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Perilous Old Fool

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"Ole fools, brave, perilous ole fools, why did ye try it?"
Skipper, from Triss, mourning Bluddbeak and Ovus

He's an Old Soldier, all right—a very old soldier who is adamant he's Made of Iron and good for another battle, even though it's woefully clear that said iron is showing a lot of wear and tear and his fighting days are behind him.

To fit this trope, the subject must be far too old and feeble to do battle anymore, or perhaps seriously disabled (either from previous battles or illness), or both. The subject must also be in denial and insist they're good for another round. Remember: Perilous Old Fool.

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Quite often, did have a well-earned badass reputation way back when, but has suffered some very literal Badass Decay. Very often ends up with a bad case of dead, and Curb Stomp Battles are pretty much the norm.

If the soldier is willing to sacrifice himself because he's old and infirm and the others have their lives ahead of them, or knows he's too old for a fight but wants to go out in a blaze of glory, that's Death Seeker — or More Hero Than Thou — not this trope. If they're going to die anyways and decide to fight to the last breath, that's Face Death with Dignity and possibly Taking You with Me. If someone's old as dirt but still has the chops, that's an Old Soldier, Old Master or whatever and should only be listed here as a subversion if they're believed to be this. Definitely related to (and possible Sub-Trope of) Too Dumb to Live and Fearless Fool.

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Examples:

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     Comic Books  

  • One Archie comic showed several veterans chasing a thief—but they no longer had their youthful stamina. The thief even said "This is where I lose the geezer brigade".
  • The whole idea of Batman-is-no-longer-a-young-man in The Dark Knight Rises is lifted almost verbatim from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, where Batman tries to fight a (much younger, stronger, and faster) leader of the Mutants on his terms and ends up battered and with a broken arm. For the rematch, Bruce accepts his age and fights the way an old man should fight a young upstart: by choosing the battlefield to his advantage, using precise, practiced techniques to disable the opponent—and avoiding direct brute force stand-offs.

     Films — Animated  

  • Subverted in Mulan; her father is aware that he is not in the best condition to fight, but is willing to die for his country and honor. Naturally, Mulan doesn't find this acceptable.

     Films — Live-Action  

  • Independence Day - Russel hasn't been in a fighter plane since the Vietnam War, but he wants payback for having been (supposedly) abducted by the invading aliens. He contributes to the battle by making a Heroic Sacrifice just before the giant alien ship can use its Wave Motion Gun on Area 51.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce is only in his late thirties to early forties, yet his accumulated injuries mean he is not nearly fit or strong enough for his first fight with Bane.
    Bane: You fight like a younger man: with nothing held back. Admirable... but mistaken.
    • Alfred also accuses Bruce of being a Glory Seeker by returning as Batman when he could be more effective by using his other resources like his technology and money to help the police.
      Alfred: You can strap up your leg and put your mask back on, but that doesn't make you what you were!
      Bruce: If this man is everything that you say he is, then this city needs me.
      Alfred: This city needs Bruce Wayne; your resources, your knowledge. It doesn't need your body, or your life. That time has passed.
      Bruce: You're afraid that if I go back out there I'll fail.
      Alfred: No. I'm afraid that you want to.

      Bruce: The police weren't getting it done.
      Alfred: Perhaps they might have, if you hadn't made a sideshow of yourself.
      Bruce: You thought I didn't have it in me.
      Alfred: You led a bloated police force on a merry chase with a load of fancy new toys from Fox. What about when you come up against him? What then?

      Alfred: You're not Batman anymore! You have to find another way.
  • Minus the Old, but this trope is tweaked a little in Skyfall — Bond is left pretty significantly disabled after his "death", in ways that seriously impact his ability to do all the things that make him James Bond. (No, not that thing, that's fine.) He's left physically debilitated, unable to shoot straight, and reliant on pills and liquor. But he's still sent back into battle despite failing all the assessment exams, even the weapons course and, being Bond, still ends up kicking the requisite ass, though he does need the assistance of two literal old people to do so.

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     Literature  

  • Bluddbeak, the redkite from Triss, is one of the Trope Namers. He has rheumatism. He's blind. And he's adamant that he's still the great adder-killer he once was and can take on a trio of the snakes who work together as one. Oh, is he wrong. The other "fool" Skipper is referring to in the quote is Ovus the owl, who feels the need to help Bluddbeak out despite his own great age and rheumatism. He fares better only in that he gets some Last Words and a decent burial, while all that's left of Bluddbeak are scattered feathers.
  • The David Gemmell book Legend is a subversion of this. By all standards of the setting Druss is way too old to fight another war and Death itself mocks him about it. He has crippling arthritis in his hands and his body is wrecked by decades of fighting. However, he quickly proves that he is still the deadliest man alive and still strong enough to kill hundreds of enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand combat.
  • In one Ciaphas Cain novel, a retired Imperial Guard veteran joins the militia to help fend off a Chaos invasion, and although he's very enthusiastic it's clear he's not quite all there.
  • Defied in By The Sword when a mercenary is left behind because he'd be tempted to take part in "one last battle", despite being very old and having only one arm.
  • Ajax the Archer in Myth Conceptions. He actually is pretty badass in spite of being quite past his prime, but the fool part comes in given how hopelessly overwhelming the odds are: even if he were a One-Man Army he wouldn't be enough.
  • Cohen the Barbarian of Discworld is edging close to this by his first appearance in The Light Fantastic, with his bad back and lack of teeth, but once he gets his back straightened out and a pair of (diamond!) dentures, he returns to being a full-time badass.
  • The Bible: In 2nd Samuel, King David becomes this as he gets older, thinking he can still fight battles as an older man. When he almost gets killed and one of his men come to the rescue, he is told to stay home in Jerusalem so that "the lamp of Israel" doesn't get snuffed out.

     Live Action TV  

  • Corporal Jones in Dad's Army, a veteran of wars going right back to 1886, who saw fighting in The Sudan (1886), South Africa (1899-1902), a bit of WW1 (1914-1918)... and who in 1940, aged 80, wants to come back for his fourth...
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor thinks Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is one of these in "Battlefield", if his line over the Brig's unconscious (assumed dead) body is any indication.
  • Game of Thrones: Balon's forces are far too inadequate to take on any of the various armies he's choosing to stand against, but he insists on striking it out by himself because he's too proud, selfish and stubborn to even consider allying with anyone else.
  • Kor in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Once More Unto The Breach." Worried that he is being left out of the Dominion War and a chance to die in battle, Worf manages to have him assigned to General Martok's flagship. In the middle of a raid on a Dominion supply base, both Worf and Martok are injured, leaving Kor in command. At that moment, he starts to believe he is actually in the middle of a battle against the Federation nearly a century earlier, costing the raid at least one ship.
  • In Scrubs "My Brother, My Keeper", Dr Townshend (played by Dick Van Dyke) is an affable old doctor who is well loved by everyone, including Kelso (who hates everybody). But during the episode, he prescribes an "old school" procedure which goes disastrously wrong. Kelso confronts him about why he didn't prescribe a newer procedure, and Townshend admits he didn't know about it because he is too tired to keep up with medical advances, and is depending on his decades old knowledge. Kelso is forced to fire him.
  • In Gosei Sentai Dai Ranger there's the very high ranking Gorma leader, Archbishop Saw, who initially subverts this trope, being able to hold his own against the Dai Rangers. During the mecha battle, his advanced age is apparent as he is too slow to hit Dairenoh and he's stunned for a surprisingly long time after getting hit, allowing him to be finished off. In his younger years, he may have wiped the floor with Dairenoh and survived its finisher, but as an old man, he's much less effective.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • This is the typical way for giff to die. Their culture has no respect for the infirm, so aging giffs will usually stay in active military duty, trying to prove they still have it.
    • Goliaths have a similar issue. Goliath society is built upon competition and continually topping past achievements. Once a goliath suffers from a permanent injury or begins to lose physical ability due to age, they almost always die trying to do something that tops feats they'd accomplished when they were younger and healthier. This is noted as a serious issue for goliath communities as it means they never have access to the wisdom that comes with age and experience and must always hope for leaders with innate wisdom, instead (while permanently missing out on leaders with experience).
  • In BattleTech, the Clans tend to have a lot of these types. They value youth and innate ability over experience and believe that a warrior is past their prime by the age of 30 if they haven't done something notable enough to earn a Bloodname (vs the Inner Sphere, where mechwarriors can have careers that stretch into their sixties or beyond). Once a Clan warrior reaches 30, they tend to get transferred to a Solahma unit where they're expected to act as cannon fodder with outdated weaponry if they're lucky. If they're unlucky, they'll get used as target practice for live-fire training by the next generation of warriors. Most warriors are expected to seek a glorious death in battle before they reach this point.

     Video Games  

  • Metal Gear Solid 4 does the classic subversion - Snake keeps insisting he's able to fight, partly because he's a Death Seeker and partly because he is still able to fight out of sheer Determinator factor. However, he limps around in cutscenes, is missing half his face and has developed some form of lung disease from what had been badass smoking when he was younger.
  • In terms of actual gameplay, Reinhardt Wilhelm of Overwatch is still a formidable warrior, but some of his emotes, along with the lore revealed in his comic, suggests that he is fast approaching this trope: he is absolutely committed to being a Knight in Shining Armor despite his advancing age and increasing physical degeneration (played for laughs in the in-game emotes where he throws his back out), and it's implied that he can't cope with the idea of laying down his arms and would prefer to fight until he dies.
  • Mihaly A. Shilage from Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown fits this trope to a T. A man his age should really not be flying fighter jets anymore, but Mihaly insists on doing it anyway. Every time he goes out on sortie, he comes back in a pretty bad shape due to the extreme strain being put on his body. When he meets Trigger, a younger ace pilot who proves to be a Worthy Opponent, he orders his wingmen to stay back and deal with Trigger himself out of pride, even as he's straining himself to the limit and is breathing heavily from all the high-G moves. His pride becomes his undoing as he ends up getting shot down in his final encounter with Trigger, and he ends up getting crippled for the rest of his life.

     Western Animation  

  • Lampshaded and subverted by Toph in The Legend of Korra: she's the greatest earthbender in the world, but she's also 80-plus and her back is killing her. Sometimes you just gotta let the kids win the war. (This is also the reason Katara never showed up for the Water Tribe Civil War.)

     Truth In Television  

  • Several veterans of the Boer War wanted to fight in World War II, being turned away because they were too old. There was one case where the man in question dyed his hair—but the heat made the dye run, revealing his gray hair and thus his age.
  • Theodore Roosevelt wanted to fight in World War One also, but was likewise refused a commission by President Wilson. In this case it probably had far more to do with Teddy's status as a former President than his age.
  • At the outbreak of World War I, Anatole France, a French writer, presented himself at the enlistment center, aged 70.
  • King John the Blind of Bohemia died at the age of fifty because he insisted on fighting in the Battle of Crecy on the French side despite having been blind for ten years. Upon hearing that his son was probably engaged in combat, he told his companions to lead him into the fighting so that he could strike one blow with his sword, which they did by tying his horse to theirs. When the battle was over the king and his men were all found dead, their horses still tied together. A popular but incorrect legend says that Edward the Black Prince took his motto "Ich dien" ("I serve") afterwards as a tribute to the King of Bohemia.

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