Follow TV Tropes


Uriah Gambit

Go To

"In the morning, David wrote a letter to Joab, which he sent with Uriah. He wrote in the letter as follows: 'Place Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest; then fall back so that he may be killed.'"

What to do when you've made an enemy of one of your underlings? Hey, you're the boss. All you've got to do is send him out on a mission that's sure to get him killed. He'll die in action, and you'll have Plausible Deniability.

In some cases, this can be as subtle as giving the underling in question dangerous tasks that need to be done anyway, resulting in a win-win scheme—they'll probably die, which is great, but if they're successful, that's fine too. Other times, the task might be a blatant setup solely for the purpose of killing them off, often going as far as Unfriendly Fire, deliberately backstabbing or sabotaging them at a key moment (or even simply leaving them in the lurch) to ensure their death. Either way, it's this trope and very much murder as far as guilt is concerned.

If it's the hero who does this, which will make their role as hero very questionable, they're setting themselves up (as in the Trope Namer) for a What the Hell, Hero? and My God, What Have I Done?. If it's done to the hero, Heaven help you if they should somehow not only survive but thrive on your Impossible Tasks. In those cases, you may have a Reassignment Backfire on your hands. And if the hero should twig to the fact that they've been betrayed and that you wanted them dead? Don't count on getting out of this alive.

A subtrope of Shoot the Dangerous Minion and Make It Look Like an Accident. See also Unfriendly Fire for a more hands-on approach that can work in both directions. When you send someone out with an item that attracts danger, that's the Trouble Magnet Gambit. When that someone actually pulls it off, repeatedly, it's Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder. When you do this to yourself, it's Suicide by Cop. For extra irony (as in the Trope Namer), can be combined with Please Shoot the Messenger, where the Uriah has to deliver the instructions that will get them killed.

May overlap with Reassigned to Antarctica if the mission is to guard or otherwise stay posted in an extremely remote and/or dangerous area. Related to Tricked to Death, depending on the nature of the assignment. Contrast Snipe Hunt, where the victim is set up for failure or humiliation, not death.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


    open/close all folders 

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who: In the War Doctor's first story, he finds two Time Lords who've been sent up against a Dalek war fleet and figures their superior sent them there to get rid of them. Two stories later that superior, Cardinal Ollistra, pretty casually admits that, yeah, that had been the plan, because she'd learned they were part of a peace movement. Oh, and she'd hoped the Doctor would die too. When that failed, she sent them on a different suicide mission, along with a loyal flunky in the bargain.

    Card Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering you can force this with cards like Wanderlust, which does one damage to enchanted creature's controller per turn. Since this usually puts you on a clock (meaning you've got a constant source of damage or one at an opponent's whim, and no way to deal with it), it's common to send a Wanderlusted creature to a "chump block" if you can't form a block that will survive or defeat the enemy. And then there's Donate. And of course Swords to Plowshares lets you exile not only your opponent's creatures, but your own. Magic loves the whole Gambit Index.
    • Tuktuk the Explorer is designed to be a target of this. He's a typically weak 1/1 goblin who is reborn as a mighty 5/5 golem upon death. In context, Tuktuk's death spawns a being capable of bringing down most dragons.
  • A common way of pulling this off in Yu-Gi-Oh! is by taking a weak monster like Treeborn Frog, turning it up into Attack Position, and using Creature Swap to exchange it for one of your opponent's monsters. Not only do you gain a more powerful monster on your side, but you also have the perfect target to cause a lot of damage to your opponent's Life Points. Quite literally an example of making an enemy of one of your underlings and sending them to their death. There are certain cards that are made for this, such as the 6 Attribute Summoner monsters, which summon monsters of their attributes. Or Witch of the Black Forest and Sagan which can be used to obtain the Exodia cards into the players hand. Ameba inflicts a whopping 2000 damage when control shifts to the opponent, and can then be obliterated for even more damage.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In "Schmat Razum" (link), the hero is sent off by the Tsar to make him leave his wife vulnerable.
    Go ye back therefore to the Tsar and bid him command the archer to journey across three times nine lands to the little forest monster Muzhichek, who is as high as the knee, with mustaches seven versts long, and to bring hither his invisible servant, Schmat-Razum, who lives in his master's pocket and doth all that he orders him. Bid the Tsar demand this of the archer, and he shall have his will. For while Muzhichek indeed exists, no man can find his dwelling nor perceive his invisible servant, and Taraban will wander all his life long, though he live forever, without accomplishing the task, and the Tsar may have his beautiful wife.
    • Another variant of this is "Go To I Know Not Where, Bring Back I Know Not What."
  • In a Georgian Frog Princess tale, burning the frog skin reveals the bride's beauty, and inspires the lord to set her husband Impossible Tasks to try to take her away.
  • In "The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate" the title monarch orders Nur Mahomed to join the army and then has him repeatedly sent on dangerous missions in the hope that he'll be killed instead of fulfilling his destiny to marry the king's daughter.
  • In "The Plaisham," a middle-aged woman tries to get rid of her husband by convincing a local lord to order him to accomplish Impossible Tasks or be executed.

    Films — Animated 
  • In A Bug's Life we see a non-lethal, non-malicious example: Princess Atta sends Flik away from the colony to look for warrior bugs that can help defend it from the grasshoppers at his request, but in reality she did this so that Flik would be busy for weeks and not disturb their hard work while they collected food.
  • In Antz, the evil general Mandible sends the part of the ant colony army loyal to the queen to be slaughtered in a war against the termites that he secretly orchestrated in the first place, to make sure that he'll have only loyal followers in his plot to seize power. Both sides are completely destroyed, and only Z (who's not even a soldier, just a worker impersonating one, and he got dragged into the war) survives through sheer luck.
  • In Shrek, Shrek goes to demand his swamp back from Lord Farquaad. Lord Farquaad agrees to return the swamp if Shrek will go and rescue Princess Fiona, who's guarded by a dragon. If Shrek succeeds, Farquaad gets the princess without risking his own life; if Shrek fails, then Farquaad gets rid of a trouble-making fairytale creature. Of course, it doesn't quite work out like that.
  • In Ratatouille, Skinner tries to spring a nonlethal one on Linguini by forcing him to prepare 'Sweetbread a la Gusteau', a recipe that Gusteau himself deems a fiasco. Either Linguini follows the recipe to the letter and creates a failure, or improvises and creates an even bigger failure. Thankfully, Rémy's intervention fixes the dish and makes it extremely popular.

  • Attempted by both boss and minion on each other in Ravages of Time: Southeastern warlord Sun Ce with the "win-win" part in trying to bleed the Taiping sect's devotees by using them as cannon fodder during his siege of a fortress in Liu Biao's territory, while said Taiping sect plans to leave him "high and dry" during it. Unfortunately for Taiping, Sun Ce is hardy enough to survive until the Sun navy arrives to reinforce him, complete with their commander declaring that the Taiping sect's abandonment of Sun Ce gives the Suns an excuse to purge the Taiping...

  • Elvis Costello has said that his song "Oliver's Army" was based on the premise that 'they always get a working class boy to do the killing'.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • The Bible: Used twice in the Books of Samuel:
    • This is named for an incident where, desiring Uriah's gorgeous wife Bathsheba, King David had him sent into battle as arrow fodder. David had first slept with Bathsheba while her husband was off on the front lines. Then, when David found out he'd gotten Bathsheba pregnant, he tried to cover it up. The first coverup attempt ("Hey, Uriah! Buddy! Doin' a great job as an officer, my man! As a reward, I'm gonna give you a little vacation. Here, have a drink... or two or three... now go home, relax, enjoy an evening with your wife. You've earned it!") failed because Uriah refused to accept privileges that his men weren't being allowed (even after David got him drunk). Being unable to explain away Bathsheba's pregnancy the normal way, David pulled the Uriah Gambit as a probably spur-of-the-moment backup plan. Joab, the general David gave the order to (who also knew what David had done), was forced to put all of his troops within arrow range, then pull all of them but Uriah back, to make sure Uriah was killed. In a passive aggressive What the Hell, Hero?, Joab returned to Jerusalem to say something along the lines of: "The deed is done. Oh, and by the way, here are the names of all of the other guys who had to die by your strategy for no reason." David still married Bathsheba. As punishment, God cursed David's house with war and public shame, and his child from adultery was struck with a terrible illness, dying shortly after birth. (They later had another son, Solomon.) Said war and shame also resulted in the death of two of David's sons (they were both monsters, but David was still very torn up about it).
      • In Judaism, in the Tanakh this also happens and is considered what ultimately dooms the Davidic line at the cosmological level, thus dooming Jewish sovereignty and independence altogether.
    • Earlier in 1 Samuel, David was on the receiving end of this, when seeking the hand of King Saul's daughter Michal in marriage. Saul, who didn't like David and saw him as a threat to his authority (especially after that whole Goliath thing), but couldn't kill or banish David because he was charismatic and popular (especially after that whole Goliath thing), sent David on a number of impossible missions from which Saul did not expect David to return. Inevitably, David survived, often doing more than Saul requested (for instance, in the famous quest to take 100 foreskins of the Philistines—which meant "fight 100 Philistines, kill them, and disfigure their corpses", not exactly an easy task—David took 200), much to Saul's chagrin. Eventually, Saul just gave up and let David marry Michal.
  • Classical Mythology has many examples of this.
    • The myth of Perseus killing Medusa happened because the King of Serifos, Polydectes, ordered him to do it so he could marry Perseus' mother Danae while he was away. Polydectes believed slaying Medusa was impossible, so he thought Perseus would either die trying or exile himself in shame. Backfires massively when Perseus, after killing Medusa and rescuing the princess Andromeda, learns that Polydectes has snagged Danae, thus he rushes back home to save his mom and turns Polydectes and his court to stone by way of Medusa's head as punishment.
    • Bellerophon refuses the advances of the queen of Tiryns, who then tricks her husband Proetus into believing that Bellerophon has tried to rape her. Bound by Sacred Hospitality not to kill his guest, Proetus sends Bellerophon to his father-in-law Iobates, King of Lycia, bearing a missive asking Iobates to kill its bearer. However, Iobates feasts with Bellerophon before reading the missive, and after he finally reads the letter fears that simply killing Bellerophon might bring divine wrath upon the kingdom. Instead, Iobates repeatedly sends Bellerophon on suicidal missions, like slaying the Chimera, where he continuously succeeds.
    • Most of Hercules' Labors were attempts to get him killed. They failed since Hercules was the World's Strongest Man and at times a clever one too. The labor of cleaning the Augean Stables (which had never been cleaned since ever) was unique in that it was meant to humiliate Hercules instead of kill him. Backfired when Hercules diverted a river into the Stables. This then backfired on Hercules, although writers don't seem to agree on whether it was because the river was considered to be the one to complete the labor, or because Hercules was going to get payment from it, which made it not an actual labor.
    • Jason's Evil Uncle Pelias agreed to give Jason the throne if he set sail to bring back the Golden Fleece. The Fleece rests in Colchis (modern day Georgia) with plenty of life-threatening obstacles in the way. Ironically it works but in a different way - when Jason succeeds, Pelias tries to refuse the throne and Jason's wife Medea gets him butchered by his own daughters,note  at which point Jason renounces the throne and leaves for exile with his wife.
    • With the existing sources from The Trojan Cycle, The Iliad and The Odyssey, we're presented with a story of how mortal desires can destroy nations when, in order to solve the problem of a golden apple inscribed with "For the fairest," the mortal Trojan prince Paris is asked to decide who of the three candidates—Aphrodite, Athena, or Hera—deserved it and they each incentivized themselves with different rewards if he chose them. In the end, Paris chooses Aphrodite when she offers him the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. Who happens to already be married to Menelaus, King of Sparta, and this results in the ten-year Trojan War, the deaths of tons of people, and the total destruction of the city of Troy. Among those dead are many, many demigod children of various Olympians. This all just sounds like a big tragedy until you learn about some of the lost epics which are also part of the Trojan Cycle: in truth, the entire conflict was orchestrated by Zeus in an effort to cull part of humanity as a whole and the demigods in particular for fear that they would rise up and overthrow him. It worked.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The board game version of Crusader Kings makes it easy to get rid of unwanted male children (or son-in-laws), by simply sending them off to the Crusades. If they succeed, you get a neat bonus and progress towards victory — if they fail, well, you have one less useless heir to worry about.
  • The Death Seekers in Legend of the Five Rings are a unit of Lion samurai who set up Uriah Gambits for themselves. If you fail the Lion Clan spectacularly enough that your death is required, but not so monstrously that immediate seppuku is the only way you'll exonerate your kin from being shadowed by your shame, you can join this unit. They intentionally rush the best of the Lion's enemies at the beginning of battle. Almost certain to kill them (and if it doesn't kill a particular Death Seeker, he/she will just prepare a new Uriah Gambit for theirself after the battle), but also certain to take a sizable chunk out of said best of the enemies.
  • Paranoia encourages PCs to throw their underlings under the bus this way, while pretending that you're doing them a favor ("Suck-R, go disarm that berserk scrubot, you'll probably get a commendation for it"). If the underling seems devious enough to actually pull it off, then you may need to pile on some complications ("oh, but leave your toolkit here, we wouldn't want it to get damaged").
  • One personality outlined in the Planescape splat book Uncaged, Faces of Sigil is "Sly" Nye, a Xaositect who for some reason, works as a defense attorney. While Nye has never lost a case, he tends to drive the Guvners at the Courthouse up the wall, and they often assign him to defend criminals sent to the Dustmen's Court of Woe, hoping he won't come back. (The Court of Woe is a "service" rendered to the Guvners where petty criminals are sometimes sentenced to help deal with the backlog, and it is a hellish place overseen by the demonic Judge Gabberslug. While Gabberslug technically isn't allowed to sentence defendants to death, that occasionally happens to folks in the court, defendant or otherwise, that annoy him.) Unfortunately, it never works the way the Guvners intend. Gabberslug, being from the Abyss, appreciates Nye's grasp on Chaos, and is usually pleased when he shows up.
  • Warhammer: Under Bretonnian law, a knight can never receive corporal or capital punishment no matter how serious the crime they have found to have committed. A common workaround employed by noble juries is giving the poor sap an impossible Redemption Quest that'll almost certainly get him killed, like "Go to the Vaults and kill the Orc warlord Balagran with this fruit knife and none of your armour."
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • A less subtle variation combined with Cavalry Betrayal in the backtory, when Horus put the loyalist elements of four of the Legions that supported his rebellion on the front lines of the assault on Istvaan III and then bombed the planet from orbit.
    • In the game itself, the Space Wolves have a unit called the "Lone Wolf", a cheap but powerful character who will give the opponent a victory point if he survives the battle. As a result, the basic strategy for Lone Wolves is to deliberately throw them at the enemy in the hopes that they die taking down as many enemies as possible, or at the very least drawing their fire.
    • Also from the Space Wolves, whose melee/fast assault troops (Bloodclaws, Skyclaw jetpack and Swiftclaw bikers) are the youngest warriors, still full of enthusiasm and recklessness which causes them to clash with higher-ups. Thus they end up in death-or-glory missions where many die... to mutual satifaction.
  • An unusual variant was put into play by Ulric Kerensky during the Refusal War in BattleTech. The Jade Falcons, leader of their rival political faction, the Crusaders, were attempting to repudiate the 15 year truce of Tukkayid, while Ulric’s Wolves, while primarily Wardens, had a strong Crusader contingent as well. To help purge the Crusaders, as well as blunt the Falcons’ attempt to break the truce, he led the Crusaders on a massive Trial of Refusal, while, in actuality, being a decoy for the Wardens to evacuate to the Inner Sphere. Unlike most examples, Ulric stayed with the Crusaders to trick both Crusader Wolves and Jade Falcons into not looking for their Warden refugees.

  • There's an interesting version in Cyrano de Bergerac. At the beginning of the play, the Comte de Guiche is a lecherous evil aristocrat who wants to make Roxane his mistress and is the enemy of Cyrano and his cadets. During a battle with Spain, he sends a spy to tell the Spanish how to attack the Cadets so they will be massacred. What makes this interesting, is that although this scheme results in the death of Roxane's husband, Christian (which is typical of a Uriah Gambit), this wasn't the intent and seems to have prompted de Guiche's Heel Realization, as post-time skip, he admires Cyrano's virtue and is just a close friend to Roxane, who is now a nun.

    Web Animation 
  • In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, one of the first things the Emperor does when he's able to communicate for the first time in millennia is order the Ultramarines - who he hates due to a mixture of their bland traits and the fact that he's been listening to their chanting for ten thousand years — to go right into the Eye of Terror to capture a Daemon Primarch with their ships' Geller Fields disabled so they have no defense against the daemonic hordes. Several episodes later he's astonished when the Ultramarines actually accomplish this suicide mission, and the Emperor has a change of heart, reasoning that a chapter of invincible heroes may be annoying, but they can at least get stuff done, so he sends them on a seemingly impossible but non-suicidal mission.
  • This starts becoming standard operating procedure for Sarge in Red vs. Blue. Especially when Grif is the one involved, but not always limited to him. One sequence involves storming the enemy base in a single-file line, with Sarge at the back to 'evaluate' how well it goes. Grif is surprised he isn't on the list ... until he's told his corpse is to be used to jam a deathtrap at the gates. The "deathtrap" moves at about five miles per hour, is easily avoidable, and the cut to what it would look like shows Grif's corpse having absolutely no effect on its movement.

  • In this Awkward Zombie comic, Shepard instantly and repeatedly pressed the button to send Miranda on a mission when she heard it was a suicide mission. When Miranda points out she's not even qualified to do the mission Shepard just presses it harder while glaring at Miranda. Katie notes in her notes that the ending of the first game conditioned her to expect someone to die in the second one, and she made every effort to ensure it would be Miranda, her least favorite character, that died.
  • It's speculated that Zala'ess pulled this on her daughter Vy'chriel in Drowtales, considering that Vy'chriel's was sent into the middle of an enemy fortress with no visible backup against someone several times her age, resulting in a Curb-Stomp Battle that left her dead. There's also the fact that she's not the original daughter, she was the daughter's protector and killed her, only to take her place, and Zala'ess would have killed her herself if her older sister hadn't interfered.
  • El Goonish Shive: This is how Magus justifies sending aberration mercenaries to attack Moperville as a distraction. The aberrations would exist and kill regardless of what Magus did, and Moperville is chock-full of powerful mages, superheroes, and other people capable of killing them.
  • Freefall: The colonists of the planet Jean gave bothersome rogue Sam Starfall a damaged starship, the Savage Chicken, in the hopes his clumsy antics would kill him one way or the other as he tried to make it spaceworthy again. Even the starship's computer expected him to get killed some way as he repaired it. To everyone's intense annoyance, he successfully acquires a first-rate engineer and crew, successfully repairing the ship and inducing the AI-equivalent of a Head Desk on the computer by framing his antics as the best things that have ever happened to it, and it's unable to disagree. Even better when you remember Sam is a Starfish Alien from another planet whose culture revolves around things such as stealing, deception, and general skulduggery being traits of virtue, meaning that even if he is aware of what they were trying to pull, he sees absolutely nothing wrong with it.
  • Girl Genius: It's pretty likely a whole cadre of Geisterdamen was deliberately sent to die in Paris by The Queen of the Dawn, either as part of a bit of public theater to make herself look good, or because she's a fraud pretending to be their holy leader, or both.
  • Latchkey Kingdom: It's implied in the "History of Hilla" pages that the late Queen Josephine (mother of current King Jeffrey) disposed of her warmongering firstborn by hiring a mercenary army to lead him into hostile territory "to prove himself as a commander" and abandon him there, to make sure his thirst for military glory wouldn't get anyone else killed.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Roy's first adventuring party kept sending Durkon on suicidal missions, but Durkon kept surviving. Durkon was actually aware they were trying to get rid of him, but he was resigned to it until Roy stood up for him, at which point the two left to form their own group.
    • Miko Miyazaki overlaps this trope and Snipe Hunt. She's so unbearable to be around that she's repeatedly sent on missions away from Azure City, usually for months at a time; she's so bad that they actually consider it worth the bad publicity of having her representing the city if it means getting her out of their hair. No one ever explicitly says they're trying to kill her, but the other paladins sort of give the idea that no one would be particularly sad if she did die, either.
      • Unfortunately, being on adventures so often and surviving means she's the most powerful paladin in her order. She almost kills Hinjo in combat, after being stripped of her Paladin abilities.
    • Inverted by Tarquin, who decides he wants to marry a woman from the Free City of Doom who is already married to a Pikeman on the city's south wall. When his soldiers invade, they take special care of her husband. Which he then told her about.
  • In this Schlock Mercenary strip, part of the book "The Blackness Between", Tagon and Jeeves discuss how to handle a frigate controlled by Admiral Breya Andreyasn's husband, as part of the Tough's assignment to capture Breya, by sending him and his ship off to attack a hostile force that the Toughs have no intention of engaging beyond a feint, leaving the frigate to be overwhelmed and destroyed or at least in no position to interfere with their mission.
  • The entire test in the Flower of Zigena arc from Tower of God is designed around the idea that public enemy Viole and his allies should meet Urek Mazino and just fucking die already.
  • Unsounded: Will's father sent him to serve as a drummer boy in a violent war, intending that Will die there, to punish Will's mother for her infidelity. The soldiers in the regiment the young boy is sent to find his father pretty abhorrent for it.
  • Vexxarr:

    Web Original 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Uriah Gambit


General Macarthur

General Macarthur sent his wife's lover to his death. However, his wife grew distant from him and later died; alone and plagued with guilt, he feels death will be a relief.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / UriahGambit

Media sources: