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Second Chapter Cliffhanger

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A Cliffhanger that bridges the gap between the second and third chapters of a trilogy by occurring at the end of the second installment.

With the larger story structure of the trilogy, several lessons of smaller scale story telling get carried over to help with the sense of continuation. So the Act Break in a film trilogy can end up acting like a tv show's act break and so put in a cliffhanger to bid you over in the three year production break. It is near ubiquitous with the Two-Part Trilogy. The first installment is often rather introductory and may aim for a more fulfilling tie up at the end. This is often because after just the first one, people don't have the sense of the story as part of a larger whole, and that may include the creators and financiers of the project; alternatively, as with a Two-Part Trilogy, the first part was planned and made as a stand-alone story. However, the end of the second installment often makes a good point for a significant Cliffhanger to be carried over to the final part.


More than just a Sequel Hook, the Second Chapter Cliffhanger will to a degree rob the second film of its own sense of resolution, often putting the characters in the Darkest Hour with everything still up in the air. This helps make an easy way to keep the audience interested in a third part and makes the third part feel like it is genuinely the same story and not just another sequel. This trope often sets up the third installment as being the kind of movie where all of the various threads come together.

Ending Trope, spoilers abundant!




  • The Empire Strikes Back ends with Han Solo being frozen in carbonite and captured by new enemy and crime boss Jabba the Hutt (who is not strictly in league with The Empire) leaving us with just Luke and Leia's promise to rescue him.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ends with Captain Jack Sparrow killed by the kraken and thus captured in Davy Jones' locker, leaving us with the promise of Will, Elizabeth, the crew and Tia Dalma to get him back. Shock heightened by the return from the dead of Captain Barbossa.
  • The Matrix is another Two-Part Trilogy case. The Matrix Reloaded ends with Neo in a coma and the emergence of Smith as an enemy unaligned with the machines, though just as dangerous. It also removed the possible solution that Neo had been working towards during the rest of the movie. This possibly reduced the drama because it made a lot of the actions of the second movie a great big "Shaggy Dog" Story when going into The Matrix Revolutions.
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  • Back to the Future Part II resolved the alternate timeline story, but Marty winds up trapped in the past and everything else is saved for a big fat "To Be Continued".
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part parodies this. The movie seems to end on a low note, with Rex Dangervest revealing himself as an embittered future version of Emmet who tricks him into starting Armamageddon, then strands him on Undar of the Dryar while the Systarians and all of Emmet's friends are trapped in the Bin of Storage, unable to help. Then Lucy interrupts "Everything's Not Awesome" to rally everyone else to turn things around and save the day.


  • The Hunger Games trilogy features a self-contained first novel that ends in a (mildly) happy note; though the main protagonist Katniss's PTSD might come back to haunt her later, we're still assured that she manages to survive the game. Then came the second book, Catching Fire, which ends with the destruction of her district, the death of her best friend, and the abduction of her crush, which is an obvious bridging gap for the final book and is definitely not self-contained (or happy).

Video Games

  • Halo. The cliffhanger between Halo 2 and Halo 3, which gave us the line "Finish the fight", would definitely count; it angered many fanboys, since they had to wait three more years until the conclusion of the story arc. The worst part was that the second game would have had up to three more levels and a coherent ending if not for Microsoft's insistence on sticking to the release date that Bungie had projected when development started. Some sources have even said that a third game was never planned at all.
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 ends with the only surviving protagonists as public enemies, a major villain still alive, the main character stabbed in the chest, being hauled towards a helicopter, and when the pilot is told they have to get out of there, he replies that he "knows a place".
  • Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, the sequel to The Longest Journey. From the three protagonists, it ended with Kian arrested, April dead, and Zoë in a coma with hints that she might have died too. On the top of that, The Bad Guys Win. Fortunately Dreamfall Chapters comes to the rescue.
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2 ends with Serah abruptly dying and the world suddenly being reformed due to the release of Chaos. Lightning is revealed to have been crystallized again and "To Be Continued" is displayed. Although this was thought to be a hint for the player to unlock the rest of the game's multiple endings, the Paradox Endings were simply alternate ways to end the story early, while the secret Omega Ending reveals that Caius succeeded in his goal.
  • Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception ends with conspirators having seized control of the Imperial Capital, the Princess and rightful heir poisoned and on the run, most of the main characters forced to flee with her, and the main character, Haku, forced to fake his own death and disguise himself as his late boss, Oshtor, in a desperate attempt to keep the Empire from falling completely apart, leaving his team heartbroken as to his apparent demise.

Visual Novels

  • Virtue's Last Reward, the second part of the Zero Escape trilogy, ends in a big cliffhanger unlike the first one, which had the main plot resolved and only a vague Sequel Hook. Here, it ends with the protagonist Sigma, having mastered his time travel powers, going back in time to meet Akane in the past so they can stop Free The Soul from unleashing the Radical-6 plague that kills off 6 billion people. The final game, Zero Time Dilemma, picks up from there.

Web Original

  • During the Recollection trilogy, Red vs. Blue had the seventh season, Recreation, end with Washington teaming up with the Meta and capture the Reds at Valhalla while the remaining characters were trapped by attacking aliens.

Western Animation

  • This appears in the structure of the three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender. First season: successful repulsion of enemy Fire Nation navy from the Water Tribe. The second season: betrayal, death, loss, and the fall of the Earth Kingdom to the Fire Nation.
  • The movie trilogy from The Fairly OddParents, wishology, parodies this trope as well as part of its parody of movie trilogies in general: while the first part, "The Big Beginning", ends with a very vague Sequel Hook, the actual second movie ends with a full-fledged Cliffhanger, as the story clearly can't end the way it did (with Timmy having made a Heroic Sacrifice by giving himself up to The Darkness) by itself.
  • Hilda: The first season has a bittersweet ending with Hilda having adjusted to life in Trolberg and Frida successfully mending her friendship with Hilda and David. In the second season, Hilda and Johanna successfully mend their friendship... and then Hilda is teleported from Trolberg and begins learning what life is like as a troll while Johanna begins her search to bring back Hilda before Erik Ahlberg kills her.