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Barred from the Afterlife

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"I forgot to tell you. Humans who use Death Notes don't make their way to Heaven or to Hell. What awaits them after death? Nothing."
Ryuk to Light Yagami, Death Note: The Last Name

A character has died but cannot enter Heaven, The Lifestream, his next Reincarnation, or what-have-you. It's not that he's destined for Hell, instead, he can't pass on to eternal anything.

It may be his fault due to Unfinished Business, getting a little too cheeky with Ol' Grim, or committing suicide in a setting where Suicide Is Shameful, or being True Neutral and thus not good or evil enough for heaven or hell (in a setting with no Purgatory and Limbo in between). Or everyone there was just too scared of him, which may overlap with Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth if Satan sees this guy as too much of a threat. Alternately, being left in limbo is this universe's version of eternal damnation. Or, for people with a particularly difficult and troubled life, being returned to life, to that horrible life, is their punishment. For some souls, such a state could actually be worse than Fire and Brimstone Hell.

On the other hand, there's plenty of outside factors that can cause this: His remains didn't get their funeral rites, the Celestial Bureaucracy can't find his ticket for the afterlife, somebody stole his soul, or Death went to Hawai'i instead.

Most likely he'll end up Walking the Earth as a Ghost (often with Ghostly Goals,) but more rarely he may be forced back into his decaying body as The Undead. Other fates include being stuck in the Afterlife Antechamber, or shunted to The Nothing After Death. If he's really lucky, his "banned" status will mean that he is Cursed with Awesome; he Came Back Strong and now he has Purpose-Driven Immortality. Although that can suck, too. Except in a serious case of Downer Ending, he or his next-of-kin will probably get a chance to Set Right What Once Went Wrong at some point.

One famous example from folklore is Stingy Jack. See also the Flying Dutchman and Wandering Jew legends, which frequently involve this, as well as the Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl. Compare Rerouted from Heaven, where a soul ends up in the wrong afterlife, or an afterlife they don't want. A specific variant of this is Kicked Out of Heaven.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the OVA to Cardcaptor Sakura, Madoushi is trapped in a Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere, because she had died there. Unlike most examples, her inability to move on is self-imposed; she is waiting for her (former) lover, Clow Reed. Sakura helps her get over it and move on.
  • Death Note:
    • Ryuk states any Death Note user goes to neither Heaven nor Hell when they die. An ending flashback reveals the real meaning of this: there is no Heaven or Hell, just Cessation of Existence.
    • The Relight special of the Anime makes this a bit more ambiguous. At the beginning of the special, Ryuk is talking to another Shinigami. Said Shinigami bears striking similarities to that of Light (though not in appearance since the Shinigami is a walking skeleton) leading to theories that the two are one and the same. However, it's never been officially stated if this is true or not.
  • In the Dragon Ball universe, it's said in the original series that people killed by Great Demon King Piccolo or his Mazoku minions are left floating between life and death, unable to go to Other World. The fact that Goku and Raditz don't meet this fate after Piccolo's reincarnation kills them in Dragon Ball Z is a sign of his impending Heel–Face Turn. Reiterated in Dragon Ball Super—both the manga and anime—when it was revealed that the sensei of Jiren the Gray, who was named Gicchin, was killed by a powerful demon, which blocked his path to the afterlife. This ties into Jiren's motivation for competing in the Tournament of Power: he wants to use the Super Dragon Balls to bring his sensei back to life.
  • The JoJo's Bizarre Adventure one-shot Dead Man's Questions reveals that this has happened to Yoshikage Kira. After escaping from the hands of the dead in Reimi's Alley, he is trapped between worlds, left to wander eternally with no memories save for his name. He doesn't even have Killer Queen anymore.
  • In Magical Pokaan, Yuuma is kicked out of Hell after deciding that, since she won't die, she might as well enjoy herself and become extremely obnoxious towards the demons supposed to torture her.
  • Naruto:
    • The price of contracting with the Shinigami is that your soul will be consumed and reside permanently within its stomach. This prevents the contractor from ever moving on to the Pure World.
    • Much later, it is revealed that through secret Uzumaki techniques involving a mask, the souls can be freed from the stomach of the Shinigami. Orochimaru did this to free the four Hokage who ended up there in various intervals.
  • In Saint Seiya Phoenix Ikki mentions that the creatures of Hell don't want to hear about him (after coming back from it).
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Pharaoh was barred when he purposefully sealed his soul in the Millennium Puzzle in order to seal a great evil spirit along with it. He eventually reaches the afterlife though.
  • At the beginning of YuYu Hakusho, delinquent Yusuke dies saving a child from being hit by a car, which puts the Celestial Bureaucracy in a bind: He was scheduled to go to Hell, but his Heroic Sacrifice partly redeemed him... but not enough to qualify for heaven, not to mention that he wasn't scheduled to die then. He ends up working for them fighting demons.

    Comic Books 
  • In Grimjack, John Gaunt leaves Heaven to save the life of a friend who, if killed at that time, would be condemned to Hell. As a result he is cursed to be reincarnated for as long as the pan-dimensional city Cynosure (where the book is set) exists.
  • Harley Quinn. In her own title, she was killed and sent to Hell, but was banished from the place due her focus on joy and love. (Clearly, in a place where you're supposed to "Abandon All Hope", the staff doesn't like having someone like that around.)
  • Hawkman: This is the fate of Jim Craddock AKA the Gentleman Ghost, a supervillain ghost who was originally a British highwayman who was killed by 19th-century vigilante Nighthawk. As punishment for his crimes, Craddock is cursed to wander the Earth as a ghost until his killer passes on himself. Unfortunately, Nighthawk was the reincarnation of the ancient pharaoh Prince Khufu, who is himself fated to continually be reborn due to exposure to the alien Nth metal (most recently as Hawkman). As such, Gentleman Ghost is trapped on Earth.
  • The eponymous Jack of Fables makes a deal with the devil to the effect that when he dies he won't go to hell. He assumes that means he'll automatically go to heaven. He's wrong, and is doomed to spend eternity wandering as a headless corpse. He gets better—by making another deal with another devil. It doesn't end there. Related to a form of the old Jack O'Lantern story.
  • In the Johan and Peewit comic book story "The War of the Seven Springs" (and its Animated Adaptation "The Haunted Castle"), Aldebert Baufort once ruled over a prosperous kingdom with seven springs, but while a good king for the most part, Aldebert was also a heavy drinker. When the grape harvest failed one year and his wine stores accidentally spoiled, Aldebert had an encounter with a local witch, who granted him one wish as a reward for his wise rulership. Caught in a moment of weakness, Aldebert wished that the seven springs would produce wine instead of water, with predictably disastrous results. When he realized his mistake and tried to get the witch to reverse the spell, he ended up threatening her in desperation, and she instead cursed the springs so they wouldn't produce anything at all, leading to a massive drought. The kingdom was abandoned and Aldebert remained behind, dying shortly afterwards, but his spirit was banned from the afterlife by his ancestors, who were furious with him, and trapped him on Earth as a ghost until the seven springs were restored and the land was claimed by a true Baufort descendant. In the end, Johan and Peewit succeed, with a little help from the Smurfs, and Aldebert passes on into the afterlife.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac didn't fit in in his universe's version of Hell, and Mr. Satan simply said he didn't belong there, and helped him come Back from the Dead.
  • Lobo was kicked out of both Heaven and Hell and is thus immortal. None of the other afterlife destinations will take him either; he even got kicked out of the Warrior Heaven Valhalla for being too violent. Let that one sink in for a bit.
  • One of The Phantom Stranger's origins in an issue of Secret Origins was that he was the survivor of a divine judgment upon a city who was prevented from joining the afterlife after he lost his family in the judgment and committed suicide. He eventually discovered that his intended purpose was to turn mankind away from evil, one soul at a time.
    • Another had him be a man who blamed Jesus for the loss of his son during the Slaughter Of the Innocents by King Herod, and when Jesus was sentenced to death, he bribed a Roman soldier just for the chance to torture him. As punishment, he was cursed to wander the Earth till the End Times.
    • Yet another origin (he gets this a lot) has him be a former angel who didn't take sides during Satan's revolt against Heaven. (The Stranger disagrees with God's plan for creation but isn't sure about actual revolt either). When the War in Heaven rages, and Satan's side is losing, he still can't decide whose side he's on, and as such, isn't damned like the Fallen, but is still exiled from Heaven. The Fallen also want nothing to do with him, and tear off his wings before throwing him to Earth to live as an immortal outcast. Interestingly, this origin was created by Alan Moore during his DC tenure.
  • The Saint of Killers from Preacher applies here as well. When he died as a mortal and went to Hell, his hate-filled heart was so cold that it literally froze over the fires of Hell and the Devil was unable to break him. He simultaneously got kicked out the afterlife and got a job, taking over for the Angel of Death, who hated his position and wanted to retire. Oh, and on the way out, when Satan insulted the Saint, The Saint shot and killed the Devil himself.
  • In Shadowpact, Kid Karnevil was booted out of Hell for being too enthusiastic and continually offering the demons tips on how to better torture people.
  • In Suicide Squad, Dr. Light was killed and returned to Earth multiple times. It is revealed that this was the work of a minor demon screwing with him. Having been reprimanded by his superiors, the story ends with the demon telling Light that the next time he dies, it will be for keeps.
  • Thanos was cursed with immortality by Death herself, so he could not ever die. Despite what it may sound like, this actually was a punishment, as the Mad Titan quite enjoyed dying.
  • Klaus from The Umbrella Academy dies and goes to a Fluffy Cloud Heaven where God gives him a nonsensical lecture before saying the devil wouldn't want Klaus either and sending him back to Earth.
  • According to Whatever Happened to The Caped Crusader?, when Bruce Wayne dies, he is reborn as himself in another universe, and the cycle continues infinitely, barring him from being anything other than Batman even after death.
  • In the X-Men comics this seems to be the status of Nightcrawler after his return to life. Said return involved selling in soul to demons from one of Hell's dimensions. He got a new body and tiny versions of himself out of the deal (who made his mutant powers stronger) and used it to bind his demonic father to Earth. This left him unable to die however, since he now lacks a soul. He was fatally wounded twice in X-Men: Gold and didn't die either time because neither Heaven nor Hell would take him.

    Comic Strips 
  • Alex: After being sent to Hell in the "It's a Wonderful Crisis" arc, Alex and Clive are kicked out of Hell making a GFC-sized mess of Hell's Soul Market. The Devil and an archangel undo all of the events starting with Cyrus's suicide so that Alex and Clive never end up there in the first place.
  • Dilbert: In one arc, Dogbert died from overly strong perfume and initially got into Heaven simply for being a dog, but they got sick of him and kicked him out. He did a brief stint as a guardian angel before the Powers That Be had enough of that and just resurrected him.

    Fairy Tales 
  • Alexander Afanasyev's "The Soldier And Death" (link) is a Russian folktale, retold in English by Arthur Michell Ransome and later used as an episode of Jim Henson's The Storyteller. At the end of the story, the soldier tries to enter both Hell and Heaven and, being turned away from both, is left to wander the Earth forever.
  • There is a fairy tale about a badass tailor who had an encounter with a stupid devil. It ended very painfully for the Devil. When the tailor died and was condemned to Hell for badassery, the Devil locked Hell and didn't let him in. Even made it into a folksong, and the variants of the story are so numerous it has its own Aarne-Thompson number.

    Fan Works 
  • At Gate's Edge: Edward died to save his brother who was taken by the Gate of Truth in their attempted resurrection of their mother. Edward is unable to move on, he believes he can't because he committed the sin of human transmutation.
  • In Being Dead Ain't Easy this happens by accident when Joey trips over his shoes. The actual reason is because Kaiba told him to stay with him and he was bound to obey.
  • The Chosen Six: Played with. Binns actually is not forbidden from entering the afterlife - he simply is oblivious of his own death, thus why he still is around. Once finally being made aware of it (not easy) he is relieved and announces his retirement before vanishing to what lies beyond. The other ghosts ponder the ramifications of this revelation.
  • Cruciamentum Eternus is built around the idea that Draco was killed for failing to kill Dumbledore and instead of moving on remains as a ghost. It has a downer ending; he never moves on.
  • Mortified: Despite having the correct mindset and temperament for it, Inanna is left unable to become a ghost and a citizen of the Infinite Realms due to her attempt to conquer the Ghost Zone and claim Ereshkigal, which paved the path for her to be remembered as a mythical goddess instead of an actual person.
  • Pokémon The 'Bridged Series: Brock bred Satan, and was kicked out because they thought he was going to do it again. He was.
  • Pony POV Series: One price of godhood is that a god can never enter heaven (their loved ones can however briefly leave heaven to speak to them). A god can enter hell, either to punish or try to redeem the damned or to be imprisoned as punishment.
  • The Ronless Factor opens with Ron being killed in a car accident, but he turns away from the initial light to make sure Kim and Rufus are safe. As he learns that the "crash" was actually a deliberate attempt to kill Kim, Ron dedicates himself to keeping her safe, although he expresses uncertainty about if he'll be sent on to whatever afterlife awaits him after the current threat has been stopped.
  • The Sacred and the Profane: Zirah was kicked out of Heaven alongside the rest of the rebel angels, and then kicked out of Hell because he was such a sociopath that he gave the other demons the creeps.
    ...did he really think a few thousand years on Earth could have changed Zirah? ...[Hastur had] forgotten... that they had kicked Zirah out of Hell because they hadn't wanted him there. Because everybody was scared of him.. The way Zirah's face, oddly angelic even after the Fall, had looked in the light of the flames. How he'd curl his lip whenever there was a particularly juicy bit of torture going on, and then absent-mindedly tear out some sufferer's voicebox because its screaming was getting on his nerves. Beelzebub, saying, "Fuck, make Zzzzirah go up. Bloke givezzz me the williezz."
  • Star Wars: Galactic Folklore and Mythology: In Gamorrean myth, a holy city was sacked and its royal family killed when a guard fell asleep at his post and let the invaders through. The gods, outraged at this breach of duty, barred the guard from ever resting in either sleep or the afterlife, and he now wanders endlessly across the world.
  • Tell me about your Ancestors: Discussed. After Onestar dies underwater, Harespring is worried that Onestar won't be able to run in the skies with the other WindClan dead. WindClan practices leaving their dead in the open so that their spirts can ascend to the sky. Being buried or drowned is considered the worst way to die because spirits can't ascend properly.
  • Tyrantly Ever After has a variation: Angels cannot reincarnate into humans. If an angel dies, they are either reborn as an angel or, if judged to have acted improperly, punished by turning into a demon (who are similarly unable to reincarnate as humans). This poses a problem because out of the three, only humans have the chance to enter Heaven; angels and demons are stuck in a cycle of reincarnating outside that system. This serves as an Awful Truth for Artina, who was previously a human nun 'rewarded' for her piety by becoming an angel, and is naturally horrified to learn she can no longer earn her 'eternal rest'.

    Films — Animation 
  • Inverted in Coco. Everyone (or at least, everyone who follows the tradition) goes into the Land of the Dead, but they can only cross back over the Marigold Bridge on Dia de los Muertos if they've been honored by their family. This causes problems for Mama Imelda, whose photo was knocked off the ofrenda accidentally, and Hector, who is Miguel's real great-grandfather, whose family thought he abandoned them and cut him out of the photo on purpose.
  • Peter Pan: Captain Hook is preparing to drown the Indian Maiden Tiger Lily to force her to tell him where Peter Pan's hideout is. He threatens her with this trope as he does so.
    Captain Hook: Remember, there is no path through water to the Happy Hunting Ground.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Casper, ghosts are people who had some important business left unfinished due to their death. The comic originally portrayed him as a dead child, but after the Fridge Horror for young readers was pointed out, the author retconned Casper as being born from a mommy ghost and daddy ghost.
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978) gives us the theory that the reason everyone who dies in the Living Dead Series comes back as a zombie is that Hell is full so the dead have to walk the Earth.
  • Ghost (1990) is all about this—some souls aren't ready for one place or the other at the time they part with the body, and the main character had some things to resolve on Earth before his soul could be at peace.
  • The ghost, Murdoch, from the film The Ghost Goes West, can't make it into the afterlife unless he gets a McLaggen descendant to apologize for making fun of the Glouries.
  • Ghost Town has a similar theme to the above movies, as a curmudgeonly dentist has a near death experience and starts seeing ghosts, all of whom embody this trope to one extent or another.
  • In the backstory of The Haunted Mansion (2003), when Edward Gracy hung himself in response to his lover Elizabeth poisoning herself, his spirit ended up being cursed to remain trapped within his mansion, with the curse also barring everyone who died on the mansion's ground. In the end, when he learned that Elizabeth had actually been poisoned by his butler Ramsey instead of committing suicide like he thought, the curse was lifted, with the spirits of himself, Elizabeth, and everyone else except Ramsey who was Dragged Off to Hell being able to pass on Heaven.
  • In The Hazing, Professor Kapps drags Marsha along with him when he gets sucked through the portal to Hell. However, a few minutes later, the portal spits Marsha out again. She remarks to Tim and Delia that she must not be as much of a bitch as she thought she was because Hell didn't want her.
  • There's also the 1985 film The Heavenly Kid, where a guy killed in The '50s is stuck in "Midtown", and has to perform some kind of deed before he can go "Uptown". And it turns out he has to play guardian angel to the son of his former girlfriend. (Oh yeah, and the guy she married was Niedermayer.)
  • In Night of the Demons (2009), the seven demons were banished from Hell for being so evil that they refused to obey even Hell's rules.
  • Outward Bound: Why is "Scrubby" the steward the only crewmember on the Afterlife Express ocean liner taking everyone else to the afterlife? Because he killed himself, so he's doomed to remain on the Afterlife Express for eternity, unable to enter either heaven or hell.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Legends say that Captain Barbossa was so evil hell itself spat him back out again. The legend likely arose from the fact the he and all his crew look like skeletal zombies under the light of the full moon. Amusingly enough, Barbossa is revived from death in the second movie, so one could say that hell indeed spat him back out.
  • In The Prophecy, Lucifer explains to a human that because of an angelic war Heaven has been barred to humans since time began. He then says that not all humans are trapped this way since Hell is always open. However, since one woman who was dying says she was about to Go into the Light, and Lucifer isn't known for his honesty.
  • The Prophecy II: Satan decides that Gabriel would cause too much trouble in Hell and kicks him out. "Only room for one of them."
  • In The Rapture, Mimi Rogers refuses to give up her anger at God for what people go through and is literally "left behind" across the river, unable to enter Heaven. When asked by her daughter if she knows how long she'll have to stay there she answers: "Yes. Forever."
  • In The Searchers, a group chasing an Comanche war party finds the grave of a dead Comanche. One man angrily smashes him with a rock but John Wayne pulls out his gun and shoots out the corpse's eyes. When asked by a Texas Ranger/Preacher what good that did, Wayne answers that by what the preacher believes, nothing, but the Indians believe that if he has no eyes he can't enter the afterlife and just has to wander "between the winds".
  • In Stardust, the dead princes of Stormhold are stuck as ghosts - complete with Jacob Marley Apparel - until the ascension of a new king. In the meantime, they serve as the film's Greek Chorus.
  • Tales from the Hood 3: The "Dope Kicks" segment has a man named Percy who assaults and robs people. The grandaughter of one of his victims inflicts a voodoo curse on him to walk in his victim's shoes. Since his last mugging victim died as a result of his attack, Percy has to undo the curse or his soul will be trapped in his body without moving onto an afterlife, which is a fate explictly said to be worse than Hell. He never gets the chance as his body decays to the point of being immobile as demons try in vain to grab his soul.
  • In The Time of Their Lives (1946), Lou Costello, killed in the American Revolution, is bound to an estate by a curse. When the curse is lifted (by the finding of a letter praising him written by George Washington) he goes to Heaven. But he can't get it because the Pearly Gates are locked - for Washington's Birthday.
  • In Van Helsing, Anna Valerious's entire family was forbidden from entering Heaven due to her ancestor having sired Dracula. It was only by destroying Dracula before their bloodline ended could they be allowed in, with Anna being the last surviving member. Thanks to his werewolf form, Van Helsing was able to kill Dracula...only to inadvertently kill Anna when she was giving him the cure for his curse. Fortunately, while burning her body, Van Helsing sees Anna reunite with her family in the clouds and smile good bye to him as she and her family are able to rest in peace.

  • In the Agent of Hel books by Jacqueline Carey, the Outcast are people who barred from their religion's afterlives and have become Emotion Eaters with Resurrective Immortality. As All Myths Are True in the books, the eponymous Hel, as Norse goddess of the dead, isn't necessarily obliged to uphold another religion's ban.
  • In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, ghosts of people who didn't take care of the poor in this life (including Jacob Marley) are doomed to wander the earth observing all the people they could have helped, but lacking the power to do anything for them.
  • The Cold Moons: A badger's family member must pray at their funeral for them to enter Asgard. If they don't, then the badger will become stuck in the place above the clouds called "Gehenna". Gehenna is a windy place where departed souls who are barred from Asgard or Sheoul are eternally stuck.
  • In Croak, this is what happens when a Grim screws up. If the Killer doesn't do their job, the soul is stuck in the body; if the Culler doesn't do their job, the soul becomes a ghost; and if the soul is Damned, they spend eternity in pain and are never able to reach the real afterlife.
  • Discworld:
    • In The Colour of Magic, the king of the Wyrmberg is poisoned by his daughter Liessa, but decides that none of his three children are fit to rule Wyrmberg in his stead until one has proven themselves superior to the other two. As a result he continues to exist as a lich-like entity until Liessa hires the barbarian Hrun to defeat her two brothers in ritual combat, at which point Death is finally able to claim him.
    • In Pyramids, this is a side-effect of mummification. If afterlives are shaped by belief, and your culture puts a lot of effort into preserving the body for the next world, you end up subconsciously believing the afterlife is the body, and being unable to move on.
    • Small Gods:
      • The crew of the Omnian ship Fin of God are condemned to sail a ghostly ship forever, because they betrayed the commandments of the Sea Queen (the goddess all Discworld sailors instinctively worship) on the orders of a priest of Om (the god all Omnians are supposed to worship, although almost no-one actually believes in him). While most Discworld ghosts can't move on because they have Ghostly Goals, it seems the problem with the Fin of God is that it's not clear whether what they did was sinful or not, even in their own minds (which is what counts on the Discworld).
      • The lonesome desert, where some characters have to walk to find out what their afterlife is like. Vorbis is trapped there for a hundred years, afraid of the judgement. It felt even longer.
    • Windle Poons in Reaper Man has the misfortune to be the first person to die after Death was forcibly retired. He was stuck as a zombie until things got sorted out.
    • The NacMacFeegle are absolutely barred from most afterlives, as bad news travels fast. The Ferryman over the River Styx has apparently had his instructions, for instance. This doesn't faze the Feegle: they get in there anyway, barred or not.
  • The Divine Comedy: Those who refused to commit to a position in life were left to run back and forth in the borderlands, for even Hell won't take them in.
  • In Dragon Bones Oreg is not quite dead, he's immortal, can still materialize a body, and his soul inhabits all of castle Hurog. However his is a Fate Worse than Death (especially because he is a slave to whoever rightfully owns the castle at the time), and he tried to get himself killed for real centuries ago.
  • In The Girl from the Well, Okiku is a ghost who helps the ghosts of murder victims pass to the afterlife by killing their murderers; but having chosen vengeance over peace, she is herself unable to pass on.
    Okiku: Where they go, I cannot follow.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Ghosts are people who either refused or were too scared to accept death and move on. Apparently, there's no take-backs later on if you change your mind.
    • It's implied that victims of the Dementor's Kiss suffer this once a Dementor consumes their souls. Such a soul presumably either remains permanently inside the Dementor (Fullmetal Alchemist fans, picture the souls inside that series's version of a Philosopher's Stone), or gets digested and ceases to exist.
    • Voldemort's Fate Worse than Death in the end. Since his soul was still split apart when his physical body died, he could not pass on to the afterlife. He remains trapped in limbo as a stunted twisted thing, presumably forever.
  • A common belief in The Lost Fleet's setting is that this trope happens to anyone whose body is jettisoned in jump-space instead of given a proper burial. This becomes a plot point when a Klingon Promotion plot nearly causes the flagship to be stranded in jump-space with all hands. After the instigator of the plot is caught, and commits suicide rather than be court-martialled, Captain Geary is more than a little disturbed to realise that Fleet regulations require that their body be dumped in jump-space as an additional punishment for treason, an act that in his time was considered borderline blasphemous.
  • Moon (1985): Extrasensory Serial Killer Heckatty, in tribute to Hecate; to feed on their spiritual vitality and to prevent their souls from reclaiming their bodies, removes victims' organs. Unfortunately for Heckatty, they eventually come looking for their stolen body parts, which Heckatty's death seems to restore.
  • In one of the Nightside novels, Sinner is an otherwise-good man who'd sold his soul to the Devil for true love. When he died and went to Hell, it was revealed to him that his "true love" was a succubus who'd only been pretending to care about him ... but he still loved her and was content with his end of the bargain, so much so that having him around subverted the basic premise of Hell. Rather than let a happy soul spoil the atmosphere of the place, the Devil kicked him out again, and Sinner wound up in the Nightside, back on Earth. When he sacrifices himself to save Pretty Poison, the succubus in question, she finally grasps the concept of love, attempts to do the same for him, and is restored to her original angelic state, whereupon she carries Sinner to Heaven: their respective acts of self-sacrifice balanced out the whole "Fallen angel" and "deal with Satan" business.
  • In Star Wars Legends, the Sssi-ruuk believe that this will happen to them if they die on a planet that hasn't been consecrated as part of their empire; as a result, though they're a Proud Warrior Race on their home turf they're dirty cowards outside of it, where they prefer to use droids to do their fighting for them.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • The Silmarillion:
      • Númenorean king Ar-Pharazon the Golden and his army, interned in the Cave of the Forgotten in Valinor until the Dagor Dagorath.
      • Subverted by Fëanor. He is the only elf who is barred from reincarnating because of his evil deeds. He will remain in the Halls of Mandos until Dagor Dagorath, and reincarnate only after it.
    • In The Lord of the Rings, the Dead Men of Dunharrow are cursed to an undead life until they have fulfilled their oath to aid Gondor's king in battle.
  • In Rudyard Kipling's poem "Tomlinson", both St. Peter and the Devil reject the hapless Tomlinson, and send him back to life so he can grow an actual soul of his own.
  • A rare voluntary version in Transitions: The Goddess Mielikki takes Catti-brie's and Regis' souls away and gives them the choice to be reborn in a time of need or go on to the afterlife. Both choose to stay in the pocket dimension Iruladoon to be reborn in 21 years to help Drizzt.
  • In The Twilight Saga book ''Eclipse], it says that according to Quileute legends, Taha Aki believing this about himself, as a result of Utlapa stealing his body, was a major part of the anger which allowed his wolf to transform into a human.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • During the seventh arc, the Clans' access to StarClan is blocked off for unknown reasons, and cats who die during this time are left as ghosts while unable to move on.
    • Earlier in the series, there was Fallen Leaves. He died in the tunnels during an initiation some unspecified time before the Clans came to the lake, and was unable to even step outside, let alone pass on. Eventually, though, he does get to leave the tunnels, to join the rest of the Ancients in the Cavalry of the Dead in "The Last Hope".
      "No! I must stay here! If I leave, how will my mother know where to find me? She'll come for me one day. I know she will."
  • Meg in The Wish List dies with a perfect balance of good and bad deeds to her name, disqualifying her from both branches of the afterlife. She finds a way back to the mortal world and decides to help an old man fulfill his life's wishes in the hopes of earning enough karma to get into heaven.
  • The World of the Five Gods series:
    • Most souls are taken up by the appropriate god upon death, and the gods offer a small miracle at each person's funeral rites to confirm just Who took the soul up. When a soul isn't taken up, it's Serious Business, not just for the mourners, but for the gods as well. (And a major theme running through most of the books in the series.)
    • In the case of shamans and spirit warriors, the animal spirit linked to the dead person's soul needs to be called out by a (living) shaman before the soul can be taken up by the gods. This creates a puzzle - what happens to the soul of the last shaman left? Even the gods are't sure.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Throughout the American Horror Story franchise, there are locations — the Murder House, Hotel Cortez, the Roanoke manor, Camp Redwood — where the spirits of anyone who died there are trapped forever, unable to pass onto the afterlife or even move beyond the grounds of the location (as any attempt to do so will see the spirit immediately teleported back within the confines). The only explanation for any of this is that the locations themselves are cursed by the evil of some of the people who have lived and died there, trapping everyone who died after them.
  • This is how ghosts and zombies are created in Being Human (UK) and US. Ghosts usually die with some particular piece of unfinished business, and are unable to cross over until they can figure out what it is and fulfill it. Zombies are created when something unnatural blocks a soul's transition into the afterlife at the moment of death; body and soul don't separate properly, and the soul is forced to remain within the corpse for several weeks after death, until the body has decayed to the point that it simply can't sustain the soul anymore.
  • In Charmed, this is Cole Turner's final fate - he ends up stuck in limbo, too good for Hell but too bad for Heaven.
  • Dead Like Me is a show about individuals who are chosen by unknown forces to become grim reapers. Upon death, they find no passage into the afterlife. They are charged with removing the souls of humans just before death and are given assignments; when they complete enough assignments, they are finally released from their current state. They get a Healing Factor and an Extra-Strength Masquerade to help them get the job done. It's Played for Laughs, with reaping being treated something like a bad temp job. One character did attempt to hitch a ride to her target's afterlife. Her fate is never revealed.
  • Hrothbert of Bainbridge mostly called Bob is a ghost in The Dresden Files. After he used darkest magic repeatedly he was punished to death. Afterward his soul was sealed into his own skull to prevent him from ever moving on.
  • In Lucifer (2016), any being killed using Azrael's Blade is said to be erased from existence, rather than being sent to Heaven or Hell. Uriel meets this fate after Lucifer kills him.
  • In the Sesame Street special Don't Eat the Pictures the gang is locked overnight in the Metropolitan Museum, Big Bird and Snuffy encounter a young prince from Ancient Egypt who is under a spell and unable to join his parents in the afterlife and become a star until he can answer the following question: "When does today meet yesterday?" He spent 4,000 years trying to find the answer, but Big Bird and Snuffy promise to help him figure it out. The answer was "in a museum."
  • In the short lived early Fox series Second Chance (not to be confused with the game show of the same name) Charles Russell dies in the Far Future of 2011, and learns he is too bad for heaven but too good for hell. He is given the opportunity to go back to his teenage years and become a mentor to his younger self (played by Matthew Perry). The second season drops the older Charles Russell character, and became a standard Sitcom called Boys Will Be Boys.
  • One episode of The Storyteller had a soldier who became Enemies with Death... and "won", putting it in a bag but eventually releasing it. Because of this, Death was too afraid to reap him, Heaven would not take him for his sins, and Hell was afraid he'd take over.
  • Supernatural:
    • In Season 9, Metatron closes Heaven down for business, evicting the angels and blocking out every non-Hellbound soul who dies. Normal service is apparently restored after the Winchesters' angelic allies are able to depose Metatron.
    • In retribution for killing Death, a Reaper tells Sam and Dean that the days of Death Is Cheap are over for them, and the next time they're killed they'll be tossed into The Nothing After Death for all eternity. Ultimately the brothers are allowed into Heaven after they basically become the parents to the new God.
  • In the The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Hunt" a man does this to himself. He's allowed into heaven but he isn't allowed to take his dog with him. He decides that an afterlife without his dog is a fate worse than death (so to speak) so he refuses to enter and will just wander the path in between heaven & hell forever. Turns out that wasn't heaven, it was hell. Heaven allows dogs in.
  • The ghosts in The Umbrella Academy are this. Ben seems to have been the exception. He was given the opportunity to go towards the light when he first died but chose to stay on Earth with Klaus instead.

  • This seems to be the singer's fate from Alice Cooper's "Hallowed Be My Name" from ''Love It to Death"".
    There's no place for me in heaven
    Nor a place in hell
    Sentenced to walk here forever
    This will be my final place to dwell.
  • Also, discussed in the Death Cab for Cutie song "I Will Follow You Into The Dark": "When heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied, illuminate the nos on their vacancy signs."
  • In Cisco Houston's "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" the protagonist is refused entry by heaven and hell just because he's a hobo.
  • Jackyl's "Heaven Don't Want Me (And Hell's Afraid I'll Take Over)".
  • The traditional song "Killieburn Brae" tells the story of a wife who is taken off to Hell by the Devil. On arriving, she sets about all the little devils with her stick, so the Devil carries her back to her husband "...for the likes of herself [they] would not have in hell."
  • A one-line reference in Sonata Arctica's Broken: "Heaven's closed, Hell's sold out."

    Myths & Religion 
  • In Brazilian Folklore, the Corpo-Seco (Dry-Corpse) was a man so wicked and cruel that, when he died, neither Heaven nor Hell accepted his soul, and Earth spit his body out of its tomb. Even the verms were disgusted by his flesh, so his body didn't decompose, but became dry and thin. Thus, his soul was cursed to forever remain in his body as punishment, attacking the living at the dead of the night.
  • In Norse Mythology "heaven" was called Valhalla, and those who died of natural causes were sent to the realm of the goddess of death Hel (root of the English word Hell, but not as bad). They sometimes resorted to "cheating" by methods such as gently tapping the dying with a sword as they passed away.
  • Stingy Jack, the legend behind the Jack o' Lantern or Will-o'-the-Wisp, involves a thief cursed with this after tricking either Death or the Devil.
  • In North America, some of the First Nations of the Great Plains allegedly believed that mutilating someone's body after death would bar them from entering the afterlife, so they'd be forced to wander the earth as a spirit.
  • In The Talmud, the sage Elisha ben Avuya is barred from the World to Comenote  because he'd renounced Judaism, and from Gehennanote  because of his Torah learning. Rabbi Meir, his loyal disciple and friend, vows that after his own death he'll make smoke rise from Elisha's grave, as a sign that he's successfully brought him to Gehenna so that Elisha can be punished and eventually redeemed. After Meir's death, Rabbi Yohanan vows in turn to rescue Elisha from Gehenna and bring him into the World to Come. Sure enough, after Yohanan's death, the smoke ceases from Elisha's grave, because "not even Gehenna's gatekeeper could stand up to Yohanan".
  • Classical Mythology: The ancient Greeks believed they needed to pay Charon for passage through the river Styx, which made some of them quite neurotic about the prospect of dying with no coins for Charon on them. A ghost of a dead person asking a living one for burial with some coins is a motif that has been known to appear in Greco-Roman fiction.
  • Egyptian Mythology: The practice of embalming was developed to provide a means of preserving the identity of the deceased, so that their ka (spirit) would be able to return to it after wandering the world after the person's death. Should the mummy be mutilated, however, the ka couldn't recognize it, and thus couldn't continue to the next world — instead, it would be stuck between the world of the living and that of the dead (which, as far as the Egyptians were concerned, was a Fate Worse than Death). As an insurance policy against such an outcome, statues of the deceased would sometimes be placed in the tomb.
  • According to one version, the first thing the bodhisattva Guanyin did upon her first death was to start preaching. Immediately, she was converting demons and sending them to the Western Paradise. Lord Yama, the boss down there, was afraid she'd empty the place and told her to go back to the world of the living.
  • JR "Bob" Dobbs, leader of the Church of the SubGenius, has died many times, and has escaped from Hell every time. How many times? He's returned to life so often, every day of the year is his birthday.
  • In Mexican culture, there is the story of La Llorona, a woman who drowned her two sons in a fit of rage after learning that her husband cheated on her. Realizing what she'd done, she killed herself in despair, only to be barred from entering Heaven because of her crimes.
  • In Scandinavian folklore, a Myling was the ghost of a child abandoned or murdered by its mother shortly after birth. This meant that it could not rest peacefully, due to not being baptized and not being buried in a grayeyard (not buried in holy soil). To stop a Myling from haunting, one had to either give it a name or find the corpse and bury it in hallowed ground.

  • In The Adventure Zone: Dust, the-powers-that-be have forced Augustus Parsons to work for the Grayson Agency to atone for his sins.
  • Evelyn from Less is Morgue was prevented from entering the afterlife because Riley ate her corpse before she finished all her metaphysical admissions paperwork.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The core book for All Flesh Must Be Eaten has the "Rebirth Unto Death" scenario, where The Lifestream is breaking down because the souls that used to watch over it have gotten distracted by civil war. As such, many people are being "reincarnated" into dead bodies, creating extremely confused and distressed zombies. This includes the players.
  • Dungeons & Dragons module I3 Pharaoh. The pharaoh Amun-re sacrifices the wealth and well being of his people to build himself a magnificent pyramid tomb.When he's threatened by an angry mob, he lays a curse that will cause the land to dry up if he is killed. A member of the mob kills him anyway, and the god Osiris is forced to carry out the curse. However, he punishes Amun-re by condemning his spirit to wander the land until someone steals his treasure from his tomb.
  • Then there are the vestiges from the Dungeons & Dragons supplement "Tome of Magic". These include such luminaries as Andromalius, a thief whose plan to steal his soul from his patron god worked a little too wellnote , and Acererak, a lich who attempted to fuse with the Negative Energy Plane, got halfway there, and ended up shunted into a mysterious nowhere. Regardless of how they got there, they have a semi-detached, insane existence in a location more mysterious than even the Far Realm, and the binder playable class exists to barter with them for power in exchange for letting them briefly contact the world once more.
  • This is the intended end result of becoming a lich, who intends to achieve immortality by magically removing their soul and trapping it on Earth. Depending on the game, this process variously delays their final judgment, damages the soul too badly to pass on once released, or offends the gods badly enough to reject the lich after their eventual destruction.
  • Exalted: When the Primordials designed the cycle of death and rebirth, they never designed it to handle one of their own, since they couldn't be killed in the first place. So when the titular Exalted managed to kill five of them anyway, it caused the cycle of death to crash, bringing undeath and the Underworld into existence. The dead Primordials, now known as the Neverborn, exist trapped in an unending torment, seeking desperately to unmake the world and return everything to the formless Chaos in order to bring an end to their suffering.
  • In the Nentir Vale setting for Dungeons & Dragons, honored servants of a god are supposed to go to his or her divine realm after death as Exalted. Due to the heavens being badly fractured, a large portion of these randomly end up on islands just outside their god's realm, completely blocked from entering by any mundane or magical means.
    • Devas play with this trope. They adhere to the spirit, as they are unable to die "properly", due to being Fallen Angels who forsook the heavenly dominions of the Astral Sea to live in the mortal world. They get Resurrective Immortality instead. They can, however, physically move back into those same dominions if they desire and can find the requisite portals.
  • Orpheus uses this as the default state for ghosts in the beginning; they're caught between the living and some sort of final resting place for the soul, but they often need help getting there, usually courtesy of the Orpheus Group's personnel, or have lost control of themselves and need to be destroyed. As the story unfolds, things are shown to be much, much more complicated than Orpheus originally assumed...
  • This is the flavor text of Yomiji, Who Bars the Way, in the Magic: The Gathering set Betrayers of Kamigawa. Locked in a brutal war between the mortal and spirit realm, a human hero accepts an honorable death on the battlefield, only to discover that Yomiji will not permit him to die.
  • Those who die in Pathfinder without strong faith get sent to the plane that lined up with their ethical and moral code; however, those who actively reject the gods, religion, and the River of Souls, and those who die with no convictions whatsoever, face a different fate when they go to be judged. They will not in the former case, or cannot in the latter, pass on to any afterlife beyond the Boneyard and are instead buried right there on the plane. They stay there, patiently waiting for the end of all things.
  • The escape of Lord Soth from Ravenloft is quite possibly the weirdest case of this trope ever. He escapes from Ravenloft (essentially, a trap for various "darklords") by not giving a crap. Soth basically accepts that he deserves to be tormented by the Dark Powers and admits his failures. He refuses to rise to anything they present him with, be it despair or hope; eventually, realizing that it's pointless to keep him around since he won't respond to anything they do, the Dark Powers release him from Ravenloft.note 
  • Warhammer: Vampires lack true souls and are therefore barred both from the Warp and from the Gardens of Morr, God of the Dead, hence why Necromancers can always call their spirits back to un-life.
  • Wraith: The Oblivion has religious wraiths view the Shadowlands as this; instead of their promised afterlife, they're caught in a bleak, bureaucratic nightmare society of ghosts. Many of them set out to resolve their Unfinished Business and transcend their wraithly state, moving on another plane of existence and their "true reward"; however, they get distracted along the way and end up either becoming somewhat settled in this weird new place, or can't handle things and end up falling into Oblivion, the actual state of nothingness.

  • Fester locks the ghosts of The Addams Family ancestors out of their crypt until they help him keep Wednesday and Lucas together.
  • Polynices, in Antigone, has been left unburied by the king Creon so that his soul cannot go on to the underworld, in punishment for his rebellion. His sister Antigone takes it upon herself to do so.

    Video Games 
  • In AFK Arena, there are quite a few that have this problem ever since the god of death went AWOL.
    • The Graveborn faction cannot be killed. Their bodies can be rendered unusable, but even if they're completely atomized, their souls will still be bound to the world of the living forever. Many of the Graveborn were turned involuntarily, however, so rebels such as Treznor are trying to find a way to nullify the Deal with the Devil that many only agreed to under duressnote  and others didn't agree to at all.
    • Most spirits need help being led to the afterlife, which is what the god of death was supposed to do. But many of them get lost in limbos such as the "Realm of Denial", where they'll never be able to leave as their unfinished business in life consumes their mind and identity entirely unless a character with the ability to help them (such as Elijah, Lailah, and Niru) intervenes in time.
  • D of Another Code lost his memories when he kicked the bucket and his desire to get them back keeps him from moving on.
  • In Arcanum, one of the first quests you encounter involves some bandits who wronged a priest, and as punishment he cursed their souls to remain in the mortal world and to never know peace.
  • The Binding of Isaac: The Forgotten is a soul forever chained to a reanimated skeleton, making for a very Mechanically Unusual Fighter. He's also confirmed to be Isaac after he committed suicide by locking himself in his toy chest. His soul isn't going anywhere.
  • The plot of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow revolves around stopping the titular lords, who are (among other nastiness) barring the way for dead souls to heaven using an evil mask.
  • Most spirits you're going to run into in Conrad Stevenson's Paranormal P.I. are souls of the deceased who have found themselves unable to pass on for one reason or another. Much of your investigative work involves figuring out what part of their past is keeping them there, and eventually help them overcome it.
  • The video game adaptation of The Crow: City of Angels has this happen to Ashe in the Game Over sequence, being left trapped in Limbo forever.
  • In Diablo 3, you can visit the ruined city of Sescheron and find it haunted by numerous ghosts. A scholar explains that the barbarians believe that they can only find true peace if their bodies are laid to rest on the slope of the sacred Mount Arreat, and unfortunately, with Arreat having been destroyed at the end of the previous game, they have nowhere to bury their dead and their souls have nowhere else to go.
  • In Diablo IV, the Tree of Whispers will trade its knowledge to anyone who asks, but on death their heads will be claimed and hung from the Tree's branches. The heads will remain aware and bound to the Tree's will for eternity, speaking on its behalf to other supplicants.
  • The Loathsome Dung Eater in Elden Ring is a Complete Monster Hated by All for deliberately inflicting this on people. He's an Omnicidal Maniac who spreads the Seedbed curse by torturing, mutilating, and defiling his victims with the Curse keeping them from returning to the Erdtree and reincarnating, either forced to remain as tormented wandering souls forever, never able to find peace or reincarnate as the Humanoid Abomination race known as Omens. Having done this to thousands of others, the Dung Eater's goal is to spread the curse to the reforged Elden Ring and damn the entire world.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • This is part of the reason Kuja, the villain of Final Fantasy IX has nothing to lose and everything to gain from being evil. His boss, Garland, will provide him with as much power, wealth, and luxury as he could ever want, but only if Kuja follows his instructions. Otherwise, he'll just take Kuja's soul back and make a new version of him. The problem is, even if Kuja succeeds, Garland will do the exact same thing. So Kuja has absolutely nothing to lose by screwing over everyone but himself. Garland knows this.
    • Souls in Final Fantasy X must receive a sending ritual from a summoner in order to reach the Farplane. Souls that don't get this ritual become Unsent (sentient undead) if they're lucky, otherwise, their jealousy towards living beings warps them into Fiends. This leads to some Fridge Horror: At the end of the game, there are no more summoners, since the Big Bad was powering them. The sequel reveals Fiends are still appearing, but no one is sure why. Someone's going to connect the dots and have a Heroic BSoD at some point... That said, circumstances both on Spira and in the Farplane have radically changed between games, implying that the Fiends are more "ambient" energy than anything else.
    • In the Ivalice Alliance, the shared universe of Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, and Vagrant Story, a large number of monsters are said to be human beings who died in a horrific manner and could not move on. This carries the Fridge Horror that anyone who dies in Ivalice has an extremely high chance of being kicked back into the living world as some manner of monster. In Vagrant Story in particular anyone who becomes tainted by 'The Dark' is fated to die an incomplete death. For most people, this means being reborn as a walking corpse, but some people, such as Sydney, and possibly Duke Bardorba, have studied and manipulated The Dark to such an extent that they've become functionally immortal.
    • In Final Fantasy XIV, most souls return to the aetherial sea upon dying and later reincarnate. However, Endwalker has two exceptions: one, previous Arc Villain Asahi sas Brutus, whose negative emotions and spite allowed him to retain his mortal form in the aetherial sea, returning following Fandaniel/Amon's final defeat just do drag the both of them into oblivion for betraying Zenos, who he is fiercely loyal to and in love with. Two, Hydaelyn/Venat expended all of her aether while fighting the Scions in her final test. This denied her any possibility of returning to the aetherial sea and reincarnating.
    • Ardyn Izunia from Final Fantasy XV is a very unique existence in that he's absolutely impossible to kill. His physical form is actually a viscous mass of darkness and daemons simply retaining the shape of a man, and grievously damaging it, or even completely destroying it, merely renders it unstable for a moment before it reforms. To make matters even less fun, his soul is stuck in the spirit realm due to the Power Crystal, which practically makes him unable to die. The requirements in actually, permanently killing Ardyn are extremely particular, and very much suck for all parties involved.
    • The soldiers of Falgabard in Final Fantasy Dimensions. It's not clear what Baugauven did to them, but it left them as ghosts in burning pain, unable to leave the castle. They are also enraged by the sight of Graham and Nacht, blaming them both for Falgabard's defeat because the ghosts mistake them for Sigurd, who supposedly ran away. In truth, he did not; he was the first to find Baugauven and fell in battle before he could raise the alarm.
  • Brok from God of War (2018) and God of War Ragnarök. When Sindri retrieved his soul from the Lake Of Souls, he could not retrieve the Direction fragment of his soul. Meaning when Brok is killed by Odin, he is denied any form of afterlife.
  • In Granblue Fantasy, Cute Ghost Girl Ferry ended up with the rough deal of being stuck on the brink of life and death. She's not particularly happy about it, as her greatest wish is just to be re-united with her family again.
  • This trope forms a large portion of Grim Fandango's plot. The Land of the Dead is clearly just an Afterlife Antechamber, and many souls can't go directly to their final resting place due to past misdeeds. Some are simply forced to spend up to four years traveling to the Gate; others, like Manny, have to work for a prolonged time before they're allowed to leave. The most saintly souls can reach the Gate in four minutes by boarding the Number Nine train, but the main plot revolves around them getting robbed of their tickets, which leads to this trope.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic:
    • In Might and Magic: Heroes VI, dead souls are supposed to be delivered to the goddess Asha for reincarnation, but those who die particularly violent or unjust deaths can find themselves trapped in the mortal world as ghosts. Necromancers who worship Asha sometimes try to bring comfort to them, in the hopes that they can rejoin the cycle.
    • In Heroes Chronicles, Tarnum is a ruthless Barbarian leader whose original good intentions (to free his people from the Bracadan Magocracy evaporated thanks to paranoia and desperation. He has become a tyrant. So when King Rion Gryphonheart of the new nation of Erathia killed him in Combat by Champion, the barbarian Ancients refused Tarnum the peace of the afterlife until he atones for his sins. Thus, Tarnum becomes the Immortal Hero. The rest of the chapters are focused on Tarnum trying to make up for all he has done. A Heroes IV campaign has a young Barbarian chief attempting to re-unite the Barbarian tribes. That young chief's mentor is Tarnum. After the chief succeeds in his task, the Ancients consider Tarnum's debt repaid and offer him to join them in the afterlife. Tarnum refuses and stays with his people.
  • In Jade Empire, this happens to everybody as a result of the Water Dragon being bound. When the game starts, twenty years worth of restless spirits have piled up, and the Empire's really starting to feel the effects.
  • Ajunta Pall in Knights of the Old Republic was one of the founders of the first Sith Empire, whose Force ghost is met in his tomb on Korriban. Unlike other ghosts, Pall never became one with the Force upon death as he used his knowledge of Sith alchemy to tether his soul to the physical world, essentially trapping himself in a self-made purgatory. After realizing Being Evil Sucks 3000 years too late, Light Side players can help him embrace the Light as well and move on.
  • The entire premise of Lost Ember. The player's spirit companion is prevented from reaching the City of Light, the Yanrana's afterlife, by a barrier of red light. In the opening minutes of the game, he determines that the wolf is a reincarnation of a woman named Kalani who also suffered this fate. The game's story revolves around reliving Kalani's memories to learn why this is.
  • In the video game Malice if you die you end up in a limbo stage where all you need to do is talk to the Grim Reaper who promptly sends the title character (a demigoddess) back to the living world (i.e. you restart the level you died on) simply because he doesn't want to deal with the complicated paperwork of processing a god.
  • After encountering the apparent ghosts and other imprints of the dead upon the Metro, the citizens in Metro 2033 theorize that the nuclear war destroyed the afterlife, damning everyone to eternal purgatory.
  • In Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Talion and Celebrimbor are "banished from death" meaning they resurrect every time they die.
  • Mortal Kombat 3 During the early hours of the illegal merger/invasion of Earthrealm by Outworld, Johnny Cage was killed in battle by one of the many Outworld extermination squads (MK 9 confirms this to have been done by Motaro). However, since Earthrealm was actively in the process of merging with Outworld/was already merged with Outworld, Johnny Cage's travel to the afterlife was blocked, causing his soul to take possession of his body once more. Also, in Sindel's character bio, it is revealed that after her home realm of Edenia lost ten consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments, her realm was merged with Outworld, and just about everything she loved and held dear was destroyed. She eventually tried to 86 herself, but Shao Kahn held her soul in Outworld, thus barring her from the afterlife.
  • Mortal Kombat: Armageddon In Shang Tsung's character bio, it is revealed that after the events of the opening of Mortal Kombat: Deception (Raiden's failed sacrifice destroying the bodies of Quan Chi and Shang Tsung), Shang Tsung's soul was drawn back to Outworld via Shao Kahn shenanigans: eons ago, Shang Tsung pledged his very soul to the Emperor. Turns out that this was NOT an empty vow.
  • In the "A Cause to Daikon For" DLC of Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Gonbe, his wife and his cohorts end up dying and sent to hell, but due to the events of both the main game and the other DLC storylines, not only is hell lacking in demons, but they're all too tired to properly torment their souls. They later try to petition King Enma about this, who decides to not only banish them and bring them back to life, but also ensure that their fields are bountiful and their lords wise and benevolent to ensure that he never has to deal with them again.
  • In Onmyōji (2016), Yaobikuni cannot visit the Afterworld even when her living friends can with a temporary death spell because of her immortality.
  • The basis of Painkiller is that the main character has died, but cannot enter Heaven with his wife until he does some work for the angels and kill the generals of Hell.
  • This is the fate of the Protagonist of Persona 3 following the ending. By using up his life force to seal away Nyx and Erebus from enacting humanity's innate desire for death, his soul has to act as the gatekeeper for humanity until the day they either stop collectively wishing for death, or are rendered extinct. Which could very well take hundreds, if not thousands of years for the Protagonist to remain there.
  • The Nameless One from Planescape: Torment cannot die. Certain very powerful beings can destroy his body beyond the ability to reincarnate, but if that happens this is the result as he never registers as 'dead' in death's book. Two endings of the game sees you rectify your state of immortality. Death — and transportation to your just dessertsimmediately ensues.
  • The Pokémon series' Litwick, Lampent, and Chandelure feed on souls according to the Pokedex. Apparently, the fate of the souls they consume is to wander the earth as burnt shades for all eternity.
  • Pony Island: The protagonist, Theodore, is damned to Limbo for his crimes as a crusader.
  • In Puyo Puyo, Yu and Rei remain ghosts on Earth and can't pass on to the afterlife due to a promise they made when they were still alive binding them together. Yu doesn't mind and even wants to turn others into ghosts so they can experience the good side of being a ghost, while Rei does mind.
  • Spookys Jumpscare Mansion reveals that Spooky and the other ghosts in the mansion are trapped there because of a machine hidden in the basement that binds spirits to the mansion.
  • In the Titan Quest expansion pack Immortal Throne, Hades' invasion of the mortal world causes Charon, the Styx's ferryman, to neglect his duties, resulting in the dead becoming stranded outside the afterlife. The player resolves this by killing Charon and presenting his oar to one of the trapped souls, allowing the soul to become the ferryman in Charon's place.
  • Touhou Project
    • Yuyuko Saigyouji is the princess of the Netherworld, the place where souls wait for their Reincarnation. However, because her body is being used to seal the Saigyou Ayakashi she cannot enter the cycle of reincarnation and is stuck forever as a ghost. She seems to be enjoying it, though.
    • In the extra stage of Imperishable Night, Yuyuko talks about eating the liver of the immortal Fujiwara no Mokou and inheriting from her the effects of the Hourai elixer, which removes the concept of death from the victim. She claims that if a ghost were to ingest this elixir, they would become an immortal ghost and never be able to rest or reincarnate. Then she decides that Mokou's liver looks tasty and that she wants to eat it anyway. It's left ambiguous whether she actually went through with it.
  • Sylvanas of World of Warcraft discovered to her horror that she, and all those raised by the Scourge, have had their souls so badly twisted that they can never reach the afterlife. Instead of "death" they are trapped in a hellish netherworld where things torment them. It's later revealed that this is the afterlife; more specifically, it's The Maw, a place tailor-made to punish irredeemable souls beyond the Despair Event Horizon and also the place where the same Runic Magic the Scourge uses originates from, which has the delightful effect of marking anyone raised by the Scourge as belonging in The Maw, meaning those who are Killed Off for Real after being raised are rerouted straight to it without any Judgement of the Dead.

    Web Animation 
  • In Camp Camp Jasper, the ghost of a camper that died over a decade ago, reveals in the Halloween Episode that he's bound to Spooky Island, until his body is discovered.
  • DEATH BATTLE!: In "Ghost Rider vs. Lobo", Lobo's ban from all forms of the afterlife means that he is technically immortal in a series where both combatants have to fight to the death. After destroying Lobo's body and reducing him to a disembodied soul, Ghost Rider (as Zarathos) eats it to finish him off as Lobo's soul was still vulnerable to being destroyed.
  • Cletus, Collin, and Keenie, from Helluva Boss, are cherubim angels who work for C.H.E.R.U.B, an angency from Heaven that is tasked with saving and protecting humans. Their debut episode has them try to prevent an greedy old inventor from killing himself, only for the villain protagonists of the I.M.P assasination group to convince him to go through with it. After several mishaps from the imps, the cherubs reach a Rage Breaking Point and a fight ensues riddled with bullets and sacred arrows, killing everyone but the two teams' target. Just as the man finally reaches an epihany that the remainder of his life is worth living for if otherworldly beings are fighting over it, the cherubs accidentally kill him in the crossfire. As a result, and with I.M.P leaving the scene, a higher up cherub named Deerie announces that their actions have locked the trio out of Heaven with no chance of redemption. With this, they are now demoted to fallen angels. For an extra kick in the teeth, the man is already Obviously Evil and destined for Hell anyway, so their efforts were All for Nothing.
  • RWBY: Volume 6 reveals that Remnant used to have two brother gods who lived among humans and who possessed the power to punish humans by barring them from the afterlife if they felt it necessary. Salem has been cursed with Complete Immortality to stop her from dying until she learns the importance of life and death. She manipulated the gods in an attempt to restore her dead lover to life, so the gods cursed her to prevent her from reuniting with Ozma in the afterlife until she's learned her lesson. However, her personality flaw is that she doesn't take responsibility for her actions, so she instead turned humanity against the gods. As a result, the punishment became her Start of Darkness towards becoming the Big Bad. In the end, the gods resurrected Ozma and gave him the task of guiding humanity to a single chance for redemption, forcing him to reincarnate over and over, unable to return to the afterlife until he achieves his mission of uniting humanity in harmony. The two former lovers are now pitted against each other in a Secret War for the fate of humanity, locked in a never-ending cycle of pain and destruction because neither of them can kill the other.

  • In And Shine Heaven Now Church Militant Enrico Maxwell was supposed to go to Hell-specifically, the circle of Hell set aside for those that oppose Integra Hellsing (hey, she is on a mission from God). However, a last minute act of selflessness and the also-deceased Anderson lobbying for him caused him to be reassigned: he can go to heaven if he spends 5000 hours of community service as a guardian angel, and he has to guard non-Catholics. One scene hints that one of the people he protects is Integra's Dhampyr son D.
  • Aurora (2019): The souls of the citizens of Vash-the-city can't be released from their bodies until Vash-the-god formally releases them. As Vash is unvailable, that means they're all currently trapped in should-be-dead bodies screaming for help.
  • In Ghost Theater, the theater of the title allows spirits of the dead that can't pass on to attempt to work out their trauma or unfinished business by possessing the employees to act out parts in plays.
  • Bleedman's Grim Tales from Down Below has Billy die and end up in Heaven. But the saints get fed up of him and kick him out (literally). Billy then ends up in Hell. But they get fed up of him there as well and he ends up wandering the Earth as a spirit.
  • Moby Dick: Back From The Deep: Captain Ahab and his crew are revealed to still be hunting Moby Dick long after the events of the book as undead ghouls. They believe the only way they can be allowed to die is if they kill the whale once and for all.
  • Once again in Narbonic, Mell ends up in Hell after getting kicked out of Heaven. It takes her a whole week to get kicked outta THAT place...
  • In The Order of the Stick, Eugene Greenhilt cannot go to the afterlife until one of his descendants kills Xykon because of a Blood Oath. This is the general fate of people bound by a Blood Oath of Vengeance and who die with it unfulfilled. An exception is made for those who died actively trying to fulfill their oaths, as Roy finds out.
  • In the original and abandoned pictures for sad children storyline, Paul, who is a ghost, being unable to go to hell is the main plot.
  • In The Settlers, the gates of Hell are closed, so everyone who was headed there is stuck in Purgatory. This kickstarts the plot, as the main characters will use this opportunity to bring you back to Earth, for the very moderate price of your eternal soul!
  • This is the initial premise of Slightly Damned. Main character Rhea dies and fails to qualify for heaven or purgatory but also isn't evil enough for hell and so Death assigns her to a mostly abandoned section of the afterlife on the border of hell called the ring of of the slightly damned. It is later revealed that the current Death is an imposter and the real one has been missing for several years. Because he never gave his replacement the ability to reincarnate souls, the dead are now stuck in the afterlife unless they find a way to resurrect like Rhea did.
  • Seth, one of the main characters of Sorcery 101 was - according to one myth about his background - kicked out of hell SPECIFICALLY because they were afraid he might take over...
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent, this is the fate of everyone who took the experimental Rash cure. Whatever allows the cure to halt the Rash's progression also prevents the soul from moving on, rendering anyone who took it a deranged ghost that's hostile to everything around them.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fan comic Trixie Vs, The Ghost of Hearts Warming who repeatedly visits Trixie to try and help her change her ways, reveals that this is her fate and the reason she has her current job, due to her being a huge Jerkass in her mortal life, and warns Trixie that if she does not change her ways in time this will be her fate as well.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic:
    • The gods of Man and the gods of Orc couldn't agree on who should claim Glon the half-orc, and he convinced them to send him back to life so he could determine which of his two heritages was his "true" one.
    • Glon's dying human father asked to be buried with three grave coins, instead of the usual two. This means that he was technically denied a proper burial, and therefore has an excuse to stick around as a ghost.

    Web Original 
  • J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, of the Church of the Subgenius, went to Hell after he was "assassinated" in Dallas (mainly because he'd never been baptized as a child.) Once in Hell, he seduced and bedded Satan's bride — giving Satan a "second set of horns" — and was kicked out of Hell. As he has nowhere to go after dying this gives him a form of Nigh-Invulnerability — and necessitates that he be followed by an elite guard of churchgoers to keep him from getting baptized by accident.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • The premise of SCP-1440, the old man from nowhere. He was originally a nameless soldier that won a game of cards against Death (well, Deaths, there are three of them). They were perfectly content just letting him go, probably intent on collecting him later, but he decided to humiliate them further, challenging them to an all or nothing game. He won, and got the treasures of a cup containing the water of life, that could scare away the small death and save individuals, the deck of fate, that could turn the tides of battle and save the lives of armies, and the bag that could contain every disaster known and unknown to man. Understandably, Death were pissed, and decided to follow him around, causing death to everyone he encountered in his eternal life. His only hope is to capture the All-Death in the bag, keeping him hostage. Unfortunately, the All-Death wisely stays far away.
    • In Empty Nights, the All-Death eventually does come to him, but only after the man has used the final room in the bag to contain the Last of the Deathless. The All-Death isn't there to gloat as the man expected, but rather to quietly usher him on to the next world.

    Western Animation 
  • In Final Space, a tragic and terrifying variation occurs with Invictus, who can control the dead as its minions. When one of these puppet corpses is set free, he's revealed to have been resurrected and had his mind and personality restored by Invictus, and then it possessed him, just because it could. It's implied that Invictus does this to all its puppets. It isn't clear if they have any awareness, but even if they don't, they're not able to move on and be with their loved ones in the afterlife. While the freed one dies again soon after being saved, it's not shown if he isn't just brought back to life as a slave once more.
  • The episode "Ghost Princess" in Adventure Time features the soul of a dead princess who is Barred from the afterlife until she can remember how she died, which is inconvenient because ghosts can't remember who they were in life. She goes on a date with another ghost who seems familiar to her, and then Finn and Jake realize he was the person who killed her. This causes her to remember that the two were Star-Crossed Lovers on opposite sides of a war and he accidentally killed her. She forgives him for it, but now is being drawn towards the afterlife away from her lover who has yet to remember his own death. Then Jake realizes he witnessed the lover's death: mad with guilt over killing his love, he overate and ended up exploding in a convenience store. The lover remembers, and the couple proceed to the afterlife together.
  • Done beautifully in one episode of Animaniacs. The Warner siblings end up in Hell when they take a wrong turn, and subject it to their brand of mayhem. After they freeze the whole place, Satan literally kicks them out.
    Satan: Do you have any idea how long it takes to get the pilot lit?!?
  • Mc Pee Pants from Aqua Teen Hunger Force gets booted out of hell by Satan in a second attempt at a world domination scheme. By the third time he's revived, Satan is apparently so sick of him his entire next plot is getting a vampire to bite Pee Pants just so he's immortal and won't be sent back to hell, then he gets sent back anyway when he goes out during the day.
  • The version of the Gentleman Ghost seen in Batman: The Brave and the Bold is even worse than his comic book counterpart; Jim Craddock was a Jack the Ripper-expy who murdered women as part of a Deal with the Devil to make himself immortal. Unfortunately, what the demon actually promised was that Craddock's "spirit would never leave this world". As a result, Craddock is executed for his crimes, and rises again as the Gentleman Ghost.
  • In one episode of Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, the rangers encounter the spirit of Monterey Jack's ancestor Sir Colby who was cursed to Wander The Earth in death after abandoning his post in life. By scaring off Fat Cat and saving the Crown Jewels of England, he redeems himself and is able to pass on in peace.
  • In King of the Hill, Luanne makes a Christian puppet show called Manger Babies. The villain is a drunk driver who was exiled from Hell for borrowing Satan's truck without asking and crashing it.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, The Flying Dutchman kicks SpongeBob out of Davy Jones' locker 30 seconds after arriving there, due to his constant blabbering.
  • In the direct-to-video film from Transformers: Prime, when Megatron is confused as to why he hasn't crossed over into the Well of All Sparks yet. Unicron explains this is due to all the Dark Energon Megatron pumped into himself - he's now bound to Unicron. Whether the imprisonment of Unicron's anti-spark fixed the problem is pretty much left up in the air.
  • In Gargoyles, the Captain of the Guard and Hakon were unable to pass on after they both fell from the cliff. Neither of them know whether it was the magic of the place they landed on or if it was the strength of their hate that trapped them there. It's implied it's the latter as by the end, the Captain was able to move on after letting go of his hate and making amends while Hakon is left alone to stew in his hate.


Video Example(s):


Helluva Boss

Because C.H.E.R.U.B. accidentally got Lyle Lipton killed, they're barred from re-entering Heaven.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / BarredFromTheAfterlife

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