Villain's Dying Grace

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Near death experiences have a tendency to change a person's outlook on life. Knowing you're going to die is no different; however, when faced with imminent death, villains by and large repent nothing and decide that if they're going to die, I'm Taking You with Me!

But on rare occasions, the villain will have a Heel Realization where they ask "My God, What Have I Done?" as, faced with a lifetime of evil flashing in front of their eyes as the Collapsing Lair implodes, they decide to do one good thing before they die: save the hero. They may cling to life so that their death doesn't collapse their castle, or to hold back a wave of monsters. Perhaps they'll show them where their personal escape passage is hidden or briefly become a Load-Bearing Hero to let them escape. Another situation is where they feel they were beaten by a Worthy Opponent; and therefore the superior one should carry on.

This isn't quite a Heroic Sacrifice or Redemption Equals Death—they would have died anyway—but at the least it shows they weren't completely evil and still retained a measure of nobility as a Fallen Hero, Noble Demon or Anti-Hero. Sadly, this is definitely not enough for Redemption Earns Life. In a best case scenario, they Died Happily Ever After.

Subtrope of Graceful Loser and Death Equals Redemption. Not to be confused with Cruel Mercy. Can be used as a form of Restrained Revenge.

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

Examples of Villain's Dying Grace include:

Anime and Manga

  • Bleach: In a Worthy Opponent example, Dordonii Alessandro Del Socacchio fends off his own compatriots to allow Ichigo a way out of an otherwise deadly situation, in return for not holding back in their fight.
  • In an early episode of Captain Harlock, an enemy captain did an extreme form of this after losing a ship-to-ship duel.
  • Altena does this at the end of Noir. Kirika has pushed herself and Altena into the Lava Pit; Altena has Kirika's arm, and Mireille has Altena's. Altena somehow throws Kirika into Mireille's reach to take her hand at the expense of falling herself. Interestingly, Altena in no way was wanting "redemption"; she never had malice towards them in the first place. There was no way that Mireille could pull both of them up; and whether they would be True Noir or not, there was no reason for Kirika to die too.
  • The Read or Die OVA had Nancy do this at the end.
  • Capricorn Shura in Saint Seiya has a Heel Realization while flying to outer space due to Shiryu's Dangerous Forbidden Technique, and after Shiryu faints he pulls out his armour, puts it on Shiryu and kicks him back to earth so that he survives while Shura dies upon reaching space.
  • Suitengu in Speed Grapher.
  • In Ginga Densetsu Weed the minor villain Blue's last act is to save the hero's life, when the hero risks it trying to save Blue.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Accelerator attempts to invoke this trope on himself when he's faced with the choice of saving a little girl by using his vector-controlling ability to essentially hack her brain or allowing a bullet shot at his head to hit. He chooses the former... but survives anyway as he managed to finish his work and deflect the bullet just before it reached his brain. Then he doubles it up by saving Yoshikawa after the latter was shot in the aorta from point-blank range by keeping her blood flowing between the ends of the damaged section instead of having her bleed out in seconds, while he himself is unconscious and bleeding out from a combination of cracked skull and brain damage due to the previously mentioned headshot. Result: everyone but the bad guy survives, including Accelerator as a Handicapped Badass Anti-Hero with the aforementioned little girl as his Morality Chain.

Comic Books

  • Subverted in a Doctor Strange story, where Baron Mordo uses what he thinks will be his last act to send one of Strange's associates to safety. They all live, but she is somewhat smitten with him, which he manipulates to his own advantage for some time. It ends with a minor Pet the Dog moment which reveals he's not entirely evil.


  • In Blade Runner, Anti-Villain Roy has Anti-Hero/Villain Protagonist Decker in a literal cliffhanger but is dying himself. At the last moment, Roy saves Decker's life, and is rewarded with an Obi-Wan Moment.
  • In the second Spider-Man movie, Peter is able to make Dr. Ock come to his senses and the kindly doctor-turned-monster decides to perform one last good act before he dies.
  • In Dracula 2000, the title character, as he dies, releases Mary from her vampirism.
  • The not-really-so-much villain of The Rock both speaks words mentioned in the article and directs the protagonists towards last WMDs he bluffed with before expiring.
  • In Blade: Trinity, Drake/Dracula, out of respect for Blade fighting him with honor, morphs into a copy of Blade for the FBI to take away, tricking them into calling the manhunt off, as they think Blade is dead.
    • Only in the theatrical ending. In the original Director's Cut, it is Blade they carry off to the morgue (Drake is ash), where he gets up and attacks a nurse, presumably restarting the vampire line. The "gift" in this version is becoming the progenitor of the new race (of presumably weakness-free vampires).
  • In Fantastic Mr. Fox, Rat tells the heroes where to find Kris just before he expires from electrocution.


  • In "The Borderland of Sol", a Known Space story by Larry Niven, the villain saves the life of two of the three protagonists by increasing the air pressure in his breached asteroid habitat, before being sucked into his miniature black hole.
  • In First Among Sequels evil Thursday saves Thursday's life when her own life is doomed.


  • King Lear. After the deaths of Goneril and Regan, a dying Edmund is moved to try and stop the killing of the third daughter, though it's too late.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. In the end, as his lair is collapsing, the Phantom realizes what he's put his love through and helps both her and her lover to escape; although the rose on her grave several years later suggests that he may not have died after all.

Video Games

  • The ending of Final Fantasy IX.
  • In Metal Gear Solid, Psycho Mantis, the Psychokinetic badass responsible for smashing the fourth wall into thousands of teeny tiny pieces has one of these moments after you defeat him. He explains essentially, that his life is shit, everyone's life is shit, and we're all a bunch of horny buggers focused solely on doing the nasty. The only reason he wanted to join Liquid, was to find an excuse to kill as many people as he could. After reading Snake's mind and discovering that no naughty thoughts are going on in there he decides to help by levitating a bookshelf out of the way, allowing you to continue. As he takes his last breath he utters these final words "This was the first time I've ever used my powers to help someone. Funny... It feels... kind of... nice."
    • In a subversion, Mantis' true reason was that he was simply playing his part in the Batman Gambit to get Snake to arm Metal Gear for FOXHOUND.
  • The Shining Force games are loaded with this, since every villain you defeat save for the Big Bad always seems to do a Heel Face Turn right before they die.
  • Dead Rising 2 has an example of this after beating Carl Schiff. After beating him, Chuck takes a package of Zombrex from his mailbag, explaining that he needs it for his daughter. The mortally-wounded Carl signs for it himself, then arms his last mailbomb for a very special delivery.
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (10), all three levels leading up to the last level have bosses like this; of course, they all fight tooth-and-nail before that point.

Real Life

  • An infamous example happened to Lucio Fulci's New York Ripper in 1984. BBFC director James Ferman got creative with the punishment he had in store for the film for potentially violating British obscenity laws of the time. He didn't order any print to be destroyed; rather, he ordered all prints within the UK to be returned to Italy.