Dead Guy on Display

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Tywin: And if any should defy you-

Tyrion: *rolls eyes knowingly* Heads. Spikes. Walls.

We're going to have their best man leading the way - from the neck up!
*Audience cheers*


Rather than being given a decent burial in a nice, convenient out-of-the-way location, a dead person is instead presented for all the world to see. There are typically five possible reasons for this treatment:

  1. This person was an honored figure, and his body is being preserved as a relic/object of reverence (and perhaps also in safekeeping just in case he decides to come Back from the Dead) (one variation on this includes characters who are mortally wounded or ill being preserved in stasis in the hope that a cure for their injuries or illness can be found in the future).
  2. This person was an enemy, criminal, or other nasty figure, and The Government/Proud Warrior Race Guys are keeping him around to show everyone else what happens when you mess with them. Particular favorites include heads on poles and skeletons hanging from gibbets. This one's quite popular with villains, and is a very effective way to Kick the Dog, particularly if the person was special to the hero in any way.
  3. This person was even nastier than that, and had a reputation to be immortal as well. This is a way of saying "Trust us, he's really dead now. For real." to the people.
  4. A preserved corpse may be on display as a scientific curiosity. No natural history museum is complete without its very own mummy, after all. Recently, the development of plastination has led to people actually volunteering to have their mortal remains preserved and put on display.
  5. A corpse may be used to show an ignominous fate, often as a sideshow attraction. This is often played for Black Comedy, if not straight tragedy, and is often used in fiction either as the precursor to a haunting or to show a lack of respect or knowledge of a dead person

All variants are, of course, Truth in Television. The practice of "laying in state" (publicly displaying the body of a head of state or other high dignitary) exists to convince the public that rumors of the person's death are not exaggerated, while criminals, rebels, and pirates have traditionally been executed and displayed in a number of gruesome ways (hanging, crucifixion, etc.)

A Sub-Trope of Due to the Dead. The motives of those who come to see do not have to match those of the characters who display the body; they can throw rotten eggs at a body exposed for reasons of respect, or lay flowers at one exposed as a criminal. Overlaps with Public Execution, which is a primary method of getting the guy dead in the first place.

Contrast Come to Gawk, for the living. Compare Decapitation Presentation. See also Wax Museum Morgue, where the bodies are kept on display without anyone knowing their true nature.

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

Examples of Dead Guy on Display include:

Anime and Manga

  • The villainous variant happens in the Berserk manga after the Griffith rescue arc. The King sends the Black Dog Knights, a band of Midland's worst rapists and murderers and all around scum, to kill Griffith and the Hawks. Their leader, the Apostle Wyald, establishes his monster credentials by raping and murdering a woman who helped the Hawks and the girls under her care before proceeding to carry the naked, dismembered bodies of their victims on poles into battle with the Hawks.
  • During the funeral scene in Tower of God, it is apparent that people in the Tower receive individual water graves (coffin-sized pits filled with water or another clear liquid).
  • In Cowboy Bebop, Vicious kills his former boss Mao for attempting to make peace with another Crime Syndicate, then takes Mao's body to the opera Mao was going to see and has the corpse sit through the performance in Mao's private box, where he can be seen by the public. Presumably this was both to make a statement about Mao's actions and to tempt Mao's other protege, Spike, out of hiding.
  • One remarkable Tear Jerker moment from Rurouni Kenshin comes from Sanosuke Sagara's flashback as a child, who was adopted by Sekihoutai leader Sagara Souzou (here given a Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Beauty Update). After the Sekihōtai was accused of being a "false army" by the Restoration government of the Ishin Shishi (making them the fall guys for the failure of the government in service delivery), they were executed in the mountains, with Sagara's head chopped off and displayed in public. It would be Sanosuke's excuse to sabotage any Ishin Shishi he meets and live as hired muscle codenamed "Zanza," until he meets ex-assassin Kenshin Himura and gets a World of Cardboard Speech and makes him realize that this isn't what Sagara-taichou would've wanted for him.
  • In the Devilman manga and at least one of the newest OAV series, Akira's girlfriend Miki Makimura is horrifyingly killed by a mob. When Akira/Devilman finally arrives late to said person's house, he learns of it by seeing how her killers have dismembered her body and display her head and limbs on pikes.
  • This is what Sosuke Aizen was planning to do to Ichigo's human friends in Bleach, after reaching for the real Karakura city and starting to chase them around.


  • In The DCU, Jonah Hex, an outlaw of the old West. His body was stuffed, dressed in a "singing cowboy" outfit, and put on display in a wild west show. The ignominy (and the fact that he's used to represent the opposite of who he is) is palpable.
    • In one story Jonah, having been transported to a post-apocalyptic future, finds his own preserved corpse in a museum (or storage facility or something). He takes comfort in the fact that eventually he'll go back home.
  • The Joker often does this to intimidate the public. Probably a few other Batman foes as well.
  • In the most recent Teen Titans relaunch, Deathstroke is possessed by his son Jericho, who murders Slade's loyal butler Wintergreen and mounts his head on a wall.
  • In the Devils Due G.I. Joe comic "America's Elite", Cobra Commander kills his son Billy and hangs the body from a flag pole.
  • A Marvel Universe villain takes the name Zodiac and kills every single member of a team by the same name before mounting their heads on his wall.
  • In Marvel 1602, Doctor Strange is beheaded for practicing magic and his head is put on a pike. Luckily it's all part of a Thanatos Gambit.
  • Along with the other Faux Symbolism in Batman: Fortunate Son, the body of Not Elvis is preserved like Lenin's.
  • This was originally Victor Zsasz modus operandi. He would kill people, mark them and himself with a stitch mark and then put them in lifelike poses to be found. Unfortunately most writers have forgotten this and tend to focus only on the stick marks in later appearances. Luckily the makers of the Batman: Arkham Asylum Games have given him back this little quirk.
  • In Tales of the Black Freighter, a Show Within a Show of Watchmen, the Captain saw the severed heads of his two daughters hanging by their hairs, and his wife's head in a pike. They were calling for him to save them. However, it was just a hallucination, they are safe and alive. However, when he does make it home (but believing he's too late to save them), he killed his own wife (thinking she was a pirate), right in front of his daughters.
  • In the Transformers Generation 2 comic, Megatron puts Bludgeon's head on display after killing him.


  • Pirates of the Caribbean had a trio of pirate corpses that were hung out in the ocean as a warning towards pirates. Jack took his hat off in reverence to them as he passed by.
  • The villainous variant occurs in Unforgiven to Ned, William Munny's friend. This triggers Munny's Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Dracula's skeleton, with a stake through where his heart would have been, was displayed in a traveling medicine show in House of Frankenstein. When the stake was removed he came back to life, including flesh, hair, moustache, and tuxedo.
  • "D-Fens" in Falling Down kills a neo-Nazi storekeeper, and it's later reported (but not seen) that he put the guy on display in his own shop window.
  • In Silence of the Lambs, when Hannibal Lecter kills a police guard and badly wounds another during an escape attempt, he takes the time to disembowel the dead man and set his body up in a kind of crucifixion pose. Although this may have partly been to get the officers attention focused elsewhere, so they wouldn't realise that the "wounded" guard was actually Lecter wearing the man's face.
  • A variant in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, where Han Solo is revealed to have been put on display in Jabba's lair after being frozen in carbonite. He's not dead though, just hibernating.
  • In the Hungarian Cult Classic Taxidermia, the grandson, who is a taxidermist, mounts his dead father and himself as art objects.
  • The final shots of Elizabeth include, among other things, the prominently-displayed heads of her various enemies.
  • Near the end of the Western Colorado Territory, the two back-stabbing robbers wind up dangling by their necks in front of a crowd.
  • Gawkers take pictures of Jesse James' body on display at the climax of The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford.
  • In Serenity, Mal orders Zoe to put Book's body "front and centre" on Serenity, Reaver-style, because He's our friend, we should honour him." In one of the outtakes from the film, actor Nathan Fillon goes on to ad-lib, asking Kaylee to "find the kid who's taking the dirt nap with Baby Jesus - we need a hood ornament" at which point the take breaks down in laughter.
    • The only place Mal references putting Book's body specifically onto Serenity is in that outtake. It's not in the script, or the film. That's all Nathan Fillion.
  • The Emperor has the head of the incompetent governor "Beast" Rabban on display in front of his throne in David Lynch's Dune.


  • In JRR Tolkien's Middle-earth universe (The Lord of the Rings, etc), various sides display (parts of) their dead enemies. A notable example is Sauron having the dead body of Celebrimbor carried before his armies as a standard during the war in Eriador.
  • Voldemort did this to Harry in the final battle of Deathly Hallows, to prove the defenders of Hogwarts that their hero was really dead... except that he wasn't.
    • Dolores Umbridge, in a particularly sickening example, also does this to Mad-Eye Moody... or his eye, at least.
  • The Animal Farm scene with Old Major is an analogue of Lenin's Tomb (see below).
  • The villainous variation occurs in A Song of Ice and Fire. With Daenerys freeing slaves everywhere she goes, a city she has targeted begins crucifying their slaves all along the road... so when she conquers the city, Dany herself punishes them by ordering that a number of the city's elders equal to the number those slaves be crucified in turn.
    • In fact, A Song of Ice and Fire has a lot of these: the "They Lay With Lions" scene, the head of Ned Stark, and so on. Tyrion lampshades the frequency of the head-on-a-stake version in A Clash of Kings during an exchange with his father when he is sent to King's Landing as surrogate Hand.
    • While they're not exactly on display, the house Bolton is believed to have a room where they keep the skins of their enemies.
      • Also, members of House Bolton used to wear the skins of flayed enemies as a cloak back in the day, which is definitely a means of intimidation.
    • One more notable case, this time of the first variant; Tywin's body is put on display at his funeral. It doesn't go very well, due to the advancing decomposition of his body.
    • Subverted with Then Greyjoy, who murders two random children and displays their heads dipped in tar to conceal the fact that the children he was trying to find got away from him.
  • In The Handmaid's Tale, the ultra-religious government strings the corpses of abortion doctors, scientists and gay people to the walls as a warning.
  • In Blade of Tyshalle by Matthew Woodring Stover, the body of Caine's late rival and master swordsman Berne is kept as a tourist attraction on Earth in the Studio Curiouseum. Ultimately subverted as his body is kidnapped and reanimated so it can kill Pallas Ril.
  • In The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy universe, the last Galactic Emperor was put into stasis a few seconds before his death, thus shifting power a few rungs down the ladder. No doubt this was a commentary on the (perceived) uselessness of the British Royal Family.
  • In Deathlands: Encounter, Baron Zeal uses a torture pit to burn his victims to a leathery brown, then hoists their heads on his wall. This is also how he gets killed in the end.
  • In Stranger in A Strange Land, Gillian shows Michael a popular religious group, the Fosterites. Foster, their founder, had died in the chair in which his body still sits, and the Fosterites' Tabernacle had been built around the body.
  • One of the Dune prequel books had the Baron Harkonnen build a secret retreat with glass walls containing the decaying corpses of the construction crew. Evidently the builders died with resigned expressions on their faces.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, Richard kills one of Emperor Jagang's life-long friends and his closest advisor during the climax of one book. During the next book, he sends the head to his allies up north, magically enchanted to stay preserved. It ends up on a pike right in front of the Confessor's Palace, where Jagang gets to watch it rapidly decompose in front of him. Needless to say, he's a little angry about it.
  • A parody of Jeremy Bentham (see below) is former Archchancellor Hopkins of Discworld's Unseen University. According to The Discworld Companion, he asked that the University complete a process he spent most of his life attempting; to be pickled in alcohol. As with Benthan, this has provided many opportunities for student humour.
    • Ankh-Morpork used to have a gibbet on which a former criminal permenantly swung as a warning. Parents would take their children to see the terrible consequences of a life of crime, and the kids would say "Wow, brilliant" and use it as a swing.
      • The weathervane on the Thieves' Guild building is also a former (unlicenced) criminal.
    • There's a pub in Ankh-Morpork called "The Klatchian's Head". The current pub sign is wooden, but it used to be a genuine war trophy. More recently, a trophy troll's head was removed from the Morporkian embassy in Bonk, Uberwald, during the events of The Fifth Elephant.
    • In Small Gods, a heretic was sentenced to be taken to all the towns in the empire so that they could see the errors in his ways, with the footnote stating that since there were so many towns, he had to be cut up quite small.
  • In The Ringworld Throne it is mentioned that the body of one Harvey Mossbauer is kept on display in the House of Patriarch's Pride, the royal museum of the Kzinti. In response to having his family killed and eaten during one of the Man-Kzin wars, Mossbauer had landed on the Kzinti homeworld, fought his way into the harem of the Patriarch, and detonated a bomb there. After killing him, the Kzinti stuffed him and put him on display as an "honored foe".
  • In a notorious set piece from Mrs. Sherwood's The History of the Fairchild Family, the paterfamilias inculcates some moral lessons by taking his young children to see a man hanging from a gibbet. The man has been hanging there a very, very long time.
  • In Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds, the crucified body of Sky Hausmann has been displayed for centuries in view of everyone using the space elevator on Sky's Edge.
  • Though disapproved by the clergy, the practice of publicly displaying the head of a dead enemy did still occur on occasion in the Deverry novels.
  • In the Sector General novella "Accident", we discover that the Earth-humans and the Orligians, the first sentient alien species they made contact with, fought a war after their First Contact. It ended when two wounded soldiers, one from each side, trapped in wreckage with little hope of survival actually talked to each other and resolved the painfully unfortunate misunderstanding that started the whole mess in the first place. Against all probability they were rescued and put into suspended animation, then displayed together as a war memorial. When medical science had developed to the point that both their lives could be saved, they were revived.
  • In the first Ultramarines short story featuring Captain Ventris, captured heroic Space Marines are cut open and their ribs splayed before being crucified on the front of the enemy tanks, mainly as an insult to their comrades but also because that's just what they do now they're Chaos Marines.
  • Many of the non-Samurai criminals in the Sano Ichiro series await this fate after they are executed; their heads are displayed as a warning to other criminals who would think of offending the shogun. For reasons of honor, most samurai who are responsible for crimes are instead allowed to commit Seppuku, though a few of them have also been displayed, showing that the shogun considered them to have no honor.
  • At the end of Ellis Peters' A bloody field by Shrewsbury, Henry IV decides to do this with the corpse of his friend-turned-enemy Harry "Hotspur" Percy to quench rumors of his survival. Prince Hal, his son and Hotspur's former pupil, begs him not to do it as it will only turn against him, especially since he had given leave to bury Hotspur only the day before. The King doesn't listen, but Prince Hal is proven right when the action cements Harry Hotspur's status as a legend and haunts King Henry to his dying day.
  • Happens a lot in The Stand, where Randall Flagg likes to crucify people and leave them hanging on telephone poles.
  • Courtesy of Blue and Orange Morality, the Helmacrons in Animorphs have a corpse manning the helm of their ship - apparently, you can't trust someone alive to make mistakes, you see, so they immortalize their fallen comrades by promoting them to captains. Marco and Cassie simply consider this too insane for words, and when the suggestion is made, they dread a similar "promotion". This isn't quite as crazy as it seems due to a quirk in Helmacron biology (a "dead" Helmacron's mind is reabsorbed into the species and is eventually reborn) ensures that no Helmacron ever truly dies.
  • In S.L. Viehl's Stardoc series, Jorenian warriors have a habit of doing type 2 to ClanKill targets. Specifically, they string them out by their innards.
  • In The Iliad, Achilles kills Hector to avenge the death of Patroclus. He takes it too far by dragging Hector's corpse behind his chariot right outside the city of Troy's walls. Hector's father King Priam musters the courage to go behind enemy lines to beg Achilles to allow him to bury his son. Achilles is moved by the grieving father's pleas and returns Hector's body.
  • The Phantom of the Opera: The final line of the novel is the author’s plea for giving Erik's body (the titular phantom) this treatment. Oddly enough, It seems to be a Type 1, when the person was an honored figure (despite the fact that Erik was a Psychotic Man Child unrepentant killer, he was a truly great Mad Artist), and his body would be preserved as a relic/object of reverence:

And, now, what do they mean to do with that skeleton? Surely they will not bury it in the common grave! ... I say that the place of the skeleton of the Opera ghost is in the archives of the National Academy of Music. It is no ordinary skeleton.

  • In the Left Behind book Assassins, Nicolae Carpathia kills the two witnesses, Eli and Moishe, at the Global Gala and leaves their bodies dead and unburied for 3 1/2 days, according to The Word of God, before they are resurrected and taken to heaven.

Live-Action TV

  • In an episode of |Mission Impossible, the IMF stole the body of a deceased leader while it was lying in state and replaced it with a fake as part of a plot to convince his successor that the old leader was still alive.
  • In the Doctor Who serial The Space Museum, the Doctor and his companions see themselves, in permanent suspended animation, in a museum. Kind of like futuristic taxidermy. Then they find themselves earlier in time and have to prevent that future from happening.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation had an episode where a Romulan adversary gloated that he would do this with the Enterprise itself once he defeated the ship and its crew, specifically threatening to display the broken hull over the entrance to the Romulan Military Academy as a trophy for every new recruit to admire.
  • One episode of Pushing Daisies had the rather gruesome reveal that the episode's villain had kept the corpse of the man he considered his best friend (who he himself had killed) on display in his office, disguised as a mannequin in a mascot costume.
  • Babylon 5 features all three variants:
    • Marcus Cole is Type 1. As was Shi Alyt Branmer of the Star Riders.
    • Cartagia's Shadow Gallery is type 2
    • Morden is type 3, and heavily foreshadowed by this line:

Vir: I want to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and put it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come at too high a price.[1]

  • Used in Jericho to show that the USA is a very different place now.
  • CSI "Leapin' Lizards": They found a missing woman's head mounted on the wall like a trophy animal. She was murdered by UFO believers who were convinced she was a Reptilian queen. Here's a small screencap of it [dead link].
    • Also the ep where people were being posed before they were killed so they died in the position they were displayed in. One was a guy with a bike, one was a guy on a bench...there was a kid next in line but they found him in time.
  • The second episode of Blackadder II revolves around heads on spikes in Traitor's Cloister.
  • Brandon's mutilated body in season one of The Wire was left on display, on the hood of a car, as a warning to Omar and anyone else who might care to mess with the Barksdale drug crew.

Avon Barksdale: You know how them cracker motherfuckers do when they kill a deer? Or, like, when they go out killing animals, whatnot? Got them on the front of the truck, tied up, stretched out, so everybody could see it? You feel me? I'm serious: that's what I want. I want that motherfucker on display. I'm gonna send a message to the courtyard about this motherfucker, so people know we ain't playing.

  • On Rome, a soldier loyal to Julius Caesar executes Pompey when the latter tries to flee to Egypt. Rather then being pleased, Caesar is livid that a nobleman was so desecrated and orders the Egyptians to turn the man over. The soldier (not realizing this) is given a note to deliver to Caesar in Egyptian (which he cannot read), naming him as Pompey's killer. His Oh Crap face as he realizes the trap he walked into is creepy, and the man's body is displayed for Type 2 reasons.
    • Mark Antony and Cleopatra end up Type 2'd during the Series Finale as part of Augustus Caesar's triumphal parade.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles uses this as a threat: "I'm going to kill John Connor. Then I'm going to put his head on a pike for the whole world to see."
  • The corpse of a bushranger ends up on public display in Hopetoun in one episode of Wild Boys.
  • On The Borgias, the king of Naples has a whole roomful of Dead Guys On Display, with a banquet table still in place.
  • In the 1966 tele-musical Evening Primrose, those who do not comply with the storepeople's rules are turned over to a group known as "the Dark Men" and turned into display mannequins for the store. Charles and Ella, our protagonists, end up becoming a bride-and-groom display.


  • In King Geedorah's song "The Fine Print", Geedorah, an alien space monster and budding Evil Overlord/President Evil, details his usual method of dealing with people who decry him: He has their heads cut off and mounted on pikes in the middle of town, where peasants throw stones at the heads until vultures eventually eat their flesh. As he says, "Maybe then they'll know the right words to speak out loud, at home, in the world, or in the streets."
  • The country song Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox If I Die.
  • Exquisite Dead Guy, rotating in his display case...

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40,000: The body of the Ultramarines primarch Roboute Guilliman is kept in stasis on his Chapter's homeworld, awaiting a time when he can be safely revived and returned to full health.
    • Most 40k examples are less optimistic. Even the "good guys" see the advantage of leaving traitors' corpses hanging from the gallows, while gibbets containing the charred and warped skeletons of psykers and mutants line the streets of some Imperial worlds. The Necron unit type dubbed Flayed Ones uses a disturbing variant of the trope, by draping their victims' bloody skin on their metallic forms. Orks of course are fond of the "skull-on-a-stick" variant, and in one case a Warboss ordered a troublesome Mekboy nailed upside-down to the front of his new battlewagon after the Mek broke the previous vehicle down for parts. Orks as well as Chaos forces are also fond of impaling the skulls of their enemies on their armor's Spikes of Villainy.
    • Chaos especially are fond of using skulls, heads, corpses, skins or any other parts of fallen enemies (or "comrades") to decorate their vehicles, buildings and/or outfits. Sometimes the people on display aren't dead yet.
  • In Legend of the Five Rings, after Hida Sukune lost the First Battle of Beiden Pass, his father Hida Kisada, Daimyo of the Crab Clan, had him executed and his corpse nailed to the Terrible Standard of Fu Leng. The card text of the Standard even lets you kill Sukune during a game to give the Standard a Force bonus.


  • Older Than Feudalism: In the play Antigone, the eponymous daughter of Oedipus is buried alive in a cave by Creon, for the crime of attempting to steal and bury the exposed corpse of her brother.
  • Macbeth ends with Malcolm displaying Macbeth's head at his (Malcolm's) Awesome Moment of Crowning.
  • In the initial battle of Henry VI, Part 3, the Lancastrians capture Richard, cut his head off, and put it over the gates of York wearing a paper crown.

Video Games

  • Fallout 3 takes this to an absolutely absurd extent, with corpses in various stages of dismemberment stakes and strung up even inside raiders' homes.
  • In Dwarf Fortress:
    • You can put coffins anywhere you want. You could make part of a large hallway into some noble's tomb if you really wanted to. And you can make the coffins out of glass.
    • Adventurers who are killed in a failed attempt to kill a bandit group will often have their bodies impaled on and propped up by wooden spears on display around the camp.
  • In Command & Conquer: Renegade, Kane has Seth (who tried to usurp him in the original C&C) in suspended animation (and a lot of pain) as a warning.
  • The villainous variant occurs in Heavenly Sword with Flying Fox's most despicable act, which was stuffing and mounting the body of poor Kai's mother, whom the Complete Monster had previously murdered, as a display piece.
  • In Chrono Trigger, the final part of the Black Omen is a hallway where the party members (or their future doppelgangers) are being held in suspended animation, much like the Doctor Who example above.
  • In BioShock (series) the butchered corpses of political dissidents are a common enough sight in Rapture, but the most striking examples would be the body of a smuggler, who was apparently running Bibles, pinned to a wall in parody of the crucifix, Sander Cohen's "Statues," throughout Fort Frolic, and Andrew Ryan's "Trophy" room, where failed assassins, political adversaries, and his former friends are staked to pillars.
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Riddler does this with three security guards as part of a riddle challenge.
    • Technically, it was actually Victor Zsasz who did it. It's made clear by the riddle itself: "Zsasz is counting on you finding his work."
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the darkspawn frequently leave their victims hanging from tree branches or sticking their mutilated bodies on spikes.
    • One notable example is King Cailan, whose body has been stripped of its armor and left on display by the darkspawn in the Return to Ostagar DLC.
      • Meghren the usurper also favoured placing the severed heads of "traitors," including Maric's own mother, on the walls of Fort Drakon in the prequel novel The Stolen Throne. When Maric slays Meghren, he returns the favour.
  • In Gun, corrupt mayor Hoodoo Brown's corpse is displayed in a vertical coffin in town square after you kill him. For extra cruelty points, you can destroy the corpse with dynamite (either the normal or Trick Arrow version).
  • In Assassin's Creed II, Ezio does this to Francesco de Pazzi's body after killing him, as a warning to the rest of the Pazzi and their supporters, particularly Francesco's uncle, Jacopo, who takes off running when he sees it.
    • Truth in Television. After the Pazzi Conspiracy failed, not only was Francesco's (naked) body hung from the walls of the Palazzo della Signoria, but so were many of the other conspirators Ezio kills in the game.
  • Guybrush Threepwood in Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 5: Rise of the Pirate God. His entire corpse is standing on display wearing a party hat and holding a dartboard during a wake in Club 41 when Bugeye and W.P. Grindstump are considering burning the corpse in effigy; Guybrush eventually repossesses his own decaying corpse, though.
  • In Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, it's revealed that Kyle Katarn's father had his head displayed on a pike by an Imperial warlord.
  • In Red Dead Redemption you can find this in the town of Thieves' Landing. Appropriately named this place is filled with thieves and murders and has no law enforcement so people shooting at each other (some times even you) and other crimes are a common sight. When you visit the saloon you see a dead body on display that has a sign on it telling any passerby that the crime he committed that warranted this fate was cheating in a card game. This shows you how without law enforcement it is anyone's game to seek whatever retribution they see fit.
  • In Halo 2, the Prophet of Truth states that the specific details of the Arbiter's death sentence were that he be hung by his entrails until death, and his corpse "paraded through the city". Of course, the sentence is not ultimately carried out, because the Prophet of Truth thinks it would be a waste of resources (the Arbiter is the Covenant's greatest living warrior and commander), so instead he offers to make him the new Arbiter, with both explicitly understanding that it is a suicide mission.
  • Implied in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim if you join the legion and kill Rebel Leader Ulfric Stormcloak.


  • The glass jars from Girl Genius. Doesn't that look fun?
    • Trope only applies for part of their tenure in those jars. Gotta be Dead to be a Dead Guy On Display.
      • If you look closely, there are mummified remains in some of the jars (during the "late for class" sequence). Given that people are inserted into these jars while living... this has just ascended to Fridge Horror.
  • In Homestuck, Dirk mounts the head of his would-be assassin on a pike in a public square in front of a crowd as a warning to the leaders of Derse that he's awake and that he's not going to let them get away with it.
  • Order of the Stick presents this in the form of a Dead ARMY On Display, albeit it's easy to miss. After taking Azure City, the goblins can be seen on the wall to have mounted the severed heads of several soldiers on pikes and planted them on the wall. Both serving as a warning to others not to mess with the Goblins, and to raise the spirits of the Goblins inside, since the Azurites were some of their most hated enemies. Seen on this page's last panel.

Western Animation


Warhok: Come Warmonga, we will take this one as a trophy. She will look handsome mounted beside your Thorgoggle spine.


"Nothing says 'obey me' like a bloody head on a fence post!"

  • At the very beginning of Cars 2, the Lemons actually use Leland Turbo's compacted metal corpse as a warning for those who attempt to go near their oil rig.
  • Used as a quite morbid gag on Phineas and Ferb, "It's About Time". While visiting the museum, Phineas discovers a dog skeleton on display with the name tag "Bucky". He instantly recalls having a dog named Bucky that "got sick and had to move to Old Man Simmons' farm" and in an attempt by his step-father to turn away the attention from the dog, they turn to the display right to the side of the dog...

Phineas: Didn't we have a dog named Bucky who got sick and went to live on kindly Old Man Simmons' farm?
Lawrence: Oh, uh, let's move on, shall we? This exhibit is kindly Old Man Simmons-- Hey! Who's up for milkshakes?

    • Should also be noted that these fossils (at least Bucky's) were dug up from the Flynn-Fletcher backyard. Make of that what you will.
  • In American Dragon: Jake Long full Huntsclan members use as helmet the skull of the first dragon they killed. Also, Rose had to show the Huntsman the skin of her first dragon to prove she had actually done it and not faked it (she had faked it, and showed him the skin Jake shed naturally).

Truth In Television

  • The embalmed body of Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin has been on public display in Moscow's Red Square since 1924 (except for a brief period during World War II when the Soviets shipped the body off to Siberia for safekeeping). Stalin's body was displayed next to it for several years before Khrushchev decided that Stalin hadn't been so great after all (Moscow's most prestigious medical school has a small department dedicated to the preservation of Lenin's body).
    • Spoofed on The Simpsons, where in a perceived revival of the Soviet Union, Lenin comes back to life and smashes through his glass coffin.
      • "Must... crush... Capitalism!"
    • And Mao Zedong... possibly (visitors to the Maosoleum are whisked past the coffin at high speeds so they don't have quite enough time to figure out if the "body" is actually a waxwork).
      • See, after he died China sent for the Soviet Union's best embalmers. But Communist China and the USSR weren't on the best terms, and the embalmers were late. The corpse in the mausoleum, if it's not actually wax, is well-preserved. But it's been speculated that it's not Mao.
        • So China murdered someone that looked like Mao?
  • In the Old West, bodies of famous outlaws would often be displayed (and people charged to see them) before they were buried. Quite a few Western movies have shown this practice.
    • Elmer McCurdy is one of the most notorious examples. After performing an utterly failriffic robbery (take: $40 and a bottle of booze), he yelled "You'll never take me alive!" at the posse. They didn't bother. His embalmed corpse ("The Man Who Would Not Be Taken Alive") became an extremely popular touring exhibit, until finally it ended up hanging in a funhouse, wrapped up as a mummy. It was discovered to be a real corpse during the filming of a The Six Million Dollar Man episode at the funhouse. He is now buried in a concrete-sealed tomb.
    • McCurdy may have been the inspiration for Jonah Hex's eventual fate.
    • Also for an episode of Bones.
  • Jeremy Bentham, one of the founders of University College London, willed his body to the University. They had to put his head in storage due to drunk freshers stealing it but the rest of him is on display, in the front entrance of the main building. (There used to be a somewhat ghoulish tradition of carrying the body into faculty meetings, where it was listed on the minutes as "Present but not voting.")
  • Hernan Cortes was supposedly buried in a glass urn.
  • Allegedly, the "real" John Wilkes Booth's corpse was not buried but got put up for display in a travelling medicine show. More likely, some random corpse (no relation) got labelled JWB in order to drum up business.
  • Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes was famous for impaling whole villages and leaving the bodies to rot. Some historians (and Wallachian folklore) say that these gory displays were instrumental in stopping the Turkish push into Europe (allegedly, a Turkish invasion force turned back in horror when they came across one of his "forests").
    • And when Vlad himself was killed in battle, his head was sent back to Istanbul to assure the Turks that he was actually dead.
  • Oliver Cromwell's head moved about several locations.
    • He's an extra-special example, as his enemies were so determined to make this trope happen that after he died of natural causes, they dug him up and killed him again.
    • At the Restoration many prominent Roundheads, not just Cromwell, were dug up and displayed in all their rotting, cadaverous glory. Especially true if they'd had a hand in executing Charles I.
  • St. Bernadette Soubirous's body has yet to putrify since her death in 1879, and is on display in the convent of Nevers.
    • That's actually a common practice with Christians saints. Some of them are believed to be "incorruptible", meaning their bodies wouldn't decay or would do it only veeeeeery slowly, and presumably by divine intervention. If this is the case, the saint's body will be put in display for everyone to see and venerate. Aside of Bernadette there's Blessed Jacinta Marto (Fatima visionary), St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Catherine Laboure, St. Catherine of Sienna (despite the deal with her head), St. Francis Xavier, St. Jean Vianney (Curè of Ars), St. John of God, St. Rose of Lima, etc.
    • Jacinta actually isn't on display at this time. It's possible they'll exhibit her when she is canonized (officially declared a saint).
  • Pirates of the Caribbean was right - real-life pirates often ended up dangling in places as a warning to others. Blackbeard himself ended up on a pike in Virginia (well, his head did anyway).
    • Pirates caught by the Royal Navy were usually taken back to England, hanged at 'Execution Dock' below the high water mark on the Thames and then left there until they had been submerged by the tide three times. Particularly notorious individuals then had their bodies cut down, embalmed, and displayed in iron cages at the mouth of the river.
      • This wasn't limited to pirates, either. In pre-modern England, criminals and traitors of all kinds were publicly displayed after their execution.
  • Hitler had his body cremated so the Russians couldn't parade him around.
    • Some thought that the Soviets cremated him so that his followers couldn't make a memorial of his grave.
  • Papa Doc managed to demonstrate he didn't really understand PR by stringing up one of his opponents...right next to the "Welcome to Haiti" sign. During a drive to bring in more tourists.
    • This was deliberate; the dictator knew that Haiti badly needed foreign exchange, but was also wary about them bringing crime and "subversive ideas" (i.e, the ridiculous idea that Papa Doc was a murderous tyrant). The above-mentioned trope example was the resulting compromise.
  • Cicero made a series of speeches against Mark Anthony, who eventually had him murdered for that. His head and his hands (which had penned the speeches) were cut off and displayed in the Forum Romanum.
  • In feudal Japan, victorious warlords would display the heads of their defeated opponents on a pike as a form of humiliation. Samurai of the fallen lord would try to prevent this by taking the head away before the battle ended and giving it a respectful secret burial. The practice is referenced a few times in Usagi Yojimbo.
  • Often times, this is also meant as a mark of respect for well-regarded figures, as while a permanent burial is usually arraigned, the cadaver will lie in state for people to visit. Examples include Reagan, Haig, and Queen Mother Elizabeth.
  • Uday and Qusay Hussein were a merger of the second and third category.
  • Che Guevara's body was put on display for citizens to come and see for days after he was executed.
  • The bodies or skeletons of human oddities (like giants or midgets) were in great demand for private and academic museums of medicine in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • After Benito Mussolini's fascist government fell, he was executed and not just put on display, but dragged by the ankles from a moving car Achilles-style for everyone to see.
    • He was finally left, with his mistress, hung upside down at a gas station, to be spat upon by passerby and pecked by crows.
  • When Richard, the Duke of York, died in battle while trying to claim the English throne, Margaret of Anjou, the current king Henry VI's queen and his de facto regent, not only had his head displayed on the walls of the city of York, but in an ironic twist had a paper crown placed on it.
  • There have been multiple incidents of people willing their skulls to theater companies to be used as Yorick in productions of Hamlet.
  • When he was captured and killed by the Libyan rebellion, Muammar Gaddafi's body was carried around and paraded. He was still alive for part of the humiliation. His corpse was eventually moved to an industrial freezer where members of the public were permitted to view it for a few days.
  • Firmly defied with Osama Bin Laden. He was killed, identified, and buried at sea all within 24 hours.