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Inferred Survival
In fiction, Death is relative (no, not that kind of relative!) and less than permanent at times. So just as survival is unlikely for some, death is unlikely for others.

Perhaps the Anti-Hero was Left for Dead in a Heroic Sacrifice that no one could survive, but since they Never Found the Body, and they already had a penchant for Faking the Dead, their survival isn't so far fetched. Perhaps in the supposed Bolivian Army Ending there is a power, technology or ability that, while not explicitly mentioned, could save them. Perhaps the perennial Arch-Enemy has been bested in a final showdown and, refusing the hero's offer to save them, seemingly plummeted to their doom, but the audience knows how many times this has happened.

Any time an author leaves the door ajar on a character's death to later bring them back plausibly if the plot requires it. Compare He's Just Hiding. Often a result of Epileptic Trees and/or Fridge Logic, or even Word of God.

See also the Wild Mass Guessing Sorting Algorithm of Deadness for the odds of some characters returning.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Protagonist of Witchblade Masane Amaha supposedly died in the ending in such a way that even nigh indestructible (it caused The Tokyo Fireball once, with itself in the center) Witchblade itself wasn't left behind. However, due to the fact that this disagrees with the comic book canon (which the anime is part of), her death is called into severe question. It only get worse when you realize the ending contains equals parts Cliffhanger and Never Found the Body.
  • Lelouch from Code Geass. Complete Immortality exists in universe, and he had time to plan for what eventually happened to him, so it is possible. Word of God denied it, although this particular God has lied about who's dead before...
  • One Piece: Zoro's childhood Kuina was supposed to have died (and in the manga, we see the body), and now we have Identical Stranger Tashigi. This trope wouldn't come up if it weren't for how One Piece is a World of Ham where women can hold babies in their bodies for 20 months, states again and again that true friendship never ends, and that Zoro working on their promise alone isn't thematically consistent with "No one is alone at sea." Though, Word of God has shot down that Tashigi and Kuina are the same person/even remotely related to one another and that it's just coincidence. Still, in the world of One Piece, anything can happen.
  • Bleach: Word of God has not confirmed that Grimmjow is dead, and the Estrogen Brigade refuse to believe so either, but many accept that as he's been out of the picture so long, he's not coming back. He was alive the last time we saw him, if only barely, and knowing Kubo Tite's policy of effectively killing characters several times over and still keeping them alive, it's definitely possible. Kubo later confirmed that Grimmjow will appear for the final arc.
  • 4Kids loves applying this trope in their dubs, even when in the original Japanese version it is blatantly obvious that the character died.
  • Funimation adamantly refused to admit that anyone in Dragon Ball Z died, or if they did they were merely "in another dimension" note . The best example is in a relatively early episode in which Vegeta and Nappa arrive on Earth in the middle of a city, surrounded by curious people. Nappa makes a gesture and instantly vaporises an enormous portion of the city, forming an suitably wide crater, then mentions that everyone evacuated.
  • Despite how most chose to interpret the End Of Evangelion ends with this, as narration make clear anyone can regain their individuality if they want to.
  • The fate of Chrono in the epilogue of Chrono Crusade. He is shown to have survived the final battle with Aion, but was last seen seven years later at Rosette's death. His survival to the last point of the epilogue, sixty seven years later, is not proven. Still, somebody had to be leaving those flowers on Rosette's grave every year without ever being seen...
  • Witch Hunter Robin lampshaded this regarding Robin and Amon at the end of the series.
  • Orochimaru of Naruto was absorbed by Sasuke at one point, but it was speculated by many fans he was merely suppressed and waiting for an opportunity to re-emerge. He did, and was immediately killed, but the appearance of a white snake trying to flee the battlefield hinted it wasn't so clean cut. Turns out Orochimaru's consciousness can hide in any of his cursed seals, so he came back again.

    Comic Books 
  • Example from The DCU: Due to the ludicrous event regarding her death, and since she was simply left for dead in a hospital, this is what some like to think happened to Dr. Light.
  • Jean Grey has a tendency to die a lot in all kinds of adaptions. Of course, anyone familiar with the original X-Men setting knows that she is, in fact, Phoenix, and has made a career out of coming back from the dead. Thus, when she pulled a Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the second X-Men movie, everybody knew she'd be comming back for the third (and she did)... her death in the Marvel 1602 timeline is also unlikely to have stuck.
    • Apparently the characters in X-Men are pretty Genre Savvy, since her tombstone reads: Jean Grey-Summers: She Will Rise Again.
    • It's gotten to the point where they're barely fazed at all by dying anymore. One of Cyclops's plans began with "Step 1: Die. Step 2: Come back to life," and works flawlessly. Another character remarked that Mutant Heaven doesn't have pearly gates, but a revolving door.
  • Used in character by Siryn in X-Factor. She refuses to believe her father is dead because X-Men come back from the dead all the time. This is partially treated as unhealthy denial but otherwise seems a logical enough assumption to make.
  • Corsair was one of the victims of the "Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire" arc, but unlike the various people who suffer deaths that are far more gruesome than X-Men's normal (though not to Gorn levels) his corpse was very non-brutalized. He was then buried on a habitable but uninhabited planet. Hmm.

    Film 
  • This might be a reason Boba Fett was allowed to escape the Sarlaac after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Being attached to a jet-pack inside a creature that passively digests its prey over a long period of time no doubt also had a lot to do with it.
    • Shaak Ti has "cheated death" two or three times already, including two separate deleted scenes in Revenge of the Sith, so her official death in The Force Unleashed is met with much skepticism.
  • Spock's death in Star Trek II was made non-permanent by a tiny little mind-meld with an unconscious McCoy.
    • Data's death in Star Trek: Nemesis was given an out by dumping all of Data's memories into B-4.
  • Storm Shadow's death in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, lampshaded by the director in the DVD commentary. And indeed, the character is back and alive in the sequel.

    Literature 
  • Powerful magicians in the Riftwar Cycle tend to find new ways to either survive death as essences of the original, or simply revive straight-out. Though this is often used to bring back a popular character after he or she died in the last series, it also serves, at times, to reinforce the permanence of death for non-magical characters.
  • Sandor Clegane in A Song of Ice and Fire. He is explicitly stated in A Feast for Crows to be dead and buried by the priest who found him dying. Clues within the chapter in question suggest otherwise to such an extent that his survival is widely accepted among readers.
    • Gregor Clegane may count as well, for varying values of "alive."
    • Despite the apparently fatal infliction of multiple stab wounds, this is the fandom's general consensus regarding Heroic Bastard Jon Snow.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may well be the first author to find himself bitten by this trope, when he failed to produce a body or witness to Sherlock Holmes' "death" on Reichenbach Falls in "The Final Problem". After many years of fan outcry, he was forced to resurrect the Great Detective in "The Adventure of the Empty House".
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Near the end of the Shadows of the Empire book, Dash Rendar, the Suspiciously Similar Substitute of Han Solo, seems to die in a Heroic Sacrifice, although his allies Never Found the Body and there are a couple of lines about how if he did live, not informing them is very rude of him. It's like that in the easy version of the video game, too, but the hard mode shows that he survived and flew off without informing anyone. And he did show up in later works. Just not very prominently. What's a Han Solo stand-in without a Leia?
    • A couple of characters who vanished during a particularly bloody book in the New Jedi Order survived to be the maimed semi- and actual antagonists in the Dark Nest Trilogy.
    • A few characters in the X-Wing Series, most notably Lara. This last one is all but confirmed in the tenth book Mercy Kill.
    • K'kruhk survived so many certain deaths it's almost funny. He later lampshades it:
    Cade Skywalker: K'Kruhk! But... I thought you are dead!
    K'kruhk: I died so many times before... at least that's what I heard.
  • Fans had strong suspicions that Hollyleaf in Warrior Cats surivived because of the way her "death" was presented - we "see" it from the POV of a blind character who merely hears rocks caving in and automatically assumes that No-One Could Have Survived That without even trying to dig her out. The characters keep using the word "lost" instead of "died". When the other characters finally realize that she might still be alive since they Never Found the Body, they finally dig through the rubble... and find nothing, so they know she must be out there somewhere. She does return later that book.
  • A large amount of characters in A Series of Unfortunate Events are neither confirmed alive nor dead at the end, and Snicket usually points out that there's evidence to support either fate. However, some are indeed suggested to be alive: the islanders from The End, last seen leaving the island on a raft. Sunny says, "Kon-Tiki" after them, and said raft's occupants survived.

    Live Action TV 
  • Almost any character on LOST, but particularly Jin. There was a lot of speculation that Juliet was still alive since Desmond survived an electromagnetic explosion in season 2. Leading many to believe Juliet would just wake up in the jungle like he did.
  • Doctor Who has done this sort of thing a lot, most particularly with the popular recurring villains The Master, Davros, and the Daleks.
  • The Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files is another example.
  • After certain point, who expected Daniel Jackson to stay dead in Stargate SG-1? Not the characters, certainly. At one point, after Daniel's last known location was a replicator ship that they're certain exploded in space (and the audience sees him get stabbed in the chest for good measure), General O'Neill refuses to hold even a memorial service because he's expecting Jackson to pop into his office by the end of the day. Even a squad of Red Shirts cracks wise about the good doctor's tendency to die repeatedly.
  • Happens frequently on Stargate Atlantis, to the point where it gets lampshaded often. One of the most noteable examples is Lt. Ford. After going rogue Colonel Kurtz style, he's last seen leading an attack on a Wraith starship that explodes (although whether or not he was actually still aboard the ship at the time is not shown). His fate is left ambiguous, and Commander Shepherd lampshades the fact that a lot of people they know have survived similar events many times before (although unlike most other characters who had this happen to them, Ford never resurfaced in a later episode before the series ended).
  • Sara Tancredi from Prison Break. The fans complained when she was killed off, so the writers took advantage of the fact her death was done off-screen for dramatic effect to bring her back.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Goddess Eilistraee in Forgotten Realms, killed along with Qilu Veladorn whom she possessed. Even "lesser" powers like her may run multiple avatars. But then, possession ain't the same as avatar, so it would be stretched, but not too much — if not the circumstances of Qilu's own birth. Elu Silverhand was killed while possessed by Mystra, whom this accident neither deterred from acting immediately to save unborn Qilu, nor even lowered in Divine Ranks.
  • Something of a trend in Warhammer 40,000, where numerous characters seemingly deader than disco have returned later, and the persistent Continuity Snarl makes it difficult to determine when or even if a certain character died in the first place. The most well known is probably the situation with Alpharius, who was supposedly killed by Roboute Guilliman in the years following the Horus Heresy, but lots of doubt (both in and out of 'verse) has been cast on the Ultramarines' account of events, and Alpharius is certainly enough of a Magnificent Bastard to fake his own death (and that's before considering his identical twin Omegon).

    Video Games 
  • In Advance Wars: Dual Strike, the deaths of Von Bolt and Hawke do this. It's certainly implied enough that Hawke survived, but Von Bolt's survival is ambiguous.
  • The Fade To Black ending to Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 makes it appear as though Captain Mitchell died during the EMP bombing, but is ambiguous enough that his return in Future Soldier many years later is plausible.
  • Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy: It is strongly implied at the end of this first game in the long-running Jak and Daxter series that the villains, Gol and Maia, were not truly killed at the end of the game, as Samos states that they are dead, "...probably." Funnily enough, the two never make so much as a cameo appearance throughout the rest of the series, telling us that they truly are no more. Seems even Word of God can jump the shark at times.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories: For a while, there was no solid proof that Zexion was dead, leading many fans to believe he was alive. When the game was remade for PS2, his death was shown in full detail. However, Kingdom Hearts 3D reveals that he was eventually revived as a whole being along with most of the other Organization members.
  • The fate of Officer Cybil Bennett from Silent Hill has long been a source of contention among series' fans, and Word of God has been notoriously contradictory on the subject. Silent Hill Chronicle: Lost Memories, the most famous Silent Hill information guide, stated that the Good Ending is the one which leads into the game's direct sequel, Silent Hill 3. One of the two requirements involved in obtaining this ending is killing Cybil instead of saving her with the red liquid. However, elsewhere in the same book, scenario writer Hiroyuki Owaku claims that Cybil's ultimate fate is left up to the player, causing a vocal minority to insist that the Good+ Ending is the true canon ending— despite Owaku's claim meaning that there isn't any true canon ending.
    • A situation mirrored by his take on James Sunderland's fate in Silent Hill 2. Despite Silent Hill 4 trying to clumsily override Owaku-san, he said that whatever ultimately became of James is what that player believes should have happened to him, and that there is no canon resolution.
      • It's never explicitly said in Silent Hill 4 what the fate of James is as of SH 4. It's revealed that James's father has lost contact with his son and his wife, but that still leaves James's fate ambiguous, considering how it can be argued that every ending has a way to account for James losing contact with his father, be it James committing suicide, still being in Silent Hill, or going into hiding to avoid being charged with his wife's murder.
  • A weird inversion of Never Found the Body has lead many to believe that Minamimoto from The World Ends with You survived. The things is that Reapers normally don't leave bodies, but they found his.

    Western Animation 
  • Inverted with Terra in Teen Titans; the writers did it intentionally.
  • Expected with Jet's ambiguous death in Avatar: The Last Airbender, whose injuries (which didn't seem that bad in comparison to others') weren't explained and whose final fate was never explicitly explained, but Word of God stated he died.
  • Beast Wars. Very few "dead" characters suffered more damage than surviving ones who were tossed into a CR chamber and popped out just fine. Except for Dinobot, and maybe Tigerhawk if he was completely vaporized, there's not one of them who wouldn't be just fine if someone were to find them and fix them up. In the comics, it's already happened to Ravage. The second Dinobot is even last seen on a ship that is going down, which is shorthand for "just wait three episodes or so" in cartoon-land. There just... weren't any more episodes.
  • In Transformers: The Movie, the Decepticons brutally murder the crew of an Autobot shuttle, including Prowl, Ratchet, Brawn, and Ironhide. While it is pretty unambiguous that Prowl, Ironhide and Ratchet died, several people insist that Brawn actually survived, since he was only shot once in the shoulder and has taken tougher injuries in the past. Plus, he showed up in a shot in a later episode (though this was almost definitely an animation error, since the Decepticon Bonecrusher was with him) and was not mentioned among the dead Autobots in another. This theory is reliant on the idea that the Decepticons would leave Brawn alive for the duration of the shuttle ride from Cybertron to Earth, of course.


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