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Vorpal Pillow

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"I can see you don't want to talk about this, Mr. Crawley," I said, "and that you're about to try to fabricate. So, before you say anything, you should know that, if I sense you're lying, or even being incomplete, I'm going to pull that pillow out from under your head and smother you with it. Take a moment and imagine what that'll be like." I smiled as though I had just wished him a nice day.
John Rain, Winner Take All

When you want someone to go to sleep for a really, really long time, all you need is a nice soft pillow.

Fiction, especially in visual media, has a hard time conveying the idea of deadly force. While Boom, Headshot! is a pretty clear indication that Bob isn't getting up again, Rule of Perception means that a character without obvious lethal injuries may not seem 'dead' to the audience. This is why suffocation and strangulation — the amount of time it takes to kill someone by cutting off her oxygen and the chance she can be revived afterward — are treated so inconsistently. A minor character might die in seconds but another can be choked until they go limp and (especially if they're a major character) wake up perfectly fine. Bob may fall into water, thrash and splash for a bit, and then go under for good, while Alice can lie at the bottom of a pool for an hour and still be revived by a Kiss of Life.

So it's tropable that quick and certain death by suffocation is available through nothing more than a standard pillow — press one to your victim's face and they will struggle a few seconds, squirm a few seconds more, and then expire. Once dead, they are dead for real, with no chance of revival.

While there is some justification for this (characters murdered by pillow are often weakened, sick, or injured), this trope employs considerable artistic license. An ordinary pillow is quite porous and will allow some air to get through, so even if it were pressed as tightly against the victim's nose and mouth as possible (despite struggling and all), it will still kill much more slowly than other methods which entirely cut off the victim's air supply.

Named after the fatal vorpal sword in Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, although, admittedly, the pillow variety rarely goes snicker-snack.

Unmarked spoilers abound, this trope being about a "foolproof" method of inflicting nigh-instantaneous death and all. Watch yourself.

Often combined with Sickbed Slaying. Compare Instant Sedation and Instant Death Bullet for similar examples of the unrealistically quick dispatch of a human being. Occasionally overlaps with Sinister Suffocation and even Mercy Kill.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Lagoon uses this trope in a more realistic fashion than the standard. Revy appears to try killing her father this way, but simply uses the pillow to muffle the blast from her gun.
  • This is the way Nogiku kills Nina in Kasane. Somewhat justified here, as the victim neither has the means (she can't move) nor the will to resist, and this method is the least likely to leave traces of murder.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Dark Victory - Alberto Falcone is killed by his sister Sofia in exactly this manner. Semi-justified in that Sofia is a very strong woman and Alberto is very frail - she didn't suffocate so much as crush him.
  • When Tommy's mother in Batman: Hush recovered from cancer, she disowned him, subsequently cutting him off from the Elliot family fortune in retaliation for his continuing relationship with Peyton. As a result, Tommy killed her by smothering her with a pillow, while Peyton killed their lawyer and destroyed Mrs. Elliot's new will.
  • The "instant strangulation" trope is averted in the 2008 remake of Unknown Soldier. The main character uses a makeshift garrote to quietly kill a Child Soldier and thinks to himself how it takes a long time to strangle a person, even a young boy. Even he's surprised, and he's a doctor.
  • Exaggerated in the Richard Sala story "Where Is Christine Brooder?", which includes a subplot about a Serial Killer whose m.o. is to smother his victims with a pillow...while they're standing upright, at bus stops, in broad daylight.

    Fan Works 
  • A Dragon's Roar: This is how Aerys is killed at the start of the Civil War, Rhaella smothering him after sex (with Rhaegar's explicit blessing).
  • Greg attempts to suffocate his dad in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rich and Famous. It doesn't work.
  • Averted in If Them's the Rules, when Buck attempts to smother an ill Tom Riddle, it takes a while for Tom to start blacking out and is struggling the whole time.
  • In the Invader Zim fic The Karma Circle: Chances on Top of Chances, Gaz is smothered by a pillow in the hospital, with it being noted that it's only working because she was still weak from the stomach flu that put her in the hospital in the first place. As she's in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, this happens to her several times before she figures out how to fight back.
  • In A Thing of Vikings: Father Hendricksson attempts to smother Ruffnut with a pillow after baptizing her in her sleep in order to get rid of her pagan influence and make it look it she died from the aftereffects of childbirth. However Einar catches him and intervenes on the attempted assassination.
  • Subverted in The Unfantastic Adventures of Bizarro No. 1 due to Bizarro and his family's backwards nature. Bizarro stuffing a pillow over Bizarro Lois Lane' head is their idea of foreplay.
  • In War of Remnant: A RWBY Anthology, this is how Glynda mercy kills her wife, Gannet, after the latter had been paralyzed from the neck down and suffered a miscarriage as a result, begging Glynda to put her out of her misery.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Amour has Georges Mercy Kill his wife Anne in this way. This death is on the more realistic (and genuinely upsetting) end of the spectrum, as it shows how much effort the character in question has to exert in unflinching detail.
  • In Black Cougar, one of the villains tries to kill a witness in this manner. Luckily, Black Cougar saves her.
  • Greta is killed this way in Blood and Black Lace.
  • Body: Tired of waiting for Arthur to die, Cali takes matters into her own hands and smothers him with a cushion.
  • Perhaps the earliest example of this trope in film. John Gray the cadaver seller in The Body Snatcher, based on the crimes of Burke & Hare (see Real Life below), smothers Joseph to death (without a pillow) by pinning him down and forcefully pressing a hand over the nose and mouth. Joseph struggles and suffocates for a couple of minutes before expiring.
  • In The Comedy of Terrors, this is how Trumbull disposes of his first victim in an effort to drum up business for his struggling funeral parlor. This plan goes awry when the elderly victim's young widow immediately leaves town with all his money and possessions (she doesn't even pay off the servants).
  • Near the end of Dead Again, the detective is given the key to the murder mystery after talking to a housebound old woman. The woman is subsequently visited by the murderer, who gently makes sure she's comfortably tucked up in bed and then suffocates her with her pillow.
  • In Death Walks on High Heels, the killer murders Nicole by smothering her with a cushion: the only one of his victims he does not kill by slitting their throat.
  • Played with in John Waters' Desperate Living: it doesn't take more than a few seconds for maid Grizelda Brown (Jean Hill) to kill Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole)'s husband, but then again a 400lb woman sitting on a man's face ain't exactly a pillow...
  • A different version in Dillinger (1973). Dillinger's gang have to flee their hideout after G-Men attack, but one of them is too wounded to flee, so Pretty Boy Floyd covers his face with a pillow and shoots his pistol into it. This is right in the middle of a gunfight involving automatic weapons, so it's more like a blindfolded execution than a covert murder.
  • In Emelie, the eponymous babysitter attempts to do this to one of her charges, only to realize he's no longer in the bed.
  • The Escapist: After battering Tony with a chair, Lacey grabs a pillow and attempts to finish him off with it. He might have succeeded if Frank hadn't hauled him off.
  • Subverted in The Godfather Part II when a hitman is shot dead just as he's about to carry out a Sickbed Slaying.
  • In The Good Son Henry attempts to do this to his sister Connie after he had earlier tried to drown her by pushing her onto thin ice, he stops because he notices his mother is in the room and pretends he was fluffing her pillows to cover it up.
  • Toyed with in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly when Angel Eyes ("the Bad"), played by Lee Van Cleef, does the Sickbed Slaying of his erstwhile employer by first covering over the guy's face with the pillow, then shoots twice through it into the guy's face.
  • Gore Orphanage has the trope performed with a teddy bear.
  • The Grey Zone: In the opening, the Sonderkommandos smother one of their own with a pillow as a mercy kill.
  • Haywire plays with the trope by having the protagonist appear to start to apply the pillow to a defeated opponent — only to instead fire her gun through the pillow to kill the guy instead.
  • The old Hong Kong horror film Hell Has No Boundary has a rather disturbing and graphic example, where a little girl is eliminated by her own parents using a pillow.
  • Subverted in Inglorious Basterds. During his murder-montage, Hugo Stiglitz is seen shoving a pillow over the face of a Gestapo officer... then stabbing him in the face repeatedly, THROUGH the pillow.
  • In Joker (2019), while Arthur Fleck was visiting his mother, Penny, in the hospital after finding out he was adopted, he kills her by using her pillow.
  • In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, this is how Mills kills Lockwood. Made somewhat plausible by the fact that Lockwood is a crippled, dying old man on life support. Plus, as we only see the lead-up and not the act itself, we don't know how long it took or how easy it was.
  • In Lady Frankenstein, Charles murders Thomas by suffocating him with a pillow while he having sex with Tanya.
  • In The Loved Ones, Lola uses a pillow to suffocate Bright Eyes, who is actually her mother.
  • The Man Who Came Back: Worried that Caleb is going to tell the truth about Paxton's Kangaroo Court, Billy smothers him with a pillow.
  • In Mudbound, Jamie smothers his father to death in retaliation for the brutal torture and mutilation of Ronsel.
  • In The Naked Gun, a hypnotized doctor is about to suffocate Nordberg with a pillow before Frank Drebin interrupts him. The doctor throws the pillow at Drebin as he flees, and it inexplicably sticks to Drebin's face. It takes him several seconds of struggling to rip it off.
  • In the Telugu film Narasimhudu, it is revealed in Flashback late in the film that the bad guys, who work for a corrupt politician, did this to Chitti, Narasimha's little sister who they had recently raped, in a Sickbed Slaying at the hospital. The reason they did this was to silence her as a witness, and it would be the final straw that sent Narasimha on the Roaring Rampage of Revenge that he has been on all movie.
  • In The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill, the Countess of Roxbury attempts to smother Kissey with a pillow. She succeeds.
  • The Hindi film, Omkara, being a direct remake of Othello, has this in the end. It's a lot longer than five seconds. The scene actually goes on a painfully long time, but in the end, you know what happens.
  • After McMurphy gets a lobotomy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chief Bromden decides to put him out of his misery by suffocating him with a pillow.
  • Esther does this to Danny in his hospital bed in Orphan. He doesn't die, but is left in worse shape than he was before.
  • Ben Healy attempts to do this to Junior in Problem Child, but ultimately doesn't go through with it. He is still holding the pillow for a couple of scenes afterwards, though.
  • In Promising Young Woman, Al Munroe smothers Cassie by clamping a pillow over her face. It is an overall more realistic take on the trope as he plants his knee on the pillow and leans on it with with his full body weight for about two full minutes of screentime before she expires.
  • In the Jess Franco film She Killed In Ecstasy, Mrs. Johnson uses this method to dispatch one of her victims after seducing her. More plausible than most examples, as the weapon she uses is an inflatable plastic cushion rather than a standard porous fabric pillow.
  • Narrowly averted in Sleeping with the Enemy. When Martin visits Laura's blind mother in the nursing home and tricks her into giving him information, it's heavily implied that he's about to smother her with a pillow - but a nurse walks in just in the nick of time, and he instead tucks the pillow behind her head.
  • In Superdome, the killer enters Rita's hotel room with a Hairpin Lockpick and smothers her in her sleep.
  • In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Cal tries to do this to end his friend's suffering. Since Ricky Bobby isn't suffering at all, just napping, he fights Cal off.
  • Theatre of Blood: When Psaltery thinks his wife is guilty of adultery, he smothers her with a pillow.
  • In Tiger House, Shane tells Kelly he performed a Mercy Kill on Callum's father, who was dying of cancer, by smothering him with a pillow.
  • In The Uncanny, Janet murders Miss Malkin by smothering her with a pillow. Miss Malkin puts up more of a struggle than victims of this trope usually do, and Janet ends using her entire body weight to pin the pillow over her face.
  • In Vanilla Sky this is mixed to a disturbing degree with Out with a Bang.
  • Where the Truth Lies: Reuben killed Maureen by smothering her with a pillow it turns out.

  • In "By These Presents", by Henry Kuttner, a person signs a Deal with the Devil (complete immortality and invulnerability unless he commits suicide)... and immediately does this to his disabled mother. That's because the devil took as surety the man's conscience. At the end, he returns it. By then, this case is far from the only reason that the devil gets the man's soul a few seconds later.
  • Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt Adventures novel Night Probe features a murder carried out by this method to facilitate its concealment. The victim is sufficiently frail and weak that his death is not unexpected in any case, and is too feeble to put up a significant struggle. The murderer uses theatrical makeup to conceal the bruising on the inside of the victim's lips from the pillow pressing them against his teeth.
  • The Classic Singapore Horror Stories short "Paint it Black" has the Gold Digger, Jessica, who married an old Indian billionaire and strategically arranged for the billionaire's first two wives murdered. With the billionaire about to die of heartbreak from his family being ruined, Jessica decide to hasten the process by getting rid of him personally. Said murder happens in a lavish bedroom full of satin pillows and silk blankets, and the writer Damien Sin leaves the details to the readers' imagination.
  • The Dresden Files: In Cold Days, Mab's first attempt to kill Harry as part of his 'physical therapy' is to try to smother him with his pillow. Its effectiveness is justified by the fact that Harry has basically been in a coma for over six months, and even then he is able to escape it, with difficulty.
  • In Death Comes as the End, a variation is used on one of the victims who is smothered with linen sheeting used to wrap a mummy. In other words, the killer mummifies the victim alive.
  • In the third book of the Griffin's Daughter series: Sonoe, the royal consort (who's also The Mole for the Big Bad) performs a Sickbed Slaying on King Keizo this way. Doubles as a Mercy Kill, as Keizo was currently suffering from a plague with a low survival rate, and she wanted to spare him the suffering of that, plus the Hell on Earth she was about to help unleash.
  • In Stephen King's It, this is how 5-year-old Patrick Hockstetter kills his baby brother Avery, but he does it by pressing the baby's face into the pillow rather than holding a pillow to his face.
  • In The Mallorean, Silk smothers a number of people offscreen as vengeance for the death of a fellow spy, in order to Make It Look Like an Accident. However there's no indication given that it was instantaneous or easy. Then he runs short on time and has to start using knives...
  • I've Got You Under My Skin:
    • Betsy Powell was smothered to death with her own pillow; her body was found with the pillow over her face and her hands still clutching the edges of the pillow in a futile attempt to push it away.
    • Jane attempts to smother Muriel with a pillow too, although this time the intended victim is able to sink her fingernails into the killer's hands, giving her just enough time to shove the pillow away and scream for help.
  • Native Son features a particularly extreme version of this trope. Not only does the victim die from suffocation by the pillow, but the person killing her didn't even realize what he was doing. What's more, a third person in the room didn't realize what was going on because the sound of the smothering was so negligible.
  • Done by Bromden to McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, as a Mercy Kill.
  • Mentioned by the narrator of the short story The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst. He recalls feeling so bad for his younger brother for the medical condition that he was born with that he thought of smothering him with a pillow to end his misery. However, the trope is defied when he sees his younger brother smiling at him, finally concluding that his brother is more than just an Empty Shell and choosing to let him stay alive.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
  • In The Remittance Kid by J.T. Edson, one of the anarchists sneaks into a hospital disguised as a priest and uses a pillow to smother a wounded accomplice before he can talk to the police.
  • The Sickbed Slaying of Alan Venters in Trainspotting is carried out by this method.
  • In the first book of the War of the Spider Queen series Pharaun confirms Lloth's silence by going to a brothel full of deposed drow noblewomen and having a chat with an ex-priestess. She wants to be released from that horrible place in exchange, and since she knows too much anyways Pharaun does so by smothering her with a pillow, since they charge extra for killing prostitutes and it doesn't leave a mark.

    Live Action TV 
  • Angel tries this on Wesley in "Forgiving", but it doesn't work. (Some fans speculate that this was deliberate; he could have killed Wes easily in other ways, but he was really just making a point.)
  • In The Blacklist, Reddington kills Lizzy's father this way.
  • Boardwalk Empire subverts the vorpal part by showing the impracticality of the method: Eli tries to kill the survivor of the Woods Massacre when he reappears, badly wounded, by smothering him with a pillow in a hospital. It takes a very long time, though, makes enough noise to raise suspicions from the patient in an adjacent bed, and Eli is clearly exhausted by the time Van Alden and his agents come in - with the survivor wheezing, but still very much alive.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Carnival Row: Piety kills Absalom using this, when he won't reveal what she wants to know.
  • Subverted on Chuck: Casey plays up this trope when a villain attempts to smother him in his hospital bed. Said villain falls for it, removes the pillow... and promptly gets a bonsai tree smashed over his head.
  • Cold Case: In "Sherry Darlin'", it looks as if the main suspect James is about to confess to smothering his grandmother with a pillow. however, at the last moment, he decides he cannot go through with it. His girlfriend, who had put hhim up to it, takes the pillow and does it herself.
  • Subverted in the Swedish series Crimes Of Passion - a murderer sticks a pillow over Amateur Sleuth Puck's face, but after leaving, she regains consciousness.
  • CSI: The first Victim of the Week in "Cockroaches" is killed this way. The hitman originally planned to shoot him, but finding the victim asleep, he smothered him instead.
  • CSI: NY: In "And Here's to You, Mrs. Azrael," a mother unknowingly did it to her own daughter. She believed the girl in the hospital was the driver of the car in which her daughter died; however, due to their similar appearance, there was mistaken identity as to who survived and who died. The girl tried to tell her mother, but she didn't get it.
  • In the third season of Dark (2017), Adam suffocates Hannah because she knew too much about time travel. He then carried her daughter away as if nothing had happened.
  • Death in Paradise: Used in "A Personal Murder" to slay the Victim of the Week (who suffers from sleep apnea and bad heart).
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show:
    • Played for laughs in "It May Look Like a Walnut", when Rob, overly absorbed with watching a scary TV show, obliviously starts pillow smothering Laura, with comical arm flailing included.
    • In "Long Night's Journey into Day", Millie and Laura are home alone while their husbands and kids go on a fishing trip. Laura happens to start coughing right after hearing a creepy noise. Trying to muffle the coughing, Millie holds a pillow over her head. Laura eventually fights free and tells Millie she almost smothered her.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: Used to kill the Victim of the Week in "Room Without a View". Justified as the victim is passing out drunk and in no state to put up any resistance.
  • Empress Of China has Princess Gaoyang kill Princess Anding this way with a handkerchief. Justified, considering we are talking about a newborn victim, and that the culprit is seen strangling her beforehand.
  • Father Brown:
    • A blackmailer who is passing-out drunk is smothered to death with a teddy bear in "The Theatre of the Invisible".
    • In "The Cat of Mastigatus", the would-be killer, realising that the victim was still alive, sneaks into her hospital room and attempts to finish the job with a pillow.
    • In "The Queen Bee", the Victim of the Week, who is laid up in bed with a broken leg, is smothered with a pillow.
  • A French Village:
    • Jules smothers Kurt with a pillow, who had previously asked that he be killed as a mercy. It's unclear if he did this for mercy though or because Kurt slept with his wife.
    • Later it seems like Lucienne will kill Jules this way too. It's subverted however, and he's still living decades later as an old man.
  • Game of Thrones: This is Daenerys' method of euthanizing a catatonic Drogo.
  • Ginny and Georgia: Georgia smothers Tom Fuller using a pillow in his bed as a Mercy Kill.
  • In the Haven episode "Magic Hour Part 2", The Bolt Gun Killer finishes Noelle off this way after tracking her down after shooting her in the woods. She was bleeding out and probably would not have survived without medical attention anyway.
  • Harrow: Used to murder the Victim of the Week in "Lex Talionis" ("The Law of Retaliation"): an elderly patient in a nursing home. The murderer first straps the victim to the bed to reduce the struggling.
  • Inside No. 9 : Used in the episode Simon Says by protagonist Spencer on his Loony Fan Simon as a form of self defence when he thinks Simon has murdered another fan in front of him. Turns out the other man is actually alive and well, the whole ordeal was planned as part of Simon’s audition.
  • In iZombie, Blaine uses a pillow to smother his vegetative grandfather as part of a plan to get revenge on his own father.
  • In Legends of Tomorrow, Ray realises he's possessed by Neron when he finds himself attempting this on Nora against his will.
  • Living With Yourself: Occurs in the last episode, attempted by Miles Elliot on his clone. Subverted that Miles only managed to knock out his double, and suddenly has a My God, What Have I Done? moment and quickly resuscitates him. They both survive and decide to co-exist alongside each other, especially how Kate Elliot in a later scene is revealed to be pregnant with Miles' (or the clone's? It isn't made clear.) baby.
  • Major Crimes: In "Poster Boy", the Serial Killer slams his third victim on to the bathroom floor and then smothers her with a pillow as he cannot risk any noise alerting the neighbours.
  • In Mercy Street, Frank, a Confederate soldier disguised as a dentist's assistant, smothers a Union officer who is laid up in Mansion Street Hospital with a pillow and steals some plans from his room.
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • In "The Axeman Cometh", the second Victim of the Week is smothered with a pillow as he lies drunk in the back of his Cadillac. The killer then shoves the car into the swimming pool.
    • The first Victim of the Week in "The Creeper". This instance is more realistic than many examples as the victim was drunk, drugged and there were two people holding the pillow over his face.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Used as a murder weapon in "Blood & Money". A piece of down found on the Victim of the Week becomes a vital clue.
  • Monk: The killer does this in the opening scene of "Mr. Monk and the Very, Very Old Man." Not as much of a stretch as some other examples, since the man was in fact very, very old. We don't see exactly how long it takes him to die, but the death is apparently quick and clean enough that no one at first suspects foul play.
  • Murder, She Wrote: Used to kill the Victim of the Week in "The Error of her Ways" (who had already been shot).
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:
    • In the episode featuring Master Ninja, Joel and the 'Bots cut back to Dr. Forrester down in Deep 13, and he's shown hastily trying to kill TV's Frank this way. In the "Poopie" outtake reel, this was one of many, many scenes which forced Frank into a fit of giggles.
    • In the first episode of Season 8, featuring Revenge of the Creature, Pearl Forrester admits that she killed her son in this manner after her plan to raise him correct the second time around (he was turned back into a baby in the Season 7 finale) failed.
  • New Tricks: Used to kill the Victim of the Week (who is Chained to a Bed) in "Prodigal Sons".
  • In Nip/Tuck, after a plane crash, Julia thinks that her mother is dying and euthanizes her with a pillow. It turns out not to be her mom after all. Whoops.
  • Norsemen: Orm tries and fails to kill his mortally wounded brother Olav with a pillow, forcing him to reach into his gaping chest wound and strangle his heart instead. It's presented as a demonstration of how pathetic Orm is that he couldn't even smother someone who couldn't raise his arms to fight back.
  • Noughts & Crosses: Jack smothers Danny in the hospital with a pillow, to make his death seem like a result of the injuries the police inflicted on him and incite the Noughts into revolting from outrage over it.
  • On Orphan Black, Grace attempts this on Helena. Subverted; Helena survives and turns the tables on Grace by strangling Grace to unconsciousness.
  • Penny Dreadful: Overlaps with Sickbed Slaying. Brona's affliction is pretty advanced tuberculosis, for which she is bedridden and in constant pain. At Ethan's request, Victor comes to assist in making her final moments more comfortable... Except that Victor also requires a beautiful female corpse to create a bride for his creature, necessitating a conveniently wound-free execution technique. Absurdly, he is able to send Ethan out for something down the hall and finish killing her before Ethan has even returned.
  • Played with on The Pretender when Miss Parker pretends to kill Jacob (Sydney's comatose twin brother).
  • In third season of PrisonBreak Lechero is killed by this trope.
  • In Revenge, after Michelle Banks paralyzes Aiden with a poison, this is how Victoria finishes him off.
  • Commented on rather hilariously, during an episode of Roseanne:
    Nancy: Arnie's always whining that I'm smothering him.
    Roseanne: If you can still hear him whining, you ain't holding the pillow down hard enough.
  • Subverted on Scrubs during an Imagine Spot. J.D reflects on the fact that the new Chief of Medicine is very friendly and personable with her coworkers, but very cold-blooded toward the patients. In the Imagine Spot this is illustrated by her realizing that one patient's insurance won't cover any more time in the ICU, so she responds by attempting to smother him with his pillow. He survives and she keeps trying again while shouting Why Won't You Die?.
  • Seinfeld:
    • Played for Laughs and Subverted when George is in the hospital and is in "so much pain" that he asks Jerry to end his life this way. Jerry says "You mean like this?" and puts the pillow over his face for a second, and George starts yelling.
    • In another episode, a hospitalized Mr. Pitt asks Elaine to get him another pillow from the other side of the room. After she picks it up, she notices that he has fallen asleep. Moments later, a nurse walks into the room, sees Elaine tiptoeing towards a sleeping Mr. Pitt holding a pillow, and assumes the worst.
  • In Season 2 of Shameless (US), Frank's abusive mother, Peggy, is dying of cancer. Rather than wait to die in pain, she has Sheila smother her with a pillow. Of course since her fight-or-flight response kicks in, Sheila has to sit on her face with the pillow to get her down.
  • Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell: In a season 10 episode, Shaun throws to a segue with the words "In some other news..." The scene then cuts to someone in bed being smothered with a pillow, before cutting back to a bewildered Shaun:
    Shaun: I said "some other news"! Not "smother news"!
  • Happened near the end of season eight of Smallville to a depowered supervillain.
  • In Sonny with a Chance, Sonny pulls a variation of this on Chad calling it P.F.S (Pillow in the Face Syndrome).
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even in the future they do this, with a killer trying to smother a comatose Quark before he wakes up and identifies him from an earlier attempt. The episode was a homage of murder mysteries, so perhaps he had tradition in mind. It's a particularly ridiculous use of this trope, since he tried it seconds after stabbing a guard to death. Regardless, the Sickbed Slaying gets averted when Quark's brother walks in and starts screaming, causing Odo to arrive with a bunch of guards. When Rom realises he's saved his brother's life (meaning he doesn't inherit the bar) he starts screaming all over again, waking Quark up from his coma.
  • The Truth Seekers: Exaggerated with one murderer who smothered two young children while committing a different crime. Investigators think he used a couch cushion, but it's revealed that he did it accidentally by hugging their faces to his body for a few seconds.
  • In The Tudors Margaret uses a pillow to kill her husband, the king of Portugal. He does struggle quite a lot, but the attempt is successful.
  • Twin Peaks, Leland Palmer suffocates Jacques with a pillow in a few short seconds; granted, the man was already injured and in hospital, but it was an extremely quick suffocation nonetheless. Made all the worse by the fact that they referred to the act of smothering with a pillow as strangulation in the following episode.
  • Under the Dome: Christine kills Eva this way.
  • Used in Weeds, after switching off the life support fails to have the desired effect. "Shane, get mommy a pillow."
  • Wiseguy. In "Postcard From Morocco" Carole does a Heel–Face Turn and decides to secretly gather evidence on her lover and co-conspirator, Mafia boss Rick Pinzolo. While they're in bed together she presses him for information on a contract killing he arranged, them after he falls asleep takes out a tape recorder. Turns out Rick is only pretending to be asleep, as he suddenly grabs the pillow and smothers Carole to death.


    Mythology & Religion 
  • In 2nd Kings from The Bible, Hazael the servant of King Ben-Hadad of Syria smothers his king to death by placing a wet cloth over his face, thus becoming king after him. (See Real Life below.)

  • Capcom's unreleased Kingpin has the "strangulation is instant death" version of this trope with the death of the mobster Jimmy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Pathfinder, Monks of the Empty Fist can temporarily add abilities to improvised weapons that would normally not suit the weapon. Thus you can use a literal Vorpal Pillow.

  • In Ebenezer, Jacob Marley kills Fran this way, then lies she died in childbirth.
  • Fangirls: When Edna asks Salty for advice on how to resolve the situation with Harry, Salty (who thinks he is giving her advice on how to create a dramatic story) tells her that she has to kill him. After hanging up on Salty, Edna picks up a pillow and marches offstage with a determined look on her face. She doesn't actually get around to killing him.
  • Othello: this is how Othello kills Desdemona, though she's able to wake up and give a short speech before keeling over again.

    Video Games 
  • BioShock 2. Eleanor, the victim, gets better, but she is technically dead long enough to damage you...
  • In Crusader Kings II, if you plot to murder a child character, one of the possible event chains to execute the plot involves bribing a maid to smother the child with a pillow.
  • Hitman:
    • Hitman: Contracts:
      • In the "Beldingford Manor" mission, you can kill Lord Winston Beldingford using a pillow. Amazingly, the rather long and loud struggle does not wake his young concubine sleeping next to him.
      • On a later mission, you can drown one of the targets as he floats on a pool. Similarly, the guard nearby doesn't bat an eye to his struggle, which is even louder.
    • In Hitman (2016), one of the targets in the Sapienza mission, Silvio Caruso, can admit to 47, while disguised as his therapist, that he killed his abusive mother by smothering her with a pillow. 47 can pay the favor back to him.
    • In Hitman 2, you can disguise yourself as a retired KGB spy's nurse, then take him to a bedrest with a pillow. Janus begins monologuing about 47's past and how pointless and inefficient the bio-engineered assassin project was, at which point 47 can shut him up with the fluff under his face.
    • In Hitman 3, 47 can kill Alexa Carlisle with a pillow when she goes to her panic room for a Cathartic Scream.
  • Project Zomboid Bob can kill his injured wife with a pillow as a way to escape the tutorial, but not before giving one of the most tear jerking last words ever.
  • Silent Hill 2: Infamously, this is what James did to his wife. May be justified due to the circumstances, but ultimately the game leaves it up to the player to either understand or condemn the action.
  • In Tyranny, this is how the Fatebinder can choose to dispatch the last heir to the throne of Stalwart: an infant in her crib. Without knowledge of the Edict of Storms' loopholes, it might be the least bad choice.

  • Butch of Chopping Block once gifted his mother a pillow with a card saying "Happy Smother Day". However, due to the comic's Psycho parody, it's unclear whether she was still alive at the time.
  • Dominic Deegan: After the Orcs set a curse upon the human kingdoms for their genocidal crusade, a lot of mutant babies were disowned / murdered by their parents. One of them used a pillow.
    • When a pillow is used (backed with a spell that makes it cling to the victim's face) on an adult, it chokes the target unconscious but, removed in time, causes no further damage.
  • Referred to in this Emmy the Robot strip. As part of her Nandroid education, Emmy suggested doing this to quiet a crying baby so as not disturb their parents' rest, unaware that such an act would prove fatal.
  • In this Penny Arcade, Gabe is on his deathbed and he tells Tycho he got around to reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, thinking it's a wash and Tycho would love it. Tycho had told him about the series fifteen years ago, though Gabe says he would remember if he did and Tycho can borrow it when he's done. That's when Tycho says there's a book Gabe read that's in very small print and starts smothering him with a pillow.
  • In Whomp!, M Dude tells Ronnie that this was how you pillow fight and he tries it out on Agrias.
  • Referenced a couple of times in Something*Positive.
    "I'm not gonna wake up to find you standing over my bed holding a pillow again, am I?"
    "You were uncomfortable. You needed another pillow under your head."
    "You drove across town at three AM because you 'knew' I needed another pillow?"

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Batman: The Animated Series one of Roland Daggett's men attempts to do this to Lucius Fox to keep him from spilling the shady practices he knows about the company. Luckily, Batman was waiting for this to happen and managed to get the drop on him. Unfortunately, Clayface has been waiting there as well, as he's looking to bump the mook off so he can impersonate him and get in close to Daggett in revenge.
  • Family Guy: Peter imagines doing this to Lois in one episode. He doesn't actually do this to her, though.
  • King of the Hill: In "Dale Tech", Dale believes Cotton is going insane and decides to "Mercy Kill" him by suffocating him with a throw pillow. He mentions One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, saying to Cotton: "you're Jack Nicholson" before attempting to smother him. Cotton however fights him off and him smelling a distinctive hair product on the pillow leads him to solve the mystery of a series of home invasions happening at the Hill house.
  • In the Mickey Mouse (2013) short "The Perfect Dream", when Goofy calls a sleep-deprived Mickey in the middle of the night, Mickey actually smothers the phone with a pillow and Goofy reacts to it.
  • In the "Toy Story 4" sketch of Robot Chicken, Woody Mercy Kills Buzz this way when he's effectively lobotomized as a result of Andy using him as a bong.
  • Marco tries to do this to Quinn in Sealab 2021, once Quinn falls into a coma. A nurse catches Marco, though, who insists he was just trying to take the pillow off.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Spoofed in an episode where Homer is in the hospital. When Moe and Barney visit with beer, Homer reacts with fearnote . Barney says "I can't stand to see him like this!" and tries to smother Homer before throwing a water fountain through a nearby window and escaping, while a confused Homer and Moe look on.
      Moe: He really needs a girlfriend.
    • In the episode which parodied the life of Henry VIII, Henry (played by Homer) is killed very hastily and very cleanly this way by Margerine of Aragon (Marge).
    • Homer also does this to Kodos in a Treehouse of Horror episode.
    • An assassin Mr. Burns hires attempts this on Abe. Surprisingly Realistic Outcome happens instead.

    Real Life 
  • This has been stated to be a leading cause of crib death in infants, whether inadvertently or deliberately. In the former case, the weight of the pillow itself provides all the force necessary for suffocation.
  • When the notorious Edinburgh grave-robbers/cadaver-sellers William Burke and William Hare resorted to killing opportune victims, smothering was reportedly a preferred method as the corpse would be in good condition for selling to the local medical (dissection) school.
  • This was reportedly how Caligula killed Emperor Tiberius. Most movie/TV adaptations seem to want to portray his death like this, at least, it might be Common Knowledge.
  • According to the chronicler Giovanni Villani, this is how Manfred, King of Sicily, killed his father, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, in 1250. The modern historians believe his death was natural though.
  • If one believes the account of Sir Thomas More (not everyone does), this is how 12-year-old King Edward V of England and his little brother Richard were killed in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483, by two assassins who smothered them in their beds—on the orders of their uncle, Richard III.
  • Nur Muhammad Taraki, who led the original coup that eventually resulted in the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, was murdered in this way in 1979. Witnesses reported that he took 15 minutes to die, which makes it more plausible.
  • Surviving Assyrian records confirm that the "son of a nobody" Hazael murdered King Ben-Hadad and seized his throne. In a plausible variation of this trope, according to The Bible (II Kings 8:15), Ben-Hadad was sick and weak, the murder weapon was a washcloth, and Hazael was careful to soak it first before using it to suffocate him. That is what we now call waterboarding, although it is far more commonly used as a torture technique rather than a means of execution.
  • Some accounts of the Mossad's 2010 Dubai killing of Hamas money man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh suggest he died this way, possibly quickened by the injection of drugs and/or electric shocks that paralyzed his muscles to make resistance impossible. The idea was to make it look like a natural suffocation that happened by accident.
  • Some conspiracy theroists say that SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia was executed this way as his body was found lying in bed with a pillow over his face. However Scalia was a 78 year old heavy smoker with severe sleep apnea, most likely the pillow naturally fell on his face in the night and that was enough.