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Animate Dead

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"Awake O Dead, for there can be no rest for ye beneath the earth. Let the splintered bones burrow from the grave pall. Let cold fingers grip time-worn blades, and unseeing eyes survey the fields of slaughter. For your time has come once more. And the dead shall walk."

The undead make great minions. But where are you gonna get your hands on a bunch of Skeletons or zombies? Why not go look up Animate Dead in your Tome of Eldritch Lore (it should be in chapter one, part II, "Exercises for the Aspiring Necromancer", just after "Applied Demonology"), proceed to your local graveyard, and give it a try? So long as you have enough mana, you can do this all night! Of course, easy come, easy go. Chances are that your new minions are low-durability and may even have a short lifespan. Good thing you can just raise the corpses of your slain foes, right?

If you lack the necessary skills, of course, you can always employ someone else to handle the casting for you. But watch out for your opponents to figure out what you're up to ó if the caster goes down, there's a good chance the entire army will crumble into dust on the spot (invoking Shoot the Mage First and Straight for the Commander).

In short, when a spellcaster of some sort has a spell to create an undead minion out of a corpse (of whatever degree of freshness), that spell is some variety of Animate Dead. The usual output is a skeleton or zombie, though a mummy is another possible result if the corpse in question was embalmed.

Incidentally, this is how traditional ("Type V") zombies are made ó a voodoo bokor revives a dead person, who is then under their control.

See also Necromancer, Cavalry of the Dead, Night of the Living Mooks, Raising the Steaks. Contrasts Revive Kills Zombie and Turn Undead. Not to be confused with Praise Dead.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: Captain Commander Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto's Bankai can, among other things, bring back the corpses of everyone he has ever killed to fight under his command.
  • Inuyasha: Kagura can use her fan to control corpses.
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Devil Gundam can use its nanomachines to animate corpses, turning them into zombies to pilot Death Army mobile suit.
  • In Naruto, Orochimaru, The Second Hokage, and Kabuto can all reanimate the dead with the same jutsu, with Kabuto performing the largest scale resurrection seen in the series.
  • One Piece: Done by Gekko Moria, who can reanimate zombies by putting shadows of living people inside corpses.
  • Overlord (2012):
    • This is Ainz' bread-and-butter spell as an obscenely overpowered lich. He can bring back the dead as Death Knights, ten-foot-tall armored skeletons that can create their own zombie minions or as powerful Elder Liches. In fact, he actually has to stop making them after a while because there's simply no point (and no room).
    • The Empire is experimenting with Undead Laborers to free up more men for the defense of the realm, and keep a Death Knight chained beneath a dungeon in the hopes of one day submitting it to The Archmage's will. The indifferent ease with which Ainz controls his minions (he brings half a thousand of them mounted on city-destroying monsters, as an escort) is a major factor in causing said Archmage to defect to Nazarick.
    • Undead rise up naturally in places where dead bodies abound. The Katze Plains is a well-known adventurer questing ground because of the undead that regularly spawn there because it's been the location for the yearly battle between the Kingdom and the Empire for such a long time.
  • The antagonist of Spirit Circle, Fortuna, is able to reanimate the bodies of the dead once he masters spiritual manipulation. He takes over one of the capital cities of his era with the entire population turned undead, all of them serving as his slaves or soldiers.

    Card Games 

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

  • Lone Wolf:
    • In book 6, The Kingdoms of Terror, evil lordling Roark calls upon Demonlord Tagazin to animate the dead of a nearby cemetery, and sics them on Lone Wolf. His control is lacking, however, and as the hero dispatches the summoned undead, some others start attacking Roark's men, forcing him to flee.
    • In book 17, The Deathlord of Ixia, after a Mega-Maw Maneuver, Lone Wolf can observe an undead necromancer animating into zombies the slaughtered equipage of Red Shirts that were accompanying him.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Black Cauldron: The reason the Horned King seeks the eponymous Cauldron is because it's a magical Artifact of Doom which can create an undead skeletal army known as the Cauldron-Born under the summoner's control, which he aims to use to conquer the world.
  • Wendell & Wild: The titular demonic duo discover their fatherís hair cream has the power to raise the dead and travel to the land of the living to start a business of raising dead humans to fund their dream of building a theme park.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Army of Darkness: Subversion: the titular army of undead is accidentally spawned when Ash screws up the pronunciation of a spell that renders the Tome of Eldritch Lore safe to handle.
  • Jason and the Argonauts: The Final Battle has King Aeetes summoning the skeletons of all the people killed by the Hydra, and setting them upon the Argonauts. Fittingly for undead mooks, the skeletons seem to be rather poor fighters, but there's a lot of them, and they just keep coming no matter how many times the Argonauts hit them or knock them down. They kill off the two Red Shirt Argonauts and Jason himself has to take a plunge to escape them.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Thor: Ragnarok, upon her return to Asgard where she wreaks havoc, Hela uncovers an antique room where her dead soldiers and giant wolf Fenrir are buried, and reanimates them to serve her once more.
    • Another Sam Raimi example is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: In the climax, Doctor Strange is stranded in the Earth-838 universe, while in his native Earth-616 universe Wanda/Scarlet Witch is about to sacrifice America Chavez to steal her multiverse portal-making power. So what does Strange do to save Chavez? He uses the Darkhold to reanimate and inhabit the decomposing body of Defender Strange, which he buried early in the film, and goes battling Scarlet Witch with it. It also crosses into Grand Theft Me territory.

  • An Army of the Dead: Sorcerer-Captain Emorc resurrects a whole army. Interestingly enough, that army is the heroes of the story.
  • The Chronicles of Prydain: The second book's (and the Disney movie's) titular Black Cauldron is an Artifact of Doom that can do this. Dipping corpses into the cauldron turn them into unstoppable undead soldiers.
  • Discworld:
    • The first lesson to student wizards on the topic of Necromancy is contained in Wodelley's Occult Primer, the standard text. "Chapter Seven: Elementary Necromancy" begins, "First, take thy spade..."
    • In the modern cutting-edge Unseen University, the Department of Post-Mortem Communication Studies (formerly "Necromancy") employs Charley, a fully animated skeleton, who does the lab technician and odd-job funtions.
  • The Dresden Files uses this trope in a really awesome way with a Tyrannosaurus rex. It also specifies that a drumbeat is part of the spell (to control the zombie). If the drumbeat stops, zombie does whatever it wants.
  • Dungeon Crawler Carl: Donut the cat gets a Second Chance spell that lets her briefly raise and control a corpse. She typically uses it in conjunction with the Clockwork Triplicate spell that makes extra copies of a minion.
  • Harry Potter: Inferi. Dumbledore mentions in his notes on Beedle the Bard that Necromancy is "a branch of magic that has never worked." Whilst it is possible to create Inferi, these are mindless creatures with no soul or intelligence, despite possessing human corpses and hence are not truly "raised" persons. Therefore, Necromancy does not work in this respect and it is indeed known to be impossible to truly resurrect the dead. (For someone like Voldemort, though, who has no loved ones and only wants minions, it works fine.)
  • The Laundry Files: Creating zombies is relatively simple: take a relatively fresh corpse, summon up a Feeder in the Night, and have it inhabit the corpse's nervous system. (Other varieties can inhabit skeletonized corpses, feeding on the informational echoes of the deceased inhabitant's mind.) Since the Feeders aren't very intelligent and can be bound and programmed, the eponymous budget-conscious occult intelligence agency uses the 'Residual Human Resources' in a variety of roles: nightwatchmen, door guards, shelf-stackers...
  • The Magic Book of Spells: One of Star's ancestors, Skywynne Butterfly, developed a spell that could temporarily raise the dead. She found that ghosts and zombies were fairly friendly and helpful, but "dead clowns" tended to be vicious and aggressive.
  • Noob: Neocromancers can do this. One-Shot Character Athreyü is shown reanimating a skeleton and later the corpse of a dead fellow Player Character.
  • Of Fire and Stars: Tristan's gift of shadow magic enables this, raising recently deceased soldiers for temporary cannon fodder.
  • In Shadow of the Conqueror, Greater Shade can use lightblaring to control dead flesh, granting them this ability.
  • Tortall Universe: A power of the Graveyard Hag, a goddess. She temporarily gives the power to Daine in The Immortals to deal with Emperor Ozorne. This is an unusual example because Daine uses it to resurrect the emperor's collection of extinct large animals, including dinosaurs, rather than humans. The result is the rather spectacular destruction of the emperor's beautiful palace in one night.
  • In The Prism Pentad the wraiths serving Borys are able to possess statues but also corpses and skeletons, resulting in this trope.
  • Threadbare: After Threadbare gains the Necromancer class, and realizes its abilities, he's find of using this, animating dead foes as zombies to spare his friends from having to expose themselves to danger.
  • Warbreaker: The magic system allows for the animation of anything made from organic material. Animated dead (called Lifeless) are particularly useful, however — ordinary Awakened objects can just be given one command, which they will then fulfill mindlessly, whereas Lifeless can be "programmed" to perform more complex tasks.
  • Wise Phuul: The Necromancers of the Viiminian Empire use this to fulfil the economic needs of the country. The reanimated undead ensure a reliable supply of unskilled labour.
  • In The Witch Watch re-animation can be used to bring back sentient abominations but it's tricky and it can be easier just to raise your own army of feral abominations. Including undead dogs.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Game of Thrones, this is what becomes of victims of the White Walkers, slowly creating the Night of the Living Mooks.
  • Supernatural: In "Hollywood Babylon", Walter Dixon controls the vengeful spirits of those who died on a movie set to take revenge on those who changed his script for the movie.
  • In Lexx, Divine Assassins such as Kai were created this way. His Divine Shadow had Kai's body decarbonized and animated by protoblood. He's still clinically dead (one reason he and Xev can never consummate a relationship).


    Religion and Mythology 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Trope Namer.
    • The basic "Animate Dead" spell creates skeletons and zombies. The next spell on that list is "Create Undead", which outputs ghouls, ghasts note , mummies, and mohrgs note  Then you get Create Greater Undead, which gives you shadows, wraiths, spectres note , and devourers. Those are the core spells, others allow you to awaken entire battlefields note  or designate one undead to lead others note . There's even a spell that kills an army then animates them as undead, although not all of the new undead are under your control.
    • There's an even nastier epic spell that kills a single creature, then instantly animates it, with only the caster knowing at first. This can be used to infiltrate a group, though as time goes on, it becomes easier to notice. ("Say Regdar, you're looking really pale. Have you been getting enough sleep lately?")
    • In Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen, Cataclysmic fire reanimates the dead as fiery undead horrors. Lord Soth uses the fire to raise an army of death dragons, and in turn, those dragons can use their Cataclysmic breath to reanimate their humanoid victims as zombies under their command.
  • Exalted has several of these. At the low end there is the thaumaturgical discipline known as Arts of the Dead, which allows familiar with it to raise a dead body as a zombie — this costs quite a bit and only lasts a few days. Midnight Caste Abyssal Exalted have the particular ability to animate any number of bodies with a simple touch. And then there is proper Necromancy, which ranges from "animate a horde of zombies" to "animate necromantic warmachine" to "summon the souls of a dead Titan"... even the Lunar Exalted get in on the fun, animating corpses using parasitic worms in a technique known as Wasp of the Labyrinth.
  • GURPS:
    • The "Zombie" and "Mass Zombie" spells can be used to create any sort of undead. Stronger undead (mummies) take more energy than weaker ones (skeletons) and often require special preparation.
    • The Fantasy World of Yrth has the nation of Abydos. Zombies do the routine and repetitive work, which makes farming really creepy. Nobody minds much because their version of Christianity considers necromancy to be holy (their neighbors think they're heretics).
  • In Warhammer, this type of necromancy is a trademark of the Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings armies. Necromancers/Liche Priests are vital for holding the undead armies together, and can use their magic to replenish the ranks of their forces with freshly raised dead. They can even conjure skeletal or zombie units out of nowhere to surprise their foes. Sieges get tricky when skeletons are sprouting in your courtyard like daisies...
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Necron Lord can do just this, leading to many Oh, Crap! moments. Although a Necron Lord can only animate other Necrons, not the corpses of enemies (and many Necrons get back up anyway as long as they haven't taken too much damage).
  • The World of Darkness: Oh so many ways in both old and new Worlds of Darkness:
    • Geist: The Sin-Eaters has a Ceremony that allows for the reanimation of corpses, as well as some interesting uses of the Marionette Manifestation.
    • Mage: The Awakening has the Death Arcanum, which allows for control of ghosts and zombies. At the third level, you can create your own Zombie Apocalypse.
    • Promethean: The Created has Spark of Life, a high-level power of the Alchemicus Transmutations that allows you to reanimate a corpse; unlike your own reanimated corpse, however, this one just shambles and obeys your commands.
    • Vampire: The Masquerade: The Giovanni could make zombies as well (one sidequest in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines has you stealing an instruction manual), and...the less said about the Tzimisce the better.
    • Vampire: The Requiem: A few bloodlines — such as the Burukamin, who originate from the Japanese underclasses that deal with "unclean" jobs such as funeral duties, and the Sangiovanni, who are just fucked up — have bloodline-exclusive Disciplines that allow them to reanimate the dead as servitors. The Lancea Sanctum also have a Theban ritual called the Gift of Lazarus that allows them to create a sentient undead servitor that's perfectly aware of its condition and wants to go back to being dead, but is still beholden to the person that raised it.


    Video Games 
  • Battle for Wesnoth: This is how the undead other than death knights and possibly ghouls are created.
  • City of Heroes: City of Villains has the Necromancy power set for Masterminds, which allows the player to summon up to three zombies, two grave knights (armored zombies with broadswords and some dark powers), a ghost, and a lich. Also, there's Mr. Bokor in Port Oakes who gives you a temporary power that lets you summon a zombie to fight for you.
  • Clive Barker's Undying has the Invoke spell, which raises dead enemies to fight on your side for a little while. It also insta-kills skeletons and, if cast upon the Trsanti warriors, will cause them to commit suicide, though not the female Trsanti for some reason. A journal written by a Trsanti witch specifically calls out the tribe's men for their weak-mindedness.
  • Clonk: Paladins from the fan-mod Metal and Magic can do this. They create ghosts or skeletons, depending on which god they serve.
  • Cultist Simulator: Some of the easiest rituals animate the corpse of, for example, Inspector Wakefield.
  • Diablo III: The website gives an interesting take on this: instead of animating individual skeletons (which might be damaged, too small, etc.), skeletons are actually amalgamated bone dust and dirt, held together by the magician.
  • In Dominions, the animation of the dead is available through death magic or the holy magic of certain nation's priests and all undead priests.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, there's a literal Animate Dead spell. It raises the corpse of a single humanoid dead foe (e.g., the Darkspawn counts, bears do not) as a skeleton the same class of the corpse, armed with the same weapons, and lasts until it's dead, or you deactivate the spell, or you travel to another area.
  • Dragon's Crown, being a game based off of Dungeons and Dragons(more specifically, it's arcade games), features the Warlock boss who will even say "Animate Dead" when summoning zombies. The Sorceress can also learn a skill that allows her to turn any of the random bone piles of dead characters into skeleton allies. You have to be quick around CPU Sorceresses if you want to recruit more allies, they'll only wait a few seconds to create skeletons.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Morrowind and Oblivion offer the Conjuration school of magic. Included are spells to summon skeletons (of various strentchs), zombies (again of various strengths), ghosts/wraiths, and, ultimately, liches. Oblivion also includes the Staff of Worms, wielded by the legendary necromancer Mannimarco. It is a staff which can reanimate humanoid corpses, in which you can virtually reanimate anyone with it, including Mannimarco himself.
    • Skyrim moves some spells from the previous games between magical schools. Conjuring involves necromancy (animating the dead, stealing their souls, summoning demons, etc.) which allows your character and some necromancer enemies to resurrect the dead as slaves to the being that resurrected them. The regular version has a bunch of drawbacks but can save your life when dealing with one badass army and a lot of dead meatshields; you can only have 1-2 dominated dead allies at a time (two if you master the 'twin souls' conjuring skill, and Serana the vampire doesn't count), the resurrected enemy is either too dominated to speak like they were alive or soulless and completely silent (no convincing people that the guy you murdered was fully resurrected), and if they die the spells break apart and the corpse turns to ash. Get the fully mastered spell though, Dead Thrall, and you can keep resurrecting the same corpse over and over and over! You can do this on almost any now-dead being, even the Emperor!
    • For a meta example, the "resurrect" console command present throughout the series.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Attack of Darkforce: Master Wu's MO is to raise armies of Jiangshi to do his bidding, usually to be defeated by Fei Huang Rong or PMEC. When faced with the power of one of Dark Force's generals, his first impulse is to turn Fei into a Jiangshi to fight it, assuming that it had already killed Fei. Since it hadn't well, nothing that raising an army of Jiangshi can't fix, right?
  • In Fable II, a Hero can summon the spirits of the dead to fight for him for a short time with the Raise Dead ability. These are not skeletons or zombies, but literal spirits. Shades can be summoned from thin air, but the spirits that come from the corpses of slain foes are stronger and more durable. Eventually, however, the spirits disappear.
  • In Guild Wars, Necromancers have a variety of spells to create undead minions of various sizes and strengths out of "fleshy" enemy corpses.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic:
    • In Heroes of Might and Magic III, the Necromancy skill raises a percent of the (non-undead) casualties from each successful battle as skeletons (or, in the case of dragon casualties, Bone Dragons). There is also a structure in the Necropolis (Necromancer/Undead City) that allows you to do this with 100% efficiency using your own troops. Heroes 2 also had the Necromancy skill (it was the first game in the series with skills and the first game with Necromancer-type heroes), though it lacked the aforementioned 'Skeleton Transformer' (but on the other hand, the Price of Loyalty expansion introduced a buildable building that raised the efficiency of necromancy for all your heroes by a set percentage). Additionally, the RPGs of the HOMM2-4 period featured an Animate Dead spell, which resurrected the target corpse as a friend of the caster.
    • Heroes of Might and Magic V had a spell to raise any unit to fight again, but living units would die for good after the fight. The Necromancy skill originally worked the same as in III, but in the Tribes of the East expansion it was reworked into a fairly complex system that allowed Necromancers to raise defeated enemies as the type of undead most appropriate.
  • Nexus Clash: Liches can raise the recently slain as increasingly-powerful undead minions. If there aren't recently dead corpses at hand, it's possible to bribe the spirits that enforce No Body Left Behind in the Nexus to deliver bodies to the Lich instead.
  • Romancing SaGa: Animate Dead is Exactly What It Says on the Tin and is irreversible unless the character in question is killed again. Often spammed by Death and Saruin
  • In Sacrifice, the spell "Animate Dead" is available to your wizard if they serve Charnel.
  • Shadow Warrior (2013): What makes Necromancers so much of a threat is that they can resurrect chunky salsa enemies. That's right: you can slice 'em, dice 'em, bake them, marinate 'em, zest 'em, and harvest their spirit's life force, and they'll STILL COME BACK. They also summon demonic skeletons, but those are MUCH less of a threat and more of an opportunity if you have the right skills.
  • Some Shin Megami Tensei games have the Necroma skill, which revives a dead ally as a zombie. Zombified allies are instantly killed by healing or Expel magic, but take no damage from anything else.
  • Total War: Warhammer:
    • A speciality of the Vampire Counts. Available to all Lords outside battle, it allows the instantaneous... um, "recruitment" of units anywhere on the map. You can raise low-level zombies and skeletons anywhere, but for the really special high-tier units, you'll have to track down old battle sites — the level of the troops who fought (and died) there determines the level of the troops you can raise. Certain Lords can even use it in the middle of battle in the form of a spell to instantly raise a fresh unit, which is kept from being a game breaker by both the spell's cost and the fact that it's limited to raising cheap zombies (skeletons if overcast), which in the later game are only really useful as cannon fodder to distract the enemy from your better units or to get in the way of cavalry charges. The Grim and the Grave DLC adds two variations of this spell — "Awaken from the Grave", unique to Helman Ghorst, which summons Grave Guard or a Wight King if overcast; and "Command of the Unliving", unique to the Strigoi Ghoul King, which summons Crypt Ghouls or Crypt Horrors.
    • In Total War: Warhammer II, the Vampire Coast gets another variation called "The Drowned Dead", which summons a Zombie Pirate Deckhands Mob or a Zombie Pirate Gunnery Mob, in addition to having access to the same "recruitment" mechanic as the Vampire Counts.
  • Town of Salem: The Necromancer role is a failed Coven-aligned Retributionist who can choose to zombify a dead player at night and use their ability on another player. They can only do this once per corpse however, as the bodies rot after reviving them.
  • Viva Caligula: Caligula may resurrect the skeletons of his slain foes to go forth and destroy.
  • Warcraft: All games have at least one unit able to raise the dead.
    • Warcraft: Orcs and Humans: Necrolytes are orcs trained in the black arts to raise skeletons from corpses.
    • Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness: Death knights, themselves undead corpses (the souls of orc warlocks stuffed into the corpses of human knights), have the Raise Dead ability, which produces a single humanoid skeleton warrior with a sword.
    • Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos:
      • Scourge Necromancers can raise Skeleton Warriors from corpses, and the Graveyard is a building which produces an infinite number of corpses. Thus the only limiting factor is mana. Inexplicably, one corpse of any unit type produces two humanoid skeletons with swords.
      • The Avatar of Vengeance spams a shorter-duration Animate Dead spell while not being squishy at all.
      • The Death Knight, a Scourge hero unit, has as his Ultimate move "Animate Dead" which raises up to six nearby dead units (of any allegiance) to fight for the Death Knight for forty seconds. One update made them invulnerable for the duration. Their invulnerability makes them notably good targets for sacrifice abilities like Death Pact or Dark Ritual that restore health or mana respectively to a Death Knight or Lich hero; this is because the invulnerable, reanimated targets won't "die" from sacrifice abilities.
    • World of Warcraft:
      • Death Knights have several spells that allow them to raise undead Ghouls from corpses. The basic raise dead spell creates an NPC Ghoul that will follow the player around and attack his target (Unholy gets a permanent pet under the player's control), Raise Ally raises a dead group/raid member (though mechanically it now just acts as a combat ressurection rather than raising an ally as a ghoul). And Army of the Dead summons about 20 Ghouls at once (although they're individually weaker than the ones summoned through raise dead).
      • Because the Forsaken, a faction of undead people allied to the Horde, cannot reproduce by usual means, their queen, Sylvanas has engaged Valkyries (sorry, Val'kyr) to, you guessed it, animate dead.

  • In Champions of Far'aus, the Nekomata in story #10 does this with the bodies that are hidden around itís lair/ambush area. When Daryl & Skye manage to kill an undead Ursarer, they almost puke when they realize that itís actually a half-rotted corpse, and not a skeleton like the rest.
  • Erfworld, being a RPG Mechanics 'Verse, does this with "uncroaking" and the more powerful and permanent "decrypting".
  • In Homestuck's B2 universe's void session, the enemies are undead skeletons.
  • Looking for Group: Does it count if you animate the skeletons before the owners are dead? Immediately before?
    Richard: In case you weren't sure, the skeletons are on our side.
  • The Order of the Stick: Several of the villains are fond of raising undead, including Xykon, Redcloak and especially Tsukiko.
  • In Sluggy Freelance the demon K'Z'K just has to cry out, and every dead person in the tri-state area is up, walking around, and making more people dead for the greater evil.
  • In TwoKinds, Trace seems to manipulate corpses of the Bastin royal guard with magic telekinesis, mimicking this.
  • Unsounded: While most plods have a degree of their rotting flesh remaining the Black Tongues' new plod mask concept allows them to animate bodies that are down to charred skeletal remains.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Gravity Falls, Dipper Pines accidentally summons a horde of zombies by reading aloud an incantation in Journal 3. He has no control over them, however, and they just cause problems for him and his family


Video Example(s):


Bone Daddy

Lizard Priest uses Necromancy to reanimate the bones of his great-grandfather (whose flesh the group ate earlier), using skeleton to take an injured elf back to her village. And should she die, he'll have bone daddy eat her remains.

How well does it match the trope?

4.93 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / AnimateDead

Media sources: