A bad guy cruises along for a few episodes, or sometimes a few seasons, and isn't really taken seriously. Maybe a huge war is on and you know the good guys are going to win, because of Contractual Immortality. Suddenly a main character or a fan favorite brutally dies. This shows that this threat is Dead Serious.
This can be done either to get the audience off on the "right" foot with a new villain, or to beef up a previously unimpressive one. It can also be used after a FaceHeel Turn to spur the villain's former comrades into finally acting against him instead of trying to get him back on their side. Such moments also might be used for a Tonight, Someone Dies rating stunt.
This trope is basically The Worf Effect pushed to its logical conclusion, a subset of Anyone Can Die, and/or one of the effects of Knight of Cerebus. If the character who is killed has a name and a well-developed background, he's a Sacrificial Lion. If he has a name, but his background is fuzzy to non-existent, he's a Sacrificial Lamb. If the dead guy has no name and no background, he's just a Red Shirt.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- Hughes' death by Envy's hands from Fullmetal Alchemist.
- In Digimon Adventure 02, when Myotismon returns as MaloMyotismon, the writers do a great job of making you really, really wanna see the bastard get what's coming to him by having him brutally slaughter his two lovable minions. Sad that after that, he proves to be all talk.
- Krillin's death (the first time it happens!) in Dragon Ball is an example of this. It showed that Piccolo Daimou was no joke and marked the first death of a main character.
- One Piece fans all figured that Ace would be rescued, since 'no one ever dies in One Piece, except in flashbacks' is a common mantra among the fandom. They were wrong, and shortly afterward, Whitebeard also died.
- In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Kamina spends all his time rampaging around the landscape with his brother Simon and the Dai-Gurren Brigade before they decide to take a ridiculously huge mobile battleship as their base by stealing it. Owing to Simon freaking out over seeing a kiss between his crush Yoko Littner and Kamina, his big bro punches some sense into him; opening him up to a fatal strike from Thymilph. He's still so badass that he gets back up and avenges himself, pulling off the series' first Giga Drill Breaker, but dies immediately afterward. Cue Simon's Heroic BSoD.
- The first sign of how utterly dark a Magical Girl series we're dealing with in Puella Magi Madoka Magica comes in the climax of the third episode, where Mami gets eaten alive by Charlotte.
- Bleach had never killed a named character among the good guys - of course if we're talking about the manga, and not filler/movie material. Then, in the last arc of the manga (announced by the chapter title "Final Arc - The Thousand year war"), after the enemies just showed up, they killed Sasakibe Chojiro, vice-captain of the 1st Division. Well, his name is actually the only thing we really knew about him, but during his funeral, it was established that he was actually a much stronger warrior than he apeared to be, and thus the new enemies are to be taken very seriously.
- Gets played with much more severity when the current Big Bad successfully kills Captain-Commander Yamamoto. After the reader finally gets to see the terrifying things Yamamoto can do with his Bankai.
- Re:CREATORS: Despite its focus on action and drama, the series was still willing to treat the idea of fictional characters coming to the real world with some degree of levity. Mamika's death in episode 8 swiftly puts an end to that.
- Vreveil from Sands of Destruction is always regarded as a credible threat, but really shows just how dangerous he is when he revokes Kyrie's powers and kills Morte for daring to interfere.
- DC Comics have been using this trope repeatedly in their 'Crisis' storylines. The best example might be Dr. Light, who suffered from Villain Decay to the point that he was a joke among The DCU, and returned to true villainy in Identity Crisis.
- The Superman franchise presents several examples:
- Mister Mxyzptlk was generally regarded as an unimaginably powerful but mostly harmless nuisance... until Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, where he decides to destroy the Man of Steel's life. By the end of the story, he has caused the deaths of Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Krypto, Bizarro... and very nearly kills Superman off, forcing him to break his vow and kill Mxyzptlk because there was no other way to stop him.
- Similarly, Toyman was somewhat of an idiot who used mechanical toys to antagonize Superman... until a 90's storyline -later retconned- where he murders Cat Grant's son.
- Post-Crisis Reactron was easily overpowered by Supergirl in his first appearance. Several months later he got himself a Deadly Upgrade, murdered Supergirl's father, spent most of New Krypton arc hounding her, and was ultimate responsible for the demise of the Kryptonian race.
- Invoked in Superman story "Hanging the Drapes" when Mister Mxyzptlk, after spending decades bugging the Supers with stupid pranks, decides to challenge them to stop him from destroy Earth. A character complains he was supposed to be just an annoying prankster.
Trickster. Prankster. More a nuisance than anything else. Nothing Superman had said before he took off for space had prepared her for this; the earlier stories were at least by comparison innocent.
Make Earth like Krypton.
That was no prank.
This wasn't funny!
- Wash was killed off in Serenity purely so that the audience would spend the rest of the battle freaking out every time a character was injured.
- Joss jokes that he actually warned the actor, and informed said actor far in advance that this character was going to die when it went down.
- And earlier in the same movie, Book's death, along with the destruction of every single safe haven the crew's ever had is the main impetus for the crew to actually deal with the Operative.
- There's a story circulating that Alan Tudyk told Joss Whedon, "You should totally kill Wash at the beginning of the second season because no one will see that coming."
- Animal House: Most of the antagonists of the film spend the climactic parade riot in various states of Heroic BSoD, except for Neidermeyer, who after a few moments yelling to his fellow ROTC members to man up and fight, grabs one of the rifles the squad brought along, loads it with live ammunition that he was carrying in a pocket for some reason, and starts looking for someone to shoot. If not for a Deus ex Machina, Flounder would have been the only Delta to get killed.
- Trading Places: At the beginning of the climax Beeks draws a gun on the whole group and would have just shot them dead and leave them to rot on the baggage car of the train if not for the gorilla costume guy arriving to the car to distract him and the actual gorilla knocking him out.
- Harry Potter:
- Cedric Diggory.
- As is Sirius Black himself.
- Snape kills Dumbledore.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe novels:
- Gandalf and Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, facilitating the Genre Shift of the story.
- Dr Heightmeyer in Stargate Atlantis.
- From Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Up until Jenny Calendar's death, the Scoobies had been more concerned with restoring Angel's soul than actually stopping him, but killing her off apparently crossed a line that let everyone know he was serious. Joss Whedon confirms that that was the point he wanted to make. No one is safe as of this episode, and Angel is not "just a little evil," he's not "grouchy," he's truly evil and Buffy has to do something about it.
- In Season 6, Warren initially seems like a Harmless Villain, and is dismissed by Buffy as a "pain in my ass"... until "Dead Things," where he uses a Mind-Control Device to brainwash his ex-girlfriend Katrina Silber, nearly rapes her before it wears off, and then kills her to prevent her from escaping. The icing on the cake is when he uses magic and time-distorting demons to convince Buffy she had accidentally killed Katrina, though Buffy realizes the truth just before she turns herself in. From here on out, Buffy realizes how dangerous Warren really is and swears to bring him to justice.
- Also when Jonathan died in Season 7.
- Edward Kerr wanted out of his contract for seaQuest DSV season 3. The powers that be forced him to stick around for the first few episodes so as to unexpectedly kill him off midseason, underlining the show's Darker and Edgier Retool.
- You wouldn't call the first season of Supernatural cheery, exactly, but the death of John Winchester in season two is what marks the show's sharp descent into complete misery for all major characters.
- In season 2 of Justified Dickie Bennett does not appear to be much of a serious threat compared to his mother Mags or his older brother Doyle. His attempt at a solo criminal career is easily thwarted by Boyd Crowder. Then he kills Aunt Helen and thus causes all the bloodshed that ends the season.
- An alien terrorist proves his seriousness by killing engineering crew member Lt Joseph Carey on Star Trek: Voyager. The effect is blunted by the fact that Carey already seemed like a Brother Chuck by this point.
- The Walking Dead: New Big Bad Negan makes his debut at the end of season 6 brutally murdering Glenn and Abraham. This serves as a reality check for Rick, as he'd grown a bit of an ego after taking out the Claimers, Terminus, and the Wolves with minimal losses, and initially did not view Negan as a serious threat.
- Protagonists start dying left and right in late Act 5 Act 2 in Homestuck. Interestingly, there are no fewer than 6 killers and most of them end up dying themselves or are protagonists forced to Shoot the Dog.
Hussiebot: Oh god, you're right! There are still a few characters I haven't killed yet. I almost forgot about them.
- The first few times qualify, but afterwards, what with the various dreamselves, alternate timeline clones, dreambubble dwellers and what not, Killed Off for Real gets kind of hard to define. Plus, since the number of characters who haven't been killed at least once by now can be counted on one hand, it's questionable whether or not deaths are truly serious anymore.
- Reka's death in RPG World.
- The Head Alien of It's Walky! proves himself a true threat instead of a comedic one when he captures all abductees and starts executing them, one by one.
- Intentionally invoked in morphE the sweet and charismatic villain has had time to earn the favor and forgiveness of most of the cast and many of the readers. In chapter 4 he reminds us that he is quick to kill for petty reasons by executing main character Billy Thatcher for attempting to harm one of his portraits. This reason it is intentionally invoked is that Amical used magic to move back in time a few seconds to shoot Billy in the shoulder instead. The killing was purely for the audience to see that he would kill them and wonder if he has done this to anyone else at any other time.
- In G.I. Joe: Resolute, Cobra Commander sets out to prove to the world that he is no longer a cowardly idiot he has Storm Shadow kill Bazooka and he blows up Moscow. He also kills Major Bludd in front of his troops to show he's not taking anymore crap from them.
- Airachnid's sudden and brutal murder of Breakdown in Transformers: Prime arguably qualifies, serving to illustrate that this homicidal, Axe-Crazy villainess was no longer content just standing around the bridge of the Nemesis and taking orders.