Standard Job requirement for the Hero Secret Service.
A heroic character wants to do something dangerous. Dangerous as in "you might be Killed Off for Real, or at the very least, maimed" peril.
His less focused-on (and thus implicitly more disposable) friend (possibly The Atoner) will knock him out and go to do the dirty work himself. Cue the Heroic Sacrifice, or more commonly, Redemption Equals Death.
Often preceded by a More Hero Than Thou dispute, or deliberately pre-empting such a dispute.
Usually part of an Only I Can Kill Him scenario -- The Hero is too important to waste on this minor sacrifice preceding the big showdown. Alternatively, it could be needed to avert Shoot the Medic First. Puts the "Cannon Fodder" in We Are Team Cannon Fodder. Contrast Martyr Without a Cause.
- In Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta knocks Goku, Trunks, and Goten out in succession before using his suicide attack against Buu.
- Also, much earlier in the series, Gohan (who is only five years old at the time) doesn't actually knock Piccolo out, but tells him to stay out of the fight because if he dies, they lose the Dragon Balls meaning that everyone who has died so far will be Killed Off for Real. Not that it stops Piccolo once Gohan is in danger...
- Also, in Trunks's timeline Gohan does this to Trunks before the fight where the Androids finally kill him.
- In a Naruto flashback, Hyuuga Hiashi's twin brother Hizashi knocks him out with a punch to the solar plexus in order to take his place as a human sacrifice.
- There's a later one with Asuma and Shikamaru where Shikamaru wants to use a more sure fire strategy that also happens to put himself at greater risk. The plan is shot down because of this. Oddly enough, it's actually more like 'Kotetsu and Izumo and more expendable than you' because Asuma would be on the frontlines anyway. But Asuma is the one who dies.
- Sailor Moon: In the first season, the Sailor Senshi all sacrifice themselves, protecting Sailor Moon and preventing her from rescuing them, just to get her to Queen Beryl. Done again in the final season, with all the Senshi giving up their star seeds (and thus dying) so that Sailor Moon can fight Galaxia.
- In yet another variation one Nadia story has Grandis volunteering to take her tank (and her two minions) out to clear a minefield that's pinned in the Nautilus, mostly to show off to Nemo. Her boy's reaction? Sanson cold-cocks her and leaves her in the cabin while they go out on a near suicide mission. Fortunately Jean stows away on the tank, and he is NOT expendable, even in a Gainax show.
- Franz in Gankutsuou (an anime variation of The Count of Monte Cristo ), intentionally gets Albert too drunk to attend a duel with Edmond that Franz knows Albert wouldn't be able to win. Knowing that he also has no chance, he then puts on the armor, attends the duel in Albert's place, and is killed.
- Double... no, triple... okay, multiply subverted in the end of GaoGaiGar. The Mobile Unit enters the body of the Z-Master. One by one, each hero holds back an enemy so that Guy can reach the boss (straight). Then, when he gets there, they aren't dead and come back to join him in the final battle (subverted). Then he never even has the opportunity to offer to sacrifice himself, because King J-Der does it for him (double subverted). Then, the character gets better enough to return in FINAL. Oh, and then the battle with Zonuda resubverts with all the heroes getting absorbed one by one, then GaoGaiGar himself also getting absorbed and a surprise Deus Ex Machina saving the day.
- At the end of Fullmetal Alchemist, Greed and his human host Ling are being absorbed by Father. Greed, who is known for always telling the truth, falsely reassures Ling that they are going to fight together. With Ling distracted, Greed separates himself and allows himself to be absorbed, and then pulls a Taking You with Me on Father.
- In Bleach, when Orihime and Sado are about to go and save some innocent bystanders from Yammy and Ulquiorra, he asks her to grab her friends and run, and leave the fighting to him - because she can heal people and he can't, so he's more expendable. She agrees, but comes back just in time to stop the scene from doubling as a Heroic Sacrifice.
- "Just in time" being about a minute later.
- The end of the first season of Ronin Warriors has this happen when each of the main characters sacrifices themselves to save Ryo until only Ryo is left to face Talpa.
- A classic storyline in The Mighty Thor featured Thor insisting on covering the escape of his colleagues and several innocent human souls from Hel, only to be cold-cocked by his former enemy Skurge. Cue extremely awesome You Shall Not Pass moment.
- Elf Quest runs a similar bit early in the Troll war arc. The Elves are escaping from overwhelming numbers and Kahvi, the chief of the local tribe is set to play rear-guard. Vaya, one of her warriors, knocks her down and orders the other elves to take her, "She'd fight till they tore her to pieces, and that's a warrior's privilege, not a chief's!" before taking over the rear-guard. Later we learn that Vaya is Kahvi's daughter.
- Iron Man does this for Captain America (comics), at one point asphyxiating himself in the process of (successfully) giving CPR. That time his reasoning is explicitly, 'He's more important', although he's tried to kill himself to save Cap several times.
- Birds of Prey: Huntress chooses to challenge Lady Shiva to a death duel, arguing that Black Canary would be more sorely missed.
- Classic example from a Jim Shooter Legion of Super-Heroes story in which Ferro-Lad punches Superboy unconscious so that Ferro-Lad can be the one to martyr himself stopping the Sun Eater instead, on the grounds that the world needs Superboy more. This has since been aped repeatedly.
- Subverted at the end of the "Public Enemies" story arc of Superman/Batman: Captain Atom knocks out Superman so that he, Cap, can be the one to fly the weird Superman/Batman action-figure spaceship into the giant kryptonite meteoroid that's hurtling toward the earth, not because he sees Superman as less expendable, but because he knows Superman will fail.
- The title character of Nodwick, being a mere henchman, is considered far more expendable than the rest of the team in the eyes of teammates Yeager and Artax, who regularly do things like use him to disarm traps by throwing him into them when Piffany isn't looking. Piffany has to heal and/or resurrect him disturbingly often.
- While Nodwick has it worse than usual for henchman, his situation in general is typical for the trade. Only one henchman has ever lived long enough to die of natural causes.
- At the climax of Disney's The Black Cauldron, the Cauldron Born have been created and dispatched to conquer the world, and the only way to prevent them from doing this is that someone must jump into the titular cauldron, and thus, die. The hero, Taran, is ready to do so, until his ally Gurgi stops him. After explaining that "Taran has many friends, Gurgi has no friends", the furry guy makes his heroic leap, halting the undead warriors in their tracks. Of course, despite the fact that this is a dark Disney animated film (arguably THE darkest), it is still a Disney animated film, so Gurgi's life is brought back in trade for the Black Cauldron at the end of the movie.
- Gran Torino contains an excellent example. The guy locks the kid in his basement, then goes out to the gangsters' place and intentionally gets murdered in front of many witnesses, getting the gangsters put in jail.
- At the end of Armageddon, Bruce Willis' character tricks Ben Affleck's, and averts the disaster at the cost of his life.
- In the Battlefield Earth Film of the Book, Jonnie explains that the only way to ensure the Psychlos don't return is to wipe out their homeworld with a nuke, as their breath-gas reacts explosively with nuclear radiation. He decides to divert the nuke himself, but another man (a little cowardly) offers to go in his place, as there's no rebellion without Jonnie. Jonnie eventually agrees.
- Air Force One plays this straight, inverts it and then subverts it. The Secret Service agents on board the plane perform Heroic Sacrifices to get the President to safety but in the end it is the President who stays on board to fight the terrorists after the rest of his (expendable) staff are evacuated. It's played straight again at the end of the movie where the damaged plane is about to crash and the remaining military personnel on board insist that the President evacuate the plane before them. However, The Mole is not willing to die for the President and fights him for the last evacuation slot.
- The President wanted to get his family off and MEDIVAC a wounded staff member before saving his own life.
- In Avengers: Infinity War, when the Red Skull tells Thanos that he has to sacrifice a loved one in order to gain the Soul Gem, he has no problem with doing so; being a villain, he throws Gamora to her doom without a second thought. In Avengers: Endgame, however, the heroes' attempt to Set Right What Once Was Wrong puts Hawkeye and Black Widow in the same situation, and each insists the other has more of a right to live; the argument actually turns into armed combat between the two over which one is allowed to make the self-sacrifice. Ultimately, Natasha "wins" the argument.
- Perhaps the most famous example of the trope is found in A Tale of Two Cities, when Sydney Carton takes the place of his look-alike Charles Darnay to be executed on the guillotine. He did this because he loved Darnay's wife and because he'd never before done anything he considered truly worthwhile. The origin of the "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done..." quote.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh: Before Gilgamesh and Enkidu set off on their first adventure, the people of Uruk makes Enkidu promise to bring their king back alive.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry offers to make a blood offering instead of Dumbledore, only to be told "Your blood is is worth more than mine." Later, the last spell Dumbledore casts is an immobilization charm to keep Harry still under his invisibility cloak, and thus, unnoticed by the Death Eaters who were coming to kill Dumbledore, which made him unable to defend himself from them.
- A variant in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, spelled out in the film, when Ron sacrifices himself in the chess game because he knows that Harry is the one who needs to confront Snape and Voldemort. "Not me, not Hermione, you!"
- In Ciaphas Cain's first adventure, when his attempt to escape ran into a Tyranid horde, he explained that he had guessed it and scouted; when his commander said he could have sent someone else, Cain says that he's the most expendable officer in the company.
- This happens to Thalia Ng in The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. She's trapped with a bunch of civilians in an orbital habitat that's been taken over by rogue robots; she comes up with an escape scheme that begins by blowing up a bunch of structural supports, and then discovers that the timer on her explosives isn't long enough to make it away safely. The civilian she's been confiding in knocks her out, drags her away from the supports, and sets the explosives himself.
- In Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, Luke willingly and gladly risks his life for a stranger, who as it turns out knew Anakin Skywalker, being mind-controlled by the villain. A couple chapters on, that character, no longer controlled, is about to kill thirty other mind-controlled characters to save Luke when he realizes that Luke won't shrug it off like Anakin would have. He would be disappointed and sad. Luke would sacrifice himself to save thirty innocents. He'd sacrifice himself to save one innocent. He'd just almost sacrificed himself to save one not-so-innocent. Luke isn't expendable, but he doesn't seem to realize that at all. So this character has to take out the mind-controlled characters the hard, risky way.
- Played with in The Siege of Mount Nevermind where in a cruel joke, some gnome soldiers tell the gully dwarves under their command that "expendable" means "brave". Later, when one of the gully dwarves with the protagonists gets sucked up an aqueduct, his brother prepares to rescue him, claiming he's the most expendable. The gnomes try to tell him that no one is expendable, but he simply shouts "Ragg as expendable as a lion!" and jumps in the aqueduct.
- In Serpent Mage, when some women find out that they need to go alone in a submarine to an unknown destination to save their people, the boyfriend of one of them knocks her out and takes her place, managing not to get discovered until the ship has left. His reasoning was that he thought she would die and couldn't bear the thought of living without her. Everyone who goes in the sub ends up surviving the trip (though not necessarily the whole story), the girl left behind kills herself, believing her beloved to be dead and their people doomed.
- Magnificent Bastard Cao Cao is saved by Cao Hong's Heroic Sacrifice in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Cao Hong's final words to Cao Cao roughly translate to, "The world can do without me, but not without you!"
- In London, Peter and Thomas drug their brother-in-law in his prison cell so that Peter can take his place, before he can be burned for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as the new head of the Church. Notable in that, for Peter to be free to visit the prison, he had to first swear that he accepted the king's decree, which means he's fairly certain that he'll be going to Hell when he agrees to lay down his life. No "far better resting place" expected, in this case, yet he does it anyway so their sister's family won't be left without a husband and father. Subverted in that Peter, who's been ill for a while, has a heart attack and dies of natural causes before Thomas can smother him as they'd planned.
- Various Animorphs do this for Jake at various points, with or without his consent - especially toward the end of the series, when things are getting critical and losing him really would mean the end of the world.
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Played straight by Conseil and Ned Land when they give Aronnax some precious oxygen in the Almost Out of Oxygen situation, then conversed:
"Good lord, Professor," Ned Land answered me, "don't mention it! What did we do that's so praiseworthy? Not a thing. It was a question of simple arithmetic. Your life is worth more than ours. So we had to save it."
- In Half Prince, when preparing to compete in a melee battle, the members choose the person most likely to survive and decide to protect Doll at all costs so they can win. When they later decide to split into groups of two to escape more easily, they're divided so one of them can sacrifice the other if they have to.
- Angel: Unable to talk the title character out of risking his life, Doyle knocks him off the ledge instead, then disarms the bomb himself, dying in the process.
- At the end of the second season of Primeval, Cutter attempts to stop the escape of several prehistoric beasties: but is only able to do this by sealing a door from their side. Stephen Hart, knocks him out and takes his place instead.
- In this case, Stephen atones for sleeping with Cutter's wife.
- A couple of Star Trek: The Original Series examples:
- In "The Empath", aliens intend to use either Spock or McCoy for an experiment that is highly likely to cause death or permanent insanity. Spock declares that he is volunteering; McCoy overrules that decision with a sneak knockout shot.
- In "Obsession", an apparent Red Shirt ensign tries to knock out Kirk to stop him from remaining as bait for a blood-draining Monster of the Week. It ends up with both of them beamed out by the skin of their teeth.
- Doctor Who:
- In "Forest of the Dead", the Tenth Doctor is saved from frying his brains out in order to save the day when an old friend he hasn't met yet, River Song, handcuffs him to the wall and sacrifices herself instead.
- In the classic series, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart does this to the Doctor in "Battlefield", with the exact words "more expendable than you are."
- It was also averted in the classic series on occasion. One time, a UNIT Ascended Extra suggested he be the subject of a dangerous experiment instead of the Doctor, and the Doctor promptly refused.
- Another Classic Who example, this time played straight. In Ark in Space, minor character Rogin knocks the Doctor out and puts him a safe distance away from the ship, which would kill anyone underneath it once they released the locking mechanisms necessary to send the Wirrn out away from the Ark.
Rogin: You don't want trouble with the Space Technicians Union, Doctor.
- An inversion occurs in End of Time when the Doctor, ie, the hero, sacrifices himself for Wilf, a minor recurring character who happens to be pushing eighty. Wilf even begs him not to do it, basically citing this trope.
- In Highlander the Series, Duncan MacLeod is challenged by someone he seems ready to lose to, so Methos calmly shoots him dead and sets off to kill the guy himself. Duncan resurrects just in time to intervene, much to Methos' frustration.
- In the Merlin series 1 finale this happens twice, first with Merlin declaring that Arthur's life is worth a hundred of his own and then - when it becomes clear that the deal was for a life, not necessarily Merlin's, and his mother becomes dangerously ill - Gaius sacrifices himself in Merlin's place. It doesn't last.
- Season 7 of 24: Jack Bauer tries to kill himself to save the president, but Bill Buchanan jumps in instead.
- In season 2, George Mason, who was already almost dead from radiation poisoning, talked Jack into letting him make the Heroic Sacrifice.
- At the end of season 3 of Lost, Charlie volunteers to swim to the Looking Glass, which Sayid had intended to do. Then Sayid convinces Jack to lead the group to the radio tower while Sayid takes on the invading Others, because Jack is the leader.
- Midshipman Clayton does this in the first episode of the Horatio Hornblower Live Action Adaptation (but not in the books) to get the title character out of a duel with a particularly violent bully.
- Later in the second series, Archie, knowing he would die anyway, takes sole blame for a mutiny to save Horatio's life and career.
- A non-lethal example in Stargate SG-1, where the team finds a second Ancient database, which can only be accessed by uploading it in its entirety into a brain. Unfortunately, modern humans haven't quite evolved to the point of surviving such an upload for long periods of time. Daniel tries to use it on himself when they are attacked, but Jack, who previously had one in his head, tells him that Daniel is the only one who can't do it, since he's their only expert on the Ancient language and has to translate the ramblings of the "possessed" person. Jack then uses the device on himself again and ends up saving the Earth from an alien invasion. The two-parter ends in a Tear Jerker moment when Jack has the team put him into a suspended animation chamber indefinitely in order to survive the sheer amount of knowledge.
- It is later revealed that no one else would've likely survived the upload, as Jack is actually the most advanced human on Earth, from an evolutionary point of view, possessing the Ancient gene and having intuitive control over their technology.
- A big Tear Jerker occurs in Farscape when someone has to initiate a process that will separate Moya from another ship and save the lives of everyone aboard her. The catch is that the person who starts the process has to do so from the other ship which will be ripped apart. Both Crichton and Aeryn try to intervene, but Zhaan (who is already dying from having saved Aeryn's life earlier in the season) insists on doing it and is killed in the process.
- A major theme of Merlin, especially between Arthur and Merlin. Countless times various characters have fought over who gets to die for whom.
- A common theme in Chuck. Since the eponymous character has all the government's secrets in a computer in his brain, his handlers Sarah and Casey often tell him that his life is worth more than theirs when he objects to them risking their lives to protect him.
- Power Rangers SPD; in "Impact", Broodwing has altered a meteor's path, sending it on a collision course with Earth. Kat's plan to destroy it requires someone using a special weapon at close range, an incredibly risky maneuver that could kill the one making the shot. The argument quickly starts when both Sky and Jack volunteer, Jack saying he has better aim and Sky claiming he's the better pilot. In this case, Cruger intercedes, commending both of them for volunteering, but siding with Sky. Unfortunately, Jack is just too stubborn to give up and stows away in Sky's craft. Cruger is upset, of course, but admits Sky would have done the same thing had he chosen differently - the two rivals are more alike than they care to admit.
Mythology and Religion
- Subverted in Classical Mythology. A Greek king, Admetus had a deal with Death: he could send someone else in his place when it was his time to die, provided the person went willingly. Admetus thought, well, no problem, I'm a beloved king with a devoted family and I'm an all-around nice guy. But when it comes time for him to die... no-one steps up to the plate. His elderly father won't do it, none of his subjects love their king enough to die for him, all across the board. So Admetus returns home to his palace, frustrated, only to find that his wife, Alcestis, has quietly gone down to Hades for him. So Admetus got to live, but with the knowledge that the one person who loved him enough to die for him was gone forever.
- It has a happy ending, though. Heracles heard of Alcestis' love and loyalty, and made a point of rescuing her next time he was sojourning in the Underworld.
- Some versions of this tale just have Hercules beating the crap out of Death before it can takes Alcestis' soul.
- The entire party in Tales of Symphonia pull off this trope, one by one in succession against the Malevolent Architecture of the (presumably) final dungeon, to make sure Lloyd makes it to the (presumably) final fight with the game's Big Bad—ignoring the fact that this pits him single-handedly against a boss that could take on four of you about two scenes ago and that his messianic credo means he gets bad self-esteem for failing to protect them in the process. Never fear, though, they were only Disney Deaths, and they're all back by the time of the actual confrontation for a Battle Royale With Cheese.
- SaGa 3 One of the underlings of the Big Bad is defending the barrier machine that prevents the heroes from traveling to the Mt. Goht, the heroes try using the Mystic Swords that would kill the beast, but the barrier prevents even that from occuring, A bomb was planted in Dion in case of an emergency and he charges the machine and destroys it. Allowing the Heroes to defeat the enemy and advance. He is brought back to life through biomedical cloning at the end of the game.
- Towards the end of Super Paper Mario, you lose companions one by one to this, until you're left to fight the boss battle yourself. It doesn't last, though.
- Attempted in Wild ARMs 4, when Raquel (with her Incurable Cough of Death) tries to order Arnaud to leave her behind when the pocket dimension they've been trapped in begins to collapse. Averted when Arnaud essentially says "Nuts to that!" and drags her with him anyway, both narrowly escaping in time.
- While the ending of Quest for Glory 5 is more Gondor Calls for Aid, the aid people will gladly sacrifice themselves if the hero tries to do so.
- Annoyingly averted at the end of Fallout 3, where the three NPCs who are the most likely to actually survive the dangerous task all refuse to do it for you and the only NPC who is willing to do it but will die for sure has to be begged to go through with it.
- Retconned and played straight with the Broken Steel expansion, where the three companions can now go through with it.
- Annoyingly, the game still plays the ending cutscene that, basically, calls you a coward for doing the smart thing. Honor Before Reason indeed. Of course, even if you do it yourself in the expansion, you survive.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Midna is tormented through light exposure and left for dead; Link brings her to Zelda for help. Midna, reconciled to her own death, only asks Zelda to help Link complete the quest. Instead, Zelda gives up her own life, transferring her essence into Midna to restore her to full health. She gets better - both of them.
- In Phantom Brave, Ash is prepared to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to prevent Sulphur from entering Ivoire. Walnut shoves him aside and does it instead.
- In order to get the plot-necessary magic power "Anfini" in Breath of Fire 2, Ryu is told he must sacrifice the life of one of his friends. Naturally, everyone volunteers (after all, they're trying to save the world). As it turns out, you have to refuse to sacrifice anyone, since Anfini is The Power of Friendship and cannot be given to anyone who would sacrifice a friend in return for power.
- Played with in Halo Wars, when The Badass Normal Hero is rightfully far more expendable than the three Super Soldiers under his command, and in order for them to escape their present condition, Someone Has to Die.
- Inverted near the end of The Saboteur. Vittore volunteers to race his car (which will be rigged to explode after driving it in to the winner's podium) in the Paris-wide race the Nazis are planning. Sean promptly knocks Vittore out and takes his place instead. Ironically, after the race, it is Vittore who ends up dying, and not Sean.
- At the end of Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle, a life must be sacrificed to restore the Chaos Serpent. The Avatar draws the short straw, but his companion Dupre dives into the crematorium in his stead.
- In Metroid: Other M, Adam disables Samus with his ice gun, and specifically says "I'm no galactic savior" to her before going on to sacrifice himself in the destruction of Sector 0 and its invincible Metroids.
- In Dragon Age Origins, if you reject Morrigan's proposal (which is also a proposition) and take Alistair with you (and are female and pursued a romance with him), Alistair will sacrifice himself instead of you in order to kill the Big Bad.
- In the first Mass Effect, on Virmire, Ashley will try to invoke this trope by telling Shepard to save Kaidan over her because he outranks her. Even worse, Kaidan does the same, insisting you save Ashley because he blames himself for being in this situation to begin with. It's up to Shepard - through the player - to decide who to agree with.
- Used as history in Maple Story. In the original battle with the Heroes, the Black Mage is clearly too powerful for them to defeat the regular way, so Freud enacts plan-B, the Seal of Time. Supposedly, this powerful spell can imprison the villain forever, but requires a living person as a sacrifice. Freud intends to sacrifice himself - he got the Heroes into the mess to begin with - but Shade insists on doing it instead, telling Freud and the others that he has no family, no clan, and nobody - except the Heroes themselves - who will ever miss him. After some arguing, they agree he has a point. Although, sadly, Shade does not die - what happens to him is much, much worse.
- Practically spoofed in Danny Phantom, when somebody has to wear the Exo-suit to defeat the Big Bad, but doing so might drain the wearer to death. Danny plans to knock everyone out to use it for himself, but that proves to be unnecessary as everybody else knocks each other out, each claiming that he'd do it.
- In X-Men: The Animated Series, Wolverine and Cyclops argue over who should sacrifice himself to resurrect Jean after her Heroic Sacrifice. The Phoenix nips the argument in the bud by explaining that the lifeforce needed to save Jean can be taken from multiple donors without anyone immediately dying though all of their lives would be shortened.
- The 1964 Looney Tunes short "Dumb Patrol", which takes place during World War I , begins with a group of Allied pilots drawing straws to decide who flies out to take on the dreaded Baron Sam Von Schpamm (ie, Yosemite Sam); the "winner" is "Smedley" (ie, Porky Pig). However, the next morning, Bugs appears and knocks Smedley out in order to take his place, turning to the viewer and saying he had to do so, as Smedley's "got a wife and six piglets at home."