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Wham Line

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"I think it can be pretty interesting how a single line in a story, even one that's seven words, can dramatically alter the perception of everything that just happened."
Andrew Hussie, via his former Formspring

Whereas a Wham Episode is an episode that radically alters the Story Arc, a Wham Line is a line of dialogue that radically alters a scene.

A scene is headed in one direction, then the line is uttered. Afterwards, the scene is going somewhere very, very different. For it to be effective the audience must not see it coming — not just not knowing the exact information, but not expecting any kind of surprising, or even significant, line there at all. If there was background music playing beforehand, expect it to abruptly come to a stop after the line is said and/or switch to music that better reflects the scene's new mood.

This is strictly an audience trope. For a milder in-universe version, see Dropping the Bombshell. Often overlaps with Armor-Piercing Question or Armor-Piercing Response, where the line causes a character to seriously rethink their position. In a joke or comic story, a Punch Line functions very similarly.

When something seen by the viewer or reader of visual media radically alters a scene, it's a Wham Shot.

Tends to come in the form of a reveal. Can fit into a Wham Episode. By the very nature of the trope, SPOILERS AHEAD. If we marked them all, the subpages would be 60% white space. Please don't use spoiler markup when adding examples.

Note: This is not just a line that happens during a Wham Episode. The line itself has to radically change the plot in itself. If the line is the result of events or conversations that are clearly shown on screen, or it's a Foregone Conclusion, then it is not a Wham Line. The line itself has to be completely unexpected.

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Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • There's a road safety PSA titled "It Can Wait", in which a man drops his daughters off at a pool party. His wife calls him and he pulls over to talk to her about their missing pet, then keeps driving. While driving a little boy suddenly appears in his backseat and the man talks to him about his life and his interests, and the fact he goes to school with the man's daughter. The man's wife keeps buzzing his phone, distracting him. The kid asks if he will answer the phone, and the man replies "No, never with a kid in the car." The kid replies with, "That's okay, I'm not here..." and vanishes. The man is surprised. His phone buzzes again and he decides to check his phone, taking his attention off the road, not seeing the same little boy playing with a ball in the street, and leading into the Wham Line:
    Kid: [voiceover] ...I'm there.

  • From Ellen DeGeneres' "The Beginning", telling the audience an (admittedly fictional) story about how she met God. The crowd's reaction to this line says it all.
    Ellen: A couple of minutes later, God walks into the room, carrying a tray... I would say she was about 46, 47 years old... beautiful, beautiful black woman...
  • George Carlin's "Euphemisms" routine focuses on one well-known psychiatric disorder when, in his words, "a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and can't take any more input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap." He then proceeds to discuss what it has been called over the years from World War One to The '80s, poking fun at the addition of syllables and lack of directness. The crowd enjoys it up until he gets to its current name...
    Carlin: Then, of course, came the War in Vietnam, which has only been for about 16 or 17 years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
    [Audience murmurs as they realize what he's talking about]
    • This being Carlin, he doesn't particularly treat it as such and in fact continues on, still poking fun at it.
  • John Mulaney's "The Salt and Pepper Diner" bit centers around him and his friend John sitting down for a meal at the now-defunct Salt and Pepper Diner in Mulaney's native Chicago when they were kids. They put money into the jukebox and queue up twenty one plays of Tom Jones's' "What's New Pussycat?" Then, they ordered and waited. Mulaney details that "What's New Pussycat?" began to enrage the other customers eating around them, and then he says this:
    John: But a word about my friend John and what a genius he was: because when we were first up in the jukebox and when we were punching in the "What's New Pussycats," alright? I punched in about seven... and then John says to me "Hey, hey, hey wait... Before we drop in another "What's New Pussycat," let's put in ONE "It's Not Unusual." And that is when the afternoon went from good to GREAT!"
  • At the end of Bo Burnham's Make Happy special is "Can't Handle This," a parody of one of Kanye West's rants that the latter would do on his Yeezus tour, i.e. having a backing track playing while he just sings an improvised rant through Autotune. Bo admits his problems aren't as high-stakes as Kanye's, and with his voice digitized all to hell, he proceeds to sing a long ramble about how he can't fit his hand in a Pringles can, and how he can't fit everything he wants into one burrito. A few minutes in, Bo stops joking, and the crowd goes dead silent as Bo reveals he's been distracting from his real point, which is how badly he's struggling doing his comedy shows.
    I can sit here and pretend like my biggest problems are Pringle cans, and burritos
    The truth is, my biggest problem's you
    I want to please you, but I want to stay true to myself
    I want to give you the night out that you deserve
    But I want to say what I think and not care what you think about it
    A part of me loves you, part of me hates you
    Part of me needs you, part of me fears you
    And I don't think that I can handle this right now, handle this right now...

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Four Gospels: Jesus invites all of his disciples to a feast, then says the line that marks where things start to go downhill:
    Jesus Christ: Tonight, one of you will betray me.

  • Interstitial: Actual Play:
    • After Larxene gets assassinated in episode 9.
      Hazel: Can I use "I'm Sorry About The Ice Cream?"
    • It happens again in episode 10, with Edith trying to use the move on Roxanne. Riley points out that the character has to be willing since it's a player character, and asks Jo.
      Riley: Do you accept this?
      Jo:...I'm gonna say no. I'm gonna say Roxanne fades away.
  • The Adventure Zone: Balance has quite a few:
    • In Chapter Ten of The Crystal Kingdom, The Reveal that something is up with the boys:
      Kravitz: Taako, you've died eight times.
    • At the end of the second episode of The Eleventh Hour, right after everyone dies, Griffin chooses to reveal what the actual situation is:
      Griffin: And there’s something about the dying that feels familiar. And then you're back in that white space, and you see that old woman again. And she says,
      Old Woman: Oh, you’ll have to do much better than that, loves.
      Griffin: And then you wake up.
    • In the "epilogue" to The Eleventh Hour.
      Griffin: And in this sketch, this earlier sketch, Jack and June look exactly the same. But the Red Robe's hood is pulled down. And you can see his face. And it's an incredibly familiar face, Magnus... because it's your face. The figure in the red hood is you.
    • "Because in Wonderland, there is no healing." This one came as such a shock to the players that Clint thought Griffin was lying at first.
    • After the Animus Bell is rung, Mangus suddenly collapses to the ground, before getting up and start saying how Wonderland wasn't really that bad. Except, Griffin is the one speaking as Magnus...
      Magnus: (Griffin is saying these lines) You know, boys, I don't think Wonderland's that bad. You know, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself here, and I feel like our friendship has grown even more powerful, don't you think? (Travis is speaking) Ahem. I didn't say that.
    • The finale to The Suffering Game has one that doubles as a serious revelation and a joke.
      Griffin: And Merle, you crack open the chest and retrieve the clothes within. A white cotton shirt, a studded leather belt, and a pair of pants... Sturdy. Denim. And blue.
    • Griffin drops one nonchalantly near the end of Episode 59:
      Griffin: Lucretia's kneeling over her white oak staff, and she's channeling some sort of energy from the orb into the staff, which, of course, is the grand relic she made when the seven of you first came to this world.
    • Also from the end of 59, Lucretia revealing the identity of the final Red Robe:
      Lucretia: So those are the six of us. Me, Barry, Lup, Taako, Merle, Magnus. And of course, the seventh: our captain. When I redacted the logs to feed to the second Voidfish, I let you keep your names while eradicating any information pertaining to the mission. [sighs] But for our captain, his life was the mission. He was impossible to edit around, and so, unfortunately, his name was all he kept.
      Davenport: L...Lucretia, what have you DONE?!
    • From the end of Episode 61: "She thinks of her friends, and prays for sunrise." It confirms that the guardian robot was, in fact, Troth, Justin's character from The Adventure Zone: Nights.
    • Despite the event in question being a Foregone Conclusion, this line from Episode 66 definitely qualifies:
      Barry: Taako, what if [Lup]'s just gone?
      Taako: ...who?
    • Even after the big final battle, one is dropped in the winding-down finale:
      Griffin: I just have a question, which is, how does Magnus die?
  • The Adventure Zone: Amnesty has a pretty revelatory one, too:
    Janelle: "You have powers beyond anything I've ever seen, Aubrey. You can break the Quell's corruption. You can restore life to the dead! Aubrey, you're not from Sylvain... You are Sylvain.
  • Downplayed in Mystery Show because the line doesn't help with the mystery, but it comes out of nowhere and changes the conversation:
    Alan Sacks: I was held at gun point by Phil Spector for like 5 hours.
  • The Magnus Archives:
    • "Lost and Found" seemingly ends on a lighthearted note, with Jon accidentally knocking down a bookshelf while trying to kill a spider... and then he and Sasha find a massive hole in the wall that seems to go all the way to the exterior. And then we hear something starting to squirm.
      Jon: Sasha, run. RUN!
    • In "Tucked In", where a man is attacked by a creature that appears at night and moves towards him if he is not beneath his blanket, when he grows complacent and is no longer afraid of it:
      The blanket never did anything.
    • In "The Masquerade", when the team learns what's really powering the Unknowing:
      Jon: Oh god... oh god, they're not waxworks.
    • The season 4 finale, "The Eye Opens", starts out like a Breather Episode, with Jon and Martin finally getting to relax after escaping the Lonely. Jon absentmindedly picks up a statement to read while he's on his own, setting up a relatively mundane-sounding story about a fire in a woman's childhood home. Then he reads the first line.
      Jonah: Hello, Jon.
    • And, as everything goes utterly to shit...
      The sky, Martin! Look at the sky! It's looking back!
  • Welcome to Night Vale
    • From The Sandstorm part A:
      Kevin: Hello? Desert Bluffs?
    • And from part B:
      Cecil: This is Cecil, and I do not know where I am. It is clearly a radio studio, but the walls are covered in blood, and instead of dials and buttons on the soundboard, there is just animal viscera, glistening under the green LED lights.
    • Episode 32, Yellow Helicopters, gives us two in the space of about a minute and a half.
      ...the witnesses said that some low-flying yellow helicopters began dropping orange leaflets onto the city streets. The leaflets read, "StrexCorp Synernists Inc. Look around you. Strex. Look inside you. Strex. Go to sleep. Strex. Believe in a smiling god. StrexCorp: It is everything."
    • followed by:
      ''Oh! Oh no. Uh... dear listeners, we must issue an apology! Those helicopters are completely... safe. Even safer than safe! In fact, StrexCorp recently bought our little radio station from the mysterious unseen forces who founded it centuries ago!
    • Before all of those:
      Cecil: Old Woman Josie says that the Angels who have been living with her ... helping around the house and ultimately protecting her from all evils ... have disappeared.
    • They've really been upping the ante recently. Episode 33 gives us:
      Cecil: I...I don't remember having a brother.
    • Episode 47 opens with a Wham Line that will have many saying "Oh shit":
      Welcome... to the Greater Desert Bluffs Metropolitan Area.
    • Episode 48 gave us a much more positive one:
      Kevin: The man is holding something! He is holding... He is holding a cat.
    • From Episode 70B:
      Cecil: The voice told me it especially didn't trust the other heads it shares a body with...
    • A single line in Episode 89A reveals the true identity of Season 3's Big Bad The Good Boy.
      The Good Boy: I rule over the dark, wet caverns... OF HELL!
  • Malevolent:
    • Episode 4, "The Voices":
      Kellin: Arthur, tell that voice in your head that my mother was not a whore.
    • Episode 12, "The End":
      Cultist: More than safe. You will be whole again.
    • Episode 18, "The Madness":
      John: I killed Emily. (...) Why? Because I wanted to.
    • Episode 28, "The Undefeated":
      John: How am I supposed to get him to New York, let alone where you want him?
    • Also from the end of Episode 28:
      Yellow: What was that?
  • In RABBITS, in the course of Carly Parker's investigation into the titular Alternate Reality Game, she begins to uncover hints that she may be more deeply and personally connected to the game than she had previously conceived. The end of the fifth episode reveals that the name of a comic she made in high school, Priesthood One, is a Significant Anagram for "The Door is Open", a phrase that begins every iteration of Rabbits.
  • The Penumbra Podcast: "Juno Steel and the Mega-Ultrabots of Cyberjustice (Part 2)" has two big ones.
    • Rita, accidentally letting slip something she isn't supposed to know:
      Rita: Thanks, Mister Nureyev!
    • The final thirty seconds of the episode, which reveal both that Peter's planning to betray the Aurinkos and that whoever he's in debt to knows his real name:
      Peter: Suffice it to say that before the year is out, I will bring you four very special items - a very singular Map, Key, Blade, and Book. And in return...? Very good. Nureyev out.

  • From the third phase of the radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978), where Trillion reveals she's worked out who's really behind the Kriket Overloads' attempt to destroy the universe.
    "And I doubt, I very much doubt, that you've been able to build this bomb and make it work properly without any help from Hactar for the past thousand years."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mage: The Ascension. Through the revised convention book for the Void Engineers, there's been continuous mention of a new enemy of the convention; known only as Threat Null, it's one of the main reasons why the Void Engineers have gone from starry-eyed space explorers to combat-hardened space marines. However, for reasons unknown, the existence of Threat Null have been kept secret from all the other conventions of the Technocratic Union. And then, halfway through the book, we find out why.
    Threat Null doesn't call itself by that name. Threat Null calls itself the Technocratic Union.
  • Demon: The Fallen. The book Time of Judgement describes various versions of The End of the World as We Know It for the various games in the Old World of Darkness that are not the main three games (Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Mage: The Ascension). The book's prologue and epilogue are both told from the point of view of Lucifer Morningstar, the instigator of the events of The Fall. In the epilogue he talks about someone suggesting that God reacted to Lucifer's rebellion not out of wrath, but out of compassion: an intervention instead of a punishment... and then Lucifer drops the following bomb, upsetting everything we thought to know about the rebellion, Lucifer himself and even God:
    Lucifer: In the end, I killed John. Just like I killed Woodrow. Was God wrong? I never told John - and certainly never Malakh — that I asked the angels to rebel because the Most High ordered me to do it. What would they make of that?
  • Vampire: The Masquerade. The Schism chapter of Beckett's Jyhad Diary describes the Web of Knives, a cult serving the incredibly powerful and ancient Ur-Shulgi. He seeks to destroy all non-members within Clan Assamite, an independent Clan separate from the Camarilla/Sabbat/Anarch conflict. Such an event would almost certainly lead to the destruction of the Masquerade (a single skirmish between the two groups where Beckett and his allies got stuck in the middle of became an international headline). Beckett introduced the influential Assamite Tegyrius to several important figures within the Camarilla. After explaining the gravity of the siutation, the risk it poses to the Masquerade and the final prediction of a seer with unmatched accuracy that supports this claim, Tegyrius makes the following statement:
    Tegyrius: I, Tegyrius, childe of Anath, called goddess of war and love, grand-childe of Haqim the Hunter, speak now to this council on behalf of the Viziers of Clan Assamite, on behalf of the Sorcerers of Clan Assamite, and on behalf of those of the Warriors of Clan Assamite who reject the Web of Knives. Collectively, those who follow my banner make up more than one third of the entire world’s Assamite population. And on behalf of those followers, I hereby request sanctuary from the Camarilla and recognition for my Clan as a member of your organization.
  • Magic: The Gathering: At the end of the Dominaria storyline, after Liliana has destroyed the last of the demons she made her pact with, the Gatewatch planeswalk back to Ravnica...but Liliana is blocked. Nicol Bolas appears before her and tells her why:
    Bolas: You really should have read the details of your pact more closely, Liliana. You seem unaware that with your demons dead, your contract defaults to its broker: Me.
  • Most of Brenda Romero's Train appears to be a simple game about transporting yellow pawns in a train car that moves along a track. At the end, you will flip over a card that reveals the final station to be a concentration camp, which puts the whole thing into a much more disturbing light (especially how the pawns are just large enough that you have to force them into the train) and is intended to make the player feel complicit because they (presumably) had a Just Following Orders mentality — they did as the rules told while (intentionally or not) ignoring the Nazi references scattered about. The rules note that "the game is over when it ends", which means the players can stop playing or attempt to liberate the prisoners once they learn the truth.


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Alternative Title(s): Kapow Statement


Numbuh 1's Rant on Adults

At first, it seems the episode is going to end on the peaceful, heartwarming note where the adults and the children find a middle ground living together as a family...or COULD THEY? Adults then created schools to brainwash kids into forgetting kids created adults, stripping them of their childishness as much as possible and deluding them into not rebelling against adult control, before adding homework and after-school activities to further their control. Towards the end of the story, Numbuh 1's teacher interrupts and scolds him, revealing this story to be just an oral report, saying that the report had nothing to do with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (16 votes)

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Main / CompletelyOffTopicReport

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