Cowboy Bebop: Is Spike Spiegel Actually Dead?

Maybe, maybe not.  Series creator Shinichiro Watanabe never specifies that he does, leaving it up to interpretation.  Spike has survived unbelievable battle wounds and bounced back, so the possibility is there.  Ultimately, this scene was the end of his story arch.  He finished his personal business with Vicious, ending his honor-bound duty to avenge his lost love.

Cowboy Bebop is naturally a sad story. The show is based on cowboy movies and noir detective stories (among other influences).  These genres explore dark, painful parts of human nature: revenge, retribution, redemption, death, betrayal, infidelity, and more.

Early on in the series, we’re introduced to Spike’s katana-wielding nemesis and old friend, Vicious.  Poor Spike is shot and thrown out of a window off the rip.  Along with the rest of the carnage of this show, we realize right away that our hero could die.  He is vulnerable.  Somehow, Spike survives with a full-blown mummy bandage job from his friends on the ship—but I’ll get back to that.

Spike’s conflict with Vicious is the center of his story, ending in what appears to be mutual mortal wounds.  Spike smiles, points a finger gun toward the security detail that’s recently arrived and passes out.  Roll credits.  So, is that how the story ends?  Is Spike Spiegel dead?

The Dead Man’s Walk

When I say Spike finished his story arch, I should note this classic influence from old gun-slinger westerns: the dead man’s walk.

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The dead man’s walk was a term created by literary critic Peter A. French, describing a code of honor between outlaws that often leads them to die by the gun.  This is generally used to great effect with an antihero who must make one last stand.  The concept was made famous by movies like Unforgiven and Shane in the movies.  The gun-slinging hero usually dies but also acts as a one-man army against his enemies.  Oddly enough, westerns like these are similar to samurai films, complete with duels, honor and fate.

Spike and Vicious have old-fashioned warrior honor, a sense developed from the outlaw lifestyle.  They both knew that one or both of them were going to die, but their business would be settled, one way or another.  Vicious killed the woman he loved, and nothing else has ever really mattered to him since.  He needs his revenge.

Genre Bending and Bebop

All that said, Cowboy Bebop isn’t purely a western—it isn’t beholden to strict genre guidelines.  So, the question is: does Spike need to die to play this story trope?

Cowboy Bebop set out to be something original.  It’s a part of why the show was so successful and still beloved today.  The crew became a family, bouncing around the cosmos on wild adventures.  There was a bond of outsiders formed, a refuge from the otherwise cold universe.

Besides, with the science fiction elements, there’s room for more extraordinary story turns.  If a cowboy in the desert is shot in the chest, he’s probably going to die.  But Cowboy Bebop is a world of advanced medicine, cybernetic upgrades and strange phenomenon.

We could arguably think Spike is ok.  We could us anime rules and slap a bandage on that cut.

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Spike is a Survivor

Also, can we talk about the absurd beatdowns Spike has endured?

Firstly, the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate is absolutely sure Spike is dead.  He was supposed to be long gone, betrayed and discarded.  For an advanced organized crime entity dealing in assassins for hire, they should be hard to deceive.  So, how could Spike survive like this?

I hate to say it, because Spike is one of my favorite antiheroes of all time, but he’s a bit of a cockroach in that way.

As I mentioned before, Spike’s first encounter with Vicious in Ballad of Fallen Angels, ended in him sustaining a bullet wound and falling a few stories to the ground.  Faye rescues his poor busted body, wraps him up and they move along with life.  The show creators nearly kill Spike in the episode that established his backstory.  Talk about foreshadowing.

Is Spike Enhanced?

We’re introduced to the deadliest assassin to ever come for Spike in Pierrot Le Fou.  This inhuman assassin seems like a supernatural monster, utterly insane and nearly unstoppable.  The fat, top-hat-wearing man can fly and has uncanny fighting ability, all built into him as a cyborg killer.

Spike takes a massive beating against this assassin, enduring unreal amounts of punishment.  It got me thinking, is Spike enhanced in some way like Pierrot?  Or, is he the most ultimate, Jeet-Kune-Do kicking, eagle-eyed shooting, ex outlaw enforcer of all time?

We already know one of his eyes is cybernetic.  So, is more of his body cybernetic?

He could be. But unreal amounts of grit are common among westerns.  The fact is, it doesn’t matter if he is superhuman out of aesthetic or in-story.  He’s just that tough.

Ultimately, It Doesn’t Matter

Cowboy Bebop is full of noir and cyberpunk elements, which often have dark themes.  Yeah, classic nihilism. Turns out it doesn’t matter to the ending if Spike lives or dies.  He could survive the sword slash with that tough cowboy grit all the way until a medic pumps him full of stem cells.  Maybe his enhanced body can just take the damage.  However, the poor guy deserves break from the chaos.

Spike’s final showdown is over.  The dream he found himself floating through has ended.  Spike’s arch is complete.

Find more Cowboy Bebop and Sci Fi articles here:

Cowboy Bebop: Why Did Edward Leave?

Cowboy Bebop: What Happened to Earth?

1 thought on “Cowboy Bebop: Is Spike Spiegel Actually Dead?”

  1. Spike was a survivor while Julia lived. She was his reason for living.

    “Years ago, back when I was much younger, I was afraid of nothing. I had not the slightest fear of death. I was ready to die anytime. But then I met a special woman. She made me want to go on living. For the first time, I was afraid of death. A feeling I’d never had before.”

    Laughing Bull foretold of Spike’s death being linked to a woman in session one.

    Laughing Bull: Swimming bird will meet a woman. The bird will be hunted by this woman. And then death.
    Spike: One more time.
    Laughing Bull: What’s that?
    Spike: I was killed once before by a woman.

    When Spike survives a situation that should have killed him, Laughing Bull told him that he did not die because “It was not destined to be [Spike’s] time to die.” Yet the scene directly after Julia’s death is of Laughing Bull telling Jet that Spike is about to die.

    The song that plays after Spike leaves the Bebop is a pledge of undying love for Julia. The lyrics state that he will love her even when he is dead and allude to them being together again in the afterlife. Before Spike dies, he sees Julia with his eye that sees his present. She is glowing in white. Then Spike is engulfed in a white heavenly light. All series long Spike is shown seeing Julia with only his eye that sees his past, yet it is foreshadowed in Jupiter Jazz that he will see her with his eye that sees his present. In an auditory flashback, Spike tells Julia that he sees his past with his left eye. She asks him what he sees with his right eye. A red rose is on screen symbolizing her and their love. In the penultimate scene of the series, we are specifically shown what Spike sees with his eye that sees his present. He sees her.

    We are also given visual cues that Vincent, Julia, Vicious and Spike’s souls have ascended immediately after their deaths. The song that plays at the end is literally a song about Spike’s soul ascending to heaven. At the end of the credits we see Spike’s star go out. It never falls. Laughing Bull said a falling star is “A pitiful soul who could not find his way to the lofty realm. Where the great spirit awaits us all.” After a death, the soul ascends to the heavens and those who could not find their way fall back down to earth as shooting stars. Vicious was a pitiful soul and he was judged as pitiful by the Van in The Real Folk Blues Part 1. Vicious’s star fell in the night and we never saw it. Spike made his way to the great spirit. He is with Julia now.

    Like the tiger striped cat, Spike followed his love in death and never returned. Both were able to break free from the cycle of death and rebirth. In Buddhism, breaking free from death and rebirth is a soul’s ultimate goal. It is the ultimate release from suffering.

    The narrative makes it very obvious that Spike dies.


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