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Post Humous Character
"Why has she killed herself? The movie does not supply that sensible question with an answer, and so I will supply one: Katie Chandler killed herself so that she could be cremated and her ashes could be used as a prop in this movie."

A character dead from the start or killed very early is developed entirely via Flash Back. May make heavy use of Posthumous Narration. Averts We Hardly Knew Ye. Video Wills, Apocalyptic Log, suicide notes, and mention by other characters on what he or she was like may help.

Expect them to appear in a Happier Home Movie, which the protagonist will watch over and over until he realizes It's All Junk.

The Afterlife may be used as a Framing Device.

The Lost Lenore is often such a character. Undead characters don't count. The effect should be that, despite a character being, you know, DEAD, they still have as large a part in what's going on as the rest of the characters, or at the very least results in the viewer getting to know the character surprisingly well.

Generally this character's demise is a Plot-Triggering Death. Compare with Dead Star Walking and Dead All Along. Contrast with Forgotten Fallen Friend. See also Death by Origin Story. The Predecessor Villain is often a specific type of Posthumous Character. Bigger Bad can be a villain version of this trope, depending on how it's used.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • In the anime version of AKIRA, the eponymous character himself has been dead for over three decades.
  • Clow Reed from Cardcaptor Sakura (and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, and the manga version of Xxx HO Li C) has been dead for decades before either of those series begins, and is only developed through flashbacks and what other characters say about him. He still manages to be the root of the whole plot in Card Captor Sakura and he's the ultimate source of most of the action of the other two.
  • Dr. Juuzo Kabuto from Mazinger Z died in the first episode/chapter. Though he is ever-present. His actions not only affected the course of the whole series but also of the sequel Great Mazinger, and his name often comes up in conversations. His personality and background are developed through flashbacks and conversations from other characters, mainly his grandsons (Kouji and Shiro), his best disciple (The Professor Yumi) and even Big Bad Dr. Hell.
  • In Zetsuen no Tempest, Aika Fuwa starts off the series dead. Despite this, there are many flashbacks to when she was alive, and most of the events in the series are either directly or indirectly influenced by her death.
  • Gold Roger in One Piece, a legendary pirate who conqured the Grand Line and was executed by the World Government. He kickstarts the grand age of piracy where the story takes place.
    • Technically, anytime One Piece has a flashback there will be at least one Posthumous Character.
    • Subverted by Sabo, who turns out to be alive and a member of the Revolutionaries a few arcs after the flashback he was in supposedly killed him off.
  • Kanata Izumi in Lucky Star, who is deceased before the beginning of both the manga and the anime. She occasionally comes back as a ghost, checking up on how her family is doing.
  • Cain from GaoGaiGar fame. He is long gone by the time the series start, yet he is a driving force to the whole plot. Still around in some way, and manifests himself near the series' finale from the broken programming of Galeon with the help of The Power. He forces so much respect in the main character Guy that he even has an Heroic BSOD when he thinks Cain did a Face-Heel Turn to the Sol Masters (when he's really a flawed program based on the original Cain.)
  • Onomil in Blue Drop though she shows up as a ghost later on
  • Amuria in Simoun, mourned over by Neviril, which forms a major plot point.
  • The death of Kaori in Strawberry Panic! is the main reason for Shizuma's bitterness and thus a very important plot point.
  • Various parents in Fruits Basket, namely Tohru's parents and Akito's father. Tohru's mother Kyoko Honda made the most appearances and was mentioned most regularly.
  • Saya of Black Cat, at least in the manga; the anime moves the flashback arc to the beginning to put everything in order, making her just a regularly developed character who happens to die mid-way through the series. Lloyd as well, although he's mostly a plot device for Sven's power.
  • Quint Nakajima of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Her entire character is fleshed out by stories and flashbacks from her husband, her daughters, and her captain.
    • Alicia Testarossa counts as well. The only times we see her alive are in a flashback and a dream sequence; most of what we know about her comes from Presea, although, since she's quite unhinged at this point, it's hard to tell how much is true.
    • Linith, too. And Tiida Lanster. And Olivie Sägebrecht.
  • The Fourth Hokage in Naruto, who dies sealing the Nine-Tailed Fox into Naruto at the start of the story. Over the course of the plot, his personality, deeds in life, family, and even real name are revealed. This also applies to his wife Kushina, Sasuke Uchiha's parents, Kakashi's childhood friends Rin and Obito Uchiha, and Yahiko and Hanzo from the Hidden Rain Village.
    • Kabuto's technique gives us formerly Posthumous Characters by truckloads.
    • Madara Uchiha may be something of a Triple Subversion. First, we think he's dead. Then Tobi claims to be him. Then we learn Tobi is not Madara, the real Madara was very much dead. thanks to the above mentioned technique. But then Tobi's real backstory shows the real Madara died a lot more recently than we previously thought. Not only that, but the newly-resurrected Madara rises to prominence and joins the Big Bad party, being the one responsible for Tobi's Evil Plan in the first place.
    • Subverted by Obito; He's Tobi.
  • It's hinted that Satoshi from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni died before the beginning of the series, and he only appears in flashbacks. He's comatose from Hinamizawa syndrome.
  • Lena Sayers from the Mai-Otome anime. The series itself takes place fourteen years after her death, with her daughter as the main character.
  • Rem Saverem from Trigun.
  • Detective Conan has two more important ones:
  • Koumyou Sanzo from Saiyuki. He later got his own prequel series after Gaiden wrapped up.
  • Takamichi's master Gateau Kagura von Vandenburg and Nagi's master Filius Zect of Mahou Sensei Negima!. The only members of Ala Rubra confirmed to be dead. They now only live in the flashbacks of their comrades, pupils, and a certain princess that travelled with them.
    • Now we have Primum, Secundum, Nii, and Septendecim. And Lifemaker, but (s)he may return.
  • Son Gohan in Dragon Ball. That's the elderly human master of martial arts who adopted Goku, not Goku's son from Dragon Ball Z, mind you.
  • Elsa from Gunslinger Girl (manga only, the anime introduces her earlier on)
  • Old Rome and Germania from Axis Powers Hetalia.
  • Hokuto Sumeragi and Setsuka Sakurazuka in X1999.
  • Mary Magdalene is an important enough character in Chrono Crusade to be mentioned in the logo of the series, but she's long been dead by the time the main part of the story starts. She's spoken of several times before the flashbacks explaining who she was are finally introduced (although her ghost shows up briefly in the end).
  • Bleach
    • Ichigo's resolve comes from his mother Masaki's death which is introduced via flashback. A final arc flashback that includes Uryuu's mother reveals the truth. Masaki and Kanae's deaths are connected, also linking both sons resolve, the two families, Urahara, Aizen and Ryuuken's mysterious attitude to each other and the Myth Arc.
    • Uryuu's grandfather Souken was also his Quincy mentor prior to his death. He teachings and his desire to see Quincies and Shinigami working together drives Uryuu and provide most of our information about the Quincy clan. It becomes very important to remember this in the final arc.
    • Kaien is a vital source of both angst and strength for Rukia. Flashbacks reveal much of her weakness, and later her strength, come from what he taught her and how he died. He appeared to be Not Quite Dead later in the Hueco Mundo arc, but it was only a Shapeshifter Guilt Trip. His death is connected to Aizen's activities and also the Myth Arc as his family act as a gateway to the Royal Realm and are related to Ichigo by way of Isshin Shiba (their uncle).
    • Hisana died 50 years before the main storyline began but flashbacks reveal that she obtained a deathbed promise from her husband Byakuya to protect her abandoned sister Rukia at any cost. The Soul Society arc would never have unfolded the way it did without Byakuya's attempt to juggle two conflicting vows, one to his dead wife and the other to his dead parents.
    • One character obtains Character Development only after his death five hundred chapters after he first appears. Choujirou had almost no presence in the story and only appeared in relation to his captain Yamamoto. His death reveals the truth about his relationship with Yamamoto and his death finally giving him a personality and background.
  • Gintoki, Katsura, Sakamoto and Takasugi's sensei in Gintama. His face is never shown in the flashbacks but is implied to be a major influence for all four of his students.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Brigadier General Basque Grand qualifies for this.
    • Also, Trisha Elric, whom we got to know rather well for someone who's been dead for years.
    • Also, Scar's brother, who even plays a vital part in foiling the Big Bad.
  • Marianne vi Britannia in Code Geass — at least for R1, before it is revealed late in R2 that she survived her assassination in Anya Alstreim's body, and steps onto the stage for two episodes before being Killed Off for Real.
  • Natsume's grandmother Reiko in Natsume Yuujinchou. The Book of Friends (aka Yuujinchou) is among the few things Natsume inherits from his late grandmother. Once Natsume has returned the name of a youkai, a flashback is usually shown about the circumstances surrounding when Reiko first took the name.
  • Ryuken, the previous Hokuto Shinken master in Fist of the North Star, is dead before the story begins and his appearances in the series are primarily flashbacks of Kenshiro's training days with his "brothers".
    • Shin and Raoh are lesser examples. Shin is killed off in the tenth chapter, and receives some character development via flashback later on. Raoh is one in the second half of the series, where numerous major characters are connected to him.
  • In Pandora Hearts, Jack Vessalius and Glen Baskerville have been dead for 100 years, and we have just begun to understand their stories, always through flashbacks. And then Glen comes Back from the Dead via reincarnation and Jack turns out to not be as dead as everyone thought...
    • And there’s Lacie, the root of the story itself. But she’s never played any part of the story in the present, unlike Jack and Glen.
  • Cross Game essentially runs on this trope, as one of the three central characters is dead for 49 of its 50 episodes. Despite this, Wakaba gets just as much development as anyone else, thanks to the author's excellent talent for blending flashbacks into the narrative.
  • Allen's adoptive father Mana Walker in D.Gray-Man has been dead for several years from the start of the series and yet in the manga while he's a major influence on Allen's choices, he turns out to be an even more major plot point when he turns out to be the biological older brother of the 14th Noah.
  • Yui Ikari and Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion, technically speaking, as they did die but are still around in a sense. Being Kaiju Youkai Humongous Mecha counts as being "still around", yes?
    • Also Naoko Akagi, Ritsuko's mother. She created the Magi system and killed Rei I, but has been dead for years by the time the show begins.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Tomoe Yukishiro Kenshin's first wife.
  • Kyouko's father in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Then Puella Magi Oriko Magica gives us Yuma's parents and Oriko's dad.
  • Mireille's parents have been dead for roughly a decade at the start of Noir, but a flashback to Odette's last words in the penultimate episode greatly influences the end of the story.
  • Gundam SEED: George Glenn, Dr. Ulen Hibiki, and Al Da Flaga are the three men most responsible for the Natural vs Coordinator tensions and the creation of the man behind the Bloody Valentine War. All three are dead as of the start of the series (although the spinoff series Gundam SEED Astray reveals Glenn is actually still alive, albeit as a Brain in a Jar).
  • In Gundam00, the mastermind of anti-war paramility group Celestial Being is a man named Aeolia Schenberg, who somehow foresaw his energy-crisis ending designs giving rise to the mobile suit approximately 200 years before the events of the series, and directed all of his remaining resources to ending military conflicts worldwide - conflicts he knew he wouldn't live to see.
  • The original Mobile Suit Gundam has Zeon Zum Deikun, founder of the Principality of Zeon and father of Char and Sayla. Most people believe he was poisoned by the Zabi family, but there are also hints here and there that he really did die of a heart attack and Char's quest for revenge was all for nothing.
  • Caeser, the eponymous character's father from Kimba the White Lion, often appears in flashbacks.
  • Bakuman。 has Mashiro's uncle Nobuhiro, who died of overworking himself before the story began and who appears in flashbacks.
  • Admiral Takaya of Gunbuster died several years before the first events of the OVA and yet set off the entire plot.
  • Lisanna in Fairy Tail, although initially she's just a character that's present in old photos and flashbacks to the guild's childhood being told to Lucy yet is mysteriously not around present day. Lucy even picks up on this but is interrupted by something before she can inquire further. In the next arc the story of what happened to her (she died during a mission because Elfman lost control) is finally explained. And then she turns up alive after all.
    • Karen Lilica and Layla Heartfilia also count.
  • Several characters in Mawaru-Penguindrum, being a series told in Anachronic Order full of Whole Episode Flashbacks. But specially, Momoka.
  • Yusei Fudo's parents in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds. (His father appears as a benign spirit in one episode.)
  • The main plot of Bokura no Kiseki involves the fact that all of the main cast of characters are reincarnations of another set of characters living in the distant past. By virtue of having already died and reincarnated, all the characters in the second set count as this.
  • In Tenchi Muyo!, Tenchi Universe and Tenchi in Tokyo, Tenchi's mother (Kiyone in the OV As, Achika in Universe and in Tokyo) becomes this, having flashbacks to her from time to time. The first Tenchi movie focuses on her (though only in Universe) while the final episode of the OV As shows that she's not this patron saint of motherhood...
  • Hinata, Akari's mother in Il Sole penetra le Illusioni.
  • Kill la Kill has the fathers of The Hero and The Rival, Isshin Matoi and Soichiro Kiryuin, respectively, both of whose deaths play a major motivating role in their daughter's actions. They were actually the same man.
  • A few in Saki
    • Kuro and Yuu's mother, who passed away while the sisters were young and taught Kuro to hold onto dora tiles, resulting in her ability to attract them.
    • An unnamed girl who appears in flashbacks in Chapter 102 and 104 and whom Saki and Teru appear to have known once, before their family broke apart, is implied to be dead, but it has not been officially confirmed.
  • Queen of Albion in anime version of Trinity Blood is first mentioned to viewers at the beginning of her funeral, but she did give a cryptic Foreshadowing advice to her heir before passing.

     Comic Books  
  • This type of character is a staple of superhero comics. Examples from DC Comics:
    • Jor-El, Lara, and most other Kryptonians in the Superman mythos. Jonathan and Martha Kent also fit the trope pre-Crisis.
    • Batman's parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne.
    • Abin-Sur, the Green Lantern who bequeathed his ring to Hal Jordan.
    • A borderline case: The Flash when Barry Allen died and his protege Wally "Kid Flash" West took up the mantle. Barry was shown in flashbacks many times over the years, had new stories written entirely about him in his heyday and, because he and Wally are both time travellers, he's popped up in several present day stories. All this before he finally came back from the dead decades later.
    • The Comedian in Watchmen, dead on page one. Literally the first thing you see is his blood. Most of the Minutemen, for that matter.
  • Examples from Marvel Comics:
    • Captain America's parents.
    • The Thing's parents and brother Jake. Alicia Masters' biological parents. Doctor Doom's parents. Reed Richards' mother. Franklin Storm, the father of Susan and Johnny only technically avoids this trope (introduced at the end of Fantastic Four #31, killed off in #32).
    • Bruce Banner's mother (later revealed to have been murdered by her husband).
    • Henry "Ant-Man" Pym's first wife Marya Trovaya and Janet 'The Wasp' Van Dyne's father Vernon were both introduced and killed off in Tales to Astonish #44. Marya appeared only in a flashback.
    • Spider-Man's Uncle Ben. Also his parents, Mary and Richard Parker. Betty Brant's brother Bennett (killed in the issue in which he made his first appearance) and Mary Jane's mother (seen only in flashbacks) also fit the pattern.
    • Tony Stark's parents.
    • Daredevil's parents (his mother was later retconned to have been alive all along) and Elektra's father.
    • From the X-Men books: Charles Xavier's father, mother and stepfather (Juggernaut's father); Cyclops' and Havok's mother Katherine Summers; Magneto's wife Magda (mother of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch), first daughter Anya, parents, sister and extended family, and his former lover Isabelle; Banshee's wife Maeve (Siryn's mother); Storm's parents; Nightcrawler's stepbrother Stefan Szardos; Polaris' mother and apparent father, Mr. Dane (some retcons later, it was decided that Magneto was her biological father).
  • Bearclaw and Joyleaf from ElfQuest.
  • Natalia Wilford and Leon Kronski in the first Blacksad album. The entire plot of said album revolves around Blacksad tracking down Natalia's killer and avenging her death.
  • An odd thing concerning Sonic the Hedgehog as many characters tend not to mention parents and it's assumed that many of them were dead due to the Robotnik War. Then, after it, they all come out in droves, revealing that they're not really dead.

     Fan Works  
  • In Undocumented Features, Corwin's friend Kala never shows up, but her death was discussed by him. In the annotations, Gryphon remarks:
    I feel bad for poor Kala - created already dead for dramatic purposes. It seems a rather cheap trick; I probably should have at least given her a couple of scenes in the preceding pieces, except that I never really had a window to show Corwin's life away from his visits with the Duelists until later on. If I had, it would've given away the fact that something was in store.
  • Turnabout Storm has the pegasus athlete Ace Swift as the murder victim.
  • In Pony POV Series, the entire world of G3 with the exception of Star Catcher, Pinkie Pie, and Star Wishes are already dead, or in some cases Deader Than Dead, before the story starts. However, some of them do have confirmed Reincarnations in the G4 timeline.
  • Taking a few hints from Old Rome, Hungary and England are this in the Axis Powers Hetalia Alternate Universe Fic 1983: Doomsday Stories.
  • In Clash of the Elements The Elemental Overlord and the Dark King count. Though this is a weird case of this trope, since though their physical bodies are dead their spirits still reside within their new successors. However, in the case of the Dark King, we learn more about him through his suboordinates, especially in Smithy and Cackletta's flashbacks.
    • Also, Former M.S.I. Commander Zeta, who was killed thirty years ago and the act of avenging him forms the basis of Alpha's motivations.
  • Francis, Luso's father and Freise, Bowen's wife were both dead by the time they were mentioned in The Tainted Grimoire.
  • Queen Of All Oni: Hiruzen and the Oni Elders are long dead by the time the story starts, only appearing in flashbacks.
    • Going further back, there's Kagehime, the first Shadowkhan, who was dead long before even the above mentioned flashbacks.
  • In Boys Do Tankary, Nyra, Vincent's older sister figure, first love, and dead ringer for Saori, is this. When Vincent spared her when encountering her on the battlefield, they were locked in a cell for a month and told to kill each other; before the time ran out, Nyra made Vincent shoot her. Nyra later turns out to be alive, though.
  • Necessary To Win has Mizuho Miyanaga, Saki and Teru's foster sister, whose death plays a significant role in two characters' backstories.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Reflecting Balance, one of the previous town oracles, Cassandra, is mentioned a few times by one of her descendants, and by the main villain of the story. Her connection to the events of the story is eventually explored in a few chapters focusing on the backstory of the town.

    Film - Animated 
  • Simon "Gazerbeam" Pallidino from The Incredibles. He was recruited by Syndrome to battle a prototype Omnidroid, then somehow he learned of Syndrome's nefarious plan, as well as the password to Syndrome's computer system. He escaped the fortress, only to die in a cave (presumably killed by one of Syndrome's probe droids)—forseeing the end, he carved the password in the cave wall with his Eye Beams. All of this happens off-screen, prior to the main plot; all we see is Mr Incredible reading about Pallidino's disappearance in a newspaper article, then stumbling upon Gazerbeam's remains in the cave. The password Gazerbeam carved on the wall comes in handy.
    • Gazerbeam is only seen alive in a flashback where he's a guest at the Parrs' wedding — for about half a second.
  • Mufasa and Scar in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride.
  • Auguste Gusteau in Ratatouille, sort of. While the man himself is seen only in flashbacks (or, more accurately, in television documentaries), the version of Gusteau that gets most of the actual characterization is an imaginary construct that serves as Remy's conscience.
  • Ellie in Up. Carl's desire to fulfill her dream of living in Paradise Falls is what drives the story, and he often talks to the house as if it were her.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Lester Burnham in American Beauty comes right out and says it at the beginning via narration, making the events of the movie one big Flash Back.
  • In the first few minutes of Beetle Juice, Adam and Barbara get killed in a bridge collapse and spend the rest of the film as ghosts.
  • Alex, in The Big Chill. It's his suicide that sets the film in motion.
    • Footage intended to be used as either flashbacks or the intro to the film was actually shot, with Kevin Costner in the part, but ultimately not used.
  • The title character in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The people looking to collect the price resort to grave robbery.
  • Most of Chicago Deadline (1949) involves flashbacks telling the tangled story of the deceased Rosita Jean D'Ur, as uncovered by an inquisitive newspaper reporter. (The TV remake, Fame is the Name of the Game (1966), borrowed the Twist Ending of Laura.)
  • Citizen Kane: The entire movie goes over the events of Kane's life attempting to determine the significance of "Rosebud".
  • Meg Ryan's character, Ct. Walden, in Courage Under Fire. The entire plot of the movie is to determine the circumstances of her death, and whether or not to posthumously award her the Medal of Honor.
  • Shelly Webster, Eric's girlfriend from The Crow, was given this treatment, both in flashbacks and from the other characters, such as Eric himself, who came Back from the Dead in order to avenge them both:
    Eric: Little things used to mean so much to Shelly. I always thought they were kind of trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial.
  • The Descendants has a variation of this. The main character's wife is in a coma from less than a minute into the movie from which she never recovers. She at the end of the movie. While she is not truly a character, she and her actions drive a significant portion of the plot. May cross into Living Macguffin.
  • The title character of Drowning Mona dies only a couple minutes into the movie and is fleshed out almost entirely via flashbacks.
  • Helen Kimble in The Fugitive, though unlike most characters mentioned here, she only gets a few flashbacks, but they're enough to establish that she and Dr. Kimble were Happily Married.
  • Murder mystery I Wake Up Screaming starts after Vicki's murder. Her story is told via flashbacks from her sister and her boyfriend.
  • Mal in Inception. She was Cobb's wife who killed herself when she became convinced she's still in a dream, and has been haunting his thoughts ever since, derailing their dream excursions more than once.
  • Jack (Michael Caine) has died before Last Orders commences. His friends embark on a road trip to scatter his ashes in the sea in accordance with his last wishes. Their memories of Jack appear in flashbacks (and sometimes in flashbacks within flashbacks).
  • The police detective in Laura falls in love with the titular character after seeing her portrait and interviewing her friends—while he's investigating her murder. Subverted, in that she's not actually dead.
  • Professor Theodore Gettell and Chief Warrant Officer Sam Jacobs from The Angry Red Planet.
  • Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones of the narration and Framing Device variety.
  • Man of Steel:
    • Pa Kent dies in one of several flashbacks.
    • Jor-El continues to interact with several characters as a Virtual Ghost.
      Zod: Still lecturing me, Jor-El. Even in death.
  • Leonard's wife in Memento.
  • In the film, Menace II Society, Caine's whole story is really a flashback of the choices he made, which resulted in his death.
  • Lionel Shrike in Now You See Me. He died in an attempt to stage a comeback as a magician by escaping from a safe thrown into the Hudson River. His son has been planning revenge on all those who contributed to the tragedy, which is what the entire movie is about.
  • Marni from Repo! The Genetic Opera died before the story starts. She's referenced a lot in parts like 'Infected' and 'Legal Assassin', and her ghost appears sometimes, although she says little more than "Assassin! Murderer! Monster!"
  • The Big Bad in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is revealed to have died years (perhaps decades) before the story actually began. A case of art imitating life, as he was played by Sir Laurence Olivier, who had been dead for over a decade.
  • Carson in Struck By Lightning. His character dies in the first scene as the opening credits finish rolling. The majority of the movie is an extended flashback of his life.
  • Joe Gillis (William Holden) in Sunset Boulevard enters the film as a body floating facedown in a swimming pool and proceeds to narrate the the events leading up to his death.
    • As originally filmed, Joe was speaking to other "dead" people in a morgue. Test audiences found the scene ludicrous and it had to be hastily revised prior to public release.
  • Brian in Things We Lost in Fire is killed at the beginning of the movie, his character is seen mostly through flashbacks.
  • Harry Lime in The Third Man is the central figure of the entire story, even though the movie's second scene is his funeral. Of course, he's not really dead...
  • All but one of the principal characters in The Usual Suspects. The story unfolds as the lone survivor recounts for the police the events that brought the suspects together and how they eventually met their ends. With a healthy dose of Unreliable Narrator, of course.
  • The titular character of Vidocq. In the last 10 minutes of the film you find out he faked his death to get closer to the Big Bad.
  • The Wolverine: Famke Janssen reprises her role as Jean Grey in several dream sequences.
  • The Bourne Series: Everything that happens in The Bourne Supremacy traces back to the assassination of Vladimir Neski, a Russian politician who'd been killed before revealing that a Russian oil baron was using stolen CIA funds to buy up Russian oil leases. Jason Bourne soon uncovers that he was the one that killed Neski, in his very first Treadstone assignment.
  • Subverting most people's expectations, the version of Norman Osborne introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 dies of a genetic illness in the first half-hour of the movie, after his only scene. However, it's revealed that he was responsible for the deaths of Peter Parker's parents, and his amoral experiments at Oscorp prove to be the Meta Origin connecting every single costumed character in the movie. His death also drives his son Harry to become the Green Goblin, after his efforts to cure the genetic virus end up backfiring and mutating him into a monster.
  • Will and Caroline suffer this fate in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, being referred to as "ground zero" of the deadly virus that wiped out most of humanity.
  • Katie Chandler (Jodie Foster) in the 1988 Dump Months release Stealing Home, as noted in the page quote.
  • Alice Alquist in Gaslight. The story starts after her character is murdered and we see her backstory unravel during the course of the movie.

    Literature 
  • Beatrice, the Baudelaire parents (see previous), Jacques Snicket (Technically, he was killed halfway through the series in the same book he was introduced) and probably several others in A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Pei couple in Safehold. Both briefly appear in the prologue, but die before main story begins. They did, however, sent Nimue Alban to Safehold and hid her there, which is why the story's happening in the first place. Moreover, him - Kau-yung - is often mentioned in Nimue's narration, as he was like father to her, and both Kau-yung and Shan-wei are considered two worst demons in Safeholdian theology, which makes their names appear a lot.
  • Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds by Brian Daley. Cazpahr Weir, lord of a small interstellar empire, dies in the prologue. The main story concerns a hapless Terran bureaucrat left a mysterious bequest in Weir's will, for no reason he can (at first) understand.
  • Jon Arryn, Lyanna Stark, Brandon Stark, Rickard Stark, Rhaegar Targaryen and his father Aerys in A Song of Ice and Fire. More are added to this list as the series progresses.
  • Eunice Branca in Robert A. Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil After she is killed and Johann's brain is transplanted into her body, he finds her mind still present. It is left ambiguous whether she is actually still there or whether Johann is hallucinating her continued existence.
  • Both of Harry Dresden's parents in The Dresden Files have appeared to him in various books, despite both being long dead by the time of the first book. His father has popped up in dreams, while his mother left him pre-recorded messages in his and his half-brother Thomas' souls in order to leave proof for her sons that they were brothers.
  • Lily and James Potter from the Harry Potter series are killed at the very beginning of the series. Everything that we learn about them is through flashbacks or their magical equivalent.
    • Also, we learn far more about Albus Dumbledore posthumously in The Deathly Hallows than in all six of the previous books combined.
    • Regulus Black, the Hogwarts founders, and Grindelwald.
  • Ptolemy in The Bartimaeus Trilogy.
  • In The Death Of The Necromancer, the titular Necromancer actually suffered the titular death about two hundred years before the book began. And they don't actually kill him again, they just put him into a permanent sleep.
  • Jiguro, Balsa's foster father from Guardian Of The Sacred Spirit. Balsa tries to do right what he did right and avoid what he did wrong with her charge and the warriors hunting them.
  • Rebecca a 1938 novel later made into a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. When the story opens, Rebecca (wife of the wealthy Maximilian de Winter) has been dead for a year already — but even in her absence, her presence is inescapable, as her memory casts its shadow over the entire story.
  • The classic Brazilian book Posthumous Memories of Bras Cubas is pretty self-descriptive. Also, hilarious.
  • The main character of the Burke series by Andrew Vachss often mentions his friend Wesley, who only appears in the fourth book, in which he apparently dies. He leaves no body behind and many who knew of him refuse to believe that he is dead, which Burke takes advantage of many times.
    • Terminal has Melissa Turnbridge, murdered 30 years before the book's events. As the opposition for the book includes the three then-teens who raped and apparently murdered her, as well as the man who tried to hide the body, this inevitably comes up.
  • The Wicked Witch of the East in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  • Warrior Cats has StarClan (the afterlife in the series), so cats that die usually aren't gone gone. Though they do eventually fade away. Yellowfang and Spottedleaf, for example, probably did more in the series dead than while alive.
    • Also, Redtail and Oakheart are surprisingly important, and things they did before dying are very important in the original series.
  • Emmeline Grangerford in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
  • Addy Bundren from As I Lay Dying.
  • Elfangor, the Prince that gave the Animorphs their powers, got a full fleshing-out in the prequel companion novel The Andalite Chronicles, including the revelation that he fathered one of the Animorphs.
  • The Quiet American begins with the narrator discovering the other main character, Pyle, is dead.
  • June Morrisey from Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine.
  • In the Hand of Thrawn duology, Thrawn has been dead for ten years. A Big Bad Triumvirate conspires to make him appear to be Back from the Dead. Whenever the physical impersonator is in character and doing the impersonating the narration calls him Thrawn - as in "Thrawn inclined his head" - instead of his usual name, Flim. One of the triumvirate was cloned with a piece of Thrawn's mind, and there is an unfinished clone of his, but he doesn't appear himself. He's dead. But his presence is all throughout the duology; particularly with the actual Hand of Thrawn.
  • Granny Aching from the Tiffany Aching series of books in Discworld. Dead before the first book began, we only see her through Tiffany's memories. A bit of a shame since it would have been interesting to see a meeting between Granny Weatherwax and her. Pratchett has said in talks, "She's one of my best characters ever, and she's dead!"
  • Dave Likely in Unseen Academicals.
  • In the Spaceforce series, the Taysan agent Mizal is killed before the start of the second book (we never meet her). Her death is one of the driving motives behind the actions of several characters throughout the third book, including Salthar who was fruitlessly in love with her and Jay, who is out to avenge her. We hear her voice strongly in her unfinished field report.
  • In Soon I Will Be Invincible The Pharaoh (the villain one) was killed by CoreFire before Doctor Impossible escapes.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Thalia sacrificed herself to save others, and was turned into a tree just before her death. Said tree protects Camp Half-Blood, and when it's poisoned in the second book, the plot revolves around finding something to cure it. Which turns out to be an Evil Plan so that Thalia will be healed back to normal form, giving Kronos some other important half-blood to influence. He even goes, more or less, "Exactly as planned" just before the reveal. Thalia becomes a regular character from the third book on.
  • Gaius Septimus in the Codex Alera series. In this first book, his history and death was mentioned in an offhand way, to explain why there is a succession crisis and give the archetypal Farm Boy protagonist a memorial to shelter from a storm in. By the end of the series we've learned that he was married, and to whom, who his friends were, and a lot abou what he was like.
  • Ali DiLaurentis in Pretty Little Liars is developed completely by flashback until the last book
  • D'ol (or "Doctor") Neshom and Wissen in the Green-Sky Trilogy.
  • Walt Disney himself in the Kingdom Keepers books.
  • Catch-22 has several, most notable Mudd, the dead man in Yossarian's tent.
  • In The Father Luke Wolfe Trilogy, Janey Peer only appears in Flashbacks, and "Chollie" is the addressee of letters Father Wolfe writes in Diary form. Janey turns out to still be alive, however.
  • Hari Seldon in Asimov's Foundation series is almost entirely depicted after his death in recordings he has left for future generations, though two prequels actually focus on Seldon's life.
  • Night Watch by Terry Pratchett has a fairly interesting version of this trope. John Keel, Sam Vimes' mentor, is murdered shortly after Vimes stumbles back in time; he's mentioned in the beginning on the anniversary of his death (and the other soldiers). So Vimes ends up having to take his place in history, letting us see something similar to the story of John Keel, but not quite (note that it's not a Stable Time Loop; Vimes wasn't supposed to come back in time. He really was mentored by the real Keel, who was murdered due to Carcer being brought back in time as well. So John Keel's feats were really done by John Keel in the first timeline, but in this separate timeline, they're done by Vimes).
  • Laia Odo in The Dispossessed. She's been dead for several hundred years, but the entire world of the story is her creation, and the characters speak of her often. The short story The Day Before the Revolution, published after The Dispossessed subverts this by taking place before Odo's death and focusing on her.
  • In Warm Bodies, Perry narrates through his life memories inside R's mind.
  • In Aimee, Aimee is developed entirely through flash backs, even though she killed herself before the events of the novel started.
  • In Saving Zoë, Zoë is developed through her diary that her sister Echo is reading.
  • Crispin Salvador from Ilustrado. The main character's quest is to find out why Crispin died by piecing together Crispin's works and looking for his supposed life's work — The Bridges Ablaze. Then it's weirdly subverted at the end, since it turns out that Crispin was writing the whole thing.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar has an interesting take on this. The main story involves Stanley Yelnats at Camp Green Lake in the present day, with the other two stories of Kissin' Kate Barlow and Elya Yelnats taking place far before the events in the present. The characters in the latter two stories are of course dead by the time Stanley's story takes place, so arguably, you're seeing them as flashbacks or snippets of the past (though they aren't framed as such).
  • In Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, almost everyone from Roland's past is one of these, including every character from the Wizard and Glass Mejis flashback (which is the majority of the book), aside from Roland, Walter and Sheemie.
  • King's Lisey's Story is a fine example as well. Scott Landon is a major character but is already deceased when the story opens.
  • In David Eddings Belgariad, Garion's parents and Polgara's sister start as clues on Garion's identity.
  • In David Eddings novel Regina's Song, one of the twins is dead, the other is the Angsty Surviving Twin.
  • Someone Else's War: The entire novel is kickstarted by a boy trying to find his missing little brother. Said missing little brother turns out to have been dead since chapter one.
  • In Septimus Heap Queen Cerys is this until her ghost appears.
  • In Aunt Dimity's Death, Lori's mother Beth is revealed in Lori's recollections and a thorough review of her decades-long correspondence with Dimity.
  • Keifer Porter in A Brother's Price may have been dead for six years, but damned if his presence isn't still felt and his actions aren't still causing problems.
  • "Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that." Marley sets off the entire plot of the book, but Dickens wants you to know that Marley is very definitely dead before he ever makes an appearance.
  • Captain Flint in Treasure Island.
  • From The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss's father. He died in a mine explosion 4 years before the first book, but he's still an important figure in her life. Over the course of the books, she tells of her childhood with him and reveals more of the circumstances immediately following the explosion and his death. It was even him who taught her about nightlock berries... In Catching Fire, we learn about Maysilee Donnor, a District 12 tribute along with Haymitch in the 2nd Quarter Quell. It turns out that she was friends with Katniss's mother, and Madge's mother's twin sister. It was her pin that Madge gave to Katniss and went on to become the symbol of a revolution.
  • Roger Kemp, previous owner of the Smith house and the time portal, in Locksmith's Closet. He disappeared several years before the beginning of the story, but it was his actions that set everything in motion.
  • Ordinary People: Two in the novel: Buck, as recalled frequently in the novel by his father and brother, and shown in brief flashbacks in the film. In the novel, Calvin also frequently recalls his relationship with Arnold Bacon, an older mentor who guided him from an orphanage to law school, until they had a falling out over him marrying Beth. He never reconciled before the older man died.
  • Midway through Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, we learn that Tomas and Tereza, the two main characters, have died in a road accident. Yet, due to the novel's non-linear narrative, we continue to follow their storyline up to the end of the novel.
    • Since the film arranged the plot more linearly, it had to save that Reveal for the penultimate scene.
  • The Tenets of Futilism has Sasha's father, Chris. While his effects upon his daughter's personality and beliefs are immense, he's dead before the opening of the novel and is described only through said daughter.
  • Rosemary's suicide took place years before The Giver starts.
  • The Mortal Instruments:
    • Despite being dead for years at the beginning of the series, we learn a lot about Stephen Herondale through recollections and his relationships with other characters.
    • Celine Herondale's suicide takes place long before the story proper, but her relationships with current characters make her important.

     Live Action TV  
  • George & Marion Kerby and Neil in Topper. They are ghosts, though.
  • The drama Providence had the main characters mother die in the first episode. She continually appears to her daughter as a type of muse.
  • Every single episode of The Forgotten has a murder victim's body discovered prior to the opening credits and reveals what this person's life was like via flashbacks. To make it even weirder, each episode is given voice-over narration by said victim.
  • Just as LOST has Loads and Loads of Characters, it also has loads and loads of posthumous characters, including several different types of posthumous characters, each type having its own most triumphant example.
    • The most straightforward type are those characters who were dead before the series even began but have since turned up in Flash Backs. The most triumphant example is Jack's dad, Christian, whose dead body Jack was bringing home on Flight 815, but who turned up in numerous episodes throughout all six seasons, whether in flashbacks, in dreams, as a ghost, or a Dead Person Impersonation.
      • Other such characters would include: Susan Lloyd, Frank Duckett, Essam Tasir, Tom Brennan, Jae Lee, Yemi, Angelo Busoni, Kelvin, Emeka, Edward Burke, Tricia Tanaka, Howard L. Zuckerman, Roger Linus, Horace Goodspeed, Emily Linus, Jonas Whitfield, Isabella, "Mother", and Claudia.
      • Subverted in the case of Kate's mom, Diane. In her first flashback she already has a terminal disease. She then appears in several other flashbacks that all clearly take place sometime before the first one. But in a Flash Forward we discover she's still alive. "The doctors have given me a year to live for the past 4 years."
    • Another unique type are among the Tailies. They would've been alive at the start of the series, but are dead by the time any Main Character meets the Tailies. The most triumphant example is Goodwin, who debuted as a corpse, then went on to guest star in 4 episodes after that, each one in a flashback taking place earlier than the one before it. The only other dead Tailies named are Donald and Nathan.
    • Then there are those characters who died soon after their debuts only to appear in more episodes after they died than they ever did while they were alive. The most famous example is Ethan Rom, killed in his fourth episode, then appeared in eight more episodes after that. Other examples include:
      • U.S. marshall Edward Mars (killed in his third episode, appeared in six more after that).
      • Leslie Arzt (killed in his third episode, appeared in four more later).
      • And the most triumphant example, Jacob, killed in the very first episode he was played by a professional actor. The actor went on to play Jacob in five more episodes.
    • Beginning with the first Flash Forward in the third Season Finale, we had plenty of characters who were still alive in the main timeline, but were dead by the time of the flashforwards. And since the first flashforward shown is actually one of the last in chronology, this would also include people who were killed in the ffs. The most triumphant example is John Locke, whose body is in a closed coffin in that thrid season finale. It's not till the fourth season finale that the coffin is opened, revealing it's Locke, and not till midway through the fifth season are we shown how he ended up there.
    • During the fifth season, the Losties traveled back in time, meeting characters we already knew were dead by the present. The most triumphant example is Stuart Radzinsky, a character we had heard about as having committed sucide but whom we'd never seen till now. Other examples include Rousseau and her entire expedition, and members of the Dharma Initiative, many of whom will be killed in the Purge, and Phil, a DI member who ends up dying long before the Purge, as a direct result of the Losties' actions.
    • And finally, there's the flash-sideways where the most triumphant example is everybody. The flash-sideways is the afterlife and "takes place" after everyone shown in it has died.
  • Veronica Mars: Lilly Kane, the rich teenage girl whose murder starts the main Myth Arc of season 1, is already dead by the first episode and only seen through flashbacks afterwards.
  • Mary Alice Young, the deceased narrator on Desperate Housewives.
  • The very first episode of British soap EastEnders starts with the body of Reg Cox being discovered in his flat. His murder was thus the very first arc in its Soap Wheel.[note]In case you're curious, Nick Cotton did it.[/note]
  • In the Firefly episode "The Message", Tracey appears dead, and wakes up after his character development has taken place.
  • Laura Palmer, Twin Peaks
  • Harry Morgan in Dexter. Unique because he's actually in the title credits and appears, at the very least, in two thirds of every season, almost always as a hallucination.
  • Jimmy Keefe, and many others, in Rescue Me.
  • Trudy Monk in Monk.
    • To a smaller extent (and more prominantly in the novels), Mitch, Natalie's husband.
  • Chandra Suresh in Heroes.
  • Too many to count in the 2000s Battlestar Galactica.
    • The most prominent are Starbuck's parents and President Adar, who died either before or during the miniseries and are all mentioned at several points throughout the show and appear as flashbacks or hallucinations or both. A handful of characters who were killed after several appearances also appear later in flashbacks or hallucinations.
  • Terry Crowley on The Shield. Terry was killed by Vic Mackey in the first episode of the series, but remained in the dialogue for every season and appeared in flashbacks.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Jack Crusher and Ian Troi on.
    • Mogh, father of Worf and Kurn. In DS9, Jennifer Sisko is found dead by her husband Ben in the first few minutes of the series and developed as it went on. Of note is her mirror universe counterpart who died herself in the second episode she appeared while saving the life of the ‘real’ Jennifer’s son, Jake. As well, Curzon, host of the Dax symbiont before Jadzia, is seen briefly in a Jadzia-centric episode and later when he temporarily possesses Odo.
  • John Teller in Sons of Anarchy is heard only in voice over through his journal.
  • A weird example: Margaret from the Dollhouse episode "Haunted." Seen alive but dies during the first scene, then able to Attend Her Own Funeral, in a way, by having her mind imprinted into a Doll. Technically dead and most of what we know about her comes from hearing her loved ones talk about her...despite her (or her memories in someone else, anyway) being the protagonist of the episode.
    • Also arguably the original Dr Saunders, though it seems the new Dr Saunders has at least some of his personality.
  • Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. in Six Feet Under dies in the pilot episode, and throughout the series continues to interact with his family, along with the occasional Body of the Week. It's left ambiguous whether he is an actual ghost or just in their heads (unless you consider Word of God to be canon; in which case, they're figments of the imagination or represent inner thoughts).
  • Leo Strange, Erica's older brother in Being Erica. He died several years before the show takes place.
  • Pretty much the entire premise of Cold Case is based on this, as all the victims are obviously dead from the get-go of any episode, and their story is filled in entirely via the flashbacks of their friends, families, enemies, etc.
    • All crime shows could be said to have a case of this, as we rarely know the victim before hand.
  • John Scott from Fringe, who was killed in the first episode but still became a major character.
  • The A-Team had an old member of their Vietnam unit, Raymond Brenner, who stood by them during their trial and each of the team remember fondly. They return the favor by going after his murderers and freeing his town.
  • The Fugitive was built around Richard Kimble's attempt to clear himself of the murder of his wife, Helen.
  • Kyle Reese in The Sarah Connor Chronicles is mentioned frequently (as all the main characters knew/loved/are related to him except Cameron) and appears as a hallucination in one (incredibly weird) episode.
  • Chairman Cha's brother and Ji Heon's brother in Protect the Boss
  • Max Fenig in "Tempus Fugit" and "Max," a 2-part episode of The X-Files. Max appears alive in an earlier episode, but is found dead in the teaser of "Tempus Fugit." The 2-parter consists of the agents' attempts to reconstruct the events that led to his death, and he appears alive in a series of flashbacks.
  • In Game of Thrones, Lyanna Stark, Brandon Stark, Rickard Stark, Rhaegar Targaryen, Aerys "The Mad King" Targaryen and Jon Arryn are among the characters mentioned frequently but already dead by the beginning of the series.
  • Once Upon a Time contains several characters who were killed in the fairy-tale world, long before the events of the pilot, that none the less have a strong impact on the actions of the present day characters. Probably the two most important are Henry, the Evil Queen's father, and Daniel, the stable boy with whom the Queen was in love before she married Snow White's father.
  • In The City Hunter, Mu Yeol and the other twenty soldiers killed in the first episode. Na Na's parents, who turn out to have been killed by one of the villains.
  • Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). The clue's in the title. It doesn't stop him solving crimes.
  • In The Sopranos, "Johnny Boy" Soprano (a.k.a. Tony's father) plays an important role in several characters' backstories and appears in numerous flashbacks, but has already been dead for years by the time the series begins. Richie Aprile, while alive at the beginning, dies of cancer after a few episodes and only a few minutes of screen time, but continues to be talked about by his friends, family and associates throughout the series.
  • The Masters of Horror episode "Imprint" begins with the prostitute informing Christopher that the girl he's been looking for, Komomo, recently died. The rest of it is spent with the prostitute telling him of Komomo's final weeks and her own life story.
  • The opening scene of the first episode of Orphan Black is the suicide of Elizabeth Childs. The plot kicks off after Sarah Manning, who is startled to find Beth was her exact duplicate, assumes her identity, and finds that she and Beth were only two of a series of clones. She also discovers that Beth was a cop, with a Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Person of Interest
    • Nathan Ingram was Finch's best friend and business partner. Together they built the Machine but disagrees about what to do about the Irrelevant list. Nathan wanted to save the people on the list and became an amateur vigilante. When Finch tried to stop him, Nathan tried exposing the existence of the Machine to the public and the government killed him to keep him silent. When the series starts Finch is trying to atone for failing Nathan by continuing Nathan's work of saving the Irrelevant people.
    • Jessica Arndt was Reese's ex-girlfriend who broke up with him after he rejoined the army after 9/11. She got married but her husband was violently abusive. Desperate, she called Reese and asked him to help in getting away from her husband. Reese wanted to rush to her side but was called away on an important mission where he was betrayed by his superiors and left for dead. When he finally returned to the U.S. he discovered that Jessica died in an apparent car accident. He quickly discovered that she was actually murdered by her husband. Reese got revenge on the husband but then reached a Despair Event Horizon and pretty much gace up until Finch recruits him at the start of the series. The guilt from not being able to save Jessica is a major reason for why Reese joins Finch in his mission to save the Irrelevant people. A flashback reveals that Jessica was actually one of the Irrelevant people Finch was unable to save.

    Manhwa 
  • In Tarot Cafe, Pamela's mother was burned at the stake before the series begins, but she still shows up in Pamela's memories, a hallucination/dream, and to give Pamela a hint when Pamela is exploring Hell. Arguably she sets off the events of the series, between taking Pamela to visit the "holy man" who was really Belus and making her Deal with the Devil in an effort to protect her daughter.
  • Lightning Tiger's death at the beginning of Veritas forms the basis of the plot. Almost all characters introduced afterwards have their relationship to him explained via flashback.

    Pinball 
  • In WHO dunnit, both Trixie and Victoria's mothers are deceased before the game starts.

    Theatre 
  • Older Than Print: Darius in The Persians by Aischylus.
  • Examples from William Shakespeare:
    • Yorick, Old Fortinbras, and the dead king in Hamlet.
    • Portia's father in The Merchant of Venice. Portia spends much of the play dealing with the weird test he had set up for potential suitors, since according to his will she can't marry anyone who doesn't pick the right casket and must marry the man who does. She is not entirely pleased with this situation.
  • Eva Smith/Daisy Renton in J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls. The inspector in question is calling upon the Birling family to investigate the events leading up to her suicide.
  • The Baker's father in Into the Woods, who set most of the plot into motion years earlier, but was believed to have perished in a "baking accident". Zig-zagged when it turns out that the Mysterious Old Man is the Baker's father, whose reveal comes just in time for him to die again, only to kind of come back to life to sing a duet with the Baker in Act II.
  • The Mizner brothers in the Sondheim musical Bounce.
  • The eponymous anarchist in Accidental Death of an Anarchist is dead at the start of the play, and the play revolves a farcical investigation into his death.

     Video Games  
  • Jecht of Final Fantasy X although we eventually learn that Jecht isn't dead.
    • Also Braska, although Braska doesn't get as much character development and did leave a Video Will, if you happen to find it.
  • Zack from Final Fantasy VII is the entire reason Cloud becomes the main character, yet we only find out about his existence after Cloud realizes he was pretending to be Zack the whole time.
    • Sephiroth was this as well. Cloud killed him long before the game starts, though he eventually wills himself back to life in the end just in time for the Final Battle. Every time you encounter him outside of flashbacks prior to the end it's just another Jenova clone.
  • Serah in Final Fantasy XIII turns to solid crystal only seconds after she appears for the first time at the end of the first act. As the game progresses, more details are revealed about her and her past. Her fate is the major motivation and driving force behind both Lightning's and Snow's diverging storylines, and she played a major role in the events that led up to the games beginning.
  • Silent Hill has a few of these, all of which manage to be major characters:
    • The worst ending in Silent Hill implies that Harry dreamed the entire plot of the game as he died in the car crash.
    • James' wife Mary from Silent Hill 2 drives pretty much the entire plot.
    • Harry Mason, who you spend the entire game looking for in Silent Hill 3
    • Walter Sullivan in Silent Hill: The Room, despite being the primary antagonist.
    • Harry himself in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
    • Joshua Shepherd and possibly Adam Shepherd as well in Silent Hill: Homecoming.
  • Emiya Kiritsugu in Fate/stay night. Does not apply in the prequel Fate/Zero, obviously.
  • Gouken in the Street Fighter series before Street Fighter IV made him better (his appearance in the American animated series doesn't count).
  • Everyone in BioShock except the handful of people still alive at the start of the game gets all their character development done through Apocalyptic Log entries. The most notable examples include Doctor Suchong, who is responsible for several important plot elements, and Ryan's mistress Diane McClintock, who gets a fairly comprehensive character arc if you hunt down all her logs. Of course, the trope is not always played straight, and the central villain is a notable and memorable subversion.
  • A lot of victims in the Ace Attorney series are like this.
    • Zak Gramarye and Drew Misham in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.
    • Byrne Faraday in Investigations is noteworthy. In the course of investigating his murder we find out a lot about his personality and relationship with his daughter Kay, but the full story about his past doesn't come out until near the end of the final case.
    • Gregory Edgeworth became one by way of a flashback case in Investigations 2, which fleshed out his personality a little more.
    • The same game also has a very interesting case in Manousuke Naito who, while alive, is just a flat, Jerkass, murderer. It's not until he becomes a murder victim himself that you learn there was a little more to him than that.
    • Also contains a Zig-Zagging example in Teikun O who you meet, very much alive, until... he dies in the 5th case. You begin learning more about him in flashbacks after this, but they cumulate in The Reveal that that O was just a body double, turns out the real O was a Posthumous Character right from the start.
  • Makihasa Tohno in Tsukihime is the root of the problem in all three far side routes, part of the near side ones and Shiki would also be a badass (and possibly psychopathic) assassin of demons with an intact family and not destined to die in 5-10 years tops. It's pretty impressive for a character who's already dead to be worse than the serial killer in town or Nero Chaos.
  • Takamachi Shirou, Kyouya's father in Triangle Heart 3: Sweet Songs Forever, is mostly developed through his family's memories and flashbacks. They kept him alive and present, however, in a More Popular Spin-off that we shouldn't have to name by now.
  • Erana from the Quest for Glory series is a powerful sorceress who you hear about throughout the series, and then in the fourth game you get to find out what happened to her. She was sealed away by an Eldritch Abomination while sacrificing herself to stop said Abomination from entering the world. You can bring her back from the underworld in the fifth game if you choose, and she becomes one of your love interests.
  • Theofratus from Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. Almost every chapter began with dialogue from his life before his death, providing details to his character, as well as important hints to the game's plot.
  • The Remnant Psyches in killer7 are the ghosts of people who were previously associated with the Seven Smiths during their lifetime, mostly former victims. Most of them are the ghosts of defeated bosses like Andre Ulmeyda and Curtis Blackburn, but some of them (namely Travis Bell, Kess Bloodysunday, Susie Sumner) were also past victims who died before the events of the game. The only possible exception is Iwazaru, who may be The Mole, The Big Bad, neither, or both.
  • In the Metroid series, Samus Aran's former CO Adam is an intriguing example. In Metroid Fusion, his character is introduced in monologues given by Samus, with implications that he sacrificed his life to save her. However, in an interesting twist, Adam's mind was uploaded into the computer on the station Samus was on, so in a weird way he was kinda, sorta alive, depending on how you view the phrase "alive". It however he lost his status as a Posthumous Character in Metroid: Other M, becoming a prominent (and very much alive) character in the plot of the game.
    • To be fair, Other M takes place before Fusion, so it's pretty much a given that Adam would die either in in Other M or sometime after.
  • One of the first sentences in Eternal Darkness involves the narrator informing you that he is dead.
    • Counts for every character not named "Alex", "Edwin", "Peter", or "Michael". Edward is merely the first person the player learns of who was killed.
  • In Iji, Mia and Hel Sarie are very much dead when the game begins.
  • The mask spirits from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. You do get to meet Darmani and Mikau briefly, but it's after they die that you get to know them in more depth through living their lives.
  • In the flash game series Sonny, the titular protagonist, as well as Veradux and Felicity, are posthumous characters by virtue of being zombies.
  • Persona 3's epilogue The Answer has the protaganist, though the main team eventually get to see him acting as The Great Seal between Nyx and Erebus.
    • In the main story, Ken's mother is the driving force behind Ken's motivations to join S.E.E.S. and attempt to kill Shinjiro for accidentally murdering his mother with his Persona
  • Sir Francis Drake is this in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (doubling up as a Historical-Domain Character). The plot is kicked off by Nathan Drake, who believes he is Sir Francis' descendant, following clues left by Francis that reveal how he faked his death and went hunting for a legendary treasure on an uncharted island. His journal and messages to other people are crucial to following the trail, and at the end Nate discovers that Francis made a Heroic Sacrifice to stop the Descendants from escaping the island. Francis is also a crucial part of Nate's characterisation, since the latter draws a lot of pride and self-confidence from being the descendant of the former, and briefly believing that Francis failed in his quest and died alone crushes Nate's spirit.
    • Marco Polo in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, though not as much as Francis in the previous game.
    • Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has T.E. Lawrence playing a huge part in the story, as well as more details on the connection between Nathan and Sir Francis Drake. Specifically, there isn't one. Nate made up his backstory, including his name just to convince himself that he was worth something.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors:
    • We learn the Ninth Man's identity after his gruesome death.
    • Not to mention The Captain.
  • Cave Johnson, the man behind Aperture Science, from Portal 2. His glory days and eventual decline are chronicled in a bunch of audio-logs that are played on some of the levels.
  • Rosenkreuz of RosenkreuzStilette is one. He sacrificed his own life to have his final wish granted - his wish was for the Holy Empire to accept Magi as part of their military.
  • Pandora of HeroSmash counts as one as well, as she, according to her memorial statue found in Aurora Park, made the ultimate sacrifice so that the residents of Super City could see another day. Of course, judging by the full-color pictures of her found in ads as well as several Artix Entertainment main websites, it implies that Pandora might not actually already be dead...
  • In Knights of the Old Republic 2: Sith Lords, we have Coorta in the Peragus level. The various holocrons mention him as being a troublemaker (bringing weapons into the mining facility despite how dangerous it is) and being the driving force behind selling the Jedi for bounty money. It seems like he's being set up as a disc-one antagonist. When you finally meet Coorta, you find his dead body on the ground, and the final holocron shows him as being killed by HK-50 after he tried to escape the mining facility.
    • Subversion in the first game and the MMO. You mean to tell me Revan's not dead?!
  • After finishing the first generation of Record Of Agarest War, Leonhardt becomes this. He is still being discussed by other characters even after his death.
  • The Fallout series has a few, a notable one being Frederick Sinclair from the Fallout: New Vegas add-on story-arc. His character is developed entirely through speaking to Dean Domino (a 200 year old ghoul who hated the guy) and several computer documents scattered around. He was responsible for the Sierra Madre (the setting of Dead Money) being built, as well as the creation of the Ghost People (the Mooks of the add-on)
  • Prophet in Crysis 2 - He is alive and kicking in Crysis and Crysis Warhead, but doesn't get much in the way of development. 2 expands on his story greatly via flashbacks.
  • The Fortune Teller in Guild Wars Factions has a massive impact on Factions's plot, having forseen Shiro's rise to fame (And fall to villainy). The last time she is seen in Factions, she warns Shiro to beware the harvest ceremony, driving him to murder the emperor. However, Nightfall explains that she was a demonic agent of Abaddon, sent to corrupt Shiro Tagachi. She is still alive in the Realm of Torment and is a Bonus Boss.
  • Total Annihilation: Kingdoms it is revealed in Iron Plauge that Garacaius was dead long ago when he gave up his immortality and founded the Steam Punk kingdom of Creon, which he made into an Antimagical Faction.
  • The old woman in Virtue's Last Reward is first introduced as a dead body. She isn't always this.
  • Lord Indoril Nerevar in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. His death, and the subsequent events, are the main catalyst for the plot of the game some 4000 years later. The events of his life and death are discovered through in-game books and conversations with several prominent characters. They, of course, conflict greatly. The Player Character is his reincarnation. Maybe.
  • River is the crux of the entire story of To the Moon, but she's already been dead for years when the story opens. However, you do get to see most of her life in person through Johnny's memories.
  • Mukuro Ikusaba from Danganronpa zig-zags on this. When you find the person in question, they're already dead. However, both the cast and the player did meet Mukuro while she was still alive...disguised as Junko Enoshima, who was then killed by the real Junko before the first trial even began.
  • This is the central premise of the Assassin's Creed series. All those historical characters are virtual reproductions of genetic memories stored in Desmond's DNA. All of them have been dead for centuries. In Assassins Creed IV, Desmond is this, with the protagonist finding audio-recordings of his messages.
  • Despite Treize Khushrenada's death being used as a martyr for the Mariemaia Army and Wufei's usual Face-Heel Turn excuse in Z3 Jigoku-hen, his actions and death in Saisei-hen also had a big impact on Char Aznable. Instead of leading Neo Zeon to punish humanity by dropping Axis on Earth like so many other SRW games, he opts this time to save humanity by using Axis as a singularity point to unite them because he'd had learned much from Treize who's dying words was telling him not to make the same mistakes as he did.
  • A Witchs Tale has Princess Rapunzel, who was the first princess of Florin.
    • Alice killed the Eld Witch's daughters and denied them reincarnation rights. In the New Game Plus you can fight their hateful shadows.

     Web Comics  
  • The Artist Is Dead! No points for guessing who.
  • Marty from Count Your Sheep
  • Krayne from Fated Feather
  • Surma Carver from Gunnerkrigg Court. Her past is one of the central mysteries of the story.
    • And there's also the first generation of the Court: Jeanne, Diego, and Sir Young. Unraveling their story has become another of the central mysteries. Though Jeanne is a borderline case, as she initially shows up as a ghost, in the present.
  • Neilli is the most prominent one in Juathuur. So she would have everyone believe, that is.
  • Eugene Greenhilt from The Order of the Stick, though he manages to visit as a ghost. Most of Soon Kim's Order of the Scribble, of whom only Serini is possibly alive. Also, Redcloak's brother Right-Eye.
  • Melody from Penny and Aggie.
  • Brian Rammer is dead in the mainline Sluggy Freelance universe, but is still alive in at least two alternate universes.
  • Scotty and Rose from Something Positive
  • Milo from The Zombie Hunters. Assuming that he really is dead.
  • Jade's Grandfather in Homestuck initially (the first time we see him is Jade being startled by his stuffed body... somehow). However he is disqualified for being alive during most of the kids' adventure because of shenanigans. The same goes for John's Nanna, who comes back as a sprite.
    • Crowbar, Matchsticks, and Quarters of the Felt are dead when the Midnight Crew Intermission begins. However, they come back through time shenanigans. Twice.
    • The trolls' ancestors (save for The Condesce and The Handmaid, who were still alive at the time they were introduced) all qualify. The Ψiioniic was technically alive at the beginning of Act 5 Act 1, but he was introduced after his death.
    • On Post-Scratch Earth, Jane's grandfather and Jake's grandmother, the counterparts of John Egbert and Jade Harley. Dave and Rose's counterparts, however, were alive in the "present," but were only seen in the form of a recap told by a character from the future centuries after they died. Thanks to Homestuck's predetermination ensuring that they will be killed, they essentially become this too.
    • Due to dream bubbles, dead characters not only continue interacting with the living, but get up to their own shenanigans and adventures.
  • Mary Elizabeth in the original incarnation of the Basil Flint universe - fleshed out and killed again in Flat Feet and High Heels, things do not bode well for her fate in Mary Elizabeth's Sock.
  • Unwinder's Tall Comics: Unwinder purchases the late Gary P. Rastov's entire War of the Seven Stars novel series. Although he hates the books, Unwinder becomes obsessed with the author. Even the comic's cast page notes this:
    Gary P. Rastov is never pictured, but is a full-fledged character in the strip nonetheless. ... Though he's dead by the timeframe of Unwinder's Tall Comics, his work is regularly referenced, and Unwinder personally has a very complicated relationship with his writing.
  • Ameer from Grey is.... He dies sometime in the two years White is gone. We get to see a fair amount of him in the flashbacks though.
  • Atlas from Lackadaisy was killed before the comic even started. His death is one of the main reasons the speakeasy isn't nearly as successful as it used to be.
  • Split Screen: Jeremy's wife and child are practically the third and fourth main characters of the comic, despite having been killed three years prior to the comic's start.
  • Joshua Shephard of The Silver Eye died a number of years before the story's beginning, but quite a few of the flashbacks are from his point of view.
  • Faye's dad in "Questionable Content" dies a couple years before the strip begins, and is only seen in Faye's stories about her past.

    Web Original 
  • The first student to die in v1 of Survival of the Fittest is a kid on the plane shot for wearing his hat sideways, due to Danya's hatred of "punks". From there to the very end of the game, this student is never mentioned again, or even named, until endgame when Adam reflects back on the student's execution and remembers how he had been back in school, finally revealing to the reader the character's name and personality. It finally comes full circle to the boy being shot just for wearing his hat sideways, giving the reader a whole new perspective on a boy who had originally just been a throw away redshirt.
  • In the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions Qunicy Rnager, who was created to make fun of another author's typo & killed by an exploding spell checker in his first appearance, only to be fleshed out afterwards & even made an appearance in a time travel storyline.
  • A number of characters in There Will Be Brawl fall under this trope, but the really notable one is mob boss Mewtwo, who had been killed early on in the series, but was later revealed to have been the ones to cultivate the psychic powers of Ness and Lucas, who turn out to have been the serial killers all along.
  • New York Magician eventually has Michel's grandma.
  • Learning Larry, the host of the Show Within a Show, dies at the start of Paul and Storm's series Learning Town. He is then seen often in flashbacks and dream sequences, and his ghost appears in the first season finale.
  • Kagerou Project: Ayano. She committed suicide two years to the day before the main plot begins, yet she is linked to almost every main character in some way (she was friends with Shintaro, Takane/Ene and Haruka/Konoha, is Hiyori's niece, was the older adoptive sibling of Kido, Seto and Kano and is Kenjirou's daughter) and her actions lead directly to the formation of the Mekakushi Dan. It is revealed during her personal song Ayano's Theory of Happiness that she committed suicide in an effort to obtain an eye power, but didn't realise people have to die in pairs to get one, because she discovered exactly what her father was up to.

     Western Animation  
  • Hamato Yoshi in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) is one of these. After appearing in occasional flashbacks, he is the focus of the series' hundredth episode.
  • Dr. Jonas Venture, Sr. in The Venture Bros. has been dead for about 20 years before the series begins, but he is still shown through flashbacks, visions, and "safety" films. Many of these show how Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture's life got so messed up by him despite Venture Sr.'s '50s dad clean-cut image.
  • Katara and Sokka's mother from Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of these. Princess Ursa (Zuko and Azula's mom) could be considered one of these, even though it's implied she's still alive.
    • There's also Fire Lord Sozin, who started the war that series plot revolves around, but only appears in one flashback episode. Fire Lord Azulon, as well.
    • Then there's Monk Gyatso, Avatar Roku, Avatar Kyoshi, and Lu Ten, all of whom are important to the plot, but are long dead before the series began. This is the implication of a series set 100 years later and with reincarnation; someone close to the cast will inevitably have died, either due to extreme old age or the main character himself (since it wouldn't be reincarnation if there wasn't a dead guy to begin with).
  • Due to the 70 year Time Skip between Avatar and Sequel Series The Legend of Korra, essentially every character from the original series barring Katara and Zuko is dead, although Aang shows up at the end of Book One in a vision (just as his predecessor did for him in the original series), while the spirits of Iroh and Zhao show up in latter seasons.
    • It's later mentioned in Book Three that Toph started Walking the Earth some time ago and hasn't been seen since. Book Four reveals that she's still alive and well.
    • Other major dead characters include Yakone (father of Book One's main villains), Wan (the first Avatar), and Guru Laghima (Book Four Big Bad Zaheer is a fan of his writings).
  • The Simpsons: Snowball I, the original family cat, who died some time before "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (the first episode of the TV series to be aired), and had made no appearances beforehand, either in the episodes which preceded it production-wise or the Tracey Ullman shorts. She has been seen in family photographs and flashbacks (and also in a near-death experience of Bart's), and many of the tie-in books are dedicated to her memory.
    • In the episode "Stark Raving Dad", Lisa also mentions having a pet hamster named Snuffy who died, though no other reference has been made to him since.
      • In the episode "On A Clear Day I Can't See My Sister", Lisa mentions that Bart once comforted her when her pet hamster died.
      • In "The Boys of Bummer", Lisa mentions that Bart had a rabbit named Cottontail that Homer apparently buried alive.
    • Other good examples are the town's founder Jebediah Springfield and Clancy Bouvier, Marge's father.
  • Futurama: Many of Fry's relatives and former acquaintances are introduced this way, notably his dog in "Jurassic Bark". With all the time traveling going on in that series, though, many examples may turn out to be subversions of the trope. (Under what category fall the heads of presidents that were actually dead before the show started?)
  • Joshua and Margaret from Adventure Time are this. It is unknown how they died, but there are frequent views of them from the past via flashback, picture, video, etc.
  • Ted Kord (as well as his predecessor, Dan Garret) in Young Justice.
  • Castle Greyskull may look like a skull, but it isn't grey. So how did it get its name? Answer: It was named after its original owner. An episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002) told the story of King Greyskull, a legendary hero of Eternia. In fact, when Prince Adam chants "By the power of Greyskull!", he is actually invoking King Greyskull's power, not the Castle's.
  • Millicent Trueblood in Pound Puppies (1980s). She's the founder of Holly's Puppy Pound and the Aunt of Katrina Stoneheart and only appeared in flashbacks during the episode "How to Found a Pound". The house where Katrina lives was inherited from Millicent while Holly inherited the Puppy Pound.
  • Since LEGO Star Wars The Yoda Chronicles happens between episodes IV and V, Obi-Wan Kenobi is already dead, though he frequently appears as a ghost to talk with Yoda. Ditto for Qui-Gon Jinn.

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