It's time for the Second TV Tropes Halloween Avatar Contest! Details here
Give me your armor to put on my shoulders;
The Trojans might suppose I was you,
Hold back, and give the Acheans' sons a breather,
For breathing spells in war are very few.
Whether for good
or for the moment
, a major leader has died or gone into 10-Minute Retirement
. He's likely to be a Supporting Leader
or the Big Good
/ Big Bad
— someone highly visible, whose presence alone could turn the tide of the battle. If he's gone, it would crush the morale
of the Redshirt Army
. So his team pretends he's still around, by creating the visual effect of his presence— dressing someone in his armor, finding someone that looks a bit like him
, even toting his corpse around and treating it like it's alive
. The ploy doesn't necessarily have to be performed for a battle— any instance of faking the image of a leader or champion to maintain order counts.
There are two twists on this that sometimes show up. Often, the person pretending
to be El Cid will get himself killed, having an even more demoralizing effect. Less commonly, the fake El Cid may try to assume the real one's identity, in which case this overlaps with Dead Person Impersonation
(and if he does an especially good job, Becoming the Mask
Compare Of Corpse He's Alive
, which this overlaps with if it is played for laughs. Do not confuse with Dead Person Impersonation
, which involves assuming someone's identity instead of their image. Compare Emergency Impersonation
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime and Manga
- In Death Note the Kira investigation team do this to L, after Light finally manages to off him. Of course they didn't know that L had some apprentices.
- In the backstory of Ooku: the Inner Chambers, the initial response to Shogun Tokeguwa Iemitsu's death from the RedFaced Pox was to hide his death until a male heir could be sired upon his bastard daughter. The deception lasted around a decade before said daughter took the reins and presented herself as Shogun Iemetsu.
- Although numerous people have worn Zero's trademark outfit in Code Geass, this is played with in the finale. Lelouch originally created the masked persona Zero so that he could lead the Japanese rebels to victory over Britannia without letting either side realize he was a Britannian prince. When his rebel organization the Black Knights learned about this, they tried to assassinate him and then declared Zero dead to cut Lelouch off from any Japanese support. Lelouch went on to use underhanded tactics to claim the Britannian throne anyway, then essentially took over the world, ruling it with an iron fist. Suzaku, Lelouch's best friend, was declared KIA during the last major battle, as part of a ploy devised by him and Lelouch. Right before the public execution of the leaders of the Black Knights, Suzaku became the new Zero in order to publicly assassinate Lelouch, who had deliberately focused the entire world's hatred on himself so that his death would unite the many countries that had long been locked in war.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Marcello Jarti, a charismatic "hero of the revolution" of the People's Democracy of Jenoma in South America has a strange reputation for surviving assassination attempts; all the people killed looked exactly like him, leading the experts to conclude that he has a ton of body-doubles. In fact, the guy did die, and his Japanese partners-in-crime have been continually replicating him with imitation clones so that nobody will figure out he's dead. And even better is that the original died because he had to be used as a template for the clones to be created in the first place. This was his choice. All the clones of him were also "concluded to be the real Marcello Jarti" because they technically were- the cloning process accurately copied the original's soul, making the clones literally the exact same as the original, with the only differences being the individual memories that each one obtained only after they were born.
- This is the case of Full Frontal of Gundam Unicorn - he's a Cyber-Newtype who resembles the late Char Aznable and has Char's memories implanted into him via Psychoframe.
- The said could be said of Meer Campbell of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny - she was turned into a look alike of the missing idol Lacus Clyne and used by Durandal to appease the citizens of the PLANTs and ZAFT soldiers. It kinda works until Lacus not only decides to strike back, but to appear in public from now on.
- The first season of Black Butler ends with Queen Victoria giving a speech, except this is actually a double to keep the peace and the real one is dead by this point. Slightly complicated by the fact that the real Victoria had been given a Fountain of Youth treatment that made her appear much younger but that she covered up by wearing a veil in public, while the double looks the correct age.
- The ending of V for Vendetta, in which Evie takes up V's mask and continues his crusade after V himself is killed.
- Done by Nightwing while Batman was "dead." Since it was Batman the villains feared, it had to look like the real thing was never gone, rather than a Legacy Character, so the costume was identical to (an earlier iteration of) the Batsuit, and even other heroes who knew Bats' identity thought Dick was Bruce. Not helping matters is that the villain Hush at the same time got plastic surgery and began impersonating Bruce Wayne, so even those who knew Batman was Bruce wouldn't have thought it unusual since "Bruce" was still running around.
- Played With in Delenda Est. After Harry and Bellatrix go forward in time Voldemort starts getting haunted by the Ghost of Ashworth, but no one can tell if Harry's actually dead or not. On the one hand, he shows up incorporeal, but on the other hand, his magic still words and his mental connection with Voldemort still exists. Many people believe that Harry Ashworth is dead and that Bellatrix uses magic to project his image in order to keep Voldemort and the Death Eaters off balance. In actuality, Harry is very much alive.
- The Trope Namer is El Cid, the 1961 Hollywood epic about a Spanish national hero from the late eleventh century. After taking a mortal wound on the eve of a decisive battle against invading Moors at the city of Valencia, he makes his wife swear that she will make sure he rides into battle the next morning no matter what. At dawn, his body is dressed in his armor and strapped onto his horse, and as the narrator puts it, El Cid "rode out of the gates of history into legend."
- The Akira Kurosawa movie Kagemusha is this trope gone full-time for Takeda Shingen's body double.
- This would have been the ending of Terminator: Salvation if there hadn't been an Internet Backdraft when it leaked out.
- The plot of Moon Over Parador is a mix of this with Prince and Pauper.
- This is how A Knight's Tale gets started. The servants' empty stomachs and a lifelong dream on his part see William posing as his dead master to win the tourney's prize.
- This is the plot of the movie Dave. An actor who resembles the president remarkably well is talked into taking his place because 'the vice president can't be trusted'.
- Robert A. Heinlein's novel Double Star. When politician John Joseph Bonforte is kidnapped by his political opponents, a lookalike actor is chosen to stand in for him to keep his coalition together and prevent the kidnappers from winning by default.
- In Brisingr the Varden use a magically created illusion to stand in for Eragon while he's busy with dwarfish politics, to prevent the Empire from attacking them while they're riderless.
- In the Young Jedi Knights book series, the Emperor Palpatine has apparently been resurrected (yet again) to lead the Second Imperium. He appears through holograms to address his subjects, but near the end of the series you find that he was Dead All Along, and was actually being "HoloShopped" by his bodyguards from Return of the Jedi out of Stock Footage from when he was alive and ruling.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, King Conan is struck down by sorcery before a battle and his advisers pull an El Cid Ploy. Which fails, because the stand-in doesn't have Conan's battle experience and falls for a trap. (Conan himself asked them to strap him into his saddle so he could still lead the charge.)
- The Hand of Thrawn duology: The books have a Big Bad Triumvirate working to make it look like Grand Admiral Thrawn, who'd been dead for ten years, had come Back from the Dead. This really does combine this trope and Dead Person Impersonation. Hilariously enough, they shouldn't have bothered, as Thrawn's own plan for coming Back from the Dead would have started a few weeks later, and it ended up being foiled because of them.
- The Lloyd Alexander novel The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha has La Résistance perpetuate the myth that their greatest king is alive and fighting to frighten their oppressors. In reality, his daughter is in charge, and arguably accomplishing more than her father actually did.
- In Book Five of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Silena Beauregard disguises herself as Clarisse in order to make the Ares cabin fight. It's pretty much a direct reference to the classic example of Patroclus from the Iliad, down to Silena dying in the process and Clarisse going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge once she realises.
- In the Chinese classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, during the final battle between the forces of Shu and the forces of Wei, Shu Prime Minister and strategic mastermind Zhuge Liang dies from pneumonia. His long-time rival, Wei's Sima Yi, is emboldened by these news, and orders a full assault. However, Zhuge Liang had known he was dying for a long time, and left plans for the contingency in the hands of his deputy, Jiang Wei. His body was propped up on a chariot, his trademark battle-fan in hand, and wheeled out at the forefront of a counterattack. Seeing Zhuge Liang take the field, Sima Yi assumed that he had yet AGAIN walked into one of Zhuge's stratagems, and immediately ordered a full retreat. The Wei army fell back in disarray, and Shu won the day. Thus, it is said that "A dead Zhuge Liang beat a living Sima Yi."
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- In the climactic scene in the second book of the saga, the tide of battle turns with the arrival of a combined Lannister-Tyrell army headed by Renly Baratheon (who was killed earlier in the book). Turns out that he really was Garlan Tyrell, and they pulled the ploy in order to demoralize Stannis' host, which was mostly made of Renly's former allies.
- In the fifth book the corpse of King Cleon the Butcher is put into armor, strapped to a horse and sent out to lead the charge against the Yunkai. This looks like it might actually work against the incompetent Yunkaii commanders, until one of their sellswords charges and "kills" Cleon. After this, that sellsword is nicknamed "Corpsekiller", but people only use the nickname when he's out of earshot.
- Near the beginning of the second book of Codex Alera, the First Lord collapses from working himself nearly to death. Since word of this level of infirmity would give Lord Aquitaine and Lord Kalarus exactly the chance they're looking for to try to take over, Tavi and company have to disguise the fact that he's in a coma. They wind up breaking Max out of jail to impersonate him. Hilarity Ensues.
- Happens to the eponymous protagonist at least twice in Perry Rhodan. In both cases, his disappearance leaves the post of head of state of the Solar Empire suddenly vacant, so his close friends and assistants employ doubles to fool the public and hold the Empire together. The main problem with this kind of plot here is that the Empire is otherwise always depicted as a genuine representative democracy...only with a small clique at the top deciding to deceive the constituency about the sudden loss of their elected leader in both these cases and essentially getting away with it.
- At the end of Shadow Games, Murgen puts on the Widowmaker Armor after Croaker falls, to rally the troops at the battle of Dejagore.
- Older Than Feudalism: While Achilles is off having a sulk in The Iliad, his best friend, Patroclus, pretends to be him to rally the Greeks. When Patroclus gets killed by Hector, it demoralizes the Greeks, but brings Achilles back into the fight.
- The Iliad example is re-used in the Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri novelization Centauri Dawn by Michael Ely (one of the game's designers). Basically, the Spartans are conducting a bloody siege of the United Nations HQ, the home base of the Peacekeepers. Similar to Achilles, Colonel Corazon Santiago spends much of the siege in her tent. The defenders are being led by Jahn Lal, Commissioner Pravin Lal's son. While the Spartans are initially winning due to their superior training and firepower, the tide is seemingly turned as a mass of mindworms suddenly appears and attacks the Spartan forces (later revealed to have been sent by the Gaians). Realizing that their forces are about to rout, Santiago's son Victor (born weak and only survived The Spartan Way because of his mother's position) goes into her tent and demands that she give him her blood-red armor (something she promised earlier in the novel). Reluctant, Corazon agrees. Donning the armor, Victor rallies the troops, who assume he is his mother (his face is hidden by the helmet), and the lack of fear helps push the mindworms away. Seeing this, Jahn Lal leads a charge on the disorganized Spartans and kills Victor with a shredder to the chest at point-blank range. Jahn takes the armor and later wears it himself in order to further demoralize the Spartans. This works, but the enraged Santiago then leads a charge of her elite Myrmidon troops into the city, finds Jahn, and kills him with a Neck Snap in front of his father, taking the body and the armor. After the battle, Pravin sneaks into Santiago's tent and asks for the body of his son. Santiago agrees and leaves the city largely intact but no longer able to defend itself.
- In The Lost Regiment, going Straight for the Commander is the commonly-used tactic of the Merki Horde. During the frequently-referenced Battle of Orki, when the smaller Tugar Horde routed the larger Merki, both the Qar Qarth (chief of all clans) of the Tugars and the Qar Qarth of the Merki were killed (one by a blade, another by an arrow). Their Number Twos tied the corpses to their mounts in order to keep the battle going. Partly, this was to avoid demoralizing the warriors. Partly, it was to avoid the starting the 30-day mourning period until the battle war over.
- At the end of Days of Blood and Starlight, Thiago and Ten have both been killed by Karou and those loyal to her, Thiago in self-defense after he tried to rape her and Ten afterwards so she wouldn't catch on that her boss wasn't actually himself. Their bodies are inhabited by the souls of two people loyal to Karou who have to act like the originals so as not to arouse suspicion because most of their army is still loyal to Thiago (because his father was their former leader) and while the magic in the setting means that they could very well bring the real Thiago back he's both too dangerous and too much of a bastard for Karou to bear the thought of it. Over the course of the next book in the series both of them die again, but no one outside a select few is even aware a switch occurred.
- Sword at Sunset: King Arthur, wounded in a narrow victory, suppresses the news that he's definitely dying and puts his successor in charge of his demoralised troops "until I return", inadvertently giving rise to the legend of the once and future king.
- A variant gets pulled at the end of the Dresden Files book Blood Rites, and spans several of the following books. As far as the world at large (and particularly the other Vampire Courts) are concerned, the White King still sits on his throne. In truth, however, he's a powerless marionette, dead in all by name, and being used as a hand-puppet by his daughter, Lara Raith. The deception loses importance over time, as Lara builds her own power-base and gains the respect of the vampiric community through ruthless competency, but for a while, the only think stopping the other families from pouncing on the perceived weakness of the Raith-clan was the illusion of Lord Raith's continued reign.
Live Action TV
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a robot duplicate stands in for Buffy while she's temporarily dead, so that the Slayer's reputation will still scare demons away.
- Xena: Warrior Princess: Gabrielle disguises herself as the temporarily-incapacitated Xena to use her reputation to try and drive off a warlord.
- On an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Quark and some Ferengi Recurrers took the body of a dead Dominion representative (whom they'd accidentally killed) and used neurostimulators to reanimate him to make him appear to be alive.
- On The Sentinel the body of a dead hitman was put on a radio-controlled motorized wheelchair to make his twin brother (also a hitman) think he was still alive, but injured.
- Played with in Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire; many of the Commadore's potential allies during his coup attempt suspect this to be happening when the old man suddenly stops appearing for meetings and his closest allies continuously assure them that he's fine, but they can't see him. In actual fact he really is alive, but is partially paralysed from a stroke. However, he is actually recovering fairly well, so the various allies' denials that anything is wrong might well have been more damaging to their efforts than telling the truth.
- The music video for Foster The People's song, "Houdini", features this. The band is killed by a falling light truss and gets "reanimated" thanks to Japanese puppeteers. Later, electronics are added to them to make their lips move.
- El Cid:
- Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid, is the Trope Namer. The tradition goes that whilst defending his city-state of Valencia from attackers, he was hit by a poisoned arrow and forced to retreat from the battlefield. He died of his wounds, but his men knew that while the people of Valencia believed El Cid was alive, they would fight to the death to defend him. So they bolted him into his armour, and then into his saddle. It worked, and the attackers were successfully repelled. The people, on learning of El Cid's death, mourned the loss of their legendary leader, and it is said that his preserved body was seated on the throne of Valencia for a year before they finally buried him.
- Another version has him literally stabbed in the back with a poison dagger, through the wall of his tent, while resting. He dies before morning, and the ploy is pulled to great success.
- When Cú Chulainn was mortally wounded in the middle of battle, he tied himself to a standing stone so he died on his feet. His enemies still believed he was alive, until a crow landed on him. Probably not intended on his part, but still worked.
- Mega Man Zero's Copy-X is this Gone Horribly Wrong.
- Also pulled off in the second game, his Quirky Miniboss Squad (Harpuia in particular) takes control, without revealing to the populace the fact that Copy-X was dead.
- Mega Man X: Command Mission has an unknown reploid taking the armor and weapons of the almost dead hero Massimo.
- In Infinite Undiscovery, you play as an unassuming and cowardly young lad named Capell... who just so happens to be a dead ringer for Sigmund, the Great Hero of the People. Sigmund's combat prowess and charisma has caused much of the world to rally behind his efforts to stop The Order Of Chains and their plans, so when he dies in battle, things look bleak. Even with most of the forces intact, without Sigmund, they'd lose the support of the kingdoms... so, of course, Capell has to take up the mantle of Sigmund, pretending to be him at least long enough to finish the fight!
- In the first Suikoden game, the leader of La Résistance, Odessa, is killed by imperials while protecting a pair of children. Your party shows up seconds later and kills the imperials. With her dying breath, she admits to being "A woman first, a rebel second", and asks you to dump her body in the nearby waterway, concealing her death so as not to demoralize La Résistance. Nobody really impersonates her, but you keep pretending that she's just off somewhere else being busy at undermining the empire, for quite a long time...
- Also alluded to in one of Suikoden V's Bad Ends: if Roy defeats the Prince in their duel, he takes his place as leader while the Prince is comatose. Roy then gets himself killed, their base captured, and their forces scattered, and there's no indication the real Prince is going to wake up anytime soon...
- In Wild ARMs XF, the drifter Clarissa reluctantly pretends to be the missing-and-presumed-dead princess Alexia to lead a revolution against the corrupt government.
- with the twist that they may have switched places while very young. Thus unknowingly Alexia was actually pretending to be herself.
- And further twisted if they turn out to have been distantly related. Yeah, it's a Mind Screw.
- In Age of Empires II, you get to play the trope-naming scenario in the expansion's Spanish campaign. If the enemy reaches the immobile El Cid mounted on his horse, you lose the battle instantly.
- Horrifically subverted in Jeanne D Arc. After Jeanne plummets down a ravine and is presumed dead, the French military strongarm her childhood friend and companion Liane into posing as the Maid of Orleans, in order to bolster the army's morale and to diminish their enemies' resolve. It is at this point that the English capture her and burn her at the stake, despite her horrified screaming and pleading.
- At the conclusion of Final Fantasy XII, Noah fon Rosenburg, also known as Judge Magister Gabranth, lies wounded and dying. Knowing that his young master Larsa Solidor has many enemies, even within the Archadian government and in House Solidor, he entrusts his protection to his twin brother Basch fon Rosenburg. Since Basch himself was presumed dead, he takes on the mantle of Gabranth and assumes his identity in the Archadian Empire, giving up his life as Basch to protect the tenuous peace between Dalmasca and Archades. Of course, it helps that the armor and helm of a Judge Magister are all-concealing, and the denouement shows how he cut his hair in his brother's style to further the deception.
- Both used and discussed in Radiant Historia. At one point, Eruca nixes a plan to assassinate her stepmother because she knows other officials will just announce that her health prevents her from appearing and do whatever they want. Later, it's revealed that this is exactly what General Hugo has been doing with Noah's proclamations for some time.
- Happens in Sluggy Freelance when Torg is forced to take the place of Identical Stranger Lord Torgamous de Saxones, who is currently too sick to lead his army into battle.
- Drowtales has Val'Sharess Diva'ratrika, who was secretly overthrown by her three daughters in a coup. Rather than broadcast news of her death (which would destabilize the Empire), they pretend she is still alive, and even more recently, dressing someone up as the Empress and parading her through the city. As of the 15 year timeskip at least one daughter has dropped the act and publicly declared that her mother is dead, though obviously not under the real circumstances, and many people suspect that this has taken place. There have also been several attempts on the double(s) by the Sharen's enemies who want to kill the fake Empress and expose the deception. Snadhya'rune Vel'Sharen ultimately betrays her sisters and assassinates the Body Double herself through a Vloz'ress proxy in order to destabilize the Empire and create a power vacuum she aims to fill.
- When Fidel Castro was having health problems, some people thought that he had actually died and the Cuban government had pulled one of these. He eventually went on television to deny it. It has been claimed that he actually died on November 19th but was kept connected to the machines for another day so his official death would coincide with the anniversary of José Antonio Primo de Rivera's, November 20th, whose figure was lionized by his regime.
- There was a Russian joke that Brezhnev's slowness was a result of him being dead and replaced by a remote-controlled dummy.
- Allegedly the Scottish King Robert the Bruce was once too sick with what was incorrectly diagnosed as leprosy to lead his army against the English. His lieutenants strapped the incoherent king onto his horse anyway. The English, seeing the by-then Legendary Bruce riding against them panicked and retreated.
- Famous Korean admiral Yi Sun-Sin was on the verge of beating the Japanese navy (for about the 23rd time) when he was struck by a single bullet. He told his son and nephew to fight on but not announce his death to the others until the battle was over. They did so and won, with the nephew donning the admiral's armor and beating the war drum for the rest of the fight to keep the masquerade.
- At least one incident in the Society For Creative Anachronism 's yearly "Pennsics" war is a deliberate invocation of this trope. A new young fighter needed some loaner armor, so his knight, who was recovering from a hangover, deliberately lent him his own, and placed him at the center of the shield wall. Needless to say, the enemy concentrated their attacks on him, allowing the better fighters to maneuver around and win the battle.