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"Brangwen, my love, forgive me! If we ever meet again, I swear I'll put this right. I swear to you -- I'll never rest until I set this right."
—Prince Galrion, Daggerspell
A character, usually a Hero, sometimes an Anti-Villain or Anti-Hero, has done something that led to terrible consequences. Often they have had the best of intentions, but due to inexperience, lack of foresight, or something else, the results were the opposite of what they wanted and intended.
It is the thing that happens next that defines Must Make Amends: the character will do everything in their power to undo the thing they've done or caused. It might have been the death of a loved one, helping a tyrant to power, or something else.
Compare The Atoner, who is usually making up for a whole set of bad deeds following a Heel Face Turn or Kick the Morality Pet, while Must Make Amends is usually about a specific bad deed that can come from any type of tragic mistake. Contrast Buy Them Off.
Anime and Manga
- In the rogue zanpakuto filler arc of Bleach, Ichigo is tricked into breaking Yamamoto-Genryusai's barrier, allowing Muramasa to find out the location of his master, Kouga. Ichigo, upon learning his mistake, determines that he must go stop Muramasa so that he can fix his mistake.
- The events of Fullmetal Alchemist all get their start when Ed and Al try to bring their dead mother back to life, and pay a terrible price. Then they begin their quest to find the philosopher's stone, set things right and get their bodies back, not knowing that the philosopher's stone is souls of human beings.
- More specifically, this is Ed's way of thinking. Al wants things to be alright again, and he knows they did wrong, but Ed has a whole The Atoner mindset and his primary goal is always to fix Al, whose predicament he feels is his fault. Some of this of course is Big Brother Instinct at work.
- Roy Mustang is even more The Atoner, and his entire life revolves around achieving enough power to fully make amends for his participation in the massacre at Ishval.
- Scar has a bit of this with his survivor's guilt.
- Hohenheim is also like this about his role in the destruction of Xerxes and the birth of the Big Bad. Also survivor's guilt and I Am a Monster. (this is his Catch Phrase for a while.) This is why he left the family -- he had to deal with his eldest son.
- Izumi possesses shades of this vis-a-vis her miscarriage and subsequent attempt at human transmutation. Arakawa likes this trope.
- There's also the fact that, in the 2003 anime version, their attempt to bring Mom back created the homunculus Sloth.
- What Nina Einstein tries to do in Code Geass R2, after the bomb she built under Schneizel's orders completely obliterates a good part of Tokyo.
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni when Shion Sonozaki kills Satoko Hojo in the underground torture chamber, she believes at first that she's helping her essentially dead boyfriend Satoshi Hojo. Then she tries to talk to his shadow that has appeared on the wall (she's gone nuts at this point), when she realizes the last words of him were: Take care of my little sister [Satako] for me. She literally pisses in her pants at the realization, but realizes she's already crossed the Moral Event Horizon and goes off to brutally murder more people.
- Ken Ichijoji, in Digimon Adventure 02, after discovering that the Digital world is not just an artificial construct in which he can play out his anger and issues concerning his brother's death. This method essentially turns him from the Big Bad to The Woobie.
- In one of the Digimon movies, the little American boy had one of his Digimon go rogue; he had been chasing it all over the US in an attempt to fix it. Even after the other trainers show up, he is initially insistent that because it is his Digimon, he needs to make it right, himself.
- Beelzemon takes the cake though. Since it's his fault Jeri's in the D-Reaper because it likes feeding off the despair she has for her dead partner, who he killed he practically went insane trying to set things right, screaming "I'll save you if the last thing I do!"...and it almost was.
- To elaborate on him: he's trying to break her out of an energy bubble, and gets it open. She freaks out because it's the guy who killed her partner, increasing his guilt. By the time she snaps out of it, the hole is closed and he starts trying to punch it open. He's so focused that he's shot in the back by about ten razor disks in a truly disturbing was-this-really-for-kids scene and plummets to the sea of deletion goo below, trailing data in lieu of blood. And only got saved at the last possible second. And nearly died of his injuries afterwards.
- In the Trigun manga, part of The Reveal in the flashback arc is that Rem was complicit in the testing to destruction of Tesla, the girl born from the bulbs before Vash and Knives were. Her mothering of the twins is an attempt to make amends for not doing anything to save Tesla. When they are found out by another researcher, he turns out to feel the same way.
- Of course, Knives does not much care about that part, concludes with justification that Humans Are Bastards, goes Axe Crazy and makes a good shot at a Kill All Humans plan. And Vash spends the next several decades feeling he has to make amends for that, somehow, until Knives uses him to blow up a fucking city, and then he feels the need to make up for that. Then Knives does it again, although Vash managed to evacuate that one first.
- A major villain successfully pulls this off as the punch line to one of Naruto's more spectacular Wham Arcs.
- In Tsukigasa, Azuma feels incredibly guilty about cutting off Kuroe's arm, but doesn't know how to make amends. Eventually he gives Kuroe a blade and tells him to do whatever he likes to even the score but it's only when they finally are completely honest about everything that it gets resolved and Azuma can let go of some of the guilt.
- In World Embryo, this is become Riku's motive, recently. His habit of lying had made many victims, including his friends and loved ones, and he intends to repair that.
- In The DCU, we had Hal Jordan completely lose his sanity and decide to fix his failure to save Coast City... by killing the Green Lantern Corps, killing Sinestro, and then killing the universe... so he could remake reality "right". Fittingly, after all this nonsense, He went on to try and make all of that right, and ended up sacrificing himself to save the world (of course, he got better). Then a few years later, Geoff Johns retconned the whole thing to Jordan being possessed by a killer space bug made out of fear, but...
- Batman does this on Nightwing's behalf toward the tail end of The Joker's "Last Laugh" storyline: Batman doesn't want Nightwing to think of himself as a murderer.
- This happens to Magneto. He's always been opposed by the X-Men, so by now he often attacks them at full power (which is a lot) instinctively. Sadly, the X-Men are mutants... some of the people Magneto wants to protect. Even worse, the one he accidentally hurts is the newest recruit, a 13-year-old (mutant) girl. "What have I done?" is the short version of his monologue, when he realizes what he has done. Follow his Villainous BSOD and his first Heel Face Turn as The Atoner.
- Iron Man: Tony Stark, after the events of Civil War.
- Aladdin said something to this effect in the first movie of the trilogy; "I've got to go back and set things right." He's referring to leaving behind the genie lamp, Iago grabbing it and giving it to Jafar, then Jafar using it to wish himself to be sultan and the world's most powerful sorcerer, in turn banishing Aladdin.
- The plot of Labyrinth follows this.
- Specifically, Sara makes a very dumb wish which is then granted, and spends the rest of the movie trying to undo the mistake by winning her (half) brother back, since Jareth doesn't allow takebacks on wishing.
- Legend. Lily touches one of the unicorns, making it vulnerable to attack and leading to its death. She tracks down the other unicorn and finds Brown Tom guarding it.
Brown Tom: You! You're the cause of all our sorrow.
- This is pretty much what the third act of the movie Mean Girls is about.
- John Woo's The Killer is about the title character's attempt to fix a tragic mistake that he made, which resulted in a beautiful singer being blinded by the muzzle-flash of his gun. The last hit that he goes on is an attempt to raise the money to have her eyes fixed, but unfortunately for him, his boss has other ideas. It does not end well for him.
- It probably also makes the single weirdest case of Moral Dissonance in film history.
- This is also the plot to the classic film Magnificent Obsession. The life of wealthy asshole Merrick is saved at the expense of a brilliant, beloved and selfless elderly doctor's. The doctor's widow blames Merrick, he responds by stalking her and ends up causing a car wreck that blinds her. Merrick becomes a doctor himself so he can operate on the widow and fix her eyes.
- In There's Something About Mary, the main character is visiting Mary's house and accidentally kills her dog. And his reaction to this is to, quite literally, attempt to resuscitate the dog.
- It works, which probably means that the dog wasn't quite killed. But in an extreme comedy, anything goes.
- In Iron Man, Tony Stark realizes what enormous damage his company's hyper-effective, super-powerful weapons (which he designed himself) are doing to the world, and is subsequently so horrified he shuts down the weapons department of Stark Industries and becomes the titular superhero to do damage control, also becoming The Atoner in the process.
- Prince Galrion later named Nevyn in the Deverry books spends several hundred years trying to teach magic to various incarnations of his lover Brangwen, after he had caused her death.
"Brangwen, my love, forgive me! If we ever meet again, I swear I'll put this right. I swear to you--I'll never rest until I set this right."
- Harry in The Dresden Files to an extent, during Ghost Story, when he realises the effects of some of his actions during the last book. Easier said than done since he happens to be dead, and the 'action' in question was dying and leaving his apprentice all alone.
- Harry also feels at least a little bit of an urge to set right all the innocent people he is told (several times) that he caused the deaths of by destroying the entire Red Court and thus creating a HUGE power vacuum in the supernatural world.
- Roland, the "good guy" in The Dark Tower, ends up letting Jake, a boy he has grown to love, fall to his death by dropping him off an underground railway into a bottomless cavern in order to continue his quest. However, Jake is only in the same universe as Roland because he re-incarnated there after being killed in New York City. Roland unexpectedly ends up in Jake's New York, and, because Roland still loves him and regrets his previous decision, takes the opportunity to prevent the original death. This not only saves Jake, but creates a horrible paradox solved only when Roland helps him cross again to his world, where he embraces him as a son and trains him to take part in his quest.
- It is said that this is due to Stephen King's own guilt at having killed off the character of Jake, whom he liked, in the first place, in which case Jake's role in the next six books is nothing more than a successful attempt to make amends.
Live Action TV
- DG in Tin Man is already motivated to take down her evil sister, but then sees a vision in a cave revealing that, as a small child, she accidentally freed the witch possessing Azkedellia.
- Connor does this in Primeval, in episode 5 of series 5, though he shows the intention a little before hand.
Connor: I helped build this. I need to make it right.
- The Tenth Doctor in both parts of "The End of Time" after an A God Am I moment in 'The Waters of Mars', with elements of Blood Knight.
- An episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent had one of the main characters accidentally shoot a suspect, who turned out to be a cop. Cue the Big No.
- Also happens in Law and Order SVU when Elliot realizes that a little girl falsely accused an innocent man of being her rapist, under pressure from Elliot himself and the shrink. The guy does not forgive Elliot since his life is already ruined, but Elliot throws himself wholeheartedly into finding the true culprit - and does so.
- And it's happened on the original Law and Order. When Claire Kincaid died, a drunk driver picked the worst possible time to kill someone in a hit-and-run. Jack covered up evidence to get him a murder one conviction--and death penalty. Only at the last minute--and after much shaming by Jamie--did he change gears and let evidence of the defendant's drunkenness in.
- This happens with Londo in the second season of Babylon 5, right after he realizes that he's basically started an interplanetary war by being an idiot and working with the Shadows.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike's instant feelings of self-condemnation following his attempted rape of Buffy ultimately drove him to try to Must Make Amends by regaining his soul.
- In Supernatural, season five is this for Sam after accidentally starting the Apocalypse. The second half of season six starts like this for him after he finds out what he did while soulless.
- The end of Life On Mars has the main character betray his friends and leave them all to die, in order to return home. However, he decides he isn't really all that fond of 2006 after all, and jumps off of a roof in order to go back and save them. He still thinks he's in a coma, but he likes his coma dream better. Maybe. See the WMG for more speculation.
- This happens with Clark in Smallville as he tries to go back in time to save Lana Lang from dying but in turn causes his father's death.
- In Heroes, Sylar attempts one of these during Volume 3. It didn't take.
- Interestingly enough though, a version of the future that Peter visits during that arc shows what would've happened if Syl-erm, Gabriel Grey did complete his Heel Face Turn. That one didn't work out for long either.
- In the fifth season of The Wire, McNulty's plan to fake a serial killer probably loses all sympathy with the audience when he kidnaps a crazy homeless man to use as a "victim" and then dumps him in a homeless shelter in Virginia to ensure he's never found. McNulty's final action in the series finale is to track him down and drive him back to Baltimore so he can fix at least one consequence of his screw-up.
- In The Duchess of Malfi, Bosola strangles the duchess, but almost immediately attempts to revive her once he learns that her brother, who hired him to commit the murder, is refusing to pay him. It doesn't work.
- Redcloak from Order of the Stick ordered thousands of hobgoblins that he was in command of into certain death without thinking or feeling anything because of the ancient grudges between goblins and hobgoblins. After a hobgoblin saved his life during the battle, however, Redcloak reacted with horror to everything he he had done and become, and promptly led the hobgoblins to a smashing victory, even sometimes putting his own life at risk in order to save those of his men.
- Jung Hyun from Welcome to Room 305 only became friends with Sun Joong because he felt guilty over seriously damaging his leg (that never really healed). Over time it became a proper friendship though.
- Justice League: Hawkgirl was already torn between loyalty to her home planet and her feelings for the teammates on whom she was spying. After she sold out the Earth and the League to her Thanagarian brethren, she discovered to her horror that they intended to destroy Earth in a bid to save Thanagar. Hawkgirl turned on them and provided the League with information crucial to defeating the Thanagarians. Ashamed by her prior actions, Hawkgirl resigned from the Justice League and secluded herself in Dr. Fate's household in order to think long and hard about what to do with the rest of her life. She came to the conclusion that resuming superheroism would be her best means of atoning for her wrongs and reconciling with the League. In a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, the League let her know that they voted to let her stay a Leaguer with Superman being the tiebreaker ("I believe in second chances").
- This also makes a nice Call Back to Superman: The Animated Series, where Superman has a similar need to make amends after Darkseid brainwashed him and turned him loose on Earth. A popular fan theory is that Superman's actions in the first episode of Justice League (essentially trying to become the world's policeman) is him still trying to make up for that.
- Futurama: This literally happened. Fry finds his old dog from the 20th century fossilized in a construction cite. Feeling bad for abandoning it (despite not meaning to) he arranges for the professor to actually revive it. With Science!
- In that same episode, Bender, in a fit of jealousy, literally kicked said dog's fossil into hot lava, but after realizing what he did, he went in to save him and recovered him.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas: Basically, Jack and Oogie's whole fight is all about Jack trying to fix the damage he caused by pretending to be Santa Claus.
- Chell of Portal made a huge mistake by putting Wheatley in charge instead of GLaDOS, and spends the rest of the game trying to put GLaDOS back before Wheatley's incompetence blows everything up.
- The Light Side run of both Knights of the Old Republic games is fueled by this.
- The Prince of Persia in four games technically three since he basically let Aruman (I think that was his name) go in the end
- Faldio from Valkyria Chronicles. After shooting Alicia to bring out her Valkyria powers, he justified his actions to Welkin, Captain Varrot and to himself that it needed to be done for Gallia's survival. After spending some time in confinement, he began to regret his actions and went to kill himself and Maximillian at the Marmotah, even apologizing to Welkin and Alicia that his reasoning did not justify his actions.
- From Tales of the Abyss, we have Luke, who ended up destroying the mining town Akzeriuth from his blind loyalty to his mentor Van. He spends some time in denial, but after some soul searching and an Important Haircut to boot, he starts almost going to become a Martyr Without a Cause thanks to the overwhelming guilt.
- The Nameless One from Planescape: Torment. The entire point of him seeking out Ravel Puzzlewell in order to sever his body from his mortality -- thus making him immortal and accidentally causing his amnesia -- is that he knew he would never live long enough to make up for all of the crimes he had committed before he became good. It didn't work out too well.
- Arguably, Roxas from Kingdom Hearts fits this. After killing offXion, he tries his best to respect his dead friend's wish--by setting all the hearts that both he and she had collected free from Kingdom Hearts and foil Xemnas's plan for gaining ultimate power. The way he goes about doing so wasn't really what Xion had intended him to do to begin with, and it was all because he wanted his life with Xion and Axel back. Riku stops him from going about his suicidal rampage to confront Xemnas, setting the stage for Kingdom Hearts II.
- Considering how he beats down Saix, quite possibly the second strongest member of the Organisation at only a fraction of his strength, he probably could have done it too.
- Raven does this twice over in Tales of Vesperia after he delivers Estellise to the Big Bad Alexei. After his Heel Face Turn, he saves the entire party by holding up the collapsing ceiling of Baction long enough for them to escape. After surviving this, he follows the party to the Heracles for the sole purpose of settling accounts with them. He's also a virtually immortal Death Seeker and fully expected them to kill him, but they settle for taking turns punching him in the face.
- "I MADE A MISTAKE!"
- One could consider the scientific efforts to clone extinct animals this.
- "I'm New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, and I should be dead."
- Many of the scientists who participated in or were otherwise linked to the development of nuclear weapons became fierce and vocal opponents of the nuclear arms race and advocates of nuclear disarmament. This list includes:
- J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Project
- Andrei Sakharov, developer of the Soviet hydrogen bomb
- Otto Hahn, part of the team that discovered nuclear fission (with Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassmann)
- Albert Einstein, who sent a letter to FDR, co-written with Leo Szilard, that led to the establishment of the Manhattan Project
- Niels Bohr, who had been on the Manhattan Project. He didn't quite advocate disarmament, but he was an architect of the "Atoms for Peace" vision that led to the creation of the IAEA.