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Relieving the Reaper

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"Either you kill them or I kill you."

"Ye spirit that left thy body at the stroke of midnight,
thou wilt relieve me of my office. For a year thou wilt reap souls."
The Grim Reaper, The Phantom Carriage

People die. A lot. At any given time, many souls need shepherding to the afterlife and it falls to The Grim Reaper to get them there, which is a full time job. Occasionally though, Death might need some help taking up the slack.

There are a number of reasons this might happen:

  • More people are dying than usual
  • Death is unable to reap for the time being
  • The cosmic balance has been upset
  • Death wants to retire

The Grim Reaper has a full time job, and occasionally might want some R&R. But given that people won't stop dying while Death takes a lunch break, there needs to be someone who can pick up the slack. Alternatively, perhaps Death is attempting to teach some wisdom to a naive human about value of life or balancing the scales of life and death or whatever. In any case, the result is the same: someone else takes a shift doing Death's job of helping souls get from A to B.

This is a sub-trope of Subbing for Santa, which describes any situation where a normal person temporarily takes on the role of a mythological figure. That also leads us to Relieving the Reaper's divine sister tropes, God for a Day. This trope may also follow from Death Takes a Holiday, where something happens that stops Death from causing... well, death, and someone else may or may not step up to fill in the vacuum.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach: The first arc sees Ichigo Kurosaki take over for Rukia Kuchiki as a Soul Reaper - whose duties include sending ghosts to the afterlife and slaying evil spirits called Hollows - after she accidentally transfers all of her power to him.

    Comic Books 
  • In Alan Ford volume 101 Funeral Party, an extremely old man with a very long beard, a robe and a scythe walks past Bob Rock, asking him what year is this before walking away, casually mentioning that "he's in charge until the new millenium, then he gets to retire". Bob is left confused.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Discworld:
    • In The Colour of Magic, Death sends Scrofula to collect Rincewind's soul when he falls off the edge of the Disc, as he has a plague to deal with on another part of the Disc.
    • In Mort, Death decides to do some soul-searching and hire an apprentice to fill in for him, and keep his adopted daughter Ysabel company. He ends up with a gangly teenager named Mort.
    • Death goes missing in Soul Music and Susan, daughter of Mort and Death's adopted daughter Ysabel, ends up needing to sub for her grandpa.
    • In Reaper Man, Death actually gets fired and replaced by another, more malicious Reaper.
    • Inverted in Hogfather when Death subs for the Disc's Santa-equivalent.
  • Sunday Without God: Death stopped occurring in the world, so a certain type of beings called Gravekeepers appeared to send those past their expiration dates to rest in peace. The protagonist Ai is one such Gravekeeper.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Eldest Charmed One, Piper Halliwell was given reaping powers by the Angel of Death once, in order to help him clean up the mess Paige made.
  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Sabrina must guide souls to the afterlife to show she can deal with her position as "Ruler of Hell" after imprisoning the previous ruler (and also her father), Lucifer.
  • Dead Like Me is all about this trope. "Reapers" are people who have died in some way, and each Reaper has a quota to fill. Once they've taken their last soul, they're free to move on to whatever lies beyond, and that person takes their spot as a new Reaper. It's strongly implied, if not outright stated, that each Reaper has their own specific area of death to deal with, and it's the manner of their own death (the characters from the series all deal in accidental death, typically involving hilariously over-the-top accidents that claim people's lives in almost Looney-Tunes fashion).
  • Reaper: Sam learns on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the Devil; Sam must serve him by reaping the souls of the damned, or go to Hell himself.
  • Supernatural: Death gives Dean his powers and responsibilities for a day as part of some big important lesson about the value of life or something. Basically, Dean and Sam repeatedly coming Back from the Dead has adverse consequences on the natural order, so he wanted to have him experience the burden of Balancing Death's Books.


  • In a Christmas special of Old Harry's Game, Satan goes looking for Death to talk to him about a celestial mix-up (an innocent woman being sent to Hell). Unfortunately, all he can find is a substitute, Death having "modernised" his operation by recruiting various regional Deaths.
    Death: I'm the Welsh Death. They call me "Dai-the-Death."
    Satan:...No, they don't.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • This is the premise of Flipping Death; the protagonist gets roped into temping while Death Takes a Holiday, only for someone to use the missing piece of Death's scythe to possess her body in the mortal world and cause trouble.
  • This is what starts the mess in Have a Nice Death (2022). Death hires the Sorrows and generally founds Death Inc. in order to take up his slack (because reaping every soul personally gets tiring). But the Sorrows waste no time in making a mess of things and overloading the poor Reaper with paperwork when he really just wants to take a vacation, to the point that Death goes ballistic and decides that it's time to take back his company.
  • Retro City Rampage: When Player is murdered by his girlfriend, he'll meet Death. When Player asks if he can be resurrected, Death offers him to cover his shift out of mutual respect. Doing so will resurrect the player and unlock Death as a power-up.
  • Taking over for The Grim Reaper is the core premise behind Spiritfarer, where you help the souls of the dead pass on. In fact, Charon is the first person who you see pass through the gate beyond.
  • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII: In the lead-up to the final battle, it's revealed that Bhunivelze has been grooming Lightning to take the Goddess Etro's old position as the keeper of balance between the seen and unseen realms: making sure human souls are granted unto newborn humans, come back to the sea of chaos after death, and reincarnate. After Bhunivelze is dead, Lightning plans to carry out the role regardless, but Caius and the Yeuls step in to take her place.

  • Once in Pibgorn, Pib tries out Death's job in an attempt to explore other possible areas of work.

    Western Animation 
  • In Family Guy, Death appoints Peter as the Grim Reaper while staying at his house to recuperate from an injury early in the episode "Death is a Bitch".
  • The Ghost and Molly McGee: After The Chairman's destruction, Scratch is forced to take on the role of the new Chairman, much to his disgust, since he is technically the one who defeated the previous one (Molly doesn't count because she is still a living person).
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy:
    • In "Grim for a Day", Billy and Grim switch places, with Billy becoming a reaper and Grim going to school. Billy's first assignment was a bust; the old man takes all day to get to the door, and when he finally answers, he believes Billy to be a trick-or-treater and gives him candy.
    • Billy & Mandy's Big Boogey Adventure had Grim stripped of his powers for abusing them at the whim of mortals. They are subsequently given to Kuki Sanban, a.k.a. Numbuh 3 from Codename: Kids Next Door.
  • In The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIV (during the segment "Reaper Madness"), Homer kills the Grim Reaper to save Bart from dying. But after Homer grabs the Reaper's scythe and wears his robes, he is also forced to take his job of reaping souls.