A Necro Non Sequitur puts a character on a one-way track at full speed, destination 6 feet under, on the "What the hell was that?" express. Characters who die by this trope meet their demise in the form of a cosmic Rube Goldberg Device of coincidences, with everything lining up just so to ensure that the sheer impossibility of how they were killed works like clockwork. Sometimes it's long and tedious, sometimes it's quick and convenient, but no matter what, it cannot make any sense whatsoever when one looks at it closely enough.
Depending on the situation, the COD could be used for a number of plot lines. The three biggest are:
- to give the investigators something more oddball to occupy their time with and
- to convey that some higher power has an active hand in things, and is a sick, sick little monkey to boot; or
- the writers were concentrating on ways to create a Cruel and Unusual Death in order to generate pure, unadulterated horror.
- A death curse causes a few of these deaths in Another. The first such death is a girl who trips on a staircase and gets impaled by the pointy end of an umbrella at the bottom. The Calamity seems to like stairs. It strangles(!) another girl to death on a different set... and it's not pretty.
- Played with in Death Note. The user of the Death Note can specify the circumstances of their victim's death, including what exactly they do before death, offering a limited degree of Mind Control over the victim; however, if the specified circumstances are physically impossible, or the actions described are completely out of character, the victim will simply die of a heart attack in 40 seconds as usual. Suicide is not considered "out of character" as far as the Death Note is concerned; its rules state that any human can be driven to it.
- The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service has an insurance salesman in one arc who found a way to play with probability and kill people through untraceable freak accidents for profit. By the end of the arc, he's killed when a screw falls off a plane flying by, hitting him in the head at terminal velocity.
- The Feng-Shui assassination technique used by minor antagonist Kenzo in Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stone Ocean exploits this. He's able to read the Feng-Shui of an area to position himself in 'lucky' spots to avoid damage while pushing his opponents into 'unlucky' spots. Once in these unlucky spots, his opponents are usually hit by stray projectiles, or placed in other deadly situations, all of which happen by mere coincidence and the target's bad luck.
- The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.: One of Saiki's many powers is the ability to have prophetic visions about accidents happening. When this power is first introduced, he stops a disaster just by picking up a rock on the sidewalk, then explains to the audience that the rock would have triggered a chain reaction resulting in a gas station blowing up. Immediately after he has another prophetic vision but this time only sees the result of the chain reaction but not what started it and so has to interrupt the chain of accidents at the very last step by catching some falling sparks before they start an explosion at his school.
- Calvin and Hobbes: One strip sees Calvin playing in the sandbox, as he narrates an unlucky man about to be the simultaneous victim of a plane crash, a runaway train, a fissure, and an explosion.
Calvin: At 35,000 feet, the engines of Flight 430 explode for no reason! With plumes of dense smoke trailing from the wings, the giant aircraft plummets out of control! Meanwhile, a 50-car freight train hits a penny on the rail at 80 miles an hour and jumps the tracks, dragging half a million tons of metal into the air behind it! In a freak coincidence, both the jet and the train are converging on ONE SPOT.... where tectonic plates in the earth's crust have just begun to shift! That spot is the house of farmer Brown, who, at this moment, is unaware of a gas leak as he attempts to light his stove! As he strikes the match, he casually glances out the kitchen window.
Calvin: His eye twitches involuntarily.
Hobbes: Can't we play something else?
- In Make a Wish a considerable number of Death Eaters and other villains suffer injury or death in various bizarre and mostly-accidental circumstances. A couple of the more notable ones are Lucius Malfoy and several Mooks plummeting to their death when they try to Portkey to Harry while he's standing on a hotel balcony; a group of bandits in Egypt deciding that a sandstorm is the perfect chance to check out the boss' locked strongbox containing what they think is a Nundu statue and the Lestranges using a deliberately-faulty third-party Portkey only to end up in the soda machine where Harry had just spent the coin with the tracking charm they were following.
- In A Bad Week at the Wizengamot ex-Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge throwing a rock through the open window of Dudley Dursley's home meth lab starts a highly-improbable chain of events which ends with Number Four Privet Drive exploding and Fudge being decapitated by a flying toilet seat.
- The fanon version of Warhammer 40K's Eldrad Ulthuan (the single most powerful Eldar farseer) devote his immense powers of foresight to this kind of stupid prank at the expense of his entourage (fatality optional), leading to heartfelt comments of "Eldrad: What a dick"). Examples include:
- Telling a warlock to move a pebble in a precise spot. The pebble gets flung into the air by a Space Marine attack bike, then into a Dark Eldar skimmer's engines, causing it to crash into a walking mass of whirling blades. One of them heads straight for the narrator (the warlock), who deflects it with his sword, sending the blade straight through the shoulder straps of a female Eldar's armor, causing her top to fall off. Eldrad (who'd been staring fixedly in the banshee's direction all along) giggles and orders a retreat.
- Eldrad uses his powers to force a Tyranid fleet off course onto an empty planet more than a century later, that he then cloaks so the 'nids crash into it. Then he mind-controls the hive tyrant and brings it back aboard... so that he can take pictures of the 'nid resting its Phallic Weapon on the sleeping narrator's face.
- Edlrad causes an ork to slap one of its bike-riding underlings, causing one of the bombs it was carrying to fall off. Five years later, an Imperial convoy is passing through the same area, and a commissar in an APC sets off the hidden bomb, causing his Commissar Cap to fly off and land squarely on Eldrad's head.
- This is the entire premise of the Final Destination film series. When Death claims someone, it usually picks a pretty convoluted and sadistic way to do so, and it doesn't give a single damn about things like the laws of physics, mechanics or others.
- From one of the novels: Going in for some liposuction, one of the women fated to die, along with the doctors and nurses on call, gets knocked out. When she awakens hours later, she finds that the machine is still on and had sucked out all her internal organs.
- A very convoluted death was that of the teacher from the first film, who pours out her coffee because it is too hot, pours cold vodka into the cup instead which creates a crack in the cup due to the rapid change in temperature, causing a leak which short-circuits her computer monitor causing the screen to explode in her face sending glass into her neck, starting a fire, then stumbling into the kitchen WHILE THE FIRE STILL BURNS THE HOUSE, tripping and falling onto the floor, pulling down a towel to hold against her neck without realizing it was on top of a knife rack, causing a knife to fall directly into her chest, and still surviving until the main character reaches her house, when an explosion from the fire knocks over a chair, which lands on the knife and pushes it further into her chest, finally killing her. Then her house explodes. Death really wasn't taking any chances with this one.
- Of particular note is the tanning bed death from the third film. While two girls are in tanning beds, the condensation from someone's slushee shorts out the machine, causing the temperature to ramp up. Then, one girl's phone starts ringing, and the vibrations knock over a coat rack, which knocks over a plant, which knocks down a shelf, and the shelf lands in just the right spot to lock the two girls inside. And then the tanning beds malfunction and catch fire.
- A character dies this way in Frankenfish (incidentally being the only character not killed by the fish). The main action takes place on houseboats, through a complicated series of events there ends up being an unoccupied houseboat, on fire, with various weapons laying on it. Just as one character on another houseboat starts explaining how they have a plan to escape, the heat from the fire causes one of the guns lying on the deck to go off, shooting that character in the face. Which when you think about it doesn't make any sense whatsoever. A few seconds later an explosion on the burning boat sends a flaming piece of wreckage soaring over the main characters houseboat and down into the houseboat behind it (also occupied). Though no one dies from that.
- The first death Light causes in Death Note (2017) plays out in this fashion to fulfill the "decapitation" he specified. A woman's shopping bag rips open spilling her groceries on the ground which causes a kid's basketball to bounce into the street. The kid runs into the street to get the ball, running in front of a car that swerves out of the way to avoid the kid. This causes a truck with a ladder on the roof to swerve as well, crashing into a parked car so that inertia causes the ladder to extend with enough force to sever the victim's head from his lower jaw.
- Accident features a gang of Professional Killers who specialise in creating these. The murders are assumed to be accidents because the circumstances are so unlikely it doesn't seem feasible that anyone could have orchestrated them.
- In The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch, the influence of the Auditors (who desire to hold up human progress so we don't escape Earth before it becomes a snowball) means that in every single Alternate Universe, Darwin dies in increasingly unlikely ways before he can write The Origin of Species.
- Interesting Times also mentions this effect in one of Pratchett's archetypal footnotes. And also demonstrates it. When Rincewind gets sent by the wizards, they just happen to get a lit cannon in return due to the nature of the spell. Ponder stops it firing, seemingly in innocent subversion of an overused trope. Most of a Novel later they decide to bring Rincewind Back, and light the cannon again just to leave it as they found it. Guess what happens to the main villain....
When someone survives due to a sequence of freak events we call it a miracle. But when someone dies due to a sequence of freak events, that's also a miracle. Just because it isn't nice, doesn't mean it's not miraculous.
- The death of the religious monomaniac Vorbis in Small Gods is a direct lift from Greek mythology and involves a hungry eagle, a sentient tortoise who "persuades" the eagle to let go at exactly the right moment, and a precisely judged parabolic trajectory in which three pounds of tortoise travelling at speed impacts square-on with the priest's skull.
- Aornis Hades, from Thursday Next's Lost In a Good Book, specializes in these, thanks to her ability to control entropy and coincidences — Thursday senses her presence by shaking a jar of lentils and rice; if they form patterns, watch out. In fact, Fforde in general seems to like these.
- "Try and Change the Past" by Fritz Leiber, in which a Time Soldier from the Change War tries to use his tools to prevent his own past death. (Time Soldiers are recruited just before the moment of their death, but — for handwaved reasons — remember dying.) He goes back and prevents himself from being shot, only to see his past self, with a look of despair, pick up the gun and shoot himself. So he goes back again and disables the gun — only to see his past self hit by a bullet-sized meteorite in exactly the same place the bullet struck in the previous two deaths. At which point he understandably gives up.
- In The Dresden Files, an "entropy curse" causes bad luck and is a magical way of murdering without it being detectable (by mundane means, at least.) A sloppy one can result in positively cartoonish ways of dying instead of the preferred plausible accidents. For example, one victim was hit by a runaway car... while water skiing. One was stung to death by bees that appeared out of nowhere in the trunk of her car. But perhaps the most spectacular was when Harry redirected the curse at the last moment to an attacking vampire, only to see him crushed by a frozen turkey falling at terminal velocity. And then the timer dings.
Harry: For my next trick: anvils.
- Arguably, John Dickson Carr's The Hollow Man, often considered with some justification to be the definitive Locked Room Mystery. It's a very clever explanation, but the more you think about it, the less likely it becomes.
- Similarly to the Science Of Discworld example, And Another Thing... has Fate get so piqued at Arthur's survival that every other Arthur Dent in the multiverse gets killed in ways ranging from the plausible (being run over by the bulldozer when lying outside his house) to the less so (being electrocuted by his headphones while at his local radio job). Most of them are Continuity Nods, with the cleverest example probably being the Arthur who drowns in a freak rainstorm after pissing off Rob McKenna.
- Isaac Asimov uses it in one of his George and Azazel short stories. George's friend is offered an important position with one catch - the first person to hold it died after thirty two years, the second after sixteen, the third after eight... in short, should he accept it, he'll die a year later. So, George summons the titular demon, who takes care that nothing on Earth can harm the friend. Alas, as with Fritz Leiber's example above, a meteorite through the heart remains a viable option.
- One episode had the disappearance and death of a college student turn out to be a series of horrible coincidences (her trash can was swallowed by a grabby trash chute; when she went down to the dumpster to retrieve it, the dumpster was hit by a car, and she was slammed against the wall — she then fell into the dumpster and died of internal bleeding). Her parents refuse to accept it, and claim they'll hire a private investigator to find the real killer.
- Another episode had that season's serial killer stalking his next blonde, female victim... just as a male fraternity pledge with long, blonde hair ran by as part of a hazing ritual. The serial killer fed the body through a wood chipper to try to hide the fact that he'd messed up so badly.
- Ending Happy (7x21) went something along the lines of: a big abusive drunk/drug addict boxer was found dead in a swimming pool, and as the evidence piles up — along with a half-dozen nice people pushed to the edge — it becomes a ludicrous case of Who Murdered the Asshole?
- He was seen breaking down a woman's door, who smacked him in the head with a crowbar. He then stumbled off, and it's likely he just fell in the pool and drowned. But...
- Blood work confirmed anaphylactic shock; he was poisoned by someone he was having an affair with, using his shellfish allergy — for bonus points, the jerk's wife fed the other woman a big meal of shellfish, so she would introduce the tropomyosins to his system through his urethra during a blow-job.
- There's also a little hole in his throat; turns out, as he was stumbling about with his throat closing up, he encountered a slightly slow individual he'd beaten up on several occasions — who for some reason had a crossbow — shot at him, thinking he was some kind of demon. But that didn't kill him; the arrow passed through his trachea but not any major arteries, giving him a makeshift tracheotomy, which allowed him to breathe again. Also, instead of going to the hospital, he went and found his allergy medication, and fixed that issue.
- The blood work also confirmed the presence of snake venom and a "bite" — that turned out to be needle marks; the venom was injected by the boyfriend of the woman who hit him with the crowbar — and he thought she injected him. However, the timeline shows he survived that.
- Ultimately, they realize that the Asshole Victim — battered but stable — sat down by the swimming pool, whereupon his lawn chair collapsed and dumped him in, and he drowned. "The lawn chair did it."
- At this point, the CSIs have five possible causes of death ranging from drowning to poisoning, the coroner was unable to determine who actually killed him, so they throw up their hands and Call It Karma. Lotsa People Try to Dun It, and a good DA might be able to charge all involved with separate accounts of attempted murder, but any attorney worth his salt would simply describe the entire series of events to a jury, who would probably be laughing too hard to convict. Jim Brass' expression after he's gotten the third consecutive person to confess - only to find out that's not what killed him - is one of the funniest moments in the show.
- The good old furry episode featured a man in a fursuit mildly poisoned, shot when mistaken for a coyote and finally hit by a car driven by his girlfriend, who is herself killed moments later by an incoming truck.
- The "spontaneous combustion" episode, with melting ice, electricity and body fat forming a perfect trifecta of Flame On.
- One episode had a B-plot of a driver who was shocked to death in a Jeep driving by a downed power line. The team was puzzled, as the tires should have insulated the car; however, as the driver was wearing a watch resting here and board shorts with metal brads resting here, he completed the circuit.
- "The Goldberg Variation", a seventh season episode of The X-Files, has several mobsters trying to kill the luckiest man on Earth; all of them perish themselves in increasingly complicated ways because his luck comes at the cost of anyone who intends him any form of harm. Mulder's summation of how a dead hitman ended up hanging from a ceiling fan by his shoelace is a triumphant example of this trope.
Mulder: I'm thinking it was a heart attack.
Scully: What the hell happened here, Mulder?
Mulder: Cause... and effect.
Mulder: Okay, so... watch. [stands in front of doorframe, matching actions to words] So Bellini kicks down the door — whaa gaa! — poised to kill Weems, right? And just as he's about to pull the trigger a noise startles him... the buzzer — when I buzzed to be let back in the apartment. So when he does pull the trigger, his aim is off, right? And he hits the lamp, which falls over and knocks over the ironing board, so as the bullet ricochets Weems dives over the sofa. Now, when Bellini goes for him he trips over the ironing board, bounces off the chair, flips end over end and his shoelace gets caught in the fan — QED. [Scully laughs; the shoelace suddenly breaks and the body falls to the floor]
- Bonus points; They kept trying to kill him because he was using his luck to collect enough money to pay for a new liver for his dying neighbor's kid, and the last mobster to die was an organ donor who just happened to be a tissue match.
- Dead Like Me:
- The reaper characters had these sorts of deaths (along with murder and suicide, much less often) as their areas of specialization, and a gaggle of little nearly invisible hobgoblin-things running around to make sure the inane contrivances necessary would be set up JUST right.
- Averted in the Pilot episode. "Gravelings" set the majority of events in action in the entire series. However, in the bank scene when Mason takes George along to get some hands-on experience, the only event in that entire scene (that the Graveling had anything to do with was dropping the banana peel. The rest of the events were caused by gunshots, adultery, and a ridiculous, poorly thought out bank robbery.
- This is also how the main character met her demise: Death by toilet seat from space.
- Due to their Seen It All mindset, this gets to the point where the Reapers frequently make small talk discussing how their assigned target is going to get killed. Even funnier is they rarely, if ever, are able to guess how it's actually going to happen.
- In a reversal of The X-Files example, "Bad Day at Black Rock" features an Artifact of Doom lucky rabbit's foot that grants its owner phenomenal luck... until they lose it (and "EVERYONE LOSES IT!"), at which point they suffer more and more until they eventually meet their demise with this trope. Near the end of the episode, when Dean, who has the rabbit's foot, is held at gunpoint while standing near Sam, Dean boasts that the shooter can't hit him, but as the shooter demonstrates, the fact that Sam is among those who've lost the foot means that she can't miss him. They destroy the foot before it kills them, but other examples in the episode actually showed this trope in motion.
- Also in "Mystery Spot" they were trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop where Dean died at some point every time. Initially fairly mundane, the manner of his death became increasingly outlandish. Eventually it was revealed that the Trickster god had set it up. And of course, has a nasty sense of humor.
- "My Heart Will Go On" introduces Atropos, who kills by freezing time and setting up these coincidences.
- The vast majority of Jonathan Creek murders fall under this.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Cassandra", the eponymous computer has the ability to predict the future, and knows that she will be killed by one Dave Lister. Said character explains to her that he has no intention of doing so, and makes a point of peacefully walking away from her. But not before spitting out his chewing gum and absent-mindedly sticking it to the wall...
- Lampshaded and soon subverted in NCIS episode "Family Secret", wherein Abby describes a complex set of events that caused an ambulance to blow up. (She later finds the detonator.)
Gibbs: Not an accident.
Abby: Not unless the angel of death is going through a Rube Goldberg stage.
- In a season 3 episode of Fringe, set in the Alternate Universe. In the opening scene of the episode, a man with artificially enhanced intelligence kills his victim thusly: He balances a ball-point pen on a mailbox on the street and walks away. A car drives through a deep puddle, and the splash hits the pen and upsets its balance. The pen falls to the ground and is noticed by an old man nearby, who pick it up (probably out of nostalgia, since in the AU pens were almost entirely replaced by digital means). The old man, in stopping to pick up the pen, accidentally blocked the path of a cyclist. The cyclist swerves to avoid him but winds up bumping a shop's fruit stand and knocking it over. A homeless man takes advantage of the spill to try to steal some of the fallen fruit. The resulting kerfuffle between the shop owner and the homeless man distracts a bus driver, who fails to see that the light has changed from green to yellow to red. The intended target begins to cross the street when her sign changes to "Walk." She does not see the bus approaching because she is focusing on the flowers that she just bought, is hit by the bus, and killed.
- Alphas had a character who killed similarly. He was killing because he was paranoid - he thought everyone could do that and that every single bad thing in his life was caused by someone setting it up to happen to him.
- Geist: The Sin-Eaters mentions that these are the kinds of deaths that claim the Forgotten the first time around.
- In Mage: The Ascension this is a typical result of pissing off an Entropy mage. Many players favour this method of assassination as it is 1) "coincidental magic" (much safer than obvious displays of supernatural powers) and 2) allows them to get sadistically creative
- All of the minor ghosts you can capture in Mishap: An Accidental Haunting and Mishap 2: An Intentional Haunting died in various ludicrous and implausible manners, but a particular one in the second game takes the cake. One Maxx O. Verdrive, stuntman, fell off a cliff while birdwatching at a nature preserve and then...
Ironically, he plummeted down towards a strangely located TNT storage facility which, after exploding, shot his fiery husk towards a nearby gas station which then incredibly blew his carcass towards an auspiciously scheduled shuttle launch pad.
10, 9, 8...
- In one cliffhanger episode of King of the Hill, Peggy discovers the body of Buck's disgruntled mistress Debbie in a dumpster, just as Buck is in the midst of a messy divorce. The following episode revolves around the mystery of who killed Debbie, and despite several people having different reasons for wanting her dead, they eventually figure out that Debbie accidentally killed herself: while hiding in a dumpster waiting to kill Buck with a shotgun, she got impatient and bought a giant nachos and drink, then tripped over the shotgun trying to climb back into the dumpster without spilling her soda and shot herself.
- Happy Tree Friends is filled with nonsensical deaths, but maybe the best example is the episode where Sniffles breaks in half for no reason whatsoever.
- The Æon Flux short animations and the pilot serial were like this:
- In "War", one protagonist nimbly shoots his way through a small army of mooks and climbs into a flying ship by jumping on the dead mooks that were trying to rappel down. He gets shot almost-offscreen and the camera continues like it still was in the middle of a typical action sequence.
- Also in "War" Aeon Flux is held at gunpoint by an enemy mook. Her comrade is trying to sneak up on the mook from behind. She makes faces to distract the mook. The mook shoots her, turns and shoots her comrade. The Faceless Mook then upgrades himself to Mauve Shirt by removing his mask and proceeds to gun down the rest of the invaders.
- In the pilot serial, Aeon has successfully shot her way through hundreds of mooks and is spying on the Big Bad from a windowsill. She puts some weight on her heel, driving a stray nail through her boot. Distracted by pain, she loses her balance and falls.
- In "Gravity", she's climbing on a plane and slips when she's just about to reach the hatch. She falls, but does manage to get her grappling hook attached to a nearby bridge. However, she is too distracted to notice that the rope has tangled up around her neck. Cue Gory Discretion Shot.
- In "Mirror", she's on a mission to assassinate someone and jumps off from a ladder. She slips and falls in full view of a camera. Embarrassed, she tracks down the tape for the camera but fails to notice that the camera also captured someone else descending the same ladder. She continues to explore the house until she gets shot by the mystery antagonist.
- In "Leisure", she has successfully infiltrated an alien ship and retrieved some alien eggs. On her way out, she encounters a fully-grown alien. The alien makes a maze of metal bars to hinder her escape. She nimbly navigates the maze, but the alien is nimbler. Cue Gory Discretion Shot.
- While she is less accident-prone in the talkie series, there is one incident where she's in the middle of a Rise to the Challenge involving a fluid that paralyzes everything it touches. The antagonist has already escaped the flooding facility, so she goes back to find the missing part of the MacGuffin, which could neutralize the fluid and allow her to swim out. She gets it in the nick of time and races to the escape hatch, where the other part of the MacGuffin is. She almost gets the other part before the corruption responsible for the flooding breaks the handrail she was holding on. The last shot is of her floating in the fluid, seeing the two parts of the MacGuffin floating and just barely missing combining right next to her.
- The Simpsons: Homer's various near-misses in Treehouse of Horror XI segment "G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad". He ends up dying by choking on a piece of broccoli.
Marge: But I thought broccoli was good for you!
Dr. Hibbert: Oh no, broccoli is one of nature's most dangerous foods. It even tries to warn you with its terrible taste!
- Many of Kenny's deaths in South Park go down like this.
- Many Urban Legends deal with these kinds of deaths, with some covered by the various CSI incarnations.
- MythBusters has been known to test these crazy deaths, though they use crash test dummies, ballistics gel, and data-gathering instruments to determine whether a person would actually die in the circumstance and how. For example, in a myth where someone was decapitated by a ceiling fan, they determined that while the ceiling fan could certainly deliver a deadly blow, it could not completely sever head from body.
- The Other Wiki has a list of unusual deaths.