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As an audience, we know that a doomed character can be saved at the last minute. There's always an Eleventh 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 probably
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
When the audience doesn't even know if the characters are in danger, see Chuck Cunningham Syndrome
and What Happened to the Mouse?
A Super Trope
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.
Anime & Manga
- 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.
- Another Batman case, the Legends of the Dark Knight character Cavalier chooses a Bolivian Army-esque Suicide by Cop as an honorable end.
- Transformers Armada: Comic, The Destruction Mini-con team, who've been a thorn in Megatrons 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- A Game of Thrones. 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- The Mario series is full of them, though mostly this is from the point of view of some of the fans. Common death scenes for enemies is to fall off the screen or explode in a puff of smoke. But because many of Bowser's minions return after they explode, this leaves it unclear to many as to whether or not they did die. This is especially apparent in the Mario & Luigi series because defeated bosses explode at the end of the battle, leaving many to believe that any villain who exploded automatically survived (what is often overlooked is that the explosions that some bosses survive are only in battle mode, and the explosion only counts as death if they explode outside battle mode). It could be argued that any villains in the Koopa Troop can be revived, since Bowser Jr. revives Bowser onscreen in New Super Mario Bros.. Examples include Tatanga in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, Smithy and his minions Mack, Bowyer, and Yaridovich in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (on account of appearing in the parade, which is considered non-canon), Goomba King (sent falling into a chasm), the Koopa Bros. (beaten by Jr. Troopa and vanish), many of the Super Mario Galaxy bosses, and many of the above-mentioned Mario & Luigi bosses, including Princess Shroob and Elder Princess Shroob.
- There are a few in the Sonic games as well. When Shadow defeats Black Doom in Shadow the Hedgehog, he is last shown expressing shock and claiming to be immortal before he falls. He is never seen again in the series and is presumed dead, but some have questioned this.
- Metal Sonic finally meets his demise in Sonic Generations... or so we are led to believe. His reappearance in the white space and (possibly non-canon) rematch line has convinced many that he is still alive.
- In Sonic Lost World, when the Deadly Six are defeated, Zazz, Zomom, Master Zik, and Zeena explode in a puff of smoke, and Zor and Zavok fall into the lava. This, as well as it being their final appearance, strongly suggests that they died, but Eggman making plans to control the Deadly Six again has suggested to some fans that they are still alive, although it could be that he either didn't know of their demise or wasn't in his right mind after taking a beating from Sonic. Some would suggest that the first four Zeti teleported, and that Zeti can survive lava; however, the former can be countered by them never showing any teleportation ability and this being the first time they "explode", and the latter can be countered by Zor's final words about "long(ing) for death's cold embrace". Zor atleast was Killed Off for Real.
- 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.
- Artie Ziff's ultimate fate in The Simpsons is a classic Bolivian Army Ending. "Somehow, I don't think we've seen the last of Artie Ziff!"....squirt, squirt..."Kids, take a last look at your Uncle Artie..."
- Played for laughs and lampshaded 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."
- 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.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender examples:
- American Dad!: Played with. Steve and his friends are trapped by an angry mob in a van. "We're going to die," they say, "but at least we can take a few of them with us." They leap out of the van and the image freezes. The noise, however, continues, with blows landing and a cry of "We're not taking any of them with us!"
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In the Season 2 finale, Queen Chrysalis and her changeling army are sent flying over the edge of Canterlot, basically over a mountain, by Shining Armor and Princess Cadance, the force of their attack leaving Chrysalis flailing helplessly unable to use her wings. Due to love for the character, her fall being a Shout-Out to Team Rocket from Pokemon, and speculation that she might have used her wings, however, so many fans believe she survived that "Is Chrysalis dead" posts are rare. And she is shown to survive in the comics, although many take them as non-canon, leaving her final fate in the show up for debate.
- Subverted with King Sombra 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. Meghan McCarthy, however, confirmed that Sombra was Killed Off for Real.
- 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.