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You win... but I must admit... I'm happy. I never thought that I would die with someone holding me.
—Mei Ren, Dance in the Vampire Bund
There are few ways that more viscerally convey love and loss than the Pieta Plagiarism, where an unconscious or dead character who has been harmed at the hands of an enemy is cradled in the arms of a loved one. Which is why this gets really weird when it's the killer who does the cradling.
The murderer will gently hold and comfort their dying victim, caress their face, perhaps gently kiss them. They'll offer advice to reduce pain, explain how they're dying so they don't panic, make an Empty Promise about it all being fine, say the pain will end quickly, and tell them to "go to sleep." It's not uncommon for them to offer a sincere apology, and maybe, just maybe... beg for a Forgiveness they know they won't get.
A character Cradling Their Kill might do so for various reasons, none of them good. If the killer is a good guy who was forced to shoot the victim, they'll cradle the victim out of love and guilt. Usually it's because of self defense, a Mercy Kill, or because of other forces beyond their control. Likewise, a Hitman with a Heart may consider it a professional courtesy to give their mark a personal send off, so that they don't fear Dying Alone. A Noble Demon who considers the murdered a Worthy Opponent may give their rival this treatment; worth noting is that the murdered can usually extract a deathbed promise from their killer. Another regretful murderer is the Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain, or outright Villain who has kicked the morality pet or killed their Love Interest who will cradle their victim as the Heel Realization kicks in.
There are, of course, much less merciful and worthy reasons for a killer to do this. A Combat Sadomasochist may torment their victim by mockingly aping a Pieta Plagiarism, using Terms of Endangerment, or twisting the blade to keep them in pain. A Nietzsche Wannabe may hold their dying victim and tell them they envy them for achieving the "peace" of oblivion. And of course, a murderer going for stealth wants to keep the victim from crying out or audibly hitting the floor.
Or they might just be crazy.
One Sub-Trope of this includes the White Void Room, the killer and victim go into the room and engage in a lengthy dialogue where motives, plot points, and Character Development are had in a minimalist and rush free manner. This may be related to My God, What Have I Done?. Compare and contrast Died in Your Arms Tonight.
Anime & Manga
- In Rurouni Kenshin, Makoto Shishio stabs through Yumi Komagata when she gets between him and Kenshin during their fight. Then, since they're absolute in Mad Love, he cradles and keeps her company as she dies. And a few minutes later, he loses and dies too.
- In the same series, Kenshin holds his first wife Tomoe's lifeless body when he accidentally kills her.
- Light does this to L in Death Note.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist; Brotherhood, GreedLing kills Bido, a lizard Chimera he used to know. He feels some sort of remorse for killing him and cradles his body in his arms, screaming in anguish when his old memories come back to him, and Ling HARSHLY calls him out on killing his friend.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Signum does this to Zest Grangaitz after the latter performs a Suicide by Cop through her. As the latter lies dying in Signum's arms, he asks for her to take care of his charges and to continue watching over the worlds that he and Regius had sworn to protect.
- Guts is sent by Griffith to assassinate Lord Julius, the King's brother and the man responsible for a failed attempt on Griffith's life. Moments after completing the task, he notices a figure in the shadows of the doorway and by reflex lunges towards it, impaling it with his sword. Then he realizes that he just killed Julius' teenage son Adonis, with whom Guts felt a small measure of empathy. He holds Adonis' hand as he dies, but can't do a thing to help him and is visibly distraught; the only thing that prevents him from going all HBSD is the timely arrival of a pair of guards.
- A particularly heartbreaking example happens in Kannazuki no Miko, in which the full extent of Chikane's Xanatos Gambit was only revealed after Himeko killed her, thus fulfilling the sacrificial ritual to destroy Orochi. They got better.
- Another particularly heartbreaking example happens in Ga-Rei Zero after Kagura killed Yomi, Yomi told Kagura how much she loves her.
- Suitengu Choji, in Speed Grapher, finds his baby sister Yui years after they were both sold into slavery. What followed? Yui had been forced into prostitution and her mind was so gone that she didn't recognize him, even after he showed her her favorite music box. Feeling that there was no other way to help her, he cleanly kills Yui, then weeps bitterly as he holds her body.
- In Tokyo Babylon, Seishirou was doing this when he first met Subaru. He's shown doing this again twice: the first time is in a flashback from X — the dead one is none other than his mother and the previous Sakurazukamori, whom he had to kill to inherit the title some time before meeting Subaru; and the second is also in a flashback — that shows how he killed Subaru's twin sister Hokuto, who went to him in Subaru's clothes fully aware that he'd kill her so she could deploy a Thanatos Gambit to protect Subaru and give him a Last Second Chance.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe comic Tales of the Jedi: The Sith War, Jedi Knight Cay Qel-Droma tries the "I'm not going to fight you anymore" appeal to his dark side brother, Ulic. It was not his best idea. Ironically, after Ulic cuts Cay down in a fit of rage, he does a Heel Face Turn (complete with a My God, What Have I Done?) and that's when this trope shows up.
- In the Usagi Yojimbo story "A Mother's Love", an old woman kills her wicked son and tearfully cradles his body, begging the hero to kill her in turn so she will not have to live after that.
- The Batman story "Two Of A Kind" features a reformed Two-face planning to get married. However, he ends up having an affair with his fiance's twin sister, who murders her sister when he tries to end the affair. After killing her in revenge, Two-face holds her body in his arms and waits for Batman to come and take him back to the asylum.
- In this Merlin oneshot, Arthur cradles his kill. A bit of warning here: It does include character death.
- The opening vignette of Sin City.
- Featured in the conclusion of Sleepaway Camp. The killer, who turns out to be Angela, cradles Paul's severed head and strokes his hair.
- In Smokin Aces, Pasquale cradles Bill after stabbing him in the lungs. Pasquale gives him a beautiful, tormented and sincere send off... while Bill is too in shock to be anywhere near clever. The intentional Narm is delicious!
- Happens in the end of Beyond Re-Animator. However, the killer only cradles the victim's severed head.
- Although no cradling takes place, a similar scenario occurs at the end of Heat, when Detective Hanna mortally wounds Mc Cauley and then holds his hand as he passes away.
- In Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter comforts protagonist Will Graham after stabbing him.
Hannibal Lecter: Shh. Don't move. You're in shock now. I don't want you to feel any pain. In a moment, you'll begin to feel light-headed, then drowsy. Don't resist, it's so gentle, like slipping into a warm bath. I regret it came to this, Will, but every game must have its ending.
- Then he kind of ruins the oddly touching moment by saying "I think I'll eat your heart." Or perhaps adds to it in a strange way if you consider that Hannibal might be eating his heart because he has great regard for Will's courage and strength.
- In The Devils Backbone Jaciento stabs Conchita while holding her in a tight embrace and cradles her against him before letting her fall to the ground.
- The ending of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, in which Sweeney discovers that the beggar woman whose throat he just slit is his long lost wife.
- The Mask parodies Pieta Plagiarism and this trope when Jim Carrey/The Mask is shot by Darien's goons and collapses into one of the stunned henchman's arms. Carrey coughs out, "hold me closer, Ed, it's getting dark," and rambles on until he appears to have died. The henchman, moved, starts weeping. The movie then Breaks the Fourth Wall as an audience appears in the foreground. Carrey cries, "you love me, you really love me!" and accepts an Oscar award as the villains in the shot look on self-consciously and smooth their hair. Of course, Carrey is unharmed and escapes moments later.
- In The Return of Swamp Thing, Dr. Arcane finds out that Dr. Zurell sabotaged their experiment. He gets close to her by assuring her that he isn't angry, but then shoots her in the heart, killing her instantly. He lowers her gently unto one of the lab tables and says, "God will pardon me — that's his job."
- In the movie of Tales from the Darkside, a monster disguised as a human being changes back into her original form and kills her husband when he confesses to her that he saw a monster (her, although he doesn't know this) kill someone years ago. The monster enfolds/cradles her husband in her bat-like wings and bites him on the neck, laying him gently on the ground as he bleeds to death. She then howls in remorse.
- In X Men First Class, an interesting variation of this, which is more like "Cradling Your Cripple," happens when Charles Xavier receives his spinal injury. Moira Mc Taggert tried to shoot Erik (or Magneto) after his Face Heel Turn and he ends up deflecting one of the bullets into Charles, hitting him in the lower back. Erik runs over and cradles him in his lap until he realises that Charles isn't likely to die. Magneto and his new minions are long gone before Charles voices that he can't feel his legs.
- Inception, as mentioned below, showcases the stealth version early on. Later, there's an exceedingly odd variation: Cobb cradles his projected image of the wife he killed as she dies a second time.
- James Bond comes close to doing this with Elektra King after he shoots her in The World Is Not Enough.
- In Asian martial arts films there's a rather nasty move usually exercised by villains in which they cradle their opponent and proceed to break their spine (either over their knee or, alternately as seen in a Bruce Lee film) but simply crushing them.
- In the film of Dune, Baron Harkonnen takes a slave, and pulls his heart plug, while holding him close. Its has to much Squick to properly elaborate.
- In one of the BattleTech/MechWarrior: Dark Ages stories, Alaric Ward does this. The victim was Katrina Steiner-Davion, his mother, who had counseled him to kill an ally, fearing for her own position and indirectly threatening his own. He even cried while doing so. Given that he was her son with her brother Victor who was born and raised with the sole purpose of bringing down the Inner Sphere...
- Invoked in one of The Witcher's short stories, as a Last Request of the killed. Subverted in that it is only to get the killer close enough.
- Also subverted in that Geralt wasn't foolish enough to grant the request and kept his distance.
- Older Than Feudalism: In The Iliad, when Achilles kills Penthesilea, he realizes at the last moment that he loves her, and cradles her body.
- In Robert Browning's poem "Porphyria's Lover" the disturbed viewpoint character describes how he gently strangles his love with her own hair and cradles her body, to ensure she will be with him forever.
- In Henry IV, Part I, many productions have Prince Hal holding Hotspur (who he's just fatally wounded) as the latter dies.
- In the Mortal Instruments book City of Glass, Valentine holds his adopted son Jace (who he's just stabbed through the heart) while he dies, whispering, "My son. My boy."
Live Action TV
- On Jekyll, Mr. Hyde does this mockingly with his first kill.
- When Keats kills Viv/harvests his soul on Ashes to Ashes.
- This also happens when Gene shoots Supermac in self defense and then comforts him as he dies.
- Dexter contains two examples of this. In Season Two, Dexter injects Lila with a spinal epidural and then carries her to the couch before laying her gently down and stabbing her through the heart. He then closes her eyes. In Season Four, Trinity forces his first victim to lie with him in a bathtub, holds her close and says, "Shhhhh, it's already over," before cutting her femoral artery. He continues to hold her as she bleeds out and dies.
- Made even more horrifying by the fact that he's an extremely specific ritual serial killer and has probably done exactly this to dozens of women over the years...including Rita.
- On The Event, one of the aliens imprisoned in Alaska offers to give up the information on those living amongst human society if he and his girlfriend are released in exchange. To keep him quiet, his girlfriend stabs him while holding him close, pleading with him to keep imagining the future they could have had together while he dies.
- In the third season of Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, Saul Tigh is convinced that his wife, Ellen, has betrayed the human resistance movement by collaborating with the Cylons. The resistance leaders agree that she must be punished by death, so Saul volunteers to do the deed himself. He poisons her drink, and holds her as her last breath slowly slips away. This does his psychological state no favors.
- Stargate SG-1's Sam Carter does this to Martouf after she is forced to kill him to foil his brainwashing-induced assassination attempt on the US President.
- Merlin does this to Morgana near the end of season 2 after he poisons her. He's the protagonist and he's only trying to save all of Camelot, so his reason for cradling her while crying his heart out is probably guilt and heartbreak. He DID just try to kill one of his best friends. Though it should be noted that he's cradling his "kill," but she doesn't actually end up dying.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Elliot Stabler does this in the final episode of season 12 when he is forced to shoot a sixteen-year-old girl who has gone on a shooting rampage in the precinct, killing a social worker and wounding the men responsible for her mother's rape/murder. A devoted family man with a daughter of his own, Elliot rushes to her side and holds her as she dies. He is utterly heartbroken and retires.
- The Sufjan Stevens song "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." describes the actions of the titular serial killer:
He'd kill ten thousand people
- Altair in Assassin's Creed gives all of his main targets big ol' conversation as they lay dying in his arms with a punctured throat. It borders on Exposition Beam since this usually happens while he's surrounded by guards trying to kill him. Talking Is a Free Action to the extreme?
- Asssassin's Creed 2 has a little more fun with the trope: One of Ezio's victims sarcastically asks if he was expecting a confession, Ezio averts the trope when he stabs another victim in a manner that could not possibly be described as calm. Generally, however, the trope is still played straight.
- Thane Krios does this in his introduction scene in Mass Effect 2, shooting his target at point blank range, then gently arranging her body into a peaceful repose as she dies.
- In Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Roxas gets to do this with Xion. Even worse, she was one of his only two friends and the only person he could still trust.
- Hitman uses this a few times, notably with Ort-Meyer's death in Codename 47.
- The trailer for Silent Hill 2 had James carrying Mary down a long hallway, Pieta-style, after having killed her.
- A nonlethal version of this happens every time you use the Silent Takedown maneuver in Batman: Arkham Asylum.
- A heartbreaking example: Isolde and Connor in Dragon Age, dependent on the player's decisions and persuasion skills.
- The World of Warcraft achievement Make Love, Not Warcraft also qualifies.
- One ending of Nie R has your character killing Kainé and sadly cradling her body after the Shade possessing her takes full control.
- Kadaj dies in Cloud Strife's arms in Final Fantasy VII:Advent Children.
- In The Zombie Hunters, "Mercy" zombies approach sick, wounded or dying humans, and follow them, protecting them from other zombies, until they can no longer go on. Mercies deliver a single bite to a vital artery, then hold the dying victim, while gently stroking their hair and cooing softly. They'll even remain with their victims for hours after they turn. It is incredibly disturbing, but, compared to the horrible deaths other breeds inflict, also oddly sweet. Website materials state that some traumatized survivors seek them out as a form of suicide, hence the name.
- In The Gamers Alliance, Refan ends up doing this to Awar after he kills him in the aftermath of the siege of Vanna.
- Though he only renders the target unconscious, Achilles of the Global Guardians typically does this to Mooks he takens down when he's trying to be stealthy, just so the sound of their unconscious bodies doesn't alert anyone he's coming.
- Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: It was an accident, but Dr. Horrible's death ray exploded in Captain Hammer's hands, making both of them somewhat culpable in Penny's death. Dr. Horrible is broken-hearted by her death and carries her body to the emergency stretcher.
- Happens on many Bugs Bunny cartoons. Elmer (or whomever is hunting Bugs at the time, but mostly Elmer) thinks he's killed Bugs and cradles him as he "dies" — only for Bugs to get the best of him now that his guard is down. What's Opera, Doc? in particular is a good example.
- There's actually one practical reason for doing this. Covert operatives who are trained to kill people quickly and quietly (usually with a discreet knife stab) will grab their target and gently lower them to the ground so the thud of a body hitting the floor doesn't alarm anyone else nearby. It's done in the movie Inception.