"Cool — you're a ghost, and you don't know it."
You probably thought these characters were alive.
NOPE! They're not. They're dead.
Tomato Surprise meets Dead to Begin With
. A character is dead. Really dead. However, because Powers That Be
wanted him back, he is. He walks, he talks, he breathes just like everyone and neither the characters (sometimes, not even himself), nor the audience suspects anything fishy until The Reveal
, at which point he usually dies for good
or otherwise disappears because Undeath Always Ends
. Severe Death Amnesia
is mandatory if the character was previously unaware of their condition.
There are variants. Maybe the heroes have been fighting the forces of someone who they later learn has been dead for years; The Dragon
may or may not have taken over and not told anyone that the Big Bad
is dead. Maybe they go to find or rescue or recruit someone, only to find that they're very, very late
. Maybe someone was fooling them with a Dead Person Impersonation
or a really good Of Corpse He's Alive
. While someone might have suspected
that this character is dead, none of the others really consider it.
Often results in Fridge Horror
and/or Tear Jerker
Not to be confused with Posthumous Character
and Dead Star Walking
. Compare Dying Dream
, Pretty Spry for a Dead Guy
, and Tomato in the Mirror
; contrast An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost
As a Death Trope, not to mention an Ending Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime and Manga
- In Alan Moore's version, this happens to Alec Holland in Swamp Thing - Swamp Thing was actually a totally non-human plant elemental which had arisen from Holland's dying body, and possessed his memories.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mirage continuity: In the Rat King's first appearance, he was revealed to apparently still be alive after his battle with the turtles in an abandoned factory. Later on, when an injured Splinter is trapped in the same factory, The Rat King appears periodically before him and acts as the rat's spiritual guide. Two months later, after Splinter heals enough to leave, he finds The Rat King's rag-covered skeleton.
- In Hellboy, certain ghosts look and act just like living people, and even seem to fool characters who know that they died years ago. This includes the Lobster in "Conqueror Worm", a group of sailors that shares a drink with Hellboy in "The Island", and Harry Middleton in "Darkness Calls".
- In Batman RIP, an amnesiac Bruce Wayne is helped out by a strange homeless man, Honour Jackson. It's not until Jackson and Bruce part ways that Bruce discovers Jackson died some time before Bruce met him.
- This may turn out to be the case with Empowered; it was certainly implied very strongly in volume 6, wherein it is revealed that capes who got their powers through mysterious bargains come back, and that Empowered may have gotten her powers through such a bargain, and that she may have actually died on her first mission without actually realizing it. It makes sense (sort of) in context.
- In The Savage Dragon, there was a Doctor Doom Expy named Dreadnaught. He was an armored villain that was ruling over an entire country. After his initial fight, it was revealed that he had been dead for years and his armor was running without him.
- In Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja , it is ultimately revealed that the protagonist is an imperfect copy created by a psychopathic Reality Warper after the original was killed in an accident. This imperfection is why the present-day character is willing to kill as a ninja assassin, despite being an incorruptible pacifist in his youth.
- Creepy #24:
- In "Black Magic" a necromancer tried to raise a century-dead corpse only to end up with a mindless zombie. When he cast the spell to turn it back into a lifeless corpse he discovered that he himself was an ex-corpse which had been raised and trained by the mentor he scorned and despised.
- In "You Do Something to Me" the main character destroyed a black magic amulet which he believed his wife was trying to kill him with, only to discover that it had actually been keeping him "alive" since his accidental death three years ago.
- Original Sin reveals that Dum Dum Dugan actually died in the 60s, and the Dum Dum we've seen since then is a Life Model Decoy.
- In reality, it's a shame to read Concept Road while keeping something like this in mind from the start, since the inevitable reveal is more shocking otherwise. Or perhaps many subtle things will make more sense, thus creating a more unique experience. Either way, this story offers a great example of this trope in the end.
- In Gensokyo 20XXV, Reimu asks this is as a question in relation to An, who hasn't been seen since chapter 77, which would mean what memories they have her were actually ones born of grief. At the same time, she also touched upon the alternative in that they could have seen her but didn't recognize her as An and probably thought she was someone else. It turns out she was right, as it was later confirmed in chapter 96 that An did pass away but their love for her and grief and denial of her death is what called her back.
Reimu: "Is it possible that she was dead all along and died a long time ago or is it possible you did see her but couldn't recognize her?
- Back of Beyond: Tom McGregor is revealed at the end to have been a ghost inhabiting the petrol station after he died in a motorcycle accident.
- Bunny and the Bull: The Main character's best friend was viciously gored to death in front of Stephen, causing what is strongly implied to be a mental breakdown. A clever viewer can pick up subtle hints starting from about halfway through, but it's still a massive shock
- Anne Hathaway and the 'plane crash survivors', who actually were all passengers in Passengers. The reason the passengers were disappearing one by one from the protagonist's group therapy sessions was not because of a conspiracy, but because they accepted their deaths and were able to cross over.
- Averted with David Morse's character. He was the pilot on the and knows he's dead, but can't move on because of his guilt over thinking (incorrectly) that he caused the crash. In a rather poignant turn, he adopts the persona of a Corrupt Corporate Executive who insists that the cause of the crash was pilot error and not mechanical failure. This is because he blames himself for not being at his post and being distracted when the engine caught fire.
- The Sixth Sense (See It Was His Sled).
- Jennie Appleton in Portrait of Jennie.
- Toyed with in Below they weren't, and probably a Take That to The Sixth Sense and its imitators.
- Beetlejuice: Adam and Barbara Maitland don't know they're dead until they find the handbook, and the plot doesn't kick into gear until after they figure it out. Several "recently deceased" football players take a while to figure out they didn't survive the crash they were in.
- Randi James in Dead Heat.
- Everyone shown until The Reveal in The Others.
- Played with in Almost An Angel. The hero gets hit in a traffic accident, and when he wakes up, he's convinced (thanks to overhearing a TV about, curiously, the same thing, and taking it for real) that he's been sent back to Earth to help others. His delusions are helped several times by happenstance (he's shot at point-blank range by a robber with no injury, but shortly after another robber reveals that he put blanks in his partner's bullets, because the guy was so twitchy he might accidentally gun down a bystander) and he carries on his 'heaven-sent' mission. Near the end, a truck drives right into him - and passes through him. He cheerfully tells his friend, "I told you I'm immortal" and wanders off into the ending.
- Tales from the Hood: The three drug dealers in the Framing Story.
- Several Amicus Productions anthologies - which probably inspired Tales - use similar framing stories (Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors).
- There is a film called Alice where the heroine seeks refuge in a castle after a car crash and becomes trapped there. It turns out she died in said crash.
- The main character in classic horror film Carnival of Souls.
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: Mad Scientist Dr. Totenkopf has been dead for over twenty years, leaving his army of robots to complete his scheme to destroy the Earth and begin life again on another world.
- Even more appropriate, in a way, in that Totenkopf's actor (Sir Laurence Olivier) had been dead for 15 years when the movie was filmed, and his parts were entirely spliced in from scenes from old movies. So essentially, an actor who had been dead for 15 years played a character who had been dead for 20 years.
- In Just Like Heaven, David and Elizabeth think this is what happened to Elizabeth. She's Not Quite Dead, but has been in a coma.
- The little sister in A Tale of Two Sisters.
- The girl who thinks she's the Final Girl in The Devil's Ground.
- Averted in A Very Long Engagement where you slowly find mounting evidence that the main character's fiance has died. He is saved by another soldier who is an impostor after having been shot by a passing German plane, and given a dead young soldier's identity. When the soldier's mother visits the hospital, she realizes instantly her son is dead, and the young man in front of her has severe amnesia. Rather than turn him in, knowing the penalty would be death, she adopted him, and he lived as her son until she died, then he was committed to an asylum.
- High Plains Drifter suggests that The Drifter who teachers the cowardly townsfolk to fight is in fact the spirit of the dead town marshal, who was beaten to death by the outlaws threatening the town and is now out for revenge on them. Unfortunately for the townspeople, since they betrayed him to them and then stood back and watched them beat him to death, he's not very happy at them either...
- Pale Rider, which has Clint Eastwood revisiting the concept of "the dead coming back for justice".
- William Blake, Johnny Depp's character in Dead Man. Though he might have just been dying slowly the whole time. Nobody probably knows for sure.
- Waking Life: Played with - the audience is never told if The Dreamer is alive or dead, though he strongly suspects he is, and the film keeps hinting at it. It's all up to the interpretation.
- Halfway through Source Code, we find out that this is what's happening to our protagonist. Kinda.
- Inverted in Ghost Dad. The main character spends most of the movie believing that he died in a car crash and came back as a ghost. He's actually in a coma and using astral projection, an ability that apparently runs in his family.
- The horror film Walking The Dead focuses around a village full of dead people. The only people who seem to be alive are the American reporter, a drunk ex-cop, an axe murderer,a woman looking for her daughter and said daughter. Turns out the only people who were really alive were American reporter, a drunk ex-cop and the daughter.
- Franklin and Celia in We Need to Talk About Kevin. It seems at first that Franklin divorced Eva (in a flashback he told Eva he wants a divorce) and got custody of Celia after the massacre at the school (Kevin was imprisoned, so neither parent would get custody of him), and hasn't spoken to Eva in a long time. However, the truth is, as the nonlinear timeline shows, Kevin actually killed Franklin and Celia BEFORE the massacre at the school. That's why Franklin never answered Eva's calls as Eva was out witnessing the aftermath at the school.
- In Dead Mans Shoes, Anthony has been in Richard's head the whole time, and has clearly driven him completely mad.
- The Uninvited (2009) has Anna's sister Alex revealed to be dead by her father at the end. Anna looks down and realizes that she's the one holding the knife that has just killed her stepmother, not Alex, who's now gone. Alex died in the same explosion that killed their mother, which was also Anna's fault.
- The 2012 film Static reveals that the young couple who are being terrorized have been dead all along. The wife had shot and killed her husband and herself after their son drowned. The mysterious intruders terrorizing them are actually ghost hunters called in to help them pass on to the afterlife. The young woman that the supposed intruders were after is actually a spirit medium working with the ghost hunters.
- The I Inside turns out to take place in what is half a Dying Dream, half a self-created hell.
- The Big Bad in R.I.P.D..
- Large Marge, the truck driver, picks up Pee-Wee Herman in Pee-wee's Big Adventure and relates the story of a truck driver who was killed making one final run. When she drops him off at a roadside diner, she tells him, "Be sure and say 'Large Marge helped you."' When he does so, the whole diner gasps and one of the drivers starts retelling the same tale, pointing to a picture of Large Marge hanging on the wall.
- In John Dies at the End, Arnie Blondestone is revealed to have been murdered before he even met David. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Luke in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror, who was positioned as the leader of the cult for the outside appearance since he is the only adult in its premises. When the charade is over, he burns away, killing the sheriff who tried to arrest him too.
- The protagonist of A Pure Formality is dead after committing suicide, but he only realizes this by the end of the movie.
- The Twist Ending of Campfire Tales (1997) is that the characters telling the stories to each other were actually killed in the car crash that stranded them.
- The two title characters, in Suzannes Diary For Nicholas. Near the end of the movie we learn that instead of being alive as the protagonist thought, they actually died in a car crash.
- In the 1945 James Mason picture A Place Of One's Own, Annette is possessed by Elizabeth, her home's previous resident, who may have been poisoned. Annette becomes very weak and ill. Elizabeth, through Annette, asks for Dr. Marsham, her fiance. Annette's guardian asks the local constabulary to find Marsham, so when he shows up at the door late that night nobody is surprised. The next morning, Elizabeth is gone, Annette is fine, and the police report that Marsham was already en route to Annette's house when he died — an hour before he arrived.
- The three main characters in Salvage are all dead with Duke reliving Claire's brutal murder at his hands over and over again.
- A WWII Flying Fortress is hit over Europe. The young co-pilot manages to get her home, saving all aboard, thanks to the advice and moral support of his highly experienced but critically wounded captain. As soon as they land the kid runs to drag a medic onboard for his CO. The man examines the apparently unconscious officer and shakes his head. "Sorry, son," he says. "He's gone, must have died instantly."
- The vanishing hitchhiker Urban Legend. The story usually goes like this: Bob is driving home when he picks up Alice, a teenage hitchhiker. He drives her home and she goes into the house. He then realizes that she forgot her jacket and goes up to the house to give it back to her. Her parents answer the door. They tell him that Alice died ten years ago on the very road where he picked her up, but confirm that it is her jacket.
- Titus: The episode "The Visit" has Titus, Dave, Tommy, and Ken (Papa Titus) trying to capture Juanita (Titus's homicidal, manic-depressive schizophrenic mom) whom they think escaped from the mental hospital again and is out to ruin Titus and Erin's chance at adopting Amy note . Titus, Dave, Tommy, and Ken have her cornered in the closet — until Erin comes in and tells Titus that she got a phone call from the Missouri police department with news that Juanita killed herself four hours ago. To drive the point home, Titus opens the closet and finds no one there and the episode ends with a heartbreaking message about how hard it is to be a parent and how Titus forgives his mom -- even though everyone now thinks he's crazy.
- Cordelia in the Angel episode "You're Welcome".
- And Angel himself, of course.
- Supernatural episodes "Road Kill" and "Holy Terror"
- "The Tale of the Dream Girl" from Are You Afraid of the Dark??, itself the inspiration for The Sixth Sense.
- Also "The Tale Of The Prom Queen", where DeDe reveals herself to be the prom queen's ghost at the end. (Note: There was a subtle clue to that fact earlier in the episode. She described something as being "keen", which was outdated slang at the time.)
- Subverted with Giles in the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fans speculated that he was another aspect of The First Evil, who was intangible, because he didn't touch anything. Which would have meant that he was dead, because the First only impersonates the dead.
- Oddly enough, this particular epileptic tree was deliberately planted by Joss Whedon throughout the first half of the season. Anthony Stewart Head later told an interviewer that, given all the retakes and effort involved, he didn't think the payoff was worth the trouble.
- Played straight with the potential slayer Eve, in the same season, who was revealed to have been the First Evil in disguise when the real Eve was found dead in a motel room.
- In LOST's sixth season and the final scene of the fifth, all of the characters in the flash-sideways are often considered to be dead as they have moved beyond their original early-season lives and into their next and even then they are gathering, one by one, in preparation on moving yet again into their next (and inferred higher) level of existence in the Grand Finale.
- In the Scrubs episode "My Screw Up", Dr. Cox spends the second half of the episode being absolutely furious with JD after one of his patients died. It's revealed at the end that the patient who died was not the elderly man JD was seen treating earlier, it was Dr. Cox's brother-in-law and best friend Ben. Several hints are dropped during the second half of the episode, such as Dr. Cox being the only one who interacts with Ben and Ben not carrying around his camera (earlier in the episode he said he would carry it around till the day he died).
- In season six Laverne is in an accident and declared brain dead. While the other characters come to say their goodbyes, Carla refuses to do so, and is followed around by a "ghost" Laverne until she finally accepts the loss.
- Carla then asks Dr. Cox if he's ever seen ghosts of dead patients. In true Coxian fashion, he tells her "No, but then again, I'm not a crazy person." The writers wanted Ben to show up again then, but Ben's actor was busy doing something else, forcing them to do a much worse joke.
- Doctor Who;
- In the episode "The Unquiet Dead", the Doctor feels Gwyneth's pulse and realises she's cold and has been dead for some time, even though she's still moving and talking.
- "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" does this, as well. One of the archaeologists follows him around for quite some time before the Doctor points out that she no longer has two shadows and has had the flesh eaten off her bones. (He'd realized some time before, but didn't want to distract the others from following his plan.)
- In "The Time of Angels", the Doctor is talking to Sacred Bob on the comm device, who tells him he's coming to them. Bob then reveals he's dead, the angels are using his voice, and by him coming to them, he means the angels coming to get them...
- In "Asylum of the Daleks", Amy and the Doctor meet a young man outside the Dalek Asylum who is surprised to find that his shipmates are all long dead since he swears he spoke to them a few hours before. He then remembers that he died outside the ship nearly a year ago so the cold preserved his body (unlike the dessicated skeletons of his comrades.) He then says "I forgot about dying" the way one might say you forgot to pick up milk at the store.
- Melinda's best friend/business partner in the season 1 finale of Ghost Whisperer.
- Subverted in Star Trek: Voyager where Janeway seems to be this in one episode - but really isn't.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had an episode wherein the Defiant stumbles upon a distress signal from a Starfleet captain and is eventually able to communicate with her. They become friends and eventually discover that she's running out of supplies, but if they push their engines to the limit they should be able to get there in time—until it's discovered that some of her supplies are tainted, moving the deadline up significantly. Taking a big risk, they push the engines to the limit and found the planet—only to discover that the captain had been dead for three years. An unusual energy field had been playing havoc with time; she was dead before they started.
- In the series finale of Battlestar Galactica, it's revealed that Starbuck really did die when her Viper exploded. The "returned" Kara Thrace is an "angel", just like Head Six and Head Baltar, the only difference being that everybody can see Starbuck.
- Another theory is that Starbuck was literally returned from the dead in another corporeal body, not as a "Head" character. This would fit with older European religious beliefs such as the Greek.
- To clarify for those not familiar with the series: nothing is actually explained, and the matter is left open to speculation. However, she does pull an otherwise improbable Stealth Hi/Bye in the middle of an empty field.
- In The Lost Room, the villain's son.
- In Fringe, our universe's "real" Peter Bishop died as a young boy; his father Walter kidnapped Peter's Alternate Universe counterpart and raised him as his own.
- In the second season premiere, Charlie Francis chases after a shapeshifter that attempted to kill Olivia and is able to fight him off. Then at the very end of the episode it turns out the shapeshifter killed Charlie and was impersonating him for the remainder of the episode.
- The horror anthology Night Visions had two episodes like this. In "The Passenger List", a TSA official investigating a plane crash ultimately learns that he was one of the victims. In "My So-Called Life And Death", the protagonist suspects that the reason the guy she has a crush on can't see or hear her is because he's a ghost, but the real reason is that she and her family are ghosts.
- It's revealed in the finale of Ashes to Ashes, that the series and its predecessor Life On Mars take place in a type of limboland for police officers, most of whom died in the line of duty. Meaning that all the characters involved are dead already (but don't realise it), except the protagonists - Sam was in a coma (his body kept alive while his mind/soul were mostly dead) in Life On Mars and Alex has just been shot at the beginning of Ashes to Ashes. It's implied that Alex dies for real at the end of Season 2 of Ashes to Ashes as she stops hearing/feeling things from the 'real world', and focus shifts off her fight to get back to her daughter, implying that she may be beginning to either forget her old life or accept death in Season 3. In the Series Finale, Alex is stated to be dead.
- Depending on interpretation, the final episode of Ashes to Ashes may also imply that Dixon Of Dock Green, another British cop program, was also set in the police limboland, the main character having died in the earlier film The Blue Lamp.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Stoke Me a Clipper", Ace Rimmer (what a guy!) reveals after being fatally wounded that he's actually a hologram, the original Ace having died after his encounter with the crew.
- The British Sitcom 2point4 Children implied this with the mysterious man on the motorcycle who showed up randomly when Bill needed help. Considering the nature of that show, it wasn't actually that odd.
- The One Foot in the Grave 2001 Comic Relief skit. Obviously it's set before the Tear Jerker finale of the series. And Margaret isn't reacting to anything Victor says because she quite often ignores him when he's on one of his rants. Right?
- The Twilight Zone episode "The Hunt" is about an old man who goes out hunting at night with his dog and comes home to find that he died on the trip and is now a ghost.
- The episode "The Hitchhiker" opens with a woman who's nearly lost her life in a car crash. Soon after, she starts seeing a mysterious hitchhiker which appears to her and only her, and she starts to think that Death is coming for her. It's only when she stops to call her mother that she realizes that she didn't survive that car crash.
- There was an episode of So Weird where somebody kept writing the message "YOU'RE DEAD" for an old woman to find. It turned out that it wasn't an enemy threatening her, it was the ghost of her husband trying to tell her that she was, literally, dead.
- The NCIS episode "Swan Song" starts out with a body bag being loaded into the van in a thunderstorm, hinting that someone important has been Killed Off for Real. The episode continues through flashbacks interspersed with Gibbs standing by the body in the autopsy room, while Mike Franks is standing behind him. It is foreshadowed a few times (notably when Gibbs sees Franks sitting in his couch before he actually arrives, or when Franks enigmatically tells him that he hears ghosts), but the big reveal comes near the end: The dead guy, of course, is Franks.
- One of the twists late in season 6 of Dexter is finding out that Professor Gellar, the Big Bad of the season, was dead the whole time, and Travis, his accomplice and murderer, was imagining him and committing the murders he thought Gellar performed.
- In Kamen Rider Double's movie, the main antagonists are a group of mercenaries-slash-terrorists called NEVER. It eventually turns out that they're the results of a failed Super Soldier project which revived dead people with superhuman strength and speed (NEVER is a contraction of Necro-Over). The Big Bad reveals that the project was inspired by Philip, one of the deuterotagonists, and keeps trying to pull Not So Different moments, only for Philip to keep responding by telling him to shut up.
- Multiple characters on American Horror Story: Murder House are revealed to have been dead for years and their ghosts have become trapped in the house. Other characters die during the show itself, but it isn't known by themselves, other characters or us for several episodes.
- One episode of How I Met Your Mother plays with this and the show's gimmick of Ted narrating to his future children. The show has Robin talking to her future children about how she got with their father Barney despite not wanting children. We find out she's unable to conceive, and she's alone on a park bench apologizing to her imaginary future children that they will never exist. Major Mood Whiplash.
- It was a theory a while ago, but The Mother is long dead by the time the story is being told.
- In the Friends episode "The One with Joey's Big Break", Joey's character's Love Interest having been Dead All Along is the Twist Ending of the Movie Within A Show Shutterspeed, which up until The Reveal is scripted as a love story. Joey's friends find the idea of such a movie laughably ridiculous, which became Hilarious in Hindsight three months later when The Sixth Sense premiered.
- In several episodes of Criminal Minds, characters who initially appear to be associating with the unsub turn out to be this, as they were either the culprit's hallucinations or alter-egos, or corpses they'd kept around as if they were still alive.
- Once Upon a Time has Lancelot in "Lady of the Lake". Turns out that, for the entire present-day storyline, Cora has been posing as Lancelot, having actually killed him sometime before the events of the episode.
- In the Stargate Universe episode "Visitation", Dr. Caine is shocked to learn that he and his companions have died on the planet they called Eden and then been temporarily reanimated by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
- In an early season two episode of Person of Interest, Reese, having successfully blackmailed The Machine into giving him a lead to finding the kidnapped Finch, investigates the life of Hannah Frey, a girl who went missing more than twenty years before and who Reese believes grew up to be Root, the kidnapper. After he and Carter investigate for a while, they end up finding Hannah's body buried in the back yard of a person who Root had murdered years before - Root was actually Hannah's best friend, who lost faith in humanity when nobody listened to her when she reported Hannah's kidnapping (which ultimately led to her murder).
- Wilson was originally going to be revealed as this in the final episode of Home Improvement.
- Kamen Rider Wizard pulled this one with Koyomi, the show's female lead, by revealing that she died of an unspecified illness some time before the show began. Her father, Sou Fueki the White Wizard, enacted the original Sabbat in an attempt to revive her, but the ritual wasn't powerful enough and just brought her back as a "doll" which required constant infusions of mana to survive. Eventually it's revealed that all the mana is crystalizing into a Philosopher's Stone, which Fueki wants to use to revive Koyomi for real. A major part of the final story arc is The Hero Haruto coming to terms with the fact that there isn't a way to save Koyomi without becoming just as bad as Fueki, and thus the right thing to do is to let her die a final death so her spirit can be at peace. Koyomi herself is at first shocked, but would rather die if the price of saving her is untold loss of innocent life.
- This is similar to the situation in Kamen Rider Ryuki, where the female lead also died long ago when her Abusive Parents ignored her illness. She's actually merged with her alternate self. However, if you're from one side of the mirror you can only exist on the other for so long. The merging lets her exist longer, but, as she warned her brother, she will cease to exist around the time of the season finale. Her brother, like Fueki, went on to become the Big Bad as he tries to save her by any means necessary, no matter how horrible. And like Koyomi, she accepts her death rather than let others pay for her survival. In fact, she convinces her brother to stop as the remaining Riders are busy with an unending swarm of monsters. Post-Reset Button, everyone who died during the series is back except for her; she stayed dead when she was a child, and the heroes, meeting each other again in an alternate version of the first episode, will never know that the little girl in one picture on the wall of the Local Hangout was one of their best friends, and saved them and quite likely the world.
- On The X-Files, the entire reason Mulder lives and breathes the X-Files can be tied back to the abduction of his younger sister when they were children; he blames himself for not protecting her. His ultimate goal, as he tells Scully in the pilot, is to find her. Over the course of the series, we are led (as is Mulder) to believe she's alive. At various points, we even see her as an adult. They all turn out to be clones, but they and various others involved in the conspiracy, continue to give Mulder hope by implying that his sister is alive. Even the episode that wraps up her story-arc is hopeful; after she was abducted, she lived with CMS Spender and his son Jeffrey, and forced to undergo painful tests. She was taken to an emergency room some six years later, but the nurse is unable to tell Mulder anything more than that she just disappeared. It isn't until Mulder and Scully are involved in a seance at the gravesite of many dead children, that Mulder finds out the truth. One child spirit takes his hand and leads him to a field where many children's ghostly forms run and play. One of the spirits runs up to him and envelopes him in a tight hug. As she pulls away, Mulder can see that the child is Samantha. Since before the start of the series, she has been dead, unbeknownst to her heartbroken brother.
- In the eight season of 24, Jack is rushing to save the life of President Omar Hassan, whose mock trial and execution at the hands of his country's revolutionists is being broadcast on a live televised video feed and will finish being carried out at the end of the hour. Jack eventually discovers where they're hiding out and successfully manages to kill most of them while wounding their leader - only to discover Hassan's lifeless body nearby, his throat slit, even as the feed of him alive continues playing. It was actually a recording, and Hassan had already been killed some time prior to his arrival.
- The marine in Stan Ridgeway's "Camouflage".
- One way to interpret the ending of the New Order song "Love Vigilantes." It's a little hard to catch thanks to the Lyrical Dissonance and the lead singer's lack of coherency. It's better in the Iron & Wine version, which seems to deliberately be aiming for this ending.
- The protagonist in the video for Nickelback's "Someday".
- Manbou-P's A Clingy Boy Sticking For 15 Years, alternatively, Pursuing a Cute Boy For 15 Years. In each of the songs, the singer is singing to a love interest who never responds to their love poems. Near the end of the song, the said love interest is revealed to have "died 15 years ago". Surprise.
- Jin's Kagerou Project has an entire cast of dead characters, as that is how one obtains the eye powers everyone is known to have in the first place.
- Brian McKnight's character in the "Back at One" video.
- The boyfriend in the video for Armin van Buuren & Adam Young's "Youtopia".
- In the Torchwood: The Lost Files radio play "The House of the Dead", Ianto is revealed as having been dead the whole time.
- C'est La Vie Theatre's Bestiary is a compilation of three stories, all of which end with the narrator's death. The first one - the story of Jonah, from the whale's perspective - treats it as this type of twist, when it turns out that the whale is now a ghost, while the second story is the Hartlepool Monkey's Apocalyptic Log, and the third is Laika the dog telling her story just as she runs out of oxygen in space.
- In StrikerS Sound Stage X, apparent Arc Villain Toredia Graze is eventually revealed to have died a long time ago, with the true instigator of the incident being a loyal Dragon Ascendant that decided to continue his cause.
- The main character in Lucille Fletcher's The Hitch-Hiker, originally performed as an episode of "The Orson Welles Show" in 1941 and rebroadcast for decades thereafter.
- In Deadlands, there is a "Veteran o'the Weird West" Edge that lets you start with a higher experience level, but confers on you a random negative effect such as being alcoholic, wanted or insane. And the most severe of these effects is the player character being a Harrowed (a revenant type undead) without realizing it!
- In the short, free game Serena, there's strong evidence that the protagonist is this.
- In Final Fantasy X, there is a class of these people called Unsent, who stay around due to strong emotional attachment or other unfinished business. Some are dead for years before the plot gets to them.
- Maester Yo Mika, head of the corrupt Church of Yevon. As he was an incredibly old man when he died, no one who wasn't in on it noticed that he wasn't getting any older lately...
- Maester Seymour, who you have to kill three times after his initial death, follows in Mika's footsteps.
- Auron, who finally reveals that he is an Unsent near the end of the game.
- The summoner Belgemine, who tests Yuna's progress throughout the game, later reveals that she is an Unsent during a sidequest.
- Maechen, the age-old historian and former trope namer for Exposition Break, is revealed to be dead in Final Fantasy X-2 in a movie sphere that can be collected on a bonus mission.
- In an interesting variation of the trope, it is revealed towards the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2 that Lightning fell in battle against Caius Ballad long before Serah and Noel encountered her for the first time, but due to the plot-centered Timey-Wimey Ball, she was able to support, assist and meet with them after her inevitable demise in her upcoming battle with Caius.
- Played with in Ōkami as the opening scene shows that Shiranui (A.K.A Amaterasu), dies at the end of her battle with Orochi. It just took a while for the Goddess to develop a new physical body.
- Everybody in the Smith Syndicate in Killer7, and it's implied they've all died at least twice.
- Most major characters in the The World Ends with You except Joshua.
- Folklore has a slight twist on this. Keats turns out to be a Halflife, which is similar to a ghost except created from the powers of Messengers and the fears and wishes of humans. He was created in the image of Ellen's dead childhood friend Herve, and the player quickly finds out the "office" they saw at the beginning of the game was in fact another part of the Netherworld.
- Velis in Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings.
- Lisa Garland in Silent Hill 1.
- In one of the endings, Harry himself is the embodiment of this trope.
- Although Mary's death is established at the beginning of Silent Hill 2, the letter from Mary creates doubt in James' (and the player's) mind. That is, until Mary's death is confirmed at the end of the game. The twist is that she died less than a year ago and James killed her, not the illness.
- Silent Hill 4 has Walter Sullivan.
- Silent Hill: Homecoming has Joshua Shepherd.
- The first letter from each chapter of Dead Space spell out "NICOLEISDEAD". Which she is. The person Isaac sees on the Ishimura is apparently a mental projection originating from the Marker.
- Edge in Panzer Dragoon Saga. He's killed by Mustava right in the opening cutscene, restored to life by the Divine Visitor to serve as the newest dragon's rider, and once they succeed at merging the Heresy Program into Sestren, Edge is promptly killed once again, for good.
- Metal Gear:
- In Metal Gear Solid , Master Miller (who was part of the Mission Control in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake) was killed at his home before the game started. All conversations with him are actually with Liquid Snake with an accent, sunglasses, and ponytail.
- In the epilogue of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Snake and Otacon obtain a list of the personal data for the Patriots' high council, only to discover that all twelve members have been dead for 100 years.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Naked Snake (Future Big Boss) frequently sees a mysterious man who only appears while it's raining. At one point in the game Snake drowns, and in this state of "almost death" meets that man in a dream, at which point he introduces himself as The Sorrow. It's only after the "battle" with him that Snake learns the truth: The Sorrow was the lover of The Boss - Snake's mentor and mother figure - and was also killed by her willingly so when their respective missions forced them to clash.
- In the end of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, it's revealed that Liquid has been dead since the first game and did not come back as a spirit to possess Ocelot. Instead, Ocelot brainwashed himself into thinking that he was the real Liquid as part of a massive Gambit Roulette to bring down the Patriots.
- System Shock: "The Polito form is dead, insect. Are you afraid?"
- Context: For half of the game the player character has been directed by Polito, apparently the only survivor to have a Voice with an Internet Connection, and although she's often insulting and cold, she's the only human contact that doesn't come through Apocalyptic Logs scattered around. A couple of those logs actually were recorded by Polito, who apparently used to be a little warmer, and who found an AI artifact that spoke English, or something like. Then the player is guided to where Polito's body is, and SHODAN, the Big Bad of the first System Shock, tells you that she allowed you to believe otherwise to "establish trust".
- You're actually given subtle clues that the woman on the other line isn't Polito; for instance you pick up Polito's audio logs where not only does she discover Shodan's mainframe, but she's actually friendly and emotional, as opposed to the cold, heartless bitch who's guiding you. Xerxes outright tells you if you pay careful attention to him when he's taunting you.
- Itsuki Tachibana in the second Fatal Frame and Choushiro Kirishima in the fourth.
- In Prototype, it is revealed towards the end of the game that Alex Mercer did die at Penn Station and that the character we play is not Alex Mercer. It is The Virus which Mercer released before being killed. The Virus absorbed Mercer's DNA and adopted his memories and came to believe he is Mercer; though the viral monster is actually less of a dick than the original Mercer.
- Excellen from Super Robot Wars Compact 2 was killed during a space shuttle accident before Compact 2 or Original Generation takes place, but was reanimated by a monster as part of the set-up for its evil schemes. Interestingly, she suffers the same fate in the Mirror Universe, but in that version her Mad Scientist parents make a cyborg Super Soldier out of her corpse instead and she changed her name to Lemon Browning.
- Dante in Dantes Inferno didn't actually survive being stabbed in the neck in the beginning of the game. He is in fact just another one of the many damned souls in Hell, albeit one given a little more freedom as part of Lucifer's scheme to free himself.
- Jyoji Hijiri of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. Hijiri died during the Conception and was reborn as a Mannikin, since he's cursed with an endless cycle of death and rebirth as punishment for committing the Ultimate Sin.
- In Agarest Senki 2, the Weiss that Aina finds in the middle of nowhere that you see throughout the game is not really Weiss but is actually Chaos forming as Weiss. The real Weiss died during the part where you think Weiss stabbed Chaos in the beginning.
- In Call of Duty: Black Ops, it turns out that Reznov apparently died during the escape in the second level, and all subsequent appearances - save for the flashback mission where you play as him - are hallucinations caused by Mason's psychosis. "Apparently" being the operative word, and they Never Found the Body. Part of the fandom is quite vocal that Reznov is, in fact, still alive.
- Given that one of the secret messages, the callsign used on each mission, is XREZNOVXXISXXDEAD (Reznov is dead) and the other secret message, the transmission numbers translated with basic alphanumeric substitution, is OR IS HE THERE WAS NO BODY FOUND HE IS NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS, they creators are definitely encouraging this. The Reznov you interact with for most of the game is not real, though.
- There's also some of the intel files that strongly suggest he is still alive, and emails on the terminal from an alias that strongly sounds like Reznov.
- In Age of Wonders, Merlin realizes that he can master the death sphere of magic without Gabriel's guidance because he had drowned before Gabriel "rescued" him in the beginning of the campaign.
- In Strife, attacking the Oracle reveals that under its robe is a human skull on a non-human body. Oh, and its Spectre then attacks you.
- In Xenoblade Chronicles, Shulk died 14 years ago next to the Monado. His body got possesed by the God Zanza, who uses him as a vessel. During the game, Zanza eventually leaves Shulk's body, who dies again. He later comes Back from the Dead to kick Zanza's ass.
- In Solatorobo, there is the quest giver Galvan, who merely wanted Red to give his son his log and, hence, his last wishes.
- SoulCalibur V indirectly reveals that Raphael is the host body that Nightmare uses as "Graf Dumas". The playable Raphael is actually his lost soul, tethered to this world by sheer willpower alone and his love for Amy.
- In Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land, everyone qualifies. The Flash in the backstory actually killed everyone in the kingdom. All of the characters in the game, including yourself, are ghosts. As you fulfill requests throughout the game, the tavern gradually becomes empty since the people you aid move on to the afterlife after you help them accomplish their Ghostly Goals.
- Super Mario Galaxy: "I want to go home! I want to go back to my house by the hill! I want to see my mother!" The girl was shouting now, her face wet with tears. "But I know she's not there! I knew all along that she wasn't out there in the sky! Because... because... She's sleeping under the tree on the hill!"
- In the game Deadlight, your character Randall spends the game going all through a zombie infested Seattle trying to find his wife and daughter. It's only at the end when he and Stella are trapped with her begging to be killed that he remembers that he killed his wife and daughter during the outbreak in his town.
- Colonel John Konrad in Spec Ops: The Line. Konrad spends the second half of the game giving you a "The Reason You Suck" Speech. When you get his stronghold, it turns out that Konrad actually killed himself long before the game started, and the Konrad you've been talking to was made up by Captain Walker to justify his own slide into villainy.
- Both Stocke and Heiss in Radiant Historia. Both of them died and were brought back from the dead as sacrifices for the ritual that holds off the destruction of the continent for a few more years. The only reason Stocke doesn't remember being someone else is because Heiss wiped his memories. Similarly, the Prophet Noah died sometime after withdrawing from public life five years before the start of the game (Possibly murdered, though natural causes is also possible given his age). Since General Hugo was the only member of the high command who knew this, he just pretended that the prophet was alive and started making his own declarations in the prophet's name.
- The character Heracles (the party member who actively goes by that name, not the Nameless Hero or "General Heracles") in Glory of Heracles DS is actually Heracles's nephew, Iphicles. When Heracles agreed to help Daedalus in his experiments to revive his son, Iphicles gets hit by the blast, gains immortality, and believes himself to be Heracles. When the real Heracles is found and Iphicles regains his memories, he explains that he was already dead and simply fades from existance. Luckily, the real Heracles regains his memory and his strength and thus takes the same role in the party.
- Despite apparently committing suicide by jumping off the roof of the hospital, it turns out that Liz, the chatty Welsh nurse from The Cat Lady, is already dead by the time we "meet" her, having been murdered by the first Parasite, Doctor X.
- Snowe in Star Stealing Prince was killed in the Hopeless Boss Fight. The only reason he's still around is that the demon didn't want him to die, partly because if Snowe dies the demon dies, and partly for Snowe's own sake.
- Wynne turns out to be this in Dragon Age: Origins. This is actually foreshadowed immediately after you meet her in the Mage's Tower, where a fellow mage expresses her concerns, saying that for a moment it looked like Wynne had died defending her from a particularly strong demon. You probably forget about it the moment you enter the next room, as Wynne is obviously alive. Much later, it turns out the mage was right. Before Wynne could fully pass away, however, she was possessed by a friendly Fade spirit that helps her stay in the material world a little longer. Wynne isn't exactly sure why, nor does she know how long she has left, but she intends to make the most of the extra time the (gradually weakening) spirit granted her.
- The Soulblazer series, including Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma, absolutely loves this trope. The biggest example is in Terranigma, as it's revealed at the end that Crysta is in fact just a reflection of the mortal world all along, and is now disintegrating. Ark, the PC, is revealed to be an echo of a dead hero from long ago. And earlier in the game, a young ingenue hides away in a desert village which is actually a half-collapsed ruin filled with zombies (who don't quite realize that they're dead).
- Rei, or rather, Niko, from Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth. She was a teenaged girl who died in 1999 due to The Disease That Shall Not Be Named, and in the afterlife started to grow resentful when she felt that she was alone and died for no meaning. Chronos, one of the aspects of Death, took pity on her and tried to cheer her up by replicating the school she was supposed to go to (Yasogami High), but that only made things worse as it reminded Rei what she missed out on because she died so early. In an attempt to cheer her up, Chronos took away her memories and turned the entire replicated school into a festival to make her happy, while sealing any possibilities of her memory returning within the labyrinths of the game, and just to delay the inevitable a little longer, took away his own memories and called himself Zen. Once you get through all the labyrinths, Zen's memories return to him, he gives Rei her memories back, and things get sour from there.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, near the end of Nageki's route it's revealed that he's been a ghost the entire time, trapped in the library, and that you're the first person to see him ( except in the audio drama, where Ryouta can, and the manga, where both Ryouta and Oko San can... and maybe Anghel). His love for you finally frees him, causing him to depart for the afterlife.
- Itsuki in Suika actually died years ago, beaten to death by her and Sayo's father (the crazy Shinto priest) after she threw Sayo down a flight of stairs fduring a fight.
- In the fourth episode of Umineko: When They Cry, Beatrice declares to the player that Kinzo Ushiromiya, the protagonist's grandfather and the reason the entire mess started, is in fact, dead at the beginning of not just the game in question, but all the other games in the series. And considering the number of important plot scenes the character has supposedly taken part in at the time of The Reveal, the implications are... complicated.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies , this turns out to be what happens to Bobby Fulbright - the Phantom murdered him before the game even began and was masquerading as him the entire time.
- In Ribbon Of Green, this is pretty much the plot twist.
- Crescendo ~Eien Dato Omotte Ita Ano Koro~: Miyu never got better, she is dying in the hospital during her whole storyline.
- This is actually reversed in 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors. Kind of. June, Junpei's childhood friend, actually died in the last Nonary Game, and she's trapped in a weird loop to try to get Junpei to contact her past self and give her the answer to the last puzzle of the game to save her life. It Makes Sense in Context.
- A rather haunting example occurs in a volume of Usagi Yojimbo. Usagi walks past a house in which he hears someone telling a story and is invited in. The speaker is Inazuma, an acquaintance of his and she appears to be telling her backstory to a large group of comfortably seated Samurai. Usagi listens until she finishes her tale and takes her leave. He nudges one of the Samurai and asks if he thought the tale was tragic but receives no response. He repeats the gesture and the samurai falls over, knocking down all the rest of them as well and revealing that they had been dead the whole time. What's even stranger is that its clear that Inazuma didn't kill them with her blade. There is no blood and some of the characters are even holding eating utensils as if they were just going on about their business and stopped to listen to the story.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, Chapter 16, Antimony meets the ghost of a boy who doesn't realize he's dead. Initially, Annie doesn't realize he's dead either, having misunderstood the warning from the psychopomps.
- Aylee in one arc of Sluggy Freelance. She Got Better.
- Tomo Wakeman in The Dragon Doctors.
- In Homestuck, we hear much of the exploits and greatness of Jade's Grandpa, only to find out he's been dead for some time and his corpse is stuffed and placed in front of a fireplace. Creepier still, Jade still refers to Grandpa as if he were alive and complains of his various elderly tendencies. Let's just say that he was eccentric enough that most readers believed his stuffed corpse was just a doll of himself he kept lying around at first.
- Aradia is downright stated to have been "dead all along".
- In L's Empire, this is revealed to be the case with Dimentio). Since he's a master of dimensional magic, it's more of a technicality then being any real hindrance.
- The twist ending of movie critic/indie filmmaker Brad Jones' (aka The Cinema Snob) suspense thriller Paranoia.
- Subverted in Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction, in which it turns out that Church (who had been a ghost ever since about halfway through season one) was not dead all along, but was actually an AI program who only believed that he had been a real person due to the memories of the person he was based on.
- Then played somewhat straight when it's revealed Tex is really just an AI created from the Director's memories of his dead love.
- In Season 10, it's revealed that Agent Connecticut was already long dead; the one we see in Season 7 is just her boyfriend masquerading as her.
- In There Will Be Brawl, it turns out that Princess Peach had been killed immediately after she was kidnapped.
- One of The Journal Entries has this turn out to be the reason a certain girl warns one of Ken's children away from the place her ship is. (Doubles as a Shout-Out to Lost in Space, right down to the ship being a Jupiter mark II, with four people aboard, including an adolescent girl and a younger boy. Things just ended badly for them.)
- Smosh: Partway through "Real Ghostbusters," Anthony is killed when Ian accidentally throws the scissors at him, stabbing his head. Later, they are told that only ghosts can see other ghosts...and IAN WAS ALREADY DEAD. When he picked up the scissors, Anthony saw them floating by themselves, and screamed, startling Ian into throwing the scissors at Anthony and killing him... yeah.
- The TaleSpin episode "The Old Man and the Sea Duck" featured Baloo suffering amnesia and having to be trained from scratch by the old pilot who rescued him. Upon regaining his memories and leaving, Baloo returns to find the old man's place in shambles and learns the old man has been dead and gone for quite some time.
- There was also the episode in which Rebecca met her perfect man... who happened to be the ghostly captain of a sunken ship. It was a while before she discovered she'd fallen for a dead guy.
- In the Columbia short "The Jaywalker" (1956), a man, after giving the viewer advice on how to successfully jaywalk, turns to reveal a pair of angel wings on his back—suggesting that he was struck and killed while crossing the street illegally.
- In ThunderCats (2011), the Tiger Clan was stricken with plague around the time Tygra was born. The more prideful members of the clan rejected Tygra's father Javan's suggestion to seek help from Thundera and convinced him to make a deal with the Ancient Spirits of Evil. The Spirits agreed to save the clan but demanded that Javan sacrifice Tygra in exchange, since Tygra was destined to become their enemy. Javan couldn't go through with it and sent Tygra away in a hot air balloon to Thundera. The Spirits punished the clan by sending the plague back to the village, killing them all. The Spirits then cursed them with undeath and nightly transformations into mindless horrors.
- Pumyra actually died during the invasion of Thundera. The other Thundercats didn't notice her as she was dying in the rubble, so her last thoughts were of resentment towards them. Mumm-ra resurrected her to be The Mole, a role she took with relish since it gave her a chance for revenge.
- The part of "Allegro non Troppo" (known as the "Italian answer to Fantasia" and not to be confused with "Ma Allegro non Troppo") called "Valse Triste" follows a scrawny cat/kitten wandering through the ruined shell of a city house, showing its memories of how it was once the pet of the family who lived there. Then, just before we hear the crane with the wrecking ball approaching the house to knock it down, the cat suddenly vanishes, accompanied by a purple outline glow - it was already dead. Watch it here (the film is presented as a comedy-drama and the clip starts with a few seconds of comedy).
- Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths and Legends: General Rinaker turns out to have been dead for more than 50 years. The man everyone thinks is Rinaker is actually a Shadoen infiltrator.
- In Adventure Time, Billy turns out to have been killed by The Lich some time between his first and second appearance.
- Arguably Fayde from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack Fits this trope.In one episode the people of Stormalong have been doing things and saying "Must've been A Ghost." The entire episode. After eating the entire birthday cake and getting a stern look from all the partygoers, Fayde says the line and smiles creepily as he fades away leaving an empty chair. It doesn't help that they play really eerie music as this happens.
- An inversion of the trope happens in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends during the pilot episode. The house's owner, Mrs. Foster, is referenced only in past tense for the whole episode. Her imaginary friend and the house administrator, Mr. Herriman, talks to the marble bust of her in the foyer, and when her granddaughter Frankie brings up the fact that she never left him behind, he hangs his head sadly. She shows up at the end of the episode to the surprise of Bloo and Mac, who had assumed she was dead because they never saw any trace of her until then.
It takes a very long time
for me to walk down the steps, dearie. '''I. AM. OLD!'''
- Parodied in the Regular Show episode "Terror Tales of the Park IV" (in the segment "Unfinished Business"). In a story told by Benson, he chases around the ghosts of Mordecai and Rigby, but it turns out that Benson was actually the undead spirit the whole time. Benson's friends criticize him for using such a cliched twist ending.