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Not Quite Saved Enough

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You defeat the vampire and... he eats you anyway. The End.
So you spent the past 20 hours fighting your way past the forces of darkness, plumbing the depths of hell itself and personally handing the Big Bad's strongest minions their own asses, all to rescue the princess and see her home safely. The princess and the hero kiss, the king hands the hero his just reward, and he sets off, no doubt intending to walk off into the sunset. You can practically smell the credits about to roll...

...and then the enemy superweapon levels the castle, killing the princess and demolishing the surrounding town. You and the protagonist sit there, stunned: what the hell just happened?

As it turns out, the princess was Not Quite Saved Enough.

Sometimes, no matter what the heroes do, destiny (i.e. the writer) just has it in for some characters. Save the princess? You come back later and find out she's suffered a Fate Worse than Death. Rescue the village? The Big Bad burns it later. Recover the legendary artifact? Too bad; there's a mole among the good guys and he smashes it right before the heroes have the chance to use it. This is a very specific and special flavor of Diabolus ex Machina that only happens after the protagonists think they've won, a prolonged Hope Spot capped off with a "Shaggy Dog" Story, or worse, an immediate death right after the victory.

Naturally, this is an extreme version of Your Princess Is in Another Castle!. Compare Pyrrhic Victory, Cheated Death, Died Anyway, and Take a Moment to Catch Your Death. Can rely on Cutscene Incompetence. See also All for Nothing and Yank the Dog's Chain. In sequels, this can also manifest as Happy Ending Override or Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome. In a work with Multiple Endings depending on the choices of the reader or player, this is typically a sign that the reader / player screwed up somewhere if it's near the end of the story, and/or doubling as a Non Standard Game Over.

As this is often a Death Trope, spoilers will ensue.


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  • In an ad on Discovery channel, rescuers are returning a seal back to the ocean, after spending hundreds of dollars in donations rehabilitating him to go back to the ocean. Just as they are lowering him back into the water, a Great White Shark breaches and chomps down on him before they can release him (the newscaster blocks the actual bite). It was an ad for Shark Week.

    Anime & Manga 
  • The ending of the "Twins" and "Tokyo" arcs in Black Lagoon both end this way, with Rock attempting his best to help Gretel and Yukio, respectively survive and overcome their problems, only for it not to stick and for them to get killed anyway despite his efforts. Yukio, in particular, outright chooses to die rather than survive on someone else's terms.
  • Cyberpunk: Edgerunners: David successfully rescues Lucy from Arasaka tower, but is pursued by none other than Adam Smasher himself. After a frantic retreat punctuated by lots of Stuff Blowing Up, they manage to escape by jumping down the side of the tower thanks to David's exoskeleton, seemingly losing him. Lucy even manages to snap David out of his cyberpsychosis on the way down! They reunite with Falco and Rebecca, with Rebecca expressing relief that Lucy is safe, if only for David's sake. Lucy smiles, everything seems like it'll be okay... and then Adam Smasher falls from the sky directly onto Rebecca, with the resulting shot of her mangled corpse revealing that yes, she is extremely dead. Smasher then effortlessly bitchslaps Falco away and knocks off his robotic arm, No Sells Lucy's attempt to quickhack him and burns out her cyberdeck, and then David, who has gone cyberpsycho again following Rebecca's death, proceeds to seemingly fight Smasher on equal footing... for all of a minute or so. Then Smasher effortlessly tears David's exoskeleton apart and proceeds to beat the everloving piss out of him while a cheerful montage recalling David's first time meeting each member of the crew and their resulting gruesome deaths plays to the tune of ''I Really Want To Stay At Your House.'' Then David gets his head blown off point blank. Lucy and Falco do manage to escape, but Falco isn't seen again afterwards, and Lucy gets to live out the rest of her days on the moon, completely alone and miserable. Roll credits!
  • In a filler episode of Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta and Nappa, while en route towards Earth, stop at a planet (Arlia). There, they overthrow a tyrant, freeing a rebel and his beloved... and promptly blow up the planet as the lovers reunite.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), Ed and Alphonse Elric save the town of Liore by bringing down the manipulative Father Cornello. After seeing he didn't have the Philosopher's Stone like they had hoped, they left. Soon after, Lust and Gluttony kill the real Cornello and have Envy impersonate him, splitting the city into two parts. Those who believe Cornello lives on, and those who no longer want to be cattle. These sides fight and cause open civil war, all thanks to the Elric brothers (and Envy). Scar sets up a massive transmutation circle from the streets of the city and waits for things to play out. Then the fantastic military gets involved, which can only end well. Of course, Ed and Al only learn about as they are assigned to investigate, and everyone they know has been hiding this from them. As the last of the civilians secretly evacuate, the majority of the military forces enter the city. Scar activates his master plan, turning everyone caught inside the city into a Philosopher's Stone. And after that, things only get worse.
    • In the manga and Brotherhood, the same situation is a subversion. While the same events up to the civil war still happen, and much of the city gets destroyed, by the time the protagonists return the citizens have made peace and started to rebuild. However, enough blood was spilled during the civil war to power Liore's node in the nationwide transmutation circle, making this a Double Subversion.
  • In One Piece, Luffy goes to rescue his brother Ace from the World Government. He fights through the world's worst prison only to find he's at the Marine HQ. So he goes there, and manages to, with the aid of a massive army, rescue him just in the nick of time. Only to have Ace baited back by some taunts by one of the Marine Admirals, forcing Luffy to follow him and try to convince him to keep running. Unfortunately, Luffy's body (which was running on fumes even before he got to Marine HQ) finally gave out during that critical moment, forcing his brother to make a Heroic Sacrifice to save him.
  • In Psycho-Pass Kogami spends two entire episodes protecting Akane's friend Yuki from being hunted by Toyohisa Senguji. He manages to kill Senguji but is wounded in the process. After he falls unconscious from his wounds, Makishima comes in and takes Yuki hostage. Akane attempts to take him down with the Dominator, but Makishima is immune to it and slits Yuki's throat.
  • Nia Teppelin from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann dies in the ending as a direct result of destroying the Anti-Spiral, even though Simon had spent the entire second half of the series trying to save her.

    Comic Books 
  • All-New Wolverine: Wolverine is helping her three clones, who have been infested with Nanomachines that are slowly killing them. The eldest of the three, Zelda, is the worst off, and by issue 5 has slipped into unconsciousness and is on death's door. With no other options to save her life, Laura and The Wasp use one of Hank Pym's suits to enter Zelda's bloodstream, where the pair fight the nanites directly. They're successful, and Zelda regains consciousness once enough of the machines are destroyed... just in time for Captain Mooney, who has been pursuing the girls since issue 2, to show up and shoot her dead.
  • In an issue of Batgirl (2000) Cassandra Cain stumbles upon CIA agents hunting down a man whom they have tricked into killing political activists under the pretense of them being terrorists and once he started asking questions and disobeying orders, they want him dead. She saves him, beating a whole building worth of CIA agents with her bare hands in the process, and with help of the Oracle gets him a train ticket to safety and all documents he may need to go into hiding. Next issue Batman reveals to shocked Cass that on the train the man decided to call his mother to say goodbye, which was enough to let the CIA track down and assassinate him far away from a pesky Batgirl that could interfere.
  • Green Lanterns: The "Rage Planet" arc ends on what at first seems like a triumphant note, with Jessica finally making her first Hard Light construct and destroying the Hell Tower in the process, saving the Earth from the Red Lantern Corps...but then the Wham Shot at the end of the issue shows that Atrocitus' ultimate plan (to recreate the Butcher entity) wasn't stopped, it is in fact coming along just nicely. And will probably cause all kinds of havoc, since said entity is growing inside the Earth's core. Not only did the Red Lantern Corps win, the titular heroes of the book don't even know it yet - they're convinced they averted the Bad Future that Simon saw when they haven't. That would be the Bad Future that will see them facing a Rage-infected Justice League...
  • Hellblazer: John Constantine and a friend have come across a little village that's hoping to use a discontinued pagan festival to revive their economy. Unfortunately said festival causes people to become a twisted version of whatever they're dressed as and go completely Ax-Crazy. John eventually discovers that loud punk music can stop the effects and has safely hidden his friend and some survivors in a nightclub. He goes to get help and then the village is nuked thanks to a possessed ex-fighter pilot who comes out of the trance a second after letting the bomb go. The moral is don't revive things you don't understand and don't be friends with John Constantine unless you can drive a taxi (and even then--!).
  • An issue of Nightcrawler sees the fuzzy elf return to his home town of Witzeldorf when he learns a childhood friend has created a museum dedicated to him to help foster mutant/human relations. The reunion is short-lived when Kurt discovers the villagers are up in arms over a demon that's been stalking the local forest and has apparently absconded with a little girl recently. Having lived this scenario, Nightcrawler heads out to find what he suspects is a mutant and convince the villagers of their folly. When he manages to track down the creature though, he's shocked to discover a hulking, horrifying brute slowly turning what looks like a child's body over a cook fire and attacks. In the ensuing struggle, Kurt soon learns the demon is actually a village teenager under the curse of a gypsy whose daughter he'd cheated on, and the meat he was cooking was actually a small pig he'd managed to steal because he was starving. The boy breaks down on Nightcrawler, lamenting the fact that he can't even go home without people trying to attack him and the unfairness of being turned into a monster just because his eyes had wandered. Kurt swears to help the kid adjust to his new life, telling him to stay put while he returns to Witzeldorf to clear the matter up and find the girl. He soon discovers the girl has returned, saying how she'd been invited to a tea party in the woods and hadn't realized how late it was. Kurt heads back to the teen, only to find he's hung himself, unable to cope with life as a monster. It's at this point Mephisto appears, now holding the teen's forfeited soul as he taunts Nightcrawler over his failure (especially since, had Nightcrawler not intervened, the villagers would have killed their demon which, while painful, would not have resulted in the boy being damned). Nightcrawler even accuses Mephisto of having orchestrated the events, only to be playfully told the only act the demon lord took was to invite a new little friend into the woods for a tea party.

    Fan Works 
  • In Dear Diary, when Stravin is stolen, Opal manages to get onto the truck that's transporting them and other stolen Pokémon away. Then Clay gets involved, ordering Titan to break Driftveil Drawbridge — plunging the truck into the river with everyone still inside. Opal manages to escape, but Stravin and most of the other victims aren't as lucky.
  • Five Worlds War: Naruto gets drawn into a Battle At The Center Of The Mind while his comrades are thrown around by a gigantic demon cat. When the dust settles, Yugito Nii is left comatose.
  • Not So Far: While the protagonists manage to rescue Christy and Don from the kidnappers, Christy ultimately succumbs to complications from being drugged by her captors,
  • Reflections Lost on a Dark Road: While Ryoga manages to break free of Raven's mind control in time to rescue Jinx, he learns that she's already had all of her memories of him erased, effectively hitting the Relationship Reset Button.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Das Boot has a particularly cruel example. Most of the film deals with the sheer terror faced by the men in a German U-Boat during World War II, including several points where they're nearly sunk by Allied depth charges. Somewhere in the last quarter of the film, the titular submarine actually sinks, but the crew manages to devise a plan, repair the damage, get to the surface, and return home. It seems like the film will have a happy ending as the crew survives and makes it back to port, and then the majority of them get killed in an air raid.
  • Drag Me to Hell, where Christine's attempts to escape the gypsy's curse prove to be in vain, and suffers the title fate after her boyfriend returns the button she needed to get rid of to her.
  • Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed: Brigitte (and the audience) thought that injecting herself with monkshood could keep her safe from the injection she voluntarily gave herself while trying to save Ginger. One of the first things we learn in this movie is that the monkshood doesn't stop the transformation, but merely slows it down.
  • I Spit on Your Grave 2 has a similar example. Katie, an aspiring model, is tricked into believing she is auditioning for modeling agents, but is instead kidnapped by them, and shipped overseas to some place in the Ukraine where they plan to use her as a sex slave. She is able to escape the house by going through their sewer from the basement and even made it to the local police. There she meets a women's rights activist, who seems to care about what happened to her and promises to protect her. She takes Katie back to her house. Katie walks about thinking she is safe, only to discover the same door to the basement that she escaped from, realizing she is back in the same house. The woman then attacks her, puts her back in the basement and reveals she is the sister to the head kidnapper.
  • During the opening of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a mercenary group is trying to extract an important item that kicks off the plot. One man handles communications on the ground while the rest of the team are in a helicopter and get the item. Then the T. Rex appears. The man on the ground runs for his life to the chopper's ladder and grabs onto it with a last desperate move as it lifts off, but as they fly away Rexy chomps on the ladder trying to get him. After a struggle, she lets go and the team cheer in celebration... only for the Mosasaurus to burst out of the water like a whale and swallow the man alive.
  • The Lair of the White Worm: Cobra antivenom is proof against infection by the Vampire Snake People's bite. Angus gets bitten in the final battle but doses himself up. Then, after all the evil has been destroyed, he discovers there was a mix-up in the lab and they sent him an inert placebo sample by mistake. The film ends with him smirking ominously at his fellow survivor.
  • At the end of Long Weekend, Peter finally manages to escape from the bush after Going in Circles for ages. He makes it to the main road and starts to flag down an approaching truck. Then a cockatoo flies through the open window of the truck cab; getting in the truckie's face and causing him to swerve and run over Peter.
  • In Morning Departure, eight of the twelve trapped sailors manage to escape the crippled sub. The remaining four are waiting for the salvage ship to rescue them. But then one of them is killed by a gas leak, and a storm forces the salvage ship to return to port, leaving the last three sitting at the bottom of the sea awaiting their fate.
  • Perhaps the prototypical example is the original Night of the Living Dead (1968). In a movie filled with groundbreaking departures from tradition, this trope was perhaps the most significant. After a heroic struggle, Ben is left the only survivor of a night of mayhem and horror in the farmhouse. The next morning he awakes to the sound of a rescue party approaching the house, but as he peers through the boarded-up windows for a glimpse of his potential saviors, they mistake him for just another zombie and perfunctorily shoot him in the head. The movie ends with a sequence of still images of Ben's lifeless, anonymous corpse impaled on a meat hook and dragged to a human bonfire. No one ever knows who he was or what he went through to survive the night . . . of the living dead.
  • In Play Dirty, another WWII movie, this one set in North Africa, the hero and The Lancer destroy a Nazi fuel depot the night before the Allies take the city it's in. They lay low in a nearby shack, and wait for the Allied forces to arrive, at which point both main characters are promptly shot because they had to don enemy uniforms to complete their mission, despite the fact that they are walking slowly with their hands up and holding a white flag. This means that there is only one member of the team who might still be alive at the end of the film, and that 'survivor' is immobilized with a serious gut wound in a vehicle that no one living knows about, making his death only a matter of time. Even worse, the Allied commanders had changed the minds about the fuel depot, deciding (too late) to try and take it intact, so the protagonists' efforts were all for nothing.
  • At the end of Rovdyr, Final Girl Camilla has killed the three psychos who murdered her friends, and finds the path leading her out of the woods. Reaching the road, she flags down a car that turns out to be driven by the woman from the café. The woman calms down the hysterical Camilla, puts her in the back of the car and drives off: presumably to the police station or the hospital. And that's when Camilla discovers that the doors in the back don't open from the inside... Roll credits.
  • In The Ruins, Amy escapes the ruins, but not without having been infected.
  • Skyfall. In the film's final act, Raoul Silva and his mooks arrive at Bond's ancestral home to kill M. After a prolonged firefight from the main house to the chapel across the field, Bond takes them all down ... but M was mortally wounded in the course of the battle.
  • In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter tries to stop the bad guys from selling Chitauri-based weaponry and one of the weapons gets away, on the Staten Island Ferry, splitting it in half, midtrip. Peter uses his suit's A.I. to target and web-up the major stress points of the ferry, stopping when all the points are connected. Karen, the A.I., congratulates him, stating he was 98% successful. Peter nods for a sec before saying, "98%?" just as the webs start snapping. All seems lost until Iron Man comes to the rescue.
  • This technically happens in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: The Reliant, which Khan had hijacked, is dead in space and unable to do any more harm to Kirk or the Enterprise, and Khan himself lies dying on the bridge, with all of his fellow Augments dead around him. But then he activates the Genesis Device, and the Enterprise just doesn't have enough juice to get out from the device's detonation radius. Khan dies believing that this trope is going to happen to Kirk. Even though the Enterprise (obviously) doesn't go kaboom along with Khan, its escape comes at the cost of Spock's life.
  • In the second Tales from the Crypt movie, Bordello of Blood, the hero Rafe rushes to save the female protagonist Katherine after she is captured by Lilith and taken to her to be fed on. At first it seems Rafe made it in time to stop Lilith from biting Katherine and focus her attention on him. But after Lilith is destroyed and the heroes cremate her remains, we find out that Lilith did indeed bite her - but on the leg rather than the neck - and had long since turned her. Which Rafe unfortunately finds out too late at the end of the film.
  • Utøya: July 22, a reenactment of the Breivik Massacre (which happened on the island Utøya on 22. July 2011) from the perspective of the victims, has two examples:
    • The main heroine Kaja discovers a little boy near the tents and directs him into the forest before the shooter comes back to the tents. The boy is later killed at the beach.
    • Then there is Kaja herself, who, after surviving one perilous encounter after another, is suddenly shot by an Instant Death Bullet.
  • Young Sherlock Holmes has Holmes and Watson successfully save Holmes' love interest Elisabeth before Big Bad Rathe sacrifices her in a ritual killing. Then moments later she winds up getting fatally shot taking a bullet for Holmes as he confronts the villain.

  • Richard Laymon's Body Rides begins with the protagonist saving a woman from a killer...only for the killer to come back shortly afterward and finish murdering her.
  • Between all of Xanatos Speed Chess players in the Dresden Files, this had to happen eventually. If you think about it, though, Harry Dresden himself is this for the monsters he fights.
    • Harry saves the day from the Denarians, but Nicodemus hits him with a Denarius, and despite Harry's best efforts, he still ends up playing host to a shadow of Lasciel.
    • After saving The Archive and Marcone from Denarians, Michael gets shot and shredded pretty badly, almost out of nowhere.
    • After protecting the framed Morgan from the White Council and Eldritch Abominations par excellence, nearly throwing down with the Senior Council, and unmasking the real traitor... Morgan opens his own wounds saving Harry's life, and the Council officially continues to blame him in order to keep wizards from defecting to the Black Council out of fear or greed.
    • Harry takes on the entire Red Court and wins, only to be shot right before his first date with Murphy.
    • After fighting his way through a genuine war just to get to the fight, Harry is unable to protect Lily or save Maeve, even though he figured out and stopped their plan. Maeve outmaneuvered him and Mab to get Sarissa made the new Summer Lady, and Molly the new Winter Lady.
  • The Four Horsemen Universe: Nigel Shirazi's sister Parisa is taken prisoner at the start of the book. When Nigel finally finds her in the end, she's bleeding to death from two gunshot wounds at the hand of her captor.
  • The novel Nothing Lasts Forever has retired detective Joseph Leland attempting to save his daughter from a terrorist named Anton Gruber. At the end, Leland is able to knock Gruber out a window... only for him to grab onto Leland's daughter and send both of them plummeting to the pavement below.
  • Subverted in The Two Towers. Sam has just won a vicious fight over Frodo with a dreaded Giant Spider named Shelob. However, when Sam pulls away the webbing, Frodo remains pale and unresponsive, even after hours have passed. Believing him dead, Sam forces himself to take the Ring and finish the Quest on his own...only to find out from listening to a bunch of local orcs that Shelob doesn't kill her prey before eating them. Sam chastises himself for his stupidity and sets off to rescue Frodo from the orcs.
  • In the third book of the Tennis Shoe Adventure Series, Harry saves Lamachi from being killed by one of Jacob's warriors. However Lamachi was still badly hurt, and dies of infection only hours later.
    • And while it doesn't quite stick, due to the nature of the series (time travel) the same happens to Gid in a later book.
  • War for the Oaks: The Queen of the Unseelie Court has Willy Silver kidnapped in order to pressure the Seelie Court into conceding to them. Eddi determines to save him, recruits allies, and mounts a successful rescue attempt...all for nothing, when her ex-boyfriend Stuart comes out of nowhere with a gun.
  • This occurs in Worm when the Slaughterhouse Nine attack the city. Most of the Nine are dead or wounded and Siberian's weakness has been found, but Jack Slash is still alive and escapes. A prediction made by a precog claimed that if he escaped, it would cause the world to end in two years.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the first season of 24, after being saved twice throughout the day, Teri is killed off in the finale.
    • And then in the finale of Live Another Day Audrey is saved from being held hostage by a sniper, only for another gunman to come out of nowhere and shoot her dead.
  • In an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy meets a girl who calmly states that she is going to die on a certain day. It turns out the girl can see the future and has known her fate long enough to have accepted it. She is kidnapped by a cult who intend to sacrifice her to the demon they worship, only to be foiled by Buffy. As they are leaving, the girl sets off a booby trap, and only Buffy's lightning reflexes save the girl from suffering a crossbow bolt to the face. Then the girl proceeds to drop dead of a congenital heart defect.
  • On Deadliest Catch, Capt. Phil Harris suffered a massive stroke that should've killed him, but doctors were able to relieve pressure on his brain in time. He was recovering wonderfully, even regaining some feeling in his paralyzed side until he had a second fatal "episode". The few Hope Spots of people relaying good news are heartrending, especially since he died several months before the season premiered.
  • Has happened a lot on Doctor Who. Several times, characters will be rescued by the Doctor and his companions, only to be killed a bit later on.
    • "The Girl in the Fireplace": The Doctor spends the whole episode protecting Madame de Pompadour from the clockwork droids, but she ends up dying of an illness (after years for her, but only minutes for the Doctor and the audience).
    • In "The Waters of Mars", the Doctor changes established events by having an A God Am I moment. How does Adelaide snap him out of this? By killing herself as soon as she's Earth-side. Her intention was to both put history back on track and shock the Doctor into realizing the slippery slope he was on. While it is left ambiguous if her suicide was needed to inspire her grand-daughter to go into space and history, it definitely had the needed effect of preventing the Doctor from going down the path of the Timelord Victorious.
    • "Vincent and the Doctor" deserves a special mention. Admittedly, it was a Foregone Conclusion as even in-universe it is explicitly mentioned several times that Vincent van Gogh committed suicide, but it's still a little heartbreaking when Amy rushes to see if they saved him. They didn't.
    • In "The Angels Take Manhattan", Amy and Rory's final episode, they seem to have defeated the Angels, and everything is back to normal. Then Rory spots his own gravestone, as one last Angel lurks behind him...
  • In the first season finale of The Good Place, Eleanor foils Michael's plan to make her and three other humans torture each other just by realizing that he has a plan - but after she gloats about why exactly Michael's plan failed, he realizes what he has to do differently, and prepares to erase their memories so he can try his plan a second time.
    Eleanor: So, the only thing you succeeded in doing was bringing us all together.
    Michael: Oh, Eleanor! That's it! My big mistake was bringing you all together [...] Next time, I'll spread you out so it's more of a slow burn.
  • In Highlander: The Series, Duncan MacLeod rescues his mortal girlfriend Tessa Noel from a renegade Watcher ... only for a random mugger to show up and gun her down on the street outside when she doesn't hand over her engagement ring fast enough.
  • In the season 6 finale of House, a woman is trapped under rubble, and House goes to great lengths to keep her alive until she can be extricated. She then dies in the ambulance from a complication that House couldn't have prevented even if he'd seen it coming.
  • Lost:
    • Locke spends the episode "Further Instructions" saving Eko from a polar bear. Two episodes later, the smoke monster kills Eko.
    • Throughout Season 3, Desmond repeatedly uses his precognition to save Charlie's life, but since You Can't Fight Fate, Charlie is still going to die, just under different circumstances. Charlie is in a permanent state of Not Quite Saved Enough, with Desmond having to save him from new lethal danger all the time. In the end, the best Desmond can do is to get him to a point where he dies doing something useful, rather than just being killed pointlessly.
  • A Real Life Writes the Plot example appeared in Monk: in the fifth season episode "Mr. Monk Gets A New Shrink", Adrian Monk's psychiatrist becomes a murderer's next target and he has to save him. During the sixth season, the actor who played Monk's psychiatrist passed away, and this was written into the story in the seventh season, explaining that Monk's psychiatrist himself passed away.
  • In Moonlight, Beth's DA boyfriend is kidnapped by a vengeful El Salvadorian mob boss. When Mick and Beth track them down, Mick smacks the mobsters around. As Beth is untying the boyfriend's hands in the car trunk, one of the mobsters shoots the guy a bunch of times. Mick tries to save him (having been a combat medic during World War II) but refuses when Beth begs him to turn her boyfriend. She barely shows up the next episode, still mad at Mick. The following episode, she has forgotten all about the boyfriend and is all over Mick.
  • In Season 2 of NCIS, Caitlin Todd survives being shot by a terrorist thanks to a bulletproof vest, only to be shot in the head by a sniper.
  • On NCIS: Los Angeles Dom was kidnapped by terrorists who were hiding in LA the whole time. He's finally found and is just within touching distance when he's gunned down.
  • The episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine titled "The Sound of Her Voice" did this, where a Starfleet captain marooned on a planet with a toxic atmosphere, and running out of medicine to counteract the excessively high amounts of carbon dioxide in said atmosphere, sent out a distress call that was picked up by the Defiant. After following the signal to her location in the nick of time, the Defiant crew discovered that the planet's atmosphere caused a temporal distortion in the communications, and they had actually arrived three years too late to save her.
  • In season 4 of Stranger Things, Eleven stops Vecna at the last moment before he lands a killing blow on Max, but his torturous wind up to it leaves her horribly injured to the extent she dies regardless, achieving the last death needed to initiate his merger between Hawkins and the Upside Down. In addition, while Eleven revives her body, she's left comatose.
  • Supernatural does this a few times when the people Sam and Dean managed to save die shortly after the heroes leave.
    • The brothers save the people trapped in a police station by demons and even manage to save the people possessed by the demons. They even gain an important ally in an FBI agent who was pursuing them (thinking they were domestic terrorists.) After the brothers leave, the Big Bad shows up and kills everyone.
    • After leaving a town where the inhabitants have gone Axe-Crazy due to a demonic plague, the brothers leave the two survivors they rescued. It turns out one of the survivors was actually demon-possessed, and he quickly kills the other.
    • This is invoked by Crowley in order to stop the brothers from closing the gates of Hell. He finds the people Sam and Dean saved during the series and starts killing them one by one in nasty ways. He agrees to stop only if the brothers abandon their quest to close off Hell forever.
  • The final episode of Tales from the Crypt is a Darker and Edgier version of The Three Little Pigs story. The Pig who built his house of bricks gets revenge for the death of his abusive brothers by creating a Frankenstein monster to kill the Big Bad Wolf. The monster swallows the Wolf whole. The pig feels guilty, afterwards, and decides to stop the monster. He does so, only for the Wolf to pop out of the Monster's belly and eat the Pig. The trope is even Lampshaded by the Wolf before the episode ends.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Older Than Feudalism: Orpheus goes to the Underworld to recover his dead wife Eurydice. Hades agrees to allow Eurydice to return with him to Earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. He set off with Eurydice following and in his anxiety as soon as he reached the upper world he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, and she vanished for the second time. In some retellings, he makes it all the way to the entrance to the upper world, but has been unable to hear her footsteps or any movement the entire time and turns back under the belief that Hades has tricked him, only to learn too late that she really was following him the entire time.

    Video Games 
  • In Avernum 4, Vahnatai assassins magically ambush the king's adviser in his chamber in the party's presence. The unarmed NPC falls extremely easily in the ensuing battle, but with enough power and quick action, it is possible to defeat the assassins before he is killed. He then collapses and dies anyway, from a poisoned wound.
  • In Call of Duty 4, one of the protagonists, a US Marine, rescues a downed helicopter pilot and gets and his squad evacuates the capital. However, the villain sets off a nuke in his own capital, not only killing destroying most of the US expeditionary force but crashing the helicopter the Marine was on killing both the "rescued" helicopter pilot and the player, who is only able to stagger out of the wrecked chopper's exit ramp before collapsing and expiring.
  • Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. Leon Belmont just saved his lover Sara Trantoul from the vampire Walter Bernhard. Just when Leon thought he could just put everything behind, he found out one nasty thing: Sara has been vampirized and is about to suffer Fate Worse than Death. He's forced to use his Whip of Alchemy to put Sara out of misery, incidentally evolving it to the legendary Vampire Killer. Cue Leon's Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Oh, and the Vampire Killer has her soul sealed within it, for extra suckiness.
  • Dead Rising has various levels of this depending on which ending you get. Ironically, the game's best ending causes this for everyone. All the survivors you've fought so hard to rescue are carted off and silenced (lethally or otherwise) by the military to keep the dirty secret that's caused the Zombie Apocalypse under wraps. By the end, only protagonist Frank West, Annoying Video Game Helper Otis, and the former Big Bad's sister (post-Heel–Face Turn) are explicitly alive, and even then it's not obvious how they escape (apart from Otis, who steals a helicopter in the confusion).
    • In a specific example, the death toll includes your temporary boss Brad Garrison, who you have to save from the Big Bad by finding medical supplies for him to treat his injuries (and gets turned into a zombie anyway).
  • In Dead to Rights, a long Escort Mission requires Jack Slate to protect one of his allies by shooting mooks from a helicopter. Then, just when Jack thinks the coast is clear, one of the villains shows up and murders the ally without Jack able to do anything about it. (He does kill the villain in the subsequent boss fight, but still.)
  • Played for Laughs in Earthworm Jim. After everything Jim goes through he finally manages to save Princess What's-Her-Name. Then suddenly a cow Jim randomly launched into orbit during the first level falls in and crushes her.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion:
    • This happens at the beginning of the game. After you've accompanied the Emperor and his bodyguards through the depths of the capital city, you finally make it to a safe room. The Emperor (who's seen his death in his dreams) then gives you the jewel that is the symbol of his office (and keeps the Legions of Hell out of the mortal world) before one of the assassins that's been trying to kill him pops out of a wall and knifes him in the back.
    • In one quest, the man you're sent to rescue turns out to be trapped as bait, and you have to defend yourself against maniacs out Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. Once you kill all your assailants and find the key to escape, the mastermind behind the scheme shows up, kills your intended rescuee in a moment of Cutscene Incompetence, and reveals that he has the only real key.
  • In Fallout 3, a diplomatic player will be pleased to negotiate a mutually advantageous deal between the Tenpenny Tower residents and the ghouls nearby, letting everyone live together in peace and harmony. (As opposed to the other options, aiding one side and killing the other.) Return a few days later, and you'll find that the ghouls changed their minds and killed all the human residents...
  • Fire Emblem loves this trope:
    • The first arc of Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade's main story is finding and rescuing Eliwood's father, Lord Elbert. The party succeeds- only for Nergal to interfere and use the Brainwashed and Crazy Ninian to call a dragon using Elbert's quintessence! Nils arrives just in time to stop the madness and Elbert manages to wound Nergal, but he's too weak and dies in his son's arms.
    • Queen Ismaire in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. Even after Eirika's party kills the boss, Callaech kills Ismaire anyway when she refuses to hand over Jehanna's stone.
    • In Chapter 9 of Fire Emblem: Awakening, despite the well-planned attempt to rescue Emmeryn from her execution, she ends up committing Heroic Suicide anyway so Chrom doesn't have to hand over the Fire Emblem.
  • Early in Gun, after saving Jenny on a couple of occasions, you find out she's being held captive. Rushing to her aid, you arrive in time to see her throat cut before getting knocked out.
  • .hack: Aura, Mia and the entirety of The World R:1. The original four .hack games end with Kite having secured his place in legend as the "Azure Flame" by saving the MMORPG The World and all the AI in it, including Aura, the daughter The World's creator wished he had, from the malevolent digital sentience Morganna and her Eight Phases. Mia, the purple catgirl who turned out to be one of the Eight Phases, can also be restored at the end of the final game by plumbing the depths of a 100-floor bonus dungeon.
    • Then we flash forward to the .hack//G.U., where Jyotaro Amagi has single-handedly destroyed everything. The World R:1 is no more, its servers having been destroyed in a colossal fire after Amagi went berserk when his R.A. project failed to bring Aura back after she went missing. More frustratingly, the R.A. project required the data from the Eight Phases, and obtaining this data involved vivisecting Mia. That's right: they killed her off in backstory, after you had to go through all that trouble saving her. Sometimes .hack//G.U. feels like a colossal Take That! at the entire fanbase.
  • In Jade Empire, you get to save your village from bandits in the prologue with a bit of help from Master Li, but the village gets firebombed and the population massacred anyway while you're out saving Dawn Star.
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land: Kirby rescues Elfilin from the Beast Pack, who captured him and were planning to reunite him with his other half Fecto Forgo. Fecto Forgo wakes up and despite being defeated, manages to assimilate Elfilin anyway, turning into the Ultimate Lifeform Fecto Elfilis. It's subverted later on after Kirby frees Elfilin from and defeats Fecto Elfilis, as Elfilin performs a Heroic Sacrifice to close the unstable portal between Pop Star and the New World, but it's revealed that he survived.
  • The Outcasts from Knights of the Old Republic that a Light Side Player Character saves? They get to their Promised Land, only for Malak's orbital bombardment of the planet to bring everything to ruin within the day. They do actually survive the bombing, but they're left to die a slow and horrible death by being picked off by rakghouls, disease, starvation, and toxic waste.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past opens with Link rescuing Zelda from the castle dungeon after Agahnim kills and usurps her father the king. Fast forward through three more dungeons and Link grabbing the Sword of Plot Advancement, and Agahnim will abduct Zelda and then do to her what he did to the other six maidens once Link catches up. Only once you clear Turtle Rock does Link saving Zelda finally stick.
  • Magical Starsign revolves around the party trying to save their teacher, Miss Madeline. After defeating the planet-devouring worm holding her captive, they find they were too late and she dies. It's even worse when she was successfully saved in the previous game.
  • Mass Effect 3:
    • During the Grissom Academy mission, the final segment has Rodriguez fleeing several Cerberus troopers, having managed to fall behind the rest of her classmates. If Jack isn't present, then Pangborn will leap in to save her... only for the last troop to get off a shot that kills Rodriguez.
    • Can apply to the entire Normandy crew if the player seriously screws up enough. The Extended Cut has Shepard get their entire team out of the way during the final battle, even as they insist they can still go on. But if Shepard's Effective Military Strength score is low enough, then the ending results in the Normandy crashing and everyone on-board dying.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: Raiden goes through a bunch of crap trying to save Otacon's stepsister Emma, and has to guide her and protect for a good part of the latter half of the game, capped off during a sniping sequence where both he and Snake take out enemies while she's attempting to cross a platform. Then Vamp suddenly shows up and takes her hostage. Even after taking him out, Emma manages to get fatally wounded in the process. D'oh!
  • Mystic Warriors: Congratulations! You've saved your friend and now all you need to do is get back home. Oops, you're getting electrocuted. Oops, they sacrificed their life to disable the trap. Oops, now all you can do is avenge their demise.
  • Obscure 2 has Mei's efforts to track down and save her twin sister Jun all come to naught when they're killed literally right before Mei can reach them. This is just the first of a series of Plotline Deaths that render the player's actions practically pointless, as only two characters survive all the way to the Bolivian Army end.
  • Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners: Normally, if you prevent somebody's death by judgment, then they're safe for the rest of the game. But Saori's case is a little different: unlike all of the other potential victims, she wants to die, and will still commit suicide if you return her Tragic Keepsake too soon.
  • Can happen of a sort in Persona 4. If you get the bad or neutral endings, in which Nanako(whom you've saved from the TV a few weeks prior to this) dies and stays in a perpetual coma, respectively.
  • In the original release of Resident Evil, Richard Aiken will expire from a venomous snakebite if you take too long to deliver a serum to him. If you do make it in time, it still turns out to be too late and he dies moments after receiving treatment. This is double-subverted in the remake, however; if you get to him in time, he will recover from the snakebite just fine, only to die in a Heroic Sacrifice later on.
  • Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure has the Frog Kingdom: After Micheal helps you retrieve the Earth Stone, the Jerkass King abruptly has him executed for grossly exaggerated 'crimes', just to keep him away from his daughter. Princess Caroline commits suicide shortly thereafter. While Cornet still technically got what she needed from the whole ordeal, the Mood Whiplash alone is staggering.
  • The first Splatterhouse game does this: after 5 stages of terror, you finally get to Jennifer! Then she turns into a monster and you have to kill her.
  • Super Robot Wars: Original Generation, especially the 2.5/Gaiden. According to the OVA that it's based on, once Kyosuke saved Lamia from the Bartolls, all should be well. So they're free to chat leisurely, right? Then Juergen pops by and shot down Lamia, making everyone think she's dead and Kyosuke failed to save her. It then continues for the true save later in the Duminuss arc, though.
  • In Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse Episode 2: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak, Sameth and Maximus' rip-roaring 20's-style pulpy adventure leads them through numerous close encounters with spring-loaded scimitars, diabolical crushing traps, a villainous, gun-toting Santa Claus lookalike, mad priests of eldritch gods and an irate conductor: any one of these encounters can end in certain death for our two early 20th-century heroes, but when all's said and done, the two are unavoidably skeletonized when Maximus mistakes little Bubbles' Protection Spell for her dreaded Holstein Hex and makes a break for it in the wrong direction. Considering, however, that the chapter starts with present-day Sam and Max finding their skeletons in the same boiler room that their story ends in, it's a Foregone Conclusion.
  • In Chapter 7 of Spec Ops: The Line, the player has a choice between saving a critically injured Agent Gould from execution or abandoning him to save some civilians. If the player chooses to save Gould, he lingers just long enough to tell Walker to continue his mission before dying of his injuries.
  • A significant part of Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova involves saving Rose from the Big Bad. If you succeed, she waves goodbye to you as you leave. Then the bonus stage reveals that Rose became a vampire and started the chaos anew.

    Visual Novels 
  • Every single one of the temporal screw-ups in Time Hollow was caused by the villain futilely trying over and over to prevent his mother from dying.
  • This fate can potentially befall both Reko and Alice Yabusame in Your Turn to Die. The ending of 2-1 is a Sadistic Choice between the two's lives, but if Sou Hiyori was spared at the end of 2-2, then Ranmaru Kageyama will murder the surviving sibling in 3-1.

  • In Homestuck, Doc Scratch tells the Handmaid that she's fated to serve as an agent of destruction for Lord English, but she wants no part of this. Andrew Hussie himself comes charging in to rescue her and to regain control of the narrative. Hussie effortlessly overpowers Scratch, and the Handmaid leaps out a window to make her getaway — and she is almost immediately recaptured by Lord English himself.

    Western Animation 
  • Milo Murphy's Law: In "Murphy's Lard", Dakota and Cavendish actually do a reasonably good work protecting a pistachio stand for once by using a force-field dome. Unfortunately, they remove their dome too soon, and the pistachios get squashed by a flaming pig.
  • A rare, humorous version happens in the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Wallaby On Wheels", where the climax involves Rocko putting his jackhammer hobby to good use to save Heffer from falling into the O-Town Bottomless Pit. He ends up plugging the pit with a massive globe of the Earth, saving Heffer and winning the attention of the girl he'd been trying to woo the whole episode. Unfortunately, the globe cracks apart for no apparent reason, sending Heffer plummeting.
  • In the Titan Maximum season 1 finale Willy stops the time bomb that will end up with the death of everyone living on Mercury with six seconds left, with Gibbs tied up. Unfortunately, while they were arguing with each other, Gibbs escaped and revealed that he prepared a remote detonator, and his plan succeeded.

    Real Life 
  • This is how the end of Anglo-Saxon England played out. After camping out on the southern shore of England for the summer of 1066 awaiting an anticipated invasion by Duke William of Normandy, King Harold II Godwinson was alerted to an invasion in Northumbria by Norse king Harald Hardrada, assisted by his own brother, the exiled Tostig Godwinson. Harold Godwinson marched his troops a blinding 185 miles in four days, and met the Norse invasion force at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066. The battle was a dominating victory that saw both Harald and Tostig meet their deaths. Three days later, Duke William finally landed on the south coast. Harold Godwinson returned south with as many troops as were able to make the trip, and fought the Battle of Hastings against the Norman invasion force on 14 October 1066. After an intense battle, Harold Godwinson was defeated and killed, leading to the beginning of Norman rule of England and the coronation of William The Conqueror.
  • Operation Arsenal, performed by the Polish resistance during World War II. They attacked a Nazi prison convoy to save their captured officer, Jan Bytnar "the Redhead". Although they succeeded in freeing him, and 19 other prisoners, they lost three of their own in the process, and as it turned out, Jan had already been tortured half to death by the Gestapo interrogators - he expired within the next few days.


Video Example(s):


"Fly you fools!"

Gandalf is snatched off of the bridge after uttering an audible sigh of relief from defeating the Balrog.

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Example of:

Main / NotQuiteSavedEnough

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