Follow TV Tropes


Impersonation-Exclusive Character

Go To

Bob is revealed to be someone else entirely, an impostor who killed and replaced the real Bob a long time ago! The means the real Bob is someone we barely know, and most or all of what do we know about him is known solely through the actions of his impersonator.

This trope applies to any instance when all the information about a character is revealed by the actions of their impostor and the ways the other characters interact with the impostor. If the real character is shown, it's very briefly. If the original person returns in later installments, it does not discredit that this trope was the case originally; such cases can overlap with The Real Remington Steele if the impersonator is an established character and if the disguise is subsequently retconned as a real person instead of an Invented Individual.


Often a result of Kill and Replace, Actually a Doombot, and Dead Person Impersonation; and a subtrope of Dead All Along, Posthumous Character, and often The Ghost. Contrast You Will Be Beethoven, in which the original person may have never even existed.

Being a reveal trope, unmarked spoilers lie ahead.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the manga adaptation of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, Edgeworth meets renowned art scholar Amadeus Seal when investigating the possibility that a group of gentleman art thieves will rob the Seselagi Museum. After solving the murder of a security guard, which the owner committed to cover up his selling the painting "Officers," Seal says goodbye to Edgeworth. Later, Edgeworth sees the real Seal in a newspaper article, notices that he's nothing like the one he met, and realizes that "Seal" had been one of the thieves in disguise.
  • Death Note: L, the greatest detective in the world, is also the second and third greatest detectives in the world: Eraldo Coil and Deneuvue. This comes in handy for L when people try to catch him; they usually end up hiring Coil or Deneuve. Another Note reveals that Eraldo Coil (and presumably Deneuve, too,) were actually real detectives before L took their names in "detective wars".
  • In Future Diary Yuno does this to the current timeline's version of herself. After being unable to revive Yukiteru when she wins the Survival Game, she travels back in time and kills that version of herself so she can be with Yukiteru.
  • Hunter × Hunter: The true Supreme Leader of East Gorteau was not revolutionary leader Diego Masadoru/Ming Jol-ik, but a body double. Unlike other examples, the real Diego/Ming is still alive, having retired to live peacefully and anonymously shortly after the revolution, and gets a single short scene towards the end of the Chimera Ant arc.
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure:

    Comic Books 
  • The Captain N: The Game Master Nintendo Comics System story "Breakout" has the character Judge Racklas. He briefly appears in one panel while completely bound with rope and does not have any dialogue, while the rest of the comic features Ridley impersonating him. Therefore, most of what we know about Racklas comes from the Galactic Federation, Princess Lana, and Mother Brain discussing the disguised Ridley.

    Film — Animated 
  • Megamind: Megamind takes the form of the museum worker Bernard using a version of Capture and Replicate, and he uses this form for a large portion of the film to get closer to Roxanne. The real Bernard is much lower-energy than Megamind portrays him, and he only appears in the scene before Megamind takes his form and in The Stinger.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Diamonds Are Forever has several "Blofelds" due to the real Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) turning henchmen of his into 'clones' of himself via plastic surgery. Each time James Bond kills one of them he bumps into another. They all seem to have the same mannerisms. It's not even sure if the last Blofeld to be killed in the film was the real article and it fed fan theories for decades.
  • In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it's revealed in the climax that the head of the American Auror office, Percival Graves, is really Gellert Grindelwald in disguise as Graves. Nothing about the real Graves is known other than the fact that he comes from a storied wizarding family in America and that he was a very powerful wizard since his skills don't surprise anyone. It's unclear how long the impersonation had been going on, if Graves is/was still alive, or if Grindelwald or Graves was the person who first met Credence so it's hard to gauge what he really was like.
  • In Inception, Robert Fischer's godfather and Maurice Fischer's longtime friend and legal counsel Peter Browning (Tom Berenger) appears in one single scene. He's impersonated by Eames (still played by Berenger) in the dream the rest of the time, in order to convince Robert to dismantle the company he just inherited.
  • The Ritual: Gayle, Dom's wife, only appears briefly toward the end of the film in Dom's vision induced by the creature.
  • Scooby-Doo: Emile Mondavarious, the Big Bad, turns out to actually be Scrappy-Doo in a robotic disguise. The real Mondavarious is found trapped under a manhole at the very end of the film, after Scrappy has been defeated and taken away, and is given just enough screentime to explain how Scrappy came to impersonate him in the first place.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Captain Marvel (2019):
      • We only see Fury's boss, Director Keller, once, as SHIELD arrives at the Blockbuster that Carol crashed into when she arrived on Earth. The rest of his appearances in the movie, Talos is impersonating him.
    • Spider-Man: Far From Home: The post-credits stinger reveals that the Nick Fury and Maria Hill who've been aiding Peter for the entire movie are in fact actually Talos and Soren, with the real Fury being in space on another mission.
  • Source Code: Jake Gyllenhaal plays soldier Colter Stevens, who is tasked with repeatedly living the last eight minutes of the life of a man named Shawn Fentress who died when a train exploded. Nothing is known about Fentress besides what other people say about him, and with Gyllenhaal portraying both versions of his character, Fentress's real appearance is only seen through reflections and photos of him. Unusually for this trope, not only does the reveal occur about ten minutes in, but the film ends with Stevens surviving beyond the eight minutes and (presumably) living out the rest of his life as Fentress, with nobody in the alternate reality any the wiser.
  • Vertigo: It turns out that the Madeleine Elster who is a major character in the first half of the movie is really an imposter; the only time that we see her for real during the entire film is as a dead body whose neck has been broken.
  • In The Bravados, Mr. Simms—the hangman brought in from Silver City—turns out to be an imposter who helps the outlaws escape. When the Posse goes in pusuit of the outlaws, the find the body of the real Simms on the trail.

  • Agatha Christie was fond of the trope. From the Hercule Poirot novels:
    • In After the Funeral, Cora Lansquenet is never seen alive. None of the family having seen the real Cora in over twenty years, the "Cora" who appears at the titular funeral of her brother Richard is revealed to actually have been her lady-in-waiting Miss Gilchrist, who then went on to murder her mistress the following day. Gilchrist drugged the real Cora the morning of the funeral and attended in her place; that evening she murdered Cora in her bed, making sure to disfigure her face beyond recognition. Her impersonation was almost perfect, deliberately seeding doubt about whether Richard did in fact die of natural causes and even mimicking Cora's painting style to cover over the one painting Cora owned that was actually worth anything. Making off with the painting proves to be the motive behind the entire plot. Miss Gilchrist's three mistakes: practicing Cora's trademark Quizzical Tilt in a mirror causes it to appear reversed, so that her relatives knew something was off but not quite what; remarking on a vase of wax flowers which she could only have seen on the day of the funeral, as the vase was later broken; and painting her forgery from a postcard, when the real Cora always painted from life.
    • In Cat Among the Pigeons, it is discovered that Princess Shaista was kidnapped in Switzerland before she could arrive at Meadowbank School, and the character believed to be her throughout the book is an actress specializing in Dawson Casting parts. The reader never gets to know the real Shaista at all.
    • In The Clocks, the weak hypochondriac Mrs. Valerie Bland is revealed to be Mrs. Hilda Bland, her husband's second wife, posing as the first one to get her inheritance. The only things we therefore know about the real Valerie was that she came from a rich Canadian family and had really poor judgment of men, considering her choice of husband.
    • In Hercule Poirots Christmas, two coincidental, unrelated cases: among the guests who come to visit elderly Simeon Lee for the holidays are Stephen Farr, son of Lee's old business partner in South Africa whom he betrayed; and Pilar Estravados, Lee's Spanish-born granddaughter, on her first visit to England as civil war breaks out in Spain. Simeon is murdered, but both impostors end up being Red Herrings. A telegraph reveals that the real Stephen Farr is dead — Stephen's real name is Stephen Grant, a friend of the real Farr but also, as he explains, the illegitimate son of Lee himself, who came to England intending to confront his father not only for what he did to the Grants but for his own abandonment. Pilar, meanwhile, is actually Conchita Lopez, the real Pilar's friend, traveling with Pilar through wartorn Spain when the latter was killed by a bomb. Conchita seized on the opportunity to masquerade as Pilar, enjoying a brief respite in a wealthy home far from the war — only to find herself trapped by her own deceit, unable to reveal the truth without making herself even more of a suspect in the murder. In the end, both are cleared of suspicion, and Stephen asks Conchita to come back with him to South Africa so that the two of them can be married.
    • In Murder In Mesopotamia, we really never learn anything about Eric Leidner, besides that he was a Swedish archeologist. That's because it's revealed he died decades ago in a train crash, and his identity was stolen by German spy Frederick Bosner. Likewise, we never find out what sort of person Father Lavigny is. All the time in the book, he has been impersonated by a jewel thief, as the real Father Lavigny fell sick and was unable to accompany the expedition at all.
  • Tom appears in almost every Animorphs book, but the only time he's seen without a Puppeteer Parasite controlling him is at the climax of the first one. Most of his characterisation comes from Jake comparing his Yeerks' impersonation to the real Tom he knew.
  • Jason Bourne, the protagonist of The Bourne Series. The Bourne that we follow is actually a CIA operative named David Webb, who assumed the identity of an assassin called Jason Bourne in order to go undercover. The real Bourne was executed by Webb years ago and never appears in the series.
  • Gideon the Ninth: It's revealed late in the book that the Seventh House's Sword and Sorcerer duo were murdered soon before the start of the plot by the rogue Lyctor Cytherea, who took Dulcinea's identity and necromantically puppeted Protesilaus' corpse. The ruse only works because none of the other characters had met them in person beforehand, and when Harrowhark meets the real people's spirits in Harrow the Ninth, she notes that the impersonation was insultingly bad.
  • In Heretical Edge, several characters have been possessed by Seosten since before their first introduction, including Pace (the insane behavior previously seen from Pace was entirely that of her possessor). Subverted by Jophiel and Elisabet; in the same chapter where it is discovered that Jophiel has been possessing Elisabet for centuries, it is revealed that Elisabet has been a Willing Channeler the entire time.
  • In the Miss Marple novel A Murder Is Announced, also by Christie, it's revealed, close to the end, that Miss Blacklock's niece Julia Simmons is really Emma Stamfordis, one of the prime suspects in the case. After that, Patrick Simmons does talk a bit about the character of his real sister, but the latter never makes an appearance.
  • Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody is this through most of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We get to know him extensively throughout the book, but at the end, he turns out to have been an impostor using a humanshifting potion. The real guy is found alive at the end of the book and shows up from time to time in subsequent installments, but none of his mannerisms come off as surprising, given how good the impersonation was. In the final book, the main trio quote Moody's catchphrase ("Constant vigilance!"), even though we only ever encountered the impostor actually saying that.
  • In the Lord Darcy novel Ten Little Wizards, the first scene is of the person being impersonated being murdered, but the reader does not find out their identity (and, thus, the identity that the impostor is hiding under) until the climax.
  • Moonraker: Hugo Drax is actually a Nazi saboteur who masquerades as a war hero for the past several years after he was "rescued" in his British military disguise, stole the identity of a missing soldier, and faked amnesia to justify not remembering his pre-WWII life. By sheer coincidence, the "Hugo Drax" name he adopted happens to be surprisingly close to his real one (Graf Hugo von der Drache). The only things known about the real Hugo Drax was that he was an orphan with no close friends or relatives, and was MIA during World War II. Drax/Drache remains a dedicated Nazi, bent on revenge against Britain for the wartime defeat of his Fatherland and the social slights he received as a youth growing up in an English boarding school before the war.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Let's Get Together": One of the characters, Breckenridge, was replaced with a robot duplicate before the events of the story. They use Breckenridge's position to drive the events of the story, trying to eliminate "Our" experts.
  • In the Cthulhu Mythos:
  • Tom Swift: In "The Space Hotel," a scientist invited to the eponymous location is kidnapped and replaced by an Eco-Terrorist. While the real scientist is rescued, this happens off-screen, and he never meets Tom.
  • Gaelle in The Codex Alera; at first she seems to be an ordinary student at the Academy, but she is eventually revealed to be Rook, one of High Lord Kalarus's top spies who Killed And Replaced the real Gaelle some time before the character first appears.
  • Tian Guan Ci Fu: It's revealed in book three that the real Ming Yi is dead. The man who's pretending to be him is really He Xuan, one of the Four Calamities, who infiltrated the heavens partly to be a spy for Hua Cheng and mostly to get revenge on Shi Wudu.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrowverse:
    • The Flash (2014):
      • Episode 17 reveals that Harrison Wells is really another person entirely (the time-traveling Eobard Thawne) who stole Wells's appearance, killing him and his wife in the process. Despite being a very important figure (along with his wife Tess Morgan) in the original timeline Thawne came from, almost nothing besides this is known (other than he used to be warmer and more open with people "before the accident"). The real Wells only appears in three scenes: the first is an Establishing Character Moment which shows us he is passionate about science and his brilliant wife, and the second two where he is killed and has his identity stolen by Thawne. This is the case until he's resurrected at the beginning of season 7.
      • A more minor example is with Randolf Morgan, whose appearance is used via holographic device as a disguise for various reasons, first by H.R. Wells (Harrison Wells's doppelgänger) and later by Barry Allen. Nothing is really known besides what he looks like and what H.R (his former business partner) says about him.
  • Cold Case: Noah Pool died in Auschwitz 60 years ago. The man using his name in "The Hen House" is a Nazi collaborator.
  • An episode of Law & Order called "Nowhere Man" starts with the investigation of the murder of ADA Dan Tenofsky, only for the police and the DA to discover "Dan Tenofsky" was an imposter named Jacob Dieter. The real Dan Tenofskie was a law school dropout, whose identity the imposter stole and fabricated his entire career off of. At the end of the episode, Serena asks Jack what they should do with "Dan's" personal effects and Jack says "What personal effects? Those were more like props."
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of" our heroes are searching for the scientist Roger Korby. The Korby that they encounter is actually an android that's been imprinted with the real Korby's memories and personality. Over the course of the episode it's made clear that the duplication wasn't perfect (certain personality traits have been warped and twisted), so we don't have a complete picture of what the real one was like.
  • The Blacklist has a major example that becomes a significant part of the Myth Arc. The man we've been following as Raymond Reddington may not actually be the original Raymond Reddington, finding out exactly who he is and why he has this identity takes up a lot of Elizabeth's focus in the later seasons. Eventually taken to absurd extremes as possible identities are raised for his origin only for them to turn out to also be borrowed from other people, making him a sort of nesting doll of impersonation. Maybe.

    Video Games 
  • In BoxxyQuest: The Shifted Spires, Intrepid, Catie's mysterious hooded ally and the head of the /c/ council, does not actually appear in the game. The Intrepid we meet is actually Rcoastee, having killed him and taking on his form, while the real Intrepid never appears physically, only being described by Rcoastee.
  • In the second Chzo Mythos installment, 7 Days a Skeptic, the protagonist, Dr. John Somerset, is actually Dr. Somerset's son who killed his father and stole his identity.
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses the missing student Monica von Ochs, the Monastery's librarian Tomas, Edelgard's uncle Volkhard von Arundel, and Faerghus' court magician Cornelia Arnimnote  are all revealed to be impostors from Those Who Slither In The Dark. The characters themselves are never seen and implied to have been killed before the game's events.
  • The King of Fighters 2000: Ling has not only one, but two impersonators, both a regular clone of himself and Zero, both introduced before the real Ling. Practically all that's known about him is that he was the man Vanessa and Seth were working under and that he had a nice mustache.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Master Miller in Metal Gear Solid plays with the concept, in that the real Miller had already been introduced in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (and would show up again in prequels), but his much more well-known appearance in MGS1 turns out to have been Liquid Snake in disguise, with Liquid having killed the real Miller shortly before the game began.
    • The DARPA Chief that Snake meets at the beginning of the game is a more traditional example, as he's actually the enemy spy Decoy Octopus in disguise (the real chief has been literally rotting in a cell the whole time), and while the real Chief also appears in a prequel, that's set well before he even joined DARPA, so we never get to see what he was really like in that role.
    • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain retcons in another instance similar to Master Miller, with the reveal that the Big Boss who was the Big Bad of the original game was an impersonator, Venom Snake. Like Miller, though, it's downplayed in that Metal Gear 2 showed the real Big Boss in the same role before the impersonation was revealed.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has minor character Zip Toad, who turns out to have been chapter 4's boss Doopliss in disguise all along. The original Zip T. does not actually feature in the game besides a written e-mail from him.
  • In RosenkreuzStilette Freudenstachel, the Pope of the Orthodox Church who serves as the Big Bad is actually a homunculus copy controlled by previous villain Iris Zeppelin, who killed the real Pope before the game began. Though it is played with as we never see even the imposter Pope, let alone the real one, though he is repeatedly mentioned by other characters.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has the Scion Yda Hext, who is revealed to have died about a year prior to the events of Legacy. The character that players knew as "Yda" is revealed to have been her younger sister, Lyse. While a fair amount of information concerning the real Yda's personality and achievements is known, she is never featured in any content where she is still alive.

    Visual Novels 
  • CLANNAD: In Misae's backstory, she formed a relationship with a boy named Katsuki Shima. At one point, her friends visit Shima's house, and are confused when his mother tells them he is dead. The truth that eventually emerges is that Shima's dying wish was to grant a wish for Misae, and because of this, his cat was able to take on his form for a while. We never get to meet the real Shima.
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Ace Attorney Investigations 2: President Di-Jun Huang of Zheng Fa was assassinated 12 years before the events of the game, being replaced by his body double- the body double is the one we actually meet during the first case of the game and the one who becomes the Asshole Victim of the final case, while the real one remains unseen.
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies: Detective Bobby Fulbright was being impersonated by an international spy called "the phantom" for the entire game, having been dead since before the game began. Though the phantom is supposedly a master of impersonation, the audience knows next to nothing about the real Fulbright.
  • In Your Turn to Die Chapter 3-1A, the remaining survivors meet Ridiculously Human Robot versions of the candidates who didn't make it to the first trial. When one of them, Hinako, dies in a coffin that was supposed to be occupied by a human, the survivors realize that she was an imposter for the real Hinako, who died in the First Trial as a result of Alice leaving during it. Because there was technically a connection between the two (as the only candidates to be made into Dummies are the ones who had no previous connection to any of the others), she was not made into a Dummy, and we never meet her.

    Web Animation 
  • In the second episode of gen:LOCK, Robert Sinclair, one the six gen:LOCK recruits, is revealed to be a Union spy. Dr. Weller, guessing correctly that the spy isn't actually Sinclair and therefore isn't gen:LOCK compatible, allows the spy to use the gen:LOCK technology, resulting in his horrible death. The real Sinclair is presumed to have been killed by his impersonator, but his whereabouts are discovered in the post-credits scene of the first season finale.

  • The Order of the Stick: Malack is revealed to be a vampire, which in this universe is a spirit that takes over a body and represses the previous owner's consciousness until they cease to exist. The real Malack died centuries before the story begins (and according to the vampire, wasn't named Malack).
  • Early on in Dominic Deegan, Jacob infiltrates a group of Chosen members by killing their mentor Vilrath and disguising himself as him. Vilrath is never spoken of or seen again aside from a brief cameo in a vision a few arcs later.

    Web Original 
  • I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC: In the Meanwhile series, The Question makes his debut to help the heroes restore the timeline. After they succeed in fixing it, The Question reveals he lied about who he is. He isn't actually Vic Sage, but Walter Kovacs, the version of Rorschach from the past who changed the timeline in the first place. He took on The Question's identity to help Deadpool and the others fix the mess he caused by changing the timeline, because he knew they wouldn't trust him as Rorschach.

    Western Animation 
  • Love, Death & Robots: "Beyond the Aquila Rift": With the reveal that everything's a simulation, the only things we know about the real Greta are what she looked like and what Thom and fake Greta said about her.
  • A minor example in Gravity Falls: In "Into the Bunker", Dipper thinks he's finally found the author of the journal when he and Wendy meet an older man in the bunker. However, Wendy realizes the man is really the shapeshifter using the form of the man on the "Baron Num Nums High Flyin' Beans" can. All that is known about this man is his appearance and that he's the brand's mascot.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Viva Las Pegasus", Fluttershy, Applejack and the Flim-Flam Brothers try to trick the resort owner Gladmane into revealing his shady dealings through a ruse involving Fluttershy impersonating a businesswoman named Impossibly Rich. The Riches are an established family in the show, and Gladmane and the resort-goers all react to her as if she were someone real and well-known, but the real Impossibly Rich is never seen.
    • The series' Grand Finale villain Grogarnote  ultimately turns out to have been Discord in disguise all along; the real one did exist some millennia ago, and his signature weapon is dangerous as ever, but whether he ever recovered from his defeat is not known.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Season 5 has Peekablue, who we know is a peacock-themed prince with the power of far sight. Despite being said to be something of a recluse (though Adora had mentioned him and his girlfriend Sweet Bee when talking about the Princess Prom) Mermista heard a rumor he had been frequenting a shady bar scene recently so the princesses would need to go "undercover" to try and meet with him. Needless to say, the character we see using Peekablue's name and bragging about his abilities as part of a flashy show isn't the real one, but Double Trouble again, milking Peekablue's "brand" for all it's worth.
    • Also seems to be the case with Double Trouble and "Flutterina", it's somewhat ambiguous if the first time we meet Flutterina she is already Double Trouble's latest disguise or herself, but shortly thereafter she's definitely this.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: