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Dream Apocalypse

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"One thousand little worlds die one thousand little deaths as you brush past the veil of your eyelids."
Narrator, Little Worlds

So, the whole episode's been All Just a Dream. The Big Bad's subjugation of Canada never happened, the Will They or Won't They? couple didn't really get together and, unfortunately, The Scrappy didn't actually die. So, it's all back to the status quo, right?

But wait... what about that Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who helped the fight? The Girl of the Week who fell for the protagonist? That cute ferret-mouse-dog... thing? What'll happen to them when the hero wakes up? More importantly, what if they realize what will happen if he wakes up? This, my friends, is a Dream Apocalypse.

Any one of a number of things can now occur: perhaps the characters of the dream conspire to keep the hero asleep forever. Perhaps the hero himself tries to force himself never to wake-up. Or, if the writers don't feel like writing a Downer Ending, there'll be a hint that it wasn't just a dream after all.

Often appears as the conclusion to a Lotus-Eater Machine, Cuckoo Nest or Ontological Mystery plot, and is a sure-fire sign of a bona-fide Mind Screw. Compare Expendable Alternate Universe, Noticing the Fourth Wall.

Warning for spoilers, as this is often tied into All Just a Dream endings.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Anderson: Psi-Division: When Anderson investigates the death of a person who was killed inside a virtual reality simulation, some of the projections beg Anderson to save them from ceasing to exist.
  • "You: Illusion", by Bruce Jones: In the Twist Ending, the main antagonist becomes a lucid dreamer of Reality Warper levels as soon as he falls asleep. In a further twist, the protagonist ends up trying to complete the Apocalypse, because the dreamer in question already briefly woke up, with extremely painful results for everything and everyone in the dream world.
  • The Call of C'Russo: The Ducks themselves turn out to be part of the imagination of the monster Ar-Finn, who dreamt the world into existence. When it wakes up, they resolve to put it back to sleep to keep the dream going.
  • Druuna: Aphrodisia: A mental clone of Druuna is created by Captain Lewis when she travels into his mind to find a cure for the Viral Transformation. She tries to overwrite the original Druuna and steal her body since she doesn't want to cease existing.
  • Superman: In For the Man Who Has Everything, Superman is stuck in a Lotus-Eater Machine where Krypton never exploded. He eventually has to come to terms with that, and the fact that all of his loved ones will cease to be if he escapes. And once he does, he's not happy.
  • The Sandman (1989): Dream destroys an entire dreamscape, but all of the assorted Dream People seem resigned to this. It's softened by later revelations that they all go to an afterlife and can be resurrected at will by Dream.
  • Superman/Batman: The Mash-Up arc has Batman and Superman mysteriously transported to Gothamopolis, a fusion of their home cities. Eventually, they realize it's one of Doctor Destiny's traps, and though they manage to escape, Gothamopolis and its populace are of course destroyed as they awaken. Bitterly, Batman comments the sheer realism is exactly what makes Destiny so dangerous - "he makes you want to believe".
  • Tänkaren (The Thinker) note  featured a group of human agents trying to destabilize an alien society by sedating their prime religious figure: the titular Thinker, whose thoughts about the universe make it exist. The reasoning was that if they could prove that the universe continued even when the Thinker was unconscious and thus not thinking, the alien society would collapse from having their whole belief system proved a lie, allowing for an easy takeover. Only it turns out it wasn't a lie, and the pages following the assault on the Thinker were all blank...

    Fan Works 
  • Asuka & Shinji's Infinite Playlist: During Third Impact, Shinji loses his memories and finds himself living in a dream reality: the world has not been broken by the Second Impact, there are not humongous mechas fighting eldritch creatures every week, Gendo behaves almost like a normal father, Rei is his little sister, Hikari is his childhood friend, and he is an ordinary middle-school student. Though, he gradually notices something is not right: his SDAT plays songs only he and Asuka can hear, he has a sense of déjà vu when Asuka tells specific sentences, neither he nor Asuka can remember the last it snowed despite living in regions with snow and frost in wintertime... When Shinji and Asuka walk out of his apartment together, after the former has gotten his memories back, the dream world begins fading into blackness and going back to the nothingness where it came from.
  • A Dream is a Wish your Heart Makes, an Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfiction: Denmark is put in a Lotus-Eater Machine dream world, because of the Black Mercy plant infecting him. At one point, he becomes vaguely aware that he's in a dream, during a nearly successful attempt by the other nations to remove the plant. When the attempt fails and the dream world is stabilized, the dream version of Iceland pleads with Denmark to stay with him forever, because the plant needs Denmark to stay asleep to continue to feed off of him. Iceland creepily reminds Denmark of this promise towards the end, when the nations dose him with LSD to try to scare him awake, and the dream world gets really freaking terrifying.
  • The Flower's Dream: Once, a sleeping flower dreamed up a dream so vast and vivid that it created a whole world, one filled with truly living beings. When it woke, the dream began to fade away, and although the flower managed to send itself back to sleep quickly enough to chase it back down its inhabitants were left badly shaken. Most just tried to pretend it never happened and to forget that the time when they were simply pale and fading memories; only the breezies acknowledge what happened and try to help the flower in staying asleep and sustaining the world.
  • The Perfect Little Village of Ponyville: It's revealed that the main characters (plus Vinyl Scratch) are all stuck in a dream of Twilight Sparkle's. For them, Twilight waking up is the safest way to get out of the dream, but the actual dream constructs will cease to exist when she wakes. On the other hand, Spike is the only one of these constructs to gain self-awareness — and he's the first person to figure out that it's all a dream, when Ponyville and its residents begin to fade from existence because none of the dreamers are there. Dream Spike ends up performing an unrelated Heroic Sacrifice, so the moral complications of waking up from the dream become a moot point. The same goes for the sequels to this story, which has Vinyl Scratch going through the dreams of the other characters to wake them up as well, as part of an overarching attempt to take down the Dragon Emperor.

  • Alice in Wonderland (2010): The Hatter mentions this possibility to Alice, saying that if she is dreaming it all, then he must not truly exist. He doesn't seem too concerned about it however, even half-jokingly telling her that she must be a little crazy to have imagined someone like him. (Which she doesn't deny.)
  • Himalaya Singh starts off as a screwball comedy where a trio of tourists get mistaken as the grooms of an Indian Princess, but quickly takes a wild turn when at the end of the film, the protagonist encounters Brahma, the Indian creation deity, who's depicted as a mere baby — as it turns out, the movie's entire verse is a dream of Brahma, and then the main character accidentally wakes up Brahma, causing the entire universe to be reset. The film then concludes its last five minutes with every character being reborn as cavemen as the world restarts.
  • Inception has two or three variations: To a lesser extent, the projections who attack any foreign entity in the dream when the host starts to realise he's dreaming; played much straighter, however, is Cobb's projection of Mal, particularly at the end within limbo and inverted with the real Mal, who was convinced that what Cobb thinks is the real world is a dream, and that she needed to die to return to "reality."
  • Total Recall (1990): Implied to be the end. The movie is deliberately ambiguous, although hints like "Blue skies on Mars?" before Quaid goes under imply most of the movie has been a trip into a Lotus-Eater Machine with some very unpleasant brain damage for Quaid (i.e. a "schizoid embolism" according to one of the characters, but even that hint was ambiguous).
  • Vanilla Sky ends with the revelation that most of what happened in the movie was All Just a Dream and the main character, David, had been cryogenically frozen and put into a permanent state of lucid dreaming. The dream turns into a nightmare and the protagonist ends up accidentally murdering his girlfriend. When he realizes it is a dream, he is given the choice to start over again with everything happy again, but chooses to wake up instead. His girlfriend appears and he realizes that though he didn't really kill her, she has long since died of old age. However, it is hinted at that they will see each other again as she says she has something to tell him "in the next life, when we are both cats." When the Lotus-Eater Machine was revealed, a psychologist, David's only confidante, argues vehemently that he is not a figment of David's imagination. The dream technician explained to David that he shouldn't feel bad for him, because he is just a superficial character inspired by a movie David once saw. This was proven when the psychologist was unable to recall the names of his two beloved daughters, because David had not thought of them.

  • Alice in Wonderland: Played with Alice Through The Looking Glass. Tweedledum and Tweedledee tell Alice that she (and they) are just characters in the Red King's dream, and that when he wakes she will disappear like a candle flame after it goes out. This in a story that is supposedly Alice's dream. Alice at one point gets fed up with this whole concept, and considers waking him up just to see what will happen. She doesn't get a chance to, though she's left idly wondering at the end if her cat Dinah's kitten, the "Red King" behind the looking glass, is still dreaming, and if she and the real world are just part of his dream.
  • The Antonio Vivaldi Cup: There are several competing worlds, each of them manifesting as the dreams of all the others, and the characters attempt to turn one of them into reality. This inevitably means that all the others are relegated to dreams of the real world and become a lot weaker in consequence.
  • Boneland: This is one of the many alternative explanations for Colin Whisterfield's experiences. All of his experiences of having visited a Narnia-like fantasy land superimposed on his own Cheshire, England, are just a dream brought about by psychosis and treatment for mental illness. This is written in step with the story of a neolithic shaman who fears that if he stops dreaming, his world will end. At the end is an ironic twist — that in one very real sense, the world you dream will inevitably stop and cease to be — at the moment of your own death.
  • Cthulhu Mythos: Some versions put Azathoth in the role of the dreamer, with the whole universe as his dream. Pray he doesn't wake up.
  • The Electric Ant, a Philip K. Dick short story, plays with this. The main character finds that his reality is simulated by punchholes in a magnetic tape reel in his chest. He wonders whether the world would fade away if he cuts the tape. He cuts the tape. The next scene is narrated by his wife beside his dead body and she discusses how ridiculous his delusion was. Then she starts fading away.
  • The Gods of Pegāna: The world is either this or very close. Some say that everything comes from MĀNA-YOOD-SUSHA̅I̅'s dream, while others say that he created everything and then went to sleep. Either way, once he wakes up, "he will make again new gods and new worlds," having destroyed the old. Skarl the Drummer plays his drum to keep him asleep (which is nice of him, since he'll actually survive MĀNA-YOOD-SUSHA̅I̅'s awakening). Even MĀNA-YOOD-SUSHA̅I̅'s own priests don't pray to him, because you know, that might wake him up.
  • Ice Crown, by Andre Norton: Shambry threatens this: he is keeping the queen asleep because if she wakes, they will all vanish as her dream. Imfray's men are frightened, but Imfray himself sees he's lost his mind and stops him, breaking the mind-globe controlling her.
  • Otherland by Tad Williams is not technically a dream, but still employs this. The main characters are trying to destroy a VR simulation from the inside. The people inside seem awfully realand some of the main characters are virtual and don't know it. Fortunately, it turns out there's a way to Save Both Worlds.
  • Secret Histories: There is a cult in The Man With the Golden Torc who alter reality by telling the severed, dreaming, drugged up head of their college professor what to dream, calling him The Red King. Though apparently not the whole world was his dream, just the cult, and when he is awakened they all wink out of existence.
  • The Wheel of Time: As the World of Dreams is a constant force of the series, it's only natural for this to crop up throughout the story. In fact, it's revealed that every Aes Sedai is forced to undergo this (THREE TIMES, no less!) when progressing from Novice to Accepted of the White Tower. Even worse, almost every time we see it happen, the results persist somewhat.

    Live Action TV 
  • Ashes to Ashes (2008): Inverted. Series 2 ends with Alex waking up in the real world... but Gene Hunt is still there and trying to wake her back up into the 80's. In Series 3 it is hinted at / revealed (depending on your point of view) that she never woke up at all, but dreamed it within her dream.
  • The Odyssey, a Canadian kid drama, features the hero falling into a coma and arriving in a dream world that reflects his mental state. Oddly enough, even after he wakes up, the parallel world continues on without AND with him, complete with a dream version of himself continuing to live there.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Forest of the Dead": When Donna is caught in a Lotus-Eater Machine, she starts panicking when she realizes that her two children don't actually exist. Then they start saying, "When you're not looking, we disappear." And then the entire world goes white and she's shown desperately trying to hold onto her husband, who might not be real either. Turns out, he is real, but she leaves before he's able to tell her.
    • "Last Christmas": The face-hugging dream crabs knock people into dreams and then eat their minds...and have the ability to create dreams within dreams to keep people from realizing this, for extra Mind Screw. It's slightly different than normal version of the trope, because dying in the dream world means the crabs finished eating your mind. But at one point, the Dream version of Danny Pink realizes what he is, and works to wake her up, even though the real Danny is already dead and he will stop existing if she wakes. He tells her to get on with her life without him.
    • "Extremis": The Veritas reveals a truth so horrible that all who read it are driven to kill themselves: the knowledge that their world is a simulation and so are they. As the Doctor puts it, if you were aware of your own existence as a character in a video game, doomed to repeat it forever, wouldn't you want to delete yourself?
  • Dollhouse provides an interesting example of this with the imprinting and wiping of the actives. It's even lampshaded by the "Did I fall asleep?" dialogue whenever actives return from an engagement. Further lampshaded at the beginning of Season 2. Dr. Claire Saunders learns that she is actually Whiskey, a scarred - and therefore otherwise unusable - active imprinted semi-permanently as the Dollhouse's physician. When Topher points out that she could have chosen to be 'fixed' - via wipe - at any time, she replies, "I don't want to die..."
  • Life on Mars (2006) ends on this trope — wake up from his coma and go back to being chief inspector, or stay with Annie and Gene in the dream world. Sam wakes up, then changes his mind and jumps off a building, returning to the dream.
  • Night Gallery : "Lone Survivor": The Lusitania picks up a castaway floating in a lifeboat from the Titanic, despite it having sunk three years before. It eventually turns out that the man is actually a sailor who fled the Titanic in the last lifeboat and has been damned for his cowardice to experience disastrous shipwrecks throughout history over and over, and that all the other crewmembers are just phantoms of who they were, something one of them realizes himself. When he points this out to the captain, he realizes he can't actually remember his past in any detail, and just like that, the ship is empty, aside from the castaway.
  • The Prisoner (2009): All the people in the village have some sort of counterpart in the real world. 2's son 11-12 is one of the few people who doesn't have one, and also has no childhood memories. He tries to murder his "mother" and hangs himself when he realizes that he only exists in someone else's imagination.
  • Smallville: In "Lexmas", Lex Luthor is in a coma and dreams about a "perfect" life in which he is married to Lana, with a boy and expecting a girl; Clark is married to Chloe instead, and Clark is perfect about it. He broke off from his father and his ambitions, making them not very rich but very happy. Jonathan Kent becomes senator instead, and announces that Lex is receiving the Kansas Humanitarian Award, and, of all people, says that Lex is the finest man he ever knew. He marvels that he has never felt happier. His mother's ghost informs him that this can be reality if he makes the right choices. The apocalypse rolls by as Lana starts losing blood heavily after delivering the baby girl. Lex begs his father to let Lana get the best treatment, but he cruelly denies it as in reality Lionel orders a risky operation to be done on Lex. He breaks down in the dream world and wakes up in reality.
  • Star Trek: This shows up repeatedly in various ways.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • "The Big Goodbye": One of the holodeck characters who has learned the nature of his existence asks Dixon Hill (Captain Picard) if his world will still exist when Hill/Picard leaves. He can only answer "I honestly don't know."
      • "Elementary, Dear Data": This serves as a motivation for the hologram of Professor Moriarty who, upon learning what he is, takes the ship hostage and demands that the crew find a way to make him permanently real. They eventually do, for a certain definition of real. Then, a character in the real world decides to check if their reality is real by telling the computer to end the program, which causes (or at least, correlates with) the end of the episode.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Shadowplay" features a lone village on a planet with no other humanoids, where people are disappearing one by one. It turns out that they were all holograms and the holoprojector was malfunctioning. When they learn the truth, they agree that the machine will be switched off temporarily for repair... and then we get another twist: One of them is real!
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • Much of the show's plot lines revolve about the holographic doctor who knows perfectly well he's just a program, and at some point suggests that he should be restarted to function again, even though this will kill (reset) his individuality.
    • "The Thaw" features a villain who's the personification of fear. He can only exist inside the minds of individuals with their brains wired into a computer simulation. If they are disconnected, he will cease to exist. He is defeated when Captain Janeway tricks him into freeing the others in exchange for herself, claiming to have a better relationship with the concept due to her career as a starship captain. The twist is that though she plugged into the system, she didn't leave reality — she sent a hologram into the simulation in her stead (just as the Doctor did throughout the episode). She left a sympathetic message to the villain, though; "You know as well as I do that fear only exists for one purpose. To be conquered."
  • Supernatural: The djinn episode, "What Is And What Should Never Be", features this, as there's a period where Dean still thinks his resurrected loved ones are real, but increasingly believes that the only moral thing to do is take his wish back because of all the lives his happiness costs. Ultimately he suicide-escapes.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Shadow Play", the District Attorney Henry Ritchie and newspaper editor Paul Carson become concerned that Adam Grant is telling the truth and they will cease to exist when he is executed as their reality is nothing more than his dream. It turns out that their fears are justified as it is all part of his recurring nightmare.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Nightcrawlers", the characters from a sleeping man's nightmares come to life and wreak havoc. When the monsters accidentally kill the sleeping man, they all vanish.

  • Hinduism: There are certain beliefs that the universe is a dream of either Brahma or Vishnu, and if he ever wakes up... To outsiders, it sounds terrifying, but to those who believe this, it isn't scary. Hinduism believes in Eternal Recurrence. The god will sleep again, and you will be again.
  • Buddhism and Taoism also have similar belief sets. Taoism, for instance, believes in something called the "holograph" which is basically a belief that the world is basically a complex illusion based on the self. In Buddhism, this is called the Desire Realm.

    Video Games 
  • A 1986 Text Adventure based on the Alice in Wonderland books includes the scene where a character shows Alice the sleeping Red King and tells her that everything is just part of the Red King's dream. The game allows the option of acting on Alice's urge to wake the King up and see what happens; what happens is that it turns out to be true and everything disappears in a Non-Standard Game Over.
  • One of the episodes of Night Springs in Alan Wake discusses this subject. A man has entered his own dream, only to find many other people conspiring to keep a man asleep. It turns out that it's all a dream within a dream, and that if this man wakes up too suddenly, everybody in the dream will be wiped out. The show ends as an alarm clock sounds.
    • The DLC "The Writer" also uses this. Both DLC episodes take place in Alan's dreams as he tries to wake up to avoid being driven mad from isolation. Along the way, you're helped by a dream version of your friend Barry...who then becomes the final boss to keep you from waking up.
  • In Bloodborne, Micolash, the Host of the Nightmare laments this when you forcibly wake him. Sadly, he can no longer awake, as his body in the waking world is dead.
  • Dan Machi: Memoria Freese: In the Nightmare Academia campaign, the dream world the magic school was set in it starts to collapse when the Enchanted Dragon and the Sinister Wolf(a.k.a. Baldo) get slain. The death of the Dream Spirit(a.k.a. Tiones Walpurgis) accelerates the dream world's destruction. In this instance, everyone had to escape before it collapses completely.
  • In Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter, where the whole damn world is revealed to be The dream of a boy in a coma. When going home from the fair, the car he was in was involved in an accident which killed his parents. And it turns out he has a sister named Heather with a bandage across the left side of her face - the area where Raposa!Heather had the darkness. And to top it all off? The Raposa are based off the toys he and Heather won at the fair - Mari and Jowee.
  • In Dreaming Mary, the Funny Animals who inhabit her Dream Land know that it's a dream, and when Mary wants to wake up, some of them start getting rather distressed.
  • EarthBound (1994):
    • Magicant. "Take your time, because this country's going to disappear when you wake up."
    • Even more so with the first Mother's Magicant, except instead of it being your dream, it's the dream of Queen Mary.
  • Subverted in Eternal Sonata. Chopin is dying, and enters the game world on his deathbed. Throughout the game, he insists that the entire world is his dream. At the end, in order to prove it's his dream and not reality, he decides to kill the entire party. It doesn't work.
    • The PS3 version makes it possible for this to be played straight — if you lose the final fight, Chopin wakes up, then is hinted to die with all his dreams killed.
  • Fate/Grand Order: Ivan the Terrible has a Noble Phantasm called "Chyornyj Oprichniki: Black Dogs Come Forth into My Dreams". What it does is while he sleeps, he continuously spawns the Oprichniki, his Secret Police, from his dreams to guard him and carry out his will. When he wakes up, the Oprichniki disappear.
  • In Fear Mythos: The RPG, it is revealed that all the creatures, Fears, that you thought you were fighting for real, were actually twisted trials by a Fear called THE REVERIE, who placed you in a coma.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance brings up the possibility, but the sequel suggests that it didn't happen. Once Marche decides to set out to destroy the crystals and return to the real world, part of the conflict is the question of what happens to the characters who aren't from the real world and what would happen to them.
  • An interesting case occurs in Final Fantasy X: The main character Tidus witnesses the destruction of his home city and is swallowed by a gigantic monster, but when he wakes up he finds himself in a fantastic world that is supposedly the future, 1000 years after his city was destroyed. In an interesting twist, Tidus is not the dreamer and his adventure a dream. While the city did exist and was destroyed 1000 years ago, the city Tidus is from is a dream of the few survivors of the destruction, who have put themselves into eternal sleep so their memories of the city are never forgotten. Tidus is just a part of this dream memory, but has been projected in physical form into the dream world. To end their dream, as they request, would mean an apocalypse and suicide, but somehow he gets a vision of an afterlife of some sort, with his father, who was also a dream denizen made real. Fully completing in the sequel results in his living as a normal person.
  • Glitch: The world, the players, everything- took place within the dreams of 11 Giants. The real life shut down of the game was explained as the Giants waking up.
  • You're not told this at first, but in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Link's ultimate objective is to trigger one of these. The entirety of Koholint Island is, in fact, the Wind Fish's dream. Adding insult to injury is that the people of the island are completely oblivious to this truth, but the villainous Nightmares aren't, and they are, in fact, trying to rule the island they took over by tormenting the Wind Fish with nightmares, preventing him from waking up. But when the Dream Apocalypse happens, there are two who are shown to leave the dream world with Link: the Wind Fish, whom it turns out Link has been sharing this dream with; and (if you beat the game without dying) Marin, who gets her wish of flying to far-off lands and singing... as a seagull. It is possible that others left the dream world in the same manner as Marin, but whether this is the case or not is not made explicit.
    • The manga version develops this angle a bit more, with Link fully realizing what will happen and actually abandoning his quest when he learns about the dream world, only for Marin (who doesn't know the truth but had her own issues with dreams) and the Exposition Fairies (who do know) to encourage him to get back on track.
  • In Mortal Kombat, all of existence is said to be the shattered consciousness of an Eldritch Abomination known as the One Being, who was forced to sleep by the Elder Gods and split into several different realms of existence. If it were to wake up, all living beings would be absorbed into it and become whole again. Its strongly implied that he might be influencing the Big Bads of the story like Onaga, Shao Kahn and Shinnok, since they have aspirations to conquer or destroy all realms, and the One Being happens to awaken in their non-canon endings. However this may have been one of Kronika's lies.
  • The indie game Oracle of Tao has this played perfectly straight. The world is split into a world of existence (the New Earth), and nonexistence (the Void). Everything in the Void except inside towns has No Ontological Inertia, and just gets swallowed up after 24 hours. If the "real world" exists and the mirror of the real world doesn't exist, what does that really say about the whole? It "sort of" exists. At the end of the game, it turns out God has been sleeping the whole time, and when God wakes up, everything but the main character will wink out of existence (don't ask about the main character).
  • In the Game Gear version of Ristar, one of the bosses seems to be a dream master. When he is beaten, the background, which was a fairly normal world becomes overrun with lightning and storm clouds, thus hinting at what happens to the world Ristar is in when he beats the boss.
  • In The Secret World, the universe is essentially a dream made into reality through the manipulations of the Host and the servitude of a group of Eldritch Abominations called the Dreamers. They're desperately trying to wake up, but are forced to dream and maintain current reality by Gaia Engines, which are explicitly called "lullaby music boxes". And they'll take great pleasure in devouring all the souls in this world and reshaping the universe into something more to their liking once they're awake enough. Oh, and their thoughts, in the form of the Filth are actively subverting these Engines...
  • The ending for the Taiwanese and Global servers of SINoALICE has this happen to Library itself, as it is destroyed in the process of helping Alice wake up and face reality head-on. To drive the point home, the ending forcibly logs you out of your account and never lets you log back on again.
  • The visual novel Sucker for Love is about a human summoning a Cute Monster Girl Cthulhumanoid named Ln'eta, who claims that reality is a byproduct of her dreams and needs his help to "wake up". The human accepts, even if it means his own destruction, solely due to wanting to kiss her.
  • The Talos Principle has a variant on this. It's clear from almost the start that the entire game takes place in a VR simulation, and the godlike being Elohim is just an AI designed to monitor the system, so his grandiloquent proclamations that it will be "the end of your generations" if you climb the mysterious tower are easy to take with a grain of salt. However, it turns out that the original designers of the simulation intended the tower as a final test for any AIs who have shown the qualities necessary to survive in the outside world (such as yourself), and should you complete your final ascent, the virtual world will be erased as it's no longer needed. In the end, Elohim accepts his impending deletion with dignity, but as you're finally uploaded to a physical body, you're treated to a montage of all the worlds you've puzzled your way through being destroyed in apocalyptic fashion.
  • In the Touhou Project fan-game Concealed the Conclusion, Gensokyo is a dream of Reimu Hakurei, and will cease to exist when she wakes up. In the Good End, it is revealed that the game's protagonist (Marisa Kirisame) is also from outside Gensokyo and is sharing the same dream.
    • In the Extra and Phantasm Stages, Suika Ibuki managed to survive Gensokyo's destruction, and has started putting the world back together again piece by piece.
  • In Twisted Metal 2, Roadkill/Marcus Kane's ending is him claiming the game is just him having a bad dream and wishes to wake up from it, Calypso responds that "He would be the one to figure it all out", then gladly agrees, but not before telling Marcus to "Feel free to visit any time, for the rest of your friends will be here for quite a while!", soon after, Marcus awakes in a hospital, surrounded by his family, apparently having survived a 15 car pile-up, with the other contestants being in the other beds by him. However, at the end of it, Calypso's evil laughter is heard. So is it a Dream Apocalypse within a dream? Or an illusion?
  • Played with in Ultima VII: Serpent Isle, there's a town that was shoved into the dreamworld after an evil sorcerer's magical experiment went awry.
  • World of Horror has the Old God Ktu-Rufu, the Dreaming. According to legend, all of reality is merely a dream of Ktu-Rufu. If your Doom counter reaches 100%, he wakes up. Game over.

  • Fans! has a hallucinatory Counselor Troi "sense existential terror -- oh wait, that's me."
  • Defied in Homestuck. The dreamself and dream bubble mechanic aside, there was at least one character explicitly stated to be the creation of Jake's subconscious, who kept on existing even after Jake woke up. He even remarks that his existence is weird. This may have been possible because the character was a copy of a player who was a Prince of Heart, a title comes with having a splintered soul, which allowed the dream copy to become an aspect of the real thing.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
    • One strip parodies this trope. A woman realizes that the world and everyone in it is just figments in her dreams, including her husband. When he asks her what they should do, she says she has a plan: demand that they make her the ruler of the world or she'll "pinch herself really hard".
    • Another strip plays with the idea that our reality is just part of a recursive simulation, and that "our" God is just a dreamer from a higher reality who's put himself in a simulation to make a world that works the way he wants to. The person who finds this out is just about to do the same because he doesn't like the way this world works and wants to run his own.
    • In another strip, nightmares are explained with the dream self of the dreamer realising he's going to be destroyed when the dreamer wakes up, and taking revenge by making the dream nasty.
  • xkcd uses a rather heartwrenching variation, seen above.
    • And in another strip, the dream characters realize that they are in a dream (seemingly a daydream if the ending of the strip's anything to go by), and decide to go out with a bang, thoroughly confusing the man who was thinking up the whole scenario.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time
    • A variation of this is also how Finn escapes the titular monster in "King Worm." He's trapped in a dream and escapes it by intentionally thinking of all his worst fears, messing up the dreamscape so much that the titular worm can't maintain control of it and thus Finn is able wake up.
    • The episode "Puhoy" is about Finn entering a pillow world and actually staying there well into adulthood with a wife and kids, before he learns it is possible to go back. After that, his family tries to help him return, but he remains there until his dream-self gets old and dies. Then he wakes up to learn it was All Just a Dream and he can't remember any of it.
    • In the episode "Everything's Jake", Magic Man casts a spell on a sleeping Jake to make his body shapeshift into an entire world, filled with many characters who may or may not simply be parts of Jake. Either way, Jake still seems upset about having to end their existence by returning.
    • In the aptly-titled "Wake Up," Prismo is revealed as a being created from the dreams of a sleeping old man, who is woken up resulting in Prismo's death. Unlike most examples, though, Prismo comes Back from the Dead the next time the man goes asleep—or would have if the Lich hadn't killed that man immediately afterward. As it turns out, though, Jake and he had formed a close enough "bro-bond" that Jake could take the old man's place by sleeping forever. Thanks to a Timey-Wimey Ball, he does and continues living his life, bringing Prismo back.
  • Happens in the penultimate episode of Bojack Horseman "The View from Halfway Down". Bojack, in a dream, attends a gathering of family and friends who have died, and mentions to these dream versions that he has this dream often, but never makes it to their show. Unfortunately for him, this time, he doesn't wake up. Over the course of the next few minutes, he watches his friends fall into a mysterious black door one after another, and eventually learns that, in reality, he fell into his pool. Due to his drunken and high state, he fell unconscious and doesn't have the ability to save himself, and Bojack tries to find a way to peacefully end the dream while everyone else reminds him he doesn't have any agency. In the end, a black gooey mass escapes the door and swallows the dream, including Bojack, as he realizes he is going to die.
    Bojack: Has anyone ever come back from this place?
    Herb: *sigh* BJ... there is no "place". It's just your brain going through what it feels like it has to.
  • Played with in Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys. The crew and some villains find a crack in a wall where you can whisper anything you want and it will appear, but are warned by a guardian that it is really the ear of a sleeping giant who dreams the universe. Not believing this, they end up wishing for bigger and better weapons as they fight, only to actually wake the giant up, which causes the universe to start to disintegrate until they manage to make him sleep again with a Techno Babble 'lullaby'. However, in the end, appropriately enough, the whole episode is implied to be All Just a Dream.
  • In one episode of Cow and Chicken, an evil milkman from Cow's nightmare materializes in the real world and terrorizes Chicken, Flem, and Earl. When they wake Cow up, he disappears.
  • Gargoyles: The moment Goliath catches onto Puck's scheme to get the Phoenix Gate, the supposed future world vanishes, leaving behind a cloud with Puck's Eliza disguise coming undone. After Puck makes a speech about why he was after it, he tells Goliath to wake up.
  • Justice League:
    • Legends is set on a parallel world that seemed to be a modern-day version of The Golden Age of Comic Books, complete with expy of the Justice Society of America, the Justice Guild of America, who decades ago had been comic-book characters that Green Lantern had read as a kid. The League eventually discovers that this world had been destroyed long ago by World War III, and a powerful psychic mutant child created a fantasy world perpetually stuck in the 1950's for himself and the few survivors left. In it his biggest heroes were still alive and battled their enemies endlessly in reenactments of their adventures. When the Justice League tried to defeat the child in order to free the inhabitants and find a way back to their own Earth, the imaginary Golden Age heroes fought beside the JL, fully cognizant that if the illusion ended, so would they. "We died once to save this earth, and we can do it again." Although Green Lantern at first attempts to apologize to the freed citizens for destroying the utopia-illusion, this was shown to unambiguously be the right thing to do, unlike most examples. An ice cream truck driver brushes off GL's apology, revealing that the people were trapped in the illusion against their will, and freeing them finally gave them a chance to live their own lives and repair their world. "Being stuck in an ice cream truck for 40 years, that's a nightmare."
    • In Justice League Unlimited episode For the Man Who Has Everything (adapted from the Alan Moore classic of the same name.): Superman was caught by a Lotus-Eater Machine in plant form, called the Black Mercy, which had him dreaming he was on a still-existing Krypton with a wife and son, forcing him to consciously will the planet's destruction if he was to escape and save his superfriends. One of the last images from his dream is Krypton exploding as he clung tightly to his dream-son.
  • "Rarg", from an episode of Long Ago and Far Away, is a perfectly happy world where the sun doesn't come up until everyone's had a good night's sleep (don't think about it too much). Then scientists probing the nature of reality discover that their world is all a dream in the mind of someone asleep in the real world, and will probably vanish when he wakes up. To prevent this, they manage to open a portal to reality and bring the sleeper through.
  • The South Park episode "City on the Edge Of Forever" ends with the reveal that the events of the episode were really All Just a Dream of Stan's (who dreamt that it was a dream of Cartman's), but after it shows Stan waking up, it cuts back to the episode's B-plot involving Ms. Crabtree becoming a comedian and getting into a romance with a truck driver. When the truck driver points out that it's all just an 8-year old dream and that none of it is really happening, Ms. Crabtree states that she knows, but just wants to enjoy it a little longer.
  • In The Transformers episode "Nightmare Planet", characters and settings from Daniel's dreams and nightmares come to life, including monsters that attack the Autobots, and a lovely fairy tale princess (who looks like Daniel's mother Carly, and human Arcee) who assists them. When Daniel wakes up at the end, everything from his dreams disappears. Springer, who had bonded with the princess, is distraught and asks what happened to her. Rodimus Prime sadly says that she never truly existed.

    Real Life 
  • A Redditor once relayed a story about how he ‘lived’ ten years of a happy life in the span of a few minutes spent unconscious on the floor of his college after he was assaulted by a footballer. In the dream, he had a wife, a successful job, and even his own son and daughter. Over the ‘final days’ of his dream, he began noticing something wrong about a lamp in his living room, how it didn’t seem to conform. In the final moments, he realised the truth, that none of this was real. After becoming consumed by horrifying imagery, he awoke saying ‘I’m missing teeth’ as a police officer came to his rescue and took him to hospital. The whole experience appeared to have left the Redditor with some lingering psychological trauma over the reality that almost everyone he loved were nothing more than apparitions in the dream world, as he concludes that ‘sometimes I see my son, usually just a glimpse out of my peripheral vision, he is perpetually five years old, and I can never hear what he says.’
  • In this Reddit thread people discussed the phenomenon that dream characters that find out they are in a dream sometimes seem to be worried about dying when the dreamer wakes up.


I'll Never Forget

You *will* believe a man can cry.

How well does it match the trope?

4.89 (46 votes)

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