Created By: WestrimFebruary 2, 2012 Last Edited By: WestrimMay 14, 2013
Troped

Death is the Only Option

The only way to achieve victory is to die; revival optional

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Trope
"In the struggle between life and death, sometimes survival is not the only way to win."

Sometimes the only way for Bob to win is to change the equation -- by taking himself out of it. Every option except defeat appears to have been eliminated, so the only way left that might have a chance to win is to stop trying to stay alive. It can be very effective due to that sudden shift in objectives.

Tropes Are Flexible is in full effect; getting all the way to dying or staying dead is not required, and 'victory' is highly variable.

Related to Thanatos Gambit, but with flipped cause and effect. In Thanatos Gambit, death occurs due to victory, since dying means that the other objectives have been completed; here, victory occurs due to death, or at least no longer trying to avoid dying, and only then can the objectives be completed. A Heroic Sacrifice still has options a decent person could take and need not feel bad.

Related to Fission Mailed, a Video Game trope where general failure is required to progress.

May involve a Death Activated Superpower and My Death Is Only The Beginning.

(This will be modified on launch to be more emphatic) This is a Death Trope, so be aware of spoilers.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Jin of Samurai Champloo uses a move that abandons defense and allows the enemy to stab him in order to get close enough to stab the enemy.
  • In Vinland Saga Askeladda is presented with 2 choices, both of which he hates, so he Takes A Third Option that requires his death.

Comic Books
  • Jesse Custer's plan near the end of the Preacher graphic comic series is to die so that God himself will return to Heaven thinking it now safe, only to find the Saint of Killers occupying the celestial throne. Jesse returns from the dead but comments that still being alive is an empty victory, like using a cheat code in a video game.

Film - Animated
  • Titan AE. Captain Korso at first made a deal with the Drej that would let them destroy the Titan in exchange for money and a "Do Not Kill" tag. After Cale Tucker saved his life, Korso returned the favor by using himself as a shunt in a huge circuit breaker to help Cale power up the Titan.
  • Columbia Pictures' Heavy Metal from 1981. Taarna the Taarakian sacrifices herself and her mount to defeat the sum-of-all-evils Loc-Nar. It works, and Taarna's spirit transfers to Grimaldi's daughter, making her the new Taarakian.

Film - Live Action
  • The directors cut ending of The Butterfly Effect invokes this trope: Evan strangles himself with the umbilical cord in his mother's womb to make life better for the people he knew.
  • The T-800 at the end of Terminator 2 realizes he must destroy himself to prevent reverse engineering of his design, however he cannot self-terminate. John Connor has to push the button.
  • In Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Indy survives his choice to stem into a bottomless chasm due to a bridge he couldn't see.
  • In Looper, Young Joe kills himself to stop Old Joe from killing Sara and ensuring Cid becomes the Rainmaker.

Literature
  • Harry Potter. Harry Potter realizes that he is a horocrux and must die to defeat Voldemort.

Live Action TV
  • Nikita.
    • Alex is exposed as a mole to Amanda, who then does the requisite cancellation (read: execution) by lethal injection. After her vital signs cease she steps away, checks her nails, then injects Alex with adrenaline to restart her heart, kill chip disabled.
    • Later happens to Sean. Framed for murder and in FBI custody, the only way to save him is to poison and kill him, then snatch the body in the morgue and inject him with an antidote.
  • In The Outer Limits episode "Better Luck Next Time", a police detective is manipulated by a pair of malevolent energy beings into being their plaything, intending to turn her into a host after they've tricked her into shooting a fellow cop. However, their hosts burn out rapidly, they can't survive for long without one, and their current hosts are just about to expire. She utters the episode's title just before shooting herself in the head, bringing the energy beings' centuries-long murder spree to an end.
  • At the end of season 5 of Supernatural Sam Winchester allows himself to be possessed by Lucifer then jumps into Lucifer's cage, trapping both of their souls and killing himself in the process.
  • Babylon 5
    • When Sheridan goes to Z'ha'dum, his only way out from being captured and controlled by the Shadows is to jump hundreds of feet down into a deep pit (or stay in the city and get vaporized by the nuke-loaded ship he called down on it per his mission plan). He jumped, and literally died, but was revived by Lorien.
    • And when Emperor Londo, in the flash-forward shown in "War Without End" (and detailed further in the Expanded Universe Centauri Trilogy), aids Sheridan's escape, he must "submit to his greatest fear" and have G'Kar strangle him before his Keeper awoke and forced him to stop the escape, and likely killed him anyway afterwards for going against its (or rather, the Drakh Shiv'kala's) wishes. (The Keeper did awake, and he and G'Kar ended up mutually strangling each other).

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons And Dragons' Ravenloft setting has some adventures that require someone to die, although often you can foist this onto an npc. In addition, it has several evil beings and magic items which offer Power At A Price, gradually entrapping a character until dying is the only way to escape.

Toys
  • BIONICLE. In the Chamber of Death, the only way to proceed was for one member of the Toa Inika team to sacrifice himself or herself. Matoro volunteered, but was revived immediately afterwards, as the purpose was a test of courage.

Video Games
  • At the end of Trilby's Notes, the villain needs Trilby alive in order to complete his ritual. Fortunately, Trilby is already fatally wounded by this point, and you can simply type "die" to thwart the villain's plans. Even more fortunately, Trilby is subsequently revived by a mysterious benefactor.
  • The Nameless One of Planescape Torment has quite a few chances to use his death to his advantage, being immortal. One example is allowing himself to be "killed" by some thugs so he can hear their plans.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3, the "fight" against The Sorrow (when snake is at Death's door) cannot be won. He is a ghost, so you cannot hurt him no matter what you do. The only way out is to let him kill you at the end of your walk in the river, then use a reviving pill to wake up in the "world of the living".
  • In one puzzle in Simon The Sorcerer 3D, Simon escapes from a locked room by goading the barbarian who's locked in the room with him into killing him, and coming back to life on a reincarnation tile outside the room.
  • The White Chamber. A trap involves your character caught in a pixelated game screen. The only way to get out is to set off a barrel of explosives, killing you in-game and restoring you to the real world. It is not the strangest thing you will see in the game.
  • In Braid, dying is required to get some of the puzzle pieces. You can rewind time to undo your death, so no big deal.
  • In Bio Shock Infinite, the only way to prevent the timeline from splitting in two and pitting Booker and Comstock against each other in an endless cycle turns out to be for Elizabeth travel back in time and kill Booker before his baptism, creating a Grandfather Paradox that causes the universe to erase the timeline where Booker becomes Comstock and end the cycle.
  • Dying and respawning at the midpoint is the only way to access the secret exit in this single-level ROM Hack of Super Mario World. The puzzle is that the hack starts you with only one life.

Web Comics

Western Animation

Community Feedback Replies: 52
  • February 2, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    • The directors cut ending of The Butterfly Effect invokes this trope: Evan strangles himself with the umbilical cord in his mother's womb to make life better for the people he knew.
    • The T-800 at the end of Terminator 2 realizes he must destroy himself to prevent reverse engineering of his design. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work.
  • February 2, 2012
    Ryusui
    • At the end of Trilby's Notes, the villain needs Trilby alive in order to complete his ritual. Fortunately, Trilby is already fatally wounded by this point, and you can simply type "die" to thwart the villain's plans. Even more fortunately, Trilby is subsequently revived by a mysterious benefactor.
  • February 2, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Jesse Custer's plan near the end of the Preacher graphic comic series is to die so that God himself will return to Heaven thinking it now safe, only to find the Saint of Killers occupying the celestial throne. Jesse returns from the dead but comments that still being alive is an empty victory, like using a cheat code in a video game.
  • February 2, 2012
    snowy86
    • At the end of season 5 of Supernatural Sam Winchester allows himself to be possessed by Lucifer then jumps into Lucifer's cage, trapping both of their souls and killing himself in the process.
  • February 2, 2012
    troacctid
  • February 3, 2012
    ZombieAladdin
    What would be the main difference between this and a Heroic Sacrifice?
  • February 3, 2012
    Chabal2
    There are at least two Flash games where you need to use your previous deaths to advance. Usually your corpses (amount of deaths varying per level) hold down a switch or form a bridge across a spike pit.
  • February 3, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    ^The Company Of Myself? If that's not one of the two, you should check it out because it's really good.

  • February 3, 2012
    KingZeal
  • February 3, 2012
    animeg3282
    This is starting to sound more like an index than a trope.
  • February 18, 2012
    Westrim
    Two related tropes does not an index make.
  • February 18, 2012
    captainsandwich
    In Vinland Saga Askeladda is presented with 2 choices, both of which he hates, so he Takes A Third Option that requires his death.
  • February 18, 2012
    KZN02
    BIONICLE: in the Chamber of Death, the only way to proceed was for one member of the Toa Inika team to sacrifice himself or herself. Matoro volunteered, but was revived immediately afterwards, as the purpose was a test of courage.
  • February 18, 2012
    troacctid
    I think we can discard this as a duplicate of Thanatos Gambit.
  • February 18, 2012
    Westrim
    You already said as much. Would you mind responding to the part of the explanation that say's why it's not (the part I wrote to address your first comment)?
  • February 20, 2012
    troacctid
    This trope is any plan that requires the death of the planner.

    Thanatos Gambit is any plan that requires the death of the planner.

    That's the same trope.
  • February 20, 2012
    nman
    I don't know whether or not this is what Westrim meant by what he wrote, but to me it looks like they are two different tropes. Here's what I'm getting out of this.
    • Thanatos Gambit is where you know you will die, and try to maximize your death.
    • This is trope when the solution to a problem is your death. But not in a Heroic Sacrifice sort of way.

    If the current name is confusing, perhaps you could name this Death Is The Only Option?
  • February 21, 2012
    troacctid
    Thanatos Gambit isn't in a Heroic Sacrifice way either.
  • February 23, 2012
    Westrim
    Nman is correct; if you know you'll die and manipulate that (in other words, you have many options and pick one that results in death), it's Thanatos Gambit (thus the gambit part and the Snow Clone to Xanatos Gambit). If you run out of options and realize the only way to win is to die/ stop trying to not die, it's this trope. His name suggestion also makes sense.
  • February 23, 2012
    Ryusui
    Two more came to mind:

    • This is literally the goal of Karoshi, a twisted little puzzle platformer that takes its name from a Japanese term meaning "death by overwork." Your little pixilated salaryman must kill himself repeatedly in order to advance through the levels. This is harder than it sounds, as in a rare inversion of a certain platforming trope, the game actively tries to keep you from killing yourself.
    • Spoileriffic example from The Outer Limits: in "Better Luck Next Time", a police detective is manipulated by a pair of malevolent energy beings into being their plaything, intending to turn her into a host after they've tricked her into shooting a fellow cop. However, their hosts burn out rapidly, they can't survive for long without one, and their current hosts are just about to expire. She utters the episode's title just before shooting herself in the head, bringing the energy beings' centuries-long murder spree to an end.
  • February 23, 2012
    Westrim
    Incorporated examples that had names and were applicable; Ryusui, I don't think Karoshi can be the trope since the objective is to die, so it goes Thanatoses way. I also did a wander through related Death Tropes and frankly, many of the tropes in the index are a mess and frequently overlap each other; I wonder if an entire index can be put in the Trope Repair Shop. Nevertheless, I didn't see anything that I felt conflicted with this.
  • February 24, 2012
    KevinKlawitter
    A particularly frustrating boss battle in Final Fantasy VI involves a boss who hides inside the body of one of your party members, whom you then have to kill in order to eject the sonofabitch and damage him directly. What makes this even worse is the fact that you can't tell who the boss is hiding inside and as such have to kill off your party members until you find the right one.
  • February 24, 2012
    Lyendith
    Video Game:

    • In Metal Gear Solid 3, the "fight" against The Sorrow (when snake is at Death's door) cannot be won. He is a ghost, so you cannot hurt him no matter what you do. The only way out is to let him kill you at the end of your walk in the river, then use a reviving pill to wake up in the "world of the living".

    Dunno if it counts though...
  • February 24, 2012
    nman
    I looked up that episode of The Outer Limits on The Other Wiki, and it has a pretty good quote, I don't know if it's worthy of being the page quote, but here it is:

    "In the struggle between life and death, sometimes survival is not the only way to win."
  • February 24, 2012
    deuxhero
    The Nameless One of Planescape Torment has quite a few chances to use his death to his advantage, being immortal. One example is allowing himself to be "killed" by some thugs so he can hear their plans.
  • February 24, 2012
    deuxhero
    The Nameless One of Planescape Torment has quite a few chances to use his death to his advantage, being immortal. One example is allowing himself to be "killed" by some thugs so he can hear their plans.
  • March 21, 2012
    Westrim
    ^^^ Thanks for the quote. I also cleaned up the description, so it should be clearer now.
  • March 21, 2012
    wesnprogamat
    In the video game Chrono Trigger, The first protagonist dies fighting the Big Bad. You bring him back by replacing him with a doll.
  • February 1, 2013
    Westrim
    Another trope to renew.
  • February 3, 2013
    Westrim
    I need to clean up the description a bit, but it looks like this is otherwise fine. I'd like confirmation that others besides me find the distinction from other tropes sufficient.
  • February 4, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Harry Potter also has a minor one in ...and the Philosopher's Stone, where Ron realizes in a chess-themed puzzle/trap that the only way for Harry and Hermione to continue on is to sacrifice the Knight piece which he is currently representing (or riding, in the film). Harry & Hermione react as if he's giving up his life.
  • February 4, 2013
    Astaroth

  • February 4, 2013
    StarSword
    @Westrim: It needs an example sorting done.

    In video games, may overlap with Fission Mailed.
  • February 17, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Film Animated
    • Captain Korso at first made a deal with the Drej that would let them destroy the Titan in exchange for money and a "Do Not Kill" tag. After Cale Tucker saved his life, Korso returned the favor by using himself as a shunt in a huge circuit breaker to help Cale power up the Titan.
  • February 17, 2013
    frisco
    @troactid above is right, this is Thanatos Gambit
  • February 17, 2013
    azul120
    It's not.

  • February 17, 2013
    m8e
    How does this relate to Deliberate Injury Gambit? Feels like Deliberate Injury Gambit but more.
  • February 28, 2013
    Westrim
    It seems like without this trope available, a lot of examples that should be here were instead put there, so its examples stretch far more than its definition. Not avoiding damage is very different from not avoiding death. Thanks for bring it up though so that could be addressed.

    I've organized the examples and added in the new ones.
  • February 28, 2013
    Chabal2
    The White Chamber: A trap involves your character caught in a pixelated game screen. The only way to get out is to set off a barrel of explosives, killing you in-game and restoring you to the real world. It is not the strangest thing you will see in the game.
  • March 2, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Live-Action TV

    Babylon 5: When Sheridan goes to Z'ha'dum, his only way out from being captured and controlled by the Shadows is to jump hundreds of feet down into a deep pit (or stay in the city and get vaporized by the nuke-loaded ship he called down on it per his mission plan). He jumped, and literally died, but was revived by Lorien.
    • And when Emperor Londo, in the flash-forward shown in "War Without End" (and detailed further in the Expanded Universe Centauri Trilogy), aids Sheridan's escape, he must "submit to his greatest fear" and have G'Kar strangle him before his Keeper awoke and forced him to stop the escape, and likely killed him anyway afterwards for going against its (or rather, the Drakh Shiv'kala's) wishes. (The Keeper did awake, and he and G'Kar ended up mutually strangling each other).
  • March 2, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Film Live Action
    • Chihiro, the main character in FreezeMe, succeeds in killing the three wastrels that had raped her in her youth. But when her fiancee discovers one of the corpses in a freezer, Chihiro kills him, too. Realizing that she has no hope of keeping her murderous misdeeds secret, Chihiro commits suicide rather than face the inevitable scandal.
  • March 15, 2013
    Westrim
    ^Seems more like a forfeit than a win. The scandal will still happen, she just won't be around for it.

    If examples are all that's left and the differentiation from other tropes is made clear (as well as the need to move some examples), then is this ready for launch or are there any other concerns?
  • March 15, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Whoopsie, how did I miss this one?

    Film Animated
    • Taarna the Taarakian sacrifices herself and her mount to defeat the sum-of-all-evils Loc-Nar in Columbia Pictures' Heavy Metal from 1981. It works, and Taarna's spirit transfers to Grimaldi's daughter, making her the new Taarakian.
  • April 19, 2013
    Arivne
    Added Namespaces and italicization to work titles, added media headings, moved examples under the correct headings.

    I don't know where to put Bionicle because the example doesn't say which media it's from (Comic Book, Literature, Film etc.).
  • April 19, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Isn't it a bit redundant to use spoiler tags in a Death Trope like this? For example that Harry Potter example is pretty much impossible to write in a way that it wouldn't spoil the ending of the entire series. Simply knowing that it is on the list is a spoiler in itself.
  • April 20, 2013
    DracMonster
    • In Braid, dying is required to get some of the puzzle pieces. You can rewind time to undo your death, so no big deal.

    • Dungeons And Dragons' Ravenloft setting has some adventures that require someone to die, although often you can foist this onto an npc. In addition, it has several evil beings and magic items which offer Power At A Price, gradually entrapping a character until dying is the only way to escape.
  • April 21, 2013
    morenohijazo
    I don't think the Chrono Trigger example counts, that's more like Failure Is The Only Option. Crono didn't actually expect to die, and you don't gain anything from his death anyway.
  • April 21, 2013
    Koveras
    I have an example but it's impossible to write down without spoiler-tagging the entire thing:

    • In Bio Shock Infinite, the only way to prevent the timeline from splitting in two and pitting Booker and Comstock against each other in an endless cycle turns out to be for Elizabeth travel back in time and kill Booker before his baptism, creating a Grandfather Paradox that causes the universe to erase the timeline where Booker becomes Comstock and end the cycle.
  • May 5, 2013
    Westrim
    Thanks Arivne. Paradise, the tags are just there until launch; they'll all be removed then, in accordance with a more emphatic spoiler warning.
  • May 6, 2013
    billybobfred
    • Dying and respawning at the midpoint is the only way to access the secret exit in this single-level ROM Hack of Super Mario World. The puzzle is that the hack starts you with only one life.
  • May 13, 2013
    Arivne
    Film
    • Dragonslayer. The only way for the wizard Ulrich to slay the dragon is for him to allow himself to be killed, twice. His first death puts his soul into an amulet. He later comes back to life, and when the amulet is smashed, his body explodes (killing him again), destroying the dragon.
  • May 14, 2013
    henke37
    • Guybrush has his destiny told in The Curse Of Monkey Island: He will die at Blood island. The fortune teller on the island gives him the death card five times in a row. He ends up faking it to enter crypts and becomes legally dead.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable