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Cheated Death, Died Anyway

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Alice receives a phone call and is told that there has been a fire at the office Bob works and he is missing, presumed dead. She is called again later and is told Bob has survived, much to Alice's relief.

Then only a half-hour later, Alice receives yet another phone call. Bob is dead. He crashed his car driving home from the office.

Essentially, this character narrowly escapes death on occasion (and perhaps more than one occasion), only to die shortly thereafter anyway...in a completely different way. As We All Die Someday, death is a natural part of everyone's lives, and so this trope only applies when a character dies for real in an unexpected / violent / sudden manner, and that the irony is present that they were saved only to later die in such a way. Exactly how close the two incidents have to be varies, so the important factor in this trope is the presence of irony. This can apply in a matter of minutes, months, or even (in rare cases) years; the deciding factor is the Bait-and-Switch element of the death.

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It may overlap with All for Nothing and Hope Spot. This may be a result of Balancing Death's Books (which will usually be acknowledged in more supernatural works). If it's a villain that dies this way, it may be an example of Karma Houdini Warranty. If it's a hero, it may form part of the conclusion to a Shoot the Shaggy Dog story.

Yes, this is a death trope, so spoilers ahead.

Subtrope of You Can't Fight Fate. See also Take a Moment to Catch Your Death, Not Quite Saved Enough, and Life Will Kill You.

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No Real Life Examples, Please!


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • This is part of Ghost Rider's origin. Johnny Blaze sold his soul to Mephisto in exchange for a cure for his adopted father's cancer. Mephisto agreed, and thus Crash Simpson was miraculously cured of cancer, but he then died in a stunt gone wrong.
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank: Frank Castle interrogates a mafioso in his car on the freeway, before telling him to get out (while the car is still moving). The man does so, miraculously survives... only to get run over by a food truck. Belonging to a company called Frank's.

    Fan Works 
  • In Harry Potter fanfic The Power Of The Press, Dumbledore survives almost choking on a lemon drop only to be hit by a bus and killed less than a minute later.
  • RWBY fanfic 31 Days of RWBY Halloween: The "Final Destination plot" version is parodied. Roughly once a year, Death remembers that Salem has cheated all previous deaths, and she suddenly begins suffering ridiculous accidents to kill her. But apparently Death is a bit of a dumbass, because it forgets that Salem has Complete Immortality and cannot be killed. So she has to deal with accidentally hanging herself in the shower, her minions accidentally shooting her in the face, and her Scroll exploding with the force of a grenade. This lasts for a day or two until Death gives up for the time being. Salem, on the other hand, barely even notices anymore.

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    Films — Animation 
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: When the Canadian army bombs the Baldwin family manor, Billy Baldwin miraculously survives. He comes dancing out the wreckage taunting the planes, "Ha ha, you missed me!" Then one more plane flies over and drops a bomb that scores a direct hit.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Brazil, Sam manages to save Jill by hacking into a government database and declaring her dead. Shortly after doing so, she is killed by government agents during a raid. An official tells Sam that somehow she's managed to die twice.
  • Invoked in-universe in Escape Room. All of the main characters are revealed to have survived earlier incidents only to be killed off one by one in each room after the first. The Big Bad purposely chose them to, in Zoey's words, "see who's the luckiest of the lucky."
  • The premise of the Final Destination franchise is that a moment of premonition allows people to predict — and avoid — an accidental death. Then, a strange force ensures that all of those people will die soon afterwards in similar accidents.
  • In Ghost Town, Frank narrowly avoids getting crushed by a falling air conditioner, only to then get hit by a bus.
  • GoldenEye: Boris survives the destruction of Janos' base in Cuba, only to be frozen solid by an exploding nitrogen tank moments after he celebrates his good fortune with his catchphrase 'I AM INVINCIBLE!'
  • I Care a Lot: Marla manages to kick her way out of the car that Roman pushed into the lake, only to be shot several months later by a man whose mother she conned.
  • In Bruges: Ken faces down Harry who has already planned on killing him. He gives a Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred speech, and Harry relents and shoots him in the arm. Having cheated death, Harry then finds out that Ray is still in Bruges and gives Ken a much more deadly wound for real this time. And then Ken jumps off the building to get Ray's attention.
  • Judas and the Black Messiah: Or murdered, more accurately. Jimmy is shot during the police standoff at the Black Panther HQ, but survives and is getting better. Until he gets transferred to the county hospital and murdered.
  • Lawrence of Arabia: After leading the Arab cavalry through the Nefud (an inhospitable region of sand dunes) during the night, Lawrence finds one of his men, Gasim, got separated from the group and is now lost. His advisors tell Lawrence that Gasim is as good as dead now that the Sun is up, but Lawrence rides back anyway and successfully rescues him. Not long after, a quarrel amongst the Arabs leaves one man dead, and Lawrence realizes the only way to prevent this from spinning into a Cycle of Revenge is if he executes the murderer himself. As it turns out, the murderer is none other than Gasim — and Lawrence does his duty and executes him.
  • Patton: One of the more awesome scenes is Patton firing at a Nazi bomber strafing his command. Towards then end the film has a scene that hints at Patton's death in a traffic accident. The TV movie sequel The Last Days of Patton, takes place during and after the car accident that took his life.
  • The climax of The Matrix Reloaded is The Architect presenting Neo with a Sadistic Choice: either Neo can save his love interest Trinity from certain death, or he can save the rest of humanity from certain extinction. Neo rejects this dichotomy and saves Trinity (literally bringing her back from the dead using his powers as The One), then insists he'll find a way to save humanity afterwards, anyway. Then, in a blatant case of a Two-Part Trilogy, that plot concludes in The Matrix Revolutions, set just hours or days after Reloaded. Neo and Trinity travel to the Machine City in order to save humanity—but Trinity dies en route, and this time Neo can't bring her back. (Ironically, proving The Architect was correct that Neo couldn't save both, but wrong about how each option would play out.)
  • Trick 'r Treat has this happen to Kreeg. Survives a fight to death against the embodiment of Halloween itself, gets to then show redemption in giving children candy for a few minutes, maybe an hour. Followed by getting killed by a group of zombies whose death he had caused in the past.

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Batwoman, Alice and her good alternate-reality counterpart Beth are both dying because only one version of them can exist in the same reality. Beth's stepsister Mary manages to find a medical cure that will keep her alive just long enough that she'll outlive Alice, at which point she'll survive by default. Unfortunately, as Lucas is transporting Beth to a safe place to recuperate, Beth gets shot by a sniper who mistakes her for Alice, against whom he has a grudge.
  • Season 1 finale of Being Erica: Erica goes back and saves her brother Leo from dying. When she's back in the present, he's alive for 5 minutes before he dies in a car crash. This was because she broke the rules of time travel and the universe repaired itself.
  • In an episode of Bones, Sweets meets a young man on the subway who had just gotten clear of cancer. Then an earthquake hits DC and the young man is killed.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Help", Buffy saves a girl (who believes she will die on that day) from being killed by a cult; then just before midnight the girl collapses & dies of a congenital heart defect.
  • In CSI: NY, it's revealed that Mac's wife (who died in 9/11) made it out of the first tower, only to be crushed by falling rubble from the second.
  • Desperate Housewives:
    • Rex survives his heart attack, only to have another one because George tampered with his medication and die.
    • Edie escapes being strangled by Dave after she discovers his true identity - only to crash her car and die from a combination of that and electrocution.
    • Carlos's mother survives in a coma after being hit by the drink-driving Andrew, only to fall down the stairs and die when she wakes up.
    • Susan convinces Paul to spare Felicia when he's strangling her after she ties him to a chair and tries to poison him with antifreeze. However, when Felicia is driving away from the lane, Beth's ashes blow in her face and lead to her driving her car off the road and dying.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Robb needs Walder Frey's men to help him survive the battle with the Lannisters, which he does, but it requires him to enter a marriage pact with Walder Frey's daughter. He ends up getting injured - but not dying - on the battlefield, where he meets Talisa, falls in love with her, and gets killed by Walder Frey and his men in punishment for breaking his word.
    • Jorah Mormont fought off his seemingly-insurmountable infection of Greyscale, only to die in the penultimate battle of the series.
  • The back story of God Friended Me is that Miles' mother was suffering from cancer when he was eight. He'd pray every night for her to get better. It seemed like his prayers were answered when his mother went into remission. Then on the way home from the doctor's, she died in a car accident. The sheer unfairness of the situation drove Miles to become an atheist.
  • The Haunting of Bly Manor: Viola's fate. She had a disease that may have been consumption, lung cancer, or tuberculosis, but she clung on for literally years longer than anyone expected...until she pushed Perdita too far and Perdita smothered her via a hand to the mouth.
  • In Jane the Virgin, Michael survives being shot by Rose, only to collapse and apparently die half a season later.
  • In Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the victim of "Reunion" was the Sole Survivor of a plane crash (that also killed her son's father when he was a young child), and later beat breast and lung cancer at different times only to be bludgeoned to death by a champagne bottle.
  • Lost Girl has one episode where a banshee wails to signal the death of a Fae, which turns out to be Sean Kavanaugh. Sean's brother Liam (a fraudulent Wall Street broker) had hired an assassin to kill him. After defeating the assassin and reconciling the brothers, Liam calls off the hit, but Sean ends up getting killed at the end anyway by a disgruntled investor who was aiming for Liam.
  • Inverted in a post-9/11 episode of NYPD Blue a woman's body is found buried in concrete. It turns out she worked at the World Trade Center and was missing/presumed dead from that, but she was actually killed by her lover earlier that day.
  • In one episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer travels back into the past and somehow alters his own history in a way that when he returns to the present he's still alive instead of being a hologram- only to be killed moments later.
  • Shameless (US): Frank has cheated death many, many times, like when he nearly dies of liver failure, gets the liver, and immediately starts drinking again. But a particularly abrupt version occurs in the series finale, where he survives his attempted suicide by OD, then catches COVID and dies in the hospital.
  • Six Feet Under: Nate learns at the end of Season 1 that he has a brain condition which means he could have a seizure or stroke at any time. The first couple of seasons build up to Nate having the risky surgery that will repair his condition, which he eventually does, and he is cured and appears to live a normal and much happier life. Then he has a second brain haemorrhage that has built up since he had it repaired, but he's expected to make a full recovery. Then he actually has another haemorrhage that results in his death.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season six episode "Change of Heart", Jadzia is badly injured and Worf has to leave her to die in order to complete the mission; at the last minute, he decides he can't go through with it and instead sacrifices the mission to save her. Jadzia ends up dying for real in that season's finale.
  • One episode of The Twilight Zone (2002) is all about this trope. A man survives lethal execution and a serious of other bizarre nearly life-ending mishaps one after the other, but always hears a voice shouting "not yet!" When it finally shouts, "NOW!", a statue falls on him and crushes him.
  • The Unusuals: A woman who claims to be psychic believes she is going to die on a bus, and confesses that much to Leo - who himself is afraid of dying at age 42 because all his male relatives died at 42 (and he's 42 now), so he always wears a bulletproof vest. She keeps getting on buses she somehow knows are going to be hijacked by a man with a grenade. Leo follows her onto one of the buses. When the hijacker drops the grenade, Leo falls on it. But it was a fake, and obviously didn't explode. The psychic is confused, but Leo thinks he's found a way to Screw Destiny. He even gives up his bulletproof vest. Until later that night, he gets a call: there was a bus accident and the psychic had been killed in it. Cue Leo buckling up his vest again.
  • You (2018):
    • Joe saves Beck from being crushed under train tracks at the beginning of the story after she drunkenly falls onto them because he's stalking her. At the end of the Season 1, he strangles her to death after she finds out that he was stalking her (and murdering her friends and exes.)
    • Candace managed to dig herself out after being buried alive by Joe before Season 1, as revealed in flashbacks throughout Season 2. She returns to find Joe and make him suffer before revealing what he did and attempts to protect his new girlfriend, Love. When Candace manages to imprison Joe (after he makes several attempts to kill her), she actually gets him to feel some genuine remorse, she then makes the fatal mistake of bringing Love to see Joe. Love turns out to be a Joe-centred yandere, and she kills Candace via slashed throat for real this time.
  • At the end of The Young Ones, Vyvyan drives a double-decker bus, with the rest of the gang, over a cliff. After hitting the bottom they somehow survive, only to have the bus explode, resulting in their deaths.

    Music 
  • Depeche Mode's "Blasphemous Rumours" tells the story of the Happily Failed Suicide of a sixteen-year-old girl who is hit by a car and killed two years later.
  • Furthermore has the song "Being a Ghost Isn't That Great". In the final verse, the ghost protagonist convinces God to let him return to life on Earth, and he celebrates his regained physical form by going to the beach. But as he's swimming in the ocean, a wave catches him and smashes his head against a rock, reducing him to a ghost again.

    Video Games 
  • At the end of Mass Effect, Commander Shepard narrowly evades being crushed by falling debris. Mass Effect 2 begins with Shepard being killed without mercy by the Collectors a month later, when they destroy their spaceship, the SSV Normandy. Extensive augmentation on Shepard's remains by the human supremacists Cerberus allows the Commander to return two years later. And even then, if the player screws up spectacularly bad during the game, Shepard can die again for real in the ending (along with everyone else but Joker). And even if Shepard survives the events of 2, all but one ending in Mass Effect 3 sees Shepard pulling a final Heroic Sacrifice to save the entire galaxy from the Reaper threat.
  • Resident Evil: In the remake of the original game, during both Chris and Jill's campaigns, you can save Richard from dying by being bitten by Yawn by retrieving anti-venom for him, only for him to die later by being eaten by the aforementioned Yawn in Jill's route or by being attacked by Neptune in Chris's route.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Cyanide & Happiness short "Step on a Crack", a man thinks his daughter stepping on a line will break his spine, as a similar thing just happened to her mother, only to find that he is not the girl's real father when the neighbor's back is broken instead. However, the girl's brother accidentally steps on another line on the ground, killing the father as he's driving away.

    Webcomics 
  • Girl Genius: Moloch and his brother Omar survive their clank being blown up by DuPree only for Omar to be killed when they seek refuge in town because he stole the Heterodyne device designed to shut down Agatha's Spark and it shut down Omar's brain and body.

    Western Animation 
  • In the first season of Bojack Horseman, BoJack's former friend Herb is dying of rectal cancer and as seen by his pale, gaunt figure, doesn't have much time left. Sure enough, by the second season, BoJack is attending Herb's funeral... however, we find out that Herb's cancer had gone into remission, and he actually died in a car crash on his way home from the hospital into a truck carrying peanuts (which he was severely allergic to) and he had a fatal reaction.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Off Colors", Lars draws a Homeworld Attack Drone to himself to save a gem it was about to kill, but it doesn't attack him because Lars is human. However, when Lars destroys the drone a few minutes later, the explosion kills him anyway, though he's resurrected just as quickly.

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