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Contractual Immortality

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George: No, wait, I've got it! Quick, stand next to me!
Proto Man: Why?
George: My name's in the title of the comic! I can't die!

A major character is seemingly killed, leaving the story permanently. However, the dramatic tension falls flat because we know these kind of events are very seldom permanent. There are two main causes of this. In television, actors have contracts, and if an actor's contract ends we probably would have heard that the actor has quit or been fired long before any on-screen death. Even if a character does somehow die, it is very unlikely that they are Killed Off for Real, and are probably Not Quite Dead. In books and any other media without real individuals playing the roles, there are a number of ways that the reader can be sure a character will survive, such as stories told in asynchronous order or an unfulfilled prophecy in any setting where that kind of thing is reliable.

Guest stars and minor characters introduced in the last couple episodes, on the other hand, are very mortal. Not to mention anyone wearing a Red Shirt. Less applicable near the end of a season where contracts are up for renewal... you'll want to stay on the writer's good side at this point.

Not quite as powerful as Foregone Conclusion for saving lives, but close.

Compare Plot Armor, which is where the main characters don't die in the first place because of their importance to the plot. Also consider a Disney Death, which is where characters are seemingly killed but you know it's not permanent cause it's a kids' show.

Not to be confused with a character being literally immortal as long as they meet certain conditions.

See also: Like You Would Really Do It, Joker Immunity, Popularity Power, Contractual Boss Immunity, and Disney Death. Contrast Anyone Can Die and Dead Star Walking. Can lead to Opening a Can of Clones.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Lampshaded in D.Gray-Man by Bookman when Allen is left for dead by Tyki Mikk with a hole in his heart. His body disappears so his friends have no idea what happened to him and are very understandably worried that he is dead. Bookman says that he believe him to be alive he has not fulfilled the prophecy made by Hevlaska yet.
  • Erza's supposed death in chapter 100 of Fairy Tail. Even when you see the funeral, you know it's not real. As if they'd seriously kill off the most popular female character in a series that's 45% male oriented fanservice.
  • At the end of Hell Girl: The Two Prisoners, Ai Enma was turned back into a mortal being and she did a Heroic Sacrifice to save Takuma from the townspeople. With Ai's death, Hone Onna, Wanyuudou and Ichimoku Ren go their separate ways... until a few years later in Hell Girl: The Cauldron of Three where Ai comes back by possessing the body of Yuzuki Mikage; the three reunite with Ai with the addition of another spirit Yamawaro. How Ai comes back from the dead is unknown.
  • This is heavily enforced in the Queen's Blade franchise and it can be resumed in this way: If your character has a gamebook, you can be sure that character will not die, no matter what happens, if that character does not have one, that character can die without guilt, just like Shizuka does in the anime continuity, althrough she survives in the gamebook continuity.
  • Amelia of Slayers seems to end up grievously injured in order to demonstrate the evil of the villains, but given that her voice actress is always signed on for full seasons (and given that the fans would revolt were she to actually die) she is profoundly unlikely to ever actually be in anything resembling true mortal peril. This can actually apply to any characters in the series that isn't a major villain or a minor ally (such as Zelgadis' henchmen Zolf and Rodimus in the first season); however, this is averted in the Light Novel series in regards to Luke and Millina, two major allies of Lina and Gourry for the second half of the books.

    Comic Books 
  • It is almost impossible for Johnny C. to kill himself thanks to him being a (messed-with) Waste-Lock.note  The gun always tends to be short one bullet (well, he tried to do a murder-suicide that failed) and even a taser set to kill didn't do the trick, either, though one of the doughboys noted that Johnny forgot to charge the battery. When Johnny actually does, he gets better.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • The season finale of The X-Files where Mulder supposedly killed himself; since David Duchovny was signed for another season and a movie, it was pretty obvious that he wasn't actually dead. A great many of the episodes show one or both of the main characters getting killed, especially in the opening sequence. It is obvious that the writers are not going to kill off the stars to some random Monster of the Week. Inevitably the dead character turns out to be a clone/shapeshifter/replicant or the entire episode turns out to be an alternate reality/"Groundhog Day" Loop/dream sequence.
  • A Bait-and-Switch subversion: Spooks (AKA MI-5) introduced Lisa Faulkner as a regular, but her character Helen was brutally and unceremoniously killed off in the second episode, a move aimed to illustrate straight away that this was in fact going to be a series where Anyone Can Die.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • Commander Adama is shot by a Cylon sleeper agent at the end of the first season, and spends the next four episodes in critical condition before making a surprise return at the end of the fourth episode. There is never any question that he won't survive, even when he has to have emergency surgery to restart his heart.
    • Kara Thrace does this as well, but due to the specific nature of her death, which is enshrouded with plenty of mysticism, it was quite obvious that she would return from the dead soon enough. (Or would she?) However, this created a very tense atmosphere for several episodes when the fans weren't absolutely sure that the character wasn't Not So Invincible After All, helped along by the actress herself giving interviews about how she'd felt under-used that season and was looking for other work.
    • Laura Roslin is probably the worst example. While she does eventually die, the otherwise-good episode "Epiphanies" resorts to the kind of science-fiction Techno Babble miracle-cure it was intended to avert to keep her alive.
    • Then of course there's the battlestar Galactica herself. This is particularly obvious in "Exodus Pt 2". Which ship survives the battle, Galactica or the newer, more heavily-armed Pegasus? Guess.
  • Subverted in the prequel series Caprica with William Adama. He turns out to be Bill Adama's older half-brother, and dies in the penultimate episode; there is a Tauron tradition of naming new children after their deceased siblings, which explains the similarity between the names.
  • Sherlock: C'mon, did anyone seriously think that when Sherlock committed suicide he had ACTUALLY died? His name is literally the freaking title! Even so, the scene and the scenes following it are still utterly soul-destroying, mostly because of John and his "I was so alone" monologue.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • At the finale of Season 2, Angel is run through with a sword and sucked through a portal into hell. However, David Boreanaz stays on as a regular character in Season 3, even appearing in the title sequence. They try to Mind Screw the audience by having him appear in dream sequences but there's never any doubt that he'll be back from hell soon. And sure enough...
    • Season 5 ends with Buffy dying, but by the time the episode aired, the fans all knew that there would be a season 6.
  • One episode of Bones ended with Booth being shot. Since he's one of the main characters (not to mention the Love Interest of the title character), did anyone really think he wasn't going to make it?
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • "Shore Leave" has the crew visit a planet that seems perfect for rest and relaxation. The landing party soon finds out that whatever they are imagining at the moment becomes reality. Dr. McCoy thinks that they are merely hallucinations, so when he is attacked by a lancing knight, he refuses to dodge the knight's attack and is promptly killed. As Kirk and Spock try to figure everything out, McCoy's body disappears. At the end of the episode it is revealed that the planet is a sort of "amusement park" built by aliens, and that everything that happens is only temporary. McCoy is brought back safe and sound, in the arms of two lovely cabaret girls he was thinking about.
    • "The Changeling", the crew finds a powerful computer machine called NOMAD that believes itself to be perfect, though it mistakenly thinks Captain Kirk is its creator. At one point, NOMAD erases all of Uhura's memories, prompting Scotty to intervene. NOMAD zaps him, and Bones confirms He's Dead, Jim! Of course, we know that Scotty will survive not only because he is a regular cast member, but also because NOMAD left his body completely intact (when NOMAD kills the Red Shirts it simply vaporizes them). Kirk uses NOMAD's belief that he is its creator to get NOMAD to "repair" Scotty.
      • Although she did not die, Uhura's erased memories make an interesting version of this trope. We would expect NOMAD to restore her memory, but it is either unwilling or unable to do so. Thus Uhura has to be re-educated completely from scratch, which would in reality take years and effectively write her out of any future episodes. Yet she is able to relearn everything by the end of the episode! The only way to avoid a Plot Hole is to assume that NOMAD actually masked or repressed the memories, not erase them as it claimed - one more strike against its arrogant perceived perfection. This is further demonstrated by her intuitive grasp of Kiswahili that NOMAD was unable to remove.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • It was obvious that Data wasn't dead in "The Most Toys." Seeing the shuttle explode, however... was still pretty convincing.
    • As was that time when they found his head buried in a cavern under San Francisco, having apparently been there for five centuries. Which was creepy as hell, to boot. Though, technically, since that was the end of the season, he could have died and the actor just not contracted for next season, which makes it more plausible.
    • It seems obvious now that Picard would survive "The Best of Both Worlds", but Patrick Stewart's return for season 4 was not confirmed at that point and the producers feared he would leave; if he hadn't returned, he really would have died in the second half.
    • The same in "Tapestry" where Picard was supposedly killed in a meaningless bar fight. Much to the dismay of his crew.
  • Heroes has had a couple neat subversions: Niki Sanders was Killed Off for Real, with Ali Larter staying on the show thanks to the reveal that she was one of three clones. Also, Nathan Petrelli was really killed and had his place taken by an amnesiac, permanently transformed Sylar.
  • Lampshaded in Alias by Jennifer Garner. After the first season finale left Sydney's handler needing an injection of adrenalin to survive, she gave in interview in which she mocked the cliffhanger, saying that Michael Vartan had a 5-year contract, so his character wasn't going anywhere. Ironically, the character really was temporarily killed off in the fifth season.
  • Lucy's death in the TV show ER counts as an inversion. There was an issue of a tv guide-esque magazine that came out the week "Be Still My Heart" aired in which it revealed that Kellie Martin had asked to be written out of the show. Needless to say, the only true surprise in the cliffhanger of the episode was that the producers actually had her die instead of just writing her off.
  • Doctor Who :
    • Inverted where The Nth Doctor regeneration arrangement means that the leads can have contracts shorter than the series, but you know that if the current actor's contract is up at the end of the next season, the Doctor is going to regenerate into something new. David Tennant's departure was arranged a couple of years before it occurred in such a way that before it happened a lot of time was spent focusing on the new actor.
    • For this reason, when the Tenth Doctor allegedly starts to regenerate for the cliffhanger ending of "The Stolen Earth", it's clear he won't actually change, since news of an upcoming regeneration has never been successfully kept secret.
    • Played straight with the companions, although the latest seasons do their best to play with it.
    • The Myth Arc in series 6 revolves around The Doctor suffering permanent death. Despite his murder and the cremation of the body being shown onscreen, the knowledge that a new series had been commissioned somewhat lessens the impact. Indeed, in "The Wedding of River Song", he fakes his death by controlling a Tesselecta robot.
    • "The Evil of the Daleks" was meant to be the last Dalek story, and for a while it seemed to persist. However, the popularity of the pepperpot space Nazis (and Terry Nation's failure to sell a standalone Dalek series) resulted in The BBC bringing them back; they've had a perpetual case of Joker Immunity since then.
    • Davros was supposed to be killed off for good in "Resurrection of the Daleks". However, Nation objected.
    • The Master was supposed to be killed off for good in "Planet of Fire", as Anthony Ainley's contract had expired.
    • The spin-off novel Harry Sullivan's War originally ended with the titular companion being killed off, but Target wanted him to live in the hope of a sequel. Sadly, Ian Marter's death prevented this from happening.
  • Captain Jack in Torchwood cannot permanently die. Ever. Not even if he gets blown up. Sometimes they try to make it look like he's been Killed Off for Real, but it's always pretty obvious that he's coming back.
  • The ultimate inversion had to occur in Smallville. Aaron Ashmore played Jimmy Olsen during Seasons 6 (guest appearances), 7, & 8. In the Season 8 finale, Jimmy Olsen is killed by Doomsday. Everyone assumed that it was a trick (do I need to explain why?), but then, at the funeral, we discover that his character's "real" name was Henry James Olsen and he had a younger brother (also) named Jimmy, who obviously would grow up to become the famous best pal to a certain Big Blue Boy Scout.
  • Stargate SG-1: Daniel Jackson. Seriously, the guy has died no less than four times, probably more: once being shot with a staff weapon in the original movie (revived by sarcophagus), once after his entire team is killed (revived by the Nox), once from radiation poisoning (Ascending To A Higher Plane Of Existence along the way), and once by being stabbed before the spaceship he's on dissolves into component parts. It's not permanent any time. It's lampshaded in a couple of episodes: a separate team makes a discovery while exploring a planet, and one comments, "Dr. Jackson's going to die when he sees this!" Someone else responds, "What, again?" And when it seems likely Daniel may have died helping save earth, SG-1 don't mourn because Jack keeps insisting that he'll either miraculously survive death or miraculously come back from the dead. He's right. Since Richard Dean Anderson is an executive producer, you know Jack's not going to die until Anderson has had enough.
  • Stargate Atlantis.
    • Carson Beckett is killed off in Season 3, but he returns in Season 4 due to massive fan demand.
    • Also in Atlantis this immunity comes into play for Ronan Dex in the very last episode. You'd assume that if a Killed Off for Real is going to happen anywhere the last episode ever is the place for it. This is thrown away, presumably for the potential of movie follow ons.
  • 24:
    • Did anyone really think that Jack freakin' Bauer would die? At all? Between Kiefer Sutherland being an executive producer since back in Day 2 and the show's tendency to kill off or disappear any CTU members who also tried to get on the action, the premise of Anyone Can Die always applied to everyone but him.
    • One of the most frustrating bits from this resulted in the arc in Day 7 when Jack was infected with a lethal biological weapon that would kill him within hours for nearly half the season. Given how it was already confirmed that the show had been renewed for another season, it took out all the drama of him struggling to stay alive and come to terms with his impending death since everybody knew he'd be getting a last minute save by the time it was over.
    • His daughter Kim Bauer was also probably the only other character that could avert the Anyone Can Die rule, as the creators openly admitted after killing Teri at the end of Day 1, there would be no way that Jack could ever recover from the death of both his wife and his daughter.
  • Supernatural: How many times has Dean died? Sam? Castiel? Bobby? Crowley?
    • Lampshaded in a season 5 episode when Dean promises the two hunters who have just killed Sam and are about to kill him that he'll be back to hunt them down.
    • Again in the same storyline when Joshua mentions how often they have been to heaven before.
    • Eventually Averted in the case of Bobby, however. Not that it's stopped him from still showing up at least Once a Season.
  • Aeryn suffers this at least twice on Farscape.
  • Practically every major character on Charmed dies multiple times during the show's run, only to be resurrected later in the same episode, except for the Season 3 finale when Prue was Killed Off for Real.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The show averts it. Sean Bean is the top-billing and most recognizable actor in the show, playing noble Eddard Stark, and is one of the few legitimately good characters in a world filled with Gray-and-Gray Morality. He gets killed in the first season, setting off a shockwave through people who haven't read the book and establishing that Anyone Can Die. It is Sean Bean after all, if any character in any series is more or less guaranteed to get killed, it's one played by him.
    • Played straight by Jon Snow, as hardly anyone expected him to stay dead, and he in fact gets resurrected in the second episode of the next season.
  • Castle:
    • Though the show is named Castle and not Beckett, did anyone really expect that Beckett would die after being shot at the end of Season 3?
    • Or that she'd die when her apartment blew up at the end of "Tick, Tick, Tick...?" Though at least this episode sets up a potential replacement in the FBI agent played by Dana Delaney, which made it slightly less unbelievable.
  • CSI:
    • George Eads and the character of Nick:
      • In the Season 5 finale, Nick is kidnapped and buried alive. The character is supposedly in mortal danger, but George Eads was under contract so he not-so-shockingly pulled through.
      • One season featured Nick quitting, but Geoerge's contract made it clear he wouldn't stay away from the job.
    • Inverted Trope: The announcement of Gary Dourdan leaving CSI meant it was clear to the fans that Warrick was unlikely to survive his gunshot wound by the end of the season.
    • Zig-zagged when Sara was kidnapped by the Miniature Killer. Jorja Fox's contract was up and CBS was reasonably successful at suppressing any news about her contract, so it was actually possible that they might kill her off. But since the actress signed on for part of Season 8, Sara lived.
  • CSI: NY characters Danny and Lindsay were known to survive the season 6 cliffhanger because their actors had already contracted for the next season.
  • The last episode of season 5 of Rescue Me tried to kill off Tommy Gavin. No big surprise that it didn't stick, considering that the character is played by Denis Leary, the star AND creator of the show.
  • Grey's Anatomy:
    • Played with in the fifth season finale, which saw George and Izzie on the brink of death. When it aired it was common knowledge among fans that their actors T.R. Knight and Katherine Heigl were in the middle of renegotiating their contracts with the show, and therefore however things went the creators would be able to kill them off. Since Heigl renewed hers over the hiatus and Knight did not, no one was surprised come the following premier that Izzie survived and George died.
    • The 8th season finale ends with Meredith, Derek, Mark, Cristina, and Arizona stranded in the woods, all horribly injured in a plane crash and losing hope of any immediate rescue. However, Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) was the only one whose fate was unclear when it aired: Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, and Sandra Oh had all had their contracts renewed for season 9, so it was clear that somehow those four at least will be rescued. Though notably it turned out to be an inversion: Eric Dane only appeared in the first two episodes before succumbing to injuries, while Arizona lost her leg but ultimately survived.
  • In the Season 2 finale of Young Dracula, Vlad appears to die, but the commission of series 3 made it a Disney Death.
  • American Horror Story: Asylum:
    • Halfway through, Grace is killed by Taking the Bullet that was meant for Kit. However, her body disappears and is later brought back to life for the rest of the season.
    • The first season subverts this, since half the cast (all of it, by the end of the season) is already dead.
  • Subverted and lampshaded in Community. Britta conceals a zombie bite, assuming that she was "special" and wouldn't get turned into a zombie. Cue Jeff: "NOBODY IS SPECIAL".
  • Chucky avoids this by giving some actors new roles after their characters get killed off. In particular, characters played by Devon Sawa have a rather high mortality rate, and he'll probably continue to be in the series for its entire run.

    Video Games 
  • One of the villains of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the Mobius member X, appears (in a villainous role) in a party member's personal quest while also having a big role in the main story. Since the second Xenoblade game sidequests never expire, which means that, since this quest can be done at any time after it unlocks, X cannot die during the main story barring a Point of No Return. How the game ultimately handles this is she appears as a boss in the final dungeon and is killed, but only if you completed this quest. If you haven't, her fight is replaced by some Mooks and she's The Unfought in the main storyline.

    Web Original 
  • Parodied by the AdventureQuest character Zorbak in his articles in the spin-off Ezine. He's constantly talking about the contract being the only thing that keeps him around.
  • Inevitable in Darwin's Soldiers as each character is played by a different person.
  • Played with on The Twilight Chronicles - Bella died in Episode 2, and the next episode opened with her waking up in Hell. She quickly discovers that she has a portal vagina that allows her to return to Earth whenever she is sent to Hell. She's been killed three times now.

    Western Animation 
  • Much of the tension is killed in Star Wars: The Clone Wars because Obi-Wan, Anakin, Yoda, and many other of the major characters are going to live no matter how bad the situation may seem. Ahsoka, and some of the Clone Troopers, on the other hand...not so lucky. After the Jedi Knights refused to help her after she was framed, Ahsoka left, though she at least survives long enough to the empire form and become part of the Rebel Alliance.
  • Like many other Merchandise-Driven shows, the characters in Transformers have Contractual Immortality... but as soon as their toys are discontinued, that immortality expires. Most of these characters are then killed off or just disappear never to be seen again. Of course, fan favorites like Optimus Prime and Megatron can still come Back from the Dead.
  • Parodied in The Venture Bros.. Until the season 3 finale, the titular characters would constantly die, only to be replaced by perfect clones of themselves. Season 2 even gave us a Good-Times Montage of each of the instances in which they died.
  • Doubly subverted in South Park. By the end of season 5, fans knew that Kenny would die all the time, then come back for the next episode. But for all of season 6, he was really gone, and the kids grieved for him, found a new best friend to replace him, etc. And then at the very last moment of the season, he comes back.
  • Parodied in Family Guy during "Blue Harvest".
    Leia/Lois: We're gonna be pulverized!
    Han/Peter: Look, we got four or five of the main characters on this ship. I think we're gonna be okay.