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Redemption Equals Death

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"The problem with a 'redemption' gig is, well, no one wants to see it. They all want to believe in it, sure, but to do it... it's as good as signing your own death warrant. Audiences don't want to see you redeemed, living a normal life. They'll never truly forgive your for your flaws as long as you're alive."
James Norrington, Roommates, "Redemption"
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Often, when a character who has done something bad or evil sees the error of their ways and does a Heel–Face Turn in the course of fighting to undo the damage, their redemption comes at the cost of their own life.

There are any number of reasons that authors do this:

  1. It shows that the ex-villain is serious about helping the heroes, enough to risk death to save them. It also plays up the drama of having a character turn good, but then tragically not survive to live out their redemption. This version is sometimes subverted with Redemption Earns Life or Redemption Equals Affliction, especially if the ex-villain is popular enough; since the willingness to die is all that is needed in this version of the trope.
  2. It may be that the bad guy is just so bad that it's hard to accept the idea that they get a happy ending even if they've sincerely changed their ways, and so they have to die to make things seem right. Sometimes Executive Meddling forces this so as not to cross Moral Guardians who will object if the ex-villain suffered another suitable punishment. See Do Not Do This Cool Thing.
  3. Maybe the author is reluctant to change the status quo of the story by introducing an Anti-Hero to the cast but still wants an antagonist to be sympathetic, so they have the villain redeem themselves before dying. Thus the main cast experience What a Senseless Waste of Human Life.
  4. It could be that there is no place in the world for them. Sure, the redeemed villain going off to a happy little life with Babies Ever After is heartwarming, but it might just not be possible if they're especially infamous with the general public. Even if the heroes are willing to forgive the ex-villain it doesn't always mean that the muggles will comply. In this case death by Heroic Sacrifice may actually be a happier end for the character than being strung up by an angry mob. If subverted the character may end up having to hide their identity or go into exile otherwise the heroes may end up having to plead the villain's case.
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The Death Seeker and some types of the Martyr Without a Cause are characters most prone to believe this in-universe. A possible end result of the Redemption Quest.

Compare Villain's Dying Grace when the villain is portrayed sympathetically as they are dying, Death Equals Redemption for when a dying villain chooses to do a final good act and Alas, Poor Villain when the character's death (speech) provides a reason for the fans to feel sorry for them. See also Heel–Face Door-Slam, when the poor guy doesn't even get to redeem themself before dying. Non-protagonist atoners are especially likely to be hit by this trope. See Forgiveness Requires Death when death is the only way for a character to earn forgiveness for a crime.

Naturally, this is a Death Trope. Expect unmarked spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

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Other examples

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    Comic Books 
  • In the "Born Again" arc in Daredevil, the corrupt cop, after a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, still tries to confess to framing Matt Murdock/Daredevil, and is murdered by one of the Kingpin's minions.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Ulic Qel-Droma had an arc solely dedicated to his redemption. In the end he was able to make peace with himself and the people he hurt before getting shot. This was still enough to reestablish his connection to the force and let him become one with it when he died.
  • Marvel's Wonder Man is one of the luckiest examples on record; he was originally a one-shot villain who decided he couldn't go through with taking out The Avengers, and whose own powers killed him as he came to their rescue. Twelve years later, he was resurrected, and since then he's been a prominent member of various Avengers teams.
  • During Marvel's Siege story arc, Loki realizes that he's partly responsible for the return of the Void, as well as the destruction of Asgard. He attempts to help the heroes defeat the Void and is killed in the process.
    • Subverts the algorithm of deadness; he comes back, because it's Marvel, and gods can come back a thousand times.
  • An odd example from The Amazing Spider-Man: Kaine, a flawed clone of Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man), is a serial killer. However, during Grim Hunt, he disguises himself as Peter Parker, steals Spider-Man's costume, and walks into a trap set by the Kraven family for Spider-Man in order to screw up Kraven the Hunter's resurrection. It doesn't work quite as planned, as Kraven is resurrected normally, but his death does infuriate Peter to the extent that he stops holding back against them. Subverted in that two comics later, Kaine is resurrected as a spider-monster on the last page.
  • Incredible Hulk:
    • In the Hulk's very first appearance, he was captured by Yuri Topolov, the Gargoyle, a Soviet scientist who had been mutated into a big-headed dwarf. However, when the Gargoyle found that the Hulk had reverted to Bruce Banner, he lamented the loss of his own normalcy. Banner decided to use his own genius to cure Topolov, who responded by ensuring Banner's safe return to America while destroying his own base, taking himself and his Soviet handlers out in the process. Unfortunately, his son Kondrati took the wrong lesson from Yuri's sacrifice, deciding to blame the Hulk and the State for his father's death.
    • Fall of The Hulks, Samson sacrifices himself to help drain the gamma energy from the hulked-out heroes before it kills them.
  • Kanan: Commander Grey realizes that he and the other clones had been brainwashed into turning on their commanders, but only after he'd already killed Depa. In response he sacrifices himself to allow Depa's apprentice to escape from his brothers who are mercilessly hunting him down.
  • In Kingdom Come, After breaking free of the mind control, Captain Marvel is offered the choice between stopping Superman and letting the nuke to kill all the metahumans, or leaving him and letting the metahuman war continue. Captain Marvel takes the third option, destroying the nuke and sacrificing himself in place of Superman.
  • Robin Series: The ambiguity of some of these changes of heart is exemplified when Dodge turns on the group of villains he gathered to get revenge on Robin. He specifically attacks the member that usurped Dodge's leadership position from him and threatened his family, and his immediate death means his it's never revealed if he ever moved past his I Just Want to Be Special and Never My Fault motivations even though Robin chooses to have him remembered as a hero.
  • Played for laughs in Suicide Squad where, on a mission to Apokolips, Dr. Light declares that from now on he's going to be a hero only to be shot down by Parademons the moment he tries to contribute.
  • Lampshaded in Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, where Rodimus thinks that sacrificing oneself is a cheap way to gain redemption, particularly since he was the one who put Ax-Crazy Overlord onto their ship in the first place. He believes that redemption has to be earned by making amends past mistakes.
  • In Violine, Muller attempts to do this after his Heel–Face Turn to save Violine. However, he is saved just before he can be killed.
  • In Volume Three of Kick-Ass, Chris Genovese dies saving Hit-Girl from corrupt cops, but not before he asks her to apologize to his mother on his behalf for causing her pain.
  • In Zombies Christmas Carol, Scrooge's change of heart and resulting kindness reverts the zombies back and saves the world, but having become a Spirit of Christmas himself, he dies that same night.
  • Henry Pym was one of the founding members of The Ultimates, and became universally hated when he commited Domestic Abuse of his wife. However, in Ultimatum he died by attracting the attack of several Multiple Men, saving the Triskelion. When Captain America woke up from a coma and mentioned him in disdain (ignoring what he just did), he was told to shut up.

    Fan Works 
  • Parodied in XSGCOM. When Jonas Quinn dies and is brought back to life, O'Neill fires off a quip about this.
  • Barley's final act in The Tainted Grimoire was to try and save Cid. Ewen had him killed for that.
  • Ace Combat: The Equestrian War. Played straight in Axe's case, but averted for Black Star.
  • In Fractured, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands crossover, the Siren Lilith, having become addicted to Psycho Serum, realizes what a mess she is after one insult too many from her deranged commander. She asks for (and receives) help from the heroes, culminating in her piloting a doomed ship on a deliberate collision course with Pandora's north pole in the hopes that a chain-reaction combining her Siren powers with Eridium will defeat the Reapers once and for all. It works, at the cost of Lilith's life, though that doesn't stop her from becoming a bit of a Spirit Advisor later...
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, the rebellious General Thunderhide receives a sort of redemption before his death in explaining his motives in the Fillydelphia Trials. His death was hinted to be purposefully set-up to be suspicious even if Celestia had nothing to do with it, possibly to ensure his own martyrdom.
  • The Immortal Game: Minor character Coconut Crunch only joined the Royals because she honestly believed that the Loyalists had no chance of defeating Titan. When she's captured by the Mane Six and realizes that Twilight Sparkle is still alive, she quickly defects... and by the end of the chapter is brutally killed by General Esteem.
  • Logan and his minions sans Beljar in The End of Ends.
  • Subverted in the Star Trek (2009) fanfic Flight of the Condor. The fugitive Richard Beckwith is killed saving Edith Keeler's life. However, Keeler later becomes involved in World War II, changing who lives and who dies, causing Earth to be populated by different people for the next three hundred years, preventing the existence of the Federation and the Enterprise.
  • Kiba in the crossover fic Ninja of Santoryu acts like an asshole for the first part of the story, only to mellow out once Naruto saves his life from the Akatsuki, even gaining a love interest. He's then unceremoniously killed off by Shou Tucker in battle.
  • In The Bridge spin-off Shimmer in the Dark, Countess Mircalla intended this to be the case and made peace with her end. She'd pulled a Heel–Face Turn, destroyed the bomb threatening Canterlot, ensured the Nightmare Army was no more and Nightmare Moon could never return, and kept Mizu from harming Sunset Shimmer. She gives Sunset Shimmer a silver sword and tells her how the death of Sunset's mother was an Accidental Murder, but she doesn't expect forgiveness. Sunset Shimmer decides there had been enough bloodshed and forgives her.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000. Depending on which version of the story you believe, the Chaos gods possessing Horus abandon him as soon as the tables turn during his final battle with the Emperor. Realising what he has done, Horus begs the Emperor to forgive him for his betrayal. The Emperor does so, then kills Horus to prevent him from being possessed again.
    • Quite commonly accepted in-universe. The Ecclesiarchy alone gives us Arco-Flagellants ("repentant" heretics implanted with cyber weaponry and pumped full of combat drugs), Penitent Engines (not quite Humongous Mecha piloted by arch-heretics tied to the front of the thing), Sisters Repentia (Sisters Of Battle with a death-wish because of some personal failure armed with an Eviscerator) and with the RPG the newly-created Sisters Oblatia (Sisters Of Battle with a death-wish because of someone else's personal failure—according to their creed, they can redeem another person, group or even planet if their death is heroic enough. Taking the vow associated with this is considered a high honour that is not granted lightly...)
    • The Penal legions are criminals on death row who are sent on suicide missions. If they live or (far more likely) die, their sins are forgiven.
    • The Tau apparently have an equivalent to sepukku that leaves onlookers splattered in blood and quite shaken, and whoever was at fault restored in the Ethereals' eyes.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Eventually, Gishki Noelia was purified of her corruption, leading her to sacrifice herself to revive her daughter, Gishki Emilia.

    Theatre 
  • In The Gentleman Ranker, the disgraced Lieutenant Graylen rejoins the army as Private Smith. He finds himself under the command of his father, Colonel Graylen, who tells him I Have No Son!. Smith volunteers to push through enemy lines to make contact with reinforcements. He makes it through, but dies of his wounds. Colonel Graylen acknowledges his son again, posthumously.
  • Macbeth:
    • Implied to be the case with the traitorous Thane of Cawdor, as Malcolm notes to the King that "nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it."
    • This foreshadows Macbeth himself getting a partial redemption in his last moments, being killed by Macduff in honourable combat after first attempting to dissuade his opponent from attacking rather than killing by proxy.
  • A clearer Shakespearean example would be King Lear, a rare Shakespearean protagonist who actually sees the errors of his ways and becomes a genuinely good person by the end. Unfortunately, his transformation came too late to prevent him from losing his kingdom, his sanity, his daughters, and finally his life.

    Webcomics 
  • Dominic Deegan:
    • Dex Garritt seems to have gotten a retroactive version of this. When we first met him, Dex was the only decent guy in a team of Jerk Jock slaughterball players, and subsequent adventures have shown him to be an all-around nice and upstanding guy. Then, in the most recent story arc, we learn that in his younger days, Dex was an alcoholic and a druggie, and once beat his wife (although he did state that he regretted it, which was a major reason he became a decent, upstanding person to begin with). Almost immediately afterward, Dex gets his intestines ripped out by The Infernomancer, and since he's resistant to all forms of magic, there's no way to save his life with magical healing. Karma's a bitch. Turns out he's not quite ready to give up yet though, as his ex-wife is still not ready to forgive him. Dex basically invokes the reverse of this trope: If there's not going to be any Redemption, he refuses the Death. One could argue that he had already redeemed himself by starting a fistfight with an Eldritch Abomination to give the civilians, his wife among them, a chance to escape.
    • Taken almost literally when dealing with Bulgak and his adventures in Hell. Turns out when a soul in Hell admits to how wicked and horrible they were in life with genuine regret, their soul explodes.
  • Nega-Ki in General Protection Fault attempts to surprise Nega-Nick when he is about to use Nick's MUTeX device to escape. She is mortally wounded when Nega-Nick shoots her with a laser welder, but her actions give Nick an opportunity to try to get the welder away from his counterpart, before Nega-Nick tries to teleport away, but Nick was Crazy-Prepared and the lack of a critical part causes him to be warped to an unknown location, and possibly disintegrated.
    • Similarly, Chuck, who testified against and got his best friend Fooker convicted of murder, and was responsible for hitting Ki's father with a car while under Trudy's control, finally rebels after Ki gets him to come to his senses. He saves Fooker, but Trudy activates a device that causes him pain, turns it to its maximum setting and causes his death.
  • The Order of the Stick plays with this here and there, but thoroughly averted with Miko Miyazaki, though. Burlew even says in the graphic novel that Miko's death was meant to show that not everyone gets a chance to redeem themselves after fucking up royally in the real world, and we should all be mindful of our actions.
    • Whether intentional or not, Miko does redeem her character to some extent. She does, after all, finally accept a compromise (seeing Windstriker again, even if she couldn't become a paladin again). Also, Miko was widely hated by the fanbase but still gets redeemed enough in the fans eyes to get a tear jerker ending.
    • Therkla from the Kubota arc. Originally an assassin hired by Kubota to kill Elan and Hinjo so Kubota could take the throne of Azure City, Therkla instead ends up falling in love with Elan, causing her to turn against Kubota, who promptly poisons her to death.
  • In Shadowgirls Robert Olmstead and several other Deep Ones turn on Mother Hydra when she goes all-out Omnicidal Maniac and sends her own people to senseless death as Cannon Fodder. Robert chooses to be sacrificed, while his allies die in battle.
  • The theme of the Sluggy Freelance story "That Which Redeems" is that seeking redemption is a death wish. Mosp falls victim but Torg eventually decides that "redemption is overrated."
    • This seems to be the case with Sasha, the utterly amoral mole and infiltrator who ends up at the wrong end of Oasis's knives following her claim that she really does love Riff and wants to make amends. But then it turns out that she deliberately sacrificed herself for Hereticorp, planting nanotech trackers on Riff and Oasis by coming in physical contact with them.
  • Vriska from Homestuck. After crossing her Moral Event Horizon by brutally murdering one of her friends in cold blood, she then starts talking to John about how she regrets all the murders she's committed, announces her intention to take him on a date and decides to challenge the Big Bad to a duel she'll almost certainly lose. And then Terezi kills her in order to stop her from compromising the rest of the Trolls.
    • A case could be made for Equius as well. He's a Jerk Jock, a Bluenose Bowdlerizer and a racist, but he's genuinely sweet to his moirail, Nepeta. The exchange between the two of them before he's brutally murdered by Gamzee verges on being a Tear Jerker moment, especially since he makes peace with his romantic feelings for Aradia, despite her being the lowest troll on the hemospectrum right before he dies.
  • The Fan Webcomic Roommates gave us this lampshade-tastic conversation about the trope itself. Jamie knows what he is talking about "been there and done that"... and this is a comic where Nobody Can Die.
  • Mako, a mind-clone of a government wet-worker, gets this in Schlock Mercenary after exposure to Sorlie's far more morally upright approach to government service during an Enemy Mine. Eventually, Mako serves as spotter for a weapon that can pass through matter, being vaporised in the blast but taking out an army of suborned security officers trying to sabotage the Dom Atlantis central reactor, and leaves a note begging Sorlie not to go down the same dark path...and if she could kindly kill the original wet-worker that'd be peachy.

    Web Original 
  • In Survival of the Fittest, minor character Anna Grout kills herself out of guilt after accidentally slicing off Dane Zygmunt's arm and causing his subsequent death by blood loss. One of the reasons mentioned is offering his family some sort of redemption.
  • Dr. Griffin of KateModern is strangled by the Shadow after providing the heroes with the information they need to defeat his former associates in the Order.
  • Link in the final episode of There Will Be Brawl. It could actually count as a Double Subversion, since he had an apparent Heel–Face Door-Slam in the previous episode, thanks to Zelda's (quite literal) backstabbing. However, he gets better just long enough to face down Ganondorf one final time as a true hero.
  • Inverted in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, when Penny's death causes Dr Horrible's final damnation.

 
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Skurge sacrifices himself

Hela's lackey Skurge turns on her in order to save the people of Asgard.

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