Programmed cell death (PCD) sculpts many developing tissues. The final patterning step of the Drosophila retina is the elimination, through PCD, of a subset of interommatidial lattice cells during pupation. It is not understood how this process is spatially regulated to ensure that cells die in the proper positions. To address this, we observed PCD of lattice cells in the pupal retina in real time. This live-visualization method demonstrates that lattice cell apoptosis is a highly specific process. In all, 85% of lattice cells die in exclusive 'death zone' positions between adjacent ommatidia. In contrast, cells that make specific contacts with primary pigment cells are protected from death. Two signaling pathways, Drosophila epidermal growth factor receptor (dEgfr) and Notch, that are thought to be central to the regulation of lattice cell survival and death, are not sufficient to establish the death zone. Thus, application of live visualization to the fly eye gives new insight into a dynamic developmental process.