For all of the general over-the-top nature of the franchise, this series is not without its sad moments.
- Gears of War 2. Ever since the war started, Dom has been trying to find his missing wife, Maria. He doesn't get anywhere in the first game, but it's a major plot thread in the second. Dom finally finds Maria, and at first she seems exactly how he remembered. But, as he embraces her she starts to slip out of his hands, Marcus tells him to look again, and it's revealed he was hallucinating. Instead of being his beautiful wife, Maria is now an emaciated, brain-dead shell, reduced to nothing after months of torture. Dom tries to talk her out of it until he realizes the only moral thing he can do is euthanize her himself. Quite possibly the single most powerful, painful, and gut-wrenchingly horrifying moment seen in a video game.
- Possibly making it even worse: as Marcus walks away, for just a moment, you can see a flicker of sadness and grief on a face that has before shown nothing but varying degrees of blunt stoicism and quiet rage. If someone as impossibly stone-cold as Marcus Fenix can show grief....Dom: Marcus! I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do, man! I...Marcus: Dom. (whispers) It's okay.
- Possibly making it even worse: as Marcus walks away, for just a moment, you can see a flicker of sadness and grief on a face that has before shown nothing but varying degrees of blunt stoicism and quiet rage. If someone as impossibly stone-cold as Marcus Fenix can show grief....
- Tai's death, especially since everyone thought he was pretty much unkillable, and of course, how it ends. Watching a badass that was second only to Marcus in terms of general badassery blow his brains out with a shotgun...
- Had Tai not been captured by the Locust, he undoubtedly would have survived the entire trilogy, perhaps into Gears 4 as well. He could've been a Cool Old Guy philosopher who would've been able to pass down his experiences and philosophies to the remaining humans, inspiring mental fortitude within them to help deal with the ridiculously hard future they have ahead of them. Instead...
- The rookie in Gears of War 2, Ben Carmine. What else to say? The guy lost his brother Anthony in the first game, gets drafted into the the same squad and exhibits the same impulsive combat behaviour, which greatly concerns Marcus and Dom who still have Anthony's death fresh in memory. Ben stays upbeat along the way, tries to be heroic and live up to the standards of his teammates while Marcus and Dom, familiar with the grim reality of the war, realize things aren't going to end well this time around either. They're right.
- Carmine dying so cheaply, whereas his brother got to go out in a fight. But Anthony was incompetent, whereas Ben was able to hold his own on the field of battle against several waves of Locusts and everything. But instead of going out fighting, he simply wound up getting his insides melted by some giant worm stomach enzymes.
- Even worse is how he actually managed to survive plunging several hundred feet into the belly of the monster, and that a few moments sooner Delta might've been able to save him, instead only arriving just as Ben is being disemboweled and vainly fighting to stay alive.
- The destruction of Jacinto; humanity has managed to utterly devastate the Locust and wipe out much of the horde, but in doing so sacrificed the one city that truly provided sanctuary for humanity since the start of the war, a desperate act that cost the lives of many survivors and has left them without a home as they flee the collapsing and flooded city, knowing too well of the struggle that lies ahead but not of the new threat that is now emerging.
- The biggest one of them all in 3 goes to Dom's death, possibly for the entire series as well. He rams a junker into a tank full of Imulsion, parked at a "gas" station uner a leaking Imulsion pipeline, just so Marcus and the others can escape. And just when you think you can hold it in as he sacrifices himself, Gary Jules' Dark Reprise of Mad World by Tears for Fears, which is practically the series' theme song, begins to play. The one character that people never expected to die, actually did. Not to mention the people that grew attached to him after spending all those times in Gears 1 and 2 co-op were affected as well.
Marcus: Dom, what the FUCK are you doing?Dom: I'm pulling the plug on them, Marcus! Jump, will you? DO IT!
- Equally heartbreaking is the last conversation that Dom and Marcus ever have.
Dom: Never thought it would end like this, huh? Huh, Maria?
- And if that doesn't get you crying, what are Dom's last words?
- The entire sequence where Dom dies is one. When Dom is about to crash the tanker and blow up the horde, everyone else jumps off the building and runs to cover... except for Marcus, who just stands there and stares, because he knows what's about to happen and for that moment his mind simply couldn't deal with it. And after the crash, Anya has to damn near hold Marcus in place to keep him from running into the flames to get Dom out, even though he already knows Dom is dead.
- Just before then, Dom kneeling before the stone angel in the graveyard and talking to Maria, then leaving his COG tag around the statue's neck. It's a chilling clue that Dom wasn't expecting to be alive much longer.
- Afterward, when Griffin talks too much shit about the COG, Marcus for the very first time in three games, totally loses his shit at him and starts yelling at him about how Dom was his brother and he doesn't care about Griffin or the Stranded who've been belittling the Gears for the last few chapters. Considering that Marcus has at most shown annoyance or constrained anger at problems before, to see him totally flip out over Dom's death is heartbreaking.Marcus: I just lost my fucking brother! You hear that? My brother!! So you, your tower, and all this fucking Imulsion can GO TO HELL!!!
- Marcus has lost friends before, but his reaction to Dom's death is perhaps the most emotional part of the game. The whole idea of the third game is the importance of brotherhood, and seeing Marcus freak out really hits hard. He didn't even react as badly to his father's death.
- Later when Marcus must break the news to Cole and Baird on Azura. The two men are destroyed when they learn of their friend's death; In a rare moment Cole loses all composure and vows revenge on Dom's death; Baird meanwhile is too stunned to even speak, and simply looks away as he processes the reality that Dom is gone.
- Adam himself is devastated, having fully expected to see Dom when Marcus made it to the island, and can only offer his condolences when finally reunited with Marcus.
- The Stranded themselves qualify, given that most of Char was devastated by Hammer Of Dawn strikes and many people were killed and turned to ash, it's hard to blame them for hating the COG. Griffin is a pretty tragic figure as well, many of the people killed in the strikes were his employees, whom he considered family, and then having the remainder of his people die after being attacked by Myrrah's army (indirectly caused by the main characters), leaving him as the lone survivor in a desolate and decrepit city makes his harsh rant to Marcus a bit more understandable.
- The bonus materials in the Limited and Epic editions of the game shed some further light on Marcus and Dom's relationship; a copy of Adam Fenix's Will says that if he dies before Marcus comes of age, guardianship passes to Dom's parents: Marcus and Dom apparently grew up together.
- "You ever feel like you're dead, but nobody told you?" One line is all one needs to understand the distance that separates the Augustus Cole of the present from the Cole Train he was at the start of the war. Gears of War is really a game that is best at being quite subtle about the pain its characters endure, and that line sums up everything about Cole so succinctly. A collectible you pick up also reveals that Cole lost his family on E-Day and that he joined the army six days later.
- In that same collectible, it says that Cole is joining to fight until the Locust are defeated, but isn't planning to leave Thrashball for good. The horrible implication was that humanity at large probably did believe that the Locust could be defeated without the sort of cost to their population and planet that players know happened because of everything they've seen during the games up to that point. It's the notion that, "We'll beat the Locusts. It'll be tough, but we'll drive them back into their holes, and our lives will go back to how they were," that felt so downright heartbreaking. Cole's line drives the point home: everyone on the planet from before E-Day is dead. The people that they were, even if their physical lives continued, can never be brought back. Too much has been lost for that to happen.
- The entire sequence at the Thrashball stadium. Hell all of Cole's lines in 3 were really sad; each whooo, and quip is laboured and forced. He's putting it all on for everybody else's sake, a top notch performance from Lester Speight. While Cole certainly played it up for his fans, with things like the cutout in the supermarket certainly left him shaken, the pure joy during such dark times that the Stranded receive him with, not to mention the sight of his statue still intact at the Stadium, reassures him that legacies survive when ways of life do not.
- The death of Adam Fenix, particularly the point where the pulse fires that turns his body into ash, and Marcus is reaching out to hold him one last time. As the unshakable, emotionless Marcus kneels over his father's ashes; you can actually hear his voice breaking. Imagine fighting to get back to finding your father again after thinking he was dead for years, realizing that he was proud of you all along, and then he just disappears before your very eyes.
- The expression on Marcus' face at the very end as he stares out over the beach. He has literally spent his entire adult life at war, and he has nowhere to go and no idea what to do, especially after both Dom and his father died. It really serves to spell out the toll the war has taken on humanity; the world's destruction was so complete that you realize that even though they've finally won, it seems as though they truly have lost everything there was to live for.
- The entire chapter spent in Char. The absolute devestation wrought by the Hammer of Dawn is a powerful sight. The real kicker, though, is the citizens, reduced to statues of ash and frozen in place, all trying and failing to flee from the destruction.
- "Tomorrow, Marcus. We've finally got a tomorrow."
- Lambent Humans saying "Kill me!".
- When JD returns home there is an optional scene that can be triggered by going to a gate before meeting Marcus. Whats the first thing JD does once he gets home? Visit his mother Anya's grave. Apparently her tomorrow was just a bit shorter.
- The DeeBees attack and destruction of the house is suddenly a lot sadder when you realize Marcus has been trying to fix his dead wife's home alone for years, only for it to all get wrecked right in front of him. What if her grave got destroyed too?
- If all the tomato plants in the green house are destroyed, Marcus flips out and goes on a hilarious angry rant which is detailed on the Funny page. Buried in there though is a small tear jerker when he mentions the seeds came from the tomatoes Dom had grown. Marcus was growing his late best friend's plants. Triggering this dialogue means he just watched them get wrecked in front of him.
- It really is heartbreaking to see just how strained Marcus' relationship with JD is. Almost every word they say to each other comes off as Snark-to-Snark Combat and according to Del, it's the norm for them to be constantly yelling at each other. It's shown that Marcus really didn't want JD to join the COG and a lot of his frustration with his son stems from this, but JD just wanted to live up to his family's legacy and make his parents proud. Should the player decide to visit Anya's grave before meeting Marcus, you can see a typical conversation between the two.JD: Dad, I-I visited Mom.
JD: When's the last time you cleaned up out there? You could grab a rake, you know.
Marcus: I'll take that under advisement, James.
JD: Do you even visit her anymore?
Del: Guys, come on.
Marcus: You wanna know the last time I was out there?
JD: Yeah, I do.
Marcus: This morning. And the morning before that. [bitterly] Sorry about the leaves, James. We've got a little wind problem these days. Maybe you've noticed.
- Gears of War 4 hits you with a surprising one right out the gate. Humanity is commemorating all the conflict and sacrifice that was suffered to achieve the peace they now thrive in, and you (the player) are tasked with partaking in the flashbacks that accompany this. We see several familiar faces, and get ready to kick ass as one of your favorite characters... only to be planted firmly in the boots of a faceless grunt, and you struggle through some of the most intense and pivotal moments in the series as a generic Gear. And then you die. In the first segment, your character is wiped out by a mortar round while dragging a wounded comrade, within sight of safety. During E-day, you find a Hammer of Dawn while severely outgunned, only for it to go off-line seconds before you could have survived. Finally, you play as a medic at Anvil Gate, who was never even meant to fight, as literally hundreds of Locust march relentlessly toward you, and die seconds before the whole Locust Horde is wiped out by Delta Squad's actions at the end of Gears 3. You never see their faces. You never learn their names. They changed the course of history, but will never be remembered as anything more than one of a thousand others who also fell that day.
- Colonel Hoffman makes an appearance at First Minister Jinn's speech, now a frail old man confined to a wheelchair. You could even say the flashbacks are his own (he is the only character who appears in all three of them), and despite the years of peace the look in his eyes show he's still haunted by the horrors of war.
- The ending to Gears 4 has a major one with JD and the others finally finding Reyna, only she's connected to the hive, and that cutting her loose will kill her. Reyna begs Kait to finish her off, and she tearfully does so. Gets even worse when Kait realizes that Marcus knew about Reyna's fate the whole time, thanks to having been connected to the Hive Mind while he was captured in a pod. Although even he admits: "I didn't know we'd find this."
- Speaking of Mercy Kills, there is an Easter Egg in the graveyard in Act 3: There are several gravestones engraved with letters, and by destroying them in order to spell "Maria", two ghostly lights appear by the exit and re-enact Maria's death cutscene as Dom's dialogue plays. And then the shot rings out, and the lights are gone. In their place is Dom's Precious Photo of himself and Maria, and the Memento Mori — a spectral Boltok Pistol that can One-Hit Kill anything in the game, but only has about a dozen shots that can't be replenished.
- Gears 5 presents the heartbreaking prospect of Kait, driven by paranoia and the Hive's "messages", turning her gun on Del, demanding to know what JD told him behind her back.
- Speaking of JD, his personality change. He is bald and is growing a beard, but he is also nursing an injury in his arm. But the biggest kicker is his cynicism and mistrust of Kait. In Gears 4, JD was idealistic, and the one who comforted Kait after she gave her mother a Mercy Kill and Marcus noticed the romantic tension between the two. Now, JD and Kait are openly arguing and he secretly thinks she could turn on him, he gives Del orders we don't hear, but given his previous dialogue, it is not unfair to assume that JD ordered Del to kill Kait if it looked like she would turn on them. And thanks to Word of God and the game synopsis admitting Myyrah is Kait's grandmother, you can't really blame him.
- Also when Marcus sees the Locust Symbol, he asks "It's your grandmother's?" in a hesitant but seemingly certain voice. Given how he saw Reyna was treated and having just learned about Kait's nightmares, he likely just deduced that he killed her grandmother 25 years ago.