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Wasteland Warlord

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"Enough blood has been spilt. Just walk away."
"I am your redeemer! It is by my hand you will rise from the ashes of this world!"
Immortan Joe, Mad Max: Fury Road

The Wasteland Warlord is the powerful, autocratic leader of a faction in your Standard Post-Apocalyptic Setting. Much like real-life warlords in many war-torn regions, Failed States, or other chaotic areas of the world, the Wasteland Warlord usually attains power by force and by commanding the unwavering support and loyalty of their followers. In the power vacuum left by the collapse of civilization, the Wasteland Warlord often fulfills the closest thing the setting has to a functioning government providing their followers with resources, security, stability, a sense of purpose, or even the promise of a rewarding afterlife.

Unlike an Evil Overlord, the Wasteland Warlord may not necessarily be villainous (though they often are). Sometimes they can be benevolent, and even provide a safe refuge for the last remnants of humanity in a wilderness otherwise overrun by zombies, mutants, demons, monsters, killer robots, et cetera. But one thing almost all Wasteland Warlords share is that they are not afraid to resort to brutal methods in the name of survival. After all, the post-apocalyptic wasteland is an unimaginably harsh and unforgiving world, and only the toughest and strongest will survive to see the next day, let alone have any hope of one day rebuilding civilization.

Sub-Trope of The Warlord. Compare and contrast with Wasteland Elder, who tends to be more of a mentor or advisor than the one in charge (or if they are in charge, tend to be a lot more benign and less despotic). Also contrast with Disaster Democracy, where the faction's leadership is far more democratic and egalitarian. If the post-apocalyptic setting features a conflict between a good faction and an evil one, the good guys will usually be the ones practicing some form of democracy, while the bad guys will be the ones led by a warlord.

Often seen wearing Post-Apunkalyptic Armor.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • All over the place in Fist of the North Star:
    • Shin, Kenshiro's Rival Turned Evil, who rules the City of Southern Cross as a king, and is the man responsible for engraving the signature seven stars on Kenshiro's chest after besting him in combat. He lasts much longer in the anime adaptation, where several independent villains become his subordinates.
    • The Colonel is the leader of the "Golan Organization" ("God's Army" in the anime), The Remnant of a pre-war military that has descended into an army of religious zealots that kidnaps young women for use as breeding stock.
    • Raoh, the "King of Fists", the "Conqueror of the Century's End", is the biggest warlord of the original series. He genuinely wants to bring order to the wasteland, cares for his followers like a father, and does not tolerate senseless torture and cruelty towards the innocent. However, he is still a ruthless and ambitious tyrant whose plans involve killing Kenshiro and taking his Love Interest Yuria for himself.
    • Thouzer, the "Holy Emperor", is Raoh's only challenger aside from Kenshiro thanks to being immune to Hokuto Shinken. Unlike Raoh, he has no wish to promote stability in the wasteland, but only to satisfy his own ego, enslaving countless children to use as labor building a monument to himself.
  • Now and Then, Here and There: King Hamdo, the main villain, is the ruthless but deeply neurotic ruler of Hellywood, commanding an army of Child Soldiers recruited from villages he has raided or destroyed.
  • Pacific Rim: The Black:
    • Shane is the ruler of Bogan, a camp of survivors and mercenaries who prowl the Australian Outback, scavenging and trading in Jaeger and Kaiju parts. Shane is the main human antagonist to Hayley and Taylor (while the Kaiju are, of course, the greater overarching threat).
    • The High Priestess of the Sisters is effectively one as well, as the cult controls a stretch of the Outback known as the Divide, and under her rule has a tendency to kill every man they meet, and forcibly induct and brainwash women.
  • Violence Jack: Takatora Doma, the Slum King, who practically has all of the destroyed, post-earthquake Kanto under his control, and is the greatest enemy of the titular Anti-Hero.

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman: No Man's Land a big chunk of the Caped Crusader's Rogues Gallery gets a chance to live out their warlord fantasies. Black Mask goes in for mutilating his subjects in order to "unmask" them, while Killer Croc and Victor Zsasz are shown in some kind of turf war.
  • Crossed: In the +100: Mimic miniseries, Commander Chief Nathan is the leader of a group that was either a Right-Wing Militia Fanatic group before the end of society or regressed to one afterwards. His society has a great deal of military strength, is extremely misogynistic, and has no prohibition against rape. The (mostly female) lower classes of his outpost actually view the ruthless and torture-prone Crossed hordes as A Lighter Shade of Black than Nathan.
  • The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect features The Maestro, an evil future version of Hulk, as one of these, ruling the city of Dystopia and its surrounding wasteland in a Bad Future where the world has been devastated by nuclear war. A 2020 miniseries prequel to Future Imperfect reveals that Dystopia was built on the ruins of New York City by the original Maestro — none other than Hercules — who ruled over everything with an iron fist while living out his hedonistic fantasies. When Hulk came across this, he eventually killed Hercules so he could take over, with the intent of using Dystopia's resources to conquer the rest of the ruined world and rebuild it in his image.
  • Largo Winch: Phai-Tang, a Southeast Asian warlord that Largo met during his travels as a younger man. He goes on at some length about how it's precisely because of the wasteland that being a warlord is so important.
    Phai-Tang: Without war, what would I be? A vulgar little opium peasant. A simple village chieftain from the upper region of Shan country, ruling over two valleys and 400 lousy Hmong. But thanks to the war, I am a lord. I have the right of life and death. I can offer or withdraw my protection. I am feared, so I am respected. Besides, if I didn't make war, my neighbors would quickly seize my poppy fields. There has always been war in the land of the three frontiers, Largo. War is part of the traditions of opium. Without the war, the people of the upper valleys would be nothing.
  • The Garth Ennis run of The Shadow gave us Lord Wong Pan-Yan, a.k.a. "the Buffalo," a slaver and opium trader who eventually graduated to full-fledged warlord in the inner areas of World War II era China.note  He's an especially nasty example, but this being a Garth Ennis novel, no worse than most of the other factions in play, and argues that even the supposedly modern, civilized, and honorable soldiers of the Japanese empire are ultimately nothing but Wasteland Warlords themselves, and are deluding themselves if they think otherwise.
    Wong: You're an army and you came to conquer. You're in it for whatever you can get. Like Wong.

    Fan Works 
  • Halloween Unspectacular: The story "Masters of War" sees Vlad taking absolute control of the ruins of Amity Park after World War III, aided by surviving army units that accepted his command after the federal government was lost, with brutal but necessary tactics like only feeding people who can work. He talks about using this as a power base to rebuild the world under his control, and the story's epilogue suggests that he does build up a kingdom of some kind over the next ten years, before Dani returns from Walking the Earth and takes him down.

    Films — Animation 
  • Hilariously subverted in The Simpsons Movie. When the Simpsons family (sans Homer) returns to Springfield, they find that the town has sunken into anarchy after weeks of being trapped within the dome, and Moe comes over, introducing himself as "the Emperor of Springfield" before we find Mayor Quimby is actually alive.
  • Wizards: 2 million years after a nuclear war, Earth is inhabited by mutants, elves, and fairies. The malevolent wizard Blackwolf rules over a region called Scortch [sic]. It's a ruinous wasteland with little greenery and much decay. There, Blackwolf finds a way to instill militancy in the wretched mutants that inhabit Scortch, and marshal them against the elves and fairies that abide in the nicer parts of the world Reclaimed by Nature.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Bad Batch: The Dream controls the only known non-cannibal settlement in the desert Penal Colony through a combination of manufacturing drugs as currency, rigging the only known working plumbing system, and having lots of armed guards.
  • Planet of the Apes:
    • Battle for the Planet of the Apes: Kolp has been mutated by the radiation from World War III. His wardrobe and convoy of vehicles would be right at home in a Mad Max movie. He declares war on the immensely stronger and more prosperous Ape City out of jealousy and boredom.
    • Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes: An unspecified amount of time after the fall of humanity, evolved Ape descendant Proximus Caesar operates out of a militaristic compound, seeks out dangerous weapons, makes grand speeches, and wears a flashy but ominous outfit unlike anything else in Ape society. He seeks to recreate humanity's Lost Technology so that he can conquer and rule all apes.
  • A Boy and His Dog. Deconstructed with the loony elder with his hand-pulled cart, who has his minions dig in the dirt for a cache of tinned food.
    Vic: I wonder why they hang around him?
  • Cherry 2000: Lester is maybe the most laid-back Affably Evil example of this trope ever. At the climax, he even peps up his minions as they all get ready to attack the heroes with "Remember, gentlemen: Life's an adventure!"
  • The Colony (2021): Gibson, the last survivor of the first expedition back to Earth, rules over the "Muds" as a benevolent dictator, but it doesn't take much to make him violent, and he views his people as little more than breeding stock for when his fellow residents of Kepler-209 arrive.
  • Goliath Awaits: While the outside world is perfectly safe, the people aboard the sunken ship the Goliath have been trapped in their City in a Bottle for forty years and are led by a brilliant and charismatic but engineer who tolerates no dissent against his ideas and refuses to return to the outside world even though the devices keeping everyone inside the ship alive may soon break down.
  • Land of the Dead: Post-Zombie Apocalypse Pittsburgh is ruled by Paul Kaufman, who financed the creation of the city's safe zone and uses the authority that comes from that fact to run the city with an iron fist from his penthouse in the Fiddler's Green high-rise, which is also inhabited by his wealthy allies while everyone else is left to live in squalor. He controls the criminal element by proxy on top of his official position, and anyone who dissents with his regime is eliminated by his enforcers.
  • The Last Survivors: Ten years after rain stopped falling, Oregon has become a desert. Local farmer Carson controls the last source of water in the area. He is willing to extend aid and protection to people he thinks has a chance of survival, but also kills the elderly and infirm to avoid expending resources on them. At the end of the movie, he talks about wanting his daughter to be the last person standing so she doesn't have to compete for resources with anyone. Whether that was his plan all along or is just Motive Decay is hard to tell.
  • A staple of the Mad Max series.
    • Surprisingly averted in the first film. Unlike its sequels, it's set Just Before the End when civilization is breaking down but otherwise still existent, and the main villain Toecutter is more the leader of a roving criminal gang than a proper warlord leading an army.
    • Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior: The Lord Humungus, the self-proclaimed "Warrior of the Wasteland, the Ayatollah of Rock-N-Rolla", and leader of the raider band that menaces the refinery inhabitants for their precious oil. He is perhaps the single most iconic and influential example of this trope, having inspired numerous knock-offs, copycats, and parodies; any post-apunkalyptic work inspired by The Road Warrior is almost guaranteed to feature a villain based on him.
    • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome: Auntie Entity, the founder of Bartertown. She rules the town with an iron fist, sentencing anyone who "busts a deal" (i.e. breaks a vow) to "face the wheel" (a literal wheel with ten punishments written on it, most of them harsh, spun to determine the person's fate). The only people who dare defy her are Master Blaster, a duo who control the town's fuel supply, so she hires Max to eliminate her competition by challenging them to combat in the titular Thunderdome. Unlike the other examples from the series, however, she's presented somewhat sympathetically, and ends the story by showing Max mercy when she could easily kill him.
    • Mad Max: Fury Road: Immortan Joe, ruler of The Citadel, the only known source of clean water and crops in the wasteland. His power comes from his control over these precious resources, along with his fanatically loyal army of War Boys and the religious cult he has built up around himself. Joe's hold over his minions is such that his War Boys will gleefully martyr themselves in his name during battle, spray-painting their teeth in metallic colors in emulation of Joe's own mask. The film also features the Bullet Farmer and the People Eater, each of whom run their own small town controlling access to a limited resource (firearms and fuel, respectively), but both of whom seem subordinate to Joe.
    • Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga: This prequel to Fury Road adds a rival to Immortan Joe, Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), the leader of a post-apocalyptic biker gang who rides in a chariot pulled by motorcycles.
  • Star Wars: Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine is effectively this. The planet is beyond the reach of the galactic government and has no government of its own to speak of, but is the home base of Jabba's interstellar crime syndicate. As such, he's the only authority there. (He lacks the martial attributes often associated with this trope, however, remaining a Non-Action Big Bad who lets his thugs and hired bounty hunters do the dirty work).
  • Things to Come features "The Chief" the leader of post-apocalyptic Everytown, who rules with an iron fist, ordering the shooting of those infected with the wandering sickness, and waging wars on neighbouring regions to gain resources to keep his rag-tag group of biplanes running.
  • Waterworld: The Deacon, the leader of The Smokers, a gang of pirates who operate from their floating base aboard an old oil tanker and regularly raid and terrorize the other atoll-dwellers. The Smokers hail him as their savior and the one who will eventually lead them to dry land.

  • Black Tide Rising:
    • Recurring character Eric Lamont, "King of Miami and the Kingdom of Florcubatamp," is a former soldier who was dishonorably discharged after failing a drug test. After the Zombie Apocalypse, he turns most of Florida into a feudal kingdom, while boasting over the radio about how he'll take over everywhere else in due time. The people in his "protectorates" are fairly comfortable and well-treated, but he doesn't hesitate to have his enemies fed to the zombie hordes. Ultimately, he chooses to form a truce with the the restored government rather than fight it.
    • The short story "Appalachia Rex," features King Dale, a militia leader who declares himself the monarch of Tenessee and refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the restored government, who he accuses of causing the outbreak in the first place. The narrator (a Catholic schoolgirl) and her classmates are concerned and suspicious that Dale and his men want them as Sex Slaves, although this is never confirmed.
  • In the Crosstime Traffic book The Valley-Westside War by Harry Turtledove, a nuclear war in the 1960s reduced the United States and the USSR to hundreds, if not thousands, of petty states. The title refers to the Kingdoms of Westside and the San Fernando Valley, fighting over control of what used to be Los Angeles, 130 years later. The Valley is a straight example of this trope, ruled by King Zev, but Westside is ruled by a nine-member city council.
  • The Starter Villain for Debt of Honor, Mohammed Abdul Corp, is this. He's an East African warlord who, along with several rival warlords, was recently responsible for collapsing his country into complete lawlessness. The situation has improved since then and he's been relegated to being a bandit-king in the desert running drugs to sustain his army; however, he's still dangerous and still looking for ways to regain his former power. Unfortunately for him, Clark and Chavez get to him first.
  • The Dogs of War: An unusual example in that he's the recognized President of a nation-state, but President Jean Kimba of Zangaro is effectively this. His nation is supposed to be a People's Republic of Tyranny, but it's really just a failed state. All economically productive sectors have been nationalized by his government and promptly collapsed as his crones have no idea how to work them; no resources have been put into education, medicine, infrastructure, or anything else that might raise standards of living; and anyone with any education or capital left the country a long time ago. The only thing that sort of works is the military, which Kimba uses to keep order and terrorize the population, and even that's badly run enough that a small mercenary operation is able to overcome them easily.
  • Downplayed in the movie, but the novelization of Dragonheart portrays King Freyne as one. His kingdom exists in the ruins of two far more complex societies - The Roman Empire, which fell long ago, and the local Celtic culture that lived in harmony with dragons (implied to be descended from King Arthur, whose knights and "Old Code" are sorely missed). By contrast, Freyne is little more than a thug in a crown terrorizing the local villages.
  • In the Emberverse series of books by S. M. Stirling, which follow the breakdown of society in the USA after modern technology suddenly ceases to function, viable states arise from the wreckage. One such is the Portland Protective Association, run by Norman Arminger, a man who creates a pseudo-medieval fiefdom with himself as King.
  • The Postman: General Macklin, the leader of the Holnists, who rampage across the former United States mercilessly pillaging and slaving as they go. He's also a first-generation Super-Soldier, ensuring that he is able to stay in command of the Holnists (whose entire philosophy is built around Might Makes Right).
  • Sharpe: Sharpe's Triumph is set in northern India in the early years of British colonization, and portrays it as being largely ruled by such people. The local princes and their European mercenary commanders are constantly at war with each other and now with the colonizers, a process that's ultimately allowed anyone with an armed posse to enrich themselves at everyone else's expense. Sharpe is offered an opportunity to get in on the action, but ultimately declines.
    McCandless: What did he offer you? A lieutenancy?
    Sharpe: Yes, sir.
    McCandless: He told you of Benoit de Boigne, and of that rogue George Thomas? And he said you could be a rich man in two or three years, aren't I right?
    Sharpe: Something like that, sir.
    McCandless: I won't deceive you, Sharpe, he's right. Everything he told you is true. Out there is a lawless society that for years has rewarded the soldier with gold. The soldier, mark you, not the honest farmer or the hard-working merchant. The princedoms grow fat, Sharpe, and the people grow lean.
  • The Stand: Randall Flagg, a Satanic Archetype who appears in the dreams of survivors of the Superflu, and draws many of them to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he is gathering an army of psychopaths, and torturing and crucifying anyone disloyal to him. Flagg stands in opposition and stark contrast to Abagail Freemantle, a Wasteland Elder leading the "Boulder Free Zone" in Boulder, Colorado.
  • Star's Reach features the jennels and cunnels, descendants of the generals and colonels of the US military, who serve as regional and local warlords, respectively. Several jennels make up the presden's court, so they double as nobles, and can potentially ascend to the status of presden if they have no heir.
  • Star Wars Legends: The Unknown Regions are the mostly unexplored part of the galaxy, beyond the borders of governing authorities like the Republic or Empire, and mostly lacking any equivalent. As a result, Wasteland Warlords are common. Grand Admiral Thrawn, with the Imperial forces allocated to help him explore the Unknown Regions, is able to establish a significant foothold in the area and gain sympathy from local populations by offering protection from such people.
    • Outbound Flight has the Miskara (ruler) of the Vagaari. He controls a nomadic nation of pillagers and slavers, which mostly preys on civilizations too primitive to fight back.
    • Choices of One: Warlord Nuso Esva a generation later is another conqueror making his way through the Unknown Regions. He's a more ambitious warlord than the Miskara, however, trying to carve out an actual empire for himself instead of just moving on when he's depleted a planet, and trying to extend his reach into the Empire itself when he becomes aware of it rather than sticking to easier targets.
  • The Unknown Regions aren't any better in new Star Wars canon, as shown in the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. General Yiv of the Nikardun Destiny is a similar kind of conqueror, and eventually turns out to be a pawn for another such conqueror, Jixtus of the Grysk Hegemony. The Chiss Ascendancy, Thrawn's home nation, is a constant source of frustration to such warlords, being the only nation in the region advanced and militarized enough to resist them. As a result, butting heads with them is an occupational hazard.
  • Wool: Bernard, the head IT guy in the post-apocalyptic Elaborate Underground Base. He may not seem like it at first, but he has an army of security guards who answer to him while he constantly manipulates or kills people (even his supposed superiors) who resist the order of things. It is eventually revealed that he has hundreds of counterparts in other bunkers, all of them being directed by the leaders of Silo 1.
  • In World War Z, plenty of escaped convicts enjoyed, along survivalists, the opportunity to become the local chiefs of their corners of the world after the Zombie Apocalypse drives away the government. Indeed, the rump United States doesn't use exile against their criminals because, in the words of the President, "the last thing we need is to come across one of these ex-cons as the new Grand High Imperial Warlord of Duluth."

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Book of Boba Fett: Boba Fett is a rare benevolent example, or at least trying to be. The series has him claim the title of Daimyo of Tatooine (left vacant by Jabba's death), but he doesn't try to do it through violence; instead he tours the various factions on the planet (from the Tusken Raiders in the desert to the small town of Mos Pelgo to the small-time gangs in the larger cities), tries to earn their loyalty, and offers them protection from larger cartels like the Pyke Syndicate or the Hutt twins. It actually works against him to an extent, as people expect him to behave like a standard Wasteland Warlord and rule through terror, and mistake his attempts at a softer approach for weakness.
  • Dark: When traveling to the future world of 2052 for the first time, Jonas encounters a faction of heavily-armed survivors and cultists led by a grown-up Elisabeth Doppler, of all people. Despite being deaf and blind in one eye, she is able to maintain power through a mix of brutality (hanging anyone who disobeys her), religious fervor (preaching about "paradise" to her followers), and help from her lieutenant, Silja (later revealed to have been specifically sent there by Adam, as Elisabeth and Silja play a role in Adam's greater, overarching plans).
  • Gotham: Season 5 is a loose adaptation of Batman: No Man's Land, and sees numerous villains carving out fiefdoms in Gotham after the city is cut off from the mainland and abandoned by the government. Outside of the safe zone protected by Gordon and the GCPD, the most powerful factions include Penguin (controlling City Hall and a factory that manufactures ammunition), Barbara (who operates a Lady Land out of her club and only lets in men who trade in vital information), and a cult run by Jeremiah, along with various smaller gangs led by other members of the Rogues Gallery.
  • The world of Into the Badlands is a neo-feudal society ruled by seven Barons. Each Baron holds a monopoly on a different resource, such as opium and oil, and is served by a massive workforce of "Cogs" (slaves), "Dolls" (prostitutes), and an army of "Clippers" (highly-trained warriors used to violently ensure law and order, quell uprisings, and battle rivals). Outside of the areas ruled by the Barons, there are nomads and other independent parties, each with their own leaders (such as the River King, a slave-trader who controls all water trade in the Badlands and beyond).
  • Jeremiah takes place in a Teenage Wasteland where the kids who survived The Plague have grown up.
    • In the pilot, a woman named Theo runs a small town by running security over a marketplace and using the nerds from her old high school to work on technological innovations and imprisoning and ruthlessly interrogating anyone who crosses her. She ends up run out of town and reluctantly falls in with the main characters.
    • The Remnant forces of Valhalla Sector badly want to be this trope in season 1 and plan to use their cache of weapons to conquer the country, if not the world. However, their fear of being exposed to the Big Death makes them hesitant to leave their survival bunker.
    • Throughout season 2, Daniel is mentioned as a Shadow Dictator who can inspire cult-like devotion even as he sends hundreds if not thousands of people to labor camps and has his army attack towns in negotiation with his rivals. Daniel turns out to be an Invented Individual, but the true leaders of "his" army, the Founders, are fine with crushing anyone who stands between them and control of the country.
    • Several Villain of the Week regional tyrants, such as a book burning redneck, a puritanical zealot who bans people from touching each other, and a Godhood Seeker.
  • The Last Ship:
    • In the end of Season 1 and start of Season 2, Amy Granderson leads a portion of the remaining U.S. government in establishing a Safe Zone Hope Spot. She kills most refugees who come to her for Human Resources reasons, while only sparing the most intelligent ones.
    • In Season 5, Ax-Crazy Machiavellian revolutionary Gustavo "Tavo" Barros is seeking to conquer all of South America and turn it into a world power, although it's eventually revealed that he fled there during the Flu and isn't Columbian by birth.
  • Revolution
    • In the first season, Sebastian Monroe leads the Monroe Republic, a large and ruthless militia bent on conquest. The capital of Monroe's empire is nuked in the season finale by the Patriots (a fascistic organization led by the last survivor of the pre-blackout presidential administration). They then serve as the threat for the remainder of the series, although they employ Villain with Good Publicity tactics at first.
    • Kelly Foster of the Georgia Federation and General Carver from the Republic of Texas run cleaner and more civilized governments in the ruins of America, but show hints of being ready to use authoritarian force when they have to.
  • Stargate SG-1: The Goa'uld are effectively this. They're living in the ruins of vastly more advanced civilizations, chiefly the Ancients, and most of the technology they rely on (including the Stargate network itself) was simply inherited from these people. However, anyone who could contest their leadership of the Milky Way is either unaware of them (the Replicators, Wraith, and Ori, who live in other galaxies) or uninterested in them (the Tollan and Nox, isolationists who stick to their own planet), so they're effectively its rulers by default. The territories they rule are also shockingly primitive even by Earth standards: some of their tools (weapons and some transportation) are space age technology, but they still live in preindustrial villages and small towns with very few of the modern amenities Earth developed in the last two hundred years.
  • The Tribe has several examples, but Zoot, leader of the Loco tribe, is the most influential... supposedly. He dies by accident early into Season 1, after which the focus is not on defying or escaping him, but on the protagonists' desperate attempts to keep his cultists from looking for him and destroying their fledgling tribe in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Even so, the insanity and degradation that Zoot represents looms large over the series for several seasons.
  • The Walking Dead Television Universe:
    • The Walking Dead (2010):
      • Phillip Blake, a.k.a. the Governor, is the first major human antagonist of the series. Having managed to build a safe zone out of the town of Woodbury, he presents himself as a benevolent leader trying to rebuild society, but is soon revealed to be a brutal dictator who happily kills anyone he views as a threat to his plans. After coming into conflict with the protagonists, he starts a war with them; when he starts losing, he suffers a Villainous Breakdown, killing many of his own people and burning Woodbury down. He then wanders off and eventually joins a survivor caravan, which he swiftly takes over and uses to attack the prison community again in a final attempt to claim it for himself.
      • Negan Smith is the leader of The Saviors, a gang that can best be described as a Zombie Apocalypse version of The Mafia meets The Empire. The Saviors, numbering hundreds strong and all having sworn Undying Loyalty to Negan, maintain their large army and their base of Sanctuary by extorting food and tribute from surrounding communities of the Washington, D.C. area in exchange for their "protection". However, Negan's actions and violent methods eventually lead to all-out war between The Saviors and an alliance of the communities of Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom.
      • Ian, the leader of the survivor community in the Riverbend apartment complex, runs the place with an iron fist and keeps a collection of skulls taken from perceived enemies he's had executed. He's also paranoid, convinced that anyone outside the complex is a threat.
      • While not initially obvious, it becomes clear over the course of Season 11 that Governor Pamela Milton of the Commonwealth is an autocratic dictator. She uses Bread and Circuses to keep the lower class citizens blind to how they're repressed, while having dissidents arrested without trial to serve in secret labor camps, and periodically luring hordes of walkers into attacking the city in order to scare the population into submission. And when one of those hordes ends up being full of variants who overwhelm the Commonwealth's defenses, she's perfectly willing to leave the poor to die to defend herself, which thankfully leads to her own troops turning on and arresting her.
    • Fear the Walking Dead:
      • The back half of Season 2 has the Los Hermanos Cartel, led by Marco Rodriguez, which takes advantage of the zombie-induced collapse of the Mexican government to carve out a fiefdom wherein they keep a stranglehold on food and medicine, crushing anyone who defies them.
      • Season 3 has Proctor John, the leader of a gang that has set up a series of trading posts across the US-Mexico border region, which he intends to use as the start of a new nation. He also intends to brutally crush anyone who stands in the way of the resources he needs to accomplish this, with the climax of the season revolving around his attempt to seize control of a damn providing water and electricity to much of the surrounding area.
      • Seasons 5 and 6 have Virginia and her Pioneers, who are roughly equivalent to Negan and the Saviors. Having built a network of safe frontier town-style communities across the Texan wilderness, Virginia forcibly recruits other survivor groups she encounters to build up these communities, sending them where she feels they can be put to best use and either exiling or executing those she feels aren't of any use. Eventually though, these actions inspire a number of groups to rise against her, which combined with sabotage of her infrastructure by a local doomsday cult leads to the collapse of her empire.
      • Season 7 sees Victor Strand become one of these after the aforementioned cult wipes out seemingly all the established settlements in Texas by launching nukes across the state. Stumbling across a building in one of the remaining habitable zones that happens to contain a stockpile of resources, Strand converts the building into a self-sufficient fortress and starts gathering survivors, only allowing in those he feels he can trust and make use of, while banishing or killing the rest. However, his fiefdom eventually collapses due to a rebellion by his own enforcers when he tries to make peace with Morgan and Alicia's group.
      • Season 8 has the co-leaders of the PADRE organization, Crane and Shrike (real names Ben and Sam Krennick), who are a fairly unique brother-sister team version of this trope. Their father was a US Army General who established PADRE as a safe zone on an island off the coast of Georgia, intending to use the resources stockpiled there to support other communities on the mainland so that civilization could eventually be rebuilt. But when he and most of his troops were killed by a walker herd, his children took over, with Crane becoming a Shadow Dictator to create the illusion that General Krennick was still alive and serve as a rallying figurehead, while Shrike handled day-to-day operations. Since then, they've run a Reign of Terror against the coasts of the southern US, press-ganging adults deemed useful into their workforce, exiling others to die, and abducting all children to the island to be raised and indoctrinated as Child Soldiers in order to one day fully retake the mainland.
    • The Walking Dead: Dead City: The woman known as "the Dama" is the leader of a group of raiders in post-apocalyptic Manhattan known as the Burazi, who control and terrorize much of the island. She intends to either wipe out or subjugate all other survivor enclaves in order to unite Manhattan under her control, and to this end kicks off the plot by having the Croat kidnap Hershel Rhee to lure in Negan and press-gang him into service as her general.
    • The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon:
      • The second episode's Villain of the Week is RJ, an American tourist who was stranded in France during the Fall. Since then, he's holed himself up in an old castle, raiding the surrounding villages for resources to horde for himself while terrorizing the locals.
      • A bigger example is Marion Genet, the leader of a populist nationalist movement called Pouvoir des Vivants ("Power of the Living"), which seeks to reunite France by force under her leadership. To this end, her militias roam the countryside enforcing brutal rule of law, while she also employs human traffickers for test subjects as she tries to weaponize the walkers.
    • The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live has Major-General Johnathan Beale, who as commanding officer of the Civic Republic Military is responsible for all their actions across the franchise, including enslaving small survivor communities to exploit their resources and destroying larger ones that might potentially be threats. Downplayed, however, as despite the CRM's autonomy, it's ultimately subservient to the Civic Republic's civilian government, which is Locked Out of the Loop about their actions. The final episode reveals that Beale plans to overthrow the civilian government and declare martial law (thus becoming this trope in full), before then wiping out every community outside of the CR's city, as part of a delusional belief that it's the only way to ensure humanity's survival in the long run.
  • Z Nation: Primarily, any groups of survivors that the protagonists encounter are either just people trying to survive or the occasional cult, there are a few examples of warlords scattered around:
    • La Reina is the leader of the Zeroes, a drug cartel who control a series of outposts and secured towns ranging from northern Mexico to the American Midwest, in what appears to be the only long-range centralized authority left in either country. As expected of a cartel boss, she is ruthless in securing her reign, and that's before even getting into how she funds Dr. Kurian's efforts to create a cure to the zombie plague that she can have sole control of.
    • In Season 3, Murphy's Heel–Face Revolving Door lands him in the most villainous spot he has throughout the whole series. He proceeds to start turning people into zombie-human blends that he can psychically control and puts them to work rebuilding the infrastructure of Spokane, Washington, where he sets up shop and sets about a plan to rebuild society under his control.
    • The Founder of ZONA establishes said safe zone on an island, where he and his rich associates are able to ride out the zombies, while sending mercenaries to the mainland to plunder it for resources and scientists who can help them develop a cure they can control distribution of. And that's before they plan to unleash a bioweapon that will kill everything (human and zombie alike) so they can reclaim the mainland for themselves.
    • Roman Estes is the administrator of Newmerica, a group of colonies in Canada that are working to rebuild society. He sabotages efforts to restore democracy via staged attacks so that he can assume emergency powers indefinitely, which he uses to round up all the Talkers (newly evolved sentient zombies) and put them to work mining the resources that the colonies need.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Apocalypse World features the Hardholder playbook whose main shtick is that they are in charge of an entire in-universe settlement and almost everything they do feeds into this settlement sim in one way or another. Furthermore, if they permanently lose their settlement, whether to rebellion or invaders, the Hardholder is expected to either retire or to switch playbooks.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Commonplace during the Age of Strife, the post-apocalyptic nightmare Terra collapsed into before the God Emperor of Mankind unified the planet once again and founded the Imperium of Man. The various "techno-barbarian" factions ranged from continent-spanning empires like Ursh to feral bands of raiders and scavengers that crisscrossed the vast dried-up ocean beds for salvage, water, slaves, and lost tech.
    • The God Emperor Himself meets all the criteria for this trope during the Unification Wars of Terra: at the end of the 29th millennium, the Emperor finally revealed Himself to the world, commanding vast legions of Thunder Warriors (genetically-enhanced super soldiers and prototype for what would eventually become the Space Marines) from His secret base beneath the Himalayas, and reuniting (often through force) the various techno-barbarian nations of Terra.
    • Even after 10,000 years of Imperial rule, warlordism is still widespread in the sprawling Underhives of major Hive Cities and Planets across the Imperium. Since they're generally too polluted and dangerous, and the population thought not to be really worth protecting, Imperial law doesn't affect them much. As such, the only "order" in these parts is established by gangs of marauders, smugglers, mercenaries, and religious zealots.

    Video Games 
  • Fallout:
    • In the first game, Garl Death-Hand is the ruler of the Khans, who at the time were a major gang that terrorized Shady Sands and became boss by virtue of being the meanest and bloodthirstiest of the gang as well as killing his own father. By the time of New Vegas however, the Khans have become a dying gang struggling to stay alive while their current boss Papa Khan is more akin to a Wasteland Elder than anything.
    • Fallout: New Vegas:
      • The Caesar was formerly a member of the Followers of the Apocalypse, until he discovered a cache of Roman history books and used them as inspiration to unite various tribals into a single unstoppable army. By the start of the game, Caesar's Legion controls territory spanning from Hoover Dam all the way to Denver and everything in-between, and despite losing their first battle against the New California Republic, is back on their feet and gearing up for round 2. Caesar maintains his grip on power through his personal charisma, fiendish intelligence, and brutal Roman-style discipline, and his Legion, in turn, enact his ambition and vision upon the Mojave by butchering or crucifying anyone who stands in their way.
      • Robert Edwin House, CEO and sole proprietor of the New Vegas Strip, backed up by his private army of several hundred Securitrons. Downplayed in that while he meets the criteria for this trope, he is more reserved, well-spoken, cerebral, and has a more hands-off approach than most other examples on this page. Justified in that he was also a successful pre-War businessman, and approaches the challenges of running a functioning city in the middle of the wasteland with the same tact and business acumen. His long-term goals include the restoration of the world to its pre-War state, though with himself as a benevolent autocrat, because in his own words...
        Mr. House: If you want to see the fate of democracies, look out the windows.
      • In the Wild Card ending, the Courier themself becomes one by killing Mr. House (or simply cutting off his life support pod's access to the outside world), then driving the NCR and Legion from the Mojave to seize control of New Vegas for themselves.
    • Fallout 4
      • Played with by Arthur Maxson. He's not the supreme leader of the Brotherhood of Steel and is implied to be a Puppet King for the West Coast Elders. However, he is the undisputed leader of all Brotherhood forces within the Commonwealth, and he wields considerable authority and respect to the point where the men are loyal to him specifically.
      • Depending on your choices, the Sole Survivor too can become this trope, building up a mini-empire of settlements and trade routes spread out across the Commonwealth, guarded and patrolled by heavily-armed provisioners that can do the part of protecting the roads. With the release of the Nuka-World DLC, this trope is properly put into play via seizing control of a few Raider gangs as the Overboss and pillaging all of the aforementioned settlements. The trope is even name-dropped with a perk that is only acquired after establishing a total of eight Raider outposts in the Commonwealth and founding a power base for the gangs there, and which unlocks a buildable object that makes the gangs pay tribute to their Overboss.
      • Surprisingly subverted by the Institute, the Big Bad of 4. Although the mysterious figure known as "Father" is their leader, real power is held by a council made up of all the other directors and department heads. Even if the Sole Survivor takes over as Father's successor in the Institute ending, they still have minimal control over day-to-day operations and have to deal with the other directors treating them as an outsider.
  • Borderlands series:
    • Borderlands has Baron Flynt, Leader of the Bandits and (self-proclaimed) "most dangerous man on Pandora", who controls most of the bandit gangs in Pandora from a huge excavation drill in the Salt Flats by the time the game takes place. Prior to the game's events, he was a Dahl convict who was left to his own after Dahl abandoned the planet, seizing the chance to free and lead the remaining convicts. Big-name bandits such as Sledge, Krom, and Nine-Toes also work for him. Of course, after his death the focus shifts towards dealing with the Atlas Corporation.
    • Borderlands 2
      • Captain Flynt, Baron Flynt's brother, is also a bandit leader. He rules over the Rippers in the Southern Shelf and is the first proper human boss the Vault Hunters encounter.
      • A benevolent example is the Slab King, Brick, former player character from the first game. He leads the Slabs, a bandit gang he formed after departing the Crimson Raiders prior to the events of 2.
    • In the final chapter of Tales from the Borderlands, the surprisingly-ripped accountant Vaughn becomes one of these, leading the survivors of the fallen Helios station. By Borderlands 3 his followers have abandoned him to join up with the Children of the Vault.
    • In Borderlands 3, the Calypso Twins are galactic versions of this who have united all the bandits of the galaxies under the banner of the Children of the Vault.
  • Jak 3: Damas became a more benevolent version of this after he was banished from Haven City. He's big into vehicular combat and not above using his rig to grind renegade raiders under his wheel.
  • The Barbarians in many Heroes of Might and Magic games are led by this sort of character: Lord Slayer from Heroes I, Duke Boragus and Kilgor in Heroes III, and Tarnum in Heroes Chronicles are particularly notable examples. Their rule aren't exactly post-apocalypticnote , but the Barbarian factions tend to be associated with barren, inhospitable regions (Lord Slayer's Barbarians hailed from frozen highlands, while Tarnum, Boragus and Kilgor's Krewlod mainly consists of rough desert).
  • The Last of Us Part II has Isaac Dixon, leader of the Washington Liberation Front, in a North America that's been devastated by a parasitic fungal infection that has caused something akin to a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • LISA, taking place in the desert wasteland of Olathe, naturally has many of these running around.
    • Rando runs an Army of Thieves and Whores that are involved most in the search for Buddy, the last girl on earth, and his army is an antagonistic faction throughout the game. It's actually a subversion, as while his army may be utter scum, Rando fails to keep a proper hand on them, and he's a very noble and soft-spoken person himself. For instance, upon being crashed into with Brad's motorcycle, he'll apologize for destroying your bike and grant you some of his army's rations. As shown in The Joyful, he also has protective intentions for Buddy, intending to quietly get her away from Olathe's madness.
    • Buzzo, leader of the Joy Boys, operates more mysteriously than Rando does, but he is heavily involved in Olathe's Joy trade. Over the course of the game, he forces many a dilemma on Brad, mostly involving bodily scarring over the lives of his party members. This hounding of Brad is because, as revealed in The Joyful, he was Lisa's boyfriend, and blames Brad, Lisa's older brother, for failing to protect her.
    • By the end of the game, Brad becomes a Warlord in his own right since by that time he's not only killed countless people in his quest but also recruited a large number of followers into a gang (including a former Warlord).
    • The Joyful reveals that there's a whole List of these on the eastern side of Olathe, consisting of Big Lincoln, Sindy Gallows, Dice Mahone, Lardy Hernandez, Mr. Beautiful, and Vega Van Dam. Three bosses from the previous game, Buffalo Van Dyke, Han Tsunami, and Hawk Hollywood, are retroactively revealed to have been warlords on the List, but were crossed off when Brad removed them from power. Buddy, in her attempt to rule over Olathe so nobody would imprison her again, regards the warlords on the List as she has decided she’s Gotta Kill 'Em All.
  • Mass Effect series:
    • The Krogan homeworld of Tuchanka is a blasted wartorn hellscape divided up between the territories of different warlords and clans. Their instinctive aggression and territorial nature prevent the Krogan from forming any kind of centralized government or parliament that is not based on fear or obedience.
    • Provided he survives the events of the first game, Urdnot Wrex will become the most prominent warlord on Tuchanka, lording over the other Krogan clans from atop his throne of rubble. During the events of the second game, Shepard can help further cement Clan Urdnot's hegemony by taking out rival warlords from clans Gatatog and Weyrloc. By the third game, Wrex's hold over the planet is such that he is considered the de facto political leader of all Krogan across the galaxy.
    • In the event that Wrex dies in the first game, his brother Wreav takes over leadership of Clan Urdnot and is a much more traditional, villainous version of this trope. Where Wrex believes in diplomacy and tries to unite the various clans by showing how much better off they'll be, Wreav rules through fear and aggression, stockpiling nuclear weapons, and preparing to destroy any who won't submit.
  • Metro Exodus: The Baron, the Arc Villain of the Caspian Desert level, is the leader of the Munai-bailer, a group of bandits who control the area's vast oil reserves. He essentially runs the area as a Social Darwinist dystopia, enslaving the local population and enforcing his control through fear and his own brand of religion worshiping the "Fire Gods".
  • The New Order Last Days Of Europe:
    • An Axis victory in World War II causes the USSR to implode and everything east of the German-occupied lands ends up run by warlords and mercenaries. And after World War III, every nation on Earth ends up in this situation.
    • Among the numerous warlords prowling the Urals, easily the worst among them is Oskar Dirlewanger, a former Nazi and a man too evil for even the SS. Operating from his base in Orsk, Dirlewanger leads his brigade of fellow exiles, thugs, and psychopaths on a warpath of rape and plunder across the Urals, his name striking fear into the hearts of Germans and Russians alike.
  • Saul Buchanan, the Patriarch of Wasteland 3, who lords over the frozen wastes of Colorado from atop his throne at The Broadmoor, though under his reign, Colorado has become one of the few places left on Earth with any semblance of functioning civilization. Each of his three children seeks to become warlords in their own right and overthrow their father, causing the Patriarch to reach out to the Arizona Desert Rangers for help, thereby kicking off the events of the game.
  • Destiny: In the backstory, the first Lightbearers often turned into this, and were explicitly called "Warlords." Many of them were autocrats squabbling over territory and resources, but they could run the gamut from the brutal tyrant Lord Citan to the more noble Iron Lords, a coalition formed specifically to curb the excesses of other Warlords and unite them in defense of humanity. The Iron Lords were eventually wiped out almost to a man battling a Grey Goo attack, but by then their work was done and the next crop of Lightbearers were the Knight Errant-like Guardians rather than power-hungry Warlords. It turns out that Lord Shaxx, the Crucible handler in the Tower, had been a benevolent warlord himself, and eventually allied with the Iron Lords, but refused to join their number.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: Omniverse: One of the villainous alternate Bens is Mad Ben, the tyrannical ruler of a dimension wherein instead of becoming a hero, Ben used the powers of the Omnitrix to enslave and seize power and rule from his capital of Benwood.
  • Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts: Scarlamange functions as one, controlling the goth apes directly and being powerful enough to intimidate all the other mutant tribes into following him. Played with in that despite civilization having fallen, it's not really that bad on the surface aside from some of the more aggressive feral mutants.
  • Rick and Morty: In the Season 3 episode "Rickmancing The Stone", Rick takes Morty and Summer to a post-apocalyptic version of Earth where they encounter a raider gang known as the Deathstalkers. The leader of the Deathstalkers is Hemorrhage, a brutal, muscular, and imposing figure who wears a menacing helmet concealing his face underneath which is just a rather plain-looking man with a soft and self-conscious personality. He ends up falling in love with and marrying Summer.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): The three-part special "Mutant Apocalypse" is set 50 years later in an alternate Bad Future where the Turtles failed to stop a Mutagen Bomb from ruining the planet, wiping out much of humanity and turning the rest into mutants. The Turtles, older and weathered after years of surviving in the wasteland, find themselves menaced by Maximus Kong, a relentless warlord with control over lesser gangs like the Honey Badger Ravagers, and who is later revealed to be a mutated Leonardo.