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Decapitated Army

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"If I've learned anything about video games, once you've killed the boss, it's just like 'Alright, everybody give up.'"

Cut off the head, and the body will die.

It's well known that to actually defeat evil, you have to directly kill the Big Bad — you can't just hack through enough of his soldiers to leave him relatively harmless. So the army of good will stall the army of evil while the hero and his friends sneak in to kill the Big Bad.

This trope can be justified if the mooks were not loyal to the villain in the first place; they may have been forced to fight against their will or obeyed out of fear of death or a Fate Worse than Death. Alternatively, without the unifying figure of the Big Bad, The Empire would rapidly collapse into warlordism.

It's notable that this trope only applies if the Big Bad dies. There's no situation where whittling the guy within an inch of his life will even dent his or her organization/get them killed by, say, the good army that could probably take him, and will only rarely cause the disrespectful Lieutenant of Evil to make his bid for power.

Compare Challenging the Chief where if the whole organization is based on Asskicking Leads to Leadership, the hero can take over by defeating the leader. Contrast Combat by Champion, where you may actually get an agreement that if you and the Big Bad fight, and he dies, you win. Straight for the Commander is trying to create this trope on the enemy by taking out the commander, but a Decapitated Army doesn't have to result. In fact, part of the reason The Chain of Command exists in order to counter this trope or at least reduce its effectiveness.

A form of No Ontological Inertia. Compare Golden Snitch for when the objective is an object instead of a person, and Instant-Win Condition for when the objective was not considered important until you claimed it. When it applies to the hero, see We Cannot Go On Without You. See Load-Bearing Boss for cases where even the villain's headquarters die with him. When the villain's entire army collapses without him, it's a Keystone Army. When you make a drastic change in the entire world, you've just captured the Cosmic Keystone. Overlaps or leads to And There Was Much Rejoicing. Savvy villains attempting to avoid this effect can attempt an El Cid Ploy. See also Losing the Team Spirit.

A common subversion is for the killed leader to become an Inspirational Martyr and the followers that actually were loyal will go into an Unstoppable Rage, launching a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against whoever was responsible. The Remnant is another possible subversion when some followers of the Big Bad stay banded together and keep fighting in the long run. The Chain of Command can also be the cause of some subversions, as people lower down the chain are able to keep things running simply because the mechanism of leadership is still intact. Even with an effective chain of command, however, an army can still suffer disruption to the loss of their leader until the chain is reestablished.

This trope is not about an army of Headless Horsemen or otherwise undead without heads.

As this is a Death Trope and an Ending Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk:
    • Downplayed in the Battle of Doldrey. The death of the main enemy commander, Boscogn, severely shakes the Tudor army's morale, but it doesn't completely break until they realize that the fortress they were supposed to be protecting was captured by a token force from the Band of the Hawk. Losing both Boscogn and the fortress causes the army to disintegrate, despite it still outnumbering the Band of the Hawk by a wide margin.
    • Throughout the retaking of Midland from the Kushan, Griffith's forces tend to prioritize killing commanders. As Kushan commanders tend to rule largely by fear of reprisal, this is usually enough, when combined with the sight of war demons, to rout even very large forces.
  • In The Castle of Cagliostro, after Count Cagliostro is defeated all his soldiers just give up, with one of them even begging Goemon to finish him off.
  • Code Geass:
    • In the end, prisoners are freed and people rejoice when the evil overlord, in the middle of his global reign of terror, is killed by Zero, the supposedly dead freedom fighter. The kicker? The evil lord is actually the protagonist, and wasn't actually evil. Maybe.
    • It helps that, in this case, Lelouch's army is literally incapable of self-determination. He turns them all into mindless slaves. They have no will other than obeying his orders or that of his immediate subordinates, and they were all in on it.
    • This actually happens to the Black Knights at the end of the first season as well. Given the series "Chess Motif" it's actually symbolic. When Lelouch, serving as the king and the group's strategist, is eliminated from the board, the rest of the group falls to pieces.
  • In Code Geass: Nightmare of Nunnally, after Charles disappears from the world as a result of Nunnally refusing to complete his Assimilation Plot, the undead Knights of the Round fade from existence, as they only exist because of his power.
  • In Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn, a fairly large group of old villains are wreaking havoc after escaping Hell. Son Gohan takes out their de facto leader, Frieza, in one punch. Immediately, the rest of the army scatters and flees.
  • Somewhat subverted in the Tenrou Island arc of Fairy Tail. Team Natsu defeats Hades but are about to be beset by the Grimoire Heart mooks which they don't have the power or strength for. The arrival of Makarov and the rest of the S-Class participants, though heavily bandaged, ready to fight is enough to scare them off though.
  • Played straight and defied in Fullmetal Alchemist. The coup specifically targeted Central command's top officers to disorganize and rout the enemy forces. It worked, at least until Fuhrer Bradley revealed himself to survive the assassination attempt. Defied by the Northern Force of Briggs, where their general was taken as hostage.
    General Olivier Armstrong: It seems you do not know me well, gentlemen. One of our contingency is "If the situation calls for it, leave me behind." Survival of the fittest is the iron law of Briggs, and if I bite the dust here, it just means I am not fit to live. Do not take the notion of "I have raised them" as superficial. They can work with, or without me, and that's what makes a Briggs soldier.
  • In Legend of the Galactic Heroes, fleets tend to quickly collapse when their commanding admirals die. With no one to provide coordination between the units, chaos ensues, leaving them extra vulnerable to the enemy.
  • Subverted and Deconstructed in Maoyu. The Hero attempted to assassinate the Demon King, believing he could end the war immediately. After finding that the demon ruler is really a Demon Queen, she points out to him that a war will not truly end just because the authority figure on one side is killed, and that his/her killer would be an assasin, not a Hero; and even if he did kill her, the human rulers would cover it up because the war benefits them and the demons would simply choose a new ruler in no time, rendering such an action moot. After finding that she is not evil, Hero realizes the better option for ending the war is to work with her.
  • Gundam:
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: While Zeon is slowly losing ground as the Battle of A Baoa Qu continues, it is the death of Supreme Commander Gihren Zabi that causes the Zeon defense to disintegrate as individual commanders independently retreat in order to preserve their forces (for example, Admiral Delaz). The attacking Earth Federation fleet is also an example: Federal Forces supreme commander Lieutenant General Revil was killed earlier along with 20% of the fleet by the Colony Laser. This turns what was meant to be a concentrating knockout blow into a chaotic pell-mell battle as individual commanders fight as best they can without an overall coordinating commander. White Base eventually ends up so far ahead of friendly forces that it inadvertently becomes the tip of the spear, though it's eventually overwhelmed and destroyed.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory: The death of Admiral Delaz leaves his few surviving troops without leadership, and most of them (including Ace Pilot Anavel Gato) are run down and killed by the vengeful Earth Federation Forces.
    • Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: Organised Titan resistance ends when Paptimus Sirocco is killed by Kamille Bidan. Of course, by that point, most of their fleet had already been destroyed.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ: Both Neo Zeon fleets crumble after their leaders (Glemmy Toto and Haman Khan) are killed in battle.
  • Used several times throughout Monster Rancher:
    • When Tiger of the Wind avenges his pack by taking down Captain Dino, the rest of his unit loses all morale and flees.
    • After Gray Wolf is taken down, his cabalos promptly abandon him, with the Searchers noting their utter lack of loyalty towards their fallen general.
    • When Naga falls, Genki appeals to the rest of his forces, informing them of his demise and that there's no more need for them to keep fighting.
    • Played With for the third season; while Moo was taken out in the second season finale and his followers freed from his influence, not all of them automatically turn good. The main conflict of the Post-Script Season is these remnants harassing the Searchers with their efforts to try and revive their fallen overlord. However, his absence makes it much easier for several of these baddies to either abandon their mission or make full Heel-Face Turns.
  • Naruto:
    • Subverted in the Land of Waves arc, where after Gato dies, his thugs plan on looting the town since he can't pay them. While the heroes don't have enough strength left to fight them off, the arrival of the citizens of the Land of Waves combined with Naruto and Kakashi making Shadow Clones forces them to retreat.
    • Apparently played straight with Orochimaru and the Sound. Within days of his death, discipline and security collapsed in at least two high-security facilities.
    • This trope comes into play twice during the Fourth Shinobi World War:
      • As Kabuto kindly points out to Itachi and Sasuke, the Edo Tensei technique he used to resurrect multiple dead ninja to fight on his behalf will not come undone with his death. After a lengthy battle in which the Uchiha brothers work hard to not kill him, Itachi places Kabuto in a powerful illusion in order to force him to undo the jutsu.
      • As the Allied Shinobi Forces fight the Ten Tails while it is being controlled by Madara and Obito, HQ proposes a plan in which they immobilize the Ten Tails before attacking its masters directly, expecting the Ten Tails to become easier to handle once they are taken care of. When its impromptu evolution puts a stop to that plan, Madara decides to use the Alliance's own tactics against them by having the Ten Tails nuke HQ with a massive Tailed Beast Ball, clearly expecting the same.
  • The Mahora Festival arc in Negima! Magister Negi Magi, where thanks to an added condition in the ritual the heroes were rushing to stop, all that was needed to attain complete victory was for that arc's Big Bad to be defeated by Negi. This really pissed off Chisame, since it meant that all her efforts didn't matter in the end.
    • Averted in Jack Rakan's Pensieve Flashback, where killing Lifemaker didn't stop the end-of-the-world ritual, and it took the entire fleet of three world superpowers to block it.
  • One Piece does the "inch of his life" variety in every major arc. It often works because these are not armies, but pirate crews that work on Asskicking Leads to Leadership. By winning, Luffy almost immediately proves that the rank and file aren't coming out on top. Specific examples:
    • Captain Axe-Hand Morgan's defeat caused his Marines to stop fighting immediately. He was an extremely Bad Boss and they all hated him, enough to have him arrested for his misdeeds once he was neutralized.
    • Luffy had to defeat Arlong and destroy Arlong Park in order to set the village people free. It helps that, in just a couple of attacks, the Straw Hats put his Mooks out of commission and were left with his foremen.
    • The only way to stop the war in Alabasta was for Luffy to beat Crocodile and prove he's been manipulating the country this entire time. Played for Drama since the rebels/soldiers/Baroque Work agents weren't going to stop for anything less.
    • God Eneru had to be defeated because, aside from his high-ranking soldiers, nobody liked him anyway and he was going to destroy all of the Sky Islands largely because he could.
    • Rob Lucci, while only being The Dragon to Spandam's Big Bad, had to be defeated by Luffy, or else he would just zoom on ahead and kill Robin, or zoom back and kill Luffy's crewmates as they caught up. Even when Lucci went down, the Straw Hats still had to make a grand escape from the Buster Call.
    • Gecko Moria holds all the shadows from people around the world. Without these shadows, people die when exposed to sunlight. Once Moria is beat up enough, he forcefully lets go all of the shadows he had collected.
    • Averted in both Impel Down and Marineford. Luffy isn't strong enough to beat Magellan, and nobody too high up in the Marine chain is actually defeated. The war only ends because Whitebeard, whom the Marines were really after, was killed, and Shanks popped up, who offered to take on all of the Marines and pirates if things didn't stop then and there.
    • Averted in the Fishman Island arc. When Hody Jones goes down, his senior crew members go insane and just start killing everyone. They reasoned that even if they died, they could kill enough people for their legacy of hatred to persist. The Straw Hats had to beat the entire lineup and a vast portion of their 100,000-strong army to settle things. Incidentally, most of said army was human slaves and fearfully-loyal Fishmen, so they at least gave up when Hody went down.
    • Capone "Gang" Bege has made a hobby of this, preferring to go right for the head of organizations he doesn't approve of and assassinating them, before sitting back and watching the group flail around helplessly and collapse in the resulting power vacuum. He picked the habit up with actual animals he beheaded when he was young, and only set his sights further and further up since then, when Luffy meets him in Whole Cake Island, Bege is aiming for Big Mom, one of the Four Emperors.
    • Zig-zagged during the Wano Country arc. While the Onigashima Raid is in full swing, CP0 agents observing the battle note that, unless both Kaido and his elite officers went down, it wouldn't matter how many of the Beast Pirates the rebels defeated. By the end of it, however, when Kaido is finally defeated the Beast Pirates refuse to believe that such a thing is even possible and prepare to continue fighting, confident that they still have an advantage in numbers. Yamato then has to step up and point out that Onigashima would've crashed and killed everyone if it weren't for their enemies putting a stop to that, before threatening to beat them up if they do not surrender. Being well aware of exactly how strong Yamato is, the remaining Beast Pirates immediately stand down.
    • The Predecessor Villain crew of the Rocks Pirates were ultimately defeated this way. When their captain, Rocks, was finally defeated by the combined forces of Monkey D. Garp and the Pirate King Gold Roger, the other crew members all disbanded because they hated each other and, without their captain, had no reason to stay together.
  • The Rose of Versailles: Attempted. During the assault on the Bastille, the defenders purposefully shoot Oscar because her mutinied French Guards are the ones manning the cannons that are the only actual threat the Parisian insurgents pose to the fortress. It fails, though for different reasons between the anime and the original manga: in the anime, the Guards indeed retreat in shock until a dying Oscar demands to know why aren't their cannons firing, prompting her men to go back in the fight, while in the manga command immediately passes to the highest-ranking graduate Pierre Hulin (the one that in the historical assault actually led the Guards in manning the cannon) and the battle continues without interruptions.
  • Sky Wizards Academy: Among the Devil Beetles, a Chimera commands swarms of Archenars. Killing the commanding Chimera will cause the Archenars to retreat, and hence in the event of an attack, the Sky Wizards focus on finding and terminating the Chimera.
  • In So I'm a Spider, So What? the death of a general during the war between humans and demons usually results in their army falling into disarray and losing the battle. Justified as the generals tend to be the strongest member of their army so anyone capable of killing them will wipe out the rest as well.
  • Utawarerumono repeatedly uses this trope. In the anime version all the wars, except that against Kunnekamun, are won that way.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: When the Supreme King is defeated, his massive demon army immediately scatters. Although one of his generals, Guardian Baou, hunts down Judai later, hoping a victory over the former king will encourage them to follow him. (Doesn't work.)

    Comic Books 
  • Bone: Subverted. After the Hooded One is defeated, the Rat Creatures and Pawans initially act as though they are defeated and retreat, but then regroup and attack again a minute later.
  • Judge Dredd plays it straight during "The Apocalypse War", on both fronts:
    • The Sov leader Kazan is a firm believer in this trope. He ignores rank-and-file Judges, calling them "feathers of the chicken", instead looking to go for the head - Judge Dredd himself.
    • But he falls victim to the trope himself after Dredd leads a small unit to take control of a Sov nuclear silo, uses it to destroy East Meg One, and surrenders to the Sovs. Demoralized as they are, the only thing keeping the Sovs in the war is Kazan. When his assistant turns on him and gives a gun to Dredd, Dredd executes Kazan. From there, another Sov judge wishes to discuss terms for peace. He accepts when Dredd says "Unconditional surrender."
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: Subverted in The Earthwar Saga. The Legion think they can stop the Khund's invasion by storming their homeworld and defeating their leader Garlak, but the Khunds swear to keep fighting until Earth's total subjugation.
  • The Magnificent Ms. Marvel: The Beast Legions have little willpower of their own. and immediately run away once the computer forcing them to fight is destroyed.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW) takes place in an alternate continuity that follows the aftermath of the events of Sonic Forces. After Eggman's defeat at the hands of Sonic and the end of the Eggman War, the doctor went missing and his now leaderless Badnik army was left to wander around aimlessly all over the world while still attacking anything that came nearby. When the robots began to mount coordinated attacks against villages, Sonic immediately knew that something was afoot and went to investigate, kickstarting the events of the comic.
  • One Asterix comic lampshades this. A Roman leader draws his sword and is halfway through yelling an instruction for his troops to attack when Obelix decks the guy off his horse. The troops stand there baffled, and Obelix is genuinely lost as to why; Asterix has to explain that he took out the "head of the squad", and people who lose their heads don't know what to do.
  • Invoked in IDW Publishing's Transformers '86, written as a prequel to The Transformers (Marvel) series. Optimus Prime deliberately has the Ark built and staffed with his most trusted warriors in order to present an irresistible target for Megatron. Optimus' plan is to crash the Ark once he's sure Megatron and his forces are committed to an attack, thus removing Megatron and his most powerful minions at the cost of his own life and the lives of his trusting Autobot soldiers. It is his hope that with Megatron gone, the Decepticon war machine will collapse into disarray without his leadership holding them together. As anyone who knows the Marvel series will tell you, his plan is doomed to failure: the Decepticons will rally under new leaders while the Autobots are the ones who fall apart without Optimus leading them, and by the time contact is made with Cybertron, the planet is under the almost complete rule of the horrifically brutal Straxus.

    Fan Works 
  • Chasing Dragons: When Khal Pobo is killed at the Battle of Novodomo, his horde falls into disarray and flees.
  • Fallout: Equestria:
    • Subverted with the Enclave. As they are an organized military (and technically a democracy to boot), when their leader is killed, his successor easily steps up with minimal fuss. At least the new leader is less evil than the old one, but that's not saying much.
    • Red Eye's army plays with this a little bit. On the one hand, he had been planning to ascend to godhood and therefore had prepared his empire to continue without him—in fact, he expected the protagonist to take over after she gained godlike powers as part of his ascension. On the other hand, his rather ignominious death was not what he planned for, and it's made clear that his empire will fall soon. But until that happens, his second in command can still do a lot of damage and perpetuate a horrible slave state.
  • In FIRE! (DarkMark), Firebrand's super-villain army stops fighting when their leader gets killed in battle.
  • In Halo: Halos in Space, it is suggested that killing the "boss alien" will make all the others go back to Alien Town.
  • In the alternate ending of My Immortal, Ebony dies and ends up in Ironic Hell, and everyone rejoices and returns to normal.
  • The Night Unfurls:
    • Exploited by Vault. After Olga's defeat (though she is not killed), he plots to utilise the vast resources and Always Chaotic Evil armies in the Black Fortress to seize power for himself and the Black Dogs, intending to stage a Military Coup against the Seven Shields and build a Sex Empire for themselves. This is what kicks off the later events of the original story.
    • Lampshaded and discussed in the remastered version. For context, the events of the original and remastered versions of the story differ. While Vault is still alive and out there in the original version, due to Kyril being so laser-focused on his mission to bring Olga back south that he does not bother killing Vault to be on his way, Vault is offed by Kyril in the remastered version, just as his ambitions are laid bare. Kyril lampshades that traitors and many other Black Dog supporters are within the society of Eostia, musing that the waking world would call for a hunter soon and more bloodshed ensues. Furthermore, this trope is discussed during a conversation in Chapter 9. Both Kyril and The Rat share a foreboding feeling that another war is afoot after the assault of the Black Fortress, with the Rat providing some further insights on the matter.
      Kyril: My hunch was right I suppose. There's another war coming.
      The Rat: Aye... there will always be another war upon this land, hence why people like you are coming around. The Old Gods are waking, perhaps they may have need of you when this war has begun. A war of traitors.
  • Subverted in the Discworld fics of A.A. Pessimal, where the Assassins think creatively about this problem and decide if you wish to bring an army to a halt and get it to crumble in confusion, you don't bother targeting the officers. You take out the sergeants. As many as possible.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: In Act III, this initially appears to be the case in regards to Fairy Tale after Tsukune kills Kiria, and the organization does disappear for quite some time and believed destroyed for several acts. Ultimately subverted come Act VI, when Gyokuro Shuzen enters the picture and it's revealed that Kiria was just the head of a specific faction, not the organization as a whole.
  • This is Downplayed in Switchblade. While Shigaraki's death at Destro's hands went a long way in destabilizing the Paranormal Liberation Front's forces and eventually bringing the Civil War to an end, it wouldn't have been possible, or at least would have been extremely difficult, without Destro himself telling the PLF soldiers that he disapproves of their ideals and choices, causing many of them to switch sides, and Magne taking over the remains of the PLF and declaring a ceasefire with the Chain, even arresting those who tried to continue the war, like Toga.
  • At the end of book four of Wearing Robert's Crown, the Westerosi army experiences something of this. All three of their senior leaders ( Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark, and Jaime Lannister) are missing, presumed dead, which leaves no clear succession of command.

  • The former Trope Namer comes from a famous Crowd Song in the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz; however, there it was justified, as the Munchkins were oppressed by the Witch of the East, and the "evil army" of the Witch of the West (the Winkies) turned around and cheered the destruction of their oppressor.
  • Star Wars:
    • In Return of the Jedi, Emperor Palpatine's death seems to reduce the entire Imperial starfleet to virtual catatonia. They aren't even shown retreating or regrouping; they just suddenly are gone. They had also just lost Darth Vader, the second in command, and Admiral Piett, the commander of the fleet, along with their Death Star and flagship Star Destroyer, so this was more of a complete rout.
    • This was picked up on by Timothy Zahn, who worked a explanation for it into the plot The Thrawn Trilogy. The Emperor was bolstering his forces' morale via the Dark Side, and when he died the shock forced the Imperials into retreat. It also didn't help that the Executor, the most powerful vessel of the fleet and carrying all the leading personnel, was destroyed a few minutes prior.
    • Despite this, the Expanded Universe shows that the Empire didn't magically cease to exist that day, even despite colossal losses. It was definitely when the tide turned, but the Empire remains a major force holding a decent amount of territory for years, and even by the time Han and Leia's kids are fully grown they're The Remnant with yet another plan to try and rise once more every so often. The massive force that ruled the whole known galaxy for so long did not say "well, the Emperor's dead, so I guess we'll ALL give up, go home, and just watch Oprah all day."
    • Other Star Wars Legends entries more or less play this straight. Exar Kun's defeated, and his army goes into a tailspin. The Thought Bomb goes off, wipes out most of the Sith, and Bane starts over with the Rule of Two.
    • Knights of the Old Republic plays ping-pong with it. In the backstory, Revan's defeat and execution of Mandalore the Indomitable ended the Mandalorian War, but they were already in retreat. The Mass Shadow Generator wiped out much of the rest. When Revan became Dark Lord, the Republic tried to invoke the trope, but Malak took the chance to pull a Starscream and take charge. And then the Jedi really stepped up things by pulling a Brainwashing for the Greater Good on Revan, setting Revan against Malak, and Malak's death played it straight as there was no longer a clear chain of command.
    • Also occurs in The Phantom Menace when the droid control ship is destroyed, causing their droid forces to deactivate on the spot. The Trade Federation did learn from this one, as when in Attack of the Clones, set ten years later, one of their droid control ships over Geonosis is destroyed by the Republic's new army of clones, nothing happens. (The novelization has the droids slaved to that ship deactivate for only a second before onboard processors kick in and they start fighting again.)
    • Averted in Revenge of the Sith. Early in the film General Grievous immediately takes command after Dooku is slain by Anakin and the Republic is fully aware Dooku's death isn't enough to end the war. Furthermore, the Separatist forces on Utapau keep fighting even after Obi-Wan kills Grievous. Afterward, Palpatine goes as far as to have Vader execute all the remaining Separatist leaders to ensure no loose ends.
      • The Novelization also shows that even after the droid-control center is destroyed, the battle droids don't shut down; instead, they default to pre-programmed orders.
        "Standing Order Number One was, apparently, Kill Everything That Moves."
    • The Force Awakens shows the Empire is still hanging on thirty years later as The First Order, which is composed of all the remaining senior Imperial officers and is still just as dangerous. There is even a new dark force user to pick up where Palpatine left off.
  • In The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), Riddick kills the Big Bad and the war stops, because whoever kills the guy takes his place. Played with in that the immediate battle was already over at that point, and had been for days. The army curb-stomped Helion Prime in a single night and the only thing Riddick actually stopped was the subsequent genocide of everyone left on the surface. Nor do the Necromongers stop their crusade for the Underverse altogether; Riddick has simply become their new leader. Riddick reveals that his brief rule is not met with approval by the Necromongers, as he has stopped virtually all conquest and refuses to make a pilgrimage to the Underverse to become a true Lord Marshall (e.g. have the Super-Speed ability). Finally, he departs to find his lost homeworld, leaving Vaako in charge.
  • In Independence Day: Resurgence, killing the Harvester Queen causes the rest of the Harvester aliens to immediately pack it in and leave Earth due to their Hive Mind.
  • In The Last Starfighter, when the titular Gunstar has to defeat an entire armada, the aim is to destroy the command ship's communications turret. Doing so will throw the large array of fighters into disarray. In the video game, it is the Instant-Win Condition.
  • The battle at the start of the movie Gangs of New York seems to invert this — the Dead Rabbits stop fighting almost instantly.
  • Nicely subverted in the film version of Prince Caspian, when both sides agree that the entire battle shall come down to a duel between High King Peter of Narnia and King Miraz of Telmar. Peter wins, but there's a Starscream handy to start the battle up anyway. It's okay, though, because that's when a literal Deus ex Machina saves the day.
  • In Equilibrium, this is explicitly part of the plan of La Résistance, although it wouldn't have worked if the La Résistance didn't also destroy all the prozium factories once they had the signal that the Big Bad was dead.
  • In Army of Darkness, the skeletons run screaming and the good guys declare victory the instant Semi-Good Ash disposes of Bad Ash.
  • Averted in Black Hawk Down; when Mike Durant is captured, a militiaman, he explains to him that even if General Aidid is captured, they will not suddenly put down their arms and adopt democracy.
  • Inglourious Basterds revolves around several plots to kill Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, and Bormann. The film heavily implies that fulfilling this condition will immediately win the war for the Allies. Not that it would have worked out so neatly in Real Life.
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010) subverts this trope in favor of an Instant-Win Condition; it's not the Red Queen that Alice has to kill, it's the Jabberwock. The massive, otherwise invulnerable dragon was the only reason anyone obeyed her, and her entire army rebelled the second it was dead.
  • In the movie Prince Valiant, the titular hero fights with the throne usurper while the palace guards fight his supporters. Once he kills the usurper, guards stop fighting and swear allegiance to him. It Makes Sense in Context, but not fully.
  • Subverted in Sahara (2005). The heroes rationalize that if they take out Kasiim, his army should surrender. When they succeed, both immediately note that it should never have worked. Then the camera pans out to reveal that the rebel army showed up and surrounded Kasiim's army while they weren't paying attention.
  • Subverted in Universal Soldier: The Return. The entire Uni Sol army is controlled by the evil artificial intelligence S.E.T.H. in his plot to take over the world, resulting in the deaths of many civilians. Luc manages to take down most of the Uni Sols and successfully destroys S.E.T.H. in hopes that it would deactivate the remaining Uni Sols, only to find out in horror that the remaining Uni Sols are still active and war-bent in spite of S.E.T.H.'s demise. As such, Luc is forced to blow up the Uni Sol building to finally take down the remaining Uni Sols from going to war.
  • The Movie of V for Vendetta has shades of this: V's plot to take down the government hinges on the assumption that the rank-and-file will become ineffective after he kills off the head of the government... and kills off all second-in-commands, and blows up a building for good measure. Not so in the original comic book, where V not only killed off the heads of government, he took over, then destroyed, their primary means of communication. No leaders, no way to keep order, and a whole lot of pissed-off people being told by the One-Man Army that did it all that they can now either choose true freedom or doom themselves again.
  • Averted in The International: the Big Bad chairman of the evil bank flat out tells the protagonist that even if he kills him, his bank will continue its evil activities like nothing had happened. As the protagonist is pondering this, someone else shoots the Big Bad...and during the credits, we get a montage showing that just as promised, the chairman was replaced and the bank kept its operations while maintaining its clean facade.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, HYDRA is an aversion, as befits an organization named after the Hydra Problem. After the Red Skull was killed(?), several HYDRA agents were recruited into SHIELD and re-formed the group under their enemies' noses. Seventy years later when this was discovered by Captain America, he and his allies couldn't just kill the leader but had to dismantle SHIELD entirely in order to cripple HYDRA's activities. And even then, multiple splinter cells remain like those led by Baron Von Strucker and John Garrett.
  • Justified in In the Name of the King, where the death of Gallian causes all the Krug to stop, turn around, and wander off, even though they were winning the battle. The Krug are actually mindless beasts, who were only turned into an army by Gallian's sorcery. After his death, they're beasts again.
    • Averted with King Konreid's death, but only because an Unexpected Successor is found. In fact, the trope almost worked because Konreid's nephew Duke Fallow (who is in league with Gallian) would have otherwise taken the throne and ended the fight against Gallian (all the generals are sworn to obey the king, whoever it is).
  • Deconstructed In To Kill a Dragon. When the Dragon is slain, his reign crumbles all right, but the resulting anarchy results in senseless violence and murder. And then the trope gets subverted for good measure when the Burgomaster takes over the city.
  • In Pixels, beating the Donkey Kong makes the rest of the aliens retreat. Justified, as this is one of the rules of "war" the aliens have laid down before attacking.
  • At the end of Mad Max: Fury Road, when Max reveals Furiosa has killed Immortan Joe, the younger War Boys immediately turn against Joe's remaining "sons", allowing the Citadel to fall to Furiosa's command.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the massive East India Trading Company armada turns tail as soon as the HMS Endeavour (and Lord Cutler Beckett) is obliterated by the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman. The reason they flee is a cross between this trope and the fact that an indestructible ship crewed by immortals is now on the pirates' side.
  • Averted in The Sack Of Rome (1992). During the siege, a soldier takes out the enemy commander with an improbable shot from a cannon, then rushes to tell his prince the good news. Instead of being rewarded, he's angrily dismissed by the prince, who points out that the soldier killed the only man he could negotiate terms with.
  • Subverted in Jack the Giant Slayer. When Roderick gains the crown of the giants, they are beholden to serve him, so naturally killing him would make the giants not obey him anymore right? After he is killed halfway through the movie, the crown is taken by General Fallon who becomes the new king. When he is presumed to die during the assault on the castle after falling into boiling water, his men continue fighting regardless.
  • In Braveheart, King Edward believes this will happen if Wallace is killed, and uses that as justification to attempt to assassinate Wallace and later to trick Wallace into being captured. However, the end of the film shows Wallace's rebels teaming up with Robert the Bruce and defeating the English army after Edward's death.
  • Discussed in Wonder Woman (2017): Diana, who grew up isolated from most of humanity and learned about them mostly from old stories, believed that she could stop the war simply by taking out Ares. Free of his corrupting influence, mankind's inherently good nature would prevail and we'd all just get along. Steve and even Ares himself tries to explain to her that the real world just doesn't work like that.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army: The titular Golden Army can only be commanded by someone of unchallenged royal blood whom wears the magic crown. Key word here is "unchallenged". Hellboy remembers this important detail in their Darkest Hour, challenging Prince Nuada for control of the army. This forces the otherwise unstoppable automaton warriors to wait until one defeats the other in combat. Nuada initially brushes off the challenge until he is informed that Hellboy is the Anti Anti Christ, son of the Fallen One, and therefore technically also of royal blood, making his challenge valid.
  • The Hobbit Battle Of The Five Armies: Thorin tries doing this in the titular battle, going after Azog. However, Azog was anticipating this, and uses it to trap and kill Thorin and his nephews. Thorin does technically succeed, but by that point most of Azog's forces had been routed anyway.

  • The ultimate example would be the destruction of Sauron in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Not only did his death end the war, but the frontal attack on his forces by Gandalf, Aragorn, and the others was just a diversion so Frodo could kill him. Saruman does cause trouble after his death (this was left out of the movie) but he certainly isn't a threat to all Middle-Earth, just the Shire.
    • Justified in that Sauron was using his immense power and will to bolster his orc troops. This is also what kept them from immediately turning on each other (en masse, at least) until Sauron is destroyed. The narration also specifically mentions that the Men from the east did not all turn and flee, but without the support of the rest of the army, it was a relatively easy skirmish for the Gondorian forces instead of a losing battle.
    • A popular joke mentions that Aragorn granted the king's forgiveness to all of Sauron's forces since fighting them would be suicide. The Movie plays it more straight: Sauron's explosive death helpfully knocks out his entire army with a pressure wave. It also has the after-effect of causing a massive earthquake that shatters the ground, collapsing his land in a neat semi-circle around the heroes and killing off about two-thirds of his army; the rest run like hell.
    • And note that this is averted in The Hobbit, where the Orc/Warg army at the Battle of Five Armies is certainly somewhat discomforted when Beorn manages to kill their leader Bolg but does not immediately crumble. This is because those Orcs were acting under their own will and not that of Sauron. This is also emphasised in the early chapters of The Two Towers when other Northern Orcs do not get along with the Mordor-orcs under Sauron's direct control (and the Uruk-hai under Saruman's control don't get along with either side).
    • Downplayed in The Silmarillion: the Dwarven contingent of the Union of Maedhros make a fighting retreat after their King is killed injuring Glaurang. This act impresses Morgoth's army so much that no one dares interfere.
  • In The Belgariad, this is both played straight and subverted.
    • It's played straight at Vo Mimbre, 500 years prior to the series, because it's a case of combat by champion, with the good guys having goaded Kal Torak out to fight. Since Torak is the bad guys' God, him going down was a serious knock to their confidence - plus, like Sauron, he was holding the various factions of his people, the Angaraks, together (not through magical power, mind you, just because they were terrified of him - when a couple of his armies were far enough away for him to be unable to interfere, they promptly tried to kill each other). The army promptly disintegrates, though the battle carries on, as the Alorns (the main part of the Western alliance) are conducting a brutal Roaring Rampage of Revenge for the genocide of one of their member states earlier in the campaign.
    • It's also played straight in the first series, with this being the heroes' entire strategy, since the Angaraks have the Western nations far outnumbered, and the invasion is, again, driven by Torak. However, afterwards, 'Zakath, Emperor of Mallorea, still retains ambitions to Take Over the World, calling himself Kal Zakath (though apparently, the latter wasn't so much a declaration of megalomania as a political move suggested by his bureaucracy. Even his attempts at world domination are more or less because he's a borderline Empty Shell and power is all that satisfies him. Well, that and his cat.)
    • On a micro-level, the Murgo army collapses somewhat at Thull Mardu after their King, Taur Urgas, is killed in a duel with the Algar King, Cho-Hag, for similar reasons - he was crazy, but his crazy made his army feel invincible. They still fought on, but fragmented.
    • Also subverted in the second series, with the mooted plan by Agachak and the reluctant Murgo King, Urgit, to defeat the Malloreans being by assassinating 'Zakath. While the campaign against the Murgos is driven entirely by 'Zakath's need for revenge, it's pointed out by 'Zakath himself that if his generals even thought there might be a hint of foul play going on, they'd spend the next couple of generations obliterating the Murgos.
  • Harry Potter partially has this. When Voldemort was defeated the first time, his organisation immediately crumbled. However, it was an Oddly Small Organization and it is implied that there was a lot of chaos, what with arresting Death Eaters and figuring out who was forced into it or enchanted or what. Also, Voldemort had been on his own and operating under his own agenda, so his supporters would most likely have been separated and taken by surprise. The end of Deathly Hallows averts this, as pretty much every Death Eater was either dead, incapacitated or had done a Heel–Face Turn by the time Voldemort dies.
    • Voldemort tries the trope himself late in Deathly Hallows, where he thinks "killing" Harry will stop the Hogwarts rebellion. It doesn't work, even well before Harry reveals that he's alive.
  • The Redwall series. Pick a book, any book. Somewhat justified in that the mooks of choice, the rats, are uniformly idiotic to the point of being comic relief save for the occasional brutal, charismatic leader who turns them into a threat.
  • Discworld:
    • Subverted in Small Gods. Big Bad Vorbis, leader of The Empire (to whom the protagonists belong), starts a war with pretty much every other nation on the planet. He gets killed by a turtle (it's a long story) and the hero brings his body to the battlefield to try and convince the other nations not to attack. Their response? They've put too much effort into preparing for war to stop and not attack. After all, they've come all this way. The overall message is that war is bigger than any one man, even if that one man was mostly responsible for all the crap that happened in the first place. (Luckily the Great God Om bullies everyone else's gods into telling them to call the war off, and that gets their attention.)
    • In Jingo, Vimes encounters a desert tribe and attempts to capture their leader to force surrender... which makes them charge even faster since they believe that any leader stupid enough to be captured so easily isn't worth following.
    • Explored in Night Watch. Vimes and Carcer are whisked back out of time, leaving their armies behind. In the words of Havelock Vetinari, who was there and caught up the long way around, Carcer's men quailed when he was gone. Vimes's men? They tore the enemy apart when they saw he was down.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, when Rafen proclaims Arkio's death and shows them the body it doesn't end the battle, but the Blood Angels who had fought on Arkio's side switch to supporting their brothers.
  • The Dresden Files: Battle Ground: As soon as Ethniu is defeated, the rest of the Fomor army immediately gives up and flees. Justified, as despite having surprise and preparation on their side, the Fomor army was overall weaker than that of the assembled Accorded Nations. Their plan was dependent on Ethniu -Who was the single most powerful entity on the field- either intimidating most of the other major powers into joining her, or singlehandedly annihilating them if they refused. Once she was removed from the field, the chance of a Fomor victory evaporated. It's also implied Ethniu expected the Fomor to be devastated by the battle but didn't really care, seeing them as mere tools and secretly harboring the same disdain for them she did for all other mortals.
  • One of Stephen Lawhead's books in the Pendragon Cycle averted this in regards to the Saecsens. The narrator mentions that killing the leader is a bad idea, as his subordinates will then fight to the last man to avenge him. Capturing him alive, however, kills their will to fight.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Dead Sky, Black Sun, Honsou killing one of the opposing generals gives him the chance to talk. He has to point out that they have fought and died while the other general lurked behind to win his followers' support.
  • Justified at the end of Eragon: Durza tricked and mentally enslaved the Urgals, which was why they were fighting. In reality, the Urgals were not particularly good at fighting together when not mind-controlled, because Durza had enslaved Urgals from a number of different clans, a good number of which were at war or otherwise on bad terms with the others. So when Durza dies they are freed, and promptly panic or turn on each other.
  • In Wicked, immediately after Nessarose is killed, apparently all of Munchkinland seemed to be driven into total disarray, and pure chaos in the streets.
  • Subverted in the Ciaphas Cain novel Cain's Last Stand. The antagonist of the book is a Chaos Warmaster with an army of encharmed slaves. Cain tricks him into a duel and kills him. He then half-hopes that this will cause all the enslaved people to come to their senses but in his heart, he knows that "this only happens in fairy tales". And indeed, Chaos forces are just enraged by the loss of their idol and attack ferociously.
    • Played straight earlier in Death or Glory, where Cain killing the Ork Warboss Korbul causes the Orks to fracture into competing warbands and scatter within hours.
      • Though, as pointed out further down in the Table Top section, when the old Ork Warlord dies the Orks often begin to fight each other in order to establish a new leader.
      • Nobz that accompanied the warboss tried this, even ignoring the Cain himself (their dialogue isn't translated, but essentially they all tried to order the others to get him, and then all of them were pissed off about somebody trying to give them orders...). Fortunately, the reinforcements arrived and killed all of them.
    • It's also mentioned on the good guys' side in The Traitor's Hand where it's mentioned that protocol states that the two senior officers of an army can never take the same dropship down during a deployment (unless something was extremely wrong) as the enemy would only need one lucky shot in order to invoke this trope.
    • "Traitor's Gambit" defies and plays this trope straight at the same time. While talking with enemies Cain himself ridicules the assassination attempt since the chain of command means that if general will be killed the next senior officer will replace him without any loss in combat effectiveness. Amberley notes that while IG task force could remain operational despite the general's demise, it surely will inflict a heavy blow on the troops' morale. Not to mention the fact that lord general was a gifted tactician. Subverted in that the enemy leader didn't actually expect it to work; she was pulling a Hans Gruber and the attack was little more than cover for a robbery.
    • Cain is rather surprised when said lord general claims that Cain's death would have a similar effect. Cain is just a Commissar after all. However, his heroic reputation is so great that his death would crush the troops' morale even more than the general's death.
  • In Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, Amalric's death causes his army to break.
    • In "Beyond the Black River", the Picts retreat when Zogar Sag dies.
    • In "The Scarlet Citadel", Conan's own troops turn to other strong nobles when rumored that their king is dead. Conan wins them back exactly the same way. The Aquilonians even have a proverb that lampshades this trope:
      'The sword that slays the king cuts the cords of the empire.'
  • In Malevil, this is used as the plan of attack near the end of the novel. The villain is marching his army toward the hero's castle, he rules his conscripts with fear, and bad luck has cost him his two best lieutenants. If they can kill him and his last second-in-command then his army should disband. They have to succeed because while he can't take the castle in a single battle, they won't be able to win a prolonged guerrilla war against him.
  • The Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis ends with Gaunt killing Heritor Asphodel and crippling his forces in the process. Justified by the Zoicans being controlled by a signal he was continually broadcasting.
  • Julie Sims manages to wound Wallenstein in 1632, causing confusion that leads to his army being defeated. This is a point of Deliberate Values Dissonance as down-timers consider it bad manners to mark leaders whereas up-timers say they are responsible for the war in the first place and should be sought out.
  • Zig-zagged in Anabasis. When the prince the Greek mercenaries are fighting for is dead the war is over and there is nothing to do but march home. However, during the negotiations with the Greek mercenaries, the Persian king assassinates the Greek officers. The Greeks simply elect new ones and march home.
  • Averted in The Elfstones of Shannara. Near the end of the book, Allanon faces down the Dagda Mor, the leader of the invading Demon armies, in a spectacular Wizard Duel and defeats him. However, while the Demons are briefly given pause- none of them is particularly eager to tangle with the guy who killed their leader, who was also the strongest of their race as Demon society works on Asskicking Leads to Leadership- they are motivated primarily by hatred for all non-Demon life rather than any sort of loyalty to the Dagda Mor, and as such the invasion is fully capable of continuing without him, albeit with less strategy and overall coordination. Only a last-minute re-creation of the can from which the Demons escaped- a full chapter later- saves the world.
  • Justified in Freeglader. The Shryke army that attacks the fleeing Undertowners is a newly hatched flock. Shrykes, especially young ones, tend to go into a frenzy upon tasting blood, becoming practically uncontrollable - the only one who can keep them in line being their Roost-Mother. When Mother Muleclaw the Third is killed, her army, lacking directions and vicious with bloodthirst, turns on itself, all the Shrykes devouring each other.
  • Downplayed but still played mostly straight in Red Storm Rising during the Soviet invasion of Iceland. A direct missile hit on the command centre didn't stop local forces from fighting, but with nobody giving orders above company and platoon level the defence turned into a disorganised mess that the Russians quickly overcame.
  • Done or attempted several times in A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Jaime Lannister sees that he's losing the Battle of the Whispering Wood, rallies his guard, and charges straight for Robb. While this wouldn't have entirely solved the problem, it would have put Brandon, a crippled child, as the current leader of the Starks, significantly reducing their threat. Robb's bodyguards manage to stop him.
    • While besieging Riverrun, it's suggested that they try to kill Brynden Tully with poisoned arrows, assuming that whoever replaces him won't be so stubborn and will yield the castle. Jaime instead releases their prisoner Edmure Tully. Edmure outranks Brynden, and once he's in charge he yields it.
    • In the battle for Astapor the Astapori break once their leader goes down. Their leader was a corpse, so you can see their starting position wasn't very strong.
    • The many tribes that compose wildling army are kept together only by Mance Rayder, and several suggestions are made on ways for the grossly outnumbered Night's Watch to kill him. Ultimately Stannis comes to their aid, routs the wildlings, and Mance is taken prisoner.
    • Robert had a habit of personally killing enemy commanders. Randyll Tarly almost does this to him, but Robert sees it coming and has his men retreat in good order, turning what could have been a major decisive victory for the Targaryen loyalists into a minor and inconclusive victory.
    • The Sworn Sword. When Ser Duncan and his lord Ser Eustace ride out alone to confront the vastly superior forces of Lady Rohanne, Ser Eustace suggests this trope as the only possible way of winning. Dunk is noncommittal as he's come to admire Lady Rohanne and tries persuasion instead.
    • Fire & Blood: Aegon II assumes this will happen when he kills Rhaenyra during the Dance of the Dragons. Instead, her remaining loyalists just keep fighting, and thanks to the North finally getting their troops together, the Black loyalists vastly outnumber Aegon's.
  • Exaggerated in the Codex Alera with the Vord, who despite being a Horde of Alien Locusts do not naturally follow a eusocial hive structure, and if not directly under psychic control from a Hive Queen revert to individualistic animals who don't mass against humans and might even attack one another. It's also downplayed in the finale, as even after the final Queen is eliminated, the amassed Vord continue to attack the main Aleran defenses, simply because there are millions of them concentrated in one area and most have no choice but to continue moving forward into the defenders.
    • Downplayed earlier in the series with the Canim invasion. Killing Sarl, their leader, turns the tide of a single battle and drives his faction into such disarray that they lose control of the army, but it does not end the invasion as a whole. Sarl gets replaced by Nasaug, who is more competent, but also more honorable and reasonable, and his influence means war can be ultimately ended peacefully a book later.
    • Even earlier, the Canim attempt this to the First Aleran legion, the only legion in place to resist the unexpected invasion. A mole alerts the Canim to the time and location of a general staff meeting, allowing them to obliterate the First Aleran's entire command structure in a magical attack. The only survivor is a Third Subtribune Logistica, the most junior officer imaginable, who was outside the tent on a quick errand. Fortunately, that Subtribune is Tavi, a Guile Hero who's fully capable of taking command.
  • In Warrior Cats, after Firestar kills Scourge, the leader of BloodClan, one of the BloodClan cats notices and yowls that Scourge is dead. The fight goes out of all the BloodClan cats and they flee, pursued all the way to the edge of Clan territory by WindClan, just to add insult to injury. They make several subsequent attempts to re-organise over the following months and years, but ultimately no one who could replace Scourge was left, and they eventually splinter into multiple factions, some of which leave the area. A few even end up as pets!
  • In the backstory of Death Lands, a hardline communist faction tries to decapitate the entire US political and military command structure by detonating three briefcase nukes during the Presidential inauguration, as a preliminary to a surprise nuclear attack. Unfortunately, their intelligence on US command and control is flawed, as there's a General Ripper in an airborne command center who's secretly acquired the launch codes for just such a scenario. The resulting nuclear, chemical and biological conflagration turns Earth into the equivalent of a Death World.
  • Subverted in The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You, where one of the aliens' first acts is to attack a Space Station that is hosting a gathering of humanity's top military brass. With all the top commanding officers in enemy hands, command of the military is placed in the hands of Chief Petty Officers who vastly increase the military's effectiveness.
  • In The Dinosaur Lords, as most of Raguel's horde is mind-controlled by him, when he falls, they regain their minds and are horrified by what they were doing, instantly surrendering to the Empire.
  • In the Cross-Time Engineer novel The Flying Warlord by Leo Frankowski, Conrad Stargard sends in a commando force who somehow identify and kill every commander in the Mongol forces in the middle of the night. This is used to explain the Idiot Ball later when the Mongols ride straight into the trap set by Stargard's forces. Given that an army of nomad warriors who had already conquered large parts of Asia and Eastern Europe would be used to taking casualties and have no shortage of combat-experienced soldiers adept at taking the initiative, this is rather implausible.
  • Averted in Hard Rain by Barry Eisler. John Rain is asked by Tatsu to assassinate a yakuza Professional Killer. It's a high-risk job, so Rain asks why he shouldn't go after the Big Bad instead. Tatsu argues that a) the boss in question is well-guarded and a public figure, and b) there are plenty of potential bosses waiting to fill his shoes. Being a boss requires traits like greed, political skill, and a talent for rationalization — which are hardly uncommon, unlike the specialist skills needed by a good hitman, who can't be easily replaced.
  • The Dogs of War. During the planning for the coup to depose President Kimba, the mercenary Shannon stresses the importance of killing Kimba due to the belief among his followers that he has juju that protects him from harm. Whoever kills Kimba will be assumed to have more powerful juju, making his ability to run the country much easier. Furthermore, Kimba is so paranoid about a coup that he concentrates the only effective firearms in his own palace along with his Praetorian Guard, so Shannon just plans a direct assault on the palace and kills everyone in it.
  • The Nightmare Stacks. The invading army of alfar from an alternate universe attempt a coup de main to kill the rulers of Great Britain and assume their places in the hierarchy. Not only do they make the mistake of assuming that this Earth is controlled by magic just as theirs is, they're also attacking the wrong place (the Laundry regional headquarters at Leeds instead of London). At the end of the book, Cassie and Alex end up doing exactly the same thing in reverse, defeating the invasion by killing the All-Highest and his current wife in order to make Cassie the new All-Highest. She then just orders her army to surrender and seek refugee status.
  • In The Arts of Dark and Light, the seven-year Siege of Iron Mountain was finally broken when, through a desperate gambit, Lord Hammerstone managed to exfiltrate a commando team who killed the Troll King in a surprise attack. This then caused the besieging army to dissolve, as each of his warlords scrambled to seize a portion of the kingdom for himself.
  • Forces in Grent's Fall run off of their leader's charisma, might, and reputation, so they fall apart with the deaths of the Halifax brothers and King Osbert Grent.
  • The Blood Guard: Bend Sinister acolytes under the control of a "Hand" will drop dead the moment said Hand is killed due to having donated their life force to them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Renly's assassination splits his army down the middle, with half his men going over to Stannis and the other half fleeing with Loras Tyrell.
    • After Rickard Karstark is executed, his forces break off from the rest of the army and withdraw from the war.
    • The commanders of the Second Sons obviously expect this when they decide on assassination instead of risking a battle against 8,000 Unsullied.
    • The Stark army is quickly surprised and massacred following the assassination of their leader, which was Tywin's winning move in the War of the Five Kings. Given Stannis' determination, it's not as decisive as he expects.
    • Jon reasons that if they can kill Mance Rayder, they can stop Mance's attack on the Wall since Mance's army of wildlings will collapse back into their traditional rivalries. His reasoning is pretty solid, but his plan is less so and he knows it.
    • The Lannister family owes most of their power and influence to Tywin alone. Ser Davos and Lord Baelish remark that with Tywin and the sheer power of his will gone, all that remains is Jaime, a one-handed, untrustworthy, and isolated man, Tommen, a soft King, and Cersei, an unpopular former Queen whose power diminishes every day in favour of Margaery's.
  • In the last episode of Life (2007), Charlie Crews is in a car with Roman and his hired goons, being driven off to an uncertain, but likely unpleasant, fate. In his ultimate Moment of Awesome, Charlie takes Roman out with a jab to the throat, and the goons barely react as Roman chokes to death. Then Charlie informs them that whatever hold Roman had over them is gone now, and they can just go their separate ways— and awesomely ends his whole speech with, "Do you guys understand English?" (They apparently do.)
  • After Abby died on Dawson's Creek, Dawson himself lampshaded this:
    "Everybody's playing the dutiful mourners, but underneath there's this weird sense they're all munchkins finally freed from the spell of the Wicked Witch of the East."
  • In the Merlin (1998) series, this happens when King Vortigern is killed, complete with his army surrendering. To be fair, the army had just seen Vortigen getting killed by a wizard using a magic sword to seal him in a frozen lake.
  • Played with in Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger; by the end of the series, the Zangyack Empire has lost not only its Emperor, his son, and several of their top lieutenants and scientists but a massive fleet drawn from across the universe. A couple of months after the final battle, the Gokaigers read about the Empire's descent into factionalism and decide their next adventure will be on the Zangyack's home turf.
  • Invoked and planned by Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos; if the New Jersey mafia loses its leaders, it can then be easily assimilated by the New York one.
  • Supernatural uses this in the season 7 finale: when the Leviathans' leader Dick Roman is killed by Dean and Castiel, Crowley comments that they won't be a Big Bad-level threat anymore, since Roman's been their leader since basically the dawn of time and losing him will throw them into confusion. The remaining Levis are quickly dispatched by Crowley's own demon army.
  • Band of Brothers:
    • Averted during the Normandy invasion. The plane carrying the commander of Easy Company is shot down but despite the chaotic conditions of the airdrop the paratroopers quickly start assembling into makeshift units and soon after Lt Winters assumes command of the company.
    • The situation is inverted during the battle of Foyles. Winters has been promoted and Lt Dike, the new commander of Easy Company, is incompetent and paralyzed with indecision. This results in the attack bogging down and the soldiers are about to rout when Dike is dismissed from command. With a replacement commander, the soldiers rally and take the town.
  • Played straight in an episode of Burn Notice where Weston asks the smuggler leader he was trying to save at the time what he thinks his men will do when the person cutting their paychecks is killed off.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • When Anubis is locked in eternal combat by Oma Desala on the ascended plane of existence, his Kull Warriors suddenly stopped attacking and became inert according to Master Bra'tac (this occurs offscreen) as if they no longer had a master to follow.
    • Subverted when the Ori are all killed partway through the Post-Script Season, but their followers are unaware and continue the war in the Ori's name, and must be dealt with separately. It is mentioned that the "Flames of Celestis" (the Doci's connection to the Ori) went out when the Ori died and this has the Priors concerned, but they've elected not to share this with the masses. The wrap-up film reveals that, with the deaths of all the Ori, the ascended Adria is now in charge of all their followers. Additionally, the trope is inverted in the film. It's Adria that can't be defeated until she loses all her followers.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers:
    • Played straight in one episode where Master Vile puts together a small army of monsters under the command of his general, Professor Longnose. After engaging the Alien Rangers, the heroes are able to strike Longnose down, and the rest of the army retreats.
    • Averted in the earlier three-part episode featuring Rita and Zedd's wedding. The Rangers face a large force of monsters here, who do not give up until all of them are beaten. The heroes manage to do so anyway.
  • Averted in Power Rangers Super Megaforce as the team is able to defeat Emperor Mavro and, with his dying words, declares that they won't defeat his army. Sure enough, the last remains of the Armada, which were an army of the powerful XBorg Mooks, come marching down the hill. Seeing as XBorgs are stronger than the team's natural Megaforce forms, they needed help in the form of the past Ranger teams.
  • Averted in Blake's 7. When Servalan is deposed in a coup d'état, the rebels urge their leader to let them kill her, arguing that "Servalan is the Federation". The Rebel Leader points out this is only true while Servalan is alive, and she can be forced to order her armies to surrender. Kill her, and the war goes on as one of her subordinates would inevitably fill the power vacuum.
  • Double-subverted in the double episode "The Debt" of Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena is sent a posthumous message by her friend Lao Ma that her evil son, Ming T'ien "has grown too large." Xena thinks that means she must kill him, leading her into conflict with Gabrielle who believes that Thou Shalt Not Kill. In the end, Xena realises that what Lao Ma actually wanted her to do was to defeat and humiliate Ming T'ien in front of his followers, thereby "making him small again," which she does... but when Ming T'ien taunts her about Lao Ma's death, Xena loses her temper and kills him anyway.
  • Twice subverted in Star Trek: Discovery.
    • T'Kuvma is a charismatic prophet preaching that the divided Klingons should unite against the Federation. When he's killed, he becomes a martyr which inspires the Klingons to do just that. It's stated that if he'd been taken captive alive the trope might have been played straight, though.
    • Kol is the Klingon general who ends up taking control after T'Kuvma's death, and the crew of the Discovery eventually manages to kill him. After a time skip it turns out that this hasn't helped the Federation and might even have made things worse because while it made the Klingons dissolve into many factions, each faction is still as gung-ho about the war as ever... and now that they no longer follow a single unified strategy, their attacks are that much harder to predict and defend against.
  • VR Troopers explicitly states that Grimlord's tanks can't operate without General Ivar's Ravage Tank leading them, so the Troopers will frequently go after Ivar whenever possible (typically by rolling his tank off a cliff).
  • The Mandalorian. In the penultimate episode of Season One, Greef Karga hires the title character to kill the Client, thinking that with him gone his ragtag bunch of stormtroopers will decide Screw This, I'm Outta Here. Unknown to them Moff Gideon (with a larger and better-disciplined force under his command) has arrived and taken control of the operation, and ironically ends up killing the Client himself.
  • Breaking Bad: Gus wipes out all the Juárez Cartel capos in one fell swoop, he calls out to any remaining lieutenants that they have nobody left to fight for, so loot the compound for all its worth and flee, or face him and meet the same fate as their bosses (it's mostly a bluff, since he's incapacitated by poison and only has Mike and Jesse with him). It almost works, but one mook with Undying Loyalty attacks them anyway, resulting in a cascade effect which inadvertently leads to Gus' downfall.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In Lucha Libre, the easiest way to win a trios or atomicos match is to score the pinfall or submission on the designated captain of that team.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Downplayed in the Weapons & Warriors game. The army doesn't lose if the general falls, but you lose one of your dices, cutting your movement in half.
  • In the 5th Edition of Warhammer, killing the general not only cost your opponent a powerful hero and all the General-related benefits but actually caused every enemy unit to test for Panic, possibly causing the entire enemy army to run for the hills. Nowadays, this only affects Undead armies, who start to fall apart because the general is also a necromancer that is no longer animating them and because they have fewer General-related benefits, though killing the enemy general is still a victory condition in certain scenarios.
  • Warhammer 40,000 uses this more in the background material than in game mechanics:
    • Orks (and Warhammer's Orcs) are normally in a state of Enemy Civil War until some powerful Warboss gathers them into a WAAAGH!, and if he dies at any point, his army tends to dissolve into its component tribes and clans as his would-be heirs compete to take over. This doesn't mean that the Orks will stop fighting their original enemy, though, it just means that the enemy is dealing with dozens of competing warbands instead of a united horde.
    • Followers of Chaos can be even more fractious than Greenskins, so killing their leader may simply result in a brief pause as a new leader asserts themselves, drive them to eat each other (maybe literally), or fight on even harder.
    • Played mostly straight with the Tau Ethereals, the members of the guiding caste who, it is implied, use a form of Mind Control to make sure Tau society works the way it does. If they die, the rest of the Tau army can undergo a Heroic BSoD and bug out... or, without the Ethereal's guidance, go into an Unstoppable Rage and massacre the enemy with massed pulse rifle fire.
    • Tyranids are the major instance of this being both a fluff and in-game trope. The 'nids rely on their synapse creatures to keep the overall connection to their Hive Mind intact and keep their forces organized. When the synapse connection is lost, Tyranids revert to pure animalistic behavior and are much easier to fight. On the tabletop, when synapse creatures are destroyed any Tyranids that are out of synapse suffer penalties to their stats and can even turn on themselves or their fellow 'nids.
    • Going straight for the enemy command structure was a trademark tactic of Warmaster Horus Lupercal, Primarch of the Sons of Horus and leader of the Horus Heresy. When the Siege of Terra was dragging on and loyalist reinforcements were getting closer, Horus lowered the shields of his flagship to tempt the Emperor to try the same approach with a teleportation attack. Ironically, Horus was killed in the duel and his own legion fell victim to this trope, fleeing with his body and leading the retreat.
    • Averted in regards to the Alpha Legion. Players have to select a character model to lead their forces, which is called their warlord, and they get to pick a bonus to represent that model's leadership skills. The Alpha Legion can choose to take a random bonus... but unlike any other faction, when the warlord is killed, another model can take its place (and still gets a bonus!). To kill the warlord at that point, the enemy has to wipe out every single character model.
  • Narrowly averted, then played straight in the Old World of Darkness. In the Demon: The Fallen back-story, had Michael defeated Lucifer before the War of Wrath began, the Rebellion would have been stopped. He couldn't. Much later, when the Fallen were cast into the Abyss, God made damn sure Lucifer wasn't with them, going as far as to let him go free (even if depowered) because, in his presence, other Demons would have endured ANY imprisonment.
  • Not quite averted, but explored in the Dungeons & Dragons module "Red Hand of Doom." The game calculates victory by how many "victory points" the players have been able to amass over the course of the game: killing other enemy commanders, disrupting major supply lines, breaking up its alliance with the Ghostlord, successful actions in the actual battle, etc. Killing Hravek Kharn, the main commander of the army, does award a sizeable chunk of victory points (about 1/5 of what's necessary to win the battle), but it's stated that killing him without securing other significant victories will only result in the command transferring to a member of the Quirky Miniboss Squad or even an Elite Mook; after all, they still outnumber the defenders by a decent margin and have much more professional troops. Even killing every named enemy commander won't put the players all the way to victory.
  • The almost universally known example is, of course, Chess. If you can checkmate the enemy king, it doesn't matter how horribly outnumbered your pieces are or what strong position your enemy has achieved, they simply lose.
  • In Bang!, if the Sheriff dies, the Deputy Sheriffs (if any) lose too.
  • In the Iron Kingdoms wargames (WARMACHINE and HORDES), killing the enemy warcaster or warlock is usually an Instant-Win Condition regardless of the scenario being played. The common term for this kind of victory is "Caster Kill."

  • Macbeth. Although the battle itself is happening offstage and we are led to believe that it's going poorly for Macbeth's loyalists, once Macduff emerges from the castle with Macbeth's head on a pike the fighting stops. Everybody immediately hails Prince Malcolm as the new King of Scotland.
    • Also happens earlier, where Macbeth and Banquo defeat Macdonwald's forces by killing him and displaying his head on a pike. In this case, Macdonwald's army is formed mostly of mercenaries, who realize that since their payer is dead, they have no more reason to fight.

    Video Games 
  • The Pazzi uprising against the Medicis in Assassin's Creed II collapses after Ezio kills Francesco de'Pazzi and hangs his body off the walls of the palace for his followers to see.
  • Battle for Wesnoth turns this into a game element. Each force is led by a commander, whose death means defeat no matter how many minions he has left. These units can still act if there are allied leaders, however, but defeating all leaders is the most common way to win a scenario.
  • One of the PVP battlegrounds in World of Warcraft allows an instant win for killing the other faction's NPC leader.
    • In the classic dungeon Dire Maul, after the party kills King Gordok all the surviving ogres declare them the new rulers of Dire Maul. If the party does so without killing the other bosses, they will get extra rewards in the tribute chest that they receive.
    • Killing some raid bosses causes the trash near them to disappear until the instance resets next week. Many bosses' adds disappear when they're defeated, but there are some subversions, such as Sartharion (whose adds often kill the players after they defeat him with the drakes still alive), Herod (who causes an army of very weak Scarlet Trainees to rush the party after he dies), and Instructor Razuvious (whose Understudies are still alive but get a damage-increasing debuff that enables you to kill them very quickly).
    • Wrath of the Lich King is a subversion and a justified use of this trope. When Arthas Menethil is killed, the heroes learn that without a Lich King the undead Scourge will run out of control, becoming more dangerous than before. Bolvar Fordragon then takes up the Helm of Domination to become the new Lich King and order the Scourge to stand down.
  • Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander have similar conditions as the standard, with the added caveat that a destroyed Commander/ACU goes up like a nuclear bomb, typically taking out the rest of their army/base anyway. This is justified by the fact that they're the literal brains of the operation, and serve as the Avatar for the player. Every other unit is just a machine controlled by the commander, and have no direction upon his death. Skirmish and multiplayer games can be set to allow the player to continue if they still have other forces remaining.
    • In Total Annihilation, this sometimes leads to 'combombing', where a player will deliberately position their commander in the centre of an opponent's base- typically early in a game, when the resulting explosion will do more damage than anything else currently available could, wiping out most or all of the opponent's forces and infrastructure. Naturally, this only works if the option to fight on is enabled, otherwise this will result in either a Mutual Kill or an instant loss.
      • On the other end of the morality spectrum was the other version of 'combombing', which involved flying in a rapidly built transport plane to pick up the enemy commander, and then self-destruct the plane. Units without hilariously massive amounts of health would not survive. If the option not to fight on is enabled, it's an instant win. If it is, the bomber would usually try to position the commander in the most harmful position possible, to win quickly. Naturally, players frowned on this. Fortunately, the AI was just as vulnerable to it.
  • In the Total War games, a general's death on the battlefield causes the rest of his army to take a morale hit, increasing the odds it will rout. And on the strategic level, wiping out a faction leader and all of his heirs, through battle and/or assassination, will cause that faction to collapse and join the generic "rebels" faction no matter how large and powerful it was.
    • In the Medieval games peasant uprisings are particularly prone to this, being mostly made up of peasants with terrible morale. So long as the rebel captain isn't part of a unit of spearmen, one 20-man unit of knights can rout an army of a thousand peasants with one good charge.
    • In Medieval II: Total War, this is the bane of crusader armies. Joining a crusade makes an army move faster, reduces its upkeep, and allows the recruitment of zealous religious mercenaries, but it's the character leading that army that joined the crusade, not the army itself. If said character dies and there isn't another noble to take over and take up the cross, the crusading army will disintegrate in just a few turns on the strategic map.
    • Averted to a degree from Empire onwards. Killing generals on the battlefield would not necessarily stop enemies (especially veteran units) from retreating that easily, while in Shogun 2, assassinating the daimyo and his heirs only serves to hand power over to said daimyo's wife. Also, in Empire, actual government leaders are never present on the battlefield. They are also not characters on the map, so they can't be assassinated either. They can still die due to age or random event, but there is always someone to take their place. In fact, under a democracy, presidents are periodically subject to re-election.
    • Zigzagged in Warhammer. The Undead factions are dependent on the presence of the general, and if the general is killed it's only a matter of time before the rest of the army crumbles. However, the rest of the factions follow the previous examples, as armies in this situation will take a hit to morale, but not immediately retreat unless they were already losing.
    • The main endgame threat in Warhammer II's Mortal Empires campaign consists of a massive invasion of the civilized world by the forces of Chaos, led by Archaon the Everchosen. Multiple full stacks of some of the strongest infantry in the game start marching down from the Chaos Wastes, with more spawning over time to replace defeated armies. The only way to stop the invasion for good is to kill Archaon and his followers, whereupon the remaining Chaos armies simply disappear from the game.
  • Subverted in StarCraft, twice. First in Protoss Mission 2, "Into the Flames", Tassadar destroys a Cerebrate in hopes it will disable (or at least disorganize) the forces it controls. It does neither. Then in the finale, the Protoss with help from the Terrans go after the Overmind itself, figuring this should render the Zerg swarm helpless. Cue the expansion: Brood War.
    • The subversion is justified in-game; if a Cerebrate is killed, the Overmind simply makes a new one, with all the memories and experience of the old Cerebrate still intact. Finding a way permanently kill these Cerebrates and successfully apply this trope is a crucial plot point.
    • Played straight whenever a vital Zerg controller is successfully destroyed; Any Zerg that entity was controlling will go berserk and massacre anything near it, including fellow Zerg. This is a BIG DEAL for the Zerg if said entity was responsible for their entire species. To their credit, both the original Zerg Overmind and later Kerrigan created "backup controllers", that would salvage small portions of the swarm in case that happened.
    • Cleaning up the devastating aftermath of this trope is a major theme in the Heart Of The Swarm expansion.
  • In several battles in Shining Series, killing the resident (minor) boss enemy will instantly cause every other enemy on the field to drop dead. Also applicable to your team in most games, where the death of the leader's character is an automatic total defeat.
  • An example of this is seen frequently in Beat Em Ups, where if you defeat the final boss of a stage while he still has Mooks on screen, all of them spontaneously and simultaneously die.
  • Thankfully played straight in Nowel's scenario in Magical Battle Arena, where all you have to do to beat the combined forces of Ruru, Kirara, Sarara, Nanoha, and Fate in her final stage is to take out Ruru.
  • The Age of Empires series has the Regicide game mode, where the death of a player's king would cause them to lose, and all their units surrender.
    • Inverted in every campaign where you manage a historical figure (like Joan d'Arc or Genghis Khan) as a hero unit. Their death is an instant loss condition.
  • In Mount & Blade and its variants, this is both averted and played straight. Averted when it comes to the enemy leader and played straight when it comes to your army.
  • Zigzagged in Fire Emblem. Some missions end immediately after you defeat the opposing army's commander, while in others the enemy will continue fighting even after you kill the boss until you complete another objective, like wiping out the enemy to a man, surviving for a given number of turns, or occupying the tile the boss was sitting on. It's entirely possible (and annoying) in one of these missions for your lord unit to kill the boss only to be finished off by a bunch of Mooks next turn.
    • Justified in Fire Emblem Gaiden. Just about every stage sans the Final Boss is a "Rout" mission, so enemies will still fight to the last man even when their commander is down. Yet the map where you fight Rudolf is an assassination map - before it starts, Rudolf will tell his men that if any of them are left standing once he falls, they are to lay down their weapons and surrender. Naturally, when Rudolf is defeated, the map ends no matter how many enemies are left standing - because they all surrendered.
    • A plot-based version occurs in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War; it's not clear just how many of Sigurd's army dies at the Battle of Belhalla (in fact, it's entirely possible that most of them survived), but with Sigurd dead, they end up scattering to the winds rather than try to renew the fight, claim their inheritances, or clear their names.
    • Invoked to tear-jerking level in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. As Byleth and their team storm Edelgard's stronghold in Verdant Wind and Silver Snow routes, she insists that Byleth finishes her off. In her own words, her men won't stop fighting as long she lives. Byleth complies, though visibly pained doing so.
  • Warcraft is good with this trope. Played straight in the first where the orcs win after King Llane is murdered by Garona. Invoked by Orgrim Doomhammer in the second when he killed Lothar but subverted as it only makes the Alliance angrier and the Horde lost the battle. Averted in the third when Arthas killed Mal'Ganis (because he was not the real leader of the Scourge) but played straight with the death of Archimonde.
    • Llane himself frequently stated that "as long as a strong heart was on the throne, the men's morale would not falter." It's possible that Stormwind would have held if Llane survived.
    • According to the lore, Orgrim's gambit nearly worked, as the Alliance forces were on the brink of routing after Lothar's death. It was only thanks to Turalyon picking up Lothar's broken sword and knocking out Orgrim that the tide was turned. And even that only happened because Orgrim shot his mouth off and told Turalyon that orcs weren't native to Azeroth (Turalyon was being tormented by a crisis of the faith at the time). After that battle, and with Orgrim captured, the Horde was in full retreat. It worked in the long run, though, as Lothar was the only one who held the Alliance together, and it quickly went to hell after the end of the war.
  • The Rambo Light Gun Game uses this in a minor way: whenever there's an "officer" among the enemies, killing him first will startle some of the soldiers on-screen, which will not attack for a few seconds.
  • Iji subverts this twice. Killing off Elite Krotera doesn't stop the Tasen's dominion as they're on the brink of extinction and they'll fight back at anything to the last man. Near the end, Komato General Tor discusses this trope with Iji as he reminds her he's just one general in their immense army and that if he goes down, another general will give the command to obliterate Earth. And anyway, he already gave the order and only a word from him will stop the final attack. Only beating the crap out of him (without killing him) convinces him to call it off.
  • Diablo II does this in Act 3. When you kill the high council the Zakarumites will no longer attack you and flee in fear.
  • Knights of the Old Republic tries to invoke the trope but fails. When Bastila leads a few Jedi to board and cripple Darth Revan's flagship and capture the man himself, his apprentice takes this as a good reason to have his vessels fire on said flagship's bridge and usurp the leadership of the Sith empire.
    • Zig-Zagged in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Revan managed to survive (long story) and amasses a cult. Taking down the now-insane Revan does end the cult's plans and leave it in disarray, playing it straight. There's also Vitiate, who zig-zags it. Sure, the Sith Empire is pretty much imploding by the time the Makeb arc rolls around, due to a combination of bad military policy, Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, Darth Malgus's rebellion, and the deaths of several Dark Council members in addition to the Jedi Knight taking out the Emperor. But Subverted when it turns out that the Knight was only Fighting a Shadow and Darth Marr takes command of the Empire with intent on correcting its fatal flaws. But then Double Subverted when Vitiate shows back up as Emperor Valkorian of The Eternal Empire, crushes both the weakened Empire and beleaguered Republic, kills Darth Marr, and even in death, is possessing the Player Character, giving all kinds of unwanted advice.
  • Played pretty much straight in Soul Calibur III: Raphael Sorel's story mode starts during the attack of his mansion/castle by disproportionate forces: an army (complete with some catapults and trebuchets) against him, Amy Sorel and his too-good-to-be-shown-onscreen servants. What do you have to do? Defeat the general, of course!
  • Played straight out of the book in the Dynasty Warriors series. Killing the enemy commander results in instant victory for your side, even if you and your commander are the only ones still alive.
    • Simultaneously subverted. When you kill an enemy officer, the soldiers in his unit keep fighting... unless they're too busy running away in fear.
  • In Resistance: Fall of Man, the deaths of the Angels at the end of the game cause the rest of the Chimera to die off once they lose their psychic contact with their Angel controllers. However, they come back in the sequel after the emergence of a new Angel/human hybrid, Daedalus.
  • Scarface: The World Is Yours handles this in an odd way: you can kill all the gangsters you want, but unless you mow down the leader, the gang in question will be back for more. While killing the leader in itself does not kill all the rest, it does prevent that gang from returning, and the leader is usually one of the last to spawn anyway.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War has the "Assassinate" victory condition, where killing the enemy commander is an Instant-Win Condition.
    • Also, all of the Tau's units in the game will suffer massive morale damage if their Ethereal is killed.
    • The Instant-Win Condition for the Tau and Ork strongholds in the Dark Crusade campaign is killing their leader, which causes the army to fracture and retreat. Deliciously subverted with the Orks however, as Gorgutz not only manages to escape but detonates his entire stronghold as he leaves, just because.
  • This seems to occur at the end of Half-Life, with the death of the Nihilanth ending the threat of its army. The ending of the expansion Opposing Force however shows that it was really a thermonuclear warhead obliterating the entire facility that ended the invasion, the Xen army not able to teleport to any other location on Earth. (The game's relevance to continuity is dubious, but Word of God has confirmed the validity of the ending.)
  • Fallout:
    • In Fallout: New Vegas, defeating Legate Lanius by either killing him or convincing him to retreat will officially win the battle for the NCR (and if the player is fighting for Mr. House or an Independent Vegas, all that's left to do is to take care of General Oliver via the same means). However, this is also simultaneously averted: Lanius is second-in-command of the Legion after Caesar. Regardless of whether or not you're gunning for the Legion, killing Caesar himself has basically no effect on the end battle, although it is stated that Caesar himself is essential to the Legion's survival as a whole, as he's the personality the Legion is built around and without him, it will fracture.
    • After the Master's death in the first Fallout, most of the surviving first-generation Super Mutants emigrated east, settling in Broken Hills, and later Jacobstown. Since they and most other remnants of the Master's Army have no interest in continuing their former mission, this trope is pretty much played straight.
    • Subverted by the Enclave from Fallout 2 through Fallout 3. In spite of losing at least four major headquarters and having their entire upper echelon of leaders gutted at least twice, the Enclave has managed to regroup and recover from their losses almost every single time. Only time will tell if the Enclave has finally been defeated once and for all, after the destruction of their headquarters at Adams Air Force Base in Broken Steel.
    • By the time the Sole Survivor finds them, The Minutemen in Fallout 4 have already gone through this. Following the death of Joe Becker, their previous General, they fell victim to factional infighting, splintering, desertions, and eventually betrayal, all culminating in the Quincy Massacre. As a result, the once universally beloved and well-respected citizens’ protection militia is now seen as a laughingstock in Boston. Should you accept the Generalship, you have to rebuild the entire army from scratch, including recapturing their Castle as a central base of operations.
      • In the Nuka World DLC, eliminating the named bosses of the Disciples, Pack, and Operators gangs is all that’s needed to deal the gangs a fatal blow and eject them from the Nuka Cola park for good.
  • It happens often in Crusader Kings. If you declare war on an enemy king, quickly defeat him and conquer his provinces, you can force him to hand over his titles to you. All of his vassals will then become yours, and any that had taken arms to defend their former liege will cease hostilities. On easier settings, this means that you can conquer the totality (or almost) of the map with relative ease. Crusader Kings II and Crusader Kings III added various difficulties that make this much harder to pull offnote .
  • Justified in EarthBound (1994) after defeating Giygas, in that he was the source of all the enemies' evil thoughts.
    • For that matter, defeating any Sanctuary guardian causes all the enemies in the area to run away from Ness and his friends.
  • In Lord Monarch, if king is defeated by other player, all his units and houses will defect to the side who killed him and all golds are transferred to victor's possession. If killed by monsters or from exhaustion, all units and houses will disappear.
  • Played with in Lords of Magic: Defeating an enemy lord removes their faction from the game, and the game ends when only one lord's faction remains. However, if two lords ally together and one is defeated, the surviving lord takes control of the defeated lord's faction, and if a lord dies without allies, their soldiers become neutral wandering bandits and swear to avenge themselves against the lord who defeated them.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, when the Archdemon is killed, the Darkspawn all turn and flee. Justified in that he's mindlinked to them: the Darkspawn Chronicles DLC, in which you play a Darkspawn, describes this as a voice in your head telling you to kill.
    • Lampshaded early in the game when Alistair explains how to end the invasion: "We cut off the snake's head."
    • This is Subverted in two ways: First, if you complete "the dark ritual", the Archdemon isn't actually killed. Secondly, in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, it turns out that many Darkspawn didn't go underground, and most of the game is spent fighting them.
  • In Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, killing a boss causes all of his minions will drop dead.
  • Justified in Super Robot Wars: Original Generation: after Bian Zoldark is defeated, his troops scatter, but only because he previously gave them the order to do so if he was killed.
    • Although quite a few of them try to regroup under his second in command to continue their war. Essentially everyone in the force that wasn't in on the plan of submitting to the Federation upon his defeat or those that only agreed thinking they wouldn't lose and changed their minds when they did, kept fighting. And when these guys are defeated a few remnants go into hiding and again try to restart the war in the next game.
  • Happens in Bastion. On the second level, there's a large windbag guarding the core being supported by many smaller windbags. Defeating the head windbag will cause others to shift their loyalty toward you... and then spontaneously die.
  • Justified in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, since all of the sand monsters dissolve once you kill off The Vizier.
  • A Lord of the Rings game for the Game Boy Advance has mechanics which embody this trope. The battlefield is divided into three stripes - the middle and the flanks. All three can have leaders on them - either named characters or generic captains. Those generate command points, which are required to make units act on the battlefield. When a stripe is devoid of those - either because they died or left for another one - only the natural rate of command point generation applies, which happens to be "one point or none at all". So, basically - without a leader, units stand without orders, and the enemy can slaughter them however he pleases.
  • In Centurion: Defender of Rome the death of a general is followed by the general retreat of a significant part of his army. If the units are not very brave to begin with then it overlaps with Keystone Army. Also provides a strategic example; if the player loses Italy, taxes are no longer collected in any province.
    • And if that's not enough, numerous enemy provinces have the enemy general out in front — meaning that he's likely the first unit to fall in battle.
  • In Killing Floor, killing the Boss note  causes all remaining enemies to drop dead and completes the round.
  • Once you kill the leader of the Lutadors in Inversion all the rest basically give up. Despite the fact they had basically won the war a month ago but it's probably best not to think too much about it.
  • In Commander Keen Episode 3: Keen Must Die, Keen faces the Vorticons, a dog-like alien race, who try to do everything to kill Keen. When Keen kills his arch-enemy Mortimer McMire, the vorticons instantly return to their previous peaceful life, as it turns out Mortimer used to be enslaving the whole race with "mind-belts".
  • In the third level of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (the club level), a few bouncers usually lead the charge against your characters. Once they go down, the current wave of mooks panic and book it instantly.
  • Averted in BioShock Infinite. Killing Daisy Fitzroy doesn't put an end to the Vox Populi. In fact, they've remained a threat, if not bigger than ever throughout the game now that Daisy is no longer controlling them.
    • Also averted for the Founders. By the time you kill Comstock, most of his army has been put through the wringer by a combination of Booker, the Vox Populi, hurricane weather, and thousands of tears. Any boys in blue who have survived up to this point cannot hope to dent the Vox's blimp armada.
  • Splinter Cell:
    • The penultimate mission of the original game ends as soon as you kill Grinko - the still-surviving mercenaries under him figure that, with him dead, there's no reason to keep doing a job they're no longer getting paid for.
    • In Pandora Tomorrow, the capture of Darah Dan Doa leader Suhadi Sadono effectively ends the conflict in East Timor. Given that he was really only perpetuating the war by threatening to release a deadly virus on the world if he is killed, and then explicitly fighting on the front lines to keep his forces from being defeated (because their opponents refused to fight back for fear of killing him), as soon as that pesky virus issue is resolved and he's taken captive, the Darah Dan Doa is overwhelmed in short order.
  • At the end of Raiden Fighters, chances are you've killed the so-called "dictator" controlling the enemy forces. Credits then say they start running away.
    • Raiden Fighters 2 ends with the same possible result. But the ending credits do say it's important to keep watch of the enemy. Cue Raiden Fighters Jet.
  • Played straight and then subverted in Homeworld; gameplay-wise, destroying the enemy flagship in the final level is an Instant-Win Condition, justified by the fact that said flagship contains the almost-literal God-Emperor of the enemy faction and morale would almost certainly collapse immediately. (Though in practice the flagship is so far from the action that you won't get near it until the enemy has already been pounded flat.) Ambiguously canon semi-sequel Cataclysm then goes on to explore what happened next: A Succession Crisis deteriorated into full-blown Enemy Civil War and a few vengeful hardliners are still mounting raids on the titular Homeworld fifteen years later.
  • This trope forms a key game mechanic in the Langrisser series. Killing an enemy leader will cause the subordinate units in the squad to die automatically. Thus, taking out the leader first removes the threat from the map but limits the possible experience the player can gain, while killing each individual unit maximizes experience gained but requires more time and resources (since sub units get buffs from their leader's field of influence).
  • Justified in Batman: Arkham Origins: Deadshot is apparently such a Bad Boss that any Mook who hasn't yet been taken out will instantly run for the exit as soon as Batman has taken care of their boss.
  • In F.E.A.R.'s penultimate level, killing Paxton Fettel causes the Replica Soldiers he was commanding to freeze in place.
  • The Metal Gear series has a long-standing history of averting this trope:
    • After the final battle with Big Boss in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Snake and Holly are pursued by Zanzibarland troops to the rendezvous point, where Charlie pulls a Gunship Rescue.
    • Two occasions in Metal Gear Solid after Snake seemingly defeats Liquid. The first occurs after shooting down the Hind. Snake even notes that just because he's taken out their leader doesn't mean that the terrorists will give up. The second time is after Snake knocks Liquid off Metal Gear and Snake and Meryl/Otacon must escape and have to battle Genome soldiers on the way out. Of course, when Liquid finally does die, they are not pursued any further.
    • After Sergei's death at the end of the tanker chapter in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, his daughter Olga simply takes over from him offscreen.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, after Volgin dies, his troops still come after Snake and EVA and pursue them all the way to the lake. Even after Snake takes out The Boss and has his final confrontation with Ocelot, MiGs chase the WiG with the intention of shooting it down (though they back off due to orders from Kruschev).
    • Played straight in Metal Gear Solid V. When Big Boss/Snake lands in a coma at the end of Ground Zeroes, the entire organization of MSF essentially collapses along with him. A cassette tape found in The Phantom Pain reveals that Miller tried to recruit some MSF survivors to Diamond Dogs during the nine-year Time Skip, but they refused to come back simply because Snake wasn't there. On top of it all, Word of God reveals that Snake is the only reason Miller and Ocelot work together at all, or any of the Mother Base staff for that matter; he outright states that Diamond Dogs would collapse without him.
    • Jetstream Sam's Start of Darkness in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was caused by this being averted. As both Monsoon and Armstrong taunt him over the fact that despite being a One-Man Army who would frequently butcher entire cartels, or cut off the metaphorical heads by cutting off their leaders' literal heads, there would always be another underboss to replace the leader, there would also be another cartel to replace ones that were entirely dismantled, and Sam's fight was destined to failure without support. This realization (plus being defeated by Armstrong) solidified his Face–Heel Turn into a Wind of Destruction.
  • Subverted in Final Fantasy II. When the Emperor is killed in his cyclone castle, Leon simply takes over the Empire... then loses it BACK to the Emperor when he returns from Hell with newfound powers. Played straight with the second battle with the Emperor, which is the final boss fight of the game, where his soul is destroyed, and presumably his empire as well.
  • Final Fantasy VII plays with this trope quite a bit. The goal of AVALANCHE in the opening Midgar parts of the game is to destroy the Mako Reactors controlled by Shinra to wreck them. When President Shinra is killed by Big Bad Sephiroth at the end of these segments, it looks like Shinra is toast.... then his son Rufus appears and takes over the company for the majority of the rest of the game, and Shinra continues to antagonize the player party throughout the game.
    • Played straight when Rufus himself is killed toward the end of Disc 2. Although Co-Dragons Heidegger and Scarlet take command, it's made clear by the Turks and other civilians that Rufus's death has left the company's private army without direction, and Heidegger and Scarlet are not cut out for leadership. Then Heidegger and Scarlet are killed in the Proud Clod boss fight near the end of the Midgar Disc Two Final Dungeon, and rogue scientist Hojo, Sephiroth's father, who is attempting to destroy the city, is killed by AVALANCHE in a following boss fight, ending the dungeon and leaving Shinra completely leaderless and insignificant for the final disc of play. Rufus turns out to have survived, but his office was destroyed, and the rest of Shinra Headquarters is destroyed by Meteor in the ending. Although Shinra returns in Advent Children, they had shrunk considerably in the 3 years since the end of the game.
    • Gameplay-wise, this is one of the winning requirements in the Fort Condor battles. After enough time has passed on the battlefield, the enemy commander will pop up and start advancing himself. If the troops you are hiring are able to kill him (you will need a good number of troops), you win the battle. It's also played straight if the enemies rush the shed where the player is directing the Fort Condor forces, which will force the player party into a mini-boss fight against the commander, a much stronger version of the Grand Horn enemy. The team simply needs to kill the mini-boss to win the battle. In the final Fort Condor battle, which is part of the main storyline and thus has to be faced, this is recommended to get a very strong piece of armor, but if the player is defeated in this battle, they lose Fort Condor, the Huge Materia in it, and the Phoenix Summon Materia.
  • Ogre Battle:
    • Clearing maps is usually accomplished by defeating the boss of that map. You don't even need to beat the boss's whole unit, just the boss themselves. Similarly, you lose if your leader dies.
    • With all other units, killing the unit leader won't remove the unit outright, but after the battle, the survivors will ignore all orders and try to retreat back to the base.
  • In Telepath Tactics, killing a starred character will cause an instant victory. In the campaign, this means that killing bosses usually causes you to win the mission instantly. The same vulnerability applies to your protagonists, however.
  • The Binding of Isaac averts this with most bosses: their death does not kill all their flunkies, and you'll still have to deal with them even after the boss dies. Played straight with Mom (and post-Mom bosses), where the death of the primary boss triggers the death of everything else in the room instantly.
  • In Evil Genius, you lose automatically if your Genius is killed. Justified, of course, as the Genius is the Player Avatar, but also justified because if your Evil Genius was kept deep in the base, the good guys would have to fight their way through all of your traps and minions to get to you. Still, it's particularly annoying when your Genius is watching an agent get tortured in the middle of an otherwise airtight base, and he escapes and kills the player while the guards were all elsewhere.
  • Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon has this in the campaign. If your command ship sinks, then you get a game over, even if the rest of your fleet could have certainly taken out the remaining enemy ships. Presumably, Jim went down with his ship. In skirmish mode, due to there being no story or viewpoint character, this is averted, and losing the command ship simply means that the next ship in line takes over.
  • In the Dominions series, you need commanders to lead your troops. If everyone present capable of leading undead is killed or fleed, the undead melt away. Similarly, if everyone present who can lead magical units dies or flees, that's that for magical units. And if every commander at the battle — which could be only one skilled commander with 300 troops — dies? Well, the entire army will rout, even if they outnumber the enemy a hundred to one.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In the series, this is the case for clans of Giants. Giants typically lead solitary (or small groups at most), nomadic lives herding mammoths. They mostly keep to themselves and do not attack unless provoked. However, historically, there have been some groups of Giants who have organized into clans numbering in the hundreds. Giants who organize into these clans are typically led by a high chieftain with "absolute" authority. In times of war, the high chieftain will rally an army of Giants for organized attacks. If the chieftain is killed, however, the clan tends to fall quickly into disarray.
    • This is also frequently true of Goblin tribes. Killing the Warlord/Warchief (who is typically the largest and strongest Goblin of a tribe) and/or the tribe's shaman will typically cause the rest to crumble. Crossing over with Keystone Army, the death of a Warchief or shaman sometimes causes the other tribe members to stop attacking altogether.
  • Killing any summoner in Nexus Clash instantly banishes all of their minions back to the dust or (in the case of angelic or demonic summoners) back to heaven or hell. The Wyrm Master demon is the sole exception, as its tentacle spawn have a life of their own once summoned.
  • A consistent part of the XCOM and X-COM series: find the creature or thing in charge of the invasion and kill it to win. The Alien Brain in the original 1993 game, the creature in T'leth in Terror From the Deep, the Uber-Ethereal in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and the fully-powered Avatarnote  in XCOM 2. Aversions are in XCOM Apocalypse, where you have to shatter the alien infrastructure just to get close to the controlling entity, and XCOM Interceptor where there is no explicit leader, and you instead have to destroy the alien superweapon. XCOM: Chimera Squad justifies it instead: you're explicitly shutting down operations by the Progeny, Gray Phoenix, and Sacred Coil to uncover their leadership, and then shutting down the groups by capturing or killing the leaders behind them, but the groups fall apart because of the importance of the leaders: Gray Phoenix can't continue without their leaders because no one else can actually pilot the UFOs they planned to steal; the Progeny are all mentally controlled by their incredibly powerful psionic leader, and revert when she's defeated; Sacred Coil utterly collapse when their master plan of bringing back the Elders spectacularly fails to do so. Atlas, or rather the Shrike mercenaries, also collapse when their leader is captured or killed, but the mission in which you do so collapses their base of operations as well, so they can't operate in an organized fashion anymore.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • In the original The Legend of Zelda some groups of monsters would have a leader (indistinguishable from the other enemies). If said leader is killed, all other enemies in the room are instantly killed.
    • Averted in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Although Ganon got killed off for good in the first game, his followers are still ruthlessly determined and organised, setting up many traps to ensnare Link.
    • Hyrule Warriors is similar to the above-mentioned Dynasty Warriors (what with being a spin-off collaboration and all). In many cases, the current condition of the battlefield doesn't matter — should the keystone captain or base fall in battle, that side automatically loses. Frequently a moot point for the enemy squad (as the enemy base won't fall until said captain is defeated unless said captain strays far from the base), but potentially a worry for the player — it's quite possible for a player to lose because he or she couldn't keep an allied captain alive, even though the allies have conquered most of the map's bases and the player hasn't been hit once.
  • Azur Lane: Defeat the boss on her node and you complete the map regardless of how many mooks or planes are left, even if they were one more shot away from destroying your vanguard or flagship. Also applies to the player in PVE, though, as you lose as soon as your flagship is defeated even if there are still healthy members of the backline around.
  • At the end of the final battle of The Wonderful 101, Jergingha is vaporized after losing what might be the biggest Beam-O-War QTE in gaming history. As soon as he's dead, the rest of the GEATHJERK fleet self-destructs. Possibly justified since he was their fortress so he would be transmitting orders even after entering his final One-Winged Angel form, but then subverted when some leftover troops show up alive and well for the epilogue.
  • Invoked in Mass Effect with a very devious use of Schmuck Bait. The Citadel is designed to be perfect for inhabitation and to serve as a seat of power for galactic civilization. It's actually a Mass Relay toward Dark Space, where the Reapers are lying in wait. When it's time for them to destroy galactic civilization, the Reapers can enter through the Citadel relay and start immediately with its most powerful leaders and embassies, sending the rest of the galaxy into disarray.
  • In Quake IV, as soon as you defeat the True Final Boss, all Strogg in the area will die.
  • In Grand Theft Auto Online's final mission of The Doomsday Heist, you pursue Avon Hertz in an airborne chase on jetpacks, while under attack from helicopters piloted by his Clone Army. As soon as you kill Avon, the clones will stop attacking you and retreat.
  • A valid tactic in Crusader Kings II and III: alliances are made between leaders, not nations, and military power is given to a leader by their vassals. Therefore, if you are preparing to fight a large nation with many vassals and multiple allies that you cannot overcome through military power alone, assassinating the leader of that nation will pass power to their heir, who will immediately lose the support of the nation's vassals (because new leaders are regarded as weak and possibly ripe for a coup d'etat) as well as any alliances they don't keep through their immediate connections (since alliances in the game are often cemented through marriage, a long-term ruler keeps alliances through their children, but the heir does not necessarily keep alliances through their siblings). It's even possible to see a large realm splinter into factional infighting, which you can then mop up by sweeping in with your combined army to conquer the counties you covet. However, this can (and almost certainly will) happen to you too!
    • In Crusader Kings II, killing a king in battle (a rare random event) may help destabilize the enemy nation as described above. However, if you capture a king in battle, the King can be forced to surrender the war, regardless of how good or bad the entire war has been going up to that point.
  • Averted in Persona 5. Late in the game, the party goes up against a massive conspiracy headed by Masayoshi Shido, a candidate for Prime Minister. After the Phantom Thieves change the leader's heart, the rest of the conspiracy simply prepares to pick up where they left off.
    • Interestingly, this point is foreshadowed early on after changing the heart of their third target; party member Yusuke outright states that the loss of the leader doesn't guarantee the group's demise.
  • At the start of the final battle of Perfect Dark, Joanna namedrops the "cut off the head and the body will die" principle when fighting the Big Bad, the Skedar King.
  • Played with in Transformers: War for Cybertron, when the reported death of Autobot leader Sentinel Prime throws the Autobots into disarray until they're rallied by Optimus (who only accepts the title of Prime when Sentinel's death is confirmed). Earlier in the same game, the Decepticons are briefly left confused and scattered when Omega Supreme shoots down Megatron's command ship, leaving him out of contact with his forces.
    • In Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Megatron's death at the hands of Metroplex results in the Decepticons go from launching a massive invasion of Autobot City that comes close to destroying the Ark to sitting around doing nothing but listening to Starscream making self-aggrandizing speeches. It's heavily implied that Shockwave only gives Starscream the absolute minimum of lip service while carrying out his own agenda, while Soundwave quietly goes behind Starscream's back to bring Megatron back to life.
  • In the Avernum series:
    • Deconstructed in the first game: one of the three end-level objectives involves sneaking your party into Emperor Hawthorne III's own palace using a magic portal and murder him. Not only the Empire is barely fazed by his demise, but this event gives them a valid excuse to invade Avernum in retaliation, starting the big war that serves as the background for the second game. In the same game, killing the Slith warchief Sss-Thsss will disband most of his army, with scarce gangs of wild Slithzerikai still carrying on his will.
    • In the second game, one of the three required objectives to end the war with the Empire involves killing the commander-in-chief Garzhand. Justified, as we learn from the following game, in that the new Empress Prazac would rather make peace with the Avernite and the whole punitive expedition idea was Garzhad's, wanting to eradicate all threats to Avernum.
    • In the fourth game, once you find out the root of the two main problems plaguing Avernum (the Shades and the Sea Monsters), killing the responsible entity will solve everything. Justified for both: the Sea Monsters needed a constant supply of magic and food to keep going, and as for the Rentar-Ihrno's faction, by the time you reach the boss most of the followers have died anyway.
    • In the fifth game, during the sojourn in Drake Pillars, you can run into plenty of traps and attacks from Lysstak's followers. Once you manage to kill him though, walking through the areas which normally spring the ambush is safe, as his followers ran away after his death. Similarly, Dorikas is the only thing keeping the Darkside Loyalist together and strong, killing him defuses their threat.
  • Watch Dogs: Legion: Averted and played straight together. By the end of the story, the London DedSec has eliminated both Nigel Cass, leader of the paramilitary organization Albion that's turned London into a police-state and Mary Kelley, head of the notorious crime syndicate Clan Kelley. As it's pointed out in-game, both organizations have a clear and active line of succession that ensures that their activities, whether governing over London or sucking the life of it, will be continuing for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, during the original purge of DedSec after a series of bombings used to frame them, their headquarters was raided by Albion with most of the senior members either being executed or imprisoned, then executed, from which Albion initiated the purge that marked every member of DedSec as a terrorist to be hunted down. Few managed to escape and were forced to go underground, even leave London entirely, and by the time of the story, DedSec's only able to rebuild by recruiting completely new members. Ultimately, what might finally do Albion in is sheer bureaucracy, as DedSec's efforts manage to get the British government to take some initiative and begin reviewing their contract with the company.
  • In Live A Live, this is termed "overpowering enemies" in-game. Some enemy groups appear with a particular type of enemy as the leader(s). Should the leader(s) go down, the rest of the enemies disappear from the battle screen at once and the player-controlled characters win. The remake for the Nintendo Switch has the leader(s) in question tagged with a flag to help the player with the identification process.
  • Causing these is the subject of many missions in Destiny. The main reason humanity has lasted so long against the forces trying to conquer the solar system is Guardians' skill at assassinating enemy leaders in targeted, guerrilla strikes, leaving their armies directionless and in disarray. In most cases, these have been god-kings, warlords, or central processing nodes in a hive mind, but even the Cabal, a professional military with a formal chain of command, haven't been immune. In their case, Guardians simply end up killing so many senior officers that the survivors have no idea how to proceed.
  • In Bokosuka Wars, the game instantly ends in failure if you lose your main unit, King Suren, regardless of how many other units you had remaining. Likewise, if you can reach King Ogereth at the end of the game and defeat him, it doesn't matter how many enemy troops have survived, as you win.

  • Fans! uses this with a certain amount of justification: when the General—a warlord from the future whose cadre of troops had a loyalty bordering on worship—finally dies, Kath (who earlier mentioned that she'd "read enough fantasy to know how gods die") immediately called for the troops to lay down their arms. Though some try to fight on, the combination of watching their godlike leader die and Kath's assumption of authority cows them.
    • Rikk's troops in the relaunch have this problem too, being too dependent on him. When he's knocked unconscious in a fight, his team falls apart.
  • Subverted in this Girl Genius strip, where killing the leader, second and third-in-command of the spider clank army results in difficulties in their surrender, and the fourth-in-command trying to kill Gil.
  • In The Order of the Stick, after Roy throws Xykon into the Gate, his remaining goblin underlings attempt to surrender (giving the reason that because Xykon's dead, no one's paying them, though "Start of Darkness" provides some alternate possibilities), but Belkar kills them anyway.
    • Even the heroes were prone to this. Without Roy's leadership, the group's members were split in two and ended up becoming indecisive and/or hindering and fighting with each other, accomplishing nothing for months. The only exception is Haley who used her time to form a resistance and was crucial in reuniting the order so they can rez their leader.
    • Start of Darkness contains an interesting subversion. A charismatic goblin known as The Dark One has united all the monstrous humanoids, so the humans fake a peace talk and kill him, hoping his horde falls apart without him. Instead, his army goes berserk and embarks on a year-long killing spree of everyone and everything they come across. The resulting slaughter, which has been entirely dedicated to the Dark One, is enough to result in the Dark One ascending to godhood posthumously due to Gods Need Prayer Badly.
  • Bob the Angry Flower showcases this quite nicely.
  • In Drow Tales, with the Sharen clan mostly defeated by the Sarghress clan, Sarv'swati tries to kill Quain'tana to fragment the Sarghress and salvage the Sharen clan's rule. While she ends up dying in the process, her plan is completely successful. Without Quain'tana to keep them united, the Sarghress instantly betray and destroy one another, with the survivors falling into separate factions forming The Remnant. By the time Ariel, Quain'tana's heir, is overthrown in a coup and dragged around in chains, they have no other leadership left, and are little more than an angry and extremely dangerous mob.
  • Erfworld takes this trope quite literally, to the point of exaggeration. To quote Parson on the subject of the death of the leader of a faction:
    Field units disband, and this city becomes 'neutral', which is not as nice as it sounds. Units here freeze in time. We can do nothing until attacked. Ansom takes a few turns to get his ducks aligned and then curb stomps us.
  • In Impure Blood, the monsters all fall apart -- literally -- when the head has been killed.

    Web Original 
  • Subverted in Episode 52 of Critical Role. Though the Herd of Storms stops fighting after Kevdak's defeat and death, this is only because Grog — who had previously challenged him to an honor duel — had dealt the final blow. According to the DM, the herd would have continued fighting if anyone else had killed Kevdak, which would have surely resulted in a Total Party Kill.
  • Fallen Kingdom: The destruction of the Piglins' fortress deactivates their zombie mooks, destroys their Nether portals... and for some reason, causes their ships to sink.
  • Hamster's Paradise: Averted. Pi-Pipipupu was able to use her charisma and reputation to unite the previously scattered Bruterider tribes on a campaign of conquest. After she is fatally injured by a Rockcooker artillery strike, the tribes do fall into infighting but they also still attack the Rockcookers and this ends up being a massive problem for them since instead of coordinated assaults that they could form a strategy against, the Bruteriders would instead attack randomly from all sides, which was something that the highly calculating Rockcookers weren't able to counter, leading them to become severely weakened.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • The Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender is close to being a subversion but fails on certain points. Fire Lord Ozai gets permanently depowered by the Avatar (despite being at his strongest thanks to Sozin's Comet) and his entire airship fleet gets destroyed, Azula gets dethroned before she can even be officially crowned, and the entire Fire Nation garrison at Ba Sing Se is defeated. However, the Fire Nation still effectively controls a major portion of the world and should have a massive amount of reinforcements. Instead, the loss of their leadership and a major settlement is enough to make them all fall in line when Zuko (who shouldn't even be a legitimate heir) claims the throne. However in the comic continuation Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, a few Fire Nation factions are still loyal to Ozai and try to assassinate Zuko or continue the fighting.
    • This comes up multiple times in The Legend of Korra:
      • The Equalists are defeated in Book 1 after their leader Amon is exposed as a bloodbender, and are nowhere to be seen in Book 2. Word of God states that there is a holdout, but they are of no threat and only appear in the game, in which they serve as mercenaries alongside the Triple Threat Triads.
      • In Book 2, the Northern Water Tribe army withdraws from the South after Unalaq is killed. Possibly justified by the fact that his heirs Eska and Desna ordered them to since both of them had turned against Unalaq after finally having enough of their father's abuse. Same goes for the Dark Spirits, who all retreat after Vaatu is purified.
      • Book 3 sees the Earth Queen being assassinated by Red Lotus anarchists, who incite the populace to riot. The government falling apart after her death is partly justified by the fact that it had been shown that the Earth Queen was an unpopular monarch kept in power mostly by her feared Secret Police and her government and officials had been unable to keep order in much of the Kingdom's territory. Also, at least some of the military force is shown joining in with the rioters in the wake of her death. However, Book 4 shows that there are a number of people who remain loyal to the monarchy and work to reinstate it (though the monarchy has definitely fallen out of favor with many people by then, especially as the heir in line for the throne is a Royal Brat).
      • In Book 4, Suyin banks on this trope and tries to end the threat of Kuvira's army by taking out Kuvira herself, pointing out that most of her army was forced into service and isn't loyal to the cause. She fails, so we don't get to see if it would play out as such. Averted at the end of the season, as Kuvira is finally convinced that she's gone way too far and surrenders herself and her army. Also averted in the follow-up comics, where we see that some of Kuvira's subordinates did not meekly pack up and schemed to hold onto power and/or recreate the Empire.
  • DC Animated Universe:
    • In the final episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Superman manages to defeat Darkseid, and throws his battered (but still living) body from the top of his battlements to the slaves below in a suitably dramatic manner, telling them that he is finished and that they can do as they wish with him. The trope is then horrifically subverted, as the slaves immediately help him to his feet and carry him into the castle again to recover, to Superman's horror.
      Darkseid: I am many things, Kal-El... But here, I am god.
    • In Justice League, Darkseid is killed, and in the two-part finale, it's revealed that his forces remained fanatically loyal, but now splintered and fought each other over his legacy. That is until Lex Luthor accidentally resurrects him and Darkseid pulls the fragments back together to invade Earth.
  • Lampshaded at the end of the second Robot Chicken Star Wars special. A commander orders for all ships to converge on the rebels and open fire, only to be told by his 2nd in command that the Rebels have won because they blew up the 2nd Death Star AND killed the Emperor.
  • In the last episode of Adventure Time, after Gumbald is defeated, peace is declared. Golb then shows up and all the villains Gumbald had hired simply flee.
  • In the last episode of Gravity Falls, after Bill Cipher is defeated, all of his henchmen are sent back to their own dimension. Justified in that Bill was the one who allowed them to come there in the first place.
  • Discussed in Skeleton Warriors after it's discovered that the titular Skeleton Warriors can be forcibly changed back into humans; since their leader Baron Darkk is able to transform humans into skeletons at will, it's no big deal to lose recruits... but as he is the only one able to do so, if they lose him, then their side is destined to be whittled down through sheer attrition. Upon this realization, Baron Darkk actually changes tactics and becomes much more concerned with self-preservation; in the final episode, once Baron Darkk is destroyed, the rest of his forces are forcibly changed back into living beings again, playing this trope straight.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars, "Storm Over Ryloth": When Anakin manages to ram the Separatist fleet's command cruiser the rest of the Separatist fleet becomes disorganized without Tuuk's leadership and is unable to respond practically to Ahsoka outflanking them even though they have superior numbers and firepower.
  • An episode of The Simpsons has Superintendent Chalmers say this when the students rebel against cutting music, gym, and art classes, led by student president Lisa. He suggests that the students will give up if they send Lisa away. An epilogue scene states that Springfield Elementary eventually reinstated the classes once they had enough money.
  • The Transformers: The defeat or retreat of either Optimus Prime or Megatron generally resulted in the rest of their troops retreating as well. In the episode "Divide and Conquer", the Autobots are so demoralised by Optimus' impending death that they can't even muster themselves for a Last Stand until inspired by a Rousing Speech by their human ally Spike. When a restored Optimus joins the battle, the Autobots are visibly galvanised, and his thrashing of Megatron allows Starscream to call for a retreat.

    Real Life 
  • Ancient armies often did behave this way, since nationalism as we know it did not exist and military organization was heavily based on the personal charisma of individual rulers.
    • Many of Alexander the Great's victories were based on having his Phalangial infantry hold off the numerically superior enemy while Alexander and his Companion horsemen cut their way through to the enemy leader and either killed him or forced him to flee the field, causing the collapse of enemy resistance. This was the tactic that won the day at the Battle of Issus and led to the collapse of the Persian empire.
    • There were a few cases where this backfired, notably at the battle of Chalons, where Attila's army was having a successful go at fighting the Romans' allies, the Goths, until the old king Theodoric the Goth fell off his horse and died, upon which a cry of "Avenge the King!" went out amongst the Goths, who proceeded to drive off the Huns.
  • The U.S government has been guilty of this, killing off high-ranking members of drug cartels and terrorist organizations again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again. The success rate of these incidents has varied; sometimes it does the job, while in others it gives the group an extra incentive to hate America.
    • This is a problem with such groups that have a large following of devotees. If you cut off the head, this will only strengthen the devotees because that person will be seen as a martyr. Furthermore killing the leader only ensures that he'll be replaced with someone younger — meaning they're more idealistic, less prone to battle fatigue, and eager to prove themselves. In theory, they should also be less experienced, but this doesn't mean much to terrorists who have grown up in war zones. As for drug cartels, targeting their leaders only causes the cartel to fracture into smaller groups, resulting in an increase in the drug supply as each competes with the others.
      • The US and other modern militaries also subvert it, with a very particular chain of command. Taking out a general just means that command devolves upon the next guy in line who, if the general did his job correctly, knows all the same information. Taking out several links in the chain of command at once, such as by a lucky artillery hit on a command post, is another matter, however.
  • Primate research ran across a case like this: an exceptional individual led his troop on a successful campaign of expanding the troop's territory against all the other troops nearby. Removal of said individual from his troop and territorial boundaries returned to their prior state. They returned him to his troop and the "conquest" started all over again.
  • This combines with Straight for the Commander to be the rationale of #18 of The Thirty-Six Stratagems. The corollary is that the leader might be too well protected to get to immediately, or they might set out a Decoy Leader to invoke other stratagems.
  • Multiple occurrences on either side of the war in the long-running Chinese Three Kingdoms war.
  • The Allies planned to defeat Germany in World War II by killing Hitler, although he did it (by committing suicide) before they could get him. In retrospect, it's most likely a good thing that he wasn't killed, as many (like to) believe that his micromanaging the war, plus pinning his generals against each other was a major element of the Axis defeat.
    • While there wasn't a death of the head of the military for Japan (at least, in a military operation), the war continued on for many a Japanese soldier because they refused to believe Japan would surrender. It took one person nearly 35 years to stand down because he was waiting for orders from his CO.
  • In the lesser version of war: any time the best player of a sports team is injured/leaves/retires, it'll be tough for the team to win without him. Which is why it's usual to have a defender following the standout (and possibly injure him out of the game...).
    • In Cricket, getting the star batsman of a team out, particularly if he is dismissed without scoring too many runs, often triggers a collapse in the rest of the batting order.
  • The Prussian Army came very close to this trope in the battle of Auerstedt (14 October 1806) when its commander, the Duke of Brunswick, was incapacitated by a (mortal) wound. King Frederick William III, who was present on the field, then failed to appoint a new commander-in-chief or to try to take command himself. The resultant loss of coordination between the various parts of the army (two-fifths of which were not even brought into action until the retreat already started) enabled Davout's outnumbered corps to score a remarkable victory.
  • When in late 1813 some Allied roving corps attacked French-held Bremen, they could not make any impression on the city's fortifications. Then a rifleman belonging to the Lützow Free Corps managed to kill the French commandant with what even contemporaries described as a lucky shot. Shortly afterward, the garrison, which consisted largely of Swiss soldiers, capitulated.
  • On February 22, 2002, Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in battle by government forces. Three weeks later, his army, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) had signed a ceasefire with the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and by August had disarmed and disbanded its military forces, bringing the Angolan Civil War to an end after 27 years.
  • Causing this was the whole idea of blitzkrieg: fast-moving tank columns disrupt supplies and command and control, leaving the enemy army leaderless.
    • This strategy has several weaknesses, however, in that it requires either strategic surprisenote  or overwhelming forcenote . The Nazis, when they used it in World War 2, had strategic surprise and overwhelming forcenote , and achieved remarkable success as a result of encircling the French forces and making it to Paris with little meaningful resistance.
  • Double Subverted by the death of Muammar Gaddafi. After he was killed in his hometown of Sirte on October 20, 2011, there were rumblings of an insurgency continuing afterwards, which appeared to be unfounded until an uprising in January 2012 occurred in the former Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid. The uprising was initially reported as one by pro-Gaddafi troops, but it eventually turned out to just be a group of local tribesmen, and a serious Gaddafist insurgency in Libya has failed to manifest as of this writing.
  • The battle of Novi, on 15 August 1799, opposed General Barthélémy Joubert's French Republican armies to Marshal Alexander Suvorov's Russian and Austrian force. Joubert was killed at the beginning of the battle, which ended in a French defeat. There was no mass panic among the soldiers, as the other generals hid Joubert's death from them; but for lack on a single commander who could see the battle from above and move the troops wherever they were needed, the French left-wing, centre, and right-wing each effectively found themselves fighting a separate battle against a unified Allied army.
  • A noted weakness of the Napoleonic empire, which was being held together militarily and politically only by the will of a single man. General Malet tried to exploit this with his attempt to overthrow the Empire in 1812, where a fake announcement of the Emperor's death was enough for several senior officers and whole battalions to follow him and arrest several high-ranking officials without asking questions. This was after Napoleon thought he had secured his new dynasty by having a son... whom everyone kind of forgot during Malet's coup. Meanwhile, in Russia, everyone was painfully aware that the Grand Army would dissolve if Napoleon did die.
  • Allegedly the Mongol invasion was stopped because Genghis Khan died and they had to return to their homeland to choose a new Khan.
    • This was the perennial nuisance of the Mongols: every time their Khan died, their campaigns stopped as the generals and princes returned to homeland for kurultai (the election of a new Great Khan). This happened after the death of Tzinghis, Ögödei, Güyük, Möngke, and Kubilai. After the death of Kubilai, the Empire disintegrated.
  • Similarly, the Arab invasion of Europe failed due to the Battle of Tours where they lost to the Franks led by Charles Martel. Despite being numerically superior to their enemies, their commander Abdul Rahman al-Ghafiq was killed in combat, and infighting soon broke out among the many tribes and clans under his command leading to their retreat.
  • This was the dilemma throughout the Cold War for any nuclear power. Do you keep rigid political control of your nuclear arsenal, and risk a decapitation strike on the capital that will leave your country helpless? Or do you devolve responsibility to local military commanders who, if cut off from their superiors, might launch on their own authority when the politicians don't want them to?
  • Subverted during the First Chechen War when the Chechen dictator Dzhokhar Dudayev was assassinated with a laser-guided missile by the Russian forces. This, however, did nothing to halt the insurrection because the Chechens operated independently from a chief-in-command and obeyed only their field commanders within their personal militias. The Chechens managed to make Russia give up after retaking their occupied capital at the end of the first war.
  • The Battle/Massacre of Cajamarca saw Spanish conquistadors capture the Incan Empire's emperor and defeat his army in one fell swoop. Emperor Atahualpa, somewhat understandably, was unintimidated by the roughly 170 unknown men who entered into his empire while his army of 80,000 was camped nearby and invited them to meet with him - which he would attend with only his own retinue who would be (largely, as they did have hunting weapons) unarmed. The Spaniards prepared an ambush for the meeting using the buildings surrounding the plaza where the gathering would take place if they believed attacking could work should the emperor be disinclined to submit to them, but their odds seemed so long that the conquistador Pedro Pizarro (cousin of the Spanish expedition's leader) said that a number of them wet themselves in fear while they awaited the meeting. The Spanish opened fire with their guns and charged with their cavalry (things which the Incans would have been very unfamiliar with) from their concealed positions after Atahualpa refused to submit, killing or scattering much of the Incan procession with ease while those that stayed died putting themselves between the well-armed Spanish and Atahualpa. The thousands of Incan warriors nearby quickly routed as the survivors fled to them. The only Spanish man who would even be injured from this event was their leader Francisco Pizarro because he used his hand to block one of his men who attempted to kill Atahualpa with a sword in the struggle leading up to the emperor's capture.
  • Some examples from the Three Kingdoms of China:
    • When Cao Cao note  was ambushed at Wancheng by Zhang Xiu and went missing, his otherwise well-disciplined army withdrew in disarray, with some of his soldiers even engaging in looting because they thought he was dead and it wouldn't matter. He wasn't dead, and he was very, very displeased with the looters' lack of military discipline.
    • When Cao Cao and rival warlord Liu Bei were fighting over the territory of Hanzhong, supreme command of Cao's forces fell to his loyal and capable general Xiahou Yuan. Their forces were evenly matched, but when Xiahou was killed in combat his subordinate generals made the logical decision to cease their offensives and hold fast in their fortified camps until a new chain of command could be established. Unfortunately, by the time Cao personally arrived, Liu had managed to dig his forces in and Cao was forced to acknowledge it'd be too costly to keep fighting, ordering a withdrawal from Hanzhong.
    • Cao Cao's death due to illness led to a variation of this, as all campaigning was halted and his forces went onto the defensive while his son and successor Cao Pi note  consolidated his power.
    • This was one of the ways Wu general Zhuge Ke managed to subdue the Shanyue tribes of the Wu southlands. By targeting their most powerful leaders, he shattered any chance of a unified front and then picked off their disorganised followers.
  • During The Vietnam War, one of the most daring operations carried out by the North Vietnamese during the infamous Tet Offensive was the storming of the US embassy in Saigonnote , where a team of 19 North Vietnamese sappers attacked the embassy with the aim of breaking in and taking the diplomatic personnel hostage and use them as a trump card against the U.S. military by first blowing a hole in the perimeter wall and then blowing a hole in the embassy building itself to gain access. Most analysts today agree that they could've easily accomplished their objectives and perhaps made the whole ordeal even more of a PR mess for the Americans, had it not been for the sapper team's horribly bad luck of losing both commanding officers in the opening seconds of the operation; disorganized and leaderless, the sappers took too long to gain entry into the main building, which gave time for the more numerous security personnel to properly respond. As a result, the attackers were surrounded and eliminated after a one sided gunfight, despite still having the equipment and weaponry to carry out their mission.


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Alternative Title(s): Cut Off The Snakes Head, Cut Off The Head And The Body Dies, Checkmate Victory, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead


Trade Fed Ship Destroyed

Anakin Skywalker destroys the Trade Federation's mothership, which de-activates the droid army on Naboo.

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5 (4 votes)

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Main / TheMothership

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