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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 you for your flaws as long as you're alive."
James Norrington, Roommates, "Redemption"

Sometimes, 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 suffers 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.

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, so expect unmarked spoilers ahead. You Have Been Warned!

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    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...)
      • 8th Edition expands on the Sisters Repentia by adding a pair of variants to the Penitent Engine. The Mortifier is for Repentia who retreat from battle despite swearing to fight until death and tortures the pilot even more than the standard Penitent Engine. The Anchorite is for those Repentia who actually betray their sisters and have the misfortune of being captured as their cockpits are armored and can keep you going potentially for decades so that you can suffer and be redeemed.
    • 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.

  • Artus - Excalibur: After being caught with Guinevere and banished, Lancelot returns to fight for Artus in the final battle. He doesn't survive.
  • 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.
  • In Heathers, J.D. goes out sacrificing himself to save Veronica, who planned to do the same by taking an explosion from the very bomb he created, after having a change of heart, proclaiming that he's too damaged, but there's still yet hope for her.
  • '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.
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • Happens in RWBY to Hazel Rainart, who defects from Salem and sacrifices himself to buy the heroes time. After learning from Oscar that Salem's ultimate plan is to destroy the world, Hazel and his fellow villain Emerald decide to free him. When they get caught on the way out, Hazel engages Salem himself to let them escape, then holds her still long enough for Oscar to immolate her. With Salem's Complete Immortality, this only keeps her down for a few hours, but those hours are what the heroes need to evacuate the city.

  • 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • Roommates gave us this lampshade-tastic conversation about dying for your redemption. Jamie (from Pirates of the Caribbean) knows what he is talking about; "been there and done that"... and is around to talk about it because 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.
  • 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.
    • Riff's father, Wilcott, believes that You Can't Fight Fate and the Destroyer Deity, K'Z'K, is destined to end the world in his lifetime. He makes a Deal with the Devil, offering to be the one responsible for breaking the Sealed Evil in a Can in return for his son's life. K'Z'K agrees, but has no intention of keeping his promise. When Wilcott finally realizes that it was All for Nothing, he sabotages the summoning ritual. His goddaughter, Tombsie, who gleefully seeks to commit Genocide from the Inside in return for godhood, is enraged and kills him for it, using his death to repair the ritual.

    Web Original 
  • Inverted in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, when Penny's death causes Dr Horrible's final damnation.
  • 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.
  • In "How to Challenge Toxic Masculinity as a Writer" on Springhole, Syera advises using this trope very carefully in the case of male characters, as it can send a message to depressed, self-loathing men that the only way to better the world and keep their loved ones safe is if they kill themselves.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Tinkerer's Sacrifice

Phin Mason (Tinkerer) flies Miles to the sky so he'd release the absorbed Nuform so he won't blow up Harlem at the cost of her own life.

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