Wasteland Elder

"When the world fell, they burned the books, leaving nothing but a random collection of wordburgers. We history men and women preserve these stories. Stories by which to navigate the future... and avoid a repetition of the past."

The Wasteland Elder is the de facto leader of his small, rundown community. Maybe it's After the End, it could be a Western frontier town fallen on hard times, or even just a tent town for squatters in the middle of a city. No one elected him, he never put his name in a sorting hat, nor does he push his leadership on his people, he's simply an old survivor and respected enough that his word carries weight. Male pronouns are used throughout this trope, but this is an equal opportunity character.

If there's an actual mayor, he's either corrupt or been forced to help the Big Bad. When The Hero comes to town, it's usually the Wasteland Elder who serves as Mr. Exposition and asks him for help. If the story is about empowering normal people, or The Hero needs help taking down the Big Bad, he's the one who rallies the Untrusting Community to take up arms and become a Posse. With a little luck, they won't be dying like animals any longer.

Once the Big Bad is beat, the Wasteland Elder usually rallies his constituents to start working to improve their town, thanking The Hero for all they've done and offering them a more permanent home if he's The Drifter.

See also After the End, Reasonable Authority Figure, Western Characters, Character Witness. If he has "subjects" and is homeless, he's the King of the Homeless. Not to be confused with Hermit Guru.


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     Anime and Manga  

  • Fist of the North Star
    • The very first episode contains a Wasteland Elder when Kenshiro, dehydrated, meanders into a remote village in search of water and later encounters him.
    • A more important character, Shuu, is also a Wasteland Elder, albeit more badass than most.
  • In the second story arc of Ergo Proxy, Hoody plays the role of the Wasteland Elder, though he bears a more flawed and human personality than others, and not everyone in the commune respects his word.
  • One Piece: Though not of a wasteland, the elder of Amazon Lily is the first one to trust Luffy, and tries to convince the other villagers to trust him while they're following the law of the land and trying to kill him.
    • The trope was played somewhat more classically way back in the first appearance of Buggy the Clown, although in that case he was the alder of a perfectly normal town which had only started to take on qualities of 'wasteland' recently after being occupied by circus-themed pirates.
  • Much of the conflict in the first episode of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann revolves around Simon and Kamina going against the elder of their village, who is preventing them from achieving Kamina's goal of going to the surface. Later, the team is joined by Dayakka, the elder of another village.
  • In the manga version of AKIRA, Lady Mikayo becomes this after taking in refugees in the wake of Akira's Angst Nuke wrecking Neo Tokyo. Eventually, she evolves into the de jure leader opposing Tetsuo


  • In the Mad Max: Fury Road comics there's the "History Men". Old men who remember enough (or are just good enough at making stuff up) of the old world that they've effectively become the minstrels of the wasteland, regailing listeners with tales of wonder from the old (Pre-Apocalypse) world or the bravery of wasteland warriors. Their bodies are covered with etchings of random phrases like "MCDONALDS", "COCA COLA", "JRR TOLKIEN" etc, effectively making them walking dictionaries. A History Man technically shows up in the movie too, but only in a pre-credits quote, although Miss Giddy seems to be a proto-History Woman with her tattoos and being entrusted with the Wives' education.


  • The narrators in the second and third Mad Max films are later shown to be grown versions of two children in the films.
    • Pappagallow of the second film also counts.
  • The Old Man in The Seven Samurai who probably inspired the example below.
  • The Old Man in The Magnificent Seven is probably the ur-example for the Western.
  • The Old Woman in Terminator Salvation among the unfriendly survivors in the 7-11 gas station that Kyle Reese, Marcus Wright, and Star encounter after leaving Los Angeles. She and her clan get about two minutes of development and exposition before their "village" is squished by giant robots.
  • Ethan in World Gone Wild is this, with more than a bit of Trickster Mentor thrown in.
  • In the 2009 animated Astro Boy movie, Astro runs into what appears to be one of these in junkyard city. Turns out he's more than that, and pretty well known for mech cockfighting with an absurdly large audience, which is against Astro's beliefs. He also betrays Astro for being a robot.
  • Edgar Friendly in Demolition Man is a weird version of this. The "wasteland" consists of an underground community in the sewers of San Angeles where people have gone to escape the benign tyranny on the surface. Friendly has no desire to be a leader, but he's the one everyone listens to.
  • Gilliam in Snowpiercer is a the equivalent, where he's the de facto leader of the lower class in the back section of the train that's travelling throught the wasteland.


  • In the Strugatsky Brothers' novel Prisoners of Power, the mutant settlement on the southern frontier of the Fatherland have several, and a council formed thereby, but by far the most authoritative of them is a short, prematurely-aged man named "the Wizard", who is an outright genius, not to mention able to mind-control small animals. He and the others manage to keep the mutants alive, but between the various sicknesses and the increasingly horrible mutated lifeforms around them the future seems bleak. And the heroes really can't do anything to help, although the mutants still let them stay and later give them a super plane.
  • Tom Barnard from Kim Stanley Robinson's The Wild Shore is the only member of the post-apocalyptic South Orange County community who remembers the Old Days before The War.
  • Mother Abagail in Stephen King's post-apocalyptic novel The Stand. Although the community of Boulder has a democratically elected government, everyone still respects her for her age and wisdom nonetheless.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "Daleks in Manhattan", Solomon leads a Hoovervile in Central Park.
  • Jack in Lost seems to have fallen into this position, although the degree to which he brought it on himself is debatable.
    • Played with a bit in that as time goes on, uncertainty in his leadership grows until several members of the group break off and head out with Locke to stay on the island.
  • Subverted in the Twilight Zone episode "On Thursday We Leave for Home". Captain Benteen is the leader of the surviving colonists on the desert planet, who keeps them together and keeps their hopes up by telling them that there will be a ship coming from Earth to take them back home. But when that ship finally arrives, Benteen is less than willing to give up his position of leadership and authority, and tries to obstruct the efforts of the rescuers and keep them from taking "his people" back to Earth.
    • Played straight then subverted in "The Old Man in the Cave." A town is managing to survive After the End by following the directions of a hermit living in a cave in the nearby hills, who sends his instructions through more traditional Wasteland Elder. Then a group of really asshole soldiers show up and storm the cave, revealing the hermit to be a computer that the real Wasteland Elder had been using to determine what food and areas were radioactive and therefore to be avoided. The soldiers and townspeople destroy in a fit of rage. After that, of course, they all die from not being able to tell what's radioactive or not.

     Video Games  


  • Dominic Deegan Oracle for Hire: After the death of the mayor of Barthis and destruction of the town in a horrific necromantic attack, Pamela Chayler becomes the unofficial town spokeswoman and stands up to slimy businessman Serk Brakkis. She's later officially elected mayor, and not only gets the town rebuilt but adds cultural institutions and lowers the crime rate.