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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 

    Comic Strips 

  • 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"
  • A play on the belief that one member of a firing squad is given a blank, so no-one is absolutely guilty of taking a life: in a medieval setting, a cartoon has the sergeant saying to a squad of archers "one of you will be issued with a blank" and is holding a bunch of arrows behind his back, one of which has a rubber plunger for a tip.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 49th Parallel, Hirth has Vogul executed for attempting to defect from the Nazis to join the Hutterites.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Hangmen Also Die!, the Germans execute the hostages they have taken after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by firing squad, 40 at a time until the killer is turned in. It all happens offscreen until the last group of hostages to be executed, which includes Professor Novotny.
  • Hardcase opens with a captured revolutionary being executed by a Mexican Army firing squad.
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger vs. Space Sheriff Gavan: The Movie: after being arrested by Gavan, the Gokaigers are supposed to be executed by firing squad.
  • In The Little Rascals, when Alfalfa is tried for violating the policy of the He-Man Woman Haters Club, resulting in their clubhouse burning down, Judge Spanky threatens this punishment on him, using the term "executed in the morning".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Averted in the 2014 Thai film Petchakat (aka The Last Executioner) where the titular executioner uses an automatic weapon fixed to a bench to shoot the condemned man.
  • 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.
  • The Three Musketeers (1973). The Musketeers rescue Rochefort from a rebel firing squad in La Rochelle near the beginning of the second film, complete with a bit of Black Comedy when the executioner is confused about how to blindfold a man with an eyepatch.
  • Thunderpants. After his fartillery accidentally kills someone, Patrick Smash is sentenced to death as a public menace. For some reason Gas Mask Mooks are not used for his firing squad, but it's a moot point as a Last-Minute Reprieve is arranged by his Only Friend who's now working for the US Government.
  • 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.
  • The two German boys from War Horse are executed after the elder pulls the younger from marching to the front.

  • Three men face a firing squad. The first, thinking quickly, shouts "Earthquake!", and escapes in the ensuing confusion. The second shouts "Flood!" and also escapes. The third man , thinking of an equivalent disaster, shouts "Fire!"

  • 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.
  • In Johnny Tremaine, Johnny at one point gifts a British soldier a smithing smock made for him by his mother as part of a disguise so he can desert. The deserter is caught, and Johnny happens upon his execution by firing squad in the same smock.
  • Nick Velvet: In "The Theft of the Meager Beavers", Nick gets caught up in Banana Republic politics and has to thwart an attempt to assassinate the president while making it look like the work of a judicially appointed firing squad of nine foreigners (It Makes Sense in Context).
  • The Outlaws: During the Latvian campaign, the hero witnesses the execution some of captured Bolshevik soldiers. Not much later, he barely evades being shot himself when he is briefly captured by the enemy.

    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.
    Blackadder: I'm not a religious man, as you know, but henceforth I shall nightly pray to the God who killed Cain and squashed Samson that he comes out of retirement and gets back into practice on the pair of you!
    [the phone rings]
    Blackadder: [picks up the phone] You want what? You want two volunteers for a mission into no man's land?
    Codename: "Operation Certain Death"? Yes, I think I have just the fellows.
    Blackadder: [he hangs up and grins cruelly at George and Baldrick] God is very quick these days!
  • 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 without even the pretense of a trial. Unusually, neither one refuses a blindfold (or, in this case, a red hood) but that's because they've been replaced by android duplicates.
    • In "The Curse of Fenric", Commander 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. The execution takes place in a Viper launch tube so the bodies can be disposed of in the usual manner.
  • 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".
  • Likewise in Get Smart. Max and 99 escape a Banana Republic firing squad by ordering the soldiers to about face, knowing they've been conditioned into Blind Obedience. They do so and shoot their commander instead.
  • 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 Avengers. In "The Living Dead", John Steed appears calmer than the commander of the firing squad, who accepts the One Last Smoke that Steed declines. Unusually for this trope Steed accepts the blindfold, so doesn't realise that the eruption of gunfire is actually Mrs Peel coming to his rescue. The suspense of the Big Damn Heroes is drawn out by an Overly Long Gag of the firing squad maneuvering to shoot Steed while Peel is still battling her way past a minion.
  • 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 Grâce, then throws up.
  • One episode of Open All Hours has Arkwright mentioning making his errand boy/nephew Granville an executive "because I'm going to execute him in the morning!"
  • World on Fire: Over twenty Polish civilians are shot by firing squad in retaliation for just one SS soldier being killed.

  • 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)
  • Lucheni, while recounting what happened to Elisabeth's family members:
    Maximilian von Habsburg: Elisabeth's brother in law. Emperor of Mexico. Shot by revolutionaries. Uno, due, fire!

    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 Union in the Civil War) capturing Tweety (a messenger bird for the Confederates). 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 ending of the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Fresh Hare" has Bugs nonchalantly facing a firing squad after being captured by Elmer Fudd (here playing a Mountie), and is granted a last wish. He manages to distract them by breaking out into song-and-dance (and in the uncut version, it turns into a minstrel show, with the firing squad dressed in blackface and singing "Camptown Ladies").
    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.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars has Fives and Jesse sentenced to death by firing squad in the Umbara arc after defying Pong Krell and destroying a Separatist Supply Ship supporting the city they were about to attack, without there even being a court martial first (though Krell makes it clear the court martial wouldn't do much). Fortunately, Fives is able to talk down the (all-clone) firing squad.

    Real Life 
  • Formerly a popular way for executing people, it has since fallen out of practice for its cruelty and/or Squick, except in a few (mostly Middle Eastern) countries. 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 leery at shooting 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 Franco's 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 criticized 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 a time of war and political turbulence, it did a lot to popularize 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.
  • The firing squad was the authorized means of execution in Finland 1918 to 1944 and abolition of capital punishment de facto. The executions were carried out at sunrise; it was thought to be psychologically easiest that way to both the executioners and convicts.
    • The last Finn to be executed for civilian crimes, Toivo Koljonen, a sextuple murderer, was executed this way 1943. The last Finn to be executed for military crimes was Pvt Mauno Laiho, a Communist activist who was found guilty of desertion, espionage, and high treason, shot on 2nd September 1944. The last people to be executed in Finland were three Soviet infiltrators who were shot on 3rd September 1944.
  • It's Older Than They Think, and existed in the 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


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