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"I am doctor Edward Roivas. I am a clinical Psychologist. I am also dead. (...) Their attention turns to my grand-daughter. For she is the last of my line, and the last hope of humanity."
Eternal Darkness, Introduction (abridged).

Between the many ways death can be used in media, there's its use as a trigger for the start of the story itself. It could start a Roaring Rampage of Revenge from part of the protagonists and pull them into something even greater, maybe looking for the truth behind the death could make the protagonist know about something he wasn't supposed to know, the protagonist could suddenly see himself having to continue where the deceased left off, or the execution of a baddie may bring forth something even worse, etc.

In order for a death to covered by this trope, it has to satisfy some conditions:

  • The death has to either occur before the story begins, or during the first moments of it.
  • The death must either: 1) Make the plot start moving (without needing to affect the protagonists directly at first), or 2) Make the protagonists start taking some kind of action which later pulls them into the big plot (which must not be necessarily related to the death).
  • In case of TV series or long runners with clear continuity, the death must have affected the big picture of the series. For example, the deaths ocurring on every episode of a murder mystery series do not count; but the death of a close one that made the protagonist take the decision to become a detective so he could investigate the mystery behind that murder does count. Deaths on this kind of works that trigger new mystery arcs also count.

Can sometimes overlap with Posthumous Character, Death By Origin Story, The Lost Lenore, I Let Gwen Stacy Die, Stuffed in The Fridge, Dead Little Sister, Doomed Hometown (can be a greater scale of this trope), and the list goes on and on.

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

Examples of Plot-Triggering Death include:

Anime and Manga:

  • In One Piece, the death of Gold Roger lauches the Golden Age of Piracy, the setting of the story.
  • Code Geass: The murder of Lelouch's mother Marianne is the initial trigger of the series' plot.
  • Gurren Lagann; although not at the start of the plot, the death of Kamina (a quarter of the way in) was the key trigger to the character development of Simon throughout the rest of the series
  • The first/second season ofYu-Gi-Oh! is motivated by the death of Pegasus's wife.

Comic Books:

Fan Works:

Film:

  • The Big Chill, the reunion of old college friends happens thanks to the suicide of one their friends Alex.
  • In a rather roundabout example, Coral's death in Finding Nemo. Her death happens some years before the actual story, but hadn't it been for that, the plot wouldn't have happened, at least not the way it did.
  • Ellie's death in Up.
    • Yet another Pixar example: Leland Turbo from Cars 2.
  • Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. Before the movie starts, Doc Savage's father dies in a South American country. When Doc realizes that his father was murdered, he and his aides start an investigation that leads into the main plot.
  • Octopussy: 009 is murdered in East Berlin. MI 6 suspecting Soviet involvement calls in 007.
  • 2's death in Nine. The Big Bad Fabrication Machine absorbs his spirit near the start of the film, killing him and powering it up enough to start fighting against the other protagonists.
  • The death of the hooker at Christmas turns out to be important in the first Lethal Weapon.
  • The murder of her best friend that Tea Leoni's character witnesses occurs at the start of Bad Boys and drives the rest of the plot.
  • The murder of Marvin Acme in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the investigation of which exposes A Far More Sinister Plot.
  • Back To The Future Part III: Doc, stranded in 1885, sends a letter to Marty, telling him where he can find the time machine, how he can fix it using 1955 technology, and most importantly, urging him to go back to 1985 without him. But while recovering the time machine, Marty finds Doc's grave, showing that he'd been murdered only a week after writing the letter, which prompts Marty to travel to 1885 to save Doc.
  • In The Skeptic, the death of the protagonist's aunt is what drives the plot forward.
  • In I Robot, Dr. Alfred Lanning uses his own death to set Detective Spooner on the trail of a conspiracy only he knew about.
  • Ordinary People. In both the film and the novel the death of the family's eldest son in a sailing accident sets into motion the emotional crisis which the family has only outwardly recovered from at the start of the narrative.
  • Soylent Green begins with the death of Simonson.
  • When a giant monster attacks New York in Cloverfield, the main character's only goal is to escape until Jason dies when the monster smashes the Brooklyn bridge. Rob that gets a call from Beth saying that she's injured. This galvanizes him into action, resolved that no one else he loves will die.

Literature:

  • Used recurrently in Dan Brown's novels.
  • In True Grit The murder of Mattie Ross's father by Tom Chaney sets in motion the revenge quest that drives the story.
  • In Thud!, the murder of Grag Hamcrusher leads Sam Vimes on a quest to discover the truth behind the battle of Koom Valley.
  • The death of King Brion Haldane at the start of Deryni Rising, which begins the multi-volume saga of King Kelson Haldane's rule as well as the specific challenges of getting him safely crowned king.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Jon Arryn's death is what causes Eddard Stark (and by extension, the rest of his family) to become involved in the main plot.
  • Henry Archer's death in Atlanta Nights. Nearly all characters in the book are in some way connected with him.
  • Shadow Moon in American Gods hears that his wife Laura died as he leaves prison. Without anyone to come home to, he gets roped into joining Mr. Wednesday in an adventure he couldn't even imagine.

Live Action TV:

  • In the first season of The Killing, Rosie Larsen's murder is what brings all of the characters into the plot.
  • Veronica Mars had some seasons begin with the death(s) of important characters to stimulate the season long story arc or A-plot.
  • Babylon 5: The Raiders, who for most of the first season of the show, were the only recurring antagonists, ended up getting wiped out in a matter of seconds, soon after pulling off their greatest heist, as part of The Reveal of what would be the show's primary villain for the next few seasons.
  • Nate Sr.'s death at the beginning of Six Feet Under sets the plot in motion, causing Nate Jr. to end up staying with his family.
  • Short lived TV series Johnny Bago. Johnny Tenuti, just out of prison, is set up on a blind date by his cousin with mob connections. The date kills The Don's son, framing Johnny for the crime. Johnny goes on the lam.
    • Towards the end of the first episode, the old man in an RV who Johnny hooked up with dies during a fishing tournament, which Johnny takes as a sign that he should take the old man's 'Bago and Roam the Earth.
  • The pilot of CSI starts with an apparent suicide. This sets up the Paul Millander mystery arc which lasts one and half seasons.
  • The death of drug baron Harvey Wratten on The Shadow Line, which triggers the two main plots of the show by providing a starting point for Jonah Gabriel's investigations and putting Joseph Bede in charge of Wratten's organisation.
  • Single Father: Rita's death kicks off the series as her widower and children try to find a way to cope afterwards.
  • The Palace: King James is onscreen for a few seconds, doesn't even get a line, and dies before the opening titles. His unprepared twenty-something son Richard becomes King. Scheming ensues.
  • Alias: Sydney tells her fiancé that she is a spy, leading to her boss having him killed. When her leave of absence gets a bit too long for her boss's comfort, he sends killers after her too. Then she finds out that she works for the bad guys, and that her semi-estranged dad is one of them. Then she earns the bad guys' trust so that she can become a double agent with the CIA. Then she finds out that her dad has been a double agent all along. Whew. On to episode two.
  • Maria La Del Barrio begins with the sudden death of her godmother.
  • The Wire begins with D'Angelo getting acquitted for killing a rival drug dealer.
  • 24 season 5 begins with the murders of David Palmer and Michelle Dessler.
  • Downton Abbey starts with Lord Grantham reading the news about the Titanic sinking with his heirs both onboard. This causes him to summon his next heir who is a middle class lawyer.

Theatre:

Video Games:

  • In Xenoblade Chronicles, the death of Fiora in the hands of the Mechon in the first moments of the game is what made Shulk and Reyn go ahead and kick Mechon ass in order to avenge her. This later got them involved into something much bigger.
  • President Al-Fulani's execution in Modern Warfare.
  • The death of Gregory Edgeworth could easily be one of these in the Ace Attorney games. Basically, it was his death that kick started Miles' ambition to be a lawyer, which started Phoenix's. You could even go further back and say that it was Isaku Hyodo's death that led to Gregory's, and so on. Gregory's death was also the distant catalyst for Misty Fey's disappearance (which in turn had several repercussions on the Fey clan, such as Dahlia and Iris's father leaving, Mia's Promotion to Parent, etc, Yanni Yogi's Obfuscating Stupidity, etcetera.
    • In fact, a lot of deaths in this game series have kicked off new arcs and plots (Mia Fey, Magnifi Gramarye etc).
  • Cave Johnson's death can be seen as this for the Portal franchise. His death sparked the creation of G La DOS, which in turn caused the creation of Wheatly, and the plot of Portal.
  • Your guardian Gorion's death at the start of Baldur's Gate (the first game) kicks off the plot (as well as Bhaal's once more of the plot is uncovered...).
  • As the page quote shows the plot of Eternal Darkness is set off by the death of the main character's grandfather, which leads Alex to his house and to find the Tome Of Eternal Darkness which serves as a framing device for previous characters' struggles in the fight (who might also count as this trope, given they have a tendancy to die or worse at the end of their chapters).
  • The plot of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas starts when CJ comes back to Los Santos after five years in Liberty City to attend his mother's funeral.
  • Echo Night begins with Richard learning that his father perished in a house fire. While searching for anything that might be salvaged from the ruins, he discovers a secret passageway to a room containing a strange painting, which drags him back onto the deck of the Orpheus and strands him there.
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