Wu Han: Not this time, Indy. I followed you on many adventures... but against the great unknown mystery... I go first, Indy!
So here it is, the first episode of a brand-new story. You want to give a powerful first impression, the idea that this story will be different and you can't expect the typical stuff from this story. Aware that the Genre Savvy audience needs to be impressed, you need to establish this situation is serious.
For that reason, they wheel on the Sacrificial Lamb. They are presented as an important part in the plot or having a close relationship with the main characters, perhaps filling a character archetype (love interest, best friend, etc). Then, in a shocking twist, the lamb is slaughtered early on — by episode seven, tops. The law is laid down: You like these characters? Well Anyone Can Die here. You have been warned.
In short — This Character Exists to Die.
Because of their disposable origin, they are often forgotten once the plot actually kicks into gear. In the worst cases, this is followed by everyone acting as though the lamb never existed in the first place. The opening credits may bill the lamb equally with the other non-lead characters, implying that they form part of the regular cast. And of course, if the lamb turns out to be an Ensemble Dark Horse, they may end up Back from the Dead very quickly.
Compare to the Sacrificial Lion, who fills a similar purpose (die to establish threat) but whose character has been around for a longer time and whose death has long term repercussions with the characters and the story.
Note that technically speaking, the Lamb, Lion or Vile doesn't have to actually die for this trope to be in effect; sometimes, simply being crippled or otherwise brutally taken out of the story (at least temporarily) is enough to qualify. The important aspect is that the character exists to be a victim.
Also see the Red Shirt, who is not so much a character as he is a practice dummy for the villains, and We Hardly Knew Ye, in which a character is introduced and dies much more quickly with less impact.
See also Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome, for the curious tendency of people who survive horror movies to wind up as this if they appear in a sequel.
See also Dead Star Walking and First Episode Resurrection. Related to Stuffed into the Fridge, Doomed Hometown, which are meant to affect the protagonist rather than the audience, and Player Punch for the video game version.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- In the Bronze Age revival of the X-Men comic, Thunderbird is killed two issues after he's introduced. He was actually created to be kicked off the team in his first issue, but the writers changed their mind at the last moment. Then they realized they no idea what to do with him.
- An example is MVP in Avengers: The Initiative, though it turned out he was later cloned, making it almost a First Episode Resurrection.
- In Milestone Comics' Blood Syndicate, team leader Tech-Nine turns out to be the lamb, spontaneously disintegrating from a Phlebotinum Breakdown at the end of the first arc.
- Kole, of the Teen Titans comics, was created just so she could die in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.
- Trajectory from the "new" Infinity, Inc..
- All but one of the members of the X-Force revamp later known as the X-Statix were killed at the end of the first issue - including the team leader and narrator. Later, the new team assembled in the wake of the original group's demise saw Bloke and St. Anna bite it on their first mission. The survival rate improved slightly until the Spike and U-Go Girl died just before the change to X-Statix.
- Blink of Generation X dies in the crossover that introduced the rest of the team, via Heroic Sacrifice. She's remained dead, despite said death (She used her powers to "blink" apart a giant enemy, but couldn't get herself clear) being ready made for a Never Found the Body return. (The Blink starring in Exiles is from the Age of Apocalypse timeline.)
- In X-Men 2099, Serpentina is easily the most likeable character, is the closest thing to a love interest for the viewpoint character, and has the less than impressive power to stretch her arms. Guess what happened to her in the third issue, the end of the first story arc?
- 100 Bullets: Lee Dolan is the second recipient of Graves' attache case that is seen. He gets a headshot from the target of his revenge.
- In #0 of Seven Soldiers introduced is a new Seven Soldiers of Victory composed of veteran member Greg Saunders as Vigilante, Gimmix, Boy Blue, Dyno-Mite Dan, I Spyder, and Shelly Gaynor as the third Whip. Despite most of the members being strictly Z-List, with the exception of Greg and Shelly somewhat, fans had already grown to like them and were saddened when the majority of the team was killed off at the end of the issue.
- Legion of Super-Heroes: Legionnaire Blok was brought back solely to be killed by Roxxas the Butcher and push the Legion to reform during the early days of the Five Years Later continuity, although Blok was a character who had been created a decade before his death.
- In Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers, there are a series of alternate Illuminati who exist just to die to the planetary threats which are menacing 616 Earth.
- Trinity War: Doctor Light, a literally just-inducted member of the Justice League of America, who is incredibly pleasant and nice, a stark contrast to his previous depictions, is (apparently) killed by a sudden discharge of Superman's eye-beams to kick off the event.
- Wonder Woman (1987): Matthew Michaelis is introduced as an old war buddy of Steve's, and every bit as brave and dutiful... but he's a newly-created character with no real ties to anyone else and nothing to teach Wonder Woman, so guess who gets cut down during the big firefight with Ares' cultists?
- 2 of 9 is the first of 9's kind he meets, fixes 9's voice, tries to defend him from a monster ten times his size and half-cat skeleton half-machine, gets caught and carried off by it, is revealed to have been rather well-loved by his group, is subject to a rescue mission by 5 and 9, and gets killed as a result of 9 having a Too Dumb to Live moment as soon as it looks like he's in the clear. All within the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the movie.
- Queen Tara from Epic.
- In the otherwise very goofy Chicken Run, at the very beginning of the film, one of the chickens (Edwina), also known as #282, who has stopped laying eggs is killed and eaten by the farmers, to remind the viewers that yes, this is a chicken farm, and yes, when they get too old, they get eaten (which is why the chickens are trying to escape, of course).
- Watership Down had Violet, a rabbit extra who didn't exist in the book, dying early on to show the world was full of danger. But to those who remember the book, it was a foregone conclusion anyway since once they reach Watership Down, they have no females to continue their lineage with and have to search for more.
- Sausage Party: This trope is of significant value to a movie where the main characters are food. There's the Irish potato who was singing "Danny Boy", then an Italian tomato, then a head of lettuce, a loaf of bread getting sliced by knife, strips of bacon, a block of cheese, a bunch of tortilla chips, and baby carrots.
- The captured sentries guarding the Great Wall of China in Mulan. "How many men does it take to deliver a message?" "One..."
- As soon as the Suicide Squad is assembled and briefed in Batman: Assault on Arkham, KGBeast decides that Amanda Waller is bluffing about the implanted bombs. He soon becomes an object lesson to the others that Waller is not bluffing.
- Played completely straight in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which despite being released after Raiders of the Lost Ark, is in fact a prequel. In this film, Indy's sidekick gets killed within the first five minutes, but of course since this is chronologically the first Indiana Jones film, the audience never got to know him.
- Children of Men gives Julianne Moore star billing only to have that character Killed Off for Real roughly ten minutes into the movie, clearly establishing it as an Anyone Can Die film.
- Steven Seagal's character in Executive Decision. On some posters, Seagal was given equal billing with Kurt Russell, making his death a real shock.
- Drew Barrymore's casting as Casey from Scream (1996), who is one of the first ones to die in the movie, gave the first major sequence of the movie some much-needed Emotional Torque.
- Starship Troopers 3: Marauder actually has an innocent-looking female aide-de-camp called Lamb. Guess who gets executed for sedition?
- The remake of Fright Night has "Evil" Ed. He's the main character's ex-best friend and is already on to Jerry's status as a vampire. He's also played by the recognizable Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Then he's bitten by Jerry less than twenty minutes in, though he doesn't actually die until later.
- Angie from Vantage Point.
- The tour guide in Big Game, to make Hazar Kick the Dog and show that he's a Psycho for Hire.
- Sarah from Law Abiding Citizen. Quite upsetting to see since Sarah was one of the nicest and least corrupt characters in the film.
- In Battle Royale, Fujiyoshi and Nobu are handpicked by Kitano to die first so that their deaths can traumatize the 40 other students into quiet submission. But other than those two, because this is about Japanese children forced into killing each other as a game, most of the characters can be considered sacrificial lambs as many don't even have any dialogue or screen time other than being revealed to be dead or getting killed on-screen.
- Star Wars:
- A New Hope has Owen and Beru Lars, Luke's adoptive guardians, who get slaughtered by stormtroopers offscreen to show that the Empire will kill anyone who's in their way.
- The Empire Strikes Back brings in Dack, Luke's gunner. Luke apparently knows him better than we do.
- The Last Jedi has Rose's sister Paige, who dies during the bomber attack at the very beginning of the movie.
- Both segments of Grindhouse use this trope:
- In Hot Shots!, the most sympathetic trainee pilot dies about a third of the way into the movie, after ticking just about every 'doomed' box an action film can offer (beautiful loving wife, hasn't signed his life insurance papers, is carrying the evidence to crack the Kennedy murder case in his pocket....) Maybe he shouldn't have picked "Dead Meat" as his callsign...
- The Toon shoe that Judge Doom kills to demonstrate the Toon-killing power of his Dip in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
- Art Lean from Mortal Kombat mainly existed to show the characters (and the audience) how badass Goro was (and give Johnny Cage some serious motivation to kick his four-armed ass) as well as give Shang Tsung a major Kick the Dog moment by devouring his soul.
- The movie version of Twilight features Waylon Forge, a character not in the books. Guess they wanted to show the vampires actually killing someone.
- Star Trek
- Peter Preston in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the Director's Cut, he's introduced as Scotty's young nephew, eager to get into space. He ends up dying horribly in the line of duty when Khan attacks... and Scotty isn't even given time to mourn him, as he has to get back to repairs.
- In Star Trek (2009), Captain Robau, Acting Captain George Kirk, and the USS Kelvin all bite the dust in the film's opening, their ultimate purpose being to preserve the lives of Winona Kirk and her newborn son, James T. Kirk. Also, later in the film, Amanda Grayson dies just moments before she can be beamed away to safety. Because, you know, Spock facing the destruction of his homeworld and the annihilation of his entire race isn't having a bad enough day already.
- Elysium: Alas, poor Julio, they hardly knew ye.
- Sandra Brody dies in the first fifteen minutes of Godzilla (2014) due to severe radiation poisoning.
- Ben Talbot from The Wolfman (2010).
- When Trumpets Fade: Bobby, the wounded but optimistic comrade our hero carries off the front in the opening scene, then shoots.
- The Hunger Games: Several tributes are seen being threatened/killed both on-screen and off, such as the curly-haired teenager who hides in the Cornucopia before getting sliced by Cato when he tries to escape. Rue and Foxface could also be a case of this.
- Sarah in Hush
- The only reason Slipknot of Suicide Squad (2016) is in the movie seems to be to show that Waller wasn't bluffing about the implanted bombs.
- Amelia, one of the two candidates who's nice to Eggsy, from Kingsman: The Secret Service exists solely to show that the training for new Kingsmen really is dangerous and can cost lives. Except it isn't and she was really a plant from the Kingsmen themselves, precisely to give the other candidates the impetus to try as hard as possible.
- In a twist on the usual Sacrificial Lamb, almost the entire character list "disappears" in Chapter 5 of "Jacob's Trouble, the Gathering Storm," some 75 PAGES INTO THE BOOK! The ENTIRE CREW of the Icarus 4 disappears, except for one man. The author states that this in order for the reader to become familiar with the characters, to like or dislike them, in an attempt to give the reader an idea of the feelings that those persons not taken in Rapture would experience.
- So far, every prologue (and epilogue) character in A Song of Ice and Fire has died. Chett was lucky enough to have an offscreen death.
- Ogilvy the astronomer in The War of the Worlds is an early example. He is one of a handful of named characters, is a friend of the narrator, and takes part in much of the action of the novel... until he is killed by a Martian Death Ray in Chapter Five.
- The elven guards in the first chapter of the Inheritance Cycle. Paragraphs of detailed, important-sounding description... boop, gone.
- In the spinoff of the CHERUB Series, Henderson's Boys, a young boy named Hugo becomes part of the plot in the first book, only to get shot in the back by a Nazi officer 10 chapters later and die.
- Charity Burbage in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Her death in the very first chapter is to show that the war with Voldemort will be serious, and that not all deaths will be heroic and noble.
- Frank Bryce, the Muggle who Voldemort kills in the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, plays the same role in that book, even combining it with Intro-Only Point of View. His entire purpose was basically to show that Voldemort is BACK!! (At least Frank gets a cameo later when he comes out during the joining of wands along with Voldemort's other kills.)
- Hedwig serves this purpose in the final book. While some of Harry's loved ones had died in previous books, this usually happened near the end of the books, often as a result of a heroic sacrifice. Hedwig's death came within the first few chapters and was unceremonious, clearly signalling that people would start dying much more often.
- Emmeline Vance appears to be an in-universe example. Snape claims to have given the information to the Death Eaters that led to her death. It is thus likely Snape was instructed to do this by Dumbledore, as a ploy to gain Voldemort's trust.
- In the Chaos Walking trilogy, Plucky Girl Maddy is introduced and killed off early on the second book. She was one of the few cheerful and optimistic characters, and her death demonstrated the senseless brutality of the Mayor's men.
- Isaiah in Someone Else's War.
- Lady Mirum from Dragons of Requiem. She's killed off in the second chapter (and in her POV chapter, no less) right after the story makes her seem like she'd be a main character. After she dies, the next chapter shifts over to one of the real main characters, Kyrie Eleison.
- In Dead Six, Train is introduced early as one of Lorenzo's companions, and then quickly killed off in order to show that Big Eddie will not give Lorenzo's men a choice in accepting his job.
- Both Christine and her stuntman in Bride of the Rat God wear an Artifact of Death that ended up a prop in a film. The stuntman is killed, and Christine's friends have to save her.
- In Provost's Dog, the death of Verene serves as a reminder of just how dangerous Dog work is and the harsh statistic that twenty percent of trainees are killed on duty.
- The Last Dragon Chronicles: Hannah and Clive didn't do anything to deserve their fate.
- In Those That Wake, Isabel dies halfway through the book; she didn't get much characterization, but she's mourned, and her death shows things are serious.
- As a concession to what was happening in real life at the time, one of the later books in Tales of the City had Michael's longtime love John suffer an off-screen death from HIV/AIDS.
- Chuck makes it only to the end of the first book of The Maze Runner Trilogy, having become True Companions with Thomas and being treated like everyone's annoying kid brother. He also figures out the final part of shutting down the Maze.
- The Reynard Cycle: Maxon, Lord Chanticleer's steward and POV character of the first chapter of Reynard the Fox, suffers an offscreen death shortly after the conclusion of said chapter.
- In Sharon Kay Penman's historical novel "The Sunne in Splendour", several early chapters are told from the point of view of Edmund, Earl of Rutland. Portrayed as thoughtful, wise-beyond-his-years, and caring of his younger brother, the future King Richard III. The novel sticks to history and seventeen-year-old Edmund is murdered, Red Wedding Style, against the rules of honor while he is a prisoner of the House of Lancaster.
- The Mark of the Horse Lord: Phaedrus the gladiator kills his only friend Vortimax in the first chapter.
- Kim Delaney in The Dresden Files, both in Fool Moon specifically and the series as a whole. She's presented as Dresden's sort-of apprentice, but is torn to shreds by a loup-garou while attempting to contain it with a partially-complete magic circle that Dresden refused to teach to her in full. This sets the loup-garou up as the major threat of the book, and starts Dresden's Character Arc of realizing that concealing information from people, even "for their own good," can have tragic consequences.
- Most of the cast of the Cool Kids Table game Creepy Town, of course. Jake even refers to the first victim likely to die as a "lamb to the slaughter".
- In early 2012, CHIKARA hyped the debut of a rookie named Tianlong. Tianlong's career lasted precisely one match - he suffered a career ending shoulder injury at the hands of 17.
- Destroy the Godmodder: Most of the summons that manage to last a significant amount of time then killed by the latest major threat to demonstrate how dangerous they are. Wilson managed to Subvert this due to his initial insignificance and neutrality and survives until the end of the game, and Build managed to do likewise.
- There was an actual entity called the Sacrificial Lamb that was summoned in 2, intended to be this trope - but it ended up being possessed by Nether Parasites and resurrected as the very dangerous Goat from Heck.
- Richard from Earthsong. Killed (well, sent home, but close enough) inside the first 25 pages.
- Played with, in that he is in fact a bad guy. Also provides the important point of explaining WHY they fight the bad guys.
- Off-White: The entire pack (except for one) that was introduced in chapter 2. Yes, even the puppies.
- One Eye from Goblins. His most important contribution to the plot is to become a motivation for Big Ears to become a paladin.
- Golden Jane from Everyday Heroes. Helped Jane Mighty get started on her life of crime, then was killed by their boss.
- 8 characters emerge from boxes at the start of morphE. All synopsis mention only 5 characters emerging from the crates. Guess how many die in chapter 1.
- Nia from Tower of God met Ja on the 20th floor of the Tower and became his friend and partner, and then got horribly eviscerated by Lurker to show that he's not just in it for shits and giggles.
- Survival of the Fittest has a variation of this trope, where usually an NPC is murdered in the prologue. In the first version, it was a nameless student that Danya shot because he was wearing his hat sideways, and Danya "didn't like punks". However, true to this trope, in other versions (and alluded to in the first version) the teachers, who the characters had probably interacted with at some point during pregame are promptly shot. And very often, the prologue is told in the perspective of one of the teachers murdered.
- It happens with the students as well. When V4 started, a few characters active during pre-game were killed off immediately, namely Remi Pierce, Warren Brown, Reika Ishida and Chris Davidson.
- And in V5, prominent pregame character David Russell commits suicide in his opening post. He is soon followed by Daniel Whitten, and Naomi Bell.
- Tara, in The Wall Will Fall ARG.
- RWBY has Tukson, a bookstore owner that had defected from the White Fang. He's murdered in the opening scene of Volume 2 to demonstrate how dangerous Mercury and Emerald are.
- Joey and Ajax from The Pirates Covered in Fur. The former was one of the main characters' boyfriends, while the latter was part of Michum's main group. They're both killed off in the same chapter to show how ruthless Lyle's invasion will be, and to enforce that Anyone Can Die.
- Morph on the X-Men cartoon series, who came Back from the Dead due to popularity.
- Most of the Monarch's henchmen in The Venture Bros. only last a single episode before being brutally killed by Brock Sampson or another threat. Only Henchmen 21 and 24 survived all of them until the third season, when 24 was killed in an explosion.
- Ripcord in G.I. Joe: Renegades, though his death wasn't just for drama: The premise of the show is that his teammates are being pursued for his murder (which they didn't cause) and the destruction of a Cobra Industries plant (which they were responsible for, but they acted in self-defense).
- Transformers Prime pulled the exact same thing with Cliffjumper, he was briefly brought back to life, but he Came Back Wrong, and then died in an explosion, with no signs he'll return. His relation to Arcee was explored in a flashback in "Out of the Past".
- There was also Tailgate, another partner whose death has driven Arcee mad. The show never reveals Tailgate's appearance.
- Wheeljack mentioned all the other Wreckers died in the war before they brought the war to earth, including Seaspray and Roadbuster.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: In the episode "Hooky", Patrick invites SpongeBob to play on the fish hooks cast into Bikini Bottom by humans. Seeing there are so many hooks and not one fish around, SpongeBob asks "Where is everybody?", Patrick replies he did see a kid playing with the hooks earlier and the camera zooms to child-sized shoes laying on the ground...
- A whole episode of Clone High was devoted to parodying this trope. It begins with the narrator telling viewers that one character will die, and assuring them that they're not going to do something cheap like bring in a new character just so they can kill him. The show then proceeds to do exactly that, in an incredibly obvious fashion, complete with the cast going out of their way to act like the new guy had been around all along ("Oh Ponce, you're a regular character!") Ponce dies almost immediately after the regular cast are done telling everyone how much they love him.
- In Legion of Super-Heroes, Ferro Lad dies two episodes after his introduction in an awesome Heroic Sacrifice. His death was the same as the comics, but watchers and readers got to know the comic version for much longer.
- Barbie and the Secret Door has Nola, a fairy who Malucia drains magic from to show she's evil—and to trick her into showing her where the Queen Unicorn hides.
- Bojack Horseman zigzags this trope often:
Sarah Lynn: Isn't it amazing? [...] No, I mean this building. Domed buildings are so cool.BoJack: I prefer rectangular buildings, as I've firmly established.BoJack is inspired to dive into existentialism, via the audio and visuals playing before them.BoJack: See, Sarah Lynn, we're not doomed. [...] Right, Sarah Lynn? (beat) Sarah Lynn? (beat) ...Sarah Lynn?
- Jeffretariat is a Deconstructed Character Archetype example. He had his own ambitions and life, yet all people remember him for is his death being one of the catalysts for his brother's suicide (courtesy of being Secretariat's younger sibling, whom by comparison he couldn't help but come off as dull).
- Kinko, a child refugee in the impoverished country of Cordovia, is killed during a bombing at the camp. Diane, having gotten attached to him, is broken by his death. This, coupled with the philanthropist/benefactor of the camp/Action Fashionista Sebastian St. Claire brushing off his death in order to focus on rebuilding the camp, leads Diane to suffer a Heroic BSoD and return to Hollywoo where she crashes at BoJack's, avoids talking to her husband Mr. Peanutbutter and tries to drink her weight in alcohol.
- Herb Kazzaz may had a small role in the show, most of it just being flashbacks, but the viewers still got to know him just enough. Although it was known he was going to die from the third episode of the season, they wound up playing for laughs. The day his cancer surprisingly went into remission, he was tweeting while driving and hit a truck. That didn't kill him. The peanuts inside the truck did.
- Sarah Lynn only had around four episodes where she played an integral role, although her importance in BoJack's life made her seem like a very important character, similar to Herb. However, her death was a shock. In "That's Too Much, Man!," she agreed to go on a six-week bender with BoJack, her Parental Substitute and previous TV dad on Horsin' Around. Although she lampshaded the likelihood of her dying young in her first appearance, it was mostly Played for Laughs. That being said, her overdose on a brand of heroin, fittingly called BoJack, was Played for Drama and certainly rough to watch. It happened right after she seemed to have a HeelFace Turn as she realized how unhappy fame made her. Sarah Lynn had been wanting to go to the planetarium since they first started their bender and BoJack finally takes her to one after witnessing her BSOD heroic or villain is up to interpretation. She reveals that she really only wanted to go because she admires all of the work that goes into constructing domed buildings. The final interaction goes like this:
- Gravity Falls: Discussed in "Legend of the Gobblewonker", as Dipper is going over his plan to catch a photo of a lake monster.
Dipper: What's the number one problem with most monster hunts?
Soos: You're a side character and you die in the first five minutes of the movie. Oh wow, am I a side character? Do you ever think about stuff like that?