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!
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 his 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 created and published later than their place 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 his 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.
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Trailers Always Spoil: It's generally not a good idea to look up a continuation of a series if you still haven't experienced all of the current installments. Simply seeing the trailer for a series can spoil you by detailing which characters survive.
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.
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.
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.
Live Action TV
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 (Reimagined), 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.
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 Revenge of the Sith, the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan ends with Anakin losing both his legs, savagly burned and left for death by Obi-Wan. If you watched the original Star Wars movies, you know that Anakin will survive since if he died, it would mean no Darth Vader.
In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it look like Wolverine is about slam his claws right in Sabretooth's throat. Granted, he just knock 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.
Although, the movie version of Victor seems to be a different character than Sabertooth anyway.
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 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 Lo TR.
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.
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.
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.
In Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Sephiroth, Aeris and Cloud are gonna 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.
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.
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...
The prisoner is actually Alex Mason himself, which explains why "Suffer With Me" is the only past level in which you play as Woods instead of Mason.
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. Indeed, when Ichabod Crane seems to be going that way, it's quickly revealed that he's just a Dirty Old Man.
Averted on a few occasions in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, notably with Even Piell, who was killed off despite appearing in canon later on. The show also retroactively played this straight with Darth Maul, who was inexplicably brought back from an almost certain death in The Phantom Menace.