Shot At Dawn

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Ready! Aim! Fire!


Death by firing squad has been a classic way of execution since firearms became widely used in war.

A classic scenario for a Just in Time rescue, a Facing the Bullets One-Liner, or a combination thereof. Expect a hero to refuse a blindfold. Contrast You Always Hear the Bullet.

Most of the examples are set in World War I or in the Banana Republic, but they can occur at other times too.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Shot At Dawn include:


  • In one episode of Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, Eledore and Michel are scheduled to be executed at dawn after being captured by Zeon troops.
  • Nicola Fafas is executed in Gundam X for daring to discover evidence that Newtypes can be born on Earth as well as space.

Comic Books

  • Happens to at least one character in Ninja High School.
  • Tintin faces this in Cigars of the pharaoh, as do the Thompson twins in Tintin and the Picaros.


  • The film Breaker Morant, about the court martial of Harry Morant and Peter Handcock during the Boer War, ends with their dawn execution by firing squad.
  • Seen in The Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Paths of Glory starring Kirk Douglas. After an ill-planned attack fails, three solders are selected, condemned by a kangaroo court-martial for cowardice, and shot at dawn.
  • The two German boys from War Horse are executed after the elder pulls the younger from marching to the front.
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger vs. Space Sheriff Gavan: The Movie: after being arrested by Gavan, the Gokaigers are supposed to be executed by firing squad.


  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns Of Tanith, when Caffran is convicted of rape and murder, he is sentenced to be shot at dawn. (Fortunately, Gaunt hears of it before then and dredges up more evidence, resulting in a second trial and acquittal.)
  • In Jingo, Lord Vetinari tries, through subtle hints, to get through to Sergeant Colon what will happen if they are discovered as being from Ankh-Morpork in Klatch. "A nice sunny wall and a cigarette" is mentioned. It doesn't take... at first.
  • In Voltaire's Candide, the main character witnesses a British officer being executed by firing squad and comments:

"In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others [pour encourager les autres]"

    • This is a reference to the execution of John Byng, a British admiral, for "failing to do his utmost" at the Battle of Minorca in 1756.
  • Referenced in an exchange from the Animorphs:

Ax: "Why must we attack at dawn?"
Marco: "Tradition. You have shootouts at high noon, you stretch in the seventh inning, and you attack at dawn."
Cassie: "You also get executed at dawn."
Marco: Beat "Well there's a cheerful thought."

  • In Seven Men of Gascony one of The Squad is caught deserting. His final request is that his mates volunteer to do the deed because he wanted men who knew how to shoot to do the job.

Live-Action TV

  • Blackadder Goes Forth
  • The Doctor Who story "The War Games" has the Second Doctor in a World War I re-creation sentenced to death by firing squad.
    • Averted in "Genesis of the Daleks", after the Doctor is captured. His captors remark that normally he would be executed by firing squad, but since ammunition is so scarce, he'll be hanged instead.
    • This also happens in the Fifth Doctor story "The Caves Of Androzani". The Doctor and Peri are captured and sentenced to death. Unusually, neither one refuses a blindfold (or, in this case, a red hood) but that's because they're android duplicates.
  • Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica Reimagined.
  • One episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus features the Soviets trying to execute a guy via the firing squad. The firing squad misses. Repeatedly.
  • A common sketch on You Can't Do That on Television has one of the kids apparently in front of a firing squad in some Banana Republic. Many sketches end with the commander getting shot instead.
  • One episode of Get Smart played with this, where Max was put up against a wall and soldiers who always obeyed orders were arrayed in front of him, with the officer giving the orders behind the soldiers. Genre Savvy readers can tell how well that went:

Officer: Ready... Aim...
Max: About Face!
Officer: Fire!




  • Tosca features the titular character's love interest scheduled for execution at dawn.


Real Life

  • Formerly a popular way for executing people, it has since fallen out of practice for its cruelty and/or Squick, except in the United Arab Emirates. It is notable for being used a lot during the two world wars, obstinately being used by the Germans and their allies in both wars as a means to get rid of undesirables. The Soviet Union also partook in this execution style, and it was how many Les Collaborateurs and Quislings were dealt with after Allied forces liberated German occupied zones. (Incidentally enough, Vikdun Quisling, the latter's trope namer, was executed in this manner in Norway after the Second World War).
    • The latest usage of this, to this troper's knowledge, was by Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu up until he was overthrown in the late 80's.
      • Ironically enough, latest usage (in Romania) goes to him too, although on the receiving side: he and her wife were the last people to be executed, just two weeks before the abolition of capital punishment.
    • Actually, the firing squad is still a real possibility for a small handful of people in the United States. There are three people on Utah's death row who can choose to be executed by either firing squad or lethal injection as the law banning firing squads is not retroactive. In 1996 John Albert Taylor chose execution by firing squad over lethal injection to make a political statement about the morality (or lack thereof) of the death penalty. In Oklahoma firing squads could still be used if lethal injection is ever ruled unconstitutional or other problems arise with it.
      • Utah's use of the firing squad was often connected to the now-discredited LDS doctrine of "blood atonement," in which forgiveness for bloodshed requires actual bloodshed.
  • Almost all of the war criminals at the end of WWII were hanged, rather than shot, despite many of them requesting death by firing squad instead. This was to emphasize the civil, rather than military nature of their crimes.
  • There was one story about an Arab officer during the Arab-Israeli Conflict who caught an arab and a jew spying inside his camp. The Arab was just hanged, being a traitor. The Jew however was Shot At Dawn as, although he was a spy he was serving his country and thus he deserved a "soldiers death" as befitted a Worthy Opponent.
    • Heartwarming Moment.
      • Except for the part where they, you know, died.
    • The Other Wiki's page on firing squads says this is actually standard practice for spies, honoring their soldier (but not POW) status.
  • Firing squad was the authorized means of execution in Finland 1918 to 1944 and abolition of death penalty de facto. The executions were carried out in sunrise; it was thought to be psychologically easiest that way to both the executioners and convicts.