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Decoy Protagonist

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Guess which one is the main character.note 
"Long ago on a planet long forgotten by time, a young hero was born, a righteous Saiyan warrior who would bring peace to the galaxy. This... is not his story."

So you're reading a story featuring Alice, the obvious main character. Oh, she doesn't exactly have a flashing neon sign over her head that reads "HERO," but you've read a lot of this kind of story and you know what to expect. It's clear to you that Alice is predestined to save the day, get the guy (or girl!), and live happily ever a—

Did she just get bitten in half by a mutant T. Rex?!

Some creators like to surprise their audience, and one reliable way to subvert expectations is to offer a Standardized Leader and then dispatch them just when everyone is convinced they're The Hero. This can be Played for Drama: there are few more effective ways to showcase Anyone Can Die than by taking out the apparent protagonist. (Plot Armor? What Plot Armor?) But it can also be Played for Laughs, revealing that the person who thinks they're the protagonist is just a glorified bit player. Sometimes the Decoy Protagonist will even turn out to be the antagonist.


Intro-Only Point of View frequently is used to emphasize their importance before The Reveal.

What happens next is the person we perceive as The Lancer, Side Kick or even a fringe loner takes center stage as the real protagonist (maybe even Hero). Usually they reveal a much greater level of personal integrity and strength of will than previously thought.

Note that this does not necessarily involve the death of the initial protagonist, although that is often how this trope expresses itself. If the target dies, they're often a Sacrificial Lion. If the character truly was The Hero (but not the protagonist, maybe), see Take Up My Sword. Also see Dead Star Walking. Compare Quickly-Demoted Leader, when the secondary character does the heavy lifting only for the hero to take control.

In video games, this can overlap with And Now for Someone Completely Different; compare First-Person Peripheral Narrator, where the narrator is obviously not the protagonist. For the villainous version of this trope, see Disc-One Final Boss.


Contrast Passing the Torch, Red Herring Shirt, Disc-One Final Boss, The Unchosen One, Supporting Leader, Non-Protagonist Resolver.

Not to be confused with Supporting Protagonist, which is simply that the focus is on another character than the hero, or Fake Ultimate Hero, who doesn't appear to be the protagonist.

As this is frequently a Death Trope, beware spoilers:


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Despite featuring an Ensemble Cast, Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys has Kenji Endo at the center of the story for the first five volumes or so, when he apparently dies in an explosion. One Time Skip later the focus shifts to his teenage niece Kanna as she attempts to finish what he started. However, in a surprising twist, Kenji comes back at the start of the third act.
  • Takashi of All Rounder Meguru is clearly the star of the prologue, and his storyline is the heaviest and most dramatic element of the series, but Meguru's the one with his name in the title.
  • Arachnid begins with Kumo the assassin kidnapping an orphan named Alice to make her into his apprentice. She soon comes to respect and regard him as her father, only to be forced into a fight to the death because Kumo actually wanted her to kill him and inherit his abilities.
  • The first chapter of Arata: The Legend and its debut cover page on the magazine it's serialized in would have you believe that Amawakuni Arata is the main character, but he isn't - it's Hinohara Arata, who's not even on said cover.
  • Area D: The first chapter of the series starts by following Soutaro and only much later introducing Jin, who seemed to become the Deuteragonist or his Mentor, after that, however, it's clear that Jin is the real protagonist and Soutaro is just a member of the main cast.
  • Attack on Titan:
    • Subverted with Eren. He's maimed and eaten in the first major battle while trying to save his friend Armin, which seems like the perfect start to a Stuffed into the Fridge scenario to motivate the more skilled Mikasa or stir then cowardly Armin to heroism, until it's revealed that Eren is a Titan Shifter and escapes; this becomes a major plot point.
    • In a way, he is this to Historia. Not only is she the true heir to the monarchy of the walls; but the very powers Eren possess rightfully belong to the Reiss bloodline to begin with. Meaning his powers were meant for her. This leads to his Heroic BSoD as he starts to think himself as worthless and in the way of what should have been Historia's quest of slaughtering Titans and not his, until she snaps him out of it.
    • Although subverted again in regards to Historia- if she'd gotten the powers he has, she'd have become possessed by the will of her ancestor, forced to abandon any quest of killing titans, and probably would have erased the memories of anyone who knew about her powers to ensure the cycle continued. In a way, Eren having these powers saved Historia, and allowed her to become a hero of her own.
    • In an overall sense, even after coming back as a Titan, Eren has been mostly out of focus and he mostly seems to serve as The Big Guy and the MacGuffin Super Person. The cast seems to function more in an ensemble with plenty of different view points just as important (if not more) as Eren's. This turns out to be a very important plot point, as Eren becomes disgusted with the humans outside of Paradis, especially the Marleyans. And later on, with his half-brother Zeke's help, he manages to fully unlock the Founding Titan's power and triggers the Rumbling to Kill All Humans outside his homeland, becoming the final Big Bad of the story.
  • Baccano!:
    • Lampshaded and discussed by the Vice President of the Daily Days Newspaper and his aide Carol. In trying to put together the events of the story for their newspaper publication, they try to figure out who the "main character" of it would be. Carol insists that Firo is the protagonist because he's "main character-ish." Given the deliberately disjointed nature of the series (in the anime anyway, the source books are much more chronological), as well as the ridiculously huge cast of "main" characters, she manages to be completely right and way off the mark at the same time.
    • If one defined "main character" based on screen time alone, Isaac and Miria would fit. They are also the only ones to show up in every single timeline (except for 1711). However, this doesn't hold true in the novels past the anime, since - starting as early as Volume 5, the first volume past the anime's adaptation - there are entire volumes in which Isaac and Miria simply don't appear at all, maybe save for occasional prologue/epilogue cameos. This serves to only further dilute their presence in the story and bring it more or less down to par with how much screentime everyone else in the story has, making for a true Ensemble Cast.
  • In Basara, everyone thinks that a boy named Tatara is The Chosen One—he fits the prophecy to a T—until the king he’s supposed to overthrow hears about him, rides in, and takes his head from his shoulders. Tatara's twin sister Sarasa, who grew up in her brother’s shadow and has basically been forgotten about by almost everyone, rises up to take his place. Literally.
  • Aaaaand while we're on Urasawa, Billy Bat now has the death of Kevin Yamagata, after which Kevin Goodman takes over as the true protagonist.
  • The sequel to Black Butler sets up Alois Trancy and Claude Faustus as the new Master and Butler duo, until Sebastian comes back, and Ciel is brought back to life. All in the first episode. After all of the marketing A-1 Pictures has done for Alois and Claude, it turns out that it was done to hide the fact that Sebastian and Ciel would be returning. Bravo.
  • Blassreiter: This guy got a lot of screen-time. He's great. His life is wrecked, but he should not give up. He got The Virus but clearly has enough of Heroic Willpower — look, he doesn't kill when even non-infectee could be tempted a lot! He must be the protagonist! Right?.. Oops, he turns out to be but one more deadman, who just kept the horror scenes of imminent Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot Apocalypse from being looked upon as A Million Is a Statistic.
  • Waku from Bokurano is presented in a way that couldn't be mistaken for anything other than the classic Hot-Blooded shonen Kid Hero. At least until he dies after piloting the robot in the second episode (first volume of the manga).
  • In Nobuhiro Watsuki's Crescent Moon in the Warring States, the protagonist is actually Isshinta, not Hiko Seijuro as many readers believe.
  • In The Daughter of Twenty Faces, the audience is lead to believe that the main characters are the crew of sympathetic thieves that Chizuko hooks up with. Then comes Episodes 6 and 7, where most of the thieves are killed and Chizuko is sent back to Japan. It's there that we meet Chizuko's real supporting cast; Shunka and Tome.
  • Dorohedoro: Played with in regards to Kaiman, while he is a very central character for the first third of the series, as the mystery of his murder is the central hook of the story, but with the story progressing, the narrative becomes much less focused on him and starts giving the multiple factions involved similar amounts of screentime. During the second third of the series, he vanishes due to his original personality coming back, and he doesn't return until the final part of the story, by which point he is arguably only one of multiple protagonists, though he is still the one to fight the main Big Bad.
  • Gohan from Dragon Ball is this to his father, Goku:
    • In the Buu Saga, it's established that Gohan has taken over his father's role as the key protector of the world (as the finale of the Cell Saga supported). In the manga, the beginning of the Buu saga even starts off with Master Roshi saying that the series will continue "just a while longer" with Gohan as the main character, while in the anime, the intro and outro sequences for the Buu saga focuses on Gohan as the lead protagonist. A good chunk of the Buu arc either focus directly on Gohan or a good amount of side-character stalling while Gohan trains on the Kai Planet to awaken his dormant powers, presumably arriving at the last minute to save the day much like how Goku was previously portrayed. However, Gohan ends up being absorbed by Buu, leaving his father to take over as The Hero once more for the remainder of the arc and even into the next series.
    • Gohan seemed to regain, at least, a solid Deuteragonist status during the Universe Survival saga, being made The Leader of his team, getting a lot of buildup to the regaining of his powers, and even being the one to finish off Universe 10 in a big character moment for him. One of the Universe Survival EDs even ended on the note of him and his father standing side by side and charging forward. When the saga actually gets down to the U7 vs U11 endgame, however, after a single episode he's eliminated while fighting Dyspo due to Frieza's running out of stamina to keep up the cage, necessitating that he takes himself down with him as the endgame continues to focus on Goku, Vegeta, Frieza, and most shockingly 17. After defeating Universe 10, he didn't have all that much to do until that point, either, besides team up with Piccolo to defeat Universe 6's final members.
  • Dr. Stone:
    • The series starts following Taiju Ooki, a hot-blooded yet dimwitted high school student who wakes up thousands of years in the future after every human was turned to stone, only finding his friend the hyper-intelligent Senku, who plans to rebuild society with his immense knowledge of science. After two volumes and freeing Taiju's love interest and the main villain, Taiju goes undercover in the latter's group and the manga now focuses on Senku as he shows a village of cave-people various forms of science. So not only is Taiju not the protagonist, he's not even the deuteragonist.
    • The first four chapters of Dr Stone Reboot Byakuya are about Byakuya and the astronauts' return to earth. The rest of the story focuses on Rei and its efforts to keep the ISS in orbit until Byakuya fulfills his promise of coming back.
  • From the same author of Baccano!, Durarara!! has Mikado Ryuugamine who may look like he's the protagonist because he was the focus for the first episode. You might be thinking "huh, so we get to see Ikebukuro from the eyes of a Naïve Newcomer". Until you see his biggest secret. Word of God says that Celty is the protagonist of the series, not Mikado.
  • Emerging: Since she appears on the cover and since the first chapter revolves around her, it's very easy to mistake Akari for the series' protagonist. She gets infected with the disease at the very beginning of the story, and from then until the very end does nothing except lying in her hospital bed looking miserable. Her family doctor becomes the hero.
  • At the start of The Executioner and Her Way of Life, a boy is brought over from another world, and it seems like he will be the protagonist of the story as a boy Trapped in Another World, especially after he manifests a power. Instead, an executioner kills him, since otherworlders are a threat to the world, and the protagonist turns out to be another individual from another world.
  • The demon-hunting squad you're introduced to in the first episode of Ga-Rei -Zero-. They're all distinctive, have some interesting chemistry and seem like a skilled bunch. They all die by one of the actual main characters, who just completed her Start of Darkness. At the end of that very same episode. They were included on promotional material.
  • Genma Wars opens with a young man named Katsu fighting in a tournament to join the Genma tribe and manages to win, but then his father the Maoh King arbitrarily executes him For the Evulz. The poor dude doesn't even make past two minutes before dying. The series is about the the king's other children and given Katsu isn't featured in the opening credits, it makes sense he is the Decoy Protagonist.
  • Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin started out with Daisuke as the protagonist and was your typical A Boy and His X story. Eight episodes in it had a Genre Shift when the attention changed to his dog, Gin, and Gin ran off to join a pack of feral dogs. Daisuke doesn't appear again until the tail end of the series and is nowhere in the sequel anime.
  • Goblin Slayer infamously has the Greenhorn Trio. After giving each a backstory and a little characterization, they set off with a Priestess on their first goblin hunt... and they get horrifically slaughtered, poisoned, molested, or raped. Priestess is rescued by the titular Goblin Slayer, the real protagonist of the story, and falls in love with him.
  • Henrietta is very obviously the main character for Gunslinger Girl. As the series goes on, however, Triela is given noticeably more and more spotlight while Henrietta becomes more of a side character. Henrietta is in fact the second major girl to die and Triela is the last.
  • This trope is played with in the first season (Question arcs) of Higurashi: When They Cry where the central protagonist switches from character to character. It is only in the second season (Answer arcs) where it is revealed that the real main character is actually Rika Furude. The partial reboot Gou has a variation where it plays as a straight reboot for the first episode, and then the beginning of the second episode hits to tell you who the real main protagonist is (to Rika's horror).
  • In Jewelpet Kira Deco!, Retsu seems like the typical hero: he's Hot-Blooded, he's the leader of his Sentai team, he's front and center, he gets the color red, he's the first to introduce himself. But it's Pink, The Chick, whom the story revolves around.
  • Jonathan Joestar is originally marketed as the protagonist of the entire JoJo's Bizarre Adventure franchise, but he is the lead only in first part, titled Phantom Blood (Originally titled Jonathan Joestar: His Youth). At the end he is killed by Dio Brando's disembodied head.. He is succeeded by his descendants who all inherit his nickname, JoJo.
    • The 2012 anime adaptation plays into this trope more. While the second part (Battle Tendency), the story of Joseph Joestar, is separate from Phantom Blood as the next installment to JoJo, the anime decides to depict both installments in Season 1; PB in episodes 1-9, then BT in episodes 10-26. If a viewer was only introduced to JoJo through the anime, Jonathan's story hits an abrupt close despite the anime only being a third done, and everything is revamped from episode 10 onward (New opening and ending songs, new characters, new antagonist, etc.) and characters from earlier are now much older. It can be jarring and even unique to watch this unfold as well as emotional since the first protagonist you grew to love is now dead.
    • This is the case for Giorno Giovanna, the technical lead of Golden Wind (Part 5). He's only the focus of the story at the very beginning and very end, and spends the time in between just being another henchman in Bruno Bucciarati's gang while Bruno himself gets most of the spotlight. Giorno doesn't get three episodes' worth of Final Battle with the Big Bad. He is never given a personal reason to confront Diavolo (which Bruno has from the beginning), is not the leader of the party (if anything, he's second in command), and finally, the 'Sleeping Slaves' epilogue chapters center around Bruno and his destiny. Which Giorno wasn't a part of, because he hadn't joined Passione back then.
    • Jolyne is the lead of Stone Ocean (Part 6), but it's Emporio, the Sole Survivor of Jolyne's party, who faces and defeats Big Bad Pucci at the end of the story.
  • In Joker Game, everyone thought Lt. Sakuma would be the protagonist, largely owing to his personality being a fairly standard one in works portraying the WWII era. However, he disappears from the story after episode two, having refused Lt. Col. Yuuki's invitation to join the D Agency, and is only mentioned again once in passing. Inasmuch as this series has a protagonist, it's probably Lt. Col. Yuuki.
  • Kengan Ashura's sequel, Kengan Omega begins with Koga, a cocky martial artist who has been expelled from multiple dojos for his troublemaking tendencies, looking for a more challenging fight, and getting involved in the Kengan matches through Yamashita, and being recruited as his company's potential replacement fighter after Ohma apparently dies at the end of the first series. However, just before the big Kengan Association vs Purgatory matches rolls around, he and Yamashita get ambushed by several Worm Agents, and Koga gets severely injured in the process. This makes him realize that he's nowhere near the level he needs to be to fight in the underground matches, and with Ohma returning to take his spot, Koga quickly gets sidelined in favour of the other fighters.
  • Keyman is the title character in Keyman: The Hand of Judgement, but he gets killed by the end of the first chapter. For the rest of the story we follow Detective Alex, an anthropomorphic T. rex, as he tries to solve the murder case.
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes has two main characters: Reinhard von Lohengramm of the The Empire and Yang Wenli of The Alliance. While Yang Wenli IS the most important character of the democratic cast, he's assassinated three-quarters of the way through - completely changing the dynamic of the show. Yang's protégée Julian succeeds him in the last season while Reinhard is a protagonist throughout.
  • For the majority of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, Shinn Asuka was clearly the main character. He got the most focus, piloted the titular mobile suit (the Destiny Gundam), and was front and center on promotional art. However, towards the end he was effectively Demoted to Dragon and either Kira Yamato or Athrun Zala, members of the cast of the prequel Mobile Suit Gundam SEED take center stage. Athrun could be the true main character of the show, as he has the most screentime out of the three main characters and the TV Movies were narrated from his perspective. However, official sources still identify Shinn the main character all the way through the series.
  • In Modern Magic Made Simple Yumiko has the focus in the First Episode until its shown that Koyomi is The Main Character.
  • Molester Man has a decoy deuteragonist. Miss Understanding seems like she'll be the Love Interest and deuteragonist for the first 3 chapters. Chapter 4 reintroduces Kansai and she quickly takes hold of the bulk of the chapter. By Chapter 5, Kansai takes center stage and from then-on, Miss Understanding is relegated to being a background character.
  • Richard Braun is this for Monster. Not an entirely straight example, because he isn't this way for the series as a whole, just for an arc that takes up volumes 5-9. Still for that arc, this trope definitely applies.
  • The prologue episodes of Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse follow Yui Takemura, before episode 3 switches to Yuuya's viewpoint.
  • One Piece:
    • Paulie in the Water 7 Arc. The Straw Hats have come to Water 7, home of the world's best carpenters, in search of a shipwright for their crew, and Paulie happens to be the best shipwright at the largest shipwright company on the island. He has a very well-developed fighting style involving the use of rigging ropes and the amusing personality quirk of being constantly in debt. We learn of a better shipwright, Franky, who supposedly betrayed the company, but he's set up as the arc's villain, making it a surprise when, as the arc proceeds, he receives a tragic past, a connection to the series' Myth Arc, and a quirky fighting style of his own. Guess who ends up joining?.
    • Vivi also counts as a Decoy Crew member. She travels and adventures with the Straw Hats for over three story-arcs, is even given her own theme song and commercial eyecatcher, but at the end of the day it's the previous villainess Nico Robin who joins as they leave Vivi behind to rule her country. Now that's a plot twist.
  • Amatsuyu from Oresuki believes he is the shy, pure everyman protagonist of a harem story. He is in a harem story, and we do follow it from his point of view, however as he soon finds out to his horror that he's just a side character and his best friend is the real protagonist. At least for a while. Then some of the harem starts warming up to Amatsuyu instead...
  • And back to Urasawa, Pluto tells the story mostly from Gesicht's point of view for the first six volumes - up until his murder. Epsilon and then Atom take on the mantle of the hero, though Gesicht's memories play a role in the final confrontation against Pluto.
  • An odd example during the first episode of Pokémon: The Series: The show opens with a Pokemon battle occurring between two trainers, even replicating the opening of the first game. Could one of them be the protagonist? No. Instead, we are quickly introduced to Ash, who is watching the battle from his home in Pallet Town. We never even learn the names of the two trainers, or which one of them won the battle, for that matter.
  • The first episode of Popotan starts out with Daichi discovering the real protagonists' mansion as he explores a field. He walks inside... It's dark, and lit only by a Christmas tree... Suddenly, "UNA!" He runs into the hallway, having been startled by Unagi, and runs into the bathroom door as Ai comes out wearing only a towel. It's from here on that we meet all the real protagonists as he frantically attempts to flee the house. He is present during the last minute of the episode, after the girls leave, but is only ever seen again in episode 7 (as an adult, except for flashbacks) and the last episode (when Ai travels back to the time she and her sisters first met him).
  • Psycho-Pass has Shinya Kougami heavily featured in the promotional videos and openings as if he's the protagonist mostly ignoring Akane in favor of featuring him with Makishima in photos. While he's still the main character alongside Akane, he takes quite a backseat to her, who grows significantly more as a character and ultimately receives the most spotlight.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
  • Puella Magi Oriko Magica, had an odd case. For starters, the title character isn't even on the cover of the first volume. In fact, it's an Antagonist Title; Oriko is the villain. The real protagonists, at least in the first volume, are Kyouko and Yuma, the girl who actually was on the cover. Mami functions as a secondary protagonist. And then in the second volume, Homura becomes the protagonist.
  • The First Episode of Shiki follows Megumi as the central character and her life around the village. She's dead by the end of the episode
  • Sket Dance begins with Teppei's first day in his new school and meeting the eponymous Sket-dan. Then the chapter ends and he never appears again aside from a few cameos.
  • Symphogear featured Fiery Redhead Kanade Amou in the promotional material, and the beginning of the first episode implies that she's the main lead, being an Idol Singer Magical Girl Warrior. She gets Killed Off for Real in the middle of that same episode, and the focus shifts to the true protagonist, Naïve Newcomer Hibiki Tachibana.
  • In the second "season" of Takemitsu Zamurai, a bandit leader named "Glass-eyed Tetsuzo" is set up to be the new antagonist after landing in jail. Unfortunately he's Too Dumb to Live and kicks previous antagonist Kikuchi awake. The next morning, Tetsuzo is found with his head twisted off and Kikuchi is now the owner of a pretty marble, which he eventually uses to burn the prison down and escape.
  • Talentless Nana: In the very first chapter, we're led to believe that Nanao Nakajima is the protagonist and title character; he doesn't seem to have any talents or powers as the title states, and we get an in-depth look at his backstory. By the end of the chapter, he is pushed off a cliff by the real protagonist, Nana Hiiragi. Roughly 50 chapters later, it transpires he's Not Quite Dead and has pulled a Face–Heel Turn, becoming one of the manga's main antagonists instead while Nana herself has ironically mellowed out into a more geniune The Atoner hero.
  • Some viewers didn't realize Kamina wasn't the central protagonist of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann until his death in Episode 8. It turns out that Simon is the main character.
  • Double subverted in The Tower of Druaga. Neeba is shown to be the leader of his group early on with Jil showing up as a mysterious badass... who then gets knocked out within five seconds of first encountering an enemy and has a sort of goofy flashback for most of the first episode about how his journey started... which turns out to be a dream while the rest of his party saves him. His brother, Neeba is seems to be the real hero, for much of the early show. Then his brother turns out to be the Fake Ultimate Hero, and the second arc supplants him with Jil.
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-:
    • For the first dozen volumes of the manga and all of the anime, the series seems to be a typical shounen series about strength and determination, centering on typical shounen hero Syaoran with the other characters in supporting roles. However, that changed when Syaoran turned out to be a clone and puppet of the Big Bad, splitting off from the party and going to wreak evil havoc. At that point the focus of the series switched to former motivational love interest Sakura, at least until SHE died several volumes later.
    • Clone Syaoran can still be considered to be the main protagonist for the first half.
  • In Vexille, the first half of the movie is spent with Vexille, who's part of a force that's about to stage a covert operation against an isolationist nation. The second half of the film reveals the protagonist to be Maria, a character who wasn't introduced in the first half. Indeed, pretty much everything Vexille was trying to do didn't matter at all. Maria's the one who knows what the stakes are, has devised a plan to thwart the villain, and has gathered together a group of people to execute said plan. She has a direct and personal connection to the villain, as well as people on her side who she has to work against to gather resources and manpower to pull off her scheme. The story in the second half continues to be told from Vexille's point of view, yet her main contribution is to have things explained to. And to pilot the Mecha.
  • In The World Is Mine, we meet the two Villain Protagonists Toshiya and Mon driving down the highway, with Mon having sex with a flashy-looking high school girl. She describes herself to the audience as if she'll be the protagonist ("My name is Miho, seventeen years old, love sex!") and is then pushed out of the car into oncoming traffic. The real female protagonist is a plain-looking girl and one of the few people that Mon doesn't want to rape or kill (Mon actually curls up into her lap and falls asleep like Berserker Rage Ranma).
  • YuruYuri:
    • A running joke is the 'main character' Akari worrying constantly about her complete lack of screen time, character traits, and presence. Although she leads the opening segment, she's always interrupted, ignored, or distracted by something. Once or twice, she only appears to tell the audience that she won't be in the rest of the episode.
      "I'm Akaza Akari and I'm still the protagonist!"
    • Toshino Kyouko claims to be the true protagonist.

    Audio Plays 
  • In the first episode of the children's audio series, The Hanna Jo Stories, it appears that Edward is being set up as a potential main character for the series. But at the end, it turns out that it is actually Edward's brother Allen (who had only a small part in the first episode) who ends up traveling with Hanna Jo and becoming the series' second lead. Edward remains simply a recurring guest star.

    Comic Books 
  • Like a lot of comics, Neil Gaiman's Black Orchid lampshades Bond Villain Stupidity. Unlike most, the Mook really does shoot the main character in the head. He doesn't know that she can regenerate, but he sets her on fire to be absolutely certain she's Deader Than Dead. Given this is on the second page of the first issue, it's a good thing Me's a Crowd.
  • Department of Monsterology:
    • A non-fatal example: we are initially introduced to Emma Hampton and Team Challenger and are led to believe that they are going to be the main protagonists (with The Hero being the Naïve Newcomer Emma Hampton). However, after their initial scene, one of them mentions Team Carnacki who then become the main protagonists, with Team Challenger being Demoted to Extra afterwards.
    • The two body-jumping villains appear to be set up as the Big Bad Duumvirate, or at least as major antagonists. They ultimately turn out to be Decoy Antagonists, and are defeated by the end of the initial story arc.
  • Similarly, Gaiman's The Sandman gave us a Decoy Antagonist with Roderick Burgess, the warlock who imprisons Dream in the first issue. He seems to be set up as the Big Bad, or at least as a major antagonist. Then it turns out that the first issue spans 70 freakin' years. By the end of issue #1, Burgess has died of old age, and his son Alex is a harmless, senile old man. After Dream escapes, he leaves him in a permanent nightmare and never sees him again.
  • Shakara:
    • The comic begins with a human thinking he's the Last of His Kind after the Earth is destroyed. He's killed on page 3 by a much larger alien right before the real protagonist, Shakara the Avenger, is introduced.
    • A later issue introduces two tomb raiders who team up to find the lost treasure of the Shakara homeworld. After facing many perils, they're unceremoniously shot by Buggerian mercenaries.
  • Used to great effect in Origin, in which it turns out that the kid who looks like a young Wolverine, is nicknamed "Dog", and has the surname "Logan", isn't the one who grows up to be Wolverine. The real young Wolverine is actually James Howlett, who starts out as a sickly rich kid living in a manor house in Alberta—though Dog is heavily implied to be his half-brother (and may or may not be connected to Sabretooth in some way).note 
  • The Mask comics is a very good example of this. Stanley may be the first person to wear the Artifact of Doom but he is not the main character. It is debatable after the 2nd series of books whether the wearer of the mask is the main character or if it is Kellaway (the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist). And Big Head is just the Big Bad.
  • The first Azrael miniseries begins with what appears to be the title character being shot and killed in the first few pages. As it turns out, this was the main character's father and the mantle is a Legacy Character. Batman himself also serves as one, as despite having top billing in the original miniseries and having most of the focus for the first half, he is captured halfway into the story by LeHah and the remainder of it focuses on Azrael joining forces with Alfred to rescue him.
  • James Robinson's Star Man series had a similar opening with a superhero being killed in the first two pages, only for his brother to take up the mantle.
  • In a third act switch, Archangel Cameron in Archangels: The Saga. He's the main character for the first seven issues and for the epilogue of the 9th, but in Issues 8 and 9, the famous archangel Michael is summoned by God to issue the Big Bad's final defeat and he becomes the new focus character.
  • Ultimate Marvel
    • The Ultimates: Ray Connor, the kid who takes up the Daredevil identity after the death of Matt Murdock in Ultimatum. We're given an issue dealing with his origin and background and the book makes it seem like he's being positioned as a major character in the mold of previous Legacy Characters...but then at the end of said issue, he gets bitten by a vampire.
    • Ultimate Marvel Team-Up: The role of Spider-Man in the Punisher and Daredevil arc is minimal. It may be argued that he's there just because he's supposed to be the protagonist, because his role could have been completely avoided.
    • Spider-Men II: On paper, this is a team-up of both Spider-Men. Actually, it's the story of the adult Miles Morales, with both Spider-Men thrown there. They have little actual weight in the plot. They ever even find out where the portal leads to, nor there is an eye-to-eye meeting of both Miles.
  • Touch: Rory Goodman (Coop's first hero) is the main focus of the first book before Coop takes away his powers after he makes the agency look bad (Rory later comes back looking for revenge).
  • Transformers: Wings of Honor: Follows Metalhawk's group (with The Hero being the Naïve Newcomer Dion), and Onslaught's in their war against the growing Decepticon uprising lead by Deathsaurus. In the final few comics, Onslaught's team reneges, and kills half of Metalhawk's team, with Dion defeating their combined form. Then the protagonist switches to Magnum, the leader of the Elite guard which Onslaught and his men wiped out. He and the rest of the survivors, including Dion, fight Deathsaurus and beat him. Deathsaurus turns out to be a Decoy Antagonist, and is beaten and overthrown by the true antagonist Megatron. Megatron leads an attack on the Autobots, fatally shooting Dion and Magnum. Alpha Trion takes them, and rebuilds Ultra Magnus from one of them, while the other dies, and Ultra Magnus welcomes the true hero of the war, Optimus Prime.
    • Trailcutter a minor character in the first season of Transformers: More than Meets the Eye was given a promotional card in the lead up to the book's second season along with some of the other major players and called "The Catalyst". He is killed off shortly into the season by an ungrateful member of the Decepticon Justice Division, however his act of kindness has reprecussions that impact the rest of the book and carry over into its successor.
  • In Noob, being the player whose Day in the Life is shown at the beginning doesn't guarantee being the focus for the rest of the comic.
  • Innocence Lost tells the story of X-23's creation, and provides the groundwork for how she became the Broken Bird Dark Action Girl she's best known as. However Laura herself is not the main character, and in fact isn't even born until roughly halfway through the book. The story actually focuses on Dr. Sarah Kinney's attempts to create her, the events that lead to her decision to free Laura from the Facility, and her accidental death at Laura's hands.
  • The Bojeffries Saga introduces us to the titular family through the eyes of a rent collector trying to get back rent from them. He gets turned into a geranium plant at the end of the first arc.
  • Double Subverted by Black Science. First, the perspective shifts from Science Hero Grant to Action Hero Ward when the former is put out of commission. Then, after Ward is killed, the perspective shifts back to Grant... who is himself killed off two issues later. The real protagonist so far seems to be Kadir, who was introduced as a stock Corrupt Corporate Executive villain.
  • Runaways, though focused on a team, set up the leader Alex Wilder as the overall protagonist of the series. He was the one who lead the other kids to discover their parents were supervillains as the Pride, helped the team acquire/discover their artifacts and powers, was made to look like he'd be an official couple to Nico Minoru, was the Audience Surrogate as the only member with no powers or special gadgets, and led the overall charge to end the Pride once and for all. Then, as it turned out, Alex was loyal to the Pride the whole time, and was plotting to use the others to fulfill his plans to undermine the Deans and the Hayeses, the two non-humans that planned to betray the others, and actually succeeded... only to be killed off not long after by the Gibborim. For the record, this was at the end of the first arc in a series that has ran over fifty issues. Afterwards, there's not really a protagonist, though Nico fits closest as the new leader.
  • Steam Wars makes us think that it'll focus on the Luke Skywalker Expy, Beauregard Baron, will be the main character. In truth though it's actually the Princess Leia Expy, Duchess Imoen.
  • Bitch Planet #1 follows Marian Collins as she is transported to the titular prison for "non-compliant" women...until her death at the end of the issue, which brings the real protagonist of the series into focus.
  • Southern Bastards builds up Earl Tubbs as the protagonist of the series for the first few issues, focusing on him being the only man to stand up to crooked Coach Eustass Boss and his cronies. He's killed by Boss at the end of the first storyarc, who takes over as the Villain Protagonist of the whole story.
  • The DC Rebirth era Superwoman series was promoted as a series following the New 52 Lois Lane after she got some of the New 52 Superman's powers. She dies at the end of the first issue and the real central character is Lana Lang, who got a different powerset.
  • Curse of the Mutants is a storyline revolving around the X-Men as they fight against vampires lead by Dracula's rebellious son Xarus, who lead a coup to depose him. However, the prologue of this event doesn't follow any X-Man, but rather Dracula's other son Janus, who observes the coup up close and attempts to defy his brother to no avail. He doesn't have anymore relevance in the plot beyond the prologue, not appearing again except in a short supporting role, as the X-Men are the real focus of the story.
  • Reborn opens with Harry Black being murdered by a crazed shooter and his soul being transported to a fantasy afterlife realm where he and others fight against the forces of darkness. The focus then immediately changes to his widow Bonnie, who is the comic's actual protagonist.
  • Über: Patrick O'Connor has all the markings of The Hero, being a brave American soldier that volunteers for the process to become a Super Soldier and fight against the Nazis just like Captain America. He then goes up against Sieglinde and gets killed in the most horrible manner imaginable. Due to the Anyone Can Die nature of the story, no character whom the audience may feel like is the protagonist seems safe.
  • The 2016 Venom series opens with a former soldier named Lee Price becoming the new Venom after encountering the symbiote. Lee serves as the protagonist for the first arc, after which he is arrested and stripped of the symbiote, who remerges with Eddie Brock.
  • Bloodquest has a particularly tragic and brutal example of this trope: Leonatos is the leader of the Blood Angels' squad on a quest to retrieve their chapter's relic after it was lost. He pulls a Heroic Sacrifice to save the last two remaining members of their group so they could return the relic while he stood behind in the Daemon World to make his last stand. The two survivors - Lysander and Cloten - become the new protagonists and embark on a quest to rescue Leonatos... Who is revealed to have been possessed and turned to Chaos.
  • Raptors: Vicky Lenore is the actual protagonist, but Drago and Camilla are featured on all the covers and are basically a Spotlight-Stealing Squad.
  • Green Arrow has a unique case for its second volume that began in 2001. For most of the first storyarc, "Quiver," the reader is following the newly resurrected Green Arrow, but with a large chunk of his memory removed, as he doesn't remember anything since his "Hard Traveling Heroes" period with Green Lantern. As it turns out, we've only been following Oliver's Soulless Shell, while his soul elected to remain in the afterlife. It isn't until "Quiver's" final chapter where Oliver's soul returns to his body and he's truly back in both mind and body.
  • Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers series begins with a member of the original Seven Soldiers, the Vigilante, forming a new team consisting of himself, a new Whip, Gimmix, Boy Blue, Dyno-Mite Dan, and I, Spyder (a seventh member "got cold feet"). They all die at the end of their issue, paving the way for the real protagonists: Shining Knight, the Guardian, Zatanna, Klarion, Mister Miracle, Bulleteer, and Frankenstein.
  • The first issue of the Peter Milligan / Mike Allred era of X-Force introduced an entirely new cast of characters, with the main PoV character being the team's leader Zeitgeist. All but two of the team were then violently killed off at the end of the issue, including Zeitgeist, establishing the Anyone Can Die dynamic that the run would have.
  • Switch (2015), Stjepan Sejic's teenage take on Witchblade, introduces its heroine in this manner:
    "A new bearer was ready. The time was right. Witchblade knew that the this bearer was to be an exceptional woman. (Close-up shot of a beautiful red-headed woman) A paragon of courage, exceptional willpower and most likely great beauty. (Frame pulls away from the redhead to focus on a goth-looking girl behind her) So why did it choose me?"

    Fan Works 
  • In 72 Hours, Nick Savini and Tamyra Carpenter are set up as the protagonists and the main couple...up until the fourth chapter, where Nick unwittingly blows himself up and Tamyra gets shot in the heart.
  • The 91st Annual Hunger Games initially opens up focusing on Wesley Togsiala, before Act 2 opens up and the POV suddenly shifts to his sister Aveline. Given the nature of the Hunger Games, it's no mystery as to why this happens.
  • Connor Russell in the Slender Man fic By the Fire's Light starts as our first viewpoint protagonist, but dies in short order. He ends up being replaced by Detective Carl Rourke and Mira Grolinsky.
  • The Danganronpa fanfic Danganronpa R1 starts in the point-of-view of Makoto Naegi, the protagonist from Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. However, he dies from blood-loss after being injured when the door to the AV Room is broken down. The rest of the series follows Sayaka Maizono as the protagonist. And that's before the reveal that none of the students were the real Class 78 students.
  • In Danganronpa Class Swap - Hope's Peak Academy we have a Decoy Deuteragonist with Hiyoko Saionji. She is Mahiru's primary assistant in the first investigation and they have a strong bond with one another. Hiyoko ends up as the victim of the second chapter (and to add more insult to injury she wasn't even the killer's intended target), and the true Deuteragonists turn out to be Hajime and Mikan.
  • The End of Ends focuses on Beast Boy for a while before he runs away and gets killed. Then it focuses on the Titans and Doom Patrol in their fight against Count Logan who, to hardly anyone's surprise, is actually Beast Boy.
  • There is an entire community of Harry Potter fanfic authors out there who believe that Harry Potter himself is actually the Decoy Protagonist of the series and that the True Hero of the story is Hermione Granger. They refer to Harry as a "front kick" (that is, a sidekick who is presented as the hero), and are huge fans of the Ron the Death Eater trope, usually making Ron Weasley either stupid, evil or stupidly evil.
  • Heir of the Nightmare: In the first part of the story follows Twilight learning about being the daughter of Nightmare Moon, and her attempts to stop her mother's wrath. Horrified by her mother's brutality, Twilight tries to summon the Elements of Harmony, only to lose and end up brainwashed. From them on, the story follows Luna attempts to cure Twilight of being brainwashed after being horrified by what she turned Twilight into.
  • Jaune Arc in Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger. He's the titular character, most of the fic is told from his POV, and the plot mainly focuses on his slow descent into the Dark Side. About a third of the way into Act III, Darth Nihilus hijacks control of his body, leaving Jaune's role as the protagonist to be passed down to Pyrrha and Ruby.
  • The Last Firebender (sinistercinnamon): The author jokes that Momo is the real protagonist. He hangs out with Zuko and helps him out during Zuko's point of view chapters, and once the POV switches to Azula Momo starts hanging out with her instead.
  • Marty in No Antidote. He's only really there to tie the Pokemon in his team (including the real protagonist, Bulbasaur) together.
  • Pokémon Story: Sinnoh Journey: Dawn is the focus character for the first couple of characters. Then, the focus suddenly shifts to Aaron. Ash gets a little bit in his three-part battle with Aaron. All in all, the story spends more time developing time Aaron and then Ian. If that disappoints you, the sequel should help.
  • Robb Returns: Unusually for a time traveler in a Fix Fic (especially given that he is the title character), Robb is not the protagonist, or even the primary protagonist of the Stark plotlines. His main role is to pass his future knowledge on to his father in the opening chapters, after which Ned, who has a much better idea as to what to do with this intelligence due to his greater political experience, takes the lead.
  • Team 8: Kurenai is often the viewpoint character early on, the mentor of the titular team, and her actions and guidance drive and direct much of the plot, but Naruto and Hinata soon take up more focus, especially after Kurenai's death in Chapter 20.
  • Total Drama Comeback Series has a What Could Have Been example: Ezekiel, the main-est character in the Ensemble Cast, was actually supposed to be voted off about halfway through the first story. The author kept him on because of how well fans were responding to his Ship Tease with Heather.
  • Broddigan "Longbow" Quarles from What Lies Beyond the Walls is set up as being the story's main viewpoint character, and there's even a good chunk of information given about his background. Then a weasel comes by and slices his neck open while he's sleeping before the first chapter's even one-third of the way finished.
  • Where Talent Goes on Vacation: Akira Azuki, the Ultimate Actress, serves as the protagonist for the first two class trials. Then during the third trial, she realizes she's the Accidental Murderer during it, resulting in her being Akamatsu'd while the true protagonist, Chiyuri Nagato takes her place as the chief mystery solver.
  • The Hunger Games machinima The 54th Hunger Games (which can be viewed here) initially appears to be setting the female tribute from District 10 up as the protagonist. However, though she survives the bloodbath, she doesn't make it to the end of the first day in the arena. Instead, she is killed by the District 1 girl less than fifteen minutes into the film. The actual protagonist is the girl from District 6.
  • Alternative Class Despair: Since Chiaki served as the protagonist in the Killing School Life, you'd expect her to be the protagonist of the Future arc as well. Instead, she ends up taking Kyoko's Heroic Sacrifice Disney Death role midway through, with Chisa serving as the protagonist of the Future arc instead.

    Films — Animation 
  • A deleted opening for Atlantis: The Lost Empire was actually going to make a team of Vikings the main characters of the movie. Cue the Leviathan sinking their ship, killing said Vikings, and causing the Shepherd's Journal to float away into the Atlantic Ocean...
  • Batman: Soul of the Dragon is a downplayed example. Batman is still an important character to the film and he gets top billing in the promotional art and has his name in the movie title. However, Richard Dragon is the one character who takes center stage in the narrative, being the first of the heroes to be introduced and being the only one of the four to defeat a possessed O-Sensei in the final battle. At the end of the day, Batman: Soul of the Dragon could be more accurately described as a Richard Dragon movie with Batman as a supporting Deuteragonist.
  • From the beginning of the The Croods, we're led to believe Eep is the main protagonist, as she is the one who narrates the intro, features most in the marketing, and the only one in the family who wants more to life than just day-to-day survival. However, the story gradually shifts to her father, Grug, as the main protagonist for the majority of the film.
  • The first few minutes of Delhi Safari follow Sultan and his family of leopards. But he's killed off very quickly by hunters, which triggers the real protagonists into heading to Delhi.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks appeared to have Twilight Sparkle as the focus, both for the film's promotional material and in-universe to other characters. However, the film ultimately follows Sunset Shimmer, who saves the day in the end. Sunset would go on to be the focal point character for the remainder of the Equestria Girls franchise. This is joked about in the film's commentary, where the writer notes that earlier drafts gave Sunset little importance before she realized Sunset's character arc would be more interesting than a standard "Twilight saves the day" story.
  • Both Tom and Jerry in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. Their new human friend Robyn Starling is the actual main character.
  • The Transformers: The Movie:
    • The first act of begins with a focus on the '84 cast. Then Optimus, Megatron, and many others are destroyed in the Battle of Autobot City. The rest of the movie and following season then follows the characters introduced in the movie.
    • On his deathbed, Optimus Prime chooses Ultra Magnus as his successor to carry the Matrix of Leadership and thus become the new Autobot leader. Ultimately, Magnus finds himself incapable of activating it, and the Matrix ends up being carried by The Chosen One, young Autobot Hot Rod.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24's final season plays with this: after transitioning to Villain Protagonist, Jack still played a central role in the season's plot, but the show actually gave focus on Chloe while his screentime notably became more limited in the final episodes, making the real hero of the season her. This even comes into play after Jack's Heel Face Turn in the series finale, as he is wounded and spends most it offscreen being held captive while Chloe's efforts to expose the season's conspiracy and eventually save him are given the greater focus.
  • The Amazing Race:
    • Season 5 had the first half of the season mostly devoted to the rivalry between cousins Charla & Mirna and couple Colin & Christie. You’d think by the editing that one of them was the winner and that both of them were going to get very far into the season. The eventual winners, couple Chip & Kim, were mostly Out of Focus but they were methodically playing the long game via a Batman Gambit. Charla & Mirna got eliminated at the halfway mark and Chip & Kim’s scheming finally began to pay off. They had befriended Colin and played into his ego and just waited for the right time to play him. They beat him at getting a flight (which he’d been masterful at) in the finale and won.
    • Season 15 had Zev & Justin, who, when compared to similar editing of teams in previous seasons, appeared to be set up for a run late into the race, including a burgeoning rivalry with Maria & Tiffany, that is until they lost a passport in leg 4.
  • Black Mirror: In "USS Callister", Daly is initially the focus and we are seemingly meant to empathize with his plight as another sad sack pining for a girl he lacks the nerve to approach and bullied by his peers. Once the digital version of Nanette awakens, it becomes obvious she is the real protagonist, and Daly is the monster she and the crew must overcome.
  • New viewers watching Blake's 7 might assume the thoroughly likable Varon (Blake's lawyer) and Maja (Varon's wife) are going to be major characters, as they have a lot of screen time, and spend much of the episode attempting to help Blake. New viewers would be wrong in this assumption.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The Mirror Universe episode "The Wish" begins with Cordelia accidentally overwriting the universe with a very dark alternate continuity. You'd expect that the episode would centre around her cleaning up the mess she caused... but she dies half-way through the episode, and the rest of it is solely about the mirrorverse characters until their own actions cause the timeline to be corrected.
    • Tara, a recurring character since season four, was finally promoted to regular cast member in season six...and was killed in the same episode where she first appeared in the opening credits.
  • In Angel: Doyle was part of a Power Trio with Angel and Cordelia, was the team's link to the Powers That Be, appeared in the opening credits, had several episodes based around him, and appeared to be at the start of a long character arc related to coming to terms with his half-demon heritage. He died by Heroic Sacrifice halfway through season 1 and was replaced by Wesley. This may have been a case of Real Life Writes the Plot. Scuttlebutt was that he was terminated due to his drug addiction, causing problems with the filming. Joss Whedon likes to claim it was planned, but there are some disputes to this point and he may have just been putting on a nice spin to protect the actor's reputation.
  • Channel Zero pulls this in the Butcher's Block season. At first, it's pretty obvious that Alice is the heroine, being seemingly the only one aware of the strange things happening in town and trying to save her sister Zoe as she's corrupted by the Peach family. But by the time of the season's climax, her own fears of her encroaching hereditary insanity cause her to give into the Peaches' temptations and join them; meanwhile, Zoe is able to ultimately resist those same temptations, emerging as the true heroine of the story.
  • In the first episode of Choujuu Sentai Liveman we're introduced to a group of five friends. Among them is an outgoing dude who wears red and a cheerful girl who seems to be in a relationship with him. Given typical Super Sentai tropes, you'd assume the guy will become The Leader and the girl will be The Chick, but they're killed midway through the first episode and their three surviving friends become the titular team instead to avenge them.
  • Fans of the Chris Gethard Show were told Random Messenger Bag would undertake a Hero's Journey, defending Chris from a full hour of attacks to the point where Chris actually referred to him as the Mr. Baggins to his Sam Gamgee. In fact, Messenger Bag betrayed Chris when given an opportunity for more screen time, leaving him to fend for himself while handcuffed to a chair. Messenger Bag was in fact on a villain's journey, Chris is the true hero.
  • The fourth season title sequence for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend plays with this. It starts on a beautiful woman riding through the park, with the song playing, "Meet Rebecca...she's the coolest girl in the world!" Then it sings that the woman's the wrong Rebecca and switches the camera to the actual protagonist Rebecca sitting awkwardly on a nearby park bench. As it goes through our Rebecca's confusing personality, the song decides that Rebecca is "too hard to summarize" and switches back to "the other Rebecca," the woman on the bike. Then the woman, who's actually named Deborah, reveals something bizarre about herself, which changes every episode. She never appears in the series proper.
  • The pilot of CSI centred around Holly Gribbs, only to have her get shot in the end and die in the next episode.
  • Everybody preferred Pacey to the titular character in Dawson's Creek
  • While she doesn't die, having Sgt. Thomson turn out to have been the killer in the first episode of Death in Paradise is a perfect example of this trope. It turns out the woman the police have suspected for half the episode is, in fact, an undercover detective, who begrudgingly joins the team after the case is wrapped up.
  • Desperate Housewives Zigzagged this trope in regard to Mary Alice Young: The pilot episode begins with her having a long monologue that details about her life... only for her to commit suicide at the end of it and reveal to us that she is the narrator while the main characters are her fellow housewives and friends. However, her death is the Driving Question of the first season of the show. Later seasons turned Mary Alice into the narrator because her storyline has wrapped up at the end of the first season but she still pops up here and there to further the other housewives' stories.
  • Devs: The first episode follows Sergei, a Russian-American coder working for Amaya as he gets invited into the company's super-secret Devs program. He's killed at the end of the episode when he's caught attempting corporate espionage. The show then shifts focus to Sergei's girlfriend Lily, who investigates his death.
  • Doctor Who: In "Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways", the Doctor meets a young woman named Lynda Moss and takes a liking to her, even giving her an offer to come on the TARDIS. Given the title of the second half of the two-parter, new viewers who remain unspoiled could be forgiven for assuming that she was going to replace Rose. She doesn't.
  • The Expanse loves setting people up as main characters, and promptly offing them as soon as possible.
    • Ade is one of the few truly idealistic and compassionate characters in a Crapsack World, and is having a Forbidden Romance with Holden that seems ripe for drama. Then she gets blown up at the end of the pilot.
    • Shed Garvey is one of the few survivors of the Canterbury's destruction, and he's quickly set up as a main character. He serves an essential role as The Medic, he's given a rounded personality, has plenty of moments to shine, and even gets a bit of backstory. Then he has his head blown off halfway through episode four.
    • Miller is played by one of the biggest and top-billed names in the cast and gets a lot of focus throughout the first season. Season 2 promptly kills him off a few episodes in.
  • The first episode of Flashpoint introduces Team One, the ensemble main cast of the show — except that at the end of that episode, one member of the team is promoted to Sergeant and given his own team, and never appears on the show again. It's his replacement, Sam Braddock, who becomes the seventh regular cast member.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • As with the book, the series opens with several rangers of the Night's Watch who end up getting killed or executed by the second scene.
    • Eddard Stark appears to be the show's main protagonist. He's played by the show's most famous actor and the plot centers on him more than any other character. However, he dies at the end of the first season, causing the drama to fracture into a large number of plot lines, each with their own protagonist.
    • Robb Stark after his father, whom George R. R. Martin admits he killed to subvert the standard revenge story.
    • Viserys Targaryen and Khal Drogo are Decoy Antagonists.
  • Hurlan in The Heart She Holler was the Protagonist from the beginning, but this is changed in 'The Comening' when he is Killed Off for Real, and Hershey becomes the new Mayor.
  • House of Cards (US):
    • Zoe Barnes is the deuteragonist of the first season, with the story focusing almost as much on her journalistic career as it does on Frank Underwood's rise to power. When Underwood becomes Vice President of the United States at the end of Season 1, and Zoe finally begins to piece together the clues about his involvement in Peter Russo's death, one could assume that the next season would feature her as the Hero Antagonist to Underwood's Villain Protagonist. Nope. Underwood throws her in front of a subway train in the first episode of Season 2.
    • It's then Double Subverted when Zoe's love interest Lucas Goodwin becomes an Ascended Extra in Season 2, and seems poised to replace Zoe as the Hero Antagonist as he gets involved with underground hackers and sets out to expose Underwood's corruption. Also nope. He doesn't even make it halfway through the season before he's sent to prison for cyberterrorism after his hacker ally betrays him to the FBI.
    • And then again with Rachel Posner, who gets a hefty amount of screen time during season 2 and build up in season 3, who is seemingly the one remaining piece that could threaten Frank Underwood. And then as before, she is killed and Frank's trail grows ever colder.
    • The Final Season does this with Doug Stamper of all people. He is positioned as a Villain Protagonist who might make a Heel–Face Turn to stop Claire Underwood. Instead, he helps Claire destroy her last remaining enemies, only for Claire to kill him, eliminating the final loose end and getting away with all of her crimes.
  • Lexx:
    • An early episode begins with a man drifting through space in a small shuttle, playing a radio message which details his backstory and the plight of his home planet "Gworim". Then the Lexx runs him right over, and nobody even notices due to his comparatively small size.
    • In the very first episode Brian Bostwick play Thodin the leader of the rebellion. He would have been the obvious hero if it had been the type of story to have that sort of thing.
  • Jack from Lost was originally meant to be one of these, played for the single episode by a big-name actor — Michael Keaton being a top choice — to reinforce the audience's assumption that he was the main character. Executives decided that the audience would feel betrayed and tune out if he was promptly killed. Thus, Jack was made the actual leader of the group and a regular, thus necessitating a cheaper actor.
  • Mayor of Kingstown heavily promoted Kyle Chandler's involvement but his character, Mitch, is suddenly killed halfway through the first episode.
  • Midnight Mass (2021): Riley is the first major character introduced and has the most emotional baggage to work through, all of which makes it clear he's the main character... and then he dies midway through the show after becoming a vampire and choosing Suicide by Sunlight.
  • Midnight Sun (2016): Peter Stormare's character Rutger dies in the first episode after being given a lot time to establish his character and personality effectively setting him up as the third most important character after Kahina and Anders.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • Played with in the "Up Your Pavement" sketch. It starts as the intro to a television show about a pair of happy-go-lucky homeless people, who are abruptly run over by a James Bond-type international crimefighter and spy. The sketch then quickly features a renowned surgeon, a Royal Navy Admiral, his daughter, a flasher, and the chairman of Fiat Motors, then goes through about a dozen random, tenuously-related people before finally setting on a legendary RAF fighter ace of World War II...and the story of the men who flew with him.
    • Similarly played with in the "Science Fiction" sketch (about giant blancmanges from the Andromeda Galaxy). Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Brainsample are introduced as if they were the focus of a sport-sketch but they're immediately abandoned for one about Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever. Then they show up at the end: turns out they were responsible for the destruction of the blancmange at Wimbledon.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 viewing of Time Chasers Mike and the robots voice their desire that Nick be an example. After a few scenes, they begin hoping that Nick will cross paths with a new character who turns out to be the real star.
    Crow: This... is not our star, is it? I will not accept this as our star, sorry.
  • The Office: when Michael Scott left the series, his initial replacement was DeAngelo Vickers, who was very similar to Michael and played by frequent Steve Carell collaborator Will Ferrell. He only appeared for four episodes before disappearing after a total physical and mental breakdown.
  • Oz's Dino Ortolani, a young Italian mafioso who's introduced as the "sponsor" of series protagonist Tobias Beecher in the pilot episode. Roughly half of the pilot's plot is devoted to him, heavily hinting at a character arc involving his struggle with his own violent nature and his relationship with his family on the outside. But then he's abruptly burned alive by his enemies at the end of the episode, hammering home the fact that Anyone Can Die in Oswald Penitentiary.
  • Revolution: Ben Matheson in the pilot from this new series. The show spends the first several minutes centered around him and you would think he would become the main character who ends up knowing how the blackout started and trying to atone for his sins. Instead, he gets shot before the first commercial break, and his daughter steps in as the real protagonist.
  • The first (feature-length) episode of Rush (1974) builds up Richard Lucas as the miners' representative, standing up to Gold Commissioner Fitzalan's unfair administration of the goldfield. But after his breakdown following his brother's death, he is forced to go on the run for assaulting Corporal Colvin and only appears once later. The rest of the series has his partner George Williams in this role.
  • Search: The series starts in 1997 with Jo Min-guk leading a group of soldiers into the DMZ and discovering a North Korean defector. You'd be forgiven for expecting him to be the main character. But then the series jumps forward twenty years, and Min-guk only appears in flashbacks until the end.
  • In the Sesame Street prime-time special When Families Grieve, the initial focus is on Elmo learning what death means and then feeling sad that his Uncle Jack is never coming back. But soon the spotlight shifts to Elmo's cousin Jesse, Uncle Jack's daughter, dealing with the loss of her father.
  • Cassandra is set up as the main character of The Society at first. She's the most level-headed character in the show, who uses smart judgement when making a decision. She has a tragic backstory of having a genetic heart condition and survives off a pacemaker. Even her little sister Allie calls her The Hero of the situation they find themselves in. She is murdered in episode 3 after she officially becomes the leader of the town. Allie then takes over as leader and tries to find who murdered her sister, officially making her the main character of the series.
  • Multiple layer example in the first episode of Saul of the Mole Men. The opening credits feature the S.T.A.R. Team, who promptly die seconds later in a meteor shower. Following are the replacement credits for Johnny Tambourine... who is a complete moron. Then the opening credits for The Molemen (as a funny sitcom)... and finally the real credits for Saul himself.
  • In The Shield's first episode, Captain Aceveda asks new detective Terry Crowley to go undercover in the Strike Team and gather information on Vic's criminal activities. Crowley appeared to be set up as a Deuteragonist or Hero Antagonist, and appeared in the opening credits and advertisement for the show, suggesting he would be a main character. He is shot and killed by Vic at the end of the pilot, although his death does start off the years-long chain of events that results in Vic's fall.
  • Byung Hee in Shut Up Flower Boy Band, who was killed at the end of the second episode. He was played by a well-known actor, had a Love Interest, got the most screentime, and was the lead singer of the band. The focus shifts to guitarist Ji Hyuk.
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1 has a non-protagonist example: Kawalsky was the only character from the film to return aside from Jack and Daniel, in addition to being made the head of SG-2. He gets more screentime in "Children of the Gods" than Teal'c (who went on to be in the most episodes of any cast member) and was played up as being a regular character in the show. Unfortunately, he gets taken over by a Goa'uld at the end of the pilot and dies in the second episode.
    • Also, the first episode starts off focusing on what seems to be a Five-Man Band, who will take over as the new protagonists. Instead, all of them wind up dead.
    • Colonel Sumner from Stargate Atlantis.
  • Non-death example: The Thick of It begins with a minister entering his office, greeting his staff, and getting ready for a meeting with Malcolm. Then, in the meeting, Malcolm suddenly forces him to resign. Quick cut, and the new minister (and the show's protagonist) appears. Basically, rather than Anyone Can Die, this is Anyone Can Be Sacked.
  • Too Old to Die Young begins with several scenes of Larry, a corrupt and philandering cop, giving a lengthy misogynistic monologue about wanting to kill his mistress and then making creepy advances on a woman he's pulled over, all while his partner Martin says almost nothing. Seems like we've got a Villain Protagonist on our hands. Then Larry is suddenly killed in a revenge shooting, and Martin is revealed to be the main character.
  • Torchwood: Suzie, presented in the pilot as a key part of the team, was in the credits (for that first episode only) and was featured in the advertisements and publicity as if she were one of the leads.
    • Series 3 introduces Rupesh, a young doctor who becomes interested in Torchwood when they discover an alien parasite from one of his patients. Though presented as a potential new member of the team similar to Gwen in the pilot, it is revealed he was actually working for the government to inflitrate Torchwood before being murdered by his superior when he became a liability. This is in the first episode. Interestingly, the agent that executed him ends up switching sides at the end of the story arc.
  • The Wire features an extended example: in the first season, D'Angelo Barksdale is the POV character for the criminal side of Baltimore, just as McNulty is for the cop side. However, he's killed off early in the second season, while McNulty lasts through the entire show and other criminal figures step into the spotlight. This seems natural, as Baltimore drug dealers tend to live short lives.
  • Z Nation pulls this twice in one season. First Hammond bites it, then Garnett takes a bullet to save Murphy.
  • Zero Zero Zero: Wealthy drug broker Edward Lynwood, played by Gabriel Byrne, is the first character we see, and he provides the narration for the first episode. He's been shot in the first scene, but a How We Got Here flashback reveals that he's wearing a bulletproof vest. But this is a double fake-out, as Edward dies of a heart attack over the ordeal in the second episode, leaving his two children to take the reins for his storyline.

    Multiple Media 
  • Jaller was one of these twice in BIONICLE—once for Takua/Takanuva (in-universe more than to the audience, since everyone else thought that he was The Chosen One aside from himself and Takua), and the other for Matoro. The first time, he got killed (but got better), and the second time was something of a subversion as Matoro performed a Heroic Sacrifice, causing the real hero to die instead of the decoy.

  • The music video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "White and Nerdy" (parody of Chamillionaire's "Ridin'") started out with two black gangsters riding a car (in reference to the music video of "Ridin'") before they meet a nerd mowing his lawn. From there, the focus was on the nerd.
  • The promotional video for Orange Range's "O2" (the first opening of the second season of Code Geass), is also this. The story follows a Samurai in love with his lord's Geisha and having a secret relationship with her, with the band members guest starring as a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits just going about their everyday lives. The samurai saves her the first time from a group of thugs through some quick thinking, but when actually forced to fight, he didn't possess the strength to save her. It fell onto the band to save them ala Big Damn Heroes and using a variety of skills from their careers (Hiroki's a thief with Super Speed, Yoh's a skilled ronin, ect.) The video ends with Orange Range as the heroes and implies that the geisha broke it off with the samurai afterward since he wasn't her Knight in Shining Armor after all.
  • The first two verses and choruses of "Sk8er Boi" by Avril Lavigne center on a girl that rejected the titular character, but when the bridge comes around, it's revealed that the singer is actually the protagonist and also the boy's girlfriend.
  • Jay-Z's "The Story of O.J." isn't a narrative directly about O. J. Simpson, but it starts off referencing his infamous claim of "I'm not black, I'm O.J.", in turn his well-documented proclivity to disavow his black heritage in light of his rise to superstardom, treating his race as shameful. Jay uses this as a springboard to discuss how black communities further categorize and segregate themselves, which he then transitions into a discussion on generational wealth, advising listeners to spend and invest wisely.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • Acts of the Apostles at first focused on the Apostles particularly Peter before switching to the exploits of Paul in chapter 13.
    • There are two Books of Samuel, which feature the prophet Samuel. He dies before the first one is over; the books are mainly about King David, whom Samuel appoints on God's command.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The D&D adventure Vecna Lives! famously pulled this one. The players start in the roles of the Circle Of Eight, the most powerful archmages in the world— guys who have spells in the rulebook named after them. But the very first encounter is a Hopeless Boss Fight, all the archmages end up dead, and the players must switch to a less-powerful backup team and still save the day.

  • Lead actors in ancient Greece often preferred to show off their versatility by switching among multiple roles, so there are many Greek tragedies in which a particular character is at the center of the action for the first third or half of the play, only to die or disappear and be replaced by a new character (who would have originally been played by the same actor in a new mask).

  • In the classic Greek Antigone, the titular character seems to be our main until... Well, she is a Tragic Hero. Creon, the only character to have appeared in all of the Theban plays, takes the spotlight. Ergo, the trope is Older Than Feudalism.
  • The Book of Mormon begins with charming, handsome Elder Price setting off to change the world with Elder Cunningham as his Plucky Comic Relief sidekick. By the end of Act 1 Price has abandoned his mission and Cunningham decides to step up and lead the people. Price still remains a main character, but the action is more focused on Cunningham's actions from then on.
  • While the first 30 or so minutes of Ang Huling El Bimbo focus mainly on Emman, Anthony, and Hector, Joy is the true protagonist of the musical, as the main theme is how she went from a sweet, innocent teenage girl to a single mother who, as she nears middle age, still prostitutes herself and works as a drug mule in order to provide for her aunt and daughter.

  • Aurora begins by presenting Vash, the god of the city bearing his name, as the hero of the story. This is quickly subverted when his soul is sucked out of his body. The real protagonist turns out to be the guy inhabiting his body after this, a consciousness who spontaneously comes into existence in the absence of Vash's soul.
  • Dracula Everlasting: The story starts with Nicholas, until Dracula takes control of him via vampirism. After that, the perspective shifts between Jill, Kate, and Dracula. Subverted Trope when Nicholas regains control, allowing him a Heroic Sacrifice to eliminate Dracula.
  • The first chapter of Furry Fight Chronicles makes it seem like Fenny would be the protagonist of the story or a mentor figure to Muko. In reality, her purpose was just to inspire Muko to take furry fighting by showing how one match looks like.
  • In the first chapter of Gosu, a martial artist (who looks strikingly similar to Gang Ryong) is released from prison for an impressive feat and continues to be the focus of the chapter until he gets taken out by the leader of a group of bandits. Cue the revelation that it was the tubby delivery boy who is actually Gang Ryong! A curb-stomping quickly ensues.
  • Homestuck:
    • Even though the focus of the story changes constantly and John is absent through most of the story (as the focus shifts to other characters or even his own companions), later events in the story have put him back in the spotlight, and characters will often refer to him as the de facto protagonist of the story even though he keeps getting put in the background of everyone else's plans and actions that drive the story.
    • Played straight with Jane, who was set up to be the Tritagonist of the post-Scratch session. In the end, though, the one who ends up being more involved with the main plot is Roxy.
  • For only the first panel of Legend of Legendary Mighty Knight, to be exact- a finely-clothed knight is shown parading before an adoring crowd on a horse-like mount, with the heads of several monsters skewered on their sword. Given the title, one is led to believe that this is the eponymous mighty knight. But below the bridge that the knight is riding on is another knight, a smaller individual wearing only a helmet atop their giant slug-cat mount, the cat balanced in the gorge beneath the bridge so the knight can reach some berries. It is this smaller knight who appears alongside the title card.
  • In Mitadake Saga, we're initially led to believe that Zaraki Yagami is the protagonist. He's the first character we focus on and the first chapter is about him getting a weapon to defend himself with. Then, just as he's done so, he suddenly drops dead of a heart attack, showing the real protagonist, Zero Nanaya, the true weight of the situation.
  • Shin-Wu from Noblesse plays a red herring until the supporting protagonist Raizel shows up. While Shin-Wu is still prominent in the Noblesse S lite novel, he has been relegated to the background of the comic as comic relief and Distressed Dude.
  • While Schlock Mercenary is named after Schlock, and he's usually involved, he's receded a fair bit into the background, with the actual protagonist role typically going to a human character (Tagon, more often than not). It's notable that on the comic's Character page, he's something like a third of the way down the page, despite, again, being the title character!
  • By all initial appearances and the conventions of the Magical Girl Warrior genre, Tessa is the protagonist of Sleepless Domain; she's The Leader of Team Alchemical, is color-themed bright pink, and wields the Infinity +1 Element aether. Then a monster abruptly kills three of Tessa's teammates and mortally wounds the fourth, Undine, and Tessa Depowers herself with the energy expenditure required to heal her. From then on, Undine has to set out and fight monsters on her own, eventually befriending (and eventually smooching) another solo magical girl, Kokoro (aka Heartful Punch). While most chapters after focus on Undine (featuring water-themed titles to match) and Kokoro (featuring heart-themed titles), Tessa remains the tritagonist, receiving a later chapter focused on her (Chapter 12, Penumbra), while Chapter 18 (Distributary) involves both Undine and Tessa's perspectives. (At the end of Chapter 18, Tessa fuses with The Purple One as the result of a Despair Event Horizon, becoming a Dark Magical Girl and likely antagonist.)
  • Invoked in Sluggy Freelance here. A Captain Kirk parody claims that he will be the last one standing and the one to stop the alien's rampage, boasting that he's "the handsome masculine lead." When Torg, the actual main character of the webcomic, insists that he and Riff are more interesting characters compared to the Captain's "shallow stereotype," the Captain asks if they think it's "a sci-fi thriller or some goofy buddy movie." The alien later known as Aylee then eats the captain, who's promptly forgotten about.
  • In Sonichu, it seems like Sonichu would be the main character, but the attention quickly shifts to the creator Chris Chan himself. Almost every adventure Sonichu and his friends go on is something that happened in Chris's life. The comic is basically a big metaphor for how Chris wishes he could go back and do things differently.
  • Played straight in Tails Gets Trolled. Sonic the Hedgehog shows up as the friend of the title character, as one might expect, just as one might expect. The story is mostly told from his perspective, and four chapters later, he gets his head ripped off.
  • White Angels Have No Wings: Downplayed with Song Ayeon. She features heavily on the cover arts of the manhwa and is focused on in the first few chapters as the object of Baek Yeonhwa's affections. However, while she is a major character, the central conflict mostly involves how Yeonhwa interacts with Yang Dahye. Dahye herself is closer to a protagonist than Ayeon is since her character arc gets more attention. The cinching factor is the fact that Dahye is the protagonist of the sequel series White Angels Get No Rest in which Ayeon does not appear and is barely mentioned except in passing.
  • In the first episode of Wonderlab, we're presented a team of newly-introduced personnel. Parker, The Leader, ends up being lured into the Containment Unit of an Abnormality known as "Dingle Dangle" by the end of the episode, where they are killed by Catt, the true member of the comic's Power Trio, in an attempt to suppress Dingle Dangle. The episode after introduces Narae, an Agent who is in charge of another Abnormality called "My Sweet Home", along with their counselor, Taii. An episode after that, Narae is consumed by My Sweet Home and Taii becomes part of the main cast.

    Web Original 
  • In Just Another Fool, there is Logan. After a while, he goes missing and his friend Josh takes over the blog. Then Logan returns... but now, he's gone just a little unhinged.
  • The prologue chapter of The Pirates Covered in Fur takes place on an island away from the story's main setting and follows a goat who's trying to prevent Captain Lyle and his pirates from stealing a dangerous weapon. She's killed at the end, and the pirates acquire the weapon despite her efforts.
  • The first entry in the Smirvlak Trilogy, Smirvlak's Stone, mostly focuses on Nickolas Corveel as he tries to strengthen his bond with his estranged brother, Gnekvizz. Along his journey, Nick learns how to be a Combat Pragmatist, he grows closer to his brother, discovers that the world can be both beautiful and despairing, and even goes as far as killing the Disc-One Final Boss. Then it's revealed that Gnekvizz was Evil All Along, and shortly afterwards, he murders Nick, thereby illustrating that Nick had no bearing on the trilogy as a whole.
  • The first chapter of T.O.T. focused entirely on Mark and Maximus Slade. Mark is also the one who informs his friends about the werewolf and that they're in trouble. Mark is also the one who got the police involved (or tried to at least). Mark is also the one who receives a large amount of development, and the story is written to set Maximus to be Mark's Arch-Enemy, and that he'll ultimately be the one who saves the day. Despite all of this, Mark is killed two-thirds of the way into the story and is surprisingly the first main character in the story to die.

    Web Videos 
  • The sequel to Cool Guy Has Chill Day begins with new character Mr. Funk doing similar things to Cool Guy in the original, and plays a sweet saxophone solo... then Cool Guy shows up and kills him about halfway through the video, proceeding to bury his body to his Leitmotif.
  • Hero House has an extremely elaborate example, with Nightwing serving as the main protagonist throughout all of season one. This all changes, however, due to his murder
  • Marble Hornets had Jay, who was shown as the main protagonist for 80 out of the 87 entries. Wanna know what happened in the 80th entry? He was shot and killed by Alex. For the remaining entries, Jay's "sidekick" Tim had to take the reins and settle the conflict once and for all.
  • hbomberguy believes this to be a failing of Fallout 3 (relevant portion of his review): both the pre-game hype and in-game narrative holds the player up to be important (and their choices of great consequence), but in the end they end up being more of a spectator to the player's father, and he feels annoyed at having been lied to.
  • Smosh's series, Part Timers, began with the manager, Lori, introducing the newly hired ascended fanboy Scooter to his new job at Pork E. Pine's. Scooter gives a small speech about how he's thrilled to be working there... And then he is very promptly killed when Ian accidentally hits him in the head with a ski ball. The next scene has Lori bringing in the new employee, Pete, who becomes the main character throughout the series.

    Western Animation 
  • Æon Flux: "War" is built around this trope. It begins by following Aeon Flux, who is quickly shot to death. The story then follows a quick succession of new "protagonists," each displaying typical lead character traits before getting unceremoniously killed. According to Word of God, it's meant to be a commentary on how easily audience sympathy can be manipulated; each new protagonist is on the opposite side of the war than the one before.
  • Centaurworld: "Hello Rainbow Road", the pilot, opens with a vague narration with camera angles that imply Rider is the one speaking. Then she begins to sing, and her voice is very different from the one in the narration, minutes before Horse arrives in Centaurworld and it's revealed she was the one narrating.
  • The Dreamstone: The pilot episodes establishes Rufus' role as assistant to the Dream Maker and he Took a Level in Badass to stop Zordrak. While some early episodes still play with this idea, the spotlight slowly drifts towards the Urpneys and Rufus' competence and pathos dwindle in favor of making him a Hero Antagonist no more significant than the other residents of the Land of Dreams.
  • DuckTales (2017):
    • The opening for the show primarily focuses on Scrooge leading his family on a chase to recover his No. 1 Dime, and the pilot's main focus is Scrooge coming out of retirement to become a worldwide adventurer again. The rest of the series primarily focuses on the kid characters, with Dewey and Webby getting the meat of it.
    • This happens to Scrooge again in the second season. Early on, a plotline is established of Scrooge and Glomgold making a bet with each other. Louie ends up being the one to win it in the end, after being Out of Focus for most of the middle of the season.
  • King of the Hill:
    • Subverted in the episode "Aisle 8A". Bobby is the main character for the first act, then the focus shifts to Hank for the second act, and finally back to Bobby in the third act.
    • "Hank and the Great Glass Elevator" starts with Hank dealing with the guy's antics in a trip to Austin for Bill's birthday, then it's set up for the episode to focus on him when he moons Ann Richards (It Makes Sense in Context). After this, Bill take the blame and the rest of the episode focuses on him.
  • Mickey Mouse in Pluto's Judgement Day. Despite the short claiming that Mickey is the main character, it's actually his dog Pluto that is the main focus of this short. Mickey actually punishes Pluto for chasing a cat around his house, and as a result, the dog starts to have a nightmare about him going to Hell.
    • In fact, Mickey ends up being this in a lot of his shorts due to the supporting characters being more popular and having personalities that work better for comedy. Notable examples include "Orphan's Picnic" (Mickey only appears in two scenes only on and most of the short involves Donald dealing with the orphans stealing his food) and "Hawaiian Holiday" (where Mickey is only a background character for most of the short, with most of the focus given to the rest of the cast).
    • An extreme example of this is the cartoon Donald and Pluto. According to the opening titles, it's a Mickey Mouse cartoon, yet he is nowhere to be seen! (It can be assumed that it takes place in his house, but that's pure conjecture.)
  • Hays Code-era Betty Boop shorts are similarly notorious for this. Like with Mickey, (see above), the opening titles will claim Betty is the main character, only for the short to be mostly about Grampy or Pudgy. Popeye The Sailor, the animated debut of Popeye, is a rare pre-Code example; he's the main character even though it is a Betty Boop cartoon according to the titles.
  • Although Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has been the protagonist for so long, there are later episodes where Starlight Glimmer takes over that role instead.
  • The Simpsons does this regularly. Often the episode starts out with a plot that seems to be going one direction, but then a side detail creates a new plot that may focus on different characters. For instance:
    • The episode "A Milhouse Divided" starts out centered on Milhouse's parents' divorce, but when Homer and Marge begin to have similar marital troubles, the narrative changes to revolve around them instead.
    • In "Blood Feud," when Mr. Burns is dying, only Bart has a matching blood type to transfuse to save him. Later, Bart is sent only a thank you note and Homer steals the rest of the episode when he objects to Mr. Burns' minimal reward and sends an insulting letter to his boss. From then on, Bart becomes nothing more than his dad's sidekick and doesn't do anything significant except for a prank call to Moe's Tavern.
    • Though "Trilogy Of Error" depicts the events of Homer, Bart and Lisa’s day, it is actually a Marge episode as she is the one who holds everything together and makes everything happen. She kicks off everything with breakfast, cuts off Homer's thumb (by accident), starts up the 123 Fake Street which leads to Bart's undercover storyline, does all the driving for both Homer and Lisa, and it's her fault that Homer has to hitchhike and then walk. And it’s ultimately her who saves the day by tossing Linguo into the fire.
  • Titan Maximum did this with the promos, where both Spud and Gibbs were shown as part of the cast. But in the first episode, Spud was Killed Off for Real and Gibbs had a Face–Heel Turn. Their team roles on the actual show were taken by The Hero's younger brother and the monkey.
  • Promotional artwork for Transformers: Prime showed a team of six Autobots. One of them, Cliffjumper, was the star of the comic released before the show debuted, and was also announced to be voiced by fan-favorite Dwayne Johnson. The first five minutes of the show follow Cliffjumper as he finds the Decepticons have arrived on Earth...and then he gets stabbed through the chest by Starscream. The other bots end up being a traditional Five-Man Band.
  • From episode 1, Xiaolin Showdown sets up Omi as The Hero. For a while, this is undoubtedly the case; his face is in the logo, he is the most skilled, gets the most attention, and gets the most opportunities to save his teammates. As the series goes on, he still gets the most attention (including special training from Season 2's Big Bad), plus the ego to show for it and the most Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moments, so that by the start of Season 3 he's the one being saved, and Raimundo is The Hero in all but name. Subtly played, but quite a few viewers saw the finale and Raimundo being named team leader coming a season away.
    • The Alternate Continuity sequel series, Xiaolin Chronicles also begins with a focus on Omi, but the show ends on a story arc that sees Kimiko as the first Xiaolin Dragon of their generation to become a Dragon Rider, using her new powers to save the day.
  • The Family Guy episode "Our Idiot Brian" began with Meg getting Brian to take the SATs for her only for him to fail, and the rest of the episode revolves around his lost intelligence. The shift of focus to him is lampshaded by an extra.
    "Thank God! I thought this was gonna be a Meg-centric episode."
  • Wander over Yonder: Craig McCracken mentioned in an interview that he feels the show is really about Lord Hater.
    He's the character that has the most to learn over the course of this show and is the one who most needs to grow. [...] I mean, Wander has some flaws. But he's really the guy who's guiding Hater to his future or wherever he's going to end up.
  • This trope is part of the premise of Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, with the titular character and his friends having the job of "heroes" in any given dimension where the ones who are supposed to inhabit the roles are unable to accomplish the task.
    "Wherever good is threatened, heroes rise to the challenge and always save the day! Except when they don't..."
  • The second season of Total Drama does this twice. The first few episodes are heavily Trent and Gwen-centric, and the two are even captains of their teams...but by the seventh episode, they are both eliminated from the show. Following their eliminations, Lindsay, along with Duncan, is setup to reach the finale as she's the one who step up to lead her team (despite failing to succeed), having interacted with almost everyone and had a heated rivalry with the season's antagonist. However, she was eventually eliminated in the final six, with her best friend being the one to reach the finale with Duncan.
  • The Venture Bros. appears to focus mainly on the adventures of Hank and Dean throughout the first season. However, they (or rather, their clones) are killed in the first season finale, and the show revolves around a large ensemble cast from that point forward. Though even during the first season, the show focused more on their father Rusty Venture and his life as a scientist/former boy adventurer.
  • When the Day Breaks: The rooster seems like he'll be the protagonist, as the cartoon opens with him getting ready and starting his day. But he's killed less than a third of the way through and it turns out that the real protagonist is the pig, who has to deal with her feelings after seeing the rooster killed by an oncoming truck.
  • In the Canadian short Hot Stuff, the caveman who received first is thought to be the main character, but then he dies halfway through and passes on the fire to future generations.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender: It's easy to be misguided into thinking that Lance is The Hero, seeing as he gets a lot of focus in the very start of the first episode and is the first one to obtain his lion. However, this is soon proven wrong as the show is much more of an Ensemble Cast, with the protagonist role often leaning more towards Keith, Shiro, or Allura.
  • In the Gravity Falls episode "Northwest Mansion Mystery'', Dipper deals with much of the problem. However, he is taken out in the climax and it falls to the episode's true hero, Pacifica, to stop the ghost. Pacifica also undergoes major Character Development throughout the episode and while Dipper does catch the ghost the first time, Pacifica is the one who gets rid of it.
  • The Darkwing Duck episode "Battle of the Brainteasers" is about a trio of hat-like alien criminals who take over people's bodies by jumping on their heads. The three take over Honker, Darkwing, and Launchpad's bodies and hijack a missle base, leaving Gosalyn as the only one left to stop them. However, in the last act Gosalyn is able to free Honker from the control of Flarg, the aliens' leader, only for Flarg to take over Gosalyn's body instead, leaving Honker, the real hero of the episode, as the one who must stop the three and save the world.
  • The Adventure Time finale: most of the promos, commercials and official artwork featured Finn, the main character of the show, as the one who will stop the war between Princess Bubblegum and her uncle Gumbald, as well as the one who will save the world from GOLB. While the manages to stop the war, he doesn't do much during the battle against GOLB and ends up Eaten Alive alongside Simon and Betty by the evil god. Instead it's BMO, with the help of Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, who ends up helping everyone during the final battle and Betty, who ends up fusing herself with GOLB to save Simon and the world. Not only that, but he has barely any relevant scenes during the ending montage, with Marceline, Bubblegum and Simon having more scenes than him, who has only one scene at the end.
  • Rick and Morty: "Mortyplicity" takes this trope Up to Eleven, as we spend the entire episode rapidly shifting between literal decoy Smiths who we are lead to believe are the real Smith family but are always abruptly killed off by another Smith family and then it moves on to the next set of decoys, again and again, until it ends with a massive bloodbath of decoy families with nobody sure if any of them are the real ones. Only at the very end does it (seemingly) turn out the real Smiths were off-world the entire time.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): False Protagonist


Don't be a menace Intro Scene

An unfortunate reality for some in the hood, but damn if it isn't funny to watch

How well does it match the trope?

4.89 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / DecoyProtagonist

Media sources: