Saved by Canon

Yoda: Kill you, I cannot! But kill me, YOU cannot!
Emperor Palpatine: Because we are equally-matched opponents on opposite sides of the same almighty Force?
Yoda: No, because already released have the sequels to this movie been! And in them we both appear! Problem this is with prequels - no suspense can there be when already we know which characters live!
MAD Magazine's parody of Revenge of the Sith

In that last movie you watched, or the last game you played, there're maybe some epic and great battles between two or more characters fighting to the death and one of them seems to be on their last leg, or maybe one of them seems to about to die by being poisoned by something, or maybe they're about to fall of a cliff and hit the ground below, or maybe they're about to crash in the middle of a carchase. Whatever the case, you know that they'll survive because if they died, the fictional works that take place chronologically after it wouldn't be able to exist in the first place.

This trope usually exists in Prequels and Interquels, due to them being set earlier in the story's chronology. Fittingly, characters from the original work usually appear as their younger ages, and like the new characters, they usually are forced to fight deadly battles against the enemy; many of those battles are as nasty and brutal as they come, and many of them seem to result with the old characters dying and the villain laughing their ass off in triumph. But you know that however convincing these scenes may be, their ultimate outcome is predestined by the original stories that preceded them — or you may be looking at a Canon Discontinuity.

Compare Doomed by Canon, the grim counterpart in which the fate of a prequel character is death (or at least being Put on a Bus) because the original works established them posthumously (or not at all). See also Plot Armor.

Common in Historical Fiction. If something features a historical figure in their youth, you don't have to worry that they'll die.


Examples

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    Comic Books 
  • Any tale of Wolverine's past will have the same prepared answer to the question of whether Wolvie's going to make it.
  • Subverted by the Doctor Who Magazine comic, which killed off the Seventh Doctor's companion Ace, despite the character living to a much older age in the novel range and in several of the magazine's own earlier comics that tied in to the novels.
  • It's a simple matter of fact that the characters in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) aren't in any real danger, given the supplementary nature of the comic.
  • The Avatar: The Last Airbender spin-off comics The Promise and The Search get this problem because of their Interquel status. We already know from The Legend of Korra that Team Avatar will survive and there won't be another war.
  • Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos set during World War II became less suspenseful after the Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. series which was published a few years later had shown Fury, Dum Dum Dugan and most of the Howlers had survived the war.

    Film 
  • Star Wars:
    • Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Palpatine in the prequels, given they all show up alive in the original trilogy. As exciting as their climactic duels in Revenge of the Sith are, it loses some of the impact when you know neither of them kills their opponent.
    • In an odd aversion, dialogue in Return of the Jedi note  indicated Padme would survive the movie and die offscreen during the timeskip between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Instead, she dies at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
  • In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it look like Wolverine is about to slam his claws right in Sabretooth's throat. Granted, he just knocks him unconscious, but you already know that he wouldn't kill Sabretooth anyway since he appeared in X-Men, that takes many years after this movie.
    • Then in X-Men: Days of Future Past, when the future is altered for the better, we see that all the X-Men are still alive, meaning Apocalypse has to be defeated somehow in X-Men: Apocalypse (which is set in the past), and the only major characters in danger of dying are Magneto, Mystique, Stryker, Psylocke, and Warren. Of particular note is Storm who is brainwashed as one of Apocalypse's Horsemen yet is seen as a teacher at the X-Mansion in the good future.
  • In Bambi 2, it looks like Bambi has been killed when he fell of the cliff after the dogchase, but you already knew he survived since the first movie has him growed up to an adult. Still a pretty effective scene though.
  • In Terminator Salvation, we already knew that Kyle Reese would survive Skynet because without him, no Terminator movies. The original, unused ending would've subverted this trope: John Connor was originally going to die, and his skin would be grafted onto Marcus' frame, who would carry on as leader of the resistance.
  • In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, it's hard to worry too much when it looks like Bilbo, Legolas, or Gandalf are going to die, as we know the film is a prequel, and all three survive to the The Lord of The Rings trilogy. In particular, the film's framing device is that it's a story Bilbo is recanting to Frodo before the events of LoTR.
  • Due to both Leonard McCoy and Spock making appearances in Star Trek: The Next Generation which is set years after the adventures of the original crew, the later films in the series released after their appearances in TNG make it hard to worry for their safety since we know they'll be alright. Inverted with Scotty who appeared in TNG as well, but not until after the films with the TOS crew wrapped up (unless you count his appearance at the beginning of Generations).
  • Inglorious Basterds has an epic aversion of this trope with Adolf Hitler, who ends up being riddled with bullets from the Basterds, thus bringing an end to World War II earlier!

    Literature 
  • Much of the plot of the fourth Johannes Cabal the Necromancer book features Horst Cabal telling his brother a story. Cabal interrupts the story frequently and at one point mentions that the danger Horst faced in the past loses any sort of drama because Horst lived to tell the story. Horst simply replies that he can't help that.
  • In an interesting example of a character being Saved by Canon for the moment, but Doomed by Canon in the long run, T'Prynn in the Star Trek: Vanguard novels can't die, even when she's in a coma due to Mind Rape ... because she's going to die in a transporter accident eighty years later, as shown in a Flash Back in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch novels.
  • In the prequels of Glen Cook's Dread Empire, much of the suspense is derived from the conflict between Haroun bin Yousif and El Murid, and especially whether one of them will get to kill the other. Given that they both are alive in the original cycle of books, there really is only one answer. Character background and development is still very well executed, however.
  • The Iron Warriors characters in Angel Exterminatus had already appeared in the Iron Warriors series, so any reader familiar with those books would know they had to survive. Similarly, Lucius survives a fatal wound because his whole schtick is that he doesn't stay dead.
  • The Noob novels cause this for several characters of its Spin-Off Neogicia, that is set earlier but focuses on a set of characters that were briefly shown in the former.
  • Much of the Star Wars Expanded Universe is set between the films, so any characters appearing in chronologically later films are largely safe. No, Xizor will not kill Darth Vader, and no, Mace Windu will not fall to the dark side. Much of the books from New Jedi Order onward however show why this trope is sometimes a good idea, as the writers used the freedom of no later canonicity to kill off lots of beloved characters.

    Live Action TV 
  • Gotham has Bruce, Alfred, Gordon, Pamela, Oswald, Edward... it's safe to say that nearly every main character will be alive, although it's just as certain most of them will take the inevitable downward spiral of obsession and villainy (or career success and heroics, in Jim Gordon and Bruce's case's respectively).
    • Subverted when Salvatore Maroni dies in the season 1 finale, long before Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face which was his doing in the comics.
  • Played with in Caprica. The young William Adama is a main character, and it's obvious to the audience that he will survive the entire series to become a main character in Battlestar Galactica (2003), except he doesn't. He's shot and killed near the end of the series, and a montage reveals that his parents had a second son whom they named after his deceased brother, and he is the William Adama that the audience knows from Battlestar.
    • Though attentive viewers might pick up on this. Old!Bill has blue eyes (Edward James Olmos had to wear blue contacts in this role because he was supposed to look more similar to Apollo that way); while Young!Bill clearly has brown eyes.... well, but so does Young!Bill Junior.
  • In Smallville, Jimmy Olsen has a run-in with Doomsday. But we know he'll be fine because he's in the comics when the characters are adults, right? Too bad, it's just like Caprica. The Jimmy we've known proves to be named Henry James Olsen. James Bartholomew Olsen (Jimmy's full name in the comics, as heard in many a Full Name Ultimatum) is his little brother, seen for the first and last time at "our" Jimmy's funeral.
  • In the prequel season of Spartacus the suspense of whether a downed gladiator will receive the Thumbs Down is removed when they are a recognizable main character from the first season.
  • The Doctor Who 2013 Christmas Special "The Time of the Doctor" reveals that the Eleventh Doctor is actually on his final life and cannot regenerate, and does not expect to survive the events of the episode. However, in the previous "The Day of the Doctor", The Twelfth Doctor makes an Early-Bird Cameo.
  • In Better Call Saul, Jimmy aka Saul, Mike, Tuco, Hector, and The Cousins are safe at least until the series reaches the events of Breaking Bad.
  • Agent Carter, a prequel to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe guarantees that Peggy Carter will live to her 90s, Howard Stark won't die until the 70s, Edwin Jarvis will live long enough to inspire the JARVIS AI, and in a villainous example HYDRA will rebuild itself inside S.H.I.E.L.D. to the modern day.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Dino Attack RPG:
    • Canon LEGO characters could not be killed for this reason.
    • After November 2005, the Dino Attack had a Foregone Conclusion that the Dino Attack Team would ultimately defeat the Mutant Dinos.

    Video Games 
  • Since Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep takes place ten years before the first game, you know that most of the bosses will survive after you defeated them, especially Maleficent and Xehanort.
  • Telltale's Game of Thrones has a number of characters from the show appear, such as Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Margaery Tyrell and Jon Snow. This, of course, means that you cannot affect their actions in a way that would contradict the show's canon. This is especially infuriating in the case of Ramsay Snow, who threatens to rape Talia, murders Lord Ethan, kidnaps Ryon, flays Arthur Glenmore and generally causes the Forresters no end of grief. There's even a moment where Ramsay holds a knife to his own throat and dares Rodrik to kill him; if you try to do so, he dodges back and applaudes your gall, but remains unharmed. Seeing as he is still alive and well in the show, it is unlikely the Forresters will be able to get revenge on him for his crimes.
  • In The Force Unleashed, you already knew that neither Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine would die in their duels with Galen Marek, or that none of the rebel leaders would be executed by the Imperials since the game takes place two-six years before the original trilogy.
    • Unleashed also saves Shaak Ti (at least until Galen kills her), who was originally intended to die in Revenge of the Sith but whose death scenes were deleted.
  • In Crisis Core, Sephiroth, Aeris and Cloud are going to survive no matter what, since if they died, then it means that the series' most successful game well might not have existed in the first place. Zack however is Doomed by Canon.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, being a prequel set decades before the events of the Metal Gear, punishes the player if he kills Ocelot (a key character from the previous MGS games) by proclaiming that the player has caused a time paradox.
  • Played with and subverted by City of Heroes. The Dilemma Diabolique incarnate trial was released during the "Who Will Die?" storyline. As Statesman had already be killed, and the remainder of the Freedom Phalanx was present during the trial, many people thought everyone present would survive through the end of the arc. Sister Psyche was killed in the next episode, and replaced by Penelope Yin in the current version of the trial.
  • Originally in Super Robot Wars EX, it's possible for Zashford Zan Valfarbia to get Killed Off for Real when he's forced to fight his father. Since he's alive and participating in Part 2 of the remade Masou Kishin: The Lord of Elemental, which occurs post-EX, any events prior to Part 2, such as the EX scenarios of the Second Super Robot Wars Original Generation, guarantees his survival.
  • Raul Menendez in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The campaign is split between two sections, one with Alex Mason prior to 1990, and one with David Mason in 2025. In the final mission of the past arc, you are explicitly told to snipe-headshot a prisoner said to be Menendez. Except it isn't him - quite obvious when you consider that the entire "future" arc is about stopping Menendez...
  • 24: The Game ends with Jack Bauer heavily wounded after managing to kill Max and being rushed to a hospital. Considering the game took place in between the show's second and third seasons, it's safe to say that he eventually recovered.
  • The Wolf Among Us is a prequel to Fables, so since Snow White is alive in the latter, said character must survive even though her severed head is left on Bigby's doorstep. Additionally, many other characters are still around in the books, so that rules them out for being the Serial Killer.
  • In Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword, this happens to several characters. Marcus, Merlinus, Bartre, and Karel must live to become playable characters once again in The Binding Blade, Eliwood, Hector, Bartre, Karla, Rath, Nino, Pent, and Louise must live to become the parents of playable characters in the same game, Eliwood, Hector, and Guinevere must live to become supporting characters, and Zephiel, Murdock, and Erik must live to become enemy bosses. (Hawkeye, Canas, and Rebecca, despite being the parents of playable characters, can still die - Hawkeye and Canas due to their children already being born, and Rebecca due to an oversight.)
  • At the beginning Ninja Gaiden 3: the Ancient Ship of Doom, Irene is apparently killed by a doppelganger of Ryu, but since the game is chronologically an interquel between the first two, and she was alive and well in the latter, canonicity dictated that her death was faked.
  • In Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, you fight Boba Fett as a boss, but he canonically survives, as the game takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's 4 ends with the Bite of '87 happening to the child protagonist. However, as Phone Guy said back in the first game, "it's amazing that the human body can live without the frontal lobe"... Or perhaps not, for as the child fades away at the end of Night 6, a distinctive flatlining can be heard.
  • In Professor Layton, specifically Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, Layton and Luke sacrifice themselves to stop the golems from destroying all of humanity and get killed in the process (along with Emmy, Descole and Bronev). However, you know for a fact that at least Layton and Luke won't die, because Azran Legacy, like the previous two games, takes place before the events of the first three games. You know, because... how the heck would we have the first three games if Layton and Luke died?!
  • Zoey, Francis, and Louis are saved by canonicity in Left 4 Dead during the The Sacrifice campaign because they appear later on in the sequel. Bill, however, is Doomed by Canon no matter who gets sacrificed in The Sacrifice campaign.
  • An odd example from Zero Time Dilemma. Out of the nine characters who appear in the game, Akane, Junpei, Sigma and Phi should be guaranteed survival of the Deadly Game because ZTD takes place before Virtue's Last Reward where those characters appear. However, Akane, Sigma and Phi have already changed the past by signing onto the Mars Test Mission in order to Set Right What Once Was Wrong and avert the Apocalypse Wow caused by the Decision Game so anyone who was previously guaranteed survival has their fate up in the air.

    Western Animation 
  • All Hail King Julien is set before the first Madagascar movie, and thus, King Julien is guaranteed to survive the many near death experiences he is involved in.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars is set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and there is a huge list of characters who show up in the latternote  that cannot have anything significant happen to them as a result. The show compensates by being brutal towards any other characters, throwing out Family Unfriendly Deaths left and right, and still manages to create tension with Ahsoka, who doesn't show up in the films and therefore doesn't have the protection the rest of the cast has.note 
  • Despite numerous threats of the eponymous team of Justice League disbanding, the League appearing in the earlier-aired Batman Beyond established that it would continue. Likewise, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent were both guaranteed to survive, while the Joker's fate was already shown to be later in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (despite having his brain fried in his last Justice League appearance).
  • Similarly, Batman: Assault on Arkham takes place in the same universe as the Batman Arkham video games, and since it takes place specifically before the events of both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City any character who appears in the games is going to come out fine, including Batman, Harley Quinn, the Joker ( despite apparently dying by the end of the film), Riddler, and Deadshot.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SavedByCanon