Strong Empire, Shriveled Emperor
The exalted leader of a powerful nation turns out to be incredibly frail or weak.
In most works, the leader of The Empire is powerful in his own right, and looks the part, especially when Authority Equals Asskicking in his realm. Not this guy. He may be very old. Or crippled. Or ill. Or some combination of the three. A slight breeze looks like it could kill him. Either way, he does not cut an imposing figure in person. He may be incredibly evil, but doesn't do anything except be Orcus on His Throne because, well... he looks like he can barely get off it. Sure, he might have been The Conqueror in his younger days, but those days are long gone by. Bonus points if there appears to be some sort of cult worshiping him or the reader is repeatedly told In-Universe accounts of how amazing or impressive he is. Is not necessarily a Puppet King, because he may still have effective control over The Empire, though there may be some overlap.
- In I Am Skantarios, the Pope — by dint of his authority over Western Europe — is portrayed as a serious threat to the Byzantine Empire, culminating in a Duel to the Death between the titular Skantarios and the Pope. However, the Pope is eighty and has never used a sword or ridden a horse before in his life, so the duel is... anticlimactic.
- In Star Wars, Emperor Sheev Palpatine founded and leads the mighty Galactic Empire — yet in The Empire Strikes Back, he is revealed to be an old man in a simple black robe, and in Return of the Jedi he is shown as being much smaller than his apprentice, Darth Vader. Ultimately double subverted as he turns out to be so powerful he has the previously-unseen ability to shoot lightning out of his fingers... but beyond that, he is still a frail old man, and extremely vulnerable to treachery.
- Malkariss from the Redwall book Mattimeo founded an immense subterranean civilization on slavery and speaks from an imposing statue — but is elderly, frail, and nearly blind, and depends on his servants to run his empire according to his orders.
- The Emperor of the Agatean Empire in the Discworld book Interesting Times. He is bedridden, speaking is difficult for him, and there are already internal power struggles...yet he still orders executions left and right, and his empire has nearly a million men under arms.
- Cleon II and The Mule from Foundation. The former is the last strong Emperor yet bedridden due an unknown and painful disease, the latter is a mutant with enough power to build a huge empire, a frail build, and enough health problems to die before he is fifty.
- God in His Dark Materials is so old and frail that he is literally killed by a slight breeze.
- In The Traitor Baru Cormorant, the Emperor at the head of the Imperial Republic of Falcrest is actually a lobotomized puppet, and the Parliament has no real power either. Instead, all real power is in the hands of a cabal of "advisers" operating behind the scenes.
- Played With in Mistborn with The Lord Ruler. The nature of his powers make being Orcus on His Throne a necessity, especially because he needs to spend some periods of time as a shriveled old man in order to spend other times as a healthy, young man, despite being centuries old. However, when he takes an active role in the first book, he's a nearly invincible Physical God rather than the nominal ruler that would be expected from his absence from public life.
- In The Man in the High Castle, Adolf Hitler has conquered half the world, The Holocaust has gone through, and the only other country is his wartime ally Japan... yet he is in his seventies at the start of the series, with failing health, and it is admitted that he will probably die soon.
- The God-Emperor of Mankind from Warhammer 40,000 is the leader of the Imperium, which control the majority of the setting, but he has spent the past ten millennia on life support while his body has decayed to a skeleton, and though he has immense psychic power, most of it is used on maintaining humanity's FTL Travel.
- When EVE Online launched, the current God-Emperor of the Amarr Empire (the game's largest NPC Empire) was Heideran VII, who was well over 700 years old and confined to his life support throne.
- Babylon 5: While Centauri Republic is an empire in decline, they still rank among the five most powerful races in known space. The emperor, however, is a very old man who is gravely ill. At least at first; when he makes a visit to Babylon 5, his health takes a sudden turn for the worst and he dies shortly thereafter. His replacement is a much younger man, but is really not right in the head.
- In most of the games based on The Simpsons, specially the Konami's Beat 'em Up of The '90s and The Simpsons Game, the Big Bad is usually Montgomery Burns, who can be easily defeated —even by Maggie.
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