Three down. Six down. Nine down. You get where I'm going with this.
So you're The Hero
on a dangerous quest, you gather The Team
and rally that Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits
to your cause. Battles are fought, Character Development
is had, Fire-Forged Friends
are made, and hearty laughs are shared by all
Then, as you proceed towards the final battle, your friends start to die.
When an author uses a Dwindling Party, it's to showcase just how dangerous
the situation has become. Not only Can Anyone Die
, but in fact, everyone
is dying! The reasoning is that as audiences grow attached to characters, the Emotional Torque
from their death will resonate more and more with each passing, until it reaches fever pitch when The Hero confronts the cause of all the deaths.
Usually it works pretty well, though there are risks to using this trope. Namely, killing characters off too quickly or without proper characterization
will not elicit the audience's empathy
at the deaths. Also, playing the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality
too straight will allow moderately Genre Savvy
viewers to pick off the obvious Red Shirts
and avoid feeling urgency or attachment.
This trope is usually used only in the Action Adventure
and Survival Horror Genres
because it's kinda hard to write a Love Dodecahedron
when Everybody's Dead, Dave
. There are a few common set-ups to each, but they usually boil down to:
This is a pretty common trope in these genres. However, it carries a few "common" twists that are often used to keep it fresh. While usually it's The Hero or Final Girl
(plus Love Interest
and/or Side Kick
) who survive to the end
, sometimes the last survivor(s) aren't
the ones you'd come to expect, but more the "expendable"
characters. It's also frequently used as The Cavalry
by revealing one of the "expendable" characters survived and came back to help. Then again, whoever said someone
A Downer Ending
where everyone dies throws the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality
out the window.
Another twist is to use this trope before or near the beginning of a story, leaving the Hero as the last survivor
of their squad/family
/ camping trip
. What follows is their rage fueled quest for revenge
on whoever (or what
ever) killed the rest of the group. And thanks to the Inverse Ninja Law
, odds are they'll win
. Of course, it's also possible that their superiors or the authorities force them to go back to help rescuers against their will.
It's worth noting that if this happens to a hero enough times, you have to wonder
why anyone would voluntarily follow him after a while.
Related to Final Girl
and Ten Little Murder Victims
. When multiple characters say You Shall Not Pass
, leading to In the End, You Are on Your Own
, its The Rest Shall Pass
. This trope culminates in Everybody's Dead, Dave
. Compare Minimalist Cast
. Not to be confused with There Can Be Only One
, where characters in the setting are explicitly out to kill/eliminate each other. If the circumstances allow everyone to come back afterward, it's a Climactic Battle Resurrection
. Contrast with We Do the Impossible
, for a team that subverts Dwindling Party (mostly) and
gets the mission done.
As a Death Trope, beware spoilers!
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Anime & Manga
- Berserk does this with the Eclipse that ends the Golden Age arc (and the anime) with Griffith's Face-Heel Turn leaving the entire Band of the Hawknote branded for sacrifice. The Hawks' Raiders pretty much get slaughtered en masse by the monsters from hell, but as the horror continues, each of the important members of the Hawks go down one by one until only Guts and Casca are left. And then it all goes to hell.
This sequence also has an aspect of a Suicide Mission about it, in that two of the Hawks die trying to get Casca away; Pippin gets eaten holding off a bunch of monsters and Judeau takes a spike through the chest for Casca. They succeed insofar that Casca doesn't die, but by the time Femto is done with her, she's been driven completely insane.
- The Hawks began dwindling even before the Eclipse happened, since the moment that Guts left the Hawks for his own reason and Griffith just went on a downward spiral was when shit started going From Bad to Worse for them.
- In the anime version of MÄR, the King literally starts killing off members of Team MÄR one by one until only Ginta and Jack are still alive. Ginta manages to bring everyone back to life later though. Except for Snow, who manages to resurrect herself by merging her soul with Koyuki so she can be with Ginta in the end.
- Angel Beats!
- In one episode, while the group is dodging traps set for Angel on their way to Guild, they are gradually all "killed" off, leaving only the two most central protagonists. Except, of course, they're already dead, so it's impossible for them to die; the "dead" members are all back by the next episode.
- They run this "gauntlet" twice, and are eventually resurrected, however, the story does still play it straight at the end, with the characters slowly actually disappearing and not returning. Though a large number of them simply vanish with less characterization, probably simply because there wasn't animation time to do it properly, eventually the group is left with only five members, and finally they vanish as well. The final ending theme shows this trope heartrendingly well.
- The first of these is actually done as early as episode 3 (with proper background to the character given), just to give you a taste of what's to come.
- Wolf's Rain in the final four episodes... down to Kill 'em All.
- This is the entire purpose of Bokurano.
- Space Runaway Ideon does this during probably one of Yoshiyuki Tomino's most infamous endings. He has the Kill 'em All moniker for a reason.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The cast starts getting picked off rather rapidly as the series draws near the end. First Kaji, then Toji, then Asuka gets her mind destroyed, Rei gets her body destroyed, Shinji gets his soul destroyed, most of NERV is killed, Misato is shot, Ritsuko is shot, Asuka is eaten, Humanity is destroyed. No so much Dwindling Party as much as Dwindling Race by the end of End of Evangelion. By the end of the series only two children: Asuka and Shinji are left on Earth.
- Season endings in Sailor Moon tend to involve the cast getting picked off one by one, with a lot of Tear Jerker Heroic Sacrifices, leaving the title hero to stand up on her own. Of course, as the main character explicitly has "resurrection" as one of her powers, this doesn't stick...as long as you're a main character.
- Zeta Gundam spends the last half-a-dozen episodes killing off the majority of its remaining characters, regardless of what faction they're a part of.
- Victory Gundam is the franchise's best example, since the (named character) death rate is constant to the point of making many viewers suffer from Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.
- G Gundam subverts this. The rest of the Shuffle Alliance all pull a Heroic Sacrifice one after the other to make sure Domon makes it to and confronts Master Asia, but they all turn out to have survived their efforts.
- The Sanctuary arc of Saint Seiya, and to some extent the anime-only Asgard arc and the Poseidon arc were this for the Bronze Boys. It's particularly noticeable in the first example because the Bronzies are all breaking through the Twelve Houses as a single group, until one of them stays behind to fight the residing Gold Saint and distract him/hold him off long enough to let the others through (whereas in Asgard and Poseidon's domain they all split up and then reunited at the very end, and then the dwindling occurred.) The Hades Saga, on the other hand, became this for the Gold Saints once they entered the realm of the dead, often for the benefit of the Bronzies.
- In the last bunch of episodes of Gurren Lagann, all of the front line members of team Dai Gurren are killed one after the other. Being Gurren Lagann, even their deaths are awesome!
- The ending of RG Veda.
- Simoun spends the first seven episodes gathering up Chor Tempest, then proceeds to decimate them via Heroic BSODs, other personal traumas, accidental Time Travel, and bad cases of death. By the time Chor Tempest is finally disbanded in the last episodes, only half of its members are still there. This is even lampshaded in the mid-season episode title "One by One."
- Fushigi Yuugi begins pulling this roughly from the middle of the series all the way to the end, starting with the death of Nuriko. By the end, the only members of Miaka's party left who haven't died are herself, Tasuki, and Chichiri.
- In the Detective Conan Non-Serial Movie The Phantom of Baker Street, fifty kids are trapped in a virtual reality game, and unless at least one of them makes it to the end of their scenario, they'll all be killed. Conan's group, who are wandering around Sherlock Holmes' London, figures out that the minute hand on Big Ben, which started at the 50 mark, ticks backwards one minute for each player who is eliminated from the game. Throughout the movie, the number on the clock gets smaller and smaller until Conan's team is the only one left. Of course, due to various circumstances, even they find themselves getting steadily picked off one by one as the game goes on.
- In Pluto, both Tezuka's original story and Urasawa's revamp, the plot revolves around the seven strongest robots in the world, destined to be killed off one by one by the eponymous Pluto.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica has 5 magical girls. By the final episode of the anime, only two are left, and one of them isn't a magical girl in the first place.
- In Flesh: "Texas", Pat Mills has stated he is aiming to have an average of one character dying each week.
- Garth Ennis's Crossed has this. Some of the characters are killed by the titular sadistic, not-quite-zombie Crossed while others kill themselves or are killed by the other survivors.
- In Pocket God, The first story arc had most of the pygmies die one by one in their quest to revive their Gem of Life. By the end of the arc, Ooga manages to revive the Gem and bring his tribe back to life.
- One Justice League of America story had the team taking on their enemy the Key and all sacrificing themselves one by one until only the John Stewart Green Lantern and Red Tornado were left. Turns out the other League members were secretly saved by the Phantom Stranger at the last minute.
- Invoked and defied in The Dresden Fillies - Trixie lures the group into her castle full of traps exactly for this purpose but Harry pushes his powers to the limit to keep everypony alive.
- Happens to the main gang in the Calvin At Camp episode "Hobbes of the Wild."
- A lighter variation in The Rules: the amount of nations on the island is decreasing, not because more and more are dying (they are, but they keep coming back to life) but because more and more are sending themselves home.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- Clash of the Titans, both the 1981 and 2009 editions have the Argive soldiers killed to a man save for Perseus.
- The Doom movie killed off all the marines one by one with the exceptions of Reaper and Samantha.
- Sunshine uses the suicide mission format.
- Saving Private Ryan has most of the squad die rather heroically. Out of the original squad sent to find Ryan as well as the entire paratrooper force defending the town of Ramelle, only two members of the original squad and Ryan himself survive when Allied reinforcements finally arrive.
- Terminator Salvation John Connor's squad is wiped out in a nuclear flash in the first ten minutes of the movie.
- Predator. And Predators.
- Krull kills off most of the cast, including A: the mentor figure, who dies in the process of finding out where to find the Black Fortress, B: The 'Travelling Man', one of whose wives we meet in a previous scene, and C: Rell the Cyclops, who makes a Heroic Sacrifice. Whereas the hero began with nearly an army, only four of his allies are still alive at the end to walk off into the distance with the hero after he rescues the Damsel in Distress and saves the world.
- Four of the Seven Samurai.
- Four of The Magnificent Seven, following the plot of Seven Samurai.
- In The Dirty Dozen, only Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) survives the raid on the Nazi chateau, along with Major Reisman and Sergeant Bowren.
- In Dawn of the Dead (2004), only Ana, Kenneth, Terry, Nicole, and Chips the Dog survive, but it's hinted they die shortly afterwards when they reach the island.
- The landing on Iscandar in Space Battleship Yamato.
- Non-lethal version in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, almost every stop causes one kid to get bumped from the group, until only Charlie is left.
- Avatar. Jake, Neytiri, Norm, Max, Mo'at, and Selfridge are the only named characters to survive the movie. Tsu'tey technically survives the battle but dies afterward. Eytukan, Grace, Trudy, and Quaritch die in the battle)
- Aliens has three humans and the android surviving. (Too bad for what followed.)
- In the same universe, Prometheus, where the entire crew (and even the titular ship) are killed, save Dr. Shaw and David 8
- Don't forget the original Alien, where the entire plot is centred around the protagonists trying to track down an unknown creature that's killing them off one by one, ultimately leaving Ripley as the lone survivor.
- Whedon's commentary on Serenity states that he was deliberately evoking the Suicide Mission, killing off two main characters from the show and seriously injuring everyone but River Tam, who he put in an inescapable death trap. Then he let some of them live.
- The ten National Guardsmen in Southern Comfort are whittled down to two, mostly at the hands of some pissed-off Cajuns.
- Anaconda with Terri, Danny and Cale the last ones left. It turns out that Sarone had set this up from the start; the crew were his bait for the snake all along.
- Deep Rising with Finnegan, Trillian and Tooch surviving.
- Ghost Ship kills off the entire cast on the haunted ship save for Final Girl Epps.
- Pitch Black, with only Riddick, Imam, and Jack making it off the planet.
- Deep Blue Sea used an interesting subversion of the trope urged on by test audiences. After dwindling the cast down to three people the manly hero predictably survives, but the female scientist and ostensible deuteragonist dies while the black comic relief makes it to the end credits along with the hero instead.
- The Core with Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank's character left standing.
- The Wild Geese: Successive encounters with the Simbas steadily chip away at the ranks of the principals.
- Damnatus invokes this trope once G'gour gets loose.
- The 13th Warrior A few of the other warriors are dispatched in each battle scene till only the title character and two others remain. "Ibn" (as they call him!), Weath, Herger, Edgtho and Hatlaf(the boy) all survive. Plus characterization is given beyond Buliwyf and Herger. Weath is hinted at being a celt, a musician and has a family. Herger is one of the more educated members of the party. Edgtho is known as "the silent" just like in the book and is shown to be the group's dour-mannered scout and tracker.
- Shaun of the Dead starts off with seven characters in the group, which dwindles down to two in the end (and one friendly zombie). Extra materials do show one other character survived and that she maintains 'Christmas card contact' with the main characters.
- The alien guards in Hunter Prey. Soon only our main character is left.
- Centurion ends with only the main character surviving and returning to his new Celtic girlfriend.
- The Thing from Another World is probably the film that popularized the "hunted" variant of this trope, although that particular film actually had a pretty low body count (the only casualties being a few minor characters who are killed off-screen).
- In the remake The Thing out of the 12 scientists by the end only MacReady and Childs are left alive. In the 2011 prequel Kate is the only person out of the 15 people at Thule Station not explicitly killed (Lars is still alive when the credits roll, but dies at the beginning of the 1982 film). To add to the bleak tone, all three of the survivors across both films were last seen in a position where they could have easily frozen to death (assuming none of them were assimilated by The Thing beforehand).
- The Grey where the wolves pick them off one by one. Either that, or the Alaskan environment.
- Not surprising that this happens in The Dirty Dozen, as a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits are sent on a Suicide Mission. The first death happens right when they land with the parachutes, the last while leaving the scene. The others somewhere in between.
- Used in all of the Cube films.
- The Green Mile: When the film starts, there's maybe four or five prisoners in the titular hallway that we get to know and sympathize with. One by one their execution date arrives. By the time it's all over the only people still in the mile are the guards.
- Happens to the group of five friends in The Cabin in the Woods. Invoked Trope, as this is exactly what needs to happen for the ritual to work. Then Subverted when the heroes learn this and refuse to play ball.
- In The World's End, the gang lose Oliver to the Blanks before they fully know what's going on, then Sam flees the town, then Peter is mobbed by the Blanks, then Steven is abandoned with "The Beast". Steven and Sam come back; Oliver, Peter and "The Beast" stay dead.
- In Snowpiercer, the assembled group of rebels gets killed off one by one on their way to the front of the train.
- Done twice in X-Men: Days of Future Past, with both ultimately stopped by Kitty's time travel power.
- This happens in the fourth Lone Wolf book, among others — over the course of a simple mission to investigate a cult trying to bring back an evil god, your entire squad is slowly killed off, bit by bit, whatever path is taken. By the time you arrive there, you're alone.
- Almost any Doctor Who episode involving a group of people. For the Trope Namer of Everybody Lives, they invert it quite a lot.
- This was actually played with in "The Curse of the Black Spot". For most of the episode it seems that there's an evil siren running around a pirate ship and killing off the crew one by one. It turns out that the siren is actually a computer-generated doctor, and everyone she had supposedly killed is perfectly fine.
- Of the five main characters Torchwood started with, only two are still alive. One of whom is immortal and dies as what comes close to a hobby.
- Interesting that the three other members die as a result of Captain Jack Harkness's past coming back to haunt him (Tosh is shot by Jack's brother Grey; Owen's body dissolves preventing a nuclear meltdown caused by Grey; Ianto is killed by a virus spread by an alien who can back after dealing with Jack decades ago).
- While this is true of many horror pieces, Stephen King's Rose Red is notable for this, particularly with the sudden change in frequency of the deaths. Other than Bollinger, no one dies in Part 1; in Part 2 Pam and Vic meet their ends; then in Part 3, in rapid succession, Mrs. Waterman, Professor Miller, Nick, and finally Joyce are taken by the house.
- In the Community animated Christmas episode, Shirley, Jeff, and Britta are evicted from Planet Abed. Troy and Annie stay behind to hold off Duncan and only Pierce makes it to the end with Abed.
- The Halloween Episode of the same season (a spoof of zombie films) also invoked this, with the main cast and one or two recurring characters having to bunker up in the study room. Then at least two of them turn out to have been bit. By the end the entire regular cast save the Dean (who survives by locking himself out of the school) has been turned into "zombies", though things go back to normal once the military arrives and cures everyone.
- The paintball episodes play out like this. The study group members join forces and then get eliminated one by one as they fight the other players. In the end only one remains to claim the prize.
- In the second season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the supporting cast gets picked off one by one, starting with Michelle Dixon in the beginning of the season, and Riley, Jesse (maybe), Charlie, Derek and finally Cameron (well, technically) in the last few episodes.
- In murder mystery Harper's Island, we go from a cast of 25 main characters plus a dozen extras to four survivors out of the main cast: the Final Girl Abby, her Satellite Love Interest Jimmy, the little girl Madison with Infant Immortality and by extension her mother Shea.
- Supernatural has always killed off a lot of characters—one of the leads, Dean, is a leader in the television dying field all on his own—and any single ghost episode sometimes does this. The zombie virus episode, 'Croatoan,' also did it, in proper tropey fashion. Since the end of season six, the whole show has been doing it, killing off or otherwise removing recurring cast members without replacing them with new playersnote and paring things down until, as of December 2011, the main cast has been completely reduced to Ackles and Padalecki, just like at the start of season one. Almost the only other even recurring character still in play is the demon Crowley.
- When you consider they faced the Apocalypse with a team that maxed out at six at any one time, being reduced to two doesn't seem that big a change...
- It looks like Sam and Dean are gearing up for that Butch & Sundance ending the actors keep talking about.
- Seems to be a cyclical thing for the show. Near the end of Season 7, secondary characters began to return or get introduced, and Season 8 continued to build up the character count. Probably in preparation to dwindle the party again during the next serious crisis.
- An episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys has Herc and Iolaus having a reunion with the other Argonauts. Of course, something happens, requiring King Jason to once again gather the old gang and sail. This is when the problems start, with the original Argonauts dying off one-by-one, some through a convenient accident, some killed by an unknown assailant by someone they know. It turns out that one of the Argonauts is the culprit.
- The Walking Dead more and more of the characters die frequently.
- To put this into perspective, we start off with a fairly decent-sized cast that is introduced in the first two episodes. By the end of the season three finale (out of a total of, as of this writing, four seasons with a fifth in pre-production), only five of the starting cast ( Rick, Carl, Darryl, Carol, and Glenn) are still alive.
- Never Wipe Tears Without Gloves. The series depicts a group of gay men in the eighties at the time when AIDS began to spread. By the end of the third part only Benjamin and Seppo are still alive.
- Fort Boyard games tend to develop like this if the team members aren't in best physical condition and/or don't pay attention to water clocks.
- ''The 100 actually number one-hundred for all of about three minutes after landing on Earth, when two are revealed to be dead in the landing craft. It appears the trend will continu, as the producers have joked that by the end of the first season, they should be called "The 50".
- Harry Potter
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or "Sorcerer's Stone" if you're in the US), while they don't die the trio does indeed get whittled down to just one over the course of running the gauntlet to the mirror.
- Over the course of its existence, The Order of the Phoenix (the organization, not the book) was like this as well. When Moody shows Harry a group photo of the original members, we find that over the years they've lost thirteen people, including the Potters and the Longbottoms, with only 9 of them still in the order by book five. While they did get more members in the form of the Weasleys, Snape and others, the order loses basically all of its original members as Dumbledore, Lupin, Sirius and Moody die.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Neville Longbottom, Ginny Weasley, and Luna Lovegood lead Dumbledore's Army in opposition of the Death Eaters' takeover of Hogwarts. Luna doesn't return for the second term when she was abducted by Death Eaters at the Hogwarts Express during the Christmas holiday, and Ginny was forced into hiding along with the rest of her family during the Easter holiday, leaving Neville as the sole active leader by the time Harry returned to Hogwarts.
- In the various voyages of Sinbad, he would get shipwrecked or marooned on far off shores. If his fellow passengers or crew mates weren't all immediately killed, the locals would dine on them soon enough.
- The Three Musketeers: The musketeers and their servants peel off to hold off pursuers, deal with ambushes or tend to their wounds as the eight travel to London, with only D'Artagnan and Planchet reaching their destination. However, everybody survive in one piece, and they are reunited as D'Artagnan travels home.
- Adaptations usually remove the servants for brevity and the party loses only musketeers. One by one, in truly You Shall Not Pass moments. Making the story even more dramatic.
- John Peel's 2099 series killed off the entire human race except twelve children in the first book, and two children somewhat later in that same book. Every subsequent book killed off another two characters, until only two were left in book six. This editor is unsure whether those two survived for an Adam and Eve Plot.
- Battle Royale has this in its very premise, with the twist that the party is killing itself.
- All Quiet on the Western Front is an early example, killing off its soldier protagonists one by one in every way the author can think of.
- Roland's ka-tet in the last Dark Tower book.
- Almost all of Jair Ohmsford's companions die in The Wishsong Of Shannara,'' just about all of them in a You Shall Not Pass situation.
- Dan Simmons' The Terror is pretty much made of this trope. Of course, since it's based on the historical Franklin Expedition, which nobody survived, it's not exactly unexpected.
- This happens in The Silmarillion. Pretty much any character who does anything even remotely heroic gets killed in a series of battles in which things get progressively worse. The number of Elves who survive the First Age can be counted on one hand, and the only reason that civilization was not destroyed utterly was a literal Deus ex Machina.
- Happens in the B-plot (Meanwhile, in the Future style) in the first book of The Magnificent Twelve, with the original Magnifica. The original group gets smaller and smaller, either by members dying, or crossing the Despair Event Horizon and subsequently losing their powers, until by the time the A-plot takes place only Grimluk's left. It gets to Tear Jerker levels when the Plot Line Crossover occurs and the reader pieces it together.
- Against a Dark Background generally whittles down its Five-Man Band of adventurers leaving only Sharrow alive at the end.
- David Gemmell's books usually featured this due to the prevalence of sieges and last stands. The order of the Thirty is based on the idea that they fight in support of hopeless causes and they will die one by one until the last survivor leaves to found a new Thirty.
- Eternity Road is kind of weird about this. At first, it looks like it's heading for an Everybody Lives ending, especially since the first death is a case of Never Found the Body. The first and second deaths both come out of nowhere, but after the second it sets itself up for a Dwindling Party scenario. After the third death, the main character goes through a Heroic BSOD and resolves to keep everyone else alive—and they all make it out, even the whiny merchant who couldn't be lower on the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality if he were wearing a red shirt.
- Rowan of Rin uses a nonlethal variant, as each character encounters their personal worst fear and turns back rather than face it. Rowan's the only one left at the end because he's a Cowardly Lion—he faces his fears every day.
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay begins a mission with nine people, and ends with only three.
- Every single career tribute alliance in the history of the Games.
- In The Odyssey, Odysseus's party is picked off by the fantastical beings they encounter on their journey home. This was part of a curse Odysseus received, stating he would be allowed to finally return home at the end of his long adventure, but it would be at the cost of his men.
- In Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, the characters are at a dinner party (of sorts), and are killed off one-by-one, as you might be able to tell from the title.
- In Lady of the Lake, Geralt's Ragtag Bunch of Misfits is decimated while storming Vilgefortz castle. Milva scores a Mutual Kill with the enemy archer leader, Cahir is killed by the Implacable Man Bonhart while defending Ciri, Angouleme dies in Ciri's arms from blood loss, and Regis (a vampire) is melted into glass by Vilgefortz himself. Add the fact that Dandelion quit the party before that and only Geralt leaves the castle alive. However, he leaves with Yennefer (whom he freed from the castle) and Ciri (who entered the castle earlier).
- The original Pack in The Sight pretty much drop like flies.
- It happens in Galaxy of Fear: Army Of Terror as the handful of Rebel Red Shirts are picked off by the monster that they happen to be carrying and Hoole submits to the Kivan wraiths.
- In Somewhere a Voice by Eric Frank Russell a group of people shipwrecked in hostile alien jungle are trying to reach an Earth outpost. Only the dog is alive when rescuers find them. The story is more about bigotry and What Measure Is a Non-Human?, with the viewpoint character initially considering most of the characters (all Earth humans) inferior.
- Missions led by Ciaphas Cain (from Warhammer 40,000 books by Sandy Mitchell) tend to develop like this. Of course, without Cain the missions would've been doomed from the start.
- The clearest-cut example is from Caves of Ice, where Cain's expedition into the eponymous caves goes from a full squad of Guardsmen, to half a squad, to three, and then down to only two. (Admittedly, he sent the other half of the squad back himself, but only because they were walking wounded.)
- Caine's party in Gone. They start with quite a few members, but they all either Face-Heel Turn one by one so that by Plague, they're left with just Caine himself, Dianna, Bug, and Penny.
- Gregor Eisenhorn's organization is demolished and his team splits up or dies over the course of the latter half of his trilogy, until by the Bequin books he's left with Medea, Cherubael, and one starship.
- Thirty-something people make it to The Mother in Remnants. By the end of the series, only seven of them (possibly eight) are alive: Jobs, Mo'Steel, Edward, Olga, Noyze, Violet, and Roger Dodger. There's some debate about D-Caf, since he completely disappeared from the plot after he accidentally killed Animull.
- Near the end of the The Maze Runner the Grievers settle on a pattern of taking someone every day. The The Scorch Trials continues the trend with more diverse death-dealing implements.
- The Golden Apple has Ulysses gradually lose all his men over the course of the Big Spree, in a series of episodes loosely inspired by The Odyssey.
- Shakespeare's Hamlet: a series of rather tragic events reduces an entire royal court to one man.
- Played for Laughs in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2013 stage musical). While the bratty kids survive giving in to their vices in the novel and most adaptations, here the first three brats seem doomed to dreadful offstage deaths instead — Augustus may well become fudge, Violet explodes in a shower of purple glitter as a result of her transformation into a blueberry, and Veruca (plus her father) are sent down a rubbish chute to an incinerator. There is the possibility that each will be subject to an offstage Disney Death, but the odds aren't great. By comparison, Mike survives his trip into Cyberspace via the Television Chocolate setup, but he won't be restored to his normal height because his frazzled mother prefers him shrunken.
- Up to two party members can be killed in Mass Effect 1.
- Mass Effect 2's final mission can be like this if you don't prepare properly and/or make bad decisions for assignments. In the worst case scenario, only Joker makes it out alive.
- Mass Effect 3: Garrus and Tali may already be dead, and Tali can die on Rannoch if you choose the geth over the quarians. The Virmire Survivor is briefly benched, and you may have to kill them during the Citadel coup. Many former squad members and minor allies can also die over the course of the third game, and during the final mission whoever's in your party will die if you haven't prepared enough.
- Hell Night has this if you aren't careful with navigating the Tokyo's underground tunnels and sewers. All your party members can die, but you can only have one with you at a time.
- In Super Paper Mario, the last dungeon sees Bowser, Peach and Luigi staying back and facing O'Chunks, Mimi and Dimentio (that are doing the exact same thing for Count Bleck), and then falling into death traps. They get better though.
- Tales of Symphonia, during your second trip to the Tethe'alla Tower of Salvation, has each supporting character pull off a Heroic Sacrifice one at a time to help Lloyd rescue Colette. Unknown to Lloyd at the time, they're all saved by either Zelos or Kratos, and return alive later to help out against the next boss.
- Dwarf Fortress. Every single game turns out to be this way, unless you decide to quit early. At least they tend to die off in amusing fashions.
- Happens in Romancing Saga 3 when they trigger various (seemingly) fatal traps, but your members come back one by one when you fight the boss.
- Starts around the halfway point in Halo: Reach and ends with Noble Six (You).
- In Obscure 2, unlike the original, the main cast runs into one horrific Plotline Death after another, until only Shannon and Stan are left standing to face the Bolivian Army Ending.
- The assault on the Shadowlord's castle in NieR leaves only Nier and Kaine alive in endings A and B, with the implication that Kaine's shade is going to take over her body and kill her. Then in endings C and D, only Nier OR Kaine will survive till the very end.
- Knights of the Old Republic Dark side users will have a fairly limited party selection for the last section. Wonder whose fault that is?
- The original ending planned for the sequel (before it was rather aggressively scaled back) called for both Light and Dark Side players to suffer from this, as various party members either turned against you, sacrificed themselves, or were simply incapacitated by the Sith academy's hazards.
- The Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood storyline. You are send on a dangerous errand with Five Elves which compose "The Hidden Guard". Their number starts to dwindle pretty fast. But when you barely knew the first one to die and couldn't really relay to his death, the passing of the last victim is truly heartbreaking.
- This is possible in Fallout: New Vegas, though you have to be pure evil or comically incompetent to make it happen.
- At the beginning of Honest Hearts, the entire Happy Trails Caravan party is killed by the White Legs, leaving the Courier to make the trek through Zion alone.
- Dragon Age II can play like this, with party members leaving due to certain quests or their particular stance in the mage-templar conflict as well as their relationship with Hawke near the end of the game. The only character that is guaranteed to stay with Hawke throughout is Varric since he's the narrator of the story.
- The Dragon Age: Origins original in DLC and only from the enemy POV: in The Darkspawn Chronicles, the Warden has died at Ostagar and Alistair leads their remaining party into the Final Battle, leaving a member to defend every major point in the city. Then you, as a Hurlock Vanguard, come along and kill them all, one by one.
- In Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine', the heroes begin with Tidus, Sidonis, Mira, Leandros, and Inquisitor Drogan among named characters holding Graia. By the end of the game, Drogan has been revealed as a daemon-possessed puppet, Sidonis has been gutted by Nemeroth, and Leandros has sold Titus to the Inquisition over a question of Warp-resistance.
- Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle Of Flesh gleefully uses this trope. By the time the game is over, only two people are still alive. Who are they? Curtis and Jocilyn.
- Final Fantasy IV has an interesting interpretation of this as your party gets picked off, one by one, Of course it's later revealed that every party member has Plot Armor....everyone except Tellah, who stays dead.
- In Duodecim the games starts with sixteen Warriors of Cosmos, but whittles them down to just ten for the sequel. Laguna, Lightning, Kain, Tifa, Yuna and Vaan all die in a Suicide Mission to save the others, Jecht is captured and brainwashed into serving Chaos, Shantotto leaves after defeating Gabranth and we never do find out what happens to Prishe. Luckily, Cloud, Terra and Tidus switch to Cosmos.
- A minor (and non-lethal) case happened during the last cycle. Firion, Cecil, Cloud, and Tidus began the cycle traveling together, but the group gradually broke up as latter 3 left to deal with personal issues.
- Team Fortress 2 doesn't normally invoke this, but there are exceptions. The most notable is Arena mode, where the objective is literally to kill everyone on the opposing team, and respawning is not permitted until the next round. As a result, both teams lose their players one by one, and typically only one or two members on one team are still alive at the end.
- There's also the Zombie mod, which as its name implies, creates a Zombie Apocalypse-type scenario. One team plays as the survivors while the other is the Zombies. The catch is that anyone playing among the survivors becomes a zombie if they die. Often the result is that the survivors' numbers gradually dwindle whilst the zombies grow stronger.
- A more straight forward example would be the Saxton Hale mod, which uses the "hunted" variety. The players are confined to relatively small map whilst a random player is selected to play as Saxton Hale or another Memetic Mutation character. Whoever, they're playing as, they have ridiculously high health and instant kill attacks. Good luck trying to kill them.
- This is seen in the 2008 Turok reboot. Of the two dozen or so Whiskey Company soldiers who survive the spaceship crash at the beginning of the game, only 3 (one of whom is the main character) end up surviving to escape the planet.
- The Oregon Trail can and will be like this.
- Non-lethally inverted in Predator rooms in Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. The "party" is a number of gun-toting henchmen who are initially confident that they can kill the Batman (which they can if they find him). The room is full of vantage points, ventilation shafts, blind corners, and fragile walls that Batman can use to pick them off one by one, reducing the henchmen to an increasingly-smaller number of increasingly-terrified whimpering children.
- After the shit hits the fan midway through Digital Devil Saga 2, this trope comes to play in full force, and you eventually lose all your party members to Heroic Sacrifices. Most shocking, however, is that it's Serph, the (mute) main character, who's the first member of the team to get 'offed! He actually survives due to a literal Deus Ex Machina and conveniently placed vat of healing fluid, But you don't learn this until much later; after the team has been whittled down to half their number. Then he dies for real in the second to last dungeon.
- The final stretch of .hack//G.U. Redemption has you fight against doppelgangers of your party. When said doppelgangers simply respawn immediately after being defeated, your current party will stay behind to hold them off, afterwhich you replace them with another set of reserves. This repeats until about three-fourths of your party is gone, leaving you to pick from the remainder for the final boss fight. They all end up being fine in the end, however.
- The four playable characters in the sequel to Saint Seiya Ougon Densetsu are reduced to just the protagonist by the time it reaches the final stage, as its an adaptation of the Saint Seiya example above: each one of the final three temples "kill" one of the playable characters, making them unselectable afterwards.
- Inverted in Cannon Dancer: one of the members of the Quirky Miniboss Squad actually counts down how many of his allies are being killed until that point, if only because when they are all dead he can claim to be the strongest in the world.
- In Dangan Ronpa, 15 students are locked in a school for the rest of their lives; permission to leave is granted only to the student who murders a classmate and gets away with it. If culprit is correctly identified, then he or she will be executed as a punishment. Needless to say, the body count steadily rises as the students start to crack under the pressure and kill each other (and fail to get away with it) out of desperation.
- Higurashi: When They Cry, especially the Everybody Dies chapter.
- In Muv-Luv Alternative, the squad infiltrating the original hive is essentially this.
- Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors begins with The Ninth Man's death. In most of the endings, after the third room you go through, the bodies really start to stack up. Although Snake lives in all of them... except the "Safe" Ending; play to the true end and Fridge Logic will take care of the rest.
- Its sequel Virtue's Last Reward has some similar endings, one notable one where of the nine, only four characters are left by the third set of puzzles. Two of the characters leave to find the other two dead and seemingly no one around who could have killed them...
- In Worm, the Brockton Bay Wards — which only had seven members to start with — suffer repeated losses over the course of twenty-two arcs: Aegis and Gallant are both killed by Leviathan, and Browbeat moves to another city; Shadow Stalker ends up in juvie after Regent gets through with her; Chariot — their only recruit — was a traitor to start with and vanishes in the aftermath of Coil's arc; Weld — the hero transferred in to lead the team — leaves the Wards altogether when the truth about Cauldron comes out; and Flechette outright defects to the villains.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, of all shows, provides an example of this (which is, albeit non-lethal, not any less tragic). The 2nd season pilot thematises how the 6 protagonists are lured into an enchanted maze by Discord, the antagonist, and get hypnotised and subsequently psychologically broken by him one by one. He even spares Twilight Sparkle, the last of the cast, just so she can see what he has done to the others.
- In "The Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn", one of the most universally praised episodes of the Dungeons & Dragons TV show, the kids have to help Dungeon Master get to the eponymous locale to restore his powers so he can save them all from the Bigger Bad. So important is this quest that at various points one hero after another has to be left behind, either due to a separation that leaves them in a dangerous locale or to hold off some terrible threat so the others can go on. By the time they reach the dungeon and are facing off with Venger, only Hank and Sheila are left. Of course everyone makes it (albeit by the skin of their teeth), but it was one of the most suspenseful and exciting episodes of the series.
- This shows up often in Bad Future episodes. The imaginary Bad Future episode in Gargoyles, "Future Tense", has the band of heroes dying off left and right as they assault Xanatos' who is also Dead All Along base. One of them gets a poignant death scene with Famous Last Words, others are killed suddenly without a word for extra shock value, and one turns out to be the real villain right before he is killed off. In the end, the only main characters left alive are Eliza and Goliath who is himself dying. Thankfully it was All Just a Dream created by Puck in a bid to take the Phoenix Gate.
- In the Teen Titans Episode "Fear Itself", the group is stalked by a monster throughout their tower. Raven is the only one to make it to the end, and it turns out the monsters were manifestations of her suppressed fear. Everyone else gets better though.
- Happens in the last episode of Mighty Max. Several of the main characters perform a Heroic Sacrifice to help Max escape, and in the end he faces Skullmaster all alone.
- In the Young Justice episode "Failsafe", the Team is killed one-by-one. Then they wake up, and find out that it was a mental simulation gone wrong.
- In the The Penguins of Madagascar episode "The Hidden", Mort is taken by chameleons, leaving the penguins, Marlene and the lemurs to go in and try and rescue him. They are picked off one by one until only Kowalski remains. He manages to fight off the chameleons, but finds out that they are actually friendly and only took each member of the group to take them to a party.
- Generator Rex: Doctor Holiday and three other scientists (Bouvier, Volkov and Rhodes) are trapped aboard a space station taken over by an AI. Bouvier tries to escape, but his escape pod ends up damaged and hurtling off into space, presumably killing him. Rhodes is Thrown Out the Airlock when she and holiday try and fix the situation, but she's rescued at the end because of her space suit. Volkov and Holiday then just sit and wait Rex to save them