An executioner is someone tasked with executing criminals sentenced to death by an official authority. In some cases this person could also execute other corporal sentences such as whipping or chopping off limbs.
In the beginning, justice was based around private justice, i.e. feuds and vendettas: as such the victim or his relatives had to execute their sentence themselves. Oftentimes it was the community who executed the sentence, and some sentences, such as stoning, were based around this concept.
Growing centralization made justice an exclusive prerogative of the state, and the execution of sentences became a public monopoly. First functioning by hiring hourlies, this position became later a permanent one.
- Alienated: Given their rapport with death, especially with death violently and voluntarily given, and even though they were nominally agents of justice, the executioners were often shunned by the public. For this reason, they often appear masked.
- Dynastic: The above factor oftentimes led to dynasties of executioners, since no one would give them relatives to marry and their children were often banned from doing other work, or training.
- Tormented: They might be depicted as suffering anxiety due to them causing the death of other human beings or because of a particular convict they befriended, fell in love with or were convinced of their innocence.
- Psychopath: Contrarily to the above factor, some might be depicted as blood thirsty who enjoy the opportunity to kill people legally.
- Professional: In a more moderate version of the above factor, others might be proud of their work, which they see as essential for a society.
- Apathetic: Finally, we would have these who became stone-hearted because of their work.
Of course, several subtypes could fit for each example.
If the executioner also carries out the task of judging the culprit personally, this is Judge, Jury, and Executioner. If he acts without legal sanction then he's a Vigilante Man doing Vigilante Executions. Executioners will also overlap with Torture Technician and Exalted Torturer, as in medieval Europe, executioners also dealt with torture. Although historical executioners rarely wore hoods, depictions may show them as Malevolent Masked Men. Will most likely wield an axe.
See also Public Execution.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi introduces the First Order Executioner stormtrooper variant after the slicer Finn and Rose hire to get them on the First Order dreadnaught sells them out to Captain Phasma. The Executioner is stated in supplementary material to be a rotational role that all stormtroopers are required to fill at some point, with specialized armor that doesnt display the troopers ID number to keep them anonymous to their peers.
- Samuel Vimes' ancestor Suffer-Not-Injustice "Stoneface" Vimes was the only man to step up and execute the last king of Ankh-Morpork Lorenzo the Kind (who is heavily implied to have tortured and raped children to death). Ankh-Morpork being what it is, the citizens soon turned against him, to the point of needing several graves, and is responsible for the Vimes family falling on such hard times until Samuel became Commander of the City Watch and Duke of Ankh-Morpork. One of Vetinari's rewards for Vimes was rehabilitating his ancestor's memory and commissioning a statue of him, it's the only one not graffitied in the city because no one wants to see Vimes' reaction on finding out it was vandalized.
- Kingdom Come: Deliverance has Hermann, the executioner of Rattay. Due to his profession, he lives outside the town, but is modestly well-off. Henry can get a sidequest from Hermann such as helping the widow of the man he had executed, and helping to sabotage an execution from a rival executioner.
- The representation of executioners wearing hoods supposedly comes from the execution of Charles I of Britain, as no one wanted to be identified as the regicide.
- In Jidaigeki, executioners were grouped in the eta and the hinin along other professions which were deemed dirty and impure by Japanese society.
- In the Ottoman Empire, executioners, who were usually of Romani origin, were buried in unmarked graves inside separate graveyards.
- Due to the infamy attached to the profession, some families of executioners were essentially forced into interbreeding and sometimes even inbreeding (such as in France).
- The Sanson family gave executioners from 1688 to 1847.
- The 2005 Austrian film The Headsman (The Shadow of the Sword for international viewing). Former army captain Martin, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is given the role of the executioner (after marrying the daughter of the previous executioner) to dispatch religious dissidents in Tyrol at the height of The Protestant Reformation. When his childhood friend Georg, who became a monk, is suspected to be one, Martin is given a conflict to either dispatch him or to save his friendship.
- Severian from Book of the New Sun is an apprentice of the Torturer's Guild who has been exiled to another city for showing mercy to a charge. He receives an executioner's sword named Terminus Est before leaving.
- The Green Mile centers on three prison guards at Cold Mountain Penitentiary who watch the death row cells, "the green mile," and perform the executions using the electric chair, "Old Sparky." They're honest, decent corrections officers presented with a Magical Negro convict; a devious, haywire convict; and a fourth guard that's the Sadist. Adapted into Film.The Green Mile in 1999.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the identity of a given executioner is often used for contrast compared to the example from Ned Stark.
- Theon Greyjoy executes Rodrik Cassel in order to "pay the iron price" for Winterfell as he helped lead Greyjoy forces in taking it. He didn't want to execute Rodrik, but was pressured into it by his own men. This being said, he honors his time as Ned Stark's ward (read, hostage, as he was kept by Ned to make sure his father Balon Greyjoy stayed in line after his attempted rebellion) by choosing to execute Rodrik himself, though to symbolize his conflicted feelings, he botches the execution quite badly.
- Ned's son Robb Stark is forced to execute Rickard Karstark after he allows some of his men to butcher innocent Lannister prisoners. Rickard Karstark, even as he curses Robb, does express some gratitude that Robb held true to those beliefs (which extend to all descendants of the First Men) and executed him with his own hand rather than someone else's.
- When serving as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Ned's bastard son Jon Snow orders Janos Slynt executed for insubordination, and first seems to want him hanged. He changes his mind as Janos begs for his life, however, leading to a bit of a Hope Spot for Ser Janos, before asking his aides to fetch him a block instead, showing that he, too, believes that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.
- On Murdoch Mysteries a convicted murderer is hanged but then turns out to be still alive and escapes. Murdoch questions the hangman and his apprentice. The hangman is a Consummate Professional and the apprentice is a bumbling incompetent so initial suspicion falls on the apprentice for messing up the execution. However, the hangman then confesses to sabotaging the execution. He believes that a man he previously executed was innocent and the man he helped escape was similarly framed for murder. Murdoch has to determine whether there really is a conspiracy to subvert justice in Toronto or the hangman has had a nervous breakdown due to the stress of his unpopular job and let a dangerous murderer run free. At the end of the episode the city cannot find a replacement hangman and resorts to giving the job to the apprentice. He bungles his first execution in a grotesque way.
- Ko-Ko in The Mikado is named Lord High Executioner precisely because he's next in line to be executed (for flirting) and thus isn't allowed to execute anyone until he's executed himself. When an order comes down from the rather execution-happy title character to behead someone or else, he's extremely distressed at the possibility (even after getting a substitute lined up through a complicated series of events) on the grounds that he's "never even killed a bluebottle." It's Gilbert and Sullivan, so of course it's all Played for Laughs.
- In Disenchantment, Bean temporarily serves as an apprentice to the official executioner (who is himself a fairly comical, punch-clock version, of the Professional) and realizes she is a "natural" at killing and torturing people even when she doesn't real mean to. Nevertheless, she seriously struggled with the job due to the sheer lack of actual investigation to determine if the woman in question was guilty, to the point she couldn't bring herself to execute her.
- James Berry, an executioner in Victorian England, eventually came to believe that he was damned due to all the people he killed, and came to speak out against the death penalty and became a born-again Christian.
- Some sources attest Charles-Henri Sanson eventually became insane due to fear and remorse.
- Tower Of London(1939): Mord is the clubfooted executioner and torturer of King Richard III. As well as his official executions (of which Mord and Richard hold regularly bets over how many swings of the axe it will take to remove the targets head), Mord also acts as Richard's willing assassin and happy accomplice in the murdering of Richard's family members to pave his path to power, including his brother George and his child nephews.
- Goosebumps: The Lord High Executioner from "A Night In Terror Tower" and "Return to Terror Tower" is the chief enforcer of King Robert tasked by him to execute his nephew and niece (Robert having overthrown their father). A dedicated sociopath, once tasked to kill, nothing will stand in his way of carrying out the sentence. His dedication is so great that he flows Sue and Eddie through time itself (when a friendly wizard sends them hundreds of years into the future), outright mocking them for thinking that would enough to stop him.
- Macnair of Harry Potter, a former Death Eater, executes dangerous beasts for the Ministry, and Voldemort welcomes him back by saying he would have other victims to execute, this time human beings.
- The New Statesman: A minor recurring character is Sidney Bliss, a former hangman who was made redundant when Britain outlawed the death penalty and thus presently works as a publican in Alan B'Stard's constituency. Whilst polite and constantly professional, its made clear that he enjoys hanging people to an unhealthy degree, Bliss supports Alan solely out of his promise to bring back hanging. He finally gets his wish after Alan fakes an assassination attempt on himself to trick parliament into reinstating he death penalty, and in a twist of fate his first victim turns out to be Alan himself.
- Alice: Madness Returns: The Executioner is the Queen of Hearts executioner. A huge figure, made out of several card guards stitched together, immune to all damage and caries a long scythe. He is dispatched by the Queen to kill Alice, perusing her multiple times throughout the Queensland. He is finally destroyed when Alice uses a cake to grow gigantic and crushes beneath her foot.
- Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood: Il Carenfice is a particularly vicious executioner in the service of the Borgia's. Openly expressing his enthusiasm for the brutality of his work. Il Carenfice never actually reads the warrants for execution he receives (having never learned to read) and instead abuses his authority to executes whoever he wants.
- In Fate/Grand Order, Charles Henri-Sanson appears as an Assassin-class Servant for his reputation as an infamous executioner. He initially appears under the effects of Mad Enhancement, turning him into an Ax-Crazy madman who wishes to execute others so perfectly that they feel nothing but ecstasy when his blade cleaves through their neck. As a proper Servant, he's far more affable, if uptight, and prefers to use his knowledge for medical purposes and to slay his foes painlessly. He also has a certain amount of affection for Marie Antoinette, whom he executed in the story.
- In Resident Evil 5 one of the Majini is called the Executioner. His biography states that he executes anyone who rejects being implanted with the Las Plagas parasite.
- Danganronpa: Monokuma is an example of a Psycopath Executioner. He is responsible for executing the students who have been found guilty of killing another student or that have broken his rules. He outright loves having the chance of executing someone.
- In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc he even tries to trick the students with a made-up murder scene (by reusing the corpse of the mysterious 16th student) in order to frame Kyoko Kirigiri and have her executed because she was a threat to the Mastermind's plans. When that goes south because Makoto doesn't convict her of a murder she didn't commit, Monokuma attempts to have him executed instead (But that also backfires).
- In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony he even executes Kaede Akamatsu for the murder of Rantaro Amami, despite knowing very well that she was innocent all along. Granted it was all a trap set by the Mastermind, who killed Rantaro herself and fooled everyone, including Kaede, into thinking that she was the true killer.
- Samurai Executioner: The main character Asaemon Yamada is the local executioner. He takes his duty very seriously, and has immense compassion for those he kills, doing his best to make them repent for their crimes or trying to understand what drove them to commit the crime that got them executed.
- Because he's also the shogun's sword-tester (which involves cutting straw mats and dead bodies), he is repeatedly thought to be worthless against enemies who aren't tied up. The kind of people who think this are very quickly and fatally proven wrong.
- The Night of the Hunter: The state executioner has a minor role, introduced hanging a convicted convict. He expresses distain for the brutal nature of his job, but excepts it necessary. He is seen again at the end of the film, and informs Harry Powell that he's actually happy for once to be riding the world of such an evil man.
- Kind Hearts and Coronets: The Hangman for Louis Mazzini, whilst a clear professional, struggles to hide his enthusiasm at getting to preside over the execution of a Duke, clearly seeing such a moment as both a great honour and the height of his career, expressing his plans to retire immediately afterwards to the prison Governor, as "After hanging with the silken rope, I'll never be content with hemp". On the morning before the event, he even reads a final declarative poem for the occasion he had written. This backfires on him as it delays the hanging long enough for the message to come in that new evidence proving Louis innocent has emerged, with him later acknowledging he would have been dead already if he had not stopped to read it.
- In Thor: Ragnarok, Hela was Odin's executioner before he had a change of heart and imprisoned her. When she escapes her prison and takes over Asgard, she takes on Skurge as her executioner, but he baulks at actually cutting someone's head off, leading to his Redemption Equals Death.
Hela: When I was young every great king had an executioner. Not just to execute people but also to execute their vision. But mainly to execute people. Still, it was a great honor. I was Odin's executioner. And you shall be my executioner.
- The Three Musketeers: The executioner of Bethune makes an appearance toward the end of the novel. He's a quiet, retired man, but his profession leads him to be shunned by the rest of the town (a beggar refuses to show Athos the way to his house even for money). He also has a personal connection to the plot: the executioner's brother was the priest that a young Milady de Winter had seduced, and so it falls to him to execute her for her crimes. This gets him killed in the sequel when her son Mordaunt comes looking for revenge.
- In 20 Years After, the musketeers kidnap the London executioner in order to delay the execution long enough to abduct king Charles I to safety. Unfortunately, the plan goes awry when Mordaunt volunteers to be the executioner (while wearing a hood, as in Real Life).
- In the modern timeline, there's Daniel Trooper, the Ankh-Morpok hangman. He's quite cheerful given his profession, and is skilled enough to hang a man without actually killing him, a skill that comes in handy when Vetinari wants a crook with useful skills seen to be dead.
- The French Historical Detective Fiction series Nicolas Le Floch features the historical executioner of Paris at the time, Charles-Henri Sanson, as a personal friend of the protgonist who serves as the equivalent to a coroner thanks to his having studied medicine and his experience with corpses.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the identity of a given executioner is often used for contrast compared to the example from Ned Stark.
- Eddard "Ned" Stark himself is introduced executing an Oathbreaker (a member of the Night's Watch who deserted their post), a firm believer in the adage "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword." He also finds no pleasure in doing so, seeing it only for the grim business that it is.
- Ser Ilyn Payne serves as the Queen's Justice (read, headsman). He had his tongue cut out by the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen for suggesting that Tywin Lannister was the true power behind Westeros, and this made him a grim man in personality, who seems to deeply enjoy his work, beheading criminals for the King. At the end of the first book, it is he who swings the sword at Ned Stark's head using his own Valyrian Steel blade Ice, despite Joffrey giving the order.
- In his St. Petersburg Dialogues, Joseph de Maistre, a French-Savoyard reactionary and counter-revolutionary thinkers proclaimed the executioner to be the cornerstone of the society.
Is he a man? Yes. God receives him in his shrines, and allows him to pray. He is not a criminal. Nevertheless no tongue dares declare that he is virtuous, that he is an honest man, that he is estimable. No moral praise seems appropriate to him, for everyone else is assumed to have relations with human beings: he has none. And yet all greatness, all power, all subordination rest on the executioner. He is the terror and the bond of human association. Remove this mysterious agent from the world, and in an instant order yields to chaos: thrones fall, society disappears. God, who has created sovereignty, has also made punishment; he has fixed the earth upon these two poles: for Jehovah is master of the twin poles and upon them he maketh turn the world
- The Accursed Kings: In the final book, one sequence shows what happens when the executioner isn't a professional: an underfed prisoner assigned to perform the execution (having committed four murders) utterly botches the job, needing to hack away at one victim's neck half a dozen times before finally managing to separate the head from the body. The narrator notes that the executioner might be more pitiable than the prisoners.
- Blackadder: The Cavalier Years: After King Charles I is captured, Blackadder thinks he's safe from execution because no one will have the guts to do so. When he learn the king is going to be beheaded, he wonders what repulsive person could have accepted the duty before realizing Baldrick came into a lot of money recently, and takes the role of executioner for himself (even extracting a tip from the king) due to Baldrick's plan involving doodling a mustache on a big pumpkin and presenting it as the king's head. Blackadder goes with this plan in the end, and it goes about as well as expected.
Blackadder: This is the head of a traitor!
Entire crowd: NO IT'S NOT! IT'S A HUGE PUMPKIN WITH A PATHETIC MUSTACHE DRAWN ON IT!
Blackadder: Ah yes, let me try again!
- As Lord Blackadder discovers in "Head" his manservant Baldrick has a secondary job as the local executioner. As it turns out he's just as incompetent at it as he is with everything else, with the ending revealed he executed the wrong person.
- The firing squad from "Corporal Punishment", overall are presented as a cheerful and professional bunch, even at one point comparing themselves to the taxman. Their efforts to reassure Captain Blackadder do nothing but annoy him, but they all take this in good spirits.
- The Last Podcast on the Left: The episode "Hangmen & Headsmen" is about executioners throughout history, offering such details as the job paid terribly and among the reasons the executioners' identities were kept secret was because people with the job were ostracized and it allowed for a second job. This is demonstrated in the story they tell if an executioners whose identity wasn't secret, who horribly botched a beheading, and went on to be mocked and insulted to the point stuff was thrown at his funeral procession after he died himself.
- Welcome to Night Vale: Dale Salazar is Nightvale's official executioner, so dedicated to his duty that even his death hasn't prevented him from fulfilling it. Thus when the town needs to pass an execution, he will rise form his grave and refuse to return until its complete. In "Flight" he is raised to execute the five headed dragon Hiram McDaniels, after Hiram escapes he ignores Mayor Dana's orders to let him go, and instead shoots after him unfortunately only succeeding in killing his violet head, the only one that was actually innocent.
- State Executioners in Cyberpunk have to guard the Death Rows and execute their inmates.
- Warhammer Fantasy: Wulfrik the Wanderer is also known as the High Executioner of Chaos, because his divine mission in life is to find the biggest, toughest, ugliest monsters/champions/enemies around and challenge them to a fight, dedicating bits of their corpse to the Chaos Gods. Thanks to his Gift of Tongues, he's able to goad his target into fighting no matter how disastrous this would be for their side.
- The Executioner of Mace: The Dark Age is known to be the best one in the profession. He's a freelance torturer seeking ultimate power for himself while wielding his gnarly instruments of torture, and his axe, to inflict pain with. He may overlap with Tormented if one reads his backstory.
- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: Mr. Garrison serves as the executioner for Terrence and Phillip's public execution. While he is supposed to be "anonymous" (to the point of wearing a face-concealing hood), the fact that Mr. Hat is with him as always (and wearing a smaller hood) makes his identity obvious (as does Sheila calling him by name later).
- Disenchantment: Stan is Dreamland's official executioner and torturer who when he's not working (and even when he is working) is one of the nicest and friendliest people in the entire kingdom.
- Marcel Chevalier was the last French executioner until the abolition of the death penalty.
- Franz Schmidt was the executioner of Nuremberg from the late 16th century to the early 17th century. He kept a diary that detailed 300+ executions with specified methods of each crime. He sidelined with medical consultancy to which it became his job after he retired as an executioner.
- Johann Reichhart operated in Bayern from 1924 to 1946, working for Weimar, Nazi Germany and the the US Military Government.
- John C. Woods was tasked with executing Nazi war criminals, including the one sentenced to death during the Nuremberg trials. Although he claimed to have experience before as assistant hangman, he really didn't.
- Vasily Blokhin was the head NKVD executioner from 1926 to 1953, after Stalin's death. Some of his notorious executions include the Katyn massacre. He is believed to have been the individual to have directly killed more people than any other human in history.
- Albert Pierrepoint was a famous hangman in 20th century England (of the "dynastic" as well as the "professional" sub-types, as he followed in the footsteps of his father and uncle before him). He carried out at least 400 executions over a career that lasted a quarter of a century, from murderers to war criminals and traitors. He was by all accounts very good at his job—reportedly it was only a matter of seconds between Pierrepoint entering the condemned person's cell and their death with a broken neck.
- The Wizard of Id has a nameless hooded executioner dispose of convicts either by hanging or decapitation. Because Id's king is The Napoleon, those who utter "The King is a fink" get sent to the chopping block routinely. Once, when this executioner was asked how he could stomach his grim job, his reply was a nonchalant, "It's a living."
- Blackadder: Lord Blackadder is appointed Queen Elizabeth's Lord High Executioner in "Head", following the previous one accidentally signing his name on the wrong line of the execution order whilst drunk. Whilst officially overseeing the execution of the Queen's enemies, Edmund leaves the actual running of the job to Lord Percy and Gaoler Ploppy, not bothering to actually show up on the day and even casually moving up the execution of Lord Farrow simply to give him the rest of the week off, which backfires when the Queen later pardons him.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Imperial garrison at the beginning of the game treats beheading a cartload of prisoners like a mildly unpleasant chore. The headsman himself gets no characterization, but the overseeing Captain testily orders the Player Character's execution even though they're not on the list of condemned.
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The MACUSA executioners magically mesmerise their victims with their own happy memories to keep them docile while they're lowered into a dissolving potion. Between their methods, their stark white-on-white uniforms, and their cheerful Dissonant Serenity while they try to kill a terrified colleague, they're very much Played for Horror.
- The Executioner: Set in medieval Europe, the main character is the son of the Royal Executioner, who gets the job after executing his father for treason. The gameplay includes interrogating criminals, several methods of torturing them, and executing their prescribed judgment upon them while also managing their sanity in check.
- Mega Man Zero: One of the Eight Gentle Judges, Deathtanz Mantisk, worked as an executioner for the judges. He's a pacifistic fellow who, despite being a menacing-looking Slaying Mantis robot, valued life highly and always wished for his executions to be the result of a right and fair judgment, intentionally keeping his arm blades dulled until necessary for his duty. And then he was turned Brainwashed and Crazy by Dr. Weil, becoming a very eager executioner.
- In the Cyanide & Happiness short "The Execution", the executioner is a sanguine type of person appreciates his job and likes to crack jokes make it "less of a dull moment". Said bad pun got him executed by the guard, who in turn was executed by the convict for making an accidental bad pun.
- The Rug Burn series "The Executioner", starring Brian Posehn, is about a medieval executioner has been transported to present day Southern California, and has to make a living by setting up his trade of dealing executions and assassinations by his trusty axe.
- André Guillaume was a dynastic executioner, who died in 1690. He was quite an...interesting person (bordeline sociopathic or at the very least a hardened marginal mixted in with Consummate Professional). He was a rather immoral and arrogant man. He took his niece as a wife after the death of his first wife, with some suspecting he killed his first wife. (Talk about a Creepy Uncle). It must be noted that incestuous marriage was the norm amongs dynastic executioners, do to being so ostracized they needed to resort to consanguinity in order to have a blood line. Also, during the execution of the Chevalier de Rohan, when it came time to hang the accomplices, he said to his assistants: "Pendez cela, c'est besogne pour vous." (Translation by me: "Hang that. It's work for you.") Make of that what you will. In short, quite a nice guy. That makes him fit both the "dynastic" and "aliennated" description, with being apathetic at best and sociopathic at worse.