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Death Is the Only Option

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In the struggle between life and death, sometimes survival is not the only way to win.

Sometimes the only way for Bob to win is to change the equation — by taking himself out of it. Every option except defeat appears to have been eliminated, so the only way left that might have a chance to win is to stop trying to stay alive. It can be very effective due to that sudden shift in objectives.

Tropes Are Flexible is in full effect; getting all the way to dying or staying dead is not required, and 'victory' is highly variable. BUT, if staying dead isn't part of the plan and something goes off leading to a permanent death, then Bob has just committed an Accidental Suicide. If Bob was a villain, also overlaps with Hoist by His Own Petard and Karmic Death.

Related to Thanatos Gambit, but with flipped cause and effect. In Thanatos Gambit, death occurs due to victory, since dying means that the other objectives have been completed; here, victory occurs due to death, or at least no longer trying to avoid dying, and only then can the objectives be completed. A Heroic Sacrifice still has options a decent person could take and need not feel bad.

Related to Fission Mailed, a Video Game trope where general failure is required to progress.

A Sub-Trope of Dying Moment of Awesome and Super-Trope to Suicide, Not Murder.

May involve a Death-Activated Superpower, My Death Is Only The Beginning, or Death as Game Mechanic. Deliberate Injury Gambit is a far less severe related trope. Depending on how far out the character sees this coming or how long they last after becoming terminal, may involve Miles to Go Before I Sleep. Not to be confused with Murder Is the Best Solution. Compare Suicide for Others' Happiness. Compare Failure Gambit.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Jin of Samurai Champloo uses a move that abandons defense and allows the enemy to stab him in order to get close enough to stab the enemy.
  • Takopi's Original Sin has Takopi exhaust every option he can think of through time travel to make the main characters happy. He uses the last of his power to rewind time and help Shizuka and Marina become friends, which kills him.
  • In Vinland Saga Askeladda is presented with 2 choices, both of which he hates, so he Takes a Third Option which requires his death.

    Comic Books 
  • Jesse Custer's plan near the end of the Preacher graphic comic series is to die so that God himself will return to Heaven thinking it now safe, only to find the Saint of Killers occupying the celestial throne. Jesse returns from the dead but comments that still being alive is an empty victory, like using a cheat code in a video game.
  • In The Wicked + The Divine, members of the Pantheon die within two years of the Recurrence's beginning. Often this occurs by somebody else's hand, but any who make it to the end of the time limit are required to off themselves in order for the Recurrence to, well, reoccur.

    Fan Works 

    Film - Animated 
  • Titan A.E.: Captain Korso at first made a deal with the Drej that would let them destroy the Titan in exchange for money and a "Do Not Kill" tag. After Cale Tucker saved his life, Korso returned the favor by using himself as a shunt in a huge circuit breaker to help Cale power up the Titan.
  • Columbia Pictures' Heavy Metal from 1981. Taarna the Taarakian sacrifices herself and her mount to defeat the sum-of-all-evils Loc-Nar. It works, and Taarna's spirit transfers to Grimaldi's daughter, making her the new Taarakian.

    Film - Live Action 
  • The director's cut ending of The Butterfly Effect invokes this trope: Evan strangles himself with the umbilical cord in his mother's womb to make life better for the people he knew.
  • Inception: Upon their return to reality after spending a lifetime together in Limbo, Mal remains convinced that they are still dreaming and that she and Cobb need to wake up by killing themselves since in dreams this is the only way out. She leaps out of a hotel window and plummets to her death. While she did intend to kill herself, she didn't think doing so would actually mean she'd be ''dead'' dead given the logic of dreams. The Reveal that she was Cobb's first inception success story, as he planted the idea that her world isn't real when she refused to leave Limbo, makes this also overlap with Psychic-Assisted Suicide.
  • The T-800 at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day realizes he must destroy himself to prevent reverse engineering of his design, however he cannot self-terminate. John Connor has to push the button.
  • In Looper, Young Joe kills himself to stop Old Joe from killing Sara and ensuring Cid becomes the Rainmaker.
  • Dragonslayer. The only way for the wizard Ulrich to slay the dragon is for him to allow himself to be killed, twice. His first death puts his soul into an amulet. He later comes back to life, and when the amulet is smashed, his body explodes (killing him again), destroying the dragon.
  • In Dragonheart, Draco and Einon's lives are linked because Draco shared his heart with Einon at the beginning of the film. For Einon to die, Draco must die. Bowen refuses to slay his friend, even defying the oath he made to do anything Draco would ask of him (in this case, assisted suicide). He ultimately does the deed when he sees Einon Back from the Dead as hateful as ever and realizes that the kingdom would never be free as long as Einon lived.
  • In Avengers: Infinity War, after looking through 14 million different futures to find the one where the heroes win, Doctor Strange trades Tony Stark's life for the Time Stone and dies as a result. With his last words, he claims that there was no other way. In Avengers: Endgame, it's also heavily implied by Strange that the one good future only comes to pass because of Tony's Heroic Sacrifice in the final battle.

  • In Dragon Bones, Oreg's life is bound to Castle Hurog. Thus, when the villains are inside the castle, and about to take the eponymous dragon bones, which would make them powerful beyond human imagination, Oreg asks the only one who can kill him to do so, which makes the castle collapse. Rocks fall, everyone dies. (Except for the people who normally live in the castle. Those have been evacuated).
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Harry Potter realizes that he is a Horcrux and must die to defeat Voldemort. But since Voldemort used some of Harry’s blood to reconstitute his own body in the fourth book, Harry is Not Quite Dead! Nice job, Voldemort!
  • Lock In: Sani figured he wasn't getting out of the situation alive anyway, so he chose to kill himself in a way that would get the attention of the FBI.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen: Adjunct Tavore Paran takes this trope to insane proportions, as she not only intends to die herself, if needed, to achieve her objectives — freeing the Crippled God and defeating the Forkrul Assail — but is prepared to take her entire army with her, as well as the armies of her allies. To take it further, almost everyone who deciphers her intentions agrees it's a regretful, but well-meaning thing to do, and hops on board.
  • In the The Wheel of Time, Verin Mathwin is a member of the Brown Ajah, an order within the main magic-users of the series dedicated to scholarship and inquiry, dismissed by most of the others as a bunch of useless bookworms. In actuality, she is a member of the the Black Ajah, a secret group dedicated to the God of Evil. However, she actually joined them to study them as an academic curiosity, and in reality has been working as a mole in the organization for seventy years. Her magically-binding oaths state specifically that she cannot act against the Black Ajah 'until the hour of my death'. So she ingests poison that takes one hour to kill her, and uses that hour to get the information out to completely take down the Black Ajah.

    Live Action TV 
  • Desperate Housewives: After being exposed as a murderer in Season 2, George Williams swallows a deadly dose of sleeping pills. However, he didn't actually intend to die; he was expecting his ex-fiancee Bree Van de Kamp to save him by calling for an ambulance. Unfortunately for him, she chooses not to and lets him die, letting everyone believe that he committed suicide.
  • In the Diagnosis: Murder episode "Murder By Remote Control", a computer expert who had lost his son in a failed operation sought revenge on those he blamed for his son's death by using his computer skills to murder their children. To throw suspicion off himself, he programmed his home computer to fill his bedroom with noxious gas to fake an attempt on his life, expecting his housekeeper to arrive in time to prevent it. Unfortunately, due to an accident on the road, his housekeeper is delayed by an hour and by the time she arrives, it is too late to save him. And since he had already programmed his computer with his remaining targets, his killing spree continues.
  • Nikita:
    • Alex is exposed as a mole to Amanda, who then does the requisite cancellation (read: execution) by lethal injection. After her vital signs cease she steps away, checks her nails, then injects Alex with adrenaline to restart her heart, kill chip disabled.
    • Later happens to Sean. Framed for murder and in FBI custody, the only way to save him is to poison and kill him, then snatch the body in the morgue and inject him with an antidote.
    • Ryan takes the permanent version after he is captured by Amanda and in imminent threat of a mind wipe. The only way to get a message to Nikita that something is wrong is to jump out a window to his death.
  • In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Better Luck Next Time", a police detective is manipulated by a pair of malevolent energy beings into being their plaything, intending to turn her into a host after they've tricked her into shooting a fellow cop. However, their hosts burn out rapidly, they can't survive for long without one, and their current hosts are just about to expire. She utters the episode's title just before shooting herself in the head, bringing the energy beings' centuries-long murder spree to an end.
  • At the end of season 5 of Supernatural Sam Winchester allows himself to be possessed by Lucifer then jumps into Lucifer's cage, trapping both of their souls and killing himself in the process.
    • Castiel realizes that perhaps swallowing all the souls in Purgatory wasn't the best idea and tries this to save Dean and the world.
    • Dean does this when he realizes his bloodlust is out of control and that he's a danger to his family. However, it just leads to a Death-Activated Superpower.
  • Babylon 5:
    • When Sheridan goes to Z'ha'dum, his only way out from being captured and controlled by the Shadows is to jump hundreds of feet down into a deep pit (or stay in the city and get vaporized by the nuke-loaded ship he called down on it per his mission plan). He jumped, and literally died, but was revived by Lorien.
    • And when Emperor Londo, in the flash-forward shown in "War Without End" (and detailed further in the Expanded Universe Centauri Trilogy), aids Sheridan's escape, he must "submit to his greatest fear" and have G'Kar strangle him before his Keeper awoke and forced him to stop the escape, and likely killed him anyway afterwards for going against its (or rather, the Drakh Shiv'kala's) wishes. (The Keeper did awake, and he and G'Kar ended up mutually strangling each other).
  • In The Twilight Zone (2002) episode "To Protect and Serve", a cop kills an abusive pimp to protect a woman, but the pimp comes back as a ghost and continues his evil ways. The cop eventually kills himself, becoming a ghost and allowing him to defeat the pimp once and for all.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft setting has some adventures that require someone to die, although often you can foist this onto an NPC. In addition, it has several evil beings and magic items which offer Power at a Price, gradually entrapping a character until dying is the only way to escape.

  • BIONICLE: In the Chamber of Death, the only way to proceed was for one member of the Toa Inika team to sacrifice himself or herself. Matoro volunteered but was revived immediately afterwards, as the purpose was a test of courage. Because using the Mask of Life to restore Mata Nui's life would require the bearer's Heroic Sacrifice, so Matoro's willingness was the final proof for the mask that he was indeed its destined user.

    Video Games 
  • At the end of Trilby's Notes, the villain needs Trilby alive in order to complete his ritual. Fortunately, Trilby is already fatally wounded by this point, and you can simply type "die" to thwart the villain's plans. Even more fortunately, Trilby is subsequently revived by a mysterious benefactor.
  • The Nameless One of Planescape: Torment has quite a few chances to use his death to his advantage, being immortal. One example is allowing himself to be "killed" by some thugs so he can hear their plans.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the "fight" against The Sorrow (when Snake is at Death's door) cannot be won. He is a ghost, so you cannot hurt him no matter what you do. The only way out is to let him kill you at the end of your walk in the river, then use a revival pill to wake up in the "world of the living".
    • Additionally, The U.S. government realizes that the only way to absolve themselves of blame from the nuke that Volgin launched and prevent a war with Russia is to pin the incident on The Boss and have her get killed by her own student, Snake. The Boss accepts this plan despite it requiring her to die because she values her country over herself.
  • In one puzzle in Simon the Sorcerer 3D, Simon escapes from a locked room by goading the barbarian who's locked in the room with him into killing him, and coming back to life on a reincarnation tile outside the room.
  • the white chamber: A trap involves your character caught in a pixelated game screen. The only way to get out is to set off a barrel of explosives, killing you in-game and restoring you to the real world. It is not the strangest thing you will see in the game.
  • In Braid, dying is required to get some of the puzzle pieces. You can rewind time to undo your death, so no big deal.
    • Only a genius or a cheaternote  can complete the game on the first try with only the minimum required deaths (onenote ), much less completing the secret ending.
  • At the end of Bioshock Infinite, Booker must allow Elizabeth - and all the other Elizabeths from all the other timelines - to drown him before he can make the choice that would, in an alternate timeline, lead to him becoming Comstock and setting the events of the story in motion.
  • Dying and respawning at the midpoint is the only way to access the secret exit in this single-level ROM Hack of Super Mario World. The puzzle is that the hack starts you with only one life.
  • Guybrush Threepwood has his destiny told in The Curse of Monkey Island: he will die at Blood Island. The fortune teller on the island gives him the death card five times in a row. He ends up faking it to enter crypts and becomes legally dead.
  • Might and Magic IX: Writ of Fate had a part late in the game where you had to enter a place that was like Hell, and you had to die to get there. (How to do that? Well, finding a group of monsters and letting them kill you worked, as did just jumping into a lake; there was one nasty spike-filled water pit that could do it fast. In other words, it didn't matter how.) Unfortunately, after you finished the quest there, you ended up in the mortal world again, and then you had to go to a city where gods lived (it was sort of like Valhalla, to make a comparison). That meant you had to die again to get there. (Fortunately, once you got there, you could cast a spell called Llyod's Beacon to get there from the mortal world without having to die every time.)
  • Death Goes On relies on knights dying over and over - by, say, being flung by a swinging axe onto a button - so the next one can progress a bit further.
  • Dark Seed II: "Oh, no! Not the Hall of Death again! The only way out of here is death!"
  • In Battle Garegga, losing a life is the only way to reduce the game's Dynamic Difficulty. In fact, doing so multiple times over the first five stages is necessary to keep the difficulty from reaching Unintentionally Unwinnable levels by Stage 6.
  • In Dragon's Dogma, the only way to reach the end of the game and see the end credits is to run yourself through with the Godsbane dagger after becoming the new Seneschal.
  • In the MOBA Smite dying and respawning is the only way to return to your base in the 'Assault' game mode, which is important as you can buy items and spawn with full health & mana, so in most games dying at least a couple of times is necessary to stand a chance.
  • At the end of SUPERHOT, the system, having already brainwashed the player by now, has them kill their physical body so they can be fully uploaded into their servers.
  • Under Night In-Birth: In his Arcade Mode, Gordeau sees that his Big Bad Friend Hilda is becoming drunk on her power and at risk of taking so much of it in that she overloads on it and becomes a Void. His solution? Kill her in the vicinity of the Abyss, which is located right within her base. She's powerful enough to come back, helped by the EXS-charged environment, but her risk of corruption will be reset and she might be more open to listening next time.
  • Kingdom Hearts χ, towards the end of its run, began adding medals which when their special attack was used boosted strength. This could be either for a certain attribute such as speed or magic, or for Upright or Reversed, or for all attacks. The catch was that the strength boost would usually only last for one turn, after which point it would disappear. However, whether it was deliberate or due to a programming oversight, if the player character was killed and then revived, then it would return to the start of the turn, but with all of the strength boost that had already been built up still in effect. Since the player could be revived twice, they could use this to build up quite a bit of strength. Some of the later Proud quests deliberately used this by having enemies which could only be defeated by using this mechanic, having such high HP that if you hadn't built up enough strength using this method, there was just no way to defeat them.
  • The final BIT.TRIP game ends with the player controlling CommanderVideo one last time as you guide his soul to the afterlife. When the screen fades to white, the player can keep moving, but eventually they just have to put down their controller to allow the Commander to pass on and truly end the game.
  • In A Plague Tale: Requiem the only way to end the Macula is to have Hugo killed. The plot revolves around trying to find a cure which does not exist.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Tahrust Inmee commits suicide to try and frame Maya for his death. This way, the crime his wife committed note  would not be discovered and she would be safe... at the expense of Maya's life. Phoenix notes how Tahrust could have just gotten in touch with him and asked him to defend his wife in court, so dying wasn't actually the only option.
  • Fate/stay night features this at the end of the Heaven's Feel route when Shirou and Illya reach the Greater Grail. Each has the ability to stop the Grail, but doing so will definitely kill the one who does so. The normal end has Shirou making the sacrifice, while in the True End, Illya is the one who makes the sacrifice so that her brother can live on.
  • At the end of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the surviving cast members realize that the only way to stop the killing games is for everyone to refuse to vote, which will result in their executions and ensure that neither hope nor despair will win so that the audience will lose interest. Everyone does so, including the Mastermind, resulting in the school being destroyed, but three of the remaining students manage to survive.

    Web Comics 
  • Attempted in The Order of the Stick #783: Gannji and Enor are being forced to duel with each other as part of a gladiator tournament. Gannji decides there's no way out until there's a definite victor in the fight, so he tells Enor to kill him, cut off his tail, and use it to resurrect him later on. However, Belkar provides them with another option, allowing them to escape without killing each other.
  • In the finale of It's Walky!, Walky has to die so he can enter purgatory and get nudged up into the brain of the Cheese, a God-like robot that's the only thing powerful enough to stop the Martian invasion. Similarly, Alan must kill himself by intangibly entering the Cheese in order to get the Head Alien out of control.

    Western Animation 
  • In the South Park episode "Fantastic Easter Special", Jesus, who is imprisoned, asks Kyle to kill him in order for his powers to activate. Kyle, being Jewish, is, naturally, very uncomfortable with this.
  • In the Rick and Morty season 2 opener "A Rickle in Time", Rick, Morty, and Summer accidentally make various alternate timelines. They are given special collars that synch up the timelines together. In one of the 64 alternate timelines that Rick, Morty, and Summer have created, Morty loses his collar. They both fall into an infinite void, and Rick sacrifices his collar to make sure Morty gets home safe.