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Doomed Protagonist
"When I am taken, all my memories will fade, crowded out by eternal suffering. My imagination takes over and I see myself struggling through the body of the King, wracked with agonies and unable to remember any other existence. I know that I will have no more thoughts of freedom or safety or home because my very understanding of the concepts will be lost to me and it hurts. it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts"
— The protagonist of Yahtzee's "The Expedition"

Let's say a character comes across something that Was Once a Man and, after discovering the source of The Virus that made it that way, looks in the mirror to find that he shows all the signs of being infected with it. Cue "Oh Crap." Roll credits.

Or the character learns that everyone who has come before him to a certain place, looked at a particular Brown Note, or performed a certain action has suffered a horrible and irreversible fate. Alternately, their death may be assured by getting lost at sea, locked in an airtight coffin, seriously injured or catching/developing an incredibly deadly illness or disease.

Either way, we know he's screwed. And unless he can Find the Cure, fight off his fate or have some miraculous Deus ex Machina save him, all he can do is sit back and wait to die. In most cases, he's not going to find the cure or get rescued. (Except maybe in Fan Fic. By aliens. Or wizards. Or wizard aliens.) This does not preclude moments of false hope.

The story almost always ends just short of his final transformation or death, and sometimes begins with a later scene that shows him doomed. It is also almost always told from the first person. These stories are usually Apocalyptic Logs.

This may happen because of a Viral Transformation, The Virus or The Corruption. Compare Tomato in the Mirror, when the character was that way all along. Contrast And Then John Was a Zombie, when this is used as an ending twist. Also compare Heroic Willpower, which particularly special heroes can use to resist their fate. Not related to Doomed by Canon or Foregone Conclusion, although they can cover protagonists who are doomed. May lead to acting like a Sheep In Wolf's Clothing.

Since this is a form of foreshadowing and an Ending Trope, spoilers abound.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Guts from Berserk
    • Well, the manga is still ongoing, so this hasn't happened yet, but it is heavily implied to be his eventual fate. Guts is a person who was "Born to fight against Causality", but he is unable to keep it up indefinitely.
  • All the kids in Bokurano, due to the way that mecha battles in this series generally work — if you win, you die. If you lose, everybody in your universe dies.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the magical girls are doomed to become witches — if they don't die first.
    • According to Word of God Sayaka is doomed to become a witch in every timeline that she makes a contract.
  • Seita from Grave of the Fireflies: The first scene is him dying in the streets and then it flashes back to the past.
  • Hibiki of Senki Zesshou Symphogear is going to die. The opening scene of the show is Miku visiting her grave. The rest of the show is functioning as a How We Got Here to this. And then it's subverted when we get past that point.
  • Misuzu from AIR. In fact, this spread like a virus.

    Comic Books 
  • The comic version of Sin City: The Hard Goodbye shows Marv realizing that he was going up against the Roark family: a powerful crime family with many connections and no morals. Marv realizes that he's as good as dead but soldiers on anyway. He even surmises that he'll probably end up strapped to the electric chair, which is his inevitable fate.

    Film 
  • The premise of the classic Film Noir D.O.A. and its 1980s remake.
  • This Gun For Hire, another classic noir, features a betrayed betrayed hitman out for revenge against insurmountable odds. Along the way, he makes a friend and ascribes greater meaning to his goal, but it is clear that there is no real way out for him.
  • The heroine of The Ring (the U.S. version at least), when she realizes that she only has a few days to live after watching the tape.
  • District 9 plays with this trope. It may not be the best example, since the moment of realization occurs halfway through the film, and no one prior to Wikus had experienced it before. However, it definitely counts. He isn't going to die, though, he is just turning into an alien. And Christopher said he would come back for him.
  • Seth Brundle of The Fly.
  • This is the premise of Crank. However, it's subverted, as he ultimately survives.
  • Seven Pounds, in a rare, self-inflicted version.
  • In The Wrestler, the protagonist collapses due to a heart attack and his doctor tells him in no uncertain terms that he has to stop wrestling or he will die. But after he messes things up with his daughter, wrestling is all that he's got.
  • Godzilla in the film Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. He dies of nuclear meltdown due to radiation overdose.
  • The original ending of The Crazies remake had David getting a nosebleed, this showing that both him and Judy were actually infected with Trixie
  • Everyone in Threads. It doesn't look like humanity, at least in the UK, will last beyond a few generations.
  • This is the very idea behind Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, but in a simple crime drama. You know what's coming. And so does he.
  • Final Destination is basically Doomed Protagonists: The Movie Trilogy.
  • The title character of the movie Simon Birch is going to die. You know this from the beginning, as the First-Person Peripheral Narrator is narrating the entire movie over his grave.
  • Alien³ has Ripley with a queen's embryo inside her. Granted, we learn this approximately halfway through.
  • From the beginning, you know that the entire cast of Melancholia is going to die as soon as the titular planet destroys Earth in both the first scene and the ending.
  • The Bloggses from When the Wind Blows are basically already dead once the nuclear war happens.
  • Max of Elysium is given 72 hours to live after getting doused with radiation. And if that wasn't enough, the brain-encrypted data he steals is designed to instantly flatline anyone who uses it.

    Literature 
  • Commonly used by H.P. Lovecraft. For example, at the end of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the protagonist realizes that he shares ancestry with the people of Innsmouth, and is destined to eventually turn into a Deep One.
  • The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson.
  • Several stories by Clark Ashton Smith including: The Double Shadow, Genius Loci, The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis, and The End of the Story.
  • Flowers for Algernon implies that Charlie will eventually die as a result of the intelligence-enhancing operation he underwent, as Algernon and other lab animals died after having the operation.
  • At the end of 1984, Winston and Julia are slated for execution by the Party, and they know it.

    New Media 
  • At the end of the uncensored version of SCP-835's uncensored after-action report, it's revealed that the hero has been infected with The Virus and will soon go into containment with the other victim.
  • Two of Yahtzee's Fully Ramblomatic stories, The Hopeless Endeavour and The Expedition, end this way: one with the main character discovering that he's the latest in a series of thousands of clones infected with a terminal disease that will kill him within a few days and cause him to be replaced with another clone and the other with the main character becoming a prisoner of Chzo.

    Video Games 
  • Damn near every playable character in Eternal Darkness. Which, you know, is inspired by Lovecraft, so...
  • Shirou during the Heaven's Feel route in Fate/stay night, after having his arm removed by the Shadow and getting Archer's grafted onto him. The Dangerous Forbidden Technique that comes from using it would be survivable (though with a reduced lifespan) if he had years of gradual training to ease into it and did not have to overuse it — unfortunately, he hasn't got the luxury of either. Whether this is a subversion or not depends on the ending; in the True End, he gets better, in the Normal End, he doesn't.
    • The prequel, Fate/Zero has this happen to Kiritsugu, who is cursed by the Grail, and dies a few years later, before Fate/stay night begins.
  • The Legacy of Kain series has Raziel. Pain, betrayal, torture, humiliation and death? Oh yes, he has that coming in spades, but his is a more brutal kind of doom: After being executed by his master Kain, he's resurrected as a soul-devouring entity. Later, he becomes bound to a spectral blade known as the Reaver. After traveling back in time he learns that the Reaver is in fact the soul of his own future self, once imprisoned within the blade and driven insane after millenia, and that it is his destiny to suffer the same fate. He resists at first, but by the end realizes it has to happen and accepts it.
  • It looks like Rockman Trigger will remain stuck on Elysium. He's been up there for over a decade, and all of Roll and Tron's attempts to bring him back to Terra have failed.
  • Resistance 2, where Hale has indeed been corrupted by The Virus, and fully transforms at the end.
  • Might be the fate of the two lead protagonists in Dead Rising. even the fate of the survivors are in question, well in Otis' opinion anyway. Also, at the end of the "real" ending, the message "And yet he complained that his belly was not full." is shown.
  • In Halo Wars this is the fate of Sgt. Forge when he enters the sun's core of the shield world.
  • Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. About thirty minutes into the game, protagonist Ryu is "infected" with the dragon power. At no point in the game does he even think about trying to find a cure or a way of fixing his condition. You do the math. Then subverted in the final cutscene when, at the end of his life, Ryu is granted a second chance by Odjn.
  • Dragon Age: Origins. At the end of the game just before the final battle, you find out that in order to kill the Archdemon, a Grey Warden has to strike the final blow and will die in the process. You can choose to sacrifice yourself or ask the other Grey Warden in your party to do it, or Take a Third Option.
    • The joining ritual that the wardens undergo is itself a death sentence. You die 30 years or so later, as your body finally succumbs to the taint.
  • Nearly every ending in G-Darius ends this way. Even the best ending is a little ambiguous.
  • A couple of R-Type Final's endings leave the pilot disabled and floating in space.
  • Persona 3 ends this way. All the heroes know that it is futile to fight Nyx Avatar. Sure enough, after fighting it, The Battle Didn't Count. Shouldn't be all that surprising because it's a Mega Ten game and "Memento Mori" shows up quite a bit in the intro. Its ultimately subverted by the protagonist making a Heroic Sacrifice to contain Nyx Avatar.
  • Final Fantasy X. At first, Yuna is doomed as were all the summoners before her to die after the Final Summoning is performed. Once the cycle is broken, Yuna is no longer doomed, but it becomes clear that Tidus is now doomed because he only exists as a dream of the Fayth and will fade once Sin is destroyed and the Fayth awaken.
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2: Serah. The game also reveals that all the player characters except Fang and Vanille were supposed to be this for the previous game.
  • The ending to the original Diablo has your player character, after defeating the title archdemon, sticking his soulstone into his or her own head to attempt to contain his evil. Come Diablo II, this turns out to have been a very bad idea, and not only did the player character become the new host for the Lord of Terror, but the others were also corrupted by the other Evils and your new protagonist has to kill them.
  • The Nameless One is damned even in the best endings of Planescape: Torment. Somehow it's not a Downer Ending, as Nameless is at peace with himself, and battling in the Lower Planes is old hat to him by now.
    • And you've worked for that damnation almost the entire game - the quest for your mortality (and death) began right at the end of the first "dungeon". On a happier note, depending on who you have with you at the end and whether they survive said end, they promise to come for you.
  • The protagonist of Heretic 2 contacts an incurable virus early in the game and is looking for a cure (and the source) for the most part of it.
  • At the end of Metal Gear Solid 4, Old Snake, having survived fighting numerous Metal Gears, walking through a microwave chamber, and fighting Liquid Ocelot, knows that he only has about six months to live before his artificially accelerated aging finally kills him. But it's okay, because he's happy.
  • In Corpse Party, even if one avoids all the Wrong Ends and follows the True End path, four of the main characters die, along with a plethora of other victims.
  • Jak II: Renegade: After being experimented on for two years, Jak has become corrupted with dark eco. He is repeatedly assured that there is no good waiting for him at the end of the tunnel: first he'll go insane, after which he'll die a slow, painful death. There is no way of taking away the eco, but luckily the Precursor entity within the stone is able to balance him out, halting the effects.
  • Promotional material for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate makes it clear from the start Trevor never makes it out of Dracula's castle.
  • In both Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, the player character is one of the Undead. Sooner or later they will go Hollow — using Humanity and Effigies only delays the inevitable. Due to the nature of the Curse, even death is denied to them. In the first game the protagonist doesn't even try to save him/herself, merely following the advice of others in the hopes of doing something meaningful with his/her remaining time. In the second game the protagonist is lured to Drangleic with rumors of a possible cure that doesn't exist. Ultimately they don't go Hollow though their fates at the end of each game are arguably worse.

Doomed Hurt GuyCharacters as DeviceDoppelgänger Replacement Love Interest
Doomed Moral VictorEnding TropesDoor Closes Ending
Doomed New ClothesDoomy Dooms of DoomDoom It Yourself

alternative title(s): Infected Protagonist
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