Spoiler alert: Death occurs quite frequently in horror games.
Characters have met their demise in all sorts of ways: Being sacrificed to demonic gods, turned into the undead, blown up by a rocket launcher while sinking into a volcano…you name it! Despite this, while sifting through the many corpses of horror past, there are a handful of character deaths whose ghosts still haunt us. These are the deaths that have reverberated throughout the rest of a series, deaths that have made us shed tears, and deaths that were so gruesome, that the image has been seared into our brains.
For the sake of casting a broad net into a large genre of deaths, this list will include only one character each from a respective series, as a series like Silent Hill could have its own list of memorable character deaths in itself.
With that: Let the killing begin!
Mayu Amakura (Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly)
Mayu was the very first character that I thought of when considering which deaths have stuck with me the most. The weight of Mayu’s death touches on so many relatable emotional facets—familial love, sacrifice, and grappling with the inevitability of death. The Amakura twins are immediately tragic victims of circumstance when they’re dragged into All God’s Village, and Mio’s devotion to her sister is what gives her the courage to face the hostile spirits that block her path.
We’re led to believe that Mio has the ability to protect her sister wielding the Camera Obscura, yet in a tragic twist, she herself ends up falling victim to the spirits and killing Mayu to complete the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual. It was a brilliant choice of the developers to give players control of Mio until the last minute, when it counts the most, and force us to watch helplessly as Mio does the exact opposite of what players have been trying to avoid the entire time. The disbelief and confusion in Mio’s face as the spirits toss Mayu’s lifeless body into the Hellish Abyss mirrors the feeling of the player as you realize that this tale doesn’t have a truly happy ending. Before you say, “Wait! There are endings where Mayu lives!”, Fatal Frame III, unfortunately, canonizes the fact that Mio had murdered her own sister and is tormented by her death.
Emily (Until Dawn)
This entry may be a bit polarizing for those that have played Until Dawn, as people tend to have a love/hate relationship Emily. Regardless of whether you like her or not, Emily’s potential death at the hand of Mike is the most memorable death from Until Dawn. The moments leading up to her death scream classic horror movie—the group (whoever is still left) notices Emily’s Wendigo bite, and immediately draws upon prior knowledge of horror tropes that she herself could end up turning into one of the bloodthirsty creatures. The question is then: kill, or be killed?
What makes Emily’s death so memorable, aside from the aftermath of Mike’s sharpshot directly into her left eye, is the lasting impact that it has. You find out immediately afterwards that Emily was never going to turn into a Wendigo, and you then have to grapple with the guilt that while Emily was able to survive the Wendigo attacking her, she couldn’t survive her own friends. It also drastically changes the ending, as you realize that whoever manages to survive the night is now going to have to deal with potential murder charges (which you can see as Mike helplessly tries to explain his actions in the epilogue, had he killed her).
Lee (Telltale’s The Walking Dead)
Remember when I mentioned character deaths that reverberated throughout the rest of a series? Lee’s death left a gaping hole in our hearts, and the rest of Telltale’s The Walking Dead seasons. Throughout the first episode, you mold Lee into the character that you want him to be, particularly when it comes to his relationship with young Clementine. Whether Lee shields her from the atrocities of the apocalypse, or prepares her to become self-sufficient, the two inevitably develop a touching familial bond.
This culminates in the finale of the episode, in which Lee sustains a bite from a Walker while trying to reunite with her, and Clementine must decide whether to shoot him out of mercy or escape before he turns into a Walker himself. It’s a tragic moment that symbolizes what coming-of-age means in the world of the undead, and the memory of Lee persists Clementine and other characters that knew Lee in various ways throughout the rest of the series.
Scissorman (Clock Tower)
Scissorman makes this list for the dramatic end he faces in his tenacious quest to kill Jennifer Simpson. Players are led to believe that Jennifer had canonically killed Scissorman (then Bobby Barrows) in the original Clock Tower, until it’s revealed that his twin brother, Dan, had taken up the mantle (er, giant pair of scissors) in the sequel.
Whether you’re playing as Jennifer or Helen, both bring about the true destruction of Scissorman in the same way: By reciting a strange spell that opens up an ancient, giant door that sucks him in. No one knows for sure where that door leads or why it exists in the first place, but it brings about a very over-the-top and climactic end to the series’ most iconic killer.
Albert Wesker (Resident Evil 5)
Picking the most iconic character death throughout the entire Resident Evil series is no easy feat. However, when it comes to the most referenced and recognizable moments in the series, Chris Redfield’s determination to killing Wesker manifesting into superhuman strength to shove a boulder into molten lava may take the cake.
On top of the memes and jokes that it spawned, Wesker’s death was monumental in the series, as he’d been tormenting Chris and fellow STARS members since their initial voyage through the Spencer Mansion. He followed suit in tradition to almost every other mutant final boss in the series by ultimately getting exploded by a rocket launcher, bringing an end to his brooding, traitorous ways.
Seiko (Corpse Party)
Corpse Party may be one of the more obscure titles referenced on this list, but if you’re like me and stumbled upon playthrough videos of it randomly late one night while you were in high school, you may have also been scarred by the gruesome fate that befalls Seiko. Corpse Party follows a group of teenagers that find themselves lost in the halls of an alternate reality called Heavenly Host Elementary School, whose restless spirits eat away at the mental sanity of the victims that it ensnares.
In the first chapter of the game, best friends Naomi and Seiko find themselves separated from the group. Seiko seems like the more composed of the duo initially, with Naomi quickly falling into panic about something seeming off about the school. When the situation reaches a head and the two separate after bickering about what to do next, Seiko ultimately snaps. Naomi stumbles across her hanging body in a bathroom stall as she is still barely clinging to life. Seiko’s death scene is gruesome and graphic, as Naomi scrambles to try and save her, dumping a bucket of maggots all over herself to place and use as support. Naomi’s efforts prove futile, leaving Naomi alone in the darkness and Seiko’s spirit trapped in the halls.
James Sunderland (Silent Hill 2)
Similar to the Resident Evil series, fans inevitably have different opinions on what the most iconic and significant death in the Silent Hill series is. While Harry Mason gets an honorable mention, James Sunderland’s potential suicide ending, In The Water (which has often been speculated as the canon ending to the game) is a testament to how Silent Hill can truly get under your skin when it comes to deeper themes of human nature like morality and redemption.
Whether you forgive, empathize with, or hate James in the end, his monologue as he comes to terms with ending his own life to be with Mary is chilling and unforgettable. Instead of showing James plunging into Toluca Lake, a black screen is shown as the sound effects leave the details of his death up to the player’s imagination.
Daniella (Haunting Ground)
Daniella may be the most complex character in Haunting Ground (and in my opinion, the scariest stalker to pursue Fiona). At first, she simply appears to be an apathetic maid with a strange fixation on Fiona, until clues around the Belli castle reveal the sinister forces that have completely warped her mental state, to the point that she can’t even look at her own reflection without having a meltdown.
This facet of her mental disarray is what leads to her memorable, almost campy death scene. After a boss battle sequence, Daniella is exposed to a large mirror beneath her, causing her to scream out in despair and frustration. Her screams are somehow so loud that they shatter the window of an atrium above her, causing a giant shard of glass to plunge down into her chest. In her last moments, a smirk creeps across her face, revealing that death is what she may have been seeking all along after a life of physical and mental torture. Much of Daniella’s characterization is never fully elaborated on, and her death scene opens up an even deeper layer of depth that makes you reconsider what her motives were all along.