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A Cloning Gambit is a scheme involving a character cloning themselves, by any means, and using said clone to last out multiple deaths. Maybe they send clones out on suicide missions that they don't want to give to anyone else. Maybe they can Body Surf and transfer their mind from clone to clone. Maybe they can't Body Surf, but each clone in a succession of them activates with their memories and personality. In any of the above, there's always a version of them out making trouble or appearing, in person, to crash the enemies' celebration party.

The clone may or may not be subject to Cloning Blues; they may or may not realize that they're not "the original", but they are very disposable, they rarely come up with their own unique identities, and they are very rarely prone to Which Me?. Only rarely does this overlap with Send in the Clones, since typically neither the other characters nor the viewer see more than one or two of that character walking around at any one time. Floating in People Jars, perhaps, after the reveal that the character is using this trope, but not up and talking.

The genetic duplicate to Backup Twin. Either trope can easily turn into an Ass Pull, if not properly foreshadowed, and often results in Opening a Can of Clones. Compare Actually a Doombot.

Examples of Cloning Gambit include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the fifth Kara no Kyoukai movie, Aozaki Touko is revealed to have created a perfect puppet of herself (a clone, for all intents and purposes) out of pure scientific interest, then went into hibernation until it is killed by Araya. Or it may have been the other way around.
  • The series Akumetsu is almost entirely based off of this.
  • Played with in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. The evil twin-type clone, despite being created by the villain, manages to fill this role nicely due to a really last-minute Heel Face Turn.
    • He then reincarnates back in time to reappear five minutes later (though it was decades to him), and dies for his original(s)/sons a second time
  • Towards the end of StrikerS, Jail Scaglietti tried to pull of an Inverse Cloning Gambit by allowing his real self be killed by Fate, then having at least one of his Numbers escape and give birth to his clone with all of his memories, effectively resurrecting him in a safe place. His plan was foiled by a) Fate controlling her rage and leaving him alive and b) the Team Nanoha disabling and apprehending all twelve Numbers.
  • Naruto only uses short-lived clones, but he is very good at this.
  • A variant is used in Neon Genesis Evangelion: when Gendo cloned his wife Yui to create Rei, he also created dozens of clones he keeps in a tank of LCL somewhere around Central Dogma. In the event she dies (happened twice so far), a new clone is pulled out and uploaded with some of her memories. Rei knows that she's replaceable so she lets herself be used by the Commander since she would be killed and replaced at the first sign of defiance. He knows she knows this and uses it as leverage against her... until Ritsuko destroys the clones in episode 23. One could only wonder how far Gendo took this leverage...

Comic Books

  • This was the explanation created as a way to rectify the two contradictory deaths of Sate Pestage in the Star Wars Expanded Universe comics. Currently canon holds that the one in the X Wing Series was real and the one who survived until Dark Empire was the clone. This will probably change again the next time someone who preferred Dark Empire gets to write for the Fact File or New Essential Chronology.
    • In Dark Empire, Palpatine, following his death at Endor, inhabited a clone waiting in a storage facility on a secret fortress world. Six years later, apparently spending the whole time building superweapons, he reappeared to the Empire and launched campaigns against the New Republic, and was killed multiple times, always activating a new clone. Then things went wrong, when one of his Royal Guardsmen sabotaged the process so that each clone degraded quickly, forcing Palpatine to look into other options - like, perhaps, Leia Organa's unborn son. In the Hand of Thrawn duology, Mara sardonically says that she doubts this was really Palpatine, since during all that time he never called on her, his agent. Nevermind that she was just one of his many agents, despite his telling her she was unique.
  • Lex Luthor famously did this a few years after John Byrne's reboot of the Superman franchise, when the kryptonite ring he constantly wore to keep Superman at bay gave him terminal cancer.
  • Kurt Busiek eventually declared this was how Iron Man's enemy Madam Masque kept coming back from the dead, and why her personality was inconsistent from one appearance to the next.
  • The Avengers' robot enemy Ultron does this routinely. He always has hidden equipment set up to rebuild him from a backed-up copy of his memories if he is destroyed. Amusingly, this happened when he was presumed dead during the original Secret Wars. When that Ultron finally returned to Earth, he found that not only had his machines built an improved replacement copy, but he was horrified to find that the "improvements" made the copy nice. They fought and evil Ultron won, naturally.
  • Any time you see someone or something kill Nick Fury, it was actually a Life Model Decoy.


  • In The 6th Day's climax, main character Adam Gibson and his clone pull of a series of these. Subverted in that all are voluntary.
  • In the ending to Short Circuit, Johnny Five uses his previously demonstrated repair skills to build a physical duplicate of himself, which he sends out for Nova Robotics to kill so they'd assume they got him.
  • Ernest Stavros Bloefild pulls this trick on James Bond with variable success.


  • The Prestige: Robert Angier receives a steampunk matter duplicator from Nikola Tesla, and in one of the most glaring cases of (intentional on the writer's part) Misapplied Phlebotinum ever, uses this device to perform a stage magic trick: He tells the audience that the device is a "teleporter", he activates the machine, his clone materializes behind the audience, and his original self falls below the stage through a trap door, into a tank of water, where he drowns. The entire shtick may have been an elaborate ploy to frame Alfred Borden for his own "murder".
  • Variation in Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception. Fairy cloning technology can create a clone that is physically and genetically identical to the original, but has no brain functions beyond life support. Opal Koboi clones herself, fakes a coma, then leaves the clone apparently catatonic in the hospital while she skips off to ruin the heroes' lives.
  • Time Wars: The main villain, Drakov, created a number of identical clones and implanted them with his memories, so that even he/they aren't sure which one is the original. This allows the heroes to kill him in one book and still have to fight him in the next one.
  • Played straight and inverted in J.C. Hutchins' 7th Son novels. While John Alpha's clone willingly and knowingly sacrifices himself, Klaus/Special K sacrifices his original self so that his clone, into which he's downloaded his memories and personality, is free and clear to carry on with the Evil Plan.
  • In Iain M Banks' Against A Dark Background The central character gets lucky with this - the big bad has a clone made of her, which is killed. The corpse is soon found by the religious fanatics who want her dead.
  • In the X Wing Series novel Isard's Revenge, Isard tells the Rogues that she had clones, each of which believed herself to be the original, which she activated and used regularly to be where she could not, and killed once they were no longer useful. One of them was sent to scatter the prisoners from the Lusankya, managed to survive afterward, and unwittingly opposed Isard by working with a warlord the real one wanted dead.
    • Also in the series, a clueless Imperial talking to a disguised Wedge speculates, based on the number of times the most famous Rogues have seemingly come Back From the Dead, that Wedge Antilles, Tycho Celchu, Wes Janson, Hobbie Klivian, and others have died again and again, but the New Republic just keeps activating new clones.
    • One of the (many, many, many) subplots in the Hand of Thrawn duology is that Grand Admiral Thrawn, who died at the end of The Thrawn Trilogy, set up a clone to be activated ten years after his death, telling his people to be ready when it happened. It didn't fall through (thanks, Luke and Mara), but there are occasional hints that There Is Another. Timothy Zahn has said that he would like to introduce a Thrawn clone one day, when the Galaxy Far Far Away needs a master strategist - but, unusually, this clone will be fully aware that he is not Thrawn, and will be under enormous pressure to live up to the original.
    • Outbound Flight has Palpatine sending all of the Outbound Flight Jedi to their deaths, but taking genetic samples first, making it a Reverse Cloning Gambit.
    • The novel Darksaber had an involuntary Cloning Gambit: Whenever Bevel Lemelisk did something to displease the Emperor (Such as failing to notice a certain thermal exhaust port in the Death Star designs), Palpatine had him killed in a variety of hideously painful manners (Eaten alive by piranha beetles or slowly dipped into a smelter full of molten copper, for example), and then transferred his mind to a clone at the moment of death so that the Empire would not lose his services as a master engineer. When finally captured by the New Republic and sentenced to death for designing numerous weapons of mass destruction, Lemelisk is actually relieved that he is going die, and stay that way for a change.
  • The involuntary Cloning Gambit for involuntary immortality is also used in Card's short story "A Thousand Deaths" in his short story compilation Maps in a Mirror.
  • Inverted in Brandon Sanderson's Firstborn in which the clone is created by someone else for the sole purpose of being pitted against the original who has grown too powerful.
  • A central factor in the rather convoluted plot of A.E. Van Vogt's The World of Null-A and its sequel The Players of Null-A.

Live Action TV

  • In the Deep Space Nine episode "A Man Alone", the villain clones himself and then kills the clone in order to frame Odo for murder.
    • The Vorta have several clones on standby at all times, all of whom share their predecessor's memories (including how they died), and can be restocked almost instantly. The main Vorta of the series, Weyoun, was actually the fourth one when he first appeared. He was on his eighth life when the base holding his clones was destroyed, and was finally Killed Off for Real in the Grand Finale.
  • In Smallville, Lana Lang does this to get away from Lex Luthor.
  • This is the m.o. of Ba'al for the last few seasons of Stargate SG-1. The viewer is never sure which is the real one, but it's strongly implied in Stargate: Continuum that Col. Mitchell killed the last one off.

Tabletop RPG

  • In Dungeons and Dragons, a "basic" clone is not something cool in normal circumstances, but there's lots of other imitations, e.g. a simulacrum is much more... obviously expendable.
    • Used in Trial by Ordeal (Forgotten Realms anthology Realms of Shadow). Original is responsible for the actions of "spell effect" anyway and not vice versa, but what the hell judge has to do if it's impossible to tell who of these two was an offender and who is original now, even using strong magic?.. The plan was almost impeccable...
    • The "Acerirak" you kill in the original Tomb of Horrors module? Pfft, forget it, he is just a underpowered clone of the real one. Who sits right in the middle of the Negative Energy Plane in the sequel module...
  • GURPS has a lot of stated ways to do this. In the basic rules a clone spell and the Advantage "Extra Life" exist to help facilitate this (and keep players alive).
  • This is one of the main mechanics in Paranoia. Should one of the PCs die - and they will - their next clone is just shipped off to the scene with the same personality as before, and thanks to MemoMax technology, the same memories as well. Including how they died.

Video Games

  • A major, title dropping plot point in Chrono Trigger. At least the clone is completely mindless.
  • Neverwinter Nights has this in its expansion pack where Halastr Blackcloak (not a big man in the sanity department at any time) tries this, only for the clone to be saved by the Player before he wanted it to be saved by him. Or not, it might be that the original that was captured and the clone who came to save him... They can't agree.
  • Sort of used in Tales of the Abyss: Big Bad Van needs Ashe's powers for his End of the World Special, but a prophecy had dictated that Ashe was going to die at the age of 17. So Van creates a clone to take Ashe's place in the world, including his death. Of course, things get complicated when the clone actually survives the event that would have killed him...
    • Another example is in the case of the original Fon Master Ion, who was also prophesied to die. So Ion creates a bunch of clones in the hope that one of them will die instead (or that their mere existence will be enough to throw off the prophecy). Unfortunately for him, it doesn't work.
  • You can pull a Cloning Gambit in Evil Genius, transforming one of your minions into a duplicate of your evil mastermind. If the clone is killed, the world powers will think you're dead, reducing your heat significantly.
  • Frank Fontaine of Bioshock pulled one of these by using Plasmids to turn one of his subordinates into his Body Double. When the double was killed, all of Rapture thought that the illustrious criminal mastermind had finally fallen, allowing him to organize La Résistance in the guise of the charismatic rebel leader Atlas.
  • Eve Online: The players. Upon death they transfer their consciousness (or at least some of their memories) to a prepared clone, hence explaining their ability to respawn.
  • This also explains respawning in Destroy All Humans!.
  • The clones P.B. Winterbottom makes in The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom so he can get all of his pie.
  • Implied in Little Big Adventure, since Dr FunFrock has perfected cloning technology. You have to kill him twice in the first game, and twice more when he reveals himself as the Big Bad of the second as well.


  • In Schlock Mercenary, F'sherl-Ganni wormgate technology can be used to make a very quick (perfect) copy of whatever passes through it. When threatened with murder by a sinister military force, three scientists decide to escape using the gate-copy technology. One of them figured out how to turn that same technology into a small WMD, leading to this line:

 Gav-0: That begs a question: Does it count as selfless sacrifice if you clone yourself before your suicide mission?

Kevyn: I'm putting it in my resume and hoping nobody asks.


Western Animation

  • The Gerry Anderson series Terrahawks has its lead character, Doctor "Tiger" Ninestein (or should that be characters?). An early episode sees him unambiguously killed...then, in the aftermath, as his friends are grieving, he calmly walks in. Ol' Tiger has a Significant Name. He's been cloned nine times, so - if one of him is killed - a full memory/personality download is made on the next clone in line, who promptly fills the gap of his predecessor.
  • In the second season of Exo Squad, Big Bad Phaeton sends a clone of himself to fight in the Battle for Venus. The clone is betrayed and left for dead by treacherous General Draconis who, in turn, is executed by the real Phaeton.
  • In the Men in Black Animated Adaptation, this is the most second most common use of the Quick-clones, behind being simple decoys. The clones only last for a few hours anyway before melting, so NBD. In one episode, a bunch of Quick-clones play a basketball game once their job was done, since their lifespan isn't long enough to worry about much.
    • Another episode had an alien criminal clone himself before being captured, so that the clone could free him from custody.