Code {Essay}

~ an essay on the anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (2006)

High Fantasy, High Drama, High Art

In Code Geass, the stakes could not be higher. From the very beginning of its narrative taking place in dystopian alternate history — where a monarchical Euro-American coalition known as Britannia rules much of the globe with an iron fist — the fate of that world is in play. Lelouch Lamperouge, brilliant high school student / exiled prince with dormant ambitions and a fearlessness borne not from courage but from purposeless, is gifted a power. The power of geass comes from an immortal witch with green hair. She gives Lelouch the capability of commanding people, just once, to do his absolute bidding, no matter what it may be. This so-called ‘power of the king,’ to bend the will of humanity to his whim, becomes the power to change the world. Lelouch vi Britannia embarks upon the path of this change, borne of blood and deception and chaos.

Geass is one of my favorite anime because of how fearlessly, relentlessly, artfully dramatic it is. The Shakespearean proportions of the storyline match the dialogue and characterizations. Fated friendships, cosmic misunderstandings and masked rivalries mark the conflicts between nations, empires and rebellions. Hyper-powerful mechas piloted by teens and world war veterans alike, known as ‘Knightmare Frames’, ludicrously conflict with swords and lasers and competing monologues on the nature of war and peace, evolutionary theory, and what kinds of pretty ends may justify bloody means. On a macro-scale, it is a reflection upon the widespread impacts of world war and the pain it inflicts upon the psyche of the nations involved; on a micro-scale, it is a long form meditation upon the myriad ways that power can change a person, and how the slippery slopes of ambitious personal striving can turn to abuse and to tyranny.

“War is a struggle between pride and life.” ~ Princess Cornelia
A nation isn’t a place, it’s a people.

From the jump, Lelouch is skipping classes to intervene in terrorist rebel plots to undermine the empire’s oppression and tacit genocide of the Japanese, and he is doing it effectively. The power of geass grants him the path of an efficacious coup d’etat. Obviously, the power of geass is everything in the conflicts to come. Without it, there is no success in the fight and Lelouch’s grand potential for long-term peacemaking and his own brand of tyranny likely stays dormant. It does present an interesting question: Terrifying and clarifying in equal measure, must a supernatural power be present in order to hope to destroy such hi-tech dystopian futures? The key to his progressions comes in the method of how Lelouch chooses to ambitiously employ his power. Using it brilliantly, this mind-manipulating gaze equalizes the power imbalance between Lelouch and his great foe, the Holy Britannian Empire.

“If the King doesn’t lead, how can he expect his subordinates to follow…”

It is, of course, all big fantasy. It is also thrilling. Watching Lelouch mastermind his way into victory after victory with gambits and well-placed geass’ing within the prepared mecha battlefields of his chosen ‘task at hand’ is the whole conceit of the show. Until the very end, we want to see what Lelouch is going to do next! In short order, Lelouch goes from defeating obnoxiously arrogant and parasitic nobles that “mistake their borrowed power for ability” in underground chess games, to leading Japanese terrorists to compelling victories on the battlefield against superior forces, to assassinating his brother, one of the princes of Britannia, with a mad-hatter grin on his face. Lelouch starts by listlessly reading Hamlet within the sidecar of Rivelz’s motorbike and eventually stands before a ladder of souls stretching into the heavens, outside of time and space, speaking of lies as the imperative agents of change and collective striving for betterment within humanity. There, Lelouch gazes into this collective unconscious, otherwise known as God, and commands it to ‘not stop the progress of time’ … effectively bending God to the will of his geass. This is the kind of tale being told in Code Geass. And it is oh so satisfying to see play out, to see all the pieces in play come together.

Emperor Charles zi Britannia: Man is not created equal! The strong devour the weak!

Zero, Lelouch’s theatric, chaotic alter ego and mask to his ironic identity, is the driving dramatic force behind the plots within plots against the Britannian Empire. It is the king piece that he orchestrates from, and which moves the world to his tune. He plays all sides of the conflict to his own complex ends — challenging the Britannian empire and his father, the Emperor Charles zi Britannia, and all his various family members of disparate disposition and gullibility // rallying the Japanese rebels in Kallen, Ohgi, Tohdoh that come to be known as the Black Knights // working with influential media figures within the world such as Diethard and the scientist lordlings in Lloyd and Rakshata // playing along as helpless with his classmates such as Shirley and Nina and his beloved sister Nunnally.

Lelouch is something starkly different to everyone he interacts with in the course of the game. To the Britannians, he is an increasingly legitimate threat to their rule. To the rebels, he is hope. To the public at large, he is a novelty, an icon, a demon. To his sister and friends, he is ‘Lelouch’ — bored, aloof student, misunderstood but loved. His mad internal monologues, usually in the cockpit of his knightmare frame and delivered through egomaniacal laughter, dramatically clarify his ambitions to win at all costs, to crush his opponents and revel in their despair, to continuously consummate his brilliant plans to perfect resolution.

“Those of you with power, fear us! Those of you without it, rally behind us! The black knights shall stand in judgment of this world!”

~ Zero

The mask of Zero imbues him with a character he enjoys playing, but it is not the only mask that Lelouch wears. It is arguable that the only time Lelouch’s true personality and intent can be known is when he interacts with CC, the mysterious woman that gifted him his geass in the first place. The lies fall away because he has no compulsion to do such things with her; there is nothing gain from it. They have a contract, to ally themselves in each other’s goals. And though hers is mysterious, they come to rely upon one another over time. Around CC, Lelouch becomes vulnerable, doubting, angry, sad — human — all of the things that he cannot display on the other stages, where his character must be maintained lest he lose his ventures before his companions and adversaries.

To the world, Lelouch must be a daemonic tyrant or savior, willing to do anything to win and capable of doing everything they might hope to project onto him; to himself, he is something else — and this is what is discovered by the audience over the course of the saga.

“The only ones who should kill are those who are prepared to be killed!” ~ Lelouch

Despite the scale and the levels of power in play, Geass remains a character-driven tale. Through his quest and its many failures and tragedies, Lelouch is continuously forced to reevaluate his plan of action, his motivations, and his morality, while remaining convicted in his purpose. The victories he wins, the sacrifices he is willing to take on, the mistakes he makes — all serve to reinforce and change and adapt components of his goals and philosophy and character until endgame. In the fight for the world, Lelouch vi Britannia affirms “the path of blood” with this conviction. But he does so without fully understanding the coming costs to his life and companionships. And so, he is met with both power and tragedy, order and chaos, hope and despair, life and death — all beautifully, dramatically, artfully so.

“False tears bring pain to those around you; a false smile brings pain to oneself.” ~ CC

Revolution vs. Reform

The core conflict of Geass is in the companionship and rivalry between Lelouch and Suzaku. Their philosophies and the violent contests between them make up the most intriguing aspect of the plot; they are the best characters within this narrative, and consequently, are the most pivotal.

“In this world, evil can arise from the best of intentions. and there is good which can come from evil intentions.” ~ C.C.

Lelouch vi Britannia, now living under the name of Lamperouge, is in hiding from the royal family and the world. He and his little sister Nunally were exiled after their mother, Marianne, wife of Charles zi Britannia, was mysteriously murdered. Suzaku Kururugi is a childhood friend of Lelouch’s, whose family took him in after his exile, despite his Britannian heritage and the conflict therein. The formerly independent nation of Japan, finally conquered by Britannia, is now known simply as Area 11. Their citizens are callously referred to as ’11’s’ and are treated as second class citizens. Suzaku is Japanese, but now lives in Britannia and fights as a soldier within their military. They attend prep school together, old friends reunited, neither initially aware of the others’ true identity and actions within the ongoing armed conflicts.

Lelouch wishes to take his vengeance upon his homeland for killing his mother, crippling his little sister, and exiling him to live alone within Japan — and for this revenge, Lelouch wishes to obliterate the Holy Britannian Empire. Suzaku, on the other hand, hopes to live well despite his circumstances, and holds steady aspirations to prove himself to native Britannians — by providing the people around him with a paragon of duty and morality, Suzaku believes he may change the Holy Britannian Empire’s tyrannical ways without overt revolution.

Each of the two young men hope to change the world around them. And they back up such hopes with competence. Lelouch is a pure intellect, a grandmaster-level chess player who cannot help but calculate and judge the trajectories of power within the hierarchies around him. Suzaku is a physical specimen, supremely strong in battle and stubborn of heart and mind. He is bound to speak the truth and consistently do the right thing, no matter to the consequences. Where our two protagonists differ is not only in their backgrounds and talents, but in their philosophies of power and its use.

Lelouch wishes to gain power, so that he may wield it and shape the world and people around him to his endgame — that of destroying the empire and building it anew. Suzaku hopes to use what power he has in his current position to the ends of defending life, mitigating conflict and preventing war — and changing the empire from within. Their duality is that of revolution vs. reform, radical change vs. incrementally progressing upon the status quo’s baseline, toppling power structures vs. righteously upholding them. It is a contest of tradition versus creation, defending versus attacking, order versus chaos — the time-honored battle for the fatefully uncertain modern man wielding power and living within a globalized civilization of dominance hierarchies. Lelouch and Suzaku model as paragons of the two variable philosophies as they grow and change throughout the series. As more of their past tragedies are revealed and their current responsibilities conflict, they are forced to act with greater conviction against one another’s ways. Put another way, Lelouch’s utilitarianism comes up against Suzaku’s deontology.

Lelouch treats the battlefields as a game of chess, with people as pieces and territories as objectives, the components of his campaigns as a series of ‘tasks’ to be completed. Lelouch as Zero, and the Black Knights alongside him, understand that revolution requires deception and destruction in order to obtain the results that the rebels strive for. Those dispossessed from power must sometimes debase themselves in order to potentially gain it. Corrupting the old ways, and the law, is necessary in order to give their group the chance to make it right in the future. Lelouch comes to learn that reality is more dynamic and fluid than chess, as reinforcements are inevitably called, physical upgrades progress abilities, and pilots lose heart in the midst of the battle’s chaos. People die and situations change. Pain and love reach through masks and make everything harder. Suffering changes the calculation. One’s endgame must be altered and adapted continuously in the face of such things, lest your advantages be lost in the march of time. Lelouch accepts the unconscionability of his actions, resolving ultimately that one’s humanity must be shed in order to win a war.

“Everyone uses lies. Everyone wears different faces. On friends and foes. That is society.” ~ Zero

Suzaku, acting as ace fighter for Britannia’s defense against Zero and the Black Knights — and fighting for a people that generally think lesser of him due to his heritage — defends every life conscientiously, even that of his enemies. His defense of life at every turn is his final and most important duty as a warrior. He embraces the contradictions of his fight and his heritage and charges ahead full force, seemingly better for the simplification. However, the ambiguities of battle eventually touch home upon him as well, as the truth of his father’s death is revealed, the love of his life massacres his own people, Zero undermines his willingness for selfless sacrifice with geass, etc. The ideal world Suzaku hopes for — that of unity between the masters and their ’subjects,’ world peace achieved under the regime of a blatant tyranny, true change occurring without any use of what he deems to be contemptible means — is chipped away with every action and reaction within Zero’s world war. The effectiveness of the Black Knights and of Lelouch’s command, forces Britannia to take on increasingly drastic measures in defense. Suzaku disdains the so-called path of blood, and yet, it does serve to equalize power within the world, dispels a tyrannical grip, and moves the world closer to something like unity.

The eventual peace that Suzaku dreams of from the seat of his Lancelot, in defense of Britannia’s status quo, is the exact same goal that Zero / Lelouch drives at himself. It is his means of the quest, and Zero’s seeming utter lack of regard for the humanity of his mission’s allies, adversaries, and all the innocents along the way, that the young Japanese man cannot abide. Throughout his fight, Suzaku requires a locus for the sins of the war, a sacrificial figure through which there might finally be a place for peace. For the longest time, he uses himself; in the end, he finds another.

“Zero! Your methods will not change anything! You’re focused on goals, and don’t understand the pain of others! // Denying everything in our society is pointless. Once I make them trust me, I’ll have the power to change it.” ~ Suzaku

Regardless of one’s philosophical choices, in order to shape the hearts, minds, and lives of the people, you still have to win. And Lelouch and Suzaku each do so, using their own intrinsic strategies and talents, trading blows against one another and eventually against their common adversaries. Both of them draw their power from a certain lacking within their soul: a fear of death. At the start of their journeys, neither cares if they were to die. This changes over the turns within the narrative. Ironically, the one most ready for self-sacrifice is continuously denied it;

And the one most hopeful for the future, and whose actions are most crucial in its creation, is willingly denied such continuity for the sake of that work’s completion.

The Zero Requiem

Code Geass maybe has the best ending of any anime or show I have yet seen. It takes place in the form of that aptly, dramatically titled “Zero Requiem.” The maneuver provides a satisfying conclusion to the whole saga, for all characters involved. Each in their own way, it is the ultimate redemption for both Suzaku and Lelouch. Just as they speak into existence throughout the series — there is nothing they cannot do together — they arrive at this conclusion together, as equals. And so, in the endgame, after Lelouch and Suzaku have teamed up and finally defeated all of the foes standing in their way and effectively ’taken over the world,’ they create it anew with The Zero Requiem.

Nunnally: Despicable. Using Geass that manipulates the will of people and violates their human dignity. …

Lelouch: What about the Damocles? Would you agree that is a despicable method that forces people to obey?

N: The Damocles will become a symbol of their hatred! All their hatred will be focused here. That way people can move toward the future.

~ Nunnally independently speaking the core idea of the Zero Requiem into existence.

The Zero Requiem (“ZR”), the final turn, Lelouch’s checkmate, has two parts. Part one, in effect, is the absorption of the world’s malice and grievance and yearnings for war into the personage of a single person – Lelouch vi Britannia – the world’s newfound emperor and tyrant to trump all that came before. Part two is the dramatic assassination of Lelouch during his campaigning parade through the streets of the world by none other than … Zero! The masked daemon from a bygone era of the war, who was loved, hated, feared, hoped for, and is now a final savior to the world. It is now Suzaku behind the mythic mask, living on in his truth as a fighter for justice under a benevolent lie. And it is now Lelouch’s true face carrying out a carefully constructed, and quite nefarious lie, in the form of his tyranny to the ends of a willing self-sacrifice for the greater good. Lelouch sacrifices himself to atone for his sins, understanding its necessity, and Suzaku lives on to atone for his. Redemption, perfection. A golden age of world peace ensues. Our heroes live on in silent appreciation of the complicated and ultimately redeemed figure of Lelouch.

I destroy the world. And create it anew.
The demon Lelouch is dead! Free his prisoners!

To my mind, The ZR is the beautiful result of a few crucial turns in the game, theorized by Lelouch and affirmed by Suzaku from their collective experience over the course of the saga up to then. Is it a perfect ending? Hard to call anything perfect, but Geass gets damn close… I wish to explore here how this ending culminated from the whole of the Geass series’ events and philosophies.

The one time a man never lies is when he makes a vow in his own heart.” ~ CC

Firstly, despite their conflicts, Lelouch and Suzaku do want the same thing for the world and all of the people in it: peace and prosperity, a better future. As we’ve explored, they differ in their actions toward that goal, the philosophical underpinnings of their worldviews, and the motivating factors that have created those personal conditions. At the start of his path, Lelouch wishes to destroy the Britannian Empire for his own selfish reasons — for personal vengeance, to create a more gentle world for Nunnally, his sister — and not necessarily to end general oppression or out of compassionate outrage towards their treatment of the Japanese people. This motive colours all of his actions hence, and makes every decision to manipulate and ‘use’ the Japanese and The Black Knights easier, for his true goal has little to do with them.

Though the audience does not discover it until deep into the game, Suzaku’s path was set from a young age. He wishes to change Britannia via personal example and non-violent means in order to atone for his original sin, that of murdering his father when he was just a boy. His father was the Japanese Prime Minister at the time and was planning on urging for a final, violent Japanese resistance to Britannian invasion late into the war. Naive but passionate, young Suzaku killed him to prevent further deaths, and thus, the rest of his life has been built out of that burden’s weight; Suzaku must believe there is a better way and fights for Zero’s rebellion ended and unsuccessful — else, what was the ultimate purpose of him murdering his own father who called for a similar rebellion?

The ZR is the exact compromise these two needed in order to 1) achieve their singular goal of peace and 2) finally ally and defeat their considerable opposition (the whole world!) unto that endgame. It creates Suzaku’s idealized world, the fighting ended, the malice and grievance both sides of the conflict feel towards the other dispelled into the form of Lelouch represented as the greatest threat of all. Thusly, Lelouch’s pathological manipulations of people and the chaotically destructive plans he hatches become boons to such an end. In drawing the world’s conflict onto his lone shoulders, Lelouch’s hope for a future world of people striving and changing, and even lying, in order to move towards their dreams, unbeholden to any kind of near-term ruling class tyranny, is also realized. A whole new world is born, still full of uncertainties and flaws but also rife with recently dramatic history to grow from and go forth with its lessons in mind.

For this end, Lelouch dies — what Suzaku wants, to justly pay for all that he has done // Suzaku lives — what Lelouch wants, to go on and protect the world against tyranny and be a companion to his little sister in Nunnally. Even still in opposition, The ZR is the actionable plan that they can both arrive at concurrence upon while never betraying their own heart or the convictions they felt within their personal philosophies.

“There’s something Lelouch and I have to do together.”

Second, their willingness to compromise with one another’s worldview and execute the plan of The ZR is borne from their fraught experiences in the war thus far. Throughout the conflict and their repeated showdowns against one another’s forces — Suzaku and Lelouch have experienced great tragedy, of the general and personal kind, and also great change.

Lelouch’s origin makes him nihilistic and fearful of the kind of harsh world that innocents like Nunnally must live in; his attainment of power amplifies within him the pathology of vengeance and of God-like aspirations, making him at different times a terrorist and despot, callous to the pain he creates along the road to fulfilling his growing ambitions. Suzaku’s sin of patricide fills him with shame and binds him to an indestructible code; his strict adherence to his ideals makes him vulnerable to manipulations and blind to the atrocities that he tacitly aids by supporting existing Britannian institutions.

But they change and grow along the path. Both young men lose lovers, accidental casualties within the conflict — Euphemia and Shirley, respectively. Both of them experience betrayal. Both of them experience, at different points along the way, the profound hatred of their peers and of the masses. Both of them experience death, of companions by their side, and of adversaries, by their own hands — for both Lelouch and Suzaku are made into killers by the grand conflict they take part in.

~ I have a question for you Gilford, what do you do when there is an evil you cannot defeat by just means? Do you stain yourself with evil in order to destroy evil? Or do you remain steadfastly righteous even if it means surrendering to evil? // [In either case, evil remains.] / [A paradox.] // In my case, I commit evil to destroy the greater evil!

For Lelouch especially, I believe such experiences affected the most profound change in his character. At the beginning of the tale and through its initial turns, especially in R1, one could make the assertion that he is simply a sociopath, emboldened and pathological to his own narcissistic designs, his god complex awakened to the point that his humanity is frayed. His redeeming love for Nunnally and his own belief that he is doing it all for her, to create a world that she may live beneficently within, could just be an excuse to allow him to engage in his pathological behavior. What he really wants is to become a Godlike being over the whole world, to whatever ends he can aspire to.

Another reading of this progression is simply that Lelouch is willing to take on the weight of this pathology to the strictly better ends for the world that he seeks. Whether this is something he becomes, and never would be without the power of geass, or was within his character from the start, is arguable. But either way, it is undeniable that by the end of R2 and in the formulation of The ZR, Lelouch is a human replete with empathic concern for those around him and for the world. He is changed by the pain and the tragedy of ‘the path of blood’ he has undertaken. The plan of action he ends up undertaking in the form of the ZR is influenced by everything he has destroyed, everything he has lost, and everything he has chosen to reject. Lelouch is willing to die for a better world, and he does so with a smile upon his face.

“I know you! In the end, you’ll betray the entire world just like it betrayed you! ~ Suzaku

Lelouch proves Suzaku wrong in the end. He does not betray the world — he betrays his own desire to live and to wield power within the world. Perhaps the most subtle but influential aspect of the lead up to ZR is Rollo’s finale. Rollo, who is Lelouch’s false brother and replacement for Nunnally after his memory is manipulated, is the product of a heartless machination by the emperor to prevent Lelouch from causing any more trouble for the empire. Rollo is actually a child soldier and extremely effective assassin, a sociopathic geass-user who only sees Lelouch as his mission. That is, until Lelouch regains his memories, learns of Rollo’s harsh upbringing, and manipulates him into defecting from his mission by faking a camaraderie towards him.

In truth, Lelouch despises Rollo through all of R2 and repeatedly tries to kill him after his usefulness is depleted. He hates him for trying to replace Nunnally, for being an experimental psycho with no ideology beyond following orders, and for murdering Shirley. Lelouch eventually admits all of this to Rollo at a low point in events and his false brother fades from import within the narrative. However, when Schneizel unites with the Black Knights by revealing to the others Lelouch’s true identity and his manipulative power of geass, it is none other than Rollo that saves Lelouch from being killed by his former allies. Rollo, who was betrayed by Lelouch and named as a nothingness to him, still sacrifices himself in order to carry Lelouch to safety. He does it because he is his brother, in spirit if not in fact, even if it’s not reciprocated, even if Lelouch hates him — because their kayfabe relationship was sadly the only real thing in the world to him. Lelouch sees Rollo’s action the same as we do: as wildly irrational. But love is just that.

Question: What is the future? The future is hope. If you have no life beyond your mission, then you have no future.” ~ Lelouch // “I’ve been used my whole life. By everyone… But the only times that have felt real were the times spent with you. I’m not a tool… I do this of my own free will, as a human being.” ~ Rollo

In the end, The ZR only exists because Rollo sacrifices himself to save Lelouch. Because he loved him in spite of everything. Lelouch had given up and was ready for a dishonorable death at the hands of Tohdoh and Ohgi and the rest of the Black Knights. Rollo’s struggle and his final choice gives Lelouch a new outlook on selflessness and on the subjective struggle of the individual to strive in a painful world, and it is likely the seed of everything to come.

After everything, Lelouch has seen too many people suffer, too many sacrifice themselves for their dreams, and for their companions, and he cannot bow out until he tries his damnedest to make things right — even if it means sacrificing himself.

After the consummation of The ZR, with his dying strength, Suzaku-Zero’s sword fresh with his lifeblood, Lelouch and Nunnally get to share a moment. Nunnally, eyes open to the world’s complexity and struggle and with her own hatred of Lelouch equal to everyone else’s, finally understands the purpose of all of Lelouch’s vile actions. ‘A symbol of hatred, where everyone can focus it, so that people can move toward the future.’ She sees the same change in him that the audience has — and it breaks her heart while it also relieves it. For she now understands that he became a tyrant for justice, and for peace, and him dying for it is the reason it will become truth.

Lelouch: As planned, the world’s hatred is focused on me. All that remains is to get rid of me and break the chain of hatred… With this, the world will be able to gather not through force or arms, but around one table for discussion. They can move forward into the future. // Suzaku: That is… the Zero Requiem.

Lastly, in the orchestration of The ZR, Lelouch and Suzaku both seem to implicitly understand human nature in a crucial aspect: the power of a symbol. As a mythic figure, Zero is an indestructible symbol for revolution and a rallying cry for the dispossessed to fight back against their oppressors. Even if Lelouch’s own convictions in such causes were less than authentic underneath the mask, the mask affected true changes in the world, and those that followed his lead were bonafide in their belief in Zero. In posterity, the results of Zero’s questing are the primary truth that matters. And the truth is that he created a free, independent nation, changed the politics of the world, and utterly defeated Britannian opposition. Such phenomena resemble the concepts within ‘The Death of the Author,’ in which those that deliver words, actions and ideas into the world no longer can claim ownership of them — it is the audience alone that becomes the judge of their merits and impacts, independent of the author’s background or designs.

The world and the people in it, they’ll never be who we want them to be!” ~ Suzaku

In this way, The ZR is a capitalization upon the aspirations and the pitfalls of human psychology; masking Suzaku within Zero’s persona and having him slay the daemonic Lelouch for all of the world to bear witness to is a trump card on humanity’s final hopes in the face of this hopefully final tyranny. It is a miracle that the people may not be able to imagine on their own but will wholeheartedly embrace given its actualization before them. They want to believe in a hero, and Zero gives it to them.

This is what Lelouch himself comes to understand in his creation and continual action as Zero before the Black Knights and the world. It is backed by media opportunist Diethard’s own theorization of Zero’s charismatic power ~ “People grasp at illusions because they are desperate for miracles.” The people want to believe in a myth, good — or evil — and such effective illusions made powerful and efficacious on the stage of reality {i.e. they get results!} can intrinsically change thoughts and behavior in the people. That is, without force. Before the hope within a glittering myth, the people decide for themselves what it will mean. Fascism like the Britannia before Lelouch’s quest cannot exist long-term, because in such regimes the people are forced into their thinking and behavior, if they are not killed outright. They are not allowed the choice.

Lelouch: I have a question for you. Were you intending to use the Damocles as a tool to control the world?
Schneizel: I wasn’t. I only wanted to give everyone what they wanted. To bring peace to civilization.
L: Disregarding humanity’s true nature.
S: That’s a matter of opinion.
L: Then you actually imagined you could maintain the world in a perpetual state of now. But life without change might be called anything except life. It’s nothing more than experience.
S: But link those together and they become knowledge, right?
L: Schneizel, you truly are superior. So superior, you can’t even see it. Yes, Emperor Charles sought the past. You seek the present. But I seek the future!
S: But the future may prove to be worse than the present.
L: No, it will be better. Because no matter how long it takes, people will continue to seek out happiness.
S: Even though that will end up making people greedy … *chuckles* Your folly also knows no limit. You’re really too emotional about this. Hope and dreams are merely names for aimless fiction.
L: You’re restricted, since you belong to the symbol known as a royal family which looks down on the world. I’ve seen it over and over, the people who struggle against sadness, those who seek the future, how they all carry on wishing for happiness. Human nature is why I chose geass, and to wear a mask.
S: Lelouch, you’re contradicting yourself. You who continually deny the will of others are standing here before us affirming the will of humanity. That’s enough. Kill me now, and be done with it. But a FLEIA will still decimate you. We will gladly give up our lives to bring peace to the world…
L: And that’s how I came to the decision — that I shall give you the gift of the words… You shall serve Zero.

Both of the two different emperor’s masterstrokes before Lelouch’s ascent reflect such poetic and righteously misguided impermanence:

Charles zi Britannia, who desired the pleasant past and a world without lies, made a private choice for the whole of the world’s populace, enabled by supernatural power that no one could see, to achieve his esoteric ends.

The world lies!

Schneizel vi Britannia, who desired a changeless present and a world without conflict, employed a philosophy unique to his privileged position as a royal and engaged a physical power visible by all – in the form of devastating nuclear weaponry – to achieve his fearful ends.

“The truth of people is this: they want to be controlled. By their nations, their religions, their traditions, by figures of grand authority. // Lies are expedience. What do people want? … They want the problems of the world to go away forever. / Why tout ideology and try to win hearts and minds? Why not bring peace to the world with a system, with power? / Mankind’s history is war. Peace is an illusion. Creating it is an arduous task, and it will take a God…” ~ Schneizel

Lelouch vi Britannia, who desired an uncertain future, shorn of its needless suffering, borne of order, chaos and everything else that may come into the hearts and minds of a free people, is ironically the only of the three emperors that allowed for a world controlled by the will of the people and not the will of one. He uses the revolutionary symbol of Zero, in combination with his supernatural power and that of the terrifying powers of the state {world political dominance} and of technology {Suzaku’s Lancelot knightmare frame} in order to gather the collective around him and achieve his hopeful ends.

Destruction must precede creation. Including that of my own conscience…
~ Lelouch

The Zero Requiem, in the end, is the cooperative culmination of Lelouch and Suzaku’s fight. It is the place they arrive at only through their harrowing experience waging war for peace, shedding blood to secure dreams, seeding chaos to sow order. The future post-ZR is still uncertain, conflict and deception always upon the horizon even amidst a source point for the people’s past discontents forever secured in a martyred tyrant. In spite of this uncertainty, and even given the possibility that Lelouch still lives {who was helming the carriage of hay that CC lays upon in the final images of the final episode?}, the future that Lelouch and Suzaku — and the viewer — yearned for is satisfyingly fulfilled in the end, with sacrifices made in the form of their life and duty but not with their hopes and dreams. ~

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.”

~ Søren Kierkegaard