Plot-Triggering Death

"I am doctor Edward Roivas. I am a clinical Psychologist. I am also dead. (...) Their attention turns to my grand-daughter. For she is the last of my line, and the last hope of humanity."
Eternal Darkness, Introduction (abridged).

Between the many ways death can be used in media, there's its use as a trigger for the start of the story itself. It could start a Roaring Rampage of Revenge from part of the protagonists and pull them into something even greater, maybe looking for the truth behind the death could make the protagonist know about something he wasn't supposed to know, the protagonist could suddenly see himself having to continue where the deceased left off, or the execution of a baddie may bring forth something even worse, etc.

In order for a death to be covered by this trope, it has to satisfy some conditions:

  • The death has to either occur before the story begins, or during the first moments of it.
  • The death must either: 1) Make the plot start moving (without needing to affect the protagonists directly at first), or 2) Make the protagonists start taking some kind of action which later pulls them into the big plot (which must not be necessarily related to the death).
  • In case of TV series or long runners with clear continuity, the death must have affected the big picture of the series. For example, the deaths occurring on every episode of a murder mystery series do not count; but the death of a close one that made the protagonist take the decision to become a detective so he could investigate the mystery behind that murder does count. Deaths on this kind of works that trigger new mystery arcs also count.
  • On some occasions, the death is self-triggered: if My Death Is Just the Beginning, then the protagonist obviously can't force the antagonist to stop... antagonizing.

Can sometimes overlap with Starts with a Suicide, Posthumous Character, Death by Origin Story, The Lost Lenore, I Let Gwen Stacy Die, Stuffed In The Fridge, Crusading Widower, Doomed Hometown (can be a greater scale of this trope), and the list goes on and on.

As a death trope, unmarked spoilers are bound to appear. Beware.


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     Anime and Manga  
  • Episode 1 of Highschool DXD, shows the main character dying before the show even begins.
  • In One Piece, the death of Gold Roger launches the Golden Age of Piracy, the setting of the story.
    • His Friendly Enemy Whitebeard similarly launched a new era of piracy with his own death.
    • The death of Corazon (aka Donquixote Rocinante, Donquixote Doflamingo's younger brother and Trafalgar Law's idol) is the primary driving force of the Pirate Alliance Saga. His death earned Doflamingo Law's hatred, causing him to spend the next thirteen years of his life plotting revenge. If Corazon had never died, it's highly doubtful Law would've been a pirate, let alone one of Luffy's allies.
  • Code Geass: The murder of Lelouch's mother Marianne is the initial trigger of the series' plot.
  • Gurren Lagann; although not at the start of the plot, the death of Kamina (a quarter of the way in) was the key trigger to the character development of Simon throughout the rest of the series
  • The first/second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! is motivated by the death of Pegasus's wife.
  • Deadman Wonderland employs this in true gory fashion: an entire classroom of junior high students gets outright blended to bits by the Red Man (A.K.A. "Wretched Egg"), save for Ganta Igarashi- implanted with a Branch of Sin, turned into a Deadman, and tactically framed for the killings so he's sent to the titular hellhole prison.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: The death of Ed's and Al's mother pushes them to perform human transmutation to try to bring her back; their attempt goes horribly wrong and they end up losing (part of) their bodies, thus prompting Ed to join the military to find a way to restore themselves, and the rest is history. Her death is what ultimately caused their involvement in the whole story, and ironically, it's also one of the only two non-Big Bad-related deaths in the whole series.
  • Ga-Rei -Zero-: The death of Kagura's mother a few days before the series starts up results in Kagura meeting Yomi, and played a significant role in Kagura starting her career as a Vanquisher so early.
  • The SoulTaker
    • Mio's actions just prior to death are what awakened Kyōsuke's mutant powers and his realization that she did so out of love is why he chooses to protect humanity.
    • Maya also qualifies. Her death is what inspires Kyōsuke to find and protect the other Flickers, rather than just saving his sister.
  • Naruto: The title character is the person-shaped can for a monster the city's previous leader (who is also the titular character's father) died sealing in him when he was a baby. Much, much later, we learn that in a technical way, Rin's death of all things is what started the plot. Why? Because her death in the backstory directly motivated Obito into becoming Tobi...who unleashed the monster on the city in the first place, prompting the leader to seal it away inside the title character.
    • It goes much deeper than that — it's ultimately the reason why Obito took up Madara's offer, leading to the creation of the Akatsuki, the attack of the Nine-Tailed Fox, the Uchiha Clan Massacre, and eventually, the Fourth Great Shinobi War. Had she not died, the entire plot of Naruto would have been avoided almost entirely, and chances are that both Naruto and Sasuke would have had much happier lives.
    • Going back even further, it was the death of Princess Kaguya that laid the foundations for current events due to Black Zetsu manipulating events in an attempt to revive her.
    • Izuna was his brother Madara's entire world. Madara is the man he is today because of Izuna's death, which allowed him to be susceptible to Black Zetsu's manipulations.
  • Serial Experiments Lain: The suicide of Chisa Yomoda and subsequent e-mails claiming to be from her are what kick off the story.
  • Akame ga Kiru!: The deaths of Tatsumi's two friends from his village motivates him to join the Assassin Group Night Raid, a group devoted to taking down targets in the Evil Empire.
  • InuYasha:
    • Kikyou's death was the trigger for almost everything that occurs in the story. It's why Inuyasha and Naraku are enemies, it's why Kagome's dragged back in time, it's why the Shikon no Tama is released back into the world and it's why Kagome is the only one who can decide the jewel's ultimate fate.
    • Also, the reason Miroku becomes a part of the group in the fight against Naraku is because his grandfather was such a significant enemy of Naraku's that Naraku cursed Miroku's entire lineage: the deaths of Miroku's grandfather and father are the reason he encounters Inuyasha's group and joins it, which is what enables Inuyasha to learn the identity of Kikyou's killer in the first place.
  • Bleach:
    • The deaths of Masaki Kurosaki, Souken Ishida, Kaien Shiba, and Hisana Kuchiki all combine to create the reason for why the first 181 chapters of the manga unfold as they do. Even after those chapters have passed, Masaki's death continues to be the motivation for Ichigo's resolve to protect as many people as he can, Souken's death remains the primary motivation for Uryuu's determination to stand by Ichigo and work with the shinigami despite quincies and shinigami being traditional enemies, Kaien's demise is the reason why Rukia opened up the path to power for Ichigo in the first place (and continues to guide her decisions after she replaces him as 13th division lieutenant), and the death of Hisana is the reason why Byakuya adopted Rukia and why Ichigo and Byakuya now possess a bond so unbreakable it can even defy brainwashing. Without those four deaths, this story would have been completely different, or perhaps even non-existent.
    • Plot-triggering deaths have been confirmed to have impacted the final arc as well. Both Masaki and Kanae's deaths are tied into the events of the final arc having been caused by Yhwach performing The Purge on impure quincies six years before the beginning of the story. The impact of these two deaths on the behaviour and decisions of their husbands (Isshin and Ryuuken) over the intervening years, and subsequently on their sons (Ichigo and Uryuu), are hugely important to the development of the final arc.
  • Attack on Titan has several significant deaths that set the events of the story in motion.
    • The death of her parents set Mikasa neatly onto the path of becoming The Ace and Eren's protector.
    • The death of Karla Yeager not only provides Eren with the desire to destroy all Titans, but leads her husband to take drastic action before disappearing.
    • The death of Marcel, a childhood friend of Reiner and Bertolt has unseen and far-reaching consequences. It not only returns Ymir to human form and sets her back on the board as a major player, but is the clue needed for Hange to discover that Titans possess a Cannibalism Superpower.
    • The murder of her mother resulted in bastard princess Historia Reiss being forced into the identity of Krista Lenz. Her presence in the Survey Corps helps expose the Government Conspiracy and makes her vital to their plans to overthrow the government.
    • The deaths of Farlan and Isabel resulted in Levi abandoning his life of crime, and laid the framework for his Undying Loyalty to Erwin.
  • In Pandora Hearts, Lacie’s death caused Jack to form a contract with Oz, the B-rabbit, which caused the Tragedy of Sablier, in order to bring the world to Lacie in the depths of the abyss. The contract forced Oz to be brought 100 years later along with Jack, although Oz remembers nothing about it, causing him to seek the truth about his own existence, which is why the story happens.
  • Tokyo Ravens: The death of Hakuto prompts Harutora to become an onmyoji to fulfill her wish.

     Comic Books  
  • The Comedian's murder in Watchmen.
    • Rorschach, if anyone bothers to read his journal.
  • The Death of Jean DeWolff in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man which set off the Sin Eater arc, which in turn caused the origins of Venom.
  • The death of Joe Face just before the beginning of Kraven's Last Hunt - Spider-Man is shot after attending his wake.

     Fan Works  
  • Ace Swift's death in Turnabout Storm. It ends up with Rainbow Dash being accused for it, which in turn leads up to Phoenix Wright being summoned to Equestria.
  • In the Katawa Shoujo fanfic, Reconciliation, the death in question is Hisao himself. After he dies of a heart attack, his wife Lilly calls their old friend Hanako, who has not seen either of them since Hanako's bad ending in canon, resulting in her flying out to Scotland.
  • Mass Effect Human Revolution has Shepard, without whose death Adam would never have gotten involved in Saren's plot.
  • In Necessary To Win, Mizuho's death was the catalyst behind Saki and Teru's parents separating, and Saki gets involved in tankery at Oarai in hopes of reuniting the family.
  • In XCOM From The Ashes Of Temples, the plot kicks off with the Council Spokesperson being informed of the death of the XCOM Commander.
  • In "Last Rights" Senior Chief Security Officer Athezra Darrod dies from a shrapnel hit in the first scene, and the rest of the story deals with the disposition of his body: To wit, should the Kobali be allowed to turn him into one of them?

    Films — Animated 
  • In a rather roundabout example, Coral's death in Finding Nemo. Her death happens some years before the actual story, but hadn't it been for that, the plot wouldn't have happened, at least not the way it did.
  • Ellie's death in Up, although it happens some time before the plot starts. The real inciting incident is the ruling that their house will be demolished and Carl sent to a home, but Ellie's memory drives him tostart the plot.
  • Another Pixar example is Leland Turbo from Cars 2.
  • 2's death in 9. The Big Bad Fabrication Machine absorbs his spirit near the start of the film, killing him and powering it up enough to start fighting against the other protagonists.
  • In Frozen, the deaths of the king and queen of Arendelle forced their daughter Elsa to become Queen at a young age, leading to her powers being accidentally outed at her coronation.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Big Chill, the reunion of old college friends happens thanks to the suicide of one their friends Alex.
  • Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. Before the movie starts, Doc Savage's father dies in a South American country. When Doc realizes that his father was murdered, he and his aides start an investigation that leads into the main plot.
  • Octopussy: 009 is murdered in East Berlin. MI6, suspecting Soviet involvement, calls in 007.
  • The death of the hooker at Christmas turns out to be important in the first Lethal Weapon.
  • The murder of her best friend that Tea Leoni's character witnesses occurs at the start of Bad Boys and drives the rest of the plot.
  • The murder of Marvin Acme in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the investigation of which exposes A Far More Sinister Plot.
  • Back to the Future Part III: Doc, stranded in 1885, sends a letter to Marty, telling him where he can find the time machine, how he can fix it using 1955 technology, and most importantly, urging him to go back to 1985 without him. But while recovering the time machine, Marty finds Doc's grave, showing that he'd been murdered only a week after writing the letter, which prompts Marty to travel to 1885 to save Doc.
  • In The Skeptic, the death of the protagonist's aunt is what drives the plot forward.
  • In I Robot, Dr. Alfred Lanning uses his own death to set Detective Spooner on the trail of a conspiracy only he knew about.
  • Ordinary People. In both the film and the novel the death of the family's eldest son in a sailing accident sets into motion the emotional crisis which the family has only outwardly recovered from at the start of the narrative.
  • The plot of Werner Herzog's Heart of Glass rests on the precedent death of the (never seen) foreman glassmaker Mühlbeck, the only one to knew the secret formula of the valuable ruby glass.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World opens with paroled tuna-factory robber Smiler Grogan crashing his car in the Mojave Desert. Before kicking the bucket he tells the group of passing motorists who've come to his aid about $350,000 in cash "buried under a big W" in a state park near the Mexican border. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Ichirō Yashida’s death at the beginning of The Wolverine is what triggers the plot. Except, it turns out, not really.

  • Used recurrently in Dan Brown's novels.
  • In True Grit The murder of Mattie Ross's father by Tom Chaney sets in motion the revenge quest that drives the story.
  • In Thud!, the murder of Grag Hamcrusher leads Sam Vimes on a quest to discover the truth behind the battle of Koom Valley.
  • Another Discworld one is Deccon Ribobe at the start of Moving Pictures. In the first scene of the book he dies of old age, leaving no-one to perform the rituals that keep the Holy Wood magic in check.
  • The death of King Brion Haldane at the start of Deryni Rising, which begins the multi-volume saga of King Kelson Haldane's rule as well as the specific challenges of getting him safely crowned king.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire doesn't have a single inciting death, but it uses them for the initiation of individual plotlines:
    • In the first book, Jon Arryn's death is what causes Eddard Stark (and by extension, the rest of his family) to become involved in the main plot.
    • The Iron Islands plot in A Feast For Crows is triggered by the death of Balon Greyjoy, which happens offscreen during the events of the previous book.
    • The deaths of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark are what ends up triggering the War of the Five Kings.
    • The pre-series executions of Brandon and Rickard Stark, Ned's father and brother, by King Aerys Targaryen, along with the apparent kidnapping of his sister Lyanna by Prince Rhaegar, are the immediate triggers for Robert's Rebellion. The uprising ends with the death of Mad King Aerys, which results in Robert becoming king and marrying Cersei and Viserys and Danaerys fleeing into exile. Fifteen years later, these events result in the plot of A Game of Thrones.
  • Henry Archer's death in Atlanta Nights. Nearly all characters in the book are in some way connected with him.
  • Aimee's suicide in Aimee is the reason why the main character is put on trial for murder and forced to leave her hometown. Her court-appointed psychiatrist suggests that she write a diary, which is the Framing Device for the book.
  • Aunt Dimity's death starts the whole series.
  • Happens in Warrior Cats. In the first book, Into the Wild, Redtail and Oakheart, the deputies of ThunderClan and RiverClan respectively are killed in a very early battle. Fireheart, main character of the first arc, spends the next three books trying to prove that the celebrated ThunderClan warrior Tigerclaw actually murdered Redtail, while uncovering Oakheart's dark secrets and connections to the other Clans
  • Shortly before the start of The Legend of Sun Knight, Sun's childhood friend Roland is tortured and killed for sport. He is then revived as a powerful undead creature known as a Death Knight. Sun, being the poster board for the church and the one in charge of stopping undead attacks on the city, goes to face him and is unintentionally set up as Roland's killer. The lengths he goes to in order to obtain evidence to prove his innocence and to expose the real murderer cause him to learn revival magic to bribe/threaten his fellow knights into secrecy, which causes another church to interfere in the next book. Had he not met the head of that church, he wouldn't have been called in to help in book 3, etc.
  • Hector, of the Web Serial Novel The Zombie Knight, is an undead example of this trope. The story begins with him dying and meeting Garovel, which is how he starts involving himself in dangerous situations in order to save other people's lives.
  • In the Star Trek novel Spock's World, the death of the Big Bad's mate caused the Big Bad to think that "once again [said character] did not have [their] desire" and set out for Misplaced Retribution on Spock.

     Live Action TV  
  • In the first season of The Killing, Rosie Larsen's murder is what brings all of the characters into the plot.
  • Veronica Mars had some seasons begin with the death(s) of important characters to stimulate the season long story arc or A-plot.
  • In '"Glue'', the murder of local teenager Cal Bray jumpstarts the plot.
  • Babylon 5: The Raiders, who for most of the first season of the show, were the only recurring antagonists, ended up getting wiped out in a matter of seconds, soon after pulling off their greatest heist, as part of The Reveal of what would be the show's primary villain for the next few seasons.
  • Nate Sr.'s death at the beginning of Six Feet Under sets the plot in motion, causing Nate Jr. to end up staying with his family.
  • Short lived TV series Johnny Bago. Johnny Tenuti, just out of prison, is set up on a blind date by his cousin with mob connections. The date kills The Don's son, framing Johnny for the crime. Johnny goes on the lam.
    • Towards the end of the first episode, the old man in an RV who Johnny hooked up with dies during a fishing tournament, which Johnny takes as a sign that he should take the old man's 'Bago and Roam the Earth.
  • The pilot of CSI starts with an apparent suicide. This sets up the Paul Millander mystery arc which lasts one and half seasons.
  • The death of drug baron Harvey Wratten on The Shadow Line, which triggers the two main plots of the show by providing a starting point for Jonah Gabriel's investigations and putting Joseph Bede in charge of Wratten's organisation.
  • Single Father: Rita's death kicks off the series as her widower and children try to find a way to cope afterwards.
  • The Palace: King James is onscreen for a few seconds, doesn't even get a line, and dies before the opening titles. His unprepared twenty-something son Richard becomes King. Scheming ensues.
  • Alias: Sydney tells her fiancé that she is a spy, leading to her boss having him killed. When her leave of absence gets a bit too long for her boss's comfort, he sends killers after her too. Then she finds out that she works for the bad guys, and that her semi-estranged dad is one of them. Then she earns the bad guys' trust so that she can become a double agent with the CIA. Then she finds out that her dad has been a double agent all along. Whew. On to episode two.
  • Teen Wolf: The murder of Derek's sister Laura kicks off the first season, since her body being found in the woods is the reason Scott and Stiles are wandering around out there at night, leading to Scott being bitten by the Alpha and becoming a werewolf.
  • The major plot of Downton Abbey centers around Matthew becoming the heir to the title "Earl Grantham" (and the titular estate) after both people with better claim to it go down on the Titanic, forcing some rushed (and frequently foolhardy) attempts by the present Earl and family to make sure his daughters are still provided for.
    • Lady Mary's dalliance with the Turkish Handsome Lech Kemal Pamuk results in his death which affects her for the next 2 seasons.
  • Once Upon a Time: Had Daniel, Regina's true love, not been killed by Cora years before, Regina would never have been embittered and angry at her mother, which drives her to cast the Dark Curse that is the subject of much of the first season.
  • Doctor Who uses this in The Impossible Astronaut, which kicks off the plot arc of Series 6. The character who dies is the Doctor himself, and apparently permanently. Subverted when it turns out he was Faking the Dead.
    • The main Series 7 arc is also launched when the confirmed new companion Clara is killed off in her second episode. Of course, it's not that she died and more that this was the second time the Doctor saw her die, making him realize there's something weird going on. Because, you know, the same person on two different planets and two different time periods died.
  • Mary Winchester's death in Supernatural's pilot episode.
  • In the first episode of Farscape, when Crichton travels through the wormhole into that strange new part of the universe, his craft accidentally collides with a Peacekeeper vessel at the other end, killing its pilot, who is soon identified as Peacekeeper Commander Bialar Crais' brother—which sets up Crais' vendetta against Crichton for the rest of the season.
  • Viudas E Hijos Del Rock And Roll began with a flashback in 1992. Miranda had a romance with Diego in Villa Gesell, and everything was fine... until her best friend Sandra seduced Roby, Miranda's father. Miranda tried to see Diego again at the Buenos Aires obelisk, as planned, but he failed to meet her in time (and, trying to give mistery to their first date in Buenos Aires, they did not exchange adresses or phone numbers). She renounced to everything related to Rock and Roll, swore to never interact again with the dreaded Sandra or Roby, and started a romance with Segundo, a delicate high-society boy. End of flashback. Now, in the present, Roby has died. Miranda is now the heir of Roby's rock radio, she has to work alongside Sandra (Roby's widow) on a daily basis, and Diego saw her in the funeral and finally located her after so many years.

  • Older Than Steam: Hamlet begins with the king's death (though the dead man also appears as a ghost).
  • Another Shakespearean example: the murder of the Duke of Gloucester (before the start of the play) in Richard II. We never learn exactly who did it, but we do learn that King Richard himself was behind it, and his actions to prevent that fact being discovered, sets the rest of the play in motion.
  • Chicago: Roxie Hart shoots her boyfriend, which is what lands her in prison and on trial for murder.

     Video Games  
  • In Xenoblade, the death of Fiora in the hands of the Mechon in the first moments of the game is what inspired Shulk and Reyn go ahead and kick Mechon ass in order to avenge her. As time passes, everything starts getting much more complex than that.
  • President Al-Fulani's execution in Modern Warfare and Dmitri Petrenko's death in Callof Duty Black Ops.
  • Cave Johnson's death can be seen as this for the Portal franchise. His death sparked the creation of GLaDOS, which in turn caused the creation of Wheatley, and the plot of Portal.
  • Your guardian Gorion's death at the start of Baldur's Gate (the first game) kicks off the plot (as well as Bhaal's once more of the plot is uncovered...).
  • As the page quote shows the plot of Eternal Darkness is set off by the death of the main character's grandfather, which leads Alex to his house and to find the Tome Of Eternal Darkness which serves as a framing device for previous characters' struggles in the fight (who might also count as this trope, given they have a tendancy to die or worse at the end of their chapters).
  • The plot of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas starts when CJ comes back to Los Santos after five years in Liberty City to attend his mother's funeral.
  • Echo Night begins with Richard learning that his father perished in a house fire. While searching for anything that might be salvaged from the ruins, he discovers a secret passageway to a room containing a strange painting, which drags him back onto the deck of the Orpheus and strands him there.
  • The main plot of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is kicked off some 4000 years prior to the time the game takes place with the death of Lord Indoril Nerevar. His death, the subsequent events of Dagoth Ur and the Tribunal using the Heart of Lorkhan to obtain divinity, and his prophesied Reincarnation are the driving force behind the game's plot.
  • North Vandernot in Be Trapped. He left the bulk of his estate - including the Bloodstone - to his niece, May, who lived in New York.
  • Jade Champion in Interstate '76.
  • In The Cat Lady, the Queen of Maggot's plan to exterminate the Parasites is only set into motion once Susan, the protagonist, takes her own life.
  • Ghost Trick starts with an already dead Sissel discovering the powers of the dead he's been granted, looking forward to use them to solve the mystery of who he was. As he progresses, it is discovered that the entire chain of events that lead to the current situation also started off with a death. Namely, the Big Bad's "death" caused by the Temsik meteorite ten years before.

    Visual Novels 
  • Sayoko Robbin's murder at the beginning of Another Code sets her husband off to finish her invention and, later, her daughter to go and clean up their messes.
  • Played straight and subverted in Hotel Dusk: Room 215. The death of Bradley's sister Mila sets him off on his plan to take down Nile, followed by his faked death at Kyle's hands to prompt Kyle to find him and unravel the mystery behind it all.
  • The death of Gregory Edgeworth could easily be one of these in the Ace Attorney series. Basically, it was his death that kickstarted Miles' ambition to be a lawyer, which started Phoenix's. You could even go further back and say that it was Isaku Hyodo's death that led to Gregory's, and so on. Gregory's death was also the distant catalyst for Misty Fey's disappearance (which in turn had several repercussions on the Fey clan, such as Dahlia and Iris's father leaving, Mia's Promotion to Parent, etc, Yanni Yogi's Obfuscating Stupidity, etcetera).
    • In fact, a lot of deaths in this series have kicked off new arcs and plots (Mia Fey, Magnifi Gramarye etc). This makes sense in a world where it's Always Murder.
  • Snatcher. Jean-Jack Gibson's death leads Gillian and Metal Gear to investigate what he was doing before his gruesome end. This leads right into Gillian resuming Gibson's investigation on where the Snatchers are being built in Neo Kobe City.
  • While many deaths occur in Umineko: When They Cry, it turns out that there was the death of one person in particular that was really responsible for setting the events of the series in motion: Beatrice Castiglioni, Kinzo's secret lover, who died from giving birth to their daughter, Beatrice II.