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Shan-Yu: [two captured enemy soldiers flee his presence] How many men does it take to deliver a message?
Hun Archer: [draws and aims bow] One.
Mulan
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The opposite of Leave No Witnesses. After a Curb-Stomp Battle, one person (or one vessel in a naval or space battle) is allowed to Bring News Back. Sometimes this is part of a battle plan (for example, the attack is a diversion intended to draw out the enemy forces), or a Trick-and-Follow Ploy. Usually it's just to spread fear and when done by villains often a display of Pragmatic Villainy, but may also be combined with Pet the Dog.

The title is a pun on Shoot the Messenger, which may happen when the escapee reaches their destination.

Compare Sole Survivor and All According to Plan. Contrast Undead Author, where news gets out despite no one being left to deliver it.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop: Pierrot le Fou leaves almost no-one alive from his attacks, although the ones that do survive to tell the tale are eventually all hunted down and killed anyway.

    Fan Works 
  • A tactic used by the Byzantines in I Am Skantarios: they let the shattered remnants of an army regroup and run away, following them until they reach a city. Usually the city refuses to open its gates to let the survivors in, leaving them to be slaughtered by the Byzantines until they are conquered as well (helped by the severe morale drop caused by the survivors' deaths).
  • In Heart of Ashes, while taking refuge in Emyn Muil, Smaug attacks a caravan of Dale's merchants. A teen boy survives, and Smaug uses on him the Dragon-spell, instructing him to inform the rulers of Dale and Erebor that the dragon they believe to be dead shall return. The boy's encountered and freed of the enchantment by Gandalf, prompting him to tell Smaug's message to the wizard and Elrond.
    Smaug: I want you to go back to Dale. Go back to them as fast you can, and send a message to the Kings of Erebor and Dale from their old friend, Smaug. You tell them quite simply: I'm coming for them.

    Film — Animated 
  • Beowulf (2007). After defeating a Fresian raiding party, Beowulf orders that the Sole Survivor be given a gold piece and sent back home to add to his legend. "He has a story to tell."
  • Kung Fu Panda.
    • After his One-Man Army rampage through the thousand guards of his Tailor-Made Prison, Tai Lung encounters the Sole Survivor, a duck messenger sent by Master Shifu, seizes him by the neck and...in the smooth, cultured rumble of Ian McShane, tells the duck to fly back to his master and inform him the real Dragon Warrior is coming home.
    • Tai Lung immobilizes the Furious Five with his unstoppable nerve-strike, but allows Crane to fly them back to the Valley of Peace in order to intimidate the Dragon Warrior. Po is already scared as it happens, but not deterred.
      Mantis: Why didn't he [kill us]?
      Shifu: So you could come back here and strike fear into our hearts, but it won't work!
      Po: Uh, it might. I mean, a little.
  • Mulan: After they are done with their latest massacre, the Huns capture two Chinese scouts. Shan-Yu decides to let them go to carry a challenge back to the emperor. Then he changes his mind on letting them both leave...
    Shan-Yu: How many men does it take to deliver a message?
    Hun Archer: [draws back his bow and aims] One.
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    Film — Live-Action 
  • Batman (1989). Two muggers are counting their loot on a rooftop. Batman appears and kicks one of them through a door. He takes the other one to the edge of the roof, holds him over the long drop below and talks to him.
    Batman: I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell all your friends about me.
    Nic: [terrified] What are you?
    Batman: I'm Batman. [throws Nic to the rooftop]
  • In Braveheart William Wallace invades the local English garrison, has the English lord killed and burns it to the ground at the start of the Scottish rebellion, but spares the rest of the garrison's soldiers to send word back to England.
    Wallace: Go back to England and tell them there that Scotland's daughters and her sons are yours no more. Tell them Scotland is free.
  • Played with in Inglorious Basterds: As far as most people know, the Basterds usually leave a survivor when they slaughter a German patrol, as they want to spread fear through the ranks—but not before carving a Swastika into their foreheads, so even if they don't tell the story, other people will know it. In reality, the Basterds spare the first Nazi willing to betray their side by telling the Basterds what they want to know. Obviously, this cowardice would be punishable by execution if the Nazi's superiors knew about it, to discourage other cowardly Nazis from doing it in the future. Hence, the official reason they're spared is to spread the word, and the Nazi's superiors are content to order them not to tell anyone.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: When the Fantom raids the Bank of England in the Action Prologue, he orders his men to machine-gun the British bobbies responding, but to leave one alive to tell the tale.
  • At the start of Lion of the Desert (1981), the Bedouin rebels wipe out an Italian convoy, but their leader Omar Mukhtar spares the life of an officer and even gives him their flag to take back, with a message that the Italians are not wanted in Libya. On returning Marshal Graziani insists on awarding the officer a medal for 'saving' the flag, despite his protests.
  • The Matrix Reloaded. After Persephone kills one of the two programs guarding the Keymaker, she spares the other one and tells him to go tell the Merovingian what she has done. She does this so the Merovingian will show up and she can tell him to his face why she did it.
  • In Natural Born Killers, Mickey and Mallory always leave one survivor at the scenes of their killing sprees... Until the very end, when they shoot the journalist that was with them because he unfortunately had a camera which documented everything, serving as a means of telling their story.
  • The Usual Suspects: One anecdote about Keyser Soze is that, when his wife and children were held hostage, he killed them, and spared one of the kidnappers to spread the word.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: This is Salazar's schtick while he and his accursed crew are trapped in the Devil's Triangle; kill everyone on every ship that comes in... save for one survivor so they can talk about it. When he discovers that Henry Turner is looking for Captain Jack Sparrow, he specifically leaves a message for the pirate captain.
    Salazar: I'd tell him myself, but.... dead men tell no tales.
  • In For a Few Dollars More, after Big Bad El Indio gets freed from prison, he has all guards killed except for one who he tells to go out and tell everyone what happened.

    Literature 
  • In Citadel, this is how Monster got his name. He murdered an entire studio full of people, one by one with a knife, making it extra painful if they tried to fight. Then he gestured for the last survivor to point a camera at him and said:
    Killer in motorcycle gear: A man who does this... what do you call such a man?
    Cameraman: M-Monster.
    "Monster": [nods thoughtfully and leaves]
  • Genghis Khan does this to a group of Chinese envoys in Conn Iggulden's Conqueror series, leaving just one to return to the city with his demands. The envoys are riding good horses and as Genghis puts it "words are not heavy".
  • In The Dark Elf Trilogy: Homeland, a drow patrol which includes Drizzt wipes out a svirfneblin group which was mining minerals too close to their city. However, since the leader treated Drizzt well when he was briefly captured, Drizzt wants to spare him. Aware that his kin won't understand mercy (and far less tolerate any suggestion of it from a mere cadet), he points out that someone needs to return and tell the gnomes about the drow's strength and the folly of approaching Menzoberranzan. The other drow then cut off the gnome leader's hands and send him off.
  • In Blood Brothers of Gor after a war between fantasy counterpart American Indians and cowboys, three "cowboy" privates chosen by drawing lots are allowed to go back home to bring word of the defeat while the others are reduced to slavery.
  • Moby-Dick: Ishmael the mariner ponders being the sole survivor of the doomed whaler Pequod, and concludes that he was spared by the vengeful behemoth precisely to pen the tale as a warning to all others that would think to pursue the Great White Whale.
  • Sholan Alliance: The commander of the Khalossa tells his crew to allow one enemy ship to leave the Kiess system to inform their homeworld that this colony world is now under new management.
  • Watership Down. When General Woundwort leads an expedition to attack the warren, Hazel goes alone to meet him in an attempt to find a peaceful solution. Woundwort isn't interested, but (unaware that he's actually talking to the Chief Rabbit of the warren) he allows Hazel to return with his so-called terms (surrender or die) rather than ordering Captain Campion to kill him.
  • The Word for World Is Forest. Captain Davidson returns to Smith Camp to find the supposedly pacifist Athsheans have burnt it to the ground and killed everyone there. Their leader is Selver, an Athshean whose wife died after Davidson raped her. Nevertheless he spares Davidson's life so he can tell the other humans what has happened there.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the 2006 TV movie about the Carthaginian general Hannibal, he sends two spies to gather information before the battle of Zama. They're quickly captured, and rather than being executed are shown the full size of the Roman army and then released, so Hannibal will know just what he's up against. The Romans make a point of showing them that the Numidian cavalry have defected to their side, offsetting whatever advantage Hannibal had from his infantry and War Elephants.
  • Arrow: At the end of "The Offer", Ra's al Ghul plays Costume Copycat by dressing as the Arrow and murdering a group of thugs. He leaves one alive and tells him to go and tell anyone who will listen what he has seen.
  • The Blacklist:
    • In "Lord Baltimore", Berlin takes Naomi and massacres all of Baltimore's men but leaves one barely alive so he could give Reddington an address.
    • In "Mr. Gregory Devry", an assassin hired by Marcus kills Mr. Kaplan's cleaners with the exception of the boss in order to tell Reddington that his employer knows about his informant status with the FBI.
  • Boardwalk Empire. A young Meyer Lansky is captured with two other mooks. The Defiant to the End mooks insult or threaten their captors and are killed for it. Lansky (who tried to negotiate his way out) thinks he's next, but he's just untied and let go, with instructions to tell his boss what he saw happen to the others.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Becoming, Part One" Buffy tells a henchvamp to deliver a message to Angelus that she wants him to stop with his Criminal Mind Games and fight her. When the vampire attacks her again, she stakes him. "Fine, I'll tell him myself."
  • In The Flash (2014), it is stated that Zoom once set a trap for the police to show that they couldn't stop him. Killed 14 officers, one was spared to tell what he saw. Next night, that officer was murdered by Zoom in his own house to complete the message.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • At the start of the series (and at the beginning of Season Three) the White Walkers allow a member of the Night Watch to escape a massacre unharmed for as yet unknown purposes (presumably to spread fear).
    • Robb Stark spares a Lannister scout he's captured, just so he can pass on a Badass Boast that 20,000 Northerners are coming for Lord Tywin Lannister. Actually it's a Batman Gambit — only 2000 men will be attacking Tywin's forces, with the rest hitting elsewhere.
    • Thenns attack south of the wall and eradicate a village. One of them slaughters a peasant couple, then tells their child to run to Castle Black and tell the Night's Watch. As with the Robb Stark example, it's meant to be a distraction to draw away enemy forces, but this time it doesn't work (for one thing, the Nights Watch don't have the men to spare on forays).
    • After Queen Daenerys and her dragons turn the tide against their invasion fleet, Grey Worm kills two out of the three Masters. Tryion Lannister tells the last Master to return to his people and tell them what happens to those who try to mess with the Dragon Queen.
    • In "Dragonstone", Arya Stark (wearing a glamor that makes her appear as their liege lord Walder Frey) poisons the Freys responsible for the Red Wedding massacre. However she stops Walder's wife from drinking the poisoned wine; partly because she's an innocent, but also to deliver the following Badass Boast.
    "When people ask what happened here, tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey."
  • Gotham: In the "Pilot" episode, Falcone kills the men about to execute Gordon and Bullock. He spares Butch so he can take a message back to Fish.
    Falcone: Tell Miss Mooney she's too impetuous. If she wants to kill policemen, she has to ask permission.
    Falcone: [bends down and looks at Gordon and Bullock] There are rules.
  • Into the Badlands. In "Tiger Pushes Mountain", the Widow plows her way through Jade's bodyguards all by herself, in a brutal and terrifying sequence featuring the Widow slowly advancing up a staircase, hacking up Clippers and fixing Jade with a wicked Slasher Smile each time they make eye contact. When it's finally down to just the two of them, the Widow takes down Jade with absolutely no effort...and leaves her alive to deliver a message to Ryder: She's Back, and the oil fields are hers.
  • Luke Cage (2016): Diamondback crashes a secret meeting of gangsters discussing the sale of Cottonmouth's assets. Unhappy that they aren't buying his weapons from him or getting them at discount from competitors, he kills all of the bosses save for Domingo Colon and Mariah Dillard. He spares Mariah because he sees she's more worthy as an ally than as a corpse. As for Domingo?
    Domingo Colon: Why am I still alive, man?
    Willis "Diamondback" Strkyer: Because no one's coming after me. They'll ask around, so tell 'em, I'll murderize everything in sight. 'Cause I don't care. And I won't quit. You can't bargain with me. You buy, or you die. [beat] You think Peter Luger's is still open?
  • Person of Interest.
    • In "Witness", Elias looks like he's going to shoot the gangster son of The Mafiya boss, but kneecaps him instead, saying his father should get out of Brighton Beach. The boss is shown being murdered in the end montage, so he clearly ignored the warning.
    • In "C.O.D.", Detective Fusco has been forced to take part in a hit by HR on a mob boss, as part of a deal with Elias. However it turns out to be a trap, and Fusco's life (but not the other assassin) is spared to carry back a message that Elias has no interest in dealing with HR.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In "The Changing Face of Evil", after Starfeet suffers a major defeat the female Founder countermands an order to destroy the Escape Pods, saying the frightened survivors will return home and spread their fear, demoralizing the enemies of the Dominion.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise. In "In a Mirror, Darkly - Part II", Mirror Universe Archer allows a rebel starship to escape after destroying all the others with the USS Defiant, for the same reason. He destroys a crippled Vulcan ship first, just to Kick the Dog.
  • In Star Trek: Discovery, after the end of the battle and the retreat of the Starfleet ships that can still fly, T'Kuvma declares that the crippled Federation ships will be spared, so that their surviving crews can tell the tale of the Klingon victory.
  • In Zoo, Jackson was able to save Abraham from being killed by the lions after they massacred tourists on a safari trip. However, he thinks that the lions spared him so that he can let the rest of humanity know that the animals are willing to conduct further attacks against them.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In The Bible, Book of Job, bad things constantly happen to Job, and each time there is one survivor who seems to have survived only so Job knows what's going on.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer: Two renowned characters, Gorthor the Beastlord and Vlad von Carstein did this during their respective wars against the Empire. In the former's case it was to allow his reputation to grow and spread fear while the latter did it just to spread fear.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Dark Eldar are known to do this, both because it allows their reputation to grow, but other times so they can follow the survivor to his camp and destroy it (sometimes leaving him alive), just to show they can.
    • The Adeptus Astartes has this as a battle policy at times against certain foes they intend to scare into submission. They kill all but one in battle and let the messenger go off so he can tell his fellows what happened to his own unit. It has tremendous psychological effect to the point whole regiments surrender without a fight.
  • Earthdawn. Whenever the monsters known as Bog Gobs attack sapient creatures, they will always leave some survivors. They do this because they enjoy the tales spread about them among the Namegiver races.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: It's mentioned that whenever Red Dragons attack a town (either for treasure or just for the hell of it) they would often leave a survivor or two to spread word about their power.

    Video Games 
  • Dawn of War Soulstorm: If the Dark Eldar defeat the Sisters of Battle, they leave a single Sister alive, driven mad by the Dark Eldar's tortures.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, the player character wanders into the scene of a particularly brutal massacre. The perpetrators, the Caesar's Legion, decide to let the Courier go for this purpose, to tell everyone (especially their enemies the New Californian Republic) what happened there. They also spared two other witnesses to the event: The winner of their Lottery of Doom gets away scot-free, while the runner-up gets his legs broken but is allowed to live. However, the former is such an idiot that he immediately runs into a radscorpion nest, inevitably dying after telling no one but the Courier (and in very unclear terms).
  • In Grand Theft Auto III, you fail the mission where you kill Kenji Kasen if you kill everybody else since you need someone alive to report that the assassination was carried out by the Colombian Cartel. Interestingly, the victim previously gave you a mission where you do something similar and you fail if you DO leave someone alive.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor: You can kill an entire army of Uruks and then dominate the sole survivor to tell some Uruk Captain that you're coming for them next. This is also practical because Talion can be attacked while dominating someone.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • During the Highmountain storyline of the Legion expansion, the player accompanies a group of highmountain warbraves as they confront Dargrul the Underking for the destruction of Riverbend. In response, Dargrul wields the hammer of Khaz'goroth to slay them all - leaving only the player character alive.
      Ularogg Cragshaper "My Underking, this one still lives."
      Dargrul the Underking "I want this shan ronir to tell the others. Tell them their doom will come once I master this hammer."
    • In one of the in-game cinematics for Battle For Azeroth shows a Horde caravan carrying supplies through the forests of Darkshore. The caravan is then ambushed by Malfurion Stormrage - who single handedly massacres the lot of them. When Malfurion spots the last survivor, he shoves him against a tree, then leans in close and says "Tell her we are coming." before turning into a bird and flying off.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation, SCP-2264 ("In the Court of Alagadda"). Mobile Task Force Psi-9 ("Abyss Gazers") is sent into the city beyond SCP-2264 in an attempt to determine the threat level of the Ambassador of Alagadda and King of Alagadda. When they meet the Ambassador he kills all but one member of MTF Psi-9. During his debriefing the survivor says "The Ambassador needed a witness, one to deliver its message." The message is what the witness saw in the face of the King: "A god shaped hole. The barren desolation of a fallen and failed creation. You see the light of long dead stars. Your existence is nothing but an echo of a dying god's screams."

    Web Comic 
  • Played with in this Oglaf strip. First, Kronar murders everyone in a village except one guy and tells him to spread the word about his power. The guy proceeds to boast that Kronar has gone soft since he let him live. When they laugh, Kronar bursts in menacingly. All of them hurriedly claim that they would make the best messenger, because they'd write the greatest songs or so forth. Kronar decides that they will display their talents and he will choose the best. One of the guys snickers at the idea that Kronar is holding a talent contest. Kronar finally snaps. Cut to two men looking at the smoking and destroyed pub from outside:
    Man 1: What could have done this?
    Man 2: We'll never know for sure. No survivors. Even some of the trees have been stabbed.
  • In the Chris Baldwin comic One Way. Major MAJOR spoiler: The crew of a spacecraft are on a voyage of First Contact with an alien life form. After it's too late to go back, they discover that the "welcome" message the aliens had sent them actually translated as "You humans are terrible. Leave us alone or else." The crew have no choice but to make contact with the aliens anyway. The aliens announce that they will spare one crew member to tell Earth what they saw, and will kill the rest of the crew. The crew have to vote on which of them will be spared.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy: In a Cutaway Gag, Peter, dressed as an Army Ranger, sneaks up behind Yogi Bear and stabs him with a knife. He then tells the shocked Boo-Boo to spread the word to the other bears.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "The Holocrons of Fate", Kanan and Ezra find a rebel transport that was attacked by Maul, who left one technician injured but alive to tell them that the ship was attacked by a "red blade" who wanted information on the whereabouts of the Ghost. When Kanan and Ezra contact the ship, they find that Maul's already gotten there and taken Hera, Sabine, Zeb and Chopper hostage.
  • Wing Commander Academy. In "The Last One Left", Blair is captured by a renegade group of ex-Confed and Kilrathi Space Pirates who are eventually wiped out by the Kilrathi forces. Assuming Blair is one of the renegades, Prince Thrakhath allows him to live so he can tell others that anyone who defies the Kilrathi WILL DIE!

    Real Life 
  • In the First Anglo-Afghan War, an Afghan chief said he would leave one member of Elphinstone's army with his arms and legs cut off at the head of the Khyber Pass to warn any other British what would happen if they invaded Afghanistan. Ironically there was only one survivor of the 4,500 strong army; Dr. William Brydon, who reached the British garrison at Jalalabad with limbs intact.
  • Jeanne "the Lioness of Britain" de Clisson, a female 14th century pirate raided the Channel, specifically targeting French ships (she had a good reason), and after capturing them, killed all of the crew, but she always spared someone, so he would get to the french king and basically told him "you're next".
  • Different Worlds magazine #43, article "The Tongs of America''. When the Tong hatchetman Fung Jing Toy (AKA Little Pete) was attacked by four assassins, their blows bounced off of him because he was secretly wearing chainmail armor under his clothing. He killed three of them and let one of them go so he would spread stories of Little Pete's invulnerability.
  • After shooting up an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, the neo-Confederate terrorist Dylann Roof saw that one churchgoer had survived by Playing Possum, so he told her: "Good, 'cause we need someone to survive, because I'm gonna shoot myself, and you'll be the only survivor." That turned out to be unnecessary, as he was out of ammo. He then left the church and apparently decided not to shoot himself, as the police found him alive and well the next day. Now he's on death row after a widely publicised trial — so he will go down in infamy, just not how he anticipated.
  • Byzantine emperor Basil II "the Bulgar Slayer" reportedly used a variant after a military victory against Bulgaria, blinding most of the prisoners and sparing a few to guide the rest of them home, so that they would become both a fearsome example and a heavy economic burden. The Bulgarian tsar allegedly died of shock when he saw what had happened to his men.


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