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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 Fęte Worse than Death, though the two can occasionally overlap.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Angel Beats! starvation/dehydration is seen as a Fate Worse Than Death, since they can't really die. More so is becoming an NPC since they have no soul.
  • Another ironic punishment: the greedy, thoroughly evil and immortal Gemma from Ninja Scroll gets encased in gold and sunk to the bottom of the pacific ocean — where he'll presumably remain, conscious and immobile forever.
  • The ultimate fate of Father in Fullmetal Alchemist is heavily implied to be this. Having been defeated and Truth freed, he is dragged into the Gate of Truth, begging that he not be sent back in there. He is last seen screaming in terror.
    • Also Nina's fate. As a preschooler, her father, desperate to retain his State Alchemist license and cling to the science he lived by, used alchemy to transmute her with her dog, resulting in a monstrosity that leads Scar to kill her in sympathy.
  • The reveal at the ending of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is a terrifying one. Imagine you are a little girl that gets kidnapped by the Yakuza and sold to an Evil Inc.. Then you wake up with an old creepy japanese man groping your now Uncanny Valley mechanical body dressed as a hooker, as your conscience was replicated to the body of a gynoid in order to make it more human-like. Congrats! You are now a Sex Bot! And it happened with A LOT of other girls It can be a Fridge Horror.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Toguro the Elder suffers such a fate. It's dealt by Kurama, who plants a parasitic tree on him that uses hallucinations to catch and trap prey until it has drained all of their life energy and killed them, at which point it discards the corpse. Since technically Toguro the Elder can't die, he is doomed to eternal frustration in the form of trying to kill an illusory Kurama, who not only won't die no matter what Toguro does to him, but doesn't fight back, or even show signs of feeling pain, and tops it off by smiling when injured. Kurama lampshades the trope by saying afterward that death was too good for him anyway.
    • What King Yomi did to the demon who blinded him? Yomi nailed the guy to a wall for five hundred years, then finally killed him in one hit by stomping on his face so hard that his head exploded.
    • Being a koorime (ice demon) and living on their floating ice mountain. Hiei was thrown off the mountain the day he was born for the crime of being male. Having found the mountain again, he doesn't carry out the plan to slaughter them all that has become one of his life goals... because he considers their pathetic lives a crueler punishment for their crimes.
    • Hiei's "birthday gift" to a depressed Mukuro near the end of the manga. He finds the evil slave dealer who owned and brutalized her as a child, and fuses the guy to a parasitic plant that will keep him alive and heal all injuries unless his brain is destroyed.
  • Baccano! tells the tale of a group of immortals that cannot die and will quickly regenerate any lost body part. They can, however, feel pain. This is taken full advantage of by the writers, who seem to have no problem subjecting these poor souls to some rather... unfortunate experiments, including poking out eyes with a hot poker, daily mutilation, tossing people through grinders, and giving someone Cement Shoes and leaving them at the bottom of a river to perpetually drown. For a year. And, quite possibly worst of all, drinking the Elixir of Life while mortally injured. One character actually drinks the Elixir as he was stabbed in the throat. And since he was stabbed before he drank it, he can't heal. Ever. So, unless he finds someone who can preform a Mercy Kill, he'll spend eternity with a gaping hole in his throat. Fun times. Makes you think twice about wanting immortality.
  • In Naruto, Shikamaru faces off against Hidan, an immortal ninja. He easily defeats Hidan, and in vengeance, cuts off Hidan's (still living) head and buries it in a hole where nobody would ever find him. Deprived of his ability to kill, Hidan will eventually die for real, but it'll take a long time.
    • The fate of the first four Hokage, all of whom are stuck in the stomach of the Shinigami where they will suffer for all eternity. Or so we're told; how anybody can actually know the final results of that technique is unexplained. Until Orochimaru comes back yet again and cuts open the Reaper's stomach.
    • Throughout most of the series, Itachi's and later Sasuke's Tsukiyomi illusion. When first revealed, it was used on Kakashi to trap him in a dreamworld where he was stabbed repeatedly for 72 hours. and apparently all in his head.
    • It was later revealed that Itachi had an ever worse Fate Worse Than Death-rendering equipment. His totsuka sword supposedly put Orochimaru in a world of dreams for eternity.
    • What happened to Anko Mitarashi. Imagine if you have something in your body that Kabuto Yakushi wants and can't take from you if you die (the remains of Orochimaru's chakra). What will he do to you? Beating the shit outta you, then keeping you alive and carrying you around with one of his snakes wrapped around you, slowly draining said chakra from your almost lifeless body to absorb it better. Not even MADARA liked that!
    • Poor Samui and Atsui have been sealed inside a tool which happened to be eaten by the Gedo Mazo, and then absorbed by Obito. No one even knows if they are still alive or were transformed into chakra for the Jubii.
  • In the Narutaru manga, Komori is killed and his Shadow Dragon Push Dagger attempts to absorb him into its body to turn the guy into an Otohime so they can reach their most powerful evolution. However, they're found by government agents... and the next time they're seen is when Sudo shows Akira that their still half-merged bodies are hooked up to a machine that slows down the process, effectively keeping Komori from either fully dying or being "reborn". Urgh.
  • In Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash☆Star, Michiru and Kaoru Kiryuu are condemned to this by Lord Akudaikhan, who paralyzes them and places their still-sentient bodies at the bottom of a lake. They get better after half a season.
  • Rue almost gets trapped in one of these fates by her "father", the Raven in Princess Tutu. After her Heroic Sacrifice for Mytho, The Raven locks Rue into a Lotus-Eater Machine inside of his body, where she's put in a trance and forced to dance non-stop until she falls dead as he saps her out of her life energy. She gets better once Mytho comes for her, though.
  • Katejina Loos, in Victory Gundam, ends the series as a blind, amnesiac cripple who has nothing to do in life but be an empty shell of a person. However, since Katejina crossed the Moral Event Horizon more than once, that can be considered her just punishment.
    • Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer gives us assimilation. Your body is slowly converted into an alien crystalline substance starting with your limbs and ending with your still-alive head... which you can feel happening around you as your nerve receptors are still registering your muscles and tissue changing form. Worse still this happens from the inside out, as you can see the blood-covered crystals making their way through the skin. In the end, it turns out that this was only because the ELS had no real idea how to properly assimilate a human body. By the end of the movie they've got it right, and even the victims from earlier are shown to be fine.
    • The end of ∀ Gundam has Gym Ghingnham trapped inside the Moonlight Butterfly cocoon created by the Turn units. What makes it worse is that since the nanobots in said cocoon can maintain and regenerate anything and anyone, Gym's going to be alive for a VERY long time.
  • The short story The Enigma of Amigara Fault is about people who after walking through a hole in a wall, slide through the mountain for 3 months while their limbs are stretched into ribbons, eventually to become a formless mass. And they are alive during the entire punishment. Drr...Drr...Drr...
  • Code Geass: Schneizel el Brittania, whose final fate is becoming geassed by Lelouch rather than dying an honorable death. As Lelouch steals THE "honorable" death for himself later, it is clear that Schneizel is destined to remain mind-controlled by Zero forever.
  • Diavolo gets this punishment in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure after being killed by Giorno's Golden Experience Requiem. He is killed repeatedly in various ways for eternity, each time not knowing how he's going to die. The last time we see him, he's screaming at a little girl to get away from him, having grown insanely paranoid.
    • This fate also befalls Kars in Part 2. Having turned himself into a boulder to avoid the effects of a volcanic blast, he's launched into space, unable to change his trajectory. The solitude eventually causes him to stop thinking completely.
      • Kars' SBR universe expy Magenta Magenta in Part 7 suffers a similar fate, as his stand 20th Century Boy protects him from all attacks and even death so long as he remains motionless, and ends up being thrown into a river so deep he cannot swim out of it. He hopes for salvation in the form of Diego Brando, but he eventually stops waiting and stops thinking completely.
  • This happens a lot in the manga Franken Fran, because (as Y: Ruler of Time put it) to her there is no fate worse than death. In one chapter, Fran catches several people attempting to break into her lab and steal her medical research. At the same time, she had been pondering a question proposed to her by a friend, and so decides to test it by surgically altering the men into dog beasts, grotesque mockeries of canines which look rather like the Egyptian Ammet. She then uses them to point out the lady who hired them, and then drags her off screaming and surgically alters her into another dog beast. It is unknown what their final fate is, but it is certainly worse than death.
    • In a later chapter, Fran's "little sister" blows up a nearby family gathering, thinking they are going to attack the lab. The only way Fran could "save" them is to merge all of their bodies together into a living human latticework. This prompts Fran's little sister, a living arsenal and an assassin with no remorse, to remark "shouldn't you just let them die?".
    • Fran saves a wealthy young businesswoman after her entire body is burned by using artificial skin made of cockroach shells. Guess which insect the OCD businesswoman utterly loathes? Ironically, she looks perfectly normal, but the concept of being skinned with cockroaches completely breaks her mind and it's implied that she started tearing off the skin on her face. A short omake in volume 2 showed that she takes the operation again, gets over the creepy feeling, and admits to Fran that she overreacted. Then, when she removes the bandages, it turned out that the genes fused weirdly during this operation and cockroach legs are now growing out of her face, breaking her mind again.
    • Possibly the worst of them is the woman who wanted immortality (and wanted it all to herself, so she had the scientists who helped her towards it murdered); she steals Fran's research and has Fran's throat cut, but that's not enough to kill Fran, who manages to sew her own head back on. But the murderous woman gets the immortality she wanted — in the form of a gigantic conscious but immobile tumorous mass.
  • The anime version of Jadeite from Sailor Moon who was frozen in crystal for his many failures to get energy for Queen Beryl.
    • In the S Season, Mimete uses a machine to turn her into energy and transmitted herself on giant televisions. Then Telulu came along and pulled the plug. If said machine is unplugged while the user is still transmuted, they're trapped inside forever. Mimete was turned into energy, and energy can't be destroyed. So, she's trapped in an empty black void forever, alone and unable to die.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Rika Furude has been stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for somewhere between a century and a millennium. In most iterations, one of her friends will go insane and kill a bunch of people. In every iteration, Rika is murdered, usually disemboweled while she's still alive, and most or all of her friends die within a few days. Then she's resurrected in the past, and goes through it all over again, and she's the only one who remembers what's happening, but enough important details keep changing that she can't manage to stop it.
    • Umineko no Naku Koro ni inflicts a similar but even worse fate on Battler, since the loop is much shorter and between "games" Beato spends her time having the Stakes reduce him to a pulp over and over. ...Which is nothing compared to EP6, where he gets trapped in a closed room/horrific logic error and spends years trying to escape. A lot worse than it sounds.
  • In the same vein, in the Endless Eight of Suzumiya Haruhi, Yuki Nagato remembers everything, so more or less she's been going through everything for about 596 years.
    • So she gains emotions, and proceeds to Retcon reality so that Kyon can decide whether a world without Haruhi is better. Her boss isn't happy, and starts deciding whether to kill her. They decide not to kill her. Instead, they elect her to be the ambassador to the Sky Canopy Domain; exposing her existence and sanity to something which is as alien to her as the Data Overmind is to humans. A lesser being would Go Mad from the Revelation.
  • In Black Butler II, Hannah turns Ciel into a demon so Sebastian can no longer eat his soul. The catch is that because of an order he gave in an earlier episode, Sebastian can't stop being his butler until he eats him, making him Ciel's servant for all eternity.
  • Done humorously in Kamen no Maid Guy. Anyone who uses a camera to spy on Naeka will get frozen in place for half an hour, unable to close their eyes, and their video feed is replaced by a video of the fish salesman taking a bath.
  • Even Pokémon has done this. At the end of the Team Galactic arc, Cyrus creates a new universe... and walks into it. The portal closes behind him and is then destroyed. Fans argue if he can survive, but the nature of the series and some past canon indicate that he can. However, this means that he's going to drift in empty space for the rest of his life, unable to do anything but watch his creation, and unable to stop himself from aging. Bear in mind that he's not even thirty. He could live for another century in what amounts to a void, all alone and powerless. A world with no emotion is what he wanted, so it could be paradise for him.
  • What happens to Princess Ixquic in Cyborg 009. She can't die since she's a Robot Girl with a huge healing factor. She can't interact with the outer world unless some conditions are met. And after said conditions are broken in such a way that they won't ever be met again, she's stranded in time and space... forever.
  • Many of the serial killers in MPD Psycho specialize in this. Just a couple of examples include a lunatic who cuts off his victims arms and legs, while raping her during the process, before stuffing her in an ice chest and mailing what's left of her to her boyfriend, the series protagonist. Then there is the killer who cuts open their victims skulls to plant flowers that take root in their brains. Both of these killers go through their entire process while keeping their victims alive.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Shadow Realm. In the Shadow Realm, your worst fears (Examples: Kaiba and defeat, Mai and isolation) play out over and over in front of your eyes for eternity. This became more prominent in the 4Kids dub, when being sent to the Shadow Realm was the substitute for death. Oh yes, it's much less frightening to be tormented eternally than to be killed!
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica becoming a magical girl is a Deal with the Devil. Every time a magical girl uses magic or suffers negative emotions, her Soul Gem becomes more corrupted. The only way to keep the corruption at bay is by killing witches, horrible Eldritch Abominations that can and will kill you horribly if you make even the slightest mistake, and using their Grief Seeds to cleanse the corruption from the gem. But this is a stopgap measure at best, because inevitably the gem will darken completely and become a Grief Seed itself, and she will become the very thing that she is fighting.
  • The second Macross Frontier movie does this to Grace, a cyborg, who is reduced to a sentient torso and interrogated for a long time.
  • In One Piece, protagonist Luffy may be nice to friends, but he's a complete ass to enemies. With villains, he doesn't kill them, but leaves them alive to watch their hopes and dreams crumble around them (though how they manage to keep breathing after Luffy's thrashing is absurd). This is a terrible punishment, because this series is all about being able to live your dream. When he's not around, half the crew just does things the quick and easy old-fashioned way (though if the character has a name, odds are he or she will still Never Say "Die").
  • Slayers: The Raugnut Rushavna curse is a VERY horrible curse, as it makes the victim immortal until the one who cast the curse is killed.
    Lina: I was staring at an enormous lump of flesh. It was writhing—-the arrangement of its internal organs and the pulsing of its veins fully visible. As we watched, a snake sprang forth from the top of the lump. The snake, borne of the hideous meatball, grew into an arch half the size of the clump. It swallowed the mound of flesh, essentially consuming itself, and then sunk back into its fleshy mass. Those that fall victim to this ritual are cursed to die over and over until the demon that cast the curse is destroyed.
  • Happens to Piedmon in Digimon Adventure. Most Digimon villains are Killed Off for Real (though Digimon are normally reborn, so its possible, but some lose their memories in the process), he's not so lucky. Piedmon is thrown into MagnaAngemon's Gate of Destiny. While the series doesn't explain what this does to him, its said elsewhere that the Gate of Destiny leads to subspace, a dimension from which there is no escape. Digimon are effectively immortal barring being killed outright, so this means he'll spend eternity there. Naturally, he's one of the few Digimon villains deserving of such a fate.
  • The now immortal Garlic Jr. from The Dead Zone/Dragon Ball Z: Return My Gohan!! gets trapped and escapes the eponymous Dead Zone only to be trapped there again FOREVER in the anime's Garlic Jr saga.
  • In the anime version of Pita-Ten failure to pass the angel exam or devil exam (for people from Heaven or Hell respectively) results in the otherwise immortal person to be deleted from existence and all memories of their existence expunged.
  • In Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, this happens to Yuui and Fai. Being imprisoned without food, water or any means of sheltering themselves, being separated from each other (and thereby from the only person who ever loved them) but still having to witness their twin suffering. And on top of this being utterly unable to die because their magic keeps them alive.
    • And then it gets even worse for Yuui. After a visit from the Big Bad, Fai commits suicide in order to save Yuui. However then Yuui's memories are warped so he's led to believe he murdered his twin. So Yuui is left facing the same hell he'd done so before, but now he's entirely alone and he believes himself to have killed the one person he loved.
  • In Bleach, during As Nodt's Villainous Breakdown, he threatens to throw Byakuya into "an ocean of pain and fear", unable to lose consciousness or even his sanity, begging for a death that will never come. However, Rukia kills As Nodt before he can even attempt to do this.

    Comic Books 
  • In one of the issues of The Walking Dead Michonne goes through this at the hands of the insane, sadistic "Governor" of a small human settlement, who keeps her tied spread-eagle in a warehouse and routinely rapes/beats/tortures her for days before she is freed. However, she gets her own back after she tracks him to his apartment, breaks in, tortures the ever-loving hell out of him (including spoon-raping and amputating some of his limbs) and leaves him for dead (he survives).
  • Episode #66 of Dylan Dog ends with Harvey Burton being condemned to spend the whole eternity in a void limbo because he cheated the Grim Reaper.
  • One storyline in Hellblazer discussed the possibility of a "Third Place" that souls could go to which was neither Heaven nor Hell. The Third Place was a blank, neutral landscape that numbed the soul and removed all emotion. The characters believed that an eternity of empty nothingness was too horrible to contemplate. In the end, a human takes the place of the realm's supernatural resident for all eternity, thereby suffering a fate worse than death.
  • The Sandman:
    • After the first Despair was killed (in a vain attempt to remove despair and suffering from the world), the man responsible was put into a state of perpetual suffering from which he could not die -- he would suffer for all eternity until time ended.
    • In the first issue, Dream of the Endless punishes the son of the magician who sealed him away for seventy years (the magician having already died by that time) by trapping him in an endless Dream Within a Dream — while he might eventually die, he will suffer for an eternity in his head first. (Although after Morpheus' death on the hands of the three "Kindly Ones", his successor, the new Dream, shows mercy and lifts the curse. So, the man "only" had to spend six years or so in a coma, hallucinating the most torturous horrors his mind could devise.)
    • In a later arc, Morpheus a.k.a. Dream and his "younger" sister Delirium have a run in with a Traffic Cop after she's driven erratically; Delirium (in a "normal" fit of randomness) curses the officer to forever feel bugs crawling all over his body. Dream points out this is a rather harsh punishment for a very minor inconvenience, but Delirium tellingly counters that it's still better than many of the things Dream has inflicted on others.
      • ...such as Morpheus condemning Nada, a former African queen, to Hell in a fit of anger after she refused to stay with him and become his queen in the Dreaming, because, as she said, "It is not for mortals to love the Endless". It took the Dream King several thousand years to forgive her and seek her forgiveness after he finally freed her from her torment.
    • Delirium inflicts the most Mind Screwing one of these ever when she is briefly detained by a semi-recurring deformed demoness with a crush on Lucifer, and proclaims "If you don't let me in, I will turn you into a demon half-face waitress night-club lady with a crush on her boss, and I'll make it so you've been that from the beginning of time to now and you'll never ever know if you were anything else and it will itch inside your head worse than little bugses!" Debate still rages about whether Delirium could have actually done that, or just knew the demon's nature and mocked it. Or whether she did do it and they're in a Stable Time Loop or... oh God I've gone crosseyed.
    • Loki's punishment mentioned in the Mythology folder below is made even worse by breaking his neck and ripping out his eyes.
  • Thanos of Titan was, for a very long time (as comic books go), transformed into immobile stone, unable either to die or to truly live. As Thanos was in love with the personification of Death, he found this an especially horrible fate, since he expected never to see her. He eventually recovered.
    • And then, she sent him back to the world of the living, now equipped with an immortal body to destroy a neighboring universe where Death itself had been killed. He was not happy, to say the least; while Thanos is usually horrifically placid, now he spent about half his time roaring with fury and grief. He succeeded in his mission, and the universe collapsed in on itself... with him at its center. Quite possibly still unable to die.
    • At the end of Infinity Thanos is turned into a statue again by his son Thane.
  • During yet another of his bids for total control of the entire DCU, Darkseid traveled to the Wall at the edge of the universe, behind which is The Source (presumably that which allows the superheroes to make balloon animals out of the laws of physics). Various carvings on the Wall are described as being the imprisoned forms of gods, would-be conquerors, and others who wished to control the Source. Naturally, Darkseid's face becomes the newest addition to the collection, but presumably this story was either a one-shot story or he managed to escape.
  • An issue of the Hellraiser graphic novels (based on the films, in turn based on Clive Barker's short story "The Hellbound Heart") has a pretty horrific example of this trope: when a man visits a clinic offering completely immersive VR experiences (such as sex with a movie star where the correct nerve endings are manipulated by the machine to simulate the sensations being experienced) and finds that the head of the project is keeping a test subject alive and indefinitely hooked up to a faulty machine that, while the subject was "surfing" in water during one test, experienced a glitch that turned the water into boiling lava. This is made doubly horrible by the fact that a fail-safe was installed ensuring that people hooked up to the machines cannot die in the VR simulation no matter what they are subjected to. This leaves the aforementioned test subject surfing/swimming in lava overnight before anyone realizes what has happened, effective shattering his mind. And just in case you don't think that's grotesque enough, the head of the project decides to keep the man hooked to the machine and test a variety of tortures on him, such as being slowly eaten alive by insects, having his testicles ripped apart, and worse for the sake of his own amusement... oh, and the test subject may be a shell of a human being now, but he can STILL feel pain. Come the end of the story, however, it is implied the test subject will finally be able to die when he is forcefully disconnected from the machine at the very end... thank god.
  • In the Judge Dredd story "Judgement Day", the zombie-controlling villain Sabbat was rendered immortal (even to the point of being able to survive a bullet in the head) by a large magical crystal. Dredd punished him for causing the deaths of millions of people by decapitating him and sticking his head on top of the crystal, remarking that the sentence was "life - no remission."
  • Wally West, also known as The Flash, returned from hiatus in an alternate dimension to find that the supervillain Inertia had murdered his cousin, Bart Allen, who had been serving as the Flash in Wally's absence. This, naturally, made Wally mad as hell: his response was to hunt Inertia down and use his powers to rob the villain of all his speed, rendering him an immobile (but fully conscious and completely aware) statue... which he then placed in the Flash Museum, to stare at a statue of the man he killed for all eternity (his situation has since been reversed).
  • A rather bizarre one happened between Spider-Man's villain Carnage and the Silver Surfer. After trying to possess the latter, the Carnage Symbiote is tossed back onto the original host and is then encased in an unbreakable shell of energy much like the Surfer's own shell of silver. It's stated he's stuck like that for all eternity, but he got better later.
  • The Silver Surfer encountered, at one point, a hideous mutation run rampant on Earth. It began to absorb all the living matter it could find (including people), growing larger and more repulsive at a constant rate until the Surfer flew it to a desolate moon where it could be properly destroyed. Unfortunately, at the last instant before he would have disintegrated the abomination, a coherent facet emerged and explained that at its core it was a thinking human being who had become the victim of an experiment gone awry. Though he begged him to end his suffering, the Surfer refused, since to kill a sentient being was anathema to his moral code. Thus, the Surfer regretfully left the creature to its interminable fate, isolated and alone. Bet the poor guy wishes he had just kept his mouth shut.
  • In the Star Wars series Dark Empire, Darth Sidious and Jedi Empatojayos Brand end up bound to each other for all eternity. But it was a Heroic Sacrifice on Brand's part.
    • In other sources from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Palpatine has his too-valuable-to-kill engineer Bevel Lemelisk (who designed the Death Star with that airshaft) killed in some Horrible way, then brings him back as a clone. This happened seven times, including flesh-eating beetles, being blown out an airlock, and being lowered inch by inch into a vat of molten copper ("It was what the smelter was making that day"), before the New Republic finally executes him for good.
    Lemelisk: Just make sure you do it right this time.
  • The final fate of Batman in Final Crisis as Darkseid's Omega Sanction didn't kill him; it left him stranded lost in time and cursed with multiple lives, each one worse than the previous one.
    • Darkseid did the same thing to Mister Miracle in Seven Soldiers (which was, ultimately, a setup for FC). The same thing (though not caused by Darkseid) also happened to Donna Troy.
  • In Fables, where a character's Popularity Power determined how difficult they are to kill, Goldilocks gets one of these. She's attempting to murder two of the other characters when she gets an axe buried in the side of her head, takes a tumble down a cliff-face, gets hit full-on by a speeding semi-truck and then hurled into a river. And because her injuries were so severe she couldn't reach the surface or the shore, she describes it as "always drowning, never dying" after getting pulled out weeks later.
  • In Catwoman, the villain Black Mask decided to "improve himself" not by killing Catwoman, but by torturing and killing everyone close to her, leaving her alive to suffer through it. Catwoman, obviously not a fan of this trope, shot him in the head.
    • He recovered, and tried to finish the job. Cue Poison Ivy getting hold of his undead, unkillable (but not uninjurable) butt. Solution? Giant pitcher plant.
  • The Doctor Who Magazine story Hotel Historia, an otherwise light-hearted and frothy tale is ended with the Tenth Doctor sealing the race of marauding aliens into a nebulous state where they can neither touch nor interact in any way with anything. Ever.
    Evil Alien: Have mercy!
    Doctor: This is mercy. Don't make me regret it.
  • Narrowly averted in book 3 of Empowered, where the squad of ninja that decided to claim the bounty on returning one Kaburagi Kozue (AKA Ninjette) to her clan in New Jersey (or rather the two that were not dead or mortally wounded in the fight to bring her down) decide to facilitate her return and prevent future escapes by amputating her arms and legs. It is not as if she would need them to bear heirs for the Kaburagi Clan, right? Fortunately, she's rescued just in time.
    • Played straight in book 6, which introduces the concept that a sizeable minority of superheroes are left undead after being killed, as a result of Faustian Bargains they made to gain their powers. Besides being forced into hiding and having to deal with their mutilated bodies, many of them also end up getting buried alive while fully conscious. It then gets made even worse when it is revealed that a certain villain likes to kidnap the SuperDead and super-science them into zombie slaves, still fully conscious but incapable of controlling their bodies... and those are the lucky ones.
  • In Mutopia X, two of Kaufman's henchmen are walking inside a warehouse belonging to one of Kaufman's deposed drug lord rival Frankie Zapruder. One of the henchmen is talking about Zapruder. The other henchman says "What a terrible way to end your life." To which the other henchman replies "Who said anything about him being dead?", to which Zapruder is being suspended on top of the warehouse by chains, the poor victim later gets horrific revenge on Kaufman in a method that is left to the reader's imagination.
  • Zera, the formerly drop-dead angel from David Hine's Spawn, was so loved by God that she could never die. She is later reduced to a floating head in a jar and later devoured by vicious dogs.
  • In the alternate Marvel Universe Ruins, the Gamma Bomb that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk instead turned him into a huge mass of gigantic tumors with horrific maiming all over the body, and Rick Jones claims that he is still being kept alive in a CIA facility.
  • In a Ghost Rider annual written by Warren Ellis, the Scarecrow (not the Batman villain) creates a haunted house sewn together with live human beings. Upon defeating the Scarecrow, Ghost Rider breaks every bone in the Scarecrow's body. Ghost Rider then twists every bone in the Scarecrow's body so the bones will not heal properly, thus leaving the Scarecrow as a permanently paralyzed and disjointed mess. The Scarecrow later got better.
  • In the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, Thanos turns Nebula, his alleged granddaughter, into a floating corpse who is an intermediate between life and death, not being allowed the luxury of death.
  • The Jim Corrigan Spectre saved his original flame from death, but in the process made it that she could never die. Said ex attempted suicide on numerous occasions and was left a comatose, burned wreck. In the end, Corrigan finally let her go.
  • In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth it is said that Dr. Destiny's reality-warping abilities are so powerful that all he need do is look at you and you cease to be real.
  • In Judge Dredd Megazine 272, villain Dr. Vallenti was collecting the brains of psychics to create an immortal psionic form. One of the psychics ended up as the crotch of Dr. Vallenti's psionic form. Dr. Vallenti was defeated by the judges and all the psychics were able to escape the psionic body.
  • The graphic novel A History of Violence (which the movie resembles in name only) features a particularly horrific version of this. Tom, the protagonist, was involved in a retaliatory strike against the local mafia when he was a teenager, along with his best friend. They killed a number of mooks, as well as the crime lord for that family, and stole a large amount of cash from them. Unfortunately, Tom's friend couldn't keep his mouth shut, and terrible off-screen things involving an axe happened to him. Tom, meanwhile, had to flee and disappear into obscurity. The kicker? Twenty years later, Tom finds out that his friend is still alive. And when you see what's been done to him over the last twenty years by the vengeful son of the dead crime lord, you'll understand what a fate worse than death means.
  • The final fate of Batman villain Doctor Hurt. He breaks his neck after slipping on a banana peel, gets dosed with Joker Venom, and thrown into a coffin and buried alive by The Joker. Since Doctor Hurt is apparently immortal...
  • Invoked by name by Batman in Batman, Inc #2, upon defeating the villain Lord Death Man, who has the ability to keep coming Back from the Dead. Batman throws him off a building and has Catwoman lock him inside a very cramped safe note  which is later launched into orbit.
    • In The Stinger at the end of Morrison's run, we learn that Ra's Al Ghul has recovered Lord Death Man's body, and has begun using him as an undying source of "Lazarus Blood".
  • Nemesis the Warlock does this twice. Firstly the completely evil Torquemada is briefly trapped in a time-loop where he is burnt at the stake again and again and again. He gets better. The saga concludes with Nemesis forcibly merging with his enemy to prevent a planet exploding. They become a sort of living ship that can do nothing but travel on an infinite loop around the planet. The very last panel shows the 'ship' alone in space with the caption A million years later...
  • The Phantom Zone from Superman. Trapped for all eternity in a featureless white void, never aging, never dying, unable to touch and feel. In Action Comics #13 we see the reaction of Xa-Du, the first prisoner in the Phantom Zone.
    Xa-Du: What's happening? Why can't I see?! I can't hear! Why can't I feel anything? Isn't anyone there? Won't someone talk to me? Please.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 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.
  • [1]: In the flashbacks a process known as extraction occurs when the Changeling Queen orders that all the love (read energy and life force) is drained from a changeling, rendering them inert and pertified but completely aware. What's worse is that Commander Blatteria uses extracted changelings as furniture. Naturally, this Drives Themto Insanity and invokes And I Must Scream.
  • 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 merely 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.
  • 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.
    • Recently it has been 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.
    • The punishment for high treason in the Demon Empire is eternal torment.
  • Antonio from "Auf Wiedersehen Sweetheart", anyone? Alfred—In "We'll Meet Again"—was also tortured by the Gestapo, but he manages to make it back to Arthur. These were both huge Tear Jerkers (along with the entirety of both fics).
  • 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.

    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."
    • Iago survives being blasted and nearly roasted alive in magma instead of having a convenient Disney-heroic death. Which makes you wonder if genies literally cannot kill anyone -and the implications.
  • For toys in Toy Story, 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.
    • Even worse is to be tossed into the garbage, and, 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, The murderous Lotso, after leaving Andy's toys to die in the incinerator (they survive) 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse alludes to this trope in its original meaning of rape. After a servant girl is raped offscreen, her mother says "My little girl longs to die."
  • Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars is, according to Word of God, a man who made a Deal with the Devil... and lost. After the events of Revenge of the Sith, where he becomes Darth Vader, he is condemned to a life of constant emotional and physical pain, until the very end of Return of the Jedi.
    • Any creature misfortunate enough to stumble into the path of the Sarlacc on Tatooine- as if it's razor sharp rows of teeth weren't bad enough, it's victims lifespans are prolonged by the Sarlacc's internal fluids while they are painfully digested over the course of 1000 years. Boba Fett is lucky enough to escape this fate in the expanded universe.
    • Luck had nothing to do with it.
  • Kill Bill:
    • Budd decides that only a Fate Worse Than Death was a fitting punishment for the Bride after she broke his brother Bill's heart. So he shoots her with rock salt, ties her up, puts her in a coffin, and buries her alive. She still escapes.
    • Elle Driver suffers one when The Bride snatches out her remaining eye after finding out she killed her master, and leaves Elle yelling and thrashing in Bud's trailer completely blind rather than killing her. Granted there was a Black Mamba snake in the trailer too. But even if Elle was to avoid it, she's now left stranded in the middle of a desert without her eyesight.
  • In Beetlejuice, Limbo is described as "Death for the dead." It happens to ghosts who are exorcised by the living. And considering how messed-up regular dead people looked already...
  • Parodied here in the kung-fu movie segment of The Kentucky Fried Movie, where the Fate Worse Than Death turns out to be... Detroit.
    • That is after the Big Bad told his henchmen to torture a headless corpse.
  • In Jeepers Creepers, the guy Derry found still alive in the basement.
  • In The Beastmaster the Big Bad turned his political enemies into mindless zombies. Also, the lizardguys that ate people.
  • Contact. Jodie Foster's character is given a Cyanide Pill before entering the Faster-Than-Light Travel machine, not only in case she's marooned light years from home, but also in case of a fate that they can't possibly predict.
    "There are a thousand reasons we can think of why you should have this thing with you, but mostly it's for the reasons we can't think of."
  • In Downfall, Hitler orders General Weidling's execution because he is thought to have moved his command post to the West. After his attempt to solve the misunderstanding, Hitler was impressed and appointed Weidling as the commander of the defense of Berlin.
    Weidling: "I'd have preferred to be shot!"
  • From the movie Se7en, this was what the sin of Sloth receives, in the estimation of every officer on the scene.
    • The victim is also a drug dealing child molester; the only way most people wouldn't sympathize with the killer is since his fate was so horrific that we can't possibly call it justified.
  • In the film 'Oldboy'' Oh Daesu's 15 year hotel room imprisonment is a torment he unsuccessfully attempts to escape through death repeatedly
  • In The Human Centipede, A deranged doctor kidnaps three people and decides to connect them all together via their gastric systems, (three people connected ass to mouth).
    • And the ending is even worse! The guy in front kills himself out of shame, the woman in back dies of septic poisoning, leaving the woman in the middle surgically attached to two corpses.
  • At the end of the 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, the Knave of Hearts is sent into exile along with the Queen of Hearts. Rather than be exiled with the most hated woman in the world, he tries to kill her but fails. He then begs the protagonists to kill him before being taken away.
  • In Inception, while dying in a dream simply wakes you up, dying while dreaming and being heavily sedated puts you in a limbo, where you think you are in reality and you are trapped there for years and years and you cannot wake up at all.
  • In The Duellists, suffered by General Feraud.
  • Made for TV movies Buried Alive did this to the spouses who tried to killed off husband/wife by burying them alive. In the first movie, the husband tricks his treacherous wife into going into a crawl space where the body of her accomplice is and surrounded by the money she tried to get from his death. He then nails her in as buries her completely with now way out. The second movie, the spouse that was nearly murdered gets revenge on her former husband and his accomplice by trapping them in a boat and scuttling it with them still inside. The ending showing they're still alive as the boat lies at the bottom of the ocean.
  • Played with in the movie Clue:
    Professor Plum: What are you afraid of, a fate worse than death?
    Mrs. Peacock: No, just death, isn't that enough?
  • What the creatures in Deep Rising do to their "food". Their victims are swallowed up, have their liquids effectively drained and whatever's left of the body being spit back out. Oh, and did we mention that you're still alive when you get spit out? Dying afterwards is a mercy.
  • By the end of Cube Zero, staying in or around the cube becomes this to Wynn. He actually tries to get himself executed by making it clear that he chooses death over the cube, but he doesn't get a choice in the matter - he already waived this right a long time ago, which he simply doesn't remember. He's lobotomized by the villains and thrown back in.
  • The Phantom Zone in Superman and Superman II where General Zod, Ursa, and Non are imprisoned. In both films it is stated that the intention is that they remain trapped in it for eternity. Oddly the Kryptonian view is that this is somehow more humane than just executing them!
    Kryptonian Elder (to Jor-El): Imprisonment in the Phantom Zone, an eternal living death.
  • Famously invoked in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. When another of Khan's attempts of kill Kirk backfires, he decides to simply takes the Genesis device and leave Kirk to rot in the center of a planet while he finishes off the Enterprise, leaving Kirk helpless to do anything.
    Kirk: Khan. Khan, you've got Genesis. But you don't have me! You were going to kill me, Khan. You're going to have to come down here. You're going to have to come down here!
    Khan: I've done far worse than kill you... I've hurt you. And I wish to go on... hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her... marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet... buried alive... buried alive...
  • Invoked in The Dark Knight Rises.
    Batman: Why didn't you just... kill me?
    Bane: You don't fear death. You welcome it. Your punishment must be more severe.
  • The entire film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is all about this for both sisters. One sister appears to succumb to her torment, while the other sister enters a darker version of it by losing the last bit of her sanity.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    Damodar: Do not let them escape or you will suffer a fate far worse than that which hath been inflicted upon me.
  • Technically, "A Fate Worse than Getting Your Dick Chopped Off and then Being Killed", in Django Unchained Stephen explains Django's punishment in this way. Instead of just castrating him and then torturing him to death, Stephen suggests that they sell him to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company where he will do backbreaking mining work until his back gives out at which point they'll hit him in the head with a sledgehammer and throw his body down a hole.
  • In Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet, The Gardener plans a great revenge on his old Professor. His main minion is promised to get Kvetuska, the Professor's beautiful granddaughter, and is allowed to do whatever he wants with her. He says he's going to prepare for her such a fate that is worse than death for a chaste woman like her. He plans to have his way with her, and then sell her to a South American brothel.
  • Victims of the Eldritch Abomination that lives in the tunnel in Absentia suffer this. It keeps them alive for years, feeding them raw animal parts (bones and all), while it tortures them to the point of desperate insanity.
  • The Warlock movies:
    • Discussed in the first Warlock when Kassandra questions why the Warlock didn't just kill her instead of casting a Rapid Aging curse on her that would do the process much more slowly, and says she can't imagine a worse fate. Witch Hunter Redferne confirms that this was the Warlock's intention.
    • Warlock: The Armageddon. After an initial fake out in which he believed he had escaped, an unlucky guy is forever trapped by the Warlock in a dark nightmare world beyond the mirror.
  • Beautifully stated in the prologue of The Karate Kid Part 2:
    Daniel: You could have killed him, couldn't you?
    Mr. Miyagi: Hai.
    Daniel: Well, why didn't you?
    Mr. Miyagi: Because Daniel, for man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than death.
  • A comedic example is seen in The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap Due to a law whereby the survivor of a gun duel must take responsibility for the deceased's debts and family (which got Chester Wooley in trouble in the first place) he quickly realizes he is untouchable as NO one wants to suffer taking care of Mrs. Hawkins and her kids. At least not at first...
  • Sadako Yamamura of The Ring suffered a lot from this trope. She was thrown down a well by her father and was believed to have survived for seven days. Turns out in Ring 2 that she survived down the well for about thirty years on sheer will and died shortly before the events of the first film.
    • Made worse if you watch the prequel Ring 0 after the first two films with this knowledge, knowing what awaits the Shrinking Violet that becomes a stringy haired vengeful ghost.
  • In Hellraiser: Bloodline, Pinhead decides to give John Merchant's son such a fate by planning to torture the child for a thousand-odd years, during which the boy "will wish he had died instead".
  • Lampshaded in Gamer with a very sombre quip. In the Hellhole Prison where Kable is locked up, one of the inmates completely loses it and tears out his own throat while no one bothers to stop him. When the guards arrive to question what happened, an old con wearily notes "looks like he escaped".
  • In Two Women, Cesira says this almost word-for-word (in Italian, anyway), after her daughter is gang-raped by French Moroccan soldiers.
    Cesira: You ruined my little daughter forever! Now she's worse than dead. No, I'm not mad, I'm not mad! Look at her! And tell me if I am mad! Rotten crazy bastards!

    Literature 
  • In Ancillary Justice this is how most people view the Ancillaries, typically calling them corpse soldiers - not that anyone debates their efficiency or loyalty. When a planet is conquered, anyone who tries to fight and isn't killed or who makes trouble until the planet is officially annexed is rounded up and either executed or surgically altered, including alterations to sever their connections to the past identity, and put into cryogenic storage until an AI needs to replace an old body.
  • In Tom Deitz' "David Sullivan" Series, the Sidhe are vulnerable to iron, which contains "the fires of the world's first making". The "Death of Iron" that the Sidhe suffer is said to leave a permanent mark on the soul of the weaker willed, causing the spirit, and any replacement body the Sidhe might build, to constantly burn and reheal for eternity, without any hope of recovery.
    • In the second book of this series, Fireshaper's Doom, we are introduced to the Horn of Annwyn, a weapon which summons otherworldly hounds, which consume not only the body but the soul. In addition to being incredibly painful, this death not only prevents the Sidhe from returning to life, but also denies mortals an afterlife. The Horn brings about the Karmic Death of Fionna, Ailill's twin sister when she tries to use it to avenge Ailill's humiliation at the hands of the protagonist (which took place at the end of the first book.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Lady Moire commits suicide after being raped by a tribe of Chimera in Reynard the Fox. What finally sent her over the edge was the realization that she was pregnant with a Chimera child.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe features some. In The Truce at Bakura, one such example comes from the Ssi-ruuk, a species that powers its technology by ripping out one's life force and implanting it in a machine. These souls are in constant agony for the remainder of their short existence.
  • The final fate of David, the Sixth Ranger Traitor in Animorphs. Instead of killing him, the Animorphs trap him permanently in rat morph and abandon him on a barren island. Keep in mind that rats only have a lifespan of two to three years.
    • Being taken by the Yeerks and having one of them controlling your body was also suggested to be worse than death.
    • Visser Three/One's fate at the end of the series is to spend the rest of his life without a host.
  • Breaking the truce of the Floating Market in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere will leave you wishing you were on the other side of your own sword.
  • In The Malazan Book of the Fallen, getting stuck in Anomander Rake's sword is the definition of this Trope. You spend eternity pulling a giant wagon while being pursued by a storm of pure chaos. No breaks, no mercy. Insanity is for the lucky. Until it gets broken, screwing with everything. That's how many people were trapped in it, some for more than 300 000 years.
  • Harry Potter
    • Dementors in have the power to steal a person's soul (via a sort-of Kiss of Death) without killing them, turning them into an empty shell forever. Word of God has it that they're an allegorical monster representing clinical depression.
    • Quoth Hermione Granger in Philosopher's Stone:
    Hermione: I hope you're pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed — or worse, expelled.
    • Aside from agonizing pain, overuse of the Cruciatus curse can lead to severe psychological trauma. The Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom, Neville's parents, were driven permanently and irretrievably insane by prolonged exposure to Cruciatus.
    • Though he doesn't experience this trope directly, it's eventually learned that Voldemort's greatest weakness is that he cannot conceive of a worse fate than death, meaning his obsession with becoming immortal renders him vulnerable to other, equally or more unpleasant fates; see the "King's Cross" chapter of Deathly Hallows for the one that he fell prey to after his death. This is lampshaded by Harry Potter himself... in the first book. "If you're going to be cursed forever, death's better, isn't it?"
    • This is the moral of the tale of the Deathly Hallows, and that of the Master of Death. If one cannot accept the futility of escaping death or accept the passing of a loved one, death will be a grueling bastard. However, if one accepts death as an inevitability, and that there are far worse fates than dying, death will greet you as an old friend. The Master of Death, the one who gains possession of all three of the Deathly Hallows, does not become immortal, but instead accepts that death is inevitable, and does not fear it — like Harry.
  • Lady Lilith of Witches Abroad is condemned to run on and on, endlessly, through the mirror world, until she finds the one reflection that's real. This is a fitting fate because it reflects the mirror magic that Lilith used to make so many people miserable, and because it is easily escapable if only she knew herself thoroughly — Granny gets the same fate but escapes it immediately.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: When Jaime thinks a prisoner is lying to him, he mentions, "We have oubliettes beneath the Casterly Rock that fit a man as tight as a suit of armor. You can’t turn in them, or sit, or reach down to your feet when the rats start gnawing at your toes. Would you care to reconsider that answer?”
  • The Total Perspective Vortex in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which gives anyone who has to go into it a momentary view of the entire universe, and themselves in relation to it, resulting in insanity through loss of all sense of self-worth. When Zaphod Beeblebrox goes into it, it doesn't work, because the universe he's in is actually a simulated universe, created specifically for Zaphod. This makes him the most important thing in the universe - as he always thought to be - so he is immune to the Vortex's effects.
  • Room 101 in 1984, where prisoners are tortured with their greatest fear and psychologically broken.
    • How about the whole world? There is a nihilistic and completely monstrous totalitarian regime that seeks to brainwash the lower classes i.e everyone who isn't them, and turn them into unthinking cattle who spend all their time working and chanting slogans. Anyone who shows even the slightest hint of intellectualism, love, happiness or interest in politics is captured, tortured, subjected to a mundane form of Mind Rape, Unpersoned, and killed eventually. This regime runs all of the western world, or possibly all of it, and is superhumanly good at ensuring that it will never be overthrown, cheated or defeated. Why do they do this? Power over human beings.
  • In Dearly Devoted Dexter, the main villain does things so disgusting to his victims. "Yodeling potato".
  • In the same vein, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho commits some of the most sadistic and gruesome tortures ever conceived by the imagination. Bateman intentionally keeps his victims alive longer, just so they can experience more agony.
  • So do some characters in Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné saga and the Dorian Hawkmoon saga.
    • Prince Gaynor the Damned is subjected to a horrible eternal punishment after he, the former Champion of the Balance, falls from grace and is forced to serve the Lords of Chaos.
  • In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Death and Life-in-Death gamble for the Mariner. Life-in-Death wins, to the Mariner's sorrow.
  • The Stephen King short story "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French," which depicts a despairing woman caught in a time loop that ends in a horrid plane crash. Evidently she is dead and in Hell, and Hell is repetition.
    • Another Stephen King short story (turned movie) is 1408. The protagonist is tortured by a "fucking evil [hotel] room" (think the hotel from The Shining but concentrated) before setting himself on fire, escaping, and possibly destroying the room to boot.
    • In The Movie, here's how the room works: Nobody has survived more than one hour in the room. During that hour, the room will physically and emotionally torture you, until you are Driven to Suicide. "You can choose to repeat this hour over and over again, or you can take advantage of our express checkout system".
    • King's The Stand gets brought up a lot with this. This quote is a good one, in the crucifixion scene of one of the Vegas' characters. "There were worse things than death. There were teeth."
  • The novelette A Colder War (Go now! Don't read the spoilers, read the story! It's free!) by Charles Stross details an alternate-history Cold War where the Soviets have retrieved the sleeping Cthulhu and entombed it in a silo as the ultimate weapon of Mutually Assured Destruction. Things get out of hand, and the protagonist, a few politicians and a small military force are all who manage to escape, through an eldritch stargate, to a dead, frozen world. The story ends with the tiny shellshocked population, going through the motions in a domed compound under an alien sky, unable to do anything. And it is implied that he may never have escaped at all.
    • And they are the lucky ones. Those who were left behind at Earth were swallowed up by Yog-Sothoth, and exist for eternity as a part of its being, conscious but unable to do anything.
  • The Laundry Series novels by Charles Stross are filled with various fates worse than death. Apart from the countless characters who end up with their souls destroy ed and their bodies possessed by demons, creative ones include :
    • Being brought in another dimension, turned into an undead, impaled on a stake, and left forever conscious and unable to do anything except staring at a pyramid containing a sleeping Eldritch Abomination.
    • Having his soul eaten by, well, the Eater of Souls.
    • Having a wicked apocalyptic cult injure your spinal cord to make you paralyzed and then use your womb as a living tool to breed true believers.
    • Being subjected to one of the various nazi-designed torture machines designed to fuel black magic rituals that use pain as a power source.
    • Having his bones subjected to a horribly painful occult treatment and then used as components to build a magical violin which acts as a powerful occult weapon. (The last step is lethal but the others must be performed when the subject is still alive).
    • Living with the terrible "medusa curse", a genetic mutation which makes you (unwillingly) kill living beings you look at by turning them into stone statues.
  • Obviously, the book A Fate Totally Worse Than Death (which was later filmed as Bad Girls from Valley High), in which three murderous teenage girls known as "the Huns of Cliffside High" begin to to age rapidly, and believe themselves to be cursed by the ghost of the girl whose death they caused the year before.
  • Lester Del Rey wrote a story in 1940 or 1941, before the US joined WWII, detailing Hitler's fate. A scientist (implied to be Jewish in the story) invents a time machine that, instead of moving a person through time, brought future versions of himself to the present and gives him full control over the "clones." The scientist uses his machine to summon hundreds upon hundreds of Hitler "clones." Nearly a day after the machine is first used, the oldest of the Hitler "clones" confronts Hitler and the scientist and spouts off nonsensical gibberish about things like trying to run away only to be brought back again. Hitler shoots him dead. The scientist then reveals that, as was his intention all along, Hitler is now condemned to relive the same 24-hour period over and over again from a different point of view until he finally finds himself staring down the barrel of his own gun in his final moments.
  • There was a short story in one of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction anthologies of the 1980s about a protagonist (and everyone around him) being trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop that got steadily shorter, from hours to minutes and then mere seconds, until he couldn't even get to the end of a thought. The sequence always started over exactly the same, with him being trapped on a traffic island, and the drivers of the cars around him likewise going in circles forever and ever... the protagonist speculates that Earth may have fallen into a travelling singularity or that Time has actually ended because the universe was imploding, but essentially they are trapped in hell, going insane, and no hope even for death to deliver them.
  • Cordwainer Smith's A Planet Called Shayol centers around a prison planet where people are infected with a healing symbiont that works so well that not only does it make infectees immortal, but it also causes them to grow extra organs and limbs, which are subsequently harvested for transplants.
  • In The Wheel of Time losing the ability to channel is considered a fate worse than death, as channeling is shown to be quite pleasurable and addictive. One character who temporarily loses the ability to channel compares it to losing the sun. The general rule is that the person will lose the will to live, and die. One character was famed, as having brought a country to his knees, and the next book has him guarded by one girl, whose job is to prevent him from committing suicide. At least one Black Ajah sister ends up having a shield, which prevents her from channelling, placed on her that's tied off (self-sustaining) into infinity, meaning she can still sense the One Power but will likely never touch it again, and another ends up as a slave to the Shaido Aiel with her inability to channel being enforced by an Oath Rod that a Wise One used on her demanding complete obedience; she ends up being marched naked through the snow, used as a pack mule during the Shaido's march back to the Aiel Wastes. Lady Colavaere hangs herself rather than live the rest of her life on a farm, powerless. Tuon, after returning from being kidnapped and marrying her kidnapper, sentences Suroth, who tried to order her death, to become a Da'Covale (a slave that wears see through fabric), Suroth's only thought is of the knife in her bedroom that she now can't use to cut herself. Semirhage specialized in this; getting sexual pleasure out of torture, some captives were known to use their teeth to open the veins in their wrist to escape Semirhage's tortures since she would occasionally keep them alive.
    • And now, Mesaana has found herself in this condition. She tried to use the reality-shaping properties of the World of Dreams to reshape Egwene into a slave and wound up trying too hard, snapping her own mind and leaving herself the permanent mental equivalent of an infant. Interestingly, this fate is FAR worse than death for her specifically, since the Dark One might have been able to revive her if she'd just died.
    • Moghedien ends up in one of these in A Memory of Light; at the end of the book she gets captured by a sul'dam, and is likely to spend the rest of her immortal life as a damane. At least Elaida, who also ended up like this, will die out of this fate eventually.
  • The last Inheritance Cycle novel has two examples:
    • Eragon's punishment for Sloan is to be consigned almost to a Flying Dutchman curse: forced "To Walk the Land Alone", driven by a constant compulsion to seek out the land of the elves, there to remain "even unto your dying day", living with the knowledge that he can never see, touch, or talk to his daughter Katrina ever again, and that she is with Roran and happy, without him.
    • The fate of the dragons belonging to the Forsworn is even worse: in the Banishing of the Names, they were stripped of any means of identifying themselves—given names, nicknames, true names, titles, until they could not even make 'I' statements since these named themselves, nor could they be called dragons. Reduced to little more than animals, the spell obliterated everything that defined them as thinking creatures, until they descended into complete ignorance. As Arya herself says, "The experience was so disturbing, at least five of the thirteen, and several of the Forsworn, went mad as a result."
  • In The Dresden Files:
    • The traitorous Winter Knight Lloyd Slate suffers a particularly gruesome example of this at the hands of Mab - he's entombed in ice, crucified on a tree of the same, until he's almost dead from frostbite and exhaustion... at which point Mab takes him out, feeds him, heals him, and takes him to bed with her, only to return him to his torture when we wakes up. Lea mentions the possibility that if Dresden continues to refuse the title of Winter Knight long enough Mab might kill Slate when he's completely and utterly broken... that is, when he's gone so completely insane that he starts to look forward to his crucifixion with joy because of the kindness Mab shows him after she takes him down. When he is seen before his death, he is a shell of the man he was, lacking his eyes, skeletal body, and his face covered in tattoos in various languages all meaning "traitor". His body was covered in scars and tattoos.
    • When Harry meets Titania after killing her daughter to save the world (not even Titania denies it was necessary) Titania states clearly that she can make all what Mab has done seem like a kindness to the horrors Titania can unleash.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels, Soric is handed over to the Black Ships. Hark finds him several books later, cries (which all the deaths have not drawn from him), and at his request, kills him.
  • David Eddings gives us two; the fates of Zedar, sealed in rock forever, in the Belgariad and Zalasta and Baron Parok, burning in frozen time forever, in the Tamuli.
    • Aphrael notes in the Tamuli that, while immortal, gods can suffer this trope. Their power comes from belief; a god who loses his/her worshippers becomes just an empty, shapeless voice that wails through the world like the wind.
  • The Star Trek Expanded Universe has quite a few:
    • In Peter David's Vendetta, a throwaway character achieves Warp 10 (the Star Trek term for infinite speed, meaning you occupy all all points in the universe at once). She ends up trapped into thinking she's almost at Warp 10 forever.
    • In "The Brave and the Bold", the villain Malkus was trapped for 10,000 years in the instruments of his handiwork. After the events in the novels, he's trapped for considerably longer.
  • In Jeffrey Sackett's Mark of the Werewolf, Janos Kaldy becomes the eponymous werewolf every full moon, whose only purpose is to dismember and eat people, and turn self-serving priests into werewolves themselves. He spends three thousand years attempting suicide, which is hampered by being immortal and Nigh Invulnerable no matter which form he's in. He and Claudia get better. Neville doesn't.
  • "The Boy Who Couldn't Die". The main character gets one of these for not doing enough research.
  • In The Edge Chronicles, anyone who wanders into the Twilight Woods is immortal as long as they stay there. However, the woods also make any unsuspecting travelers go insane, and despite the immortality, you can be very much hurt, more or less rotting away while unable to die or even go comatose, and also completely insane and lost. In the series, this fate is inflicted on some characters, with no evidence as to if they ever escape, except Tem Barkwater, who makes it out due to Shrykes capturing him.
    • The prisoners in the Tower of Night. They are imprisoned on ledges inside the Tower, waiting for a trial that will probably never come. Many seem to have lost their sanity. Rook is told by one prisoner to shove the door open, when he does the prisoner falls of the ledge and thanks him, saying he lacked the courage to jump.
  • Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Raises Hell deals out such fates to three of the villains (which for two of them is deliciously karmic): the ifrit, the vampire priestess, and Nick, are tricked (in the case of the first two) and outright thrown into Grant's magical cabinet. All of them are presumably doomed to be trapped in this world's version of Cthulhuverse, imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise driven mad, forever.
  • In one of Simon R. Green's Nightside novels, John and Suzie confront some demons. In an attempt to intimidate them, the demons show them their lunch: a young woman, half consumed, yet still conscious and suffering. Recognizing this trope when she sees it, Suzie immediately shoots the woman in the head, then proclaims there are some things she won't stand for.
  • In Gav Thorpe's Warhammer 40,000 novel Angels of Darkness, one of the Fallen, captured by the Dark Angels, tells his torturer his full story (as he claims to be true). He is told that he will not be killed. He will be carefully tended and kept alive, imprisoned and able to listen the scream of Luther, who is also alive and imprisoned forever. By the end of the novel, his torturer is convinced that he is right, and when sending off his final message, asks that someone tell the prisoner that he was not wrong — but he also knows that they will not deliver such a message.
  • H.P. Lovecraft's Through the Gates of Silver Key; Randolph Carter ends up trapped inside the body of a monstrous creature, that lives on a planet full of creatures like it, and worse. He tries to take control and get free, but seconds before success the monster takes control completely, and ruins everything.
    • Also used in The Colour Out Of Space, in which the Mercy Killing takes place off-camera. The narrative explicitly states that leaving the victim alive under the circumstances would've been a damning offense.
  • His Dark Materials: Being separated from your daemon, or having your mind and soul eaten by a Spectre.
    • And don't forget Lord Asrael and Mrs. Coulter, doomed to fall forever with the Metatron without ever dying.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, when John Carter saved Dejah Thoris from Attempted Rape, and they try to escape, she tells him:
    "If we make it, my chieftain, the debt of Helium will be a mighty one; greater than she can ever pay you; and should we not make it," she continued, "the debt is no less, though Helium will never know, for you have saved the last of our line from worse than death."
    • In The Synthetic Men of Mars heroine Janai tells the narrator, Vor Daj of Helium, that he is fortunate to be a man, all he has to fear is death. As it happens she's dead wrong.
  • The fate of children caught by the Other Mother in Coraline seem to be this, given they thank Coraline after she rescues them even though they are still dead.
  • In The Princess Bride, Westley threatens Humperdinck with this in his To the Pain speech.
  • In Deltora Quest, this happened to Doran many years ago. Namely, he became the Guardian of one of the very thing he sets out to destroy in the first place, a Sister.
  • In The Silmarillion, Maedhros is hung from a cliff by his right hand. For years.
    • Morgoth also inflicts this on Húrin, by cursing his children and forcing him to watch as the curse destroys their lives.
  • Jean-Paul Satre's No Exit sticks three unrelated individuals in a room without any means of escape. They are not only dead, but each has a personality that psychologically leaves another feeling tortured while being capable of torturing another his/herself. Hence, they will drive each other mad for all eternity.
  • In the Dragonlance novel 'Dragons of Spring Dawning' after Dark Action Girl Kitiara finally captures her romantic rival, Laurana, she decides to torture Laurana to death and then have her soul given to the Death Knight, Lord Soth, so the innocent Laurana will suffer in undeath for all eternity.
    • Kitiara herself eventually dies screaming about not letting 'him' take her. Shortly afterwards, Lord Soth takes her body away.
    • And lets not forget about Raistlin, who after becoming a dark God and killing all other Gods and destroying the world, will be unable to create anything new, and since he is immortal thereby will continue existing alone in the void forever. Thank mercy for time-travelling twins that can warn you beforehand.
  • In Rainbow Six, Clark orders the survivors to remove all of their clothes and walk into the forest without any of civilization's aids, then leaves them behind, telling them that if they want to commune with nature so much, they should go commune. As Chavez wryly points out, even he himself— with all his equipment and training (Ranger School, among others)— would have a tough time surviving in such an environment. Let's see these sheltered folks enjoy the deadly jungle.
  • Dematerialisation (the process of having your physical body destroyed while within the Twilight, either as a consequence of being killed within it or spending too long in it so that it drains all of your energy) in the Night Watch series is implied to be worse than regular death. Whereas the Others are unsure of what becomes of regular humans after death, they do know that dematerilised Others are forced to linger in the Twilight as impotent and possibly mindless shades, and meeting such a shade is traditionally accompanied by wishing that they may eventually find peace. The "worse than death" part comes from the fact that a sentence of being hanged is considered preferable to dematerialisation, implying that Others killed through regular means don't linger in the Twilight, and that this is considered better. And since it appears that all Others can live practically forever without succumbing to age or disease, and are virtually immune to natural weapons, that the ultimate fate of all of them is to dematerialise.
  • Harlan Coben novel Gone For Good features an ex-pimp named Louis Castman; when hearing that one of his girls is going to run away and elope with a client she has fallen in love with, he brutally disfigures her (and as repeatedly mentioned, not just her face) so that her fiance won't want to be with her anymore. It works, but before the guy sees the poor girl he shoots Castman in the spine, rendering him unable to move anything below his neck. The girl, now broken and miserable, keeps Castman alive for as long as possible in a room sealed with cork, with nothing to do at all, just stare at pictures of her when she was pretty. He comes to wait longingly for ex-girls of his to come over and humiliate him, because it's better than lying immobilized in a cot and soiling yourself, with no one to hear you scream.
  • Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels provides the "best" example of a fate worse than death— eternal life without eternal youth.
  • E.E. Smith's Lensman: Grey Lensman - The Eich and the Overlord who have Kinnison captured debate how to deal with him— kill him immediately, or infect his limbs and his eyes with a fungous growth that will demand their removal, and then suck his life-force almost dry:
    "Which is worse: to find and bury with full military honours a corpse, however mutilated, or to find and have to take care of, for a full human lifetime, a something which has not enough functioning intelligence to swallow food placed in its mouth."
  • Glen Duncan's I, Lucifer has Lucifer faced with the prospect of being left alone in the infinite void once God destroys existence in armageddon. For all eternity. Unless he finally repents.
  • In Neuropath, a device is implanted in Frankie's head that stimulates the part of his brain that causes fear, meaning that he is in permanent agony which nothing can stop.
  • In The Berkut by Joseph Heywood, Hitler is captured alive by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. Stalin has him imprisoned, naked, in a hanging cage deep in a sub-basement of the Kremlin. The cage is too small for Hitler to stand or lie or even extend his limbs fully. He is thus unable to sleep for more than a short time before the pain from his joints wakes him. He is never allowed to leave the cage, even to urinate or defecate, and is not allowed to wash, so he is forced to live in his own filth. One leg and the other foot become infected and later have to be amputated to keep him alive. Over many years he degenerates into a senile bestial creature. And Stalin visits him every week to gloat.
  • Quantum Gravity: In Chasing the Dragon, Tath is attacked by angels in his domain, so they can't kill him. This does not stop them from trying.
    Malachi: But how did you best them?
    Tath: I am not sure I did. They left me here when it was clear I couldn't be killed. I healed too fast. [voice breaks, turns away] Better to die in those circumstances, Malachi.
  • Quaid, the antagonist of the Clive Barker short story "Dread", discovers, in his pursuit of a relief for his phobia, a fate worse than death. In his efforts to understand dread and find a cure for his own, he breaks the mind of someone whose trust he had earned, and then casually tosses the poor kid aside. This young man then returns to pay Quaid back, unintentionally personifying Quaid's deepest fear. He then proceeds to slowly carve the villain up with a fireaxe, aiming his strikes so that his victim doesn't die quickly.
    Quaid knew, meeting the clown's vacant stare through an air turned bloody, that there was worse in the world than dread. Worse than death itself. There was pain without hope of healing. There was life that refused to end, long after the mind had begged the body to cease.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Devil in Iron" Octavia doesn't get specific, but fears this.
    "He told me what he was going to do to me!" she panted. "Kill me! Kill me with your sword before he bursts the door!"
    Oh, Ishtar, why was I not slain? Better die than live to see our queen turn traitor and harlot!
  • The Land of Oz books by Frank Baum reveal later on that the Wicked Witch of the West was subjected to this when Dorothy melted her. No less fitting a fate for the Witch, of course.
  • Matron Baenre has a fate worse than death in store for Drizzt Do'Urden in Starless Night, having him tortured almost to death, then magically healed, and then tortured almost to death again, ad infinitum, for centuries. Made more horrifying when it's mentioned that the same fate has befallen others, who aren't lucky enough to get rescued as Drizzt finally is. Then there's what happened to Dinin: being turned into a drider, a repulsive creature whose very existence is torment.
  • In The Hunger Games, all Katniss wants to do is to get out of the arena alive with Peeta. After she tricks the Gamemakers into letting them both live, Haymitch warns her that she has upset the Capitol. This leads to her realizing "It's so much worse than being hunted in the arena. There, I could only die. End of story. But out here Prim, my mother, Gale, the people of District 12, everyone I care about back home could be punished..."
    • There's also the consistent theme of former Victors living horrible lives of drunkenness, substance abuse, or being driven mad by the trauma of what happened in the arena. Oh, and some of them get forced into prostitution, like Finnick.
  • Kushiel's Legacy gives us, in the third book and through the second trilogy, the Mahrkagir who inflicts all manner of sexual tortures on his harem. A lot of his harem kill or starve themselves to death, with an added psychological component for Phedre, who is cursed to feel all that pain from someone she hates as pleasure.
  • In Everfound, Squirrel gets this. He is touched by a scar wraith which erases him from the universe, no afterlife, nothing. It's a bit odd since most of the characters are already dead.
  • Or rather 'undeath' in The Witch Watch. An abomination could have their head cut off and buried underground and you "could dig his head up today and still find him screaming for release."
    • The people who crossed Lord Mordaunt were threatened with a fate worse than death.
  • Discussed and deconstructed in Barrayar when Cordelia and Drou find that Princess Kareen (who used to be married to a sexual sadist) has seemingly sold out to the Pretender:
    Cordelia: What was she supposed to do, throw herself from a window to avoid a fate worse than death? She did fates worse than death with Serg.
  • In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Tej intends to jump off of a twentieth-story balcony to avoid a fate worse than death (namely, being captured by her family's enemies). Ivan comes up with an alternative plan (that she marry him, thus becoming a Barrayaran Vor and thereby gaining ImpSec's protection) and is a little irritated that she apparently has to think about whether his plan is actually better than jumping off a balcony.
    Ivan: I am not a fate worse than death, dammit!
  • "Inconstant Moon", a short story by Larry Niven, has the protagonist and his girlfriend resigned to their inevitable deaths as the sun goes supernova. Then they realize that the sun isn't going to explode. It's "just" a solar flare, an extremely destructive but feasibly survivable disaster. They struggle to obtain food and supplies to weather the storm. At the end of the story, the protagonist surveys the destruction left behind by the flare. In a moment of cynicism, he actually wishes the world had been destroyed by a supernova. Life had been so simple when he thought he was doomed. The story ultimately ends on a hopeful note, as the protagonist wonders whether their descendants will rebuild civilization someday.
  • Being an oar-slave (or a harem member) in The Sea Hawk.
  • The entirety of Mogworld has Jim trying to kill himself as he has become an immortal zombie. So has everyone else, and a lot of people aren't too happy about it.
  • In Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, a symbiote called the cruciform makes his bearer immortal (you don't age and you resurrect in case of violent death) but gradually affects his body and mind, ultimately turning him into an asexual and mentally damaged moron. It also causes excruciating pain if you try to remove it or to run away from the remote village (populated only by immortal, asexual morons) where it comes from.
    • In the first book, it is revealed that Father Hoyt, wears two cruciforms, his own and his former master Duré's, enduring twice the pain, which is considerable since he left the planet itself and travelled to a world several light years away.
    • After receiving his cruciform, Duré crucified himself to a Tesla tree (a local lifeform generating electrostatic discharges powerful enough to cause thunderstorms) in an attempt to die. He spent years tied to the tree, being constantly electrocuted, killed and resurrected by the cruciform, as well as tortured by the symbiote itself for trying to get away. He finally manages to die... but in The Fall of Hyperion, years later, he finally resurrects when father Hoyt dies.
  • In Divine Comedy, the punishment for betrayal of hosts/guests is regarded as this, because your body is still alive, but possessed by a demon while your soul is cast into a frozen hell, lying on your back and almost completely buried in ice (your face is the only part not in the ice).
  • In the final book of The Saga of Darren Shan, Sons of Destiny, Evanna mentions that if the laws of the universe are broken and the monsters were released from their confinement, it would make Darren's millenia of suffering in the Lake of Souls seem like a pleasant walk on the beach.
  • In Stephanie Burgis's A Most Improper Magick, when Elissa chides them for leaving her knocking in the hall — why two people saw her — Angeline derisively calls it A Fate Worse Than Death.
  • The House of Night: "What Darkness can take take from some one who walks with Light can change your soul." Darkness has the power to break a soul and rip out the Humanity from it. It's so bad that both Stevie Rae and Stark asked Zoey to kill them, rather than continue to live as they were.
  • The real adventure in The Horse and His Boy begins after Bree warns Shasta that the nobleman who’s trying to buy him off his adopted father is a horrible master, saying “Better to be lying dead tonight than go to be a human slave in his house tomorrow.”
  • In Coda, people who are declared Exaunts are permanently deafened by the Corp. In a society based around music, this is one of the worst things that could happen to you. It ends up happening to Anthem's girlfriend Haven.
  • Frostflower and Thorn has multiple instances of this, from being stoned and hung (forced to swallow sharpened stones and then strung up helplessly by the armpits while the stones shred the bowels of the condemned person) to becoming a Sex Slave. Needless to say, going up against authority requires a good Plan B.
  • The Holders Series involves this for every single one of the Objects in almost every variety of torture imaginable. Everything from And I Must Scream to Mind Rape, and worse. Made particularly bad because most of the time there's no way to avoid failure.
    If you should hear another shriek coming from anywhere around you, close your eyes and pray to the gods that your death will be a swift one.
  • In Tom Clancy's Dead or Alive, Yasin (The Emir) is prepared for death but not for interrogation by a team from The Campus using succinylcholine, which, when administered under the right circumstances, produces all the symptoms of a massive coronary without actually killing the patient - in particular, the most excruciating pain imaginable. This can be repeated over, and over, and over, as many times as it takes.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The only reason Angelus didn't kill Drusilla after turning her insane was because "death would be mercy."
    • One mention of Faith's Watcher stops her in her tracks. Buffy asks if Kakistos killed her. Faith just stares and says, "They don't have a word for what he did to her." According to the novel Go Ask Malice, he literally ripped Faith's Watcher in half while making her watch.
  • In Smallville, Moira Sullivan slowly slips back into a permanent catatonic state in front of Clark and Chloe. She barely had any time to get to know Chloe, her daughter.
  • Parodied frequently in Mystery Science Theater 3000.
    Crow: (despairing) To be dead, to be nothing... to watch Neptune Men no more...
  • In an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ("Ellie") a drugs-mule starts to feel ill and comments that he is going to die. Brass responds "it's worse, you're going to live".
    • Another episode features a legendary mob boss, who was thought dead for decades, killing his surviving enemies before he dies of a bullet lodged in his body (which everyone thought had killed him in the first place). After he's caught, the guy brags about how he's going to die yet be immortalized in legend. Then Catherine reveals that the bullet was removed with no problems (as she explains "'mob doctors' become mob doctors because they suck") and now the mob boss will spend the next estimated 20 years of life in a prison filled with criminals who don't know who he is and fade into obscurity.
  • Angel:
    • Wolfram & Hart's holding facility for their troublesome employees; on surface it's a banally normal suburb, but every inhabitant must every day go in the cellar of their homes to have their hearts cut out by a demon, only to forget it ever happened, except for impending sense of dread. Every day. Illyria rescues Charles Gunn from the place, and learning that somebody must always take the place of the departed, both disturbingly and awesomely forces the torturer demon himself to be that somebody. The final scene from the place shows the demon strapping himself to the table, and putting knife to his own chest.
    • Another episode has Fred, who had been stuck in a hell dimension for five years where humans were treated like cattle, find out who sent her there. She plans to send that person to a hell dimension to suffer as revenge, rather them killing him.
    • In "Hell Bound", the gang is plagued by a sadistic ghost named Pavayne who feeds other dead souls to hell in exchange for not going there himself; they stop him by making him corporeal again. Since they can't kill him, Angel has him locked in a box in the basement of Wolfram & Hart.
    • Wesley's ghost is still stuck working for the Senior Partners in Hell.
  • On the Joss Whedon trend, the Reavers from Firefly are probably something like this.
    Zoe: If they catch us, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skin on to their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it In That Order.
    • In some cases, they take one victim and let them live while forcing them to watch the atrocities they inflict on the rest. In the end, after they've witnessed such evil, they have no choice but to become it. That's how new Reavers are made.
    • In Serenity, River asks Simon to kill her, partially to protect the crew, but also because she does not want to be taken back to the Academy.
    • How the very first Reavers were created: they were the very, very small percentage of the people of the planet Miranda who had the opposite reaction to the Pax, the experimental chemical that the Alliance seeded the planet with which ended up causing nearly the entire planet to simply lie down and die.
  • In Blackadder Goes Forth, Blackadder is captured by the Germans, and is visited in his cell by a German commander who threatens him with a fate worse than death... unless he attempts to escape, in which case he'll suffer a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Although Blackadder immediately thinks of the term's origin, the fate worse than death turns out to be teaching home economics at a girls school in Heidelberg. Designed to strike at the very soul of a man of honour, it doesn't have the expected effect on Blackadder.
    von Richthoven: For you, as a man of honour, the hu-mil-i-ation will be unbearable.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the episode "Flesh and Stone", Amy is forced to make her way through a forest full of Weeping Angels, with her eyes closed, to escape a crack in the universe. When she protests, the Doctor’s reply is: "The Angels can only kill you." If she is caught by the crack, it will erase her entire existence.
    • Donna's initial fate: Because a human mind cannot handle Time Lord knowledge, she was in danger of dying. To save her, the Doctor had to erase all her memories of her travels with him, erasing all her Character Development, just as she realized she was important (and right as she saved the universe). Things get better for her, but this is one of the sadder fates for a companion ever.
    • In "A Good Man Goes to War", it's revealed that the Sontarans punish the worst crimes against their race by forcing the perpetrators to serve as medics on the battlefield. Because the Sontarans are a Proud Warrior Race, being forced to serve the weak and injured is deemed the ultimate humiliation.
    • "The Five Doctors" revolves around a Time Lord seeking the secrets of Rassilon to obtain true immortality, as opposed to the "mere" extremely long life of a Time Lord. He gets his wish, as an immobile stone statue. Forever.
    • In "The Family of Blood", all four of the eponymous family are inflicted with a custom-made version of this trope, in the process learning why you never, ever, ever make the Doctor mad.
    • "Planet of the Ood" has a ruthless CEO personally market the peaceful, squid-like Ood as slaves worldwide. The CEO's fate? He gets turned into one of the very creatures he's been mistreating.
    • The Cybermen "reproduce" by ripping out a human's brain and central nervous system and implanting it into a mechanical body, in the process dulling their minds to remove any emotion or individual thought, and the bodies are designed to last for a very long time. Worse, they seek to inflict this on everyone because the Cybermen themselves view their state as an improvement, genuinely not understanding why anyone would refuse the process.
    • At the beginning of 'The Ribos Operation', the Doctor asks the White Guardian what will happen to him if he refuses the commission being offered:
      White Guardian: Nothing.
      The Doctor: Nothing? You mean nothing will happen to me?
      White Guardian: Nothing at all. Ever.
  • In the Torchwood episode Children of Earth, Jack got trapped in cement until he was rescued, and before that he underwent the prolonged and (judging from the screams) extremely painful process of regrowing his body after being blown up by a bomb implanted in his lower torso. Lampshaded when a witness to this resurrection comments that he'd have been better off staying dead.
    • "Adrift", where they introduce Flat Holm, a place for people who had been taken by the Rift and returned. Then you have Jonah, who had been trapped on a burning planet, saw the destruction of a solar system, and looked into a Dark Star, which drove him insane. Now he screams for twenty hours a day.
    • Miracle Day turns Who Wants to Live Forever? Up to Eleven. Nobody, no matter how badly injured, can die. This leads to a particularly disturbing scene wherein a suicide bomber's "remains" are being examined by a medical team. His body has been largely blown apart and what little is left is burned, but the guy is still alive and appears to be conscious. Even when they sever the remaining tissue connecting his head to the rest of him.
  • Ascertained and subsequently often subverted in Highlander. Many Immortals suffer from a Fate Worse Than Death. Others (like Duncan) want to be mortal so they can die, but continue to fight to keep their heads.
  • On Stargate SG-1 the system lord Ba'al once had the captured Jack O'Neill tortured to death repeatedly and then revived in the sarcophagus, only to start again the next day.
    • Apophis was tortured the same way (possibly worse, since it was not to draw information) by Sokar.
    • Anubis ends up locked in an eternal battle with Oma Desala, leaving him no ability to do anything except fight to survive. And his egotistical nature would never allow him to just give up and let Oma kill him. The same probably applies to Adria in her struggle with Ganos Lal (aka Morgan Le Fey), as the effect of Morgan taking Adria away looked the same as Oma doing the same to Anubis. The true victims of a Fate Worse Than Death are Oma and Morgan, locked in eternal combat with Evil Overlords. Now that is a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • The experience of being used as a host by a Goa'uld for thousands of years, a meat puppet with no control of their body whatsoever, forced to endure both the atrocities the Goa'uld commit and their Genetic Memory (filled with innumerable other atrocities), will drive humans insane. Despite this, Ba'al's host seems to be okay after being separated from the symbiote.
    • In the Season Two episode "The Gamekeeper", SG-1 is imprisoned in a virtual reality realm and forced to live the worst moments of their lives over and over again. They eventually escape.
    • Stargate Atlantis' Wraith are capable of sending people to the very brink of dying by old age... then return them to normal... then take them back to the brink... again, and again, and again.
  • One episode of The Twilight Zone had a Nazi war criminal be tortured by the angry spirit of a Holocaust victim by experiencing the pain his victims felt before they died. He was eventually driven insane before being found by authorities, and the spirit warned that it would continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.
    • The end of the infamous "Time Enough at Last". You're the last person alive, with enough food to last you a lifetime and all the books you could ever want to read and no one will make fun of you for it. You pick up the first book... and your reading glasses fall off and break.
    • The Ironic Hell episodes. You love gambling? Great. You'll always win.
  • In the Star Trek franchise, being assimilated by the Borg and converted into one of their drones is considered this. Captain Picard explicitly says in Star Trek: First Contact that the Enterprise crew will be doing their assimilated colleagues a favor by killing them.
    • In the original series, there was the ending of "The Alternative Factor", which left the matter and anti-matter Lazaruses trapped between universes, at each other's throats for eternity. It's compounded by Fridge Logic when you realize they really just had to imprison the insane Lazarus and destroy his ship to protect the two universes.
  • Kings: Silas decides to spare his gay son Jack because he's already found a better punishment for him. As Thomasina explains when she brings Jack's wife to his room: "Your father wants for you a living death. To brick you into a wall with someone who loves you, who you can't stand the sight of... until you produce an heir whom Silas will take and raise right this time." When Jack begs her for mercy, she twists the knife: it's not so bad, all he has to do is close his eyes and think of his dead lover.
  • Supernatural's version of Hell. You're tortured, daily, in unimaginable ways, for decades on end, unless you agree to do the same to others. Dean is able to hold out for thirty years before giving in, although his dad, John, held out for one hundred years, and never gave any sign of giving in. "Stuff legends are made of," indeed.
    • To take it up a notch, the end of season five had Sam throw himself into hell's solitary confinement with vengeful archangels Fallen Angel Lucifer and Michael to lock them away so they didn't raze the world. He thought they'd get to spend eternity torturing him creatively for this, but lucked out and was freed after only a hundred and eighty years or so.
      • And it's even suggested that it might have been closer to five millennia.
    • Even people who are already demons are afraid of this. In season 5, Crowley tells Brady that Lucifer will probably kill him outright, but keep Crowley alive to be tortured forever. Later, Crowley spreads a rumor about Brady being in league with him, then announces, "Good news—you're gonna live forever."
    • In later seasons, after Crowley becomes the King of Hell, it's heavily implied that any demon crossing him meets a fate of unimaginable torment.
    Captured Demon: "Now kill me. Come on, man. Better death than Crowley."
  • An episode of Star Trek: Voyager begins with an encounter with a Q who had been condemned to be trapped in an asteroid for all eternity, and therefore sought asylum from Captain Janeway so that he could commit suicide. Court trial and Moral Dilemma ensue.
  • Babylon 5:
    • People who die while in the middle jump of entering either hyperspace or realspace well be trapped that way, forever dying at that one moment. Made even worse by the indications that the people this happens to might be conscious of what's happening to them.
    • Being made to be the pilot of a Shadow vessel. Body Horror aside, the experience fundamentally changes you. You're no longer the same person you were before, despite having all the same memories. This is revealed to be the explicit fate of Anna Sheridan.
      • It is implied that the actual integration with the Shadow vessel essentially kills the personality of the person integrated. Simply being prepared (by the use of implants that radically alter brain function) drives the person violently insane. And being integrated is strongly implied to be in a state of incomprehensible agony, leading to the way Shadow vessels scream constantly.
    • The Minbari regard having their souls captured by a Soul Hunter to be this, since it prevents their souls from being reborn into the next generation. The River of Souls delves deeper into this, with an entire race the Soul Hunters captured slowly going mad from their containment.
  • LOST: In "Across The Sea", Jacob provides his brother with one of these when after his brother kills their Mother, Jacob shoves him into the light of the world that the brothers are tasks to protect and creates the Smoke Monster.
  • Tales from the Crypt: "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" features an Amoral Attorney who gets tried in a nightmarish Kangaroo Court. She is eventually sentenced to death, but her public defender talks the judge into giving her public service. She is led into a room with the electric chair, which alarms her...until the defender steps forward and straps himself in. He reveals that he was once an attorney like her, until he ended up in the court. But now he's free thanks to her. After he is killed, the woman is suddenly wearing his outfit, now stuck working in the courts forever.
    • "Loved to Death" has essentially a Stalker with a Crush pining away for a neighbor. A Love Potion gets her interest and he's happy at first, but she becomes increasingly obsessive and clingy. However, he winds up drinking poison and dies. In the afterlife, he thinks he's going to get some peace, but then the girl shows up. She says she couldn't live without him, so she killed herself by jumping out a window, and happily announces they'll be together forever.
    • "Abra Cadaver": As revenge for a prank gone wrong, a doctor induces a heart attack in a younger jerk of a brother and injects him with an experimental drug meant to keep his brain alive. Clinically dead and unable to move, the younger brother is put through the process of being a cadaver for a medical school. Turns out to just be an elaborate prank in itself with no harm meant, as well as to show that the older brother's drug does work. However, the younger brother suffers a second heart attack and seemingly dies, but not before another injection. The younger brother's brain is still alive, as his autopsy begins. And he can feel everything!
  • Being a zombie in the Being Human universe is implied to suck big time. Zombies are created under very rare circumstances; when a person dies but something blocks their transition to the afterlife, their soul will sometimes remain within their corpse. They can think and feel pain as though they were still alive, but they can 'survive' serious injuries such as having internal organs removed. When humans first encounter them, they are subjected to medical experiments, and later incinerated as a biohazard; because undeath makes them immune to anesthetics, they are fully conscious throughout the procedure. Their souls are denied passage into the afterlife until their bodies decay beyond the point of being able to sustain them, during which time they can feel their own bodies decomposing from within.
  • Barnabas Collins from the soap opera Dark Shadows was turned into a vampire, which made him undead, then he had to watch his beloved little sister discover what he was and run away into a storm, which led to an illness, which led to her death; then the love of his life committed suicide in front of him so that he could not turn her into a vampire, then his father found out about his condition and stowed him in his coffin in a room of the family mansion, hoping to find a cure. Then Barnabas' mother promptly discovered the whole thing and committed suicide with poison, again, right in front of Barnabas. At the last, Barnabas begged his father to kill him, but the old man couldn't bear to do it, so instead, he just chained Barnabas inside a coffin in a hidden part of the family mausoleum, where Barnabas remained for almost 200 years.
  • In season 5, of House, Wilson confronts House over the potential effects of his self-treatment for hallucinations, yielding the former page quote:
    Wilson: Heart attack, stroke, seizure, death, or worse.
    Wilson: You live, but you damage the only thing you care about: Your rational mind.
    • According to Cameron, "it's easier to die than to watch someone die".
    • In Season 8, Wilson thinks wasting away from cancer in a hospital or dying in an ambulance would be this.
    • A patient from Season 5 suffered from locked in syndrome-in reasonably good health, but had no control over his own body other than blinking. Doctors were mistaking him for brain-dead and thought they should pull the plug, and had no idea how to treat him even if they wanted to.
  • On The Vampire Diaries, vampires mummify when deprived of blood for an extended period of time, but until that happens they are in an extreme state of hunger and agony.
  • In The River; Jonas is subjected to this after filming a native death ritual. Specifically, he is cursed to forever be hanged by the forest's vines, experiencing pain but never death.
  • On The Mentalist, the Serial Killer Red John punishes self-proclaimed psychic medium Kristina Frye for trying to "read" him on live TV by abducting her and brainwashing her to believe that she's dead. She remains in a completely catatonic state unless someone performs a seance ritual to "contact" her "spirit."
  • Once Upon a Time: Gold specifically says this when talking to Regina about what she did to Belle. He says that Regina keeping her alive so that she could be killed when it best suited Regina is a Fate Worse Than Death. He then tries to get revenge by giving her one right back.
  • 666 Park Avenue: When Gavin realizes that one of his associates has betrayed him, he traps him an endless hallway with no way out until he cracks and confesses. And then the trope is subverted when Gavin just plain kills him.
  • In MythQuest, Alex become Váli, son of Loki. Loki was condemned to be chained to a rock underneath a snake whose venom seared his skin. His suffering was so awful that Alex decided to hold a bowl over his father to collect the venom and prevent it from causing more pain. For all eternity.
  • On NCIS, Ziva regards captivity, along with the torture and abuse it entails, as a fate worse than death. In Season 3, after recounting an incident in which one of her friends from Mossad was taken hostage and beheaded by Hamas, she tells Tony that she had decided that she would "never be taken alive". She eventually is a little over three years later.
  • In Choujin Sentai Jetman, Radiguet finally got his revenge by mentally damaging Tranza's mind. End result? Tranza stuck as a human, in a mental hospital, getting mental attacks from time to time, with Tranza shouting "No! Forgive me!" at the end of the episode.
    Radiguet: I won't kill you. You will fear my name your whole life, while living among the humans!
  • Black Mirror has the episode White Bear about a woman who watched (and recorded) her boyfriend burning a kidnapped child to death. Her punishment is to relive a single day of being chased around by manics while be recorded by 100's of onlookers who stand around and do nothing to help. Then at the end of the day her mind is wiped and she gets to do it again, and again. Apparently the last thing she says every day is that she wants to be killed.
  • In Charmed, Demons and the like come from the Underworld, but when they get vanquished, they go to the Wasteland. They lose their human forms and face being devoured by a beast under the ground. Cole - having retained his human form because he's only half-demon - kills the beast in Season 4, though.
  • In Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its sequels being sent to the mines is implied to be this for the slaves. In Vengeance, Mira certainly believes this to be the case, to the point that when she's informed Naevia died on the way to the mines, she considers it a blessing. From what we see of the mines, this is true.
  • In Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, when a Rider is defeated they don't die, they're vented: they disintegrate and are transported to the Advent Void- a limbo between dimensions from which there is no escape, there are no people, and- once we see the Advent Void- we see you're trapped in a small box that resembles a coffin, and you're still conscious. The Void was actually intended to keep Riders from dying so that they could heal from injuries in a safe environment, but when Master Eubulon was defeated by Xaviax prior to the series' start, injured Riders had no way of getting out of the void after being vented. Eubulon is revived late in the series and rescues everyone stuck in the void.
  • In Kamen Rider Wizard, the title character is forced to do this to Phoenix, antagonist with Resurrective Immortality who comes back stronger every time he's killed: Haruto kicks him into the Sun, where he will continuously die and be reborn in the intense flames, but will never be powerful enough to escape its gravitational pull.
  • The Kamen Rider 555 novel gives one of these to Masato Kusaka, Kamen Rider Kaixa (not that he doesn't deserve it): When he tries to "claim" Mari, the subject of his Mad Love (and whom he raped), her friend/love interest Yuji hacks off Kusaka's arms and legs, but he stays alive due to the Orphnoch DNA implanted in him. Saya Kimura, in this continuity Kusaka's Stalker with a Crush, takes him in and in a very Misery fashion keeps him in the hopes that he'll grow to love her, all while he keeps repeating to himself "Mari will save me..."
  • In the Masters Of Horror episode "Pick Me Up", the two rival serial killers Walker and Wheeler both leave the same victim alive, chained to a tree with barbed wire so she will die of prolongued exposure instead.
  • A rather upsetting one was featured in In Living Color! where a character played by Jim Carrey was a cynical guy at a performance of a magic show. The magician, played by David Alan Grier, then brings him him on stage, gives him the mind of a chicken and then keels over, dead of a heart attack. Flash forward to the present day, where the event has left the guy homeless and while he is able to think of what he wants to say, he is left unable to communicate either verbally or through writing it down since he has been left with the mind, and speech, of a chicken.

    Music 
  • 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;). (This is the original form of the US Civil War song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The Yanks prettied it up.)
  • 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 fact, the song is based upon the book Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (in fact, the only changed detail is that the landmine in "One" was originally a grenade); in the book, the protagonist (who is actually named Joe) at one point attempts to signal "KILL ME" in Morse code by tapping his head against his pillow. That's in the song too. The drumbeat during the guitar solo is the Morse code.
  • 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.
    • It is speculated that any afterlife would eventually become worse then Cessation of Existence via boredom. Unless your mind was re-wired, which is also kind of terrifying in itself.
  • 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 Inquisition inflicts 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.
  • Several spells and abilities in Dungeons & Dragons. 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Corpse Party: If you die in Heavenly Host Elementary, you feel the pain you felt at the moment of your death for all eternity.
  • Ghost Trick: So you have a ghost who has outlived his usefulness, and you really, really don't want him coming after you after the fact. What do you do? Why, leave him in a flooding submarine at the bottom of the sea, completely alone, launch the room containing his body as far away as possible in a random direction, allow said room to collapse due to the water pressure, mangling the body beyond repair and all but ensuring Time Travel doesn't come into play, blow up the submarine with a torpedo, and make sure no possible path of escape remains. And since he's already dead...
  • Team Fortress 2: The disembodied head of the BLU Spy in the "Meet the Medic" video, somehow permanently Übercharged and now spends his invulnerable days mostly having a smoke break and chillin' in RED Medic's fridge. Spy seems rather calm about it though, especially compared to his initial reaction.
    • Parodied by the TF2 Comic name "A Fate Worse Than Chess". The name seems to have little to do with the actual comic.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, a l'Cie who fails to complete their Focus is doomed to become a Cie'th; a crystalline monster that wanders the world in sorrow, until it eventually fossilizes into a Cie'th Stone while still alive, awake, and suffering sorrow and regret, forever. The fate for those who complete their Focus isn't much better..becoming an immortal servant of the fal'Cie. And spending most of the time as a crystal statue, except when they want you for something. The fal'Cie are jerks.
  • StarCraft: Zerg infestation usually alters your mind into conformity with the collective will of the Swarm and its Overmind. However, Starcraft II shows that this is not always the case. Some infestees end up fully aware of their miserable condition, and only have enough control over their bodies to beg other people to kill them.
  • In the Infocom game Sorcerer, dallying in the prologue area will result in a Non-Standard Game Over where the game's villain condemns the protagonist to an eternity in the Chamber of Living Death, wherein victims are perpetually (and painfully) eaten alive by plagues of parasites.
    • Also, dallying too long in the final room without acting will get the protagonist sent to the Hall of Eternal Pain, where they will spend eternity as a powerless disembodied mentality, being tormented telepathically.
    • And in the next-to-last room, there are three doors. Two of them lead to the Chamber of Living Death and the Hall of Eternal Pain. Try to find which one is the third one. Try hard.
    • And failure to obtain (or, for that matter, use) the correct spell before the final confrontation results in a demon possessing the protagonist and using this new body to enslave the entire world. (In the demon's own words, "Now begins an epoch of evil transcending even your worst nightmares; a reign of terror that will last a thousand thousand years!") The kicker? He keeps the protagonist's mind alive and aware, so the protagonist is Forced to Watch helplessly as his controlled body sacrifices babies, forces slaves to build massive idols - with his face - and generally creates a literal Hell on Earth.
  • Infocom was at it again in The Lurking Horror. Don't kill the final monster fast enough and one of its formerly human slaves grabs you and throws you into it, which by this point you know is how it makes humans into former humans. Instead of the standard "You have died" message, you see the far more chilling "You have changed", followed by "Sometimes, during your future existence, you remember your old life. At these times, you wish you had died instead."
  • In Drakengard, the Anti-Hero defeats the Creepy Child Big Bad. She begs him to kill her, but he decides that instead he's going to drag her around the world, forcing her to see the devastation she has caused. This doesn't sound too bad until you consider the Big Bad had the world balanced on the edge of ruin. Killing her would be too easy, no; he's going to make her take responsibility for everything, a child's nightmare.
    • This turns out to have been an effective punishment, or at least truly a Fate Worse Than Death. The Big Bad of the first game is a playable character in the second, and she has repressed all the memories of her being the Big Bad and the punishment the protagonist of the first game inflicted on her. This becomes obvious when the Anti-Hero of the first game shows up as an Anti-Villain in the second, and the mere sight of him makes her go crazy. She gets better.
  • Played for laughs in Persona 3: the boys "accidentally" spend too long in the hot spring, until after it switches from boys-only to girls-only. When Mitsuru and the rest of the girls enter, Akihiko freaks out and with good reason: if Mitsuru detects the boys in the ensuing minigame, she "executes" them; a fate not seen but referred to as "hell on earth".
    • A more serious example in the underlying implications of The Fall: with the coming of Nyx, the incarnation of Death itself, every single living thing will be consumed from the inside out by its own desire for destruction. Thus everything, everywhere, will lose all sense of self and become a mindless, soulless shell that can only moan and whimper, completely unaware of its own death. Should the protagonists choose to challenge this fate, the Appraiser/Nyx Avatar warns them that they will suffer more than they could possibly imagine, then die.
    • It'll be even worse for Aigis, who's a robot, and thus most likely won't be affected by the Fall. Instead, she'll get to watch her friends turn into shambling shells of their former selves, and then spent the rest of her life in a lifeless wasteland until her body mercifully breaks down.
  • In Planescape: Torment, when you explain to the Mercykiller Vhailor how your immortality works, he moves to punish you as each time you die and regenerate, someone else dies in your place... but you can get him to back off by explaining the downside. Vhailor, thought of even by other Mercykillers as a fanatic who'll scrag someone without evidence, decides that you are suffering punishment enough.
  • In the add-on to Dungeon Siege II called Broken World, anyone caught by the Familiar Surgeons is horribly mutilated, fused with parts of other bodies or weapons, and transformed into an insane "bound creature". Fortunately, this cannot happen to player characters.
  • In the backstory of Utawarerumono, Witsarnemitea reduced the scientists who studied him to immortal slimes not unlike the I Have No Mouth example above.
  • Lost Kingdoms has the Runestones. In the first gave, they weren't alluded to much, but when the second game came around, you find out that a Runestone is a soul that one of the three gods sucked out of a living person and turned into one.
  • In Warcraft III, one of the Scourge's Evil Plans is to spread the plagued grains in Stratholme, so people who ate from that will turn into zombies, and their souls will be taken by Mal'Ganis and transferred to the Lich King. Arthas, having learned this, makes a drastic decision to purge the entire city, thinking that such fates are something worse than death. Poor chap didn't know (at the time) that it's not the Stratholme citizens the Lich King is after. It's his soul.
    • Most of what the Scourge does is this. For instance, one of their bosses in World of Warcraft is Thaddius, a Frankenstein-lookalike who's described as: "..built from the flesh of women and children, it is said that their souls are fused together - eternally bound within that foul prison of flesh." Add that some of his voice sounds like a child. When your raid finally defeats him, his last action is to thank you.
  • Half-Life has Headcrabs, small (about the size of a domesticated cat), aggressive aliens that attach themselves to a viable host and commandeer its nervous system, creating what are cheerfully named Headcrab Zombies. Said host is still alive and still aware even as its body rots, it tears off all of its skin (Fast Zombies) and/or is injected with so much neurotoxin it bloats to about twice its width (Poison Zombies). And as of Episode Two there are hundreds of these things roaming in and around the ruins of City 17. It's become an infamous fact that when you reverse a Headcrab Zombie's cry, you can hear the human screaming for mercy.
  • Reaching the end of the Fourth Kalpa in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne reveals that Hijiri has been condemned to an eternity of life, death and rebirth without hope of reincarnation. He will be forced to witness the Conception and the creation of the new world over and over again until the end of time, but will never be allowed to influence its outcome himself. He received this punishment from God for committing "the ultimate sin" in a previous life; because of this, many suspect that he is a reincarnation of Aleph from Shin Megami Tensei II, who committed deicide at the end of the game by killing God. That's right, God.
  • Plundered Hearts, another Infocom title, uses this to get around having to state upfront that people want to rape or have raped the main character. This makes more sense when you realize that the game is an interactive version of a cheesy Romance Novel.
  • In Zork: Grand Inquisitor, all crimes under the rule of Inquisitor Yannick are punishable by being "totemized", having your body painfully transfigured into an immobile totem for all eternity. Justified in that this is part of Yannick's plot to eliminate magic from the land of Zork: if a person is totemized instead of killed, their body's natural supplies of magical energy aren't released and the overall level of magic in the world drops slightly.
  • Baldur's Gate (and the source world) has the "Imprisonment" Spell, in which the victim is instantly trapped deep within the earth, and magically kept alive forever, unable to escape until someone casts "Freedom" at where the Imprisonment is held. In Shadows of Amn, the main character is threatened with this by a particularly hard-lined Harper, and could optionally fight against a high-powered wizard that was driven insane by the experience.
  • Both Tal Rasha and the player-character from the first Diablo game make the unwise decision to insert a soulstone with a demon into their bodies. The results for both of them are not pretty.
    • In Diablo III, Adria, in the cruelest betrayal of the series, does this to her own daughter Leah, using the Black Soulstone to turn her into the vessel for Diablo to be reborn as the Prime Evil.
  • The Quake series, with the exception of the first game, feature a cybernetic alien race called the Strogg, who build their ranks by capturing their enemies and putting them through a horrific process, referred to by the human soldiers in the fourth game as "Stroggification". This process not only involves having several body parts sliced off and crudely replaced with cybernetic parts (without any anesthetic whatsoever), but also involves having a chip implanted into the brain of the unfortunate victim, which is then activated by a machine, so that the victim can be controlled by the Nexus, a giant brain that has control over all other Strogg soldiers (it is unknown if there are any original, pureblood Strogg who possess free will). Watch it here! Worst of all, is that the victims still retain their humanity for a short while after the chip activation but they are unable to control their actions. This is seen in the fourth game, when Scott Voss is transformed into a huge, hulking cyborg, and yells at Matthew Kane to run away and that "I can't control it!", shortly before going beserk and attacking Kane. Sometimes, the process fails, resulting in the victims becoming shambling, zombie-like creatures (the "Failed transfers" and "Slimy transfers") who are then transported to a dumping ground.
  • Since nearly every major character in Grim Fandango is already dead by virtue of the setting, these are the only things that are real threats. Examples include being made into a dam by demon beavers, and being "sprouted" — having plants grow from your body until you become a patch of flowery meadow.
  • The good end to the "Tranquility Lane" quest in Fallout 3 has you condemning Braun to be trapped in his vault with no possible way to leave or interact with the outside world. Rather fitting.
    • Harold. When you find him, he's been turned into a tree and cannot grow or die. He, naturally, begs you to kill him.
    • On a more humorous note, Liberty Prime believes that "death is a preferable alternative to communism".
  • Fallout: New Vegas gives you the option of doing this to Mr House, if you release him from his life-support unit. Even though exposing him to the outside world ensures his eventual death, his longevity treatments will keep him alive for, he estimates, about a year.
    • The Marked Men from the Lonesome Road DLC, who were created by the nuclear explosions that destroyed the Divide. Sandstorms have torn the skin from their bodies, and the radiation from the nukes has mutated them into ghouls, making them immortal. Ulysses tells you that if there's no way to save them (there probably isn't), then it's "mercy, not murder" to kill them.
    • Craig Boone views what would have happened to his wife at the hand of the legion as this. He may not be that far off. So he took the shot.
    • Joshua "Burned Man" Graham, former Legate to Caesar, was set on fire and thrown into the Grand Canyon, but unfortunately survived, is in constant pain exacerbated by the daily changing of his bandages, and immune to drugs.
  • Chrono Cross gives us the Abyss Beyond Time. Whenever a world's timeline is changed, the world, and everyone in it, are instantly transported to a dark, empty void to make room for the new, altered world. Time Travel causes billions of innocent people to become trapped in an endless void for all eternity everytime its used.
  • Being turned into a Nobody in Kingdom Hearts. Firstly, your heart is either stolen or corrupted, turning you into a mindless heart-collecting creature. Then what's left behind of you starts to move around on its own will. Not only will you technically not exist, you'll also have no emotions, and when you eventually get done in with a giant key, you'll leave nothing behind to show that you ever existed. Thanks Disney!
    • There is also a few times when they talk about being turned into a Dusk as a punishment. Only once is death ever threatened, and that was more implying that it hurt the talker more than the victim.
    • All three protagonists of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep get their own tailor-made Fate Worse Than Death in the Downer Ending. Not for nothing does the ending drive Mickey Mouse into a Heroic BSOD for his failure to save them.
  • From Devil Survivor, Naoya AKA Cain, as in the biblical Cain and Abel, has been cursed to remember every single memory from all of his previous reincarnations, including the first one where he murdered his brother, resulting in him living non-stop for thousands of years constantly tormented by far too much information for one brain, never being allowed to forget his greatest sin. What makes it so sad is that he could get out of this; God didn't 'curse' him, this was a genuine attempt to give him time to reflect on his sin and repent. All he has to do to be forgiven is to admit he was wrong and sincerely apologize for the fratricide... but by this point, he's far too bitter to even consider that.
  • Lezard from Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria threatens your party with this if you die against him (the only way you can actually get a Game Over in the game):
    "I will not slay you. From now and forever, no matter how much you entreat me, how pitifully you lament, you shall not die!"
    "I grant you the rights accorded to an enemy of the gods: You will live from now and forever, in an endless cycle of rebirth, condemned in each life to be hated, feared, scorned, punished and obliterated!"
    "Live always with the screech of insects buzzing within your skull, ants gnawing at your eyeballs forever and ever!"
  • In The Elder Scrolls universe, dying whilst under the effects of a soul trap spell will condemn the being's soul to spend eternity in the Soul Cairn. The Soul Cairn is a desolate place; lightning strikes are common, odd, somewhat frightening rock formations dot the landscape and the Cairn's overlords feed on wandering souls via large crystals. Souls of sentient beings in the Cairn often remark on how they have spent countless years wandering the Soul Cairn, wishing for a proper death that will never be theirs.
    • Mankar Camoran's followers are subjected to one of these if killed: His followers are made immortal and condemned to slavery for eternity, working under Daedra. The new inductees in Paradise are dipped into lava.
    • From The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, this is what the Tribunal Temple considers Vampirism. It's why they consider death as the only "cure" for the disease, regardless of what the vampires themselves might believe.
  • In Mass Effect, the Reapers possess the ability to subtly brainwash sentient beings, slowly altering their thoughts so that they eventually override their will entirely, creating willing slaves that follow their orders without hesitation. The downside is that too much use of this ability turns them into mindless husks, incapable of doing anything without an order from their controller. Shepard encounters many people at varying stages of this "indoctrination", and has the option of performing a Mercy Kill.
    • It can be even worse to people with strong mind and psychic talents. Matriarch Benezia sealed a part of her consciousness away out of sense of duty to use her free will in some critical moment, and was effectively trapped in her body in the meantime, unable to prevent herself from committing heinous acts under Sovereign's control.
    • In Mass Effect 2 this is revealed to be the fate of not only the entire Prothean species, but indeed all of the species the Reapers have harvested, converting them into new Reapers.
    • Mass Effect 3 off-handedly mentions a human colony world that was about to be attacked by the Reapers with no hope of evacuation. So the colony nuked itself, reasoning that that would be a better fate than what the Reapers had in store for them.
  • Somewhat based on the relevant mythology, God of War II features Prometheus in his liver-consuming fate. Instead of being freed by Hercules, however, he is freed by being dropped into the Fires of Olympus by Kratos. Kratos is then awarded with Rage of the Titans.
  • Runescape has this in form of the Spirit Beast, who locks a group of ghosts into its own plane of existence, where it slowly feeds on their souls. Erik Bonde, one of the unfortunate fellows to have this fate, said that for the first twenty days, they couldn't do anything but scream.
    • Even worse, at the beginning of the second quest it is revealed it's trying to enter the REAL world, which means that EVERYONE would share this fate.
    • This is also what happened to the hero Arrav after his Heroic Sacrifice to save the city of Varrock from Zemouregal hundreds of years ago. Zemoreugal brought him back to life as a special kind of zombie that still had his consciousness trapped inside his body but having no control at all over his actions except for talking when Zemouregal wasn't focusing on him. During the quest The Curse of Arrav you go on a mission to recover his heart so that you can save him from this fate without killing him and you finally free him during the final battle of the quest Ritual of the Mahjarrat allowing him to turn on and attack Zemouregal, but after the quest his body turns to dust when you talk to him due to his body no longer being preserved.
    • This also happened to the souls that were eaten by the queen black dragon. When you battle her she uses them as unwilling weapons against you, they can talk to you but can't control their actions. Similarly, getting turned into a wright and enslaved by Sliske is probably this too. Finally, during the quest Missing Presumed Death, when Death gets kidnapped and imprisoned by Sliske, dead souls all over the world became unable to properly separate from their bodies, leaving them in an agonizing state of half death.
  • The Darkspawn Blood Taint in Dragon Age: Origins. Essentially, drinking darkspawn blood (sometimes even coming into contact with it) will usually kill you very very painfully, if you are lucky. Otherwise, you will slowly turn into one of them. And that is still better than the treatment they have for the women: they are implied to be raped (everywhere) before being forced into devouring their own kin and slowly turned into immobile betentacled Broodmothers, the purpose of which is to give birth to more Darkspawn.
    • The most insidious part of the Darkspawn Taint is that it's not a Fate Worse Than Death once you cross the line to full ghouldom. Ghouls and Darkspawn hear the Call of the Old Gods as beautiful music, so beautiful that they will devote themselves completely to seeking out the Old Gods. Once you're a full Ghoul, you won't want to be free of the Taint.
    • In Awakening, some of the "Awakened" Darkspawn consider their "freedom" to be this. Bereft of the Call of the Old Gods, they find the silence unbearable. All of the Mother's actions are driven by her desire for revenge against the Architect who cut her off from the music. In the Final Battle, she actually looks forward to dying in battle, hoping to hear the Song again in death.
    • Mages are prone to demonic possession. The exact effects vary but it generally seems to be pretty bad. As a way to "protect" vulnerable mages from possession, Templars sometimes perform a process that severs their connection to magic - and also destroys their ability to feel emotion or dream. These "Tranquil" mages don't seem to mind, at least not after the fact... There was one case of a tranquil mage being temporarily cured by direct exposure to a Fade spirit. He begged his friend to kill him rather than be allowed to become tranquil again.
  • How Pokémon Mystery Dungeon got the Explorer games to have an E rating, the world will never know. In the Bad Future, time never passes, meaning that if you die, you will be stuck in that dying state forever. To make matters worse, shortly after arriving there, you and your partner are to be executed by Sableye, by means of their razor-sharp claws. Imagine an eternity of being cut to shreds...
  • In Pokemon Black And White 2 In terms of the human cast, Ghetsis gets hit right in the face with this at the end of the second game, going so insane that he's reduced to a catatonic vegetable. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke.
  • Grissom in Vagrant Story. Having been killed by Ashley, his soul seeks out a new vessel, and winds up bound to his old corpse.
  • MOTHER 3 provides an incredibly literal example: Porky Minch hides inside the Absolutely Safe Capsule when things start falling apart for him. Dr. Andonuts tells the heroes that it's "absolutely safe" in an incredible literal way: Porky can't be harmed at all in it nor can it be destroyed, and as he's permanently locked inside with no escape at all. Porky can't die of old age, as his time travel abuse made him immortal. Therefore Porky, a frail and decrepit old man (if with a child's mind) is condemned to living forever locked inside the tiny Absolutely Safe Capsule.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, when you finally find the man who betrayed Niko years ago he has a heavy drug addiction and is ridden with guilt, and begs you to kill him. Here you are given the option of killing him or letting him live with the guilt. Niko finds more satisfaction in letting him live.
  • Raziel from the Legacy of Kain series doesn't have one of these. He has three. At the start of Soul Reaver on seeing his new misshapen body he claims "Death would be a release from this travesty" and "I would choose oblivion over this existence". At the end of Soul Reaver 2 he learns his fate is to have his soul imprisoned in a sword where he would be reduced to a mindless hunger devouring the souls of those the sword is used on, trapped for thousands of years. Finally at the end of Defiance he is left trapped in a room with no way for him to escape, and the only thing to look at is a mural showing not only is he not The Chosen One, but that he killed the real Chosen One shortly before getting trapped. Said Chosen One turns out to be Not Quite Dead, and (accidentally) allows Raziel to escape the room - at which point Raziel finally ends up imprisoned in the sword. Poor Raziel.
    • The Hylden race collectively suffers one of these as their war with the Ancients ends with their banishment in the demon dimension, which keeps them immortal, but deforms their bodies and drives them insane. The Ancients themselves suffer similarly when the Hylden retaliate by cursing them with vampirism, which ends up severing their connection to their god. Most chose to kill themselves rather than live on like that.
    • Janos Audron, the last living Ancient, when the Hylden hijack his body and imprison him for 400 years to feed their machinery. At the end of Blood Omen 2 he ends up trapped in the demon dimension with the Hylden.
  • What happens to Galen, your character, in the Dark Side ending of The Force Unleashed. He's nearly crushed to death by a spaceship, reconstructed by the Emperor (Galen is conscious the whole time) to barely be human anymore and then he's forced to live out the rest of his life as the Emperor's pawn. So the mirror-image of Darth Vader.
  • Dr. Weil, from the Mega Man Zero series was given this before the series even started (approximately 100 years prior, give or take). As a result of his war crimes and instigating the Elf Wars, everyone in Neo Arcadia decided to get revenge on Weil or inflict justice (depending on how you view it) by killing his body, turning his memories and psyche into program data, and placing it in a carbon-mechanical cyborg body that prevents him from dying ever, and then he is exiled from Neo Arcadia into the wastelands of the world that he was responsible for ruining.
  • This trope is almost mundane in the Silent Hill series, as although it only occurs after death the victims tend not to stay dead, the eponymous town consuming and imprisoning them. This definitely happened to Lisa, Kaufman, Walter and his victims, and Alex in one of the endings, and probably happened to Dahlia, James in one of the endings, and Claudia.
  • This is what happens to Kirie and Mafuyu in Fatal Frame's canon ending. They're going to be spending the rest of eternity at the Hell Gate deep underground, with Kirie making sure that the gate stays closed, and Mafuyu staying with her so that she won't have to suffer all alone.
  • Final Fantasy XI: Oh dear Altana, have mercy of your children...
    • Raogrimm a.k.a the Shadowlord is forced to watch over Dynamis until hatred no longer exists. Hopefully, he's not alone.
    • Lilisette has no other choice but to leave her world behind, and replace her Evil Counterpart in her own world in order to close Atomos's maws and allow the two futures to survive. And her actions during the Crystal War are Ret Gone, which means that only you remember her.
  • Fate/stay night. Fate Route. What happened to the other survivors of the fire ten years ago. On a completely unrelated note I wonder what's under the church... Makes it worse that you HAVE to visit it unless you want to get storyline killed.
  • Mortal Kombat Armageddon. Mileena's ending. Mileena, the half deformed clone of Kitana, manages to swap her body with her original. Kitana, the former ageless princess of her kingdom, still considered a young girl at the tender age 10,000 years, is now trapped in Mileena's private dungeon, kept in a dark, isolated cell.
  • Chimera in Resistance. The first game even has a level titled "Fates Worse than Death."
  • One of the antagonists of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, despite being (likely) the worst character in the game survives, while the ones that weren't as bad as him were brutally killed. It turns out that Akane's plan was to have him be exposed publicly for his crimes, something that he, Ace, deems A Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Malefor gives the Apes one of these in The Legend of Spyro: Dawn Of The Dragon. He turns them into skeletons that are forever cursed to remain in the shadows, hungry for the energy of others but never able to be full. This fate is so terrible that Spyro and Cynder are visibly horrified by it.
  • Implied in Portal, you never want to disappoint GLaDOS.
    GLaDOS: You know the biggest lesson I learned from what you did? I discovered I have a sort of black box quicksave feature; in the event of a catastrophic failure, the last two minutes of my life are preserved forever for analysis. I was able - well, forced really - to relive you killing me again and again. Forever.
    • Made explicit in the Portal 2 co-op trailer.
    GLaDOS: Don't disappoint me...or I'll make you wish you could die.
    • At one point GLaDOS says that death is too good for Wheatley, and she muses about all the things she could do to them. One of them includes locking him away for ten years in a room where "all the robots scream at you".
  • In Jak II: Renegade, Baron Praxis can occasionally be heard addressing Jak over speakers normally reserved for spewing propaganda. The Baron promises a quick and painless death if Jak turns himself in, because the Dark Eco inside him will eventually do much, much worse. And if he doesn't turn himself in and Praxis finds him instead, he promises Jak he'll wish he died in prison.
  • Dark Souls has a lot of this. Most of the enemies are tragic monsters. There is horrible Body Horror, being imprisoned while effectively immortal, becoming a hollow and Linking the Flame leaves you burning alive, forever until someone puts you out of your misery.
  • In Might and Magic: Heroes VI, The Necrocracy of Heresh punishes its worst criminals by transforming them into ghouls. Because most citizens of Heresh are devout worshippers of Asha who are fully aware of the reincarnation cycle that governs the world, the threat of being permanently removed from that cycle by becoming a non-sentient undead is a horrifying prospect.
  • Comes up in Dishonored, if you're attempting a Pacifist Run. Need a couple of slavers "gone"? Have them disfigured and sent to be worked to death in their own mines. Need a member of the aristocracy taken out of the picture? Knock her unconcious and give her to a creepy admirer, who assures you she won't die but will "never be heard from again." Need the corrupt leader of a religious order removed? Brand him as a heretic, condemning him to spend the rest of his life as an outcast eventually falling victim to the Rat plague and becoming a Weeper.
  • Saiki and Ash Crimson at the end of The King of Fighters XIII, as the two are erased from existence due to a time paradox.
    Saiki: Do you realize what you have just done? You have condemned us both to a fate worse than death!
  • World of Warcraft gives us the Lich King. Either being forced to spend eternity keeping the undead in check like what happened to Bolvar Fordragon or finally dying and moving on to a fate like this. Arthas Menethil dies as the Lich King and ends up in a Purgatory-like area where he is reduced to a sobbing, crying, tormented child. Sylvanas almost pities him for the monstrous fate he was doomed to. Sylvanas' primary motivation after Arthas' demise is to avoid the same fate.
    • Sindragosa. She knows what she's doing as a Dracolich and as she is finally dying, she admits that she is relieved to be free of the Lich King at long last.
    • The trio of Rook Stonetoe, He Softfoot, and Sun Whisperwind in the first quarter of the Siege of Orgrimmar raid. They were destroyed by the blast of energy unleashed from the Vale of Eternal Blossoms being scarred and their souls are bound to the tainted land, dooming them to eternally suffer for their inability to prevent such a tragedy. Lorewalker Cho describes their predicament as this verbatim upon seeing them.
    • For the first time in WoW history, a final boss is spared death and winds up in this trope. The trope victim? Garrosh Hellscream. Instead of being killed off by Varian or Thrall, he is instead taken back to Pandaria by Taran Zhu to be tried for his war crimes. For Orcs, death on the battlefield is glorious. But for Garrosh, there is no glory for where he's going.
      • Although this has now been averted, at least for now. The final vision of the future you get shows someone helping Garrosh escape his prison, and the next expansion has been announced to involve you fighting Garrosh's new army in the past of Draenor, the orcish homeworld.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, Alicia is trapped in an Exsphere upon her death. After explaining how Regal was forced to kill her after the Exsphere turned her into a monster, she pleads with the party to kill her because being existing in the Exsphere for eternity would be "true hell". Regal and Presea agree, and Lloyd shatters the Exsphere.
  • Invoked by Saavedro in Myst III: Exile. In one of his rants to Atrus, he mentions how Sirrus and Achenar destroyed his civilization and separated him from his family, concluding that "It would have been better if I had died."

    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: Oracle for Hire: Karnak falls into Hell and becomes a demon lord, even though he was just trying to save the world (and Murder the Hypotenuse). Later, he decides to pull Siegfried down with him, after the latter's death. Celesto Morgan and the Infernomancer suffer a different Fate Worse Than Death: exile to an alternate plane of pure horror. Although they've recently escaped...
    • Siggy got into Hell on his own merits, apparently. It's the behaving-like-a-psychopath and casual murder thing. Karnak just brainwashed him into following orders, apparently as vengeance on House Damaske.
    • 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.
  • In Erfworld, if the ruler of a faction dies while having no heir, all of their cites go "neutral". It is not pleasant at all: 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.
    • It has been specified that time can pass at different speeds in different hexes, so time probably just stops for them.
    • 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: Big Bad Xykon does this in Start of Darkness to Dorukan and Lirian by using Soul Bind (an actual Dungeons & Dragons spell) to bind their souls into a black gem he still carries with him, keeping them from the Afterlife. But it sort of backfires, since though they're not in the afterlife, they are together.
  • 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 Murphy's 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 gives us 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 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.
  • 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's Bonesaw has this as her MO to the horror of many.
    • Grey Boy, Bonesaw's teammate, also does this-in fact, 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) actually 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants: A greedy Mr. Krabs condemns Spongebob to an eternity to Davy Jones' locker for 62 cents, but he promptly returned by the Flying Dutchman, who describes Spongebob's annoying personality as "a fate worse than death."
  • Family Guy: Being forced to date Meg Griffin is often considered this (since she is so ugly), to the point where several of her classmates go to great, perhaps severe lengths to avoid dating her.
  • Subverted in the very first episode of Earthworm Jim:
    Psycrow: If Earthworm Jim doesn't cough up his Super Suit in the next 20 minutes, you will face a fate worse than death!
    Princess What's-Her-Name: Uh-huh. Such as?
    Psycrow: (not expecting the question) Huh? Oh, I don't... you know... something really awful, with pointy... and it'll chafe and stuff.
    Princess What's-Her-Name: Fate worse than death. Uh, big talker.
  • Parodied in Futurama; when the characters are being rapidly de-aged, Farnsworth explains that if this keeps up, "we'll keep getting younger until we suffer a fate worse than death: pre-life! Then death."
    • Played straight at the start of the re-relaunch of the series.
      Fry: Are they dead?
      Prof. Farnsworth: No no no, much worse than that.
  • Megabyte plays with this to Bob in Reboot, when Bob announces his plan to reprogram the virus rather than delete him saying that he doesn't believe in deletion and that it isn't Megabyte's fault as he was just programmed to be this way. Megabyte's response?:
    Megabyte: So I won't be a virus?
    Bob: That's the plan.
    Megabyte: Ah, a fate worse than deletion and they call me a monster.
  • From Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    Prince Zuko: If the Earth Kingdom catches us, we'll be killed.
    General Iroh: But if the Fire Nation catches us, we'll be turned over to Azula.
    (beat)
    Prince Zuko: Earth Kingdom it is.
    • This is what happens to victims of Koh the Face Stealer.
    • The first time Zhao captures Aang, he has him chained up so that he can barely move, and he says that he can't kill him because he would just be reincarnated again, so he's going to keep him barely alive.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Gentleman Ghost almost gives Batman one of these, conjuring the spirits of criminals and making them drag him down to, presumably, Hell. Deadman saves him, though.
    • It's later revealed that Gentleman Ghost was doing this as revenge for his own fate worse than death.
  • One Static Shock villain, after stealing a belt Static was using to speed himself up to match the villain's technology, ends up using it... and ends up stuck at super-slow speed. The last scene in the episode shows him trying to run from Static in slow motion.
    • Another villain, after gaining the ability to absorb matter, ends up with such a dense mass that, in the end of the episode, he is unable to move at all.
  • Dark Danny of Danny Phantom may have survived outside of his now non-existent time period, but he is forever trapped in that Fenton Thermos. The last shots are of him struggling to get out. He would have, too, if not for Executive Meddling, but he's stuck there for the rest of his afterlife.
  • Justice League Unlimited. "The Once and Future Thing". Chronos' final fate. Doomed to live through the same moments of being harangued by his wife that prompted him to start the whole shebang to begin with, after Batman and Green Lantern messed with his time belt.
    • In "Kids' Stuff" Mordred ends up as the most powerful magical being on Earth, and ends up using his newfound powers to break the spell of Eternal Youth cast on himself. The result of this leaves Mordred with only Eternal Life, causing him to degrade rapidly to his true age of a man of several hundred years. Thus he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity as a decrepit vegetable in the care of his obsessively dotting mother.
    • In the episode "Only a Dream", the Villain of the Week, a nightmare lord called Dr. Destiny, stabs himself with a needle of sedative intended for Batman and falls afoul of his own powers. They last we see of him, he's in a hospital bed, staring slack-jawed.
  • Batman: The Animated Series
    • the Joker couldn't kill people like his comic book counterpart and still make it past network censors, so his patented Joker Venom simply reduces victims to smiling, mindless vegetables. In the DVD Commentary of the episode "Harlequinaide", the series creators speculate that this probably disturbed viewers more than outright deaths would.
    • One sociopathic millionaire has Mr. Freeze construct a duplicate cyrogenic suit for him in order to obtain immortality. At the end of the episode the sociopathic millionaire is immobilized towards the bottom of the ocean, condemned there for eternity.
    • Mr. Freeze, then known as Victor Fries, was trying to commence an experiment involving cryogenetics to cure his dying wife, but then his boss, Ferris Boyle shut down the project without even caring if shutting it down would also kill his wife. Disaster ensues, and Fries' body is altered to become incapable of surviving outside of a sub-zero environment, forcing him to don a protective cryogenic suit. Much later in life, it was later revealed that the very same accident also resulted in most of his body deteriorating to the point that his head was the only part of his human self that remained intact, meaning he can't even live a normal life with Nora Fries, his wife, who was revived and cured. The technology to cure him (by cloning him) is invented 50 years later, meaning that his wife is an old woman if not already dead and thus robbing him of the only reason he really wanted to be cured. When they finally use it on the poor guy, it works and he begins to live a normal life - for about a week, after which it starts failing, condemning him to the same fate as before. He finally blows himself up to both spare himself the emotional agony of a second And I Must Scream scenario and to prevent himself from hurting anyone else.
    • In the Comic Book sequel to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it was later revealed that the Joker's poisoning of Arthur Reeves in the film ultimately did leave him in a fate far worse than death, as it turned him into a grinning monster who was completely insane and wanted to murder Batman, Phantasm, and Joker.
  • Batman Beyond:
    • Ian Peek in "Sneak Peek". The guy gets a device that lets him vibrate through solid objects like The Flash can, and he finds out who Batman really is, and by the end of the episode, he's lost control of the power and sinks straight to the center of the Earth.
    • In "Disappearing Inque", Aaron Herbst, a guard at her prison who had a crush on her, is sweet-talked into helping her, but wants powers like hers in exchange. She gives him an incomplete version of the formula, leaving him an immobile half-liquid blob.
    • In "Earth Mover", Bill Wallace had fused with Earth itself, for years. His episode centered on his anger at his unjust fate and wanting to see his daughter again. Thankfully, it gets better for him, since he found a way to control the Earth itself, then found release when he was finally killed in a cave-in.
    • In "The Winning Edge", it's revealed that Bane's body has withered away after years of Venom use, and he now lives in a nursing home under 24-hour life support, ironically staying alive only through the continuous infusion of more Venom.
  • In the final episode of Kong: The Animated Series (though a few episodes that take place before it are listed after), the main antagonist, Ramon De La Porta, has his life force sucked out of him by Harpy as part of a ceremony to free Chiros (the second main antagonist) from his prison. After Chiros is reimprisoned and destroyed, De La Porta's life force is returned to him, but has nonetheless been broken by the ceremony, leaving him in a state of shock, which is presumed to be permanent, as it is later mentioned that he was admitted to a special hospital and the doctors weren't sure he'd ever come out of this state.
  • In The Boondocks, the place of torment greater than death itself (or its afterlife equivalent) would be Jail. In Colonel Stinkmeaners' own words: "I may be in Hell but at least I ain't in jail!"
    • Judging by his absolute terror at the prospect of going there which shaped most of his major life decisions, Tom Dubois would agree!
  • Venger, of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, deals with this more or less as his stock in trade. The Gnome Wizard Dekion opposes Venger's efforts to unlock the secret of the Dragon's Heart and thusly expand his influence to The Multiverse? Venger transforms him into a groaning, giant... thing made of slime and moss and who knows what (possibly an animated adaptation of the Shambling Heap). The Evil Sorcerer Kalak, Venger's renegade apprentice, seeks to overthrow Venger? Venger subjects him to an Imprisonment spell (see the Baldur's Gate example above). Just tick Venger off, but not so much that he wants to kill you? He'll have you thrown into a cramped, filthy prison suspended by giant chains above a boiling lake of lava, which is itself tended to by the reluctant Lukion, a literal Gentle Giant who must obey Venger or his homeland will be destroyed and his people slaughtered.
    • Venger himself may also the the victim of this. According to the unproduced series finale, Venger's 'good' elements were somehow separated and sealed away, leaving him the familiar, twisted monster.
  • The Psychocrypt in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. After having the victim has their soul torn out painfully, those tossed in the device are fully aware of what's happened. Their Life Energy is used to make a construct the Queen (the person who put them there) can see and hear through, forced to do her bidding.
  • In the Samurai Jack episode "Jack and the Lava Monster," Aku destroyed a Viking warrior's village and family and instead of killing him, imprisoned him in an unbreakable crystal and plunged him still alive into the heart of a mountain. Unable to fall in battle to reach Valhalla, this was a far greater punishment than simple death.
  • Implied by the ending of Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost. The main antagonist of the movie (who was actually fairly likable up to The Reveal that he was actually masterminding the whole shebang) is sealed inside the wicked book of his witch ancestor to spend an eternity being mercilessly haunted and pursued by Sarah Ravencroft. Being dragged screaming into the book is probably a good indication that he knew what he was in for.
  • In Transformers Animated, a weapon which freezes any machines will doom robots to "a fate even worse than going offline".
    • The bad guy behind it all winds up suffering that fate, permanently frozen (and by 'permanently,' we mean 'until next season,' when he's accidentally freed and resumes his old tricks.)
  • Played straight in Transformers Prime for anyone who becomes trapped in the sub-dimension known as the Shadowzone. As the Decepticon communications officer Soundwave learned.
  • Parodied (what else?) in Megas XLR with the final fate of Grrkek the planet killer who ends up imprisoned in a video game that looks like a cross between Smurfs and Care Bears.
    Grrkek: "I demand you return me to my maximum security prison!"
  • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command has this trope parodied when Zurg tried to hit Buzz with a hyper death ray to give Buzz a fate "worse than death: hyper-death".
    • Played very straight in the series opening film (later turned into three individual episodes) when instead of killing Lightyear, Zurg planned on using his Mind Control device to in his own words "Take the galaxy's greatest hero, and turn you me..."
  • Discord of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, as punishment for The Dark Times he inflicted on Equestria, was turned into an immobile stone statue for more than one thousand years. He didn't seem to mind much, but it is very telling that two of the handful of times he loses his cool was insulting Celestia for her part in his imprisonment ("It's quite lonely being imprisoned in stone, but you wouldn't know that, would you, because I don't turn ponies into stone."), and then later when he's turned back into stone and his facial expression is one of unrestrained horror.
  • Baxter Stockman of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles suffered this every time he failed the Shredder. He would lose a piece of his body until all that was left of him was his head, brain and left eye. In one episode he tries to repair himself by cloning his old body, which ends up failing after a few months and he eventually suffers a Villainous Breakdown.
    • Although it's debated of what his fate actually was, if you are among those who disagree that he died, then Baxter in the original series also received this fate. After being mutated into a fly in season 2, his sole purpose was to get back to his human form (even above helping Shredder in any plans against the Turtles), only for a cruel twist of fate to always deter his efforts in the end. In his final episode from season 7, he was able to take away Shredder's retro Mutagen gun to use on himself...only to be accidentally knocked into a void that Shredder created and then sealed inside of it, alone and in his mutated fly-form forever.

  • Total Drama Island, in the final episode of Revenge Of The Island, it's shown that Fang had a little too much fun with Scott and left him crippled, with the only way for him to communicate with anyone is by flashing a red or green light.
  • Gargoyles: Most of the Scottish Clan was smashed by Vikings. Two thousand years later, some of the pieces were gathered into a cyborg-Gargoyle. Then the programming to interact with the outside world got erased. "Pieces of three Gargoyles were used to construct Coldstone. Now we are all trapped inside."
  • Adventures of the Gummi Bears. Seen in Season 6's episode Thornberry To The Rescue. An evil spider The Spinster escapes from her underground prison and kidnaps gummi bears. To make sure that The Spinster never bothers them again, they leave her tied up in an underground cave, the entrance of which is boarded up by Gruffi.
  • South Park: Butters chooses being shot to death over being grounded in "Hell on Earth 2006".
    • In "Roger Ebert Should Lay Off the Fatty Foods," Officer Barbrady is hypnotized into thinking that he's really Elvis Presley. When he is cured, he explicitly calls it a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • A short in Tiny Toon Adventures has Hampton trying to cook a live lobster. In typical cartoon fashion, the lobster gets the better of him at every turn. Hampton eventually gives up and decides to give the lobster to Elmyra instead - at which point the lobster decides that being cooked isn't such a bad thing after all.
    • To many, Elmyra is a Fate Worse than Death, one that people would do anything to get away from and enjoy watching her get her just deserts.
  • In one episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic's sneakers are stolen and he's left with the horrific notion that he has to now walk.
  • In Adventure Time, when Ice King is reverted back to the sane but dying Simon, Simon asks his fiance, Betty, not to save him because he'd rather be dead than continue being the Ice King. When Death appears, Simon almost goes with him, but then decides he should give Betty a chance to save him. Death actually pities him for missing this chance to escape the crown.
  • In Wakfu, when Adamai declares that he'd rather die than help Qilby the Traitor with his schemes, the villain assures Adamai that there are far worse things than death. He clearly considers being sealed away in limbo for millenia by Yugo's past self to be this, and plans to trap Yugo in that same void as payback. Qilby genuinely believes that his own existence is already worse than death since his Born-Again Immortality, unlike that of the other six original Eliatropes like Yugo, doesn't allow him to forget his past lives.
  • Played for laughs in The Simpsons' Treehouse Of Horror X, where Homer and Bart are on a rocket headed towards the Sun carrying the most useless and worst celebrities on Earth (including Paulie Shore, Tom Arnold, etc). It's bad enough as it is, then Rosie O'Donnell starts a sing-a-long:
    Bart: Don't worry dad, we'll be dead in five minutes.
    Homer: NOT FAST ENOUGH!
    *Homer and Bart then eject themselves into outer space.*


Eating OptionalUndead IndexFearless Undead
False Rape AccusationSexual Harassment and Rape TropesGratuitous Rape
Fairy TaleOlder Than DirtFemme Fatale
The MovieOverdosed TropesHypocritical Humor
Fanon DiscontinuityAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Financial Abuse

alternative title(s): A Fate Worse Than Death
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