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More Expendable Than You

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Raine: We're heading into great danger. We need to decide in advance on whose lives take priority.
Regal: I see. That's the sort of discussion that would likely anger Lloyd.
Raine: Lloyd... we must protect him no matter what.

A heroic character wants to do something dangerous. Dangerous as in "you might be Killed Off for Real, or at the very least, maimed" peril. Before he can get started, one of his friends will knock him out and go to do the dirty work himself. Their reasoning as they do will fall along the lines of how their friend is more important than themselves and thus if one of them has to die, it shouldn't be him. Cue the Heroic Sacrifice.

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The Atoner is likely to pull this hoping for Redemption Equals Death. It's also likely to be someone with a Convenient Terminal Illness. It's often preceded by a More Hero Than Thou dispute, or deliberately pre-empting such a dispute.

Usually part of an Only I Can Kill Him scenario — The Hero is too important to waste on this minor sacrifice preceding the big showdown. Alternatively, it could be needed to avert Shoot the Medic First. Puts the "Cannon Fodder" in We Are "Team Cannon Fodder" and is a standard Job requirement for the Hero Secret Service. Contrast Martyr Without a Cause. See also The Needs of the Many. Compare Men Are the Expendable Gender when gender matters more than character importance. Can overlap with Death Seeker, where characters are willing to die, but they cannot take their lives.

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Death Trope. Spoilers ahoy.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Birds of Prey: Huntress chooses to challenge Lady Shiva to a death duel, arguing that Black Canary would be more sorely missed.
  • ElfQuest runs a similar bit early in the Troll war arc. The Elves are escaping from overwhelming numbers and Kahvi, the chief of the local tribe is set to play rear-guard. Vaya, one of her warriors, knocks her down and orders the other elves to take her, "She'd fight till they tore her to pieces, and that's a warrior's privilege, not a chief's!" before taking over the rear-guard. Later we learn that Vaya is Kahvi's daughter.
  • Empowered: When given the choice between using a single-use, low "bandwidth" teleportation device to escape a crippled space station as a colleague with a deep-space capable alien battlesuit flushed herself out the airlock to try gliding to safety or insuring her own death by hijacking said colleague's limbs and forcing her to teleport out; the telepath Mindf**k cited this trope when picking the latter.
  • Exiles: During the V-Locks arc, someone needs to fly a plane full of bombs at the V-Lock base. Nocturne volunteers, only to be knocked out by Mimic, who's been feeling depressed for some time, and is down over what's happened to his lover Blink. Fortunately, thanks to some Asgardian cavalry, Blink recovers enough to save Mimic before the bombs explode.
  • The Golden Age: When the heroes learn the truth about Dynaman and Tex Thompson, they come up with a plan to reveal it on national television, knowing whoever does it will almost certainly be killed in the process. Hourman chooses to do it, but Miss America beats him to the punch. Then Robotman kills her, leaving Hourman to lament he should've been the one to die instead.
  • Iron Man does this for Captain America, at one point asphyxiating himself in the process of (successfully) giving CPR. That time his reasoning is explicitly, 'He's more important', although he's tried to kill himself to save Cap several times.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes:
    • Classic example from a Jim Shooter Legion of Super-Heroes story in which Ferro-Lad punches Superboy unconscious so that Ferro-Lad can be the one to martyr himself stopping the Sun Eater instead, on the grounds that the world needs Superboy more. This has since been aped repeatedly.
    • The Death Of Lightning Lad: Mon-El reveals a process that can revive a person, but it requires that person to be struck with a powerful bolt of lightning, which will kill the person struck but revive the dead. Saturn Girl, blaming herself for Lightning Lad's fate, plots to use a special metal that attracts electricity more so she can revive the fallen Legionaire, but Chameleon Boy's pet, the shapeshifting Proty, decides otherwise and lures Saturn Girl away, taking her place and sacrificing itself.
  • Superman:
    • Public Enemies: Subverted at the end of the story arc. Captain Atom knocks out Superman so that he, Cap, can be the one to fly the weird Superman/Batman action-figure spaceship into the giant kryptonite meteoroid that's hurtling toward the earth, not because he sees Superman as less expendable, but because he knows Superman will fail.
    • In The Amazing Story Of Superman Red And Superman Blue, the Man of Steel is going to use a dangerous, untested device. Supergirl tries to convince him to let her take his place, since the world cannot afford lose its greatest hero, but Superman argues he cannot allow his cousin to risk herself for him.
  • A classic storyline in The Mighty Thor featured Thor insisting on covering the escape of his colleagues and several innocent human souls from Hel, only to be cold-cocked by his former enemy Skurge. Cue extremely awesome You Shall Not Pass! moment.

    Film — Animated 
  • At the climax of Disney's The Black Cauldron, the Cauldron Born have been created and dispatched to conquer the world, and the only way to prevent them from doing this is that someone must jump into the titular cauldron, and thus, die. The hero, Taran, is ready to do so until his ally Gurgi stops him. After explaining that "Taran has many friends, Gurgi has no friends", the furry guy makes his heroic leap, halting the undead warriors in their tracks. Even though this is a dark Disney animated film (arguably THE darkest), it is still a Disney animated film, so Gurgi's life is brought back in trade for the Black Cauldron at the end of the movie.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Air Force One plays this straight, inverts it, and then subverts it. The Secret Service agents on board the plane perform Heroic Sacrifices to get the President to safety but in the end, it is the President who stays on board to fight the terrorists after the rest of his (expendable) staff are evacuated. It's played straight again at the end of the movie where the damaged plane is about to crash and the remaining military personnel on board insist that the President evacuate the plane before them. However, The Mole is not willing to die for the President and fights him for the last evacuation slot. The President wanted to get his family off and MEDIVAC a wounded staff member before saving his own life.
  • At the end of Armageddon, the crew draws straws to see who will stay behind to detonate the nuke on the asteroid. AJ draws the short straw, but Harry sabotages his suit at the last second to take his place, thinking it more important that his daughter have her husband than her father.
  • In the Battlefield Earth Film of the Book, Jonnie explains that the only way to ensure the Psychlos don't return is to wipe out their homeworld with a nuke, as their breath-gas reacts explosively with nuclear radiation. He decides to divert the nuke himself, but another man (a little cowardly) offers to go in his place, as there's no rebellion without Jonnie. Jonnie eventually agrees.
  • Gran Torino contains an excellent example. The protagonist locks the kid in his basement, then goes out to the gangsters' place and intentionally gets murdered in front of many witnesses, getting the gangsters put in jail. He was dying of cancer and did not want the kid to destroy his future by trying to get revenge on the gangsters.
  • In High Plains Invaders, Jules lies about how serious his wound is, and about the fuse being damaged thus making the dynamite unusable, to make Sam change his mind about staying behind. Once Sam and Abigail are out of town, he sets of the dynamite, triggering the chain reaction that destroys the Bugs and the town.
  • At the end of Thoroughbreds, When Lily and Amanda are sitting together watching TV, Amanda moves to take a sip from the glass she's holding, but Lily suddenly stops her and confesses that she drugged it so she could go murder her stepfather upstairs and pin the crime on Amanda, who would have no alibi. She apologizes for trying to throw her under the bus, but Amanda just looks at the glass and chugs it anyway, content with being locked up if it means that the best and only friend she's ever had will go to college and be happy.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Ant-Man: Why Hank wants Scott to pilot the Ant-Man suit instead of his more experienced daughter. It speaks of how distant they are that he never communicates it well. Scott, being a father himself, is quick to catch on.
    • Avengers: Endgame: Clint and Natasha are on Vormir to retrieve the Soul Stone, which requires its would-be wielder to sacrifice someone they love. Both heroes insist on making the sacrifice themselves — Clint because he's seeking to atone for his violent fall from grace as Ronin, and Natasha because Clint has a family and she doesn't. They come to blows over it trying to prevent the other from going to their deaths, but ultimately it's Natasha who takes the fall.
  • Went the Day Well?: The local policeman insists on being the one to risk trying to Bring Help Back because the Germans have threatened to execute the family of anyone who resists and they already killed his son.
  • White Wolves II: Adam insists on making a dangerous climb down a cliff to look for Mr. Brennan when Scott volunteers first. This is partially because Adam wants to make up for accidentally knocking Mr. Brennan off the cliff and partially because Scott is the only teenager with experience in navigating the wilderness and the others will be in trouble if they lose him and Mr. Brennan.
  • In The Young Victoria, Albert takes a bullet that was meant for Victoria. When she later asks him why he did it, he says, "I am replaceable, and you are not."
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    Mythology and Religion 
  • Subverted in Classical Mythology. A Greek king, Admetus had a deal with Death: he could send someone else in his place when it was his time to die, provided the person went willingly. Admetus thought, well, no problem, I'm a beloved king with a devoted family and I'm an all-around nice guy. But when it comes time for him to die... no-one steps up to the plate. His elderly father won't do it, none of his subjects love their king enough to die for him, all across the board. So Admetus returns home to his palace, frustrated, only to find that his wife, Alcestis, has quietly gone down to Hades for him. So Admetus got to live, but with the knowledge that the one person who loved him enough to die for him was gone forever. (It has a happy ending, though. Heracles heard of Alcestis' love and loyalty, and made a point of rescuing her next time he was sojourning in the Underworld. Or in some versions, Hercules simply beats the crap out of Death before it can take Alcestis' soul.)

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 
  • In Les Misérables, the rebels try to keep Gavroche away from the line of fire since he literally is a child compared to them, and they say his life is more valuable. He doesn't listen.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, the situation of the kids' captivity is such that one who kills another will almost certainly die themselves. Even so, in chapter two, Fuyuhiko still wants to take revenge on Mahiru for her role in his sister's death...but just as he's about to strike, his bodyguard/assassin/best friend Peko steps in and attacks her on his behalf. Fuyuhiko is devastated; Peko doesn't care.
    Fuyuhiko: What the hell did you do!? You already know, right? What's going to happen after you kill someone!
    Peko: I did it because I know. There is no way I can let that happen to you...
    • Something similar happens during chapter four. All the kids have been trapped in a building devoid of food and water and are told that they won't be able to leave until someone dies. They all try to stave off starvation until they wake up and see that Nidai has been murdered, and when Gundam is eventually unveiled as the culprit, he reveals that he and Nidai had met in secret and agreed that one of them had to die so everyone else could live, so they engaged in a Duel to the Death to decide.

    Webcomics 
  • Homestuck: Rose does this to Dave during the sequence with Doc Scratch's scrapbook. Using a ball of yarn, no less. Then things get weird. Well, weirder.
  • Nodwick:
    • The title character, being a mere henchman, is considered far more expendable than the rest of the team in the eyes of teammates Yeager and Artax, who regularly do things like use him to disarm traps by throwing him into them when Piffany isn't looking. Piffany has to heal and/or resurrect him disturbingly often. And the whole plot of "A Kind of Tragic" stems from a side effect of Nodwick's frequent resurrections: The Immortals mistake him for one of them and his head rolls often throughout the book.
    • While Nodwick has it worse than usual for henchmen, his situation in general is typical for the trade. Only one henchman has ever lived long enough to die of natural causes.


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