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Public Execution

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"What a day, what a day
For an auto-da-fé!
It's a lovely day for drinking
And for watching people die!"
Candide, "Auto-Da-Fé"

Since the beginning of recorded history, societies have used execution as the ultimate punishment for unwanted behavior. Performing these executions in public can serve multiple purposes outside of removing the soon-to-be-deceased from society: it can act as a deterrent to warn on-lookers against repeating the behavior in question, it can slake the blood-lust of a wronged and angry populace, it can increase the punishment by adding an element of public humiliation, and at times it can be down-right entertaining!

Public executions can come about for any number of reasons. They may be performed by a government as punishment for a crime. They may be carried out by a monarch seeking to suppress the plans of political enemies in order to maintain a solid grasp on the throne. Regular public executions may be broadcast as a kind of spectator sport in a Crapsack World, or in our own world 20 Minutes into the Future. They can even be done on the spur of the moment by an angry mob who manage to get their hands on the source of their ire, without so much as a Kangaroo Court. They are also a favorite of revolutionary forces; if they want to demonstrate what not standing with them will ultimately result in, a torturous and barbaric public execution is a great way to frighten people into standing with them and demoralize opposing forces.

The reaction of the In-Universe audience for the execution can serve as a reflection of the moral character of the society at that time. A crowd that does nothing but jeer, egg-on The Executioner, or even attempt to participate in the killing may indicate that the people of the land are blood-thirsty and crude. On the other hand, shock and horror displayed by those in attendance may be a sign that the populace is undergoing a Morality Adjustment for the better, and may even be indicative of growing disfavor for the rulers who would carry out such a barbaric spectacle. Conquerors foolish enough to use a public execution to quell the dissent of a Martyrdom Culture could accidentally provide the last fuel needed to touch off a revolution.

A public execution can also be used to show the true character of the condemned. A previously unrepentant criminal may become The Atoner in their final moments, and one who was a badass may break down into uncontrolled sobbing and plead for their life. Characters who truly don't fear death may treat it as a game, laughing and returning the insults of the crowd, or getting one last jab at the ruling government before they die.

If the executee is one of the good guys, their public execution may be the backdrop for a Big Damn Heroes moment as their comrades rush in to save the day.

Overlaps with Dead Guy on Display, as a public execution is one of the surest ways to make certain (and assure others) that someone is well and truly dead... if the execution isn't botched, or the prisoner rescued. Can also overlap with Deadly Game, in which the condemned are forced to fight for their lives in gladiatorial or gauntlet style contests.

Truth in Television for some parts of the world. Burn the Witch! and Hanging Around are notable types, both historically and in fiction.

Note that in order to qualify as an example of public execution, the act must be performed in front of a large audience. The modern practice of allowing a handful of witnesses to view an otherwise private execution would not count for the purpose of this trope. This trope is often feedstock to Squick and Nightmare Fuel.

Related tropes:


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Public executions are also commonplace in the Berserk universe.
  • Subverted in Blue Comet SPT Layzner, where Anna and David plus others were hung in Unwilling Suspension and about to be publicly executed... but then Eiji Asuka showed up and saved them all.
  • Cross Ange: Prince Julio Misurugi apparently had his own father publically executed after crowning himself Emperor, and planned to publically hang his sister Ange after luring her into a trap, with the help of their youngest sister Sylvia, in order to "purge" the royal family. It fails because Tusk arrives to rescue Ange at the last second.
  • Daimos: This is a common practice for the Baam-seijin as they are literal Space Romans. Erika, Margarete, Gurney and Cindy were sentenced to death for alleged ties to the humans, and Richter himself is sentenced to this when his Assassination Attempt on Olban fails.
  • In Delicious in Dungeon, the Lunatic Magician executes members of the Golden Kingdom who had tried to escape and find help. She beheads them in front of the rest of the villagers.
  • Isabelle of Paris: Jules' Cruel and Unusual Death is being shot at by a firing squad, while his pregnant wife and their baby are also killed by the military, because he was discovered to be a leader of the Paris Commune.
  • La Seine No Hoshi: This is the fate of the nobles, including Marie Antoinette, in the Grand Finale.
  • Mobile Suit Victory Gundam has the Zanscare Empire employ public execution by guillotine as a standard punishment. They do this mostly to instill fear in the populace, as the guillotine is considered a barbaric and uncivilized punishment by pretty much everyone in the show.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway's Flash has the Federation hold an impromptu one for Hathaway Noa after capturing and denying him even a trial. To make matters worse, Hathaway's father Bright is forced to lead the firing squad, just to rub in how corrupt and fear mongering the Federation has become.
  • In Naruto, Gato publicly executes Inari's stepfather for opposing him. This action breaks Inari, and causes him to no longer believe in heroes until Naruto and Co. arrive.
  • Pirates like Gold Roger in One Piece often receive public executions. According to Igaram, the government pays 30% less for dead pirates because they can't be executed in public. Roger's public execution before the whole world backfired spectacularly for the government, though, as his last words started the first Golden Age of Piracy. Their public execution of his son Ace also backfired in that, while they managed to execute him and managed to take down a larger pirate (Whitebeard) in the process, the latter's last words kickstarted a second Golden Age of Piracy, one they couldn't easily contain.
  • In The Rising of the Shield Hero Naofumi attends two public executions as a "guest of honor". At the first event the rebel conspirators are executed en masse while the second is the execution of Tact, preceded by all of his allies, friends, and family.
  • Samurai Executioner: The manga follows a side character from Lone Wolf and Cub, the shogun's blade-tester and executioner Asaemon Yamada. He tries to understand what makes each prisoner commit his crime as he believes they should be repentant when dying, and usually allows last requests. Although the executions aren't public, taking place inside the prison, he's still feared throughout the town for his job. He also gets a lot of stupid people who think that he only kills people who're tied up and dead bodies, making him a pushover in a real fight... and are proven dead wrong.
  • In Stop Hibari Kun, public execution by crucifixion is what Hibari's sister Tsubame fears will happen to her family if it is discovered that Hibari, who is living life and attending school as a girl, is really a boy.
  • In the anime adaptation of Yoake Mae Yori Ruri Iro Na, Mai has a few Imagine Spots in which she, Sayaka, and Tatsuya are sentenced to public execution by firing squad, or by being boiled alive in a giant cup of tea.
  • Voltes V: When Girion defies Prince Heinel and says that he believes that General Dange was not a traitor, Heinel is so enraged that he sentences him to death, something that horrifies his own allies.

  • Michelangelo Buonarroti's The Crucifixion of Saint Peter is a lively showing of the death penalty, with surprised travelers, talkative centurions, and sobbing woman all crowding the scene as preparations are made to suffocate Saint Peter by tying him upside-down to a wooden stick.
  • The Thirdof May 1808, a famous painting by Francisco de Goya, depicts Spanish rebels being shot by a French firing squad during the early stages of the Peninsular War (hundreds were executed this way).

    Asian Animation 
  • Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Jollie and Eggy look as though they're about to be hung in Great War in the Bizarre World episode 33 for pretending to have long front teeth (which the rabbits consider a crime since long front teeth are supposed to determine their placement above other rabbits), but Jollie instead has his teeth ripped from him. Eggy isn't punished because he doesn't have teeth at all.

    Comic Books 
  • In the first issue of America's Kingdom, Prince Geoffrey has alleged terrorist Benedictine Arnold beheaded on national television. While he had hoped that it would make for a show of strength, it backfires, as Arnold was the owner of a popular chili restaurant, and thus Geoffrey's already-low approval ratings sink even lower.
  • Played with in Diabolik: whenever the protagonist is arrested and set for execution, journalists are present not to help making an example out of him but to confirm to the public that the King of Terror is really dead.
  • In Freedom Fighters (2018), the original Freedom Fighters were all executed in the 1960's, with their executions being televised to the rest of the world.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): While his actual execution isn't shown Capt. Storm's sentencing to be hanged in the square for his piracy is depicted in a flashback.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): The Sangtee Empire does public executions of those who lead slave revolts, and the nobility were very excited to see what the Emperor was going to do with Wonder Woman once she was caught, only for the Emperor to abolish slavery instead.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Calvin and Hobbes strip has Calvin as a condemned criminal on the gallows, giving the crowd his best Defiant to the End glare as the noose tightens around his neck. Cut back to reality, where it turns out his dad is trying to get him to wear a tie.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Film of the Book Nineteen Eighty-Four, during a so-called 'victory celebration', enemy POWs are trucked in, bound to poles with hoods over their heads, and then shot one-at-a-time with a pistol or submachine gun in front of the cheering crowd... not that anyone would dare not to cheer.
  • Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: Almost happens to Bill and Ted on their Excellent Adventure, after running afoul of some "royal ugly dudes" in medieval times. They're rescued when Billy and Socrates pull a Big Damn Heroes after somehow disguising themselves as the executioners.
  • It takes one of these in Black Knight (2001) for Martin Lawrence's character to figure out he's not in a theme park.
    Rebel: (about to be beheaded) Long live our deposed Queen!
    Jamal: (raises his fist) Power to the people!
    (Everybody looks at him strangely, including the rebel.)
    • Jamal himself is about to be executed in public for deflowering the princess (although, apparently, she already wasn't a virgin) and ruining the King's chances of an alliance with the Duke of Normandy. He tries to impress the medieval peasants with his "magical powers", but they're not buying it. Luckily, he's rescued by Sir Nolte.
  • William Wallace of Braveheart. Done also to deter those who may possibly want to rebel against England.
  • In Coneheads, condemned criminals have to "narfle the Garthok", which is a fancy way of saying trial by combat in a gladiator-style arena, where they face a huge monster. When Beldar is sentenced for treason along with several other criminals, the others are killed by the beast quickly; he manages to defeat it, however, using his talents in golf that he learned on Earth.
  • The Crow: City of Angels: After gaining the Crow's powers, Judah tries his attempt at a public execution on Ashe by hanging him from a street light in front of the whole town.
  • The film version of The Crucible, there is a series of public hangings in which the crowd is at first excited and later miserable after so many have died because of the witch trials.
  • C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America had the Confederate News cheerfully announce the live execution of a slave who had betrayed his master.
  • Elizabeth opens with the burning of heretics at the stake during the reign of "Bloody" Mary Tudor.
  • In Fierce Creatures, an Establishing Character Moment for ruthless media mogul Rod McCain.
    Neville: Mate, Beijing called. We have exclusive television rights to all their public executions.
    McCain: Worldwide?
    Neville: Five guys a week, guaranteed!
    McCain: Beauty! This is what satellite television was made for.
  • Flash Gordon. Flash's "death" by lethal gas by order of Emperor Ming.
  • In The Flesh and the Fiends, Burke is executed by public hanging, still complaining that Dr. Knox never paid him for the final body which means that he does not have a decent pair of trousers to wear when meeting the public.
  • In Frankenstein Created Woman, most of the town turns out to watch Hans's guillotining. A woman in the coach with Christina urges to driver to make better speed so she doesn't miss it.
  • In Gang of Roses, Rachel and the gang rescue Kim from a public hanging.
  • Hang 'Em High. The multiple hanging of outlaws is treated as popular entertainment by the townspeople. Having survived a vigilante hanging, Clint Eastwood's character is disgusted by the whole business and hauls away a prostitute for Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex, with her complaining about having to miss the hanging.
  • In High Plains Invaders, Sam is standing on gallows in the town square with a noose around his neck when the aliens attack.
  • In Invisible Avenger, the Generalissimo broadcasts the execution of Pablo's twin brother that is shown on television in the United States in a scheme to draw Pablo into the open.
  • Lady Frankenstein: Everyone turns out for the hanging of Jack Morgan, including Tanya, who has never witnessed an execution before, and Tom Lynch, who is planning to steal the body immediately afterwards.
  • The Mummy (1999): Evy rescues Rick O'Connell in the middle of his public hanging in the prison courtyard.
  • Napoleon (2023) opens on the day Marie-Antoinette is guillotined with a crowd attending during the Reign of Terror in fall 1793. Complete with Decapitation Presentation.
  • In Never Grow Old, Mrs Crabtree's daughter is hanged in the middle of town after she kills Dumb-Dumb. As the town carpenter, Patrick is the one commissioned to build the gallows.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • At World's End starts out with a mass public hanging of citizens thought to be involved with pirates, notably including a young boy amongst the victims. The scene is a sad counterpoint to Jack Sparrow's rescue from a similar fate, at the end of the first film.
    • Bunches of people show up for the trial and (presumed) subsequent hanging of one Captain Jack Sparrow in the opening of On Stranger Tides.
  • James Macleane of Plunkett & Macleane almost meets his end this way, only for the other half of the team, Will Plunkett, to save him in Big Damn Heroes fashion.
  • The Running Man. Criminals are executed by being hunted to their deaths on TV, with a promise of freedom if they survive.
  • Stargate: Continuum starts with a public execution of Ba'al's last clone (or so everyone thinks) by the Tok'ra on their new planet, making the end of the last of the System Lords.
  • In Starship Troopers, the fascist regime immediately sentences murderers to death and broadcasts their executions on live television on every channel.
  • Early in the 2010 version of True Grit, three men are publicly hanged.
  • Twilight Zone: The Movie: In "Time Out", as they see him as a black man, the Ku Klux Klan attempts to lynch Bill Connor but he manages to escape.
  • Undead or Alive: The fact that a public hanging was to be held the morning after the heroes' escape from jail gave them a head start, as the angry sheriff could not afford to draw the ire of the townsfolk who had assembled to witness the death of Ben Goodman, who had killed and eaten parts of his wife and daughter. (Since Ben was a victim of a zombifying curse, the hanging didn't quite take in the end.)
  • The Wicked Lady: Highwayman Jerry Jackson is sentenced to a public hanging.
  • Witness To The Execution a made for TV movie about a fictional television network's attempt to make executions a pay-per-view event.
  • Two of these are attempted in Zorro's Fighting Legion, one by firing squad, and the other by hanging. The Legion manages to save both potential victims.

  • A lawyer writes to a Remittance Man's father that his son was executed by hanging for stealing cattle: "Dear sir, I regret to inform you of the death of your son. He was participating in a public function when the platform gave way".

  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, prisoners of war are often publicly executed, which Parson's children regard as a great form of entertainment. Thought criminals, however, are executed (eventually) in the Ministry of Love.
  • There are a number of examples of this in The Bible. Most notably, Jesus' crucifixion.
  • Severian, the protagonist of Book of the New Sun is a public executioner and describes some of his jobs. Like the Discworld examples above, people did want souvenirs and Severian talks about playing to the crowd.
  • The Jasmine Throne: General Vikram has Ahirani rebels and their supporters crushed by elephants or burned alive publicly while he watches.
  • In Candide, after Lisbon is devastated by an earthquake, the country puts on an auto-da-fé, "it having been decided by the University of Coimbra, that the burning of a few people alive by a slow fire, and with great ceremony, is an infallible preventive of earthquakes." At this ceremony infidels are burned, Candide flogged, and Pangloss hanged. Later that day there is another earthquake.
  • In Christian Nation, Sanjay is given a televised stoning as an enemy of the new American theocratic state.
  • Circleverse: In Cold Fire Daja attends the public execution of an arsonist in Kugisko, where they burn arsonists alive so they can experience what they put their victims through and to discourage people becoming arsonists, though Daja makes the fire burn hotter to speed up the criminal's death.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: A public execution during a Roman festival allows the Count to test Franz and Albert's strength of character and make a point that Humans Are Bastards (both men were facing their fate with little drama, but on learning only one of them was pardoned the other starts screaming that he doesn't want to die if the other isn't going with him).
  • In The Crowner John Mysteries, public executions are a twice-weekly event in Exeter. As Coroner, John is required to attend them.
  • In the Deryni works, this is practised by those who have political power (kings of Torenth and Gwynedd, and presumably the sovereign rulers in the rest of the Eleven Kingdoms) and those who aspire to it (as when Loris and Sicard prepare to burn Duncan at the stake before the entire Mearan army late in The King's Justice).
  • In Discworld novels:
    • In Witches Abroad we see a public execution. Some countries cut off a thief's hand so he won't steal again. Lady Lilith cuts off his head so he won't think about stealing again. This is also a good example of the reaction of the public showing the nature of the society; after years of Lilith's rule, the public don't react at all, they just have a dead-eyed stare.
    • Going Postal opens with a faked public execution. Moist (the accused, who doesn't know it's faked) is asked to sign the rope before hand, since it will then be worth more to collectors. He's also expected to come up with some punchy last words, that being traditional.
    • Rincewind escapes a public execution in The Last Continent. There's a lot made of the execution as entertainment, and as above, pieces of the rope are highly prized souvenirs, although Fair Go Dibbler is somehow able to sell them before the hanging. ("It's still rope, right? Genuine rope.") We're also told of the humanitarian tradition that if the gibbet sticks three times... the prisoner will be given breakfast while someone fixes it.
  • Assassins of Gor: Tarl is put into a gladiatorial combat situation where everyone is supposed to be blindfolded, but in reality everyone else in the "tournament" can see through their blindfolds. Note that at that time in the series, it was still heavily influenced by the John Carter of Mars series.
  • In The Grace Year Dirty Old Man Geezer Fallow falsely accuses his wife, Mare, of using magic so that she will be executed as an "usurper", invoking Burn Thewitch but via hanging instead of burning.
  • In the Green Rider series, King Zachary has a public execution for the traitorous Lord Mirwell. In later books, it's revealed that while all executions are public, attending them is socially discouraged for the most part.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: The regime carries these out routinely, mostly by hanging, with the bodies left on display to warn others. One special form is Particicution (a Portmanteau of "participation" and "execution"), where the handmaids (usually with no power in their society) tear apart male convicts. This last appears to be when they were convicted of crimes against women. Of course, Ofglen claims that the man we see killed by them didn't actually rape and murder a woman— he was part of the resistance. She knocks him out so he won't suffer, though this reveals her to the Eyes of God.
  • Harry Potter: Hagrid offhandedly reveals he saved Firenze from an attempted public execution in Order of the Phoenix. The rest of the herd was in the process of delivering Firenze a slow painful death by kicking him for deigning to teach to wizards. Afterward Hagrid has to be more cautious in the forest as several members of the herd have made it clear they intend to shoot him to death for his intervention.
  • The Hunger Games: This happens to several characters, most notably President Snow... or rather, President Coin. The Hunger Games themselves can also be seen as a variant of this.
  • In the Judge Dee series, public execution of offenders is sometimes described. One that stands out is a rather sickening one in the first novel, wherein a guy is quartered by having his limbs tied to four water buffalo.
  • Stephen King:
    • In the book Wizard and Glass, part of The Dark Tower series, Roland's lover Susan is publicly burnt by an angry mob.
    • Then there's The Stand, where Flagg executes-read 'crucifies'- a guy who was caught doing drugs.
  • In the Left Behind book Armageddon, Chloe Williams is given a public execution after being captured by the Global Community and failing to give them any information on the whereabouts of the Tribulation Force.
  • Many examples in Jack Vance's Lyonesse series, related in a variety of styles: rhapsodising second-hand accounts, world-weary first-hand witnessing, and didactical narrative.
  • In the first Mistborn book, the Lord Ruler stages public executions to express his displeasure, rounding up a large number of victims (who may have nothing to do with whatever incurred his displeasure) and commanding everyone in the city to witness them being executed. Since those at the back would have a hard time seeing the executions take place, the victims are beheaded four at a time over a fountain until the water is bright red.
    • In another city in the third book, the preferred method of execution is to seal the victims into an abandoned house and burn it to the ground. The charred remains of houses throughout the city stand as a reminder.
  • In Newes from the Dead, Anne Greene is executed by hanging for alleged infanticide on trumped-up charges - every midwife could tell that the child was miscarried. The execution is described in all gruesome details, like Anne's relatives pulling on her feet to make her death faster. Unusual in that Anne survives the hanging despite all those efforts.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, John Carter is condemned to a public tournament to the death.
  • Often occurs in Robin Hood stories, with the Sheriff of Nottingham planning to kill captured Merry Men or innocents (usually by hanging) and Robin and the others trying to save them.
  • In the Safehold series, a major component of the Punishment of Schueler is a public execution by torture, as much to deter other would be heretics as to punish the victim.
  • The protagonist of Samurai Executioner is a public executioner, and the story in part consists of his victims' backstories and then shows him executing them.
  • Daniel Handler's A Series of Unfortunate Events: Fortunately averted in The Vile Village, but more or less straight in The Carnivorous Carnival.
  • Shtetl Days: In the Nazi Reich, hangings and beheadings are broadcast on TV along with football and bad sitcoms. The park occasionally stages "pogroms" where the actors playing Poles "riot" and beat convicts dressed as Jews to death in front of paying spectators.
  • The possibility of the protagonist's public beheading is a large part of the plot of Albert Camus's The Stranger. His main worry isn't that he will be executed but that it will be public.
  • Featured in the Tortall Universe as part of its Deliberate Values Dissonance.
    • Keladry is disillusioned by the festival atmosphere when bandits she'd helped capture are given a public hanging, with vendors working the crowd and some selling heroic ballads about the men being hanged.
    • In the Beka Cooper books, the execution of one book's Big Bad happens offscreen but is still mentioned. In that case, the criminal was a counterfeiter who was boiled alive.
  • Le Tour du Monde, an 1868 French travel magazine, describes a man being executed in India by having his skull crushed by a specially-trained elephant. The condemned was made to lay down with his head on a block, and held in place. The elephant placed its foot on his head and stomped down. This description was made into a woodcut.
  • Victoria has the heroes burn a female bishop in the beginning, and a televised massacre of college professors later on.
  • Stonefur in Warrior Cats gets executed in front of the clan, as a part of Tigerstar's campaign against half-clan cats.
  • High Priest Rheaesi in The Will Be Done is executed for being a heretic.
  • In Hugh Hovey's Wool, those who say the wrong things or want out of the silo are forced out into a toxic enviroment with a protective suit to clean off the cameras and sensors, but it is well known that leaving the silo is a death sentence. Many watch as the person does what is referred to as a "cleaning."

    Live-Action TV 
  • There are four instances of the use of capital punishment in Blackadder, at least two of which are public executions (and, given the setting, Amy's offscreen hanging probably was as well):
    • The Black Adder (the first series) episode Witchsmeller Pursuivant deals with witch-hunts. Blackadder is fingered as a witch and narrowly avoids being burnt at the stake thanks to some real witchcraft on the part of Leia and his mother. As an aside, the first witch to be burnt has her pussy-cat burnt alongside her, which particularly distresses Percy.
    • The Blackadder II episode "Head" is all about the public executions at the court of Elizabeth I. As in Discworld there's a gag about the callous crowd desiring souvenirs; Blackadder thinks the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh will attract "sailing enthusiasts", so he should try and sell them souvenir anchors.
    • In the third series episode "Amy and Amiability", it is suggested that Amy has been hanged as a highwayman, though the execution happens offscreen.
  • Charmed (1998): In "Morality Bites", the sisters go into the future, where one of them has killed a man with her magic and is executed on live TV via being burnt at the stake.
  • Colony: Snyder has the supposed Geronimo publicly hanged when he convicts him of terrorism.
  • Dead Man's Gun: In "The Bounty Hunter", Raymond Jakes is convicted of the murder of a Texas Ranger and finds himself on a gallows in front of the entire town with a noose round his neck. As the trapdoor opens and the noose pulls tight he awakes to discover it is All Just a Dream.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Sun Makers", Leela is sentenced to die in a public execution by steaming. The Controller is disappointed at the turnout. Dialogue indicates that public executions are a semi-regular occurrence on Pluto.
  • In Flash Gordon, Ming likes to arrange public executions by poisonous gas, while simultaneously making him look regretful for having to enforce the law. In one case, he sentences an ice smuggler to death, who was only smuggling to get extra water to his sick daughter. Ming publicly promises extra water rations for the girl... and then proceeds with her father's execution. In the Grand Finale, Aura and her brother sentence Ming to death, an act that finally earns her Ming's respect, but he's rescued by an ally, who teleports him out of the gas chamber.
  • A French Village: The Germans and the Milice shoot or hang numerous people publicly as an example to others. Later, the Resistance after the Liberation start the same thing in reprisals.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: "Salvaging" is this. The Handmaids carry out the death sentence against a rapist by beating and clawing him to death. This is also called "particicution". Subverted when the Handmaids all refuse to stone Janine, at June's instigation.
  • Highlander had one where the victim was immortal and survived, though he went rather insane afterward. Being burned alive will do that to you.
  • Horrible Histories has several (of course), notably that of famous robber Jack Sheppard.
  • Kaamelott: One episode has Arthur meet with Lancelot and his father-in-law to discuss executions and how to inject a little variety into the proceedings (Leodagan suggests the wheel as a family venue where everyone can bring their own staff with which to break the condemned's bones, while Lancelot thinks being drawn by horses is more suspenseful as you don't know which limb is going to be ripped off first). The discussion heats up until Arthur snaps and says that one day he'll outright abolish the death penalty, with the other two staring at him like he's grown an extra head.
  • The Last of Us. In the pilot episode, the public execution of several smugglers make it clear to the audience that the Boston enclave is being run by FEDRA as a military dictatorship.
  • Several times on Merlin (2008) at the orders of King Uther.
  • In "Gently Falling Rain" from The Orville, after being elected Supreme Chancellor of Krill, Teleya has the previous Chancellor brought before her. She then stabs him to death in a public presentation and later has him beheaded, his head mounted in the capitol. She later attempts the same with the Union delegation on Krill, but only succeeds in stabbing the Union President non-fatally before a rescue team from the Orville arrives.
  • Silo: Because the outside world is thought to be toxic and dangerous, condemnation to go outside and 'clean' the silo's sensors is understood as a death sentence. When Allison says she wants to go outside, Mayor Jahn immediately muses that people will be raring to watch this one because there hasn't been a cleaning in some time. However, it's clear that rather than some part of the viewers watching actually want the cleaners to survive the experience, because that would show that the outside world is habitable.
  • Many public executions were shown throughout The Tudors, as Henry VIII went through his laundry list of enemies, former advisers and ex-wives. The particularly brutal death of Thomas Cromwell at the hands of a drunken executioner serves as a My God, What Have I Done? moment for those who arranged it.
  • Tidelands (Netflix): Adrielle kills Bill in front of her group supposedly for murdering Genoveva (which she actually did).
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In "The Obsolete Man", Romney Wordsworth uses the opportunity provided by his televised execution for being obsolete to demonstrate that the Chancellor is nothing more than a Dirty Coward by trapping him in his room until just before the bomb explodes. The Chancellor also mentions that the executions of 1,300 people in six hours were shown on television the previous year.
    • In "The Mirror", Ramos Clemente orders the mass public execution of 1,000 prisoners, all of whom are former followers of General De Cruz. The executions continue unabated for a week, to the horror of the people. Clemente tells Father Tomas that they will continue so long as he has enemies.
    • In "I am the Night - Color Me Black", Jagger is publicly executed at 9:30 pm on May 25, 1964.
  • "Reckonings" in Wayward Pines involve the execution of people who break the town's rules repeatedly and publicly. In Season 1, their throats are slit. In Season 2, they're shot execution style.
  • World on Fire:
    • In retaliation for Kasia's killing an SS soldier, twenty some Polish civilians are shot by a German firing squad publicly.
    • Later, when Kasia is caught and sentenced to death, she's sent off for the gallows with other Polish prisoners. She's rescued by her resistance group though.

  • "March to the Scaffold," the fourth movement of Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique," ends with the symphony's main theme being cut short by a guillotine-like crash, followed by a drumroll and "ta-da" chords.
  • "Broadside" songsheets were commonly sold at the hanging of outlaws, purporting to be their final confessions. One of the most famous is My Name is William Kidd. MacPherson's Rant was supposedly written by its subject, Jamie MacPherson, and played by him on a fiddle before his execution. The lyrics, which are an excellent example of Defiant to the End, were developed by Robert Burns and Walter Scott.
  • Johnny Cash:
    • The song "25 Minutes to Go" is about a condemned prisoner watching them construct the gallows outside his cell window and seeing the crowd gather.
    • In the song "Joe Bean", the title character, in prison for robbery and murder, gets hanged on his birthday. The song ends with the prison staff singing, "Happy Birthday, Joe Bean" as the gallows lever is pulled.
  • Alice Cooper traditionally climaxes his concerts with his own execution. Over the years, he has been "killed" by guillotine, hanging, electric chair and most recently, lethal injection.
  • "Counting Sheep" by The Crane Wives, being about living under a totalitarian dictatorship or equivalent, opens with a hanging in the morning news.
    Sigh into your cup of coffee
    As you watch the morning news
    There goes your good day
    There's the knot on the noose
  • Alluded to in ELYSION's song "The Rules", which has the lyrics Breaking all the rules/Rising of the fooles/I just want to see the hanging.
  • Led Zeppelin's "Gallows Pole" is about a man to be executed whose family members offer various things to his captives to keep them from executing him. They kill him anyway.
  • The music video to Rammstein's "Deutchland" has a scene with the band about to be executed by hanging in front of a crowd by Nazis but escaping. At the end of the video, the Nazis are given a public execution by firing squad.
  • Richard Strauss's "Till Eugenspiegel's Merry Pranks" ends with the title trickster getting the noose.
  • The Strawbs song "The Hangman And The Papist" is all about this.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Book of Vile Darkness splatbook actually gives official rules for executing a condemned prisoner, via a Profession - Execution check to avoid botching an execution. A botched execution means the victim still dies, but he suffers more, something an executioner with any amount of professional pride tries to avoid; ironically, it also means the victim lives a little longer, opening a larger possibility for rescue if magical healing is available. It also gives specific results for what happens to a victim in the case of successful and botched results for hangings, beheadings, drawing and quartering, and crucifixion. This is recommended for NPC villains only, naturally, much like a lot of the stuff in the book.
    • The mind flayers love to eat brains, but can't fully indulge themselves for fear of going through their supply too fast or risking discovery and retaliation for excessive slave raids. One solution is the spectacle of performance eating, in which one lucky illithid eats a choice victim before an audience of other illithids, psychically broadcasting every part of the experience, from the crunch of the skull being bitten into to the taste, texture and memories of the brain being consumed, for their peers to enjoy as well. Adventures captured by the mind flayers often suffer this fate, since their brains are full of interesting experiences undulled by extended captivity or psychic thralldom.
  • Over the Edge plays it differently in first/second edition and third edition.
    • In first/second edition, the Plaza of Justice holds an iron gallows that is used for executions daily at 3pm during the week, twice a day (noon and 3pm) on weekends.
    • In third edition, the regular executions in the Plaza of Justice still exist, although not necessarily on such a set schedule, and are even bigger events. However, the rights to execute particular criminals are also auctioned off for entertainment. A description of a playtest describes a restaurant executing a seditionist by drowning, for the enjoyment of the diners.
  • In the Planescape campaign its as common as it is in any RPG setting, but the Mercykillers of Sigil have something special for criminals convicted of treason against the city itself. Such criminals are executed publicly by feeding them to the Wyrm, a wyvern that they keep as a mascot. These events are rare, and it's somewhat of a holiday for Sigil when it happens. Everyone comes out to watch. (As long as you aren't too squeamish to watch a man get devoured by a wyvern, but if you live in Sigil for any length of time, that's unlikely to be a problem.)
  • Commissars inWarhammer 40,000 often shoot cowards and heretics for cowardice and heresy in full view of their comrades mid-battle.

  • At the end of The Beggar's Opera, Macheath now finds that four more pregnant women each claim him as their husband. He declares that he is ready to be hanged. The narrator (the Beggar), notes that although in a properly moral ending Macheath and the other villains would be hanged, the audience demands a happy ending, and so Macheath is reprieved, and all are invited to a dance of celebration, to celebrate his wedding to Polly. Some stagings, however, have the Beggar making his pronouncement about the need for a happy ending and totally failing to notice Macheath actually being hanged in the background.
  • In Knickerbocker Holiday, Brom Broeck is twice led to the gallows. The first time, he tricks the Council into trying to hang him by the belly rather than by the neck, and the Governor is amused enough that he lets him free. The second time, the Governor is ordering Brom's execution, and Brom finally manages to save his own neck again by Shaming the Mob.
  • Marat/Sade: The play-within-a-play being performed by the asylum inmates features them acting out the public execution of the aristocrats by the guillotine during The French Revolution, followed by the execution of the king. Afterwards, the Marquis de Sade, during one of his monologues, compares the "gentleness" of the guillotine to the far more brutal public execution of Robert-François Damiens who, at a much earlier time, had attempted to assassinate Louis XV. He relates that the execution "lasted four hours while the crowd goggled," as Damiens was brutally tortured to death until he was nothing more than "a bloody torso with a nodding head."
  • The Mikado describes the functions of the Lord High Executioner in loving detail. However, Ko-Ko never in fact performs an execution, a fact which gets him and his town in trouble with the Mikado.
  • Of Thee I Sing: In "Let 'Em Eat Cake", Throttlebottom is blamed for throwing the baseball game to the League of Nations, and sentenced to the guillotine. Wintergreen and his flunkeys are also scheduled for execution as the army executes its coup. Throttlebottom notices that the guillotine is broken and fixes it.
  • Turandot begins with a crowd thronging to watch the execution of one of the title character's failed suitors, who loses his head offstage.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
  • In the Castlevania series, this is the reason behind Dracula's second descent into villainy (and the beginning of his war against humanity). Sometime prior to the third game, the Dark Lord's wife Lisa—a medicine woman and healer implied to be the reincarnation of his first wife Elisabetha—was tried as a witch and burned at the stake (although SotN has his son Alucard's dream depict this event as Lisa instead being crucified). Drac already had a low opinion of God; this didn't help mankind in the long run either.
  • In Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, the Brotherhood of Nod is fond of doing this to suspected traitors. In the Nod campaign's opening cinematic, Commander Anton Slavik is given a toxic injection on the orders of the traitorous General Hassan, only for loyalists in the Black Hand to rescue him and stab him with an antidote. A few missions later, Slavik returns the favor and slits Hassan's throat before a spectating crowd.
  • In the Downer Ending of Conquests of the Longbow, Robin is hanged. He is also hanged offscreen in some death sequences.
  • All the executions in Danganronpa's main games count, as the "blackened" (which is to say, the culprit) is getting executed in front of the remaining students. It may seem a bit of a stretch, as the maximum number of people to witness an execution is 14. However, once you consider that everything happening is being broadcasted all over the world for everyone to see, in the first game by the cameras, in the second game because everything is happening in a virtual reality, and in the third game by the Nanokumas, this trope definitely applies.
  • There are two of these in the course of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
    • The first one occurs minutes into the intro to the game, which has you bound for the headsman's block along with Ulfric Stormcloak and his Stormcloak allies. The guy who gets executed, one of Ulfric's soldiers, is Defiant to the End ("My ancestors are smiling at me, Imperials. Can you say the same?"). You are about to receive the same treatment when the dragon Alduin shows up and starts burning everything to the ground.
    • You bear witness to another execution the first time you visit Solitude. Roggvir, the sentenced, was a gate guard who had allowed Ulfric to leave the city after the latter had challenged and killed High King Torygg in a duel. Roggvir was branded a traitor for this, and, no matter when you reach Solitude, it just so happens that his execution by beheading was scheduled for that time (at least, so long as you enter through the main gate). Roggvir is fated to die whether you choose to intervene or not.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Tifa and Barrett are captured by the Shinra, whose leader plans to execute them on national television for propaganda purposes. Saved by both a double Deus ex Machina (one small, one big) and a Heel–Face Turn from Cait Sith.
  • Fire Emblem:
  • General Kota faces one of these in the The Force Unleashed II, being tossed into a gladiatorial arena on Cato Neimoidia and forced to fight for several days without rest, food or water. Starkiller fights through an army of stormtroopers to save him.
    • Mentioned in the original game, when Emperor Palpatine assures the captured Rebel leaders that they will face a very public and painful execution.
  • Near the beginning of Modern Warfare, Al-Asad executes the president of an unnamed country ("controlled" by the player) and broadcasts it on national television as a less-than-subtle way to announce that he has taken over.
  • The Sims Medieval: The primary method of execution available is for a Sim to be tossed into "The Pit of Judgement" and forced to do battle with The Pit Beast, a carnivorous tentacled monstrosity. Gathered witnesses will either gasp in horror or cheer on the combatants.
  • Skies of Arcadia: How the Blue Rogues of the Dyne Family are to be executed by the Valuan Empire after their capture during the raid on Pirate Isle, requiring Vyse, Aika and Drachma to infiltrate Valua to save them.
    • The fate likely to await Vyse and his crew after their capture by Ramirez during the Nasrad Raid.
  • Discussed in the courthouse bulletin in Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, and almost attempted when Judge Grindstump is imposing a death sentence on Guybrush... until LeChuck arrives at the courthouse to clear our hero's name.
  • Tales of Symphonia, Chocolat is about to be hanged by the bad guys as the party shows up just in time to save the day.
  • This can happen to Rennie in TearRing Saga, if neither Runan nor Mintz arrive in time and seize the castle where she's about to be burned at the stake. If they do, she joins their group some chapters later.
  • In the Warcraft Expanded Universe story Of Blood and Honor, Eitrigg, an orc Defector from Decadence, is almost hanged before Tirion, having sacrificed his position as a paladin, his right to rule Hearthglen, and contact with his family in an attempt to protect him, saves him.
  • In the first chapter of The Witcher 2, you come across a public execution in a town square with a couple people you recognize from the first game. You can save them from their fate, though.
  • In Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Frau Engel makes an announcement she will execute her captive B.J. Blazkowicz at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., with everything happening that's being broadcast for the whole world to see. What's even heartbreaking is that the player has to see it happening from the dying Blazkowicz's perspective while he is suffering from a Heroic BSoD after being sentenced to death. As the public execution is taking place, after Engel exchanges her final words with Blazkowicz, with her sword at the ready, he is Forced to Watch as she decapitates him and shows his head in full view to the cheers of the Nazi army before dropping it into the incinerator below. Fortunately, his allies arrive and rescue his head in the nick of time, keeping it alive as best as they can before transplanting it into his Super Soldier body, reviving Blazkowicz and freeing him from his sick and crippled body, allowing him to come back stronger than ever.

    Web Animation 
  • Happens with the Execution video on GoAnimate. Usually for bad users and bad people like Boris the Teeth Guy.

    Web Original 
  • A surprisingly large number of executions have occurred on the Dream SMP.
    • At the Manburg Festival in Season 1, Tubbo is revealed to the public to be The Mole for Pogtopia and Schlatt orders him to be publicly executed at the Festival he decorated for, to the horror and objection of practically everyone else present. Unfortunately for Tubbo, Technoblade doesn't do well under (what he claims to be) peer pressure, and shoots the firework rockets in his face anyway.
    • In Season 2, Techno himself becomes on the receiving end of this trope after the Butcher Army arrests him for destroying the remains of L'Manburg with Withers during the Manburg-Pogtopia War, in addition to their personal grievances against him for traumatizing them for life. However, Techno manages to survive and escape the execution with help from Dream, and vows revenge for what he believes to be an act of injustice against him.
    • The Green Festival on January 5th, 2021 (later in Season 2) was initially planned as a public execution for Dream, but this became subverted when all of the Butcher Army's plans get thrown out the window, as Dream reveals the destruction of the Community House and the shit hits the fan for everyone in attendance.
    • In Season 3, during the Red Banquet, Foolish is ritually sacrificed to the Egg in front of the attendees of the Banquet, because he tried to protect Eret, his Old Friend, from being made an example of by the Eggpire. Fortunately, there weren't any other fatalities once the Big Damn Heroes show up.

  • DICE: The Cube That Changes Everything: Dongtae's reward for completing the official challenge with X and defeating all his minions... is a livestream of his beheading as a lesson to not oppose X. The Ancient Die saves him just in time.
  • A small town in Girl Genius has "the wheels of justice turning slow, but fine" upon three captured monstrous Super Soldiers. The constable's choice of execution method is...less than efficient. Entertaining, though, it certainly is. At least, Maxim, Oggie, and Dimo think so, from the ends of their respective ropes.
    • More effectively, in the early part of the story we see huge jars with desiccated corpses in them. Agatha later threatens someone with being put in the jars if she tells the Baron what he's done.
  • Unsounded: Stockyard's da was executed in a public hanging, which also seems to be the public execution method favored in Cresce. In Alderode Duane's assassins were publicly tortured for confessions and then decapitated.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: Stan and his family are convicted of several crimes when they're in Saudi Arabia, are to be publicly executed by stoning. They are saved by Roger who agrees to sleep with a Shiek in exchange for saving them.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, we never see one, but it's referenced. When the kids are at a Fire Nation festival in "The Deserter", Aang spots a big crowd and wonders what it's for. Sokka says, "Knowing the Fire Nation, it's probably an execution."
    • In the episode "Avatar Day", Aang himself was set up to be executed for killing a community's leader in a past life (which turned out to be itself an execution mandated and performed by the Avatar of that time, because the leader was a tyrant trying to expand his territory). Fortunately, the Fire Nation chose this exact moment to attack the village, and his punishment was changed to "community service" in the form of driving them off.
  • In the Grand Finale of Samurai Jack: Aku makes a worldwide broadcast of his attempt to kill Jack execution-style, first by airing the intro from the show's first four seasons, and then forcing all of the inhabitants Jack has rescued through the years to watch as their precious savior dies. However, all the inhabitants decide they can't stand for that, and they make a Big Damn Heroes moment in saving Jack while Aku is fiddling around with many methods on how to kill Jack, who tries talking some sense into Ashi to break out of Aku's control.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • In "Prisoners", Riff Tamson attempts to publicly execute Prince Lee-Char of Mon Cal in order to break the captive Mon Calamari's spirit by making a show of killing the leader that has served as the main embodiment of their will to resist his forces, but the Quarren take the opportunity to turn against the Separatists there thanks to Lee-Char's earlier urging.
    • In "The Soft War", King Rash of Onderon attempts to have his predecessor King Dendup, whom he usurped, executed by laser-guillotine in front of a large crowd. It takes La Résistance, Ahsoka, and the Heel-Face Turns of the Royal Guard and its general to prevent the execution.

    Real Life 
  • Deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was hanged on 30 December 2006 for his persecution of Shiite Muslims. The successor regime released silent footage of Saddam being led to the gallows, stopping the video after his head was in the noose. Soon after the execution, amateur cell-phone footage surfaced of the entire proceeding, including Saddam's actual death and the witnesses' taunts that preceded it. This prompted the Iraqi government to arrest multiple people suspected of recording the execution.
  • Public execution is legal in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen. Out of the five, though, only Saudi Arabia does so on a regular basis: each Friday afternoon, after the Jumu'ah prayers, and they are mostly done through literal capital punishments (others prefer pistols or gallows instead).
  • In 1916, a circus elephant named Mary was hanged in front of 2500 spectators at a railyard in Erwin, Tennessee, after she killed her inexperienced handler, who struck her for straying out of line while she and the circus's other elephants were being led to a watering hole. Many people who witnessed her attack on her handler demanded her death and, with local towns refusing to allow the circus to pitch up if she was with them, the circus's owners felt they had no choice but to kill her. Erwin was chosen as the execution site because it was the nearest town with equipment strong enough to hang an elephant. This led to Erwin being dubbed "the town which killed an elephant", but it has since tried to make amends by dedicating itself to elephant welfare.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Execution


Execution of the Aristocrats

The inmates of Charenton act out the executions of the aristocrats and the King by guillotine, following the French Revolution, as part of their bathhouse play.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / PublicExecution

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