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"I'll tell him that the substitute Shinigami he was worried about... turned out to be a piece of trash that wasn't even worth killing."
The averagely-skilled friends of the highly-skilled hero survive their encounter with the Big Bad or Dragon because the bad guy couldn't be bothered finishing them off. Whether or not this makes any sense as an excuse to keep the secondary protagonists alive varies. Sometimes it's an excuse from a Worthy Opponent or Noble Demon to not engage in wanton slaughter. Sometimes the villain needs to remain stealthy and realizes that a large body-count does not aid that. Sometimes the heroes fit into an Evil Plan of the villain that requires their survival (for the moment). Sometimes the villain figures that the would-be victim is actually a net liability to the heroes or a potential convert to the villain's cause.
The most literal examples of the trope refuse to kill their targets for the same reason a normal person doesn't hunt down and stomp on every cockroach they see; it's just not worth the time and effort unless they're making a nuisance of themselves. This usually applies to villains arrogant enough to believe that the heroes aren't a real threat, or powerful enough to know that they aren't a threat. Genre Savvy heroes should be aware that a villain can and will change their stance if they cause enough trouble for them.
Anime & Manga
- Mr. Satan from Dragonball Z "fights" Perfect Cell and is simply backhanded a few hundred feet backwards into a mountain. He inexplicably survives.
- Goku subjects Freeza to this during their fight on Namek. He fights until Freeza is no longer a challenge, then throws that fact in his face, believing that living with the shame of being defeated by a superior fighter was a far worse punishment than simply killing him, made worse by the fact that said superior fighter was 'just a monkey'.
- In Bleach, Ulquiorra took this line with Ichigo after their first confrontation, but later acknowledged him as someone that "needs to be eliminated" and started fighting him more seriously. Ichigo turns this around with his Super-Powered Evil Side and performs a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Ulquiorra.
- In the "Burnout Inferno" chapters, Aizen Outright tells Yamomoto that he won't spare him or say "I won't kill you here" or anything, and draws his blade to finish him off. Hilariously, on this one time that someone actually tries to defy the trope, he gets a face full of Hadou 96 as a result. Of course, it barely burns Aizen's clothing and didn't kill Yamamoto either.
- Subverted by Kenpachi. He decides Nnoitra is not worth killing once there's no fight left in him, and prepares to just leave him alone. Nnoitra gets offended by the act of 'mercy' and charges Kenpachi, who decides that this makes him worthy of being killed and cuts him down mid-stride.
- Ginjou does this to Ichigo after he revealed his true colors and he stole Ichigo's Fullbring powers.
- In fact, about half of battles in Bleach end with the winner leaving the loser alive because they're 'not worth killing'.
- In Gundam AGE Decil gets bored seeing a UE mook clearly beating the Gundam Titus in episode 8 and orders the UE to retreat.
- In Tokyo Babylon and X 1999, Subaru, the protagonist of the former, is left alive by the Sakurazukamori because Seishirou explicitly tells him that he's not worth killing. This becomes Subaru's primary motivation in the sequel; he believes he can only be worth something to Seishirou (who he loves) if Seishirou kills him. However, as it turns out, it's not that Subaru isn't worth killing - it's that Seishirou wants Subaru to kill him.
- Part of Sasuke's Backstory in Naruto is that this was why his brother spared his life alone among the extended family. Or so he believed for years.
- Sasuke also gives this excuse for not killing the mooks he faces in his quest to kill his brother.
- Mirielle says this to Altena in the last episode of Noir, specifically that it's "not worth soiling a bullet" with her blood. Altena then tries to shoot Mirielle, but Kirika jumps in and tries to pull a Taking You with Me, though Mirielle manages to grab her in time.
- Phoenix Ikki from Saint Seiya delivers this line to Sea Dragon Kanon at the end of the Poseidon Saga, throwing the pointlessness of his Plan in his face before turning his back on him and walking away. Kanon tries to retaliate, but fellow Marine Shogun, Siren Sorrento, confronts him after hearing the truth behind Poseidon's premature resurrection. Like Ikki, Sorrento reasons that Kanon is so pathetic and worthless that fighting him would be a dishonor to Poseidon.
- Hal in Texhnolyze tells this to Shinji after being turned into a Shape, musing on his earlier promise to kill him when they next time met.
- In Code Geass, this is probably the only reason Tamaki survives any given battle.
- And in the penultimate episode, Diethard is not worth Geassing.
- Fushigi Yuugi has Miaka's ex-best friend Yui justify (in both of Miaka's visits to Kutou, mind you) that she only wants to keep Miaka and the Suzaku Seven alive because after all, "Where's the fun in killing them right away?" Yeah right.
- Death Note's Light doesn't really target the regular Joes in the task force, figuring that they can be hoodwinked easily enough and besides, they're decent enough people. (The fact that his father is a part of said task force probably has something to do with it, too.) When Aizawa catches on, though, they pretty much all have to die when Near does.
- Invoked Trope in Fist of the Blue Sky, when a mook asks a mob boss and a French general about his share of the money of a drug operation and finds himself held at gunpoint by both of them. They discuss the thing and agree he's not worth the price of a single bullet... And then they shoot him anyway.
- Adolf Hitler is spared by Liu Zong Wu because he thinks the tyrant is far too pathetic to deserve a good beating.
- Younger Toguro spared Suzuka, Bui, and Karasu in Yu Yu Hakusho. He said Suzuka was a pathetic and spineless coward, who was not worth killing. He made the other two serve him and join his Dark Tournament team. Averted with his brother to cement his Complete Monster status. Elder Toguro says he will spare one of the two defeated team members that lay before him in the semi-finals. One begged for his life and was instantly killed. The other says he would rather die than do the same. Toguro says that his brother would let him live, but he won't and finishes him off.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, The Huge attack on the TSAB's Headquarters left destruction of property, wounded many troops and main characters alike, and kidnapped two secondary characters. They let no one died. This bites them hard in the end when the wounded main characters was the turning point of the final battle and this is when they decided to drop the trope.
- In the Astro City story "Great Expectations," actor Mitch Goodman (who plays the "Crimson Cougar" on a soap opera) is ambushed in public by the Dark Centurion, who easily pummels him. When Mitch begs for mercy, the Centurion sneers that he's Not Worth Killing and leaves. It was a ruse set up by Mitch and his friends so Mitch could stop being a high-profile
- In the Marvel Transformers Generation 1 story "Target: 2006", Galvatron decides not to kill Ironhide on the grounds that such a pathetic specimen simply doesn't deserve to be killed by one as great as him.
- In Fables, Baba Yaga and the djinn find themselves trapped in the business office with Buffkin, Frank, the mirror, and some of the barleycorn brides. Buffkin challenges Baba Yaga and the djinn, but they just laugh at him and float away. This has some consequences later. Snicker snack, indeed.
- Horatio Hornblower in the live-action film The Even Chance has the chance to shoot Midshipman Simpson, but fires his pistol into the air and declares that Simpson "is not worth the powder".
- This does not occur in the books.
- Also, Pellew disagreed. He kills Simpson when he tried to backstab Horatio.
- Inverted in Kill Bill, where The Bride hacks her cold-blooded way through literally dozens of sword-wielding Yakuza foot-soldiers, then decides one of them, a young teenager, is too pathetic to kill. She puts him over her knee, spanks him with the flat of her sword and tells him to go home to his mother. He flees.
- Kill Bill began with a nifty subversion of this trope. Upon discovering that in spite of their vicious assassination attempt, the Bride is still alive though in a coma; Bill refuses to let Elle kill her because he thinks so highly of her and doesn't want her being killed like "some rat" in her sleep. He says that if she ever wakes up, they'll finish the job. She woke up alright, and she was pissed.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after her Sidekick comes to help her out and her Obi Wan dies in a Heroic Sacrifice to save her, The Dragon is about to turn around and finish Buffy off, when the Big Bad says it's time to leave:
Lothos: She is not ready yet.
- Seen in the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee movie Horror Express. The brainsucking alien finds the crazy monk not worth killing, and eventually the crazy monk starts worshiping the alien (which the alien finds somewhat annoying).
Crazy Monk: "Are you going to kill me?
- Nemesis in Resident Evil Apocalypse effortlessly mows down an entire squad of S.T.A.R.S while leaving the Ethnic Scrappy L.J. untouched. We see L.J. through Nemesis's eyes and he's identified as "Armed Civilian. Threat: Minimal". When L.J. throws down his gun, the reading changes to "Noncombatant. Threat: None" and Nemesis walks away.
- In Alien vs. Predator The Predator has a chance to kill Charles Bishop Weyland, but turns away, as he thinks that with Charlse being old and disabled, he would not be worth killing. Charles gets offended and fires a makeshift flamethrower at the Predator. The Predator changes his mind and kills Weyland.
- In Predator Dutch is about to smash the mortally wounded Predator's head with a boulder but then changes his mind and apparently decides to leave the creature to die on its own. The Predator then demonstrates why following this trope can be a really bad idea, when he activates his self-destruct mechanism, and Dutch barely escapes the resulting explosion.
- Breaking Dawn
"I won't kill you. That would be too easy. You deserve to live with this."
- In Batman and Robin Poison Ivy is about to Kiss of Death Commissioner Gordon before deciding to spare him, saying that he's way too old for her.
- In Tamora Pierce's Trickster's Queen, Vereyu kills the recently-appointed spymaster (who's not really sympathetic, just incompetent, but you do kind of pity him). The heroine, Aliane Cooper, tells her that he was "not worth killing". Vereyu retorts that he "wasn't worth leaving alive, either." Aly remarks that that's true.
- This basically saves Rincewind's life and the world in Sourcery when tries to attack the nigh-omnipotent sourcerer Coin with a half-brick in a sock. Coin is so fascinated by the idea of someone trying to use a weapon that feeble against him that he defies his father's orders to kill him.
- Super Sentai and Power Rangers feature multiple examples of honourable villains who will let the Rangers go after beating them.
- Mahou Sentai Magiranger (Power Rangers Mystic Force) has a subversion: Wolzard (Koragg) has a suppressed good side which leads to him finding excuses to let the Rangers live, the main one being that it's dishonorable to slay an unworthy opponent. When a Ranger confronts him, Wolzard gives the standard 'unworthy opponent' speech, and the hero responds with a volley of lighting bolts. Wolzard is completely unharmed, but decides anyway that the hero's worth fighting after all, and proceeds to utterly mop the floor with him. (He still lets him go in the end.)
- Rio from Juken Sentai Gekiranger has more than one Crowning Moment of Awesome where he proves that his Juken is stronger than theirs by pummeling the Rangers flat, then lets them go because they are not yet worthy of being killed by him.
- In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cromartie slaughters the FBI agents sent after him, but leaves Ellison alive in the end, apparently for this reason.
- As it turns out, Cromartie does this because he believes Ellison will lead him to the Connors. However, in a recent episode another Terminator leaves at least one minor character alive because, as the audience sees through the Terminator's vision, the character has a threat level of "none". In what may or may not be a subversion, the same minor character is (apparently) killed later in the episode by the same Terminator - offscreen. Granted, this was (apparently, this part was also offscreen) after he unloaded a Mossberg into said Terminator, which presumably upped his threat level a tad.
- Also, in most of the Terminator films, Terminators have a habit of hijacking a vehicle, then ordering the driver to "get out". Presumably, scaring the driver out of the vehicle is less time consuming then killing him and dumping his body outside.
- Or, the person could simply be deemed to be a "WASTE OF AMMO."
- Or that in the time it would take to kill the driver/pilot, it might lose track of its primary target.
- Cameron later explicitly tells John (after being confronted with an empathy test) that Terminators are not designed to be cruel. Which makes sense, being unfeeling machines they think logically and practically, simply following their motivations. Interpreting an action of sheer pragmatism as cruel or benevolent is something only a human would do.
- Played with in Burn Notice. Michael Westen takes great pains not to kill anybody himself--often employing elaborate Plans instead--because a body count would draw too much heat while he tries to clear his name. A few people are worth it, but the consequences are still generally unpleasant.
- Horatio Hornblower tells his opponent in a duel that he's "not worth the powder," after said opponent has fired prematurely, wounding Horatio and giving him a free shot, then begged for his life. The minute Horatio turns his back, however, Simpson, the adversary in question, attempts to stab him, and is shot by Captain Pellew.
- In the Supernatural episode "Time Is on My Side" Dean tracks down Bela with the intent to kill her, before announcing that she's "not worth it."
- In Traveller Intersteller Wars the Vilani don't bother making a real effort to subjugate the Terrans because they are "just another barbarian tribe". By the time they learn differently it is the Vilani who are being subjugated.
- At the end of Portal2, G La DOS decides Chell is too much trouble to kill, and lets her go.
- Which is arguably a subversion - it's because Chell is too HARD to kill that she's let go... ostensibly, anyway.
- Subverted in Silver. Having destroyed the source of the titular' villain's power the hero feels like sparing his life cause he's all old and pathetic now, but the Silver's Nemesis arrives and finishes him anyway. Somehow the hero has no qualms with that. Huh.
- Reversed in Drakengard's canonical ending: Caim has defeated the Big Bad and she lays crying at his feet, begging him to kill her. Caim decides that would be too easy.
- In SoulCalibur 2, one of Raphael's victory quotes is "You're not even worth killing," said in the snootiest possible manner.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, the main character Niko Bellic comes face to face with the man who betrayed his group in the Balkans and killed his village for money in Balkans war. The man is flown in and is in a pathetic state, barely even sane and you can choose to either execute him for crime, or spare him.
- Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops has a scene where Python encounters General Skowronski in the bottom of a warehouse while hunting for Big Boss. After defeating Skowronski, Python freezes him inside a cage and exclaims "You're not worth killing!" before leaving. Snake frees the general minutes later.
- The eponymous villain of the Wrath of the Lich King World of Warcraft expansion. After being hyped up in the months before the release as being a villain whose threat will be felt throughout your travels instead of just "a meaningless name until you suddenly face him at the end" (the expansion is called The Wrath of the Lich King, for pity's sake), every time you meet him he lets you live, either knocking you out or just giving you a stern warning, while first killing his minions left and right for their failures to kill you. He always says something like "You are barely beneath my notice" or "Perhaps in time you will become worthy of serving me." He does have ulterior motives for keeping you alive. When players finally confront and almost defeat the Lich King, he uses Frostmourne to wipe out the players, and reveals his true plan; everything up to that point was a test to find the strongest warriors in Azeroth, and lure them to Icecrown where he kills them and raises them as Elite Mooks in his undead army.
- Arthas had previously decided that Illidan was Not Worth Killing in The Frozen Throne as well.
- In Starcraft, one of the Zerg missions has you directing Sarah Kerrigan in an assault against Jim Raynor's headquarters on the planet Char. After razing Raynor's base to the ground Kerrigan decides not to kill him, proclaiming that he's not a threat to her....although it's possible and quite likely that she did it out of some remaining sentiment toward him. After defeating the UED base on Korhal, she decided that she had to kill both Raynor and Fenix. But after killing Fenix, she instead decided to spare Raynor again.
- Persona 5: Kamoshida is a downplayed example. While the party decides not to kill him, there’s a pragmatic reason for not killing him. If they do kill him, he’ll be remembered as a hero who elevated their school to fame. But if they make him confess his crimes, he’ll be remembered as the worst human being to have ever entered their school. They could have allowed him to commit suicide after they made him change his ways, but then he would escape justice.
- In Mass Effect, this is the ultimate insult a Krogan can give an enemy. As a Proud Warrior Race, Krogan status is determined by who ones' enemies are. This extends to other races as well; the Mass Effect Rogues Gallery is exactly why most Krogan see Shepard as the most Badass creature in the galaxy.
Warlord Okeer: "With that, I will inflict upon the genophage the greatest insult an enemy can suffer - to be ignored."
- This trope also can appear in Garrus' loyalty mission. Garrus seeks to kill the traitor who betrayed his entire squad and caused all ten of their deaths. Once you track him down, you can help Garrus take the shot or talk to the traitor and warn him, where you learn he only did what he did because of a threat to his own life, and his life has been nothing but an empty shell of pain and guilt since. Garrus can be convinced to relent and stand down, and later says that he's okay with him living because Sidonis will have to live with that torment for the rest of his life, which he feels is a far better fate for him than a simple death.
- The Onion Knight attempts to invoke this trope when he and Terra are faced with the mighty Exdeath in Dissidia Final Fantasy. It appears to work, as Exdeath lets them go unharmed, but not without imparting some cryptic Foreshadowing, implying that he may perhaps have had reason to do so...
- In X-Men Next Dimension, several characters use this as a taunt, including some such as Mystique saying another character isn't even worth her time. One of the first matches in the story mode could have her saying this to her son, which opens up a whole set of problems.
- Lampshaded in The Order of the Stick: During his second encounter with Roy, Xykon, the Dangerously Genre Savvy Evil Overlord, dismisses him as not worth fighting and suggests calling off the battle as a Mulligan, essentially offering Roy to go free so he can gain power and return later for a "good final tussle, Hollywood style". Roy rejects the offer, so Xykon kills him.
- In Bob and George Mynd decides neither of the titular characters - demigod children imbued with
fireexplosion and electric powers, respectively - are worth killing, and even brushes George aside before trying to leave. This, inevitably, comes back to bite him in the ass.
- Dellyn Goblinslayer from Goblins considered himself the arch-nemesis of Thaco the goblin. Eventually he's at the latter's mercy, thinking that Thaco is going to kill him and immortalize Dellyn as his greatest foe... only to be left alive instead after a truly magnificent "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
Thaco: "You're not worth the XP I get from killing you."
- Of course, by Dungeons and Dragons rules, Thaco gets XP for "overcoming the challenge" that Dellyn poses, so he's really not worth killing at that point.
- In The Gamers Alliance, Ronove, the new Dreadlord of the Northern Horde, decides to spare the surviving defenders of the besieged city of Vanna and allow them to flee while the horde takes over the city. His superior and peers later question the merciful act as well as the fact that the survivors will inevitably spread news of the horde's activities and strategies to other cities which will be prepared for the upcoming war. He quickly justifies his actions by explaining his reasons for letting the heroes flee: their worthy opponent status, the promise of a later even bloodier battle worthy of higher demons' time, as well as the heroes' tales of the siege which will weaken other cities' morale when they find out about the horde's unstoppable might. However, the Dreadlord is playing a much more complicated game because among other things he also wanted to pay the defenders back for helping him when he was helpless by letting them flee to fight another day.
- The Dimensional Guardians from the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes find themselves being spared from death multiple times, often by the Big Bad, who would much rather his servants take care of matters that are beneath him.
- In The Salvation War there is a psychic woman who had been mentally tormented by a demon for her entire life. After the human army conquers Hell, she finds and confronts her tormentor... who turns out to be a teenager, literally a Troll From Hell, for whom driving a random innocent person insane was just a game (well, you know the kind). She's about to shoot him, but after seeing him groveling and wetting himself with fear, she decides that he is not worth pulling the trigger.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara meets the man who murdered her mother, and after seeing what a sad, pathetic wretch he's become since then to the point that he's even begging her to kill him, and Lampshading it with a mini-"The Reason You Suck" Speech she lets him live with the knowledge that she will never forgive him for what he did to her and her family and that he's already living out a Fate Worse Than Death.
- Ben 10: In one episode, after Kevin went around committing crimes and placing the blame on Ben, they end up in a showdown on a bridge. At one point, Kevin shifts back to his normal human form on accident and is completely at Ben's mercy, who is still using Fourarms. It seems like he's about to crush his skull with a well placed fist or two but instead hits right next to him before walking away, stating that he was never worth killing. This however, doesn't end up going well for him as he ends up needing to be saved by the guy who's been hunting him down the entire time.
- On Robot Chicken The Yakuza kills all of N*Sync except Joey Fatone, who was in the kitchen at the time. When he begs them not to shoot him, they tell him they wouldn't waste their bullets on a simple roadie.
- The first time someone tried to release New York Ripper in Britain, every single print got returned to Italy after the BBFC refused to classify the film.