Follow TV Tropes


Revival Loophole

Go To

Giles: It doesn't matter how long you were gone, Buffy. You were physically dead, thus causing the activation of the next slayer.
Kendra: She died?
Buffy: Just a little.

Something — a piece of Applied Phlebotinum, a prophecy or other mystical event, or possibly just a custom or law — mandates a death, often the death of the protagonist. Fortunately, whatever it is defines death very specifically. It means "your heart has stopped beating" or, in some cases, "you can't fog a mirror". If a separate medical intervention ends up succeeding, the original contrivance won't notice or care. Naturally, this plot twist has gotten a lot more common along with such interventions, a case of Technology Marches On making resurrection (once the stuff of miracles) a mere slap on the wrist.

In reality, most countries' legal systems now define "death" as an irreversible cessation of brain function. One reason this became necessary was that, under older "cessation of heartbeat" definitions, a criminal who'd received a heart transplant could hypothetically have argued that they were legally dead (because their original heart had permanently ceased to beat) and couldn't be prosecuted.

A specific form of Loophole Abuse and Fantastic Legal Weirdness. Compare Only Mostly Dead, Flatline Plotline. When this is used to wiggle out of a prophetic death, it's a form of No Man of Woman Born. Tangentially related to Tricked Out Time, where you rescue someone from the past who was going to die, but in such a way that the timeline is unaltered.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Fairy Tales 
  • In one French fairy tale, a king's peasant godson goes to his godfather, being an only heir. Along the way, another man steals his identity from him, after forcing him to swear a sacred oath not to speak of it until "three days after his death". Then, the imposter convinces the king to give the true godson some Impossible Tasks, and, once that fails to kill him, simply stabs him in the back. His love finds his body later. She has a potion the guy recovered on one of his adventures, which brings him back to life. Three days have passed by then, and the godson had documents confirming his identity all along.

  • In Coming Back Late, Harry and Hermione couldn't do anything physical together because even though she was estranged from Ron, their magical marriage vows were "till death do us part". After Hermione was killed and Harry brought her soul back from behind the Veil, this obviously no longer applied.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In The Matrix, the Oracle declares that Neo has the potential to be The One, but he's waiting for something. "Perhaps [his] next life." At the end of the movie...
  • In Final Destination 2, the survivors are told that only "new life" can stop Death coming after them. They take this to mean that they'll be safe if they can stay alive until the pregnant member of the group gives birth to her baby. In fact, it refers to one of the protagonists drowning herself and then being revived.
  • Final Destination 5 adds another twist - you can "swap places" with someone by murdering them. They die in your stead, you get their remaining time. Just make sure they aren't days away from an aneurysm first.
  • This is Blackbeard's plan in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. After hearing a prophecy that says he's going to meet his end at Barbossa's hands, he figures You Can't Fight Fate and rather than trying to avert or avoid the prophecy, he starts searching for the Fountain of Youth so that he can use it to heal himself after it inevitably does happen. It would have worked, had Jack not pulled a Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo.
    • Averted in At World's End. Despite Jack claiming that his debt with Davy Jones was settled after being taken to Locker, being brought to the living world didn't exempt him from it.
  • In the Evil Dead (2013) remake, David attempts this out of desperation when he's the last protagonist left. He knows the only way to break the demon's grip on Mia's soul is to kill her, either by immolation, dismemberment, or live burial. He buries her until he's sure her heart has stopped, then digs her up and tries reviving her with an improvised defibrillator. She comes back to life, demon-free, but unfortunately, her brief death apparently also qualifies as one of the five deaths necessary for The Abomination to enter our world.
  • In The Wolverine, how Logan beats his predicted death; he dies but his newly-restored Healing Factor rectifies that problem a minute later.
  • Fear Street: Sam gets some of the witch's blood on her and in her, which means that the witch won't stop pursuing her in life. Deena figures out that this, like C. Berman before them, the only way to stop the witch's pursuit is to kill Sam and bring her back.

  • In Knight Life by Peter David, a re-awakened King Arthur, now mayor of New York, avoids his prophetic death at the hands of Mordred through some timely emergency medical response after his heart stops.
  • Peter David seems to like this one. It also happens in The Woad to Wuin, where the main character has to die in order to get the "ring of power" off his privates, so he dies for just a second, and is revived.
  • This is invoked in The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. To break the titular curse, someone has to "lay down their life three times". One attempt involves repeated drowning; unfortunately, the second time around they can't revive the drowned man. The end of the book reveals they were thinking about the curse in the wrong terms anyway. The point was that willingly surrendering and dying for a good cause three times gave the person the right mindset to serve as a door for a god, who would lift the curse. So, the plan might've worked, had they been more patient and determimed.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry learns that he accidentally became a Horcrux, which would typically mean that he must die for Voldemort to become mortal. However, certain actions of Voldemort's made it possible for a Killing Curse delivered by Voldemort to destroy the piece of Voldemort's soul without killing Harry.
    • And then, Harry's sacrifice ends up bestowing protection from Voldemort unto everyone in Hogwarts, just like the protection Lily Potter's sacrifice bestowed unto Harry. The fact that Harry didn't actually die doesn't matter: he meant to, and that's what did it.
  • In The Dresden Files universe, ghosts are created when someone is murdered and their desire for revenge is strong enough. Wizards leave the most powerful ghosts. So, when Harry badly needs support against a killing nightmare in Grave Peril, he lets it strangle him to death, creating a vengeful and very powerful ghost, then Susan resuscitates him with CPR, so both Harry and his ghost can confront and destroy the Nightmare.
  • Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe accepts death in the place of Edmund according to the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time. But he does it with the knowledge that an innocent who voluntarily dies for a traitor will be revived in accordance with the Deeper Magic from before the Dawn of Time.
  • Parodied in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where Hotblack Desiato is "spending a year dead for tax reasons."
  • In Kevin J. Anderson's Death Warmed Over, a villain is sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair, only to come back as a zombie. As the law hasn't yet caught up with all the quandaries of The Unmasqued World, there's no legal grounds to punish him further, so he walks (well, shambles) free.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Mat blows the Horn of Valere, summoning the Cavalry of the Dead to deal with an immediate threat, then learns that he is bound to it and is the only valid hornsounder while he lives. When the Last Battle finally comes around, there is a great scramble to get the Horn to him, which results in almost everyone involved getting killed, only to find out that he is no longer bound to it due to a death that was undone by Cosmic Retcon.
  • In the first book of the Herald Spy series, the King's Own dies in an accident, which results in his Companion Choosing his successor. Then, barely a minute later, the now former King's Own is resuscitated through CPR, resulting in the first ever case where a King's Own, a job that was quite literally a lifetime appointment, was able to train his successor and step down.
  • The title character of The Nine Lives of Chloe King uses this when brokering a peace treaty between her tribe (an ancient group of cat-people) and The Order of the Tenth Blade (a group of humans dedicated to killing them off). Before they agree to the peace treaty, The Order demand the life of a Mai in exchange for the life one of their agents who was killed in an earlier battle. Chloe agrees to the terms and offers up one of her lives (as the tribe's destined leader, she has nine lives, seven of which are left at the time). After she revives, the head of The Order agrees that this counts and the two seal the peace agreement.
  • In Stardoc: Beyond Varallan, Cherijo gets out from under being mated for life to Xonea Torin by having her second-in-command administer a lethal dose of drugs to render her brain-dead. Her Healing Factor revives her and she quickly informs Xonea that she plans to marry Duncan.
  • In the final book of The Heroes of Olympus, Leo finds a way around the rules of Ogygia, which no man can find twice in his lifetime, by giving himself the physician's cure after his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Chronicles of a Strange Kingdom has several unrelated cases:
    • The royal family of Ortan is cursed and will die out, unless one of them cheats death thrice. "Guardians of curses"note  interpret "cheating death" rather broadly.
    • At one point the heroes discuss cheating Cyberpunk technology that detects living people. The only way to save an Addled Addict, is moving him out of Anti-Magic zone, but the ban on teleporting natives is being enforced very strictly lately. Stopping the patient's heart for a few seconds is deemed sufficient, but dangerous, so another fast transport is found.
    • At another point they find that Cyberpunk technology mistakes vampires for dead bodies.

    Live Action TV 
  • The season 1 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has Buffy beat a prophesied death this way; the later appearances of slayers Kendra and Faith serve as further confirmation that her "death" really did count as such in a mystical sense.
  • In the Eureka episode "Try, Try, Again", Fargo finds himself trapped inside a personal shield device that he can't turn off, and that will eventually expand catastrophically. It's powered off his own personal energy, so the only way they can come up with to turn it off in time is to temporarily "kill" Fargo, turn off the shield, and have a set of Magical Defibrillators standing by.
  • In the Dollhouse episode "The Attic", Echo realizes that the Attic machinery will release her if her heart stops beating.
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Thirty-Eight Minutes", an alien bug latches onto Sheppard and starts draining his life energy. The only plan he can come up with to save himself is to temporarily stop his heart with a defibrillator, let the bug fall off, and hope that he can be revived after it does.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Code of Honor", Tasha Yar is forced into a deathmatch with Lutan's wife Yareena. After Yar wins, Yareena's body is beamed to the Enterprise where Dr. Crusher is able to counteract the poison that was used in the fight. In a nice touch, Dr. Crusher has to wait a bit for the death to be official.
  • In Star Trek: The Original Series, Spock must fight Kirk to the death in "Amok Time". McCoy slips Kirk a neural paralyzer that just simulates death to end the fight.
  • An episode of Da Vinci's Inquest has a mob boss serving a sentence of life in prison. After being declared dead for a few minutes during a heart attack, he makes a legal challenge claiming that he's served his sentence and should be released.
  • There's an episode of Smallville where Checkmate is pursuing Tess through an implanted tracking device powered by her body. Chloe stops her heart with a defibrillator to deactivate the device and (eventually) injects her with something to start it again.
  • Used in Stargate Universe: The Mole Telford has been brainwashed, and the brainwashing gets broken by him being suffocated to death and brought back to life.
  • In the Charmed episode "The Power of Two", the Monster of the Week needs to be defeated by a spell that can only be said by someone on the astral plane — meaning that Someone Has to Die in order to say it. Prue uses a potion that stops her heart in order to say the spell and then be revived by CPR.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess had this happen, as the conclusion of a deathmatch had to be well, death, and Xena didn't want to kill her opponent. She was only dead for a little while.
  • In Kamen Rider Double, there was a case where Phillip and Ryu need to get a Gaia Memory out of a woman, but they can only get it out if she was dead. So what does Ryu do? Kill her, of course. Then use the Electric setting on his EngineBlade to revive her.
  • In Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, we have Tetsu get a mind-controlling alien who can only be removed by death off of Ban by stopping and then restarting his heart with his Lightning Fist.
  • In the TV special House of Frankenstein 1997, a werewolf is mortally wounded in wolf form, and her boyfriend brings her to the emergency room, where he holds the doctors at gunpoint and lays the unconscious wolf on the operating table. He then makes them wait until the wolf dies and reverts to human form, whereupon he has them revive her. As the wolf aspect of her is now dead, she's cured of lycanthropy when she recovers.
  • In Fringe in order to stop the destruction of the two universes in the season 4 finale, Walter, knowing Olivia is Bell's power source to destroy the Universes, shoots her in the head, killing her stone dead. After Bell disappears, Walter manages to push the bullet out, allowing the Applied Phlebotinum Cortexiphan to heal the damage done to her and allowing her to come back to life, thus fullfilling September's remark, "In every possible outcome, you have to die."
  • Basically the entire plot of Torchwood: Miracle Day.
    • Oswald Danes can't be executed because no-one can die, but because the execution method itself has been fully carried out, he's a free man.
    • Eventually, the government categorizes people into Categories 3 (perfectly healthy people), 2 (people with potentially but not certainly fatal diseases or injuries), 1 (people who under normal circumstances would be dead) and later 0 (criminals guilty of executable crimes), where 1 and 0 are incinerated alive to destroy them. One of the oddest consequences of this is that Rex Matheson is injured in a car crash to the extent that would make him Category 1, but by the time the government has found him, he's healed enough to be considered Category 2.
  • In the Warehouse 13 episode "Burnout", Pete gets attached to an artifact which, according to the Warehouse's documentation, "requires a lifetime commitment." He manages to get it off him by electrocuting himself, and then Myka gives him CPR. Pete characteristically takes this as an opportunity to be a smartass.
    Pete: I have but one life to live for my — oh no, wait...
  • In Lost Girl, "I Fought the Fae (and the Fae Won)". The rules of the Stag Hunt are that if the prisoner rings the bell they are set free, no outside interference, and the hunt only ends with the ringing of the bell or the death of the stag. After the prisoner is killed, Bo waits until the enforcers have left and then simply has Lauren revive her. The man overseeing the event even compliments them for thinking of it.
  • In the season 1 finale of Nikita, Miranda electrocutes Alex in order to disable her Division kill chip, stopping her heart long enough to shut it down. She then administers a Shot to the Heart to revive her, freeing her from Division's control.
  • Game of Thrones: The Night's Watch oath says it "will not end until my death." Jon has died and come back, therefore he declares his watch has ended. Edd refuses to accept it, pointing out the oath also says members pledge their life "for all nights to come".
  • On The Magicians (2016), the thrones of Fillory are cursed with paranoia; anyone who sits on them will try to kill all the other kings and queens of Fillory, and then themselves. Eliot, Margo, Alice, and Quentin fall under the curse. Penny deals with it by fetching four syringes of potassium chloride to stop their hearts, and four of adrenaline to revive them again afterward. It goes a little sideways when the royals grab the potassium chloride and start stabbing each other, but it still works in the end.
    Fen: I suppose this is one way to get the killing bit over with.
    Penny: Yeah. This is what I was planning.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Changeling: The Lost, Changelings can forge Magically Binding Contracts, sometimes with lifelong terms and nasty or deadly consequences for breaking them. Enter the Myrsina, a rare goblin fruit that puts the eater in a twelve-hour coma so deep that even Fate believes that they've died and discharges their sworn Pledges harmlessly.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock 2, Delta will die if Eleanor dies. Lamb smothers her, stopping her heart long enough to cue the death trigger inside Delta even though Eleanor gets better immediately.
  • In Atelier Totori, a seal can only be released by a living sacrifice. Pamela, as a ghost possessing an artifical body, counts as living but is only mildly inconvienced by death. Totori doesn't know this in advance, leading to some of the most hilarious scenes of the game.
  • The Curse of Monkey Island has Guybrush being given five death cards in his tarot reading. This in addition to the prediction that he will die at Blood Island. He does, repeatedly. Well, at least enough to be buried and declared legally dead. It's just a really deep sleep, caused by mixing medicine and alcohol. It is very clearly pointed out that this would have been lethal if the game didn't run on Rule of Funny.
  • Happens in Kingdom Hearts when Sora voluntarily becomes a Heartless. We later learn that when a strong-willed being is turned into a Heartless, it leaves behind a sentient husk known as a Nobody. Despite being revived shortly after through The Power of Love, Sora proves not to be an exception to this rule and his Nobody is inadvertently born. This has far-reaching consequences; though Sora is initially none the worse for wear, he is eventually revealed to be missing essentially half of his "power" thanks to his Nobody's continued existence, and cannot wake up from his side game-induced factory reset without it. When the Nobody learns that he must forfeit his entire being in order for Sora to return to full strength, he does not take the news well.
  • In Choice of the Deathless, a game about magic lawyers, the Player Character and a fellow lawyer named John Smith are summoned into the demon realm at the end of the game. The summoning is basically a contract defining what the people being summoned are within the rules of the world. Smith arranges to have himself killed, which breaks the contract. When his resurrection amulet brings him back, he has near-infinite power because none of the rules apply to him anymore.

  • In Wapsi Square, while the full details are never given, Monica is able to control the golem girls because her heart stopped when she got hit by a bus. The only existing explanation is given here.
  • Possibly in Goblins. Dies Horribly is fated to, well, die horribly. So he sacrifices himself to a demon where the contract says his soul will die over and over again, believing this to be his ultimate fate. The demon kills Dies, but due to a technicality nobody saw coming (that The Symbiote that is acting as his arm counts as an extra soul) , the contract is rendered null and void, the demon gets banished to Hell, and Dies comes back to life. Whether this truly fulfills the prophecy he was named for is unknown at this point, but given the nature of this world, even if it does, his chances aren't good.
  • In Erfworld, both Wanda and Jack made a promise, enforced by magic, that they wouldn't reveal a secret of Charlie's that they had stumbled across. However, when Jack is croaked and decrypted, the contract no longer applies.
  • Inverted in Girl Genius. There are many, many ways to bring the dead back to life in that world. However, in the noble families of Europa, even a short-term death severs all rights of title or inheritance. E.g., if the duke dies, his heir becomes duke, and stays duke, even if the dead person comes back. Similarly, if the first heir dies, the next in line becomes first, and if the eldest is revived, all they're entitled to is the charity of their family, if that. One character finds consolation after revival in effectively divorcing his horrible wife. It's implied that many nobles (heirs too) circumvent this rule rather than stay dead or give up their titles, but keep it as quiet as they can. Which gives Wulfenbachs good blackmail material.

    Web Video 
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Before heading to Namek, Krillin took out a large life insurance policy. After he was killed and subsequently revived by the Dragon Balls, he claimed the money while pretending to be his own nonexistent brother. He loses all the money when his Gold Digger girlfriend turns out to be a government agent who busts him for insurance fraud. Seemingly the law just assumes Krillin faked his death, though he committed fraud either way.
  • Played for laughs at the end of Golden Time Forever Online when Koko says that she's going to kill Mitsuo, learn necromancy, revive him, kill him again, revive him again, marry him, and live off of his life insurance. Mitsuo immediately points out that what she said didn't make any sense.