The chess scene in The Seventh Seal is arguably the most classic scene in all of cinema:

Chess Against Death

About a minute earlier the Knight has said that he is not ready and Death told him basically that it doesn't matter and there's no delaying this!.

So why does Death let the game happen?

  • 18
    I'm not really sure that this is a good question. You're asking us to explain the plot because you've not watched the entire movie? I'm on the fence - it might be a good question in its own right - what is the motivation of Death here, but typically we expect people to ask about plot they don't understand after they've watched it themselves.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 18:31
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    If you're wary of malware, you can always just buy a DVD copy off Amazon, and then sell it back again. Just like the Blockbuster days!
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 21:01
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    The most classic scene in all of cinema? I dunno... Surely that honour must go to the scene where Death plays Twister. "Two out of three" hehehe.... Whoops wrong movie...
    – Nacht
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 4:24

5 Answers 5


I assume you ask "why Death allowed Knight to delay his death if he'd told him:

there's no delaying this"

To which my answer is: That's not what Death said.
First, Knight knew that Death had been following him.

Death: I have been for a long time at your side.
Block: This I know.


Block: Wait a moment.
Death: You all say that. But I give no respite.

Death doesn't give respite. Now for the magic of the movie: Time is non-existent in the movie. Look at how it begins:

there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour

And just before Death appears, there is silence. Pay attention to how long it lasted (hint: it's about background sounds). Was it for 30 minutes?

Third, Death is seen "personally" being responsible for the death of a person, so we know it didn't have to wait for a person to "die of something".

And fourth: Knight was dead from the beginning. The whole movie is a Dance Macabre, which we are only able to see through the eyes of Jof at the end.

  • Write a good answer that understands the film and get a tick ! Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 9:41

Ingmar Bergman was partially inspired to make The Seventh Seal by a painting by medieval Swedish artist Albertus Pictor which depicts the personification of death playing chess with a knight. As a result Bergman chooses to portray Death as being an enthusiastic player of chess, willing to extend Antonius Block's life seemingly for no other reason than because he enjoys the challenge.

    You play chess, don't you?

A gleam of interest kindles in DEATH'S eyes. 

    How did you know that?

    I have seen it in paintings and heard it sung 
    in ballads.

    Yes, in fact I'm quite a good chess player. 

    But you can't be better than I am.
  • My point is that Death's job and life purpose is to deliver Death. It's a bit thin to say that he deviates from that for a chess game. What would be interesting to know, and maybe I'd need someone who's Swedish to say it, is does this chess offer and game occur as a regular thing when Death comes calling? If the answer is yes then I would be inclined to tick the above response. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 3:40
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    This is a perfectly fine answer to the question. The chess game is used as a way to show how a man tries to outsmart Death. Sure you'd like there to be more of a hidden meaning or maybe an intricately woven tapestry of symbolism. But sometimes it is what it is. Death wanted to claim the Knight and the Knight was clever enough to seduce Death to a game of chess to forestall his (inevitable) death. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 5:42
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    @Snack_Food_Termite I find that I usually get better answers from people I don't insult. But maybe that's just me.
    – Kakturus
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 7:20
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    I like peanuts! @Snack_Food_Termite, "If I had to give an answer to my own OP..." - you can give an answer to your own question, it is a perfectly fine way to address the problem if you feel the current answers are lacking. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 8:40
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    @Snack_Food_Termite If delivering death is death's job then it would not be so unrealistic that he would take a break with a game of chess or mtg now and then. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 14:47

Death agrees to play chess and throughout the game keeps his word not to take the life of the knight, this fact alone already makes the angel of death not the worst character in the film. By the end of the film, there is a feeling that the knight and death are similar:

  1. Both are cunning: the knight offers a game of chess and gets a reprieve from death, and later distracts death with a game and saves the family of actors, and death learns the knight’s plan for the game by cunning.

  2. The knight does not know the answers to many questions, but death also says that he does not have knowledge.

  3. Both are sad from their duties - it seems that both the angel of death and the knight are tired of doing what they are doing, before the start of the game, so to speak - they are both more dead than during the game, both need a game.

There is also a feeling that the knight understands his destiny only while playing, and despite the fact that he loses the game and his life becomes happy at least for a moment when he saves several fellow travelers, without playing with death this would not have happened.

  • 2
    But why does Death agree to play chess in the first place?
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 3:18
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    Perhaps there is a coherent smart theory on this score - unfortunately I don’t know it, but my thoughts are such that chess and life for death are no different, playing chess is just a way to take life first on the board then in reality - and there and there the function is the same and the same.
    – Netolst 1
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 13:56

Death seems to have this grim sense of humour throughout the movie, and isn't he kind of known to be willing to prove this point - that you can't escape him by chess or otherwise, you'll always lose.


Playing games with Death has a long history; chess is common, but many other games show up as well. So we would have to look much further back to determine why....

Seventh Seal may be the most famous film use, but such gaming also appears in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey:

(where Death loses, then demands best of 3, best of 5,...); in The Dove (also Bergman, with the heroine playing badminton); and in the comic xkcd with Dungeons and Dragons.

A large list of other instances in film, literature, etc., is available at [https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChessWithDeath]

  • 11
    I'm pretty sure the Bill & Ted and XKCD examples are references to The Seventh Seal. The Dove is also a parody of Bergman's works, not an actual Bergman film.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 16:58
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    It was also Bogus Journey not Excellent Adventure.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 18:03

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