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Death Flag

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Once triggered, it's only a matter of time before someone dies.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
myblackcat on Aug 14th 2010 at 1:12:38 AM
Last Edited By:
Arivne on Jan 5th 2019 at 11:22:48 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Needs More Examples, Needs More Potential Conditions For Death

Previously named Instant Death Condition.

In most fiction works, there's a few situations that are widely accepted to be deadly, as long as there's a certain set of conditions that are met. In pure modus ponens fashion, if condition A happens and condition B happens, then condition Death is sure to occur, triggering an Event Flag. For example, say that there is a Mook in a warfare setting. This Mook fights the heroes in tight formation with other fellow Mooks, and wields a flamethrower. This flamethrower is fueled by a large gas canister strapped to his back. Guess what happens.

In many works, condition A is an emotional moment that foreshadows a character death in a subtle way, while condition B is the character walking into a dangerous situation. In some cases, a character death might be teased often before over and over by many omens and near-death experiences. Often, the death becomes inevitable to the emotional arc of a story well before the character walks into the final deadly situation.

Of course, there are many more possibilities, including, but not limited to:

  1. Standing too near of a ledge towering over a Bottomless Pit on which one could fall very easily.
  2. Standing dangerously near an easily breakable wall to outer space in a spaceship.
  3. Being present in a laboratory where experiments are being made on weird creatures in easily breakable test tubes.
  4. Discovering an Incredibly Obvious Bomb within only a few seconds of its detonation.
  5. Walking in the proximity of a fence with a large "High Voltage" warning and/or with a huge power transformer in sight. (Unless you are a 10 year old kiddo named Tim.)
  6. In a horror setting, getting inside a car alone, without checking the back seat.
  7. For that matter, just going on your own in a horror setting.
  8. Showing your comrades a picture of your sweetheart at home and telling them you're going to marry her after the war ends.

In audiovisual works such as film, expect a dramatic camera shot of the character getting close to the primary cause of its death, to make sure the audience gets the "This dude is so dead" message. In case the character realises about his impending demise, take for granted that his astonishment will be clearly displayed.

Forming part of the main cast is a usual exemption of this trope, unless, of course, Anyone Can Die. (Or the character needs to be portrayed as having an stupid death.)

Think of it as an Event Flag that triggers a visit from the Reaper. Compare Sorting Algorithm of Deadness, which establishes death conditions based on the character itself, rather than the context. Contrast Instant-Win Condition, when the conditions trigger victory rather than death.

Rolling Updates... well sort of.

Since this is a Death Trope, please expect unmarked spoilers ahead.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • The aforementioned flamethrower condition occurs in Black Lagoon; Claude Weaver is a professional killer who specializes in flamethrowers, and is the only hitman who ends up dead in the Carnival of Killers episode.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Mami confesses to Madoka how afraid she is in being a Puella Magi and how it made her feel so alone. Madoka then comforts Mami, saying she would stay by her side. Feeling relieved and empowered that she finally has someone she can trust after being alone for so long, she heads off to fight the witch. Sadly, due to Madoka setting of Mami's death flag, she dies soon after by having her head chewed off.

Film - Live Action

  • Pretty much everyone who gets near the water in Jaws is asking for it.
  • In the Film of the Book of The World According to Garp there is a subtle foreshadowing of Walt's death that becomes more obvious as the story progresses. The audience begins to associate him with death before long he dies. Walt is continually obsessed with and afraid of death. In the film version, there is a shot where it cuts from Walt sleeping to the Death costume. This scene makes it emotionally apparent that Walt will die. If that slips past the notice of the audience, his grandmother telling him he'll be old someday is a huge, red Death Flag.

Video Games

Feedback: 50 replies

Aug 12th 2010 at 2:45:33 PM

This is completely different from Chunky Salsa Rule, it's more of a Supertrope for certain tropes that result in people's death, like Retirony, Fatal Family Photo, Death By Sex, etc, etc.

Aug 12th 2010 at 2:52:53 PM

The Japanese seems to like calling this Shibou Flag, or death flag. An Event Flag that triggers a death, in other words.

The current name could probably be confused with Sudden Death.

Aug 13th 2010 at 12:46:29 PM

See also Genre Blindness and, especially, Tempting Fate.

Sometimes tempting fate can get downright lethal. For example, that guy in every horror movie who tells his friends "I'll be right back" is most assuredly not going to be back. Or that guy in every war movie who shows that picture of his family to the others and expresses his hope to get through this and make it back home to them, which all but ensures that he will not make it. Or that veteran cop in every action movie who's just several days away from retirement, and thus doomed to be gunned down in his final case. ~Finagle's Law~ can be a bitch.

Still Needs A Better Title: Death Flag only makes sense when you already know what an Event Flag is -- we need a title that is intuitive enough to stand by itself.

Aug 14th 2010 at 10:25:24 PM

I like this idea, but maybe it would function better as an index of Death Flags.

Aug 15th 2010 at 10:31:48 AM

Yeah, I agree it'd work better as an index.

Sep 10th 2010 at 1:38:21 PM

Punt And Dennis discussed this at length in their "Spot The Stiff" bit, particularly in regard to Casualty.

Mar 5th 2011 at 10:38:05 AM

Also see No OSHA Compliance . Also, the mass effect example is not a Hannibal Lecture.

Nov 26th 2013 at 8:54:52 AM

Other common Death Flags:

  • Announcing what you plan to do after the war ends.
  • A parent asking someone to look after their child(ren) should anything happen to them.

Nov 27th 2013 at 9:02:53 PM

The Young Gun or the Kid Samurai tells his mentor how proud he's going to make him. Or more generally, expressing a desire to show off.

Nov 27th 2013 at 10:09:05 PM

Would the idea that if a katana is unsheathed, it must draw blood, count?

Nov 28th 2013 at 4:08:58 AM

uh, Death Flag already redirects to Event Flag. that said, anyone who isn't familiar with "flag" as a trigger will have a different term for it.

Death Triggering Event?

Nov 28th 2013 at 6:08:03 AM

Compare Doom Magnet, Cartwright Curse and Stuffed Into The Fridge, in which being close to a particular character (usually the male protagonist) is itself a sign of imminent death.

Those looking to avoid Death Flags should see How To Cheat Death and the more specific How To Survive A War Movie.

Nov 28th 2013 at 8:05:57 AM

Tempting The Reaper seems good to me. And as this is a Death Trope, no spoiler tags, please.

Literature:

  • In The Better Part of Valor, the Marines investigating the mystery starship dubbed Big Yellow predict that the big, sweet, not-too-bright one named Guimond will be the first to die, and then they'll have to go off and "win one for poor Guimond". He is.

Nov 28th 2013 at 8:10:01 AM

^^ Wait, how is this different from How To Kill A Character? Aside from the fact that it has a bunch of joke-y examples like "hire X creator", it lists pretty much everything that we've discussed here.

Nov 28th 2013 at 8:58:00 AM

i agree with the suggestion to make this an index (if this ends up being a trope it will probably have more subtropes than examples.)and have an idea for a title if that happens: This Index Is Going To Die.

Mar 5th 2014 at 3:38:37 PM

This is always found in Akame Ga Kiru

Mar 5th 2014 at 3:44:06 PM

You know, we have a trope for the "flamethrower condition" mentioned in the draft: Flamethrower Backfire.

Apr 10th 2014 at 6:30:25 AM

"Retirony" is a subtrope (commenting on being one week from retirement or showing your fiancee's photo to your comrades is the penultimate Death Flag.)

Good trope but needs some editing. For starters, merely doing something that can get you killed like leaning out over a precipice or jggling with hand grenades is NOT a Death Flag (just regular stupidity). A proper Death Flag is an intentionally added extra moment that foreshadows the (possible) death of a character (see "Foreshadowing" - "Death Flag" may indeed be a "Foreshadowing" subtrope).

Feb 22nd 2017 at 1:48:29 PM

Unlaunching this. Please do not launch without addressing objections raised above.

Apr 17th 2017 at 3:31:38 PM

I think Death Flag should redirect to How to Kill a Character

Apr 20th 2017 at 10:54:22 AM

Video Games:

Jul 29th 2017 at 2:54:08 AM

Example

  • In the film 300, when Xerxes messenger is negotiating when leonidas he says "No man threatens a messenger" while standing next to a very deep well.

Aug 1st 2017 at 11:14:51 AM

Exaggerated in The Simpsons episode "Saturdays of Thunder", where a character in a Show Within A Show claims he's two days away from retirement, and he's looking forward to his daughter's college graduation, as well as fulfilling his lifelong dream of sailing around the world with his wife, even showing a photo of his wife and their boat, christened "The Live-4-Ever". He is gunned down soon after.

Aug 1st 2017 at 8:25:39 AM

Dawn Of War: In Chaos Rising, one character will fall to Chaos, it's up to the player to determine which one by managing the party's Karma Meter (if the player keeps everyone free of the taint, your Mission Control falls instead) before the cutscene revealing the traitor plays (the following mission is to kill the traitor).

Aug 14th 2017 at 6:42:19 PM

I don't think redirecting to How To Kill A Character works, I agree it'd be better to make it a subindex of Death Tropes and list stuff like Retirony, Fatal Family Photo, Flamethrower Backfire, Sorting Algorithm Of Mortality, Tempting Fate, Incurable Cough Of Death, etc. And having it redirect to Event Flag doesn't work because that page describes a completely different trope.

Aug 16th 2017 at 8:42:30 AM

  • Subverted in Yuki Yuna Is A Hero. Despite the tarot card death flags in an early episode, no one dies. They can't die.

May 11th 2018 at 3:42:51 PM

^ - So just rip those examples out and put them here, and use this to test what happens if you launch something with the same name as a existing page?

From Subverted Trope:

  • "A Wonderful Flag-less World" is a song about subverting tropes, and whether constantly subverting every trope makes for an interesting story or not.

It's basically Death Flag subversion:

Lyrics

May 11th 2018 at 4:00:46 PM

  • New Dangan Ronpa V 3 In chapter 4 Monotaro starts spewing lines that Monophanie identifies as death flags. Several times in the same conversation even.

May 11th 2018 at 5:21:54 PM

More like, edit/delete the Death Flag redirect out, if possible.

I agree that this shouldn't be the same as How To Kill A Character; they don't always involve flags.

May 11th 2018 at 9:56:13 PM

  • Changed * to # to auto-number a list.
  • Added "unmarked spoilers ahead" warning and removed spoiler markup.
  • Examples section

Oct 8th 2018 at 1:08:18 PM

  • Danganronpa has many death flags.
    • Being the Gentle Giant: You will die at Chapter 4. However..having the closest bond with the Gentle Giant guarantees your survival. See Aoi, Akane, and Himeko.
    • Getting a disproportiante amount of screen time during a chapter: You’re dead by the end of the chapter. However..getting consistently good screen time drastically increases your chances of survival.
    • Non Standard Character Design: You’re dead by Chapter 3, like Hifumi, Teruteru, Ryoma.
    • Sitting next to the protagonist in the class trials: You’re dead. However...sitting 5 to the right, 2 to the right, and 4 to the left give you a good chance of survival, as per Byagugya, Toko, Sonia, Soda, Ayane, Maki, and Himeko.
    • Sitting in front of Monokuma: Not only are you dead, you’re also likely the Big Bad as per Junko and Tsumugi.

Nov 14th 2018 at 4:35:44 PM

Red Shirts for Star Trek ? Perhaps, or just being the unnamed/newly introduced character going on the mission of the week.

Jan 5th 2019 at 11:22:48 AM

Whenever a side character suddenly gets a backstory chapter or episode in manga/anime you know their death flag has probably been raised.

Also usually whenever an ally of the main cast, whenever they have some very happy moment with their loved ones you know it's probably going to happen. Any time a happy moment is had in a show filled with drama, it's usually followed by something worse happening to the character.

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