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Punished for Sympathy

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"For showing compassion, Granny would condemn me to a thousand mindyears of all-pain."
Big Barda, Gotham City Garage


Whenever someone does something evil, there comes a time where someone comes in to give them their comeuppance. But then we find out that there's someone who's willing to forgive and forget all of the bad stuff they've done. Not to mention that they're having fun together like old buddies. This Is Unforgivable!! S/he needs to be punished, too!

This is the trope where a character will receive punishment, ostracism, or criticism from other characters for sympathizing, forgiving, sparing, or just being plain nice to someone. In stories centered on Black-and-White Morality, one way to set a group of heroes over the edge is when someone within their group expressing pity for the villain. Perhaps the heroes consider the villain truly beyond redemption for his horrible deeds, and the sympathizer is too naive to understand the gravity of his crimes. In another situation, even if the sympathizer is not condoning his actions, he will still get scolded by the heroes for expressing his sympathy for the villain who had a bad past or upbringing, especially if the heroes believe that the villain cannot be forgiven for his crimes despite the circumstances that pushed him to villainy. If the focus is on the villain's punishment, the sympathizer would get scolded if he considers the punishment too harsh.


In other variants, the person the character sympathizes with can be someone who's not well-liked or respected by society, and they don't take kindly to those who associate with them. The sympathizer may be a part of a group who detests other groups and will get treated with contempt by the group if they're friendly to each other. The sympathizer may be a Reluctant Warrior and him showing mercy to the enemy can put the Proud Warrior Race to shame.

This is quite common in many wars. If there were a general who commands soldiers to kill a certain population they oppose, expect one to spare at least one life or just refuse to kill everyone. The soldier has disobeyed the general's orders, and when he hears about this, he will tell him to turn in his badgeor worse.

This is a suitable reaction towards a Stupid Good character as well as characters who are friendly to each other despite being supposedly enemies. Sympathy for the Devil is also defied by this trope. Can be a demonstration on why No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.


Contrast Made Out to Be a Jerkass and No Sympathy for Grudgeholders — the former is when a character is given backlash for rightfully showing no sympathy for the offender whereas the latter is when a character is rebuked for not forgiving the wrongdoer. A Knight Templar may give out these to those whom he thinks are in the way of the greater good. Those who aid and abet an Outlaw are also prone to receiving this treatment — historically, such people received the same punishment as the outlaw. This can serve as one of the tenets of the With Us or Against Us philosophy if being friendly to an enemy makes them an enemy as well. Throwing roses when the authorities want you to throw rocks in Come to Gawk can produce this. Often related to You Bastard!.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Gotham City Garage provides some examples:
    • Kara Gordon is hunted down because she saved an innocent man from being gunned down.
    • Unsurprisingly, in Apokolips mercy is punished with Mind Rape:
      Barda: For showing compassion, Granny would condemn me to a thousand mindyears of all-pain.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye:
    • Issue #11 reveals that Shockwave's Start of Darkness was caused by a horrific procedure performed on him by the corrupt Senate that destroyed his personality and left him an emotionless monster with a cycloptic head and claws for hands. The reason? He objected to a plan of theirs that would've killed thousands of innocent people and allowed the heroes to prevent said plan.
    • Some forty-nine issues later, Getaway leads a mutiny against Rodimus, partly because he is a god-awful leader, but also kicks off anyone on the ship who believed Megatron could be redeemed. Some seventeen issues later, it turns out twenty four members of the remaining crew disagreed with this, and Getaway... "dealt with them", too.
  • Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith. To the shock of the other Inquisitors, after a successful mission Darth Vader takes out his lightsaber and tries to execute a female Inquisitor, only to be instinctively blocked by her partner who was apparently in love with her. This gets both of them killed for 'treason'. The Inquisitor had earlier been sent after the wife of a Jedi and their baby, who pleaded with her "woman to woman" to let her go. The Inquisitor apparently relented, only to use the Force to steal the baby at the last second as a Kick the Dog. Vader however claims that she let the baby go and only stole it back because another Inquisitor had arrived to witness her action. The audience is left to make up their own mind up over whether this is true.
  • In Superman storyline Last Daughter Of Krypton, Simon Tycho gets lucky enough to capture Supergirl, intending to cut her up, examine her alien biology, and make a profit of his findings. Jacobs, one of his mercenaries-for-hire, decides he did not sign up for torturing young girls, so he releases Kara... and his boss gets him killed off immediately for "screwing with [his] plans".

    Fan Works 
  • A Crown of Stars: Before the beginning of the story, Shinji had been giving money to homeless, starving people that the secret police deemed as "possible subversives and rebels". Asuka criticized him for it, since she was frightened that the police secret would haul him and her away, too. Nevertheless she later admitted that Shinji was doing the right thing.
  • Advice and Trust: Shinji and Asuka are fired and thrown out. The reason? Bardiel had hijacked the Humongous Mecha that one of their friends was piloting. They were ordered to disregard the pilot and destroy the enemy. They refused to abandon their friend and managed saving the pilot and destroying the enemy. Still Gendo was so furious with them for not following his orders that he declared they were unreliable and fired them.
  • In Power Girl fanfic A Force of Four, Aldon Persis attempts to use a healing ray on Wonder Woman's scarred face. Badra catches him and pummels him.

    Film — Animated 
  • Occurs to Hiccup in Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon, when his father discovers that Hiccup's success against dragons comes from understanding them rather than ruthlessly destroying them. Once Hiccup's compassion for the Night Fury Toothless comes to light, Stoick drops the hammer: "You're not my son."
  • In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frollo orders Phoebus to burn down a mill with the miller and his family still inside. Not only does Phoebus refuse, but when Frollo sets the fire himself in his crossing of the Moral Event Horizon, he goes in to rescue the family. Frollo would have had him executed for treason right then and there, had Esmeralda not come to the rescue.

  • Animorphs:
    • The Yeerks are a Puppeteer Parasite race that considers sympathizing with or befriending the host the worst possible crime, and their laws punish it with a painful death sentence.
    • The Animorphs are pretty hostile towards Cassie on the occasions when she shows sympathy towards Yeerks.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we learn that Peter's silver hand was enchanted by Voldemort to strangle him if he so much as seriously thought about helping Harry, which it does in the end.
  • The Dresden Files: The only way for a criminal who violated the Laws of Magic (killing humans with magic, Baleful Polymorph, tampering with a human's mind, necromancy of humans, Time Travel, and researching or contacting the Outsiders) to escape immediate execution is for a member of the White Council to vouch for them. This places both of them under the Doom of Damocles; if the criminal violates a Law again, both the criminal and their sponsor are executed. Justifiednote  because the proscribed magics are literally addictive; those who so much as begin to delve into them, even for a good cause, inevitably wind up Slowly Slipping Into Evil. Thus, the requirement for a White Council member to vouch for the accused; his role is not only to demonstrate that the offender isn't evil, but to prevent them from becoming evil through use of The Dark Arts.
  • In the Safehold book, Hells Foundations Quiver, an Inquisitor in charge of a concentration camp finds himself about to be painfully executed because he had the morality to feed one of the captives of the camp - who was from the section of the camp for people being held on suspicion of heresy and had not been convicted of anything yet - a little girl who was trying to get medicine for her sick father. Fortunately, before the execution can take place, Dialydd Mab manages to rescue the little girl and her family by Faking the Dead for them and, while he is unable to rescue the Inquisitor, grants him a Mercy Kill instead of the torture he'd have suffered otherwise.
  • Downplayed in Inferno; Dante is scolded by Virgil when he weeps at the pitiful appearance of the soothsayers in Malebolge. He learns his lesson and bluntly ignores the damned who plead with him in the Ninth Circle of Hell.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy goes out of her way to be kind and welcoming to Faith, and even tries to help Faith after her Start of Darkness, only to have Faith try to kill her or ruin her life multiple times. By the Angel episode "Sanctuary," Buffy has finally gotten sick of it.
  • Cobra Kai: In Season 3, Bert refuses to feed a hamster that he had grown fond of and named Clarence to a snake when ordered to do so as a show of loyalty. Kreese responds to this by kicking him out of Cobra Kai, viewing him as "weak" and then feeding Clarence to the snake anyways.
  • The M*A*S*H episode "The Trial of Henry Blake" puts this into perspective: in an attempt to have Henry relieved of duty as commanding officer of the 4077th, Margaret and Frank have him charged with a number of crimes, including giving aid and comfort to North Koreans. In actuality, Henry had been contributing penicillin, among other drugs, to an elderly American nurse who ran a clinic in enemy territory dedicated to aiding poverty-stricken civilians, and was doing so long before the war even began.
  • The Stargate SG-1 episode "Prisoners" has the team imprisoned for trespassing unmarked territory and giving a small amount of assistance to a native they met.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "I Borg" has Picard refuse to use Hugh, a Borg drone they rescued, as a Typhoid Mary for a cyberweapon that would theoretically destroy the Borg Collective. He had come to see Hugh as a person instead of a mindless enemy. In the episode's sequel, "Descent", Admiral Nechayev is unpleasantly astonished at this, dresses down Picard for placing his conscience at a higher value than the lives of Federation citizens, and gives him a direct order that, if a similar opportunity presents itself, he is to take advantage of it. Picard later admits privately that while his choice in "I Borg" may have been the moral choice, it may not have been the right choice. Of course, it turns out the Enterprise crew had actually made Hugh a Typhoid Mary for a sense of individuality instead...
  • Downplayed in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Captive Pursuit". Sisko chews out Chief O'Brien for helping Tosk escape the Hunters (technically it was a minor Prime Directive violation in addition to resulting in the death of one of the Hunters). However, the Hunters had attacked Deep Space 9 to get to Tosk and the subtext of the scene makes it pretty clear that Sisko's only doing it because he's required to and that O'Brien knows it.
  • A paradoxical example appears in "To See the Invisible Man", a segment on The Twilight Zone (1985). A man is punished for "coldness" by becoming a pariah whom no one is allowed to acknowledge. Eventually he serves out his sentence and is allowed to reenter society. But when he sees someone being punished in the same way, he now has too much compassion and empathy to ignore them, which leads to another punishment.

  • The Sabaton song "No Bullets Fly" note that Luftwaffe fighter pilot Franz Stigler "risked his life two times that day" when he refused to finish off a flak-damaged B-17, instead escorting it to safety. This carried a potential death sentence in Nazi Germany (and so in the real incident, Stigler lied in his report). It should be noted that Stigler's plan was to try to get them to surrender or at least land in neutral Sweden, but the B-17 crew couldn't understand his attempts to communicate.

    Pro Wrestling 

  • The Bible:
    • In Leviticus 10:1-6: Aaron's two sons, Nadab and Abihu, were burned to death by God for offering strange fire which they were commanded not to bring. He then invokes this trope by warning Aaron that he'll kill him and the rest of the Israelites should he mourn for their losses.
    • In Numbers 16:41-50: The Israelites complained to Moses about God burning 250 of the other Israelites to death for burning incense. God's response? He gets angry and starts killing 14,700 more of the Israelites.
    • In Judges 2:1-4: Quoted from above, an angel of the LORD scolds the Israelites for incomplete genocide of the inhabitants of Canaan as well as being friendly with them. To punish them, God allows the Canaanites to be Israelites' oppressors.
    • In the I Samuel 2:27-36, Eli is chastised by a prophet of God for not taking strong measures against his sons Hophni and Phinehas for abusing their positions as priests before God — the most that Eli did was warn them, and that was it — and for that, not only did Eli lose both his sons in one day, but also his family line was cursed.
    • In I Samuel 15:18-23: King Saul is chastised by Samuel because he had spared only one Amalekite, King Agag (whom Saul viewed as a strategically valuable hostage), as well as the sheep and cattle which were valuable. God had commanded Saul to kill them all. For this, God officially rejected Saul as king of Israel, to be replaced with David.
    • Joab calls out David for publicly mourning the death of his son Absalom, telling him that had his servants died instead of Absalom, he would be okay with it.
    • In 1st Kings 20, after the armies of King Ben-Hadad of Syria have been defeated twice by the armies of Israel with the help of the Lord, the Syrian king decides to surrender in humility to the king of Israel and make a treaty of peace with him. Because the king of Israel accepted a peace treaty with a man that the Lord had appointed to utter destruction, He sent a prophet to warn the king that his life will be taken for the life of the king of Syria, and the lives of Israel for those of Syria.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Champions supplement Red Doom. Yuri Kamonov (AKA Sputnik) is a superpowered member of the Supreme Soviets. He won't use lethal force against opponents unless it's absolutely necessary and there's no other alternative. He also tries to avoid conflict and resolve confrontations by negotiation or non-lethal force. This has caused him to get in trouble with Colonel Vasalov, the leader of the Supreme Soviets, on multiple occasions, and Vasalov has punished him by denying him any promotion.

  • In Sophocles's Antigone, the title character's brother Polynices dies an enemy of the state, and Creon commands that Polynices's body shall not be buried. Antigone gives him a proper burial anyway, so she is sentenced to be locked in a tomb.

    Video Games 
  • The plot of Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten is more or less driven by the fact that the Big Bad Nemo was once a human who was injured in a war and helped by an enemy nurse called Artina, who was executed as a traitor for it (and ended up convincing Valvatorez to give up blood, allowing Nemo to take over his position). Thus leading to his Start of Darkness (and her becoming the angel Vulcanus).
  • In Final Fantasy IV, it's ambiguous whether Cecil is punished for expressing sympathy for the Mysidians, even though he carried out the order to take their crystal, or for questioning the King. After Cecil laments that the Mysidians offered no resistance, Baigan reports him to the King, but the King only punishes Cecil after he speaks out at the end of the meeting. However, Kain is also punished just for trying to defend Cecil.
  • Part of the backstory of World of Warcraft's paladin Highlord Tirion Fordring. Not long after the second war against the orcs, Tirion has his life saved by one, Eitrigg. When Eitrigg is captured, Tirion tries to save his life and return the favor, only to be ostracized, declared a traitor, and exiled.
  • In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, healers say that barbed clothing is a self-inflicted punishment for being healers.
  • Fire Emblem Fates: In the Birthright route, Zola is revealed to be a spy for Nohr and sells the party to King Garon. However, he begs Garon to spare and forgive Corrin. The King treats him as a traitor and kills him immediately.
  • The backstory of Ensemble Stars! has the Five Oddballs ostracized and defeated by Eichi's unit, fine, which splits up once this is done. Later on, one of the Oddballs, Wataru, joins fine, causing Natsume to see him as a traitor. Downplayed in that Natsume still admires Wataru and they still get along, this has just tarnished Natsume's opinion of Wataru.
    • A much darker version happens within Akatsuki - when Souma finally finds out exactly what his seniors are planning for Kanata, someone he cares very deeply about, he's extremely upset and tries to convince them that what they're doing is wrong. Unfortunately, Keito is too deep into it by this point and becomes very angry, yelling at him and expelling him from the unit. In the long-run, however, Souma does manage to help them both Take A Level In Kindness and they're both extremely grateful to him for it.

  • A flashback in Terra has Talos Antares try to fake having killed a human civilian to protect her from his immediate superior, Solus Kalar. Solus isn't fooled, hunts down and kills the civilian in cold blood, then starts beating the crap out of Talos (as pictured above). Agrippa Varus, Solus' equal in rank at the time, rescues Talos.
  • In Vegan Artbook, anyone who is willing to tolerate those who eat meat is considered just as bad as the meat-eaters themselves.

    Western Animation 
  • The pilot episode of TRON: Uprising has Beck hijack a train full of Programs about to be arrested by General Tessler and either killed or made to fight for the Big Bad. During the hijacking, he spares the life of a Mook, who is shocked at being spared and does a Mook–Face Turn over it. He helps Beck find and free the Programs, and seems about to switch sides when he gets a fist through his torso, courtesy of General Tessler.
  • In the Spongebob Squarepants episode "The Clash of Triton", King Neptune reveals that the reason he is sad during his 5,000th birthday is because he misses his son Triton, whom he locks in a cage in the Island in the Sky for 10,000 years (although specifically, Triton has only been in the cage for 1,000 years) because he made a cure for all mortal diseases, hoping that would teach him how to be a god.
  • In Exosquad, the Neosapien ace Thrax is demoted for repeatedly showing mercy to Terrans, such as refusing to finish off Kaz Takagi after winning a space duel against him on Mercury and disobeying direct orders to detonate thermonuclear charges under Venus City, killing all Terran soldiers and captured civilians inside.
  • In The Legend of Tarzan, Hugo and Hooft are on the run from the Foreign Legion because they disobeyed orders to kill civilians.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Parent Rap", Bart would've gotten this for standing up for his parents had Judge Roy Snyder not arrived just in time. He even agrees with Lisa considering that Bart, Homer, and Marge had been through enough.
  • In the Ed, Edd n Eddy Valentine's Day episode, Kevin gives Edd detention because Edd stood up for Eddy.

    Real Life 

  • The common punishment for anyone who aided and abetted someone declared outlaw back in the day was to suffer the same punishment that the outlaw faced. Even now, harboring or otherwise knowingly assisting criminals is a crime itself.
  • Erin Cox, an North Andover teenager, got in trouble for attending a party despite a school policy because a classmate asked her for a ride. The police didn't take action because Cox, while committing a technical violation by going to the party site while underage, didn't drink any alcohol herself and was preventing a case of drunk driving which could've been fatal — in fact, the police came to Cox's defense, just like many in the public who heard about the situation.
  • During the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, some of the victims got executed because they sympathized with earlier victims, called for moderation or argued for clemency. Camille Desmoulins, who had initially supported the Terror as an emergency wartime measure, later called for a Committee of Clemency for lighter crimes and political criminals still imprisoned. He got executed, alongside Danton (who was also becoming moderate and sympathetic but was also guilty of political corruption, for which he was charged).
  • During The Hollywood Blacklist, some of the people who were called to the HUAC were punished for left-wing sympathies and what was later described as "premature anti-fascism", agitation and criticism of Nazism and dictators before America entered the war; since the Communist Party was the major anti-fascist political faction at the time, in the minds of the Red Scare, this made anti-fascism seem "pinko".
    • Of course, later historians retroactively justify the blacklist by citing the Molotov-Ribbentrop act, and that for a brief period in the late 30s, where the Communists (after opposing Franco in Spain, and likewise criticizing Chamberlain Munich), arguing that the U.S. Communist Party called for negotiations with Hitler and undermined Great Britain, and didn't raise a fuss even when Stalin invaded Poland and not before the USSR was invaded. In point of fact most of the Hollywood fellow-travellers left the party after the Pact and in any case, the HUAC rarely mentioned this pact as a justification during their investigations.
  • Sympathy for criminals, especially those accused of murder, torture, or sex crimes. Whether you acknowledge the circumstances that led them to break the law or you believe their (judicial or extrajudicial) punishment is a Disproportionate Retribution, expressing any kind of sympathy for a convict will more than likely get you labelled as an apologist or a criminal yourself, even if you clearly say that they should still be punished and their crimes aren't excusable.
  • It's said that one of the reasons why soldiers from Imperial Japan during World War II mistreated Allied POWs, or just stood by and watched the abuse, was because anyone helping out, or even sympathizing with, them was seen as fraternizing with the enemy, a shameful crime that often carried a similar punishment that was doled out to the prisoner.
  • Misha Collins and other (leftist) celebrities have been harassed on Twitter simply for expressing a certain softness towards Donald Trump upon him getting COVID-19, despite still not supporting him overall.


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