Uncertain Doom

"Thrain, 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 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 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?.

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.


Examples:

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     Anime And Manga  

  • 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.
  • 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.

     Comics  

  • 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 1989 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 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.

     Films — Animated  

  • The Aristocats. Did Edgar suffocate or starve in that box? Did he escape from it? Or did he manage to survive the whole trip to Timbuktu?
  • In Pinocchio the last we see of Monstro is him crashing into the cliff side trying to kill Pinocchio and Geppetto with his body contorting like an accordion before the camera cuts away, leaving it uncertain whether or not he was killed by the impact or just knocked out with a big headache.
  • 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.

     Films — Live-Action  

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The main character of Event Horizon gets sucked into a Hell dimension along with the titular haunted spaceship.

     Literature  

  • 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.

     Live Action TV  

  • 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.
  • 24 is infamous for leaving the fate of some of its characters unanswered.
    • Lynn Kresge - Fell down stairs.
    • Behrooz Ahraz - Taken away by terrorists.
    • John Keeler - Plane crash.
    • Wayne Palmer - Collapsed due to injuries sustained after bomb blast.
  • 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.

     Video Games  

  • 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.
  • Defeated villains in the Mario series tend to fall off the screen, explode in a puff of smoke, explode in a multicolored flash, etc., only to appear just fine later on. Some recurring characters like Petey Piranha and King boo have "respawned" quite frequently, and Bowser himself tends to "die" occasionally, even being brought Back from the Dead onscreen by Bowser Jr. in New Super Mario Bros.. This is likely due to the Mario Franchise being a "gameplay first" series that runs on Negative Continuity.
    • The RPG spinoffs, however, tend to avert this this when it comes to the Final Bosses: Cackletta, Fawful, the Shadow Queen, Dimentio and Antasma were not only strongly implied to be killed, but also be Deader Than Dead to boot.
  • Kirby does this even more confusingly, given he eats his foes. This is most obvious with Bandanna Dee from the Revenge of the King game in Kirby Super Star Ultra: Cut him, zap him, burn him, swallow him whole and he'll still show up for the Masked Dedede fight.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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  

  • 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.
  • 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. Also Agatha's father and uncle, who disappeared at separate times years before the comic starts.

     Western Animation  

  • 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..."
  • 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."
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • 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. Though Meghan McCarthy claimed that Sombra was Killed Off for Real, Sombra was ultimately brought back anyway (and given a Heel–Face Turn to boot!)
  • 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.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/UncertainDoom