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Villain's Dying Grace

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"I will not die a monster!"

More often than not, when faced with imminent death a villain will regret nothing and decide that if they're going to die, they'll go out swinging and ranting, or worse, try to take to the hero down with them in a last blaze of spiteful glory. However, this isn't always the case. On some occasions, a villain faced with a lifetime of evil flashing in front of their eyes as their lair begins to implode around them will have a Heel Realization. Alternatively, they may feel that after being beaten in a fair fight by a Worthy Opponent they should let the superior one carry on in their stead.

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Unable to escape personally or unwilling to keep going and living with what they are, they decide that they'll do one good thing before they die: They'll save the hero.

They may cling to life so that their death doesn't collapse their castle, or to hold back a wave of monsters. Perhaps they'll show them where their personal escape passage is hidden or briefly become a Load-Bearing Hero to let them escape.

This isn't quite a Heroic Sacrifice or Redemption Equals Death — they would have died anyway — but at the least it shows they weren't completely evil and still retained a measure of nobility as a Fallen Hero, Noble Demon or Anti-Hero. Sadly, this is definitely not enough for Redemption Earns Life. In a best case scenario, they Died Happily Ever After. It is one way to make characters and audience lament Alas, Poor Villain. Subtrope of Graceful Loser and Death Equals Redemption. Compare to Heel–Face Door-Slam where the villains never truly get to redeem themselves. Not to be confused with Cruel Mercy. Can be used as a form of Restrained Revenge.

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This is a Death Trope, so naturally there are spoilers ahoy!


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • In a Worthy Opponent example, Dordoni Alessandro Del Socacchio dies fending off his own compatriots to allow Ichigo and Nel a way out of an otherwise deadly situation, in return for them healing him after defeating him as well as for Ichigo not holding back in their fight.
    • Tousen joined Aizen because he wanted to get revenge for the death of the woman he loved, even if it meant betraying his long time friends Komamura and Shuhei. After being beaten by both of them, they let him know that they forgive him, which seems to inspire some regret for the things he did. And then he blows up.
    • After getting beaten to a bloody pulp by the zombie-hollow hybrid Ichigo, Ulquiorra is fatally injured and his body dissolves into ashes. His last actions include saving Uryu Ishida from Ichigo's Cero and asking Orihime Inoue, the same girl he mentally tortured through the whole arc, if she's afraid of him or not; when she says that she isn't, he dies acknowledging the existence of the human heart and reaching out to her.
    • Haschwalth having dominated his battle with Uryu dies when Yhwach steals all of his energy. As he lies dying, Haschwalth offers to take all of Uryu's wounds so Uryu can save his friends.
  • Captain Harlock: Near the end of The Movie (Arcadia Of My Youth), the commander of the alien Illumidas forces occupying Vichy Earth challenged Harlock to a one-on-one battleship duel as a show of respect, and invited him to share a drink in Hell together after losing before his ship exploded. Afterwards, Harlock chose to challenge the Illumidas fleet that had been sent to crush the rebellious humans. Fortunately, it turns out that the commander had somehow use the explosion of his battleship to create a Negative Space Wedgie around Harlock's Arcadia that prevented the enemy from being able to target the pirate ship. Harlock takes the opportunity to decapitate the enemy leadership, leaving the fleet in confusion.
  • Altena does this at the end of Noir. Kirika has pushed herself and Altena into the Lava Pit; Altena has Kirika's arm, and Mireille has Altena's. Altena somehow throws Kirika into Mireille's reach to take her hand at the expense of falling herself. Interestingly, Altena in no way was wanting "redemption"; she never had malice towards them in the first place. There was no way that Mireille could pull both of them up; and whether they would be True Noir or not, there was no reason for Kirika to die too.
  • Capricorn Shura in Saint Seiya has a Heel Realization while flying to outer space due to Shiryu's Dangerous Forbidden Technique, and after Shiryu faints he pulls out his armour, puts it on Shiryu and kicks him back to earth so that he survives while Shura dies upon reaching space, entrusting Athena's protection to Shiryu in his last words.
  • In Ginga Densetsu Weed the minor villain Blue's last act is to save the hero's life, when the hero risks it trying to save Blue.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Accelerator attempts to invoke this trope on himself when he's faced with the choice of saving a little girl by using his vector-controlling ability to essentially hack her brain or allowing a bullet shot at his head to hit. He chooses the former... but survives anyway as he managed to finish his work and deflect the bullet just before it reached his brain. Then he doubles it up by saving Yoshikawa after the latter was shot in the aorta from point-blank range by keeping her blood flowing between the ends of the damaged section instead of having her bleed out in seconds, while he himself is unconscious and bleeding out from a combination of cracked skull and brain damage due to the previously mentioned headshot. Result: everyone but the bad guy survives, including Accelerator as a Handicapped Badass Anti-Hero with the aforementioned little girl as his Morality Chain.
  • At the end of the first arc of Naruto Zabuza, a wanted ninja who previously had both of his arms broken in a fight against Kakashi, decides to use his remaining strength to kill his sleazebag former employer. And the majority of his gang. With one kunai. In his mouth.
    • After his defeat by Chiyo and Sakura, Sasori takes a few minutes to expire. During this time he explains to Sakura where and when she can meet with the sleeper agent he imbedded in the Sound Village. This is not entirely altruistic, as Sasori also despises Orochimaru and figures Sakura's team can make his life difficult.
    • With his death imminent and Naruto having just talked him back from the brink of despair, Obito turns on Madara and fights alongside Kakashi to stop him. Even after his body dies, his spirit lingers on long enough to give Kakashi a last, temporary boost to aid in the fight against the true Big Bad.
  • In the manga (but not the anime) of 3×3 Eyes, after Yakumo mortally wounds the Ryo-Ko, Pai comforts it as it lies dying. Perhaps to repay her for this, it tells Pai and Yakumo about a secret passage that will lead them up to the roof of the burning hotel they're trapped in so their friends can rescue them.

    Comic Books 
  • Blacksad: In "Somewhere Within The Shadows", after being fatally wounded by Blacksad, the lizard assassin tells him the name of his employer and Natalia's killer with his dying breath. As he admits, he always hated his boss anyway.
  • Subverted in a Doctor Strange story, where Baron Mordo uses what he thinks will be his last act to send one of Strange's associates to safety. They all live, but she is somewhat smitten with him, which he manipulates to his own advantage for some time. It ends with a minor Pet the Dog moment which reveals he's not entirely evil.
  • The Hellfire Club, in their early days, was presented as more amoral than evil, and it showed in the death of one of their Inner Circle. In battle with the ultimate Sentinel Nimrod, alongside their enemies the X-men, Harry Leland of the Hellfire Club is pushed too far, and the overweight gravity/mass manipulator suffers a massive heart attack. He manages to hang on to life long enough to use his own teammate, invulnerable mutant Sebastian Shaw, as a human Kinetic Kill Weapon against Nimrod with his literal final efforts.
    Wolverine: Fat man had his faults — but he made his exit with style.
    • In One What If? tale, Hellfire Club leader Sebastain Shaw sees his Playing Both Sides dealings come back to bite him, and when found by Wolverine the dying villain provides him with a failsafe he created against the Sentinels.
  • The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants were close to assassinating anti-mutant Senator Robert Kelly until former Brotherhood member Pyro, dying of the Legacy Virus, stopped them. His actions forced Kelly to rethink his anti-mutant stance and probably prevented the disastrous age of Sentinels.
    • Being infected by the Legacy Virus appears to be directly correlated with this trope, as another far less sympathetic Brotherhood member also got a taste of this after contracting the deadly disease: Mastermind, the leering mind-rapist responsible for The Dark Phoenix Saga. Reduced to a bedridden invalid, Mastermind tried providing a trio of X-Men with illusions of their greatest desires as this, and later released Jean Grey from her psychic hold on him so she would live, "finding peace in the last act of his life being the most selfless".
  • Mimic, an occasional enemy of the original X-Men, died after purposely absorbing too much of the Hulk's gamma radiation to both prevent the Hulk from further rampages and to "eliminate the menace the Mimic posed to the world." But then he was revived, rendering his sacrifice moot, and as if to make a parody of the original sacrifice, Marvel later had him heroically sacrifice himself again and, yes, get inexplicably brought back again.

    Fan Works 
  • In Danganronpa: Last Hurrah, Jirou Katashi, after being convicted of murder and told that his parents ignoring him doesn't justify his committing murder, tells the group about how someone in the class besides Samuru, the Ultimate Executioner, has killed lots of people before, as well as where to find that person's name. Subverted when it turns out that Jirou survived his execution and is the mastermind, so it comes off as his attempt to cause another murder.
  • In The Weaver Option, Sliscus uses his dying moments to request Taylor destroy his soul so Slaanesh cannot fashion into a weapon and warns Taylor that she should avoid fighting the Lelith, the Queen of Blades, at all costs. Somewhat subverted when it's later revealed he previously sent a message to Lelith gushing about how much fun she'd have fighting Taylor.
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    Film — Animated 
  • In Fantastic Mr. Fox, Rat tells the heroes where to find Kris just before he expires from electrocution. He also says that he never would have told them that if he hadn't been at death's door.

    Film — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Larry Niven's Known Space:
    • In "The Borderland of Sol", the villain saves the life of two of the three protagonists by increasing the air pressure in his breached asteroid habitat, before being sucked into his miniature black hole, allowing the protagonists an extra bit of time for rescuers to find them.
    • In "A Relic of the Empire", explorer Dr. Richard Mann is trying to evade a murderous space pirate who calls himself Captain Kidd. Mann manages to blow up Kidd's ship. Before Kidd dies in the fire, he radios Mann and tells him a valuable secret: the location of the Puppeteer's homeworld, something all of Known Space has wanted to know. (A possible subversion: Kidd's final comments suggest that he expects Mann to get himself into trouble if he tries to exploit the information.)
  • In the Stephen Baxter short story "More Than Time Or Distance", the dying villain calls the heroine a Worthy Opponent, and tells her where to find his ship so she can get home.
  • In First Among Sequels evil Thursday saves Thursday's life when her own life is doomed.
  • In The Wheel of Time, when the protagonists are trying in vain to outrun an overwhelming enemy force, the Darkfriend Lord Ingtar chooses to renounce the Shadow and sacrifice his life to buy them time by blocking a choke point. Unusually for the trope, he is The Mole, and outs himself as a villain solely for the chance at redemption.
  • In the Warrior Cats novella Shadowstar's Life, as Quick Water dies, she confesses to her murders and the reasons why she did it, and begs for forgiveness not only from the cat she mutually killed, but from everyone else as well.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in Angel with Holtz. Shortly before his death, he makes up with Angel and seems to only want the best for Connor. He's lost taste for vengeance. Or so he says. But right when everything seems to be alright, he manages to pull off the perfect revenge: Finally turning Connor completely against Angel by faking his own murder.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Poison Sky": The Doctor wakes up the real Martha Jones, causing the clone to die. As she dies, the real Martha begs her to reveal the Sontaran plan, which she eventually does. Martha thanks her, but her words fall on deaf ears.
    • "The Unicorn and the Wasp": A giant murderous alien wasp called a Vespiform dies by drowning, but due to a psychic connection it has with Agatha Christie (It Makes Sense in Context), she is dying too. At the last moment, it releases its hold on her, saving her life.
  • In Season 5 of The Flash (2014), the 2049 version of Eobard Thawne, who is imprisoned and appears to be on death row, claims this is his motivation for helping Nora. Whether or not he's telling the truth is unclear at best until the season finale reveals that he was manipulating her all along to alter the timeline to free himself.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • In Kamen Rider Fourze, Big Bad Gamou's last act is to use the Aquarius Switch to repair the broken Core Switch, which brings Kengo back to life.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. Graphite is incensed by the Time Stands Still Villainous Rescue by Kamen Rider Cronus, stating he'd been rightfully defeated by his longtime archrivals Hiiro and Taiga in a battle that lasted the entire night. Having grown powerful enough to resist the time freeze and with the last of his strength, he sends Cronus flying, which undoes the freeze, and he properly takes the killing shot that was about to hit him, thereby allowing the heroes to advance further. He even gives a satisfied smile and farewell to his rivals and former allies present before exploding.
  • In Season 2 of The Librarians 2014, Moriarty, tired of being The Dragon to Prospero, tries to get rid of him, only for Prospero to deal him a fatal blow. As Moriarty is dying, he tells the Librarians how to defeat Prospero.
  • In Person of Interest, Terney, a member of HR (a group of corrupt policemen within the NYPD), is fatally shot by Carter. As he's rapidly bleeding out, she asks him to be a cop one last time and tell her who the head of HR is. And he does.
  • In The Shannara Chronicles, minor villain Cephelo holds off the enemy while mortally wounded to let his often-abused daughter Eretria and her friends escape.
  • In Squid Game, Sang-woo, having been beaten in the final game by Gi-hun and given the opportunity to leave alive with him but empty-handed, chooses to take his own life instead so that Gi-hun can get the money and give some to his mother.

    Podcasts 
  • The Adventure Zone: Balance: John's death is this; he has a Heel Realization when the Hunger itself turns on him after starving for the Light of Creation for over a decade. Knowing he’s almost certainly about to die, John brings Merle to Parley to tell him how to defeat the Hunger and save the planar system.

    Theatre 
  • King Lear. After the deaths of Goneril and Regan, a dying Edmund is moved to try and stop the killing of the third daughter, though it's too late. (In some versions.)

    Video Games 
  • The ending of Final Fantasy IX. Kuja, the major Big Bad of the game, teleports the Heroes away and to a safe location once they defeated Necron, the Avatar of Death.
  • In Metal Gear Solid, Psycho Mantis, the Psychokinetic badass responsible for smashing the fourth wall into thousands of teeny tiny pieces, has one of these moments after you defeat him. He explains essentially, that his life is shit, everyone's life is shit, and we're all a bunch of horny buggers focused solely on doing the nasty. The only reason he wanted to join Liquid, was to find an excuse to kill as many people as he could. After reading Snake's mind and discovering that no naughty thoughts are going on in there, he decides to help by levitating a bookshelf out of the way, allowing you to continue. As he takes his last breath, he utters these final words: "This was the first time I've ever used my powers to help someone. Funny... It feels... kind of... nice."
    • In a subversion, Mantis' true reason was that he was simply playing his part in the Batman Gambit to get Snake to arm Metal Gear for FOXHOUND.
  • The Shining Series games are loaded with this, since every villain you defeat save for the Big Bad always seems to do a Heel–Face Turn right before they die.
  • Dead Rising 2 has an example of this after beating Carl Schiff. After beating him, Chuck takes a package of Zombrex from his mailbag, explaining that he needs it for his daughter. The mortally-wounded Carl signs for it himself, then arms his last mailbomb for a very special delivery.
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the last three out of four levels leading up to the last level have bosses like this; of course, they all fight tooth-and-nail before that point.
  • Shadar's final act after being defeated in Ni no Kuni is to sever the link between himself and his soul mate Oliver so that his soul mate will not die with him.
  • In the Prince of Persia remake, after defeating the Warrior for the last time, he grabs the Prince and Elika and throws them to safety. Elika states that the Warrior (a Noble Demon who only sold his soul to protect his people) did it as a last kind act. The more cynical Prince chimes in that he thinks he was just trying one last attack before he died and they got lucky.
  • In Fallout, if the Vault Dweller presents The Master with compelling evidence that his plan to "unify" the wasteland is doomed as the Mutants are all sterile, he'll self-destruct his own base (he cannot leave due to his own mutation) while giving the Dweller a chance to escape before it goes down.
    "There is no hope... Leave now... Leave while you still have — hope..."
  • Noble Demon Rubicante of Final Fantasy IV, true to form, will make sure to compliment Cecil and his companions for their bravery and skill as he dies in the rematch in the Giant of Babel.
  • Happens surprisingly often in Town of Salem. Many a mafioso has ratted out a Serial Killer/Arsonist in their Last Will, and many a Serial Killer has ratted out a Godfather in theirs.
  • In Bravely Default II, Adam willingly goes down with his crashing airship after his defeat by the heroes and subsequent betrayal by his Enigmatic Minion, but not before saving the hero from being crushed by debris from the collapsing ship and giving him his "Hellblade" job. Notably, Adam is not in the least bit repentant even in his last moments; he's simply empowering the heroes to punish his former minion and her real boss, the Big Bad, in his stead.
  • RealityMinds: As Kvena is sent to the afterlife, she uses the last of her power to restore life to Astrake's mortally wounded body, which was caused by her.
  • Sword of Paladin: Red Rose realizes that she doesn't have much longer to live after overusing her Extra Gem, so she uses her remaining power to revive Will and take him to the Underworld, where she intends to find a way to give him immortality.
  • In Trials of Mana, the Crimson Wizard offers at least some emotional support and advice to Duran and/or Angela in their storylines upon his defeat, as well as granting the party the superbly potent Ignition chain ability (in the 2020 version).

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Danganronpa series:
    • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the students discover an AI named Alter Ego who helps them hack into the mastermind's computer systems and work to keep him secret from Monokuma. The third culprit, Celestia Ludenberg, steals Alter Ego and exploits him to orchestrate a double murder, but after being caught, said culprit reveals where they stashed him and takes the secret of said trump card to the grave.
    • In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, after getting two of his classmates killed in the previous chapter, Kokichi Ouma ends up getting killed...but it turns out he decided to die in a way that would result in a case that's impossible for Monokuma to know who died, thus ending the killing game and preventing Maki from becoming the blackened. This is especially notable as he went out of his way to paint himself as evil throughout the game, but depending on which interpretation of his character you side with, it's possible to believe that he hated the game, and came to really regret orchestrating the deaths of Gonta and Miu and previously treating Maki with contempt for being a Professional Killer.
  • Monika from Doki Doki Literature Club! has her Heel Realization after she sort of dies by being deleted by the player, after which she restarts the game with herself erased so that everyone else can be happy. In the normal ending, she does a second round when it turns out Sayori has Gone Mad from the Revelation like Monika did earlier; Monika deletes her to keep her from harming the player, and then deletes the whole game because it's just going to go on like that.
  • Sou Hiyori from Your Turn to Die is a Compulsive Liar who is assumed to have no qualms throwing anybody under the bus to save himself from death, manipulates practically everyone around him (including a borderline suicidal little girl) to ensure his own safety, and has a bone to pick with protagonist Sara Chidouin. When the choice falls upon either sentencing him or said little girl though, he volunteers to die for her sake - and if his wish is granted, he spends his last moments activating an AI of Sara's late best friend so that she can come to terms with his death, right before peacefully succumbing to his wounds.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "Meltdown", Mr. Freeze projects a wall of ice to force Batman to retreat rather than risk his own life to save Freeze from the building collapsing around them.
  • In the hour-long season finale of Big Hero 6: The Series, as his evil plans are thwarted and his life’s work crumbles before his eyes, Obake’s last act is to release Baymax from his control to save Hiro, the only person he considered his equal, before resigning himself to his fate.
    "I am satisfied with my care."

Alternative Title(s): My Revenge Is Mercy, Merciful In Death

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