Decoy Leader

The Man Behind the Man controls a real leader behind the scenes. Some leaders may even employ a Body Double to confuse assassins. But sometimes, that leader puts a decoy in front of them to avoid the limelight and long daggers.

A Decoy Leader takes the place of a leader and impersonates them, often conducting him or herself as if they were the real deal. Often, the real leader feeds them instructions via audio device, hand signals, extensive training, or other means so the leader can conduct meaningful policy. Usually, the decoy is willing to die for the leader, and has little to no political ambitions at all.

Where this gets interesting is that the decoy doesn't need to look anything like the leader either. The leader may be a Master of Disguise or can at least clean up nicely, which she'll use in order to move around royal and civil society freely. In fact, the leader will likely enjoy going about with the common folk. Of course, a savvy hero or villain will be able to tell this King Incognito out.

Compare Puppet King, where the actual legal leader has become purely a tool for somebody else. An El Cid Ploy is another way of making your leader appear to be somewhere they aren't, with the difference being that they're actually dead.


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    Comic Books 

  • In Batman Begins, Ra's Al Ghul uses a decoy as supposed leader of the League of Shadows. However, the decoy supposedly doesn't speak English and has the real Ra's "translating" for him, so he's effectively just a figurehead. Another scene reveals that the decoy can speak English, which helps sell deception to the viewer. Also seen later (or earlier depending on perspective) in court when a Mook claims to be the actual head of the Falcone crime family.
  • Kuato the mutant in the original Total Recall (1990) was hidden under the shirt of his decoy "host".
  • The title character in Dave was supposed to be this, but he ended up turning against his handlers.
  • Star Wars
    • In The Phantom Menace, Queen Amidala operates as the Queen Incognito Padme — which is her real name — and throughout the movie has a decoy-bodyguard, Sabe, who replaces her. Both happen to be handy with a blaster.
    • In the original cut of the scene in A New Hope where Solo talks to Jabba in front of the Falcon, he was talking to a human. One of the short stories in the Expanded Universe explains that this man was a decoy authorized to negotiate with smugglers in Jabba's name. Then the remastered version of the film rendered that explanation meaningless when they have Han talk to the real Jabba in that scene.
  • A scene in The Last King of Scotland sees Nicholas mistake a double of Idi Amin for the genuine article, which gives the real Idi Amin much to laugh about.
  • Superman II. The President of the United States tries this when the three Kryptonian super villains drop in for a visit. General Zod is not fooled, however.
    Zod: You are the one they call "President"?
    Guy: I am.
    Zod: [snip] Kneel Before Zod.
    Guy: [kneels]
    Zod: You are not the President. No one who leads so many could possibly kneel so quickly.
    President: [Steps forward] They're protecting me. I'm the President.
  • At the end of The Eagle Has Landed the protagonist appears to successfully assassinate Winston Churchill before being shot. However it turns out he was an impersonator and the real Churchill was at the Tehran conference all along. It was noted that if he had spoke, it would have blown it.
  • In Wild Wild West, the first version of Ulysses S. Grant we see is actually Artemus Gordon, but Jim West sees through the deception. Seconds later the real Grant arrives and chews them both out, suggesting he was unaware of what Gordon was doing. Note that both Gordon and Grant are played by the same actor. This gets repeated in a later scene where Loveless tries to kidnap the President and Gordon shows up disguised as Grant to buy the President time to escape. Unfortunately, before the President figures out that he's supposed to be leaving so that the imposter can be kidnapped, Loveless grabs them both. Gordon can't help but praise himself even when in-character, which is partly what causes West to realize he's not the President. The other reason? Gordon forgot to take off his Harvard ring. West is fully aware that Grant attended West Point.
  • In Iron Man 3 "The Mandarin" is actually a washed up drunken British actor named Trevor Slattery hired by Aldrich Killian, the real villain, to get at Tony Stark.

  • Gor
    • In Nomads of Gor the leaders of the four tribes of Wagon Peoples [sic] all employ these - the Wagon Peoples know who the leaders really are but outsiders think the decoys are the leaders.
    • An Earth girl is also substituted for a female Gorean leader in Kajira of Gor.
  • The Doctor Who New Adventures book Death and Diplomacy takes this a step further: even the real leader thinks that the decoy is the one in charge. Confusing things further, his people have set up a cunning double bluff where he's officially the leader, meaning that everyone assumes he's the decoy, and the "minor official" he consults with (the actual decoy) is the real leader. (In theory. When he learns the truth, the swiftness with which his people accept it leads him to suspect that maybe they all knew apart from him all along.) Complicated double-dealing and duplicity are this race's hat.
  • In the BattleTech Expanded Universe, several novels detail uses of decoys for a variety of leaders: Jenna Clay subbing for Melissa Steiner is the most straightforward of these, but Hanse Davion and Thomas Marik both had doubles. Hanse's double was a plot by Maximilian Liao to take control of the Federated Suns, but Thomas Marik's double was a plot by ... Thomas Marik.

    Live Action TV 
  • 24
    • One time when CTU was invaded by bad guys they asked "who's in charge?" One guy (who wasn't in charge, but was in love with the woman who was in charge) stood up and said "I am," so they shot him.
    • This was the case of the first season's Big Bad, Victor Drazen. Before the events of the series Jack led a team to assassinate him, but wound up killing one of these instead (IDW's comic prequel, Nightfall also shows this in more detail).
  • In the Arrested Development episode, "Exit Strategy", the Saddam Hussein on trial clams to be this, alleging that the real Saddam has a scar on his head and "I'm No-Scar... Dot Com!"
    • In "Development Arrested", George Sr is revealed to have been this for the Bluth company all along; Lucille is the real Big Bad of the series.
  • In an episode of Stargate SG-1 involving brainwashed assassins programmed to sabotage negotiations between the Unites States and the Tok'ra, both sides do this.
  • It's eventually revealed that the person in charge of The Conspiracy in Utopia is not Letts but his anonymous aide. And then the assistant turns out to be a cleverly disguised foil, and the real Man Behind the Man is Milner.
  • Kamen Rider V3 ends with the skull of Destron's leader being cracked open, revealing only a tape player.
    • Kamen Rider Amazon reveals that the Emperor Zero that's been in charge the whole time is really just a stand-in for the real one.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One D&D adventuring party that was written up in Polyhedron magazine included a gnoll henchman who, thanks to what his human companions thought would be a one-time ruse to sneak him into a city, wound up becoming renowned as a powerful (human) knight whom the other party members served. It became routine for him to put on full plate armor and ride impressively in the midst of the group, who played along at being the "mighty knight's" minions because having such a famous warrior among them got them more respect (and higher payment for their work) than having a sidekick.

  • Used in Henry VI by the Dauphin of France to test whether Joan of Arc could tell the difference. (She could.)

    Video Games 
  • Parodied in Bangai-O with Nise (Fake) Gai, a doppelganger that the Cosmo Gang occasionally uses to substitute Gai in battle. Given that he wears a flimsy disguise and overacts his assigned role, it's no wonder that Riki sees right through him. The latter then decides to briefly mess with the former a little, assuming that he is the ''real'' Gai after all.
  • In Dark Souls, "Gwynevere" is actually an illusion controlled by the Dark Sun Gwyndolin, the real Gwynevere having abandoned Anor Londo long ago to marry a foreign god. Even "her" sunlight is just an illusion that is dispelled if the player kills "Gwynevere".
  • The head of the Valkyr drug cartel in Max Payne is thought to be The Don Angelo Punchinello. However, the real head is the Corrupt Corporate Executive of Aesir Corp, Nicole Horne.
  • The ruler of the Shi in Fallout 2 is publicly known to be the Shi Emperor, who hides from public view for security. The actual ruler turns out to be the Emperor's adviser. As it turns out the 'Emperor' is a — non-sapient — supercomputer the supposed adviser uses as an aide to making decisions which are then passed on to the public as the Emperor's decisions.

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • During the battle of Kulikovo field in 1380 prince of Moscow Dmitry "of Don" gave his recognizable bright armour, banner and the horse to a young warrior, while Dmitry donned simple armour and fought as an ordinary footman. The obvious explanation that Dmitry was hiding in a safer place is often contested — he went to the "big" (central) regiment, where the fighting was expected to be (and was) the most brutal.note  The decoy boyarin was killed, Dmitry was wounded, trampled and left for dead, but ultimately survived. His exact motifs are still debated.