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Martyr Without a Cause

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Why is Tony Stark sacrificing himself today, folks? We're taking all bets! note 

"You Optimuses do love to sacrifice yourselves, don't you?"
Megatron, Beast Wars

Heroes are heroic; it goes without saying. So it shouldn't come as a surprise when one makes a Heroic Sacrifice or takes the shot to protect a friend or loved one; even his allies might form a Hero Secret Service to protect him before facing the Big Bad.

Then, there's heroes who seem to have a near-suicidal insistence on being the one to die... even if the situation isn't all that dire! They'll put the Papa Wolf and Mama Bear to shame in their zeal to ensure no one around them but themselves is in any risk. They'll discourage alternate plans for a given threat if any friends have to be in the slightest danger, even if they increase the odds for success and their own survival, and said friends are willing to take the risk. If someone gets hurt (or his little sister forbid, dies) he'll be eaten up with guilt. This is often the Character Flaw of a Messianic Archetype and often combines with Chronic Hero Syndrome.

Expect friends, family, and loved ones to scold him repeatedly on this risk-hogging behavior, and villains to use Flaw Exploitation to make the most of it by engineering threats. If it's that kind of show, expect an episode or two about how the hero needs to learn to trust his teammates and realize he can't control fate and protect them from all harm.

Generally, this is also part of the motivation for why a hero will give themselves up without a fight when a love interest is held hostage at knifepoint and give said love interest up afterwards, to save them from any perceived danger.

Occasionally, such a character may be a member of a Martyrdom Culture for whom death is not necessarily a bad thing, potentially resulting in misunderstandings when dealing with those with different backgrounds.

See Honor Before Reason for the idea behind this trope, and compare Suicidal Pacifism. For the more depressing and less heroic version of this, see Death Seeker. Characters like this with combat skills may also be The Berserker. This may be the fate of a Small Steps Hero if they can't rescue an innocent without sacrificing themselves.

Compare Inspirational Martyr when they do have a clear cause. Also compare Senseless Sacrifice and Self-Punishment Over Failure.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Umi and Fuu (well, mostly Umi) in Magic Knight Rayearth are constantly yelling at Hikaru for this. She wants to intercept every attack and scout for danger on her own rather than in a group, and will always insist she's fine when she is not.
  • Haruka and Michiru in Sailor Moon S were notoriously this. They just seemed to be completely unwilling to accept the possibility of saving the world without having to do some awful sacrifice (be it their own lives or someone else's with them as the executioners), even once trying to hurt Usagi (a.k.a. the reincarnation of their Princess and person they swore to protect with their lives) for having the gall of telling them The Power of Love was a (more evidently) effective method.
    • And Usagi, though her non-causes were often more dire. During the final battle against the Dark Kingdom, the other Senshi repeatedly call her out for offering herself or the crystal to the enemies for the other soldiers' lives.
  • Watanuki from ×××HOLiC has more than a few elements of this, though it is brought up eventually, and even more eventually justified into a backstory-defining plot point. As early as volume 8 of the Manga, he offers to give up his left eye to a spider demon if she'll release a friend, the Zashiki-Warashi, who was trying to recover his stolen right eye, leading to the monster deconstructing this trope and giving him an epiphany.
    Jorō-gumo: [...] The Zashiki-Warashi went to these lengths to get back your right eye, and you'd throw that away like it was nothing?... In other words, you consider her an absolute fool who would try to protect worthless trash such as yourself.
    Watanuki: That isn't it!!
    Jorō-gumo: It is it. [...] You hold in disgust those who would hurt others... and yet you do it yourself. Looking at the scars you've allowed to be inflicted on yourself, I can't imagine the amount of scars your actions have inflicted on others.
    Jorō-gumo: It's that particular attitude... that I just loathe.
  • It's hard to say which of the Bronze Saints in Saint Seiya suffers the most from this. There's Shiryu, who blinded himself to save his friends; there's Hyoga, who allowed a Forgotten Childhood Friend to injure one of his eyes to settle a score; then there's Shun, who takes self-sacrifice to such an extreme that even Shiryu himself commented on it.
    • In the case of Shiryu, it is hard to tell if that's a bad trait of him; he seems to become more powerful/skilled whenever he starts getting disadvantages, like being blinded or losing his armor off (though in Saint Seiya universe, warriors can still be a deadly threat as long as they are alive, and losing perceptions ACTUALLY allows reaching enlightenment, as Virgo Shaka vs Ikki lampshades). There's even a running gag between fans that say "if Shiryu isn't blind or naked, the battle isn't done yet". Hell, he only managed to perform Excalibur the first time after his enemy pointed out he was hiding behind his resurrected Bronze Cloth (with protective ability nearly on par with Gold Cloths), and him accepting that he was unconsciously relying on his armor to protect him, and consequently casting it off. He was too immature (this gets lampshaded several times in the series, too) at this point to channel his full power normally, so he HAD to put himself in a truly desperate situation, to bring out the power level necessary to activate Excalibur. He has to become a Martyr to get the proper motivation.
    • Averted with Athena, who puts her life on risk while fully knowing that the Saints will fight for her sake and the worlds. They're the one who fight her battles, but it's thanks to her that they even have time and chance to do that too.
  • Negi, the protagonist of Negima! Magister Negi Magi, is repeatedly scolded by Asuna for that.
    • Kurt Godel may be one of these too. According to Nodoka's artifact, he himself was not involved in the attack on Negi's village, however Godel says that he has no intention of running from his sins and promises, once everything is over, to let Negi beat him to death if that's what it takes to satisfy Negi's desire for revenge.
  • The titular character of Naruto leans in this direction occasionally, especially during the Pain arc, telling everyone else to stay the hell away. When Hinata doesn't and almost gets killed right in front of Naruto... needless to say, it's not pretty. He is better most of the time though, trusting his teammates, but he'd rather fight the most dangerous enemies himself.
  • Chrono from Chrono Crusade constantly feels the need to do this. Almost every time there's an attack on his group, he'll push away his comrades and jump in front of the attack. Arguably this is justified since Chrono is a demon with the ability to heal himself, but he still seems almost ridiculously obsessed with being the only one to take any damage.
  • Nagi Kirima from the Boogiepop Series sees herself as a vigilante meant to clean up the world, and often goes to great lengths to deal with things herself. At one point she even temporarily gets killed by Manticore but Echoes' intervention saves her life. Notably, in her backstory, her dying father's request for her was that she not be normal, and she seems to have taken it to heart (perhaps a bit too much).
  • Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi does this every single time she and her friends are attacked. "This is all because of me!"
  • Trigun: Vash The Stampede takes this to ludicrous levels. His body is covered with scars he's suffered while protecting others — including his enemies. He'd rather die than allow ANYONE around him to get killed, and the people shooting at him are not exempt from that. Good thing his Improbable Aiming Skills are just as overpowered as his morals...
    • In a rare subversion of the trope, both his Improbable Aiming Skills and his near-immortality are completely justified by the story.
    • When finally, near the end of the series run, he's forced to choose between killing an enemy or letting the two girls he has befriended (and he might well be in love with one of them) die instead, he pulls the trigger, kills the guy, and saves the girls — and then promptly breaks down crying.
    • Vash also subtly deconstructs the trope, with many subtle arguments being presented that this is unhealthy behavior and stems from Vash's root psychological issues.
  • Dai-Guard: Akagi Shunsuke's salaryman ethos extends to piloting Dai-Guard: during the competition with Kokubogar, he's the only one even trying despite being delirious with fever. He's also willing to tear his robot apart for impromptu "rocket punches" when nothing else seems to be working.
  • In PandoraHearts, the fact that he cares nothing for himself is both Oz's strength and weakness. The Abyss holds no fear to one who doesn't give a damn what happens to himself.
  • In Princess Tutu, Mytho is a prince from a fairytale that destroyed his own heart to seal away an evil raven. Because of his heart being missing, he's emotionless, but one key part of his personality remained intact—his desire to protect others. Because of this, he mindlessly throws himself into danger in order to protect anything and everyone: jumping out of a window to protect a baby bird (which can fly, by the way), running into a burning building to save a bird in a cage, throwing himself in front of a little girl in danger... for the people that care for him, it's one of the things that makes them love him, but many of them also express frustration with it.
  • Baccano!'s Jacuzzi Splot has regularly demonstrated that he is willing to risk (or even hand over) his life for someone he's known for hours at most. His Victorious Childhood Friend has this to say about it, "He comes out on the losing end a lot but he's got a lot of friends."
  • In Bakemonogatari, Koyomi Araragi's defining flaw is a hidden lack of self-worth, which leads him to always try to sacrifice himself, even when he doesn't have to or it would even make things worse.
    • In Kizumonogatari, the chronologically first story, he becomes a vampire because he knowingly chose to die for a complete stranger simply because he believes it's a virtue to die for someone else. It only occurred to him much later that vampires eat people and what he did was insane. His first instinct is to try to die again.
    • When it comes to Hanekawa's issues, before he thinks of anything else, he comes up with a plan that depends on her ripping him in two and accidentally touching the sword he hid inside his body. It works but nearly gets her killed and requires someone else to bail them both out. Even if it had worked, he completely fails to realize the effect his death would have everyone.
    • For Kanbaru Suruga, he goes into a fight he has no real chance of winning believing that if he just dies everyone else will be happy. He survives, but in the process, he convinces her that deep down she's a murderer who only avoided killing someone because of blind luck, which leaves her mentally scarred for some time.
    • In the end, it's when he averts this trope that he has the greatest success with helping people: He brought Senjogahara to a genuine specialist, he decided to risk his life for his sister because he genuinely loves her and does not care that she's some kind of body-hopping parasite spirit and when he chose to talk things out with a con man rather than doing anything stupid.
  • Allen Walker in D.Gray-Man wants to save everyone. He usually forgets in the process that he's one of only about 20 Exorcists fighting off millions of Akuma. At one point his friend Lenalee had to Bright Slap him to get him to act remotely rational about it.
  • Touma of A Certain Magical Index. He helps anyone who comes to him with trouble and inevitably ends up in the hospital after helping. He even helps his enemies, refusing to hold grudges against people who tried to violently murder him and his friends for no good reason. He's also completely unaware that this tendency lands him lots of powerful friends (not to mention dozens of admirers). It comes to a head in the Magic God Othinus arc, where it turns out he feels he has so little self-worth that when Othinus alters reality so the world is perfect and everybody else is safe and happy, and all he has to do is die, he agrees. It takes The Will of the Misaka Network interfering and telling him he deserves to live as well for him to fight back.
  • In the Digimon franchise, the heroic death of heroic Proud Warrior Race Guy Leomon has become a Running Gag, happening at least once every season, even in different continuities. It's usually a sign of things getting dark and serious, even.
  • Ash from Pokémon: The Series has a major habit of doing this as one of his first options rather than a last resort, usually to protect pokemon. Examples include, but are in no way limited to: throwing himself between the death blows of Mew and Mewtwo to stop the life-threatening fighting going on between all the pokemon in the ring; trying to make his pokemon go into their balls to protect them from the cold while stranded in a blizzard and leave him to freeze to death outside without the protection of their body heat; and leaping off the roof of a skyscraper after Pikachu is knocked off it, catching Pikachu in mid-air, and then trying to put himself beneath Pikachu to shield him from the impact with the ground. In skirmishes outside of formal battles, he will also often block attacks on his pokemon with his own body, even though pokemon are almost invariably tougher and less hurt by physical attacks than humans are.
  • In Pokémon Adventures, Team Galactic once trying to kidnap Platinum aside, Pearl tells Diamond that there's no reason to put themselves in danger by being involved with them after Diamond nearly gets himself killed stealing a camera from Cyrus. Diamond states that he refuses to stand by and do nothing when there's an obviously evil and dangerous group running around.
  • In Double Arts, the apparently cheerful and playful Sister Heine turns out to be one of these. She gave up all her hobbies and became determined to keep healing people until it killed her, to atone for arriving too late to save a Troi-infected patient, even ignoring the advice of her superior Sisters to slow down.
  • Ryou Bakura of Yu-Gi-Oh! fame has a couple of moments like these.
  • Kimba the White Lion acts like this at times.
  • Krista Lenz from Attack on Titan. Her friend Ymir chews her out for it, telling Krista that her subconscious need to prove her morality to people is going to get her killed.
  • Explored in characteristically dark fashion in Tokyo Ghoul via the protagonist Ken Kaneki, who's lived his whole life by his mother's advice: "Rather than a person who hurts others, become the person getting hurt." Unfortunately, his unwavering adherence to these words starts to cause real problems when he transforms into a man-eating ghoul, and after his torture at the hands of Yamori, he begins to question the philosophy he's lived his life by.
    It's all right to lose out with love and warm feelings, Ken. Nice people live perfectly happy that way.
  • Case Closed Ai Haibara will repeatedly put herself in harm's way if she feels it will protect someone she cares for. Early on, she was prepared to remain on an exploding bus because she felt she was endangering those around her because of the organization hunting her. Character Development helps with the worst of this but still shows itself when, during the Mystery Train arc, she is so confident she will die she resolves to do so only after temporarily undoing her Fountain of Youth so her grade school friends won't kick up enough of a fuss at her death to catch the organization's eye.
  • Kaname chews Sousuke out for this behavior in the first volume of Full Metal Panic! after he insists she leave him behind and escape Sunan alone. As far as she's concerned, noble Heroic Sacrifices are neither noble nor heroic when you clearly don't care if you live or die, and if he really wanted to do something for her, he ought to live for her. So he does.
  • My Hero Academia: Izuku "Deku" Midoriya wants to be a Hero above anything. Anything. For all of his high intelligence, he is horrifyingly lacking in self-preservation and will not hesitate to use One For All in combat, even if it inevitably will break several bones of his body at the percentage it takes to hurt the enemies he encounters.
    • He inherited this trope from his mentor, Toshinori Yagi, aka All Might, whose single-minded drive to be the Symbol Of Peace he believed society needed drove away his few friends like Sir Nighteye, who couldn't bear to watch him destroy himself, and by the time he meets Izuku is suffering from a crippling injury that will slowly destroy his body. His attempts to keep his protege from repeating his mistakes have fallen on deaf ears, unfortunately.
    • This trope finally hits its apogee during the Paranormal Liberation Arc, where Izuku reacts to society going to hell courtesy of the villains' plans ruining the Hero community and the belief that All For One will come gunning for him by going vigilante and spending several weeks in a non-stop campaign of wandering around saving people that sees him, by the end, insomniac, malnourished and dirtied like a homeless person (a design that the author labeled "Dark Deku") and all of his friends literally need to beat the everliving crap out of him (easier said than done, he's that driven) to force him to understand this is definitely something he cannot do all by himself.
    • Ironically, Stain the Hero Killer put Izuku and All Might on a pedestal because of this (literally) insane drive to be heroes and believes anybody else who is not on the same level of zeal (which means the rest of the Hero community in Japan, if not the planet) is to be exterminated.
  • Brynhildr in the Darkness: Neko Kuroha has an extreme case of Chronic Hero Syndrome that makes her very willing to self-sacrifice. Kuroha's self-sacrificial nature reaches such extremes that she takes no measures to keep herself alive even if she is warned by Kana about a chance that she'll be killed. This always means that Ryota has to keep finding a way to keep Kuroha from being killed while still preventing any other casualties.
  • Deconstructed in Usogui with Kaji's zeal for throwing himself into the life-threatening gambles that the protagonist leads them both into, despite having no personal motivation and often being terrified out of his wits. This is revealed to be because of his abusive mother, who instilled in him the idea that he's only useful if he's throwing away his life so that others can benefit from it. This complete lack of self-worth holds him back as a gambler, and discarding his reckless martyrdom is the culmination of his character development.
  • Megumi Fushiguro in Jujutsu Kaisen tends to think about sacrificing himself the moment he starts losing a battle by summoning Mahogara, trying to summon it during a brief sparring match against Todo in school and later summons it in Shibuya against Haruta. Gojo points out this extreme self-sacrificial nature, telling Megumi to stop trying to throw his life away for no reason and advising him to break out of this mindset.

    Comic Books 
  • Legion of Super-Heroes's post-Zero Hour continuity gave Leviathan (Colossal Boy) something of this mentality, resulting in tragedy when Shrinking Violet attempts to use the Emerald Eye of Ekron to give her teammates their "hearts' desires". Leviathan's heart's desire turns out to be "to die a hero".
  • Yorick from Y: The Last Man. He had an actual death wish for a while, being the last man on earth and all, but he got over it after a session of good old-fashioned S&M-themed psychiatric assistance.
  • Tony "Iron Man" Stark's third answer to everything appears to be "Electrocute/asphyxiate/experiment on myself" right after "Build more guns" and "Jump in front of the thing being aimed at my better-armored teammate famous for his use of a shield." Given the amount of awful shit he's been subjected to, it's quite possible that another trope is at play here. Interestingly, the Avengers film makes this part of his Character Development: Captain America initially calls him out on his un-willingness to sacrifice himself (while Stark claims he can always Take a Third Option), making his (almost) sacrifice to save the city from a nuke at the end a pretty big turning point for him.
  • Colossus is noted to have this problem in 2014's Amazing X-Men, where the rest of the cast point out/poke fun at his faintly absurd tendency to try and sacrifice himself at the drop of a hat. While this might seem a little cruel, several of the team had died at least once (usually in a Heroic Sacrifice), and his habit was beginning to drift towards absurdity. He lampshaded this in his inner monologue while fighting the Juggernaut, and after winning (by dodging as the Juggernaut ran off a cliff), assumed he was about to die and collapsed near the edge... then realized that everyone was patiently waiting for him to get up (they weren't going to lift him up because, as Nightcrawler pointed out, he's their friend, but he's also very heavy).
  • Cable. He made himself a giant target to prove to the world that things could be better if everyone put aside their differences and worked together — to kill him. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for that meddling Deadpool and his pesky insanity! (Well, the dying part anyway.)
  • It seems that, following the ending of Avengers vs. X-Men, Cyclops seeks to be this way. Why? Because he wants to be the martyr for the reborn mutant race
  • This is actually a symptom of a personality disorder known as Primus apotheosis in the The Transformers (IDW). The affected individual ends up idolizing Optimus Prime way too much and instead of being merely willing to risk their lives for the sake of others in need, as Prime would, they go out of their way to find even the most minor of 'noble sacrifices' which would cost them their lives. This problem is widespread enough to affect 1 in every 50 Autobots (and the occasional Decepticon). Pyro, in The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, is called by Autobot psychiatrist Rung "the worst case of Prime apotheosis [I've] ever seen." He spends the entire series obsessing over dying in a blaze of glory or complaining that the various ways the team is about to die aren't great enough. Ultimately he dies when he's unceremoniously torn limb from limb by a pack of Decepticons during a failed Heroic Last Stand.

    Fan Works 
  • Averted in A Very Potter Musical: As in the original Harry Potter, Voldemort asks Harry whom he will be using as a human shield this time. Harry has already told everyone not to interfere, but Ron steps forward to volunteer before Hermione yanks him back.
  • Child of the Storm has Harry, like in canon, as being unfortunately prone to this. By the sequel, however, he's being trained out of it, with many of his friends and family repeatedly (and loudly) reminding him that he doesn't have to do everything alone, let alone perpetually try and sacrifice himself. However, he does still tend to deem himself more expendable, on the grounds that he reckons that he's most likely to survive otherwise impossible to survive situations, or at least be resurrected by the Phoenix fragment within him - though that carries its own issues.
  • Destiny is a Hazy Thing. One of Naruto's Internal Monologues points out that Sakura's obsession with Sasuke might lead her to this.
  • Escape From The Hokage's Hat: Naruto, natch. Due to his crappy childhood, No Social Skills, and Chronic Hero Syndrome, the kid is so messed up he feels the need to save EVERYONE and being unable to do so means he's useless (in his mind). When Hinata calls him on this and points out she protects him because she WANTS to and Shizune says they care and are trying to fight with him not for him, he has a hard time processing these facts because he doesn't consider himself worth it.
  • A key aspect of Bella Swan's travels with the Tenth Doctor (Twilight Storm) is her growing past this aspect of herself and choosing to actually put her life on the line for something legitimately important, such as volunteering to destroy Gallifrey with the War, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors so that they genuinely won't have to do it alone.
  • The above bullet point of My Hero Academia canon tends to encounter Flanderization in fan fiction. Whether or not he has powers, whether or not his intelligence has increased, and whether or not he is comparatively a bigger badass than canon, Izuku Midoriya tends to be even more suicidally reckless in his heroism (to the point that in some stories it's flat-out stated that he's got a death wish). To supply some examples:
  • Nino Has Done Nothing To Deserve This: Adrien as Chat Noir is noted by both Nino and Alya to do this, often throwing himself in front of attacks to protect Ladybug. This stems from growing up with controlling parents and only having Chloe as a Childhood Friend before joining school. Ladybug was the first person to show him genuine affection in a long time, and thus the reason he puts himself at risk to protect her. A major goal of Nino and Alya is to help Adrien out of that mindset.
  • Us and Them: Discussed in the sequel Life Renewed, Love Renewed, where Aeris and Sephiroth have a heart-to-heart where Seph brings up her self-sacrificial tendencies, but she protests that she's not just some tragic altruist waiting to go down in a blaze of glory.
  • To All but Himself: While Josuke Higashikata has the power to heal others, he is unable to heal himself. That doesn't stop him from putting himself in life-threatening danger to protect others while covering up his injuries. This also stems from his Self-Harm habit of getting an adrenaline rush whenever he gets hurt. His friends and family are all horrified when they find out the truth.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the hero Will Turner seemed to have a curiously puppyish eagerness to sacrifice himself if that was at all likely to help matters. Jack even congratulates him as their fortunes take a dire turn, "And you get to die for Elizabeth...!"
  • In Secondhand Lions, Hub McCann expresses little interest in waiting to die of old age, and it is strongly implied that he possesses a severe death wish, as his only love died years before while giving birth. However, he is old and retired to a ranch with his brother, and those impulses cause him to risk his life for no reason. Eventually he gets his wish, dying with his brother in a reckless plane crash.
  • In Letters from Iwo Jima, the main (Japanese) characters' platoon is ordered to fall back and fortify another position after the American troops have broken through the first line of defense. Their Lieutenant disobeys and orders his men to take their own lives instead. The main characters refuse and instead fall back, reasoning that it makes sense to go down fighting rather than kill themselves pointlessly, especially since those were their orders anyway. This was because of the heavy tradition of honor in the Japanese military. Although suicide to avoid dishonor was a respected gesture, any general worth his salt would consider it a waste to make his officers commit suicide for their failures - however much of a good incentive for avoiding failure it may be.
  • Red Planet seems to have a spaceship full of people only too happy to sacrifice themselves for no apparent reason. You'd think NASA would pick astronauts who wanted to, you know, come back.
  • Played for Laughs with Forrest Gump's lieutenant. One of Lieutenant Dan's relatives died in each war since the American Revolution and he wants to live up to that. He doesn't. Die, that is. When he meets Forrest again after the war he's extremely bitter about it, though he eventually gets better. Although, in the original book's sequel Gump and Co., he gets killed by friendly fire in the first Gulf War.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Steve Rogers has quite a bit of this in Captain America: The First Avenger, desperate to join the army because he can't stand the idea of not risking his life along with other soldiers (even though he was rejected 4F for a laundry list of perfectly valid health reasons) and diving on a (dud, but he didn't know that) grenade to protect his squad when it wasn't exactly out of the question to just flee along with everyone else. However, it's explicitly pointed out by Bucky, who sarcastically remarks "sure, you have nothing to prove" that he takes stupid risks and it's partly because Steve has self-worth issues due to his frailness.
    • Taken further in the sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where he tells Agent Hill to blow up the helicarrier with him in it, and making no attempt to even try to escape. And let's not forget that he is perfectly willing to die by the Winter Soldier's hands once millions of lives are no longer in jeopardy.
    • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, this is outright discussed as Captain America's Fatal Flaw. For all his heroism and valor, he feels he needs to be fighting for something in order for his life to have meaning. Tony Stark even accuses him of opposing peacekeeping initiatives such as Insight, Ultron, and the Vision out of fear they'll render him obsolete (though in fairness to Cap, he ended up being right about the first two).
    • And by Captain America: Civil War Stark points out to Steve that he's not going against the Sokovia Accords because he fears that they will be used against the Avengers and they will risk having bad people being their overseers and thus they will turn into tools of oppression, but because that means he will have fewer fights to throw himself at hoping to martyr himself. Rogers still turns out to be somewhat right about the Accords in Avengers: Infinity War when the oversight group showcases itself to be a Head-in-the-Sand Management fuelled by "Thunderbolt" Ross' pettiness.
  • Jean Grey in X2: X-Men United, who sacrifices herself while holding back a giant wall of water to allow the rest of the team time to escape. There were at least three other team members (Storm, Iceman, and Nightcrawler) with powers that would have been useful in this situation, and with all four of them working together, they at least stood a chance of getting everyone out alive. She never gave them the chance to try. In the original script she just does it from inside the jet.

  • Harry Potter has elements of this, sometimes exasperating his friends. Making it worse is that Voldemort quickly figures that out. In one of the few times he shows any savvy, he uses Harry's willingness to rescue loved ones by sending fake memories of capturing Sirius Black in Order of the Phoenix. By the time of The Deathly Hallows, Voldemort accuses Harry of letting others die protecting him in order to guilt-trip Harry into sacrificing himself during the Battle of Hogwarts.
  • All Tamora Pierce heroines have this as a defining quality, to the exasperation of their various comrades. So far, none have succeeded.
  • In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, Rand al'Thor suffers badly from this, at least if it's a woman on the line. He wangsts on endlessly if even a single woman is killed and he is sort of to blame — regardless of whether said woman was trying to kill him and everyone else around him. This is much to the reader's chagrin, since most women in Wheel of Time are jerkasses whom no reader would miss. Much of this is due to Rand's growing insanity over the course of the series; once he clears that up, he stops discriminating by sex and becomes much more pragmatic, although he still insists on focusing as much risk onto himself as possible to keep others safe. It isn't until Egwene's dying spirit convinces him that this is selfish (in that it denies others the chance to be heroes, too) that he finally relents.
  • Bella in Twilight is a variant — it's not that she wants to be a hero, it's that, as other characters sometimes lampshade, she blames herself for anything and everything that goes wrong. This leads to the same type of self-hatred (if not the same quantity) as The Atoner, and while she doesn't often have the opportunity to risk her life, she clearly considers herself more expendable than those around her, particularly Edward, but also her mother, father, unborn baby...
  • The title character from Percy Jackson and the Olympians does have the tendency to put the deaths of his friends right on his own head. In fact, he's explicitly told that is his fatal flaw, that he will always do anything to save a friend. Percy doesn't get how that's a flaw.
  • Timuscor of Spells, Swords, & Stealth desires above all else to be a paladin and strives to live as one would, even if no gods will accept him as theirs. To this end, he is very quick to risk or even sacrifice his life for the greater good or to protect his friends, as he views the act of Heroic Sacrifice the highest calling of a paladin. In the third book, it is implied that he may yet have hope for becoming a paladin, but not before he realizes this isn't the way to go about it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffyverse: Angel. If there's no evil around to throw himself in front of protecting innocents, he will either run out and find some more or he will wind up defending lesser evils while tormenting himself for doing so. It's a complex.
  • The three Winchesters in Supernatural are all quite prone to this. It's even gotten to the point where when one dies, another family member will make a Deal with the Devil (and they know they'll pay a high price) to bring them back to life. The Yellow Eyed Demon even comments that they make it "too easy". In all three cases, however, the motivation hovered somewhere between this and that of the Death Seeker — (Sam's death-wish stemmed from the loss of his girlfriend, John's from the loss of his wife and the realization of the damage he'd done to his sons, and Dean's from... oh, everything.)
    • Dean is particularly gifted in this area. In Faith, he willingly doesn't fight back against a Reaper who came to kill him in exchange for another (because he thinks she deserves to live more) and then seems disappointed and upset when the Reaper is stopped, he tries to sacrifice himself to stall the Seven Sins in 3x01 (much to Sam and Bobby's displeasure), deliberately uses himself for bait to catch the MotW's attention, and so on. All of the Winchesters run the fine line between this and the Deathseeker but Dean's is even finer than most.
    • Castiel displayed this as well through his whole stay on the show, made worse the more he sees himself as expendable and thinks risking his life, dying, being possessed by Lucifer on season 11 are the only ways to help and make himself worthy because he is not as powerful as he used to be after Metatron took his grace and damaged it. In season 12,he deemed that giving the Winchesters 3 minutes of distracting Lucifer by offering himself to be beaten up then killed is a fair enough sacrifice.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor is known to get so passionate as to put themself right in the face of death to save someone or something they care about, be it a group of people they've barely met or one of their companions.
    • The Tenth Doctor does this the most, daring the Daleks to go ahead and kill him in Evolution of the Daleks after they impassively murder a man who made an honest heartfelt plead for mercy. He also does this in The Poison Sky, when he is prepared to destroy an entire Sontaran Fleet, which is about ready to end all human life. But being so determined to give his enemies a chance to make a better choice, he insists that he goes up with the bomb to give the Sontarans a chance to surrender. The Sontarans themselves point out how stupid this is.
    • This fact is even addressed in a fourth series episode, "Turn Left", where the Doctor dies before he can regenerate. Earth is then pretty much shot to hell, the Torchwood team all dies, and various other happenings occur that weren't supposed to.
      • The episode does show the Earth could survive without the Doctor for a while, but only because he was able to teach former companions what they needed to know to save the world. Even then the world took substantial damage before it finally ended.
    • The Doctor's tendency to do this is parodied in one of the comic strips, wherein in order to defeat the monster he steals a helicopter equipped with canisters of nerve gas and plans to make a suicide crash-run into the beast itself. After his farewell speech to his friends, one of his friends points out that the helicopter comes equipped with an ejector seat, which he then sheepishly uses.
    • In the finale of the "Silence in the Library" two-parter, the Doctor explains that he'll have to hook his brain up to a computer and fry his brain to save the day. River Song then knocks him out and handcuffs him to a pole so she can sacrifice herself instead. He proceeds to throw a fit about someone else sacrificing their life for the good of others, without any apparent irony.
    • There are MANY instances of this in the classic series as well, though the most egregious might be in "Mawdryn Undead" when he's willing to sacrifice his life so the villains can succeed in their plan (which happens to be their own deaths), in order to save two companions from extreme aging/de-aging (depending on which direction through time the TARDIS travels). Luckily the Brigadier touches himself (not in THAT way)...
  • Zhaan does this in an episode of Farscape. Somebody had to activate the separate-the-ships sequence, so of course the one person too weak to even bother trying to cross back into Moya is the one they choose to do it. Given the twenty-minute before-death speech, why couldn't they just get a ten-foot pole and press the buttons from across the room?
    • Because the writers needed to find a way to write Zhaan out of the series, due to the fact that her actress's health was being severely damaged by all the blue body paint she had to wear. You'll note that in the season leading up to her death, Zhaan tended more and more towards full-body clothing whereas in the first season she'd been seen mostly (sometimes entirely) naked. Virginia Hey's kidneys were reacting startlingly badly to something in her makeup. One might call it Executive Meddling, if one considers her doctor to be an executive. In any case, the character was already dying, so, as she reasoned, why risk anyone else's life if she was going to be dead in a few weeks at most anyway.
  • In Babylon 5:
    • Commander Jeff Sinclair actually gets called out for this by the fourth episode of the first season.
    • Delenn's willingness to sacrifice herself at the drop of a hat is one of her defining characteristics.
      • Paradoxically, it was Delenn's willingness to die that saved her and Sheridan from the Vorlon's inquisitor. He expected Delenn to simply be another "I'm the one to do this because I was born for a special destiny"; instead she flatly states that she's just doing what she can in the circumstances she's in, and it doesn't matter if she dies in the process (and even if she fails miserably) because someone else will just step up and take her place. Turns out the Vorlons were more interested in making sure they had a cause than a hero/martyr.
  • Stargate Atlantis:
    Sheppard: It's not like it's the first time. How many suicide missions have I flown?
    McKay: I don't know. I lost count.
  • Jack from Lost always insists on personally going on the most dangerous missions, despite being the doctor and unofficial leader of the survivors, and thus arguably the most indispensable one. He especially insists that Kate never ever risk her life by coming on these missions, despite the fact that she's handy with a gun and a skilled tracker.
  • Malcom Reed on Star Trek: Enterprise is obsessed with dying heroically, moereso than other security chiefs in Starfleet. He apparently got this from a great-uncle in the Royal Navy who sealed himself in the engine compartment of his crippled nuclear submarine to allow the rest of his shipmates to escape.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer Faith is a firm believer in redemption by death, particularly in Angel. It comes to a head in "Orpheus" where it's revealed she was a little too willing to go along with Wesley's dangerous plan.
  • One episode of This is Wonderland involved an ex-cop, played by Ron White, who was caught in a self-destructive cycle after someone shot a gun at his face. The gun didn't go off, but he seems to have felt that it should have.
  • Kryten of Red Dwarf is practically made of this trope. Whenever danger threatens he offers to kill himself and save the crew, this being the only logical solution. (Such as suggesting he be loaded into the reverse-thrust tubes so that his body be used as decoy fodder for a pursuing spacecraft.) Rimmer will then agree immediately.
    Lister: Sit down, Kryten! I'm not doing me own smeggin' laundry...
  • Stefan from The Vampire Diaries fits this trope. He constantly offers himself up to be sacrificed in the place of others or puts himself in the most dangerous situations in order to protect others from getting hurt or killed.
    • Elena as well. She wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice herself in order to protect the people she loves.
    • Bonnie could also classify as well. She often puts her life in the line of fire for everyone.
  • Bates from Downton Abbey has fit this trope on multiple occasions, making two false criminal confessions to spare other people and passively accepting a number of other undeserved punishments.
  • Invoked in one episode of NUMB3RS by agents questioning a suspect who's part of an extremist anti-government group.
    Suspect: I'm not afraid to be remembered for the cause.
    Don: What cause? Tax evasion?

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mage: The Awakening has a Legacy called the Tamers of the Cave, who train themselves to be martyrs, then spend the rest of their lives looking for a cause to die for. If they become powerful enough, they can get the ability to bring someone back to life in exchange for their own death.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Imperium has this trope as official government policy, with phrases like "it is better to die for the Emperor than live for yourself" as their mottos. Naturally, considering the setting, Senseless Sacrifices abound. May be justified, as there's plenty more where that came from.
    • And taken even further with the Kriegers, Gas Mask Mooks with a WWI aesthetic and combat mentality from a planet that rebelled millenia ago and suffered massive atomic warfare. The survivors are a Martyrdom Culture to the point where their Commissars are there to stop them from performing suicidal actions instead of threatening them into the same.
  • Old World of Darkness game, Hunter: The Reckoning, has the aptly-named Martyr creed. Their abilities all aid others at the cost of damage to themselves, and they tend to be pretty short-lived because of it. The book mentions that at least some Martyrs, if not all of them, have egotistical ideas of martyrdom, and it isn't fighting the good fight or the salvation of mankind that drives them, as much as it is the desire for sympathy, attention, and praise.

  • Cyrano de Bergerac: This trope is Lampshaded, Deconstructed, and justified with Cyrano. Lampshaded by Le Bret when Cyrano fights against one hundred men when all Ligniere asked was to sleep at his house. Later, Cyrano will rescue De Guiche's white scarf from enemy lines… just so he can boast to De Guiche. Cyrano is badass enough to survive and win, but then the play deconstructs this trope showing how this attitude arises not only in perilous situations but in all aspects of the life of a person: Cyrano throws away every chance of glory or love he has. Le Bret continuously scolds Cyrano about this attitude. Cyrano simply says that he is trying to live without compromises, but the sad truth is that this trope is justified because Cyrano's attitude is the logical conclusion of a badass without any self-esteem raised in a Martyrdom Culture.

    Video Games 
  • Lenna in Final Fantasy V will commit any act of self-poisoning or self-injury on herself in order to help dragons, even when it's unclear why hurting herself will help them. This is taken to extremes that even Bartz finds himself rolling his eyes about. Very late in the game, when obtaining the Phoenix Summon, the player will discover that this is caused by extreme guilt over an abortive attempt to kill the last dragon.
  • Final Fantasy X:
    • The resident Cid's first instinct when presented with any problem seems to be "catastrophically crash the airship into it". Other characters treat this with a mixture of humor and exasperation. Rikku lampshades this when they learn Guado and fiends have infiltrated the airship:
      Cid: Fiends! There's nothin' to do but—
      Rikku: ''[in a mock Cid-accent] —but to destroy the ship and all go down together! You gotta learn a little restraint, Pops.
    • All of Yevon is based on this. Not only do the martyrs' sacrifices not work, they give the local Eldritch Abomination a new host body.
  • Final Fantasy XIV:
    • The Crystal Exarch in the Shadowbringers expansion. After the main story quest, a few conversations will make it apparent that quite a few of his plans end with "and then I die heroically, saving everyone else, and am mourned afterwards." One character who has known him for some time says that this has been a recurring trend with him, and several characters are quite tired of it.
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn:
    • King Pelleas displays definite traits of the trope; he's quite happy to discover his death means freeing his country from the Deal with the Devil he unwittingly signed.
    • The heroine Micaiah too; she can prevent the above by throwing herself in front of the weapon meant for Pelleas. It doesn't help that Micaiah's special ability is Sacrifice. She can take her own HP and transfer it to an ally. For a mage character with low HP and defense, this doesn't work too well...
      Micaiah: No, I'm fine, really. I'm just confused... Is the goddess telling me that I'm not worthy to become a martyr for Daein?
      Pelleas: Or maybe she is saying that you're just too important to lose... But this is my fault! It was all because I signed that blood pact! I can only amend my mistake by giving my life!
  • In Fire Emblem Fates Azama accuses his potential girlfriend Effie of being this in their Revelation supports. It's not helped by how they met when she shielded him from an enemy attack so he has to heal her, and in their A support protects an enemy almost at the cost of her own life, after she realised he was a very young kid who had been borderline Forced into Evil.
  • One of the biggest strikes against Fallout 3 is that you inexplicably turn into one of these in the ending by going into an irradiated room, instead of sending in one of your radiation-immune companions to do it instead. Broken Steel remedies this, in addition to adding a Playable Epilogue quest line (though choosing the option to let a radiation-immune character do the job is considered a cowardly option by the narrator rather than a practical one).
  • Subverted in Kingdom Hearts II, Axel will sacrifice himself during a cutscene to save you from hordes of Dusks, even though they aren't much of a threat and you could continue fighting for hours. This is a consequence of Gameplay and Story Segregation because all the characters act as though the nobody 'horde' was incredibly dangerous even though they're small fry as far as the player is concerned by that point.
  • In Shadow Hearts: Covenant, Gepetto accuses Yuri of being this. Given Yuri's guilt over Alice's death, he may very well subconsciously be a Death Seeker.
  • In Turgor Sister Death becomes this halfway through the game. Partly justified as it's a Heroic Sacrifice / Driven to Suicide.
  • Alicia of Valkyria Chronicles. As soon as she realizes she has a Suicide Attack up her sleeve, she goes and tries to put it to use against an enemy vehicle that she had almost crippled with a regular attack.
  • Rean in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel will readily sacrifice himself at the drop of a hat if it allows other people to be safe. He's called out on this by nearly everyone with Jusis calling out Rean by trope name.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Jaune Arc fell into this for a time in the Mistral Arc (Volumes 4-6), due to the death of his partner and Love Interest Pyrrha in the Fall Of Beacon. His teammates are eventually able to pull him out of it once they realize how self-destructive he's becoming.

  • Rikk Oberf in Fans! has an obsession with ensuring that the people he cares for come to no harm in his adventures, and seems inclined to do this at times.
  • Torg of Sluggy Freelance will literally sacrifice himself at the first hint that any one of his friends might be in danger if he doesn't. This actually puts his teammates in a lot more danger because every time he tries this, they (duh!) have a mad scramble to rescue him. Then he yells at them for putting themselves in danger while he was trying to die but is too stupid to take the hint that they're going to keep saving him. They're all messed up that way.
  • In Homestuck, after achieving God Tier, it's become a Running Gag that John repeatedly tries to sacrifice himself to save people on the basis that he's now immortal, even though he's repeatedly reminded that a Heroic Sacrifice would invalidate his immortality.

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers. Optimus Prime (in various incarnations) has heroically sacrificed himself so many times, it's become a running joke. Of course, given that he's guaranteed to come Back from the Dead...
    • This was deconstructed in the text story Prime Spark, where, after dying in the show, Armada!Prime meets the ghosts of his Generation 1 and Beast Machines counterparts; both tell him that it's more important for a leader to lead his troops than to sacrifice himself for some perceived mistake.
    • This tendency may have hit its limit way back in the 1980s Marvel comic in which the big red truck sacrifices himself after discovering he has accidentally cheated in a computer game.
      • To make it worse, here's how he "cheated": Megatron dodged one of his shots, which hit an opaque, featureless structure in the background. This structure happened to be a building in which some civilian models were. That's right! Despite winning and Megatron admitting defeat, Prime found out he accidentally hit some non-sentient non-people inside a video game, and that prompted him to forfeit for "cheating" and TEAR HIS OWN HEAD OFF IN FRONT OF EVERYONE.
    • It should be noted that the situation that inspired the page quote was an aversion. While Optimus Primal was going to attempt a near-suicidal mission by ramming a Kill Sat with an exploding stasis pod, he had every intention of bailing out before he could die. Megatron sabotages the pod, which turns this into an unintentional Heroic Sacrifice. (Don't worry, Optimus got better.)
    • In the Japanese exclusive series The Headmasters, Optimus sacrifices himself to bring a berserk Vector Sigma (the supercomputer at the heart of their home planet of Cybertron) back under control. Again, this situation was an aversion, as throughout the episode the Autobots are desperately trying to bring him the Matrix of Leadership so he won't have to use his own lifeforce (Optimus is Touched by Vorlons from carrying the Matrix for years, and so his lifeforce can act as a key to Vector Sigma). It unfortunately fails due to Decepticon interference: despite the Autobots successfully bringing him the Matrix, Vector Sigma begins to go nova before he can actually use it and Optimus is forced to sacrifice himself once again.
    • This is played with in the IDW comics. Optimus is a lot more pragmatic there (to the point where the destruction of planets during battles with Decepticons is chalked up as acceptable collateral damage), but is still prone to doing things like throwing himself at the biggest, baddest threat on the battlefield. It turns out that he was once a super cop and did that sort of thing anyway since he really could handle just about any situation. When he's depressed or despondent (e.g. after the All Hail Megatron storyline) he acts like this, giving himself up to the humans in the hopes they'll forgive the other Cybertronians for the Decepticon invasion.
    • IDW Optimus is a lot better about this in the Death of Optimus Prime oneshot, where he symbolically dies (i.e. gives up the name Optimus Prime) so his Autobots can remain on a restored Cybertron while he is exiled for being a living symbol of the now-ended war. He takes his old name of Orion Pax and immediately begins wandering space, doing good wherever he can like a knight errant. He's actually quite happy since he is no longer weighed down by the The Chains of Commanding.
  • In Code Lyoko, Aelita is always ready to sacrifice herself when the situation becomes too much to handle for the heroes. Somewhat justified in that, throughout seasons 1 and 2, she's the only reason Team Lyoko keeps the Supercomputer on instead of just cutting the juice to finish off XANA — and also, Aelita believes she's an artificial being and not a human. She actually makes the Heroic Sacrifice in the episode "Just in Time", although Jérémie manages to bring her back. Even after learning she's human after all, she still tries to cut off the Supercomputer in the season 2 finale "The Key".