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Basically, a scene where, after killing someone, they are beheaded and the head is held up to demonstrate it.
Human heads are not required. Any character engaging in this is an Anti-Hero at best, unless it's not the head of anything resembling a human at all, like a dragon. In the latter case, the purpose of this trope is to show off the badassness of the character carrying the head. If it's a human head, it effectively shows that the character has no problem with killing people and often serves as a form of psychological warfare. An army engaging in this is nearly always evil and often very primitive.
Reality check: A human head weighs around 7 kg (or for those living in the US, 15.4 lbs.); however, few shows manage to portray this realistically.
Compare Dead Guy on Display.
Anime and Manga
- In the manga for Rurouni Kenshin, Souzou Sagara, Sano's old commander, was executed and his head displayed after being betrayed by the government.
- Violence Jack: One scene in the beginning of the "Hell's Wind" arc has this scene after Jun's boyfriend, Tetsuya, gets dismembered.
- Also happened to both Miki and her little brother in the original Devilman manga.
- Just to make extra sure everyone knew Hidan had in fact been beheaded in Naruto, Kakuzu picked up his still-cursing head and toted it around until they could reattach it.
- One of the manga adaptations of Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu has King Chagall sending Eltoshan's severed head to his friends Siglud and Cuan to mock them. This not only horrifies them and their entourage, but also throws Eltoshan's younger sister (and starcrossed lover of sorts) Lachesis towards the Despair Event Horizon.
- When Governor Gekkei confronts Queen Kekai, Princess Shoukei and Hourin the kirin in The Twelve Kingdoms, he shows them the head of King Chuutatsu, whom he decapitated as punishment for his Knight Templar misdeeds.
- Many artistic depictions of David after his battle with Goliath.
- Perseus is often depicted holding Medusa's head
- Infamously, the cover of EC Comics' Crime SuspenStories #22.
- In one Predator comic, one of the characters held the titular Predator's head as a trophy at the end.
- Sin City:
- Happens to Jackie's head in "The Big, Fat Kill."
- As well as the head of Kevin from "The Hard Goodbye," as seen in the page pic.
- Elf Quest: After Kahvi decapitates Guttlekraw his head gets displayed on a spear.
- In Dark Avengers, issue 2. after failing to talk Morgana La Fey out of killing Dr Doom, Osborn orders Sentry to take her out. He fatalities her like this.
- In The Walking Dead, the Governor does this with the head of Martinez to show the Woodbury people how "evil" Rick's group is prior to attacking them at the prison.
- In Welcome Back Frank, Mob boss Ma Gnucci orders The Russian to bring her the Punisher's head. Frank kills The Russian, cuts off his head and brings it to Ma.
Punisher: Ma Gnucci! Is that all you got?
- In "The Two Brothers", the marshal presents the dragon's heads. Alas for him, the actual killer had gotten their tongues.
Films -- Live-Action
- Near the end of Conan the Barbarian, Conan holds Thulsa Doom's head aloft before the crowd. The reboot movie of the same name also features multiple decapitations on Conan's part.
- Used by the secondary villain in The Brothers Grimm.
- In Kill Bill, O-Ren Ishii does this with the head of Boss Tanaka, who she had just beheaded for disrespecting her mixed heritage, during her Badass Boast speech to the Yakuza.
O-Ren Ishii: The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or my American heritage as a negative is: I collect your fucking head. [holds up Tanaka's head] Just like this fucker here.
- In Bowfinger, Daisy shows the (fake) head of the woman she just decapitated.
- Marv from Sin City does this with Kevin's head after he has disemboweled, dismembered and fed him to a wolf. He does it to show Cardinal Rourke that he killed him before killing him, too, as part of his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- In Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller goes back to his Captain Oblivious roots and holds up what he thinks is a prop made to look like the director's head to explain that it's all a ruse to get the actors to feel like they're really in the Vietnam war. He even sticks the head on the tip of his rifle and eats the things dangling from the severed neck. This kind of plays with the trope not only in that the presenter didn't kill the head's owner, but that it wasn't a traditional decapitation, since the director died by stepping on a land mine.
- At the very end of Freddy vs. Jason, Jason Voorhees emerges from Crystal Lake holding Freddy Krueger's severed head... which smiles and winks to the audience! In an earlier dream scene, Freddy produces the decapitated head of Jason's mother to inflict psychological damage to Jason's child-like psyche.
- The Messenger in Three Hundred has an entire string of them-the "crowns and heads of conquered kings" that he hoists at the gates of Sparta to indicate what kind of message he brings. The Spartans are unimpressed.
- The opening battle of Gladiator is preceded by a head delivery.
- Near the end of Apocalypse Now Colonel Kurtz walks up to Willard and drops Chef's severed head in his lap.
- In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars film, the heads of Jabba's bounty hunters are brought back to him after their failure to retrieve his son. Jabba is not pleased about that.
- In The Return of the King, one particular Orc soldier goes through the whole battle of Minas Tirith with a human's head attached to the top of his helmet. Whether it was functional in battle or not is not addressed in the film.
- Also the fact that Gothmog orders the decapitated heads of defeated Gondorian soldiers catapulted back into Minas Tirith.
- And in The Two Towers an Uruk-Hai from the party that capture Merry and Pippin has his head stuck on a spear after Éomer takes them out.
- Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
- The Green Knight holds up his own head by the hair after Sir Gawain chops it off in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
- The cover of Issue 2 of Nintendo Power drew some fire from Moral Guardians for displaying Simon Belmont from Castlevania with Dracula's severed head.
- In Arcia Chronicles, after Charles Tagere and his followers are ambushed and killed, the commanders' heads are nailed to the gates of a nearby castle. This (like the rest of the second duology) mirrors the actual historical event from the Wars of the Roses, when Richard Plantagenet's head was stuck on a pole on the York city walls after the Battle of Wakefield.
- There's a variation of this in Barrayar. Instead of holding would-be usurper Lord Vordarian's severed head up, Cordelia rolls it out of the shopping bag she has been transporting it in. The possibility of leaving it on the table while conducting ceasefire talks with the elements of the military who have backed Vordarian's coup is briefly discussed, but Aral isn't that sort of regent.
- Also shows up in Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" (from Through the Looking Glass): "He left it dead, and with its head, he went galumphing back."
- In the ditch of the Sowers of Discord in Dante's Inferno, Bertran de Born holds his own head up, "in his hand in the manner of a lantern."
- At the end of the first Sword of Truth book, Richard does this to his stepbrother Michael, who turned out to be The Mole earlier in the book.
- In A Game of Thrones, Joffrey takes Sansa Stark to the battlements to show her the heads displayed on spikes: the one of her father Ned, whom he had executed despite promising not to, the head of her tutor and the heads of other members of her household.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "A Witch Shall Be Born", Salome brings the head of Krallides.
- The Sano Ichiro mystery Bundori, which revolves around the Samurai tradition of turning the heads of conquered enemies into war trophies.
- Pushed up a notch by Leo Bonhart in Tower of the Swallow, who forces Ciri to watch as he saws off her True Companions' (whom he previously slaughtered) heads off, leaving her First Love (a girl, to boot) for last, and then presents them proudly to her. Ciri doesn't take it very well, to say the least.
- The Second Variety: Decades before Ahnuld played an unstoppable assassin robot, Philip K. Dick showed him how it's done. The cover art shows a man holding up the severed head of a destroyed assassin android that looks like a 13 year old boy, not a giant thug
- Happens all the time in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, with both heroes and villains using the trope. Late in the story the sons of Guan Yu and Zhang Fei would casually announce that they've defeated an enemy general and "here is his head." This was even mocked in a parody webcomic: "Next time, don't leave a head on my desk."
- In The Mighty Boosh Live, the Hitcher does this with Vince and Howard. He doesn't just hold them up.
- In Blackadder: The Cavalier Years, Baldrick's cunning plan to substitute a pumpkin instead of a head sort of fell apart when this moment came.
Edmund Blackadder: You see, when you've cut it off you have to hold it before the crowd and say "This is the head of a traitor," at which point they will all shout "No, it isn't. It's a large pumpkin with a pathetic mustache drawn on it."
- In Carnivale, Justin does this with Scutter's head after he kills him.
- Turned into a Running Gag in an episode of Rome, where multiple severed heads are displayed on spikes above the door of a building because the owners of the heads kept pissing the wrong people off.
- Babylon 5, when Morden asks Vir what he wants:
"I'd like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I would look up into your lifeless eyes and wave... like this."
- Stargate Atlantis, episode "The Last Man": Michael does this with the head of a Wraith queen.
- Farscape: After decapitating his Arch Enemy Durka, Rygel wanders around waving it on a stick as a means of demonstrating how Badass he can be. And yes, he's one of the technically good guys.
- Done several times in Game of Thrones, first by one of the White Walkers, and later by King Joffrey.
- In the 2000 Sci Fi Channel Dune miniseries, after the Beast Rabban is killed by a Fremen mob, a boy holds up his severed head.
- In the Masters of Horror episode "Cigarette Burns", Dalibor creates a Snuff Film by filming himself decapitating Kirby's taxi driver right in front of Kirby, and presenting the severed head to him.
- 24 season 2 episode 2. Jack gains a terrorist gang's trust by doing this.
- Used for Black Comedy in Angel when a vampire is shown holding up a human head, which he then bowls down a bowling alley.
- Hawkwind's "Days of the Underground":
We believed in Guevara
We saw that head held up
And our anger welled up
But we kept it cool
- Eddie, the mascot of Iron Maiden, has done this pose with the heads of Paul Di'Anno (on the original, rejected cover for Maiden Japan) and Satan (on the cover of the "The Number of the Beast" single)
- On Honorable Hogwarts, Walter Zotermeer was elevated from Quirky Miniboss Squad member to Complete Monster in large part due to the glee with which he showed off the severed head of Chief Auror Gawain Robards. A lot of his fellow Death Eaters seemed to be less than enthusiastic about it.
Mythology and Religion
- A Biblical example would be Judith with the head of Holofernes (only in the Apocrypha; the book of Judith isn't in the Protestant Bible). Possibly also Salome with the head of John the Baptist (non-Apocryphal).
- Let's also not forget that this is what David did to the head of Goliath.
- Perseus weaponized this trope.
- The dullahan carries its head around like this.
- This guy from Warhammer 40000. As friendly as he looks. Tends to end up like this VERY frequently.
- Another Warhammer 40000 example in a fluff story behind one of the regions in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, an Ork horde was demoralized and defeated after their war boss had this happen to him. His skull adorned the defended city's main square afterward.
- Also in Warhammer 40000, Many Ork and Chaos models have spikes with heads impaled on them.
- The same goes for their counterparts in Warhammer. One Orc banner takes it a step further and has an entire Dwarf hanging on it.
- Yet another Warhammer 40000 example (Yes, happens there a lot, doesn't it?), any follower of Khorne will do this after killing an enemy leader (such as a Sergeant or other leader) mid fight often screaming something like THE TROPHY IS MINE. He's more interested in what's inside the head, though.
- Chaos tends to do this a lot. The trophy rack sprue for Chaos tanks includes a Tau helmet and a Necron skull, the Chaos Terminator Lord box has got a Tyranid Warrior's head impaled on spikes.
- An illustration in the Werewolf: The Forsaken handbook shows a werewolf holding two severed heads.
- There are lots of disembodied heads floating around in Shakespeare's Henry VI plays, and although this action is not mentioned explicitly in the stage directions many directors do it anyway, 'cause it looks
- At the end of Christopher Durang's The Actors Nightmare, when the actor is stuck in a production of A Man for All Seasons as Sir Thomas More and is beheaded:
Executioner: Behold the head of Sir Thomas More!
- Usually done in productions of Macbeth:
Re-enter MACDUFF, with MACBETH's head
Hail, king! for so thou art: behold, where stands
The usurper's cursed head:
- In the opera Turandot, the Prince of Persia is decapitated offstage and his head is brought back impaled on a stake, as a warning to would-be suitors of Turandot.
- The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask uses a less violent variant. The masks that the bosses wear are substituted for the actual heads.
- God of War: Kratos to Medusa, her sister and Helios in each respective game.
- Maw mentions doing this to Kyle's father in Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, but the actual decapitation and subsequent public display of the head on a spike occurs offscreen.
- In F.E.A.R 2, Snake Fist is decapitated right before your eyes the game even has him hand you a BFG to make sure that you're good and close when it happens by a Cyborg Clone Ninja Mutant...thing which rips it off and carries it away. You find his head a short time later, deliberately left where you will see it and just before they're waiting to ambush you.
- In Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, this is done to the executed Vorador. Moebius, who was in charge of it, takes this trope up a notch by leaving the head in the hand of a statue of himself in the same pose, which is seen in Soul Reaver 2 about a hundred years later.
- Occurs on numerous occasions throughout World of Warcraft. While there are several quests that involve putting a decapitated head on a spear as a means of intimidation (most notably the old quest, "Ogre Head On A Stick = Party"), the quests that merely require killing someone and bringing back the head as proof are too numerous to count. There's even one achievement lampshading the frequent use of this trope: Bring Me The Head of... Oh Wait
- There's also a subversion in twilight highlands where you bring someone the heads of two ogre-magi, the horde version plays it straight, but in the alliance version the quest giver is squicked out at the heads and tells you he would have just taken your word for it.
- Orgrim Doomhammer is seen doing this to Blackhand in the instruction manual for Warcraft II.
- A bizarre example in Mortal Kombat Deception: Havik's Hara-Kiri involves him ripping off his own head then holding it out before dying. The usual version happens A LOT after Fatalities throughout the series. Most famously Sub-Zero's head/spine rip.
- Another weird example is Serious Sam with its line of 'Beheaded' enemies. As it sounds, they are undead enemies who have been beheaded...but, upon being raised from their graves, then proceed to carry around their own heads in the manner of this trope, ostensibly so they can aim their bombs and rocket launchers. Don't ask about the guys whose heads they couldn't find.
- After occupying the Viscount's Keep, the Arishok in Dragon Age II appears briefly to lift the head of Viscount Dumar for display, but dispenses with drama to dismissively roll it down the carpet.
- In Killer 7, Curtis Blackburn hands his former partner Pedro a paper bag holding his daughter's severed head. This is merely the last of the many horrors Curtis inflicts on him.
- It's (deliberately?) a little ambiguous, but have a look at the Tekken 3 intro. Is that Jun's head?????
- For the Mass Effect download mission Arrival, if you let the timer run out, this happens.
- One quest in Neverwinter Nights has you killing the red dragon Klauth and giving his head to the gold dragon Gorgotha. Given he's an old, big dragon don't ask how you carry his head around in your backpack.
- During Dave and Bro's fight, Dave does this using the head of one of Bro's puppets, drawing a line across his throat after Bro gives him a "you're going down" thumbs down. Later parodied by Vriska when Tavros does the same thing to her, and she responds by holding up his replaced, severed legs and drawing a line across her waist.
- Gamzee assembles a "motherfucking JURY" consisting of the heads of Nepeta, Equius, Tavros, Feferi and Eridan, the five trolls Killed Off for Real at that point. It all appears to be out of the way and no-one's paying attention to it or him, though.
- Dirk later takes the historical route by putting the Hegemonic Brute's head up on public display through a stolen flagpole with an attached note as a warning to those in charge of Derse.
- Used in this SMBC strip, though not exactly as expected.
- At the end of the "Terror at 5 1/2 Feet" segment of The Simpsons' fourth Halloween Episode, when the gremlin displays Ned Flanders's severed (and still-living) head to Bart in the window of the ambulance.
- A Family Guy manatee gag has a group of nuns dealing with some Nazis. One pulls out engine parts to show she disabled their ride; another whips a head out.
- This actually used to be standard practice, possibly to discourage followers of beheaded people from pretending they were still alive. "Behold the head of a traitor!" was the usual formula. Alas, when they tried it with Mary Queen of Scots... the headsman failed to realize she was wearing a wig so it all went a bit wrong and her head rolled away. Bit of a Chew Toy was Mary.
- This was, of course, common in The French Revolution, with or without the benefit of the guillotine. Bernard, Marquis de Launay (the Governor of the Bastille) and several of his guards, Marie-Louise, Princess de Lamballe, and Joseph-François Foullon de Doué all had their heads hacked off by Revolutionary mobs and carried around on pikes.
- According to legend, when the Roman general Crassus was defeated, they brought his head to an enemy king, who was watching a play that ended with a severed head being displayed. They switched Crassus' head for the prop.
- Joaquín Murieta, California bandit and outlaw hero, whose head was removed so as to collect the bounty... and then preserved in a pickle jar and displayed for years.