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Fire Keeps It Dead

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"In light of current understanding of ork biology, [wanting to burn the bodies] seems remarkably prescient of Jurgen, although it's perfectly reasonable to assume that, over generations of war with the greenskins, the Valhallans had noticed that re-infestation rates were significantly lower where ork cadavers were disposed of in this manner and had adopted the practice without fully understanding why this should be the case."
Amberley Vail (in a footnote), Ciaphas Cain: Death or Glory

In some worlds, or for some creatures, death is not permanent. For instance, vampires can respawn or sorcerers can resurrect the dead. So what if you've killed someone or something and you want to make sure it stays dead?

Burn the body.

This is the reason why bodies of believed witches, vampires, and the like are burned after being killed (if they weren't killed by burning in the first place): the fire purifies the taint of evil, preventing resurrection or respawning. This variety will often show up in stories, where bodies will be burnt to prevent them from (potentially) being resurrected or from coming back to life.

This practice is generally connected to the ideas behind Fire Purifies and Kill It with Fire: if fire burns away wickedness and evil things can come back, it follows that cremation prevents unwanted resurrections. There's also simple logic behind it: no body to animate - no problem, no matter whether it actually purifies evil or not.

Corpses in fiction tend to be Made of Incendium, which generally makes things easier when they must be completely burned to get rid of.

Compare to Make Sure He's Dead, since this is a viable method to see that some enemies stay down for good, and Viking Funeral, where the body is burned for religious or ceremonial reasons. See also Kill It with Fire and Disposing of a Body. Frequently overlaps with Burn the Undead, which is where fire is good at killing undead the first time around. In a video game, this might be a way of putting a permanent end to a Reviving Enemy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the first chapter of Inuyasha, the shrine maiden Kikyo is burned with the Shikon Jewel so that she can take it with her to the afterlife where demons can't get to it, but the plan backfires when she is reincarnated as the Japanese schoolgirl Kagome.
  • In Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, fire is one of the few ways to deal with Rabbit's "friends" for good.
  • In Tomie, the eponymous character is unable to be permanently killed unless you burn all her remains. Miss a single cell and she'll come back.

    Card Games 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • An indirect version in Batman: The Cult, as Batman decides not to risk that a totem made in the likeness of Deacon Blackfire could be mystical, so he sets fire to it after the Deacon is killed. Too bad Bruce didn't count on Barry Allen, Pandora, and Jon Osterman screwing things up.
    • At the end of Death and the Maidens, Bruce also sees to it that that Ra's al Ghul's body is cremated. Granted, thanks to "Freaky Friday" Flip magic, Ra's didn't stay dead, but he didn't come back in his original body.
  • In Hack/Slash, slashers have a much harder time reanimating after being killed with fire.
  • In the Hellboy Christmas themed story "A Christmas Underground", this is implied to be why Hellboy is relieved to see his client's home burning down with her in it at the end of the story. Her daughter had been seduced by a demonic rat "prince" who turned her into an undead abomination. The daughter made repeat visits to her mother and was doing... something to her.
    Hellboy: Fire's the best thing for her now. Let it burn...
  • In the fourth volume of Ultimate Spider-Man, after the Green Goblin is beaten by Miles, Maria Hill puts several rounds into him and sets the body on fire. Too bad Spider-Men II shows that much like the Batman examples, old Norman was all too willing to give this attempt to keep him down the middle finger.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In Russian Mythology and Tales, Koshchei the Immortal is an old sorcerer that could only be killed by destroying the needle where "his death" was concealed. The needle was inside an egg, the egg inside a bird, the bird inside a hare, the hare inside a chest, the chest high in a tree, the tree growing on a magical island that is notoriously hard to find. In "The Death of Koschei the Deathless", Prince Ivan and Queen Marya use a simpler method: after crushing his head, they burn the body and scatter his ashes.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): It's a rather accidental case, but the Room Full of Crazy scratchings left by the Many indicate that San and Vivienne Graham's lightning attack during a Mook Horror Show (which reduced several mooks to ashes) made it impossible for the Many to reanimate and assimilate said mooks.
  • In AWE Arcadia Bay (Rogue_Demon), Trench has everyone killed in the Arcadia Bay Altered World Event burned to prevent possible Hiss manifestations.
  • Children of Elm Street: A Nightmare Tale: In chapter 14, Jake goes to the boiler room where they last fought Freddy, salting his remains and then burning them in an effort to keep him down for good. It fails; as Cameron informs him two chapters later, he needed everything that Freddy had on him when he died... including his original remains.
  • In The Lost King, Nohrian tradition is to cremate the bodies. It started years ago to thwart sorcerers looking into ways to resurrect the human dead after discovering wyverns could be revived with magic, with the logic being that you can't resurrect a body that doesn't exist anymore. This doesn't stop Anankos from resurrecting Queen Katerina, despite her being cremated.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Evil Dead (2013), fire is one of the few things that can put down a deadite for good.
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968): At the end, after the locals have gained control of the situation they burn the bodies of killed humans so they can't rise as zombies and "killed" zombies so they can't rise again.
  • Subverted in The Return of the Living Dead, as burning the bodies will simply release the Trioxin into the atmosphere and cause new zombie outbreaks wherever it rains down.
  • The Thing (1982): A person killed by a Thing will become one unless their body is destroyed by fire. After Windows is killed by the Palmer-Thing, MacReady has to burn him with a flamethrower.
  • Underworld (2003): In Underworld: Evolution, the original Death Dealers are ordered to burn the human victims of William Corvinus, the first werewolf, before they become werewolves themselves.

  • Ciaphas Cain, being set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, references the practice of burning orks several times. In Death or Glory, Cain is rather confused at how insistent Jurgen is that they burn the corpses of the orks they kill.
  • Discworld: Zombies are very strong, immortal and able to sew themselves back together if need be. However, the older they get, the drier they get, and so they're understandably nervous around fire.
  • H. P. Lovecraft:
    • Subverted in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward; a repeated theme and instruction is to refrain from killing the necromancer villain with fire, as he can be resurrected from the ashes. Instead, the protagonist is instructed to dissolve the body in acid.
    • The short story "The Festival" has an appropriate quote.
      "Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes."
  • The Necroscope books put a new spin on the old stake, beheading, and burning procedure for vampire-killing. The stake pins them to the ground, the beheading removes the sapience from the vampiric "body", but the fire is considered the only sure way of killing one. Sometimes though, in some circumstances, not even that is enough.
  • In Old Kingdom, undead are so serious a problem for the Old Kingdom that the spell to burn dead bodies is one of the first ones every Charter Mage learns.
  • In The Reckoners Trilogy, Megan's weakness is fire, so her reincarnation ability won't work if she burns to death.
  • In The Riftwar Cycle, burning a Black Slayer's body is the simplest and least messy way to ensure that they won't get back up again (The others are magic and cutting out their hearts).
  • Wildlings in A Song of Ice and Fire burn their dead so they don't come back as Wights. After a brother of the Night's Watch reanimates and attacks Jon Snow and Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, the Night's Watch start doing it too. Samwell Tarly also discovers that the wights themselves are also unable to deal with fire, which proves to be the most effective way of re-deadifying them, and it prevents them from coming back again.
  • In Three Hearts and Three Lions (the book which inspired Dungeons & Dragons' trolls), Holger and friends are fighting a troll, which keeps regenerating until they finally figure out to burn the bits they chop off.
  • In The Twilight Saga, the only way to get rid of a vampire permanently is, to quote Edward in the first book, to "tear him apart and burn the pieces". By Word of God, they can even survive a nuclear detonation. (Somebody should probably explain to Stephanie Meyer how much heat a nuke releases...)
  • Unnatural Issue: When a Hunting Party finds that Richard Whitestone has killed and reanimated all his servants, the Fire mages in the group chase everyone else outside and summon salamanders to cremate the bodies.
  • In the World of the Five Gods novel The Curse of Chalion, the bodies of those slain by "death magic" are described as having "a certain, um, dangerous theological emptiness" (in other words, the person's soul has been essentially carried off to Hell by a demon), so that it is considered advisable to burn such bodies before sunset, to prevent them from being re-animated by a (usually rather mindless) ghost.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide points out that, while Burn the Undead is largely ineffective against zombies (they are not slowed down by the pain, the fire takes quite a while to actually burn them up, and in the meantime, one has to deal with flaming zombies attacking), burning corpses after a zombie attack is an effective way to make sure they don't resurrect, as well as diminishing the health hazard posed by decomposing flesh. Fire is the only way to safely dispose of a Solanium-infected corpse. All traces of the infection will be wiped out once the fire actually consumes the bodies.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: Attempted repeatedly and never actually works.
    • This happens to the Doctor. Does it work? Course not. It's probably to convince the audience that he might be dead.
    • It previously happened to the Master. On two separate occasions, the second of which was a funeral cremation after he was shot and refused to regenerate. It worked about as well as you'd expect, both times.
  • Game of Thrones: Burning is the surest way to prevent or dispose of a wight. This is likely the root of the wildling custom of cremation.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In the Season 1 finale, Louis de Pointe du Lac and Claudia place an unconscious Antoinette Brown into the incinerator to be absolutely sure that she dies. Antoinette wakes up screaming in agony while she's being consumed by the flames. Claudia wants to do the same for Lestat de Lioncourt's body, but Louis won't allow it because he still loves his (ex-)boyfriend. Not surprisingly to Daniel Molloy, Lestat is Not Quite Dead.
  • In the second season of Legend of the Seeker, the heroes have to burn the bodies of their foes so they don't return as Banelings, who serve the Keeper by killing more innocents. Banelings themselves can come back to unlife unless you burn the body. Zedd's Wizard's Fire gets a lot of use out of this.
  • Supernatural:
    • This is the main reasoning behind a "hunter's funeral". Hunters burn the bodies of other hunters killed on the job so that they can't be turned into zombies, resurrected as vengeful spirits, animated by demons, or tampered with by some other supernatural means.
    • "Salt and burn the body" is the standard solution to malevolent spirits and such. If the body's already been cremated, the boys need to find an alternate solution. Sometimes this means finding the little bit of the body that wasn't burned and setting fire to it.
    • Sometimes the Winchesters will burn the bodies of dead monsters anyway just to be sure. Hilariously, they once cremated a dead Nazi necromancer before they learned that their kind can resurrect unless reduced to ash. Crazy-Prepared saves the day!

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Hydra in Classical Mythology had a number of heads, and whenever one was cut off, another (or another two, depending on the source) would grow in its place. So, when Heracles was asked to kill it as one of his famous labors, he had a sidekick standing by to burn the stumps as soon as he cut off each head, which would prevent them from regrowing. (One head was "immortal" and couldn't be cut off; he buried that head in the dirt and called it a day.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • 3.5 has a spell that burns a corpse in a special way so that there is a 50% chance even the most powerful (at least non-epic) resurrection spell won't bring it back.
    • Some corporeal undead creatures have the ability to turn those they kill into minions. One way to prevent this is to burn the bodies to ashes before the deadline.
    • And of course, trolls are the iconic creature that will eventually regenerate from any damage, even apparent death, unless burned with fire or acid. Other creatures with regeneration follow the same template: they do not take normal hit point damage from sources other than their described weakness.
    • Even among mundane creatures, "destroying" a given body means that garden-variety Raise Dead and Resurrection spells won't be able to revive it; it requires the ninth-level True Resurrection. There are many ways to bring this about, such as reducing the body to paste or eating it, but fire is by far the easiest. In other words, fire doesn't keep it dead, but it makes it a lot harder to bring back.
  • In Exalted, the Zenith Caste of the Solar Exalted have an innate ability to burn dead bodies with Holy Solar Flames, specifically to prevent them from rising as the undead.note 
  • Vampires in Rifts and other Palladium RPGs are hurt by fire, but can only be killed by it if they were staked first. The only other surefire ways to kill them are running water and sunlight.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade, fire is one of a vampire's few weaknesses, and as such deals aggravated damage which cannot be healed normally.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Orks are an animal/fungus hybrid and reproduce by shedding spores, releasing especially large amounts when they die. The spores eventually mature into more Orks, guaranteeing that any world visited by Orks will continue to be infested by them. However, burning the bodies tends to greatly reduce this, and in some cases completely prevent re-infestation. This process was discovered more or less by accident, as Imperial forces are quite flamer-happy.

    Video Games 
  • After defeating the demon Melzas in battle, Alundra finally kills him by destroying his body with fire.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, this was the only way Altaïr could prove that he actually killed Al Mualim instead of just a dupe created by the Piece of Eden. Abbas was displeased with this action, as burning the dead went against Assassin tradition.
  • The trolls in Baldur's Gate II will get up again after being taken down with non-fiery means, unless hit with one (or an acid arrow) while they are down. This was reused in the Neverwinter Nights series, where it's a good practice to have at least a couple flasks of alchemist's fire or acid if you're too low-level to access weapons with the corresponding enchantments.
  • Batman: Arkham Series: At the end of Arkham City, the Joker dies as a result of his Titan poisoning. In the post-Arkham City comic Arkham City: Endgame, and the opening scene of Arkham Knight, Batman and Commissioner Gordon, taking into account such things as Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits, have the Joker's body cremated to ensure he won't come back.
  • Betrayal at Krondor: There is a type of enemy called the Black Slayer that resurrects during battle a few turns after dying, and it's stated in the in-game dialog that the main way to keep a Black Slayer dead is to cut up the body and burn the pieces. This is never used in gameplay; unfortunately your only options for keeping a Black Slayer dead are to either end the battle before it has a chance to resurrect, or to cast a specific spell that destroys the corpse... along with any loot they were carrying.
  • In Cataclysm, burning corpses is one way to keep zombies from reviving. This is especially useful with Spitter and Acidic zombies, who risk leaking acid onto you if you just try to smash their corpses. It also prevents Plague Nymphs from spawning. Just make sure the corpses are burnt well enough: a partially burnt corpse might come back as a Scorched Zombie.
  • Diablo III has the people of New Tristram starting to burn their dead, as they've become the target of another invasion of the undead. You see one guy near the gate ordering dead zombies thrown into the fire so they don't rise again.
  • The Dragon Age world has demons that can possess corpses and attack people in addition to the Blight, which in animals and humanoids manifests as a highly contagious disease that invariably either turns people into ghouls or kills them outright some time later. It's thus an important point of theology for the Andrastian faith, which is dominant in Thedas, that the bodies of the dead be burned rather than left to be possessed or spread the taint. However, this is not the only way the characters of the setting deal with their dead—burying them underneath a tree or inside stone mausoleums is how the Dalish elves and underground dwarves deal with their dead respectively, and a non-Andrastian tribe of humans chops the limbs off their dead and leaves them to be eaten by birds.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara game Tower of Doom has you fight a troll in one boss battle. When it dies, it will get right back up unless you use a flask of oil to ignite its body during the period while it's down. If you don't have any, it gets some of its health back; once you deplete this, a cadre of guards arrive and bombard it with burning oil flasks, finishing the job for you.
  • In The Evil Within, you have to burn the bodies of fallen enemies to make sure they stay dead. This has less to do with them being undead and more to do with them being psychic constructs of the Big Bad — both he and the Player Character have bad memories associated with fire. The Evil Within 2 continues this tradition, and fire once again plays a pivotal role in the Big Bad's backstory.
  • This seems to be the only way to permanently kill the Hostile Animatronics of Five Nights at Freddy's. Of course, given that Springtrap survives his building burning to the ground, it's not made explicitly clear that this is the case until the Grand Finale of Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator makes it clear by using fire to cleanly and permanently kill off every single remaining character, supernatural or not.note 
  • Halo:
    • In Halo 2, an Elite will lament that they did not bring weapons to burn the bodies when the Flood breaks out. Covenant weapons like the Plasma Rifle and especially the Energy Sword (which deal damage using white-hot energy) are in general the best ways not only to take down a living Flood form, but also sufficiently break apart and burn the corpse so they cannot be reanimated.
    • In Halo 3, you finally do get a flamethrower. Although the range is bad, it is the best weapon for taking on the Flood, and kills them quickly. The Sangheili also practice this on a large scale, glassing a large portion of Africa to ensure the infestation is eliminated.
      Lord Hood: And you, Ship Master, just glassed half a continent! Maybe the Flood isn't all I should be worried about...
      Rtas 'Vadum: One single Flood Spore can destroy a species. Were it not for the Arbiter's counsel, I would have glassed your entire planet!
    • Halo 4 introduces Forerunner power-weapons (like the Scattershot, Binary Rifle, and Incendiary Cannon), which incinerate the target's body upon death. Makes perfect sense, considering their primary targets would have been, once again, the Flood.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic V, when the heroes execute the necromancer Markal, the wizard Zehir insists on landing the killing blow. He does this with a fire spell that instantly turns the villain's body to ash, as he's worried he might have the means to restore himself to life as a lich.
  • In Mass Effect, krogan enemies will usually get right back up after their health bar is drained and have to be killed again in order to finally be put down. They aren't undead or anything, they're just incredibly tough and their various redundant organs are kicking in. The exception is if Incendiary Rounds are used. If the krogan is on fire the first time it dies, it won't be getting back up.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2:
    • Subverted in the original campaign. After the Knight-Captain takes Crossroad Keep from a Luskan garrison including The Dragon Black Garius and several other Luskan mages serving the King of Shadows, Neverwinter's forces toss their corpses on a bonfire outside to dispose of them. The King of Shadows reanimates the mages as Shadow Reavers, each individually a near-indestructible boss-level creature.
    • Mask of the Betrayer features a rather frightening subversion in the crematorium of Myrkul's temple in Shadow Mulsantir. Probably because burning was used as often as a form of execution and torture as it was for getting rid of corpses (Myrkul was not a nice death god), the furnace room is infested with incorporeal undead. Luckily you can learn a useful anti-undead power in that incident, or turn them into the party member One of Many, so it's not all bad.
  • Because of how damage is applied in Nocturne (1999), fire can kill anything, even otherwise immortal creatures like skeletons (though getting a flame weapon in most areas requires a cheat code). Once any actor (NPC or player) catches fire, the flames slowly spread and engulf them until they inevitably break apart into smoldering chunks.
  • If a zombie in Nox is killed by a non-fiery weapon/spell, the only way to prevent it from resurrecting a few seconds later is to immediately hit its corpse with a fire spell (even the weakest one will do).
  • In Paper Mario, Dry Bones will eventually revive themselves unless hit with fire or an explosion.
  • Project Zomboid: There's a small chance for zombies that have been killed by the player to turn out to be "fake dead", their bodies getting back up and attacking you again after a few days. Burning their bodies to ash is one way to guarantee that they never come back.
  • Best practice in Resident Evil.
    • In Resident Evil (Remake), normal zombies have a chance of turning into Crimson Heads if they're killed without decapitation. The best way to make sure they don't is to carry around a flask of kerosene and a lighter to burn bodies. However, you can only carry so much kerosene at a time. Jill can also use flame rounds in the grenade launcher she can find.
    • Resident Evil 2 (Remake) introduces "Ivy Zombies", corpses reanimated by flora that have been infected with the G-virus. Unlike normal zombies that can be killed with enough damage (or a decapitating headshot), Ivy Zombies will continue to get back up no matter how many times you put them down, unless you use fire: Leon's chemical flamethrower, or Claire's grenade launcher armed with fire rounds, are the only things that can kill an Ivy Zombie (and even then, only if measures are taken to ensure the body is burnt black). The Ghost Survivors bonus level "Runaway" also introduces "Pale Heads", zombies that can regenerate from almost any damage unless their head is destroyed or their body is incinerated.
  • StarCraft: The Protoss' policy of dealing with Zerg infestation is to destroy the entire surface of the planet with orbital bombardment, and the Terrans later followed suit with the Prometheus Company.
    Selendis: The only cure for zerg infestation is purification by fire. You know this to be true, James Raynor.
  • Several factions in the Warcraft franchise do this when fighting the Scourge, both to their own dead and to the undead they just killed again. It's enough to prevent lesser necromancers from raising the bodies, but not the Lich King. This is first seen in a cutscene in III after Arthas has an entire city purged to stop the Scourge, then made common practice in World of Warcraft.

  • Kria from Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures points out that fire is useful for making sure something you've killed in another way stays dead.
    Kria: The [resurrection] ritual requires a full body. And someone seems to keep putting one in the ground. Cremation, Daniel. It works wonders.
  • Burning a body will keep it from being Decrypted in Erfworld.

    Real Life 
  • Many cultures historically responded to pestilence by cremating everyone killed by the disease, even if they would normally dispose of the bodies some other way. However as far as we know, religious texts notwithstanding it's impossible for bodies to come back to life. (On the other hand, the fire often kills the disease-spreading microorganisms infesting the body, reducing the likelihood for others to become infected, thus keeping the epidemic as a whole dead in a general sense. As with the page quote, they may have noticed the correlation without understanding why it happened.) Modern medicine does indeed dictate that, for some contagious diseases such as Ebola, bodies of the victims be cremated to kill off microorganisms.
  • By some reports witch-burning arose because cremation was believed to destroy the soul, thereby preventing Satan from returning the witches to life. That said, people seem to have been happy to just lynch them. All of Castile-Leon-Aragon-Portugal's witch-killings were lynchings done in this manner, since the Spanish Inquisition refused to consider witchcraft a crime.
    • One argument claims this treatment is Loophole Abuse, allowing authorities to kill them without shedding blood, and later rhetoric stated it would redeem the witches, purifying them of evil, or at least give them a proper judgement by God.
  • For long periods of time, the Catholic Church banned funeral masses for people who requested cremation because various people used it as a means of expressing disbelief in the resurrection of the body — heresy, in other words — so as to prevent their using the Church's own ceremony to dissent. The ban has been drawn back to cremation only when explicitly intended to express such beliefs. (Communist regimes, typically rather tetchy when religion was involved, favored cremation for that very reason.)