2 Hours Left to Support a Troper-Created Project : Personal Space (discuss)

Dead Star Walking

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.
Alma Reville: Actually, I think it's a huge mistake. You shouldn't wait 'til halfway through. Kill her off after 30 minutes.

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.


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    Anime and 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.
  • Happens in Gantz a lot.
  • 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.
  • Kamina in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
  • Tomoe Mami in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Even though Robert De Niro is billed as the main character in the 2001 police drama 15 Minutes, he is kidnapped and brutally killed less than halfway through the film, forcing another detective (played by Edward Burns) to avenge his death.
  • Ben Affleck in Smokin' Aces. In the first act, he's implied to be a main character, the leader of one of the groups and the main one explaining what's going on, only to be killed off in the very beginning of the second act.
  • Ewan McGregor receives top billing in Alex Rider: Stormbreaker. His sole appearance in the film is in the first few minutes, where he is quickly killed off, and not even given a chance to interact with any of the other characters. However, it should be noted that the actors were billed alphabetically (with the exception of Mickey Rourke, who was billed last for additional emphasis to his name).
  • The Alien series:
    • Alien. Tom Skerritt is top-billed during a period in his career where audiences would naturally assume he was the main character. The Xenomorph (and the scriptwriters) disagreed. The cast dies in reverse order of their credit billing; at the time, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Skerritt were all relatively well-known actors, while Sigourney Weaver was a complete unknown.
    • In Alien³, Dr. Clemens (played by Charles Dance) is set up to be the main male character, but gets killed about an hour in, and Dillon takes over the role for the rest of the film.
  • Ken Watanabe was cast (with much publicity) as Ra's Al Ghul in Batman Begins. Turns out he's an imposter who dies very early in the movie - an intentional deception to set up the twist to the mystery of exactly who the Big Bad was toward the end.
  • Alexander Skarsgård is billed as one of the main characters in the Battleship film. He is killed by the aliens' opening volley. Surprisingly, Liam Neeson, who also gets top billing, survives until the end, but only because he remains outside of the action and doesn't even get a chance to be in danger.
  • Traci Lords was given poster billing in Blade. She dies in the first battle scene, less than ten minutes in.
  • For the first half hour of The Blob (1988) remake, we follow the character Paul. He gets killed early on and is never mentioned again.
  • In Children of Men, Julianne Moore is the second-billed actress after the star Clive Owen (possibly misleading some viewers into thinking she is the last pregnant woman whom Theo has to escort to safety). She gets introduced early on, and being Theo's ex-wife, starts setting up a sub-plot about the two of them reconnecting their lost love. Then they try to drive a young girl out of the country and Julianne gets shot through the throat. All this happens in the first 20 minutes, and the rest of the film is centered around Theo helping said young girl after discovering she is pregnant.
  • Cole Hauser seems to have made a habit of getting parts that involve this:
    • In Pitch Black, Hauser plays Johns, a bounty hunter who is escorting Riddick (Vin Diesel), and seems to be the main character alongside Carolyn (Radha Mitchell). Then, less than halfway through the film, Riddick fakes out Johns and lets him get eaten by some of the local predators, who messily chomp down on him while Riddick watches.
    • In A Good Day to Die Hard, Hauser appears in one scene as a CIA handler who briefs Jack and John on the current situation in the area, just before he gets shot in the head by an enemy sniper.
    • In Olympus Has Fallen, Hauser plays Roma, a Secret Service agent who manages to make a Title Drop to other agents in the nearby area just before getting killed by a terrorist.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow in Contagion, who is first introduced sneezing and coughing at an airport in Chicago, and, when she arrives home minutes into the film, she is rushed to a hospital, where she convulses and dies. The only footage seen of her afterwards is an autopsy scene (where doctors cut her skull open) and a flashback at the end of the film to how the virus was transmitted to her. Likewise, Kate Winslet appears for a few minutes as a CDC researcher working to investigate the cure, but she gets infected and is rushed to a quarantine zone, and is only seen some time later when she tries to give a patient a blanket before dying.
  • In the Canadian horror flick Cube, a character named Alderson (played by Julian Richings) is billed to be the major character of the film, had his visage pinned to all the promotional posters, and is killed brutally in the first five minutes of the movie by a wire trap before the focus shifts to the real group of protagonists.
  • In Deep Blue Sea, Samuel L. Jackson is killed by a rampaging shark that leaps out of a submarine bay to get him. His death is arguably the biggest shock in the entire film, possibly because it's so sudden.
  • Demons Never Die has Tulisa from N-Dubz as one of the top-billed stars of the film...it's a shame that she is killed off within the first ten minutes.
  • Angie Dickinson in Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill. She's top-billed in the credits alongside Michael Caine, but gets brutally murdered less than halfway into the movie. It's appropriate, since Dressed To Kill is an overt homage to Hitchcock.
  • Sean Bean in Equilibrium.
  • Steven Seagal in Executive Decision.
  • Tom Hanks in the film adaptation of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. He is top-billed and yet the trailer reveals early on that he dies.
  • The Fright Night remake has Christopher Mintz-Plasse as "Evil" Ed, who's in it about 20 minutes before getting bitten by a vampire. He returns nearly an hour later, now having been turned, only to be killed in roughly five minutes.
  • Bruce Campbell in From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money. He received top billing, but not only does he die very quickly, his "death" is part of an in-film movie that a character is watching.
    • Likewise, in Congo, Campbell plays a researcher who is brutally killed by an ape in the first few minutes of the film. The main group of characters later stumble upon his body.
  • Zigzagged with G.I. Joe: Retaliation. The presence of Channing Tatum would have qualified, but he was kept out of the trailers entirely. This actually increases the impact of his character's death.
  • Christopher Lee in Honeymoon Academy.
  • Both Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes in The Hurt Locker.
  • Olivia Wilde in In Time.
  • Jennifer Lopez in Jersey Girl; not only does Lopez get second billing in promotional material, but upon first glance she appears to be the title character of the movie. Ten minutes in, she dies during childbirth — and we find out that her daughter is arguably the title character. After the "Bennifer" craze sprung up, the studio made Kevin Smith film more scenes so that they could push J-Lo's death to halfway through the film, which would have totally undone the whole point of the story. Fortunately the failure of Gigli combined with Ben Affleck and Lopez ending their relationship let Smith go back to his original idea. It also meant they had to spoil the death in the advertising to make it seem less like Gigli.
  • Liam Neeson has a few:
  • They're not stars in actual movies these days, but Direct-to-Video titans Val Kilmer and Christian Slater in Mindhunters.
  • A hallmark of the Mission: Impossible series:
    • In the original film, Ethan Hunt's backup team includes characters played by Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emilio Estevez, Emmanuelle Béart and Jon Voight. Scott-Thomas' character is stabbed in the back and Estevez's hacker character is impaled through the eye in an elevator shaft, while the latter two turn out to be not dead after all, and are instead pulling The Plan. Estevez isn't even credited.
    • In Mission: Impossible II, Rade Serbedzija (a notable European character actor) gets killed off in the first scene after "Ethan Hunt" (Sean Ambrose in disguise) knocks him out and crashes the plane he is traveling on.
    • Mission: Impossible III introduces Keri Russell as a protege of Cruise's character, and then kills her off immediately after one scene when a micro-explosive in her head detonates.
    • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol has Josh Holloway show up and get killed less than a minute into the film (although he gets more screentime in flashbacks later on), while Tom Wilkinson (who like Estevez above isn't credited) appears as an IMF handler who gets killed at the end of his single scene.
  • John C. McGinley plays a drug dealer in Truth or Consequences, N.M. For three minutes. Then Kiefer Sutherland's character shoots him in the forehead. His death did have a huge impact on the story though.
  • Aaron Eckhart plays the redneck boyfriend of the title character in Nurse Betty... for all of 20 minutes, until he gets half his scalp ripped off and is shot as he pitifully tries to run away from the contract killers played by Chris Rock and Morgan Freeman.
  • In Olympus Has Fallen, Ashley Judd plays Margaret Asher, the wife of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). At the end of the opening sequence, she dies when the limousine she's in crashes down into an icy river just after Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) rescues the President.
  • Sophia Loren got top billing for Operation Crossbow. She appeared for about 15 minutes and then was murdered by the Resistance because she could compromise the mission.
  • Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock are killed off early in The Other Guys. The film's Zeppo premise suggests it's coming, but the death scene itself is abrupt and senseless enough to be a surprise.
  • In recent re-releases of Carrie, John Travolta gets top billing even though he plays a minor character, the Alpha Bitch's boyfriend. Travolta's car bursts into flames, killing his character.
  • Janet Leigh in Psycho (although she didn't go as quickly as Drew Barrymore below). This is one of the oldest examples.
  • Zig-zagged in Red. Morgan Freeman's character is killed off very early on...: Then it turns out he's still alive. But he dies again about halfway through the film, this time for real.
  • Franco Nero in Sacra Corona gets killed off in the first two minutes, after maybe two lines. Then he gets a second appearance as a ghost, with barely a few lines. He also happens to be one of the four characters on the cover, next to The Hero, The Lancer and the Big Bad, despite there being countless other characters who had a much greater impact on the plot.
  • Robert Patrick in Safe House.
  • The Scream films are famous for doing this.
    • In the first film, Drew Barrymore is killed off within the first ten minutes. She came up with the idea, having been initially cast as Sidney. Notably, absolutely none of the advertising even suggested that Barrymore would be killed so soon — it was a legitimate shock at the time.
    • In the second film, it's three dead stars walking — Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett are killed in the opening scene, and later, Sarah Michelle Gellar becomes Ghostface's first victim after the title card.
    • In the third film, it's Liev Schreiber, whose character from the first two films gets elevated to Opening Victim.
    • The fourth film kills off five characters — Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, Anna Paquin, Aimee Teegarden, and Britt Robertson — before the title card. (Though Paquin was not killed in the movie, but in the movie within a movie... and Hale and Grimes bought it in the movie within a movie within a movie).
  • Severine from Skyfall is made out to be the film's female lead, complete with a Tragic Backstory and motivation to kill the Big Bad, only to be murdered after her one plot-relevant scene, as little more than an afterthought. You could take her out the picture completely and the only change would be Bond needing a different way to meet the villain.
  • Elijah Wood's character is hyped up from the very beginning of Spy Kids 3 and talked about by all of the major characters. Towards the end he shows up, gives an inspiring speech, and immediately loses as soon as it's time to prove his strength.
  • In the 2005 action film Stealth, Jamie Foxx's character, Henry, is killed off suddenly while trying to pilot his aircraft through a canyon, less than halfway through the film. Although Stealth was made before Ray (which was one of Foxx's breakout roles), the film was released afterwards, and shocked audiences who expected Foxx's character to survive.
  • Morgan Freeman gets killed halfway through The Sum of All Fears.
  • Perhaps the most impressive occurrence is in the first Superman movie; Marlon Brando received top billing, and what was at the time the highest salary ever paid to a motion picture actor, to play a character with 8 minutes of screen time who dies before the end of the first act. Furthermore, Christopher Reeve was relegated to third billing even though he plays the lead character of the film. Fortunately, people caught on quickly to how much he was responsible for making the film so good.
    • The press coverage (as opposed to the studio publicity) at the time of the initial release talked extensively about Brando's big paycheck for so little screen time so the audience wasn't completely unprepared. This may have also tipped off late-70s movie-goers not to expect too much from his appearance in Apocalypse Now a few years later.
  • In U571, a number of American submariners, including Bill Paxton (who's set up to be one of the main characters), are killed a quarter of the way through the film during a disastrous escape from a German U-boat.
  • Charlie Sheen in Young Guns.
  • Meet Joe Black manages to subvert this trope with Brad Pitt - though his character dies graphically moments into the film, Death then chooses to take his form.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan pulls off a double subversion - with rumors flying that Spock would be killed off, the writers had him "die" a few minutes into the film in what was quickly revealed to be a mere training exercise. Audiences were therefore still surprised when Spock died for real at the end of the film.
  • Ryan Gosling in The Place Beyond The Pines.
  • The titular Ken Park commits suicide in the very first scene. The movie then stops having anything to do with him until the very end.
  • George Clooney in Gravity.
    • And then he comes back... or does he?
  • Danny Trejo is top-billed for the low-budget chiller The Cloth. He doesn't make it beyond the first scene.
  • Joe Brody is played by Bryan Cranston, the biggest name actor in Godzilla (2014), he doesn't make it past the first third of the movie.
  • Piper Laurie was billed third in Dario Argento 's Trauma. She dies in twenty minutes. Turns out not only is she Not Quite Dead, she is the killer.
  • Michelle Rodriguez gets 3rd billing in the fourth The Fast and the Furious installment, only for it to be revealed that she was murdered offscreen after the opening scene, with her only appearing in a few flashbacks after. The fifth and sixth films would later retcon this, revealing she survived but suffered amnesia as a result.
  • Rachel McAdams in Southpaw

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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, period. Hoban is just one of many of his characters to be killed off—the very first of whom, Tony Dewhurst, basically kicked off this trend by dying in the first episode of the series, just like Hoban did. Then, 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, and another, Mr. Simone seems to have been killed off just to lampshade this trend. His appearance on Rizzoli & Isles just barely subverted this, having his character fall from a bridge. . .and rescued in the next episode.
  • 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.
  • Naïve 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 of Heroes, 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. Sean 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). Jason Momoa's character doesn't die until the last episode. Other cast members who are stars make it through the season.
  • 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 a Badass 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.

    Video games 
  • 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 in the opening cinematic. His unfreezing becomes the player character's goal.
  • 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.

    Web Originals 
  • 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?.

    Western Animation