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Surrender Backfire

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So, The Hero and his team are cornered by enemy forces on all sides. Do they fight their way out or at best make a Last Stand? No. Somebody in the group suggests they willingly surrender, claiming that this way, they'll live to fight another day. But what's this? Rather than being locked in an easily escapable cell, the heroes are either executed on the spot, brainwashed into new minions for the Big Bad, or suffer a Fate Worse than Death, or in this case, a fate worse than if they had fought back.

The reason this can happen varies: the villain could either be wise to how dangerous the heroes are, they could find this too good an opportunity to do away with the heroes for good, they might despise those who won't fight to the end, seeing them as Dirty Cowards, they might promise to agree to the heroes' terms of surrender, only to reveal they lied later on, or are just plain cruel and want to Kick Them While They're Down.

Needless to say, this is a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moment for the one that suggested surrendering, usually the Cowardly Lion. To rub salt in the wounds, it could be revealed later on that the heroes actually had a fighting chance, and in rare instances, could've possibly won if they hadn't given up.

This can also apply to Hostage Situations such as Put Your Gun Down And Step Away, Hostage For Macguffin, and Friend-or-Idol Decision, where the hero gives into the villain's demand, only to find the deal had some details that weren't mentioned and the villain didn't intend to honor his half of the bargain anyway.

In some cases, the person who suggested surrendering was actually The Mole for the other side who had tricked the heroes into giving themselves up.

In rare moments, a villain can be on the receiving end of this. In this case, it shows that the heroes have become just as bad as the villains, especially if the villain in question wanted to defect to the good guys. The heroes may justify this as I Did What I Had to Do or that A Real Man Is a Killer. Alternately, if the villain has a history of faking his surrenders, the heroes may wise up and decide to frag him anyway; if they couldn't trust the villain to honor their surrender before, why do so now?

Similar to Pacifism Backfire where trying to avoid a fight causes a confrontation to intensify. A rare moment where Honor Before Reason is actually in the right. Not to be confused with I Surrender, Suckers or Poisonous Captive where the one surrendering is doing so as part of a plan, though the two can mix if the enemy sees through the scheme. Not the same as Stupid Surrender, where one surrenders without realizing they didn't have to. Can be the karmic fate of a Dangerous Deserter who tried to pull a Screw This, I'm Outta Here, resulting in Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves. Can go hand in hand with Leave No Survivors. Compare Run or Die or Captured on Purpose. Contrast Defiant to the End, Last Stand, and Stand Your Ground. You Said You Would Let Them Go is similar where one makes a deal with the villain for the safety of their friends, only for the villain to pull a double cross. For those who protest the notion of surrendering turn out to be in the right, see Strawman Has a Point. If the person who suggested the idea genuinely thought it was smart, that makes it It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time and Not Quite the Right Thing. See also Violence Really Is the Answer.


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  • In Con Air, the plot is triggered when Cameron listens to his stupid lawyer's advice to plead 'Guilty' to his Crime of Self-Defense, on the grounds that the judge would show Cameron mercy. The judge then turned out to be a Hanging Judge who decided to deem Cameron a "lethal weapon" because of his training and punished him to the fullest extent of the law.
  • In Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, a group of Japanese soldiers finally tire of the endless fighting and continuing calls for self sacrifice and surrender to an American patrol. The patrol doesn't want the hassle or additional danger (not to mention feeling very vindictive after a brutal battle against them) of escorting the prisoners back to their camp, decides to simply shoot the prisoners. Double backfire when the bodies are discovered by the Japanese, as they tell their men that surrender will simply get them shot, so the bitter war ultimately grinds on.
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales has a scene where a squad of Confederate rebels have surrendered, and a Union officer has them recite an oath renouncing their allegiance to the Confederacy, and also confess to being murderers. This proves to be meaningless, as a Gatling gun hidden in a covered wagon mows down the unarmed rebels on the spot.
  • In The Patriot (2000), Colonel Tavington locks some people who've been supporting the revolutionaries into a church, demanding they reveal where Benjamin Martin is. At first no one says anything. Finally, one guy rushes forwards and blabs everything, believing the British will let everyone go if they get what they want. Tavington then burns the entire church down with the people inside.
  • A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die!: After most of his men have been massacred, Maj. Ward surrenders to Col. Pembroke; handing over his sabre to Pembroke and reminding him of the rules of war regarding the acceptance of surrenders. However, he has misjudged the level of Pembroke's personal hatred of him and Pembroke stabs him with his own sabre.
  • In Saving Private Ryan, after Steamboat Willie attacks The Squad and loses his men, he surrenders to the squad. Upham murders him in cold blood—because Upham was the one who insisted he be released before and this allowed him to rejoin the marching Nazi army... and back then he was going to be executed in cold blood after surrendering because the squad believed he was the one who killed Wade.


    Live-Action TV 
  • In the second season premiere of Black Sails, the captain of a ship being boarded by pirates orders his crew not to fight back, figuring the pirates will be merciful if they don't. The pirate captain notes that, generally, he'd have been right, but in this case he feels the need to Leave No Witnesses to what he's taking, specifically the daughter of the Carolina colony's governor, and has the crew executed.
  • Doctor Who: As the cliffhanger between the episodes of two-parter "Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel", the Doctor and his companions encounter the Cybermen alongside a small team of freedom fighters. The Doctor, knowing that the Cybermen are Immune to Bullets, convinces the group to surrender and be taken to become Cybermen (or rather escape before then). Unfortunately, the Cybermen have already determined them to be dangerous elements that are to be deleted immediately, despite the Doctor's protests that they surrendered willingly. Fortunately, they manage to escape before they could be executed.
  • A villainous example occurs in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier when a member of the terrorist organization called the Flag Smashers tries to surrender to John Walker a.k.a. U.S. Agent, who at the time was working as the official successor to Captain America. Unfortunately, John was blinded with rage at them killing his ally and he ignores his pleas for his life before brutally murdering him with the shield. Sam and Bucky Barnes have to break his arm just to get him to stand down, and the whole affair results in him being treated as a Fallen Hero as the once-adoring public now vilified him and he was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army as what he did technically constituted a war crime.
  • In Game of Thrones, when the Ironborns try to surrender to the Boltons in exchange so they could leave the area unharmed, the Boltons end up killing or flaying them alive regardless.
  • This happens Once an Episode in VR Troopers where JB will initiate the laser lance command, upon being Impaled with Extreme Prejudice, the mutant stops charging/attacking and immediately surrenders, JB then ignores the surrender finishes off the mutant anyway. Some don't surrender and continue attacking, so ultimately their choice doesn't matter.

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    Western Animation 
  • In Blinky Bill's third season, the eponymous koala himself faces this dilemma when he has to choose between putting his friends and family in danger by staying in Greenpatch, or performing in the circus unwillingly under the orders of Basil Circus. He tries to get him to put out the fire he had started, but he lets it burn toward his home while Blinky is stuck in a cage. Thankfully, his step-sister Nutsy comes to the rescue.
  • In Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24th and One Half Century, after coming face to face with Gossamer, Dodgers willingly surrenders to Marvin the Martian. Unfortunately, Marvin isn't allowed to take prisoners (especially cowardly ones), and attempts to blast Dodgers if not for the Cadet.
  • A Played for Laughs villainous example occurs in Invincible (2021) when Kill Cannon attempts to surrender to Mark in the middle of a fight, but Mark doesn't hear him and smashes him into a truck.
  • In the first Wakfu OVA, Count Harebourg captures most of the Brotherhood of the Tofu, but orders them left unharmed as a favor to Amalia. Flopin and Elely attempt to rescue them, but their effort runs out of steam while attacking the mercenaries left as guards, and surrender on Evangelyne's advice. The mercenaries decide Harebourg's orders do not extend to the two siblings, despite being them being children, and attempt to throw them into a furnace.