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Risking the King

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Kirk: I'm going down there.
McCoy: Khan could be down there!
Kirk: He's been there, hasn't found what he wants. Can you spare someone? There may be people hurt.
McCoy: I can spare me.
Saavik: Begging the Admiral's pardon, General Order 15: "No flag officer shall beam into a hazardous area without armed escort."
Kirk: There's no such regulation.
[Saavik glares at him]
Kirk: [smirks] All right, join the party. Mister Spock, the ship is yours.
Spock: Jim, be careful.
McCoy: We will!

Sometimes a story-teller has the main characters do everything; sometimes the writer simply wants to hurry up and bring about a climactic fight. Regardless of the reason, story-tellers will often have crucial characters run pell-mell into dangerous situations when more qualified (or, at least, more appropriate) people are perfectly available, which is much like sending your king out to capture your opponent's pieces in chess.

Not to be confused with Challenging the Chief in which, to preserve their honor, the boss agrees to fight one on one in spite of an existing tactical advantage.

The trope codifier, as implied above, is the original Star Trek series, where every crucial command officer would regularly be assigned to the landing party for some dangerous new environment. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, an effort was made to avert the trope by keeping the captain on the bridge and having him delegate responsibility for away missions; but even then, the away teams almost always included extremely high-ranking officers who were often placed directly in harm's way. You could be forgiven for thinking that maybe there were only about 20 or 30 people on the entire ship.

Subtrope of Acceptable Breaks from Reality. This is sometimes a Sister Trope to Rank Scales with Asskicking. If an actual king is risking his neck, it's Royals Who Actually Do Something. The opposite of Orcus on His Throne and Armchair Military.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • A common theme in Code Geass - nearly every leader in that show will risk themselves to do something when subordinates are available. It's implied to be expected of them, armies refusing to risk their skin for someone who won't take the same risks. Lelouch and Cornelia in particular believe in the trope very strongly.
    Lelouch: How can a king expect his men to follow if he does not lead?
  • In The Story of Saiunkoku, Ryuuki, the Emperor of Saiunkoku, puts himself in harm's way on several occasions — mostly to protect Shuurei. The most notable example comes when he leaves the capital city entirely to make sure that Shuurei and Eigetsu aren't attacked by assassins on their way to take office in Sa Province, which he has to do in secret and incognito for the obvious reason that, as the Emperor, he's not supposed to be doing anything of the kind.
  • A justified example is Rias in the arena combat Ratings Games in High School D◊D. As the King, she's expected to stay in the base, defending it and keeping herself out of trouble. However, while Issei being worth all eight of her Pawns gives her the power of an extra superior piece in the field even before he promotes, it leaves her with serious manpower issues, and she often has to leave the base just to compensate for her side being outnumbered almost two to one.

     Comic Book 

  • Independence Day. The U.S. President, an ex-fighter pilot, decides to participate in the final aerial attack against an alien ship even though his top military adviser doesn't want him to. Justified because if the mission fails, the human race will be wiped out and he'll have no one left to lead, and he's one of the very few people available with actual aerial combat experience. Literally everybody in the area who had even the slightest piloting experience was sent out, because they had more planes than pilots at the base.
  • Star Wars:
    • Darth Vader has a tendency to lead from the front more than one would expect from a political figure in the Empire. However, given that he is also an incredibly powerful Sith lord capable of casually stopping blaster shots bare-handed, it's likely not much in the way of risking the king in his opinion.
    • In Return of the Jedi, the Emperor puts himself at personal risk to entice the Rebels to attack the second Death Star and convert Luke to the Dark Side. This inevitably backfires when he's killed by the redeemed Vader (and even if that hadn't happened, he'd still may have died when the Rebels blew up the Death Star). Also, his plan to turn Anakin in Revenge of the Sith involved nearly being killed by Mace Windu, though it's debatable whether he actually planned that part or not.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: The page quote features Admiral Kirk, not Captain Kirk. This is even more reason to not be part of the landing party. This is pointed out by Lt. Saavik. At least he leaves the actual Captain of the Enterprise onboard. (Captain Spock)

  • Written from Real Life, experience the military tome Anabasis by the Greek general Xenophon. The exodus from enemy territory begins after Prince Cyrus, the claimant to the Persian throne for whom the Greek mercenaries were fighting, is the only casualty in the first battle fought, despite his army seeming to think they won the encounter. (only to realise later the whole reason for coming to Persia was lost when the prince died and they now have to walk back home for several years.)
  • Commander Root in Artemis Fowl doesn't do this... at first. Given the exceptional situation, he judges that there is none better to deal with it in the field than the LEP's commanding officer. Normally sending an officer into the field takes several months and lots of red tape, but the book notes "Root had a lot of influence on the commanding officer".
  • Lampshaded in Belisarius Series. The Persian emperor makes Belisarius' bodyguards promise to keep him alive even if it requires arresting him. This is necessary because The Emperor feels he needs a Roman he can personally trust during a diplomatically sensitive joint military operation and Belisarius has an eccentric habit of getting to close to the fighting.
  • Fire & Blood demonstrates several times over why you should not do this, especially when dragons are involved.
    • The last Gardner king, and all his heirs, decide to fight Aegon the Conqueror. Aegon's dragon sets the field of battle on fire, and the entire Gardner line is wiped out then and there (except for one survivor who perishes of his wounds a few days later).
    • Aegon the Uncrowned, Aegon's grandson, decides to fight against his Evil Uncle Maegor on the frontlines. Maegor's dragon makes mincemeat of Aegon's dragon, and Aegon himself.
    • Prince Aegon, son of Jaehaerys I, took part in a campaign against some pirates. He gets accidentally shot by an archer, who was aiming for the guy standing next to him. Aegon gets an arrow through the neck and instantly dies, throwing the whole line of succession into confusion. Also, his brother doesn't take it very well.
    • Aegon II, during the Dance of the Dragons, is not a tactically-minded sort of king. His first decision on the outbreak on conflict was to want to charge straight at his half-sister's seat of power. Only his more intelligent advisors prevented him from doing this, but he still takes part in fights directly. A one-on-one dragon battle with Rhaenys ends with Aegon so badly injured he has to sit out the rest of the war just recovering.
  • In the book trilogy His Dark Materials, the ruler of the multiverse, Metatron, identifies Mrs. Coulter as a woman whose entire life is based on betrayal, yet he willingly goes alone with her to ambush Lord Asriel instead of sending a legion of mooks. Lord Asriel, meanwhile, plans this elaborate setup to catch and kill Metatron but decides to spring the trap on one of the most powerful beings alive with only himself instead of with a platoon of heavies. To top it off, they both decide to go unarmed (although there is probably a different trope for this).
  • In The Horse and His Boy, it's said that one of the responsibilities of a king is to be "first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat."
  • In the Temeraire series, Laurence is unwilling to put his men at a risk he's not willing to share. An admirable sentiment in a ship's captain, but not for a dragon's captain. If he is hurt or killed Temeraire is likely to go berserk, and if he is captured so is Temeraire. Granby spends a lot of time reminding him of this.
  • Deconstructed in The Lost Fleet; it's been expected for a long time that a good fleet commander a) leads from the front and b) uses highly aggressive tactics at all times. This leads to battlecruisers being the most sought-after command and admirals being expected to use one as their flagship instead of a slower but much better-protected battleship. The end result has been a desperately high attrition rate and a dangerous slump in the quality of the Alliance's officer corps as the most talented personnel are assigned to the most high-risk postings. Despite being a lot more Genre Savvy about this than his new contemporaries, however, Geary does end up playing it straight on some occasions. Sometimes it's because he doesn't have a choice -towards the end of the long Stern Chase back to friendly territory he simply doesn't have enough surviving vessels to keep his own flagship a few ranks back from the sharp end all the time- but also because sending his subordinates into danger while hanging back himself is bad for morale.

     Live Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1 had a bad case of this, regularly sending the main cast to do jobs even when, logically, the larger organization should have had people who were better at that particular job than they were (e.g. sending O'Neill to do a diplomat's job). Even General Hammond himself once went away to help rescue the team.note 
  • Star Trek:
    • The Original Series is notorious for this. As the show's resident Action Hero, Captain Kirk has to lead the landing parties on dangerous missions, even when it would make more sense to send someone with more specialized training that would actually be useful. This usually leads to Kirk being taken prisoner (alone or with other crew members) and having to devise a way to escape.
    • In many cases, Kirk takes along most of the senior officers, risking a decapitation of the command structure if the landing party is lost. The most extreme case of this is the episode "Catspaw", which begins with Scott and Sulu being taken prisoner. Kirk organizes a rescue team consisting of himself, Spock, and McCoy, leaving command of Enterprise to Assistant Chief Engineer DeSalle, an obscure character who only appears in three episodes of the series (though he did a good job, considering the circumstances). (Why not Uhura? Good question.)
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In response to criticism of the "Captain in distress" plots, Gene Roddenberry established a new Starfleet protocol that barred the Captain from going on away missions. Instead, leading away teams is first officer Riker's job, and he's responsible for preventing Captain Picard from putting himself at risk. In practice, the writers often found excuses for Picard to go anyway, usually for reasons of diplomacy or protocol that require the captain's presence.note  In the first couple of seasons, Riker argues strongly against this, but usually loses. Eventually, he gives up and lets Picard do what he wants. Pretty much everyone else in the main cast routinely partakes in dangerous missions, not always for convincing reasons. The most extreme case is the two-part episode "Time's Arrow", in which Picard, Riker, Data, Worf, LaForge, Crusher, and Troi all travel into the past, leaving Enterprise commanded by . . . O'Brien? Data's cat Spot? We never find out.
  • Merlin: Prince Arthur is often sent on all sorts of dangerous but relatively unimportant missions. Season five, however, subverts this since King Arthur is forced to spend most of his time inside the castle while the knights go on missions without him. Somewhat justified, because the show takes place in an era when personally leading armies into battle was part of the inherent duty of royalty.
    • This trope is rather inconsistently used in the series. Yes, Prince Arthur does lead the military and yes, Uther does send his son off into the face of almost certain death on a regular basis, but there are also times when Arthur wants to risk himself (usually to save someone the king deems unimportant) when Uther suddenly reverts to trying to protect his son where a couple episodes earlier he was perfectly happy to send him off into battle.
  • In a variation, Ra's al Ghul goes out to deal with direct slights to his face personally in Arrow, such as Oliver Queen refusing to be his successor, despite the fact that he already had sent League of Assassins members out to the same city.
  • Daredevil (2015): At the start of season 1, Wilson Fisk primarily is hands-off and has James Wesley do most of the heavy work. But as the season progresses, Fisk deals with infighting in his own criminal organization. Coupled with the interruptions caused by Matt Murdock's and Karen Page's investigations into his activities, Fisk is forced to start being more and more hands-on, which doesn't work out. His organization is really in disarray after Karen kills Wesley, and Fisk is unable to successfully flee with Vanessa due to not having Wesley around to get Vanessa out of the country while he deals with the FBI.
  • Luke Cage (2016): While Cottonmouth averts the trope, never fighting Luke Cage one-on-one but always having his flunkies fight Luke, Diamondback doesn't think the same thing.
  • Jessica Jones (2015): Averted by Kilgrave. Since he doesn't have any physical super powers, his only way of fighting Jessica is to order other people to attack her.
  • The Defenders (2017): Despite having henchmen of their own, the leaders of the Hand still feel the need to accompany them when they carry out their attack on Matt, Jessica, Luke and Danny at the Royal Dragon.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Chess: A player can invoke this trope. One infamous example is the Bongcloud Attack, which is the joke chess opening 1. e4 e5 2. Ke2. Basically speaking, the person playing White puts their king in unnecessary danger when they should be advancing the rest of their army.
  • In the Pathfinder Adventure Path Kingmaker, the Player Characters tame a fantasy land and then are given a charter to rule it. They're the first ones to any battle to protect that kingdom, which features a lot of dungeon crawling.

     Video Games 
  • In Dawn of War, the Tau AI always sends their Ethereal out to fight. The Ethereal provides damage, health and morale boosts to every units while alive, but induces total morale loss in all units if killed. Guess which unit is targeted with all priority?
    • Similarly, the Eldar Avatar of Khaine allows you to surpass the population cap and build faster. Being a relic unit, it's actually a good idea to send him to fight, but an equally valid tactic is to leave him in the base to keep the bonuses.
    • The Imperial Guard's Command Squad unit is the only melee unit available to them at first, consisting of the Imperial general and his staff.
  • This is the point of the Fire Emblem series, which many liken to an extremely in-depth chess game with RPG elements. The main character has to come to every map and if they die it's game over. It's typically best to risk the king early on so that they can level up and be strong enough to defend themselves later. Especially since the last levels usually demand that they spend some time on the front lines.
  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: The Son's levels have him enter dangerous territory and clear out floors of armed enemies all by himself mostly  even though he's the leader of the Russian Mafia. It's implied that this is due to him having a death wish.
  • Mass Effect plays this trope pretty straight in the first and third game. In the first game, the ship is full of marines, but the only ones to really run into danger are the new captain (and Player Character), one officer, one sergeant, and a bunch of civilians whom the captain just picks up with his or her Magnetic Hero powers. In the second game, it's a Justified Trope since the people you pick up are an elite team of mercenaries, but apparently there are no common troops on the ship. In the third game, it's also a Justified Trope since the cast is mostly full of hardened veterans from the first two games, but even then, the marines aboard might as well be ballast for all they do.
  • World of Warcraft began with faction leaders never leaving their capitals, but with each expansion it has taken increasingly less reason for them to come out and lead their forces personally. For comparison, in the original game the massive assault on the Gates of Ahn'qiraj, consisting of a joint coalition of Horde and Alliance, was led by the previous non-entity Saurfang. In Mists of Pandaria, the leaders of two Alliance races work together to clear out a small troll village.
  • Played with throughout Dragon Age: Origins.
    • Played straight with King Cailan, who takes the battlefield hoping to win glory, despite his advisor Loghain (among others) clearly warning him against it, with Cailan pulling rank to do what he wants. Justified in-universe by Fereldan culture having just something of a tradition of Rank Scales with Asskicking that it's only begun to grow out of, and Cailan having absolute faith in their strategy and the Grey Wardens. When the big battle arrives, Loghain, in charge of leading backup troops in a pincer attack, uses the confusion to withdraw instead and claim they were too outnumbered to help, allowing him to take over the thronenote . The consequences of this trope are one of the central plot points, severely impacting the country politically—Cailan having died without children, leaving behind only a wife, the line of succession is pulled into question. The options for succession are Cailan's wife, the daughter of a near-universally adored war hero but not a direct descendant of the royal line, and your companion Alistair, Cailan's illegitimate half-brother with zero political pull and even less interest in the position. If you start with the Human Noble origin, you can also nominate yourself, as the scion of one of the country's foremost and beloved noble families.
    • In the Dwarven Noble origin, King Aeducan and all three of his children participate in a Deep Roads expedition knowing they risk encounters with Darkspawn. It ends badly though not really due to this trope. Like with Fereldan, it's again justified by a culture that somewhat indulges Asskicking Leads to Leadership, though in this case it's ritualized combat and you're not obliged to do the asskicking yourself if you can call on a champion to fight for you.
    • Zig-zagged with the Grey Wardens. On the one hand, they're hired specifically on their credentials as badasses. On the other hand, in this game, there are only two of them and you need at least one to defeat the Archdemon. So they really should be risking themselves less. You can choose to avert this trope at the end of the game by leaving soon to be crowned King Alistair behind. He doesn't like it in part because he didn't want to be king in the first place.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Crossing over with Frontline General, this is common for military leaders throughout the series and in the backstory. Given Nirn's World of Badass nature and the sheer quantity of Proud Warrior Races, this isn't surprising. It's also usually Justified, as the "King" in question is either a badass warrior (Tiber Septim (at least early in his campaigns), Ysgramor, Wulfharth Ash-King, etc.) or there is some pressing need to have the "King" at the forefront of the fight. (Such as in the climax of Oblivion, where Martin Septim must battle through the streets of the Imperial City, overrun by the Big Bad's Legions of Hell, because he is the only one who can light the Dragonfires to stop the invasion.
    • In Skyrim, if you side with the Stormcloaks, Ulfric Stormcloak himself will lead the charge in the final battle. Again, Justified because he is capable of using the Thu'um, an immensely powerful weapon to have.
  • In the Windurstian quest line in the Wings of the Goddess expansion of Final Fantasy XI, there comes a time when the Windurstian mercenary forces have to spring some allies out of Yagudo captivity. It's decided that a small task force would be best suited to this, instead of rushing the enemy position with the entire division. This task force ends up comprised of Lehko Habhoka, Romaa Mihgo, Perih Vashai, and the player character. That's, in order, the tactical leader of the entire force, two separate commanders of the two mercenary units present, and the most effective single soldier at Windurst's disposal. Romaa and the player character at least have the excuse of being very capable and particularly well suited to the task at hand. Lehko isn't much of a fighter in any regard, and Perih is primarily an archer that wouldn't be greatly effective in the confined hallways of the enemy encampment.
  • In Lord Monarch, attacking the enemy at the start is essencial to quickly conquer the map. Sending the king is effective strategy since it's health can be restored in it's castle and doesn't spend strength of it's soldiers. Better watch for king's health and bridge for it's way back.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey: Commander Gore, leader of the entire expedition, insists on personally leading a mission to rescue a single grunt from an invisible, unknown enemy. He claims setting an example in such harsh conditions will inspire the men and keep morale up. Many others (optionally including the Player Character) point out that this is risky to the point of stupidity and goes against all mission protocol. Surprise, surprise, the unknown threat that killed a dozen men so far mortally wounds Gore, his only choice to prevent a complete breakdown of command is to name the Player Character (previously a rank-and-file grunt themselves) his successor while his radio still works, and the combination of the two causes leadership and morale to quickly break down. This is exactly why the Frontline General is a thing of the past.
  • Pathfinder: Kingmaker: Just like in the Adventure Path the game is based on, the Player Character tames a fantasy land and are then given a charter to rule it. They and their companions (many of whom are likely serving positions in the Player's royal court) are the first ones to any battle to protect that kingdom, which features a lot of dungeon crawling. Somewhat Justified, as the whole reason they got the position in the first place is by taking it from a ruthless bandit-king who had previously proclaimed himself the region's ruler, and many of the problems that the player deals with are the ones that they and their party are genuinely the most well-suited for.
    • Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous: The player character is the leader of the fifth crusade into the Worldwound, a blasted wasteland crawling with demons. They are also consistently sent into dangerous situations leading strike teams and battles against the demons. Once again this is Justified, as the main character's Mythic Power is a massively useful asset in the war which is instrumental in taking down many of the most dangerous threats to the crusade.

     Western Animation 
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • In Season 4 the top leader of the Earth Empire (Kuvira) is known for never demanding her soldiers to do anything that she would not do herself. Kuvira is an expert Metalbender, so she far outmatches most in a one-on-one fight.
    • In one episode, Kuvira takes on a group of Earthbender bandits, and goes so far as to tell her soldier to call off her security team beforehand.
    • In another episode, Kuvira takes on Avatar Korra by herself and wins, sort of.
  • In the first season finale of Transformers: Prime, Optimus Prime goes alone to try to parlay with Unicron only to fail. Heís aware that due to his divine powers, the Chaos Bringer can find him anywhere, even the shielded Autobot Outpost Omega One, so he refuses to return to race and forbids Team Prime from joining him so they donít get hurt. The Autobots disobey his latter order anyway, and when he angrily snaps at his team for doing so, Ratchet points out that as the last Prime, heís Earthís last hope, meaning heís putting far more at risk by trying to go it alone than he realizes. This successfully hits Optimus and he agrees to let the others accompany him in the field.
    Ratchet: If you donít survive, I fear neither will this planet!

     Real Life 
  • At the battle of Granicus, Alexander the Great came within an inch of losing his life while he led the charge. A foe had dazed him and damaged his helmet, and was about to make the second, fatal blow when he was speared by one of Alexander's bodyguards. The Persians may have even intentionally targeted him; they had stopped Cyrus the Younger by killing him in battle the same way.
  • Invoked by George Washington during the Whiskey Rebellion. Faced with the first rebellion in US history, he personally rode out to lead the militia in Pennsylvania as the President and crushed it into decline.
  • Happened to Robert the Bruce during the Battle of Bannockburn, when Henry de Bohun sighted the Bruce and spurred his horse into a charge. The Bruce managed to sidestep de Bohun's lance and then cleaved de Bohun's head with a battleaxe.
  • The Art of War talks about the pros and cons of this trope at some length, pointing out the necessity of striking a balance between staying close to the battle lines and being seen to be leading from the front (and just as importantly being able to see what's going on and react to it quickly) and staying at a safe enough distance that you don't make yourself a priority target and leave your troops leaderless if you're killed or captured.
  • Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Southern forces at the Battle of Shiloh, thought it would be a good idea to first go to the front line and then lead his troops in a charge. He got himself killed.
  • The commander of any naval vessel serves on the ship he commands, and thus takes the same risks as the rest of the crew if the ship enters battle.