Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
In stories, characters are usually protected from dying. They tend to live Happily Ever After. If they do die, it's in a murder or disaster or big disease or something. Whatever, as long as it's something spectacular or dramatic or at least surreal, something that we don't have to worry so much that it could happen to ourselves.
There are exceptions, however. Sometimes death is sudden and mundane and comes for no good reason. A sudden brain aneurysm, quietly drown or suffocate while unconscious, any simple accident. While a Life Will Kill You death is very undramatic in itself, it's always very dramatic on an emotional level.
Sometimes this is contrasted to the character having lived through muchworse before something mundane got dangerous to a fatal level, and sometimes not. The character does NOT have to be heroic or powerful in any way, it's enough that the character lived in a setting that wasn't clearly marked Anyone Can Die. Since the trope is about how death is portrayed, it can in special cases (see the The Onion example) also cover deaths caused by aging or whatever.
Sometimes played as An Aesop about appreciating your loved ones while you still have them.
Contrast Death Is Dramatic, Surprisingly Sudden Death, and Death Is Cheap. Contrast Dropped a Bridge on Him, which usually is violent and/or takes death lightly. Compare Deadly Distant Finale, Shoot the Shaggy Dog, You Can't Fight Fate, and We All Die Someday.
Warning: This is a death trope, so expect spoilers.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
The setting of Wish has angels and devils attacking each other and talks of war between heaven and hell. One of the two main characters, Shuichiro, ends up collapsing and dying on the street while buying cigarettes.
An early issue of The Sandman is devoted almost entirely to this trope. As something of a Day In The Life episode for Death, "The Sound of Her Wings" features many, many minor characters who all meet mundane ends, like electrocution, car accidents, and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
At the beginning of Brief Lives, Death comes for a man who expresses disappointment at the mundanity of his death; after surviving 15 millennia he was killed by a freak accident that could've happened to anyone.
A Scotsman In Egypt: What with all the enemies Scotland makes over the centuries, you'd think every important character would die in battle. Domnall's twin Nevan dies of the plague out of nowhere, taking the story into a new direction as Aodh takes over Spymaster duties.
Inverted in I Am Skantarios: Genessios is stated to have died of natural causes in-game, but everyone knows the Emperor had him assssinated (the game lacks a civil war mechanic).
In More American Graffiti, John Milner spends the movie drag racing, only to be killed by a drunk driver as he is driving home.
Never Let Me Go: the film version ends with the protagonist thinking about how ordinary people are Not So Different after all, how we are all living our lives on death row.
In A Single Man, the main character is a gay college professor, who decides to commit suicide after his partner dies in a car accident. At the end, he decides that life is worth living after all - and promptly dies from a heart attack.
In Rangothis trope turns out to be the reason behind the mariachi leader's repeated statements regarding Rango's eventual death.
In In Time, this is played straight in the story while subverted by the setting. Within the story, characters die from the smallest mistakes, such as only keeping enough cash for the bus ride home (without knowing that the fee has been increased), or getting so absorbed in your duty that you don't take the time to refill your clock when you have the chance. On the political level, however, it is made clear that the system has been engineered for these kinds of mistakes to occur. The government is murdering their citizens on a genocidal level, while building in an element of randomization as an excuse to pretend that it's the victim's own fault.
In Last Action Hero, The Grim Reaper from the Seventh Seal movie appears in the real world and does what the Grim Reaper tends to do. When he confronts the protagonist he tells him that he will die. For one moment, the kid thinks he is going to be reaped, but the Grim Reaper just tells him he'll die as a grandfather.
A special content in Final Destination 3 DVD revolved around various causes of death, from the most unlikely to the most probable. The ending was simply "Chances of dying - 1:1".
Discussed in Patton. At the end of the movie the eponymous general nearly has a car accident, and he mentions how ironic it would be for someone to live through the worst of World War II only to die in a random car accident. This is an allusion to how the Real Life Patton died.
In Defending Your Life romantic lead Julia mentions dying by tripping over a lounge chair and drowning in the pool. After not only having been a very accomplished swimmer, but also lived adventurously and risked her life heroically more than once. (She's shown rescuing some people from a burning building, only to run back inside and return with the dog.) She finds the irony frustrating.
The Big Lebowski hits its climax with a fight scene between the protagonists and the nihilist would-be kidnappers. One of the protagonists does not walk away.
The Dude: Oh man, they shot him!
Walter: No, Dude, there were no shots fired.
The Dude: Huh?
Walter: It's a heart attack.
In the first Erast Fandorin novel, Count Zurov tells the protagonist about a friend he had once, an army officer who participated in the most brutal fights but died in the peacetime of an accidental alcohol poisoning.
In Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time, the final chapter concerns an army officer who shot himself in the head on a bet to prove there is no destiny (the pistol jammed), and then was killed by a drunk Cossack a few hours later.
A character in one of Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels survives numerous conflicts and then dies after slipping on a stone staircase. One of his disbelieving friends cries "death should be more difficult."
Discworld: One of the seven barbarian heroes chronicled in Interesting Times dies from... Choking on a concubine (err... cucumber). This is what urges the rest of the group to seek a more glorious death for themselves (even though they have effectively settled down at the end of the previous book) in The Last Hero.
Also, Death is stated to believe that everyone is dying, and everyone will die, because of this trope, which makes asking him whether or not your current prognosis is terminal a moot point.
We see this happening to Auditors who start developing traits associated with being alive. This is justified in universe in that Auditors, not being alive, can exist for ever, but being alive implies that you will one day be dead and thus have a finite existence. Because any finite number compared to infinity is indistinguishable from zero, any Auditor that appears to have begun to live will instantly die.
Hogfather plays with this by having several Auditors turn into vicious dogs in order to interfere directly with events. They are horrified to discover that life is addictive and that they can't turn back, and because they are now alive they are now also no longer immune from Death (who is, by this point in the story, royally pissed off at them...)
Death: it gets under your skin, life. metaphorically speaking of course. and the more you struggle for the next moment the more alive you become... which is where I come in, as a matter of fact.
In Stephen King's novel Duma Key, protagonist Edgar defeats an evil force with the help of his new best friend, Jerome Wireman, who has previously survived a Bungled Suicide where he shot himself in the head and lived. They both survive the encounter, but Wireman suddenly dies of a heart attack a few months later.
Live Action TV
Invoked in almost every episode of House, and far from always subverted by the doctor somehow managing to save the patient anyway.
Common in Dead Like Me. Since the main characters work in the External Influence department, old-age deaths are still rare, but their clients' causes of death include auto accidents, diving-board mishaps, aggravation of an existing spinal injury, and falling space-station shrapnel (more interesting, but still sudden and pointless).
The best example is when they're in a bank waiting on a death to occur. As the time gets closer, a bunch of armed bank robbers rush in, while at the same time, a wife catches her husband having an affair with a coworker. With all this tension going on, murder or an accidental shooting seems imminent... but no, the whole situation manages to resolve itself peacefully. So who dies? The guy who walks in ten seconds later to cash his paycheck, slips on the floor and breaks his neck in the revolving door.
One episode of CSI ("Ending Happy" was the title) consists of a guy who suffered a Rasputinian Death. After surviving being poisoned (by seafood to which he was allergic), shot in the throat by a crossbow, beaten with a crowbar and poisoned again (this time by snake venom) he sits down by a pool, then falls in and drowns when the chair (which he refused to repair earlier in the flashback) collapses. Made all the more frustrating for the team as four people confess to killing the man, only to find out that wasn't what had actually done him in. Whether or not they're charged for attempted murder isn't addressed.
One episode of CSI: New York had someone who appeared to have been pushed off a balcony. Not only was he an Asshole Victim, it happened at a party so a lot of suspects were present. His actual cause of death was drinking so much he lost his balance when he tried to reach up for something behind a statue on the balcony. So even in CSI, it's not Always Murder.
Referenced in the Firefly episode "The Message," in which the eponymous message from one of Mal's old war buddies includes the declaration that "We went to war never looking to come back, but it's the real world I couldn't survive." Subverted somewhat in that he's not actually dead, and while he does get himself killed by the end of the episode, it's not a mundane death.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy's mother is simply dead one day. While the audience shouldn't be surprised by a death (in the Buffy-verse, at any rate), it was totally unexpected that she died the way she did. One episode ends with Buffy coming home, and her mother is dead on the floor. The next episode is called "The Body", and quickly reveals that it was a simple aneurysm - caused by complications from a procedure to remove a brain tumor.
Bonus points that everyone was so surprised and unsettled that it wasn't anything extraordinary. Xander, especially, is shaken, saying things likes this don't just happen.
Played with in Angel where one of the prophesies concerning the eponymous vampire is that he will "save the world, then die." Eventually it's revealed that a more accurate translation would be "save the world, then eventually die in the sense that you will become a mortal human again, which is kind of what you've been hoping for ever since you got your soul back."
A similar thing was done later in the series with Eve. She spends an entire episode hiding from Hamilton, claiming that if he finds her he'll kill her. When he catches up to her, he just severs her contract. When asked why she said she would die if he caught her, Eve answers that now that she's mortal, some day she will.
In the episode "Tooth and Claw": When Queen Victoria mentions the legend that anyone who possesses the Koh-i-Noor diamond must surely die, the Tenth Doctor points out that that's true of anything if you take a long enough view.
The Weeping Angels' victims. The Angels won't (usually) kill you, instead they'll send you back in time and you end up dead in present time simply from living out what was left of your life.
The deaths of the Doctors's incarnations are usually very dramatic and noble (especially Two, Three, Five, and all of the new series Doctors) but have been this in a few cases. The First and War Doctors simply die quietly of old age between adventures (unlike the Eleventh, who died of old age but in the rather more dramatic context that he'd aged to death due to stranding himself on a single planet for hundreds of years). The Sixth Doctor slipped and bashed his head on the TARDIS console and died. The Fourth Doctor died from the fall after slipping off a radio tower he was climbing - though the fact that he (and the audience) knows from the moment he first sees the Watcher that he's not getting out of that story alive makes it a bit less sudden. The Seventh Doctor got hit with a stray bullet by happening to be in the vicinity of a gang incident, and then died in a medical accident when the surgeon trying to resuscitate him got confused by his Bizarre Alien Biology and killed him on the operating table.
The First Doctor is a bit more then that...he died due to radiation poisoning from his last adventure, though editing made it unclear...and the fourth doctor slipped off a radio tower...while saving the universe.
The death from old age of the Brigadier in "The Wedding of River Song", which forces the Eleventh Doctor to go and confront his own death.
Danny Pink dies in a car accident in "Dark Water". Clara even complains about how ordinary a death it is.
On I Dream of Jeannie, Tony accidentally releases the Blue Djinn, who had decided to kill whomever finally freed him from his bottle. When the Djinn asks him how he wishes to die, Tony nervously says "Of old age." The Djinn isn't falling for it.
Given a nod in the episode of The Golden Girls where Dorothy has what is ultimately diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome. After being told by a number of doctors that there's nothing really wrong with her and even told by one that it's all in her head, she gets an examination by her neighbor, Harry Weston (a pediatrician), because he's the only doctor she knows she can trust.
Dorothy: Am I going to die, Harry?
Harry: I'm afraid so.
Harry: Sooner or later, I guarantee it.
The X-Files: In "Beyond the Sea", Scully's father dies of a heart attack, probably the most normal death in the whole series. Ironically, by the time Scully has accepted the fact that nobody can escape death ("Tithonus"), it's implied she has become immortal.
This was the reason behind Tasha Yar getting a Red Shirt death instead of an "Our hero saves the universe and goes out with a final quip" sort of death when her actress left Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was intended as a Reality Ensues moment - the point was that it was pointless. However, fans don't like it that realistic when it comes to their character getting bridge'd. She returns in an Alternate Universe episode, and gets a much better ending (though most likely still won't survive.)
Against all odds she actually does survive, as related by a character literally born of that alternate continuity, then dies again pointlessly years before she dies the first time. Ah, Negative Space Wedgies.
Invoked by Q in Tapestry. Picard asks if being spared being stabbed in the heart means he won't die. Q retorts, "Of course you'll die! Just at a later date."
Life'll Kill Ya was the title of one of Warren Zevon's last albums, although in a sad irony it was released before his terminal cancer diagnosis.
In Exalted, even the most glorious Solar Exalt will die if he live long enough. The discovery of this rule led to great dismay/sobering amongst the first generation of post-Primordial War Solars. Attempting to avert this is the reason the Scarlet Empress fell into the Ebon Dragon's claws. Doesn't apply to Abyssals who suffer from Eternal Death, as well as Infernals who become Primordial 2.0.
On a more specific note, there are cases like Chejop Kejak (the lead Sidereal who fears what will become of his faction when he succumbs to old age), the fact that several potential candidates to the Scarlet Throne are discounted on the basis that they're too close to the end of their lives, and Ingosh Silverclaws (an extremely prominent Lunar) having passed away shortly before the start of the game's introduction point.
In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, it's mentioned that the previous Overlord, Laharl's father, an incredibly powerful demon who'd taken on the worst that Heaven and Hell could throw at him and won died... from choking on a pretzel. Or maybe not.
Fallout: The "bad ending" for Junktown has town villain Gizmo taking charge and becoming an untouchable crime boss, until he chokes to death on a iguana-on-a-stick.
Invoked in Fallout: New Vegas, when Caesar offers the Courier the chance to determine how Benny will die. When asked, Benny chooses to die of old age, in his bed, preferrably after a marathon session of sex with a pair of prostitutes. Whether or not this works is up to the player.
In Icewind Dale, one boss states that the world is dying. Why? Because it is living.
Ezio Auditore de Firenze, a much-feared assassin who comes to controlling the entire Mediterranean region throughout Assassins Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations, dies of a heart attack at an advanced age after years of idleness. Which is just the way he wanted it as he had chosen to give up the life of being an assassin years ago.
However, there are theories that he was, in fact, poisoned by a man he talked to moments before dying, as seen in Embers.
Similarly, Altair is about ninety or so when his story finally ends. The last command the player gives him is "Sit a moment and rest..."
At the end of Metal Gear Solid 4 Snake meets with his father Big Boss at Arlington National Cemetery where they make up for lost time. At this point Snake is going to die within a year's time, at best, due to preprogrammed Clone Degeneration that has accelerated his aging, and Big Boss is going to die because of a virus that is programmed to kill him. Naturally one of the questions that Snake asks of his father is, "Am I going to die?" Big Boss' response is a simple one, "Everyone dies. There is nothing you can do to stop it. Nothing you can do to run away from it. All that's important is that you don't waste the time you have left."
Dwarf Fortress: There's a pretty damn big chance your legendary axedwarf won't die in an epic battle worthy of history, but rather will get caught in a cave-in, drown/burn in a badly engineered cistern/magma reservoir, or simply dodge off a ledge and fall head-first.
In this article in The Onion, all death is treated as totally unexpected, with people being surprised and horrified that people actually can die from aging.
One of the Hitler Ate Sugar tactics used on the Justice League by "Glorious Godfrey" was as follows: "Since the Justice League has been around, 50% of marriages ended in divorce, the other 50%... in death!" Of course to him it was just business nothing else.