A literal, hyperbolic approach to "putting a price on one's head."
Somewhere, somehow... somebody crossed the wrong person or group in a position of nefarious power, and now they're gonna have to pay dearly for their insolence. However, this isn't just a simple matter of putting the word out to some Hired Guns to off someone. The Don, Evil Overlord, or whoever is also specifically demanding that person's head be brought to him personally, preferably served cold on a silver plate.
Character motivations for making a demand like this usually vary between hoping to receive hard evidence that a person of interest is truly deceased or wanting to set an extreme example to others who would dare cross them. However, in rare instances, particularly in works of Science Fiction and Fantasy, it can be possible for someone's head to be valued as more than just a trophy or proof of death and may serve an even greater desirable purpose, such as it being a vessel containing important digital information or possessing some kind of fantastic, magical property.
In some circumstances of a narrative or subplot, this can often be the setup for a MacGuffin—perhaps even functioning as a play on Living MacGuffin (while a character's head is still attached to his/her warm body, anyway). In Video Games, this is occasionally the basis for a certain type of Fetch Quest to kill a specific enemy or monster and return to the quest-giver with their head.
In the event that someone's head is successfully collected, expect some form of Decapitation Presentation to follow.
The concept's origins can be traced back to Greek Mythology and Perseus's quest to claim the head of Medusa as well as the Christian Gospels and the story of The Beheading of John The Baptist.
This trope is specifically denoting instances of people ordering others to return severed heads, usually as bounties, and is NOT to be confused with characters who may kill and take "souvenirs" from their victims for their own sadistic pleasure (i.e. headhunters and human scalpers).
Frequently an Invocation of Off with His Head!
Bringing Back Proof is the Super-Trope for returning other evidence of death, such as fingers, ears, pelts, or prized possessions.
Compare: Finger in the Mail, if the head is, instead, returned to next of kin or law enforcement to convey one's gory fate.
See Also: Human Head on the Wall; Creepy Souvenir, if they keep it.
- In The Dark Knight Returns, the leader of the Mutants demands to be brought the head of Commissioner Gordon. He wants to "carry it through the streets" like a trophy.
- Enemy of the Empire: Darth Vader hires Boba Fett to retrieve a box (naturally keeping the true nature of its contents secret) that is later revealed to contain the still-living decapitated head of an alien prophetess who can predict the future, but in the end, Boba Fett decides to destroy it, rather than be forced to turn her over to Emperor Palpatine.
- Marvel Star Wars (2015): A flashback shows Grand Moff Tarkin ordering his protege Commander Zahra to bring him the head of a rebel leader. To her surprise, he's disappointed when she reports she successfully killed the target, as he literally wanted her to bring him the man's actual head as proof of death.
- In Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, after someone informs the mafia of Jackie Boy's death in Old Town, news of which can break Old Town's shaky truce with the police, they send Irish mercenaries who attack Dwight (while he's disposing the evidence) and take Jackie's severed head as proof of his murder. Dwight and Miho later recover Jackie's head from the mercenaries before the mob can get it and use the head to broker a trade for Gail's life. After Dwight hands the head over to the gangsters and takes Gail, he triggers a grenade taped inside Jack's mouth, killing them and destroying the remaining incriminating evidence.
- Dilbert: In a 1991 strip, Dilbert is trying to schedule a meeting with his boss, but the boss' secretary says she won't put him on the calendar until he brings her the head of Willy the Mailboy.
- The Black Comedy 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Joe Pesci works for The Mafia and has been ordered by his superior to bring back the heads of eight decapitated victims as proof of their deaths. Hilarity Ensues.
- Invoked by Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. After revealing to Superman that he had kidnapped Martha Kent in a scheme to force Superman into compromising his values and killing Batman, Lex gives Superman the ultimatum, "To save Martha, bring me the head of the Bat." Of course, things do not go according to Lex's plans.
- The aptly titled Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. A powerful Mexican crime lord, El Jefe, offers a $1 million bounty to whomever brings him the head of Alfredo Garcia.
- The grindhouse Homage movie Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman. A powerful Chilean gangster does everything he can to stop a mercenary who wants to kill him by offering an army of hitmen—and, by accident, a naive DJ—a staggering sum of cash for her head.
- In Escape from L.A., after Map to the Stars Eddie emerges from a sewer, following a cave-in, and claims to have killed Snake Plissken, a skeptical Cuervo Jones demands that Eddie bring him Plissken's head as proof.
- In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Azog the Defiler (who survived the Battle of Azanulbizar that killed him in the book) has put a price on the heads of the entire company of Thorin Oakenshield—but especially with Thorin himself, who cut off Azog's left arm in the Battle. In addition to the Goblins of Goblintown trying to collect it, Azog happily sends one of his own Orcs to bring him Thorin's head after he's already worn Thorin down with his mace and his Warg. The Great Goblin himself lampshades it when confronting Thorin and revealing Azog's still alive to him.
Great Goblin: I know someone who would pay a pretty price for your head. (Evil Laugh) Just a head. Nothing attached.
- In Johnny Mnemonic, the main character is a Courier who traffics digital information via an implant in his brain. When he takes up a job that interferes with a Mega-Corp's interests, they task the Yakuza and a Holy Hitman with bringing them his severed head in a cryogenically preserved container.
- In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Guy of Gisborne promises his men "A crown to the man who brings me Locksley's head!"
- Salome (1953): In this version of the Beheading of John the Baptist, Salome is depicted as a virtuous princess who doesn't want John the Baptist killed. On the contrary, she intends to use the reward from her dance to make Herod set him free. Herodias instead cleverly takes advantage of the situation to have John executed before the dance ends, and Salome is horrified when the head is brought to the throne room.
- In Samurai Cop, Fujiyama, the leader of the Japanese gang, orders to have one of his own men, who was a badly burned and hospitalized following a police chase, be executed and have his head displayed on a piano to remind all remaining gang members of their code of silence. His chief enforcer, Yamashita, obeys the order.
Fujiyama: I want him dead! I want his head cut off and brought here! I want his head on this piano so that every man in my organization understands, once more, that no Katana gets captured alive or talks! Got that?Yamashita: I will bring you his head, and I will place it on your piano.
- War (2007) (aka Rogue Assassin). Kira Yonagawa orders Rogue to kill Triad boss Chang and his wife and daughter, so she can present their heads to her father. Rogue does kill Chang but helps his family escape, and at the end of the movie they receive a metal case containing a valuable statuette, and a note telling them to "make a new life" for themselves. Kira gets the same note and metal case...containing the head of her father.
- Invoked and Played for Laughs in Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies. A mob boss wishes for his enemy's head, and the evil Djinn transforms the mob boss's own head and facial features into his enemy's exact likeness.
- The Belgariad: In The Seeress of Kell, when Queen Salmissra's then-Chief Eunuch Adiss informs her of a problem with a minor government official called The Satrap, Salmissra dismisses it as a completely unimportant matter and tells Adiss to solve the problem by hiring an assassin to cut off The Satrap's head. When Adiss protests, she repeats her order and also tells him to bring her the head afterward as proof of his obedience.
- The dying leader of SPECTRE in the James Bond novel Nobody Lives for Ever organizes a literal headhunt for Bond, as the person who manages to kill him is required to bring his head to the leader on a silver charger to claim his prize of ten million Swiss francs.
- In The Executioner, this occurs several times during Mack Bolan's war against The Mafia, as whenever a mob boss demands Bolan's head, it's usually meant to be taken literally:
- Ironically in "Tennessee Smash", Bolan is posing as a mob assassin and has to deliver a head himself because it's expected of him. The boss then kicks it into his swimming pool.
- In "Paradine's Gauntlet", a terrorist wanting revenge for a previous encounter demands that Bolan be the courier for a ransom exchange. "This is non-negotiable. If he is unavailable, evidence of death must be presented with the payment. His head will be acceptable." This ends up being Paradine's downfall; he shoots Bolan and then puts aside his rifle for a knife, intending to collect Bolan's head. However Bolan is Not Quite Dead, and Paradine discovers you should Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight.
- In Quiller's Run, Quiller is played a wiretap recording of the villainess demanding his head. The Handler tries to make light of it. "Once you're dead, you won't care where the thing is." It's not an idle threat, as a previous agent had his head delivered to his embassy. After Quiller bests a hitman who nearly takes his head off with a garrote, he's told there was a head-sized box with a plastic bag found inside the hitman's car.
- The story of the Beheading of John the Baptist is depicted in the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. Salome dances, King Herod promises her whatever she wants, she requests the head of John the Baptist, Herod obeys and executes John the Baptist.
- A big part of Hanover's Story Arc throughout the first season of Ratched. Lenore Osgood hires Charles Wainwright to kill Hanover and bring her his head for mutilating her son, Henry. Nurse Ratched initially offers to help Hanover hide, but she later makes a deal with Osgood to have Hanover killed, and once that's done she collects his head to give to Osgood herself.
- Discussed in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "For the Cause". In a side plot, The exiled Cardassian spy-turned-tailor Elim Garak, who was responsible for the torture and death of Gul Dukat's father years ago, is befriended by Dukat's daughter, Tora Ziyal. Consequently, Garak fears that Ziyal has been instructed by her father to kill him, believing that she's going to present his severed head to Dukat as a birthday gift. Ultimately, however, Ziyal convinces Garak that she is sincerely interested in being his friend, as the only other Cardassian on Deep Space Nine.
- The narrator of the song "Bring Me His Head" by the band Lucifer puts out bounties on the heads of men who wronged her. ("Bring me his head/Whatever the cost may be.")
- David Bowie's song "Bring Me the Disco King" has Bowie asking for the head of the Disco King, dead or alive.
- In Greek Mythology, King Polydectes ordered Perseus to bring him the head of Medusa as a wedding present to prove his manhood. That said, Polydectes tasked Perseus with doing this hoping it would get him killed and thereby enable Polydectes to marry Perseus' mother Danae, whom Perseus had been defending from Polydectes repeatedly. Sadly for Polydectes, Perseus successfully killed Medusa, and once he heard what the king was planning for his mother, he returned home and presented the king with his gift, whereupon Polydectes was Taken for Granite.
- In Christianity, the story of The Beheading of John the Baptist from The Gospels: On King Herod's birthday, when Salome's dancing pleased Herod so much that he promised to give her anything she desired, she asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter, at the behest of her mother, Herodias. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John executed by beheading in the prison.
- Dungeons & Dragons: One sourcebook plays with this trope in an example of how The Paladin can be Lawful Good without being Lawful Stupid. In the example questline given, The Paladin is honor-bound to follow the requests of the Big Bad, and when the villain says, "Bring me the head of the king," the Paladin brings him the head... along with the rest of the king, and his entire army.
- Warhammer Fantasy: The lore has several examples, due to all the arch-enemies amongst the various factions. Amongst others, Belegar Ironhammer has a price on the head of Skarsnik, goblin warlord of Belegar's home of Karak Eight Peaks, while their neighbour Kazador Dragonslayer has put a price on the head of the orc warlord Golfang Rotgut for kidnapping his family and shaving his son. And, of course, Khorne demands worship in the form of the skulls of his enemies.
- Salome, Oscar Wilde's interpretation of The Beheading of John the Baptist, casts Salome as a wicked temptress who cannot handle rejection and becomes angry with John the Baptist for refusing her advances. In this version, she asks for John's head as her reward without any prompting from Herodias, and after receiving it she declares her love to it and kisses it on the mouth (and in some modern stagings even starts making love to it), to Herod's disgust.
- In Divinity: Original Sin II, a few sidequests involve obtaining a target's head as a unique Organ Drop:
- One ghost asks for the head of the man who killed him. He happily departs for the afterlife when he sees it, rewarding the player character with directions to his buried treasure.
- The bounty on the Psycho for Hire Mummie Dearest is collected by hunting her down and delivering her head to Paladin Hardwin. He personally set the price after she took an axe to his best friend's neck.
Narrator: He recoils in disgust. But then, recognizing her face... he grins.
- The player character can accept a quest to collect Bishop Alexandar's head for the Sallow Man — an Undead Abomination and lieutenant to the Greater-Scope Villain. It serves a purpose beyond killing an enemy; the Sallow Man eats the head to absorb Alexandar's knowledge.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, an NCR Major named Dhatri offers a bounty on three leaders of the Fiends, a gang of drugged up raiders. He asks for the heads as proof. If the player damages the heads too much in their efforts at collecting them, such as going for Boom, Headshot!, they will get a smaller reward.
- In Far Cry 3, Hoyt Volker delivers an insincerely friendly orientation speech to his Privateers on what they can and can't do in his slave-trafficking ring, and sets fire to some poor wretch who broke those rules. Then, right before he leaves, he tells his men that he has a special offer: Bring him Jason Brody's head, and he'll give them their own island. Needless to say, Jason has to fight even harder to prevent Hoyt's men from collecting.
- Played for Drama (twice) in Ghost of Tsushima, after Khotun Khan puts a bounty on Jin Sakai's head, and each time the person who tries to collect is someone close to Jin.
- The first time, Jin's friend Ryuzo, the leader of the band of Rōnin known as the Straw Hats, duels Jin for the bounty, out of desperation to defend his men, bitterness towards Jin for beating him in a duel years ago that would have made him a samurai if he'd won, and doubt that Lord Shimura would ever reward his men for their efforts in freeing him. Jin keeps his head, but his friendship with Ryuzo is broken.
- The second time, Jin finds Ryuzo waiting for him at Castle Shimura, having been left behind by the Khan to collect Jin's head. This time, though, Ryuzo is no longer interested in the bounty, and instead begs Jin to work with him against the Khan and lie to the people by telling them he was a Fake Defector sent to gain the Mongols' trust. Jin, disgusted by Ryuzo's cowardice, instead orders him to surrender and be judged for his crimes, and Ryuzo, knowing he'll be sentenced to death, decides to go down fighting. He loses, and never collects Jin's head.
- Knights of the Old Republic: Discussed when a Czerka representative offers a bounty for the gaffi sticks carried by sand people. When the Player Character asks why she's not asking for their heads, she asks what he thinks she would prefer to have dumped on her office floor.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda: A lengthy e-mail chain at New Tuchanka has a krogan Snake Oil Salesman promising the locals "real Varren roast", followed by many, many e-mails as he tries to weasel his way out of his hyperbolic promises. Following is another e-mail from one of his customers demanding his head - attached or not, she doesn't care, she just wants him to shut up.
- In MechWarrior 4: Vengeance, after a You Have Failed Me moment, Duncan Burke is threatened by Roland with death. Upon saying he can bring Roland Ian Dresari, Roland says "Bring me Dresari's head, and you'll live."
- In Runescape, The final part of "The Fremennik Isles" quest is to kill the king of the ice trolls and bring back the head to the ruler of Neitiznot. While it's said to be for proof of death, the fact the ice trolls killed the burgher's wife and youngest son (alongside many others) may be part of the reason for cranium collection.
- In Spartan: Total Warrior, When Tiberius finds out Sejanus did not bring back proof of the Spartan's death after trying to feed him to the Hydra, he demands his severed head as proof, especially after he yells that the Spartan is indeed not dead.
Tiberius: The Spartan is alive and seeking vengeance! I expected you to deal with him personally, not just feed him to your giant worm! You disappoint me, Sejanus. I wanted his head. Bring me his head! His head!
- The Ork Warboss Gorgutz 'Ead 'Unter from Dawn of War has a preoccupation with obtaining the heads of his enemies to put on his 'pointy stik', though in most cases he prefers taking their heads personally and rebuffs offers from his minions to have them brought to him. Attack his headquarters in Retribution and he will make an exception and demand his forces bring him your skulls.
- During the mission briefing for the Tomb of Sargeras level in Warcraft II, the player is asked to "return with the head of Gul'dan." His skull goes on to be a powerful artifact that corrupts the environment around it, houses Gul'dan's lingering spirit, is used to close the Dark Portal that allowed the Orcs to invade Azeroth. It is even an obtainable item in World of Warcraft.
- The Order of the Stick: When the Arc Villain Kubota learns that his minion Therkla rescued one of the heroes opposing him, he appreciates the Loophole Abuse with which she justifies it, but unambiguously orders her to kill the hero and deliver his head next time.
- Sword Art Online Abridged sees Kirito do something offscreen to upset the King of Ashes, right after Heathcliff spent a long time in peace talks to get their permission to pass through.
King of Ashes: BRING ME THE HEAD OF KIRITO!Subordinate: But it will shatter, sire!King of Ashes: THEN BRING ME THE SHAAAARDS!