Different stories have different takes on Forgiveness. In some works, forgiving wrongdoers is always a good thing and Vengeance Feels Empty is in full effect, while in others revenge will not only be justified, but also necessary for emotional closure. There is also some grey area, as evidenced by tropes such as Restrained Revenge, Reformed, but Not Tamed or Forgiven, but Not Forgotten.
And then there is this trope. A character chooses not to take revenge and perhaps even aid the offending party when in need, but they will never forgive their misdeeds. The reasons for it may vary, but they usually fall under one of a few categories:
- The character would like to show forgiveness, but they find themselves unable to. No matter their personal beliefs, they cannot simply let go of the resentment and hatred stemming from the suffering others have caused them.
- The character has no desire to forgive and would take revenge if the circumstances were any different, but as it stands, exacting vengeance would cost them too much or would require hurting more people than just the offender. They might or might not plan on getting their revenge in the future — all that matters is that they let go of an opportunity they have.
- The character decides that the offending party is simply Not Worth Killing.
This trope can appear in the works from both ends on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, as it can be used to emphasize either the noble nature of the hero or the abhorrent nature of the villain's crimes. Such a decision will almost always be portrayed in a positive light, the only exception being the works that give forgiveness a strong moral significance. Compare Cruel Mercy, where someone is spared or aided because what they'll survive to suffer is far worse than any direct revenge.
- Frieza from Dragon Ball, on many occasions. Most infamously during his and Goku's climactic fight on Namek as it's preparing to explode. After Frieza gets sliced in half by his own energy disc, Goku opts to leave him as payback for the millions of lives he's killed, including Krillin, but begrudgingly comes around and gives some of his energy to him after Frieza (now at his lowest) pitifully begs for mercy. To both their dismay, this comes back to bite them both:
- In Frieza's case, he immediately uses the last of his energy to kill Goku, only for him to immediately turn the attack back around on him, this time truly leaving him for dead. He later gets upgraded into Mecha-Frieza.
- In Goku's case, this would come many years later in Dragon Ball Super. Beerus and Whis warn him many times that being too leniant on his opponents is his biggest weakness, which Goku continuously brushes off due to his desire to fight stronger opponents. When SSGSS Vegeta battles Golden Frieza, and regresses him back to his original form, Frieza is again at his lowest, but refuses to lose again, and instead blows up Earth, killing everyone except for a small handful of people whom Whis was protecting. Understanding what Beerus and Whis have been telling him, Goku finally lets go of his desire for once, and after Whis rewinds time temporarily, goes through with the deed of killing Frieza, with no mercy.
- Later in the aforementioned series, Frieza gets revived by Whis, but only as a reward from Beerus himself for helping Goku and 17 in defeating Jiren and with it, winning the Tournament of Power for Universe 7, not out of forgiveness. Frieza spitefully points this out, and is willing to terrorize the Universe all over again, but not before Goku threatens him that he and his friends will stop him should he attempt to threaten Earth again.
- A major theme in Fullmetal Alchemist, especially in regards to the characters connected to Ishvalian Genocide:
- Roy and Riza vow to never forgive themselves for their crimes.
- During the war, Scar is advised by his master not to forgive the Amestrians for their crimes, but to focus on saving people instead of pursuing revenge — which Scar promptly ignores after his family gets slaughtered by Kimblee. After having his wounds treated by Winry, who nonetheless won't forgive him for killing her parents, he decides to work alongside Amestrians in order to defeat Father, though he never truly lets go of his hatred.
- Even though Megatron abandoned the Decepticon cause to become an Autobot in The Transformers: Dark Cybertron and manages to make a good enough case to at least delay his execution, no one was prepared to forgive him for millions of years of war and genocide, least of all himself. Ultimately subverted as when he returns to Cybertron after the Lost Light's quest to find the Knights of Cybertron ends he is retried, found guilty, and either executed or imprisoned for life
- Dear Diary: Opal nearly kills Morta in revenge for her killing Prima but restrains herself, resolving to be civil to her as they are both members of the same team fighting for the same cause. When Morta risks her life using a Cast from Hit Points attack to protect the rest of the team, Opal even visits her while she is recovering and thanks her. But she makes it clear that she will never forgive her or consider Morta her friend.
- This is the point of the song Not one of us in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride.
Let him run, let him live
But do not forget what we cannot forgive!
- In Mulan, Shang refrains from executing Mulan to repay her for saving his life, but he is still resentful over her pretending to be a man to join the army. He doesn't get over himself until she persuades the other soldiers to follow her in rescuing the Emperor.
- After sparing The Operative in Serenity, Mal makes it clear that he absolutely is not going to forgive or forget that The Operative murdered Book and was indirectly responsible for the death of Wash, and if their paths ever cross again he's going to have a real hard time coming up with a reason not to put a bullet between his eyes. And if the Operative doesn't choose another place to have philosophical musings, it's going to be a moot point anyway.
- In Carrie, Carrie spares Sue after learning that she had no part in the prank, but she still doesn't forgive her, although it's admittedly only minutes before Carrie herself dies.
- The Dresden Files: The first time Harry meets the Fae Queen Titania after killing her daughter, she has to make a deliberate effort not to deal him a Cruel and Unusual Death on the spot. She tells him that she intellectually understands and accepts that his actions were necessary, but, as a being of pure passion and emotion, she can never forgive him.
- A variation in Measure for Measure, the Duke spares Angelo, but it's left ambiguous whether Isabella forgives him, and it's made pretty clear he doesn't forgive himself.
- The Wheel of Time: Inverted by the Aiel Proud Warrior Race, whose honor code forbids even speaking of an offense that has been duly punished. When Egwene confesses to lying about her rank, her Aiel allies deal her a vicious beating, then resume their friendship without missing a step.
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter persuades his deceased parents' friends not to kill The Mole who sold out said parents to Voldemort. The argument is that Harry's parents wouldn't have wanted their friends to stoop to murder just to get revenge on such a pathetic backstabber, and that turning the traitor over to the authorities so they can send him to Azkaban is a better punishment anyway. This bites them in the ass after the traitor escapes and heads off to join Voldemort. And then it ultimately comes back to help them when the traitor is unable to kill Harry later because of the life debt he now owes him for sparing his life.
- Subverted with Gollum in The Two Towers: Frodo has a chance to kill him, fully aware of all of the evils he's done, and even once remarked to Gandalf that Gollum deserved death. However upon finally seeing Gollum himself, he takes pity on him and spares his life. The subversion is that Frodo largely forgives Gollum's misdeeds to that point after his HeelFace Turn. However it's Sam who doesn't. Ironically, Sam's continuing suspicion and refusal to forgive is part of what plays a role in the end of Gollum's reformation by the time they reach Shelob's Lair.
- In The Stormlight Archive, Szeth is an assassin responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people and the destabilization of many kingdoms and triggering a massive civil war. He accepts all responsibility for the deaths he has inflicted and refuses to forgive himself, because he is "Truthless" - a form of criminal who is enslaved to the service of others and force to obey their commands. At the end of Words of Radiance, he learns that the crimes he was accused of are false and thus he isn't Truthless, and lets himself be killed. However, he is resurrected before his death can be permanent, and continues blaming himself for the deaths he has inflicted, and when he shows up to save the day at the end of the Oathbringer, the characters who he had previously fought against accept his help but refuse to forgive him for his previous killings.
- Babylon 5: G'kar eventually assumes this attitude towards the Centauri. Even after resolving himself not to be consumed by vengeance and to save all the sentient races from the threat of the Shadows, he states that he will never forgive the Centauri for what they did to his world and his people. He does, however, make an exception for his former Arch-Enemy Londo Mollari.
- Near the end of Halo 3, after Human-Covenant war comes to an end, Admiral Hood tells the Arbiter that he cannot forgive Elites for what they did to humanity, but nonetheless thanks his former enemy for fighting alongside Master Chief and celebrates the coming of peace.
- Mass Effect 3: When Balak, a Batarian terrorist responsible for killing numerous humans, meets Shepard at the Citadel, he is initially resolved to kill the commander for supposedly contributing to the destruction of Batarian Hegemony. If Shepard succeeds at reasoning with him, both of them agree to fight the Reapers together, even though either of them would like to see the other dead.
- In Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves are able to look past their well-deserved grudge against the traitor for framing them Kunikazu's murder in order to work together to take down the mastermind behind the conspiracy. However, they also make it clear that while they understand why the traitor did it, they do not forgive any of the traitor's actions.
- In Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, after Kyle defeats Tavion, he intends to kill her to avenge Jane. Once she grovels for mercy and tells him Jane's alive, he flings her away and tells her to get out of his sight.
- In Fire Emblem Awakening, Chrom never forgives Gangrel for his crimes, even after he's recruited. Indeed, the only support conversations the character gets are with the Avatar, who has conversations with every single recruitable character in the game. And unless the Avatar is female and marries him, he dies alone in the gutter not long after the events of the game.
- Octopath Traveler: Olberic set out to kill Erhardt, trying to avenge his kingdom. In the end, despite besting him in combat and telling him he has no forgiveness in his heart, he chooses not to kill Erhardt. The situation seems to evolve into straight-up Forgiveness over time, however.
- In Fallout4, Elder Maxon will, with a little bit of persuading, spare Danse, but he makes it clear that the offending character will be recorded as a traitor who was officially executed by the player character, and should his path ever again cross that of the Brotherhood there will be no mercy.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- In the episode "The Southern Raiders", after Katara finds her mother's killer (a veteran of the Fire Nation army), she goes on to turn the raindrops into icicles with a clear threat of killing him with them. After seeing him in a pathetic state (even begging her to kill his mother instead of him), she decides that he's simply Not Worth Killing. However, Katara states that she will never forgive him (but she is willing to forgive another member of the Fire Nation who had a close relationship to its army).
- Ozai and Azula are both also spared in the end, however they are imprisoned so they shouldn't be able to do any more harm, and Ozai also has his bending taken away, along with his power and crown.