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Faux Death

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When William Shakespeare put Juliet into a death-like state in Romeo and Juliet, he was probably using a trope that was already lying around. He may have grabbed it from an old Celtic precursor of Sleeping Beauty.

Anyway, this one has some years on it.

In this trope, people who are not dead appear to be dead and, like Human Popsicles, do not age. Because they look like that, all kinds of ugly stuff happens, either to them or to the ones they love, up to and including being kissed by princes.


When intentional, it's a kind of Faking the Dead. If someone is merely sleeping the sleep of the dead, but life can be discerned, see Deep Sleep. Occasionally overlaps with Angst Coma.

Supertrope of King in the Mountain.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Zabuza Momochi in Naruto. Also Faking the Dead, because Haku used this trope to protect Zabuza from Kakashi and his squad.
  • Griffith of Berserk blackmails Foss, the leader of the conspiracy to kill him, into placing a drug that does this into his goblet instead of the poison the conspiracy intended to be placed as part of his masterful Batman Gambit that ultimately leads to the Queen and her nobles being locked inside a burning castle to die.
  • After Wolfram's heart is stopped in Kyou Kara Maou!, his body is put in a nice little magical life-support box until his fiancé, Yuuri, can defeat the Big Bad and get him going again. It's kind of up to interpretation if he was actually at any point dead or not, but Yuuri certainly has a strong opinion that he wasn't.
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Black Butler Grell, a Grim Reaper, took a nap in a field and woke up at the Undertaker's. Noting afterwards that she probably should remember to breathe next time.

    Comic Book 
  • The origin story of The Spirit.
  • Was used to bring Batman's butler Alfred back from the dead after he was supposedly Killed Off for Real in the Silver Age. It turned out he was actually in a deathlike trance before being tranformed into the supervillainous Outsider.
  • Many adaptations to The Death of Superman would change Superman's death to this trope

  • Happens to poor Frodo in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (or The Two Towers, if you go by the literature) when Shelob stings him. His death-like state is convincing enough for Sam, at least, until the point when the Orcs take Frodo and explain that he's still alive in Sam's earshot, at which point Sam decides to follow them to the orcs' barracks to get his Big Damn Hero on.
  • In Superman Returns Everyone laments Superman's apparent death. But when Lois and Jason go to see him, there a (very clear) faint heartbeat on the monitor. He hasn't even died!
    • It's visible as Jason and Lois leave the Daily Planet that Perry White has two templates of the front page prepared ahead of time: one announcing Superman's death and the other announcing his recovery.
    White: Always be prepared.
  • Happens to the female lead in The Illusionist as part of a scheme to trick police.


  • In Dragon Bones, there is a sleeping (not like Smaug, really the "doesn't age, doesn't wake up" kind of sleep) dragon under a hill near castle Hurog. Major Spoiler: It's Oreg. Okay, he's only quarter dragon, but can shapeshift to dragon. Turns out, that's his real body. The one Ward killed was kind of just a copy.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass, Apples, a Grimmified Perspective Flip where Snow White is a bloodthirsty vampire, the evil queen is a benevolent ruler who put Snow White into a deep sleep to protect the populace, and the prince who accidentally woke her is a necrophiliac.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: in fact, that entire romantic subplot between Maximilian and Valentine was a rather obvious Shout-Out to Romeo and Juliet. Except it had a happy ending... sort of.
  • Happens to poor Frodo in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (or Return of the King in the Jackson-films) when Shelob stings him. His death-like state is convincing enough for Sam, at least, until the point when the Orcs take Frodo and explain that he's still alive within Sam's earshot, at which point Sam decides to follow them to get his Big Damn Hero on.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novels, Roboute Guilliman is seen in his stasis tomb, and we are told of legends that he is healing from his wound and will arise again.
  • A state that Granny Weatherwax enters in Discworld whenever she's Borrowing. It had caused her enough unnecessary embarrassments (being a very old woman who lives alone) that she now wears a small cardboard sign with the words "I Aten't Dead".
  • Little, Big draws on the legends that German emperor Friedrich Barbarossa is asleep under a mountain by having him wake up.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Master Mind of Mars, Ras Thavas does this to preserve the bodies he swaps (or swaps parts of). When Valla Dia is in danger, Ulysses Paxton resorts to it as the only way to hide her safely.
    • In the Disney movie John uses puffer fish tetrodotoxin to lure a Thern spy out of hiding so he can steal his medallion and use it to return to Mars.
  • In Arthur Conan Doyle's The Poison Belt, people start dropping like flies as the Earth passes through the poison belt. Professor Challenger uses bottled oxygen to keep himself and the other protagonists conscious for a few hours so that they can observe the death of humanity before joining it in death; they're all very surprised to wake up and find that they're alive. And even more surprised to find, some twelve hours later, that everyone else wakes up too! (Well, except for the ones who'd been killed in the accidents and fires that occurred when everyone first passed out.)
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Devil in Iron" Conan the Barbarian finds a castle appearing where he knew there had been a ruin, and inside, a woman who has just waking up, thinking that historical events were just last night.
  • The immortals of The Madness Season have a technique that allows them to impersonate a walking corpse. The most skilled ones are able to temporarily stop their metabolic functions. The hero's father ultimately died when he went too far in his corpse transformation. Daetrin himself almost wound up doing the same.
  • A number of characters in stories by Edgar Allan Poe were prone to catalepsy (see Real Life, below), such as Madeline in "The Fall of the House of Usher".
  • In Ruth Frances Long's The Treachery of Beautiful Things, when the nix steals her soul, Jenny. The forest folk lay her out on a bier, like Sleeping Beauty.
  • After the titular character of The Saga of Darren Shan was turned into a half-vampire Mr. Crepsley faked his death by carefully breaking his neck without severing his spinal cord and drugging him so that he seemed dead. Later digging him out of his grave.
  • In Lawrence Block's The Canceled Czech Evan deliberately triggers Kotacek's catalepsy in the hope the Stern gang members who want to execute him for Nazi war crimes will believe he had a heart attack. While the ruse succeeds, the disappointed members decide to emulate the Bible by removing Kotacek's foreskin.

    Live Action TV 
  • Lost: Paralyzed by spider bites into a death-like state, a couple are buried alive. They died rich, though, so it wasn't a complete downer.
  • Jack Bauer in the season 4 finale of 24, when he found it necessary to fake his own death in order to prevent being Killed Off for Real. Coupled with his being clinically dead for several minutes during season 2, it inspired the Jack Bauer Fact "Jack Bauer died for his country and lived to tell about it. Twice."
  • River and Simon do this in Firefly, to get into a hospital. Later, Tracy uses it as a way to run away.
  • Happens at least once to Sloane on Alias, which also featured many other examples of Faking the Dead.
  • On one episode of The Master (a.k.a. MST3K stalwart Master Ninja), McNinja master McAllister (Lee Van Cleef) reveals that he can accomplish this by meditation; this turns out to be an example of Chekhov's Skill.
  • There's a grand tradition of this in Xena: Warrior Princess, dating all the way back to Xena's "death" by poisoning towards the end of the first season. (Since the trope was still fresh at the time, the resulting mourning process among her friends is thoroughly affecting.)
  • Tek Wars tried fooling an AI with the Human Popsicle trick, because it detected the Cryo virus to still be active. Said AI figured they were finally killed by the stronger-than-normal setting of the Cyro tube.
  • It is rather unclear whether Babylon 5's Captain John J. Sheridan really died on Za'Ha'Dum or if Lorien kept him suspended in a state near death (between tick and tock). Lorien says "He was dying, he was dead" but he has a tendency to be vague. Zack Allen doesn't know anymore, and Michael Garibaldi is skeptical. In either case:
    Drazi Ambassador: We thought you were dead.
    Captain Sheridan: I was. I'm better now.
    and later
    Captain Sheridan: Death! Been there. Done that.
  • Cameron gets one in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Babylon", in order to get out of a revenge duel to the death.
  • Captain Kirk, from Star Trek: The Original Series, had a rather 'Romeo and Juliet'-esque faux death in "Amok Time", that was caused by the Doctor...of all people.
  • On Heroes, Sylar tricks the Company's doctors into removing his restraints by stopping all of his vital signs.
  • Inverted in legendary fashion in the Parrot Sketch.
  • Fraser did this on Due South with an Inuit concoction that slowed his body down.
  • Arthur did it on Merlin to lure his father into crying the tears of true remorse needed to break the troll magic spell. He did, however, require an antidote to stop the potion he took killing him for real.
  • In Doctor Who, the Time Lords have the ability to temporarily suspend their life functions, making them appear to be dead. The Doctor does this on more than one occasion and Romana uses this trick to escape from the Daleks' slave mines in "Destiny of the Daleks".
  • In the Miami Vice episode "Tale of the Goat," a voodoo chief uses tetrodotoxin to fake his death so he can be smuggled into Miami. Later, cultists inject Tubbs with the poison, almost killing him.


  • Juliet, of course. She woke up to a dead husband. Ouch. There goes the honeymoon.

    Video Games 
  • Naked Snake in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has a pill that can induce this state to fool enemies into believing him dead. If you let him go too far before using the revival pill, however, he really will die.
  • King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow allows protagonist Alexander to fake his death with a potion that actually does kill him, but then wears off after a few minutes. The in-game purpose of this is to fool a spy into reporting to the Big Bad Vizier in order to lower the security at the castle you inevitably have to infiltrate, but the actual purpose (because the security is the same either way) is to trigger a cutscene in which you can see the genie's lamp, so that you can replace it with a fake one later on.
  • Hitman: Blood Money. A special drug used originally in mission 3, to get a target out of a rehab clinic without actually killing him. The second time it is used is on 47 himself, courtesy of Diana. Admittedly, to she does this to save his life.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion features this as part of an Assassin's Guild quest - the player needs to cut the target with a poisoned dagger to fake his death in front of someone who is trying to kill him for real.
  • Guybrush Threepwood pulls this off in The Curse of Monkey Island with a combination of alcohol and a homemade hangover cure. Twice. On the same people.
    Griswold Goodsoup: Oh, dear. He's had a sudden and completely unexpected relapse of death!
  • In Team Fortress 2, the Spy can pull this off regularly with the use of his Dead Ringer watch.
  • A key piece of the mystery presented in Dark Tales: The Premature Burial (inspired by the Poe story of the same name) is the fact that Victorine had a medical condition which made her prone to this.
  • Ventus in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep appears to die after defeating Vanitas at the Dive to the Heart. Of course, while his body lies dormant in the Castle Oblivion, his heart survived the battle and is currently being looked after by Sora.
    • In Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Sora is lured into a nightmare version of The World That Never Was, where his heart is slowly being overtaken by the darkness as per Master Xehanort's desire to use the teen's body as one of his thirteen clones. Upon the defeat of Xemnas, Sora is killed when his heart finally gives in and shatters. Whether or not Sora's death is this trope or a Disney Death is intentionally left ambitious, though in the end, he is revived by Riku.

  • Tessa of S.S.D.D was once mistaken for dead after being shot with a tranquilizer-coated bullet due to her artificial heart not having a pulse.
  • In Roomies Codrus tried to get his former superiors in the Fox Empire off his back by faking his death with a potion. Unfortunately it temporarily turned him into a zombie when he revived early.

    Western Animation 
  • In the final episode of Super Friends "The Death of Superman", Superman is irradiated with Kryptonite while Firestorm is briefly captured. When Firestorm frees himself and gets to Superman's side, he finds him and fears him dead, which the others feel as well. After his funeral, in which they send him into the sun, the team go to the Fortress of Solitude and, while they're getting Superman's stuff in order, the Superman Robot there tells them of a trance that Superman can use to slow the radiation poisoning. They realize Superman is in that state when Firestorm realizes he found him like that and the heroes race to rescue Superman before he really does die and Darkseid and his minions invade Earth.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: The right amount of puffer fish toxins can cause a person to appear to be dead to even doctors. There have been several cases where people have been declared dead and returned, especially in Jamaica, where this method factors heavily into local Zombie Lore.
    • Same with the toxin of an Australian blue-ringed octopus, which paralyzes the victim and stops their breathing (and sometimes causes temporary blindness and deafness as well) but doesn't kill immediately and does wear off eventually. If somebody has the sense to perform rescue breathing until the paramedics arrive with mechanical assistance, the victim can make a complete recovery. If not...
    • Fun fact: the toxin of puffer fish and blue-ring octopus is one and the same, known as tetradotoxin; both groups of creatures obtain the substance through commensal bacteria.
  • Even after the heart stops beating and the lungs stop breathing, the brain is still functional for a few minutes. That's why CPR sometimes works — not often, well below 5% according to some assessments, but there's still a chance if you try.
  • A person can survive 40 minutes or longer in freezing water, because everything slows down. They appear quite dead and frozen, but if they can be pulled out, oxygen gotten to the brain, and the effects of hypothermia counteracted, they can still be revived sometimes.
    • This is why the phrase 'No one is dead until they are WARM and dead' is common in rescue circles.
  • Catalepsy is a medical condition in which the sufferer will sometimes enter a rigor mortis-like state in which they appear to be dead.


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