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Death by Flashback

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Basically, if a character experiences an extended flashback sequence, often explaining their origins and, especially, getting rid of all the loose ends in their Back Story, there is a good chance that they are going to be Killed Off for Real. If this is combined with gloomy omens, such as cracking pottery or falling flower petals, they are almost certainly done for.

A subtrope of A Death in the Limelight. Somewhat related to My Life Flashed Before My Eyes, Really Dead Montage, except it happens before the character's death. Can be part of a Sympathetic Murder Backstory. See also How We Got Here, Retirony and Fatal Family Photo.

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


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto loves this trope, though subversions also appear. Fans often joke about a character going down with "a terminal case of flashbacks."
    • Lampshaded in a recent Filler episode, when a character begins flashbacking in mid-battle and is immediately convinced that his own death is imminent. He even defines flashbacks as visions of the past that a person sees just before their death.
  • Bleach is quite similar, except it tends to be terminal for villains more than it does for the heroes. Well, except for Yamamoto.
  • For a long time, it was a Running Gag amongst fans that this was the only way that characters died in One Piece. Just about every character's past included someone dying, but no one in the present ever bought the farm. That is, until the Marineford arc, where both Ace and Whitebeard were killed. Ever since, there has been much more on-screen death in the present.
  • In the Cowboy Bebop's Grand Finale, we finally get to see what went down between Spike and Vicious, something that had just been hinted at earlier. Guess which two that are going to end up killing each other...
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure just adores this. If it's somewhere in the latter half of the story and a major character suddenly starts having their life's story laid out for you, or if a Monster of the Week spends a good chunk of time fleshing out his motivations and Dark and Troubled Past? Don't expect them to last much longer. Prime examples of this include Caesar in part 2, Kakyoin in part 3, and in odd examples, since one of them spends nearly the entire remaining story as a zombie after before passing on, and the other's soul passes into a turtle and survives, Bruno and Polnareff in part 5. Rai, in part 8, subverts this, seemingly being killed shortly after his backstory is explained to the reader, only to be revealed to still be alive at the end of the arc. Villainwise, look at the likes of Keicho Nijimura in Part 4, DIO's sons in part 6, as well as a large amount of part 7 and 8's one-off antagonists.
  • Eden: It's an Endless World!: Played With. Anyone who tells his backstory another character dies pretty soon afterwards. However, flashbacks happening for the reader's eyes only don't seem to trigger a death.
  • The Trigun episode, Paradise, focuses a lot on Wolfwood and he dies at the end.
  • This is what literally happens to Carossea Doon in Madlax: his memory returns in a flashback and reveals that he has actually been Dead All Along for twelve years.
  • Regius Gaiz and Zest Grangaitz of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, who both get killed soon after we receive a flashback that reveal their Backstory.
  • Surprisingly, this was used in Pokémon: The Original Series. Ash's Bulbasaur was at Oak's lab helping bring a stop to some territorial disputes, when a boulder falls. It looks like it was crushed, with a series of flashbacks playing highlights of Bulbasaur from the series. Bulbasaur used Dig and popped up a few seconds later.
  • L has an oddly expository dream about his childhood before he dies in Death Note.
  • Episode 25 of Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) places heavy focus on the relationship between Maes Hughes and Roy Mustang during flashbacks, and gives Maes in general a lot of attention. He was doomed.
  • Somewhat subverted in Psychopass. Episode 12 is centered around a flashback to when Yayoi Kunizuka joined Division 1 as an Enforcer. Yayoi survives the whole episode and through the first season, while the members of the Division who do die, Shusei Kagari and Tomomi Masaoka (to a lesser extent), receive very little exposition.
  • In the Magical Girl Raising Project anime, it's common for someone to get their expository flashback the episode of or right before their death. Calamity Mary gets an episode to breathe while Ruler, Magicaloid 44, Hardgore Alice, Minael, and Cranberry all have their backstories shown the episode they die. Tama subverts it by getting her flashback right after she dies. This is mostly averted in the novel.
  • The Promised Neverland does this last-minute with Sister Krone—as a demon prepares to kill her, several brief flashbacks show bits and pieces of her life up to this point, leading up to a mysterious item that she left for the kids to find in hopes that it will help them escape.
  • Happens with almost every major character in Juni Taisen: Zodiac War.
  • Happens to Nakago in the Final Battle of Fushigi Yuugi. It's shown that the ruthless and manipulative Nakago was originally a genuinely sweet kid named Ayuru, who was part of the Hin tribe (a religious and ethnic minority in Kutou), which was attacked by the Kutou empire because they did not worship Seiryuu. While the Kutou soldiers were gang-raping his mother, Ayuru chi-blasted the soldiers...but ended up killing her, too, and he was recognized as one of the Seiryuu Seishi and brought to the Palace of Kutou until the Priestess arrived. Then the Emperor of Kutou comments on 11-year-old Ayuru's beauty and keeps him as a Sex Slave. Apparently, this was supposed to make Nakago more sympathetic to the audience, but for the most part, it did not work.
  • The manga version of Goblin Slayer shows a flashback of each of the Greenhorn Team members' life and motivation before they are brutally torn apart by the goblins.
  • Oshi no Ko chapter 8 shows Ai's first meeting with president Saitou, which reveals that Ai became an idol in hopes that by lying long enough about loving her fans, the lies would become true because she desperately wants to love and to be loved. She is then stabbed by a stalker. As she she realises that she is about to die, she finally finds the courage to tell her children that she loves them for the first time and dies happy that these words were not lies. The anime even adds a fast montage of the memories she made with her children when she sees the stalker.

  • Almost the entirety of Frankenstein is a flashback narrated by Victor Frankenstein to the explorer Walton. He dies not long after finishing his tale. There's also a possible aversion here, as the Monster narrates a flashback within a flashback, and his fate is left ambiguous at the end. He says he's going to kill himself, but we don't see it happen.
  • Averted and Played With in The Dresden Files. Harry dies, he recounts his origin story as a ghost, walks into the light... and wakes up in Mab's arms.
  • Played with in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as Snape hands over the memories that make up his origin story just before he dies, but the reader (and protagonists) don't get to see what those memories entail until shortly afterwards.

  • The entire movie American Beauty is a flashback from the main character, Lester Burnham, as he recounts the year before his death. In fact, he is telling it from the afterlife.
  • Similarly, Ladder 49 is about a firefighter who is trapped in a very large burning building after saving someone's life and is unsuccessful in escaping, with flashbacks involving his career, marriage, and family making up the bulk of the movie.
  • In the 1975 TV movie Katherine, the main character sits on a stool as she tells you how she went from college student to violent radical. At the end she dies when a bomb she is delivering goes off prematurely. We return to the stool and it is empty and she is gone.
  • Menace II Society, has Caine telling his story about the summer in Los Angeles where he'd eventually get murdered in a drive-by-shooting right before the start of fall where he planned to move from his gang infested area and leave the street life behind. Done as a cautionary tale about how the street life leads to prison or death, as his mentor who brought him into the street life ended up doing life in prison. Sadly, many who liked the film didn't get the message.

     Live Action TV 
  • Shannon, Ana, Eko, Nikki, Paolo, and Faraday in Lost. Subverted by Charlie whose final flashback episode is about him coming to grips with his impending death, and preparing himself for it. Due to a Prophecy Twist the end of the episode, he is still alive. He dies in the next episode, after the spotlight has moved on. Juliet might also qualify, as said character did have a flashback in her (possibly) final episode, even though the episode was centered on another character. And the character said episode was centered around, Jacob, also seemed to meet his doom by the end.
  • On Angel Fred got both extended flashbacks before she was taken over by Illyria in "A Hole in the World" and a Really Dead Montage after she died and Illyria took over in "Shells".
  • Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. Normally, we get a Rider's backstory soon after meeting him, but Torque's past remained a mystery for most of his arc. Guess what happened to him soon after we find out his history?
  • In Supernatural Season 3 we finally find out why Bela was being targeted by the ghost ship almost literally a minute before her death. She had made a contract with a minion of the Big Bad ten years earlier to kill her abusive father and neglectful mother. For some it was an Alas, Poor Scrappy moment, but mileage varies.
  • It's an inevitability in Once Upon a Time, since almost every episode has a flashback as its B plot. For some characters, the episode where their flashback appears will almost be guaranteed to be the episode where they die in the present. Notable victims of this trope are Graham the Sheriff, Cora, and Zelena (well, somewhat...)
  • In The Vampire Diaries, Elena has flashbacks about life before the Salvatores came to town. She dies the same way her parents did.
  • In Boardwalk Empire, Jimmy Darmody has an extended flashback throughout the episode "Under God's Power She Flourishes", which explains his previously murky reasons for dropping out of college and joining the army, basically filling in the last, crucial gap in his backstory, as well as officially confirming the Incest Subtext with his mother. The next episode, season finale "To The Lost", sees him dead.
    • The same thing happens to Nucky Thompson. All of Season 5 shows flashbacks of Thompson's life: From a poor boy who felt powerless, to eventually becoming a trusted employee for the Commodore as a young man. This ultimately ends by showing Nucky making the one choice which gave him his rise in power as well as foreshadowed and sealed his death: Him giving a thirteen year old Gillian over to the Commodore in order to become a part of his inner circle. He's killed by the grandson that cruel union eventually produced, as revenge for Nucky killing his father, Jimmy Darmody who was Gillian's son by the Commodore.
    • On the other hand, Owen Slater's death is succeeded by a flashback.
  • The opening of "Flight of the Bumblebee" from Yellowjackets gives us a scene of Laura Lee's time at Bible camp and how she cracked her head when diving mistakenly into the shallow end of swimming pool, the only major backstory we have been given about the character. At the end of the episode, she sets off in a Cesna plane, which explodes.

  • In Götterdämmerung, Siegfried tells the hunting party the story of his youth (i.e., most of what happened in Siegfried), and the orchestra supplies the appropriate Leitmotifs. Hagen gives him a potion that makes him remember something he had previously forgotten about: the story of how he first met Brünnhilde. Gunther is shocked, because she's now his wife. A few moments later, Hagen plunges his spear into Siegfried's back.

     Video Games 
  • After failing to cast suspicion on Falsetto, Claves of Eternal Sonata is killed by one of the people she was working with. She does not, however, die immediately; we have to watch several snippets of conversation from earlier cutscenes, some extremely recent. This is mingled with musing on why she failed, both in her mission, and in her love life.
    • There was also the part where, while in Baroque, Polka and Beat recall what they went through to get to the castle. The scene shifts to a really long flashback in which the player takes control, and if the party is killed by the pirates that attack, you get a game over.
  • In Infinity String, the protagonist starts an interactive flashback sequence. In two of the endings (an early bad ending and the good ending), the protagonist is killed by a Grandfather Paradox.
  • In Paper Mario: The Origami King, Bobby (who was suffering with amnesia) recalls the story as to how he got amnesia he and his Bob-Omb pals were taking a cruise on The Princess Peach before fighting off against a Paper Mache Blooper but he got fell into the sea and woke up at the docks. After he reveals his story, he tells Mario why they had to go back to the ship — it was to get the item in an important box. The item was his deceased friend's fuse, and he uses it to detonate himself to destroy a boulder trapping Olivia.

     Web Comics 
  • Mosp from Sluggy Freelance got her own flashback mini-arc immediately before being getting killed off quick.
  • An unusual example in the Highlander parody issue of Nodwick. Because the two warriors of Clan MacClod were concentrating on their extended flashback to a previous adventure, they weren't paying attention while Yeager walked up to them and cut their heads off.

     Western Animation 
  • Bleeding Gums Murphy in The Simpsons reveals a whole bunch of previously unmentioned backstory about him before he dies in the episode "'Round Springfield". There's also a hint that he may be Dr. Hibbert's long-lost brother, but it never goes beyond a brief throwaway joke.
  • Ted Kord in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He is, of course, not quite the Blue Beetle focused on for this show, but his extended flashback shows how he was as a character and the legacy Jaime must live up to.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender we know in the first episode that the Fire Nation killed Jet's parents,but then we see it all in flashbacks in the episode "Lake Laogai", which is his last episode. In fact we see the flashbacks in fast mode just minutes before a failed attempt at Throwing Your Sword Always Works.
  • The Legend of Korra both Tarlock and his brother Noatok get an extended flashback moments before they die.


Dead Naming

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