There are many ideas associated with snow: Tranquility, purity, cleanliness, beauty...
So naturally, many people are shown dramatically dying in the snow. It may have something to do with how red blood contrasts so sharply with white snow, especially when gentle snowflakes are falling around a scene of carnage. It may have something to do with the way the snow seems to try and wash away the unclean corpses and ruins. It may have something to do with how it looks like a beautiful and peaceful way to die, just letting the cold embrace you as you fall to sleep. It may have something to do with how snow melts on living bodies, but coats those that have passed on.
And then there's the symbolism.
As beautiful as snow is, it also signifies winter, associated with the death of the year (in the northern hemisphere at least), the death of crops, and the death of the sun. Snow also covers the world with a blanket of white, and in Eastern cultures, white is the color of death (as it was untill few hundred years ago in Slavic states as well).
Whatever the reason, using snow is a great way to portray a character on the verge of dying or a place torn by war in a very artful manner.
A sub-trope of Empathic Environment. For a different interpretation of snow, see Snow Means Love. See White Shirt of Death and Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress for a similar trope, only applied to clothing instead. May or may not be related to Grim Up North.
In 07 Ghost, the first scene involves two hands (we are to assume they're Teito's) holding snow. Just as the line The snow was so beautiful...and so merciless appears, the snow immediately turns into blood. We later learn that this was foreshadowing to Teito's foster father's death.
In the 2006 version of Kanon, this trope is so prevalent that it's hard to pick out which examples fit it the best. The lyrics of the opening theme ("Last Regrets") practically announce it. Yuuichi's repressed memories are first hinted at in how much he hates snow. When Makoto dies, the illusion of a green field fades to show that the surroundings were covered in snow. Snow is practically a central theme for Yuuichi's meetings and conversations with Shiori, who is terminally ill. Snow is arguably the cause of the subverted Look Both Ways incident when Akiko's hit by a car that appears to be skidding out of control, and the imagery of the red strawberries thrown into the snow where it happened is painfully evocative. The same symbolism is made brutally real shortly after, when Yuuichi finally remembers what happened to Ayu years ago: she fell off a tree and was left comatose: unable to take any more, Yuuichi runs out into a snowstorm calling for Ayu; he runs past the place where they used to play without recognizing it because it's covered in snow. With the snow now falling furiously all around him (just as the deaths seem to be), he lays down and waits to die. The upbeat ending theme about someone trying to find their way home seems to contradict the trope, showing Ayu happily running through the snow - until you find out where she's been all along.
Clannad, another anime by Key Visual Arts, makes use of this trope on several occasions. As a young child, Nagisa nearly dies in the snow, thus foreshadowing events years later in ~After Story~. She dies soon after giving birth to Ushio; not only is it snowing at the time, but the snow-clogged streets bring about her death in that they made it impossible to get her to the hospital or to get a doctor to her in time. A few episodes later, when Ushio dies, it is not because of the snow (most likely) — she's been ill for a long time — but the scene does take place in the snow, and immediately afterwards her stricken father Tomoya dies of grief. In addition, in the Illusionary World, the little girl (who is Ushio after her death, minus all her memories of the real world) essentially freezes herself to death in the snow.
Pulled a third time by Key with Angel Beats! but on a smaller scale. Yuzuru Otonashi's sister Hatsune expires after her battle with an unknown illness on Christmas Eve.
Pulled a 4th time by Key, though much earlier on with planetarian. In the finale, The closing scenes of the game reveal that the rain has stopped and the snow is finally falling which represents hope not only for the Junker, but for humanity.
The incident in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S where Nanoha was unprepared for a sudden ambush. There was so much blood on her white Barrier Jacket and the snow-covered terrain, while Vita tried to keep her awake in the gently falling snow.
And then there's Reinforce's last moments in Nanoha A's. Also snow.
The first Gundam Wing intro. A city in ruins and an Empathy Doll Shot, all covered in a sheet of falling snow. The MovieEndless Waltz actually shows how it happened (Heero accidentally blew up an apartment building); as the realization sinks in, snow starts to fall.
The Death Note anime has this one. It starts snowing just as Naomi lets down her guard enough to reveal her real name to Light, who sentences her to suicide. The snow continues as she walks to her fate.
Also doubles as a massive amount of luck on Light's part, as the snow makes Kira Investigation member Aizawa get out his umbrella, obscuring his vision. The guy literally walks right past Light and Naomi without noticing either of them. 'cause, you know, if he did see the two of them, Light's little reign would've ended then and there.
In Naruto, the deaths of Zabuza and Haku are marked with the falling of snow. Though this is also partially because Haku's name means white, and he comes from a snowy village...
The first Suzaku Seishi to die in Fushigi Yuugi—and by extension the Seiryuu Seishi he did the death-battle with—does so after a bloody battle in a field of snow.
Also invoked when Suzuno and Tatara get Together in Death. It's snowing in both worlds as this happens, and their souls are reunited in a snowy forest.
Snow falling in summer is taken as an omen of Happosai's impending death in Ranma 1/2. (He recovers, though.)
The Happy Flashback to Sara meeting her brother Ralph in the snow in Soukou No Strain appears just before they prepare to fight to the death in the present.
Episode 13 of Cowboy Bebop, as Gren's ship crashes in a snowy field. He doesn't die there, but he starts coughing up blood and is clearly a goner.
At the end of the Galaxian Wars arc of Saint Seiya, it starts to snow in the mountains where Phoenix Ikki has just been defeated by the other Bronze Saints. While Seiya and the others hold off Docrates' forces, preventing them from stealing the Sagittarius Gold Cloth, a dying Ikki regards the snow as a symbol of his purification... and then gets up and brings down the mountain on himself and Docrates to save the Saints' lives, burying everything and everyone in rock and snow. Then again, he IS the Phoenix Saint.
The Asgard filler arc happens in a very snowy environment in the North of Europe. All but one of the Asgard Saints die in the snow. Saori herself almost kicks it too trying to sub in for the Brainwashed and Crazy Hilda, but she lives to tell.
Similarly, another filler has the Crystal Saint dying in the middle of a snowy and icy scenario, with Hyoga desperately beggging him to live. Later, Camus and Hyoga's duel in the Aquarius Temple leaves the whole place covered in ice - Camus dies, Hyoga almost does but survives.
The winter scenes in Millennium Actress portend doom: when she first meets and falls in love with the artist he's bleeding; later during WWII she's imprisoned for helping him and he gets captured and executed; during the 50s she tries to find him in the snow fields of Hokkaido and nearly dies. During her actual death it's raining - close enough.
In Wolf's Rain there's a scene where Quent, thinking Blue is dead, lies down in the snow to die. It's a subversion because Toboe saves him by sharing his body warmth. In the final two episodes they and others end up dead anyway, and snow covers their bodies before the titular rain finally shows up.
The tear-jerking scene (which scarred many Latin American children in The Nineties) of Nobody's Boy Remi (Ie Naki Ko, based on French novel "Sans famille," by Hector Malot), when the performing monkey Jolie-Coeur dies of pneumonia after forcing itself to perform one last time on the snowy streets.
It soon gets worse, since the already terminally ill Vitalis also dies in the snow few later, in an Heroic Sacrifice to save Remi and Cappi (the only survivor out of the animals) from perishing with him. Remi and Cappi ultimately survive since a local family finds Vitalis's lifeless body just in time before the offered protection isn't enough for them.
Kara no Kyoukai: the deaths of Souren Araya and Lio Shirazumi, both villains. Narrowly averted with Shiki Ryougi, who gives up on living right after revenge-killing the latter, thinking her boyfriend was dead.
It snows in Bokurano during the deaths of Youko Machi and Kanji Yoshikawa
In Sailor Moon, the final confrontation with the Dark Kingdom takes place at "D Point" near the North Pole, and the penultimate episode in which the Senshi all die facing the Doom and Gloom Girls is appropriately snow-covered. To fit with the theme, each one of them also happens to die on a mountain-like structure of spiked ice
Sora No Woto's last three episodes happen in the middle of Winter. A minor secondary character commits suicide by walking out into a snowstorm, and the truce going on since the first episode is suddenly broken and war finally comes to the small town our heroines are deployed.
In Sakura Gari, Sakurako dies this way, slitting her wrists open with a katana and then drowning self in a pond as the snow falls...
Mai-HiME: Immediately following Alyssa Searrs' defeat, the Searrs corporation ordered the "termination" of the project Alyssa had been created for due to her failure. This involves firing missiles at most of the main characters. No one actually dies from this, but it begins snowing immediately after. What happens next, you ask? Miyu, the robot girl, flees with a weakened Alyssa, who gets shot while Miyu is fetching water for her. So Miyu takes Alyssa's body, walks into a nearby pond with it, and freezes the two of them at the bottom.
Shows up in episode 10 of Figure17 which deals with Sho's sudden death. Shot of falling snowflakes against night sky is used repeatedly.
In Fullmetal Alchemist scenes at the Tucker house are often shown with the three kids playing in snow. Nina gets turned into a human/dog chimera with her pet Alexander by her father and subsequently killed by Scar, who also kills Shou.
In Gundam AGE, as Yurin L'Ciel is dying, she shares a psychic vision of her time on Minsry with Flit. As the vision of Minsry's forest ends, the scenery changes and it starts to snow...
As Detective Conan is a series where people fall dead in almost every episode, there are many murder cases that happen in the snow, and where footprints and other signals happen to be totally vital as clues to reveal who killed the victim of the week. One of the most emblematic cases is The Ski Lodge Mystery, where a Hot Teacher organizes a ski trip with her workmates... to murder two of them, in punishment for having killed one of their studentsfor knowing too much about their dirty deals. Both murders happen during a snowy night... And then Conan finds out and unmasks her through Ran. (Poor, poorlittleRan.)
Also weaponized in a filler case, where the enviousBody Double of a famous actress kills her boss via drugging her, putting her in a simplewhite gown that offers no protection against the cold and burying her in the snow, thus causing her to die of hypothermia. The killer then impersonates her boss until it's time to discover the woman's body in the snow, trying to make everyone believe that she was Driven to Suicide... Until Conan (through Kogoro) discovered her trick.
Kindaichi Case Files: There's a legend in a Hokkaido village about a woman and her baby who died in the snow after failing to find shelter. She is then reborn to take revenge during harsh snowstorms.
Toube from Ginga Densetsu Weed freezes to death after fighting Kamikiri and his pack. The next day, the Ohu soldiers find him...literally frozen to death.
Subverted in Marmalade Boy: the Ill Girl Anju Kitahara has a massive heart attack during a snowy Christmas, but she survives. (Barely).
In the final episode of Eureka Seven Ao, it was snowing when Renton and Eureka were burying their firstborn infant daughter.
Almost happens in Kare Kano. The most severe beating that Soichirou got from his evil mother Ryouko was in a snowy day, and the poor kid was found bleeding severely in the snowy street by his father Reiji, who immediately took him to safety.
The most famous example of this trope in Argentina is Hector German Osterheld's magnum opus, El Eternauta. There, the first sign of the alien invasion of the Manos and the Ellos is glowing snow that kills within contact with the skin, forcing the protagonist, his friends and family to don radiation suits in order to survive.
The Question in 52. Renee Montoya drags him through the snow, leaving a question-mark-shaped trail.
The final chapters of Watchmen, for the big reveal on Laurie's past, and the final fate of one of the mains.
ElfQuest had a bloody elf-troll battle in the frozen north.
In the Joan of Arc miniseries starring Leelee Sobieski, it begins to snow at Joan's execution. Notable because her burning took place in the middle of May.
In the movie Three Days Of The Condor, the protagonist, Joseph Turner (a.k.a. Condor), notices that Kathy Hale photographs and displays only scenes of winter (bare trees, lifeless snow). He comments to her that she is focusing on death, which she confirms.
Not a straight example, but the snow globe in Citizen Kane should get an honorable mention.
The Chinese movie Raise the Red Lantern has the servant Yan'er kneel outdoors in winter until she dies from the cold, while snow flakes fall around her.
O-Ren in Kill Bill also enjoys picturesque death on the snow.
Although few consider getting the top of one's head lopped off anywhere near picturesque...
The end of House of Flying Daggers went from brightly sunlit to a blizzard, just in time for the dramatic death scene.
Moulin Rouge!! ends with the defeated Duke walking through a snowfall, leaving the theater in which the heroine Satine has just died
Fargo, where several people die before a snowy background.
Subverted in The Shining. Jack does freeze to death, but his expression is anything but peaceful!
Played straight and subverted in The Day After Tomorrow. The first time, some survivors have fallen asleep and froze to death while sleeping. They look peaceful. The second time is the naysaying policeman, whose frozen expression is rather pained. But that's what you get for ignoring the expert.
One segment of Akira Kurosawa's Dreams features the story of a mountain climber who, trapped in a blizzard and suffering from frostbite, either hallucinates or experiences a visit from a yuki-onna - a snow demon who takes the form of a beautiful woman.
A yuki-onna figures in one of the stories in Kwaidan, an anthology film adapting several Japanese folk tales.
In the 1989 film of Dangerous Liaisons, Valmont gets stabbed to death in a midwinter duel. This is pretty much entirely so the director can have a cool shot of his blood splattered across the snow.
The Sweet Hereafter depicts children in a horrific bus accident, caused and contrasted by the peacefulness of the snow around them. Snow and cold are used throughout the movie to symbolize the original serenity in the town.
In Dead Poets Society, the boys are seen in a snowy feild after learning of Neil's death. The sense of hopelessness that scene brings the rest of the film really is incredible.
A less obvious but more literal Snow Means Death moment in DPS is that you see through the window that it's snowing just before Neil shoots himself.
Used somewhat more literally in Mulan. She uses a cannon to start an avalanche and wipe out the Hun army. Mostly.
White Fang, in the film, after getting wounded in a skirmish between her pack and a group of humans, White Fang's mother limps to her den before collapsing in the entrance, her pup goes out and she gives a farewell lick to him, then it starts snowing.
Definitely not a straight example but on Titanic many people, including Jack, freeze to death in the ocean, they even show having frost on their hair and face before dying.
The Fountain, Where the sceintist's wife's funeral is on a snowy day.
The ending of anti-Western Mc Cabe And Mrs Miller in which John [Mc Cabe=], having been shot three times, manages to kill the assassins who are after him. Without the strength to drag himself indoors, he curls up in the snow and dies.
Played with in the 2001 movie Cats And Dogs. Lou, the heroic beagle, is basically at ground zero right as the main storage tank in a Christmas flocking factory goes bang, generating an artificial snowstorm, and is dragged out of the factory by another dog, Butch...lying motionless on a Christmas Wreath. This movie being intended as a comedy, he got better.
Used subtly in Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. The movie ends in the snow after the brutal murder of Mr. Baek. White is also used actively to symbolize purity, which is what Geum-ja is trying to move toward.
Oldboy similarly ends in a field of snow after a similarly bloody climax. It may be used as a symbol for leaving the past behind or renewal.
Dead Snow: is made of this trope, even if it's used for horror and comedy instead of explicit beauty.
In Kunio Watanabe's 1958 version of The 47 Ronin, the whole film builds to the epic battle in a snow-covered courtyard.
An interesting subversion in It's a Wonderful Life. The snow stops after George wishes that he'd never been born and only starts up again after he decides that he wants to live again.
Vertical Limit takes this literally. The characters are climbing one of them most dangerous mountains in the world, and quite a few of them die, either in an avalanche or on the mission sent to rescue the first team. One of the points stressed by the movie is just how dangerous a thing climbing like that is.
Averted in a Soviet movie The Needle: the protagonist is stabbed with a knife, falls to his knees in the blood-stained snow... but he sruggles to his feet and walks away, disappearing in the snowstorm, and we never see him dead. Word Of God later stated that the protagonist survived.
In The Patriot, a few battles set in winter, with corpses covered by snow.
The Little Match Girl version is deconstructed in Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, where Death (who's filling in for the local equivalent of Santa Claus) saves the archetypal Little Match Girl, dismissing her death as needlessly cruel, in the midst of his deconstructing a number of Christmastime tropes.
In Discworld, the dark pagan origins of the Hogfather (the local expy of Santa Claus) explain the choice of colours in his clothing: red and white from blood on the snow, ultimately coming from druidic human sacrifices in midwinter to make the sun come back.
James Joyce's "The Dead" (from Dubliners) may end with the definitive example of this trope. As the protagonist slowly drifts to sleep, thinking of the dead man his wife once loved, snow covers his window and his thoughts. The closing line: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
Raptor Red and her pack encounter a whip-tailed sauropod on a snowy mountain near the end of the book. It doesn't end well.
The death of Snowden obviously had quite the impact on the narrator of Catch Twenty Two, so much so that the first page of the book asks the question: "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?" (a reference to "Ballad of the Ladies of Bygone Times" by Francois Villon). Snowden's last words are, "It's cold." Considering everyone else's name is symbolic, it's fair to see this as an example of this trope.
Harry Potter visits his parents' graves for the first time in Deathly Hallows, accompanied by Hermione. It so happens that they do this in December, and the graveyard is covered in snow. Harry, of course, cannot help but cry (and neither can many readers).
In Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market, Lizzie reminds her sister of Jeanie, who ate the goblin fruit, but sickened and "fell with the first snow" of winter. (Since Laura has already eaten the fruit, this lets readers know just how much time she has left.)
In Bluestar's Prophecy, One of Bluefur's kits, Mosskit, freezes to death in the snow when Bluefur is taking them to Riverclan to stay with their father, Oakheart.
In Miss Smillas Feeling For Snow, Smilla sees Isaiah's body in the snow, and her description of his funeral is punctuated by her observations about the snowfall. Of course, the book takes place in Denmark, it's winter, and the narrator is a bit obsessed with snow in general.
In My Ántonia, Mr. Shimerda commits suicide during his first Nebraskan winter.
In pretty much every adaptation of A Christmas Carol, there is snow in the churchyard when Scrooge discovers his (future) grave.
A Song of Ice and Fire: "Winter is coming", along with the living dead. And seasons can last for years in Westeros.
In Seeker Bears, Kallik had always thought that snow meant plenty of food (especially seals). But then she learns from Toklo that for the other bears, snow means less food.
Live Action TV
Spoofed in Father Ted. In snows the night before Father Jack's funeral. Ted gives a monologue about how it's snowing all over the island. On all the living, and the dead...Then Father Jack tells him to Shut the feck up.
Two episodes of Farscape occur on an ice planet: during these two episodes, Aeryn drowns when her ejector seat lands in a frozen lake, Diagnosan Tocot is killed by a Scarran operative in the cryogenics facility, two Peackeepers are shot in the frozen corridors... finally, the Scarran agent himself ventures out into a blizzard, only to be shot repeatedly by the ressurrected Aeryn and stabbed to death with an icicle.
Averted in any episodes that take place in Einstein'sdimension, which is essentially a large iceberg floating in a sea of wormholes. In the first visit Einstein does warn Crichton that he might be forced to kill him, but most of the carnage of that episode takes place in the thoroughly non-snowy Unrealised Realities Einstein displays.
The brutal, bloody final battle of Kamen Rider Kuuga happens on the snowy slopes of Mount Kuro.
...and Michael, you would fall/ and turn the white snow red/ as strawberries in summer...
The classic French pop song "Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro": "[The snow] will make you a white blanket/Where you will soon be able to rest" (implying that the "rest" in question is of the eternal kind).
Myth And Legend
Japanese legend speaks of the Yuki-onna, a female snow spirit that appears during the snow storm and leads travellers astray to die of exposure. Sometimes she might spare them, and once she fell for a young man and married him... but once he discovered her identity, she left in the middle of a snow storm.
The Greeks gave us Persephone, daughter of Demeter (goddess of the harvest), both kidnapped by her uncle Hades to be his bride in the Underworld. The rules stated that anyone who ate in the kingdom of death would be trapped there, so even though her mother successfully sued for her return, she had to spend some time there, having eaten some pomegranate seeds (four, five, seven, or eight; it varies). So each year she returns, and each time she does, Nature dies. Thus winter. When she comes back, Nature thrives. Thus spring.
In most parts of ancient Greece, they considered Persephone to be gone during the hot, droughty summer, returning during the rainy winter.
Several levels throughout the Hitman series take place in snow-covered terrain.
However, the entire first game takes place on an island in Alaska, so there's snow in every outdoor area. The first fights against Vulcan Raven and Liquid Snake also take place in the same snow storm, and nobody dies.
In Kessen II, if you beat the final stage of Liu Bei's scenario, Cao Cao is seen dying in the snow, with Diao Chan kneeling beside him. Though, there was never any snow on the battlefield before or after this sequence.
Yuyuko of the Touhou is the Ghost Princess of the Netherworld and has the ability to induce death. Naturally, one of the things associated with her is snow, with her game taking place during a long winter. Even the weather effect assigned to her in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody is snow.
In Mass Effect 2 the Normandy [SR 1=] crashes onto the surface of an ice planet; in one of the DLC missions you can revisit the wreckage and walk through a chillingly beautiful snowscape littered with debris from the original Normandy while collecting the dogtags of soldiers lost in the crash and placing a memorial statue to commemorate the ship.
It's not actually snow, but the way Shepard catches falling particles of the Genophage cure in Mass Effect 3 is clearly meant to evoke this as a memorial to Mordin, Eve, and/or the hopes and dreams of a species, depending on your choices during Priority: Tuchanka.
In [[Videogame/Phantasmat Phantasmat: Crucible Peak]], the player finds themselves in a resort that was emptied due to an unforseen avalanche. It turns out that Otto, one of the people you meet in the game, caused the avalanche via explosion.
In Fire Emblem: Geneaology of the Holy War, Mahnya is killed during a battle in the snow.
In Megatokyo, snow begins to fall just as Miho prepares to meet her death.
Homestuck: When the deceased Vriska and alt!Johnmeet for the first time in a dream bubble memory, they are outside John's house in winter with a light snowfall ongoing. In this case, both of them are dead.
Aversion too; Jade dies well after her land thaws, despite it initially having been covered in the stuff.
In the Rankin-Bass Stop Motion special Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, the title character's mother dies after covering him with her body and keeping him warm for all night during a blizzard.
Avatar The Last Airbenderplays with this - black snowfall, caused by the soot put out by their ships, heralds the arrival of Fire Nation forces at both the North and South Pole when they attack the Water Tribes.
One of the more famous examples is from Bambi in which the titular character cries out for his mother during a heavy snowfall after she is shot dead.
The Battle of Stalingrad started in August, but in movies and on pictures, you will almost always see the last weeks in January and Feburary, when snow only added to the bleakness of the whole situation.
In Finland, mentioning a drunken person and snow in the same sentence is almost always interpreted as "froze to death", and it is regularly used as an example when explaining to teens why drinking outside during an arctic winter is a really bad idea.