A character is killed off in a particularly gruesome manner and left to be found just to offend or insult someone, or to cause someone serious anguish. The usual victims are those who matter to the hero, specifically best buddies, love interests, and sidekicks.
The name of the trope comes from a storyline in Green Lantern, in which the villain Major Force leaves the corpse of Kyle Rayner's girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, literally stuffed into a refrigerator for him to find. Years later, Major Force repeated the gimmick with Kyle's mother in an oven. It was just a trick with a mannequin that time.
The term was popularized by comic book writer Gail Simone through her website "Women in Refrigerators." On that site, Simone compiled a list of instances of female comic book characters who were killed off as a plot device. The term came to be used more broadly, over time, to refer to any character who is targeted by an antagonist who has them killed off, abused, raped, incapacitated, de-powered, or brainwashed for the sole purpose of affecting another character, motivating them to take action.
While it is strictly true that Tropes Are Not Bad, this one, especially as a catchphrase, is often given a very negative connotation as it is all too often a hallmark of supremely lazy writing - using a dead woman as "cheap anger" for the male protagonist, and devaluing the life of a woman in the process, instead of giving the villain something actually interesting to do that can involve all three characters and more emotions than simple anger and angst.
This trope appears in many media. The Throw-Away Country is an extreme example, and the Doomed Hometown is in many ways the RPG Video Game equivalent. See also Disposable Woman, I Let Gwen Stacy Die, and Finger in the Mail. Compare What Measure Is a Mook?. If it happens to multiple love interests of the same character, said character likely suffers from the Cartwright Curse. The intended effect is very much akin to Cheap Heat.
Compare Collateral Angst, a more general case where bad things happening to Character A are primarily important for their effect on Character B. Also compare Death by Origin Story. Depending on how useful/interesting the character is, and whether their death was pointless or not, can overlap with Dropped a Bridge on Him. Not to be confused with being Put on a Bus as a Human Popsicle. Also not related to Fridge Logic, Fridge Horror, or Fridge Brilliance. Also don't confuse with Locked in a Freezer or It Came from the Fridge.
If the love interest who gets Stuffed Into the Fridge remains relevant to the ongoing story, continuing to be loved and missed by living characters, sometimes to the point of appearing in flashbacks and dream sequences, and is the standard by which any subsequent love interests are measured by, she "graduates" to being a Lost Lenore - in quotation marks as the trope still needs to be handled with care to avoid being tasteless. Related to Men Are the Expendable Gender as that trope is part of the reason this trope applies more to women.
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Anime and Manga
Bleach: Genre Savvy that he is, Big Bad Sosuke Aizen planned to specifically invoke this, killing Ichigo's friends and leaving the corpses for Ichigo to discover. Ichigo appeared in Big Damn Heroes fashion and forcibly moved Aizen out of town.
May have happened in End of Evangelion. After all, Shinji emerging from the ruins of NERV HQ and seeing the brutally gored and eviscerated remains of Unit 02 is part of what pushed him over the Despair Event Horizon to start Third Impact.
In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, a killer appears who skins women alive while recording it. This was actually a case of the trope being weaponized. The killer was a soldier who had been mentally conditioned and trained to go behind enemy lines and commit these atrocities to break the enemy's will to fight. Unfortunately, the mental damage was so great he never stopped.
Happens to Flay in GundamSeed. Despite avoiding her ship exploding and Kira shielding her from Rau's initial attempt to kill her, Rau's weapon pods snipe her from another angle, blowing her up. Also happens to Stella in the sequel, by Kira himself although it was clear thanks to circumstances of her life, that an early death was inevitable. Would have happened to Lunamaia in any other series or circumstance, but because her opponent was Athrun (who still considered her a friend) he spared her.
Hellsing has a rare male example with Pip Bernadotte, who dies after Zorin Blitz stabs him while he's trying to carry a blind and mutilated Seras to safety. Seras breaks down in tears, and is pushed over the edge when Zorin mocks Pip's death, calling him 'a mere insect'. Seras responds by drinking his blood and becoming a fully-fledged vampire, and going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, culminating in her painting the wall with Zorin's face.
Subverted in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. After Rena beats Rina/Ritsuko to death with a metal pipe in self-defense, she's seen stuffing Rina's body into a refrigerator in the junkyard. It's subverted in that Rina's boyfriend/partner in crime Teppei never discovers her; Rena lures him out to the junkyard and hacks him to death with her billhook before that can happen.
Kamui Den: The rape and subsequent death for the peasant girl Mine early in the first series becomes an inciting incident for two of the major male characters to fight the oppressive powers of their feudal domain.
In the manga MPD Psycho, Amamiya Kazuhiko's multiple personality disorder is triggered when the serial killer he's tracking mutilates his girlfriend and delivers her limbless but barely alive body to the police station in an ice chest.
Rin's death is what would directly motivate Obito into becoming the masked man known as Tobi. Hell, you can argue that Rin herself serves as the catalyst for the entire series — her capture is what would inevitably lead to Obito's "death" and land him into the clutches of Madara.
The Gung-Ho guns of Trigun are usually finished by one of their own after Vash claims a (usually circumstantial) victory. For example, this occurs in episode 16 where E.G. Mine nails two of his defeated former comrades atop a building, which Vash only notices once the blood drips onto the back of his head while walking. Mine then proceeds to refer to them as "decorations", making it obvious they were put there to set as examples for the Gung-Ho Guns' intolerance for failure.
Parodied in the new Ambush Bug series. Ambush Bug is shopping:
Ambush Bug: Do you have any major appliances that don't come with a dead body in it?
Saleslady: It's a standard feature. Have you checked out our compact fridge with built-in pygmy?
She's not dead, but in Batman, Hush cut out Catwoman's heart. She was somehow gotten to a machine in time. An example of an Invoked Trope, as Hush was deliberately looking for the most traumatic thing he could do to Batman. It was then subsequently subverted as when she recovered, Selina was the one who went for revenge, not Bruce. She ruined Hush, to boot.
Batwoman: Kate's sidekick and cousin Bette "Flamebird" Kane is brutally mauled by The Hook and left in a coma. Not only does this cause Kate more angst, it also allows the DEO to find Bette and figure out Kate's identity. Though following this incident, Bette does get an arc about her road to recovery, her subsequent training, getting her back into the fight and personally defeating The Hook herself; in the end, the maiming motivated her more than Kate.
Since Blackest Night was about the dead returning as intelligent but soulless zombies with the intent of overwhelming and feeding on various emotional reactions, ripping each victim's heart out in the process, it was conceptually predisposed to this trope from the beginning. Several characters, both male and female, were killed just to get a rise out of other characters. The textbook example of this trope, though, was Gen, the girlfriend of Jason Rusch, who was turned to salt and had her heart ripped out (simultaneously) while Jason got a front row seat inside her killer's head.
During Brightest Day, Deathstroke killed Ryan Choi, the Chinese Atom. This was basically done to make Deathstroke seem more "hardcore" and provide angst and motivation for Ray Palmer, Choi's white mentor. The resulting racial controversy was huge, and even got coverage on non-comic sites, which lead to DC retconning the incident during the New 52. Prior to the retcon, some fans had proposed the term "Minorities in Matchboxes" for this type of situation, where a character of color is killed off to provide angst for a white character.
In Death Of The Family, Raya Vestri, one of the chessmasters during Nightwing's first story arc, ends up getting shot up full of Joker Venom and dies. Nightwing now has one more reason to be upset with Joker.
In the Death of the New Gods series, this happened in the first few pages to freaking Big Barda. Granted, the assassin was targeting all of the New Gods, but her death is what motivates her husband Mr. Miracle's actions, such as using the Anti-life Equation — something he once swore he would never do in the past. To add insult to injury, she was killed off-panel and left with no signs of a struggle and her body was found in — you guessed it — the kitchen.
Poor Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, got a quadruple whammy of this in Identity Crisis, both in-story and out. Her mysterious murder was 1) the impetus of a company-wide Crisis Crossover in which it was revealed that she was 2) murdered by Jean Loring in a convoluted attempt to make her ex-husband The Atom/Ray Palmer love her again, and it was revealed that she was 3) raped years ago, which had provoked a number of retconned events from the DC universe's past, which were 4) used to fuel future drama and storylines in the other DC titles.
Golden Glider from The Flash is a supervillain version of this; she's killed off mainly so that her brother Captain Cold can angst about it.
One Flash villain actually adopted this as his ethos. Hunter Zolomon, the second Zoom, came to believe that great men are defined by adversity and tragedy, and started targeting Wally West because of it. He actually caused his wife Linda to miscarry, causing Wally to give up on being The Flash for a while.
Fray: Melaka Fray's friend, Loo, was killed by Fray's mentor, Urkonn, to give her the push to truly embrace the role of the Slayer. This is outright stated by Urkonn when she discovers this and sets him up for killing in turn, acknowledged by Fray herself just before she kills him.
The original incident was fueled by Executive Meddling: The scene, as originally drawn, showed Kyle Rayner's girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, completely intact, but still dead. DC editors thought this was too gruesome, so mandated a redraw, that showed the partially open door with the arm sticking out of it, suggesting dismemberment.
During the end of the same third volume, Kyle Rayner had a re-match with the same villain who had mutilated aforementioned girlfriend, Major Force. This villain decided to top himself by stuffing Rayner's mother into the oven. Believe it or not Major Force later played this for laughs by pointing out it was a dummy and that he 'never repeats the same trick'.
Sadly, Kyle's mother did not escape the metaphorical fridge in the end. Sinestro had the living virus Despotellis kill her in retaliation for Kyle branding him with a Green Lantern symbol during Green Lantern: Rebirth. Then he revealed this to Kyle to make him vulnerable to Parallax possession.
While this time it didn't involve actual kitchen appliances, Major Force got to do this again, killing off Arisia, former Lantern, former girlfriend of Hal Jordan and current friend of Guy Gardner, suffocating her in order to bait Gardner into a fight. The scene in which he did so earned some disgust from readers, since because of the way the panel was drawn and the powers he had, it was impossible to tell whether he'd done it just by covering her nose and mouth, or by pouring his arm down her throat.
When they cross paths during the "Battle for Bludhaven" miniseries, Hal Jordan (having learned of Alexandra's fate beforehand) gives Force a taste of his own medicine by slamming an energy construct of a refrigerator onto him.
Kyle even has this happen with friends. Terry Berg, his assistant, was horribly gay-bashed and beaten into a coma. Like in your standard story line of the kind, the story focused more on Kyle's angst that someone could do this to a friend of his, rather than Terry dealing with the trauma himself. He terrorizes the thugs responsible, then takes a leave of absence from Earth because he's despairing for the state of humanity, while his friend is still bedridden.
Green Lantern seems to be made of this. John Stewart's first wife Katma Tui is killed in gruesome fashion by Star Sapphire to prove a point to Hal Jordan while she is depowered and in her kitchen!
Katma Tui: Star Sapphire? What are you doing here?
Star Sapphire: You're not Hal Jordan, but you were a Green Lantern. You'll do.
Nearly every Red Lantern seen so far had people close to them brutally murdered — the rage they felt over these deaths is what draws the red power rings to them in the first place. Among them are an alien whose mate was eaten by Sinestro Corp member Arkillo, a housecat from Earth whose owner was murdered by a burglar. Their leader Atrocitus has the worst case — his entire space sector, including his family, was killed by the Guardians' rogue Manhunters. His entire reason for living is to kill the Guardians. The rage that Mera felt over losing her husband (Aquaman) and her son in addition to the rest of the crap she's had to deal with over the years and her own rather short temper was strong enough to make her a deputy Red Lantern during Blackest Night. Guy Gardner briefly became a Red Lantern when Kyle Rayner was killed (he got better).
As if his life wasn't terrible enough, any female close to the Incredible Hulk dies horribly or suffers some traumatic events. His original love interest and later wife Betty Ross Banner had her blood tainted by the Hulk's enemy, the Abomination (she got better though) and died painfully from Gamma radiation poisoning. To twist the knife even further, she returned only to subsequently return to the grave soon after the fact. She returned again, however she has been turned into the Red She Hulk and gained an entirely new set of problems.
Marlo, one-time girlfriend of Hulk's 'Mr. Fixit' personality and the wife of the Hulk's erstwhile sidekick, Rick Jones was killed by a crazy woman who believed herself to be Rick's mother and then brought back to life as a mindless vegetable. She got better, though.
Hulk's second major love interest, Jarella (after Betty but before Caiera), likewise died by being crushed beneath a collapsing building during a Hulk/Abomination fight.
Subverted twice in Invincible. Atom Eveappears to get fridged, but in the next issue she not only survives, but saves Invincible's life. We also have villain Powerplex who essentially does this to himself. He accidentally kills his own family while fighting Invincible.
Played straight with Omni-man and the bug people he settled down with after leaving Earth. His fellow Viltrumites slaughtered thousands of them to, in their own words, piss him off. To Omni-man's own surprise, it worked.
In Judge Dredd, the first-shown female Judge is killed off in a few frames by a Judge-murdering gang, just to provide motivation for a male Judge (who loved her) to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and get killed. Neither were established characters. (For a long time, Judges were prohibited from having relationships for just this reason.)
Continuing the tradition in the DCnU series Earth 2, Alan Scott's boyfriend note He's gay after the Flashpoint reboot was killed in an explosion quickly after being introduced.
Karen Smith, the partner of the Martian Manhunter in his guise as detective John Jones, was murdered by his evil brother Malefic as part of his ongoing campaign to destroy J'onn's life. J'onn responded by throwing Malefic into the sun.
Mockingbird, on three occasions now. Firstly, when she's raped by Phantom Rider, which acts as something of a subversion as its her who gets the most affected by it, resulting in her killing the Phantom Rider, only to be double-subverted by this then being used to make Hawkeye angst. Later, she's killed by Mephisto, resulting in Clint falling into a downwards spiral for a while and eventually breaking up the West Coast team. After she's revived, she gets shot while on a mission with the New Avengers, all just to make the team, and Hawkeye, more angry at the villain.
In Proposition Player, Archangel Michael arranges the gruesome deaths of several people who sold their souls to the protagonist, Andy (which forced him into said big boys' game), resulting in them materialising in his makeshift afterlife (his apartment) in the state they were killed (a pile of ashes, a guy with rebar through his head, a mangled corpse, and a pile of alligator dung - it's essentially the "default setting" for an afterlife until specified otherwise) - all as a message telling him how out of his depth he really is and how he should get out of the game while he still can. Michael and his angel-goon Bill then kidnap Andy's girlfriend (whose soul is also his property), violate and mutilate her, and then present her to him, barely still alive, with a final offer: sell the souls to them and she'll get a free ticket to Heaven with her original appearance intact, or refuse and the girl spends the rest of eternity as a mutilated freak. Andy promptly slits her throat and tells them that he intends to step up the game instead and kick them from the table. As it turns out, he had earlier changed his "afterlife presets" - people now come back looking as good as they ever did in life, although it doesn't help the already deceased - so she was perfectly okay, and safer than ever. And with a reserved spot in his new pantheon.
Superboy's first love, Tana Moon, got this treatment.
To make matters even worse, the woman who killed Tana did it because she felt Superboy, as a clone of her father Cadmus director Paul Westfield, was a huge disappointment. Recent retcons show, however, that Superboy is not Westfield's clone at all, but a joint DNA clone of Supes and Lex. So Tana's death was not only nasty, brutal and ugly, but the very reason she was targeted was just dead wrong!
Gail Simone, who coined the phrase (and has stated that the term has been distorted and over-applied since then) played with the trope in Wonder Woman, where Wonder Woman's best friend Etta was captured and tortured into catatonia by Genocide. She was deliberately targeted as one of Diana's loved ones, she was tortured to make us hate the villain even more, and she was left for Diana to find with a mocking note...all the hallmarks of a fridging except for the fact that she didn't die. Etta however, got better and was shown to be none worse for the wear in the long run, even telling Wondy not to feel guilty for what happened.
A Growing Affection: Itachi's wife is killed by Madara, who leaves her out her Itachi to see, claiming she was an intruder. Both of them know that is not true and the real reason Madara killed her.
In Circles of Power, a Harry Potter fanfic, Draco defects to the light side. In retaliation, the Death Eaters kill Draco's good friend Pansy and then break into the house where Draco has been taken in by Harry and his friends for protection, just to leave Pansy's mutilated body on Draco's bed.
It's kind of a Memetic Mutation in the Fire Emblem Awakening fandom to have Lon'qu fridged via being shot with arrows, in fanworks related to the Bad Future. This is because of the massive popularity of the Lon'qu x Lissa pairing, how in their supports Lon'qu does get (non-fatally) shot to protect her, and the canon fact that Lissa's husband canonly died protecting their kid Owain from arrows.Discussed here.
Alleged to happen with Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Methods Of Rationality. According to Draco, Dumbledore burned her alive as a warning to the rest of the Voldemort-supporting Malfoy family. Unreliable Narrator is in full force here.
Happened more directly with Hermione Granger, leading to complaints of anti-feminism on fan sites. And the narrator is reliable this time. But as the author reminds us, the story isn't over yet.
In keeping with many canon films, the James Bond Fan FilmProperty Of A Lady had this happen to Bond’s girlfriend as she is specifically targeted to have an effect on him. However, Bond is wise enough to call an ambulance and it’s implied she survives.
In Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams, Rick Sheridan's friend Cyrus is Driven to Suicide after he suffers a brutal Mind Rape at the hands of the demon Cobweb. What makes this even worse is that it becomes a twofer, as Sleepwalker is eventually forced to kill his brother N'ogskak as a result of the same plot.
Audrey in Barton Fink. "Charlie" claims he did it because "You don't listen!"
In Blade: Trinity, when Sommerfield is killed by Drake and her defaced corpse is left for Abigail and Blade to find.
In the 1972 version of Bluebeard, the titular character (played by Richard Burton) stores the bodies of his beautiful but unfortunate previous wives in a large walk-in freezer, posing them in more or less lifelike positions.
Happens in Dark Blue.
Maximus' family in Gladiator, as seen in the page quote.
In The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone attempts to convince studio head Jack Woltz to cast singer Johnny Fontane, Vito's godson, in a film. Woltz refuses, so the Don arranges for the head of Woltz's prized $600,000 racehorse to be severed and placed in Woltz's bed for him to wake up to. This actually caused some controversy back in the day, as it used an actual horse head... which had been donated by a butcher and was used on the fly. So technically, no animals were harmed in the making of this film. Only an animal that wasn't originally going to be used by the production until the head was donated.
In Hellraiser: Inferno, Detective Joseph Thorne's wife and daughter are both strung up and frozen to death by the serial killer in his home while Joseph was away. He rushes home to find their dead bodies and the killer present to taunt him.
Heroic Trio and its sequel suffers from the Spear Counterpart of this trope as the characters' boyfriends/husbands either get beaten up or killed.
Also happens in Tomorrow Never Dies. Added bonus: the theme song for the movie is written from the perspective of the Bond Girl that gets fridged.
Darling I'm killed/ I'm in a puddle on the floor/ Waiting for you to return
In Kick-Ass 2, there’s both a male and female example as Colonel Stars and Stripes gets his head cut off, while the Night Bitch is almost raped and beaten up severely enough to end up in a hospital., all specifically to hurt Kick-Ass himself and other members of the Justice Forever.
It actually was downplayed when compared to the comic, given that the latter had Katie, who was Dave’s girlfriend instead of Night Bitch, actually raped for real and Colonel had his dog killed as well.
This was actually criticized by the character found in such a position, and he made implications about the writers being murderers, as his Universe was as real as ours. Oddly enough, he didn't think of thanking them for creating him and his world (or not?) in the first place.
"So you're telling me that the only reason the love of my life was brutally murdered is because it's good storytelling?" "Psshh, you're welcome, Mr. Ungrateful Face."
The end of The Public Enemy from 1931. While Tommy's family has been led to believe he's coming home, his brother answers the door face to face with his corpse, propped up like he's standing. Then it falls over the threshold, face-foreward.
The 2004 film version of The Punisher features a cyclical series of examples: the Big Bad blames FBI agent Frank Castle for the death of his son during one of Frank's operations, and at the urging of his hysterical wife has Frank's entire family murdered in retaliation. This motivates Frank to become the Punisher and go on a retaliatory Roaring Rampage of Revenge, during which, among other things, he kills the villain's other son and manipulates him into murdering his own wife.
In Road House, most badass opponent goon has his throat ripped out and is floated across the river for Big Bad to find.
Best bud/mentor is killed and left on the bar for hero to find.
Something like this occurred in 300, in which the main heroes discover a village pinned to a tree (or possibly nailed together in the shape of a tree) due to the ruthless and barbaric nature of the opposing army.
In the film Tombstone, the villain Johnny Ringo tempts the heroes into a duel by torturing and killing one of the protagonists and sending his body to the heroes.
Later on, Lady Hornwood was married to Ramsay Bolton for politics, then promptly shut in a tower and left to die. She was found with her own fingers gnawed off in hunger and desperation. Her cousin Wyman Manderley was not pleased and is now plotting his revenge against House Bolton.
Manderley is also taking revenge against House Frey, who had allied with House Bolton, to take down the Starks, the banner-lords for Houses Bolton and Maderley.
Both Eddard and Septa Mordane's heads are displayed on the Red Keep's walls by Joffrey to traumatize Sansa.
In Tyrion's backstory, Tysha is an example of this, especially after he finds out she really did love him. Shae is also an example, except instead of her being killed to cause Tyrion angst, Tyrion kills her to show that he's fallen off the deep end.
Ygritte ends up dying to show the cost of Jon Snow's duty to the Night's Watch.
The entire plot of The Count of Monte Cristo is Edmond Dantes doing this to the people who betrayed him and had him imprisoned, culminating in an Aesop about how revenge ultimately corrupts one's soul.
Charlie Parker's wife and child are murdered by a serial killer and left in the kitchen of his house for him to find in John Connolly's Every Dead Thing.
Connolly tends to use women like that. In Dark Hollow, Charlie Parker is motivated by the gory death of Billy Purdue's wife and son.
In The Killing Kind, Charlie Parker's ex-girlfriend is found killed and he is hired to find out what happened. He is later effectively fired but ultimately chooses to continue the job so he can bring some justice to Grace Peltier and the rest of the Aroostok Baptists.
In Leon Uris' Exodus, a story about the founding of Israel, the lover of a main character is kidnapped, raped dozens of times, and dumped in pieces near her home.
In Firestarter, Vicky is murdered and stuffed behind the ironing board.
A rare “heroic” example occurs in the Guardians of the Flame series. The heroes adopt the habit of mutilating the bodies of slavers they kill in humiliating ways, then leaving them for other slavers to find as a warning.
In Leo Tolstoy's novelette Hadji Murat, the reader is first aware of the death of Hadji Murat when someone shows off his head in a sack. This rather brilliantly makes a death that for the history savvy reader is inevitable something rather shocking and horrifying, just as it is to the characters in the story, who do not have the benefit of hindsight.
Tim Rackley's young daughter, Ginny, is raped and cut up, leading to the Deputy Sheriff to go on a mad rampage in Gregg Hurwitz's The Kill Clause.
Quite early on in the first book of The Last Werewolf trilogy, the title character finds his long-time human companion's severed head in a bag in the boot of his car.
In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Capa Barsavi's daughter was killed by the Grey King and sent back to him in a barrel of horse urine.
In the climax of Lord of the Clans, Blackmoore hurls the head of Thrall's human surrogate sister at his feet when the Orcs besiege his castle, trying to break his spirit. Unfortunately for him, Orcs do not work that way.
In Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp series about an elite counterterrorism agent, the protagonist's backstory includes a tale of his high school sweetheart dying in a terrorist bombing as the impetus for his career. Aside from a couple of prequel books, her character is rarely mentioned outside her death and the role it played in enlisting the protagonist into the murky world of espionage and black ops.
In the backstory of Sword of Truth, this happens to Zedd's wife. She's viciously beaten and raped by D'Haran soldiers, and just to twist the knife in further, she's left for Zedd to find. Zedd, being a Wizard of the First Order, naturally attempts to heal her, only to find that doing so sets off a trap spell designed to kill her painfully in response to any magical healing. Ouch.
Richard finds Kahlan like this. People stop him from healing her for that reason. It takes her months to get better.
Richard does this with Brother Narev for Jagang to find, and then later has this done with all of the Fellowship
In Twilight, James attempted this trope, videotaping him torturing and killing Bella to make Edward seek revenge and start a "game" with him. Lucky for Bella, Edward was fast enough to avert it.
In Villains Inc. (sequel to Wearing the Cape), this is played with. Early on, Astra is presented with a superhuman murder where the victim was reduced to soup-in-a-box. Then she learns that Blackstone, one of her teammates and mentors, was killed in the same fashion in a potential future. The threat is very motivating.
In a rare example from Council Wars, Dionys McCanock decides against slitting Daneh's throat post-rape, just so she can go tell Edmund what was done to her.
Airwolf: Done by Moffat in the pilot episode. Whether pissing off Stringfellow Hawke was the intent or not, it certainly had that effect, leaving Moffat with a life expectancy only slightly longer than the series Theme Tune.
Alias: Male example: Sydney Bristow's original fiancé. She found him in the tub with his throat slit, after which she turned on her evil employers.
In the first season of Boardwalk Empire , Jimmy gets embroiled in a war with Irish mobsters. One of them scars the face of his mistress as a means of getting back at him. This would be a non-fatal example of the trope, but she eventually commits suicide, so it's an indirectly fatal example.
Nucky sends Owen to kill Joe Masseria, and we don't see him again until Masseria mails his bloodied body back to Nucky in a crate. The twist comes in the fact that Nucky's relationship with Owen was merely professional, so he is not nearly as devastated as his wife, Margaret, who was having an affair and planning to run away with Owen.
In Season 5 of Breaking Bad, Jesse's love interest, Andrea, is shot in the back of the head by Todd as punishment for Jesse trying to escape his slavery at the meth lab. Andrea also has a son, and Todd's group threaten to kill him as well if Jesse tries to escape again.
Jenny Calendar is killed by Angelus and left in her lover Rupert Giles' bedroom, along with a number of things to make the latter initially believe that she has arrived in his home for a romantic rendezvous. It is debatable whether this is a case of schlock or effective writing in line with Whedon's usual tropes, as her planned death had been merely delayed due to fan popularity.
The murder of Ms. Calendar is a significant point of contention between the members of the Scooby Gang, one that threatens to destroy Buffy's friendship with Xander and relationship with Giles, particularly when it is revealed that Angel is alive and back on Earth. The First Evil, the Buffyverse's equivalent of Satan, also took the form of Ms. Calendar.
While Angelus went out of his way to make Jenny's death as painful as possible for the other heroes, he actually didn't kill her solely for the purpose of doing so. She had been trying to restore his soul, which would have turned him back into the guilt-ridden Angel.
The Potentials of season seven: one's driven to hang herself in Buffy's living room, another is found slashed to death outside the Summers’ home (and the first evil having infiltrated the Scoobies as her), one has their neck snapped by Caleb, another stabbed by the same, and one is torn about by a Turok-Han uber-vampire. All of these are young, innocent girls, whose deaths mainly serve to give Buffy something to angst about. And that's not even counting the handful Buffy never gets to meet, but the audience gets to see murdered, to show how evil the villains are.
Tara in Season 6, her death occuring for the sole purpose of pushing Willow over the edge and transforming her into Dark Willow, the season's Big Bad.
Burn Notice: Michael sometimes invokes this trope when he needs to convince the target that his persona of the week gets off on this sort of thing. Since it's an illusion and the "victim" is either Fiona or his current client, the dirty deed is merely implied rather than shown explicitly.
Criminal Minds has an especially dark example in which a man gets Forced to Watch as thugs murder his pregnant fiancé before beating him and leaving him for dead. Instead of making him just more motivated or somewhat darker, it causes an outright psychotic break, resulting in him running around killing the perps in horrendously violent ways. The victim was also a relatively famous up-and-coming comic book artist/writer; after his break, he switched to a Darker and Edgier new comic depicting his violent revenge on the thugs.
It also has another example in "100", when the Reaper/George Foyet kills Haley Hotchner. Foyet, after stabbing Hotch and spending months stalking him and his family, lures Haley and Jack out from protective custody, and forces her to say goodbye to Hotch over the phone. He draws it out, taunting Hotch and telling him he's going to kill his son as soon as he's done with Haley. He shoots Haley, leaving her body on the floor of the Hotchner's old bedroom. Hotch goes off the rails, beating Foyet to death with his bare hands. Haley's death is absolutely a fridging, done explicitly to cause Hotch pain and further used within the narrative to provide more angst for Hotch's decision about whether or not to leave the BAU.
Season 1 is a play on this trope. The Big Bad "Ice Truck Killer" tries to get the interest of The Hero/Anti-Hero Dexter by brutally murdering people, knowing that he will not get mad about it. He puts most of his victims "on ice" and puts a dismembered doll into Dexter's fridge as a clue. It turns out both Dexter and the killer (his brother) were turned into what they are by witnessing the brutal murder of their mother and being left in the container in inch-deep blood for days. In the final episode the trope is inverted when the killer tries to kill Dexter's adoptive sister, which he thinks would reunite the brothers for good.
In the fourth season, Dexter comes home after killing the Trinity Killer only to find his wife, Rita, another victim of Arthur's. Unlike most examples, this is this, to a great extent, Dexter's own fault rather than a misfortune to turn him into a woobie. While Arthur killed her, he was only able to do so because Dexter deliberately protected him from arrest to have the satisfaction of playing with him a bit more.
In season seven, Dexter becomes the perpetrator of this trope when he kills Viktor, a Russian gangster who murdered a stripper and a police officer. Viktor was the lover of Gayngster Isaac Sirko and Isaac vows revenge. Isaac is particularly enraged by the casual way Dexter killed Viktor and then disposed of his body.
Diagnosis: Murder: This was done very frequently. Any time some relative or old friend of Dr Sloan turned up, odds were that that person would be the victim of the week (unless he/she turned out to be the villain of the week). In one episode, Dr Sloan's son-in-law was murdered offscreen and stuffed in his car. It later turned out the entire town was involved, to some degree, in the murder or the cover-up.
Subverted Trope. It looks like Adelle's going to do this to Paul's new girlfriend, Mellie, when she sends Hearns (who's also a serial rapist) to kill her. Except it turns out Mellie is a Doll programmed as an assassin, who kills Hearns instead. Sends the same message and gets rid of a rather nasty employee, too.
Elementary: Sets this up and makes it a Deconstructed Trope. Early in the series, we learn that Sherlock's dead love interest Irene was murdered by Moriarty, causing him to spiral into drugs, overdose, and land himself in rehab. In the finale, Irene is Moriarty, and was deliberately exploiting this for all it was worth. Sherlock had foiled several of her plans in London, so Moriarty became Irene and set up a Honey Trap. Then she then faked her own murder so that Sherlock's guilt would incapacitate him and distract him from her actual business. It works.
Hannibal: Beverly Katz, with insult added to injury by her being killed thanks to acting quite uncharacteristically stupid and not leaving Hannibal's house with the evidence she found while the getting was good.
Hell on Wheels: At the end of Season 2, this is the fate of Lily Bell: strangled by The Swede.
Kamen Rider Agito: Not one, but two of Ashihara's girlfriends (Risa and Aki) are killed off to provide him with angst and/or added motivation.
Kamen Rider Ryuki: Ren Akiyama's girlfriend is deliberately targeted and rendered comatose to force him into the Rider War. In the "Episode Final" movie, Miho is killed off by Shinji's evil counterpart to provoke him into existential angst.
Kamen Rider Blade: The murder of Tachibana's girlfriend gives him the drive to defeat the Peacock Undead. In addition, the murder of Haruka's husband/Amane's father drives their plot in helping Hajime discover his humanity.
Kamen Rider Kabuto: In the God Speed Love movie, an AU to the TV series, Hiyori is Kagami's wife and the impact upon him and Tendou of her death is used to kick off the climactic ending to the film.
Kamen Rider Kiva: Mio is ultimately killed off to resolve the struggle for dominance between Wataru and Taiga.
Kamen Rider Decade: Various things happen to Natsumi and/or Yuusuke solely to provoke Tsukasa into action. The death of Yuusuke's love interest Ai Yashiro spurred him on to fight as Kuuga.
The Commander Dopant tries this in Kamen Rider Double during the Accel spin-off movie; he believes that by killing Akiko, Terui will be consumed with vengeance and "cleanse" the city of its evil. However, Terui has been redeemed by Akiko's love, and defeats the Dopant instead.
Subverted Trope in Kamen Rider OOO. Shintaro Goto is able to become Kamen Rider Birth for the first time to avenge the "death" of his beloved mentor Date, but then it turns out Date was just unconscious. (Word of God had it that the original plan for the show was for Date to be killed off, so this trope would have been played straight.)
Kamen Rider Wizard: Koyomi (or rather the revived shell of Koyomi) being destroyed by Gremlin in order to take the Philosopher's Stone from within her drives Haruto's motivation and ultimately allows him to take Gremlin down.
Kamen Rider Gaim: Sid, as Kamen Rider Sigurd, deliberately kills Hase (who had turned into in an Inves) in front of Kota, who is screaming and begging for him not to because Hase is Kota's friend. Hase's death then becomes Kota's motivation to save others.
MacGyver: Early episodes would often introduce an old friend of the title character, who would be killed off in close proximity to him by the bad guys. This would set the stage for the rest of the episode, where MacGyver will then foil the greater plan that necessitated the killing. These characters were almost never mentioned or alluded to ever again.
Jane's wife and child are this. They don't even have names.
In episode 3.02 (Cackle-Bladder Blood) we find out that their names are Angela Ruskin Jane and Charlotte Anne Jane.
[Big Bad's note on Jane's bedroom door]: If you were really psychic, you wouldn't need to open this door to find out what I've done to your lovely wife and daughter....
Miami Vice: Ricardo Tubbs' love interest (and the mother of his child) Angelina. After disappearing for almost two seasons, she returns to rekindle her relationship with Tubbs - as well as introduce him to his son (which she gave birth to after he left Cuba in "Calderone's Return, Part II"). Soon after she returns, she's kidnapped by her brother (the new drug kingpin in Cuba), is tied to the steering wheel of a limousine that's rigged to blow if she escapes, and forced to watch as her child is taken from her and replaced with a fake one to fool Tubbs. Then, just as it looks like Crockett and Tubbs have defeated the Calderone's, Angelina accidentally(?) triggers the bomb in the limo, killing her and leaving Tubbs grief-stricken.
Misfits: The death of Alisha. Completely random to a Dropped A Bridge On Her degree, and solely to drive Simon to go back in time to his death. Particularly annoying as it's exactly the kind of regressive superhero comic plot cliche the show usually mocks.
Kate's death had this effect on Gibbs. Even though Ari had a bead on Gibbs, he killed one of his team instead because it would cause Gibbs more pain. He learned the hard way that you do not mess with team Gibbs.
Ari originally was going to shoot McGee, but when someone else fired at McGee Ari ended up missing; McGee went for cover and out of Ari's line of sight, so he decided to shoot Kate instead. Gibbs was never intended to be the target that time. It is later stated that Ari had researched Gibbs and deliberately went after the women Gibbs worked with to remind him of the deaths of his first wife Shannon and his daughter Kelly.
He then tries to go after Abby, barely missing (it is debatable on whether missing was intentional).
Nikita (the latest series): Another male example is Nikita's civilian boyfriend.
One West Waikiki: In one episode, a mobster's girlfriend was accidentally shot by his ex-mistress (who then got killed herself in a hit-and-run accident with an unmarked police car). Later, the mobster's henchman, trying to frighten another character into compliance, shows him the dead body of the first woman stuffed inside a refrigerator in the mobster's mansion.
Prison Break: This is a common occurrence on this FOX series. Whether it's Veronica Donovan being stuffed into multiple Hefty bags, L.J.'s mother and her husband being killed by government agents, or Sara Tancredi's head getting sent to Michael in prison, there aren't many happy endings on the series. Sara got better, though.
Revolution: In the episode "Home", Sebastian Monroe intends to do this to Emma Bennett, Miles Matheson's highschool fiance, to get to Miles. She gets killed off by the Georgian soldier Dixon in front of Miles and Monroe, traumatizing the two greatly. Miles, because he worked so hard to save her life, and Monroe, because he just found out that she gave birth to his son and she got killed off before she could tell him where the son is.
This happens to Yolande in Salamander. Secretary to an influential judge, she disturbs the hit-men sent to assassinate him. She is not only murdered, her corpse is then left in an undignified sexual position for the police to find. The photos also get leaked to a salacious newspaper.
Skins: Did this in a notable fashion in Series 4. Freddie, one of the principal characters, was brutally murdered by Effy's crazed psychiatrist John Foster, and his bloody clothes were bagged and found by best mate Cook in Foster's house. This being Cook, he did not take the news well, and his response was more than appropriate.
Vessel: Narrowly subverted with Chloe, who just had The Big Damn Kiss with Clark but was dragged away by the mob after he left to battle Zod. Many fans apparently panicked and thought she is going to be gang-raped then killed to heap more angst on Clark as well as clear the way for Lana. Thankfully, that didn't happen.
In the pilot, the killing of Jessica by the yellow-eyed demon is this all over. And their Mum. As it turns out, Azazel did this with several kids, in order to make them more likely to open a gate to Hell.
It's yet to be seen whether the revenge part is going to apply to Ellen and Jo Harvelle. Slacktivist has weighed in on the subject.
Half the male characters in Supernatural have had a woman Stuffed in the Fridge at some point. And no, Ellen and Jo didn't even come up when they finally took the devil down. But given the circumstances, this is perfectly understandable.
True Blood: Has an instance of this when Eggs is killed by Jason at the end of the second season. With very little development, Eggs seems to have been created mostly to develop Tara, and be killed later to leave her emotionally broken.
The Vampire Diaries: Julie Plec, the creator of the series, outright states that Ensemble Darkhorse character Anna was created to be killed for the sole purpose of causing Damon and Jeremy angst. As if they didn't have enough. Damon didn't even seem affected past the season finale.
Walker, Texas Ranger: Uses it that way quite often. Many episodes open off with an "old friend" showing up. By the end of the episode, you can guess they'll end up dead, and in the rare cases they don't, something bad will happen to them if they ever show up again (which is itself incredibly rare, normally they're never mentioned again). Most of these deaths take place when the friend stumbles upon the villain's plot, and get intercepted by them on the way to telling the Rangers. It also makes it seem like Walker and company are "good friends" with everyone in the city with the frequency it happens, but that's another story.
Warehouse 13: Pulls this trope at the end of season 3, when one of the characters goes undercover but is killed by the people he was infiltrating and left for the rest of the team to find, one of which was his best friend.
War of the Worlds: The opening episode of season 2 of this show. The military general who has been giving the team missions throughout the first season has been kidnapped and presumably killed by alien beings. The military lieutenant leading the main characters is kidnapped, cloned, found by his former comrade (who swears vengeance), then shoots himself in the head out of desperation to save a little girl (who is being held hostage by the clone). The wheelchair-bound tech support character is shot multiple times, then shot 'again' when he activates a panic button. And then they both get blown to bits in an exploding mansion. Only the wheelchair-bound character is ever mentioned again. Also, the brutal execution of the Advocacy (the villains from season one).
McNulty: Jesus, they must have killed this kid four or five times. Vernon Holley: Cut him in a dozen places. Burned him with cigarettes. God-damned torture-fest is what it was.
And this isn't even the full reckoning of his injuries: he's also left with only one eye, two cracked forearms and several broken fingers, according to later exposition.
Music writer Tom Ewing accused Kenny Rogers's "Coward of the County" of this.
Aleena the Cleric's fatenote Aleena appeared in a solo get-acquainted adventure in the player's guide and was murdered with a magic missile by Bargle the wizard, giving the player a reason to seek revenge. in the "red box" version of Dungeons & Dragons was some 1980s gamers' first introduction to fridge-stuffing.
A character with the Signature Move "Sacrificial Buddy" from Hong Kong Action Theatre has an Extra in every one of their movies who is a friend or relative of the role they play, whose main purpose is to get killed by the bad guys (usually in this fashion) and give the role some serious motivation for revenge.
The original Double Dragon was about Billy and Jimmy Lee's quest to save their lady-friend Marian from the clutches of the Black Warriors gang. In the sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge, the same girl is brutally gunned down by the gang's leader, leaving our heroes with the duty of avenging her death instead.
In the middle of the second act of Dragon Age II, the death of Leandra Hawke, the player character's mother.
In the Civilization 4 mod Fall from Heaven, Einion Logos' flavor text describes him returning from making a truce with the demon civilization, only to find his wife brutally murdered - a ploy by the demons to incite him into breaking the truce right out of the gate. Even worse, Word of Kael says that it was another human civ (the Amurites) that did it, not the Infernals. It only looked like the demons did it so that Einion would take the Amurites' side against the infernals.
Final Fantasy VII has Aerith. Interviews with the developers claimed that Cloud, Barrett and Aerith (the first three main characters that were created before the rest were added) were all candidates to be killed off. Since Cloud was the main character and it would be "too obvious" if it were Barrett to make the last stand, they decided to have Aerith murdered so that her death could offend players and motivate Cloud, which seemed "more natural and realistic."
Before your first mission on the Dread Isle in Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flame, Matthew's love interest Leila, whom is spying on the enemy organization is not only found dead, but is left in such a way that the main characters don't realize this and try talking to her before realizing what has happened. An interesting use in this case as Matthew is the one most affected by this rather than one of the three main characters, and asks the next mission off to pay her proper respects. You are not forced to, but conversation elements would be different based on whether you brought him along on the next mission or not, having a similar effect to Player Punch only more indirect. You can also make Matthew get support conversations with her killer Jaffar, where he brutally calls him out. With very sad results.
In the same game, Limstella, The Dragon kills whichever Reed brother you defeated by sucking the life out of him. The Reed brother you didn't fight finds their corpse and blames Eliwood and pals for killing his brother.
Anton in Guild Wars gave information to the Charr in exchange for the safety of his wife and his village. It worked out exactly like you think it did, and the quests to gain him as a hero in Eye of the North have you helping him track down the Charr he made the deal with.
Discussed in Knights of the Old Republic II. According to Atton and HK-47, Revan finds this method a preferable way to deal with Jedi. By harming a Jedi's Padawan or allies first, the Force bond can cause disturbance to the Jedi, thus it would be easier to turn the Jedi to the Dark Side.
And, sadly, the Exile herself suffers this fate in the tie-in novel Revan and the Old Republic MMO. Specifically, she was killed by Lord Scourge, and then her Force ghost stays for 300 years just to keep Revan alive.
Amie's death in the prologue of Neverwinter Nights 2 is arguably there just to piss the player character off.
The plot of the freeware platformer Ninja Senki begins with the hero's girlfriend Kinuhime killed, sending him on the path of revenge.
In the beginning of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle some goons kill Travis' best friend, Bishop Sidax, and toss his head in a paper bag through Travis' window into his bedroom.
Subverted in the cutscene before the Final Boss. Travis is presented with what appears to be the severed heads of his girlfriend Sylvia, his half-brother Henry, and fellow assassin/spurned love interest Shinobu in an attempt to demoralize him before the fight. Halfway through the first phase of the fight, Henry bursts through the window and saves Travis's life before explaining to a surprised Travis that the heads were just replicas. Sylvia makes a reappearance at the end of the fight, when she saves Travis from falling to his death in the aftermath of the struggle. Shinobu doesn't make an reappearance or get even a passing mention in the epilogue, but considering Henry's and Sylvia's deaths were faked, it's safe to assume that hers was as well.
In the first Phantasy Star game, Nero dies, which spurs Alis on her adventure to begin with. Alys' death in the fourth game is very obviously for the development of Chaz's character more than anything else, but was handled extremely well, substituting gruesome violence for a slow, suffering demise, and punctuated with a huge Tear Jerker death scene.
What's interesting about Nero's case is his brutal murder was done publicly to try to prevent anyone else from opposing Lassic.
In the second chapter of Return To Krondor, William's girlfriend Talia is lying on the floor bleeding in her father's bar. She dies surrounded by James, Jazhara and William. Apparently, Big Bad Bear raped her and then fatally wounded her.
Several examples in Saints Row 2. Firstly, your friend Carlos Lo is tied to a car and dragged across the streets at high speeds by the Brotherhood after the first two missions to punish you. The Boss, being the Villain Protagonist that they are, responds in kind by arranging the murder of Brotherhood’s leader girlfriend, Jessica. in a similarly gruesome way.
Aisha's is kil is done purely to motivate Johnny Gat and the Boss to take down the Ronin, along with starting the latter's Sanity Slippage. This is further enthasized in the third and fourth games by the Boss and Her/His Evil Twin.
The murder of Harry Mason in Silent Hill 3, motivating Heather to seek revenge against Claudia. Also done to "fill her heart with hatred" to nurture the demon god she is pregnant with. And then there's Vincent's death near the end of the game, which nearly pushes her over the edge into birthing the God.
Spirit in Wing Commander II gets a Stupid Sacrifice when her fighter is damaged and rather than eject, she kamikazes into the Heaven's Gate station. Her death is not brought up afterward, except in a passing reference by Jazz, who wanted revenge on the Tiger's Claw crew for the death of his brother, and her death seems to exist to facilitate Maverick and Angel getting together. In Wing Commander III, Angel gets killed off as soon as she's introduced, although the player doesn't learn of her death until much later, and this sets up the last mission as being one for revenge.
The tradition carries on into Wing Commander Prophecy, albeit retroactively, when Hawk reveals to Lance Casey that this happened to Iceman sometime after Wing I. Replace "fridge" with "his own jet".
In Sleeping Dogs, Wei Shen's best friend Jackie Ma is captured by the rival 18K triad and buried alive on an island off the shore. Wei hops into a boat and races to the island to find he's alive. Although he's having serious thoughts about continuing his Triad lifestyle at that point, at least he looks like he'll make it through to the ending...until the second-to-last mission where he's eviscerated and used as bait to lure Wei to his own death by Mr. Tong and Big Smile Lee. Upon his escape from his imprisonment, the Roaring Rampage of Revenge ensues for Wei.
Lampshaded in the superhero-deconstructionHeroes.inc, when a retired superhero tells his wife who was just attacked to stay 'home', because he thinks the attack was meant to get at him. His wife furiously replies that she won't be his private "Woman in the fridge".
Octopus Pie heavily exaggerates this, although non-canonically in their 2010 Halloween story arc: Greg is cut apart and his body parts self-reportedly stuffed into multiple cupboards throughout the house. Hannah eventually comes across this sight, and has such a violent physical reaction to it she ends up dying as well... It's a comedy arc.Link
Jane, a fairly minor character from Our Little Adventure was unceremoniously stuffed naked and bloody in a tree trunk by Umbria/Zaedalkaah. It would be terrible for Jason and Trevoricus if they ever found her like that.
In Broken Saints, Shandala's mother, then later, pet cat are fridged by Lear as part of his plan to drive her across the Despair Event Horizon so she can become a living component of his Kill Sat weapon system. This is an interesting case in that it involves the planning of two identically similar deaths, done several years apart, with the second death providing the victim with final push towards insanity.
In Demo Reel, the two main women are Rebecca Stone (who has a Rape as Backstory that she's dealing with) and the memory of Elissa Hoffman (Donnie's mom who committed suicide). "The Review Must Go On" ass pulls that Demo Reel was a purgatory punishment for The Nostalgia Critic, and all the characters were never-alive-to-begin-with constructs to help him along.
In the Feminist Frequency video Women in Refrigerators Anita Sarkeesian says, "Writers are using the Women in Refrigerators trope to literally trade the female characters’ life for the benefit of a male hero’s story arc. They are making clear that women, even powerful female superheroes, are basically disposable."
She also mentions its overwhelming use in video games as well, in her "Tropes vs Women - Damsel-in-Distress" series, along with it being combined with Distressed Damsel in "The Damsel in the Refrigerator".
This occurs in Survival of the Fittest with the death of Adam Dodd's girlfriend, Amanda Jones, at the hands of Cody Jenson. Arguably, it was overshadowed by the simultaneous death (and rape) of Madelaine Shirohara.
The Hangman does this to Aelia, Gaven's guide, during the Third Night of The Tale Of The Exile by yanking her up a building and strangling her while Gaven is speaking to her, solely to spook Gaven into running into a trap set by Despair.
Samantha from We're Alive is killed on the floor of the Arena by a sadistic zombie who "likes to play with his food." We never actually hear her dying but can only imagine how gruesome it was and it leaves Datu scarred from then on.
This fueled the creation of Women in Refrigerators, a protest site by comic-fan-turned-writer Gail Simone, who pointed out that these roles are not only almost always applied to female characters but to lead characters who happen to be female. A healthy amount of debate has risen up about whether the list is good evidence or not, but the meme, at least, lives on. By the way, if you an opinion on the topic, please keep it to the discussion page.
Exaggerated and parodied 3 times in The Boondocks episode "It's Goin Down". JackFlowers's 3 successive girlfriends are decapitated, pushed off a skyscraper and then exploded in midair, and tied to and fired from a cross-town rocket then blown up. All three are lampshaded, ending with "what kind of fucked up, Wile E Coyote shit is that?".
In an episode of Samurai Jack assassin robots destroy several villages and kill their inhabitants (surprisingly unsettling, considering the only onscreen victims are robots) solely to draw the title character to them. Probably the horrific brutality with which it's done, which had they been human would have bumped up the rating two or three notches.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Karai has attempted to invoke this trope several times in her attempts to hurt Splinter (whom she believes killed her mother) by targeting the guys, and hurt the guys by targeting April.
This has happened at least twice in Transformers Animated, first to Ratchet—while Arcee didn't actually die, having your memory completely wiped is still pretty bad. Next episode we find out that Optimus' friend (and Sentinel's implied girlfriend) Elita was eaten alive by giant spiders. Or so they thought. But as Blackarachnia, she fared little better, being a Faux Action Girl who wound up the Damsel in Distress every time she appeared.
In the Wakfu special "Goultard the Barbarian", the villain Katar kidnapped and murdered Goultard's wife and children just to piss him off. Katar wanted to make Goultard look like a more appetizing host for the parasitic rage eating demon inside him. It worked, but Katar only got to enjoy a few seconds of freedom before Goultard finished him off.
Beast Boy is now on the Young Justice team after getting his superhero origin last season. But the episode "Earthlings" reveals through flashbacks and dialogue that his mother, who shared his original spotlight episode, was killed in an accident that was really orchestrated by supervillains. This traumatized Beast Boy deeply. But he isan orphan in the comics, so his mom was sadly Doomed by Canon.
Aqualad has gone through a Face-Heel Turn after being driven mad by the death of his former girlfriend, Tula. This turns out to be a ruse to that Aqualad could infiltrate the enemy's cadre. Tula certainly is dead though.