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Fate Worse Than Death / Live-Action TV

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  • 666 Park Avenue: When Gavin realizes that one of his associates has betrayed him, he traps him an endless hallway with no way out until he cracks and confesses. And then the trope is subverted when Gavin just plain kills him.
  • Alias:
    • In the Series 4 episode, "Tuesday", Sydney and her contact are captured by the people her contact is trying to betray. The leader kills the contact in front of Sydney, causing her to sarcastically ask if she should start begging for her life at this point. The villain tells her that she doesn't understand her situation; the contact was his friend, Sydney's fate will be far worse. After he knocks her out, she comes around inside a double-coffin, with her dead contact next to her. She's been buried alive in a cemetery somewhere in Cuba and, to make matters worse, the hard-drive her team has stolen from the villain is booby-trapped, locking APO down and preventing anyone from coming to rescue her... except Marshall, who has no equipment and who can barely speak Spanish.
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    • After five years of the show (seven years in-universe), Arvin Sloane finally achieves Rambaldi's end-game. He succeeds in becoming immortal, meaning absolutely nothing can now kill him. However, after an explosion is detonated, he is trapped in an underground chamber, pinned to the ground by rubble, several hundred feet underneath the earth and therefore with no hope of ever being found. It's implied that he will spend eternity trapped in that one spot, unable to move, be rescued, or to die.
  • On American Horror Story: 1984, this is the final fate of Richard Ramirez. Knowing that the Resurrective Immortality provided to him by Satan means that he'll simply come back if they kill him, the ghosts of Camp Redwood decide to hold watch over his body, and immediately kill him again each time he resurrects. Thus, the Night Stalker is condemned to being painfully killed over and over again forever.
  • Angel:
    • Wolfram & Hart's holding facility for their troublesome employees; on surface it's a banally normal suburb, but every inhabitant must every day go in the cellar of their homes to have their hearts cut out by a demon, only to forget it ever happened, except for impending sense of dread. Every day. Illyria rescues Charles Gunn from the place, and learning that somebody must always take the place of the departed, both disturbingly and awesomely forces the torturer demon himself to be that somebody. The final scene from the place shows the demon strapping himself to the table, and putting the knife to his own chest.
    • Another episode has Fred, who had been stuck in a hell dimension for five years where humans were treated like cattle, find out who sent her there. She plans to send that person to a hell dimension to suffer as revenge, rather them killing him.
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    • In "Hell Bound", the gang is plagued by a sadistic ghost named Pavayne who feeds other dead souls to hell in exchange for not going there himself; they stop him by making him corporeal again. Since they can't kill him, Angel has him locked in a box in the basement of Wolfram & Hart.
    • Wesley's ghost is still stuck working for the Senior Partners in Hell.
  • Babylon 5:
    • People who die while in the middle jump of entering either hyperspace or realspace well be trapped that way, forever dying at that one moment. Made even worse by the indications that the people this happens to might be conscious of what's happening to them.
    • Being made to be the pilot of a Shadow vessel. Body Horror aside, the experience fundamentally changes you. You're no longer the same person you were before, despite having all the same memories. This is revealed to be the explicit fate of Anna Sheridan.
      • It is implied that the actual integration with the Shadow vessel essentially kills the personality of the person integrated. Simply being prepared (by the use of implants that radically alter brain function) drives the person violently insane. And being integrated is strongly implied to be in a state of incomprehensible agony, leading to the way Shadow vessels scream constantly.
    • The Minbari regard having their souls captured by a Soul Hunter to be this, since it prevents their souls from being reborn into the next generation. The River of Souls delves deeper into this, with an entire race the Soul Hunters captured slowly going mad from their containment.
  • Being a zombie in the Being Human universe is implied to suck big time. Zombies are created under very rare circumstances; when a person dies but something blocks their transition to the afterlife, their soul will sometimes remain within their corpse. They can think and feel pain as though they were still alive, but they can 'survive' serious injuries such as having internal organs removed. When humans first encounter them, they are subjected to medical experiments, and later incinerated as a biohazard; because undeath makes them immune to anesthetics, they are fully conscious throughout the procedure. Their souls are denied passage into the afterlife until their bodies decay beyond the point of being able to sustain them, during which time they can feel their own bodies decomposing from within.
  • In Blackadder Goes Forth, Blackadder is captured by the Germans, and is visited in his cell by a German commander who threatens him with a fate worse than death... unless he attempts to escape, in which case he'll suffer a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Although Blackadder immediately thinks of the term's origin, the fate worse than death turns out to be teaching home economics at a girls school in Heidelberg. Designed to strike at the very soul of a man of honour, it doesn't have the expected effect on Blackadder. Very much a parody.
    von Richthoven: For you, as a man of honour, the hu-mil-i-ation will be unbearable.
  • Black Mirror:
    • The episode White Bear is about a woman who watched (and recorded) her boyfriend burning a kidnapped child to death. Her punishment is to relive a single day of being chased around by maniacs while recorded by hundreds of onlookers who stand around and do nothing to help. Then at the end of the day her mind is wiped and she gets to do it again, and again. Apparently the last thing she says every day is that she wants to be killed.
    • In the episode White Christmas the technology to create "Cookies" is introduced. A person can get a temporary recording device implanted that copies parts of their brain patterns and creates basically an AI copy of the original. In the episode the cookie is then forced to be a smart-home-housekeeper for the original, still living human. Unfortunately the AI doesn't think of itself as a copy, but rather the original, and refuses to work, which seems to be a common occurence. To whip it into obedience, a handler can fast forward the perceived time of the AI. In a matter of seconds, a few days to month pass for the AI, in a white void, without the ability to contact anyone or do anything. At the very end, a different Cookie-AI is virtualized in a small cabin with a christmas song playing very loud in the background. Because the handlers of this AI seem to not think of them as anything even remotely human, they set the perceived time to 1000 years a MINUTE and leave it running over christmas eve to punish it, leaving it trapped for probably over 2 million years of solitary confinement, without any way to end the suffering.
    • The episode Playtest has a goofy American globetrotter volunteering to test out an experimental video game that plugs into his brain and creates a tailor-made horror experience by placing layers on top of reality. The game malfunctions and kills him, but not before presenting him with his deepest and most personal nightmares, like making him watch his mother succumb to Alzheimer's.
    • The episode USS Callister has the Villain Protagonist Robert Daly do it to the DNA copies of his colleagues. The DNA copies, much like the Cookies above, are perfectly sentient with all the memories and experiences intact. The offences range from basically sidelining him as Number Two, one of them for telling him off politely while seeking her out, as well as revoking admin rights for 15 minutes. It's actually hinted Daly has some sort of a mental disorder, leading him to lash out in such sadistic way. Daly constructed Infinity Modded version for the sole purpose of playing around with the trapped copies in his simulated world of Space Fleet, basically a Star Trek expy. Judging by his set pieces, possibly hundreds of his colleagues are trapped in such a manner, desiring death. Later revealed that Daly is perfectly aware the clones are fully sentient, he is too sadistic to do anything about that. In his world, Daly has near-perfect control on his world, doing body modifications and set props as he wishes, causing Barbie Doll Anatomy, literally invoking And I Must Scream, as well as causing Body Horror on dissidents. He even brought a copy of his boss's kid just to break him to become his servant. The only reason he is defeated is because to maintain a so-called 'realistic' aspect to the show, he didn't make his powers (code) over the game completely absolute, only upto a certain range. And the new crewmember of the ship is a proficient hacker herself, and manages to manipulate Daly's weakness to coordinate a rescue mission in real life as well. Note that the original mission of the clones wasn't to defeat or kill Daly in any way, but to delete themselves in the update vortex before Daly finds them and tortures them like anything, as according to them, dying was much better than being Daly's guinea pigs. Speaking of which...
      • Daly himself, possibly. Depending on who you ask, his brain died the moment the Infinity Mod was completely deleted, or he died during the time spent in real lifenote , or his mind is experiencing the game shutting down forevernote , or was eventually rescued, possibly by his friends.
  • Blake's 7. In "Breakdown", Blake realises the surgeon operating on Gan is stalling for time until a Federation flotilla arrives.
    Blake: How soon can you complete [the operation]?
    Kayn: Thirty-five minutes.
    Blake: Do it in twenty.
    Kayn: (unimpressed) Or you'll kill me.
    Blake: Oh, no, no, no. In twenty-five minutes I'm returning you to your station. If you haven't completed your work—
    Kayn: Your threats don't bother me in the least, you know.
    Blake: [calmly] —I shall destroy your hands. Twenty minutes.
  • The Brady Bunch: "Kitty Karry-All is Missing". Cindy, at the time 6 years old, fears this has happened to her precious doll when it goes missing and a search for Kitty – at least two of them – is not successful. In her haste, Bobby is to blame for whatever happens to Kitty.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The only reason Angelus didn't kill Drusilla after turning her insane was because "death would be mercy."
    • The curse that gave Angel his soul - sure, they could have staked him before or after, but why do that when they can force him to live with his actions for the rest of time?
    • Did we mention at the end of Becoming 2, Angel isn't /killed/ by Buffy. He's sent bodily to Hell. Angel is not dusted during this experience. Which is why he's so feral when he finally comes back in Beauty and the Beasts. He kept his physical body the entire time he was in Acathla's Hell.
    • One mention of Faith's Watcher stops her in her tracks. Buffy asks if Kakistos killed her. Faith just stares and says, "They don't have a word for what he did to her." According to the novel Go Ask Malice, he literally ripped Faith's Watcher in half while making her watch.
  • Charmed (1998): Demons and the like come from the Underworld, but when they get vanquished, they go to the Wasteland. They lose their human forms and face being devoured by a beast under the ground. Cole - having retained his human form because he's only half-demon - kills the beast in Season 4, though.
  • In Choujin Sentai Jetman, Radiguet finally got his revenge by mentally damaging Tranza's mind. End result? Tranza stuck as a human, in a mental hospital, getting mental attacks from time to time, with Tranza shouting "No! Forgive me!" at the end of the episode.
    Radiguet: I won't kill you. You will fear my name your whole life, while living among the humans!
  • Cold Case:
    • In "A Perfect Day", a battered wife tries to leave her husband and he retaliates by killing their daughter in front of her, knowing that will hurt her far more than anything he could do to her directly.
    • There are a few cases where the detectives eventually learn that the supposed murder was actually a Mercy Kill, intended to spare the victim such a fate:
      • "The Letter": The victim, a black woman, was being gang-raped by a group of white men. Her boyfriend couldn't protect her and knew the police wouldn't do anything, so he smothered her to spare her the ordeal.
      • "Boy Crazy": the victim is placed in a mental institution to "fix" her gender non-conformity. Her best friend tries to break her out but he arrives too late, finding her broken and nearly catatonic. With what little lucidity she has left, she begs him to "set her free", and, although it breaks his heart, he does.
      • "The Good Death": The victim, who was already dying from an inoperable brain tumor, was thought to have been murdered on his deathbed by a hospice nurse/embittered wife/embittered son/jealous business partner, only for it to turn out that his wife did it out of love and at his request, because he could no longer bear the pain from his tumor.
  • CSI:
    • In "Ellie" a drugs-mule starts to feel ill and comments that he is going to die. Brass responds "it's worse, you're going to live".
    • Another episode features a legendary mob boss, who was thought dead for decades, killing his surviving enemies before he dies of a bullet lodged in his body (which everyone thought had killed him in the first place). After he's caught, the guy brags about how he's going to die yet be immortalized in legend. Then Catherine reveals that the bullet was removed with no problems (as she explains "'mob doctors' become mob doctors because they suck") and now the mob boss will spend the next estimated 20 years of life in a prison filled with criminals who don't know who he is and fade into obscurity.
  • Barnabas Collins from the soap opera Dark Shadows was turned into a vampire, which made him undead, then he had to watch his beloved little sister discover what he was and run away into a storm, which led to an illness, which led to her death; then the love of his life committed suicide in front of him so that he could not turn her into a vampire, then his father found out about his condition and stowed him in his coffin in a room of the family mansion, hoping to find a cure. Then Barnabas' mother promptly discovered the whole thing and committed suicide with poison, again, right in front of Barnabas. At the last, Barnabas begged his father to kill him, but the old man couldn't bear to do it, so instead, he just chained Barnabas inside a coffin in a hidden part of the family mausoleum, where Barnabas remained for almost 200 years.
  • In Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow"), being Press-Ganged is basically treated as a death sentence by everyone. The third episode has a deserter who describes Navy life as being like slavery and prefers being a fugitive for a capital crime than going on there. (Although the press didn't work as shown, it's true that conditions in the Royal Navy were incredibly harsh in the days of Wooden Ships and Iron Men.)
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Cybermen "reproduce" by ripping out a human's brain and central nervous system and implanting it into a mechanical body, in the process dulling their minds to remove any emotion or individual thought, and the bodies are designed to last for a very long time. Worse, they seek to inflict this on everyone because the Cybermen themselves view their state as an improvement, genuinely not understanding why anyone would refuse the process.
    • "The Enemy of the World": Would-be world dictator Ramon Salamander survives an assassination attempt. At the end of the story, he dematerialises the TARDIS with the doors open and is promptly sucked into the Time Vortex, where he presumably remains forever. He probably wishes the assassin succeeded.
    • The Doctor spares the Master this in "The Time Monster", asking Kronos to free him rather than subject him to an eternity of torment in the void the monster inhabits.
    • At the beginning of "The Ribos Operation", the Doctor asks the White Guardian what will happen to him if he refuses the commission being offered:
      White Guardian: Nothing.
      The Doctor: Nothing? You mean nothing will happen to me?
      White Guardian: Nothing at all. Ever.
    • "The Five Doctors" revolves around a Time Lord seeking the secrets of Rassilon to obtain true immortality, as opposed to the "mere" extremely long life of a Time Lord. He gets his wish, by becoming an immobile stone face. Forever.
    • "The End of the World": When Lady Cassandra, a plastic-surgery addict who is now nothing but a face on a sheet of skin attached to a Brain in a Jar, suggests to Rose that she could be "flatter", Rose immediately retorts that she'd rather die than live like Cassandra, a "bitchy trampoline".
    • "Bad Wolf": The Doctor, Rose and Jack wind up on a satellite full of deadly reality shows where the losers get disintegrated. Except that they don't … they get transmatted to the Dalek flagship to be harvested, "filleted, pulped, and sifted" for genetic material to make more Daleks. Which is even worse.
    • "Love & Monsters": The people the Abzorbaloff absorbs become talking faces somewhere on his body. Bliss gets it the worst because she's stuck on his ass.
    • "The Shakespeare Code": Bedlam Hospital, where Elizabethan London sends its mentally ill. As Shakespeare explains, fear of being sent there after his son died cured him of his grief pretty damn quick. He takes this as proof that it works, rather than that it's horrific.
    • "Gridlock": Going to the motorway. Sitting in the eternal traffic jam, going round and round year upon year upon decade, with the only interaction being with whoever you already have with you or can phone. And everyone goes to the motorway in the end.
    • "The Family of Blood": All four of the eponymous family are inflicted with a custom-made version of this trope, in the process learning why you never, ever, ever make the Doctor mad.
    • "Last of the Time Lords": The Master considers death preferable to being imprisoned by the Doctor, so he refuses to regenerate after getting shot.
    • "Planet of the Ood" has a ruthless CEO personally market the peaceful, squid-like Ood as slaves across the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire. The CEO's fate? He gets turned into one of the very creatures he's been mistreating.
    • "The Sontaran Stratagem": Sontarans consider death to have more honour than brainwashing, which is why General Staal apologizes to two UNIT soldiers who are about to be hypnotized to further the Sontarans' plot.
    • "The Poison Sky": The students of Teen Genius Luke Rattigan's "genius school" clearly consider the "utopia" he's been planning to be this, as not even his threatening them at gunpoint convinces them to sign on.
    • "Journey's End": Donna's initial departure. Because a human mind cannot handle Time Lord knowledge, she was in danger of dying. To save her, the Doctor had to erase all her memories of her travels with him, erasing all her Character Development, just as she realized she was important (and right as she saved the universe). Things get better for her, but this is one of the saddest fates for a companion ever.
    • "Flesh and Stone": Amy is forced to make her way through a forest full of Weeping Angels with her eyes closed to escape a crack in the universe. When she protests, the Doctor’s reply is: "The Angels can only kill you." If she is caught by the crack, it will erase her entire existence.
    • In "A Good Man Goes to War", it's revealed that the Sontarans punish the worst crimes against their race by forcing the perpetrators to serve as medics on the battlefield. Because the Sontarans are a Proud Warrior Race, being forced to serve the weak and injured is deemed the ultimate humiliation.
    • Speaking of subjective Fates Worse Than Death, there's the fate presented to the Saxon Master in "The Doctor Falls": that one day he will become Missy, turn good and actually help the Doctor. Faced with this, he decides to kill Missy before she can complete her redemption.
    • "The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos": The villain, Tzim-Sha (or Tim Shaw), is imprisoned for all eternity in one of his own stasis chambers while still fully conscious. What's more, the last thing he ever hears is Graham and Ryan saying "Grace" for him to dwell upon forever.
  • Emerald City has the Prison of the Abject for those who break the Wizard’s prohibition against magic. They are kept in a vast cavern inside a mountain, stuck in mud and rock, unable to move or talk. East's interaction with Dorothy and Lucas implies it's their souls that are stuck in there.
  • Despite being a lighthearted show, Eureka has Beverley Barlowe inflict a punishment like this on her boss. She traps her in a computer simulation of the Sheriff's office, all alone with no chance of escape.
  • Firefly:
    • The Reavers are probably something like this.
      Zoe: If they catch us, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skin on to their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it ...In That Order.
    • In some cases, they take one victim and let them live while forcing them to watch the atrocities they inflict on the rest. In the end, after they've witnessed such evil, they have no choice but to become it. That's how new Reavers are made.
    • In Serenity, River asks Simon to kill her, partially to protect the crew, but also because she does not want to be taken back to the Academy.
    • How the very first Reavers were created: they were the very, very small percentage of the people of the planet Miranda who had the opposite reaction to the Pax, the experimental chemical that the Alliance seeded the planet with which ended up causing nearly the entire planet to simply lie down and die.
  • Forever: After their final showdown, Henry stops himself from trying to kill Adam ("trying" is the key word, since both possess Resurrective Immortality). When Adam tries to end Henry for good using the same pistol that first made Henry immortal, Henry injects him in the neck with a syringe. The pistol fails to kill Henry for good (proving that theory false), and the last we see Adam, he's paralyzed in a hospital bed (from an embolism that Henry gave him), hooked up to a life support system, with the triumphant Henry telling him that he'll continue trying to figure out how to end their "curse".
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Cersei has Septa Unella at her mercy in the season six finale. Cersei reminds Unella that she promised her face would be the last thing Unella ever saw as payback for her torture in the previous season. Unella claims to be relieved, and says she is ready to meet the gods. Cersei then explains that Unella isn't going to die. Not today, not for quite a while. Cersei then introduces Unella to her new "god": Ser Gregor Clegane (a brutal murderer, torturer, and Serial Rapist in life and now a rotting zombie-like monster who may still have his old proclivities). Cersei then leaves and shuts the door to allow them to get acquainted, as Unella breaks down screaming in terror.
    • Tyrion implies that the Night's Watch is this, claiming that most rapists choose the dangerous process of castration rather than taking the black.
    • Beric Dondarrion, who's becoming more and more empty every time he's resurrected, tells Arya that he would not wish his fate on her father, but Arya disagrees.
    • The punishment Cersei inflicts on Ellaria Sand is being forced to watch her daughter Tyene slowly die with no way to hold or comfort her in her last hours, and then spending the rest of her natural life forced to watch Tyene's body decay.
  • When Crowley's on trial in Good Omens, he asks if his fate is going to be "eternity in the deepest pit".
  • After fleeing Gotham crime boss Fish Mooney gets introduced to Dr. Dulmacher and being trapped, agrees to work for him at which point he shows her what happens to the people who fail him. He still has use for them. Specifically at aiding his personal never-ending quest with understanding to what extent does the body determine someone's identity which she fully sees through a display of his research on a human being, who can only scream in powerless hysteria at what it has become.
  • The Handmaid's Tale:
    • Being sent to the Colonies, where people clean up toxic waste until their skin falls off from being poisoned and they finally die.
    • While her lover is executed, Ofglen survives due to her fertility. But you don't need a clitoris to get pregnant...
  • Ascertained and subsequently often subverted in Highlander. Many Immortals suffer from a Fate Worse Than Death. Others (like Duncan) want to be mortal so they can die, but continue to fight to keep their heads.
    • One Immortal was a captain marooned by his own crew on an island in a mutiny. It took years for him to be rescued, during which he had to endure the agony of starving,dying and coming back constantly.
    • A Nazi is killed by French Resistance fighters and before he can revive, he's chained up with the rest of his men and his body dumped in a river...for 40 years.
    • After getting his men killed in a charge on the last day of World War I, a mad colonel is sent to a mental institution. Thanks to some bad oversight, he spends 70 years locked up and thought a madman before escaping.
  • House:
    • In season 5, Wilson confronts House over the potential effects of his self-treatment for hallucinations, yielding the former page quote:
      Wilson: Heart attack, stroke, seizure, death, or worse.
      House: Worse? Double death?
      Wilson: You live, but you damage the only thing you care about: Your rational mind.
    • According to Cameron, "it's easier to die than to watch someone die".
    • In Season 8, Wilson thinks wasting away from cancer in a hospital or dying in an ambulance would be this.
    • A patient from Season 5 suffered from locked in syndrome-in reasonably good health, but had no control over his own body other than blinking. Doctors were mistaking him for brain-dead and thought they should pull the plug, and had no idea how to treat him even if they wanted to.
  • Happens big-time to Big Bad Blaine on the series finale of iZombie: Not only is he shoved into the bottom of a very deep well to spend the rest of his undead life, but his only companion is dim-witted ally Don E who was the one who pushed Blaine in after learning Blaine murdered the love of his life, and the only thing either has to look forward to is turning into regular zombies without any brains retain their sentience from.
  • A rather upsetting one was featured in In Living Color! where a character played by Jim Carrey was a cynical guy at a performance of a magic show. The magician, played by David Alan Grier, then brings him on stage, gives him the mind of a chicken and then keels over, dead of a heart attack. Flash forward to the present day, where the event has left the guy homeless and while he is able to think of what he wants to say, he is left unable to communicate either verbally or through writing it down since he has been left with the mind, and speech, of a chicken.
  • The characters who die from being kicked in the face in Kamen Rider are often the lucky ones:
    • In Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, when a Rider is defeated they don't die, they're vented: they disintegrate and are transported to the Advent Void- a limbo between dimensions from which there is no escape, there are no people, and- once we see the Advent Void- we see you're trapped in a small box that resembles a coffin, and you're still conscious. The Void was actually intended to keep Riders from dying so that they could heal from injuries in a safe environment, but when Master Eubulon was defeated by Xaviax prior to the series' start, injured Riders had no way of getting out of the void after being vented. Eubulon is revived late in the series and rescues everyone stuck in the void.
    • The Kamen Rider 555 novel gives one of these to Masato Kusaka, Kamen Rider Kaixa (not that he doesn't deserve it): When he tries to "claim" Mari, the subject of his Mad Love (and whom he raped), her friend/love interest Yuji hacks off Kusaka's arms and legs, but he stays alive due to the Orphnoch DNA implanted in him. Saya Kimura, in this continuity Kusaka's Stalker with a Crush, takes him in and in a very Misery fashion keeps him in the hopes that he'll grow to love her, all while he keeps repeating to himself "Mari will save me..."
    • In Kamen Rider Wizard, the title character is forced to do this to Phoenix, antagonist with Resurrective Immortality who comes back stronger every time he's killed: Haruto kicks him into the Sun, where he will continuously die and be reborn in the intense flames, but will never be powerful enough to escape its gravitational pull.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim has the Yggdrasil Corporation planning to kill six billion humans in the near future, because they only have a plan that can save one billion, and killing the rest is better than what will happen to them if they eat the fruit of the Helheim trees about to sweep over the Earth.
    • Kamen Rider Zi-O lead villain Swartz wants nothing more than to be admired and feared as king of the world, something he spent over a decade wrapping time itself into knots to achieve. Zi-O does kill Swartz by kicking him in the face, but then rewrites reality so that none of the show's events ever happened. Swartz's minions are recast in the new reality as Sougo's classmates, while Swartz himself is recast as a comic relief high school teacher, his grand ambitions reduced to a hilariously petty scale.
  • Key & Peele: Key & Peele - LMFAO's Non-Stop Party. A party that doesn't stop.
  • Kings: Silas decides to spare his gay son Jack because he's already found a better punishment for him. As Thomasina explains when she brings Jack's wife to his room: "Your father wants for you a living death. To brick you into a wall with someone who loves you, who you can't stand the sight of... until you produce an heir whom Silas will take and raise right this time." When Jack begs her for mercy, she twists the knife: it's not so bad, all he has to do is close his eyes and think of his dead lover.
  • In Lexx, this was the idea behind His Shadow's decision to turn Kai into a Divine Assassin. It is subverted since Kai regains his willpower and becomes True Companions with the rest of the main cast, though it's still somewhat bittersweet since being around living people reminds him of what he's lost.
    His Divine Shadow: This last specimen of the now extinct culture of romantic dreamers merits punishment beyond death.
  • Lost: In "Across The Sea", Jacob provides his brother with one of these when after his brother kills their Mother, Jacob shoves him into the light of the world that the brothers are tasks to protect and creates the Smoke Monster.
  • Lucifer (2016):
    • Subverted. Since there's no one in Hell to punish sinners, very nearly everything is a fate worse than death.
      Lucifer: No no no, you just let him off too easy! He doesn't need to escape it! He needs to suffer! He needs to FEEL THE PAIN!
      Chloe: Don't worry. I'm sure where he's going, the pain's coming.
      Lucifer: No, actually, it's not, and you know why? Because I'm HERE!
    • Double Subverted later. It turns out that most of Hell is of the self-inflicted variety, with the residents torturing themselves with their worst memories. The demons maintain things and Lucifer oversaw the whole system, but it still runs without him. However, it is implied several times that things are starting to fall apart without him, it's just taking a while.
  • In the Masters of Horror episode "Pick Me Up", the two rival serial killers Walker and Wheeler both leave the same victim alive, chained to a tree with barbed wire so she will die of prolongued exposure instead.
  • On The Mentalist, the Serial Killer Red John punishes self-proclaimed psychic medium Kristina Frye for trying to "read" him on live TV by abducting her and brainwashing her to believe that she's dead. She remains in a completely catatonic state unless someone performs a seance ritual to "contact" her "spirit".
  • Parodied frequently in Mystery Science Theater 3000.
    Crow: (despairing) To be dead, to be nothing... to watch Neptune Men no more...
  • In MythQuest, Alex become Váli, son of Loki. Loki was condemned to be chained to a rock underneath a snake whose venom seared his skin. His suffering was so awful that Alex decided to hold a bowl over his father to collect the venom and prevent it from causing more pain. For all eternity.
  • On NCIS, Ziva regards captivity, along with the torture and abuse it entails, as a fate worse than death. In Season 3, after recounting an incident in which one of her friends from Mossad was taken hostage and beheaded by Hamas, she tells Tony that she had decided that she would "never be taken alive". She eventually is a little over three years later.
  • Played for Laughs on Night Court. A man claiming to be from the future takes the courtroom hostage and threatens to kill Dan and two criminals. All the while, Harry tries to talk him out of it. At one point, Harry suggests offering a choice. The man does: "Death or castration?" Dan and both criminals immediately answer "Death!"
  • Once Upon a Time: Gold specifically says this when talking to Regina about what she did to Belle. He says that Regina keeping her alive so that she could be killed when it best suited Regina is a Fate Worse Than Death. He then tries to get revenge by giving her one right back.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • In "The New Breed", a man who injected himself with nanomachines to stop his cancer discovers to his horror that they involuntarily mutate the rest of his body to repair "imperfections" (e.g. a lack of gills). He tries to stab himself to death, but the machines simply repair the damage and restart his heart.
    • In "The Sentence", the scientist who designed the virtual prison that simulates years-long sentences in the span of mere minutes is charged with reckless endangerment after he fails to save an innocent man from dying since the scientist had failed to take into account the possibility of an innocent person being placed in the machine. During his trial, one of the previous test subjects acts as a witness and tearfully claims that he'd rather be dead than endure the simulation again. This testimony helps doom the scientist to twenty years in prison. Made more significant when it's revealed that the whole "sentence" was a simulation. The scientist had saved the man after all but wound up trapped in the simulation himself. His guilt over what happened to the man warped the simulation into a nightmarish ordeal. In other words, he had come to view his own creation as a Fate Worse than Death. He's naturally horrified in the end when the senator who was previously skeptical of the virtual prison decides it's a great idea after all and approves its use.
  • Power Rangers:
    • It can be assumed that being thrown into the Sea of Sorrows, which Rita planned to do to Kat for betraying her and later wanted to do to Ninjor, is something like this. (The writers seemed to assume that while they couldn't let the villain outright say they wanted to execute the hero, this was better.)
    • In Power Rangers Turbo, Divatox's mother (called "Mama-D" to her children) had access to a punishment like this called the Vortex of Eternal Doom and Sorrow; she had disposed of Divatox's father this way, and her daughter seemed to have been fine with that; when the vortex was opened (revealing ghastly moans) she claimed she could hear him.
  • Red Dwarf played this for laughs in the episode Holoship. With Rimmer planning on leaving, Lister and the Cat wanted to resurrect another dead crew member as a hologram to replace him and so started interviewing people. After finding out about how they live, one of their interviewees decided she was better off just staying dead.
  • In The River; Jonas is subjected to this after filming a native death ritual. Specifically, he is cursed to forever be hanged by the forest's vines, experiencing pain but never death.
  • The Shield: Ronnie's description of a jail term. His fears are realized when, being charged with "the last three years", he's been told Vic sold him out for an immunity deal.
  • In Smallville, Moira Sullivan slowly slips back into a permanent catatonic state in front of Clark and Chloe. She barely had any time to get to know Chloe, her daughter.
  • In Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its sequels being sent to the mines is implied to be this for the slaves. In Vengeance, Mira certainly believes this to be the case, to the point that when she's informed Naevia died on the way to the mines, she considers it a blessing. From what we see of the mines, this is true.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The system lord Ba'al once had the captured Jack O'Neill tortured to death repeatedly and then revived in the sarcophagus, only to start again the next day. Apophis was tortured the same way (possibly worse, since it was not to draw information) by Sokar. Idem for Teal'c, when a Jaffa tried to extort from him a filmed admission that Goa'ulds are true gods.
    • The Goa'uld also distorted the healing use of sarcophagus directly for the purpose of a particularly painful punishment against one of them (whose crime were too high even for Goa'uld standards). They locked up the convicted person inside a sarcophagus with a fierce alien wild beast. In that way, the Goa'uld was condemned to fight eternally against the animal since their respective injuries were constantly healed by the machine they were trapped in.
    • Anubis and Oma Desala end up locked in an eternal battle, leaving them no ability to do anything except fight to survive. The same probably applies to Adria in her struggle with Ganos Lal (aka Morgan Le Fey), as the effect of Morgan taking Adria away looked the same as Oma doing the same to Anubis.
    • The experience of being used as a host by a Goa'uld for thousands of years, a meat puppet with no control of their body whatsoever, forced to endure both the atrocities the Goa'uld commit and their Genetic Memory (filled with innumerable other atrocities), will drive humans insane. Despite this, Ba'al's host seems to be okay after being separated from the symbiote.
    • In the Season Two episode "The Gamekeeper", SG-1 is imprisoned in a virtual reality realm and forced to live the worst moments of their lives over and over again, until they eventually escape.
      • The temporal loops could also have lasted a long time if they didn't manage to talk down the archaeologist from seeking to see again his late wife.
    • Stargate Atlantis' Wraith are capable of sending people to the very brink of dying by old age... then return them to normal... then take them back to the brink... again, and again, and again.
    • Elisabeth Weir and her fellow Asurans are left to drift in the spatial void... forever.
  • Star Trek:
    • Being assimilated by the Borg and converted into one of their drones is considered this. Captain Picard explicitly says in Star Trek: First Contact that the Enterprise crew will be doing their assimilated colleagues a favor by killing them.
    • In the original series, there was the ending of "The Alternative Factor", which left the matter and anti-matter Lazaruses trapped between universes, at each other's throats for eternity. It's compounded by Fridge Logic when you realize they really just had to imprison the insane Lazarus and destroy his ship to protect the two universes.
    • An episode of Star Trek: Voyager begins with an encounter with a Q who had been condemned to be trapped in an asteroid for all eternity, and therefore sought asylum from Captain Janeway so that he could commit suicide. Court trial and Moral Dilemma ensue.
    • After Lore is first exposed as a danger, he is beamed out into open space and left there. Lore is an android with an inexhaustible energy source who could easily have remained in the vacuum of space indefinitely, while fully conscious and aware, were he not picked up by a Pakled ship two years later.
  • Supernatural's version of Hell. You're tortured, daily, in unimaginable ways, for decades on end, unless you agree to do the same to others. Dean is able to hold out for thirty years before giving in, although his dad, John, held out for one hundred years, and never gave any sign of giving in. "Stuff legends are made of," indeed.
    • To take it up a notch, the end of season five had Sam throw himself into hell's solitary confinement with vengeful archangels Fallen Angel Lucifer and Michael to lock them away so they didn't raze the world. He thought they'd get to spend eternity torturing him creatively for this, but lucked out and was freed after only a hundred and eighty years or so.
      • And it's even suggested that it might have been closer to five millennia.
    • Even people who are already demons are afraid of this. In season 5, Crowley tells Brady that Lucifer will probably kill him outright, but keep Crowley alive to be tortured forever. Later, Crowley spreads a rumor about Brady being in league with him, then announces, "Good news—you're gonna live forever."
    • In later seasons, after Crowley becomes the King of Hell, it's heavily implied that any demon crossing him meets a fate of unimaginable torment.
      Captured Demon: Now kill me. Come on, man. Better death than Crowley.
  • Tales from the Crypt:
    • "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" features an Amoral Attorney who gets tried in a nightmarish Kangaroo Court. She is eventually sentenced to death, but her public defender talks the judge into giving her public service. She is led into a room with the electric chair, which alarms her...until the defender steps forward and straps himself in. He reveals that he was once an attorney like her, until he ended up in the court. But now he's free thanks to her. After he is killed, the woman is suddenly wearing his outfit, now stuck working in the courts forever. Even better, she tells him early on "I'd rather be dead than you." He throws the line right back at her just before he's executed.
    • "Loved to Death" has essentially a Stalker with a Crush pining away for a neighbor. A Love Potion gets her interest and he's happy at first, but she becomes increasingly obsessive and clingy. However, he winds up drinking poison and dies. In the afterlife, he thinks he's going to get some peace, but then the girl shows up. She says she couldn't live without him, so she killed herself by jumping out a window, and happily announces they'll be together forever.
    • "Abra Cadaver": As revenge for a prank gone wrong, a doctor induces a heart attack in a younger jerk of a brother and injects him with an experimental drug meant to keep his brain alive. Clinically dead and unable to move, the younger brother is put through the process of being a cadaver for a medical school. Turns out to just be an elaborate prank in itself with no harm meant, as well as to show that the older brother's drug does work. However, the younger brother suffers a second heart attack and seemingly dies, but not before another injection. The younger brother's brain is still alive, as his autopsy begins. And he can feel everything!
  • Torchwood:
    • In Children of Earth, Jack got trapped in cement until he was rescued, and before that he underwent the prolonged and (judging from the screams) extremely painful process of regrowing his body after being blown up by a bomb implanted in his lower torso. Lampshaded when a witness to this resurrection comments that he'd have been better off staying dead.
    • And then there's the fate his brother, Gray, cooked up for him in "Exit Wounds": being buried alive under Cardiff for the best part of 2000 years. "Your gift of life becomes a curse" indeed.
    • "Adrift", where they introduce Flat Holm, a place for people who had been taken by the Rift and returned. Then you have Jonah, who had been trapped on a burning planet, saw the destruction of a solar system, and looked into a Dark Star, which drove him insane. Now he screams for twenty hours a day.
    • Miracle Day is based on Who Wants to Live Forever?. Nobody, no matter how badly injured, can die. This leads to a particularly disturbing scene wherein a suicide bomber's "remains" are being examined by a medical team. His body has been largely blown apart and what little is left is burned, but the guy is still alive and appears to be conscious. Even when they sever the remaining tissue connecting his head to the rest of him. Meanwhile, a sympathetic character is burned alive. If you think that's the worst way a person could die, imagine that as a way to live.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • One episode had a Nazi war criminal be tortured by the angry spirit of a Holocaust victim by experiencing the pain his victims felt before they died. He was eventually driven insane before being found by authorities, and the spirit warned that it would continue to haunt him for the rest of his life. Unlike most examples of this trope, there's no sympathy to be had for him due to the fact that everything he's experiencing is something he previously inflicted on another person, so his torment is no more than he deserves.
    • The end of the infamous "Time Enough at Last". You're the last person alive, with enough food to last you a lifetime and all the books you could ever want to read and no one will make fun of you for it. You pick up the first book... and your reading glasses fall off and break.
    • The Ironic Hell episodes. You love gambling? Great. You'll always win.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Welcome to Winfield", The Grim Reaper Griffin St. George tells the people of Winfield that his boss is not the easiest guy in the world to work for and that things can still hurt you after you're dead.
  • On The Vampire Diaries, vampires mummify when deprived of blood for an extended period of time, but until that happens they are in an extreme state of hunger and agony.


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