Bolivian Army Cliffhanger

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

This is when a season ends with a Cliff Hanger that could have killed any number of the cast.

Useful because executives can then negotiate contracts with the cliffhanger in mind; i.e., "Take a pay cut or we will kill you off".

Compare Bolivian Army Ending and Our Hero Is Dead. If characters are revealed to have escaped from the fatal event after being shown or suggested to have been caught right in the middle of it (i.e. A bomb demolishing a building before anyone could get out), that's a Cliffhanger Copout.

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

Examples of Bolivian Army Cliffhanger include:

Anime and Manga

  • Veritas, scheduled to have a second part to the story, ends with the lead starting a fight with Vera, the closest thing the series has to a Big Bad, having just awoken Yuri, the closest thing the series has to a Sealed Evil in a Can in order to get the Eleventh-Hour Superpower he needs to fight the first one. The last time he fought anyone he was not yet ready to fight Vera.
  • Code Geass the first season ends with two characters in a tense showdown and two gunshots, but doesn't show us who gets shot. And there's a massive battle to end all battles going on elsewhere. We only find out what happens in the next season, and even then, only halfway through the second season premiere.


  • The Trope Namer is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, at the end of which the titular pair of outlaws are cornered on a cliff in South America by the Bolivian Army; the film concludes with them throwing themselves off the cliff -- and not letting the audience know if they survived or not.
  • Thelma & Louise ends with its titular pair driving off the edge of the Grand Canyon an unidentified but familiar-looking and very very large canyon to escape the forces of the law. It's generally assumed they didn't survive, but it's not explicitly shown in the film.
  • Played with in Toy Story 2. Woody learns that there was once a TV show starring his character. After one of the episodes ended with a cliffhanger: right in the middle of a jump across a canyon, the show was cancelled abruptly, leaving the story unfinished.

Live-Action TV

  • Robin Hood Series 3 ends with Nottingham Castle being blown up and Gisbourne, Isabella and Sheriff Vaisey all apparently dead too. (It's somewhat invalid considering the show was cancelled).
  • CSI: NY Season 5 ends with a machine gun opening fire on the entire regular cast, who were gathered in a bar to remember a colleague who'd been killed. The next season reveals that Danny has lost the use of his legs and the shooters attacked the bar at random.
  • One season of Dynasty ended with a terrorist attack on a wedding... long story... and everyone apparently dead. The first episode of the next season was one of the highest rated episodes in that show's history. The resolution was that a couple of extras got killed. The cop-out is considered the show's Jumping the Shark.
  • Lost season 5 ended with a hydrogen bomb potentially detonating in proximity to at least eight of the main characters.
    • Of course, they have a better chance of surviving if it did detonate than the alternative. Really.
  • Both Homicide: Life on the Street and NCIS ended seasons with the entire cast getting reassigned. Less fatal than the other situations, but the same effect of being able to write out any character they want.
  • The final episode of Blakes Seven ended with all the heroes (and we mean ALL the heroes, even ones that had been Put on a Bus in previous seasons) in assorted, apparently inescapable imminent death situations. The intention was that anyone who wanted in on the next season would be revealed to have survived, but at that point the show got cancelled.
    • The second season ended with the crew launching a seemingly suicidal Delaying Action against an alien fleet. Two characters were written out: Blake and Jenna. The former returned for the next two finales, dying in the last episode. The latter was killed off-screen.
  • In the Army Wives Season 1 final episode, the title characters were inside a bar when a man walked in and detonated a bomb he had strapped to him.
  • Just about every season ending from ER.
    • Not quite: early seasons usually ended with some sense of closure (e.g. Carter's graduation) and it was only for new generations that they added this trope. For instance: Season 8 has four of the regulars locked inside during an apparent breakout of smallpox; 9 leaves Luka's fate unknown; 10 has the shootout while Chen and Pratt are in the car with Elgin; 12 has another shooting, this time inside the hospital; 13 has the stampede and 14 the explosion.
  • Stargate Atlantis Season 1 ending.
  • Stargate Universe Also season 1 ending.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Best of Both Worlds Part 1" ended this way, with the Enterprise's Wave Motion Gun aimed at Picard and the cube that assimilated him. This coincided nicely with rumours that Patrick Stewart might be quitting, making for a very tense summer.
  • Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda had a season end with two characters captured by Magog, the android impaled, the captain and first officer knocked out, and the ship having taken a miniature black hole through it. Season 4's finale was even nastier, leaving everyone but Dylan dead or about to die. (They didn't.)
  • The ending of Charmed season 3 could have killed off Prue and Piper, and actually was used to kill off Prue.
  • The finale for Season 1 of CBS's Jericho ended with a cut to black as a firefight began involving most of the major characters. This may have contributed to the uproar in response to the cancellation of the series at the end of season 1, as many of the devoted fans did not know the fate of their favorite characters.
  • Criminal Minds did this in its third season finale, showing several identical black SUVs, each a destination for a pair of major characters. The episode ends with one of the SUVs, not specifically identified, exploding. Season 4's opener, however, reveals that the only casualty was the single minor character among the possible victims. Although the producers at least tried to keep the mystery alive by doing nothing to debunk (and possibly even starting) rumours that Shemar Moore or Paget Brewster was leaving the show.
    • Don't forget the ending of Season Four, which has Hotch at gunpoint from the Boston Reaper (George Foyet). Foyet says "You should have made a deal" then a gunshot is heard and fades to black. At the start of Season Five, it is revealed the Reaper shoots past Hotch's head to intimidate or scare him. It doesn't work. Then they struggle and Hotch gets non-fatally stabbed multiple times by Foyet, who mirrors his own wounds he self-inflicted to draw attention away from himself in the original case.
    • Season six also did in a less-fatal manner. Hotch's announcement that they would all given the opportunity to transfer to another division provided the writers with an easy way to right out any character they wanted. Probably a result of the statuses of three cast members as series regulars the following season still being up for grabs at the time the episode was written.
  • In The Guardian's second season cliffhanger, James is brutally shot by a client and left to die. The resolution is a nasty fakeout: Nick sees the client leave and realizes something's up, but he's too late to help James.
  • Grey's Anatomy season 5 ended with both Izzy and George flatlining. Izzy survived, George didn't.
  • Made in Canada plays it straight at the end of season 2, and casually dumps the lame survival excuses at the beginning of the next season.
  • The unresolved Season 2/series finale of Dark Angel, which may be considered an unintentional Bolivian Army Ending.
  • Desperate Housewives has done this with the last three November sweeps. In 2007 a tornado hit the street and the episode ended with Lynette screaming narmily while the camer pulled back and showed a devastated street. In 2008 everyone just happened to be at the same bar when it burned down and in 2009 everyone just happened to be in the same yard when an airplane fell out of the sky. The show's executives always try to get some hype going by saying that, yes, for sure, someone you care about has died. And it always ends up being a minor charactor.
  • The West Wing at the end of season 1, had gunfire opened on the regular cast and a crowd, with the last lines being "Who's been hit? Who's been hit?".
  • Smallville has season three ending with Clark being up and away, his father in a coma, Lana off to Paris, Chloe apparently blown up, Lionel knifed and Lex poisoned.
    • Actually, pretty much every season of Smallville has this: The first series ends with Clark and Lana sucked up into a tornado, Lex and Lionel in a collapsing building, Jonathan running out into a storm and Martha menaced by a floating spaceship. By the time of the fifth series cliffhanger (Clark trapped in the Phantom Zone, Lex possessed by Zod and making out with an oblivious Lana, Martha and Lois trapped on a crashing plane and Chloe and Lionel being attacked by a mob that just springs up out of nowhere because there's been a power cut), it was starting to get a bit silly.
  • The season eight finale of CSI: Miami ended with many people in the lab and the entire main cast (minus Eric, Horatio, and Det. Tripp) collapsing to the floor, most likely from either a poison or a biochemical agent (implied by the episode to be bubonic plague, but the episode's depiction of it is You Fail Bacteriology Forever). Before the screen went black, Eric ran up to Calleigh and begged her to breathe, implying that whatever knocked them out is quite likely fatal.
    • According to Emily Procter herself in an interview in TV Guide, one of them is going to be dead by next season, but they won't know who until the season starts filming. The doomed member is Sixth Ranger Jesse due to a head injury and the "plague" turned out to be gas.
  • Saturday Night Live once parodied this at the end of one of their poorly received seasons. The whole cast was trapped in a burning building to explain away any potential cast changes the next year.
  • The finale to the first series of Psychoville had the majority of the main cast gathered in an abandoned mental hospital by the villain, who too was there, and strapped with explosives. Cue massive explosion... which the viewers see occur from outside. We are left to theorize who, if anyone, survived.
  • The first series of BBC's Sherlock ends with Sherlock pointing a gun at a bomb, threatening to explode himself, John Watson, and Moriarty. Luckily for us, it's been renewed for a second series.
  • Season one of Jericho ended with the main characters about to sacrifice themselves in a firefight - the screen faded out to black and gunfire is heard... Then the show got cancelled.
    • Luckily though, fan backlash to the cancellation was enough to make the network commission a second season to tie up some of the loose ends/expand the story.
  • Supernatural is fond of these:
    • Season 1 Finale: John and the boys have just been in a nasty car accident. We see them in the destroyed car, but don't know if they are alive or dead until the season 2 premiere.
    • Season 3 Finale: Dean is killed by hellhounds, and his soul is sent to Hell, leaving his future uncertain. Overlaps with Downer Ending.
    • Season 4 Finale: Castiel is facing off an archangel, said to be one of the most powerful entities in existence, and Sam and Dean are faced with Lucifer rising from his cage.
    • Season 6 Finale: Castiel gives the boys an ultimatum: bow down and swear their love to him, their new Lord God, or be destroyed.
    • Season 7 Finale: Castiel and Dean just killed Dick Roman, but are dragged along with his soul into the dimensional realm of Purgatory, where the soul of every monster that ever lived hunt for all eternity. Sam is left completely alone back on Earth, which is now a battleground for the remaining Leviathans and Crowley's demon army.
  • One season of Neighbours ended with the roof collapsing on an illegal dance party at which many of the characters were present.
    • Neighbours has been doing this consistently since the 90s (note that other years feature lives endangered, just not more than one):
      • Beth and Hannah trapped in a burning cottage, while Cameron, for unrelated reasons, was being held over an open elevator shaft (1992);
      • Gaby and Annalise in a plane crash (1993);
      • Karl and Joel in a flood, with Joel's leg trapped under a car (1998);
      • Drew and Lolly being pulled out of a burning house, both injured (1999);
      • Joe trapped in his taxi during a bushfire with a passenger about to go into labour (2000);
      • the Lassiters complex is set on fire with Stu and Sindi trapped in the pub, while Max is knocked out by an explosion.
      • Libby, Zeke and Bridget missing during a rafting trip, when their raft is capsized by a prank. (2008)
      • Summer and Andrew trapped in a fire, as Natasha and Michael s attempt to rescue them. (same house as 1999!) (2010).
  • Outrageous Fortune (New Zealand drama) had an uncharacteristic one at the very end of Season 5. Zane Gerard fired gunshots at either Cheryl or Pascalle, himself having just been fatally stabbed with a broken bottle and we had to wait till next season to see who, if anyone survived. This was because the lead actors were engaged in aggressive negotiations with the production and it was not clear which of them would be returning.
  • Happened quite often in Babylon 5, often as part of JMS's preplanned "hooks" to remove a character from the plot if the actor decided to quit. Perhaps the most impressive was Captain Sheridan, who ended the third season finale at ground zero of two 500-megaton nuclear explosions. He came back (eventually), but a number of characters, including Talia Winters (season two finale) and Marcus Cole (season four finale) stayed gone.
    • Seemed to be Michael Garibaldi's main thing.
  • Chicago Fire has done this trope several times.
    • The second season finale had the entire regular cast (after attending Chief Boden's wedding reception) head to the scene of a possible fire. When they reach the building, there is report of fire on the upper levels, and injuries from people who fell down the stairs on the lower levels, requiring just about the entire Rescue Squad, both paramedics, and most of Truck 81 to enter the building. Suddenly, there's an explosion in the building blowing out all the windows, leaving Chief Boden to shout into the radio "Anyone from House 51! Report!" as the season ends. At the start of Season 3, Shay dies from injuries sustained in the catastrophe, though all the other regulars characters survive.
    • The fifth season finale ("My Miracle") ended with most of the crew from Firehouse 51 responding to a factory fire. In the ensuing rescue, several are still inside the burning building as the episode ends, some in especially dangerous situations. Mouch appears to be suffering a heart attack as Herrman desperately tries to revive him, and Matt Casey, trapped by the fire, removes his mask and speaks with his wife Gabriela Dawson on the radio, tell her that "you were my miracle". The episode ends abruptly, leaving it until Season 6 until we find out whether or not these imperiled characters lived or died. It turned out all of them made it out alive.
    • The seventh season finale of Chicago Fire ("I'm Not Leaving You") similarly ended with most of the main characters responding to a fire at the Arnow Mattress Factory. Most of the main cast ended up inside the building, desperately trying to help those trapped inside. Herrman discovered a boiler about to explode, and shouted at fellow firefighter Ritter to leave before it exploded, while Chief Boden radioed at everyone to evacuate. Season 8's premiere ("Sacred Ground") picked up immediately where the cliffhanger left off, as an explosion caused a number of injuries. Brian “Otis” Zvonecek was the most severely injured, and died at the hospital saying some final words in Russian to his close friend Joe Cruz.
    • Please note that this death was not done because the actor didn't renew his contract, but because the show's creator and showrunner wanted to bring back a sense of danger to the series that had been missing since the resolution of the aforementioned fifth season cliffhanger.
    • Season 9's cliffhanger (the ominously named "No Survivors") doesn't endanger as many main characters as the above mentioned cliffhangers, but is no less scary. Firehouse 51's Squad 3 (Severide, Cruz, Capp, and Tony) are in the midst of a water rescue on Lake Michigan in the wreckage of a boat (they originally find no survivors, hence the title of the episode, but find one living person). The boat flips over, and the exit is blocked by debris, leaving all four of them trapped underneath the wreckage of a sinking boat, with their air tanks exhausted and very little room to move. Season 10's opening resolves this with the rest of Firehouse 51 coming to the rescue and explosives being used to blow a hole through the boat to allow them to escape. It's a close call, but Squad 3 survives (though not without trauma that haunts them for a few more episodes).

Video Games

  • Phantasy Star II ended like this, with Lutz transporting the other members of your party to the your location to aid you in fighting a HORDE of Earthmen after defeating the final boss. Kind of a stupid thing to do in retrospect because the only people that actually know what really happened on the ship and with Mother Brain are (you guessed it) the members of your party, and with them all (possibly) dead, no one would be able to tell the world the truth.
  • The mission "Of Their Own Accord" in Modern Warfare 2 ends with the US Army Rangers boarding a Blackhawk to cover the evacuation of civilians from a warzone. After gunning down multiple Russian gunners, the helicopter is shot down, and your character, Pvt. Ramirez, wakes up inside the wreckage as Russian troops are closing in, you run out of ammo, and Cpl. Dunn gets shot. The next few mission takes place on the other side of the world, with an entirely different protagonist. Then we are sent back to Ramirez, Foley, and Dunn, who thanks to the timely actions of the other protagonist and his squad, survives.
  • At the end of XIII, the conspirator's identity is revealed and the hero is left in a potentially deadly situation. Poor sales, however, meant that it would never be resolved in game form.
    • Actually, it had very good sales. It was unresolved because the developers wanted that to happen; in the original comic book, the Mongoose is still alive and Walter Sheridan lets XIII live to avoid another conspiracy and since XIII has no evidence against Sheridan anyways. There also wasn't much more to do in terms of gameplay, nor satisfying plot, so the game was purposely ended there.
  • Driv 3 r ends with Tanner flatlining after being shot by the Big Bad's Last Breath Bullet. It is unlikely that this will be resolved.
    • ...Except that it apparently will be in Driver: San Fransciso.

Web Original

  • Both the Season 1 and Season 2 finales of We're Alive. "The War" ended with the Tower besieged by the Mallers and Zombies. "The Harder They Fall" ended with the Tower crew fleeing the wreckage of the Tower on a helicopter headed for the unknown and leaving behind several of their comrade who they believed to be dead.

Western Animation

  • In one of the more completely awesome moments of the series, Beast Wars second season ended up with Megatron messing up the whole of reality by shooting THE Optimus Prime in the head!!
    • Season One ends with the alien Vok about to scorch the entire planet. The last shot of the episode is Optimus exploding in space while Megatron rallies his troops for a final assault against the Maximals.
  • A particularly frustrating example in the finale of Total Drama World Tour: After Chris' final challenge results in the volcano erupting, the contestants are seen swimming away from Hawaii as giant flaming boulders rain down upon them, Alejandro is seen alive in The Stinger, but it is left unknown whether or not the other twenty-four contestants managed to survive.
    • They all survived, even Ezekiel.
  • The first season of the 2002 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe reboot ends with all the heroic Masters captured and imprisoned, leaving only Prince Adam (without his Sword of Power) to defend Castle Grayskull against Skeletor, all his henchmen, and nearly every single villain from the entire season.