Giles: It doesn't matter how long you were gone, Buffy. You were physically dead, thus causing the activation of the next slayer.
Kendra: She died?
Something — a piece of Applied Phlebotinum
, a prophecy or other mystical event, or possibly just a custom or law — mandates a death
, often the death of the protagonist. Fortunately, whatever it is defines death very specifically
. It means "your heart has stopped beating" or, in some cases, "you can't fog a mirror". If a separate medical intervention
ends up succeeding, the original contrivance won't notice or care. Naturally, this plot twist has gotten a lot more common along with such interventions, a case of Technology Marches On
making resurrection (once the stuff of miracles) a mere slap on the wrist
A specific form of Loophole Abuse
. Compare Only Mostly Dead
, Flatline Plotline
. When this is used to wiggle out of a prophetic death, it's a form of No Man of Woman Born
. Tangentially related to Tricked Out Time
, where you rescue someone from the past who was going to die, but in such a way that the timeline is unaltered.
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- In one French fairy tale, a king's peasant godson goes to his godfather, being an only heir. Along the way, another man steals his identity from him, after forcing him to swear a sacred oath not to speak of it until "three days after his death". Then, the imposter convinces the king to give the true godson some Impossible Tasks, and, once that fails to kill him, simply stabs him in the back. His love finds his body later. She has a potion the guy recovered on one of his adventures, which brings him back to life. Three days have passed by then, and the godson had documents confirming his identity all along.
- In Coming Back Late, Harry and Hermione couldn't do anything physical together because even though she was estranged from Ron, their magical marriage vows were "till death do us part". After Hermione was killed and Harry brought her soul back from behind the Veil, this obviously no longer applied.
Film — Live Action
- In The Matrix, the Oracle declares that Neo has the potential to be The One, but he's waiting for something. "Perhaps [his] next life." At the end of the movie...
- In Final Destination 2, the survivors are told that only "new life" can stop Death coming after them. They take this to mean that they'll be safe if they can stay alive until the pregnant member of the group gives birth to her baby. In fact, it refers to one of the protagonists drowning herself and then being revived.
- The fifth movie adds another twist - you can "swap places" with someone by murdering them. They die in your stead, you get their remaining time. Just make sure they aren't days away from an aneurysm first.
- This is Blackbeard's plan in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. After hearing a prophecy that says he's going to meet his end at Barbossa's hands, he figures You Can't Fight Fate and rather than trying to avert or avoid the prophecy, he starts searching for the Fountain of Youth so that he can use it to heal himself after it inevitably does happen. It would have worked, had Jack not pulled a Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo.
- In the Evil Dead remake, David attempts this out of desperation when he's the last protagonist left. He knows the only way to break the demon's grip on Mia's soul is to kill her, either by immolation, dismemberment, or live burial. He buries her until he's sure her heart has stopped, then digs her up and tries reviving her with an improvised defibrillator. She comes back to life, demon-free, but unfortunately, her brief death apparently also qualifies as one of the five deaths necessary for The Abomination to enter our world.
- In The Wolverine, how Logan beats his predicted death; he dies but his newly-restored Healing Factor rectifies that problem a minute later.
- In Knight Life by Peter David, a re-awakened King Arthur, now mayor of New York, avoids his prophetic death at the hands of Mordred through some timely emergency medical response after his heart stops.
- Peter David seems to like this one. It also happens in The Woad To Wuin, where the main character has to die in order to get the "ring of power" off his privates, so he dies for just a second, and is revived.
- This is invoked in The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. To break the titular curse, someone has to "lay down their life three times". One of the attempts to do this involves repeated drowning; unfortunately, the second time around they can't revive the drowned man, and the end of the book reveals that they were thinking about the curse in the wrong terms anyway.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry learns that he accidentally became a Horcrux, which would typically mean that he must die for Voldemort to become mortal. However, certain actions of Voldemort's made it possible for a Killing Curse delivered by Voldemort to destroy the piece of Voldemort's soul without killing Harry.
- In The Dresden Files universe, ghosts are created when someone is murdered and their desire for revenge is strong enough. Wizards leave the most powerful ghosts. So, when Harry badly needs support against a killing nightmare in Grave Peril, he lets it strangle him to death, creating a vengeful and very powerful ghost, then Susan resuscitates him with CPR, so both Harry and his ghost can confront and destroy the Nightmare.
- Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe accepts death in the place of Edmund according to the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time. But he does it with the knowledge that an innocent who voluntarily dies for a traitor will be revived in accordance with the Deeper Magic from before the Dawn of Time.
- Parodied in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where Hotblack Desiato is "spending a year dead for tax reasons."
- In Kevin J. Anderson's Death Warmed Over, a villain is sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair, only to come back as a zombie. As the law hasn't yet caught up with all the quandaries of The Unmasqued World, there's no legal grounds to punish him further, so he walks (well, shambles) free.
- In The Wheel of Time, Mat blows the Horn of Valere, summoning the Army of the Dead to deal with an immediate threat, then learns that he is bound to it and is the only valid hornsounder while he lives. When the Last Battle finally comes around, there is a great scramble to get the Horn to him, which results in almost everyone involved getting killed, only to find out that he is no longer bound to it due to a death that was undone by Cosmic Retcon.
Live Action TV
- In BioShock 2, Delta will die if Eleanor dies. Lamb smothers her, stopping her heart long enough to cue the death trigger inside Delta even though Eleanor gets better immediately.
- In Atelier Totori, a seal can only be released by a living sacrifice. Pamela, as a ghost possessing an artifical body, counts as living but is only mildly inconvienced by death. Totori doesn't know this in advance, leading to some of the most hilarious scenes of the game.
- In Wapsi Square, while the full details are never given, Monica is able to control the golem girls because her heart stopped when she got hit by a bus. The only existing explanation is given here.
- Possibly in Goblins. Dies Horribly is fated to, well, die horribly. So he sacrifices himself to a demon where the contract says his soul will die over and over again, believing this to be his ultimate fate. The demon kills Dies, but due to a technicality nobody saw coming, the contract is rendered null and void, the demon gets banished to Hell, and Dies comes back to life. Whether this truly fulfills the prophecy he was named for is unknown at this point, but given the nature of this world, even if it does, his chances aren't good.
- In Erfworld, both Wanda and Jack made a promise, enforced by magic, that they wouldn't reveal a secret of Charlie's that they had stumbled across. However, when Jack is croaked and decrypted, the contract no longer applies.
- Most countries' legal systems now define "dead" as an irreversible cessation of brain function. One reason this became necessary was that, under older "cessation of heartbeat" definitions, a criminal who'd received a heart transplant could hypothetically have argued that they were legally dead (because their original heart had permanently ceased to beat) and couldn't be prosecuted.