Alfred Hitchcock: Just think of the shock value, killing off your leading lady halfway through. I mean, you are intrigued, are you not, my dear? Come on, admit it. Admit it.So, you're cast in a brand new series, and there's something about your character that just screams, "Hey, major character here." It could be that you're a name performer, or the character plays a central role, or is just plain interesting. So why do you get guest star billing? Well, either your contract requires it, or the powers that be are out to kill you, if not in the premiere, then by the second episode. Or it could just be that they don't have enough to pay your name performer salary for more than a few appearances. Basically, a subversion of Contractual Immortality. This trope is occasionally used to effect (or affect) Anyone Can Die. In pilot episodes, it's also an early indicator of Sacrificial Lamb. It tends to be less surprising in television because it's generally assumed that Mel Gibson isn't going to be sticking around your family sitcom forever. A warning to budding directors: this trope can be slightly undermined by casting a Chronically Killed Actor, however A-List they may be... unless careful. See also Billing Displacement, Death by Cameo and at times Decoy Protagonist. Nothing to do with Star-Derailing Role but could have this effect. Nor is it to be confused with a star actually dying during filming. As a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
Alma Reville: Actually, I think it's a huge mistake. You shouldn't wait 'til halfway through. Kill her off after 30 minutes.
Alma Reville: Actually, I think it's a huge mistake. You shouldn't wait 'til halfway through. Kill her off after 30 minutes.
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Anime & Manga
- Prof. Heinz Schneider in El Cazador de la Bruja. And he is voiced by Shinichiro Miki, to boot.
- Kisaragi is one of the first named characters to appear in Elfen Lied and gets a proper introduction. Name bar? Check. Clumsy but cute? Check. Works for another main character? Yeppers. Determined to overcome her shyness and make people proud of her one day? Double check. Twenty pages/five minutes later she has her head ripped off, the pens from her pocket repurposed as deadly projectiles, and her corpse used as a meat shield that gets shredded to pieces in a hail of bullets, only to be dumped in a corridor once everyone else is dead. This immediately sets the tone for the next 106 chapters.
- In Ga-Rei -Zero- the squad in the promotional posters and trailers, supposed to be the main characters of the series, after kicking some ass are surprisingly slaughtered at the end of first episode. The true main characters first appear in episode 2.
- Extreme example: Genesis Climber MOSPEADA leaves just one survivor in episode 1, bumping off everyone else.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny:
- Singer TM Revolution voices two short-lived characters. In SEED, Miguel is a Face Enemy who actually survives his first battle with the protagonist. However, he is promptly killed in the very next battle. This was telegraphed by the fact that he wasn't in the OP, though. However, in the sequel, its more played like a running gag, despite the depth of the character.
- According to urban legend, Nami Tamaki, who sang the last two opening themes of SEED and the first of Destiny was offered a similar character, but turned down the offer. That character, Shiho Hannenfuss, became an Ensemble Dark Horse, with many suggesting that Tamaki's passing on the role saved Shiho from suffering the same fate as TMR's characters.
- There's also a rumor that Takanori would've prefer to play a bigger role (especially in Destiny), but couldn't spare much time from his very tight touring and recording schedule, so he had to stick to this trope.
- Amuria in Simoun.
- Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry kills the lead character's two love interests, best friends, enemy, most of the cast of the first episode... in the best example of Dead Star Walking, the series actually kills off Rie Tanaka's character twice.
- Seki Ray Shiroe from Toward the Terra, played by Marina Inoue; it seems as though he might even become the protagonist's protege, and failing that, he begins to cultivate a relationship with the antihero as well - however, he is heartlessly (and, in the manga and original movie, a bit abruptly) snuffed out. (Savvy fans may predict this trope when they observe that Inoue is the only voice actor credited for Shiroe, indicating that he's not going to live long enough for his voice to change.)
- In Baccano!!, Masakazu Morita's character gets his face blown off during the closing of the very episode he first shows up in. Except said character is Claire Stanfield, who not only survives but becomes a major player in the plot.
- Oh, look, an obvious love interest! Aw, look how that cute Chinese exchange student keeps rescuing her from all the evil people with superpowers chasing her! Wait a minute... did he just knock her out after getting information out of her? And... hold on, we saw that Badass Longcoat at the beginning of the last episode... Wait, she wasn't even the real person? And did she just jump in front of him so she dies from a rather nasty attack instead? Congratulations, you have just finished the second episode of Darker Than Black.
- Not a death, per se, but the Hashiratani Deer in Eyeshield 21 are hyped up as one of the best, most experienced team in the league, especially their leader Onihei. Before the Devil Bats can play them, they get a crushing defeat at the hands of the Kyoshin Poseidons.
- Minami Takayama voices one of the four main leads of Senki Zesshou Symphogear. Or voiced, since her character got killed in the middle of the first episode.
- But the character still appears in various flashback scenes. So it could be a subversion.
- Mamoru Miyano voices Rei's boyfriend in High School Of The Dead and gets turned into one of them and later killed at the end of the first episode.
- Jun Fukuyama voices Suguru Aizawa in Area no Kishi. The soccer star is pronounced dead by the third episode. He still continues to play a significant role in the plot, though.
- Barrage is named after a character who only lasts 5 pages in the first chapter before he's unceremoniously killed.
- Eren Jaeger in Attack on Titan subverts this. He's eaten by a Titan fairly early on, but survives by turning into one and smashing his way out.
- Hampnie Hambart in Sunday Without God. He dies at the end of the first arc after his wish for a happy death comes true.
- In Cross Ange, the characters of Megumi Hayashibara, Michiko Neya, and Minori Chihara all die within the first three episodes.
- In the Marvel Comics series Exiles, Magnus was one of the six characters gathered in the first issue as a team of dimension-hoppers who must Set Right What Once Went Wrong. He was also clearly the most powerful of the six. In the second issue he dies, and it eventually became clear this was an inherent gimmick of the series to allow logical cast changes.
- In the first issue of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's run on the Marvel comic book X-Force, a new X-Force team is introduced with most of the focus put on the sympathetic team leader. Almost all of the team gets brutally killed off in the same issue, including aforementioned leader. This effects Any One Can Die for the remainder of the book's run and its follow-up X-Statix.
Films — Animation
- Epic: Despite the promotional art and being voiced by Beyoncé, you thought her character, Queen Tara, would stay alive throughout the whole movie except that she dies and gives the MacGuffin to the female lead, which drove the main plot. This also goes the same with Dagda, son of the Big Bad, who also got promotional art but gets killed earlier in the movie.
- The BBC has done this so often in its genre series in the 2000s that it's become predictable.
- The first example, genuinely surprising and gruesome: Lisa Faulkner on Spooks was being set up as a major performer on the show, playing a Spooks employee moving from a desk job to field work. She got deep fried in the 2nd episode. Literally. Her head was shoved into a deep fryer. It worked for surprise on this show because of the lack of any kind of credits. It also established early on that any character could be killed at any time which made the program much more suspenseful. The spin-off Spooks Code 9 also killed off the apparent team leader at the end of the first episode.
- Freema Agyeman was heavily involved in the promotion of the remake of Survivors. She dies halfway through the first episode. To add to the impact, the character she played was, in the original, the only one to survive for the entire show.
- The 1970s original did this as well, casting the well-known Peter Bowles as husband to Abby (played by relative unknown Carolyn Seymour) who stays healthy while she collapses with the plague. However, towards the end of the first episode, she is the one who wakes up, to find his dead body, after he succumbs off-screen. With no actors listed in the opening titles and some very careful scripting, it was probably a big shock to viewers at the time. This was repeated in the remake, with Abby's husband played by Shaun Dingwall, Rose's dad Pete from Doctor Who. Paul's death near the start of the second season is also a good one - half the Season 1 cast had just been written out after a big format change and the show seemed settled on a new direction, only to promptly kill off another first series star within a couple of episodes.
- In Torchwood, Suzie Costello, played by Indira Varma, is the second-in-command of Torchwood Three... for most of episode one. Then she explains how she can't live without the job but is going to get fired when they find out she's been killing people for Resurrection Gauntlet test subjects and puts a bullet in her skull. She comes back, though, and is revealed to have had a goddamn amazing Gambit Roulette going which planned for her death and resurrection as a crucial stage, in the episode "They Keep Killing Suzie". She was also featured heavily in the promotional material. Torchwood is an odd example in that its leading man and star gets killed several times a season. He doesn't stay dead for long, though.
- In Torchwood: Miracle Day, we get Dr. Juarez, who is killed off (as much as someone can die in Miracle Day, anyway) the very episode where she joins the Torchwood team.
- Jamie Bamber's character Mitchell Hoban in Outcasts. All of the promotional material assures the viewer that Mitchell, why he's acting so irrationally, his Expeditionary Forces, and his conflict with President Tate are going to be vital parts of the show. Then, in the pilot, he commits Suicide by Cop via Fleur after beating his wife into a coma.
- Jamie Bamber epitomizes this. Hoban is just one of many of his characters to be killed off—as of 2015, the count stands at ten. The first—Tony Dewhurst—kicked off this trend by dying in the first episode of the series, just like Hoban did. Two others (Archie Kennedy and Matt Devlin) perished in an eerily similar fashion (Blood from the Mouth, Heroic Sacrifice), and still another two (on Cold Case and Ghost Whisperer) bit the dust even faster than either Hoban or Dewhurst—they were onscreen throughout the entire episode, but had actually been killed off within the first few minutes of the show. Another—Mr. Simone—seems to have been killed off just to lampshade this trend, to the point of outright making him a Red Shirt, his film roles aren't exempt from this either, as he dies at the end of Ghost Rig and John Doe: Vigilante, and the most recent one, Vincent Plowman, was all but guaranteed, given that he was one of the villains.
- Tom Skeritt was the father in Brothers and Sisters. Although the father died in the pilot, he has appeared in flashbacks since.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Joss Whedon wanted to do this for Eric Balfour as Jesse in the first episode, but was denied permission by the network. He ultimately got his wish in Season 6, when after thirty-nine appearances as a guest star Amber Benson was finally promoted to the show's full credits - just in time for her character Tara to be shot dead.
- Elias Koteas's character in Conviction appeared to be major, but when he was billed as a guest star in the first episode, it made it pretty obvious he was getting killed.
- Naďve Newcomer Holly hardly got to have any time to get to know her CSI buddies before getting offed.
- Almost happened on Lost. The original plan was to have a reasonably well known movie actor, such as Michael Keaton, be cast as Jack. All the promotions, released information, cast photos, and interviews would indicate that Keaton (or whoever was cast as Jack) was a permanent part of the show and would be the main character throughout. Then, halfway through the pilot episode, he'd be killed by the monster, thus putting everyone on notice that Lost was a show where Anyone Can Die and where crazy stuff happens all the time. Kate (possibly played by Yunjin Kim) would then become the leader and the show's hero. The network vetoed the plan, believing the audience would feel manipulated and resentful. As a result, Matthew Fox was cast as Jack and the character of the pilot (played by Greg Grunberg) was created to die in Jack's place.
- The General Hospital spinoff Night Shift had Pat Crawford Brown as a tapestry-sewing patient for the first 3 episodes, before having a Serial Killer off her via IV. Granted, Brown has rarely ever had a regular role on any TV show, but still...
- John Goodman portrays the main character of Now and Again for about thirty seconds of the first episode before he's hit by a train and has his brain placed in an artificially engineered body, thus setting up the rest of the series.
- Jon Seda's character on Oz, Dino Ortolani, was set up as the (or at least a) main character, only to be burned to death at the end of the 1st episode.
- Parodied on Police Squad!: in each episode's Title Montage, a different celebrity Special Guest is killed off as they are being introduced.
- Detective Terry Crowley in The Shield seems to be set up as one of the main characters of the series in the pilot episode when he's assigned to the Strike Team as a mole with the intention of exposing their corrupt activities, and gets more than his fair share of screen time in the process... until the final minute of the episode, where Vic Mackey and Shane Vendrell kill him and frame an also-deceased drug dealer as the killer. Crowley's death isn't brushed aside, though, as it haunts the Strike Team for the rest of the series and the character himself appears in flashback episodes.
- To help keep Crowley's death as a surprise to the viewers, his actor was listed as a regular in the pilot episode's opening credits.
- An unusual variation: in the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager (Trek itself having numerous examples played straight), Jennifer Lien, cast regular for the first three seasons, is billed as a "special guest star." Her character violently evolved into an energy being and abruptly left the show in the second episode of that season, once her Suspiciously Similar Substitute was settled.
- She does come back for one episode, intent on revenge against the Voyager crew and Janeway in particular. She uses her powers, boosted by the Voyager's warp core, to travel back in time in order to destroy the ship before her past self begins to "evolve".
- Like Spooks, FX Network's Thief had a 6-episode first season. Like Spooks, it bumped off a name performer by the 2nd episode: Linda "Terminator 1 and 2" Hamilton as the handler. Unlike Spooks, Hamilton was just the latest in a rather misogynistic streak. Including the handler, there were three surprising deaths in the first two eps — all women. Unlike Spooks, Thief was not renewed beyond its initial 6 ep run.
- In Stargate Atlantis, Robert Patrick plays Colonel Sumner in the pilot. He's supposed to be the head of the military unit attached to the Atlantis team, and naturally is killed off before the end of the second episode.
- Fans expected the same trick to be pulled in the premiere of Stargate Universe with Lou Diamond Phillips, who didn't seem to have an appropriately large role for a name-actor. However, his character lived, and the one who actually died in the pilot was that guy who played Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore. Phillips's character does die in a later episode... only for another version of him to show up.
- The Doctor Who TV Movie actually brought back Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, just so he could be killed off to regenerate into Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor.
- Kylie Minogue showing up as a guest star in the 2007 Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned". The Doctor wanted to bring her character Astrid along as a companion, but naturally she was killed off at the end of the episode.
- Possibly the all time weirdest version of this: Jenna-Louise Coleman, already announced as a forthcoming companion, appeared in the episode "Asylum of the Daleks" as a character called Oswin, and died at the end. Then she turned up a few episodes later, as another character called Clara, and died again. The following episode introduced the "proper" version of the character. This was a major plot point for the season.
- William Hurt gets top billing as Duke Leto Atreides in Sci-Fi Channel's Dune miniseries, despite his character getting killed at the end of part one (of three).
- About 20 or so characters introduced in volume three of Heroes.
- In Season 4, the writers decided to bring back Charlie, a popular character from Season 1. Unfortunately, that same year Jayma Mays was cast in the new show Glee, so we knew her relationship with Hiro wasn't going to work. Had Hiro not forgotten about her for 3 years, he could have saved her.
- In Angel, Doyle was killed off after 9 episodes, and if it weren't for his visions Angel wouldn't have such an easy time finding (and killing) the baddies.
- Ingo Fischer, one of the two top-billed stars in Alarm für Cobra 11 died in the second episode.
- For the first few seasons of Lost in Space, Doctor Smith (Jonathan Harris) got billed as a special guest star in the title credits. Word of God has it that he was supposed to escape the ship (or die) early on, but that never came about.
- HBO gleefully marketed Sean Bean as the "main character" for the Game of Thrones adaptation. Then his head gets chopped off. Another example is Jason Momoa of Stargate Atlantis fame, who doesn't merit the opening credits despite being a major character. He gets killed off partway through. Bean was pretty famous for getting killed off in anything he was a star of (or co-star, or extra... okay ANYthing he was acting in) up to this point. So if it was a shock to anyone it shouldn't have been. He does make it almost to the end of the first season before dying (episode 9 out of 10). Momoa's character doesn't die until the last episode. Other cast members who are stars make it through the season.
- Played very straight with Ian McShane in season 6.
- Callum Keith Rennie as Don Morgan in Alphas: the team's original government liaison, who is present in the pilot episode, Put on a Bus for the second, and then violently killed off in the third.
- Though he wasn't a big star at the time, it's amusing to see Jimmy Smits playing Don Johnson's partner only to get blown up within the first few minutes of the pilot episode of Miami Vice.
- Derek Jacobi is one of the more prominent names among the cast of The Borgias... and he gets fatally poisoned in the very first episode.
- Jacobi also makes a memorable guest appearance as Professor Yana (a.k.a. The Master) in the Doctor Who episode "Utopia". However, he is killed (and then regenerates into John Simm) before the episode ends.
- Ellery Queen: The most recognizable name in an episode's cast would often be the person playing the victim. A prominent example is George Burns in "The Adventure of Veronica's Veils".
- Benton Fraser's father (played by Gordon Pinsent) dies at the beginning of the pilot episode of Due South, although he continues to appear as a ghost for the rest of the series.
- The pilot episode of Sleepy Hollow has three recognizable actors: Clancy Brown, Orlando Jones and John Cho. Two of them are dead by the end of the episode (one in the first five minutes). Subverted in that both of them reappear in the second episode: one shows up in a flashback and as a ghost and the other is resurrected by the Big Bad who killed him.
- Byung Hee was being set up as the main character in Shut Up and Let's Go. He was suddenly killed at the end of the second episode. The remainder of the show is about his best friend and his band coping with the loss.
- The 100 was going to do this with Jasper. They set him up as a main character and had him speared in the chest at the end of the pilot- before deciding that they liked him too much and saving him.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
- Season 2 starts with some big names added to the cast, including Lucy Lawless as an Action Girl ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent now loyal to Coulson... who lasts exactly one episode, after months of promos billing her as a major character.
- More understatedly, B.J. Britt took Grant Ward's place on Coulson's team in the latter third of the first season, and was in promo shots for the second season, standing with the team and appearing to have been promoted to regular, which would have made sense. He's still billed as a guest star, though. Why? Because he dies in 2x10.
- The pilot episode of Red Dwarf was originally intended to be this, with everyone except the main character being top-billing stars, only to have them killed off in the first episode and left with "Craig who?". While this wasn't quite the effect during the original airing, after a decade this is somewhat applicable as many of the crew went on to have parts in works such as Alien and Eastenders!
- The Scream TV series. Much like how the films employed this trope (see above), the series does the same with Bella Thorne's character, killing her off in the pilot episode and having her death drive the plot.
- In the first episode of the FX anthology series Fargo, Rory Culkin is accidentally run over by Kirsten Dunst. He dies a little later in her garage.
- The Scream Queens TV series. Whilst being advertised as a series regular, Ariana Grande's character was killed off at the end of the pilot episode before we even knew her (real) name.
- Christopher Meloni joined True Blood in the second episode of the fifth season. He was added to the opening credits, only to be killed in the sixth episode.
- The first season of Wayward Pines did this twice. Of the big name cast members, Juliette Lewis's character dies at the end of the second episode, and Terrence Howard's in the third.
- Peter Cook appeared in the first episode of Blackadder as Richard III. As in the play and real life, he gets decapitated in battle, though he ghost haunts Edmund.
- Falk Hentschel was heavily featured as a main cast member in the promos for Legends of Tomorrow as Hawkman, playing a major role in the crossover between The Flash (2014) and Arrow the year before. He's killed by the end of the two-part pilot.
- Clive Barker's Jericho: The squad leader, Devin Ross, is suddenly killed off at the end of the first time period. However, while his body may be dead, his spirit escapes into the body of one of his squadmates, and he is then able to jump into the consciousness of each of them.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Patrick Stewart voices the Emperor Uriel Septim VII, who is assassinated by the end of the first tutorial mission. On the other hand it's heavily Foreshadowed, as he starts talking about his impending death in the actual opening credits sequence and continues right up until it happens.
- In Lands of Lore, Patrick Stewart portrays the voice of the king, who gets frozen after you manage to complete the first quest he gives you. His unfreezing becomes the player character's goal, which you manage to do just before it is time for the final battle against the villain.
- Even in videogames, Liam Neeson can't avoid this trope. In Fallout 3 he plays the dad of the main character, only to disappear as soon as the tutorial missions are over. When the player finally manages to track him down and he seems to become an active part of the story again, he dies right in front of your eyes. To keep Project Purity out of Enclave hands, he floods the chamber he's in with intense radiation so he can take his enemies with him. Unfortunately The Dragon Colonel Autumn manages to survive regardless.
- The character Mia Fey is killed off in the second chapter of the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game. Never mind the fact that her little sister is a channeler, making you wonder why they even bothered to have her killed.
- While the game was being developed, the producers felt that Phoenix had too many partner/support characters. Thus they combined two of them into one by having Mia die and be channeled by Maya. By the time games 2 and 3 roll around, channeling's gone from a simple way to talk to Mia to an actual plot device anyway.
- There's also a variation with Kristoph Gavin in Apollo Justice, who appears on the box, is set up to be the mentor of the game, and turns out to be the murderer in the first case.
- He still ended up being a major character of a sort, though (and the culprit in the game's final case).
- Near the start of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars you meet Ling, an Action Girl who is featured prominently on the game's box art and is quite clearly set up to be the main character's love interest. Then she gets killed in the second mission, and the rest of the game features no more female characters - yep, not only is the main character pretty much a Butt Monkey for the rest of the Triads, the very game itself cockblocks him!
- Eve in Dead to Rights gets offed immediately after your Escort Mission with her.
- Phillipe Loren in Saints Row: The Third who was billed as the Big Bad in all the advertisments only to be killed off in the first act of the game.
- Johnny Gat also qualifies in the third. However, Saints Row 4 retcons it by being kidnapped by aliens during his death scene instead
- In Final Fantasy XII we have the practically omnipresent Yuri Lowenthal voice the tutorial character, Reks. He doesn't last long.
- Variation: In Survival of the Fittest, the character called Josh Goodman was built up in version three's pregame to be an unstoppable force, taking over the school within his first day there by blackmailing the principal and raping her, causing her to commit suicide, and later nearly cripples a star football player. He was killed off in one of the main game's first posts, electrocuted in a pool of blood. The student who killed him became one of the top killers on the island.
- That SciFi Guy appears at the beginning of To Boldly Flee as one of the team members analyzing a mysterious signal coming from Jupiter. However, he is Killed Off for Real before the end of Part One when the enemy's Wave Motion Gun vaporizes his house. Or is he?.
- Ooh, popular character Cliffjumper is featured in his own Transformers Prime commercial! And he's played by Dwayne Johnson as well! And he's been upgraded from a Bumblebee clone into an awesome horned muscle car! He puts up a good fight against a team of Decepticon troops, but he's eventually defeated, captured, and killed by Starscream. And brought back as a zombie berzerker in the second episode. And sliced in half by Megatron, dropped into a mine shaft, and buried by a mountain-shattering explosion.
- The '90s animated X-Men series mirrored Thunderbird's death on the modern team's second mission by including Morph, a character apparently introduced in the first episode just to be killed off immediately (he actually turns out to have survived in a later episode, whether that was intended in his "death" episode is debatable). The character was based on Changeling, the first X-Man to die in the comics.
- Guest villain Kraang Subprime in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) is voiced by famous comedian Gilbert Gottfried, and he's killed off in his fight with Splinter.
- The narrator of the Christmas episode of Stroker and Hoop was voiced by none other than moderately famous character Eli Wallach. He also turns out to be a turkey about to be taken to the slaughter.