Make an Example of Them

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Until it smoulders, these people are traitors and must be made examples of."

This is for when the benefit of what you do to someone isn't so much in and of itself as about the message it sends to others, about what could happen to them. As is implied from this, what happened needs to be known in order for it to work.

It is often associated with governments, especially the more tyrannical of them but not exclusively; see also the deterrence argument for use of this in the context of more democratic societies. Also, even forces outside the law, like terrorists, criminal syndicates and Serial Killers, apply this as well.

Note that the "example" is usually more severe than the "normal" punishment, making this Disproportionate Retribution.

Examples of Make an Example of Them include:


  • Nains had Kardum do it. First he offered absurd money for the heads of gang leaders who bothered him — just because this way no one tried to replace them. Then he intentionally picked an Orc warlord who had reputation of lacking honour to make a deal — expecting the "partner" to try and rob him, for which he was prepared.

Kardum: Your death will be the greatest guarantee I could secure against bad clients.



  • This tactic is often featured in Disney movies, and often associated with (or at least more explicitly mentioned by) the villains:
    • The above page quote, of course, refers to the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The context of the quotation (trying to justify burning down a house with a family trapped inside. Scene viewable here.) is not the only example; Frollo whipping the previous captain of the guard in front of the next one, apparently to show what happens to captains who disappoint Frollo, is likely also an example of this.
  • Pixar villains also tend to use this tactic, and a theme that often comes up with them is that they are trying to deter their victims from thinking.
    • Hopper, from A Bugs Life, uses this tactic often. He gives a speech to other grasshoppers about how if "you let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up" and to drive the point home, even uses a demonstrated analogy involving grains that results in one of his henchmen getting buried; it's twofold in involving him applying it to his own henchmen in the context of a speech made to get them to apply it to the ants. Later on, he is about to squish the queen so as to "show the ants who is the boss," and also tries to find out whose idea the bird was so as to make an example of him or her.

Hopper: Let this be a lesson to all you ants; ideas can be very dangerous things.

    • Lotso, from Toy Story 3, has the few who tried to escape Sunnyside cornered near a dumpster so that if they do not agree to go back to Sunnyside, Stretch could throw them in, in front of Chatter Telephone and Twitch.

Lotso: This is what happens when you dummies try to think!


Technician: Sir, the oxygen level is bottoming out in Sector G. What do you want me to do about it?
Vilos Cohaagen: [as if obvious] Don't do anything.
Technician: But they won't last an hour, sir.
Vilos Cohaagen: Fuck 'em. It'll be a good lesson to the others.

  • In The Shawshank Redemption, Byron Hadley beats an emotionally-overwhelmed inmate to death on the prison floor for complaining out loud that he shouldn't be in prison. It is strongly implied that he is doing this to scare the other inmates into keeping their mouths shut.
  • In Star Wars IV, Tarkin makes an example of the entire planet of Alderaan, after first rejecting Dantooine (where he was told the Rebel base was) for being "too remote to make an effective demonstration."
  • In Star Wars: The Last Jedi General Hux and Captain Phasma arranges for a former Stormtrooper and a saboteur to be executed in front of thousands of the First Order's personnel.
  • Turkey Shoot. A scene which impressed even Quentin Tarantino is Ritter (played by 6ft, 3" Roger Ward) shadowboxing and then beating to death a tiny female inmate, picked at random as a 'lesson' to the New Meat.


  • In Voltaire's Candide, the title character witnesses the execution of an admiral which is explained to him with the famous line: "In this country they find it necessary to kill an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others (pour encourager les autres)." The scene is based on the Real Life execution of the British Admiral Byng, whom Voltaire had met, for alleged cowardice in battle.
  • In the Deryni novel Camber of Culdi a tyrannical Deryni lord is murdered and dismembered, with his body parts left in various places. Fifty peasants are taken hostage and all but one executed when the killer(s) fail to turn themselves in.
  • In Wyrd Sisters, the Duchess has a thing about having underlings punished as an example to the others. The Duke remarks that if she keeps it up, eventually she'll be having the last remaining guard cut his own throat as an example to himself.
  • Visser Three uses this tactic, or *thinks* he is, on the runaway Hork-Bajir in Animorphs "The Change". Only, the real Hork-Bajir are somewhere else, and the two 'dead' ones and the wolves 'eating' them are morphed Animorphs. He intends to do this with Aftran in "The Sickness", but Cassie rescues her before it can happen.

Tabletop Game

The role of the Imperium of Man's Commissariat in Warhammer 40,000 is to inspire the Imperial Guard (and to a lesser extent, the Imperial Navy) into doing their jobs by executing anyone who fails to meet their standards. In terms of gameplay, this leads to an Imperial Guard being executed for failing a morale check and the Commissar being killed and the Imperial Guard regiment going AWOL if they fail a second morale check. But the lore generally has them operating without the troops rallying against them...Unless they're with the Catachan Jungle Fighters, which occasionally creates a series of unfortunate "accidents" for the Imperial agents.

Video Games