"Margaret Sullivan was a star whose deathbed scenes were one of the great joys of the Golden Age of movies. Sullivan never simply kicked the bucket. She made speeches, as she lay dying; and she was so incredibly noble that she made you feel like an absolute twerp for continuing to live out your petty life after she'd ridden on ahead, to the accompaniment of the third movement of Brahm's First Symphony."
Basically, the spectacle involved in a character's death is proportional to the importance of the character to the story.
This is why the faceless Mooks
and Red Shirt
characters die in droves
, while the Big Bad
gets a second chance
, or at least is taken out in the most spectacular blaze of glory the FX budget allows. Main characters get to go out with a bang instead of a whimper, complete with Heroic Sacrifice
and final dying speech
. (And then the reaction is proportional to the drama
.) Unless someone was Distracted from Death
Thus, if a main character dies in a decidedly undramatic or anti-climactic way, the creators are often accused of having Dropped a Bridge on Him
, even if they were shooting for realism
and trying to subvert the notion that Death Is Dramatic. Typically, "deaths" like that are a major clue that No One Could Survive That
and that the hero will be back shortly
. So when such a death turns out to be permanent
, the fans feel cheated. This will generally cause a tidal wave of revisionist Fan Fic
Related to the Rule of Cool
and Kill 'em All
. Reactionary Fan Fic
will usually invoke He's Just Hiding
Since this is such a common trope, most of the examples will be subversions
. Works in which Anyone Can Die
usually do away with this trope altogether, so there's no need to explicitly mention them here.
Naturally, this is Truth in Television
; since death tends to impact us in direct proportion to how close we were to the deceased in real life. As for how dramatic dying actually is for the person dying, no one's come back to comment.
As a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime & Manga
- In Hunter × Hunter, Meruem spends his final moments after realizing he was dying as a result of a deadly toxin seeking out Komugi, the woman he loved, so he could play some final games of Gungi with her. The two meet up and play Gungi, with Komugi staying with him despite knowing the toxin would cause her to die if she did. Meruem passes away resting his head in Komugi's lap, with Komugi passing away soon after him.
- Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, many. To name a few: on the protagonist's side there are Pisces Albafica, Virgo Asmita, Leo Regulus...and on the antagonist's side there are Wyvern Rhadamanthys, Behemoth Violate, Basilisk Sylphid....
- Averted in the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist: In the penultimate episode, Edward dies an extremely quick and wholly undramatic death at the hands of Envy (despite being brought back in the next episode).
- Death Note plays it straight with Light and Soichiro, while detective L's death is relatively peaceful (though still pretty dramatic). Mello's death, meanwhile, is significantly downplayed.
- Mostly averted in MÄR, where most villain deaths are quick and inglorious. Of course, with the exception of the offscreen-killed Luberia thieves guild, none of the heroes die. At least not permanently.
- Played straight at most three times, with the deaths of Kannochi, Aqua, and Phantom. All three were sympathetic in some way, as the ones who don't die dramatically are either bloodthirsty sociopaths or cowards.
- Gai Daigoji in Martian Successor Nadesico is an intentional subversion of this, to set up the show's philosophy on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Earlier in the episode in which he dies, he and Akito are seen watching (and crying over) an episode of Show Within a Show Gekiganger 3, in which Joe Umitsubame dies a dramatic and heroic death in battle, and Gai declares that he wants to die like that. At the end of the episode, he's shot by a military officer attempting to escape the ship, before he even realizes what's going on; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not heroic at all.
- Kaiser Ryo's death via heart failure in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX starts with a failed Heroic Sacrifice, and as he lays dying, he finally manages to snap Protagonist Juudai out of his Heroic BSOD, something that three other separate Heroic Sacrifices had failed to do. He's given an amazing send-off in the duel beforehand.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yugi's Heroic Sacrifice in the Doma arc. It wasn't only depressing to the audience, but to the pharaoh as well. Which is why he immediately launched a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Weevil (whom they had been dueling at the time).
- In Naruto, we have the Fourth Hokage and his wife, when sealing the Kyuubi within their son, Naruto, Zabuza, after Naruto knocked some sense into him, and the Third Hokage, after sealing away Orochimaru's arms and rendering his invasion unsuccessful.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Averted to magnificent effect. Mami's death in Episode 3 happens completely out of nowhere. (And she's killed by a Monster Of The Day, no less!) The suddenness makes it all the more shocking, and subsequent character deaths are also usually sudden.
- End of Evangelion:
- When Misato is shot by the military, she still manages to limp away, give Shinji an encouraging pep talk complete with a kiss, then stuff him into an elevator before collapsing.
- Asuka died fighting to the finish. She was trashing the MP Evas but then they recovered, plucked her right eye out, impaled her, chopped her into pieces and ate her alive. Her death -and the vision of the MP-Evas chewing her Eva's bloody remains- triggered Shinji's final breakdown.
- Code Geass: Shirley and Euphemia each died from a single bullet to the chest, but their deaths were slow and presumably agonizing with much tears and sad words exchanged between them and their once-potential lovers.
- Darker Than Black: November 11 goes back down the elevator and wanders a very good distance down the street before finally collapsing from his many bullet wounds.
- Trigun: After being shot with a machine gun, Wolfwood manages to warn Vash of the challenges he still has to face, make his way to a church, fall on his knees and utter a confession/Final Speech...that eventually degenerates into a desperate plea for more time.
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, Meer Campbell has enough time to deliver some tear-jerking Last Words after Taking the Bullet for her idol whom she is playing Body Double for.
- In the Wolf's Rain OVA, the wolf Toboe manages to keep fighting for several minutes after being shot in the chest. He even bites Darcia in the arm and then spends a few moments hanging vertically by his jaws, which would be really funny if it weren't for the fact that the poor bastard's dying.
- In Legend of Galactic Heroes, important characters who die tend to die dramatically, such as Siegfried Kircheis. However, there are subversions as well, most notably Yang Wen-li, who bleeds to death alone after being shot by an unnamed cultist, and Reinhard von Lohengramm, who ends up succumbing to a disease.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Inverted, as Splinter dies of a heart attack.
- The Walking Dead: Averted and subverted and played straight. This mostly depends on whether the characters have enough time to mourn for the death. For the most part, characters have no choice but to just keep running.
- I Did Not Want To Die by Kalash93 does this in an explosively spectacular fashion.
- "Every Good Fairytale" has the death of its own protagonist. She's shot accidentally in the torso, justifying the trope. It's vital enough to kill her in the absence of any modern aid, but she has to bleed to death first. This allows her just enough time for her husband to try to help her, for her to get in a few last words, and for one heartbreaking Last Kiss.
- Evangelion 303: Jessika died in chapter 7 when the war plane that Asuka and she were piloting crashed. Her death cast a dark shadow over the whole Part II and especially affected Asuka, who blamed herself for it.
- Blood Diamond: When Archer suffers a fatal wound while helping Vandy and his son escape, he manages to escort them both to the drop-point, kills the Big Bad and covers their escape on the helicopter with a sniper rifle, but eventual succumbs to his wounds. On the plus side, he seems very much at peace with his death, as he calls a friend to essentially say he's fine dieing and that he really likes the view.
- The Brothers Bloom: At the end, after Stephen gets shot in the run down theater, he manages to get up and convincingly trick Bloom into thinking that it was all a big con and that he was just fine. He even pulls off the 'Greatest card trick in the world'. After Bloom leaves, Stephen (in obvious pain) has just enough strength to pull a chair onto the stage and sit down in it before passing on.
- Final Destination 2 has the sole character who survived the previous film taken out quite swiftly and suddenly.
- Why did Star Wars 3 kill off Christopher Lee so anticlimactically, when 2 had shown him to be almost as good as Yoda?
- It's inevitably going to be anticlimactic no matter what if it happens at the start of the movie. It was plenty dramatic, though, especially for everyone who has seen Return of the Jedi and knows how Luke's scene echoes Anakin's scene, only Luke made the right choice that Anakin got wrong.
- The death of General Grievous was also rather abrupt.
- It seems that the minions of Sidious are weak to having their hands unceremoniously cut off, and it's not that hard to do! Every dead character seems to have been taking badass suppression drugs. Sorry Kit Fisto, Aayla Secura, Ki-Adi-Mundi, and Plo Koon. You're awesome, but you're not important enough to the plot to get as prolonged a death scene as Padme.
- Both Jango and his son/clone Boba are defeated almost embarrassingly quickly despite their hype, though in Boba's case, he survives.
- Children of Men is disturbingly realistic. Averted to the point of a Take That against the trope. Anybody can get shot at any time, no Final Speeches allowed, please fall down and stop moving, the remaining characters will be busy running for their lives.
- Add to it, that if you aren't paying attention, the protagonist's quiet death just as the credits roll, can slip by unnoticed.
- The Evil That Men Do. The hitman played by Charles Bronson hurls a knife into his target's throat. He pulls it out and staggers across the room after Bronson, backing him into the toilet before passing out from blood loss.
- The Lord of the Rings does the same thing again, to the same actor even, when Saruman, who had been the antagonist for the better part of the previous two movies, is disposed of rather unceremoniously at the beginning of the third. On the other hand, the entire point of the scene in the book, which is likely what the movie was trying to recreate in a somewhat briefer fashion, is that Saruman has been completely defeated by this point, and has no real power left except trying (and failing) to sow dissent among his foes (it's a bit more complicated than that in the book, but we are talking about a movie that was already over three hours long). I suspect it was sort of trying to show just how far he's fallen by that point.
- Supposedly Christopher Lee insisted that Saruman's death not be overly dramatic, as he knew from WWII how the victim of a fatal backstab would behave...
- Additionally, Saruman's death wasn't even present in the Theatrical Cut.
- Same goes for The Hobbit. Thorin Oakenshield is stabbed in the foot and the heart while taking tons of wounds in an epic duel, but kills the Big Bad in the process. Then he stays alive long enough to give one final speech and goodbye to Bilbo that's really quite sad and dramatic.
- Brando's death in The Godfather is very anticlimactic. 8 shots in the back? No sweat. Playing hide and seek in a tomato garden? Deadly. They almost left that scene out of the movie, and were just going to skip on to his funeral.
- Averted in National Treasure: After a distinct lack of frivolous deaths for the entire movie thus far, when one of the villain's mooks takes one wrong step and dies in the endgame, it has a lot more impact.
- Jimmy Cagney in White Heat. "MADE IT, MA! TOP OF THE WORLD!"
- Subverted by No Country for Old Men, which oddly kills off most of the numerous Red Shirts in a relatively graphic if unspectacular fashion onscreen without shying away but has all of the main characters, including the Decoy Protagonist, killed offscreen and in increasingly undramatic ways.
- Burn After Reading (also by the Coen Brothers,) repeatedly averts this, with the deaths being ridiculous and/or so fast it takes viewers and characters a moment to realise what's actually happened.
- Averted with The Departed, which kills one of its three leading actors instantly with no warning whatsoever.
- In The Matrix Revolutions, Trinity and Neo both receive exaggerated death scenes. Trinity is impaled by metal beams after she crashes a ship into the Machine City, and spends more than five minutes saying her goodbyes to Neo before dying, and as for the title character himself, he is carried away on a metal platform, while other machines look on, because he finally managed to destroy the entire Agent Smith program.
- Of course he got an overly dramatic death scene. He's Jesus.
- Aversions are used to good effect in Final Fantasy The Spirits Within. Humans are totally defenseless against spirits, so all it takes for someone to die is a single swipe from a possibly invisible spirit for them to suddenly collapse in a lifeless heap.
- Played straight and subverted in Serenity, with the deaths of Book and Wash, respectively.
- The third live action Death Note movie L: change the WorLd has a virus that causes people to die extremely dramatically. Doubly so for the scientist that injects himself, it takes him like 5 minutes in completely agony to die!
- The Thing (1982) averts this in a few cases: Bennings, for example, gets one hell of a death scene, while Copper and Windows' deaths are easily missed, what with all the Transformation Trauma going on simultaneously. We never find out what happens to Mac, Childs, and Nauls, but it's strongly implied that they all die. That is one ambiguous movie.
- King Kong (1933) had epic death throes before his fall off the empire state building.
- Many creatures in Ray Harryhausen's movies get this (others die Mook Deaths). Ray tried to give most of his iconic, major characters a bit of pathos as they died, and it often worked.
- Extremely clear at the end of Road to Perdition: the main character is shot in the back by a rival assassin, multiple times. Despite the fact that both are supposed to be experts at dispatching people, he has the time to stay alive for several more minutes, during which he shoots his rival when he threatens his son who collapses instantly and has a little heart to heart with his son before succumbing.
- Most of Reservoir Dogs is spent watching Mr. Orange slowly bleed to death from a gunshot wound to the gut.
- Hornblower: In "Retribution", Archie is shot in the chest, manages to keep on fighting and doesn't really seem totally aware that he's been shot until Hornblower asks if that's his blood. He lives long enough to take sole blame for their captain's demise, saving Horatio's life in the process, then dies from his wounds before he could be hanged for mutiny.
- Pay It Forward. The main character gets stabbed at the end of the story. Once. With a knife that was at most two inches long. The wound was on his left side near the bottom of his rib cage. Cue Slow Motion Fall and then cut to the ER doc telling the family he's dead.
- Unforgiven: In a disturbing scene where a victim of a fatal gunshot wound dies slowly while his partner cries out in desperate rage at the protagonists. The protagonists are forced to awkwardly wait around to make sure the kid dies.
- The Assassination of Jesse James. After Bob shoots Wood Hite in the head, he is alive for a brief period afterwards, long enough for some friends to comfort him as he dies.
- Training Day. When Roger (the Scott Glenn character) gets hit in the chest and abdomen with a shotgun blast moments after a completely friendly chat with the main character, he heaves and sputters in pain and shock for several long moments as he is cruelly mocked by his shooter.
- The Baader Meinhof Complex (or Der Baader Meinhof Komplex, depending). A young conservative shoots Rudi Dutschke three times at close range for his communist ideals. The first shot hits Rudi in the temple, knocking him against a wall. He gets up, and is shot a second time, now in the chest. After he falls down, the gunman tries to shoot him in the head, but hits him in the cheek. After the gunman runs away, Rudi spits up blood and then lurches unsteadily down the street muttering nonsensical phrases until he collapses.
- Harsh Times. Jim, Christian Bale's character is hit violently with a blast from a shotgun while escaping the scene of a drug deal gone bad. The blast absolutely rips the entire side of his head and face apart, and he ends up crying and begging his friend to end his life for a few minutes.
- Zero Dark Thirty: Averted, with a nice touch of realism. Bin Laden is gunned down just as easily and quickly as the other people in his safe-house, by an unnamed SEAL no less. Though those keeping score will know that once Khalid is killed, Osama is the only adult male not yet accounted for in the house.
- For bonus points, the hero doesn't even go on the mission as she's a CIA analyst not a soldier or assassin. She spends a decade hunting him, and only sees him after the SEALs kill him.
- Equilibrium: Mary's character is an important person that John Preston happens to meet when he has to raid her apartment when she's discovered as a sense offender. Especially since after Preston went off Prozium, she makes him think and hits a lot of his nerves which let him admit his guilt after what he's done and what kind of cause he's believing in. Her death hits really hard with the constant use of POV shifts which become more frequent the closer she gets to her execution, making it all the more tear-jerking when he literally misses it by about a second regardless of how fast he was running. Yet, we are still made to witness it as the scene dwells on the POV of both characters.
- In David Wingrove's Chung Kuo, this trope fits the final moments of Wang Sau-Ieyang, T'ang of City Africa
- "El hombre muerto" by Horacio Quiroga plays this trope as straight as possible: the entire story is nothing but one man dying of a machete wound.
- In Harry Potter, almost nobody dies dramatically. Voldemort has a Karmic Death (his own spell rebounds. Again.) and there's a big audience and a big build up, but the actual death itself is rather sudden. Sirius falls through a magic curtain, Dobby dies from a knife wound, Remus and Tonks just show up among the casualties without us even getting to see them die, and even the greatest wizard since forever (Dumbledore) dies from a single curse - though it is described in a suitably dramatic manner.
- This was true as far back as Book Four, where Cedric Diggory was killed casually and quickly. It seems to be a theme of the series that death is sudden and undramatic.
- Snape's death was pretty damn dramatic, though, dying whispers and lingering looks and all. Probably due to the fact that he was mauled by a giant poisonous snake, which would naturally lead to a few minutes of agony before death.
- The movies, however, are a different story. Dumbledore, Sirius, Dobby, Hedwig, and Snape have the drama milked out of their deaths, much more so than the books. But with Snape being played by Alan Rickman, you can't expect it to be any other way. But the drama for Fred's death was cut entirely.
- Subverted in Dragonlance when Flint Fireforge dies of a heart attack. Granted, Weis and Hickman never really let Flint save the day or actually do anything meaningful besides serve as the Butt Monkey all through the storyline, so maybe this isn't too surprising.
- The writers claimed that this was done deliberately to prove that one did not have to die a heroic death in order to be remembered as a hero (to contrast the earlier, very dramatic death of Sturm Brightblade).
- It's hard to see how Flint could be remembered as a hero anyway, given that he never actually got to do anything that was, you know, heroic during the course of the story, except complain about his health problems (which are pretty strange, considering he's supposed to have an 18 Constitution.)
- The writers later fixed this by making him the finder of the Hammer of Kharas, which later was used to forge the titular Dragonlances, in a supporting novel; the details for finding the object were never specified in the original trilogy.
- One of the more gut-wrenching aspects of the Gaunt's Ghosts series of novels is how easily and often important named characters get killed. One of the most shocking and out-of-left-field ones is Colm Corbec at the end of Sabbat Martyr. Then again, this series is about the Imperial Guard, who are the permanent underdogs of the setting.
- Lampshaded and subverted in Alcatraz and the Scrivener's Bones. In the parts where Alcatraz is writing from the narrator's point of view, he talks about why authors love to kill off important characters and mentions that a certain character will die. Then, just as it looks like said character is about to bite the dust at the climax, they end up just fine, aside from a broken rib and a bit tongue. He then comments (as himself) that if he writes his memoirs when he's older, that the story will "seem really boring because nobody was narratively dynamic enough to get themselves killed." The character is then killed on the last page of the book, but not really.
- Fantastically averted in Mostly Harmless when it describes that, between the events of So Long And Thanks For All The Fish and Mostly Harmless, Fenchurch died by way of a rather literal Critical Existence Failure — during a hyperspace jump, she simply vanished, mid-conversation, never to be heard from again.
- It wasn't that she disappeared, it was that Arthur fell into another universe, as evidenced by how Earth wasn't even the same anymore and how there was no evidence of Fenchurch ever having existed at all.
- Usually played straight in Warrior Cats, where Anyone Can Die, the villains get creative send-offs that combine Cruel and Unusual Death and Crowning Moment of Awesome, and the heroes always manage an emotional Final Speech before they expire, sometimes by Heroic Sacrifice. However, this was subverted by Hollyleaf, who after several chapters of a massive psychological breakdown is suddenly killed off by a rockslide. However, general fan consensus is that she is Not Quite Dead.
- She wasn't dead.
- Another notable subversion occurs in Bluestar's Prophecy, where some important characters simply expire between chapters.
- The Hunger Games has a balance of dramatic deaths and non-dramatic deaths. For instance, Rue's death was extremely dramatic, while Finnick just dies from a bite to the head. However, some of the non-dramatic deaths of the people that were extremely close to Katniss were made slightly more dramatic in narration, because Katniss is so close to them. It's Prim, by the way.
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: EVA and Big Boss both have dramatic death scenes. In EVA's case, it's trying to incinerate herself while saving the corpse she believes is Big Boss, then dying in Snake's arms. This is only after she was impaled by a spike in the exact same area she was punctured in during the third game. In Big Boss's case. it happens because of FOXDIE. Even though he's dying, he manages to tie up some of the game's plot points, sit down for a couple of minutes, stand back up, keep talking for a while longer, salutes his former master, collapses, then has time for a smoke break before he passes on. Not bad.
- For the basic Utsuge of the event the death of Naomi is dramatically awesome. How often do videogame characters die of cancer?
- The Metal Gear series has made a habit of these. MGS1 has an impressive series of dramatic boss deaths that manage to get one invested in the characters despite the fact that the plot sounds like it was sketched out by a 15 year old with a couple of books on conspiracy theories and a bad meth habit. When Meryl gets hit by Sniper Wolf, her last on-camera moments even get their own flashback for added drama.
- This is basically the reason why most fans refuse to believe that April Ryan died in the end of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Getting stabbed in the stomach with a plain spear and drowning in a swamp? How is that supposed to be dramatic for a person who single-handedly saved two worlds?
- Subverted in Clive Barker's Jericho. Your 7-man squad (each member of which is a fairly developed character) spends the entire game fighting through a nightmarish hell without any casualties. Just before the final battle, the Big Bad blows up two of your squad members without any fanfare or build-up. Plus, they were pretty much the only two squad members who weren't complete and utter JerkAsses.
- Mass Effect 2 averts this with your entire crew. There are ten (possibly twelve) characters besides you and the fellow with Plot Armor, thus their deaths are very sudden and not dwelled upon at all, Justified by the fact that you are up to thirteen foot-soldiers taking a single frigate to invade the enormous space station from which the designated Hero Killers launch attacks using a cruiser armed with a decidedly deadly laser cannon. There simply isn't time to mourn in this critical a mission. Commander Shepard is the only member of the crew who can receive a dramatic death, and that can only occur after the mission has been completed.
- The third game on the other hand plays this very, very straight most of the time.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2: Despite the fact that Yeul has been seen dying in exactly the same ways (several times, in fact), Serah's death by visionary powers at the end of the game is played for as much drama as possible - complete with a Big "NO!" on Noel's part and a variation of Died in Your Arms Tonight occuring.
- Exaggerated hilariously in Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare with the infamously dramatic death of a random sidequest character at the hands of the zombies:
- MAG ISA — Eman Cruz loves to question the meaning of life in the TWO TIMES he's "died".
- In Kid Radd, the death of Sheena's "little sister" was plenty dramatic, but the second Radd's death was barely acknowledged, poor guy.
- In Homestuck, this is actually a requirement for players who have reached the god-tier. They become immortal - unless their death is either just or heroic. Essentially, they're only allowed to die if it's dramatic. Other than that though, this trope is often averted. Deaths are usually dramatic in context and In-Universe, but the deaths themselves are nearly always undignified and often even comical.
- In The Gamers Alliance, this is played straight with Belial, Hiroshi Hayabusa, Ismail and Leon among others but averted with Koryaksky who dies an undignified death in a back alley.
- Used and averted/subverted in Survival of the Fittest, literally depending on the writer. Most people seem to think that in order to have a good character, their death post has to be milked for every last bit of drama and Angst they can get. While sometimes this is satisfying and can evoke excitement or sympathy, a lot of the time it falls flat, with the readers wanting the poster to just Get On With It Already. Conversely, inactive or fodder characters tend to be killed off like nothing.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender only gets to have a few deaths, but the show milks them for all its worth. Zhao, Jet and Yue all get dramatic death scenes, even if one of them was a bit vague. Roku fights an entire volcano before dying. And although we don't see the actual death, Kya- Katara and Sokka's mother- also gets quite a dramatic one as we see her sacrifice herself for her child.
- "Future Tense", one of the more unnerving Gargoyles episodes, plays with this trope in just about every way possible. Some major characters like Hudson and Xanatos are already dead so we don't even get to see a death scene. Others are killed suddenly without a word like Matt, Bronx, Claw, Angela, and Brooklyn. The only ones who get dramatic deaths complete with last words are Alexander Xanatos, Broadway, Demona, and Face-Heel Turn Lexington who reveals his Evil Plan and unleashes a Motive Rant before going down. Ultimately, the trope is subverted since the entire episode was All Just a Dream and nobody is actually dead.