Created By: Nocturna on September 15, 2012 Last Edited By: StarSword on June 11, 2013
Troped

Burn The Undead

Fire is a particularly effective way to kill the undead.

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Page Type:
Trope
This is one of the many fire-related tropes that were identified as part of the Kill It with Fire TRS thread.

Title suggestions: Burn The Walking Dead, Fire Hurts Undead, Undeath Is Flammable, Undead Fire Hazard, Burn the Undead

Rolling Updates

A very common weakness shared among The Undead is fire. Chopping such creatures into little bits may not stop them, but fire generally will.

The undead's weakness to fire is often connected with the idea that Fire Purifies: life-giving fire--the opposite of the dead, cold, unholy undead--is particularly effective at sending such critters back to their graves for good. In the case of vampires, a weakness to fire may be connected to, or contain, a weakness to sunlight.

Sometimes the internal justification for this trope is that the undead regenerate, and all monsters who regenerate in the setting are vulnerable to fire, likely due to the fact that fire destroys with a completeness that little else can match.

Vampires are particularly associated with this trope, but it is certainly not limited to them.

A subtrope of Fire Purifies. Compare Fire Keeps It Dead, which is where burning prevents creatures from coming back to life in the first place.

Subtrope Weak to Fire. This line to be commented out on launch

Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Fan Works]] [[/folder]]

[[folder:Film]]
  • At the end of Night of the Living Dead the zombie bodies are burned so they won't re-reanimate. When Burt Wilson is making last-minute arrangements to burn the yellow zombie in the oven, since Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain and cutting it up didn't kill it:
    Burt Wilson: You're absolutely certain that this is gonna get rid of everything and do the trick? I mean, nothing left?
    [Ernie shakes his head]
    Ernie Kaltenbrunner: Nothing but a little-bitty pile of ashes.
    Burt Wilson: We don't even want the ashes!
    [Ernie smiles and leans over the metal grate]
    Ernie Kaltenbrunner: Then I'll turn it up higher, and we'll burn up the ashes, too.
    [Ernie slides the zombie into the oven]
    Ernie Kaltenbrunner: Dust to dust.
  • Goes awry in Return of the Living Dead, where some locals use a crematorium to burn one escaped zombie. The soot from the burn mixes with rain, animating everyone in the local graveyard, who then go on a killing/zombifying spree. Cue the Zombie Apocalypse! Electricity would have done the job better.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Folklore]]
  • Many of the admittedly extremely varied world folklore about vampires feature either an aversion to fire, or immolating the vampire's remains as the final step in destroying it for good.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
  • The vampires in numerous works of Gothic literature -- including Carmilla, Varney the Vampire, and Dracula must be destroyed with fire after they're staked and decapitated. The fact that Dracula's body is not burned when he's killed in the original novel is often cited as a reason for latter-day authors to bring him Back from the Dead. Again.
  • In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, fire is the best way to kill the shapeshifting, vampiric Changers, which are hard to kill but whose blood is very flammable. It's also the best way to kill the zombielike Haunts.
  • Fire is used to kill Inferi (dead bodies re-animated by magic) in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
  • Fire is the best way to take care of the wights in A Song of Ice and Fire. They can also be hacked to pieces, but fire is much easier. The only body part of a wight in the series not destroyed by fire remained animate until it rotted away.
  • In The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, vampires are highly vulnerable to flame, to the point where matches will make some flinch.
  • Twilight vampires are only able to die if another vampire tears them to pieces and then all of the pieces are burned. Even if they have been Driven to Suicide, this is absolutely the only way they can die, which is why Edward Cullen asks the Volturi to do this to him in New Moon. It's worth noting that Carlisle failed to try immolation during his many attempts at killing himself after he became a vampire, despite his father being a pastor who believed in wiping out evil supernatural creatures in such a manner.
  • Fire is the only reliable way to kill the undead in The Witch Watch. That and just cutting their heads off and living them powerless and underground whilst still being conscious.
  • Discussed and averted in The Zombie Survival Guide, which advises that fire is a poor weapon to use on zombies: they aren't afraid of it and can't feel pain, it won't stop them until they're literally cooked, and in the meantime you're being attacked by a flaming zombie instead of a regular one.
  • Discworld:
    • Fire is one of two ways to kill a werewolf the other being silver. Werewolves are considered undead in the setting. It's also said to be effective against vampires, but they have such a grab bag of strengths and weaknesses that it's not nearly as reliable.
    • Zombies are very strong, immortal and able to sew themselves back together if need be. However, the older they get, the drier they get, and so they're understandably nervous around fire.

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel, both feature vampires who can only be killed in five ways, one of which ways is setting them on fire and burning them to dust.
  • The Whoniverse:
    • Doctor Who:
      • In episode 42, if you looked into the living sun its soul entered your body and you effectively became undead, leaving you with only two ways to die: the soul could burn you from the inside out, or it could eat you.
      • The Family of Blood's scarecrows are undead and must be burned.
    • In ''Torchwood: Miracle Day," nobody can die. It is impossible and so the government of Britain decide that, when the hospitals get too full, anyone who should be dead is to be incinerated. Cutting their heads off and being squashed and burnt beyond recognition and given the lethal injection didn't kill them, so turning them to ashes is apparently better. The ashes may still be living, but they're not human, so the government decides it's fine to throw them away.
  • In Supernatural a common solution to the Monster of the Week, if its a ghost or other formerly-alive being, is to find and burn its corpse and/or bones, which utterly destroys it on this plane.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Fire is extremely useful against most undead, who are often immune to a wide variety of attack modes.
    • Early editions had mummies susceptible to fire damage -- justified by real-world (and completely dead) Egyptian mummies being covered in flammable resins. One of the Grimtooth's Traps books combined this with Taking You with Me, by stuffing a mummy with a nice big keg of gunpowder.
  • Old World of Darkness:
    • Vampires in Vampire: The Masquerade take aggravated damage (very difficult to heal) from fire as well as sunlight. These two substances are the main ways to truly kill a vampire (devouring their soul also works, but only another vampire can do it). Vampires of the Setite clan are especially weak to fire, taking double aggravated damage from it. In Werewolf: The Apocalypse the shapeshifters, which generally hate vampires, have developed various magic abilities specifically to take advantage of this weakness.
    • The Vampire: The Masquerade/Mage: The Ascension crossover supplement "Time of Thin Blood" saw the Technocracy respond to the rising of the Ravnos antediluvian in Bangladesh by declaring Code Ragnarok... and then beating the shit out of the ancient vampire by setting him on fire with orbital mirrors after nuking him from orbit with nukes enhanced by Awakened Science. Up to that point, everything else that various supernatural groups (i.e. Garou werewolves, Asian vampires) had thrown at Ravnos had been ineffective. So, yes, on that day, the much-maligned Technocracy saved the world. Take That, mages.
  • In the New World of Darkness, fire just deals lethal damage to mortals and those not vulnerable to it. Vampires and Prometheans receive aggravated damage ("OW MY VERY BEING IS RENDED") from fire, however (Vampires because they're desiccated corpses held together and made lively by magic, and Prometheans because the "Divine Fire" that gives them life overloads when exposed to fire). And the Mekhet clan vampires take double damage from fire.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
  • Mantorok and Xel'lototh zombies in Eternal Darkness can easily be killed by fire.
  • Final Fantasy lists Holy and Fire as the weaknesses of Undead types. Mages usually get a fire spell early enough to use against the undead before the White Mage gets Holy.
  • In Half-Life, using gas canisters or oil drums to set zombies on fire is a pretty effective way of killing them. Especially used in the Ravenholm level of Half-Life 2, along with fire traps. (Setting zombies on fire is also a convenient way to light up dark areas, if you're heartless enough to listen to the human puppets being controlled by the headcrab screaming and screaming in horrible agony...
  • Vampires in the Legacy of Kain series can only be killed by four things: water, impalement, sunlight, and fire. In the first Soul Reaver, the Fire Reaver can shot projectiles that one-hit kills them.
  • The zombies in Nox will resurrect indefinitely upon being killed, unless killed with a fire spell or a fire-enchanted weapon.
  • The skeletal Dry Bones in Paper Mario can only be removed from a fight using fire-based attacks, to which they are particularly vulnerable. The explanation given is that burning them means there's nothing left to be reassembled. Curiously fireballs have little effect on Dry Bones in other games of the Super Mario Bros. franchise.
  • This is true for the MMORPG Ragnarok Online, where fire will deal up to 200% damage against undead enemies. Fire elemental weapons and spells can also be used against ghost enemies to deal 100% damage (unlike the "normal" element, dealing only 25% or even 0% damage).
  • Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare does this. You can even burn the coffins that are making the zombies rise up from the ground. It usually takes a hit or two from a torch to make a zombie fall.
  • The zombies in the Resident Evil games are vulnerable to fire.
    • A particular monster in Resident Evil 5 plays this absolutely straight. The only way to kill it? Incinerate it in the conveniently placed furnace. Bonus points for the window that lets you watch as the creature is immolated.
    • Also in 5, you can use incendiary grenades and flame ammo for a grenade launcher. While they aren't super awesome zombie killers, setting those walking sacks of walking diseased flesh who are looking at you funny on fire really helps, and if they are far enough away then they will die before they get to you.
  • The zombies in Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure can only be damaged by fire-based attacks. If you don't have a Fire-type Skylander, you can damage them by pushing candles into them.
  • The best way to kill Zombies in the X-COM series are with Incendiary/Phosphorous rounds, since these will automatically kill the Chryssalids/Tentaculats inside them.
  • In the Shining Force games fire-based magic attacks are very effective against zombies.
  • In Warframe, the Infested are vulnerable to fire damage.[[/folder]]

[[folder:Webcomics]] [[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]] [[/folder]]

Indicies: This Index Is On Fire, Undead Index

Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • September 15, 2012
    abloke
    • The skeletal Dry Bones in Paper Mario can only be removed from a fight using fire-based attacks, to which they are particularly vulnerable. The explanation given is that burning them means there's nothing left to be reassembled.

    This is an imitation of another trope name, but how about naming this Fire Kills Zombie?
  • September 15, 2012
    MrRuano
    • Final Fantasy lists Holy and Fire as the weaknesses of Undead types. Mages usually get a fire spell early enough to use against the undead before the White Mage gets Holy.
  • September 15, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    Bad name. It implies being undead causes the burning, not that undead are weak to fire.
  • September 15, 2012
    Astaroth
  • September 15, 2012
    MrRuano
    Perhaps make the title Burn the Walking Dead or something to that effect?
  • September 15, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Averted in many zombie fighting guides which advise that fire is a poor weapon to use on zombies: they aren't afraid of it, it won't stop them until they're literally cooked, and in the meantime you're being attacked by a flaming zombie instead of a regular one.

  • September 15, 2012
    Nocturna
    @abloke (^^^^^^): Fire Kills Zombies is too specific to be a good name; this is about all undead, not just zombies.

    @DQZ (^^^^): It would be more helpful if you would suggest alternate names rather than just saying that it's a bad name; I was already aware that it wasn't a great name for that reason.

    @Lumpenprole (^): I'll need specific names for the guides before I can add that as an example.
  • September 15, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Well then Fire Hurts Undead is basic, but it works.
  • September 15, 2012
    Earnest
  • September 15, 2012
    Antigone3
    Earlier editions of D&D had mummies susceptible to fire damage -- justified by real-world (and completely dead) Egyptian mummies being covered in flammable resins. (I haven't played 4.0, and have no idea if mummy = torch time still holds.) One of the Grimtooth's Traps books combined this with Taking You With Me, by stuffing a mummy with a nice big keg of gunpowder.
  • September 16, 2012
    nitrokitty
    Doesn't Kill It With Fire already mention fire's power over the undead?
  • September 16, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ TRS agreed to split the trope.
  • September 16, 2012
    Wumblee
    Literature
  • September 16, 2012
    nitrokitty
    ^^ Should mention that this YKTTW is mandated by TRS then.
  • September 16, 2012
    Astaroth
    For Lumpenprole's example, link The Zombie Survival Guide
  • September 16, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    In Torchwood: Miracle Day, nobody can die. It is impossible and so the Government (in Britain) decide that, when the hospitals get too full, anyone who should be dead be incinerated. Honestly, cutting their heads off and being squashed and burnt beyond recognition and given the lethal injection didn't kill them, so turning them to ashes is apparently better.

    They do have to be ashes, though (the ashes may still be living, but they're not human, so it's fine and we can throw them away).

    In the Doctor Who episode '42', if you looked into the living sun it's soul entered your body and you effectively became undead. The soul could then burn you (or anyone you gave a literal look that could kill to - is there a trope for that?)from the inside out. The only other way to die in that state being eaten by the living sun. In the episodes 'The Impossible Planet' and 'The Satan Pit', the Beast claims that he is older than the Universe (these episodes are set far into the future, so we assume that he is some sort of immortal undead) and, in short, bursts into flames and dies at the end. Also, the Family of Blood's scarecrows are undead and must be burned.

    The Doctor himself is undead and in 'The Impossible Astronaut' is given a Viking Funeral, which is assuring his death after being shot by River's gun. He's not actually dead, though - just "singed a little bit".

    This trope could be related to Cooked To Death or maybe Murder By Cremation, as well as Kill It With Fire.
  • September 16, 2012
    MorganWick
  • September 16, 2012
    elwoz
    ^ I like.

    Sometimes the internal justification for the trope is that the undead regenerate, and all monsters who regenerate in the setting are vulnerable to fire. (For instance, IIRC this is what's going on in AD&D, which has lots of other regenerating monsters.) Regenerating monsters being vulnerable to fire goes all the way back to Hercules and the Hydra.
  • September 16, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • At the end of Night Of The Living Dead the zombie bodies are burned so they won't re-reanimate.
    • Goes awry in Return Of The Living Dead, where some locals use a creamatorium to burn one escaped zombie. The soot from the burn mixes with rain, animating everyone in the local graveyard, who then go on a killing/zombifiying spree.
  • September 16, 2012
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    • Twilight vampires are only able to die if another vampire tears them to pieces and then all of the pieces are burned. Even if they have been Driven To Suicide, this is absolutely the only way they can die, which is why Edward Cullen asks the Volturi to do this to him in New Moon.
  • September 17, 2012
    Astaroth
    Alluded to in Order Of The Stick prequel, On the Origin of PCs. When Roy recruits Vaarsuvius into the order, he mentions that the elf is an expert at fire magic, which will be useful since he's expecting to fight lots of undead in their upcoming quest.
  • September 17, 2012
    Wildstar93
    Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare also does this. You can even burn the coffins that are making the zombies rise up from the ground. It usually takes a hit or two from a torch to make a zombie fall.
  • October 15, 2012
    Tomodachi
    Is cremation a example?
  • October 16, 2012
    Nocturna
    If its purpose is to keep the known undead from rising again. If they're cremating the body to prevent a possible rising of the undead, that would be Burn the Body.
  • October 16, 2012
    JonnyB
    In Half Life 2, using gas canisters or oil drums to set zombies on fire is a pretty effective way of killing them. Especially used in the Ravenholm level, along with fire traps.
  • October 17, 2012
    sgamer82
    • In World Of Warcraft, more than a few quests, most notably a quest early in Howling Fjord called "War is Hell", features burning dead bodies so they can not be raised as undead soldiers for the Lich King. Otherwise, fire is not usually displayed to be especially better or worse to use when fighting them.
  • December 27, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The 2nd sentence and quote you have listed for Night Of The Living Dead is actually from Return.
  • January 18, 2013
    elwoz
    Bump. Let's get the Kill It With Fire TRS done, folks.
  • February 23, 2013
    Antigone3
    Unnatural Issue: When a Hunting Party finds that Richard Whitestone has killed and reanimated all his servants, the Fire mages in the group chase everyone else outside and summon salamanders to cremate the bodies.
  • February 23, 2013
    MaxWest
    Vincent Price's character in The Last Man On Earth did this. After killing the various vampires he came across, he threw them into a place called "the Pit" where he burned their bodies. Prior to that, the authorities would also send the bodies of the infected dead to the Pit to be burned.
  • February 23, 2013
    hevendor717
    Isn't Frankenstein's monster weak to fire, if not very afraid of it?
  • June 8, 2013
    MissKitten
    Bumping this. Is it ready to launch or what?
  • June 8, 2013
    StarSword
    EDIT: Strike that, I had it confused with another YKTTW in the same TRS.
  • June 10, 2013
    StarSword
    I cleaned this up some but I don't think it's ready. Questions:
    • Do we have consensus on the title?
    • Can we clarify the boundary any between this and Fire Keeps It Dead? There's a lot of overlap.
  • June 10, 2013
    maxwellsilver
  • June 10, 2013
    Generality
    Fire is one of two ways to kill a werewolf on the Discworld, the other being silver. Werewolves are considered undead in the setting. It's also said to be effective against vampires, but they have such a grab bag of strengths and weaknesses that it's not nearly as reliable.
  • June 11, 2013
    Surenity
    In the Shining Force games fire-based magic attacks are very effective against zombies.
  • June 11, 2013
    Ryusui
  • June 11, 2013
    StarSword
    I'm rolling in the new examples but I'm gonna have to reject the World Of Warcraft and Elemental Masters ones. That goes on Fire Keeps It Dead. By the same token there's an example that went over there that belongs over here.
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