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In Redemption Equals Death, a villain will make a Heel Face Turn and then is killed off. In this trope, the order is flipped: the Heel Face Turn happens because the villain knows that he is absolutely about to die. Usually, a character who undergoes Death Equals Redemption only lives long enough afterward to say something that shows he is no longer evil to the core, though some get to give a Final Speech, or even undergo a full-blown Freudian Excuse flashback.
Occasionally, the character goes through a moment of clarity just prior to death, finally noticing something he has overlooked for the whole story. Occasionally the character realizes just how much being evil has lost him. And sometimes the character is trying to buy himself a way into heaven.
Since the character dies shortly after the Heel Face Turn, this change of heart is unlikely to affect the plot much. There are exceptions, of course; occasionally, the dying character's last words can inspire the hero or even give him a vital clue. Rarely (very rarely), they recover; in media where "recovery" is routine, the redemption might not stick much longer than the death.
Compare Alas, Poor Villain and Alas, Poor Scrappy, in which the character is at least partially redeemed in the audience's eyes simply through the act of dying even though they stay a villain. Dying as Yourself, Heel Face Door Slam, and Villain's Dying Grace are all sometimes (but not always) sub-tropes. Compare The Last Dance, which is when a character has a longer period before death.
Anime & Manga
- In Ergo Proxy Raul and Daedalus both get their priorities straight just before dying.
- Quent in Wolf's Rain, realizing that wolves aren't evil when Toboe tries to save him.
- In Dragonball Z (the anime anyway), there's an unusual case with the demon Dabura, who is sent to heaven when he dies because the ruler of the afterlife wants to punish him and thinks he'd enjoy hell too much. Being around so much pure good actually turns him into a cuddly emotional guy that likes to pick flowers.
- Not to mention Vegeta in the Freeza Saga, after being beaten by Freeza and on the verge of death he throws his pride to the side begs Goku to stop Freeza, cries even and is given an Freudian Excuse for the way he acts. Although when he is finally resurrected his Heel Face Turn at the edge of death is more or less forgotten.
- In The Slayers, Rezo the Red Priest's evil plan backfires on him and he is possessed by Shabranigdo the Dark Lord. However, in the end, Rezo's soul surpresses Shabranigdo's and gives Lina Inverse the chance to destroy him. As Rezo's soul departs to the afterlife, his voice thanks Lina.
- Lordgenome, previous Big Bad, from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann sacrifices his life in order to give the Team Dai Gurren a fighting chance, by converting the Big Bang Storm launched by the Anti-Spiral into energy, declaring in his Final Speech that helping build a future for humanity would leave him completely satisfied. Simon accepts Lordgenome's wish and uses the energy to either power up the titular mecha or transform into Super Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
- Precia Testarossa in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The Movie First. In contrast to her tv version, who remained an Evil Matriarch when she died, this version of Precia realizes at the very end that she should have treated Fate as a second daughter instead of obsessing over the death of Alicia.
Precia Testarossa: I've always been this way, haven't I? I never notice things until it's too late.
- Souther/Thouzer in Fist of the North Star acts out as a man who defies love all the time and prefers being a Complete Monster Evil Overlord all the time, until he's beaten out by Kenshiro and realize he'll die. In his last breaths, he recalled his love with his master Ougai, revealing his human side shortly before he dies with his crumbling Holy Cross Mausoleum.
- In Tenshi ni Narumon it might be be kinda subverted, since in the last episode, it looked like Mikael and Silky (especially Mikael) could gain redemption only through letting go and dying, but then at the very end when Noelle eventually cleaned up the whole mess, everything turned out just fine, no one died and everyone seemed to get their happy ending.
- Kanna from Inuyasha. She tells Kagome through a small shard Naraku's Achilles Heel as a result of Naraku ordering her death.
- In Shadow Skill, insane Fallen Hero G is finally restored to sanity when he is forced to fight Gau in a lucid state. He self-destructs shortly afterwards as he was already a Paper Talisman Lich Living on Borrowed Time but Defeat Equals Friendship such that he manages to come back later as a ghost to help in the Final Battle.
- Bleach: Tousen. He spent much of his adult life plotting revenge on Soul Society as a result of the death of his friend. One of his deepest fears was to die a shinigami, the thing he hated most. As a result, he hollowfied to escape being a shinigami. At the end, when defeated and dying after his battle with Komamura and Hisagi, he returns to the shinigami form he had once despised, finally understanding the value of the friendships he had forged amongst the shinigami. He has just enough time to make his apologies to Komamura and Hisagi absolutely clear before Aizen kills him. Of course, he was dying anyway, but Aizen just wanted to prove a point.
- Kaiser Ryo of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX most likely fits in season 3. Having found out that he's dying, he spends most of the season looking for one last great duel. However, he also repeatedly saves his brother's life, snaps Judai out of a Heroic BSOD with a Heroic Sacrifice, and is generally loses most of the harsh, psychotic persona of season 2.
- Baron Mordo, when he discovers that he's dying of cancer. Then he's brought back to life as a villain by writers who Did Not Do the Research.
- Similarly in Doctor Strange: The Oath the main antagonist manages to linger a few minutes after dying to give a conflicted Strange some counsel.
- The early run of X-Men had a villain called the Changeling, who did this when he realized he had six months to live. His character later became the inspiration for the character of Morph.
- In Thorgal: Ogathai. He recognizes Thorgal as his son in a brief moment of clarity after being fatally shot.
- In Tintin adventure Explorers on the Moon, Wolff, the traitor of the story, finally sacrifices himself heroically to save the others. Deeply moved by his suicide note, the others consider him "a hero".
- In The Man With No Name, the villain dies to save the Doctor and Mal's lives after begining to regret what he had done and finding out he wouldn't have much longer to live because of his actions.
- Fantastic Mr. Fox: Rat
Rat: The boy is being held in an apple crate on top of a gun cabinet in the attic of Bean Annex.
Fox: Would you have told me if I hadn't killed you first?
- In the The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, Denethor gets a moment of clarity when he sees Faramir smile at being called his son just before he catches fire.
- The captain of the Big Bad's ship in The Spy Who Loved Me, although it's not entirely clear whether he actually changed sides or was trying to gloat. Either way, he gives James Bond what he needed for the film's Eureka Moment.
- Played for Laughs in Blackbeard's Ghost.
- The original Green Goblin in the film version of Spider-Man.
- In The Expendables, Gunner reveals to Barney all the information neccessary to succesfully complete their mission after the latter is forced to Shoot the Dog when the former goes rogue in a drug-induced homicidal rampage. Averted when it is revealed in the ending to be just merely a Disney Death after all.
- Happens in Hudson Hawk. After being betrayed and shot full of arrows, Kit Kat's final action is to loosen the ropes holding the Damsel in Distress, allowing her to escape a few moments later.
- Erayk Dynnys, former archbishop of the Safehold kingdom of Charis, rediscovered his faith while awaiting execution as a scapegoat by the corrupt Church of God Awaiting in the second Safehold book, By Schism Rent Asunder, after having spent the first book a low-level Sinister Minister.
- Edmund in King Lear. An evil villain throughout, once he's fatally wounded in a duel with Edgar he repents.
- In Hamlet, Laertes. Once he gets poisoned, he realises how low he had gone in his quest for vengence.
- In A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley becomes The Atoner after death. His eternal punishment is to wander the earth while having it hammered into him what a Jerkass he was when he was alive. The chains he wears are symbols of the kind of life he led, every link a sin he once committed (and he knows exactly which sinful act is represented by which link), but he tells Scrooge that the real pain of his existence comes from looking at all the living people who are suffering, being overwhelmed with compassion and sympathy for them, but being completely unable to do anything about their situations. Marley's afterlife is a Heel Face Door Slam of the cruelest variety. At least they let him help redeem Scrooge.
- Either this or Redemption Equals Death in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: Percy spends book two on distrusting Luke and basically calling him evil. It is only when Luke is already about to die that Percy trusts him enough to give him a weapon (leaving Percy defenseless) so that Luke can kill himself and take Kronos with him. Afterwards, Percy treats him like a hero instead of a villain.
- "We need a shroud. A shroud for the son of Hermes."
- Silena's death could also count.
- For Colonel Stone, death equaled not only Redemption, but Confession and Implication as well.
- Craig Toomy's death in The Langoliers is what allows the heroes to escape alive.
- Can happen in the Discworld novels, although the redemption generally happens after death, when the deceased has a chat with Death. Despite Death's Catch Phrase "There's no justice. There's just me.", this redemption does tend to avoid an Ironic Hell. Contrast the fate of Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip in The Truth.
Live Action TV
- A somewhat literal case with Gowron in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Jealous of Martok's popularity, he decides to take control of the Klingon fleet and squander lives in order to gain himself political glory until Worf challenges him to a duel to the death. As a result, he dies an honourable warrior's death and Worf performs the Klingon death ritual for him.
- 24 George Mason in Season 2. He is initially an Obstructive Bureaucrat, and then attempts to leave LA when he realizes how big the nuclear explosion will be. He is exposed to lethal amounts of plutonium. After learning he will die very soon but he is not contagious, he returns to work and takes control of the situation. He the ultimately flies the bomb to where it can be safely detonated, saving Jack and convincing him to not give up.
- In the Alien Nation made-for-tv movie Dark Horizon, the Tenctonese Overseer Ahpossno spends the entire movie trying to bring back news to his masters of the slaves' survival on Earth. In a desperate attempt to stop him, George infects him with a lethal virus, hoping that the slavemasters will think this means all of the Tenctonese died of a plague on Earth. As Ahpossno is dying while en route to his masters, he has flashbacks of the happy times he shared with George's family. Ultimately he sides with his people and, with his dying breath, tells his fellow Overseers that all of the slaves are dead.
- In Lost, evil undead Sayid fights back against his brainwashing and sacrafices himself saving the lives of his friends.
- Warhammer 40000: Depending on what version you believe, Horus rebelled against the Emperor in a grimdark, bloody civil war. He eventually pushes to Terra, and engages the Emperor in single combat. Unwilling to use his full strength against his favored son, the Emperor is easily outmatched by Horus. As Horus delivers a mortal wound on his foe, a foot soldier charges into to help the Emperor. He is then flayed alive by Horus. Seeing the abomination that his son has become the Emperor musters his full strength and crushes Horus's soul entirely. The redemption comes in the final moment of his life as he gains his sanity to understand that it must be done. Compare with same story in Redemption Equals Death.
- Exalted: By the time of the Usurpation, most of the Solar Exalted had gone completely nanners. After being killed, most of them made their way down to the Underworld... where they found that Oblivion was maybe two steps away from eating the whole thing. They united, drove back Oblivion, then passed through Lethe and re-entered the cycle of reincarnation after atoning for their sins of hubris. At least... most of them did...
- In the World of Warcraft Patch 3:3:2, the time finally comes to defeat Arthas, The Lich King himself. In the cinematic after he is defeated he sees the ghost of his father and asks him if it is finally over. Despite everything he had done, his father still holds and comforts him in his last moments, essentially forgiving him.
Arthas: I see only darkness for me...
- Whether or not the other lore characters/player population forgive him, however, is open to debate. Though Jaina seems to have forgiven him as well since he apparently kept enough of his humanity to hold onto a keepsake of their love, and Uther's spirit and Muradin felt regretful that they could not stop his Face Heel Turn, and chose to remember what he once was.
- Queen Brahne in Final Fantasy IX.
- For that matter, Kuja invokes this trope in the most poignant way, since his encroaching mortality is what drives him over the edge to try and destroy EVERYTHING, until the last second when he has been defeated and it is literally the only thing that spurs him to any degree of redemption (and possibly the only thing that could do so).
- Lady Lilith in Final Fantasy XI Wings of the Goddess : once she realizes that she's done for, she gives to Lilisette a solution to save both futures.
- Knights of the Old Republic: The light side ending. Malak pretty much does one of these, going on about now, how when he's dying, he realizes he is worthless. "And now, as the darkness takes me, I am nothing..."
- If you go to the trouble to redeem Aribeth in Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, it might count.
- Neku himself in The World Ends With You.
- Faldio in Valkyria Chronicles; Faldio realizes he was wrong for believing in firepower over the Power of Friendship when it comes to saving lives on the battlefield. He proceeds to break himself out of prison just in time to kill himself in a combination Heroic/StupidSacrifice as an apology to Welkin and Alicia, and to maintain some of the game's overall themes. It's a matter of some contention in the fandom.
- Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid, in his Final Speech, helps you move on and mentions it's the first time in a long time he's used his power to help people. He declares it 'nostalgic' just before he dies. Subverted as part of it was really him leading you on further into the villains' Batman Gambit.
- Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: after her utterly pathetic attempt to murder and frame Makoto, caused not only by the stress of the Killing Game's rules and her own motive video, but also her Dark and Troubled Past, Sayaka leaves behind a Dying Clue as she bleeds out after being stabbed by Leon, in order to help Makoto avenge her. Some fans, however, didn't see it this way, rather believing she did it out of spite, however, Kyoko's words, as well as official artwork, make it clear that it's this trope. There's also Sakura Oogami, who's Redemption Equals Death was literally a Heroic Suicide so everyone else left alive could escape. Sadly, Mondo Oowada doesn't even get to do that after having killed not only his brother, but also, on accident, sweet little Chihiro.
- Bounty Hunter in RE-TAKE.
- Order of the Stick: Defied in this comic by Miko the (former) paladin, who attempted to save her world by destroying an ancient gate. While she is lying on the floor in two very large pieces, she is told by the founder of her order how badly she'd messed things up. He sadly informs her that though she carried out her duty, she cannot be readmitted to the paladins, because she never actually admitted that her original mistake was wrong or did anything to fix it.
Soon Kim: Perhaps, if you had more time...but then again, perhaps not. Redemption is a rare and special thing, after all. It is not for everyone.
- From the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, Hardcase was a career criminal with a stack of open warrants against him in four different states. When al-Queda attacked the World Trade Center, he didn't hesitate to go and help rescue people from the damaged buildings. He was killed when the North Tower collapsed, and earned a full presidential pardon for all his crimes.