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Hanging Up on the Grim Reaper

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Grim: I'm here for the hamster.
Billy: Oh boy, oh boy! You brought presents for Mr. Snuggles?!
Grim: No, I'm taking him away.
Billy: To the North Pole?
Grim: No. I'm... [hamster bites Grim] Ah! Look, I'm just doing my job, but I'm afraid it's curtains for Mr. Snuggles.
Billy: You got him curtains?
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, "Meet the Reaper"

Situations where an embodiment of death comes to see someone through dying but the person's actions prevent it from happening. Mostly because they refuse to die, but in some situations they accidentally get out of it.

There are two forms of this: Dramatic and Comedic.

Comedic: The embodiment of death appears before someone, and they give it perhaps a casual wave and brush off dying. Maybe it comes to get old Mavis and she converses with Death like they're old friends before telling it to try again later. Maybe it appears behind young Alice, who's not expecting to die and thinks it's little Billy come to ask for food when she's putting groceries away; she says "not now" and Death accepts this and leaves.

Dramatic: Death comes knocking and the unlucky victim puts up a fight, scared to die, or with Death not revealing its true intentions straight away to appear more like some stalker. These instances are more likely to actually concern plot, perhaps with the person begging Death for another chance or having to go through some sort of redemption. They may have to play Chess with Death. It's also more likely that the person will still die despite their efforts, or have to watch someone die in their place.


Either kind may involve Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?

See also Death Takes a Holiday, when for some reason he hasn't clocked in to work instead of arriving and not working; Enemies with Death, for when someone somehow ended up on the Grim Reaper's bad side; and The Problem with Fighting Death, for what might happen when someone eventually does die after by means putting it off.


Comedic Examples:

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    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Red Dwarf, Arnold Rimmer knees the Reaper in his groin when he comes to claim him.
    Rimmer: Not today matey! Only the good die young!
    Reaper: That's... never happened before.

  • In the Lemon Demon song "I've Got Some Falling To Do", a man who is falling from an airplane gets a call from Death, and flippantly blows him off in favor of continuing to fall.
    There's a ring on my cellphone, I pick it up
    It's the Angel of Death, and he says "What's up?"
    I say "What is it this time?", and he's like, well,
    "Hello, goodbye, I'll see you in Hell!"
    He can be like that sometimes, he's such a nut
    So I snicker and say "I'd love to, but
    Gravity's calling, I've got some falling to do!"

    Web Animation 

    Web Original 
  • "Death and the Cat": The Grim Reaper comes for a cat, who simply hands him a card with nine cat-head icons, four of which are crossed off. The annoyed Reaper crosses off a fifth while the cat yawns.

    Western Animation 
  • The premise of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy is that Grim came for the soul of a pet hamster, and is accidentally stopped by precocious kids Billy and Mandy. Billy is so dumb and Mandy is so dark that they can't be intimidated by the Reaper, and they win Grim's service after beating him at limbo over the hamster.
  • In The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIV (during the segment "Reaper Madness"), the Grim Reaper comes to the Simpson house to take Bart's soul. After a goofy chase scene, Homer saves his son by bludgeoning the Reaper to death.
  • One Robot Chicken sketch had an old lady start a fist fight with Death when he came for her. Death was shocked for a moment before regaining his composure and hitting her back. They then end up making out passionately on her hospital bed.

Dramatic Examples:

    Comic Books 
  • Deadly Ernest, a minor Marvel Comics villain, gained immortality after refusing to die during World War I and fighting off Death itself. Unfortunately, he suffered certain consequences, becoming an immortal with an uncontrollable Touch of Death, something he discovered when he returned home and embraced his wife.
  • In one The Mighty Thor comic, Hela comes to take Thor for an unspecified reason but Odin steps in and kills her. Talk about family issues.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Seventh Seal: The Reaper comes to get Antonius Block, who asks him to wait. The Reaper quips that he gets told that a lot but never listens. Block still manages to forestall his death by distracting him with a challenge to play chess.

  • One folktale has Mother Misery (a spiteful old woman) put glue on her tree to catch birds. When Death comes for her, she asks him to get a few birds down from the tree since she's too old to do it herself. Death agrees, climbs the tree, and gets stuck. Misery refuses to help him down until she extracts the promise that he'll never return for her. And that's why there will always be misery in the world.

  • Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol employs this for Scrooge, who is first visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley who warns him of his impending doom. He doesn't take it seriously and so is later visited by three ghosts of Christmas; the last one, in particular, makes him beg for a longer life so that he can enact the moral learnt from the three.
  • Discworld:
    • Attempted by many a character, with only temporary success at best. One was a distracted dwarf bread museum curator who said he didn't have time to die, as there was an entire collection of battle-breads left to catalog (he fades away shortly after), while Ipslore the Red puts his soul into his staff and passes the staff onto his son, a sourcerer who eventually has enough of his father's abuse and breaks the staff, and Granny Weatherwax once played cards against Death for the lives of a baby and a cow. Death himself is rather bemused by all these attempts, since he sort of remembers everything happening at once, he knows they all die anyway, since he himself lasts to the end of the universe and beyond. It also turns out he couldn't do it if he wanted, such as when his adopted daughter and son-in-law die in a carriage crash: he cannot create life, only grant an extension by taking them to his realm where they don't age (his daughter was sixteen for more than thirty years).
    • Unintentionally achieved (so far...) by The Fool & Cosmic Plaything Rincewind, who through some bizarre combination of magic, time-travel and/or Fate Immunity has a Lifetimer that's twisted into impossible loops that even Death himself doesn't understand and can't predict the expiration of.
    • When substituting for the Hogfather, he does manage to bend the rules a bit: when he's called to do his duty as death and take away the soul of The Little Match Girl, he takes offense at someone dying so everyone else can feel luckier by comparison, so he gives her the gift of a future. And Albert throws snowballs at the angels who came to take her away.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Played with. The legend of the Deathly Hallows relates that the third brother didn't trust Death not to be a Jackass Genie, and so asked for a cloak of invisibility, which he used to hide from Death into his old age. Until one day he went and met Death voluntarily.

    Live-Action TV 
  • When Denny returns in Izzie's hallucinations after dying in Grey's Anatomy, it first seems completely crazy, but maybe that she's still traumatized from his death and seeing him, especially when he says that he's "here for her"... but Izzie slowly realizes that maybe something is medically wrong, brought to a head when Denny changes his intonation slightly when repeating his new catchphrase that he's "here for her", like Death coming to collect her. Turns out she has stage IV brain cancer, but she ultimately pulls through by getting really mad at Denny and demanding he leave (metaphorically telling Death to do one, used realistically so that her brain activity is down enough to get treated) — he was banking on her missing him enough to not fight.
  • In the season 2 finale of One Day at a Time (2017), Lydia is in a medically-induced coma after surgery. After all of her family get to have their emotional speeches and prove that they can really act, she has one herself in a potential dream sequence where Berto comes through her hospital room doors and they dance and converse and expound on family and life for over 5 minutes. He first says that he has come to get her, and at the end offers his hand but actually asks her if it's time. She looks to the sleeping Penelope and says no.
  • In Supernatural, when Bobby Singer is dying from a bullet in the head a reaper comes to escort him to the afterlife. However, Bobby repeatedly resists, going further and further into his mind to escape the reaper, despite the reaper's attempts to persuade him that he's done enough and it's his time to move on. In the end, when Bobby is at his last resort, the bullet having destroyed every last part of his brain, the reaper tells him to make a final decision. "Well, Bobby? Stay or go — what's it gonna be?" It's revealed in later episodes that he chose to stay and resided on Earth as a ghost.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959)
    • "One for the Angels". Death comes for pitchman (street salesman) Lou Bookman, but Lou doesn't want to go and argues with him. Death finally agrees to postpone Lou's departure until he makes "a pitch for the angels". Lou then says that he's going to give up being a pitchman and never make the pitch again, allowing him to literally cheat Death. Then Death notes if Lou isn't coming, another will be taken instead and a young child Lou is friends with gets into an accident. She will die at midnight but Lou is able to con and stall Death until time had past. As he made "a pitch for the angels" his deal is done and he willingly walks on with Death.
    • "Nothing in the Dark". Many years ago, Wanda Dunn saw Death kill a woman just by touching her. Ever since she has hidden inside her apartment, refusing to come out in fear of the same thing happening to her. One day she reluctantly allows a wounded police officer inside. She eventually learns that he is Death, finally come for her. She initially refuses to go, but he eventually convinces her to take his hand and pass on.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Pathfinder both The Grim Reaper and the Horseman of Death are fully statted out, making it possible for players to fight or even defeat them. However, they are both still personifications of death itself, so such a fight is basically hopeless for all but the strongest adventurers.
    • While this may save an individual from a (very powerful) individual in the moment, this does not stop death. Death is the province of the goddess Pharasma, who has no stats and is beyond the power of any Player Character to oppose. Her servants, the Psychopomps, tend to mortal souls after death as they get shuffled off to their proper afterlife. In Pathfinder's cosmology, resurrection magic notwithstanding, death is a natural transition to a new life and part of the natural order of things.
    • Undead are the ones in Pathfinder's cosmology to perform this trope, especially Urgathoa, who defied her judgment to rise as the goddess of disease, gluttony, hedonism, and undeath. Pharasma, who represents death and transition, despises Urgathoa and any undead, and her followers are ordered to destroy the undead. Pharasma does not mind those who extend their life through magic, or who are brought back from death through magic, but entering undeath is a bridge too far for her.
      • It seems Pharasma's role extends even to gods who were mortals; she judged the Physical God Aroden after his death, aged almost 11,000 years. And his divinity did not seem to be a problem.
    • Additionally, neither the Horseman of Death, Charon, nor Grim Reapers actually personify Death in a real sense. Grim Reapers are powerful undead who revel in the destruction of mortals, and Charon is not really death but an Omnicidal Maniac who devours souls. His preferred method of destroying individuals is tempting them as they deal with old age and mortality, hence his title of Horseman of Death.

    Video Games 
  • In Dante's Inferno, Death comes to claim Dante's life. Not only does Dante refuse, he kills Death with his own scythe and claims the scythe. It turns out Death never came in the first place, Dante himself was Dead All Along.
  • One way to become immortal in Crusader Kings II's DLC The Reaper's Due is to bet your life in a chess game against Death. Win, and you become The Ageless.


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