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You Have Outlived Your Usefulness / Literature

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The elimination of inconvenient loose ends by villains of literature.


  • In All the Wrong Questions, Hangfire attempts to drown Dame Sally Murphy once he doesn't need her anymore.
  • In the George Orwell novel Animal Farm, Old Major names this trope as one of the chief evils committed by man against animals, citing that "the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty." When Napoleon takes over the farm, he has the big draft horse Boxer sold to the knacker's to have his throat cut and his remains boiled down for the foxhounds the very day his great muscles lose their power, and the dogs drowned in a pond when they become old and toothless. Unsurprisingly, he is shown to be at least as bad as Farmer Jones, who the animals overthrew near the start.
  • Visser One from Animorphs is downright pathological about this, as revealed in VISSER. Over the course of the narrative she goes through seven hosts, killing them one by one once she's got someone better and they're no longer of any use.
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    • Visser Three too, though he's much less pragmatic and much more Ax-Crazy about it, killing his subordinates on a whim. You don't even need to fail him to earn a messy death, though it certainly helps.
  • In Blonde Genius by J.T. Edson, cat burglar Gus Saunders is ejected from a plane without a parachute when after he has served The Syndicate's purpose by robbing Bekinsop's Academy.
  • In The Boleyn Inheritance the Duke of Norfolk leaves Jane Boleyn to be accused of treason and executed after his plans, in which she assisted him all along, start to go wrong.
  • In A Brother's Price, the main villain does this to some lower-class criminals that were used for the dirty work. Unsurprisingly, as they knew too much.
  • Codex Alera:
    • Lady Invidia Aquitainus is a skilled political mover with few lines she won't cross. Her spy in the First Aleran knows this. So, when she orders him to kill the winner of a duel to the death, whether it is either Tavi or her own corrupt senator, and assures him she will get them both out safely, the spy has a pretty good guess as to what will really happen. So, after Tavi defeats the senator's champion, the spy tries to kill her instead. While the crossbow-like bolt attack does kill the senator, it only seriously wounds Invidia and she escapes the infirmary.
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    • The Vord Queen averts this with Invidia, when she has captured the latter and only partially healed her wounds. Once her conquest is complete, she plans for Invidia to rule over the humans who have surrendered to her in exchange for leniency and help.
    • Kitai argues the inversion of this concept to Tavi in order to spare the life of Fidelias, one of the greatest traitors to the Realm (and the aforementioned spy in the First Aleran) — not out of mercy, but because they could still be of help in the war against the Vord.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, Valerius knows Amalric will kill him as soon as the trope came into play, and so works hard on Taking You with Me.
  • In a particularly cruel example, Raistlin Majere does this to Crysania near the end of Dragonlance Legends, telling her, "Farewell, Revered Daughter. I need you no longer."
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
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    • In Hogfather, the psycho killer assassin Mr. Teatime always does this, even to hostage and bribees, creeping out other guys who only "won't hesitate to kill anybody between them and some gold." He's described as being one of the rare literal examples of "someone who will kill you as soon as look at you".
    • In The Truth, a pair of villains plan to kill their Lord Vetinari look-alike once "his face no longer fits". Luckily, he is rescued in time.
    • The villain in Making Money also does this, thereby enabling Vetinari to deduce his plan from the string of bodies left behind.
    • In Interesting Times Lord Hong has Two Fire Herb killed after he's done with the Resistance. However, because Two Fire Herb had enough foresight to ask for a promise that Hong would neither write or say an order for his execution, Lord Hong makes an origami man. Without a head.
    • In Mort, the Duke (a dab hand with poisons) catches the antidote-dosed King Olerve off-guard by simply hiring an assassin with a crossbow and a fast horse. Death assures the King's ghost that the assassin's horse isn't fast enough: He allowed the Duke to provide him with a packed lunch.
  • In Dune, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen has Yueh's wife kidnapped to coerce him into betraying the house of Atreides, then "frees" his wife and "reunites" him with her, because "he always keeps his promises". (However, Yueh had already guessed the Baron's intentions and planned a posthumous revenge.)
    • In a variation, Baron Harkonnen — after surviving an assassination attempt by his nephew and baronial heir Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen — reaches an agreement in which he will forgive this attempt on his life if his nephew agrees to wait until the Baron feels that his heir is properly prepared to take the throne, at which time he will step aside willingly (a sort of "I Have Outlived My Usefulness").
    • At several points Baron Harkonnnen muses on the eventual need to this to his Mentat, Piter de Vries. Then Piter is killed in an assassination attempt on the Baron while the Baron still finds him useful.
  • In The Emperor's Soul, Shai is smart enough to know this is going to happen to her after she completes her task to Forge a new soul for the Emperor, despite promises to the contrary, and therefore plans from the start how to avoid it.
  • Empire from the Ashes: The Big Bad of Heirs of Empire does this so much it's almost like a Running Gag by the end. Sometimes, the "usefulness" was simply setting this situation up for other minions! This comes back to bite him in the ass big time, though it takes longer than one might expect.
  • Referenced in Jules Verne's Facing the Flag: main character Simon Hart, who has been the only man to speak with Mad Scientist Thomas Roch for years, knows that the moment Roch reveals the secret to his superweapon, both of them will be killed by Big Bad Ker Karraje. Much to their luck, Roch is paranoid enough that he keeps the secret to himself - and Karraje believes Hart knows more than he lets on.
  • In the Firebird Trilogy, wastelings are the third- and fourth-born children of Netaian royals and nobles, conceived and raised only to make sure their family's line doesn't die out; once the line of succession is secured (their eldest sibling has two children), they are legally required to commit suicide. Refusal to commit suicide means that they are publicly executed instead.
  • Averted in the Hammer's Slammers series by way of the Bonding Authority. This not only prevents employers from double crossing the mercs they hire, but conversely, it also prevents the mercs from "writing their own name on the line of victor".
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Voldemort kills Snape because he believed that Snape needed to die at his hand in order to gain control of the Elder Wand. Ironically, Voldemort failed to notice the slightly greater crime of continually betraying him for the last eighteen years.
    • He also kills Bertha Jorkins in the fourth book because she is of no use to him anymore.
    • Honestly, this trope serves as Voldemort's biggest contrast with Harry; Harry inspires loyalty from his friends while Voldemort uses fear tactics. His insistence on using this trope is what ultimately leads to his undoing. Not only does Narcissa Malfoy betray him at a critical moment, but his Death Eaters start to abandon him during the final fight.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit – Will Travel. Two of the Wormfaces' human minions receive this treatment. When the Wormfaces have no more use for them, they kill the minions and turn them into soup so the Wormfaces' can eat them.
  • The Hunger Games: In Mockingjay, Coin didn't want Katniss to use her influence to recommend someone else for President after the war, and since she had already united the districts against the Capitol, she tried to pull this on her. By sending her Brainwashed and Crazy kind-of ex-boyfriend to do it.
  • In Death: When there's a partnership of two bad guys, you can be reasonably sure one of them will kill the other and state this trope.
  • The Big Bad in Invasion of Kzarch does this to the rebel general, who had betrayed his own forces. In a rather more impressive way than usual too: Instead of simply shooting him, he has him tossed out a gunboats window, and shot with it's beam cannons.
  • Jack Ryan:
    • Played straight in Dead or Alive by the terrorist group, who kills all but two people who worked with them while they were setting up for their attacks. The two exceptions were the prostitute hired to service the group's leader and the woman who was extracting the information from the Yucca Flats employee: the former didn't know anything that could compromise them, and the latter was deemed to be too much of a risk to kill because she might have left behind evidence to be released on her death.
    • Debt of Honor: Discussed and subverted. The villain hires a programmer to create a computer virus for him to carry out part of the villain's attack. Once the programmer finishes the job the villain considers killing him, but ultimately decides against it because the hacker may have a contingency plan to expose the plot if he's killed.
    • In The Sum of All Fears, the terrorist Big Bad does this twice in the course of his plot to nuke the United States. First, he has the East German nuclear physicist who helps them build their bomb executed once it's been completed. Then, he does the same thing to the American collaborator who helps them deliver it. In a memorable subversion, however, the physicist is killed before he can impart a crucial piece of information that causes the bomb's yield to be much lower than intended, providing the clue by which the U.S. is able to unravel the plot.
  • James Bond
    • In Thunderball, Big Bad Largo has the pilot he bribed to steal two nukes killed, both to avoid having to pay him and so he doesn't start running his mouth to his sister, who is Largo's mistress and ignorant of the plot.
    • Bond's supposed role as a hired gun in Anton Murik's big plan in Licence Renewed is to assassinate the terrorist-for-hire Franco after he has succesfully collected the money from the extortion of nations. Bond (rightfully) suspects that such fate will befall on him as well after his part.
    • After the bad guys in The Man with the Red Tattoo gain the control of CureLab Inc. from Shinji Fujimoto, they have their assassin Kappa stab him to death.
  • Journey to Chaos: In A Mage's Power, Tasio says this about Aio, his alter ego. Since Eric has gained many other friends, he has played his role in Eric's development.
  • In the Left Behind prequel books, Marilena Carpathia, the mother of the future Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia, was killed off when Nicolae, still a child, was old enough to be cared for by his mentor Viv Ivins. His two biological fathers, who were living together off payments from the corporation that funded the genetic project that brought forth Nicolae, were later killed off.
    • In fact, this happens to anyone within Nicolae's close circle of friends and associates in the Global Community.
  • Big Bad Sarapen from Lonely Werewolf Girl has a human minion who is under the impression that Sarapen will turn him into a Werewolf if he performs a certain task. Since Werewolves are born not bit in these books, he gets this trope instead. Rewarded as a traitor to his species deserves.
  • In The Machineries of Empire, the Kel Command sends a fleet to execute Jedao and all of his and Cheris' fleet after they're done retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles. It's implied Nirai Kujen has his hand in this because he's worried that Jedao would do this to him, now that Cheris' mathematical ability makes Kujen no longer a necessary part of Jedao's plans.
  • Zandramas, the Big Bad of The Malloreon, does this approximately fifty times in five books. Had to catch a ship? Sink it as soon as you're off. Don't need an escort any more? Break their legs and leave them for the lions. While Zandramas had a lot of bad habits, this was the one she indulged in most often.
  • In Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, the Big Bad Storm King rather casually obliterates Evil Sorcerer Pryrates after the latter is finished summoning him back into Osten Ard from his exile in undeath. At least, in this case, he has a justification: Pryrates tries to pull a Starscream on him but forgets that Evil Is Not a Toy. And in all fairness, the Storm King did warn him that he would be first among mortals.
  • The Big Bad of Quite Ugly One Morning has this as his MO. Doesn't work out so well for him in the end.
  • The Radix: Right after Jordan Rayne hands the (fake) Radix to Taft-Ryder Farmaceuticals's agent, he shoots her.
  • The octospiders in Gentry Lee Arthur C. Clarke's sequels to Rendezvous with Rama are good guys who do this. To themselves, voluntarily.
  • The Reynard Cycle: This is how Count Bricemer intends to reward the crew of the Quicksilver once they've returned with the gem of Zosia in Reynard the Fox. Reynard is smart enough to see this coming from a mile away.
  • A variation in Shogun. Toranaga is well aware that Yabu is The Starscream, and has in fact betrayed him at a potentially crucial time, and this is the official reason for ordering him to commit seppuku. However, Toranaga would not have done this if Yabu hadn't outlived his usefulness at the same time, since Toranaga knew he was treacherous right from the start, and made alliances with him anyway because he was useful.
  • The resident Magnificent Bastard, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, from A Song of Ice and Fire has a habit of doing this to catspaws such as Ser Dontos and Lady Lysa that had either fulfilled their purpose or become too much of a liability to his plans.
    • In Dontos' case, Littlefinger points out that the man had fulfilled his purpose- delivering Sansa to him, and the only thing he could do now was betray him, since he would likely drink through the money Littlefinger offered him and then betray them to Cersei for the reward on Sansa, who was thought to have killed Joffrey.
    • Let's not forget about Lysa Arryn! He wedded and (re-)bedded her, and then promptly pushed her out of a ridiculously high window when she became hysterical and threatened/attempted to kill her own niece out of jealousy. She was useful as a stepping stone to power, poisoning her own husband on his orders and later marrying him and granting him a title far above his heriditary station. However, once he married, he had everything she could offer him and no longer needed her.
    • Robb suspects that the Lannisters will have Sansa killed once she gives Tyrion a child who can inherit Winterfeell.
    • When the Freys tell Brynden "The Blackfish" Tully that they'll hang his nephew Edmure unless he surrenders Riverrun, the Blackfish wisely notes that they're planning on killing him anyway, so their threats are empty.
  • In Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars Khan is given a recipe for gene-enhanced strep-A that can be used for biological warfare. Once he has the formula down, his first test subject was the man who brought it to him.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • This was mentioned as a common habit of Ysanne Isard in the X-Wing Series. If one of her agents continually succeeds, he would eventually suffer from this trope. If her agents fail, however, they will either face You Have Failed Me or be killed by the people they were acting against. This caused loyalty issues in those subordinates smart enough to figure this out.
    • The planet Despayre, as depicted in the novel Death Star, and before that, the game "X-Wing". (scroll to 2:45) After all, the Empire couldn't have word getting out about their superweapon before they were ready, could they?
  • The Tamuli: Invoked by Sephrenia in The Shining Ones, when she incorrectly believes she's outlived her usefulness to the other good guys.
  • Twilight: In Eclipse, Jasper recounts his history as a member of a Vampire Newborn Army. Newborns are useful in their first year after being turned, because they are super strong, but after their strength wanes, they are normally killed by their masters.
  • Victoria features a rare heroic example, by a ruthless protagonist. In order to bring down the genocidal Path of Inspiration that rules Cascadia, post-American warlord General Rumford allies with the local Resistance. Once their common enemy is beaten, he sends a flight to bring the resistance leaders over to the recaptured capital as promised — Only to have the planes bomb and strafe them instead, killing them all, before turning Cascadia over to his own picked men.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In James Swallow's Deus Sanguinius, when Sachiel realizes the truth, Inquisitor Stele kills him to foment a battle, and also to get rid of him.
    • In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines novel Nightbringer, after Vedden and his men foment a riot, the ornithoptors they thought would extract them opened fire on them. Then Honan, whose home the attack had been launched from, complained to the conspirators, who handed him over for torture. Later, after de Valtos has awoken the Nightbringer, it kills him and several of the Dark Eldar, who were awakening it because they thought it would help them live forever.
  • In The War of the Flowers Anton Hellebore does this to the Remover, or so he thinks. Unusually his father is very unhappy about this as the Remover was not only a very useful mercenary, but also owned numerous valuable magical artifacts that Anton burned.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Warrior Class, Big Bad Pavel Kazakov threatens this some times and eventually goes through with it.
    • In Edge of Battle Comandante Veracruz tries to do this to Zakharov, prompting an Enemy Mine.
  • The Wheel of Time has a decidedly dark heroic version. Some of the Shaido who capture and enslave Faile's group are sympathetic enough to help them escape, which Faile's husband doesn't realize when he intercepts them mid-rescue. Rather than try to defuse the situation, Faile and her companions turn on the allied Shaido and help kill them all.


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