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Sparing the Aces

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Mitth'raw'nuruodo, brilliant tactician. Equally brilliant strategist. A being who could take on Republic warships, nomadic pirates, and even Jedi, and win against them all. And Doriana was actually considering killing him?
Doriana: [puts blaster down] Don't be absurd, Vicelord. I would sooner shatter a thousand-year-old crystal as kill a being such as this.
Thrawn: So I was indeed right about you.

Alice is a once-in-multiple-lifetimes genius at something. What it is doesn't matter — a brilliant general, a mathematician, a painter, etc. Bob has a very good reason to want to kill her and is in a position where he can easily do so. He decides against it despite the fact that he could safely get away with it.

Why? Because the life of someone so brilliant has intrinsic value, and he doesn't want to deprive the world of it. Some overlap with Kill Me Now, or Forever Stay Your Hand, and a sister trope to Uniqueness Value. While that trope demands uniqueness, this one required exceptional genius at something in particular — if there happened to be five brilliant physicists, the character acting out this trope would still have as much trouble killing them as if there were only one at that level.

Frequently, the "genius" in question becomes a Morality Pet. A subtrope of You Will Be Spared. Compare Can't Kill You, Still Need You, where the sparer in question has a specific use for life of a person (and will probably kill them when they don't need them anymore), and Worthy Opponent, a frequent reason behind it. Contrast Persecuted Intellectuals, in which the geniuses are targeted because of their skills.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bleach, it's been revealed that Kenpachi subconsciously does this. He enjoys a good fight so much that he holds the majority of his power back from fear that he will kill anyone talented enough to challenge him.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Happens at the climax of the Saiyan Saga: After pushing Goku to use Kaio-ken x3, blasted into the stratosphere by Kaio-ken x4-charged Kamehameha, having his tail chopped off, hit with the Spirit Bomb, having his back cut and crushed by a Giant Ape Gohan falling on him; Vegeta still had enough strength to crawl back to his space pod. While briefly impressed with his sheer resilience, Krillin decides to kill him with Yajirobe's sword to finally end the Saiyan threat. But Goku calls out to Krillin to ask for Vegeta's life to be spared, since he admired his incredible strength, and thought it'd be a waste to deprive the universe of such a strong warrior. While not convinced he'd turn like Piccolonote , Goku wished to have the opportunity to fight him once again, and Krillin accepts Goku's request.
    • Frieza, despite being a paranoid racist, did this to fighters he found especially strong and talented. It was the primary reason why he spared Vegeta when he destroyed the Saiyans' home planet. He offered Goku the chance to serve him, saying that it would be a waste to destroy such talent, and was quite upset when he got turned down. He also lamented what a shame it was to kill Nail when he saw how powerful he was.
    • In the film Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, Lord Beerus turns this on Goku. Though Goku failed to defeat him, he spares him because he put up a good fight, and spares Earth itself for producing such a fine warrior.
    • In Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F', instead of killing Frieza after he exhausted his golden form, Goku tells Frieza to leave and come back to challenge him again once he had mastered his new form, since he was so impressed that Frieza managed to become so powerful in such a short amount of time. Unlike Vegeta, this comes back to royally bite Goku in the ass. He's shot in the heart by a sneak attack by one of Frieza's minions and the Earth is destroyed after Frieza loses to Vegeta. Goku laments that he should have killed Frieza instead of offering him mercy again.
  • Fist of the North Star: Hokuto Shinken tradition states that those students who do not become the successor must renounce Hokuto Shinken or have their fists destroyed so as not to be able to use it. However, Toki alone was spared this fate for myriad reasons: first, he is a true prodigy among the art's millennial history and it'd be a loss to it for him to not be able to use it; second, his radiation sickness disallows him from challenging the successor and saps much of his physical might; and third, Toki does not use Hokuto Shinken as a fighting art, but as a healing art. While Raoh uses Hokuto Shinken because he disregards its rules, Toki uses it because he's just that special and important to Hokuto Shinken.
  • Hunter × Hunter:
    • Played with in the "ant" arc. First, all the humans in the country the King has taken over are to be tested to destruction in such a way that the most potentially powerful can be converted into the superpowered mindslave footsoldiers of his world conquest. Then to keep him busy for a few months while they get this plan into operation, his bodyguards start bringing the most accomplished strategy gamers they can find; once he beats the national chess champion, the man is killed and eaten, et cetera. Then he can't best this blind girl with a runny nose, Komugi, and starts to get obsessed with doing so. That's all stage one.
    • Stage two, she starts visibly improving in response to his challenge, and he comes to the thoughtful realization that human beings have an endless and mysterious potential to improve, and that child that he ate on the way to the palace might have had the potential to exceed him, the King, in some particular way. His bodyguards are at this point in the speech freaking out at what looks like an impending Heel–Face Turn... and then we get a giant Slasher Smile and the declaration that if they are all that, and he can kill any of them, that makes him even more supremely awesome than he'd realized.
    • Stage three, he develops even more respect for Komugi and some form of emotional maturity (the guy is three months old), which combined with his appreciation for the skill and determination of the Hunter strike force, or at least Netero, prompts him to offer very reasonable terms, which are not accepted. He eventually dies of radiation poisoning inflicted by Netero's dying act, while playing against Komugi. He never did beat her.
    • The King's arrival at any kind of civilized interaction with humans was thus built on a foundation of this trope, via Komugi and Netero.
  • Joseph Joestar convinces Wham to spare him with a variation of this sort of argument in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency. Realizing that Wham's a Proud Warrior Race Guy who wishes to fight a Worthy Opponent, he suggests that maybe it'd be worth sparing the one guy who has a chance of becoming that.
    Joseph: I was just thinking about how you're going to have to live the rest of your long life always thinking about how you were injured by a human. The only way to get over that... well, would be to fight a properly trained me, is what I was thinking.
  • Lord Marksman and Vanadis: This is the reason why Eleonora takes Tigre prisoner instead of executing him; Tigre is a supremely skilled archer and killing him would waste his talent. The fact that they eventually fall in love is a bonus.
  • In Naruto flashbacks, it's shown that before Hanzo became paranoid and power-hungry, he used to spare the lives of enemies strong-willed enough to put up a good fight against him. Notable examples were Konaha's Legendary Sanin (Jiraiya, Tsunade and Orochimaru, who were given that title by Hanzo himself because they impressed him by holding their own despite their youth) and the samurai Mifune. This somewhat comes back to bite him when he fights Mifune again decades later. While Hanzo had stagnated after his descent into paranoia, Mifune had grown in skill and surpassed him. But Hanzo is actually fine with this, because (1) he'd been revived as an Edo Tensei zombie and was less than thrilled with the situation and (2) fighting Mifune again reawakened his love of a challenging battle one last time.
  • Tower of God:
    • Ultimately subverted when Ren admires Bam's incredible talent and would love to recruit him into the Royal Enforcement Division, but decides to still kill him.
      Ren: It's really a shame... but I can't let an Irregular live.
    • Played straight when Love, despite his desire to enact his revenge on the organization Viole belongs to, decides to spare him out of curiosity where his immense talent will take him, under the condition that Viole renounces his affiliations with FUG.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel at one point introduced a character known as "The Champion of the Universe", who fought and defeated nearly every warrior on Earth in a boxing match (after disqualifying heavy hitters like Thor, Hulk, and Namor for various reasons), threatening to destroy the planet if it couldn't produce a Worthy Opponent. However, he was ultimately so impressed with the determination of The Thing (who didn't even come close to winning, but refused to stay down and kept coming back for more) that he spared the planet out of respect.
  • The Punisher MAX: This verse's version of the Hand refuses to kill Frank Castle as Wilson Fisk asks them, because he's simply too unique to kill, comparing him to the last of an endangered species. They do send Fisk Elektra to protect him.

    Fan Works 
  • Fate/Long Night: After Shirou manages to evade her several times, Nymeria is impressed by his skill and determination and comments it would be a waste to kill him, so she tries to convince him to come with her and become her Master's apprentice. He refuses, not wanting to join someone willing to kill innocent bystanders. Nymeria then decides to take him by force before Arturia is summoned to stop her.
  • The incarnation of Sabrina in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines is a Social Darwinist who will kill opponents she deems unworthy. However, in keeping with her philosophy, she will spare challengers she views as sufficiently talented, even if they don't manage to defeat her.
  • A Quincy's Fairy Tail: Shadow God Slayer and guild master of Death's Head Caucus, Dyspute, tries to argue this once he realizes for all his bravado, he's not going to beat Sosuke Aizen in Jade Ladro's body, claiming that while he's weaker than his foe, he's proven himself heads and shoulders stronger than the fallen Fairy Tail members he beat to near-death minutes prior to Aizen's Big Damn Heroes moment and offers his services for his life. His foe admits that, yes, Dyspute is stronger, but puts a stipulation of at the moment; as far as Aizen is concerned and seen through his host's eyes and senses, most of the fallen Fairy Tail members have untapped potential that if properly honed will far surpass Dyspute's strength in the future, strength that he posits from observing both how Dyspute fights has already neared its max potential with no real growth forward. As such, it makes far more sense to rely on honing Fairy Tail's strength to see his future goals met, plus Jade's friendship with the guild and Dyspute's attempted murder and torture of them all means making him an ally was never in the cards.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Princess Bride, The masked man spares Inigo Montoya after expressing admiration for Inigo's swordsmanship.
    Inigo: ...Kill me quickly.
    Man in Black: I would as soon destroy a stained-glass window as an artist like yourself. However, since I can't have you following me... (conk!) Please understand I hold you in the highest respect.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter spares Agent Starling for precisely this reason.
    Clarice Starling: Where are you, Dr. Lecter?
    Hannibal Lecter: I've no plans to call on you, Clarice. The world is more interesting with you in it.

  • Jean-Claude of the Anita Blake series says he doesn't turn people often because he doesn't like the idea of taking a great artist or mind — and though vampires don't die, he says they get a good dose of Creative Sterility.
  • In the world of The Demolished Man, society as a whole thinks this way in a downplayed way about people such as clever murderers — they're such intelligent individuals they can't be wasted. They will, however, be demolished, which basically means being reset to a Blank Slate.
  • Discworld's Havelock Vetinari can be ruthlessly pragmatic at times, so this is probably why he keeps Leonard of Quirm in a Luxury Prison Suite instead of having him executed. Leonard is a genius capable of drawing the blueprints for devices that would deliver explosive payloads to the other side of the Disc, and naive enough to think that no person would be cruel enough to use them on other people. Still, some of the other things he doodles can be benign and/or useful, and sometimes Vetinari needs someone utterly guileless to talk to.
  • The Ace of Labyrinths of Echo series by Max Frei was convinced that the life of people who show a talent for the magic using forces of the Universe — as opposed to forces of the world, which anyone can in a magical enough place — is "almost sacred". Which is why he devised a complicated trap to capture the Big Bad instead of killing him. That's the man who slaughtered so much powerful mages that he became the most feared and hated being for the magical Orders in the middle of a civil war despite pretending he's no one's enemy and kills just for money (they still hired him, of course).
  • In Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, this is part of the reason why Prester John spares Camaris. Camaris was widely considered to be the greatest knight who ever lived, with John being the only one who had a chance of holding his own against him in battle.
  • Oathbringer (third book of The Stormlight Archive): In the flashbacks, an enemy assassin snipes at Dalinar from nearly four hundred yards away—an impossible distance for a bow. Once Dalinar runs the man down and captures him, he immediately recruits him, not even bothering to wait for him to surrender first.
  • Outbound Flight:
    Mitth'raw'nuruodo, brilliant tactician. Equally brilliant strategist. A being who could take on Republic warships, nomadic pirates, and even Jedi, and win against them all. And Doriana was actually considering killing him?
    Doriana: (puts blaster down) Don't be absurd, Vicelord. I would sooner shatter a thousand-year-old crystal as kill a being such as this.
    Thrawn: So I was indeed right about you.
  • The Princess Bride: The Man in Black declines to kill his Worthy Opponent Inigo Montoya because Inigo is an extremely gifted swordsman who has made swordfighting his life's study in order to be able to one day get revenge on the man who killed his father. Not only that, but Inigo had plenty of chances to easily kill the Man in Black, but chose not to, out of a sense of honor. The moment is portrayed faithfully in the film as well.
    The Man in Black: I would as soon destroy a stained glass window as an artist like yourself. However, since I can't have you following me either... (Tap on the Head)
  • This happens in Salamander, where Ellen is explaining why she hasn't killed Coelus.
  • In Gillian Bradshaw's The Sand-Reckoner, Hieron of Syracuse says this about Archimedes.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Daredevil (2015) season two, Wilson Fisk tries to have Frank Castle killed when they wind up in the same prison. When Frank survives this attempt, Fisk is so impressed by his abilities that he revises his whole plan.
    Fisk: I assumed that the stories that I read in the paper about your attacks on the criminal world were apocryphal. How could one man be capable of such... violence? But then I saw it... with my own two eyes. And when one comes across someone with such talent — with such a gift — well, you don't let that go to waste.
  • Star King Bazoo has systemized this in Dengeki Sentai Changeman. He'll conquer a planet, raze it but leave it intact, and force the champions of that world to serve in his army or he'll completely destroy their homeworld.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Seeds of Death", The Doctor invokes this when captured by Ice Warriors.
      Doctor: You can't kill me! Your leader will be very angry if you kill me! I'm a genius!
    • Played With in "Asylum of the Daleks". The Daleks have an entire planet for Daleks they deem too insane or out-of-control to be of any use. When asked why they don't destroy these mad Daleks, as they tend to do to anything they feel has outlived its usefulness:
      Dalek Prime Minister: It is offensive to us to extinguish such divine hatred. [...] Does it surprise you to know the Daleks have a concept of beauty?
  • At the end of Kamen Rider Drive, Gou defeats Doctor Banno and the latter attempts to invoke this, begging to be spared on the grounds that the world must not be deprived of his genius. While he is that brilliant, he also has a god complex and had ruined or ended many peoples' lives in a bid to conquer the world; so his pleas fall on deaf ears as Gou (Banno's own son) has had it up to here with his egomania and ends him.
  • Supernatural has Charlie, who is spared from being copied by a Leviathan because Rick claims that she has a spark that cannot be perfectly mimicked.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Pathfinder, the kyton demagogues Inkariax and Morrobahn take this to two different unsettling extremes. Inkariax despises how the passage of time, even a single instance, can spoil perfection and so seeks to capture victims forever in their moment of perfection, whether that be the perfect swing of the sword, the perfect note, or the perfect pain. Morrobahn seeks to preserve perfection in a different way, collecting perfect artists, reproducers, killers, and more, and propagate them like a virus through the multiverse so that no single disaster can ruin perfection, but with lethal consequences if its subjects lapse in its exacting standards.

    Video Games 
  • Destiny 2: The Darkness intends this for the Guardians. Despite the fact that they're empowered the Light, its diametric opposite, and have been more successful at fighting it and killing its minions than anyone else since cosmological time began, the Darkness bears Guardians no ill will. In fact, it's because they're empowered by the Light that the Darkness is fascinated by them. To it, Guardians are living philosophical arguments: that given power and the freedom to use it as they please, people will choose to serve the common good rather than use their power selfishly. As such, the Darkness would much rather sway them to its side than wipe them out, because more than defeating the Light, doing so would prove it wrong.
    I truly value you. To the gardener, you are a means to an end. To me, you are majestic. Majestic. You are full of the only thing worth anything at all.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, the Blades are an Ancient Order of Protectors who've long served the emperors of Tamriel as bodyguards and spies. The Blades got their start as the Akaviri Dragonguard, their original raison d'etre. Despite this, the Blades have, at times, opted to spare certain dragons. One such dragon was Nafaalilargus, due to his alliances with mortals. This was fortunate, as he would later come into the service of Tiber Septim, founder of the Third Tamriellic Empire who would re-form the Blades after their previous dissolution. Averted in Skyrim for Paarthurnax, however. Due to the atrocities he committed prior to his Merethic Era Heel–Face Turn, Blades leadership cannot let him live despite the aid he has given mortals. After a certain point in the main quest, the Blades order the Last Dragonborn to kill Paarthurnax, and withhold their aid until that is accomplished. You can thankfully choose not to do it.

    Web Comics 
  • In Erfworld, it is impossible to intentionally create casters, so they are usually captured rather than croaked when their side is destroyed.
    • This is also stated to be the reason Bill hasn't been disbanded even though his predilections cause real problems at home and keeping him at court is a minor international embarrassment. As a caster he's simply too useful.
  • In Kill Six Billion Demons, God-Emperor Solomon David hosts a regular fighting tournament where the winner of the tournament gets to face Solomon in the final round, with the final round's rules being Victory by First Blood for the challenger and victory by submission or death for Solomon. Despite being so absurdly powerful he could kill most challengers before they could even move a muscle to oppose him, Solomon always intentionally holds back in the final round and appraises his opponent, sparing any challenger who impresses him sufficiently (provided they're not intending to fight him to the death). The Alt Text states that those who submit are given worlds in his empire to rule in his name. In King of Swords he offers White Chain two chances to submit during their final duel, only to have White Chain refuse him both times despite being utterly outmatched.

    Western Animation 
  • One Dial M for Monkey segment of Dexter's Laboratory homaged the above-mentioned Marvel comics example. An alien called "Wrasslor" (voiced by Macho Man Randy Savage no less) challenged Earth's heroes to battle for the fate of Earth, only sparring it when he was impressed by Monkey's refusal to stand down to him.
  • In Samurai Jack:
    • The titular samurai is at one point faced against the Outside-Context Anti-Villain The Guardian. In spite putting up a fight, The Guardian defeats Jack and very nearly kills him, but spares him when he realizes it will one day be Jack's destiny to defeat him.
    • Aku hires a quartet of hunters to track down Jack, capture him, and turn him in. However, the hunters have a rule in their belief system that whatever "prey" gave them the greatest challenge must be set free, and Jack qualified for that. The hunters are strong and skilled enough that even Aku is afraid of their retaliation, so Aku has no choice but to let the hunters do as they wish.
  • In Steven Universe, Jasper is notably the one Earthborn Gem that Yellow Diamond took into her court, let alone gave a high ranking and allowed to be seen as a war hero. Given the rest were all Reassigned to Antarctica or bubbled, and are even alive solely because Blue Diamond wanted to keep them, this implies Yellow Diamond valued a completely perfect and extremely rare Gem soldier enough to overlook her hatred of Earth and everything that came from it.
  • In Young Justice, the League of Shadows is trying to kill Serling Roquette so that she can't create a virus against their new weapon (which they had previously forced her to invent). Cheshire manages to catch her just as she receives word that the weapon has already failed; she lets her go, since killing her won't achieve anything and League policy is to spare anyone who might prove useful later.

    Real Life 
  • Operation Paperclip was a secret mission by OSS (CIA's predecessor) to extract German rocket scientists and medical doctors after World War II to the US, regardless of their past affiliations with the Nazi party or even war crimes. Similarly, many Japanese military doctors from Unit 731, Imperial Japan's bioweapon research program, were given secret immunity from prosecution for war crimes over their actions in exchange for turning their research over to the US.
  • According to legend, when the Roman proconsul Marcellus captured Syracuse during the Second Punic War, he specifically ordered that the Greek mathematician Archimedes not be harmed despite Archimedes having helped defend the city. Unfortunately the soldier who found Archimedes ended up killing him despite the order, as the mathematician wouldn't identify himself.
  • The Colombian ecovillage of Gaviotas woke up one morning to find that they'd been occupied by the FARC. The heavily armed guerrillas lined all the villagers up and demanded that they declare their allegiance. One of the villagers stepped forward and said that they had no allegiance save peace, and would take no sides in any armed conflict. "What," she asked, "will you do to us now?" "Nothing," came the reply. "We have orders to hurt no-one here. What you're doing is too important."