The Hero Dies

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Exactly What It Says on the Tin. May or may not herald a Downer Ending. This trope is an aversion of Decoy Protagonist, Our Hero Is Dead and Not Quite Dead. May or may not be The Bad Guy Wins. Also note that the Hero doesn't have to die in order for the Bad Guy to win.

Sometimes this could lead to another character to take his place.

The ultimate variant of Anyone Can Die, and one of the main causes of a Bittersweet Ending. Might overlap with Heroic Sacrifice. Compare Dead to Begin With, when the hero's dead from the very start of the story.

Spoilers ahead, obviously!

No, seriously, if you don't want to be spoiled, turn back now!

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

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

You Have Been Warned.

Examples of The Hero Dies include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the finale of the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, Ed is killed by Envy. Al, who is the new Philosopher's Stone, transmutes himself a few moments later to revive him.
  • This counts for the second death of Yusuke Urameshi in Yu Yu Hakusho, not in the beginning when he's Dead to Begin With.
  • Jonathan Joestar dies at the end of the first part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, sacrificing himself to take Dio with him. It isn't until part 3 that we find out that his death was in vain, as Dio's head took his body and used it to revive himself.
  • Nana from Nana's Everyday Life.
  • Seita and Setsuko from Grave of the Fireflies.
  • The first major arc of Death Note ends with Light tricking Rem into killing L, the second with Light's own death at the hands of Ryuk. So by both interpretations - L as the hero and Light as the villain, or vice versa - the hero dies.
  • Ash is killed by Shin's brother in the final chapter of Banana Fish.
  • Spike from Cowboy Bebop, though he may actually be a subversion. While there's a boatload of evidence that Spike is walking up the stairway to heaven, Word of God is that Spike's status is completely open to interpretation.
  • Byronic Hero Lelouch is killed at the end of the series, dying in the arms of his sobbing sister Nunally. Magnificent Bastard that he is, Lulu planned the entire thing to atone for the horrible things he'd done trying to build a better world and to give Nunnally, Kallen, and the rest of humanity a chance for a better future.
    • He didn't plan it from the very start of the series, but as It Got Worse and his actions caused or helped cause countless deaths, he has a My God, What Have I Done? moment and decides that the only way he can truly up for all the tragedy he caused is with his own life.
  • Aya was supposed to die in the final episode of Weiss Kreuz Gluhen, but a manga sequel was greenlit and they retconned it so that he survived.
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes. Both of them. Yang Wen-Li didn't even make it into the last season.
  • The ending to Yu-Gi-Oh! is that Atem passes on to the afterlife, finally freed from the Millennium Puzzle.
  • Ichise in Texhnolyze.
  • Though inconclusive, the nameless Gun God, the main character of Angel Notes, which is part of the Nasuverse, is possibly dead.
  • In Chrono Crusade, the titular Chrono's source of his powers is Rosette's own life, meaning every time he uses his powers it shortens her lifespan. When the series starts, she's not expected to live beyond thirty. And at the end of the manga, when the epilogue skips ahead eight years...
    • The anime version still uses this trope, but in a different way - due to having used up so much of her life during the final battle, Rosette's life span is shortened to the point where she only has months to live. Rosette and Chrono both go into hiding, getting their own log cabin to live the rest of their short lives together in peace before dying. Leaving the series here would have made is a Bittersweet Ending - however, it's then revealed that the villain may still be alive after all...
  • Phantom of Inferno. In the anime, both Reiji and Ein die at the very last scene.
  • The Sky Crawlers. The anime film's Hero goes one-on-one with, and dies at the guns of, the Teacher who was previously known as Lynx/Cheetah, the player character of the Wii game, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces.
  • Witchblade. In the anime, Masane performs a Heroic Sacrifice to destroy the Witchblade and every single I-Weapon that crowded around her.
  • Toward the Terra ends with Jomy dying side by side with Keith. Except then there's the coda...
  • Munsu from Shin Angyo Onshi, aka Blade Of The Phantom Master, dies like a true warrior after the antagonist is killed.
  • Wolf's Rain does this with pretty much everyone.
  • Goku (who provides the above image) from Dragon Ball has sacrificed his life twice in the series; the first time being when he held his evil brother Raditz still for Piccolo to shoot him with his Special Beam Cannon, knowing fully well that he would have to die too. The second time was near the end of the Cell saga: Cell has inflated to massive size and is threatening to blow up the earth. Thinking quickly, Goku uses instant transmission to send Cell and himself to King Kai's planet and stays during the detonation so that the world will be safe. He is resurrected both times.
  • Captain Noah from Space Carrier Blue Noah dies after saving the world, him being the hero the show is named after.
  • Ash Ketchum from Pokémon: The First Movie is killed (or near enough) by a crossfire of psychic attacks. He gets better by a stream of Swiss Army Tears.
  • Hagino/Ekaril from Blue Drop. It's all ultimately for nothing.
  • The movie adaptation of Macross Frontier. Alto (and likely Brera) are caught in final explosion. And Sheryl is likely doomed to A Fate Worse Than Death ... unless she manages to wake up on her own.
  • Madoka from Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. Several times. She eventually manages to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • The main character in Millenium Actress dies after telling her life story in an interview.
  • Kimba the White Lion has this happen at the ending of each of its adaptations with the exception of the 60's anime sequel and the 2009 TV special.
  • In Bakuman。 no one dies in the main story but, Nanamine's Classroom of Truth and the main characters' Reversi kill off their main characters. The former is a Shoot the Shaggy Dog example, in which even he fails to escape the survival tournament for his class. The latter combines is a case of Dying as Yourself, and is seen in-universe as a fitting conclusion to the story.
  • The manga Claudine finishes with the main character commiting suicide.

Comic Books

Fan Fiction


  • Ellen Ripley in Alien 3. She gets better. Sort of.
  • Neo and Trinity die at the end of the last Matrix film, though it isn't a downer ending, since he fulfilled his purpose successfully.
  • Nada (played by Rowdy Roddy Piper) from They Live!. At the end, he dies giving the camera the finger. Arguably a metaphor for the whole movie.
  • This happens in Gladiator, the hero arguably succeeds.
  • Lester from American Beauty tells us that he's dead in the beginning of the film.
  • Ah Jong of John Woo's The Killer dies without fulfilling his promise to have Jenny's eyes fixed. The Big Bad is finished off by Inspector Li Ying, the other primary hero, but Li is arrested by his fellow officers afterward because he did it in cold blood right in front of them.
  • Three Hundred: With the sole exception of Dilios, whom Leonidas sent back home to rally Greek support by telling the tale of the 300 Spartans, everyone on the Spartan side ends up dead on the third day of the Battle of Thermopylae. Most definitely not a case of The Bad Guy Wins, since their sacrifice delayed the Persian army long enough for Athens to be safely evacuated before it was destroyed, and for the Greeks to begin their own campaign to drive the Persians out of Greece forever. The movie skips past a year of this campaign during the epilogue, but there's another graphic novel in the works that will be set in that missing year; a movie sequel based on this new novel has not been ruled out.
  • The captain, the sub, and a whole load of the crew in Das Boot.
    • In fact the captain survives. We see him hurt, not dead, and according to Word of God he lived (and so did the real person he is based on).
  • In both the book and the movie of Cold Mountain, Inman dies after making it home to Ada and fathering a child.
  • Carlitos Way
  • No Country for Old Men, in particular the movie, takes full advantage of this trope. Not a Kill'Em All, but definitely a The Bad Guy Wins and a Downer Ending.
  • The 3:10 to Yuma 2007 remake ends with the death of the protagonist. After he had survived all the obstacles, too. Not a case of The Bad Guy Wins, though, as even the self-styled heartless villain was touched by his Heroic Sacrifice and stubborn determination.
  • Jericho in End of Days. Not a case of Downer Ending, as we clearly see he's headed for a better place.
  • Von Ryan's Express.
  • The bureaucrat protagonist of Akira Kurosawa's classic Ikiru dies in the neighborhood playground he created to justify his life.
  • William Wallace in Braveheart.
  • El Wray in Planet Terror.
  • Captain John Miller and nearly all of his squad from Saving Private Ryan.
  • Jack Dawson from Titanic.
  • Harry Stamper from Armageddon.
  • 12 Monkeys.
  • Children of Men.
  • The Australian film Gallipoli.
  • Curtis in Operation Crossbow.
  • Possibly Nina in Black Swan, who stabs herself with a mirror shard, thinking she has killed Lily, and completes the performance while bleeding profusely.
  • Bruce Lee's character in Fists of Fury/The Chinese Connection.
  • Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth.
  • Luke in Cool Hand Luke.
  • Professor Immanuel Rath in The Blue Angel
  • Donnie in Donnie Darko.
  • Rooster Cogburn dies of old age in the remake of True Grit.
  • In L: Change the World, to capture Kira L writes his own name in the Death Note, giving himself 23 days to live. The film is about how he chooses to spend them.
  • In The Book of Eli, Eli has succumbed to his gunshot wound by Carnegie and died upon reading all the contents from his memory of the King James Bible to Alcatraz press company.
  • Firefighter Jack Morrison in Ladder 49.
  • Jack Sparrow, at the end of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. He gets better.


  • Sherlock Holmes in "The Final Problem." It didn't stay "final" for very long.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front.
  • Harry Dresden as of the end of Changes. He then spends the next book, Ghost Story, solving his own murder. As a ghost.
  • The novelization of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, aside from many other differences from the plot of the anime, has Amuro Ray die several chapters before the end of the book. Despite Yoshiyuki Tomino's reputation as "Kill'Em All Tomino", he said that he only did it because he thought it would be a single complete story and that if he had planned on making sequels from the start, Amuro would have lived.
  • 1984. Winston and Julia are caught, tortured and Mind Raped by O'Brien, a guy who was supposed to be their link to "the Brotherhood," but is actually a member of the Inner Party. They are broken so thoroughly that all love that they had for each other is dead (particularly since the two were forced to betray each other through means of Room 101, which faces them with their worst fear—for Winston, it was rats, though since the story is in Winston's perspective, we never do find out what Julia's worst fear was), and then executed by being shot in the back of the head. Not just a Downer Ending, but a Shoot the Shaggy Dog, given the last four words: He loved Big Brother.
  • Outbound Flight. Lorana Jinzler died in a Heroic Sacrifice. She was the only unambiguously good character in that half of the novel. The other major characters, who might be called heroes, survived—but Thrawn and Car'das and Doriana weren't entirely good people.
  • In Firewing, Shade the Bat kills himself in the Bat Underworld to give his son, Griffin, and his friend, Luna, life force to feed on and become living, breathing bats again. In the end, he still survives, but in the form of the foliage of the forest floor. When he's dead, he flies around the world and can be anything he wants to be.
  • Jean Valjean dies at the end of Les Misérables. Admittedly, so does almost everyone else.
  • The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar. Guess what the Persian translation of the main character's new official title is? Yeah.
  • In The Last Chancers last novel, Kage, possessed by a Slaaneshi daemon, decides to commit his first ever act of altruism and jumps off a cliff to his death, taking the corrupt governor with him.
  • Parrish dies at the end of Parrish Plessis, commiting suicide when she realizes even her Heroic Willpower isn't able to hold off The Corruption any longer.
  • David dies at the end of the third Dragons book, Firestar, by Chris D'Lacey. Initially, this looked like it would be the end of the series, making it an unusually harsh ending for a book aimed at the 8-12 bracket. The series did creep on, and David came Back From The Higher Plane Of Existence, with the implication being that he became one with God(ith) and saw all the knowledge in the universe through his daughter's eyes, but if unexpected, the ending of Firestar can be a real punch.
  • Nathaniel dies in the third and final book of the The Bartimaeus Trilogy, resulting in a Bittersweet Ending, Tear Jerker and Heroic Sacrifice all in one.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin: Tom is whipped to death by the plantation owner.
  • Jerry Westerby in The Honourable Schoolboy, the second volume of John Le Carre's The Quest for Karla trilogy.
  • Speaking of John Le Carre, Leamas in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
  • Antony and Galen in the second and third books, respectively, of Marie Brennan's Onyx Court series. Technically, all the mortal heroes of the series could count, as given the large time skip between books, the hero of the previous one is always dead by the time the next one comes around, but Antony and Galen get special mention for dying during their respective stories.
  • In Phantastes, this is the happy ending.

I was dead, and right content.


Live Action Television

  • Jack Shephard dies in the final scene of Lost, and we even get to see him moving on to the afterlife.
  • Xena, after "dying" several times throughout the series, dies for the final time in the series finale.
  • Buffy died at the end of the Season 5 episode "The Gift." The next season, they brought her back. She also died at the end of the first season, but only for a few minutes and was revived with CPR.
  • When Flower died on Meerkat Manor, the show was completely shattered. Next Generation with Rocket Dog just wasn't/isn't the same... She was their star and the pillar that held the show up.
  • Victor "I don't believe it!" Meldrew was stuck down by a car in the finale of One Foot in the Grave. Noticeably, the climax of the episode wasn't his death, but rather his wife's reaction to it.
  • Nick Cutter is shot midway through the third season of Primeval
  • Robin Hood dies at the end of the third season, joining his wife Marian who had died at the end of the previous season. Despite attempts to set up for a forth season, the show was inevitably cancelled.
  • Farscape's John Crichton (one of the twinned two, anyway) died a hero's death at the end of Season 3's two-parter Infinite Possibilities. Luckily, there was a backup "copy" on Moya.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left", the Tenth Doctor is killed in the parallel universe created by Donna's mind after he floods an abandoned Torchwood base with him inside it, creating all sorts of chaos and havoc.
    • In "Father's Day", the Ninth Doctor is consumed by Clock Roaches after Rose created a paradox saving her father. After her father fixes this error, he and everyone else on Earth returns.
    • In "The Impossible Astronaut" Eleven is killed to death, mourned, and cremated, only to show up a few minutes later, completely clueless as to why everyone is so upset. Their past, his future, cue plot arc.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures story Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane, the Trickster makes a deal with Sarah Jane's friend and switches places with 13-year-old Sarah Jane, making her fall to her death. She later relinquished her deal, causing time to return to normal.
  • Earth: Final Conflict is a rare case where the hero died at the end of the first season, but the show still continued without him.
  • Torchwood:
    • Captain Jack. Repeatedly. Firstly by Dalek extermination on Doctor Who, and over 1300 times (not all chronicled) since.
    • Owen Harper is shot by the leader of The Pharm, Aaron Copley, is made undead, and presumably dies again after being trapped in a nuclear plant control room flooded by radiation.
    • Toshiko Sato is shot by Jack's brother Gray.
    • Ianto Jones dies from a virus inflicted by the 456.
    • In Torchwood: Miracle Day, Esther Drummond is shot by the Three Families while temporarily immortal to stop Torchwood from making humanity mortal again. They refuse, and Esther succumbs to her wounds.
      • Rex Matheson is shot by an agent of the Families, but gains Jack's healing ability.
    • The team fall under the category of this trope because they are all heroes (at least by series 2), and get roughly the same amount of screen time.
  • Shinji Kido, the titular Rider of Kamen Rider Ryuki. Got better by way of Reset Button in the finale.
  • Jonah Gabriel from The Shadow Line was killed off in the final episode of the series.
  • Bill Henrickson bites it in the last episode of Big Love after getting shot by an angry neighbor.
  • The Sopranos, according to some.


  • Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, obviously since he's the salesman.
  • Bobby Strong, the hero of Urinetown, dies midway through the second act.
  • Antigone commits suicide out of spite.
  • Hamlet. Granted, he doesn't go alone.
    • Also Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Julius Caesar... essentially, the title character of every Shakespearean tragedy (although how heroic they are is a matter of some debate in each case).
    • What's interesting about Julius Caesar is that the title character dies halfway through the play, spending the rest of it as a corpse, a ghost and some military inspiration. Whether or not this in fact makes Brutus the hero is up for debate.
  • The same applies to the title character of nearly every tragic opera as well.
  • Sweeney Todd, although he's more of an Anti-Hero.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera kills off its title character, the Repo Man Nathan Wallace, near the end of the play.
  • Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Also, pretty much everyone else in the cast... except the lovers Marius and Cosette, and the two most horrible people in the entire play - The Thenadiers - who become rich in addition to living. Pretty dramatic example of the trope.

Video Games

Visual Novel


  • Captain Kaff Tagon and Seargent Schlock in Schlock Mercenary (arguably the two primary characters) are killed and stripped of all memories/former self, respectively. Averted via time travel.
    • ...eventually. The strip ran for quite a while looking like leadership of the Toughs was going be by Kevyn, with a degree of awkward mentoring from Tagon's father. Technically, the time travel was mostly required to avert the death of everyone in the galaxy.
  • John Egbert's physical self in Homestuck ends up getting killed by Jack Noir. He gets better when his Dream Self replaces him, and in fact this event allows him to reach the god-tiers... and then his god-tier self is also easily killed by Jack Noir. Fortunately, god-tiered characters have conditional Resurrective Immortality.
    • All of the kids and all of the trolls die at least once. As of the current plot a lot of people have died twice, and most of these second deaths have proved to be permanent.
    • Act 6 invokes this trope with the apparent death of a newly introduced main character. After about a month, it turned out that she actually did not die, but the fact that the event came out of nowhere certainly shocked readers.
  • Irregular Webcomic. Twice.

Web Original

Western Animation

  1. Well, for at least three years, anyway...
  2. admittedly a Designated Hero, but still the protagonist