The pursuit of happiness is one of the fundamental activities of mankind, be it from accomplishment, family, or gainfully performing a duty or calling. This is why characters who are shown to have attained a certain amount of happiness are very sympathetic to an audience, something indispensable for an author to tell a good story. However, people who are happy don't usually go out of their way
to answer the Call to Adventure
, making their involvement in a story very difficult. The solution writers most often employ
is to kill the happy characters
That's right, in order to get The Hero to pick up the phone
, everyone they love will get killed
, or at the least kidnapped
and held hostage. This doubles as a potent force for drama (clichéd though it may be)
as the audience is shown how the hero's Dark and Troubled Past
was born. In fact, if a movie features a Crusading Widower Anti-Hero
, you can bet flashbacks will be of their happy days before their family was killed
This isn't confined to beginnings or backstories though. Any character close to achieving their goal or enjoying great happiness in the course of the story will have the writer Yank the Dog's Chain
with the Diabolus Ex Machina
This isn't to say this trope is only used to unjustly torment heroes; villains can be born from these tragedies
(or kept from a Heel-Face Turn
) in equal measure. Nor is the use of this trope a sign of poor writing
; personal tragedy
is a valid motivation for characters, as is the struggle to Earn Your Happy Ending
. Only when the story sabotages the character's dreams
to preserve Status Quo Is God
at the expense of catharsis
does this trope start to go overboard.
If several characters had this happen to them, it may result in Dysfunction Junction
. Stories with a Snicket Warning Label
outright warn readers this will happen. Retirony
happens to characters about
to become happy.
Closely related to the Rule of Drama
. See also Too Good for This Sinful Earth
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Anime and Manga
- So you've moved up the ladder in life. You have a loving foster father, and an adorable foster little sister. You steadily rise in your occupation, what's with being a phenomenally talented person. Your fiancee is the son of one of your higher-ups. The aforementioned little sister is going your path, and is an even more talented person than you. Things will be getting even better in the future, right? The answer is, unfortunately, a profoundly resounding NO, because your name is Yomi Isayama.
- In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Mami Tomoe is killed almost immediately after she finally finds contentment in her life — directly on the heels of a monologue about how wonderful she feels, in fact. It's implied that being happy indirectly caused her death — it made her reckless.
- Happens in the first episode of D.Gray-Man, a couple is literally split up in their day of their wedding, just when the women was thanking God for their happiness (and perharps Killed Mid-Sentence). It's pretty much someone giving them the finger, and the now turned Anti-Hero blames God. The show is absolutely in love with this trope. You can pretty much expect that any character who is both a) happy with his life and b) not a main character is going to either die or have someone he loves die.
- Euphie from Code Geass. She's just about ready to make peace with Zero, and he's willing to accept it. Cue in some... unfortunate incidents and she's dead and forever hated by an entire country (or more). She even dies happy thinking she did her best for the world.
- Shirley finally manages to both confess her feelings for Lelouch and have them returned. Yeah, time for Rolo to go all Yandere and kill her.
- In Blood-C, Genki Girl twins Nene and Nono are the first to die...or so it seems. When they turn up alive with everyone else late in the series, they're complete jerks and become Asshole Victims instead.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, it appears that the universe goes out of its way to horribly destroy anyone that even tries to be happier. For example, we have Kaworu Nagisa, the only person in the entirety of the series which is shown to love Shinji unconditionally. He doesn't even last the episode he appears in.
- In End of Evangelion, Asuka spends a good 10 minutes fighting off the MP-Evas, after finding a reason to live (her mother is with her and she loves her) only to have them get back up and kill her.
- Also in End of Evangelion. When Lilith begins the Instrumentality of mankind, various Rei dopplegangers take the appearance of people that each human loves (such as Misato for Makoto Hyuuga, Yui for Fuyutsuki, and Ritsuko for Maya), giving them such pleasure and happiness before destroying their AT field and reducing them to a puddle of orange goo.
- In Saikano, you know that whenever a secondary character is having a happy moment, joking and/or laughing as a break of the horrors of war, they are about to be killed in a short moment by an enemy bombing or attack.
- Medaka Box: Time will tell if it sticks but as of chapter 154, Zenkichi has been killed right after having his marriage proposal accepted by Medaka.
- Higurashi: When They Cry:
- At the beginning of every arc (from his perspective), Keiichi notes that he much prefers his new life in Hinamizawa, and is surrounded by people who all know and love him. Then someone mentions the Watanagashi festival or the murders, and it all goes downhill from there...
- Also, Rika in Dice-killing Arc. She's just defeated the "Groundhog Day" Loop that she's been trapped in for centuries, has two months of happiness... then gets hit by a truck.
- The Mothman Prophecies. John and Mary are ecstatic over their purchase of a new home, laughing on the car on the way back to it. And then disaster strikes...
- What Dreams May Come. The first ten minutes have Chris meeting his future wife, having kids, and laughing. And laughing. And laughing. And then his kids are killed offscreen, then he dies, then his wife commits suicide...
- Parodied in Hot Shots; one guy happily talking to his wife just before he went to fly. He's not only happily married to a perfect gal, but also has yet to sign his life insurance policies and he just recently discovered the secret to world peace and who really killed JFK. But he'll deal with all that stuff after this one last mission. His callsign, by the way, is "Dead Meat."
- In Serenity, the film continuation of Joss Whedon's short-lived space opera, Firefly, poor Wash gets the bridge dropped on him just as the elation of bringing the ship down safely through a shitstorm of death is dawning on him. It probably didn't help that Wash probably brought viewers more smiles than anyone else.
- Parodied in Walk Hard, where the main character's brother's every line involves mentioning how happy he is to be alive. He is immediately sliced in half in a machete battle.
- In The Great Escape, Big X comments to one of his colleagues that he's never been happier than when he was at the Stallag working on escape plans. Less than a minute later, he and all of the other recaptured prisoners present are murdered by the Gestapo.
- The Fellowship of the Ring: You live in an idyllic little town where everything is green lawns, simple folks, and blue skies. You spend your days in the woods, the hills, little rivers... When all of a sudden, your uncle disappears, his best friend tells you you have to leave your home immediately, and big scary horsemen with big scary swords stab you with a soul-stealing dagger, leaving a wound which will never heal.
- Leslie from Bridge to Terabithia. She was, in fact, inspired by a real person the author of the original book knew.
Live Action TV
- In a late episode of The Commish one of the officers was promoted to detective. Cue Car Bomb.
- Marian from Robin Hood joyfully, fiercely, blissfully shouts: "I love Robin Hood! I'm going to marry Robin Hood!” (This after years of not being able to admit her love for mostly political reasons.) A second later, the hypotenuse of their love triangle runs her through with his sword and she dies.
- Invoked in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "I, Mudd". Kirk and his crew are held captive by androids, so they all generally act like illogical fools in order to get the androids to short circuit. Scotty grabs his heart and "dies". Kirk says he died from too much happiness.
Scotty: "I cannot go on! I'm tired of happiness. I'm tired of comfort and pleasure. I'm ready! Kill me! Kill me!"
[Kirk and others mime shooting hand phasers, complete with vocalized sound-effects]
"Goodbye, cruel universe."
McCoy: "He's dead."
Android: "You...cannot have killed him. You have no weapons."
Kirk: "Scotty! Scotty's dead. He had too much happiness. Now he's happier; he's dead. We'll miss him. Let us hear it for our poor, dead friend."
[human characters all laugh]
- Everything Joss Whedon has ever written. If fans see someone happy, they know bad things are right around the corner.
- One of the cruelest examples happens in Dollhouse, right after Bennett and Topher kiss. They're both happy, he's bouncing around like a schoolgirl, she's actually smiling for once in the episode, and then Saunders shoots Bennett right as Topher walks back in the room.
- Joel Mynor has this as part of Death by Origin Story. After years of being supported by his wife he finally managed to make something that was a hit, giving him a huge paycheck. He decided to surprise his wife with it by secretly buying her a house and calling her to meet him at the address. She died in a car crash on the way. I mean... jeez.
- I'll see your Saunders and raise you Willow and Tara.
- Angel milks this for all it's worth with Cordelia and Angel at the end of Season 3. They've just independently realized they love each other! They're running (separately) to a romantic location where they can tell each other how they feel! So, naturally, one's going to ascend to the heavens, never to be seen again (sort of), and the other's going to be put in a box and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. And no, they never do express their love to each other.
- Equally, Giles and Jenny Calendar.
- Wesley and Fred too. While singing "You are my sunshine", no less.
- Xander and Anya.
- Buffy and Angel. Relatively speaking, Buffy / Riley and Willow / Oz got off pretty easy.
- Whedon embraces this trope. "Happy people make boring television."
- LOST does this to Jin and Sun. After being apart for nearly two seasons, Sun thinking Jin is dead, Sun returning to the island only for Jin to be stuck in the '70s, Jin coming back to the present only to be moved to another part of the island any time Sun might find the group he's with and they finally reunite only for both of them to die along with Sayid in the next episode.
- Joan of Arcadia featured the spunky new friend added into the second season who was quirky and happy and full of life and is then stabbed to death in an alley way for drama.
- Ianto in Torchwood. Okay, happy might not be the exact word, but he's just managed to accept his relationship with Jack, tell his sister about it, and generally not be a blob of angst in a sharp suit... And then boom, incurable alien virus.
- On Sisters, second-oldest sister Teddy was finally happy after years of trauma and preparing to buy a house with her new husband (who himself had been through years of hell), when he was killed via a Car Bomb by a crime lord he was preparing to testify against.
- In the series 3 finale of Misfits, Simon and Alisha get in a fight provoked by the ghost of Sally (who Simon killed), and who later tries to kill Alisha. Simon saves her and the two reconciled as ghost!Sally fades away and make love and... in the last five minutes of the episode, as they leave a room happy and smiling at each other, Rachel (who was killed by Nathan) appears as a ghost and kills Alisha in the spot as payback before fading away.
- The pilot episode of the 2000 remake of The Fugitive spends the first 15 minutes establishing that Richard Kimble basically had it all—a beautiful wife he adored, plans to buy a house, discussion of starting a family—before it was blown apart by his wife's murder and his subsequent wrongful conviction.
- After the crews split up in the third season of Farscape, the Crichton who went with Aeryn aboard Talyn got Harvey removed from his head, unlocked the wormhole knowledge in his brain and could now utilize it to get home, and hooked up with his Love Interest, basically accomplishing all of Crichton's goals on the show. We can't have that now, can we?
- Done on 24 with Jack Bauer and...just about any major love interest he's had on the show, as well as Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler.
- Used utterly without shame at the end of the Downton Abbey 2012 Christmas special. After Mary gives birth to her and Matthew's son, we get a few minutes of them sitting together in hospital, gushing about how happy they are and how Matthew falls more in love with her every day. Back home, the rest of the cast are discussing how far away the less certain times in their lives seem now. Then Matthew dies in a car accident in the last two minutes.
- Home and Away. All the fucking time. Then again, it is a Soap Opera.
- Game of Thrones: Robb Stark has things going exceptionally well for him at one point. He's been quite successful in his war, he just secured an alliance that would allow him a possible decisive victory, he's married and his wife is expecting. Then comes the Red Wedding. The TV adaptation played up how idyllic his life was compared to the novels.
- Spoofed wonderfully in the "Game of Thrones Ultimate Rap Battle," which depicts him as relentlessly cheerful in the face of the rest of his family's misery and incredibly Genre Blind about his inevitable downfall.
Yeah we're heading to a wedding, gonna party today,
And I'm gonna be a dad? God, everything's GREAT!
- Boardwalk Empire: Fan favorite Richard Harrow has decided to leave his past behind. He's married to a woman he loves, has adopted his late best friend's so as his own, and is set to move away from the gangster life into a comfortable life with his sister. He just needs to perform One Last Job, though...
- Heavy Rain. At the start of the game, Ethan Mars has a blissful suburban life with his wife Grace and their two sons, Jason and Shaun. Then Jason is killed in a car accident and Ethan is put in a coma for six months. There's a Time Skip to two years later when Ethan is depressed, traumatized over the accident, separated from his wife, and has a strained relationship with Shaun who barely even speaks to him.
- Max Payne pretty much says it all in the prologue to the first game. It's not to come off as a surprise, considering the opening cutscene is just after Max has completed his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
Max Payne: Life was good. The sun setting on a sweet summer's day. The smell of freshly mowed lawns, the sounds of children playing. A house across the river on the Jersey side. A beautiful wife and a baby girl. The American Dream come true ... But dreams have a nasty habit of going bad when you're not looking.
- In Mass Effect 2, Jack lampshades it if she romanced a male Shepard only to die as the second squad team leader during the suicide mission.
Jack: Too many of them... I knew I'd get hit on this job. I was too happy... too happy with you.
- Mother3 opens with Hinawa, Claus, and Lucas visiting their grandfather, happily playing with friendly dinosaurs, eating lunch, and preparing to depart for Tazmily in the afternoon. It's all downhill from there.
- Ancel in the extra Angsty Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume. Lampshaded with his Truthade profile, which notes he was doomed the moment he told his love interest there was something he wanted to ask her when he got back.
- Star Ocean is pretty fond of this: