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Death Is the Only Option
"In the struggle between life and death, sometimes survival is not the only way to win."

Sometimes the only way for Bob to win is to change the equation — by taking himself out of it. Every option except defeat appears to have been eliminated, so the only way left that might have a chance to win is to stop trying to stay alive. It can be very effective due to that sudden shift in objectives.

Tropes Are Flexible is in full effect; getting all the way to dying or staying dead is not required, and 'victory' is highly variable.

Related to Thanatos Gambit, but with flipped cause and effect. In Thanatos Gambit, death occurs due to victory, since dying means that the other objectives have been completed; here, victory occurs due to death, or at least no longer trying to avoid dying, and only then can the objectives be completed. A Heroic Sacrifice still has options a decent person could take and need not feel bad.

Related to Fission Mailed, a Video Game trope where general failure is required to progress.

May involve a Death Activated Superpower and My Death Is Only The Beginning. Deliberate Injury Gambit is a far less severe related trope. Depending on how far out the character sees this coming or how long they last after becoming terminal, may involve Miles to Go Before I Sleep.

This is a Death Trope, so be aware of spoilers.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Jin of Samurai Champloo uses a move that abandons defense and allows the enemy to stab him in order to get close enough to stab the enemy.
  • In Vinland Saga Askeladda is presented with 2 choices, both of which he hates, so he Takes a Third Option that requires his death.

Comic Books
  • Jesse Custer's plan near the end of the Preacher graphic comic series is to die so that God himself will return to Heaven thinking it now safe, only to find the Saint of Killers occupying the celestial throne. Jesse returns from the dead but comments that still being alive is an empty victory, like using a cheat code in a video game.

Film - Animated
  • Titan A.E.: Captain Korso at first made a deal with the Drej that would let them destroy the Titan in exchange for money and a "Do Not Kill" tag. After Cale Tucker saved his life, Korso returned the favor by using himself as a shunt in a huge circuit breaker to help Cale power up the Titan.
  • Columbia Pictures' Heavy Metal from 1981. Taarna the Taarakian sacrifices herself and her mount to defeat the sum-of-all-evils Loc-Nar. It works, and Taarna's spirit transfers to Grimaldi's daughter, making her the new Taarakian.

Film - Live Action
  • The director's cut ending of The Butterfly Effect invokes this trope: Evan strangles himself with the umbilical cord in his mother's womb to make life better for the people he knew.
  • The T-800 at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day realizes he must destroy himself to prevent reverse engineering of his design, however he cannot self-terminate. John Connor has to push the button.
  • In Looper, Young Joe kills himself to stop Old Joe from killing Sara and ensuring Cid becomes the Rainmaker.
  • Dragonslayer. The only way for the wizard Ulrich to slay the dragon is for him to allow himself to be killed, twice. His first death puts his soul into an amulet. He later comes back to life, and when the amulet is smashed, his body explodes (killing him again), destroying the dragon.
  • In Dragonheart, Draco and Einon's lives are linked because Draco shared his heart with Einon in the beginning of the film. For Einon to die, Draco must die. Bowen refuses to slay his friend, even defying the oath he made to do anything Draco would ask of him (in this case, assisted suicide). He ultimately does the deed when he sees Einon Back from the Dead as hateful as ever and realizes that the kingdom would never be free as long as Einon lived.

Literature

Live Action TV
  • Nikita:
    • Alex is exposed as a mole to Amanda, who then does the requisite cancellation (read: execution) by lethal injection. After her vital signs cease she steps away, checks her nails, then injects Alex with adrenaline to restart her heart, kill chip disabled.
    • Later happens to Sean. Framed for murder and in FBI custody, the only way to save him is to poison and kill him, then snatch the body in the morgue and inject him with an antidote.
    • Ryan takes the permanent version after he is captured by Amanda and in imminent threat of a mind wipe. The only way to get a message to Nikita that something is wrong is to jump out a window to his death.
  • In The Outer Limits episode "Better Luck Next Time", a police detective is manipulated by a pair of malevolent energy beings into being their plaything, intending to turn her into a host after they've tricked her into shooting a fellow cop. However, their hosts burn out rapidly, they can't survive for long without one, and their current hosts are just about to expire. She utters the episode's title just before shooting herself in the head, bringing the energy beings' centuries-long murder spree to an end.
  • At the end of season 5 of Supernatural Sam Winchester allows himself to be possessed by Lucifer then jumps into Lucifer's cage, trapping both of their souls and killing himself in the process.
  • Babylon 5:
    • When Sheridan goes to Z'ha'dum, his only way out from being captured and controlled by the Shadows is to jump hundreds of feet down into a deep pit (or stay in the city and get vaporized by the nuke-loaded ship he called down on it per his mission plan). He jumped, and literally died, but was revived by Lorien.
    • And when Emperor Londo, in the flash-forward shown in "War Without End" (and detailed further in the Expanded Universe Centauri Trilogy), aids Sheridan's escape, he must "submit to his greatest fear" and have G'Kar strangle him before his Keeper awoke and forced him to stop the escape, and likely killed him anyway afterwards for going against its (or rather, the Drakh Shiv'kala's) wishes. (The Keeper did awake, and he and G'Kar ended up mutually strangling each other).
  • In The Twilight Zone 2002 episode "To Protect and Serve", a cop kills an abusive pimp to protect a woman, but the pimp comes back as a ghost and continues his evil ways. The cop eventually kills himself, becoming a ghost and allowing him to defeat the pimp once and for all.

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons' Ravenloft setting has some adventures that require someone to die, although often you can foist this onto an npc. In addition, it has several evil beings and magic items which offer Power at a Price, gradually entrapping a character until dying is the only way to escape.

Toys
  • BIONICLE: In the Chamber of Death, the only way to proceed was for one member of the Toa Inika team to sacrifice himself or herself. Matoro volunteered, but was revived immediately afterwards, as the purpose was a test of courage.

Video Games
  • At the end of Trilby's Notes, the villain needs Trilby alive in order to complete his ritual. Fortunately, Trilby is already fatally wounded by this point, and you can simply type "die" to thwart the villain's plans. Even more fortunately, Trilby is subsequently revived by a mysterious benefactor.
  • The Nameless One of Planescape: Torment has quite a few chances to use his death to his advantage, being immortal. One example is allowing himself to be "killed" by some thugs so he can hear their plans.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3, the "fight" against The Sorrow (when Snake is at Death's door) cannot be won. He is a ghost, so you cannot hurt him no matter what you do. The only way out is to let him kill you at the end of your walk in the river, then use a reviving pill to wake up in the "world of the living".
  • In one puzzle in Simon the Sorcerer 3D, Simon escapes from a locked room by goading the barbarian who's locked in the room with him into killing him, and coming back to life on a reincarnation tile outside the room.
  • the white chamber: A trap involves your character caught in a pixelated game screen. The only way to get out is to set off a barrel of explosives, killing you in-game and restoring you to the real world. It is not the strangest thing you will see in the game.
  • In Braid, dying is required to get some of the puzzle pieces. You can rewind time to undo your death, so no big deal.
    • Only a genius or a cheaternote  can complete the game on the first try with only the minimum required deaths (onenote ), much less completing the secret ending.
  • At the end of Bioshock Infinite, Booker must allow Elizabeth - and all the other Elizabeths from all the other timelines - to drown him before he can make the choice that would, in an alternate timeline, lead to him becoming Comstock and setting the events of the story in motion.
  • Dying and respawning at the midpoint is the only way to access the secret exit in this single-level ROM Hack of Super Mario World. The puzzle is that the hack starts you with only one life.
  • Guybrush Threepwood has his destiny told in The Curse of Monkey Island: he will die at Blood island. The fortune teller on the island gives him the death card five times in a row. He ends up faking it to enter crypts and becomes legally dead.
  • Might & Magic 9 had a part late in the game where you had to enter a place that was like Hell, and you had to die to get there. (How to do that? Well, finding a group of monsters and letting them kill you worked, as did just jumping into a lake; there was one nasty spike-filled water pit that could do it fast. In other words, it didn't matter how.) Unfortunately, after you finished the quest there, you ended up in the mortal world again, and then you had to go to a city where gods lived (it was sort of like Valhalla, to make a comparison). That meant you had to die again to get there. (Fortunately, once you got there, you could cast a spell called Llyod's Beacon to get there from the mortal world without having to die every time.) If the game wasn't a shoddy rush job the concept may have actually been kind of cool.
  • Fate/stay night features this at the end of the Heaven's Feel route when Shirou and Ilya reach the Greater Grail. Each has the ability to stop the Grail, but doing so will definitely kill the one who does so.
  • Death Goes On Relies on knights dying over and over- by, say, being flung by a swinging axe onto a button- so the next one can progress a bit further.

Web Comics
  • Attempted in The Order of the Stick #783: Gannji and Enor are being forced to duel with each other as part of a gladiator tournament. Gannji decides there's no way out until there's a definite victor in the fight, so he tells Enor to kill him, cut off his tail and use it to resurrect him later on. However, Belkar provides them with another option, allowing them to escape without killing each other.
  • In the finale of It's Walky!, Walky has to die so he can enter purgatory and get nudged up into the brain of the Cheese, a God-like robot that's the only thing powerful enough to stop the Martian invasion. Similarly, Alan must kill himself by intangably entering the Cheese in order to get the Head Alien out of control.

Western Animation
Cyanide PillChoosing DeathDeath Seeker
Alas, Poor VillainDying Moment of AwesomeDefiant to the End
Death Is Such an Odd ThingDeath TropesDeath Montage
Dead Man SwitchThe PlanDefensive Feint Trap

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