A Death in the Limelight

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

If you start learning a lot of information about a member of your team you barely knew, get your funeral attire ready.

Briefly, an episode or issue that suddenly focuses on a character specifically because they're going to die at the end (or fairly close to the end).

Usually this is a relatively minor recurring character, or someone who technically is in the main cast but never had a Backstory or much in the way of characterization. The episode/issue may be honest about what's going to happen, or try to make it appear that the character is finally going to be promoted to a main character. Episodes about the death of a major character who already got plenty of exposure and a fairly full Backstory don't quite fit this trope, since it's not as obviously different from the character's normal treatment.

Sometimes obviously the result of the writer realizing that they need a dramatic death, can't sacrifice the main cast, and the chosen character just hasn't been given enough to do that the audience might care. In other cases, the understandable result of Real Life Writes the Plot when the actor has to leave the series and the writer wants to give them something to be remembered by.

Related to Back for the Dead, and can happen in the same story if the character hasn't been on screen for a while but never actually said to have left. If the character was considered annoying, this is a leading cause of Alas, Poor Scrappy. If done very well it can be heartrending.

The big clue to many of these is Belated Backstory suddenly popping up when normally the character gets two or three lines an episode.

In Reality Television, it's marked by one contestant getting more "confessionals" (individual solo interviews) than they usually do, or by footage of them talking to other contestants about a) how much they want to win or how much the win will mean to them / their family / their future; b) how good they are at some particular aspect of the competition (in this case, it will almost certainly be that aspect that proves to be their undoing); c) that they've realized that one particular aspect is their weak spot and that they are going to be especially careful to do that thing correctly from here on out (in this case, they most likely will be eliminated for making exactly the mistake they said they were going to avoid); or d) how much they are controlling the game.

A subtrope is Death by Flashback and Sympathetic Murder Backstory.

As a Death Trope, Spoilers ahead may be unmarked. Beware.

Examples of A Death in the Limelight include:

Anime and Manga

  • One Piece built an entire arc on Luffy and Whitebeard trying to rescue Ace. In the end though, they were unsuccessful, with both Ace and Whitebeard dying in the ensuing battle against the Marines.
    • In the Whole Cake Island arc, the Straw Hats venture to Whole Cake Island, the territory of Big Mom (one of the Four Emperors, the most powerful people in the New World portion of the Grand Line) to rescue Sanji. They are joined in this mission by a few of their Mink allies who were introduced in the Zou arc, one of them being the Jaguar Mink Pedro. After they thwart Big Mom's plan and rescue Sanji, they attempt to escape Whole Cake Island only for Big Mom's lieutenant Perospero to immobilize their ship. In chapter 877-878 of the manga and episode 849 of the anime (entitled 'Before the Dawn - Pedro, the Captain of the Guardians'), we see a lengthy series of flashbacks involving Pedro's desire to help bring about a brighter new dawn for the world despite the fact that Big Mom has drained him of 50 years of his lifespan (his pirate group is called the 'Nox Pirates' for 'Before the Dawn', indicating Pedro knows he won't live to see the new dawn come to pass, but will do what he can to help bring it about in the little time he has left). In the present day as the episode concludes, Pedro makes a Heroic Sacrifice to help the Straw Hats escape Whole Cake Island so they can bring about the new dawn.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has this for the cute and quirky Tatchkoma's. The robots have their brief day in the limelight, before dying their tragic demise. Poor Robots.
    • It won't be the last time they die, either.
  • Admiral Sadaako Munetake in Martian Successor Nadesico spends most of the series between Butt Monkey and Jerkass. When he gets his own episode, the effect of both roles crashes on him, and he commits suicide by Jovians.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion devotes the plot of an entire episode to Kaworu Nagisa, the only person to ever explicitly show Shinji Ikari love, who only appears in this very episode. Yet this person's relevance to the plot is that he is the last Angel, meaning that Shinji has to kill his new best friend.
  • Asuma Sarutobi in Naruto has little to do until after the time skip. Even then, he doesn't get much "screen" time in the manga until a chapter or so before he's killed. It was lengthy and dramatic too. The anime's giving him a role in the Temple of Fire filler arc seems to have been an attempt to defuse this trope.
    • Likewise, Jiraiya appears in the Three-Tails Filler arc and gets a fair amount of screentime early in arc despite not being present very often for much of Part II. In the manga, he reappears in the Hunt for Uchiha Arc to infiltrate the Hidden Rain Village and find Pain, and dies in the course of doing so.
    • Danzo, whose only significant onscreen involvement in the plot until then was to get Sai enrolled into Kakashi's team, takes centre stage in the midst of the Pain invasion arc, plotting to overthrow Tsunade by not intervening to protect the village, kills the messenger frog to prevent Naruto from returning, gets himself appointed as the Sixth Hokage with a Hannibal Lecture, promptly orders Sasuke's execution, attends the Five Kage meeting, reveals what was underneath his bandages, attempts to take control of the ninja alliance, and is promptly disposed off by Sasuke with some help from Madara. All in the space of about 20 chapters or so (if you would exclude the lengthy flashbacks and discussions that Naruto and Nagato have).
    • A recurring theme as far as villainous characters are concerned:
      • Sasori, Deidara, Nagato and Konan all got flashbacks shortly before their deaths (in Nagato's case, he actually narrated his), as did the aforementioned Danzo.
      • Kisame did not, but that turned out to be a hint that he was Faking the Dead and not long after he played it straight.
      • Gaara did not die, but he got a Heel Face Turn after his, while Zaku was murdered offscreen shortly after his, though his teammates averted this.
      • Its played with with the Edo Tensei undead army, where the enslaved zombies usually do not die but sometimes get one shortly before their defeat (not all of them are villains, but they are antagonists, regardless this trope applies).
      • Orochimaru and Itachi have averted this, as they get or appear in numerous flashbacks before and after their respective "deaths", but oddly not during (Oro got a very bried one in his fight with Sasuke, though he wasn't technically dead- and still isn't); in both cases their character arcs and influence on the story continued afterwards, and they were major if rarely seen recurring characters.
      • To the annoyance of many fans, averted with Hidan and Kakuzu, and less controversially the Sound 4.
  • Battle Royale, in which most characters die within a chapter or two of the point where the story starts to focus on them. Practically guaranteed if it starts talking about their past.
  • The Trigun episode "Paradise" focuses on Nicholas D. Wolfwood and ends with his death.
      • In the manga he gets two whole volumes to himself, with Vash only appearing right at the end. Needless to say, following the full reveal of his tragic backstory and the resolution of said backstory, he winds up dying after overdosing on the same chemicals that aged him and gave him his enhanced skills.
      • Legato also gets one of these in the manga, focusing on his traumatic past as a sex slave in a town of criminals and cowards, where he was rescued by Millions Knives and pledged himself to his service. Shortly after this spotlight story, Legato winds up dead.
  • Although L is a major character in Death Note, his death episode is the first glimpse the viewer gets of his childhood. The episode also focuses more on his thoughts, feelings and doubts than ever, whereas before he was single-mindedly devoted to exposing Kira. You just know something bad is about to happen!
  • Used very frequently in Mobile Suit Gundam. If a minor character is given his/her own episode, chances are they'll die very, very soon.
  • Macross Frontier devotes an entire episode to Ozma Lee and deliberately drew outrageous parallels between him and Roy Focker to hint at his upcoming death/self-sacrifice. In the end, he survives, and the other characters comment on how the drama was lost.
  • In S-Cry-ed, Kirishima and Scheris die in the episodes bearing their names.
  • The entirety of Bokurano. You can tell a pilot's the next one to go once he/she gets focused on.
    • Although it was subverted for a little bit. The next chapter after Kana's death is Jun's, so everybody figures, okay, he's gonna die next. Then Yoko makes the contract, something she wasn't supposed to be able to do, and the next few chapters after that are her Day in The Limelight - then she gets shot in the head. After that the focus goes straight back to Jun.
  • Maes Hughes in Fullmetal Alchemist.
  • How do we not mention Nuriko of Fushigi Yuugi fame? The infamous Episode 33 (or manga volume 8). And Episode 34, which was mostly spent eulogizing Nuriko.
  • Sailor Moon R has Sapphire. He never mounts any attacks against the Sailor Scouts at all, unlike Rubeus and Emerald before him. He is only seen talking to Emerald and Diamond. In the episode "Brotherly Love", he discovers Wiseman's plans, is injured by Wiseman, and revealed to have been in love with Prizma, and essentially does a Heel Face Turn, before he attempts to warn his brother about Wiseman's treachery and is killed by Wiseman.
  • Episodes Twelve and Thirteen of Code Geass R2, with Episode Twelve acting as a breather; and contrast, to Shirley's death.
  • Fafner in the Azure does this as well several times, in conjunction with Dying Moment of Awesome. Shouko's and Mamoru's Heroic Sacrifice, Kouyou's and Sakura's assimilation, and Michio's suicide attack. Subverted with both Kouyou and Sakura in that both recover. Double subverted in that Kouyou ends up becoming a Master-Type Festum anyway to protect the island. Triple subverted in that he comes back in Meir form for the movie, piloting the Fafner Mark Vier, the Fafner he originally used. QUADRUPLE subverted in that his Fafner is immediately trashed and his Meir core promptly vanishes.

Comic Books

  • Countdown to Infinite Crisis: The Ted Kord Blue Beetle, who'd undergone Flanderization to the point he was a Flat Character and then barely seen for a few years, is suddenly brought back in a story that highlights his positive character traits and strengths as a hero, specifically to make his death at the end actually mean something (as opposed to the characters who were C-List Fodder for the upcoming Crisis Crossover event).
  • Teen Titans #62: Wendy and Marvin, teen geniuses who came on during the One Year Later plotline to repair Cyborg and maintain the Titans Tower gear, generally treated like background characters until needed for hostages. In this issue, they discuss their dissatisfaction with their minor roles, adopt a dog, and are repeatedly assured by other characters that they're vital to the team's functioning. Then the dog turns into a monster that mauls Marvin to death and puts Wendy in a coma when none of the heroes are looking.
  • The Invisibles features an entire issue dedicated to the life, good and bad, of one of the nameless henchmen gunned down by the heroes in a previous issue.

Fan Works

  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged started doing this about Episode 17, when they killed Zarbon. Although it's more obvious from Episode 19 on, you could add Episode 18 if you count the death of Vegeta's sanity.
    • 17) Zarbon. 18) Vegeta's sanity. 19) Guldo. 20) Recoome (dies in 21). 21) Burter. 22) Jeice (dies in 23). 23) Ginyu. 24) Super Kami Guru. 25) Nail. 26) Dende. 27 and 28) Vegeta (fatal blow in 27, dies in 28). 29) Krillin.


  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels, individual Ghosts are brought forward, by name, with details for a scene or a few scenes before their deaths. This is not distinguishable from the characters who are named and developed to play more important roles in the books until the character dies.
  • The Honor Harrington novels have over 9000 characters, but if the narrative abruptly switches to an unknown character, then it isn't really that hard to tell how they're going to end up. A specific example being the Havenite soldier on leave in At All Costs whose total experience in the limelight is getting in his air car and crashing it into a plot-relevant character's vehicle.
  • Goes all the way back to The Iliad, though technically inverted: Many characters (most relatively minor) are sometimes given some rather detailed obituaries in the narrative right after someone kills them.
  • The twenty-second Warrior Cats book Night Whispers focused on Ensemble Darkhorse Flametail's attempts to unravel a mysterious prophecy. At the end, he drowns.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the POV character of every prologue and epilogue dies at the end of it. Granted, the series tends to practice Anyone Can Die in general.

Live-Action TV

  • Lost uses this trope a lot, often killing a character (or mortally wounding them) during their spotlight Flash Back episode. Shannon, Ana-Lucia, Eko, and Faraday have all been killed in their flashback episodes.
    • Charlie subverts this trope just a little: he's told that he will die for real this time, spends the episode reviewing his favorite memories, does the thing that will kill him...and doesn't die. He dies in the next episode, when the limelight is on another character.
    • Nikki and Paulo are only ever shown a few times before their flashback episode in which they die, although the flashbacks indicate that they were around but didn't interact with the main cast. Most other characters who die in the limelight have at least some presence before they enter the limelight.
    • Another variant is Jacob, who is mentioned dozens of times before being shown onscreen in his first centric episode (though he isn't having the flashbacks, he appears in all but one of them). Then he gets offed at the end of the episode.
    • Arguably, the death of Daniel Faraday echoes this trope as well. Though he was a member of the main cast, his backstory was lacking until his centric episode "The Variable", in which his backstory was filled in and he was killed.
  • The rebooted Battlestar Galactica: "The Passage", with Kat, who had at least made a few appearances prior; "Razor", with Kendra Shaw, who within the span of a double-length episode is introduced, made one of the most important figures in the fleet, and killed off, never to be mentioned again; and "Sacrifice" with Billy Kekeiya, who had been an important secondary character since the beginning. Lastly, Gaeta and Zarek start a mutiny, during which Gaeta, who is normally a significant background character, took the spotlight. He was executed at the end.
  • Primeval: Episode 4 did this for Tom, to a degree.
  • Doyle in Angel
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cordelia dies about halfway through her first Day in The Limelight. She got better, though.
  • Lt. Joe Carey on Star Trek: Voyager was a recurring character in the first ten or so episodes, but then he fell off the radar. Near the end, they brought him back for a spotlight episode just to provide Wangst when they killed him off.
    • The extreme Belated Backstory version is also seen in Voyager: two episodes had Redshirts created just to be brought Back from the Dead in that episode. You gotta wonder why they did this instead of bringing back redshirts we'd actually seen die.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation eponymous Lower Deck Episode "Lower Decks", Sito Jaxa, one of the cadets from "The First Duty" who was reprimanded for unauthorized flight activity, was shown to have stayed on the straight and narrow and become an ensign on the Enterprise. She's then sent on a dangerous mission by Captain Picard...but doesn't survive.
    • There was a story planned for Deep Space Nine that would have involved her turning up alive in a Cardassian prisoner camp, but obviously, said story never made it to the air. As far as canon's concerned, she's dead.
  • Inverted in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Who Mourns for Morn" in which Morn, a minor character who NEVER SPOKE is presumed dead by the station crew. However, he only turns out to have been hiding in fear of his life.
  • House: the season 4 two-part finale starts features House knowing someone is going to die, but having been hit with a dose of Laser-Guided Amnesia. It turns out to be holy shit Amber. So that's what the sudden focus on her character in the previous few episodes had been leading up to...
  • Reality TV does this often. If an episode is focusing on a contestant, chances are they are auf'd that episode. This is particularly true if their confessionals emphasize 1) How much winning the competition would mean to them; 2) How much they have come to appreciate their teammate/showmance partner; 3) How much they have learned / grown / matured because of their participation; 4) How wonderful the experience has been or how many new friends they've made; and 5) How much better / stronger / more skillful / better-liked / more in control of the game they are than one or more of their fellow competitors.
    • America's Next Top Model is an Egregious offender. Whenever a girl shows up who isn't one of the handful of prominently featured girls in each cycle, she's either getting called first that week or being sent home. Expect her to be suddenly struggling with the judges' critiques, even though she's never been shown doing so before that point.
    • Survivor has a bad habit of doing this to its more under-the-radar players, particularly in later seasons.
      • Once a contestant is revealed to the audience to be a homosexual in the same episode he is voted out. One of the most famous examples would be the episode of Tocantins where Coach is voted out, after being sent to Exile Island, finding a "Dragon Slayer Cane", and (presumably) faking a back injury when losing the immunity challenge to JT.
  • This has become a way for The Amazing Race fans to determine who will be eliminated at the end of the episode.
    • The most egregious example has to be from Season 15, when the other eight teams were ignored in favor of devoting an entire episode to Zev & Justin. Zev and Justin had more airtime, both on the course and in interviews, than the other eight teams combined. Then again, considering how quickly the season went downhill after they were gone, this was probably justified.
  • Doctor Who: Father's Day.
    • And Earthshock.
  • Oz did this in the very first episode, relating almost every plotline to Dino Ortolani only to have him burned to death at the end.
  • Ianto Jones in Torchwood gets a lot more development, backstory and screen time in part 1 of the Children of Earth serial than in most of the past two series. Come part 4...
  • Band Of Brothers. The third episode, largely focusing on an otherwise unknown character named Pvt. Blithe, concludes with him being shot in the neck and effectively dying (he leaves permanently and is said to have died from this wound years later). Unfortunately for this miniseries that prides itself on Truth in Television, Blithe didn't die from this wound, and continued serving in the military for most of the rest of his life until he died in 1967.
  • The Pacific. The eight episode, which focuses on John Basilone's time as a Drill Sergeant later in the war and meeting his future wife. He's killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima at the end.
  • In Supernatural, possibly Jimmy Novak, the guy whose body Castiel was borrowing. It's not totally clear at the end of his episode if Cas saved him soon enough to keep him in his body, or if he got sent on and Castiel just kept the shell. Given the sort of stuff Castiel has been through right from the start of season five, death might be the better option for the poor guy.
    • As of season five, it seems that he's still in here, as evidenced by "My Bloody Valentine"...but then again, Cas was exploded, AGAIN, in the finale, so now who knows.
    • "Abandon All Hope" counts for Ellen and Jo Harvelle. They haven't been seen for quite a while and then they come back after their appearance in the beginning of season 5 only for Jo to be wounded by a hellhound, and her and Ellen volunteering to stay behind and blow up a store to help the Winchesters escape. There's also "Hammer of the Gods" for Gabriel/The Trickster who had a big reveal about him in "Changing Channels", but then was murdered by his brother while doing exactly what the aforementioned duo had done.
    • In Season 7 we have "At Death's Door", which is all about a comatose Bobby (who was shot at the end of the previous episode), trapped in his own head and trying to evade the Reaper chasing him and trying to find a way to wake up, in order to give some vital information to Sam and Dean about the Leviathans, all while running through his memories (telling us more about him than we'd learned in the past). At the end, he's given the choice of either moving on with the Reaper or staying behind and becoming a ghost—either way, he's dead.
  • Harper's Island did this quite a lot. Particularly with Booth, Kelly, Richard, Maggie, and Beth. They had so many characters that they didn't have time to properly let us get to know them first.
  • In Burn Notice, Victor died almost as soon as we found out what his deal was.
  • In "Desperate Housewives", the episode where Martha Huber dies begins with saying how much she wanted her life to be exciting and to be famous, and at the end, she was famous for her horrific murder.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: While Alex Cabot occasionally had episodes in which her legal case was bigger than the investigation, the absolute crowner was "Loss", at the end of which she dies. (No, not really. She goes into Witness Protection.) And as one of Alex's main roles on the show was to have UST with Olivia Benson, this episode was also a crowner of Les Yay.
  • In FlashForward, the character of Al Gough receives this as his send-off episode. In fact, it is the first time that more than a few moments is devoted to his flash-forward and the mental turmoil he is experiencing although it is hinted at every so often in the previous episodes.
  • Claude on Degrassi High plays this trope completely straight; he had appeared in a couple episodes in the first season (though he did have a significant amount of screen time in them) before committing suicide near the end of Season 2.
  • An episode of The Mentalist had the minor character of a medical examiner take an active part in an investigation which is something the character never did before. He intentionally put himself into the limelight because he needs Jayne to help him. He is dying of cancer and wants to kill himself but needs a law enforcement officer to witness the suicide so there is no need for an autopsy.
  • When Waruzu Giru from Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger started getting character development beyond being the "emperor's idiot son", it was clear he didn't have long to live.
    • The Dragon Damaras as well, getting offed at the end of the two-parter when he finally steps into the battlefield.
  • Fringe did this to the Alternate Lincoln after giving us a much wanted episode with the two Lincoln's trying to figure out how they ended up so different from each other. The obvious guess would probably be Altlivia's influence in his life.
  • In the penultimate episode of The West Wing‍'‍s second season ('18th and Potomac'), Mrs. Landingham is given a lot more screentime with a subplot involving a new car. At the end of the episode, Charlie informs Bartlett that Mrs. Landingham has died in a car accident. The following episode, ('Two Cathedrals') has the funeral and the aftermath, alongside flashbacks giving additional backstory as to the history of Mrs. Landingham and Bartlett, detailing how they first met when Bartlett was in prep school.

Video Games

  • The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series does this at least once in each game. In the first one, it's the just-got-ousted President of the generic Arab Country, whom you get to play as during the moments leading up to his execution. In the second, it's SatCom 1, who you use to watch Price's plan unfold. When it does, the resultant space-shockwave destroys the station you're on, killing you in the process.
  • Happens multiple times in the Story Mode of Mortal Kombat 9, in which a character will be killed immediately once his chapter in the story ends.

Web Comics

  • Mosp from Sluggy Freelance died almost immediately after she was given her own week-long arc detailing her backstory.
  • A brief story arc in Something*Positive focused on Faye and Fred, with Fred planning to tell Faye about his Alzheimer's diagnosis at the end of a day they spent together but losing his nerve. The next morning, he woke up - and Faye did not.
  • Homestuck did this for several deaths in a row, giving characters lots of screentime in a flash page right before killing them. First "Kanaya: Return to the core" gave Eridan and Feferi a lot more screentime than they're used to and dove into developing Eridan's character for pretty much the first time ever, just before Eridan murdered Feferi, and himself getting killed soon after. Not much later, "Equius: Seek the highb100d." was nothing but Equius and Nepeta getting the most screentime and character development either had ever had, and was shortly followed by both of their deaths.

Web Original

  • Survival of the Fittest has this come up a few times (although it's not so much an episode as a limelight post) an example of this treatment is Andy McCann, who is killed in his first appearance in the game (that being because his handler left, but still). Notably, his section of the post is about three times as long as that of the character that actually killed him, detailing what he had been doing up to that point on the island and nostalgically thinking about his favourite superhero.
    • Notably, due to the system that deals with inactive characters, this has a tendency to happen to them the majority of the time.

Western Animation

  • Beast Wars' second season gives Dinobot a major role in two or three episodes leading up to "Code of Hero" where he's seen at his best, and then bites it at the end.
    • Seeing as season two of Beast Wars had 12 episodes, those three episodes do form 1/4 of the entire season, so it may not be a negligible amount of time.
  • The Simpsons used this trope in Season Six's episode "'Round Springfield". Bleeding Gums Murphy, the jazz musician who Lisa met in an early episode in the first season, faded into the background quickly (showing up here and there in crowd scenes for a while) and was almost forgotten until he appeared in the hospital in this episode. There, he tells Lisa his whole previously unrevealed back story, about how he was a successful jazz musician who made a guest appearance on the Cosby show, and doing a saxophone duet with Lisa. Lisa goes off to school and wins a talent competition, and then returns to the hospital to be told Bleeding Gums has passed away. This occurs in the middle of the episode, and the rest of it revolves around Lisa's quest to arrange a tribute to him. After she succeeds, Bleeding Gums Murphy's ghost appears in the clouds in a parody of The Lion King (Mufasa, Darth Vader, and the CNN announcer briefly interrupt), and they have one last saxophone duet over the end credits before Bleeding Gums heads off for his afterlife date with Billie Holiday.
  • The Justice League episode "The Terror Beyond". Beforehand, Solomon Grundy was The Brute and Dumb Muscle with no motivation beyond greed. In this episode, Grundy's backstory is revealed, and he's given a very sympathetic motivation to fight alongside the good guys. Naturally, he dies fighting Icthultu and many tears are shed over him.
  • Nabu was introduced in Season 3 of Winx Club as Layla's love interest ...and that's all. However, the final episodes of season 4 focused on him a lot, showing his sheer badassery, to the point of beating one of the four Big Bads all by himself. Shortly after that, he performed an Heroic Sacrifice.
  • In South Park, Kenny, although always part of the main cast, barely had any effect on the plot up until "Kenny Dies", after which he is killed off (for a season).