Characters Dropping Like Flies
redshirt deaths. Then there are the works that are known for the high body count. Characters die early and often. This trope is typically used to establish a dark and gritty setting, or to enhance realism in works that are set in dangerous situations such as wars or extreme jobs. Compare Anyone Can Die, which is when no particular character is safe. Contrast Kill 'em All, where no one—or at most a bare handful of characters—survives to the end. Note that this does not count for series where Death Is Cheap, or millions of nameless characters die off-screen. As a Death Trope, expect unmarked spoilers.
open/close all folders
- Fist of the North Star has so many people die that it would be easier to count how many people are still alive at the end of this series, even if one discounts all the random mooks that get massacred throughout the series. Driving this in further is the fact that these people are still remembered, to the point that the Toei anime had the credits of the Grand Finale showing the images of about every named character (aside from the most important of them) scrolling by.
- As you'd expect from the title, this is true in Death Note. Lots of important characters get offed, never mind redshirts. Light needs the names of criminals to kill them, so he's always killing characters that have names. Several times, they'll have a few chapters of focus, they'll die...at which point we find out they were being controlled by the Death Note that entire time.
- Everyone is fair game in Gantz and since it's a Deadly Game we're talking about here, there's always going to be a good bunch of (named) players around to be killed. Also, since the players end up in the game by dying in the first place, many (or most) of them get to die more than just once. And then the protagonists start to run into other teams with equally named and expendable characters... and then the war starts.
- In the x1999 film, everyone dies except for Original!Kamui.
- Berserk. Absurd bodycount of the named characters, not even factoring in the genocidal slaughters on the battlefield every few episodes.
- Attack on Titan deals with a Red Shirt Army facing giant, man-eating creatures that are almost impossible to kill thanks to their Healing Factor. Soldiers are regularly encouraged to die bravely for Humanity, as opposed to actually winning or even surviving a battle. Members of the Survey Corps, in particular, have dismal survival rates and the large cast is primarily thanks to how quickly characters are slaughtered in various gruesome ways.
- Dangan Ronpa. The entire series pits the entire cast against each other, Battle Royale style. (or Hunger Games sans the gratuitous award at the end). The premise is to get someone to murder someone else and get away with it. And boy do they start dropping like flies.
- The Punisher MAX: Given the basic premise, no one is safe from death (even Frank died once, though he came back making no reference to the whole affair). Recurring characters like Barracuda and Yorkie Mitchell are safe for maybe three arcs.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- Most slasher films, but notably not the earliest ones - Halloween (1978), Black Christmas (1974), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 are all fairly tame by today's standards. Naturally, all three have been remade.
- Platoon: Of the 31 men of the platoon, 15 die, 11 are wounded, and only 5 are left unscathed by the end of the film.
- Of The Dirty Dozen, only one survives.
- In Battle Royale every student's death is announced by the Big Bad, and by the end only two students remain.
- In GONE the FAYZ has a 40% mortality rate. Even though sixty are named, the same rate applies for them. Even the immortal guy dies. Well...kind of.
- The Chung Kuo series include the deceased characters in the list of characters as a separate section. It's by far the longest one.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has a higher body count than the other six books combined.
- In the Honor Harrington series, particularly the early books, there were lots of named bit characters dying. When Eric Flint started writing in the universe, he tried to find some characters appearing in only a single book or two that he could use — and found they had a 90% mortality rate. (He did manage to find three.)
- Robert Graves's I, Claudius recounts the life of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, a member of Caesar's family who survived the genocidal purges of both Tiberius and Caligula because he was believed to be mentally handicapped, but was later crowned emperor. During the arc of the novels (and history for that matter), Claudius witnesses practically every member of his family being murdered due to political intrigues and infighting.
- Oka Shohei's novel Nobi or Fires on the Plains (1951) follows a Japanese soldier deployed to Manila in the final months of World War II after the army started to fall apart. Ordered on a pointless death march to a losing battle, most of the characters succumb to disease, madness, murder...or worse.
- The Reynard Cycle: By the end of book three, all but five of the characters introduced in Reynard the Fox are dead.
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms: It's not a terrific exaggeration to say that two characters are introduced and two die on every page.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, named characters die all the time, mostly because there is such a ridiculous number of them. Some of them can't even make it to becoming One-Scene Wonders, but are left to be only names in the appendices before they pass away.
- In The Wishsong of Shannara, Brooks kills off most of the cast, including Allanon, and the entire Company from Culhaven except for Jair and Slanter. Wishsong was the last novel in the original trilogy, so this may have been done as a way to show that it was the end of an era, especially with the death of Allanon. Still, even though a number of important characters had died in the previous installment, Elfstones, the sheer bloodbath that was Wishsong did come as a real shock to many readers.
Live Action TV
- The The Vampire Diaries TV show is notorious for this. Not only do they kill off lots of named characters, they especially like doing it after said character has had at least a few episodes of character development.
- In The Walking Dead, Only 6 characters from the first season are still definitely alive by Season 5, with everyone else either confirmed dead or unknown. Characters both major and less prominent die each season.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003) has: Billy, Gaeta, Zarek, Dualla, Cally, Anders (effectively brain dead), D'Anna Biers (presumably perishes on the uninhabitable "Earth"), multiple supporting cast crew members whose deaths were depicted, several last-episode fatalities ( Roslin, Cavil, Tory, etc.) and that's not counting characters who die but come back at least once.
- Midsomer Murders is famous for its ridiculously high murder rate (even for a detective series). Depending on population estimates, the rural county of Midsomer has a crime rate beaten only by a few countries.
- Revolution: Within the first season itself, lots of named characters end up as dead as a door nail. By the first season finale, Charlie Matheson, Rachel Matheson, Miles Matheson, Aaron Pittman, Priscilla, Priscilla's daughter, Tom Neville, Jason Neville, Julia Neville, Kelly Foster, Grace Beaumont, and Sebastian Monroe are the only big characters still alive. Not only that, but trailers for the second season have made it very plain that a number of those characters still alive are going to end up as dead as a door nail, too.
- NCIS: Case of the week aside, the "dear departed" include NCIS agents in the opening credits (Field Special Agent Kate Todd, Director Jenny Shepard), their close relatives (Mossad Director Eli David, father of Ziva David; Jackie Vance, wife of Director Leon Vance), other good guys (Mike Franks, Secnav Clayton Jarvis, Gayne Levin, Simon Cade, Chris Pacci, Paula Cassidy), and of course, bad guys (Ari Haswari, Rene Benoit, Merton Bell). Death never takes a holiday here.
- Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Historical Domain Characters aside, only a handful of characters are alive by the end of the series.
- Out of the six characters who received main billing at some point during the first two series of Torchwood, four are dead by the end of Series 3 — three die within a single five-episode span, and another is only spared because he's immortal.
- Shakespeare's tragedies are notorious for this. One Reduced Shakespeare Company production had mattresses laid around the stage for the characters to die on.
- Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus is a veritable bloodbath featuring not only murder but also rape, torture and cannibalism with more than a 70% kill rate for named characters.
- Although much less gory, Hamlet also ends with a pile of corpses on stage. A staple of the "revenge tragedy" genre, which Hamlet is a deconstruction of.
- In the Japanese Kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan, or "The Ghost Story of Yotsuya" a samurai named Iemon wants to get rid of his wife so he can marry the daughter of a rich man, and in the course of his overly-intricate murder plot, kills her off as well as several innocent bystanders. Later in the play, his wife comes back from the dead as a ghost and in the course of her overly-intricate revenge manages to kill off most of the remaining characters.
- Danganronpa, as a Deadly Game, is known for this. In the original, only 6 characters out of the 15 introduced at the start actually survive until the end. In the sequel, it's 5 characters out of the original 16.
- Fate/stay night is about a war in which legendary "heroes" and humans fight each other to the death. In all three routes, by the ending, most of the characters have died, though who survives depends on the route. Although there are some main characters who are quite likely to survive in each route, by the third route Heaven's Feel, this rule is thrown out the window and even the main hero can die and stay dead if you make the wrong choices come the finale.
- Both Higurashi: When They Cry and Umineko no Naku Koro ni by the same author feature this in spades, with the main mystery being figuring out who is doing it. In both cases it's also exacerbated by a "Groundhog Day" Loop where the exact circumstances of who dies and when keeps changing.
- Goblins, being an RPG Mechanics Verse set in a Crapsack World with a Killer Gamemaster, has been known to kill scores of named characters in a single major battle.
- Homestuck: Almost all of the characters die at some point only to be visited in the afterlife, where we learn someone is killing them again - more than doubling the body count.
- [S] Game Over. Everyone alive at the time is now gone.