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We die standing.—General Sturm, Dawn of War
Congratulations, hero, you've finally done it. You've defeated the Big Bad. After an epic Sword Fight, you've managed to plunge your Cool Sword right through his evil heart. The lights in his eyes dim; he staggers; blood trickles from his mouth. You, being sure of victory, turn to make sure that the nearby Damsel in Distress is unhurt, and to accept her showers of grateful kisses. Looks like everything is settled.
But what's this? The bad guy flinches! Is he trying to take another step? Are his fingers making a grab for the sword that even now rests in his breastplate? Is he such a Determinator that he can endure so much damage and keep fighting?
No. He's dead. His body is just twitching a bit. And yet, he doesn't fall, his muscles so perfectly conditioned they can continue to function without any signals from his brain. So he just stands there like a morbid practice dummy. He's Died Standing Up.
This is a device used when a character is so utterly Badass that even in death they refuse to accept utter defeat. The body continues to strive for victory even when its driving will has been extinguished. This goes hand in hand with a Badass Normal or any other absurdly strong character, especially one with a Charles Atlas Superpower. It may be mixed with Taken for Granite, when a villain's magical body has No Ontological Inertia and turns to stone at the moment of death. Despite the description above, this can happen to both heroic and villainous characters. In addition, this trope for some reason often tends to be paired with Off with His Head, and scenes where the body waves its arms around looking for the head, or walks around for a while before collapsing are common.
This is technically possible in Real Life (especially with the help of rigor mortis, but see Real Life, below), though absurdly unlikely, and in any case a corpse's lack of balance control will cause it to topple sooner or later. The realms of fiction simply contrive to end the scene before this happens.
In deference to gravity, falling to one's knees also counts, so long as the final plunge into a prone state doesn't follow. Taking another step forward despite being clearly dead also counts. Related to You Are Already Dead.
Anime and Manga
- In Ginga Densetsu Weed, a large fighting dog who has been fatally injured refuses to fall down and die. He was about to fall, but three other dogs who showed up at the last moment stood around him and propped him up until his body froze solid in a standing position, guaranteeing it would stay that way without support. The series, and it's precursor, had a few examples of this.
- Several times in Fist of the North Star,
- Raoh's corpse stays frozen, his fist gloriously clenched upwards, after he literally sends his soul to Heaven to bring Light and Hope to The World.
- As well, Toki dies this way after Kenshiro's fight with Ryuga, through a combination of radiation poisoning and sacrificing himself so that Kenshiro will use the sorrow from his death to unlock the ability of Muso Tensei.
- And then Juuza, immediately after falling gets back on his feet and keeps fighting Raoh for another minute and a half, despite being already dead. This after having previously bashed heads with Raoh the day before. Considering the hellacious beating Juuza takes leading to his death and post-mortem fight, this might qualify as a Rasputinian Death as well
- In an episode of Detective Conan, the victim had just finished an exacting workout and her muscles were tense enough to keep her standing after being murdered. Conan recognizes this after seeing a statue of a legendary Japanese warrior who had died the same way in a battle. (See Benkei, below)
- A variant in Naruto: Rock Lee, after being completely and mercilessly thrashed by Gaara, pushing his body way past its limits, and suffering permanent damage to two limbs and his spine, manages to stand back up despite being unconscious at the time, presumably by sheer willpower.
- Munsu, the protagonist of Shin Angyo Onshi, dies standing at the climatic final fight of the manga.
- In Lone Wolf and Cub, the hero dies this way, and apparently the Big Bad as well.
- In One Piece Whitebeard dies standing, after going through a downright insane Rasputinian Death and proclaiming to the entire world that the One Piece exists (and thus giving a gigantic middle finger to the World Government). Considering how he was probably the most Badass character to ever exist, he clearly could not have died any other way. As a kicker, his Badass Longcoat falls off immediately after, revealing that despite being shot, stabbed, slashed, and blown to hell pretty much everywhere else, his back didn't have so much as a scar; in his entire life, he never retreated from an enemy, not even One. Single. Time.
- While not actually a death, Zoro definitely tried to invoke this, and came damn near close to dying, when he let Kuma transfer all of the pain and fatigue Luffy suffered during his fights on Thriller Bark to him. Keep in mind that Luffy is a Rubber Man, able to withstand far more damage than a normal human can. The next morning, Zoro is standing perfectly still, saying that "he's fine" while both he and the ground around him are covered in his blood.
- Aldebaran Taurus in Saint Seiya.
- When Lordgenome was killed in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, he was able to stay standing for a time, and even talk for a bit. Impressive, since the hole in his chest was big enough that he wouldn't have had lungs, let alone a functional spine. Meh spiral energy.
- Jashugan, the Emperor of Motorball, from Gunnm/Battle Angel Alita manages to defeat the title character after taking a fatal blow and stays standing. A couple other characters also die standing up. Gally/Alita herself does the "knocked out and still moving" variation at one point.
- Similar to the Naruto example, Barry's Empoleon from Pokémon does one after a brutal Thunder attack by Paul's Electivire during the Sinnoh League. It gives a pretty creepy glare while being attacked.
- George H.W. Bush in The Legend of Koizumi. Yes, you read that correctly.
- In Rurouni Kenshin, The Big Guy of Shinomori Aoshi's first Quirky Miniboss Squad takes a fusillade of Gatling gun fire for his boss, falls to his knees, and dies balanced there, still shielding Aoshi in death.
- Parodied in Sora no Otoshimono during the Sumo Wrestling Tournament. Tomoki takes numerous Karate chops while being held against an electric fence. He stands back up, but the reffere holds up
SoharaMasker Wrestler's hand in victory announcing that Tomoki is already dead.
- Wolfwood barely managed a variant of this in the Trigun anime. He knelt in front of an altar to beg forgiveness and died in that position, propped up by his cross.
- In Berserk's hellish Eclipse arc, Guts runs up to resident Badass Pippin, thinking he's still alive. The next panel reveals his corpse has actually been hollowed out from the back.
- The first Battle Wolf in Toriko. After giving birth to her child, dispatched a serpent rumoured to be its competitor in ancient days effortlessly, and being shot through by a laser, she still died on her feet, a proud image of the Battle Wolf it was cloned from; a Battle Wolf that had averted global extinction in ancient times.
- Happens in a Black Jack story. A young doctor who has lost his entire family to cancer and is now dying of it himself vows to treat one cancer patient before he dies. He completes the operation, but when the other doctors go to congratulate him, they find he has died on his feet. Weirder still, a post-mortem reveals that his heart had already stopped a few minutes into the operation. Just another example of determination overcoming the laws of biology.
- Diaz Ragu of Shadow Skill.
- Tung Fu Rue in the Fatal Fury OAV dies after showing Terry his ultimate attack, still in his fighting stance.
- "unconscious" variation in the Street Fighter Alpha manga, Sakura Ganbaru! After a glorious two-on-one match against Cammy and Sakura, a defeated Zangief staggers on the edge of consciousness, but, having dedicated his skills and his body to proud Mother Russia, he cannot afford to let it fall, much less in view of his beloved comrades. So he wills himself back up, into his victory pose, and stays that way even after blacking out. Cammy, Sakura, and all spectators acknowledge his defeat, but they are awed by his devotion even more, making it a symbolic victory.
- This is how Liutenant Hajime Saitou from Uchuu Senkan Yamato dies, having held the enemy back with two machine guns as one of his teammates sets up a bomb that will kill said enemies. When this is done, he falls on his back...
- Punisher MAX had a crazy mobster henchman who after having one of his eyes pulled out, getting cut, beaten, shot, impaled on an iron spiked fence and having Frank blow his head in half with a shotgun still took two more steps making even Frank panic a little.
- Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?: Lex Luthor, controlled by Braniac's head on his cranium fights from inside when he begs a superpowered Lana Lang to kill him. It doesn't do his body much good: Braniac controls his corpse like a macabre puppet. The Braniac-cap himself exhibits this trait once rigor mortis sets in, detaching itself crawling "powered only by malice", swearing to kill Superman even as it dies.
- The Sandman story, "Facade", features Urania Blackwell, aka "Element Girl", who wants to die but can't. When she finally asks the sun god Ra to take away her "gift", her body is temporarily left as a standing, human-shaped figure of dust.
- In Larry Hama's recent G.I. Joe continuation, Duke comes to Snake-Eyes' Mountain cabin to warn them about Cobra's reappearance, only to find Scarlett under attack by Red Ninjas. After helping her out, they enter the burning cabin to find three ninjas just standing there on fire. Scarlett remarks that it must have been recent, as they don't realize they're dead yet.
- This is a staple of Shaw Brothers Wuxia films, in which a hero (or villain) is so determined to complete his final duty that he refuses to fall even in death. This invariably earns the respect, admiration and maybe even Manly Tears of the enemies who slew him.
- In Glory, when Denzel Washington's character slumps forward after being shot dead he doesn't let go of the flag.
- Hot Fuzz: A man with the upper half of his torso smashed in by a chunk of stone takes a few steps towards Nick before falling to the ground.
- In the first Harry Potter movie, Professor Quirrell stumbles a few steps before finally crumbing to ash.
- In Final Destination, Billy gets his head taken off in midrant by a piece of shrapnel kicked up by the passing train that just took out Carter's car, and he stays on his feet for a Beat before keeling over.
- "Old Wen" from Eat Drink Man Woman, who gets winded after returning to his kitchen, sits down, and dies.
- A variation happens near the end of The 13th Warrior where after barely defeating the enemy, Buliwyf is seen to plunge his sword into the ground and sit down on a log at the base of the defensive wall, watching their retreat. Moments later the other men realize that he has finally died of the poison he was inflicted with earlier and is sitting there, staring into the distance.
- A subversion in the comedy western City Slickers: Curly the leather-tough cowboy dies upright.. while peacefully smoking a cigarette.
- The beginning of the film-noir parody The Cheap Detective has the detective inspecting several corpses that are frozen in upright positions, killed so fast that they didn't have time to react.
- A Furyan character in The Chronicles of Riddick commits suicide by walking into a storm of solar radiation, and is shown still walking even as his body gets incinerated.
- After the final cut in their duel in Highlander, The Kurgan smiles and reaches out before his head falls off, then his body makes a salute with his sword before falling.
- In X Men First Class, Darwin stays standing after being killed by Sebastian Shaw.
- In the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, Bond contact Henderson is standing by a wall telling him what he knows about missing Russian and American space missions when he just suddenly stops talking. Bond grabs him, to find him stabbed in the back through the thin Japanese paper wall. It was like the knife through the wall was holding his dead body up. Counts also as Dies Wide Open, since it looks like he was just turned off.
- The appendices to The Lord of the Rings include the story of Helm Hammerhand, an ancient King of Rohan who, being besieged in the Hornburg during a bad winter, took to going out alone at night and kill enemies with his bare hands. One day he didn't return, and in the morning was found outside standing upright, but dead and frozen.
- A non-badass verion in Let's Go Play at the Adams. The only reason Barbara does this is because of how she is tied up when she dies
- Enjolras in Les Misérables, although he had a wall behind him.
Religion, Mythology and History
- Saito Musashibo Benkei is said to have died this way, 900 years ago. After fighting to buy time for his lord to commit Seppuku, none of the enemy wanted to test his wrath, believing him to be a demon from hell. Medically speaking, it's believed that the lactic acid his muscles produced from the fighting caused a sudden onset of rigor mortis, causing his body to "Lock up" while still standing and holding his spear. He has a small shrine today where this happened- see Detective Conan above, where it becomes a plot point.
- Rumor claimed that Blackbeard's headless body, after being thrown overboard, swam between 2 and 7 times around the Adventure before sinking.
- In Irish legend Cúchulainn tied himself to a stone after being fatally wounded by a magical spear so as to appear to still be standing up, and it was only when a raven landed on his shoulder that his enemies knew he had died.
- In Islamic legend, it is said that Prophet Sulaiman (better known as King Solomon) died like this, propped against a staff, while overseeing the djinns under his command building a castle. He finally toppled down after termites ate his staff.
- In the historical fiction tale, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it's said that this is how Cao Cao's bodyguard, Dian Wei, died, blocking a gate so that the assassins sent to kill his lord couldn't go after him. His valor terrified the assassins, and made Cao Cao's other enemies begin to revere the man. Also counts as a Dying Moment of Awesome.
- In The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker, Ganon turns to stone after being stabbed in the head by the Master Sword. In The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, he takes it a step further, since at the end of the battle he's lying on the ground when you finish him, but in the cutscene, he's standing, meaning he didn't just die on his back, he stood back up after you ran him through.
- Possibly parodied in Mother 3 when a pigmask watches you get in a horrible hovercraft accident. If you examine him afterwards, it is revealed that he has passed out, presumably from fright, yet he's still standing up. With his arm raised.
- Excluding Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, every Fire Emblem uses this as the death animation.
- In Dawn of War: some units, when killed, don't go into their "dead" animation, instead remaining standing. Especially annoying when you run into these and think you're about to be attacked.
- In Soldier of Fortune II, Mullins suddenly dies standing up if an NPC is killed (or he disobeys orders on a certain mission).
- The Nue in Breath of Fire III.
- A bug in Neverwinter Nights can cause enemies to stay standing up instead of falling over dead, though they still count as dead and you can't interact with them, they just stand their doing their idle animations.
- Fate/stay night Berserker in all three routes, and Shirou in the Normal end of Heaven's Feel, after a Heroic Sacrifice. He died standing up before he completed his Heroic Sacrifice.. only to complete it after he died.
- Also, in the anime this happens to Archer (you never see that scene in the Visual Novel, so it's possible it happened offscreen there also). Very impressive as Berserker is perfectly capable of ripping apart buildings with the shockwave his insanely strong and fast attacks leave behind, and logically any single attack should have knocked Archer down, or at least backwards.
- Muneshige Tachibana, Sengoku Basara's resident chainsaw wielding Samurai, has a defeat animation where he drops his chainsaws and slouches over while standing. He isn't actually dead unless you are playing as a character who outright kills their opponent instead of defeating them.
- Takeda Shingen's animation had him put down his weapon and do a Badass Arm-Fold, standing proud before he keels over a moment later.
- Several characters have defeat animations in which they attempt to get back on their feet only to fall over.
- Much like Neverwinter Nights above, City of Heroes will occasionally forget to animate the "defeat" of enemies who are beaten too quickly. Given the amount of damage necessary--a One-Hit Kill on a completely unaware enemy--and the infrequency of the occurence, it can be comedic or epic.
- In Shadow of the Colossus, the last boss slumps over after its death, but is propped upright by its armor
- In Asura's Wrath, this is how Yasha dies. Subverted in Lost Episode 2, however, as when Asura and Akuma fought each other, they eventually turned into stone. The subversion is that they Start moving again and fight once more, still looking like stone statues!
- In The Elder Scrolls, primarily Oblivion, can have issues with corpses that remain standing with their arms straight out at their sides. This is usually after loading a cell where multiple deaths have occurred at a previous time, and the game simply can't handle all the requests being made of it, and as such forgets to apply Havoc to them. There's actually a must have Mod called streamline that has the option to 'Kill Corpses', whenever you enter a cell, to make sure they stay down.
- An alien race in Schlock Mercenary can do this as a quirk of their biology caused by locking tendons and large feet.
- A character from Universal Compass fades away (dies) while standing up.
- In Weapon Brown the expy of The Phantom gets his head blown clean off. Not only does he die standing, he becomes the corpse that walks!
- In Drowtales, Lulianne had a Hope Spot when she found the remnants of the Dutan'vir's Last Stand and found one person still standing... only he wasn't actually alive in a technical sense, having been taken over by a demon, and the various blades in his body indicate that his fellow warriors had tried to kill him once he was possessed. Also a rather cruel twist on the Dutan'vir's sigil, which was a tower that represented stability.
- This creepypasta. Especially notable as he has no muscle or sinew left.
- Sir George is this in Ben 10: Ultimate Alien after being struck by Diagon's lightning, just before his body crumbles to dust.
- The Hillsborough disaster saw the deaths of 96 fans of Liverpool Football Club in the stands of Hillsborough Stadium in 1989. Fans were packed so tightly into the stands that many people died standing up due to compressive asphyxia.
- According to apocryphal rumours, Branwell Brontë, brother of the Brontë sisters, died standing up, while leaning against a mantel. Since his official cause of death was tuberculosis, the reality of this story is unlikely.
- This is from a eulogy written almost two thousand years ago. "Amyntor, Philip's son...died holding his shield over a wounded friend." Wow.
- Rigor mortis is incredibly unlikely to cause these situations. Rigor mortis is caused by muscles not having the energy to come relax, and while the person may die, their cells take quite a while to get the idea and use up all their energy stores. Muscles work by expending energy to separate two proteins which really want to associate and then cocking one like stretched spring. Then they reunite, the cocked protein pulls hard and the two proteins stick. The combined action of countless of these proteins causes the muscle to contract. When the cell is out of energy, the muscle locks up - it can't separate these proteins to continue the cycle and therefore can't move. Unless the body is propped up somehow, gravity wins. The Other Wiki has good discussions on how this works and rigor mortis. The observant may notice a few links to some other post-death funny business; neither of these are anywhere near coordinated enough to keep someone standing. If a body could somehow just happen to be supported for many hours...well, maybe. Barring bizarre alien biology, handwaving this trope with rigor mortis is more likely to be an Ass Pull and is probably not better than letting it slide on Rule of Cool.
- Because insects respire through openings in their sides rather than their heads, and their brains send out signals to stop reflexive limb movements rather than activate them, a decapitated insect can continue to walk, run, or even mate, possibly remaining mobile for days if the neck is plugged to prevent blood loss and dessication.
- Similarly, a carapace from an insect which sheds them, such as a cicada, can be mistaken for a corpse and potentially remain clinging to a tree or wall for years.
- One account by a U.S. Paratrooper during the Second World War mentions that his unit had captured a pair of German soldiers in Holland, but then they were ambushed. During the firefight, the German prisoners tried to escape, but they got caught in the crossfire from both sides. Apparently, the bullets his their bodies with such force that it actually pinned the hapless soldiers to the wall behind them, and they stayed like that to the end of the firefight, leaning against the wall. Furthermore, there are some accounts that the force of the bullets actually popped their eyes right out of their sockets.
- A much more disturbing account from WWII: The gas chambers at death camps would sometimes be filled to the point that no one could move. Upon death, the corpses were literally packed so tightly together that they supported each other and were still standing.
- ↑ Minus one that was the result of a sword coming from the front THROUGH his back