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Belated Happy Ending

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A story has an Ambiguous Ending. Did Bob win? Did Alice survive? Did the world find out what really happened? Either we just don't know, or Word of God says it's all open to interpretation.

Years pass. Then the author decides to return to the story, and a sequel or semi-sequel is released. It turns out Bob did win, Alice did make it out alive, the world found out about the truth, and everyone got their happy ending. This isn't just Word of God — the sequel itself shows us what happened after the end of the first story. The downplayed version happens if the sequel ends on a bittersweet note.

Compare I Knew It!, which is about fan theories being proved right, whereas a Belated Happy Ending is specifically about the characters (regardless of fan theories). See also Maybe Ever After, an ending which this trope can resolve. The inversion is Happy Ending Override where the heroes' victory and happy ending is turned into dust and ruins.

Since this is an ending trope, needless to say there will be unmarked spoilers ahead.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Adventure Time, the defeat of the Eldritch Abomination Legion of Doom in the "Dungeon Masters" arc releases Gata, Finn's and Jake's erased adopted sister from an earlier arc, from her status as a doomed Apocalypse Maiden and allows her to fully exist without causing horrible consequences, although it doesn't appear that the other characters recover their memories of their previous times with her.
  • In ElfQuest, the original authors eventually got back to writing the comics, and saved several characters who were Left Hanging in old plotlines: Ahdri gets rescued from the caves in which she was trapped for centuries, Strongbow and Moonshade are granted another daughter, and The Broken One finally gets healed.

    Comic Strips 
  • Little Orphan Annie ended with Annie in the hands of a notorious assassin, who while he wouldn't kill her because she was a kid, still refused to let her go because she might report him to the authorities, so she was stuck with him. Daddy Warbucks, meanwhile, had assumed her to be dead, and gave up hope of ever seeing her again. A crossover with Dick Tracy a few years later finally reunited the two in a Fully Absorbed Finale.

    Fan Works 
  • Back in 2006, Asatsuki Dou released a horribly depressing Touhou Project doujin called "Happiness". Not quite two years later they released "Happy End", which exists entirely to give "Happiness" a happy ending.
  • A Crown of Stars:
    • In 2009 a fan wrote a real depressing and dark story called "A Throne Of Bayonets." Five years later another fan read the story, thought the main characters deserved a happier ending than being two broken wreckes, and wrote an authorized sequel where they get slowly over their worst traumas and fix their strained relationship.
    • In a short scene the main characters of "The Way Out Is Through," a fic written in 2008, also appear and are given a chance to have a happy ending.
  • For My Hero Academia: Vigilantes in Crimson and Emerald Kouichi married Tensei and joined him as a sidekick in Idaten. Pop☆Step is poached from Idaten as sidekick for Hawks, which means she's on her way to fame as she's his top sidekick.

    Film — Animated 
  • At the end of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (one of the sequels to Final Fantasy VII), Aerith and Zack are finally shown to be reunited in the afterlife. And it isn't until the end of the film that Cloud shed the emotional hangups that kept him from being with Tifa and embracing a more proactive role in healing the world.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The film adaptation of The Giver confirms that there was life beyond the dystopia featured in the book and Jonas joined them. It also gives the people of the dystopia back their memories, providing a happy ending for them as well. See the literature folder for a different take on the series.
  • The fifth installment of Scream reveals that not only Sidney Prescott has recovered from the events of Scream 4 by moving out of Woodsboro for good, but she has started a family with Detective Mark Kincaid (who was her Implied Love Interest in Scream 3, until he disappeared in 4) and had at least two children with him.
  • The Spider-Man Trilogy gets one courtesy of Spider-Man: No Way Home where an incident through The Multiverse reveals that the Peter Parker of that universe has worked through his issues and is quite settled in life, even resolving his issues with Mary-Jane and apparently still being with her. Also, while the exact mechanics are unclear, the film may also have resulted in a Cosmic Retcon in which three of his villains are now redeemed and not dead anymore.

  • Blindness: One person regained her sight in the end of the novel, but the sequel takes place years after forgetting the whole incident.
  • In William Goldman's Brothers, Scylla (a character who was thought to have died in Marathon Man) is brought back, and finally gets a chance to reunite with Marathon Man's main character, Babe. Then the world ends.
  • Another William Goldman example: In Buttercup's Baby, the short story sequel to The Princess Bride, we find out that the characters did escape from being chased by Humperdinck in the original novel's open ending. Buttercup and Westley have a baby (as the title says). Interestingly, the story also wraps up some plot elements from Goldman's unrelated novel Control, although it's a bit of a Gainax Ending.
  • The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte has a group of bibliophiles competing over the collection of rare manuscripts. One of them is a treatise on sword fighting. Its author is Don Astarloa, the main character from his previous book The Fencing Master, who'd spent most of the story trying to write a treatise on fencing. Apparently he finally finished it.
  • A sequel to The Darksword Trilogy was written a few years after the series was completed, in which Simkin turns out to be alive, the war is finally settled, and Joram gets to finish all of his unfinished business.
  • The Divergent trilogy's infamous ending is somewhat mitigated by We Can Be Mended, a short story Veronica Roth published four years after Allegiant, in which Four and Christina, driven by their shared loss, end up falling for each other.
  • In Goethe's Faust, Mephisto takes Faust with him at the end, while Gretchen dies. In the sequel, Faust gets saved by... supernatural means.
  • The ending of Lois Lowry's The Giver is extremely ambiguous and heavily implies that Jonas and Gabriel die. In the last two books of the quartet, Messenger and Son, we learn that they both survive, and that Jonas manages to become leader of his community before setting it aside to start a family with Kira, and Gabe reunites with his birthmother.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. To start, Douglas Adams had expressed the desire to continue after Mostly Harmless' Downer Ending, but he Died During Production. One of his acquaintances, Eoin Colfer, was then given the rights to finish it by Adams' widow, and the book, And Another Thing..., ends on a fairly happy ending compared to the previous one.
  • Marie Lu's Legend Series ends with a Maybe Ever After where June and Day (now known by his real name Daniel) separate for a decade because of the latter's Laser-Guided Amnesia, before they end up reuniting by chance. Years after the third book was published, Lu wrote two novellas which explain a bit about the days following their reunion, but it wasn't until the fourth full-length novel, Rebel was published that the two finally tie the knot.
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit ends with the title character sick and in trouble with his mother for losing his clothes. Its sequel, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, shows that Peter was traumatised by the events of the first book, but his mother forgives him when he recovers his clothes. He grows up to be Older and Wiser in later books, and has a happy life as a successful cabbage farmer and Cool Uncle to Benjamin's children.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Doctor and River Song's relationship in Doctor Who ultimately has a Bittersweet Ending — the first time he meets her as Ten is the last time she meets him; their relationship hasn't happened yet on his end. He manages to upload her into the Library after her death, and from there his Eleventh self learns how she came to exist, fall in love with him, and so forth. But by the time his televised tenure is over, there is one key event not revealed — the circumstances of his second-to-last meeting with her, a dinner date at the Singing Towers of Darillium. It was suggested that this happened offscreen, but two-plus years after the last story to feature her ("The Name of the Doctor", the Series 7 finale) came the Christmas Episode "The Husbands of River Song" (which aired post-Series 9). This episode reveals that Eleven kept putting off the date; rather, the Twelfth Doctor fulfills that fact, he engineers it (and the circumstances of her being uploaded) based on the knowledge he's had since "Silence in the Library" when a starliner they happen to be on crashes on Darillium. And a night on Darillium lasts 24 years, so River Song finally has a full measure of happiness with her "sweetie" at last, fulfilling this trope — in fact, the episode ends on the text "And they lived Happily Ever After...", though by way of acknowledging the fundamental bittersweetness of it all, the words dissolve first to "And they lived happily", and then to just "happily".
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall's boss Arthur Hobbs lost his beloved dog Tugboat to his wife when they got a divorce, which he didn't take very well in season 6. We find out that by the time that Robin and Barney were engaged, he had gotten back custody of Tugboat.
  • In the Christmas Special of The Office (UK) (which was filmed after the main series was completed), Tim and Dawn finally get together.
  • Anthony in The Royle Family spends his teen years being ignored, lightly bullied by his father and unemployed. When he does married and get a good job, his wife cheats on him and leaves him. Then he meets Saskia, a beautiful nurse, falls in love and has another kid.
  • After the Maybe Ever After that closes Spaced, the "Skip to the End" documentary demonstrates that Tim and Daisy eventually had a little girl together and are still living in the same flat.
  • That '70s Show: The finale was ambiguous as to whether Eric and Donna would ever get back together again. The Sequel Series, That '90s Show, would establish that they had gotten back together again, having a teenage daughter by 1995.
  • Zigzagged in Twin Peaks, with Cooper escaping his imprisonment from the Black Lodge (though it takes a while to work fully) and BOB being destroyed for good in the penultimate episode after causing trouble for the last 25 years since the series originally ended. The final episode, however, has Cooper seemingly rewriting history to save Laura Palmer from her murder that set off the entire story of the series, which causes a whole slew of unintended consequences that erases a whole lot more from the timeline and leaving the series off once again on an ambiguous Gainax Ending.
  • The cancellation of Veronica Mars after its third season didn't leave much room for any resolution, let alone a happy one. Six years later, nearly nine years have passed in-universe when Veronica returns home in an ending. She gives up her normal life of soon becoming a New York corporate lawyer (quitting with job offers from prestigious firms and an impending Bar exam in the near future) to start her life of a private investigator anew. Even though her father is less than thrilled and she has left behind a life of privilege and a semi-stable relationship, and is now addled with student loans, the tie-in book sequels make it clear that this homecoming is the closest she has come to peace. And even though his military life separates Logan from her twice in the span of a year, this is the closest any of them have ever come to a happy ending in Neptune, CA.
  • Word of Honor: Many thought that Episode 36 was the series' finale, making the show end with the main characters' deaths. However, the bonus episode, which is taken as Episode 37 or epilogue, turns out to be the true ending for the seriesnote  and shows the protagonists have become immortal and are living Happily Ever After.
  • The episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles documenting the Battle of the Somme (after which the surviving Allied soldiers are all taken prisoner by the Germans), it is heavily implied that Indy's Belgian friend Remy is shot dead amidst the chaos; Indy doesn't meet up with him in the prison camp in the next episode. Soon afterward the series was cancelled...only to be (sort of) revived a few years later as a series of made-for-TV movies. In one of them, the war ends and Indy and Remy are happily reunited.

  • In Jimmy Dean's famous country song "Big Bad John", a heroic miner holds up the roof of a collapsing mine for long enough to everyone else to get out alive, but is killed himself. In the less well-known Sequel Song, "The Cajun Queen", his wife arrives, digs down to the bottom of the mine, and rescues him, bringing him back to life with True Love's Kiss.
  • "My R" by Vocaloid producer KurageP ends with the protagonist deciding to commit suicide after she can no longer convince herself to keep living. "Diary of Underage Observation", released three years later, ends with its protagonist noticing the girl about to jump and intervening in the nick of time.
  • In Puff the Magic Dragon, the final stanza before the final chorus states that the titular dragon's close human friend Jackie Paper eventually grows up and stops visiting and playing with Puff, leaving the dragon heartbroken and without the ability to feel brave anymore as he sadly slips away into his cave to be alone in his sorrow. The children's book adaptation released in 2007 (and made with direct input from the song's original author), however, ends (as shown via illustrations on the pages for the final chorus) with an adult Jackie Paper bringing his young daughter to Puff and introducing her to him as a brand new friend for him before the little girl and the now once again happy Puff go off to play and have fun together.

    Video Games 
  • In Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (the expansion pack to the second game), Sarevok, the villain from the first game, can finally find redemption.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition's DLC Trespasser gives one to counter the Downer Ending that Dragon Age II ends with: Varric inadvertently ends up becoming Viscount of Kirkwall when his complaints about one of his schemes being stymied by there being no official Viscount in the town and the complaint being misinterpreted as a volunteering for the post, and, depending on the state of things with the other DA2 companions, his auspices give them a chance of a good life.
    • Cullen gets one spanning the original trilogy; Origins puts him through a Trauma Conga Line, 2 has him become more stable but also becomes an anti-mage hardliner. His appearance in Inquisition has him finally learn to let go of his prejudices (for the most part) and retire in peace, potentially with the Inquisitor as his wife. Unless you specifically choose to make it end badly for him.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim does this in regards to what was previously a definitive Downer Ending for Lucien Lachance from the previous installment, who after his horrific demise following being framed as a traitor is revealed to live on as the Spectral Assassin.
  • The True Ending of the first route in Fate/stay night ends with Saber and Shirou separated. Saber dies in the past and Shirou resolves to follow his dream, which is heavily deconstructed in the other routes with the implication that he'll ultimately end up following a similar path to Archer. The Realta Nua version has an Omega Ending where the two are reunited in Avalon, which also reveals Shirou didn't go down the same path as Archer because he had the goal to finally reunite with her.
  • The Final Fantasy games feature many examples.
    • Final Fantasy X-2: The first game ended on a bittersweet note with Tidus disappearing. The sequel sets to rectify this and, while the conflict the protagonists face is pretty big, it doesn't reach the heights of the previous game — the Big Bad is a dangerously powerful machine as opposed to an Eldritch Abomination that can't be killed. There are multiple endings for the player to get and most of them (bar one bad ending you get if you lose the Final Battle) are happy. The player can choose whether or not Yuna can reunite with Tidus and if she doesn't, the ending is still uplifting because she has moved on.
    • In Final Fantasy V, Gilgamesh was lost to the Void. Three games later, in Final Fantasy VIII, he returned, and has appeared in every Final Fantasy game since, even retroactively including the ones before V by means of remakes. Dissidia 012 Duodecim explicitly confirms that he is indeed the same character from V in all appearances, having been wandering dimensions at the mercy of the Rift since his original disappearance but still determined to get back home.
    • The ending of Final Fantasy VII was vague as to the outcome of the cast and human beings in general. A post-credits scene which showed exactly one of the party members (A slow aging lion-type creature) still alive five hundred years later did little to answer questions as to the fate of the cast either. Cue the eventual Compilation releases eight years later, which finally set the record straight.
    • In Vagrant Story (which takes place centuries after Final Fantasy Tactics), various item descriptions mention the Zodiac Brave Story from the first game, naming Agrias, Orlandu and several others as well-known heroes. That means the Durai report from Tactics, containing a true account of what happened during the war, was eventually accepted as historical canon.
    • Related to the above, we only found out Ramza and Alma survived the events of Final Fantasy Tactics 15 years after the game's initial release, courtesy of a Twitter post Yasumi Matsuno made on Valentine's Day 2012.
  • Left 4 Dead has a Survival-only campaign, The Last Stand, where Failure Is the Only Option as the Survivors try to last as long as they can against a never-ending horde of zombies. When the campaign was remade for Left 4 Dead 2, it added a normal co-op campaign to it as well where the Survivors end up getting rescued in the end.
  • Mass Effect 3 is a very literal case, as virulently hostile fan reaction to the original ambiguous-to-depressing potential range of endings led to the release of postscript DLC that improved it. A short turnaround time later and most of the endings are clarified to being some form of everything is eventually rebuilt and life goes on in peace, with the exception of one flat-out Downer Ending if you're dumb enough to refuse the final choice altogether, and another where the Reapers are destroyed but the cast is killed. The latter, notably, can only be achieved with the very specific circumstances of having the bare-minimum cumulative War Assets.
  • The good ending to the sequel to Myst, Riven is somewhat somber. While the player character has managed to reunite Atrus and Catherine, Catherine has ensured the Rivenese people have escaped into Tay, and Gehn will no longer be able to hurt anyone else, the player has no choice but to jump into the same Star Fissure into which Atrus once fell before using the Myst book, hoping that it will safely return them to their home just as it once dropped the Myst book into their hands. It's very unlikely that their paths will ever cross again, and unclear what sort of life Atrus and Catherine will be able to rebuild after years apart and so much loss at the hands of their sons. But the further novel and game sequels make it clear that, actually, things worked out pretty well. Without the looming specter of Gehn, Atrus and Catherine were able to gather up other D'ni descendends and even surviving refugees, write up a new home for them, and start rebuilding their civilization, but without the tragic hubris that led to the fall of the original D'ni. They have another child, Yeesha, who, while she has her ups and downs, ultimately proves to be a positive force in the world. And the player character even manages to find Atrus and Catherine once again, remaining a family friend for the rest of their life and into at least two more adventures.
  • Alex manages to contain the vengeful spirits at the end of Oxenfree, but at the cost of her and her friends becoming stuck in time themselves, apparently for all eternity. Or in any case until Oxenfree 2, where they manage to break out of their endless time loop and trap the other ghosts even more securely. Keeping with the bittersweet theme, this does require them to sacrifice one other person, chosen by the protagonist of the sequel.
  • Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has Armaldo, who was last seen in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers being arrested as an outlaw and forced to give up teaching Igglybuff exploring, now living a free and honest life as an explorer and befriended another Igglybuff as shown in his rescue mission.
  • Radiant Silvergun ends with the Stone-Like, having already wiped out all life on Earth save for a few survivors who fled Earth for a year, wiping out two of those remaining survivors, forcing the two Player Characters and their robot companion to flee into the past, where they too get killed by the Stone-Like and the robot creates clones of the protagonists to repopulate the Earth, knowing full well that the cycle will repeat again. In Ikaruga, it ends with a Bittersweet Ending. Its protagonists commit a Heroic Sacrifice to finally destroy the Stone-Like and put an end to the cycle.
  • Shin Megami Tensei:
  • The final Segata Sanshiro commercial had him sacrifice his life to prevent a missile from destroying the Sega headquarters. Fourteen years later, however, Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed revealed that, against all odds, he survived — his vehicle in that game is the missile. Likewise, Project × Zone 2 further confirms his survival (and he's even managed to ditch the missile somewhere).
  • Happens a lot in Silent Hill games. They all have Multiple Endings, but occasionally a sequel to an older game will confirm one of those endings directly or indirectly — usually for the better. Examples include:
    • Silent Hill 3 confirmed the Good (or Good+) ending of Silent Hill by showing Harry and Alessa/Cheryl/Heather had survived four years after the original game was released. Similarly, Silent Hill: Homecoming confirmed the Normal endings for both Silent Hill 3 (mentioning Douglas' work had brought The Order's downfall, indicating his — and therefore Heather's — survival) and Silent Hill: Origins (protagonist Travis Grady shows up visibly aged, though alive and well, for a cameo).
    • Subverted with Silent Hill 4, though, which further confirms the worst possible ending available for Silent Hill 2 - that James is missing, having probably committed suicide. Maybe. The only thing that Silent Hill 4 makes clear is that James never returned to his old life; SH2's creative director has gone on record that there is no official canon ending to James' story, and players were meant to choose whichever ending that offers the best closure for themselves, so whether James drowned himself in Toluca Lake, remained in the town to try and revive Mary, or left with Maria or Laura to start over again depends on what one personally feels he should have done.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) ends with Sonic erasing the events of the game from history... Except for Silver, who remains living in the Crapsack World of his time, and with his best friend Blaze now living in another dimension. Come Sonic Generations in 2011, Silver is reunited with Sonic & Blaze, and instead of returning to his own time at the end of the game, winds up living in the present with the Bad Future he comes from no longer a possibility. And he was also Rescued from the Scrappy Heap, too.
  • Akiha's True Ending in Tsukihime is rather bittersweet at best and very ambiguous on whether or not Shiki is even alive. The sequel/sidestory Kagetsu Tohya then had the short story "A Story for the Evening" which follows said ending. It reveals that he is alive.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has potentially this scenario if Geralt romanced Yennefer or Triss, but got the Downer Ending in the base game. Completing the Blood and Wine DLC expansion has whichever Geralt romanced show up at his vineyard at Corvo Bianco. Yennefer even moves in with him.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed: For Xenoblade Chronicles 3's own Bittersweet Ending. The Stinger explicitly shows the two worlds merging after Origin was restored, thus confirming that Ouroboros and everyone from the two worlds won't be separated for long and that the people of the City will be reborn on the new world, overriding the in-universe fears of many characters in 3 and the ambiguity of the ending.

    Western Animation