Etta: It's all changed. We're free.
Arak: Are we?
Arak: What shall we do?
Some kids just want to be normal. Others Jumped at the Call to get into the action right away. They've had wacky hijinks, great adventure and dramatic changes to their lives, but now it's over. The Big Bad has been defeated. The universe is saved. The balance has been preserved. The need for a hero has seemingly gone away. The hero can go back to his ordinary, safe life again... which will promptly bore him out of his skull.
It turns out that the hero liked the increase in excitement. And his normal life is missing some things. Friends he made from the adventure. The thrill of flying in a spaceship. All of these are gone now. He's no different from anyone else again.
This trope seems to suggest that life is like a Video Game: Beat the last boss and it's game over. Nothing else to do. You go back to normality and everything special goes away. While not always, typically this trope is applied to the ending of the series, where it might be the last step of The Hero's Journey.
Depending on the writer or director's choice, it can be a Downer Ending where the hero figures he has to just get used to it (often because Growing Up Sucks), or a more optimistic ending where things suggest that the Weird and Wonderful aren't entirely gone, or are coming back — or that the hero can bring them back if he chooses. The optimistic version sometimes ties into a Sequel Hook. Alternatively, the writers can make it look like a happy ending, and Fridge Logic will kick in and turn it into an Esoteric Happy Ending when you start thinking about this trope.
See also "What Now?" Ending.
As a pseudo-endings trope, this page has spoilers. Consider this your only warning.
- Used in the first few episodes of Battle B-Daman. Yamato finally gets his own B-daman and his first battle is against Gray, someone who's generally considered a really tough opponent. After this, even though Yamato now has the B-daman he's been wanting all these years, he gets bored with every last thing he does. Mie lampshades this and suggests he goes out and look for Gray.
- At the end of Busou Renkin, when the kakugane are collected, Tokiko feels uneasy because she was so used to having hers. Then, of course, Kazuki promises that his will be with her forever...
- Digimon Adventure both subverted and exemplified this.
- About midway through the series, Taichi and Koromon are stranded back in the Real World after defeating the current Big Bad. However, Taichi's the only one who seemingly escaped, and this fact depresses him. However, as Digimon begin appearing and causing destruction in the Real World, Taichi and Koromon realize that unless they fix things in the Digital World, they can't go home, and thus they return to the Digital World.
- Played straight at the end where the Chosen Children's success in fulfilling their destiny saves the Digital World and (seemingly) destroys the source of all evil. However, they're sent back home without their Digimon, and this time without any seeming way to return to the Digital World, leaving behind some of the best friends they ever had. Eventually averted by the sequel, which didn't end like this.
- Digimon Tamers has a similar ending although they were already in the real world (their Digimon had to return to the Digital World without them, or be destroyed by a side-effect of their method of defeating the Big Bad). There is a tiny spot of hope for them to get their partners back at the very end of the last episode, turning this into the optimistic version, but later materials crush this hope.
- Digimon Frontier does it unnecessarily - the portal is closing so the Legendary Warriors shove the kids through, not even leaving time for a real goodbye, making it almost as sudden and tragic a shock as the Tamers version. But then you realize that the Trailmon can take them back (and forth) at any time so there's really no rush. It's kind of a "imitate the past series, even if it doesn't make sense here and now" thing.
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing does this in The Movie Endless Waltz. Most of the pilots find normal lives after the war & seem to be enjoying themselves, but Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy Wu Fei can't find meaning in his life without battles and ends up joining a rebel group so he can help start a new war. Post-Movie he joins the Preventers, an organization dedicated to stopping wars from breaking out in the first place.
- Kurau's human half in Kurau Phantom Memory has fond memories of the time she was taken over by her Rynax entity, but comes to terms with the fact that it is all over now.
- Saber Marionette J does this rather egregiously. After the three Japoness Saber Dolls sacrifice themselves to revive the one female (who was stuck in cryogenic suspension for centuries), the main character wistfully remembers all the good times he had with them and wishes they'd return. Lo and behold, without any explanation, they do.
- Tenchi Universe *starts* with this, combined with How We Got Here. It begins with Tenchi walking to school alone as he reminisces about the "carnival" of adventures he had with those crazy girls from space. But when we catch back up in the final episode, Ryoko is there waiting for him, and tells him that, although carnivals do end, they eventually return. Cut to various scenes showing that the rest of the girls are already on their way back too. And this all leads straight into The Movie...
- Happens to Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: after finally destroying the Anti-Spirals and bringing peace to the Universe, he puts on his cape, says goodbye, and spends the rest of his days Walking the Earth. We then see him as a 40-something traveller helping a kid open a coconut with his drill key; the kid is all surprised with Simon's drilling skills, he calmly says "Of course, kid, who the hell do you think... (kid ignores him) Forget it, I'm just a nobody". Then we see the kid and Simon looking at the horizon as the Gurren Lagann is launched to outer space.
- Twisted in Saikoroshi-hen (Dice Killing Chapter), a bonus chapter for the Higurashi: When They Cry game that was released after the main storyline. After depressed musing over the hard work that almost came to nothing, Rika wakes up in a perfect world without any of the tragic backstories or danger from the previous worlds. It turns out that it was All Just a Dream, and rightly so — there might be no gore or crazies around, but there's also no True Companions and The Power of Friendship is replaced by bullying and apathy. See, even if you had a terrible past, don't change it!
- After episode 5 of FLCL, Haruko and Canti leave Mabase, and life for Naota briefly returns to normal. Naota is rather glad to have Haruko back in episode 6, well in time for the climactic showdown and the series' explosive finale. After said finale both Haruko and Mamimi part terms with Naota on firmer, more natural grounds and he seems to be much more comfortable with the circumstances of being a normal kid.
- In the ending of both the anime and manga of Tokyo Mew Mew, everyone seems to have returned to normal permanently. Their marks have disappeared, they can't talk to animals, and Ichigo stops turning into a catgirl. Then one day, depending which version you're watching, either Ichigo's cat ears reappear just as Berii looks in the window or the girls are informed that their powers have returned and there's a new enemy to fight.
- Happens to YuYu Hakusho protagonist Yusuke after his final battles with Toguro and Sensui. Kuwabara smacked him for it. When you consider that he had to fake his own death before Yusuke could find the motivation to defeat Toguro (AFTER he killed Old Master Genkai, mind), it's understandable.
- This is a major point of contention between Rurouni Kenshin and many of his antagonists. Unlike them, he's willing to settle for an ordinary life. Kenshin, for one, ends his adventure by marrying Kaoru and having a child with her.
- Hime Chen Otogi Chikku Idol Lilpri the girls transformation bracelets are taken away and the mapets return to Fairyland along with Wish after they save Fairyland. They're pretty bummed about it. In the end however Wish returns to Earth saying he liked being an Idol and the final shot shows the mapets sneaking up on the girls from behind.
- This is a major theme with the Imperial characters in Legend of Galactic Heroes. After defeating the Alliance, they realize that they no longer have a great cause to fight for and engage in many costly battles with Worthy Opponent Yang Wenli to experience the thrill of battle again. After he dies, this trope is one of the many reasons that Reuenthal rebels and Reinhardt doesn't even consider negotiations.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion ends with all the apocalypse-seeking angels defeated - however, Shinji, Asuka, Rei, and Misato are each reduced to a broken, traumatized wreck by the beginning of The End of Evangelion. It's then revealed that the entire apocalypse was planned by SEELE to play out anyways, as SEELE dispatches the JSSDF to slaughter what's left of NERV, and use the Evangelions in lieu of the angels as the trigger for Human Instrumentality. Gendo tries to one-up them and use this power to revive Yui, but is thwarted when Rei turns against her master, and hands this power to Shinji. As for what happens next... well, Bennett the Sage was best able to describe the film's second half as 30 minutes of... animation.
- A particularly heartbreaking example happens in Episode 12 of Persona 4: The Animation. Mitsuo traps Yu in a Lotus-Eater Machine where the Investigation Team have solved the murder case and all return to their normal lives. Yu then has to see all of his friends drift apart as they focus on their own lives and don't even meet up like they used to. The clincher is when Kanji begins to complain about how none of them really have anything to talk about in their meetings any more. Fortunately, that does not happen after they defeat Mitsuo and they all still insist on hanging out with each other.
- In YuYu Hakusho Yusuke feels this after winning the Dark Tournament. He lampshades it too by saying, "It's going to feel weird not fearing for my life all the time." Kurama even agrees.
- One MAD comic strip, "It Only Hurts When I Laugh", featured a pair of conspiracy theorists discovering the conspiracy they had spent their whole lives planning for had been uncovered and the masterminds brought to justice. They briefly rejoice before realizing they'd entrenched themselves in the lifestyle so deep, they had nothing left with no conspiracy to plot against. After nearly being Driven to Suicide, the two decide there must be a new conspiracy behind the solving of the old one and return to their lifestyles.
- Lanfeust des Étoiles (Lanfeust of Troy's second season) opens with just this trope. Lanfeust, having gained ultimate power and saved the world, is quite bored and is travelling the wilderness in search of some quest to do that could match his skills ultimate power is rather hard to challenge though. So this was a rather good moment to send him to space.
- Nextwave ends with the titular squad's members asking each other what they should do now that they've defeated the H.A.T.E organization, as they stand on the top of its former mothership. Monica's answer, after she realizes the mothership is still fully operational: "Anything we want."
- This is how the story ended for Link in the The Legend of Zelda comic that ran in Nintendo Power. Zelda thanks him for his trouble, he puts the Master Sword back and that's it!
- In the Marvel Universe, Richard Rider aka Nova went through this situation when he choose to give up his powers to leave the planet Xandar to return home. As it happens, his life was completely ruined with a disrupted education, dead end jobs and no future. At best, Rider tried to live as best he can while wishing with all his heart that he could get the powers back and become a superhero again. Unfortunately, the planet Xandar was destroyed later, which seemed to mean that any chance of Rider getting repowered was gone forever. However, Night Thrasher, wanting a Flying Brick for his planned superhero team, deduced that there might be a way through a high stress situation. To do so, Night Thrasher abducts Rider, drops him off a roof and sure enough, Rider's powers reignite before he hits the ground. Naturally, Rider overjoyed at this and even though he didn't care for the fact that Night Thrasher didn't know if his plan would work, Rider still owes him big time.
- The ending of Mark Waid's Empire. Golgoth has succeeded in conquering the world and killed his daughter and his only friend. Now what?
- The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: A war that's lasted for four million years has come to an end. How do you deal with that - especially if you came online during the war, and it not being there feels like (to quote Fulcrum) there being no more blue, or the weather stopping? Rodimus gets hit with this again after the Lost Light completes its quest, leading to him becoming a drunk who shows up late to a friend's funeral.
- In the Bioshock Infinite fanfic "After The Baptism," Elizabeth and the Lutece twins sheepishly realize they have no idea what they're going to do now that they've managed to end the threat of Columbia, and after a lot of embarrassed hemming and hawing, they're forced to admit they're going to have to think of something. The sequel, "After The Burial" reveals that a year afterwards, Elizabeth has spent most of the time slowly going to pieces, abandoning all her hobbies in favor of getting very, very drunk at any given opportunity. It's also revealed that the events of Burial At Sea were a massive hallucination on her part, courtesy of spicing up a binge-drinking session with a drug made of powdered coral.
- Subverted in Disney/Pixar's Up; Carl makes it to Paradise Falls, then seems at a loss for what to do next... until he takes another look at Ellie's "Adventure Book".
- The Stinger of Finding Nemo has the Tank Gang finally escape and make it to the ocean. But Bloat sums it up in the last line of the film: "Now what?" They're also still in their plastic bags with no idea how to get out.
- In a Disney comic afterwards though, it shows they managed to get out and managed to catch up with Nemo.
- Some of them also partake in the ending credits.
- In The Candidate (1972), the titular character played by Robert Redford is a dark horse candidate for U.S. Senate. He enters the election under the basis that his party believes he will lose, but it gives him an opportunity to air his political views. As the race goes on, he sacrifices his own goals in order to gain political leverage, until he has no more platform or policies to go on. It ends with Redford's character winning the election (which nobody, least of all the heroes, had expected). During the victory party in his hotel suite, he finds a quiet moment to ask his campaign manager, in a horrified tone, "So. What do we do now?".
- The Lord of the Rings has something like this as Frodo has been feeling like this. Turns out being the Ringbearer did some heavy damage to his spirit, so he decides to leave with the elves toward their holy lands in the hope he can heal over time.
- The Graduate could be the most famous example of this.
- A later Broadway play shows what happened after they get off the bus.
- The movie Rumor Has It is about the main character's discovery that The Graduate was based on her mother and grandmother's life.
- Heck, the whole movie could be seen as post-college "what do I do now" on the part of Ben Braddock.
- Jim Henson's Labyrinth ends with this trope: With everything back to normal, Sarah is disappointed that all her magical puppet friends are now gone and is hit with the hard realization that the payoff of her adventure boils down to her parents not blaming her for being the crappiest babysitter on Earth. Soon enough, though, the magical puppet friends appear to tell her that they'll always be there for her, "should [she] need [them]" - She doesn't have to give up the Weird and Wonderful, as long as she keeps her imagination! Awww... EVERYBODY (DANCE, MAGIC) DANCE!
- The Proposition. Charlie didn't enjoy his adventure, but the ending just screams of indeterminacy. It doesn't help that both his brothers, including the one he'd set out to save, are dead.
Arthur: What are you gonna do now?
- The gangster spoof Johnny Dangerously has a Framing Device of the title character as a pet store owner, seemingly retired from his life of crime, and telling the story of his life to a kid—complete with An Aesop of "crime doesn't pay." Then a limo pulls up, and he remarks "Well, it paid a little..."
- In Prince Caspian, Peter in particular is none too happy to be a young teen dealing with stupid schoolboys again, as opposed to a full-grown man and a king.
- Almost happened to Inigo in The Princess Bride. Having finally achieved revenge, he's not sure what to do with his life now. Fortunately, Westley is on hand to suggest a new career option: "Have you considered piracy? You'd make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts."
- Kind of a central theme in The Hurt Locker. It turns up again in Bigelow's latest picture, Zero Dark Thirty; Bin Laden is dead. Maya, the CIA agent who dedicated her entire adult life to finding and killing him, now has to face life without her mission. The final scene of the film sees her sitting alone in an airplane and weeping, unsure of where she wants to go.
- Cheerfully averted in The Last Starfighter.
- In L: change the WorLd, Watari is dead, the Kira case is solved, and L only has 20 days left to live. He tries to pass the days alone solving as many cases as possible but is clearly frustrated and despondent. In the end, once the Blue Ship case is over he realizes he really did want to keep on living.
- Pleasantville's stinger, with Betty asking George and Bill.
- A variation in There Will Be Blood; Daniel is offered a deal that would let him stop all his hard work and retire at a relatively young age, and asks the man making the offer what he thinks Daniel would do with himself afterwards. It's shown by the end of the film that, without the challenge and the work, and with more money than he knows what to do with, Daniel degenerates into an unstable alcoholic.
- Just after the big group dance "At the Prom" number in Not Another Teen Movie, all the main characters "freeze" in front of the school, arms raised, not knowing what to do next. Jump cut to inside the prom.
- At the end of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Miss Price has lost her powers, and Mr. Brown has gone off to war. Charlie laments that they're not going to have any adventures anymore, and Paul points out that he still has his enchanted bedknob. It sparkles, hinting that it retains its magic.
- The Best Years of Our Lives is about nothing but this. It follows three World War II veterans as they return home after the war and try to adjust to civilian life. All of them have been so changed by their war experiences that they can't fit back into their old lives, and are forced to reinvent themselves . . . with varying results.
- The Hunger Games: After the first games are over.
Peeta: What do we do now?Katniss: We try to forget.Peeta: I don't want to forget.
- At the end of book three of Secret of the Unicorn Queen, Sheila gets to go home. By page two of book four, she's decided she can't focus on algebra and baseball, or her "normal life", so she goes back.
- The soldiers in All Quiet on the Western Front worry about this, because being so young, they have left no roots behind in the world to return to. Lucky for most them, this problem is solved when they die.
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only In Death, Rawne, who has long hated Gaunt, finds himself feel lost and bewildered, believing Gaunt to be dead. When he learns Gaunt is alive, he gets Sand In My Eyes.
- The last of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books has this as a central theme; after a quarter of a century of bloody warfare, Europe is finally at peace - and the world is full of old soldiers who have done nothing but fight their entire adult lives. Many of them have come to enjoy it. So what next? Two solutions are presented; you can either head for South America and join the first rebellion you come across, or you can do what Sharpe does and walk away. The TV series solves the problem by sending him to India.
- At the end of E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, after the heroes' final victory, they are feasting in their hall, feeling melancholy over their inability to complete any more great deeds, when one of their powerful magical allies offers them a gift for helping her earlier. They wish for the villain and his henchmen to be resurrected so they can fight him again, rather than being bored, finding some other adventures, or turning on each other.
- Last line of Alan Dean Foster's Flinx Transcendent, the last book of the Humanx Commonwealth series — Flinx: "I'm bored."
- Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. He gets to go back to the Magical Land, though.
- The whole book revolves around the idea that the price of getting what you want is getting what you wanted.
- See Robert Heinlein's Glory Road. The main character gets out of 'Nam, kills a dragon, saves twenty universes, marries the empress, and is honored as a hero about 3/4 of the way through the book. He then has to figure out something else to do. By the last page he is back to being an adventurer.
- In a cameo appearance in another, less...tightly written...novel he is back to adventuring with the empress again, for an unspecified time. Probably she is on holiday.
- Norton Juster's book (and the cartoon based off of said book) The Phantom Tollbooth ends with Milo returning home. The next day, after school, he rushes back home to return to the tollbooth... and finds it's disappeared. In its place is a note saying it's moved on to the next kid that needs a dose of the fantastic, but that Milo knows how to find it. (Presumably this means his imagination.) After a moment's thought, he smiles and admits he does know how... and he doesn't need to go back just yet, there's so much to do where he is now!
- In the novel series The Demon Princes by Jack Vance, after killing the last of the titular "Princes" (the five most evil men in the Universe who destroyed the protagonist's homeworld), the hero is asked this question and can only answer "I don't know ... I have been deserted by my enemies.... The affair is over. I am done."
- Vance's Dying Earth short story "Guyal of Sfere" ends with the main characters asking "What shall we do ..." after having defeated a major demon and acquiring a vast treasure of forgotten knowledge.
- Captain Vimes from the City Watch novels in the Discworld series nearly falls into this in Men at Arms, since he's rather reluctant to retire to the life of a nobleman. Luckily the newly appointed Captain Carrot convinces the Patrician to expand the watch and appoint Vimes as its Commander... albeit with the condition of accepting a knighthood.
- In the Vorkosigan Saga. Miles found himself constantly increasing his challenges every time he succeeded, and realized it was becomes of "So What Do I Do Now?" He gave it a name: "playing wall". He was forcibly divorced from his Naismith identity in Memory, which allowed him to get over his rut.
- The original ending to Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card had Bean ask an exhausted Ender, "What will we do, now the war's over, Ender?" and Ender's only reply was that he needed to sleep. (This was followed by a scene between two bit-parters emphasizing just how difficult it would be for the Child Soldiers to adapt to normal life).
- In the concluding short-story in Solo Kill by Kye Boult, baron Amarson's pseudo-feline warrior race faces a troubling future when a violent conflict lasting for generations reaches its end. Amarson realizes that unless he can create a meaningful alternative for his people, they will perish from ennui.
- Artemis Fowl, being an Insufferable Genius greedy teenager with high tech fairy friends, understandably feels this way whenever he has to deal with everyday life.
Artemis: I went from saving the world to geometry in a week. I'm bored, Holly.
- J. R. R. Tolkien drafted a Lord of the Rings sequel, The New Shadow, where he explored just how dullsville post-War of the Ring life would be like for those who had experienced such exciting times.
- Jo Walton's short story "Relentlessly Mundane" goes into merciless detail on this subject. To add insult to injury, they've lost all the skills they had in the other world.
- Jo Walton's novel Among Others is all about what happens after the great battle is won and the surviving heroine is left to pick up the pieces of her life. The bookworm protagonist refers several times to Tolkien's coverage of this subject at the very end of The Lord of the Rings.
- In the last chapter of Pamela Dean's The Hidden Land, Laurie actually says "What do we do now?" She and Ted have just returned from the Hidden Land, which they had imagined and played about for years as the Secret Country. Although readers are aware there's a third book, the bitter loss is described in painful detail. They even lampshade the "we learned something" business.
It seemed that even imagination was no friend to them now. They could stumble from day to day, thinking they saw summons after summons back to the Hidden Land. But they had lost the Secret Country.
- In the The Lost Fleet series, the Alliance and the Syndicate have been at war for a little over a hundred years. As such, the main character (Who spent 99 years, 11 months and change as a Human Popsicle starting from the end of the first battle) is literally the only person on either side who can remember a time when there wasn't a war going on. The fact that nobody knows how to handle peacetime is a major plot point in the sequel series.
- The question rises at the end of The Malloreon, as the Event that everything was building towards has come and gone. The Prophecy informs Belgarion that his new job is to help the world settle into a new monotheism under Eriond, as the other gods are moving on to other worlds. It also adds that, after spending the past two decades constantly under threat of death, he and his friends should relish the boredom for a bit.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer ends with this. After defeating the First Evil, destroying the Hellmouth and the entire town of Sunnydale, and activating all of the potential Slayers, Dawn asks Buffy "what are we going to do now?" The final shot of the series is a closeup on Buffy, smiling.
- It's later revealed, in Angel crossover episodes and the canonical Seasons Eight and onward comics that they've gone out looking for new Slayers and created a multinational demon-killing organization. That'll do nicely.
- There's a very minor one in the Musical Episode "Once More With Feeling", which ends with a song with these lyrics: "The battle's done / And we kind of won / So we sound our victory cheer / Where do we go from here?"
- Not really minor, as a) the song is called "Where Do We Go From Here?" and b) the Scooby Gang is caught up in existential angst following the forced revelation that by bringing Buffy back from the dead they ripped her out of Heaven and she feels like she is literally in Hell every waking moment.
- The new series of Doctor Who has explored this with respect to his companions. The episode "School Reunion" has Sarah Jane explaining to him that her life was a bit of a wreck after he dropped her off; after what she'd seen, going back to a normal life proved undoable. It's implied this is universal among his "voluntary" companions.
- It was especially tragic with Rose (and later Donna) because it was so sudden and unexpected. You're expecting to go off to the next adventure, when bam, the dimensional gate closes, separating you forever, or fatal My Skull Runneth Over can only be prevented by mindwipe. Sarah Jane had a fairly similar situation. However, Martha made the choice to return to her old life, and was shown to not have regretted it.
- Well, sort of. Before she met the Doctor, she was a medical student, and after she leaves him she joins UNIT and becomes an alien-fighting badass. Though she does find time to qualify as a doctor. It's implied that even though she chose to leave, she couldn't just pick up where she'd left off, particularly after her year-long Walking the Earth nightmare situation.
- They made sure to wrap up some loose ends in the last episode of the Tenth Doctor. Martha's engagement, apparently, didn't work out and she left UNIT; she does, however, end up with Mickey, and the pair spend their time fighting aliens. Donna finds her true love and gets married, with a little gift from the Doctor. Even Captain Jack, who is shown sulking in an alien bar after killing his own grandson and losing Ianto is a little cheered up by the Doctor, who introduces him to Alonso (the midshipman from the Titanic starship). He also saves Sarah Jane's adopted son from being hit by a car.
- In the episode "Vengeance on Varos", the governor finally wins concessions and money from the company they sell their minerals to. He announces this to the Bread and Circuses-minded populace, and two of them hear it and are bewildered because they don't know what they will be doing with themselves.
- It was especially tragic with Rose (and later Donna) because it was so sudden and unexpected. You're expecting to go off to the next adventure, when bam, the dimensional gate closes, separating you forever, or fatal My Skull Runneth Over can only be prevented by mindwipe. Sarah Jane had a fairly similar situation. However, Martha made the choice to return to her old life, and was shown to not have regretted it.
- Many of the comic sketches in Spike Milligan's Q series end without a Punchline (he never was one for narrative convention). Instead the cast just stop what they're doing and shuffle offstage sideways, chanting "What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now?"
- Sliders season 3 finale. Rembrandt and Wade have presumably slid back to original Earth. Maggie and Quinn attempt to follow them and wind up in a futuristic world. Maggie: "So how do we get home?" Quinn: "I don't know." Scene. Apparently, they thought that if they ended on a cliffhanger they couldn't get cancelled. Wrong.
- Then the season 5 finale. Rembrandt has slid, possibly back home to his death, leaving Maggie, Mallory and Diana stranded along with Quinn's mom. And the person who can see the future just died. After standing there for five seconds, one of them asks "So... what do we do now?" "I don't know." Again, cliffhanger -> cancelled. There was talk of a Wrap It Up movie, and the ending was clearly written with such in mind, but sadly it never materialized, leaving the series Cut Short.
- Gilligan's Island first movie, "Rescue from Gilligan's Island," shows the castaways back on the mainland, finally rescued after 15 years on the island together. When they are all finished with the parades and press conferences, they start to turn away from each other, and then realize, "Wait a minute. I/We aren't going to be together anymore" and come back together for one last good-bye hug. Later, Ginger is trying to deal with the "new" Hollywood (more sex and violence), the Skipper and Gilligan have to contend with the insurance company not wanting to pay for the Minnow's replacement, the Professor constantly "inventing" things that have been around for years, and MaryAnn having to go back to the farm on Kansas. The only ones who mostly go back to their former lives are the Howells, and later, we see that they really aren't happy in the large mansion and such after spending so much time on the island. Later, when they get shipwrecked again it's almost a relief for them. Luckily, the next movie gets them rescued and the island becoming a resort.
- In Stargate Atlantis, at the end of Series 5, the Wraith lead by Todd agree to undertake the gene-therapy and free themselves from their reliance on using Humans as food. Despite the benefits, Todd laments that it's the end of millennia of Wraith society and culture, particularly their self-image of themselves as the Superior Species.
Dr. Keller: It's for your benefit too. If you don't have to rely on human feeding, the war would be over.Todd: Perhaps... But then what would we do? Who would we be?
- In Game of Thrones, after Dani frees the slaves in Mereeen, most of the older ones, who had "respectable" positions as the Masters' childrens' teacher and such, wants to voluntary return to the status, since they are too old to start a new life. Dani allows them to be contracted back to the family, for no more than a year at a time.
- This happened frequently in The West Wing: after solving this week's problem, most of the staff sat around exhausted but exulting in their victory. President Bartlet played this one straight: he walked back to his desk, turned to his Chief of Staff and said "What's next?". Because, for the President, there is always something next.
- The last episode of the series ends with Bartlett, his time in office finally over, gazing out the window of his plane, clearly pondering what he's going to do now. It then cuts to newly inaugurated President Santos dealing with the crisis of the moment in the Oval Office, then turning to Josh and asking "what's next?".
- The A-Team ended on this. After the team had yet again defeated the bad guys of the week, they discuss the possibility of getting pardoned earlier than they thought, and Hannibal was thinking what they would do after they get their pardons.
Hannibal: Well, I was thinking, like Bernie and George, what are we gonna do when this thing's over? I mean, what are we really qualified to do?
- However, they soon imply that they might likely continue doing what they did in their fugitive days - go after the bad guys.
- Emilie Autumn has a moment of this in "One Foot In Front Of The Other" on her Fight Like A Girl album.
- Pink Floyd strugged with this after the mind-blowing success of The Dark Side of the Moon, which was reflected in some of the lyrics for the albums that came afterwards. The Wall even included a song called "What Shall We Do Now?", which due to the limitations of the LP had to be shortened to become "Empty Spaces", but was heard in its full incarnation live and in the movie.
- The very first Baby Blues comic began right after Zoe was born, with Darryl, Wanda and Zoe all sitting there thinking, "Now what?"
- After satellite radio was created, talk show hosts came flooding in. Suddenly, they were given freedom of speech. Now they could say anything they wanted to. So what do you say? Suddenly, there's no censorship, no FCC over their shoulders, no Moral Guardians "protecting" their children's virgin ears. But what do you talk about? You don't have to be creative anymore with your euphemisms, but then it's not funny anymore. Soon, the shows ended up just being the word "fuck" every other word, just because they could.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The primary phase ends with Arthur and Ford discovering that the Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, The Universe and Everything (42) was "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?," and consigned that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Universe.
Arthur: What do we do now?
Ford: (after a beat) I guess we just suck in our pride and join the human race.
- Series 5 of Bleak Expectations begins with Pip Bin's Arch-Enemy, Mr. Gently Benevolent, apparently gone for good. This leaves Pip at a loose end, since he's spent half his childhood and all of his adult life thwarting Benevolent's increasingly complicated schemes for killing him and destroying the universe—he's delighted when Benevolent turns out to be Not Quite Dead, again.
- Look at the end pages of the first thread of Destroy the Godmodder. This was the response of many players before they realized that the second had started already.
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: Why did the titular castle reappear a mere 5 years after Richter Belmont banished Dracula? It seems like Richter couldn't go back to a normal life after saving the world from the Prince of Darkness and he wants Dracula back so he can be the hero again. Luckily he's just been brainwashed into thinking this, although you can get a Non-Standard Game Over by killing him.
- In the best ending of Cave Story, Balrog asks Curly and the protagonist what they're going to do now. Curly declares she'd like to live out the rest of her days somewhere with a beautiful view and they all go off to look for one.
- Subverted in Dragon Quest III, where pretty early in the game the player is forced to become the king of Romaly, and then must relinquish the role to continue on with the story.
- Final Fantasy X's sequel did this twice:
- After the ending of the first game, Spira enters the Eternal Calm. Final Fantasy X-2, posits that Yuna's life has settled into a routine, which is shaken up only after discovery of a sphere depicting images of "Tidus." This prompts her to become a Sphere Hunter to find the truth about this. While this happens, the rest of the world discover that being freed from Sin gives them the opportunity to squabble among each other, giving rise to religious and civilian factions which almost engage in civil war.
- The Updated Re-release, Final Fantasy X-2: Last Mission explicitly states that, after its own ending, the Gullwings have gone their separate ways and settled down in ordinary, domestic lives. After they receive a letter of challenge, they join up again to tackle one last dungeon, which helps them realize that they'll always count on each other regardless.
- About half to two-thirds of the way through Persona 3, SEES has a short battle with this after defeating the twelfth Arcana-shadow. Not long after, cue the clarification of Ikutsuki's Evil Plan, followed by the build-up to either the Downer Ending or the Bittersweet Ending.
- The real "What do we do now?" is in The Answer, a sort of expansion pack available in some releases of the game, taking place after the defeat of the final boss and the death of the original protagonist. When Shadows start attacking again, the survivors are a little too happy to finally have something to fight, and it turns out that their inability to find proper closure is part of what brought the Shadows back in the first place.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon manages to take this to downright Tear Jerker levels. Seriously, it has an honest-to-God Don Bluth ending.
- The Metal Gear games all end with Stingers which resolve plot points or serve as Sequel Hooks. Grand Finale Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots instead has a "What do we do now?" between Snake and Otacon.
- You Have to Burn the Rope features a little ditty at the end of the game that's mostly about this:
Now you're a hero / You managed to beat the whole damn game
We're happy you made it / But how are you gonna spend the rest of this day?
Maybe watch a video / Maybe press refresh and start again.
- Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando begins with the titular duo being interviewed for a show, and they discuss the fact that they haven't done too much since the events of the first game.
Presenter: Welcome back to "Behind the Hero". Tonight's heroes are the duo who recently restored peace and order to our galaxy: Ratchet & Clank. So gentlemen, tell us about your latest incredible adventures!
Ratchet: Well as you can imagine, we've been pretty busy. After Drek's defeat there were parades, press conferences, fancy dress balls...
Clank: ...and the wiener roast at Al's.
Ratchet: Oh yeah that, and then things started to slow down a bit. After that we... well...
Clank: There was the grand opening at "Groovy Lube".
Ratchet: Right. I think that was... last week.
Clank: Six months ago.
Ratchet: We're still pretty busy, but in a more, uh, domestic sense.
Clank: Yesterday I flushed out my radiator core.
Ratchet: I guess... no one needs a hero right now.
- In the Warcraft series, Maiev Shadowsong, a night elf warden personally responsible for the imprisonment of Illidan Stormrage, devotes her entire life to chasing him when he escapes prison. Eventually she ends up killing him, only to realize her life has no meaning anymore.
- Happens in the time between Star Fox 64 and Star Fox Adventures. After saving the Lylat System in the previous game the Star Fox team finds themselves out of work and with nothing to do. This causes Falco to leave the team and for all their fancy equipment to fall into disrepair. Same thing happens in the prologue of Star Fox Command, only this time the entire team breaks up.
- Shaundi asks this after the main story ending of Saints Row 2. The answer, of course, is "whatever the fuck we want".
- Final Fantasy VIII fanon embraces this trope for continuations, usually featuring Squall trying to come to terms with life after the war and a job that, now Ultimecia is no more, is mostly paperwork.
- Lance Boyle brings this up in the intro to Megarace 2: "[The winner] is crowned King Megaracer 2, he experiences a sense of achievement, and returns in regal triumph to reality, where he will probably never readapt."
- Disgaea 3 reveals that, after saving Veldime in Disgaea 2, Adell has pretty much jack-all to do. Turns out the Demon Hunter skill set doesn't transfer to other jobs very well.
- One of the earliest versions of this in videogames is Ultima IV, and it's entirely based around it. Basically, in the past three games, all of the big evils have been destroyed (there are still dungeons full of monsters to fight, but nothing controlling them or threatening the world). So what do you do? Go on a quest to become the most shining example of pure good in the world as an example to everyone else!
- Said example then immediately departs the world, giving rise to a new great evil that kidnaps the king and corrupts the Avatar's philosophy, turning moral fortitude into utter totalitarianism. So, back to form. Of course, the kidnapping was partly a result of this trope, too (albeit offscreen) as Lord British decided that, having nothing better to do, he needed to wander down into the underworld and see what was up with that freaky place, only to have his party eaten alive by Demonic Spiders. This is why kings have champions in the first place.
- The final game in the series reveals that the Avatar's quest to become an example of pure good created the Big Bad of the last trilogy of games, the Guardian, since he is the embodiment of the evil the Avatar left behind.
- In Dragon Age II, completing Fenris' persona quests leads to this. Fenris finally kills his former master so there is no one hunting him anymore. He doesn't feel satisfied, since as an amnesiac whose few memories are still of slavery, he has no idea what do once he doesn't have to run and fight any longer. A conversation with Hawke sets him straight and he sees the bright side. Maybe he doesn't have an answer to "So What Do We Do Now?" yet...but for the first time in his life, the answer to that question is completely up to him.
The future of a slave is never uncertain. But I am no longer a slave. Perhaps it's time I remembered that.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition:
- Some of the members of the party start asking themselves this question near the end of the game. A few make plans to leave the Inquisition to either settle down or pursue their own interests, while others decide to stick around.
- The Inquisition itself is forced to confront this in the Trespasser DLC. Two years after the main story, the leaders of Orlais and Ferelden demand the Inquisition justify its heavily-armed presence in their nations now that the threats it formed to fight are long dead. The Inquisitor can choose to either downsize the group and reform it as a peacekeeping force under the Divine, or disband it for fear of internal corruption and refusal to be used as a political pawn.
- Minecraft's bizarre ending sequence has two entities speaking directly to the player, praising their accomplishments in the game and suggesting that maybe their next adventure will be to do great things in the real world, too.
- Meta example: the Expansion Pack and New Game+ try to fill this role, and this is the central question behind replay value.
- At the end of Dragon's Dogma the player essentially becomes God. This is not nearly as fun as it sounds since the player can visit the game world but is unable to interact with it in any way, condemning the player character to an eternity of loneliness. The only way to escape this fate is suicide, although this actually reincarnates the player character in the body of their main pawn.
- Or the other way around, if the conditions are right.
- Dracon the Dragonslayer's campaign in Heroes of Might and Magic III: Armageddon's Blade ends with him finally slaying the mighty Azure Dragon. As he sits on the body of his fallen prey, he wonders why the victory feels so empty. Dracon had built up the Azure Dragon as the key to long sought personal contentment. He admits he was wrong and wonders what he'll do next.
- Dreamfall: The Longest Journey asks this question in regards to the protagonist of the original The Longest Journey, April Ryan: after sacrificing most of her ordinary life to Save Both Worlds, she was left to pick up the pieces without any recognition of her ordeal from anyone (since most people who knew the real story are dead). As a result, she has become a bitter cynic with Death Seeker tendencies and refuses to get involved in anything remotely similar to another grand, world-saving adventure in Dreamfall.
- It's implied that Link was hit with this after the events of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (from the child timeline) and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. With his adventures completed and his duties fulfilled, Link has nothing else to do and lives the rest of his life regretting that he could not pass on his sword techniques to another person. The Hero's Shade in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is confirmed by Word of God that he is that same Link and he finally passes on his knowledge to the current Link.
- In the I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC video "Justice League vs. Avengers Infinity War", when DC declares Marvel the winner and decides to end the debates, Spider-Man asks this. Superman then suggests they do the one thing they hadn't done at all: just watch the movies together as friends.
- In Wapsi Square, Monica seems to have this problem. Tepoz lampshades it. And, it turns out that she's not the only one.
- In Sins Venials, after the Sins tell Alicia that her job as host is done and it's time for her to go home, she decides that if she has to live a normal, boring life, then the Sins do too.
- Season 2 of W.I.T.C.H. starts with Taranee trying to get into trouble out of fear of becoming anonymous; subverted by her teachers going easy on her since she had always been such a good student. The episode ends with a heartwarming aesop about how she will never be anonymous as long as she has friends.
- Plus she didn't have to worry about not being done as a Guardian as a new Big Bad was currently building her forces at the time.
- At the end of season 2 the heroes are relieved to have finally put that behind them and are eager to resume their normal lives, clearly excited at the prospect of this trope... and then The Stinger shows one of the antagonists from the comics taking a position at their school, setting up the conflict for season three that will never happen.
- In the episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft" of South Park, a griefer was killing each player discouraging them from playing, so in order to play again, the protagonists play for months, 21 hours a day, killing boars to gain experience points to achieve a level that allows them to beat him, and when they finally do with the help of the Infinity +1 Sword, the question is dropped. Cartman's answer: "What do you mean? Now we can finally play the game."
- Chuck Jones' latter-day Road Runner short Soup or Sonic ends with Wile E. Coyote finally catching his prey — but unable to do anything with him due to their difference in size. He holds up a pair of signs for the audience reading, Okay, wise guys, you always wanted me to catch him - Now what do I do?
- Averted at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender; even with the defeat of Ozai, Aang and Zuko are clear on the fact that there is a lot of rebuilding to do, both in terms of damage caused by the war and in relations between the nations.
- Happens twice in The Real Ghostbusters episode "Ghost Busted" - there's a dry spell of supernatural activity, so the guys modify their equipment to trap living beings and go into the crime-fighting business. Unfortunately they're too good at this, wiping out all crime...right before another surge of ghosts. Egon even literally says "So what do we do now?" before the hauntings start getting called in.
- In Transformers, the Cybertronian War has been going on for so long that whenever somebody wins for a while, or the possibility of the war ending arises, many mechs are unsure of what to do, since they've spent all their lives fighting.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The premise for the Season Six episode "On Your Marks." Having achieved their marks last season, the Cutie Mark Crusaders find themselves Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life all over again and their real challenges just beginning.
- Many veterans of the military found during their time of service that they felt they were truly living when danger was all around. Back in the civilian world, they often don't know what to do with the rest of their lives. This is why many go into mercenary work for private contractors. (A good dose of PTSD doesn't help, either.)
- Some people who are revived after being technically dead recount having amazing experiences before returning to life. In some cases (especially for those who believe they experienced the afterlife), ordinary life just doesn't seem meaningful anymore.
- With glasnost, and later, when the Soviet Union fell, many people suddenly had far more freedom of speech. What do you talk about? How the Soviet Union sucks? How the 90s economy sucks? What do you do now that you have all this freedom? Do you go on with your daily lives and live the same as you always have? Do you go check out that new McDonald's in Red Square? Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell is all about this. There are people nostalgic for the days of Communism in the Eastern Bloc because they had to be creative about everything they did. Now that they didn't have the excitement that little kids do when they do something naughty, it wasn't worth it anymore. It's hard to understand for Westerners.
- This is the unfortunate consequence of many a revolution headed by the lower class. Without someone who has the slightest idea how to run a country, they have feuds whenever a stable government is trying to be established.
- This is one of the major hurdles to overcome after ending a relationship. It causes a lot of people to either try to run back into it, or start another (often equally ill-advised) one as soon as possible.
- This is a common reaction of any sports fanbase whose team wins a championship, particularly after a long drought. After a couple days of euphoria and celebration, it sets in that the season is over and the focus quickly shifts to next year. A few Chicago sportswriters made light of this in the days following the 2016 Cubs' World Series victory, stating that there was something strangely empty about going into the offseason without looking forward to breaking the so-called "Curse of the Billy Goat."
- A lot of activists run into this whenever their cause makes a major stride forward. For example, the LGBTQ movement in the United States suddenly didn't have a main point to rally behind when gay marriage was legalized nationwide. Fighting the nebulous threat of homophobia is more daunting and will obviously take decades.
- During much of the Cold War, but especially after the Cuban Revolution (with the overthrow of a government in Guatemala a few years earlier apparently giving the US something like Bay of Pigs could even theoretically work), Central American politics were a tug of war between the USSR (and Cuba) on the one hand and the US on the other. It split the Catholic church right down the middle, with the hierarchy in Rome favoring the old elites and many lower clergy (up to some bishops) preaching "liberation theology" or even outright serving communist parties or governments (as Ernesto Cardenal did in Nicaragua). There death squads and atrocities, but overall the anti-communist atrocities were probably worse than the communist atrocities. Then communism fell and Cuba became too poor and had to focus on itself too much to fund revolutions abroad, so Central America could mostly run its own affairs... And while the death squads are gone and some of the former guerrillas have turned legitimate political party winning elections, Guatemala elected a literal clown, Nicaragua elected Ortega again (who had already been the guy the US wanted to get rid of 1979-1990) and overall the reaction to the end of outside meddling seems to have been "huh. What now?" Even when Honduras had a coup/constitutional crisis that ended with a left wing president deposed, the US actually condemned the acts of the Honduran right wing. Now where's the fun in that?