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Morality Chain Beyond the Grave

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Blake: Ilia, please! You’re a good person, but you’re making all the wrong decisions!
Ilia: SHUT UP!!
Blake: Is this really what your parents would’ve wanted?!
Ilia: I don't know what else to do! [breaks down in tears] I don't know what else to do...

When someone dies (or apparently dies or becomes indefinitely unconscious or is otherwise taken out of the picture), their friends and loved ones have to deal with the aftermath. With emotions likely to be running high, the survivors will be faced with a variety of options and temptations, depending on the situation.

If they are at all thoughtful and respectful, they will sooner or later face the question: "What would the deceased have wanted?" In many cases, someone who is too caught up in grief and/or anger to think clearly will need to be reminded of this point by a cooler-headed friend.

A few common possibilities of actions that they may consider — and then reconsider after realizing that the deceased would not have wanted them to do that:

  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: If someone is directly responsible for the death, friends of the deceased will be tempted to hunt down and kill the perpetrator. They may be dissuaded if the person they want to avenge did not approve of killing or was too nice to hold a grudge.
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  • The Mourning After: The deceased's spouse or lover may shut out any possibility of finding a new partner. They may eventually realize that their lost loved one would want them to move on with life.
  • Taking Up the Mantle: The deceased might have left unfinished business for a friend to take up on his behalf. If this entails sacrificing his own happiness, he may come to understand that the deceased would want him to follow his own path rather than someone else's.
    • Alternatively, he may come to realize that instead of upholding the departed's legacy, he actually threatens to undermine it or sully it with fanaticism or ruthlessness.

The grieving character's response when this issue is raised generally comes down to one of two options:

  1. He decides (either through someone else's argument or his own realization) that what he intended to do is wrong, and refocuses his grief into something more constructive and consistent with the deceased's values.
  2. He replies with a Shut Up, Kirk!, usually something along the lines of "Too bad he's not here to stop me, then." or "The dead don't care what we do", though it can also be along the lines of "not doing this got them killed". The "avenge the dead (whether they would have wanted it or not)" option is particularly popular with anti-heroes, and in extreme cases may become a point of no return.

Related to Morality Chain, with the memory of the deceased taking that role in place of a living companion. Also related to What You Are in the Dark: realizing what the deceased would think of your actions (or perhaps believing that the deceased is watching from the afterlife) provides extra pressure to pass the test (or extra angst after failing).

Compare What Would X Do? (where X usually isn't a deceased friend, and the problem is usually practical rather than emotional or moral), Due to the Dead (giving the deceased a respectful funeral and proper mourning), Last Request (where the deceased specifically states a final wish), and Spirit Advisor (where the deceased personally advise the living). Contrast with The Dark Side Will Make You Forget.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Itachi of Naruto took great measures to act like this for his brother Sasuke Uchiha. He grants him the power of Amaterasu and sets it to go off upon encountering Tobi (who knows the truth about why Itachi murdered his entire clan). He implanted a crow in Naruto that had Shisui's eye and was supposed to give the hypnotic command "Protect Konoha" to Sasuke assuming he had learned the truth and had subsequently taken Itachi's eyes to prevent blindness. Sadly, it's averted: despite knowing full well that Itachi wanted Konoha protected, Sasuke lost himself and most of his sanity to the Curse of Hatred out of a desire to avenge both him and their clan, and decided to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to destroy Konoha and all those who called it home instead. True, he ultimately gets better, but not because of anything Itachi said or did; even after Itachi is restored to life and talks with him, Sasuke still wanted to destroy the place. It took the four previous Hokage to talk him out of it, and he still tried to the same thing Pain wanted to do (unite the world through fear of him). Everything Itachi did to keep him on the right path would have been All for Nothing if Naruto wasn't so stubborn in his objective of bringing Sasuke back home by being his friend instead.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Death of Superman, Batman catches a terrorist trying to assassinate one of the visiting dignitaries at Superman's funeral. Out of respect for the deceased, he forgoes his usual harsh approach.
  • Depending on the continuity, Ma and Pa Kent are this to Superman. Anytime where the current canon has one or both of them deceased, their memory and the fact that they were very good parents keep Clark on the straight and narrow, which is a good thing considering how powerful he is, and there have been more than a few non-canon stories about what would happen if he let go of his fetters.
  • This is typically Spider-Man's raison d'etre for being a hero, especially when his personal life is going poorly, the bills are adding up, and he feels the temptation to use his powers for personal gain: he'll inevitably remember his Uncle Ben's words and choose to do the right thing, no matter how much it harms him pragmatically.
  • Ultimatum: Magneto uses his powers to alter the Earth's axis, causing widespread devastation and natural disasters across the world. On top of that, he also confronts Professor Xavier and snaps his neck. When confronted and forced to restore the planet's axis, Magneto pleads for forgiveness from the X-Men, stating Charles would have done so. In response, Cyclops spitefully reminds him that he killed Professor X, and with him gone, no one will ever forgive Magneto before blasting his head off with his Eye Beams.

    Fan Works 
  • In A Scotsman in Egypt, the Scottish commander of an Egyptian fort is killed in battle, and a soldier says that he would have wanted to be buried there (The narration makes it very clear he hated the assignment, the climate, the people, and wanted nothing more than to go back home to Scotland, though apparently, he put his duty first so no one realized).
  • Played with in a sidestory of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. A Serial Killer known as the Bloodliner Hunter is on a killing spree, seeking out bloodliners (even children) to exterminate them, believing that they will cause a war that will destroy the world in the future. During the sidestory, he's confronted by what could be the ghost of his adopted daughter, who is trying (but failing) to dissuade him from this dark path. Given that said girl was Killed Off for Real in a previous sidestory (but he doesn't know that), it's not clear whether it's a figment of his imagination, or a ghost that only he can see and hear.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Batman Begins Bruce Wayne reveals to Rachel Dawes that he was considering avenging his parents by shooting Joe Chill, who murdered them. Rachel then slaps Bruce twice.
    Rachel: Your father would be ashamed of you.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, the legacy of Harvey Dent provides a powerful impetus to clean up Gotham City in the years since the events of The Dark Knight. It is subverted when Bane publicly reveals that it was based on a whitewashing of what really happened to Dent.
  • This is explicitly addressed during the cemetery scene where Lee swears vengeance for Su Lin in Enter the Dragon:
    Lee: You will not agree with what I'm going to do. It is contrary to all that you have taught me, and all that Su Lin believed. I must leave. Please try to find a way to forgive me.
  • Two unusual examples in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, one for each of the titular heroes.
    • For Superman, who is faced with the possibility that he was never a "real" hero because of all the death and destruction that follows wherever he goes, a conversation with his dead father reminds him that there will always be unintended consequences and that he shouldn't allow that to stand in the way of the "dream of some farmer from Kansas".
    • In Batman's case, he's sacrificed his moral code for what he believes to be the greater good of preventing a possible future where Superman destroys and/or takes over the world. During his fight with the Man of Steel, though, he's reminded that the reason he became a hero in the first place was to save lives, not to take them, by way of Superman accidentally invoking the memory of Batman's dead mother.
  • Star Trek: Generations: Picard attempts this on Soran, but the latter smiles, and replies, "Nice try."

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows reveals that Lily Evans Potter was this for Severus Snape throughout the series. Snape was a loyal Death Eater and follower of Voldemort, and he was a natural fit for the Dark Arts—that is, until Voldemort murdered Lily, the love of Severus' life, even after Lily rejected him and married James Potter. Snape winds up as Dumbledore's most valued agent, risking his life for years and eventually being killed, all for love of Lily.
  • In Kaze no Stigma, when Kazuma encounters the group that killed his beloved Cui Ling several years ago, he promptly goes from 'Anti-Hero' to 'Villain Protagonist', restarting the Roaring Rampage of Revenge that originally earned him the nickname 'Reaper of the Winds'. After finding out the backstory, Ayano confronts him and tells him that she wouldn't have wanted him to act like that. His response is to basically shrug and say "I know that, but she's dead, so she doesn't feel a thing. Meanwhile, I'M enjoying it."
  • A Man Called Ove. The protagonist's wife serves as this.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A variation shows up in the climax of Agent Carter when Howard Stark, in the grip of a hypnotic illusion, is about to drop Midnight Oil on Times Square. Jarvis goes after him to shoot him down, thinking that if he's doomed anyway he would want to be stopped before he killed anyone else. Subverted after Peggy is able to snap Howard out of it:
    Stark: You were gonna shoot me out of the sky?!
    Jarvis: Well, I thought that was what you would have wanted.
    Stark: No! No, it's not. And for future reference, under no circumstance would I want anyone to shoot or otherwise hurt me. You got that?
    Jarvis: Your point is amply made, sir.
  • In one episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, Autolycus is hellbent on killing the villain of the week who is the same man who murdered Autolycus' beloved older brother who practically raised him. Autolycus' thieving career began when he robbed the villain blind in revenge. Xena is worried that Autolycus actually killing the man might start him on a career as an assassin (noting that with his skills in disguise and infiltration he'd be one of the best). She convinces Autolycus to stop by asking him what his brother would have wanted, reminding him that while the villain may have made him the thief, it was his brother who gave the thief his heart. Xena asks him if it was the heart of a murderer.
  • NYPD Blue: Claimed by a perp who had accidentally killed his partner (who was also his brother) when they ripped off a clothing warehouse of silk shirts and leather pants. The perp tossed the leather pants down to his brother and they hit him in the head, killing him. When the cops arrest the surviving brother selling the shirts and pants out of the trunk of his car the next day, they question the morality of doing so. He claims that his brother would have wanted him to do it.
  • Doctor Who: In "Face the Raven", Clara's final speech tries to ensure that her memory will dissuade the Doctor from going through with revenge threats.
  • In the Murder, She Wrote episode "The Cemetery Vote", Jim, Linda's late husband, took the mayoral office to do some good and ran with it until one of his corrupt staff murdered him. In the end, Linda tells Jessica several of the locals think she should run for mayor. When Jessica asks if she'll do it, Linda answers that she's a Stevens.
  • Averted in the final episode of Person of Interest.
    Shaw: A few years ago, I would've just killed you without even a second thought. But then I met some people. Some good people. And they taught me the value of life.
    Blackwell: Those people, they wouldn't want you to kill me.
    Shaw: You're right. But they're all dead. (shoots him)
  • In Boss, Kane is often visited by the ghost of Ezra Stone after he has him killed, though his effectiveness as a morality chain is less so than as a source of stress, exacerbated by Kane's dementia.
  • 24:
    • On Day 7 when Tony explains his plan to Jack about getting revenge on the man who ordered the death of his wife Michelle, one that's endangered several people in the process, Jack calls Tony out and tells him that she would hate him if she knew what he has done. Tony simply gags Jack's mouth shut and continues on with his plan.
    • At the end of Day 8, Jack's about to end his revenge spree by assassinating the President of Russia for being the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks on New York as well as in retaliation for the murder of Renee Walker, but Chloe reminds him of the consequences that would follow and asks him if that's would Renee would want. This ultimately convinces Jack to call off killing him and follow her plan instead.
  • In the first season of Arrow, Oliver tries to talk Thea about her drug problems saying it isn't what their father would want for her, only for her to blow him off with "the dead don't want anything".
    • In the Season 5 Premier, Oliver has started killing people again in wake of Laurel's death. Thea gives him a What the Hell, Hero? over it saying "This is not what she would want", only for him to repeat her above saying; and justify it by pointing out if he had used lethal force when he had the chance, Laurel would still be alive.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Grave", Giles invokes this, asking Dark Willow what Tara would think of her current rampage. Dark Willow retorts, "You can ask her yourself," and continues her assault.

  • In The Adventure Zone: Balance, Julia is this for Magnus. Magnus admits that even though he wants nothing more than to use the Temporal Chalice to prevent Julia's death, doing so would not be what Julia wanted, and so he refuses. When they reunite in the afterlife, he says that he was always trying to be a person she'd be proud of.

    Video Games 
  • At the end of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, assuming you've fulfilled the requirement for the Best Ending, Laharl will halt himself from killing Seraph Lamington in revenge for him (apparently) executing Flonne, by realizing that if Flonne had still been there, she would've stopped him, just as she'd stopped him from killing so many others along the way... (If you DON'T fulfill the requirements, well...)
  • In Chrono Trigger the protagonist, Chrono, is seemingly lost to Lavos in a battle. Soon after the party meets Magus, who is indirectly responsible for Chrono's fate, and Magus agrees to fight the party with his now greatly reduced powers, virtually ensuring his death if he does so. Should the player choose to spare Magus, and if Marle is at the head of the party, she will comment that Chrono wouldn't want them to engage in such a useless and pointless battle. If Frog is the leader, he'll comment that killing Magus won't bring Crono or Cyrus from the dead before turning his back on him.
  • In Injustice: Gods Among Us, Alternate Universe Joker mind controls Superman and forces him to kill Lois and their baby as well as level Metropolis. He goes off the deep end and installs himself as Earth's God Emperor, and the main universe DC heroes are pulled in to fight his regime. Several times he tries to justify his actions as being for Lois' sake.
    Superman: I know what you lost.
    Regime Superman: And you judge me?! After I've killed you, I'll bring Lois here. When she sees how I've perfected this world-
    Superman: She'll be afraid and disgusted.
    Regime Superman: She'll be alive!
  • In Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, the spirit of Morgan Katarn invokes Jan's memory to get through to Kyle Katarn:
    Morgan Katarn: Do you believe this stream of power will ease your pain? Or that you can safely wield the Force with anger in your heart?
    Kyle Katarn: Jan is dead; anger is all I have left. Anger and revenge.
    Morgan Katarn: Is this how she would want to be remembered, with acts of anger and revenge?
    Kyle Katarn: ...No...
    Morgan Katarn: Then remember her as she was, and may the Force be with you...
    Kyle Katarn: It hasn't been so far.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Bounty Hunter storyline has Braden, your mentor and de facto father to Mako being murdered by rival bounty hunter Tarro Blood. At the end of the Chapter 1 arc, when you finally see Tarro locked up aboard a Republic cruiser that you've been assigned to blow up (after you kill a Jedi on board), he will try to goad you into letting him out so you can fight mano y mano. He'll tell you it's what Braden would want. But Mako says Braden would want to see him just as he is, trapped and humiliated and without the option of a big showdown. The decision is up to the player, let him fight you or leave him to die on the ship.
  • In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, one of Zero's Victory Quotes has this.
    "If my friend X was here, he would've wanted to talk to you first. Unfortunately, he isn't here."
  • In one of the side-quests in Mass Effect 2, you have to deal with a racist Asari who's been using her grief over the deaths of her daughters as an excuse to make other people's lives hell. The Paragon solution is to suggest that her daughters would not want to see her behave like that.
  • In Shadowrun Returns Dragonfall, you can point this out to the Big Bad regarding his dead brother, who was killed by The Dragon without the Big Bad's knowledge. In the Director's Cut, this appeal will actually work if you have also done your research on his plan, convincing him that his brother wouldn't have let him gamble the entirety of humanity on such uncertain premises.
  • In Jin's ending in Tekken 4, he is ready to deliver a killing blow to his defeated grandfather, Heihachi. As he pulls back to deliver the punch, a brief vision of his mother, Jun, appears, and he releases him, telling Heihachi to thank his mother for his life.
  • In the Heavensward scenario in Final Fantasy XIV, Hraesvelgr, a dragon, is kept in check by his deceased love, Shiva, an Elezen woman. Before Shiva died, she asked Hraesvelgr to eat her so their souls can be intertwined. Due to bad blood between dragons and man over the past 1000 years, Hraesvelgr has very low opinions of mankind and if it wasn't for Shiva's influence on him, he would have joined his brethren in slaughtering man.
  • Utawarerumono: Subverted. After Tusukuru dies, the villagers decide to stage a revolt and murder the feudal lord who caused it to happen. Hakuoro does bring up "Would Tuskuru have wanted us to do this?" and everyone replies "Of course she wouldn't... but we're still way too angry to let this go."
  • Anarchy Reigns: During the fight between Jack and Leo in the Red Side story, Leo attempts to invoke this on Jack, who is trying to kill Maximillian, Leo's mentor who accidentally killed Jack's adoptive daughter Stella, to get him to stop. Jack is not amused:
    Leo: You think vengeance is gonna make Stella happy!? You think this is what she wants!? You know it's not, Jack!
    Jack: What makes you think you can tell me what to do!? What even gives you the right to say her name? Maybe you forgot, but you were the ones who killed her!
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines: The Southland Slasher turns out to be a vampire who lost his family to a botched carjacking, has been brutally killing everyone involved in their deaths, and is considering becoming a Vigilante Man to go after other criminals. It's possible to talk him down by questioning what his family would really think of what he's well on his way to becoming.
  • The Last of Us Part II: What stops Ellie from killing Abby for the latter's murder of Joel in the end is a vision of Joel himself appearing in front of her.

    Visual Novels 
  • A non-violent example from Otoboku - Maidens Are Falling For Me — the Genki Girl Yukari is attending the school because her idolized late 'onee-san' went there and joined the track team for the same reason. She's actually quite athletic, but her build and temperament lend itself best to short-distance sprints. Out of admiration for her dead sister, however, she insists on running the same long-distance races as she did, pushing herself to reach the same times despite being built differently. Naturally, it's Mizuho who has to gently remind her that her sister would have wanted her to do what she likes, instead of just blindly following in her footsteps...

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Ilia Amitola, an Evil Former Friend of Blake's who joined the White Fang after her parents died in a Dust mine collapse, blaming humanity for her parents' deaths and feeling there was no other way to improve the Faunus' situation. In "True Colors," Blake, after having tried every other argument to convince Ilia that what she's doing is not the way, finally asks her if her parents would have wanted this or would approve of what she's doing; Ilia instantly breaks down in tears, admitting she doesn't know what else to do. By the end of the episode, she's pulled a Heel–Face Turn.

  • In Not a Villain, Kleya's drive to stop being a villain and become a hero seems to be largely driven by memories of her mother and a desire to become what her mother would want her to be. Her insistence on always wearing pink and yellow, and on playing Erbana despite its low publicity, are due to trying to emulate her mother. (Of course, a simpler desire to simply stop having society at large view her as a villain is another strong factor in her actions.)
  • Adrian Raven of El Goonish Shive attempts to use his deceased father Blaike Raven as a morality chain towards his unstable immortal mother Pandora by pointing out "Father would hate what you've become." It has a fairly strong impact.

    Web Original 
  • Played for Laughs in season 4 of Acquisitions Incorporated: After Aeofel dies on a mission in season 3, Jim suggests that the rest of the party spends the wealth they got from that mission on "cool magical shit", because "that's what Aoefel would have wanted". Just before that, Aeofel's player had made it perfectly clear that "Use the money to bring me Back from the Dead" would have been Aeofel's actual wish.
  • In Twig, Jamie had functioned as The Conscience for Sylvester prior to his Death of Personality, since Sylvester is morally a Blank Slate who adopts the characteristics of those around him. After Jamie is lost, Sy becomes increasingly more ruthless to fit the less moral tone of his other companions. However, when holding a hostage at gunpoint, Sy realizes that, in fact, he doesn't want to do this, and forces himself to hallucinate a spectre of Jamie to tell him not to, convincing him to spare the hostage.
  • Mollymauk Tealeaf from Critical Role becomes this to the Mighty Nein after his untimely death in episode 26. His mantra of "Leave every place better than when you found it," becomes something of a Meaningful Echo, and well as their guiding principle throughout the campaign.

    Western Animation 


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