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Bolivian Army Cliff Hanger
This is when a season ends with a cliffhanger that could have killed any number of the cast.

Useful because executives can then negotiate contracts with the cliffhanger in mind; i.e., "Take a pay cut or we will kill you off".

Compare Bolivian Army Ending (for the end of an entire work), Uncertain Doom (which occurs in the middle of a work or installment), and Our Hero Is Dead. If characters are revealed to have escaped from the fatal event after being shown or suggested to have been caught right in the middle of it (i.e. A bomb demolishing a building before anyone could get out), that's a Cliffhanger Copout.

Ending Trope, so beware Unmarked Spoilers.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Code Geass the first season ends with two characters in a tense showdown and two gunshots, but doesn't show us who gets shot. And there's a massive battle to end all battles going on elsewhere. We only find out what happens in the next season, and even then, only halfway through the second season premiere.
  • Veritas, scheduled to have a second part to the story, ends with the lead starting a fight with Vera, the closest thing the series has to a Big Bad, having just awoken Yuri, the closest thing the series has to a Sealed Evil in a Can in order to get the Eleventh Hour Superpower he needs to fight the first one. The last time he fought anyone he was not yet ready to fight Vera.

    Literature 
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has several. As the story is told from the POV of several characters, even one book can have multiple Bolivian Army Cliffhangers. From previous experience, these characters tend to survive.
    • A Clash of Kings: Davos (suffers a shipwreck).
    • A Feast for Crows: Arya (becomes blind) and Brienne (gets hanged).
    • A Dance with Dragons: Jaime (meets Brienne, who probably wants to kill him), Daenerys (meets a Dothraki army) and especially Jon (stabbed).
      • Daenerys' example is notable because it's effectively a Bolivian Army Cliffhanger for both sides. Dany has a ferocious, Nigh Invulnerable fire-breathing dragon on her side, after all.
  • The Princess Bride ends with the four main characters off their horses and surrounded by Humperdinck's army, resolved in the unfinished sequel.

    Live Action TV 
  • Skins Series 1 ends with Tony being hit by a bus then the entire cast(including Tony) bursts into singing Cat Stevens' Wild World. Series 4 even went further than that and ended with Cook desperately rushing at the John Foster to avenge Freddie's death.
  • Robin Hood Series 3 ends with Nottingham Castle being blown up and Gisbourne, Isabella and Sheriff Vaisey all apparently dead too. (It's somewhat invalid considering the show was cancelled).
  • CSI: NY Season 5 ends with a machine gun opening fire on the entire regular cast, who were gathered in a bar to remember a colleague who'd been killed. The next season reveals that Danny has lost the use of his legs and the shooters attacked the bar at random.
  • One season of Dynasty ended with a terrorist attack on a wedding... long story... and everyone apparently dead. The first episode of the next season was one of the highest rated episodes in that show's history. The resolution was that a couple of extras got killed.
  • LOST season 5 ended with a hydrogen bomb potentially detonating in proximity to at least eight of the main characters.
    • Of course, they have a better chance of surviving if it did detonate than the alternative. Really.
  • Both Homicide: Life on the Street and NCIS ended seasons with the entire cast getting reassigned. Less fatal than the other situations, but the same effect of being able to write out any character they want.
    • Another season of NCIS ended with a car bomb going off right outside their base with everyone except Vance, Ducky, and Palmer inside, with Ducky having a heart attack when he hears the news. Apart from McGee getting hit with some glass, none of the main cast was hurt, and both he and Ducky recovered.
  • The final episode of Blake's 7 ended with all the heroes (and we mean ALL the heroes, even ones that had been Put on a Bus in previous seasons) in assorted, apparently inescapable imminent death situations. The intention was that anyone who wanted in on the next season would be revealed to have survived, but at that point the show got cancelled.
    • The second season ended with the crew launching a seemingly suicidal Delaying Action against an alien fleet. Two characters were written out: Blake and Jenna. The former returned for the next two finales, dying in the last episode. The latter was killed off-screen.
  • In the Army Wives Season 1 final episode, the title characters were inside a bar when a man walked in and detonated a bomb he had strapped to him.
  • Just about every season ending from ER.
    • Not quite: early seasons usually ended with some sense of closure (e.g. Carter's graduation) and it was only for new generations that they added this trope. For instance: Season 8 has four of the regulars locked inside during an apparent breakout of smallpox; 9 leaves Luka's fate unknown; 10 has the shootout while Chen and Pratt are in the car with Elgin; 12 has another shooting, this time inside the hospital; 13 has the stampede and 14 the explosion.
  • Stargate Atlantis Season 1 ending.
  • Stargate Universe Also season 1 ending.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Best of Both Worlds Part 1" ended this way, with the Enterprise's Wave Motion Gun aimed at Picard and the cube that assimilated him. This coincided nicely with rumours that Patrick Stewart might be quitting, making for a very tense summer.
  • Andromeda had a season end with two characters captured by Magog, the android impaled, the captain and first officer knocked out, and the ship having taken a miniature black hole through it. Season 4's finale was even nastier, leaving everyone but Dylan dead or about to die. (They didn't.)
  • The ending of Charmed season 3 could have killed off Prue and Piper, and actually was used to kill off Prue.
  • The finale for Season 1 of CBS's Jericho ended with a cut to black as a firefight began involving most of the major characters. This may have contributed to the uproar in response to the cancellation of the series at the end of season 1, as many of the devoted fans did not know the fate of their favorite characters.
  • Criminal Minds did this in its third season finale, showing several identical black SUVs, each a destination for a pair of major characters. The episode ends with one of the SUVs, not specifically identified, exploding. Season 4's opener, however, reveals that the only casualty was the single minor character among the possible victims. Although the producers at least tried to keep the mystery alive by doing nothing to debunk (and possibly even starting) rumours that Shemar Moore or Paget Brewster was leaving the show.
    • Don't forget the ending of Season Four, which has Hotch at gunpoint from the Boston Reaper (George Foyet). Foyet says "You should have made a deal" then a gunshot is heard and fades to black. At the start of Season Five, it is revealed the Reaper shoots past Hotch's head to intimidate or scare him. It doesn't work. Then they struggle and Hotch gets non-fatally stabbed multiple times by Foyet, who mirrors his own wounds he self-inflicted to draw attention away from himself in the original case.
    • Season six also did in a less-fatal manner. Hotch's announcement that they would all given the opportunity to transfer to another division provided the writers with an easy way to right out any character they wanted. Probably a result of the statuses of three cast members as series regulars the following season still being up for grabs at the time the episode was written.
  • In The Guardian's second season cliffhanger, James is brutally shot by a client and left to die. The resolution is a nasty fakeout: Nick sees the client leave and realizes something's up, but he's too late to help James.
  • Grey's Anatomy season 5 ended with both Izzy and George flatlining. Izzy survived, George didn't.
    • Season 8 ended with Meredith, Christina, Mark, Lexie, Arizona, Derek in a plane crash. Averted with Lexie, who died in that episode. In the next season, Mark was in a coma, and eventually died.
    • In season 9, the end of the finale has Richard passed out in the dark.
  • Made In Canada plays it straight at the end of season 2, and casually dumps the lame survival excuses at the beginning of the next season.
  • The unresolved Season 2/series finale of Dark Angel, which may be considered an unintentional Bolivian Army Ending.
  • Desperate Housewives has done this with the last three November sweeps. In 2007 a tornado hit the street and the episode ended with Lynette screaming narmily while the camer pulled back and showed a devastated street. In 2008 everyone just happened to be at the same bar when it burned down and in 2009 everyone just happened to be in the same yard when an airplane fell out of the sky. The show's executives always try to get some hype going by saying that, yes, for sure, someone you care about has died. And it always ends up being a minor charactor.
  • The West Wing at the end of season 1, had gunfire opened on the regular cast and a crowd, with the last lines being "Who's been hit? Who's been hit?".
  • Smallville has season three ending with Clark being up and away, his father in a coma, Lana off to Paris, Chloe apparently blown up, Lionel knifed and Lex poisoned.
    • Actually, pretty much every season of Smallville has this: The first series ends with Clark and Lana sucked up into a tornado, Lex and Lionel in a collapsing building, Jonathan running out into a storm and Martha menaced by a floating spaceship. By the time of the fifth series cliffhanger (Clark trapped in the Phantom Zone, Lex possessed by Zod and making out with an oblivious Lana, Martha and Lois trapped on a crashing plane and Chloe and Lionel being attacked by a mob that just springs up out of nowhere because there's been a power cut), it was starting to get a bit silly.
  • The season eight finale of CSI: Miami ended with many people in the lab and the entire main cast (minus Eric, Horatio, and Det. Tripp) collapsing to the floor, most likely from either a poison or a biochemical agent (implied by the episode to be bubonic plague, but the episode's depiction of it is You Fail Bacteriology Forever). Before the screen went black, Eric ran up to Calleigh and begged her to breathe, implying that whatever knocked them out is quite likely fatal.
    • According to Emily Procter herself in an interview in TV Guide, one of them is going to be dead by next season, but they won't know who until the season starts filming. The doomed member is Sixth Ranger Jesse due to a head injury and the "plague" turned out to be gas.
  • Saturday Night Live once parodied this at the end of the 11th season. The whole cast was trapped in a burning building to explain away any potential cast changes the next year.note 
  • The finale to the first series of Psychoville had the majority of the main cast gathered in an abandoned mental hospital by the villain, who too was there, and strapped with explosives. Cue massive explosion... which the viewers see occur from outside. We are left to theorize who, if anyone, survived.
  • The first series of BBC's Sherlock ends with Sherlock pointing a gun at a bomb, threatening to explode himself, John Watson, and Moriarty.
  • Supernatural is fond of these:
    • Season 1 Finale: John and the boys have just been in a nasty car accident. We see them in the destroyed car, but don't know if they are alive or dead until the season 2 premiere.
    • Season 3 Finale: Dean is killed by hellhounds, and his soul is sent to Hell, leaving his future uncertain. Overlaps with Downer Ending.
    • Season 4 Finale: Castiel is facing off an archangel, said to be one of the most powerful entities in existence, and Sam and Dean are faced with Lucifer rising from his cage.
    • Season 6 Finale: Castiel gives the boys an ultimatum: bow down and swear their love to him, their new Lord God, or be destroyed.
    • Season 7 Finale: Castiel and Dean just killed Dick Roman, but are dragged along with his soul into the dimensional realm of Purgatory, where the soul of every monster that ever lived hunt for all eternity. Sam is left completely alone back on Earth, which is now a battleground for the remaining Leviathans and Crowley's demon army.
    • Season 8 Finale: Sam collapses in agony, apparently dying, as a result of trying and failing to close the Gates of Hell. Meanwhile, Castiel is stripped of his Grace and dumped somewhere in the wild as Metatron casts every angel out of Heaven.
    • Season 9 Finale: Dean dies, with the last scene showing coming back as a demon.
  • One season of Neighbours ended with the roof collapsing on an illegal dance party at which many of the characters were present.
    • Neighbours has been doing this consistently since the 90s (note that other years feature lives endangered, just not more than one):
      • Beth and Hannah trapped in a burning cottage, while Cameron, for unrelated reasons, was being held over an open elevator shaft (1992);
      • Gaby and Annalise in a plane crash (1993);
      • Karl and Joel in a flood, with Joel's leg trapped under a car (1998);
      • Drew and Lolly being pulled out of a burning house, both injured (1999);
      • Joe trapped in his taxi during a bushfire with a passenger about to go into labour (2000);
      • the Lassiters complex is set on fire with Stu and Sindi trapped in the pub, while Max is knocked out by an explosion.
      • Libby, Zeke and Bridget missing during a rafting trip, when their raft is capsized by a prank. (2008)
      • Summer and Andrew trapped in a fire, as Natasha and Michael s attempt to rescue them. (same house as 1999!) (2010).
  • Outrageous Fortune (New Zealand drama) had an uncharacteristic one at the very end of Season 5. Zane Gerard fired gunshots at either Cheryl or Pascalle, himself having just been fatally stabbed with a broken bottle and we had to wait till next season to see who, if anyone survived. This was because the lead actors were engaged in aggressive negotiations with the production and it was not clear which of them would be returning.
  • Happened quite often in Babylon 5, often as part of JMS's preplanned "hooks" to remove a character from the plot if the actor decided to quit. Perhaps the most impressive was Captain Sheridan, who ended the third season finale at ground zero of two 500-megaton nuclear explosions. He came back (eventually), but a number of characters, including Talia Winters (season two finale) and Marcus Cole (season four finale) stayed gone.
    • Seemed to be Michael Garibaldi's main thing.
  • Reno 911! did this twice. The first season ending with a shootout that leaves everybody apparently dead (it was All Just a Dream the next season). Season 5 ends with the deputies' parade float careening into a building that then explodes, this time three of them didn't come back.
  • The season 3 ending of JAG.
  • Oz did this twice. The first season ends with National Guard troops forcing their way into the cell block to end the riot, firing live ammunition at random. The fourth season ends with an accidental gas explosion in the kitchens.
  • The end of Series 1 of Jeopardy, which has the group being abducted by aliens as they wait on the ridge to be rescued by helicopter.

    Video Games 
  • Driv3r ends with Tanner flatlining after being shot by the Big Bad's Last Breath Bullet. A doctor seems to be getting a defibrillator ready, but the whole thing wasn't resolved until years later in Driver: San Fransciso.
  • The mission "Of Their Own Accord" in Modern Warfare 2 ends with the US Army Rangers boarding a Blackhawk to cover the evacuation of civilians from a warzone. After gunning down multiple Russian gunners, the helicopter is shot down, and your character, Pvt. Ramirez, wakes up inside the wreckage as Russian troops are closing in, you run out of ammo, and Cpl. Dunn gets shot. The next few mission takes place on the other side of the world, with an entirely different protagonist. Then we are sent back to Ramirez, Foley, and Dunn, who thanks to the timely actions of the other protagonist and his squad, survives.
  • Phantasy Star II ended like this, with Lutz transporting the other members of your party to the your location to aid you in fighting a HORDE of Earthmen after defeating the final boss. Kind of a stupid thing to do in retrospect because the only people that actually know what really happened on the ship and with Mother Brain are (you guessed it) the members of your party, and with them all (possibly) dead, no one would be able to tell the world the truth.
  • At the end of XIII, the conspirator's identity is revealed and the hero is left in a potentially deadly situation. Poor sales, however, meant that it would never be resolved in game form.
    • Actually, it had very good sales. It was unresolved because the developers wanted that to happen; in the original comic book, the Mongoose is still alive and Walter Sheridan lets XIII live to avoid another conspiracy and since XIII has no evidence against Sheridan anyways. There also wasn't much more to do in terms of gameplay, nor satisfying plot, so the game was purposely ended there.

    Web Original 
  • Both the Season 1 and Season 2 finales of We're Alive. "The War" ended with the Tower besieged by the Mallers and Zombies. "The Harder They Fall" ended with the Tower crew fleeing the wreckage of the Tower on a helicopter headed for the unknown and leaving behind several of their comrade who they believed to be dead.

    Western Animation 
  • In one of the more completely awesome moments of the series, Beast Wars second season ended up with Megatron messing up the whole of reality by shooting THE Optimus Prime in the head!!
    • Season One ends with the alien Vok about to scorch the entire planet. The last shot of the episode is Optimus exploding in space while Megatron rallies his troops for a final assault against the Maximals.
  • The first season of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002) reboot ends with all the heroic Masters captured and imprisoned, leaving only Prince Adam (without his Sword of Power) to defend Castle Grayskull against Skeletor, all his henchmen, and nearly every single villain from the entire season.
  • A particularly frustrating example in the finale of Total Drama World Tour: After Chris' final challenge results in the volcano erupting, the contestants are seen swimming away from Hawaii as giant flaming boulders rain down upon them, Alejandro is seen alive in The Stinger, but it is left unknown whether or not the other twenty-four contestants managed to survive.
    • They all survived, even Ezekiel.
  • Played with in Toy Story 2. Woody learns that there was once a TV show starring his character. After one of the episodes ended with a cliffhanger: right in the middle of a jump across a canyon, the show was cancelled abruptly, leaving the story unfinished.
  • Season Two of The Amazing World of Gumball has "The Finale": when all of Elmore swarms on the Wattersons because they're finally and relentlessly being held accountable for their actions throughout continuity so far, Gumball proclaims his family's last and most desperate hope: That the only way it can end well is if there's a magic reality-resetting device. The episode ends there.
Bluffing the MurdererEnding TropesBolivian Army Ending
Bolivian Army EndingDeath TropesUndignified Death
Our Hero Is DeadThis Might Be an IndexUnreliable Narrator

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