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Offering Another in Your Stead

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Davy Jones: I wonder, Sparrow. Can you live with this? Can you condemn an innocent man– a friend– to a lifetime of servitude in your name while you roam free?
[a beat, as Jack seems to ponder this]
Jack Sparrow: Yep! I'm good with it. Shall we seal it in blood? I mean... ink?

Alas, not everyone can Face Death with Dignity. Faced with torture, death, or something even worse, some people buckle under the stress and begin begging for their lives, all pride thrown to the wind; they will offer everything they have, everything they imagine their tormentor might want... and in some cases, even someone to suffer in their stead.

Used only by the most desperate or depraved characters, this strategy features the victim offering up a scapegoat to be tortured, killed, or worse in their place. This can take two possible forms:

In the first case, the offer is made in extremis but never actually carried out — either due to the victim being totally insincere or the tormenter refusing to accept it — and the horror is that they were pushed far enough to even consider such a thing.

In the second and far nastier case, the offer is taken to its logical conclusion in the form of a Deal with the Devil, leaving the victim alive but burdened with the cost.

The permutations of this second variant are many: some feature the tormentor making the offer, leaving the victim grappling with their conscience; some involve the victim taking a hands-on role in securing the scapegoat, finding, preparing, or even doing the dirty deed themselves. In the case of especially bloodthirsty tormentors, this sacrifice can be made multiple times... or indefinitely.

However, the key aspect here is that the victim must be under direct threat, and the bargain should be driven by selfishness: other sacrifices made when the tormented is not at risk of suffering count more as straightforward Human Sacrifice; sacrifices made in order to save multiple lives fall more under the heading of Shoot the Dog.

If a God of the Dead or similar force demands one life in exchange for another, this will often overlap with Balancing Death's Books.

Compare Got Volunteered and Pushed at the Monster. Opposite Trope of Take Me Instead.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Audio Plays 
  • In the Big Finish Doctor Who story Master, the Doctor reveals that the source of the Master's villainy is a childhood incident in which the future Master killed a bully to save the future Doctor's life, only to be claimed by Death as her emissary because of it. In the finale, however, Death herself reveals a hidden twist to the story: it was the Doctor who killed the bully to save the Master, and when Death came for him that night, he begged her to take his best friend instead. Death accepted his offer, erased the young Time Lord's memory of the incident, and turned the Master into the psychopath that the Doctor should have become.

    Comic Books 

    Film — Animated 
  • The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie: One of the new stories wrapping through the compilation involves Yosemite Sam being killed and winding up in Fire and Brimstone Hell. He makes a deal with Satan to go free as long as another soul takes his place. Sam, of course, attempts to send Bugs in his place. No points for guessing how that goes.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Dolittle: Right after Dr. Dolittle pushes his hated rival Blair Mudfly out of the way of a blast of flames fired by the dragon who guards the Eden Tree, Blair, genuinely surprised that his enemy would save his life like that, decides to become good- but being a self-serving coward, his idea of being "good" consists of pushing one of his own soldiers towards the dragon and begging her to kill the soldier instead of him. It doesn't work, and the dragon just knocks him down an oubliette. Luckily for Blair, as shown in The Stinger, falling down the hole doesn't kill him- unluckily, the swarm of hungry bats he tries to communicate with does.
  • Final Destination 5 introduces a rule that victims who cheated death can add to their own life by killing someone who isn't living on borrowed time.
  • Glorious: Wes convinces Ghat to allow Gary into the bathroom. When it becomes obvious that Ghat isn't going to let him leave either, Wes repeatedly tries to get Ghat to pick Gary to satisfy the eldritch god through the gloryhole in place of Wes. Ghat rejects this offer, saying that Wes was "chosen". Since Gary has already seen too much and is otherwise useless to Ghat's plan, Ghat simply eats him.
  • Hellraiser: Several times throughout the films, characters attempt to bargain with the Cenobites to send another soul to their dimension in place of their own.
    • In the first Hellraiser, Kirsty Cotton opens the Lament Configuration and finds herself facing Pinhead and his entourage. Knowing that her wicked uncle Frank has escaped them, she offers to bring them to Frank. Pinhead lets her go for the moment, promising that he may reconsider taking her as well. After she leads them to Frank, the Cenobites decide they want her too.
    • In Hellraiser: Hellseeker, a man attempts to kill his wife by giving her the Lament Configuration so that she'll summon the Cenobites, all so he can inherit her money. However, the wife flips the script by offering Pinhead five souls in exchange for her own: she kills three of her husband's mistresses, her husband's friend and co-conspirator, before finally killing her husband (who gets the blame for all the murders). Trevor, who has been Dead All Along, is the husband, and Kirsty Cotton is the wife.
    • In Hellraiser: Judgement, the Preceptor, a deranged Serial Killer, has already escaped Hell once before when he tries to make a deal with Pinhead by offering him the lives of two adulterers. Pinhead is fine with dragging the two off to Hell, but he cannot just let the Preceptor go, as he is working on behalf of the Stygian Inquisition and does not have the authority to make such a deal.
  • Judge Dredd. Fergie and Dredd have been captured by the cannibalistic Angel Family. When the Angel Family prepares to eat Fergie, he tries to convince them not to by saying "Eat Dredd! He works out!"
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Captain Jack Sparrow finds himself being hunted down by the Kraken to repay his debt to Davy Jones: a hundred years of servitude on The Flying Dutchman - though as the Dutchman already has a captain, the sentence will be commuted to eternity in Davy Jones' Locker. After managing to arrange a meeting with his creditor, Jack is able to talk Jones into accepting a repayment of a hundred souls in his stead - to be gathered within the next three days. For good measure, Will Turner is offered and accepted as a down payment, allowing Jack to go free while Will is left to toil aboard the Dutchman for the next hundred years.
  • True Lies: When the SWAT team arrests Helen and Simon, Simon begs them to take Helen instead of him as a further demonstration of what a colossal Slimeball he is. By contrast, when Harry and Helen are captured by terrorists and placed in a similar situation, Harry tries to get them to release Helen by offering himself.

  • In the climax of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith is brought to the Ministry of Love and tortured by O'Brien in order to make him totally loyal to Big Brother, ultimately resulting in a visit to Room 101: here, Winston has a cage of rats strapped to his head and is left with only a wire mesh gate saving him from having his face gnawed off. Having reached the end of his psychological tether in the face of his worst fear, he's reduced to begging O'Brien to inflict the torture on his lover Julia instead - exactly what his torturers wanted all along. This act of betrayal is the final stage in Winston's brainwashing, and from here on, he's been rendered down into a loyal pawn of the Party.
  • The Belgariad: The Thulls have it worst of all the people stuck under the God of Evil Torak — they're mostly a Fantastic Underclass and get sacrificed to him in horrific quantities. The only ways to survive if they're selected for sacrifice are to be pregnant or to offer up a slave, so the entire nation lives in fear, desperately scrounging money for slaves to take their place on the altar.
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer: Having already sold his soul to Satan, Johannes is offered a wager — collect a hundred souls in one year to win his own back, or die. Johannes is literally soulless enough to accept.
  • The Machineries of Empire: In "The Battle of Candle Arc", a rebel fleet tries to offer up their own general in exchange for a cease-fire. Knowing that the general would be publicly tortured to death, General Jedao refuses, both to spare them that fate and to prevent the mutineers from profiting by such a betrayal.
  • The Ring: In both the Japanese and American versions of the story, whoever watches Sadako/Samara's cursed videotape is doomed to die within seven days of viewing it. However, should they create a duplicate of the tape and show it to someone else, they will be spared - though this will mean that the new victim will have to do the same to someone else or die horribly.
  • Smoke And Mirrors by Neil Gaiman: In "Troll Bridge," the second time the narrator encounters the eponymous troll as he's preparing to kiss his best friend, who freezes in time when the troll appears. When the troll demands to "eat his life," the narrator pushes his crush towards it and tells it to eat her instead. The troll refuses and vanishes. After the girl regains consciousness, the narrator gradually drifts away from her out of shame and guilt.
  • Stuck On Earth: Tom hates his sister Sally so much that when he's about to have his brain invaded by Ketchvar, he tries to get the alien to take her instead. (In fairness, when Ketchvar possesses Tom, he does discover that Sally is very unpleasant to live with.)
    Tom: Take my sister.
    Ketchvar: [confused] Take her for what?
    Tom: She's fatter than I am, so she's probably more delicious to eat. And she's a girl, so she can have your babies. And she gets A's in school, so if you want to dissect a human brain, hers would be much better than mine. That's her window, right there. She's alone, practicing her cello. Take her and put me back. I swear I won't tell anyone.
  • The Wheel of Time: The undercover cultist Jaichim Carridin is warned that, for as long as he fails to kill The Chosen One, his family will die one at a time, saving him for last. The next time agents of the Shadow contact him, he assumes his time is up and starts blubbering that he has more relatives.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad: By the events of "Full Measure", Walter and Jesse have managed to piss off their boss Gustavo Fring so badly that he orders both of them to be killed. Though they can't find Jesse, his hitmen do find Walter, who starts begging for his life and offers them Jesse's location in exchange for his safety. Given that Fring's original dispute was with Jesse, Mike allows Walter to call Jesse in order to lure him into the open. It's all a ploy: Walt uses this opportunity to give a pre-planned order to Jesse, resulting in him assassinating Gale, the meth cook who was about to replace them. Without his substitute genius, Gus will have no choice but to spare Walter and Jesse.
  • Dexter: Many of Dexter's victims that end up on his kill table attempt to bribe or bargain with him in return for their freedom. At least one victim, who was part of a larger group of Serial Rapists that Dexter was going after, offered to give him the ringleader. Ironically, said ringleader was already using him as an Unwitting Pawn to lure in Dexter and Lumen. Dexter doesn't even acknowledge the offer, eventually killing both of them.
  • Supernatural: While he's trapped in Hell, Dean is told that all he has to do to end his torture is to become a torturer himself. After decades, he gives in. This is implied to be the first step towards becoming a demon.
  • In the first season of The Witcher (2019), Yennefer is tasked with guarding a young queen, Kalis, and her infant daughter. They're attacked by a magical assassin who was hired by Kalis's husband, as he had grown tired of his wife failing to give him sons. After a lengthy chase, Yennefer abandons Kalis for insulting her one too many times and Kalis offers her baby daughter to the assassin in her place. The assassin kills Kalis and Yennefer returns to try and save the baby, but narrowly fails.

    Mythology And Religion 
  • The Bible: In the Book of Judges, an unnamed Levite travels to persuade his estranged wife to come home. A gang of Benjamite men surround the house they're staying in and demand to rape the Levite. The Levite forces his wife outside instead, and the Benjamites spend a full night raping her to death. Then when the Levite finds her body, he dismembers her and sends the pieces to the other tribes of Israel, demanding they wage war on the Benjamites.
  • Classical Mythology: Admetus was rewarded by Apollo by letting him find one person willing to die in his stead. When the time came, Admetus found that this wasn't as easy as he thought, with even his parents being unwilling to simply die for him. At last his wife Alcestis volunteered for love of him, and Admetus' household was in the middle of grieving her when Herakles dropped by. He partied as hard as ever (thinking the servants looked sad because one of their own had died), but on waking up and understanding the situation he went to the underworld and brought Alcestis back.

  • Old Harry's Game: The first thing Thomas Crimp does on ending up in Hell is to try and offer his children up for eternal torment, something that takes Satan aback ("And I'm the Devil! It takes a lot to shock me!"), setting up the tone of their interaction across the series.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Subverted in Bugs Bunny & Taz: Time Busters: at the end of the Aztec segment. Bugs and Taz arrive right when Yosemite Sam is about to sacrifice Daffy Duck to a sun god. Daffy takes this as an opportunity to ask Sam to let him go in exchange for Daffy capturing Bugs and Taz so they can be sacrificed in his stead. Sam agrees and allows Daffy out of his restraints to capture them... only for Daffy to immediately make a run for it, much to Sam's chagrin.
  • Played With in Dragon Age: Origins: during the journey through the Dead Trenches, the player encounters Hespith, a sickly dwarf woman captured by the Darkspawn. She mentions that she and another woman by the name of Laryn were being selected for something by their captors, and that she wished that Laryn would be taken instead of her; "wishing" caused it to actually happen - though it's not made clear if Hespith forced Laryn to take her place or if she just passively begged and deliriously blamed herself when it actually happened. As it turns out, Laryn was being forced to eat the corpses of her friends and the vomit of the Darkspawn, a process that would eventually turn her into a Broodmother. For added horror, Hespith is already in the initial stages of her transformation by the time you run into her, so wishing for Laryn to go instead was All for Nothing.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: One Dark Brotherhood quest requires you to save a man's life from mob enforcers rather than kill anyone. Being an assassin cult, the Brotherhood demanded a life as part of the payment, so the man handed over his mother for execution.
  • In Outlast: Whistleblower, "Dissociative" Dennis is found lurking in the attic of the Vocational Block, right above the lair of Eddie Gluskin. From dialog between him and his various personalities, it soon becomes clear that he's managed to survive by offering fellow patients to Gluskin so that he won't come upstairs and take Dennis instead... and as bad luck would have it, protagonist Waylon Park has ended up in the perfect position to be Dennis' latest sacrificial goat and Gluskin's newest "bride." Naturally, this section ends with Dennis successfully herding Waylon downstairs...
  • Star Trek Online: In the mission "Leap of Faith", former Klingon Chancellor Gowron trades himself to Molor (the Klingon equivalent of The Devil) to in exchange for him releasing the soul of Chancellor L'Rell from Gre'thor (Klingon Hell). Molor agrees to release Gowron to go to Sto-vo-kor (Klingon Valhalla) if the Player Character and their allies can send him the souls of Arc Villains J'mpok and Aakar.
  • Sunless Skies: This is how The Amicable Vagabond AKA Old Tom manages to renege on his Deal with the Devil with whatever lies at the bottom of his eponymous Well every year. Rather than offering himself up after striking it rich, with the right ritual, he can just sacrifice someone else in his stead. Even worse, he has to befriend them first to the point they can consider each other proper friends, or it doesn't count; he'll try to do it to you, but you can offer someone else in your stead or just sabotage the ritual so he gets swallowed by the Well like he should have been from the start.
  • We Happy Few: This is part of the Awful Truth. In World War II, the people of Wellington Wells gave up their children to an Uncertain Doom in exchange for Germany ending its invasion. The protagonist Arthur is driven by his quest to recover his brother Percy, but finally remembers that he had tricked Percy into being taken in his place.


    Web Original 

    Web Video 
  • At the end of season 11 of Acquisitions Incorporated, Omin is revealed to have magically cloned his long-time partner Jim Darkmagic as a contingency for the case his team cannot rescue the original from a mortal curse. Along the way, Omin has also made a literal Deal with the Devil with the devil's price being Omin's own soul. He ultimately solves both problems at once by coldly offering the devil the clone's soul after ensuring the original's safe recovery. For added punch, the DM has Mike, the original Jim's player, role-play the clone during the "exchange", telling him only that the clone genuinely believes that he is the original.
  • Phelous plays this for laughs as a Running Gag when it comes to Old Man from Beauty and the Beast (Golden 1992). Due to how bad Old Man was at protecting Beauty from the Beast, Phelous's interpretation was that he was trying to get her to die for him so that he could get the treasure, driving home the point with Phelous's joke dialogue and the Old Man wearing a "Beauty Can Die In My Place" shirt. Old Man will also get into discussions with other "Beauty Fathers" from other Beauty and the Beast adaptations, where he attempts to encourage many of them to also abandon their daughters to the Beast.

    Western Animation