In the Final Destination series, Death (also known as The Grim Reaper) is an active, cunning, volatile, supernatural, personified force, and the series' primary antagonist, though its actual malevolence is debatable. While invisible to people, it nevertheless makes a somewhat noticeable and ominous presence wherever it goes and can manipulate any aspect of an environment to its will. Although the character of Death is never seen, in truth it is an entity that wants its design to never be violated.
It has been highly suggested that Death essentially programs the events of a person's entire lifespan, ultimately deciding where, when, and how they will die. Should anyone deviate or "cheat" from what Death has set for them, whether deliberately or not, Death will then impart a new design and eventually return for them to seek revenge, usually in the worst, most painful way imaginable, though whether Death is actually malicious or just taking offense at its design being broken is unknown. Despite it often being called "cheating" or "avoiding" Death, this is incorrect as evidence throughout the series seems to indicate that Death seems to have planned for the survivors to escape as they were supposed to die later and the visions were to help them get to that right place at said right time. The evidence for this seems to be Molly Harper, from Final Destination 5, who was never meant to die on the North Bay Bridge and nor were any of her friends and co-workers. They were meant to survive to die as they do in the film so that Peter could try to kill Molly and her "apparent" death was avoided so that she and Sam could be on Flight 180 and Death's plan could play out exactly as it is supposed to and kill Sam and Molly where they were supposed to die all along. Because of this, suicide is practically impossible unless it was indeed that person's time to die. Any attempt to cheat is ultimately futile as it's implied that Death maintains an agenda of some kind in order to keep forces of life and death balanced and will meet that quota one way or another. It's also been implied that Death will become very angry if its design gets altered.
Death maintains a strict order and, unless people die in the specific original vision, Death spares them from any future deaths in its plan to kill the survivors, maintaining its specific plans and their unfortunate problems of being caught up as bystanders.
Death seems to have a both a form of respect, however grudging that may be, and the ability to know when it shouldn't draw out someone's death - such as with Clear Rivers; Clear knew what to look for in the signs Death would leave and Death gave her a quick death in an explosion (something which featured in all her "escaped" Deaths too - no fewer than six), meaning Death respected her enough to make it quick but was also clever enough to know that she could see signs and escape, so took her out as quickly as possible to ensure she didn't escape again. As well as "respect" and "intelligence", Death seemed to have a form of honor - it would not kill innocent bystanders, writing them off as being "in the wrong place at the right time" and "sparing" them as their time to die is later on in life - and seems not to discriminate as it killed both a racist and the racist's victim.
The Final Destination Series
Throughout the series, Death comes in the form of overly complex freak accidents to kill off survivors of a major disaster they were originally supposed to die in as well as in the order they would have died in said disaster. If somebody intervenes in a person's death, then Death will cheat by skipping that person and moving on to the next before returning to that person to complete the rift in its design, although the order has been shown to reverse itself. In Final Destination 2, the death order of those who were supposed to die in the Route 23 pile up was reversed due to the deaths of the Flight 180 survivors.
There are also a few cases where someone's death comes before (or after) another victim on the list for an unexplained reason (Gunter Nonhoff and Eric Prescott most notably). Death will, however, seemingly make implausible situations when someone deliberately trying to commit suicide will ultimately fail, as seen when Eugene Dix tries to shoot himself in the head with a fully loaded six shot revolver, only for every bullet to be a misfire.
Usually there are mysterious clues as to how the next person will die, its most common form being a brief gust of spontaneous wind. Other clues range from pictures or brief images or signs or an odd formation of something on the ground. The clues could be about anything on how they die (i.e. the word "EYE" for Evan Lewis, a series of cracks in the ground that look like a skeletal hand for Hal Ward, the song "Rocky Mountain High" for various situations, or nothing but a dark, black shadow that appears out of nowhere).
Death also has a handful of servants who unintentionally (in some cases on purpose) kill a person on Death's list. Additionally, Death does not appear to be above killing others to hasten its acquisition of survivors, with Tom Gaines theorizing the entity is perfectly willing to "sneak souls" when the opportunity to do so arises. There have been mixed theories in what Death will do if the survivor with premonitions deliberately kills him/herself despite not being next on the list. Ian McKinley had a theory that, if the last on Death's list (usually the person with the premonitions) kills him/herself, it would ruin Death's plans, since the survivor isn't next to die.
It has been suggested that it would ruin Death's list and save everyone else still alive from the accident. In an alternate ending in The Final Destination, Nick kills himself, ruining Death's design. However, at the very end of it, the final two survivors of the McKinley Speedway accident died at the exact same moment, meaning Death would just kill the rest of the survivors without hesitation based on the design they were supposed to die. Or, like what happened to Eugene Dix, the last would not be able to kill themselves.
In the alternate ending of Final Destination, Alex saves Clear from an electric wire on the front of the car, therefore, he was caught on fire and died, ruining Death's design. After this, Clear and Carter both lived the rest of their lives in peace, meaning that the final survivors of Flight 180 actually defeated Death. It was not clear what Death would actually do if this situation happened, since these situations only happened in alternate endings.
It should be noted however that in Final Destination 3, it took five months after Ian's death for Train 081 to happen, meaning that in the alternate ending of Final Destination the reason Clear and Carter survived is because the scene showed could have been before five months passed or because Clear gave birth to a baby, as it was mentioned in Final Destination 2 that if someone who was supposed to die in an accident but survived gave birth, all the remaining survivors would live. William Bludworth himself said that "only new life defeats Death".
It should also be noted that Death can be somewhat confused. In The Final Destination, Nick's vision showed that Hunt and Janet would die at the same time. Death attempted to kill Janet three times. However, the first time, she saved herself, the second time Lori saved her, and the third time, Death was just too late. After this, Janet should have been the last, because she cheated death yet again. However, the order was slightly scrambled, and Janet died between George and Lori. However, it can also be assumed that Death created a new list involving George, Lori, Nick, and Janet.
Death takes many forms (skulls, shadows, possessed objects that ultimately kill their victims) but its most notable form (which was in the novel Final Destination: Looks Could Kill) was an elderly Black man who wears a gray suit, has shiny white teeth, gray hair, and a cane with a skull on the end. Death adopts a form similar to this one in a dream Kate Shelley has in Final Destination: End of the Line, implicating it may be its preferred one when dealing directly with mortals. However, Death being depicted as a skeleton with a black cape and scythe (the Grim Reaper) is merely a stereotype.
Death's true form (according to a dream Jessica Golden and Macy had in Final Destination: Dead Reckoning) may be a massive abomination composed of decaying, shifting corpses and bones from thousands of species. In Final Destination: Spring Break, Death can be seen as a giant cloud of smoke. In the Final Destination film series, Death is never physically shown, but its presence is known when there is a sudden large gust of wind or when it casts a large, dark shadow.
Despite being ruthless in its intent of killing anyone who cheats its design, Death isn't perfect in its plans and can be defeated. Any who survive its intended disasters and cheats it always searches for ways to cheat it completely, but almost always fails. However, there are ways to defeat it, depending on perspective:
- New Life: The only way to truly cheat Death. As the entity keeps the balance of life and death by killing those whose time is up and decides who will be born, if a life that was never meant to be comes into being, it will be defeated as it can't kill a life it never intended to exist in the first place.
- Steal another's lifespan: In Final Destination 5, it's revealed by William Bludworth that if someone who cheated Death kills someone who isn't meant to die, they will receive that person's unlived lifespan and be safe, essentially swapping places with that person and taking their place among the living. However, whether this is actually cheating death or just delaying Death is unknown, as the person would presumably eventually die of old age unless they kept killing - in which case they'd probably be arrested and die old in prison anyway.
- Series creator Jeffrey Reddick stated in an interview that in the first draft for the first movie, Death was supposed to appear for a moment near the end of the film, but it was later decided by the crew that the entity would not be fully seen.
- Fans question why characters in the franchise die such violent and gruesome deaths. It's very possible that this is Death's way of punishing those who violate its design or intend to do it (and possibly to show the rest of the world not to mess with it).
- Although Death is seen as the villain of the series, in reality, it is neutral due to the fact that it is just doing its required job of maintaining the balance between life and death and completing its constructed design.
- In the Final Destination 3 novel, Wendy concludes that Death is indeed a malicious entity as she notices Death always kills off people right in front of her to make her witness it all.