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The Chains of Commanding

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"Well, Mr. President, do we press the Big Red Button or not?"

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
King Henry IV, 2 Henry IV 3.1.31.

Being Good Sucks. Being good and The Leader sucks even more.

Authority means a lot of things: Sure, when everything's going well, everyone has to listen to what you're saying; you don't need to do the stupid parts of whatever your group is doing; you're probably less poor than your underlings; and you get to look fine in your boss garb.

But, when things don't go quite as well — which can easily be a permanent state — it results in one side effect above all else: stress (which also happens to be loaded with side effects). That is, if you actually care about the people you're leading.

High-ranking characters can be full of angst. They feel lonely, because strict protocol has to be observed — they want to beware of showing bias to friends and family, after all — and because no one acts natural around them. They have to make the Sadistic Choice and can't always Take a Third Option; they may need to make plans that allow for their friends dying. If they overlook something and can't adjust to it in time, they may get their people killed and feel that It's All My Fault, and end up with incredible guilt. For every failure they have to be willing to be held accountable publicly when others are looking for someone to blame. They worry about the neighbors invading, about marrying for strategy, about breeding an heir, about the natural disaster that destroyed half the crop, about that backstabbing relative of theirs eying the throne on which they sit. The worst part is that they shouldn't even complain aloud and should reject any sympathy, as that they are not allowed to appear weak. Not that that notion is always obeyed.

Although in some cases, tyrants use this as an excuse to justify their despotic behavior. They can claim anything from political assassinations to genocide were completely necessary for their nation's security, and might sound more convincing if they put up the slightest pretense that it was a tough choice for them.

This can be the consequence of Be Careful What You Wish For. If they crack under the stress and are usurped as leader, they'll frequently cry "I'm Still the Leader!". Sometimes the reason for Prince and Pauper, if the ruler decides to escape and leave a double to bear the burden.

Not to be confused with the chain I beat you with till you understand who's in ruttin' command here. Related to The Chain of Command, which can show just how high up someone is and so just how heavy their burden can be.

See also Being God Is Hard for the chains of being in charge of all Creation. Compare to The Perils of Being the Best.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Jean Kirstein from Attack on Titan struggles with the very idea that he's a natural leader, doubting his abilities and whether he even deserves that much power over whether others live or die. This leads to a My God, What Have I Done? moment after he's forced to use the deaths of several comrades as a distraction, and he nearly breaks down while wondering how many more died on his command. It takes the death of Marco, his best friend and loudest supporter to make him accept this responsibility and begin believing in himself.
    • Commander Erwin Smith has had to make several tough calls regarding sacrificing his soldiers for the greater good but when things go bad, it usually falls on his head, particularly after the failure of the 57th Expedition. He usually has the fortitude to continue on but it's shown that even he has his limits.
  • Berserk uses this trope with the King of Midland, one of the few examples in the series of Royals Who Actually Do Something. Despite being indirectly responsible for the Eclipse (he had Griffin imprisoned and tortured for a year because he slept with the princess), and harboring incestuous feelings for his daughter, it's revealed that he is also a deeply troubled, weary man who wants nothing more than to be relieved of the burden of the crown. Understandable, considering that during his tenure as King, he's had to deal with one Forever War, another war with the Kushkan Empire, and a Decadent Court.
  • In Boarding School Juliet, members of the Absurdly Powerful Student Council are essentially on-call, always, to deal with whatever problems the student body is having. They've been shown tutoring students, driving away feral animals, intimidating bullies, building giant mascot statues- you name it. Which is not to say the job doesn't have perks, but its holders have significantly less time to enjoy them than the average student.
    Juliet: Noblesse oblige. Nobles have a duty to the masses.
  • Colonel Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist. He calls an ambulance for his subordinate when he himself is practically dying from his own injuries and blames himself for absolutely everything that goes wrong.
  • Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid. Captain Testarossa has Sousuke Sagara pulled off guarding his Bodyguard Crush Kaname Chidori, as he's the only one who can pilot the Arbalest. When her normally respectful subordinate starts giving her attitude about this, Tessa's frustrations over her job, and Sousuke's devotion to Kaname as opposed to her, finally spill over.
    "It's so easy for you, isn't it? You're just going to stand there angry and hold a grudge against me, but I have to look out for the safety of everyone under my command! Do you know how strong the enemy is? Melissa might die out there next time, or Mr Weber! You have absolutely no idea what it's like for me while I'm sitting in that Captain's chair!"
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, being the capo of a Passione squad means Bucciarati has to make difficult and sometimes painful decisions. When Abbacchio is killed by Diavolo, he has to decide to leave his friend's body behind to get the rest of his team away from the danger of Diavolo's Stand. To a grieving Narancia, it seems like Bucciarati is being heartless, but then he is biting his lip so hard that it bleeds to keep from showing his true emotions in front of his team so they won't fall apart.
  • Queen Arika from Negima! Magister Negi Magi grew up sheltered but isolated, and maintained a marble demeanor with everyone she met. Near the end of the war twenty years ago, she had to make some very hard choices, resulting in the world being saved but her own kingdom being destroyed, with the survivors scattered. The Megalomesembrian Senate had her arrested, publicly blamed her for pretty much the whole war and sentenced her to death — which she went along with because she figured it would help her people. Good thing the Ala Rubra had a clever plan.
  • Fleet Admiral Sengoku from One Piece is a very tragic example. He obviously has to do things he doesn't like as befitting his position, and even ends up getting screwed by his own superiors when he's not having to handle pirates. The last straw was the World Government's decision to cover up a mass breakout of several extremely dangerous Impel Down prisoners just to save their reputation. While Sengoku may have done questionable things over the years, he has acted for the good of the world. However, the World Government's decision to cover up the entire incident all together was so bad that he retired on the spot. Two years later, though largely retired, he still maintains a position within the Marines with less responsibility and is far more relaxed and cheerful.
    • Several other Marines are shown to struggle with this trope. Garp actively avoided it, refusing any and all attempts to promote him to Admiral and stepped down to a lower rank in the same manner as Sengoku over the coverup. Kuzan had no interest in Sengoku's job, but stepped up when learning Akainu was also nominated, having even fought a ten-day duel with him over the position. After the timeskip, it's already wearing on Sakazuki, with his superiors, the Five Elder Stars, pushing him to make decisions even his ruthless sense of justice doesn't agree with for the sake of the government saving face at the cost of the Marines' honor.
  • In the manga of Sailor Moon, Minako Aino/Sailor Venus is shown struggling under the pressure of her role as the leader of the Sailor Senshi. When she temporarily lost her powers in the Dream Arc, unlike the other Inner Senshi, Minako has an existential crisis because being the leader of the Senshi and Serenity's closest guardian, is the only thing that truly matters to her. It culminates in her lashing out at her friends when they talk about the Outer Senshi, because Minako believes that they respect the Outers more than her. Wanting to prove to herself and the Inners that she was a worthy leader, she runs away trying to infiltrate the Dark Moon Circus by herself, risking her own life and the lives of others in the process.
  • Shi Ryuuki of The Story of Saiunkoku also counts, once he finally decided take up his role as The Emperor seriously.
  • From Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, we have Rossiu, post-timeskip. Team Dai-Gurren are running the show though despite their best efforts, they're out of their element for the most part. Even with Simon being the head honcho, it's explicitly implied Rossiu is the bulk of the brains. The next few episodes have him make pragmatic choices that weigh down on him heavily. The team acknowledges this and they're quite understanding about it. After his plan to evacuate people backfires and Simon has to stop the forces, the weight of it and the fact he forced Kinon to have explosives while in Gurren Lagann as a failsafe just breaks him. Simon has to stop him from committing suicide... by punching him in the face to snap him out of it.
  • In Vinland Saga, this happens to Canute — not in the least because holding his position of power makes him act in ways he'd have previously found repellent.

    Comic Books 
  • 100 Bullets: The Trust has shades of this, given how it's members end up inheriting secret control of the country and live in fear of assassination for the rest of their lives. Mia Simone in particular is implied to feel this way at Axel Nagel's wake, questioning whether the Trust leaders control their houses, or their houses control them.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, Fire Lord Zuko gets to learn that actually ruling his war-torn and demoralized country is going to be more difficult than simply overthrowing his despot of a father. His father, in prison, points it out.
  • Champions: By the time of War of the Realms, Kamala Khan is feeling this with her team, the Champions, as her usually-close-knit team of friends were being rattled off by bad incidents — Miles Morales making a Deal with the Devil to save Kamala's life, Nadia Van Dyne suffering a mental breakdown, Sam Alexander disappearing with one of his foes to regain his powers and Riri Williams and Viv Vision having problems as Viv keeps continuously trying reveal her feelings towards Riri and Riri can't make heads or tails of it. When she encounters Cyclops following his own resurrection, even he admits that the leadership deal is quite heavy and she's doing fine with what she's dealing with.
  • Prince Charming of Fables is almost the living incarnation of this. Introduced as a shallow, self-absorbed womanizer (and down on his luck) he became Mayor of Fabletown. And he was rapidly overwhelmed by the bureaucracy. Yet it was clear that he was doing his absolute best to lead the Fables, fight their enemies, and ultimately serve their goals, whether they voted for him or not. Moreover, he eventually led them to war and sacrificed himself to win. Looking back at the earlier issues, it's clear that he was still the shallow self-absorbed womanizer, and yet even from the start he was the brilliant self-sacrificing soldier.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes:
    • The leader of the Legion Cosmic Boy, thinking he and Sun Boy are in private, decides to cut loose and rant about all the pressure he's under and how much the various idiosyncrasies of the other Legion members annoy him. To his horror, he discovers mere seconds later that the communications channel had been open the whole time and his entire screed was heard by every other member of the Legion. This ultimately leads to a dangerous schism within the Legion, and they only just manage to pull themselves back together in time to defeat the Big Bad.
    • On another occasion, Cosmic Boy blows up at Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, telling them about the sacrifices he's made so they can be a happy couple and raise a family, forgoing relationships of his own so the responsibility of running the Legion doesn't weigh as heavily on them.
  • In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Tommy Oliver, who is now the white ranger and the leader of the team, asks Omega Red, who, unbeknownst to him, is former red ranger and leader Jason Lee Scott, if being a leader ever gets easier. Jason can only shrug and admit that no, it doesn't.
  • Primus of the Omega Men always felt this, often drifting dangerously close to wangst.
  • As seen in the Supergirl/Green Lantern crossover Red Daughter of Krypton, Guy Gardner is the unofficial leader of the Red Lanterns who haven’t sided with Atrocitus. It’s a very distressing job leading a team of psychotic, short-tempered, berserk Blood Knights with little regard for authority, especially when he tries to be the voice of reason, and his new role has driven a wedge between him and his former friends, his family…
  • Robin was the first leader of Young Justice but the expectations others placed on him and his friends accusing him wrongly and without evidence of making plans to kill them if need be after Batman's plans for his own allies came to light were quite hard for him to take. He preferred his role as Wonder Girl's tactician and helping her come up with plans after she became the group's leader.
  • Nico Minoru of the Runaways. She ended up with the job only because her ex-boyfriend, the original team leader, betrayed the team and then died. She did okay for a while because she had Karolina cheering her on and Gertrude handling the practical matters. But then Karolina admitted that she had feelings for Nico, and when Nico rebuffed her, she left the team and found love with a Skrull. Karolina later came back, but then Gertrude died and Chase ran away (he came back eventually.) She fell back on Victor for a while for emotional support, but then he cheated on her. Things stabilized for a while, but then the events of "Home Schooling" came along - the Runaways' home got bombed, Old Lace died, 12-year-old Klara suffered a concussion and went berserk, and Chase ran away again and then got hit by a car. Thankfully, Nico somehow managed to pull the team back together in time to deal with Dark Wolverine, but she probably won't be winning any awards for leadership anytime soon.
    • Reflected on in the 2017 series. Gertrude notes on thus as to why Nico is enthusiastic on training under Doc Justice and having the team be under them. She doesn't have to bear the burden of it. Given what the hell happened between Gertrude's death and resurrection, not hard to say.
  • The Sandman (1989): This is the reason that Morpheus grew tired of his role as Dream and committed indirect suicide.
  • Star Wars:
    • The last arc of the X-Wing Rogue Squadron comics featured this pretty clearly. Wedge, helping make plans for an operation to rescue a defecting Imperial, accepts that he and his people will be the ones who have to make sure any potential disaster stays potential. They have to fly cover, and if they can't adjust to any surprises... Later in the arc, after things went wrong, the Rebel Alliance Council look over the situation and decide that they can't allocate any more forces to helping their people out, to Leia's misery. She'd like to gather up Luke and Han and Lando and pull a Big Damn Heroes moment, but her sphere of responsibility is so much wider now, and she has to apply to other conflicts.
    • In another Star Wars comic arc, one that shows the men behind the masks in the Imperial army, Lieutenant Janek Sunber is put in charge of setting up defenses by the general. They have to hold against an unstoppable wave of alien natives (an homage to Zulu). During the fighting, while he and his men are falling back, the stormtrooper next to him is hit in the back by a spear. The narration notes that most men, when a comrade near them is killed, feel relief that they were not the one to die. Sunber, on the other hand, feels dismay that he couldn't save the man, that he didn't even know his name, and worst of all, that it doesn't matter, because the rest of the men need him. He even tried to drag the stormtrooper to safety before another officer pulled him away.
  • This is really common with the X-Men.
    • Cyclops. Notably, despite having a reputation for being a crybaby, he's such a stoic that he rarely, if ever, whines about his difficulties publicly, instead choosing to brood alone when faced with difficulties. As a result, In-Universe he's often given a hard time by the people he's leading because they don't think he cares about the things he's doing, which is the exact opposite of how he feels. The Utopia era is probably the best example of this trope in play, as Scott was charged with protecting the last remnants of the mutant race (which were down to about 80) as several groups began actively trying to wipe them out. To do so he moved them to a secured base off the coast of San Francisco, formed a secret splinter team without a no-killing policy, and created many battle plans to combat the many threats they face, but as soon as any of the team find out about the darker things he does to protect them, he's given a vicious What the Hell, Hero? speech by people who've done things just as bad themselves.
    • Surge is made the leader of the New X-Men, and after a string of Heroic BSODs, cracks. A bus full of depowered mutants is blown up right in front of her, she tries to get Prodigy to hate her so he'll leave Xavier's and be safer for it, it doesn't work and he breaks up with her (even after discovering this) and she has to deal with the older X-Men who do not take the younger generation seriously, even though, by this point, they've proven themselves to be a capable team. So when Xavier returns after all of this, she is really pissed off.
      Surge: Shut up. Just shut up!
      Prodigy: Nori!
      Surge: No! Where was he when we were getting killed!? Well? Where were you when we were getting blown up in buses, or shot in the head, or getting our hearts ripped out?! Where were you when those Purifier bastards came to kill what was left of us in your freaking mansion?!
  • In X-Statix, Anarchist finally got a shot at leading the team after the "Bad Guy" incident wreaked havoc on Guy Smith's reputation. It caused his Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder to get much, much worse, and he hated it.

    Fan Works 


  • Mass Effect: Shades of Twilight has Twilight Sparkle struggle with this, as Equestrians have become an Endangered Species.
  • In My Huntsman Academia, Izuku is humbled, honored, and terrified by his position as the leader of Team MNVW when all of his teammates are probably more competent than him in a fight. Because of this, he takes all of his duties very seriously to the point of disregarding his own well-being, chastising himself when his teammates end up more injured than he is (even while he's breaking his own fingers to help them). He also packs his schedule so tightly to improve himself that Weiss has to threaten to hurt him in order to get him to sit down and consider leaving time for rest after he suggests that he take up a job to supplement the team's income.
  • In Sean Bean Saves Westeros, the "real life" Sean Bean is transported into the land of Westeros of A Song of Ice and Fire. Now living as Ned Stark during the War of Five Kings, not just playing him on TV, Sean Bean has to order his followers to their deaths and watch many of them die. War Is Hell follows.

Code Geass

  • A number of characters in The Black Empire comment upon Zero and how heavy his mask must be, referring to leading the Black Knights against Britannia at the cost of everything, including one's own identity.
  • This is part of the reason Guinevere su Britannia refuses to move against Schneizel in The Illusive Empire despite being the older sibling and technically having a stronger claim to the throne. She enjoys her decadent lifestyle free of nearly any real responsibilities (besides arguing with Schneizel so dissidents are drawn to her rather than a true enemy of the crown) and would be stuck with the incredibly stressful job of ruling if she did overthrow him. The other reason is because Schneizel made it implicitly clear that he will assassinate her if she tries anything.

Command & Conquer

  • In Tiberium Wars, Commander Karrde regularly feels the weight of the chains when his troops suffer and die for him. On the other end of the spectrum, Commander Rawne feels the weight only when he fails.
    • Chapter 18 even has a discussion between Commander Karrde and the retired Colonel Nick Parker, who talks about how inhuman war has become, and how he keeps forgetting the faces of all those he's commanded and sent to their deaths.
    • There's also Brother-Captain Alvarez and his decision to execute his remaining wounded soldiers to prevent possible rape or torture at the hands of the GDI, which continues to haunt him up to now.


Disney Animated Canon

  • What About Witch Queen? has captain Soren Nexø, who feels all the deaths around him hard - perhaps to hard for his mental health, as he keeps on telling himself that it's his fault and he should've done better, as he promised his men to protect them. Finally, his commander gives him a short Get A Hold Of Yourself Man that seems to help a little.

Die Anstalt

  • In A Posse Ad Esse, Dolly starts feeling the cracks even before she truly becomes leader through no fault of her own. She's forced into the role by way of nobody else being mentally capable of or prepared for the position, but she feels incapable of speaking for everybody else and leading everybody in her state of mind at the time (that state of mind being depression playing up and an inferiority complex the size of Germany).
    [I get everybody angry at each other, I've just proven I'm an insensitive git... I could barely handle Wood being an arrogant prick. I can't lead you lot on an all-day-every-day basis!]

Fire Emblem

  • Lucina from Golden Threads Tie Us can't ever allow herself to rest or look weak. She's constantly pushing herself in the belief that everyone will fall apart if their warrior princess doesn't measure up to the task.
    Severa: Your duty is staying there to rest. You're not going to exactly be helpful in that condition.
    Lucina: I'm fine. Maybe not for battle, no. But there are chores, night watches, somewhere I could make myself useful.
    Severa: No, no, no. You don't have to be on all hours of the day, are you crazy? No one can take that.
    Lucina: You said my strength is what made me worth following. What type of leader am I, to hide myself away nursing my wounds?
    Severa: Oh, you've got to be joking. You're being unreasonable. We're not going to lose faith in you because you get wounded like a normal human being and not some Risen.
    Lucina: Of course not. But, I have to know that I'm worthy of your expectations of me.
    Severa: Are you saying that you're trying to prove to yourself that you're good enough for us? You?
    Lucina: There's Risen dangerously close to Ylisstol. This is as good as time to any to assert myself as worthy of my Father's legacy.
    Severa: I said, you're being crazy! All of us are here too! We don't need you to do everything for us, nor do we expect you to!
    Lucina: That's exactly it, though. I'm doing this for you. You, and Cynthia, and all of our allies! This weight on my shoulders is...a burden I must bear, but I will do so without complaint, if it's for your sakes.
  • Severa suffers from this in Secret Dreamer: as sub-commander of the pegasus knights, she has to consider what is best for her troops, and as the bodyguard of the Exalt, she has to consider what is best for Ylisse—even if it means denying her own feelings.
    Severa: She needs a person who can lead alongside her, and I... I'm not that person.


  • Forward has Mal get weighed down more and more as the series progresses, feeling greater amounts of guilt as he conflicts with his crew and his past decisions bring extra grief down on them.

How to Train Your Dragon

  • In A Thing of Vikings, Stoick's personal attitude regarding conquest and the additional responsibility essentially amounts to this; unlike other monarchs of the era, he feels responsible for the people—all the people—in his demesne. So territorial expansion amounts to having to deal with more arguments.

Literature/Inheritance Cycle

  • Mercury, during From the ashes, a fire shall be woken almost has a Heroic BSoD immediately before being appointed king of the war-torn and fractured continent of Damocles, because he does not believe that he has what it takes. When we see him again 400 years later in Phoenix-fire, it is revealed that not only has his job made him completely isolated and indifferent to even his closest subordinates as individuals, though he does still cultivate their talents and loyalty, but he even admits that his closest subordinate would have immediately found it suspicious if he faked a smile at her newborn child. It is not surprising that his greatest wish for 400 years has been to die. Later, during his dead memories given to Loivissa, he tries to perform a real smile, but ultimately ends up only giving her The Un-Smile before giving up on the venture altogether.

Lyrical Nanoha

  • In the Service frequently comments upon the fact that an officer must be beyond human frailties and emotions, always having a can-do attitude and a readiness to lead...even when they don't. One of the main characters, asked why he hasn't dissolved into a wreck after a disastrous boarding action saw half of his team killed, responds thus:
    I am the commander. There is no more effective way to destroy the morale and mental well-being of my team then for me to crack myself. I am the commander, and I am not allowed to fall apart.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

  • T'Challa in Nobody's Heroes is constantly stressed over his duties as king and worry that he won't live up to his father's legacy. At one point, he envies past rulers who wouldn't receive news for weeks as in the modern age, he'll get an email or phone call about some issue within seconds and is expected to reply in the same time frame.

Mass Effect

  • Mass Effect 2 AU Lanius: At Omega, Shepard must choose the order in which they tackle three goals: stopping the anti-alien plague, stopping the Collectors from abducting more humans, or stopping Cerberus from exploiting the tragedy to smash-and grab as much alien property as they can. There's no way to tackle all three simultaneously, making it a matter of personal prioritization. If Shepard consults their crewmates for their opinions, several express their relief that they don't have to make that call.

Miraculous Ladybug

  • The Karma of Lies:
    • Marinette takes her responsibilities as a protector of Paris very seriously, and stresses out over how one wrong move could spell disaster for her, her friends — especially those she's recruited as fellow heroes — and potentially the whole world. This contrasts sharply with Adrien, who treats their duty as nothing more than a fun game where he can fool around and flirt with his partner.
    • Highlighted during the Final Battle with Hawkmoth, when Ladybug must give an order that could potentially cause civilian casualties. While aware that her Miraculous Cure is capable of bringing people Back from the Dead, she also knows that can only happen if she wins, and even the notion of temporarily killing somebody makes her sick to her stomach.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

  • This applies to Celestia particularly in Diaries of a Madman, where she's often shown to be stressed and isolated by her crown, as well as regularly placed in near impossible situations.
  • The Negotiations-verse: After Celestia was knocked unconscious, Twilight immediately felt the weight of her newfound responsibilities settling upon her. This helped her realize that the best thing she could do was surrender.
    Twilight: When the strain of maintaining the barrier finally took its toll on Princess Celestia, she begged for me to continue the will of ponykind before slipping into that coma. Believe me, I was more than prepared to fight to the end, just like you two. But the moment I stepped into her horseshoes, I felt it. The weight of the responsibility and trauma she was forced to carry all this time were like a mountain pressing down on my back.
  • In Render Unto Twilight, Princess Celestia can't stand having to deal with all of the corrupt, selfish nobles, and openly complains about she can't escape such interactions.


  • Androgyninja's A Dose of Venom: While there was no Sasuke Retrieval Mission in the Mithridatism 'verse, Shikamaru still has a harsh experience with this shortly after becoming a chuunin. In this case, one of his early missions ends with the client and one of his teammates being killed.
  • Space to Breathe:
    • Shikaku already had to deal with this as Konoha's Jonin Commander, but it only gets worse after he's named the Hokage, a position he very much did not want. The most notable example comes when Hiashi ignores his daughter's wishes and insists that Shikaku treat her passing her eyes to Masato before passing away as a case of bloodline theft. Shikaku completely disagrees, but feels as though his hands are tied; the Hyuga are Konoha's most powerful clan, and in trying to appease their leader, he finds himself forced into a much worse position on other fronts.
    • Sakura also grapples with the weight of her responsibilities as she gradually rises through the ranks, blaming herself whenever things don't go well for her team. After the founding of Hanagakure, her circumstances parallel Shikaku's, as she's forced to make especially harsh and tough calls and employ tactics she would have preferred avoiding.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

  • Evangelion 303:
    • Misato wants to have a very familiar and close relationship with her pilots, but when she is on duty she has to be stern, severe and chew them out when they screw up. In chapter 15 she told her best friend sometimes she hates her job.
    • Colonel Nagato is an instructor has to put up with a lot of crap from his pilots only because he is trying to teach them and he has such a "ridiculous" rules like "not drinking or consuming mind-altering substances as you are learning to fly an experimental jet fighter".
  • HERZ: Misato is Director of HERZ. Her organization is the only thing standing between the humanity and total annihilation. Throughout the years she has been forced to make many distasteful things that she feels conflicted and remorseful about to ensure the future of her family and the survival of the humanity. In the process she has become grimmer and more serious, and too similar to Gendo Ikari to her liking.


  • In Leader Change, Weiss is given the opportunity to switch places with Ruby and become the leader of Team RWBY like she originally wanted to. At first, Weiss believes that she'll flourish in her new role because of her strict upbringing and the belief that her teammates will automatically listen to her. Learning that isn't the case combined with the realization of how difficult it is being responsible for her teammates behavior and well-being makes Weiss realize that being in charge isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Star Trek

  • Bait and Switch's Captain Kanril Eleya mentions that, because the crew of her starship numbers over a thousand, it's impossible for her to know all of them. Despite the fact that they all know the risks of serving in Starfleet, she still feels guilty when people she doesn't even know die because of her orders. She rarely lets anyone else see this. See also this exchange between her and her operations officer-slash-boyfriend in The Wrong Reflection:
    Gaarra: Something's wrong?
    Eleya: Just pre-mission jitters, the usual.
    Gaarra: You're worried?
    Eleya: I'm captain of the ship. It's my job to be worried.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil

  • Queens of Mewni:
    • This, ultimately, is why Celena broke with tradition and waited ten years after her daughter Diana's marriage to Abdicate the Throne, because she wanted Diana to have a little more fun before she assumed these chains.
    • This ends up being played as a punishment by Star, as now she must spend her entire reign making up for all that she did as a mere princess.
    • "The crown weighs," the most well known quote from Helia the Light of Power, is believed to be about this trope. Helia was just trying to tell them her literal crown was heavy.

Steven Universe

  • Selaginella Lepidophylla: When Rose unexpectedly returns, Garnet is made even more acutely aware of how heavy the responsibilities she was left with have been for her to carry. Making matters worse is how she has to continue bearing that weight, fighting to keep the Crystal Gems together as they deal with the shock of their former leader coming back.

Tolkien's Legendarium

  • In The Silmarillion fanfic A Boy, a Girl and a Dog: The Leithian Script, elven king Finrod had to be calm, rational, responsible and level-headed for several centuries to hold himself together, hold his kingdom together, hold the Alliance against Morgoth together, mediate between their short-tempered relatives, compatriots and all free people in the sub-continent and take care of his subjects. And he often had to treat people like pawns to achieve some greater good. He was so sick and distressed that when he finally got killed he actually found the Afterlife relaxing.


  • Horrortale: The flashback in Chapter 3 begins with Undyne holding herself personally responsible for monsterkind's lack of progress in escaping the Underground under her reign as Queen. Her despair about the situation worsens when the CORE shuts down and nothing anyone tries to get it running again works.

The Walking Dead

  • Even several months after the defeat of the raiders, Clementine in Beyond The Broken Gate strains herself to be a good leader of the Ericson's kids, terrified that the minute she lets her guard down she will lose everything. She confides in Louis that she has been forced to watch every one of her past groups fall apart and was always helpless to stop it. After years of wandering, Ericson's is the best home she and AJ have ever had and will not let it happen again.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Justice League × RWBY: Super Heroes & Huntsmen, Superman can see Ruby being strained with the burdens of leadership and tries to reassure her that she's doing good.
  • The Lion King (1994): Mufasa explains to his son, Simba, that being King is a lot more complicated than 'doing whatever you want'. After Mufasa's untimely death, the exiled Simba adopts a philosophy of 'Hakuna Matata' (no worries) with his new friends Pumbaa and Timon, but comes to accept his responsibilities, fight for his homeland and those he loves, and be a responsible and worthy King. Meanwhile, Scar may be good at gaining power, but he's terrible at actually handling the responsibilities of being King.
  • In The Simpsons Movie, the American president laments this trope. When a problem reaches him, it's because it's too complicated for any of his subordinates to solve, and not solving it well could have serious consequences. His only role in the narrative is to get tricked by the Big Bad into massacring an entire town, something he never learns the truth about (on-screen, at least).
    "I hate this job. Everything's crisis this and end-of-the-world that... Nobody opens with a joke!"
  • Sheriff Woody from Toy Story is a great leader when it comes right down to it, but gets frustrated a lot. This trope is very apparent in the third movie, in which Woody, being the most devoted of Andy's toys, keeps telling his friends that it's their responsibility to go home, regardless of whether or not Andy would ever play with them again. It reaches the point where Woody gives up trying to convince them and decides to go alone.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Twelve O'Clock High: The film is a character study about command, and is still used to teach U.S. Air Force officers. The movie opens with Colonel Keith Davenport, commanding the 918th Bombardment Group, being relieved after accusations of "over-identifying" with his men. Brigadier General Savage takes over the group temporarily to rebuild the command structure. Lieutenant-Colonel Gately, the second in command, is accused of failing to support the original C.O. and is exiled to command the "Leper Colony", a B-17 with all the underachievers of the group assigned to it. Savage introduces harsh methods of training, and in hoping to set a stern example, begins to succumb to the same pressures of command that Davenport did. Harvey Stovall, the group adjutant, remarks that "the only difference between Davenport and Savage is that one of them is a couple of inches taller." At the end of the film, Savage breaks down from the stress, too, and Gately takes over. Much of the film is possibly Truth in Television in that the screenwriter based the story heavily on actual officers of the 306th Bombardment Group.
  • Thirteen Days:
    • Pictured at the top is President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Grappling with trying to keep the revelation of the missile sites in Cuba under wraps as long as possible so that the US can retain strategic surprise, knock-down-drag-em-out discussions about what the US ought to do about the missiles, a Joint Chiefs of Staff that's itching to go to war and doing things beyond what the administration intended with nuclear tests and a quarantine that gets a bit too shooty for their comfort, trying to interpret what Secretary Khurshchev is actually trying to say though the mouthpiece of the Soviet embassy and whatever the Soviet Foreign Ministry is sending out, all under the shadow of nuclear war — it takes its toll on him. At several points Kennedy admits that he's lost a lot of sleep as the crisis rolls on even though he can't show any of it when making public appearances.
    • Although he doesn't appear, it's implied that Secretary Kruschchev is dealing with similar problems as the crisis continues to escalate. When he eventually drafts a letter to the Kennedy administration to open secret negotations, the American analysts determine from its tone and contents that it was written by a man who is under incredible stress.
  • Beneath the Planet of the Apes: Mendez leads a Cargo Cult and is willing to torture and mistreat Brent and Taylor. He's also never without a sad and weary expression on his face that suggests that he's unhappy about having to engage in such cruelty while constantly facing an ape invasion that his people have little hope of withstanding.
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982). Discussed not only in King Osric's speech (see Quotes) but also the And the Adventure Continues bit in Conan the Destroyer, where The Narrator tells of how Conan will one day wear his own crown "on a troubled brow."
  • The Dawn Patrol is about a Royal Flying Corps squad engaging in daily combat with the Germans during World War I. The commander, Major Brand, drinks to excess and is driven to the edge of collapse from the stress of having to send his men off to die every day. Courtney, his star pilot, thinks Brand is too cautious, but after Brand is promoted and Courtney is grounded by taking Brand's job as commander, he feels the same stresses.
  • Discussed in The Departed. Frank Costello is Properly Paranoid about having rats in his criminal organization. While talking to Costigan, who is indeed a police informant, he asks if Costigan thinks he could be boss. Costigan affirms that he probably could, but adds that he'd really rather not have the constant pressure and paranoia that somebody in Costello's position has to deal with.
  • Played to an extreme in horror film Eye of the Devil. Philippe de Montfaucon is a rich marquis with a large estate and a whole town of commoners to work the vineyards on that estate. But if the vineyard fails, whoever is marquis has to give himself up in a pagan Human Sacrifice to restore the fields to fertility.
  • Gladiator: Emperor Marcus Aurelius knows all too well how heavy the crown is, having spent a lifetime trying to keep Rome prosperous, and knowing that his son Commodus is an Inadequate Inheritor to say the least, wants General Maximus Meridus to succeed him instead specifically because Maximus does not want power and would see the throne as the burden it really is, but would accept it anyway. It's a moot point after Commodus murders his father to seize power and quickly proves himself even worse than Aurelius feared.
  • Independence Day features a moment of this for President Whitmore. After they narrowly escape the destruction of Washington, he sits silently on Air Force One, reflecting on how millions of Americans have just died on his watch.
    "We could have evacuated the cities hours ago. That's the advantage of being a fighter pilot. In the Gulf War, we knew what we had to do. It's just...not simple anymore. A lot of people died today. How many didn't have to?"
  • Into the Storm (2009) shows the harsh decisions of leadership take quite a toll on Churchill.
  • King Ralph: Ralph, after many public screw-ups, comes to understand the responsibilities and sacrifices of being a king. Despite getting some lucrative business deals with an African king, he decides he is not cut out for the chains, and hands them over to Cecil, his undersecretary, who himself didn't want the chains, but humbly accepted them.
  • The King's Speech shows what Albert went through growing up in the royal family and later, being the king after his brother abdicates. Shortly after he is declared king, he breaks down because he has no idea how to handle the pressure. Reference to how constrictive the business of "kinging" shows up over and over again in the film, from beginning to end, spoken by all three kings (George V, Edward VIII, and George VI). As constitutional monarchs, they have virtually no power. But they have a great deal of responsibility in meeting the expectations of their people that limit their freedom to do as they choose.
    David: Haven't I got any rights?
    Albert: Many privileges.
    David: Not the same thing.
  • Lawrence of Arabia:
    General Allenby: I thought I was a hard man, sir.
    Prince Feisal: You are merely a general. I must be a king.
  • In The Man from Colorado, it is strongly implied that the stress of command is one of the key factors in triggering Owen's Sanity Slippage and transformation into a Blood Knight. His diary indicates that he knows what he is doing is wrong but feels that he cannot confide in anyone, even his best friend and second-in-command Del.
  • In any Muppet production, any Muppet production, being the in-universe boss is stressful, mind-numbing, and taxes the limits of what a sane mind can handle. When Kermit hands control over of The Muppet Show to Statler and Waldorf, the two grumps find themselves unable to make any improvements and realize how hard it is to run the show. When Gonzo and Leon try a Hostile Show Take Over in The Jim Henson Hour, Kermit gladly lets them have the reins so he can take a break. In the premiere episode of Muppets Tonight, Clifford was distracted by a phone call when Kermit asked who wanted to be in charge of the show, and as such missed the cue to run with the other Muppets.
  • In Princess O'Rourke, Maria doesn't want to live with all the obligations of being a princess especially since she wants to marry for love.
  • Queen Christina can't deal with being queen anymore when it stands in the way of true love and happiness. So she abdicates.
    Christina: I'm tired of being a symbol, chancellor. I long to be a human being.
  • Space Battleship Yamato: Okita carries a heavy burden, one which Susumu is hesitant to carry himself; one which includes ordering men and women to their deaths because of one's own mistakes. Okita directly says in a conversation with Susumu after the latter had Yuki destroy the connector to the third bridge before a latched-on Gamilas weapon can blow up the Yamato, but throwing away the lives of those on the third bridge in the process, that there's no way those who have not commanded can understand the pressures the two of them are under.
  • In the 1996 TV movie Star Command (aka In The Fold), Captain Ridnaur explains this to a cadet. The commanding officer is alone and must appear invincible to encourage confidence among the crew.
  • Kirk spends much of Star Trek Into Darkness coming to terms with his fear of failing the crew he's supposed to be leading.
    • In Star Trek Beyond the fear has diminished, but he's started to have second thoughts about pursuing a goal "forever out of reach." Ultimately he decides to stay in command.
  • Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace implies that this is happening to Chancellor Valorum in its novelization, as he sounds and looks significantly older than a member of his house at his age should, burdened down by laws, protocol and ultimately his very own heritage, which all make it easy for the corrupt senate to work around the tired man.
  • Prince Karl Heinrich spends much of The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg wishing he could have fun with his friends or be happy with the barmaid he's fallen in love with, but the duties of being Crown Prince keep calling him back.
  • One of the central themes in U-571, a story about the Americans capturing a Nazi U-boat with the Enigma code machine aboard. The reason US Lt. Tyler doesn't get his first submarine command is that his commander doesn't think he's ready for the burdens of that responsibility. Of course, Tyler ends up bearing that responsibility unexpectedly.

  • The story of the sword of Damocles is an ancient anecdote, memorably told by Cicero about Dionysius II, who was the tyrant of Syracuse in the 4th century BC, and one of his courtiers, named Damocles. Damocles said that with all of his wealth and possessions, Dionysius must be the most fortunate man who ever lived. Dionysius offered him to try his fortune, and he accepted. Dionysius held a banquet where Damocles was treated like a king, and felt happy...until he looked up, and saw a heavy sword over his head held up by single horse-hair. This sword, which could fall at any time, was put there to symbolize the constant fear and potential danger that Dionysius faced as a result of his power. Damocles didn't notice all the wealth and beauty around him anymore, and begged the tyrant to let him go, because he no longer wanted to be fortunate. Older Than Feudalism.
  • In a much more modern legend, Russian Tsar Alexander I is said to have grown so disillusioned with power after defeating Napoleon and having been involved in the politics of post-Napoleonic Europe that he faked his death in 1825 and became a monk, taking on the name Fyodor Kuzmich.

  • Jake from Animorphs. It is very understandable, given that he's tasked with fending off a secret Alien Invasion of brain slugs (whose human hosts include his older brother) and his only allies are a bunch of kids like him, an alien warrior cadet and a race of Actual Pacifist androids. Exemplified when Rachel acts as leader for a short while and experiences the same issues, making her wonder whether being leader was the enviable position she once thought it was.
  • Past a certain point, Sextus Valerius Corvus in The Arts of Dark and Light becomes only unhappier the higher he is promoted. He was fairly comfortable in his role as general, where his mandate was clear and his mission straightforward, but finds himself ill suited to the much murkier depths of civilian politics when he is persuaded to campaign for consul. Both his new responsibilities and the corruption that he encounters steadily wear him down.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: One of the first scenes showing the Archduke of Ehrenfest doing his job involves him pressing charges against his mother and uncle for trying to use their familial relationship with him to get away with one crime too many, and needing to effectively separate a young girl from her very loving family to protect her from danger. The Archduke of Ehrenfest isn't happy about needing to do either of those things at all.
  • In Assassin of Gor Marlenus of Ar has to exile Tarl as punishment for his actions in the first book even after declaring Tarl a hero and friend. The decision is greeted with dismay even by Marlenus's adoring and loyal subjects, but as Ubar of Ar it is beneath his dignity to so much as explain his decision. (One of his trusted advisors has a quiet word with Tarl afterwards, acknowledging as he does that Marlenus would be angry with him for piping up.)
  • In the Aubrey-Maturin series, Jack Aubrey occasionally ponders the depth of isolation imposed upon captains by regulation and social etiquette. Thankfully, he enjoys the relatively uninhibited companionship of his particular friend Dr. Maturin, who has an ambiguous position with regard to aforementioned regulations. In The Mauritius Campaign it's noted that the officers in the RN refer to their uniform buttons as "The Curse of God", in acknowledgement of the decisions sometimes forced upon them by their responsibility.
  • Bazil Broketail: Hollein Kesepton suffers from this hard when Lessis tags him and his squad along on a wild chase after Princess Besita's kidnappers. The whole mess leads to deaths of nearly all of his men and dragons. All the time, Kesepton remains aware that it is all on him and that he is likely going to face a court-martial for losing almost his entire unit. He also regularly has to deal with rebellious officers — particularly Yortch, who frequently questions his leadership, refuses to obey his orders and accuses him of falling under Lessis' influence.
  • The Caine Mutiny is almost This Page: The Novel. It's implied that it's what caused Queeg to go off the rails. The captain before him was somewhat eccentric; the one trained to replace him laments that he walks a razor's edge of correct decisions, with 100 manslaughters on either side.
  • In the Codex Alera book Princeps' Fury, Gaius Sextus gives a rather impassioned (for him) speech about the incredible amount of Dirty Business he's had to do over the years, not to mention the general stresses and downsides of his office, in order to keep his realm together and allow his people the luxury of not having to take his choices. He then goes on to add that if he really hated his main political opponent as an enemy, he'd hand him the crown himself and retire.
  • Conan the Barbarian's feelings on being King of Aquilonia, from Robert E. Howard's The Phoenix on the Sword:
    When I was a fighting man, the kettle drums they beat,
    The people scattered gold-dust before my horse's feet;
    But now I am a great king, the people hound my track
    With poison in my wine-cup, and daggers at my back.
  • In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, the princess feels her position strongly. Menelaus is argued into the Ermine Cape Effect to help her.
    • In The Hermetic Millennia, Menelaus feels responsible for everyone in the Tombs.
  • In the Deptford Mice books the two highest-ranking offices on the side of good are those of the Starwife and the Holy One. Nevertheless, no one would relish being chosen as either. Essentially it means being Blessed with Suck. For all the power the positions afford, they mean being doomed to a lonely existence made even more miserable by being granted an extended lifespan.
  • King Glyn the First in the Deverry novel Darkspell. As a small boy, he found out his father had a habit of bedding the kitchen maids, resulting in several daughters and one son. That illegitimate son's existence and experiences taught Glyn that a king has a responsibility to his people, that he exists to serve, not exploit, them.
  • Discworld:
    • That is one of the most defining characteristics of Samuel Vimes. Actually, there is no reason for him to be a Commander of the Watch... except that he's damn good at it.
    • There's also Pteppic of Terry Pratchett's Pyramids. Although this is exacerbated by the fact that not only does he feel responsible for his people, but also he has absolutely no power despite being the king. And nobody bothers telling him. When he finally gets the enormity of the lie he's expected to live, he naturally absconds.
    • Moist von Lipwig is tipped to be the new head of the Merchant's Guild in Making Money. He will get a very nearly gold chain.
      Moist: I'm trapped in chains of gold-ish!
  • In the Dragonlance novels the young elven princess Laurana suffers from this during her time as the Golden General. The immense stress she is under ends up making her highly susceptible to Flaw Exploitation at the hands of her Arch-Enemy Kitiara.
    • In The Qualinesti, Kith-Kanan's thoughts reflect the trope pretty much word-for-word: "He had given up his freedom to roam when he accepted the throne of Qualinesti. After all these centuries, he finally understood how his father, Sithel, had felt before him. Bound up in chains like a prisoner. Only a Speaker's chains weren't made of iron, but of the coils of responsibility, duty, protocol."
  • The Dresden Files: In Ghost Story, Harry Dresden nearly has a break down when he realizes that the choices he made in the previous book (leading his friends into a battle against the entire Red Court to save his daughter) may have been wrong, and caused more harm than good. Killing Susan to destroy the Red Court may have gotten rid of many evil monsters, but the power void left over means that equally bad things are scrambling to take the Red Court's place. The result is a chaotic unsafe world, where even the normals are noticing something bad is going on. Harry sees his friends suffering and can feel nothing but guilt.
  • Heavy lies the crown for any poor sap born into the Atreides bloodline, especially highlighted in Dune Messiah for Paul, God-Emperor of Dune for Leto II and Chapterhouse: Dune for Odrade. Alia cracks under hers in Children of Dune.
  • The instructors at Command School do this on purpose to Ender in Ender's Game. They in fact deliberately engineer scenarios both inside and outside the simulator to teach Ender that he can never count on anybody but himself to help him.
  • In Dying With Her Cheer Pants On, being captain of the Fighting Pumpkins, a squad of cheerleaders who are mystically tasked with defending their town from all kinds of horrific supernatural threats, is no joke. It's extremely rare for an entire squad to reach graduation in one piece (and much more common for them to suffer a total party wipe). Jude, the latest captain, is keenly aware of the fact this impossible task is now her responsibility. Even worse? There have never been two surviving squads in a row—if she succeeds, Junior Varsity is doomed.
  • In Jerry Pournelle's Falkenberg's Legion, Falkenberg instructs a friend and fellow officer that "The reason command has no friends isn't to keep from having to send friends to their death. Command has no friends because sooner or later you'll have to betray your friends or your command."
    • Early in his career, Falkenberg abandoned his wife to stay with his regiment.
  • In Fire & Rescue Shifters, being leader of his squad exacerbates Ash's already introverted personality. On the comedic side of things, it means he's the one that higher-ups hold responsible for his squad's antics. On the tragic side, it means that he's ordered them to risk their lives so often that he doesn't feel he deserves to ask them for help in anything. Even if "help" means "protecting him from a crazed sorcerer out to enslave him". His friends- who are just as good at following as he is at leading- tell him he's being an idiot.
    • It's mentioned several times that a werepack's alpha is their first line of defense, required to fight against not only challengers, but the various other monsters of the setting.
  • In The Goblin Emperor, Maia suffers from this. From the loads and loads of jewelry the emperor has to wear, to having his marriage arranged for political reasons because he has to produce an heir, to the bodyguards who follow him everywhere. He has grown up very lonely, and desperately wants a friend, but one of his bodyguards explicitly tells him that they cannot be friends.
  • Halo:
    • In Halo: First Strike, Fred-104, Master Chief's second in command, suffers from a mild bout of this when he takes the rest of the Spartan-IIs down to defend the planet Reach. It doesn't help when four Spartans die just in the initial drop - already the most to die in a single mission in the unit's history.
    • In the Halo: Evolutions story The Impossible Life and the Possible Death of Preston J. Cole, this is believed to be the reason why Admiral Cole, the man who was leading humanity's forces against the Covenant, seemingly decided to fake his death and live somewhere far away from the war.
  • Discussed all over the place in the Heralds of Valdemar series, with every good ruler (including mercenary Captains like Kerowyn) feeling the pinch of isolation and responsibility for their people. In Valdemar, the position of Monarch's Own Herald is explicitly to give the King or Queen one person around whom they can relax and be themselves; one Herald they can trust completely and come to for brutally-honest advice.
  • Survivor's guilt and assorted associated emotions send Honor Harrington into nearly crippling bouts of depression on several occasions. (Fitting for a character based on Hornblower.)
  • Horatio Hornblower has this as a defining character trait as he rises through the ranks. He grapples with the knowledge that his orders will cause some of his men to die, the sole responsibility for any mistake at sea (even ones made by the Admiralty) will fall on him, and he feels as though he constantly needs to put on the act of a completely imperturbable stalwart despite private fears of death and dismemberment. (He tends to go a little overboard with his ruminations, or a lot overboard when he fails to live up to his own impossibly high standards.) He exhibits a much milder (and somewhat more palatable) form of it in each of the miniseries based on the novels.
  • At the end of C. S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy, Prince Corin is overjoyed that his twin brother has returned so that he doesn't have to become king himself. His twin brother, who up to now had thought of himself as Shasta and not Prince Cor, had not expected this reaction and wasn't sure he wanted to be king either. Their father King Lune then gives a speech on what it means to be King.
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss gets a bad case of this when she's placed in command of what's left of Squad 451. Cue numerous It's All My Fault moments.
  • This becomes a (frequently) recurring motif in Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels once Jack Ryan ascends to the Presidency.
  • Journey to Chaos: Queen Kasile of Ataidar compares ruling to "juggling bowling balls" and regularly vents her frustrations about this economic policy or that difficult minister to Eric, her best friend.
  • Lensman: Kimball Kinnison does a thorough job of kicking himself in the rear after a wrong assumption about just what he was facing caused the deaths of several Patrol members.
  • Lampshaded in The Long Ships. Orm comments that:
    It is good to be a chieftain when ale is passed around or spoils are divided, but worse when sharp thinking is needed and plans are to be made.
  • In John Hemry's The Lost Stars novel Tarnished Knight, Drakon calls Iceni on her apparent position of complete pragmatism: why did she stay in the system with the aliens' attack impending, then? Iceni instantly says because she was responsible.
  • In The Machineries of Empire, Cheris has to do many terrible things and sacrifice a lot of her people to win, and even though she knows there's no better way, it still weighs heavily on her.
  • The Martian begins with the Mars team leader, Commander Lewis, being forced to leave one of her men - who is basically guaranteed to be dead already - behind in order to save the rest of the crew. When she finds out he survived, she takes it very hard, to the point that her first thought upon hearing the news is utter horror that she "left him to die" rather than relief at his survival.
  • Prince Josua from Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. He dislikes it so much that in the end he gives over to Simon and becomes an Innkeeper. Gladly. Simon seems to like the taste of power better.
  • Once Upon a Marigold: Marigold's sisters Calista and Eve and their husbands are uneasy about the prospect of actually ruling their kingdom in the future.
    Calista and Eve and Princes Teddy and Harry had had many talks about how to be good monarchs, and they thought they could probably pull it off most of the time. But they didn't really want to do it. Worrying over affairs of state and regal demeanor and stuff like that didn't appeal much to them. They would prefer to have someone else run Zandelphia while they continued doing what they liked to do: play with their children, breed championship Norfolk terriers (of which the sale to neighboring kingdoms greatly benefitted the Royal Treasury or Zandelphia) and arrange fairs for Zandelphia's subjects.
  • Prince Roger:
    • The titular prince becomes this once he realizes that the Marines guarding him are people who have their own problems. It's bad enough while he's on Marduk but things become infinitely worse once they get off-planet and discover the real situation back home. By that point, there are so few of the Bronze Barbarians left that he's fanatic about keeping them safe and will do anything to reduce casualties on his side. His advisors are so concerned about this that they talk to his Bodyguard Crush to make sure that she'll serve as his "prosthetic conscience" to make sure that he doesn't just roll over the opposition with More Dakka when a less-violent alternative is feasible.
    • Roger's fiancee has the same problem; As the advisors point out, both softly and loudly, her sacrifice is to marry Roger and live in a protected fishbowl for the rest of her life — no matter how hard that is for her, because it's her duty to the Empire.
  • Prominent in Protector of the Small.
    • Keladry learns about it when she commands a refugee camp, having to hide emotional displays (even more than she usually does) and deal with a myriad of problems, from the huge (how to defend the place with a handful of trained soldiers) to the petty (dammit people stop bickering). She also makes sure she takes a turn doing the muckiest jobs in camp so no one else can justify refusal.
    • King Jonathan and his son Roald are also hit with it. Jon has to walk a political tightrope so he can make reforms without inciting conservatives, mages, temples, and commoners to rebel, and he can't go near the Scanran border without his top general scorching his ears for putting himself in danger. Roald has similar problems—as page and squire he's very careful to avoid creating a clique (he's far more careful about this than his father was as a page) and in the war he's barred from the front lines, plus he has to put off his wedding.
  • Semiosis: Tatiana resents that her duties, first as commissioner of public peace and then as moderator of the colony, isolate her from the community, both because of her additional responsibilities and because she knows everyone's secrets.
  • In Shadows of the Apt, why Selma can't leave his band.
  • Shadow Police: As the characters note in Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, Quill, as the team's leader, is the one least able to lean on his colleagues' support and help, and is therefore the first to crack under the phenomenal stress they're all under.
  • March from The Sirantha Jax Series feels the weight of command so much that he's had more than one Heroic BSoD in his lifetime.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • King Robert Baratheon either fits this trope or is a subversion, as he leaves most of the ruling to his Hand while he drinks and whores. Ned Stark plays it completely straight though. He becomes said Hand just because the king commands him to do so, although he would rather stay home and govern his peaceful land instead of the whole realm.
    • Ned's son Robb also starts to suffer from it when his bannermen declare him King In The North.
    • Cersei Lannister in A Feast for Crows: with the deaths of Joffrey and Tywin, and her underage son Tommen sitting the throne, she is (at least on paper) the most powerful person in the Seven Kingdoms. It makes her go through Sanity Slippage.
    • Daenarys Targaryen, especially in A Dance with Dragons when she is very conflicted on wanting to do the right thing, and still retaining her power.
    • The reason the Iron Throne is made out of blades is because Aegon I understood this trope; the throne is horribly uncomfortable at best and dangerous to its occupant at worst (yes, several kings have cut themselves on it) to symbolize that being king is a duty that is often unpleasant and dangerous, not something to be coveted. Sadly, the only person in the present day to have figured that one out is Stannis, who believes that as Robert Baratheon's heir he has to take the throne regardless of his personal wishes.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • X-Wing Series: Wedge Antilles sometimes falls under this trope, mostly when pilots under his command are dying. He does have to write the letters back to their families and takes a little comfort that It Never Gets Any Easier.
    • Mon Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis, and Bail Organa were the three most significant members of the Rebellion until Organa's death at Alderaan. After that, Bel Iblis got uneasy about the way Mothma was directing things and left to make his own Rebellion. The events of The Thrawn Trilogy let Iblis see things differently.
      Bel Iblis: After all these years, I finally understand why she does things the way she does. I've always assumed that she was gathering more and more power to herself simply because she was in love with power. But I was wrong. With everything she does there are lives hanging in the balance. And she's terrified of trusting anyone else with those lives.
      All the pieces of [Leia's] life these past few years fell suddenly into place. All the diplomatic missions Mon Mothma had insisted she go on, no matter what the personal cost in lost Jedi training and strained family life. All the trust she'd invested in Ackbar and a few others; all the responsibility that had been shifted onto fewer and fewer shoulders. Onto the shoulders of those few she could trust to do the job right.
    • In Solo Command, General Han Solo shows a bit of this while commanding the task force sent after Warlord Zsinj. There's mention that all he could do was issue orders and hope they were so good that not many of his people died. They were never so good that none of his people died. Never.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's The Traitor's Hand, Ciaphas Cain, note  explains his friendship with the general this way: it gives the general a chance to socialize with someone outside the chain of command.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle:
    • The Red Knight is often uncertain about what to do and the death of every one of his subordinates hits him, but he has to pretend that everything is alright and he always has a plan, because everyone's faith in him rides on his reputation as a brilliant badass.
    • When Aneas finds himself in command for the first time, he almost breaks down under the need to project an aura of calm and inability to ask anyone for advice because he has to look like he has all the answers.
  • The Troublemaker: The planet of New Cornwall selects its monarch by giving the job to the first person to volunteer after a previous incumbent resigns. Said king has absolute power but (along with his nobles) gets implanted with neurotransmitters that cause severe pain whenever a large number of their subjects are experiencing pain or fear (like after an earthquake) to motivate them into immediately acting on behalf of their people whenever necessary. Any thoughts about removing the neurotransmitters trigger far greater agony. This keeps even the most ambitious and selfish kings from abusing their power or wanting to rule for a prolonged period. The captain is a former King of New Cornwall and tricks trouble-making cargo master Seat into volunteering for the position while visiting the planet.
  • William Kraft in Victoria is a born politician and natural leader, and can even be quite ruthless in defending his country's interests, but is still reluctant to assume a position of formal power due to this. Though he eventually accepts his responsibilities and runs for Governor of the Confederation, the office and the duties pertaining to it remain a heavy burden for him—all the more so as he cannot afford to show any hint of weakness to the outside world.
  • Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. He has been emperor since the age of six, and both of his parents were killed by political intrigue by the same period. He hates every second of it and would give quite a lot to pass the job to someone else, and attempts suicide in his twenties to escape the pressures. He gradually grows to accept the responsibilities and is more settled of the role over time, helped by being Happily Married.
  • The titular Colonel-Commissar of Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts deals with this a lot. Increasingly, so do the other senior officers among the Ghosts. This trope can be brutal when you have genuinely decent people in command of the Redshirt Army in a setting like this.
  • In William King's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Grey Hunters, Ragnor feels this strongly when he receives a Field Promotion. Especially because one of his new subordinates was a man he had long hated and wanted to kill. He wonders whether, if this man died, he could tell whether he had done all he could or had secretly wanted him to die.
    • In Lee Lightner's Sons of Fenris, Berek, though longing for the battle on the planet and knowing the fight would be renowned, nevertheless knows it is his duty to stay on shipboard, thinking that it is a situation where rank lacks privileges.
    • In Wolf's Honour, Mikal feels heavily burdened by the role that fell on him when Berek was gravely wounded. He sees the unconscious leader and asks why him and is enraged when he realizes that the skald, Morgrim, listened to him. When Morgrim says that he will describe this as a warrior paying respects to his lord before battle, Mikal can not believe him and confesses to his doubts. Morgrim assures him that Berek felt the same way and that, having not shirked his duty, he has not failed.
  • In Gav Thorpe's Warhammer 40,000 The Last Chancers novel Kill Team, Kage, having personally selected and trained the team, tries to persuade himself that if they fail or get themselves killed, it will be their own fault, but is unable.
  • In Warrior Cats, the Clan leaders realize that they may have to make some difficult decisions. One character points out that Onestar especially was hit hard by this: he's had to break old friendships to prove that his Clan stands alone. Firestar himself realizes in The Darkest Hour how hard it is to be a leader, because he realizes there's a chance that his entire Clan may be killed in battle because of his choice.
    • Bramblestar's Storm deals mainly with Bramblestar struggling to lead his Clan.
  • Councillor Arfarra in Yulia Latynina's Wizards and Ministers. He was literally dragged out of his guilt-filled exile under extraordinary circumstances and then more or less had to take control of the empire because it was obviously going straight to hell.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100:
    • A running theme of the series is that the job of "leader" is not an easy one: sometimes, you have to do things that go against everything you stand for in order to protect your people. Jaha had to execute people on the Ark just to ensure Population Control and conserve dwindling resources, which clearly took a toll on him. Kane, a Well-Intentioned Extremist, had to deal with the guilt of knowing that the people he had culled didn't need to die.
    • Clarke's character arc in season 2 is built around how, by becoming her people's leader, she's forced to commit increasingly ruthless acts to keep them alive. By the season finale, she's come to view herself as Necessarily Evil and can no longer bear to be around her friends and family, because seeing them just reminds her of the horrible things she did in their name. She views accepting this guilt as her responsibility, saying, "I bear it so they don't have to."
  • Babylon 5: in several episodes the characters talk about the miseries of command.
    • One of the signs of how much Sheridan has changed after his return from Z'ha'dum is that he doesn't feel this as much anymore. He makes coldly practical decisions about expending soldiers - such as sending a White Star on a suicide mission, and using comatose telepaths as living weapons against Earthforce without permission, knowing that most of the telepaths will die - without any apparent moral qualms. The decisions are necessary, but the old Sheridan would have agonized over them; the new one doesn't hesitate. It's one of the things that turns Garibaldi against him.
    • Emperor Turhan of the Centauri Republic notes late in his life that he has made no choices of his own. Everything was either dictated to him by his father the previous Emperor, or had to deal with the machinations of politicians below him. The one choice he wishes to make, the last choice he has is to come to Babylon 5 and apologize to ambassador G'Kar of the Narn Regime for the hundred years of rape and abuse the Emperor's people and family did to the Narn planet and people. While his words couldn't wash away all the pain, he recognizes that neither side can move on until one of them apologizes. Turhan never got to personally make the statement as he suffered a heart attack, but his message is conveyed by the human Doctor Franklin. G'Kar is so moved by this act, he shares a drink with Londo and toasts to the health of the Emperor of his most hated enemy.
    • In "The Fall of Centauri Prime", Londo Mollari remarks that he started with no power and all the choice in the world, and ended up with all the power in the world and no choice at all. Not only are his hands tied by the complex political machinations, but he's also being controlled by a Drakh Keeper. In the end, he sulks in his throne room because he can't bear the thought of accidentally looking at the ruined Centauri homeworld and bursting into tears.
    • Ivanova has had several stories focused on this when she's put in charge in the absence of Sinclair or Sheridan. Usually these are B stories that play up her Straight Man character against the ridiculous demands of Babylon 5's diplomatic mission. Fairly often, Hilarity Ensues. Also, a recurring theme with Marcus Cole, her liason with the Rangers (and love interest), is how he feels she needs to be comfortable delegating some of her responsibility so she can tend to her own personal well-being.
    • Delenn is so much The McCoy that it is impossible for her to have the job of being a stateswoman without suffering considerably from this. The unusual nature of the circumstances demanded someone like her. But it definitely came at a price as we see in those times when we catch a glimpse Beneath the Mask.
    • In the episode "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place", Reverend Will Dexter has a long talk with Sheridan about how good commanders need someone to share the burden of command, and who that someone should be for Sheridan.
    • In season 3 episode "Walkabout", Garibaldi accuses G'Kar of neglecting his position of authority over the Narn when one of the few remaining Narn Warships comes back to Babylon 5. The heroes are in need of a powerful warship to help them as backup to test a weapon against the Shadows, but Warleader Na'Kal, the Narn captain, feels it is too risky to use their ship on such a venture and doesn't agree to G'Kar's request for help. Garibaldi is not pleased and storms into G'Kar's quarters, returning him his holy book, and rips him a new one. See here:
      Garibaldi: It's easy to fight when you've got a lot of ships to work with. The real crunch comes when you're down to almost nothing! Then you either play it safe and you probably lose it all, or you take a chance! After what we've been through with your people, Sheridan was crazy to send our pilots out to fight for your ship! They didn't want to go, they didn't want to get blown out of the sky and leave B5 defenseless, and they sure as hell didn't want to die! But they did it because Sheridan told them to do it and because it was right!
      G'Kar: This time it is possible he could be wrong.
      Garibaldi: Yeah, it's possible. But you don't follow an order because you know for sure it's gonna work out! You do what you're told! Because your CO has the moral authority that says, "You may not come back! But the cause is just and fair and necessary!" That's why Sheridan is out there, and damn it, that's where that cruiser should be, too! It's not Na'Kal's decision, G'Kar. He doesn't see the big picture—you do! So in my book, and your book, that makes it your responsibility! Deal with it!
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • Commander (later Admiral) William Adama. Seeing as how the military affairs of all that's left of mankind are in his hands, dropping the ball even once means humanity's last chance is gone.
    • In the miniseries, at one point the Galactica is hit by a nuke. The damaged section's fires are endangering the ship and the automatic fire suppressors are out. Nearly a hundred of Tyrol's people are fighting the fires with handheld gear... when Tigh orders the section to be sealed off and the atmosphere to be vented, putting out the fires and killing everyone inside. Understandably, Tyrol tries to protest but not only Tigh is his superior officer, they don't really have a choice because if they wait until everyone gets out, the fire will reach the fuel lines and blow the whole ship to smithereens. Afterwards, Tyrol tries to appeal to Adama and almost breaks down in tears right then and there, had it not for Adama's Get A Hold Of Yourself Man Death Glare.
      Forty seconds, sir... All I've needed... was forty seconds...
  • Subverted in Blackadder's Christmas Carol when Ebenezar Blackadder sees if he becomes bad his descendants will rule the Universe, the Ghost of Christmas Present's reaction is 'Maybe... Maybe... But would you be happy? Being ruler of the universe is not all it's cracked up to be - there's the long hours... I mean, you wave at people the whole time. You're no longer your own boss.' It doesn't work.
  • Borgen practically runs on this. It's revealed that When You Coming Home, Dad? is in full effect in Borgen, and many politicians divorce or have their marriage ruined because of this. By the end of season 1, this happens to Birgitte too.
  • Buffy often felt this way about her calling as the Slayer making her feel different. It bordered on what could be considered supreme egotism sometimes, and when faced with one very tough decision about whether to kill Anya for restarting her vengeance demon ways, she claimed that the Scooby Gang was not a democracy, that she's the Slayer and eventually all the tough decisions come down to her.
  • Call the Midwife: Spirited, saintly, unflappable nun-in-charge Sister Julienne leads Nonnatus House with wisdom, compassion, and unquestioned authority, but over time it becomes clear that this has taken a toll on her — and because she needs to maintain that authority, there is virtually no one she can truly unburden herself to. Once her longtime friend and comrade-in-arms Sister Evangelina passes away, her only true confidante is the erstwhile Sister Bernadette, now Shelagh Turner, with whom she has an incredibly close bond; though there is a decidedly maternal slant to Julienne's relationship with Shelagh, they are also true friends, and Julienne often turns to her for solace, advice, and simple human comfort.
  • Chernobyl: Every Soviet official who isn't too busy attempting to cover their own asses has to face this problem. The Chernobyl plant is on fire, and it's spreading radiation far and wide. But to fix the problem, thousands of men have to spend time in close proximity to said radiation-spewing disaster, often with deadly results. It's especially prominent when Legasov tells Gorbachev about the need to send divers into Chernobyl's flooded basement to drain it and prevent a disastrous steam explosion, which pretty much everyone knows is a suicide mission. Thankfully, this particular time it's averted. All three lived.
    Legasov: I'm asking for your permission to kill three men.
  • Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner of Criminal Minds can be seen often second-guessing his own decisions. The best example is in the second part of "The Fisher King", where, after scolding Agent Anderson for not staying with Elle after driving her home causing her to get shot, Hotch laments how he forgot to tell Anderson to specifically stay with her after driving her home.
  • The Crown (2016):
    • King George VI feels the chains around him and has been enduring them since the Crown was forced upon him when his brother Edward VIII abdicated to be able to marry twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. The stress leads him to smoke heavily, ends up killing him from complications to lung cancer. When he is apporoached by Anthony Eden, the political heir to Winston Churchill, who wishes the king to step in and convince the old man to retire, the King refuses.
      George VI: What do you suggest I do?
      Anthony Eden: Well, as sovereign, of course, there is nothing you can do from a constitutional standpoint. But as a friend... as Albert Windsor, you are the one person I can think of to whom he might listen.
      George VI: ...Well, that is where we run into difficulties, I'm afraid. I no longer am Albert Windsor. That person was murdered by his elder brother... when he abdicated. And, of course, Albert Windsor would dearly love to say to his old friend, Winston Churchill, "Take a step back. Put your feet up. Let the younger generation have a go now." But he is no longer with us and that void has been filled by George VI who, it turns out, is quite the stickler, and no more allow the Sovereign to interfere with the Prime Minister than stand for Office himself.
    • Queen Elizabeth II is frequently shown to be burdened by the traditions and expectations of the Crown and the Palace. She is to remain neutral to the highest degree, unable to publically show support for one cause or another, and must set the needs of the Crown over her own. Upon returning from the Commonwealth Tour because of the sudden death of her father, George VI, George's mother Queen Mary sends her granddaughter letter explaining how Elizabeth be now, for the good of the England and her position.
      "And while you mourn your father, you must also mourn someone else. Elizabeth Mountbatten. For she has now been replaced by another person, Elizabeth Regina. The two Elizabeths will frequently be in conflict with one another. The fact is, the Crown must win. Must always win."
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Two Doctors", a Sontaran admits to having made a "tactical error" and gives the excuse that "it's not easy being commander, the loneliness of supreme responsibility."
  • Dollhouse's Adelle Dewitt feels this trope pretty hard, though most characters are unaware of how much it weighs on her, thanks to her Tough Leader Façade.
  • Israeli satire show Eretz Nehederet aired this skit before the winner of the 2009 elections was declared. It featured a group of former Israeli prime ministers singing a song to both candidates, aimed at the winner-to-be, detailing how awful life would be after they get the job. Subverted by Shim'on Peres, who would still like to be the prime minister again in spite of everything.
  • Though most of the time Firefly's Malcolm Reynolds doesn't show the stress that his job as Captain of the good ship Serenity would foist on him, there are a few occasional moments where he does show that weight of responsibility, particularly in the Big Damn Movie.
    • Simon sometimes seems to feel guilty for not being a "good enough" (My word!) big brother, not least for having twinges of regret in River's presence. It must be awful having a little sister who can read minds.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Robb starts to feel them when his father's departure and his mother's breakdown leave him in charge in "The Kingsroad". By "Baelor", he's led an army to war and and sacrificed two thousand men for victory. Things only get worse as the war drags on and some of his men start to lose faith despite his victories. In Season 3, his leadership decisions start to put him at odds with some of his more prominent men.
    • Daenerys starts to feel them in Season 2, when her people become dependent on her. They only get heavier as her responsibilities increase. She realizes that being a ruler and being a conqueror are not the same things. As Tyrion notes, being a ruler means that they have to be "terrible" and he is pleased that Daenerys is "the right kind of terrible", that is the kind "that prevents her people from being even more so." Dany doesn't like making compromises and concessions to the nobility of Slaver's Bay but she does so anyway, to build some kind of peace in Meereen and moderate multiple factions, and on returning to Westeros, she doesn't like dealing with the picky norms of Westerosi feudalism, namely their endless grudges, feuds and prejudices against Dothraki but decides to proceed slowly if only to prove I Am Not My Father.
    • Alliser Thorne tells Jon that a commander will always face criticism for his decisions, but if he ever begins second-guessing himself he will become indecisive, an even worse trait than being wrong.
    • Jon sends his friend Grenn and five others to hold the crucial inner gate even though he knows it is likely a Suicide Mission.
    • Slightly touched upon with Tywin. He has Seven Kingdoms to run during an open rebellion and the ship of fools and schemers that he governs does not make it any easier. When Tyrion casually asks him if he's enjoying the position, Tywin finds the query outlandish and repeats back the question in disbelief. In the books, Kevan speaks earnestly about how Tywin is a stern but just man of duty doing a tough job for decades with little appreciation or reward.
    • Cersei has moments of fragility and self-pity where she laments the hardships of the regency that have fallen on her. Given her pettiness and dismal management, nobody really empathizes with her.
  • Done in the Horatio Hornblower telefilms, of course, although since the viewer isn't actually inside Hornblower's thoughts it's less pronounced. "The Examination for Lieutenant / The Fire Ships" in particular revolves around this theme. While Hornblower studies out of a book to be examined by a board, his readiness for actual command is repeatedly tested as he witnesses and experiences what happens when captains make reckless decisions, when circumstances outside one's control imperil the lives of subordinates, and times where he can't do anything to make a man follow his lead. Hornblower ends up questioning if he's fit for promotion at all, but Captain Pellew says he's doing fine and living with such things is the price of being a leader.
  • Rear Admiral A.J. Chegwidden of JAG has clearly has a difficult job as Judge Advocate General of the Navy, reconciling the often disparate interests of justice and policy-makers, not to many the many eccentric and unpredictable people under his command.
    "Try out my chair, Commander. My guess is it's going to be yours in a couple years. Go ahead, Rabb, it's not gonna turn you into a growling old salt. You'd have to grow a couple stars for that."
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Build: Sento Kiriyu was happy for as long as his duty of Kamen Rider involved fighting Faust and protecting the people of Touto from Smash. Things were fair and simple. The responsibility of creating the outcome of civil war between Touto and Hokuto that technically started because of him and making decisions about people's lives nearly crushed him.
    • Kamen Rider Dragon Knight: With all other Ventaran Riders gone, Len finds himself in charge of the earth resistance against Xaviax's invasion. He is fighting in a stealthy war where half the soldiers don't even know who they are fighting and has to give them a Fate Worse than Death or let them aid Xaviax in his conquest of another world. This sparks his duty vs. morals conflict.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Kyotaro Hinata, Ministry Of Health had to deal with several epidemics of illness that causes people to disappear if left untreated, all with his authority, political power and Dysfunction Junction crew of specialists. Naturally, putting faith in them and convincing the public they know what they are doing put a serious strain on him.
  • In The Last Ship, poor Jeff Michener was a horribly depressed government functionary mourning the death of his entire family when he discovered that he also happened to be the de facto President of the United States. He was so unprepared to take command that it came as a relief to him when the Chosen cult found him and decided to make him their puppet. After the crew of the Nathan James rescues him, he tries to kill himself, and he feels so lost that he nearly has an anxiety attack while trying to decide what to have for lunch.
  • Jack from Lost is a very reluctant leader.
  • This trope is discussed in the Malcolm in the Middle episode where the special-ed class runs away, and Hal leads a group of bodybuilders that decided to follow him around. After Dewey asks Hal a question about leadership (Dewey had been hiding the special-ed students who were living in the neighborhood's treetops, who had blackmailed Dewey into keeping their location secret, but was now thinking of telling on them), Hal responds by saying that people think that being a leader means having people looking up to you and doing what you want, but really being a leader means sometimes making hard decisions and telling the truth to the people that look to you for guidance, which will likely leave them disappointed.
  • One episode of M*A*S*H saw the main characters follow the British tradition of Boxing Day by having the enlisted and officers switch roles for the day. Of particular note are Colonel Potter's and Klinger's switched roles. Colonel Potter gains new respect for Klinger when he finds out just how much work is involved in being company clerk and Klinger gains new respect for the Colonel when he learns just how much weight the burden of command carries and having to be responsible for making extremely tough decisions.
  • In Medici: Cosimo, the son who wanted to be an artist, is picked to lead the family bank (one of the largest in Europe, with a great deal of political power) because of his ingenuity and ruthlessness at need. He most explicitly does not want this, and years later is baffled by his own son's eagerness to get involved in the family business and signoria politics. More, he visibly struggles with his guilt over all the things he does in his family's interests, spending much time praying for forgiveness.
  • The Outer Limits (1995) has the episode "Trial By Fire", in which the President of the US is sequestered after a UFO is spotted coming towards the earth at light speed. It's up to him as to how the US will respond to the potential threat, though his warhawk and dovish advisers have plenty to say on the matter.
  • Not that modern monarchs do much actual "commanding," but the young King Richard in The Palace struggled to reconcile his role as monarch with his political views, love life, and so on.
  • Rome. After a slave brings Pompey the Great a message that Julius Caesar's army is advancing, he's faced with a decision: should he fight or flee? Pompey then talks of how envious he is of the slave, who has all his decisions made for him.
  • Scrubs:
    • In one of the more humanizing moments for Dr. Kelso, he puts Dr. Cox in charge of trying to figure out how to balance the budget without firing someone. Much to Cox's chagrin, he can't, and Kelso points out that he doesn't (always) make his decisions because he's a jerkass; sometimes, it's the only way to keep Sacred Heart running.
    • Another great Kelso example is the end of an episode where J.D. shadows him all day trying to find something nice to say about him (but fails). Specifically on that day, Kelso put a rich patient ahead of a poor one for an experimental medical treatment that was his only hope (because the rich guy will now donate tons of cash to the hospital, allowing them to continue offering medical care to homeless and uninsured pregnant women). Kelso acts like it was an easy call that doesn't bother him, but the episode ends with him letting his guard down with nobody around. He looks incredibly shaken and forlorn as he walks to his car.
    • After Kelso's retirement, Dr. Cox is made the new Chief Of Medicine, and quickly finds just how brutal the trappings of the job really are, and it quickly costs him both any time for actually practicing medicine, and time with his family.
  • One of the main motifs in The Sopranos:
    • Tony Soprano is very savvy about this issue and is unable to decide which he feels more strongly: the stress or the benefits of being mob boss.
      Tony: All due respect, you got no fuckin' idea what it's like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other fuckin' thing. It's too much to deal with almost. And in the end you're completely alone with it all.
    • Tony also tries to warn Dragon Ascendant Johnny Sack about the difficulty of the position once he succeeds in becoming boss of his crew. Johnny falls victim to the chains not long after.
    • Silvio has to take the reins for a brief period after Tony is hospitalized with a gunshot. He doesn't last more than a few days because the stresses of the job quickly take a toll on his health.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • General George Hammond of Stargate SG-1 has it tough as head of Stargate Command. He has to juggle the conflicting issues of his SG teams and their safety, the Air Force, the president, other politicians, and of course, the safety of the galaxy as a whole. The point is driven home when Jack O'Neill is promoted and takes over for Hammond and almost quits because "he can't fill Hammond's shoes".
    • Same thing with Dr. Weir, Colonel Carter, and Mr. Woolsey during their respective times as the leader of Atlantis in Stargate Atlantis. While the IOA likes to interfere and chew them out for not following protocol, they always refuse to make decisions, instead leaving the leader to make the tough calls and then deal with being chewed out for making said tough decisions. (Vicious cycle, no?)
    • Later in Stargate Universe, Jack O'Neill chews out Colonel Young for hesitating and making the wrong (no) call, pointing out that literally moments ago Colonel Carter left two people to die so her ship and crew would be saved.
  • Long story short, pretty much every captain from Star Trek feels this at some point. This includes all the spin-offs, and even one shot captains often wind up feeling the burden of command before their spot is over. Readers of the Horatio Hornblower books can pick out scenes that mirror ones from the novels, which were a direct inspiration for the series.
    • Really, this has been in Trek ever since the very first pilot of Star Trek: The Original Series, where Captain Christopher Pike discusses the possibility of resigning, tired of being responsible for the lives and deaths of his crew.
    • Kirk discusses the subject with Dr. McCoy in the TOS first-season episode "Balance of Terror".
    • One episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Thine Own Self", features Troi taking the bridge officer's test, which she keeps failing until she realizes that the win condition is saving the ship by sending a virtual crewman to certain death. This in turn ties into an earlier episode, "Disaster", where, due to an accident, Troi is stuck as the senior-most officer on the bridge, but her rank was conferred based on her counselor position, not her technical or command experience. So she has to rely on the junior officers to explain the situation to her and make a gut call which, based on the above latter episode, she made wrong. It's only by luck that her decision didn't get anyone killed, something that she acknowledges which is what leads her to seek that bridge officer qualification later on.
    • Starting with TNG, the captain often isn't permitted to enter dangerous situations as Kirk frequently did; the first officer goes in their place, because the captain is the single most indispensable person on the ship.
    • Sisko lives and breathes this trope from day one of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He has to deal with the volatile and extreme politics of Bajor, the machinations of the Cardassians, the Dominion War, his role as Emissary of the Prophets, an (initially) uncooperative first officer, and the difficulties of single fatherhood on top of his regular duties as the commanding officer of one of the busiest and most strategically important space stations.
    • Janeway started to embody this trope over the course of Star Trek: Voyager. Entire episodes would revolve around her being forced to make tough calls about whether or not to compromise the Federation's ideals in order to help get Voyager home. She's much more isolated than the other captains, who can apply to (or have to answer to) Starfleet, but cut off in the Delta Quadrant she's more like the captain of an old wooden ship far from home port.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): Invoked in "I Dream of Genie", in which a man who has discovered a genie in a lamp imagines how each of several potential wishes would play out for him. In one Imagine Spot, he is the President of the United States, only to find himself confronted with a crisis where he must make a critical decision without concrete facts to suggest the correct answer, and knowing that the consequences of making the wrong decision could be catastrophic. This scenario leads him to decide against making this his wish.
  • The titular queen on Victoria struggles with her newfound power. Though she genuinely seeks to be a good and fair ruler, she also struggles with the idea that she must be politically impartial, for the most part; even when it comes to people or ideas she feels very strongly about as an individual, she must be seen to be fair as queen.
  • The West Wing's President Bartlet frequently finds himself feeling the full weight of his authority, especially when what the job calls for goes against his personal beliefs.
  • Wings: after Joe leaves Nantucket in 'Joe Blows' due to being overworked, Brian discovers how difficult it is to operate a business.
  • In The Wire:
    • Cedric Daniels is always struggling between the politics of higher-ups like Burrell, his own judgement, the pressure and Cowboy Cop antics from some of his more uncontrollable but competent detectives like McNulty, and the need to protect his more inept underlings like Pryzbylewski.
    • Stringer Bell often expresses his frustration with the lack of talent he has available and the hardships of ruling the Barksdale Organization like a proper business. He compares himself to a CEO who has to take responsibility for mishaps and scandals while everybody else can be ducking and hiding.
      Lester Freamon: Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
    • Present and discussed several times during Tommy Carcetti's term. As a previous white mayor puts it, governing the city means not seeing your family and eating shit from one community or another, day in and day out.

  • "The Price of Command" by Mercedes Lackey.
    This is the price of commanding—
    That you watch your dearest die,
    Sending women and men
    To fight again,
    And you never tell them why
  • Coldplay "Viva la Vida": "Who would ever want to be king?"
  • Suzanne Vega's "The Queen And The Soldier".
    But the crown, it had fallen, and she thought she would break
    And she stood there, ashamed of the way her heart ached
    She took him to the doorstep and she asked him to wait
    She would only be a moment inside
    And out in the distance her order was heard
    And the soldier was killed, still waiting for her word
    And while the queen went on strangling in the solitude she preferred
    The battle continued on

    Religion & Mythology 
  • The Son of God, whose responsibility was to die so the impure humans he loved could be freed of sin's consequence.
    Jesus wept.
  • Hinduism:
    • In Hindu epics such as The Mahabharata, kshatriya (warrior caste) characters have no 'off days'. They could be bathing or exiled or celebrating their son's wedding, but if even the lowliest shepherd comes along asking for help, they have to acquiesce. It's their dharma.
    • Infamously, the royal protagonist of The Ramayana exiled his wife to the wilderness because not all of his thousands-upon-thousands of subjects believed she was chaste. Rama trusted that she was innocent of the accusations (or so he says), but his logic goes that if rulers aren't absolute paragons of virtue and acknowledged as such by everyone who follows them, they have no right to rule. Like Unpleasable Fanbase, except that the fanbase decides who you have a relationship with.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is one of the issues the titular Hopeful must deal with in Princess: The Hopeful. If one of a Princess's followers or allies commits an act that violates the Princess's principles, and if the follower has good reason to believe the Princess might approve of that action, the Princess must face a Compromise roll as she has to consider whether she has been truly exemplifying the moral standards to which she holds herself.

  • Fausta in Dorothy L. Sayers' The Emperor Constantine seriously objects to the demands that being Constantine's wife puts on her.
  • Henry feels the full effect of this as he wanders through the camp in disguise on the eve of battle listening to the concerns of the ordinary soldiers in Shakespeare's Henry V. He soliloquizes about it after.
    Upon the king, let us our lives, our debts, our souls, our care-ful wives, our children, and our sins lay on the king. We must bear all...
    • His son, Henry VI also has a similar scene in one of his own plays, but unlike his father, Henry VI can't handle it and ends up overthrown and murdered.
      • Henry VI wasn't all there to begin with, and Shakespeare didn't gloss over that much.
    • Henry V's father Henry IV also felt this way, as he'd seized the crown from the unworthy Richard II in a popular revolt and wasn't sure he was up to the task of being king.
    • Richard II himself thought (and talked) about this a lot too. It was one of Shakespeare's favorite "king" tropes.

    Video Games 
  • Touched upon in the campaign mission 'Sea Fortress' of Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, in which the Black Hole army had managed to erect a stronghold in Green Earth waters. CO Eagle rallied his air forces to take it down, but, upon finding out that it was defended predominantly by anti-aircraft units, he was paralysed by indecision, concerned by the prospect of the potential casualties even if they emerged victorious. However, this is ultimately downplayed by the fact that his pilots convinced him to continue in spite of the risk, anyway.
  • Black Closet is all about this. The Player Character is the Absurdly Powerful Student Council President (i.e. chief of the school's Secret Police), and it's made abundantly clear to her at the start that the aristocratic faculty intend to use her as a scapegoat should anything go wrong and expel her to save face. Furthermore the game's underlying themes revolve around the issue of corruption, and why someone might turn to it. After making clear the severity of the situation, it shows how easy it is to succumb to such temptations as you and your underlings have the opportunity to abuse the powers granted to you (but not without consequences).
  • Dead State is all about this. Turns out that being the leader of a group of survivors during a Zombie Apocalypse isn't an easy job.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series' backstory, the legendary Yokudan/Redguard hero Frandar Hunding reluctantly became the leader of the Ansei, also known as "Sword Singers/Saints", an order of Master Swordsmen so skilled they could create blades from their very souls, during the Yokudan War of the Singers against the forces of the corrupter Emperor Hira. Ever the Guile Hero, Frandar led the Ansei to victory despite being outnumbered thirty to one. However, he would continue to struggle with this decision and many others he made as leader for the rest of his life. Due to being considered "red with blood" by the citizens of Yokuda, he chose to self-exile to Tamriel, becoming one of the first Yokudans to settle there.
  • Ensemble Stars!: That Eichi struggles with this is the primary takeaway from Circus - he genuinely believes that he is the only one who can ensure Yumenosaki Academy's success, being the Student Council President and the son of its main donor (meaning that the school board obeys his every whim), but while he is willing to play the part of the emperor, he feels the immense pressure of everyone's futures on his shoulders. To a lesser extent, most of the unit leaders struggle with having such responsibility over the others under their care - Chiaki, for example, is convinced that he's not as good a leader as his predecessor Madara and so is constantly working himself too hard in an attempt to live up to him.
  • Fable III beats the living hell out of the player with this trope. As the Prince or Princess of Albion, you spend the first half of the game gathering allies to overthrow your tyrannical brother, promising them that you will make things better once the throne is yours in return for their support. Then you discover exactly why Logan ruled his kingdom with an iron fist; he knew an Eldritch Abomination would be at his doorstep within the year, and had to impoverish the rest of the country in order to fund the army that would save it. You then have some very difficult choices to make if you're trying to be a good leader; if you keep all your promises and dig deep into the treasury to improve the country, its people will adore you and be happy - for one year before being annihilated, but if you scrimp and save on everything to fend off its impending doom you'll be a traitor, oath-breaker and hated throughout the land - but your kingdom will live on even though its people despise you. Logan suffered under the same weight of command. His quote from the Fable III page isn't a Caligula-esque rant. It's a statement of absolute fact.
    • Somewhat subverted in that the gameplay mechanisms allow the player to Take a Third Option in relatively painless fashion: just let the game run long enough for real estate income to compensate for the losses you'd take, and you get to keep all your promises to your allies without sacrificing a single life.
  • Deconstructed with Ranger Chief Hanlon in Fallout: New Vegas. The stress of overseeing a long war of attrition he sees as ultimately unwinnable causes him to start faking contact reports in order to demoralise his own side, so they can get on with losing it decisively enough that they'll be driven out of the region. If the player chooses to reveal this, he kills himself.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy VI has the royal Figaro brothers, princes both. When their father died neither wanted to take the throne, and the succession was settled by a coin toss. Edgar threw the coin. Sabin got his freedom. The coin was double-headed.
    • Final Fantasy XIV has Captain Lyna of the Crystarium's guard, who, despite her no-nonsense attitude, blames herself for letting her soldiers die during a Sin Eater attack, just before the battle was won.
  • Micaiah and Prince Pelleas go through Part III of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn losing a war and being the bad guys of said war because Pelleas followed his Treacherous Advisor's advice and signed a Deal with the Devil.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect has two missions where you have to make a very, very unpleasant choice. First, you get to choose which of your human squad members dies. There is no way to find a third option: the one you choose to leave behind will die spectacularly. And then in the downloadable content, you can either let the terrorist who is trying to drop an asteroid on a multi-million population human world go, or he'll kill the three miners that he took hostage on the asteroid. You cannot talk him out of it and you cannot disarm the mine before he sets it off if you choose not to let him go.
    • Comes to a head for the player in Mass Effect 2, where during the final mission, if you make the wrong decisions for the various jobs and tasks, your crew members can get killed one by one.
    • For an NPC example, Ronald Taylor tried to invoke this trope as an excuse for his flying leap over the Moral Event Horizon. Recap  If you choose the Paragon option, Jacob calls out his father as being a horrible, selfish man who didn't think of rescuing his crew, but rather turned a horrible situation to his advantage at the expense of his fellow human beings, and only called for help when the situation became untenable. Jacob then disowns his father, a man he never admired very much in the first place.
    • This is arguably the driving theme of Mass Effect 3, along with the theme of sacrifice. Garrus and Shepard have a conversation at one point talking about the "ruthless calculus" of deciding who lives and who dies, and party members will express concern about Shepard throughout the course of the game as the weight of the decisions s/he has to make in the war against the Reapers take their emotional toll. Shepard frequently has bad dreams where the ghosts of the dead and echoes of Squad Mates who didn't make it are prevalent, and the stress of everyone on Earth dying, as well as having to make an alliance between races who hate each other around the gamble of the Crucible weapon, is also very evident. Towards the end of the game, when Shepard fails to get the Catalyst on Thessia and the Asari homeworld is completely lost, s/he very visibly cracks under the strain, and it just gets worse from there.
    • From Mass Effect: Andromeda, there's Evfra, leader of La Résistance in the Heleus Cluster. Several conversations with him make it clear he hates being the one in charge of a protracted ground war his people aren't winning, and having to send men to their deaths every day. His codex entry even notes he deliberately isolates himself from having friends or even acquaintances, just to avoid feeling loss if something happens to them.
  • Mitsuru Kirijo of Persona 3 feels these all too keenly, though some of it is self-imposed. She is the club leader of SEES, the sole force capable of fighting Shadows, and is thus directly in charge of the battle against them as well as responsible for the welfare of the team. But more than that, she is mercilessly driven by the guilt she feels as heiress of the Kirijo Group, who were responsible for their creation in the first place. Or so it seems. After her father's death, she breaks down entirely, because it was his guilt she worked so hard and sacrificed so much of herself to erase. With him gone, she sees no point in anything. Harsher in Hindsight when you realize Takeharu, though clearly a caring parent, never knew the depth of her love and devotion to him; he merely chastised her for feeling guilty over something that wasn't her fault and trying to do too much on her own.
  • Prayer of the Faithless:
    • Emperor Daigo shows remorse for scapegoating Serra Cadmus for her prophecy and taking Mia's party prisoner, but he believes he must do so because as a leader, he must follow the will of Vergio's citizens and prevent mass panic. He carries so much guilt that he calmly accepts being killed by Aeyr.
    • Despite seeming like a callous authoritarian on the surface, Vanessa reveals that she's not truly proud of her decisions and that she believes most of her past efforts to maintain order in Asala resulted in failure. Eventually, the king kills himself, leaving Vanessa with the burden of running the entire kingdom. This, combined with losing the throne to Mia, causes her to lose all hope and seek death in the Tower of Sinners.
    • Mia originally wasn't trying to be a leader, but ended up becoming the de-facto leader of the Honneleth refugees after defeating Vance. Unfortunately, her goal of bringing everyone to the safety of Asala falls apart when she's labeled a Stranded by Vanessa. Even when she eventually finds a safe island to evacuate the refugees and overthrows Vanessa, most people won't follow her plan and she doesn't have the backbone to stand up to the dissenters. In the Love ending, Mia gives up on ruling humanity after realizing how much the pressure is twisting her morality. In two other endings where she survives, she continues her role as leader, but is at least more aware of her limitations and tries to rule in a way that won't cause her to fall apart mentally.
  • Implied in Secret of Mana, when a little boy in the castle of Tasnica tells the protagonists that he hears Krissie crying at night.
  • The supplementary material being released in preparation for Starcraft II Legacy Of The Void is showing that Artanis, Hierarch of the united Khalai and Nerazim Protoss, is feeling these quite heavily. In the video "Reclamation," he ponders whether the impending attempt to reclaim the planet Aiur from the Zerg will be worth the immense loss of Protoss life it will cost. In the short story "Children of the Void," it's shown that he must perform a perilous balancing act regarding which actions he takes and does not take in keeping the two factions united. And in the comic "Sacrifice," it's shown that Artanis never wanted the position of Hierarch in the first place, and only took it because it was the only way to keep the two factions together.
  • The reasoning behind the King's plan, and Strong Bad becoming a literal Chessmaster in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Episode Two: Strongbadia the Free.
  • Early in Tears to Tiara 2, Hamil is clearly unable to bear the pressure of command any longer, though he only shows it to Tart and Tanit. After his father dying in front of his eyes, he has had to feign stupidity and lead from behind the scenes to spare his people the worst of the rule of The Empire. Then circumstances forces him to rebel, and he knows full well the death and destruction that will follow. Both goddesses say they'll help carry the burden, and he quickly grows into a confident leader.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Prince Sebastian LaCroix believes in this trope bigtime and delivers a rather eloquent speech on the subject (it's on the quotes page) after events of the game 'force' him to call a Blood Hunt on Nines Rodriguez, knowing it will throw Los Angeles into disarray.. This is rather undercut by LaCroix otherwise being a self-entitled jerk, not to mention that you later learn the whole thing was him playing to the gallery since he was behind the whole scenario with Nines to begin with.
  • Yes, Your Grace: The Player Character is a fairly poor king who's trying to balance preparing for a war, keeping the general populace happy with his reign, and being a good father and husband. The resources are rarely enough to help everyone, people who actually need help are sometimes near-indistinguishable from convincing scammers, he only has daughters in a Heir Club for Men setting, and many of his potential allies have an unsavory side to them. It's little wonder he's prone to Fainting when something really bad happens.

    Web Animation 
  • The Adventures of Kim Jong Un: Enforced in "Kim Jong-un vs. Kim Jong-il Part 2". Kim Jong-uam briefly convinces Kim Jong-un to hand power over to him, but the burden of running North Korea literally crushes him into nothing.
  • RWBY: In a Volume 1 episode called "The Badge and the Burden", Ozpin warns Ruby that the position of team leader is both a badge of honor and a terrible burden. He and Oscar later discuss the terrible strain she must be under from being a source of inspiration and hope to others. As the series goes on, Ruby is forced to make increasingly difficult decisions, such as making the same decisions as Ozpin after her team had turned him for keeping secrets or using the Relic of Creation to save Penny and evacuate thousands while dooming the Kingdom of Atlas to destruction. During Volume 9, it becomes clear how bad this toll has taken on her and how she is starting to lose her way and her hope because of it. This finally reaches its breaking point and she snaps at her friends in Chapter 7, especially seeing as they seem to focus more on themselves and not the fact that she's in a very bad place at that point and Jaune blaming her for getting them in the situation they were in and causes her to leave her friends and eventual Suicide-by-Ascension. It takes her "Ascending" and understanding what's caused her to crumble to get back on her feet and restore her hope.

    Web Comics 
  • Baron Wulfenbach from Girl Genius could easily compare his job to herding cats and is implied to be constantly exhausted from stopping various Ax-Crazy Mad Scientists from going out of control, but he's the only thing preventing Europa from collapsing into blood-soaked anarchy. As proven when he drops a time-stop on Mechanicsburg, trapping himself in the center, and two and a half years later Europa has indeed collapsed into blood-soaked anarchy. Here and here. He also punishes someone who has displeased him by putting him in charge of a city. Admittedly, it includes the threat of being sent to Castle Heterodyne at his very first slip-up. Later, we catch up with him in Castle Heterodyne.
  • In Homestuck this seems to be a running element of the aspect of Blood. Thematically it's tied to society, the networking of people working together but in most instances come up as the pressure of maintaining a unit in conflict. Symbolically it's represented as chains and red tape and is an aspect characterized by The Fettered.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Princess Voluptua takes her job very seriously, both as heir to the throne and as veicereign of Earth's solar system. Apparently, a lot of Nemesite royals and aristocrats are terrible jerks, whereas she's trying very hard to be a fair and just leader. She seems to be doing a good job, since even people who hate the Nemesites in general seem to respect her.
  • One of the key themes in Kubera is "Who do the gods pray to when they are in despair?" It's implied that more than a few problems (such as the god Kubera's plan that kickstarted the plot, or the Nastika Gandharva's desperate attempts to save his clan and find his daughter) happened solely because the primeval gods disappeared, leaving the other gods and god-like beings with no idea what to do, and no one to go to for advice.
    • In a more comedic example, the side novel states that the primeval gods made Indra the king of the gods just so they could dump more of their paperwork on him.
  • Lord Shojo from The Order of the Stick is the leader of Azure City and an order of Paladins. He does this by Obfuscating Stupidity as a Chaotic Good person. When one of the Paladins called him out for his underhanded tactics, he has some choice words in combination with To Be Lawful or Good:
    Lord Shojo: It is good for you Paladins to stick to your convictions, but if I make a mistake, half a million citizens pay for it.
  • Though he rarely shows it, Ben from Weak Hero suffers under a lot of stress from being the leading force of Eunjang High, and the main thing keeping the school safe from the Yeongdeungpo Union. Whenever the school or his friends are targeted, Ben is quick to blame himself and fly into a rage against the attacker. In Season 3, Gerard realises how much he's taken on his shoulders and resolves to be his supporting pillar.

    Web Original 
  • Adventures in Jedi School: When confronted about his alleged plans to conqueror the galaxy, Evol dashes that theory immediately, pointing out that he's stressed enough managing one lousy school and he doesn't want the stress of anything bigger to age him faster.
  • In Chapter 53 of The New Narnia, The Nanny (as her adult-baby form Annie) confesses to Tommy that as much as she likes doing what she does, it takes a lot of time and energy being "God Mother to everyone who wanders in here".
    Annie: Heaven isn't Heaven for the person running it.
  • The lord in A Caution to the Wise, a story in The Wanderer's Library, has only one lament: "If only I were free!"

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: Parodied when Stan wakes up one day and discovers he's somehow gotten the physique of a 70-year old overnight despite being in excellent health the day before (He had been cursed with Rapid Aging by an old man he made fun of at the mall). After he goes to the hospital, one of the questions for possible causes the doctor asks is "are you President of the United States?"
  • Arcane: One of the reoccurring themes of the show is the messiness and difficulty of being a leader, oftentimes being forced to make moral compromises. Jayce is convinced that corruption and schmoozing with the elites is a necessary part of keeping his seat on the council, which he accepts as the price to pay so he can ensure the safety and future technological advancement of Piltover. Vander has a secret working relationship with the Enforcers who brutally put down the revolution he personally led because it keeps the peace. Even Silco, while more exploitative in his relationship with Marcus and planning to revolt, still has to maintain a level of peace, so his anger at Jinx killing Enforcers sounds eerily similar to Vander's anger at Vi after she and her gang inadvertently blew up Jayce's apartment in Piltover.
  • Ahsoka has to learn this lesson when she loses her squadron of pilots in "Storm over Ryloth" on The Clone Wars.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door:
    • The main reason why the Soopreme Leader of the KND is chosen in a game of tag is because nobody wants the job, specifically for this reason (and the fact that it's tedious and consumes a lot of free time). Despite that, when Numbuh 13 is tagged and happily proclaims he'll be Soopreme Leader, he is instantly dogpiled by many surrounding operatives so one of them would get tagged. The job may suck, but they know that it keeps the place running, and letting Numbuh 13 run it would doom them all. Unfortunately, because of this tradition, Father ends up becoming Soopreme Leader briefly because he gets himself tagged in the last few seconds of the game (Father was technically a KND member due to an earlier plot led to his DNA being put into the code module for active agents). In the end, Numbuh 362, despite earlier having stepped down as Soopreme Leader specifically because of this trope, ends up taking it back from Father because she's one of the few around who can do the job well.
    • Numbuh Five was originally the leader of Sector V, but cracked under the pressure and conceded the position to Numbuh One. In the Grand Finale he promotes her as he's leaving and she begins to panic until he reassures her that she has what it takes.
  • An episode of The Fairly OddParents! had Timmy become Student Council President. He quickly finds he has no free time and can't pursue Trixie (one of the main reasons he wanted the position), and he gets no privacy thanks to Chester and AJ being his overzealous security. Timmy eventually sabotages himself so his life can go back to normal.
  • The The Flintstones episode "Boss For A Day" had Fred envious of his boss, and the Great Gazoo turns him into a boss. He finds that it's actually a burden since he has to deal with higher-ups, stay late in meetings, etc.
  • Commander Walsh from Galaxy Rangers, especially in "Supertroopers." He was in charge of the Super-Soldier project, and it blew up in his face.
  • In the Gravity Falls episode 'Boss Mabel', Mabel gets to run the Mystery Shack for three days while Grunkle Stan goes on vacation as part of a bet (whoever earned the most money would be the boss for the rest of the summer). By the end of the episode, we learn that when your employees are The Slacker and a Manchild, the only way to get things done is to get tough while using genuine monsters (or at least large intelligent ones) as your exhibits puts a lot of people at risk, hence why fake exhibits are used, no matter how fake. When Stan returns and Mabel wins the bet (Mabel lost almost all her profits aside from 1$ repairing the damage to the shack but Stan had completely blown his winnings on the game show he was on by screwing up the final question), she gives the reins back to Stan, admitting the trouble in regards to managing the job.
  • Wildwing from Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series when he was put in charge by Canard, just before he disappeared. He has a whole episode where he resigns after accidentally leading the team into an ambush, and the responsibility just slammed down on him all at once. He gets better.
  • Throughout Moral Orel, Clay refers to his "stinking dead-end job" but he is never seen doing it. In fact the audience, and even his own son, doesn't even know what it is until the penultimate episode of the series when Orel goes to talk to the mayor and finds out that it's his dad.
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson, of all people, invoked this trope to cheer Bart up when he was bitter about losing the election for class president. Homer points out that Bart would have had to do a lot of extra work without getting paid, and he wouldn't even have been able to do anything cool because of it. When he realizes just what he would have had to put up with if he'd won the election, Bart actually feels a lot better.
  • Deconstructed in Star Trek: Lower Decks. Mariner was once someone who dreamed of being captain of her own ship, but 11 years of unresolved trauma from the death of one of her academy friends and serving in the Dominion War has led her to constantly self-sabotage her own career just so she never becomes "a general who sends her friends off to die."
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil shows that the Queen of Mewni is less of an actual ruler, and more of a babysitter for spoiled children. The people of Mewni utterly and completely refuse to do 'anything' for themselves or take responsibility for their own lives. They expect the queen to take care of their every need. Provide work and housing and food for them. The Queen has to act as though she is utterly perfect and without as much as a single flaw, regardless of how stressed or tired they are. The people are also stubbornly resistant to change, and any attempts to implement changes, even if they are for the better will either be ignored or met with hostility. When Eclipsa 'forced' reforms to be put into practice, her people either followed her reluctantly (with some defiance) at best or tried to have her killed at the worst.
    • We see a couple other Queens have to deal with these issues and so on. The oldest known Butterfly, Queen Skywynne for example had to deal with the mess her mother Lyric made (the loss of the first Book of Spells) and actually made the moves toward having her people be more autonomous (though this started the annexation of monster land and later the wars on them) and that the people would not accept her original heir Jushtin despite being a skilled diplomat and capable ruler (since Mewni is a Matriarchy and would accept a female heir) and she gave it to Solaria (who, while she initially tried to peace, would succumb to her darker impulses and became the "Monster Carver.")
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars, "Storm Over Ryloth": Ahsoka gets her first command, of Blue Squadron, and her actions cause the deaths of all but two of the men she's leading. When Anakin is talking to her about it he tells her that such is the reality of command, before going to tell the Mace (and Obi-Wan) about their failure to make any progress and take responsibility for the loss of Blue Squadron and the Redeemer.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Garnet brings this up in the episode "Pool Hopping". She can predict possible futures, which allows her to be an effective leader for the Crystal Gems. However, a string of completely unexpected events has left her in doubt of her abilities and her position as their leader. Her teammates are looking to her for answers more than ever, and it upsets her immensely that she doesn't know what to do anymore. At the end of the episode, she comes to the conclusion that it's up to her now to decide what she wants the future to be, so that she can confidently lead her team again.
    • As the show's Myth Arc progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that being the overlords of the Gem Empire is actually not kind to the Diamonds' psyches. They're held to impossible standards, they have no one to turn to, and a lot of their worse actions are because they just don't have healthy outlets to deal with their grief over Pink Diamond's death, which has led to both Blue and Yellow Diamond being on the edge of a complete breakdown by the modern day. Notably, when they've dissolved the Gem Empire in Future, they're much happier for it.
  • Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) suffers through this, and it becomes the focus of his character arc during the first half of the fourth season.
  • Rebel Prince Lion-O from ThunderCats (2011) feels like this from time to time. It doesn't really help that everyone in his kingdom thinks his adoptive older brother Tygra would be a better king, Tygra included. Once a sword that Only the Chosen May Wield marks Lion-O as The Chosen One, and his father is assassinated, the newly-crowned young king remains full of doubt in his leadership, wondering aloud "Maybe the sword chose wrong."
  • Transformers:
    • Rodimus Prime in series 3 of The Transformers often struggled with living up to the legacy of Optimus Prime, and at times is even willing to justify any excuse to give up command. A lot of this stems from his guilt over Optimus' death in The Transformers: The Movie and when Optimus returns for good, he happily returns the Matrix to the elder Prime.
    • Also from the first cartoon, Optimus put Silverbolt in charge of the Aerialbots specifically to invoke this trope. Silverbolt is a jet fighter who's afraid of heights, so Optimus believed that worrying about letting down his team would push him past his fear. It worked.
    • Rattrap was put in charge of the Maximals once in Beast Wars. He categorizes this responsibility as "a pain in the tail," and is perfectly happy to turn command back over to Optimus Primal.
    • And even Optimus Prime feels it now and again. In one episode of Transformers: Prime, for example, Bulkhead notes that he's never seen Optimus laugh... Or even smile.
  • Wing Commander Academy: Tolwyn teaches this lesson to Blair on several occasions.
  • Aqualad from Young Justice (2010) ever since episode six has expressed that being leader is a burden. He has repeatedly attempted and thought about giving up leadership because of his actions. During the episode "Disordered" he had accepted leadership after he explained why his teammates can't handle it: "Artemis is too raw and untrusting, Superboy is too angry, Kid Flash is too impulsive, Miss Martian is too eager to please everyone and Robin is too young for the burden."
    • Robin may also count too. In "Failsafe" after Aqualad's (temporary) Heroic Sacrifice, he had to take control and intentionally sent Superboy on a suicide mission and the choice devastated him. He admits to Black Canary that while he can make hard choices and be The Chessmaster, he hates it, and no longer wants to be in command.
    • In season two, Robin, now Nightwing, is leader of the team and is definitely feeling the weight of the choices he has to make. Even worse is that he seems to be pulling off Good Is Not Nice, and hates every minute of it.
    • Captain Atom was too happy to relinquish his position as the leader of the Justice League once the situation stabilized enough for it.

    Real Life 
  • Say what you will about modern political leaders, but they go through a lot.
    • Many live in a fishbowl and are ruthlessly scrutinized by the media, their political opponents, and online bloggers. Even the most minor mistakes and misstatements can blow up in one's face, particularly in the modern age when blogs, Twitter, and other online media can spread news almost immediately. Imagine if almost everything you said, every expression you made, was broadcast to the world and mercilessly picked apart across the internet and cable channels. It gets worse when you consider the level of personal venom some commentators direct at them, which in some cases would be grounds for slander or libel if made against a private citizen. And then there's what happens if your family gets dragged into it...
    • In non-democratic states, leaders faced the threat of being overthrown by a rival in the competition for power. Even in democratic societies, jockeying for power can lead to vicious political backbiting and attacks.
  • Russia, whether as an absolute monarchy, a totalitarian communist state, or an oligarchical republic, has never had rulers who But Mother Russia has not been fun for those who have held her reins either.note 
    • Ivan the Terrible gets a reputation for being, well, terriblenote . He was guilty of bloody purges and killing his own son in a fit of pique. But Ivan grew up in the shadow of boyars a class of nobles who often vied for power with brutal backstabbing, and Ivan's own mother may have been poisoned to death in these fights for control.
    • Nicholas I and Alexander III are both remembered as hyper-reactionary and hyper-nationalist monarchs who suppressed liberal reforms, setting the stage for Russia's political problems in the 20th century. But the two emperors faced political tumult at the beginning of their reign; Nicholas endured the Decembrist Revolt by reformist military officers while terrorists assassinated Alexander III's father. Both these incidents made them two men leery of liberal ideas that, in their minds, threatened to topple the autocratic traditions they considered necessary for Russia.
    • Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, has often been called (possibly deservedly) a terrible leader. But he struggled to balance an emotionally fragile wife, an heir who suffered from hemophilia, emotional baggage from his late father, the threat of revolutionary terror, and trying to appease both the conservative and reformist elements of Russian society. He became so overwhelmed with trying to run the Russian Empire during World War I that it took a severe toll on his physical health, and he suffered a coronary occlusion just days before he resigned. As noted by biographer Robert K. Massie in his seminal book Nicholas and Alexandra, being deposed as the Russian Emperor had a fringe benefit, as it freed him from the stresses of running the country. Life in captivity wasn't pleasant, and it got worse after the Bolsheviks seized power. Still, Nicholas's health did recover once he no longer had to put up with the headaches of running a country so huge it made up one-sixth of the world's landmass.
    • One anecdote has Nikita Khrushchev write two letters to his successor, Leonid Brezhnev, saying "When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter." The first letter's instructions were - "Blame it all on me." The second letter? "Sit down and write two letters."
    • Mikhail Gorbachev tried to reform the Soviet Union's sclerotic and oppressive edifice into a more open and democratic society and reduce tensions between the two superpowers. His reward was economic decay, nationalist uprisings, a coup by hardliners, the breakup of his country, Russia's fall from superpower status, and enmity from Russians who blamed him for Russia's loss of territory and prestige.
    • Boris Yeltsin suffered from a plethora of health conditions as President of Russia. You could notice that in Boris Yeltsin's interviews around a year after his resignation, he looked way better than five years prior, after the election for the second term (not even to mention a year before his resignation). Removal of the strain made him look somewhat younger with time.
  • Many people who knew George VI, his wife the Queen Mother especially, have long maintained that his suddenly becoming King in the wake of the Abdication, and the stresses of leading the British through the Second World War, are what ultimately killed him at the age of 56.
  • Presidents of the U.S. tend to age rapidly in office. Political diarist Alan Clarke thought that public office aged you several years for every one calendar year, and he was not even in a very important post at the time.
    • Before the two-term precedent was put into the Constitution, the reason why it had been followed was not just because American politicians wanted to set a tradition of voluntarily surrendering power; they left power because the job was that exhausting. George Washington wanted to quit the presidency after his first term but was urged to stay by those who feared that America would be without strong leadership. Despite his own popularity, Calvin Coolidge not only refused a third term but refused to be nominated in 1932, showing even popular Presidents can be worn down by the demands of the job.
    • A good visual example is Bill Clinton. His hair has been completely gray for so long that most people forget that when he was elected in 1992, his hair was a dark blonde. By the time his first term was up, the man had visible bags under his eyes, and his hair was completely gray.
      • In a letter to Clinton, George HW Bush commented that many presidents felt lonely in their office, although Bush admits he never felt that way.
    • A President who aged before taking office was arguably Dwight D. Eisenhower, due to serving as Allied Commander of the European theater. The stress of leading allied forces against a well-trained military force drove Ike to drink and smoke constantly. And he took the duty seriously: A letter was found after D-Day that Eisenhower wrote in case the Normandy landings failed where he asked to take full blame (even though the landing was successful, the letter is still considered an excellent example of leadership). By the time Ike was President, he wasn't in the best of health.
    • Harry S. Truman had a sign on the oval-office desk reading "The buck stops here." He also repeatedly stated in conversations that no sane man would want the presidency if he knew what it entailed.
    • James K. Polk was 44 years old when elected to the Presidency in 1844, at the time the youngest man elected, and while he served one termnote  it severely aged him to where he ended that one term in poor health. During a post-Presidency tour of the South, he contracted an illness - likely cholera - and died in June 1849, suffering the shortest ex-Presidency in history.
    • When James Buchanan left office, after failing to prevent the Civil War and seeing the division of the Union, he told Abraham Lincoln, "If you are as happy to be entering the presidency as I am to be leaving it, then you are a very happy man."
    • During his first term in office, Grover Cleveland met a five-year-old Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1887 and is supposed to have said to him, "My little man, I am making a strange wish for you. It is that you may never be President of the United States." Roosevelt himself served for far longer than any other president, at just over 12 years in office, and ended up saddled with the tasks of surviving the Great Depression and dealing with the most devastating war in recorded history, while also having to cover up his paralysis from the public by forcing himself to stand while wearing iron braces. By 1945, he looked haggard and emaciated, ultimately dying in office from a cerebral hemorrhage, which United News attributed to "years of brave responsibility."
    • Thomas Jefferson was quite happy to retire after his second term of office. In a letter that he wrote to his friend Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours shortly before his departure, he stated, "Never did a prisoner released from his chains feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power."
    • After seeing the toll the Presidency took on Woodrow Wilson note  Florence Harding wrote she didn't want her husband Warren G. Harding to run. Warren grew incredibly weary with the job overtime, stating "I am not fit for this office and I should never have been here." Having to manage his corrupt cronies, he also stated "I have no trouble with my enemies - I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends... They're the ones that keep me walking the floors at night!" He died two years into his first term. Even Alice Roosevelt Longworth, a woman famed for her vicious snark, sympathetically commented on how the job had overtaxed him.
      Alice Roosevelt Longworth: I think everyone must feel that the brevity of his tenure of office was a mercy to him and to the country. Harding was not a bad man. He was just a slob. He had discovered what was going on around him, and that knowledge, the worry, the thought of the disclosures and shame that were bound to come, undoubtedly undermined his health — one might say actually killed him.
    • Several media personalities commented on how Ronald Reagan seemed to suffer from his position far less than most Presidents, especially given how old he was when elected. This is probably related to him being one of the most 'hands off' presidents ever, with him largely letting his cabinet run itself (at least until the Iran-Contra Affair). Also, since premature aging is often one of the main signs of this stress, his age at the onset might have also played a role, making the stress less visible than it might be on a younger man.
      • The same could be said for Donald Trump, who was the oldest first-term U.S. president when elected in 2016 and seemingly never aged since then as of 2020 despite being far more "hands-on" than Reagan. He still Lampshaded the toll of the Presidency his one-hundredth day in office, stating, "It's a lot of work."
    • Barack Obama: If you look at pictures of him before he was elected and towards the end of his presidency, it's as if he aged about 15 years in the course of eight. Most prominently, his dark hair grayed out into a salt-and-pepper coloration. Lampshaded by the man himself on The Colbert Report.
  • For a British example, compare Tony Blair before and after his time as Prime Minister; you'd never believe he was only ten years older.
  • In his book Bastards and Boneheads, Canadian historian Will Ferguson provides a list of quotes from the Canadian prime ministers that all pretty much say the same thing: Canada is an extremely difficult country to govern. Ferguson's book was written while Jean Chretien was in office, but one could argue that Paul Martin and Stephen Harper would add their quotes to the list if they were asked about it.
  • It should come as no surprise that military officers in general (or at least any decent, self-respecting one) deal with this on a regular basis. Given the lives of the men under their command, logistics, the orders they give, and the realities of war, they have to bear it. The ups and downs of rank are summed up with two complementary sayings which, in the tradition of the US military, are expressed via an acronym: RHIP. Rank Hath Its Privileges, and Rank Hath Its Problems.
  • Brazil is a nation notorious for corruption and economic mismanagement, but with its vast and challenging geography and oligarchic social structure, running Brazil is difficult for any leader.
    • Pedro I, who led The Empire of Brazil to independence from Portugal, did not have a fun time reigning: he faced constant criticism from regional leaders over his centralized rule and was blasted by the public for his treatment of his first wife, Leopoldina, and was backstabbed by traitorous family members back in Portugal who interfered with his attempt to put his daughter Maria on the throne.
    • Dom Pedro II, Brazil's second and last emperor, has been lauded in Brazilian history as one of its greatest rulers, with accomplishments ranging from modernizing the education system to the abolition of slavery. But by the time of the 1889 coup, he was incredibly exhausted by ruling. When the Republicans revolted, he fled into exile despite having more than enough support to maintain power. It didn't help that the job had been forced onto him at a young age, effectively robbing him of a childhood, and that when traveling abroad under a pseudonym, he could escape the pressures of the station.
    • Getúlio Vargas is a controversial figure in Brazil's history, with some seeing him as an autocrat who weakened civil liberties for political gain. But he was a man who struggled with oligarchs that fought his attempts to modernize the country, with his last years in office being so stressful he was Driven to Suicide.
  • Charles II of Spain endured a particularly miserable reign. Being the product of generations of inbreeding, he suffered bouts of ill health, physical deformities, and poor mental health (although he was more lucid than he was given credit for). He struggled with managing a Spanish Empire that was a shadow of its formal self, and his infertility prevented him from producing an heir, leading to his final years spent trying (and failing) to manage a Succession Crisis for his throne.


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Alternative Title(s): The Chains Of Command


They Deserve Your Trust

When Boimler panics during his first away mission as the leader because he recently got promoted and he's worried about endangering his team to the point he decides to do all the work himself, T'Lyn reassures him that he earned his promotion for his hard work and his team deserves his trust.

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Main / YouAreBetterThanYouThinkYouAre

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