Take a look below at my three reasons why Batman has to die in TDKR and see if you agree.
YOU EITHER DIE A HERO...
"... or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." I feel that this quote from Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight will be a major theme throughout TDKR. We know from set photos that Bane will be holding up a picture of Harvey Dent at some point, and that Dent's name and reputation are still prevalent in Gotham eight years after his death. Although Dent died a hero in the eyes of Gotham, we know that he succumbed to the Joker's ways and went on a killing spree that saw him become a corrupt and murderous politician. He became a villain.
At the end of TDK, Batman selflessly took the blame for Dent's victims and forced Gordon to make him a fugitive in order to portray Dent as a true hero to the people of Gotham. With eight years having elapsed between TDK and TDKR, Bruce has lived long enough to see Batman become a villain to Gotham, so when he returns to save the city from Bane, wouldn't dying as a hero ensure he'll never risk being portrayed as a villain again?
There's also the matter of sacrifice. Many people have died as a result of Batman's crusade against the criminal underworld and the corruption plaguing Gotham. While Harvey Dent died fighting for the Dark Knight's cause, the most notable casualty in Batman's war on crime was Rachel Dawes, his childhood friend and love interest. Rachel died fighting for what Batman believed in. If push comes to shove in TDKR, will Batman be willing to sacrifice his own life in order to save Gotham? I believe so, because as Bruce told Alfred in TDK, "Batman has no limits."
GO BIG OR GO HOME
Let's not sugarcoat it, in TDKR, Gotham is going to get seriously messed up. Not "Man-Dressed-As-A-Clown-Blowing-Stuff-Up" messed up. We're talking "Potential-Nuclear-Type-Attack-Destroying-Gotham-As-We-Know-It" messed up. Bane will turn all of Gotham into a war zone, and something tells me he's not the kind of guy who will go away quietly or surrender if you throw a pair of handcuffs on him. This is a man with a plan.
The only way for Bane to truly be defeated, and for Gotham to regain any sense of stability, is for him to die. He's too powerful and influential to keep alive, and I'm not yet convinced that simply removing his mask will kill him.
If Bane dies, I believe Batman will die along with him. Based on my theory about the ending of the movie, I believe Batman will face Bane a final time with the full knowledge that this confrontation will likely be his last. If Batman knows he's going to die, his one goal will be to ensure Bane doesn't destroy Gotham. Does this mean Batman will break his only rule? Not necessarily. We could have another Ra's-al-Ghul-Batman-Begins scenario on our hands, where Bane dies as a result of his own plan/machine and not at the hands of the Dark Knight.
THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND
I saved this section for last on purpose. This whole article has been about trying to justify why Batman could die in TDKR. But Batman doesn't necessarily mean Bruce Wayne. I'm talking about just the Dark Knight symbol.
We know that TDKR will be incorporating themes from Frank Miller's graphic novel, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. In that, Batman fakes his own death at the end and goes on living as Bruce Wayne in a cave; training new recruits to defend Gotham in place of Batman. Could Nolan do something similar? Maybe Batman trains a replacement (John Blake?) or maybe his actions and sacrifice finally inspire the law enforcement in Gotham to step up in his place.
In Miller's novel, which saw Bruce Wayne return as Batman after 10 years of retirement as opposed to eight in TDKR, a Gotham news station acknowledges the ten year anniversary of the last known sighting of the Batman, and says that many people in Gotham now believe he was just a myth. This could very well be the case in TDKR. Keep in mind, TDK took place roughly six to nine months after BATMAN BEGINS, so Batman's tenure in Gotham up until his return in TDKR has been less than a year. It's not a stretch to believe that some in Gotham may have forgotten about Batman entirely, or at the very least view him as nothing more than an urban legend or perhaps even a political creation concocted to help inspire the city and sway some voters.
Assuming Bruce Wayne doesn't die, but Batman does, I feel his death would be the perfect way to tie Nolan's three films together and bring a definitive, and satisfying, conclusion to the Dark Knight legend. One reason I feel this way is because of the scene in Batman Begins when Bruce is flying back from China with Alfred and describing his intention for becoming a symbol of hope for Gotham.
"People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy, and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood. I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol... as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting."
Bruce knew from the beginning that he needed to become something more than just a man in order to inspire the city and initiate change. If Batman, the man, were to sacrifice himself to save Gotham in TDKR, a city that shunned him and hunted him, wouldn't the people finally see him as a hero and understand what he was fighting for? It'd give us a chance to potentially see how his legacy lives on in Gotham well after his death. I feel it would be much more satisfying to see how Batman's legacy lives on and inspires Gotham after his death than to see him just walk away into the sunset. And remember this, Harvey Dent's death inspired change and peace in Gotham that lasted for eight years. What sort of change would Batman's death inspire?
We have no idea what Batman's fate will be at the end of TDKR. It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for a comic book icon as big as Batman to die in a major film. But within the confines of Nolan's Batman universe, killing Batman is not only a realistic possibility, it would actually serve a purpose. The whole reason Bruce Wayne took up the mantle of Batman was to inspire the people of Gotham and show them they have the power to change their city for the better. He wanted Batman to become a symbol, one that would live on and continue to inspire well after the man inside the suit was gone. If his death achieves this, then Batman's goal, and Bruce Wayne's overall character arc, will be complete.