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Hell Is War

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In this, the ultimate punishment for the Wrathful Damned, SOULs are forced to kill or be killed in a neverceasing battle between hundreds of armies. When the Damned are "killed," their bodies regenerate (making a keen "shlup-shlup" noise as they do), and they're sent back to the front to die anew.
"War! (What is it good for?)" description, Afterlife (1996)

War Is Hell. So what better way to punish your foes than to make them fight forever?

Basically, a scenario in which a character (or characters) in fiction is forced to fight indefinitely, usually as a form of Karmic Death. It doesn't necessarily have to be an afterlife.

The defining characteristics of the trope are:

  • Characters are somehow imprisoned and made to fight
  • Death is not an option for escape

Depending on how bad the punishment is, this can be used symbolically to support the argument that war is a terrible thing. A common subversion/inversion is for the "punished" character to enjoy the violence. Sealed Evil in a Duel is a sub-trope.

Compare and contrast Warrior Heaven, where getting to fight forever is your reward. Although note that several examples are both depending on which combatant you ask. Compare Forever War, a war in the living world that's been going on for a really long time and shows no signs that it will ever end.


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  • The Dead Demon Consuming Seal in Naruto is a sealing jutsu used by Sarutobi, the Third Hokage on Orochimaru which apparently has the effect of making both the caster and the person it is cast on be forced to fight in the belly of the death god for eternity. He seals away the reanimated First and Second Hokages, but Oro impales him with his sword in the middle of the jutsu, so Sarutobi doesn't have the strength to complete it. He solves the problem by deciding to simply seal Orochimaru's arms instead. So, apparently, Sarutobi was going to spend the rest of eternity fighting a pair of limbs, until Orochimaru figured out how to release all of them, along with the Fourth Hokage and the Yin half of the Nine Tailed Fox. All four Hokages are eventually allowed to go to the afterlife proper.
  • Vinland Saga: Thorfinn has a nightmare of a Valhalla where warriors fight every day but don't actually heal, so it looks less like a Warrior Heaven and more like a zombie Forever War. Rivers of blood flow throughout the battlefield, with Roman pillars jutting out of the cavern as the only refuge from the fight below. They aren't very populated.

    Comic Books 
  • Judas (2017): This is the fate of all warriors who wind up in Hell, forced to fight each other in a never ending battle. Goliath from the story of David and Goliath is just one example of this.
  • Requiem Vampire Knight shows Hell in a perpetual state of war with different nations in constant conflict and internal wars, lead by all the evil people from history.
  • In Wonder Woman (1987) Ares, god of war, kills Hades, thereby taking on the elements of Hades' portfolio as god of the underworld in addition to his War God status and Hades becomes the realm of Ares.

  • Kriegsaffe's "autopsy" of the infamous Christian Humber Reloaded includes a few breakaways to Kriegsaffe's own vision of Humber's world—in it, Hell is staffed by noble demons who have the damned continually re-enact battles (the D-Day landings are specifically mentioned) not as punishment, but as a means of redeeming themselves by strengthening the "soldiers" into a team and instilling virtues in them.
  • In The All Guardsmen Party, the Occurrence Border has, as a Warp Phenomenon, a sort of "officer's club'' staffed by the Party's fallen comrades. Once Cutter died, it gained a fencing ring.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Penal Colony in The One consists of interdimensional criminals set to fight forever.
  • What Dreams May Come has the protagonist pass through one of these on his journey across various afterlives. Given the nature of that universe, it may double as a Warrior Heaven.

  • Creatures of Light and Darkness blurs the line a bit with Warrior Heaven. Anubis sometimes makes dead people fight each other and sometimes the winner gets a job and a name.
  • In The Defense of Hill 781, soldiers who die are sent to the US Army National Training Center as Purgatory. If they win they get to go to heaven.
  • The fifth circle of Dante's Inferno: the Wrathful are made to fight in a stinking swamp surrounding the walls of Dis (the "capital city" of Hell, as it were, comprising Circles 6-9). Also gives sad people something to cry about.
  • Here In Cold Hell has both this and Warrior Heaven at once: while in a strange, violent Hell where each character is subtly being punished, one admits that for him, this is heaven. He was born a crippled, deformed child who only lived to around ten years old, but was guaranteed a spot because he fought every day to live.
  • The titular Mogworld in the book by Ben Croshaw is slowly turning into this after an event 15 years previously. Now that every (living) creature comes back to life shortly after death, Death Is Cheap in the extreme, and various hostile groups fight, raid and slaughter each other weekly purely for something to do. The reason: these are NPCs respawning. It's up to the reader whether every single persistent game world they've played in is such a hell.
  • Inverted in Odd Thomas: Stormy, Odd's girlfriend, believes that life on Earth is a sort of "boot camp" and that the afterlife is a lighter version of this; good, noble, and brave souls are recruited into service to combat evil on a higher plane, while the rest, well ... don't. According to her, the rewards for this service will be given in a person's third life. Odd himself mentions disliking this theory, mainly because it implies that all the horror on our little rock is preparation for something worse.
  • In Tad Williams's Otherland series, a very wealthy man treats people as expendable, torturing several for information and, upon learning they know nothing, dismisses them without ending their torment, merely silencing it. For someone who actively displeases him, he reserves the right to truly punish him; he sticks a man in an unending simulation of the trenches of the first world war with no memory of his life except for the grey mud and horror of the trenches.
  • The 79 Sentinels from A Song of Ice and Fire were deserters from the Night's Watch who were buried alive inside the Wall with spears and horns so they could spend their afterlives serving the Watch they'd deserted.
  • Surface Detail. An endless war is just one of the punishments in a virtual hell.

     Live-Action TV  
  • The Last Great Time War mentioned in Doctor Who. Horrific to the degree it turned the Time Lords from bored aristocrats in funny hats into Omnicidal Maniacs. From supplementary materials, it is revealed what happened to the Time Lord casualties; if died, they rose to fight again, and again. Regeneration cycles were restocked over and over, never allowed to truly die. Ever. And that's without going into the Mind Screwy nature of a Time War and the nasty possibilities that can bring.
  • An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where the crew lands on a planet with two rival factions incapable of dying thanks to highly unusual microbes. Anyone who 'dies' at least once on the planet comes back to life, but is now unable to leave the planet due to the microbes being the only things keeping them alive.
    • From the original Star Trek "The Alternative Factor," Matter and Anti-Matter versions of the same man are locked in combat forever in the corridor separating their universes.
    • Another TOS example: "Day of the Dove" has a being that lives off anger and hate. It pits the crews of the Enterprise and a Klingon ship against each other, gives them primitive weapons to deal the most damage, and heals any wounded. This allows the being to live forever off the crew's hate, as they are locked in battle forever, immortal. Luckily, Kirk figures this out before it happens.
  • Hell in Supernatural is just a place where you get tortured until you're ready to dish it out, but Purgatory fits this trope to a T. It's mostly inhabited by monsters, but Dean spent one of his postmortem hiatuses there.

     Mythology and Religion 
  • Hjadningavig from Norse Mythology, as retold in Prose Edda. This is the story of two armies that are doomed to fight it out each night for eternity.
  • The Asura realm in Buddhism, a whole world of endless carnage. Supposedly, souls that incarnate here used to be extremely violent in their past life/lives.

     Tabletop Games  
  • This is a major aspect of Dungeons & Dragons' cosmology:
    • The Lower Planes, seven separate dimensions of endless torment, are eternally embroiled in the Blood War, a massive genocidal conflict between the disciplined legions of the devils of Hell and the endless hordes of the demons of the Abyss, with both sides throwing massive armies of abominations at each other in an attempt to wipe their rivals from existence. This war has been raging for eons, and is maintained by the Good-aligned gods who throw an Infinity +1 Sword in the fray now and then to ensure neither faction is stronger than the other — because if the Lower Planes were to be unified, they'd overthrow the heavens in no time. The Neutral Evil yugoloths (a.k.a. daemons) hire themselves out as mercenaries to the devils and demons both, while secretly playing them against each other for their own benefit.
    • This is used as a form of punishment in the Lawful Neutral (leaning Evil) plane of Acheron, an ever-shifting swarm of metallic cubes and other shapes, home to numerous evil gods locked in eternal war against each other. The damned sent to this plane are drafted in the gods’ armies, to spend eternity fighting and dying again and again in their masters’ pointless wars alongside devils and hellhounds hired as mercenaries. Planescape took this idea to its logical conclusion, and treated the whole thing as Black Comedy gold. Acheron is also specifically the place of punishment for soldiers and other killers who commit atrocities without questioning their orders. It sits opposite Ysgard, the Chaotic Neutral-leaning-Good afterlife, which is the opposite of this trope.
  • Infernum does this in miniature with the Circle of Slaughter. This was the testing ground for the demons back when the First Fallen were running the show, and even nowadays, it's an endless meatgrinder of demons versus demons, demons versus humans, and demons versus spawn. And sometimes demons versus humans versus spawn versus other demons. Blood rains from the sky and forms gory mists that induce homicidal rage, the earth buckles and spews lava in response to artillery and sorcery barrages, and untold millions of demons are wiped out without a single thought. After all, a single demon can be rendered down to produce as many as thirty-six new demons, which will be fully grown and ready to kill about six or seven months after being "born".
    • It's the primary holding ground of House Sturrach, whose Hat is basically being all of the evil tropes associated with armies and soldiers. Since they are quite comfortable with the fact they were bred as soldiers to fight against Heaven, and their House is strongly implied to seek a Forever War once they have conquered Hell — their "flavor text" is an elder of the House explaining to a curious youngling that, once they have Hell under their command, they will storm Heaven and claim it for themselves, then they'll invade and conquer Earth, then they will seek out yet more worlds to crush, all in pursuit of "war without end" — they see Slaughter more as a brutal form of Warrior Heaven.
  • The fate of souls (and demons) who fall under the purview of Baal, Demon Prince of the War, in In Nomine. In theory all of Hell is devoted to the war effort, but only Baal fights what could really be considered conventional war.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, Theros's underworld is split into different regions aligned with the different colors of mana. The red-aligned region, Agonas, is an Ironic Hell for dishonorable fighters. It consists of a series of arenas whose inmates are made to fight each other endlessly.
  • The Realm of Fighting Spirits in the Old World of Darkness's Kindred of the East game. While technically not a hell realm in that it was not created specifically for punishment, many souls there ARE imprisoned as punishment. The realm has everything from feudal ninja and samurais to WWII bombers and giant robots.
  • In Pathfinder, this is the fate of many who end up in any of the Lower Planes. If your soul manages to avoid being eaten or burned for fuel by daemons, it will eventually transform into a fiend of the appropriate alignment that will take its place in the constant wars waged by the fiends between themselves, empyreal beings, and mortals. Could be considered an aversion, as most fiends formed from mortal souls don't remember their former lives, but played straight in the sixth layer of Hell. The ruler of this level, Moloch, conscripts petitioner souls into his armies before they've even transitioned into devils and uses them as he would any other military force at his disposal.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    Tuska: Told ya I knew where da best fightin' was.
    • Khorne's fortress is also the site of perpetual battle where his faithful continuously fight in his name, serving as Warrior Heaven. The "hell" part applies to those who've displeased him: Cowards and deserters and captured sorcerers (see: cowards) are forced to toil in huge forges, making weapons that they'll never get to use for Khorne's favored champions.
    • There are also several other Daemon Worlds where the Daemons fight each other, and indeed the Realm of Chaos itself consists mostly of the legions of the Chaos Gods fighting an endless war with each other.

     Video Games  
  • A number of punishments for Wrathful SOULs in Afterlife (1996) are like this, but the ultimate punishment is "War! (What is it Good For?)," where the damned fight a perpetual war as they are revived shortly after being killed.
  • The first The Darkness game features Jackie going to Hell multiple times. Both times, he has to fight his way over battlefields of soldiers from World War I, including his great-grandfather. The majority of the soldiers have huge battle scars all over their faces, since they can't die, no matter how hard they try. (unless you feel like giving them a Mercy Kill with the Darkness Guns).
  • In Death Stranding, everyone has an individual Afterlife Antechamber called a Beach, which usually looks exactly what it sounds like. However, many people dying at once causes their Beaches to merge into one. And many people dying in battle, filled with anger and resentment, warps their merged Beach into an endless war where the dead fight forever, incapable of finding peace or moving on.
  • The Land of Carnage in the Disgaea franchise, is a world where Prinnies (sinners reincarnated as penguins) fight each other endlessly; given that this is an area usually locked behind post-game content, these Prinnies are often Lethal Joke Characters (the most lethal being Pringer Z, a demonic Prinny-shaped mecha).
  • In Jade Empire, the protagonist was rescued from a bloody battle between the Jade Empire and the Spirit Monks as a child. We later discover that the Spirit Monks and Imperial troops are basically forced to fight one another forever as ghosts, because the Water Dragon, goddess of reincarnation, has been incapacitated.
  • This is the setting of the strategy game Lost Souls, according to the manual. It neglects to specify whether there's any benefit to winning the fights rather than losing, other than that winning lets you go on to the next level.
  • The Final Boss of Painkiller takes place in Hell, which is portrayed here as a freeze-frame of war, depicting war throughout various points in history, from medieval sieges to an atomic blast.
  • Planescape: Torment is set in a cosmological/ideological neutral plane where the presence of Gods is banned (as certain beliefs can literally manifest themselves in dangerous ways here), but the infernal races are permitted to recruit soldiers for their eternal Blood War against each other. Anyone who may have been blameless before enlisting is certain to earn an eternal position in the armies of the lower planes before their tour of duty is done, and if they haven't, that term can be extended. The Nameless One meets an ex-soldier lecturing against the lures and lies of the recruitment campaign and figures out that he had escaped by desertion. In the sort of better endings, the Nameless One — who has Resurrective Immortality — finally dies normally and has to fight in the Blood War to make amends for the sins of his past lives, though not necessarily forever.
  • The whole Excuse Plot of Quake III: Arena. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens search for the greatest warriors in the universe (which include a former porn star, a pot-bellied outlaw biker, and a walking skeleton) to enslave for their entertainment in a gun-laden gladiatorial arena. The indisputable deaths that are incurred do not allow the warriors to escape.
  • Rengoku: The Tower in the second game is described as hell where ADAMs have to keep fighting, unable to die or have other thoughts.
  • Sector Antlia in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, is the area of the Schwarzwelt that represents human conflict and violence, resembling a war torn village with bombers flying through the air and carpet bombing in the distance, along with black body outlines and corpses dispersed throughout the snow.
  • This is one interpretation of Spec Ops: The Line. The main character may be suffering this, with a healthy dose of Ironic Hell and Through the Eyes of Madness to boot.
  • The Violence layer in ULTRAKILL embodies this after 7-1. Notably it's not just any war, but according to the Terminal entries, it's Hell's most faithful replica of the Final War that humanity suffered before they almost wiped themselves out and declared peace. Every last one of the new machines, even the Earthmovers, were something the nations of Earth wielded against one another at some point during the war.
    • 7-2 is a huge battlefield over the blood river Phlegethon, with multiple bases, anti-air fire, new foes arriving in drop pods, collapsing landmarks such as an enormous clock tower, and leapfrog mines scattered throughout the level, all this while three enormous Mechanical Abominations observe the eternal slaughter fest.
    • 7-3 focuses on traversing the forest of self-violence, but the theme is still present. Enemy infighting is introduced, as shown by the various husks, demons, machines, and angels all fighting for survival. The final fight tops them all as it pits every single enemy, except the Insurrectionists and the Ferrymen, both against you and each other.
    • 7-4 is an ash-grey desert with raining Hellfire amidst a dark sky. This level serves as the boss fight against the 1000-THR "Earthmover", a machine so gigantic you have to scale across its body to kill it from the inside by reaching and destroying its brain while slaughtering hordes of enemies standing in your way. While this is happening, not only are drop pods continuing to land, the Earthmover you're fighting is fighting another Earthmover.