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Say there are three characters, The Hero, The Child, and The Fool. Let's say that The Child dies in a tragic accident, for whatever reason, The Hero "fails" to save The Child in some way. Let's say that The Fool was very close to The Child. Even if the events surrounding The Child's death couldn't have possibly been stopped by The Hero, The Fool will have a lingering hatred for The Hero's "failure" to save The Child, sometimes to the point of outright blaming The Hero for The Child's death. Often used as plot motivation for The Fool.

Another variation is when The Hero is overcome with guilt, acting as his own Fool. The antagonist may use this against The Hero to psychologically torture him or her.

Tropes explained via Jungian Archetypes, What Do You Mean It's Not Didactic? See also It's All My Fault, Blood on These Hands. Also, it has nothing to do with saving the villain or not.

Examples of "Failure to Save" Murder include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Muhyo And Rouji, Rio Kurotori joins Ark after the two executors she goes to for help in saving her mother from a haunt turn her down for petty reasons.
  • In Bleach, Uryu's grudge against the Soul Reapers stems from the fact that they had Soul Reapers watching his grandfather, and when he got attacked by Huge Hollows, didn't intervene until after his death. Uryu comes to realize that he didn't do anything to try to help his grandfather at that time, and that it's wrong to blame the Soul Reapers when his grandfather was not bitter toward them. Also, he has since discovered that the Ax Crazy Token Evil Captain Mayuri was the actual culprit, bribing Shinigami so that they would be too late and, worse, abducting the survivors (including his grandfather) in order to perform horrific experiments on them to satisfy his own curiosity (if by "curiosity" you mean "torture and kill them in numerous horrible ways for no obvious scientific reason"). He has thus shifted his emnity towards him and away from Shinigami in general (though he doesn't fully like of trust them either), though recently he'd been reduced to Mayuri's Butt Monkey.
  • In a filler episode of One Piece, a female member of the Desert Pirates remembers Princess Vivi and King Cobra visiting her city and promising to come help if anything happened, during which time she personally met a young Vivi. When the droughts hit, and Cobra didn't come to help, the city was deserted, and the girl was left in despair until the Desert Pirates recruited her. This caused her to resent Vivi upon seeing her again, but Vivi apologized, saying that there were many other towns requiring the king's attention, enabling the two to reconcile.
  • In Naruto, Sasuke's motives are based around his feelings of guilt for not being able to stop the massacre of his clan.
  • In one scene in Baccano, Jacuzzi insists that Isaac and Miria should stop treating him like a good person because he's not—he's fleeing from Chicago because he murdered three men. Donny interjects that Jacuzzi didn't kill them, his friends did. Against Jacuzzi's wishes. Because those men were about to kill him. Jacuzzi fails to see the difference.

Comic Books

  • In The DCU, John Stewart failed to save the planet Xanshi in the Cosmic Odyssey miniseries. John's guilt for this was extreme enough in the years afterward that one could be forgiven for assuming that he'd blown up the planet himself. The Xanshian warrior Fatality blames the whole Green Lantern Corps for the destruction of her planet, and went on a crusade to kill them all.
    • In this case, John's guilt isn't unjustified. He didn't just fail to save the planet. He knocked out J'onn J'onzz, who could have saved the planet. Stewart was overconfident and didn't consider the possiblity the bomb would be yellow and decided to "protect" the guy who is on par with Superman in power.
  • In WITCH, Ari of Arkhanta (a farmer who enslaved a banshee to become powerful) carries a massive grudge against the Oracle of Kandrakar. The reason? Ari's son was born autistic, and the Oracle isn't doing anything to fix this.
  • Superheroes in general tend to get blamed for whatever they couldn't/didn't do.
  • A random woman once berated Superman for being off-world during the "New Krypton" storyline—while trying to stop a war—while her husband was having an aneurysm. She thought Superman could have saved her husband with heat vision or something. Superman was the only person that actually took her seriously—everyone else in-universe and out thought she was crazy to expect that from Superman.
  • In the relaunched Batgirl first issue, a cop screams that Barbara is a murderer when the villain kills someone and she doesn't stop him. Slightly more legitimate since it seemed like she was just letting it happen (she was actually petrified in fear, this being her first real mission since being un-paralyzed), but given that the real murderer was still standing right there it seems like the cop should have had other thoughts on her mind. (Commissioner Gordon, to be fair, calls the cop out on this in the next issue.)


  • Nero's motive in Star Trek. The Fool is Nero, The Hero is Spock, and by proxy the Federation, and The Child is Romulus, with Nero's pregnant wife on it.
  • In I Robot, Spooner plays the Fool against a robot who saved his life instead of a child because he had a bigger chance of survival. This caused him to develop hatred against all robots, arguing that the child's life was worth more and should have been prioritized over his regardless of the odds.


  • Roland spent at least a couple volumes of The Dark Tower chastising himself for letting Jake die.
    • Ditto his first love Susan. Also his mother, although to be fair he was mind controlled into killing her himself. This trope could easily have been named Roland of Gilead Syndrome.
  • This is the source of many characters' resentment of Gaius Sextus in the Codex Alera, specifically those who were close to "the Child," Sextus' son Gaius Septimus.
  • At the climax of Hand of Thrawn, Tierce accuses Pellaeon of letting Thrawn die. Of course, by then he's not really making a lot of sense.

 "He ran out of time. He died at Bilbringi. You let him die at Bilbringi."

  • In The Prodigal Mage Arlin Garrick blames Rafel and Asher for the drowning of his father in a whirlpool at the blighted reef, despite all of their early warnings and later efforts to save everyone.

Live-Action TV

  • Averted in one episode of Scrubs. Paramedics failed to save a woman's son, but she was so impressed by how hard they tried that she decided to become one.
  • Smallville's version of Metallo hates Clark because he didn't save his sister when her apartment burned.
  • The UnSub in Criminal Minds episode "Hanley Waters" was a woman who had been involved in a car accident one year before. The paramedics had managed to save her, but failed to save her six-year-old son.
  • Marcus spends much of Season 2 of USA Networks' The Purge series trying to figure out who ordered a hit on him on Purge Night. It turns out the mastermind was a man who blamed him for the death of his wife, who Marcus (as a doctor) tried but failed to save.

Video Games

  • In Heavy Rain it's heavily implied that Grace Mars blames Ethan for their son Jason's death -even though he jumped in front of the car to save him and was in a coma for months.
  • The entire motive behind Godot/Diego Armando's quest for vengeance against Phoenix Wright in In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations is that he blames Phoenix for Mia Fey's murder.
  • In Vagrant Story, Rosencrantz accuses Ashley Riot of killing his own wife and son. Justified in that Ashley actually did, and the situation was engineered to turn him into a more loyal Riskbreaker.
    • Maybe. It's never really clarified if that's the case, or if it's played straight and the antagonists are just using his guilt to undermine his exponentially growing power.
  • In Tales of Symphonia Chocolat acts this way towards Lloyd after she finds out that he killed her grandmother Marble. She forgives him later on when the prisoners of the Iselia Ranch tell her that Marble was transformed into an Exbelua and Lloyd originally intended to save her. A similar case occurs with Kuchinawa, who blames Sheena of killing his parents by being unable to control Volt, even if she was merely a child at that time and most likely unable to translate Volt's speech ("It's just like before! What the hell is he saying?"). He hides this grudge at first, but gives in to it after Sheena actually manages to make a pact with Volt and multiple other Summon Spirits during the game. Sheena has to set him straight again by fighting a duel with him. Interestingly enough, his brother Orochi insists that the tragedy was an accident and that Sheena should not feel responsible and accept the duel.
  • In Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door, Admiral Bobbery suffers from the second variation of this trope, after learning that his wife Scarlette passed away while he was on a voyage. He blames himself for it, thinking that he could have nursed her back to health if only he wasn't at sea at that time. He then vowed to never sail the sea again, filled with grief and regret. Mario manages to take away his pain however, by showing him a letter that Scarlette wrote with her last breath to prevent Bobbery from feeling guilty about her death.
  • Pretty much Hope's entire story for the first half of Final Fantasy XIII. He blames Snow for his mother's death because she volunteered to help Snow's resistance faction fight, and although Snow tried he was unable to save her from falling from a broken bridge. Hope plans revenge for quite a while, only to be interrupted before he can stab Snow by a missile attack which nearly causes both of them to fall to their deaths; Snow's insistence on protecting Hope (as he'd promised Hope's mother) at his own expense, and the revelation of how deeply he blames himself for her death, finally prompts Hope to get over his anger.
  • In Disgaea Hour of Darkness, Kurtis' family got killed and he personally holds Captain Gordon accountable for this, even though the latter wasn't involved in this in any way. As far as Kurtis is concerned, though, Gordon didn't do his job as a Defender of Earth and should be replaced.
    • Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten does this on a much larger scale with Judge Nemo. Though Artina, the only person to show him kindness, was killed by her own country, he blamed Valvatorez for not saving her or avenging her death (Due to Artina asking him not to do so in the case of the latter). It eventually escalates to the point where he blames ALL of humanity as well as demons and angels.
  • Dustil Onasi's motive in Knights of the Old Republic: He joined the Sith out of resentment because he believed his father had abandoned him and his mother to die.
  • In Wing Commander II, Zack "Jazz" Colson allies with the Mandarins to take revenge on the Tiger's Claw crew for letting his brother die when the Kilrathi attacked Goddard.
  • In Dragon Fable, Konnan swears vengeance against your PC for failing to save his family and hometown from the dragon Akriloth (though in all fairness, the battle against the dragon in question wasn't winnable anyway). This would eventually lead him to join the evil pyromancer Xan and become Drakonnan, the Big Bad of the Fire War.

Web Comics

  • A variation occurs in Order of the Stick, when Redcloak in all seriousness holds O-Chul responsible for the deaths of several captives - when it is in fact Redcloak who is about to have them killed (or worse) unless O-Chul reveals a particular bit of info (which he actually doesn't know). Ironically, since to him it's clear that O-Chul would callously let everyone die just to protect his secret no matter what, he lets the captives live.
    • He then attempts to demoralize the captives by telling those prisoners to spread the word that O-Chul was willing to let them die. This backfires as the captives take inspiration from O-Chul's devotion and resistance.
      • Consider also how many goblins and goblinoids Redcloak has already sacrificed for his cause (including his own brother and his brother's entire family.

Western Animation

  • Sentinel's main reason for hating Optimus in Transformers Animated. Well, his main claimed reason; Sentinel is kind of a dick.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, Harry expresses this in the Season 2 series finale.
    • To a degree, but it's also true that Peter/Spider-Man caused the crash that killed Norman Osborn. Though it's also true that that was an accidental death in self-defense. Which is all pretty moot anyway, since Norman didn't really die.