Sword Over Head

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Striking him down after cutting his hand off. Following right in his footsteps, aren't you?

Zuko: I have you now! HIYA!
Zhao: Oh My God! Did you really just miss me point blank?!
Zuko: No, I, um... I did it on purpose so, um... let that be a lesson to you!

Zhao: Oh, so instead of being completely talentless you're just completely ball-less! Nice save there, Chief!

A goodie has captured the baddie and is holding a sword over their head. They really hate this baddie. He or she has killed their friends or family!

There's a Dramatic Pause as the goodie mentally debates whether to kill the baddie. In the end, however, they will throw the sword away and let the bad guy be captured by the authorities (unless, of course, they're an Anti-Hero).

Alternately, if the hero simply sheathes the sword instead of actually discarding it, the baddie inevitably rises up one more time once the hero's back is turned, only to get struck down in a single dramatic stroke.

This trope can just as easily be done with firearms. Often by the hero firing a shot, only to have aimed away from villain at the last second.

Bystanders may be provided to say either, "If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him" or "Kill Him Already!"

If the roles are reversed and the villain has the hero at his mercy, naturally he'll decide to finish the hero off, but be prepared for a Thwarted Coup De Grace.

Not to be confused with Sword of Damocles, which takes its name from a literal sword suspended over a literal head.

Warning note... there are plenty of spoilers here. Be ye warned.

Examples of Sword Over Head include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Dragon Ball Z: Vegeta, after a ridiculously long, grueling battle, lays nearly crippled on the ground at the mercy of Krillin, who is holding Yajirobe's sword to his neck. After Goku pleads with Krillin for several minutes to let Vegeta go, he throws the sword away against his better judgment and allows the half-dead antagonist to escape.
    • Which totally saves their collective asses during the Frieza and Cell sagas. Vegeta's The Lancer for a reason.
    • Then Goku tried it again after defeating Frieza, after his legs and arm had been cut off, and actually gave him what he figured was enough power for him to live and escape the about-to-explode planet. But apparently this time Goku forgot that Frieza had committed genocide on at least two different occasions, and as soon as he flew off, Frieza used the energy he received to take one last shot at him.
      • And then Goku demonstrated just WHY he could take that chance; because when Frieza tried shooting him, he responded by turning around and shooting an energy beam at Frieza, killing him. Or... not, as later episodes show.
  • Happens a lot with Vash in Trigun, especially once the Gung Ho Guns show up. He is ultimately forced to go through with it and kill The Dragon Legato Bluesummers.
  • Subverted in an odd variation in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX when Austin O'Brien duels the Masked Knight of Laughter. O'Brien plays a combo that, if executed properly, will win him the duel on his first turn. The Knight begs for a chance to play a little more, so O'Brien interrupts the combo and lets the Knight take his turn...before he realizes that O'Brien is walking away as his last card activates, wiping out his remaining life points anyway.
  • Subverted in Rurouni Kenshin. Eiji is stopped from killing a helpless Senkaku by the Anti-Hero Saitou, but only because there is a law against revenge killing, and Saitou needs the criminal for interrogation where a more grisly fate awaits Senkaku in the form of torture and the death penalty. Kenshin, however, appeases the vengeful youth by appealing to his better nature.
  • This happens to Winry in Fullmetal Alchemist; She had just discovered that Scar's brother's brother: Scar killed her parents and levelled a gun at him. Fortunately, Ed convinces her that "If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him"
    • And then we have Roy with his flame powers and Envy in his fetus form. He is convinced by Ed, Scar, and Riza to not go through with finishing Envy off. Envy dies anyway by commiting suicide because Ed inadvertently makes him feel too insulted to live.
  • Subverted in Rave Master when Haru the sword over Shuda's head, drops it, and then Shuda picks it right back up, drops An Aesop, then falls to his death. Only, not quite his death.
    • It happens again later when Haru goes berserk on Lucia. The later actually faints, and everyone starts pressing Haru to sever his head, but Haru still can't bring himself to take a life.
  • In Corsair, Canale does this at the end of the fight with his brother. He does follow through in actually killing him.
  • Played almost perfectly straight in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, during the climactic duel between Keiichi and Rena, when Rena is holding her hatchet over her head.
  • In Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the Battle of Vermillion ends with Yang having Reinhart's flagship -- and Reinhart with it -- dead to rights and defenceless and only an order away from killing him. While the cast begin discussing amongst themselves whether to finish him off or no, Reuental and Mittenmeyer conquer The Federation's headquarters, and the politicians surrender and order Yang to stand down. He does.

Comics[edit | hide]

  • In one of the Fifth Doctor stories in Doctor Who Magazine, a ruthless bounty hunter is attempting to kill the Doctor on orders from an evil industrialist. Things backfire somewhat, and he accidentally succeeds in badly wounding himself and mortally wounding the Doctor's companion, Gus. Tears in his eyes and a murderous expression on his face, the Doctor picks up the bounty hunter's gun, shoots several times...and we then find that he simply shot the hunter's helmet, whose headphones were ironically playing "We'll Meet Again". However, this is then promptly subverted as the industrialist's slimy henchman visits the hunter in hospital, calmly trashes his life-support systems ("No loose ends"), and walks out as the hunter chokes his last.
  • Occurs complete with actual sword over actual head when Rogue defeats Vargas in a swordfight at the end of the X-Treme X-Men "Invasion" arc. Vargas encourages her to kill him as predicted by Destiny's diaries, and the ultimate result is deliberately not shown, but Rogue's reactions both during and after the incident make it fairly clear that she didn't go through with it.
  • Jubilee faced this choice after she hunted down the men who killed her parents. In a slight variation Wolverine—the only witness—told her exactly how she could use her powers to make the deaths look like natural causes. She let them live, of course.
    • Another example went the opposite way, this time involving Wolverine. An old What If? issue called "What if Wolverine had married Mariko?", she is eventually killed by her brother, Harada Yashida AKA Silver Samurai, in a plot with the Kingpin. Wolverine is enraged by this and after beating Harada within an inch of his life, Wolverine has a sword of honour held over his head. He swings it...and deliberately misses. Harada breathes a sigh of relief....until Wolverine shoves his fist under Harada's chin, growling "Just decided the honor sword's too good for you. It shouldn't be stained with a traitor's blood. Me? I'm not so fussy." and since this is Wolverine we're talking about, the very next panel we see is blacked out with a VERY telling SNIKT sound effect overlaid on it.
      • That's what's so great about Wolverine: You hardly ever have to tell him to kill his enemies.
  • In All Star Batman and Robin, Batman brings Dick Grayson the man who killed his parents, gagged and tied up. He then offers Dick a battleaxe and tells him to 'Choose. Avenger or detective.' Dick raises the axe over his head and brings it down... right next to the thug's face, slashing open the gag and one of his cheeks, but not his skull. The thug spills the beans.
  • Subverted in Jamie Delano's run on Captain Britain. After sister Betsy replaces Brian Braddock as Captain Britain, Brian's old foe Slaymaster takes her on and beats her savagely before putting both of her eyes out. An appalled Brian arrives, and a titanic fight ensues, which ends with Slaymaster on his back and Brian holding a huge rock over his head. At the last moment, he seems to force himself to stop. Slaymaster, being a villain, can't stop himself from coming out with an I-Don't-Think-You've-Got-The-Grapes taunting speech. In a flash of fury, Brian sweeps the rock down on Slaymaster's head. SPLAT.
  • In a non-canon Star Wars comic, a Not Quite Dead Darth Maul tracks Obi-Wan Kenobi down to Tatooine and engages in a short but vicious fight with him that ends with Obi-Wan's deactivated lightsaber against Maul's forehead. Thumb hovering over the activation stud, Obi-Wan wavers indecisively until a badly injured and pissed off Owen Lars blows Maul's head off.


Film[edit | hide]

  • A version of this trope without any weapons happens twice in the film The Karate Kid Part II. At the very start of the film, Mr. Miyagi sees the bad guy teacher from the first movie physically abusing his own students and decides to put a stop to it. After some Deadly Dodging, when he has the Evil Teacher at his mercy, Miyagi repeats that teacher's own motto that mercy is for the weak, winds up for a major blow... then harmlessly tweaks his nose. At the very end Daniel holds his opponent's life in his hands and asks him, "Live or die, man?" When his opponent says "Die!" Daniel instead copies his mentor and just gives his opponent's nose a tweak.
  • Darth Vader pulled a literal Sword Over Head on Luke in Star Wars, remarking, "All too easy."
  • A variation in Predator. Dutch does this over the fallen title monster, but using a large rock instead of a sword. He relents after noticing the Predator coughing up (green glowing) blood, showing that he's no longer a threat.
  • Variant in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. After Robin defeats the Sheriff of Rottingham, he turns away, compliments his sword, and makes to sheathe it ... and accidentally runs the Sheriff through as he tries to backstab Robin.
  • The climax of the film The End Of The Spear.
  • The Princess Bride: After the Man in Black defeats Inigo, Inigo begs for a quick death... but is knocked out with the hilt of the sword.

Inigo: "Kill me quickly."
Man In Black: "I would sooner destroy a stained-glass window than an artist like yourself. However, since I can't have you following me, either..." [Hits him with the hilt] "Please understand, I hold you in the highest respect."

  • Miraz in Prince Caspian. Three times in one movie, by two characters, twice in fairly rapid succession, and none of them in the original book.
  • In the Michael Bay film Bad Boys, Will Smith's character does this at the end with the drug kingpin who murdered the woman he kinda loved. He doesn't fire. Then the baddie pulls a gun from behind his back, giving Smith's character all the excuse he needs to empty his gun's clip into his body.
  • Inverted at the end of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which finishes with Max surrounded by Auntie Entity and her armed goons. She lets him go:

Auntie: "Well, ain't we a pair? Raggedy man."

  • In Gladiator, this seems to be the standard end to a matchup when one gladiator is disarmed. Caesar is supposed to decide what happens, but Maximus lets his opponent live anyway.
  • In The Two Towers Frodo captures Gollum and holds him at swordpoint, but decides to spare him out of pity. It pays off in the end.
  • In Mulan, when the protagonist is revealed to have been a woman, Shang is about to kill her... but then decides not to as she did just save the entire army. And his life during the avalanche.

Shang: A life for a life. My debt is repaid.

  • Near the end of Maverick, Marshall Zane Cooper does this (with a stick) to the Commodore.
  • In Disney's Tarzan movie, Tarzan has Clayton at his mercy, aims Clayton's gun at his throat, and imitates the sound of a gunshot. He then destroys the gun. Clayton tries to attack Tarzan afterward, but inadvertently hangs himself, despite Tarzan attempting to warn him that he's doing so.
  • In the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, an immortal knight tries to pull his heavy sword overhead on Indy, only to lose balance and fall backwards, indicating that he has become too old for sword fighting.
  • Played straight in The Lion in Winter, when King Henry II lifts his sword over his head to execute his son Richard, but can't bring himself to go through with it.
  • In Serenity, Captain Malcolm Reynolds (after his moved nerve cluster allows him to escape a paralyzer from The Operative) hits the man in the larynx and steals his sword, but instead of killing him uses the sword to secure him to a railing, forcing him to watch as the truth about Miranda is revealed.
  • In The Tenth Kingdom the heroes have the evil Huntsman at their mercy and Wolf is preparing to kill him when Virginia stops him. Wolf correctly points out that this will only leave him to follow them and that she would regret the decision. This leads to pretty much every reversal the heroes face for the rest of the story.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Lord of the Rings is this in spades as far as Gollum is concerned.
  • In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry lets Wormtail go who eventually brings back Lord Voldemort.
  • The nature of this trope, particularly the alternate ending (namely, that killing in self-defense is acceptable, but killing in cold blood is not), is explored towards the end of the Narnia book The Horse and His Boy.
  • Subverted in the novel The Silent Blade by RA Salvatore, Drizzt and a nearly suicidel Artemis Entreri have just finished a fight to the not-quite-death. Drizzt sheaths his sword and walks away, when Artemis charges him from behind. Drizzt gets his guard up, draws his blades, and stabs Artemis through the torso...but unbeknownst to either of them, a psionic barrier has been placed around Artemis' body by one of Jarlaxle's lieutenants, which channels the kinetic energy from Drizzt's strike into Entreri, who then uses it unconsciously to punch a hole barehanded through Drizzt's chest. Unbeknownst to Entreri however, he gets better.
  • Played straight in the Discworld novel Men At Arms when Vimes wants to kill a man (to be fair, he was under the influence of the gonne). Carrot eventually convinces him not to, saying "Personal isn't the same as important." Of course, when the man himself goes for the gun, Carrot kills him, running the man through as well as piercing the foot-thick granite column behind him.
    • A recurring issue for His Grace. A different force is tugging at his base urge for vengeance in Thud!, and when it lets loose he leaves a significant body count, but relents before he either strikes the Big Bad or rips apart from the stress of not doing so.
    • And it happened previously in Night Watch with the villain Carcer.
    • This is a manifestation of one of his defining traits- the constant temptation to take the law into his own hands (by killing the villain), and his constant refusal to give in to that temptation. Even when he kills Wolfgang in The Fifth Elephant, he gives Wolfgang every warning and chance to surrender first. Of course, Wolfgang doesn't really believe "Mister Civilized" is capable of killing him. He's wrong.
  • Akin to the Hornblower example below, the first Flashman novel has a variant on the pistol duel- after his opponent has shot his ball and missed, Flashman spends some time trying to make him squirm, before dramatically pointing his pistol to one side and firing without looking. By sheer fluke, Flash's shot takes the top off a wine bottle on a nearby table, giving him an unwarranted reputation as a crack shot...
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Aeneid invokes this trope when Aeneas pauses with his sword raised over his vanquished archenemy Turnus... only to see Turnus wearing the belt of Aeneas' protegé Pallas. Even in antiquity, this subversion was upsetting to numerous commentators.
  • This happens twice in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark Series (from the 1930s). Twice the arch-enemy gets in so far over his head that he's forced to call on the hero to rescue him, and incidentally wipe out a threat to human civilization.
  • Near the end of book 1 of the Gone (novel) series, Sam has just defeated Caine and could easily kill him with his super powers. Caine tells Sam to "Go ahead and do it", but Sam just tells him to leave Perdido Beach. Might be a case of Thicker Than Water since they are also twin brothers.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • 24 did it in Season one when Jack caught an escaping Nina. The same scene was repeated in Season three, except that on that occasion Jack shot her dead. And the first time, he didn't know she had just killed his wife.
  • Horatio Hornblower: The Duel: Midshipman Hornblower fights a duel with Midshipman Simpson over a number of matters of honor, mainly that Simpson previously accused Hornblower of cheating at cards, and Hornblower accused Simpson of attempting to murder him. Simpson fires early and causes only superficial injury, and Hornblower fires into the air (over his head, if you will), refusing to kill Simpson purely out of spite. Simpson tries to stab Hornblower in the back with a knife and is killed by Captain Pellew, their commanding officer.
    • Incidentally, the novel version is more practical; Hornblower arranges it so that one pistol was loaded and the other was not, and both combatants know it. When the duel finally happens, Hornblower's pistol doesn't fire. Neither does Simpson's. The duel is, technically, concluded, and blamed on a misfire. Hornblower later realizes that the captain ordered both pistols be unloaded, in order to save the lives of him and Simpson.
  • Firefly has Malcolm Reynolds holding his opponent at swordpoint at the end of a duel to the death.

Mal: Mercy is the mark of a great man.
* Stabs his opponent in the side*
Mal: Guess I'm just a good man.
* Stabs him again*
Mal: Well, I'm all right.

  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Christmas Invasion" the Doctor, who has defeated the Sycorax Leader in a swordfight while maintaining a running monologue about what sort of person his new incarnation is, accepts the alien's surrender and walks off. When the Sycorax gets up and charges at him, he uses a satsuma to knock him off the ship, without breaking stride. "No second chances. I'm that sort of a man."
    • Also in the episode The Doctors Daughter, After the nearly happy ending, the baddie kills the Doctors daughter (clone) out of spite. The Doctor takes his gun and points it at his head, breathing fast and heavy for several seconds before throwing it away and saying 'I never would', finally encouraging those arond him to forge their society on the principles of the man who 'never would'. It should be noted his daughter came back to life, though she didn't regenerate...
    • Having two hearts sure comes in handy.
  • A similar variation in the Star Trek TOS episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before". After beating up Gary Mitchell, Kirk holds a large rock over his head, threatening him, but hesitates over killing his friend. He loses his chance when Mitchell regains his power.
    • Similarly, in "Arena", Kirk has the Gorn captain at his mercy, then throws his weapon aside and declares that he refuses to kill him. This turns out to be how he passes a Secret Test of Character.
  • In Dexter when he is about to kill Rudy by draining him of all his blood, holds the knife above his neck. But he then kills him anyway, mid-sentence no less.
  • In Sharpe's Revenge, Richard Sharpe gets involved in a pistol duel at dawn. He lets his opponent shoot first, and miss. The opponent and the witness beg Sharpe to show mercy, and eventually, after much consideration, Sharpe does: he shoots his opponent in the arse instead.
    • The book averts this—Sharpe aims for the other man's belly, hoping to give him a slow and painful death (bear in mind that this guy had left Sharpe and a handful of men to face certain death, and a lot of them didn't make it out). Unfortunately the pistol pulls slightly to one side, and instead pierces his buttocks.
  • An unusual choice occurs in the Heroes episode "Shades of Gray": Sylar finally confronts his father, Samson Grey, his motives for finding him having changed after realizing that he is responsible for killing his mother. A few interesting facts and one borderline Hannibal Lecture later, he gives Sylar a choice point-blank—kill him now... or kill the fuzzy bunny. Sylar hesitates, then kills the bunny and they keep talking.
  • In Witchblade, Sara holds the point of the titular Witchblade against the throat of the man who killed her father, best friend, and partner. In the end, she chooses to arrest him.
  • In Numb3rs, the guy helping the cops killed several people, but has the real baddie's money. The baddie kills his dad and holds the sister hostage, and after a complex series of actions, ends up with the Big Bad's gun with a SWAT team pointing guns at them. Since he vowed to confess to his earlier crimes if they rescued his sister (they had), he says he has nothing to live for. Don convinces to lower the gun.

Big Bad: See you in Leavenworth.
Guy: (shoots him in the leg, drops gun) That's so I can hear you comin'!

  • On Bones Booth had escaped serial killer Howard Epps by one hand as he dangled over a ledge, and couldn't hold on. He later went to psycological counseling for a different matter, where it came up that he felt guilty because he wasn't sure if he tried hard enough to keep Epps from falling to his death.
  • In the first episode of Luther, the titular detective is chasing a Serial Killer through an industrial site when a gantry gives way and the latter is left dangling. Luther doesn't try to help him up; the guy falls and ends up in a coma.
  • Jane Rizzoli has Hoyt, "The Surgeon" in this situation, though with a scalpel instead of a sword (incidentally, a scalpel he had just cut her and Dr. Isles with). Unlike most of the trope examples, She follows through.

Jane: I win! And you're going to Hell alone.

  • On Angel, "A Hole In The World", Gunn had Knox incapacitated and held a large object over his head, wanting to smash Knox's head in, but couldn't do it. Probably because he knew the team needed to get as much info out of Knox as they could.(Wesley does him in later)


Musical[edit | hide]

  • Musical example: in Queensrÿche's Operation Mindcrime II, the protagonist has the Big Bad Dr. X at gunpoint for a song, debating whether or not to do him in. On the last line, he pulls the trigger.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Shakespeare's Hamlet: As Claudius kneels to pray, Hamlet is given the perfect chance to slay him and avenge his father's murder. Unfortunately for everyone, Hamlet decides that killing Claudius in prayer would send him to Heaven, and he'd rather send him to Hell.[1] He spares Claudius for the time being, ultimately causing the tragic end to the play.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins, Lord Gohda is engaged in a swordfight with his uncle, who has led a revolt against him, and ends up knocking his uncle's sword away. Of course, being the good and noble lord, Gohda hesitates, and lowers his weapon. His uncle then repays this kindness by pulling out a gun and shooting him. It is then that the player controlled Rikumaru steps in, cuing a boss fight. After the fight, the trope occurs again, with Rikumaru poised over the uncle. Of course, being a ninja, Rikumaru slashes, but Gohda leaps in and takes the slash to his back. The uncle, touched by this, proceeds to scamper off and kill Gohda's wife and kidnap his daughter. Nice guy.
  • Happens constantly in the Dynasty Warriors / Samurai Warriors series of games especially cutscenes thanks to scripted deaths (beating the prior to the time you should, personally, just makes them run away and say a snarky comment or berate themselves), though sometimes accomplishing totally unrelated missions will allow you to dispatch a few of them early.
    • In Dynasty Warriors 6 Special, Cao Pi has a moment of this having captured Sima Yi after the latter failed coup d'etat. He spares his life, and the scene fades to black with Sima Yi mocking the entire Cao family.
  • Used in both endings of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
    • In the "Dark Side" ending, Emperor Palpatine tells Starkiller to prove his loyalty by killing Kota, a Jedi. After a moment's hesitation, he turns and attacks Palpatine. It doesn't end well.
    • By contrast, the "Light Side" ending has Palpatine not only at his mercy, but demanding that Starkiller strike him down. Starkiller nearly goes ahead and does it, but is talked into not giving into his anger and spares him. This turns out to be exactly as bad an idea as it sounds when a moment later, Stormtroopers flood in while Palpatine catches his breath, gets back up, takes another shot at Starkiller and successfully kills him in a rematch. Whoops.
  • Different variations are used a lot of times in Jedi Knight and the sequels.
    • After Kyle defeats the first of Jerec's Dark Jedi, Yun, he has him at his mercy but lets him live, leading to his extra-quick Redemption Equals Death later on in the Light Side story or another duel in the Dark Side one.
    • With Maw, the situation is similar, but Kyle is being tempted by the Dark Side and simply cuts him down.
    • In the Light Side ending, Kyle has disarmed Jerec but decides to give him another chance and give him back his lightsaber. Jerec lunges at him again, and, well, if you read the trope description you'll know what happens.
    • In Jedi Outcast, instead of literally threatening someone with a weapon, Kyle dangles Tavion in the air with Force Grip at the end of their duel and is about to kill her. He lets her go after she tells him she didn't really kill Jan Ors.
    • After Jaden Korr defeats Rosh Penin in Jedi Academy, they seem to be about to enter a situation like this, but are interrupted by the arrival of Kyle Katarn and Tavion. They return to the setup when they next meet, when Rosh is hardly much of a villain anymore but Jaden is still angry at him. Whether the player chooses to attack Rosh next or not determines whether you get the Dark Side or Light Side ending.
    • Towards the end in the Light Side story in Jedi Academy, Tavion is determined to avoid this fate after being beaten by Jaden, and as a result ends up possessed by the dead Sith Lord she has been worshipping. In the Dark Side version she tells Jaden to Get It Over With, and they comply. And then have to fight Kyle Katarn instead.
  • Happens in Tales of Symphonia shortly after The Reveal, with Kratos raising his sword to deal the finishing blow to Lloyd. He can't do it, because Lloyd is his son. The Big Bad shows up a moment later to kick the party around more and then do it himself, which provides La Résistance enough time to mount a rescue.
  • At the end of Assassin's Creed 2 Ezio kneels beside Rodrigo Borgia in the same Animus back room used for every major assassination in the series. Then, he retracts his blade, and walks away.

Ezio: No more killing. I'm done.

  • If you play as a Fighter in Quest for Glory II, you will encounter TWO duels which provide an example of this trope. First time is a duel which you have to pass in order to be accepted to the Fighter's Guild, where you are encouraged by the guild to kill your opponent, yet are able to spare him. Second time is the swordfight with Khaveen, in which you knock his sword from his hand and can either finish him off or allow him to pick his sword. Khaveen will knock your sword as well, and will not hesitate before hitting you. It does take him some time to do this, though.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • In The Order of the Stick, Elan must decide whether or not to let his brother Nale fall over a cliff to his death


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Prince Zuko leaves his arch rival, Commander Zhao, unscathed when he's perfectly poised to kill him after defeating him in a Firebending duel. Zhao does rise up to deliver a flaming kick to the head from behind, but is effortlessly deflected by Zuko's mentor Iroh. Zuko appears more than ready to finish the fight the fight after this action, but is instructed by Iroh not to taint his victory and honor.
    • Katara decides in "The Southern Raiders" that if someone is pathetic and weak enough to end up in this position in the first place, there would be no satisfaction in finishing them off anyway.
    • In the Final Battle, Aang passes up two opportunities to kill Ozai; including a Finishing Move when he is trapped and helpless. Instead he takes away his Firebending.
  • ReBoot: After an intense showdown, Matrix has Megabyte in this situation but with a trident instead of a sword, Matrix says how Megabyte has ruined his life and brings the trident down... just an inch from his and then says in a Crowning Moment of Awesome: "Surprised? Don't be. You're not worth it. Mainframe will always endure. Remember this defeat, this humiliation! Remember that you can never win!
  • In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Double Date", Huntress prepares to shoot Stephen Mandragora, the thoroughly despicable mob boss who killed her parents in front of her at a young age, and seems perfectly willing to put a crossbow bolt through him... until his son, Edgar, shows up behind him, and she finds she can't bring herself to inflict the same trauma on the boy.
  • Subverted in the South Park episode "Red Sleigh Down" where after being freed from his torture, Santa takes a gun and shoots the person who tortured him. It looks and sounds like he shot to the side but then we see the victim and Santa says "I just couldn't do it, I just couldn't let him live. He shocked Santa's balls."
    • The South Park scene is probably a reference to a scene from the movie 3 Kings, where after saving Barlow from his Iraqi torturers Major Gates hands Barlow his pistol. Barlow stares at the pistol, then at his interrogator, who was Not So Different, and finally points it to the side at the last minute and empties the clip into the wall.
  • Transformers Animated "Endgame" Optimus Prime has Megatron at his mercy a is filled with a vengeance after learning that Prowl has been Killed Off for Real, he swings the mighty Magnus Hammer to deliver the final blow, only to strike his fusion cannon and merely cuff Megatron instead.
    • Since the Magnus Hammer needs a few moments to charge for a full-powered lightning strike, it's possible that Optimus only hesitated to charge rather then the moral dilemma of letting Megatron live.
  • At the tail end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' "City at War" arc, Karai does this to one of the defeated Foot Elite. She takes the swing, but refrains from cleaving his head, settling for destroying his Nice Hat instead.
  • Subverted in Transformers Prime. Arcee is about to kill Megatron (who is badly damaged and on life support), but is convinced to stand down because Megatron has information the Autobots need. As soon as they get it, Arcee cuts Megatron's life support. Megatron survives this, but only because Arcee was in too much of a hurry to make sure she succeeded.
    • Played straight twice later with Optimus and Megatron.
  1. Made especially funny by the fact that during the course of his praying, Claudius admits that he knows what he did was evil, and does not feel regret for it. So had Hamlet killed Claudius, he most likely would've gone to Hell instead of Heaven.