Duel to the Death

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Obviously, chicks dig the Cool Helmet.

I can't tell what's wrong or right
If black is white or day is night
But I know when two men collide
It's a question of honour!

—Sarah Brightman, Question of Honour

An affront has been committed!

The hero has been affronted. Or the villain has. Or someone has dragged The Chick or Damsel in Distress into some dangerous situation against her will. Or someone in the cast hasn't realized that they're in Cloudcuckooland and that it's a serious crime to offer Cheesy Poofs to the daughter of the mayor. Or it's a rival situation and "this town ain't big enough for the both of us."

Whatever the situation, sitting down rationally and talking out the differences is just not going to settle things. No, the only way the offended party feels they can have satisfaction is with a Duel to the Death—nothing else will do! So, after striking the offending person upside the head with a glove [horseshoe, brick, or rock optional] to announce your intent, it's time to choose your weapons!

Weapon types can include:

  • Swords
  • Guns
  • Martial Arts
  • Wacky items like pies or water balloons
  • Airplanes
  • Giant Robots
  • Magic

...and it usually is considered bad form to use your superpowers if either or both parties has them. Villains, of course, will try to do so anyway. If one character lacks a weapon, Give Me a Sword may ensue—and other characters may use this to try to stop the duel.

Sometimes it's a formal "pistols at dawn" duel. Sometimes it's something dictated by The Government of the city, town, planet or dimension in which the scene takes place. Sometimes it's just a fight where there's an unspoken certainty that the loser will not be getting up again. Sometimes the location and circumstances of the duel are quite outrageous.

When the hero wins, he will almost always show mercy to his opponent, much to the opponent's humiliation (unless he's an Anti-Hero out for revenge, in which case all bets are off). In such cases, the villain may taunt the hero for cowardice or weakness; or he may try to take his own death blow after the duel has officially ended and the hero is walking away, in which case, fifty-fifty, the result will often be the villain getting killed in self defense (a form of Karmic Death) or the hero or one of his friends stopping the villain Just in Time.

When the villain wins, you can count on the villain to strike mercilessly. The other party will die or may have to be rushed to whatever works for first aid/resurrection in this instance. On the other hand, this may be the point of which you learn the other character is not a villain (Get It Over With is common).

And several duels in media end with the loser having to get out of town.

Honor may (theoretically) be satisfied with first blood, or first serious injury. However, because it will be fought with real weapons, any duel can end in death.

Commonplace in westerns, naturally, with the Quick Draw shoot out Showdown At High Noon as the duel type. Jidai Geki or chanbara movies also tend to end this way, with two samurai engaging in a Single-Stroke Battle over a matter of honor, and the outcome of this is usually the death of one or both of the samurai involved.

May overlap with Fight Clubbing, where the duel is, arguably, for fun. At least the spectator's fun. Compare Ten Paces and Turn. Often enforced in Gladiator Games. If the combatants aren't given a choice in the matter, it's an Involuntary Battle to the Death.

There are lesser variations, and greater ones beyond simply "to the death."

A lot of Card Game Anime actually end up with duels for The Fate Of The World rather than just the lives of the two involved. Serious Business, you know.

See Wizard Duel for the magical equivalent. Compare Combat by Champion, and Trial by Combat.

As a Death Trope, Spoilers ahead may be unmarked. Beware.

Examples of Duel to the Death include:

Anime and Manga

  • Anime probably have tons of examples, but the one that comes to mind right now is Rurouni Kenshin... Kenshin is a Technical Pacifist who refuses to kill under any circumstances, but quite a few antagonists have tried to force him into breaking that vow in order to fight a true Death Match with them. The most noticeable one was probably Udo Jin-e, a psychopathic killer who was a fellow assassin (though on the opposite side) during the revolution. After Kenshin prevents an assassination, he tries to put Kenshin in a situation where he HAS to kill him in order to save Kaoru, but when it doesn't work and he's left defeated but alive, he simply commits Sepukku, all while stating the he's going to watch Kenshin from hell to see him kill someone.
  • In Street Fighter, Akuma always fights to the death, though it's somewhat averted in that he never challenges anyone (he only takes challenges from worthy opponents), and ends up sparing loads of people anyway.
  • Samurai Deeper Kyo ended with a duel to the death between the two principle characters.
  • Last Exile is notable for featuring a duel to the death by airship.
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - in perhaps one of the most unusual duels ever; Yuki Nagato faces off against Ryouko Asakura, both of them interfaces/agents of the Integrated Data Sentient Entity, in order to protect Kyon from Asakura's attempts to kill him in order to get a reaction from Haruhi. Asakura seems to terminally injure Yuki with the latter having apparently made no attempt to attack. It transpires that Yuki has been on the attack in a different way, breaking through Asakura's data barriers in order to terminate Asakura's data link, effectively deleting her from the world.
  • In Corsair, Shirokko hates Canale, who is a blind pacifist and therefore useless as a pirate, and keeps trying to challenge him to one for any reason, hoping to be rid of him. When Canale finally is forced to duel him and beats him (being a former assassin), Shirokko is rather stunned.
  • Gankutsuou features a duel with Humongous Mecha.
  • Mendou Shuutarou in Urusei Yatsura is not adverse to challenging people who annoy him to duels, the first with two very large cannons.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh's "Shadow Games" -- duels to the death via decided by children's card games. Variations of this pop up across the spinoffs Yu-Gi-Oh GX, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, and Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal.
  • In Space Battleship Yamato/Star Blazers, there are two different versions of the same Duel To The Death between Wildstar and Desslok near the end of the Comet Empire arc. In both versions, one dueler collapses due to shock from an injury from an explosion on Desslok's ship, rendering a duel unnecessary.
  • One of Mendou's earliest appearances in Urusei Yatsura results in him starting a Duel to the Death with Ataru - in which they are to take turns attempting to shoot an apple off of each other's heads using nothing but a large-bore cannon. (Needless to say, the duel doesn't actually happen.)

Comic Books

  • In The Astounding Wolf Man Wolf-Man has two very climactic Duels To The Death.
  • In Lucifer, Christopher Rudd gets into a duel in hell and manages to manipulate his demonic opponent into fighting him in human form. After the demon boasts that he is still stronger and faster than Christopher; Christopher shows him it is about SO much more than just speed and strength.
  • In the first appearance of the Morlocks in X-Men comics, Callisto's battle with Storm was supposed to be this. (Callisto even threw Storm a dagger so they could do it right.) Storm ultimately won, Callisto surviving due to quick action by the Morlock's Healer, but this meant Storm was able to seize leadership of the Morlocks from her. Technically, that is; she would rarely enforce this, but it did end the crisis.


  • The Mummy Trilogy - In The Mummy Returns, Evy and Ankh Su-Namun, both reincarnates from Ancient Egypt, have one to settle old scores. Ankh runs off when she starts losing, though.
    • The final showdown in The Scorpion King (2002) between the protagonist Mathayus and the tyrant king Memnon. Two words: "Catch this."
  • Serenity: The Operative vs. Mal. The Operative is so devoted to his job that he happily dispatches honorable death without anger in the name of the Federation. Until Mal makes him angry by unleashing the Reavers of Miranda on Mr. Universe's moon. Then It's Personal—sort of. But Mal wins, and settles for temporarily crippling The Operative so he can see what his bosses have done, which leads to a My God, What Have I Done? moment on the part of The Operative.
  • The Princess Bride, several times:
    • The Man in Black vs. Inigo Montoya: Inigo is a man of honor and spares The Man In Black's life until he can pull himself together. After mutual I Am Not Left-Handed, The Man In Black spares Inigo's life after defeating him.
    • The Man in Black vs. Fezzik: The Man in Black succeeds in besting the giant, but does not kill him.
    • The Man in Black vs. Vizzini: Inconceivable! The Man in Black has built up an immunity to iocaine powder.
    • Humperdink vs. Westley. Westley subverts the duel, invoking To the Pain instead and wins through Refuge in Audacity.
    • Inigo Montoya vs. Count Rugen: It was a heroic revenge thing, and Inigo's obsession for the last decade or more. A killing blow is finally dealt, by Inigo to the Count.
  • Flash Gordon - Flash vs. Barin. Defeat Means Friendship, and Barin swears loyalty to Flash in gratitude for not having been flung to his death.
  • Every final confrontation between immortals in Highlander. Off with their heads! Subverted with Connor's duel with Boston Common.
  • The Gladiatorial Combat variation is in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome ("two men enter, one man leaves").
  • The movie Rob Roy about 17th century Scottish freedom fighter Robert Roy MacGregor features a duel between Rob, a highlander with a heavy, basket-hilted claymore and Archibald Cunningham, an English fop with a light rapier. Archibald proves the vastly superior swordsman, but drops his guard at the moment to victory to gloat. Rob grabs Archibald's blade and uses his last ounce of strength to cleave him nearly in two.
  • The 13th Warrior (1999) (based on the novel The 13th Warrior) features a lethal duel between two Norsemen warriors. Each warrior is granted three shields to use during the combat. The larger, younger Norseman splinters all three of his opponent's shields and appears to be on the verge of victory. The smaller Norseman, however, isn't as weak or exhausted as he let on, and immediately decapitates the larger man. The ruse was all part of a ploy to intimidate the heroes' enemy with their strength and cunning.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features a duel in which a father and daughter challenge an old villain who slew their wife/mother. Later, Jen, armed with Green Destiny, fights Yu Shu-lien, armed with a variety of weapons, though the duel is not lethal.
  • House of Flying Daggers, the final battle between Jin and Leo.
  • Hero (2002) features several duels. The film opens with a duel between Sky and Nameless. Later, Nameless duels and defeats Flying Snow. The true outcome of both of these duels varies with each version of the tale. Broken Sword also duels the King, but spares his life.
    • Also, Flying Snow challenges Broken Sword to a duel, only for him to drop his sword instead of parrying her strike. As he dies, she impales herself on her own sword, essentially nailing herself to his body.
  • The Quick and the Dead is about a series of quick-draw competitions - in effect, pistol duels. They only officially become 'to the death' after the first round, though.
  • 'Prince Caspian' has one of these, Peter vs Miraz. It underlines how Badass Miraz is, because he is at least equal to Peter, whereas his traitorous second in command gets killed by Peter in around 2 seconds flat, despite Peter having dislocated his shield arm.
  • Unsurprisingly, Ridley Scott's movie The Duellists is about a series of duels, ostensibly to the death, between two Napoleonic-era French soldiers. A slight subversion, in that despite their best efforts they consistently fail to kill each other, and in the end one of them just walks away.
  • Equally unsurprisingly, the film Duel to The Death centers around a duel to the death: a recurring duel between the top warrior of Japan and China for their nations' honor. Although the Chinese swordsman is a nicer guy, both characters are treated sympathetically when they puzzle out a sinister Japanese plot to fix the fight. They still end up dueling, however, with lethal results.
  • Robot Jox portrays a dystopic future where nucular armageddon is averted by resolving all battles with duels between Humongous Mecha, which are consumed through the mass media like sporting events. The trope is hilariously averted in the final duel when the villain and hero spontaneously decide to stop fighting and give each other a thumbs-up knuckle-bump.
    • Another similar movie involves a Human Alien race on the verge of conquering humanity. They wish for Combat by Champion in Humongous Mecha to decide the outcome of the war. The alien champion alters the rules, claiming that the victor must kill the loser in order for the fight to be over (a violation of the normal robot combat rules). Similar to Robot Jox, the hero's robot gets destroyed by the more advanced alien robot, so he ends up ditching it and climbs onboard the alien robot. After a hand-to-hand fight, the alien is about to fall to his death, barely hanging on. While, normally, this is where the hero would pull the villain up, the human champion, remembering the victory condition, instead kicks the alien until the latter falls.
  • Peter Blood and the evil Pirate Levasseur in Captain Blood.
  • In Karate Kid II a man who lost face before Miyagi waited his whole life to have this with him. Because as Miyagi says, "In Okinawa, honor VERY Serious Business."
  • In The Man with the Golden Gun, James Bond and Scaramanga have a formal duel ("take ten paces, turn and fire") with Nick Nack as the referee. Subverted when Bond turns around to fire and finds that Scaramanga has vanished into his maze to have a cat-and-mouse game with him.
  • It is Star Wars film tradition to have a lightsaber duel between two Force-users at some point in the movie, usually near the end. Just as often as not, the duel doesn't end with someone's death—Qui-Gon Jinn of Episode 1, Count Dooku of Episode 3 and Obi-Wan of Episode 4 all met their ends in a lightsaber duel, but the rest usually ended in some other fashion, sometimes with one character losing a hand.
  • Plunkett and Macleane features a duel to the death pistols at dawn style between Plunkett and General Chance. Both survive however.
  • The silent classic Flesh and the Devil (1927) has one of these between John Gilbert's character and the husband of Greta Garbo's character, after the latter discovers an affair between the two.
  • Woody Allen's Love and Death.

Anton Inbedkov: Shall we say pistols at dawn?
Boris Grushenko: Well, we can say it. I don't know what it means, but we can say it.

  • Kill Bill has a series of them, leading up to the one implied by the title.
  • Happens at the end of Lethal Weapon between Martin Riggs and Mr. Joshua.


  • The various swashbuckling stories of Alexandre Dumas, including The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers series, feature a number of duels, some more lethal than others. Of particular note, D'Artagnan meets and befriends the titular three musketeers by being challenged by each of them to a duel on the same day.
  • Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series: Stephen Maturin is an accomplished duellist: he claims to have gone out twenty times in his first year at university. There are two particular examples in the canon: he is shot in the chest by Cannings in a formal duel, and while he only aims to injure, due to his injured hands shoots him in the throat and kills him instead. In Sydney, he fights a soldier who insults him in a very fast Crowning Moment of Awesome. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin nearly duel in the second book of the series.
    • In fact they nearly duel in the first book. It's how they met.
    • They also nearly "go out" for a duel again later in the series. Captain Aubrey, iron man of the Royal Navy, victor of many battles, fierce battler of many boardings, is sure that Maturin will slaughter him.
  • C.S. Forester's Mr. Midshipman Hornblower chapter "Hornblower and the Even Chance".
    • A bit of a subversion this one - knowing that his opponent was both a better shot and a better swordsman (and being somewhat suicidal at the time), Hornblower choose to have a 50-50 chance duel. Two pistols, one of which was loaded, chosen by duelists at random. He was perfectly happy to kill his opponent, in fact that was the whole point of challenging him to a duel to begin with. The captain ensured that neither of the pistols were loaded however, causing the duel to be declared null and void, and arranged for Hornblower to get a position on another, better, ship.
      • Slightly different in the A&E adaptation, there, his opponent fires early, giving Horatio a free shot, which he fires into the air, saying he's not worth the powder. When his opponent tries to stab in in retaliation, Captain Pellew shoots him dead.
  • The fourth novel of the Honor Harrington series goes as far to allude to it in the title, Field of Dishonor. Dueling is legal in the Star Kingdom of Manticore, and tends to be used by the aristocracy more often than the commoners. On Grayson it goes far enough you can request a trial by combat against the protectors champion.
    • Honor engages in two of these in Field Of Dishonor", the first being against a professional duelist who killed her lover in a duel to goad her into challenging him, on the assumption that, as a Naval officer, she wouldn't have the same level of skill as he does. Unfortunately for him, her uncle's involvement in the Manticoran Society for Creative Anachronism made her very familiar with the chemical-propellant guns used in duels, and her genetic enhancements sharpened her hand-eye co-ordination to the point that she could simply shoot from the hip. The end result was the she hit her opponent four times before he could even raise his gun.
    • The second duel in Field of Dishonor was against the man who hired the previous duellist, a cowardly, amoral aristocrat. He was so terrified that he turned and fired early...but failed to kill Honor. He was promptly splattered by Honor, her bodyguard, and the marshall of the field.
    • In Flag in Exile, Honor, badly injured in a shuttle crash, is forced to engage in a sword duel against a Grayson Steadholder. Despite his greater experience in swordsmanship, she cuts him down with contemptuous ease - he had the mindset of a sport fencer, not a hardened killer like Honor, and wasn't mentally prepared for a battle to the death.
  • Harry Turtledove's "Southern Victory" series has an alternate-historical version of General George S. Patton so outraged by a viewpoint character's comments that he challenges the character to a duel and requests his choice of weapons. The character gets out of it by clever choice of weapons, as with the Abraham Lincoln case below.
  • Sharpe: Sharpe fights several duels in the books and films, most formally in "Sharpe's Revenge" against Captain Bampfylde, a Royal Navy captain who abandoned his men to the French. Sharpe is a better pistol shot than Bampfylde, but knows Wellington wouldn't tolerate him having killed the man, so deliberately shoots him in the backside.
    • Maybe that's the case in the TV adaptation, but in the novel Sharpe's actually trying to gut-shoot the man. Unfortunately the smoothbore flintlock doesn't quite shoot straight.
  • Terry Pratchett's Nation features a battle between Mau and First Mate Cox, with the stakes being whether or not a tribe of cannibals will feast on Mau's tribe.
  • In Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night, Lord Peter Wimsey recounts that he's been challenged to a duel three times and fought twice; the third time the police intervened, and Lord Peter suspects that the other man disliked Lord Peter's choice of weapons, swords.
  • In Teresa Edgerton's The Queen's Necklace, Wil is readying himself for a duel when the novel opens. The authorities intervene. It proves to be part of a Xanatos Gambit to keep him out of the way; as the queen's guard, he would have prevented her having done something foolish.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, at one point, the police infiltrating an anarchist organization set up a duel between one of their number and an anarchist, to delay him. As a consequence, the policeman demands they fight to first serious injury, not first blood, because he can delay him long enough that way.
    • In the Father Brown story "The Duel of Dr Hirsch", Dr Hirsch issues a challenge to a duel.
    • The entire setup of The Ball and The Cross is that an old-fashioned Catholic and militant atheist flee from the police across the English countryside to try and engage in an (illegal) duel to the death, but are thwarted at every turn in increasingly hilarious and bizarre ways.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel The Traitor's Hand, when Beije insults the regiment's colonel, Cain declares they will duel over it if they survive their situation and he does not apologize. They do, but he does.
  • In William King's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Grey Hunters, a young Marine is astounded at the way Sven and Ragnar bicker. Back on their native Fenris, it would have lead to a duel to the death.
  • In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories, once Alex Jones challenged the Pirate Greenbeard to a duel—when Greenbeard was the persona he adopted to infiltrate the pirates. Staging it behind a wall, he convinced the Hoka pirates that he had actually fought it.
  • From Star Wars: Dueling is a big part of Adumari (well, really Cartannese) culture, so naturally it comes up a lot in Starfighters of Adumar. And, in Cartann at least, every single duel is or can be to the death. It starts with starfighter dueling - naturally, the New Republic contingent refuses to do it - and goes from there. One main character attempts Suicide By Duel Opponent; another steps in to fight the guy who would've killed her (but not before using his blastsword to draw a stick figure of a man with a tiny head to taunt his opponent) but doesn't kill, preferring to punch him within an inch of unconsciousness, and then slap him. Heck, it's considered romantic to give someone else the choice of life or death after winning a duel! (The other nations are, mercifully, less insane than Cartann. Their duels aren't deadly.)
  • A Song of Ice and Fire features a number of "trials by combat" in which people are challenged to a duel in answer for their perceived crimes or to settle a dispute. Each of the "Dunk and Egg" short stories ends with a duel as well.
    • Note that their laws allow for the trial by combat to be fought by a champion on behalf of the accuser/accused, the reasoning apparently being that the gods will not allow the innocent party to lose. However, the fact that all the trials by combat involve each party trying to get the most dangerous warriors they can find to do the fighting, and are often unsatisfied by the outcome, it is clear that nobody really believes the gods have any say in it.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Red Fury, the Flesh Tearer Noxx gets Kayne into a situation where he can challenge him. Rafen, being Kayne's sergeant, breaks his fingers and says that since Kayne can not face him, he will take his place. The resultant fight is not supposed to be to the death, but Rafen realized he intends to kill him and overpowers him.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars books, a practice of the Green Martians. Indeed, the only way to get a second name and a chieftain's metal is through this, with the chieftain.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 novel Chapter War, Eumenes challenges Sarpedon in the opening; Sarpedon insists on its being to first blood. They fight such a challenge again at the climax, and this time, Sarpedon realizes he must kill.
  • Harry Dresden was once formally challenged to a duel under the Unseelie Accords (something like the supernatural equivalent of the U.N.) by a duke of the Red Court. It was decided that it would be a duel of wills, whereby a ball of matter from outside of reality would be encased in a spell that reacted to willpower and each of the two would have to try to force it against the other. Harry ultimately won by summoning Heroic Willpower after the vampire threatened that his friends would be murdered if he won (although the vampire did try to cheat by drawing a gun when it became apparent he would lose). The vampire wasn't killed (as he fled the duel) but Ebenezer McCoy saw to that. Using a disused Soviet satellite.
    • Harry himself later challenges the Duke's widow, Arianna Ortega, to a more traditional Wizard Duel To The Death in Changes.
    • In White Night, Harry and fellow Warden Carlos Ramirez challenge White Court vampires Madrigal Raith and Vittorio Malvora to a two-on-two duel in front of practically the entire White Court due to a string of serial murders of weaker magically-talented humans, in an effort to prove how weak the White Council of Wizards was. Since this is on the tail end of the two vampires trying to claim that the string of murders was their idea (instead of them stealing the thunder from another vampire noble house), the White King pretty much forces them to go along with the challenge, telling them they have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Harry and Ramirez proceed to kick some incubus ass.
  • Jim Butcher must like this trope; the Codex Alera also has this as a political and social institution, known as juris macto. Although they've been threatened several times, we only see two. One is between Tavi and Navaris, who hopelessly outclasses him but is a little too psycho for her own good; Tavi Hannibal Lectures her into making a mistake in a fit of blind rage. The other is a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown of Isana by Lord Antillus, who also finds himself being psychoanalyzed mid-fight, though, since Isana knew she couldn't win, that was actually the whole point of the challenge.
  • The finale of The Belgariad is a duel between The Hero and Chosen One, Garion, and the Dark God Torak. To address the seeming impossibility of a Farm Boy killing a Physical God, both are acting as proxies of the competing Purposes of the Universe, with control over fate itself going to the victor.
    • Similar things happen in another series by David Eddings, The Elenium, at least twice. One duel is between Sparhawk and Martel (who acts as an evil god Azash's champion). Another duel is between Sparhawk and a Physical God Cyrgon - there they both act as champions of counteracting cosmic forces.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Shadow Kingdom" Kull refused to fight one with a mere ambassador.
  • In 1632, a bar fight nearly turns into a duel, until MacKay is informed that dueling is illegal in Grantville. In a separate incident, Tom Simpson states that if challenged to a duel, his weapon of choice would be the 12 pound sledgehammer, the announcement of which probably guaranteed that he would never be challenged to a duel.
  • This is Colonel Mustard's shtick in the Clue books. He challenges everyone left and right for the slightest infraction, though only once in the entire series does he actually duke it out with someone.
  • In Scaramouche, Andre-Louis Moreau does this with several members of the Privleged Party, but the most notable one is the duel with the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.
  • In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, Menelaus's second occupation.
  • In Fredric R. Stewart's Cerberon, after George punches Aladavan, and he's convinced Aladavan plans terrible retribution, George suggests they have a duel to get it over with. Fortunately for George, Aladavan considers the idea ridiculous.
    • Aladavan is forced to duel the son of a wizard he killed in a Trial by Combat. Aladavan is not allowed to use his sword or magic in the fight, while his opponent is fully armed.
    • George offers to duel Captain Mayhew to settle their differences. He tells Mayhew about the special ammunition his pistols are loaded with and lets him pick which one he wants to use.

Live-Action TV

  • The Firefly episode "Shindig" has Mal dueling Atherton Wing as a result of Mal decking the aristocrat for essentially calling Inara a whore. Mal wins, and lets Atherton live — albeit perhaps a bit scratched up.

"Mercy is the mark of a great man." *Stabbity!* "I guess I'm just a good man." *Stabbity times two!* "Well, I'm all right."

    • Mal only wins (and lives) because Inara interferes as Atherton is about to finish him off. Mal, in a true Combat Pragmatist fashion, proves that Talking Is Not A Free Action by turning the tables on Atherton, while he's busy.
  • Has happened a few times on Star Trek:
    • The Original Series:
      • Kirk and Trelane in "The Squire of Gothos".
      • Kirk and Spock in "Amok Time". (Kirk is trying to help Spock, who's Not Himself, and doesn't find out it's a fight to the death until he's already committed.)
    • The Next Generation:
      • Tasha Yar's duel with Yareena in "Code of Honor".
    • Klingons also have frequent duels to the death, most notably the fight between Worf and Gowron at the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  • Although the Doctor in Doctor Who rarely picks up a weapon, he did duel with an alien spaceship captain in "The Christmas Invasion" special, in a "this town ain't big enough for the both of us" scene. After beating the alien, he graciously decided to let him live (despite the fact the aliens had come to enslave humanity and had previously killed two diplomatic aides in cold blood), but when the humiliated alien captain attacked the Doctor from behind, the Doctor finished him off by dropping him off the edge of the spaceship hovering over London. By throwing a piece of fruit at the release button.
  • It's been done on Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, probably more than once.
  • Angel, several times. In one of the earliest, he wins when his opponent impales him, assumes he's won, and turns away. Angel then cuts his head off. What kind of demon assumes impalement is automatically going to work?
  • The Middleman had the title character forced into a vastly outnumbered Duel to the Death on behalf of his mentor, Sensei Ping.
  • The first season of Blackadder had the title character challenge someone who revealed him as a bastard to a duel, and was shocked when the man enthusiastically replied, "To the death!". Luckily, he was just messing with his head.
    • The third season ends with a Blackadder in a duel to the death with cannon against the Duke of Wellington. Lucky thing he had that cigarette case on him.
  • Speaking of which: the A Bit of Fry and Laurie sketch The Duel. The choice of weapons is slightly problematic.
  • Babylon 5 has one in the second season episode Knives, though it's more a Suicide by Cop gambit to save one Centauri's family from being tainted by a charge of treason.
    • Minbari duel with hollow metal quarterstaves (probably sharpened at the edges). As a duel is presumably consensual, it is considered by them to be "suicide" and hence it is not Minbari killing Minbari.
    • The most dramatic example of this is Marcus dueling Neroon, to prevent the latter from assassinating Delenn. Marcus loses, but he gets better.

Neroon: Den'sha, you said. "To the death". And death there was. The death... was mine. To see a human invoke the name of Valen -- to be willing to die for one my kind, when I was intent on killing one of my own... the rightness of my cause... disappeared.

  • James May's Man Lab has an entire segment dedicated to the art of dueling, culminating in James and his producer Will dueling over a parking space with flintlocks the first time (resulting in the death of an errant sound man), and paintball guns the second time. Will wins the second duel, and as James lays "dying," his life flashes before his eyes.
  • Surprisingly, there are several in Stargate SG-1:
    • After finding out that La Résistance leader K'tano is actually a minor Goa'uld named Imhotep, Teal'c challenges him to a duel. However, instead of traditional Jaffa weapons, they use wooden training staffs in the shape of the staff weapons. When K'tano is about to finish Teal'c off after breaking his staff in two, Teal'c uses a broken piece of the staff to impale K'tano as he lunges for the killing blow.
    • Later on, Cameron Mitchell engages in several sword duels with holographic knights. He wins one by beating the knight. The other one can't be beaten normally and almost kills Cameron, but Daniel ends up shooting the holo-projector. Also, Cameron is captured by a secretive tribe of Jaffa, who have developed their own form of martial arts. As Cameron is accused of killing one of their tribesman (the guy is actually alive at SGC), he is told that he will be executed by allowing a family member of the deceased to fight him. Being fair, they send one of their own to teach Cameron their martial art. When it comes time for the duel, Cam finds out that his teacher is the brother of the "deceased" and his opponent. Despite his military training and the new skills, the brother easily beats Cam and pretends to kill him.
  • In Stargate Atlantis, John Sheppard finally kills off Acastus Kolya with a quick draw, after Kolya refuses to surrender.
  • In an episode of the re-imagined Flash Gordon series, Flash is enamoured with Princess Aura under the influence of a Love Potion. Barin, the leader of a local tribe, whom Ming wants to marry Aura (despite both being unwilling) happens upon Flash and Aura. Right at this moment, Ming walks in and sees the three of them. Gleefuly, he forces them both to publicly duel to the death for Aura's hand using poisoned flail-like weapons. The problem is that Barin is a warrior and has been trained to use the weapon, while Flash is a marathon runner from Earth with few hand-to-hand combat skills. Quickly disarming Flash, Barin prepares to finish him off, but can't. Instead, he throws the weapon at Ming, who goes down from the poison. Aura then reveals that she has replaced the poison in the weapons with a fast-acting sedative meant to simulate death and that Ming will be very angry when he wakes up.
  • Deconstructed in a Castle episode, where the victim of the week was found with a musket ball in his chest. Of course, Castle immediately spun off a theory about a time-traveling pirate. When the apparently murder weapon, an antique pistol, was found, Beckett and Castle proceeded to test it at the firing range, before realizing that there's no way to hit a specific target at range with it (even steadying the weapon and using a laser sight). It turns out that the victim and his friend specifically used two antique pistol to settle their dispute because they didn't want to hurt each other but wanted to keep their honor. Unfortunately, a rival of the victim's found out and shot him with a rifle loaded with a musket ball.


  • Several ancien regime-style duels are featured in the video to Wolf Parade's "I'll Believe in Anything." The final duel involves cannons (possibly inspired by the one Kaiser Wilhelm II was involved in; both the officer in Wilhelm's case and the challenged guy clearly think of the whole duel thing as ridiculous).


Tabletop Games

  • Common among the Imperium, Chaos, and Dark Eldar in Warhammer 40,000. Extremely common, if informal, among the Orks.
    • "Informal" in this case roughly translates to "only when shooting them in the back with your favourite gun doesn't kill them instantly".
    • Lucius the Eternal tends to only fight to his full ability when he's called one of these. With a sword and whip. Likely against someone with a big gun.
  • Legend of the Five Rings: Rokugan's culture favors contests of iaijutsu when it comes down to two bushi having a personal clash. That said, the parties involved require special dispensation from their lords in order to fully realize this trope—their lives are not for themselves to choose to throw away, after all. Normally, such duels are thus merely to first blood.
  • A deeply rooted part of Clan warrior culture in the BattleTech universe. Not only is it fairly common to settle disagreements with duels (not always to the death, but few Clanners blink an eye if it happens as long as nobody cheated), but it also constitutes the appeals process in the courts, is essential to the promotion process, and is mandatory to participate in the political process, where earning the right to vote requires you to be the winner of a 24-man dueling tournament. The attitude goes so far that ganging up on a single enemy in actual combat is considered a breach of the rules of warfare, to the point where an odd man out will wait until his comrade is killed, and then engage the now "free" enemy. In essence, a properly fought Clan v Clan war is the sum total of numerous individual duels.
  • Chaosium's Stormbringer! supplement Stealer of Souls. After 4 merchants have Elric of Melniboné kill Nikorn, one way for Nikorn's daughter Freya to get revenge is to challenge each of the merchants to a duel. If she takes too long dealing with them, one of the merchants will seek her out for a duel. In the sequel Black Sword, Freya can duel Elric himself.
  • Traveller: Several versions. Notably Aslan who fight duels with claws. As each one has a claw long enough to serve as a dagger It Makes Sense in Context.

Video Games

  • Some of the games in the Gundam vs. Series use the concept of the Duel to the Death for Mission Mode stages. Alliance vs ZAFT 2 Plus has a literal duel with Andrew Waltfeld, where both he and the player start back-to-back with one hit point, meaning first blood wins. Gundam vs Gundam Next Plus has a particularly annoying variation where you and an ally fight two enemies at the same time, again so low on health that one hit means death...except both enemies have a "second chance" ability that sacrifices a nonessential limb for extra health, meaning whomever you kill last needs to be killed three times. And the whole fight takes place on a stone platform in the middle of a volcano, so if you miss your jump...
  • The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess has this as both the fight with Zant and the True Final Boss.
  • Per the above BattleTech example, a memorable mission in Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries has the player square off with the leaders of a Clan Jade Falcon invasion force to settle the matter like true badasses. It's not one on one (the Clanners 'bid' a Binary (10 mechs), and the PC answers with an eight mech bid and tells them to bring it) but otherwise plays "pistols at dawn" very straight, taking place at first light on a deserted beach.
    • The best part, of course, being that it isn't to the death (unless you lose, of course)- after winning the challenge you cite Clan law to force the enemy commander to become your bondsman and join your company with the callsign Falcon. She's one of the best pilots available too.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind the arena is used for settling matters of honor rather than prizefighting, as it is in Oblivion. Becoming leader of the Mages' Guild and/or Imperial Legion involves duelling the current one, and there are some duels involving lesser NPCs as well.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the player character can be challenged to a one-on-one duel by a knight who believes they are responsible for the death of the king. The player can agree to fight him fairly, send their entire party after him, talk him out of the fight, or force the fight to a draw by retreating into the market, causing the knight to call off the fight and swear vengeance later.
    • You also get to fight Loghain in a duel to the death, though you can choose a champion in that duel.
  • In Dragon Age 2, if you have Fenris in your party and/or if Isabela comes back at the end of chapter 2 you get the option to fight the Arishok in a duel to the death instead of pitting your party against the Arishok and his entire bodyguard.
    • Except the latter is actually easier, since you have your entire party with you. The Arishok is a very strong opponent. The only advantage to fighting him on your own is a sword he drops only after a duel.
  • Towards the end of the level The Ark of Halo 3, the Master Chief runs into a pack of brutes, led by a hammer-wielding Chieftain. Unlike most engagements with Brutes, where the player has to contend with the mooks first, in this encounter, the bodyguards form a semicircle while the Chief engages the Chieftain.
  • World of Warcraft has the "Mak'Gora". This is a challenge to the Warchief of the Horde. The two fight each other without any armor and one single weapon. If the challenger wins the duel, he becomes the new Warchief. During Thrall's reign, the Mak'Gora wasn't fought to the death, but Garrosh re-established the rule "Lok'tar Ogar", Victory or Death. There have been two Mak'Gora known to players:
    • Garrosh challenges Thrall: the fight wasn't finished because the Scourge attacked the city, but Garrosh would probably have won.
    • Cairne challenges Garrosh: While it doesn't happen in-game it's widely referenced in-game. Garrosh's weapon was poisoned by a Evil Chancellor, so Cairne was paralyzed as soon as Garrosh barely scratched him. He was then killed by Garrosh. He would likely have lost anyway, as his weapon was destroyed.

Web Comics

Web Original

86. May not challenge anyone in my chain of command to the "field of honor".
188. May not challenge officers to "Meet me on the field of honor, at dawn".

  • The Death Battle web series takes two similar characters and pit them against each other, analyzing their respective strengths and weaknesses to see who would win a…Duel to the Death.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Agni Kai among Firebenders. Not necessarily an automatic Duel to the Death, but given that Firebenders are temperamental and frequently portrayed as aggressive, arrogant and violent...
    • Zuko vs. Fire Lord Ozai - how Zuko got his scar. Rare occasion of a villain showing mercy...but not really, given what comes after.
    • Zuko vs. Zhao: Zuko wins, but refuses the Kill Shot. Zhao, disgusted at being defeated by someone he considers inferior, attempts to take a kill shot on Zuko, but Iroh steps in and shoves him across the deck of the ship with a casual flick of the wrist.

Iroh: Even in exile, my nephew has more honor than you.

    • Zuko vs. Azula: Azula wins, but only by cheating. And both Zuko and Katara show her mercy, even though she's gone nuts by this point.
    • Ozai vs. Aang: Ozai plans to kill Aang. Aang knows he's supposed to kill Ozai, but he finds another way.
    • After a fashion, the Earthbender battle arena also counts, but death is not intentionally a consideration, as it's done for showmanship and entertainment.
  • In various Looney Tunes cartoons taking place in a Western setting, Bugs Bunny is challenged to a duel, usually by Yosemite Sam. Needless to say, Bugs doesn't play fair.
  • The Chuck Jones-directed Tom and Jerry short "Duel Personality" centers around one of these between the title characters.
  • Futurama, "Why Must I be a Crustacean in Love?": Zoidberg challenges Fry to Claw-Plagh after catching him with the woman he was trying to mate with in a spoof of the "Amok Time" episode of Star Trek: The Original Series.
  • In one episode of The Simpsons, Homer goes around slapping people with his glove and challenging them to a duel. Nobody accepts the challenge, so Homer keeps doing it just for the hell of it. Soon enough, someone (a Southern Gentleman, natch) accepts, so Homer skips town with the family, thus starting the main story. After that runs its course and the Simpsons return, Homer asks why they ever left in the first place. Sure enough, the man is still there, waiting to duel.
  • The entire premise of A Gentlemans Duel. Two gentlemen come courting the same lady at the same time, naturally something is going to go down. With giant steam-powered kung-fu robots. Of course.
  • Storm's duel with Calisto was adapted and Bowdlerised for the X-Men cartoon; they used energy batons instead of knives.
  • In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "Something Borrowed, Something Green", Tendi, Mariner, and T'Lyn go to a tough-looking nightclub for information, and Tendi is challenged by an informant named Madam G to a cross between this and a Drinking Contest. (Orion bars tend to be tough places.) It works as follows, each combatant places her off-hand on a table and a scorpion-like critter with a lethal stinger is placed on the center. Each combatant has a mechanism that can shield her hand from the scorpion, which can only be used after she takes a drink and keeps it down; failing to do so disables that mechanism and activates a second one that secures the losers' hand to the table with a metal clamp. Tendi wins, but uses an empty glass to cage the scorpion before it strikes G — not out of any desire to grant mercy, but because they still need the info she has.

Real Life

  • American history has the Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr duel. This one is so steeped in personal enmity and political rivalry, and is of such importance to the history of the United States, it gets its own article on The Other Wiki.
  • Abraham Lincoln was also challenged to a duel at one point. He requested that it be fought in a pit with cavalry broadswords. Lincoln particularly insisted that the pit have a plank across the middle that neither man could cross. Then, just before the duel, Lincoln cleared some branches with his sword. Realizing that Lincoln had at least six inches' greater reach, his opponent ended up chickening out.
    • He was rather embarrassed about the whole thing and when asked later whether he had ever fought a duel, he said effectively, "Yes but don't tell anyone."
  • Andrew Jackson was involved in several duels and carried multiple bullets inside him for many years. In one particular duel, Jackson knew his opponent was a better shot, and let him fire first. The bullet lodged in his chest, but was not fatal. Because pistols back then could only be fired once before reloading, Jackson had all the time in the world to aim his shot.
  • British history has the duel between Castlereagh and Canning (1809, two cabinet ministers, fighting over military strategy) and between the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchilsea (1829, the Duke was Prime Minister at the time, and they were fighting over the emanicpation of Catholics).
  • Endemic in most of Europe for quite a while, roughly from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. They seem to have gone out of fashion for the most part after World War I. After all few of the upper class had to prove they were a real man anymore for whatever that was worth. Though once or twice there have been weird stories of old fashioned and eccentric people fighting duels at times most people would think them anachronistic.
  • A particularly famous 16th-century French duel was waged after the young, minor nobleman Guy de Chabot, Baron of Jarnac, quarrelled with the Dauphin. Because the Dauphin was too important to duel himself, the veteran soldier and highly skilled duellist François Vivonne stood in his place. Knowing that he had little hope of defeating Vivonne, Jarnac hired the services of the Italian fencing master Captain Caize, who trained him to perfect a little-used cut to the back of the knee. On the day of the duel, Jarnac quickly landed two blows on Vivonne's legs, crippling him. The enraged king ended the duel immediately. Vivonne refused medical attention and eventually bled to death. The duel shocked the French court due to the unexpected result, the ease at which Jarnac seemed to win, and the bad implication it had on the royal family. Dueling was quickly outlawed in France thereafter. To this day, a Coup de Jarnac is a tricky or unexpected attack.
  • In his youth as acting editor of the New York Sunday Mercury, Mark Twain challenged the editor of a rival newspaper to a duel. The duel itself was narrowly averted after Twain's second exaggerated his marksmanship, prompted the rival's second to advise him to call off the duel.
  • Ridley Scott's The Duellists was based on a true story - in France, 1794; a young officer named Dupont was ordered to deliver an insulting message to Fournier, a fellow officer. Fournier took out his rage over the letter by challenging Dupont to a duel, which ended without a clear victor, as did the next, and the next and so on. They fought thirty duels over the next nineteen years. Eventually Dupont grew so irritated at repeatedly being challenged that he refused to fire in a pistol duel, instead telling Fournier (who had fired and missed twice) than if he ever challenged him again he would first fire his two reserved shots.
  • Mathematician Évariste Galois died in a duel at the age of twenty, leaving behind writings that provided much of the foundation of group theory.
  • The great Russian poet and writer Alexander Pushkin was killed in a duel with his wife Natalya's brother-in-law Georges d'Anthes, over rumors that d'Anthes was having an affair with Natalya.
    • Pushkin was involved in many duels over Natalya. He was bound to lose one of them.
  • A few years later, another Russian poet, Mikhail Lermontov, met his end when, while serving in the Army, one of his fellow soldiers didn't like a joke he had told. They dueled, and Lermontov was shortly dead.
  • The last recorded judicial duel in France was fought in 1386. Interestingly it was allowed, not because The Government at the time thought it appropriate practice but simply because they hadn't bothered to take it off the books! A French noblewoman conceived while her husband was away at war. She claimed it was rape by a political rival of her husband's. Her husband appeared as plaintiff and slew the defendant.
    • Given the situation, any knight who trusted his wife at all would have probably made challenge outside the law if it could not be done legal-like.
    • In 1818, an Englishman was accused of murder and claimed the right to trial by combat. To everyone's surprise, the law granting him that right was still valid, and he was acquitted when his accuser declined to appear on the "field of honor." (Trial by combat was abolished the next year.)
  • Germany's last Kaiser, Wilhellm II, was a very temperamental that often challenged people to duels. One of the main ways his opponents avoided them was by setting very strange rules. One rather intelligent army officer proposed a duel using field artillery, at 30 meters.[1]
    • He wasn't the only person to challenge a man to a duel and have his opponent get out of it by choosing an odd weapon. Another example from Germany: One man challenged by Otto von Bismark chose sausages as his weapon: One was infected with deadly bacteria, one was not. The Chancellor decided that he didn't want to risk eating a toxic sausage and withdrew the challenge.
  • Two rather famous hunters once challenged each other to a duel at 400 meters with rifles with each fighter at the other end of a cliff split by a deep river. The duel lasted over a month since each would carefully camoflauge themselves after firing.
  • Frederick the Great's father once almost challenged the King of England to a duel, commenting that it was a personal quarrel that should be handled personally and risking the lives of their respective subjects for it was unseemly - a bit of Common Sense which few monarchs seem to have for some reason. The diplomats scotched that plan.
    • Especially that monarch, whose other "commonsensical" policies included building a Badass Army... by kidnapping anyone over 6 feet tall who came to his attention. And when he found out his son, the future Frederick the Great, was being made "soft" by learning to play the flute from a friend? He made the boy watch while he beat the friend to death with the flute.
  • French politician (and premier during World War I) Clemenceau was famous for his quarrelsomeness but also for his skill with both sword and pistol. However all his opponents choose the pistol when they could - because they knew he wouldn't trust to a pistol's randomness and thus would deliberately miss, whereas with a sword, over which he had more precise control, he would make sure to leave his rival cut up badly before giving quarter.
  • The Bladensburg Dueling Ground, just outside Washington DC (and the unfriendly attention of spoilsport DC lawmen) was a favorite place for American politicians to duel in early America.
  • Anthropologists have discovered a number of obscure tribes that have dueling codes as elaborate as that of Europe. For a time that sprouted the theory that such peoples only know ritualized warfare and one or two have even made utopian suggestions about "learning things" about taming aggressive instincts. Further research found that conflict between tribes can be as vicious as fighting between industrialized states and thus this phenomenon is better classified as holding roughly the social niche that dueling once did among westerners-indeed subliminating internal disorder somewhat but hardly preventing war between groups.
  • New Orleans used to be a favorite hang out of duelists and there were a number of duels fought both with the old weapons (sword or pistol) or with new-fangled stuff like the Bowie.
  • A formally arranged fist fight has some resemblance to a duel and indeed in some circles has replaced the duel with weapons. This can be as elaborate as walking to having a grudge match in a boxing ring or as simple as walking out to the parking lot. Whether this properly counts as a duel depends on definition.
    • C. S. Lewis said that at one of his schools, the boys would sometimes have seconds for a fistfight.
  • In eighteenth-century England it was unknown for a gentleman to disgrace himself by dueling a commoner (It was far from unknown unfortunately, for a gentleman to give a commoner an insult that would have been worth a duel). However, when commoners wished to do harm to one another (as was often the case), they often followed the forms of dueling. This could be with fists, though sometimes it was with knives, and called by slang a "chivy duel". Once in a while the imitation went all the way; in one mansion two black domestics had a pistol duel with two white ones as seconds (which one supposes is Fair for Its Day). After all, the notion of blacks using arms at all -- let alone fighting a duel in exactly the way aristocrats did -- would have been odd in places such as the West Indies or the American South where slavery dominated (most slavery engaged in by Englishmen was too far off to cause totalitarian paranoia in England proper).
  • Female dueling, while not written of much except as a curiosity, did occur. The Other Wiki has a category listing noteworthy examples.
  • Gauchos, as the stereotype would imply, had a passion for dueling. The preferred weapon was the facon, the local bush knife, which is related by several strains of descent to the Spanish Navaja and the Filipino Bolo, both of which were also regularly used in more plebeian duels.
  • Queen bees do this. When conditions are favorable for swarming (ie, starting a new hive colony) a hive's queen will usually produce only one larva capable of becoming a new queen. Rarely, however, two or more are hatched and grow to adulthood. When this happens, the queens fight to the death, the survivor leaving to start the new colony. For this reason, queens have sword-like stingers that can be used repeatedly, unlike the workers, who can only sting with their barbed stingers once before dying.
  1. For our metric-impaired readers, that's slightly less than 100 feet.