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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.


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.


Often found in Anyone Can Die stories. 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.


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


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    Comic Books 
  • Granch in Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld was an ally of the titular protagonist in the first half of the original maxi-series. As the story progresses, he rallies together his siblings for an attack on the Big Bad Dark Opal (Granch and his siblings were Dark Opal's children, but they were rejected by him due to their deformities, and Opal instead adopted Carnelian to replace them). In the end, all of Granch's siblings are killed, and Granch himself dies in battle against Dark Opal himself. This is at the half-way point of the series, and Granch's death causes Amethyst to realize just how serious this is and how evil Dark Opal truly is.
  • Jason Todd is most famous for being this in Batman, as his death essentially just served to raise the stakes for the Bat-franchise. After a few decades of haunting Batman, he got better. Or worse, depending on who you ask.
  • Bitch Planet initially follows Marian Collins, who complains that she's being unjustly punished as she is transported to the titular prison for "non-compliant" women. Her plight appears to be the focus of the series until her death at the end of the first issue, which was ordered to cover up a bureaucratic error and which emphasizes how secondary women are in this world. It also serves to bring the real protagonist into focus.
  • In Crisis on Infinite Earths, Supergirl — one of the most powerful heroes of her universe- - fights the Anti-Monitor and dies. Her death deeply affects the surviving main characters, specially Superman and Batgirl who are left heart-broken. Shortly after The Flash (Barry Allen) also dies while trying to stop the Anti-Monitor's machines, and his sidekick Wally West becomes the next Flash.
  • DMZ has the death of protagonist Matty's girlfriend Kelly at around the one-third mark. As with former trope namer Cedric Diggory, this signals the point in the story at which significant characters are no longer safe, especially as she is among the countable-on-your-fingers number of completely good people in the setting.
  • Mind████, from Empowered, whose death leaves Sistah Spooky barely this side of catatonic and Emp herself with a heaping dose of survivor's guilt.
  • Les Lumières de l'Amalou: Ubu was integrated into the Great Oak to give it back the ability of speech. While the measure was supposed to be temporary, it becomes definitely permanent after the Great Oak's self-sacrifice.
  • In Love and Rockets, Jaime Hernandez's "Hoppers" saga made a major leap in realism and psychological depth with the story "The Death of Speedy", in which charismatic local tough guy Speedy Ortiz dies in what might have been suicide or murder.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Sally Avril from Untold Tales of Spider-Man, one of Peter Parker's fellow students. She tries to become a vigilante like Spider-Man, but he tries to dissuade her due to the risks. Undaunted, she later dies in an auto accident after recklessly pursuing Spidey to get photographs of him in action.
    • Spider-Verse has gone out of its way to prove that no variation of Spider-Man is safe. Killing the Spider-Man of Marvel1602 is bad enough. The Spider-Man from the very first issue of What If? is killed as well. And if that isn't enough proof, consider the following: the entire cast of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and Spider-Man Unlimited, even if it isn't the actual world, were murdered.
  • Val-Lor in Superman mini-series The Krypton Chronicles. The Vrangs had ruled Krypton for two decades, keeping the Kryptonians as slaves, until a slave called Val-Lor spoke out openly against them. Val-Lor was gunned down on the spot, but his bravery and defiance inspired his fellow slaves, who revolted right away. Their rebellion grew into a planet-wide uprising, and eventually the Vrangs were forced to leave forever.
  • Thresher in the Tangent Comics version of the Sea Devils. He's presented as a major part of the team, but near the end of the one-shot he dies in a Heroic Sacrifice, personally swimming a bomb into the mouth of a Giant Enemy Crab
  • In Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, it doesn't become clear just how serious things have gotten at the end of Season 1 until Pipes, Rewind, and Ambulon are killed in a matter of issues.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man: He may have been Doomed by Canon, but Uncle Ben was a main character in the first arc, so it counts as an example.
  • Carrisa, a gifted Amazon surgeon who was friends with Diana and a supporting character in Wonder Woman (1987), was killed in the OMAC attack on Themyscira to make it clear the things were a true threat even to the Amazons, and so that she wouldn't be around to protest using the purple ray to create a superweapon.

    Fan Works 
  • Averted and in fact exploited by the hero of all people in Story of the Century. L reasons that even if Light and Misa had discovered that Erin was listening in on them and that Misa had gotten the chance to catch her name with her Eyes they couldn't have killed her without irreversibly incriminating themselves and having to kill everyone else afterwards to cover this up. So this meant not only that Anyone Can Die, but that everyone would die. But only after L is killed first. Erin is NOT happy when she figures this out, thinking that L essentially used the whole task force as bait. To his credit L does set things up so that no one has to actually die...well, except Light and Watari, and of course himself.
  • Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race has Doc the Metool, who is killed saving Roll from Wily.
  • A Minor Miscalculation has Nui brutally murder Mataro at the end of the first act, mere chapters after the latter was developed into a potential recurring rival for Ryuko.
  • Discussed in Weiss Reacts, where Blake sums up the elements that make a Sacrificial Lion so easily missed.
  • A Brighter Dark: In the dramatic retelling of Fire Emblem Fates, during the moment in chapter 2 when Kaze and Rinkah are meant to be executed but end up being saved, this fic instead opts to go through with the execution, by the main character no less. The action horrified fans of the characters and established that anyone really can die.
  • In Total Drama fanfic series Monster Chronicles Alejandro may be one of the game's most devious players in canon, but he's very outclassed by Cedric, who makes this clear by turning all of his manipulations against him, voting him off, and killing him within two episodes.
  • Tyrone Dietz from The Institute Saga falls victim to a stray bullet when the so-called Friends Of Humanity attack Bayville High.
  • In Kara of Rokyn, the original Superman Kal-L dies as fighting the Anti-Monitor.

  • Bazil Broketail: Jumble's main role in the plot is that he got captured and used by Waakzaam as a sacrifice in a ritual.
  • The Belgariad later reveals this is a requirement of an important EVENT. There needs to be a sacrifice before the full EVENT can happen. In the first series it's Durnik, who gets better and in the second it is Toth, who does not.
  • Susan, in Diane Duane's The Book of Night with Moon. She isn't personally involved in the plot, but the Lone Power dropped a car on her in an attempt to push the main character over the Despair Event Horizon. The Lone Power does this a lot.
  • Adaon, son of the chief bard Taliesin, in The Black Cauldron. He had become a close friend and confidante of protagonist Taran and Taran's other friends, and his death changed Taran forever. Later, in The High King, Coll son of Collfrewr and King Rhun of Mona also become Sacrificial Lions. Coll is particularly gut-wrenching for the reader because he helped raise Taran from infancy.
  • Discworld:
    • In Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, the main action is kicked off by Carcer's murder of Sergeant Stronginthearm. Stronginthearm was a dwarf who was leading a riot against the trolls and was drafted into the new Watch by Captain Carrot in the second of the Watch novels. Since then, he rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a mainstay of the City Watch, as evidenced by his rank. His death, while not as shocking as that of a first or second tier character, managed to effectively communicate just how dangerous Carcer was, and how the story was about to take a turn for the worse.
    • * Another Terry Pratchett example in Men at Arms with Cuddy, who achieves major character status within the book and was set up for some sort of Odd Couple relationship with Detritus the troll.note  But then, just as they've both gone through a bit of Character Development and become Fire-Forged Friends, Cuddy gets killed. And Detritus does not take it well.
  • The Song of Dragons trilogy in the Dragons of Requiem series started off by killing only one major character — in the same chapter she was introduced in. But then Benedictus, who is central to the trilogy's plot and arguably one of the main characters with the strongest amount of Plot Armor, is killed at the end of the second novel to show that all bets were off by the third novel.
  • In The Elenium, Kurik gets this treatment. After spending three books demonstrating how he is a match for any knight in the series, he gets unceremoniously slaughtered by Adus. Even the antagonist Martel is shocked and grieved by Kurik's death.
  • Marcus, one of the twelve main characters, is killed off right at the Calling just after the Game began in Endgame Trilogy in order to show that the players don't play games, but are dead serious.
  • Rudd Threetrees is an important, non-viewpoint character in The First Law trilogy, who essentially winds up as the leader to the Northmen in rebellion against Bethod. He is killed at the climax of Before They Are Hanged, forcing the Dog Man to take on that role for Last Arguments of Kings.
  • The Ben Elton novel Gridlock does this to Decoy Protagonist Geoffrey, creator of the book's MacGuffin.
  • Harry Potter
    • Cedric Diggory, in the former Trope Namer. He's introduced a book before, given loads of Character Development, becomes Harry's friend in addition to his rival... and then is rather casually murdered, just to show how evil Voldemort is. In commentary on the series, his death serves the meta purpose of showing that Rowling was playing for keeps.
    • Sirius Black's death at the end of the fifth book signals that even the major characters aren't safe.
    • Mad Eye Moody in the beginning of the seventh book. Immediately after his death, the characters comment on how surprising Moody's death is given his seemingly badass and invincible nature. It also signals that characters can now die at any point of the book, not just in the climax as with books 4-6. This is especially ironic because at the time Mad Eye was riding with Mundungus Fletcher, a veritable Mauve Shirt.
    • Hedwig. Rather distressing given that she had been Harry's faithful pet owl for the entire series up to that point. (The Film of the Book turns her death into a Heroic Sacrifice; she had escaped but came back to protect Harry.)
    • Dobby's death saving the trio along with Olivander, Luna, Dean and Griphook convinces Harry to focus on the Horcruxes over the Hallows.
  • Cal dies about halfway through The Hearts We Sold, to show what happens when a human is separated from their substitute heart... and just how much the Daemon hasn't told his charges.
  • Havenite admiral Javier Giscard in At All Costs. He is the first sympathetic Havenite character to be killed — and by the title character herself, no less! Having been around for half-a-dozen books and a central figure of the growing Havenite rebellion — and also the lover and de facto husband of President Eloise Pritchart — his death serves to underscore the severity of the current situation, the terrible mishandling of diplomacy by Corrupt Politicians on both sides, and the desperation with which a peace is needed. In the next (mainline) book, Manticore and Haven make peace and sign a mutual defense treaty that forms the Grand Alliance — all because the woman he loved made the gamble of her life and won.
  • The Hunger Games
    • Cinna in Catching Fire. He is subjected to a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown by Capitol guards and Katniss is forced to watch but cannot help him, as she is currently travelling to the arena for her second Games. He gets killed offscreen at some point between the second and third books. President Snow did this just to screw with Katniss as she entered the arena, in the hope that her focus would be thrown off and she'd get herself killed. With Cinna's murder, character deaths were no longer restricted to the Games.
    • Also, Prim in Mockingjay. Especially given that Katniss is told that Snow would never kill Prim, making him in some ways the lesser of two evils.
  • Marlene is killed by Jeanine in Insurgent, driving Tris to sacrifice herself and turn herself in at Erudite HQ.
  • Dorelei in Kushiel's Legacy. Alcuin and Delaunay qualify as this as well.
  • The Last Dragon Chronicles:
    • Oh, Sophie, we hardly knew ye.
    • Gwillana could count as well. However, we do not see the characters reactions to it because they're all to busy. They wouldn't miss her anyways, and its even lampshaded...well sort of.
    • Fire World reverses this by having Gywneth write Gwillana back into reality.
    • Mr.Henry in Fire World. He dies because he got aged by Harlans Time Rift.
    • Grella's fate in The Fire Ascending was a cruel, sad one. There's an entire part of the book dedicated to what happened to her.
  • If he didn't come Back from the Dead, Aslan would be a quite literal example in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
  • Boromir from The Lord of the Rings is a Stealth Sacrificial Lion. He's given as much Character Development as any of the other members of the Fellowship of the Ring, and then is given a badass death to show just how much meaner than normal orcs the Uruk-hai happen to be.
  • In contrast to the death of Chuck at the end of The Maze Runner, Thomas being forced to Mercy Kill an infected Newt is this in that it is the first of several deaths at the end of The Death Cure, establishing that if things were already bad, they’re going to get much worse in the final few chapters. Which they do, although the ending manages to be reasonably happy.
  • New Jedi Order pulled a pretty major one in Vector Prime, the first book of the series, with Chewbacca.
  • Pax and Julian in Red Rising.
    • Golden Son adds Quinn, Tactus, and Lorn.
    • Morning Star kills Trigg, Ragnar, and Uncle Narol.
  • Most Redwall novels have at least one major character dying halfway through or towards the end of the book. Salamandastron took it up a notch and killed off one of the main characters. Martin The Warrior did the same, not only killing off one of the main characters, but doing so in the most heartbreaking manner possible.
  • Occurs frequently in Matthew Reilly's books. Hawkins in Contest, Book in Ice Station, Van Lewin in Temple... Let's just call it Once per Episode.
  • In the penultimate Skulduggery Pleasant book Last Stand of Dead Men, main character Ghastly Bespoke is killed when Erskine Ravel is revealed as the villain. Not only does it highlight how serious things have become this far into the series; it also makes it very easy to hate Ravel.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Robert Baratheon is a warm-up example for the real one, namely Eddard Stark. Later, Ned's wife Catelyn and eldest son Robb join him in this trope.
  • Alfie from Survivor Dogs gets mortally wounded by Alpha in the first chapter of the second book.
  • In Anne McCaffrey's Tower and the Hive novel, Damia, Larak Raven (younger brother and closest relative of the title character) dies when he absorbs the brunt of a psychic attack meant for another. A good amount of the book is spent establishing that Larak is coming into his own as an adult, contrasting the conflicted, unsatisfied life of his sister.
  • Gorsepaw from Warrior Cats is introduced as a kit in the arc's first book and mentioned several times throughout the rest of the arc, only to be killed by Tigerstar as an example of what will happen to those who do not join his new Clan.
  • When Bigwig in Watership Down sets himself up for a toe-to-toe with Woundwort, he fully expects to go out as one of these. It's his last fight, whatever happens, and he knows it. His subverts the trope and sends Woundwort packing in fear — something that had never happened before and (given what happens shortly thereafter) never happens again. According to Richard Adams, he'd actually intended for Bigwig to die there, but his daughters begged him to change it (the story was originally created for them), and so he survived. The animated film adaptation, however, turns Blackavar into one of these in practically the same manner that Adams had intended for Bigwig, so it fulfills this trope.
  • The Druid Allanon gets killed in The Wishsong of Shannara, letting you know that this really is the end of an era.

    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.

  • 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: 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.

    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.


Video Example(s):


TWA Sacrificial Lion

He recommends making the character death incredibly obvious.

How well does it match the trope?

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