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This Way to Certain Death

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Our adventurer is working his way through the dark tomb of King Nohatsuput, but he is not worried about the Curse, nor the many Death Traps, nor Nohatsuput's Mummy rising again to strangle him. Nope, no worries at all because he bought a special talisman from the local villagers. But wait...the bones of many previous adventurers all lie along this path...all with the same familiar talisman...

This trope describes the instance when a character (or perhaps just the audience) realises this is a dangerous area, because many other people in the same circumstances have left evidence of their demise. To continue might be considered Schmuck Bait but we've got a story to tell.

In several instances, this trope becomes a Deus ex Machina that helps the main character or hero get out of the incoming peril in some way. This can be simply the warning that the area is dangerous, but sometimes the hero may find useful items left by the victims. Compare Follow the Chaos.


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    Comic Books 
  • In the Scrooge McDuck story The Treasure of the Ten Avatars, Scrooge and Donald are exploring an ancient Indian city to finds the treasure stored away in the lower levels. Several thousand years ago Alexander's Greek Hoplites tried the same thing but failed to get past all the traps. The Ducks keep finding evidence of the soldiers' unfortunate deaths: armor left behind because whoever was carrying it was eaten, armour with holes pierced through them, armour squished like a pancake, etc.
  • Les démons d'Alexia: In the original short story, when Alexia enters the creature's lair, she sees the skeletons of past victims.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the film Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the explorers come across a field of sunken ships ranging from Greek triremes to more modern iron ships shortly before being attacked by the Leviathan.
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, when Spongebob and Patrick go to buy ice cream from an old lady in a stand, right in the middle of piles of bones all around it. Ignoring the danger, Spongebob wades through the bones. Patrick looks at the bones, then looks at Spongebob, and cries out "SPONGEBOB!". Spongebob turns around, and Patrick says "...Make mine chocolate."
  • Shrek, when Shrek and Donkey find Fiona's castle, there are a few humorous instances where we see the remains of previous would-be rescuers littered around the deserted halls.
    Princess Fiona: You didn't slay the dragon?!
    Shrek: It's on my "to do" list. Now come on!
    Princess Fiona: But this isn't right! You're meant to charge in, sword drawn, banner flying — that's what all the other knights did!
    [cut to skeletal remnants of a would-be knight]
    Shrek: Yeah, right before they burst into flame!
  • Finding Nemo: On the journey to Sydney, Dory and Marlin come across a trench that they can either go through or swim over. Dory is eager to take the direct route, but just out of their sight there's a fish carcass lying at the entrance. Though it turns out going over is equally dangerous, as it leads them into a school of jellyfish.
  • As soon as Miguel and Tulio from The Road to El Dorado make landfall somewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula, they discover on the sandy beach two skeletons, each with glaring evidence of a violent demise. One has a sword through his rib cage, the other has an axe-like implement embedded in his skull.
    Tulio: All in favor of getting back in the boat and going back to Spain, say "aye".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker gets thrown into the Rancor pit. He is only able to escape its clutches by wedging the femur of a previous victim in the beast's jaws, and after running towards the emergency escape door, he uses the skull of yet another previous victim to activate the great door, which closes on the monster's neck, killing it.
  • King Kong (2005), upon being taken by King Kong back to his cave, Ann Darrow notices many human skeletons on the ground with the same ritual necklace she had put on her when the natives offered her as a sacrifice to the great ape. GASP. Things don't look good, Ann.
  • Jurassic Park: When Ellie Sattler is being tracked by one of the raptors, she feels the reassuring arm of Mr Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson's character) touch her on the shoulder. Unfortunately, that's all there is left of him.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    • King Arthur and his men have a tough time believing that the diminutive Killer Rabbit they face is dangerous, in spite of all the bones they see littered about the front of his cave. It's not until one of their number gets decapitated by said rabbit that they start to take it seriously.
    • Another scene from that movie features Brave Sir Robin heading down a road which had three signs marked "Certain Death" pointing in the direction he was travelling, several slaughtered knights skewered on the same lance and stuck into a tree, all leading up to the easily avoidable encounter with the three-headed giant, described in the Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film as "the fiercest creature for yards around!"
  • In The Mummy Returns, when Imhotep and his followers arrive at the Scorpion King's oasis, they come across the corpses of soldiers ranging from Roman Legionaries to Napoleon's own troops. Naturally, because Imhotep's followers are an army of Red Shirt Mooks, they continue on anyways to their horrible demise.
  • In Clash of the Titans, Perseus and his companions arrive on the island where Medusa has her lair, with numerous petrified victims littering the grounds. One companion scoffs and claims they could just be statues.
  • Prometheus: The crew explore an abandoned ship and encounter a pile of alien corpses. One of the bodies is crushed beneath a door with it's head on the inside of the chamber. This doesn't stop their expedition, in fact it only motivates them to keep exploring.
  • In the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana and Satipo run across several desiccated corpses inside the ancient shrine. Most memorable of all, Indy's old rival, Forrestal.
  • In The Goonies, the characters run across the long-dead body of treasure hunter Chester Copperpot in their search for One-Eyed Willy's ship. Some of them want to turn back, but Mikey convinces them that this is a good sign, because it means that they're on the right track, and they have already got farther than a professional treasure hunter.
  • Parodied in the opening of Scary Movie when a character is faced with an actual road sign clearly marked 'Death', and still follows it.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring makes it clear to the audience (and most of the characters) that something very bad has happened in Moria with skeletons sprawled on the floor everywhere not far from the entrance. Gimli, however, remains steadfast in his denial until confronted with an actual written account of the bloodbath.

  • A sign in a natural park reads To protect yourself against bear attacks, try the following:
    Attach small bells (available at our gift shop) to your clothing so the bear will not be surprised by your presence and attack.
    If the bear attacks, ward it off with pepper spray (available at our gift shop).
    Be on the lookout for bear droppings indicating that a bear is in the area. Fresh bear droppings are easily identified by the presence of small bells and smelling strongly of pepper.

  • Discworld: Played in Teppic's encounter with the Sphinx in Pyramids. He sees that many people have died nearby, and assumes that the later ones saw the remains of the earlier ones, and tried stealth, and that didn't work. So he doesn't bother being stealthy.
  • In Treasure Island, Jim and the gang are trying to find the hidden treasure of the infamous Captain Flint. One clue that they found was a skeleton —implied to have been killed by Flint— pointing to the direction of the treasure.
  • Dave Barry once mentions a tour guide suggesting pepper spray and wearing bells to avoid bear attacks. Then he goes on to say that bear poop can be identified by the strong smell of pepper and the little bells caught inside.
  • In the science fiction short novel Rogue Moon a special kind of transporter is used to make two copies of a person which are briefly telepathic; one copy is sent through an alien death trap while the other copy can see & hear what the other is seeing so they can learn the safe way through the maze. When we see the final run through the maze we are also shown hundreds of copies of the same man lying about having been killed in various ways.
  • In The Mark of Athena, in order to pass the cult of Mithras, a child of Athena must pass the test of the knife or the flame. Annabeth encounters the bodies of children of Athena killed by these tests and realizes that she has little to no chance of surviving either, so figures out a different way around the test.
  • How the heroes in The Bands of Mourning realize that the temple holding the titular treasure is booby-trapped. The bodies of the last explorers are still lying within the first few feet of the trapped hallway, with spears sticking out of them. Wax guesses that one stepped on the first trap, and the others tried to drag them off, setting off more traps.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Somewhat parodied in the Red Dwarf episode "Psirens". The crew pilot Starbug into a graveyard of ships that have all been crashed or disabled by the titular illusion generating creatures. Sending a scout droid to investigate one of the ships they see (but we don't) the body of a man who had been disemboweled and used his last moments to write "PSIRENS." using a combination of blood and his own intestines. The Cat comments on how impressive it is that the man even used his kidney as a full stop but the other postulate that he probably didn't mean to and it just flopped out there coincidentally.
  • In the Xena: Warrior Princess episode "A Fistful of Dinars" they have to pass through a "hall of silence" — a cave filled with dead bodies:
    Petracles: Did the map mention how those guys died?
    Xena: [whispers] They made too much noise. [yells] RUN!

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Module U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. One room has the corpse of an alchemist sitting in a chair.
    • Module S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. A fungal cavern has the corpse of an elf that was trapped by Green Slime.

  • The cave setting of The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad is filled with the skeletons of those who dealt with Miseria before, something Sindbad and Kabob both take notice of.
  • In Poseidon's Fury, while in the secret chamber, Taylor tells the audience not to touch anything, as the skeletons lying around seem to imply that there may be booby traps.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • In Half-Life, most instances of danger are introduced with Innocent Bystanders being killed before your very eyes. In the Xen levels, this job is performed by HEV suit-clad corpses.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Skeletons can be found in certain parts of Bottom of the Well and Shadow Temple. Approaching them allows Navi to receive their messages, usually related to something about those places.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: The Temple of the Ocean King, the central dungeon, has many skeletons of previous adventurers scattered through its halls. In an interesting variation, all of them still retain their spirits, who will give you clues to help succeed where they failed.
  • The ruins of La-Mulana are filled with skeletons of previous adventurers. Some are clustered around traps; others hold various messages.
  • Used to the logical extreme in Demon's Souls. The player can see the bloodstains of fallen heroes (other players online at the same time), including watching their final moments, and read the messages and warnings left behind by them.
  • Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City uses this while the Player Party is helping track an adversary through an area filled with FOEs. At one point, they discover the body of a guard whose armor has been completely shredded, hinting that they're on the right path to reach the next floor. Examining the body after this reveals an item which can be used to convince his commander you're not lying about his death.
  • In Super Metroid, you find the corpse of another bounty hunter just before battling Kraid. The corpse still appears to be intact, and bugs are swarming all over it.
  • NieR: Automata features a similar system to Demon's Souls, allowing players to see where other players have fallen and collect a small amount of loot from the bodies. If you see a bunch of android corpses scattered around an area, get ready for a tough battle.
  • Haydee: Different parts of the levels are filled with previous Haydee units that didn't make it, like at the bottom of a chasm, meaning they didn't make a specific jump and fell to their deaths.

    Web Comics 
  • Sequential Art: At one point Kat and Vanity are below a mansion. Kat follows Vanity who insists there's an opening nearby and keeps marching as if possessed. Kat manages to pan her flashlight to her left just long enough to notice a decent collection of skulls.
  • Spoofed in The Order of the Stick when the party passes through "the Passageway of Horrible Death for Other People" which is littered with arrow-riddled skeletons.
  • Awful Hospital makes this unusually personal: the entrance to the Marrow Dungeon is littered with skeletons that Fern quickly recognizes as alternate-universe versions of herself.
  • Girl Genius: The vaults beneath Paris are littered with the corpses of adventures who ran afoul of the many death traps protecting the items interred there.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog Eustace is kidnapped by an underwater witch. Courage pursues and upon reaching the witch's palace peeks on her flirting with Eustace and putting a coral necklace on him. This alone doesn't startle Courage until he notices heaps of skeletons around the palace, each wearing the same necklace.
  • Dragons: Riders of Berk: Upon exploring Melody Island, the riders discover a large pile of dragon bones. It turns out to be the work of a Death Song, a predatory dragon that lures its victims with its song.
  • In Samurai Jack, the pathway to a time portal is littered with thousands of skeletons, some even as big as skyscrapers. The source of them is soon shown to be the portal's unbeatable guardian, who even proves to be a challenge for Jack.
  • Futurama:
    • Leela insists on going on the same mission to collect honey from vicious space bees that resulted in the death of all the Professor's previous crews. Along the way they find the previous crew's ship and check the black box:
      First voice on black box: Captain, the bees have us surrounded! Oh, the Professor was right, we're not as good as his old crew!
      Second voice on black box: Well, I aim to prove him wrong! It'll take more than a few deadly deadly bees to— Oh Lord!
      [sound of screaming; Leela turns off the tape]
      Leela: Uh, couldn't make that out. Too much static.
    • Fry, Brannigan and Kif are sentenced to "death by snu-snu", then see several previous victims, now skeletons with broken pelvises; some are smoking cigarettes.
  • In the Chowder episode "The Moldy Touch" Chowder, after being tricked into searching the spooky basement, encounters a skeleton dressed and positioned like a mirror image of himself.
  • Lampshaded in the DuckTales (2017) episode "The Impossible Summit of Mt. Neverrest!".
    Dewey: [reading signs] "This way to certain death"... "This way to cocoa"...
    Dewey/Webby: CERTAIN DEATH!