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George: No, wait, I've got it! Quick, stand next to me!

Proto Man: Why?

George: My name's in the title of the comic! I can't die!

A major character is seemingly killed, leaving the story permanently. However, the dramatic tension falls flat because we know these kind of events are very seldom permanent. There are two main causes of this. In television, actors have contracts, and if an actor's contract ends we probably would have heard that the actor has quit or been fired long before any on-screen death. Even if a character does somehow die, it is very unlikely that they are Killed Off for Real, and are probably Not Quite Dead. In books and any other media without real individuals playing the roles, there are a number of ways that the reader can be sure a character will survive, such as stories told in asynchronous order or an unfulfilled prophecy in any setting where that kind of thing is reliable.

Guest stars and minor characters introduced in the last couple episodes, on the other hand, are very mortal. Not to mention anyone wearing a Red Shirt. Less applicable near the end of a season where contracts are up for renewal... you'll want to stay on the writer's good side at this point.

Not quite as powerful as Foregone Conclusion for saving lives, but close.

Compare Plot Armor, which is where the main characters don't die in the first place because of their importance to the plot.

See also: Like You Would Really Do It, Joker Immunity, Popularity Power, Contractual Boss Immunity, and Disney Death. Contrast Anyone Can Die. Can lead to Opening a Can of Clones.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Contractual Immortality include:


Anime and Manga

  • Amelia of The Slayers seems to end up grievously injured in order to demonstrate the evil of the villains, but given that her voice actress is always signed on for full seasons (and given that the fans would revolt were she to actually die) she is profoundly unlikely to ever actually be in anything resembling true mortal peril. This can actually apply to any characters in the series that isn't a major villain or a minor ally (such as Zelgadis' henchmen Zolf and Rodimus in the first season); however, this is averted in the Light Novel series in regards to Luke and Millina, two major allies of Lina and Gourry for the second half of the books.
  • At the end of Hell Girl: The Two Prisoners, Ai Enma was turned back into a mortal being and she did a Heroic Sacrifice to save Takuma from the townspeople. With Ai's death, Hone Onna, Wanyuudou and Ichimoku Ren go their separate ways... until a few years later in Hell Girl: The Cauldron of Three where Ai comes back by possessing the body of Yuzuki Mikage; the three reunite with Ai with the addition of another spirit Yamawaro. How Ai comes back from the dead is unknown.
  • Erza's supposed death in chapter 100 of Fairy Tail. Even when you see the funeral, you know it's not real. As if they'd seriously kill of the most popular female character in a series that's 45% male oriented fanservice.


Comic Books

  • It is almost impossible for Johnny C. to kill himself thanks to him being a (messed-with) Waste-Lock.[1] The gun always tends to be short one bullet (well, he tried to do a murder-suicide that failed) and even a taser set to kill didn't do the trick, either, though one of the doughboys noted that Johnny forgot to charge the battery. When Johnny actually does, he gets better.


Fanfic

Film

  • Presumably, characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who have solo films already announced are going to survive the Avengers movies. For example, a third Iron Man movie was already on the way when the first Avengers movie was released, so though it appeared Tony Stark was about to sacrifice himself, most knew he'd likely survive. Similarly, most everyone knew that the effects of Thanos' Snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War would be undone, since Spider-Man had Spider-Man: Far From Home already confirmed, and Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy already had further sequels planned. However, the announcement of a coming solo film didn't stop Black Window from dying in a Heroic Sacrifice in order to obtain the Soul Gem in Avengers Endgame.

Literature

  • When Michael, one of the two main characters in the Knight and Rogue Series, is shoved over the edge of a cliff at the end of Player'sRuse, only the mooks seem certain he's dead. He also happens to be the only person alive with magic so it's pretty easy to come up with the explanation for how he's going to survive.
  • Applies in A Song of Ice and Fire due to the series' practice of naming chapter titles after the name of the point of view character for that chapter. Particularly in the third book where it is said that "The axe took (Arya Stark) in the back of the head," her continued survival can be easily seen by flicking through following pages to find other chapters in her name later on.
    • Averted in A Feast For Crows, where Brienne of Tarth is apparently hanged towards the end of the book and has no more point of view chapters, or other appearances, henceforth in the book. She is subsequently revealed to be still alive in the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons.


Live Action TV

  • The season finale of The X-Files where Mulder supposedly killed himself; since David Duchovny was signed for another season and a movie, it was pretty obvious that he wasn't actually dead.
  • A bait-and-switch subversion: Spooks (AKA MI-5) introduced Lisa Faulkner as a regular, but her character Helen was brutally and unceremoniously killed off in the second episode, a move aimed to illustrate straight away that this was in fact going to be a series where Anyone Can Die.
  • On the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, Commander Adama is shot by a Cylon sleeper agent at the end of the first season, and spends the next four episodes in critical condition before making a surprise return at the end of the fourth episode. There is never any question that he won't survive, even when he has to have emergency surgery to restart his heart.
    • Kara Thrace does this as well, but due to the specific nature of her death, which is enshrouded with plenty of mysticism, it was quite obvious that she would return from the dead soon enough (Or would she?). However, this created a very tense atmosphere for several episodes when the fans weren't absolutely sure that the character wasn't Not So Invincible After All, helped along by the actress herself giving interviews about how she'd felt under-used that season and was looking for other work.
    • Laura Roslin is probably the worst example. While she does eventually die, the otherwise-good episode Epiphanies resorts to the kind of science-fiction Techno Babble miracle-cure it was intended to avert to keep her alive.
    • Then of course there's the battlestar Galactica herself.
      • This is particularly obvious in "Exodus Pt 2". Which ship survives the battle, Galactica or the newer, more heavily-armed Pegasus? Guess.
    • Brutally subverted in the prequel series Caprica with William Adama. He turns out to be Bill Adama's older half-brother, and dies in the penultimate episode; there is a Tauron tradition of naming new children after their deceased siblings, which explains the similarity between the names.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • At the finale of Season 2 Angel is run through with a sword and sucked through a portal into hell. However, David Boreanaz stays on as a regular character in Season 3, even appearing in the title sequence. They try to Mind Screw the audience by having him appear in dream sequences but there's never any doubt that he'll be back from hell soon. And sure enough...
    • Season 5 ends with Buffy dying, but by the time the episode aired, the fans all knew that there would be a season 6.
    • And when Angel leaves Sunnydale for his own Angel spinoff, he comes across a group of lawyers who quite literally have immortality written into their contracts with the demonic Senior Partners.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: It was obvious that Data wasn't dead in The Most Toys. Seeing the shuttle explode, however... was still pretty convincing.
    • As was that time when they found his head buried in a cavern under San Francisco, having apparently been there for five centuries. Which was creepy as hell, to boot.
      • Technically, since that was the end of the season, he could have died and the actor just not contracted for next season, which makes it more plausible. Related: It seems obvious now that Picard would survive The Best of Both Worlds, but Stewart's return for season 4 was not confirmed at that point and the producers feared he would leave; if he hadn't returned, he really would have died in the second half.
    • The same in an episode where Picard was supposedly killed in a meaningless bar fight. Much to the dismay of his crew.
  • Heroes has had a couple neat subversions: Niki Sanders was Killed Off for Real, with the actress staying on the show thanks to the reveal that she was one of three clones. Also, Nathan Petrelli was really killed and had his place taken by an amnesiac, permanently transformed Sylar.
  • Lampshaded in Alias by Jennifer Garner. After the first season finale left Sydney's handler needing an injection of adrenalin to survive, she gave in interview in which she mocked the cliffhanger, saying that Michael Vartan had a 5-year contract, so his character wasn't going anywhere. Ironically, the character really was temporarily killed off in the fifth season.
  • Lucy's death in the TV show ER counts as an inversion. This troper remember reading an issue of a tv guide-esque magazine that came out the week Be Still My Heart aired in which it revealed that Kellie Martin had asked to be written out of the show. Needless to say, the only true surprise in the cliffhanger of the episode was that the producers actually had her die instead of just writing her off.
  • Inverted with Doctor Who where The Nth Doctor regeneration arrangement means that the leads can have contracts shorter than the series but then when we know that the current actors contract is up, we know that at the end of the next season the Doctor is going to regenerate into something new. David Tennant's departure was arranged a couple of years before it occurred such that more time was spent before it happened on focusing on the new actor.
    • For this reason, when David Tennant allegedly starts to regenerate for the cliffhanger ending of "The Stolen Earth," it's clear he won't actually change, since news of an upcoming regeneration has never been successfully kept secret.
    • The Myth Arc in series 6 revolves around The Doctor suffering permanent death. Despite his murder and the cremation of the body being shown onscreen, the knowledge the a new series has been commissioned, with Matt Smith no less, somewhat lessens the impact. Indeed, in "The Wedding of River Song", he fakes his death by controlling a Teslecta robot.
  • Captain Jack in Torchwood cannot die. Ever. Not even if he gets blown up. Sometimes they try to make it look like he's been Killed Off for Real, but it's always pretty obvious that he's coming back.
  • The ultimate inversion had to occur in Smallville. Aaron Ashmore played Jimmy Olsen during Seasons 6 (guest appearances), 7, & 8. In the Season 8 finale, Jimmy Olsen is killed by Doomsday. Everyone assumed that it was a trick (do I need to explain why?), but then, at the funeral, we discover that his character's "real" name was Henry James Olsen and he had a younger brother (also) named Jimmy, who obviously would grow up to become the famous best pal to a certain Big Blue Boy Scout.
  • Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1. Seriously, the guy has died no less than four times, probably more: once being shot with a staff weapon in the original movie (revived by sarcophagus), once after his entire team is killed (revived by the Nox), once from radiation poisoning (Ascending To A Higher Plane Of Existence along the way), and once by being stabbed before the spaceship he's on dissolves into component parts. It's not permanent any time.
    • Lampshaded in one episode: a separate team makes a discovery while exploring a planet, and one comments, "Dr. Jackson's going to die when he sees this!" Someone else responds, "What, again?"
  • Occurs in Stargate Atlantis. Carson Beckett is killed off in Season 3, but he returns in Season 4 due to massive fan demand.
    • Also in Atlantis this immunity comes into play for Ronan Dex in the very last episode. You'd assume that if a Killed Off for Real is going to happen anywhere the last episode ever is the place for it. This is thown away presumably for the potential of movie follow ons.
  • Did anyone really think that in 24 Jack freakin' Bauer would die? At all? Between Kiefer Sutherland being an executive producer since back in Day 2 and the show's tendency to kill off or disappear any CTU members who also tried to get on the action, the premise of Anyone Can Die always applied to everyone but him.
  • Supernatural: How many times has Dean died? Sam? Castiel? Bobby?
    • Lampshaded in a season 5 episode when Dean promises the two hunters who have just killed Sam and are about to kill him that he'll be back to hunt them down.
  • Aeryn suffers this at least twice on Farscape.
  • Practically every major character on Charmed dies multiple times during the show's run, only to be resurrected later in the same episode.
  • Game of Thrones averts it. Sean Bean is the top-billing and most recognizable actor in the show, playing noble Eddard Stark, and is one of the few legitimately good characters in a world filled with Gray and Gray Morality. He gets Killed Off for Real in the first season, setting off a shockwave through people who haven't read the book and establishing that Anyone Can Die.
    • It is Sean Bean after all, if any character in any series is more or less guaranteed to get Killed Off for Real, it's one played by him.
  • Though the show is named Castle and not Beckett, did anyone really expect that Beckett would die after being shot at the end of Season 3?
    • Or that she'd die when her apartment blew up at the end of Tick, Tick, Tick...?
  • In the CSI Season 5 finale Nick is kidnapped and buried alive. The character is supposedly in mortal danger, but George Eads was under contract so he not-so-shockingly pulled through.
    • Zig-zagged two years later when Sara was kidnapped by the Miniature Killer. Jorja Fox's contract was up and CBS was reasonably successful at suppressing any news about her contract, so it was actually possible that they might kill her off. But since the actress signed on for part of Season 8, Sara lived.
  • The last episode of season 5 of Rescue Me tried to kill off Tommy Gavin. No big surprise that it didn't stick, considering that the character is played by Denis Leary, the star AND creator of the show.
  • The 8th season of Grey's Anatomy ends with Meredith, Derek, Mark, Cristina, and Arizona stranded in the woods badly all horribly injured in a plane crash losing hope of any immediate rescue. However, Arizona's the only one whose fate is unclear at the moment: Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, and Sandra Oh have all had their contracts renewed for season 9, so it's clear somehow those four at least will be rescued.


Web Comics

  • Bob and George: George exploits his name being in the title
  • Both Captain Tagon and Commander Andreyasn from Schlock Mercenary have been killed off, only to be resurrected later (or in Tagon's case the timeline was changed so that he never died in the first place)
  • Roy's death in Order of the Stick. Given that the comic is set in a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy adventure, it's doubtful that any fan of the comic was not expecting him to be resurrected later on - especially given that he's pretty much the main protagonist, and is the leader of a group that is quite capable of bringing him back. This is later Lampshaded by Roy himself, when he talks about how it's easier not to take death seriously in a world where such things are not only possible but downright mundane.


Web Original

  • Played with on The Twilight Chronicles - Bella died in Episode 2, and the next episode opened with her waking up in Hell. She quickly discovers that she has a portal vagina that allows her to return to Earth whenever she is sent to Hell. She's been killed three times now.
  • Parodied by the Adventure Quest character Zorbak in his articles in the spin-off Ezine. He's constantly talking about the contract being the only thing that keeps him around.
  • Inevitable in Darwin's Soldiers as each character is played by a different person.


Western Animation

  • Like many other Merchandise-Driven shows, the characters in Transformers have Contractual Immortality ... but as soon as their toys are discontinued, that immortality expires. Most of these characters are then killed off or just disappear never to be seen again. Of course, fan favorites like Optimus Prime and Megatron can still come Back From the Dead.
  • Much of the tension is kinda killed in Star Wars: The Clone Wars because Obi-Wan, Anakin, Yoda, and many other of the major characters are going to live no mater how bad the situation may seem. Ahsoka, and some of the Clone Troopers on the other hand...not so lucky.
  • Parodied in The Venture Bros. Until the Season 3 finale, the titular characters would constantly die, only to be replaced by perfect clones of themselves. Season 2 even gave us a Good Times Montage of each of the instances in which they died.


Real Life

  • George Washington was impossible to kill in battle. He lost more horses than any other soldier, always seemed to return with a jacket full of bullet-holes... and never got scratched so much as once by an enemy weapon. The man had a contract with God to win that war...
  • Adolf Hitler, the number of attempts on his life was just boggling, yet none were successful.
    • Well only Hitler is allowed to kill Hitler, remember?
    • Yes, Hitler was targeted for assassination many times, but it was decided that Hitler would do more damage if he was in power rather than some Sane n' Sober general that would probably get rid of the super tanks and just follow the Allied solution of Zerg Rushing.
  • There have been literally hundreds of attempts on Fidel Castro's life, according to his bodyguard. None have ever succeeded.
    • 638 to be exact, according to the CIA's declassified documents. And that's just their attempts.

Notes

  1. Senor Diablo tells Johnny that Waste-Locks normally end up killing themselves. It's assumed that whoever made the system decided to start changing this and made it (nearly) impossible for Johnny to die.
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