When Kilgrave gives an instruction that can be interpreted in multiple ways, how free is the recipient to select an interpretation? Does the recipient always have to choose the most lethal meaning?

When Kilgrave escapes from the sealed room, he tells Trish to put a bullet in her head and the intention is clearly that she should shoot herself, which she tries to do and is saved by the fact her gun is empty. When Jessica returns, Trish is trying to push a bullet through her temple; Jessica makes her put a bullet in her mouth instead, and then points out to her there is now a bullet in her head, which seems to be enough to resolve Kilgrave's compulsion.

It seems that where a command can be ambiguous, any literal interpretation would be valid enough that, if carried out, the recipient considers themselves to have fulfilled Kilgrave's instruction.

  • 2
    in the show, the subject appears to follow the most obvious interpretation unless Jessica points out the ambiguity of the statement
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 22:54
  • 4
    @Richard to go a little further, the subject seems to be unable or unwilling to think of any other interpretation by themselves.
    – njzk2
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 4:01
  • A good answer to this question is difficult to give as the makers of the show seemingly weren't terribly consistent in how Kilgrave can use his powers. I would need to watch it again to point out specifics, though.
    – chaosflaws
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 9:52

3 Answers 3


It might be a bit of speculation, but it seems that the victim of Killgrave's power will be trying to do exactly what Killgrave intended them to do instead of finding possible ways out:

Trish is trying to shoot herself instead of swallowing bullet, Will is going to jump from the roof instead i.e. trying to climb down etc.

But once they are CONVINCED that they fulfilled the order, the compulsion disappears:

As did with Trish when after Jessica put a bullet in her mouth or Will who was convinced that he killed Trish

  • 2
    I think they are taking his commands very literally. Killgrave himself even laments his power: "I once told a man to go screw himself. Can you imagine?" So he always has to be careful of his phrasing.
    – Chahk
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 19:19

A possibility would be that the command or compulsion interferes with critical thinking somehow - trying to push a bullet in through the temple by hand doesn't make sense if someone's actually thinking. It's also not the most fatal way available (if that is a possible criteria, the most fatal would be trying to choke on the bullet, methinks).

So it might be the victim's first or at least most likely interpretation, that gets set as default, then compulsion would keep them at whatever the original idea was, instead of trying to rethink it. So the bullet in the head means shoot herself, means bullet through the temple. It might have turned out differently if he gave an order that was sloppy or ambiguous, so someone who took it a different way to begin with, or had a mindset for loopholes (which, honestly, most don't).

Of course, this is also speculation...it is possible that Killgrave's intent is the relevant point, as Yasskier points out, or that there is some other factor involved. It just occurred to me that the victim's understanding is also a possibility.

  • 1
    No, the most fatal way would be to reload the gun and proceed. ;)
    – jpmc26
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 5:08
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    @jpmc26 - That is fair :). From the way the question's worded, I had assumed the gun was taken away before the bullet-by-hand happened... but if it wasn't, then more support to the idea the compulsion messes with reasoning abilities.
    – Megha
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 5:20
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    It seems to affect people like a drug, causing them to have difficulty thinking clearly as they are overwhelmed by the compulsion. It's clearly strong enough to override natural aversion to pain and death, so it makes sense that the victim couldn't think too rationally while under his control.
    – user
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 11:42

While any sufficiently convincing interpretation will seemingly satisfy the compulsion, the victims of Kilgrave's commands seem to latch on to whatever interpretation they had when the command was given.

There seems to be no room left in their mind to think of alternative interpretations unless they are able to somehow resist the effects of the compulsion.

Conversely, if the most direct path to satisfying the compulsion becomes unavailable for any reason, they are still able to come up with alternative ways to satisfy the requirements.

This is evidenced by the command Trish is given when told to "put a bullet in her head". If I recall correctly, she first tries to shoot herself but when that doesn't work she starts trying to pound the bullet into her head manually as an alternative way to satisfy the requirement while still adhering to the original interpretation of what she was commanded to do.

He seems to be aware of this fact as I recall several instances where he mentions the need to choose his words carefully whenever he speaks.

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