Posthumous Character

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

    A character dead from the start or killed very early is developed entirely via Flash Back. May make heavy use of Posthumous Narration. Averts We Hardly Knew Ye. Video Wills, Apocalyptic Log, suicide notes, and mention by other characters on what he or she was like may help.

    Expect them to appear in a Happier Home Movie, which the protagonist will watch over and over until he realizes It's All Junk.

    The Afterlife may be used as a Framing Device.

    A Dead Little Sister or The Lost Lenore is often such a character. Undead characters don't count. The effect should be that, despite a character being, you know, DEAD, they still have as large a part in what's going on as the rest of the characters, or at the very least results in the viewer getting to know the character surprisingly well.

    Generally this character's demise is a Plot-Triggering Death. Compare with Dead Star Walking and Dead All Along. Contrast with Forgotten Fallen Friend. See also Death by Origin Story. The Predecessor Villain is often a specific type of Posthumous Character.

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

    Examples of Posthumous Character include:

    Anime and Manga

    • In the anime version of Akira, the eponymous character himself has been dead for over three decades.
    • Clow Reed from Cardcaptor Sakura (and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, and the manga version of ×××HOLiC) has been dead for decades before either of those series begins, and is only developed through flashbacks and what other characters say about him. He still manages to be the root of the whole plot in Card Captor Sakura and he's the ultimate source of most of the action of the other two.
    • Gold Roger in One Piece, a legendary pirate who conqured the Grand Line and was executed by the World Government. He kickstarts the grand age of piracy where the story takes place. It is also implied that Luffy might be related to him, and we are beginning to learn more about him and his crew.
      • Recent manga chapters have outright stated that Luffy's adopted brother Ace is in fact Gold Roger's biological son.
      • Technically, anytime One Piece has a flashback there will be at least one Posthumous Character.
    • Kanata Izumi in Lucky Star, who is deceased before the beginning of both the manga and the anime. She is only seen through flashbacks in the manga- the anime goes one step further by bringing her back as a ghost, checking up on how her family is doing.
      • Not just the anime, she appeared that way in the manga as well.
    • Cain from GaoGaiGar fame. He is long gone by the time the series start, yet he is a driving force to the whole plot. Still around in some way, and manifests himself near the series' finale from the broken programming of Galeon with the help of The Power. He forces so much respect in the main character Guy that he even has an Heroic BSOD when he thinks Cain did a Face Heel Turn to the Sol Masters (when he's really a flawed program based on the original Cain.)
    • Onomil in Blue Drop though she shows up as a ghost later on
    • Amuria in Simoun, mourned over by Neviril, which forms a major plot point.
    • The death of Kaori in Strawberry Panic is the main reason for Shizuma's bitterness and thus a very important plot point.
    • Various parents in Fruits Basket, namely Tohru's parents and Akito's father. Mostly Kyoko, though. She made the most appearances and was mentioned most regularly.
    • Saya of Black Cat, at least in the manga; the anime moves the flashback arc to the beginning to put everything in order, making her just a regularly developed character who happens to die mid-way through the series. Lloyd as well, although he's mostly a plot device for Sven's power.
    • Quint Nakajima of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Her entire character is fleshed out by stories and flashbacks from her husband, her daughters, and her captain.
      • Alicia Testarossa counts as well. The only times we see her alive are in a flashback and a dream sequence; most of what we know about her comes from Presea, although, since she's quite unhinged at this point, it's hard to tell how much is true.
    • The Fourth Hokage in Naruto, who dies sealing the Nine-Tailed Fox into Naruto at the start of the story. Over the course of the plot, his personality, deeds in life, family, and even real name are revealed. This also applies to his wife Kushina, Sasuke Uchiha's parents, Kakashi's childhood friends Rin and Obito Uchiha, and Yahiko and Hanzo from the Hidden Rain Village.
    • It's hinted that Satoshi from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni died before the beginning of the series, and he only appears in flashbacks. He's comatose from Hinamizawa syndrome.
    • Lena Sayers from the Mai-Otome anime. The series itself takes place fourteen years after her death, with her daughter as the main character.
    • Rem Saverem from Trigun.
    • Detective Conan has two more important ones:
    • Koumyou Sanzo from Saiyuki. Word is that he'll be getting his own prequel series, now that Gaiden has wrapped up.
      • Confirmed and in serialization.
    • Takamichi's master Gateau Kagura von Vandenburg and Nagi's master Filius Zect of Mahou Sensei Negima. The only members of Ala Rubra confirmed to be dead. They now only live in the flashbacks of their comrades, pupils, and a certain princess that travelled with them.
      • Now we have Primum, Secundum, Nii, and Septendecim. And Lifemaker, but (s)he may return.
    • Son Gohan in Dragon Ball. That's the elderly human master of martial arts who adopted Goku, not Goku's son from Dragonball Z, mind you.
    • Elsa from Gunslinger Girl (manga only, the anime introduces her earlier on)
    • Old Rome and Germania from Axis Powers Hetalia.
    • Hokuto Sumeragi and Setsuka Sakurazuka in X 1999.
    • Mary Magdalene is an important enough character in Chrono Crusade to be mentioned in the logo of the series, but she's long been dead by the time the main part of the story starts. She's spoken of several times before the flashbacks explaining who she was are finally introduced (although her ghost shows up briefly in the end).
    • Kaien Shiba from Bleach, a large source of angst for Rukia. Any time she has a flashback, it is very likely to involve him in some shape or form. He appeared to be Not Quite Dead later in the Hueco Mundo arc, but it was only a Shapeshifter Guilt Trip. Also applies to Hisana Kuchiki, Byakuya's wife and Rukia's older sister.
    • Gintoki, Katsura, Sakamoto and Takasugi's sensei in Gintama. His face is never shown in the flashbacks but is implied to be a major influence for all four of his students.
    • In the manga version of Fullmetal Alchemist, Brigadier General Basque Gran qualifies for this.
      • Also, Trisha Elric, whom we got to know rather well for someone who's been dead for years.
      • Also, Scar's brother, especially in the manga/Brotherhood version, where he even plays a vital part in foiling the Big Bad.
    • Marianne vi Britannia in Code Geass—at least for R1, before it is revealed late in R2 that she survived her assassination in Anya Alstreim's body, and steps onto the stage for two episodes before being Killed Off for Real.
    • Natsume's grandmother Reiko in Natsume Yuujinchou. The Book of Friends (aka Yuujinchou) is among the few things Natsume inherits from his late grandmother. Once Natsume has returned the name of a youkai, a flashback is usually shown about the circumstances surrounding when Reiko first took the name.
    • Ryuken, the previous Hokuto Shinken master in Fist of the North Star, is dead before the story begins and his appearances in the series are primarily flashbacks of Kenshiro's training days with his "brothers".
      • Shin and Raoh are lesser examples. Shin is killed off in the tenth chapter, and receives some character development via flashback later on. Raoh is one in the second half of the series, where numerous major characters are connected to him.
    • In Pandora Hearts, Jack Vessalius and Glen Baskerville have been dead for 100 years, and we have just began to understand their stories, always through flashbacks.
    • Cross Game essentially runs on this trope, as one of the three central characters is dead for 49 of its 50 episodes. Despite this, Wakaba gets just as much development as anyone else, thanks to the author's excellent talent for blending flashbacks into the narrative.
    • Allen's adoptive father Mana Walker in D.Gray-man has been dead for several years from the start of the series and yet in the manga while he's a major influence on Allen's choices, he turns out to be an even more major plot point when he turns out to be the biological older brother of the 14th Noah.
    • Yui Ikari and Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion, technically speaking, as they did die but are still around in a sense. Being Kaiju Youkai Humongous Mecha counts as being "still around", yes?
    • In Rurouni Kenshin, Tomoe Yukishiro Kenshin's first wife.
    • Kyouko's father in Madoka Magica. Then Oriko Magica gives us Yuma's parents and Oriko's dad.
    • Mireille's parents have been dead for roughly a decade at the start of Noir, but a flashback to Odette's last words in the penultimate episode greatly influences the end of the story.
    • Gundam Seed: George Glenn, Dr. Ulen Hibiki, and Al Da Flaga are the three men most responsible for the Natural vs Coordinator tensions and the creation of the man behind the Bloody Valentine War. All three are dead as of the start of the series.
    • Caeser, the eponymous character's father from Kimba the White Lion, often appears in flashbacks.
    • Ryuuko's dad in Kill la Kill.

    Comic Books

    • The Comedian in Watchmen, dead on page one. Literally the first thing you see is his blood.
      • Most of the Minutemen, for that matter.
    • Bearclaw and Joyleaf from Elf Quest.
    • Jor-El, Lara, and most other Kryptonians in the Superman mythos.
    • Batman's parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne.
    • Abin-Sur, the Green Lantern who bequeathed his ring to Hal Jordan.
    • Spider-Man's Uncle Ben.
      • Also his parents, Mary and Richard Parker. Betty Brant's brother Bennett (killed in the issue in which he made his first appearance) and Mary Jane's mother (seen only in flashbacks) also fit the pattern.
    • This type of character is a staple of superhero comics. A few more examples:
      • From the X-Men books: Charles Xavier's father, mother and stepfather (Juggernaut's father), Cyclops' and Havok's mother Katherine Summers, Magneto's wife Magda (mother of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch), first daughter Anya, parents, sister and extended family, and his former lover Isabelle, Banshee's wife Maeve (Siryn's mother), Storm's parents, and Nightcrawler's stepbrother Stefan Szardos.
      • Daredevil's parents (his mother was later retconned to have been alive all along) and Elektra's father.
      • Bruce Banner's mother (later revealed to have been murdered by her husband).
      • The Thing's parents and brother Jake. Doctor Doom's parents. Franklin Storm, the father of Susan and Johnny.
      • Henry 'Ant-Man' Pym's first wife Marya Trovaya and Janet 'Wasp' Van Dyne's father Vernon were both introduced and killed off in Tales to Astonish #44.
    • In some versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Himato Yoshi, Splinter's former owner. Although other versions make Splinter and Yoshi the same person.

    Fan Works

    • In Undocumented Features, Corwin's friend Kala never shows up, but her death was discussed by him. In the annotations, Gryphon remarks:

    I feel bad for poor Kala - created already dead for dramatic purposes. It seems a rather cheap trick; I probably should have at least given her a couple of scenes in the preceding pieces, except that I never really had a window to show Corwin's life away from his visits with the Duelists until later on. If I had, it would've given away the fact that something was in store.



    • The Big Bad in Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow is revealed to have died years (perhaps decades) before the story actually began. A case of art imitating life, as he was played by Sir Laurence Olivier, who had been dead for over a decade.
    • Shelly Webster, Eric's girlfriend from The Crow, was given this treatment, both in flashbacks and from the other characters, such as Eric himself, who came Back from the Dead in order to avenge them both:

    Eric: Little things used to mean so much to Shelly. I always thought they were kind of trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial.

      • Apparently that line wasn't actually in the script, and was improvised by the actor. My GOD, Brandon Lee was underrated...
    • Citizen Kane.
    • American History X
    • The police detective in Laura falls in love with the titular character after seeing her portrait and interviewing her friends—while he's investigating her murder. Subverted, in that she's not actually dead.
    • Most of Chicago Deadline (1949) involves flashbacks telling the tangled story of the deceased Rosita Jean D'Ur, as uncovered by an inquisitive newspaper reporter. (The TV remake, Fame is the Name of the Game (1966), borrowed the Twist Ending of Laura.)
    • Lester Burnham in American Beauty comes right out and says it at the beginning via narration, making the events of the movie one big Flash Back.
    • Joe Gillis (William Holden) in Sunset Boulevard enters the film as a body floating facedown in a swimming pool and proceeds to narrate the the events leading up to his death.
    • Auguste Gusteau in Ratatouille, sort of. While the man himself is seen only in flashbacks (or, more accurately, in television documentaries), the version of Gusteau that gets most of the actual characterization is an imaginary construct that serves as Remy's conscience.
    • Meg Ryan's character, Ct. Walden, in Courage Under Fire. The entire plot of the movie is to determine the circumstances of her death, and whether or not to posthumously award her the Medal of Honor.
    • The title character of Drowning Mona dies only a couple minutes into the movie and is fleshed out almost entirely via flashbacks.
    • In Avatar, the main characters twin brother who was in the Avatar program died, and the main character was an identical twin so he got recruited instead.
    • The titular character of Vidocq. In the last 10 minutes of the film you find out he faked his death to get closer to the Big Bad.
    • Marni from Repo! The Genetic Opera died before the story starts. She's referenced a lot in parts like 'Infected' and 'Legal Assassin', and her ghost appears sometimes, although she says little more than "Assassin! Murderer! Monster!"
    • Scar in The Lion King 2.
    • Alex, in The Big Chill. It's his suicide that sets the film in motion.
    • Simon "Gazerbeam" Pallidino from The Incredibles. He was recruited by Syndrome to battle a prototype Omnidroid, then somehow he learned of Syndrome's nefarious plan, as well as the password to Syndrome's computer system. He escaped the fortress, only to die in a cave (presumably killed by one of Syndrome's probe droids)--forseeing the end, he carved the password in the cave wall with his Eye Beams. All of this happens off-screen, prior to the main plot; all we see is Mr Incredible reading about Pallidino's disappearance in a newspaper article, then stumbling upon Gazerbeam's remains in the cave. The password Gazerbeam carved on the wall comes in handy.
      • Technically, Gazerbeam is seen alive and well as a guest at the Parrs' wedding—for about half a second.
    • All but one of the principal characters in The Usual Suspects. The story unfolds as the lone survivor recounts for the police the events that brought the suspects together and how they eventually met their ends. With a healthy dose of Unreliable Narrator, of course.
    • Ellie in Up. Carl's desire to fulfill her dream of living in Paradise Falls is what drives the story, and he often talks to the house as if it were her.
    • Leonard's wife in Memento.
    • Mal in Inception.
    • Harry Lime in The Third Man is the central figure of the entire story, even though the movie's second scene is his funeral. Of course, he's not really dead...
    • The title character in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The people looking to collect the price resort to grave robbery.
    • Originally, Anakin Skywalker was set up as one of these...then it was subverted so damn hard
    • Brian in Things We Lost in Fire is killed at the beginning of the movie, his character is seen mostly through flashbacks.
    • BG/Dierdre's mother and grandmother in The Goddess Of 1967.
    • In the film, Menace II Society, Caine's whole story is really a flashback of the choices he made, which resulted in his death.
    • Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones of the narration and Framing Device variety.
    • The Descendants has this, sort of. The main character's wife is in a coma from less than a minute into the movie from which she never recovers. She at the end of the movie. While she is not truly a character, she and her actions drive a significant portion of the plot. May cross into Living MacGuffin.
    • Helen Kimble in The Fugitive, though unlike most characters mentioned here, she only gets a few flashbacks, but they're enough to establish that she and Dr. Kimble were Happily Married.


    • Beatrice, the Baudelaire parents (see previous), Jacques Snicket (Technically, he was killed halfway through the series in the same book he was introduced) and probably several others in A Series of Unfortunate Events
    • Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds by Brian Daley. Cazpahr Weir, lord of a small interstellar empire, dies in the prologue. The main story concerns a hapless Terran bureaucrat left a mysterious bequest in Weir's will, for no reason he can (at first) understand.
    • Jon Arryn, Lyanna Stark, Rhaegar Targaryen and his father Aerys in A Song of Ice and Fire. More are added to this list as the series progresses.
    • Arguably, Eunice Branca in Robert A. Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil After she is killed and Johann's brain is transplanted into her body, he finds her mind still present. It is left ambiguous whether she is actually still there or whether Johann is hallucinating her continued existence.
    • Both of Harry Dresden's parents have appeared to him in various books, despite both being long dead by the time of the first book. His father has popped up in dreams, while his mother left him pre-recorded messages in his and his half-brother Thomas' souls in order to leave proof for her sons that they were brothers.
    • Lily and James Potter from the Harry Potter series are killed at the very beginning of the series. Everything that we learn about them is through flashbacks or their magical equivalent.
      • Also, we learn far more about Albus Dumbledore posthumously in The Deathly Hallows than in all six of the previous books combined.
      • Regulus Black, the Hogwarts founders, and Grindelwald
    • Ptolemy in The Bartimaeus Trilogy.
    • In The Death Of The Necromancer, the titular Necromancer actually suffered the titular death about two hundred years before the book began. And they don't actually kill him again, they just put him into a permanent sleep.
    • Jiguro, Balsa's foster father from Guardian of the Sacred Spirit. Balsa tries to do right what he did right and avoid what he did wrong with her charge and the warriors hunting them.
    • Older Than Television example (or just about): Rebecca, from the 1938 novel with the same name (later made into a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock). When the story opens, Rebecca (wife of the wealthy Maximilian de Winter) has been dead for a year already—but even in her absence, her presence is inescapable, as her memory casts its shadow over the entire story.
    • The classic Brazilian book Posthumous Memories of Bras Cubas is pretty self-descriptive. Also, hilarious.
    • The main character of the Burke series by Andrew Vachss often mentions his friend Wesley, who only appears in the fourth book, in which he apparently dies. He leaves no body behind and many who knew of him refuse to believe that he is dead, which Burke takes advantage of many times.
      • Terminal has Melissa Turnbridge, murdered 30 years before the book's events. As the opposition for the book includes the three then-teens who raped and apparently murdered her, as well as the man who tried to hide the body, this inevitably comes up.
    • The Wicked Witch of the East in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
    • Warriors has StarClan (the afterlife in the series), so cats that die usually aren't gone gone. Though they do eventually fade away. Yellowfang and Spottedleaf, for example, probably did more in the series dead than while alive.
      • Also, Redtail and Oakheart are surprisingly important, and things they did before dying are very important in the original series.
    • Emmeline Grangerford in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
    • Addy Bundren from As I Lay Dying.
    • Elfangor, the Prince that gave the Animorphs their powers, got a full fleshing-out in the prequel companion novel The Andalite Chronicles, including the revelation that he fathered one of the Animorphs.
    • The Quiet American begins with the narrator discovering the other main character, Pyle, is dead.
    • June Morrisey from Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine.
    • In the Hand of Thrawn duology, Thrawn has been dead for ten years. A Big Bad Triumvirate conspires to make him appear to be Back from the Dead. Whenever the physical impersonator is in character and doing the impersonating the narration calls him Thrawn - as in "Thrawn inclined his head" - instead of his usual name, Flim. One of the triumvirate was cloned with a piece of Thrawn's mind, and there is an unfinished clone of his, but he doesn't appear himself. He's dead. But his presence is all throughout the duology; particularly with the actual Hand of Thrawn.
    • Granny Aching from the Tiffany Aching series of books in Discworld. Dead before the first book began, we only see her through Tiffany's memories. A bit of a shame since it would have been interesting to see a meeting between Granny Weatherwax and her. Pratchett has said in talks, "She's one of my best characters ever, and she's dead!"
    • Dave Likely in Unseen Academicals.
    • In Soon I Will Be Invincible The Pharaoh (the villain one) was killed by CoreFire before Doctor Impossible escapes.
    • In Percy Jackson and The Olympians, Thalia sacrificed herself to save others, and was turned into a tree just before her death. Said tree protects Camp Half-Blood, and when it's poisoned in the second book, the plot revolves around finding something to cure it. Which turns out to be an Evil Plan so that Thalia will be healed back to normal form, giving Kronos some other important half-blood to influence. He even goes, more or less, "Exactly as planned" just before the reveal. Thalia becomes a regular character from the third book on.
    • Gaius Septimus in the Codex Alera series. In this first book, his history and death was mentioned in an offhand way, to explain why there is a succession crisis and give the archetypal Farm Boy protagonist a memorial to shelter from a storm in. By the end of the series we've learned that he was married, and to whom, who his friends were, and a lot abou what he was like.
    • Ali DiLaurentis in Pretty Little Liars is developed completely by flashback until the last book
    • D'ol (or "Doctor") Neshom and Wissen in the Green-Sky Trilogy.
    • Walt Disney himself in the Kingdom Keepers books.
    • Catch-22 has several, most notable Mudd, the dead man in Yossarian's tent.
    • In The Father Luke Wolfe Trilogy, Janey Peer only appears in Flashbacks, and "Chollie" is the addressee of letters Father Wolfe writes in Diary form. Janey turns out to still be alive, however.
    • Hari Seldon in Asimov's Foundation series is almost entirely depicted after his death in recordings he has left for future generations.
      • Only from Foundation and on. The plots of Forward the Foundation and Prelude to Foundation are focused on Seldon's life.
    • Night Watch by Terry Pratchett has a fairly interesting version of this trope. John Keel, Sam Vimes' mentor, is murdered shortly after Vimes stumbles back in time; he's mentioned in the beginning on the anniversary of his death (and the other soldiers). So Vimes ends up having to take his place in history, letting us see something similar to the story of John Keel, but not quite (note that it's not a Stable Time Loop; Vimes wasn't supposed to come back in time. He really was mentored by the real Keel, who was murdered due to Carcer being brought back in time as well. So John Keel's feats were really done by John Keel in the first timeline, but in this separate timeline, they're done by Vimes).
    • Laia Odo in The Dispossessed. She's been dead for several hundred years, but the entire world of the story is her creation, and the characters speak of her often. The short story The Day Before the Revolution, published after The Dispossessed subverts this by taking place before Odo's death and focusing on her.
    • In Warm Bodies, Perry narrates through his life memories inside R's mind.
    • In Aimee, Aimee is developed entirely through flash backs, even though she killed herself before the events of the novel started.
    • In Saving Zoe, Zoe is developed through her diary that her sister Echo is reading.
    • Crispin Salvador from Ilustrado. The main character's quest is to find out why Crispin died by piecing together Crispin's works and looking for his supposed life's work -- The Bridges Ablaze. Then it's weirdly subverted at the end, since it turns out that Crispin was writing the whole thing.
    • Holes by Louis Sachar has an interesting take on this. The main story involves Stanley Yelnats at Camp Green Lake in the present day, with the other two stories of Kissin' Kate Barlow and Elya Yelnats taking place far before the events in the present. The characters in the latter two stories are of course dead by the time Stanley's story takes place, so arguably, you're seeing them as flashbacks or snippets of the past (though they aren't framed as such).
    • In Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, almost everyone from Roland's past is one of these, including every character from the Wizard and Glass Mejis flashback (which is the majority of the book), aside from Roland, Walter and Sheemie.
    • In David Eddings' Belgariad, Garion's parents and Polgara's sister start as clues on Garion's identity.
      • Also on one of Eddings' novels, Regina's Song, one of the twins is dead, the other is the Angsty Surviving Twin.
    • Someone Elses War: The entire novel is kickstarted by a boy trying to find his missing little brother. Said missing little brother turns out to have been dead since chapter one.

    Live Action TV

    • George & Marion Kerby and Neil in Topper
    • The drama Providence had the main characters mother die in the first episode. She continally appears to her daughter as a type of muse.
    • Every single episode of The Forgotten has a murder victim's body discovered prior to the opening credits and reveals what this person's life was like via flashbacks. To make it even weirder, each episode is given voice-over narration by said victim.
    • Just as Lost has Loads and Loads of Characters, it also has loads and loads of posthumous characters, including several different types of posthumous characters, each type having its own most triumphant example.
      • The most straightforward type are those characters who were dead before the series even began but have since turned up in Flash Backs. The most triumphant example is Jack's dad, Christian, whose dead body Jack was bringing home on Flight 815, but who turned up in numerous episodes throughout all six seasons, whether in flashbacks, in dreams, as a ghost, or a Dead Person Impersonation.
        • Other such characters would include: Susan Lloyd, Frank Duckett, Essam Tasir, Tom Brennan, Jae Lee, Yemi, Angelo Busoni, Kelvin, Emeka, Edward Burke, Tricia Tanaka, Howard L. Zuckerman, Roger Linus, Horace Goodspeed, Emily Linus, Jonas Whitfield, Isabella, "Mother", and Claudia.
        • Subverted in the case of Kate's mom, Diane. In her first flashback she already has a terminal disease. She then appears in several other flashbacks that all clearly take place sometime before the first one. But in a Flash Forward we discover she's still alive. "The doctors have given me a year to live for the past 4 years."
      • Another unique type are among the Tailies. They would've been alive at the start of the series, but are dead by the time any Main Character meets the Tailies. The most triumphant example is Goodwin, who debuted as a corpse, then went on to guest star in 4 episodes after that, each one in a flashback taking place earlier than the one before it. The only other dead Tailies named are Donald and Nathan.
      • Then there are those characters who died soon after their debuts only to appear in more episodes after they died than they ever did while they were alive. The most famous example is Ethan Rom, killed in his fourth episode, then appeared in eight more episodes after that. Other examples include:
        • U.S. marshall Edward Mars (killed in his third episode, appeared in six more after that).
        • Leslie Arzt (killed in his third episode, appeared in four more later).
        • And the most triumphant example, Jacob, killed in the very first episode he was played by a professional actor. The actor went on to play Jacob in five more episodes.
      • Beginning with the first Flash Forward in the third Season Finale, we had plenty of characters who were still alive in the main timeline, but were dead by the time of the flashforwards. And since the first flashforward shown is actually one of the last in chronology, this would also include people who were killed in the ffs. The most triumphant example is John Locke, whose body is in a closed coffin in that thrid season finale. It's not till the fourth season finale that the coffin is opened, revealing it's Locke, and not till midway through the fifth season are we shown how he ended up there.
      • During the fifth season, the Losties traveled back in time, meeting characters we already knew were dead by the present. The most triumphant example is Stuart Radzinsky, a character we had heard about as having committed sucide but whom we'd never seen till now. Other examples include Rousseau and her entire expedition, and members of the Dharma Initiative, many of whom will be killed in the Purge, and Phil, a DI member who ends up dying long before the Purge, as a direct result of the Losties' actions.
      • And finally, there's the flash-sideways where the most triumphant example is everybody. The flash-sideways is the afterlife and "takes place" after everyone shown in it has died.
    • Lilly Kane of Veronica Mars.
    • Mary Alice Young, the deceased narrator on Desperate Housewives.
    • In the Firefly episode "The Message", Tracey appears dead, and wakes up after his character development has taken place.
    • Laura Palmer, Twin Peaks
    • Harry Morgan in Dexter.
    • Jimmy Keefe, and many others, in Rescue Me.
    • Trudy Monk in Monk.
      • To a smaller extent (and more prominantly in the novels), Mitch, Natalie's husband.
    • Chandra Suresh in Heroes.
    • Too many to count in the 2000s Battlestar Galactica.
    • Terry Crowley on The Shield. Terry was killed by Vic Mackey in the first episode of the series, but remained in the dialogue for every season and appeared in flashbacks.
    • Jack Crusher and Ian Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
      • Likewise in TNG, Mogh, father of Worf and Kurn. In DS9, Jennifer Sisko is found dead by her husband Ben in the first few minutes of the series and developed as it went on. Of note is her mirror universe counterpart who died herself in the second episode she appeared while saving the life of the ‘real’ Jennifer’s son, Jake. As well, Curzon, host of the Dax symbiont before Jadzia, is seen briefly in a Jadzia-centric episode and later when he temporarily possesses Odo.
    • John Teller in Sons of Anarchy is heard only in voice over through his journal.
    • A weird example: Margaret from the Dollhouse episode "Haunted." Seen alive but dies during the first scene, then able to Attend Her Own Funeral, in a way, by having her mind imprinted into a Doll. Technically dead and most of what we know about her comes from hearing her loved ones talk about her...despite her (or her memories in someone else, anyway) being the protagonist of the episode.
      • Also arguably the original Dr Saunders, though it seems the new Dr Saunders has at least some of his personality.
    • Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. in Six Feet Under dies in the pilot episode, and throughout the series continues to interact with his family, along with the occasional Body of the Week. It's left ambiguous whether he is an actual ghost or just in their heads (unless you consider Word of God to be canon; in which case, they're figments of the imagination or represent inner thoughts).
    • Leo Strange, Erica's older brother in Being Erica. He died several years before the show takes place.
    • Pretty much the entire premise of Cold Case is based on this, as all the victims are obviously dead from the get-go of any episode, and their story is filled in entirely via the flashbacks of their friends, families, enemies, etc.
      • All crime shows could be said to have a case of this, as we rarely know the victim before hand.
    • John Scott from Fringe, who was killed in the first episode but still became a major character.
    • The A-Team had an old member of their Vietnam unit, Raymond Brenner, who stood by them during their trial and each of the team remember fondly. They return the favor by going after his murderers and freeing his town.
    • The Fugitive was built around Richard Kimble's attempt to clear himself of the murder of his wife, Helen.
    • Kyle Reese in The Sarah Connor Chronicles is mentioned frequently (as all the main characters knew/loved/are related to him except Cameron) and appears as a hallucination in one (incredibly weird) episode.
    • Chairman Cha's brother and Ji Heon's brother in Protect the Boss
    • In Game of Thrones, Lyanna Stark, Rhaegar Targaryen, Aerys "The Mad King" Targaryen and Jon Arryn are among the characters mentioned frequently but already dead by the beginning of the series.


    • Lightning Tiger's death at the beginning of Veritas forms the basis of the plot. Almost all characters introduced afterwards have their relationship to him explained via flashback.
    • In Tarot Cafe, Pamela's mother was burned at the stake before the series begins, but she still shows up in Pamela's memories, a hallucination/dream, and to give Pamela a hint when Pamela is exploring Hell. Arguably she sets off the events of the series, between taking Pamela to visit the "holy man" who was really Belus and making her Deal with the Devil in an effort to protect her daughter.


    • Yorick in Hamlet.
      • Not to mention King Hamlet, who comes back as a ghost at the very beginning of the play and sets everything in motion.
    • Portia's father in The Merchant of Venice. Portia spends much of the play dealing with the weird test he had set up for potential suitors, since according to his will she can't marry anyone who doesn't pick the right casket and must marry the man who does. She is not entirely pleased with this situation.
    • The Mizner brothers in the Sondheim musical Bounce.
    • Eva Smith/Daisy Renton in J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls. The inspector in question is calling upon the Birling family to investigate the events leading up to her suicide.
    • The Baker's father in Into the Woods, who set most of the plot into motion years earlier, but was believed to have perished in a "baking accident". Zig-zagged when it turns out that the Mysterious Old Man is the Baker's father, whose reveal comes just in time for him to die again, only to kind of come back to life to sing a duet with the Baker in Act II.

    Video Games

    • Jecht of Final Fantasy X although we eventually learn that Jecht isn't dead.
      • Also Braska, although Braska doesn't get as much character development and did leave a Video Will, if you happen to find it.
    • Zack from Final Fantasy VII is the entire reason Cloud becomes the main character, yet we only find out about his existence after Cloud realizes he was pretending to be Zack the whole time.
    • Serah in Final Fantasy XIII turns to solid crystal only seconds after she appears for the first time at the end of the first act. As the game progresses, more details are revealed about her and her past. Her fate is the major motivation and driving force behind both Lightning's and Snow's diverging storylines, and she played a major role in the events that led up to the games beginning.
    • Emiya Kiritsugu in Fate/stay night. Does not apply in the prequel Fate/Zero, obviously.
    • Gouken in the Street Fighter series before Street Fighter IV made him better (his appearance in the American animated series doesn't count).
    • Everyone in BioShock (series) except the handful of people still alive at the start of the game gets all their character development done through Apocalypse Log entries. The most notable examples include Doctor Suchong, a Complete Monster who is responsible for several important plot elements, and Ryan's mistress Diane McClintock, who gets a fairly comprehensive character arc if you hunt down all her logs.
    • Zak Gramarye and Drew Misham in Apollo Justice Ace Attorney. Actually, a lot of victims in the Ace Attorney series are like this.
      • Byrne Faraday in Investigations is noteworthy. In the course of investigating his murder we find out a lot about his personality and relationship with his daughter Kay, but the full story about his past doesn't come out until near the end of the final case.
      • Gregory Edgeworth became one by way of a flashback case in Investigations 2, which fleshed out his personality a little more.
        • The same game also has a very interesting case in Manousuke Naito who, while alive, is just a flat, Jerkass, murderer. It's not until he becomes a murder victim himself that you learn there was a little more to him than that.
        • Also contains a Zig-Zagging example in Teikun O who you meet, very much alive, until... he dies in the 5th case. You begin learning more about him in flashbacks after this, but they cumulate in The Reveal that that O was just a body double, turns out the real O was a Posthumous Character right from the start.
    • Makihasa Tohno in Tsukihime is the root of the problem in all three far side routes, part of the near side ones and Shiki would also be a completely normal guy badass (and possibly psychopathic) assassin of demons with an intact family and not destined to die in 5–10 years tops. It's pretty impressive for a character who's already dead to be more of a Complete Monster than the serial killer in town or Nero Chaos.
    • Takamachi Shirou, Kyouya's father in Triangle Heart 3 ~sweet songs forever~, is mostly developed through his family's memories and flashbacks. They kept him alive and present, however, in a More Popular Spinoff that we shouldn't have to name by now.
    • Erana from the Quest for Glory series is a powerful sorceress who you hear about throughout the series, and then in the fourth game you get to find out what happened to her. She was sealed away by an Eldritch Abomination while sacrificing herself to stop said Abomination from entering the world. You can bring her back from the underworld in the fifth game if you choose, and she becomes one of your love interests.
    • Theofratus from Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. Almost every chapter began with dialogue from his life before his death, providing details to his character, as well as important hints to the game's plot.
    • The Sorrow in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a spirit medium soldier who was killed two years before the events of the game. He appears as a ghost who gives out clues to Snake, as well as a non-conventional boss who summons all of Snake's previous victims.
    • The Remnant Psyches in Killer7 are the ghosts of people who were previously associated with the Seven Smiths during their lifetime, mostly former victims. Most of them are the ghosts of defeated bosses like Andre Ulmeyda and Curtis Blackburn, but some of them (namely Travis Bell, Kess Bloodysunday, Susie Sumner) were also past victims who died before the events of the game.
    • In the Metroid series, Samus Aran's former CO Adam is an intriguing example. In Metroid Fusion, his character is introduced in monologues given by Samus, with implications that he sacrificed his life to save her. However, in an interesting twist, Adam's mind was uploaded into the computer on the station Samus was on, so in a weird way he was kinda, sorta alive, depending on how you view the phrase "alive". It however he lost his status as a Posthumous Character in Metroid: Other M, becoming a prominent (and very much alive) character in the plot of the game.
      • To be fair, Other M takes place before Fusion, so it's pretty much a given that Adam would die either in in Other M or sometime after.
    • One of the first sentences in Eternal Darkness involves the narrator informing you that he is dead.
      • Counts for every character not named "Alex", "Edwin", "Peter", or "Michael". Edward is merely the first person the player learns of who was killed.
    • In Iji, Mia and Hel Sarie are very much dead when the game begins.
    • The mask spirits from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. You do get to meet Darmani and Mikau briefly, but it's after they die that you get to know them in more depth through living their lives.
    • In the flash game series Sonny, the titular protagonist, as well as Veradux and Felicity, are posthumous characters by virtue of being zombies.
    • Persona 3's epilogue The Answer has the protaganist, though the main team eventually get to see him acting as The Great Seal between Nyx and Erebus.
      • In the main story, Ken's mother is the driving force behind Ken's motivations to join S.E.E.S. and attempt to kill Shinjiro for accidentally murdering his mother with his Persona
    • Sir Francis Drake is this in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (doubling up as a Historical Domain Character). The plot is kicked off by Nathan Drake, who believes he is Sir Francis' descendant, following clues left by Francis that reveal how he faked his death and went hunting for a legendary treasure on an uncharted island. His journal and messages to other people are crucial to following the trail, and at the end Nate discovers that Francis made a Heroic Sacrifice to stop the Descendants from escaping the island. Francis is also a crucial part of Nate's characterisation, since the latter draws a lot of pride and self-confidence from being the descendant of the former, and briefly believing that Francis failed in his quest and died alone crushes Nate's spirit.
      • Marco Polo in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, though not as much as Francis in the previous game.
      • Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has T.E. Lawrence playing a huge part in the story, as well as more details on the connection between Nathan and Sir Francis Drake. Specifically, there isn't one. Nate made up his backstory, including his name just to convince himself that he was worth something.
    • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, we learn the Ninth Man's identity after his gruesome death.
      • Not to mention The Captain.
    • Cave Johnson, the man behind Aperture Science, from Portal 2. His glory days and eventual decline are chronicled in a bunch of audio-logs that are played on some of the levels.
    • Rosenkreuz of Rosenkreuzstilette is one. He sacrificed his own life to have his final wish granted - his wish was for the Holy Empire to accept Magi as part of their military.
    • Pandora of Hero Smash counts as one as well, as she, according to her memorial statue found in Aurora Park, made the ultimate sacrifice so that the residents of Super City could see another day. Of course, judging by the full-color pictures of her found in ads as well as several Artix Entertainment main websites, it implies that Pandora might not actually already be dead...
    • In Knights of the Old Republic 2: Sith Lords, we have Coorta in the Peragus level. The various holocrons mention him as being a troublemaker (bringing weapons into the mining facility despite how dangerous it is) and being the driving force behind selling the Jedi for bounty money. When you finally meet Coorta, you find his dead body on the ground, and the final holocron shows him as being killed by HK-50 after he tried to escape the mining facility.
      • Subversion in the first game and the MMO. You mean to tell me Revan's not dead?!
    • After finishing the first generation of Record of Agarest War, Leonhardt becomes this. He is still being discussed by other characters even after his death.

    Web Comics

    • Marty from Count Your Sheep
    • Krayne from Fated Feather
    • Surma Carver from Gunnerkrigg Court. Her past is one of the central mysteries of the story.
      • And there's also the first generation of the Court: Jeanne, Diego, and Sir Young. Unraveling their story has become another of the central mysteries. Though Jeanne is a borderline case, as she initially shows up as a ghost, in the present.
    • Neilli is the most prominent one in Juathuur. So she would have everyone believe, that is.
    • Eugene Greenhilt from The Order of the Stick, though he manages to visit as a ghost. Most of Soon Kim's Order of the Scribble, of whom only Serini is possibly alive. Also, Redcloak's brother Right-Eye.
    • Melody from Penny and Aggie.
    • Brian Rammer is dead in the mainline Sluggy Freelance universe, but is still alive in at least two alternate universes.
    • Scotty and Rose from Something*Positive
    • Milo from The Zombie Hunters.
    • Jade's Grandfather in Homestuck initially (the first time we see him is Jade being startled by his stuffed body... somehow). However he is disqualified for being alive during most of the kids' adventure because of shenanigans. The same goes for John's Nanna, who comes back as a sprite.
      • Crowbar, Matchsticks, and Quarters of the Felt are dead when the Midnight Crew Intermission begins. However, they come back through time shenanigans.
      • The trolls' ancestors (save for The Condesce and The Handmaid, who were still alive at the time they were introduced) all qualify. The Ψiioniic was technically alive at the beginning of Act 5 Act 1, but he was introduced after his death.
      • On Alpha Earth, Jane's grandfather and Jake's grandmother, the Alpha counterparts of John Egbert and Jade Harley.
        • It turns out that the Alpha versions of all the Beta kids are dead.
    • Mary Elizabeth in the original incarnation of the Basil Flint universe - fleshed out and killed again in Flat Feet and High Heels, things do not bode well for her fate in Mary Elizabeth's Sock.
    • Unwinder's Tall Comics: Unwinder purchases the late Gary P. Rastov's entire War of the Seven Stars novel series. Although he hates the books, Unwinder becomes obsessed with the author. Even the comic's cast page notes this:

    Gary P. Rastov is never pictured, but is a full-fledged character in the strip nonetheless. ... Though he's dead by the timeframe of Unwinder's Tall Comics, his work is regularly referenced, and Unwinder personally has a very complicated relationship with his writing.

    • Ameer from Grey Is. He dies sometime in the two years White is gone. We get to see a fair amount of him in the flashbacks though.

    Western Animation

    • Hamato Yoshi in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) is one of these. After appearing in occasional flashbacks, he is the focus of the series' hundredth episode.
    • Dr. Jonas Venture, Sr. in The Venture Bros has been dead for about 20 years before the series begins, but he is still shown through flashbacks, visions, and "safety" films. Many of these show how Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture's life got so messed up by him despite Venture Sr.'s '50s dad clean-cut image.
    • Katara and Sokka's mother from Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of these. Princess Ursa (Zuko and Azula's mom) could be considered one of these, even though it's implied she's still alive.
      • There's also Fire Lord Sozin, who started the war that series plot revolves around, but only appears in one flashback episode. Fire Lord Azulon, as well.
      • Then there's Monk Gyatso, Avatar Roku, Avatar Kyoshi, and Lu Ten, all of whom are important to the plot, but are long dead before the series began. This is the implication of a series set 100 years later and with reincarnation; someone close to the cast will inevitably have died, either due to extreme old age or the main character himself (since it wouldn't be reincarnation if there wasn't a dead guy to begin with).
    • The Simpsons: Snowball I, the original family cat, who died some time before "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (the first episode of the TV series to be aired), and had made no appearances beforehand, either in the episodes which preceded it production-wise or the Tracey Ullman shorts. She has been seen in family photographs and flashbacks (and also in a near-death experience of Bart's), and many of the tie-in books are dedicated to her memory.
      • In the episode "Stark Raving Dad", Lisa also mentions having a pet hamster named Snuffy who died, though no other reference has been made to him since.
        • In the episode "On A Clear Day I Can't See My Sister", Lisa mentions that Bart once comforted her when her pet hamster died.
      • Another good example is the town's founder Jebidiah Springfield.
    • Futurama: Many of Fry's relatives and former acquaintances are introduced this way, notably his dog in Bender's Big Score and his father in the season 6 episode Cold Warriors. With all the time traveling going on in that series, though, many examples may turn out to be subversions of the trope. (Under what category fall the heads of presidents that were actually dead before the show started?)
    • Castle Greyskull may look like a skull, but it isn't grey. So how did it get its name? Answer: It was named after its original owner. An episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002 version) told the story of King Greyskull, a legendary hero of Eternia; the Castle was his home. In fact, when Prince Adam chants "By the Power of Grayskull!" he is actually invoking King Greyskull's power, not the castle's.

    Other Media

    • The first student to die in v1 of Survival of the Fittest is a kid on the plane shot for wearing his hat sideways, due to Danya's hatred of "punks". From there to the very end of the game, this student is never mentioned again, or even named, until endgame when Adam reflects back on the student's execution and remembers how he had been back in school, finally revealing to the reader the character's name and personality. It finally comes full circle to the boy being shot just for wearing his hat sideways, giving the reader a whole new perspective on a boy who had originally just been a throw away redshirt.
    • In the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions Qunicy Rnager, who was created to make fun of another author's typo & killed by an exploding spell checker in his only first appearance, only to be fleshed out afterwards & even made an appearance in a time travel storyline.
    • A number of characters in There Will Be Brawl fall under this trope, but the really notable one is mob boss Mewtwo, who had been killed early on in the series, but was later revealed to have been the ones to cultivate the psychic powers of Ness and Lucas, who turn out to have been the serial killers all along.
    • New York Magician eventually has Michel's grandma.