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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 (Disney)

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", or a Thrown from the Zeppelin-style gathering.

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  
  • In Akame ga Kill!, when Chelsea is brutally killed and chopped to pieces by Kurome, her head is stuck on a pole in the town of Romary to serve as an example to those who try to oppose The Empire.
  • Assassination Classroom: Part of the foundation of Chairman Asano's pedagogy is to make his students think that losing is a Fate Worse than Death so they will avoid failure by any means necessary. He created Class 3-E for this purpose. Formed by students who either failed to keep their grades up or were punished for breaking regulations, they're the pariahs of the school and the rest of the students as well as the faculty are encouraged to threat them like trash. Effectively, Class 3-E's role is to demonstrate what happens to the people that are labeled "failures" by the system.
  • Dragon Ball Z: During the Namek Saga, Frieza is anything but pleased to discover that Zarbon not only went after Vegeta without his orders, but also beat him up and left him for dead in a lake without making sure, largely because he had deduced Vegeta had found and hid at least one Dragon Ball and Zarbon's actions may have cost them their chances at finding it. In the same conversation, Orlen enters and reveals he came across the village Vegeta decimated and stole the Dragon Ball from... only to stupidly reveal that he killed the Sole Survivor of the attack without asking him where Vegeta went. Frieza immediately kills him with his Eye Beams for his stupidity, telling Zarbon that unless he finds Vegeta and brings him back alive, that's what will happen to him.
    Frieza: There are few things I despise more than a minion who takes it upon himself to make executive decisions. Zarbon, if Vegeta is dead, then prepare yourself to follow his example. Bring the prodigal son back here, now, and for your sake, hope he's still in a position to be of use to me!
  • Fruits Basket: When she learns of Hiro's crush on Kisa, Akito beats her senseless and lands her in the hospital for two weeks, sending Hiro a warning on what will happen to the Zodiacs if they direct their affections to anyone but their God.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind: Sorbet and Gelato of La Squadra wanted to know more about the Boss's(Diavolo's) secret identity, so they started a little investigation of their own. The Boss has Sorbet's body chopped up into 36 pieces by Ciocolatta while Gelato, being Forced to Watch, chose to swallow the gag tied around his mouth and suffocate rather than meet the same fate as his partner. When Gelato's body was delivered to his teammates, the Boss attached a note that only read "Punishment" and left the gag in. He also went the extra mile with Sorbet, having preserved his mutilated body with formaldehyde and stuck it in 36 individual frames that, when put together, made the entirety of the corpse. In this case, the "example" backfires in that it pisses La Squadra off, enflaming their intended treachery and leaving them chomping at the bit to get back at the Boss for payback as much as profit.
  • Lupin III: Island of Assassins: Shortly after arriving on the island, Lupin witnesses one of the Tarantula's "manhunts", where they chase down and brutally kill one of their former members. Ellen tells Lupin that it's the price any of them pay if they fail to carry out an assignment.
  • One Piece:
    • The World Government tried to do this with Gold Roger, the King of Pirates, before the main story began. It backfired when Roger announced his legendary hidden treasure to the world and made the Marines' jobs of controlling pirates much harder.
    • This was the fate of Bartholomew Kuma, who was once the king of a nation and a top officer of the Revolutionary Army (a rebellion group that openly opposes the World Government). He was somehow blackmailed by the government into becoming their loyal attack dog despite despising them and forced to undergo Unwilling Roboticisation, eventually removing his free will. Post-Time Skip he's been reduced to a lowly slave of the Celestial Dragons, to show that not even kings can defy the World Government and get away with it.
  • Rebuild World:
    • The free Mystery Meat food dispensed by the government to the slums is done as part of an enforced Truce Zone where trying to skip in line will make the servers pack up an leave. This leads to residents beating such people to death to prevent that.
    • When Akira is installing Sheryl as the new leader of the dead Sebia's gang, instead of walking in with her which would lead to them waiting for Akira to leave her side before killing her, Akira stalks outside her base to wait for an insurrection and mow down the rebels in a storm of bullets, to let fear of him keep Sheryl safe while he's out hunting.
    • When a rival gang representative Wataba tries to pull And Your Little Dog, Too! threats against Akira, he's Killed Mid-Sentence and dragged through the streets back to meet their gang boss as this.
    • To prevent people getting inside his APC ahead of the wounded during a Search & Rescue op, Sergeant Rock Shirakabe uses his Powered Armor to send someone Punched Across the Room as this, dragging the unconscious man into the vehicle before leaving.
  • Tokyo ESP has the female main protagonist subjected to a complete No-Holds-Barred Beatdown until she's literally killed to show what happens to those who try to be heroes. They were able to restart her heart, but the damage was extensive.
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs, has the character Angelica, who as a duke's daughter, has several retainers and attendants go to the Royal Academy with her. Firstly, they refuse to fight for her when she issues a Throwing Down the Gauntlet challenge, and they profusely apologize to her but she gives them the cold shoulder. Secondly, some of them become Double Agent for a foreign power, as part of a (foiled) conspiracy to pin the blame on her father for her fellow students being massacred, while she is kept as the only hostage. As well, all of her retainers present attack her friends. All of these retainers get locked up by the protagonist, and face A Fate Worse Than Death at the hands of her father and brother, the details of which are Too Much Information for her. Those student's families get crushed and replaced with new vassals by her father.

    Comic Books 
  • America's Kingdom: In the first issue, Prince Geoffrey orders the televised beheading of accused subversive Benedictine Arnold, hoping that the sight of his head getting lopped off in front of the entire country will deter any further efforts to sow division on the eve of his ascension to the throne.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: The Decepticon Justice Division exists to inflict sadistically brutal punishments on Decepticon deserters to ensure that none of the still-loyal Decepticons question that loyalty. Being fed slowly into Tesarus's grinder wasn't even the worst thing they had. Nearly everyone on both sides of the war was terrified of them.
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm: once upon a time, a great sorcerer happened upon a likely lad with vast potential to be his apprentice, one with the potential - so he thought - to save the universe one day. He raised the boy as his own, trained him in the mystic arts and his native mutant powers, until the young hero was ready to defeat and drive out none other than Kang the Conqueror. The mission done, they were to journey on and help guide history from the shadows, preparing for the ultimate battle with Thanos. Unfortunately, this young apprentice foster-child had an ego. Even more unfortunately, he happened to be Apocalypse. He betrayed his teacher, forcing him to flee, claimed Kang's empire, expanded it, and ruthlessly warped it and its inhabitants with his bizarre Social Darwinist philosophy. Unfortunately for him, his mentor was Doctor Strange. Long story short, Apocalypse's empire collapsed around his ears, and Apocalypse's body was killed, while his soul was trapped inside the rotting corpse - and if that weren't enough, it was stuck on a metaphysical yo-yo, so once Apocalypse figured out how to break free and Body Surf, it would inevitably snap back in short order. He was stuck like that for eight thousand years. In the words of his former teacher...
    "Look upon my works ye mighty and despair."
  • 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.
  • A Darker Path: Atropos makes it clear to the mayor that if anyone on the city revitalisation committee tries to skim funds, she will ensure that their colleagues are dissuaded from repeating it.
  • In the Firefly fic Freedom to the Free, Simon, River, Wash and Kaylee are captured and enslaved. Simon gets in trouble because of his natural tendency to protest and talk back and gets put in a scold’s bridle. The overseer makes him wear it for 3 nights and insists on making him wait til he’s in the eating area before it’s removed so as to make an example of him.
  • 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."
  • The Mega Man X fanfic Limitless Potential has Sigma broadcasting a New Era Speech through every monitor and communications device in Abel City, announcing that reploids are now going to replace humans as Earth's ruling species. Dr. Fujiwara, who had been working with him thinking he would be able to rule Abel City, protests about this, and Sigma decides to use him as an example of what will happen to anyone who opposes them, impaling and then beheading him with his saber.
  • The Night Unfurls: This is Kyril's reasoning for not taking any prisoners, or, if he did have any, killing them, as well as why he intends to put down the rebellion by force during the Rebel Scum Arc. He wants to send a message to the Black Dogs and the traitors, to let them know what he would do to them should they continue to pursue their goal of a Sex Empire.
  • In Rise of the Minisukas, Rei wants to behead Matarael and put its corpse on display so everyone realizes that kidnapping Shinji is a terrible idea.
    Rei: "I agree with Pilot Soryu, we must reave apart the Angel and display its head so that all will be aware of the folly it committed against us."
  • 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.
  • The Ultimate Evil:
    • After the Dark Hand fails 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 painfully punishes Hak Foo 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 to warn the 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.
  • With This Ring: The Renegade could have killed the First Citadelian immediately upon defeating him, but bringing him back to be publicly executed has a bigger PR impact.
    Renegade: We wanted Tamaran to see him die. On his knees. Weak.
  • 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 are 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 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.
  • One of the most famous examples of this trope appears in The Avengers (2012), when Loki gets mad at an elderly German man for delivering an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech against him. He immediately warns the other Germans all resistance will meet the same end, and tries to zap the poor guy out of existence. Fortunately Steve Rogers jumps down and saves him.
  • In the prologue of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, James McCullen's medieval ancestor was expected to be executed for selling weapons to opposing nations, so he intended to be Defiant to the End. Instead, the French forced him to wear an iron mask for the rest of his life.
  • 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 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 recruit 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 on the holonet both their slow deaths and those of anyone who tried to save them. 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 that had just thrown the Empire off.
      • 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".
  • RRR: This is the idea behind publicly flogging Bheem until it backfires. Subverted later when Ram warns them not to turn Bheem into a bigger martyr by publicly hanging him.
  • 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.
  • Shoot to Kill. FBI agent Stantin discovers that a criminal is holding the family of a jeweler hostage to force him to rob his own store. Stantin and the police surround the jeweler's house, and Stanton calls on the phone telling the criminal to surrender. The criminal says he's sending out the maid with a message. Before she's taken more than a few steps outside the door, he fires a single bullet to kill her.
    Criminal: Agent Stantin, did you get the message?
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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."
  • In Fengshen Yanyi, once the protagonist Jiang Ziya is made supreme commander of the Zhou army, he writes down a list of seventeen articles aimed at disciplining the troops, all seventeen of them listing the death penalty as a punishment to warn others. They range from somewhat reasonable (treason, sabotage, rape, espionage) to disproportionate (shyness, favoritism, theft).
  • 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.
  • Happens a lot in The Hunger Games. Executions and floggings are often done in public, the privileged citizens of the Capitol always have Avox slaves (people from the districts who were arrested on political charges and had their tongues cut off) dangled in front of them (although a lot of them don't seem to get the message), an entire district (one of the 14 settlements that make up the whole nation) was nuked, and the titular games themselves are just there to actively remind the districts how badly they were crushed the last time they rebelled and how much crueller the Capitol is willing to be after suffering through that one war.
  • Martín Fierro: This is the standard 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.
  • Maul: Lockdown: Izhsmash is killed and has broken circuit boards shoved through his mouth and dead eyes as a warning to anyone else who thinks of hacking into the prison database.
  • 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.
    • In the backstory, the city of Qohor tried to cheat the Golden Company of their pay for services rendered, so the Golden Company sacked the city as a warning to future employers not to screw them out of their money.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: As part of his plans to integrate the monster-populated kingdom of Tempest with the rest of the world, Rimuru advocates a policy of pacifism against humans and builds up Tempest as a prosperous new trade hub through what was previously a dangerous forest. However, this inadvertently threatens the kingdom of Falmuth, whose economy was reliant on being a major trade hub themselves that circumvented the forest. With people flocking to Tempest as the new superior trade center, Falmuth decides to respond by masacring hundreds of civilian monsters and threatening to declare war on a flimsy "monster extermination" pretext, intending to take the city for themselves. Tempest responds in kind by completely anihilating the entire 20,000-man invading army and letting Rimuru devour their souls, half because they needed the souls to resurrect their fallen and let Rimuru evolve into a Demon Lord and half to send a message to the other nations that they should not mistake their pacifism for weakness.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Watership Down
    • Blackavar tries to escape the dictatorship-warren of Efrafa, beating up a couple of sentries in the process. The Council tears his ears to shreds and orders him displayed to every Mark on silflay, and tell everyone who asks why he was punished. By the time Bigwig encounters him, he's started to crack up.
    • The rabbits explain the existence of the gamekeeper's gibbet as the Black Rabbit making an example of elil who have killed without his permission.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andor: Paak gets hung in the public square to "remind" the other locals who is in charge after he's tortured into giving up the information the ISB wants from him.
  • 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 organized 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 Day Break (2006) when The Man Behind the Man is Buried Alive for letting the hero track him down (not really his fault, it's "Groundhog Day" Loop), his yet-faceless boss explains to a woman he wants to make a disposable assassin:
    Most people don't heed warnings, but they learn from examples. This is an example... how we bury our secrets.
  • 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.
  • House of the Dragon: The Rhaenyra-aligned Lord Caswell is hanged and his body left hanging in the inner courtyard of the Red Keep by the Hightowers to discourage any pro-Rhaenyra action when they crown Aegon king against the will of King Viserys.
  • 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 Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Medhor is killed by the Orcs to discourage any disobedience or attempt of escaping from their prisoners.
  • 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 . . ."
  • In Squid Game: After being executed by the Front Man for cheating the games, Byeong-gi's body along with the those of the corrupt guards are hung from the facility's elaborate neon stairway as a warning to any player willing attempt to do the same.
  • 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.
    Caylem: Lies! Lies! Lies!
    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).
    "I could have stretched forth My hand and stricken you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been effaced from the earth. Nevertheless I have spared you for this purpose: in order to show you My power, and in order that My fame may resound throughout the world. Yet you continue to exalt yourself over My people, and do 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 Dungeons & Dragons, Lolth, the Top Goddess of the Drow Pantheon, transforms any of her worshippers who fail her tests into Driders. However, while Driders are shunned and driven out of Drow society, they are not killed, as they are living examples of what happens to those who fail the Spider Queen's tests. In fact, a Drow who kills a Drider might well be transformed into one themselves by Lolth.
  • Paranoia: The High Programmer rulebook encourages PCs to do this to anyone who directly disrespects them, seeing as High Programmers outrank everyone except other High Programmers.note 
  • 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).
  • Dawn of War: After executing Isador for betraying the Blood Ravens and falling to the temptations of Chaos, Gabriel delivers a warning to a squad of Marines arriving at the scene that he will do the same thing to any of them that stray from the Imperium of Man.
  • 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:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Ganondorf, as a warning to those who would oppose him, tries to feed all the Gorons to a dragon in the Fire Temple.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Zant executes the Zora queen when he shrouds the Lanayru Province in twilight. This later sets up a subplot when her son, Ralis, falls ill on his way to Castle Town to get help.
    • In Breath of the Wild, this is standard procedure for the Yiga Clan against members who defect from them. They've already killed Dorian's wife for his defection, they're threatening to kill his daughters if he doesn't do their bidding again, and they're about to kill him anyway before Link intervenes.
  • 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 "Heretics" who decided to ally with The Reapers. 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:
    • A quest chain on Voeld has Ryder encounter an ancient AI which starts electronically frying a curious angara who tries touching it. Should Ryder let the angara die, the ancient AI declares this is a warning to anyone else: Don't touch.
    • 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 

  • 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.
  • In Weak Hero, the Cheongang end up crossing the Yeongdeungpo Union when one of their associated businesses try to steal documents from the Union. Donald, the acting head of the Union, retaliates by gathering an elite but deliberately small group of fighters to take straight into the heart of Cheongang and eliminate all of its executives, not only proving the might of Yeongdeungpo but humiliating Cheongang so thoroughly that any further opposition is stomped out.

    Web Original 
  • Critical Role: As Vox Machina arrive in Whitestone, they see a group of bodies hanged from the Sun Tree. When they go for a closer look, and Matt describes the bodies, the realization slowly sinks in that the bodies are townspeople, crudely dressed as Vox Machina and hanged in effigy. Both the party and the players are thoroughly shaken.
    Marisha: Oh my god... It's us.
  • Sidemen: 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 
  • Just like the original campaign, The Legend of Vox Machina has the party find seven bodies hanged from the Sun Tree, dressed to look like them. Cue Smash to Black. The normal music over the credits is replaced by the sounds of creaking rope, making it all the more unnerving.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Superman's Plan

Superman plans to destroy Metropolis and Gotham to set an example of what happens when anyone crosses the Regime. Then murders Shazam when he questions this plan.

How well does it match the trope?

4.7 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / MakeAnExampleOfThem

Media sources: