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- Gekkei from The Twelve Kingdoms is a Double Subversion of this trope. Firstly, although he is initially portrayed as loyal to the king, he later leads a rebellion and kills him. The subversion is doubled because it was what he needed to do, and once the revolution is succesful he rejects the other officers' pleas for him to take the throne, and is even about to quit his charge after the incident. He then reconsiders and stays in charge - not because he wants to, but because if there's nobody in charge, the kingdom will fall (literally, since each kingdom is ruled by a Fisher King. He is just faithfully holding the throne for the next true ruler.
Films — Live-Action
- In The Departed, undercover cop (and aspiring Hyper-Competent Sidekick to The Don) Billy Costigan diverts suspicion from himself by suggesting the existence of a plot against Frank from his subordinates. When Frank asks Billy if he wants to lead, Billy says that he thinks he probably could do it, but doesn't want to be Frank. Perhaps surprisingly for a profession that one would expect to be a breeding ground for starscreams. Frank has no problem accepting that "Heavy lies the crown", with an implied increase in respect towards Billy for recognising this. Franks's lack of suspicion at this excuse is possibly because he has a genuine Villainous Friendship with Mr French, who has been totally reliable and never tried to take over.
- French himself is an example of The Creon, although we never see whether his acceptance of second fiddle is due to a lack of ambition or because he recognises he wouldn't do as good a job of ruling as Frank.
- The Bene Gesserit from the Dune universe do this for many, many centuries. They hold that if you grab supreme power, you're going to fall just as hard. Instead they manipulate power in the known universe from the position of a "trusted advisor" to Emperors and great houses. In addition, much of what they do is a huge breeding program designed to create a super-being to serve as the ultimate emperor and be directly under their control, so even at their greatest moment of triumph they're still not looking for the top position, just to have full control of the person in the top position. Naturally this fails once the super-being comes to existence and basically turns the tables on them.
- Part of the purpose of the 3,000-year highly oppressive reign of Leto II was to force the Bene Gesserit to get out of the shadows and take over. Millennia later, they have started to do so, controlling dozens of worlds directly. Herbert's notes (thoroughly ignored by the "sequel" writers, whose sequels were in turn ignored by devotees) indicate that the Bene Gesserit, whose internal procedures had long been essentially democratic (if heavily deferential to seniority), were to form the nucleus of a new democratic galactic government.
- Roderick Corrino is this to his brother, Emperor Salvador.
- Moneo could fit this in God-Emperor of Dune, Malky even comments to Leto II on how Moneo has never tried to take the "whole shebang" from him.
- Faramir from The Lord of the Rings is this - and especially in the novel: He outright rejects the power that The One Ring could've given him, contrary to his brother Boromir who desired that power (albeit briefly). In the movies Frodo convinces him that the Ring is just too dangerous to wield, somewhat blunting this point.
- Furthermore, whereas Faramir's ancestors (and particularly his father) ruled as Stewards while coveting the kingship, Faramir himself does not covet that title at all: He gratefully accepts the titles of Steward and Prince under Aragorn after the war without so much as a question.
- Watch-Commander Vimes in Discworld to King-in-hiding (for a certain value of "hiding") Captain Carrot. The twist is Carrot doesn't want to rule either and is content to be a good copper, and Vimes's own second-in-command, while Lord Vetinari actually runs the city.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Ser Kevan Lannister is the non-ambitious yet highly competent younger brother to the powerful Lord Tywin. While set up as a yes-man with no ambition, it is revealed he followed Tywin because he believed his decisions were mostly right. A Dance with Dragons reveals that he fits this trope even better than previously thought; many characters (while acknowledging him as an exceptional Hyper-Competent Sidekick) believed he would be completely lost without someone strong to follow, but in the aftermath of Cersei's Epic Fail at ruling, he takes the reins in his own right (though not in name) and does an excellent job. This is why Varys murders him, to plunge the realm back into chaos.
- Similarly Eddard Stark was quite content to be Lord of Winterfell and rule the North, he never expected this position due to being a second son. When his best friend King Robert asks him to be Hand of the King he is reluctant, and only sees his position as adviser to the King, not realizing that under a lazy and incompetent king like Robert he effectively runs the Seven Kingdoms. Sadly his lack of knowledge on this and his lack of political experience, along with the corruption in King's Landing, leads to his arrest and execution for trying to stop Queen Cersei's family usurping the throne after Robert's death.
- Barristan Selmy, the former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, never sought any great political influence and considered doing so the worst thing any Lord Commander could do. After this, he serves as an advisor to Queen Daenerys Targaryen, and only very reluctantly agrees to act on her behalf when she goes missing.
- Alexander Tagere in the Arcia Chronicles does everything in his power to avoid the crown despite widespread popular support, just like his father Charles before him, as they both believe (correctly) that power corrupts or, at the very least, brings utter misfortune. Unlike his father, however, Alexander is eventually forced to take the throne when it turns out he is the sole remaining legitimate heir.
- Marshall Roque Alva in Reflections of Eterna is the main reason the Ollar dynasty still keeps their throne, but he is perfectly fine with just being the first among their generals, actively resists all attempts to put the crown on his head, and will risk his life and honor to protect his sovereign, the current Ollar king. Whether he knows that he is a Rakan (i.e. a descendant of the previous imperial dynasty) by blood and the designated successor to the throne (by the will of the first Ollar king) in case the Ollar line ends is left ambiguous.
Live Action TV
- Commander Riker of Star Trek: The Next Generation is another famous example of this. During the many seasons and movies he's been repeatedly offered his own command of various starships, yet chose to remain as second-in-command on the Enterprise regardless. He didn't want to be promoted to command of his own ship, because it would be a case of Kicked Upstairs; he'd much rather serve as the second-in-command of a prestigious flagship than command his own tiny ship out in the middle of nowhere. Additionally, it's hinted that Riker wishes to become Captain of the Enterprise, and feels that it would be easier to do so by advancing from first officer to captain, instead of getting shipped elsewhere and hoping he'd get transferred back. In "The Best of Both Worlds", his entire subplot revolves around him learning to accept having command of his own, which he eventually does... only to be right back in the first officer's seat in the next episode (and for another whole decade).
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- Before Riker, Spock was this. He did become Captain of the Enterprise at the start of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but relinquished command as smoothly as half-humanly possible - and not just because Kirk outranks him either.
- In the episode "Mirror, Mirror", alternate Spock is this too: claiming to have no desire for the Captaincy, for the same reasons as the original Creon did.
- In Deep Space Nine, Major Kira starts out quite irate that the Federation placed one of their own people in charge after her people had spent decades fighting the Cardassians. She eventually turns around and becomes extremely loyal to Sisko, and not just because he's technically the Messianic Archetype of her religion.
- In Star Trek: Voyager, Chakotay starts out as the captain of his own (doomed) ship, making his reassignment to First Officer of the Voyager something of a demotion. Nevertheless, he immediately becomes one of Captain Janeway's strongest supporters, and even makes it clear to his Maquis that he doesn't want them even thinking about mutiny.
- Saul Tigh from Battlestar Galactica. He is forced to take command of the fleet briefly when Boomer shoots Adama but it doesn't go very well and he happily returns command to Adama.
- Zoe from Firefly fits this trope perfectly - she's always supportive of Mal, despite having had plenty of opportunities to take over (and possibly being a much better potential captain).
- Silvio in The Sopranos, in his own words, always pictured himself as a behind-the-scenes advisor and, though his wife urges him to consider the possibility of taking over, very much does not enjoy his reluctant role as regent while Tony recovers from his gunshot wound.
- In The West Wing, Leo McGarry describes himself and Josh Lyman as not wanting to be the guy, but instead being the guys that that guy depends on.
- This type of Dragon outnumber most others in Power Rangers, notable mentions
- House of Cards (US) has Frank Underwood's vice-president Donald Blythe. After Lucas Goodwin's assassination attempt puts Frank in the hospital, Blythe becomes Acting President under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. He shows surprising mettle during his time as acting president (with help behind the scenes by Claire, of course), but has no interest in leading, and is happy to relinquish power when Frank returns.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, the Demon Lord Graz'zt has an advisor and servant named Verin, who is as loyal to him as it is possible for a demon to be. When Graz'zt was captured by Iggwilv the Witch Queen, Verin took control of his realm and successfully repelled several invasions by Graz'zt's rivals, but willingly stood down and returned power to Graz'zt when his master returned.
- The Trope Namer is Creon of Thebes, Son of Menoeceus, a character who appeared in several Ancient Greek Dramas. In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex he actually says quite frankly that he's not interested in being king, and finds it much more pleasant to be the one with the power and not the responsibility. However he does become leader of Thebes in Sophocles' Antigone, and sure enough, doesn't do very well. The name "Creon" (Κρέων) is in itself an ironic subversion, since it means "ruler" in Classical Greek. Other Creons (such as Creon of Corinth in Euripides' Medea) tend to simply be straightforward in-charge types representing power, rulership and authority.
- Cid in Final Fantasy VII. While he's older than Cloud, far more learned than Cloud (e.g. a science education and an accomplished pilot as compared to Cloud's Informed Ability) and arguably shouldn't have given Cloud leadership back after Cloud's incident... decided to do so anyway because being The Leader wasn't his thing.
- Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins. First, he's the most senior Grey Warden still alive in Ferelden, and should by all rights be the one in command of your party - but instead leaves control to the Player Character and even actively avoids bringing up the issue altogether (you can bring it up though). But much more than that, he doesn't even want to inherit the kingdom because leadership is not his thing; you have to talk him into it, if that's the route you want the game to take.
- Seneschal Varel from Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening. He is effectively the ruler of Amaranthine while the Warden-Commander (you) is off adventuring, yet maintains his subordinate position.
- Bryce Cousland, the PC's father if you're playing as a Human Noble, is perfectly content in being the Teryn of Highever and supporting King Cailan. Rumor has it he was offered the crown when King Maric died, but turned it down because he believed someone with Theirin blood should be on the throne.
- In Crusader Kings, any powerful direct vassal with the "Content" trait is likely to be this. The trait makes him much more fond of his liege, and thus far less likely to rebel or conspire. Players will often choose to take their vassals' heirs as wards, specifically to try and teach them to become Content - grooming the future generation to be nonthreatening to the liege's title.
- F.A.N.G. in Street Fighter V has an obsession with the number 2 and is proud of his position as Shadoloo's second-in-command.
- Brynjolf from Skyrim actually can be the Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild, but serves as Mercer Frey's, the current Guildmaster, right-hand man and yours after you complete the Thieves Guild questline and become the new Guildmaster. He even outright tells the Player that he is not interested in being a leader and prefers supporting roles.
- Tower of God - The three Lords Mollic, Joochun and Flux, who govern taking turns while King Zahard is hibernating.
- In Schlock Mercenary, Chief Warrant Officer Thurl is referred to as one of the most experienced senior officers in Tagon's Toughs. He's also very insistent on not going any higher than Chief Warrant Officer, claiming that he'd quit on the spot if Tagon tried.
- Cyclonus from Transformers is smart, strong, and sane enough to rule the Decepticons outright or as a power behind the throne, but instead dedicates his life to carrying out Galvatron's every whim. Which is very wise because he saw what Galvatron did to the Trope Namer of The Starscream.
- On the Autobots' side, we have Optimus's second-in-command, Ultra Magnus. Strong, brave, respected, and honorable to a fault, he's naturally the dying Optimus Prime's first choice to succeed him as leader. Magnus accepts the post very reluctantly, feeling he isn't worthy—and sure enough, he actually doesn't do a very good job because he's too inflexible. Yet when Rodimus becomes leader, Magnus goes back to being second-in-command and excels at it.
- Soundwave from Transformers Prime. Officially the communications officer of the Decepticons, he's unofficially Megatron's right-hand man and most reliable soldier. It's hinted that he's actually stronger than Megatron, but unlike Starscream he has no desire to usurp Megatron's position.
- His original namesake from G1 is similar, following either Starscream or Megatron, depending on who's got command at that time.
- In The Penguins of Madagascar, Maurice serves King Julien reluctantly, but never even considers taking over - even though he'd be much more capable. At least, except for that time he went mad because of some fruit.