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War Is Hell. So what better way to punish your foes than to make them fight forever?

Basically, a scenario in which a character (or characters) in fiction is forced to fight indefinitely, usually as a form of Karmic Death. It doesn't necessarily have to be an afterlife.

The defining characteristics of the trope are:

  • Characters are somehow imprisoned and made to fight
  • Death is not an option for escape

Depending on how bad the punishment is, this can be used symbolically to support the argument that war is a terrible thing. A common subversion/inversion is for the "punished" character to enjoy the violence. Sealed Evil in a Duel is a sub-trope. Contrast Warrior Heaven, where having getting to fight forever is your reward.

Examples of Hell Is War include:


  • Kriegsaffe's "autopsy" of the infamous Christian Humber Reloaded includes a few breakaways to Kriegsaffe's own vision of Humber's world- in it, Hell is staffed by noble demons who have the damned continually re-enact battles (the D-Day landings are specifically mentioned) not as punishment, but as a means of redeeming themselves by strengthening the 'soldiers' into a team and instilling virtues in them.



  • The fifth circle of Dante's Inferno. Also gives sad people something to cry about.
  • Here In Cold Hell has both this and Warrior Heaven at once: while in a strange, violent Hell where each character is subtly being punished, one admits that for him, this is heaven. He was born a crippled, deformed child who only lived to around ten years old, but was guaranteed a spot because he fought every day to live.
  • In Tad Williams's Otherland series, a very wealthy man treats people as expendable, torturing several for information and, upon learning they know nothing, dismisses them without ending their torment, merely silencing it. For someone who actively displeases him, he reserves the right to truly punish him; he sticks a man in an unending simulation of the trenches of the first world war with no memory of his life except for the grey mud and horror of the trenches.
  • Inverted in Odd Thomas: Stormy, Odd's girlfriend, believes that life on earth is a sort of "boot camp" the afterlife is a lighter version of this; good, noble, and brave souls are recruited into service to combat evil on a higher plain, while the rest, well...don't. According to her, the rewards for this service will be given in a person's third life. Odd himself mentions disliking this theory, mainly because it implies that all the horror on our little rock is preparation for something worse.

Live-Action TV

  • The Last Great Time War mentioned in Doctor Who. Horrific to the degree it turned the Time Lords from bored aristocrats in funny hats into Omnicidal Maniacs. From supplementary materials, it is revealed what happened to the Time Lord casualties; if died, they rose to fight again, and again. Regeneration cycles were restocked over and over, never allowed to truly die. Ever. And that's without going into the Mind Screwy nature of a Time War and the Unfortunate Implications it can bring.
  • An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where the crew lands on a planet with two rival factions incapable of dying thanks to highly unusual microbes. Anyone who 'dies' at least once on the planet comes back to life, but is now unable to leave the planet due to the microbes being the only things keeping them alive.
    • From the original Star Trek "The Alternative Factor" - Matter and Anti-Matter versions of the same man are locked in combat forever in the corridor separating their universes.
    • Also "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" - The last two survivors of a world destroyed by a racist civil war cannot give up their animosity, one continues to chase the other as he has done for the last 50,000 years.
    • Another TOS example: "Day of the Dove" has a being that lives off anger and hate. It pits the crews of the Enterprise and a Klingon ship against each other, gives them primitive weapons to deal the most damage, and heals any wounded. This allows the being to live forever off the crew's hate, as they are locked in battle forever, immortal. Luckily, Kirk figures this out before it happens.

Mythology and Religion

  • The Asura realm in Buddhism, a whole world of endless carnage. Supposedly, souls that incarnate here used to be extremely violent in their past life/lives.

Tabletop Games

  • This is a major aspect of Dungeons and Dragons' cosmology: the various factions of Hell are always fighting among themselves, and this is maintained by the Good-aligned gods who throw an Infinity+1 Sword in the fray now and then to ensure no one faction is stronger than the other. Because if Hell was to be unified , they'd overthrow the heavens in no time.
    • This form of punishment is made explicit in the Lawful Evil plane of Acheron.
      • Quite explicitly made so in earlier editions of the game, where a multidimensional war between endless hordes of demons and the vast, disciplined legions of hell, all based loosely on Milton and Dante, field armies of millions in each battle of a genocidal conflict that spans seven dimensions of endless torment. Into this madness, evil mortal souls go. Planescape took this idea to its logical conclusion, and treated the whole thing as Black Comedy gold.
  • In Warhammer 40000, one Ork Warboss and his WAAAAGH! was treated to this trope after invading several Daemon Worlds (each one a literal World of Chaos) until his WAAAGH! was finally stopped and exterminated at the private daemon world of a Daemon Prince of Khorne. For invading this Prince's world and castrating him, they were punished by being forced to fight for all eternity on that world, dying each day and rising anew every morning to fight again. The Orks, however, don't see it as much of a punishment. And it may not even be meant to be much of one since Khorne cares only about violence, especially for its own sake.
    • There are also several other Daemon Worlds where the Daemons fight each other, and indeed the Realm of Chaos itself consists mostly out of the legions of the Chaos Gods fighting an endless war with each other.
  • Infernum does this in miniature with the Circle of Slaughter. This was the testing ground for the demons back when the First Fallen were running the show, and even nowadays, it's an endless meatgrinder of demons versus demons, demons versus humans, and demons versus spawn. And sometimes demons versus humans versus spawn versus other demons. Blood rains from the sky and forms gory mists that induce homicidal rage, the earth buckles and spews lava in response to artillery and sorcery barrages, and untold millions of demons are wiped out without a single thought. After all, a single demon can be rendered down to produce as many as thirty-six new demons, which will be fully grown and ready to kill about six or seven months after being "born".

Video Games

  • The afterlife in The Darkness in which "dead" soldiers are sewed up and made to continue fighting.
  • Possibly worth mentioning Planescape: Torment (which itself is based on the Dungeons and Dragons cosmology) where one of the major plot points is that the souls of sinners are sent to fight in the Blood War (fought between lawful devils and chaotic demons) after their death. Which is just what happens to your hero.
    • Not so much of a downer as a Bittersweet Ending, as the Nameless One's other choice was an eternity of amnesiac resurrections. He simply stopped trying to run away from the War. Additionally, the player just merged with a being that described itself as godlike. Before the merger, the player character could potentially kick the crap out of greater demons in single combat or be among the smartest/wisest/most charismatic beings in existence (or all of the above). After the merger... well, let's just say the Nameless One may do alright for himself even in the middle of the Blood War.
  • The Final Boss of Painkiller takes place in Hell, which is portrayed here as a freeze-frame of war, depicting war throughout various points in history.
  • Not a literal punishment, but the usual threat levelled at mercenaries in the Metal Gear world is that they'll end up in 'Outer Heaven' - an idealogical concept of an absolute, timeless war - fighting for the rest of their lives.
    • That's not a threat- that's the Evil Plan of most of the main villains. They are mercenaries and soldiers who want this kind of world, in part because they are tired of only fighting wars for selfish political reasons, and in part because war is the only place they feel their lives have meaning. It's Hell for the rest of the world, but for them it's the closest to Heaven that they can get, hence "Outer Heaven".
      • Part of the plot of the fourth game is that they tried to make a Warrior Heaven, and it ended up being this.
  • This is the setting of the strategy game Lost Souls, according to the manual. It neglects to specify whether there's any benefit to winning the fights rather than losing, other than that winning lets you go on to the next level.
  • In Folklore, you get to visit several different afterlives, based on the beliefs of various people throughout time... one of them is a war-torn wasteland born of the feverish nightmares of soldiers serving in the trenches of the two World Wars, as their vision of the ultimate hell.
  • The ultimate Wrath punishment in Afterlife is "War! (What Is It Good For?)", where the damned fight a perpetual war as they are revived shortly after being killed.