Sole Survivor

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"And I alone am escaped to tell thee."
—Job 1:19 (Later, Moby Dick)

"There walked a lonely man, silent, mute, the only man not knowing how, not knowing why was he the sole survivor.

Why should he be alive, breathing still while others died, and the only question: why was he the sole survivor?"
—from "Sole Survivor", by Blue Oyster Cult

It could happen in a lot of ways. Your family picnic is gunned down by The Mafia. Your platoon is ordered to do something suicidal by General Ripper. Your ship goes down. Your Doomed Hometown has a volcano erupt on it. You were Playing Possum when wounded. You were knocked unconscious during the Last Stand. You were sent to Bring News Back. But somehow you alone survive this horrible event. You've become a Sole Survivor.

This is the eventual outcome of a Dwindling Party. It can lead to Survivor Guilt or a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. A Sole Survivor may become a Zen Survivor or Shell-Shocked Veteran.

If your entire world/race/culture has been wiped out, you're the Last of His Kind, which gets its own page.

Compare Everybody's Dead, Dave and Final Girl.

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

Examples of Sole Survivor include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In the Mellowlink anime OAV series, the title character is the Sole Survivor of a mechanized platoon ordered to abandon their machines and take a position as ordinary infantry. Just to show how Bad Ass he is, Mellowlink decides to go on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge armed only with infantry weapons against the conspirators who gave the bad orders, who have giant robots.
  • Claudio Darlton, the leader of the Glaston Knights unit in Code Geass, is the last one of his unit left after the other four pilots and their mechs were crushed by a base, irradiated and blown up, downed by having a chain-sword driven into them and sliced up, respectively. What makes this worse is the fact that they're all adopted brothers, and that their father died in combat a year ago.
  • Hoenheim is the Sole Survivor of Xerxes in Fullmetal Alchemist.
  • In the Bokurano anime, Kana Ushiro is the only of the chosen kids who lives on. She dies in the two other continuities, though.
  • Terry Sanders Jr. in Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team suffers from the bad luck of having every team he's in getting wiped out except for him on their third mission together, earning the nickname of "Shinigami" (The Reaper) in the dub).
  • Brook in One Piece is the last survivor of the Rumbar pirates. Although technically, he died too.
  • The Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha franchise has Tohma from Force. He's currently on a quest to find out who are the ones behind the destruction of his hometown. The fact the he is a Sole Survivor had ruled out the Huckebein group as prime suspects, since when the Huckebein performs a massacre on a settlement, they make sure that no one survives.
  • Sango is the only survivor of the Demon Slayers' massacre in Inuyasha.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Louise Halevy's entire family was massacred at a wedding. She lost her hand in the attack, but was otherwise the only survivor.
  • Hei was the sole survivor in Darker than Black Gaiden OVA episode 4 during Yin's awakening as Izanami. He was spared due to "white" Yin's interference against "Black" Yin.
  • In Busou Renkin, Tokiko was the only survivor of a homunculus attack on her elementary school when she was 10. Given that her family is never mentioned, it's entirely possible that her parents were among the casualties.
  • In Psychic Academy, Ai is the only survivor of a train crash caused by his then-unknown powers freezing time for the train car he was in (but not the rest of the train), which caused it to derail.
  • Area 88 has Boris, a pilot famous for always coming back alone. The TV series introduces him when some rookie tempts fate by saying they've survived a mission with him. He dies after demonstrating that the F 8 E Crusader can fly with its wings folded.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Homura is always the only one surviving throughout all the timelines.
  • A major subversion happens in Getter Robo Armageddon - the Getter Team arrives in an outpost in Manhattan responding to a distress signal, only to find that the only survivors are a couple of adorable puppies. It isn't until the battle's over and everyone's relaxing when they realize something - how could anyone have sent the signal if the puppies were the only ones there? It was a trap.
  • Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto. He survived the killing of his whole clan by his older brother.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • There's The Punisher from Marvel Comics, who just had his entire family wiped out by criminals—and if I remember correctly, this origin was lifted straight from the Mack Bolan books.
    • Mack Bolan's younger brother survived, though.
    • Before that, at least in the MAX books, he survived the battle of Firebase Valley Forge. That is, everyone on BOTH sides (USMC garrison vs VC/NVA Regiment) perished, except for him.
  • Emma Frost was the sole survivor of the mutant massacre of Genosha in X-Men.
  • The warrior Dagar of Dagar the Invincible is the sole survivor of the nation of Tulgonia.
  • Originally, Superman was the Sole Survivor of Krypton. Then came Supergirl, then the Phantom Zone criminals and the people of Kandor. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, which had Supergirl Killed Off for Real, Superman was once again the Sole Survivor. Then came Supergirl, then the Phantom Zone criminals and the people of Kandor...

Film[edit | hide]

  • Cube (at least the first one) ends like this.
  • Dog Soldiers also ends like this, together with the dog.
  • Cast Away with Tom Hanks (plane crash).
  • Natalya Fyodorovna Simonova from GoldenEye is the sole survivor of the destruction of Severnaya by means of the title superweapon.
  • It is revealed in "Sharpe's Challenge" that Sharpe was the sole survivor of an attack on an East India Company outpost in India.
  • This happens to Bruce Willis' character in Unbreakable. He survives a train wreck that killed every other passenger without getting a scratch. This draws the attention of his mentor. Turns out the antagonist has been deliberately causing disasters like this until a sole survivor emerged, for a "higher" purpose.
  • Ellen Ripley in Alien was the only surviving crew (other than the cat) who killed the xenomorph. Same goes for Alexa, the heroine in Aliens vs. Predator. Hicks is the sole survivor of the colonial Marines in Aliens.
    • Hicks is a bad example in Aliens, since he's ultimately one of several survivors. Newt is a better example, Sole Survivor (and Final Girl, no less) for the Xenomorph attack on the colony.
      • Though both are dead from the ship crashing in Alien 3, leaving (again) only Ripley alive.
  • In The Traveler, Detective Black is the only survivor out of the 6 police officers whom Mr Nobody vows to take revenge on.
  • In The Town, protagonist Doug Mac Ray is the only surviving bank robber of his gang in his final robbery job.
  • In Faster, The Evangelist was the only sole survivor in the Driver's hit list since the Driver spared him out of forgiveness. The Driver was also the sole surviving member who took part in a bank robbery 10 years prior to the film.
  • Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the sole human to reach Jupiter.
  • Paxton in Hostel.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In The Apocalypse Troll two entire Standard Sci-Fi Fleet battle groups, each crewed by thousands of individuals of one race or another, end up annihilating each other except for a single cyborg for the bad guys and a single human fighter pilot for the good guys.
  • The Book of Job in The Bible.
  • Ishmael of Moby Dick.
  • Odysseus of The Odyssey. More than once.
  • Sinbad the Sailor, like Odysseus several times.
  • The Ancient Mariner from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • I Am Legend, although this may be closer to Last of His Kind.
  • Robinson Crusoe (shipwreck).
  • Lemuel Gulliver (shipwrecks, repeatedly) in Gullivers Travels.
  • Tom Clancy did this twice in The Hunt for Red October. (The book, not The Movie.) First a nuclear submarine has a reactor accident that ended up destroying the ship, and only one sailor got out before it sank. Then, later on, a bunch of people were being ferried out to a rendezvous with a different ship by helicopter. The chopper was old, and the transmission exploded, causing the chopper to crash into the ocean within sight of the ship they were supposed to be meeting up with. Only one man managed to get out alive, and was rescued by the ship.
  • Mau and Daphne of Terry Pratchett's Nation, A tidal wave both destroys every person on the island of Nation and causes the wreck of the ship Sweet Judy. Mau is the Sole Survivor of the former, since he wasn't on the island at the time, and Daphne of the latter, because she wrapped herself in a mattress.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, in the Backstory, Kolding's father's hospital was attacked by the Chaos soldiers, intentionally to kill the doctors and wounded. Kolding, sixteen at the time, survived by Playing Possum. He was—somewhat traumatized.
  • In Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, Roland is the only survivor of the battle on Jericho Hill.
    • In The Stand it's Stu Redman. There are others in Boulder and there's Tom Cullen, but Stu was the only survivor of the four sent to face Flagg.
  • Horatio in Hamlet, after virtually every other character (the ones who aren't already dead) drops dead around him the last scene of the play.

Hamlet: O good Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian pulled this off in both "The Gods of the North" and "The Scarlet Citadel."
  • In Silverlock, the two leads are watching what appears to be the sinking of the Pequod (from Moby Dick) when one asks about survivors, and the other, seriously genre-savvy character says "Probably one, it's the usual number."
  • In the first book of Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series, Daja is introduced as being the sole survivor of a shipwreck that claimed her family. However, in her culture, being a sole survivor is seen as a mark of being cursed, so she is exiled from her people, completely forbidden to even interact with any of them she may meet so as to avoid passing her bad luck onto them.
  • The eponymous Deadly Game of The Hunger Games is designed to leave one survivor. When Katniss and Peeta subvert this trope by both surviving, they end up starting a revolution.
  • In Wraith Squadron, Myn Donos is the sole survivor of Talon Squadron, which was wiped out in an ambush. This leaves him with serious psychological problems. Fortunately, so does everyone else.
  • Presumably Cassie in Animorphs at the very end.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Obviously, the winner of Survivor.
    • A mild version, as the other players are "voted off" the show rather than killed.
  • The Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough At Last", where Burgess Meredith finally has all the time in the world to enjoy reading when he's the only survivor of a nuclear war... then he goes and breaks his last pair of glasses.
    • There's another Twilight Zone episode that fits, "One More Pallbearer". A mentally unstable millionaire offers three people who wronged him the chance to ride out an atomic attack in his personal underground shelter, but they all refuse. Then, the attack happens. Devastated, he emerges into the ruins of the city, but the Karmic Twist Ending reveals that the attack wasn't real--he's hallucinated it out of guilt.
    • The 1980s Twilight Zone Revival also twisted this one in the episode "A Little Peace and Quiet". A woman has a stopwatch with the power to stop time. She uses it when World War III starts between the US and the Soviet Union. Now she's faced with a choice. Live forever alone, or die with everyone else.
      • Or find a way to Take a Third Option and somehow disable the missiles, even though it'd likely take her remaining life to pull off and the world would never know how the missiles were stopped.
  • Occurred in several Star Trek: The Original Series episodes.
    • "Charlie X": the title character, survivor of a spaceship crash.
    • "Balance of Terror": Commander Hansen in Earth Outpost 4 after the initial Romulan attack.
    • "The Menagerie": Vina (Susan Oliver), also a spaceship crash survivor.
    • "Arena": the survivor of the Gorn attack on Cestus Three.
    • "The Doomsday Machine": Commodore Matt Decker. Has severe Survivor Guilt.
    • "That Which Survives": Losira, subverted in the end when we find out she didn't survive.
  • In Crusade (the short-lived Babylon 5 spinoff series), Captain Matthew Gideon was the sole survivor of the destruction of the EAS Cerberus. This is also an example of government coverup—the official story is that the Cerberus was destroyed by a jump engine failure; however, then-ensign Gideon (who was outside doing an EVA mission) saw the ship being attacked by a ship with obvious Shadow technology.
  • Subverted on Angel when Lindsey briefly believes himself to be the only one left alive by Darla and Drusilla's massacre of the Wolfram and Hart Special Projects division. Just as he's pondering the implications of this, and seemingly finding them somewhat to his liking, one of the paramedics reports finding "a live one" (Lilah), to which he responds "We do?" in a disappointed tone.
  • CSI: NY Lindsay Monroe/Messer, the only survivor of the massacre of her friends in the diner when she was a teenager.

Music[edit | hide]

"Just one He left to tell the tale, just one was His desire. We lost the herd and 30 men to a raging prairie fire."

  • Barrett's Privateers by Stan Rogers, about a disastrous expedition during the War of 1812.

"Now I'm a broken man on the Halifax pier, the last of Barrett's Privateers."

Mythology[edit | hide]

But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world;
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds.

  • Older Than Dirt: In the Old Kingdom Egyptian Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, the protagonist was the only survivor of his ship after a storm on the Red Sea. He washes up on an exotic island inhabited by giant, talking snakes, which may or may not be deities.

Radio[edit | hide]

  • The Lone Ranger was the sole survivor of an ambush that wiped out a Texas Ranger patrol.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In the Paranoia game, this is actually a recommended way to win - you can blame all the bad stuff on the dead, and take credit for all the good stuff "without fear of contradiction"
  • An attrition-based board game, Stay Alive, used the phrase "I'm the sole survivor" in its '80s-era advertisements.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • This is one of 3 possible backgrounds you can pick for your character in Mass Effect - being the Sole Survivor of a team of marines who got wiped out by Thresher Maws (who are 'bout as nasty as they sound). Can lead to an interesting scene later in the game, when you run across another survivor, who had been hunting down a group of scientists responsible for setting up the attack, in order to study the Thresher Maws. If you fail to 'talk him down', he'll execute the last of the scientists, and then say "The vids say that you're the only survivor... who am I to argue?" and then shoot himself. Very dramatic.
    • Although not named explicitly, the Colonist background also has Shepard as the sole survivor of a batarian slave raid that kills his or her entire family.
    • In the sequel, if you do everything wrong, Joker will be the sole survivor of the suicide mission.
    • If you delay starting the suicide mission for too long, then Dr. Chakwas is the only one of the abducted crew who isn't liquified.
    • Played for Laughs with mercenary squadmate Zaeed Massani. Talk to him on the Normandy and he'll share some of his many war stories. An uncomfortable number of them end with the mission going FUBAR and him being the only one to make it out, getting to keep his dead comrades' pay in the process. His dossier in the Shadow Broker DLC attributes this partly to the fact that he was The Neidermeyer. This is a hint that he's actually a poor choice for a Squad Leader in the end game.
    • In the first game, Liara is the sole survivor of her research team.
  • Two women with Gainaxing tendencies from Super Robot Wars fell to this trope: Selena Recital was the sole survivor of Team Jelba from a Balmarian assault, while Calvina Coulange was the sole survivor from the Ashalley Kreutzer facility when the said facility was decimated by the Furies. And no, they're not expies.
  • Shirou Emiya in Fate/stay night was the sole survivor of a great fire ten years ago that razed a whole section of the town he lives in and killed almost everyone else living there. A few other kids are mentioned to have gotten out, but they've all moved away to different foster families and Shirou has no contact with anyone else who was directly involved in the disaster. It has left him with a fair bit of Survivors Guilt, and all three routes are dedicated to how he deals with it in different ways. In the Fate route, you eventually get some of the background to the event: Kotomine caused the event by wishing for a distraction from the incomplete Grail, and all the other surviving kids were taken in by the church and converted into living mana batteries for Gilgamesh.
  • Another Nasuverse example, Tohno Shiki, from Tsukihime, is the sole survivor of the Nanaya demon hunting clan. Not counting his TATARI clones.
  • Samus Aran is the only survivor of a Space Pirate raid on her colony. Then the Chozo that rescued her were wiped out and/or disappeared, making her a Sole Survivor twice over.
  • The survivor of the peace mission in Quest for Glory III, who dies soon after returning to Tarna after suffering terrible wounds.
  • Isaac Clarke in by Dead Space 2 was the only one to survive the events of Dead Space.
  • You gotta admit that Artyom in Metro 2033 is the luckiest SOB in the game to survive multiple near-death situations. Most who accompanied him on the mission are either dead or badly wounded.
  • The Valkyria Chronicles series is fond of this trope.
    • Jamil of Valkyria Chronicles II is both the sole survivor of his squad and the sole survivor of his hometown (because it was razed while he was away with the army trying to protect it). Understandably, he has a lot of survivor's guilt and views himself as The Jinx.
    • Reila "Number 13" from Valkyria Chronicles III is the sole survivor of multiple squads, causing her to be viewed as The Jinx by the regular army. This becomes Fridge Brilliance when you realize she survived when others didn't because she is unknowingly a Valkyria, a race with supernaturally fast and effective healing powers.
  • One ending of the uncut edition of Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere is titled "Sole Survivor", referring to Fiona Fitzerald, who is the only major character to be still alive at that point. Nemo would count, too, but he is not exactly alive.
  • In Call of Juarez The Cartel, DEA agent Eddie Guerra is the sole survivor of the bombing incident of the DEA office. Also upon catching up to Alvarez in the final chapter, depending on who you are playing as, if you choose the option of killing your team mates, you will end up as the sole survivor.
  • In the beginning of Crysis 2, protagonist Alcatraz was the sole survivor of the United States Marine Corps Force Recon unit when the Ceph attacked the submarine that his unit is on.
  • The Doom Marine is the sole-survivor of his unit. Unless you play Co-Op.
  • If you choose to retrieve the canister instead of saving Jess, and fail to let Gerry get on the boat, Jess will be the sole survivor in Jurassic Park: The Game. However, this counts as a Game Over since the game needs the player to fulfill all button inputs, and the final episode is named "The survivors" for a reason.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Survival of the Fittest, this is the obvious fate of anyone who wins the game, as the entire point is for the students to kill each other until only one remains. Battle Royale works on a similar system, but is more idealistic. However, Shogo Kawada fits the trope at first, and pretends to be the sole survivor of the Shiroiwa game to aid Nanahara and Nakagawa in their escape.
  • The RP series Darwin's Soldiers has a theme of battles that leave a single person alive on one side (usually the enemy side):
    • In the Furtopia RP, Zachary's team leaves one terrorist alive after a shootout so they can interrogate him.
    • In the Gang Of Five RP, the first shootout at the AWTR explicitly states that only one female terrorist survives.
    • When Shelton's team is attacked by sublevel guards, Shelton is the only one left awake. It turns out they needed him for the password to auxiliary control.
    • Shelton is also the only avatar still alive by the end of the simulation in Schrodinger's Prisoners.
    • When James' team launches a counter assault, a single terrorist gets a shattered kneecap instead of death.
    • In the second RP, Dragonstorm guards disarm or incapacitate every defender in the control room except Clyco, who activates a BFG and kills all the attackers except PFC Reynolds.
    • Noleson is the only survivor of the security team that tries to arrest James and his men. At least, before Pelvanida is blown up...
    • When a rocket hits the gunner bay of an escaping Lab 101, everyone inside is killed except Shelton, who was unconscious on the ground. He seems to have a habit of this.
    • Shelton is knocked out with everyone else in Nietzsche's Soldiers. This time it's Kerzach who's left awake.
    • In Pavlov's Checkmate, Hans knocks out a Russian enemy before the shooting starts, presumably leaving the Russian the only enemy survivor.
    • When DS-1 ambushed James' team after incapacitating their van, "Achates" later revealed to be Shelton was the only one who didn't die.
    • Part of Ethan Garner's backstory involves being the only survivor from 'Delta Force', though Ethan's author left the RP before explaining what that meant.
    • When a police force fights Terror Squad, Jayden is the only officer left alive.
    • When Terror Squad attacks the Schutzhund competition, Hailey is the only survivor.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang awakens after 100 years frozen in an iceberg and is told nobody has seen another Air Bender for almost 100 years, they are believed wiped out by the Fire Nation. At first he doesn't believe it they could have been wiped out, until he returns to the Southern Air Temple and discovers that he is in fact the sole survivor of the Fire Nation's act of genocide.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Cruelly inverted in an air crash in Colombia, many injuries but only one person dies, while 130 out of 131 live. It seems a cruel inversion, perhaps too sad to mention here. The event reminds me of the Dean Koontz novel Sole Survivor.
    • Still, no matter how cruel, it is still better than if it was straight example.
  • Cases of straight Sole Survivorship have also been noted, by the way.
    • One proverbial example is Vesna Vulovic, the only survivor aboard a plane that exploded at 33,000 feet in 1972. She's the current holder of the Guinness world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute.
    • Juliane Köpcke, the 17 year old schoolgirl who was the sole survivor when her plane broke up in mid-air above Peru due to a lightning strike in 1971. She fell more than two miles but only broke her collarbone. She then trekked for 9 days through the rainforest to find help. She's a subject of a documentary film, Wings of Hope made by Werner Herzog.
    • A more recent example is Bahia Bakari, a 14-year-old girl who was the only survivor of the crash of Yemenia Flight 626 in 2009. The plane crashed into the ocean, and 152 people died; she clung to a piece of aircraft wreckage, floating in heavy seas for over nine hours, much of it in pitch darkness, before being rescued.