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Family-Unfriendly Death

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"So the mother wiped the axe and laughed."

Normally, death is kept well away from children's sensitive eyes. If it can't be avoided all together, it is made family friendly. Heroes make miraculous recoveries, villains expire off-screen, and never a drop of blood is seen.

Sometimes though, writers break this rule in the grand style, depicting deaths so gruesome they leave adults shaken, and children quivering wrecks. It's a risky move by the writers, and runs the risk of being done incorrectly or in poor taste.


Sometimes caused by unrealistic expectations. Those familiar only with Bowdlerised Fairy Tales — and still more Disneyfied ones — may find the more explicit versions of fairy tales shocking. The Happily Ever After often lavishes considerably more detail on the death of the Wicked Stepmother or other villains than on the happiness of the hero and heroine. Psychologists hypothesize this is a way of assuring the children that the villain really is Deader Than Dead. (On the other hand, it does not necessarily preclude Back from the Dead for heroes.) Often used with major villains.

This is one type of Nightmare Fuel. For violence without death, see Family-Unfriendly Violence. For examples that come from less-than-family friendly fare, see Cruel and Unusual Death. Obviously Truth in Television.


This is a Death Trope, so expect spoilers.

Example Subpages:

Other Examples:

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  • In the Scottish ballad "The Twa Sisters" (#10 of the Child Ballads), two constantly bickering princesses who have fallen in love with the same man go for a walk on the banks of a swollen river. One comes back and says the other one fell in and drowned. No one can find the body - but a few months later a wandering bard shows up with a harp made from the dead princess's bones and strung with her hair. The harp plays itself and sings that her sister pushed her into the river. In Patricia C. Wrede's retelling of the story, there is a third princess, who knows her sister was a liar and suspects the harp might, too — especially since there are lies in what it said.
    • Loreena Mckennitt performs an excellent version of this ballad called The Bonny Swans (which is easily findable on Youtube).
    • In yet another version (one with a particularly upbeat and sunny tempo), the elder sister's punishment for drowning her sibling is being boiled in lead. So much fun to sing with one's actual sisters!
  • Ballads in general are full of this sort of thing. Perhaps the most horrifying of the lot is "Long Lankin" (Child #93), in which an itinerant serial killer murders a lord's baby and then his wife:
    "We will pinch him, we will prick him,
    we will stab him with a pin,
    And the nurse shall hold the basin
    for the blood all to run in."
    So they pinched him and they pricked him,
    then they stabbed him with a pin,
    And the false nurse held the basin
    for the blood all to run in.
Followed by Long Lankin being hanged and the nurse being burned on a pyre at the end of the song.
  • In the Child Ballad The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward, the false steward is executed, gruesomely, for his treachery.
  • The ballad "Child Owlet" ends with the title character being torn apart by horses after being falsely accused of attempted rape:
    ''There was no stone on Elkin Moor
    No broom nor bonny whin
    But's dripping with Child Owlet's blood
    And pieces of his skin.
    There was no grass on Elkin Moor
    No broom nor bonny rush
    But's dripping with Child Owlet's blood
    And pieces of his flesh.
  • The French song "La blanche biche" ("The White Doe") tells the story of a young woman turning into said animal every night because of a spell. She ends up killed by her own hunting brother, dismembered and cooked; then her severed head on the table speaks to the guests...

    Comic Strips 
  • The Dick Tracy comics had some horriffic deaths in them, and not only the villains either. One of the worst splatterfests was the story about Itchy. He shoots, stabs, and runs down cops, crooks, and uninvolved citizens with cheery abandon, and when Tracy finally catches up with him, Itchy decides to kill Tracy by somewhat graphically starving him to death. When Tracy finally shot him down like a dog, the readers were rejoicing.

    Eastern Animation 
  • Long John Silver in The Treasure Planet, a 1982 animated sci-fi take on Treasure Island 20 years before Disney's. After murdering the commander and setting his ship to explode with the cast still on it, Phillip shoots Silver in the gut with a laser pistol, resulting in Silver bursting aflame, slowly bleeding out, and crawling away in confused agony before he expires.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons has this in spades; the main characters aren't afraid to use guns. There are even a few deaths that are family-unfriendly simply because of the implications.
    • For example, a plane full of people is forced to crash in the ocean in the second episode. It gets worse when a duplicate of the plane was used in a successful assassination of a world leader.
    • In the first episode, the original, full human Captain Scarlet is killed and then the Mysteron version is shot and falls off of a huge viewing platform, screaming as he goes.
    • Multiple members of SPECTRUM from red shirts to nearly-main characters are shot, crushed, drowned or pushed off cliffs. There's a fair number of scenes where the last you see of some red shirts is a flapping hand poking out from under a pile of snow or rocks that eventually goes still.
    • The crowning moment of this trope for Captain Scarlet has to be when the title character throws an electric cable into a Mysteron agent. He screams and catches fire as he's electrocuted.
  • Thunderbirds has a number of harrowing deaths by implication: the first Fireflash to go missing was full of passengers. Seeing as the second one was intact on the floor of the ocean after crashing, one assumes all the passengers and crew of the first died of suffocation in the sunken aircraft while the aircraft's instruments were reading wildly off course.


  • Herbert Nirdlinger's murder in ACT Theatre's recent play of Double Indemnity was pretty traumatizing.

  • BIONICLE had several, but mostly in web serials and books, so it was up to your imagination to picture them. Still, they were pretty gruesome: for example alternate versions of characters getting frozen and shattered to pieces, experiencing a Portal Cut, and being literally broken to pieces with a warhammer. Makuta in general tended to suffer quite horrible deaths. Some had their armor melted away with a virus, and their "essence" (containing their mind) incinerated. Also in the serials, Ancient got blown to atoms, and another side character, Botar had his internal organs crushed through his armor. Besides the web serials, some more illustrated works also depicted such events. An example is the last comic of '08, which showed Makuta being zapped to dust by a lightning storm. Finally, the death of the ultimate Big Bad, Makuta Teridax himself also fits this trope. While in the comic, it looked like a simple asteroid caught him in the head, blowing a smoking hole into his skull, the illustrated on-line story medium, the Mata Nui Saga depicted the same event in a more violent way: he got pushed into an oncoming planet, and the upper part of his head shattered to pieces. Interestingly, according to the writer, he originally had a more graphic way of killing off Teridax in mind, which the Story Team finally rejected. This would have involved the hero, Mata Nui tearing his chest open.

    Web Animation 
  • With Death Battle being a... fight to the death, there are quite a few of these. Stand-outs:
    • "Fox McCloud vs. Bucky O'Hare" has Fox strangling Bucky and then blasting his head off with his laser pistol.
    • "Princess Peach vs. Princess Zelda" ends with Zelda getting kicked in the face so hard that her head splatters like a melon.
    • "Harry Potter vs. Luke Skywalker" has Harry screaming in agony as his head splits open at the scar.
    • The "Starter Pokemon Battle Royale" has Venusaur being roasted alive and Charizard getting his wings ripped off and being filled with water until he explodes.
    • "Beast vs. Goliath" ends with the former being graphically bifurcated.
    • The "Goku vs. Superman" rematch ends with Goku getting his brain vaporised by Superman's heat vision.
    • "Yang Xiao Long vs. Tifa Lockhart" ends with the former finishing her opponent off with a shotgun-gauntlet Recoil Boosted Neck Snap. Notable as Barbara Dunkelman, Yang's voice actress who was watching the episode's live premiere, visibly flinched in horror at the deathblow.
    • All of the above easily topped by "Dante vs. Bayonetta", which has Dante completely liquefying Bayonetta, and then the closing shot shows the poor witch's soul fruitlessly kicking and screaming as it's dragged into Inferno to face a Fate Worse than Death.
    • But even that is topped by "Natsu vs. Ace", where we get a close up of Ace's face boiling away from Natsu's lightning attack. It's not instant, either — we see his skin blister and boil away, then his eyes drop out of their sockets before melting, all the while when Ace is screaming. The Nightmare Fuel page for Death Battle even provides the sweet looking picture of it.
  • Happy Tree Friends is devoted to this. Every episode features deaths that are extremely gruesome and photorealistic... and yet it looks like a children's cartoon.
  • There are loads in Rise of the Mushroom Kingdom.
    • Among the highlights are a Koopa burning alive in lava, Mouser's getting eviscerated, Luigi getting torn in half and... well... any time a Yoshi is onscreen.
    • In Power Star, any time Mario pulls that sword out of nowhere, everything dies in painful ways. And those are the mooks, things get freaking violent when the main characters start dying.
  • For most of Red vs. Blue, the deaths of characters are caused by gunshots, tanks, energy sword wounds, and aspirin overdose. Then along comes Revelation and we get Agent Texas being impaled through the face in episode 19 by the Meta. It doesn't help at all that her body is convulsing while he kills her.
  • In Super Mario Bros. Z, Mecha Sonic loves killing his opponents in the most painful and brutal ways possible. Just ask Sonic's friends, the Koopa Bros, and especially the Axem Rangers X.
  • Teen Girl Squad: Cheerleader, So-and-So, What's Her Face, and/or The Ugly One are often dispatched this way too many times. Let's list some examples! Getting impaled by arrows, getting dropped off a very tall building onto a bunch of spikes, Whatserface getting "lathed" in the 10th issue (read: split in half), getting flattened by a drum or a 12-sided die, food poisoning, getting burned alive, getting eaten by a shark, and at one point getting chopped up by a maniac in a speedo with a chainsaw.



Video Example(s):


Tarzan - Clayton's Death

Clayton, the film's main villain, is hanged by vines. In A Disney Movie.

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Main / FamilyUnfriendlyDeath

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Main / FamilyUnfriendlyDeath