Ever wonder what the deadliest moment in any given episode is? The very last second before the credits roll, of course! Statistics show that any character — hero, supporting, or otherwise — is 73% more likely to be mortally wounded at the very end of an episode than at any point in time before it.
In its most typical form, the soon-to-be-dead character finds themselves staring down the barrel of a loaded gun in their very last scene. Cut to black, gunshot rings, credits roll, and your audience is forced to stick around for the next episode to see the fallout. In deaths that don't involve a bullet to the brain, replace the ringing gunshot with something equally damning — like the heavy *thunk* of the character's fresh corpse.
Warning: Nowadays, this trope is just as likely to be subverted as it is played straight. As the death literally happens Behind the Black, it isn't uncommon for the next episode to reveal that the "dead" character came away relatively unscathed, making it a case of Our Hero Is Dead. In fact, it might be revealed that the killer is the poor sod who bit it instead.
Also note that, even when this trope isn't subverted, the mortally wounded character is still likely to stick around long enough to deliver his Final Speech in the next episode.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- The Sengoku Basara anime does this with both Nagamasa and Oichi. In the first case it's played straight, though Nagamasa does technically last until the next episode. Oichi's is the classic "killer gets killed instead" subversion.
- The second episode of Baccano!'s anime adaptation ends with the Sacrificial Lamb being murdered in this fashion.
- In Durarara!! by the same studio, we see Shizuo getting shot and lying in a pool of blood just before credits roll. Though being Shizuo, he ends up just walking away.
- Volume 6 of the original novels has another example, where Izaya is stabbed by a rival Information Broker and passes out from blood loss before he can contact anyone he trusts to help him. The paramedics get to him in time, but the fact that he's now stuck in a hospital bed while his name, status and location are broadcasted to anyone who might want to finish him off starts driving him a wee bit crazy.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Togusa gets shot at the end of an episode and appears to be dead. In the next episode, we find out he survived, but suffered serious injuries.
- In the penultimate episode of the first season, Major Kusanagi's head explodes from sniper fire. Batou responds by screaming into the sky, then the credits roll. However, the Major is a full-body cyborg; a lingering shot of her body informs sharp-eyed viewers that it was just a remote decoy body that had been killed, foreshadowing her return in the final episode.
- Macross Frontier, ep. 24: "SCATTER TO THE ENDS OF THE GALAXY!", Alto! But of course, he is Not Quite Dead...
- Tiger & Bunny, episode 11. Poor, poor Origami Cyclone. He barely manages to subvert the trope and live.
- In the Phantom Bullet arc of Sword Art Online, Death Gun has shot Sinnon with a stun bolt, and gets up close to finish her with his Death Gun. Her eyes go wide, the screen goes black, and a shot rings out. Come the next episode, it turns out that it was Kirito shooting Death Gun.
- The short "Neon Genesis IMPACTS" from the Japan Animator Expo has its credits play while the sole member that stayed behind in Tokyo-3 is hiding during an Angel attack. Just as the credits are about to end, it cuts to black while hearing a large amount of rubble falling.
- Mr. White's death in Reservoir Dogs
- And Mr. Orange's, for that matter, although it happens offscreen.
- James Woods faces down the villain at the end of Cop: "The good news is I am a cop and I do have to bring you in. The bad news is I've been suspended and I don't give a fuck." (fires his shotgun, quick cut to black, roll credits)
- At the end of Layer Cake, just as everything is looking up for XXXX, he steps outside, there is a gunshot from nowhere, and he falls. The closing credits roll.
- The short film of the video game Papers, Please ends this way, with the main character, The Inspector, getting shot at the end by a Kolechian Terrorist, who has just bombed the Checkpoint and killed the Guards.
- The Fog cuts to black right before Blake murders Father Malone.
- Two books of A Song of Ice and Fire have had epilogues, and both epilogues ended with the death of the narrating character. The series also inverts this trope, with any character who narrates a prologue biting it either in the prologue or very shortly after.
- Breaking Bad ends its third season with Jesse pointing a gun at a pleading Gale and a gunshot as the screen fades to black.
- NCIS did this with Kate's death. In fact, it's Double Subverted— she jumps in front of a bullet to save Gibbs' life, but then it's revealed that she was wearing a bullet-proof vest. Then, while they're laughing it off, she gets shot in the head.
- Hill Street Blues does this with a cop's suicide.
- The Sopranos might have ended with this. Maybe. We don't really know for sure.
- Horribly, horribly subverted by the season finale of CSI in which Warrick gets shot moments before the episode ends. The audience witnesses the entire thing in Slo Mo, with no Gory Discretion Shot, either.
- The Magnum, P.I. episode "Did You See the Sunrise?" ends in this way, with a freeze-frame of Magnum cold-bloodedly killing the Russian assassin who had, earlier in the episode, murdered one of Magnum's friends.
- Supernatural: the episode "Heart" ends with Sam shooting a friend offscreen, to stop her turning into a werewolf.
- Criminal Minds: season 4's finale "... And Back" ended like this.
- So did the season one finale, "The Fisher King (Part 1)".
- In Highlander, Duncan MacLeod rescues his girlfriend Tessa from a psychotic Immortal hunter (and the first Watcher we see in the series) then, just when it seems that the day is saved, she's killed by a random mugger.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tara (and Buffy, but she lived) was shot right at the end of the episode.
- The final moments of Blake's 7: The crew is gunned down, save Avon, who is quickly surrounded by Federation troops. He straddles Blake's corpse, raises his gun, puts on his best Slasher Smile... fade out, the sound of shooting, roll credits.
- In the episode Turn Turn Turn from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ward murders Agent Hand and her two bodyguards in order to rescue Garrett (aka The Clairvoyant) just as the episode ends. As Garrett had been revealed earlier in the episode, that was a Wham Episode indeed. (The episode also featured a Hydra ending.)
- The Outer Limits (1995):
- "A Stitch in Time" ends like this, with a newly-forged time-traveling Knight Templar gunning down a serial-killer-to-be.
- This happened on a much larger scale in "Trial by Fire". The newly inaugurated U.S. President Charles Halsey and his advisors are monitoring the approach of an alien fleet — who, as it turns out, were coming in peace — from a nuclear bunker in Washington, D.C.. After the United States and Russia launch nuclear missiles at the fleet, the aliens destroy said missiles with ease before they reach their targets. They then launch two weapons of their own in retaliation: one at Washington, D.C. and the other at Moscow. With only about a minute to think about it, the President, his wife Elizabeth and his advisors prepare to meet their fate. As the episode ends, the screen turns to white, signifying the destruction of the U.S. capital.
- It happened on an even larger scale in "The Light Brigade". In that episode, a sequel to "Quality of Mercy", humanity is losing an interstellar war against an extremely belligerent and much more advanced alien race who are hellbent on exterminating them. In a last-ditch attempt to turn the tide, the Light Brigade is part of a fleet sent on a mission to attack the alien homeworld with a subatomic bomb, a Doomsday Device which can disrupt matter on a subatomic level. The ship is attacked and disabled by the aliens while it is approaching their planet but a cadet, one of only four survivors, is able to launch the subatomic bomb. However, it turns out that the alien posing as Major John Skokes turned the ship around while the cadet was unconscious and the cadet has just dropped the bomb on Earth. The subatomic bomb is seen making its way to Earth as the episode ends.
- It again happened on a very large scale in "Relativity Theory". A survey team travels to Tau Gamma Prime in search of resources which are desperately needed on Earth, which has run out of practically all of its own natural resources. Although the planet is believed to be uninhabited, the survey team comes under attack from a group of seven-foot-tall reptilian aliens. The team's xenobiologist Teresa Janovitch favors negotiating with them as she does not want to repeat Earth's dark history with respect to the treatment of indigenous populations but the security chief Sgt. Adam Sears leads an attack on their encampment in a network of caves. He kills one of them who is holding a gold object which he assumes is a religious totem. However, Teresa's scans of the corpses of two of the aliens indicate that their cranial sutures are not fully closed, which if they were humans would mean that they were between 10 and 15 years old. In other words, Sears killed an alien Boy Scout troop on a camping trip. She then realizes that the gold object is not a religious totem but an emergency locator beacon. The survey ship is soon destroyed by a huge and extremely advanced alien ship but not before it manages to download their database and learn the location of Earth. The episode ends with a shot of the ship approaching Earth, preparing to launch an attack on the homeworld of the brutal species who would butcher children.
- Once again, it happened on a very large scale in "Nightmare". While approaching the planet N184, the United World Forces spaceship Archipelago — which is carrying a top-secret device that turned out to be a Doomsday Device — comes under attack from the Ebonites with whom humanity has been at war for some time. They are taken prisoner and subjected to psychological torture. The ship's civilian crewmember Kristen O'Keefe, one of the chief designers of the bomb, is forced to reprogram it and disable all of the booby traps. After Major Ronald Neguchi is killed by Lt. Christopher Valentine, it is revealed that everything that happened after the Archipelago came under attack was part of an elaborate simulation being conducted at Fort Dix. It was designed to evaluate how the crew would respond to being captured by the Ebonites but things got out of hand. Things get even more out of hand when O'Keefe confesses that she had merely pretended to disable the booby traps; she had actually been bypassing the safeguards and firewalls in order to activate the bomb and destroy the Ebonites since it appeared as if she and the rest of the Archipelago were going to die in enemy territory in any event. Much like "Trial by Fire", the screen turns to white as the episode ends in order to signify the bomb detonating and destroying most of the Western hemisphere. Given the environmental chaos which would ensue, it is likely that most, if not all, of the Earth's population was wiped out as a result.
- In the final scene of "Judgment Day", Declan McMahon has tracked down the former Judgment Day producer Jack Parson, who framed him for Caitlin Channing's murder and killed her sister Allison. He proceeds to electrocute him with the specially designed 10,000-volt taser that has been provided to him by Judgment Day. The episode ends with the sound of electricity surging and Jack screaming.
- Knots Landing:
- A partial subversion in "Silent Mission". The Wolfbridge Group hires a hitman to kill Gary so that Abby will inherit his money and Lotus Point can remain open. A shooting takes place on Gary's ranch but the victim is not seen. Rather than the episode ending at that point, Valene arrives at the ranch and Mack tells her that Gary is dead. The next episode "Finishing Touches" is a textbook example of Our Hero Is Dead. It deals with the community's reactions to Gary's murder, especially those of Valene and Abby, and a funeral is held. It is revealed at the end of that episode that Gary is still alive. In the following episode "Yesterday, It Rained", it transpires that the hitman had killed Ray Geary, Cathy's ex-husband who was himself planning to kill Gary. Mack used the incident as a way to get to Wolfbridge.
- A more straightforward example occurred in "Survival of the Fittest". Ben has been ordered to kill Greg by Jean Hackney, who tells him that she will kill Valene and the twins if he refuses to comply. Ben confronts Greg in Ben's office at Galveston Industries with a gun and the episode ends with the sound of a shot being fired as the two men struggle with the gun. The next episode "In Mourning" is another example of Our Hero Is Dead in which Jean Hackney tells her superior that Greg is dead and that she saw a body bag leaving Galveston Industries. She then leaks the story of Greg's death to a newspaper in spite of the lack of conclusive proof that he is dead. While claiming that his "brother" is merely missing, Peter takes advantage of the situation by announcing his intention to take over control of Galveston Industries for the time being. Greg then turns up alive and well and Valene begins to worry that Ben is dead. The following episode "Nightmare" reveals that Ben is still alive and Mack, having convinced him to put the gun down, had him smuggled out of Galveston Industries in the body bag.
- A few of the cliffhanger endings in classic Doctor Who invoked this trope, only to then revoke it at the top of the following episode. The most effective example is probably episode 1 of "The Caves of Androzani", in which the Doctor and Peri are executed by a firing squad, with a shot of multiple high-powered rifles blazing away right at the two leads followed by a cut to the closing credits. There's clearly no way out of them being dead—and the audience already knew that this was Peter Davison's last story and that the Doctor was therefore definitely going to die, so it could actually have been real this time rather than turning out to be some hoary cliffhanger trick (like, say, that they had been secretly replaced by robot duplicates).
- Two of the more memorable apparent death by cliffhanger moments involved a freeze frame transitioning directly to the closing credits: Sarah falling from a high scaffolding in "Genesis of the Daleks" and the Doctor being forcibly drowned in "The Deadly Assassin". The latter caused a significant amount of controversy, the allegation being made that children would imagine the Doctor being in a state of agonizing suffocation for an entire week until the next episode aired.
- The Twilight Zone (1985):
- Implied in "The Burning Man". In the final scene, the lights of Doug and Aunt Neva's car go out after the strange boy in the white suit asks them if they had ever wondered if there was such a thing as genetic evil.
- At the end of "The Beacon", Dr. Dennis Barrows is swarmed by the people of Mellweather so that he can be the Human Sacrifice that the Beacon demands.
- In "A Small Talent for War", this is seen on a large scale. In the final scene, the alien ambassador summons his people's armada to destroy all life on Earth as it is apparent that humanity's small talent for war will be of no use to them in their wars across the galaxy.
- In the final scene of "The Elevator", a Giant Spider grabs Roger and Will with its pedipalps as the elevator rises to the top. After several seconds, the brothers' screams stop. A flashlight drops to the floor and its lens breaks as blood drips down.
- This happens during Grand Theft Auto III, with Claude killing Maria at the closing of the game.
- In Dead Space after fighting through an army of space zombies, and their hivemind, Isaac Clarke sits back, takes off his helmet and is attacked by his zombie girlfriend (which may have been a hallucination), cue credits.
- In I Wanna Be the Guy, you can die during the ending by failing to dodge that last falling delicious fruit.
- While The Walking Dead Telltale is no stranger to suspenseful cliffhangers, the finale is the most prominent example of this trope, if you decide to have Lee talk Clementine into mercy-killing him to prevent him from turning. Downplayed in that Lee's fate is already sealed, but it still ends with a gunshot to black followed by credits.
- A more traditional example occurs at the end of Season 2, Episode 4 - the party is lead into a Mexican Standoff with Arvo's family, and as tensions rise, Rebecca is revealed to have succumbed to exhaustion after delivering her son and is slowly reanimating. You are then prompted to either shoot her, or warn Kenny - either way, bullets end up flying, and the screen cuts to black. Miraculously, this trope is revealed to be subverted in terms of deaths at the beginning of episode 5 - well, at least for Clementine's group.