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Zoe: Preacher, don't The Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin'?

Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
Firefly, "War Stories"


The act of deliberately damaging the knees. This can be performed by shooting the victim's kneecaps, or by striking them with kicks, melee weapons, or other up close and personal means.

Since this is an extremely painful type of injury, knee-capping can be used as a brutal form of Mutilation Interrogation. This can kill two birds with one stone for the savvy torturer, as the permanently debilitating nature of the injury makes it much more difficult for the victim to escape. Tearing up all that muscle, those sinews and those complicated bones with a bullet would in Real Life probably leave you crippled for life, if you weren't killed by blood loss or shock.

Knee-capping can also be used as a tactic in combat to drastically hamper the mobility of an opponent. Needless to say, this type of fighting is a bit too dirty for most upstanding protagonists, so it is often reserved for villains, Anti Heroes, and Combat Pragmatists.

In real life, it is often not the kneecap itself that is the target of these attacks, as opposed to the joint and tissue beneath it. A piece of Common Knowledge is that kneecaps don't repair when broken/shattered. They do when treated properly, it just takes a very long time.

A sub-trope of Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty. Compare Agony of the Feet for other mobility hampering injuries, and An Arm and a Leg for occasions when the legs are lost completely.

Examples of Kneecapping include:

Anime & Manga

  • Chinatsu from Jormungand brings us a particularly zealous example: When she's not gunning people down as part of her hitman duties, she apparently likes to build complex mechanical torture devices... including one designed to shoot a bound captive in the knee. In the same spot. 27 times.
  • Ibitsu: When the Strange Lolita corners Hikari and a classmate in the gym after school one night, she takes the classmate out of the picture by smashing her kneecap with a sledgehammer.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Kaoru ends up fighting Kamatari in a one-on-one matchup after Misao is taken out. Her final move (after her bokken and Kamatari's scythe are both broken) is to break Kamatari's kneecap with the handle of her wooden sword.

Card Games

  • The Munchkin card game gives us the Hammer of Knee-capping, usable only by dwarves.

Comic Books

  • In the Spawn comic, Twitch shoots Spawn in the knee to stop him from escaping. He is rather shaken when Al doesn't even slow down.
  • Impulse is once shot in the knee-cap by Deathstroke in Teen Titans. And, given the accelerated healing abilities of The Flash Family, the doctors in the ER have to re-break it repeatedly because it keeps healing automatically but incorrectly.
  • Batman's Battle Butler Alfred once threatened to knee-cap Nightwing in his good leg to stop him running back into battle with a bad leg.
  • Used twice in The Far Side: one is two goons threatening to "persuade" a guy with a wiffle bat (captioned "Ineffective tools of persuasion"), while another has goons waiting outside a guy's window, one doubting they're up to the task, as the guy has "kneecaps from hell" (they're each about the size of his head).
  • This seemed to be Bucky Barnes's preferred method in dealing with enemy agents during his tenure as Captain America.



  • In Undead or Alive, after the protagonists find out that the zombies pursuing them can't be killed with a bullet to the brain as one would expect, Sue opts to shoot out the zombified sheriff's kneecaps to make it much harder for him to catch up. This leads to a humorous scene later in which Cletus is forced to carry him piggy-back while chasing the heroes.
  • There's an ensemble knee-capping scene in Terminator 2. The Terminator has promised John Connor he won't kill anyone. But they still need to get into heavily guarded areas, so he starts shooting people in the knee instead.
  • The protagonist of Nobody Will Speak Of Us When Were Dead gets her knee corkscrewed during a torture scene.
  • Casino Royale ends with Bond locating and knee-capping The Man Behind the Man.
  • Die Hard With a Vengeance: "Have to take the safety catch off." Dakka
  • A new and unusually intelligent mook looking to join Bucho's drug gang in Desperado gets put into Initiation Ceremony that consists of having to win a savage fight against an established member of the cartel. He gets his knee cap completely smashed during the fight, (prompting Bucho to quip "He'll never dance again") but manages to win and earn a spot anyway. For the rest of the movie he wears a crude brace by his knee and has issues moving around.
  • Referenced in Reservoir Dogs, where Mr White tells Mr Orange that his gut wound is the second most painful place to be shot after the kneecap.


  • In one of the Raymond Chandler short stories, the protagonist stops one of the crooks from escaping by shooting in the most painful spot he could think of that wouldn't kill him: the back of the knee.
  • In Todd Strasser's book Give a Boy a Gun, the two boys who shoot up the dance shot the star quarterback in the knees. Since he's a football player, this is one of the most damaging things they could do to him without killing him.
  • In Death Masks, Harry favors this method when dealing with a Smug Snake of a Denarian.
  • In Blade Dancer, this has already happened a few times to Jory, over the course of her shockball career, by the time the story begins. And then, it happens a few more times. By the last chapter, the leg has to be amputated from the knee down.
  • Tywin Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire issues this as punishment to deserters.

Live Action TV

  • Criminal Minds: In the season 6 episode "Today I Do", a self-ascribed motivational speaker turned serial killer shatters the kneecap of her most recent victim with a hammer after the victim refuses to eat the popcorn she made for her. She later turns this into a self-help lesson, by teaching the victim to "walk in the face of adversity".
  • In Twenty Four, Jack Bauer shoots a terrorist in the kneecap to get him to talk. In another season, he shoots the Dragon's wife near the kneecap to get him to talk.
  • In the Firefly episode "War Stories", this is how Shephard Book gets around the whole "don't kill" rule.
  • In Carnivale, Jonesy's limp is the result of being kneecapped by mobsters when he refused to take a dive.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Darla threatens to do this to Buffy in the episode "Angel":

 Darla: So many body parts, so few bullets. Let's begin with the kneecaps. No fun dancing without them.

    • The demon Balthazaar also orders it done to Wesley in the episode "Bad Girls", but Wesley wiggles his way out of it.
    • Possibly slightly ironic, Wesley does it to a guy at Wolfram and Hart in season 5 of Angel, when he finds the guy isn't working to save Fred.
  • This was threatened on Veronica Mars when Logan was being tortured. His tormentors were playing russian rulett with him, pulling the trigger after each "wrong" (i.e. not what they were looking for) answer given. After two "wrong" answers, they moved from his arms to his knees.


  • In The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, an unusually high number generic guards will sometimes tell you that "I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow in the knee."
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, this is the general modus operandi of the Penguin Mafia.
  • In the Resident Evil series, the player can kneecap the infected/infested/zombies/abominations to pull off kicks and tricks against the enemy although kneecapping is also arguably justified when fighting zombies. This is especially useful in Resident Evil 4 where Leon (and Ashley) can suplex the infested after a kneecap shot.
  • Carn Evil specifically models damage to the kneecaps, with a successful blowout treated as a kill. Oddly, shooting one kneecap will visibly and gruesomely damage both of them simultaneously.
  • Gnomes in World of Warcraft, being, well... gnomes, tends to set them at about kneecap height, one NPC even does threaten this when you fight her in northrend.
    • A post one the roleplaying forums on 'rogue cant' (criminal jargon) suggested gnome rogues can be called "Kneecappers" for the above reason.
  • In Fallout 3, the unique sawed-off shotgun is called "The Kneecapper".
    • Also, throughout the series aiming at a leg has always been a viable strategy.
  • Renegade!Shepard threatens this near the beginning of Mass Effect to get Fist to tell him/her where Tali is.
  • The Scout in Team Fortress 2 has an aluminum bat melee weapon, and one of his common catchphrases is "Say goodbye to your kneecaps, chucklehead!" There's no in-game way for him to actually attack someone's kneecaps, though, so his taunt is a bit meaningless.


Web Original

Real Life

  • Figure skater and Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding's then-husband attempted to help her get a leg up on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan by paying off her bodyguard to attack Kerrigan's knee shortly before the 1994 Winter Olympics, in hopes of taking Kerrigan out of competition. The attempt failed, since Kerrigan still won the silver medal; Harding came in 10th.
  • Knee-capping was often used as a punishment by the IRA and other Northern Irish paramilitary groups. There were two versions of it. One involved a drill, the other involved putting a gun at the back of the knee and firing forward.
    • Many patients from the UK and Ireland will travel to have every day hip or knee replacement surgeries in Northern Ireland because the surgeons there ... uh ... they had a lot of practice.