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Cliffhanger Wall

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A franchise or series has an entry end on a major climactic moment or shocking event that indicates that things are going down in the next installment. Yes, coming up next is a huge shake-up in the status quo, or the Final Battle, or the answers to one of the biggest mysteries of the series.

Except... no. The next video game, book, or film isn't about any of that. Actually, the next few stories aren't about any of that. Instead of a proper sequel, we get prequels, interquels, spin-offs, and remakes. The creators just don't want to resolve the storyline they left their audience on years ago, and so leave them staring at a Cliffhanger Wall.

The reasons for this may vary. Maybe the creators just want to flesh out other elements of the world first, to better setup the resolution. Perhaps they have a serious case of writer's block and can't think of a satisfying resolution, so they're stalling until they can. Or they wrote themselves into a corner, but they like the story too much to actually retcon the events. Or they want to retcon it (say, because of audience backlash) but can't for whatever reason, so they do the next best thing and pretend it doesn't exist. Whatever the case might be, creators must be careful — if the audience decides that the cliffhanger will never be resolved, then they may decide to abandon the series entirely.

To qualify for this trope, a series should have a minimum of two entries released after the cliffhanger installment that don't pick up where that story left off, or at least some combination of a prolonged Sequel Gap and a plot unresolving entry. Either way, the creators must have released other works in that franchise afterwards. If they didn't, you've just been Left Hanging instead. Can overlap with Non-Linear Sequel if a series that started off going in chronological order begins to permanently jump around the timeline. Can turn into Accidental Downer Ending if it's confirmed that the resolution to the cliffhanger is never coming.

Sub-Trope of Anachronic Order. Can overlap with Sequel Gap, where a significant amount of time passes between any releases. Compare and contrast with Stillborn Franchise, as the franchise does continue, but it nevertheless neglects to further the storyline. Not to be confused with Capcom Sequel Stagnation, where the intervening time is filled with a multitude of Updated Re-releases rather than any new stories.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon Adventure tri. ends with Dark Gennai intending to gather data from Daemon and Diaboromon. The next movie after that in the Adventure timeline, though, Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna, goes with a different plot instead while never bringing up anyone from the previous cliffhanger.
  • Zig-zagged by Dragon Ball, as the long-running manga ended with a sudden 10-year timeskip with Goku meeting Uub and leaving to train with him, a timeskip that Dragon Ball GT immediately followed right after with an anime-only story with a finale that'd conclude the story of Dragon Ball. With a new show kickstarted by Battle of Gods in 2013 and followed by 2015's Dragon Ball Super, the series continued as an interquel between the Majin Buu saga and the "End of Z" era, retconning GT out of canon. Even as the Super manga has progressed, it still hasn't reached Z's time skip finale, with the new material staying with arcs between those two points, meaning there's no canon continuation of Z's ending.
  • Ever since Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force was Quietly Cancelled in 2013 (in the middle of a chapter, no less), the primary timeline of the Lyrical Nanoha series has never advanced past its last chapter. Instead, the creators have only published interquels like ViVid Strike! and outright alternate timelines, like the Reflection and Detonation movies and the INNOCENT games.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion ends with Homura stealing Madoka's powers, becoming a devil, and gaining control of the world while trapping everyone in a Lotus-Eater Machine and erasing their memories. But despite this ending being done specifically to set up sequels, with the "Concept Movie" being the planned sequel film, said film, Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Walpurgisnacht Rising, would take eight years just to get an official name. Instead, all the subsequent works have been spin-offs such as mangas, mobile games, and drama CDs, none of which take place after Rebellion and only one of which references it (Wraith Arc).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Fast and the Furious: The third film in the franchise, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, was followed by three interquels — Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and Fast & Furious 6 — leaving it chronologically the last film for nine years. It wasn't until the release of Furious 7 that the timeline moved forward again.
  • Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) ends with Elise (now a ghost) noticing a demonic presence lurking in the dark. The next two films Chapter 3 (2015) and The Last Key (2018) were both prequels leaving the cliffhanger as the last chronological event for a decade. The cliffhanger is finally broken in The Red Door (2023), which takes place nine years after Chapter 2.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have generally been released in chronological order. However, Avengers: Infinity War ended on a massive cliffhanger in which Thanos successfully uses the power of the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe. Between that film and Avengers: Endgame, there were two movies (Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel) set before Infinity War.

    Literature 
  • Foundation and Earth ends with half of the path to the Second Empire yet to come, and reflections about how humanity might have to face new threats. However, Asimov never continued further, and instead wrote two prequel novels.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle has not received a proper sequel since 2011. Instead, Patrick Rothfuss seems content with publishing side stories, like the short stories "How Old Holly Came To Be" and "The Lightning Tree", the novella The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and even a podcast mini-series — all while assuring the waiting fans that he is working on the next (and final) full installment of the Kvothe trilogy.
  • George R. R. Martin released the last mainline A Song of Ice and Fire novel A Dance with Dragons in 2011. Since then he's released no fewer than six books set in the universe but fans are still waiting for him to release the last two planned mainline novels The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring.
  • Inverted with Star Wars Legends. The writers had an Executive Veto that forbid them from exploring anything that happened before A New Hope meaning anyone picking the books to learn more about the backstory of the characters or the universe would have to wait until The Phantom Menace for that to happen.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lampshaded in Sledge Hammer! At the end of the first season, the producers were sure the show would be cancelled so they decided to literally go out with a bang. At the end of the last show of the season, Sledge accidentally detonated a nuclear bomb. Then, much to everyone's surprise, the series was renewed. The first episode of Season 2 started with a repeat of the Season 1 ending where Sledge blew himself up, before showing a "Sledge Hammer: The Early Years!" Title Card; the remainder of the series would nominally take place five years before the events of Season 1.
  • For 18 years, the last entry chronologically in the Star Trek franchise was the final TNG film, Star Trek: Nemesis. After that, the franchise saw the Ultimate Universe "Kelvinverse" films based on a reboot of TOS, before returning to the "Prime" timeline with the Star Trek: Discovery television series. Even then, Discovery was a prequel to the original series. At least until the third season, which would Time Skip to the late 32nd century, moving the timeline forward once more. Star Trek: Picard, set several decades after Nemesis, would also debut around the same time.
  • After the cancellation of Twin Peaks left the show with a massive cliffhanger, David Lynch decided to follow up the show with a movie. Infamously, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me decided to focus on the events leading up to the series premiere, barely alluding to the show's finale, leaving events unresolved for twenty-five years before The Return finally put it to rest. Sort of.

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 
  • Sakana: Chapter 24 ends with a major plot twist that Chie's boss is actually one of the henchmen for the Yakuza Genji owes money to. This was followed up with several months of lighthearted flashbacks, prequel stories, and behind-the-scenes material before going on an extended hiatus that went on far longer than anticipated, resulting in the story stopping dead in its tracks for more than three years.
  • Suicide Boy: Volumen 2 ends with Hooni meeting again with Yang Heemin, a person of his past with who he has a mysterious relationship. Instead of continuing directly with that, the series continued with a Volumen 2.5 which was an 29-chapters long Interquel focused on two secondary characters: Sana and Harim and after that it went into Series Hiatus where it has remained since then.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer: The seventh season ends with Archer being shot and put into a coma. Seasons eight, nine, and ten follow Archer in noir, jungle, and space themed comatose dreams. Subverted in season eleven which has him finally awaking from the coma.
  • Infinity Train: Towards the end of Book 3, after learning that she's actually a denizen of the train rather than a passenger, created by Amelia in an attempt to recreate her lost love Alrick, and feeling betrayed by Grace, Hazel agrees to leave with Amelia and exits the plot. Book 4 goes on to serve as a prequel taking place in the 1980s, with its only narrative connection to previous installments being Amelia taking over the train in the background. The show was cancelled after this, but even if it had continued, Book 5 was planned to be another prequel (focusing on the aforementioned takeover), leaving both Hazel and Amelia's statuses unknown.

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