Miles to Go Before I Sleep

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

So, you're a Death Seeker, are you? You've lost everything, or you've been dishonored or wronged beyond endurance, and now you're charging off to get yourself killed in the big battle ahead? Ha! Luxury. Some of us can only dream of the sheer indulgence of surrendering ourselves to a sweet, sweet end! Unfortunately, we've got a to-do list as long as your arm to deal with first.

Suicide Missions don't grow on trees; also the "Mission" part trumps "Suicide." Not every character to whom life has become a burden can kill themselves or even allow themselves to die. Sometimes there's a task or an obligation that must be discharged before they can ever have peace. It might be some grand quest only they can complete, or it might simply be the knowledge that people are depending on them, or will be devastated by their loss. Sometimes such a character must reluctantly fight to survive even though they don't want to. They might be allowed to "die trying" to do whatever it is, but not until they've exhausted every possible effort they can make.

Of course what happens to such a character can vary - some will find that the obligation to keep living has actually helped them to weather the psychological storm and when their task is done, they're free to enjoy life after all. Others will die in trying to fulfill their responsibilities, or shortly afterward, as if their bodies knew it was safe to give out now.

Compare The Atoner, who may also be a Death Seeker but chooses to go on living to repent for their wrongdoings. For when their task is to kill everyone else first see Put Them All Out of My Misery. Compare with The Last Dance.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the final arc of ''Code Geass', Lelouch becomes functionally suicidal after losing all of his allies and apparently losing Nunnally in the FLEIJA explosion. He ends up building himself up as the world's biggest tyrant and having his friend Suzaku take up his former mantle as Zero and kill him.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, after the end of the series; Homura wants nothing more than to be with Madoka; and this will only happen if her Soul Gem goes dark. She will not let this happen, because she has expanded her desire to protect Madoka to protecting the world that Madoka loves. Thus we see her in the end fighting Demons with a level of power and possibly darkness that would have killed any other magical girl instantly.
    • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion, we find out what determination has led her to. Even after being pushed to her limit and then nearly transforming into a witch, even when Madoka comes to take her to the afterlife, Homura refuses to let go... and instead takes over Madoka's powers and becomes a Dark Messiah so that she can protect Madoka for all eternity.
  • In the manga version of Elfen Lied: Lucy decides the last thing she will do is protect Kouta, just before the American army decides to bomb Japan to get rid of her. She takes out a whole fleet of aircraft, one by one, all while suffering Phlebotinum Breakdown, literally causing the flesh to melt off her body. Not until every last plane has been taken down does she let herself die, by which time she's little more than a puddle of goop with half a face.
  • In Hellsing, Alucard has an unfulfilled contract with the Hellsing family, meaning he can never really leave England or stop fighting (not that he wants to do the former). And he's functionally immortal, so...
  • Zest of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, who still needs to confront his old friend and learn the reason behind the death of his original together with the rest of his squad, backstab Jail Scaglietti, then make sure his charges will be safe afterward before he could finally seek his final honor as a knight.
  • One Piece has Brook, who openly expressed in his introductory arc that he has desired to die (again), after remaining in maddening isolation as a living skeleton for 50 years. However, he made a promise to return to Laboon, the Team Pet of his old crew, and play for Laboon the crew's last recording. The fact that over the Time Skip he became a world famous musician that Laboon should have heard of has not gone commented on.
  • Played with in Monster, to put it gently. Johan ultimately wants to die, but he must destroy Bonaparta first.
  • Hohenheim of Fullmetal Alchemist, after learning of his wife's death and her last words being that she couldn't die with him, says that he hopes to join her once Father has been defeated. Riza says that if Roy goes against his ideals, such as killing Envy for the sake of vengeance, she will kill him, then commit suicide after the battle is over.
  • In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Sai Saici asks Argo whether the latter is prepared to lose his life in combat. Argo doesn't back down from fighting the Dark Gundam's forces, but says that he can't afford to lose his life as long as he hasn't rescued his friends yet.
  • Bruno in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5 technically dies when he first fights The Boss, but somehow lingers on until the very end

  • In Winter War, Captain Ukitake's Incurable Cough of Death has become significantly worse due to exposure to a chemical weapon, his best friend is MIA and probably taken captive, and the order he's devoted his life to has collapsed. He's tired enough that he wouldn't mind dying that much- especially in something approximating a fair fight, rather than the traps and dishonorable battles he's had to employ against Gin's forces. Unfortunately, he's also the only shinigami captain left alive, in Soul Society, and not on Aizen's side- so he steps up to become the leader of La Résistance. At this point, he's living only for his people and his duty.
  • Emiya Shirou in The Hill of Swords. The titular 'Hill of Swords' is where he knows he'll meet his end. He keeps seeking it out, but he can't find the opponent that can kill him until the end.
  • Mercury of Phoenix-fire is eventually revealed to have been living this trope for the past 400 years. Even going so far to remain living that he made a Deal with the Devil in the form of becoming a Shade, sort of. It's complicated. At the end, it is revealed that his Thanatos Gambit failed, and he is doomed to a Fate Worse Than Death forever.
  • In a refreshing break from the usual Dumbledore-bashing, the Albus Dumbledore of Weres Harry is revealed to be a tired old man who's trying to do three jobs at once, unable to lay down any of his burdens because there is no one else to carry them.

  • After seeing his wife and child crucified and losing his freedom, Maximus of Gladiator seems to view his quest for vengeance against Commodus this way:
    Maximus: "You see, my wife and my son are already waiting for me."
    Juba: "You will meet them again. But not yet. Not yet."
  • Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings - see under Literature. Somewhat less explicit in the movie, but the commentary points out that a scene in which a vision of Galadriel pulls Frodo to his feet after he collapses and tells him that he must continue seems hopeful, but is also cruel because the exhausted Frodo "can't even die."
  • In Telefon, the Soviet agents are activated with the Robert Frost poem that is the page quote. They do indeed have miles to go before their mission is done and they are Driven to Suicide.

  • Frankenstein intends to hunt his monster to the end of the Earth and destroy it before allowing himself to succumb to despair and embrace the oblivion of death. The monster, for its part, literally does lead Frankenstein to the end of the Earth; they are both last seen in the Arctic Circle.
  • Both Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, in different ways. Frodo is committed to carrying on towards Mount Doom—ultimately even crawling on hands and knees—despite a long, quietly deepening certainty that the quest is hopeless. Sam tends to take a more one-day-at-a-time approach, but when he finds Frodo, apparently killed by Shelob, his first instinct is to consider suicide, or be cut down by Orcs defending Frodo's body. Only with great reluctance does he realize that the responsibility to destroy the ring trumps his personal despair and resolves to carry on alone. Often, later, he regrets bitterly that the two of them cannot just "lie down and go to sleep." Sam, incidentally, does recover his will to live an ordinary life, while Frodo doesn't.
  • In Brisingr, Eragon forces Sloan to do this until he gets to the Elves, as atonement for betraying Carvahall.
  • Rand al'Thor in The Wheel of Time epitomizes this trope until the end of book twelve.
    • He doesn't epitomize it from the start; it probably wasn't until the end of the third book that he finally stopped being in denial about how arduous his fate would be. He gets steadily ground down by his burden from then on, and by the 10th book he is a wreck and no longer has normal human reactions to much of anything. He has at least three What the Hell, Hero? moments in book 12 but by the end of the story has something of an epiphany that maybe life is worth living after all.
    • In the Borderlands they have a saying, "Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain."
  • The Bolo short story Miles To Go. Bolo Nike has had her beloved commander murdered, and has had an unstoppable virus destroying her computer core activated by the renegade officer who killed him. Quoting the poem listed at the top of the page, she turns upon the army trying to conquer the planet she is based on. By the time the virus destroys her main processor, she has done so much damage to the invading army that the severely understrength planetary militia can finish the job.
  • The House of Responsible Life from the Liavek anthologies is a religion built around this trope. The members of the religion are sworn to kill themselves, but only after discharging all worldly obligations. Very few of them get around to it, and at least one eventually decides that living is worth it after all.
  • Camaris in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is this after being reawakened from his simpleminded state, which was itself a result of a Heroic B.S.O.D. that drove him to attempt suicide. He fights to save the world as hard as anyone else, but feels that simply being forced to live is yet another punishment meted out by God for his sins. His fate at the end is unknown.
  • In the Sword of Truth, Kahlan, Zedd, Rachel, and Chase walked for three days without sleep in the first book. At the beginning of the next book, Zedd lampshades this. Richard did one of these for two weeks on horseback in the second. For reference, after 72 hours without sleep, humans hallucinate such that they are as incapacitated as if they were drunk.
  • In Bone Dance, Frances wants to kill every last one of the bodyswitching Horsemen who caused a nuclear war. Herself included.
  • In The Black Company, Goblin has this when he is resurrected and possessed by the Khadidas, and is given a chance by Croaker to kill the goddess Kina.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Towards the end of season five of Supernatural Dean is sick and tired of fighting, and just wants to die...but the angels have made it clear they'd just bring him back. His only out is to agree to participate in the apocalypse, which he won't do because of the collateral damage. Lucifer makes much the same threat to Sam.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "Comes the Inquisitor", Sheridan and Delenn are tested by an inquisitor sent by the Vorlons, eventually revealed to be Jack the Ripper. He is depicted as having acted in part out of moral judgmentalism, and as a result was picked up by the Vorlons in a random act of poetic justice, and forced to sort out the truly righteous from the simply self-righteous.
    "I have done four hundred years of penance and service, a job for which they said I was ideally suited. Now, perhaps, they will finally let me die."

  • Ivan Isaacs of Priest. He wants nothing more than to be with his dead girlfriend again, but he still has to complete his Roaring Rampage of Revenge and apparently the Big Bad has worked Ivan's fate into his plans, and intentionally keeps him alive so Ivan can fulfill his role.

  • The first half of Collin Raye's "Love, Me" is about a man who waited for a woman to run off with him so they could get married. When the second chorus rolls around, it's the woman who "got there" before he did, and the first part's trope combines with this one.
  • "From the North" by Runrig quotes the poem directly: "I've a will and I've a wanting/And miles to go before I sleep."
  • Stay Close Sit Tight by Malcolm Middleton:
    I can feel stuff coming
    I’m scared of a life of pain
    Just round the corner is sadness and misery
    Tomorrow I can die
    Today I need to sort this out
    Start with the kitchen, the bedroom, then my family

  • Whether this trope applies to the Trope Namer, Robert Frost's poem Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening is heavily debated by critics.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer gives us Baragor, the so-called Slayer King. Rather than going to seek his glorious death in battle like the rest of the Slayers, he's forced to run his city-state. His solution is to turn his city into a home for Slayers. Warhammer Dwarves being what they are, all of Baragor's sons for five generations have become Slayers themselves.
  • In the 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons supplement The Book of Erotic Fantasy (a 3rd party supplement dealing expressly with sex and all its aspects in the terms of the d20 system), there is a spell called Shadow Life. It is distinctly separate from the theme of the rest of the book, as on its own it has no sexual connotations. It grants the target ( a recently-dead character) one extra day of life for every level the caster has. The flavor text is especially poignant.
    A life cut short. A quest left unfinished. One more task to be done.
    • In the Complete Guide to Liches, one variety of Lich is not granted eternal undeath, but rather an extension until they fulfill a task.

  • In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Horatio tries to finish off the poison and die beside Hamlet. Hamlet stops him, asking him by the love he has for Hamlet to live to tell the story of what happened.
    If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
    Absent thee from felicity awhile,
    And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
    To tell my story. . .

     Video Games 
  • Kratos seems to be acting this way throughout Tales of Symphonia. During one of the climactic scenes, Lloyd chews him out on it.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Between his accelerated aging and the threat of the mutant Fox Die causing a pandemic, Snake knows he's not going to be around much longer, but he still has to take out Liquid first.
  • Auron in Final Fantasy X actually died trying to avenge his friends before the game, then as an Unsent lived for ten years so he could guide his friends' kids to finish the job.
  • Thane Krios of Mass Effect 2 is a drell assassin who is dying of Kepral's Syndrome, a terminal lung disease that often occurs in the drell race living on Kahje due to high moisture content in the air. He has dedicated the final months of his life to only taking hit contracts on people he feels deserve to die. Then he joins Shepard's crew to do One Last Job: helping to save the galaxy from the Reapers. If he still lives in Mass Effect 3, he does One More Last Job: saving the salarian councilor from Kai Leng, at the cost of his own life. "That assassin should be embarrassed. He let a terminally-ill drell prevent him from accomplishing his mission."
  • In The Walking Dead, the protagonist, Lee, is bitten by a Walker. Despite just having hours to live, he actually seems pretty OK with his fate, so long as he can do one last thing: Save Clementine. He can elect to have his arm cut off to try and slow the infection, goes through a horde of Walkers, and rescues Clementine from the Stranger. In the final sequence, the only reason he's not a zombie yet is sheer willpower, though he can't hold it off forever...
  • Hanbe Takenaka of Sengoku Basara suffers from tuberculosis, a death sentence during the Sengoku Era. With his time limited, he devotes pretty much every waking minute to expanding the Toyotomi empire, and putting Hideyoshi in charge of Japan before his number comes up.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Wynne is actually already dead by the second time you meet her (you have the chance to chat to her in the Ostagar section of the prologue), having given her life to save a Circle student from a demon. However, a friendly spirit sees her Heroic Sacrifice and possesses her in order to bring her back. Wynne starts out very concerned about being possessed (as Demonic Possession is a serious problem in the Dragon Age universe) but can be reassured that she is still a good person. She admits to the Player Character that she has no idea how much extra time the spirit has granted her, but she intends to stay alive long enough to see the Blight defeated.
  • The The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim quest "Lost to the Ages" introduces us to Katria, a seasoned adventure who died during her search for the legendary Aetherium Forge. Her apprentice promptly stole all of her research and published it as his own. Katria's ghost has been bound to Nirn ever since, unable to move on until she can track down the Forge and complete her life's work by proving its existence. Only when she and the Dragonborn finally forge the last Aetherium artifact ever can she let go to take her place among the honored dead of Sovngarde.

     Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Critic has admitted to his job making him feel so very tired. Add that to a sharp decrease in tantrum-my suicides and how close he gets to being an Empty Shell when he's depressed, and you get someone who's given up.
  • Taylor Hebert's mindset throughout most of Worm, after leaving her initial Death Seeker phase. Taken Up to Eleven in the final fight when the only thing keeping her from going crazy from a deadly upgrade is her drive to kill Zion - the minute the enemy is dead she promptly falls apart.

     Real Life 
  • Kurt Vonnegut described feeling this way about his writing career: "It was the same when World War II ended. The Army kept me on because I could type, so I was typing other people's discharges and stuff. And my feeling was 'Please, I've done everything I was supposed to do. Can I go home now?' That what I feel right now. I've written books. Lots of them. Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do. Can I go home now?"
  • Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly had a copy of the poem on his desk (or on him somewhere) throughout his life. It has since then served as a metaphor for his country, according to some.