The trouble with writing about the afterlife is that thing about it being the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns — how do you write about something that nobody's ever seen and that might not be comprehensible to a living person?
One way of handling it is to divide the afterlife into sections: this here's the bit you're in immediately after you die, which is somewhat familiar, and over there is the afterlife proper, which we're not going to talk about. The story only concerns itself with the near part of the afterlife; when characters move on to the afterlife proper (often by Going Into The Light
), they exit the story.
Sometimes the near, familiar, part of the afterlife overlaps the living world, so that the deceased can walk around seeing how life goes on without them. (See Near Death Clairvoyance
.) Whether they can interact with the living depends on the story.
where the soul is merely ushered off to its new (after)life from its mundane location.
See also Offscreen Afterlife
, in which the afterlife is not depicted at all.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime & Manga
- In Naruto, everyone in Konoha ends up there because of Pain's onslaught. You see Kakashi there, and his dad's there, too, due to his regrets. Pain's revival ability is able to bring back everyone in this antechamber, but he can't revive Jiraiya because he already passed through.
- The Afterlife in Angel Beats! is in fact an antechamber created for the souls of children who died feeling unfulfilled so that they can leave behind their regrets and fears and move on. People who do so disappear, and it's never made quite clear where they go, but it wouldn't be at all unreasonable to assume that they are going to the "true" afterlife, whatever that may be.
- The Hazama ("Great Between") in the Manga incarnation of Black★Rock Shooter. The job of the eponymous character is making sure troublesome souls move to afterlife proper, because if they don't, they will nag other souls into their false afterlife. Such false afterlife is usually horrifying, as expected from the troublesome souls.
- This is one possible theory of what's going on in Haibane Renmei.
- There's a two-layered afterlife antechamber in Hell Girl. The first layer is a hellscape filled to the brim with ironically familiar, nightmarish visions and experiences that the Victim of the Week is dragged through when they are condemned to hell. The second layer does away with all familiarity and is instead an eerily surreal river covered with floating laterns and a great, pulsating jellyfish-thing with a cross-formation on its body hovering in a completely black sky above as the victim is ferried towards the gate of hell.
- In some DC Comics, this is referred to as 'the Realm of the Just Dead'. Deadman hangs out there a lot.
- A particular story from DC/Marvel had a rich, ruthless (never named) businessman suddenly find himself in the "limbo" afterlife with someone saying they have to "get in line". The businessman finds the line and sees a tall elevator shaft vanishing up into the clouds. "An elevator to Heaven!" he thinks. "They don't know here that I only gave all that money to charity in order to avoid taxes! Ha ha!" He tries to bribe his way to the front of the long queue. The white-suited officials seem puzzled but agree (while ignoring the money, unnoticed by the businessman). Naturally, it turns out that in this case the trope crosses over with Hellevator.
- The Area of Madness in Shade, the Changing Man is part of a much larger and less easily defined place, where Shade meets the ghost of Roger, Kathy's dead ex-boyfriend, then the Angels and Devil. The Land of the Dead is the part of "The Area" described as 'the antechamber to the afterlife'.
- In the Pony POV Series, there's the spirit realm that exists between the mortal world and the afterlives, Pony Heaven and Pony Hell, which are respectively ruled by (and are) The Father of Alicorns and Havoc. The spirits of the recently departed end up here before Mortis or one of his thestral children show up to escort them to their final destination. That said, Mortis is nice enough of a guy that he'll let good souls stay here to wait for still living loved ones to join them before moving on to Heaven together (like what happened with the G2 Mane Cast and their families). Also, this place doesn't seem to have a fixed appearance — it defaults as either a void or walking invisible amongst the mortals, or they can recreate realistic copies of places they enjoyed in life to spend time in while waiting.
- TD mistakenly thinks he's ended up here in The Non-Bronyverse story TD the Alicorn Princess, after he gets blasted by the Elements of Harmony. However, it turns out that Celestia can actually escort him there if he desires, to which he rather quickly declines.
- In the Discworld series, The Grim Reaper comes to take the souls of the dead, but it is never shown where he takes them; if anyone asks, he refuses to give any hints, saying that the only way to find out is to go and see for oneself. Sometimes, the newly-dead will be depicted having a conversation with Death at the place where they were killed, before fading away to wherever they are going; other times, more commonly in later books of the series, the point of view will follow the dead person as they see the world fading around them and find themselves on an empty plain, which they must cross to reach the afterlife proper (which, in accordance with the trope, is never depicted).
- In Small Gods, Death tells Vorbis "At the end of the desert you will be judged." When Brutha dies, he hears the same thing and asks Death "At which end?" In reply, Death smiles.
- In Going Postal, Anghammarad decides that the featureless desert is his afterlife, because there is nothing to do there and therefore he, who was created only to work, is now free.
- In the Old Kingdom series, death is like a river running through a series of caves, the last of which opens out under what looks like, but isn't, a sky full of stars. That's as far as any character goes; anybody who goes on from there never comes back. Undead raised by necromancers are always souls from within the caves, either because they died recently and hadn't finished the journey or because they deliberately lingered in one of the caves in hope of finding a way back to the land of the living.
- In Remember Me by Christopher Pike, the newly-dead hang around invisibly in the land of the living until they're ready to move on. The narrator of the book is dictating her story to a living person just before she moves on herself, so she has not yet learned, and thus can't reveal, what happens next.
- The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis has the gray town, implied to be Purgatory (if not hell), and the protagonist makes a trip into what is revealed to be Heaven's front door, more or less.
- In The Night Angel Trilogy after Kylar dies for the first time (and every other time) he wakes up in an antechamber, with only The Wolf for company.
- In Animorphs, when Rachel dies, she ends up there, and talks to the Ellimist about the events of her life. When she asks what happens next, she is cut off, and the perspective switches to someone else.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry Potter dies, he ends up in a cleaner, emptier version of King's Cross Station. It's more or less stated that this is only how it appears to him, as Dumbledore is surprised when he mentions it aloud. His options are to return, or to go "on", which is not described. There's also the ghosts, who did not cross over either because they had unfinished business or (in Nearly-Headless Nick's case), they were too afraid of what might be waiting on the other side, and are now stuck on Earth for some unspecified amount of time.
- Aunt Dimity seems to occupy an area like this, especially when she's communicating with Lori. In some instances, notably in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, she writes of making inquiries among other spirits who have passed beyond, giving the impression that said spirits aren't immediately available for consultation.
- In Ghost Story, Harry Dresden has just saved the day as a ghost and gets to see his friends before he goes on. Subverted in that the readers see what happens after he moves on as well: he gets resurrected by his very ticked-off boss, who isn't going to let a little thing like a messy assassination keep her from getting her money's worth.
- In Mick Stevens' Poodles from Hell, a dead cartoonist's spirit channels through a living one to describe the afterlife. Right after you die you go to rest and think things over in a typical small workplace break room — couple of tables and chairs, napkin dispenser, coffee and soda machines.
- In Before I Fall, Samantha Kingston dies in a car crash and, immediately after death, is forced to relive the last day of her life in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for 7 days, and "dies" in the same car crash in most of the loops . Once she figures out how to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, she goes into the light and says something to the effect of, "I'll let you see what the afterlife is like for yourself".
- The Young Wizards series has Time Heart, shown in books 1 and 2 where Nita and Kit visit there and see those allies of theirs who recently died. Book 8 uses it as a kind of Cliff Hanger when Dairine goes into Roshaun's afterlife antechamber and sees no one.
- In Book 7, on Alaalu, death isn't the same as it is everywhere else and the souls of the dead enter into an antechamber located in a magically created mythological center of the planet.
- The Halls of Mandos function like this in The Silmarillion—both human and elven (and possibly dwarven and orkish) souls end up here after death, but it's not the ultimate destination for either. Elves arrive in Mandos and remain there for a time (and it can be a very long time if Mandos feels that they did things worthy of punishment), but eventually reincarnate (though reincarnated elves rarely return to Middle-earth, Glorfindel being one of the only known exceptions). Human souls stay in Mandos briefly, then go... somewhere... else. The fates of the souls of other sentient beings after arriving in the Halls is left uncertain, if they go there at all.
- Susie's personalized heaven in The Lovely Bones, an idealization of her teenage life, is explicitly described as this, with the understanding that there is a real "Heaven" which she ascends to late in the narrative which can't really be understood by the living.
- In The Atomic Blood Stained Bus, some of the dead end up in a pub called The Halfway House, but there is an implication that there's lots of them.
Live Action TV
- The Twilight Zone
- "The Hunt". A man dies and ends up on the Eternity Road. He's told about the two possible destinations, Heaven and Hell, but you never actually see them.
- "The Passersby". A long column of dead soldiers walk past a mansion on the way to their final destination.
- Mash episode "Follies of the Living - Concerns of the Dead". The ghost of a dead soldier wanders the camp and eventually finds a group of other ghosts traveling along the road to the afterlife. Almost certainly
a ripoff of based on "The Passersby".
- Being Human: First you go through a door, then there's a hallway (which is apparently horrible), beyond that there's a few waiting rooms, and then...?
- The Crow: Stairway to Heaven had one in the form of a bridge where Shelly waited for Eric. When you crossed it you moved on to the afterlife.
- In the final season of LOST, the ending revealed that the flash-sideways alternate universe was actually this.
- In Steambath people with "a story to tell" spend time in a steambath attended by a Puerto Rican attendant named Morty (aka "Morte" or Death) who claims he is really God.
- CSI NY Mac was in one in 'Near Death' that looked a lot like the lab.
- Due South called this the Borderlands. It was cold and snowy and a lot like the Canadian tundra in winter. Fraser went there during the time he took a substance that put him into a hibernation type state in 'Dead Men Don't Throw Rice'.
- Ashes to Ashes turns out to be a purgatory created and modelled by Gene Hunt specifically for dead police officers who had a premature and traumatic death. The actual heaven and hell are not seen, only their entrances (The Railway Arms for Heaven and a Hellevator for hell).
- The Underworld in both old and new World of Darkness is like this. There's an unknowable afterlife that souls (human ones, anyway) are supposed to go to, but ghosts can loiter around the place indefinitely, and Wraiths can scheme against one another to get a place in the hierarchy of the dead. In the old version, it's a place of infinite horrors, in the new, some part of it are kind of cozy.
- In Carousel, after Billy dies, he goes to what is explained to be "the back yard of heaven," where stars are hung on a celestial clothesline. He is not permitted to enter there even through the back gate, but he is given the chance to return to earth for one day.
- The afterlife in Our Town is implied to be this.
- The setting of Grim Fandango is the Land of the Dead, which is vast but still only the lead-up to the real afterlife. What lies beyond the entrance into the real afterlife is unknown and unknowable, and nobody who goes through ever comes back; the game ends when the protagonist goes through. The Land of the Dead contains an entire city of people putting off the final step, either because they were evil in life and have reason to suspect the afterlife is going to be unpleasant, or because they've got some tie back to life (like family they want to keep an eye on), or just because they find the irrevocable step into the unknown inherently off-putting. One character, Membrillo the coroner, has decided that there is no way out, and the Land of the Dead is hell, where he is punished by living a shadowy, unreal, yet all-too-human existence.
- In The Order of the Stick, the dead Eugene Greenhilt is pissed because the Blood Oath he swore leaves him stuck waiting in the antechamber. What is seen of the other side applies to some extent as well: the Lawful Good afterlife takes the form of a mountain, arranged by altitude in layers of increasingly abstract pleasures. Souls are expected to go to the level they wish, then climb higher as they get bored and seek greater enlightenment. The lower levels are relatively mundane, and are all you get to see.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja has purgatory, which is a restaurant where everyone eats all their sins. There is one waiter. Service is terrible.
- In The Dragon Doctors, Kili the shaman describes the afterlife as being a place that cannot be accurately described whatsoever by the living, since it is not a paradise for the living, but a paradise for the soul. We see the Spirit World many times but never someone's final resting place.
- Near the end of It's Walky!, characters killed by the Martians reunite, along with Ruth and Dina, in a bizarre void that Ruth insists is Purgatory, and more rational characters a shared sink of severed consciousness before it's claimed by entropy. The technology exists to retrieve the minds of people in this state, but they remember none of it.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold, episode "Dawn of the Dead Man!": When you die, you hang around the world of the living, invisible and inaudible, until you are called to Go Into the Light. What's beyond the Light is not shown, and it's stated that once you go into the Light, there's no returning.
- In the ThunderCats arc "Trials of Lion-O", when young hero Lion-O dies suddenly, his Amulet of Concentrated Awesome, the Spirit Stone, activates to force him to go on Adventures in Comaland. He wakes up in a metaphysical waystation where Spirit Advisor Jaga awaits to provide exposition about Lion-O's impending Vision Quest and open the gateway to his Mental World. Once Lion-O is finished there, he travels back to the antechamber for another talk with Jaga.
- In Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, there's the Sitting Room, which is described as the boundary between life and the afterlife.