A show that wants to portray the existence of an afterlife, but wants to avoid something as banal as Fluffy Cloud Heaven — or avoid offending atheists, agnostics or people who have a different view of the afterlife — will often describe the afterlife in purposefully vague terms.
The theory goes that Heaven is more wondrous and Hell more terrible than anything we can imagine, so we are given only the reactions of those who come back and either long to return or will do anything to stay out. A possible implementation of The Unreveal.
See also Afterlife Antechamber where we see part of the afterlife but not the whole deal.
- For a series specifically about sending people to Hell, Hell Girl shows shockingly little of the place itself, with the Ironic Hell-resembling onscreen punishments only being a prelude to actual damnation.
- Cheza and the wolves in Wolf's Rain are searching for the entrance to Paradise (Rakuen) on Earth, but none of them knows what it's really like. And the audience never gets to find out.
- In Naruto this is called "The Pure World" (life is "The Impure World"), and is brought up mostly in reference to Edo Tensei ("Reincarnation in the Impure World"), the jutsu whereby a dead ninja is brought back to life to serve as an enslaved, zombified summon. The last thing any of the ninja remember is the moment of their death, which seems to be part of the "pure" thing. The Pure World may or may not refer to both Heaven and Hell since Zabuza fully expected to arrive in the latter, though in his case that's probably because of Death Equals Redemption.
- This is both employed and subverted in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. Death is constantly meeting people to take them to the afterlife, but we never get to see what the afterlife to which she brings them is like. However, we do see the fate of a great many souls after death, including quite a lot of time spent in Hell, and a memorable visit to the Greco-Roman underworld.
- Azrael: Apparently, this happened to Jean-Paul Valley after he met his end in the final issue of his comic. His last comment before disappearing from the pages of DC Comics forever were "It looks just like the earth." And he was smiling.
- Alien characters in Kapitan Bomba often mention the Celestial Beach of Skurwa-ala as the place of eternal rest.
- In the film Dogma, the demon Azrael is willing to have the entirety of existence erased in order to avoid having to return to Hell. The DVD has since revealed that Azrael was originally given a much more detailed rant about Hell, and would have proceeded to give Bethany (and the audience) a glimpse of it. However, the sequence was not quite completed, and instead, the following message appears:
Azrael places his hands over Bethany's eyes. For about 10 seconds, we see some of the most fucked up and disturbing imagery that can be crammed into 240 frames of film.
- Used, and lampshaded, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when the recently resurrected Spock tells McCoy that he can't describe death, since McCoy lacks a common frame of reference:note
McCoy: You mean I have to die to discuss your insights on death!?
- In the original Cheaper by the Dozen, the children, who, living sometime before the 1920s (when secularism in American life became a little more common), are presumably Christians (but given their parents' intellectualism they could well be agnostics), mention nothing about Heaven after their father dies in an accident. One of them outright says in voiceover that he doesn't know where his father is, but suspects he can still see the children somehow.
- The Walking Dead (1936): After Dr. Beaumont brings John Ellman back from the dead, he is desperate to know what lies beyond death. However, Ellman either cannot remember or cannot express (or perhaps is forbidden from expressing) what he experienced, and anything he does say is frustratingly vague. The one thing he does know is that Beaumont should not have brought him back.
- Discworld does this a bit (except in cases of definite reincarnation), though it shows varying amounts of the journey. In Mort, for instance, Death and Mort send off an assassinated king, who slowly vanishes from view while they're still in his castle. "What happened to him?" asks Mort. Death replies, Only he knows. In later books, such as Small Gods and A Hat Full of Sky, we're treated to descriptions a vast, silvery desert, which the deceased must cross before reaching their final destination.
- There is no consistent afterlife in Discworld, as it's explicitly stated that each person's afterlife experience is based on their personal beliefs.
- In Stephen King's The Dead Zone, when the protagonist falls into a coma, he ends up in a limbo, which is like a corridor with dark chromed steel walls. He eventually comes out of the corridor and returns to life. In the end, when he dies, he returns to the corridor, not knowing if there's something at the end of it.
- The Quantum Gravity series brings the viewpoint character of the time right up to the edge of what some cultures would call the River Styx, and some beings about to cross describe what they feel is going to happen, but the reader has yet to go that far. They say that they stop existing. You know how your body is broken down to make soil fertilizer? Like that.
- The Cosmere has the Beyond, where souls get pulled after death after a (usually) brief time in the Cognitive Realm. Even the resident divine beings don't know what lies Beyond and Brandon Sanderson has specifically said he has no plans to reveal anything about it.
- In The Canterville Ghost, Sir Simeon describes heaven as "A little garden, where the grass is long and deep." He wants to be able to rest there for eternity.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy falls into deep despair at being ripped out of Heaven. Angel's time in Hell is so horrific, he is driven feral and insane by the time he returns.
- Over on Angel, Spike's terrified descriptions of slipping into Hell are played utterly seriously.
- There are plenty of hells and one heaven shown on-screen, though.
- Supernatural's demons are always waxing poetic about it. "It's a prison prison made of flesh, and bone, and blood, and fear" and so on.
- According to Ruby, it's like Hellraiser, but with less leather.
- We have caught two glimpses of hell thus far, in the season finales for seasons two and three. The first time it's shown to be a typical fiery cavern. The next time it's a dark green void with thunder and hundreds of chains and hooks.
- Until the beginning of season six, when Crowley remodeled it into an endless waiting line.
- As of season 5, we've had a look at heaven as well: apparently heaven is different things for each person, overlapping but separate, apart from the Garden at the centre, which everyone perceives differently. It gets explicitly described as "Disneyland, without the anti-semitism" (and, thankfully, from what we've seen, without the sugary death)
- Power Rangers Lost Galaxy:
- When the Pink Ranger died, she showed up again—translucent, blabbing about being in "a beautiful place", so move on and find the next Pink Ranger. And then she comes back to life with no explanation in the finale when they find the new colony planet.
- Which is in stark contrast to Mike's earlier death, (yes, he did indeed die) where he can't remember anything, although that may be a side-effect of being possessed by the Magna Defender (yup, in this show the Sixth Ranger actually stole another person's body)
- Though not quite death, the realm of the ascended in the Stargate-verse is never shown, except for the time it was represented as a restaurant for Daniel's mind to comprehend (which was, appropriately enough, actually the restaurant set from Dead Like Me, see below). No details of what it's like are ever given. Also, even though at least three members of SG-1 have all died and come back (and more than once), they are never asked what it felt like before the resurrection — the one thing that's not even lampshaded, unlike nearly everything else in the show.
- In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "White Light Fever", an old man has been doing everything he can to stave off death, including putting himself ahead of a sweet young woman to have a heart transplant. He remarks during the episode that "death is cold". As he is finally dying, he sees the ghost of the sweet young woman approach him. "Take me with you," he pleads. She tells him this is not possible, and that where she is going, it is always warm. Just before she leaves, she turns to face him, saying, "It's funny. I always thought it was the other way 'round."
- In Dead Like Me, the viewers never get to see what happens to people's souls after they cross over, and it's never really given much detail. They usually just have some kind of happy vision and then vanish. You only see the souls that stick around, either as Reapers or as Gravelings.
- In Lost, it turns out that the "flash-sideways" universe in the sixth season is the afterlife for the main characters, but in the last episode they go to the final final afterlife, which seems to be some sort of white light that's bright enough that you can't tell what they're walking into.
- In Pushing Daisies, after Chuck's father, Charles Charles, gets resurrected, they describe the afterlife as "like flying." Little else is stated in the show, presumably because the rest of the resurrected people weren't dead for very long.
- Adventures in Odyssey: In "The Mortal Coil," Whit designs an Imagination Station program that is supposed to be a virtual reality experience of death. It accidentally sends Whit into a coma where he really ends up on the edge, and we are treated to his experience of Heaven, albeit not nearly as wonderful as the real thing, or so he is told by his dead wife and son. But all we get is a secondhand account of Eugene's virtual experience of Hell: "I've never felt such loneliness or isolation. It was as though I was completely separated from everyone and everything — completely and thoroughly alone. Non-existent in a dark void of solitude. I was alone, Connie. Utterly alone in a burning blackness, and I've had nothing but nightmares since then..." Whit shelves the program permanently after all this.
- Taken to the extreme in BIONICLE, where the afterlife is sort of implied to exist (Mata Nui's soul, for example, started drifting off into it before he recovered), but what it is like is never given any details. The writers have their reasons for this: not wanting to touch on iffy subjects, they purposely avoid talking about it.
- Played with in Dominic Deegan. Hell is shown a number of times, being of the Fire and Brimstone Hell variety with demon lords and beasts that eat your soul for eternity. Heaven remains unseen, with those who tried having gone blind from the light of the souls there willingly giving themselves up to create new life.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender we see the souls of some humans in the Spirit World. The Legend of Korra elaborates that this is what happens when people with very strong connections to the spirits (including Iroh and every previous Avatar) die and that there are also some humans trapped there forever. What afterlife everyone else gets is not shown or discussed.
- Danny Phantom: Although not mentioned in the series, Butch Hartman has said that the Ghost Zone has its own version of Heaven called "The Elsewhereness", where fear, pain, and misery don't exist. No being knows what it looks like or even where it is, save one: a nomadic ghost named Sojourn, who recorded The Elsewhereness' location in his journal, whose scattered pages are highly sought after.
- It's not uncommon for people who have had a near-death experience to believe they ventured to Heaven, Hell, or some other version of the afterlife. Mostly these reflect cultural views; i.e. Christians see Christian-like heavens, Hindus Hindu-like ones, etc. Obviously, they were the only people who witnessed their experiences. Many also say they're difficult to put into words. Whether or not they were real visions or hallucinations remains controversial, seeing as neither side is proven nor possibly can ever be proven conclusively correct.
- It's been noticed that a lot of people that experienced the classic near-death experience "tropes" actually more or less describe similar things despite their religion, they just label or interpret it differently. E.g. people that report seeing a "benevolent being of light" call it "Allah," or "Muhammad," if they're Muslim, "Jesus," "God," or "an angel" if Christian, and "Krishna," if they're Hindu, but they usually describe it in a similar way as if they are all seeing the same thing. There is even one report of a young child calling it "Santa Claus." What this actually means, if anything, is uncertain.
- There has been an atheist who said that they saw a variant of hell, and converted afterwards. Unpleasant near-death experiences occur too, but most people who have a near-death experience report it as extremely positive regardless of religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs.
- There have been cases of OBEs (Out-of-Body Experience) that are still investigated. Some include people at operating tables, and when they come to they talk about other places in the hospital that they could not have known otherwise, and other include times of stress, where the people will claim to remember seeing their bodies below them. Whether or not these are true remains uncertain. Some tests have been done like putting written messages high up so any out-of-body patient will see them and report back (so otherwise they wouldn't view the words) but failed to verify anything so far. The evidence otherwise is anecdotal.