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Watching Troy Burn is what the heroes do as they see a home or place they care about being attacked and possibly even having already been destroyed. And the thing that makes it so heart-wrenching to them is that for some reason, there's nothing that they can do about it. This trope is often paired with a camera technique to personalize this and drive it home to the viewers, who (let's face it) have likely been desensitized to this sort of thing. The camera will show the heroes approach a cliff/window and get a Reaction Shot of each, then turn and take a good, long look at the burning/ruined panorama, zooming from behind the heroes to a birds eye view. They'll likely stand agape, The Chick will likely cling to The Hero and turn away from the carnage, and at least one hero will fall to their knees and/or scream to the heavens.
It doesn't have to be their actual hometown, or even a town. A bad guy thrashing the hero's secret base, a Base on Wheels, or a friendly king's castle can have the same effect. Basically, any landmark/large object/population center the heroes have a large emotional attachment to can be the "Troy." That said, burning a place that is physically gorgeous like the Shining City can have double the emotional impact. Villains into Evil Gloating will likely enjoy forcing a captured hero watch the destruction.
The placement of Watching Troy Burn in a story changes its intended effect. When used at the beginning it's a Doomed Hometown, meant to make it personal for the heroes. In the middle of a story, it ups the emotional stakes, Anyone Can Die and this Big Bad is not a Harmless Villain whose defeat will ensure no harm happens. In the end, and it's likely a cause for a Downer Ending or at best Bittersweet Ending. May lead to Above the Ruins, although often enough the hero is not given the chance to look back.
As you can guess, this is a Spoiler trope, so read the examples at your own risk.
Anime & Manga
- The destruction of the Black Lagoon's dock and headquarters can be seen from the water during the Greenback Jane arc, while the boat is hauling engine to get there on time. They don't, but, it is rebuilt.
- Pejite in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
- Robin from One Piece, as the only survivor from Ohara, sailed away watching the island burn up in an inferno.
- In the Wham! Episode of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, this happens to the Section Six HQ.
- The fortress of Alania in Record of Lodoss War, with the heroes escaping to witness its destruction by the Black Knight, Ashram.
- An interesting variation in Fullmetal Alchemist, where Ed and Al invoke this trope by burning their home down THEMSELVES so they won't be tempted to give up their quest to get their bodies back.
- Variation in that Ed and Al aren't watching their home burn, as the Rockbells' is their true home. As their father lampshades in the manga/Brotherhood version, it's the equivalent of a kid hiding their sheets after wetting the bed. They're not burning the house to sever their ties to home; they're burning it to destroy all traces of their failed experiment.
- The titular character of Naruto returns to his beloved village... to find it has been crushed into a rubble-filled crater with hundreds, if not thousands, dead. While the deaths were reversed, this made the actual objective of Akatsuki painfully clear.
- Home Tree in Avatar.
- The first Power Rangers movie had Ivan Ooze smash their base and leave Zordon dying.
- The bull dragon attacking the keep in Reign of Fire applies here, especially as Christian Bale's character has to watch from the outside at first.
- Vulcan in the latest Star Trek movie.
- Alderaan in Star Wars: A New Hope.
- And the "burning homestead" scene.
- The film Troy has a pretty heart wracking shot with Priam watching as the Greeks pillage his city. Functions as a big Kick the Dog moment for Agamemnon and the Greeks as a whole. Who were we rooting for again?
- Priam, Hector, Odysseus and maybe Patroclus. Sure, they're on different sides, but everyone else is either massively unsympathetic and/or cut from the film.
- Haven in Serenity. This one comes as a double blow due to Shepherd Book being killed along with the settlers in the attack, but not before taking the enemy's ship with him.
- Star Trek III: The freaking Enterprise, man.
- A villainous example: Cutler Beckett as his ship is torn to splinters.
- In the second film of The Matrix, Morpheus's ship the Nebuchadnezzar explodes after the Sentinels destroy it.
- In the film version of The Two Towers Arethen and Freda stop a moment to watch their village be burned by wildmen before they flee to Edoras.
- Wayne Manor burning down in Batman Begins.
- Watching the Iso cities burn and the portal back to his own world flicker out is what pushes Flynn well past Despair Event Horizon in Tron: Legacy.
- Book II of Virgil's Aeneid depicts the fall of Troy from Aeneas's point of view, replete with descriptions of fire and the destruction.
- Wyatt's Torch in Atlas Shrugged.
- In book two of the Nightrunner series, Seregil's real home at the Cockerel is destroyed and everyone inside mutilated. He burns the remains himself.
- In the final story arc of Animorphs, Jake, Marco and Tobias watch as Bug fighters burn their hometown to nothing to make a dead zone around their mothership's landing site.
- In "The Scouring of the Shire" in The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits return to their home to find Saruman has taken control and done his best to ruin it (However, it's not utterly destroyed and Sam's gift from Galadriel repairs a lot of the damage afterwards).
- Lots of examples in World War Z
- In the After the End novel Bone Dance, the protagonist, Sparrow, has lovingly assembled a large collection of pre-war music and video. Halfway through the book, the Big Bad sets Sparrow's entire building ablaze, out of sheer cruelty. Sparrow has to be physically restrained from running inside.
Live Action TV
- A lot of the miniseries for Battlestar Galactica Reimagined and The Plan showed the devastation of the Cylon attack, and the emotional devastation it wrought.
- The iconic photo of the soldier, fallen to his knees, in front of the burning skyline of Caprica City jumps to mind as a perfect example.
- Doctor Who, "The Fires of Pompeii".
- Another curious example. Although not a strict example of this trope, as it is not observed by any of the characters, anyone who is familiar with the brief views of Gallifrey in the classic series, the short flashback in The Sound of the Drums or at the very least comprehends the awe of the place from the descriptions given by the Doctor in the TV Movie and the New Series, will feel this trope when they see the brief view of Gallifrey during the Time War in The End of Time, with the smashed Citadel, wreckages of Dalek ships and fires.
- Heroic Sociopath detective Kathy Mallory has her childhood home (which is described as being the only place she has any emotional attachment to) with all her deceased parents' belongings burned to the ground in Killing Critics.
- Final Fantasy IX has several of these where summons are used as weapons of mass destruction.
- Truly, IX did have a way with these things. In fact, you are generally treated to the complete destruction, or in the very least decimation, of every single town or settlement, and in one case an entire planet, that you visit. For a complete list: Let's see, Dagger's first hometown, the Village of the Summoners gets Death From Above from Garland before the game starts. Freya's hometown of Burmecia is a charred ruin by the time you arrive, Cleyra and its population get hit with Odin, whose attack sequence plays out like an atom bomb. Lindblum is treated to a dual attack by Brahne's black mages and the summoned Atmos. In a serious Player Punch, Alexandria is ravaged by Bahamut, becomes a battleground between it and Alexander, before being carpet-bombed by Garland- leaving poor Dagger mute. Finally, Terra is treated to multiple Ultimas via Kuja. I think FFIX holds the trophy for most hometowns destroyed.
- With the exception of Quina, Amarant, and Vivi, almost every playable character's hometown in that game will be or already is destroyed as the plot unfolds. Terra might count for Zidane, if he can be considered to have a hometown at all.
- The villain of a particularly good FFIX fanfiction summed this phenomenon up nicely:
"(E)verything (Zidane) touched turned to dust, linden-bloom. We walked in Alexandria and it exploded. We walked in Lindblum and it exploded. We walked in Burmecia and it exploded. We walked in Cleyra and it exploded. We walked in Terra, the dead planet, and it died."
- Final Fantasy Tactics: Fort Zeakden isn't Ramza's hometown, but what happens there is still enough to change not only his outlook on life but the fate of Ivalice as a whole, and the first chapter ends on a freeze frame of it going up in flames.
- Happens in Golden Sun: The Lost Age.
- Final Fantasy II's Play Station remake opens with the four protagonists, Firion, Maria, Guy, and Leon, fleeing from their burning hometown after the Emperor's forces have set torch to it. The cinema ends with them watching the conflagration from a nearby hilltop.
- Happens thrice in Suikoden V. The first occurs after the coup, a major Player Punch accompanied by a real sense of loss even if it's sort of a Foregone Conclusion. The second is Lelcar being set ablaze, driving home just how far the enemy is willing to go since it's one of their own cities they're torching. The third is the attack on Beaver Lodge, which pushes the enemy from any argument of Well-Intentioned Extremist to Complete Monsters openly planning genocide to "purify Falena." In all cases, the target is the hometown of several of the Stars of Destiny, and attention is always given to their reaction.
- Poor Cloud and Tifa go through this particular trauma several times throughout the course of Final Fantasy VII. They see their hometown of Nibelheim burn to the ground once in person and then several times more thanks to Sephiroth's Mind Rapes and uncanny tendency to replay the scene whenever taunting Cloud.
- Not to mention Barrett's back story involving his hometown of Corel being burned to the ground by SHINRA.
- Or what happened to Sector 7. Tifa's bar! Oh yeah, and all their friends and stuff.
- And let's not forget the poisoning of Doma from Final Fantasy VI. Or what Kefka does to the entire damned world.
- Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2: Washington, D.C.
- The ending of Vietcong.
- The beginning of Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, when Luke Skywalker and Gimli view the wreckage of the TCS Concordia.
- Once could say that Halo: Reach, is really just about this. Reach is doomed and mostly depopulated, but you stay in the burning ruins to the very end.
- Played especially straight at the opening cutscene of the Exodus level, when Noble Six crests a hill, only to see the "crown jewel" city of New Alexandria being razed and glassed by the Covenant. Includes a drawn-out camera reveal over the hill and a brief pause as Six surveys the damage, poignantly holding Jorge's dogtags.
- Mass Effect has several; namely the Citadel at the end of the first game, the Normandy SR1 at the beginning of the second, and Earth itself in the Mass Effect 3 trailer.
- Also in Mass Effect 3, Thessia, the asari homeworld.
- The Monastery near the beginning of Jade Empire also serves as an example.
- Alluded to in Knights of the Old Republic as the heroes flee the bombing of Taris. Carth and Mission particularly take it hard.
- Homeworld: Kharak in Mission 3. The burning planet serves as a backdrop as your forces rush to save the last 600,000 civilian survivors.
- Done in both Free Space and the Silent Threat expansion. In the original, you have to try to fend of high-speed fighters in a bomber before an invincible superdestroyer finishes of the GTD Galatea, your homebase for the first half of the campaign. In the expansion, you can't keep the GTI insurgency from destroying the GTD Krios, your homebase for the first part of the campaign. The emotional impact is helped by the fact that the main menu is the interior of the ship you are based on, so when they are destroyed and you have to relocate to another destroyer, the graphic changes.
- In Dead Island, several locations that you travel to where survivors are gathered up get attacked and overtaken by zombies after certain quests are completed.
- In Impure Blood, Mac seeing the town go was off-stage, but after her mad rush to warn, it starts to sink in.
- In Nip and Tuck, the Show Within a Show Rebel Cry features the destruction of a place that helped our hero and the kid stowaway, and it hits them hard.
- At the beginning of An American Tail, the village of Shostka, Russia suffers a pogrom at the hands of Russian Cossacks, and their pet cats. They set fire to most of the buildings, and after the Mousekewitz family survives the attack, they watch from a distance as their village goes up in flames. Thus, they decide to go to America, where there are no cats. Or so they think...
- In the season 3 finale of Re Boot we see Mainframe crash. Basically the entire city falls apart and everything but the Principal Office falls into the energy sea. The final shot is Dot and Bob staring at each other while everything fades to black. Fortunately The User intervenes and fixes everything.
- This happens in Mulan, directly cutting off a cheery song to show us the burnt ruins of a village and an entire army.
- This can be heard in the soundtrack - where the final note just fades with a kind of horrified confusion.
- Subverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender: at the end of the second season, our heroes take one last look at Ba Sing Se (now under enemy control). But the fallen capital doesn't look any different, because the takeover was entirely political.
- In the Sequel, The Legend of Korra, it goes the other way with Amon and the Equalists decimating the Pro-bending stadium and blowing up the ring. Unlike Ba Sing Se, everything is a wreck.
- All Dogs Go to Heaven has the two main characters looking from afar as the nightclub they set up goes up in flames.
- In Dark Crystal, Jen watches as Aughra's lab is destroyed.