Fate Worse Than Death

"A fate WORSE than a fate worse than death? That's pretty bad."
Edmund Blackadder, Blackadder Goes Forth

Think death is the cruelest fate? Think again. There are several things much worse: torture, taxes, and tofu, to name but a few. And more often than not, some unlucky soul will experience it. Originally, this phrase meant rape; that's still one possible meaning, but now there's even worse than that.

This phrase is usually used in a Just Between You and Me moment by the Evil Overlord as they boast about the agony-inducing Death Trap that awaits the hero for delaying their plans. It's also fairly commonly used as a warning to the hero against seeking forbidden power or knowledge, and consequently to foreshadow the particular Karmic Death the villain will suffer because of meddling with the universe's Cosmic Keystone.

If the victim is immortal, this fate may even replace death, which might suck royally.

Mercy Killings are common when heroes find anyone in this state. If the character can beg for help, I Cannot Self-Terminate occurs; if they can act on their own, they are often Driven to Suicide. Indeed, since all involve choosing death over a given fate, the characters often conclude that that fate is worse than death. Contrast Cruel and Unusual Death, for when the victim instead gets a gruesome death that sucks beyond telling.

See also: Cruel Mercy, Empty Shell, To the Pain, The Punishment, Room 101, And I Must Scream, and occasionally Cool and Unusual Punishment. Tailor Made Prisons may be this by nature or design in order to torture its prisoner. Not to be confused with A Fête Worse Than Death, though the two can occasionally overlap.


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  • The drawing Esto es peor ("This is worse") by Francisco De Goya from his The Disasters Of War shows the body of a mutilated body of a Spanish fighter spiked on a tree, surrounded by the corpses of French soldiers.

    Fan Works 
  • Mister Greeter, a Hell/Human AU of Axis Powers Hetalia, begins when America meets Arthur Kirkland, the Greeter of Hell, and insists he is there by mistake. While the first chapter and England as a person are both deceptively nice, the next chapters describe Hell, literally. Later in the series, America risks being moved to a higher level. Basically, a worse sentence. And his torture is considered mild.
  • Advice And Trust: After finding out Rei was emotionless because she was being ordered to taking drugs in order to render her obedient, compliant and emotionless, Asuka declares she would rather die to be turned into a puppet:
    Asuka:""Don't... don't let that happen to me, Shinji. Don't let them do that to me. Or you. I'd rather die."
  • Batman Beyond Revisited: If Chainsaw doesn’t kill you for failing him or insulting him, then you become his slave instead. Signified most of all by shock collars.
  • People in Glass Houses, a Warehouse 13 fanfic in which a run in with an artifact (antique snow globe) ends with Myka trapped in a giant glass ball for three days, and at the end of the third day she stiffens into a statue unable to move or see (she closed her eyes right before she lost control) in the center of said ball, complete with water and glitter but fully aware and able to hear everything around her for ELEVEN days before she is finally freed.
  • The Royal Audience: A Mole Cricket Story: In the flashbacks a process known as extraction occurs when the Changeling Queen orders that all the love (energy and life force) is drained from a changeling, rendering them inert and petrified but completely aware. What's worse is that Commander Blatteria uses extracted changelings as furniture.
  • Pattycakes: Some readers have commented that they'd rather be cupcaked - i.e. killed and eaten - than end up like Dash.
  • The Legend of Link: Lucky Number 13 throws a fair amount of And I Must Scream around, but there are a few instances where it settles for this trope instead:
    • Link is captured by the exiled pirate queen of Great Bay, chained figure-eight style in a well, and tortured for four years while his Healing Factor keeps him alive.
    • After Link defeats his father, he opts to strip him of his power and immortality and describes it as "worse than killing him." Immediately subverted:
    • The Originals robbed Hadrian of his ability to kill, and otherwise left him unharmed. Considering he's a War God Blood Knight, this could be seen as the ultimate insult. Worse yet, since damage dealt by the Originals is impossible to heal, even by the strongest gods, he's stuck this way forever.
    • Varia and Takara are captured and held for eight months as test subjects for human experimentation. They are starved, tormented, emaciated... and, due to their Immortality, unable to die.
  • The One I Love Is: After trying to cause Third Impact to reunite with Yui, Gendo gets trapped in a sorts of deserted Limbo, separated from his wife forever... which is his personal vision of Hell.
  • Tales of the Emperasque has it's share of this:
    • For ten thousand years, Jaghatai Khan is trapped in a hyperspace vortex where making a step can take hundreds of years and time and space are inconsistent with themselves.
    • Corvus Corax spends the same time being Driven to Madness by crazy, ever-changing labyrinth without exit, crafted for him by his brother.
    • Vulkan fights for ten millenniums on a daemon world with Everything Trying to Kill You, being killed and resurrected over and over.
    • One particularly unlucky Tau is launched out of an airlock in the middle of Warp and promptly becomes daemonbait.
    • Whenever Dark Eldar dies, his soul becomes a chew toy of Slaanesh, god of Nightmare Fetishists. Eldrad Ulthran nearly suffers the same fate, only to be rescued by the Emperor at the last moment.
  • In Shining Armor's side story of the Pony POV Series, the arc's Big Bad Makarov has one of these planned for Shining (as revenge for Shining's dishonorable insult of not knowing who he was), which he goes into great detail about. To sum up: he intends to remove Shining's horn and install a mind-control device in his brain that will take away his ability to talk or control his body and send him to a slave mine, where his genitals and all other excess body mass will be removed (and fed to the Diamond Dogs running the mine), before being condemned to labor in the mine for the rest of his life, all with him still conscious and unable to do anything. Fortunately, Makarov is defeated before he's able to do any of this.
  • In All You Need Is Love Naomi gets angry when Raye goes missing and Light and Duck aren't concerned. She issues the following threats to get them motivated:
    Naomi (to Light): ...when I kick you out that's where you're going! Roommates with Misa and Ryuk!
    Duck: Why haven't we done this before?
    Naomi: Shut up I'm not done with you either, if you don't procure his body you'll be forced into elementary school years before your time and I'll make you bring Light Yagami to parent-day so you can profess what a wonderful relationship you have.
  • In the Death Note and Vocoloid's Dark Woods Circus Fusion Fic A Madman's Circus anyone who is unlucky enough to attend Beyond Birthday's Circus of Fear are doomed to become part of the Cirucs. Poor, poor Light Yagami...
  • In a Harry Potter fanfiction called Sisyphus, Harry is forced into a redo of his life. Over. And over. And over. Every time he dies, he wakes up again, eleven years old. He is not pleased.
  • You Got HaruhiRolled! suggests that Kuyou routinely brainwashes Fujiwara into having sex with her. After the deed is done, she gives him Laser-Guided Amnesia so that he doesn't suspect a thing.
  • Imperfect Metamorphosis has this happen to poor Rin Satsuki twice over. First she's transformed into a blind, nearly deaf, immortal, immobile blob that can barely communicate. When she discovers she can regain her senses by absorbing people she's "punished" by being imprisoned in small airtight box, which lasts for decades until she's finally freed.
  • In The Masks We Wear Azula (and probably both Zuko and Ozai) has some very interesting plans for her uncle should he ever fall into the Fire Nation's hands again.
    "If they ever found him, uncle was going to be made to explain himself. Preferably at knifepoint. Over lava."
  • Most characters in The Infinite Loops consider winding up in Eiken to be this, as it's essentially mandatory softcore porn without access to any of their abilities; since this usually happens after they seriously break their loop, it's considered ironic punishment. Later it was revealed that it's not actually punishment to go there, but the Admins put them there while they repair the damaged loop in order to prevent the loop from never have existing in the first place.
  • In Sonic X: Dark Chaos, the people who are killed or Mind Raped by Dark Tails suffer this. He takes their souls and uses them for eternity as conduits of Dark Chaos Energy. And the punishment for high treason in the Demon Empire is eternal torment.
  • Antonio from Auf Wiedersehen Sweetheart. Alfred in We'll Meet Again was also tortured by the Gestapo, but he manages to make it back to Arthur.
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender fic Opheliac, Azula describes having one's bending removed as this.
    Sokka: Aang should have done to you what he did to your father.
    Azula: Now, that's cruel.
    Sokka: Hardly. It's fair, isn't it?
    Azula: No. It's the farthest thing from fair you can possibly imagine.
    Sokka: You think that it was crueler than killing him?
    Azula: Yes. It's hard for non-benders to imagine. Think of it like this - what if I cut off your arms but left you otherwise alive and well? You would never be able to fight again, you would never be able to - actually, imagine I cut off your arms and your legs. You would never fight, never walk, never be independent or free or strong ever again. You would go from being who you are today to a - a burden, something others have to take care of, unable to take care of yourself or do anything for yourself ever again. Now, is that crueler or kinder than killing you outright?
    Sokka: I...see.
  • Played for laughs in the Harry Potter/The Munsters crossover Dodgers, Dresses, Teddy Bears and Spot. Grandpa takes all of Voldemort's soul fragments and puts them in a teddy bear, which he gives to Harry as a birthday present. As a magic teddy bear, Voldemort can move, but he can't hurt anybody.
  • In another Avatar: The Last Airbender fic, Morality Chain, Azula tries to make Zuko feel better about having to kill Aang (a twelve-year-old kid) by telling him what the Fire Nation has planned for him if they ever manage to capture him.
    Azula: Hands and feet are to be amputated in order to prevent any controlled bending. A single ten-by-ten cube constructed entirely out of metal to prevent earthbending. Dry air to be pumped into the room constantly and a single cup of water as rations to prevent waterbending. An airlock system that can disable the pump at a moment's notice to prevent firebending or airbending. Also we'll drop his daily rations through a hole in the ceiling to prevent him from coming into contact with anyone and possibly arousing their sympathy. There was also talk of putting out his eyes, which admittedly wouldn't be really useful in terms of nullifying his bending, but hey, why not?
    Zuko: All that for one kid?
    Azula: All that for the Avatar.
  • In Zelda's Honor, the Nevachreans have this as a whole; they cannot permenantly die except by special means. So death by drowning, starvation, being run through with a sword or even exploding is just a minor setback for them. They can't even taste the food they eat.
    • Verbalized word for word by Francis Gorman in Glaun'rung of the poor souls that comprise part of the Temple of Ballos. When they lacked actual building materials for the temple, they started using the undying bodies of the slaves themselves to finish constructing it!

    Films — Animated 
  • One of the best lines from Aladdin: The Return of Jafar is the Genie Jafar's response to being reminded of his inability to kill: "You'd be surprised what you can live through."
  • In The Book of Life, unlike the vibrant, unique, and happy Remembered, the Forgotten are all dull, similar, moaning zombies who randomly turn into dust. Made all the worse when not everyone deserves to go there; its just what ultimately happens when no one alive knows who you are regardless of deeds.
  • Toy Story:
    • For toys it is a terrible fate to be forgotten by children, left alone and abandoned without no one to love them. Even getting shelved, like what happened to Woody and Wheezer in Toy Story 2, is almost as bad.
    • Worse is to be tossed into the garbage, as Stinky Pete says, "spending eternity rotting in some landfill." Conscious the entire time, until finally all your plastic parts degrade into a puddle of goo.
    • In Toy Story 3, Lotso winds up tied to the front of a garbage truck by a truck driver who had a Lotso-Hugging-Bear as a kid, with other, decayed toys strapped to the truck to show Lotso what's ultimately in store for him. Previous Big Bads, Sid and Stinky Pete, received crushing defeats but ultimately wound up better off, but this guy was so extra evil that he was given this fate instead.
  • In Pinocchio, the boys who end up on Pleasure Island end up being permanently tranformed into donkeys through their drugged beer and cigars whenever they act up. The majority of them are then shipped out to the harshest of conditions to work as slave labor while the few that can still talk are dealt an unspeakable, unseen fate, although you must wonder how much sentience the "lucky" few still possess and how much longer it will last...

  • Creature Feature's aptly named song "A Fate Worse Than Death", which is actually not so much about this trope but more about how incredibly many horrible ways to die there really are, and yet that the fact that you'll be dead afterwards means your fate was still much better than the one this trope entails.
  • A song called "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye", tells about a soldier (named Johnny), who came home alive from a war, but is so horribly disfigured and crippled that even his family could not recognize him. Since he can no longer walk or use his arms and hands, they decided to have him beg on the streets (Ye're an armless, boneless, chickenless egg Ye'll have to put with a bowl out to beg;). The lyrics said very pleasing things about his loss of legs and arms (Where are your legs that used to run, hurro, hurro; Ye haven't an arm, ye haven't a leg, hurroo, hurroo), him being overly skinny (So low in flesh, so high in bone;).
  • The song "One" by Metallica details the life of a soldier, after he loses all his limbs, his sight, his speech, and his hearing due to a landmine. He has machines that breathe for him, and so he's unable to die. His mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body.
    Darkness, imprisoning me! All I see, absolute horror! I cannot live, I cannot die! Trapped in myself, body my holding cell!
  • In Hitobashira Alice (Alice Human Sacrifice), the Third Alice is condemned to live forever seeing herself as a decaying body, as a punishment for fooling and using people to become a queen. Whether it was an illusion or if she was constantly decaying until she rotted completely is debatable; either way, both punishments are valid for this trope.
  • Len's fate in the song Re_Birthday (which is very possibly a continuation of the Evil Series). He is doomed to spend eternity in an empty room with his hands bound in red handcuffs (representing blood shed) and his ankles bound in blue shackles (representing tears spilled), all while reliving the sins he committed in his life. It's made a little more jarring in that Rin, who ordered him to commit all of those atrocities to begin with, gets off essentially scot-free. In the end, it's her lullaby that ends up saving him, and they both get to be reincarnated as twins, just as they had wished for.
  • Depending on how you look at it, the fate of the doctor's wife (and possibly the doctor himself) from a song of the same name by The Clockwork Quartet. The lyrics are written as entries in the doctor's journal, detailing his beloved wife's slow death by an incurable disease. He becomes more and more obsessive in his attempts to save her, until he has sacrificed his business and his entire life in order to keep her alive...to no avail. By the last stanza she has died, but the doctor replaced her heart with a mechanical device that keeps her other organs alive. The doctor is completely maddened by his tragic inability to let her go, and his wife is kept in a permanent state between life and death, unable to simply pass away because he won't let her.
  • "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" by Eric Bogle (and later covered by The Pogues), about a young Australian rover sent off to the Battle of Gallipoli:
    Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit,
    And when I woke up in my hospital bed
    And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead—
    Never knew there were worse things than dying.
  • Mentioned in "Keep Quiet" by The Protomen. 'They say, this city, she's been dead for years now, so death is not something that scares me. There's worse things than death here.'
  • Many descriptions of the fates of the Egyptian dead in Nile songs contain this element. Some of these souls can get particularly unlucky and wind up in And I Must Scream situations.
  • The eponymous pirate in Alestorm's Captain Morgan's Revenge curses his mutinous crew to this: "As sure as hell's my final fate, you'll all soon die or worse!".
  • The Song That Never Ends.
    This is the song that never ends
    It just goes on and on my friend
    One day I started singing it, I don't know what it was
    And I will keep on singing it forever just because
    This is the song that never ends...

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Hell is supposed to be this by design, though the exact method of inflicting it vastly varies depending on who you ask, with the standard method being death, making it an aversion of this trope.
  • Mark of Cain. In some interpretations/translations of the Book of Genesis, Cain is made immortal by God, forces to live forever, because he caused the first death.
  • Norse Mythology has Loki's fate, chained to a rock with the entrails of his slaughtered sons, and tormented by a snake perpetually dripping poisonous saliva into his eyes. Being The Trickster, he escapes after a while... just in time to take part in The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Classical Mythology:
    • Prometheus was chained to a rock to forever have his ever-regrowing liver eaten by an eagle. Since he was a god, he could not die. Fortunately, he was later freed by Heracles, who took pity on his plight.
    • The Underworld was full of these (a sort of Fate Worse Than Death plus Regular Death). Tantalus killed his son Pelops and tried to feed him to the gods when they came over for dinner. In response, the gods killed him and placed in a pool with water up to his chin and delicious fruit dangling above his head, but whenever he tried to bend down and drink the water or reach up and grab the fruit, the water would drain away and the fruit would be blown just out of reach by a gust of wind (hence the word "tantalise" entered into the vocabulary). Sisyphus, punished for cheating death, was forced to roll an incredibly heavy boulder up a steep slope. When he was about to reach the top, the rock would tumble back down the slope, forcing him to start over. The Danaeids were also punished for murdering their husbands, forced to try and fill a water trough using jars with no bottoms.
      • The only relief that the three mentioned ever got was when Orpheus arrived. The song that he played asking for Eurydice's soul back not only melted Hades' heart, but quenched Tantalus' thirst, halted Sisyphus' boulder, and kept the water inside the jars... until he left.
    • Atlas, who has to hold the Earth (or the sky, according to The Other Wiki) on his shoulders from the beginning of the world until a few thousand years ago, when the Greek hero Heracles, better known by what the Romans called him (Hercules), builds "the pillars of Heracles" to carry Atlas's burden.
    • The personification of Dawn asked Zeus for eternal life for her lover Tithonus... and forgot to ask for eternal youth for him. Consequently, he got so old and feeble that eventually he turned into a grasshopper.
    • Pirithous and Theseus won the idiot award by trying to carry off Persephone, wife of Hades. Hades invited them to a feast and tried to dissuade them, and when they refused to give up the plan, the bench fused to them. Heracles was able to save Theseus (who was only there to help Pirithous), but Pirithous was trapped there for eternity for his impiety and unquestionable stupidity.
    • Ixion was strapped to a flaming wheel in Tartarus for eternity, in a horrible cross between a stretching rack and being on fire. His crime? Kinslaying, severe violations of host-guest obligations, and trying to rape Hera while a guest of Zeus.
  • In the Fourth Branch of Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi (Middle Welsh tale, probably 11th century), Gwydion (the Anti-Hero) tells Blodeuedd (a Femme Fatale) "I won't kill you, I'll do that which is worse to you" before turning her into an owl (he was serially turned into animals as a punishment earlier in the tale, so presumably knows what he's talking about).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer has almost everyone who serves Chaos, eventually mutating into a mindless beast. But a particularly notable instance is Count Mordrek the Damned. As he's a chaos warrior, "the Damned" would usually be redundant. He constantly and violently mutates within his unremovable armor suit, and every time he dies the chaos gods bring him back to life. And unlike most people they do things like this to, he still appears to be sane and thinking, and remorseful over what they make him do.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Happens to everyone, one way or another, who runs afoul of Chaos, whether it's being consumed by its endless hordes of daemons, a "mishap" while traveling though the Warp or going anywhere near one of its Negative Space Wedgies. (Unless you're an Ork, in which case it's the best afterlife ever.) Even its servants don't avoid it, as their final fate is either dying (and then a daemon or five comes to collect on its contracts), transforming into a mindless, deformed Chaos Spawn, or achieving immortality as a Daemon Prince, only to spend the rest of eternity fighting the Endless Game between the Chaos Gods.
    • This is inevitable for all Eldar, as if they die and their soulstones are destroyed their souls are immediately consumed and tormented for the remainder of eternity by the Chaos God Slaanesh.
    • This is the Hat of the Dark Eldar. Their souls are constantly being sucked away by Slaanesh, and to stay alive they must feed on the pain and agony of others. So they've become very good at causing incomprehensible pain, while at the same time keeping the victim alive. (One novel describes the victim of a Homunculus' attentions as a collection of skin and organs hanging individually from the ceiling on metal hooks... and the poor guy was still alive.) The torture may go on for millennia before the victim is finally given the mercy of death. There's a reason why the blurb on the back of their codex reads "Pray that they do not take you alive".
    • Isha, one of the few surviving Eldar gods, was spared from death by Slaanesh because he/she/it wanted to "claim" her. Her fate got better ever so slightly, for she was rescued by Nurgle who's smitten with her. However, Nurgle keeps her in a cage and loves to give her "presents", and since this is Nurgle, all of his "presents" are horrible mutations and diseases. (Nurgle's servants don't count because they enjoy this sort of thing.)
    • One of the novels has a variation on this. A Chaos Marine, feeling remorseful about abandoning his loyalty to the Emperor, decides to kill the leader of the warband he is in. However, the attempted assassination is botched and the traitor is knocked unconscious and captured. He awakes in total darkness, unable to move or speak. He awaits his coming torture and interrogation, but it never arrives. The story ends as he realises he has been placed inside a Dreadnaught coffin, effectively granting him immortality but sealing him off from the world forever.
    • The God Emperor has been entombed on the golden throne for the last 10 millennia, fully conscious, and fully aware of the collapse of his vision of humanity into a barbarous, mindlessly fanatical totalitarian nightmare.
    • Arco-Flagellation, a punishment The Ecclesiarchy and The Inquisition inflict on certain heretic and blasphemers. The condemned have both their hands lopped off and replaced with some nasty weaponry, followed by getting a back full of combat drug dispensers, and a healthy dose of Mind Rape. The result is a wasted, wiry cyborg who wears a hood displaying calming religious images, but with the right command word the visor retracts, the stim-packs activate, and the former heretic goes berserk.
      • This is actually intended as an inversion; arco-flagellation is a method of penitence. As bad as the torture is, they aren't kept around for very long and are used as extra cannon fodder/bayonet rushers for the actual military. The idea is, through death in battle the heretic's soul is considered redeemed and the human will find his final judgement before the Emperor.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Several spells and abilities, for example, one spell in the Sandstorm book can turn a victim into a voiceless gust of wind or trap them as sand in the desert until released. An Epic spell, "Damnation", teleports the target to Hell, and screws with their thoughts to the point where they believe they deserve the punishment. This says nothing at all yet about some truly unpleasant spells found in the 3.5 edition Spell Compendium.
    • Avasculate, a spell that does not kill you- it reduces you to half your current hit points rounded down (0 is not death)... by causing you to purge any and all sorts of bodily fluid through your skin.
    • Avascular Mass takes this one step further- you purge your blood vessels themselves through your skin, complete with blood in.... and then creates a 'web' effect out of those very veins, trapping you and anyone in 20 feet in a mass of ANIMATE blood vessels that are trying to grab you all. Talk about a horrifying experience...
    • There are spells like Cast in Stone and Flesh to Stone that can, depending on how you understand it, leave someone a conscious statue for all eternity, even if they're eroded away to a pebble or shattered.
    • In the beginning, this was considered to be the case for Drow transformed into Driders (a dark elf centaur, only replace "horse" with "giant spider"), and the transformation was a punishment by Lloth. Driders are much stronger and tougher then ordinary dark elves, have more spell-like abilities, and these abilities are more potent then the ones that ordinary drow have. Additionally, Lolth has had various drider-like forms (when she was first introduced to the game, she resembled a huge spider whose head had been replaced with that of a female drow). If you're thinking this doesn't make sense, you aren't the only one; since 4th edition, becoming a Drider is now a blessing from Lolth, and they are respected and admired by Drow instead of being chased out of the city. It's reserved for those who fail a loyalty test. And sort of brings them closer to her. For extra fun, Lolth "copyrighted" this shape (if a drow is polymorphed into a drider without her handmaiden's authorization, the spell is soon reverted, presumably attracting her attention in process).
    • There is a sword in Book of Vile Darkness that on a critical hit or killing blow rips the soul from the victims body and tortures it until it is released. And in terms of spells, it's hard to beat "Eternity of Torture," which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
    • There is a spell used against vampires called Sunfire Tomb. It makes them feel as if constantly being burned by the light of the sun, without dying.
    • A deity in Dungeons & Dragons, Torog, was cursed by a primordial with eternal imprisonment in the Underdark and grievous wounds that will never heal. Despite his still vast powers many consider his existence to be a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • In Mutant Chronicles, the Dark Legion has a metric crapload of different kinds of Fate Worse Than Death. Having your motor functions shut down while you can still see and hear everything, being driven to madness, tortured, possessed, turned into a zombie grunt...
  • Vajra Enterprises has a whole game named Fates Worse Than Death. The setting isn't the prettiest place imaginable, as you perhaps already guessed. Then again, sourcebooks get funny names: "Fates Worse Than Death: Cheerleader".
  • Wraith The Oblivion: As all inhabitants of the underworld have all already died, one might think that the worst has already happened. Unfortunately, given the setting, that's just the beginning. Common fates include being torn apart by angry, eternally damned spectres, trapped in an endless maze full of angry, eternally damned spectres, becoming an angry, eternally damned spectre, and being boiled alive in molten ore to be forged into weapons and or objects. Which doesn't end your existence. And you still might end up being used by an angry, eternally damned spectre.
  • New World of Darkness:
    • Geist The Sin Eaters depicts something similarly to what becomes of the dead in the Underworld, especially with the depiction of some of the Dead Dominions. One of the worst is the Ocean of Fragments, a place where all memory and identity is gradually washed away. ...Except that isn't so bad at all. The Ocean actually washes away identifiers, the memories that define who you are as a person. Thus, a mechanic who had his memories of being a mechanic would still know engineering, he just wouldn't have the memories of ever having used them. Thus, it can easily wash away "I was horribly abused as a child" and "I am a sociopath". This, combined with the ultimate goal of washing away the ego itself - and with it, the ability to feel pain, as you are no longer a person to hurt - means that, in a way, the Ocean is actually one of the few things that can truly improve a ghost's lot.
      • That said, the game never actually specifies what happens to those who reach the bottom of the Ocean. Some say that they go to their next life, and the wiping of their memories is thus needed to allow them to be reborn. Some say they go on to Heaven, and it's meant to make them pure enough to enter it. Some say that it just leads to oblivion - that the ghosts who make it down there disappear entirely, their essence flowing back into the cosmos. In any case, their time - being the person they are - in the World of Darkness is finally, after many long centuries, finished.
    • In Changeling: The Lost, Changelings who get recaptured and taken back to Arcadia are never seen again. Considering the insanity and torture they escaped from to begin with, a swift death rather than life under one of the True Fae is probably the best outcome they can hope for.
  • Exalted has more than a few of these. From the Monstrances of Celestial Portion, to the Organ of Agonies, to the horrific Mind Rape certain social Charms can allow, the villains of the setting can do a lot worse than merely kill you.

    Web Comics 
  • Spoofed in Irregular Webcomic! strip #671, where Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs is demoted into the Fate department, as A Fate Worse Than Death. He has no idea on how to go about it.
    • Also, in strip #1954, "a pirate curse can be a thousand times worse than death".
  • Dominic Deegan:
    • Karnak falls into Hell and becomes a demon lord, even though he was just trying to save the world (and Murder the Hypotenuse). Celesto Morgan and the Infernomancer suffer a different Fate Worse Than Death: exile to an alternate plane of pure horror. Although they escaped...
    • The Infernomancer suffers this again, this time for good, after dying and going to Hell. Immediately after he wakes up in Hell, naked and powerless, he is wrapped up in chains by his former master whom he betrayed, Karnak. And Karnak is grinning like a kid in a candy store.
  • Erfworld:
    • If the ruler of a faction dies while having no heir, all of their cites go "neutral". Neutrals are frozen in time until someone attacks the city, and if they repel the attack, they presumably get frozen again until they are attacked again. It has not been specified whether or not the neutral units are conscious during the time they are frozen or not.
    • In the finale of the prequel, Inner Peace through Superior Firepower Part II, Charlie and Betsy Mind Rape Jillian, remaking her mind in their own image. In her final moment as herself, she considers this fate to be worse than croaking or even losing her side.
  • The Order of the Stick:
  • Riane in Alien Dice considers being a captured Dice to be a Fate Worse Than Death. In this case, though, it's used in the same way it originally meant, as the dialogue implies she was raped during captivity. In Legacy, she actually confirms this, though she uses politer, albeit sarcastic, terminology. No wonder she gleefully encouraged Lexx to kill her.
  • Being possessed by a slaver wasp in Girl Genius. At least, according to Mr. Rovainen and Agatha.
  • Characters that get to live in dream world in 1/0 says that it's this trope.
  • Jack's speech in Zebra Girl: "Somewhere, there's a man. He doesn't want to be where he is... but he's there and he'll stay there until he thinks of a place he'd rather be less".
  • Parodied in Ansem Retort. Jesus (yes, Jesus) concludes that trying to train the cast of Ansem Retort was worse than being crucified on the cross.
  • Parodied in the Order of the Stick Fancomic Murphys Law, where taking a level in Dragon Disciple and Monk are horrible.
  • The hyenas in Digger have such a punishment. They call it having one's name 'eaten' and it means that the accused will be ostracized from their society and treated as a pariah and a nonentity. Said person has to live far away from the tribe, scrounging up an existence like an animal, and will be henceforth addressed as "it".
  • Bob and George: For George, it's been a Distressed Dude in Unwilling Suspension. (Given that he had spent months in this situation before...)
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • This delightful little fate for Zoe. (maybe)
    • Alt-Rammer: "And she'd be dead now if not for the machines keeping her breathing ... She cannot be fixed. She cannot survive off of those machines. Too fragile for morphine. Her few conscious hours are spent screaming from the pain of the nerves that will never heal." Damn.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! For Fructose Riboflavin, a fate worse than death is having his terrifying reputation destroyed because the world has learned his tragic origin story—now people feel sorry for him. He responds with a big ol' screaming Big "NO!".
  • In Homestuck, The Ψiioniic, for his crime of assisting in the Sufferer's rebellion, was forced to use his psychic powers to pilot Her Imperial Condescencion's flagship, kept alive by the Empress's powers.
  • In Dave Hopkins' Jack, fates worse than death are commonplace, if not standard - not surprising, since the main character is the Grim Reaper and the setting is usually Hell. A few specific examples include:
    • Silverblue, a girl who has to relive the same rotten day in Hell - during which she gets tentacle raped, eviscerated, eaten alive, watches her only friend get torn to pieces and finally cuts her own wrists - over and over and over again for what is apparently over 150 years, merely because she committed suicide.
    • Drip, who usually metes out fates worse than death, at one point gets reduced to... well, his face; death in Hell usually only results in immediate respawning, but in this case Jack made sure he would survive indefinitely as a chunk of immobile flesh.
    • A particularly interesting example is Todd, who was a soldier in an equivalent of World War I; when his commanding officer ordered him to machine gun the children of a village so they would not grow up into enemies, he obediently complied. Home on bereavement leave, he discovers his wife has hanged herself, and commits suicide to be with her. In Hell, he doesn't miss an opportunity to claim it was all out of his hands; all is down to fate, he is responsible for nothing. And sure enough, he ends up as a character in a comic book written by the Devil hirself...
  • In "The Property of Hate", Toby is ripped into twenty pieces and stitched back together with his own nerves. Not only that, but he is completely unable to move or change his expression. He's an ever-smiling rag doll. And though it's Played for Laughs, there are a couple times in the comic where the wind blows him over, and he's unable to see anything at all.
  • In The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, when Santa Claus comes back to life to seek revenge on Wonderella for (accidentally) killing him, Wonderella gives him one of these: Santa becomes the intellectual property of Disney. And they NEVER give back.

     Web Original 
  • ARCHON implies this for undead. Overlaps with And I Must Scream.
  • Oran's speech to the defeated scumbag Mars in Chapter 19 Act 3: "I have seen you scum—staked to the ground at night—belly and manhood split wide, wailing as jagged beaks tear and peck—as a million insect jaws carve the pulp. And when morning comes, I am standing over your seeping husk. You cannot turn from the horror. You cannot stop the rising sun that burns you into blindness. You cannot close your eyes... for I am feasting on their lids.
  • In the web-novel Fragile, Severin's insanity is portrayed as such. During the course of the story, Page even says that he would have rather seen him die than experience it.
  • The SCP Foundation uses this quite a lot. For example: SCP-145.
    • SCP-231-7 is legendary for its use of this trope, not only for the victim herself but for those forced to keep her from giving birth to the final "prince", as allowing her to give birth would probably lead to The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Suburban Knights Big Bad Malachite. The end looked like he was destroyed by Ma-Ti, but an additional video revealed a worst fate... working in a Wisconsin coffee shop. Any attempts at villainy are met with a Dope Slap from his boss and escape is impossible. To make things worse, he's surrounded by the technology he sought to destroy.
  • At the end of his Death Battle, Starscream's spark was last seen interred within Rainbow Dash's belly. In an Q&A, it was stated he was still alive, but the only machinery in Equestria is a sewing machine. Boomstick even lampshades this trope afterwards.
  • Worm: Bonesaw has this as her MO to the horror of many. Grey Boy, Bonesaw's teammate, also does this - his power (to trap people into a repeating time loop that only he can affect, which he does by adding simple, painful attacks and letting them keep repeating until the person is driven insane) discourages him from lethal tactics.
  • The mal in The Sick Land.
  • Lampshaded with Colin Hunt in Season 7 of Arby 'n' the Chief. Being part of an evil clan alongside Sadist Eugene and Psychopath Tyler, Colin is revealed to be a Pedophile. Also by the season's end, Eugene commits suicide and Tyler is shot and killed by a cop. Colin is still alive, but thanks to Arbiter and Master Chief's intervention is now rotting in prison for a LONG TIME.
    Arbiter: Not sure how long Colin will be imprisoned for, but due to the fact that he's a white, introverted software nerd and a kid fucker, he'll likely be targeted by his inmates for rape and sold as a cell bitch for a pack of smokes.
  • Ax-Crazy Psycho Ex-Girlfriend Latrodecta tries to do to this to the protagonist of Superhero Black Hole: Every time he tries to use his abilities to prevent a car accident from occurring, she'll go back and worsen it.
    Latrodecta: You will try to jump back, but I will follow you. You will try to act, but I will prevent you. You will try to elude me, but I will outfox you. And every time you do, I will make this accident even worse. You will live with the full knowledge that you’re incapable of preventing this destruction. You will live in your own personal hell. Every waking moment of your immortal life will be your death.
  • Unfortunately common in Polyhistor Academy, ranging from graduating outside of the top 10%, to being Deimoss latest victim.
  • In Citadel there was once a man dying of cancer. His bitterness and rage transformed him into the being called Chemo. During his brief rampage through Carson City, he spread a cloud of toxin that left everyone exposed in absolute, horrific agony. No damage to their bodies, no illness that could be treated, just simple pain. It didn't end when he was killed and no Healer active at the time was able to so much as lessen the effect.

Alternative Title(s):

A Fate Worse Than Death