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Shot at Dawn

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The Third of May 1808, Francisco de Goya


Death by firing squad has been a classic way of execution since firearms became widely used in war.

A classic scenario for a Just in Time rescue, a Last-Minute Reprieve, a "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner, or a combination thereof. The condemned is sometimes offered One Last Smoke. Expect a hero to refuse a blindfold. Contrast You Always Hear the Bullet.

Most of the examples are set in World War I or in the Banana Republic, but they can occur at other times too.

As this is a death trope, beware of spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In one episode of Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, Eledore and Michel are scheduled to be executed at dawn after being captured by Zeon troops.
  • In Arcadia of My Youth, the Vichy Earth government manages to capture the Rebel Leader Maaya and Emeraldas (whom they suspect to be in cahoots with the rebels) and puts them both for public execution by firing squad in an attempt to lure Harlock to their rescue (as Emeraldas is his longtime friend, while Maaya is strongly implied to be his One True Love). He, however, refuses to betray their shared ideals for personal sentiments and stays in orbit, while a group of former soldiers whom he managed to sway to his side earlier comes to Maaya and Emeraldas' rescue in the nick of time instead. The skirmish doesn't go too well for them, however, as the mutineers' leader Zoll is killed, Maaya is fatally wounded, and Emeraldas is shot in the face (but survives, thanks to her badass factor) by the soldiers before they all can escape.
  • Gundam X
    • The crew of the Frieden is very nearly killed like this, being shipped to Siberia on a train and lined up in front of a trench that's already been dug for them. Fortunately, Carris Nautilus comes back as The Cavalry to bail them out.
    • Nicola Fafas is executed for daring to discover evidence that Newtypes can be born on Earth as well as space and suggesting peace negotiations with the Federation. Both would upend Rasso's grip on power, since he's espousing a spacenoid Master Race philosophy.
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor. Captain Tylor faces execution by firing squad after handing back the Empress Azalyn whom he had prisoner. Showing his usual luck, he's not only saved at the last moment by an all-out Raalgon attack, the UPSF brass give him total command of their forces as he seems to be the only one who can get them out of this.
  • In Legend of Galactic Heroes, Admiral Wolfgang Mittenmyer will not hesitate to have his own soldiers executed if he catches them abusing the population of a conquered world.


    Comic Books 
  • Happens to at least one character in Ninja High School.
  • Tintin faces this in Cigars of the Pharaoh (where his death is faked) and The Broken Ear (where his execution is put off due to political turmoil), as do Thompson and Thomson in Tintin and the Picaros (where they get a conventional Just in Time rescue).
  • One The Far Side comic has a very fat general giving the very skinny prisoner his last cigarette as the guns are already lined up... and a woman trying to warn people about the flames on the top floor yelling "FIRE!".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The film Breaker Morant, about the court martial of Harry Morant and Peter Handcock during the Boer War, ends with their dawn execution by firing squad.
  • Seen in The Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Paths of Glory starring Kirk Douglas. After an ill-planned attack fails, three solders are selected, condemned by a Kangaroo Court-martial for cowardice, and of course, shot.
  • The two German boys from War Horse are executed after the elder pulls the younger from marching to the front.
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger vs. Space Sheriff Gavan: The Movie: after being arrested by Gavan, the Gokaigers are supposed to be executed by firing squad.
  • The War Game. After nuclear war has devastated much of Britain, armed police are shown executing two men by firing squad as part of the harsh measures used to maintain law and order.
  • Likewise in Threads, a BBC docudrama about the possible effects of nuclear war, looters are rounded up and taken to makeshift prisons to await summary execution. If they aren't shot on the spot, which is what happens to one of the looters who killed main character Ruth Beckett's parents.
  • Early in Casino Royale (1967), Sir James Bond's nephew (Woody Allen) is in front of a Banana Republic firing squad. He gets away using a concussion grenade hidden in his last cigarette, jumps the wall - and lands in front of a firing squad in the neighboring country.
  • A Deleted Scene in Gladiator features Emperor Commodus forcing General Quintus to execute some of his innocent soldiers by bow & arrow firing squad, which would help explain why Quintus betrays him at the end of the film.
  • In the silly 1926 comedy Hands Up!, Raymond Griffith is about to be shot as a Confederate spy (he is one). Every time the officer yells "Fire!", Griffith throws a dinner plate up in the air for the soldiers to shoot at. Eventually the soldiers are distracted and Griffith escapes.
  • Mata Hari opens with three German spies being executed by the French. This is Mata Hari's fate at the end, although the film ends as she's being marched away to the firing squad.
  • From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter opens with Ambrose Bierce having a nightmare in which he's being executed by a Mexican firing squad.
    Pancho Villa: The blood of many brave men have been shared on that wall. It will give you some comfort to share in their glory.
    Ambrose Bierce: I accept that honor.
  • In The Captain Hates the Sea, General Salazaro is on the cruse to South America because he is going home, to assist in a revolution in his own country. Unfortunately the revolution has already happened, and failed, when he arrives. He's met at the dock and marched straight to his execution.
  • An impromptu version occurs in Dillinger (1973). Pretty Boy Floyd is being chased on foot by a posse when FBI agent Melvin Purvis figures 'stuff this', orders everyone to stop running, take aim and fire.
  • In 49th Parallel, Hirth has Vogul executed for attempting to defect from the Nazis to join the Hutterites.

  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns Of Tanith, when Caffran is convicted of rape and murder, he is sentenced to be shot at dawn. Fortunately, Gaunt hears of it before then and dredges up more evidence, resulting in a second trial and acquittal.
  • In Jingo, Lord Vetinari tries, through subtle hints, to get through to Sergeant Colon what will happen if they are discovered as being from Ankh-Morpork in Klatch. "A nice sunny wall and a cigarette" is mentioned. It doesn't first.
  • In Voltaire's Candide, the main character witnesses a British officer being executed by firing squad and comments:
    "In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others [pour encourager les autres]"
    • This is a reference to the execution of John Byng, a British admiral, for "failing to do his utmost" at the Battle of Minorca in 1756.
  • Referenced in an exchange from the Animorphs:
    Ax: "Why must we attack at dawn?"
    Marco: "Tradition. You have shootouts at high noon, you stretch in the seventh inning, and you attack at dawn."
    Cassie: "You also get executed at dawn."
    Marco: beat "Well there's a cheerful thought."
  • In Seven Men of Gascony, one of The Squad is caught deserting. His final request is that his mates volunteer to do the deed because he wanted men who knew how to shoot to do the job.
  • Happens several times in Sven Hassel 's books, usually with the protagonists as the firing squad.
  • In The Alloy of Law, Miles is executed by firing squad. Since he's a gold compounder with incredible regenerative abilities, it takes quite a few volleys for him to actually die. Even after he's dead, he's shot in the head, just to be sure.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder Goes Forth - The title character is sentenced to death for shooting General Melchett's carrier pigeon. He gets an absolute Last-Minute Reprieve (they got as far as "Ready, aim, FF-") thanks to George's uncle. Then he learns that George himself never got round to asking his uncle's help, as he and Baldrick got drunk celebrating their Eureka Moment. He's not happy; however, he does get his revenge by volunteering George and Baldrick for a Suicide Mission (they, of course, survive).
  • Doctor Who
    • "The War Games" has the Second Doctor in a World War I re-creation sentenced to death by firing squad.
    • The Marshall in the Third Doctor story "The Mutants" tries to have four characters (including the Doctor's then current companion, Jo Grant) executed by firing squad. Two of the characters involved are charged with treason, a third with conspiracy, sabotage and terrorism. Meanwhile, Jo has been condemned simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    • Combined with Tested on Humans in "The Time Warrior". Fortunately none of the medieval warriors have ever handled a firearm before, so they keep missing the Doctor as he keeps dodging about.
    • Averted in "Genesis of the Daleks", after the Doctor and Harry are captured. Their captor remarks that normally they would be executed by firing squad, but since ammunition is so scarce, they'll be hanged instead.
    • In the Fifth Doctor story "The Caves Of Androzani" the Doctor and Peri are captured and sentenced to death. Unusually, neither one refuses a blindfold (or, in this case, a red hood) but that's because they're android duplicates.
    • In "The Curse of Fenric", Millington orders the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Sorin executed for treason. They are saved from the firing squad by the intervention of Sorin's men.
    • In "Hell Bent", Rassilon tries to have the Doctor executed by a squad of Gallifreyan soldiers. Such is the fear and respect inspired by the hero who saved Gallifrey, no soldier dares hit the Doctor. Eventually the entire squad and their commanding officer throw down their weapons and stand alongside him, deposing Rassilon in a bloodless mutiny.
  • Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica, after leading a bloody, but ultimately failed mutiny.
  • In the new Tales from the Crypt series, the episode "Yellow" centers about the general's cowardly son. Said son caused the deaths of his squadmates, due to his cowardice. So, he is sentenced to execution via firing squad. His father says, if he acts brave for the squad, he will load all of the rifles with blanks and put provisions so the son can escape, quietly. At the climax, after the son sees the provisions in the ditch and gives a brave final speech, the squad lowers their rifles and the general turns his face away, since he cannot watch his son being shot.
  • One episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus (the full-episode story "The Cycling Tour") features the Soviets trying to execute Reg Pither via the firing squad. The firing squad misses. Repeatedly.
    Russian Seargent (John Cleese): Next time — definitely! Now, how many have been injured?
  • A common sketch on You Can't Do That on Television has one of the kids apparently in front of a firing squad in some Banana Republic. Many sketches end with the commander getting shot instead when the kid tricks him into inadvertently saying "fire".
  • Nick is in danger of this in one Forever Knight episode, where he annoys the Kazakhstani embassy while searching for a killer amongst them. As he's trying to figure out how to work around the diplomatic immunity problem, they threaten him with this. The shooting isn't a problem for a vampire, but the sunlight is, so Nick has to work his way out of it.
  • Happens to Winnie-the-Pooh in an episode of Red Dwarf, while Lister looks on in horror. Typically for this trope, he refuses the blindfold.
  • On The A-Team, the team are convicted in trial and sentenced to death in this manner.
  • Bonanza had an episode where Little Joe was mistaken for someone else, captured and sentenced to be executed in this manner. Fortunately, the real man was found Just In Time and Joe was released.
  • Oz: After Donald Groves is sentenced to death for the murder of a correctional officer, he chooses firing squad as his method of execution.
  • F Troop: Corporal Agarn is sentenced to be executed by firing squad after losing a prisoner in "The Day They Shot Agarn". The men all miss Agarn and hit the water tower he was standing next to.
  • Happens to the main character Rene Artois on 'Allo 'Allo!. The trope is also somewhat subverted - the hero 'dies', as some friendly German officers have loaded the guns with blanks. Rene feigns his death and spends the next eight seasons posing as his own twin brother, also named Rene.
  • At the end of part 1 of a Two-Part Episode on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Brisco & Bowler are shot at dawn for treason.
  • A deeply disturbing scene in The Monocled Mutineer (starring Paul McGann as the eponymous character) shows the execution of a soldier who panicked and ran away from the field of battle. The young captain spent the night before his execution locked in a shed, stalking up and down and ranting variations on "I want to live". At dawn he was taken out, blindfolded and tied to a chair. He screamed all the way. He screamed while they were shooting him, too, and went on screaming until someone walked up and put a bullet in his head. The noises he made didn't even sound human.
  • In the Enemy at the Door episode "After the Ball", a German soldier is court-martialed and sentenced to be shot at dawn. The execution scene plays out (onscreen, though it ends just as the squad fires) in unhurried fashion, and the soldier goes from respectably stoic to a trembling nervous mess as the fatal moment approaches.
  • In another WW2 series Monsignor Renard, a French teenager gets into a brawl with the German soldier who's dating his former girlfriend. Unfortunately a decree has been passed saying that any assault on a German soldier is punishable by death. Expecting to be thrown into prison, he gets sentenced to this trope instead. The German soldier is put on the firing squad as punishment after he tries to explain it was just a squabble over a girl that got out of hand.
  • The New Avengers: In "Dirtier by the Dozen", Colonel 'Mad Jack' Miller has one of his men executed by firing squad following a drumhead court martial.
  • Midsomer Murders: "Shot at Dawn" opens with a soldier being executed by firing squad during World War One for cowardice and desertion. His CO administers the Coup de Grāce, then throws up.

  • Protest the Hero's album Kezia ends with this.
  • The Doors' song "The Unknown Soldier" has one in the middle of the song. In live performances, Jim Morrison would put his hands behind his back to play the victim. He also fell back to the stage on cue with the shot.

    Print Media 
  • This is a recurring theme of "Duck" Edwing's one-page "Tales from the Duck Side" comics in MAD magazine.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Averted for the most part in Warhammer 40,000. While there are mentions of firing squads being used, the vast majority of Commissars will use the ever-reliable Dramatic Gun Cock->Boom, Headshot! to restore morale, confidence and enthusiasm among the troops. One comic where a planetary governor is convicted of treason gets the sentence read to him and executed within five minutes.

  • Tosca features the titular character's love interest scheduled for execution at dawn at the Castel Sant'Angelo.
  • In My Fair Lady, Eliza fantasizes about ordering Henry Higgins to be executed by firing squad in "Just You Wait":
    Then they'll march you, 'enry 'iggins, to the wall;
    And the King will tell me: "Liza, sound the call."
    As they raise their rifles higher,
    I'll shout: "Ready! Aim! Fire!" (cue snare drum shots)

    Video Games 
  • If you fail a mission but survive after turning traitor in Wing Commander IV, a cutscene will play of Blair being escorted offscreen, being offered (and turning down) a blindfold, and then several gunshots.
  • In Wings of Glory, one of the characters gets executed by firing squad for being a German spy.'
  • At the end of Valiant Hearts, Emile is executed by firing squad for killing his commanding officer.
  • Sonic Adventure 2: This is how the kind scientist-turned-supervillain Gerald Robotnik died, executed by a firing squad for his experiments.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert: One of the Soviet missions involves tracking down a traitor across the map. After he's captured, a cutscene shows him being executed by a firing squad.

    Western Animation 
  • The Looney Tunes cartoon "Rebel Without Claws" has Sylvester (an interceptor for the north in the Civil War) capturing Tweety (a messenger bird for the south). Tweety faces a firing squad who happen to be all cockeyed and not too efficient with their weapons—they shoot Sylvester instead.
    Sylvester: (to us) It's a good thing I have nine lives. With this army, I'll need 'em!
  • The now-unseen ending of the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Fresh Hare" has Bugs nonchalantly facing a firing squad and is granted a last wish.
    Bugs: I wish, um....I wish...(singing) I wish I was in Dixie, hooray, hooray!
  • This is a favored method of execution in Thembria in TaleSpin. Except they like to use cannons (sometimes tanks).
    Col. Spigot: We're very thorough.

    Real Life 
  • Formerly a popular way for executing people, it has since fallen out of practice for its cruelty and/or Squick. Except in the United Arab Emirates. It is notable for being used a lot during the two world wars, obstinately being used by the Germans and their allies in both wars as a means to get rid of undesirables. The Soviet Union also partook in this execution style, and it was how many Les Collaborateurs and Quislings were dealt with after Allied forces liberated German occupied zones. (Incidentally enough, Vidkun Quisling, the latter's trope namer, was executed in this manner in Norway after the Second World War).
    • The Soviets used the more quick, humane and easy to use method of shooting more often, by firing a single pistol bullet at point blank into the back of the neck section of the spinal cord (basically, just the firearm equivalent of beheading). They had some real great devoted professionals for that trade, too.
    • If properly performed, the firing squad is the quickest and most humane way of execution. Unfortunately most people are very uneasy to shoot fellow human beings to kill, and it may lead into a very messy outcome.
    • Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu used this up until he was overthrown in the late 80's. Ironically enough, the last usage (in Romania) goes to him too, although on the receiving side: he and his wife were the last people to be executed, just two weeks before the abolition of capital punishment.
    • The firing squads of the Spanish Civil War were so prolific (on both sides, though the winners got more time in) that nobody's entirely sure how many bodies there are. Threats of being shot (¡al paredón!) were common during the Dictatorship; the last execution by firing squad was in September 1975, two months before Franco's death from old age.
    • Actually, the firing squad is still a real possibility for a small handful of people in the United States. There are three people on Utah's death row who can choose to be executed by either firing squad or lethal injection as the law banning firing squads is not retroactive. In 1996 John Albert Taylor chose execution by firing squad over lethal injection to make a political statement about the morality (or lack thereof) of the death penalty. In Oklahoma firing squads could still be used if lethal injection is ever ruled unconstitutional or other problems arise with it.
      • Utah's use of the firing squad was often connected to the now-discredited LDS doctrine of "blood atonement," in which forgiveness for bloodshed requires actual bloodshed.
      • As of 2015, the firing squad is once more a legal form of execution in Utah. It was re-legalized due to problems with getting the needed drugs for lethal injection.
  • Following the failed Easter Rising of 1916, the seven signatories of the Easter Proclamation - being treated as enemy agents due to the ongoing Great War - were all sentenced to death via firing squad. This action, quite ironically, ended up hurting the British government more than the Fenian movement; the executions were roundly criticised as a disproportionately brutal and uncalled-for affair, with one ringleader - the mortally wounded, bed-ridden and already near-death James Connolly - infamously being tied to a chair before being shot in the Kilmainham Prison courtyard. Even in times of war and political turbulence, it did a lot to popularise the Irish cause, escalating the rebellion and, ultimately, evening the road to Irish independence a mere five years later.
  • Almost all of the war criminals at the end of WWII were hanged, rather than shot, despite many of them requesting death by firing squad instead. This was to emphasize the civil, rather than military nature of their crimes.
    • Even the Soviets, who were averse to hanging and thought it was an old-timey and through and through Tsarist method of execution, briefly reinstated it after WWII to deal with Nazi collaborators.
  • There was one story about an Arab officer during the Arab–Israeli Conflict who caught an Arab and a Jew spying inside his camp. The Arab was just hanged, being a traitor. The Jew however was Shot at Dawn as, although he was a spy he was serving his country and thus he deserved a "soldier's death" as befitted a Worthy Opponent.
    • Note that as a spy, he was not subject to the usual protections for prisoners of war. However, the mythos of the noble Arab is strong in the militaries of the Arab world, and thus a certain peculiar code of honor held in this situation.
  • Firing squad was the authorized means of execution in Finland 1918 to 1944 and abolition of death penalty de facto. The executions were carried out in sunrise; it was thought to be psychologically easiest that way to both the executioners and convicts.
    • The last Finn to be executed from civilian crimes, Toivo Koljonen, a sextuple murderer, was executed by this way 1943, as was the last Finn from military crimes: Pvt Mauno Laiho, a Communist activist, who was found guilty to desertion, espionage and high treason. He was shot 2nd September 1944, two days before the end of the Continuation War. Next day three Soviet infiltrators were shot as the last persons executed in Finland.
  • It's Older Than They Think, and existed in pre-gunpowder era, with bows. The canonical depiction of St. Sebastian's death is by a firing squad of archers. The Russian national epic Lay of Igor's Campaign also mentions this method of execution.

Alternative Title(s): Firing Squad