Fate Worse Than Death

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
Information icon4.svg This page needs visual enhancement.
You can help All The Tropes by finding a high-quality image or video to illustrate the topic of this page.


"Those who break the rules shall be subjected to a fate worse than death."
Freed Justine from Fairy Tail

Think death is the cruelest fate? Think again. There are several things much worse: torture, taxes, and tofu, to name but a few. And more often than not, some unlucky soul will experience it. Originally, this phrase meant Rape Tropes; that's still one possible meaning. And now there's even worse than that.

This phrase is usually used in a Just Between You and Me moment by the Evil Overlord as he boasts about the agony-inducing Death Trap that awaits the hero for delaying his plans. It's also fairly commonly used as a warning to the hero against seeking forbidden power or knowledge, and consequently to foreshadow the particular Karmic Death the villain will suffer because of meddling with the universe's Cosmic Keystone.

If the victim is immortal, this fate may even replace death, which might suck royally. See And I Must Scream.

Mercy Killings are common when heroes find anyone in this state. It is rare for them to accept it even for the Complete Monster. If the character can beg for help, I Cannot Self-Terminate occurs; if they can act on their own, they are often Driven to Suicide. Indeed, since all involve choosing death over a given fate, all logically entail that that fate is worse than death. Contrast Cruel and Unusual Death, for when the victim instead gets a gruesome death that sucks beyond telling.

See also: Empty Shell, To the Pain, The Punishment and, very often, Cool and Unusual Punishment. Tailor-Made Prisons may be this by nature or design in order to torture its prisoner. Not to be confused with A Fete Worse Than Death, though the two can occasionally overlap. Making a party out of it results in A Fete Worse Than Death.

No Real Life Examples, Please

Examples of Fate Worse Than Death include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Another ironic punishment: the greedy, thoroughly evil and immortal Gemma from Ninja Scroll gets encased in gold and sunk to the bottom of the pacific ocean—where he'll presumably remain, conscious and immobile forever.
  • The ultimate fate of Father in Fullmetal Alchemist is heavily implied to be this. Having been defeated and Truth freed, he is dragged into the Gate of Truth, begging that he not be sent back in there. He is last seen screaming in terror.
    • Worse still may be the fate of those trapped in the philosopher's stones. The stones can only be made by trapping the souls of murdered people inside to be consumed as energy. The victims spend centuries trapped, tortured, and steadily driven mad in their less-than-being state. Ed's extremely reluctant to harm them during his fight with Envy, despite the fact that they are in fact begging him to kill them.
      • Well, in fact, Ed did not use a philosopher's stone. A philosopher's stone is made of souls, while Envy is made of the bodies and minds of the dead people of Xerxes. The body is material, the mind acts like a bridge between the soul and the body, so the body and the mind technically cannot suffer. What we see is just the remains of the minds, but those are not actual people, at least in the universe.
  • In Yu Yu Hakusho, Toguro the Elder suffers such a fate. It's dealt by Kurama, who plants a parasitic tree on him that uses hallucinations to catch and trap prey until it has drained all of their life energy and killed them, at which point it discards the corpse. Since technically Toguro the Elder can't die, he is doomed to eternal frustration in the form of trying to kill an illusory Kurama, who not only won't die no matter what Toguro does to him, but doesn't fight back, or even show signs of feeling pain, and tops it off by smiling when injured. Kurama lampshades the trope by saying afterward that death was too good for him anyway.
    • What King Yomi did to the demon who blinded him, can we? Yomi nailed the guy to a wall for five hundred years, then finally killed him in one hit by stomping on his face so hard that his head exploded.
    • Being a koorime (ice demon) and living on their floating ice mountain. No, seriously. Hiei was thrown off the mountain the day he was born for the crime of being male. Having found the mountain again, he doesn't carry out the plan to slaughter them all that has become one of his life goals... because he considers their pathetic lives a crueler punishment for their crimes.
    • In the first episode/manga, Yuusuke says he doesn't want to be resurrected; he doesn't believe anyone will miss him so he doesn't have anything worth living for. That changed after he saw the wake.
    • Hiei's "birthday gift" to a depressed Mukuro near the end of the manga. He finds the evil slave dealer who owned and brutalized her as a child, and fuses the guy to a parasitic plant that will keep him alive and heal all injuries unless his brain is destroyed. Hiei demonstrates this by sticking his sword into the slave dealer's fat thigh.
  • Baccano! tells the tale of a group of immortals that cannot die and will quickly regenerate any lost body part. They can, however, feel pain. This is taken full advantage of by the writers, who seem to have no problem subjecting these poor souls to some rather... unfortunate experiments, including poking out eyes with a hot poker, daily mutilation, tossing people through grinders, and giving someone Cement Shoes and leaving them at the bottom of a river to perpetually drown. For a year. Makes you think twice about wanting immortality.
  • In Naruto, Shikamaru faces off against Hidan, an immortal ninja who had killed Shikamaru's teacher, Asuma. He easily defeats Hidan, and in vengeance, cuts off Hidan's (still living) head and buries it in a hole where nobody would ever find him.
    • Databook 3 partially negates this by stating that the "secret Jashinist experiment" that grants Hidan his immortality only makes him immortal as long as he continues to kill people. So Hidan's head will eventually die, though it's not certain how long it takes for his immortality to wear off.
      • Kishimoto changed his mind. According to the new Fanbook, he's still stuck down there though it hardly makes anything better for him. Regardless of how you view it, that guy probably wishes to Jashin he was dead.
    • Earlier in the series the Third Hokage removes Orochimaru's ability to perform jutsus; in the Naruto-verse local magic, this leaves Orochimaru's arms paralyzed for normal use as well... for about three months. Even then he never fully recovers, and has momentary moments of complete agony. Not like he didn't deserve it...
    • Even worse than all this is the fate of the first four Hokage, all of whom are stuck in the stomach of the Shinigami where they will suffer for all eternity. Or so we're told; how anybody can actually know the final results of that technique is unexplained.
    • Throughout most of the series, Itachi's and later Sasuke's Tsukiyomi illusion. When first revealed, it was used on Kakashi to trap him in a dreamworld where he was stabbed repeatedly for 72 hours. and apparently all in his head.
    • It was later revealed that Itachi had an ever worse Fate Worse Than Death-rendering equipment. His totsuka sword supposedly put Orochimaru in an illusion for eternity.
      • Actually it was said that the illusion was a world of dreams so it could just as much be a wonderful fate as a horrible one.
      • It could also be a case of It Got Worse for Orochimaru, since before that point, he had been "permanently" absorbed into Sasuke's body.
    • The most recent example is what happened recently to Anko Mitarashi. Imagine if you have something in your body that Kabuto Yakushi wants and can't take from you if you die (the remains of Orochimaru's chakra, more exactly) What will he do to you? Beating the shit outta you, then keeping you alive and carrying you around with one of his snakes wrapped around you, slowly draining said chakra from your almost lifeless body to absorb it better. Not even MADARA liked that!
  • In Shakugan no Shana demons known as Tomogara have to eat the existences of human beings. Flame Hazes such as Shana then "fill" these empty space with "Torches" which act and feel like real people, but are in fact just empty shells of the people who died (not that all torches are willing to believe this, and the responses to discovering they're just shells which will soon fade away range from denial to suicide). These torches will eventually burn out and the person will cease to have ever existed. And don't expect any sympathy from Shana, either. After all, Torches are merely "shells" and not real people.
    • This is worse than it sounds as, once the torch dies, the world forgets the person ever existed.
  • In the Narutaru manga, Komori is killed and his Shadow Dragon Push Dagger attempts to absorb him into its body to turn the guy into an Otohime so they can reach their most powerful evolution. However, they're found by government agents... and the next time they're seen is when Sudo shows Akira that their still half-merged bodies are hooked up to a machine that slows down the process, effectively keeping Komori from either fully dying or being "reborn". Urgh.
  • In Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star, Michiru and Kaoru Kiryuu are condemned to this by Lord Akudaikhan, who paralyzes them and places their still-sentient bodies at the bottom of a lake. They get better after half a season.
  • Rue almost gets trapped in one of these fates by her "father", the Raven in Princess Tutu. After her Heroic Sacrifice for Mytho, The Raven locks Rue into a Lotus Eater Machine inside of his body, where she's put in a trance and forced to dance non-stop until she falls dead as he saps her out of her life energy. She gets better once Mytho comes for her, though.
  • In Cowboy Bebop, a group of crazy eco-terrorists are trapped when the authorities close the hyperspace gates with them inside. Their fate is to drift around the universe in a half-phased state, unable to interact with the physical world.
    • Though they would reasonably run out of air eventually and suffocate. So it's worse than death, but only for a while.
    • In addition, a vial of the virus they were about to unleash crashed to the floor as this was happening, ready to turn them into de-evolved ape things.
  • Katejina Loos, in Victory Gundam, ends the series as a blind, amnesiac, half-insane cripple who has nothing to look forward to in life. However, since Katejina had gone over the Moral Event Horizon, that can be considered her just punishment.
    • Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer gives us assimilation. Your body is slowly converted into an alien crystalline substance starting with your limbs and ending with your still-alive head... which you can feel happening around you as your nerve receptors are still registering your muscles and tissue changing form. Worse still this happens from the inside out, as you can see the blood-covered crystals making their way through the skin. Not even Katejina deserves that end.
    • The end of Turn a Gundam has Gym Ghingnham trapped inside the Moonlight Butterfly cocoon created by the Turn units. What makes it worse is that since the nanobots in said cocoon can maintain and regenerate anything and anyone, Gym's going to be alive for a VERY long time.
  • The short story The Enigma of Amigara Fault is about people that after walking through a hole in a wall, slide through the mountain for 3 months while their limbs are stretched into ribbons, eventually to become a formless mass. And they are alive during the entire punishment. Drr...Drr...Drr...
    • Made even worse by the fact that the punishment is for being a Schmuck Bait.
  • Subverted in Code Geass. After Mao gives a Hannibal Lecture to Suzaku, Lelouch activates his Geass and tells him to "never speak again." The result? Mao tries to speak, but chokes on his own saliva and makes all manner of groans and gurgles and other disgusting noises. Scared shitless, he runs out of the church he and Lelouch are in, and finds C.C. waiting for him, who comforts him... and then shoots him in the head with a silenced pistol.
    • Lelouch perhaps calls upon the trope earlier on, when he tells C.C. that rather than abandoning Mao when he couldn't bring himself to kill her and take on her immortality.
    • Arguably, Suzaku Kururugi's final fate. While his tombstone praises him as a loyal defender of Emperor Lelouch, given that Lelouch will (by his own design) be remembered as the worst tyrant ever, it is likely that Suzaku will go down in history as The Quisling where Japanese people (except for Kallen, and maybe Todou and Kaguya) are concerned, and as The Dragon to a deeply evil ruler for everyone else. Also, throughout the series, he always argues for change within the system rather than through revolution- while he gets to change the system from within, it is through becoming Zero who will be celebrated as a hero for working outside of the system. And to make matters worse, he will never be able to be anything but Zero for the rest of his life, as only a small handful of people know who's under the mask, and they aren't stupid enough to spill the beans and ruin the plan.
      • Adding even more irony to it Zero was the one thing he hated and fought against all this time, and he had just become it.
      • And Suzaku is now known to the world as the man who killed the woman Suzaku loved. On the other hand, having to spend the rest of his life as the most beloved and admired person in the history of mankind, kinda takes the edge off. In fact, since Suzaku has always hated himself anyway, being reborn as someone else is almost a gift really, especially considering who he gets to be.
    • And to another extent, Schneizel el Brittania, whose final fate is becoming geassed by Lelouch rather than dying an honorable death. As Lelouch steals THE "honorable" death for himself later, it is clear that Schneizel is destined to remain mind-controlled by Zero forever.
  • Diavolo gets this punishment in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure after being killed by Giorno's Golden Experience Requiem. He is killed repeatedly in various ways for eternity, each time not knowing how he's going to die. The last time we see him, he's screaming at a little girl to get away from him, having grown insanely paranoid.
    • This fate also befalls Cars in Part 2. Having turned himself into a boulder to avoid the effects of a volcanic blast, he's launched into space, unable to change his trajectory. The solitude eventually causes him to stop thinking completely.
  • A more humorous example would be Russia's kolkolkol chant in Axis Powers Hetalia which he uses to threaten his fellow nations, most notably Lithuania.
  • This happens a lot in the manga Franken Fran, because (as Y Ruler of Time put it) to her, there is no fate worse than death. In one chapter, Fran catches several people attempting to break into her lab and steal her medical research. At the same time, she had been pondering a question proposed to her by a friend, and so decides to test it by surgically altering the men into dog beasts, grotesque mockeries of canines which look rather like the Egyptian Ammet. She then uses them to point out the lady who hired them (who happened to be her friend's secretary), and then drags her off screaming and surgically alters her into another dog beast. It is unknown what their final fate is, but it is certainly worse than death.
    • And it happens again in a later chapter, when Fran's "little sister" blows up a nearby family gathering, thinking they are going to attack the lab. The only way Fran could "save" them is to merge all of their bodies together into a living human latticework. This prompts the response from Fran's little sister "shouldn't you just let them die?" It should also be mentioned that Fran's little sister was built to be a living arsenal and an assassin with no remorse, and this gives her Squick.
    • Another one: Fran saves a wealthy young businesswoman after her entire body is burned by using artificial skin made of cockroach shells. Guess which insect the OCD businesswoman utterly loathes? Ironically, she looks perfectly normal, but the concept of being skinned with cockroaches completely breaks her mind and it's implied that she started tearing off the skin on her face. A short omake in volume 2 showed that she takes the operation again, gets over the creepy feeling, and admits to Fran that she overreacted. Then, when she removes the bandages, it turned out that the genes fused weirdly during this operation and cockroach legs are now growing out of her face, breaking her mind again.
    • Possibly the worst of them is the woman who wanted immortality (and wanted it all to herself, so she had the scientists who helped her towards it murdered); she steals Fran's research and has Fran's throat cut, but that's not enough to kill Fran, who manages to sew her own head back on. But the murderous woman get's the immortality she wanted—in the form of a gigantic conscious but immobile tumorous mass.
  • The anime version of Jadeite from Sailor Moon who was frozen in crystal for his many failures to get energy for Queen Beryl.
    • In the S Season, Mimete uses a machine to turn her into energy and transmitted herself on giant televisions. Then Telulu came along and pulled the plug. If said machine is unplugged while the user is still transmuted, they're trapped inside forever. Mimete was turned into energy, and energy can't be destroyed. So, she's trapped in an empty black void forever, alone and unable to die.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Rika Furude has been stuck in a Groundhog Day Loop for somewhere between a century and a millennium. In most iterations, one of her friends will go insane and kill a bunch of people. In every iteration, Rika is murdered, usually disemboweled while she's still alive, and most or all of her friends die within a few days. Then she's resurrected in the past, and goes through it all over again, and she's the only one who remembers what's happening, but enough important details keep changing that she can't manage to stop it. This Groundhog Day Loop is actually propagated by a deeply sympathetic character who wants Rika to find a way to solve the mystery and stop the killings, but the Big Bad's conspiracy goes deeper than anyone imagined, and the situation causes unimaginable despair for Rika due to the pain of repeatedly losing loved ones, the feelings of isolation from not knowing who to trust and not having anyone who would believe her story, and the feelings of hopelessness brought on by failure after failure.
    • Higurashi's sequel inflicts a similar but even worse fate on Battler, since the loop is much shorter and between "games" Beato spends her time having the Stakes reduce him to a pulp over and over. ...Which is nothing compared to EP6, where he gets trapped in a closed room/horrific logic error and spends years trying to escape. A lot worse than it sounds.
  • In the same vein, in the Endless Eight of Suzumiya Haruhi, Yuki Nagato remembers everything, so more or less she's been going through everything for about 596 years.
    • So she gains emotions, and proceeds to Retcon reality so that Kyon can decide whether a world without Haruhi is better. He decides against it. Her boss isn't happy, and starts deciding whether to kill her. Kyon threatens to annihilate them using Haruhi with his "I am John Smith." line. They decide not to kill her. Instead, they use a fate worse than death. They elect her to be the ambassador to the Sky Canopy Domain; exposing her existence and sanity to something which is as alien to her as the Data Overmind is to humans. A lesser being would Go Mad from the Revelation.
  • A certain Alternate Character Interpretation of Sebastian from Black Butler has this as the ultimate fate for Ciel -- making him a fledgling demon and granting him eternal life. Which will ultimately make Ciel watch all those he cares about pass away. Given that Sebastian is Affably Evil and has quite a bit of affection for his young master (not that way... maybe), we might indeed get this instead of Sebastian's eating his soul, especially given the Gecko Ending of the anime.
    • And look what happens in II! Not quite the same, though - Hannah turns Ciel into a demon so Sebastian can no longer eat his soul. Ciel doesn't seem to mind too much, though; he has no qualms about leaving anyone behind. The catch is that because of an order he gave in an earlier episode, Sebastian can't stop being his butler until he eats him, making him Ciel's servant for all eternity. So, really, it's a Fate Worse Than Death for poor Sebby, if anybody.
  • Done humorously in Kamen no Maid Guy. Anyone who uses a camera to spy on Naeka will get frozen in place for half an hour, unable to close their eyes, and their video feed is replaced by a video of the fish salesman taking a bath.
  • Even Pokémon has done this. At the end of the Team Galactic arc, Cyrus creates a new universe... and walks into it. The portal closes behind him and is then destroyed. Fans argue if he can survive, but the nature of the series and some past canon indicate that he can. However, this means that he's going to drift in empty space for the rest of his life, unable to do anything but watch his creation, and unable to stop himself from aging. Bear in mind that he's not even thirty. He could live for another century in what amounts to a void, all alone and powerless. A world with no emotion is what he wanted, so it could be paradise for him.
  • What happens to Princess Ixquic in Cyborg 009. She can't die since she's a Robot Girl with a huge healing factor. She can't interact with the outer world unless some conditions are met. And after said conditions are broken in such a way that they won't ever be met again, she's stranded in time and space... forever.
  • Many of the serial killers in MPD Psycho specialize in this. Just a couple of examples include a lunatic who cuts off his victims arms and legs, while raping her during the process, before stuffing her in an ice chest and mailing what's left of her to her boyfriend, the series protagonist. Then there is the killer who cuts open their victims skulls to plant flowers that take root in their brains. Both of these killers go through their entire process while keeping their victims alive.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion had the Trope Namer for Mind Rape. Yes, it does count because of who was the recipient. If The Fighting Narcissist Fiery Redhead Tsundere gets reduced to a sobbing wreck in a minute, exposing her tragic Freudian Excuse, something's seriously messed up. Granted, to some she might have had it coming but still! Her Cruel and Unusual Death in End of Evangelion doesn't help things either.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Shadow Realm. In the Shadow Realm, your worst fears (Examples: Kaiba and defeat, Mai and isolation) play out over and over in front of your eyes for eternity. This became more prominent in the 4Kids dub, when being sent to the Shadow Realm was the substitute for death. Oh yes, it's much less frightening to be tormented eternally than to be killed!
  • Arguably done with the Magical Girl anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica where becoming a magical girl is a Deal with the Devil. Every time a magical girl uses magic or suffers negative emotions, her Soul Gem becomes more and more corrupted. The only way to keep the corruption at bay is by killing witches, horrible Eldritch Abominations that can and will kill you horribly if you make even the slightest mistake, and using their Grief Seeds to cleanse the corruption from the gem. But this is a stopgap measure at best, because sooner or later, no matter what the magical girl does, the gem will darken completely and become a Grief Seed itself, and she will become the very thing that she is fighting.
  • The second Macross Frontier movie does this to Grace, and (possibly) Sheryl. The former, a cyborg, is reduced to a sentient torso and interrogated for a long time. The latter gets cured from her illness, but by then she is in coma after watching her Love Interest disappear. It is then stated that she will wake up only when(if) said Love Interest comes back, and the chances for that are zero, so she is condemned to spend the rest of her life in coma. Ouch.
    • The last part was actually averted from Word of God or if you paid attention to the end credits.
  • In One Piece, protagonist Luffy may be nice to friends, but he's a complete ass to enemies. With villains, he doesn't kill them, but leaves them alive to watch their hopes and dreams crumble around them (though how they manage to keep breathing after Luffy's thrashing is absurd). This is a terrible punishment, because this series is all about being able to live your dream. When he's not around, half the crew just does things the quick and easy old fashioned way.
  • All this way and nothing about Slayers, how sad. The Raugnut Rushavna curse is a VERY horrible curse, as it makes the victim immortal until the one who cast the curse is killed. It doesn't sound so bad until the horror of the curse sets in.

Lina: "I was staring at an enormous lump of flesh. It was writhing---the arrangement of its internal organs and the pulsing of its veins fully visible."
"As we watched, a snaked sprang forth from the top of the lump. The snake, borne of the hideous meatball, grew into an arch half the size of the clump. It swallowed the mound of flesh, essentially consuming itself, and then sunk back into its fleshy mass."
"Those that fall victim to this ritual are cursed to die over and over until the demon that cast the curse is destroyed."

  • Happens to Piedmon in Digimon Adventure. Most Digimon villains are Killed Off for Real (though Digimon are normally reborn, so its possible, but some lose their memories in the process), he's not so lucky. Piedmon is thrown into MagnaAngemon's Gate of Destiny. While the series doesn't explain what this does to him, its said elsewhere that the Gate of Destiny leads to subspace, a dimension from which there is no escape. Digimon are effectively immortal barring being killed outright, so this means he'll spend eternity there. Naturally, he's one of the few Digimon villains deserving of such a fate.
  • The now immortal Garlic Jr. from the Dragon Ball movie The Dead Zone/Dragon Ball Z: Return My Gohan!! gets trapped and escapes the eponymous Dead Zone only to be trapped there again FOREVER in the anime's Garlic Jr saga.
    • Technically, he could be freed if someone wished it with the Dragon Balls, but the odds of that are nonexistent.
  • In the anime version of Pita-Ten failure to pass the angel exam or devil exam (for people from Heaven or Hell respectively) results in the otherwise immortal person to be deleted from existence and all memories of their existence expunged.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In one of the issues of The Walking Dead Michonne goes through this at the hands of the insane, sadistic "Governor" of a small human settlement, who keeps her tied spread-eagle in a warehouse and routinely rapes/beats/tortures her for days before she is freed. However, she gets her own back after she tracks him to his apartment, breaks in, tortures the ever-loving hell out of him (including spoon-raping and amputating some of his limbs) and leaves him for dead (he survives).
  • Episode #66 of Dylan Dog ends with Harvey Burton being condemned to spend the whole eternity in a void limbo because he cheated the Grim Reaper.
  • One storyline in Hellblazer discussed the possibility of a "Third Place" that souls could go to which was neither Heaven nor Hell. The Third Place was a blank, neutral landscape that numbed the soul and removed all emotion. The characters believed that an eternity of empty nothingness was too horrible to contemplate. In the end, a human takes the place of the realm's supernatural resident for all eternity, thereby suffering a fate worse than death.
  • The Sandman by Neil Gaiman: After the first Despair was killed (in a vain attempt to remove despair and suffering from the world), the man responsible was put into a state of perpetual suffering from which he could not die—he would suffer for all eternity until time ended. In the first issue, Dream of the Endless punishes the son of the magician who sealed him away for seventy years (the magician having already died by that time) by trapping him in an endless Dream Within a Dream—while he might eventually die, he will suffer for an eternity in his head first. (Although after Morpheus' death on the hands of the three "Kindly Ones", his successor, the new Dream, shows mercy and lifts the curse. So, the man "only" had to spend six years or so in a coma, hallucinating the most torturous horrors his mind could devise.)
    • In a later arc, Morpheus a.k.a. Dream and his "younger" sister Delirium have a run in with a Traffic Cop after she's driven erratically; Delirium (in a "normal" fit of randomness) curses the officer to forever feel bugs crawling all over his body. Dream points out this is a rather harsh punishment for a very minor inconvenience, but Delirium tellingly counters that it's still better than many of the things Dream has inflicted on others.
      • ...such as Morpheus condemning Nada, a former African queen, to Hell in a fit of anger after she refused to stay with him and become his queen in the Dreaming, because, as she said, "It is not for mortals to love the Endless". It took the Dream King several thousand years to forgive her and seek her forgiveness after he finally freed her from her torment.
    • Delirium inflicts the most Mind Screwing one of these ever when she is briefly detained by a semi-recurring deformed demoness with a crush on Lucifer, and proclaims "If you don't let me in, I will turn you into a demon half-face waitress night-club lady with a crush on her boss, and I'll make it so you've been that from the beginning of time to now and you'll never ever know if you were anything else and it will itch inside your head worse than little bugses!" Debate still rages about whether Delirium could have actually done that, or just knew the demon's nature and mocked it. Or whether she did do it and they're in a Stable Time Loop or . . . oh God I've gone crosseyed.
  • Thanos of Titan was, for a very long time (as comic books go), transformed into immobile stone, unable either to die or to truly live. As Thanos was in love with the personification of Death, he found this an especially horrible fate, since he expected never to see her. He eventually recovered.
    • And then, It Got Worse after she sent him back to the world of the living, now equipped with an immortal body to destroy a neighboring universe where Death itself had been killed. He was not happy, to say the least; while Thanos is usually horrifically placid, now he spent about half his time roaring with fury and grief. He succeeded in his mission, and the universe collapsed in on itself... with him at its center. Quite possibly still unable to die.
  • During yet another of his bids for total control of the entire DCU, Darkseid travelled to the Wall at the edge of the universe, behind which is The Source (presumably that which allows the superheroes to make balloon animals out of the laws of physics). Various carvings on the Wall are described as being the imprisoned forms of gods, would-be conquerors, and others who wished to control the Source. Naturally, Darkseid's face becomes the newest addition to the collection, but presumably this story was either a one-shot story or he managed to escape.
    • He's imprisoned in the Source Wall by Superman of all people, for trying to capture and corrupt Supergirl. He gets out because Superman rescues him after making a deal to save the universe with an alternate future version of Darkseid himself.
  • An issue of the Hellraiser graphic novels (based on the films, in turn based on Clive Barker's short story "The Hellbound Heart") has a pretty horrific example of this trope: when a man visits a clinic offering completely immersive VR experiences (such as sex with a movie star where the correct nerve endings are manipulated by the machine to simulate the sensations being experienced) and finds that the head of the project is keeping a test subject alive and indefinitely hooked up to a faulty machine that, while the subject was "surfing" in water during one test, experienced a glitch that turned the water into boiling lava. This is made doubly horrible by the fact that a fail-safe was installed ensuring that people hooked up to the machines cannot die in the VR simulation no matter what they are subjected to. This leaves the aforementioned test subject surfing/swimming in lava overnight before anyone realizes what has happened, effective shattering his mind. And just in case you don't think that's grotesque enough, the head of the project decides to keep the man hooked to the machine and test a variety of tortures on him, such as being slowly eaten alive by insects, having his testicles ripped apart, and worse for the sake of his own amusement...oh, and the test subject may be a shell of a human being now, but he can STILL feel pain. Come the end of the story, however, it is implied the test subject will finally be able to die when he is forcefully disconnected from the machine at the very end...thank god.
  • In the Judge Dredd story "Judgement Day", the zombie-controlling villain Sabbat was rendered immortal (even to the point of being able to survive a bullet in the head) by a large magical crystal. Dredd punished him for causing the deaths of millions of people by decapitating him and sticking his head on top of the crystal, remarking that the sentence was "life - no remission."
  • Wally West, also known as The Flash, returned from hiatus in an alternate dimension to find that the supervillain Inertia had murdered his former sidekick Bart Allen, who had been serving as the Flash in Wally's absence. This, naturally, made Wally mad as hell: his response was to hunt Inertia down and use his powers to rob the villain of all his speed, rendering him an immobile (but fully conscious and completely aware) statue... which he then placed in the Flash Museum, to stare at a statue of the man he killed for all eternity (his situation has since been reversed). Which leads one to wonder: why do so many superheroes with Thou Shalt Not Kill policies have no problem giving their enemies fates worse than death?
    • Some of them have the Thou Shalt Not Kill policies mostly to stay in line with other heroes. Batman and Black Canary have both threatened other heroes who have killed, though both of them are double standardizing. Wally thought several times about killing Inertia, including contemplating leaving him to burn in the Flash museum.
  • Speaking of comic worse-than-death fates, a rather bizarre one happened between Spider-Man's villain Carnage and the Silver Surfer several years ago. After trying to possess the latter, the Carnage Symbiote is tossed back onto the original host and is then encased in an unbreakable shell of energy much like the Surfer's own shell of silver. It's stated he's stuck like that for all eternity, but he apparently got better just in time for Venom to devour the Carnage symbiote. He got better from that too. Then later was ripped in half by The Sentry.
    • He got better again.
  • The Silver Surfer also encountered, at one point, a hideous mutation run rampant on Earth. It began to absorb all the living matter it could find (including people), growing larger and more repulsive at a constant rate until the Surfer flew it to a desolate moon where it could be properly destroyed. Unfortunately, at the last instant before he would have disintegrated the abomination, a coherent facet emerged and explained that at its core it was a thinking human being who had become the victim of an experiment gone awry. Though he begged him to end his suffering, the Surfer refused, since to kill a sentient being was anathema to his moral code. Thus, the Surfer regretfully left the creature to its interminable fate, isolated and alone. Bet the poor guy wishes he had just kept his mouth shut.
  • In the Star Wars series Dark Empire, Darth Sidious and Jedi Empatojayos Brand end up bound to each other for all eternity. But it was a Heroic Sacrifice on Brand's part.
  • In other sources from the Expanded Universe, Palpatine has his too-valuable-to-kill engineer Bevel Lemelisk (who designed the Death Star with that airshaft) killed in some Horrible way, then brings him back as a clone. This happened seven times, including flesh-eating beetles, being blown out an airlock, and being lowered inch by inch into a vat of molten copper ("It was what the smelter was making that day"), before the New Republic finally executes him for good.

Lemelisk: Just make sure you do it right this time.

  • The final fate of Batman in Final Crisis as Darkseid's Omega Sanction didn't kill him; it left him stranded lost in time and cursed with multiple lives, each one worse than the previous one.
    • Darkseid did the same thing to Mister Miracle in Seven Soldiers (which was, ultimately, a setup for FC). The same thing (though not caused by Darkseid) also happened to Donna Troy.
  • In Fables, where a character's Popularity Power determined how difficult they are to kill, Goldilocks gets one of these. She's attempting to murder two of the other characters when she gets an axe buried in the side of her head, takes a tumble down a cliff-face, gets hit full-on by a speeding semi-truck and then hurled into a river. And because her injuries were so severe she couldn't reach the surface or the shore, she describes it as "always drowning, never dying" after getting pulled out weeks later.
  • In Catwoman, the villain Black Mask decided to "improve himself" not by killing Catwoman, but by torturing and killing everyone close to her, leaving her alive to suffer through it. Catwoman, obviously not a fan of this trope, shot him in the head.
    • He recovered, and tried to finish the job. Cue Poison Ivy getting hold of his undead, unkillable (but not uninjurable) butt. Solution? Giant pitcher plant.
  • The Doctor Who Magazine story Hotel Historia, an otherwise light-hearted and frothy tale is ended with the Tenth Doctor sealing the race of marauding aliens into a nebulous state where they can neither touch nor interact in any way with anything. Ever.

Evil Alien: Have mercy!
Doctor: This is mercy. Don't make me regret it.

  • Narrowly averted in book 3 of Empowered, where the squad of Ninja that decided to claim the bounty on returning one Kaburagi Kozue (AKA Ninjette) to her clan in New Jersey (or rather the two that were not dead or mortally wounded in the fight to bring her down) decide to facilitate her return and prevent future escapes by amputating her arms and legs. It is not as if she would need them to bear heirs for the Kaburagi Clan, right? Fortunately, she's rescued just in time.
    • Played straight in book 6, which introduces the concept that a sizeable minority of superheroes are left undead after being killed, as a result of Faustian Bargains they made to gain their powers. Besides being forced into hiding and having to deal with their mutilated bodies, many of them also end up getting buried alive while fully conscious. It then gets made even worse when it is revealed that a certain villain likes to kidnap the Super Dead and super-science them into zombie slaves, still fully conscious but incapable of controlling their bodies... and those are the lucky ones.
  • In Mutopia X, two of Kaufman's henchmen are walking inside a warehouse belonging to one of Kaufman's deposed drug lord rival Frankie Zapruder. One of the henchmen is talking about Zapruder. The other henchman says "What a terrible way to end your life." To which the other henchman replies "Who said anything about him being dead?", to which Zapruder is being suspended on top of the warehouse by chains, the poor victim later gets horrific revenge on Kaufman in a method that is left to the reader's imagination.
  • Zera, the formerly drop-dead angel from David Hine's Spawn, was so loved by God that she could never die. She is later reduced to a floating head in a jar and later devoured by vicious dogs.
  • Subverted in Preacher (Comic Book), where Jesse Custer, in his final confrontation with the Meat Man who is making out with a woman made of raw meat says that he has seen many f** ed up-things in his life. Custer then says "If this is not a mercy killing, then I do not know what is.".
  • In the alternate Marvel Universe Ruins, the Gamma Bomb that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk instead turned him into a huge mass of gigantic tumors with horrific maiming all over the body, and Rick Jones claims that he is still being kept alive in a CIA facility.
  • In a Ghost Rider annual written by Warren Ellis, the Scarecrow (not the Batman villain) creates a haunted house sewn together with live human beings. Upon defeating the Scarecrow, Ghost Rider breaks every bone in the Scarecrow's body. Ghost Rider then twists every bone in the Scarecrow's body so the bones will not heal properly, thus leaving the Scarecrow as a permanently paralyzed and disjointed mess. The Scarecrow later got better.
  • In the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, Thanos turns Nebula, his alleged granddaughter, into a floating corpse who is an intermediate between life and death, not being allowed the luxury of death.
  • The Jim Corrigan Spectre saved his original flame from death, but in the process made it that she could never die. Said ex attempted suicide on numerous occasions and was left a comatose, burned wreck. In the end, Corrigan finally let her go.
  • In the Green Lantern series Sinestro Corps War we learn that Hank Henshaw loathes his own seeming immortality and wants nothing more than to finally die, demanding his own death as payment for aiding the Sinestro Corps. At the war's conclusion he is horrified to discover that he has, once again, survived what should have been complete destruction.
  • In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth it is said that Dr. Destiny's reality-warping abilities are so powerful that all he need do is look at you and you cease to be real.
  • In Judge Dredd Megazine 272, villain Dr. Vallenti was collecting the brains of psychics to create an immortal psionic form. One of the psychics ended up as the crotch of Dr. Vallenti's psionic form. Dr. Vallenti was defeated by the judges and all the psychics were able to escape the psionic body.
  • The graphic novel A History of Violence (which the movie resembles in name only) features a particularly horrific version of this. Tom, the protagonist, was involved in a retaliatory strike against the local mafia when he was a teenager, along with his best friend. They killed a number of Mooks, as well as the crime lord for that family, and stole a large amount of cash from them. Unfortunately, Tom's friend couldn't keep his mouth shut, and terrible off-screen things involving an axe happened to him. Tom, meanwhile, had to flee and disappear into obscurity. The kicker? Twenty years later, Tom finds out that his friend is still alive. And when you see what's been done to him over the last twenty years by the vengeful son of the dead crime lord, you'll understand what a fate worse than death means.
  • The final fate of Batman villain Doctor Hurt. He breaks his neck after slipping on a banana peel, gets dosed with Joker Venom, and thrown into a coffin and buried alive by The Joker. Since Doctor Hurt is apparently immortal...
  • Invoked by name by Batman in Batman, Inc #2, upon defeating the villain Lord Death Man, who has the ability to keep coming Back from the Dead. Batman throws him off a building and has Catwoman lock him inside a very cramped safe [1] which is later launched into orbit.
  • The Sandman makes Loki's punishment mentioned in the Mythology folder below even worse by breaking his neck and ripping out his eyes.
  • Nemesis the Warlock does this twice. Firstly the completely evil Torquemada is briefly trapped in a time-loop where he is burnt at the stake again and again and again. He gets better. The saga concludes with Nemesis forcibly merging with his enemy to prevent a planet exploding. They become a sort of living ship that can do nothing but travel on a infinite loop around the planet. Nemesis doesn't seem to mind, but Torquemada is heard saying When does it end?? (To which the reply is Never!). The very last panel shows the 'ship' alone in space with the caption A million years later...
  • Mr. Immortal. It turns out that since he is immortal, he will be the last being in the universe and watch our sun go out.
  • From Cracked, we have a list of 6 Psychotic Punishments Doled Out by Famous Superheroes.


Fan Works[edit | hide]


Films -- Animated[edit | hide]

  • One of the few good lines from the Aladdin sequel is the Genie Jafar's response to being reminded of his inability to kill: "You'd be surprised what you can live through."
    • The times it's used optimistically (following a revival, for example) just makes Jafar's use of it as a threat that much creepier.
    • Jafar also uses this trope's title, saying "There are things so much worse than death." (He intended for Aladdin to not only die, but die on the orders of Princess Jasmine. Which isn't really a fate worse than death so much as it is just a worse death.
  • For toys in Toy Story, it is a terrible fate to be forgotten by children, left alone and abandoned without no one to love them. Even getting shelved, like what happened to Woody and Wheezer in the second movie, is almost as bad.
    • Pixar seem to be aware of this trope as well, and are rectifying it in the next movie. Plus, considering they are "abandoned" with all of their good friends, they're hardly alone with no-one to love them.
    • Even worse is to be tossed into the garbage, and, as Stinky Pete says, "spending eternity rotting in some landfill." Conscious the entire time, until finally all your plastic parts degrade into a puddle of goo...
    • In Toy Story 3, The murderous Lotso, after leaving Andy's toys to die in the incinerator (they survive) winds up tied to the front of a garbage truck by a truck driver who had a Lotso-Hugging-Bear as a kid, with other, decayed toys strapped to the truck to show Lotso what's ultimately in store for him. Previous Big Bads, Sid and Stinky Pete, received crushing defeats but ultimately wound up better off, but this guy was so extra evil that he was given this fate instead.


Films -- Live-Action[edit | hide]

  • Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars is, according to Word of God, a man who made a Deal with the Devil... and lost. After the events of Revenge of the Sith, where he becomes Darth Vader, he is condemned to a life of constant emotional and physical pain, until the very end of Return of the Jedi.
  • Budd from Kill Bill decided that only a Fate Worse Than Death was a fitting punishment for the Bride after she broke his brother Bill's heart. So he shoots her with rock salt, ties her up, puts her in a coffin, and buries her alive. She still escapes.
    • Also Elle Driver when The Bride snatches out her remaining eye after finding out she killed her master and left Elle yelling and thrashing in Bud's trailer completely blind rather then killing her. Granted there was a Black Mamba snake in the trailer too. But even if Elle was to avoid it, she now left stranded in the middle of a desert without her eyesight.
  • In Beetlejuice, Limbo is described as "Death for the dead." It happens to ghosts who are exorcised by the living. And considering how messed-up regular dead people looked already...
  • Parodied in the kung-fu movie segment of The Kentucky Fried Movie, where the Fate Worse Than Death turns out to be... Detroit.
  • In Jeepers Creepers, the guy Derry found still alive in the basement.
  • In The Beastmaster the Big Bad turned his political enemies into mindless zombies. Also, the lizardguys that ate people.
  • Paranormal Activity, a haunted house story about a young couple, ends with Katie becoming fully possessed by a demon and killing her boyfriend. The police found Micah's body, but Katie's whereabouts are unknown.
  • Contact. Jodie Foster's character is given a Cyanide Pill before entering the Faster-Than-Light Travel machine, not only in case she's marooned light years from home, but also in case a fate that they can't possibly predict.

"There are a thousand reasons we can think of why you should have this thing with you, but mostly it's for the reasons we can't think of."

  • In Downfall, Hitler orders General Weidling's execution because he is thought to have moved his command post to the West. After his attempt to solve the misunderstanding, Hitler was impressed and appointed Weidling as the commander of the defense of Berlin.

Weidling: "I'd have preferred to be shot!"

  • From the movie Se7en, this was what the sin of Sloth receives, in the estimation of every officer on the scene.
  • In The Human Centipede, A deranged doctor kidnaps three people and decides to connect them all together via their gastric systems, (three people connected ass to mouth).
    • And the ending is even worse! The guy in front kills himself out of shame, the woman in back dies of septic poisoning, leaving the woman in the middle surgically attached to two corpses.
  • At the end of the 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, the Knave of Hearts is sent into exile along with the Queen of Hearts. Rather than be exiled with the most hated woman in the world, he tries to kill her but fails. He then begs the protagonists to kill him before being taken away.
  • Life of Brian pokes fun at this trope:

Prisoner: Oh, you'll probably get away with crucifixion.
Brian: Crucifixion?!

  • In Inception, while dying in a dream simply wakes you up, dying while dreaming and being heavily sedated puts you in a limbo, where you think you are in reality and you are trapped there for years and years and you cannot wake up at all.
  • Any Germans who survive attacks from the Bastards in the Quentin Tarantino movie Inglourious Basterds (in other words, are let go) are heavily implied to receive this sort of fate. The only way to survive an attack from the Bastards means giving up your fellow German's locations and plans, and also renounce ties to the Nazis, even declaring to burn the uniform. Even then, Aldo Raine, the Bastards' leader, will carve a swastika on the survivors' foreheads as it is the only thing they can't take off. In other words, they are going to be identified as a Nazi and disgraced for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, that's nothing that a good skin transplantation couldn't solve, even in 1940.
    • Or even just further scars to obscure what was already there, if you were truly desperate.
  • In The Duellists, suffered by General Feraud.
  • Made for TV movies Buried Alive did this to the spouses who tried to killed off husband/wife by burying them alive. In the first movie, the husband tricks his treacherous wife into going into a crawl space where the body of her accomplice is and surrounded by the money she tried to get from his death. He then nails her in as buries her completely with now way out. The second movie, the spouse that was nearly murdered gets revenge on her former husband and his accomplice by trapping them in a boat and scuttling it with them still inside. The ending showing they're still alive as the boat lies at the bottom of the ocean.
  • Played with in the movie Clue:

Professor Plum: What are you afraid of, a fate worse than death?
Mrs. Peacock: No, just death, isn't that enough?

  • What the creatures in Deep Rising do to their "food". Their victims are swallowed up, have their liquids effectively drained and whatever's left of the body being spit back out. Oh, and did we mention that you're still alive when you get spit out? Dying afterwards is a mercy.
  • By the end of Cube Zero, staying in or around the cube becomes this to Wynn. He actually tries to get himself executed by making it clear that he chooses death over the cube, but he doesn't get a choice in the matter - he already waived this right a long time ago, which he simply doesn't remember. He's lobotomized by the villains and thrown back in.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Tom Deitz' "David Sullivan" Series, the Sidhe are vulnerable to iron, which contains "the fires of the world's first making". The "Death of Iron" that the Sidhe suffer is said to leave a permanent mark on the soul of the weaker willed, causing the spirit, and any replacement body the Sidhe might build, to constantly burn and reheal for eternity, without any hope of recovery.
    • In the second book of this series, Fireshaper's Doom, we are introduced to the Horn of Annwyn, a weapon which summons otherworldly hounds, which consume not only the body but the soul. In addition to being incredibly painful, this death not only prevents the Sidhe from returning to life, but also denies mortals an afterlife. The Horn brings about the Karmic Death of Fionna, Ailill's twin sister when she tries to use it to avenge Ailill's humiliation at the hands of the protagonist (which took place at the end of the first book.
  • In Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need series, the protagonists come upon an empty town, then find a huge pile of people and horses that were burned to death. Geraden ponders if they're the ones who didn't escape. Terisa wonders if they're the ones who did escape. Turns out Terisa was right.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe features some. In The Truce At Bakura, one such example comes from the Ssi-ruuk, a species that powers its technology by ripping out one's life force and implanting it in a machine. These souls are in constant agony for the remainder of their short existence.
  • The final fate of David, the Sixth Ranger Traitor in Animorphs. Instead of killing him, the Animorphs trap him permanently in rat morph and abandon him on a barren island. Keep in mind that rats only have a lifespan of two to three years.
  • Breaking the truce of the Floating Market in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere will leave you wishing you were on the other side of your own sword.
  • In The Malazan Book of the Fallen, getting stuck in Anomander Rake's sword is the definition of this Trope. You spend eternity pulling a giant wagon while being pursued by a storm of pure chaos. No breaks, no mercy. Insanity is for the lucky. Until it gets broken, screwing with everything. That's how many people were trapped in it, some for more than 300 000 years.
  • Dementors in Harry Potter have the power to steal a person's soul (via a sort-of Kiss of Death) without killing them, turning them into an empty shell forever. Word of God has it that they're an allegorical monster representing clinical depression.

"I hope you're pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed — or worse, expelled."

Considering that those expelled from Hogwarts have their wands broken and are forbidden to use magic in a world where magic-users rule and those without it (Squibs/Muggles) are treated as second-class at best, and the best possible outcome is re-integrating into Muggle Society all the while *knowing* that there's a magic world that you can never access again...Hermione likely has the right of it.
    • Aside from agonizing pain, overuse of the Cruciatus curse can lead to severe psychological trauma. The Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom, Neville's parents, were driven permanently and irretrievably insane by prolonged exposure to Cruciatus.
    • Though he doesn't experience this trope directly, it's eventually learned that Voldemort's greatest weakness is that he cannot conceive of a worse fate than death, meaning his obsession with becoming immortal renders him vulnerable to other, equally or more unpleasant fates; see the "King's Cross" chapter of Deathly Hallows for the one that he fell prey to after his death. At the end of the fifth book, Dumbledore fires a very powerful spell. It is blocked, and we never see what it does, but when Voldemort mocks Dumbledore for not seeking to kill him, Dumbledore merely responds, "We both know there are other ways of destroying a man, Tom." This is lampshaded by Harry Potter himself... in the first book. "If you're going to be cursed forever, death's better, isn't it?"
  • Lady Lilith of Witches Abroad is condemned to run on and on, endlessly, through the mirror world, until she finds the one reflection that's real. This is a fitting fate because it reflects the mirror magic that Lilith used to make so many people miserable, and because it is easily escapable if only she knew herself thoroughly—Granny gets the same fate but escapes it immediately.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: When Jaime thinks a prisoner is lying to him, he mentions, "We have oubliettes beneath the Casterly Rock that fit a man as tight as a suit of armor. You can’t turn in them, or sit, or reach down to your feet when the rats start gnawing at your toes. Would you care to reconsider that answer?”
    • What's become of Theon Greyjoy in A Dance With Dragons. Could also be a case of Be Careful What You Wish For for the fans: how many of them wanted to see Theon suffer horribly after he sacked Winterfell and murdered two children to trick Westeros into thinking he's killed Bran and Rickon Stark.
  • The Total Perspective Vortex in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which gives anyone who has to go into it a momentary view of the entire universe, and themselves in relation to it, resulting in insanity through loss of all sense of self-worth. When Zaphod Beeblebrox goes into it, it doesn't work, because the universe he's in is actually a simulated universe, created specifically for Zaphod. This makes him the most important thing in the universe - as he always thought to be - so he is immune to the Vortex's effects.
    • Also:

Ford: If we're lucky, it's just the Vogons come to throw us in to space.
Arthur: And if we're unlucky?
Ford: If we're unlucky, the captain might be serious in his threat that he's going to read us some of his poetry first...

  • Room 101 in 1984, where prisoners are tortured with their greatest fear and psychologically broken.
  • In Dearly Devoted Dexter, the main villain does things so disgusting to his victims. "Yodeling potato".
    • The worst part of that example is it's partly real. Don't read this next part. The sequence of removing a subject's limbs was practiced on those prisoners of Japanese Army Medical Unit 731 who were selected for biological and chemical weapons testing. Since they would need to be kept in reasonable health until death, it was deemed easier to provide for subjects with less body mass and therefore needed less nutrients. That said there was as with many if not all WWII medical experiments, an element of simple sadism involved in this calculation.
  • In the same vein as Dexter, Serial Killer Patrick Bateman from American Psycho commits some of the most sadistic and gruesome tortures ever conceived by the imagination. In fact, Bateman actually keeps his victims alive intentionally longer, just so they can experience more agony.
  • So do some characters in Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné saga and the Dorian Hawkmoon saga.
    • Prince Gaynor the Damned is subjected to a horrible eternal punishment after he, the former Champion of the Balance, falls from grace and is forced to serve the Lords of Chaos.
  • In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Death and Life-in-Death gamble for the Mariner. Life-in-Death wins, to the Mariner's sorrow.
  • The Stephen King short story "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French," which depicts a despairing woman caught in a time loop that ends in a horrid plane crash. Evidently she is dead and in Hell, and Hell is repetition.
    • Another Stephen King short story (turned movie) is 1408. The protagonist is tortured by a "fucking evil [hotel] room" (think the hotel from The Shining but concentrated) before setting himself on fire, escaping, and possibly destroying the room to boot. However, no one escapes 1408, not even survivors: he's still haunted by his experiences - he feels uneasy in his own house, he has to find something else to write about now that he can't handle "haunted houses", and he has to cover the windows during sunset, which reminds him of the fire - and it's fairly certain he's going to be like this for the rest of his life.
    • In The Movie, here's how the room works: Nobody has survived more than one hour in the room. During that hour, the room will physically and emotionally torture you. And if you somehow manage to survive and not commit suicide, it will begin all over again until you decide to do it. "You can choose to repeat this hour over and over again, or you can take advantage of our express checkout system".
    • King's The Stand gets brought up a lot with this. This quote is a good one, in the crucifixion scene of one of the Vegas characters. "There were worse things than death. There were teeth."
  • The novelette A Colder War (Go now! Don't read the spoilers, read the story! It's free!) by Charles Stross details an alternate-history Cold War where the Soviets have retrieved the sleeping Cthulhu and entombed in it in a silo as the ultimate weapon of Mutually Assured Destruction. Things get out of hand. Cthulhu is deployed and the United States' entire XK-PLUTO arsenal fails to stop it. The protagonist, a few politicians and a small military force are all who manage to escape, through an eldritch stargate, to a dead, frozen world. The story ends with the tiny shellshocked population, going through the motions in a domed compound under an alien sky, unable to do anything. The protagonist is unable to bring himself to commit suicide. And it is implied that he may never have escaped at all.
    • And they are the lucky ones. Those who were left behind at Earth were swallowed up by Yog-Sothoth, and exist for eternity as a part of its being, conscious but unable to do anything.
  • Obviously, the book A Fate Totally Worse Than Death (which was later filmed as Bad Girls from Valley High), in which three murderous teenage girls known as "the Huns of Cliffside High" begin to to age rapidly, and believe themselves to be cursed by the ghost of the girl whose death they caused the year before.
  • Lester Del Rey wrote a story in 1940 or 1941, before the US joined WWII, detailing Hitler's fate. A scientist (implied to be Jewish in the story) invents a time machine that, instead of moving a person through time, brought future versions of himself to the present and gives him full control over the "clones." The scientist uses his machine to summon hundreds upon hundreds of Hitler "clones." Nearly a day after the machine is first used, the oldest of the Hitler "clones" confronts Hitler and the scientist and spouts off nonsensical gibberish about things like trying to run away only to be brought back again. Hitler shoots him dead. The scientist then reveals that, as was his intention all along, Hitler is now condemned to relive the same 24-hour period over and over again from a different point of view until he finally finds himself staring down the barrel of his own gun in his final moments.
  • There was a short story in one of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction anthologies of the 1980s about a protagonist (and everyone around him) being trapped in a Groundhog Day Loop that got steadily shorter, from hours to minutes and then mere seconds, until he couldn't even get to the end of a thought. The sequence always started over exactly the same, with him being trapped on a traffic island, and the drivers of the cars around him likewise going in circles forever and ever... the protagonist speculates that Earth may have fallen into a travelling singularity or that Time has actually ended because the universe was imploding, but essentially they are trapped in hell, going insane, and no hope even for death to deliver them.
  • Cordwainer Smith's A Planet Called Shayol centers around a prison planet where people are infected with a healing symbiont that works so well that not only does it make infectees immortal, but it also causes them to grow extra organs and limbs, which are subsequently harvested for transplants.
  • In The Wheel of Time losing the ability to channel is considered a fate worse than death, as channeling is shown to be quite pleasurable and addictive. One character who temporarily loses the ability to channel compares it to losing the sun. The general rule is that the person will lose the will to live, and die. One character was famed, as having brought a country to his knees, and the next book has him guarded by one girl, whose job is to prevent him from committing suicide. Lady Colavaere hangs herself rather than live the rest of her life on a farm, powerless. Tuon, after returning from being kidnapped and marrying her kidnapper, sentences Suroth, who tried to order her death, to become a Da'Covale (a slave that wears see through fabric), Suroth's only thought is of the knife in her bedroom that she now can't use to cut herself. Semirhage specialized in this; getting sexual pleasure out of torture, some captives were known to use their teeth to open the veins in their wrist to escape Semirhage's tortures since she would occasionally keep them alive.
    • And now, Mesaana has found herself in this condition. She tried to use the reality-shaping properties of the World of Dreams to reshape Egwene into a slave and wound up trying too hard, snapping her own mind and leaving herself the permanent mental equivalent of an infant. Interestingly, this fate is FAR worse than death for her specifically, since the Dark One might have been able to revive her if she'd just died.
  • The newest novel of the Inheritance Cycle has two examples of this:
    • On the one hand, Eragon's punishment for Sloan is to be consigned almost to a Flying Dutchman curse: forced "To Walk the Land Alone", driven by a constant compulsion to seek out the land of the elves, there to remain 'even unto your dying day', living with the knowledge that he can never see, touch, or talk to his daughter Katrina ever again, and that she is with Roran and happy, without him--even though Eragon explicitly says he knows Katrina is more important to Sloan than anything else. Granted, Sloan did turn against Carvahall which caused death for one of its citizens, and Eragon has promised that if Sloan truly repents of his misdeeds and becomes a better person, the elves will restore his sight and he will be released from his oath due to his True Name being changed.
    • The fate of the dragons belonging to the Forsworn is even worse: in the Banishing of the Names, they were stripped of any means of identifying themselves--given names, nicknames, true names, titles, until they could not even make 'I' statements since these named themselves. Nor could they be called dragons. Reduced to little more than animals, the spell obliterated everything that defined them as thinking creatures, until they descended into complete ignorance. No one can remember their names, utter them, or even read them anymore. As Arya herself says, "The experience was so disturbing, at least five of the thirteen, and several of the Forsworn, went mad as a result." Those dragons turned against the Dragons and the Riders and willingly aided in the slaughter of both parties, to the point where the Riders were whittled down to Eragon, Brom, and a severely-weakened Oromis. The Dragons, meanwhile, numbered five at the beginning of the series: Shruikan, Galbatorix's enslaved dragon, Glaedr, Oromis' also-crippled dragon, and three eggs. So one could say that this Fate Worse Than Death was actually too lenient.
  • In The Dresden Files, Winter Knight Lloyd Slate suffers a particularly gruesome example of this at the hands of Mab - he's entombed in ice, crucified on a tree of the same, until he's almost dead from frostbite and exhaustion... at which point Mab takes him out, feeds him, heals him, and takes him to bed with her, only to return him to his torture when we wakes up. Mab has stated that the only way from him to be freed, and subsequently die, is to have Harry take over his position as Winter Knight. And Mab wonders why Harry doesn't want the job.
    • Well... Lea did mention the possibility that if Dresden continues to refuse the title long enough, Mab might kill Slate when he's completely and utterly broken... that is, when he's gone so completely insane that he starts to look forward to his crucifixion with joy because of the kindness Mab shows him after she takes him down.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels, Soric is handed over to the Black Ships. Hark finds him several books later, cries (which all the deaths have not drawn from him), and at his request, kills him.
  • David Eddings gives us two; the fates of Zedar, sealed in rock forever, in the Belgariad and Zalasta and Baron Parok, burning in frozen time forever, in the Tamuli.
  • The Star Trek Expanded Universe has quite a few:
    • In Peter David's Vendetta, a throwaway character achieves Warp 10 (the Star Trek term for infinite speed, meaning you occupy all all points in the universe at once). She ends up trapped into thinking she's almost at Warp 10 forever.
    • In "The Brave and the Bold", the villain Malkus was trapped for 10,000 years in the instruments of his handiwork. After the events in the novels, he's trapped for considerably longer.
  • In Jeffrey Sackett's Mark of the Werewolf, Janos Kaldy becomes the eponymous werewolf every full moon, whose only purpose is to dismember and eat people, and turn self-serving priests into werewolves themselves. He spends three thousand years attempting suicide, which is hampered by being immortal and Nigh Invulnerable no matter which form he's in. He and Claudia get better. Neville doesn't.
  • "The Boy Who Couldn't Die". The main character gets one of these for not doing enough research.
  • In The Edge Chronicles, anyone who wanders into the Twilight Woods is immortal as long as they stay there. However, the woods also make any unsuspecting travelers go insane, and despite the immortality, you can be very much hurt, more or less rotting away while unable to die or even go comatose, and also completely insane and lost. In the series, this fate is indeed actually inflicted on some characters, with no evidence as to if they ever escape, except Tem Barkwater, who makes it out.
  • Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Raises Hell deals out such fates to three of the villains (which for two of them is deliciously karmic): the ifrit, the vampire priestess, and Nick, the smug weretiger, are tricked (in the case of the first two) and outright thrown into Grant's magical cabinet. The priestess, at the time, is on fire...and all of them are presumably doomed to be trapped in this world's version of Cthulhuverse, imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise driven mad, forever.
    • But like the above poster said, it's only karmic for two of them. Those are the priestess and Nick, not the ifrit. Even though the ifrit was the killer, he was just enslaved and forced to kill all those people throughout the book by the other two. His last words before imprisonment were begging to see his wife and children again. Talk about a Downer Ending.
  • In one of Simon R. Green's Nightside novels, John and Suzie confront some demons. In an attempt to intimidate them, the demons show them their lunch: a young woman, half consumed, yet still conscious and suffering. Recognizing this trope when she sees it, Suzie immediately shoots the woman in the head, then proclaims there are some things she won't stand for.
  • In Gav Thorpe's Warhammer 40,000 novel Angels of Darkness, one of the Fallen, captured by the Dark Angels, tells his torturer his full story (as he claims to be true). He is told that he will not be killed. He will be carefully tended and kept alive, imprisoned and able to listen the scream of Luther, who is also alive and imprisoned forever. By the end of the novel, his torturer is convinced that he is right, and when sending off his final message, asks that someone tell the prisoner that he was not wrong—but he also knows that they will not deliver such a message.
  • H.P. Lovecraft's Through the Gates of Silver Key; Randolph Carter ends up trapped inside the body of a monstrous creature, that lives on a planet full of creatures like it, and worse. He tries to take control and get free, but seconds before success the monster takes control completely, and ruins everything.
    • Also used in The Colour Out Of Space, in which the Mercy Killing takes place off-camera. The narrative explicitly states that leaving the victim alive under the circumstances would've been a damning offense.
  • Being separated from your daemon in His Dark Materials.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, when John Carter saved Dejah Thoris from Attempted Rape, and they try to escape, she tells him:

"If we make it, my chieftain, the debt of Helium will be a mighty one; greater than she can ever pay you; and should we not make it," she continued, "the debt is no less, though Helium will never know, for you have saved the last of our line from worse than death."

    • In The Synthetic Men of Mars heroine Janai tells the narrator, Vor Daj of Helium, that he is fortunate to be a man, all he has to fear is death. As it happens she's dead wrong.
  • The fate of children caught by the Other Mother in Coraline seem to be this, given they thank Coraline after she rescues them even though they are still dead.
  • In The Princess Bride, Westley threatens Humperdinck with this in his To the Pain speech.
  • In Deltora Quest, this happened to Doran many years ago. Namely, he became the Guardian of one of the very thing he sets out to destroy in the first place, a Sister.
  • In The Silmarillion, Maedhros is hung from a cliff by his right hand. For years.
  • Jean-Paul Satre's No Exit sticks three unrelated individuals in a room without any means of escape. They are not only dead, but each has a personality that psychologically leaves another feeling tortured while being capable of torturing another his/herself. Hence, they will drive each other mad for all eternity.
  • In the Dragonlance novel 'Dragons of Spring Dawning' after Dark Action Girl Kitiara finally captures her romantic rival, Laurana, she decides to torture Laurana to death and then have her soul given to the Death Knight, Lord Soth, so the innocent Laurana will suffer in undeath for all eternity.
  • In Rainbow Six, Clark orders the survivors to remove all of their clothes and walk into the forest without any of civilization's aids, then leaves them behind, telling them that if they want to commune with nature so much, they should go commune. As Chavez wryly points out, even he himself—with all his equipment and training (Ranger School, among others)-- would have a tough time surviving in such an environment. Let's see these sheltered folks enjoy the deadly jungle.
  • Dematerialisation (the process of having your physical body destroyed while within the Twilight, either as a consequence of being killed within it or spending too long in it so that it drains all of your energy) in the Night Watch series is implied to be worse than regular death. Whereas the Others are unsure of what becomes of regular humans after death, they do know that dematerilised Others are forced to linger in the Twilight as impotent and possibly mindless shades, and meeting such a shade is traditionally accompanied by wishing that they may eventually find peace. The "worse than death" part comes from the fact that a sentence of being hanged is considered preferable to dematerialisation, implying that Others killed through regular means don't linger in the Twilight, and that this is considered better. And since it appears that all Others can live practically forever without succumbing to age or disease, and are virtually immune to natural weapons, that the ultimate fate of all of them is to dematerialise.
  • Harlan Coben novel Gone For Good features an ex-pimp named Louis Castman; when hearing that one of his girls is going to run away and elope with a client she has fallen in love with, he brutally disfigures her (and as repeatedly mentioned, not just her face) so that her fiance won't want to be with her anymore. It works, but before the guy sees the poor girl he shoots Castman in the spine, rendering him unable to move anything below his neck. The girl, now broken and miserable, keeps Castman alive for as long as possible in a room sealed with cork, with nothing to do at all, just stare at pictures of her when she was pretty. He comes to wait longingly for ex-girls of his to come over and humiliate him, because it's better than lying immobilized in a cot and soiling yourself, with no one to hear you scream.
  • Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels provides the "best" example of a fate worse than death-- eternal life without eternal youth.
  • E.E. Smith's Lensmen: Grey Lensman - The Eich and the Overlord who have Kinnison captured debate how to deal with him—kill him immediately, or infect his limbs and his eyes with a fungous growth that will demand their removal, and then suck his life-force almost dry:

"Which is worse: to find and bury with full military honours a corpse, however mutilated, or to find and have to take care of, for a full human lifetime, a something which has not enough functioning intelligence to swallow food placed in its mouth."

  • Glen Duncan's I, Lucifer has Lucifer faced with the prospect of being left alone in the infinite void once God destroys existence in armageddon. For all eternity. Unless he finally repents.
  • In Neuropath, a device is implanted in Frankie's head that stimulates the part of his brain that causes fear, meaning that he is in permanent agony which nothing can stop.
  • In The Berkut by Joseph Heywood, Hitler is captured alive by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. Stalin has him imprisoned, naked, in a hanging cage deep in a sub-basement of the Kremlin. The cage is too small for Hitler to stand or lie or even extend his limbs fully. He is thus unable to sleep for more than a short time before the pain from his joints wakes him. He is never allowed to leave the cage, even to urinate or defecate, and is not allowed to wash, so he is forced to live in his own filth. One leg and the other foot become infected and later have to be amputated to keep him alive. Over many years he degenerates into a senile bestial creature. And Stalin visits him every week to gloat.
  • Quantum Gravity: In Chasing the Dragon, Tath is attacked by angels in his domain, so they can't kill him. This does not stop them from trying.

Malachi: But how did you best them?
Tath: I am not sure I did. They left me here when it was clear I couldn't be killed. I healed too fast. [voice breaks, turns away] Better to die in those circumstances, Malachi.

  • Quaid, the antagonist of the Clive Barker short story Dread, discovers, in his pursuit of a relief for his phobia, a fate worse than death. In his efforts to understand dread and find a cure for his own, he breaks the mind of someone whose trust he had earned, and then casually tosses the poor kid aside. This young man then returns to pay Quaid back, unintentionally personifying Quaid's deepest fear. He then proceeds to slowly carve the villain up with a fireaxe, aiming his strikes so that his victim doesn't die quickly.

Quaid knew, meeting the clown's vacant stare through an air turned bloody, that there was worse in the world than dread. Worse than death itself. There was pain without hope of healing. There was life that refused to end, long after the mind had begged the body to cease.

"He told me what he was going to do to me!" she panted. "Kill me! Kill me with your sword before he bursts the door!"

    • In "A Witch Shall Be Born", Valerius declares this, though in actually he goes for La Résistance.

Oh, Ishtar, why was I not slain? Better die than live to see our queen turn traitor and harlot!

  • Matron Baenre has a fate worse than death in store for Drizzt Do'Urden in Starless Night, having him tortured almost to death, then magically healed, and then tortured almost to death again, ad infinitum, for centuries. Made more horrifying when it's mentioned that the same fate has befallen others, who aren't lucky enough to get rescued as Drizzt finally is. Then there's what happened to Dinin: being turned into a drider, a repulsive creature whose very existence is torment.
  • In The Hunger Games, all Katniss wants to do is to get out of the arena alive with Peeta. After she tricks the Gamemakers into letting them both live, Haymitch warns her that she has upset the Capitol. This leads to her realizing "It's so much worse than being hunted in the arena. There, I could only die. End of story. But out here Prim, my mother, Gale, the people of District 12, everyone I care about back home could be punished..."
    • There's also the consistent theme of former Victors living horrible lives of drunkenness, substance abuse, or being driven mad by the trauma of what happened in the arena. Oh, and some of them get forced into prostitution, like Finnick.
  • Kushiel's Legacy gives us, in the third book and through the second trilogy, the Mahrkagir who inflicts all manner of sexual tortures on his harem. A lot of his harem kill or starve themselves to death, with an added psychological component for Phedre, who is cursed to feel all that pain from someone she hates as pleasure.
  • In Everfound, Squirrel gets this. He is touched by a scar wraith which erases him from the universe, no afterlife, nothing. It's a bit odd since most of the characters are already dead.
  • Or rather 'undeath' in The Witch Watch's case. An abomination could have there head cut off and buried underground and you 'could dig his head up today and still find him screaming for release.'
    • Also the people who crossed Lord Mordaunt were also threatened with a fate worse than death.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

Crow: (despairing) To be dead, to be nothing... to watch Neptune Men no more...

  • In an episode of CSI ("Ellie") a drugs-mule starts to feel ill and comments that he is going to die. Brass responds "it's worse, you're going to live".
  • Angel: Wolfram & Hart's holding facility for their troublesome employees; on surface it's a banally normal suburb, but every inhabitant must every day go in the cellar of their homes to have their hearts cut out by a demon, only to forget it ever happened, except for impending sense of dread. Every day. Illyria rescues Charles Gunn from the place, and learning that somebody must always take the place of the departed, both disturbingly and awesomely forces the torturer demon himself to be that somebody. The final scene from the place shows the demon strapping himself to the table, and putting knife to his own chest.
  • On the Joss Whedon trend, the Reavers from Firefly are probably something like this.

Zoe: If they catch us, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skin on to their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it In That Order.

    • In some cases, they take one victim and let them live while forcing them to watch. In the end, after they've witnessed such evil, they have no choice but to become it. That's how new Reavers are made.
    • Also, in Serenity, River asks Simon to kill her, partially to protect the crew, but also because she does not want to be taken back to the Academy.
  • In Blackadder Goes Forth, Blackadder is captured by the Germans, and is visited in his cell by a German commander who threatens him with a fate worse than death... unless he attempts to escape, in which case he'll suffer a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Although Blackadder immediately thinks of the term's origin, the fate worse than death turns out to be teaching home economics at a girls school in Heidelberg. Designed to strike at the very soul of a man of honour, it doesn't have the expected effect on Blackadder.

von Richthoven: For you, as a man of honour, the hu-mil-i-ation will be unbearable.

  • In the Doctor Who episode "Flesh and Stone", Amy is forced to make her way through a forest full of Weeping Angels, with her eyes closed, to escape a crack in the universe. When she protests, the Doctor’s reply is: "The Angels can only kill you." If she is caught by the crack, it will erase her entire existence.
    • The Master's life could be seen as this—having drums inside your head for a thousand years would drive anyone mad!
    • Donna's initial fate: Because a human mind cannot handle Time Lord knowledge, she was in danger of dying. To save her, the Doctor had to erase all her memories of her travels with him, erasing all her Character Development, just as she realized she was important (and right as she saved the universe). Things get better for her, but this is probably one of the sadder fates for a companion ever.
    • In "A Good Man Goes to War", it's revealed that the Sontarans punish the worst crimes against their race by forcing the perpetrators to serve as medics on the battlefield. Because the Sontarans are a Proud Warrior Race Guy, being forced to serve the weak and injured is deemed the ultimate humiliation.
    • "The Five Doctors" revolves around a Time Lord seeking the secrets of Rassilon to obtain true immortality, as opposed to the "mere" extremely long life of a Time Lord. He gets his wish, as an immobile stone statue. Forever.
    • In "The Family of Blood", all four of the eponymous family are inflicted with a custom-made version of this trope, in the process learning why you never, ever, ever make the Doctor mad.
    • "Planet of the Ood" has a ruthless CEO personally market the peaceful, squid-like Ood as slaves worldwide. The CEO's fate? He gets turned into one of the very creatures he's been mistreating.
  • In the Torchwood episode Children of Earth, Jack got trapped in cement until his boy toy came to the rescue. Then the show proceeds to painfully remind us why being immortal sucks. Like watching your love die in his arms, knowing he himself can never die permanently. Really, this show has worked hard to assure viewers that Jack's brand of immortality would be utterly agonizing.
    • Before his entombment, Jack underwent the prolonged and (judging from the screams) extremely painful process of regrowing his body after being blown up by a bomb implanted in his lower torso. Lampshaded when a witness to this resurrection comments that he'd have been better off staying dead.
    • "Adrift", where they introduce Flat Holm, a place for people who had been taken by the Rift and returned. They suffered horrors and can never see their families again. Then you have Jonah, who had been trapped on a burning planet, saw the destruction of a solar system, and looked into a Dark Star. Which drove him insane. Now he screams for Twenty. Hours. A. Day.
    • Miracle Day turns Who Wants to Live Forever? Up to Eleven. Nobody, no matter how badly injured, can die. This leads to a particularly disturbing scene wherein a suicide bomber's "remains" are being examined by a medical team. His body has been largely blown apart and what little is left is burned, but the guy is still alive and appears to be conscious. Even when they sever the remaining tissue connecting his head to the rest of him.
  • Ascertained and subsequently often subverted in Highlander the Series. Many Immortals suffer from a Fate Worse Than Death. Others (like Duncan) want to be mortal so they can die, but continue to fight to keep their heads.
  • On Stargate SG-1 the system lord Ba'al once had the captured Jack O'Neill tortured to death repeatedly and then revived in the sarcophagus, only to start again the next day.
    • Apophis was tortured the same way (possibly worse, since it was not to draw information) by Sokar.
    • Anubis ends up locked in an eternal battle with Oma Desala, leaving him no ability to do anything except fight to survive. And his egotistical nature would never allow him to just give up and let Oma kill him. The same probably applies to Adria in her struggle with Ganos Lal (aka Morgan Le Fey), as the effect of Morgan taking Adria away looked the same as Oma doing the same to Anubis. The true victims of a Fate Worse Than Death are Oma and Morgan, locked in eternal combat with Evil Overlords. Now that is a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • The experience of being used as a host by a Goa'uld for thousands of years, a meat puppet with no control of their body whatsoever, forced to endure both the atrocities the Goa'uld commit and their Genetic Memory (filled with innumerable other atrocities), will drive humans insane. Despite this, Ba'al's host seems to be okay after being separated from the symbiote. Technically both the host and the symbiote were clones of the original Ba'al and his host, and only a couple of years old. But the clone host would still (due to the Genetic Memory of the Goa'uld and the fact that freed hosts retain their symbiotes' memories) remember being a host for thousands of years. However, Ba'al is implied to be an Anti-Villain. Vala Mal Doran seems to be doing alright as well.
    • In the Season Two episode "The Gamekeeper", SG-1 is imprisoned in a virtual reality realm and forced to live the worst moments of their lives over and over again. They eventually escape.
    • Stargate Atlantis' Wraith are capable of sending people to the very brink of dying by old age... then return them to normal... then take them back to the brink... again, and again, and again.
  • One episode of The Twilight Zone had a Nazi war criminal be tortured by the angry spirit of a Holocaust victim by experiencing the pain his victims felt before they died. He was eventually driven insane before being found by authorities, and the spirit warned that it would continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.
    • The end of the infamous "Time Enough at Last" always seemed like this trope. (Spoilers just in case) Imagine this: you're the last person alive, with enough food to last you a lifetime and all the books you could ever want to read and no one will make fun of you for it. You pick up the first book... and your reading glasses fall off and break. No more ability to read.
    • The Ironic Hell episodes also count. You love gambling? Great. You'll always win.
  • In the Star Trek franchise, being assimilated by the Borg and converted into one of their drones is considered this. Captain Picard explicitly says in Star Trek: First Contact that the Enterprise crew will be doing their assimilated colleagues a favor by killing them.
    • In the original series, there was the ending of "The Alternative Factor", which left the matter and anti-matter Lazaruses trapped between universes, at each other's throats for eternity. It's compounded by Fridge Logic when you realize they really just had to imprison the insane Lazarus and destroy his ship to protect the two universes.
  • Vic Mackey of The Shield ... Oh, dear, Vic Mackey. Specifically: He cuts a deal with the feds - specifically, I.C.E. - that he helps bring in a major drug lord in exchange for immunity for past crimes (And Vic has A LOT of them) just as Claudette and the LAPD were about to close in on him. Looks like he's pulled a Karma Houdini and is about to start his dream job with Homeland Security. But then, best-friend turned fugitive Shane kills himself and his family, and leaves a suicide note blaming everything on Vic. Claudette reads the letter to the dumb-struck Vic. Then, while he's still reeling from that, arrests the last remaining Strike Team member, Ronnie, for all the stuff Vic had already copped to. Vic had lied to him about including him in the deal with the Feds. Ronnie proceeds to let the entire Barn know exactly what kind of bastard Vic was. And he screwed over Ronnie for nothing. Part of the deal was protection for Vic's estranged wife, Corrine. But she'd cut a deal with Claudette to try and snare Vic. So she was never in danger. AND she's put an order of protection out against Vic and took the kids into Witness Protection. With his reputation in shreds, Vic goes back to ICE headquarters to settle into his new life... only to be informed that he'll be spending the entirety of his ICE tenure as a paper pusher, assigned to fill out daily ten-page reports and if he quits or doesn't live up to expectation, his deal is voided and all the stuff he confessed to - up to and including murdering a fellow cop - comes into play. Worse than prison for a Cowboy Cop like Vic. Family gone, friends dead or betrayed, and career in tatters, the last scene of the show shows Vic seriously contemplating eating his gun, but deciding to soldier on.
  • Kings: Silas decides to spare his gay son Jack because he's already found a better punishment for him. As Thomasina explains when she brings Jack's wife to his room: "Your father wants for you a living death. To brick you into a wall with someone who loves you, who you can't stand the sight of... until you produce an heir whom Silas will take and raise right this time." When Jack begs her for mercy, she twists the knife: it's not so bad, all he has to do is close his eyes and think of his dead lover.
  • Supernatural's version of Hell. You're tortured, daily, in unimaginable ways, for decades on end, unless you agree to do the same to others. Main character Dean is able to hold out for thirty years before giving in. Although his dad, John, held out for one hundred years, and never gave any sign of giving in. "Stuff legends are made of," indeed. John might have had the benefit of knowing the purpose of his incarceration. Once he or Dean were to give in, the first seal is broken on Lucifer being able to walk free.
    • To take it up a notch, the end of season five had Sam throw himself into hell's solitary confinement with vengeful archangels Fallen Angel Lucifer and Michael to lock them away so they didn't raze the world. He thought they'd get to spend eternity torturing him creatively for this, but lucked out and was freed after only a hundred and eighty years or so.
  • An episode of Star Trek: Voyager begins with an encounter with a Q who had been condemned to be trapped in an asteroid for all eternity, and therefore sought asylum from Captain Janeway so that he could commit suicide. Court trial and Moral Dilemma ensue.
  • In Babylon 5 people who die while in the middle jump of entering either hyperspace or realspace well be trapped that way, forever dying at that one moment. Made even worse by the indications that the people this happens to might be conscious of what's happening to them.
    • Being made to be the pilot of a Shadow vessel. Body Horror aside, the experience fundamentally changes you. You're no longer the same person you were before, despite having all the same memories. This is revealed to be the explicit fate of Anna Sheridan.
  • Lost: In "Across The Sea", Jacob provides his brother with one of these when after his brother kills their Mother, Jacob shoves him into the light of the world that the brothers are tasks to protect and creates the Smoke Monster. Having your soul separated from your body and chained to the Island as a pillar of black smoke strikes me is the ultimate fate worse than death.
  • Tales from the Crypt: "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" features an Amoral Attorney who gets tried in a nightmarish Kangaroo Court. She is eventually sentenced to death, but her public defender talks the judge into giving her public service. She is led into a room with the electric chair, which alarms her...until the defender steps forward and straps himself in. He reveals that he was once an attorney like her, until he ended up in the court. But now he's free thanks to her. After he is killed, the woman is suddenly wearing his outfit, now stuck working in the courts forever.
    • "Loved to Death" has essentially a Stalker with a Crush pining away for a neighbor. A Love Potion gets her interest and he's happy at first, but she becomes increasingly obsessive and clingy. It gets to the point where poisoning a drink becomes an option. However, he winds up drinking the poison and dies. In the afterlife, he thinks he's going to get some peace, but then the girl shows up. She says she couldn't live without him, so she killed herself by jumping out a window, which disfigured her. She happily announces they'll be together forever - a sentiment he clearly doesn't share.
    • "Abra Cadaver": As revenge for a prank gone wrong, a doctor induces a heart attack in a younger jerk of a brother and injects him with an experimental drug meant to keep his brain alive. Clinically dead and unable to move, the younger brother is put through the process of being a cadaver for a medical school. Turns out to just be an elaborate prank in itself with no harm meant, as well as to show that the older brother's drug does work. However, the younger brother suffers a second heart attack and seemingly dies, but not before another injection. The younger brother's brain is still alive, as his autopsy begins. And he can feel everything!
  • Being a zombie in the Being Human (UK) universe is implied to suck big time. Zombies are created under very rare circumstances; when a person dies but something blocks their transition to the afterlife, their soul will sometimes remain within their corpse. They can think and feel pain as though they were still alive, but they can 'survive' serious injuries such as having internal organs removed. When humans first encounter them, they are subjected to medical experiments, and later incinerated as a biohazard; because undeath makes them immune to anesthetics, they are fully conscious throughout the procedure. Their souls are denied passage into the afterlife until their bodies decay beyond the point of being able to sustain them, during which time they can feel their own bodies decomposing from within.
  • Barnabas Collins from the soap opera Dark Shadows was turned into a vampire, which made him undead, then he had to watch his beloved little sister discover what he was and run away into a storm, which led to an illness, which led to her death; then the love of his life committed suicide in front of him so that he could not turn her into a vampire, then his father found out about his condition and stowed him in his coffin in a room of the family mansion, hoping to find a cure. Then Barnabas' mother promptly discovered the whole thing and committed suicide with poison, again, right in front of Barnabas. At the last, Barnabas begged his father to kill him, but the old man couldn't bear to do it, so instead, he just chained Barnabas inside a coffin in a hidden part of the family mausoleum, where Barnabas remained for almost 200 years.
  • Discussed in House, as noted in the page quote. Wilson notes that a Fate Worse Than Death for House would be the loss of his rational faculties.
  • On The Vampire Diaries, vampires mummify when deprived of blood for an extended period of time, but until that happens they are in an extreme state of hunger and agony.
  • In The River;; Jonas is subjected to this after filming a native death ritual. Specifically, he is cursed to forever be hanged by the forest's vines, experiencing pain but never death.


Music[edit | hide]

  • A song called "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye", tells about a soldier (named Johnny), who came home alive from a war, but is so horribly disfigured and crippled that even his family could not recognize him. Since he can no longer walk or use his arms and hands, they decided to have him beg on the streets (Ye're an armless, boneless, chickenless egg Ye'll have to put with a bowl out to beg;). The lyrics said very pleasing things about his loss of legs and arms (Where are your legs that used to run, hurro, hurro; Ye haven't an arm, ye haven't a leg, hurroo, hurroo), him being overly skinny (So low in flesh, so high in bone;). (This is the original form of the US Civil War song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The Yanks prettied it up.)
  • The song "One" by Metallica details the life of a soldier, after he loses all his limbs, his sight, his speech, and his hearing due to a landmine. He has machines that breathe for him, and so he's unable to die. His mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body.

Darkness, imprisoning me! All I see, absolute horror! I cannot live, I cannot die! Trapped in myself, body my holding cell!

    • In fact, the song is based upon the book Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (in fact, the only changed detail is that the landmine in "One" was originally a grenade); in the book, the protagonist (who is actually named Joe) at one point attempts to signal "KILL ME" in Morse code by tapping his head against his pillow. That's in the song too. The drumbeat during the guitar solo is the Morse code.
  • In Hitobashira Alice (Alice Human Sacrifice), the Third Alice is condemned to live forever seeing herself as a decaying body, as a punishment for fooling and using people to become a queen. Whether it was an illusion or if she was constantly decaying until she rotted completely is debatable; either way, both punishments are valid for this trope.
  • Len's fate in the song Re_Birthday (which is very possibly a continuation of the Evil Series). He is doomed to spend eternity in an empty room with his hands bound in red handcuffs (representing blood shed) and his ankles bound in blue shackles (representing tears spilled), all while reliving the sins he committed in his life. It's made a little more jarring in that Rin, who ordered him to commit all of those atrocities to begin with, gets off essentially scot-free. In the end, it's her lullaby that ends up saving him, and they both get to be reincarnated as twins, just as they had wished for.
  • Depending on how you look at it, the fate of the doctor's wife (and possibly the doctor himself) from a song of the same name by The Clockwork Quartet. The lyrics are written as entries in the doctor's journal, detailing his beloved wife's slow death by an incurable disease. He becomes more and more obsessive in his attempts to save her, until he has sacrificed his business and his entire life in order to keep her alive...to no avail. By the last stanza she has died, but the doctor replaced her heart with a mechanical device that keeps her other organs alive. The doctor is completely maddened by his tragic inability to let her go, and his wife is kept in a permanent state between life and death, unable to simply pass away because he won't let her.
  • "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" by Eric Bogle (and later covered by The Pogues), about a young Australian rover sent off to the Battle of Gallipoli:

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit,
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead—
Never knew there were worse things than dying.

  • Mentioned in "Keep Quiet" by The Protomen. 'They say, this city, she's been dead for years now, so death is not something that scares me. There's worse things than death here.'


Mythology[edit | hide]

  • Hell. Without even getting into the specifics of Hell itself, a simple logical deduction demonstrates that it is far, far worse than a Cessation of Existence.
  • This is Older Than Feudalism: Prometheus was chained to a rock to forever have his ever-regrowing liver eaten by an eagle. Since he was a god, he could not die. Fortunately, he was later freed by Heracles, who took pity on his plight.
  • Norse Mythology has a similar fate for Loki (chained to a rock with the entrails of his slaughtered sons, and tormented by a snake perpetually dripping poisonous saliva into his eyes) although, being a Trickster, he escapes after a while... just in time to take part in The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Greek Mythology is full of these, Prometheus simply the most famous. Tantalus, for example, killed his son Pelops and tried to feed him to the gods when they came over for dinner. In response, the gods killed Tantalus and sentenced him to forever be cursed in the underworld. He was placed in a pool with water up to his chin and delicious fruit dangling above his head, but whenever he tried to bend down and drink the water or reach up and grab the fruit, the water would drain away and the fruit would be blown just out of reach by a gust of wind (hence the word "tantalise" entered into the vocabulary). Sisyphus, punished for cheating death, was forced to roll an incredibly heavy boulder up a steep slope. When he was about to reach the top, the rock would slip out of his hands (or he would run out of energy and the boulder would roll overtop of him) and tumble back down the slope, forcing him to start over. The Danaeids were also punished with a fate worse than death for murdering their husbands, as they were forced to try and fill a water trough using jars with no bottoms.
    • The only relief that the three mentioned above got was when Orpheus arrived. The song that he played asking for Eurydice's soul back not only melted Hades' heart, but quenched Tantalus' thirst, halted Sisyphus' boulder, and kept the water inside the jars... until he left.
    • And then there's Atlas, who has to hold the Earth (or the sky, according to The Other Wiki) on his shoulders from the beginning of the world until a few thousand years ago, when the Greek hero Heracles, better known by what the Romans called him (Hercules), builds "the pillars of Heracles" to carry Atlas's burden.
    • The personification of Dawn asked Zeus for eternal life for her lover Tithonus... and forgot to ask for eternal youth for him. Consequently, he got so old and feeble that eventually he turned into a grasshopper.
    • Pirithous and Theseus won the idiot award by trying to carry off Persephone, wife of Hades. Hades invited them to a feast and tried to dissuade them, and when they refused to give up the plan, the bench fused to them. Heracles was able to save Theseus (who was only there to help Pirithous), but Pirithous was trapped there for eternity for his impiety and unquestionable stupidity.
    • Ixion was trapped to a flaming wheel in Tantarus for eternity, in a horrible cross between a stretching rack and being on fire. His crime? Kinslaying, severe violations of host-guest obligations, and trying to rape Hera while a guest of Zeus.
  • In the Fourth Branch of Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi (Middle Welsh tale, probably 11th century), Gwydion (the Anti-Hero) tells Blodeuedd (a Femme Fatale) "I won't kill you, I'll do that which is worse to you" before turning her into an owl (he was serially turned into animals as a punishment earlier in the tale, so presumably knows what he's talking about).


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Warhammer Fantasy Battle has almost everyone who serves Chaos, eventually mutating into a mindless beast. But a particularly notable instance is Count Mordrek the Damned. As he's a chaos warrior, "the Damned" would usually be redundant. He constantly and violently mutates within his unremovable armor suit, and every time he dies the chaos gods bring him back to life. And unlike most people they do things like this to, he still appears to be sane and thinking, and remorseful over what they make him do.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, this happens to everyone, one way or another, who runs afoul of Chaos, whether it's being consumed by its endless hordes of daemons, a "mishap" while traveling though the Warp or going anywhere near one of its Negative Space Wedgies. (Unless you're an Ork, in which case it's the best afterlife ever.) Even its servants don't avoid it, as their final fate is either dying (and then a daemon or five comes to collect on its contracts), transforming into a mindless, deformed Chaos Spawn, or achieving immortality as a Daemon Prince, only to spend the rest of eternity fighting the Endless Game between the Chaos Gods.
    • This is inevitable for all Eldar, as if they die and their soulstones are destroyed their souls are immediately consumed and tormented for the remainder of eternity by the Chaos God Slaanesh.
    • This is the Hat of the Dark Eldar. Their souls are constantly being sucked away by Slaanesh, and to stay alive they must feed on the pain and agony of others. So they've become very good at causing incomprehensible pain, while at the same time keeping the victim alive. (One novel describes the victim of a Homunculus' attentions as a collection of skin and organs hanging individually from the ceiling on metal hooks... and the poor guy was still alive.) The torture may go on for millennia before the victim is finally given the mercy of death. There's a reason why the blurb on the back of their codex reads "Pray that they do not take you alive".
    • Isha, one of the few surviving Eldar gods, was spared from death by Slaanesh because he/she/it wanted to "claim" her. Her fate got better ever so slightly, for she was rescued by Nurgle who's smitten with her. However, Nurgle keeps her in a cage and loves to give her "presents", and since this is Nurgle, all of his "presents" are horrible mutations and diseases. (Nurgle's servants don't count because they enjoy this sort of thing.)
    • One of the novels has a variation on this. A Chaos Marine, feeling remorseful about abandoning his loyalty to the Emperor, decides to kill the leader of the warband he is in. However, the attempted assassination is botched and the traitor is knocked unconscious and captured. He awakes in total darkness, unable to move or speak. He awaits his coming torture and interrogation, but it never arrives. The story ends as he realises he has been placed inside a Dreadnaught coffin, effectively granting him immortality but sealing him off from the world forever.
    • Getting captured by Necrons. One Battlefleet Gothic entry describes guardsmen finding a single boy from a colony, the other inhabitants having been taken by Necrons. The boy died several hours after they found him. The Necrons had very carefully cut out no less than 30 of the boy's glands and left him there. The fate of the other colonists is best left unsaid...
    • The God-Emperor has been entombed on the golden throne for the last 10 millennia, fully conscious, and fully aware of the collapse of his vision of humanity into a barbarous, mindlessly fanatical totalitarian nightmare.
  • Several spells and abilities in Dungeons & Dragons. For example, one spell in the Sandstorm book can turn a victim into a voiceless gust of wind or trap them as sand in the desert until released. An Epic spell, "Damnation", teleports the target to Hell, and screws with their thoughts to the point where they believe they deserve the punishment. This says nothing at all yet about some truly unpleasant spells found in the 3.5 edition Spell Compendium.
    • Avasculate, a spell that does not kill you- it reduces you to half your current hit points rounded down (0 is not death)... by causing you to purge any and all sorts of bodily fluid through your skin.
    • Avascular Mass takes this one step further- you purge your blood vessels themselves through your skin, complete with blood in.... ..and then creates a 'web' effect out of those very veins, trapping you and anyone in 20 feet in a mass of ANIMATE blood vessels that are trying to grab you all. Talk about a horrifying experience...
    • There are spells like Cast in Stone and Flesh to Stone that can, depending on how you understand it, leave someone a conscious statue for all eternity, even if they're eroded away to a pebble or shattered.
    • In the beginning, this was considered to be the case for Drow transformed into Driders (a dark elf centaur, only replace "horse" with "giant spider"), and the transformation was a punishment by Lloth. Driders are much stronger and tougher then ordinary dark elves, have more spell-like abilities, and these abilities are more potent then the ones that ordinary drow have. Additionally, Lolth has had various drider-like forms (when she was first introduced to the game, she resembled a huge spider whose head had been replaced with that of a female drow). If you're thinking this doesn't make sense, you aren't the only one; since 4th edition, becoming a Drider is now a blessing from Lolth, and they are respected and admired by Drow instead of being chased out of the city. It's reserved for those who fail a loyalty test. And sort of brings them closer to her. For extra fun, Lolth "copyrighted" this shape (if a drow is polymorphed into a drider without her handmaiden's authorization, the spell is soon reverted, presumably attracting her attention in process).
    • There is a sword in Book of Vile Darkness that on a critical hit or killing blow rips the soul from the victims body and tortures it until it is released. And in terms of spells, it's hard to beat "Eternity of Torture," which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
    • There is a spell used against vampires called Sunfire Tomb. It makes them feel as if constantly being burned by the light of the sun, without dying.
    • A deity in Dungeons & Dragons, Torog, was cursed by a primordial with eternal imprisonment in the Underdark and grievous wounds that will never heal. Despite his still vast powers many consider his existence to be a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • In Mutant Chronicles, the Dark Legion has a metric crapload of different kinds of Fate Worse Than Death. Having your motor functions shut down while you can still see and hear everything, being driven to madness, tortured, possessed, turned into a zombie grunt...
  • Vajra Enterprises has a whole game named Fates Worse Than Death. The setting isn't the prettiest place imaginable, as you perhaps already guessed. Then again, sourcebooks get funny names: "Fates Worse Than Death: Cheerleader".
  • Wraith: The Oblivion: As all inhabitants of the underworld have all already died, one might think that the worst has already happened. Unfortunately, given the setting, that's just the beginning. Common fates include being torn apart by angry, eternally damned spectres, trapped in an endless maze full of angry, eternally damned spectres, becoming an angry, eternally damned spectre, and being boiled alive in molten ore to be forged into weapons and or objects. Which doesn't end your existence. And you still might end up being used by an angry, eternally damned spectre.
    • Geist: The Sin Eaters depicts something similarly to what becomes of the dead in the Underworld, especially with the depiction of some of the Dead Dominions. One of the worst is the Ocean of Fragments, a place where all memory and identity is gradually washed away. ...Except that isn't so bad at all. The Ocean actually washes away identifiers, the memories that define who you are as a person. Thus, a mechanic who had his memories of being a mechanic would still know engineering, he just wouldn't have the memories of ever having used them. Thus, it can easily wash away "I was horribly abused as a child" and "I am a sociopath". This, combined with the ultimate goal of washing away the ego itself-and with it, the ability to feel pain, as you are no longer a person to hurt-means that, in a way, the Ocean is actually one of the few things that can truly improve a ghost's lot.
  • In Changeling: The Lost, Changelings who get recaptured and taken back to Arcadia are never seen again. Considering the insanity and torture they escaped from to begin with, a swift death rather than life under one of the True Fae is probably the best outcome they can hope for.
  • Exalted has more than a few of these. From the Monstrances of Celestial Portion, to the Organ of Agonies, to the horrific Mind Rape certain social Charms can allow, the villains of the setting can do a lot worse than merely kill you.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Ghost Trick: So you have a ghost who has outlived his usefulness, and you really, really don't want him coming after you after the fact. What do you do? Why, leave him in a flooding submarine at the bottom of the sea, completely alone, launch the room containing his body as far away as possible in a random direction, allow said room to collapse due to the water pressure, mangling the body beyond repair and all but ensuring Time Travel doesn't come into play, blow up the submarine with a torpedo, and make sure no possible path of escape remains. And since he's already dead...
  • The disembodied head of the BLU Spy (pictured) suffers this in the "Meet the Medic" video, having recently been a living table vise for the RED Medic while he tinkered with his Medigun. Spy seems rather calm about it though, especially compared to his initial reaction.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, a l'Cie who fails to complete their focus is doomed to become a Cie'th; a crystalline monster that wanders the world forever in sorrow. The fate for those who complete their focus isn't much better..becoming an immortal servant of the fal'Cie.
  • Zerg infestation usually alters your mind into conformity with the collective will of the Swarm and its Overmind. However, StarCraft II shows that this is not always the case. Some infestees end up fully aware of their miserable condition, and only have enough control over their bodies to beg other people to kill them.
  • In the Infocom game Sorcerer, dallying in the prologue area will result in a Nonstandard Game Over where the game's villain condemns the protagonist to an eternity in the Chamber of Living Death, wherein victims are perpetually (and painfully) eaten alive by plagues of parasites.
    • Also, dallying too long in the final room without acting will get the protagonist sent to the Hall of Eternal Pain, where they will spend eternity as a powerless disembodied mentality, being tormented telepathically.
    • And in the next-to-last room, there are three doors. Two of them lead to the Chamber of Living Death and the Hall of Eternal Pain. Try to find which one is the third one. Try hard.
    • And failure to obtain (or, for that matter, use) the correct spell before the final confrontation results in a demon possessing the protagonist and using this new body to enslave the entire world. (In the demon's own words, "Now begins an epoch of evil transcending even your worst nightmares; a reign of terror that will last a thousand thousand years!") The kicker? He keeps the protagonist's mind alive and aware, so the protagonist is Forced to Watch helplessly as his controlled body sacrifices babies, forces slaves to build massive idols - with his face - and generally creates a literal Hell on Earth.
  • Infocom was at it again in The Lurking Horror. Don't kill the final Cosmic Horror fast enough and one of its formerly human slaves grabs you and throws you into it, which by this point you know is how it makes humans into former humans. Instead of the standard "You have died" message, you see the far more chilling "You have changed", followed by "Sometimes, during your future existence, you remember your old life. At these times, you wish you had died instead."
  • In Drakengard, the Anti-Hero defeats the Creepy Child Big Bad. She begs him to kill her, but he decides that instead he's going to drag her around the world, forcing her to see the devastation she has caused. This doesn't sound too bad until you consider the Big Bad had the world balanced on the edge of ruin. Killing her would be too easy, no; he's going to make her take responsibility for everything, a child's nightmare.
    • This turns out to have been an effective punishment, or at least truly a Fate Worse Than Death. The Big Bad of the first game is a playable character in the second, and she has repressed all the memories of her being the Big Bad and the punishment the protagonist of the first game inflicted on her. This becomes obvious when the Anti-Hero of the first game shows up as an Anti-Villain in the second, and the mere sight of him makes her go crazy. She gets better.
  • Played for laughs in Persona 3: the boys "accidentally" spend too long in the hot spring, until after it switches from boys-only to girls-only. When Mitsuru and the rest of the girls enter, Akihiko freaks out and with good reason: if Mitsuru detects the boys in the ensuing minigame, she "executes" them; a fate not seen but referred to as "hell on earth".
    • The manga adaptation indicates that she freezes them alive. If that's not horrific enough, read Dante's Divine Comedy about the very last circle of Hell, and imagine experiencing that, while ALIVE. Another theory asks you to look at what Mitsuru does to enemies when she scores a critical hit in battle. And with high heels.
    • A more serious example in the underlying implications of The Fall: with the coming of Nyx, the incarnation of Death itself, every single living thing will be consumed from the inside out by its own desire for destruction. Thus everything, everywhere, will lose all sense of self and become a mindless, soulless shell that can only moan and whimper, completely unaware of its own death. Should the protagonists choose to challenge this fate, the Appraiser/Nyx Avatar warns them that they will suffer more than they could possibly imagine, then die.
  • In Planescape: Torment, when you explain to the Mercykiller Vhailor how your immortality works, he moves to punish you as each time you die and regenerate, someone else dies in your place... but you can get him to back off by explaining the downside. Vhailor, thought of even by other Mercykillers as a fanatic who'll scrag someone without evidence, decides that you are suffering punishment enough.
  • In the add-on to Dungeon Siege II called Broken World, anyone caught by the Familiar Surgeons is horribly mutilated, fused with parts of other bodies or weapons, and transformed into an insane "bound creature". Fortunately, this cannot happen to player characters.
  • In the backstory of Utawarerumono, Witsarnemitea reduced the scientists who studied him to immortal slimes not unlike the I Have No Mouth example above.
  • Lost Kingdoms has the Runestones. In the first gave, they weren't alluded to much, but when the second game came around, you find out that a Runestone is a soul that one of the three gods sucked out of a living person and turned into one.
  • In Warcraft 3, one of the Scourge's Evil Plans is to spread the plagued grains in Stratholme, so people who ate from that will turn into zombies, and their souls will be taken by Mal'Ganis and transferred to the Lich King. Arthas, having learned this, makes a drastic decision to purge the entire city, thinking that such fates are something worse than death. Poor chap didn't know (at the time) that it's not the Stratholme citizens the Lich King is after. It's his soul.
    • Most of what the Scourge does is this. For instance, one of their Bosses in WoW is Thaddius, a Frankenstein-lookalike who's Described as: "..built from the flesh of women and children, it is said that their souls are fused together - eternally bound within that foul prison of flesh." Add that some of his voice sounds like a child..
  • Upon completing the original Half-Life, Gordon Freeman is made to choose between being frozen in time or "A battle you have no chance of winning." The latter choice essentially ends the game with your unarmed character presumably killed by the enemies, though the former (and canon) choice forces your character to become a pawn for the G-Man. Not a particularly horrifying fate, though it does indeed suck. Though since the series is still ongoing, whether or not Gordon will eventually break free of this remains to be see.
    • Headcrabs are small (about the size of a domesticated cat), aggressive aliens that attach themselves to a viable host and commandeer its nervous system, creating what are cheerfully named Headcrab Zombies. Said host is still alive and still aware even as its body rots, it tears off all of its skin (Fast Zombies) and/or is injected with so much neurotoxin it bloats to about twice its width (Poison Zombies). And as of Half-Life 2: Episode Two there are hundreds upon hundreds of these things roaming in and around the ruins of City 17.
    • Half-Life 2 also has the less commonly seen Stalkers - humans surgically altered by the Combine and forced into slavery. They more or less look like emaciated humans with most of their internal organs, muscle, and fat removed, and their limbs replaced with metal stumps. What makes this even worse is that not only are they forced to into slavery, they're also dependant on the Combine to survive, living on some sort of provided saline solution.
  • Reaching the end of the Fourth Kalpa in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne reveals that Hijiri has been condemned to an eternity of life, death and rebirth without hope of reincarnation. He will be forced to witness the Conception and the creation of the new world over and over again until the end of time, but will never be allowed to influence its outcome himself. He received this punishment from God for committing "the ultimate sin" in a previous life; because of this, many suspect that he is a reincarnation of Aleph from Shin Megami Tensei II, who committed deicide at the end of the game by killing God. That's right, God.
  • Plundered Hearts, another Infocom title, uses this to get around having to state upfront that people want to rape or have raped the main character. This makes more sense when you realize that the game is an interactive version of a cheesy Romance Novel.
  • In Zork: Grand Inquisitor, all crimes under the rule of Inquisitor Yannick are punishable by being "totemized", having your body painfully transfigured into an immobile totem for all eternity. Justified Trope in that this is part of Yannick's plot to eliminate magic from the land of Zork: if a person is totemized instead of killed, their body's natural supplies of magical energy aren't released and the overall level of magic in the world drops slightly.
  • Baldur's Gate (and the source world) has the "Imprisonment" Spell, in which the victim is instantly trapped deep within the earth, and magically kept alive forever, unable to escape until someone casts "Freedom" at where the Imprisonment is held. In Shadows of Amn, the main character is threatened with this by a particularly hard-lined Harper, and could optionally fight against a high-powered wizard that was driven insane by the experience.
  • Both Tal Rasha and the player-character from the first Diablo game make the unwise decision to insert a soulstone with a demon into their bodies. The results for both of them are not pretty.
  • The Quake series, with the exception of the first game, feature a cybernetic alien race called the Strogg, who build their ranks by capturing their enemies and putting them through a horrific process, referred to by the human soldiers in the fourth game as "Stroggification". This process not only involves having several body parts sliced off and crudely replaced with cybernetic parts (without any anesthetic whatsoever), but also involves having a chip implanted into the brain of the unfortunate victim, which is then activated by a machine, so that the victim can be controlled by the Nexus, a giant brain that has control over all other Strogg soldiers (it is unknown if there are any original, pureblood Strogg who possess free will). Watch it here! Worst of all, is that the victims still retain their humanity for a short while after the chip activation but they are unable to control their actions. This is seen in the fourth game, when Scott Voss is transformed into a huge, hulking cyborg, and yells at Matthew Kane to run away and that "I can't control it!", shortly before going beserk and attacking Kane. Sometimes, the process fails, resulting in the victims becoming shambling, zombie-like creatures (the "Failed transfers" and Slimy transfers") who are then transported to a dumping ground.
  • Since nearly every major character in Grim Fandango is already dead by virtue of the setting, these are the only things that are real threats. Examples include being made into a dam by demon beavers, and being "sprouted"—having plants grow from your body until you become a patch of flowery meadow.
  • The good end to the "Tranquility Lane" quest in Fallout 3 has you condemning Braun to spend the rest of eternity trapped in his vault with no possible way to leave or interact with the outside world. Rather fitting for a Complete Monster like him.
    • From the same game, there's Harold. When you find him, he's been turned into a tree and cannot grow or die. He, naturally, begs you to kill him.
  • Fallout: New Vegas gives you the option of doing this to Mr House, if you release him from his life-support unit. Even though exposing him to the outside world ensures his eventual death, his longevity treatments will keep him alive for, he estimates, about a year. If you put him back in the life support unit, he gets to spend that time without any contact with, or influence over the outside world...
    • The Marked Men from the Lonesome Road DLC, who were created by the nuclear explosions that destroyed the Divide. Sandstorms have torn the skin from their bodies, and the radiation from the nukes has mutated them into ghouls, making them immortal. Ulysses tells you that if there's no way to save them (there probably isn't), then it's "mercy, not murder" to kill them.
    • Also, Craig Boone views what would have happened to his wife at the hand of the legion as this. He may not be that far of. So he took the shot.
  • Chrono Cross gives us the Abyss Beyond Time. Whenever a world's timeline is changed, the world, and everyone in it, are instantly transported to a dark, empty void to make room for the new, altered world. Let me repeat that: Time Travel causes billions of innocent people to become trapped in an endless void for all eternity everytime its used. Kinda gives a darker light to the events of the last game.
  • Being turned into a Nobody in Kingdom Hearts could qualify. Firstly, your heart is either stolen or corrupted, turning you into a mindless heart-collecting creature. Then what's left behind of you starts to move around on its own will and - if you're lucky - it'll still look human. If you're not so lucky, you'll look like some vaguely-human twisted-like thing. It gets worse because not only will you technically not exist, you'll also have no emotions, and when you eventually get done in with a giant key, you'll leave nothing behind to show that you ever existed. Thanks Disney!
    • There is also a few times when they talk about being turned into a Dusk as a punishment. Only once is death ever threatened, and that was more implying that it hurt the talker more than the victim.
    • You think being turned into a Nobody and disappearing as such is bad? Try discovering that you're an imperfect replica of the wielder of said giant key and go insane from being brainwashed by the Big Bad in order to become a true clone of the wielder of said giant key, only to end up being killed by the Nobody of the wielder of said giant key. And then try to handle the reality that upon dying, no one will remember you, not even your two best friends. You die, but people do not mourn. In essence, you will be the only person who knew you ever existed. Please pass the tissues...
    • All three protagonists of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep get their own tailor-made Fate Worse Than Death in the Downer Ending. Aqua is trapped in the Realm of Darkness for more than a decade, not knowing if she succeeded, failed, or anything about what was happening to her friends- only knowing that she had failed to return to help Ventus. Ventus is comatose, his body dormant and deep within mazelike Castle Oblivion, accessible only by the trapped-far-away Aqua, while his heart rests deep within Sora, sleeping, but possibly dimly aware and unable to interact at all with even Sora. Terra is trapped in a Battle in the Center of the Mind, and has been for over a decade, as his on-autopilot-body is amnesiac and acting more like the body's invader than him, its rightful owner, causing all the problems of the rest of the series as he's too caught up not fighting to not cease to be entirely to do anything about it. Not for nothing does the ending drive Mickey Mouse into a Heroic BSOD for his failure to save them.
  • From Devil Survivor, Naoya AKA Cain, as in the biblical Cain and Abel, has been cursed to remember every single memory from all of his previous reincarnations, including the first one where he murdered his brother, resulting in him living non-stop for thousands of years constantly tormented by far too much information for one brain, never being allowed to forget his greatest sin. He can still die, but since he then reincarnates almost immediately with all memories intact, this just makes things worse. What makes it so sad is that he could get out of this; God didn't 'curse' him, this was a genuine attempt to give him time to reflect on his sin and repent. All he has to do to be forgiven is to admit he was wrong and sincerely apologize for the fratricide... but by this point, he's far too bitter to even consider that.
  • Lezard from Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria threatens your party with this if you die against him (the only way you can actually get a Game Over in the game):

"I will not slay you. From now and forever, no matter how much you entreat me, how pitifully you lament, you shall not die!"
"I grant you the rights accorded to an enemy of the gods: You will live from now and forever, in an endless cycle of rebirth, condemned in each life to be hated, feared, scorned, punished and obliterated!"
"Live always with the screech of insects buzzing within your skull, ants gnawing at your eyeballs forever and ever!"

  • In Mass Effect, the Big Bad possesses the ability to brainwash sentient beings so they will follows its orders without hesitation. The downside is that too much use of this ability turns them into mindless husks, incapable of doing anything without an order from their controller. The player character eventually encounters some people that have reached this end-stage, and has the option of performing a Mercy Kill.
    • It can be even worse to people with strong mind and psychic talents. Matriarch Benezia, who qualifies for both requirements, sealed a part of her consciousness away out of sense of duty to use her free will in some critical moment, was effectively trapped in her body in the meantime, unable to prevent herself from committing heinous acts under the Sovereign's control.
    • Also, in the second game, we find out that this fate was inflicted upon a species. The Protheans were transformed into the Collectors - the Reapers had mutated them beyond recognition, and reduced them to withered, mindless slaves. They're little more than empty vessels to be possessed by Harbinger. So, not only are they forced to serve the beings that destroyed their civilisation, but they are little more than disposable hosts that can be taken over at any time against their will, if they even have a will to speak of...
  • Somewhat based on the relevant mythology, God of War II features Prometheus in his liver-consuming fate. Instead of being freed by Hercules, however, he is freed by being dropped into the Fires of Olympus by Kratos. Kratos is then awarded with Rage of the Titans.
  • RuneScape has this in form of the Spirit Beast, who locks a group of ghosts into its own plane of existence, where it slowly feeds on their souls. Erik Bonde, one of the unfortunate fellows to have this fate, said that for the first twenty days, they couldn't do anything but scream.
    • Even worse, at the beginning of the second quest it is revealed it's trying to enter the REAL world, which means that EVERYONE would share this fate.
  • The Darkspawn Blood Taint in Dragon Age. Essentially, drinking darkspawn blood (sometimes even coming into contact with it) will usually kill you very very painfully, if you are lucky. Otherwise, you will slowly turn into one of them. And that is still better than the treatment they have for the women: they are implied to be raped (everywhere) and slowly turned into immobile betentacled Broodmothers, the purpose of which is to give birth to more Darkspawn.
    • The Grey Wardens have learned how to weaponize this taint: by drinking the blood in a special mixture, they transform only partially, and end up able to hear the Darkspawn collective thought without actually having to obey. It also cuts their life down to a maximum of thirty or so years. If they survive the initiation.
    • It turns out that the most important part of the Grey Warden taint is not the advantages that it gives in fighting regular Darkspawn troops, but rather that it allows them to permanently kill an Archdemon. Normally when an Archdemon's physical body is destroyed its soul jumps into the nearest still-living Darkspawn and continues controlling the Blight. If a Grey Warden is the nearest creature - presumably due to having delivered the deathblow - the Archdemon's soul jumps into him instead. But since he's not actually a Darkspawn, it can't use the Grey Warden as a proper host. Both the Grey Warden's soul and the Archdemon's are destroyed in the process and the Grey Warden's body dies.
    • Also in Dragon Age, mages are prone to demonic possession. The exact effects vary but it generally seems to be pretty bad. As a way to "protect" vulnerable mages from possession, Templars sometimes perform a process that severs their connection to magic - and also destroys their ability to feel emotion or dream. These "Tranquil" mages don't seem to mind, at least not after the fact... There was one case of a tranquil mage being temporarily cured by direct exposure to a Fade spirit. He begged his friend to kill him rather than be allowed to become tranquil again.
    • The most insidious part of the Darkspawn Taint is that it's not a Fate Worse Than Death once you cross the line to full ghouldom. Ghouls and Darkspawn hear the Call of the Old Gods as beautiful music, so beautiful that they will devote themselves completely to seeking out the Old Gods. Once you're a full Ghoul, you won't want to be free of the Taint.
    • In Awakening, some of the "Awakened" Darkspawn consider their "freedom" to be this. Bereft of the Call of the Old Gods, they find the silence unbearable. All of the Mother's actions are driven by her desire for revenge against the Architect who cut her off from the music. In the Final Battle, she actually looks forward to dying in battle, hoping to hear the Song again in death.
  • How Pokémon Mystery Dungeon got the Explorer games to have an E rating, the world will never know. In the Bad Future, time never passes, meaning that if you die, you will be stuck in that dying state forever. To make matters worse, shortly after arriving there, you and your partner are to be executed by Sableye, by means of their razor-sharp claws. Imagine an eternity of being cut to shreds...
  • Pokémon Black and White does this too. There's Yamask, who is a spirit - a human spirit - who retains the memory of his life. To make things worse, he carries a mask of his former face too. And, he is a pokémon, so he can be captured and spend the rest of eternity in a pokéball, or can be used in battles by trainers.
    • And there's also Chandelure, who can burns a spirit while leaving the body behind. So yes, almost like a Dementor. Who will obey orders from whatever trainer captures it.
  • Grissom in Vagrant Story. Having been killed by Ashley, his soul seeks out a new vessel, and winds up bound to his old corpse.
  • Mother 3 provides an incredibly literal example: Porky Minch hides inside the Absolutely Safe Capsule when things start falling apart for him. Dr. Andonuts tells the heroes that it's "absolutely safe" in an incredible literal way: Porky can't be harmed at all in it nor can it be destroyed, so it's "absolutely safe" for him, but since he's permanently locked inside with no escape at all, everyone else is also "absolutely safe" from him (the worst he can do is stick his tongue out at people from inside it). This means that one will have to wait until time does the killing and he dies of old age... except Porky can't die of old age, as his time travel abuse made him immortal. Therefore Porky, a frail and decrepit old man (if with a child's mind) is condemned to living forever locked inside the tiny Absolutely Safe Capsule; this means that he survived the apocalypse which happened immediately thereafter completely unscathed, and that he will still be alive even after the sun experiences heat death. He will survive all that and more for eternity, in absolute safety. His fate worse than death? Life.
  • Given you have multiple lives in many games, there is much scope for a fate worse than death... For example, in Grand Theft Auto, if you are arrested, you multiplier is halved. Given the choice you might prefer just to die and lose a life rather than get arrested, since having a high multiplier is important for completing the stage... Though arguably, losing one of many lives isn't really death as such.
  • Raziel from the Legacy of Kain series doesn't have one of these. He has three. At the start of LoK: Soul Reaver on seeing his new misshapen body he claims "Death would be a release from this travesty" and "I would choose oblivion over this existence". At the end of Soul Reaver 2 he learns his fate is to have his soul imprisoned in a sword where he would be reduced to a mindless hunger devouring the souls of those the sword is used on. He would remain trapped for thousands of years. Finally at the end of Defiance he is left trapped in a room with no way for him to escape and the only thing to look at is a mural showing not only is he not The Chosen One, but that he killed the real Chosen One shortly before getting trapped. Said Chosen One turns out to be Not Quite Dead, and (accidentally) allows Raziel to escape the room - at which point Raziel finally ends up imprisoned in the sword. Poor Raziel.
    • The Hylden race also collectively suffers one of these as their war with the Ancients ends with their banishment in the demon dimension, which keeps them immortal, but deforms their bodies and drives them insane. The Ancients themselves suffer similarly when the Hylden retaliate by cursing them with vampirism, which ends up severing their connection to their god. Most chose to kill themselves rather than live on like that.
    • Also happens with Janos Audron, the last living Ancient, when the Hylden hijack his body and imprison him for 400 years to feed their machinery. At the end of Blood Omen 2 he even ends up trapped in the demon dimension with the Hylden. There's good reason why he's widely regarded as The Woobie.
  • What happens to Galen, your character, in the Dark Side ending of The Force Unleashed. He's nearly crushed to death by a spaceship, reconstructed by the Emperor (Galen is conscious the whole time) to barely be human anymore and then he's forced to live out the rest of his life as the Emperor's pawn. So the mirror-image of Darth Vader.
  • Dr. Weil, the Complete Monster from the Mega Man Zero series was given this before the series even started (approximately 100 years prior, give or take). As a result of his war crimes and instigating the Elf Wars, everyone in Neo Arcadia decided to get revenge on Weil or inflict justice (depending on how you view it) by killing his body, turning his memories and psyche into program data, and placing it in a carbon-mechanical cyborg body that prevents him from dying ever, and then he is exiled from Neo Arcadia into the wastelands of the world that he was responsible for ruining.
  • This trope is almost mundane in the Silent Hill series, as although it only occurs after death the victims tend not to stay dead, the eponymous town consuming and imprisoning them. This definitely happened to Lisa, Kaufman, Walter and his victims, and Alex in one of the endings, and probably happened to Dahlia, James in one of the endings, and Claudia.
  • This is what happens to Kirie and Mafuyu in Fatal Frame's canon ending. They're going to be spending the rest of eternity at the Hell Gate deep underground, with Kirie making sure that the gate stays closed, and Mafuyu staying with her so that she won't have to suffer all alone.
  • Final Fantasy XI: Oh dear Altana, have mercy of your children...
    • Raogrimm a.k.a the Shadowlord is forced to watch over Dynamis until hatred no longer exists. Hopefully, he's not alone.
    • Lilisette has no other choice but to leave her world behind, and replace her Evil Counterpart in her own world in order to close Atomos's maws and allow the two futures to survive. And her actions during the Crystal War are Ret-Gone, which means that only you remember her.
  • Fate Stay Night. Fate Route. What happened to the other survivors of the fire ten years ago. On a completely unrelated note I wonder what's under the church... Makes it worse that you HAVE to visit it unless you want to get storyline killed.
  • Mortal Kombat Armageddon. Mileena's ending. in Mileena's ending, Mileena, the half deformed clone of the Stripperrific sexy princess Kitana, manages to swap her body with her original, thus ridding herself of her grossly disfigured face and ascending to the throne of Edenia in her name. While the ending doesn't expand much about Mileena's rule, it's fairly explcit in stating that Kitana, the former ageless princess of her kingdom, still considered a young girl at the tender age 10.000 years, is now trapped in Mileena's private dungeon, with two rows of misshapen, exposed, razorsharp teeth instead of a mouth, kept in a dark, isolated cell. Owing to Mileena letting her know that no one is going to search for her, and to her impressively long Edenian lifespan (at the end of Armageddon, Kitana looked no older than a girl in her early twenties-late teens), there's no wonder if the poor girl went insane in no time.
  • Chimera in Resistance. The first game even has a level titled "Fates Worse than Death."
  • One of the antagonists of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, despite being (likely) the worst character in the game survives, while the ones that weren't as bad as him were brutally killed. It turns out that Akane's plan was to have him be exposed publicly for his crimes, something that he, Ace, deems A Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Malefor gives the Apes one of these in The Legend of Spyro: Dawn Of The Dragon. He turns them into skeletons that are forever cursed to remain in the shadows, hungry for the energy of others but never able to be full. This fate is so terrible that Spyro and Cynder are visibly horrified by it.
  • Implied in Portal, you never want to disappoint GLaDOS.

GLaDOS: You know the biggest lesson I learned from what you did? I discovered I have a sort of black box quicksave feature; in the event of a catastrophic failure, the last two minutes of my life are preserved forever for analysis. I was able - well, forced really - to relive you killing me again and again. Forever.

    • Made explicit in the Portal 2 co-op trailer.

GLaDOS: Don't disappoint me...or I'll make you wish you could die.

  • In Jak II Renegade, Baron Praxis can occasionally be heard addressing Jak over speakers normally reserved for spewing propaganda. The Baron promises a quick and painless death if Jak turns himself in, because the Dark Eco inside him will eventually do much, much worse. And if he doesn't turn himself in and Praxis finds him instead, he promises Jak he'll wish he died in prison.
  • Dark Souls has a lot of this. Most of the enemies are tragic monsters. There is horrible Body Horror, being imprisoned while effectively immortal, becoming a hollow and Linking the Flame leaves you burning alive, forever until someone puts you out of your misery.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Spoofed in Irregular Webcomic strip #671, where Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs is demoted into the Fate department, as A Fate Worse Than Death. He has no idea on how to go about it.
    • Also, in strip #1954, "a pirate curse can be a thousand times worse than death".
  • Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire: Karnak falls into Hell and becomes a demon lord, even though he was just trying to save the world. Later, he decides to pull Siegfried down with him, after the latter's death. Celesto Morgan and the Infernomancer suffer a different Fate Worse Than Death: exile to an alternate plane of pure horror. Although they've recently escaped...
    • Siggy got into Hell on his own merits, apparently. It's the behaving-like-a-psychopath and casual murder thing. Karnak just brainwashed him into following orders, apparently as vengeance on House Damaske.
  • In Erfworld, if the ruler of a faction dies while having no heir, all of their cites go "neutral". It is not pleasant at all: neutrals are frozen in time until someone attacks the city, and if they repel the attack, they presumably get frozen again until they are attacked again. It has not been specified whether or not the neutral units are conscious during the time they are frozen or not.
    • It has been specified that time can pass at different speeds in different hexes, so time probably just stops for them.
  • The Order of the Stick: Big Bad Xykon does this in Start of Darkness to Dorukan and Lirian by binding their souls into a black gem he still carries with him, keeping them from the Afterlife. But it sort of backfires, since though they're not in the afterlife, they are together. The spell Xykon uses (appropriately called Soul Bind, by the way) is an actual Dungeons & Dragons spell, so you can pull this one off yourself if you're feeling particularly evil.
    • The Snarl also falls into this trope, as it obliterates the souls of its victims, also erasing their chances of an afterlife. Even gods.
    • Also Played for Laughs when Belkar describes what he plans to use his captive Eye of Fear and Flame for in this strip.
  • Riane in Alien Dice considers being a captured Dice to be a Fate Worse Than Death. In this case, though, it's used in the same way it originally meant, as the dialogue implies she was raped during captivity. In Legacy, she actually confirms this, though she uses politer, albeit sarcastic, terminology. No wonder she gleefully encouraged Lexx to kill her.
  • Being possessed by a slaver wasp in Girl Genius. At least, according to Mr. Rovainen.
  • Characters that get to live in dream world in 1/0 says that it's this trope.
  • Jack's speech in Zebra Girl: "Somewhere, there's a man. He doesn't want to be where he is... but he's there and he'll stay there until he thinks of a place he'd rather be less".
  • Parodied in Ansem Retort. Jesus (yes, Jesus) concludes that trying to train the cast of Ansem Retort was worse than being crucified on the cross.
  • Parodied in the Order of the Stick Fancomic Murphy's Law, where taking a level in Dragon Disciple and Monk are horrible.
  • The hyenas in Digger have such a punishment. They call it having one's name 'eaten' and it means that the accused will be ostracized from their society and treated as a pariah and a nonentity. Said person has to live far away from the tribe, scrounging up an existence like an animal, and will be henceforth addressed as "it".
  • Bob and George: For George, it's been a Dude in Distress in Unwilling Suspension. (Given that he had spent months in this situation before...)
  • Sluggy Freelance gives us this delightful little fate for Zoe. (maybe)
    • Alt-Rammer: "And she'd be dead now if not for the machines keeping her breathing ... She cannot be fixed. She cannot survive off of those machines. Too fragile for morphine. Her few conscious hours are spent screaming from the pain of the nerves that will never heal." Damn.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob-- For Fructose Riboflavin, a fate worse than death is having his terrifying reputation destroyed because the world has learned his tragic origin story—now people feel sorry for him. He responds with a big ol' screaming Big No.
  • In Homestuck, The Ψiioniic, for his crime of assisting in the Sufferer's rebellion, was forced to use his psychic powers to pilot Her Imperial Condescencion's flagship, kept alive by the Empress's powers.
  • In Dave Hopkins' Jack, fates worse than death are commonplace, if not standard - not surprising, since the main character is the Grim Reaper and the setting is usually Hell. A few specific examples include:
    • Silverblue, a girl who has to relive the same rotten day in Hell - during which she gets tentacle raped, eviscerated, eaten alive, watches her only friend get torn to pieces and finally cuts her own wrists - over and over and over again for what is apparently over 150 years, merely because she committed suicide.
    • Drip, who usually metes out fates worse than death, at one point gets reduced to... well, his face; death in Hell usually only results in immediate respawning, but in this case Jack made sure he would survive indefinitely as a chunk of immobile flesh.
    • A particularly interesting example is Todd, who was a soldier in an equivalent of World War I; when his commanding officer ordered him to machine gun the children of a village so they would not grow up into enemies, he obediently complied. Home on bereavement leave, he discovers his wife has hanged herself, and commits suicide to be with her. In Hell, he doesn't miss an opportunity to claim it was all out of his hands; all is down to fate, he is responsible for nothing. And sure enough, he ends up as a character in a comic book written by the Devil hirself...


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • ARCHON implies this for undead. Overlaps with And I Must Scream.
  • Oran's speech to the defeated scumbag Mars in Chapter 19 Act 3: "I have seen you scum--staked to the ground at night--belly and manhood split wide, wailing as jagged beaks tear and peck--as a million insect jaws carve the pulp. And when morning comes, I am standing over your seeping husk. You cannot turn from the horror. You cannot stop the rising sun that burns you into blindness. You cannot close your eyes... for I am feasting on their lids.
    • The best part is that Raimi immediately chimes in afterward, saying that would be too kind. What does he have to say to Mars? See the Broken Saints entry in Prison Rape.
  • In the web-novel Fragile, Severin's insanity is portrayed as such. During the course of the story, Page even says that he would have rather seen him die than experience it.
  • The SCP Foundation uses this quite a lot. For example: SCP-145.
  • Suburban Knights Big Bad Malachite. The end looked like he was destroyed by Ma-Ti, but an additional video revealed a worst fate... working in a Wisconsin coffee shop. Any attempts at villainy are met with a Dope Slap from his boss and escape is impossible.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

Psycrow: If Earthworm Jim doesn't cough up his Super Suit in the next 20 minutes, you will face a fate worse than death!
Princess What's-Her-Name: Uh-huh. Such as?
Psycrow: (not expecting the question) Huh? Oh, I don't... you know... something really awful, with pointy... and it'll chafe and stuff.
Princess What's-Her-Name: Fate worse than death. Uh, big talker.

  • Parodied in Futurama; when the characters are being rapidly de-aged, Farnsworth explains that if this keeps up, "we'll keep getting younger until we suffer a fate worse than death: pre-life! Then death."
    • Played straight at the start of the re-relaunch of the series.

Fry: Are they dead?
Prof. Farnsworth: No no no, much worse than that.

  • Megabyte plays with this to Bob in Re Boot, when Bob announces his plan to reprogram the virus rather than delete him saying that he doesn't believe in deletion and that it isn't Megabyte's fault as he was just programmed to be this way. Megabyte's response?:

Megabyte: So I won't be a virus?
Bob: That's the plan.
Megabyte: Ah, a fate worse than deletion and they call me a monster.

Prince Zuko: If the Earth Kingdom catches us, we'll be killed.
General Iroh: But if the Fire Nation catches us, we'll be turned over to Azula.
(Beat)
Prince Zuko: Earth Kingdom it is.

    • This is what happens to victims of Koh the Face Stealer.
    • Many fans believe that taking Ozai's firebending can't be called mercy, as it was shown that benders are extremely emotionally and spiritually attached to their element.
    • The first time Zhao captures Aang, he has him chained up so that he can barely move, and he says that he can't kill him because he would just be reincarnated again, so he's going to keep him barely alive.
  • In Batman the Brave And The Bold, Gentleman Ghost almost gives Batman one of these, conjuring the spirits of criminals and making them drag him down to, presumably, Hell. Deadman saves him, though.
    • It's later revealed that Gentleman Ghost was doing this as revenge for his own fate worse than death. Even though Batman actually tried to save him from his own self-destructive actions which truly caused it. Due to Time Travel, Batman knew exactly how the whole thing would turn out, but the soon-to-be Ghost refused to listen to him.
  • Dark Danny of Danny Phantom may have survived outside of his now non-existent time period, but he is forever trapped in that Fenton Thermos. The last shots are of him struggling to get out. He would have, too, if not for Executive Meddling, but he's stuck there for the rest of his afterlife.
  • Justice League Unlimited. "The Once and Future Thing". Chronos' final fate. Doomed to live through the same moments of being harangued by his wife that prompted him to start the whole shebang to begin with, after Batman and Green Lantern messed with his time belt.
    • In "Kids' Stuff" Mordred ends up as the most powerful magical being on Earth, and ends up using his newfound powers to break the spell of Eternal Youth cast on himself. The result of this leaves Mordred with only Eternal Life, causing him to degrade rapidly to his true age of a man of several hundred years. Thus he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity as a decrepit vegetable in the care of his obsessively dotting mother.
  • Batman the Animated Series
    • the Joker couldn't kill people like his comic book counterpart and still make it past network censors, so his patented Joker Venom simply reduces victims to smiling, mindless vegetables. In the DVD Commentary of the episode "Harlequinaide", the series creators speculate that this probably disturbed viewers more than outright deaths would.
    • One sociopathic millionaire has Mr. Freeze construct a duplicate cyrogenic suit for him in order to obtain immortality. At the end of the episode the sociopathic millionaire is immobilized towards the bottom of the ocean, condemned there for eternity.
    • Mr. Freeze, then known as Victor Fries, was attempting to commence an experiment involving cryogenetics to cure his dying wife, but then his boss, Ferris Boyle shut down the project without even caring if shutting it down would also kill his wife. Disaster ensues, and Fries' body is altered to become incapable of surviving a sub-zero environment, forcing him to don a mechanical suit that lets him endure a sub-zero environment. Much later in life, it was later revealed that the very same accident also resulted in most of his body deteriorating to the point that his head was the only part of his human self that remained intact, meaning he can't even live a normal life with Nora Fries, his wife, who was revived and cured. Even worse, the technology to cure him (by cloning him) is invented fifty years later, meaning that his wife is an old woman if not already dead and thus robbing him of the only reason he really wanted to be cured. When they finally use it on the poor guy, it works and he begins to live a normal life - for about a week, after which it starts failing, condemning him to the same fate as before. Since there's nothing that can be done, Derek Powers's company, who performed the cloning, tries to kill him. Understandably he gets angry and tries to kill Powers, and finally blows himself up to both spare himself the emotional agony of a second And I Must Scream scenario and to prevent himself from hurting anyone else.
    • In the Comic Book sequel to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it was later revealed that the Joker's poisoning of Arthur Reeves in the film ultimately did leave him in a fate far worse than death, as it turned him into a grinning monster who was completely insane and wanted to murder Batman, Phantasm, and Joker.
  • Ian Peek in Batman Beyond. The guy gets a device that lets him vibrate through solid objects like The Flash can, and he finds out who Batman really is, and by the end of the episode, he's lost control of the power and sinks straight to the center of the Earth.
  • In the final episode of Kong the Animated Series (though a few episodes that take place before it are listed after), the main antagonist, Ramon De La Porta, has his life force sucked out of him by Harpy as part of a ceremony to free Chiros (the second main antagonist) from his prison. After Chiros is reimprisoned and destroyed, De La Porta's life force is returned to him, but has nonetheless been broken by the ceremony, leaving him in a state of shock, which is presumed to be permanent, as it is later mentioned that he was admitted to a special hospital and the doctors weren't sure he'd ever come out of this state.
  • In The Boondocks, the place of torment greater than death itself (or its afterlife equivalent) would be Jail. In Colonel Stinkmeaners' own words: "I may be in Hell but at least I ain't in jail!"
    • Judging by his absolute terror at the prospect of going there which shaped most of his major life decisions, Tom Dubois would agree!
  • Venger, of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, deals with this more or less as his stock in trade. The Gnome Wizard Dekion opposes Venger's efforts to unlock the secret of the Dragon's Heart and thusly expand his influence to The Multiverse? Venger transforms him into a groaning, giant... thing made of slime and moss and who knows what (possibly an animated adaptation of the Shambling Heap). The Evil Sorcerer Kalak, Venger's renegade apprentice, seeks to overthrow Venger? Venger subjects him to an Imprisonment spell (see the Baldur's Gate example above). Just tick Venger off, but not so much that he wants to kill you? He'll have you thrown into a cramped, filthy prison suspended by giant chains above a boiling lake of lava, which is itself tended to by the reluctant Lukion, a literal Gentle Giant who must obey Venger or his homeland will be destroyed and his people slaughtered.
  • The Psychocrypt in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. After having the victim has their soul torn out painfully, those tossed in the device are fully aware of what's happened. Their Life Energy is used to make a construct the Queen (the person who put them there) can see and hear through, forced to do her bidding.
  • In the Samurai Jack episode "Jack and the Lava Monster," Aku destroyed a Viking warrior's village and family and instead of killing him, imprisoned him in an unbreakable crystal and plunged him still alive into the heart of a mountain. Unable to fall in battle to reach Valhalla, this was a far greater punishment than simple death.
  • Implied by the ending of Scooby Doo and the Witch's Ghost. The main antagonist of the movie (who was actually fairly likable up to The Reveal that he was actually masterminding the whole shebang) is sealed inside the wicked book of his witch ancestor to spend an eternity being mercilessly haunted and pursued by Sarah Ravencroft. Being dragged screaming into the book is probably a good indication that he knew what he was in for.
  • In Transformers Animated, a weapon which freezes any machines will doom robots to "a fate even worse than going offline".
    • The bad guy behind it all winds up suffering that fate, permanently frozen (and by 'permanently,' we mean 'until next season,' when he's accidentally freed and resumes his old tricks.)
  • Parodied (what else?) in Megas XLR with the final fate of Grrkek the planet killer who ends up imprisoned in a video game that looks like a Smurfs meet Care Bears

Grrkek: "I demand you return me to my maximum security prison!"

  • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command has this trope parodied when Zurg tried to hit Buzz with a hyper death ray to give Buzz a fate "worse than death: hyper-death".
  • Discord of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, as punishment for The Dark Times he inflicted on Equestria, was turned into an immobile stone statue for more than one thousand years. He didn't seem to mind much, but it is very telling that two of the literal handful of times he loses his cool was insulting Celestia for her part in his imprisonment ("It's quite lonely being imprisoned in stone, but you wouldn't know that, would you, because I don't turn ponies into stone."), and then later when he's turned back into stone and his facial expression is one of unrestrained horror.
  1. possibly after running him over with a truck; the art is unclear on this