Not Too Dead to Save the Day
aka: Dead Ex Machina
When things are at their worst and the hero is all but defeated, timely intervention by a Back from the Dead
character saves his life and gives him the Heroic Resolve
to keep fighting. Usually the character in this case really is dead and appears as a spirit, but sometimes it's the character's return from a Disney Death
, or their apparently fatal injury turns out to be Only a Flesh Wound
. Rarely, this is when it's revealed that the Instant Death Bullet
wasn't so instant after all, and Almost Dead Guy
performs this one final heroic act before expiring in the aftermath with a drawn out Final Speech
Sometimes, usually in more realistic works, the intervention isn't physical at all, but happens entirely within the hero's head, often giving an excuse to bring back the actor
of a fan favorite
who had been ill-advisedly killed off by the writers
. This only takes an instant of real time, but can take several minutes of Dead Person Conversation
before returning the hero to the action. The hallucination of a dead friend is apparently enough to get the hero back on his feet, though, realistically, it should be evidence of some sort of massive head trauma.
This is a sub-trope of Deus ex Machina
that specifically plays with our automatic assumption that character death is permanent
. Compared to Dead Person Conversation
, this is urgent and immediate: the dead person saves the day, either physically or by imparting some sort of Epiphany Therapy
Aspiring writers seeking to avoid using this trope should wander over to How to Stop the Deus ex Machina
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime And Manga
- In DC's Final Crisis, the Barry Allen Flash, who had been dead for twenty years in standard time, outruns The Black Racer and leads it to Darkseid, saving the world.
- He does something similar in Infinite Crisis, helping trap Superboy Prime in the Speed Force.
- Subverted in Watchmen: Ozymandias tricks Dr. Manhattan into a field generator that disintegrates him and briefly congratulates himself... until Dr. Manhattan reforms moments later.
- Dr. Manhattan is kind of doing this for his entire existence, being a case of Death by Origin Story. As he points out to Ozzy, "Putting myself together was the first trick I learned. It didn't kill Jon Osterman, what makes you think it could kill me?"
- In Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow?, It's the opposite from the usual. Lex/Brainiac is killed at one point, but later, as Jimmy's trying to undo Brainiac's force field generator, a beam kills him instantly. Who fired it? Brainiac, still having control over Lex's muscles. Oh, and the force field was still up.
- Just before the climactic battle of Conan the Barbarian, Conan prays to Crom for the first time, saying that, you know, you could help if you wanted, but if not, screw ya. When Thulsa Doom's Dragon has Conan on the ropes, Valeria,* the warrior-woman love interest killed by Doom earlier, appears in Valkyrie-like armor, blocks the attack, utters her catchphrase ("You want to live forever?"), and disappears. Conan proceeds to stand up and mop the floor with The Dragon. Foreshadowed earlier in the movie, when she swore to claw her way back from the pit of hell to fight at his side if she died.
- As in the Comic Book, Watchmen has a scene at the end featuring a subversion by Dr. Manhattan.
- In The Fountain, the main character's late wife appears to him in the future setting and urges him toward his final epiphany.
- In Star Wars: Episode IV, the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi encourages Luke Skywalker to use the Force to guide his attack run against the Death Star.
- Before that, he told Luke to run when Luke was recklessly shooting up the stormtroopers in an attempt to avenge Obi-Wan's death just minutes before.
- As per the title, late Dr. Frankenstein appears to his son Ludwig in The Ghost of Frankenstein to convince him giving a new set of brains for the Monster, instead of destroying it.
- Near the end of Evil Dead 2, Annie is fatally stabbed by Ash's possessed hand, but manages to survive long enough get one last burst of energy to finish off the incantation to get rid of the Deadites... then dies by Ash's side moments later.
- In Troll 2, Grandpa Seth does this multiple times, at one point stopping time and at another point inexplicably coming Back from the Dead to stop the goblins. Subverted in that he never actually is able to save the day.
- In Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, right when Jason is about to kill the heroine, her father (whom she had accidently drowned in Crystal Lake as a child) jumps out from the water behind him and grapples with him. He manages to bring Jason under, trapping him at the bottom of the lake.
- In The Cabin in the Woods, just as Dana is about to be killed, Marty returns to save her.
- Of course, you can debate whether he actually saves the day, since by surviving himself, he dooms the entire world to destruction...
- In Stephen King's The Stand, Nick Andros tells Tom Cullen what he needs to do to save Stuart Redman's life during the winter in the mountains. Tom doesn't know that Nick is dead.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Happens in Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Straight Silver, when sniper Larkin passes out in the middle of a pitched battle. During a hallucination, his dead friend Bragg appears and tells him to wake up. At the time, Larkin actually is suffering from massive head trauma.
- Happens again in one of the latter books, when the Ghosts are assigned to hold a hopeless position many of them see - and are helped by - dead ghosts. It turns out to be moral support from affar by Soric, after he was taken by the Black Ships, projecting the images from their memories.
- Old Kingdom series:
- A post-climatic example occurs in Sabriel: After having been mortally wounded by Kerrigor, Sabriel willingly lets herself float down the river of death — but the spirits of Abhorsens past send her back to Life, urging her to carry on.
- A very similar thing happens at the end of Abhorsen as well: the Disreputable Dog meets Nicholas at the First Gate, and after a little conversation, she sends him back into Life, for Lirael's sake.
- In Scarecrow, Mother blocks a guillotine blade with a shurikan when it was about to decapitate Scarecrow. He was still locked in the stocks, but her arrival was enough of a distraction to get him out.
- Happens with Belit in the Conan the Barbarian books. (Valeria in the film.)
- In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter and friends are fighting a losing battle against the White Witch and her minions, when the resurrected Aslan shows up and saves the day.
- In Animorphs, in an alternate timeline, Cassie is killed, but later reappears to save the day. Being "sub-temporally grounded" and somewhat immune to the effects of the time changes, she is able to return because she is "supposed" to be alive. Time got confused.
- Subverted in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Harry thinks he saw his dead father casting a Patronus that saved him from dementors, but he realizes at the last minute that it was his own future self come back in time.
- A less mystical version from Shatterpoint: at the very end of the climactic battle, Mace is unarmed, critically wounded, and unable to stop his apprentice from killing herself out of remorse. However, it turns out that his lieutenant, Nick Rostu, is Only Mostly Dead from his prior injuries, and he managed to blast Depa's lightsaber away at the last second.
- In Supernatural's Season Two finale, John Winchester, the father of the leads, emerges from Hell just in time to prevent the Yellow Eyed Demon from killing his boys. Somewhat justified, in that there's an open gate to Hell ten feet away, and hundreds of demonic souls are escaping, too.
- And Mary Winchester beat him to it in a Season 1 episode, where her ghost shows up and tells the Monster of the Week to leave her sons alone.
- In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sarah, after being shot in the leg and needing to escape a hospital, is visited by Kyle Reese, the (supposedly) dead father of her son and future savior of the human race comes to her and talks her through her escape and getting alternate medical help. This is a slight aversion, because Reese hangs around for most of the day, talking to her in real time (with her answers confusing other people who can't see him and making it clear that she's hallucinating) instead of just appearing at one critical moment.
- In the season two premiere of Veronica Mars, the ghost of Lilly Kane shows up to lead Veronica away from the doomed bus, saving her life.
- Done (more slowly than usual) in The West Wing: Mrs. Landingham dies in the middle of the arc where President Bartlett has to admit to America that he has Multiple Sclerosis. She shows up again for a few minutes when Bartlett's alone, just before a press conference at which he had been planning to announce that he would not seek reelection, and gives him one of the best pep talks anyone on television has ever received.
- In Warehouse 13, the female lead gets into a car crash and is visited, apparently in the hospital, by a dead partner, who tells her to "Get up!" She wakes up next to the wrecked SUV and is able to pull her new partner out of the vehicle to safety.
- Happens in Neverwhere. Sure, the audience already knew, but Richard didn't.
- Subverted in Bones. Booth sees his dead friend who helps him to escape from a trap. A few episodes later it turns out that it actually was due to a brain tumour.
- Except that they only think it was due to the brain tumor, Bones also saw his friend when they were at the cemetery but she didn't realize he was anyone other than some random soldier. She also points out that, while she is skeptical about the ghost, some of the things Booth did to escape would have required feats of strength or speed almost impossible for one person on his own.
- In series two Being Human, the Big Bad was seconds away from killing Mitchell, George and/or Nina when the previously-exorcised Annie temporarily breaks out of Hell just so she can grab the guy and haul him back in with her. Yeah, it's that sort of show.
- On One Life to Live, despite having apparently been fatally injured by his former IRA cohort, Patrick Thornhart manages to get up and kill the guy before he can kill one of the other hostages, before apparently collapsing and dying for good. This turns out to be subverted when in the next episode, it turns out Patrick wasn't dead, he was faking so that he and his wife could flee the remaining bad guys.
- In Warhammer 40,000, Grand Master Mordrak of the Grey Knights is famous for summoning the ghosts of his fallen brothers to stop a daemon invasion at the very last second. Said ghosts were still wearing their two-ton Power Armor, by the way, and wielding fully-automatic miniature rocket launchers. There are in-game rules for summoning these ghosts too.
- In Star Fox 64, James Mccloud (or at least, his ghost?) shows you Venom's escape route after defeating Andross.
- Metal Gear Solid: Grey Fox.
- In Cave Story, instead of shooting sword beams or the like, the level 3 Blade's attack involves sending the spirit of King at enemies to slash at them repeatedly.
- In Resident Evil 2, Ada Wong gets killed by a Tyrant, but appears in the shadows at the end to toss you a handy rocket launcher at a critical moment to finish off that same Tyrant. While some bioweapon and clone explanations were tossed around, it ended up that, in stark contrast to the brutality of her death, this is a case where her status as an Ensemble Dark Horse allowed her a more-improbable-than-usual Unexplained Recovery to account for her future appearances in the series.
- Persona 3 In the final battle, the main character, finding that mere weapons will not avail him against Nyx, the incarnation of Death itself, goes into a lone face-off against her, where his allies give him strength (in the form of hit points) to cast the final spell and seal Nyx away from Earth. After his living teammates have said their piece, all you hear is the voice of Shinjiro (no text), who was the mid-game Heroic Sacrifice, saying "Let's do this." Then, and only then, does he have enough Hit Points to cast the Seal.
- There's an optional one before this. Just before the final battle, the main character is given the Eleventh Hour Superpower in a cutscene that gathers the wishes of all completed Social Links. This includes Akinari, the Sun Social Link... referred to by the game as the "Dying Young Man". The last time you meet him in his Social Link, it's implied that he's died and you're speaking to his ghost, and the epilogue confirms his death.
- When everybody is shown praying for the cast before the final battle of Final Fantasy IV, old Tellah appears.
- And in Final Fantasy V, five dead characters get to actively protect the heroes against an all-devouring über-spell.
- Galuf gets a more immediate example of this, when he keeps fighting even after his hit points reach zero.
- In Jade Empire, Sagacious Zu turns up during the last boss' attempt to trap you in your own mind, and shatters his hold on you. This example is more justified than most: until the final boss is defeated, the cycle of rebirth has stopped completely and the souls of the dead are unable to pass on, so it only makes sense that Zu would still be around in spirit after his death, waiting for just the right moment to lend a hand.
- In Final Fantasy VII, it is all but stated outright that Aerith's will is the driving force behind Holy to work with Lifestream to save the Planet from Meteor.
- This idea was at the core of the Japanese-only novella The Maiden Who Travels the Planet where Aerith and other characters who had died during the course of the game really do drive the Lifestream to save the Planet.
- She shows up again in Advent Children as the final link in the chain of Cloud's Combined Energy Attack.
- Used yet again in Advent Children Complete when Zack gives Cloud a mental pep talk in the middle of his fight against Sephiroth.
- Since Cloud spent some time in the Lifestream during the game piecing his fragmented psyche back together with help from Tifa, it's quite possible they were speaking to him directly from said Lifestream.
- Reversed in Ghost Trick. Missile is supposed to be alive, but when he turns up dead it means he can use ghost tricks and save Kamila's life.
- In Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, one of Batsu's super moves is a Combination Attack with his partner. If his partner has been defeated, however, he cries Manly Tears and attacks alongside the partner's ghost. This version of the attack is more powerful than the combined one.
- In the final battle of Wild ARMs 2, the protagonist uses a series of Combined Energy Attacks fueled by the wishes of everyone on Filgaia. The final attack, which deals 99999 damage, is powered not only by the hero's Love Interest, but also the spirits of Irving and Altaecia, who had just sacrificed themselves minutes earlier to give the previous "final boss" a body to kill. And it was the Heroic BSOD from having to kill them that allowed the new final boss to fight for control of the hero's body in the first place.
- An interesting variation occurs in Silent Hill 3, when Alessa, who died at the end of the first game, manifests in the amusement park in an attempt to kill her own reincarnation.
- Averted in the second No More Heroes game, where the #1 assassin presents Travis with the severed heads of Sylvia, Henry, and Shinobu on platters, only for Henry to come crashing through the window midway through the battle, telling Travis that they're fake.
- At the end of Eternal Darkness, the ghosts of all the player characters appear to help Alex fight Augustus Pious and stop his Ancient, except Edward Roivas, who instead uses the massive magic circle that makes up the final level to banish the Ancient the player summons to combat the first one.
- In the visual novel Danganronpa, Alter Ego is seemingly killed in Chapter 4, but summons enough strength to reappear in Chapter 5 to save Naegi from being crushed to death.
- Subverted in the sequel Super Dangan Ronpa 2, where Alter Ego appears to be fully restored, as though he had never been damaged in the first place.
- The Order of the Stick has most of the Sapphire guard rise as 'ghost-martyrs' and join their founder (also dead) in defending Soon's Gate.
- In Klay World's movie, King Womp is about to kill Chip, but Dr. Bob stops this by throwing an ax into King Womp's back, causing King Womp to fall and land on top of the structure the Klaymen built. King Womp was then shocked and blown up. OUCH. Chip was, obviously, saved in the process.