"How could this happen?! I'm the star of the show!"
So, it's getting near the end of the episode, and the Five-Man Band
is in a heated battle against the forces of evil. Sure, it's a tough fight, but you know the team will pull through. Right Makes Might
, and because of that, the villain doesn't stand a chance!
But then, out of nowhere, The Hero
gets hit with a devastating blow and collapses in a pool of his own blood. His faithful companions, thinking "No One Could Survive That
" belt out a collective Big "NO!"
. Cue the credits!
This trope is when an episode ends with the main character appearing to have been killed. This is supposedly a very dramatic event, so writers typically save this one for late in a season. Problem is, while the True Companions
and the Big Bad
will think Our Hero Is Dead, the audience isn't fooled
. Contrary to popular belief
, most viewers know that if the hero died, the story would be over. But even knowing the hero isn't as dead as he looks, it can still be shocking.
And sure enough, in the next episode, we learn that the hero's Plot Armor
saved him. The rest of the band rushes to his side, finds out he still has a pulse, and the team retreats with the fallen hero slung over the shoulder of The Big Guy
to get him some desperately needed medical attention
. Then all the hero needs is some time to rest up, and they'll be back to fight another day.
Except, of course, when the character dies because Real Life Writes the Plot
, so that they can be The Nth Doctor
'd or replaced by a Suspiciously Similar Substitute
In short, a main character's Disney Death
, used as a Cliff Hanger
Subtrope of Uncertain Doom
. Contrast The Hero Dies
, for when the hero really does die
, as well as Dead to Begin With
, when they're already dead at the start of the story. Also see Fake Kill Scare
, where someone's death is faked to frighten a loved one.
This is a Death Trope, so beware of spoilers
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Anime and Manga
- In the Swamp Thing comics, at the beginning of Alan Moore's run, the eponymous character is shot through the head and his body frozen. Moore used this as an opportunity to dissect the character both literally and figuratively, then have him resurrected with the reveal that while you can kill a human by shooting it through the head, the same won't work on a plant that just thought it was human.
- Mind you, characters in long-running comic book series are killed and resurrected so often that it might count as its own trope.
- The Wally West The Flash series memorably killed off Wally right before issue 50 and issue 100. Before issue 150, the previous Flash got killed as a change of pace.
- Peter David did this to Aquaman. He was planning to keep him dead for a while, but had to settle for one issue since he was leaving the title.
- Neatly subverted in an issue of Fantastic Four, in which Ben Grimm is killed... a couple of pages before the cliffhanger. The actual cliffhanger is Reed Richards announcing that he's found a way to bring Ben back to life.
- Johnny Storm dies in a Bolivian Army Ending against Annihilus' forces, and he actually stays dead. For a year.
- Hellboy's heart is torn out by the Queen of Blood and falls into hell, while his body turns to dust.
- Spider-Man was considered dead for a month, and this was when he had four ongoing titles and none of them actually featured him, and dealt with the concept of his death.
- The first chapter of the Gearing Up arc in Kyon Big Damn Hero ends with Kyon being shot. The scene's effect is diminished by having in a previous scene a future instance of him telling Koizumi this is a predetermined event.
- In Fallout: Equestria - Project Horizons, Blackjack dies after losing her one remaining eye to grenade shrapnel, firing off a powerful gun that dangerously irradiates its user, being tortured and gang-raped for hours (during which she forgave her attackers), having all four legs amputated due to gangrene, and finally succumbing to a heart attack. And then she wakes up three days later with enough cybernetic implants to rival Adam Jensen.
- Ichigo in Soul Chess.
- The Pony POV Series:
- The G3 timeline ends with Strife killing most of the heroes (Minty and Princess Rarity being the only ones she doesn't kill directly). Though all of them are given Reincarnations in the new timeline in some form, as they weren't on the "delete" list (Strife only did it to give them the chance to make a Last Stand instead of fading away with no chance to even try and save their world).
- "Angry Cruel Love" ends with Dark World!Twilight having her Element ripped out by Angry Pie, being left to die of Rapid Aging and seemingly dying at Trixie's grave.
- Game Theory ends with Precia and all her allies, including Nanoha, falling into Imaginary Space. Except that they didn't; Precia actually collapsed the Garden of Time into Imaginary Space to fake their deaths, and had already successfully revived Alicia without traveling to Alhazred.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- The climax of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, when the hero of the series, Jack Sparrow, gets pulled under along with his ship by the Kraken, thanks to Elizabeth. He DOES die, but the rest of the group simply goes to the afterlife and brings him back.
- Subverted every which way in Dead Man, in which William Blake (Johnny Depp again), whose heroism itself is arguable, is shot early on. It is indeed fatal, and he spends the rest of the film trying not to get killed while he is, in fact, in the process of dying. It's implied that the film ends with his very last breath.
- In The Princess Bride, the kid who's listening to the story can hardly believe it when Fezzik pronounces Westley dead. He asks his grandfather, "Westley is only faking, right?" but gets no reply. A few minutes later, it's revealed that Westley is Only Mostly Dead.
- Deliberately and effectively subverted in Philip K Dick's novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, where the main character is killed halfway through and the plot basically falls apart for the rest of the novel.
- When the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was nigh, the biggest question was: Is Harry going to die? Whole news reports were made about the pressing issue, and some people even made protest groups and petitions begging J. K. Rowling not to kill off our favorite lightning-scarred, bespectacled brit. While this may seem like people were taking this too seriously, remember that this is a character who we all grew up with, so his death would feel like the death of a friend or sibling.
- So, does Harry Potter die? As it turns out, he was supposed to die from the very start. Harry sees, through Snape's memories in the Pensieve, that Dumbledore has discovered that Voldemort accidentally manifested a piece of his soul in Harry's body once the Killing Curse backfired on him, which is why Harry could speak Parseltongue and share Voldemort's thoughts. So Harry needs to die in order to fully destroy Voldemort. Thus, Harry approaches Voldemort and lets the Dark Lord use the Killing Curse on him. Harry wakes up in a sort of "limbo" between life and death, which takes a form that Harry can understand - in this case, it's a train station. Dumbledore, who has been waiting for Harry there, tells Harry that he has a choice - to take a train, onward, into death, or to return to the living and finish what he and Voldemort started. Harry chooses the latter option and proceeds to destroy Voldemort.
- Retroactively done by the Sherlock Holmes stories; Holmes' Duel to the Death and plunge into the Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarty was supposed to see him Killed Off for Real — however, Holmes was so popular with the public that Conan Doyle kept being bugged by people to bring him back to life. Conan Doyle eventually got so sick of it that he capitulated and wrote "The Empty House", which revealed that Holmes had faked his death all along.
- This ostensibly happens to James Bond at the end of Ian Fleming's From Russia with Love.
- In Lois McMaster Bujold's Mirror Dance, Miles Vorkosigan takes a needle grenade to the chest during a covert operation, killing him. He's later revived thanks to the miracle of cryogenics — but he's dead for several months, which causes major problems for his friends and family.
- The end of The Dresden Files novel Changes sees Harry Dresden killed. The title of the next book? Ghost Story. The ghost in question? Harry.
- Alex Rider is shot in the heart at the end of Scorpia. Turns out the sniper missed by a millimeter. The thing that saved our hero? A curb.
- At the end of The Two Towers Shelob seems to kill Frodo, and the ring gets to Sam.
- In Brimstone, Aloysius Pendergast is sealed inside a wall to suffocate to death in the final few chapters by Count Fosco. In the very last chapter, His brother Diogenes begins working to break him out.
- At the end of A Dance with Dragons Jon gets stabbed by several other members of the Night's Watch. We've yet to see whether he survives or not, but considering his importance to the story so far, he will probably survive or be Back from the Dead a la Davos Seaworth.
- Then again this IS ASOIAF, which is famous for George Martin seemingly killing off characters to screw with the fandom. Remember Eddard Stark? or his son Robb? or Tywin Lannister?
- Or Renly Baretheon? or Oberon Martell? This series being what it is, there is no guarantee in ANYONE'S living.
- But note that only one of these is a viewpoint character; in fact, among the "proper" viewpoint characters (ie those whose names actually appear in the chapter headings), only two (Eddard and Catelyn) have been confirmed to be dead so far, and one of them didn't even stay dead.
- Perhaps more importantly, these people died and their stories concluded with few loose ends. They failed at what they were trying to do, but there wasn't a whole lot of backlog of unrevealed storyline. Lyanna for Eddard Stark is the big one, but the general consensus is that it is actually *Jon's* story.
- In Pact, Blake Thorburn gets into a fight with a demon and loses, being made an Unperson in the process. There's a denouement chapter of various characters reacting to the sudden absence, with his Distaff Counterpart Rose Thorburn becoming his successor as Thorburn Heir, before the narrative abruptly shifts to Goblin hunter Maggie Holt for seven chapters. After that, though The next chapter takes place from Blake's point of view, revealing that instead of being eaten he's fallen into an Eldritch Location called The Drains, which serves as the Belly of the Whale for his Hero's Journey.
Live Action TV
- Happens to Marian in the second-to-last episode of the first season of the 2006 series of Robin Hood. It happens again in the finale of the second series. This time she stays dead.
- Happened to Jack Bauer in season 2 of 24, and again in the season finale of season 4. In both instances, Bauer was clinically dead for a few minutes before being revived, which lead to the fun fact "Jack Bauer died for his country and lived to tell the tale. Twice."
- There's also a cliffhanger roughly midway through the fifth season where Jack manages to catch the current villain but the time he takes doing so leave them both getting caught up in an explosion. They both survive.
- Bones's third season featured an episode where Booth gets shot and the screen blacks out at the end.
- This happens twice in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- In the last episode of season 5, Buffy makes a Heroic Sacrifice and is literally dead and buried. It takes a lot of Applied Phlebotinum in the first episode of season 6 to bring her Back from the Dead.
- In late season 6, Buffy and one of her friends are shot at the end of the episode. The next episode, Buffy gets all better. Her friend, a recurring character, not so much.
- There's also the season 1 finale, during which Buffy drowns fighting the Master. She gets revived by Xander, but her temporary demise activates the next Slayer, Kendra.
- Subverted in Supernatural Season 2 episode "All Hell Breaks Loose Part 1", in that Sam really does die at the end of the episode. Played straight, however, in that he is brought back the next episode when his brother Dean sells his soul for him.
- And subverted again in the Season Three finale where Dean dies and will stay dead. (At least until September 18th, anyway.)
- Played straight at the end of the first season which saw the Winchester family getting crashed into by a truck.
- The Doctor of Doctor Who is pretty much unkillable being the Trope Namer for The Nth Doctor, but that doesn't stop the writers:
- Done in "The Underwater Menace" when the Second Doctor returns to the sinking Atlantis because he's decided he can't leave the villain Professor Zaroff to die. There's a brief scene of Jamie and Polly mourning him and wondering what they can do now before he emerges, revealing he's fine (although failed to save Zaroff). This was before the writers had puzzled out what exactly regeneration was, so his death was quite possible.
- In the penultimate episode of the new Series 4, a Dalek finally gets a shot in. Fans were worried about the actor leaving the show rather than the character dying, in fact since it wouldn't have ended this story the uncertainty probably made this a more effective use of this trope than a potential death.
- The Tenth Doctor's regeneration storyline, "The End of Time", seriously exploited the fact that the audience knew the Doctor was not getting out of this one alive thanks to a highly public Doctor recasting. Multiple times in the climax of the story, the Doctor suffers severe injuries, does suicidal stunts and makes many Hubristic decisions, all of which underline the Doctor's desperation to win this one as well as exploit the tension as the audience waits for whatever is going to kill him. Then the 45-minute mark is reached without the Doctor dying, and just when the audience (and the Doctor) are marvelling at how thoroughly he's cheated death, the story quietly presents the Doctor with the obstacle that will kill him, and the episode is extended to allow the Doctor a farewell tour.
- In the first episode of the 6th season (within the first 15 minutes!) we watch a scene of an astronaut apparently killing a future version of the Doctor. Amy and co. carried on adventuring with a past-Doctor. As it turns out, the Doctor was a Mobile-Suit Human with a miniaturized Doctor riding inside. It Makes Sense in Context.
- CSI: Miami did this to Horatio for a season cliffhanger. Not only does the show revolve around H's character, but for extra special Like You Would Really Do It bonus points, regular CSI also killed off one of their regulars, and we knew that one would stick thanks to a Role Ending Misdemeanor, so it seemed suspect that both shows would go through with it.
- Happens repeatedly in Farscape. Every main character has "died" at least once, but only Zhaan's (and arguably D'Argo's) deaths were permanent.
- Played in the Monk two-parter "Mr. Monk Is On The Run", in which Monk has been convicted of a murder he didn't commit. The first part ends with the police cornering Monk on a pier. Monk attempts to escape, but Stottlemeyer shoots him in the chest twice and he falls into the lake. The second part begins with him crawling back to the shore. Turns out he was wearing a bulletproof vest, and he and Stottlemeyer planned the whole thing to get the police off Monk's back while he solved the case.
- After being Brought Down to Normal in Smallville, Clark was fatally shot in "Hidden". Jor-El resurrected him because of his destiny but with a need for an Equivalent Exchange, as seen in "Reckoning".
- In one of the season one episodes of the BBC's Merlin, Merlin 'dies' after drinking from a poisoned goblet to save Arthur. He is still revived, however, by the magic Gaius did moments before.
- Subverted in the season one finale "Le Morte De Arthur", where Arthur is dying from the bite of the Questing Beast, but Merlin and Gaius both rush to save him by offering their lives in place of his. Merlin ultimately kills Nimueh, saving both himself and Gaius while still delivering the price required to save Arthur.
- Killing Fox Mulder at the end of the season has become somewhat of a staple in The X-Files, but one case stands out: in the end of season four he has a mental breakdown, kills himself, and Scully confirms that he is dead. However, in season five, it is revealed that the two of them have planned it all out to fool the traitor in the FBI.
- Season 3 of Arrow ends with Oliver dueling Ra's al Ghul to the death and losing.
- Chrono Trigger. In an interesting subversion to the trope, you don't even have to bring the victim back to life to finish the game, and doing so triggers one of the Multiple Endings.
- In Half-Life 2, if you happen to die with some rebel buddies next to you, they'll provide some parting words (before you have to start over from the last checkpoint, of course) that tend to echo the sentiment of this trope, such as "He's... he's dead!", "Now what?", and "Dibs on the suit."
- The execrable Daikatana did the same. Superfly's laments were probably the highlight of the game.
- And in the episodes that continue the events of Half-Life 2, Alyx has some strange habit of saying, "Look out!" or some variant thereof the second you die from whatever you should be looking out for.
- Tales of Monkey Island: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood ends with Guybrush being killed by LeChuck, who turns out to have been faking his Heel-Face Turn. Guybrush returning to life takes up much of the plot of the fifth and final episode, Rise of the Pirate God.
- Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow ends on a Cliff Hanger with Lawrence and possibly Teresa Killed Off for Real and Xing attempting to resuscitate Logan. According to John Garvin, the series has ended, so it's more of a Bolivian Army Ending.
- Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation has Lara at the end of the game utterly exhausted from all the running, jumping, and fighting. She is merely a few feet away from the temple's exit when Von Croy appears before her. Still thinking Von Croy is possessed by the evil god, Set, Lara hesitates to approach him, but Von Croy shows he is back to his normal self and urges her to grab his hand. The temple collapses around Lara, forcing Von Croy to leave her behind and buried alive. This was supposed to be the end of the Tomb Raider series but Edios demanded more games, so Lara's demise was changed to show that she was still alive at the end of Chronicles.
- Halo 3: "Hard to believe he's dead." "Were it so easy." Then after the credits, "Wake me, when you need me."
- Mass Effect 2 starts with Shepard dying. Although s/he gets better (two years later), it's possible to have him/her Killed Off for Real in the suicide mission at the end.
- In Ever17, no matter which of his routes you take, Takeshi always dies at the end; his death sets off half the plot, and he eventually gets better.
- This is essentially the setup for the premise of the flash game series Sonny. The player character already died prior to the first game's start, being resurrected by some unspecified experiment. Also, the first (or depending on the game, only) sentence on the Game Over screen reads, "You're dead, Sonny."
- Antimony falling off the bridge, ending Chapter 7 of Gunnerkrigg Court. This was also the end of the first, self-published, print volume of the comic.
- Phobia, at the end of GastroPhobia, chapter 6, fell from the top of a tree and was knocked unconscious. And Klepto couldn't wake her up. Then night fell and, according to the Alt Text, she was eaten by wolves.
- Roy in The Order of the Stick literally died—thank goodness he lives in a universe where Death Is Cheap, even if it took a few months to get his corpse to a cleric for resurrection.
- A chapter of Girl Genius shows Agatha apparently being picked up and fried by a clank. The story then switches to another POV for a while.
- This happens in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures .
- Sluggy Freelance did this very dramatically with two main characters at the end of the chapter "bROKEN"; some people were actually convinced, while others were deep in He's Just Hiding. The truth was something in between. A much less serious one was at the end of a single comic (in the middle of the story, but in this case the daily nature of the webcomic was clearly exploited to make it a cliffhanger), where it appeared that Oasis had broken Torg's neck. Two days later it was shown that the snapping sound was really Bun-bun eating celery. And in one of Bun-bun's fights with Santa Claus, the rabbit ended up in a warehouse rigged to explode and wasn't heard of again for a while.
- At the end of his review of Final Fantasy VIII, the Spoony One was killed by the game's main character, Squall Leonhart, at the bidding of Mad Scientist Doctor Insano. Fortunately, there was enough squishy gray protoplasm left of Spoony to bring him Back from the Dead.
- As of his review of IT, The Nostalgia Critic has been killed by balloons.
- Spoony and the Critic have nothing on their fellow reviewer Phelous, who almost always dies Once per Episode (or is Dead All Along, or is killed at the start and the Phelous from the next episode shows up to do the review, or...); even when he cameos he has a nasty habit of not surviving long.
- Chapter 16 of the 2010 Neopets story arc, "The Faeries Ruin", ends with Hanso turned to stone after destroying the artifact.
- Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction ends with the death of the series' protagonist, Church. Played with, in that Church really does die and stay dead, but in the next season aversion of him comes back in the form of a Living Memory.
- Agent Washington, the deuteragonist of Reconstruction, is shot in the chest and has his fate left ambiguous, but is revealed to be alive (though imprisoned) in the following season.
- Following the climax of Worm, Taylor in shot in the head and apparently killed by Contessa. It turns out to have merely incapacitated her, and Contessa De Powered her and sent her to an alternate reality to give her a chance to start her life over.
- Optimus Prime does this a lot. However, he's nice enough to wait a few episodes before coming back. Except in Animated, where he died in the pilot movie and came back in seventy-five seconds.
- Played straight in Avatar: The Last Airbender, when Aang gets struck by lightning and killed in the second season finale, only to be brought back to life afterwards. Almost everyone in-universe thinks he's died, which becomes pivotal to the plot. But Dangerously Genre Savvy Azula, the one who blasted Aang with lightning, isn't fooled.
- Enzo in ReBoot get this in "Game Over", when the User wins a game he was playing. The audience isn't fooled because we see him change his icon right before losing, but the people in Mainframe believe he dies. Next episode Enzo is back, but timeskipped into a [[Main/Badass]] adult and nowhere near Mainframe.
- Happened in the penultimate episode of Superman: The Animated Series. In it, Superman had been captured and brainwashed by Darkseid into attacking Earth. Eventually, Lois confronted him and was able to get him to regain his memories... about one second before the government blasted him with a kryptonite missile.