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Immortals Fear Death

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"You fear death. Being immortal, you fear it more than those to whom it comes naturally. Vampires are a paradox."

In works of fiction, the one thing immortal beings fear above anything else is death. The very thought of a mortal existence is terrifying, and they may not even be able to wrap their heads around it. And if an immortal is brought down to mortal or discovers their immortality is not absolute, they will refuse to accept this because the idea of their death is something they can not or will not tolerate.

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This can also occur if the person in question is not actually immortal but is just very powerful, and its their ego not allowing them to accept that their power is not enough to ward off the reaper, and they will seek ways to avoid it. In this case, they fear death not because they are immortal, but they sought out immortality because they fear death.

This makes perfect sense, in a way — if you're immortal, you have much more to lose (centuries, millenia, or even more, rather than a few decades) if you get killed. So, if you're not completely immune to death, you would of course want to watch out for the things that can kill you. And it's not like you have anything else to fear if the world holds no danger for you except for that one weapon or that one person who can end your life. In addition, the kind of person who is terrified of dying is much more likely to go to the necessary lengths to find a way to become immortal in the first place, especially if Immortality Immorality is in effect.

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A sub-trope of Mortality Phobia. Compare Immortality Seeker, which may overlap with this. See also Living Forever Is Awesome. Contrasts with Who Wants to Live Forever? and Death Seeker.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: The homunculi have been alive for centuries and they show fear once near death. The most notable ones are Envy and Pride, who spend their final moments screaming while begging for their lives. The first homunculus and father to all the others is primarily motivated by a desire to escape this fear through the accumulation of power. Subverted by Van Hohenheim who upon death wishes he had more time with his loved ones, but ultimately concedes that forming families and building up others is a far more worthwhile pursuit than individual immortality.
    • The anime plays it straight with Big Bad Dante, who is conditionally immortal, motivated by the desire to live forever, and continues to commit monstrous deeds to prolong her life through alchemy. The anime's homunculi, however, invert it: None of them are shown to fear death and most of them embrace it: Greed chooses to kill himself out of spite towards his creator, Sloth, Envy and Wrath are almost happy when they die, while Lust realizes that To Become Human means to die and thus embraces her death as the final step of her apotheosis. The anime incarnation of Van Hohenheim has also stopped fearing death and thus stopped Body Surfing, intending to die with his current body. He ultimately sacrifices himself in The Movie to aid Ed.

    Comic Books 
  • Fantastic Four villain Annihilus was, for the longest time, so terrified of dying that he wanted to kill everything that wasn't him just so nothing could kill him first. Then his latest incarnation discovered an interesting quirk about the Negative Zone: death is immediately followed by resurrection. He quickly grew disenchanted with the endless cycle of death and resurrection and actually wanted to die.
  • The immortal Vandal Savage in the pre-New 52 continuity once had a huge breakdown when a brain tumor threatened to end his life in a matter of days. He notes that he finally understands why mortals worked so hard to delay their own deaths. A combination of the brain tumor itself messing with his ability to think and the fear of impending death drives him to enact an insane scheme to take down at least one of his hated foes with him.
  • Referenced in Kieron Gillen's Iron Man run. Malekith of The Fair Folk offers to briefly join forces with Tony because his life is in danger, which he outright says is a much bigger deal for him than some short-lived mortal.

    Fanfiction 
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    Film — Animated 
  • Mother Gothel of Tangled keeps herself forever young by the power of Rapunzel's hair, but fears aging and losing her youth.

    Film — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Voldemort of Harry Potter underwent many experiments to avoid death, succeeding by splitting his soul and binding the pieces inside hidden artifacts. Word of God is that if he were to see a Boggart (a creature that shows one's greatest fear), it would transform into his own dead body lying in front of him.
    • Subverted in the case of Nicholas Flamel and his wife, however. As someone that's lived for 600 years due to the elixir that is made from a Philosopher's Stone, according to Dumbledore he and his wife don't really have any bad reaction to the news that the Stone was destroyed, and he compares it to them "going to bed after a very long day."
  • In The Last Unicorn, the (immortal) unicorn's first reaction upon being turned into a human is to become near-hysterical, moaning that she can feel her body — a young, healthy body, but a mortal one — dying all around her.
  • In The Elenium, the gods are so horrified by the idea of their destructibility that when Azash is killed, the entire world goes into a period of extended depression until Aphrael is able to snap them out of it.
  • In Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone stories, the evil immortals fear death so much that if you kill one and bury it under your doorstep, they cannot enter that building due to their dread.
  • In The Dresden Files
    • The centuries-old Denarian leader Nicodemus is terrified of Harry Dresden because Harry got closer to killing Nicodemus than anyone else has.
    • Averted with Erlking, a wyldfae and Lord of the Hunt, and Kringle, a Badass Santa, another wyldfae. Both enjoy riding out into combat on the one night of the year when Immortals can be killed.
  • In the Anita Blake book Bloody Bones the Big Bad, Seraphina plans to free and link herself with the titular monster because it possesses Complete Immortality and she hopes to gain the same power. This is due to her crippling fear of death, despite being an immortal—if elderly when changed—vampire. The consequences of releasing a child-murdering monster from its prison don't particularly bother her.
  • This is the greatest fear of the Auditors of Reality in Discworld, and ironically, it's their terror of it that kills them. To be an individual is to be mortal, and because any finite lifespan is the same when expressed as a fraction of eternity, any Auditor who expresses individuality dies instantly.
  • Mars in Ye Gods by Tom Holt has become a fanatical anti-war campaigner, because he's expected to be in the front of battle protected only by bronze armour and "the best definition of an immortal is someone who hasn't died yet".
  • In Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure, the fact that someone figured out a way to kill Zeus freaks out the entire rest of the pantheon to the point where even talking about the murder becomes taboo.
  • Pact has Isadora, a Riddling Sphinx who predates the written word. She is unaging, but not unkillable, and therefore she credits her survival against the odds to an oath that she swore to herself long previously to put her survival above all other concerns, which lets her know when it's time to bargain and withdraw.
  • In The Dinosaur Lords, in a conversation between two Grey Angels, Uriel and Raguel, one asks the other whether he fears that one day, his restorative protocols would fail and he'd die the real death. The way the question was phrased, the asker himself definitely does.
  • Journey to Chaos: Zettai outmaneuvers an opponent who outclasses her in every way by exploiting this trope. Omnias is immortal but can still be killed by things like necrocraft and so he dodges involuntarily when it is aimed at him. This forces him to abandon a strategic position and lose the confrontation.
  • Apollo confirms in The Trials of Apollo, a sequel series to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, that this trope is in effect, at least with the Olympian Gods (The Norse Gods of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard mostly accept the fact that most them will die at Ragnarok, while the issue the Egyptian Gods of The Kane Chronicles have with the threat is more the fact that the way to inflict death upon them is something magicians can use to utterly blackmail them and isn't explicitly about being scared of death). They are simply amazed that Mortals aren't driven completely mad by their impending demises. Godly death for the Greek Gods is known as fading in the Rick Riordan universe, and terrifies them in part because they completely vanish upon death. One day they are there, one day they aren't. That's what happened to the Titans of the Sun and Moon that preceded Apollo and his sister Artemis.
  • The Alternate Continuity A Tale Of... series expands upon Gothel's behavior in Tangled. She's the daughter of the Queen of the Dead and comes from a long line of witches who can live for as long as they want, as long as they have rapunzel flowers. Each Queen of the Dead eventually dies and passes over their heritage to their daughter, but Gothel is the exception. She refuses to pass over. Her two sisters, Primrose and Hazel, died in their youth. Gothel tries endlessly to revive them, which is why she raised Rapunzel. She plans on reviving her siblings and living forever with them. Gothel thinks of death as undignified, but in the end she is killed when Eugene cuts Rapunzel's magic hair.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Adam talks to a group of vampires about his thoughts on their species, and how contrary to mortal humans, vampires fear death and things that can kill them, like the Slayer, precisely because they are immortal.
    • Anya becomes afraid of growing old and dying when she loses her powers as a vengeance demon and becomes mortal, and when Buffy's mother dies she has a breakdown over how stupid the idea of death is to her.
  • The Defenders (2017): This trope is exactly what kicks off the series' plot with the Big Bad learning that her immortality is fading fast and she only has a few months or weeks left to live. In her desperation to live, she hastens the search of the substance that can prolongue her existence, triggering an earthquake in New York that leads to all the titular heroes teaming up against her.
  • Doctor Who:
    • One of the main differences between the Doctor and The Master. The former has shifted increasingly towards Who Wants to Live Forever? over the series, while the latter will do anything to stay alive. This comes into play in "Last of the Time Lords". When the Master threatens to destroy the entire planet rather than admit defeat, the Doctor reminds him of all the disasters they've already been through and calls his bluff. He seemingly chooses to die by another means a few minutes later, but has a Soul Jar standing by.
      • From time to time, the Doctor has expressed a fear of death, such as when the Ninth Doctor faced imminent death in Cardiff in "The Unquiet Dead" and the Tenth Doctor faced the spectre of his next regeneration in "The End of Time". In Series 9, however, his fear shifted to the death of other people, in particular a companion he'd developed love for. The Tenth Doctor is at one point asked why he fears death if he'll regenerate. He replies that while the Doctor will live on, he (that is his personality/soul/identity) will die, and it hurts. This is shown when his time comes, where he rages about how unfair it is for him to sacrifice himself when "I could do so much more" (though he still does it), and his last words are a whimpered "I don't want to go."
    • In "The End of Time", Time Lord president Rassilon, who is a historical legend for creating time travel and being immortal, is faced with the extinction of his race in the time war and ends up bellowing that he refuses to die no matter what. In fact, he'll destroy the current universe and Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence before accepting death.
  • Forever Knight. In a historical flashback, the protagonist tries to frighten a chaste peasant girl in medieval France, and she counters with this trope when he boasts of how he's going to live forever as a vampire. She turns out to be Joan of Arc, the implication being she's Not Afraid to Die due to her faith.
  • The Good Place: Michael, as a celestial entity, is technically immortal but can be subjected to A Fate Worse Than Death as punishment for his failures. He attempts to learn from the humans so that he can escape this fate, but has difficulty understanding ethics because he's never confronted mortality. Once his teachers manage to make him grasp the concept of true consequences for his actions, he freaks out and goes into a depressive panic spiral.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Ganma of Kamen Rider Ghost are using a combination of science and Magitek to create shells they project their souls in from their real, human-like, bodies. Alain is stunned by the realization that he can die after he loses his eyecon body and it takes him a while before he can get it back together. Unfortunately, he swings the other way afterwards, lacking any sense of selfpreservation, overstraining his body and even adding a couple (failed) suicidal attacks. He survived.
    • Played straight and averted in Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. Bugsters are video game characters and thus can respawn indefinitely. That is unless defeated by Cronus , who can manipulate time to keep them from doing so. Finding this out has reduced the de facto leader of Bugsters, Parado, to shaking wreck. His partner-in-crime, Graphite, has not been afraid of death even before he knew about the respawning part so this has not affected him personally very much.
  • The Brunnen-G of Lexx discovered how to halt the aging process. Since death was no longer inevitable, most of the Brunnen-G became extremely paranoid of anything that could threaten their lives, to the point that they wouldn't even leave their homes. Ironically, the same Brunnen-G who cringed in fear of anything that might kill them felt nothing but relief when faced with inevitable death again in the form of His Divine Shadow. It was less death itself and more uncertainty that the Brunnen-G feared.
  • It's implied in the Star Trek universe that the Q fear the very thought of being mortal to the point where it's considered a major punishment for them. When one of them decided he wanted to die, they imprisoned him in a comet rather than see what would happen. The Expanded Universe reveals that they also fear that death brings either utter ceasing of existence for them, or that there's something more powerful than them waiting in the afterlife.
  • Katherine in The Vampire Diaries is absolutely terrified of dying and will do anything to prevent it, including invoking dark magic, making deals to sell out anyone who cares about her or taking over the body of her most hated enemy.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Gilgamesh from The Epic of Gilgamesh fell into despair after the gods killed his closest friend Enkidu. His fear of dying intensified now that he was alone again so he went on an epic journey to find the secret of immortality. In the end, he failed but he finally learned to accept that he would die someday and he resolved to live the rest of his days to the fullest.
  • Of all people, Jesus according to the Gospels is this way in the Garden of Gethsamane. However it seems it's less so the part of death itself than taking on the sins of the ENTIRE world that does it. Since Jesus is technically God according to Christianity and Messianic Judaism, this has even more impact.
    • With that in mind, Satan is this way in Revelation. While he is a spirit being, the "death" for such spirits is called the lake of fire, a place NO ONE WANTS TO GO TO. This is because it is separation from all good and godly things, and a place one can not get out.

    Tabletop Games 
  • A common theme in Vampire: The Masquerade. The actions and policies of many elders, particularly in the Camarilla, are based around maintaining a centuries-old status quo that they feel safe in. An outsider would think that with immense power and an immortal lifespan, that these elders would be adventurous and progressive in shaping the world to what they think it should be, when in fact the opposite is true. With so much going for them, they reach the logical conclusion that they have so much to lose that taking any chance isn't worth the risk. So instead of molding the world, they insulate themselves from it.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons:
    • This is the motivation of the Dreaming Dark in Eberron. The Turning of the Age in Dal Quor would entail a complete reset of the plane, changing the nature of its central dream (currently a nightmare) and killing all quori at once and creating a whole new kind of them for the new age. Most quori find this prospect terrifying and fight to stop the natural cycle, while the kalashtar see the Turning of the Age as desirable for the sake of the benefits mortals will reap from a dreamworld that isn't evil at its core.
    • In Ravenloft, Hunter of Monsters Dr. Van Richten identifies this as a large source of Immortality Immorality for the undead:
      Vampire: I could spend thirty years studying a well-written book or a finely-wrought painting. I have time enough to think, to experience the changing of the world! Now do you understand why your deaths mean nothing to me? ...And mine means everything?
  • In Pathfinder's Golarion setting, The Necrocracy of the dead planet Eox are all eternal lich-like entities, who, despite their vast power, sequester themselves alone out of "paranoid megalomania" in heavily fortified territories, each a comfortable distance from its neighbours.
  • This is the reason for Hell in Exalted; the Primordials witnessing the horror of some of their number dying was enough to make them surrender and swear oaths to be imprisoned inside one another for eternity rather than face it. It helps that the "death" of a Primordial is actually a Fate Worse than Death where they're trapped between Life and Death in constant suffering as long as Creation exists.. which is why the dead Primordials desperately want Creation destroyed.
    • The fact that death is permanant rather than just a game they can shrug off is part of why Creation feels so wrong to The Fair Folk.
    • The fiction excerpt that introduced Exigents had the god Ten Sheaves muse on the strangeness of an immortal facing death. In his case, it was a choice between death from the Fair Folk destroying him, and death on his own terms to make an Exalt; he viewed the latter as a good note to go out on.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Due to the fate that befalls their souls if they die pertinently, the Drukhari have built their entire society around the extension of their lives through the torture of others. It is for this reason that many of the oldest Drukhari, particularly the Haemonculi, hate and fear the worshipers of the Aeldari god of the dead, and his Avatar the Yncarne, because their Soul Power is able to permanently kill them.
    • Servants of Chaos particularly fear death and defeat, because it means their souls go back into the Warp for punishment by their gods, who do not take failure lightly. Subverted with Khornate troops (Space Marines pretty much don't die of old age, and Chaos Space Marines spend so much time in the Warp they age even less), because death in melee combat is still a way of serving Khorne.

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • According to one of the in-universe books, Spirit of the Daedra, daedra just resurrect in Oblivion if their physical body is killed, but the process of resurrection is apparently a horrifying experience that they try to avoid as much as possible. Also, they are completely baffled as to how mortals can be aware that their lifespans are finite but not be completely consumed with despair by this knowledge.
    • In Morrowind, as a result of the game's main quest, the Tribunal lose their connection to the Heart of Lorkhan, the source of their divinity. The loss of her divine powers and return to mortality are major reasons for Almalexia's descent into madness and Face–Heel Turn in the Tribunal expansion.
    • Skyrim:
      • The "Dragonrend" Thu'um Shout (Joor Zah Frul, which translates to Mortal, Finite, Temporary), specifically exploits this trope to Mind Rape dragons. Dragonrend forces the concept of mortality onto a dragon's mind, and being so powerful and ancient, they grow confused and disoriented and become unable to fly or attack for a time. The Dragonborn's title as The Dreaded is "The One They Fear", because the Dragonborn is the lone mortal who can kill a dragon for good. Dragons that get dialogue tend to be obviously panicked when they realize they're fighting the Dragonborn, and even Alduin loses his composure as the Dragonborn gets the upper hand in their fight.
      • Harkon in the Dawnguard DLC was once a mighty king who feared death. He sacrificed thousands of his own subjects and pledged himself and his family to Molag Bal to become immortal Vampire Lords.
  • Final Fantasy III, Xande seeks to cause a Time Crash after his immortality was taken from him by his master Noah, and the idea of dying is unacceptable to him. He fears death so much that he is willing to sacrifice any quality of life in order to stay alive. Noah's two other students avert this trope: they're jealous that Xande was rewarded with mortality.
    • Final Fantasy XIV has Xande, though as a slightly different character, declare that death makes everything in life meaningless. While Xande has cheated death once and was given a second chance to achieve his dreams, his fear of death never went away.
  • Final Fantasy IX, Kuja goes into a Villainous Breakdown and becomes an Omnicidal Maniac when he learns of his own mortality, deciding that if he doesn't get to exist, nothing else should either.
  • Blutarch in the Expanded Universe of Team Fortress 2 has cheated death for over a century by a life extending machine that is slowly beginning to fail. Each day it temporarily shuts down, and Blutarch witnesses The Nothing After Death, and is appropriately fearful of the duration increasing each time.
  • In World of Warcraft, Sylvanas' brief taste of The Nothing After Death that undead like her are apparently doomed to suffer deeply shook her.
  • Defied by Malfurion Stormrage in Warcraft 3. When Tyrande points out that sacrificing the power of the World Tree to slay Archimonde will rob the Night Elves' of their immortality, Malfurion replies that "if the fear of death is enough to give us pause, then perhaps we have lived long enough."
  • Runescape: The Dragonkin are unaging humanoid reptilian beings. They fear death, but particularly because they have no means of reproducing, thus every time one of them dies their race gets closer to extinction. This doesn't happen often, though. Partly because people can't usually find them, and partly because they're really, really hard to kill.
  • In Sword of the Stars, the Liir cannot die of old age. They just keep getting bigger until they die because they cannot support their own mass even underwater. The Suul'ka are Liir elders who were so afraid of dying that they enslaved the rest of their race to force an industrial revolution that would allow them to live forever in space.
  • The Transcendent One from Planescape: Torment, as revealed if you talk with it. Unlike most examples of this trope, The Transcendent One knows very well what being mortal is, as it is The Nameless One's mortality — being reunited with The Nameless One would essentially be 'death' to it, however, and if you force it to rejoin you its final words is to the effect that it hates you, it will continue to hate you when you're reunited and that when you finally do die due to being mortal again it will laugh at you.
    • Inverted by The Nameless One himself. His entire quest is basically to find out how his immortality works and how to make it stop so he can finally die.
  • The light elves in Radiata Stories are effectively immortal, as their rituals allow them to transplant their spirits when their physical bodies fail. When afflicted by the "Algandars Disease", however, their souls are sealed in cocoonlike structures, which prevents them from reincarnating. The light elves blame the humans for the plague (among other things), which leads them to fear humans as the only beings that can kill them.
  • The Emperor from Star Wars: The Old Republic has drained his entire home planet of life in order to achieve immortality. However, he is still theoretically mortal, so a large part of the storyline deals with his attempts to do the same to the entire galaxy, just to be safe.
  • The Luniarians of Touhou Project were originally humans who managed to identify impurity as the cause of mortality, and death as the greatest source of impurity. So, in order to escape their own natural deaths, they relocated to the untainted moon, erected a habitable pocket dimension and became The Ageless for their efforts. And everything would be fine and dandy about that if it wasn't for the fact that, due to the above mentioned way mortality works in Touhou, the Lunarians' thanatophobia goes hand in hand with xenophobia; they not only fear death but are also intensly racistic toward all things impure/mortal and have considered "purifying" the Earth on several occasions just to make sure none of Earth's impurity will ever reach them.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, when the gods witness the goddess Gaea's death at the hands of Kagetsu I, they realize that they can be killed by mortals if they manifest in the Land of the Living in their corporeal form, and as a result they're scared. This fear of death forces the gods to adapt and from that moment on they possess willing people through whom they act and speak when they want to influence mortals. The possession comes with the added benefit that if the mortal host of a god dies, the god can simply return to the High Plane unharmed.
  • In the Para Imperium series the Federation of Parahuman Species discourages memetic deviation by removing the anti-aging Nano Machines of those who adopt ideologies deemed "problematic" and then exiling them.

    Western Animation 

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