The SeedGenes database (www.seedgenes.org) contains information on more than 400 genes required for embryo development in Arabidopsis. Many of these EMBRYO-DEFECTIVE (EMB) genes encode proteins with an essential function required throughout the life cycle. This raises a fundamental question. Why does elimination of an essential gene in Arabidopsis often result in embryo lethality rather than gametophyte lethality? In other words, how do mutant (emb) gametophytes survive and participate in fertilization when an essential cellular function is disrupted? Furthermore, why do some mutant embryos proceed further in development than others? To address these questions, we first established a curated dataset of genes required for gametophyte development in Arabidopsis based on information extracted from the literature. This provided a basis for comparison with EMB genes obtained from the SeedGenes dataset. We also identified genes that exhibited both embryo and gametophyte defects when disrupted by a loss-of-function mutation. We then evaluated the relationship between mutant phenotype, gene redundancy, mutant allele strength, gene expression pattern, protein function, and intracellular protein localization to determine what factors influence the phenotypes of lethal mutants in Arabidopsis. After removing cases where continued development potentially resulted from gene redundancy or residual function of a weak mutant allele, we identified numerous examples of viable mutant (emb) gametophytes that required further explanation. We propose that the presence of gene products derived from transcription in diploid (heterozygous) sporocytes often enables mutant gametophytes to survive the loss of an essential gene in Arabidopsis. Whether gene disruption results in embryo or gametophyte lethality therefore depends in part on the ability of residual, parental gene products to support gametophyte development. We also highlight here 70 preglobular embryo mutants with a zygotic pattern of inheritance, which provide valuable insights into the maternal-to-zygotic transition in Arabidopsis and the timing of paternal gene activation during embryo development.