sombra ends up turned to dust by the Rainbow Power, Grogar tells the rest of the villains that the rest of them will meet the same fate unless they follow his plan. It was revealed in the Grand Finale that Grogar was really a disguised Discord, and he brought the villains together to test Twilight and boost her confidence to see if she was ready to become the new ruler of Equestria.
  • In the Grand Finale of Samurai Jack, Aku decides to break the entire world by making an example of those who dare defy him, starting with Jack, the one who opposed him all these years. Problem was, how was he going to do it?
  • In Star Wars Rebels season 1 Grand Moff Tarkin has the incompetent Commandant Aresko and Taskmaster Grint executed in front of Agent Kallus and Minister Tua to demonstrate that their failure to stop Phoenix Squadron will have dire consequences if it continues.
    • 2 seasons later Grand Admiral Thrawn is brought in to deal with sabotage at a speeder bike factory on Lothal, as bikes made there tended to overheat and explode if they went too fast. He forces one of the workers to test one of the bikes. When the bike's engine starts overheating, the worker tries to power down the engine, but he overrides the controls and turns engine power back up to maximum, and the bike blows up, taking the worker with it. Thrawn then announces that all new bikes will now have to be personally tested by the worker who made it, and expects the malfunction rate to decline substantially.

    Real Life 
  • A common police tactic to break up protests is by arresting a few people. This video of the Occupy Wall Street protests is a good example.
  • This was explicitly involved in the trial of hacker Aaron Swartz (that led to his suicide), the Department of Justice arguing for a disproportionate sentence to, in their own words, "send a message".
  • Maggie Thatcher did this to Thames Television towards the end of The Troubles. The 1990 Broadcasting Act which instigated the franchise round that destroyed the original Thames? That was Thatcher's not-so-subtle way of punishing Thames for broadcasting "Death on the Rock".
    • Even Conservative commentators have remarked that her treatment of the miners and their union, after the long bitter Strike ended, was needlessly vindictive, and provoked deep, bitter, and lasting resentment, which adds to the undeniable fact that vast swathes of the North, Wales, and Scotland are no-go areas for the Conservative Party. Her management of the Strike itself suggests an exceptional degree of ruthlessness and state force was condoned to beat the miners into submission. Let's say her death was cheered and celebrated in many former mining areas.
  • Played with when Ronald Reagan invoked the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 against the Air Traffic Controllers union in 1981. When the union violated a court injuction to end their strike, he summarily fired over 10,000 workers who'd refused to resume work. It became a much more common practice for companies to avoid giving in to the various labor unions.
  • This is actually the main gist of two Chinese proverbs: "Kill one to warn a hundred", and "Kill the Chicken to Scare the Monkeys".
  • After Admiral John Byng was defeated at the battle of Minorca (1756), he was arrested, court-martialed, and executed for "failing to do his utmost". His fate put the fear of God into the Royal Navy's Officer Corp as they now realized that "not trying hard enough" is a capital offense. And some historians considers it a reason why Britannia would go on to rule the waves. This episode caused Voltaire to comment, "In this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others" (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres).
  • This was employed by various conquering empires, such as the Romans or the Mongols. Those who surrendered were treated leniently, but those who dared to resist were mercilessly put to the sword or worse and stories of their grisly fate were deliberately spread widely by the conquerors themselves:
  • Blizzard Entertainment sued a Private Server Owner for a whopping $88 million, you can't help but think that this trope is invoked.
  • Petrus Killings in Indonesia back in the '80s. Long story short, local thugs and gang ringleaders would be hunted down, executed without trial, and their bodies left in sacks for the masses to find and scare the others.
  • It's been said that the extent of Nero's persecution of the Christians, an act that earned him the title of the Anti-Christ in the Revelation of John, was to seek out the first Christians to admit to any role in setting the Great Fire of Rome and then publicly burn them at the stake in accordance with the law, both in an ultimately failed attempt to quell rumors that he himself had started the fire and to help ensure that a fire of such a massive scale could not happen again — whether the fire was intentional or an accident, no one at the time was able to believe a fire as massive as the Great Fire of Rome could be anything but arson.
  • After he refused to go into combat with his unit in 1944, Private Eddie Slovik became the first, and to date only, American soldier to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War. Slovik had expected to receive a light prison sentence and dishonorable discharge, but the Army higher ups imposed the death penalty as a warning due to desertion becoming a serious issue among American troops in Europe. He was executed by firing squad on January 31, 1945.
  • Part of the reason why Punitive Damages is also called Exemplary Damages.
  • The infamous Glencoe Masscare was performed by the English-Scottish crown toward the MacDonalds of Glencoe, who had been a month late in making an oath of loyalty to the King after the First Jacobite Rebellion. However, other clans had outright refused to take the oath at all, but faced no such punishment, as the MacDonalds were merely intended to be an example to the others, and were singled out for being an easy, weak target, and ancestral rivals to Clan Campbell, who were the crown's Highland loyalists.
  • In The Mafia, it's common for mobsters to clip someone they found out was The Informant, and stuff dead canaries in their mouth as a sign that they "sung" to the police. If a mafioso got too greedy, their corpse would be stuffed with dollar bills in their mouth as a sign their greed caught up to them.


Video Example(s):


Does He Speak For You?

President Morty meets with the Rick Cabal on the Citadel of Ricks after the election.

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Example of:

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Media sources:

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