Awakening the Sleeping Giant

"I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
Attributed to Naval Marshal General Isoroku Yamamoto, after the attack on Pearl Harbor

Everyone knows about the Big Good and the Big Bad, but what about the Even Bigger Neutral?

In most conflicts, there are a variety of neutral parties. From the Precursors to the Retired Badass to the King in the Mountain to the Hidden Elf Village, they always exist, and there's usually one that can kick the shit out of both the other sides at the same time, using only a kitchen whisk and a sheet of tissue paper. But don't bother asking them for help, because they will refuse to get involved.

That is, unless someone does something stupid or evil enough to repulse them. Whether it was the heroes or the villains, anyone who steps over some inexcusable line will invite their wrath, and this isn't the regular Neutral No Longer give-the-other-side-some-reinforcements wrath ... this is "we have an army of Cthulhu clones" wrath. Expect an Oh, Crap from the receiving end if and when the former neutrals start whipping out the doomsday weapons. On the other hand, for the beleaguered side not subject to the proverbial giant's wrath, this is a moment of celebration as they gain a powerful ally and they will fight alone no more.

There are two key points to look for before and after this trope comes into play.
  • Before: There is an established conflict, of any sort, between any number of parties, with a prominent neutral party that wishes to remain uninvolved.
  • After: When the neutral party enters the conflict, it drastically alters the balance of power.

A Sub-Trope of Neutral No Longer and related to Heroic Neutral. May serve as a Deus ex Machina and/or Story-Breaker Power (and/or Game Breaker, if the work is a game) if the giant was an All-Powerful Bystander. Compare Default To Good. If the entity is an individual, then they won the Superpower Lottery, and it's likely they are a Martial Pacifist. Compare Sealed Good in a Can, if the "sleeping" is in the character of an involuntary confinement and someone breaks the prison. If the neutral party is actually smaller than the two fighting powers, but still enough to alter the balance of power greatly, this overlaps with Kingmaker Scenario.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • The Flying Pussyfoot arc of Baccano!! would already have been a clusterfuck: A cult, a bunch of Ax-Crazy mafia goons, and a gang of delinquents were all planning to attack the train, which also happened to be carrying three immortals, the wife and daughter of an influential senator, and a surprisingly badass agent of The Daily Days. However, one of those mafia guys made a huge mistake: he killed the elderly conductor Tony, then tried to kill a younger conductor when he found out. Unfortunately for him, his would-be victim was Claire Stanfield, a nigh-unstoppable, Ax-Crazy, Crazy Awesome badass Professional Killer and Torture Technician who did not appreciate someone murdering his mentor. Carnage ensues as the Rail Tracer makes its merry, blood-soaked way up the length of the train.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, Durandal attempts to kill the retired Kira Yamato and Lacus Clyne so they don't get in the way of his plans. This alerts them to his evil intentions several months before anyone else on earth suspected a thing, causing them to take the Freedom, Archangel and Eternal out of storage, which all become instrumental in his defeat.
    • As a matter of fact, near the end of the series Kira himself says "If not for that attack, we probably would have gone along with anything Durandal wanted."
  • This was Celestial Beings plan to acheive world peace in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. If a large scale military conflict ever erupted, they would show up and decimate both sides. The idea is too discourage war by ensuring that everyone loses, and then to bring unity by becoming the common enemy of all military powers.
  • In One Piece, Caesar Clown warns Luffy that harming him is the equivalent to getting on Donquixote Doflamingo's bad side. What Caeser doesn't realize that this isn't the first (nor will it be the last) time Luffy has risked such retribution, and Luffy simply does not care.
    • Shanks certainly qualifies. Although he is Luffy's mentor, and they have an promise to meet up again after Luffy becomes a pirate, he disappears after the first chapter. He appears from time to time, usually drinking and carousing instead of doing any actual pirating. He's somewhat aware of Luffy's progress, but is content to wait for Luffy to catch up to where he is. But then, at the height of the Marineford War, a massive conflict involving the three military superpowers of the world, Blackbeard shows up and steals the old man's devil power. He then tries to sink the island with it while pirates and marines continue to war all around him. Suddenly, Shanks shows up out of nowhere and tells 'everyone there to back down immediately, or else they'll have to take him on.' And everyone agrees! Him showing up drastically changes an already desperate situation to the point that not a single one of the all-star lineup of pirates wants to continue. A ceasefire is called, ending the most destructive arc of a series not with a bang but with a whimper.
  • At the end of Princess Mononoke, Lady Eboshi decapitates the Shishigami, which nearly causes the destruction of the entire forest and nearby town.
  • Done twice in Fairy Tail, by the same person, in the same story arc, and pretty much at the same time. While attempting to simultaneously capture Zeref and annihilate Fairy Tail, Grimoire Heart, and specifically their leader Hades, manage to piss Zeref off to the point where he stops doing his best to avoid all life forms and proceeds to track Hades down with the intent to kill him. It's then revealed that Hades has also managed to draw the attention of Acnologia, a murder happy dragon capable of destorying continents.
  • Kyon of Haruhi Suzumiya plans to invoke this if Nagato's alien boss tries to harm her. Haruhi, everyone's favorite obnoxious Reality Warper, doesn't even know there is a conflict. But in Disappearance, Kyon determines a way to convince her aliens exist, and there's little doubt that she would effortlessly annihilate them if she knew they were after one of her clubmembers. This comes dangerously close to happening in a later novel.
  • This is how Gate starts out; an empire in Roman battle gear with dragons and orcs decides to invade Earth starting at Ginza, Japan, thinking that it would be an easy invasion. Then the JSDF decides to get rid of them. To say it was one-sided is an understatement.
  • After the tournament in Mahou Sensei Negima!, Cosmo Entelechia attacks the Governor's Ball where Negi is currently negotiating with the apparently villainous Kurt Godel, a third party with power on par with Negi or Fate. Jack Rakan, Negi's current teacher who has so far refused to become involved, is also attacked. As a result, both parties become hostile to Cosmo Entelechia since they didn't like them anyway though Jack Rakan is quickly eliminated and Kurt Godel already opposed them. What makes it even sillier is that there was no actual benefit to attacking like this: Cosmo Entelechia's goals did not require them to fight anyone at this point since they already had all the keys they needed to enact the Rewrite ritual to "destroy" the Magic World. Negi's group didn't even know that Asuna was gone!

     Comic Books  
  • In the 1960s X-Men comics, this happened to Magneto when he tried to recruit the Stranger via intimidation.
  • In the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, Darkseid is somewhat of a example of this.

  • Moloch from Aeon Natum Engel fits the trope, and it didn't end well for anybody, Moloch included.
  • In Renegade, the Batarian Hegemony did this to the Global Defense Initiative by continuously supporting pirate and slaver raids into GDI territory in an effort to impede their colonization efforts. GDI expressed their disapproval quite violently. In addition, Word of God is that the Scrin are apparently trying to avoid doing this to the Reapers.
  • While the governement was favorable to help the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, the Earth Alliance in The Dilgar War is initially neutral between the Dilgar and the League, save for a little tidbid: the Dilgar were to not invade the Markab and the Mentab. When the Warmaster Council vote to invade the Markab to reach the Vree (with Jha'dur saying that attacking the Markab was an immensely stupid act exactly because Earth protected them), the Dilgar curbstomps the Markab fleet only to meet Earthforce and a Macross Missile Massacre of nuclear weapons (about a dozen nuke for every ship the Dilgar had in that battle). The losses sustained in that single battle where more than anything the Dilgar had lost before in the entire war, and cost them the war.
  • In the backstory of Mass Effect Human Revolution, the Moon colonists tried to take over Earth by carrying out guerilla superfighter attacks and demanding the feuding supranational blocs of Earth cede control. All that did was make the Earthnoids mad.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic novel-length story Without A Hive, this is what Queen Chrysalis does by (unsuccessfully!) attacking Canterlot, the capital of the strongest, most populous and most technologically-advanced nation on its planet, led by a family of Physical Gods. Equestria now knows the Changelings are real, considers them extremely hostile, and begins a systematic attempt to uncover Changeling spies. Congratulations, Chrysalis, on breaking the Masquerade.
  • In Order In Chaos the Minbari are neutral to the war between the Centauri and the Orieni, and immediately warn both sides of respecting their neutrality. The governments are only too happy to obey, given they know just how more powerful the Minbari are... Then a group of Centauri raiders decide to try and make a quick buck by preying on Minbari shipping and steal technology to reverse-engineer, and Orieni explorers seeking to find some alternate routes to Centauri space accidentally violate Minbari territory. The governments find out only when couriers warn them that a Minbari fleet intruded a battle and crushed both fleets at the same time, and then have to convince two other Minbari fleets they had no idea of what had happened and they have no reason to flatten their homeworlds. The governments succeed. Those Centauri raiders... Not so much.
  • The main premise of the fanfic Game of Thrones: Vendetta. When Talisa's father hears about the Red Wedding and of his daughter's death, he heads for Westeros with his sellsword army hell-bent on avenging his daughter, as well as Robb and Catelyn Stark. Admiral Yamamoto's quote also appears at the beginning of the story.
    Bronn: (warning Tywin about Lucian Maegyr and his forces): The proof is right there. He destroyed House Frey and killed the Spicers. Not only is he going to wipe out Roose Bolton, but he will put your entire family to the sword...the Kingslayer, the Queen Regent, the boy King...everyone. He will do what Robb Stark failed to do: see whether or not you can shit gold.
  • A Thin Veneer kicks off when the Federation and Klingon peace negotiations get interrupted by a group of refugees trying to escape the Earth/Minbari War. This wasn't sufficient to bring them into the war. The murder of twenty five million beings from several major nations in a Pearl Harbor-style attack on a Federation colony, on the other hand, brings the Federation, Klingons and Gorn into the Earth/Minbari War with a vengeance.

  • Godzilla, frequently (and literally).
  • The United States as per the final voice over of the trope quote in Tora! Tora! Tora!. Maybe Yamamoto never said it - but he should have.
  • Firefox. Gant is infiltrating the Soviet Union as a common smuggler, in the hope that this will attract less attention from the KGB.
    "If you tip-toe past the dragon, it might just raise an eyelid and sniff at you. But if you awaken it..."
  • Several supplementary sources in the Star Wars franchise reveal that Tarkin's destruction of Alderaan may have been the true tipping point in the war, as crossing the Moral Event Horizon in such dramatic fashion led to thousands of worlds that formerly submitted to Imperial rule flipping to Alliance-aligned almost instantly.

  • The Ents from The Lord of the Rings curb stomp Saruman's fortress of Isengard after he cuts down their forest to burn it for fuel.
    • In Peter Jackson's film adaptation, the ents decided not to intervene — until Merry and Pippin steered them toward the site where all the trees had been burned down.
    • Other examples from the trilogy are the Dwarves of Erebor (whom Sauron turns into enemies with his Faux Affably Evil messenger) and the Rohirrim (whom Saruman almost had reduced to political paralysis until Gandalf revealed The Man Behind the Curtain.)
  • Rowan And The Zebak does this with a dragon.
  • In The Dark Is Rising series, in the novel Greenwitch, the Greenwitch is part of the Wild Magic, which is neutral between the Light and the Dark. She is not powerful enough to present a direct threat to either faction on her own (although Tethys is), but she does end up in a situation where she has something both sides desperately need and can't take without her consent.
  • During the early Honor Harrington novels, both the Manticorian and Havenite forces are very careful to avoid certain activities (such as planetary bombardment) that will attract the ire of the Solarian League, a star nation that comprises 80% of the human population in the galaxy. Later on, as conflict builds between Manticore and the Solarian League, it becomes obvious that the League, though huge, is no longer the military powerhouse it used to be: fifty years of Manticorian/Havenite conflict has left the massive League navy hopelessly outclassed. It is also made clear that if that was the only problem the League was facing, it would still be the this trope — the League is still technologically sophisticated, it's just that it has mostly gone to civilian tech (which doesn't help the military) or the Frontier Fleet (which is severely lacking in larger warships, and the way battle works in the Honorverse means larger ships have a major advantage over smaller ships), and the League is so massive that it has the space and industry to buy time to upgrade their ships of the wall and then roll over Manticore. The real reason why it isn't is that this particular giant is beginning to collapse.
  • The Culture, from the Iain M. Banks novels. From Use of Weapons: "You might call them soft, because they're very reluctant to kill, and they might agree with you, but they're soft the way the ocean is soft, and, well; ask any sea captain how puny and harmless the ocean can be." Or, if that's a bit flowery for you, there's the universal adage of the civilizations which have dealings with them; "Do not fuck with The Culture." See Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward for what happens when those civilizations don't follow that advice. Someone phrased it as "The first rule of dealing with The Culture is that you do not fuck with The Culture. The second rule of dealing with The Culture is that you do not fuck with The Culture. The last rule is that you don't fuck with The godsdamned Culture!"
  • Another Iain M. Banks example: in the non-Culture novel The Algebraist, the Dwellers (in gas giants) have a reputation for wiping out civilizations that piss them off...but they don't care what the inhabitants of rocky Earthlike planets do to each other as long as they leave the Dwellers alone. One of the book's many subplots concerns trying to persuade the Dwellers to help defeat an invasion fleet before they get around to attacking the local gas giant.
    • Banks is fond of this trope. The entire plot of Consider Phlebas is driven by the fact that the Culture and the Idirans have to tiptoe carefully around the Dra'Azon, a very powerful species who happen to have designed the planet they are fighting over as a sort of museum.
  • The Protagonist becomes the ultimate Even Bigger Neutral by the Third (and last) Part of Tranquilium. He has some very long-term plans in operation, but mostly he just sits there, confusing enemies and allies alike with his apparent inactivity. Then a cult kidnaps his son to either use him for or blackmail his father into working with their occult plans. The father arrives and dismantles the entire cult, dashing their last chance to carry out their scheme in the process and finishing with a (jaded) Breaking Speech.
  • David Weber's Out of the Dark: when the alien invaders are about to make the human race extinct, someone on Earth (Count Dracula) finally decides to come out of his self-imposed exile and show them what real monsters can do.
  • By introducing late 20th century technology and ideas in early 17th century Europe the time traveling Americans of 1632 have awoken the interest of the Ottoman Empire: the mightiest military power of its time, ruled by a Sultan named Murad the Mad, who is, according The Spymaster Francisco Nasi, as intelligent as he is insane and bloodthirsty.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Used in the books to explain why the various supernatural factions upkeep The Masquerade: they fear what would happen if mortal humanity became aware of what else was out there. Bringing mortal authority around into a supernatural argument is compared to the nuclear option. At least that's how it's explained in-universe to humans. Most factions have enough additional reasons it's hard to judge their real priority.
    • Still, the big example of this having happened is the tale of how the Black Court of vampires used to be incredibly powerful with many members, until the White Court vampires arranged the publication of Dracula, making all their weaknesses public knowledge. They're not nearly so numerous nowadays.
  • In Tolkien's The Silmarillion, Eru Ilúvatar. Specifically, in the Akallabęth, when the Númenórians invaded Valinor: "But Ilúvatar showed forth his power, and he changed the fashion of the world" - that is, Ilúvatar changed the world from flat to round and, incidentally, sank Númenor beneath the sea in the process.
  • In Harry Potter, the motto of Hogwarts school is "never tickle a sleeping dragon" and would appear to be the wizarding equivalent of this saying. It turns out not to refer to Hogwarts itself as a superpower, but rather the fact that to attack Hogwarts is to put in danger nearly every wizarding child age 11 to 17. This has the rather egregious effect of pissing off every witch or wizard related to someone at the school, which is damn near all of them. Taken a bit further when Kreacher is able to turn the entire house-elf staff of Hogwarts to side with Harry rather than stay out of the fight. Not only do the elves have powerful magic, they are also small and carry very sharp knives, easy for attacking one's knees and shins.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, the Provisional Republic of Iowa is far away from most of the action and has no reason to get involved... until the Cutters kill the Republic's ruler and try to kill his family, revealing how far their tentacles extend and infuriating the surviving leadership of the Republic. Since Iowa is a superpower in its own right, and can call on its local neighbors for additional troops and help, this makes the strike at Pearl Harbor look like genius.
  • The Mark of the Horse Lord: a Scottish chieftain has to prevent an enemy queen from drawing The Roman Empire into their tribal war.
  • Star Trek: The Great Starship Race reinforces this as the Romulan view of the Federation. The Romulan commander even outright compares the Federation to a very gentle looking furry giant who was sleeping and the Romulans as hunters after the giant's pelt. They had expected the giant to cower in fear when they attacked with their skinning knives instead the creature roared defiantly ready to fight tooth and claw to the death.

     Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Quentin rallies the Watchers Council to fight the First Evil, seconds before a bomb goes off and kills off the entire Watchers Council.
  • The Doctor of Doctor Who is almost never looking for trouble and is willing to negotiate wherever possible, but his hand is so often forced that he's probably racked up more kills than anything else in the universe. Despite this, he remains a Technical Pacifist at heart and only uses violence as a last resort. Unless you're the Daleks, in which case it's plans A-Z.
    Family of Blood Member: He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing. The fury of the Time Lord. And then we discovered why. Why this Doctor who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden. He was being kind.
  • In Game of Thrones, Khal Drogo really didn't care all that much about Westeros, until Robert tried to have Daenerys assassinated. Then he becomes hell-bent on vengeance.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 pilot, Apophis thought he was just kidnapping a host from a human population, albeit one with rather noisy projectile weapons instead of swords and spears. Business as usual for the Goa'uld. As it turned out, he pissed off possibly the only civilization in the Milky Way with the exact combination of manpower, militarism, scientific knowledge, and insanity needed to end not only his own tyranny, but that of his entire species.
    • The Tau'ri are also guilty of this trope at least twice - first in Stargate Atlantis and the following year in Season 9 of SG-1, in both cases awakening a powerful alien race that rules an entire galaxy (the Wraith, then the Ori), becomes hell-bent on getting to the Milky Way, and at least in the Ori case, actually succeeding.
  • In the backstory episode of Babylon 5, "In The Beginning," Londo is pressured to provide info on the mysterious Minbari for Earthforce so they could do an armed probe of their territory. Londo agrees, but pointedly warns them that the Minbari are not to be underestimated, and comments that "I hope you do not wake the Dragon." Of course, the Human force is led by a trigger happy idiot who does precisely that, and suddenly Earth is in a crushing Hopeless War against an overwhelmingly superior foe on a genocidal crusade against Humanity.
  • Sisko's efforts to get the Romulans into the Dominion War in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine end up turning the tide of the conflict.
    • This is also a view of Starfleet and the Federation in general by other organizations - the Prime Directive tells them to keep out of the affairs of other species, which includes other space faring races. However, when they are forced to be involved, they do everything they can to end the conflict. Sure, the Federation are the good guys, but when pushed...
      • A specific example comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation - the Federation is determined to stay neutral in the Klingon Civil War, as it is a purely Klingon affair. But when the indications are that the Romulan Empire is involved, that gets Starfleet's attention. When they manage to intercept a group of cloaked warbirds on approach to Klingon space, the Romulans know better than to make their delivery - doing so would make the Federation have to get involved, and the Romulans don't want a war with them.
      • The Romulans are actually something of an odd case, as they do want war with the Federation. However, they want to start it on their termsnote , hence all the subterfuge. They won't start a fight, but they will manipulate the Federation into giving them an excuse.
    • Not just the Romulan involvement in the Dominion War. The entire Dominion War itself could be considered this from the Dominion's perspective, as they severely underestimated Federation technical prowess and industrial capacity, to the point that Federation engineers became an entire army of Memetic Badasses in the eyes of the Dominion, who witnessed the Federation turn just about anything they could get their hands on into a starship and cranking their industrial base Up to Eleven, to the point that one Vorta claimed a Federation engineer could "turn rocks into replicators". Not to mention the original Dominion contingent had no idea how warlike humanity could become when the need arose. (Their Cardassian allies were considerably more Genre Savvy in this regard, however.)

     Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000 for the 6th ed. Tyranid Codex, a weird case of this happens to the two most dangerous factions, Chaos and the Tyrannids, and in this case each are the other's "Awakening the Sleeping Giant". What happens is an Imperial world was guarding an otherwise indestructible, cursed object from the Dark Age of Technology. A splinter Tyrannid fleet finds this world and launches an attack. Even with the backing of the Grey Knights, the Imperials end up getting slaughtered completely which ends up causing the cursed object to open a hellgate. Daemons pour out and get an "Awakening the Sleeping Giant" moment. There are no surviving humans left to steal souls from and even the planetary ecology is being altered so there's nothing Imperial to desecrate. Largely neutral to the Tyranids before, the Daemons are royally pissed, so they turn their wrath on the Tyranids. The Tyranids end up getting butchered under the daemon onslaught and even their initial dropship reinforcements get mutated to death from all the warp energy coming out of the gate. Even the hardest units of the Tyranid get wiped out. Having their asses handed to them causes the Tyranids to get their "Awakening the Sleeping Giant" moment. Before having a concept of Chaos as a separate faction, they considered the odd warband they wiped out as simply "prey" like any other. Now for the first time, Tyranids register Chaos as "Predator" that's equal to themselves. The Hivemind presence blocks out most of the warp energy on the planet. This weakens the Daemons enough that the Tyranids can regroup and have their forces that are stationed on other continents throw themselves into the digestion pools. They then reform as an immense ring of artillery units surrounding the Chaos infestation to bombard them into a standstill while Zoanthropes and the Tyranid heavy-hitters are sent in to deal with the survivors. The counterattack massacres the Daemons and the Tyranids take the planet, causing the chaos artifact to implode. Unfortunately the Daemons aren't obliterated when they are killed, they'll simply come back to life with knowledge of how to fight the Tyranids, and one Greater Daemon of Tzeentch was able to escape intact through the Hellgate. Now the forces of Chaos sees the Tyranids as a real threat to their plans and are plotting their revenge...
    • Also, the Damocles Crusade; the Tau Empire was expanding and annexed a few minor worlds. This pissed off the Imperium, who sent a major Task Force to take the planets back and destroy the Tau. The Tau were completely blindsided at how relentless the humans were, and only survived due to adapting their tactical doctrine and the timely arrival of the Tyranid Hive Fleets.

     Video Games  
  • Command & Conquer:
    Seth: Kane's been loathe to attack America, but I feel that it's time, and that you're the one to do it. This is the Pentagon. A full frontal attack with your strongest forces should render their military center of operation— *BLAM*
    • Looking at Nod's arsenal, and some information of the Official Strategy guide, it's clear that Kane doesn't attack the US simply because he gets a lot of his weapons from US arms dealers. (Nod's units include the M2 Bradley, the Chenowth Desert Patrol Vehicle, the M-110 artillery, and even the Apache helicopter)
    • Killian Qatar in Tiberium Wars disapproved of Nod's attack on GDI Blue Zones precisely for this reason. She even paraphrases the trope line. And she was correct.
      • Might be a subversion, however, as Kane knew it as well but was counting on a massive GDI counterattack to fulfill his master plan.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, the Evil Empire wakes up the sleeping magic creatures. They aren't happy about this.
    • Along that same line, in VII humanity finally pisses of Mother Nature enough that she awakens the Weapons, literal sleeping giants. There is no vengeance like a Gaia scorned.
  • Yukari Yakumo of Touhou is a powerful Reality Warper who's normally too lazy to get involved in anything. However, in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, Tenshi Hinanai destroys and then subverts the Hakurei shrine, putting Yukari's precious Gensokyo Barrier in jeopardy. When Yukari finally catches her, we see for the first time just what Yukari looks like when she's truly angry.
    • Gensokyo has too many Sleeping Giants for its own good. It's strongly implied that shall Reimu ever fail in protecting the border (which is saying a lot), the dragon of Gensokyo will swoop down to deal with whatever problem there is. And it's not your standard fire-breathing Western fantasy dragon either: this dragon, when he/she/it appeared once in the past, fill the entire sky with his/her/its body. His/her/its presence alone cause extreme rain, enough to flood the entire Gensokyo. The dragon might be Gensokyo itself.
    • Giants that have awakened are: Sakuya in Perfect Cherry Blossom; Yukari, Remilia and Yuyuko in Imperishable Night; Medicine and Yuuka in Phantasmagoria of Flower View. Those people normally don't overstep their domain, but you can't be so sure when Spring Is Late/Bad Moon Rising/Death Takes a Holiday...
  • Begnion in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. There is a war between two similarly sized nations, immediately south and bordering both of them is one three times as big as the two put together.
    • The Dragons count for the sequel Radiant Dawn as well.
  • Sonic The Hedgehog: Sonic Unleashed - Despite being a horrifying Eldritch Abomination depicted nearly destroying the earth each millenia since time began, Dark Gaia is not so much evil as simply a force of nature (shown by the fact that whenever it tried to destroy the world upon awakening, it would be rebuilt by its other half, Light Gaia, and start the process all over again). It wasn't until Eggman tried to control the monster's power by firing his beam from space and woke Dark Gaia prematurely that he really put himself and the entire fate of the world in deep shit. Only Sonic and a formerly amnesiac Light Gaia make everything right again.
  • Both Galactic Civilizations and Mass Effect have a strange version of this. In both series, the humans are the galactic newcomers with little military to speak of, but our tenacity, bravery and the speed of build-up from token military into a powerhouse REALLY scares the other races. In Gal Civ, the Drengin (an evil warrior race) are scared of the humans and in ME the turians (the resident galactic police race) generally don't harbor a grudge over the First Contact War, but rather because they're the big, bad military and while the humans are a much smaller force, we're just as good, and did it in a tenth the time.
    • In Gal Civ, the Drengin are terrified because humans operate in an entirely different method than they expect as far as militaries are concerned. They have a large, standing military fleet. Humans had no fleet at all beyond trade and exploration vessels, until another species attacked them... at which point the humans rapidly built a fleet large enough to give the Drengin nightmares, completely slaughtered the offending race (As in total genocide; that race no longer exists)... and promptly decommissioned and took apart all of its military fleet, returning to having no military at all. The Drengin are both terrified of the results the humans achieved and the fact that they would voluntarily go back to a completely demilitarized state afterward. They cannot wrap their minds around it.
    • Mass Effect 3 has another example. Not that they were exactly sleeping by this point, but Kai Leng stealing the data on the Catalyst out from under Shepard's nose finally pisses the Alliance off enough to focus their entire military might on Cerberus.
      • Also, the Alliance almost invariably forms the bulk of Shepard's War Assets, with only the geth and krogan coming close to matching them (though adding the DLCs puts the miscellaneous alien groups over the top). Nothing like a Reaper invasion to get an entire species motivated.
  • Sort of in Overlord II. The elves futilely try to stop the Overlord from clubbing baby seals. Due to these actions, the Overlord and his horde of Minions decide to kill some elves and knock down their Sanctuary. He then decides to enslave or destroy both the elves and The Empire.
  • The Trade Order in Sins of a Solar Empire had no standing military to speak of. Just local planet-operated defense flotillas mainly consisting of frigates and cruisers in order to protect shipping lanes against Space Pirates. Then the Vasari invade with a massive fleet and thousands of years of technological advantage over the humans. They rapidly take a number of human colonies. Then the Trade Order gets reformed into the Trade Emergency Coalition, using its industrial and financial might to build an unprecedented number of warships, mostly using militarized versions of civilian ships. While the Vasari are still stronger in terms of technology and firepower, they can't possibly match the industrial capacity of the TEC. Even when the Advent join the conflict, the TEC are fully capable of waging a two-front war. Basically, We Have Reserves is in full effect for the TEC.
  • World of Warcraft: Word of God gave this as their reasoning for having the Horde destroy Theramore, as a way to bring the Alliance into the war against the Horde proper. Of course, the Alliance fans felt the sleeping giant should have already been awakened by the attacks on Southshore, Ashenvale and Gilneas...
    • In doing so, Horde Warchief Garrosh Hellscream has not only declared war on the Alliance, but also the avowedly neutral Kirin Tor and the blue dragonflight.
      • And on top of that, odds are fairly good that both the Alliance and the Horde will piss off the pandaren, most notably the Shado-Pan, whose leader is outspokenly against the faction hostilities brought to Pandaria's soil, dismissing it as a race war and calling the factions out for trying to pull the pandaren into it. Considering that Pandaria has a built-in defense mechanism called the Sha that react to and spawn from a variety of negative emotions, all of which both Red and Blue bring with them, and whose modus operandi is rampaging through the countryside until stopped, odds are increasingly in favor of Red and Blue getting a handy asskicking before this is all over.
      • That is they'll be giving one considering that A:The sha have more or less been beaten down already and B:Both sides are already studying them for further conflicts (And in the case of the horde, weaponizing).
  • Marathon 2: A large part of the game revolves around Durandal's comparatively paltry forces (made up of humans and S'pht) trying desperately to defeat a Pfhor fleet. Then the player succeeds in getting a message out to the long-lost S'pht'kr, a very powerful and advanced race of S'pht, about their brothers' plight, which leads to the curb-stomping of the Pfhor in the system (and plants the seeds for a decades-long conflict that eventually leads to the downfall of the entire Pfhor Empire at the hands of the S'pht'kr and humanity).
  • Exit Fate plays with this to the point that you don't actually realise it's been in effect until the very end. Rather large spoilers ahoy. At the end of the first half of the game, Daniel Vinyard and his Elysium Army manage to defeat the State Union. Then, out of the blue, the Almenga Empire gets up and conquers the hell out of Daniel's homeland: the Kingdom of Kirgard for seemingly no reason. Since no one's quite sure what the Empire is up to, they're not sure why the giant awoke - so everyone from Elysium and the Union bands together and unites under Daniel to take them down... which is exactly what the Big Bad, Emperor Siegfried, wanted all along. You see, Sieg's a Well-Intentioned Extremist who wanted to put an end to war forever by creating the world's greatest leader using the Hand of Fate - a powerful demonic spirit capable of influencing destiny. Said spirit resides within the body of his son, who turns out to be none other than Daniel himself and, together, the Hand of Fate and Siegfried have been manipulating events to force the world to unite under Daniel's banner. The empire wasn't the sleeping giant - Daniel's own potential as a leader was. In Siegfried's own words, everything that has happened up until this point was to take away the leaders of the world so that they would be forced to unite under a new one - his son. The Elysium giant then goes on to completely dominate the crap out of Almenga and ends up assimilating it into the Elysium Republic in the ending... just as Siegfried planned.
  • Metroplex heeds the call of the last Prime. Literal and figurative. Before the energon shortage, there was plenty running through Iacon to have him take direct action well before, but he remained uninvolved, seeing no need. Right until the Ark was attacked.
  • In Batman: Arkham City, the Penguin was not Batman's target until Cobblepot decides to shoot a cop in front of him.
    Batman: I came for Freeze and the hostages. Now I'm coming for you.
  • In Valkyria Chronicles, The Empire was hoping to use the neutral principality of Gallia as a staging ground and supply depot for their war against The Federation. Three guesses as to who sends them packing in the end.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan and Exile mutally grabbed the Idiot Ball and marched into the most obvious trap ever getting predictably stomped by The Sith Emperor. Thanks to the two former protagonists and their firm grip on the idiot ball, no attempt was made to warn the Republic that the Sith Empire even existed. The Sith Empire merrily sat back and stockpiled everything it could muster for three centuries to strike back at the Republic, ostensibly for their Genocide Backfire a thousand years earlier. The Republic was caught with their pants down as the Empire waged a very successful shock and awe campaign, ending with the Treaty of Coruscant (which both sides knew was nearly worthless, and played right into the Emperor's bigger plan to destroy everything in the galaxy except himself). Predictably, as soon as the truce was declared, the Sith started infighting while the Republic stockpiled and threw everything they could muster at the Empire. The Empire, starting with fewer troops, fewer Force Users, an untenable reliance on slave labor, and the infrastructure of a Third World backwater finds itself in serious trouble by the Makeb story arc, with Darth Marr admitting they're pretty much screwed if their Hail Mary plan with Isotope 5 droids doesn't pan out.

    Western Animation 
  • Played Straight and Discussed in the ThunderCats (2011) episode "Between Brothers" when the usualy pacifist Elephants, previously constrained by a need to meditate on their every dilemma, decide to enter the fight against the Lizards:
    Wilykit: You just woke a village of sleeping giants!
    Anet: Only rarely. But when we do, we fight to win!
  • In BIONICLE 3, the characters are primarily searching for the mythical beast Keetongu because he can reverse their mutations, but since their leader defected to the bad guys and they are under constant attack by the Visorak horde, they also ask for his help in combat. At first he refuses, but with a heartfelt speech, they convince him to join the party. The fact that the Visorak were responsible for his status as the Last of His Kind probably helped. Although he doesn't partake in the grand battle, he does kill the horde's leader with a single blow.
  • Pissing off the Avatar is probably the worst mistake you can do. Ask Chin, Yakone and Zhao how it went.

     Real Life  
  • Adolf Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, just because he wanted to. At the time he was the master of Europe from Poland to the Pyrenees and from Norway to Italy. Things turned out badly for him.
    • Then he compounded it with the ultimate diplomatic blunder of the War: declaring war on the United States when he was under no obligation with Germany's alliance with Japan. All Hitler gained from that was to enable his navy to attack American ships who were interfering with his U-Boats' campaign to strangle British trans-Atlantic shipping, while US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to join the fight with complete domestic political support.
  • The actual Trope Namer, featured in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!, appears to be a case of Beam Me Up, Scotty!, as there is no reliable record of Yamamoto ever saying it. He did, however, express similar sentiments, saying that Japan shouldn't declare war against the United States unless they thought they could dictate peace terms in the White House (which they obviously never could), and telling his superiors that he could "run wild for six months" but couldn't guarantee anything after that (Midway came six months almost exactly to the day after Pearl Harbor). Yamamoto only turned towards the Pearl Harbor attack after it became clear that the government was hell-bent on war with the United States.
    • This page details how immense was the American potential. Basically, American industrial potential was such that it took every single other major player combined to match what the Americans produced in the war (and that with most of the players having a headstart of over two years), and what's worse by 1945 they were just warming up.
  • Imperial Germany during World War I did pretty much the same thing as Hitler and Japan. In 1917. they offered Mexico an alliance with the promise of helping them reclaim Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Germany hoped that if the Mexicans invaded, then America would be too busy to join the Entente or send them supplies. The British intercepted the transmission and passed it along to the Americans, who promptly declared war on Germany, and began churning out massive amounts of weapons and supplies for their new European allies. And within a year (they needed to raise and train the troops first), millions of fresh American reinforcements arrived in France and by the end of 1918, Germany had surrendered.
  • Pyrrhus (he of the Pyrrhic Victory) did this to Rome. Before facing him, Rome was a regional power in the largely barbaric Italy, mostly concerned to keep the Gauls and other hostiles away, trade with their neighbours and the then-ally Carthage and defend their Italian allies. Then Tarentum got in a squabble with one of Rome's allies and, realizing they were completely outmatched, cashed in a favour that Pyrrhus owed them, and by the end of the war, in which they had defeated a major Hellenistic power whose army was led by the greatest general of their time, the Romans realized they could conquer the Mediterranean, and were now inclined to try.

Alternative Title(s):

Waking The Sleeping Giant, Awaken The Sleeping Giant