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Tragic Mistake

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"This is a mistake which she can neither undo nor recover from. The same as how the dead can never return to life."
Homura Akemi, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, about Sayaka's decision to become a Magical Girl

In a formal Tragedy, there is a specific scene where the Tragic Hero is given a clear choice, and they choose... poorly. Often this wrong choice can be blamed on the hero's Fatal Flaw, but sometimes they just get screwed over by fate (classic Greek theater loved to give their tragic heroes dilemmas with no correct choice at all).

This moment may not be obvious at the time, but looking back, it becomes clear that this moment was crucial to the hero's tragic downfall. The results of this bad choice lead inexorably towards the hero's catastrophic end — had the hero chosen correctly at this point, the catastrophe could have been averted.

The literary term for this is hamartia, a Greek term from Aristotle's Poetics (and an admittedly vaguely-defined one — it can also be interpreted as a Fatal Flaw). Which also means this device is Older Than Feudalism.

To clarify, this is not supposed to be an event that gets the plot moving. The Tragic Mistake occurs well after the plot has been set in motion — it's the Tragic Hero's personal point of no return.

Structurally, this moment is the Crisis of the story (or just this character's story arc), and everything afterwards is Denouement.

Not to be confused with the Moral Event Horizon, although a mistaking of civilians for military personnel will certainly be painted by the enemy as one. Also compare with Karmic Death, which is reserved for outright villains and tends to be faster-acting. Compare Unwitting Instigator of Doom.

As the Tragic Mistake is one of the most crucial moments in the story expect a lot of spoilers below.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Accel World Kuroyukihime, also known as Black Lotus, has two major ones. The first is the decision to kill Red Rider, spurred on by her sister lying about Red Rider plotting to put the other kings at his mercy through the nonaggression pact, which leads to her being labeled the worst criminal in Brain Burst, and being kicked out of her house when she confronts her sister with a box cutter in the real world. The second is the decision to raid the Imperial Palace with the Elements, a team of four high-level players with special abilities intended to counter the Elemental Powers of The Four Gods (who must be engaged simultaneously, lest they recover health too quickly). The mission ends in failure, with Black Lotus and Sky Raker barely escaping, and with the other three Elements being trapped in a situation in which the enemy will kill them repeatedly if they log on, thus leading to the old Nega Nebulus breaking up.
  • Berserk:
    • The irreversible choice that leads to Griffith's downfall and brings all of the Hawks down with him is his tryst with Princess Charlotte immediately after Guts leaves the Band of the Hawk. From this follows his arrest and torture, the outlawing and near annihilation of the Band of the Hawk, and the whole chain of events leading up to the Eclipse — by which time Griffith has hit the Despair Event Horizon and is persuaded to sacrifice the lives and souls of all of his followers in order to ascend to demonic godhood. The cause of this mistake was that Griffith couldn't reconcile his ambition with his human emotions — he grew to care about Guts as more than a mere pawn, but couldn't admit his feelings to Guts or himself, nor abide not being able to control Guts's destiny. That created a void that he impulsively tried to fill with sexual conquest and control over someone else. This is just the biggest mistake in the Golden Age Arc, since Guts and Casca might be said to have made crucial mistakes of their own which contributed to that ending:
    • Guts himself knows all too well that leaving the Band of the Hawk was the biggest mistake he ever made, since the place where he belonged was right there and he just didn't realize it. This was the catalyst that led to Griffith making the tragic mistake above, and stemmed from Guts' misjudgment of both Griffith and himself. Guts took Griffith's speech to Charlotte about what a friend is at face value, and always saw Griffith as a perfect figure looking down on everybody else. Even though Casca told him when they were hiding in a ravine that he was special to Griffith, and that Griffith was not a god but a vulnerable human like everybody else, Guts still couldn't see past his admiration for Griffith or realize that he wasn't inferior to Griffith. He thought that Griffith didn't need him, and that the only way to prove that he was Griffith's equal was to go out and find his own dream. A year after that Casca tells him how wrong he was, saying that Griffith fell apart because he left.
    • Casca's great mistake just before the Eclipse was telling Guts to leave her and Griffith behind and follow his own dream. Griffith happened to overhear the entire conversation, which drove him off the deep end, causing him to abscond with the wagon, crash in the shallows, and reunite with the Crimson Behelit at the moment when he was most emotionally vulnerable to temptation. Casca's Fatal Flaw was the combination of her loyalty toward Griffith, her dutiful and self-sacrificing nature, and the conflict that those first two created with the fact that her true romantic feelings were towards Guts. Even though she was forced to realize how physically disabled Griffith was by his torture, and knew how much Guts' departure had devastated him, she either ignored or failed to see the warning signs of how Griffith's feelings of despair, jealousy, and spite were metastasizing into something dangerous. Griffith had always been the savior from her childhood, and even though she later learned of his human weakness she never could have imagined him turning on her and Guts. When Griffith made an unwanted advance on her while she was changing his bandages — essentially Attempted Rape if not for his physical disability — she was devastated but couldn't admit to herself or to Guts that that's what had just happened. Instead of reacting with anger, she gave Griffith what he wanted least: pity. Casca decided to stay with Griffith, but Griffith would always know that she did it out of pity and would never love him the way that she loved Guts. Worse, she told Guts to leave when she knew that he was the person that Griffith most cared about, because she didn't want Guts to give up his dream for the sake of her and Griffith, and felt intense guilt for not staying at Guts' side like they'd promised as lovers. In order not to have made that mistake, she would have had to not be Casca anymore, since her tragic mistake was something she did out of her noble but flawed sense of self-sacrifice and obligation.
  • Code Geass:
    • Lelouch Lamperouge's biggest mistake would undoubtedly be when he accidentally Geassed Princess Euphemia into massacring the gathered Japanese. He had intended to embrace her Special Administrative Zone wholeheartedly, but he didn't know until it was too late that he was suffering from a sudden onset of Power Incontinence: an offhand comment became an irrevocable command, and he was forced to kill his beloved sister, tarnish her name, and destroy a fleeting chance at peaceful resolution.
    • Suzaku commits two major tragic mistakes. The first is killing his father, which more or less guarantees Britannia's conquest of Japan and results in Suzaku becoming a Death Seeker. The second is having the FLEIJA loaded onto the Lancelot — since Suzaku is still under the effects of a Geass that compels him to "Live!" he's compelled to fire it when Kallen's about to kill him and he has no other options to fend her off, thus destroying Tokyo, killing millions of people and causing him to take part in the Zero Requiem to atone for this action.
  • Cyberpunk: Edgerunners:
    • For David, his unwillingness to listen to "Doc" and Lucy in Episode 8 marks a point of no return, as his desire for improved cybernetics starts overtaking the relationships with the people closest to him. This, combined with Faraday using Lucy's voice to trick him into installing the cyberskeleton, ensured he would begin to succumb to cyberpsychosis.
    • Lucy commits a catastrophic mistake by deciding to pursue an Arasaka netrunner trying to decipher info on David instead of telling him the truth behind her actions. The "netrunner" is revealed to be a trap from Faraday, and her capture creates a situation that drives David to installing the cyberskeleton and ultimately losing his life.
  • Danganronpa 3:
    • For Hajime Hinata, the tragic mistake is agreeing to become Izuru Kamukura in hopes of becoming someone of value. As a result, he loses his identity and ends up being used by Junko to cause the Tragedy.
    • For Chiaki Nanami and the rest of Class 77-B, their mistake is rushing off to save their teacher, Chisa Yukizome, from Junko Enoshima. Unbeknownst to most of the class, Mikan Tsumiki has already been brainwashed into an Ultimate Despair, and pushes Chiaki into a trap, thus resulting in Chiaki being brutally killed and the rest of the class being brainwashed into Ultimate Despair.
    • In Side:Despair, Juzo Sakakura, then head of security for Hope's Peak, allowed Junko Enoshima to blackmail him with his unrequited feelings for his best friend, Kyosuke Munakata, thereby forcing him to officially clear her of suspicion and allow her plans to continue. Years later, in Side:Future, Munakata, having become unhinged, stabs Sakakura over the previous incident. Sakakura survives, but ends up performing a Heroic Sacrifice to end the Final Killing Game and redeem himself.
  • In the Naruto (1997) pilot, Saburo, a highly respected artist, was friends with Kuroda, another artist. Jealous and angry over Kuroda taking his job as head of the Cultural Advancement Committee, Saburo stabbed Kuroda in hopes of getting his job back. Saburo survived, but the two men's friendship was irrevocably ruined, and Kuroda became quite cynical and bitter over the betrayal. Apparently overcome with guilt, Saburo painted "Symbol," to represent his hope that they could be friends again, but knowing that it was impossible, killed himself.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, one mistake made by Gyutaro ended up ruining his and his sister Ume's lives. The two of them grew up in poverty as the children of a prostitute who was an abusive mother to them, and Ume was the one bright spot in Gyutaro's life. Unfortunately, Gyutaro taught Ume his personal "eye for an eye" mentality, resulting in her stabbing a samurai in the eye when the latter tried to rape her, and then being burned to the verge of death in retaliation. The two of them ended up becoming demons when Douma happened upon them and offered to help Ume, who was later known as Daki. They then ended up killing countless people before being killed by the combined efforts of Tanjiro, Nezuko, Inosuke, Zenitsu, and Uzui. At the end of his life, Gyutaro laments that his sister would have had a better life if she'd been born in better circumstances, and blames himself for what happened to both of them.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 2, McGillis offers an alliance to Tekkadan where he would make them "Kings of Mars" if they help him in his coup to take over Gjallarhorn. When Orga asks the members if it's okay to accept the alliance, they approve it without any second thoughts though this is because they don't know what "King of Mars" mean and just believe it might be good for the organization. Unfortunately, this leads them into tragedy when they lost several of their allies and friends. This reaches the point when Rustal uses black propaganda to destroy Tekkadan's reputation, leading to Orga and Mikazuki's deaths. In the end, Tekkadan ceased to exist as an organization while the surviving members change their identities to find stable and peaceful lives.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Sayaka's decision to become a Magical Girl is named by Homura as a big mistake that she will never be able to take back or recover from. Because Kyubey is treacherous, because Sayaka's seemingly selfless wish was made with Secretly Selfish intentions, and because until Madoka's wish all those who make the contract with Kyubey are doomed to become witches, Homura is right. Sayaka commits a further act of Hamartia by refusing to cleanse her Soul Gem, because she's in despair from seeing Kyousuke Kamijou (her childhood friend, on whose behalf she made the wish, and who she never had the courage to confess to — which isn't helped by a certain reveal about what magical girls truly are leading her to believe that she is no longer human) accepting Hitomi Shizuki's Love Confession. Her despair not only turns her into a witch but leads to both her own death and that of her rival-turned-friend Kyouko Sakura.
  • In the spinoff, Puella Magi Oriko Magica, Madoka makes such a mistake when she goes over to help Homura, thereby resulting in Oriko being able to kill her with her final attack, thus causing Homura to reset time so that she can prevent Madoka's death.
  • Yuri is My Job!: In Hime Shiraki's backstory, she befriends Mitsuki Yano, a blunt and outspoken loner, and agrees to do a piano duet with her. Their elementary school classmates spread rumors that Mitsuki is bullying Hime into doing the recital, and while there's no truth to them, the teachers are concerned enough to ask Hime about them. Hime then goes behind Mitsuki's back and quits the recital without telling her, then lies to her friends about doing so. Mitsuki, having heard about Hime's decision from the music teacher and overhearing Hime's conversation with her friends, enters the room and, in a fit of anger, denounces Hime as a chronic liar to their friends. Mitsuki soon transfers out due to unrelated circumstances, Hime's other friends desert her and the two's friendship falls apart due to both their mistakes.

    Comic Books 
  • When Catwoman Selina Kyle from Batman is the protector of the residents of Gotham's East End and carrying out an ambitious career as a cat burglar, her little sister Maggie and childhood friend Sylvia Sinclair move into the area. Despite their shaky history, Selina still trusts Sylvia, even telling Sylvia her sister is living there too. Sylvia ends up betraying her by allying with Black Mask and telling him her identity. Because of this, Black Mask kidnaps Selina's sister and her husband Simon Burton. Simon is tortured to death, while Maggie is tortured to insanity.
  • When Hunter Zolomon from The Flash was in the FBI profiling a serial killer, Hunter predicted that the guy wouldn't have a gun, and thus urged his team to make the arrest without waiting for backup. He turned out to be wrong, and the killer shot him in the knee, crippling him, before gunning down his father-in-law. For his mistake, Hunter was crippled for life, divorced by his wife, and discharged from the FBI. His desire to undo this mistake put him on the path to becoming Zoom. Except years later it turns out there was no mistake — Hunter had correctly assessed the situation and things would have ended there and then if a time-travelling Professor Zoom hadn't given the killer a gun in order to start Zolomon down the road to becoming Zoom. With the knowledge that he wasn't mistaken after all, he's now more determined than ever to keep torturing Wally West if it makes him a better Flash. Ironically when his ex-wife Ashley Zolomon learns of Hunter's transformation into Zoom she considered leaving Hunter and getting him discharged from the FBI a terrible mistake and would leave her entire career at the FBI behind to come to Keystone City to take over his former spot as the local meta-human profiler to help reform Hunter.
  • When Spider-Man arrogantly refused to stop for five seconds to stop a crook rushing past him, telling the cop chasing the guy that it wasn't his job, his life was changed forever; the same crook would later murder his beloved Uncle Ben. While that mistake defined what he is, the lesson was learned in the harshest way possible.

    Fan Works 
  • Experimenting Fear: Because he's in such a hurry to get his first Pokémon, Nando doesn't wait for his parents to take him to Professor Rowan's lab, decides to go alone, and gets kidnapped by a Serial Killer.
  • In Outsiders (xTRESTWHOx), Brimir performed a ritual which destroyed a Honedge's soul to save Derflinger. While he realized his mistake as it was happening, he could not stop the process. This act resulted in Arceus and the Legendaries devastating the Holy Land in revenge, reducing it to a barren desert. The elves understandably blamed Brimir for this disaster and exiled his people, setting the stage for the modern kingdoms and Brimir's transformation into a bitter, spiteful old man.
  • Reiko Mitamura in Where Talent Goes to Die cheats on a test, rather than risk getting a bad grade. Although it seems relatively innocuous, it comes back to haunt her in the second Chapter, when Monokuma gathers information on everyone — from dark secrets to personal weaknesses — and threatens to make them public knowledge unless someone commits murder. Mitamura, obsessed with being perfect, is thus unable to resist the pressure, and commits murder in order to graduate and keep her secrets hidden.

  • In Aquaman (2018), Aquaman has a clear chance to save David's father, Jesse Kane, and chooses Murder by Inaction to leave them both to the mercy of the sea. This leads David to become his Arch-Enemy Black Manta, swear revenge, and dedicate his life to killing him—and, as Aquaman later notes, he could have stopped it by saving them.
  • Avengers: Infinity War:
    • On Titan, Thanos has finally been subdued enough from the combined efforts of Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Starlord, Drax, and Mantis to where they can finally try to get the Infinity Gauntlet, with everyone but Mantis holding him in place with their various weapons/abilities while Mantis herself has Thanos asleep with hypnotism. Unfortunately, once Quill finds out how Thanos got the Soul Stone, namely by killing Gamora to get it, he cannot contain his rage and decks Thanos, throwing the heroes' meticulous set-up off and allowing Thanos to throw them all off and ultimately score his victory, during which 50% of the universe's population is wiped from existence, including Quill. "Aw, man...", indeed.
    • In Wakanda, just as soon as Thanos kills Vision and gets his hands on the Mind Stone, completing the Infinity Gauntlet, he is attacked by Thor, whose new Thanos-killing axe Stormbreaker lives up to its purpose and gravely wounds Thanos with a well-placed throw to the chest. Thor walks up to the defeated Thanos, but because he was driven by a desire for revenge after being Forced to Watch Thanos kill Loki, Thor decides to twist Stormbreaker further into Thanos' chest, instead of withdrawing it and decapitating him, just to savor his vengeance and make Thanos die as painfully as possible. This proves to be a fatal mistake on Thor's part, as Thanos is able to still kill half the universe and then escape victorious (and very much alive). Thanos even says it himself — "You should have gone for the head."
  • Carlito's Way also had the above example of sparing someone he shouldn't have. Carlito had the troublemaking Benny Blanco at his mercy but let him live because he was a reformed man. Carlito also knew never to trust Pachanga and said he'd take care of him but he never found the time.
  • Casino. Nicky Santoro's antics lead to him getting banned from Vegas city limits. This becomes the beginning of the end of mob rule in Vegas.
  • In The Fly (1986), just as they're celebrating Seth finally managing to transport living matter via the telepods Veronica learns that her jealous ex-lover/editor Stathis intends to undercut her plans for a book on their development. She leaves to confront him, leaving Seth alone but promising to return after she's settled things — and she does, a few hours later. Alas, in the interim Seth suspects that she is cuckolding him, gets drunk, and decides to jump ahead to the intended Grand Finale of his experiments by teleporting himself...and doesn't notice that a fly is in the telepod with him when he does so. As the telepods aren't programmed to transport more than one living being at a time, its computer fuses Seth with the fly on a molecular-genetic level, and from this point onward he is a Doomed Protagonist undergoing a Slow Transformation.
  • Maximus from Gladiator just wants to go home after years of military campaigning but he makes the mistake of accepting Emperor Marcus Aurelius' plea to help restore Rome into a republic again. Things fall apart for him from there.
  • Goodfellas
    • Tommy DeVito killing a "made man" who insulted him leads to his own murder later, just as he is about to become a made man himself. This mistake sprang directly from his own notorious Hair-Trigger Temper, which wasn't helped at all by Billy Batts (the made man in question) bringing up Tommy's past as a shoeshine boy and deliberately antagonizing him.
    • Jimmy Conway having the crew who robbed the Lufthansa airport killed. Henry realizes that Jimmy will turn against him too and thus snitches against him later.
  • Neil McCauley in Heat survives to the aftermath of the heist, and is about to get away scot free with Eady, only to get information that Waingro (the man who betrayed him and his crew) is currently staying at a hotel not far from the airport he's departing from. In the end, McCauley decides to get revenge, killing Waingro but leading to Lt. Hanna getting between him and Eady. Forced to leave her and run, he finds the runway empty and Hanna in pursuit, all which culminates in a showdown where Hanna fatally shoots McCauley.
    • Another case in the movie is the paroled criminal whom McCauley recruits for the final heist. He had no involvement in any of the crimes so far and could have easily said no to the offer and walked away. Instead he makes an impulsive decision and ends up killed by the cops.
  • In New Jack City, there's the old man who was forced out of the Carter Apartments when Nino took it over by force. The old man confronts the drug lord and even pulls a gun on him. Instead of Nino having the man dealt with, he lets him go and jokes about what he did, not taking him seriously. When Nino is finally arrested, he's able to smooth talk his way to getting a one year prison sentence. He brags in front of the media, only for the old man he didn't take seriously to show up and kill him with the same gun during the post trial press conference.
  • Nicholas and Alexandra features a scene in which Russia is teetering on the brink of getting involved in World War I. Count Witte, the Only Sane Man in the government of Tsar Nicholas II, begs the Tsar not to go to war, laying out in excruciating detail all the disasters that will follow. Nicholas orders mobilization anyway. This leads directly to Russia's defeat, Red October, and Nicholas and all of his family getting murdered by the Bolsheviks.
  • Scarface (1983): Tony Montana makes many mistakes throughout the film, including becoming addicted to his own product, but the point of no return was when he killed Alejandro Sosa's hitman to prevent the unnecessary murder of innocents, antagonizing the only person who could have helped him out of his own mess.
    • Another point of no return was when he killed his best friend and right hand man Manny Ribera thinking that he betrayed him, something which was not helped by the aforementioned addiction fucking up his mind. Manny was actually about to tell him that he was in love with Tony's sister Gina and they had just gotten married. This leaves Tony completely alone with no allies left and completely demoralized. The old Tony might have been able to find a way to survive the consequences of killing Sosa's hitman, but after that point he simply did not care anymore.
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Anakin Skywalker had made many mistakes prior to this point (including his vengeful massacre of the Sandpeople, down to the last child), but what pushed him irrevocably over to the Dark Side was his decision to save Emperor Palpatine, leading directly to Mace Windu's death and leaving him no chance to go back to being a Jedi.
    • Another point of no return for Anakin was when he impulsively (and unnecessarily) refuses to see Padmé Amidala, his wife, trying to talk him down, and Obi-Wan Kenobi stowing away on her ship, as anything but an attack on him. This results in him Force-choking his wife and dueling with his former Jedi Master, ending with him having his three remaining limbs chopped off and getting burned very badly by the lava. The old Anakin might have been able to find a way to save his wife from dying in childbirth, but after waking up in the black suit, he realizes that his own fear and anger ended up killing her.
    • The Jedi as a whole had this when they made the decision to fight in the Clone Wars without hesitation. As the novelization says explicitly, the Clone Wars themselves were the ultimate Jedi Trap as it put the Jedi in the perfect position for their trusted clones to turn on them.
  • There Will Be Blood has a moment in the middle where Daniel Plainview is about to enjoy a meal with his son H.W. in a restaurant. They've been apart while H.W. was at a school for the deaf, and Daniel has been trying to reform because his lifestyle indirectly led to H.W.'s deafness. It looks like he's about to turn over a new leaf and create a healthy relationship with his adopted son, when in walks a businessman from earlier in the movie, who had turned down Daniel's offer. His pride bubbles up, he makes a scene and he reverts to his highly confrontational self. From here, it gets worse.
  • Howie from The Wicker Man (1973) seals his fate by not having sex with Willow, since the cultists need a Virgin Sacrifice for their ritual, and the virgin in question ends up being Howie.

  • In The Caster Chronicles Genevieve's attempt to resurrect her beloved cursed her and her family for generations to come.
  • In The Children of Húrin, it was Túrin fleeing Doriath and refusing to return that led to all his misfortune and eventual death.
  • Frankenstein makes the mistake of reneging on his promise to make a companion for the Creature, thus directly leading the creature to seek revenge on him by killing Henry Clerval and Elizabeth, which in turn leads to Frankenstein pursuing the creature until his death.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry suffers a Deconstruction of the Kid Hero trope in Order of the Phoenix, where he refuses to be taught Occlumency by Snape because of their hatred and mistrust for each other, which allows Voldemort to send him a false vision of Sirius held captive so that Harry could run to his rescue. This results in Sirius' death, since in his impulsiveness Harry also neglected a device which would have allowed him to connect to Sirius immediately and verify that he's fine.
    • Sirius makes a couple long-term mistakes: He hates his house-elf Kreacher, eventually causing his Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal which resulted in Sirius' death. He also offers to act as a decoy Secret-Keeper for the Potters with the real one being Peter Pettigrew, which results in the latter betraying the Potters to their death and framing Sirius for it.
    • Severus Snape ruined his friendship (and any chance for romance he might have had) with Lily when he chose the Dark Arts and became a zealous Death Eater. He then relayed a prophecy to Voldemort which cause him to target Lily's son, resulting in the murder of her and James.
    • Albus Dumbledore was tempted to start a plot against Muggles with Grindelwald, and in his lust for power caused his sister's death when his brother confronted Grindelwald.
    • Horace Slughorn's vanity allowed Voldemort to flatter him too much and in a moment of Loose Lips revealed to him information about making seven Horcruxes for maximum power.
  • In Native Son, Bigger Thomas stifles Mary Dalton with a pillow when her blind mother comes into her room, out of fear that the very drunk Mary will betray his presence in her room. After Mrs. Dalton leaves and he relaxes his grip, he takes a long look at Mary and notices that she isn't breathing...
  • The Shahnameh: Being an epic, there are many examples. Some of the more famous ones are:
    • Sohrab's naivete causes him to keep his identity and the armband that Rostam had given to his wife (Sohrab's mother) specifically so that he would be able to identify his child, hidden. This eventually leads father and son to unknowingly face each other in battle with tragic consequences.
    • Rostam is cautious and patriotic to fault when it comes to fighting the Turanian champion who unknown to him is his son. Considering Sohrab's immense strength and fighting prowess and considering his own age, Rostam denies his true identity even when Sohrab repeatedly asks him if he is indeed Rostam, because Rostam fears that he might lose and the Turanians would be unstoppable if they no longer feared the threat of Persia’s greatest warrior. Lying mortally wounded in Rostam's arms Sohrab tell his father, "I gave you every hint there was, your love did not budge an inch!"
    • Esfandiar's obsession with becoming king causes him to ignore his mother's advice and play into his father's hand by fighting Rostam to gain the crown. It's never a good idea to fight Rostam, even if you are invincible like Esfandiar!
  • A Song of Ice and Fire's characters tend to fall victim to the inevitable hubris of their Tragic Flaws, but a couple of them can pin their failure to definitive points of no return. Eddard turning down the help of Renly and Littlefinger and warning Cersei that he knew her secret, expecting her to flee to safety, resulted in her killing the king and installing her son, who has him executed for treason. Robb's decision to marry Jeyne Westerling sets off the events leading to the Red Wedding. Theon Greyjoy's choice to hold Winterfell kicks off what is arguably the series' most tragic character arc. Arguably, leaving Winterfell in the first place is Catelyn Stark's tragic mistake, because everything that she does after leaving merely makes things worse for her family, and all of her attempts to make up for it just make things snowball until her husband and sons have all lost their heads (to her knowledge), her daughters are both missing, and most of her friends are dead or in chains.
  • Things Fall Apart: Okonkwo raises the political prisoner Ikemafuna like his own son for three years, and then the village elders decree that the boy must be executed. The oldest man in the village warns Okonkwo to have nothing to do with the killing, or else it would be an offense to the gods, as if he had killed his own child. Okonkwo disobeys, and help to kill the boy so as not to appear weak before the other men. The fallout: The gods send bad luck in Okonkwo's way, culminating in an accidental killing that forces him to go into exile for seven years. In that time, white colonists move into the Ibo village; without Okonkwo's leadership the Ibo get taken advantage of and lose their will to fight for themselves. Okonkwo, upon returning, tries and fails to organize a resistance, and hangs himself.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24: In Season 8, Kamistan President Omar Hassan is assassinated by Samir Mehran, nearly destroying Allison Taylor's chances of having a peace treaty signed. Already growing desperate thanks to sacrifices she's made out of her own family in the past few years and horrified at the thought that they could be for nothing, she winds up siding with Charles Logan in an attempt to get it back on track. The problem with this? One of the parties in the signing, the Russian Government, has several corrupt members in their ranks up to and including the President, and they were the ones who masterminded the attacks of the day, including Hassan's death. This means that if the treaty is signed they're allowed to go scot-free, and the worst thing is that even after discovering their involvement Taylor chooses to still go ahead with it and protect them, even going so far as to have anyone attempting to reveal the truth incarcerated or otherwise silenced. She does ultimately realize what she's done and call off the treaty, but at this point thanks to her own crimes it at the very least cost her her presidency.
    • This in turn, leads a broken and grief-stricken Jack Bauer to go down his own fateful path. Throughout the series, Jack's someone who's always given in to the desire for revenge, but even though it's a constant temptation he just manages to avoid following the outright route of Revenge Before Reason. That comes to an end here, where thanks to the Russians previously murdering Renee Walker to keep her from potentially exposing them after recognizing one of their undercover agents, and after Taylor makes her own mistake and intentionally sidelines him, he goes rogue to find the evidence that confirms that rogue members of the of the government on his own. Unfortunately, when he manages to get the evidence that reveals their part in the conspiracy, instead of just going through with exposing them he finally chooses to go said route when he executes a surrendering Dana Walsh, ultimately choosing to kill everyone involved in the attacks since Taylor's betrayal has destroyed his belief in any sort of justice system. It all goes downhill from there, with him eventually using an innocent person as a lure for some of the attackers, performing a borderline terrorist-level attack on Logan's motorcade in public, and killing the Russian Foreign Minister which means all of Russia, not just the crooked part, now wants him executed. At the very end he's just barely stopped before he's able to trigger an international calamity, but by this point he's considered a terrorist who's forced to go into hiding since he'll be taken in for the death penalty, if he isn't shot on sight. Additionally his own family has been made potential targets since they could be attacked to lure him out.
  • In Breaking Bad, Walter White is given many chances to leave the drug trade and still leave his family comfortable. Notably, the series would have ended after four episodes had he taken his friend Elliot's offer of a job at Gray Matter Technologies with full health coverage for his cancer treatments. Instead, he saw the offer as charity and refused, leading to countless lives being destroyed.
  • Doctor Who has many examples of this throughout the series.
    • "Love & Monsters": If Ursula had hit the Abzorbaloff with his cane like she'd threatened to, it probably would have broken, killing him. Because she doesn't, she either loses all chance at a normal life or, depending on how much of an Unreliable Narrator you think Elton is, died outright.
    • Arguably, one of the most tragic — because it is clearly depicted as a mistake — involves Clara Oswald in "Face the Raven". Clara has a death sentence intended for a friend transferred to her in the mistaken belief that the episode's antagonist, Ashildr, would never harm her. She's wrong and ends up killed as a result (later episodes play the Timey-Wimey Ball on this last point, but the end result remains unchanged).
  • Finch from Person of Interest refusing to have Congressman McCord killed leads to the evil AI Samaritan going online.
  • Rome
    • Julius Caesar and Niobe's extramarital affairs doomed them from the start.
    • Pompeii's fate was sealed the moment he decided they must make a "tactical retreat" from Rome.
      Cato: You have lost the city without unsheathing your sword. You have lost Rome!
    • Cato and Scipio made the grievous error of convincing Pompeii to attack Caesar and defeat him in grand fashion instead of waiting until his supplies run out.
    • Cleopatra seducing Pullo.
  • In Supernatural, efforts to save the world at any cost seem to backfire whenever a character decides that they're The Only One who can do so instead of relying on friends.
  • The Wire
    • D'Angelo killing a rival drug dealer in a fit of desperation triggered the wiretap investigation into his family's criminal enterprise that brought them down.
    • Wallace coming back to Baltimore got him killed because String thought he couldn't be trusted anymore.
    • Ziggy killing a fence after being stiffed out of a few thousand dollars caused the downfall of his family and of the stevedores working the docks all their lives.
    • Stringer allying with Proposition Joe starts a chain reaction which leads to his death just when he came so close to finally leaving the game.
    • Avon choosing to take back his corners from Marlo instead of joining the New Day Co-Op forces String to betray him to the police, sending him back to prison.
    • Proposition Joe mentoring Marlo.
    • Jimmy creating a fake serial killer to get resources to investigate Marlo ends up ruining his (and a lot of other people's) careers.
    • Omar showing up in crutches breaks his invincible image and causes Kenard to kill him because he wasn't afraid of him anymore.

  • Poets of the Fall visits the subject often
    • Personified in Monster Clown Hamartia, the sinister jester mascot of Twilight Theater's album art and Villain Protagonist singer of "Daze," who finds perverse humour and joy in others' disastrous errors.
    • Discussed in "Hounds to Hamartia" as the singer warns the song's subject that their increasingly ruthless and arrogant self-interest will inevitably lead to a fatal mistake.
      Just like magic Hubris leads, leads its hounds, hounds to Hamartia

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech.
    • Ian Cameron ignoring the Rim Worlds Republic's distress call during the Reunification War would cause the downfall of the Star League and the death of his dynasty when he made an enemy out of one Stefan Amaris.
    • Victor Steiner-Davion's flaw was trying to ape his father's methods rather than finding his own solutions when problems arose; the decision to use a body double of Thomas Marik's son was supposed to be a pragmatic one to buy time — but unlike his father, who laid down the plan in the first place, Victor lacked the Magnificent Bastardry to pull it off because he was too soft-hearted to clean up all the loose ends. The end result is that the great nation his parents forged split back in two, half of it hates him, several dozen of his planets fall into chaos, and his sister eventually ends up becoming his worst enemy in her scheming to (successfully) dethrone him.
    • Chandrasekhar Kurita's flaw was placing too great a faith in mercenary recruitment after his overall positive experience with the 17th Recon Regiment, Camacho's Caballeros. Though the Caballeros proved to be unusual but loyal, the same could not be said for all mercenaries, and Chandrasekhar was assassinated after Word of Blake agents reportedly turned his mercenary bodyguards during the Dark Age.
    • Takashi Kurita himself had many great victories to his name, but his mistake was in placing far too much trust in his District Warlords, almost all of whom managed to start wars that the Combine could ill afford and sapped what would have been the otherwise militarily strongest nation of much its strength at the most inopportune times — leading eventually to Takashi being dethroned by his own, much more pragmatic but reasonable son, Theodore.
  • Warhammer:
    • Aenarion the Defender taking up cursed Sword of Khaine and marrying Morathi leads to the creation of the Dark Elves.
    • Caledor the Warrior shaving the beard of a Dwarf emissary leads to a war that decimated both races.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • The Emperor making Horus Warmaster and returning to Terra. In a similar vein, Lion El'Jonson sending Luther and half the Dark Angels home.
    • Fulgrim replacing his sword Fireblade with the daemonic Silver Blade.
    • Magnus using warp telepathy instead of astropathy, accidentally destroying the prototype webway, marked him and his legion out for destruction.

  • In Les Misérables, Eponine doesn't take Valjean's advice not to return to the barricade because she is hopelessly in love with Marius.
  • In Jules Massenet's opera Manon, the downfall of the eponymous protagonist begins when she chooses to stay with the rich codger de Brétigny, instead of Taking the Veil as planned, or taking the hand of the penniless young hunk des Grieux. Other versions of the Manon story are similar.
  • Medea: Though Medea is the protagonist, Jason is the borderline Fallen Hero, victim of his own pride and machismo.
  • Oedipus the King straddles the line between being undone by a fatal flaw and being screwed over by fate. The crime for which he was punished was that he killed his father and married his mother - but due to circumstances completely beyond his control, Oedipus never knew that they were related to him. On the other hand, you could say that this wouldn't have happened if Oedipus had not, in his pride, quarreled with and killed another chariot driver — a chariot driver who ultimately turns out to be his father.
    • That said, he had the option to not investigate these circumstances, but that wouldn't have changed the fact that they still happened, and his people were suffering as a direct result of it.
  • William Shakespeare:
    • Hamlet: In Act 3, the eponymous prince learns that Claudius was indeed guilty of murdering his father, and catches Claudius unawares while praying. Instead of avenging his father right there, Hamlet decides that it's not good enough — he wants Claudius to die with unpaid sin on his soul, so killing him in the act of confessing won't do. Hamlet resolves to kill Claudius later. The fallout: Hamlet does attempt to kill Claudius later, during his confrontation with his mother, only to kill Polonius instead by mistake. The death of Polonius drives Hamlet's lover Ophelia to madness and death, angering her brother Laertes enough to challenge Hamlet to a duel — the duel that ultimately results in the death of nearly every named character.
      • For extra irony, just after we see Hamlet leave, Claudius notes that his praying is nothing more than lip service and he doesn't truly feel sorry for the murder.
    • Macbeth: In Act 2, the title character's point of no return came when he killed King Duncan, in order to usurp the position of king.
    • Romeo and Juliet: In Act 3, Romeo's "point of no return" was his killing of Tybalt in vengeance for Mercutio, leading to his banishment from Verona. Granted, Tybalt probably deserved it, but everything still goes to hell for both lovers because of it. This is a particularly interesting turning point because until then, the story plays out exactly like a standard Elizabethan romantic comedy, which would inevitably have paired up both of the eponymous lovers (and probably Paris and Rosalind into the bargain) and made their parents put aside their differences.
      • It may be even earlier then that... as Romeo unintentionally provokes Mercutio into dueling with Tybalt and thus gets him killed. By acting inexplicably nice to Tybalt, Mercutio was angered because it seemed like Romeo was being a coward (Mercutio didn't know about Romeo's marriage to Juliet).
    • King Lear: Lear's mistake comes in the very first scene, when he banishes Cordelia and Kent — two of the three characters who are actually on his side — and then vests the power of his kingdom jointly in Goneril and Regan, his two evil daughters. It only takes him a few scenes to realise his error, but the fallout is severe: the deaths of Cornwall, Gloucester, Cordelia, Goneril, Regan, Edmund, and finally, Lear himself. The ending also implies that Kent is about to kill himself too, leaving only Edgar and Albany behind to pick up the pieces.
    • Titus Andronicus: Like in King Lear, Titus crosses the line of no return in the very first scene. From the moment he insists on a) the gratuitous "sacrifice" of Alarbus and b) the crowning of Saturninus as emperor despite Bassianus being an immensely superior choice, the play's gruesome and devastating bloodbath is inescapable.
    • Othello: Othello's point of no return probably occurs in Act III, Scene 4, when he engages in a pseudo-ceremony with Iago to swear vengeance against Desdemona and Cassio. Here he declares his mind will never change, and from this point on he never again doubts his delusional suspicions until after he has fatally smothered his wife.
    • Julius Caesar: Brutus' point of no return occurs in Act II Scene 1, when he yields to the persuasion of the conspirators to murder Caesar.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Though it's arguable that Sweeney Todd's hesitation in his first attempt to kill Judge Turpin, a la Hamlet, was the point of no return for him, his real point of no return was when he killed the Beggar Woman, who he did not know was actually his wife, because he had no time left before the Judge showed up for the second and last time.
  • In West Side Story, Tony and Maria both cross this point when she convinces him to go and put a stop to the rumble between the Jets and the Sharks. If not for this decision, nothing more than a fist-fight would have occurred; however, Tony's interference backfired and provoked a fatal knife duel that directly and indirectly resulted in three deaths — Riff (killed by Bernardo), Bernardo (killed by Tony in vengeance for Riff) and Tony himself (killed by Chino in vengeance for Bernardo at the end).

    Video Games 
  • In Cyberpunk 2077, V siding with Arasaka and choosing to live out the rest of their life after being terminally diagnosed leads them to the realization that the betrayal they did to try and save themselves was for nothing. Johnny is gone but he (and Jackie) continues to haunt V's conscience and V's other friends are distant towards them, meaning that the rest of their short life is likely going to be lonely and full of nightmares... culminating by them breaking the bullet necklace in despair. Chose poorly, indeed. This variant of "The Devil" ending is arguably the worst ending a player can get next to "The Reaper".
  • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Mondo Owada, insecure and desperate to measure up to his older brother Daiya, the founder and leader of the Crazy Diamonds biker gang, challenges Daiya to a street race. Mondo, desperate to win, almost gets hit by a truck, but Daiya saves him at the cost of his own life, and in his dying moments, asks Mondo to keep their biker gang together. Unfortunately, this means that Mondo can't let anyone find out about what happened under any circumstances. Monokuma threatens to reveal people's dark personal secrets if someone doesn't commit murder, pushing Mondo to his breaking point, resulting in him accidentally murdering Chihiro in a fit of rage.
  • Dragon Age II has major characters whose fatal flaws lead to terrible consequences.
    • One hero makes a tragic mistake late in the game, despite the other characters telling them that they were in over their head. Merrill's true tragic mistake is summoning the Pride Demon (believing herself equal to handling any risk it poses), which ends up possessing Marethari, forcing Merrill to kill her and possibly leading to Merrill's entire clan attacking her and her friends.
    • One hero's true tragic mistake came before the game even started, though it's really midway through their character arc, since events of previous Dragon Age titles led up to it. Anders, being kind to a friend and believing himself strong-willed enough to resist corruption, allows the Spirit of Justice to possess him. Unfortunately, he ends up corrupting the spirit into a demon instead and is slowly driven insane, since his rage at the injustices he sees in the world (and hanging out near some of the most powerful demons in existence) transforms Justice into Vengeance.
    • Hawke gets one that could be motivated by greed, ambition, or simply a tragically misplaced desire to ensure a better life for their family. Instead of just trying to get by, Hawke invests in an expedition to the Deep Roads in the hope of getting them set for life. It works, but at quite a cost. The Deep Roads expedition does indeed make Hawke filthy rich, with more than enough coin to be set for life. Varric's brother betrays Hawke, goes mad, and possibly dies. Hawke's surviving sibling ends up as a Grey Warden, dead, or if it's Bethany and she stays behind, taken away by Templars. Then Knight-Commander Meredith picks up the idol that Varric's brother betrays them for, reforges it into a sword, and starts Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, culminating in Kirkwall nearly becoming a Templar-run police state. Then the Grey Warden that Hawke got the map to the Deep Roads from, Anders, commits a coldly premeditated terrorist act to force the Circles of Mages to rebel. None of this is really Hawke's fault, as it was the specific actions of other people that cause all these tragic events to happen. But Hawke was indirectly responsible for at least some of it, in the manner of getting the wheels turning.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, there's Bitter Springs. It was a little settlement in a canyon for the Great Khans, a tribe that constantly harassed the NCR as they took over the region and expanded their territory. Eventually, soldiers were sent in to destroy the "base" at Bitter Springs and a group of 1st Recon NCR snipers deployed around the canyon's exit to ensure none of them managed to escape... but as the place burned, the Khans tried to get their women and children out first. Add in some confused communications, and the higher-ups still gave the order to fire. Result: 1st Recon snipers gunning down wounded non-combatants as they tried to run. Anyone who was there carries serious psychological scars, even though it was years ago by the time of the game.
  • In Fire Emblem Fates, toward the end of the Birthright route, Xander has the Avatar at his mercy, and prepares to finish him/her off. He strikes the killing blow, only for Xander's younger sister Elise to end up Taking the Bullet for their sibling, resulting in her being fatally injured and dying in his arms. Overwhelmed with guilt and grief, Xander allows the Avatar to kill him.
  • There's one in Hanako's path in Katawa Shoujo. If Hisao makes the wrong choice at the second-to-last branch by treating her too carefully, deciding for her that she can't handle the trip into town, the final choice that would have led to the good or neutral endings instead leads only to the bad.
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Akane's tragic mistake is when she runs back to get the doll, getting herself caught by Hongou and forced into the incinerator. Up until that point, she was entirely a victim of circumstance: but her mistake — stupid though it was — added a layer of moral ambiguity to her continued struggle for survival. She ends up murdering several people in order to achieve her goals.
  • Spec Ops: The Line: In chapter 8 ("The Gate"), Captain Martin Walker makes the call to use white phosphorous mortars on a group of enemy soldiers, wiping them out to the last man in a painful, slow, poisonous conflagration. Witnessing the aftermath horrifies him — but his mind cracks completely the moment he realizes that 47 of the civilians he and his crew were trying to rescue were caught in the blaze as well. When he chooses to push ahead anyway, claiming the circumstances gave him "no choice", he damns both himself and everyone around him in not admitting to his own faulty judgement. In the final chapter he realizes that it's completely too late to turn back... or he can still decide to go back home with all of the shell-shock and face his punishment in both life and court for his mistakes.
    • Another tragic mistake happened several missions before The Gate, when Walker made the decision to push further into Dubai to contact the CIA upon learning that the 33rd Infantry has gone rogue, instead of requesting evac and getting himself and his team the hell out of there as someone doing recon is supposed to do. This leads to Walker leading his team into what he and they know is a trap to rescue a CIA agent who is being tortured, and ultimately leads to him falling off a skyscraper (symbolizing his eventual downfall). The result is that Walker and his team cannot safely leave Dubai beyond this point, setting the stage for the subsequent bad decisions (including the white phosphorus) that ultimately doom Walker, his team, and Dubai. In order for Walker not to have made that mistake, he would have had to not be Walker — he made this mistake out of a desire to find his personal hero, Colonel John Konrad, who saved his life long ago, and out of a desire to be a hero himself.
  • Suikoden II: Jowy had the heroes in an Ambush and could've easily killed them off — except Shu threw Pilika at him. He lets the group go, deciding he couldn't risk harming her. His strategist remarks he blew his chance. The fallout: The War continues on, turning in the hero's favor, and Jowy is ousted from the throne. (What happens depends on the player's choice.)

  • In Homestuck, Eridan's mistake is killing Kanaya and Feferi because of his envy and despair. He dies horribly because of that, and it's entirely his own fault. From that point on, nobody considers him anything more than a serious danger to their survival.
  • This is what pushes Redcloak into Anti-Villain (or flat-out villain) territory in The Order of the Stick prequel book Start of Darkness. His brother Right-Eye decides that nothing they accomplish working with Xykon is worth his casual slaughter of their own troops, and acquires a weapon that can destroy Xykon despite him being a lich. Redcloak, on the other hand, thinks that it will all have been meaningless if he backs out, and kills Right-Eye. To make matters worse, Xykon reveals that he already knew about Right-Eye's plan and had taken steps to protect himself, but wanted to see what Redcloak would do. These days, Redcloak openly hates Xykon's guts, but remains unwilling to betray him because Redcloak feels like because he's gone as far as he has, he must continue.

    Western Animation 
  • In Amphibia, on the day the girls were sent to Amphibia, Marcy Wu learned that she and her family were moving out of Los Angeles. Shaken by the news, she used the knowledge she had recently gained concerning the Calamity Box to manipulate her friends into stealing it, thus purposefully sending to them Amphibia so she could have adventures with them forever and never be alone. Unfortunately, she is quickly manipulated by King Andrias (who she saw as a friend and mentor) as a means to recover and restore power to the artifact, which will allow him to to conquer the multiverse. She's also nearly killed while trying to rectify all this, and her body ends up becoming the vessel for The Core.
  • In Elena of Avalor, Esteban felt like he was Always Second Best, like he was invisible. He ended up helping Shuriki take over his kingdom, which led to the deaths of Elena’s parents, which he did not intend to happen. He came to regret it, but he refused to tell his remaining family of his involvement. Once Elena finds out his treachery, she disowns Esteban and made it clear she will never forgive him no matter how sorry he is.


Video Example(s):


Isildur's Downfall

Isildur's desire for the One Ring led him to keep it rather than destroy it, dooming both him and thousands of lives in the years to come.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / TragicMistake

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