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Spare a Messenger

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Shan-Yu: [as two captured enemy soldiers flee his presence] How many men does it take to deliver a message?
Hun Archer: [draws and aims bow] One.

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. On rare occasions, a particularly well-meaning and/or pragmatic captor will spare every captive (or at least more then one), either as a sign of good faith to their enemies or to spread a terrifying message as far as possible.

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. May overlap with Sparing the Final Mook.


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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.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Some retellings of the Wayne murders play it like this, stating that the mugger was actually an assassin hired by a local crime boss as revenge for being slighted by Thomas Wayne in the past, and left the adolescent Bruce alive to spread word that not even the richest man in Gotham was safe. Most, though, agree that the mugger was just a mugger, and spared Bruce either because of approaching police sirens or he wasn't quite cold-blooded enough to shoot a child.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In Star Wars (Dark Horse), Darth Maul massacres everyone in a space station operated by the Black Sun criminal syndicate, save a single enforcer named Asa Naga. Unfortunately for Naga, Maul only let him live so he would unknowingly lead Maul right to the Black Sun leaders...
    • Mara Jade - By The Emperor's Hand: When Mara is laying low with a waitressing job, Black Nebula thugs show up for protection money. They kill her boss for refusing to pay and plan to spare Mara to spread word of their deeds to other merchants. Mara kills them instead.
  • Black Panther: The first issue of Vol. 4 shows some of the history of Wakanda, and that they had something of a tradition of this; every time an invading army tried to cross their borders — be it rival african tribes or Eurpoean conquerors — it inevitably ended with the entire force slaughtered, with only a single enemy soldier to go back and spread a warning of what happens to those who try and conquer Wakanda.
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank: The Russian's Establishing Character Moment has him killing an elite hit squad and letting one man run away (stripped naked) to tell their bosses not to try again.
  • Throne of Atlantis: The trope is defied by the messenger in flashbacks in the prologue, after the Atlanteans sink a ship whose crew killed a previous king and queen. The Atlanteans sit by as everyone but the last man drowns. They are willing to spare that last survivor (the captain), presumably so he can spread warnings to other sailors, but he insists on Going Down with the Ship.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 from 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.
  • Heroes of the New World; the Marine base outside the country of Doyle was attacked by pirates, with one ensign managing to escape and make it back to the capitol with news. Doll's escape was deliberately set up by her commander, Baker, who was in cahoots with the pirates and wanted her message to sow panic among the populace.
  • 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).
  • The King Nobody Wanted: Drogo and his riders hear rumors of uncertain veracity that, during one Roaring Rampage of Revenge, the Golden Lamb killed everyone in a Dothraki camp except for a girl who he lamed and branded with a threatening message. The rumor also says that the first khal to encounter the girl killed her in a failed attempt to stop the spread of the story.

    Film — Animated 
  • Beowulf (2007):
  • 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 goose messenger named Peng sent by Master Shifu, seizes him by the neck 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.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Apache: After escaping from the wagon that is transporting his to the railroad to be sent back to Florida, Massai leaves Mr. Weddle alive to bring a message back to the fort telling them what has happened and that he is free again. In a slight twist, Massai then returns to kill Weddle after he has delivered the message.
  • 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.
  • In The Crow, Eric Draven allows Gideon to escape the ruins of his pawn shop in order to let the gang know he's coming for them. Gideon's subsequently killed by Top Dollar in an Offing the Mouth snit.
  • Cyberjack: After acquiring the super-virus and gaining superpowers, Nassim releases the hostages before attempting to brainwash the planet. One of his remaining minions points out that they're all witnesses, to which Nassim retorts "Exactly. They'll be witnesses to what transpired here today". Apparently, he wants people to spread the tale about how he became a god.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Invasion U.S.A. (1985): When two terrorists shoot up a Cuban block party while disguised as cops, one of them has to remind his Trigger-Happy partner that they need to spare witnesses to falsely incriminate the cops.
  • 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.
  • Occurs in the ending of Legionnaire, a Jean-Claude Van Damme war movie revolving around a Legion of Lost Souls battling desert Bedouins. After several battles, the film ends with all the legionnaires save for Van Damme's protagonist wiped out, and as several Bedouins corners him their leader offers the hero a chance to leave with his life.
    Bedouin leader: For centuries our people have roamed across this land. It has always been our home. In our culture, a man who has courage is valued above all. For this reason, I will allow you to leave. Take a message to your leaders, this is what would happen note  if they continue invading our country.
  • 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 who was with them because he unfortunately had a camera which documented everything, serving as a means of telling their story.
  • 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.
  • This sets off the plot of SAS: Rise of the Black Swan (aka SAS: Red Notice). A family-owned company of Private Military Contractors is ordered to buy off or intimidate the residents of a Georgian village to let a pipeline through their valley. When the local militia open fire on them instead, they decide to kill all the men but let the women escape to spread fear and encourage other villages to have a more reasonable attitude. Unfortunately one of those women has a mobile phone which she uses to record the faces of the mercenaries, causing an Interpol red notice to be issued on them for crimes against humanity.
  • Surf Ninjas: There are about a dozen survivors, mostly senior citizens and children, in a village Colonel Chi razed, so they can tell other villages to be afraid.
  • 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.
  • This provides the Title Drop for Valdez is Coming, though it's played differently from usual. Valdez finds a henchman and politely asks him to deliver the message that he's coming for the Big Bad. The henchmen pretends to ride off, then when he thinks he's out of range of Valdez's shotgun he turns and tries to shoot, gets wounded, and is put back on his horse by Valdez to deliver the message anyway.
  • War for the Planet of the Apes:
    • Caesar takes four human soldiers prisoner during their assault on the city in the opening scene, but lets them go to give their superior one final warning to leave him in peace.
    • The Colonel brags that when delegates from the Northern Army tried to reason with him, he decapitated all of them except for one who he sent back to dare their leaders to come fight him themselves.

  • The Harry Turtledove short story "After the Last Elf is Dead" has the general of an Evil Overlord release five soldiers from a fortress he successfully besieged, telling them to spread the word of his victory to every corner of the region while their surviving comrades are enslaved and sent to be worked to death.
  • Brightly Burning describes the Battle of White Foal Pass, whose invading force was terrified of Lavan Firestorm- but more terrified of their own leaders, who used torture and propaganda to stop them from defecting. Eventually Lavan snapped, revealing his full power and incinerating the Pass down to bedrock. Everyone in the opposing army died...except for one soldier, who was later taken captive. And it was centuries before the country that sent them would attack Valdemar again.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels:
    • In The Gatekeeper Trilogy, The first time two Sons of Entropy cultists infiltrate the Gatehouse to kill Jean-Marc, one is killed and the other is told to tell his friends that Jean-Marc will kill any of their number who try to enter the mansion. Plenty still do, and Jean-Marc makes good on his threat.
    • In Spike & Dru: Pretty Maids All In a Row: Watchers Marie-Christine Fontaine and John Travers are injured but left alive to deliver a mocking warning to the Council after Spike and Dru kill the head of their council and another man at his home.
  • 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.
  • A Dearth of Choice: The dungeon doesn't want to kill adventurers, it would much rather coexist and just keep harvesting mana and experience from their visits. When a team invokes the lethal force rule, however, permitting them to harm the core if they can get that far, it defends itself accordingly. The one team member who expressed doubts and second thoughts is permitted to live, so that everyone will know they were given multiple chances to turn back.
  • In the sci-fi short Disarm, by Vylar Kaftan, any nuclear, biological or chemical weapon used against the alien invaders kills only the user, but the aliens always heal one soldier and 'mark' them in some way that causes anyone who sees them to hear or experience a message (unique to the listener, such as a song or vision) along the lines of We Come In Peace Resistance Is Futile.
  • The third Evan Tanner book by Lawrence Block has a former World War II partisan recall how he and several friends murdered sixty enemy soldiers in their sleep as revenge for a brutal massacre. They spared one teenaged soldier to spread the story but blinded him so he wouldn't be able to identify them.
  • In The Executioner series, Mack Bolan often spares a mob Mook as a Trick-and-Follow Ploy.
  • Gor: 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.
  • Hainish: In 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.
  • 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.
  • Tress of the Emerald Sea: Captain Crow offers to let Tress go because her plan requires that it become publicly known that the Crow's Song sank the Oot's Dream rather than plundering it (she needs her crew to do something borderline suicidal, and doesn't think they'll obey unless they are known to be murderers and hunted everywhere).
  • The War Gods: At the end of War Maid's Oath, Wencit of Rum surprises two dark wizards in their lair. He tells them he has a message to send back to the Council of Carnadosa, the ruling council of dark wizards. One wizard will die, the other will act as his messenger. It's debatable, however, which one suffers a worse fate: before Wencit sends the survivor on his mission, he strips the man's magic Gift away, which for a wizard is a fate much worse than death.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow:
    • In "Vendetta", the vigilante Huntress leaves a Triad soldier alive to tell him that mob boss "Frank Bertinelli sends his regards." This is to make the Triads think the Mafia is behind the attack, so they'll end up killing each other.
    • In "League Of Assassins", Sara—showing how she's become more ruthless as a member of the League, kills the assassins sent after her, but tells the last to return to Ra's al Ghul and tell him her family is off limits.
    • 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.
  • Done in the backstory of Babylon 5 by the Minbari: after the first contact went awry Earth Alliance had the impression they could fight the Minbari, but at the first battle between battlegroups the EarthForce fleet is reduced to a single Starfury the Minbari allowed to escape so it could report that, even with numerical superiority and allowed to fire first, the human fleet had been unable to inflict a single casualty before being annihilated in minutes. That was when EarthGov realized the Centauri warnings to not risk provoking the Minbari had been exact and they were now in the middle of a Hopeless War.
  • Done on the Canadian crime drama Bad Blood when Declan breaks up a meeting of rival gangs. He lets one guy go to tell his bosses Teresa and Christian what happened and "I'm coming for them." Too bad Teresa decides to pull a Shoot the Messenger on the guy.
  • 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: Nucky and Chalky capture two of the D'Alessio brothers and Meyer Lansky. The D'Alessio brothers both insult or threaten their captors, prompting Jimmy to shoot one of them in the face, while Chalky chokes the other to death with his bare hands. 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.
  • The Book of Boba Fett: In "From the Desert Comes a Stranger". Marshal Cobb guns down several members of the Pyke Syndicate he catches doing a spice deal. One of them is smart enough to freeze in place, so Cobb sends him back with a message to the Pyke Syndicate to stay out of his territory. It works too well as they send Cad Bane to have a word with the Marshal.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
  • Dark Matter (2015): When One first escaped the lab she was held in, she killed every single person in the building, including maintenance workers, and purposely left only one survivor.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Frontier in Space" involves a plot to start a galactic war by attacking spaceships of Earth and making it look like the alien Draconians are responsible. The Space Pirates (who have a device that makes them look like Draconians) burn through an airlock to raid the spacecraft the Doctor is on, then helpfully seal it up to leave witnesses to their attack. When the Doctor points this out, he's accused of being a spy for the Draconians, who were clearly acting to protect their spy's life.
    • In "The Masque of Mandragora", Count Federico is introduced massacring some peasants, but telling his captain of guards to leave a few alive so they can tell the others how insurrection is dealt with. We see no signs of an actual insurrection, and it's implied the Count is doing this just to Kick the Dog.
  • 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 reasons unknown (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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Jeremiah:
  • 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.
  • Averted in Titans (2018) when Red Hood is roughing up one of the Joker's minions.
    Hawkins: You don't have to kill me! Just tell me what you want!
    Red Hood: I want you to tell all your friends about me.
    Hawkins: Okay, okay! Who Are You?!!
    Red Hood: (Boom, Headshot!) I'll just tell them myself.
  • 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 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • 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.
    • Dragon magazine #39 article "Good got you down? Try this for EVIL! The Anti-Paladin NPC". One possible scenario for an anti-paladin NPC is to kidnap a traveling princess and kill every member of her guard except one. The one survivor is allowed to escape so they can carry back word of the princess's capture. The anti-paladin then sends a ransom demand, which will be taken seriously since the recipient knows that the princess is alive.
    • According to Van Richten's Guide to Liches, liches sometimes pretend to be destroyed in a vicious battle with only a Sole Survivor among the heroes. In fact, the survivor is an Unwitting Pawn to lull the public into a false sense of security while the lich continues its schemes.
  • 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.
  • GURPS Fantasy supplement Harkwood. The part of Caithness named Blythe was once raided by a band of two dozen lizard men from the desert. The Blythe militia trapped the band and killed almost all of them, deliberately letting three of them escape to let the other lizard men know of their defeat. Since that day, the lizard men have not attacked Blythe.
  • Star Fleet Battles supplement Scenario Book #2, scenario SH124.0 "Kroal's Illegitimate War". The Hamilcar Orion Pirate cartel decides to interfere with the relationship between the Daven cartel and the Klingon Empire. They stage raids in Klingon space and their agents plant information that makes it appear that the Lyran Democratic Republic (LDR) and the Daven cartel are responsible. Finally, they attack a Klingon convoy and deliberately leave one escort ship alive to call for help. The Hamilcar raiders lead the responding Klingon warships to a LDR planet where Daven ships are being repaired and the Klingons attack the planet.
  • 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.

    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.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: In the second chapter's opening scene, you're treated to yet another violent demonstration courtesy of Laughing Octopus killing scores of rebel soldiers. Just as she's about to kill the final rebel soldier, Vamp stops her so that said rebel soldier can deliver a message of who they think was responsible for killing his comrades by using her Face Camo mask, donning Old Snake's face to let him know to tell his other comrades of the face of the bastard who killed his comrades, despite it being a ruse. This can either work in the enemies' favor or not depending on the player's actions towards the rebels afterward.
    Vamp: Leave one.
    Laughing Octopus: Don't forget this face... This is the face of the bastard who killed your comrades!
  • 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.

  • After Black "Monday" Blues of Dead Winter, easily guns down a bunch of Stupid Crooks that were planning to assassinate him (but were very sloppy about it), the Danny Trejo-looking thug clinging to life thanks to all the bullet wounds tries to negotiate for his life by asking if he wanted to leave a message to his employer. Monday doesn't care and just blows his brains out. Preferring to send the message to his employer himself (whom is also a Stupid Crook).
  • Parodied in this Oglaf strip. First, Kronar murders everyone in a village except one guy and tells him to spread the word about his return. The guy proceeds to boast at the pub 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.
    Man 1: [Looking at the ruins of the pub] 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.
  • Schlock Mercenary. As shown in the final panel.

    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."

    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.
  • Hilariously subverted in Rick and Morty episode "Star Mort: Rickturn of the Jerri". In the Action Prologue, Space Beth initially intends to leave one of the mooks alive so he can tell his boss that the Defiance lives on. But the guy gets her name wrong so many times that she finally gets fed up and kills him via Boom, Headshot!.
  • 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.
  • TaleSpin: In "Plunder and Lightning Part 3", Karnage looks like he's subjecting two captured Khan fliers to a Disney Villain Death, but they land harmlessly in the ocean because the Iron Vulture is hovering only a few yards above the sea. Mad Dog asks why he let them live, and Karnage says he wants them to tell Khan about the mysterious items he's stealing to worry the business magnate.
  • A variation in Watership Down (2018). Our introduction to General Woundwort has one of his officers reporting that a Wide Patrol has found the tracks of Hazel and the other refugees from Sandleford warren. The General orders them to be tracked down and destroyed, but to leave one alive "for questioning".
  • 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!.
  • Winx Club: The Winx have defeated Valtor but Magix has suffered great damage. The Specialists are tasked with searching and rescuing victims. A man is trapped under rubble, so Brandon rushes to help. Cue an explosion that knocks him and, after the dust settles, Valtor is slowly walking toward him and calling him pathetic. The other Specialists go to Bradon's help but are swiftly, effortlessly subdued by Valtor. What did you expect from a guy who just survived having a lake dumped on him with only a little worse for the wear? Arbitrarily, Valtor goes and picks an unconscious Helia as his messenger — neck-lifting him, the villain tells him to go to Alfea and tell the Winx he will be awaiting them in Andros. That they must hurry up if they ever want to see their boyfriends again.
    Valtor: You are the lucky one. Your friends are my prisoners while you get to be my messenger boy.

    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.