Follow TV Tropes


Mistaken Death Confirmation

Go To

Helen: Normal? You're normal? I must be hearing things. You're not normal at all! Two months ago, you were dead!
Mr. Brittas: Dead?
Helen: Dead! Don't you remember? Certified dead! I've got a death certificate. I framed it.

When a character is killed, their killer or another character may make a point to check their pulse or do some other direct action to their body to confirm that they're indeed dead. They may also see what appears to be incontrovertible evidence of the character's death, such as an injury that should be obviously lethal or a cessation of life signs.

However, in some cases this character may be Not Quite Dead, has subjected themself to a Faux Death, has Resurrective Immortality, or has somehow come Back from the Dead for whatever reason. They will then either suddenly spring back to life or appear later on to have somehow cheated death, confusing and confounding those that thought them dead.

Successfully Faking the Dead or Playing Possum will often hinge on this, to make the ruse even more realistic. On the other hand, a Double Tap or Coup de Grâce is deliberately done to keep this from happening. Not Now, We're Too Busy Crying Over You sometimes results from this.

Sister Trope to Failed a Spot Check.


  • Death Faked for You, in which someone else provides a knowingly false report of the character's death.
  • Disney Death, which is almost always climactic and doesn't necessarily involve examining the character for confirmation.
  • He's Dead, Jim, when someone declares a character to be believably dead; this trope is the result if they're wrong.
  • Legally Dead, where a missing person is declared dead.
  • Never Found the Body, where a character's death is left ambiguous because their corpse is never found to provide definitive confirmation that they're dead.
  • No One Could Survive That!: A character in a seemingly deadly situation is declared dead despite a lack of definite proof.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated, which is essentially an acknowledgement of this trope by the character in question.

As this is a Death Trope, beware of unmarked spoilers in the examples below!

In-Universe Examples Only:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball: King Piccolo handily beats Goku to death during their first confrontation, and even takes the time to check to make sure Goku's heart has actually stopped beating. He couldn't possibly have guessed that Goku's heart could restart itself after he left.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Wrath is impaled on a sword and flung off a ledge into a moat. Those present watch him sink, believing the fight is over and he's dead. He later turns up to fight Scar, still alive and in fighting condition, though bleeding badly.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders: After thinking he's killed Jotaro and worrying about him moving during stopped time, DIO puts his ear to the ground from a safe distance and Jotaro makes Star Platinum stop his heart for a few seconds to convince DIO. This gives Polnareff enough time to shove Silver Chariot's foil into DIO's head, which doesn't kill him, followed by Jotaro getting up and breaking it to DIO that he had faked his death.
  • My Hero Academia: Played for Laughs in "Save the World with Love". Six of the students are doing a special class, wherein they have to act like pro heroes and investigate a crime. The "villain", played by All Might, is found murdered on the floor. When Asui checks to see if he's dead, he Corpses. They assume he's breaking character and move on, only to fail the lesson because this was meant to be a clue that their villain wasn't dead, resulting in him running off laughing.
  • One Piece: Played for Laughs in Skypiea. After Eneru zaps Sanji with his lightning, Usopp freaks out when he can't feel Sanji's pulse. Nami realizes that Usopp is checking the wrong spot, corrects him, and Usopp freaks out that he can feel Sanji's pulse, but his life is still in danger because, y'know, lightning.
  • Spiral: One of the murder victims uses a ball to suppress her pulse in order to fake her death, convincing everyone, including the detectives, that she was dead, only to be murdered for real by her accomplice.
  • Tiger & Bunny: Kotetsu takes a hit during a Kill Us Both moment and passes out from the pain. Everyone, including Barnaby and Kotetsu's daughter, assumes he's died, and it's played as a death until Kotetsu wakes up later and asks if Barnaby even checked his pulse before making assumptions.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: During the climactic fight between Batman and Superman, Superman hears Batman's heart starting to become arrhythmic and slow down and thinks that Batman is deliberately fighting him to the death, and is completely convinced when Batman finally dies. However, at his funeral, Superman hears Batman's heart start back up and realizes that he faked his death, but decides to keep this a secret and leaves with a wink at Carrie Kelley.
  • 52: Booster Gold dies in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses, and they later recover his corpse and confirm his identity via DNA. When he turns out to not actually be dead, he reveals that he pulled a switcheroo with his own, actual corpse from far in the future in order to fake his death as convincingly as possible.
  • Supergirl storyline "Starfire's Revenge": After getting a (temporarily) depowered Supergirl gunned down, Derek Marlowe feels for a pulse, and finding none, he happily declares her dead. Shortly after they leave, though, Supergirl recovers her healing factor and her heartbeats are restarted.
  • The Transformers Megaseries: When Optimus Prime confronts Megatron during the Escalation mini-series, he's overwhelmed by the Decepticon leader's Ultra-Energon-boosted strength. Megatron is crushing Optimus' Spark with his bare hands when he's distracted by Optimus' drone Roller, and when he turns back to Optimus he sees that his Spark chamber is now empty, apparently extinguished from the damage. What he couldn't know is that Optimus used the momentary distraction to shunt his higher brain functions to his Combat Deck, allowing his main body to 'die' while his mind remained functional within the Combat Deck. The other Autobots attack Megatron to avenge Optimus, which also inadvertently prevents Megatron from noticing that Optimus' "corpse" hasn't begun turning gray note . This buys time for Optimus' main body's auto-repair functions to kick in and repair some of the inflicted damage, enough for him to return to combat and help bring down Megatron.

    Fan Works 
  • Inverted in All Alone; the first time that Taylor beats down a would-be mugger with a baseball bat, Sophia checks the body and reassures Taylor that he still has a pulse, but the truth is that she couldn't find one. Sophia isn't bothered by that, but she recognises that Taylor might be.
    If she realises that she's killed someone on her first go-around, she might panic. Give her time to get a little more used to the idea first.
  • The Night Unfurls: Celestine witnesses Kyril's assassination via Moe Greene Special and his revival via Resurrective Immortality, right in front of her. She later questions him regarding his survival, even when she "felt him die" (presumably an arcane skill she possesses).
  • The Friends fic “The One Where Ross is G.O.N.E.” features Ross going to hospital after he breaks his arm falling down the stairs during an argument with Rachel. When Chandler calls for an update on Ross’s condition, he becomes distracted by the duck while giving the hospital staff details, with the result that he is informed that Ross was one of the victims of a case of food poisoning at the hospital and died the previous night. As the rest of the gang are grieving, Ross returns to the apartment and it’s established that the hospital made a mistake (for the record, the Ross who died was Ross Dellar).

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Cabin in the Woods: After Marty gets dragged off-screen and we hear what sounds like a blade digging into him, the controllers pull the lever to signal his sacrifice. There is then a massive quake, which they take to mean that The Ancient Ones really liked the sacrifice. However, Marty turns up later in the movie, revealing that they prematurely called it, and The Ancient Ones were mad about the apparent mistake.
  • Carry On Cowboy: Parodied. Following another encounter with the Rumpo Kid Marshall P Knutt collapses and is declared dead by Doc after checking his pulse, only for Marshall to wake up while the undertaker is measuring him for a casket. Mayor Burke immediately calls out Doc, who can't understand what went wrong until he realises that it was his watch that had stopped, not Marshall's heart.
  • Clue: When the lights come back on and Mr. Boddy is found face-down on the floor, Prof. Plum examines him and declares that he is dead. He's not. He pretended to be dead when he realized that the shot in the dark was intended for him.
  • Enemy at the Gates: During the latter half of the film, Vasily attempts to ambush Major Konig near a gravel pile full of dead Soviet soldiers. Due to having been awake for hours on end, he ends up falling asleep from the fatigue. During this time, his dog-tags are retrieved by a German deserter looking for war trophies. German propaganda and General Paulus mistake this as a confirmation of Vasily's death, and begin broadcasting this through propaganda trucks. Major Konig, however, isn't convinced, due to being the only one able to truly confirm whether he's killed him or not.
  • Godzilla (2014): Dr. Graham is bewildered when Serizawa realizes that the second of the MUTO spores they recovered from the Philippines has hatched, because Serizawa confirmed himself that it was completely dormant after they'd spent years running countless tests on it.
  • Hellboy (2004): Dr. Bruttonholm's autopsy of Kroenen somehow overlooks that he's merely suspended the clockwork that animates him, which costs Bruttonholm his life.
  • The Matrix: After Agent Smith shoots Neo, he demands another Agent check him; the Agent checks for a pulse and confirms that Neo is dead. However, as the Oracle hinted earlier in their meeting ("Your next life, maybe. That's the way these things usually work."), this was necessary for the Prime Program to activate, and Neo is brought back to life with his powers as the One fully unlocked.
  • Pacific Rim: After Otachi Jr. bursts out of Otachi's womb and collapses in front of Newt, Hannibal Chau walks right up to it and lists numerous reasons why it couldn't have lived for more than a minute outside the womb—namely, the lungs were underdeveloped and it had its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. He even stabs it in the nose and it doesn't flinch, which just further confirms his belief. It then gets back up and eats him.
  • The Princess Bride: When Fezzick and Inigo find Wesley in the Pit of Despair after having the life sucked out of him, they cannot hear his heartbeat and believe Wesley is dead (which upsets the Grandson listening to the story). But when they take him to Miracle Max, he tells them Wesley is only mostly dead — the Power of Love is keeping him hanging on. Max and Valerie are able to bring him back to life (though it takes time for him to be able to move again).
  • Safer at Home: A group of friends are gathering remotely to celebrate a birthday for one of them, even partaking of some molly. While still on the group chat, one of the couples, Evan and Jen get into a fight. At some point Jen trips and falls, hitting her head. He panics at all the blood and announces to the others that she is not breathing. It is not revealed until near the end that she knocked herself out but is alive.
  • Sherlock Holmes: Lord Blackwood fakes his death through a harness (to foil his hanging) and drugs that slowed his vitals. This completely fools Watson, who pronounces him dead at the scene.

  • And Then There Were None: When the survivors find Judge Wargrave apparently shot in the head, Dr. Armstrong quickly checks his pulse and declares him dead. However, Wargrave and Armstrong had conspired to fake Wargrave's death, as Wargrave had convinced Armstrong that this was the best way to catch the murderer. Unfortunately for Armstrong, Wargrave is the murderer and quickly disposes of Armstrong.
  • The Bounty Hunter Wars: As part of his plan to capture Trhin Voss'on't, Boba Fett has the corpse of fellow bounty hunter Zuckuss on board his ship. Bossk checks the body and is chilled by Fett's ruthlessness — but he's far more upset when Zuckuss later gets up and pulls a gun on him. Turns out that Gand are able to slow down their vital functions so much that they appear dead.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Peter Pettigrew was long thought dead by the Wizarding World by the time the series takes place. After confronting their friend Sirius Black in the wake of James's and Lily's deaths, witnesses saw the street was blown apart and Peter disappear, killing 13 muggles. All that was left of Peter was his finger, while Sirius just laughed as he was taken away. However, Peter was an unregistered Animagus who could turn himself into a rat — he blew the street apart, cut off his own finger, and escaped into the sewers as a rat to frame Sirius, who already looked guilty since he was supposed to be the Potters' Secret Keeper (Ironically, it was the very Marauders Map that he helped create that gave away the truth).
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: After the Killing Curse malfunctions yet again when used on Harry, Voldemort sends Narcissa Malfoy to check that Harry is actually dead this time. Unfortunately for Voldemort, Narcissa cares more about rescuing her son Draco than about finishing Harry off, and when Harry discreetly confirms that Draco is alive, she stands and proclaims Harry dead so that she can march triumphantly into the castle and fetch him.
  • Hogfather: Susan and Teatime fight each other in the Tooth Fairy's country, which culminates in Teatime being flung from a high ledge. Susan watches the assassin fall and disappear when he hits the bottom, a sure sign of death in the Tooth Fairy's country as it's based on the beliefs of children, and children don't understand death. She then carries on with her mission, not worrying about Teatime anymore. However, those who die there turn up again in Discworld, and unfortunately, Teatime returns in the middle of the Unseen University's banquet, apparently in good enough shape that a single slap from Ridcully is all it takes to resuscitate him.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: In the first book, Toothless becomes unconscious due to the Green Death clawing him. The adults think he's dead because he's stone cold and has no pulse or breath. They send him out to sea on a burning ship for a proper burial. Hiccup then points out that dragons sometimes sleep for many years and that they have all those symptoms mentioned. Cue the Mass "Oh, Crap!" when everyone realizes that Toothless was asleep after all. Later, when the boat is completely set alight while Toothless is still on it, Hiccup believes that Toothless has burned to death, but then Toothless flies out triumphantly.
  • The Two Towers: After Frodo is bitten by Shelob, Sam fights her off but finds Frodo unresponsive. Sam assumes he's dead and takes the One Ring, planning to finish the quest alone, but is interrupted by a squad of orcs, one of whom explains to the others with Sam listening in that Shelob's venom is only a paralytic. The orcs take Frodo prisoner, with Sam forced to follow and try to rescue him, leading to the cliffhanger ending.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Adventures of Superboy: In "Superboy, Rest In Peace" Superboy is attacked by an Android from the future, sent to kill him. Unable to best his foe even with the help of a girl from the same future, Superboy is eventually struck down and the Android carefully examines him to confirm his heart has stopped beating. Satisfied that he's succeeded in his mission, the Android self-destructs. Shortly thereafter, Superboy revives, having slowed his heart down enough to be thought dead. He'd reasoned that since the Android was programmed to self-destruct after killing him, the easiest way to get rid of it was to make it think it had succeeded. Alas, the girl from the future then reveals she was an Android sent back in time to save him, and now that he's safe...
  • The Brittas Empire:
    • Invoked in "Back From the Dead". Brittas is presumed to have been killed from falling into a steel press in Bulgaria. When this is revealed to the majority of the staff, Tim and Gavin question if they were absolutely sure that Brittas is dead, mentioning methods such as checking for breathing and if important organs have been donated. Julie replies that due to the method of death, he's definitely dead as said organs were crushed beyond use. It is later revealed that Brittas never died at all, a different man having stolen his belongings and being the one who fell into the steel press instead.
    • In "The Last Day", Brittas dies saving Carole from a falling water tank, but is brought Back from the Dead when he proved to be too much of a git for Heaven. In the next present-day episode, "Back with a Bang", Colin mentions that the doctor had pronounced him dead (although Gavin steps on his foot before he can actually say the word, as they were not meant to tell Brittas that he had died at that point). In fact, the ambulance man had taken one look at Brittas and had pronounced him the deadest-looking person he had ever seen.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Played for laughs with Scully multiple times.
    • In "Fancy Brudgrom", a flashback to Scully in the The '70s shows him collapse after taking diet pills. Hitchcock checks his pulse and cries, "HE'S DEAAD!" Jump Cut to the present and Scully casually explains that he was actually in a coma. Justified, since Hitchcock isn't the best judge of... well, anything.
    • In "The Negotiation", Scully fakes a heart attack (which he refers to as "turning his heart off") while delivering food to Doug Judy and the hostages in order to distract the cops outside. When the hostage negotiator believes the body under the sheet is Doug Judy, he lifts the sheet to reveal Scully, who was mistaken for dead by the medical examiners because his pulse is, by Scully's own admission, "super weak".
  • Castle: In one episode where video evidence suggests the Victim of the Week was killed by a zombie, the team identifies the suspect and storms his apartment, only to find (a) he's a zombie cosplayer in full costume and (b) he's unconscious on the floor. Ryan checks his pulse and declares him dead. This leads to a trademark funny moment when he wakes up in the morgue just as the autopsy is about to begin and starts rambling around in confusion and panic, while still in his zombie getup. Esposito derisively tells Ryan "Remind me never to choke on a chicken bone in front of you," but Ryan swears on his grandmother's grave the man was dead and goes from being a skeptic to seriously considering zombies to be real until Castle snaps him out of it.
  • CSI: NY: In "What Schemes May Come", a body stolen just as the ambulance arrives at the morgue is later found by NY Harbor Patrol, still in the body bag. When they unzip it at the scene to identify the man, he starts gasping and is rushed to the hospital. When Mac asks M.E. Peyton Driscoll how this could've happened, she gets defensive and tells him she hasn't forgotten how to do her job. She explains that she always checks for a pulse AND uses a light to look for pupil dilation before declaring a person dead. They later learn the guy was part of a hibernation experiment. Peyton doesn't believe that's possible, but Mac recreates it with a rat in the lab to prove it to her.
  • Evil (2019): The team investigates a possible miracle where a high school athlete was pronounced dead after a sudden cardiac arrest, only to awaken at the start of an autopsy. They determine a rare cardiovascular disorder as the root cause, coupled with evidence for a pattern of providing black patients about half the average amount of CPR as white patients.
  • Firefly features drugs that are used to place people in suspended animation, Faking the Dead, which leads to this trope in a couple of episodes:
    • Invoked in "Ariel". Simon injects himself and River with drugs to make themselves look dead so that the others can sneak them into a core world hospital where Simon can perform brain scans on River. Then Played for Laughs when despite the preparation, the admitting nurses don't even bother to check: they just beep the body containers in with a hand scanner and wave Mal, Zoe, and Jayne through to the morgue. Jayne then recites his part of the script for the nurses anyway because he'd just gotten it memorized, dang it!
    • In "The Message", the crew are transporting the body of Mal and Zoe's war buddy Tracy home to his parents when the Space Police try to pull them over. Assuming that somebody is trying to use Tracy's body to smuggle contraband, Simon starts to cut him open autopsy style... when Tracy suddenly wakes up from his suspended animation and starts screaming.
  • The Golden Girls: In one episode, the girls are invited to a murder mystery weekend by Blanche's boss. During the course of the events, the boss is found stabbed to death in Blanche's hotel room. Dorothy puts a mirror under his nose, and when the glass doesn't steam from his breath, they conclude that he really must be dead. It turns out to be all part of the show, but until The Reveal, Blanche is under suspicion of murder and terrified out of her wits.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • In "Hooked", the victim of the week had her face bashed in, so the detectives rely on her photo ID to identify her. In the middle of informing her parents of her death, the girl suddenly walks in, perfectly fine. It turns out the victim was actually her underage cousin, who borrowed her ID for the night to go clubbing.
    • In "Conned" the victim of the week killed his Heterosexual Life-Partner in self-defense, then attempted to fake his own death by disfiguring the corpse and leaving his ID on it. Once again, the detectives are in the middle of informing the victim's mother of his death, when he calls her on skype.
  • Lost: When the survivors encounter the sonic fence with Mikhail in tow, Mikhail goads Locke into throwing him through it before he can be tortured for information. Mikhail suffers a massive seizure and falls over bleeding from his ears; understandably, the survivors don't cross the perimeter to check him and assume he's dead. He shows up alive several episodes later, as the fence wasn't turned up high enough to be lethal.
  • Lupin (2021): Assane invokes this trope when he was Faking the Dead. He tampered with the stethoscope the doctor used to check his pulse so it didn't register, leading the doctor to believe Assane is dead.
  • Robin Hood: In "Do You Love Me?", the Sheriff of Nottingham is assassinated by Guy of Gisborne on Prince John's orders, and Gisborne presents John with the Sheriff's bejewelled false tooth by way of proof. The Sheriff has a Finger-Twitching Revival at the end of the episode after two guards deal with his body, and returns as the Final Boss in the Grand Finale, but the show is very vague about how he survived (the Sheriff himself only noting it was a "very nasty wound" that Gisborne gave him).
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Suspicions", a test pilot named Jo'Bril flies a shuttlecraft into a star's corona to test a Ferengi scientist's new shield device. When Enterprise retrieves the shuttlecraft, Jo'Bril is supine and inert, and Doctor Crusher declares him dead, moving his body to the morgue. As it turns out, Jo'Bril was only mimicking death, aiming to take credit for the Ferengi scientist's invention.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine In "The Passenger", Kira and Bashir have a discussion about tricorders. For some reason (in this episode and no others) you can't 100% trust a tricorder reading that says that a person is dead. Accuracy isn't as good for dead people. Kira saw a person declared dead "come back to life." One wonders what the point of this exchange is, as you'd think the question "is the patient alive or dead" would be one the inventors of the tricorder would want answerable correctly all the time.
  • Supernatural: In "Red Meat", Sam is shot and then strangled by werewolves. Dean takes his pulse and concludes that he's dead, and circumstances force him to abandon the body, after which it turns out Sam was merely unconscious and is still alive.
  • Werewolf (1987): Eric is shot and killed in "A World Of Difference", confirmed by EMTs and the coroner, and spends the day in a refrigerated drawer in the morgue. Come nightfall, his werewolf form breaks out of the drawer from the inside, seemingly none the worse for wear.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Victims of a lich's paralyzing touch can only be distinguished from ordinary corpses with a successful skill test. The truly unfortunate might survive the lich but not their own funeral.

  • Romeo and Juliet: Romeo enters Juliet's tomb, finds her drugged to look as though she's dead, and believes her to be truly dead and kills himself.

    Video Games 
  • Criminal Case: Pacific Bay: One case ends with a suspect, Holly Hopper, apparently committing suicide by shooting herself, to avoid being arrested for being a cult leader and brainwashing people. Having witnessed it, the police are convinced she's dead. One week later in the next case, the player character finds a mobile phone, which turns out to belong to Holly and had been used that day. The team's tech expert tracks down where it had been used, and the player then finds Holly alive and well. Of course she gets arrested at that point.


    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Exploited in the first part of "Mother Simpson". Homer fakes his own death to skip a cleanup organized by his boss, namely by throwing a $600 dummy (bones included) off a waterfall, which is then followed by sharp rocks breaking it apart, beavers ripping its clothes and the turbines of the nuclear power plant shredding what's left of it. In a rare display of efficiency, Springfield officially registers Homer's status as deceased, which leads to the power in the Simpson family's house being cut off.
  • Steven Universe: In "Back to the Moon", Eyeball claims to have seen Rose Quartz shatter Pink Diamond with her own eye, complete with gem shards left behind. In "A Single Pale Rose", Steven discovers that this was part of Pink Diamond's plot to fake her own shattering and become Rose Quartz for good. She had Pearl shapeshift into "Rose," who pretended to shatter Pink Diamond in front of witnesses while actually poofing her, secretly took her intact gem to a safe location, and left fake pink gem shards at the site as evidence of her "death."
  • Young Justice:
    • In season two, Aqualad, who's working as The Mole for The Team, pretends to kill Artemis by stabbing her with one of his water swords (he actually bent the blade around her body so it only looked like she'd been stabbed while he slipped a blood packet under her shirt). This was part of a convoluted plan to fake Artemis's death so that she could go undercover as the mercenary Tigress in order to assist Aqualad. She was also used a device that masked the sound of her heartbeat so that Superboy, who wasn't in on the plan, thought that her heart had stopped because his super hearing could no longer detect it.
    • Nightwing uses a similar trick against Lor-Zod in Phantoms. After being buried under debris during their fight, Nightwing used a meditation technique to slow his heartbeat down to the point that Lor-Zod thought he was dead after using his super hearing to check.