Dying for Symbolism

When the Grey has to die for the sake of the White.

Let's say that you are watching a movie, and that the world is plunging into chaos. Of course the world is going to hell, but throughout all of it the main character's friend is still as hopeful and optimistic as ever. Eventually the main character feels that there is no hope left, and that the world is essentially over. How do the creators of the movie decide to show this? Well, sorry good buddy, you are about to be killed.

Essentially, this boils down to when a creator wants to convey some symbolism, and in order to do so someone either dies, is severely injured, falls ill, etc. It can apply to any character who happens to symbolize something. Insane character sacrifices themselves, means sanity is restored. Optimistic character falls into a coma, means optimism is wearing very thin, and so on. Death is often a popular option, due to being a somewhat safe bet to make an impact while not requiring being totally original. The character may die in the Crucified Hero Shot, often when their death represents something positive. It seems like whenever symbolism needs to be conveyed, someone simply has to be attacked or killed.

Examples often symbolize something of the work or an aspect of it, be it an event, change in character, or even the franchise itself, though it can reach outside these boundaries. They are deliberate as well, so don't look to far into works lest you find faux-examples as in What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?? They are meant to be fully intentional, and occasionally Word of God can confirm so. Rule of Symbolism may be employed in order to convey the symbol, especially in more abstract works.

See also It's All Junk, a very similar trope relating to the destruction of objects.


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     Anime & Manga  
  • End of Evangelion Really, all of these are up to anybody's guess, but Kaworu's death possibly represents the death of Shinji's sanity, Asuka's death could mean the death of Shinji's hope, Misato's death could represent the death of Shinji's love (Gendou might count), and the god-like Rei's death at the end is symbolic of who knows what. This movie is virtually the definition of Mind Screw, so you may have a different interpretation.
  • Slightly more literal in Axis Powers Hetalia - the characters are the nations, so the death of a character is the fall of a nation (e.g. Rome). If the nation gets into dire straits (economic crisis, social strife etc.), the nation gets sick.
  • In Bleach, Aizen tries to kill Head Captain Yamamoto (regarded as the history of Soul Society) to symbolise the defeat of the Gotei 13. He fails. However, later on, Yhwach succeeds where Aizen failed and does indeed kill Yamamoto to symbolise the defeat and destruction of the Gotei 13.

  • An in-universe example: In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf mini-story "The Only Begotten Son", Tapper points out the similarities between Empath's "death" as an infant and Jesus' death on the cross in that both deaths have resulted in bringing forth many to become adopted children — with Jesus' death, the humans becoming adopted children of God, and with Empath's "death", his fellow Smurfs becoming adopted children of Papa Smurf.


  • The Lord of the Rings': Gandalf's sacrifice to save the party marks the nadir of the hero's morale, his death symbolises the progress of evil forces in Middle Earth, and his resurrection and color upgrade (from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White) announces the necessity, at the end of the opus, for the hero to go meet death at the Grey Havens.
  • Lord of the Flies The makeshift society gradually goes into chaos, and when Simon dies, it represents the death of the innocence of the kids on the island.
    • Even more powerful is Piggy's death. Simon's death was sort of an accident. Piggy's death shatters any remnant of civilized order among the boys and represents the death of reason.
  • In Camber of Culdi, Cathan MacRorie, Master of Culdi and Camber's heir, begs his king to release the human hostages taken after a tyrannical Deryni lord is murdered. Cathan is Deryni, but he argues for the common humanity and innocence of the hostages. Later, Cathan is literally stabbed in the back.
  • Hedwig's death in the Harry Potter series is supposed to represent the death of what remains of Harry's childhood.
    • Harry's sacrifice itself is a symbol of Jesus' death, if the series is compared to Irish Catholicism, which J.K. Rowling is part of.
  • There's a pretty direct example in Clocks that Don't Tick. Guess what happens when Hope (The girl) dies? Hope (the concept) dies as well.
  • Don Quixote's death signifies the death of Chivalry.

  • In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Banquo is more conscientious than Macbeth and tends to point out what Macbeth ought to be doing. After Macbeth Jumps Off The Slippery Slope, he has Banquo killed; this represents the loss of Macbeth's moral conscience.

  • In Metal Gear Solid 4, Solid Snake's advanced aging and terminal illness (ending the game knowing he will die in a few months) is used to hammer home the creator's message that the series is a Franchise Zombie.
  • In Red Dead Redemption Marston's death is there to reflect the end of the Wild West and the inevitable turn towards civilization.