Follow TV Tropes


Death and the Maiden

Go To
Uh, Lady... are you alright?

Even Death can feel a little lonely.

A rather infamous artistic motif that came into prominence during the Renaissance and continues to the modern day, Death and the Maiden has been popular in mediums ranging from visual art to plays, music, and even film.

The details are simple: feature the personification of Death with a beautiful, nubile human woman. Easy peasy. How this formula differs depends on the medium. Death is often presented as a skeleton with wings or a cloak and scythe or maybe just a wilting corpse. The woman is often nude or at least partially so. Their interactions vary as well, the maiden reacting with fear or arousal at Death's touch, while Death caresses, kills, and/or whatever else the woman in question. It is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.

This motif is commonly seen as an erotic one, two lovers making a connection in a way that even the viewer can only have limited comprehension of. Others can see it as a symbolic one, Death representing mortality and... well... you know, while the woman represents life and how the two dance in a delicate balance, being equal and opposite to one another. It is generally used in one of two ways. Either this represents the threat of and grief surrounding childhood illness: the maiden Too Good for This Sinful Earth taken before she can produce children. The other possibility is as an image of feminist resistance: the woman who commits suicide rather than enter an Arranged Marriage.

A common variant of the Beast and Beauty trope. See also Touch of the Monster and Pietà Plagiarism.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Black Butler OVA "The Tales of Will the Grim Reaper", aspiring writer Thomas Wallis is inspired by William T. Spears to write a novel with this very premise.
  • A motif in Bleach, though in this case, Death is the Maiden, in this case Rukia, and Ichigo fills the role of her mortal entanglement.


    Comic Books 
  • Pre-Crisis Death from DC Comics fell in love with a newly-dead woman named Margaret Brennen in Swamp Thing Volume 2 #6. She taught him to be more compassionate to those he reaps, and he let her serve as an aspect of Death alongside him.

    Fan Works 
  • Hades and Persephone from the Hades And Seph Saga operate under this. Hades rules over the Underworld and possesses a touch of death a power that his son Thanatos would possess in spades, while Persephone creates plant life (creating various breeds of flowers that flourish in the Underworld), can reincarnate souls and is given the title of "Goddess of Life" when she is given her title.

    Films — Animation 
  • Invoked in Charlotte (2021): Charlotte creates a painting around the Death and the Maiden motif, depicting a beautiful young girl embracing a living skeleton. It was inspired by the death of her mother. She gifts it to Alfred.
    Alfred: It is though she wants something from death. Something only he can provide.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Crimson Peak features Edith, who has a light, colorful motif of butterflies, in love with Thomas Sharpe The Bluebeard who is complicit in serial murders, and has a dark motif of moths (who eat butterflies).
  • Death Takes a Holiday features Death who takes human form and falls in love with a young woman named Grazia. This very same plot would later be remade in the 1998 fantasy romance Meet Joe Black.
  • Inspired the title of Tod und Mädchen, a biopic of Egon Schiele which concentrates on his unhappy relationships with women and the near-simultaneous deaths of himself and his wife in the 1918 influenza pandemic.

  • In Discworld, the maiden is Ysabell, Death's adopted daughter, and later her own daughter Susan. There's obviously no romantic subtext, but both are very fond of him and Susan sometimes takes over his job for a while.
  • The Irregular at Magic High School combines this trope with Apocalypse Maiden. Tatsuya, a grim-faced soldier with apocalyptic power, always follows Miyuki. Both of them prefer it that way- in part because it's Miyuki's duty to subdue Tatsuya if he becomes too much of a threat to the world.
  • Keturah and Lord Death is a novel about a maiden who slowly realizes her feelings for Death.
  • In the cover of Dark Road of the Vampire Hunter D novels, and other official Yoshitaka Amano art for the franchise.
  • The frequently-anthologized Joyce Carol Oates story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" was originally titled "Death and the Maiden." In the story, a fifteen-year-old girl named Connie is visited by a smooth-talking, vaguely sinister stranger named Arnold Friend who offers her a ride in his car. Initially attracted to him, she slowly begins to realize that he is much older than he pretends to be.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy's relationship with Angel has overtones of this, especially given that being with 'death' isolates Buffy from her (human) friends and even her moral code. Both she and Angel note that their relationship is dangerous and hurtful to both of them.
    Angel: This isn't some fairy tale. When I kiss you, you don't wake up from a deep sleep and live happily ever after.
    Buffy: No. When you kiss me I want to die.
  • In Dickinson, Emily often gets into Death's carriage and has long conversations with him about life, romance, and art.


    Mythology & Religion 
  • Hades and Persephone from Greco-Roman Mythology have shades of this, Hades being the God of the Underworld and the Lord of the Dead, Persephone being the daughter of the Goddess of the Harvest and the bringer of spring. One of Persephone's common epithets, Kore, even means Maiden.
  • In Hindu Mythology, this trope is the reason Daksha didn't understand why his daughter wanted to marry Shiva, the god of the dead. Turns out Shiva's actually a pretty nice guy, in the sense that death is just natural and a necessary part of the karmic system.
  • The poet of Ynglingatal invoked this when he uses having sex with the goddess Hel as a metaphor for death.

  • A common interpretation of Duke Bluebeard's Castle paints Bluebeard as Death and Judith as a Persephone-like figure, best exemplified by the ending where she becomes his wife of the night.
  • Elisabeth has Death and Sisi in the same pose as the picture at the end (both are fully clothed in white), after he's kissed her.
  • The English-language Ur-Example may be Romeo and Juliet when the titular Juliet begs the priest for a poison so that if she cannot marry Romeo, she can marry Death: i.e. commit suicide. She fakes her death, and when her family discovers her her father comments that death has married his daughter and is now his heir.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy XII, the Esper Zalera the Death Seraph is depicted as a horned Lich-like monster carrying a semi-naked woman in his right arm. According to the lore surrounding him, he was tasked with judging the souls of the damned but rebelled against the gods, and the woman is a shamaness who he abducted in a bid to increase his powers.
  • In one of the bonus rooms of the Ib remake, there's a sculpture titled "Tryst With Death" depicting a young woman and a skeleton embracing. It's implied to be one of Guertena's last works before his death.
  • In the Updated Re Release of Persona 3, Ryoji is immediately smitten with the female protagonist, and he’s the only male character that isn’t a party member to be Promoted to Love Interest. Not only do his feelings come from the crush on her he developed while under the identity of Death Social Link Pharos, but he’s also an avatar for Nyx, the embodiment of death itself. His Social Link also implies a gay version of this trope, as he tells the female protagonist that he’d fall in love with her even if she was a boy, heavily implying he also had feelings for the male protagonist despite his lack of a Social Link in the male route.
  • In Six Ages, an important myth in Rider culture is the story of Death's predatory "love" for Erissa, the gentle, beautiful goddess of healing. Though Death looks like a handsome youth (the Riders are a warrior clan, after all), Erissa rejects his courtship when she realizes what he is, refusing to ignore the threat he poses to her family and worshippers.

  • Death and the Maiden: The Girl had a Near-Death Experience and is thus aware of how Death works (he needs to be called by a name). So when she picks him up accidentally as he hitchhikes across the country, she decides to run, causing him to be alarmed and dedicated to reap what he couldn't in the past. What sounds terrifying is actually a hilarious comedy, not only because Death tries to cheat wherever he can and regularly runs amok, the girl is also a brilliant Deadpan Snarker. Belligerent Sexual Tension ensues. They actually begin to falling in love towards the end, causing Death to commit a mass murder to drive her away.
  • In Grim Tales from Down Below, Grim haunts Mandy's life, having fallen in love with her and the evil she has accomplished into adulthood. He finally faces her and gives her a choice; marry him or finally face death. She agrees and becomes his wife, even having children with him even though they aren't actually ''his'' kids.
  • Deconstructed in Homestuck: Lord English, the monsterous skeletal being who is known as the apocalypse-bringer and lord of the angels of death, always has a woman as his dragon. It's made clear however, that both of the ones we see loath him and what he uses them for, and it's implied that the reason he chooses women to serve him in destroying reality is because of a complex stemming from his hatred of his "weak" sister whom he murdered to gain control of their shared body.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Odd example in Adventure Time: Death is dating Life, a snake-woman with two heads. He tries to make a mixtape for her.
  • In the The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Grim In Love", Grim falls in love with a Goth woman named Malaria. She shares his sadistic sense of humor and they both enjoy their company. By the end, he reveals to her that he is the real Grim Reaper and that all of his friends are actual monsters, leading her to run away in sheer terror.