Bittersweet Ending

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"Salvation is born of sacrifice -- miracles of misery."

Victory, at last! The Big Bad has been vanquished, the day has been saved, the damsels in distress and innocent bystanders have been rescued and the heroes are ready to reap their reward, kiss their Love Interests and walk away toward the setting sun...

...victory, really? Then why does no one feel like cheering? Why is the atmosphere so heavy with melancholy? Why do you find yourself counting your losses as well as your gains?

Somewhere between the Happily Ever After and the Downer Ending, the Bittersweet Ending happens when victory came at a harsh price, when, for whatever reason, the heroes cannot fully enjoy the reward of their actions, when some irrevocable loss has happened during the course of the events, and nothing will ever be the same again. A Bittersweet Ending is still ending on a high note, but one that is mixed with sadness and nostalgia. Often, such endings are the result of the plot making a completely happy ending impossible. (Looked at objectively, some Happy Endings have more things lost or irrevocably broken than some Bittersweet Endings. This trope relies more on the mood than on such objective weighing of matters.)

Some specific cases of Bittersweet Endings are:

Bittersweet Endings are frequent in stories on the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. They also work well when the characters are at a loss about what to do now. They come up frequently in High Fantasy, for obvious reasons—an epic that ended with evil winning would usually mean the end of the world, and the mother of all Downer Endings, but at the same time defeating the ultimate Big Bad without paying some kind of price would be awfully unsatisfying. Sometimes these are worlds and stories where you can Earn Your Happy Ending, though it won't be Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Also shows where too many romantic interests are introduced for one hero are doomed to end in this way or with No Romantic Resolution, since painless resolution is mostly impossible.

In short, if the characters are worse off than when they started it's a Downer Ending. If they're better off, but the work still ends on a melancholy note, it's a Bittersweet Ending. Another way to think of it is that if the story's main conflict is resolved in favor of the protagonists, but at great sacrifice, it's a Bittersweet Ending, and a Downer Ending requires the heroes to fail, and the conflict to be resolved in the favor of the antagonists.

Prone to Meaningful Funerals, Wartime Weddings, and To Absent Friends, and having Babies Ever After and Someone to Remember Him By result in Dead Guy, Junior.

Please be careful in adding any real life examples.

As an Ending Trope, Spoilers ahead may be unmarked. Beware.


Examples of Bittersweet Ending include: