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Sacrificial Lion

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"Kill the spare."

The Sacrificial Lion is a sympathetic character who is slated to die so that the audience knows that the villain is playing for keeps or that the situation really is as dangerous and desperate as it seems. The death is ultimately unnecessary in the large scheme of things, but it does provide a shocking twist to the proceedings.

The main distinction between this and a Sacrificial Lamb is in the presentation of their characters. The Sacrificial Lamb is a throwaway minor character who is made to be likable just so that the audience feels sad when they die. Their death provides no real change to the plot, only that we know the enemy is Dead Serious.

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On the other hand, the Sacrificial Lion might not be central to the plot, but the character isn't throwaway; quite often, in fact, a Sacrificial Lion will be one of the second- or even first-tier characters. Their death usually produces a noticeable shockwave to the story or changes the way the rest of the characters behave. Sometimes they die specifically to bump the villain over the Moral Event Horizon. If their death is directly vital to the story (such as a political assassination), then it ceases to be a "sacrificial" character and becomes plot-relevant.

Finally, where the Sacrificial Lamb tends to die relatively early on in the story, the Sacrificial Lion will hang around for longer, and their death will often times either signal the beginning of the story (or Story Arc)'s endgame, the advent of the Darkest Hour, or at least a similar point of no return in the plot.

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Often found in Anyone Can Die stories, specifically to signal that from now on, no one is safe. A Mauve Shirt is frequently in danger of becoming a Sacrificial Lion if the writers decide to kill him off for a cheap shock. Decoy Protagonists can rapidly become Sacrificial Lions as well, in which case this also qualifies as a Gut Punch. This is essentially The Worf Effect taken right to the hilt. Compare the Knight of Cerebus, who probably killed him. In a video game, his death is likely to be a Player Punch.

May or may not have anything to do with actual sacrificial lions.

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As a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples:

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    Professional Wrestling 
  • Every so often, promotions will give a rookie wrestler a massive push to sell him as a "young, uncannily talented phenom", with a major part of the push involving having the rookie defeat a couple well-established main eventers or former world champions. Notable examples include The Undertaker, Kevin Nash, Brock Lesnar, and more recently, Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio.

    Webcomics 
  • In Cuanta Vida, Gabry (better known simply as Red) is clever, vivacious, and determined. He's also the lover of Liam (the BLU Sniper) and the guy masterminding the entire escape plan — generally the guy most of the cast is counting on despite his quirkiness. Then, this happens.
  • In Fite!, Guz is one of the two main characters and Lucco's Heterosexual Life-Partner, and he eventually is killed by a Frogera while Lucco is fighting the King. Guz is then absorbed by Lucco, and seems to be a Spirit Advisor to him after he wakes up.
  • In Flipside, Kindred is killed by Bloody Mary when attempting to subdue her without magical aid. He could have avoided her and likely knew that his chances were slim, but chose to attack her anyway to keep her from killing more civilians.
  • Girl Genius: Lars settles in as one of the main characters over a couple of arcs, and then dies protecting Agatha which makes her far more protective of not only her two surviving love interests but also everyone she cares for, turns her character more cynical and gives her a personal cause for revenge against both Klaus and the Other.
  • In the first arc of Goblins, a lot of characters die to show that really Anyone Can Die. Then, for a long time, no major protagonist dies. Later, in Book 4, a main character dies on both story arcs: K'seliss and Chief.
  • Homestuck:
    • Jade's Dream Self gets killed off by Jack, mostly to show how deathly seriously broken their game is.
    • Jack's first action after being prototyped with Becquerel is to kill Bro, whom he had been fighting with on equal terms before.
    • And even later, half of the trolls die in Act 5. Including Vriska, who for a while became a patron to the comic's main character.
    • And even more later, Jade gets killed off to show how much Aranea is a threat to the session.
  • In The Order of the Stick, both Roy and Durkon die at various points. In both cases it's later subverted when they are eventually resurrected, but the keyword is "eventually" — their deaths cause major hardships for the party for a not-inconsiderable amount of time before they can be reversed.
  • Pauline, from Our Little Adventure. Her murderer wasn't the Big Bad, but she was the first non-recoverable casualty in Julie's quest. Julie of course does not take it well, at least until Pauline's funeral which gives Julie and her friends a chance to good bye properly.
  • In Panthera, the Sacrificial Lion (pun not intended) is Valeska Köhler when the Big Bad demonstrates that this is a Matter of Life and Death.
  • Lieutenant Bradley from Schlock Mercenary, when an attack on the tank he was flying resulted in it losing power, leaving the tank to destroy property and/or kill innocents when it finally came down unless something was done about it. Other Toughs have died as well, but this guy got a lot of character development, being in the cast since pretty much the beginning of the comic, and getting a lot of screen time in the process.
  • Sleepless Domain starts off being about Team Alchemical, a team of Magical Girls with Elemental Powers. Until Chapter 2, when Alchemical Air, Fire and Earth are killed in action, and Alchemical Aether saves Water at the cost of her own powers. Then the comic becomes the story of Undine (Water) and Tessa (Aether) moving on with their lives as best they can.
  • In Slightly Damned, Sakido gets sniped by a demon-slaying arrow just as the story setting moves from Hell to the mortal realm. Word of God has actually stated that Sakido's entire purpose was to have the readers grow attached to her only to see her cruelly picked off right when she, Rhea and Buwaro were about to earn their happy ending.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: With Zombie Apocalypse being part of the story's Genre Roulette, Tuuri getting bitten and choosing to die to avoid the consequences reminds the audience that The Plague is a very real danger for those who aren't The Immune.
  • Sweet Home (2017): While several minor characters had already died by this point, Jayhun’s death established that no one is safe. If there was any doubt, it was followed up by Seop Ahn.
  • Unsounded: While there was always a feeling that anyone could die the main characters were safe up until chapter 16 where two major characters, two recurring named antagonists and a minor character Sette had just informally inducted into her "gang" all kicked it, ensuring readers know that from here on out no one is safe.

    Web Original 
  • Jon, a developed but secondary character, was killed but the CRG. This utterly changed the playing board.
  • In Gaia Online's recent/current (began in spring 2010, still active as of spring 2012) deicide story arc, one of the first victims was Johnny K. Gambino, who up until that point had Plot Armor that could (and did) bounce a World Sundering Kaboom.
  • In The Nostalgia Critic's The Phantom of the Opera (2004) review, lovable bum Chester gets killed. Critic doesn't care, and fandom was upset enough for Beth to tweet that he'll be coming back, but it has a lot more weight than the stagehand in the movie.
  • The Pirates Covered in Fur has three of these, all from the same chapter. Carson, Kelly, and Kinzly are all killed by Lyle Krinkor, both to show off his Hero Killer status and to show that none of the main characters have Plot Armor anymore.
  • RWBY:
    • In Volume 3, Pyrrha Nikos' death during the Battle of Beacon triggers Ruby Rose's Traumatic Superpower Awakening. This kick-starts the main storyline by leading both Ruby and the remainder of Pyrrha's team on a quest to Haven Academy to learn who is responsible for Beacon's destruction.
    • In Volume 7, Clover Ebi is introduced as one of the kingdom's most elite Huntsmen and a partner for Qrow. By the finale, Clover becomes the first major casualty of Salem's attack on Atlas and heralds the darker tone of Volume 8.
  • Virtually every single one of Sonic and Shadow's friends qualify in Super Mario Bros. Z, and it served to show just how much of a ruthless and horrific monster Mecha Sonic became, as well as the bleakness of the situation of fighting against him.
  • JJ Sturn of Survival of the Fittest was built up to be one of the most important characters of v4. Then came along Jimmy Brennan...
  • T.O.T. was mostly restrained in killing off the main characters for two-thirds of the story. Then Mark, who was written to be the main protagonist, dies at the end of Chapter 9. From that point forward, all the humor in the story went away, and each subsequent chapter killed off at least one main character.

    Western Animation 
  • The death of Jet in Avatar: The Last Airbender certainly counts. He's killed soon after redeeming himself, and besides the fact that it came because he helped Aang find Appa again, his death doesn't otherwise benefit the heroes in the least (not like Yue's in the Book One finale). Add to it that he died in "Book Two: Chapter 17" — only three episodes before the (temporary) death of Aang himself — and it really emphasises the seriousness of the conflict.
  • In The Book of Life, Carlos was killed by Chakal to show how dangerous things are getting.
  • Spoofed in Clone High, in which Ponce d'Leon would appear to be one of these if not for the fact that he's introduced in the same episode that he snuffs it, as well as the amusingly obvious foreshadowing of his death. Both the next-episode preview and the cold open feature the narrator making a big deal of "a clone dies tonight!"
  • Kulipari: An Army of Frogs has two.
    • In a villainous example, there's Queen Jarrah, who's killed by Lord Marmoo to show that he's severing his ties to her, and that he's the true Big Bad of the show.
    • Later on, Lord Marmoo goes and kills Arabanoo, one of the main character's and Coorah's love interest, with one blow, to demonstrate just how grim things have gotten for the inhabitants of the Amphibilands.
  • Master Thundering Rhino from Kung Fu Panda 2 is killed by Lord Shen's cannon.
  • In Lastman, Dave MacKenzie's death kickstarts the plot and Richard's involvement in order to help Siri.
  • Pixar
    • Rod "Torque" Redline from Cars 2.
    • The Incredibles originally planned on having a civilian airplane pilot killed after being shot down to prove that the bad guys were playing for keeps. Fortunately for him, the creators of the film decided that it would take too long to introduce the character for long enough to make the audience care about his death, and the character's role was reduced to simply loaning Helen a plane. Watch that scene — right after the main body of the airplane hits the water between the main characters, there's a shot looking down into the depths for a few seconds as the plane sinks. The pilot's hat was originally supposed to be drifting forlornly upwards in that shot, making it look a little pointless without it.
  • If there was any question of just what Transformers: Animated's Shockwave was made of, it was removed when he crushed Blurr into a cube.
    • Cliffjumper in Transformers: Prime, who's killed by Starscream in the first act of the first episode. Ostensibly, this setup would put him more in the category of a sacrificial lamb, however he was heavily featured in promos for the show in advance of its premiere, and is a well-known heritage name from the franchise, priming (heh) expectations and implying that he would be a regular character. His death has a significant effect on the Autobots as they come together as a team and with their human friends. And it makes them a little sore when confronting the Decepticons later on. More than just a little in Arcee's case, as Cliffjumper was her partner.
      • A rare villainous version occurs in Crossfire, with Breakdown getting eviscerated by Airachnid to show she's cutting ties with the Decepticons.


 
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Valentin's Death

Dies after being shot by Elektra in The World Is Not Enough, but not before using a Last Breath Bullet to shoot out one of the manacles securing Bond to Elektra's torture chair and free him.

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Main / HeroicSacrifice

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