Follow TV Tropes

Following

Uncertain Doom

Go To

Zuko: Did Jet just... die?
Sokka: You know, it was really unclear.

As an audience, we know that a doomed character can be saved at the last minute. There's always an 11th-Hour Superpower, Deus ex Machina, or Big Damn Heroes moment to rescue them. Other times, we get an on-screen death, or even a Fate Worse than Death. Very rarely, though, characters can be left in limbo; there's still a last minute, but we never see what happens after that.

Advertisement:

This trope is the fate of any character who possibly didn't make it, but is never actually proven dead. This can happen at any point in a story, but happens so frequently at the end that we have tropes devoted specifically for that situation. Rule of thumb: if Uncertain Doom occurs at the ending of an entire work, it's probably a Bolivian Army Ending. If Uncertain Doom happens at the end of an installment of the work (like a novel or season), it's probably a Bolivian Army Cliffhanger.

Asking the creators for clarity usually will get you nowhere, as they often aren't entirely sure themselves. And if they do confirm the character's death, the ambiguity of this trope allows them to get away with bringing the character back anyway should they change their minds.

When the audience doesn't even know if the characters are in danger, see Chuck Cunningham Syndrome and What Happened to the Mouse?. If Fridge Logic leads fans to assume this happened to one of the good guys, it can result in an Inferred Holocaust.

Advertisement:

A Super-Trope to:

However, these subtropes tend to resolve the uncertainty of who's actually dead and who's still alive, as long as the next installment is made.

Compare He's Just Hiding!, where the character is almost definitely dead.


Advertisement:

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • The official Cap'n Crunch Twitter had a storyline where Jean LaFoote, wounded, was last seen jumping into the sea and never posted again.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Arachnid introduces the protagonist of the Caterpillar prequel midway through the story only to have her defeated from a backstab soon after. The scene plays out in such a way that the readers couldn't tell for sure if she actually died and then the story completely forgets about her. Furthermore, most of the characters are left for dead by the end of the series. Japan is put through a Zombie Apocalypse spread through rape, with the goal of depopulating the country once all the mindless infected die from starvation. Other than Gokiburi and Kabutomushi the fate of everyone else is left unknown, with a few like Dinoponera, Geji and Kamadouma having been unceremoniously infected offscreen. Even main character Alice was last seen charging alone against the zombie hordes to vent off the stress from all the trauma she endured through the story.
  • In the grand finale of Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, the crew destroys NME's fortress with the NME Salesman still inside and, upon being informed of this, he makes a run for it. In the original Japanese version, he can be heard screaming just before the fortress is entirely destroyed but what makes it qualify for this trope is the English version, which doesn't dub his scream at all and leaves him silent. In both versions, King Dedede attempts to contact him and only gets a static screen in return.
  • In Berserk the few of the characters who are only in one arc and who didn't join Gut's party or go the Griffith's Falconia are classified as this.
    • Theresia from the Black Swordsmen arc swore revenge on Guts for getting her monster father killed- but she has never been seen again. More tragically Jill in the Lost Children arc has to return to her abusive home life as Guts refused to let her go with him as she would be in danger, but since the entire world of Berserk is now dangerous if she didn't travel to Falconia she'd likely be killed by the numerous creatures that roam wild.
    • Nina and Joachim from the Conviction arc they survived the destruction of Albion and went off alone together to make themselves better people, unfortunately we don't see them in Falconia and as said above there are monsters everywhere so their chances of survival are minimal (especially as Nina was already dying).
  • Black Jack: In the anime, Nadare the deer survives being shot by his human friend and limps his way back to the forest. The episode ends with the other characters wondering whether Nadare was Killed Offscreen.
  • Bleach
    • Harribel gets captured when the Wandenreich invades Hueco Mundo, and is never seen again, even after they are defeated.
    • Cang Du and BG9 receive punishment from Jugram for losing in their fights. Jugram is able to No-Sell Cang's abilities and kill or at least badly injure him, but the scene cuts away before we see what happens to BG9. Neither are mentioned again following this.
    • At the end of their fight with Askin, Urahara and Yoruichi are apparently unable to escape when their opponent unleashes a final "Gift Ball" on them. While Nel is seen trying to rescue them, they are never mentioned in the ending.
  • Burst Angel: Jo's body wasn't found by Meg in the rubble at the end of the anime.
  • Cowboy Bebop ends with Spike collapsing from his injuries, but it's left unclear whether he died or simply passed out.
  • Cyborg Kurochan often uses this for minor one-off villains. For major characters, Never Found the Body is used instead.
  • Dragon Ball: Monster Carrot and the Rabbit mob, after defeating them Goku takes them to the moon via Power Pole and forces them to make Mochi for the kids of Earth for a whole year and then he promises he come up and bring them down. However Master Roshi destroyed the moon in the World Martial Arts Tournament to revert Goku from Great Ape. So fans assumed they were killed, but then Toriyama (when asked) states that Monster Carrot and his henchmen are drifting through space.
  • In E's Otherwise, Kai Kudo is not seen alive or dead after the explosion in the final episode.
  • In GaoGaiGar FINAL, The entire crew, minus Mamoru and Kaido, is left in a collapsing universe, sacrificing their only (known) way out to save the kids.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 3 does this with some of the Stand users. While some are confirmed dead (including Gray Fly, Fake Capatin Tennille, Forever, Devo, J. Geil, Pet Shop, and Vanilla Ice), some are confirmed alive (Mannish Boy, Boingo and Oingo, Mariah, and Hol Horse), and there are some whose fate are uncomfirmed. Among those whose fates are uncomfirmed, there are two of them who are highly implied to be dead as they don't get up. They are Steely Dan (whose been punched even more times than Forever and did not get up) and Rubber Soul.
  • A lot of villains from Kaiketsu Zorro get this treatment because there's no doubt that Zorro won't hesitate to cut down the villains who attack him. But whether or not he outright kills them or just wounds them badly enough to incapacitate them is left in the air. In some episodes, Zorro does explicitly kill his enemies, such as the time he slew an Indian assassin who murdered his friend Teo and had found out about his secret identity earlier. At other times Zorro will cut down enemies but either ties them up or drags their prone bodies away from impending explosions, implying that he hasn't killed them and will more than likely leave them to the authorities to imprison. More than often, though, Zorro will usually cut down a villain and their deaths will be neither confirmed nor denied, making the situation much more ambiguous.
  • Kantai Collection: Shouhou is last seen in a great fire, with her final fate never laid out clearly.
  • One Piece: This happened a lot to villains in the East Blue arc and a few times afterwards, it's a better alternative than having the Strawhats (the heroes) outright murder the bad guys which goes against their lifestyle. Though Oda did show showing certain antagonists (like Baroque Works and CP9) surviving through cover stories, plus many former villains return in the Impel Down arc to help Luffy free Ace and fight the Marines.
    • Axe-Hand Morgan, the former Marine captain, was thought to be killed by Zoro by one fan until Oda corrected him by saying he was arrested. Morgan appeared in Coby's cover story where he escaped and then he was never seen again. In the Zou arc some of the Fan Dumb thought Jack would turn out to be Morgan, thanks to the first glimpse of Jack showing him having a steel jaw/mouth covering, but this turned out not to be true and Morgan is still AWOL.
    • Kuro and the Black Cat Pirates (with the exception of Jango) are also nowhere to be seen after Luffy defeats Kuro and they flee Usopp's village. The anime shows Kuro having returned to his pirate life and reacting dispassionately to Luffy's first bounty poster. Many fans hope Kuro will return at some point, as he is Usopp's Shadow Archetype.
    • Don Krieg, Gin and the other Krieg Pirates don't appear again after the Baratie arc. The arc involved Gin breathin in a lethal dose of poisonous gas and telling Sanji he might have not have long to live but he hoped to see him again on the Grand Line... which didn't happen.
    • The Arlong Pirates' fate is left very ambiguous, the anime mistakenly has Arlong accuse Zoro and Sanji of "killing his brethren" after they defeat Hatchan and Kuroobi. A cover story shows Hatchan escaping from the Marine ship that had arrested the Fishmen but the others on the other hand haven't been seen again outside flash backs nor did they show up in Impel Down with the rest of the incarcerated villains.
    • The fate of the Priests in Skypeia is very obscure: Gedatsu fell back to the Blue Sea and opened up a hot springs resort but the other three weren't so lucky. Satori took Sanji's Concasse (axe kick) to the skull and is never seen getting up again, in the Funimation dub Sotori and Kotori (Satori's brothers) even say that he was killed and want revenge which further confuses the issue. Shura was blasted by Wiper's Reject Dial to the chest and Ohm was sliced down by Zoro's Pound Cannon and (like Satori) didn't get up again. Even if they survived that, the Shandians banished them and the rest of Enel's forces to a drifting cloud, which means they will stay on this cloud until they all die or the cloud dissolves and fall down into Blue Sea (which would kill them as well).
    • Yorki, Brook's friend and captain was not killed along with the rest of the Rumbar Pirates as he had fallen ill prior and was last reported traveling across the Calm Belt (which is filled with Sea Kings) and even if he crossed safely that was 90 years ago. So if Yorki didn't die of his sickness or wasn't eaten by a Sea King he'd be a very old man.
    • Shiki and the Golden Lion Pirates from Strong World have a status of "unknown", but since they fell unconscious from their collapsing island and Shiki at least had a Devil Fruit... they're likely dead.
  • Tokyo Ghoul concludes with considerable ambiguity concerning the fates of several characters. Hide is considering a missing person, and last seen with a hallucinating Kaneki who may or may not have eaten him. Aogiri has kidnapped numerous wounded Investigators and will be experimenting on them. And finally, Koma and Irimi were last seen headed to V14, where Arima later slaughters a large number of Ghouls. It is unknown whether or not they were among the dead.

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City: Plenty of characters simply vanish from the timeline with no obvious cause. Given the difficult line of work they live in and the lack of Comic-Book Time, it's not quite clear if they've died in battle or simply retired.
  • Another Batman case, the Legends of the Dark Knight character Cavalier chooses a Bolivian Army-esque Suicide by Cop as an honorable end.
  • Beast Wars: Uprising: After Scylla's killed in the Battle of Yuss, Cybershark is put in charge of the forces remaining there. Later on, the fleet falls to the Vehicons, and Cybershark goes missing, presumed dead or assimilated.
  • Dean Tightbill from Darkwing Duck. We don't know if Steelbeak actually opened the "alligator briefcase" or if he just used the threat of it to frighten Tightbill into handing over the money.
  • Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness ends with Ash escaping the zombie-infested dimension via Dr. Doom's portal only to end up in a dimension inhabited by werewolf superheroes, and the last frame is a shot of them running after him. Qualifies as a Bolivian Army Ending for Ash, but the crossover is a prequel for the entire Marvel Zombies universe.
  • Shazam! (2012): The Wizard is last seen collapsed on the floor of the Rock of Eternity, weak and dying. The story never answers whether he actually is dead.
  • Superman:
    • Superboy-Prime: At the end of Adventure Comics #5, after Superboy-Prime's battle with the Black Lanterns and admitting to himself that he hates what he has become and only wanting a happy ending. Laurie Lemmon enters the basement, sporting a broken arm. She comforts Prime, telling him that "they" heard him, and that they sent her to tell him that they are sorry for what they did to him, and are going to leave him alone—"they" being previously mentioned as being the writers at DC Comics. As they embrace, a Black Lantern ring is shown on Laurie's hand detects the hope within Prime's heart, implying she is really a Black Lantern and is manipulating him into feeling hope before she kills him. However, a flashback in Prime's last appearance shows him reconnection with Laurie and them to be happy, implying she is the real Laurie Lemmon and that they are happy.
    • The demon Ordox in Supergirl (1972), who chooses to bring his mountain down rather than letting himself be captured by Supergirl and Zatanna. Both heroines theorize that Ordox possibly died with his mountain, but his fate is never revealed.
    • In The Third Kryptonian, villain Amalak smashes the Bottle City of Kandor— not the genuine article but a bottle-shaped interface between an alien ghetto trapped in a dimensional warp and the real world. Superman can't reach Kandor and find out if its inhabitants are still alive, dead or wounded... and he never finds out, because the whole matter was forgotten when the real Kandor was found a few months later.
    • The Krypton Chronicles: While investigating the life of his ancestor Val-El, Superman learns that, after reaching the continent of Lurvan and founding Argo City, Val-El and his men went to explore the interior. Eventually, they reached the Valley of Juru... and they disappeared from the face of the planet. Nobody knows what happens to them because no one who ever entered Juru afterwards returned.
    • In Crucible, it's unclear what happens to villain Rendll after getting defeated by Maxima. On the one hand, Maxima runs an energy dagger through Rendll's neck as shouting she'll kill her if Maxima's teammate Comet dies at hands of Rendll's partners. On the another hand, Maxima had shortly before driven an energy dagger into Rendll's neck, and it barely inconvenienced her. Did she get killed or merely knocked out? Either way, Rendll isn't seen or talked about again.
  • Transformers:
    • Transformers Armada: In the comic series, the Destruction Mini-con team, who've been a thorn in Megatron's side, are absent when all the mini-cons are gathered together. When asked, Megatron says that they're "better off without them." The author, Simon Furman, mentions that Megatron strapped them to a rocket and shot them into the sun, which was an empty threat he made to Cyclonus earlier in the cartoon, leaving their fates ambiguous.
    • The Transformers: Unicron: A lot of supporting characters from Robots in Disguise and Till All Are One (Rattrap, the Combaticons, Airachnid) are unaccounted for when Cybertron gets destroyed. Given they aren't seen on Earth, they're probably dead.
  • Hooded Justice from Watchmen simply vanished from public view. Ozymandias theorizes that the Comedian killed him, but the truth may never be known.
  • Wonder Woman (Rebirth): Byrna Brilyant's mind is said to have "crashed" when Diana took down her mecha since she was wired to it in order to make it a more effective Motion Capture Mecha. Byrna is not seen thereafter and it's unknown whether this means she died or was left in a coma or vegetative state.

    Fan Works 
  • A Diplomatic Visit: In chapter 12 of the sequel Diplomat at Large, when asked about Starswirl's fate, Luna informs Aria that he and his companions disappeared over a thousand years ago; while he isn't dead, they don't know what actually happened to him.
  • In A Far Green Country, chapter 12, orcs surround and trap Surad and Durus, but Elden does not see their deaths. The orcs have orders to kill, so they probably do kill Surad and Durus, but their deaths are not certain.
  • In A Force of Four, Mars disappears after getting struck by the Amazons' Purple Ray. Mars was blasted into oblivion or he merely teleported away? Neither the Amazons nor Power Girl know.
  • In Higher Learning, Kaoru revealed that his father was sealed inside the Geofront in punishment for killing his own mother. Kaoru assumes his father eventually died down there but he can't know for sure since they never checked back on him.
  • Kara of Rokyn: Barry Allen disappears during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and nobody knows whether he died or survived by time-travelling to the far future.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Ash's Squirtle declares himself the Sole Survivor of the Squirtle Squad. A sidestory reveals that he was separated from them by a cave in during an ambush in an underground route, and believes they were all buried alive. However, The Stinger of that sidestory reveals that at least one of them survived.
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: In Nightmares Yet to Come, one chapter ends with Duke Greengrass being beaten up by the story's main villains, with their leader explaining that he's a Wild Card who needs to be taken out of the picture. And then Greengrass recognises him... the chapter ends with him being knocked out, but confirmation on just what these villains ultimately did.
  • At the beginning of To Hell and Back (Arrowverse), Kara hurls one thug into a tree hard enough to break the trunk in half. It's never revealed that happens to him and the narration states he might or might not be dead.
    Kara struggled in her captor’s hold, writhing as his arms tightened, until she screamed and, completely on instinct, hitched up her back, lifting the man up and throwing him over her body to one of the trees. His body had been thrown with such force that it broke through the tree trunk, ripping it in half. He continued to skid across the ground before his back hit another tree, and remained there motionless, either unconscious or dead.

    Film — Animated 
  • Drago Bludvist from How to Train Your Dragon 2 was originally supposed to come back in the third film but his role was written out, leaving his fate in the second movie unknown. However, since he has been stated to be "defeated" and The Remnant of his army still fight Hiccup, it is likely that he drowned when his Bewilderbeast submerged in the water. This is even more likely because he had only one arm, thus making it much harder for him to swim.
    • Grimmel the Grisly from How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World could also qualify. He falls into the water from a big height and the movie is confirmed to be final, but seeing how characters survived other near-death situations before, there is a slight chance he could have lived.
  • Captain Gutt in Ice Age: Continental Drift is last seen being attacked by a siren-like lungfish, with more coming to join in. While one can assume they kill him, there are comedic noises during their attack and Gutt's noises of pain sound more like he just stepped into a really hot bath with cold feet, so it is unclear or not if they really did kill him. However, with no more ships or crewmen, we can assume Gutt’s days of piracy are over regardless of his fate.
  • Ramses' fate from The Prince of Egypt; the last we see of him is after his army is swept away by the waves. He survives and is stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean cursing Moses. We don't know if he'll make it back to shore and live to his historical counterpart's old age, or if he'll eventually starve to death or be swept away by the tide.
  • Madame Medusa from The Rescuers is last seen hanging for dear life and with crocodiles chomping at her, but the scene ends before showing if her willpower ran out before theirs did.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Alexander Nevsky does not ultimately show the fate of the German Bishop. He is last seen lying down on the ice before it breaking and drowning the Teutonic Knights. As he is not seen with the arrested leaders afterwards, it can be assumed he drowned along with the majority of the knights.
  • Often played with Barnaby in the Babes in Toyland films. In the live action Disney film, he is stabbed by Tom and falls from a great height into an open toybox, from which he never emerges. The only reason this is debated is because publicity stills show him being forced into a birdcage and imprisoned in it, however, this happens in place of the stabbing in this version so it is an alternate ending. In the animated film, Barnaby Crookedman is last seen being chased by goblins as revenge for insulting their king shortly after his death.
  • Blade Runner 2049 ends with K bringing Deckard to Dr. Ana Stelline's lab after rescuing him from Wallace's men as led by Luv, having sustained numerous stab wounds during his fight with the gynoid. As Deckard enters the lab, K lies down on the snow-covered steps, noting that he in fact is bleeding out. The movie ends before anything further is seen of his fate, but it should be noted that "Tears in Rain" plays during the last shots we see of K.
  • Drive: The lead character is stabbed in the chest and nearly disemboweled by the Big Bad near the end of the film. The last time we see the Driver, he stirs (after initially appearing to be dead) and drives off, but it is left unclear whether he'll survive his injuries or not.
  • The main character of Event Horizon gets sucked into a Hell dimension along with the titular haunted spaceship.
  • The ending of Ex Machina sees Caleb trapped inside of Nathan's facility as Ava escapes without him, the ultimate test of her abilities. While the film doesn't show anything one way or the other, Caleb's hundreds of miles from help with no one coming to look for him, in a facility without any power. The most the audience gets to see is Caleb trying and failing to break down a window with a chair.
  • In Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless is impaled, and disintegrates himself with his ring. However, the final scene shows a hand picking up the ring, with an evil laugh. It is unclear whether this is Ming or someone else entirely; however, it does not look like Ming's hand.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, after Barty Crouch Jr. is captured, his final fate is never revealed. Dumblodore implies that he will be sent back to Azkaban, but Crouch Jr. never appears alongside other Death Eaters in subsquent films. It is assumed by most fans that he suffered Fate Worse than Death, like in the books. Alternatively, he could be killed offscreen in some other way. It should be noted that Cornelius Fudge wanted anybody who claimed Voldemort was back eliminated, thus making Barty's death even more possible. That said, his final fate is never revealed in the films.
    • It's never been stated what happened to the real Percival Graves in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Grindelwald was impersonating him using transfiguration and not polyjuice potion, meaning he didn't have to keep him alive. He's also too smart to risk keep him locked away where he could have gotten and blown his cover. Grindelwald probably killed him but it's not for certain.
  • Justice League (2017): Steppenwolf's Parademons turn on and start feasting on him, but a Boom Tube teleports him and them away so he may have survived, albeit likely badly injured. That said, Darkseid tends not to take failure well.
  • Kill Bill: In Volume 2, after having her remaining eye ripped out by the Bride, Elle Driver is left screaming and thrashing in a trailer in a middle of a desert....with a loose, aggressive, and deadly venomous black mamba snake presumably slithering around somewhere inside. The film's end credits depict the names of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad as being crossed off a hit list, with the exception of Elle's, which displays a question mark, leaving her ultimate fate unknown.
  • Kingdom of Heaven: The Grand Master of the Templar Order, who often accompanied Raynald de Chatillon during his massacres of Muslim caravans, is last seen marching with other crusaders against Saladin and his army. Because all the crusaders start dying of thirst and exhaustion, their army is annihilated and Raynald and Guy de Lusignan are taken captive. It is unclear if the Grand Master died with crusaders, as he was not seen being taken captive as well. According to historical facts, the Grand Master was Gerard de Rideford and he did survive the battle and was simply taken prisoner.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: The Watcher in the Water after it goes after the fellowship. We see that it tears down the gates, trapping the fellowship in Moria. It isn't clear if the stones crushed it or if it merely stayed in the lake after trapping the fellowship.
    • The theatrical cut of The Return of the King does not show Gothmog's ultimate fate. He is last seen at the front of his army as the Riders of Rohan charge them, which heavily implies he did not survive their charge. The Extended Edition shows his ultimate fate (though it was much later than theatrical version made us believe).
    • The Hobbit: Thráin, as mentioned in the page quote. Averted in a deleted scene from The Desolation of Smaug, where we learn Thráin was captured by Sauron; Gandalf finds him shortly before he dies.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Avengers: Infinity War may have the most expansive example of this trope ever for the franchise. Thanks to Thanos' Badass Fingersnap, half of the universe is dead. While a few characters in both this movie and Ant-Man and the Wasp have been seen disintegrating and Word of God has confirmed several characters who either survived or got killed by the snap, the fates of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's cast are uncertain. One year later, with the release of Avengers: Endgame, the half of the universe that Thanos snapped away were brought back, making the most expansive aversion of this trope.
    • Ant-Man and the Wasp has a single example that's even more uncertain. Ghost, the movie's Anti-Villain. It was never confirmed or denied if she was snapped away by Thanos, but there's another factor to her uncertainty. Her very existence is unstable on the quantum level, and while the heroes can supply her with the quantum healing energy to stabilize her, everyone qualified to get that was either killed by Thanos or left stranded in the quantum realm for five years. If she was spared by Thanos's fingersnap, it's unknown if she could last five years without the quantum healing energy needed to stabilize her.
  • In Navajo Joe, the title character is shot twice by the villain, Duncan, during the final confrontation. While he does kill Duncan (with a well-timed tomahawk to the head), the last we see of Joe is him sitting on a hill, grimacing in pain and looking at all the death that's been caused in the burial ground. The final scene of the film has Estella send Joe's horse (who has returned with the missing money) back into the frontier to find him, with his final fate left ambiguous.
  • Near the end of Night of the Living Dead (1968), Barbara is dragged out of the house by a group of zombies which includes her brother, Johnny, presumably to be Devoured by the Horde, but she is never actually seen dying or even being bitten (which in the Romero-verse is always fatal). Various non-canon spin-offs have thus had her survive the event through various means; in one Johnny himself was not actually a zombie and rescued her, while in another the zombified Johnny showed a hint of remembering his old life and pulled her to safety away from the rest of the horde.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock deliberately leaves the ultimate fate of the missing schoolgirls and their teacher a mystery, with only few and contradictory clues. Although one of them is found bruised but alive after a week in the wild, she has no memory of what happened to her or the others.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has this with some crewmembers of the Flying Dutchman. While the majority of the crew regains their humanity and perform a Heel–Face Turn once Davy Jones is dead, there were some who fell into the Maelstrom (examples are Clanker, Hadras, and at least two others) and one (Morey) who got decapitated by Barbossa. But knowing the nature of the Flying Dutchman crew, there is a chance they survived. It should be noted though, that none of them were seen when Will Turner was being made into a new Captain.
  • Stalingrad (1993): Most of the German protagonists die, except for two soldiers who are seen surrendering to the Soviets. Their odds aren't great though. These survivors were sent to the Gulag in Siberia, and very few returned home after the war.
  • Tell Me How I Die: In the climax, the male lead is stabbed through the chest by the killer, but the female lead helps him up and tries to get him to a doctor. The film ends before we can see if she succeeds or not.
  • This trope is the ending of John Carpenter's The Thing, MacReady has just exploded the Antarctic base in a final confrontation with the titular monster. Exhausted, he rests by the burning building content with freezing to death, only to encounter Childs, who is also still alive. Both MacReady and Childs are suspicious that other one may be the shapeshifting alien but as both are too tired they just share a drink and "wait to see what happens". Debate rages to this day about whether one, neither or both are the Thing. (The TV edit ending (not done or approved by John Carpenter) on the other hand threw out all ambiguity and clearly showed the Thing escaping disguised as a Husky. Needless to say, this ending is not popular.)
    • This also applies to Nauls, who - toward the end of the movie - is seen wandering off down a hallway to investigate a strange noise, and never comes back. Reportedly, there was a now-lost deleted scene where the Thing killed him, but the filmmakers weren't happy with the special effects and decided it would be more interesting to leave Nauls' fate ambiguous. In the finished movie, it's still possible that the Thing got him, but it's also possible he was killed in the explosion or even that he's still alive somewhere at the end of the movie.
  • Utøya: July 22, a reenactment of the Breivik Massacre (which happened on the island Utøya on 22. July 2011) from the perspective of the victims. Near the end we see Kaja, the main heroine, going down after the shot, apparently dead, but we don't stay to see if she died or was merely wounded. In reality, most of those with a single wound (not to the head) survived. The man in the boat is also wounded and we do not know if he makes it.
  • The HBO movie Rasputin Dark Servant Of Destiny (the one starring Alan Rickman) ends with the Romanov family massacred by the Bolshevik uprising. However, the movie ends just before Alexei and Anastasia are shot, leaving their fates ambiguous. This is a reference not just to the Did Anastasia Survive? conspiracy theory, but also to the fact that Alexei and at least one of his sisters were indeed missing from the mass grave shared by the rest of the family, and it was thought that they might have escaped somehow. Years after the movie came out, their bodies would be found not far from where the rest of the Romanovs were buried.

    Literature 
  • Discworld played with this in Thief of Time; on the Disc, characters know what awaits them after death. But in this story, the Glass Clock will kill you if you get near, but what will happen to you afterwards is uncertain. One of the characters gets too near...
  • In H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, Colonel Adye is being held at gunpoint by Griffin. An attempt by Adye to grab the gun ends in either it going off or Griffin just flat out shooting him (Wells is unclear). He is described as falling down and not getting up. Kemp later tells Adye's men, "He's killed Adye. Shot him anyhow." So even Kemp, who witnessed the actual shooting, is uncertain if Adye is dead or not. He's never brought up again after this, until the epilogue involving Thomas Marvel; Adye is mentioned as having questioned him about the whereabouts of Griffin's notebooks, but Wells isn't clear if this happened before or after the shooting.
  • At the end of I Sit Behind The Eyes, the eponymous Entity takes Emily over completely and destroys her soul. It is left ambiguous what happens to someone when this happens. All that is known is that she can no longer interrupt her possessor's sentences by calling out for help. There are three possibilities; she is either dead, erased or trapped forever inside her own mind and body. Luckily, she was a nasty piece of work, and the few people who are aware that she is now under new management could not care less what happened to her.
  • Shel Silverstein's Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back ends with a battle between a group of lions, led by the elderly lion who warned Lafcadio about humanity, and a group of hunters, led by the circus owner Finchfinger, who made Lafcadio a Civilized Animal. Lafcadio has an identity crisis and leaves, and the outcome of the battle is unknown. Fridge Logic dictates that at least one of the hunters had to have survived the battle in order to tell Shelby (The Narrator) what happened, since he explicitly says he never saw Lafcadio again.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events:
    • This is the ultimate fate of the majority of the villains; starting from the eighth book, at least one villain per book is left in a situation that makes their death likely, but unconfirmed. The exception is Big Bad Count Olaf, who explicitly dies.
    • This is also the ultimate fate of the majority of the good guys for that matter; In the Penultimate Peril, the Baudelaires set fire to the Hotel Denouement where many recurring characters stayed. The narrator mentions that he has no idea how many people died and who survived. In The End, the islanders are last seen infected by a deadly mushroom and Kit Snicket reveals that the Quagmire triplets, Hector, Captain Widdershins, Fernald and Fiona were caught by "The Great Unknown" but given its mysterious nature, it's unclear what happened to them. Finally, the Baudelaires themselves decide to leave the island with Kit's baby but Lemony Snicket lost track of them afteward and doesn't know for sure if they reached the mainland or died at sea.
  • The Silmarillion:
    • Eluréd and Elurín were abandoned in the forest. Maedhros tried to find them but couldn't. No one knows what happened to them, but since they were only about six years old their chances of survival don't look good. note 
    • Maglor and Daeron, two of the greatest Elven minstrels, independently wandered off, Walking the Earth and singing laments. It's unknown what happened to them after the First Age; neither ever appears again. Some fans conjecture that they met (and possibly got together) during their wanderings.
    • Thuringwethil is a odd case. She herself never appears; Lúthien steals her skin to follow Beren. Whether this means she's dead, or whether she's still around somewhere is uncertain.
    • Mablung, one of Thingol's captains. He may have died in when the Dwarves attacked Doriath, or he may have survived that and the Second Kinslaying only to die in the Third Kinslaying, or he may have survived all of the above; we just don't know. Even if he did survive both Kinslayings, there's a little thing called the War of Wrath ahead...
  • The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin implies this throughout the story. The villain has essentially become a god at the end, and you get the sense that there's very little hope that Singer's plan will actually work, given that the reader knows they're all trapped inside the Sister Verse.
  • The ultimate fate of Major Len Creighton in The Stand is never revealed. His last "appearance" in the book is being heard over the radio talking to one of his officers as the United States starts collapsing due to the spread of The Virus. In the television mini-series adaptation his fate is less enigmatic as one of the soldiers at the base is obviously ill with the superflu... but even here Creighton is not sick the last time he is onscreen, raising the possibility he was one of the 0.5% immune to Captain Trips.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: From a Certain Point of View short story "Laina" is about a Rebel soldier, stationed on Yavin 4, who decides to send his young daughter, the titular character, away from the moon with her aunts for her own safety. Their destination? Alderaan. The story ends with no confirmation as to whether or not the three actually made it to the planet before the Death Star or not.
  • In Warrior Cats, there are a couple times when a character is mentioned as "lying motionless" during a battle, one of the most notable being Cloudtail in The Last Hope - a somewhat major character. There's also the case of the elders who stayed behind instead of going to their new home. Did they eke out a life in RiverClan territory, accept food from humans, or die from starvation or the humans' machines?
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River:
    • As the Crawfords travel down the draining Lake Powell, they encounter a capsized boat with an empty life jacket. There is nobody to be seen and Julie is sure the boat's passengers are dead.
    • When David, Afram and Judy can no longer hold on their raft, it and the other passengers are swept off the cliff where it had stranded and down the Colorado river towards Granite Narrows where the flood has probably formed a large waterfall. Keller and the others try to control the raft for some moments more before he is thrown off in a waterfall. The text ends with a mention of how he falls into the water and loses his senses. It is later revealed that their bodies and life jackets were found beneath Granite Narrows.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 is infamous for leaving the fate of some of its characters unanswered.
    • Lynn Kresge fell down stairs and was last seen being wheeled away in an ambulance.
    • Behrooz Ahraz was taken away by terrorists. This led to anyone who suffered a similarly ambiguous fate to be said to be "Behroozed".
    • John Keeler barely survived a plane crash.
    • Wayne Palmer collapsed due to injuries sustained after bomb blast.
  • The Boys (2019): Dr. Vogelbaum. The last we know of him is how Homelander paid him a visit to squeeze the truth out of him.
  • Doctor Who: "Midnight" uses this to add just a bit more Nightmare Fuel to the ending, because while Sky, the woman possessed by the entity, was thrown out into the killing rays of Midnight's sun, the entity itself could clearly already survive on the surface somehow, so it's unclear if this actually destroyed it. Even the Doctor isn't sure, and taking no chances, he convinces the authorities to seal the entire planet off to prevent anything like this from happening again.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Unlike his book counterpart, Prince Viserys Targaryen (who later became King Viserys II) disappeared during the Dance of the Dragons as his ship fled to the Free Cities.
    • Syrio Forel. The last we see of him is when he is about to fight Ser Meryn Trant with a broken practice sword. We hear his battle cry and the sounds of a fight before the scene cuts away. Trant appears later, unscathed, but Syrio's fate is never addressed.
  • Person of Interest. It's not certain if Reese killed Andrew Benton and Peter Arndt.
  • Rome. Pompey is murdered in front of his family. God knows what happened to them.
  • The last time Doug Murphy is seen in Scrubs is being locked in a morgue drawer. After this, he disappears and no mention is made of it.
  • Stargate Atlantis; Lt Ford, who went rogue during season two and was last seen on an exploding Wraith ship. He was never explicitly confirmed to be dead, and Shepherd even lampshades that such scenarios are survivable (with many characters on the show having survived similar incidents multiple times), but he never appeared in the series again.
  • In Supernatural, Archangel Gabriel is believed to be killed by Lucifer in "Hammer of the Gods" (S05, Ep19), but seemingly returns to aid Castiel in "Meta Fiction" (S09, Ep18). However, Castiel realizes that Gabriel is only an illusion. Castiel asks this Gabriel if he is really dead, but he only receives an eyebrow raise with a smirk as an answer. A definitive answer is finally provided in Season 11, when his death is confirmed by God.
    • Even the literal word of God is shown to be wrong in season 13 when Gabriel is shown to be alive and well, having faked his death in season 5. Then a few episodes later, he's killed AGAIN. It seems to be the real deal this time, but given that he's already cheated death at least once, who knows if he's still out there?
  • The end of season two of X Company finds Mirri is acting as a sniper, picking off German soldiers from a nearby tower. The last shot of her has her facing down the barrel of a rifle, looking rather sheepish. However, since Mirri is pretty much an all around badass Action Girl, it's not unreasonable to wonder if she got away.

    Video Games 
  • Davis in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin vanishes following the events of Salvation, with his last words on screen being him panicking about not wanting to die (as he had contracted symptoms of the Creeper).
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine has Henry visiting the studio he used to work at, on request of his old friend Joey Drew. Game play ends with the player activating the cut scene that begins by him killing Bendy, but it's unclear of whether he actually made it out of the studio - especially with the Gainax Ending.
  • Call of Duty is a violent series where Anyone Can Die, which makes it all the more conspicuous when characters disappear without explanation. Weaver, Nevski, Brooks, and Crosby from the Black Ops subseries are notable examples.
  • A lot of the hunters in Evolve fall victim to this. Markov, Hank, and Val may or may not die facing the Phantom Wraith, Parnell, Sunny, Emet, and Bucket might die or remain trapped in the monsters' dimension after the final battle, and Torvald, Jack, Lazarus, Slim, and Crow never had their roles in the story finalized and may have died anywhere from their time on Shear to the final battle.
  • Dead Rising 2: In Ending A, Chuck Green, the protagonist, ends up trapped in an elevator surrounded by zombies, with the last shot of him lying on the ground as one of the horde goes in for the kill. The follow-up, Case West, actually opens immediately after that shot: Frank West suddenly shows up and saves him.
  • The fate of Sigurd's army in the end of the first generation of Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, as they were ambushed by Arvis and his forces in an event known as the Belhalla Massacre. The only directly stated fate of his forces are Sigurd himself (who was executed by Arvis), Quan and Ethlyn (who left the army earlier and was later killed in the Yied Massacre), Finn (who also left with Quan and Ethlyn and was left behind in Leonster where he became the mentor of their son, Leif), the women (who at least survived to have children after the Massacre though Ayra is implied to be a casualty herself), Claud (who was confirmed killed in Fire Emblem: Thracia 776), and Lewyn (killed by Manfroy, but got better).
  • In Half-Life 2:
    • At the end of the game, Gordon Freeman destroys the dark-energy teleporter Dr. Breen intended to use to teleport himself out of Earth, the platform that was lifting Dr. Breen then collapses and thus seems to fall to his death. However, in the sequel Episode One, a recorded conversation between Dr. Breen and one of the Combine's Advisors (which is also briefly seen before the Final Boss fight in the previous game) implies he transfered his mind into an Advisor.
    • At the end of the chapter "We Don't Go To Ravenholm", Father Grigori disappears into a crypt behind a wall of flames while shooting at zombies. Whether he survives or not is left ambiguous.
  • Biker in Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. The game ends in nuclear fire, but his location is not shown being nuked.
  • Volga in Hyrule Warriors. While he does collapse after his final defeat, he doesn't have a unique death cutscene like Wizzro and Cia have, nor does the game ever outright say he's dead, leaving his ultimate fate up in the air.
  • In The Legend of Spyro, at the end of Dawn of the Dragon Malefor is pulled into a crystal core by spirits of ancient dragons, and is never seen again. Then rays of light are shown shining from the core as it breaks apart. Was Malefor sealed inside the core forever or was he destroyed inside it? Or was he simply Dragged Off to Hell? No mention is given as to whether Malefor appeared or didn't appear in the book that gets a page for every dragon that dies.
  • The "grandchildren" level of Life: the Game has the kids get electrocuted, poisoned, and set on fire if you lose, but they're never confirmed to have lived or died.
  • Kingdom Hearts at one point had an example from the original Chain of Memories before it got conclusively confirmed in its remake year later. Organization member Zexion gets attacked by Riku in a cutscene, but unlike his cohorts, he’s too much of a coward to engage in an actual battle and flees. When he returns to his base, Axel is there to greet him with the Riku Replica. Wanting to finish off the rest of the Castle Oblivion crew at this point, Axel orders the Riku Replica to kill Zexion and steal his power. The screen fades to black as Zexion pleads for his life and then slashing sounds are heard. No mention is made of him after this, but oddly enough the Riku Replica displays none of Zexion's abilities when he’s fought later. In the follow-up, Kingdom Hearts II, Sora visits the graves of the Organization. The red graves signify the dead members and the blue graves signify the living ones, but Zexion's is purple and broken—indicated to be because the developers, at the time, hadn’t thought of a weapon for him at the time (the graves prominently show each member’s weapon) but this looked highly suspicious either way. The remake dispelled any ambiguity including the nature of why the Replica ends up with some of Zexion's powers, where he's very explicitly shown going limp and fading away in Riku's hands.
  • In Persona 5, Black Mask isn't definitively showing dying, but their fate is left very up in the air. After saving the Phantom Thieves from his cognitive self in Shido's palace, Goro Akechi is never seen again. Futaba claims she cannot detect his presence anymore, the police has labeled him as "missing" and the general public has pretty much forgotten about him.
  • James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2. There's no canon ending to the game and thus his ultimate fate is left ambiguous at best. Following entries in the series only gives us passing mentions of what could have happened to him note  but nothing truly concrete.
  • Near the end of Sonic Forces, Eggman drags Infinite back to base and relieves him of his Phantom Ruby after he loses to the heroes for the last time, which is the last we see of him. Given the Ruby was embedded in his chest, it's unclear if removing it would kill him or not.
  • Tarzan: Untamed: Oswald and his crew are last seen being caught in a rush of collapsing elephant bones. It's unknown if they survived or were crushed to death.
  • Medomai in Telepath Tactics. Emma can't find her in the end, and Tarion heavily implied he planned to kill her in an earlier scene. But they Never Found the Body, so it is possible she survived.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Towards the end of volume 5, Raven and Cinder duel over the Relic of Knowledge, ending with the former throwing the latter into the abyss below the Relic's vault. Meanwhile, the villains are forced to flee Haven once their plans are foiled, leaving Cinder's fate highly uncertain until Volume 6, which reveals she survived.
  • In the Star Trek Logical Thinking video about the Appeal to Emotions, some colonists are missing and nobody knows if they're dead or alive. Nurse Chapel says they have to be alive as three of them are/were kids and the Death of a Child is too horrible to think about. Spock points out that this is a logical fallacy, but he still hopes they're alive. We never find out.

    Webcomics 
  • Girl Genius: Princess Zulenna. The last the reader hears of her, Baron Wulfenbach orders her to be revived after being stabbed by Bangladesh DuPree. In-universe, that was somewhere around three years ago; out of universe, she died in August 2004. Also Agatha's father and uncle, who disappeared at separate times years before the comic starts.
  • Magick Chicks: The fates of Faith, Jacqui, and the student council are unknown following the teleportation incident, since Cerise claims to have transported them all into a volcano. Whether there's any truth to what Cerise said, or not, Tandy believes they're all dead. We do find out their fate out later: Cerise did teleport them into a live volcano. But she overdid the spell, so she also teleported a large enough chunk of the ground underneath their feet that it allowed them to escape.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: Due to the site's philosophy of "the only canon is that there is no canon", a lot of characters are subject to this trope. For example, SCP-096, a monster that kills anyone who sees its face, be it in person or in a photograph/video feed, is slated for immediate termination due to an incident wherein it escaped and destroyed a small population center. However, it is not listed as a terminated SCP, leaving its status unknown.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender examples:
    • Because of the network the show aired on, they couldn't be as blatant as they'd have liked about Jet's death (they implied pretty heavily, though). This is referenced in the lampshade-filled episode "The Ember Island Players", when the characters see a play of their lives:
      Zuko: Did Jet just...die?
      Sokka: Y'know, it was really unclear.
    • Along the same lines are Longshot and Smellerbee, who are left alone with him. They are never seen or mentioned again after this scene, where they're left in an enemy base that was later destroyed. Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise shows that they survived.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: In the Grand Finale "Operation: I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S.", the villains Knightbrace and Potty Mouth are last seen at the mercy of a Queen Tie, but it's not clear whether the Queen Tie killed them or simply turned them into accountants like it did to Vin Moosk and Froggy MacDougal in "Operation: K.N.O.T."
  • Danny Phantom: The finale fate of Vlad Plasmius. He's last seen hit by the Disasteroid, which was made of an anti-ghost material that would hurt him on touch. Word of God claims he survived and was taken by aliens.
  • Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes: The penultimate episode, "Doom's Word is Law", ends with Doctor Doom getting caught in an explosion. It isn't clear whether or not he survived. While Johnny does mention Doom as if he were still alive in the final episode "Scavenger Hunt", one can make the argument that Johnny simply wasn't aware that Doom was killed.
  • Justice League Unlimited: Invoked at the end:
    Batman: I doubt that either of themnote  died.
    Superman: We saw it this time.
    Flash: You saw it last time, too.
  • Looney Tunes: Invoked in the Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon Gee Whiz-zzzzzz; as Wile E. Coyote falls for the last time, he holds up a sign asking that the cartoon end before he hits. As the screen begins to Iris Out, he holds up a second sign saying "Thank you."
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends: In "The Ghost of Paradise Estate, Part 4", it's unclear what actually happens to Squirk and Crank — the receding floodwaters drag them away into a maelstrom and down a hole, but their actual fate after that is unclear. It's not shown if they died, but they don't return to bother Dream Valley ever again.
  • Star Wars Rebels:
    • "Through Imperial Eyes": Lieutenant Lyste is framed as being Fulcrum by the real Reverse Mole, Agent Kallus. He is last seen being dragged away while protesting his innocence. Kallus says that treason by an Imperial officer is punishable by death. At the end of the episode, Thrawn deduces from other evidence that Kallus is actually Fulcrum, but he and Yularen keep this a secret in order to Feed the Mole, leaving the unfortunate Lyste's ultimate fate uncertain.
    • "Family Reunion — and Farewell": Thrawn himself suffers this when Ezra has a fleet of Purrgil forcibly drag his Star Destroyer into hyperspace, destination unknown. Ezra was onboard as well and is implied to have survived, but there is no word on Thrawn's status and whether or not he's still around for rescue.
  • Star Wars Resistance: The last time we see Commander Pyre in the Grand Finale, he's been knocked out and left in a burning hanger on a Star Destroyer. Said ship blows up not long after, but we're not shown if Pyre was still onboard or woke up and evacuated offscreen. The other half of the Big Bad Duumvirate, Agent Tierny, is quite explicitly shown to die, while Pyre's fate is left more ambiguous (albeit leaning towards dead).
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): During the Season 4 finale, Baxter Stockman is demutated by the Turtles, and last seen knocked out by Mikey before the Shredder sets his mansion on fire with a Molotov cocktail. He's not shown amongst the surviving members of the Foot in the next season, but his death remains unconfirmed.
  • In The Venture Bros., Red Death leaves minor villain (but major Jerkass) Blind Rage in a situation like this after giving his history lesson on the "gentleman villain" — he's left tied to a train track that a train may or may not be coming down.
  • In Winx Club, three of the Season 4 antagonists, Ogron, Anagan, and Gantlos, are frozen, and then fall into a crevice. It is unclear whether they suffered a Disney Villain Death or simply remain frozen forever at the bottom of the abyss.


Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report