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Wake Up Fighting

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"To prove how aware/crazy/focused a movie character is, a friend will wake the sleeping character. The character will instantly, ferociously, leap up from a deep sleep and pull a knife/gun or kung-fu chokehold on his friend, before apologizing for almost killing him."
Roger Ebert's Movie Glossary

A character wakes up violently, drawing weapons or leaping straight into combat stance in the process, and sometimes actually attacking a person who woke them up. In Real Life, this is usually a sign of severe violence-related PTSD, but in fiction it is often Played for Laughs or depicted as a credential of Badassness.

Compare Ring-Ring-CRUNCH!, Instant Waking Skills. For a similar reaction from someone who is awake, but taken by surprise, see Don't Sneak Up on Me Like That!.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the manga Memory of Red in K, Eric tries to kill Mikoto while the latter is asleep. Mikoto suddenly opens his eyes and, in a daze, almost roasts Eric alive.
  • Hunny in Ouran High School Host Club does this a few times.
  • Happens in Gunsmith Cats, in the hospital: a mook is trying to plant a bomb under Rally's pillow (where she also kept her gun), Rally instantly snaps to alertness and shoots the mook. Mook runs off and jumps into his car. Rally notices the bomb and tosses it out the window... onto the mook's car. And we later learn through all this, she wasn't even fully awake.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin Trust & Betrayal Tomoe drapes a sleeping Kenshin, who at this point in his life is an assassin who sleeps sitting up with his sword held to him, in a blanket. She gets a katana drawn and placed inches from her neck for her trouble, but as soon as Kenshin realizes who it actually is he immediately stops and shoves her away.
  • In Snow White with the Red Hair if Obi manages to fall into a deep sleep and get woken unexpectedly his usual trouble waking disappears and he's on his feet with weapons in hand before he's fully awake. Once he has a chance to take in his surroundings he just lays back down if there's no threat. Zen has woken while drawing his sword, though he stopped when he realized the masked figure waking him was Obi trying to get a rise out of him.
  • Portgas D. Ace, of One Piece, in his early years of being a pirate, was trapped on Whitebeard's ship before he joined them. During this time he tried multiple times to kill Whitebeard. The only time onscreen we see him (as it's implied he tried this more than once) attack Whitebeard in his sleep, he is violently thrown through the wall. This is a subversion though, since Whitebeard didn't even wake up.
  • Played with in YuYu Hakusho. During the prelims of the Dark Tournament, the demons try to attack Team Urameshi after they win the qualifying round to claim their spot. As the others are defending themselves, one demon tries to sneak up on Yusuke, who's sleeping through the whole events, only to get pounded for his trouble when Yusuke suddenly jumps to his feet punching rapidly. Kuwabura thinks this trope is the case, but the others note he's actually still asleep and reacting to muscle memory since his intense training with Genkai has put him on high alert that his body reacts even when he's not awake.
  • Sousuke of Full Metal Panic! is quite prone to reflexively pulling his gun on anything that wakes him up unexpectedly. If the waker is human and close enough, he'll perform a lariat on them first. This becomes especially dangerous when he falls Asleep in Class.
  • Played for Drama in the backstory of Fullmetal Alchemist; Doctor Knox's marriage was destroyed by an incident where he had a bad war flashback while sleeping and attacked his wife when she woke him up, briefly thinking she was an enemy soldier.

    Audio Plays 
  • According to The Unfinished Spelling Errors of Bolkien, this is so common in Rohan, the morning buglers have learned to just run away after playing a single note, lest they get hacked to bits by the troops they just woke up.

    Comic Books 
  • When Cook wakes up Jason in Jason vs. Leatherface after the night when he is accepted into the Sawyer household, he instinctively grabs him by throat.
  • In both the Marvel-616 and Ultimate Universes, Captain America goes on the offensive as soon as he's defrosted from the block of ice where he was discovered.
  • Harley Quinn:
    • In the Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International San Diego one-shot, Harley falls asleep beside the hotel pool. When a waiter shakes her awake, she wakes up yelling "Hit! Hit! Hit!" and punches the poor guy.
    • At the beginning of volume 3 issue #8, she kills Eggsy by reflexively throwing a knife at him when he wakes her up. Fortunately it turns out to be a nightmare.
  • In Violine, when she wakes up her father, he immediately grabs his gun. Fortunately, nothing bad happens.
  • In Wonder Woman (2011) #1, Zola is teleported into Diana's bedroom in London and catches her sleeping in her bed naked. Naturally, Diana instinctively wakes up and gives Zola a Neck Lift until it's made clear she's not a threat.
  • X-Men: At the bedroom's door of Wolverine is a note that reads "Trespassers shall be stabbed. Many times." So when Cyclops needs him to be wakened, he does the smart thing, and blasts him out of bed without stepping in.
  • Preacher: When the angels awaken the Saint of Killers, he immediately shoots one in the head before they explain who they are and what they're doing. Because the Saint's bullets can kill anything in creation, even God, the normally immortal angel dies. The Saint is completely unrepentant about his mistake.

    Fan Works 
  • A common trope in Naruto stories to show the titular character Took a Level in Badass is to have him attack Haku when the latter tries to wake him up during the Wave Mission. In at least one, he put Haku into a chokehold with his legs before even waking up.
  • In Angry Marines Ruby Quest, the first thing Angry!Ruby does after waking up in a dark place is "start punching. Everywhere!"
  • In the Bleak Midwinter: Hermione's years of combat and escaping have left her very sensitive to any kind of threat. At one point, when she falls asleep in her chair, Tom moves to transfer her to a bed, and the next thing he knows, he's waking up on the floor with a headache.
    Hermione: You startled me. Don't do that. Never do that.
  • In Moratorium, Harry has a habit of Stunning the first person she sees when she wakes up. Just ask Karkaroff and Dolores Umbridge.
  • Played for Drama in Shadows of the Future. After Qui-Gon tries waking up Obi-Wan, he's so caught up in a nightmare from the Clone Wars that he pins Qui-Gon to the floor and threatens him with his own lightsaber.
    • Something similar happens in The Desert Storm, on more than one occasion, as Ben Naasade (a time-travelling post-ROTS Obi-Wan Kenobi with a truly horrible case of PTSD) demonstrates. It's discussed and he warns people about it, pointing out that startling him is not a good idea.
  • Hal Jordan believes this trope to be the case in A Study in Scarlet Scarab as, when attempting to wake up Jaime Reyes, he ends up with his wrist in a death grip. Hal figures Jaime learned to be more alert while asleep from another superhero. The truth is Khaji-Da had taken control and stopped him, as he/it doesn't trust Hal (or any Green Lantern for that matter) enough to let him get that close to them.
  • A wand for Steven: When Amethyst wakes up at the Ministry, she reacts to the various strangers supposedly keeping her and the others "hostage" not too well.
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Peter gets ambushed by the Prowler while he's trying to sleep, quickly slipping on his mask and trying to dodge when his Spider-Sense goes off, but gets shot in the ankle anyways.
  • In fernwityhs The Hunger Games story [1] from The End of the World series: when Shell-Shocked Veteran Haymitch is woken up during the 3rd Quarter Quell by Toffy, another mentor to tell him that Blight's dead, he nearly strangles him. Toffy, to his credit, doesn't hold a grudge, commenting that he broke his sister's cheekbone when she woke him up after he got back from his Games.
  • In A Hollow in Equestria Celestia tries to wake Luna from an unsound sleep, only to be clocked upside the head by one of Luna's wings as she proceeds to roll over and continue snoring away.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man, just as he regains consciousness after the airport battle, accidentally starts fighting Iron Man.
  • Happens in the closing scene of Dressed to Kill.
  • Entrapment: When Gin (Catherine Zeta-Jones) notices someone's sneaked into her room while she was sleeping, she instinctively reaches for her Pillow Pistol... only to realize it was already stolen by the intruder, who is a master thief.
  • Gladiator: Maximus wakes up armed with a small dagger in his hand.
  • Overlapping with Catapult Nightmare in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings. Upon being woken from a nightmare, Aragorn pulls out his dagger, disturbing the messenger who woke him up. Possibly justified—it might very well be a trained reflex given he spent a long time out in places where orcs were far from the most dangerous beasties around. Drawing a weapon instinctively on waking suddenly could be the difference between life and death.
  • Lieutenant A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) in Tears of the Sun is awakened by a subordinate while in the middle of a nightmare. He instantly grabs his pistol, take off the safety and point at his target, all in under a second.
  • Kyle Reese in The Terminator wakes up from a nightmare of the bleak, post apocalyptic future he came from and reflexively pumps his shotgun.
  • X-Men Film Series
    • Wolverine does this to Rogue in X-Men, however goes too far and instinctively stabs her in the chest. She's only saved because she absorbs his healing factor at the same time.
    • And again, repeatedly, in The Wolverine. Fortunately this time without inadvertent stabbings.
  • In Polar the hitman protagonist adopts a dog on retirement like John Wick. The problem is he also suffers from recurring nightmares, so he wakes up firing his gun and accidentally shoots the dog.

  • In Alex Garland's novel The Beach, one character talks in a very pissed-off manner about a time when another character was nodding off to sleep. There came a slight noise in the bushes, and he leapt up with his knife.
    "He wanted me to see how fucking alert he was."
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Between Planets the teenage protagonist demonstrates his development with his time with Venusian guerrillas by waking instantly with a knife in his hands when the company runner looking for him taps sharply on the support rope of his hammock.
  • Justified in The BFG. When the Fleshlumpeater has a terrible nightmare given to him by the BFG, his flailing limbs accidentally hit two of the other sleeping giants, who then wake up and pound him with their fists and feet, causing the wretched Fleshlumpeater to wake up, and start fighting back; and soon all nine giants have the most almighty free-for-all.
  • The Carpet People: When Snibril finds a stranger asleep in Pismire's shack, he approaches him cautiously with a knife. The stranger, Bane, springs out of bed, grabs Snibril's knife and puts it to his throat... and then wakes up. (Note that this was written by the same author as The Colour of Magic, listed below.)
  • Played for Drama in The Children of Húrin, where the anti-hero Turin Turambar fails to stop in time and kills his friend this way.
  • In David Gunn's Death Head book Maximum Offense, Sven explains the "first second rule" to one of his auxiliaries: When you wake someone up and they hit you within the first second, it's uncontrolled and you shouldn't hold it against them. He's shown applying it equally with him and his subordinates.
  • Discworld:
    • Most characters react this way in the brief moment between waking up and being awake enough to think properly. In The Colour of Magic Hrun the Barbarian is apparently so used to people trying to kill him in his sleep that he reacts before he wakes up:
      Hrun made a glubbing noise, turned over, and slept on.
      With a careful movement, as though handling some instrument of rare delicacy, the woman drew a slim black dagger from her belt and stabbed downward.
      Before it was halfway through its arc Hrun's right hand moved so fast that it appeared to travel between two points in space without at any time occupying the intervening air. It closed around the woman's wrist with a dull smack. His other hand groped feverishly for a sword that wasn't there ...
      Hrun awoke.
      "Gngh?" he said, looking up at the woman with a puzzled frown.
    • Feet of Clay has an apparently dead-drunk Vimes slam an approaching man's hand into a drawer before waking up (he wasn't drunk, but was very much sleeping). Even better, the man was the head of the Assassin's Guild, who take Asskicking Leads to Leadership and Klingon Promotion very seriously.
  • In Harry Potter, Harry warns Ron against visiting Moody first thing in the morning, for fear that Moody will respond this way.
  • In The Hunger Games, Haymitch often sleeps with a knife in his hand, due to his experiences in the Games.
  • The Lost Fleet: A sailor who goes to wake Webb up by shaking his shoulder is briefly manhandled.
  • At least one of Redwall's Badger Lords has done this. One of his hares had come in to wake him, right as he reached the end of a nightmare about his sworn enemy. The result was a Catapult Nightmare complete with a battle cry and a sword hacked straight through a shield. The hare was unhurt, but shocked.
  • In Ben Elton's novel Time and Time Again the ex-SAS protagonist is almost choked to death by another character he is attempting to rescue from the hospital. A character who has suffered a lifetime of deprivation, beatings and torture and was, until that moment, feverish and unconscious from a bullet wound.
  • Tortall Universe:
    • Aly of the Trickster's Duet tends to leap up with knives in hand when woken up unexpectedly.
    • Beka Cooper's mage friend Kora takes to being woken up by throwing a fireball.
  • The Traveler's Gate: Exaggerated; since the Nye attack Valinhall Travelers in their sleep to keep them sharp, the Travelers learn to fight without waking up. The non-Nye servants, who are significantly more vulnerable to being stabbed than the Nye, learn quickly to wake up the Travelers by yelling from across the room rather than trying to shake them awake.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Altered Carbon: In "Out of The Past", The medical staff handling a newly-resleeved Takeshi Kovacs get a nasty shock when he does this (because he died violently in his last body) as most people can barely walk at first when newly sleeved. Kovacs however is a Super-Soldier especially trained to be needlecast to another planet, be resleeved in a new body being held there, and go into action in as little time as possible.
  • In the Angel episode "First Impressions", Angel is, unbeknownst to anyone, having a magically-forced erotic dream caused by and involving Darla. When Wesley goes to wake him up so they can save Gunn, Angel tackles him out of bed and nearly strangles him before coming too. Bonus points for Angel usually sleeping in the nude.
  • In the pilot episode of Arrow, Oliver Queen is having a nightmare about the sinking of the Queen's Gambit which stranded him for five years on an island hellhole. His mother finds him asleep on the floor next to an open window with rain pouring through, so she tries to wake him only to be thrown onto her back with the edge of her son's hand against her throat. Oliver is horrified when he comes to his senses, though his family naturally put this down to PTSD instead of realising he's become a dangerous killer.
  • In The Big Bang Theory episode "The Precious Fragmentation", Sheldon tries to steal the One Ring movie prop that is around Penny's neck while she and Leonard are asleep. The minute he almost takes it, Penny wakes up screaming and punches Sheldon square in the nose.
    Sheldon: [whimpering] YOU HIT ME! I'M BLEEDING!
    Leonard: What the hell was that?
    Penny: Sheldon tried to take the ring and I punched him.
    Leonard: [hugs Penny] That's my girl.
  • The Book of Boba Fett. In "From the Desert Comes a Stranger", Din Djarin does a Wake Up Quick Draw, but doesn't fire as it's only Ahsoka Tano.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Image of the Fendahl", the Doctor wakes his companion Leela and she pulls her knife on him. She wouldn't normally overreact that badly, but she'd been having nightmares because of the baleful influence of the Fendahl.
    • The closest the series has come to playing it straight with the Doctor is Six's infamous strangulation of companion Peri in "The Twin Dilemma" immediately after his regeneration (waking up as a person, if you will).
    • Then there's the newly regenerated Ten fighting roboforms while asleep in "The Christmas Invasion".
  • In one of the school episodes of El Chavo del ocho, Chavo falls asleep in class. Profesor Jirafales obviously gets angry and yells to wake him up, and he immediately proceeds to punch out Quico, who is sitting next to him. His excuse is that he was dreaming that he was fighting with Quico.
  • Farscape. Captain Crais in "Thanks for Sharing", through not without cause as his ship had been attacked and he's woken Strapped to an Operating Table (because no-one on Moya trusts him) being cared for by Jool, whom he's never met before. Crais grabs Jool by the neck and demands to be released—Jool responds by jabbing a huge frelling syringe into his leg and screaming her head off. Crais only lets her go when John Crichton rushes in waving a gun, and he realises he's on Moya.
    Jool: There, I woke him up. (yanks out needle, causing Crais to shriek) Now I hope he drops dead.
  • Happened to Duncan once in Highlander, "Forgive Us Our Trespasses". Duncan is having problems with an old enemy who see him as a mass killer for things that happened during the Scottish rebellions in the 18th century. Duncan has nightmares and woke up struggling and punching until Amanda calms him down.
  • When alarmed, NCIS's Tony, Ziva, and Gibbs have all been shown to leap for a weapon/punch.
  • Inverted in one episode of Parks and Recreation- Ron is shown to suffer from a disorder called "sleep fighting", shown as him punching and ducking while sleeping on a couch. Leslie nearly gets punched when she tries to wake him up.
  • Person of Interest. In the pilot episode, a young Mafia thug tries to steal the booze of a bum sleeping on the subway, and is shocked when his arm is seized in a surprisingly firm grip. This is our introduction to the protagonist John Reese, and it goes on to become Mugging the Monster when the Mafia thug takes offense.
  • Captain Lorca does this on Star Trek: Discovery. This includes pulling a Pillow Pistol on Admiral Cornwell after they have sex, which she interprets as a sign of how traumatized he has become because of the war. It's actually a sign that he's from the Mirror Universe and is constantly on guard in case someone attempts a Klingon Promotion on him.
  • Supernatural: When Cas fails to stop Jack in time to keep him from poking Dean Winchester awake in 13x06, Dean bolts up with a war cry and the gun from under his pillow. Cas: "I told you, he's an angry sleeper ... like a bear."
  • Three Kingdoms: When Xun Yu goes to wake Cao Cao due to an emergency, Cao wakes up screaming, drawing his sword and placing it again Xun's neck. Xun Yu is barely able to identify himself, getting Cao to release him. Cao points out that he really ought to know better, since earlier on in the series it's mentioned Cao actually did attack and kill a servant who woke him up (after all, Cao Cao has no shortage of people out to kill him, and anyone who enters his personal quarters uninvited and when he's asleep must be assumed to have ill intentions). Xun responds he does... but the situation was so urgent he decided to risk it.
  • 30 Rock:
    • Parodied: Tracy warns Liz that he has bad dreams, but not to wake him or he will attack her.
    • In another episode, the writers get Kenneth to prank a sleeping Lutz by waking him up while wearing a gorilla mask. They underestimate the violence of his reaction — his first reaction is to punch Ken hard in the face, and his second is to grab a nearby golf club — and by the time they (eventually) break them up, Lutz is throttling Kenneth with the shaft of the club.
  • In a Wizards of Waverly Place Season 1 episode, Justin goes to wake up Alex for a late-night flying lesson, only to get punched in the gut.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Depending on the edition, it's possible to build a character who can wake up instantly, draw a weapon, and stab an opponent who was in the process of attacking them via a combination of feats and class features.

    Video Games 
  • If the player chose the High Chaos path from the Old Save Bonus in Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches, a scene which has Daud grabbing one his underlings by the throat as he was woken up is shown.
  • Solid Snake does this as part of an Easter Egg in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: Raiden can come across him in Strut B, holding a rifle but visibly asleep. If you try aim a gun at him, Snake will immediately snap awake to aim at you, though he mercifully won't fire back and will only give you a warning (unless you shoot him first, in which case he'll happily return fire).

    Web Comics 
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja:
    • Sidekick Gordito is afraid of waking up Dr. McNinja for this very reason. The doctor himself admits he doesn't just wake up fighting, he defends himself in his sleep. VERY justified in this case: his parents did "sneak attack" training sessions.
    • Gordito himself is often subjected to literal rude awakenings; the Doc only seems to drop him off at his parents' house when he's asleep, leaving him to wake up startled in strange and often dangerous conditions.
  • In Commander Kitty, the first thing that Nin Wah's android clone does upon waking is punch CK in the face.
  • In Digger, Digger is asleep in a cave she thought was empty, when its owner comes home - its very hungry owner. He tries to sneak up on her and kill her, only to be stopped cold by an Offhand Backhand punch.
  • In Jupiter-Men, Nathan instinctively throws a palm strike when he notices something looming over him while he's asleep. This winds up being a breakfast tray held by Binny and he barely has enough time to catch everything.
  • This is the reason no-one tries to wake up Bun-bun in Sluggy Freelance.
  • Unknown Lands: Mischief finds that Vard is hard to wake up, so uses a jolt of electricity to do so. When Vard is still groggily complaining, not fully awake and not remotely trying to get out of bed Mischief ups the ante by suggesting he uses that trick during sex which wakes Vard up fully and gets him out of bed trying to deck Mischief in the face.
  • Richard Stallman in xkcd takes a pair of katanas from under his bed and fights off Microsoft's agents who try to kill him. After this comic came out, some fans bought him a Katana.

    Web Animation 
  • Madness Combat 6: Antipathy shows that Hank is always ready for a fight. When Tricky resurrects Hank after deciding he'd killed the latter too easily and unfairly, Hank literally springs back to life, fists swinging in reflex. Later episodes reveal that this is probably because Tricky pulled Hank straight back out of Hell, where he spends much of his time fighting and re-killing the already-dead Mooks there.

    Web Original 
  • Can You Spare a Quarter?: Without the wake-up, during his nightmares Jamie violently thrashes around and has injured Graham, Jason and the dog Cindy several times. Graham eventually decides that he has to do something about them and initiates temporary guardianship proceedings.

    Western Animation 
  • From Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    Sokka: [wakes up wielding weapons] Huh? Did we get captured again?
  • Dragons: Riders of Berk: In one episode, Hiccup has to wake his father, Stoick, up in the middle of the night. His father, acting on instinct, lifts Hiccup into the air and aims an ax at him before realizing it's him and putting him down.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: In "Master Ping", Ping is staying at the Jade Palace has kept the Furious Five awake with his sinuses. During training, Tigress falls asleep leaning against Po. When Shifu asks someone to wake her up, Po nudges her and is immediately dealt an Offhand Backhand.
  • Samurai Jack: Jack does this in the beginning of "Episode XCV" when he wakes up hallucinating that Aku is nearby.
  • Star Wars Rebels: Chopper, the Ghost crew's psychotic astromech droid, tends to swing his manipulator arms around and put them in fighting poses when reactivated, sometimes deploying his spark projector as well.
  • Star Wars Resistance: In "Signal from Sector Six", when Synara San, the woman Kaz and Poe rescue from a derelict freighter, wakes up on Yeager's shuttle on Castilon, she punches Kaz in the face.
  • The Venture Bros., both Brock Samson and Molotov Cocktease do this, to Hank and Dr. Venture respectively.
    Real Life 
  • This can occur in sufferers of Pavor nocturnus, better known as the night terror. A variant of sleepwalking, this sleep disorder involves the activation of the sleeper's fight-or-flight response while they're still in a deep sleep. While Never Wake Up a Sleepwalker is for the most part, no longer current advice, this is one exception, as any attempts to calm the sleeper (who typically is speaking or growling unintelligibly, crying intensely and/or screaming at the top of their lungs) will result in an immediate and extremely violent response from the victim as they attempt to escape from whatever was stalking them in their dreams. Current medical advice is to passively guide the sufferer to prevent them from coming into harm, but without touching them, then reassuring them when they do wake, as the disorientation will likely serve as only further horror for them.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Rude Awakening


Pillow Pistol - Burn Notice

Despite laying in bed post-sex under a modesty bedsheet with no clothes on, Michael and Fiona both have guns hidden behind their pillows, which they quickly draw the moment they wake up after being disturbed.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (18 votes)

Example of:

Main / PillowPistol

Media sources: