Created By: MarkDStroyer on January 24, 2012 Last Edited By: Arivne on August 3, 2014
Nuked

Death By Pilot

We\'ll show you how high far we\'re willing to go by killing off this character

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
It's a TV pilot, maybe pilot movie, and a cast of characters is introduced. However, always one character whose job is to fill a specific role; dying before the pilot is over.

The meta reasons vary.

  1. To show how serious a situation it is.
  2. To make room for a designated main character.
  3. Because they're the first bad guy and have to die to show the scale of the threat.
  4. Because the writers want to prove that they're willing to kill people.

Compare


Examples

Live-Action TV
  • Xander and Willow's friend Jesse McNally from Buffy the Vampire Slayer died to show how dangerous the vampires are and to make room for Buffy.
  • Stargate Atlantis
    • Col. Marshall Sumner, to show how dangerous the situation was are and to make room for Sheppard.
    • The Wraith Keeper, as the first villain.
  • Half of the crew of Voyager to show how dangerous the situation was are and to make room for the main cast.

Western Animation
  • Cliffjumper is murdered by Starscream in the first episode of Transformers Prime to show that the Decepticons mean business.
  • In the second episode of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Shyir Rev sacrifices himself in order to buy his planet's colony enough time for them to escape from the Red Lanterns' world-destroying Liberator. His final words to Razer, who was previously shown to be having second thoughts about being a Red Lantern, help kick off the latter's Heel–Face Turn.

Community Feedback Replies: 67
  • January 24, 2012
    level10peon
    • In the opening scene of Team America World Police, Team America is sent to France to kill a group of terrorists targeting the city. After it seems like they have killed all the terrorists, Carson, who is Lisa's love interest in the group, is killed in surprise attack by the final terrorist. This makes room for Gary Johnston, the lead character.

  • January 24, 2012
    Earnest
    Can be closely related to Sacrificial Lamb, Sacrificial Lion and Decoy Protagonist. May result in Forgotten Fallen Friend.
  • January 24, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr: At the beginning of the pilot Brisco County, Sr. is killed by the Bly gang. The rest of the pilot is about Jr. being hired as the bounty hunter to bring in the gang, and about half of the rest of the series also involves Jr. hunting members of Bly's gang.
  • January 25, 2012
    PaulA
    Is this distinct enough from Death By Origin Story?
  • January 25, 2012
    TooBah
  • January 25, 2012
    Damr1990
    see also Doomed By Canon
  • January 25, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^^ Death By Origin Story is currently defined as taking place in the Back Story, rather than story proper. I, too, feel there is a considerable similarity, yet more of a missing supertrope kind...

    • Amuria dies in the first episode of Simoun, prompting most of her squadmates to leave Chor Tempest. This, incidentally, results in Chor Tempest being assigned lots of new blood to become a Ragtag Bunch Of Misfits, whose bonding over the course of the series is one of its main themes.
  • January 25, 2012
    chicagomel
    Buffy The Vampire Slayer-Jesse, Xander and Willow's friend. Whedon even considered putting him in the openining credits to further fool the audience, but it was too expensive.

    CSI-Holly Gibbs. A result of her not clicking with fans during rest runs, hence the bringing in of Jorja Fox/Sara Sidle.
  • January 25, 2012
    ChunkyDaddy
    • Star Trek Deep Space Nine - The pilot opens with a Borg attack on Sisko's ship. Sisko escapes with his son, but his wife dies in the attack. This used to establish that Sisko is fed up with his position at Starfleet and is considering resigning his post. The rest of the season deals with Sisko's transformation from a disgruntled Starfleet officer to the Emmissary
  • January 25, 2012
    StrixObscuro
    Two more:

    Comic Books
    • In Power Pack, there's the death of Aelfyre Whitemane, right after he gives the four kids their powers.

    Literature
    • Animorphs, Elfangor lands, badly wounded, and gives the kids the morphing technology before he gets Eaten Alive by Visser Three.
  • January 25, 2012
    Treblain
    Description should explain how this connects to Forgotten Fallen Friend, Death By Origin Story, and Dead Star Walking, and note that reading the examples will inevitably be a First Episode Spoiler.

    • Alias: Sydney's fiance Danny.
  • January 25, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • Silver Age Green Lantern: Dying GL Abin Sur finds the closest man who is fearless, summons him, and gives him the Green Lantern ring.
  • January 25, 2012
    X2X
    If this is a sequel, see Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome.
  • January 26, 2012
    Rognik
    Would Qir-Gon Jin (Jedi mentor in Star Wars 1) count? He lasts through the entire movie, but dies shortly before the end, partially setting up the rest of the SW movies?
  • January 26, 2012
    Psi001
    • Cat is supposedly robotocized at the end of the first episode of Sonic Sat Am (counting airing rotation, while "Sonic Boom" aired first, "Head or Tails" is actually the real pilot).
  • January 27, 2012
    Koveras
    I think the definition should be narrowed to the character's death in the pilot kicking off either the main plot or at least some recurring subplots.
  • February 26, 2012
    Westrim
    bump
  • February 27, 2012
    henke37
    Compare First Episode Spoiler, that has a bunch of these.
  • February 27, 2012
    Koveras
    If the OP doesn't appear until tomorrow and if there are no objections, I can take over this one.
  • February 27, 2012
    NESBoy
    Subverted in Gekisou Sentai Carranger, where Dappu, after failing to recruit a bunch of Idiot Heroes, apparently dies, motivating the main cast to become the eponymous superheroes and avenge his death. Afterwards, Dappu's death turned out to be actually faked.
  • February 27, 2012
    SKJAM
    Babylon Five: The assassination of the Vorlon ambassador is a huge plot point; and the fact that it didn't make sense in retrospect was a turning point in the first season's Vorlon subplot.
  • February 27, 2012
    c0ry
    Suzie Costello dies in the first episode of Torchwood. It doesn't last.
  • February 27, 2012
    Elbruno
    A lot of times can be a Plot Triggering Death.
  • February 27, 2012
    Duncan
    Nate Fisher, Sr. dies in the first episode of Six Feet Under, meaning his kids have to take over the business.
  • February 27, 2012
    Dawnwing
    Anime:
    • The squad that was in all the promotional posters for the Ga Rei Zero anime all got killed off in the first episode.
  • February 27, 2012
    NESBoy
    Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers begins with the formation a team by Vigilante (a veteran of the original Seven Soldiers of Victory). They all get killed by the end of the issue, showing how the Big Bad operates against teams of seven.
  • February 28, 2012
    mdulwich
    The 2009 Star Trek film kills the Enterprise's Chief Engineer (on-screen) and Chief Medical Officer (off-screen) to allow Scotty and McCoy to take their places in the classic line-up by the end.
  • February 28, 2012
    JoeG
    • This was done in both Hill Street Blues and ER, but in each case the character or characters in question (Hill and Renko in Hill Street Blues and Carol Hathaway in ER) was popular enough that they were brought back for the regular series.
  • March 1, 2012
    AllsparkSpinOut
  • March 1, 2012
    chico
    Wilton Knight in Knight Rider

    Questors creator and predecessor Dr. Emil Vaslovik in The Questor Tapes, a Gene Roddenberry TV pilot film that became a Stillborn Franchise thanks to Executive Meddling.

  • March 1, 2012
    ZombieAladdin
    Yusuke in the anime for Yu Yu Hakusho is killed off in the first episode. However, he is the protagonist and is brought back to life in return for catching criminals from the underworld, so his death is the inciting incident.
  • March 1, 2012
    surgoshan
    • Buffy The Vampire Slayer tried to do this with Jesse, but he never made it to opening credits, so the impact was somewhat blunted.
  • March 1, 2012
    chicagomel
    ^i got that one further up.
  • March 1, 2012
    chico
  • March 27, 2012
    Koveras
    Now that I think of it, I cannot see this one as anything but a more specific variation of Plot Triggering Death. And because Tropes Are Flexible, I think it can just be lumped into that page... What do the other posters think?
  • February 3, 2013
    Westrim
    Bumping. Is this Plot Triggering Death, or sufficiently varied to stand on it's own?
  • February 3, 2013
    ekolis
    Red Dwarf and Star Trek: Voyager - pretty much EVERYBODY. Yeah.
  • February 3, 2013
    AP
    • James Robinson's Starman begins with the death of the main character's brother who was, at that time, the current, if little-seen, owner of the Starman mantle.
  • February 3, 2013
    Sheora
    I'm on board to dump this one. It just seems like Plot Triggering Death happening in the first episode. Seeing as how the OP abandoned it immediately and no one else has taken up the task of defining it beyond that, I say dump it.
  • February 4, 2013
    lexicon
    This is not Plot Triggering Death. In that "The death has to either occur before the story begins, or during the first moments of it." This is about the death being anytime in the pilot. I could take this up.
  • February 4, 2013
    Westrim
    Okay, go ahead and grab it. I have a bunch of others to shepherd, so that's one less on my plate.
  • February 6, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    The Battlestar Galactica '00s reimagining started off with a miniseries pilot, in which most of the human race was wiped out in a surprise Cylon attack involving lots of nukes. Included dead were a number of series characters' spouses and families, which of course affected these surviving characters--besides the general effect (which the rest of the series is based on) of being part of the small remnant of survivors left in the human race and searching the galaxy for a home, while being further hounded by said attackers.

  • February 6, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    @SKJAM (re: Babylon 5 example): Ambassador Kosh did not die from the assassination attempt however, so would it fit?
  • February 6, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    In the first episode of Farscape, when Crichton travels through the wormhole into that strange new part of the universe, his craft accidentally collides with a Peacekeeper vessel at the other end, killing its pilot, who is soon identified as Peacekeeper Commander Bialar Crais' brother--which sets up Crais' vendetta against Crichton for the rest of the season.
  • February 6, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^^^Pretty much the same thing happens in Battlestar Galactica Classic minus the miniseries bit.
  • February 9, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    ^ Never did get to see the 70s series (grew up with one TV in the house). I may check it out on DVD, but the reboot was just so awesome (well what I've seen, halfway through season 4) that I'm afraid the 70s one might compare poorly.
  • May 8, 2013
    jbrecken
    In the pilot episode of Lost, the pilot dies. (It's significant in that he's the first person killed by the monster, besides the whole pilot/pilot thing.)
  • May 8, 2013
    nielas
    Probably should avoid examples that overlap with Plot Triggering Death. Farscape and BSG examples would fall into that trope since the deaths happen at the beginning and we don't get to know the characters properly for even one episode.
  • May 9, 2013
    AgProv
    Live Action Television The British crime series Randall and Hopkirk(Deceased), both in its original 1960's format and in its 1990's remake, establishes in the pilot that one half of the private detective team (Hopkirk) is killed on the job. This is essential, as the USP of the series is that Randall is therefater guided in his investigations by the ghost of his partner, who only he can see and interact with.

    Also Western Animation. not sure if a series using hand-manipulated marionette puppets with visible strings counts as "animation", but it lacks a category... Captain Scarlet, in the sci-fi puppet series, is killed horribly by the evil Mysterons right at the beginning, but returns to life as an indestructible superhuman. His colleague Captain Brown also returns from death, as does his adversary Captain Black.
  • May 9, 2013
    SquirrelGuy
    Uncle Ben in the Spider Man comic series?
  • May 9, 2013
    totorolover33
    Live Action Television The pilot of British series Derek has one of the title character's favourite old women dying at the care home where he works.
  • May 10, 2013
    Arivne
    Live Action TV
    • Star Trek
      • Star Trek The Original Series 2nd pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Gary Mitchell and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner are the Enterprise's helmsman and ship's psychiatrist, respectively. When the ship passes through the barrier at the edge of the galaxy their psychic ability is tremendously increased and they become dangerous to the rest of the crew, so they're the "villains" of the episode. At the end of the episode they both die. In the regular series Lieutenant Sulu is the helmsman and Dr. McCoy handles any psychiatric duties.
  • June 4, 2014
    Westrim
    tap
  • June 4, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Two in Johnny Bago. First The Don's son gets gunned down in a restaurant and Johnny is framed for it. While he's on the run he hooks up with a retiree named Hick who travels the country in his Winnebago RV. Hick dies of natural causes and Johnny steals his RV to get away from everyone chasing him.
  • June 4, 2014
    jamespolk
  • June 4, 2014
    Westrim
    Quoting Lexicon: "This is not Plot Triggering Death. In that "The death has to either occur before the story begins, or during the first moments of it." This is about the death being anytime in the pilot."

    I cleaned up the description and laconic.
  • June 4, 2014
    StrixObscuro
    Cleaned up the initial post.

    Comic Books
    • The first issue of Peter Mlligan and Mike Allred's run on X Force featured all but two of the initial team getting slaughtered.
    • The first two Runaways series featured death in their respective first issues. The third series averted this, since Marvel wanted it to be Lighter And Softer than the previous series, but then the trope came back in the first issue of the final arc.

    Video Games
    • Bio Ware loves this trope. Virtually every one of their major games opens with someone dying.
      • In Mass Effect, Jenkins dies about five minutes after you start the first mission.
      • In Mass Effect 2, Shepard dies after getting Joker to safety. (They get better, of course.)
      • In Dragon Age Origins, your first two companions die during the Joining. And if you have the Human Noble origin, you get to watch your parents (and possibly your one-night stand) get killed before you even reach Ostagar.
      • In Dragon Age II, one of Hawke's siblings dies as the family is fleeing Lothering.
  • June 5, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    "Death by Pilot" is simply Character Death.

    Not worth listing, especially if they appear and die in the pilot and is written out in the story proper. Also, starting examples include second episode. rendering the whole "pilot" argument useless.

    the other "reasons" are basically Department Of Redundancy Department to the first reasons.
  • June 5, 2014
    Arivne
  • June 5, 2014
    PaulA
    I think ShanghaiSlave is right: A death that happens in the pilot might be significant for a trope reason, but if so it's as an example of that trope. "It happens in the pilot" is not in itself a thing that makes a death significant or tropeworthy.
  • June 6, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    • Torchwood sets up Suzie to be a main character, even including her in promotional material and the images that along with the Opening Narration. The first episodes ends with her blowing her brains out in front of newcomer Gwen. Done very deliberately to send the message "we are not our parent show; we're a hell of a lot darker than that".
  • June 6, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    ^ Belongs on Sacrificial Lamb and Dead Serious.
  • June 6, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    ^ ...by that logic so would ALL the examples though.
  • June 6, 2014
    crazysamaritan
  • June 7, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    Can we just trash this already?
  • August 3, 2014
    Ominae
    So what happens to this now?
  • August 3, 2014
    DAN004
    This is abandoned because we have this already.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=trchc2l26kgw3phn42a12070