Follow TV Tropes


Fatal Forced March

Go To
This will not end well for Napoleon.
Walking might not sound like the most dangerous mode of transportation over long distances, but without the necessities for travel - food, water, protective clothing, shelter, medical supplies, and other essential provisions - a long-term journey on foot can be every bit as deadly as a car crash. As such, characters who embark on such journeys do so only due to poor planning, recklessness, or sheer desperation.

Often (but not always) conducted in groups, this trope railroads the participants into a long and painful voyage through territory where seeking help is not an option, often via a Ridiculously Difficult Route: the hazards can range from Hostile Weather, angry locals, disease, starvation, dehydration, and dangerous wildlife. Expect a Dwindling Party in many cases.

Attentive tropers may notice a distinct similarity to the River of Insanity, both involving a doomed expedition travelling along a set path. However, Instances of this trope are distinguished by the fact that exploration or adventure isn't necessarily the goal of them, and the fact that the participants can literally be forced into it by circumstances beyond their control.

Compare Walk into Mordor and Deadly Road Trip. Contrast Death March for the involuntary penal variation on this trope.


    open/close all folders 

    Films — Animated 
  • Koati: Since the land of Xo is experiencing unusually frequent natural disasters, Zaina convinces all the animals to leave the land of Xo and walk to "not Xo" south of Xo. Many of the animals get exhausted and dehydrated from the march.
  • Fantasia portrays the extinction of the dinosaurs as a desperate march through a land ravaged by drought. With the only watering hole having dried up, both carnivores and herbivores alike have no choice but to walk on, the herd slowly dropping dead one after the other as dehydration sets in; even the Tyrannosaur collapses seconds into the march and is left behind as the other dinosaurs march onward. None survive.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Blair Witch Project, the three student filmmakers somehow end up getting lost in the woods despite having a very simple route back to their car, and though they end up losing their map as well, they have no choice but to continue walking. Over the next few days, Heather, Josh and Mike have to cope with dwindling supplies, exhaustion, rising tensions, the fact that they're Going in Circles, and the unseen Blair Witch stalking them. The whole thing ends with them being lured into an abandoned house and killed.
  • After flooded New York starts freezing over in The Day After Tomorrow, most of the survivors make the decision to leave the relative safety of the library in an ill-advised attempt to escape the city on foot, despite being warned by Sam that the temperature is going to continue dropping. By the time we next see them, several of them have already begun dying of hypothermia despite their leader's best efforts to keep them moving; they aren't seen again until Jack Hall finally makes it to New York and stumbles upon the frozen body of the expedition leader, having presumably been caught in the apocalyptic snap-freeze.
  • The central premise of Gerry, in which two hikers find themselves lost in New Mexico; with limited supplies and no idea how to find their way back to civilization, their only option is to keep moving. Given Gus Van Sant's infamously minimalistic approach to the story, the film consists almost entirely of the two men walking through the desert. Eventually, one of the hikers is given a Mercy Kill and the survivor is rescued.
  • Combined with Shortcuts Make Long Delays in The Ritual: a group of friends hiking through Sweden try to take a shortcut through a forest after one of them sprains a leg. Unfortunately, they soon find themselves completely lost, constantly rained on and travelling across increasingly uneven terrain... and then something starts picking them off one by one. In the end, they've no choice but to keep hobbling onwards through the forest with dwindling supplies and plummeting morale, even as their numbers drop. The film ends with Luke as the only survivor, managing to escape the monster and walk out of the forest despite everything inflicted on him.
  • In Kingdom of Heaven, Guy de Lusignan, being freshly crowned King of Jerusalem, decides to have an all-out war against Saladin and the Saracens. Being a General Failure, Guy ignores the advice of The Hero to remain within the walls of the city, and marches his entire army, full plate and all, into the searing desert. It doesn't take long before we see them dragging their feet in the heat, and the next time we see Guy, he's standing prisoner meekly within the tent of Saladin, while the Saracens are busy piling the heads of his entire army. This is close to what actually happened in the historical Battle of Hattin (the Crusader troops had to march in armor due to harassment by Saracen horse archers and reached the oasis at Hattin to discover the Saracens had blocked the wells), though the real King Guy's motivations were slightly different: he was unpopular and was being threatened with a Military Coup by warhawk knights and nobles (including the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar) if he refused to unwisely march against Saladin.
  • The Mummy Returns: The prologue depicts the rise and fall of the Scorpion King who, after his last failed campaign, marched his army out into the Thirsty Desert, where they all succumbed from heat and thirst one by one. When the Scorpion King was the last man standing, he made a Deal with the Devil with Anubis, who created an oasis out of nowhere.
  • Threads: In the wake of a nuclear attack on Sheffield, many people are forced to forced to leave the cities en masse in search of food. Unfortunately, given the extreme cold and darkness caused by the nuclear winter, along with radiation, disease and malnutrition, many end up dying anyway as a result.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • After the journey beyond the Wall goes horribly wrong in A Storm of Swords, the surviving men of the Night's Watch are forced to march back to the Wall as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, many of them are badly wounded from the battle with the Others, and by the time they reach the comparative safety of Craster's Keep, many of them have begun to sicken as well - fatally in some cases. Craster's refusal to provide them with anything more than the absolute bare minimum of sustenance doesn't help. A mutiny among the discontented men ends up killing Craster, Lord Commander Mormont and several others, leaving the survivors either in residence at the keep or trickling back to the Wall.
    • In A Feast for Crows, Septon Meribald brings up the uncomfortable reality of marching to war on foot - namely, due to poor hygiene, violence, or sheer bad luck, the fact that several soldiers don't make it anywhere near a battle. Some end up dying of illness along the way, as was the unfortunate case with two of Meribald's brothers during the War of the Ninepenny Kings; others were killed in fights, and one or two ended up put to death by the authorities for looting or raping along the way. And this was still weeks away from an actual battlefield.
  • In Firestar's Quest, after the unexpected destruction of SkyClan's territory, the other Clans elected to throw them out. Not to anywhere, mind you, just out. This included kittens too young too walk, many- if not all - of whom died on the trek.
  • Subverted in The Magicians. The Ultimate Final Exam of fourth year requires students to walk to the South Pole from Brakebills South, naked and with only their magic to protect them. This might seem like a Suicide Mission, but it's clear that students are only allowed to participate voluntarily and after being provided with the appropriate magical ingredients. However, it's still played for some tension, with Quentin reflecting that the enchantments he's cast on himself are so strong that - if he does die - his corpse will continue walking for some time.
  • In the second book of The Steerswoman series, the Outskirter tribe Rowan and Bel are traveling with have to make a forced march to escape the killing heat being called down by the wizards, traveling virtually without rest for several days. Many of the tribe members do not survive, and still more are lost in the violent storms that follow the heat.
  • The Stone Sky: After the destruction of Castrima, the city's residents need to trek across the Death World outside to reach another safe location. Justified in that they can't stay in the ruins and their society is built around the Cold Equations of survival during a Season, but it's a brutal ordeal that kills a substantial fraction of the community.
  • Dan Simmons' The Terror serves as a retelling of the infamous Franklin Expedition, and naturally features the moment where the crews of both Erebus and Terror were forced to abandon ship and flee south on foot across the ice. However, along with disease, starvation, cannibalism, mutineers and bad weather, the crew are also being picked off by a monstrous supernatural predator that appears to be actively cutting off their escape route. In the end, the only survivor is Captain Crozier, who ends up being adopted by the local Inuit people.
  • The Silmarillion: most Noldor Elves had to walk through the bitterly cold region of Helcaraxe, the Grinding Ice, to catch up with their renegade compatriots who burned the ships that were expected to return and ferry the rest of the Noldor. A lot of elves died en route; while elves are naturally resistant to elements, they can still drown in icy water. The survivors of that trek were so understandably angry that Maedhros, the leader of the ship-burner party, had to abdicate the throne to placate them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Terror adapts the fatal journey of the original book and expands a little further on the fate of the Terror camp: while Crozier is taken captive by the mutineers, they continue their push across the ice, and - unlike in the book - Crozier eventually stumbles upon them after escaping. Not only are all them either dead or dying following a brief descent into cannibalism, but one of the last men to expire has gold chains hooked into his face for no apparent reason; his last words are "close."
  • In Walking with Monsters, most forms of life end up getting depicted in the process of this during the Permian Extinction: with the planet having been reduced to desert wastes by climate change and volcanic activity, many species are forced to migrate in search of food and water. In the end, it's all for nothing, as the Scutosaurus herd drains one of the last remaining oases of water and march off into the desert to die, while the remaining carnivores kill each other or simply succumb to the elements. The only survivors are the small rodentlike species who've learned to shelter and feed underground.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition: According to the Dungeon Master's Guide, a Player Character party can force march and travel up to 2x normal distance. During the forced march, beasts of burden have a 10% cumulative chance of dying for each extra 10% of movement. All other party members lose 1 Character Level or hit die per extra 10% of movement, and if they reach zero level or zero hit dice, they die of exhaustion.

    Video Games 
  • The penultimate level of Journey (2012) sends the protagonist on a desperate attempt to climb the mountain seen throughout the game: it's a long, brutal slog disrupted by strong gusts of wind and patrolled by hostile Magitek, and it's made all the more arduous by the fact that your usual gliding powers are disabled by the cold. Worse still, the final leg of the journey takes you through a blizzard, and with the storm surrounding you, your only choice is to continue walking: it ends with you freezing to death... only to be brought back to life by the White Cloaks and allowed to continue the journey with your powers enhanced.
  • The Secret World mission "The Vanishing Of Tyler Freeborn" kicks off with the eponymous character donning a gas mask and walking into the Fog shrouding Solomon Island, determined to find out what lies behind it. This is already pretty foolhardy considering that everyone who's tried to escape the island via crossing the Fog has ended up dead, but once it's made clear that the Fog is an airborne strain of the Filth it becomes downright insane. As one of the few characters immune to the effects of the Fog, you follow, wading through the waist-deep ocean and chasing the inexplicable singing until you find yourself in the Red Sargassum Dream - a pocket reality created by the Dreamers. After a long and decidedly surreal foot journey, you find yourself back on the shore of Solomon Island, with Tyler's dead body lying close by.
  • SOMA features underwater versions of this:
    • After barely escaping from the monster-infested Theta, a small group of personnel in diving suits fled across the sea-bed in an attempt to reach Omicron. However, though there were no monsters along the way, they soon found that Omicron had been sealed off and none of the base personnel remain alive to cancel the lockdown. With all the alternates being either out of reach or sealed as well, the survivors slowly began to run out of oxygen, until the last two could only sit down on the edge of the continental shelf and wait to die.
    • With Tau base rapidly running out of supplies, the personnel were forced to travel through the Abyss in a desperate attempt to reach the Climber and ascend to the relative safety of Omicron - only to find the depths infested with hostile mutant life-forms. Several members of staff were killed in the attempt and those that followed, and the survivors had no choice but to return to Tau and slowly starve to death.
  • Happens in Valkyria Chronicles 4 when after having their camp raided the Federation Ranger squads are scattered and forced inland through Empire territory. Command only tells them to head for the sea without any explanation, a route that goes through a treacherous mountain range in the dead of winter without any appropriate protective gear. Any soldiers injured in the field will die quicker than usual thanks to hypothermia, and morale plummets. It's possible to get Squad E through it alive, though. Only because they get delayed going for a target of opportunity - mountain passes to the coast are very predictable and the other squads walked into a massive ambush, with very few survivors.

  • The Order of the Stick: Xykon, impatient to make progress on their world conquest plan, orders the hobgoblin army to make a forced march on Azure City. Redcloak points out that they'll lose ten percent of their forces, then they both break out laughing.

    Real Life 
  • The Franklin Expedition of 1845 began as a nautical attempt to find the fabled Northwest Passage via two ex-warships and 129 men; however, after both ships became trapped in the ice for several years, the crew were eventually forced to abandon ship and walk south across the pack-ice in a desperate attempt to escape the Arctic. By this point in the journey, many of the men were likely falling ill with scurvy, lead-poisoning, and a number of other illnesses caused by improper food storage, and adding the impact of freezing, starvation, exhaustion, and dropping morale into the mix would have only made things worse. As a result, the entire expedition vanished, leaving only a few scattered graves and a number of witness reports from local Inuits - some of which confirmed that members of the expedition resorted to cannibalism before they died.
  • Mark Antony attempted to invade Parthia as a way to gain military glory, but his campaign was an unmitigated disaster, as he left his baggage train behind in the name of making it to the city of Phraata as quickly as possible. Because of this, the Parthians attacked the undefended supply train, causing Antony's army to have little food and next to no cold-protective clothing. Thus they had to make a trek on foot through the mountains of Armenia in the dead of winter just to make it back to Roman territory, all while being picked off by Parthians every step of the way. Anywhere between 25%-50% of the army that had left Phraata died in the trek due to starvation or exposure, to say nothing of military casualties.
  • After trying and failing to invade Imperial Russia, Napoléon Bonaparte's troops had to return to France during the harsh Russian winter, all while being harassed by Cossack troops on a road devastated by the scorched earth policies of the defenders. Most didn't survive.
  • During the corona-virus lockdown in India, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who survived on daily wages lost employment and housing in the cities and headed towards their villages. But in the absence of trains and buses they had to do it on foot and some of them died.


Video Example(s):


A Growing Exodus

In the wake of a nuclear attack on Sheffield, many people are forced to forced to leave the cities en mass in search of food. Unfortunately, given the extreme cold and darkness caused by the nuclear winter, along with radiation, disease and malnutrition, many end up dying anyway as a result.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / FatalForcedMarch

Media sources: