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Kill ’Em All in literature.


  • All Quiet on the Western Front. Almost every character dies, even including the narrator. Only two survive, Tjaden and Kropp, who is crippled.
  • In And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, everyone on the island is killed off and the culprit leaves a confession in a bottle, sends it out to sea, and commits suicide.
  • The last two books of Animorphs kill off a lot of people. The last book, The Beginning, probably kills off all of the protagonists except for Cassie. (The Animorphs are about to use their own ship as a battering ram... and then the final book ends, leaving their fates unknown.) Even if the main folks aren't dead, the body count of named characters can still make a hefty pile.
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  • Battle Royale. Everyone dying is the premise of the book. In fact, in the end, one more survives than was supposed to...
  • Glen Cook's The Black Company series does this, partly in the original trilogy's climax but primarily in the ironically titled final volume, Soldiers Live, which sees a cast of several dozen virtually wiped out. In fact, the last half of the series was spent building up the cast and carefully keeping most of them alive, which serves this trope very well when it is finally used.
  • By the end of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, every character in the posse, including the protagonist The Kid, is dead. The only exception is the worst of them, Judge Holden.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Almost the entire cast in one scene. Notably, the reader is told this well in advance.
  • The Brief History of the Dead would seem to be exempt from this, since it starts with only one character still alive. The catch is that half the book takes place in an afterlife where souls linger so long as at least one living person remembers them, so that one character is preserving her friends, her family, her colleagues, and the cashier at the grocery store where she used to shop. When she goes, they go, and there's no one left to remember her.
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  • Catch-22. The first two thirds of the book are extremely light-hearted and funny. And then they remind you that this is a war. The brilliant part though, is that their deaths happen so gradually, you don't realize just how many people have died until Yossarian tries to picture all the people he's known who're dead.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Somewhat subverted in the final Narnia book, in which nearly all the characters from our world appear, having died there in a train accident. They get a Happy Ending, while much fan consternation is caused by the fate of Susan, who is "no longer a friend of Narnia", does not appear in the book, and survives. The sole survivor is the one who, in typical plot terms, gets casually killed off.
    • Apocryphally, Neil Gaiman deals with this loose end from The Last Battle in his 2004 short story The Problem of Susan.
  • In The Cleric Quintet, the Edificant Library seems well on its way to recovering from events of the first novel when Cadderly and Danica set off on their mission. By the time they return, everyone they'd left behind has been massacred and/or become undead thanks to Rufo's death and return as a vampire, save the alchemist who'd been fired just before the bloodbath started, Cadderly's squirrel buddy Percival, and a lone priest who'd barricaded himself in his room singing holy songs for a week straight.
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  • Iain M. Banks is a big fan of this, as shown in The Culture. Both Consider Phlebas and Against a Dark Background end with just one main character alive (barely). And now Matter as well. Consider Phlebas goes further than the main characters: virtually everybody picked out of the crowd, even just as "the security guard", is killed off.
  • Todd McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern books have, thus far, featured exploding mine holds, three continent-threatening plagues (two of which infected dragons) and almost a Weyr taken out in one swoop by a bad jump between.
  • It's strongly implied at the end of Eden Green that all three main characters are about to be destroyed in a way that circumvents the needle-symbiote immortality they've spent the novel relying on.
  • The Elric Saga: The story ends with Elric destroying and re-making the universe to right the cosmic balance by using the Horn of Fate (and having to kill his best friend, Moonglum, with Stormbringer so he has the physical strength to do so), before committing suicide by killing himself with Stormbringer. Oh, and everyone whose was killed by Stormbringer — their souls were consumed by the sword, so presumably they're not re-incarnating in any particular form in this new universe.
  • The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey: Any letter in English alphabet begins the name of a child who died: "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs..." and so on.
  • The last two books in Michael Grant's Gone have an enormous body count, with over half the central cast dying, and 40% of the kids trapped in the FAYZ dead.
  • A few of the 108 heroes of Heroes of the Water Margin (or Suikoden, for those of you more familiar with the Japanese title) had already died before the end, but a huge list of them get killed off fighting another rebel group, just as the government had hoped because they feared the heroes' power. Whichever survivors that didn't scatter to the winds after that were poisoned by order of the emperor.
    • However, this is revealed to be an ending that was added later-the original ending had all 108 heroes surviving and becoming generals in the imperial army.
  • Mostly Harmless. At the end, most of the main characters throughout The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and all possible Earths are completely obliterated from all possible timelines. Permanently. (The only possible survivor is a character who stepped into a teleporter in a previous book and wasn't seen again.) And then, to make it even worse, Douglas Adams died. Adams had, before his death, adapted the novel for a radio version; he had stated some dissatisfaction with the Downer Ending and, in the radio version, it is revealed that the Babelfish can teleport its host if they're about to die. Since all the main characters are using a babelfish for translation, they survive (landing at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe).
  • Honor Harrington: This was originally supposed to be the fate of most of the main characters in At All Costs, in which even the protagonist herself was supposed to die so that her son could take up the mantle a few decades down the road. The Author decided to change that, however, when coauthor Eric Flint sped up the Mesa plot — and probably headed off what would have been the greatest fan rebellion in science fiction since Star Trek was first canceled. Effectively, like a character from the Honorverse? Too bad — there's roughly a 50% chance they'll die within a few books. Unless that character is the favorite character of David Weber's wife, i.e. James MacGuinness.
  • Averted in House of Leaves. In the photograph insert after the cover, there is a typed note in the middle of the mess, detailing the author's desire to kill off Will Navidson's children in brutal ways. "Drown them in blood" was the particular phrase.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • This is exactly the point of the Hunger Games, the novel's eponymous reality TV-show. Subverted when Katniss and Peeta attempt a double suicide with poison; to avoid this, the Capitol makes them both winners. The Capitol is not very happy about it, either.
    • Not to be outdone, the sequel Catching Fire has even more people dying. Though, subverted slightly in the end of the Quarter Quell as the six remaining victor-tributes survive the end of the book. District 12 is bombed, causing more deaths, though an estimate of survivors is not given until Mockingjay.
    • The one that really takes the crown in the trilogy is Mockingjay. Drumroll for the death toll: Finnick, Boggs, Prim, Cinna, Portia (along with the rest of Peeta's prep team), all except seven of the 41 living victors of previous Hunger Games, a random woman in the Capitol that Katniss shoots, quite a few Capitol children, Snow, Coin, all except for four other members of Katniss's team. And if you're counting when it's seen, almost 2/3 of District 12's citizens, including Madge and her family are all dead by the book's end. Really, you could tell someone who's never read the books that "Everyone dies," and you wouldn't be too far off.
  • The Icelandic Sagas pretty much all end like this. There's a family, they kill lots of people, some people get angry about this and kill them back, the next generation get angry about this and kill some more people, back and forth in a Cycle of Revenge that only ends when the saga runs out of family members to follow and someone finally is able to break the cycle, usually by dying in a lawfully fulfilling manner after everyone else with bad blood is dead.
  • In Island of the Blue Dolphins, the protagonist's entire people sailed away from her island, and the brother left behind with her is killed by wild dogs soon after. Then it's revealed that their ship sank. So even after she leaves her island, she's very, very alone. It turns out later the boat didn't sink until after it had unloaded its cargo on California. Everyone on the ship died, but it was a completely different set of people.
  • Of the six members of the eponymous Jackdaws, a World War II thriller by Ken Follett, only two survive the mission to occupied France.
  • Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom subverted it. Every character, named and unnamed, dies, except for the main character, who comes out of it with a slight change of vocation. He decides to fix things, but is unable to restore everyone, including all the Denizens, a vast majority of the named characters in the series. Further, two humans are (arguably) affected: his mother and himself, though the New Architect buds off a new Arthur.
  • In David Thewlis' novel The Late Hector Kipling, the main character's two best friends, both his parents, their dog, his girlfriend's mother and his lover all die. And that is besides the bloodbath he himself creates. Ironically, the title character's epithet of "late" does not come true, as he's about the only one who survives.
  • Laughing Winds: Set in the 1940's in Germany and told from the perspective of a 16-year-old Jewish girl in a concentration camp. Unsurprisingly given the location, the death toll is very high, and the narrator and other major characters are no safer than anyone else is at the camp.
  • In Lolita, the four main characters die off in various ways. Charlotte Haze is hit by a car, Quilty (the other pedophile in the novel) is gunned down by Humbert, Humbert dies of coronary thrombosis in prison, and Dolores, a.k.a. Lolita, dies during childbirth.
  • In The Long Walk, every contestant (save for Ray Garraty) dies during the Walk, and it looks he won't have long to live either, even though he won. It's mentioned earlier in the story that most of the previous Walks' winners died not long after due to the immense physical and psychological strain it placed on them.
  • H. P. Lovecraft never pulled this off, probably because he always presented his stories in a semi-realistic manner, so ending it with "then everybody died" when the world is, very clearly, not dead, would kinda ruin the setting. Instead he had lots of "everybody WILL die. And there's nothing we can do about it".
    • Well, he did write things like Nyarlathotep and The Doom That Came To Sarnath, which describe the sudden and mysterious fall of entire cities. Might avert the trope mainly by virtue of not having a lot of explicitly named characters, mind.
    • That, and he wrote a fair few stories in which the majority of the named characters died, like "The Call of Cthulhu", or "The Lurking Fear."
    • His short story The Temple begins with The Captain sinking the lifeboats of an enemy ship before the body of a crewman from said ship turns up on deck. Then he begins executing individual members of his crew when their superstitions get the better of them. Then at least two crewmen are killed when the engines unexpectedly explode, forcing the ship to go deeper. The six remaining crewmen are killed by the Captain for trying to start a mutiny, and then the one officer that remains is eventually Driven to Suicide. The Captain is likely to die of suffocation, as he is now trapped at the bottom of the ocean with no chance of rescue; the only reason his death isn't recorded is because he's the one telling the story.
  • A Lullaby Sinister has a very impressive body count by the end. Main character status means nothing.
  • Approximately half of the characters introduced in the first book of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series are dead by (and mostly during) book three. 75% are gone by the end of book six (including most of the Big Damn Heroes from earlier on). It's called the Malazan Book of the Fallen for a reason. However, many of those characters are either reincarnated, resurrected or continue to play an active role as ghosts.
  • In Sonya Hartnett's The Midnight Zoo it is heavily implied that the three Rom Children and all the zoo animals are dead at the end of the book. Similar to The Last Battle it seems to be a happy ending with the children and animals reaching Heaven Or...Some kind of afterlife...This is supposedly a very hopeful uplifting ending...Maybe...
  • ''Mila 18" by Leon Uris is mainly set in the Warsaw Ghetto, which was of course brutally destroyed by the Nazis and their minions. Only a couple of main characters manage to escape the slaughter, as might be expected. Many of those who died went down fighting, taking a significant number of their tormenters with them.
  • By the end of Les Misérables, only about three of the main characters are left alive.
  • Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, the final book in the original trilogy. By the end, the series' body count includes, Kelsier, Dockson, Clubs, Ore'Seur, the Lord Ruler, Tindwyl, Zane, Preservation, Elend Venture, and Vin, the main character herself. Doesn't include outright villains, such as Straff Venture or Ruin. This is a mitigated case compared to many others, based on Sazed as a god explicitly informing the survivors that he has spoken with Vin, Elend, and Kelsier in whatever spiritual form they now exist, and they're apparently happy.
  • Moby-Dick. Everyone and everything except the narrator and the whale dies. There's a reason he starts the book by saying "Call me Ishmael."
  • Paul Kearney's splendid five-book The Monarchies of God series ends with the death of every single character. Seriously, the only character who isn't expressly shown to be dead is a second-tier character who ceased being of any importance and vanished after the third volume.
  • The Nibelungenlied: None of the Burgundians who get to Etzel's court survive, tons of Etzel's men, his brother Bl�del, wife Kriemhild and son Ortlieb are killed as well, as are R�diger of Bechlaren and all his men, and all of Dietrich's retainers except Hildebrand. The only named Burgundian survivors the two queens left behind in Worms (Ute and Brunhild, although in some adaptations, notably the Fritz Lang movie, Brunhild commits suicide or dies after Siegfried's murder — having loved only him, she has no reason to go on living). And there's the (unnamed) chaplain who had to return home after Hagen unsuccessfully tried to drown him in the Danube.
  • On the Beach ends with the main characters taking Cyanide Pills to avoid succumbing to the horrible radiation poisoning that is guaranteed to kill off everyone who doesn't.
  • By the end of The Pirates Covered in Fur, all but two named characters are dead or unaccounted for.
  • In David Weber and John Ringo's Prince Roger series, they start with a full company of body guards. Throughout the four books, only 14 or so of the group are left. The planet was a great example of Everything Is Trying to Kill You.
  • Has a lampshade hung on it by Mark Twain in the afterword to Pudd'nhead Wilson, where he explains that the solution to the convoluted original plot was to drop the original characters down a well in the back yard, which only ceased when it seemed likely the well would fill up.
  • The penultimate chapter of Redshirts ends this way. The very brief final chapter then admits that the author was just kidding about that.
  • In all of Matthew Reilly's books except for Hover Car Racer, nearly all characters die except for the small main group of people. On average this leaves about 4 characters unharmed at the end of each book.
  • Remnants begins with the death of every single person on Earth except for eighty people that make it out... and then it gets worse. It's easier to list the survivors: of the thirty-something people who made it onto the Mother, the only seven survivors were Jobs, Mo'Steel, Olga, Edward, Violet, Noyze, and Roger Dodger.
  • Raymond E. Feist's The Riftwar Cycle of novels have spanned something like 200 years to date, so with a few magical exceptions every major character from the first book is now dead. However, the end of the ''Serpentwar' sub-series was notable for not only wiping out most of the then-supporting cast and a couple of leading characters in a devastating war, but also destroying the city of Krondor, where a significant amount of the action in the books had taken place. Later books took this to an insane extreme by blowing up the entire planet of Kelewan, which had seen a lot of the action take place there as well.
  • Brian Keene's Zombie Apocalypse two-parter The Rising and City of the Dead culminates with all the human characters being killed via means ranging from "self-immolation by firing a flamethrower at a gas line while surrounded" to "eaten in their sleep by zombie rats" to "killed by zombie crocodile in the sewers". On the other hand, they did get an afterlife which... well, no details beyond the presence of loved ones are actually mentioned, but given that it presumably did not feature demonic spirits reanimating the dead, it can only have been an improvement.
  • Considering his subject matter, this is not uncommon in the works of Derek Robinson, particularly in his wartime novels. Character turnover is so great that you are lucky to end a novel with two of the original cast (in works by an author who is famous for Loads and Loads of Characters).
    • A Good Clean Fight particularly, in that two of the three primary viewpoint characters die in a very abrupt manner.
  • It's not everybody in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but after the battle of Chi Bi, the fan favorites start dying off one by one. By the end of the series none of them are left and nobody cares that Sima Yi's grandson has taken over all three kingdoms.
  • Alma Alexander's The Secrets of Jin-Shei features eight main characters. Four die dramatically in quick succession toward the end of the book, and one disappears. Then comes the epilogue, where the one remaining main character muses on the deaths of the others—oh, and her husband and son are dead by then, too.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The ending is very vague, leaving the orphans marooned on an uninhabited island, with only The Beatrice Letters to suggest any of them made it back to civilization. As for the rest of the characters, anyone who didn't die can easily be presumed dead, either killed (or rescued) by the Great Unknown, the medusoid mycelium, or in the Hotel Denouement fire.
    • If the boat that left The Island successfully made it back to civilization, then it's possible that the medusoid mycelium killed everyone on the mainland.
  • Terry Brooks didn't kill off every character by the end of Wishong Of Shannara, but he came close: by the end, only Jair and Slanter were left from the Culhaven company, and Allanon had also been killed.
  • The Silerian Trilogy: Valdani resorts to this when the rebellion is growing, massacring entire villages which support rebels. After they leave, Silerians begin murdering Silerian-born Valdani en masse in revenge.
  • The Silmarillion. The whole Noldor royal family is exterminated, sans Finarfin (who never left to Beleriand) and his daughter Galadriel, who does not take part in the events of Quenta Silmarillion. Likewise, Men tend to die in The Silmarillion. A lot.
    • At the end of The Children of Húrin, main character Túrin, his sister Niënor, their mother Morwen, Túrin's best friend Beleg, romantic rival Brandir, the entire kingdom of Nargothrond, a plot-significant outlaw tribe, and several important villains are all dead. About the only significant characters to make it out alive are the (immortal) Big Bad, Húrin himself, Thingol and Melian, and Mablung- and the last four all have their days numbered. Fun times! And this story is but a mere chapter of The Silmarillion, where the surviving characters can be counted on one hand.
  • Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen, the human race is wiped out in the fictional WWIII and WWIV. The Gremlins survived by hiding underground, only to learn that they are going to cease to exist because they are created by the imagination of humans.
  • In The Stand, 99.4% of humanity is killed off in the first quarter of the book, and then most of the many, many main characters die over the course of the book, leaving two or three alive.
  • The main crisis of The Sundered is, "Who will live? Humanity, or humanity's fractured slaves?" Take a wild guess.
  • The Terror. This is a bit of a Foregone Conclusion, as the book is based on the real life Franklin Expedition, where nobody survived. Over the course of the book, the 129 men are subjected to a horrific Dwindling Party scenario. In the end, Francis Crozier and Lady Silence (who wasn't even part of the expedition in the first place) are the only survivors.
  • In Stephen King's novel The Tommyknockers, except for two kids, every character is dead by the end.
  • Trapped on Draconica: Kalak is possessed by Mordak in the climax and goes on a killing spree that wipes out most of Team Good before killing himself to stop himself. Ultimately defied, though. Erowin comes down from Heaven to personally make sure it doesn't happen.
  • Inevitably, Warhammer 40,000 literature has plenty of examples:
    • In the Horus Heresy novel Battle for the Abyss, every single character, named and unnamed, ends up dead. By Horus Heresy standards, this is a Bittersweet Ending: at least the loyalist Space Marines' Heroic Sacrifices are not in vain.
    • In Daemon World, the epilogue states that there is a legend that one of the book's characters lived. Other than that slight possibility, all the characters (named and unnamed) and the entire population of the world died — plus the world itself. An Eldar maiden world, it was Driven to Suicide because of all the horrors that had been committed on it.
    • In Angels of Darkness, the Dark Angels realize that they can remain in a hermetically sealed fortress, and so keep the virus released it from destroying the world, and die themselves because their suits won't last that long. Fearing what they might do when dying of hunger and asphyxiation, they all commit suicide together.
    • In the Grey Knights novel Hammer of Daemons, Alaric himself survives. Also some low-level unnamed Mooks, and two Grey Knights who weren't captured in the opening chapter. Other than that, every named character and large chunks of the unnamed masses die.
    • The Gaunt's Ghosts novels inevitably go this way. The author started killing off major characters in book 5 (of 14, with no ending in sight), hasn't stopped since, and explicitly stated that he's going to continue writing for the series until people lose interest in them or there is no-one left to write about.
    • In Legion of the Dammned all but one of the defenders die fighting the invading Blood Crusade. This Heroic Sacrifice causes a legion of vengeful ghosts to rise up and wipe out the Blood Crusade army. Subverted in the end when the relief force arrives and discovers that the women and children survived by hiding in the graves. The Space Marines and the local defense force deliberately sacrificed themselves so the Blood Crusade army would assume that it killed everyone on the planet and move on before discovering the women and children.
    • The grand finale of the Soul Drinkers hexology has the titular Astartes chapter reduced to three men, all seriously wounded. They choose to march into a closing warp portal to face death on their own terms rather than staying in the corrupt Imperium, which has tried to kill them numerous times for calling it out on its hypocrisies.
  • Werther Has Already Been Written (1979) by famous Soviet writer Valentin Kataev, a novel about Cheka terror in Odessa in 1921. By the end, all significant characters, good or evil, are dead. A few who survived the main storyline are killed in a flashforwards. And the most of unsignificant characters dies, too.
  • In Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy, any character with a name had a fifty-fifty chance of making it out of book 3 alive. There were more deaths than in the previous two books combined—and the second book took place during a war.
  • Wuthering Heights. Out of the two families, 11 people die, leaving just one of each.


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