By They-All-Died, I don't actually mean they all died. I mean that the antagonist was so overpowered, the situation so hopeless, the tactical position of the protagonists so utterly berked beyond even the most deranged efforts at repair, that at a point usually just before the Brilliant Solution started up I shrugged my shoulders and said "Actually, they all died. Everything from here is wish-fulfillment for the people who liked them."
Now, on occasion this isn't actually a serious problem for the work of fiction as a whole. Sometimes after I come to that conclusion they really *do* all die, and then I feel vaguely depressed and yet strangely uplifted. Sometimes the Brilliant Plan that will Save Everybody is actually *just that brilliant* and I hadn't thought of it and I admit that okay, they lived after all.
But most of the time? It kills the story, too, or at any rate seriously maims it. Because when people keep on rebounding from things that should have killed them deader than the proverbial doornail, you start thinking that nothing really has a possibility of hurting them, and then the dramatic tension makes a little *pfft* noise and expires.
In the better-written class of story, there are sufficient secondary consequences that, well, it kind of works anyway. (I just finished reading Grave Peril, by Jim Butcher, which both brought on this rant and falls into the works-anyway class because it's a very good book in many other directions but seriously? They all died.)
However, I honestly think it's an avoidable syndrome, which makes it more annoying. And I hereby vow to make sure that my protagonists, if human, *fall over* if they do things like not sleeping for seventy-two hours, and fail to function if they don't eat or drink etc. for absurd quantities of time, and have a standard human pain threshold and ability to function when injured in a crisis. And if not human that my protags still function within whatever their abilities may be.
Because I've experienced the They-All-Died feeling with about the last six books I've read, and had grave forebodings of it in two separate movies (both of which avoided it, but it's not pleasant to sit there with), and I'm starting to become sick of the whole thing.
Seriously, a human being, if poisoned? Falls over. If beaten? Falls over. A host of other things? Falls over. I just wish people would keep that in mind.