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Present Absence

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"The presence of that absence is everywhere."
Unknown, attributed to Edna St Vincent Millay

A character who does not appear for much of or possibly all of the plot, but whose presence is nevertheless felt. More accurately, the absence of the character is most significant. These works show what effect their absence has on the world and the characters. The character, in his absence, pulls strings or drives action, becoming a sort of MacGuffin or shadowy influence.

In short, the character drives the plot despite his or her absence either directly or through the minds and hearts of the characters. This is usually done in a few ways:

  • The character is absent for the main part of the film, but subtly guides the characters' actions, and then reappears later.
  • The character appears in the first part in the movie, and then dies or disappears, leaving the characters to carry on their memory.
  • The character's actions or ideals, or the circumstances surrounding their death or disappearance, have repercussions and effects that last long after their death.

Compare The Unseen and King in the Mountain. A Posthumous Character is influential despite being dead and the Plot-Triggering Death and Cynicism Catalyst because of it, and The Lost Lenore is for dead love interests. The opposite of this is Chuck Cunningham Syndrome and Forgotten Fallen Friend.

For characters with a more central role and presence, see Removing the Crucial Teammate.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Nagi Springfield in Negima! Magister Negi Magi. He's only seen in flashbacksnote , but is Negi's primary motivation for doing just about everything.
  • Kamina in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Gets killed off only eight episodes in, but everything else accomplished in the rest of the series is largely accomplished thanks to the fighting spirit he inspires in the rest of the main characters. He (or at least the character's memory of him) even pops up during the final battle to bring everyone to their senses after getting trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine.
  • Siegfried Kircheis in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. After his death, his absence has as much of an influence on the characters, particularly Reinhard, as his presence did. In fact, the phrase "If only Kircheis was here/still alive." is uttered by several characters, repeatedly, over the course of the story, and has even become a meme to fans.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Dio Brando is only the Big Bad of Parts 1 and 3, but every plot device that drives every other story up to Part 6 is always directly or indirectly related to him, as the heroes keep chasing after all the loose ends he left behind.
    • Appropriately, his heroic counterpart in this is Jonathan Joestar. While Jonathan dies at the end of Part 1, his bloodline and friends use him as an example of how to live their lives, and are able to gain enough power to fight the world’s evil because of the path he started them on.
  • The second Rei Ayanami in the third Rebuild of Evangelion movie. She is not physically present except for perhaps in a single ghostly apparition, but the protagonist's ill-fated attempt to save her played a major part in the events that turned the setting into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and she gets mentioned in every other scene, mostly by the aforementioned protagonist who is trying to reunite with her, much to the confusion of her unfortunate Clone.
    • In the original series Yui Ikari was this, with her absence having huge ramifications on the actions and motivations of her son Shinji and husband Gendo.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Maes Hughes may not have been able to reveal what he discovered prior to his death, but his presence was felt throughout the story. His family is still learning to cope with their loss by the end of the story while Mustang's primary motivation is avenging his friend.
    • The specters of Nina and her dog Alexander hang over the Elric brothers for a long time as well. Ed even references her in his final confrontation with Truth.
  • Julia from Cowboy Bebop only appears in person in two episodes not counting flashbacks, but her presence is felt throughout the series in relation to Spike and Vicious' story.
  • Naruto: Sasuke flees to Orochimaru at the end of Part 1; in Part 2, he does not appear at all in the first story arc, the second arc is about finding him but he hardly appears in it, does not appear again in the third arc, and only takes centre stage in the fourth story arc, after which the story switches focus between him and Naruto as normal. Despite this, even in the arcs he is not present, Naruto and the other characters are constantly thinking or talking about him, some wanting to save him from the dark path he is travelling down, some fear he is beyond redemption and want him killed, and everyone wants to deal with him once he unintentionally helps kick off the Fourth Great Ninja War.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Krillin is murdered at the very end of the 22nd World Martial Arts Tournament, kicking off the King Piccolo Saga. From there, Krillin's death drives Goku on his quest for revenge. Krillin then falls into this again during the Frieza Saga. After Frieza is nearly killed by the Spirit Bomb, he picks off Goku's friends until he kills Krillin. The murder of his best friend causes Goku to become a Super Saiyan.
    • Piccolo dying in the Saiyan Saga causes the others to go into space searching for Planet Namek, leading to the events of the Namek/Frieza Saga.
    • From the Dragon Ball Z TV Special History of Trunks, Goku's absence is greatly felt. He dies within the first minute of the special leaving a gaping wound as the other heroes are mercilessly killed off by the androids. Gohan wears a replica of his father's gi in his memory and Bulma often talks about him, saying how he could have changed things if he had lived. A big part of the special is Bulma making the time machine to give Goku the medicine that will save his life. Piccolo's death is also a big plot point. With his final death, the Dragon Balls are forever render inert, making all deaths permanent.
    • Goku's second death has long-term consequences for some of the cast. Gohan gives up fighting to study, Chi-Chi mellows out and trains Goten, and Bulma and Vegeta get married.
  • One Piece: The death of Portgas D. Ace marked a significant shift in the tone of the story and was one of the direct causes for the Time Skip. Even after it, however, Ace continues to influence plot, either through his devil fruit, which reincarnated into a new fruit after his death, or through the people he met on his journey prior to his untimely passing. Most notably, it was his death that caused Sabo to regain his memories; afterwards, Sabo made it his specific goal to find Ace's devil fruit and inherit his will. He eventually succeeds, and along the way, reunites with their mutual protectorate: their younger brother, the protagonist Luffy, who Sabo swears to protect in Ace's stead.
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence has a near text-book example of this in the form of Major Kusanagi with Batou. Though she vanished into the net in the first movie, here in its sequel her influence can be seen all over despite her absence. All the main members of Section 9 mention how she's gone and how that's affected Batou, seeing as how he was close to her. At one point, Batou even directly quotes her lines from the first film. In fact, the gynoids, who are the main topic of the plot, have a subtle resemblance to her body in the first film, which is reinforced when she uses one as a body at the climax. In fact, right after the climax, Kusanagi even says that she will continue to watch and protect him from the net, and likely has been doing so since the beginning.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: By the time of the Darkside of Dimensions movie, Atem has left for the Afterlife. His absence is heavily felt throughout the movie, with Yugi talking about how he misses him and Kaiba spending the entire movie trying to resurrect Atem. Kaiba duels a hologram of Atem but the real Atem is not seen until the last scene, and the real Atem never speaks in the film.

    Comic Books 

  • Thomas and Martha Wayne in any Batman media. They're the Ur-Example of Death by Origin Story, but in death, they're the driving force in their son's life, and indirectly, those of everyone inspired or affected by the Batman. Because of their deaths in that alleyway, Thomas and Martha Wayne manage to have a major impact on Batman, every Robin, every Batgirl, everyone in Gotham City, and, through Batman's membership in the Justice League, virtually the entire DC Universe.
  • Like the Waynes above, Uncle Ben in Spider-Man. His death is what makes his nephew abandon any intentions of cashing in on his superpowers, and Ben's iconic philosophy becomes a defining element of Peter's life.
  • The Comedian in Watchmen. The investigation into his murder drives the story in the early issues, and from there, it expands to reveal the greater plot. He's also mentioned throughout the comic, with the other characters reflecting on their experiences with him, the impact he had on their lives, and the relevance of his twisted belief system in an increasingly insane world.

    Fan Works 
  • A running thread throughout the Eleutherophobia series is characters remembering and grieving Rachel, who only appears in-person in the first scene of the first story (in which she dies In Spite of a Nail), and Escape from L.A. (which is set in the past). Her loss is most prominent in The Day the Earth Stood Still and Back to the Future.
  • Flashpoint 2: Advent Solaris has Darkseid most prominently in this trope, especially in Chapter 5. Even though he no longer exists as far as Barry knows, he still manages to be present in Barry's mind as he prominently appears during his PTSD hallucinations - even taunting him. Though Barry tries to fight the dictator, he can't win. Even beyond hallucinations, the actions Darkseid and his Paradooms did continue to haunt Barry's mind and basically leave him a broken, trauma stricken man.
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: In Nightmares Yet to Come, Professor A. K. Yearling of the Canterlot Academy is... "absent", though no one seems entirely sure of the reasons for this, and has apparently made a habit of this for years. One of those absences is shown in one flashback to lead to one Falling Star meeting Midnight, leading to Falling having to go on the run for four years.
  • Marian Hawke takes a sabbatical from the eponymous school in the first installment of Skyhold Academy Yearbook. Her absence is actually what kickstarts the first story, and is significant to the plot in a number of ways. Unlike many examples on this page, however, she comes back eventually and is present for the rest of the series.
  • Of State: Astrid's death at the beginning drastically shifts Hiccup's character development and leads him to become increasingly cynical and more pragmatic. Even when she's not seen, her presence is felt throughout Hiccup's character arc as he struggles to move on with his life.
  • Both Varric and Bethany keenly feel the absence of her brothers during much of Beyond Heroes: Of Sunshine and Red Lyrium. Since Bethany is the Inquisitor, she keeps wishing her brothers were on hand to support her, while Varric quite simply misses his best friend; but Carver is in the Grey Wardens and Hawke is in hiding as a member of Isabela's pirate crew. And then it gets worse.
  • The Second Try has Asuka and Shinji's daughter Aki. They only properly show up in two chapters, and yet just about everything Asuka and Shinji do in the present day is directly influenced by their absence.

    Film — Animated 
  • Tadashi in Big Hero 6. He's dead by the end of the first act, but the void left behind by his loss is a major part of Hiro's character development for the rest of the movie.
  • Ellie in Up, in a very major way. While she doesn't appear in person after the first five minutes, her presence is felt in every scene.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Pepper Potts in Captain America: Civil War is absent from Tony's life, since he explains that the two of them are "taking a break" from their relationship following the end of Iron Man 3 since Tony was unable to stop being Iron Man. It helps explain why Tony's mental state throughout the film is even more fragile than usual.
    • After being the Greater-Scope Villain in the first movie, Thanos is completely absent in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. He's still a factor in the movie, as Gamora and Nebula both have entire subscriptions' worth of issues thanks to his screwed-up "parenting".
    • Spider-Man: Far From Home has Tony Stark playing this role due to his Heroic Sacrifice in the previous film. Given his role as The Mentor to Peter Parker, his death weighs heavily on Peter's mind and as such Peter spends much of the film trying to move on. In addition, the film's Big Bad and his henchmen are revealed to be a collective of embittered former employees of his, and Tony's posthumous gift to Peter ends up playing a major role in the film's plot as the MacGuffin said Big Bad is attempting to acquire.
    • The only villain from the previous Sony Spider-Man movies to not appear or get a mention in Spider-Man: No Way Home is the Webb version of Harry Osborn/Green Goblin presumably to keep things easier to follow. note  Nevertheless, the consequences of his actions - specifically the death of Gwen Stacy - form the core of Webb-verse Peter's arc.
    • Due to the death of Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens with T'Challa, the original Black Panther, passing away. Despite his death, many of the actions of the Wakandan characters are driven by his influence.
  • The film Laura begins with the title character's death.
  • "Where's Doug?" is the Driving Question for the plot of The Hangover; the characters spend the entire movie unraveling the muddled events of the previous night in the hopes of finding their friend in time for his wedding.
  • Star Wars: The first line of the Opening Crawl of The Force Awakens is "Luke Skywalker has vanished." The search for him is a major factor in the motives of the heroes and villains. He finally appears in the very last scene, and is completely silent, when Rey finds him on Ahch-To.
  • Friday the 13th: Despite being the most recognisable figure in the series, Jason Voorhees fits this trope in two of the films:
    • In the original film, Jason is totally absent from the proceedings, but he's still the reason that the killings are occurring; the killer is Jason's mother Pamela, out to take revenge on the irresponsible camp counselors (or their successors, anyway) who allowed her son to drown. His role in these events is made even clearer by the ending, where Alice hallucinates being attacked by a young, undead Jason, rising from Crystal Lake; told there was no boy, Alice realises that "he's still there", as he always was.
    • In the fifth film, Jason was killed in the preceding movie, but the trauma of his rampage is still very evident on Tommy, as is the shock of Tommy killing him. The trope appears to be subverted, as Jason returns and starts merrily slaughtering his way through the residents of Tommy's halfway house, only it's not Jason; as in Part 1, it's a grieving parent out to avenge their child, with this one taking the extra step of posing as Jason to pin the killings on an old urban legend. The real Jason is still dead, and doesn't return until the next movie.
  • No Time to Die. Despite his death, James Bond haunts the final scenes of the MI6 crew paying tribute to him as well of as his wife and daughter driving along.

  • In A Brother's Price, Princess Halley is absent. Her sisters desperately want her to return, as they don't feel able to do all the ruling without her, and they also need her consent in order to marry Jerin. She eventually deigns to send a letter, which solves that problem. When she does return, it is under her alias, Cira, and she comes just in time to rescue Jerin.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry's parents are dead before the first chapter of the first book. Harry is therefore sent to live with his abusive, uncaring relatives and grows up wondering who his parents were, only to learn they were not only wizards but heroes. As he grows older, he meets more and more of their old friends and associates, all of whom remain deeply affected by their loss.
    • Sirius Black does this in a few different ways. In Prisoner of Azkaban, he plays the "shadowy but unseen figure that drives the adventure", and between Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix, he serves as a symbol of a happy future and the family Harry could have. After Order of the Phoenix, his death weighs down Harry terribly, especially in Half-Blood Prince.
    • Dumbledore plays this a lot more straight in Deathly Hallows, where not only does he have a posthumous plan that weaves all the characters through it, but throughout the novel, his death symbolizes the hopelessness of Voldemort's rise to power: no one is safe, evil is everywhere, and there's no beacon of hope to turn to. While others turn to Harry, Harry himself, being used to turning to Dumbledore, is lost, and then becomes incensed when his perfect image of Dumbledore is challenged.
  • Honor Harrington: Echoes of Honor features the titular character being captured as a POW very early in the book. A good first third of the novel is the people back home dealing with her absence and its effects. Especially after the Peeps execute her. Turns out they lied about that bit though.
  • Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. The eponymous Evil Overlord does not appear in person once in the entire work, and his only lines are delivered after the fact by the character to whom they were spoken (Pippin, describing what he saw in the palantír).
  • Maria from My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! does not appear in person until partway through the second volume of the light novel and manga (episode 4 in the anime), but her very existence dictates just about every action Catarina takes from the second she realizes she's in the world of Fortune Lover out of fear of the potential death flags she could bring.
  • The title character of Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca. She's dead, yet influences everything and everyone around her.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, given the huge cast, there are several:
    • Catelyn Stark believes there are two ghosts who haunt her otherwise happy marriage with Ned: his late older brother Brandon, whom she was initially set to marry, and Jon Snow's mother, whom she fears Ned loved more than her.
    • Tyrion's entire life is haunted by Tysha, a prostitute he married thinking she loved him and who left him convinced no one would ever love him for what he is. When Tyrion finally learns that Tysha wasn't a prostitute and did love him, and Tywin had lied to him to convince him otherwise, he takes it... poorly.
    • Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was this to numerous characters, including Robert (who saw him as a dead Arch-Enemy who nonetheless 'won' despite Robert killing him), both Lannister twins (whose lives were much changed by him), Daenarys (his sister, who sees him in visions), and Ser Barristan.
    • Lyanna Stark, despite having died fourteen years by the start of the series, still haunts numerous characters; her older brother Ned is still haunted by the memory of a promise he made to Lyanna on her deathbed, her former betrothed Robert Baratheon still grieves for her to the detriment of his present marriage, Cersei Lannister despises Lyanna for being a woman both of the men in her life (Robert and Rhaegar) wanted more than her, while other characters like Daenerys and Barristan lament that Rhaegar's passion for Lyanna brought disaster on House Targaryen and wonder what exactly made him fall for her.
  • The Wheel of Time: Rand al'Thor (the Dragon Reborn) was almost entirely missing from The Dragon Reborn. He still had enough effect on the plot to name the book after him.
  • Dr. Murry in the novel A Wrinkle in Time.
  • The short story L'Arlésiennenote  by French writer Alphonse Daudet (later turned into a play and an opera) is about a man who turns to suicide after being rejected by the girl he loves (the titular Arlésienne), who never appears in the story. "L'Arlésienne" has now entered French language to reference the trope.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Captain America in Agent Carter. His supposed death hangs over Peggy throughout the series, and her struggle to move on from her beloved forms a major part of her character arc, as does her desire to live up to the ideals that Steve represented.
  • Angel: Happens twice in Angel:
    • Despite dying halfway through the first season, Doyle remains an influence on Angel, having inspired him to take up the good fight once again, and having passed on his visions to Cordelia before dying. He's mentioned a few times by his friends in subsequent seasons, and in Cordelia's last episode, she and Angel watch a video Doyle had shot prior to his death, a reminder of the mission that the three of them had embarked on together.
    • Fred's death nearly breaks Team Angel completely, what with the revelation that didn't just die but suffered a Cessation of Existence. Not a single episode goes by without acknowledging the team will never be the same again. It doesn't help that Fred's corpse is walking around and talking to them either, having been possessed by the Eldritch Abomination that consumed her soul.
  • Arrow:
    • Tommy Merlyn, with his death motivating Oliver to try to be a better man, driving Laurel into alcoholism, and encouraging Malcolm to reach out to Thea. Even in Season Five, Prometheus mentions Tommy as an example of all of the people that Oliver has lost over the years.
    • Laurel Lance, after her death in Season Four. Season Five makes it clear how much Oliver and his friends miss her and regret her death, with the penultimate episode showcasing how she was his Living Emotional Crutch throughout his five years away from home. Her death causes him to regress on his Thou Shalt Not Kill stance and leaves him with a lot of hang-ups regarding romantic relationships. Even after Oliver makes peace with Laurel's death by telling the image of her in the Dominators' Lotus-Eater Machine goodbye, it's only after an encounter with her evil counterpart from Earth-2 that he finally decides to fulfill her last wish: a successor to carry on her legacy so a piece of her will always be with him. When Black Siren becomes part of the main cast, it soon becomes clear that Laurel's shadow looms large over her, too, especially after her Heel–Face Turn; trying to live up to the hero that Laurel was becomes a significant part of her story, along with coping with the rest of the cast's memories of Laurel.
  • Birds of Prey (2002) has this. The absence of Batman and Catwoman deeply affected the Huntress (their daughter and central character) and the absence of The Joker motivated Harley Quinn [the Big Bad].
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Buffy's mother Joyce dies partway through the fifth season, which receives an entire episode devoted to it as well as driving a great deal of character growth in subsequent seasons.
  • In The Great has characters repeatedly reference Peter the Great, who has been dead for years by the time the story starts. His only actual appearance to date is as a ghost/hallucination by his son Peter IIInote 
  • In the first season of Heroes, Sylar gets relatively little screen time, but his presence is felt everywhere. This is especially true for Matt Parkman's storyline, in which he is hunting Sylar.
  • In Homicide: Life on the Street Crosetti is only present as a character for the show's brief first two seasons. His suicide is discovered early in Season 3 and haunts the other characters—especially Lewis—throughout. In the reunion movie Gee finally meets him and Felton in the afterlife.
  • In Kamen Rider Gaim, Yuya and Hase are both killed early on, leading to a lot of fallout: friends are concerned about their disappearances, Kouta angsts about the deaths once he finds out (both from stress that he's in a conflict where lives are on the line and from guilt that he killed Yuya, albeit unknowingly), and Kouta and Mitsuzane's relationship starts taking a turn for the worse when they disagree over whether or not to tell the others that their friends have died.
  • Law & Order: UK. Matt Devlin haunts the episode in which his murder is investigated and prosecuted, even though he was never mentioned again (the slight exception of Ronnie's grandson being named after him).
  • Sophie's temporary leave in Leverage season 2 due to the actress' pregnancy. Being the grifter and Team Mom, her departure left Nate falls Off the Wagon and becomes emotionally unstable, no one trusts the new stand-in grifter and Hardison gets kidnapped by Russians. She is often there to provide advice through phone calls, though the team would never admit they'd called her.
  • Queen Ygraine in Merlin, whose death prior to the series is a Plot-Triggering Death. After a spell is cast to ensure Prince's Arthur conception, she dies in childbirth in order to balance out the magical birth. This leads to her husband, King Uther, waging war on all of those who possess magic, thus leading to the lead character having to hide his magic when arriving in Camelot, and the show's Tag Line: "keep the magic secret." Her absence also lends heavily to Uther's Freudian Excuse and Arthur's Oedipus Complex.
  • Caitlin Todd in NCIS. Her memories looms on the show since her death in the Season 2 finale. Notably, Ziva David had a hard time fitting in with the team at first due to her replacing Kate almost immediately, while Gibbs became visibly more strict with his team following her death. Kate's older sister later became a Recurring Character; her introduction episode shows her doing psychiatric evaluations of the team members as a way to get close to the people who were with her sister in her last days.
    • Ari Haswari, the guy who killed Kate, is himself killed two episodes later. His influence, however, is still felt by various associates who come out of the woodwork to harass Team Gibbs out of a desire for vengeance. It's also felt for another reason - Ari is Ziva's brother, and Ziva is the one who kills him.
    • Tony DiNozzo left the show at the end of Season 14, but has been mentioned so often that he may as well be The Ghost.
  • One Tree Hill
    • Jimmy Edwards 's death towards the end of Season 3 serves as the Wham Episode of the show as its effects are still felt in the final season. He was very bitter with his friends seemingly forgetting him as they become popular. This, coupled with the other students' bullying, lead to him bringing a gun at school. When things finally seemed to calm down thanks to intervention from Keith Scott, Jimmy kills decided to himself. Dan Scott then uses Jimmy's gun to kill his brother Keith and frames Jimmy's death for it. In short Jimmy's actions lead to many characters rethinking their lives for the rest of the series and Dan to be disowned by pretty much everyone until his own Redemption Equals Death moment near the end of the series.
    • Directly tied to the above, Keith Scott. His murder at the hands of his brother Dan resulted in the latter being disowned by nearly everyone else for much of the series' run. Lucas also looked up to him and became a Cool Uncle to Jamie.
  • Despite being dead, much of what happens in season one of Riverdale revolves around Jason Blossom in some way or another, such as trying to find out who killed him and why, exactly what happened between him and Polly, and eventually what will become of his and Polly's unborn children. Even smaller subplots, like Archie and Reggie competing for the vacant quarterback position and Clifford Blossom looking for a new heir to his business, are due to Jason's death. The effects of his death are still shown even after the murder is solved, especially by Cheryl and Polly.
  • Sons of Anarchy:
    • The first season revolves heavily around Jackson "Jax" Teller trying to figure out how to live up to the legacy of John Teller, his father who died about ten years before the series kicks off. Jax spends much of the first three seasons trying to steer SAMCRO, the motorcycle club John helped found, into legitimate business and out of the gun running and drug smuggling that John had hated.
    • Much of Gemma's behavior throughout the series is due to never getting over the death of her younger son Thomas who died as a child of a congenital heart defect. This makes her scarily protective of Jax, her only surviving child. Gemma's Mama Bear tendencies exponentially increase when Jax marries and has children with Tara, a law-abiding doctor who disapproves of the club and encourages Jax to move away. This leads to Gemma murdering Tara, triggering the tragic downfall of SAMCRO and the Teller family in season 7.
    • Much of season 2's action is driven by Jax, Opie, and Piney's determination to avenge the murder of Opie's wife Donna. Most of the rival clubs and gangs don't believe in targeting women so the men of SAMCRO are able to forge alliances that would not have otherwise been possible. The truth, that Donna had been the victim of mistaken identity in a hit against Opie ordered by Clay Morrow, Jax's stepfather and current club president, further plunges the club into disarray.
    • Season 7 entirely focuses on Jax's Roaring Rampage of Revenge after his wife Tara is murdered and he is intentionally misled to believe it was a rival gang.
  • Supernatural
    • John Winchester - the series is kicked off by him going missing, and the way he raised Sam and Dean drives much of their character arcs.
    • Later, God becomes this as the brothers are trying to figure where He went and why He is not acting to stop the coming Armageddon. The demons and the top angels decide that they have free rein to 'finish things' while Castiel is struggling to figure out what God wants him to do.
    • The fan-nicknamed 'Widow Arc' in Season 13 and 'Divorce Arc' in Season 15 are both characterised by Castiel's absence.
  • Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks is dead by the time the story starts - in fact, her death is why the story starts - but her influence is felt everywhere and drives much of the narrative.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • In the second season, although Wilson Fisk is locked up, his presence is still very strongly felt as Hell's Kitchen is taken over by new gangs trying to fill the criminal vacuum left by his arrest.
    • During the second and third seasons, one can almost feel Ben Urich's death at Fisk's hands lingering over Karen like a spectre, coloring many of her actions.
  • Luke Cage (2016):
    • The plot, and Luke's conflicts with the Stokes crime family, is largely kicked off in season 1 after Pop is killed as collateral damage in an attempted hit on Chico in the barbershop.
    • Misty's corrupt partner, Detective Scarfe, is killed midway through season 1 after he attempts to shake Cottonmouth down for money. In season 2, the fallout from his death is shown impacting Misty as she has to deal with many of his tainted convictions being appealed and those criminals being put back on the streets, most notably Cockroach.
    • Cottonmouth is killed midway through season 1 by Mariah. In season 2, he is mentioned several times in a positive context, by both Mariah and her daughter Tilda.
    • Played for dramatic effect in the fifth episode of season 2, "All Souled Out". Bushmaster is not present in this episode, but he's clearly lurking off camera. Everyone else is wrapped up in their own problems (Luke getting sued by Cockroach, Mariah preparing to do a ribbon cutting ceremony for one of her housing projects while dealing with the abrupt disappearances of both Mark Higgins and one of her bodyguards, Misty getting outfitted with a new robotic right arm), which makes Bushmaster's opening shots of war on Mariah at the end of the episode (through severed heads on pikes at Mariah's ribbon cutting, and an attempt to kidnap her banker) that much more shocking.
    • Matt Murdock's "death" at the end of The Defenders (2017) heavily colors Luke's relationship with Claire in Season 2, and eventually causes her to leave Luke when she senses him becoming self-destructive like Matt.
  • The Punisher (2017) has several:
    • The death of the Castle Family weighs heavily over the entire series. Maria Castle is only ever seen in a dream sequence when Frank is getting tortured.
    • Like in Luke Cage, though it is never stated, Matt Murdock's "death" is clearly weighing on Karen in Season 1.
  • Jessica Jones (2015): In season 1, there are two episodes where Kilgrave doesn't even appear at all, and yet even so, his presence can felt easily lingering offscreen. The first is episode 4, where he sends a young girl to deliver a message to Jessica, and where Jessica also finds out that he's using Malcolm to spy on her. The second is episode 11, which happens while Kilgrave is in the midst of trying to get a power boost.

  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams: Amanda's deadbeat husband, the Disappeared Dad of Tom and Laura, never shows up in person, and is mostly mentioned in the introduction, but his absence is pretty significant. Tom leaves his family at the end of the play, because he just can't deal with his mother anymore, and he feels guilty for abandoning his sister the way their father did.
  • Godot (the one for whom they're waiting). Vladimir and Estragon are so bored they contemplate suicide, but they still stay at the tree because they're waiting for Godot.
  • In The Great Comet of 1812, the plot is kicked off by Natasha's fiancee Andrey being a soldier fighting the 1812 French invasion of Russia, and the Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder this fact causes.

  • The Great Spirit Mata Nui in BIONICLE, despite being rendered comatose by Makuta, is still an integral part of the story as he's considered the protector and watcher of the Matoran Universe, with the various Story Arcs built around trying to wake him up, rescuing those who are important to his survival, and even saving him from death. Taken quite literally when it's revealed that the Matoran Universe itself is actually contained inside Mata Nui's planet-sized body, and when his spirit is evicted by Makuta after waking up, he finally takes the role of The Hero of the story to face off against Makuta once and for all.

    Video Games 
  • Darth Revan in Knights of the Old Republic, slightly twisted in that technically he/she is there the entire game — as the amnesiac Player Character, and The Reveal of this is the game's biggest Wham Episode. Played straighter in the sequel.
  • The real Alex Mercer's disappearance in [PROTOTYPE] pretty much single-handedly kickstarts the entire conflict of the game.
  • Aerith's death in Final Fantasy VII is felt heavily by Cloud and the rest of his party, and without her death, the Planet would've been destroyed by Meteor. This is played up in the sequel movie Advent Children, as Aerith's presence is felt throughout but her face is not seen until the very final scene of the film.
  • Laguna Loire from Final Fantasy VIII. For most of the game, he appears and is playable only in flashback sequences, only showing up in the present close to the storyline's end. Despite that, he's responsible for and/or involved in many of the game's crucial plot points. Also, it is very heavily hinted that he is Squall's father, and that his absence is the reason why Squall is even in Garden in the first place.
  • High summoner Braska and Jecht in Final Fantasy X. They are the parents of the female and male lead, respectively, and both of them struggle to follow or resist the paths of their fathers, while Auron is atoning for his failure to save them. You also feel a heavy presence of Yu Yevon, the great summoner 1000 years dead with the main church of the land being spring up around his teachings. From a certain point of view, though, only Braska is completely dead.
  • The Boss, in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, only appears in that entry of the series, but indirectly causes the plot of almost every Metal Gear game.
    • Her student/successor Big Boss qualifies too. He's the player character of Metal Gear Solid 3. His death comes in Metal Gear 2, and Metal Gear Solids 1, 2 and 4 all revolve around one of his sons trying to live up to/destroy their father's legacy. Then the man himself reappears in the epilogue of 4 and ties it all together.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: The Big Bad of the game and King of the Wild Hunt, Eredin, shows up a grand total of twice. Outside of his boss fight he has only a dozen lines and less than five minutes of screen time in an over hundred hour game. His presence, however, casts a shadow on every main story scene in the game and he's constantly mentioned in hushed tones, as well as showing up (usually masked) in several visions and dreams.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins is heavily impacted by the overwhelming shortage of Grey Wardens in Ferelden to fight the Blight, as all but two of them are annihilated in the prologue. The Warden's individual arc may also be impacted by the absence of beloved family members or friends from their origin story. In the background of the setting, the kingdom is also still feeling the effects of King Maric being lost at sea five years earlier.
    • In Dragon Age II, the disappearance of Hawke is the framing device of the story. The end shows that the Warden has also disappeared, which is a driving factor in the background.
      • The DLC The Exiled Prince is largely driven by the murder of all but one of the members of the ruling family of Starkhaven. The sole survivor, Prince Sebastian, becomes a party member and Hawke must help him determine the path he wants to take as he comes to terms with their loss.
    • By the time of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Chantry has failed to locate either the Warden or Hawke, which is why an almost-nobody has to be put in charge of the newly-revived title organization. Hawke shows up later in the game, and the Warden is contacted via Leliana (if they're still alive), but neither of them is able to take up the reins of the Inquisition for one reason or another, so it's still all up to you.
      • The DLC Jaws of Hakkon chiefly focuses on the Inquisitor's predecessor, Ameridan, who disappeared roughly eight hundred years earlier. The revelations of the DLC show that while he's been largely forgotten in the current era, his absence was a tremendous factor in the way certain events played out for the Chantry, the Orlesian empire, and the entire elven race.
  • BlazBlue: Saya's disappearance in the backstory makes a significant part of the plot, such as how her brother Ragna is looking for her and seeking revenge on Terumi (the reason for her disappearance), or how some of the playable characters are cloned from her. Later, however, she does make an in-person, present-day appearance and drives the plot even further through being the vessel for the Goddess of Death, Hades Izanami.
  • Life Is Strange franchise:
    • Life Is Strange has Rachel Amber. A good portion of the plot revolves around unraveling the mystery of her disappearance. Our protagonist Max has never met her, but her old childhood friend Chloe, the deuterogamist of the game, was in a relationship with Amber and frequently pines for her.
    • Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, the prequel to the original game, finds clever way to keep Max, the protagonist of the original game, in the player's mind. Upset that Max fell out of contact with her shortly after moving away, Chloe maintains a journal in which she poses each entry as an unsent letter to her wayward former best friend. Chloe has even drawn a portrait of Max on the first page of the journal with a word bubble reading "Put your thoughts in me."
  • Yes, Your Grace: After Lorsulia includes her pet cat Dusty among the things she takes with her to her new husband's home, her younger sister Cedani misses it a lot. When given the opportunity to participate in a letter to Lorsulia, Cedani asks about Dusty. She otherwise spends the game adopting various wild animals and attempting to train them as agents half to replace Dusty, half because she got in her head that Dusty and Lorsulia need to be rescued from their new home because the latter's new husband is evil. Cedani is unfortunately right and if certain choices are made, Lorsulia's husband eventually sends the family a black fur scarf. Dusty is black.
  • An unexpected form occurs in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Rowan Khanna, the player character's first friend, is killed by a killing curse cast by Patricia Rakepick, and the game ensures that this tragedy influences loads of events afterwards, always being in the cast's thoughts, and the "Circle of Khanna" is specifically named after Rowan and intended to honor their memory.
  • Elephant Games likes this trope, and uses it in a number of their hidden object game series:
    • When the fourth Detectives United game begins, Agent Brown has been on a special investigation and no one has heard from him for two months. This kickstarts the plot and drives much of it, as his partners are trying not only to find him but to also figure out exactly what the crux of his investigation is/was, and the Big Bad of the installment keeps putting roadblocks in their way (almost literally in one instance).
    • Rick Rogers is the series protagonist for Paranormal Files. In the installment Ghost Chapter, however, he disappears under mysterious circumstances, and his partner Rachel spends the next thirteen years trying desperately to find him. He's still missing by the end of that game, and also throughout the next, meaning that there will be at least one more game before his absence is explained.
    • Strange Investigations is heavily influenced by the murder of Ursula Strange, sister of series protagonist Dana, which took place before the first game ever began. Dana, who witnessed the murder after spending years trying to find Ursula, can't seem to move past it.
    • Oddly averted for Richard Gray, who goes missing from both the Grim Tales and Detectives United games beginning with Grim Tales: Heritage. There is a reference made in Grim Tales to him being "on vacation, which comes across very oddly when the player remembers that Richard is dead, and exists in the games as a ghost. His absence is finally explained in the 22nd Grim Tales installment, Horizon of Wishes, which ends in such a way as to suggest it will be a permanent departure.
  • Dark Parables does this a few times:
    • The second game, The Exiled Prince, places heavy emphasis on the absence of The Frog Prince's five wives; he's immortal and has been repeatedly widowed, which has contributed heavily to his Sanity Slippage.
    • In Jack and the Sky Kingdom, Jack has never recovered from losing his fiancée and friends during an adventure gone wrong several years earlier. He's consumed by the guilt he feels for having abandoned them to their fate. His fiancée, Emma, is still alive and gives him hell when they reunite.
  • Princess Sophia spends the first few games of the Awakening series searching for her parents and their subjects, all of whom vanished from the face of the world a century earlier. She is literally the only human left; their absence is this trope for her, and as she discovers when she finally learns where they went, her absence has been this trope for them.
  • Each installment of the Gardens Inc series begins with something dramatic happening to protagonists Jill and Mike, followed by a backwards Time Skip to show How We Got Here. The fourth game opens with this trope, as the starting cinematic reveals that the pair have completely disappeared without a trace.

  • In Drowtales, the withdrawal of Empress Diva'ratrika from public life after the Nidraa'chal War in the story's prologue has huge consequences for the plot, with Diva's daughters and the various clans of Chel'el'sussolth vying to fill the power gap. This is very apparent at the clan meeting where her empty throne is focused on repeatedly. Especially since it's revealed early on that Diva is actually dead and has been since the tail end of the war at her own daughter's hands, and when she starts having a direct effect on the plot again, it's via Grand Theft Me of her servant in a last-ditch attempt to escape the confinement in which her daughters have put her.
  • Girl Genius has the Heterodyne Brothers, particularly Uncle Barry, as well as The Other.
  • Lord English from Homestuck. Despite the only view of the Lord himself for quite a large chunk of the story being his absurdly long coat, his presence pervades the narrative and gives it an intensely desolate feel. "His riddle is Absence itself..."

    Web Original 
  • In Alice Isn't Dead, the titular Alice disappeared and sent her wife, the unnamed Narrator, into a spiral of grief believing she had died. After she discovers that Alice, well, isn't dead after seeing her in the background of a news report, she sets off to try and find her by getting a job with the shipping company to which Alice had mysterious ties, and frequently addresses her over the CB radio that acts as the Framing Device for the show.

    Western Animation 
  • In the 2017 reboot of DuckTales, Della Duck, Donald's twin sister and the mother of Huey, Dewey and Louie, is upgraded from an extremely minor background character to this. As usual, she is absent (at least until the end of the first season), but instead of being taken for granted, her absence is a major plot point. The triplets have no memory of her and don't know what happened to her; neither Donald nor Scrooge is willing to talk about it, but her disappearance is the thing which has caused a rift in their relationship for all the years since. The boys' attempts to find out about her make up a key story arc spanning an entire season.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has King Sombra, a One-Man Army from 1,000 years ago. Now, though, he's mainly kept offscreen by a Deflector Shield, and his main threats are his Black Magic environmental effects and his Booby Traps guarding his Kryptonite Factor.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Twin Suns", the sum total of Luke Skywalker's actual presence in the episode is a distant cameo in the last scene as Obi-Wan watches. Nevertheless, he's the reason Obi-Wan is on Tatooine at all, and a major factor in his decision to confront Maul. The final exchange between Obi-Wan and Maul emphasizes Luke's importance, as Maul believes he will avenge those who have died at the hands of the Sith.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Rose Quartz, Steven's Missing Mom, gave up her physical form to give birth to him; but her presence is still very much felt and the show spends quite a bit of time showing how the other characters react to her absence. Additionally, since Steven is Rose in a sense, she could be said to be there despite this.
    • In season 4 Pink Diamond is similar, but has been gone for over 5,000 years by the start of the story, having been (allegedly) shattered by Rose Quartz, but her presence resounds throughout the story through other characters' reactions to her death, particularly her "sisters" Yellow and Blue Diamond, and their methods of coping with her loss. As it turns out, Pink Diamond and Rose Quartz are the same person.
  • Season 3 of The Transformers has Optimus Prime; following his death in the Movie, Optimus' legacy looms large over his successor, Rodimus Prime, until the aptly titled "The Return of Optimus Prime", in which Optimus Prime... returns.
  • On Avatar: The Last Airbender, Iroh's son Lu Ten's death drives much of the backstory of Zuko and the Fire Nation. His death is what causes Iroh to abandon the siege of Ba Sing Se, meaning that the Fire Nation hasn't won the war by the time Aang is discovered by Katara and Sokka. In addition, Lu Ten's death is what spurs Ozai to ask to be named heir instead of Iroh, which indirectly is what leads to Zuko's mother's disappearance and Ozai's ascension to Fire Lord. Fire Lord Azulon is disgusted by Ozai's request and orders him to sacrifice his son like Iroh lost his. To save her son, Zuko's mother Ursa poisons Azulon, and it is claimed that his last wish was to make Ozai Fire Lord.
  • In Masters of the Universe: Revelation, the very first episode of the first season kills off He-Man/Prince Adam. Over the course of the next few years, his absence is felt keenly by everyone who knew and loved him - and even by those who didn't know him personally, because as a result of the tragedy, Eternia itself is dying.