“The planet is being taken over by the Federation, but we don’t want to come in here and use our muscle, you know what I mean? That ain’t subtle. So what we do is we help one guy take over the planet. He pulls the strings, and then we pull his.”When the nominal leader of a nation—most commonly some form of royalty—is secretly a figurehead controlled by other elements, whether inside or outside the government. Usually the real power will be a Regent for Life, a scheming spouse, a Government Conspiracy, or a particularly skillful Evil Chancellor; the general populace will think that the nominal ruler is really the one in charge, and he or she can have a variety of reactions — they may be trying desperately to get power back, may be content with the status quo as The Way Things Are Meant To Be, may be too busy having fun to care, or in some extreme cases may not even know themselves the extent to which they're being played. In some cases this will be built right into the system of government, though only the highest officials will know that. Often the protagonists will help open the Puppet King's eyes and help him take his government back. Does not apply to cases like most modern-day monarchies, where the monarch is explicitly a figurehead and the true power lies in elected officials. The government has to at least make a show that the ruler is calling the shots to qualify for this trope. Has nothing to do with the Teen Titans villain Puppet King, who is an Evil Sorcerer with the body of a literal puppet, or puppets used that play the part of kings in Puppet Shows, or King Friday XIII from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Also not to be confused with Puppeteer Parasite or People Puppets. Compare Shadow Dictator and Decoy Leader. An Apparently Powerless Puppetmaster is a subversion (looks powerless, but isn't, and takes advantage of that perception). A usually more mundane example may be a Clueless Boss. See also Our Presidents Are Different.
— Jim Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series, "A Piece of the Action"
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Anime and Manga
- In Attack on Titan, it turns out that King Fritz, who initially appears as a stern, decadent king, is in fact just a senile figurehead who would give Trevor Slattery a run for his money. The real king is Rod Reiss, Krista/Historia's father.
- In Naruto it was eventually revealed that Yagura, the Fourth Mizukage and ruler of the Village Hidden in the Mist, was mind-controlled by someone who claimed to be Madara Uchiha. The extent to which he was aware of his control is unknown. After what's shown of Yagura's true personality, however, it can be assumed that he was probably under complete and utter control of Tobi.
- Quite common in the various Mobile Suit Gundam series.
- The first Mobile Suit Gundam series had this. By the time the action rolls, Sovereign Degwin Zabi's power over Zeon was heavily diminished due to his old age and his son and heir Gihren's manipulation. And it gets worse after Degwin's youngest son, Garma, dies; the old man's thrown across the Despair Event Horizon, Gihren plots more and more, and then...
- This was also used in further Universal Century installments, specially in the case of one Mineva Lao Zabi. She's a seven-year-old girl and the last descendant of the Zeons, but the one truly in command is her tutor and the governor of the Axis, a Dark Action Girl known as Haman Kahn.
- According to other sources, Haman Kahn herself was this close to play the trope straight at age sixteen, after her father and former leader Maharajah died and she was appointed as the Axis governor by the Zeon military, hoping she'd be easy to control. She was NOT.
- The Earth Alliance in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny is made up of several of the world's most powerful nations, including The Atlantic Federation, Eurasia, and other major power blocs in Easa Asia, Africa, and South America. Yet despite that, the agenda is really being controlled by Blue Cosmos, and several other major anti-Coordinator lobby groups, headed first by Murata Azrael and later by his successor, Lord Djibril. It's Blue Cosmos who pulls the strings; the Earth Alliance just follows along.
- Other Gundam examples include Queen Maria of the brutal Zanscare Empire, who is on the whole a very kind and decent woman who is painfully aware of her lack of real power. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing had Duke Dermail attempt to make Relena Peacecraft into one of these when he gave the the title "Queen of the World", but she went and turned that into a truly authoritative position and ended up reforming the Rommefeller Foundation into a benevolent pacifistic state.
- Führer King Bradley from Fullmetal Alchemist and he knows it. He is the Homunculus Wrath and only the figurehead to the real leader, Father. For his entire life he served Father's will and had very little freedom of his own. It is why he cherished his wife, as it was the ONLY thing he willingly chose with that very freedom he had.
- Similarly, in the 2003 anime version, Bradley is the Homonculus Pride and is controlled by Dante in her never-ending use of the Amestris military as a tool of despair to make people create Philosopher's Stones. However, since Dante couldn't care less about day-to-day issues of the nation, Bradley has a lot more autonomy in this version than his original counterpart and seems to take an inordinate amount of, well, pride in his own leadership.
- Ophis, the official leader of Chaos Brigade is this in High School Dx D.
- Youko Nakajima/Queen Sekishi of The Twelve Kingdoms realises she is in her way to become this sometime after her coronation, because the court ministers had become accustomed to power over the long absence of a monarch, and use her inexperience to easily keep her from making any significant decisions. So she goes incognito to learn about her own country. This leads to her becoming involved in a rebellion against the corrupt portion of her government, which in turn results in her taking direct control of the army, thus solving that little problem.
- In The Bride of Adarshan, Alec realizes that this is what the nobles are trying to turn him into when his brother, the actual king, falls ill and someone has to temporarily become his replacement. As a prince and therefore someone in a position of authority, but as someone who has no actual supporters or influence, he'd be the perfect pawn.
- Code Geass has the Tianzi or "Child of Heaven", who technically is supposed to be the leader of the Chinese Federation and the heir to the old imperial tradition... but in practice, the current one is a Shrinking Violet pre-teen who's kept away from her people by her council, the High Eunuchs, who rule the country as they wish. However, not everything is lost: Tianzi has a Knight in Shining Armor-like protector in her bodyguard, the very badass Li Xingke, who holds Undying Loyalty for her after she spared his life and has decided to give her the power she needs to help China and the world.
- In the 2015 anime/manga of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, for all intent and purpose, King Innocentius's brother and Bodin are far more active and respected within the Lusitanian ranks. Innocentius himself is very gullible and easily manipulated, essentially approving whatever they want to do.
- The comic book series Fables has a literal puppet emperor. Gepetto, who's still playing humble woodcarver, is actually in charge.
- The V for Vendetta comic had a puppet dictator. Originally he was a strong, visionary leader (and of course an evil fascist), but over the course of the story, he slowly withdraws from actually running the country, and though he remains an important public symbol and figurehead, leaving one of his ministers to basically assume real control of the government.
- In Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog, Elias just can't help but be controlled by someone. The first time, it was Geoffry St. John, who tried to make it so that him and his Secret Service was a much better choice than Sonic and the Freedom Fighters. Second time, Elias' own father, Max, attempted to be this way, refusing to give up the past.
- Dungeon Twilight: Early in the series Herbert separates himself from the Dark Entity. Fayez Ul-Rahman, the leader of the assassin's clan, take advantage of this by being the strongest faction but leaves Herbert as the Great Khan to avoid infighting and pretend renewing his loyalty in public. He makes it clear to Herbert and his daughter that he is in charge and Herbert'll be nothing more than a figurehead.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, the Lemony Narrator stumbles upon the fact that the rulers of Saddle Arabia may have been replaced by a more pro-Celestia leadership. She doesn't really give this much thought though, and just moves on. Given that her essay was made to reveal these hidden conspiracies, and this is the first event she covers that actually has potential to be seen as an actual conspiracy, this seems to be quite the overlook.
- MLP Next Generation: Love Conquers All! Avarice Takes It All!: After Gilda becomes Empress of the Griffons, she finds herself out of her depth and reliant on the "advice" of her brother Nox, who was already manipulating the ongoing war for his own ends under their father Stratus before killing him and becoming a Black Lantern. And on top of that, her own military only pays lip service out of loyalty to the throne, and don't respect her authority at all.
- Cycles Upon Cycles: The members of the Citadel Council are reduced to this by their respective governments after their botched negotiations lead to a brief war with the Koprulu Alliance, wherein the Council forces are curbstomped and the Batarians are almost wiped out by the Zerg. The member nations of the Council take more control over international politics, leaving the Councilors themselves as little more than figureheads.
- Riding The Dragon: Warlord Yoriyoshi tries to reduce Cecilia Kurita to this.
- Dominus Mundi The King Of Kings (Harry Potter): Back when the Atlantean Empire still existed, there were a few cases when power rested in the hands of the Mother of Sovereignty (a dowager of sorts), the Divine Sovereign being more of a puppet to his mother than an actual ruler.
- Queen of Shadows plays with this a little. While the line of Queens are the ultimate authority of the Shadowkhan Empire, most administrative power lies in the hands of the Circle of Generals, though the reigning Queen can override them at any time. Also, any attempt to try and actively reduce the Queen into an actually powerless figurehead (like Jirobo has been trying to do) is seen as something only lowly humans would try to do.
- In the Pony POV Series, it's eventually revealed that Dark World Discord has long since been reduced to this. By all outside appearances, he's an Evil Overlord ruling with an iron fist, but he's actually trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop by Nightmare Eclipse, a potential future Twilight Sparkle who turned his Villain World into his own personal Ironic Hell. Discord technically has freedom...but only if he's doing something Eclipse approves of (basically, something evil she can later hate him for), and she's capable of overlaying his own actions from a previous loop and forcing him to perform them against his will. It's gotten to the point Discord has long since performed a Heel–Face Turn but she's keeping him from acting on it.
- In the Neomorphs series, after the Visser rebuilds the Yeerk Empire into the New Yeerk Order, the Council of Thirteen offers him the position of Emperor. The Visser turns them down, sticking to his military title, simultaneously reducing the Emperor (and the rest of the Council) to figureheads, who at best are planetary governors of the Yeerk homeworld. Later on in the series, it's shown they're pissed about this, and the new Emperor (the Visser's twin) is gathering forces to retake control from him.
- In Black Sky, that's the reason why Erica Lanza refuses to run for Vongola Decimo Boss in spite of having the bloodline and the Sky Affinity, as she knows she would become that for Xanxus. She has no problems with that, but she fears to introduce a precedent for "unfit" heirs being taken over by more competent subordinates.
- In A Man Of Iron, Tywin Lannister idly entertains the notion of a Warden of the North being loyal to the Lannisters, as seen when he lets Antony Stark take residence in the Westerlands and become his bannerman. Of course, Antony is far down the succession line, but a man can dream...
- With the Civil War looming in the horizon and Jon Snow's adoption by Antony, Tywin feels no qualms about wiping the entire Stark family out and introducing Jon as new Lord of Winterfell. He reasons it would keep the Northern lords happy - Jon being from the Stark bloodline - while giving the bastard the opportunity to avenge himself from Catelyn Stark's scorn by supplanting her children.
- Summer Crowns: As Warden of the North, the crippled and drug addled Brandon Stark becomes this to the Three Regents (Roose Bolton, William Dustin, and Rodrik Ryswell), who do their best to tarnish his image so that they can eventually take direct control.
Films — Animation
- The Sultan in Disney's Aladdin is completely under the control of Grand Vizier Jafar, thanks in large part to a Hypno Ray staff.
- The Emperor's New Groove: It is implied that Emperor Kuzco's narcissic/self-absorbed behavior was due to Yzma's influence when growing up, meaning she most likely attempted to control Kuzco while on the throne. Unfortunately for her, this backfires, resulting in wanting to directly taking the throne for herself by murdering him.
Films — Live Action
- The King of France in both the The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Three Musketeers (1993).
- Star Wars
- Emperor Palpatine was originally intended to be this, with Darth Vader ultimately taking the reins by the end of the trilogy, but when Palpatine finally appeared in Return of the Jedi, this idea had obviously been changed. (And probably even earlier than that: in The Empire Strikes Back, Emperor Palpatine's transmission to Vader onboard the Executor strongly implied that the Emperor was a force user.)
- The novelization of the original Star Wars film, which actually preceded the film's release, specifies that Palpatine was a wealthy merchant turned Senator and made Emperor by a junta of warlords who were the true power in the Empire. In The Empire Strikes Back, an early script has Vader speaking not to the Emperor, but to his Vizier, Sate Pestage.
- Subverted in the prequels - the Jedi believed Palpatine was a Puppet Chancellor for Darth Sidious. Turns out Palpatine actually was Sidious. This was explored further in the novelization, but Mace Windu briefly alludes to it in Revenge of the Sith.
- Evil Drug Lord to nominal President of fictional Banana Republic in the James Bond movie Licence to Kill:
"Remember—you are only President... for Life."
- Pu Yi in The Last Emperor, specially as the ruler of Manchukuo under Imperial Japan's watch.
- Tora! Tora! Tora!: Emperor Hirohito is described as being quite opposed to the alliance with Germany and war with America. It also doesn't matter what his opinion of the matter is, as the Cabinet holds all the real power in the government and allow him to attend meetings as a formality.
- In Storm Over Asia, the Evil Colonialist British occupiers discover that a local Mongolian herder is a descendant of Genghis Khan. They set him up as a Puppet King. He eventually rebels and leads an army against the British.
- Averted in Jackboots on Whitehall as the King of England is thrown in the Tower of London by the Those Wacky Nazis. This is despite the fact that's he's already a puppet king.
"You fools! Don't you know I'm ¾ German?"
- Gilthas from Dragonlance looks like this (in fact, he was derisively nicknamed "the Puppet King", controlled by the Dark Knights and a succession of Quisling Evil Chancellors, but he's actually one of the secret leaders of the resistance against his own rule, and his wife is the military leader of said resistance. Needless to say, the ones who thought they had him under control were not happy about this.
- Literally built into the Terran Hansa Charter in The Saga of Seven Suns. The Great King is a monarch who acts as the Hansa's public face and is a focus for loyalty, but the Hansa Chairman (a career politician publicly seen as the king's assistant) is the one really calling the shots behind the scenes, and the king has no influence over policy.
- Some of the Galactic Emperors from Isaac Asimov's Foundation books were like this. During the timeline of the main series, the position had degenerated into being almost all figureheads, with a couple of exceptions.
- Also King Lepold of Anacreon, whose government is really controlled by Prince Regent Wienis.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The President of the Galactic Empire has no actual power, and exists to distract the public from the real leaders. The Emperor is even more useless, being kept in suspended animation for the last ten thousand years so they can still call it an empire. The galaxy is really "ruled" by the decisions of a delusional old man in a hut who refuses to believe in anything he doesn't experience empirically.
- King Théoden of Rohan had effectively been turned into this during The Lord of the Rings until Gandalf snapped him out of it. In the movies this was due to literal Mind Control, while in the books Evil Chancellor Wormtongue was "just" a very Manipulative Bastard who used mundane means and the king's advancing age to get actual control of the government handed over to him.
- Wormtongue uses dark magic on Theoden in the book too; it's just not as overt as in the movie.
- God-King Susebron from Warbreaker is an example of one who knows and accepts his own role as a symbol and his priests' role as the actual administrators — at least, until his young wife Siri convinces him otherwise.
- The White Vampire Court in The Dresden Files, Lara controlling her father, the King, after the book Blood Rites.
- Queen Victoria is in thrall to the title character in Anno Dracula until her Heroic Sacrifice.
- Which serves as an interesting analysis of this trope. In a legal and political sense Dracula is merely Royal Consort, a position that comes with absolutely no actual authority or any special loyalty from the British people. Without influence over Victoria all of Britain turns on him.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Dragon Jousters series the two sets of royalty in the opposing kingdoms are under the control of the same group of evil magicians determined to keep the war going to they can harvest the life energy of the slain soldiers.
- In the Discworld novel Guards! Guards! the goal of the Elucidated Brethren is to set up one of these with themselves holding the reins. The idea is that they will get a chap with the usual characteristics (noble, not too bright, does what he's told), have him seemingly slay a dragon they summoned (and subsequently banish), and reap the rewards. Unfortunately the dragon turns out to be Not Quite Dead, and then things get interesting....
- Also, according to Unseen University's Bursar, all of the Archchancellors are supposed to be this. Seeing almost all of them get killed off by Klingon Promotion before doing anything important, the only thing they needed to do was sign papers. That all came to an end when Mustrum Ridcully was put in charge... along with the Bursar's sanity.
- In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel", the villains want to replace Conan the Barbarian with one; Conan scorns them for needing an excuse.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we have a Puppet Minster of Magic, Pius Thicknesse, who is being controlled by Yaxley via the Imperius Curse, who in turn answers to Lord Voldemort. In the movie version, Thicknesse seems to be an active Death Eater himself rather than just a pawn, though the hierarchy of him-Yaxley-Voldemort is otherwise intact.
- In the same book, we have the Death Eater Severus Snape serving as the new Headmaster of Hogwarts, acting as Voldemort's representative at the school in the wake of his rise to power; though in his case, he turns out to have been loyal to Dumbledore all along.
- Days of Infamy a Harry Turtledove alternate timeline series features Japan invading Hawaii following the Pearl Harbor attack. Mirroring the establishment of the puppet emperor Puyi of Manchukuo the Japanese military places a local noble with a dubious pedigree as the new King of Hawaii.
- Emperor Sarabian starts The Tamuli as one of these. He has the prestige and the perks, but his Vast Bureaucracy appropriated all the power generations ago. By the end of the trilogy, his new Elene friends help him take his power back.
- To maintain this charade, the bureaucrats have tried to make the imperial bloodline as stupid as possible. While the Emperor has many wives the only one who can legally bear an heir to the throne is selected by the bureaucrats based on their stupidity. If the current Emperor or heir shows too much intelligence or initiative, they're assassinated.
- His Dark Materials: The Authority is too senile to rule the multiverse at the time of the story, so Metatron does instead.
- In Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, Buzz Windrip is a puppet dictator, with his right-hand man Lee Saranson really pulling the strings. Saranson's lust for power drives him to exile Windrip after an aborted assassination attempt.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has a lot of this due to its focus on the politics of Westerosi nobility.
- Subverted by Joffrey. He is installed as one of these, but unfortunately, he is still officially the king, and consequently if he gives an incredibly stupid order in public, and indeed he does so several times, they can't just countermand him. However, once his grandfather, Tywin Lannister, comes to King's Landing, Joffrey plays this far straighter.
- Young King Tommen is a puppet for his mother, the Queen Regent Cersei. She actively discourages him from developing a backbone by making him beat his whipping boy when he tries to argue with her. Unfortunately, Tommen is betrothed to Queen Margaery from the rival House Tyrell, leading to both Cersei and Margaery seeking to exert control over Tommen.
- Robert Arryn is nominally Lord Paramount of the Vale, but is young, sickly and childish. The real power is with his mother Lysa. Then later, and more prominently, this power falls into the hands of his stepfather, Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish.
- If Littlefinger's drunken ramblings are to be believed, he is grooming Sansa Stark, who he is posing as his illegitimate daughter Alayne Stone, to be this for the North, the Vale, and the Riverlands — and possibly even all of Westeros, if his plan is indeed to covertly take over the whole continent using their combined might.
- The Princes of Pentos and Lorath are the symbolic leaders of their respective cities, but in both cases are figureheads, with both cities' magisters holding the real power. This is especially true in Pentos, where Princes tend to become human sacrifices when the city falls on hard times.
- In The Wheel of Time series, this is what the rebel Aes Sedai faction intend when they summon Egwene Al'Vere to become their version of the Amyrlin Seat. Because she is so young and not even completely trained, they assume they will have no trouble pushing her to any aim they have in mind, while presenting the image of a united group. What they don't consider is that she has unbreakable Heroic Willpower and takes Siuan's lessons in political maneuvering to heart, so within a book or so she has them dancing on her strings and becoming the strongest Amyrlin in centuries.
- Garrett, P.I. has a Puppet Kingpin in Chodo Contague, who suffers a debilitating stroke in Dread Brass Shadows. His co-Dragons take over the Outfit for a time by putting words in his mouth; when his daughter Belinda figures it out, she ousts them from power and exploits her comatose father in the same way. (The Dead Man's hinted the current situation may be more complex, but nothing's come of that in the last few books.)
- War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches: in the story "Foreign Devils", The Guangxu Emperor starts out as this. Officially, he is the leader of China, but in reality prince Tuan has all the power because of his many allies and formidable army. The Martian invasion, which cripples Tuan’s army, provides the emperor with a chance to finally take back power however.
- Dunevon, the four-year-old king of the Copper Isles in Daughter of the Lioness. Rubinyan and Imajane are his regents and take the opportunity to be even more tyrannical than their father was. Later, kill him so Rubinyan can just take the throne outright. This is defied on the raka side — after Sarai elopes, Dove takes her place in their plans but makes it very clear that she is not going to be one of these.
- In The Stormlight Archive Alethkar was multiple nations until it was united by Gavilar. Unfortunately he was killed, a lot of the people currently ruling parts of Alethkar used to rule nations in their own right, and his son Elhokar doesn't have nearly the strength of will his father did. As a result he's fairly ineffective. In the second book Gavilar's brother Dalinar starts trying to make the king more of a uniting figure. But between Dalinar's forceful personality and Elohkar's indecision and general lack of competence, even people who like Dalinar think it just makes the king look like his puppet.
- In DUNE, Emperor Corrino is the absolute ruler of the known universe, but he needs to heed the demands of the Spacing Guild, without them the galaxy will be completely isolated from each other. The Guild demands the Emperor to kill Paul Atreides, or else Paul will stop the flow of spice in Arrakis which everyone depends on.
- In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Emperors Shao and Xian are this. Shan is the puppet of Dong Zhuo, while Xian is the puppet, initially, of Dong Zhuo, but ultimately of Cal Cao. In Wei, Cao Fang, Cao Mao, and Cao Huan end up as puppets of the Simas.
- In the Towers Trilogy, Farrow is ostensibly run by the hereditary leader Alden Kian-Farrow. In reality, he is addicted to drugs provided to him by the caster Ahrent Altaigh, who makes all the actual decisions.
- Discussed in the fourth Noob novel. Töne Förk is the rightful heir to the Coalition's leadership, but performed a Heel–Face Turn to avoid getting captured and possibly killed by the men of Lorth Kordigän, who took over the Coalition by force. When they meet again, Lorth Kordigän attempts to spin his defection into him abandoning his people. Töne replies that even if Lorth Kordigän had left him alive and let him take his rightful position, he would have probably done everything he could to make him into this trope.
- Victoria: Bill Kraft refuses to become the governor of Maine and de facto leader of Victoria. But since Bill thinks of himself as a Prussian, his friends contact the last heir of the House of Hohenzollern, the Kaiser, who orders Bill to become the Governor. So, in a book where New England secedes from the rest of the United States, their chosen leader answers to a foreign monarch.
- In Destroyermen, the Empire of New Britain Isles (located where Hawaii would be on our Earth) is officially ruled by Governor-Emperor Gerald McDonald. However, in reality, the Empire is run by the Honorable New Britain Company, which primarily makes it money by enslaving women. Not only do the Company higher-ups control much of the navy, but they enforce their control by the presence of their equivalent of The Political Officer on each ship, who are, officially, only observers. Except no captain would dare disobey for fear of reprisals and Kangaroo Courts. Furthermore, the Company higher-ups appear to be in league with the Holy Dominion (mainly located in Mexico) and are paving way for a Dom invasion. Only with the help of The Alliance, the Empire manages to throw off the Company yoke and join the Alliance against the Dominion and the Grik. Gerald McDonald once again rules the Empire (until he's assassinated by his own people, and his teenage daughter Rebecca Anne McDonald becomes the Governor-Empress. Unlike her father, she's ruthless and completely dedicated to the Alliance cause).
- In Off to Be the Wizard, the late King Stephen and his son King Arthur are this to Merlin. When Jimmy first came to Medieval England (like most time traveling hackers, he got caught updating his bank account balance), he decided that he would become the mythical Merlin and insists that everyone calls him that. He heads to London and convinces King Stephen to rename the city "Camelot" and his son "Arthur" (born Eustace). Eventually, "Merlin" becomes the de facto ruler of "Camelot", with the King always going along with his "suggestions". "Merlin" builds a new palace of pure gold and commissions a large statue of him, Stephen, and Arthur, with "Merlin" looking more dominant of the three. After Jimmy's defeat by the other wizards, they tell Arthur that he's now free of "Merlin"'s tyranny, only for Arthur look at him in confusion and ask what he should do now. Since he's never been a true ruler in his life, he has absolutely zero experience in ruling his kingdom.
Live Action TV
- The head of Global Dynamics on Eureka is apparently assumed to be this for the Department of Defense. In season 4, this is subtly hinted at being the reason Fargo landed the job in the altered timeline.
- In Babylon 5, Cartagia was intended to be a Puppet Emperor for Lord Refa and his conspiracy. It... Didn't really work out (Or maybe it did while Refa was alive. He didn't actually appear in the series until after Refa was assassinated). Londo Mollari later becomes a Puppet Emperor for the Drakh, literally.
Luc: [skeptical] Are you really the Emperor?
Emperor Mollari II: I sometimes ask myself the same thing.
- Arthur is seriously flirting with this territory in 'Merlin'' due to the constant influence of and his desire to not tick off Agravaine.
- In My Name Is Earl, Darnell is in Witness Protection for refusal to kill one of these. The puppet king in question was a child, and Darnell secret agent Harry Munroe couldn't bring himself to harm a child.
- Parodied in the Angel episode "Smile Time", where the creator of a kid's puppet show is a human being controlled by the literal demonic puppets that act in the show.
- Star Trek: The Original Series. What happens when a Starfleet historian ignores history and tries to bring back the Nazis for a Planet of Hats? He ends up giving drugged speeches for an Evil Chancellor.
- Another episode, "A Piece of the Action", provides the page quote.
- On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when Cardassia joins the Dominion, the leader of the Cardassian Union ends up being a puppet controlled by Weyoun, the Founders' toady-in-chief. When Damar sees how far Cardassia has fallen under his "leadership," he decides that enough is enough.
- Leverage has Damien Moreau practically run San Lorenzo, at one point ordering the changing of the banking laws of the country to save himself money, with Ribera as his figurehead. When the team manage to steal the rigged election from them both they convince Ribera to turn on Moreau in exchange for a comfortable and peaceful retirement.
- Game of Thrones:
- King Tommen Baratheon, but unlike the books, TV!Tommen is a bit older (about 13 or so) and we see things from his perspective, allowing a deconstruction of this trope. He is young, naive, naturally passive, and has no desire to become a dictator like his late brother Joffery. Instead, he goes in the exact opposite direction and lets himself be controlled by literally everyone around him: his grandfather Tywin, his mother Cersei, his Small Council (who don't even bother telling him when they hold their meetings), his wife Margaery, and the religious leader — the High Sparrow — all of whom use Tommen to further their own agendas. It all comes to a head when Cersei prevents Tommen from going to the sept where her trial is to be held and she murders nearly everyone in the previous sentence by blowing it up, explaining why she and Tommen were conspicuously absent. Tommen sees the destruction of the sept from his bedroom window and walks off the ledge. Whether he was distraught at the loss of his wife and faith, or realized how powerless he was amid the machinations of those around him, his act of suicide was the one decision that was entirely his own accord.
- Robert Baratheon lets himself become one almost voluntarily, since it turns out he hates the trouble of ruling. Instead, he largely leaves governing to his small council while he eats, drinks, whores, and hunts.
- Subverted by Joffrey, who is installed as one but goes spectacularly off-script at the end of "Baelor" and leaves his puppetmasters powerless.
- Robin Arryn is nominally Lord Paramount of the Vale, but he is young and childish, so the real power is his in the hands of his smothering mother Lysa and later his stepfather Petyr Baelish.
- With the death of Sansa's father, mother and brother Robb; her younger brothers being presumed dead; her sister missing; and her second oldest brother being illegitimate and sworn to the Watch, the Lannisters plan to use her name to take the North by marrying her to Tyrion Lannister.
- In the Farscape three-parter, "Look at the Princess", both the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans are conspiring to put a ruler amenable to their interests on the throne of a neo-feudal planet.
Rygel: "I'm nobody's puppet!"
- There's also Dominar Rygel XVI, a literal puppet king.
- Emperor Lao Tzu from Xena: Warrior Princess is an almost literal example. When his health deteriorated, his wife Lao Ma (who was also Xena's former mentor/possible lover during her time in China) placed him in a magically-induced coma and proceeded to rule in his name, undoing his tyrannical rule but letting him take credit for the good deeds she accomplished. What makes this almost literal is that she would prop him up in the palace gardens once a month to assure people that he wasn't dead.
- Magazine's song "Motorcade" seems to be about such a leader:
"The man at the centre of the motorcade/Has learned to tie his boots"
- Exalted features Regent Fokuf, the only person to sit on the throne of the Realm since the Scarlet Empress disappeared — the main reason being that everyone wanted a witless fool who could easily be bent to their whims. Fokuf basically spends his days rubber-stamping documents and wanking to the Immaculate Texts, and it's stated that if the Scarlet Empress returns, she'll likely destroy him for the insult of daring to sit on her throne.
- The Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Following Emperor Palpatine's death at the Battle of Endor, the Galactic Empire is in total disarray. For the next two years the Rebels, who are now the New Republic, sweep through Imperial territory getting closer and closer to the capitol Coruscant. In the midst of this Imperial Admiral Oxtroe realizes that the war is lost and tries to negotiate with the Rebels a compromise that keeps some of the Empire in place. Her plan is to place Palpatine's grand niece on the throne. However, she's only 11 years old. She would be nothing more than a powerless figurehead (see constitutional monarch) while the New Republic leadership would run the government, including any military forces. Before the negotiations could take place however, she's assassinated, possible by an agent of Grand Admiral Thrawn.
- In Pacific Overtures, the Emperor of Japan, when the real power was wielded by the Shogun, is literally played by a Bunraku puppet. The musical employs this trope to ingenious means toward the end when a full bodied actor literally emerges from the puppet as the Emperor grows out of this trope and commands the superior power.
- Speculation is that Jin and Ragna's sister Saya, now the the Imperator of the NOL, in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift has been turned into this by Terumi. It wouldn't be the first time he's mind raped somebody into pulling a Face–Heel Turn.
- In Chronophantasma however it's played straight for Jin but Subverted by Saya aka the Imperator... who is revealed to be Izanami the Goddess of Death possessing her and she had been playing Terumi and Relius the entire time. She later backstabs them after they became useless to her.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy II has Emperor Mateus, the ruler of Palamecia. The novelization of the game implies that that he and all of the previous Emperors of Palamecia were the puppet kings of Satan. This ends up backfiring when Mateus dies and proceeds to take over Hell.
- Played with in Final Fantasy IV. Cecil and the party think this is what's going on in the kingdom of Baron, with the king being manipulated by Golbez, the new leader of the Red Wings armada, in order to steal all the crystals with the kingdom's military strength. However, the ''real' king of Baron has been dead since before the game even started, and has been replaced by Cagnazzo, the Fiend of Water, who is under Golbez's command.
- The Empire attempt to do this with the female lead Princess Ashe in Final Fantasy XII. Let's just say that the Empire give up on this plan real fast.
- In Final Fantasy XIV, we have Sultana Nanamo Ul Namo, the young Lalafell ruler of Ul'dah. Despite being the ruler, the real power goes to the Syndicate, a gathering of people in which she is part of, comprised of Royalists, who side with her and ruling by her hand, and the Monetarists, who seek to line their pockets with Gil through power. Nanamo gets incredibly fed up when the majority Monetarists reject the refuges from Doma that she decides to Abdicate the Throne and dissolve the monarchy, turning Ul'dah into a republic. The plan gets derailed when the Monetarist Lalafell Teleji Adaleji learns of this plan and attempts to assassinate her. When she recovers, she's still ruler, but fellow Monetarist Lolorito, who learned of Teleji's plan and prevented her assassination, gave her all of Teleji's assets along with some of his own so she could have some power.
- Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica's Cloche is officially the Holy Maiden of the Grand Bell, leading the people of Metafalss in the War Against the Goddess Frelia. In truth, she starts as an isolated young woman closely monitored by the Grand Bell's upper crust, especially Alfman Uranous. Then you find out her Back Story, and It Gets Worse....
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater had Volgin intending to place Brezhnev and Kosygin in the place of Khrushchev so he could manipulate them behind the scenes. On a related note, it is implied in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty that every single President of the United States since William Taft was used as Puppet Kings by the Patriots (in the case of the early formation, the Philosophers.).
- In Pokémon Black and White, N is implied to be this, as while he was officially the leader of Team Plasma, a group of Well-Intentioned Extremists who intended to separate Pokémon from Humans under the belief that the latter group abuses Pokémon, Ghetsis was secretly manipulating N and by extension the entirety of Team Plasma so he could take over the planet by being the only one allowed to own Pokémon.
- The Nameless Mod: The nominal leader of Planet Deus Ex is Despot, but ultimate authority actually lies with an entity of which most civilians — and officials — aren't even aware.
- Blackhand from Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and Rise of the Horde is the warchief of the Horde, but the real power is between the hands of Gul'dan and the Shadow Council. Blackhand himself knows it, but doesn't care as long as everybody thinks is is the most powerful orc around.
- The King of Enrich from Shining the Holy Ark is being controlled by his Evil Chancellor (via evil spirits) into reviving her race of people.
- In Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Shadow of Death, Sandro forms an alliance with an ambitious but foolish necromancer named Finneas Vilmar. He acts as Finneas' top advisor and helps him secure the throne of Deyja so he can rule it in secret. Sandro even refers to Finneas as his puppet king in his narration. In the end of the last campaign "Specter of Power" Finneas cuts his strings by tricking Sandro into attacking an innocent Deyjan lord and Sandro is imprisoned by the angry Deyjan court.
- The Elder Scrolls
- Throughout the series and backstory, this is what the position "King of Morrowind" has been ever since Morrowind's vassalization into the Empire under Tiber Septim. Septim was convinced by his Dunmeri General, Symmachus, to spare the young Barenziah, the sole survivor of her influential Dunmeri family after the Imperial Legion sacked Mournhold, for this reason. She would be placed in foster care until she came of age and then would be installed Queen of Morrowind, a figurehead ruler who would appease the Dunmer and look out for Imperial interests. The Tribunal Temple and Great Houses held any and all real power as far as the Dunmer people were concerned, while the position of "King" (or Queen) was an Imperial convention they had no need or respect for. Come Morrowind's Tribunal expansion, Manipulative Bastard and renowned Chessmaster Hlaalu Helseth (Barenziah's son) takes over as King and plans to change that...
- In the series' backstory, once the madness of Emperor Pelagius the Mad became too publicly apparent, he was declared unfit to rule, institutionalized, and his wife, Katariah, was made Empress Regent to rule in his place. Pelagius was Emperor in name only from that point until his death. Imperial history books as much as admits that Katariah was the de-facto ruler even before that point (one even suggests that having someone competent to actually keep things running was the entire point of Pelagius' father arranging the marriage), and the Regency mostly marked the point when even the pretense of Pelagius being in charge couldn't be maintained.
- The Mongols use this in Medieval II: Total War. When the Golden Horde rolls in from the east, you'll find stack after stack of elite horse archers and heavy cavalry led by Dreaded Four Star Badasses... but the actual Khan and Khanzada are pathetic nobles with little to no command skill. This makes wiping out the Mongols by killing their nobles all the more difficult, since if you kill this Puppet Khan, the title will eventually pass to a more qualified ruler, who then gets the boost to command afforded by being the faction's leader.
- King Dedede provides the Kirby series a quite literal example. While Kirby's Dream Land 2, Kirby's Dream Land 3, and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards all have the King possessed, Kirby's Epic Yarn and Kirby: Triple Deluxe takes it one step further by having the games Big Bad & Dragon using him as a puppet via Marionette strings.
- In Crusader Kings and its sequel, rulers who have vassals that are too powerful can be reduced to this. Most players will attempt to avoid such situations if they are the rulers; if they are said vassals, to encourage and capitalize on it.
- In Deus Ex, U.S. President Philip Mead is a figurehead for MJ12, deferring to Walton Simons on government policy according to in-game newspapers. It's also hinted most of his predecessors were this for the Illuminati for at least a century.
- The villain's plot in Dishonored is based around the conspirators who murdered the Empress of Dunwall turning Emily, her daughter, into one of these so that the Lord Regent can rule in her stead. Then, when they're all dealt with by Corvo, by the Loyalists. Hell, the DLCs for the game are based upon preventing this from happening as well, only in that case it's due to a Grand Theft Me plot.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, if Alistair becomes King while not hardened he becomes this. The person with true power can be Anora if they are convinced to get married, the Warden if they become the Chancellor or Arl Eamon. He doesn't seem to care.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the three individuals vying for the throne of Orlais are the sitting Empress Celene, her cousin Duke Gaspard, and the elven spymaster Briala. Since elves normally can't pursue politics, the closest you can come to having Briala rule is by letting Celene get assassinated, installing Gaspard as Emperor, and blackmailing him into letting Briala order him around behind the scenes.
- In Valkyria Chronicles, Princess Cordelia starts out firmly under the thumb of her regent, Prime Minister Borg. Changing her breakfast menu is the first decision she made in sixteen years of life (probably half a joke), but she becomes more independent by the end of the game.
- Lord Shojo of The Order of the Stick is an insane old man who listens only to Mr. Scruffy, his cat. He really cultivates the image so that people don't kill him — if you're being manipulated, there's no point in killing you.
- The Empress of Blood is expected to be this. As it turns out the rulers of the Empires of Blood, Sweat, and Tears are all puppet rulers each controlled by two members of Tarquin's old adventuring party. They absorb countries one by one while pretending to protect them from the other empires. To stop anyone realizing the pairs exchange members, they depose the figurehead, and they rename the countries on a regular basis.
- Queen Breznial in The Dementia Of Magic. Very angry about it.
- Played with in the Vloz'ress clan. Kharla'ggen has the mind of a child and is mostly just content to play with her dolls, and when Sene'kha, the woman holding the leash, dies everyone starts to scramble to gain control of her, but Kiel'ndia has other ideas. It's also been indicated that Kharla may have desires of her own.
- Ironically enough their greatest enemy, the Kyorl'solenurn, may be very similar to them in that regard. Shimi'lande is eventually revealed to answer to a council of Judicators who briefly discuss replacing her before deciding against it. This becomes much more obvious in chapter 42, title "Schism" when Shimi'lande is assassinated, and it's heavily implied it was the Judicators themselves, specifically Judicator Kyuusei, who were behind it.
- In Glorianna, the senile King Arven is manipulated by his brother Vasgor. And Duke Thanaktos is literally a zombie puppet, controlled by the wizard Zorko.
- King Jeffrey from Dragomirs Diary is known for his stunningly-amoral decisions and general stupidity. Yet as his time as a king draws to a close it becomes apparent that he's not fully in control of himself, and the true mastermind behind his idiocy may, in fact, be the player who controls the video game he inhabits.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- The Earth King was so completely controlled by Evil Chancellor Long Feng and his Dai Li that he didn't even know he wasn't really in control of the Earth Kingdom, until the heroes helped set things straight.
- In the finale, Fire Lord Ozai grants his position to his daughter Azula, right before turning it into a puppet position by naming himself Phoenix King. This comes as a slap in the face to Azula and exacerbates a Villainous Breakdown that's been brewing for a while.
- In Season 4 of The Legend of Korra, averting this trope is part of the reason why Kuvira usurps the United Republic-backed Prince Wu and crowns herself Emperor of the above-mentioned Earth Kingdom (which she renames "Earth Empire"). After Kuvira's defeat, Wu decides to abolish the monarchy altogether and let the people of the Earth Kingdom choose their new leaders.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- One argument in favor of constitutional monarchies like the British royal family is that, with such a ceremonial ruler taking the place occupied by presidents in other countries, there can be no room for a dictator. While this optimistic viewpoint ignores the historical examples listed below, constitutional monarchies have historically proven resistant to revolution and despotism, though in cases they aren't the dictator's first move is of course to abolish the monarchy and establish a "republic." Moreover, in circumstances where there is no coup or a risk of one, there's some evidence to show that constitutional monarchs, who are as a rule painfully aware of their puppet status, tend to favor more democratic solutions (waiting until the next scheduled election or calling an early election) to power disputes among the elected governments than elected presidents in parliamentary systems.
- Of course, the other part of this is that when a Constitutional Monarch abuses their often extensive constitutional powers it can be disastrous. A large part of why Greece doesn't have a King anymore is because their last king would often delay elections, appoint minority governments of the right wing parties he supported rather than the majority party, and attempt to block the appointment of anyone he didn't like to the defense ministry. This ultimately resulted in a coup against him in order to establish a dictatorship that could get things done at least.
- Victor Emmanuel III of Italy (r. 1900-1946) was this to Mussolini following the National Fascist Party's so-called March on Rome in 1922. After having been coerced to appoint Mussolini as his Prime Minister, ol' Vic was bereft of any real authority for most of his remaining rule and acted as a powerless figurehead while accepting the crowns of the nations of Ethiopia (following Italy's invasion in 1935) and Albania (in 1939). When Italy was invaded by Allied troops in 1943, Victor Emmanuel III finally began to see the writing on the wall and authorized a coup against the Fascist regime and subsequently negotiated an armistice with the Allies (though fighting in Italy would nonetheless remain fierce for the next few years due to the large number of German troops already stationed supporting the so-called Italian Social Republic puppet state. Despite having done these things, Victor Emmanuel III remained a notorious figure even after the war, with his association with the Fascist regime playing a huge role in Italy's decision to abolish its monarchy via referendum in 1946. This may or not had to do with a large number of members of the former anti-Nazi Resistance as well as the Italian Parliament being communists.
- Romanian King Mikhail I was also a real life example of this. Following the forced abdication of his father Carol II via a military coup in 1940, Mikhail I was more or less manipulated by the quasi-fascist General Ion Antonescu for a substantial portion of his reign despite the monarch having literal control of the entire Romanian Army and the sole authority to appoint the Prime Minister. However, when the war started going badly for Romania and Soviet troops were preparing to invade, Mikhail I eventually did use some of his royal authority to overthrow Antonescu and depose his pro-Nazi regime. Following the strife, Mikhail I remained the Head of State for post-war Romania until 1947, when communists deposed him in a coup due to a personal request from Joseph Stalin himself.
- The Emperor of Japan might have had some real authority in the first century or two after the country's consolidation, but for most of Japanese history the position has existed as a figurehead. By the Heian Period power was consolidated in clans like the Fujiwara thanks to strategic marriages into the imperial dynasty, allowing them to rule as regents — there was even a term, kampaku, for the regent of an adult emperor. With the rise of the samurai, the shoguns ran the country while the emperor generally sat around being a descendent of Amaterasu, which caused confusion with Europeans visited and mistook the shogun for an emperor and the Emperor for a pope. The Meiji Restoration that followed the shogunate allegedly reinstated the Emperor as head of state, but a clique of oligarchs and later military leaders continued to make the decisions. This lack of real executive power is partially why, after World War 2, occupation forces allowed the Emperor to stick around after making a "turns out I'm not a god after all" speech (the other reason was the presumptuous belief that the Japanese national psyche couldn't survive the loss of its figurehead emperor).
- This was the point behind the Gunpowder Plot. The plotters planned to kill King James and instate his daughter, Elizabeth, as a Puppet queen.
- The last few Frankish kings of the Merovingian dynasty gradually did less and less and were increasingly under the control of their majordomos (Mayor of the Palace). Over time, the power of the majordomo became more public (one, Charles Martel, became a national hero for beating back the Muslims at Tours), and since the post of majordomo was hereditary, eventually a majordomo (Charles Martel's son Pépin the Short) got The Pope's permission to get rid of the Merovingian king and become King of the Franks in his own right.
- The July Monarchy in France was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy on the British model, with a powerful Prime Minister, but Louis-Philippe wanted to reign without these Parliamentary fetters (especially with talented orators like Guizot or Thiers around), so for most of his reign, he had puppet Prime Ministers: Marshals Soult, Gérard and Mortier were respected by all parties, but they had little interest in politics and the King could actually govern through them while pretending to remain within the constitutional boundaries.
- This can happen in countries with republican systems of government as well....
- One favorite tactic of many military dictatorships in Latin America, including Panama's Manuel Noriega, was to install a civilian President in office to act as the official head of state. But of course in actuality said dictators were the ones calling the shots, and most everyone knew it. (In Noriega's case one of these puppet Presidents actually tried to use his official and legal authority over the military to fire him. It didn't go very well.)
- Communist government often have very elaborate, officially "non-hierarchical" constitutional systems that do not formally concentrate much power in official leadership positions. In practice, this often means that most official leadership positions are meaningless figureheads, while some other guy actually holds all the power.
- Deng Xiaoping was never president of China; his long reign as "de facto ruler" (which lasted sometime from the late 1970s until his death in 1997) actually overlapped with that of several presidents, who held limited power.
- Subverted in China since 1993. The President of China, under the Chinese constitution, is designed to be a ceremonial post with no administrative powers, akin to a constitutional monarch, officially they aren't even Commander-in-Chief like even weak European presidencies are. However, in 1993, Jiang Zemin, who was General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, was appointed President without relinquishing his other posts. His successors have all inherited each of his three posts, and the presidency is now tied pretty strongly to the roles of party leader and supreme military commander, although legally they are three distinct positions that just happen to be held by the same individual, making the President of China de facto very powerful indeed despite being de jure a powerless figurehead.
- Most leaders of the USSR were not president or prime minister, either. Some leaders held the office that was technically the "head of state" position, sometimes they didn't.
- Kim Il Sung was the only person to ever serve as president of North Korea, and the office was retired upon his death. His son and grandson have held different executive positions, but the duties of head of state are usually assigned to a figurehead.
- This is widely believed to have been the set-up with Dimitry Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation from 2008-2012. At the time, the Russian constitution limited all presidents to two consecutive four year terms, but not two total terms as with the United States. So any president could return to office as long as they just sat out for a term. And when Vladimir Putin was about to be term-limited, he and his supporters ran Medvedev for President. Once in office, Medvedev immediately appointed Putin as his Prime Minister. Putin returned to the Presidency in 2012, and he picked Medvedev to be his Prime Minister.
- It's an ongoing topic of debate as to who is really running the show in Iran. The elected president sometimes appears to be making significant decisions on his own, other times he seems completely subordinate to the "Supreme Leader" and his council of clerics who are given veto power over most important decisions. Other times the Supreme Leader and his council are viewed as being decrepit and weak, and true authority is assumed to be held by the military and security apparatus.
- Even in the US government, it's not uncommon for presidents to appoint a well-known politician or public figure to a cabinet or administrative position, without giving them any real power. One well-known example: Richard Nixon appointed William Rogers (formerly Dwight Eisenhower's Attorney General) as his Secretary of State, but delegated actual foreign policy to Henry Kissinger.
- The Somoza family held Nicaragua as their personal estate for four decades. While Anastasio sr. Luis and Anastasio jr. all held the office of President at times, many times there was a figurehead President who either took orders from the Somozas or was out of office in no time. Once a handpicked puppet actually stood up for himself (just after he "won" an incredibly rigged election) — he was out of office not a year after that. When Luis was President (and his brother head of the national guard) some even said that Luis was nothing but a puppet.
- If the video Rules for Rulers is to be believed, everyone in position of authority is ultimately a puppet to their own Key Supporters. Displease these Key Supporters, and they will see that you be replaced.