Uncertain Doom

"Thráin, Thorin's father, was driven mad by grief. He went missing, taken prisoner or killed; we did not know."

As an audience, we know that a doomed character can be saved at the last minute. There's always an 11th-Hour Superpower, Deus ex Machina, or Big Damn Heroes moment to rescue them. Other times, we get an on-screen death, or even a Fate Worse Than Death. Very rarely, though, characters can be left in limbo; there's still a last minute, but we never see what happens after that.

This trope is the fate of any character who possibly didn't make it, but is never actually proven dead. This can happen at any point in a story, but happens so frequently at the end that we have tropes devoted specifically for that situation. Rule of thumb: if Uncertain Doom occurs at the ending of an entire work, it's probably a Bolivian Army Ending. If Uncertain Doom happens at the end of an installment of the work (like a novel or season), it's probably a Bolivian Army Cliffhanger.

Asking the creators for clarity usually will get you nowhere, as they often aren't entirely sure themselves. And if they do confirm the character's death, the ambiguity of this trope allows them to get away with bringing the character back anyway should they change their minds.

When the audience doesn't even know if the characters are in danger, see Chuck Cunningham Syndrome and What Happened to the Mouse?. If Fridge Logic leads fans to assume this happened to one of the good guys, it can result in an Inferred Holocaust.

A Super Trope to:

However, the last two tropes tend to resolve the uncertainty of who's actually dead and who's still alive, as long as the next installment is made.

Compare He's Just Hiding, where the character is almost definitely dead.


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     Anime And Manga  
  • Arachnid introduces the protagonist of the Caterpillar prequel midway through the story only to have her defeated from a backstab soon after. The scene plays out in such a way that the readers couldn't tell for sure if she actually died and then the story completely forgets about her. Furthermore, most of the characters are left for dead by the end of the series. Japan is put through a Zombie Apocalypse spread through rape, with the goal of depopulating the country once all the mindless infected die from starvation. Other than Gokiburi and Kabutomushi the fate of everyone else is left unknown, with a few like Dinoponera, Geji and Kamadouma having been unceremoniously infected offscreen. Even main character Alice was last seen charging alone against the zombie hordes to vent off the stress from all the trauma she endured through the story.
  • Bleach
    • Harribel gets captured when the Wandenreich invades Hueco Mundo, and is never seen again, even after they are defeated.
    • Cang Du and BG9 receive punishment from Jugram for losing in their fights. Jugram is able to No-Sell Cang's abilities and kill or at least badly injure him, but the scene cuts away before we see what happens to BG9. Neither are mentioned again following this.
    • At the end of their fight with Askin, Urahara and Yoruichi are apparently unable to escape when their opponent unleashes a final "Gift Ball" on them. While Nel is seen trying to rescue them, they are never mentioned in the ending.
  • In E's Otherwise, Kai Kudo is not seen alive or dead after the explosion in the final episode.
  • In GaoGaiGar FINAL, The entire crew, minus Mamoru and Kaido, is left in a collapsing universe, sacrificing their only (known) way out to save the kids.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 3 does this with some of the Stand users. While some are confirmed dead (including Gray Fly, Fake Capatin Tennille, Forever, Devo, J. Geil, Pet Shop, and Vanilla Ice), some are confirmed alive (Mannish Boy, Boingo and Oingo, Mariah, and Hol Horse), and there are some whose fate are uncomfirmed. Among those whose fates are uncomfirmed, there are two of them who are highly implied to be dead as they don't get up. They are Steely Dan (whose been punched even more times than Forever and did not get up) and Rubber Soul.
  • Kantai Collection: Shouhou is last seen in a great fire, with her final fate never laid out clearly.
  • Tokyo Ghoul concludes with considerable ambiguity concerning the fates of several characters. Hide is considering a missing person, and last seen with a hallucinating Kaneki who may or may not have eaten him. Aogiri has kidnapped numerous wounded Investigators and will be experimenting on them. And finally, Koma and Irimi were last seen headed to V14, where Arima later slaughters a large number of Ghouls. It is unknown whether or not they were among the dead.

  • Another Batman case, the Legends of the Dark Knight character Cavalier chooses a Bolivian Army-esque Suicide by Cop as an honorable end.
  • Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness ends with Ash escaping the zombie-infested dimension via Dr. Doom's portal only to end up in a dimension inhabited by werewolf superheroes, and the last frame is a shot of them running after him. Qualifies as a Bolivian Army Ending for Ash, but the crossover is a prequel for the entire Marvel Zombies universe.
  • Transformers Armada: Comic, The Destruction Mini-con team, who've been a thorn in Megatron's side, are absent when all the mini-cons are gathered together. When asked, Megatron says that they're "better off without them." The author, Simon Furman, mentions that Megatron strapped them to a rocket and shot them into the sun, which was an empty threat he made to Cyclonus earlier in the cartoon, leaving their fates ambiguous.
  • Hooded Justice from Watchmen simply vanished from public view. Ozymandias theorizes that the Comedian killed him, but the truth may never be known.

     Fan Fiction  
  • In A Far Green Country, chapter 12, orcs surround and trap Surad and Durus, but Elden does not see their deaths. The orcs have orders to kill, so they probably do kill Surad and Durus, but their deaths are not certain.

     Film — Animated  
  • Ramses' fate from The Prince of Egypt; the last we see of him is after his army is swept away by the waves. He survives and is stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean cursing Moses. The implication is he either eventually starved to death or was swept away by the tide.

     Film — Live-Action  
  • Alexander Nevsky does not ultimately show the fate of the German Bishop. He is last seen lying down on the ice before it breaking and drowning the Teutonic Knights. As he is not seen with the arrested leaders afterwards, it can be assumed he drowned along with the majority of the knights.
  • Alien. Brett and Dallas are taken by the eponymous monster but we never see them killed nor are their bodies ever found, except in a deleted scene. Ripley finds them - Dallas is in the process of mutating into an alien egg, and Brett has already nearly finished doing so.
  • Often played with Barnaby in the Babes in Toyland films. In the live action Disney film, he is stabbed by Tom and falls from a great height into an open toybox, from which he never emerges. The only reason this is debated is because publicity stills show him being forced into a birdcage and imprisoned in it, however, this happens in place of the stabbing in this version so it is an alternate ending. In the animated film, Barnaby Crookedman is last seen being chased by goblins as revenge for insulting their king shortly after his death.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull, is disintegrated by the tesseract's power and has his remains teleported to another dimension. Although the tesseract burning through the floor of the ship seconds later should serve as an indication to the contrary, there is much speculation that the Red Skull is still alive, and in Asgard somewhere, and will return.
  • Drive: The lead character is stabbed in the chest and nearly disemboweled by the Big Bad near the end of the film. The last time we see the Driver, he stirs (after initially appearing to be dead) and drives off, but it is left unclear whether he'll survive his injuries or not.
  • The main character of Event Horizon gets sucked into a Hell dimension along with the titular haunted spaceship.
  • The ending of Ex Machina sees Caleb trapped inside of Nathan's facility as Ava escapes without him, the ultimate test of her abilities. While the film doesn't show anything one way or the other, Caleb's hundreds of miles from help with no one coming to look for him, in a facility without any power. The most the audience gets to see is Caleb trying and failing to break down a window with a chair.
  • In Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless is impaled, and disintegrates himself with his ring. However, the final scene shows a hand picking up the ring, with an evil laugh. It is unclear whether this is Ming or someone else entirely; however, it does not look like Ming's hand.
  • Justice League: Steppenwolf's Parademons turn on and start feasting on him, but a Boom Tube teleports him and them away so he may have survived, albeit likely badly injured. That said, Darkseid tends not to take failure well.
  • Kingdom of Heaven: The Grand Master of the Templar Order, who often accompanied Raynald de Chatillon during his massacres of Muslim caravans, is last seen marching with other crusaders against Saladin and his army. Because all the crusaders start dying of thirst and exhaustion, their army is annihilated and Raynald and Guy de Lusignan are taken captive. It is unclear if the Grand Master died with crusaders, as he was not seen being taken captive as well. According to historical facts, the Grand Master was Gerard de Rideford and he did survive the battle and was simply taken prisoner.
  • Lord of the Rings does not make it clear what happens with the Watcher in the Water after it goes after the fellowship. We see that it tears down the ground, trapping the fellowship in Moria. It isn't clear if the stones crashed it to death, or if it merely stayed behind after trapping the fellowship.
    • The theatrical cut of Return of the King does not show leader of orcs, Gothmog's ultimate fate. He is last seen backing away while soldiers of Rohann approach. It is implied he is killed as they start killing orcs. Ultimately subverted when the extended edition got released and it made it clear that Gothmog died during the battle (though it was much later than theatrical version made us believe).
    • The Hobbit: Thráin, as mentioned in the page quote. Subverted in a deleted scene from The Desolation of Smaug, where we learn Thráin was captured by Sauron; Gandalf finds him shortly before he dies.
  • In Navajo Joe, the title character is shot twice by the villain, Duncan, during the final confrontation. While he does kill Duncan (with a well-timed tomahawk to the head), the last we see of Joe is him sitting on a hill, grimacing in pain and looking at all the death that's been caused in the burial ground. The final scene of the film has Estella send Joe's horse (who has returned with the missing money) back into the frontier to find him, with his final fate left ambiguous.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock deliberately leaves the ultimate fate of the missing schoolgirls and their teacher a mystery, with only few and contradictory clues. Although one of them is found bruised but alive after a week in the wild, she has no memory of what happened to her or the others.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has this with some fish crewmembers of the Flying Dutchman. While majority of the crew regains their humanity and perform Heel–Face Turn once Davy Jones is dead, there were some who fell into the Maelstrom (examples are Clanker, Hadras, and at least two others) and one (Morey) who got decapitated by Barbossa. But knowing the nature of the Flying Dutchman crew, there is a chance they survived. It should be noted though, that none of them were seen when Will Turner was being made into a new Captain.
  • Stalingrad (1993): Most of the German protagonists die, except for two soldiers who are seen surrendering to the Soviets. Their odds aren't great though. These survivors were sent to the Gulag in Siberia, and very few returned home after the war.

  • Discworld played with this in Thief of Time; on the Disc, characters know what awaits them after death. But in this story, the Glass Clock will kill you if you get near, but what will happen to you afterwards is uncertain. One of the characters gets too near...
  • In H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man, Colonel Adye is being held at gunpoint by Griffin. An attempt by Adye to grab the gun ends in either it going off or Griffin just flat out shooting him (Wells is unclear). He is described as falling down and not getting up. Kemp later tells Adye's men, "He's killed Adye. Shot him anyhow." So even Kemp, who witnessed the actual shooting, is uncertain if Adye is dead or not. He's never brought up again after this, until the epilogue involving Thomas Marvel; Adye is mentioned as having questioned him about the whereabouts of Griffin's notebooks, but Wells isn't clear if this happened before or after the shooting.
  • Shel Silverstein's Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back ends with a battle between a group of lions, led by the elderly lion who warned Lafcadio about humanity, and a group of hunters, led by the circus owner Finchfinger, who made Lafcadio a Civilized Animal. Lafcadio has an identity crisis and leaves, and the outcome of the battle is unknown. Fridge Logic dictates that at least one of the hunters had to have survived the battle in order to tell Shelby (The Narrator) what happened, since he explicitly says he never saw Lafcadio again.
  • The Silmarillion:
    • Eluréd and Elurín were abandoned in the forest. Maedhros tried to find them but couldn't. No one knows what happened to them, but since they were only about six years old their chances of survival don't look good. note 
    • Maglor and Daeron, two of the greatest Elven minstrels, independently wandered off, Walking the Earth and singing laments. It's unknown what happened to them after the First Age; neither ever appears again. Some fans conjecture that they met (and possibly got together) during their wanderings.
    • Thuringwethil is a odd case. She herself never appears; Lúthien steals her skin to follow Beren. Whether this means she's dead, or whether she's still around somewhere is uncertain.
    • Mablung, one of Thingol's captains. He may have died in when the Dwarves attacked Doriath, or he may have survived that and the Second Kinslaying only to die in the Third Kinslaying, or he may have survived all of the above; we just don't know. Even if he did survive both Kinslayings, there's a little thing called the War of Wrath ahead...
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Syrio Forel is last seen fighting a member of the Kingsguard while unarmored and having just had his wooden practice sword destroyed by his opponent. Though the rest of the people in Ned's employ are confirmed dead, there's been no mention either way on Syrio.
    • On a related note, Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories. They Never Found the Body of Daemon Targaryen leading many to speculate he survived his battle with Aemond.
    • Jon's last written scene in A Dance with Dragons closes on him fatally wounded, but didn't show him outright dead, leaving fans to wonder whether he survived or not. George R.R. Martin's vague comments and the TV adaption imply He may well have survived, making it a subversion.
  • The ultimate fate of Major Len Creighton in The Stand is never revealed. His last 'appearance' in the book is being heard over the radio talking to one of his officers as the United States starts collapsing due to the spread of The Virus. In the teleision mini-series adaptation his fate is less enigmatic as one of the soldiers at the base is obviously ill with the superflu... but even here Creighton is not sick the last time he is onscreen, raising the possibility he was one of the 0.5% immune to Captain Trips.
  • In Warrior Cats, there are a couple times when a character is mentioned as "lying motionless" during a battle, one of the most notable being Cloudtail in The Last Hope - a somewhat major character. There's also the case of the elders who stayed behind instead of going to their new home. Did they eke out a life in RiverClan territory, accept food from humans, or die from starvation or the humans' machines?
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River:
    • As the Crawfords travel down teh draining Lake Powell, they encounter a capsized boat with an empty life jacket. There is nobody to be seen and Julie is sure the boat's passengers are dead.
    • When David, Afram and Judy can no longer hold on their raft, it and the other passengers are swept off the cliff where it had stranded and down the Colorado river towards Granite Narrows where the flood has probably formed a large waterfall. Keller and the others try to control the raft for some moments more before he is thrown off in a waterfall. The text ends with a mention of how he falls into the water and loses his senses. It is later revealed that their bodies and life jackets were found beneath Granite Narrows.
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events, this is the ultimate fate of the majority of the villains; starting from the eighth book, at least one villain per book is left in a situation that makes their death likely, but unconfirmed. The exception is Big Bad Count Olaf, who explicitly dies.
    • This is also the ultimate fate of the majority of the good guys for that matter; In the Penultimate Peril, the Baudelaires set fire to the Hotel Denouement where many recurring characters stayed. The narrator mentions that he has no idea how many people died and who survived. In The End, the islanders are last seen infected by a deadly mushroom and Kit Snicket reveals that the Quagmire triplets, Hector, Captain Widdershins, Fernald and Fiona were caught by "The Great Unknown" but given its mysterious nature, it's unclear what happened to them. Finally, the Baudelaires themselves decide to leave the island with Kit's baby but Lemony Snicket lost track of them afteward and doesn't know for sure if they reached the mainland or died at sea.

     Live Action TV  
  • 24 is infamous for leaving the fate of some of its characters unanswered.
    • Lynn Kresge fell down stairs and was last seen being wheeled away in an ambulance.
    • Behrooz Ahraz was taken away by terrorists. This led to anyone who suffered a similarly ambiguous fate to be said to be "Behroozed".
    • John Keeler barely survived a plane crash.
    • Wayne Palmer collapsed due to injuries sustained after bomb blast.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Unlike his book counterpart, Prince Viserys Targaryen (who later became King Viserys II) disappeared during the Dance of the Dragons as his ship fled to the Free Cities.
    • Syrio Forel. The last we see of him is when he is about to fight Ser Meryn Trant with a broken practice sword. We hear his battle cry and the sounds of a fight before the scene cuts away. Trant appears later, unscathed, but Syrio's fate is never addressed.
  • Person of Interest. Its not certain if Reese killed Andrew Benton and Peter Arndt.
  • Rome. Pompey is murdered in front of his family. God knows what happened to them.
  • The last time Doug Murphy is seen in Scrubs is being locked in a morgue drawer. After this, he disappears and no mention is made of it.
  • Stargate Atlantis; Lt Ford, who went rogue during season two and was last seen on an exploding Wraith ship. He was never explicitly confirmed to be dead, and Shepherd even lampshades that such scenarios are survivable (with many characters on the show having survived similar incidents multiple times), but he never appeared in the series again.
  • In Supernatural, Archangel Gabriel is believed to be killed by Lucifer in "Hammer of the Gods" (S05, Ep19), but seemingly returns to aid Castiel in "Meta Fiction" (S09, Ep18). However, Castiel realizes that Gabriel is only an illusion. Castiel asks this Gabriel if he is really dead, but he only receives an eyebrow raise with a smirk as an answer. A definitive answer is finally provided in Season 11, when his death is confirmed by God.
  • The end of season two of X Company finds Mirri is acting as a sniper, picking off German soldiers from a nearby tower. The last shot of her has her facing down the barrel of a rifle, looking rather sheepish. However, since Mirri is pretty much an all around badass Action Girl, it's not unreasonable to wonder if she got away.

     Video Games  
  • In general, any game that allows the player to choose whether a character lives or dies is subject to this, if the outcome is not resolved by a sequel.
  • Call of Duty is a violent series where Anyone Can Die, which makes it all the more conspicuous when characters disappear without explanation. Weaver, Nevski, Brooks, and Crosby from the Black Ops subseries are notable examples.
  • A lot of the hunters in Evolve fall victim to this. Markov, Hank, and Val may or may not die facing the Phantom Wraith, Parnell, Sunny, Emet, and Bucket might die or remain trapped in the monsters' dimension after the final battle, and Torvald, Jack, Lazarus, Slim, and Crow never had their roles in the story finalized and may have died anywhere from their time on Shear to the final battle.
  • Volga in Hyrule Warriors. While he does collapse after his final defeat, he doesn't have a unique death cutscene like Wizzro and Cia have, nor does the game ever outright say he's dead, leaving his ultimate fate up in the air.
  • In The Legend of Spyro, at the end of Dawn of the Dragon Malefor is pulled into a crystal core by spirits of ancient dragons, and is never seen again. Then rays of light are shown shining from the core as it breaks apart. Was Malefor sealed inside the core forever or was he destroyed inside it? Or was he simply Dragged Off to Hell? No mention is given as to whether Malefor appeared or didn't appear in the book that gets a page for every dragon that dies.
  • Near the end of Sonic Forces, Eggman drags Infinite back to base and relieves him of his Phantom Ruby after he loses to the heroes for the last time, which is the last we see of him. Given the Ruby was embedded in his chest, it's unclear if removing it would kill him or not.
  • Medomai in Telepath Tactics. Emma can't find her in the end, and Tarion heavily implied he planned to kill her in an earlier scene. But they Never Found the Body, so it is possible she survived.

     Web Comics  
  • Girl Genius: Princess Zulenna. The last the reader has heard of her, Baron Wulfenbach orders her to be revived after being stabbed by Bangladesh DuPree. In-universe, that was somewhere around three years ago; out of universe, she died in August 2004. Also Agatha's father and uncle, who disappeared at separate times years before the comic starts.
  • Magick Chicks: The fates of Faith, Jacqui, and the student council are unknown following the teleportation incident, since Cerise claims to have transported them all into a volcano. Whether there's any truth to what Cerise said, or not, Tandy believes they're all dead. We do find out their fate out later: Cerise did teleport them into a live volcano. But she overdid the spell, so she also teleported a large enough chunk of the ground underneath their feet that it allowed them to escape.

     Web Original  
  • SCP Foundation: Due to the site's philosophy of "the only canon is that there is no canon", a lot of characters are subject to this trope. For example, SCP-096, a monster that kills anyone who sees its face, be it in person or in a photograph/video feed, is slated for immediate termination due to an incident wherein it escaped and destroyed a small population center. However, it is not listed as a terminated SCP, leaving its status unknown.

     Western Animation  
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender examples:
    • Because of the network the show aired on, they couldn't be as blatant as they'd have liked about Jet's death (they implied pretty heavily, though). This is referenced in the lampshade-filled episode "The Ember Island Players", when the characters see a play of their lives:
      Zuko: Did Jet just...die?
      Sokka: Y'know, it was really unclear.
    • Along the same lines are Longshot and Smellerbee, who are left alone with him. They are never seen or mentioned again after this scene (note that they are left in an enemy base). In a case of All There in the Manual, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise shows that they survived.
  • Invoked at the end of Justice League Unlimited:
    Batman: I doubt that either of themnote  died.
    Superman: We saw it this time.
    Flash: You saw it last time, too.
  • Looney Tunes: Invoked in the Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon Gee Whiz-zzzzzz; as Wile E. Coyote falls for the last time, he holds up a sign asking that the cartoon end before he hits. As the screen begins to Iris Out, he holds up a second sign saying "Thank you."
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: In the Season 3 premier, when King Sombra is shattered to pieces by Princess Cadance and the crystal ponies, a shot of his horn is seen leading many to believe that he survived and will regenerate from his horn, as he was earlier shown regenerating his horn itself when it was amputated. Though Sombra was ultimately brought back in the comics (and given a Heel–Face Turn to boot!) both fans and Word of Saint Paul tend to disagree with each other on whether this qualifies as official canon (Jim Miller says yes, Meghan McCarthy says no, and Andy Price says it's up to the viewer.). At the very least, the fact that he conceivably could be brought back means he is not Killed Off for Real.
  • Artie Ziff's ultimate fate in The Simpsons is a classic Bolivian Army Ending, extinguishing convicts' cigarettes with a spray bottle. "Somehow, I don't think we've seen the last of Artie Ziff!"....squirt, squirt..."Kids, take a last look at your Uncle Artie..."
  • South Park: The episode "Trapped In The Closet" ends with Stan, after revealing that he isn't the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard and that "Scientology is just a big, fat, global scam!" getting threatened to be sued by all of his former followers, a threat Stan proudly accepts.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Through Imperial Eyes", Lieutenant Lyste is framed as being Fulcrum by the real Reverse Mole, Agent Kallus. He is last seen being dragged away while protesting his innocence. Kallus says that treason by an Imperial officer is punishable by death. At the end of the episode, Thrawn deduces from other evidence that Kallus is actually Fulcrum, but he and Yularen keep this a secret in order to Feed the Mole, leaving the unfortunate Lyste's ultimate fate uncertain.
  • In Winx Club, three of the Season 4 antagonists, Ogron, Anagan, and Gantlos, are frozen, and then fall into a crevice. It is unclear whether they suffered a Disney Villain Death or simply remain frozen forever at the bottom of the abyss.