"So Haken and Erwin are in the zeppelin cabin, and then Monty and co. are hanging off the mooring rope as the zeppelin takes off for Berlin. Are they going to hang there all the way across the Atlantic??"
When do those...um...older...couples in the separate bathtubs in the Cialis commercials ever get out? An instance so frustrating, they created another commercial to resolve it! Fortunately not as Squick-inducing as it might have been.
This is what makes Michaelangelo's "Creation of Adam" work so well — God is always just about to give Adam the Touch of Life.
Anime and Manga
In one entertaining scene in Code Geass, a very upset Lelouch abuses his power to command some street punks to dance, do push ups, and so on for his amusement. The Fridge Horror comes when you realize that they are bound to perform that action until they die, and he can't stop them.
Taken to the extreme in Nabari No Ou when Raikou and Gau were left lying on the ground with a sword through the gut and slashes across the face respectively for 8 chapters before they were shown again. This was EIGHT MONTHS.
Similarly, the battle against Pain for Naruto fans. Where they'd spend an entire chapter or two on the fight itself while the whole time, Hinata is lying a short distance away, bleeding to death.
A humorous invocation of this trope occurs when Might Guy summons Ningame, who we had not seen Guy summon since their introduction nearly a real-life decade and about four in-series years earlier. Ningame's reaction implies he hadn't even been summoned off-screen that whole time either!
Due to its untimely cancellation, the last scene of CLAMPX manga was Fuuma leaning over Kamui with a sword to his chest, asking Kamui what his wish was. After almost 10 years, THEY ARE STILL STUCK LIKE THIS.
Episode 15 of Tiger & Bunny uses this trope purposefully, going for the heartstrings: it ends with Keith waiting patiently to meet the girl he fell for earlier in the episode, not realizing that she was the robot he destroyed the night before. Episode 16 does something similar, ending with Kotetsu lying in a dumpster, injured and despairing after his failing superpowers brought about his defeat by the serial killer he was trying to apprehend.
Every once in a while Detective Conan is shown to have forgotten that he left Kogoro sleeping somewhere.
During the Yu-Gi-Oh! arc where the protagonists were taken to a virtual world, Yami Marik is left on board the blimp, able to do what he likes. The only thing that's stopping him from getting into the room the protagonists are locked in is the door, which he can't open. It's implied that he spends the entire arc just wandering around the blimp, occasionally trying to get open the door and kill the heroes. The Abridged Series, naturally, has a field day with this.
Yami Marik: 1111! *ACCESS DENIED* 1112! *ACCESS DENIED* 1113! *ACCESS DENIED* 1114! *ACCESS DENIED* THIS DOOR IS A BITCH!!!
Sort of used in-character in Axis Powers Hetalia; England is completely stunned to realise America grew up in the several years he was away. Subverted when you realize America did age freakishly fast for a nation, since Italy was apparently a toddler for about nine hundred years.
Played with in Kinnikuman: the author suffered an illness that left him unable to work on the series for several months. He'd left the characters in mid-match, standing in odd poses. When he came back... Kinnikuman complains about having to hold that pose for several months, and looks to Robin Mask, who's fallen asleep in the ring.
Taken to excruciating levels with Hunter x Hunter due to it's severe and frequent Schedule Slip. For all we know, the Zodiacs are still preparing to go to the Dark Continent.
Happens in Bleach due to several battles taking place at once. For example, in the Thousand Year Blood arc, Rangiku is seen discarded with a slashed throat, but presumably alive. Then the only person who knew about her injury passed out.
Played with in Cerebus. Yes, he really does spend issue after issue after issue sitting on a stool outside in a drunken stupor while the world moves on without him.
Preacher: Jesse at one point uses The Word to compel a bad guy, Hoover, to count the grains of sand on a beach... and only offhandedly adds that he can stop once he's reached three million. He's later shown counting carefully... a wave strikes, messing up the grains... and the guy, anguished, starts over. Ultimately averted, as Hoover actually finishes counting and shows up later, half-crazed and pissed off. He later confronts Jesse about it; Jesse compels him to forget the sand-counting and have a nice rest, as an apology.
Also, in one of his badly thought out uses of the Word:
Jesse: "FUCK OFF, YOU ASSHOLES!"
Soldiers begin to run away from him.
This is what happened to the last Tintin book, since Hergé died before finishing it. For all we know, Tintin is held captive by the bad guys without a way out.
The Runaways was abruptly cancelled in the middle of the "Home Schooling" arc, with the team now essentially homeless and Chase fighting for his life in the ICU after getting hit by a car while chasing an apparently-resurrected Gert. They later turned up in arcs of Dark Wolverine and Avengers Academy, so we know they're still alive and together, but there's never really been much explanation for where or how they were living in the intervening years.
The final shot of Inception has produced a lot of Wild Mass Guessing. Did the top wobble before the cut? Maybe it fell over while the credits were rolling... or maybe it didn't. This becomes Fridge Brilliance when you remember how Cobb performed the inception on Mal.
In Predator, Billy apparently never turns around while standing on that log. Unless you've seen the movie uncut, in which case you know exactly what happened to him; it ain't pretty, so maybe a Tethercat situation is actually preferable in this situation.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: This is pretty much the whole reasoning behind the original Bolivian Army Ending, and one imagines, most of the subsequent imitations. If you don't see the heroes get overrun and killed then maybe, just maybe, they're still fighting, and managed to win. It helps that there's some historical evidence that Butch survived the shootout (though none for Sundance).
In the 2009 Friday the 13th (2009) remake, Jason shoots an arrow at a guy piloting a speedboat. The guy falls dead on top of the controls, the speedboat hits a topless waterskier in the head and is never seen again. Horror fans have joked that a better ending for the movie (or closing credits stinger) would be to show the speedboat reach Manhattan or run over Jason as soon as he surfaced from the lake.
The British original version of The Descent makes use of this - it ends with the main character waking up from her hope spot dream and then just sitting there, not moving, staring at a hallucination of her daughter, who died at the beginning of the film. Then, as the camera pulls out, we hear the screeches of the resident cave monsters, and Sarah's still just sitting there, apparently not hearing them at all - the implication is that she stayed like that until the crawlers found her.
In D-War, the hero is left in the scarred wastelands of a forgotten realm, completely alone, with no obvious way of getting back to present day Los Angeles.
An example of this happening in the middle of a story is in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones could be seen as clinging to the outside rail of a Nazi submarine, underwater the entire time, for a distance far enough to display a map. Not helped any by the next scene where he steals a uniform. Presumably it went along the surface when there wasn't any danger and/or Indiana hid inside at some point. Parodied in Robin Hood: Men in Tights where Robin swims all the way from the Holy Land with a similar map line.
U-boats stayed on the surface unless there was a reason to dive. Either attacking a convoy or being attacked themselves. However, they did put men in the conning tower to watch, and there isn't exactly a lot of hiding space on a U-boat's deck.
Played for Laughs in The Movie of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Near the climax, Buffy stabs the Big Bad's second-in-command through the heart. The vampire goon clutches at the stake in his chest, spewing a That Makes Me Feel Angry retort while trying to pull the stake out...and then, once he realizes that thing's in there for good, collapses in great pain and begins writhing on the ground, hilariously whining and groaning for a ludicrously long period of time, until Buffy just turns away from him in disgust. Later, after the film's final credits have rolled, we return to the scene and find the goon still writhing about and crying out in pain! For all we know, the poor guy might still be alive.
Parodied in the original Austin Powers movie: Dr. Evil and his minions stand around laughing maniacally....and then laugh some more....and then stop....and then start laughing again, because the scene apparently hasn't ended yet!
Subverted/defied in Saw III. Saw II having ended with its Asshole Victim chained in the bathroom and presumably left to die exactly as Adam in the original film did, the third part awesomely plays against expectations and has Det. Matthews grabbing a broken toilet lid and breaking his own foot with it in order to escape in the film's opening minutes.
When WALL•E is about to go into space, he orders his pet cockroach to sit and wait for him. It does. At the end of the movie, days ' later, he lands and it's still in the same spot.
Invoked in Rush Hour 3, when Carter hears that he's going to be seeing Soo Yung again. He thinks she's still the cute little girl she was in Rush Hour, and suggests that he and Lee get her a teddy bear as a present. When he sees that she's now a teenager, he switches to proposing they get her a training bra.
In Muppet Treasure Island, Long John Silver lures First Mate Arrow off the ship in the middle of the night, by warning him about "leaky lifeboats" that need to be tested in the open ocean. Sometime after the following night — long after he had been given up for dead — Arrow's lifeboat happens to reach the shore of Treasure Island, and he's still talking to himself about how the boat does indeed seem safe.
Averting the Karma Houdini nature of Long John Silver...turns out the life boat Silver picked was NOT.
In Aladdin: The Return of Jafar,Abis Mal (technically Jafar's master) is thrown out the palace window during the final battle and is quickly forgotten as the heroes fight Jafar, almost die, successfully kill him and happily plan for the future. It's only after the credits that we cut to a tree outside the palace with Abis Mal pitifully hanging by his pants.
Abis Mal: Does this mean I don't get my third wish?
Played with in the conclusion to Animal House, which wraps up with a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue in which each of the major characters gets "freeze-framed" in some sort of iconic pose. The freezes are meant to leave us with lasting impressions of the characters, but then the subtitles assure us that other things happen to them in the future. At least one is bittersweet: Boon and Katy will eventually get divorced, even though we see them frozen in the act of embracing on the street in an apparently happily-ever-after scenario (and the romantic musicdoesn't help).
A horror story called Dead Letter Office does this. It's about two girls who find an old letter from a criminal detailing how he hid 'it' in a small room behind the fireplace in an abandoned house. They assume that 'it' is money from a bank heist, and go to the old house to steal it. They sneak into the room, only to find that the criminal actually left one of his victims in the room to die. They try to get out, and the door closes on them and locks from the outside. It would be bad enough if the corpse didn't start laughing. You're left with the impression that the two girls are locked in the room with the laughing, rotten corpse until they die of dehydration. Although, maybe the story was meant to give the impression that they are killed by the zombie.
Stories about ghosts nearly always depict them endlessly re-enacting their deaths and/or playing out the same actions they'd pursued in life.
This is played with in A Series of Unfortunate Events with the people on the balloon, and both the characters and the audience are unsure if they ever get down for a while.
Done multiple times as well in The End, with both those on the raft—although they're implied to survive—and the very end: we don't know what became of the Baudelaires after they left the island.
In the sequel, people in a village who have heard of the event request that a visitor who was there tell them which the hero chose; he makes it clear that a choice was, in fact, made. The whole thing sets the stage for another one, though. When pressed, the visitor presents a similar tale of a seemingly-impossible choice to the crowd, then says when they solve that one, he'll tell them what the Hero of the first story chose...and the story ends while they're considering it.
Fantastic Mr. Fox actually has this in-universe. The animals are hiding out underground while the farmers guard their main escape route, and find it's actually quite comfortable. They decide to stay.
"The farmers sat around the hole, watching. As far as I know, they are still sitting there."
The film adaptation expands on this. In that one, the farmers do soon get fed up and realize that the animals can still steal food, so they flood the tunnels. After some more battles, the animals wind up in a very similar situation, this time with a supermarket instead of the farms. Mr. Fox acknowledges that maybe this status quo will eventually be shattered as well, but here and now they have won and will survive.
In the Discworld, this is an actual trait of golems. Tell them to do something but not to stop, and you might come back to find they have planted a row of beans a mile long. This behavior is a form of rebellion. The golems aren't stupid, but if you treat them like they are they'll do this kind of thing just to spite you. Igors are the same way.
When Pratchett used it in RPGs, the Luggage also did this. If you stopped to take a look when passing a cliff edge, the Luggage wouldn't, unless you told it to. Rule of Funny dictates that it would proceed to fall off, taking all your gold, unequipped weapons and changes of underwear with it. Of course, it's usually not that easy to make the Luggage go away for good...
In a Nintendo HardFighting Fantasy book called Creature of Havoc, if you go the wrong way, there is a bit where an elf summons a Chaos Warrior, then when you beat it, you go to another paragraph where you fight another one. Then another. And another...and then it loops back to the start. This goes on until the player either runs out of Stamina or closes the book in frustration.
Averted in The Dresden Files. We don't need to assume that the Winter Knight was being tortured ever since the last time we saw him, we know because characters said what he was doing and/or got to see him several times after his treason and, yup, he was still being tortured until Harry killed him... sometime between six and eight years later.
"The Raven", by Edgar Allan Poe, ends with the raven still sitting in the place it perched, still tormenting the hapless narrator. The final stanza even lampshades it. Given that the rest of the poem is past tense and the final verse is present, any time you come back to it — yup, they're still at it.
And that raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On that pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
In another Poe story, The Cask of Amontillado, the reader is forced to assume Fortunado will remain in Montressor's family catacombs until his own death. The narrator specifies that Fortunato has remained undisturbed for fifty years.
Agatha Christie's short story collection The Mysterious Mr. Quin ends with the two protagonists, Quin and Satterthwaite, parting ways after an argument, which became a tethercat moment when Christie lost her taste for writing about the characters, leaving the implication that they never reunited. Christie eventually (forty years later) wrote one more Quin and Satterthwaite story, "The Harlequin Tea Set", specifically to resolve the implication, ending it with Quin assuring Satterthwaite they will meet again.
Invoked in John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn." The urn in question depicts scenes from a festival, and Keats happily reflects that the revelers depicted on the urn will always be merry because - since they are frozen in time - their celebration will never end. (It's even happy for the ox about to be sacrificed to the gods, since it will never actually be killed.)
In Wheel of Time, Mat Cauthon ends one book in a cliffhanger, having been caught under some falling rubble. He does not appear at all in the next book, leading fans to joke that he was trapped under the rubble and slowly starving to death the entire time. (In actuality, he extricated himself and was recovering from his injuries off-screen.)
In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden's assumption that this is the case with an old classmate he's catching up with emphasizes his unhealthily fixation on the past, which is a running theme throughout the novel. Holden keeps asking if he's dating the same girl, doing the same things, etc., and seems surprised to learn that the classmate has actually changed in the years since they'd last seen each other.
In an in-universe example, Cadderly from The Cleric QuintetForgotten Realms novels has a recurring dream in which he sees himself as an old man, working to build an elaborate cathedral, while his dearest friends watch. Turns out it was a prophetic vision of the near future, in which he's Cast from Lifespan to build the place in his deity's honor, forfeiting his hope of living out a life with his Love Interest. The fact that she and his other friends were still young in his dream had escaped his notice, as he'd unconsciously fallen prey to this trope's assumptions.
Danica still being young has its own explanation, of course, in that, they were battling a horrible undead creature and there was an implication at one point that he had turned her into a vampire.
This leads to some Unfortunate Implications in the Tortall Universe series Daughter of the Lioness. Nawat, a crow who can turn into a man, still has the mind of a crow and so he spends the first book constantly pestering the heroine Aly for sex. Then in book two, he comes back to her supposedly having evolved to where he now identifies as a human, and has grown sophisticated enough to be worthy of her love. Trouble is, we never see any of that development, as he spends most of the book offpage, so it comes off looking like he's finally badgered her into it.
Live Action TV
Twin Peaks : as the last vision in the last episode before cancellation we have of agent Cooper is him laughing maniacally in front of a mirror, one can assume that he remains forever possesed by BOB, who now roams again freely. The movie implied it, actually.
The Ending of the series. Complete with Tethercat Soundtrack.
Uncle Junior gets his hand stuck in the drain of the kitchen sink. Near the end of the episode we discover that Uncle Junior never got his hand unstuck, and has been standing in the kitchen for an entire day.
One blogger has told the story of being driven to tears as a kid by the Sesame Street episode where Big Bird paints a 'Wet Paint' sign to warn of the paint on a bench, then a 'Wet Paint' sign to warn of the wet paint on the sign, then another for the new sign, and so on past the end of the episode. Poor Big Bird kept going on forever, she thought. Her mother lied that she was friends with the characters and they told her that Grover would tell Bird to stop painting, and he'd be doing something different the next day. (Also in the post is speculation that someone might stop Bird and give him a crayon.)
Another Bolivian Army Ending: Joss Whedon said this was explicitly his intent with the ending of Angel, and he was a little confused when people generally thought of it as a Downer Ending in which the characters fail at their "impossible" task and all die.
Someone pointed out that this may be one of the reasons Viacom's old"V of Doom"Vanity Plate is so scary: Unlike nearly all zooming logos, the V never stops advancing toward the viewer; the screen just fades out on it still moving...
In "The Blind Banker" episode of Sherlock, John invokes this trope on Sherlock. However, while John believes Sherlock hasn't moved in the intervening time, a flashback reveals that Sherlock in fact has fought and defeated a mysterious sword-wielding intruder while John was out.
Suggested in League Of Gentlemen as in one episode Chloe and Radcliffe are seen locking their parents in the basement. They are never seen again so it is entirely possible that they are still there....
Done by one particularly hilarious edit in Survivor Thailand. A few people complain about Helen never shutting up about various recipes, after which we see her doing just that...and then cut to nighttime where she's standing in about the same spot and talking about more recipes, giving the distinct impression that she's been standing there doing this for hours.
On the DVD Commentary for the Doctor Who two-parter "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead," Steven Moffat gives this as the reason he decided to start part two somewhere other than where part one left off: If there's no passage of time and/or change of setting between the episodes (as with "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" from series one), it might be fine if you watch them in immediate succession, but when they first air a week apart, you can't help thinking the characters have been standing there all week themselves.
Back in the 1970s, some complaints about the serial The Deadly Assassin concerned the episode cliffhanger that freezes on a shot of the Doctor drowning - some parents were apparently worried their kids would think the Doctor was underwater suffering for the whole week.
Thanks to a recent episode, Hitler is now permanently stuck in a cupboard. History does tell us otherwise, but this effect is still there.
Lie to Me: Torres' boyfriend Dupree is in hospital after a bombing... and is never mentioned again. Tad ominous.
The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Magnificent Ferengi" implies this. The Ferengi agree to free a Vorta held captive on Deep Space Nine in exchange for Quark's mother. This goes horribly wrong when one of the Ferengi accidentally shoots the Vorta prisoner dead, forcing them to reanimate the body with a neural stimulator to fool the other Vorta into thinking he is still alive. At the end of the episode, the reanimated corpse is left on the abandoned space station where the botched exchange was to have taken place, repeatedly bumping its head against a wall.
The Scrubs character Doug. In season 8 he accidentally doesn't get invited to the Janitor's wedding, and the Janitor calls to apologize. Doug works in the morgue, so he has one of his assistants close him up in a morgue-drawer where he can sulk in peace. He seems to do stuff like this regularly, as he has mentioned taking a nap in the drawers before. However, this is his final appearance this season, and next season shifts mostly to a new cast of characters, so this is the last we ever see of Doug. Is he still in there?
It's something of an in-joke among fans of The Amazing Race that final-three teams who fall too far behind and have to be remotely notified of the finish (The Guidos in season 1, David and Jeff in season 4) are still stuck wherever they are last seen.
Invoked on an episode of Supernatural. Castiel calls Dean to tell him about some new task that needs doing and Dean tells him to wait for a few hours so he can get some sleep. Castiel hangs up and just stands where he was on the corner, unmoving. Cut. He shows up at the end of the episode just in time to save the day. When Dean points this out, he says he was simply showing up on time, as arranged.
Played with on an episode of The Colbert Report. Musical guest Rush starts playing "Tom Sawyer" at the end of the show while Colbert prepares to go to sleep. Next night, as the show starts, Rush is still playing "Tom Sawyer"...
People on forums about 24 tend to makes jokes of this sort about the plethora of characters that have disappeared without really being Put on a Bus and are never to be seen or mentioned again. In particular people joke about whether or not the season 4 character Behrooz is still riding around with terrorists that had kidnapped him the last time he appeared in the middle of the season.
On the same note, hopefully Wayne told someone to free the bank manager's wife he and Jack tied up back in season 5...
According to the Gilligan's IslandReunion ShowSurviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History, this was the impetus for the first reunion movie Rescue from Gillgan's Island. From 1966 to 1978 proto-Tropers discussed the castaways being stranded on the island for all that time.
In Castle Beckett has been shot in the heart and dying for an entire summer break, and now her and Castle are in coitus for another.
In Dexter, Lexi, Rita's babysitter from the season 2 finale was last seen frantic and blaming herself for falling asleep and losing the kids (Lila drugged her). She's never seen again, so common consensus is that she probably never stopped blaming herself.
On The Vampire Diaries, new vampires can sometimes be 'sired' to their maker which means that they will follow any order or suggestion that the sire makes to them. Damian had this happen to a female vampire he created in the 1940s. He thought that he found a way to break the sire bond and left her behind in New Orleans. In the present he finds out that he was tricked and the sire bond was still intact. He is horrified because before he left he told her to wait on a particular street corner and count all the bricks in New Orleans. He returns to New Orleans and the vampire is in fact waiting on that street corner. The trope is subverted when she reveals that the compulsion faded after a short while and she was able to leave the corner and do other things beside waiting for him. However, she still visits the corner regularly and counts bricks as hobby.
On Family Ties Uncle Ned becomes an alcoholic because he ratted out his former company over some shady business deals. The episode ends with him calling a rehab clinic and saying that he needs help. This is the show's second season (of seven) and the character never reappears since he's played by Tom Hanks who moved onto bigger things.) Since the character is never even mentioned again, the audience is left to wonder if he ever got over his problems, or is laying drunk in an alleyway somewhere.
On Models Inc. there was a subplot for one of the models when she was kidnapped, sent to a latin american country to work in Hooker's hell. Then the series was menaced to being Cut Short because Cancellation, but they managed to film a last episode that would Wrap It Up. It could have been a proper Series Finale, but they never followed the model's subplot, so she is still trapped in Hooker's hell for all we know...
On Breaking Bad, Huell is last seen sitting in a hotel/safehouse, waiting for Hank and Gomez to come back. Given their request to wait was just a trick to keep him out of the way (they weren't there on official DEA business and got information from him on false pretenses), they probably weren't coming back even if they hadn't died shortly thereafter, leading to more than a few jokes that Huell is still waiting there even after the show Time Skipped months into the future before ending.
The actor who portrayed Huell stated in an interview that he believes Huell, being the loyal-yet-somewhat-dim fella that he is, is still there.
Fade-outs, widely used in the record industry. They make kind of "and they played happily ever after" effect.
Also subverted in The Beatles song "Helter Skelter" in which there's a mid song fade-out... followed by a fade-in. There's supposedly also an unreleased 30+ minutes version of the song, sadly, the "happily ever after" effect is lost when Ringo got BLISTERS ON HIS FINGERS!!!
If the singer keeps singing new lyrics during the fadeout, it can actually have the opposite feeling - for example, in Fixing A Hole, Paul McCartney and his mind is going to be wondering forever.
The song "Get Up Lucy" by Thee Michelle Gun Elephant has a similar effect on the listener. Why won't Lucy get up?
There's a possible Black Comedy example of playing with this trope at the conclusion of the novelty song "The Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny, Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini." The girl is ashamed to be seen in her bikini (why did she wear it, then?), and the narrator informs us that "She [is] afraid to come out of the water, and the poor little girl's turning blue." Several disturbing questions present themselves: Is the girl actually hiding under the water? Is she "turning blue" because she's slowly suffocating from lack of oxygen? If so, why aren't any of the other people on the beach trying to save her? More to the point, why are they recounting this story as if it's funny? And when the narrator cheerfully announces: "Yes, there isn't any more!" at the song's end, is that meant to be a Deadly Euphemism?
So far as anybody knows, Major Tom is still sitting in his tin can, far above the Moon...
Subverted by "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." It seems like the coda is going to go on forever and fade out, but instead it gets cut off abruptly mid-phrase.
Also subverted in Blue Oyster Cult's "Flaming Telepaths" (1974) which appears to be wrapping up with excessive repetitions of "And the joke's on you!" while the guitars get louder and louder, seemingly either building toward some kind of climax or just getting infinitely more dramatic. But then, after a final "And the joke-", the song just comes to a screeching halt - which is Fridge Brilliance, because that was the joke.
This music video for Junior Jack's "My Feeling", where a man sells three women electric muscle-toning devices connected to a remote control that makes them dance. At the end he turns it off and walks away. His victims are still bouncing on the spot as the video fades out.
The former Trope Namer: Gary Larson used to draw a cartoon called The Far Side. One of his most controversial cartoons was one he titled "Tethercat": Two dogs are playing tetherball with a rather stunned-looking cat. In his compilation/book The Prehistory Of The Far Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibit, Larson mentioned his theory on why (in contrast to the Amusing Injuries of cartoons) some people REALLY hated this one panel — the two dogs never, ever stop playing tethercat. You see the cartoon, they're playing; you turn back to this one a few pages later, they're still playing; set the book down and come back tomorrow, they're still playing... Given the lack of information, there's no way you can say that the cat is going to escape any time soon, and the drawing doesn't make it look likely either; Larson suspected that if he'd included a caption about the cat escaping and coming back with a bazooka, he wouldn't have angered so many people.
One supplement on running Dungeons & Dragons games discussed the pros and cons of various methods of planning encounters, and mentioned this as a problem with "set piece" encounters: if the adventure notes say that the ogre in room 6b is lying in bed asleep, it conveys the impression that this is all the ogre ever does; he's never prowling the dungeon corridors, out deer-hunting on the surface, or sitting around picking his nose.
One reason The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask was considered so sad as well as scary was because the final three-day cycle erases any quests you can't take care of without resetting time, and the game doesn't show the results of any quests you didn't finish in the post-finale sequence (although averting it, when you know what happens, doesn't always make it better). Failing to complete the Romani Ranch quest, for example, leaves you wondering if a traumatized friend ever recovered, and the ghost character who gives you the rock mask may stay there forever whether you complete the task or not. It actually is possible to run Link ragged and complete all of the quests in MM (with the exception of two inconsequential and mutually exclusive branches), but it also contains application of the Tethercat Principle: The ending. Does the Link of MM ever get home and complete his quest?
The ending does show cutscenes for sidequests that you finished at some point in the game, whether you did them on your final cycle or not. This might imply that everything you did merges together, playing with it a bit, but it can still apply to quests that you never did at all. Saving Romani at some point means that she's safe, but don't do the quest at all and she is traumatized forever.
A similar instance is shared with the end of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, where the credits roll while Link is still stranded in the middle of the ocean with no food or fresh water. Does he just keep drifting on a wooden plank? Does he ever get rescued? (Astute players would take note of the seagulls flying overhead and conclude that Link isn't far from shore.)
Invoked by Larsen's Vendetta in Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side. He pulls out a knife and stabs his opponent repeatedly. By the time the game fades out, he's still stabbing...
In the second chapter of Dragon Age II, when Hawke goes to talk to Isabela at the bar in the Hanged Man for the first time, (s)he notes sarcastically that "it's like you haven't moved in three years."
In Half-Life 2, the Ravenholm level. Father Grigori helps you through the level, and then sends you into the mines. He explains that he must stay behind, to look after his flock, which has grown restless. By which he means, he must continue shotgunning his headcrab-controlled congregation. As you enter the door to the mines, he's there in the cemetery, firing his shotgun and laughing. Even if you go back, he's still there, firing his shotgun, and laughing, firing his shotgun, laughing... there's a good chance he'll also be either surrounded by fire or ON fire at this time.
The ending to Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and the number one reason why fans want Half-Life 3 so badly. Thanks to Valve Time, Alyx has been sobbing over her father's corpse for six years.
The end of Half-Life: Opposing Force: after a brief congratulatory speech from G-man, Shephard is left on board an Osprey flying through star-filled void... forever.
In the ending of Lufia II, we're treated to the entire cast, in their respective homes, waiting for Maxim and Selan to come home safely, never believing that they're actually dead even though the player sees them die. As far as we know, they never stop waiting. At least until the game was remade fifteen years later. The hidden New Game+ ending ends with the most relieving line ever: "Jeros, we're home!"
The Portal series as a whole seems fond of this trope. Portal 1 ends with Chell passing out in a half-destroyed part of the facility; Portal 2 starts with Chell waking up in a half-destroyed part of the facility and at the end, she's tossed into an empty field in the middle of nowhere, with no plan for finding her way to anywhere else. Plus, GLaDOS tells the player in the second game that she was forced to relive her defeat (right at the end of the first game) over and over until you returned, apparently because no further plot was available.
At the end of the Warcraft IIIExpansion PackThe Frozen Throne, Arthas is seen sitting on top of the titular throne at the peak of Icecrown in Northrend. The next time he is seen is years later (both in release date and narrative time) in the opening cinematic to the World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King, still sitting on that throne, with a layer of ice caked over him to show just how long he has sat motionless. Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you remember that the Lich King is capable of controlling the Scourge via telepathy; he hasn't had a need to move until then.
Any of the many classic games which feature Bottomless Pits as obstacles. Especially if you are on your last life when you fall in one. Gotta assume your character keeps falling until you next boot up the game.
Played With in the first Mass Effect game: The dialogue you had with one of the party members, Liara, varies greatly depending on how long it takes you to get around to rescuing and recruiting her, due to her evidently spending the whole time stuck floating in mid-air due to tripping a Prothean security system.
Among the myriad other issues fans had with the ending of Mass Effect 3, the fate of the Normandy and her crew, combined with Inferred Holocaust, is this. When Normandy crash-lands on the planet, it cuts out before we get any indication that the crew has any hope of rescue. Thankfully the Updated Re-release of the Extended Cut fixed this, and while it was impossible to satisfy everyone it did calm some of the complaints.
A more direct example from Mass Effect 3: you can overhear several conversations between NPCs in the Citadel. Most of them are broken up into parts, with each progressive part only triggering after you've left and returned to the area. Most of them don't make much sense if you try to imagine them broken up over the course of several weeks.
Mega Man 10: So hey, does Roll ever get better? We do see that Wily left behind a roomful of antidotes for the Roboenza virus at the end, but even then her recovery is only implied.
Many games with locations you can visit multiple times. NPCs stay in one spot for convenience of the player, it can make it look like all they ever do is stand in that one spot. Later games introduced day night cycles and NPC schedules which helps avert this, but its still surprisingly common. Generally falls under Acceptable Breaks from Reality. You can expect the shopkeeper to be in his shop and children are probably playing in the same spot each day. But if an NPC is standing in one spot for days or weeks on end waiting for you to complete a Fetch Quest for them...
Champions Online. That burning building has been burning for, what, four years now?
Each of the Mario&Luigigames show the villains doing horrible, extensive damage to the landscape and usually anything that lives there, from the destruction of Woohoo Hooniversity and the transformation of everyone on campus into monsters in Superstar Saga to Fawful reshaping entire ecosystems into his likeness in Bowser's Inside Story. None of this is ever shown remedied by the end of the game nor are they revisited in later games, with the exception of the destruction of Toad Town in the past, and that's only because of a Foregone Conclusion in other games showing Toad Town fully intact in the present.
Also invoked with Geromy. He is introduced once as a Token Minority and promptly forgotten, but he appears in the background of some later strips and he hasn't budged an inch.
In Homestuck, during the Hivebent arc fans would often comment on how Jade had been left falling for an awfully long time. The strip when she lands is appropriately titled "Land already." Which is also a Running Gag.
Let's not forget the end of Act 6 Act 1 - Jane spent an entire month stuck in a mailbox explosion.
Played with in the Strong Bad Email "caper." As Strong Bad sings his song, his brothers come in and clap along for rhythm. He tells them to keep it rolling as he runs off to find The Cheat; in one of the Easter Eggs, they're still at it. Strong Sad asks, "Should we stop?" Strong Mad nixes him: "KEEP IT ROLLING!"
Quite a few of his emails end with him either just sitting there, or performing some repetitive activity that loops endlessly. Sometimes clicking the screen or waiting long enough will cause him to make some comment (or reveal an Easter Egg), but otherwise this will just go on forever.
An interesting case occurs in "extra plug", where after the power goes out (caused by Strong Bad's new boots being plugged in), he gets Strong Mad, Strong Sad, the Cheat, and Homestar to help him finish his email (with no power). The ending shot has everyone in various positions and Strong Bad tells them to stand still as "[it's] gonna be a long week!"
There are also quite a few occasions where Easter eggs reveal Homestar to be left behind after the events of a cartoon. One memorable example was when he phoned Marzipan claiming to be drowning in quicksand, and the Easter Egg shows him sitting in a kiddie pool filled with sand during the night still waiting to be rescued. There was also "The Movies", where he continued to ramble on during the movie after Strong Bad got so fed up with everyone's disruptions pulled out his bazooka and reduced the theatre to a smoldering crater with Homestar's seat being the only thing left remotely intact.
Slowbeef did lets plays of each of the three Metroid Prime games. At one point early in the third game, Ridley winds up falling down a seemingly endless pit after being defeated. Throughout the rest of the game, Slowbeef and his friends occasionally joke that Ridley is still falling. When he shows up again towards the end of the game, one of them says (in a Ridley voice) "I just finished falling!"
One of the Blurbs from the Happy Tree Friends episode "Just Desert" play with this: When Lumpy jumps into the water of a pool and he doesn't show up even when the sun sets and night comes, a Blurb says: "Wait, was Lumpy underwater all the time?!?". When he shows up the next morning they add: "Lumpy must have slipped out during that fade-to-black!".
Because of the lack of updates on Heta Oni, as far as anyone knows, the Nations are all still trapped in the mansion and in danger of dying.
Two Best Friends Play: Their second X-Box Live Indie Game episode ends with them playing T.E.C. 3001 and encouraging their viewers to buy it. The following episode, released a week later, opens with them still playing T.E.C. 3001.
The Sifl and Olly Show: In the teaser to announce that the show was being revived online, Sifl surprises Olly by speaking. Apparently, Sifl hasn't moved or spoken at all in the ten years since the last episode of the TV series.
Friendship is Witchcraft: In the first episode, there's a running gag about a pony who keeps watering the flowers, in spite of Twilight's admonitions and the impending doom of Ponyville. In episode 8, a side article in the Spinning Paper reveals that months have passed and that pony is still watering the flowers.
On a lighter note, this trope is the reason why This Wiki has the policy of Examples Are Not Recent. When adding an example, most people don't realize that their example will probably stand unchanged for months or even years, and thus has the potential to become very outdated if it says that some development in a work of fiction (or Real Life) is "recent".
In Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 2 finale, Toph traps her kidnappers in a metal box with her new Metalbending skills, out in the middle of nowhere. We never see them get out, and since Toph is the only person in the series to develop Metalbending, we're left wondering if they ever got out. Made worse by the fact that one of the characters actually says "I'm going to be stuck in here forever with you, aren't I?"
Many Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry and Pink Panther episodes deliberately invoke this, showing the villain (or unfortunate hero)'s situation carrying on into the night before fading or irising out.
An especially Tethercat-esque example occurs in the MGM-Tex Avery 'toon "Ventriloquist Cat", which ends with the titular cat on a telephone pole, sliding repeatedly between his canine nemesis at the top and a whole pack of dogs at the bottom, until night falls and the cartoon ends.
Averted in The Simpsons: Marge notes that the cat in a tree that is the subject of her motivational poster ("Hang In There, Kitty!") "must be long dead" because, even if it didn't fall, the poster was made decades ago.
Subverted in the last minute of season 4's "Whacking Day" when Bart gets let back in school after being expelled by pulling a prank on Superintendent Chalmer's inspection. He says he will be reunited with the rest of the students he locked in the basement for Chalmer's inspection with the lie of mountain bikes. Skinner realizes this and desperately drives alongside Willy to the school where the four bullies have been eating rations and talking for the few days of being locked up.
Skinner: If we get them their bikes, no one sues! (laughs nervously)
Willy: What if they're dead, sir?
Skinner: Then we ride these bikes to Mexico! And freedom, Willie! Freedom!
In "The Springfield Connection", Homer discovers his friend Herman is running a counterfeit jeans ring in the former's garage while on "breaks" from their regular poker game with Lenny and Moe. When the episode ends with Herman arrested, we see Lenny and Moe still waiting for them to return:
Lenny: [in the kitchen] I don't think they're coming back.
Moe: All right, that does it! I'm looking at his cards! Aw, crap. I fold.
Mentioned by baseball player Ozzie Smith, who appeared in "Homer at the Bat". During the episode, Smith visits the "Springfield Mystery Spot" which turns out to be some kind of interdimensional portal. Smith said in an interview years later he'd like to do another guest appearance so he can get out, as for all we know he's still hurtling through time and space, snapping pictures of weird stuff floating by.
In an episode of King of the Hill, Cotton arrives to see Hank and the others standing in the alley and drinking beer, as they often are, and he notes that they were doing the exact same thing when he last visited two months ago.
Invoked pretty amusingly in A Charlie Brown Christmas, when there's a commercial break right after Lucy's rant about being kissed by Snoopy. When the show comes back, she's still running and screaming. If you don't watch it on YouTube or a DVD, you'll wind up with the feeling that she was running around screaming the whole time you were gone, and Charlie Brown's irritated expression becomes that much funnier.
In the pilot episode of the show of The Venture Bros., the Monarch drops a fake meteor filled with henchmen on the Venture compound hoping the Ventures would investigate and end up overpowered. However, the meteor lands with the door facing the ground once the gang is leaving leaving the henchmen trapped inside. In "Twenty Years to Midnight" there was originally going to be a scene where the Ventures finally find the meteor and the now dead henchmen inside, but it ended up on the cutting room floor. For all we know, they never found the thing.
The cut scene later made it into an episode of the fifth season.
An episode of Adventure Time ends with Finn and Jake being buried under a mountain of baby spiders that are literally gushing out of their mother's backside. This had been going on for a full minute or two as the episode wrapped up, with no loss in momentum. While the show doesn't quite have Negative Continuity, ending gags like this tend to be left unexplained, leaving us to wonder just how long they were trapped there, and whether the mother ever stopped giving birth.
Everyone's had the experience where someone leaves, then comes back, and you're doing the same thing you were doing when they left, and they assume "you haven't moved", no matter how much you managed to get done in the time they were gone.
One web article about job performance mentions as much when cautioning about taking smoke breaks or similar.
Similarly, if you have pets, especially cats, and leave for several hours, when you return to find them sleeping in the same spot as when you left, you have to wonder if they even ever moved at all.
Also zoo animals, especially if the animal is a nocturnal species and has a favorite sleeping spot in its enclosure.
On the other hand, young children's murky understanding of the concept of "permanence" (that an item might still be there when you don't see it) is what makes playing peek-a-boo with them work.
Babies' lack of object permanence is also why they often cry when you leave the room. They aren't just worried that you won't come back — they don't understand that you still exist.
Which is also the reason why dogs get so sad and start to whine when their owner leaves for work/school, and joyfully greets them with kisses when they get back.
NASA's lunar rovers are still just sitting there on the moon, in the same positions they've been in for 40 years. Given America's budget woes and NASA's perennial The Unfavorite status in DC, that's not likely to change anytime soon.
In a Stephen Baxter story there's still a lander abandoned on the Moon in the year 171,257. It's a historical monument of sorts.
This sort of thing is invoked horrifically and sadly by xkcdhere. This generally happens if you try to personify any of NASA's deep space exploration equipment, since it can get rather heart wrenching. Heck, even /b/ cries when people start talking about Voyager-tan. Meanwhile, a happy story.
A more personal example in the form of Hazel Bryan, a white girl immortalized by a famous picture where she is enraged at a young black girl desegregating her high school. Hazel learned from her mistake and grew out of it over the subsequent 50 years, but in that picture she's forever a snarling racist.
When you don't see a child for a long time, you tend to assume that they stayed about the same age they were when you last saw them. This happens a lot with relatives who don't often see each other. ("What? How can Becky Sue be thirteen already? She was six when I last saw her!" "Because the last time you saw her was seven years ago.") This also affects the public's perception of child actors, especially when they haven't done any acting since they were a kid. And even though Dakota Fanning stayed in the public eye when she grew up, the public was still slow to grasp the fact that, no she is not eternally twelve years old.
It didn't help that she consistently played characters significantly younger than she was and then suddenly started playing characters her own age. While a 15-year-old becoming a 16-year-old isn't jarring, a 15-year-old who plays 10-year-olds becoming a 16-year-old who plays 16-year-olds takes a bit of getting used to.
Similar issues arise for many actresses who originally make their mark as children or teenagers in kids shows such as HannahMontana or LizzieMcGuire. Hilary Duff once complained in a Maxim interview that she would get chastised for not acting like a proper fourteen year old girl when she was in fact twenty three. In more recent times, snarky articles like to point out that nineteen year old Miley Cyrus is criticized for acting like some sort of partying college girl. It doesn't help that she got those same complaints when she actually was still underage.
This effect is used as a plot point in A Beautiful Mind: John Nash finally realizes that he's suffering from hallucinations when he notices that his equally imaginary roommate's daughter has always looked the same despite having seen her over a period of several years.
Plenty of items that were sealed in tombs or covered with rubble or dust or sand are still sitting where they were left when archaeologists come along centuries later. However, in the case of Pompeii, there were holes in the volcanic ash that preserved the exact positions people were in as they died, such that we now have plaster casts of a dog eternally stealing a raisin cake, a man eternally running, a husband eternally trying to cover his pregnant wife's eyes... It's all rather creepy.