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.

    Literature 

    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 heroics, in Bruce's case).
  • 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.
  • 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, and Tuco are safe at least until the series reaches the events of Breaking Bad.

    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 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.
  • 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).

    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.
  • 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 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, canon 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.