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Shoot the Messenger

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"I do believe in killing the messenger. You know why? Because it sends a message."
Damon Salvatore, The Vampire Diaries

Is there a worse job to have than being a messenger for a major villain? The hours are long, the pay is low, your boss thinks that the world revolves around them, and likes to abuse their men for fun, and remember that dental plan that led you to join in the first place? Yeah, that got cancelled last year.

And then there's the very worst part of being a Big Bad's messenger: bring them a message with bad news, any bad news, (even just something small like that their mother is running 10 minutes late for the party) and they'll flip out, fly into a rage, and kill you. Why? Because you're the closest thing to them when they get the bad news, and you're expendable. Maybe it's time to see if the heroes need some extra help or a new sidekick, or... something. Anything!

The origin of the trope leads back to ancient Greece at least. One possible theory (besides the king being affected with Pride) is that the messenger was a defeated or losing general's son, and that his death was punishment for failure. It's also such a common cliché that the Evil Overlord List took time to specifically mention it.

By the way, remember when we told the worst part was bringing your master some bad news? We lied. The worst is bringing someone else a message from your master. Such as an ultimatum. The recipient is guaranteed to reply "Screw Your Ultimatum!" in a non-ambiguous way, and by "non-ambiguous", we mean by sending your head back. Also note that even the "good guys" might do this, especially Anti Heroes. Its depressing regularity in the ancient world led to the first rule of international law: Diplomatic Immunity. In the end, everyone (even Genghis Khan, who destroyed multiple empires) thought it was just a little unfair to the messengers. In fact, Genghis Khan wiped out one of those empires because they killed some of his messengers.

When villains do this, it is generally done as a subtrope of You Have Failed Me and Bearer of Bad News, and is a way to Kick the Dog by killing the person who annoys you despite their innocence. When heroes do this (to enemy diplomats, NEVER their own servants), it's because the messenger was a bad guy anyway, so why not murder him? Some shows make the messenger look and act particularly evil, e.g. threaten the characters with death or worse, to avoid the negative aspects of this trope (see also: "Ass" in Ambassador). He may even psychologically torment and provoke them by showing them what happened to those who said no. In particularly stupid moments, a villain might execute a messenger immediately for disturbing him, before he gets a chance to deliver his news.

And because of what we said earlier about how even anti-heroes may get in on the act, if you're in a story featuring Black-and-Grey Morality, do whatever it takes to get out of delivering a message. If you do wind up having to deliver some bad news or an ultimatum in such a work, your life expectancy is probably slightly shorter than that of a guy standing on top of skyscraper in a thunderstorm who's also saying "What's the worst that could happen?" Guys, the messengers are coming in peace.

Doing this may also be violating a tradition of Sacred Hospitality, which only adds to the sense of outrage it provokes; this played a role in Genghis Khan's destruction of the Khwarizmi, mentioned earlier.

"I'm just the messenger" is a stock phrase used to remind people that this trope isn't really fair, and is fairly likely to work.

Not to be confused with Please Shoot the Messenger, where the recipient is actively instructed by the message to kill the person who delivered it. Aggressive Negotiations may well include this trope as part of said "negotiations". Overlap with Offing the Annoyance is likely. Compare Offing the Mouth, which would be something like "Shoot the Deadpan Snarker". Contrast Mook Depletion, where the villain can only afford to have one messenger.

Compare: Shoot the Television and Spare a Messenger.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cat Planet Cuties does this in the first episode when Aoi shoots a messenger... or, rather, shoots in the general direction of a messenger. She purposely missed, just because she felt like scaring the crap out of the dude. Though this was less because she was upset with the message he brought and more with the fact that he'd dickishly brought it to her in broad daylight, violating contact protocol and interrupting the nice time she'd been having with Kio.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • King Vegeta in a flashback ended up blasting his messenger to smithereens after he reported that they had to wait three days before attacking a planet because of the full moon coinciding around that time. It's implied that he was more irritated that he can't get the job done in good time to keep Frieza off his back than the actual failure.
    • A henchman of Frieza's arrives to announce that the Ginyu Force has arrived. As soon as he's finished, Frieza promptly vaporizes him with Eye Beams. In this case, Frieza was killing the bearer of good news because he didn't need him anymore.
    • Babidi wants revenge on Piccolo, Trunks, and Goten and has Majin Buu start destroying cities until they show themselves. Since Babidi doesn't know who they are, he gives a general description to the citizens while demanding they give them up. A World Martial Arts Tournament staff member named Marvin recognizes the description and reveals the three heroes' names. Babidi calls him a fool and says he doesn't care what their names are before killing the guy on the spot.
  • In Hellsing, Alucard blasts Schrödinger when he comes as a messenger to a Hellsing conference (of course, Schrödinger survives that, thanks to his "quantum physics" abilities).
  • In Lupin III: Dead or Alive, General Headhunter's opinion seems to be that this trope is "cut the head off of the messenger". Not even for bringing him unexpected news: just bringing the news that he might already expect is dangerous if he's already in a bad mood.
  • In Saint Seiya Omega, Pallas gets so angry when she's told that one of her generals has disobeyed her orders that she vaporizes the unfortunate Mook who is reporting the situation to her. The poor man tries to tell her that he's only informing her of what he saw, to no avail.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In Asterix and the Goths, Metric tells his interpreter that if their Gaulish captive, Getafix, will not show them magic, the interpreter will be killed as well. When Getafix refuses, the interpreter lies, not realizing that Getafix speaks Gothic.
  • Black Moon Chronicles: Very common in this setting. When one faction sends a messenger to another faction, they usually end up dead.
    • One of Ghorghor Bey's men is turned into a frog by the master of a sorcerer's stronghold after demanding their surrender.
    • Fratus Sinister and his corrupt cronies at the head of the order of the Knights of Justice shoot (with arrows) upwards of 20 imperial messengers one after the other. A variation in that they're shot before they even deliver the message, as Sinister want to keep plausible deniability as to why he didn't commit his forces to the absolutely massive battle taking place against the Big Bad's decoy forces (Fratus wants to take over the Empire, see). This bites him in the ass later on, as the savvy emperor isn't fooled, and Fratus gets a humiliating demotion from the Empire's aristocratic pecking order.
    • Wismerhill and his friends respond to a representative of the empire demanding that they hand over the Barony of Moork to its newly appointed lord by having the messenger roasted by a baby dragon and served up for dinner—their own, not the dragon's.
  • Diabolik: Regularly Averted, as no matter how bad the news given to Diabolik and Eva, the two Villain Protagonists won't take it out on the messenger unless the messenger is actually and willfully responsible for it. Best shown when Diabolik had been blinded in an explosion and the doctor Eva had kidnapped to cure him said he couldn't be cured, as Eva simply let him go... Until she discovered the man held Diabolik responsible for his brother's suicide, at which point she interrogated until Truth Serum, found out he could have cured him with a corneal implant, and made him the donor.
  • Donald Duck once took a job as a messenger and the first person he delivered a message to was so furious she started throwing stuff at him. It wasn't the matter of the news being good or bad. She just hated the sender and took it out on Donald.
  • Gargoyles: During a storyline in the comic continuation taking place in 10th century Scotland, Constantine has a messenger from the Grim's opposing army killed, in blatant defiance of the rules of war. Given that the messenger wasn't even delivering bad news, merely giving the time the Grim's forces would meet them for battle, it seems he did this for little reason more than to throw his weight around as king.
  • Paperinik New Adventures: In the 11th issue, an Evronian idiom by the great Warrior Poet Zartas says "The ambassador of my enemy is my enemy,why spare him?" Which says a lot about the Evronian race as a whole.
  • In the Belgian series Papyrus, the Pharaoh sent the titular character to announce a string of bad news to the King of Crete: his son died and the Cretan diplomatic envoy perished in a sea storm, along with a sacred bull given as an offering. Angered and outraged, the King punished Papyrus to the arena.
  • Popeye: In Issue 10 of the IDW series, Wimpy goes to tell Popeye that Olive Oyl and Toar may be having an affair, but before he can do so, Popeye, who was earlier blown off by Toar and Olive, says, "Lissen — I ain't got no pals an' I ain't got no sweetie! An' th' next swab what brings me bad news is goner get a punch in the kisser!" Wimpy wisely chooses not to say anything.
  • The Sandman (1989): Defied. Morpheus sends a messenger to Lucifer that he intends to travel To Hell and Back to free Nada's soul. Knowing that Lucifer will Shoot the Messenger, he sends the Biblical Cain as his envoy, since Cain is marked by God and not even the forces of Hell can kill him. Lucifer still manages to hurt and terrify Cain, but notes that anyone else would have returned "with his liver in his mouth".
    • Death, personally, dislikes this trope, feeling that on the long run, it only means less mail.
  • Spider-Man: A running theme for years was goons working for The Kingpin were in mortal fear of having to deliver bad news to their boss, as Wilson Fisk was infamous for killing anyone at the slightest provocation.
    • Averted in an issue of The Punisher when one guy has to relate how the Punisher escaped a trap.
    Goon: Mr. Fisk, please...I...I had nothing to do with this operation! I...drew the short straw.
    Kingpin: That is why you're telling me this?
    Goon: Yes, sir.
    Kingpin: Your candor is refreshing.
  • Tintin: In The Crab with the Golden Claws, the villain Allan punches a sailor to the floor when he reports finding the radio operator bound and gagged — assaulted by Tintin and Captain Haddock so that they could send a distress call before fleeing the ship.
  • X-Men: In Uncanny X-Men Annual #5, the Badoon King shoots a goon dead for coming to inform him their troops have been routed by the X-Men and a local uprising.
  • Ultimate Vision: One of the scientists reminds Tartleton that the Northern Directorate will not approve of his merging with the Gah Lak Tus unit. He kills him. Another one points out that there's a problem with the power supply. He kills him as well.

    Comic Strips 
  • Subverted in a regularly recycled Beetle Bailey gag: The officers receive a written order from the general, and it has one obvious spelling error that changes the meaning completely. Someone will point out what the general probably meant to say, but then someone else will always ask: "But who dares to tell the general that he made a mistake?" While the general probably wouldn't shoot anyone for pointing out one little spelling error (probably...), the answer is always the same: Nobody dares to tell the general that he made a mistake. They prefer to follow out the order, exactly the way it's written, and look like idiots, rather than telling the general to make a correction.
  • In a Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin lampshades this trope when he is sent to the principal's office for shouting "BORING!" to his teacher's lecture.
  • Dilbert
    • Parodied in an early strip. Prior to giving his presentation, one of Dilbert's superiors assures him that they "don't shoot the messenger". Dilbert then proceeds to tell them the bad news that their idea is doomed to failure with Brutal Honesty, adding that they will probably be mocked for their stupidity and fired. One of them actually pulls out a machine gun begging to be allowed to wing Dilbert, but is reminded that they "don't shoot the messenger". Instead, they Tar and Feather him.
    • Also referenced in a comic strip involving a "Scape Goat", literally. He is shot by the PHB, who clarifies he was aiming for the messenger. Dilbert suggests it was the Scape Goat's fault for standing there.
  • The Wizard of Id:
    • Lampshaded when the King, aware that his incompetent knight Sir Rodney is bringing news of his defeat, reminds him of the old Roman custom in which those bringing good news were rewarded with wine, women and song, whereas the bearer of bad tidings was put to death. A sweating Rodney replies with the 'joyous' news that one of the King's more awful provinces with its rebellious peasants, stinking swamps (etc, etc) has been given to the Huns to worry about.
    • In another strip, the Wizard sends a bird to deliver a message. However, the recipent fires on the bird before he can deliver it.
    Delivery Bird: Your message got spammed.

    Fan Works 
  • Another Way: Marquis knows that Lung is likely to kill whoever comes and passes on the message that Marquis has returned to Brockton Bay to take back what was his. So, the chosen messenger is the one ABB member present who's over eighteen and had just threatened Marquis' daughter.
  • In The Broken Day, when a Hydra agent comes to tell Hela that Harry has been retrieved from the temporal storm, when he tells Hela that the agent responsible delayed reporting this to her because was trying to cover his ass, Hela muses that they clearly expected her to invoke this by killing the agent for delivering the bad news. However, Hela defies this idea by instead promoting the agent to act as her liasion because she acknowledges his respect for her.
  • Dragon Ball Abridged has put a twist on two of the scenes mentioned for Dragon Ball Z above.
    • In the scene involving Freeza, the henchman comes in, reports on the arrival of the Ginyu Force, and Freeza seems content to let him be, but then the henchman also announces that due to Freeza's tendency to kill them on a whim, the rest of his men have decided to form a union. Freeza says that decision is "Adorable" in a mildly amused voice, then promptly kills the henchman without even turning to face him.
      • In another episode, a messenger doesn't even get to say what the news is before Freeza blasts him. Freeza was just looking for a way to get out of the awkward conversation he was having with his minion Zarbon (where it looked like he was going to have to admit that he thought Zarbon was gay).
    • King Vegeta, meanwhile, kills his messenger out of annoyance when he feels the messenger gave a smart-mouth, Mathematician's Answer to a question King Vegeta asked.
      King Vegeta: Speak, Butarega.
      Butarega: Bardock has gone absolutely mad, Sire!
      Bardock: [offscreen] FREEZA!!
      King Vegeta: What's all the commotion about?
      Butarega: He's been telling everyone that Freeza plans to destroy Vegeta!
      King Vegeta: Wait, my son, the planet, or me?
      Butarega: ...yes.
      (Butarega is blasted by King Vegeta)
      King Vegeta: Freakin' smartass.
    • A non-fatal variant is discussed when Krillin asks Chichi what she would do if she were told that her husband was dead and her young son had been kidnapped by her husband's worst enemy.
      Chichi: [Cheerfully] I'd castrate the messenger in his sleep with a rusty carving knife.
      Krillin: Oh... then, it's a good thing I'm not telling you that, then. [Nervous laughter]
  • In Enemy of My Enemy, Brute High-Chieftain Torikus does this a lot, and he does it very brutally. One scene describes an unfortunate messenger's skull fragments spread across the area around Torikus after a particularly bad development for the Brutes.
  • The Sun Soul: In chapter 22, during the Celadon Civil War, Mayor Vicar sends a messenger to Princess Erika's side, telling them to surrender. If Erika's side loses, there will be no mercy for them — so they had better surrender now while they still can. Brock, on Erika's side, steps forward, yells 'IF!', and signals his army to attack. The messenger ends up with two big ugly arrows protruding through his chest, promptly falls off his Rapidash, and dies. Quite literally a case of Shoot the Messenger.
  • It's A Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door: The Pronghorn Network actively seek to subvert this trope, primarily by practicing good manners so as not to upset the people they're delivering news to.
    Niles Nigellus: Good manners are essential for a messenger. It gains us access to reluctant destinations and wins us favor with hesitant recipients. Not to mention it saves us from the wrath of bad news.
  • Queen Celestia seems to spend a large amount of her time in Twillight Sparkle's awesome adventure shooting messengers.
  • Discussed and defied in the Infinity Crisis spin-off In Hand and Foot; when Wilson Fisk receives bad news about his recent plans, once the messenger reveals that he just drew the short straw to tell him what has happened, Fisk asks him who did make the relevant decisions and lets the messenger leave.
  • In Shinra High SOLDIER, Tseng shoots a messenger who merely reported that Julia, Sephiroth, and Reno should report to Hojo to get new mako injections. He's just injured, but Tseng forbids him from seeking medical attention until he returns to deliver a counter-message to Hojo.
  • In A Protector's Pride, Zommari arrives to tell Cazador (Hollow Ichigo) that Orihime is being held prisoner in Hueco Mundo. Cazador thanks him and then attempts to kill him. However, Zommari is too fast for him and easily escapes.
  • Following another failed attempt to make Grace Glossy resign her lands in Old West, Tomson reports to his boss Dufayel of how the thugs the wealthy fox hired to do that failed. The usually suave Dufayel can't bottle up his anger at another failure and shoots Tomson through the rat's head.
  • In The Night The House of Cards Was Built, Shisui warns Itachi to stay way from home because how bad Fugaku messed up (he wagered and lost his wife Mikoto and both Itachi and Sasuke). While Itachi takes it "calmly" at first, his rage boils over and he kills Shisui, whose only crime was trying got get his friend to calm down, when he also mentions that Fugaku also lost the Uchiha Secret.
  • Lucius Malfoy in The Rigel Black Chronicles reflects on the fact that Tom Riddle doesn't, as a rule, kill messengers, and clings grimly to that, when passing on the news of "Rigel" forgiving Riddle for once again interfering at Hogwarts, and suggesting that he stop making long-term plans as he keeps messing them up.
  • In The Awakening of a Magus, after Voldemort reads a servant's mind to see the amount of power channeled during the Hogwarts Ritua, he grows so angry he executes the guy after several minutes of torture.
  • Played for Laughs in Don't Kill the Messengers, where Superman goes Knight Templar Big Brother on Green Lantern and Green Arrow after finding out Supergirl was staying in the 31st century with Brainiac's descendant Brainiac 5.
  • As befitting a story based on Warhammer 40,000, The Weaver Option has this happen several times.
    • When the Governor of Matapan is told by a lieutenant that a fleet of more than three hundred ships, likely led by Lady Weaver (a.k.a. Taylor Hebert, the person he's rebelling against), has translated into the system, the former has the man executed for "peddling blatantly false information".
    • The Dark Eldar Dynasts' usual response to any bad news is to impale them at best. The only reason one of them eventually stops doing it is because he's running out of messengers.
    • Tzeentch does not kill messengers bringing him bad news. He makes the messengers wish they were dead, though.
  • Let the Galaxy Burn:
    • When the ancient Dornish ambassador told Rhaegar of his sector's declaration of war, Rhaegar ordered Arthur Dayne to kill the man.
    • Aegon is so well known for doing this personally that his inner circle keeps choosing random shmucks to deliver any bad news.

    Films — Animation 
  • Invoked and Subverted in A Bug's Life, where three of Hopper's goons voiced their disagreement of returning back to Ant Island when they have the food for the winter and a concern of the raining season. They get Molt to tell Hopper by persuading him that he's "vice president" of the gang since he's Hopper's brother, and also Hopper would take his anger at him instead of them. Molt tells Hopper the plan but when he caved by his fury, Molt tells him that it was their idea, in which he Make an Example of Them.
  • Encanto: It turns out Bruno's gift of prophecy made him unpopular in town, as he only seemed to predict bad things happening and people tend to blame him for the predictions coming true.
  • Disney's Mulan. Two Imperial scouts have been captured by Shan-Yu. He mockingly congratulates them on finding his army, then gives them a threat to take back to the Emperor. As they run away:
    Shan-Yu: How many men does it take to deliver a message?
    Hun archer: (draws bow) One.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 300, King Leonidas and the Spartans execute a Persian messenger and his armed escort for insulting their kingdom while bringing Xerxes' demand for "earth and water" as a token of submission to the empire, telling him that he'll find plenty of both down in the well, where they then proceed to throw them down. Which is kicked off (literally) by Leonidas yelling "This! Is! SPARTA!" The best part? The real Leonidas actually did this. Leonidas did give him a fair warning, though, pointing out that he may be a messenger, but, in Sparta, each man is responsible for his own words.
  • Although, movie-wise, they're both What Could Have Been scenarios, Batman Returns had two opportunities for the Penguin (Danny DeVito) to apply this trope — first as a double subversion, then as an aversion — in a pair of deleted scenes. Both scenes did manage to make their way into the official DC Comics adaptation of the movie. First, when the Organ Grinder's monkey brings him a note as he's wondering why all the firstborn children he's had his gang kidnap haven't shown up:
    Penguin: So — where're the kids? Don't tell me they stopped at McDonald's!
    Thin Clown: [pointing to the monkey] Boss — I think he's got a note!
    [Penguin takes the note and reads it.]
    Penguin: "'Dear Penguin: The children regret they're unable to attend. Have a disappointing day.' — Batman"
    [Penguin angrily reaches for his umbrella.]
    Penguin: [to the monkey] You're the messenger. It doesn't make sense to shoot the messenger.
    [He shoots the Thin Clown instead.]
    • And, when the Poodle Lady is counting down the seconds to the missile launch that will destroy Gotham City:
    Poodle Lady: Um, funny thing. Your penguins — they're not responding to the launch command. 'Fact, they're kind of turned around now, like someone jammed our signal.
    Penguin: What?! But who could've... [suddenly quietly angry] No. Don't say it.
    Poodle Lady: My lips are sealed.
  • Battle Beyond the Stars. A Proud Warrior Race responds to Sador's demands by returning his emissary as a jar of powder. A furious Sador destroys their entire planet to encourage the others.
  • Lampshaded in Beerfest. Only instead of shooting the messenger, they sidestep the technicality by suffocating him with beer hoses.
  • In Blood Simple, Julian Marty tells Loren Visser about the ancient Roman practice of killing the Bearer of Bad News when the PI delivers photos of Marty's wife and her lover in flagrante delicto. Not only does Visser laugh off the posturing, he casually (later on) inverts the trope.
  • A non-lethal version occurs in A Bridge Too Far. An intelligence officer discovers that German tanks have been deployed in the Arnhem area. When he brings this to the attention of his superiors, he's politely told that he's been working too hard and put on sick leave.
  • Clue the movie is all about this. Wadsworth points out directly that "everyone who's died gave vital information about one of [the guests]." Ironically, the last informant who is killed is a delivering a singing telegram shot at the front door.
  • In Day of the Evil Gun, Addis sends his Indian scout to negotiate with the Apaches to exchange the stolen payroll for the two wagons of ammo. The Apaches respond by sending back the scout's body.
  • This sets off the plot of The Duellists. An officer is sent to inform another officer that he's been placed under house arrest for dueling. He feels he's been insulted and challenges that officer to a duel, leading to an ongoing feud that lasts for decades.
  • The Jade Warlord does it to a messenger in the movie The Forbidden Kingdom.
  • Gladiator. The Germanic tribes respond to a demand that they submit to the Roman empire by sending the headless Roman envoy back to the legionnaires tied to his horse, while their chief appears on a hill, shouting at the Romans and tossing the head of the messenger to the ground.
    Maximus: They say no.
  • A heroic example, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone:
    Draco Malfoy: Excuse me, Professor, perhaps I heard you wrong. I thought you said "the four of us."
    Professor McGonagall: No, you heard me correctly, Mr. Malfoy; you see, honourable as your intentions were, you too were out of bed after hours. You will join your classmates in detention.
    [the protagonists stare at each other in disbelief that Malfoy also got in trouble]
    • In this case, not only was there no actual shooting, but also the messenger was more of an informant who got punished for breaking the same rules he snitched about.
  • Hawk the Slayer. Hawk fatally injures Drogo, but spares a couple of his soldiers to carry him back to his father Voltan. The grieving father kills them both the moment his son dies. In fairness, he does insist they be armed first.
    Voltan: My son lies dead, and yet you live. Give them weapons! It is fitting that my son dies with dogs at his feet!
  • Justified in the 1997 adaptation of Ivanhoe when the recipient realizes that it's politically expedient to pretend he never received the message in the first place. The messenger tries to avert his fate by asserting that his master awaits his safe return. He dies anyway.
  • Aragorn beheading the Mouth of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King after he mocked them about Frodo's fate. In the book, he recoils from Aragorn's Death Glare and says, "I am a herald and ambassador and may not be assailed!" Gandalf points out that 1) nobody has actually threatened him, and 2) regardless of Diplomatic Immunity, it's still a good idea to act with more tact than the Mouth of Sauron has been.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera: Rotti Largo has the doctor who told him he was terminally ill executed.
  • In keeping with Road to Perdition's Black-and-Gray Morality, Michael Sullivan does this to a messenger sent to bribe him out of revenge. For reference, the messenger was completely unarmed and nonthreatening. Of course, given that Michael himself had been set up for a Please Shoot the Messenger situation by the guys the messenger is representing less than 10 minutes earlier in the film, and that the messenger in question was sent to represent the interests of the Psychopathic Manchild responsible for the deaths of his wife and son... his reaction is somewhat understandable.
  • Parodied in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, in which the gaoler mentions that "good news is always rewarded and bad news is severely punished." Guess which kind he ends up delivering...
  • In Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt gets extremely angry at C-3P0, slapping him and spewing muck at him, in response to Boushh's actually Leia in disguise unreasonable payment demands for Chewbacca's capture. In fact, according to one of Jabba's minions, he is very prone to this, having disintegrated the last protocol droid they had after being enraged by a translation it made.
  • Saving Private Ryan: When Miller's team makes first contact with airborne troops in a French village, they need to contact the company captain who's on the other side of the village. A runner is sent, but he doesn't make it a hundred feet before he's shot. Reiben asks in shock why even though he's down, the enemy keeps shooting him.
    Miller: As long as he draws breath, he still carries the message. We'd do the same thing.
    Reiben: NO, WE WOULDN'T!!! note 
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life. Jonathan Reiss gets Chen Lo to steal the orb map showing the location of the doomsday plague he's after. Lo's minion shows up with a crate, but when Riess opens it there's no orb; just a mobile phone. Riess has the minion killed on the spot and uses the phone to call Lo, who wants to negotiate a higher price.
    Riess: I take it you didn't like your messenger.
  • In The Warlords film starring Jet Li as Pang Qingyun and Andy Lau as Zhao Erhu, a new army called Shan led by the two main characters are sent on a mission with inferior numbers to attack and claim the territory of a much larger army with much more weapons and firepower. The odds are against them, and the opposing army sends a messenger to tell General Zhao that the odds are against them and they can't win. The General pulls out his sword and slices the messenger's neck without a word, then he and his men charge in for the attack.

  • This is an old trope that appears in medieval literature. For example, in the Beatrix version of the old French chanson de geste La Naissance du chevalier au cygne (12th century), the evil crone Matabrune, infuriated by the bad news brought to her by a spy, merely a young boy, kills him with her knife in front of her disapproving court.
  • Apparently Conan the Barbarian is deemed likely to do this trope. In The Devil in Iron, the plot involves a Beautiful Slave Girl acting as a Honey Trap to lure Conan into a trap.
    "Then, shortly after the parley, before he has time to forget all about her, we will send a messenger to him, under a flag of truce, accusing him of stealing the girl and demanding her return. He may kill the messenger, but at least he will think that she has escaped."
  • Happens so many times in Romance of the Three Kingdoms that it's eventually Lampshaded when Liu Bei writes a letter to Guan Yu to inform him of where he was, "but there was no one to take it." Then there's this exchange years and many chapters later...
    "When two countries are at war, their emissaries are not slain," said Lu Su. "Messengers are slain to show one's dignity and independence," replied Zhou Yu. The unhappy bearer of the letter was decapitated, and his head sent back to Cao Cao by the hands of his escort.
  • Animorphs: Visser Three, all the goddamn time. This actually works to the heroes' advantage; as no-one wants to tell the Visser something that might set him off, his underlings frequently omit useful info out of self-preservation.
    Chapman: Visser Three, wrong? Maybe. But I'm not the fool who's going to try and tell him that.
    Chapman: (in another book) Tell Visser Three? Tell Visser Three? No one tells Visser Three. People who tell the Visser something he doesn’t want to hear end up cut off from Kandrona rays, slowly starving, dying inside their hosts...
  • In Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, this is inverted in that messengers bearing good news will be "much caressed" by the Powers That Be back in England. (Given how the series works, that makes this Truth in Television.) Stephen Maturin then uses his powers of persuasion to see to it that Aubrey, though screwed out of his victory by a spotlight-stealing admiral, still gets chosen as the messenger and thus gets a plum command.
  • In Manzoni's The Betrothed, the Podest&atilde&; and Count Attilio have an argument about chivalry, Attilio thinks it's legal and moral to beat a messenger who carries bad news, especially if the message is the challenge to a duel.
  • Chevette Washington, a bicycle messenger in William Gibson's Bridge Trilogy, mentions this trope frequently. She's never shot, but she clarifies that the basic idea — blaming a messenger for her message — is true.
  • Wess Roberts, PhD. wrote a non-fiction business advice book, "Business Secrets of Attila the Hun", which included this nugget; "A wise chieftain does not kill the messenger who delivers bad news. He kills the messenger who fails to deliver bad news."
  • The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu. When the wasps move into the bees territory, the latter send an ambassador with an ultimatum — the bee is executed and its stinger sent back to the hive. The bees send another ambassador who attempts negotiation. The wasps rip out her stinger and allow the bee to stagger back to the hive and die. Then an elderly bee arrives with her stinger encased in a ball of wax. After hearing the terms of surrender, she begs the wasps to wait a few days for her to die before imposing them. They refuse.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel The Greater Good, Cain is stopped on the battlefield by a tau soldier to carry a message. He's glad that he'll survive since they are unlike to shoot their messenger — now he just has to worry about whether the general to receive it will. (Not for bad news, this time; for treason.)
  • This is taken to the next level in the backstory of The Curse of Chalion; a crazy enemy general tells the messengers that one of them will have to kill the other. Cazaril refuses to take part, denying the villain his fun, but the other messenger, Dondo, tries to go through with it. The general stops it, and releases them both, knowing that Dondo's frantic attempts to hide the truth of his cowardice will do more to Cazaril than he could.
  • Subverted in The Dresden Files novel Ghost Story by a Fomorian servitor named Listen. He expressly demonstrates awareness of this trope and gave zero fucks about either outcome. If he lives, he can continue serving his inhuman master. If he is killed, his master has plenty more to replace him. The mad necromancer to whom he was delivering the message let him live precisely because he genuinely didn't care whether he lived or died.
  • While in Abyssinia Flashman is not happy to hear that The Caligula into whose territory he's about to go undercover has executed a messenger by hacking off his limbs and then twisting the arteries shut so it takes him a long time to bleed to death.
  • The Ganymede Takeover. Gus Swenesgard sends one of his minions to contact the Black Muslim resistance to offer a We Can Rule Together deal. They dump his naked corpse back in Gus's territory with the words WE DON'T NEED YOU, WHITE MAN carved on his back with lasers.
  • According to Gesta Danorum, King Gorm of Denmark vowed he would kill anyone who brought him the message that his favourite son Knut was dead. When Knut is killed, nobody dares to tell Gorm. Queen Thyra has the royal hall hung with black cloth and when Gorm asks about the reason for this, she replies that his favourite falcon has died. Gorm immediately understands the true sense of her words, without anyone having to tell him.
  • The Han Solo Trilogy: Discussed and averted. Han feels nervous about being messengers to Jiliac from Zavval, when the former might take out his displeasure about the message on them. Jalus reassures him the Hutts all agreed not to do this, however, because it caused them loss of profit from a breakdown in communication, and he's right, as Jiliac doesn't harm either one, just sends them back with a blistering retort.
  • Harry Potter
  • The Heartstrikers: Julius is woken up early to deal with a UN delegation, and he grumbles about why they didn't wake up his mother, who (until he deposed her a few days previously) has ruled the clan for a thousand years and typically handled diplomatic meetings personally. Frederick says that the last time the UN sent a diplomat, Bethesda ate him.
    Julius: SHE ATE HIM!?
    Frederick: He woke her up before noon too...
  • Towards the end of Eldest, the second book in Inheritance Cycle, a messenger arrives from The Empire's troops and orders the members of the Varden to surrender or "suffer the doom of your herald," then presents the severed head of the Varden's messenger. Eragon asks Nasuada if he should kill him, but Nasuada replies that she will not violate the sanctity of envoys, even if the Empire has. Shortly after, Eragon's dragon Saphira lets loose a mighty roar and the Empire's messenger is knocked off his steed, then roasted in a burst of flame that erupts forth from the Burning Plains.
  • In one of Stephen King's more down-to-earth short stories, a rival gang leader sends a messenger to insult another's gang leader by taunting his sister (who's obese) so they can draw him out. The messenger is obviously scared to the point of tears while saying 'yo mama' jokes right in the man's face, but luckily is not killed. The gang leader still got himself killed rushing recklessly into the open to kill the sender (which prompts his sister to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge). Subverting the trope further, said obese sister later gets revenge on the message sender himself by killing him slowly with a metal wire through the eye.
  • Moongobble and Me: In book 1, Moongobble gets some bad news from Flitbert the bat, who promptly squeaks at him not to blame him (with the implication that he fears Moongobble would do this) — he just brings the news, he doesn't make it. Fortunately, Moongobble isn't the sort to do that kind of thing.
  • Old Mortality: Claverhouse sends his nephew Richard Grahame to ask the Covenanters to surrender. Burley shoots him in the middle of his message. This backfires on Burley when it motivates the royalists to avenge Grahame.
  • In The Otherworld Series, Queen Lethesanar rips out the hearts of some messengers who report a prisoner's escape.
  • Played with in The Outrider series by Richard Harding. An old enemy sends an assassin to kill the hero Bonner, but actually to reveal that I Have Your Wife. Bonner only realises this after he examines the man's vehicle and finds there's not enough petrol for the return journey. They're in a Scavenger World and the Big Bad knew that Bonner would get the best of his assassin, so why waste petrol?
  • Paper Towns: Upon finding out her friend Margo's boyfriend is cheating on her, Karin breaks the news to her. Margo freaks out and takes her anger out on Karin, calling her a liar and insulting her appearance. To her credit, when she's had time to clear her head and realizes Karin was telling the truth, she feels absolutely terrible about the way she acted. She actually name-drops the trope when she tells Q about this, and ends up leaving Karin a bouquet of flowers in apology.
  • Paranoid Mage brings us Archmage Fane who is well-known in his house for doing terrible things to people who bring him unwelcome news. He's only marginally better with close relatives. So when he sees one or both of a certain pair of nephews, he knows it's bad news.
  • The Phantom of the Opera: In the original book, the standard method of solving any problem by the Opera administrators, Pointy Haired Bosses Richard and Moncharmin, is to fire those employees involved in it (including those that informed of the problem). Only those with enough influence can escape.
  • Close to the end of The Pilo Family Circus, the accountant makes the mistake of delivering a letter to Kurt Pilo during his Villainous Breakdown. Ironically, the note was actually good news, containing the names of all the members of the Freedom Movement, but Kurt wasn't in the mood to read it until after he'd ripped the accountant's head off.
  • In the Ravenloft novel Knight of the Black Rose, Strahd and a rival Dark Lord send servants that they are displeased with to carry messages to each other, knowing that the messengers will be tortured horribly and eventually executed by the other dark lord.
  • S. M. Stirling
  • A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Harming envoys is regarded as taboo, so when one of Queen Daenerys' dragons singes the robe of an impertinent emissary, this is used as propaganda against her, saying she had the man burnt alive.
    • Tyrion sends an envoy with an armed escort to negotiate peace terms including the release of his brother Jaime. Hidden among the escort are several men with the skills to break Jaime out of his cell. When the escape fails, Lord Edmure has all those who participated hung from the walls of his castle, and the rest thrown into the dungeons.
    • The King Beyond the Wall sends a messenger inviting Craster to join his army (which of course would mean submitting to his authority). Craster sends back the man without his tongue, which he nails to his wall.
    • The lynchpin of Aegon's Conquest of Westeros according to The World of Ice & Fire. Initially, Aegon aimed to cement an alliance with King Argilac Durrandon of the Stormlands by offering an Arranged Marriage between his daughter and Aegon's bastard half-brother Orys after Argilac asked for Aegon himself to marry her. Aegon believed this to be a reasonable counteroffer, since Aegon himself was already married, Orys was his Best Friend and a great general, and half-Targaryen besides. Argilac took it as an insult. The outraged Argilac removed the hands of Aegon's messenger and said "these are the only hands your bastard would have of me". Aegon decided that the time of dialogue was over, declared that Westeros is his and demanded all the petty kings to submit to him or face destruction.
  • In The Sword of Truth, Prince Harold is killed for delivering the message that his sister the queen intended for her country remain neutral. By the good guys, of course. And his half-sister thanked her allies for doing it, because they can't show mercy to their "enemies".
  • Mentioned, but explicitly Subverted, in The Tamuli. Berit and Khalad discuss the idea while they are in disguise, drawing attention from Sparhawk. Khalad offends a messenger, and mentions the idea of shaking him down to A) prove a point about manners, and B) see if he has the next message they are supposed to receive. When Berit objects, mentioning that their enemies might kill Queen Ehlana, Khalad posits that they could easily kill each messenger without reprecussion, and are probably confusing the enemy by not doing so.
  • Warcraft novels:
    • Towards the end of Rise of the Horde, one of Thrall's human spies arrives to Orgrimmar to bring news of the arrival of the draenei. While pondering the (terrible) news, Thrall notices that the man is shaking in fear and realises he is afraid of getting killed. He orders his guards to get him food and water while musing about how unwise killing messengers is, for it only causes people to hide the bad news until too late. Granted, Thrall isn't a villain, but most orcs are seen as such by humans.
    • Magatha, on the other hand, plays this straight in The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, killing the orc who brought her a message from Garrosh saying that he won't support her because he found out that she poisoned his weapon during his duel with Cairne. She even seizes the letter rather than let him read the letter aloud after the first indication of Garrosh's refusal.
  • Averted in the Star Wars Legends novel "Death Star" when a lieutenant was so afraid that Darth Vader would kill him that while delivering a message he was barely able to hold it together until Vader used the Force to mind-trick that lieutenant into not being afraid of Vader while delivering the message. Legends novels often stated that giving Vader bad news (or even any news if he's in a bad mood and doesn't wish to be disturbed) is potentially deadly, which is why staff officers tended to draw lots to see who would deliver a message to him, with the honor going to the loser.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • After getting news from a minion that her ex-lover had slept with someone else, Lanfear tears the messenger's skin off and goes on a magical rampage.
    • Inverted when a messenger from Sammael hears Rand say no to an offer of truce. The messenger then starts oozing blood from every pore and dies. One person wonders how the bad guy will know what Rand's answer was, another says, "Very likely how he died will let him know."
  • Windhaven's folklore gives us the Mad Landsman, who murdered the messenger who told him of his son's death. Unfortunately (for him), the messengers in this universe are the primary means of communication, and when they boycott his kingdom, it withers away. Don't screw with the union.
  • In a Wing Commander novel, Prince Thrakhath forced a messenger to commit ritual suicide. Semi-justifiable because the reason was not because of the bad news, but the way the messenger delivered it, running through the ship and looking distressed, which would cause rumors and morale problems. Once Fridge Logic kicks in though, you wonder why a messenger is needed on a space ship rather sending than the message electronically, and realize the scene exists solely to show that Thrakhath is the type to Shoot the Messenger.
  • Inverted in X-Wing Series: Solo Command. General Melvar has to bring Zsinj some very bad news: not only has a deathtrap failed to kill Wraith Squadron (or even any of its members), but they have managed to take one of his key personnel alive. Zsinj has an epic Villainous Breakdown where he destroys practically everything in his office but the person who brought him the bad news.
    General Melvar: Will you be wanting your office restored, or do you wish to redecorate?

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: After taking over Wolfram & Hart, Angel sends a lawyer to inform a powerful necromancer that they won't be supplying him with fresh corpses anymore. Said lawyer is returned in three buckets. A Justified Trope as he was trying to either scare Angel off or anger him into a direct confrontation.
  • Arrested Development: In Season 1 Episode 9, Lindsay Bluth Fünke makes this a Discussed Trope when she advises her brother Michael Bluth not to be the bearer of bad news to his love interest. Her exact words: "It's called 'Shoot the Messenger'."
  • Blake's 7. In "Volcano", Servalan has secretly landed on a neutral planet, and orders two men sent to her with a message from a local traitor killed so they won't tell anyone of their presence. In fairness the stakes were pretty high, as there was a Doomsday Device on the planet which the locals had threatened to detonate if the Federation attempted a landing.
  • The Book of Boba Fett
    • Averted in the first episode, when newly-established crime boss Boba Fett demands tribute and pledges of loyalty from the local bigwigs. The mayor of Mos Espa refuses to turn up and sends his majordomo to shake him down for a bribe. Fennec points out that Jabba the Hutt would have had the majordomo Fed to the Beast for his insolence, but Boba settles for threatening him, as he doesn't think killing a lackey would accomplish anything.
    • In the final episode, the majordomo offers to negotiate a surrender to the Pyke soldiers surrounding them. Boba pretends to agree and hands him a datapad with his terms of surrender. As he starts to read it to the Pyke Syndicate Mook Lieutenant, the majordomo realizes to his growing dread (and the Pykes' rising anger), that Fett's "terms of surrender" basically amount to "Sod off or I'll kill you". The Pykes are turning their blasters towards him when Boba and Din fly up on jetpacks and start shooting, having planned the whole thing as a distraction. Surprisingly, the majordomo survives this battle as well.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Lampshaded when Riley goes to stake Spike for tipping off Buffy that he'd been seeing vampire prostitutes. Of course Spike was hardly an innocent bystander delivering a message, but deliberately set out to end their relationship because he had designs on Buffy himself. Fortunately for him Riley uses a plastic stake.
    • A vampire goes to a bar and informs all the monsters there that Buffy is M.I.A., so the town of Sunnydale is largely unprotected. The leader of a demon biker gang thanks him, then casually rips his head off his shoulders with his bare hands, simply because he asks to ride with them and demons just don't like vampires.
    • Despite having spent most of the episode talking instead of fighting Buffy kills Holden Webster after he drops the bombshell about Spike siring him, even though Spike has a soul and an inhibitor chip that should prevent him from harming humans. Due to a scene cut we don't see if it was because Holden attacked or in a violent response to what he said, but Buffy's position as Holden's dust swirls around her is the same, implying that it happened immediately afterwards.
  • In Season 4 of The Celebrity Apprentice, Marlee Matlin's sign language interpreter got his head bitten off a few times while interpreting for Marlee during arguments with her fellow contestants.
  • One episode of Cold Case had a Mad Bomber killing the people he blamed for his misfortune, but at least two of his victims (a store manager and a physician's assistant) weren't actually responsible for the things the bomber was upset about; both cases involved a policy that was clearly put into place by someone much higher up, and the victims were just the ones whose job it was to tell the bomber about it.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • "In the Blood": With Matt Murdock causing problems for the Russian gang, Anatoly and Vladimir Ranskahov decide to accept Wilson Fisk's offer of support to their criminal venture. After seeing that Matt has made short work of the guys who had kidnapped Claire, Anatoly personally goes to Fisk to tell him that he accepts the deal.... and ends up interrupting Fisk's date with Vanessa. Fisk is so pissed off by this intrusion of his privacy that he proceeds to beat Anatoly unconscious, then decapitate him with a car door. Then Fisk sets in motion the machinations to eliminate the rest of the Russians, including Vladimir.
    • "Reunion": Wilson Fisk beats one of his own dirty FBI agents to death for telling him that Ray Nadeem has gone rogue and helped Karen Page escape from Dex.
  • Horrible Histories:
    • There's a sketch where courtiers are forced to carefully tiptoe around Henry VIII when it comes to matters like his latest marital issues. Two courtiers have found out about Catherine Howard's infidelities. Knowing that they can be put to death if Henry is in a bad mood, they have Will Somers, the court jester, break the news in the form of a comedy routine. When he comes back out, he says it should be effective in three, two, one... cue Henry calling for the courtiers to fetch his executioner.
    • The trailer for the Pausanias movie has the messenger Pausanias sends to King Xerxes wonder why none of the other messengers Pausanias has sent to Xerxes have ever returned. He discovers the message is full of treasonous offers, and ends with an instruction to kill the messenger after reading the message.
  • In House of the Dragon, Daemon Targaryen is waging war against pirates in the Stepstones when he learns hat his brother, King Viserys, is sending reinforcements. Since Daemon wants to deal with the pirates himself, he's so angry to hear this that he starts beating up the messenger who informed him of this.
  • I, Claudius. After Emperor Claudius' wife commits adultery and treason, Claudius' advisers worry this will happen to them, so they choose a courtesan who's a favorite of the emperor to deliver the initial bad news, before nervously entering the room to confirm what she's saying.
  • Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire: Dongalor does this when one delivers him bad news. Then he's informed there was good news too, and says the man should have said it first.
  • Luke Cage (2016): Played for Laughs when Koko suggests that Cottonmouth use "benign neglect" on Luke Cage, who has just taken over 80% of his money. After Koko gives this big speech about practicing it, Cottonmouth just pulls out a gun and shoots him in the head.
  • The Mandalorian. An off-screen version is played for Black Comedy in "Redemption" when Moff Gideon kills one of his men for interrupting him. Because of this no-one is willing to approach Gideon to tell him that his stormtroopers have already captured The Child, and so he can wipe out the heroes at his leisure.
  • Once Upon a Time in Wonderland: The Red Queen outright says it when Tweedledum reveals to her that Tweedledee has betrayed them to work for Jafar.
    Red Queen: Now leave before I decide to kill the messenger.
  • Revolution: In the episode "Home", Monroe had a messenger sent to tell Miles to come to the town of Jasper alone, or he'll kill everyone there, starting with Miles's high-school fiance Emma Bennett. The messenger's ultimate fate is not stated, but considering that the main characters had to torture the contents of the message out of the guy, his survival is quite unlikely.
  • The Rise of Phoenixes: Chang Zhong Xin literally shoots Ning Yi's messenger.
  • Rome. In the first season, Marc Antony makes a point of punching a Smug Snake messenger into a pool after he (eventually) decides to refuse his offer to betray Caesar. In Season 2, Marc Antony bullies Cisero into making him governor of Gaul. On the day the motion is to be passed Cicero fails to turn up at the Senate, instead sending a speech to be read into the rolls, a denunciation of Antony that's so insulting the other senators immediately flee the room. The trembling speaker is told to finish reading the speech by an outraged Antony, who then beats him to death with the scroll.
  • Scrubs: Parodied in one of J.D.'s imagine spots.
    J.D.: Sure, disintegrate the messenger.
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand:
    • In "Spartacus: Vengeance", this is how Ashur is killed. The Big Bad sends him to give offer a deal to the good guys. If they had accepted, they would have needed to let the messenger return, but they refuse the offer and only send back the messenger's head. The Big Bad isn't surprised, but he was getting tired of having the guy around anyway.
    • In "Spartacus: War of the Damned", when the rebels capture the city of Sinuessa en Valle, a guard manages to escape, find the Roman army, and inform them of what happened. Even though it is pointed out he did the smart thing because if he had stayed, he would have surely been killed and the army would not have learned of the takeover, Julius Caesar angrily calls him a coward and kills him on the spot.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Referenced in the episode "Relativity". Commander Chakotay approaches Captain Janeway with a ship's status report and Janeway comments "Before you say anything, let me remind you what happens to bearers of bad news." "Don't kill the messenger," replies Chakotay, holding up his hands in mock fear. Janeway relents and Chakotay proceeds to report on the sorry state of Voyager and its systems.
  • The Vampire Diaries: Damon Salvatore explicitly states that he believes in shooting the messenger for the express purpose of sending a message to the person sending the bad news, if that person is his enemy.

  • In his song "Message Boy", Charlie Peacock contends that as a messenger it is his job to deliver both good news and bad news. A line from the song is "all I ask is remember, I am only the message boy."
  • The GWAR song "Biledriver" has the line "kill the messenger who begs us to consider terms".

    Myths & Religion 
  • Apollo turning the raven black because it brought him bad news in Greek mythology. Except on those websites which say it was Athena.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Battletech: During the First Succession Wars, the upper echelons of the Draconis Combine found themselves in the position of having to report the assassination of Coordinator Minoru Kurita to his Ax-Crazy eldest son Jinjiro. The task of informing him went down the ranks, until a suitably brave sergeant called Richard Tobiason was volunteered to inform the new Coordinator. Jinjiro is said to have listened to the news in utter silence, then called his Number Two, General Sorai, to his office. Jinjiro left his quarters alone a few minutes later, ordering his staff to promote Tobiason to the rank of colonel and for someone to clean up the mess in his office. In it, the staff found Tobiason, still alive, and the beheaded and disemboweled corpse of Sorai — Jinjiro had ordered the latter to commit seppuku for not having the guts to tell him in person, and had personally acted as Sorai's kaishakunin.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Red dragons frequently employ other creatures as spies and messengers in order to keep abreast of world events, but take reports with extremely poor grace and do not hesitate to kill or eat servants who bring them bad news.
  • Warhammer: Skaven leaders usually kill the messengers — the always kill the messengers of bad news, but sometimes also off ones bearing good news to keep their rivals from hearing it as well.
  • Warhammer 40,000: This is typically played straight by Chaos, but actually Averted by the Dark Eldar: Scourges (individuals who have been modified to have wings) are highly valued by the various kabals for being couriers as well as flying troops, so the kabals tend to come down hard on anyone who makes a habit of messing with them.

  • Sophocles' Antigone has a messenger who spends a long time trying to avoid giving Creon bad news out of fear that this trope will be played straight, even pointing out that Polyneices was only technically buried. In the end Creon merely threatens to torture him to death. By the standards of ancient Greek tragedy, the scene is very funny.
  • In Antony and Cleopatra, a messenger tells Cleopatra that Antony has remarried, so she threatens to more or less play football with his eyeballs, among other nasty things.
    • This trope even gets lampshaded by a messenger in an earlier scene.
    First Messenger: The nature of bad news infects the teller.
  • Henry the Tenth (Part Seven), a coarse-acting play by Michael Green, spoofs this trope by having a herald who gets beaten up every time he delivers his message.
  • In Act V, Scene v of Macbeth, a messenger comes to Macbeth with news of Birnam Wood:
    Messenger: As I did stand my watch upon the hill, I looked toward Birnam,
    and anon methought the wood began to move.
    Macbeth: Liar and slave!
    Messenger: Let me endure your wrath if't be not so.
    Within this three mile you may see it coming;
    I say, a moving grove.
    Macbeth: If thou speak'st false,
    Upon the next tree shalt thou hang alive,
    Till famine cling thee. If thy speech be sooth,
    I care not if thou dost for me as much.
  • This trope is also spoofed in the Rowan Atkinson comedy routine, Pink Tights and Plenty of Props (from 2:10). Particularly funny is the messenger delivering bad news which he thinks is good news.
  • Shakespeare's Richard III in the last act, who strikes the messenger before he even finishes his sentence about his enemy the Duke of Buckingham, crying "Till you bring better news!" It turns out that the news is that Buckingham has surrendered. The scene shows that Richard is beginning to crack up under his confident facade. Although when the messenger finishes delivering his message Richard apologizes to the man and gives him some money to make it up to him. And it's worth pointing out that the messenger was actually the third messenger in a row to come to Richard with news and the first two had been all bad.
  • In her first scene in The Wiz, Evilene sings a whole song about how she will do this to anyone who brings her bad news. After she finishes, the first thing her henchman do is bring her bad news.

    • Roodaka, a major villain of one arc, receives some bad news, and grabs the messenger by the throat.
    Roodaka: Take heart. You know that old saying "Don't kill the messenger"? *murders messenger* Too bad. I always kill the messenger.
    • Makuta Icarax threatened to do this to Vican several times when the Shadow Matoran was ordered by the other Makuta to send a message for him to come to Karda Nui. Vican was well aware that this would probably happen, considering all the stories he heard about Icarax. Luckily for him, Icarax just settles for roughing him up before telling him to go back to Karda Nui and tell the others he's coming.
    Icarax: You stand before me without announcing your presence. I could have killed you for that. I still might. *starts to strangle Vican with a shadow tendril when he takes too long to get over his fright and speak* You have exactly five seconds to tell me what it is you find so important to say. After that...

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed Syndicate takes this trope literally. After Jacob kills Pearl Attaway, Big Bad Crawford Sterrick (who had a thing for her) is seen mourning her by performing a sad song on the piano. When a servant enters the room to give him an update, he barely gets one word out before Sterrick blows his head off.
  • In Telltale Games' Back to the Future: The Game, George McFly implies delivering bad news to Citizen Brown is a very bad idea. However, given that even in an Orwellian timeline he's still incorruptibly good, it's highly unlikely he'd take any steps past yelling without good reason.
  • In the game Castles 2, you can do this to any messenger of any count (and the Pope). Killing them got you into bad blood with the opposite party, but threatening to kill them and then letting them go lets you off scott free.
  • In Colonization, other Europeans present in the New World will honour your scouts and allow them to perform diplomatic actions, even if they are at war with you (except for the Royal Expeditionary Force, naturally). Meanwhile, if you are at war with any native group, they will kill any scout sent to their settlements.
  • A hilarious variation in Dawn of War.
    Bale: Dispose of this idiot.
    Cultist: Why? How have I failed?
    Sindri: You were stupid enough to personally deliver ill news to Lord Bale. And we cannot abide stupidity.
  • In the opening cinematic of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, Baal and his army approach the gates of Sesscheron. A lone herald is sent out to address him. The herald eventually musters up his courage and defiantly refuses Baal entry to the city and declares that he will never reach Mount Arreat and the Worldstone. Baal's response is to calmly tell him he will take his proposal "into consideration". He then summons tendrils of demonic energy that go inside the herald and make him pop like a grape. Baal then mockingly says "it seems your terms...are not acceptable." And laughs and laughs as his army storms the city.
  • Dragon Age II: During the quest "Offered and Lost", Seneschal Bran explains he hasn't told the Arishok his delegate's gone missing because "I'd be signing the messenger's death warrant." Sure enough, if you decide to inform him yourself...
    Hawke: I'll probably regret this, but you should know your delegate is missing.
    Arishok: Anyone else, and those words would have been their last.
  • Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom: As lord of an ancient Chinese city, you have the option of executing emissaries from another city, though this serves no purpose other than to ruin your reputation abroad and make it much more expensive for you to send emisarries to that city, since they rightfully fear for their lives.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • Despite the fact that you are a Courier, and you do get shot, in your case it's really more of a simple robbery than this trope.
    • Caesar has made it clear in no uncertain and very violent terms that couriers and traders in his realm are to be left the hell alone.note  As the player character are themselves a Courier, depending on how you play, this can bite him squarely in the ass.
    • When Vault 11 first closed its doors, the Overseer informed the citizens that there had to be a human sacrifice once a year, or else the computer system would kill everyone in the vault. The angry citizens promptly forced the Overseer himself to be the first sacrifice as revenge for giving them the bad news, which began a tradition of sacrificing the Overseer every year. Whoever was elected to replace the previous Overseer got to be in charge for a year before sacrificing themselves.
  • Averted in Final Fantasy IV. When Kain delivers the message to Cecil that Golbez will trade the Earth Crystal for Rosa's life, the messenger is allowed to leave unharmed, and before that, the white flag raised by the enemy airship is respected.
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the three-country Laguz Alliance sends a messenger to the Begnion senators demanding answers to a crime they are accused of namely, the Serenes Massacre. This trope, then big war.
  • The Hitman games do this from time to time.
    • In certain missions, it's actually possible to knock out/kill messengers for their clothes.
    • In Hitman: Blood Money 47 kills an innocent postal worker as he is a potential witness.
    • In Hitman (2016) an unnamed antagonist shoots an unidentified businessman after he is given "the key".
  • Defied in Knights of the Old Republic. Saul Karath informs Darth Malak that the bounty hunter Calo Nord have been killed trying to stop the Player Character and is kneeling in a manner like he's expecting to be executed. Malak (who we need to remind you previously had an entire planet carpet bombed in order to stop one person) tells him that the price for failure is death, but that was Calo's problem and not Saul's.
  • With the Extended DLC for Mass Effect 3, if you shoot the Catalyst, it answers back in a booming voice "SO BE IT" and decides that you have rejected its choices, thus causing an "ending" that is functionally a Non Standard Game Over.
  • Neverwinter Nights: The opening cutscene for the "Hordes of the Underdark" expansion shows the Valsharess learning of a hero who is prophesised to defeat her and ordering her Court Mages to perform an augury to learn their identity. When she realises the hero is a surface dweller, she's so outraged that she kills the head wizard in charge of the ceremony.
  • Prayer of the Faithless: The Empire of Vergio tried to put Serra Cadmus to death for telling the prophecy of the Vanguard of Ruin, since such terrible news would cause panic.
  • RAID: World War II has cutscenes that play when you strike a successful blow against the Nazi war machine. All involve Adolf Hitler throwing a tamper tantrum including one where he yells at the guy bringing him the report to get out and then throwing a hand grenade at him, before realizing he's not at a safe distance and diving for cover. It's oddly satisfying.
  • In the first Shogun: Total War, if the rival faction you're sending an emissary to really hates your guts, your emissary may come back to you missing everything from the neck down.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe has a memorable moment with Baron Hajod, who sent out a proposal for alliance to Baroness Onrald (and it's heavily implied that the alliance would have involved a political marriage). Jake Logan is tasked to deliver Onrald's response back to Hajod. Her recording to Hajod starts with blatant sarcasm that he fails to notice—it's only when the other shoe drops and she rejects him with a blistering "The Reason You Suck" Speech that Hajod finally realizes he's been insulted the whole time, calling for his slave fighters to kill Jake in retaliation for bringing him a recording full of insults. Fortunately Jake is an Ace Pilot and manages to escape (and later send a strongly worded message to Onrald herself for putting him in such a sitution without forewarning—Onrald merely brushes off the criticism and ups Jake's hazard pay).
  • A Team Fortress 2 comic reveals that the RED team is rather guilty of this.
    The Administrator: First off gentlemen, let me thank you for shooting yet another messenger. And when you kill the messengers, they can't return their miniature televisions, which it may surprise you to learn don't grow naturally on their chests. I have to buy them.

    Visual Novels 
  • Prosecutors from the Ace Attorney series have a habit of punishing the salaries of police officers who bring them bad or unwanted news — sometimes even just for bothering them at all when they're busy. Series Butt-Monkey Detective Gumshoe has the loss of his ever dwindling salary and resulting Perpetual Poverty as a Running Gag.


    Web Original 
  • The Salvation War
    • When Satan sends his Heralds to Earth to deliver the scrolls proclaiming their damnation, mankind generally responds to their arrival with violence. This has less to do with actually shooting the messenger and more "Holy shit there's a fifteen-foot tall demon coming this way KILL IT!" Except in Singapore, where the police shot the messenger dozens of times and beat it to death with the butts of their guns for littering when it threw the message scroll on the pavement.
      • One US president advisor points out that killing the demonic Heralds, who were effectively diplomats, was a war crime. However, President Bush countered that the US has never signed any treaties with Hell, so it isn't a war crime.
    • Interesting variation in Armageddon???. A demon bringing bad news typically isn't shot: he's eaten by the demon he brought the news to. Not surprisingly, the priority of these messengers is try and avoid getting offed. Whether or not the one they report to is hungry seems to be part of the equation, however.
      • The only exceptions are Satan's own Greater Heralds, who were protected from all harm. The fact that the humans killed his Heralds is a sticking point.
      • The prevalence of this is such that Abigor choosing to not only not threaten to do this, but encouraging the messenger to keep working in spite of his injuries, is regarded as a significant piece of Character Development.
    • Also inverted with Yahweh, wherein his general Michael-lan deliberately attempts to phrase the bad news he gives in such a way so as to cause Yahweh to throw the most spectacular temper tantrums possible, complete with multi-colored flashes of lightning that rip the marble facing from the walls (though they never actually seem to kill anybody, Michael included). It's made clear that Michael quite enjoys these displays and is the only one who isn't afraid of them.

    Western Animation 

  • In Futurama episode "Love and Rocket", the Planet Express crew deliver a barrel of candy hearts to Omicron Persei 8 with the message that "Earth loves you thiiiis much!" the chalky-candies taste bad to Omicronians, and the cutesy messages upset them. The crew has to flee the planet chased by battleships.
    Lrrr: This concept of "wuv" confuses and infuriates us!
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002): In a flashback, Hordak is informed by his general Callix that their forces have been depleted by battle with the Snakemen, and they must recoup their strength before laying siege to Castle Greyskull. Hordak agrees wholeheartedly and applauds Callix for his sound military advice... then he casually kills him for delivering bad news.
  • In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Chaos At The Earth's Core", Evil Overlord Deimos disintegrates a minion who reports that the heroes have arrived.
  • Popeye once got a furlough from Navy duties and spent it with his nephews. Their antics were so unbearable that, when he got news about a new furlough, he reacted by shooting the messenger. Literally.
  • In one episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fearless Leader had an agent executed for telling him that the only available spy for his plan was Boris. Even worse, this happened right after Fearless Leader told him he wouldn't get upset over being told the news.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Margical History Tour", Homer plays a Henry VIII who demands so many decapitations the castle runs out of pikes to put the heads on. After one of his servants (Moe) informs him of this, despite knowing what the king usually does to the bearer of bad news, we cut to an empty pike storage room. The king admits he was right, and the servant's detached, but still living head is consoled by such.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Vikings", when SpongeBob sent a letter to a Viking leader, he had the Viking delivering the message sent to the dungeon for interrupting his story.

    Real Life 
  • In an inversion, by Napoleonic times, the bearer of news of a victory was automatically promoted when they reported in with the news. Generals would put some thought into whom they wanted to make the trip back to Parliament, or to the Emperor.
  • As noted above, the Mongol Empire destroyed the Khwarazmian Empire over exactly that. A Khwarazmian governor abducted a caravan belonging to the Mongol Empire (claiming them to be spies, though a less charitable interpretation is he just wanted to seize the goods they were carrying). This irked the Mongols, but they had the sense to send some emissaries to request reparations and/or the caravan's release. The Shah executed the emissaries. Genghis Khan's response was to erase Khwarazmia from the face of the earth, beginning the Mongol invasions of the Middle East (or of anywhere that wasn't their immediate Central Asian backyard).
    • The Mongols were actually one of the major forces that prompted this to really become as discredited as it became and diplomatic immunity as respected as it did in the Medieval world, since their response was always, ALWAYS disproportionate. They also respected the diplomatic immunity of foreign messengers carrying messages to them.
    • However, this became an Invoked Trope when Qutuz, the sultan of the Egyptian Mamluks, deliberately killed Mongol emissaries so as to provoke them into an immediate attack—in mid-summer when there wasn't enough water and pasture for their horses. The well-armed Mamluks massacred the weakened Mongol force, putting an end to any serious invasion. (Interestingly, according to some accounts—which may or may not be true—Qutuz claimed descent from the ruling house of the old Khwarazmian Empire, adding some extra irony to the whole affair.)
  • Vlad the Impaler (better known as Dracula) once received some Ottoman emmisaries, who due to their religion, refused to remove their turbans. He made certain they could never take them off; nailing them to their heads.
  • At the opening stage of the Battle of Budapest in December, 1944, Soviet messengers who were delivering the demand from General Malinovsky that the trapped German and Hungarian garrison surrender were shot either on the way or on the return trip. Nobody knows the specifics of the circumstances or if it was intentional or accidental. Regardless, the subsequent battle became particularly brutal and the German defenders of the city were nearly annihilated, along with a large number of trapped civilians.
  • Those in the island city of Tyre (no longer an island) threw the messengers of a general who really did not wish to spend resources conquering them (he wanted them to ally with him). This general, one Alexander III of Macedon, didn't take kindly to this. Specifically, he laid siege, built a causeway out to the city (turning the island into a peninsula), and razed it to the ground.
  • This is depressingly common for workers in customer service positions (waiters, cashiers, call centers, etc.) Customers who feel that they did not get the service or goods they want often take it out on the poor customer service rep, even when it's management's fault (or even the client itself as well) and the rep is just trying to abide by store policies on pain of a write-up or termination.
  • Any weather reporter or meteorologist has to be prepared for this, especially in the media. Be kind to them. The same goes for any journalist in general.
  • A real-life aversion was managed by the Anglo-Norman nobility in 1120. William Adelin, the only son and heir of King Henry I had drowned in the White Ship disaster, and none of the nobles dared to break the news to the short-tempered king. In the end, they sent a small boy to do it. Henry couldn't get angry with him, and instead merely broke down in tears.
  • Some kingdoms in ancient times had treaties with each other that expressly forbid this. Indeed, if the person sent as a messenger by one kingdom to another was not allowed to return home unharmed, it would be considered an act of war.
  • The Spartans and the Athenians infamously did this to Darius' messengers at the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars, an act that 300 erroneously moves forward to Xerxes' invasion a decade later (he sent messengers to every Greek polis except those two, for obvious reasons).
    • Though intended as an act of defiance, the rest of the Greeks were horrified, as messengers were thought to be under divine protection, and harming them meant bringing down the wrath of the gods. Herodotos, writing from decades later, thought that the destruction of Athens at the hands of Xerxes' army was not a severe enough punishment for their deed. The Spartans, meanwhile, could not get good omens from their sacrifices for years and, in desperation, sent two volunteers to Xerxes' court to beg for execution, which the king turned down.
  • While overzealous fans and mean-spirited trolls towards video game developers and game journalists are nothing new, there are people that will take it to the next level by sending death threats or the like towards anyone that gives a game a bad review or if a game developer does something the fans doesn't like. No Man's Sky, which was in development for a few years, was announced that it wouldn't be able to meet its original release date. The reporter that made the delay known to the public was slammed with death threats for delaying the game, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the delay at all. When a PR from the developers confirmed that the delay was true, he received death threats as well.
  • This is the reason why QA departments are often unfairly resented in various business, as their main function is to be the bearers of bad news by alerting the rest of the company about potential bugs, problems, or defects that need to be fixed, even though QA doesn't actually create those issues, and without them such issues would end up in the hands of customers which would create even more problems for the companies.
  • From a biological stand-point, pain itself is this. Sure, nobody likes to feel pain as it is by definition an unconfortable sensation tha brings a sense of disconfort and ocasionally suffering. However, the sensation of pain itself it's always a reaction from something getting broken inside the body and requiring a fixing. Pain's main job inside the body is essentially being a bearer of bad news so the person can take the correct measures to help against inflamations, wounds, broken bones and even emotional issues. Sadly, all too often people get often addicted to pain-killers in a desire to avoid the suffering and in turn often merely end up shutting down the bearer of bad news without actually fixing the actual source of the problem itself.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Kill The Messenger, Dont Kill The Messenger


Noah goes after Travis

Noah goes after Travis Crabtree with a gun-blade when he brings some mixed-up mail to him (revealed to be an actual Bird-Watching VHS Board game).

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShootTheMessenger

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