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Bittersweet Ending

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"This was a happy story. But... it could still be a whole lot happier..."

Victory, at last! The Big Bad has finally been vanquished, the day has been saved, all the damsels in distress and innocent bystanders have been rescued and the heroes are ready to reap their reward, kiss their Love Interests and walk away toward the setting sun...

...victory, really? Then why does no one feel like cheering? Why is the atmosphere so heavy with melancholy? Why do you find yourself counting your losses as well as your gains?

Somewhere between Happily Ever After and a Downer Ending, the Bittersweet Ending happens when victory came at a harsh price, when, for whatever reason, the heroes cannot fully enjoy the reward of their actions, when some irrevocable loss has happened during the course of the events, and nothing will ever be the same again. A Bittersweet Ending is still ending on a high note, but one that is mixed with sadness and nostalgia. Often, such endings are the result of the plot making a completely happy ending impossible. (Looked at objectively, some Happy Endings have more things lost or irrevocably broken than some Bittersweet Endings. This trope relies more on the mood than on such objective weighing of matters.)

Some specific cases of Bittersweet Endings are:

Bittersweet Endings can fall on either end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. They come up frequently in High Fantasy, for obvious reasons — an epic that ends with the hero triumphing over the ultimate Big Bad and bringing peace and prosperity to the land, but at the same time defeating the ultimate Big Bad does not always come without sacrifices, whether it be most or all of the characters dying in the end or the characters are at a loss about what to do now. Sometimes these are worlds and stories where you can Earn Your Happy Ending, though it won't be Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
Also shows where too many romantic interests are introduced for one hero are doomed to end in this way or with No Romantic Resolution, since painless resolution is mostly impossible.

Sometimes the story's Aesop requires a bittersweet ending in order to be effective. For certain issues, this is the only way to get the point across without the effect being undermined by other tropes such as the "Everybody Laughs" Ending.

In short, if the characters are worse off than when they started, it's a Downer Ending. If they're better off (or at least status quo is preserved), but the work still ends on a melancholy note, it's a Bittersweet Ending. Another way to think of it is that if the story's main conflict is resolved in favor of the protagonists, but at great sacrifice, it's a Bittersweet Ending. A Downer Ending requires the heroes to fail, and the conflict resolving with nothing good happening in the end, if it's even resolved at all.

Prone to Meaningful Funerals, Wartime Weddings, and To Absent Friends, and having Babies Ever After and Someone to Remember Him By result in Dead Guy Junior.

Compare with Pyrrhic Victory, where the day is carried, but the cost of winning is crippling to the victors.

Compare and contrast with "Ray of Hope" Ending, where the villain prevails but not all is lost. Also with Esoteric Happy Ending, where the author clearly meant it to be joyful, beautiful, and uplifting… but the readers don't see it that way. May overlap with Tear Dryer if more emphasis is placed on the "sweet" part.

Note that as an ending trope, the following entries are riddled with unmarked spoilers.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

Asian Animation
  • Happy Heroes: The end of the "Legend of a Hero" arc in Season 7. Sure, they drove out the invaders, but at what cost? Kalo's life, for he was the one who sacrificed himself to save the planet. Needless to say, the heroes (especially Careful S.) are still in tears despite the enemy being driven away.
  • Hayop Ka!: The Nimfa Dimaano Story: Nimfa does not end up with either of her love interests, having dumped Roger for Inigo only to discover Inigo never cared about her, leaving her with no choice but to raise her baby by herself. But she strikes up a friendship with Jerry and seems to be doing fine as a single mother. She even patches things up with her sister who, along with her mom and Jerry, helps her out.
  • Leafie, a Hen into the Wild: Greenie becomes the guard duck of his flock and is able to set out and see the world while Leafie lets herself be eaten by One-Eye so her babies can survive.
  • Next Gen: Ares and the Q-Bots are destroyed but 7723 had to wipe his memory to fight him. However, Mai begins making new memories with him.
  • Padak: The titular character and Spotty die, with the remaining presumed to meet the same fate, while the Master learns from his mistakes and Padak's efforts and actually escapes to freedom in the ocean.
  • Sky Blue. Sure, Ecoban falls, but Jay will almost certainly die, and Woody isn't in great shape either. Oh, and they were wrong about Gibraltar.
  • White Snake (2019): The snake hunting village is saved, antagonists are dead and Blanca is saved by Xuan but he sacrificed himself to do and almost has his very soul destroyed, Blanca manages to save his soul and he is reincarnated. However, this also means that Xuan couldn't properly part ways with Dudou or the villagers. And 500 years later, with the help of her now redeemed sister, Blanca manages to find Xuan's reincarnation with the implication that they will be together.

Eastern European Animation

  • Gypsy Tales: "The Gypsy Woman and the Devil" ends with the devil cursing Vunida to turn into a cherry tree, never being able to talk to her children again, and the children never realizing what happened to their mother. On the sweet side, she gets to feed her starving children with her fruit, who all grow up to adulthood; and as a bonus the children cook and eat the devil in bird form too.
  • The Pied Piper: While all of the corrupt and cruel townspeople were transformed into rats and fell into the lake to drown, the young innocent woman was murdered without the Piper being able to save her and the Piper himself vanishes after the townspeople have drowned and Hamelin is left empty. But the Fisherman is spared by the Piper and rescues a baby from the town and ends up taking the child to a better place to live in.
  • Scamper the Penguin: The poachers are killed and Scamper becomes the penguins' leader but Gilbert and several other penguins are dead, Mac leaves in search of his family and Don leaves with his owner without getting to say goodbye to Scamper.
  • Strings: The Zeriths and Hebalon are at peace, but it doesn't change the fact that Jhinna died undeservedly.


  • Interstitial: Actual Play sees two pop up during the Door to Darkness one-shots.
    • A Touch of Darkness. Shego defeats Kim Possible, kills Betty, leaves Fred to die, and makes Archie so angry that she's able to take control of his Darkness and allow him to be Norted. Archie leaves with the Organization, but shortly after an amnesiac Nobody made from Betty appears and is able to rouse Fred from the brink of death.
    • Lonely Hearts. The defeat of the Sheriff at Bright Eyes' hands helps dissuade a good portion of the xenophobia they had prior, and the Killjoys remain in Twin Peaks to help continue the healing. However, Bright Eyes and Calumon are separated and alone because Calumon wiped himself from everyone's memory and chose not to restore himself to Bright Eyes.
  • Episode four of Mystery Show, titled "Vanity Plate." Starlee finds the plate's owner and learns that it refers to September 11th, which is the woman's mother's birthday, an occasion that saved her from being in New York on 9/11. The plate is a tribute to her mother and to the friends that she lost.

Professional Wrestling

  • A match seven years in the making (pretty much unheard of in wrestling) was "wrestled" at WWC Aniversario 2011, with the Universal Champion Carlito Caribbean Cool taking on the main he'd been teased as too scared to fight, Abyss, in a monster's ball. Carlito won, but was left lying prone after Abyss put him through a steel chair with a choke slam.


  • The Bible from start to finish. Humanity gains knowledge, but loses Paradise. The Israelites are freed from slavery, but at the cost of thousands of Egyptian lives. Moses serves long and well as a prophet, but dies before reaching the Promised Land. The Jews build a magnificent temple, which is subsequently wrecked when the country is conquered... twice. Jesus preaches and wins many followers, but then he gets painfully executed. He comes back, but a month later goes back home (subverted with him promising to return someday). People start off happy, they sin, they get punished, they reconcile, they get redeemed, rinse and repeat, with the eventual death of nearly everyone (inevitably, since it all happened thousands of years ago).


The Obsolete Man

The Chancellor ends up breaking one of his rules in a state of cowardness and is declared obsolete by the state, just as he had done to Romney Wordsworth. Rod Serling then states that the state's downfall will soon follow, declaring that any nation that refuses to recognize the worth, dignity, and rights of man is obsolete.

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