|Quotes • Headscratchers • Playing With • Useful Notes • Analysis • Image Links • Haiku • Laconic|
Cool -- you're a ghost, and you don't know it.
—Tucker, Are You Afraid of the Dark?
You probably thought these characters were alive.
Tomato Surprise meets Dead to Begin With. A character is dead. Really dead. However, because Powers That Be wanted him back, he is. He walks, he talks, he breathes just like everyone and neither the characters (sometimes, not even himself), nor the audience suspects anything fishy until The Reveal, at which point he usually dies for good or otherwise disappears because Undeath Always Ends. Severe Death Amnesia is mandatory if the character was previously unaware of their condition.
There are variants. Maybe the heroes have been fighting the forces of someone that they later learn has been dead for years; The Dragon may or may not have taken over and not told anyone that the Big Bad is dead. Maybe they go to find or rescue or recruit someone, only to find that they're very, very late. Maybe someone was fooling them with a Dead Person Impersonation or a really good Of Corpse He's Alive. While someone might have suspected that this character is dead, none of the others really consider it.
Anime and Manga
- All of the postal deliverers in Shigofumi are people who died.
- Carrossea Doon in Madlax. He died as a child to protect Margaret, but his Gift kicked in and sorta saved him. When he remembers that he died and that he loves Margaret, he fades away.
- Souji Mikage in Revolutionary Girl Utena (according to one interpretation, anyway) and Kiryuu Touga in The Movie.
- The Sega Saturn game adds Sanjouin Chigusa, sort of a Distaff Counterpart to Mikage. (The latter is, somewhat remarkably, still in the game.)
- Shito and Shiba in Zombie Loan, and in the former case he was actually born dead. Don't try to think about that one too much...
- Eichi in Full Moon o Sagashite.
- Leon Schezar, Allen's Disappeared Dad in Vision of Escaflowne.
- Schwarzwald in The Big O. Even after it's revealed that he's actually dead, he appears again, even killing a major villain, Alan Gabriel, though how alive Gabriel really was is a point of debate...
- Enjou in the fifth Kara no Kyoukai movie was revealed to have been effectively dead all along, killed and resurrected in an artificial body by Araya, so that he'd bring Shiki to him. Soon after The Reveal, Araya kills him for good.
- Yuzuki in Hell Girl: The Cauldron of Three. Apparently she died as a young child soon after her parents, because Social Services Does Not Exist, but continued her un-life in an illusion of normalcy.
- Mune-Mune in Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai.
- Yuuko in XxxHolic and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, who is not "dead" as such, but has simply had a Reality Warper tell reality to ignore the fact that she died for several hundred years. When she moves on, things reset and it is as if she had died when she, er, died. Yeah, descriptive words get kinda difficult here. However her death couldn't completely set right the multiverse. The consequences had twisted reality beyond repair.
- There was an earlier story about a girl who thought there was a ghost in her house and wanted it removed. Yuuko tricks her into wording it as "for my house to not be scary anymore". As it turns out, that girl is the ghost.
- The three suicidal people in Paranoia Agent, in an especially ironic twist on this trope. Maybe...
- May apply to the Seo Kouji one-shot debut manga, "Half and Half." The two protagonists are hit by a delivery truck right from the get-go, and in what smacks heavily of a Fridge Logic-inducer, Kami-sama gives them one week to sort out which one of them gets to die for keeps.
- Digimon Tamers' Alice is thought to be a ghost. She was incredibly pale, and literally disappeared after she did all that she could to help the Tamers. It is also hinted by several characters that she was already dead.
- Shibumi was going to be one of these, with his body dead and his mind uploaded to the digital world. This is openly foreshadowed quite a bit, but in the end the writers liked him so much that they didn't want to shelve him for the entire (earth centric) finale.
- Oo no Suefumi in Harukanaru Toki no Naka de - Maihitoyo. Unfortunately, he isn't quite aware of his true identity either, and by the time the characters discover who this mysterious Bishonen was, he is already pretty much promoted to being the lead girl's love interest. Yep, Love Hurts.
- In King of Thorn, one of the major characters, Kasumi, died before the manga began. The one who appears in the story is a Replacement Goldfish who was created using a Lovecraftian Superpower. The character doesn't realize it until The Reveal in the final volume.
- Mayoi Hachikuji from Bakemonogatari.
- Several of Hiruko's clients in Nightmare Inspector are revealed near the end of their chapter to be dead. Then the end of the series reveals that Chitose, current host to Hiruko the baku, died in the aftermath of the earthquake long ago, and that the one we've seen for the whole series is Azusa's delusion.
- Ghost in the Shell had an episode where Section 9 had to prevent the assassination of a rich recluse. They succeeded, then found out that he had been dead for several months. He'd had computer programs automatically manage his finaces for him, that combined with him being quite a recluse, is why nobody realized he was dead.
- In the final episode of Blue Submarine No. 6, Minosoko:
Zorndyke: The day this uprising began, I have been dead ever since that day.
- Suo from Darker Than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini is revealed to have been dead for about eight years, in the same incident that vaporized Mao's original body. The one in the series proper is a sort of Opposite Sex Clone made by her brother Shion, whose Contractor power is something a sort of duplication.
- Inverted in Kagen no Tsuki, where it's assumed that Mizuki is dead, due to her ghost being one of the main characters. About halfway through the story, the main characters (and the reader) discover that she's really in a coma.
- The Bishops/Ghosts of 07-Ghost.
- The characters in Bleach who aren't this can almost be counted on one hand.
- In Naruto, Uchiha Madara is revealed to be dead when Kabuto resurrects him. Leaving us with the for-now unanswered question of who Tobi, the apparent Big Bad who'd earlier "revealed" himself to be Madara, really is.
- Kumoshichi from Ayakashi Ayashi was revealed to have died a long time ago with Atl causing Yukiatsu to realize that he's been talking to a ghost that only the two of them can actually see
- In Dragon Ball, Uranai Baba's fifth fighter was revealed to have been this when his true identity was revealed as Son Gohan, Goku's adoptive grandfather, who had already had his Death By Origin Story. He can only hang around for a day, then has to return to the afterlife - but this is enough for him to fight Goku, get to see him one last time, and then tell him "I'm So Proud of You!"
- Mixed in among Class 3-3 in Another is a person who is dead but has no awareness of it. Nor does anyone else, thanks to a combination of Fake Memories and Retconjuration. This "Extra" is the catalyst for a curse that causes those in the class and their immediate relatives to be vulnerable to Cruel And Unusual Deaths of varying degrees. The "Extra" is different each time, there is typically no way to identify the student until after graduation when he or she fades away, and this curse has been victimizing 3-3 Students for two and a half decades.
- In Vampire Princess Miyu, Aiko's parents are revealed to be this. They died in an Heroic Sacrifice for Aiko, and she later had them sort-of resurrected as a part of her Deal with the Devil with a Shinma. When Himiko unveils this, the "fake parents" disappear.
- In Alan Moore's version, this happens to Alec Holland in Swamp Thing - Swamp Thing was actually a totally non-human plant elemental which had arisen from Holland's dying body, and possessed his memories.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mirage continuity: In the Rat King's first appearance, he was revealed to apparently still be alive after his battle with the turtles in an abandoned factory. Later on, when an injured Splinter is trapped in the same factory, The Rat King appears periodically before him and acts as the rat's spiritual guide. Two months later, after Splinter heals enough to leave, he finds The Rat King's rag-covered skeleton.
- In Hellboy, certain ghosts look and act just like living people, and even seem to fool characters who know that they died years ago. This includes the Lobster in Conqueror Worm, a group of sailors that shares a drink with Hellboy in The Island, and Harry Middleton in Darkness Calls.
- In Batman RIP, an amnesiac Bruce Wayne is helped out by a strange homeless man, Honour Jackson. It's not until Jackson and Bruce part ways that Bruce discovers Jackson died some time before Bruce met him.
- This may turn out to be the case with Empowered; it was certainly implied very strongly in volume 6, wherein it is revealed that capes who got their powers through mysterious bargains come back, and that Empowered may have gotten her powers through such a bargain, and that she may have actually died on her first mission without actually realizing it. It makes sense (sort of) in context.
- In Savage Dragon, there was a Doctor Doom Expy named Dreadnaught. He was an armored villain that was ruling over an entire country. After his initial fight, it was revealed that he had been dead for years and his armor was running without him.
- In Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja, it is ultimately revealed that the protagonist is an imperfect copy created by a psychopathic Reality Warper after the original was killed in an accident. This imperfection is why the present-day character is willing to kill as a ninja assassin, despite being an incorruptible pacifist in his youth.
Films -- Live-Action
- Back of Beyond: Tom McGregor is revealed at the end to have been a ghost inhabiting the petrol station after he died in a motorcycle accident.
- Bunny and the Bull: The Main character's best friend was viciously gored to death in front of Stephen, causing what is strongly implied to be a mental breakdown. A clever viewer can pick up subtle hints starting from about halfway through, but it's still a massive shock
- Jacob's Ladder
- Anne Hathaway and the 'plane crash survivors', who actually were all passengers in Passengers. The reason the passengers were disappearing one by one from the protagonist's group therapy sessions was not because of an conspiracy, but because they accepted their deaths and were able to cross over.
- Averted with David Morse's character. He was the pilot on the and knows he's dead, but can't move on because of his guilt over thinking (incorrectly) that he caused the crash. In a rather poignant turn, he adopts the persona of a Corrupt Corporate Executive who insists that the cause of the crash was pilot error and not mechanical failure. This is because he blames himself for not being at his post and being distracted when the engine caught fire.
- The Sixth Sense (See It Was His Sled)
- Jennie Appleton in Portrait of Jennie.
- Toyed with in Below they weren't, and probably a Take That to The Sixth Sense and its imitators.
- Beetlejuice: Adam and Barbara Maitland don't know they're dead until they find the handbook, and the plot doesn't kick into gear until after they figure it out. Several "recently deceased" football players take a while to figure out they didn't survive the crash they were in.
- Randi James in Dead Heat.
- Everyone shown until The Reveal in The Others.
- Played With in Almost An Angel. The hero gets hit in a traffic accident, and when he wakes up, he's convinced (thanks to overhearing a TV about, curiously, the same thing, and taking it for real) that he's been sent back to Earth to help others. His delusions are helped several times by happenstance (he's shot at point-blank range by a robber with no injury, but shortly after another robber reveals that he put blanks in his partner's bullets, because the guy was so twitchy he might accidentally gun down a bystander) and he carries on his 'heaven-sent' mission. Near the end, a truck drives right into him - and passes through him. He cheerfully tells his friend, "I told you I'm immortal" and wanders off into the ending.
- Dead Mans
- Tales from the Hood: The three drug dealers in the Framing Story.
- There is a film called Alice where the heroine seeks refuge in a castle after a car crash and becomes trapped there. It turns out she died in said crash.
- The main character in classic horror film Carnival of Souls.
- Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow: Mad Scientist Dr. Totenkopf has been dead for over twenty years, leaving his army of robots to complete his scheme to destroy the Earth and begin life again on another world.
- Even more appropriate, in a way, in that Totenkopf's actor (Sir Laurence Olivier) had been dead for 15 years when the movie was filmed, and his parts were entirely spliced in from scenes from old movies. So essentially, an actor who had been dead for 15 years played a character who had been dead for 20 years.
- In Just Like Heaven, David and Elizabeth think this is what happened to Elizabeth. She's Not Quite Dead, but has been in a coma.
- The girl who thinks she's the Final Girl in The Devil's Ground.
- Averted in A Very Long Engagement where you slowly find mounting evidence that the main character's fiance has died. He is saved by another soldier who is an impostor after having been shot by a passing German plane, and given a dead young soldier's identity. When the soldier's mother visits the hospital, she realizes instantly her son is dead, and the young man in front of her has severe amnesia. Rather than turn him in, knowing the penalty would be death, she adopted him, and he lived as her son until she died, then he was committed to an asylum.
- High Plains Drifter suggests that The Drifter who teachers the cowardly townsfolk to fight is in fact the spirit of the dead town marshal, who was beaten to death by the outlaws threatening the town and is now out for revenge on them. Unfortunately for the townspeople, since they betrayed him to them and then stood back and watched them beat him to death, he's not very happy at them either...
- Pale Rider, which has Clint Eastwood revisiting the concept of "the dead coming back for justice".
- Johnny Depp in Dead Man. Though he might have just been dying slowly the whole time. Nobody probably knows for sure.
- Waking Life: Played with - the audience is never told if The Dreamer is alive or dead, though he strongly suspects he is, and the film keeps hinting at it. It's all up to the interpretation.
- Halfway through Source Code, we find out that this is what's happening to our protagonist. Kinda.
- Inverted in Ghost Dad. The main character spends most of the movie believing that he died in a car crash and came back as a ghost. He's actually in a coma and using astral projection, an ability that apparently runs in his family.
- A WWII Flying Fortress is hit over Europe. The young co-pilot manages to get her home, saving all aboard, thanks to the advice and moral support of his highly experienced but critically wounded captain. As soon as they land the kid runs to drag a medic onboard for his CO. The man examines the apparently unconscious officer and shakes his head. "Sorry, son," he says. "He's gone, must have died instantly."
- The vanishing hitchhiker Urban Legend. The story usually goes like this: Bob is driving home when he picks up Alice, a teenage hitchhiker. He drives her home and she goes into the house. He then realizes that she forgot her jacket and goes up to the house to give it back to her. Her parents answer the door. They tell him that Alice died ten years ago on the very road where he picked her up, but confirm that it is her jacket.
- Subject of Bringing Mary Home by The Country Gentlemen. The jacket being replaced with a monologue by the mother of the girl thanking him, you can watch it played live here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRFLZfv7Vw8
- In a Downman Sayman story we saw a genki girl and a gloomy boy. The conversation lead that the girl is a ghost who want the boy to 'follow her'. the girl is actually human and the boy is a ghost
- Appears in the hentai manga Alice in Sexland, of all places. The comic opens with Alice running away from her life of forced prostitution and falling into a hole, as per the original story. Near the end, however, the Queen of Hearts reveals that Alice broke her neck in the fall and that Wonderland is simply Purgatory - and that it's only big enough for one real person, who fills the role of the Queen of Hearts, meaning that the current Queen went through the situation herself and now has to move on to make room for Alice.
- All seven protagonists in Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle are revealed to be dead and in Heaven.
- Constantin, the brother of the titular Doruntine, rose from the grave to keep the besa that he made to his mother. This phenomenon was investigated for a long time by the Narrator, who coulnd't accept this nonsense , and was reached the conclusion, that he might have rosen from the grave.
- This is only the book version. This story has pre-christian origins.
- Ambrose Bierce's 1890 short story "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge", which later became many films, the most famous of which was the French adaptation La rivière du hibou which was won an Academy Award and later became a Twilight Zone episode.
- Parl Dro in Tanith Lee's To Kill the Dead.
- The possibility exists that Johnny Truant was never alive, or, was alive for three days. The parts of the book written by him might have been written by someone else.
- A short story by author Bruce Coville in a horror anthology in which a girl running away from home to her aunt's house and being terrified of the pond there. The girl later swims to the bottom of the pond and realises she had actually drowned at the bottom of the pond when her leg got caught after finding her swollen, decayed body at the bottom.
- Goosebumps gave us The Ghost Next Door, where the narrator is actually the ghost, along with Ghost Beach.
- The protagonists in Stephen King's short story Willa from Just After Sunset.
- In R.Chetwynd-Hayes's short story The Ghost Who Limped, a family is haunted by said ghost. Of course it turns out that the family is dead and the "ghost" is the one who's alive.
- It's actually at the beginning, but in The Lovely Bones, the protagonist thinks she's escaped and only realizes she's dead (and falls into a limbo-like area) when she notices her corpse.
- A character is revealed to be such midway through Bujold's Paladin of Souls. There are multiple hints both subtle and otherwise and something odd is going on, but the formal reveal awaits Ista accepting her status as Cosmic Plaything once more.
"You have no fever. You don't even sweat. Your skin is the same temperature as the air, and if it weren't so beastly hot in this climate more people would have noticed by now!"
- Various characters in Philip K. Dick's Ubik.
- In Frederick Forsyth's The Shepherd, a young airplane pilot gets into trouble when his instruments fail, he gets lost in the English fog, and is low on fuel. When he thinks everything's lost, a Mosquito plane (World War Two plane, already out of date in 1957 when the story is set) shepherds him to an old dispersal field, and he survives. There he finds hints that the man who saved him apparently was WW 2 pilot Johnny Kavanagh (the other plane had "JK" written on it), who shepherded many planes during the war. But then he learns that Johnny actually died fourteen years ago...
- Brona, The Warlock Lord in The Sword of Shannara is revealed to be a mobile corpse, motivated only by his own conviction that he cannot die. Touching him with the titular Sword, which reveals the complete truth about any object it touches reduces him to dust.
- A particularly squicktastic example occurs with Bathilda Bagshot in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. Bathilda's corpse was reanimated by Voldemort, and Nagini hides inside the corpse, lying in wait for Harry and Hermione.
- Titus: The episode "The Visit" has Titus, Dave, Tommy, and Ken (Papa Titus) trying to capture Juanita (Titus's homocidal, manic-depressive schizophrenic mom) whom they think escaped from the mental hospital again and is out to ruin Titus and Erin's chance at adopting Amy. Titus, Dave, Tommy, and Ken have her cornered in the closet—until Erin comes in and tells Titus that she got a phone call from the Missouri police department with news that Juanita killed herself four hours ago. To drive the point home, Titus opens the closet and finds no one there and the episode ends with a heartbreaking message about how hard it is to be a parent and how Titus forgives his mom -- even though everyone now thinks he's crazy.
- Cordelia in the Angel episode "You're Welcome".
- And Angel himself, of course.
- Supernatural episode "Road Kill".
- The Tale of the Dream Girl from Are You Afraid of the Dark??, itself the inspiration for The Sixth Sense.
- Also The Tale Of The Prom Queen, where DeDe reveals herself to be the prom queen's ghost at the end. (Note: There was a subtle clue to that fact earlier in the episode. She described something as being "keen", which was outdated slang at the time.)
- Subverted with Giles in the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fans speculated that he was another aspect of The First Evil, who was intangible, because he didn't touch anything. Which would have meant that he was dead, because the First only impersonates the dead.
- In Lost's sixth season and the final scene of the fifth, all of the characters in the flash-sideways are revealed to be dead and in purgatory in the Grand Finale.
- In the Scrubs episode My Screw Up Dr. Cox spends the second half of the episode being absolutely furious with JD after one of his patients died. It's revealed at the end that the patient who died was not the elderly man JD was seen treating earlier, it was Dr. Cox's brother-in-law and best friend Ben. Several hints are dropped during the second half of the episode, such as Dr. Cox being the only one who interacts with Ben and Ben not carrying around his camera (earlier in the episode he said he would carry it around till the day he died).
- In season six Laverne is in an accident and declared brain dead. While the other characters come to say their goodbyes, Carla refuses to do so, and is followed around by a "ghost" Laverne until she finally accepts the loss.
- Carla then asks Dr. Cox if he's ever seen ghosts of dead patients. In true Coxian fashion, he tells her "No, but then again, I'm not a crazy person." The writers wanted Ben to show up again then, but Ben's actor was busy doing something else, forcing them to do a much worse joke.
- In season six Laverne is in an accident and declared brain dead. While the other characters come to say their goodbyes, Carla refuses to do so, and is followed around by a "ghost" Laverne until she finally accepts the loss.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Unquiet Dead", the Doctor feels Gwyneth's pulse and realises she's cold and has been dead for some time, even though she's still moving and talking.
- "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" does this, as well. One of the archaeologists follows him around for quite some time before the Doctor notices that she no longer has two shadows and has had the flesh eaten off her bones.
- In "The Time of Angels", the Doctor is talking to Sacred Bob on the comm device, who tells him he's coming to them. Bob then reveals he's dead, the angels are using his voice, and by him coming to them, he means the angels coming to get them...
- Melinda's best friend/business partner in the season 1 finale of Ghost Whisperer.
- Subverted in Star Trek: Voyager where Janeway seems to be Dead All Along in one episode - but really isn't.
- In an episode of The Twilight Zone, a woman on a road trip of some sort continuously sees the same hitchhiker along her way. The woman turns out to be dead, and the hitchhiker turns out to be Death.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had an episode wherein the Defiant stumbles upon a distress signal from a Starfleet captain and is eventually able to communicate with her. They become friends and eventually discover that she's running out of supplies, but if they push their engines to the limit they should be able to get there in time—until it's discovered that some of her supplies are tainted, moving the deadline up significantly. Taking a big risk, they push the engines to the limit and found the planet—only to discover that the captain had been dead for three years. An unusual energy field had been playing havoc with time; she was dead before they started.
- In the series finale of Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, it's revealed that Starbuck really did die when her Viper exploded. The "returned" Kara Thrace is an "angel", just like Head-Six and Head-Baltar, the only difference being that everybody can see Starbuck.
- Another theory is that Starbuck was literally returned from the dead in another corporeal body, not as a "Head" character. This would fit with older European religious beliefs such as the Greek.
- To clarify for those not familiar with the series: nothing is actually explained, and the matter is left open to speculation. However, she does pull an otherwise improbable Stealth Hi Bye in the middle of an empty field.
- In The Lost Room, the villain's son.
- In Fringe, the "real" Peter Bishop died as a young boy; his father Walter kidnapped Peter's Alternate Universe counterpart and raised him as his own.
- The horror anthology Night Visions had two episodes like this. In "The Passenger List", a TSA official investigating a plane crash ultimately learns that he was one of the victims. In "My So-Called Life And Death", the protagonist suspects that the reason the guy she has a crush on can't see or hear her is because he's a ghost, but the real reason is that she and her family are ghosts.
- It's revealed in the finale of Ashes to Ashes, that the series and its predecessor Life On Mars take place in a type of limboland for police officers, most of whom died in the line of duty. Meaning that all the characters involved are dead already (but don't realise it), except the protagonists - Sam was in a coma (his body kept alive while his mind/soul were mostly dead) in Life On Mars and Alex has just been shot at the beginning of Ashes to Ashes. It's implied that Alex dies for real at the end of Season 2 of Ashes to Ashes as she stops hearing/feeling things from the 'real world', and focus shifts off her fight to get back to her daughter, implying that she may be beginning to either forget her old life or accept death in Season 3. In the Series Finale, Alex is stated to be dead.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Stoke Me a Clipper", Ace Rimmer (what a guy!) reveals after being fatally wounded that he's actually a hologram, the original Ace having died after his encounter with the crew.
- The British Sitcom Two Point Four Children had a character (the mysterious man on the motorcycle who showed up randomly when Bill needed help) who was implied to have been Dead All Along. Considering the nature of that show, it wasn't actually that odd.
- The One Foot in the Grave 2001 Comic Relief skit. Obviously it's set before the Tear Jerker finale of the series. And Margaret isn't reacting to anything Victor says because she quite often ignores him when he's on one of his rants. Right?
- The Twilight Zone episode "The Hunt" is about an old man who goes out hunting at night with his dog and comes home to find that he died on the trip and is now a ghost.
- There was an episode of So Weird where somebody kept writing the message "YOU'RE DEAD" for an old woman to find. It turned out that it wasn't an enemy threatening her, it was the ghost of her husband trying to tell her that she was, literally, dead.
- The NCIS episode "Swan Song" starts out with a body bag being loaded into the van in a thunderstorm, hinting that someone important has been Killed Off for Real. The episode continues through flashbacks interspersed with Gibbs standing by the body in the autopsy room, while Mike Franks is standing behind him. It is foreshadowed a few times (notably when Gibbs sees Franks sitting in his couch before he actually arrives, or when Franks enigmatically tells him that he hears ghosts), but the big reveal comes near the end: The dead guy, of course, is Franks.
- One of the twists late in season 6 of Dexter is finding out that Professor Gellar, the Big Bad of the season, was dead the whole time, and Travis, his accomplice and murderer, was imagining him and committing the murders he thought Gellar performed.
- In Kamen Rider Double's movie, there is a group of terrorists known as NEVER. After encountering three of the members and a look-up on who they are, the heroes find that the group are really undead zombies invented by a scientist who based her research on one of the main character's predicament of being dead all along. This gets pointed out when NEVER's leader points out how they are Not So Different multiple times, with said hero shutting him up at nearly every turn. Although at that point he hasn't found out the Awful Truth.
- Multiple characters on American Horror Story have been revealed to have been dead for years and their ghosts have become trapped in the house. Other characters died during the show itself, but it wasn't known by themselves, other characters or us for several episodes.
- One episode of How I Met Your Mother plays with this and the show's gimmick of Ted narrating to his future children. The show has Robin talking to her future children about how she got with their father Barney despite not wanting children. We find out she's unable to conceive, and she's alone on a park bench apologizing to her imaginary future children that they will never exist. Major Mood Whiplash.
- In the Torchwood the Lost Files radio play "The House of the Dead", Ianto is revealed as having been dead the whole time.
- In Deadlands, there is a "Veteran o'the Weird West" Edge that lets you start with a higher experience level, but confers on you a random negative effect such as being alcoholic, wanted or insane. And the most severe of these effects is the player character being a Harrowed (a revenant type undead) without realizing it!
- Gabe in Next to Normal.
- Discussed Trope by Domin in RUR.
- Proof opens with a conversation between Cathy and Robert in which the latter reassures the former that she isn't crazy. Except that she's talking with her dead father, which may punch a hole in that theory.
- The marine in Stan Ridgeway's Camouflage.
- One way to interpret the ending of the New Order song Love Vigilantes. It's a little hard to catch thanks to the Lyrical Dissonance and the lead singer's lack of coherency. It's better in the Iron & Wine version, which seems to deliberately be aiming for this ending.
- In Ribbon of Green, this is pretty much the plot twist.
- Maester Mika, head of the Corrupt Church in Final Fantasy X. As he was an incredibly old man when he died, no one who wasn't in on it noticed that he wasn't getting any older lately...
- Seymour, who you have to kill three times after his initial death before he stays dead.
- Auron, who finally reveals that he is an Unsent near the end of the game.
- The summoner Belgemine, who tests Yuna's progress throughout the game, later reveals that she is an Unsent during a sidequest.
- Maechen, the age-old historian from FFX, is revealed to be dead in Final Fantasy X 2 in a movie sphere that can be collected on a bonus mission.
- In an interesting variation of the trope, it is revealed towards the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2 that Lightning fell in battle against Caius Ballad long before Serah and Noel encountered her for the first time, but due to the plot-centered Timey-Wimey Ball, she was able to support, assist and meet with them after her inevitable demise in her upcoming battle with Caius.
Setting Right What Once Went Wrong, repairing the broken timeline and resolving the paradoxes, Alyssa ceases to exist, and most people that had been associated with her forgets all about her since her existence until then had been a paradox anchored anomality.
- Played with in Okami as the opening scene shows that Shiranui (A.K.A Amaterasu), dies at the end of her battle with Orochi.
- Everybody in the Smith Syndicate in Killer 7, and it's implied they've all died at least twice.
- Most major characters in the The World Ends With You except Joshua.
- Folklore has a slight twist on this. Keats turns out to be a Halflife, which is similar to a ghost except created from the powers of Messengers and the fears and wishes of humans. He was created in the image of Ellen's dead childhood friend Herve, and the player quickly finds out the "office" they saw at the beginning of the game was in fact another part of the Netherworld.
- Velis in Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings.
- Lisa Garland in the first Silent Hill.
- In one of the endings, Harry himself is the embodiment of this trope.
- Although Mary's death is established at the beginning of Silent Hill 2, the letter from Mary creates doubt in James' (and the player's) mind. That is, until Mary's death is confirmed at the end of the game. The twist is that she died less than a year ago and James killed her, not the illness.
- Silent Hill 4 has Walter Sullivan.
- Silent Hill Homecoming has Joshua Shepherd.
- The first letter from each chapter of Dead Space spell out "NICOLEISDEAD". Which she is. The person Isaac sees on the Ishimura is apparently a mental projection originating from the Marker.
- In the fourth episode of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Beatrice declares to the player that Kinzo Ushiromiya, the protagonist's grandfather and the reason the entire mess started, is in fact, dead at the beginning of not just the game in question, but all the other games in the series.
- Edge in Panzer Dragoon Saga. He's killed by Mustava right in the opening cutscene, restored to life by the Divine Visitor to serve as the newest dragon's rider, and once they succeed at merging the Heresy Program into Sestren, Edge is promptly killed once again, for good.
- Metal Gear:
- In Metal Gear Solid , Master Miller (who was part of the Mission Control in Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake) was killed at his home before the game started. All conversations with him are actually with Liquid Snake with an accent, sunglasses, and ponytail.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, Naked Snake (Future Big Boss) frequently sees a mysterious man that only appears while it's raining. At one point in the game Snake drowns, and in this state of "almost death" meets that man in a dream, at which point he introduces himself as The Sorrow. It's only after the "battle" with him that Snake learns the truth: The Sorrow was the lover of The Boss - Snake's mentor and mother figure - and was also killed by her willingly so when their respective missions forced them to clash.
- In the end of Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots, it's revealed that Liquid has been dead since the first game and did not come back as a spirit to possess Ocelot. Instead, Ocelot brainwashed himself into thinking that he was the real Liquid as part of a massive Gambit Roulette to bring down the Patriots.
- System Shock: "The Polito form is dead, insect. Are you afraid?"
- Context: For half of the game the player character has been directed by Polito, apparently the only survivor to have a Voice with an Internet Connection, and although she's often insulting and cold, she's the only human contact that doesn't come through Apocalyptic Logs scattered around. A couple of those logs actually were recorded by Polito, who apparently used to be a little warmer, and who found an AI artifact that spoke English, or something like. Then the player is guided to where Polito's body is, and SHODAN, the Big Bad of the first System Shock, tells you that she allowed you to believe otherwise to "establish trust".
- You're actually given subtle clues that the woman on the other line isn't Polito; for instance you pick up Polito's audio logs where not only does she discover Shodan's mainframe, but she's actually friendly and emotional, as opposed to the cold, heartless bitch who's guiding you. Xerxes outright tells you if you pay careful attention to him when he's taunting you.
- Itsuki Tachibana in the second Fatal Frame and Choushiro Kirishima in the fourth.
- In Prototype, it is revealed towards the end of the game that Alex Mercer did die at Penn Station and that the character we play is not Alex Mercer. It is The Virus which Mercer released before being killed. The Virus absorbed Mercer's DNA and adopted his memories and came to believe he is Mercer; though the viral monster is actually less of a dick than the original Mercer.
- Itsuki in Suika actually died years ago.
- Excellen from Super Robot Wars Compact 2 was killed during a space shuttle accident before Compact 2 or Original Generation takes place, but was reanimated by a Cosmic Horror as part of the set-up for its evil schemes. Interestingly, she suffers the same fate in the Mirror Universe, but in that version her Mad Scientist parents make a cyborg Super Soldier out of her corpse instead and she changed her name to Lemon Browning.
- Dante in Dantes Inferno didn't actually survive being stabbed in the neck in the beginning of the game. He is in fact just another one of the many damned souls in Hell, albeit one given a little more freedom as part of Lucifer's scheme to free himself.
- Crescendo: Miyu never got better, she is dying in the hospital during her whole storyline.
- Jyoji Hijiri of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. The real Hijiri died during the Conception. The one you've been talking to the whole time is a Mannikin.
- Sort of, it actually is the real Hijiri in a mannikin body, Hijiri is cursed with an endless cycle of death and rebirth as punishment for committing the Ultimate Sin.
- In Agarest Senki 2, the Weiss that Aina finds in the middle of nowhere that you see throughout the game is not really Weiss but is actually Chaos forming as Weiss. The real Weiss died during the part where you think Weiss stabbed Chaos in the beginning.
- In Call of Duty: Black Ops, it turns out that Reznov apparently died during the escape in the second level, and all subsequent appearances - save for the flashback mission where you play as him - are hallucinations caused by Mason's psychosis. "Apparently" being the operative word, and they Never Found the Body. Part of the fandom is quite vocal that Reznov is, in fact, still alive.
- Given that one of the secret messages, the callsign used on each mission, is XREZNOVXXISXXDEAD (Reznov is dead) and the other secret message, the transmission numbers translated with basic alphanumeric substitution, is OR IS HE THERE WAS NO BODY FOUND HE IS NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS, they creators are definitely encouraging this. The Reznov you interact with for most of the game is not real, though.
- There's also some of the intel files that strongly suggest he is still alive, and emails on the terminal from an alias that strongly sounds like Reznov.
- In Age of Wonders, Merlin realizes that he can master the death sphere of magic without Gabriel's guidance because he had drowned before Gabriel "rescued" him in the beginning of the campaign.
- In Strife, attacking the Oracle reveals that under its robe is a human skull on a non-human body. Oh, and its Spectre then attacks you.
- In Xenoblade, Shulk died 14 years ago next to Monado. His body got possesed by the God Zanza, who uses him as a vessel. During the game, Zanza eventually leaves Shulk's body, who dies again. Then, he gets better to kick Zanza's ass.
- In Solatorobo, there is the quest giver Galvan, who merely wanted Red to give his son his log and, hence, his last wishes.
- Soul Calibur V indirectly reveals that Raphael is the host body that Nightmare uses as "Graf Dumas". The playable Raphael is actually his lost soul, tethered to this world by sheer willpower alone and his love for Amy.
- In Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land, everyone is Dead All Along. The Flash in the backstory actually killed everyone in the kingdom. All of the characters in the game, including yourself, are ghosts. As you fulfill requests throughout the game, the tavern gradually becomes empty since the people you aid move on to the afterlife after you help them accomplish their Ghostly Goals.
- Halo has technically has one if you are observant. There is a marine named Pete Stacker who appears in every Bungie made Halo game. Yet he will sometimes appear in two places at once (like how he will appear in ODST when he was supposed to be on Delta Halo at the time), and somehow made it off the first halo even though he is not listed as a survivor (or at least they don't show how he escaped if so). Now it could be a simple overlooked detail by bungie, but this is highly unlikely.
- This is actually reversed in 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors. Kind of. June, Junpei's childhood friend, actually died in the last Notary Game, and she's trapped in a weird loop to try and get Junpei to contact her past self and give her the answer to the last puzzle of the game to save her life. I swear it makes sense in the actual game.
- "I want to go home! I want to go back to my house by the hill! I want to see my mother!" The girl was shouting now, her face wet with tears. "But I know she's not there! I knew all along that she wasn't out there in the sky! Because...because...She's sleeping under the tree on the hill!"
- It's HEAVILY implied that, in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, the Prince Lewyn from the second part is not Prince Lewyn any longer, but the Soul Jar of the Dragon Forseti. It's not clear since when this has been going on (some media imply it's after the Battle of Berhara, others say from the first time he got the Forseti tome), but what matters is that Lewyn is all but said to have died in Berhara and now his body is taken over by the Dragon that created his signature tome.
- Nageki Fujishiro in Hatoful Boyfriend is this, providing one of the biggest Tear Jerkers in the game. The protagonist meets him in the library, which he refuses to leave for school festivals or even lunch periods. It turns out he committed suicide years ago and his ghost has been trapped in the library ever since. Falling in love with the protagonist allows him to pass on to the afterlife.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, Chapter 16, Antimony meets the ghost of a boy who doesn't realize he's dead. Initially, Annie doesn't realize he's dead either, having misunderstood the warning from the psychopomps.
- Aylee in one arc of Sluggy Freelance. She Got Better.
- Tomo Wakeman in The Dragon Doctors.
- In Homestuck, we hear much of the exploits and greatness of Jade's Grandpa, only to find out he's been dead for some time and his corpse is stuffed and placed in front of a fireplace. Creepier still, Jade still refers to Grandpa as if he were alive and complains of his various elderly tendencies. Let's just say that he was eccentric enough that most readers believed his stuffed corpse was just a doll of himself he kept lying around at first.
- Aradia is downright stated to have been "dead all along".
- The twist ending of movie critic/indie filmmaker Brad Jones' (aka The Cinema Snob) suspense thriller Paranoia.
- Subverted in Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction, in which it turns out that Church (who had been a ghost ever since about halfway through season one) was not dead all along, but was actually an AI program who only believed that he had been a real person due to the memories of the person he was based on.
- Then played somewhat straight when it's revealed Tex is really just an AI created from the Director's memories of his dead love.
- In There Will Be Brawl, it turns out that Princess Peach had been killed immediately after she was kidnapped.
- The Tale Spin episode "The Old Man and the Sea Duck" featured Baloo suffering amnesia and having to be trained from scratch by the old pilot who rescued him. Upon regaining his memories and leaving, Baloo returns to find the old man's place in shambles and learns the old man has been dead and gone for quite some time.
- There was also the episode in which Rebecca met her perfect man... who happened to be the ghostly captain of a sunken ship. It was a while before she discovered she'd fallen for a dead guy.
- In the Columbia short "The Jaywalker" (1956), a man, after giving the viewer advice on how to successfully jaywalk, turns to reveal a pair of angel wings on his back—suggesting that he was struck and killed while crossing the street illegally.
- In Thundercats 2011, the Tiger Clan was stricken with plague around the time Tygra was born. The more prideful members of the clan rejected Tygra's father Javan's suggestion to seek help from Thundera and convinced him to make a deal with the Ancient Spirits of Evil. The Spirits agreed to save the clan but demanded that Javan sacrifice Tygra in exchange, since Tygra was destined to become their enemy. Javan couldn't go through with it and sent Tygra away in a hot air balloon to Thundera. The Spirits punished the clan by sending the plague back to the village, killing them all. The Spirits then cursed them with undeath and nightly transformations into mindless horrors.
- In a episode of the original series Lion-o and the Tunderkittens storm the tower of the notorious Robber Baron who's stone gargoyles had been stealing for. But after braving the towers many traps they reach the top floor only to find the Baron's mummified corpse. The gargoyles had been stealing for a guy who had been dead for years.
- Shiro during seasons 3-6 of Voltron: Legendary Defender. He disappeared during the battle with Zarkon and was found adrift in space by Keith, and soon rejoined the team... But this Shiro was a clone named Kuron, designed to be a sleeper agent for Haggar and unaware of his "mission"since he believes himself to be Shiro. The real one died and his spirit was absorbed by the Black Lion. Allura manages to merge said spirit with the clone's injured body at the end of season 6, effectively reviving Shiro..
- who was sent to live with Titus and Erin after Amy's disastrous birthday in her run-down apartment, which featured her drugged-out mom passing out on the cake and her drunk stepfather nearly beating Amy when she confesses to calling Child Welfare on him