Basic Trope: After fighting his way to the final villain, the hero lets the villain go to avoid the guilt of killing him.
- Straight: After Keith, a crime ring boss, killed several people, Officer Bob fights his way to Keith. When Bob has Keith at his mercy, he lets Keith go, after Alice, his girlfriend, begs Bob not to "sink to Keith's level".
- Exaggerated: Keith is a brutal dictator who has personally tortured, enslaved, and massacred millions of innocent people, and Bob lets him go after Keith merely says "I'm sorry, I can change."
- Downplayed: Bob chooses not to hit Keith after Keith hits him, feeling this would lower him to Keith's level.
- Keith was being controlled by a dangerous entity, and if Keith is killed, the entity will merely possess Keith's killer instead.
- Keith killed his victims as an act of revenge against his victims, who also killed as another act of revenge. If Bob were to kill Keith, the Cycle of Revenge would continue, and Bob would be yet another link in the bloody chain.
- Bob and Keith are similar in many ways; the only thing that really separates them is Bob's moral code.
- Bob is actually committing a Cruel Mercy.
- If Bob kills Keith than he will have justice for the wrongs committed against him, but if he keeps Keith alive and hands him over to a war-crime tribunal than all of Keith's victims will have their justice.
- Bob was like Keith once, before realizing the error of his ways and reforming. Sparing Keith may not only ingratiates himself to the people who gave him a second chance, but it prevents him from relapsing into such thoughts and proving that he has changed for the better as a new and different man, unlike Keith, which means that he has the moral high ground to stand on.
- Or maybe Bob is aware of the audience's perception of Keith and or killing in general as an example of this trope, and thus decides to spare Keith in order to maintain good publicity.
- Keith tries to guilt Bob into not executing him, but Bob pulls the trigger with absolutely no hesitation before the bad guy could even finish his speech, and Alice can only watch in stunned horror as her friend calmly wipes Keith's brains off his gun the same way he cleans his dishes. For Alice, this marks the moment Bob has crossed the Moral Event Horizon. But for Bob, his murder of Keith means nothing to him.
- Alice begs Bob not to sink to Keith's level... By torturing and killing him.
- Alice tells Bob not to kill him, even though he could never stoop as low as him. This guy has feelings and it would be bad, though not as bad as what he had done.
- (smiling, holding several Noodle Implements) "Oh, I won't kill him. There are better things to do to him..."
- Bob decides to Make It Look Like an Accident after careful consideration of how to make it plausible. As a result, it can only be speculated that Bob had anything to do with it.
- Alice begs Bob not to kill Keith to avoid sinking to his level. Mid-speech, Keith interrupts her speech to Bob by mocking her idealistic stance, to which she responds with "...Nevermind, go ahead and kill him."
- Alice's speech was merely to distract Bob so she could kill Keith herself.
- Double Subverted:
- Alice corrects herself: Torturing or killing.
- When he refuses to hurt him, she says that she is proud of him, and that she didn't want to frighten him, but that he would have gotten just as bad as him.
- Bob thinks about it, realizing that inflicting inhumane torture on any sentient being, even Keith, is something that will haunt his conscience forever, deciding not to go through with it.
- After pondering about the "indirect murder" plan for some time, Bob drops it, deeming it dishonest and dishonorable.
- Bob calls Alice out for making an idealistic speech only to back out the moment her Pride was harmed, and spares Keith out of spite.
- However, after getting the chance to kill Keith, Alice also gives it up.
- Alice begs Bob not to sink to Keith's level as the camera pans across the hundreds of soldiers Bob slaughtered to reach Keith.
- "Well, shit. Can I at least break his legs? Or give him a good last kick on the butt?"
- A moment after Alice begs Bob not to sink to Keith's level, she found that Keith's attack also leaves a scratch on her brand new car. And she tells Bob "Just kill him, NOW!"
- Bob kills Keith, and instantly morphs into an exact copy of Keith.
- Zig Zagged:Alice: "Bob, don't kill him. Don't sink to his level! I don't think you can live with his blood on your hands!"
Bob: "Okay... hey! Wait a minute! I just butchered my way through 500 of his minions to get to him! What's one more life to me now?
Keith: "Bob, forgive me! I know nothing I say or do could give you your dead sister back, but I am truly, truly sorry."
Bob: "OK!" (turns to leave)
Keith: "Fool..." (Offhand Backhand) "*Hurk... bleagh*"
Bob: "Oopsie... Bloody reflexes." (smug look)
- Alice employed the "...Nevermind, go ahead and kill him" trick as reverse-psychology to get Bob to spare Keith, as she knew Bob would not accept sparing him at first, and Keith was certainly going to mock her idealism.
- Averted: Bob shoots Keith without hesitating, as he has unconventional ethics when it comes to dealing with bad guys.
- Lampshaded: "Are you really comparing me to Keith after what he's done?"
- Invoked: "What will make you any better than me if you kill me? We're Not So Different, when you think about it."
- Exploited: Keith realizes that no matter what he does, Bob won't lay a finger on him. He seizes the opportunity to perform evil while Bob is on duty, as to not be interrupted and to watch smugly Bob helplessly staring at him.
- Bob gives a speech as to why he is justified in killing Keith before doing so. Zach is impressed with Bob's justifiable decision.
- "I have to kill him, it's the only way to be sure he never does it again."
- Zach: "If not killing Keith means him continuing his psychotic crime sprees, I sure as hell would rather not be a wide-eyed dumbass like you!"
- Bob lets Keith go away, only to have Keith's henchmen kill their bad boss instead.
- "But I do want to be like him... Dead." (cue triggered grenade)
- "I've heard this one too many times. So let me make it clear now. Like you, Keith, I am a killer. Unlike you, I'm not a stark-mad empathy-free maniac who only sees people as targets for killing. Now, goodbye." (blam)
- "If you have a chance to kill Keith, would it be right?"
- "Wait, you're going to fight your way to Keith and then just let him go?"
- Conversed: "Eeeh, I'm long since fed up with how one hero goes rantin' about "don't kill him or you gonna be like him" on the other hero. It's so annoying! If I were Bob, I'd just kill the bastard already!"
- Keith continues his reign of terror, and when Bob and Alice return home, instead of being welcomed as heroes, they are demonized, condemned, spat upon, called disgusting words, and later are tried and executed for dereliction of duty and extreme negligence.
- Bob let Keith go. Unfortunately, Keith was beyond redemption and the only way to prevent him from doing evil again was killing him. So he continues wreaking havoc upon the town & some people blame Bob because he didn't kill him when he had the chance even though he just wanted to avoid being evil in his own eyes. Zach scoffs at Bob for proving that traditional heroes are stupid, and Alice for her beliefs holding Bob back. He goes on to kill Keith himself, earning the credit for finally ending the latter's reign of terror.
- Alice has a very strict standard of how people are the best and is not informed or has even seen the crimes that Keith had committed. To her, the lives that Keith had taken pale in comparison to Bob ridding the world of a criminal. It's only when he is spared and ends up killing someone close to Alice (or even Alice herself) does she realize that she had screwed up big time.
- Keith is moved by Bob's gesture of mercy and reforms. Zach was not convinced, however. He leaves the town, unwilling to stick around to see if Keith's HeelFace Turn would stick.
- Keith is taken down by a Karmic Death or Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work instead, leaving Bob's hands clean.
- Keith is simply taken to prison or an equivalent thereof where he spends the rest of his life, harmless to society, because it just so happens there are laws about this sort of thing. Killing a man in cold blood when you could instead deliver him to the proper authorities without unduly risking oneself is still considered murder, and if the authorities can be trusted to give Keith an appropriate sentence for his crimes, it's also completely unnecessary.
- After letting the success go to his head, Zach turns to a life of crime as bad as Keith's. When Bob faces Zach, Bob spares Zach and, in doing so, makes Zach have to live with proving Alice right after all. Even then, Zach decides he wants to show them that it doesn't mean he has to stay as bad as Keith.
- Played For Laughs: Keith offs himself during Alice's speech simply to avoid hearing her idealism.
- Played For Drama:
- Bob most definitely does not want to spare Keith after seeing the horrors the latter did to him, but Alice still outright forces him to let Keith escape alive against Bob's will. The audience is shown the deep negative effect this has on Bob.
- After being defeated, Keith seemingly appears to deeply regret his actions, but he has already long crossed the Moral Event Horizon for many and his actions are unforgivable for many. Bob knows this, and does not know what to do. Alice tells him that everyone should be given a chance to redeem themselves and says they should spare Keith. Zach says he's seen many other bad guys pretend they deeply regret what they did only to stab forgiving heroes in the back and return to their usual lifes of crime, and even if Keith was some exception - which Zach heavily doubts - his actions are irreversible and too great to ignore, to which he tells Bob he should end Keith's miserable life. Amidst the two conflicting stances, Bob is pressured and helpless on what to do.
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