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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
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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.

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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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Examples:

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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.
  • In 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).
  • 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.
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Maestro, an evil future version of Hulk, is 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 the storyline that introduced Maestro 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.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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 Mad Max series may as well be the Trope Codifier.
    • 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.
    • Surprisingly averted in the first film though. Unlike its sequels, it's set Just Before the End, when civilization is breaking down but otherwise still existent, and the main villains are more a roving criminal gang than a proper warlord leading an army.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • 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 taken Up to Eleven).
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • 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:
    • Phil 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 Woodsbury, 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 Woodsbury 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 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.
    • Season 3 of Fear the Walking Dead 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.
    • Later seasons of Fear have Virginia and her Rangers, 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.

    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.
  • 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 series:
    • 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.
    • Caesar in Fallout: New Vegas. Formerly a member of the Followers of the Apocalypse, 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.
    Legionary: Ave, true to Caesar!
    • Also from New Vegas is 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 of New Vegas, 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.
    • Played with by Arthur Maxson in Fallout 4. 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 in 4, 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 the player's own militia. (Or, with the Nuka World DLC, seizing control of the Raider gangs and pillaging all of the aforementioned settlements).
    • 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, you still have minimal control over day-to-day operations and have to deal with the other directors treating you as an outsider.
  • Borderlands series:
    • Borderlands 1 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 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 has a benevolent example in the Slab King, Brick, former Player Character from 1. 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: Jak's Disappeared Dad 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.
  • LISA:
    • 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 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 Moral 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 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.

    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.

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