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More Hero than Thou

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"Are we really going to stand here and argue over who makes the noble sacrifice?"

Our heroes have a tough decision to make. If all goes well, most of the team can make it out alive. But who draws the short straw? Who plays The Bait? Who says "You shall not pass"? Who buys everyone else some time with a doomed Last Stand? In other words, who makes the Heroic Sacrifice? Surely no one would willingly volunteer for th-

Oh. Bob and Charlie both raised their hands at once. Well, this is awkward...

Needless to say this is neither the time nor the place for the argument Bob and Charlie are about to have over who offers himself for the team. So the conflict is usually resolved quickly in one of four ways:

  1. Bob is in a position to give orders, so he takes the role and sends Charlie away. Common in military situations, and the reason why the king can refuse to leave the city In Its Hour of Need but send away the crown prince. However, this does not always settle the fight, even when Bob's authority is beyond question: Charlie may defy the order and go on arguing, or attempt to take the role by force. That's an Order! often comes into play at this point.
  2. Bob may have a valid More Expendable Than You argument: he could be dying already or too injured to move, so he has to stay — Charlie will only be able to keep Bob from Dying Alone. In other scenarios, Bob may be compelled to stay because his sacrifice is the whole point of the expedition — he came along so that he could offer himself, and Charlie must accept that it is not his role even as Bob accepts that it is. Conversely, Charlie may be a critical player in the next stage, and/or Bob may already be beyond saving.
  3. Bob overcomes Charlie through force or stealth and takes the fatal role. He tricks Charlie into leaving, knocks him out so he can't follow, shuts the door between them, throws him onto a moving vehicle he can't jump off, etc. He may even resort to a Sneaky Departure so that Charlie does not realize he is gone in time to stop him.
  4. Bob cuts off Charlie's objections through sheer force of personality and insists that he must make the sacrifice.

A very rare fifth route is for Bob and Charlie to figure out a way that both of them can make a partial sacrifice, which usually leaves them both hurting but alive.

Not that the audience is always in doubt. The Sorting Algorithm of Mortality often dictates, as does Redemption Equals Death. This is one case where Dying Alone is, in fact, a consolation to the dying character.

Note that trying to dissuade someone from (or trick or force out of) making the Heroic Sacrifice does not suffice; you must want to stop them so that you can do it yourself. However, it does not have to be the same sacrifice: the wounded character arguing I Will Only Slow You Down and the others arguing No One Gets Left Behind qualify, as does a character begging the villain to Take Me Instead, while the captive character argues that he should not sacrifice himself. Cases where one character wishes to shoulder the burden entirely, and other characters argue they can take on part of it — such as a lord who goes for Releasing from the Promise and knights who argue he should keep them on despite the danger — are usually in, though they may be borderline.

Sometimes the argument is merely who gets to sacrifice the credit for the job, with the other character getting the glory; a common result of their both feeling I Feel Guilty; You Take It.

Definitely the duty of members of the Hero Secret Service. See also Who Will Bell the Cat?, Outhumbling Each Other, and when this involves the hero facing off with some evil alone, Door Jam.

Do not confuse with A True Hero, although the two may overlap.

Beware of unmarked spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: At some point during the 4 years time skip, Sasha, Jean, Armin and Mikasa debate who should inherit Eren's titan. Eren tells them that he doesn't want any of them to inherit his titan, because all he wishes is for his friends to have long fulfilling lives.
  • A short conflict in a later episode of Death Note has the Anti-Kira Taskforce arguing over who should make the shinigami-eye deal, which cuts a person's lifespan in half, in order to kill Mello and retrieve his Death Note (although, tragically, they don't know they're making this sacrifice for Kira himself). Matsuda offers, and it's obvious Light is happy to assign the task to him, but he didn't plan on his dad wanting it instead, and winning because he's oldest. Light is not happy when this results in his father's death. Even less so when he doesn't even manage to kill Mello and get the Note.
  • In the last episode of season 1 of K, Shiro, reawakened as the Silver King, tells version 1 to Kuroh, who has become his Clansman.
  • In Megaman NT Warrior Axess, Megaman and Protoman are faced with the overwhelming power of Shademan. With his power boosted by the Dark Chip, Shademan is far stronger than the duo, and immune to the effects of normal Battlechips. Lan prepares to use the Dark Chip that Dr. Regal gave him earlier, knowing it will turn Megaman into a Darkloid...but then Chaud grabs the Dark Chip out of his hand and uses it to empower Protoman, corrupting his Navi so Megaman can stay with Lan.
  • Used in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing at the very end. As Libra falls to Earth, Heero goes to the main reactor to destroy it; unfortunately, he's out of weapons, his ammo and beam saber energy depleted from his duel with Zechs and his BFG having been knocked away at the start of the fight. He's about to use the Self-Destruct Mechanism when Zechs appears out of nowhere, stabs the reactor with Epyon's BFS and says "We'll meet again" as the explosion engulfs him. And yes, he does come back.
  • An interesting subversion occurs in Naruto Shippuden: We're shown in a flashback of Danzō when he was young being part of a team (which Hiruzen Sarutobi was also a member of) led by the Second Hokage, Tobirama Senju. At some point, they were chased by Kinkaku's Squad of Kumogakure and decided one of them would have to be a decoy so the others could escape safely. Danzō tried to volunteer but was paralysed with fear at the prospect of dying, allowing Hiruzen to volunteer before he could compose himself. Danzō began to protest before Tobirama decided to be the decoy instead while appointing Hiruzen as his successor. Danzō was NOT happy with this at all. Both because he wouldn't be the next Hokage, and because a moment of weakness kept him from living up to his own ideology while his hated rival Hiruzen did.
  • One Piece: After fighting and defeating both Oars and Gekko Moria, the Straw Hat Pirates are too worn out to defeat Bartholomew Kuma. All but Zoro have been knocked unconscious. Zoro offers his own life in exchange for the lives of everyone else. Kuma agrees to his request. Suddenly, Sanji stands up and offers his life in place of Zoro's. Zoro proceeds to sucker punch Sanji in the side, knocking him unconscious and ending the argument.
  • Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, episode "Red Impulse's Secret". Katse's missile to reverse the end of the world disasters is sitting there, but the autopilot wasn't installed. Someone will have to pilot it. Red Impulse and G-1 argue over who gets the job. After the Reveal, Red Impulse throws G-1 several feet and flies the missile to its success and his death.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, Ban and Elaine were fatally injured killing the monster that razed the Fairy King's Forest. Fortunately, the Fountain of Immortality was only a few inches away...but it didn't have enough water to heal them both. Each wanted to save the other, so Elaine pretended to drink and then kissed Ban, who was so surprised that he instinctively swallowed the water. Interestingly, Elaine's reasoning inverts the trope name; she's already had centuries of life and hasn't really done anything with it, but Ban is a teenager who's already accomplished a lot. Because she considers him more heroic (on top of loving him), he gets to live.
  • In Steins;Gate: 0, causality requires that either Kurisu or Mayuri die, and both options lead to a Bad Future. Okabe tries to keep this a secret because he doesn't want them to feel guilty for being alive. He is proven right when Mayuri commits suicide to make him travel back and save Kurisu instead.

    Comic Books 
  • Similar to the movie Spartacus, in Bloodquest (a Warhammer 40K comic) two Blood Angel marines are captured by forces of chaos. They are given a choice: A fight to the death. The winner will then be tortured by a slaaneshi marine, who is also their former friend. The other marine tries to say that neither of them will agree to the terms, when his friend attacks him, begging for him to subdue and accept death. He has already fallen to the Black Rage and has nothing else in his life except pain anyways.
  • In DC Comics Bombshells, one of the heroines has to give her life in order to destroy the giant Tenebrae threatening London. Supergirl volunteers but Stargirl refuses to let her adoptive sister die, so Courtney knocks Kara down and proceeds to blow the Tenebrae and herself up.
  • Exiles: During the V-Lock arc, someone is required to fly a bunch of nukes into the V-Lock base. Nocturne initially volunteers on the grounds she's got flying experience, but at the last minute Mimic knocks her out, feeling he has to make amends after being in a funk the last few realities. Morph's summoning the Asgardians to solve the problem in a different way allows Blink to recover and teleport him away, though not before redirecting the nuke-filled plane so it blows up in space.
  • This how Johnny Storm dies in Fantastic Four #587, beating Ben Grimm to the punch after pretending to accept the latter's heartfelt reasoning for his own self-sacrifice proposal. After all, they've practically made it their life's work to one-up each other. Then it turns out killing him wasn't what Annihilus had in mind anyway.
  • In Gotham Central, Maggie Sawyer is going to get some information from the Joker, but Ron Probson stops her and does it himself so that she can "stay clean."
  • At least one issue of Iron Man where Rhodey knocks Tony out and wears the armor himself. Subverted in that when Tony wakes up, he immediately goes out in a spare suit and arrives just in time to save Rhodey's massively outclassed butt.
  • Justice League of America:
    • In order to stop the Nebula Man, someone must strike it with the Nebula Rod, which will be certain death. Red Tornado does it himself on the grounds he's a robot, and therefore worth "less" than anyone else. Of course, being a robot, he was rebuilt.
    • On one occasion, after hearing a prophecy that said the entire JLA would perish while fighting an ancient evil, Diana decided to decommission the League (by force) and fight the monster solo, as a League of One, reasoning that her one death was preferable to the death of every one of her teammates.
  • In Justice Society of America, the two Hourmen, father and son, fought over who would be allowed to return to the point in time from which the father had been plucked by the android Hourman, to ensure a Stable Time Loop. This lasts until the android Hourman has a bright idea: he puts both father and son on his time-traveling ship, and fills the point himself.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes:
    • In Adventure Comics #346, Superboy has to fly into a Sun Eater and detonate a bomb to destroy it. He was about to do it when he was sucker-punched by Ferro Lad, who made the Heroic Sacrifice in Superboy's place.
    • In its Post-Crisis recreation in Final Night, set in the present rather than in the future, Ferro Lad does the same, stealing the spaceship that would be used to the task before Superman, who had volunteered, could get aboard. Fortunately for Ferro Lad, he's also on the other end of this trope, as Hal Jordan, under the Parallax identity, appears and sends the lad back to Earth in safety, then performs a Heroic Sacrifice as a way to redeem himself (he'd get better later, though).
  • In The Mighty Thor, Thor insisted on covering the escape from Hel, only to be cold-cocked by his former enemy Skurge, who then proceeded to declare You Shall Not Pass! at the bridge of Gjallerbru. He's also trapped in Hel for a year or three until Hela realizes his sacrifice has made him a soul she can't keep, and she sends him on to Valhalla. The final quote, made as on the left-hand side of the page he's fighting, and on the right, his picture slowly fades:
    And when a new arrival asks about the one to whom even Hela bows her head, the answer is always the same - "He stood alone at Gjallerbru." And that is answer enough.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), when learning that Knuckles' transformation into Enerjack could only be reversed via Heroic Sacrifice, Julie-Su immediately volunteers. Archimedes overrides her, saying that as Knuckles' mentor he's his responsibility, so he'll do it. Then Locke overrides them both since it was his experiments that led to the whole thing. Finitevus is shocked by this, calling them "grave eager fools".
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • X-Wing Rogue Squadron, "The Phantom Affair": Zena and Jagged Antilles have to detach a burning section of their refueling station before the fire can spread, which means their deaths. Jagged tries to get Zena to follow the others who were evacuated from this section, but she tells him someone needs to fight the flames while he activates the lancing charge.
      Jagged: Don't be foolish, Zena! Once we detach, they can't save us!
      Zena: I know that, Jagged. You didn't marry a stupid woman!
    • In the series Star Wars: Crimson Empire, the last two Imperial Guards play a game of chance to determine who will stay to cover the other's retreat. Kile Hannad wins and chooses to stay.
      Kir Kanos: In his place, I would have made the same choice... a warrior's death.
  • Superman:
    • Our Worlds at War: Not specifically stated, but Superman IS the ONLY being capable to surviving a mano-a-mano fight against an Imperiex probe, so it eventually does fall upon him to take down every single one when everyone else fails to do the job.
    • In Crucible, Supergirl and her classmates must prevent Superboy's clonelings from growing to maturity. Nonetheless, destroying the clonelings will trigger a failsafe that will wipe the cloning out and everybody inside. Supergirl protests when Superboy volunteers, but then she agrees to join him. Supergirl's schoolmates do not want to leave her alone, but Kara points out Superboy and she are the only invulnerable enough to risk it.
      Superboy: Get everybody out of here. I'll stay and make sure the clones are destroyed.
      Supergirl: No, Kon. I won't let you sacrifice yourself—
      Superboy: It's MY call, Kara.
  • The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers: Inverted in issue #4, where some of the Wreckers are debating who's going to sacrifice themselves, having realized they're all patsies for this particular operation, chosen specifically because they're not big names and therefore expendable. Pyro still refuses to sacrifice himself, because he wants to die in a more epic way later on, and says Ironfist should do it. Ultimately, Top Spin solves the problem by sacrificing himself. At the end of the series, it turns out Ironfist had been chosen because he was dying anyway, only for him to get cold feet.
  • X-Men: In issue #100, facing a deadly solar flare in a space shuttle which has been damaged to the extent the cockpit will be flooded with radiation, the team debate who will fly it. Jean Grey volunteers herself, and when Scott objects, she knocks him out. Technically speaking, Jean doesn't survive.

    Card Games 

    Fan Works 
  • Better Bones AU: Crowfeather initially volunteers to be a Light in the Mist and venture into StarClan to defeat Ashfur, but Breezepelt knocks him out while escorting him to the border so he can take the role instead.
  • In the Power Ranger fanfic Darker Shades, Zed kidnaps Kimberly's bother and makes the stipulation that only she and Tommy can go rescue him. The catch is that one of them is going to have to become evil to do so or else it will be Kimberly's bother that will. Naturally, neither one of the couple wants the other to do it. Tommy argues that he can endure it, having been evil once before and that he is losing his powers so he would be less of a threat. While Kimberly argues that it is her bother so it is up to her and that she doesn't want Tommy to go through that again. When the two get to the island her brother is on, Kimberly knocks Tommy out and runs ahead. He quickly regains consciousness and catches up. They put the argument aside and work together to get to her bother. Just before they get to the room that Kimberly's bother is in they are confronted by one of the Greek gods that Zed has created. After some words are exchanged, in a fit of anger Kimberly fires some shots with her bow. The god deflects them and one of them hits Tommy killing him, or so Kimberly is made to believe. Ultimately leaving Kimberly the only one to sacrifice herself.

    Fairy tales 
  • In the Indian fairy tale "The Story of the Rakshasas", Sahasra Dal and Champa Dal learn of a Rakshasa that forces the king to give him a human every night when they stay with the family chosen for the next night, and everyone is arguing to be the sacrifice.
    The eldest lady of the house, the mother of its head, said aloud, “Let me go, as I am the eldest. I have lived long enough; at the utmost my life would be cut short only by a year or two.” The youngest member of the house, who was a little girl, said, “Let me go, as I am young and useless to the family; if I die I shall not be missed.” The head of the house, the son of the old lady, said, “I am the head and representative of the family; it is but reasonable that I should give up my life.” His younger brother said, “You are the main prop and pillar of the family; if you go the whole family is ruined. It is not reasonable that you should go; let me go, as I shall not be much missed.”

    Films — Animated 
  • Played for Laughs in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. In the film's climax, Batman and Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi argue in the middle of the battle over which of the two should sacrifice themself for the other.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Peter B. Parker, Gwen Stacy, Peni Parker, Spider-Man Noir, and Spider-Ham are all drawn into Miles's universe by the bad guys' supercollider, and dimensional incompatibilities mean that if they don't get back to their own universes soon, they'll die. However, if the supercollider is allowed to continue operating, it will probably destroy the multiverse. Because they don't think Miles is up to the task of sending them all home and shutting the machine down, they need someone to volunteer to stay behind; naturally, these being variations on the world's most famous victim of Chronic Hero Syndrome, all five step up simultaneously. Later, after Miles Took a Level in Badass, Peter B. tries this again by trying to convince Miles to let him handle Kingpin; Miles has none of it and insists that Peter B. go back to his own dimension and fix his life there.
  • Tangled: Flynn and Rapunzel argue briefly about whether she should have her freedom at the price of his life (Flynn's view), or he should live at the price of her letting Gothel keep her prisoner for life (Rapunzel's view). Rapunzel goes to save his life, taking advantage of his being too weakened by the mortal wound to stop her. He is not however too weak to cut her hair, making it impossible; his life is ultimately saved by an 11th-Hour Superpower.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Armageddon (1998): After the drawing of straws, the short-straw drawer AJ has to set off the nuke to split the incoming mountain of death. Stamper agrees to escort him out, but sabotages AJ's air system, leaves him in the airlock, and does the job himself.
  • Avengers: Endgame: After learning that retrieving the Soul Stone requires losing someone you love, best friends Black Widow and Hawkeye start straight-up fighting over who should make the jump. Widow "wins".
  • The Core When they realize whoever releases the Cool Ship this time will not make it back, they do a little draw-the-shortest-straw contest for the honor, leaving out the only woman, since she was the pilot. However, the creator of the ship had rigged the contest to make sure he got the honor, on the grounds that "Virgil is my creation. If she needs blood, it's going to be MY blood!"
  • Hero (2002), with Snow and Broken Sword both trying to wound the other enough so that they can be the one to make the sacrifice.
  • Averted in Santa Hunters. When deciding who will rescue Alex in Santa's sack, Zoey volunteers. After Richard looks down into the incredibly deep sack, he agrees to let Zoey go.
  • In Spartacus, the titular character's revolt of gladiatorial slaves is put down. The two primary protagonists are made by the Big Bad to fight each other, with the winner to be crucified. The result is a real fight, just as intended.
  • The iconic example in Star Trek II, although a variation where the idea was that said character was really going to be Killed Off for Real.
  • In Star Trek: Nemesis, Data doesn't bother to argue. He just wordlessly slaps the microtransporter on Picard to beam him back to the Enterprise before doing the Heroic Sacrifice in his place.
  • Val and Earl both argue over who will be the bait for the final Graboid in Tremors. They finally agree on Earl, only for Val to sock him in the stomach at the last possible second and run out into the sand.

  • At the end of L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, Anne gives up a scholarship so she can stay at Green Gables where Marilla needs her. She gives it up before she tells Marilla so that Marilla can't argue with her.
    • In Rainbow Valley, Ellen refuses to release her sister Rosemary from The Promise when she wants to marry. Later, Ellen wants to marry, and she can't even bring herself to ask Rosemary to release her—but she does tell her suitor why she refused. So the man asks for her. Rosemary agrees at once; the catch is that she didn't tell her suitor why she turned him down, and she's sure that he wouldn't want her if she went back to him, and so refuses to even try. So Ellen refuses to marry her suitor, even knowing that they are both going to be miserable. (It's a good thing that Rosemary's suitor's youngest daughter intervenes.)
  • Part of the legend of Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, is that he always seems to get into these situations (as the second volunteer). As far as he's concerned, he's only volunteering to find a way to escape, but...
  • In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novel Dead Beat, Rawlins tells Harry that if he can get free, he should just go without him. Harry tells him
    You're siphoning my noble hero vibe. Cease and desist, or I'll sue.
    • In Grave Peril, Michael tells Harry that he can ensure that Harry and Susan escape; since he's a Knight of the Cross, he's supposed to protect the innocent. Harry tells him that he's supposed to have his sword, too, and since it's Harry's fault that he doesn't, Harry will not escape that way.
    • In Small Favor, Michael and Harry argue about who gets to be the last one on the helicopter. Harry, having promised his daughter and having seen a Valkyrie eye him, wins. Michael ends up shot and very nearly dead while dangling from the helicopter. It is worth noting that if Harry had gone first, both would have died, according to Uriel in 'The Warrior'.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel His Last Command, Gaunt and Wilder know that someone will have to make a last stand to give the rest of the regiment a chance to escape. Gaunt lays it out and offers to do it. Wilder refuses, points out that Gaunt does not have a command position, and orders him to take the regiment to safety.
  • In Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Titan's Curse, Percy has a hard time persuading Artemis to let him hold up the sky instead of her. He wins for the "valid argument" reason: She can fight Atlas, who will kill him if they don't change places. In fact, her reluctance is rather Honor Before Reason.
  • Red Seas Under Red Skies: Locke and Jean have both been poisoned, and there's only enough antidote for one. Each one wants the other to take the antidote. Jean threatens to physically force Locke to take it, but Locke reveals that he's already slipped the antidote into Jean's drink.
    • Earlier in the same book, Ezri Delmastro punches Jean in the gut to keep him from sacrificing himself to save the ship. She does it instead.
  • In William King's Warhammer 40,000 novel Space Wolf, Sergeant Hengist sends Ragnar and some other young Marines to Bring News Back (of Chaos Space Marines) while Hengist and others hold them off. Ragnar wants to protest, and Hengist tells him that being a Space Marine is not easy, and sends him off. When one of the other Marines is injured during their escape, Ragnar sends the others on while he tends the injured — over their objections, succeeding when he threatens them, and they leave only with the comment that next time, it will be their turn to tend the wounded.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when invisible beings threaten to massacre them unless Lucy goes into a magician's tower to cast a spell, Lucy agrees to do it, and the boys argue with her that they want to defend her. Only when the fearless Reepicheep refuses to try dissuading her, observing that she is being brave and doing a heroic act, are they convinced to let her go.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Battle for the Abyss, when Cestus asks for the bombs, Brynngar punches him instead, on the grounds that it's a one-way trip. Cestus does make it to the escape pod, to find that the traitor captain is also there. He kills him and dies himself.
  • In Outbound Flight, the last surviving Jedi and the brother of the man who caused all this try to put Outbound Flight into a stable orbit over a planet, only to find that the drive is too damaged. It shuts down, and they see that Outbound Flight will crash. They and the Dreadnaught where the fifty-seven survivors went to were on opposite sides, and the only way that the other survivors could live through the crash would be if the side the two of them were on hit first.
    Thrass: There's still time for you to leave, you know. You may at least be able to get to the core before we hit, perhaps even all the way to D-Four.
    Lorana: You can't handle the landing alone. But I could do that while you go.
    Thrass: And who would keep the remaining systems from self-destructing while you cleared a path through the pylons for me? No, Jedi Jinzler. It appears we will both be giving our lives for your people.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars:
    • In The Gods of Mars, John Carter and Tars Tarkus argue over who should attempt to escape through a gap first.
    • In The Chessman of Mars, when Tara and Turan do not wish to leave Ghek in danger, Ghek persuades Turan that he must force her, or they will kill her.
  • In Myth Adventures when strangers have snuck through a door in their house, Aahz and Skeeve argue about who will go through it to retrieve them; Aahz points at the corner -and knocks out Skeeve to win the argument.
    • In M.Y.T.H. Inc. in Action the heroes argue over which of them should get to kill the queen. Big Julie cuts through all the arguments by saying he's an old man and therefore the most expendable; the one thing no-one was mentioning but they all knew was that it was a suicide mission.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Ron sacrifices himself to the White Queen so that Harry can checkmate the White King and proceed. This is a case falling under all three rules upahead, as Harry is the only one who can stop Snape Quirrel/Voldemort, Ron is the only one in position to make the sacrifice, and Harry and Hermione had surrendered rank to him since he's the only one who's good at chess.
    • A lesser version in The Half-Blood Prince, when Dumbledore and Harry are breaking into Voldemort's cave. A hidden door requires a sacrifice of blood, as deduced by Dumbledore; Harry offers to provide it in his place, but Dumbledore insists that Harry's blood is more valuable and takes the initiative to cut his own arm open with a knife (and promptly heal it back up again with magic).
      • Later, when they're leaving, it's Harry's turn to pull this, using the valid argument that he's already bleeding anyway.
    • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Crookshanks tries to protect Sirius by leaping between him and Harry, so that any spell would take them both; Sirius tries to protect Crookshanks by pushing it out of the way, to avoid the spell.
    • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, an inverted one: Harry and Cedric argue over who gets to touch the cup and win. As a test of skill, Cedric could easily get there first, but after Harry's help, he thinks Harry should get it. Harry finally offers to do it together.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Red Fury, Dante tries to get the Chapter Masters off-planet when the mutants attack. One is offended at the thought they would run away from mutants, Dante says that they did not bring about the problem; Blood Angels did, and another says they will nevertheless help fight it because the first was right, it could be construed as an insult. Dante says he is honored.
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Ptolemy's Gate, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel lie to Kitty, telling her that they will be able to escape alive when she can't, to persuade her to leave. Then Nathaniel, at the very end, dismisses Bartimaeus against his will, so he alone has to die.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring,
    • Boromir thinks this is his motivation for wanting to take the Ring away from Frodo (self-deception, since the Ring is clouding his mind).
    • Frodo concludes he must go off alone, without telling the others, to forestall their willingness to come with him.
    • Sam deduces this and threatens to prevent his leaving if he doesn't take him — but Sam's actions are only borderline this, because he wants to share the burden, not take it from Frodo entirely.
  • In book two of The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are each determined that the other will be the survivor of the Games. Both of them have arguments in their favor: Katniss realizes that Peeta's public speaking skills will be valuable in the coming revolution, whereas she herself is more useful as a martyr. On the other hand, Peeta tells Katniss that while she could live quite happily without him, he couldn't live without her; although they can't speak of the revolution openly, this seems to imply that he wouldn't bother joining it if she were dead.
  • The trope is used several times in Animorphs, with Ax and Rachel being the two most likely to play the role of arguing about who gets to go on the suicide mission. It has happened enough that in the final book, when Jake sends Rachel on a mission that really will kill her off for real, he knows that he needs to defy the trope by making sure that only Rachel knows about her Heroic Sacrifice ahead of time.
  • In Dorothy L. Sayers's Nine Tailors, Lord Peter Wimsey and the police learn that the two men who had respectively put a man in the belfry and buried him after he died were shielding each other because they thought the other had murdered him.
  • In the Chinese tale of the "righteous stepmother of Qin", her son and stepson were found near a murdered body. Both men confessed to the crime in an attempt to shield the other. (When the stepmother recommended the execution of her son, not her stepson, and explained that he was the junior, and she had the duty to look after her stepson, the king pardoned them both for her devotion to duty.)
  • In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, Jhogai demands the right, as company champion, to face off against the Chaos champion Nullus. He loses.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Runaround": Powell and Donovan are arguing over who should risk their life to rescue a malfunctioning robot. Powell proposes a math contest: whoever can solve a difficult math problem gets to go. Of course, he already solved it in his head before proposing the contest, and immediately runs off before Donovan can realize he was tricked.
  • In Adrian Tchaikovsky's Dragonfly Falling, Salma tries to tell Totho he can't sell himself to the Wasp to save him, but Totho informs him that he has already done so, and if Salma doesn't take the escape he did it for, Totho has done it in vain.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Moving Pictures, Laddie and Gaspode set fire to the Odium to destroy the film-creature. When Gaspode's leg goes, Laddie picks him up and carries him, despite Gaspode's protestions that there's no time, and he's just going to get them both killed.
  • Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next:
    • "Lost in a Good Book", Thursday goes to kill herself to appease Aornis. Her father stops her and derails Aornis's plans despite her objections that it will kill him; among other things, he points out he's aged, and he will go without a decline this way.
    • In Something Rotten, Spike tries to take Thursday's place in the underworld; they argue, and when he can't be moved, Thursday tells the crowd he's alive. Then Cindy shows up and argues Thursday into letting her do it.
  • In Mary Jo Putney's Thunder and Roses, the hero and a miner are escaping a flooding mine. When it seems likely that there will only be time for one of them to be pulled up to safety, the hero orders the miner to go up first - only for the miner to cold-cock him and send him up. The miner survives to explain his reasoning: as a devout Methodist, he was confident that he'd go to heaven, but he wasn't nearly so sure about the hero. According to the author's note, this was based on a true story.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, Mab orders Miranda to flee while he contains the barghests. She started to obey, and then goes back and refuses to leave again.
  • In Poul Anderson's "Sunjammer", though it never comes to the point, the men argue about who will be left behind to pilot the ship over a cargo ship with explosive fuel. West argues that he's the older, by far; the two younger men, that they are unmarried. In the end, when they have found another possibility, all three stay even though what they are trying may not work.
  • In Poul Anderson's "Lodestar", the three characters are arguing about who retreats to their ship from the attack first, in the opening.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel On the Razor's Edge, in Flashback, he beckons for Issa to come, but she refuses. She will maintain the illusion as he escapes.
  • In Julie Kagawa's The Iron King, Ash and Meghan dispute — Ash tells her it has come to the point where she must choose between saving him and Ethan, and she tries to refuse.
  • In Stephanie Burgis's A Most Improper Magick, Elissa is willing to sacrifice herself in marriage to Sir Neville to protect Mr. Collingwood. Mr. Collingwood tries to argue her out of it — she reads too many Gothics, though.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Smallville:
    • When Lex Luthor is in a coma with critical information in his head, Chloe offers to heal him, but Clark refuses as the effort might kill her, and instead uses technology that might fry his brain. She ended up doing it anyway.
    • Chloe returns the favour in Arctic when she offers to use kryptonite on Kara, who has been acting violent, even though she doesn't think it is a good idea because Clark would do it anyway.
    • In Odyssey, Clark tells Chloe not to heal him as the effort might render her dead, and permanently. She does it anyway but somehow it doesn't work. Never explained.
    • In Legion, the legionnaires think the only way to stop Brainiac is to kill his human host, Chloe Sullivan. They knock her unconscious, but when Lightning Lad holds the knife, he couldn't do it, so Cosmic Boy snatches the knife and tries to stab her, if not for Clark to rush in.
    • In Doomsday, Oliver shoots Clark with a kryptonite arrow so that Black Canary, Bart and him could face Doomsday by themselves. Might count as a What the Hell, Hero? instead.
    • In Patriot, Oliver decides to be the one to see what happens if they go with the Super Registration Act instead of Clark. It makes sense because his identity has been exposed anyway.
  • On at least two occasions in 24, Jack Bauer intended to die in an explosion to save the day - or at least a portion of it - only to have someone else go ahead and do it.
    • Jack treated Paul Raines like shit, to say the least, before and after he saved Jack's life. Neither was trying to prove anything, but Jack's saviour definitely seemed like the bigger man after that sequence of events, while Jack came dangerously close to becoming unlikeable, displaying a mindset similar to that of the terrorists he was combating.
  • In an episode of Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, Ban and Houji go together into space to destroy a giant meteor approaching Earth using the Deka Wing Robo in Cannon Mode. After their first attempt fails, Houji decides to ram the Deka Wing Robo into the meteor's core and orders Ban to detach his machine and leave. Ban seems to agree... until he detaches Houji's machine instead and sends him away, seemingly dying in the explosion. Ban manages to survive the ordeal by SHOOTING the core at point-blank with his own D-Revolver, thus sparing himself from ramming it.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Empath", when aliens offer Kirk the choice of sacrificing McCoy or Spock, McCoy takes out Kirk with drugs. Spock is glad; being in command, he can make it himself. Then McCoy takes him out to make the sacrifice.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Once More Unto the Breach", Kor, once a Klingon villain from the original series now ally, is well into old age, likely to die a straw death. His mind is going as he sometimes forgets it isn't the original series. When the ship he is on is being pursued by Dominion forces as the fleet retreats to meet with reinforcements, one ship needs to stay behind as a delaying force. Worf plans to go, but Kor knocks him out and takes his place. With one ship with a skeleton crew, he holds off a group of much stronger ships before being destroyed long enough for his allies to get home safely.
    • Tom and B'Elanna do this in one episode of Star Trek: Voyager.
      Tom: On your feet, Lieutenant. That's an order.
      B'Elanna: You can't order me, we're the same rank.
      Tom: I'm a bridge officer, and I have seniority.
      B'Elanna: Three days!
    • In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "These Are the Voyages...", Trip knocks out Archer to lead some rogues to a closet where he can electrify the floor and kill them all, himself included.
  • Angel:
    • In "Hero", Doyle sucker punches Angel in order to make the Heroic Sacrifice himself. Doyle himself seems to consider it a case of More Expendable Than You at the time, but the Powers That Be declared that it was too noble an action to warrant turning back time to avert it; to do so would dishonor the heroic spirit of his sacrifice. And besides Doyle had his own Dark and Troubled Past to make up for.
    • In "Destiny", Angel and Spike shared one of these when they were told of some cup that a vampire with a soul had to drink in order to save the world, the cup is known as "The Cup of Perpetual Torment". They were arguing over which one of them was the prophesied vampire and, because it's Spike and Angel, ended up having one of the most brutal fights ever seen on the show to drink from it and prove themselves the true champion. Effectively, punching each other while shouting "I'm more of a hero than you!" Spike wins, but the cup turned out to contain Mountain Dew and be made in China.
  • In Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019), Barry Allen finally understands what the Monitor said to him about him having to make the ultimate sacrifice to save millions: namely that he would vanish to destroy the anti-matter cannon that's vaporizing the Multiverse. However, the Barry Allen from Earth-90 temporarily steals his speed, citing that the Monitor said "The Flash must die" never specifying which Flash had to die, and does the sacrifice in his stead.
  • In Farscape, Crichton & D'Argo decided who got to be the hero with Rock–Paper–Scissors when they couldn't spare time arguing.
  • In Lost, Charlie and Desmond couldn't decide who should undertake the thought-to-be-suicidal mission of swimming down to the Looking Glass station and deactivating its jamming device. Charlie resolved the situation by knocking Desmond out with an oar. He then proceeded to swim down to the station and carry out his Heroic Sacrifice (albeit not quite in the way he expected).
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Brigadier knocked the Doctor out in "Battlefield" to take his place, citing expendability as his reason, but subverted the trope by sheer cool of a British officer and survived.
    • River Song's sacrifice in "Forest of the Dead" counts here. She knew the Doctor would have sacrificed himself to save Donna and the others, and cold-cocked him so he couldn't do it. (Just why did she have those handcuffs, anyway? Business or pleasure? Both?) Overlaps with More Expendable Than You.
    • In "The Husbands of River Song", River and the Doctor find themselves on board a crashing ship. The two of them argue over which one of them should stay behind and save the ship while the other escapes. Subverted when they both remember that everyone on the ship except for themselves are mass murderers and the two of them decide to flee and leave the monsters to their fates.
  • Used in the ITV adaptation, Horatio Hornblower. Rather than using the novel's elaborate set-up to ensure an/the eponymous duel is An Even Chance, the TV version has Hornblower's second cold-cock him with a sea-lantern because he (the second) was shamed by 17-year-old Hornblower's courage, and didn't believe that either of them stood a chance in a duel against Mr Midshipman Simpson.
  • Both played straight and for comedy in Chinese Paladin 3: at one point, the heroes have to enter the forbidden Demon Prison Pagoda, which is forbidden to members of the Church Militant. Undeterred, the chief acolyte promptly asks his superiors to expel him from the order. They refuse, and The Hero — who can do the job just fine himself — tells him to stop trying to steal his thunder.
  • Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis: CONSTANTLY. There's always a life-or-death situation, someone always needs to be sacrificed, and the heroes always argue over who gets to risk their lives this time. The CO usually "wins" but it's not unheard of for someone else to beat him to the punch.
    Mitchell: Well now you know that the hard part about being part of this team is not risking your own life. It's watching your friends take chances with theirs.
  • In Merlin, Merlin and Arthur argue over who will drink the not actually deadly poison. Arthur actually resorts to "Look over there!" just to get to drink it.
  • The Legend of William Tell: Will and Aruna have to get a MacGuffin to Kalem, but the shelter's surrounded by Mooks. Will, still suffering the aftereffects of hypothermia, declares his intention to draw the bad guys away so Aruna can get through. Aruna shoves the MacGuffin into his arms and runs off before he can stop her.
  • During the season two finale of Agent Carter, the rift generator has a malfunction and needs to be shut down manually, which requires getting close enough to the rift to risk being pulled in. While Peggy and a few other characters all claim to be the one who should take the risk and start arguing over it, Sousa quietly hobbles over to the generator and does it himself.
  • Legends of Tomorrow:
    • In Season 1 Episode 15, Rip learns that Ray is going to die trying to destroy the Time Masters' main computer. Even after knowing it, Ray is willing to go through with it to save everyone else, but Mick whacks him in the head and decides to do it instead to get revenge on them. And then, it's Snart who whacks Mick in the head to make the sacrifice for everyone.
    • Season 2 Episode 14: In order to stabilize the Waverider during reentry, someone will have to open the cargo bay. Rip and Sara are ready to do it, but Henry Heywood beats them in getting there. By the time Nate arrives and tries to take his place, Henry has already shut the inner door. It's possible Nate could have survived the Explosive Decompression by "steeling on" and using his enhanced strength to hold on until all the air rushed out, but there's no guarantee of that.
  • The Wheel of Time (2021): Moiraine insists that only the Dragon Reborn will survive whatever happens at the Eye of the World. Much of Episode 7 is the potential Dragons arguing if it's true and what they should do. Then Rand establishes he is the one and goes with only Moiraine, leaving the rest in Fal Dara.

  • In Some Kind of Hero by Leslie Fish, a starship's engineer offers to flip a coin for the last spacesuit on the ship. The ship's navigator knocks out the engineer and stuffs him into the suit.

    Video Games 
  • At the end of Baten Kaitos Origins, Sagi is grabbed by a machina as the party flees Tarazed's core. Milly realizes the control unit doesn't have enough power to override the machina and prepares to power it herself, which would kill her. Before she can do it, however, Guillo rushes past her and powers it up, sacrificing itself.
  • Breath of Fire II: Nina goes through a personal quest to acquire an artifact that will allow her to become The Great Bird. Unfortunately, the process is permanent and she's basically sacrificing her humanity and sentience for the good of the group, and the world. Her sister Mina has other ideas and steals the artifact so SHE can sacrifice herself instead.
  • In Dissidia Final Fantasy: Opera Omnia, Act 3 opens with all the heroes separated from each other in a new world. Cecil Harvey can tell that dark forces are pursuing him so they can steal his light, so he locks himself in a castle chamber and sets Kain and Rosa outside to keep anyone from coming in; with them being the only two people around, they don't have the strength to beat their enemies in a fight. However, when Ceodore comes in with a large group of reunited allies, Cecil still tries to insist on staying sealed away for everyone else's protection and is only convinced when they show him their strength by beating him in battle. (Then he gets a lecture for trying to take the weight of the world on himself, again.)
  • After the final battle of Dragon Age: Origins, it's possible to stop and argue with Alistair about who gets to finish off the Archdemon. Under most circumstances, the player character can either let Alistair have his way or insist on doing it him- or herself. If the player-controlled Warden is in a romance with Alistair, however, he takes the decision out of her hands entirely.
  • Dynasty Warriors: Gundam has a minor example at the end of Char's/Amuro's Original plotline when Char takes away Amuro's chance to play the hero and goes down with the underground cave. (He gets better).
  • In the first Galaxy Angel, Forte's route has an extra portion where the Elsior's path to the White Moon is blocked by an enemy attack satellite. Forte immediately volunteers to go alone and destroy it herself while the rest stay back to protect the Elsior, arguing that her Emblem Frame is the best suited for the task when the other Angels try to offer to do it in her stead or at least back her up. Tact isn't sure about letting her go, until she confesses that she's doing it because she wants to protect the man she loves, so he ultimately relents.
  • At the end of L.A. Noire Cole and Jack argue over who will boost the other out of the sewer before the water rushes through. Cole maintains that he has a better chance to make the jump without any help, as Jack had been shot in the arm. ("You're wounded, Jack. Let me help you.") He then lets himself die.
  • At the end of the Virmire level in Mass Effect, Shepard is forced to choose between saving Kaidan or Ashley. Both of them will insist that Shepard leave them behind and save the other.
  • In Mega Man X5, in order to stop the Colony Drop, one of the heroes has to maneuver a shuttle into crashing into it. Zero volunteered himself, as he stated that, whether or not he (Zero) survives the crash, the world is still in danger, and X is needed more than he is.
  • Played with in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Either Snake or Raiden has to get to GW's server room, through a hallway saturated with microwave radiation. The other will stay behind and hold off an endless army of Mooks. Both forks in the road point to "heroic death", but naturally there's a More Hero Than Thou conversation between the two about who will do what.
  • One person from the team has to stay in Paradise while the others go to Great Glacier in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity. None of them want to stay behind, but they want each other to be happy. Even after picking strips of paper to decide who should stay and Dunsparce gets the marked one, the characters still argue over it and volunteer to stay until Emolga tells them to accept the results. At the last minute, though, Emolga switches with Dunsparce, to everyone's surprise.
  • Tales of the Abyss: The last third of the game has Luke and Asch arguing repeated about who is going to make a Heroic Sacrifice, actually two of them over the course of this part of the game, with each one wanting to make the sacrifice himself. They both survive the first - neutralizing the miasma - but Asch dies in the second on Eldrant, though depending on how you interpret the ending he might be alive in some capacity after it's all over.
  • After Arthas is killed in World of Warcraft, Tirion and Bolvar have a minor disagreement over who should be the next Lich King. The latter wins out.

    Visual Novels 


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: Distant Lands: In the episode "Together Again", Finn and Jake need to kill New Death, who is destroying the realms of the afterlife, stopping the cycle of reincarnation and preventing life from ever being born again. Life grants them a weapon capable of harming Death, but Finn and Jake only discover later that whomever kills Death is forced to become Death. The two then fight to be the one to take on this burden, as neither wants the other to be trapped reaping souls for eternity. The situation is resolved by Mr. Fox accidentally killing New Death for them, sparing the two from such a fate.
  • Danny Phantom takes this to ridiculous extremes with a scene which involves dozens of people knocking each other out in succession over who gets to go on a suicide mission.
  • Dumb Patrol: The World War One pilot "Captain Smedley" (Porky Pig) is chosen to shoot down "Baron Sam von Shamm" (Yosemite Sam). Bugs Bunny knocks him out.
    "Ya know, I just had to take his place. He's got a wife and six piglets."
  • Samurai Jack: One two-parter has a mild example. The first episode is the Scotsman trying to find out why Jack has lost his memory; the first half of the second episode is fighting the sirens that did it; and the second half is the Scotsman and Jack arguing and competing over who gets to row back to the mainland, with the winner rowing.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Temporal Edict", Mariner and Ransom are locked in an alien prison and told that one of them must win a death match against the planet's mightiest gladiator to save their comrades from summary execution. Mariner and Ransom immediately start bickering like children over who gets the sword, totally baffling their captor, who was obviously expecting them to try and fob it off on the other.
  • X-Men: The Animated Series: Subverted in the show's version of the Phoenix Saga. Jean Grey is apparently dead, but the Phoenix Force reveals that it can save her by transferring life energy from others to her. Jean's love interests Cyclops and Wolverine get into a brief argument about who will sacrifice himself for her sake. Both insist on doing it themselves. The Phoenix then explains that the life energy doesn't have to come from one person; it can take energy from a group of people (shortening their lifespans) to revive Jean. All of the X-Men hold hands and allow the Phoenix to do just that.

    Real Life 
  • Scottish clans used to race to be the first one into battle.
    • Celtic warriors have been stereotypically accused of this indiscipline as early as the Romans. It is a very grievous flaw due to simple mathematics; the first man into battle is always outnumbered, as is the next one, and so on, which is why it is necessary to keep good order in a hand-to-hand fight.
  • Prior to the Battle of Hanoi in 1946, orders came down to evacuate most of the soldiers in the city, leaving behind a newly formed regiment (dubbed Regiment of the Capital, now Regiment 102) who are fully prepared to make a Last Stand, doomed or not. 500 people were meant to stay with the Regiment. The evacuees/transferred soldiers did all the paperwork and left. Commanding officers then did a headcount, revealing about 700 people who snuck back into the Regiment to fight. The final military count for the battle came down to about 2500 people, adding some other units. About 20000 civilians stayed to fight alongside the soldiers as well.


Video Example(s):


Which Avenger Will Sacrifice?

Natasha and Clint fight it out for the honors of sacrificing themselves.

How well does it match the trope?

4.9 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / MoreHeroThanThou

Media sources: