Harry's Ghost: It's good that I said the Sh'ma. My old man always said it guaranteed a place in Heaven. If you believe in Heaven...
Say you're a good guy. You suddenly find the Implacable Man, Eldritch Abomination, or some other terror is in front of you. There's no escape, no possibility of punching it out, no amount of Heroic Willpower is going to save you, and either death or a Fate Worse than Death is certain.
Alternatively, say you're a bad guy and maybe the Anti-Hero you pissed off has finally caught up to you on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Maybe you're just an unfortunate Mook who turned a corner while walking your patrol in the Supervillain Lair and came face to face with The Hero.
Regardless of whichever side of the good/evil axis you find yourself on, you're in a situation where you're completely screwed, there's no way out, and you have only a matter of seconds until some unthinkable horror befalls you. So what do you do?
Some say "Oh, Crap!." Some put a curse on their killers. Some have a last bit of bravado or badassery. And some just quietly begin praying (either to a specific deity or any god they can think of), knowing they are far too screwed for anything else to do any possible good.
This trope, astonishingly enough, is not about telling someone to say their prayers. That one would be a form of Prepare to Die. Compare Prayer Is a Last Resort and Emergency Multifaith Prayer. Contrast Reflexive Remark of Reverence.
As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.
- In the Ranma ˝ manga's Koi Rod arc, when Ranma believes that Ryouga wants her dead she simply clasps her hands and prays as she will accept him killing her if it makes him happy. Of course since it is played for laughs Ryouga finds he can't do it after all.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Scar customarily gives his enemies a chance to pray before he kills them.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Quattro manages to get off an "Oh dear mother of God...!" before Nanoha blasts through an anti-magic field, and an entire armoured warship with one spell, just to get to her. Hilariously, she's technically praying to Nanoha, since her daughter is a clone of the local Crystal Dragon Jesus.
- The Preacher bit that details the Start of Darkness for The Saint of Killers had one of these. After coming Back from the Dead and taking over for The Grim Reaper, The Saint goes to take revenge on the outlaw band that prevented him from bringing medicine to his wife and child. The first member of the group that he encounters was an ex-priest who lost his faith, and the moment that said ex-priest sees the Saint he pisses himself and begins praying with as much fervor as he ever had.
- In a Sin City comic where The Mafia clashes with the girls of Oldtown, Dwight notes that one of the mobsters just stands there and begins praying in flawless Latin as the final massacre begins.
- In the X-O Manowar comic, the main character Aric starts out as a Visigoth warrior who hates Rome for slaughtering his family, and, by extension, Christianity. (The Romans having adopted Christianity by then.) In one scene he comes upon a group of Corrupt Priests and their guards tormenting and intent on raping a young girl. Aric surprises and kills the guards then advances on the priests, one of whom simply kneels there and prays in place until Aric decapitates him.
- In The Simpsons Comics issue "Survival of the Fattest", the Simpsons and the Flanderses are elected to live in a biodome. Circumstances lead to Homer's family and Ned's being trapped in the Flanders' shelter after it catches fire. Ned calls out a plan to save them, but after Homer admits he has no idea how to do it, Ned quickly launches into the Lord's Prayer ("Our father, art in heaven...")
- During the first issue of the "Slavers" arc of The Punisher MAX, a thug who just tried to rape someone starts praying as Castle moves in for the kill:
Castle: Whatever he was jabbering, it wasn't English. Pavla was Albanian — maybe he was too. But I'd know the Lord's Prayer in any language. Gave him a moment. To just before the line about forgiveness.
- A common mook reaction to facing the Secret Six.
- In The Sandman (1989), the first time Death appears in the comic, Dream winds up tagging along with her as she goes about her day. When she arrives for an old Jewish man, Harry, they have a friendly talk until he realizes who she is and that she's come for him. He recites the Shema Yisrael, a prayer that Jews are traditionally supposed to say as their last words before dying.
Harry's Ghost: It's good that I said the sh'ma. My old man always said it guaranteed a place in Heaven. If you believe in Heaven... so, I'm dead. Now what?
Death: Now's when you find out, Harry.
- This happens at the end of When the Wind Blows, with Jim and Hilda, after the latter's hair starts falling out, at which point, she suggests they get into the bags and pray. It's also not Played for Laughs, either.
- In we light ourselves up from the deepest of pits, the last book of you can only use your own, Chara recites the Shema Yisrael (a Jewish prayer traditionally used as last words) before attempting suicide.
- Humorous subversion in The Mummy (1999). When encountering the eponymous Mummy for the first time, Dirty Coward Beni pulls out a cross and begins praying for help quietly. Then when that doesn't do anything he begins pulling out a series of religious symbols and doing the same thing in various languages. This continues until he pulls out a Star of David and begins praying in Hebrew, which brings the Mummy up short because, as an Ancient Egyptian priest, he recognizes it as "The language of the slaves" and decides to make Beni into a servant rather than a victim.
- In Batman Begins, Knight Templar R'as Al Ghul/Ducard appears to enter a position of calm meditation (although he doesn't say any prayers) just prior to his death.
- In Toy Story, as the army men report on Andy's birthday presents (and potential replacement toys), Mr. Potato Head crosses himself.
- In Mel Brooks' 1983 remake of To Be or Not to Be, when the German air raid on Warsaw starts, the Catholic Dobish, fleeing to the cellar, crosses himself; immediately afterward, the Jewish Bieler signs himself with a Star of David.
- In The Cowboys, Jeb Nightlinger is about to be lynched by Asa Watts' gang, and asks for a moment to pray first. Asa complies. Jeb's prayer ends with him asking forgiveness "for those I have killed in anger... and those I am about to."
- In the film version of The Crucible, John Proctor and company recite the Lord's Prayer at the gallows as a final Take That! against their persecutors because they shouldn't have been able to if they were truly against God.
- In Gran Torino, Walt Kowalski starts reciting a Hail Mary right before he gets himself killed on purpose.
- Titanic (1997): A man is heard praying as he scrambles towards the lifeboats. Later, an emergency Mass is given by a priest as the ship starts tilting.
- Similarly in A Night to Remember, many of the passengers who were left on the Titanic are seen beginning to pray shortly before the ship went down.
- Played for Laughs in Muppets from Space: Rizzo is terrified as the alien starship lands, and prays, reminding God that he never carried the plague, not even once!
- In National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold's wife, Ellen, starts to recite the Lord's Prayer after Clark drives underneath a tractor trailer truck, then adds, "And forgive my husband, for he knows not what he does." At which point Clark exclaims, "AMEN!"
- At the climax of Hotel Mumbai, (Based on a True Story) one of the terrorists begins executing the wealthy hostages they have taken to a separate room (they'd intended to use them as bargaining chips). As he gets to the last one, a young Muslim woman, she begins to pray. Despite all the evil and rage he's displayed thus far, he can't bring himself to kill her.
- Played for serious emotional torque in Volcano. Knowing that at least one of them is definitely going to die soon, Stan begins to tearfully recite his Hail Marys as he carries an unconscious subway driver through the cars of a train currently melting from lava flow. He makes it to the end of the cars too late to both jump over the lava and still carry the driver, so he jumps into it and uses the last of his strength to hurl the driver to safety, dying a horrific, yet heroic, death in the process.
- A blonde woman is riding on a two-seater aircraft when the pilot has a fatal heart attack. She radios the tower which assures her that they are experienced and will be able to help her get to the ground. They ask he her height and position and she responds "I'm 5'4" and in the front seat!" The tower says "Okay, repeat after me: Our Father, who art in heaven..."
- The Alice Network: When she’s brought into the surgery, a sick character recites a prayer (beforehand, she also asks several friends to pray for her). She never comes back out.
- Flight of the Intruder: Major Frank Allen, after requesting a Mercy Kill from his Wing Man because he is badly injured and trapped in his plane after being shot down.
- In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Sabbat Martyr, after a bout of vicious street fighting, Gaunt and two of his troops are pinned down and about to be overrun by Chaos forces. He begins praying aloud, commending the souls of his troops to the God-Emperor. They are saved Just in Time by the arrival of Saint Sabbat and her bodyguard.
- Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi quotes from the confession of John Murrell, a "considerate" bandit who would allow his victims time to say their prayers before he cut their throats.
- In PLAGUE, the 4th GONE book, Hunter sings "As I lay me down to sleep", before being charred to death. Dekka Talent helps him sing it.
- In War and Remembrance Aaron Jastrow starts telling the Shema Yisrael when he's killed in the gas chamber in Auschwitz. (It is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words).
- A few examples from the Left Behind series:
- The Christian on board the cruise liner stuck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with no power leads the crew in a final prayer of salvation just before the Giant Wall of Watery Doom hits it in the Dramatic Audio version of Soul Harvest.
- A woman in New Babylon who took the Mark of the Beast is left desperately saying prayers to God during the supernatural Big Blackout caused by one of God's Bowl Judgments in Armageddon, despite the fact that she's utterly screwed.
- Chloe Williams in Armageddon leads an unsaved woman in a prayer of salvation before they both go to the chopping block.
- Demetrius Demeter and Lukas Miklos' wife in The Mark also lead people in prayers of salvation before their deaths.
- Inverted by Bevier in The Elenium who, upon killing a corrupt guard officer (legally justified as an on-the-spot execution for insubordination), proceeds to lead the man's subordinates in prayers for his soul. Yes, it was a very effective intimidation tactic, but with Bevier being who he is, there's no reason to believe his prayers were insincere.
- A variant: There was an episode of ER where Kovacs was in the middle of a war zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and was just about to be shot by a death squad. He got to his knees and started to pray, and that combined with the cross he was wearing and the testimony of a local woman convinced the shooters that he was a priest and it would be bad luck to kill him.
- After an infant is left in critical condition after he botches her surgery, Benton hovers over her bed and begins to recite the 23rd Psalm. Sadly, symbolic of his error, he can't remember the words.
- In flashbacks, some of Angelus's victims are revealed to have done this. His father recited the Lord's Prayer, and another character said the Twenty-third Psalm in the Buffy episode "Amends".
- Spoofed in "Tabula Rasa" when the Scoobies lose their memories. Xander starts praying when a vamp is about to eat him, but can't remember which religion he follows.
- A non-death example: In Season One of Lost, just before switching on the transceiver with a few minutes of battery life that may be their only shot of communicating with the outside world, Sayid mutters a quick prayer under his breath. It's weirdly sweet.
- In an episode of CSI, a group of Buddhist monks being killed were saying prayers, not for themselves, but for the man who was shooting them.
- The Lifetime Movie of the Week The Debbie Smith Story found a woman being dragged into the woods behind her home. As her attacker tears off her clothes and rapes her, she begins to recite the 23rd Psalm. It doesn't stop the attack, but it provides her with a much-needed distraction from the horrible thing happening to her. note
- In a first season episode of Vikings, the war band led by Ragnar attacks a Saxon army during the night, and begin massacring the camp, quickly dispatching the few guards who are awake before moving on to the sleeping soldiers. When the army commander finally wakes up and realizes what is happening, rather than attempting to rally his men he begins praying. Once he finally finishes the prayer he attempts to die fighting, but he's promptly incapacitated before he gets the chance.
- Happens in the Grand Finale of Poirot ("Curtain"): Hercule Poirot is dying of a heart condition, he has just killed the murderer he could not bring to justice through proof, and he has refused to take the amyl nitrite he needs for his heart condition. According to David Suchet, Poirot feels that he is afraid and "wonder[s] whether God will truly ever forgive him for his deeds, and, as a good Catholic, that thought troubles him deeply. For once in his life, Poirot cannot control the events around him." After an Obi-Wan Moment, as he is bedridden, isolated, and minutes closer towards his death, he prays to God for forgiveness and clasps the rosary in his hands while doing so, resulting in Death Equals Redemption. So heartbreaking.
- Beverly Hills, 90210. As Kelly and another girl are trapped in the basement of a burning house, the other girl urges her to recite the Lord's Prayer as the flames begin to eat through the door. While she clearly means this as a means of giving themselves the last rites, it's probably no coincidence that at that moment, they hear the sounds of firemen trying to break down the door and get to them.
- Guiding Light. Honeymooning Super Couple Alan-Michael and Lucy are trapped on a sinking yacht in the midst of a storm. When Alan-Michael gets pinned under some equipment while trying to bail out water, he seems to immediately accept his impending death, but tearfully prays that God keep Lucy safe. When Lucy finds him and can't free him, she outright begs God to help them. At that precise moment, a mysterious man appears and is able to free them and get the radio working so they can alert the Coast Guard. Following their rescue, Alan-Michael's father mentions having fervently prayed himself.
- The core book for Vampire: The Masquerade has a vignette wherein a vampire gangbanger punches through the stomach of a punk kid who shot him. He then tells the boy that the wound's going to kill him, "but because I used to be a good Catholic boy, I'll give you a few seconds to say a prayer or something" before he'll give him a Mercy Kill.
"He nods, and starts praying. Me, I start counting."
- In Parade when Leo Frank is just about to be lynched for supposedly murdering Mary Phagan, his last act is to recite the Sh'ma.
- In Miss Saigon, Kim prays before a shrine (though her specific religion is never stated) before killing herself.
- In Les Misérables, the rebels face a hopeless situation after repelling the first attack on the barricade. Their supplies are running low, the Parisians have not joined their cause, and they have pretty much resigned themselves to death the next day. Valjean prays not for himself but for Marius, that God will "bring him home". This is echoed in the epilogue when Valjean is on his deathbed, praying that God will go ahead and "bring me home".
- In Hamlet, Hamlet passes on an opportunity to kill Claudius while the latter is praying, on the grounds that if Claudius dies during prayer he might go to Heaven, while Hamlet would prefer to send him to the other place.
- In The Saint Of Bleecker Street, as Desideria lies dying, Annina consoles her by leading her in prayer.
- Due to the Relationship Values in Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny, one Rōnin character may decide to sell his services to the Big Bad if you don't have a good relationship with him. If this happens the two of you will fight to the death just before that last couple of boss fights. If you win he'll collapse with a smile and will say the beginning of a Buddhist prayer several times before dying.
- The Final Boss of EarthBound (1994) can be defeated only when Paula prays for spiritual support from all the people you've met in the game. Including you.
- In Crash Twinsanity, when the teamed up Crash and Cortex fall into a bottomless pit. The duo have enough time to react before gravity kicks in. Cortex starts praying while Crash struggles to fly.
- In RuneScape you'll be saying your prayers a lot. Especially since praying can actually save your life in this game.
- The puzzles of Portal 2 are all based around physics-based puzzle solving. The artificial Announcer cheerfully tells you that "If the laws of physics no longer apply in the future, God help you."
- Might save your life in Nethack, since you entered the dungeon on your god's command in the first place. They won't smite any monsters, but they can and will help with most other problems if you haven't called on them too often.
- Thane's death scene in Mass Effect 3, although, in a subversion, he isn't praying for himself—he's praying for Shepard.
Kalahira, mistress of inscrutable depths, I ask forgiveness. Kalahira, whose waves wear down stone and sand. Kalahira, wash the sins from this one and set him on a distant shore of the infinite spirit. Kalahira, this one’s heart is pure, but beset by wickedness and contention. Guide this one to where the traveller never tires, the lover never leaves, the hungry never starve. Guide this one, Kalahira, and (s)he will be a companion to you as (s)he was to me.
- In Crusader Kings II, when sacrificing a Christian or Muslim during a Viking Great Blot, they may utter some prayers as they are brought to the gallows.
- Radiant Silvergun: When you face the Final Boss, the cryptic and nonsensical hints that accompany the Boss Warning Siren ("Be Attitude For Gains") all read "Be Praying".
- Happy Tree Friends: In the episode "Snow Place to Go", Russell is stranded in the arctic, and when the ice platform he's standing on starts melting, he starts praying in Simlish.
- Murder Drones: When the titular drones first show up and start slaughtering the worker drones, there's a shot of one worker drone with his hands folded and his visor displaying "Calculating most probable deity to pray to".
- Dr. Insano doesn't so much start praying as he does randomly screaming for Jesus and Santa to help him when confronted by a gun wielding Nostalgia Critic in Kickassia.
- In Paw Dugan's Top 10 Video Game Composers Cedric takes his vengeance on Paw. When cornered...
Cedric: Time to start saying your prayers!
Cedric: Stop saying your prayers!
- In the Futurama episode "The Farnsworth Parabox", Prof. Farnsworth is heard pleading to whatever deity will have him as something in his lab is wreaking havoc.
- Looney Tunes:
- Aversion: Yosemite Sam would often tell Bugs Bunny "Say your prayers, varmint!", but Bugs generally opted for a different response to Sam's threats.
- In Homeless Hare, a foreman falls through several floors of the skyscraper he's building, leaving silhouettes of himself on the way down, one of which is clearly kneeling with hands clasped.
- In Awful Orphan Charlie Dog argues on the phone with the upstairs neighbor, who is annoyed by the noise he's been making with Porky Pig:
Charlie: Yeah? Well, listen, you overgrown palooka. I'll save you the trouble and come up and see you! So say your prayers, chowderhead 'cause here I come!
- In My Favorite Duck Daffy has been yanking Porky's chain all through the picture because duck season is closed. When it actually opens, Porky closes in with a rifle and blasts the words "Start Praying, Duck" in Daffy's white flag.
- In "Operation: Rabbit", Wile E. Coyote states his intentions to eat Bugs, ending with giving him "the customary two minutes to say your prayers." As usual, Bugs snarks at him instead.
- Played for Laughs in Miraculous Ladybug, where Chloe starts praying as Stoneheart hurls her off of the Eiffel Tower, promising to be nice to everyone. Ladybug catches her, and she says she didn't mean it, leaving Ladybug confused as to what she meant.
- In the Hey Arnold! episode "Harold's Bar Mitzvah", while on a bus, an older boy approaches Arnold and Harold and threatens them with "Say your prayers!". Harold immediately starts praying in Hebrew, which confuses and scares the bully and he slinks away from them in fear.
- The Simpsons: In "Mr. Plow", Bart's classmates prepare to pelt him with snowballs when Homer's new snowplow business keeps school open on a snow day, and Nelson says "Say your prayers, plow boy!"